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Food & agriculture - July 9

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The toxic consequences of the green revolution

Daniel Pepper, US News & World Report
In India, farmers find that benefits of pesticides and herbicides may come at a tragically high cost
JAJJAL VILLAGE, INDIA-Four decades after the so-called Green Revolution enabled this vast nation to feed itself, some farmers are turning their backs on modern agricultural methods-the use of modified seeds, fertilizer, and pesticides-in favor of organic farming.

This is not a matter of producing gourmet food for environmentally attuned consumers but rather something of a life-and-death choice in villages like this one, where the benefits of the Green Revolution have been coupled with unanticipated harmful consequences from chemical pollution.

As driving their actions, the new organic farmers cite the rising costs of seed, fertilizer, and pesticides, and concerns that decades of chemical use is ruining the soil. But many are also revolting against what they see as the environmental degradation that has come with the new farming techniques, particularly the serious pollution of drinking water that village residents blame for causing cancer and other diseases.
(7 July 2008)

High Food prices may cut opposition to genetically modified food

Sam Cage, The International Herald Tribune
ZURICH - Like many stores in Europe, the Coop chain of supermarkets in Switzerland does not specify whether goods are genetically modified - because none are. But a wave of food-price inflation may help wash away popular opposition to so-called Frankenstein foods.0708 05 1

“I think there’s a lot of resistance in Switzerland,” said a shopper, Beatrice Hochuli, as she picked out a salad for dinner at a bustling supermarket outside the main Zurich station. “Most people in Switzerland are quite against it.”

Consumers, even those from relatively wealthy parts of the world, are rarely first in line to adopt new technologies. Although food prices are up more than 50 percent since May 2006, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s Food Price Index, Europeans remain wary of foods derived from tinkering with the genetic makeup of plants.

But policy makers and food companies are pressing the genetic modification topic in a bid to temper aversion to biotech crops like pesticide-resistant rapeseed for oils and “Roundup-ready” soybeans, which tolerate dousing of the Roundup herbicide.
(8 July 2008)
In Disaster Capitalism: State of Extortion, Naomi Klein writes about the strategy of using crises as an opportunity to re-shape the world for corporate interests. -BA

Corals, already in danger, are facing new threat from farmed algae

Christopher Pala, New York Times
UTARITARI, Kiribati - Off the palm-fringed white beach of this remote Pacific atoll, the view underwater is downright scary.

Corals are being covered and smothered to death by a bushy seaweed that is so tough even algae-grazing fish avoid it. It settles in the reef’s crevices that fish once called home, driving them away.

Dead coral stops supporting the ecosystem and, within a couple of decades, it will crumble into rubble, allowing big ocean waves to reach the beach during storms and destroy the flimsy thatched huts of the Micronesians.

... This equatorial island of 4,000 people is the latest victim of a 30-year global effort to encourage poor people in the coastal areas of the tropics to grow seaweed that, while not edible, produces carrageenan, an increasingly sought-after binder and fat substitute used in the food industry, notably in ice cream.

Today, about 120,000 dry metric tons a year are produced, mostly in the Philippines and Indonesia, where the two main algae originate. Kappaphycus alvarezii is most desirable because of its high carrageenan content; Eucheuma denticulatum is less valuable but easier to cultivate.

Both were introduced in the past three decades to 20 countries around the world from Tonga to Zanzibar and the result in most of them has been failure or worse.
(8 July 2008)

A new approach to dairy farming
(audio, slideshow)
Kinna Ohman, Environment Report
At Hawthorne Valley Farm, calves are raised with their mothers - unlike other dairy farms (Photo by Kinna Ohman)
Some cutting edge farmers are stepping away from concentrating on only production of meat and milk on their farms. They're starting to focus on ways to give their animals healthy, long lives. And they're finding more benefits than they ever imagined. reports:
(7 July 2008)
The lot of a dairy cow is not a happy one. -BA

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