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U.S. City Dwellers Flock to Raising Chickens

Ben Block, Worldwatch Institute
In the backyard of a suburban home in Denver, Colorado, 22 chickens are hiding out from the law.

They arrived when a member of BackyardChickens, an online forum, ordered the birds in the mail this past May. “I actually get my chicks in today hopefully, and I am worried that animal control will be at the post office waiting for me with hand-cuffs,” the new poultry farmer wrote.

An underground “urban chicken” movement has swept across the United States in recent years. Cities such as Boston, Massachusetts, and Madison, Wisconsin, are known to have had chickens residing illegally behind city fences.

But grassroots campaigns, often inspired by the expanding movement to buy locally produced food, are leading municipalities to allow limited numbers of hens within city limits.

… Raising backyard chickens is an extension of an urban farming movement that has gained popularity nationwide. Home-raised livestock or agriculture avoids the energy usage and carbon emissions typically associated with transporting food.

“Fresh is not what you buy at the grocery store. Fresh is when you go into your backyard, put it in your bag, and eat it,” said Carol-Ann Sayle, co-owner of five-acre (two-hectare) farm in Austin, Texas, located within walking distance from the state capitol. “Everyone should have their own henhouse in their own backyard.”

“Buying local” also provides an alternative to factory farms that pollute local ecosystems with significant amounts of animal waste – which can at times exceed the waste from a small U.S. city, a government report revealed last month. In the United States alone, industrial livestock production generates 500 million tons of manure every year.

… After the trend first gained popularity in London, England, with the invention of the “eglu” chicken house about ten years ago, large numbers of city dwellers began to raise chickens in the U.S. cities of Seattle and Portland, said Jac Smit, president of the Urban Agriculture Network. “It’s no longer something kinky or interesting,” Smit said. “The ‘chicken underground’ has really spread so widely and has so much support.”

Within the past five years, the trend has expanded to cities where raising hens was already legal, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Chicago. “Chicken has become the symbol, a mascot even, of the local food movement,” said Owen Taylor of New York City, who knows of at least 30 community gardens that raise poultry, mostly for their eggs. One Brooklyn home has raised upward of 50 hens. “We’re the biggest city in the country, so to have it here I think blows people’s minds.”
(6 October 2008)
Other possibilities for home meat production include rabbits and guinea pigs:
Guinea pigs to scamper onto your dinner plate
Improving Household Production of Guinea Pigs in Peru
Backyard Production of Meat Rabbits in Texas (PDF)

The war over GM is back. Is the truth any clearer?

Jay Rayner, The Observer
Genetically modified foods were sidelined in Britain 10 years ago amid a furious assault on ‘Frankenstein foods’. Now climate change and world hunger have placed them back on the agenda. The ferocious debate is again splitting the science, political and environmental communities. But, asks Observer food expert Jay Rayner, what’s the real truth about GM?

Last week’s big food story was one of haves and have nots. The haves include Tesco, which announced half-year profits of £1.5bn on the back of rising global food prices and booming sales of organics. The shelves are full and business is brisk. The have nots were the benighted populations of Ethiopia and Somalia in the Horn of Africa, which, the UN warns, is heading into the worst famine in generations. The one thing these two stories share is a negative: British supermarkets and large slabs of Africa are both entirely free of genetically modified foods.

According to the government’s former chief scientist, Sir David King, these narratives are completely intertwined.

In a recent speech to the British Association for the Advancement of Science, King accused the British middle classes of putting lives at risk in the developing world through their food choices. ‘The problem is,’ he said, ‘the Western world’s move toward organic farming – a lifestyle choice – and against agricultural technology and GM in particular, has been adopted across Africa … with devastating consequences.’

It was proof of just how divisive the debate over the genetic modification of our crops has become. On the one side are the biotech companies and their supporters in the scientific community who believe GM has the potential to reduce the cost of food, increase yields and bring into cultivation land that might otherwise have remained barren, thus helping to feed the growing number of the world’s hungry. On the other side are the environmentalists, who predict that a vicious toll will be paid in what these new, under-regulated foods will do to our bodies and to the planet.
(5 October 2008)
The Observer has a related pro-GMO editorial: Let science, not fear, be the judge of GM crops.

I think Naomi Klein’s “Shock Doctrine” is good background for the GMO controversy. Special interests wait until there is a crisis, and then advance their prepackaged agenda which may have little to do with the issue. If one is concerned about a food crisis, there are good analyses, good plans of action.

GMOs, on the other hand, are promoted by large corporations whose brief is to earn profits, not to solve the problem of food. In listening to their arguments, one should keep in mind that they are salesmen, touting their product. Really, this should not be controversial. Anyone who’s been in business knows, Caveat Emptor (“Let the buyer beware.”).

I guess I am disappointed by the scientists and government officials who climb on the bandwagon and lose their sense of objectivity. Look at the corn ethanol fiasco for a similar case. -BA

Is a Food Bank Answer to the Crisis?

Thalif Deen, IPS
Bangladesh, one of the world’s 49 least developed countries (LDCs) described as the poorest of the poor, is calling for the creation of a global food bank.

“We have suggested that a Food Bank could allow countries facing a short-term shortfall in production to borrow food grains on preferential terms,” says Bangladeshi Prime Minister Fakhruddin Ahmed, who was in New York last week to address the General Assembly.

Once they overcome the shortfall, these countries could return the quantum to the Food Bank, he added.

… In an interview with IPS, Hamid Rashid, director-general of Multilateral Economic Affairs in Dhaka, spelled out details of the proposal which Bangladesh is pushing at the highest levels at the United Nations.

“We envisage that the Global Food Bank will have two operational ‘windows’ to stabilise world food prices,” Rashid said.

The first window, based on Special Drawing Rights (SDRs), will allow countries to borrow food grains in times of crisis and shortfalls, according to a pre-determined quota.

The quota for each country, Rashid said, will be determined on the basis of a formula, taking into account the size of its vulnerable population, variability in its food production, its dependence on food imports and other related factors.

Borrowing countries will repay in the form of food grains. The food stock will remain dispersed all over the world, perhaps closer to high-risk locations, and will cross borders only when SDR would be exercised, he added.

The second window of the Global Food Bank — the market window — will create a trading platform for futures and options on food grains.

“Governments will be able to buy and sell futures and options, to and from private parties, to smooth and stabilise the prices of food grains over medium to long-run,” Rashid said.

He added that whether his prime minister’s proposal will materialise or not will depend on a number of factors, including strong political leadership, the willingness of large food exporters to participate in such a mechanism and the lessons learnt from the current crisis.
(7 October 2008)

Supermarkets urged to reduce choice and meat sales

Juliette Jowit, The Guardian
Supermarkets will have to abandon their focus on consumer choice and reduce or axe stocks of the most environmentally damaging foods such as meat, dairy and air-freighted fresh products, a new report warns today.

The Food Ethics Council study says improvements in efficiency of the food supply chain have been overtaken by growth in consumption, and also fail to tackle the huge impact of customers driving to shops and growth in emissions overseas.

Emissions from the food industry are still growing, despite calls from the United Nations, and this week from the UK’s independent Climate Change Committee for rich nations to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% by 2050, it says.

The report calls for a radical reform of the industry including two “sacred assumptions” that “consumers are king” and that “the economy must grow to survive”…
(9 October 2008)

Peak phosphorus: Quoted reserves vs. production history

James Ward, The Oil Drum
By fitting a bell curve to historical phosphate production data, the best fit is obtained by assuming an ultimate recoverable resource of approximately 9 billion tonnes (of which about 6.3 billion tonnes have already been mined). This yields a peak in around 1990. Of course, the USGS claims an ultimate recoverable resource of some 24.3 billion tonnes (i.e. 18 billion remaining); however using this value yields a bell curve that is an inferior match to the historical data. A hypothesis is thus presented whereby phosphorus is considered in two broad forms: “easy” which is able to be mined quickly, but already peaked in 1990, and “hard” which has large remaining reserves and is yet to peak, but cannot be mined as quickly. (In reality there are probably many different forms ranging from very easy to very hard.) Just as with oil, estimates that lump all types of reserve in together will yield a theoretical peak that is high and distant, however the true system may involve periods of decline after exhausting easy-to-get reserves before other supplies come online to replace them. Ultimately we must develop a recyclable phosphorus supply if humans are to continue living on this planet.

This is a guest post by James Ward. James has a background in science and engineering and is ASPO-Adelaide coordinator for ASPO-Australia. This post appeared previously on Energy Bulletin.
(9 October 2008)
Thanks to Gail and TOD for re-posting this important article. Discussion at TOD original. -BA