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Food & agriculture - Oct 18

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Big Tobacco lawyers target food industry
Susan Watts, BBC news

The lawyers who took on the big US tobacco companies, and won, have now set their sights on the food industry. Newsnight's science editor, Susan Watts, asks one of them why he has chosen this particular fight.

Don Barrett likes his opponents powerful, and rich. He is the lawyer whose decade-long battle to force the tobacco companies to admit they knew cigarettes were addictive and pay the medical costs of victims was depicted in the film The Insider.

He and his colleagues eventually forced a settlement that cost the industry more than $200bn (£124bn). The lawsuits made Mr Barrett a very wealthy man. But he says it is not the potential for another big pay-out that is now making him target "big food".

"I'm 68 years old, frankly I don't need the cash, the law's been good to me," he explains. "This is my job, but here we have an opportunity to really help people. We're not saying the food industry is the same as the tobacco industry that kills 500,000 Americans a year, but we are saying there is an epidemic of obesity that is affecting the overall health of the American people."

Mr Barrett is one of more than a dozen lawyers who has filed cases against some of the US food industry's biggest players.

They are not the first lawsuits to target food manufacturers. For nearly a decade, US lawyers have pursued a variety of approaches to try to persuade fast food chains to produce healthier, more nutritious food, but these are being seen as some of the most aggressive, despite the simplicity of their approach....

"Nobody's trying to tell the American people what they have to eat or what they cannot eat, the American people can make those decisions for themselves. It's all about free choice. To have free choice you have to have accurate information. That means Big Food, the food companies, have to start telling the truth about what's in their product. The law requires it."...

(16 October 2012)


How To Compost In Your Apartment
Staff, Sustainable America

An Illustrated Guide

Do you feel a tinge of guilt every time you throw out an extra slice of tomato? Do you see your neighbor’s garden thriving on the rich compost he feeds it? Think you couldn’t possibly compost because you live in an apartment?

We’d love to show you how it’s completely possible and relatively easy to compost in a small amount of space!

There are many reasons to start composting, chief among them being rampant food waste and the need to reduce methane gases caused by rotting food waste in landfills. Food waste is the single largest component of solid waste reaching landfills and incinerators in the U.S., according to the EPA.

So if you have been thinking you might take the plunge into composting, read on and have fun! Our illustrated guide gives you all of the tools you need to get started. Composting can be a very rewarding experience in efficiency and self-reliance. Waste not, want not!

We will be providing another how-to about composting outdoors for homeowners soon!....

Click here to print out a black and white version of the instructions to hang above your bin!

(16 October 2012)


Why Caring About Food Isn’t An Option, It’s a Responsibility
Anna Brones, foodie underground

"Food is life.” I have been known to say a similar thing, but when it came from the mouth of a Ugandan farmer, the words were more powerful than I could ever make them.

Sitting to the right of Constance Okollet on a panel titled Food Anthropology at SXSW Eco in Austin last week, I was humbled as she emphasized what food meant to her and her community. Okollet is peasant farmer from Osukuru subcounty, Tororo district in eastern Uganda, Africa and a mother of seven. As if that wasn’t enough, she’s the Chairperson of Osukuru United Women Network, working on agriculture health and the environment, and a founding member of Climate Wise Women, traveling the world advocating against climate change and its effects on the communities around her.

During the course of our panel, we learned about her community’s reduced access to food – the effects of climate change have reduced the growing season and in turn the diversity of produce that can be grown. As she talked I became acutely aware of my privilege in even having access to some of the most basic food products.

The goal with the panel was to talk about whether or not our heightened awareness and discussion of food is having an effect on the people that need it the most. Does our Instagramming and food blogging really mean that people are eating better here at home and abroad? When you look at the case of Okollet and other subsistent farming communities around the world, it’s easy to come up with a resounding ”no.” While we’re busy perfectly placing a stalk of rosemary next to the batch of homemade muffins so that the picture with a filter to subdue the colors will look a little more quaint, there are millions of people around the world, and here at home, going hungry.

You simply can’t argue your way out of that one...

(12 October 2012)


Food price crisis: What crisis?
Richard Anderson, BBC news

Without water, crops cannot grow and the world cannot eat. And this year, there hasn't been enough of it.

The US has seen its worst drought in more than 50 years, vast swathes of Russia have been left parched by lack of rain, India has had a dry monsoon, while rainfall in South America early in the year fell well below expectations.

As a direct result, harvests of many crops have been decimated, forcing the price of some cereals back up towards levels last seen four years ago, a time when high prices sparked riots in 12 countries across the world and forced the United Nations to call a food price crisis summit.

The lack of rain this year has raised fears we are rapidly heading for another price crunch.

The focus has been on US corn production, which has been all but wiped out in many regions. In fact, US corn inventories are running at just 6% of annual consumption, well below the 25% that is generally considered an appropriate buffer.

Soya-bean production is also well down, while grain production in Asia has been hammered, with yields in some countries down by more than 50%...

But while the chance of food prices returning to levels seen in 2008 and 2011 in the coming months may be slim, they remain at historically high levels, and the underlying factors driving them are here to stay.

Population growth and, more importantly, the rapidly growing middle classes in the developing world, are pushing demand for grain-intensive protein ever higher, while rising energy costs are pushing up the cost of supply. High food prices, therefore, are here to stay...

(16 October 2012)


New EU biofuel proposals inadequate: world hunger and greenhouse gas emissions would increase warns ActionAid
Staff, ActionAid

News that the EU is proposing a 5% limit on the use of food-based biofuels has been welcomed by ActionAid as an important symbolic first step.  But the anti-poverty agency warns that without a total ban on food and land based fuels, millions will still go hungry because food prices will continue to be affected and land will still be grabbed.

After waiting two years, the proposal was set to address greenhouse gas emission from indirect land use change.  But in a surprising twist, the European Commission has buckled to industry pressure and taken the heart out of the proposal: it does not address the climate change emissions associated with EU biofuel targets.

Belinda Calaguas, Head of Campaigns at ActionAid International said: “A proposed law to set a cap on biofuels made from food crops is an encouraging first step. However, it may be largely tokenistic since the limit would be set above current food to fuel levels and not necessarily stop member states from going beyond it.

“We have seen land grabs and food prices skyrocketing in recent years, largely fuelled by biofuels targets and subsidies. ActionAid has serious doubts as to whether this new policy will do anything to change that.”

”Furthermore, by not proposing to fully address greenhouse gas emissions associated with EU biofuels, the European Commission makes an unacceptable mockery of the EU’s commitment to tackling climate change.”

“The EU Member States and Parliament should walk away from this proposal and wait until the European Commission comes back with something that will actually tackle climate, land grabs and hunger.”

Based on research in 24 countries, ActionAid’s new report ‘Lay of the Land’ highlights the impact of land grabbing on communities, particularly women, who control less than 2% of land globally. Over the past four years, ActionAid has worked with communities in a number of particularly affected countries to tell the story of the effects of land grabs to produce biofuels for export, where demand is being driven by targets and subsidies.

The proposed EU legislation still represents a major ideological shift in the European Commission’s thinking around one of its most notorious policies. It is a clear admission that the EU 2020 ‘biofuel’ target is fundamentally flawed. ActionAid’s campaign calls on EU Member States and European Parliament to bring in legislation that will genuinely tackle climate change, end damaging targets and subsidies and stop all food and land being used to fuel cars.

Editors' notes

  • If agreed by the EU Member States and the European Parliament, the legislation would mean that there would be a ‘limit’ on the amount of food based fuel that EU member states could use to meet the 10% Renewable Energy Directive (RED) target. Furthermore any national subsidies to food based fuels would end after 2020.
  • On October 16, World Food Day, ActionAid launched its report ‘Lay of the Land’ detailing the rising tide of land grabs in developing countries and their impacts. Half of the world’s food is produced by smallholder farmers, the vast majority of them women – making land indispensable for their livelihoods and for global food security.
  • ActionAid’s 2012 report ‘Fuel for Thought’ looks at cases of land grabs in developing countries by European companies for biofuels production.

(17 October 2012)

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