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Forum Post: Addressing the Food Crisis: Let's Get Our Facts Straight

Posted 10 years ago on Sept. 5, 2012, 6:19 p.m. EST by LeoYo (5909)
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How Genetically Modified Corn Is Creating Super Worms

Wednesday, 05 September 2012 14:29 By Aviva Shen, ThinkProgress | Report


Agricultural giant Monsanto Company has risen to the top of the corporate food chain largely thanks to its seeds. These are no ordinary seeds — they have been genetically modified (GM) to withstand and even produce herbicides and pesticides. Monsanto's GM corn and soybean seeds have become so widespread over the past two decades that now, a new crop of "superweeds" have evolved to resist these potent chemicals. Farmers then have little choice but to buy Monsanto's beefed up seeds in an arms race with nature.

Now, the EPA is launching a review of one of Monsanto's corn strains engineered to produce the natural pesticide Bt. As the agency told Bloomberg, "There is mounting evidence raising concerns that insect resistance is developing in parts of the corn belt," where Monsanto's corn dominates the fields. Root worms exposed to the corn's toxin seem to have become immune to it, breeding an unprecedented colony of superworms that are bound to spread throughout the entire Midwest.

Meanwhile, Monsanto recently released a new sweet corn variety containing the Bt pesticide. And for the first time, Monsanto will market this corn as fresh produce, rather than an ingredient for processed foods. Although Whole Foods, Trader Joe's and General Mills have refused to carry the corn, Walmart will start stocking the GM sweet corn in the coming months, without any label to let consumers know what they are buying.

And Monsanto hopes to keep consumers in the dark. The company recently spent $4.2 million trying to kill a November ballot initiative in California that would require labeling on food products containing genetically modified ingredients. Proposition 37 would bring the state in line with Japan, China, the European Union, and Australia, which already require labels on genetically modified foods. 91 percent of Americans support GMO labeling.

Opponents of Proposition 37 claim GMOs are harmless and would unfairly bias people toward the organic food industry. Though there has been no conclusive evidence that eating GMOs leads to health problems, the FDA does not require safety studies before approving them and Monsanto has lobbied the USDA to reject any and all outside studies when considering applications for new strains. Leaving health aside, the onslaught of superweeds and superworms alone should afford Californians the chance to decide what types of food they want to support.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.


Addressing the Food Crisis: Let's Get Our Facts Straight

Wednesday, 05 September 2012 11:18 By Timothy A Wise, Triple Crisis | Op-Ed


Coverage of the U.S. drought and the run-up in corn, soybean, and wheat prices has been extensive and welcome. It has also been prone to the repetition of falsehoods and the perpetuation of myths about the causes of the food crisis – and the solutions. A recent Guardian article, "The era of cheap food may be over," is a case in point. Specifically, it perpetuates the myth that the main driver of food price increases is demand for meat in fast-growing developing countries, downplaying the full impact of biofuels and ignoring two problems underlying price volatility: financial speculation and the lack of publicly held food reserves.

Give Larry Elliot credit for posing the issue in terms of the difficult policy choices the world faces. He's certainly right to pose the challenge. "The current assumption seems to be that the world can have a rising population, ever-higher per capita meat consumption, devote less land to food production to help hit climate change targets and eschew the advances in science that might increase yields" he writes. "This is the stuff of fantasy."

It sure is, but so are the policy choices he discusses. First of all, the trend toward meat-based Western diets is certainly worth resisting, for health and environmental reasons. But it's been pretty clearly shown that rising demand for meat-based protein, particularly in India and China, is not the main cause of recent price increases. As Jayati Ghosh and I have separately pointed out, an FAO study documented quite conclusively that cereals demand rose more slowly since 2000 than it had in previous decades. So demand in india and China may have grown, but it did not create a "demand shock" that is precipitating more recent price surges.

What is the demand shock that occurred since 2000? The dramatic expansion of biofuels production, under a range of government incentives, particularly in the United States with corn-based ethanol and in the EU with biodiesel. This has truly been a shock to tight commodity markets. U.S. ethanol consumes 40% of the country's corn, fully 15% of global corn production. Estimates vary widely on the impacts, but the National Academy of Sciences concluded that 20-40% of the price increases in 2008 were due to biofuels expansion.

That impact couldn't be clearer than in today's looming food crisis, triggered by the widespread drought in the United States. Corn output is down dramatically, but ethanol refiners keep gobbling up the corn, driving global prices to new records. Elliot for some reason discusses this as a supply-side issue, but it's pure demand, created by government programs that seemed good at the time, as he points out, but are now a disaster. Or, more to the point, a set of recurring disasters as the world suffers its third price spike in five years.

To be sure, there has been one other demonstrable boost in demand since 2000, and it does implicate the rising demand for meat-based diets. Chinese demand for soybeans has jumped dramatically, mostly to feed its own growing meat production. This puts pressure on agricultural land and certainly contributes to rising food prices. But not on the order of magnitude accounted for by biofuels expansion in general and U.S. ethanol expansion in particular.

As Elliot points out, it is not easy to reduce the rising demand for meat-based diets in developing countries. He fails to point out that it is much easier to reduce the demand for biofuels, since they began largely as the product of government policies. Stop the further expansion of biofuels and you've saved millions of tons of grain for food. Reverse its recent growth, by introducing a more flexible mandate that is triggered by tight supplies, and you've placed people over cars in the great global food chain.

Elliot also fails to mention four solutions that are very much under discussion internationally and far more practical than the high-tech miracles he cites:

1.Expand food reserves – U.S. reserves are virtually non-existent thanks to government policies to just let the market do its magic. The market has given us three price spikes in five years, and the absence of food reserves has left us no flexibility to handle a drought as severe as the current one.

2.Regulate financial speculation in commodity markets – The financial sharks are circling as prices spike, hungry to play the volatility for their benefit. Regulations are still not in place to get them out of our food. Governments can act to reduce speculation-driven food price volatility.

3.Address waste – An astonishing one-third of food is wasted all along the food chain. Public investments – in water systems, storage, roads, and markets – can save more food for the hungry. This is a demand-reduction comparable to reducing biofuels use. (So too is the related goal of more equitably distributing the food we produce.)

4.Expand sustainable smallholder food production – Elliot trots out tired and long-disproven clichés about "low-productivity organic" vs. "high tech, intensive farming." The current consensus recognizes that the "yield gaps" are greatest among small-scale farmers, and that they can expand their food production through "sustainable intensification."

Elliot puts his finger on the urgent crisis facing the global community in the ongoing food crisis, but he misses the mark on his diagnosis and the cures.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.


At DNC, Ex-Presidential Hopefuls Jesse Jackson and Dennis Kucinich on 2012 Race, Obama's First Term

Wednesday, 05 September 2012 13:21 By Amy Goodman, Democracy Now! | Video


Many of the opening night speeches at the Democratic National Convention laid the foundation for a convention designed to remind voters what they liked about Obama when they first supported him in 2008. On the convention floor Tuesday night, we interview two former presidential candidates, Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich and Rev. Jesse Jackson.


Democratic Platform Supports Amending Constitution to Reverse Citizens United

Wednesday, 05 September 2012 13:12 By Mike Ludwig, Truthout | Report


The Democratic Party platform approved by delegates on Tuesday attacks Republicans for applauding the Supreme Court's Citizen United decision and calls for campaign finance reforms, even if it takes amending the constitution to reverse the landmark ruling that unleashed unprecedented corporate campaign spending.


The Widespread War on Reproductive Rights

Wednesday, 05 September 2012 13:37 By Lynsi Burton, Yes! Magazine | News Analysis


National polls show that most of the public supports birth control and abortion rights. So what’s with the trend of trying to limit them?


Four Ways Romney and Ryan Would Roll Back the 20th Century

Wednesday, 05 September 2012 11:33 By Jake Blumgart, AlterNet | Op-Ed




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[-] 3 points by elf3 (4203) 10 years ago

Too many people think GMO's are like cross breeding a flower - they aren't aware that they are inserting plastics and pesticides into the molecular structure that become cells in our bodies that will turn into cancer or that they use ecoli and radiation to get past the cell wall immune defense of the plant to inject them or that they are building them as suicide plants that bare no seeds to sow and must be continuously bought by farmers. It's an experiment that people don't even know they are part of. The patenting of life was once illegal for these reasons - no messing with food or our bodies - that WAS the law before the FDA got bought out and stacked with ex Monsanto employees/ executives and our own Congress sold us to them.

[-] 2 points by yobstreet (-575) 10 years ago

You know, Germany actually said NO to both ethanol and GMOs; they've both been outlawed. What's interesting, too, is that our wheat has also been genetically engineered. Wheat was never healthy... but suddenly it's worse.

[-] 1 points by elf3 (4203) 10 years ago

Thanks I think I've seen - the Future of Food too offers good comprehensive look on this is long but mesmerizing trip into the rabbit hole and if you like science it is interesting and eye opening - it delves into the issue of patents as well.

[-] 1 points by conservatroll (187) 10 years ago

Really. Everyone needs to see FOOD INC. Might be on pbs.org somewhere. It's revolving door between BIG FARMA and DC.

[-] 1 points by Builder (4202) 10 years ago

Subtitles in Spanish, but fullscreen full documentary is here for Food Inc.


[-] 1 points by conservatroll (187) 10 years ago

Thanks! That really is an interesting documentary. I actually bought the dvd to share with friends here in the heartland/cornfields. Who knew you could get the full mafia treatment from Monsanto when, as a farmer your field ended up with a little drift from farms around you using their seeds. I was incensed by that BS.

[-] 2 points by hchc (3297) from Tampa, FL 10 years ago

Obama appoints Monsanto clown to big FDA position


[-] 1 points by Nevada1 (5843) 10 years ago

Good Post