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Agriculture, Farming, Food Chain and Food Politics
Topic: Agriculture, Farming, Food Chain and Food Politics (Read 22426 times)
Contaminated honey entering US from China, India,
Reply #50 on:
June 03, 2013, 05:24:07 AM »
Global Fish Prices leap to all-time high
Reply #51 on:
June 18, 2013, 02:09:39 PM »
Global fish prices leap to all-time high
By Emiko Terazono in London
Global fish prices have leapt to all-time highs as China’s growing appetite for high-end species from tuna to oysters runs up against lower catches.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation’s global fish price index, an industry benchmark that tracks the cost of wild and farmed seafood, hit a record high in May, up 15 per cent from a year ago and above the peak set in mid 2011.
“In the coming months, supply constraints for several important species are likely to keep world fish prices on the rise,” the Rome-based FAO has warned.
The changing Chinese diet has already boosted demand for grains and livestock feed. The same phenomenon is now under way in the seafood industry, where the total value of fish trade is expected to reach $130bn this year.
China is the world’s largest producer of farmed tilapia, but it is increasing imports of other types of fish such as salmon and shellfish.
The impact of this shift is important for more expensive shellfish products, for which China has become a leading market. The country’s oyster and mussel consumption is growing as much as 20 per cent a year, tightening the global market.
Oyster prices, which have more than doubled over the past three years, are expected to rise further in 2013 as supplies from France remain low due to a virus that has destroyed the country’s young stock.
Richard Haward, a seventh generation oysterman in Essex, northeast of London, said: “Demand from Hong Kong and China and a worldwide shortage of supplies has increased prices.”
Urbanisation and the advent of supermarkets is contributing to higher fish consumption in emerging markets.
Audun Lem, a fish expert at the FAO, said: “The product development, including ready meals and clean fillets really facilitates fish consumption.”
The jump in Asian demand has coincided with low supplies for several key species due to disease and high feeding costs in the aquaculture industry.
The cost of tuna, one of the most heavily traded fish species, has risen to a record high, up 12 per cent over the past year on strong sashimi and sushi demand, as well as from the canned tuna industry. This has coincided with smaller catches.
Shrimp, another heavily traded species, has seen prices up 22 per cent as supplies have been hit by a disease spreading in southeast Asia as well as by a fall in low wild harvests.
Salmon prices have surged 27 per cent over the past year, but are well below their record highs. The price of aquaculture production is expected to remain high as the industry battles with record feed costs. Fishmeal prices remain near a record high due to a sharp decline in supplies of anchovies, used to manufacture feed rations.
Reply #52 on:
July 24, 2013, 10:15:16 PM »
WSJ: Miller: Organic Farming is not sustainable
Reply #53 on:
May 16, 2014, 07:59:36 PM »
Organic Farming Is Not Sustainable
More labor with lower yields is a luxury only rich populations can afford.
By Henry I. Miller
May 15, 2014 6:49 p.m. ET
You may have noticed that the organic section of your local supermarket is growing. Advocates tout organic-food production—in everything from milk and coffee to meat and vegetables—as a "sustainable" way to feed the planet's expanding population. The Worldwatch Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based environmental group, goes so far as to say organic farming "has the potential to contribute to sustainable food security by improving nutrition intake and sustaining livelihoods in rural areas, while simultaneously reducing vulnerability to climate change and enhancing biodiversity." The evidence argues otherwise.
A study by the Institute for Water Research at Ben-Gurion University in Israel, published last year in the journal Hydrology and Earth System Sciences, found that "intensive organic agriculture relying on solid organic matter, such as composted manure that is implemented in the soil prior to planting as the sole fertilizer, resulted in significant down-leaching of nitrate" into groundwater. With many of the world's most fertile farming regions in the throes of drought, increased nitrate in groundwater is hardly a hallmark of sustainability.
Moreover, as agricultural scientist Steve Savage has documented on the Sustainablog website, wide-scale composting generates significant amounts of greenhouse gases such as methane and nitrous oxide. Compost may also deposit pathogenic bacteria on or in food crops, which has led to more frequent occurrences of food poisoning in the U.S. and elsewhere.
Organic farming might work well for certain local environments on a small scale, but its farms produce far less food per unit of land and water than conventional ones. The low yields of organic agriculture—typically 20%-50% less than conventional agriculture—impose various stresses on farmland and especially on water consumption. A British meta-analysis published in the Journal of Environmental Management (2012) found that "ammonia emissions, nitrogen leaching and nitrous oxide emissions per product unit were higher from organic systems" than conventional farming systems, as were "land use, eutrophication potential and acidification potential per product unit."
Lower crop yields are inevitable given organic farming's systematic rejection of many advanced methods and technologies. If the scale of organic production were significantly increased, the lower yields would increase the pressure for the conversion of more land to farming and more water for irrigation, both of which are serious environmental issues.
© Hero Images/Corbis
Another limitation of organic production is that it disfavors the best approach to enhancing soil quality—namely, the minimization of soil disturbances such as tilling, combined with the use of cover crops. Both approaches help to limit soil erosion and the runoff of fertilizers and pesticides. Organic growers do frequently plant cover crops, but in the absence of effective herbicides, often they rely on tillage (or even labor-intensive hand weeding) for weed control.
One prevalent myth is that organic agriculture does not employ pesticides. Organic farming does use insecticides and fungicides to prevent predation of its crops. More than 20 chemicals (mostly containing copper and sulfur) are commonly used in the growing and processing of organic crops and are acceptable under U.S. organic rules. They include nicotine sulfate, which is extremely toxic to warm-blooded animals, and rotenone, which is moderately toxic to most mammals but so toxic to fish that it's widely used for the mass poisoning of unwanted fish populations during restocking projects.
Perhaps the most illogical and least sustainable aspect of organic farming in the long term is the exclusion of "genetically modified organisms," but only those that were modified with the most precise and predictable techniques such as gene splicing. Except for wild berries and wild mushrooms, virtually all the fruits, vegetables and grains in our diet have been genetically improved by one technique or another, often through what are called wide crosses, which move genes from one species or genus to another in ways that do not occur in nature. Therefore, the exclusion from organic agriculture of organisms simply because they were crafted with modern, superior techniques makes no sense. It also denies consumers of organic goods nutritionally improved foods, such as oils with enhanced levels of omega-3 fatty acids.
In recent decades, we have seen advances in agriculture that have been more environmentally friendly and sustainable than ever before. But they have resulted from science-based research and technological ingenuity by farmers, plant breeders and agribusiness companies, not from social elites opposed to modern insecticides, herbicides, genetic engineering and "industrial agriculture."
Dr. Miller, a physician and molecular biologist, was the founding director of the FDA's Office of Biotechnology and is a research fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution.
Chef Jamie Oliver knocks back McD's pink slime
Reply #54 on:
May 16, 2014, 09:09:54 PM »
Reply #55 on:
January 01, 2015, 11:12:23 AM »
I confess I am quite OK with this.
DEC. 31, 2014
The most significant animal welfare law in recent history — California’s Prop 2 — takes effect today. The measure, which passed by a landslide vote in 2008, requires egg and some meat producers to confine their animals in far more humane conditions than they did before. No longer will baby calves (veal) or gestational pigs be kept in crates so small they cannot turn around and, perhaps more significantly, egg-laying hens may not be held in “battery” cages that prevent them from spreading their wings.
The regulations don’t affect only hens kept in California. In 2010, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law a bill that extended the protections of Prop 2 to out-of-state birds: You cannot sell an egg in California from a hen kept in extreme confinement anywhere. For an industry that has been able to do pretty much what it wants, this is a big deal: It bans some of the most egregious practices.
Does limiting confinement for hens mean the end of cages? Maybe. It might become impractical for growers to build bigger cages; that is, it might be easier simply to keep hens in groups that meet the new minimum area required per bird, and so keep the hens “cage free.” That’s not a panacea, but it is an improvement.
The new minimum is not specified in numbers, but the courts have said that it “establishes a clear test that any law enforcement officer can apply, and that test does not require the law enforcement officer to have the investigative acumen of Columbo to determine if an egg farmer is in violation.” Hens must be able to spread their wings without touching a cage or another bird.
There is, however, another new state regulation — the so-called shell egg food safety regulation, aimed at reducing salmonella — enacted by the California Department of Food and Agriculture. This requires a minimum of 116 square inches per bird, compared with the current 67 square inches, which is less space than an 8-by-10 photo, and just a tad more than a standard iPad.
Prop 2 trumps this rule, and birds probably need more than 116 square inches to spread their wings. In fact, many experts think something closer to 200 square inches is more realistic. But some farmers may think they can get away with 116; law enforcement will determine whether they’re right, and noncompliance is a criminal offense.
The new regulations will probably raise the price of eggs. Surprisingly, as producers in California switch production systems to comply with the new law, eggs raised by so-called conventional means sometimes cost more than cage-free eggs. This belies the arguments that the conversion process is difficult or prohibitively expensive; it just shows that many producers failed to take advantage of the five years between the extension of the new housing standards to all birds, and its taking effect, to adequately prepare. What have they been doing instead? Predictably, filing lawsuits fighting Prop 2, all of which have failed.
That Prop 2 is supported by a majority of people in the country’s biggest ag state, and that its legitimacy has been supported by courts, shows the direction in which the raising of animals is headed. Gestation crates are on their way out, and battery cages will soon join them. With this measure, the table is set for similar action in states all over the country.
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“We’ve worked on passing anti-confinement laws in 10 states now,” says Paul Shapiro, a spokesperson at the Humane Society of the United States. At least three other states are to take up similar legislation in 2015.
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All for it - but worried about higher-priced eggs too. If you want poor people to cook at home more, remember that eggs are the cheapest...
Now we need to protect the people who work to supply us with food and continue the march to treat animals (and plants) as fellow inhabitants...
This is good news, and long overdue. Society has been beyond oblivious to the danger that modern animal farming has been posing for...
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The most important part of the new law may be that every whole egg sold in California must adhere to the standards set by Prop 2, regardless of where it’s from. And since California can’t raise all the eggs eaten by its citizens, millions of those eggs — perhaps as many as a third consumed in the state — will come from elsewhere. From Iowa, for example, where more than 14 billion eggs are produced each year. (Interesting: There are just over 3 million people in Iowa, and nearly 60 million laying hens.) There has been talk of shortages, but they would be short-lived.
So, in California, just as you had to meet higher emission standards than required by federal law if you wanted to sell cars, now you must meet higher welfare standards for hens if you want to sell eggs. Whether farmers comply, or disobey, or leave the business remains to be seen. But Prop 2 means a new norm; eventually it will be, well, normal.
Just how high are the standards set by Prop 2? “By itself, the law means that many millions of animals will no longer be held in cramped cages, and that’s huge,” says Mr. Shapiro. “But the message it sends to the factory farming industry is clear: Business as usual — that is, subjecting animals to torturous conditions for their entire lives — is no longer going to be acceptable.”
EU seeking to control all seeds?!?
Reply #56 on:
January 04, 2015, 09:35:58 PM »
POTH: No till farming
Reply #57 on:
March 10, 2015, 04:31:04 AM »
FORT WORTH — Gabe Brown is in such demand as a speaker that for every invitation he accepts, he turns down 10 more. At conferences, like the one held here at a Best Western hotel recently, people line up to seek his advice.
“The greatest roadblock to solving a problem is the human mind,” he tells audiences.
Mr. Brown, a balding North Dakota farmer who favors baseball caps and red-striped polo shirts, is not talking about disruptive technology start-ups, political causes, or the latest self-help fad.
He is talking about farming, specifically soil-conservation farming, a movement that promotes leaving fields untilled, “green manures” and other soil-enhancing methods with an almost evangelistic fervor.
Such farming methods, which mimic the biology of virgin land, can revive degenerated earth, minimize erosion, encourage plant growth and increase farmers’ profits, their proponents say. And by using them, Mr. Brown told more than 250 farmers and ranchers who gathered at the hotel for the first Southern Soil Health Conference, he has produced crops that thrive on his 5,000-acre farm outside of Bismarck, N.D., even during droughts or flooding.
“My goal is to improve my soil so I can grow a better crop so I can make more money,” said Mr. McAlister, who farms 6,000 acres of drought-stricken cropland. Credit Brandon Thibodeaux for The New York Times
He no longer needs to use nitrogen fertilizer or fungicide, he said, and he produces yields that are above the county average with less labor and lower costs. “Nature can heal if we give her the chance,” Mr. Brown said.
Neatly tilled fields have long been a hallmark of American agriculture and its farmers, by and large traditionalists who often distrust practices that diverge from time-honored methods.
But soil-conservation farming is gaining converts as growers increasingly face extreme weather, high production costs, a shortage of labor and the threat of government regulation of agricultural pollution.
Farmers like Mr. Brown travel the country telling their stories, and organizations like No-Till on the Plains — a Kansas-based nonprofit devoted to educating growers about “agricultural production systems that model nature” — attract thousands.
“It’s a massive paradigm shift,” said Ray Archuleta, an agronomist at the Natural Resources Conservation Service, part of the federal Agriculture Department, which endorses the soil-conservation approach.
Government surveys suggest that the use of no-tillage farming has grown sharply over the last decade, accounting for about 35 percent of cropland in the United States.
For some crops, no-tillage acreage has nearly doubled in the last 15 years. For soybeans, for example, it rose to 30 million acres in 2012 from 16.5 million acres in 1996. The planting of cover crops — legumes and other species that are rotated with cash crops to blanket the soil year-round and act as green manure — has also risen in acreage about 30 percent a year, according to surveys, though the total remains small.
Farmers till the land to ready it for sowing and to churn weeds and crop residue back into the earth. Tilling also helps mix in fertilizers and manure and loosens the top layer of the soil. But repeated plowing exacts a price. It degrades soil, killing off its biology, including beneficial fungi and earthworms, and leaving it, as Mr. Archuleta puts it, “naked, thirsty, hungry and running a fever.”
Degraded soil requires heavy applications of synthetic fertilizer to produce high yields. And because its structure has broken down, the soil washes away easily in heavy rain, taking nitrogen and other pollutants with it into rivers and streams. Soil health proponents say that by leaving fields unplowed and using cover crops, which act as sinks for nitrogen and other nutrients, growers can increase the amount of organic matter in their soil, making it better able to absorb and retain water.
“Each 1 percent increase in soil organic matter helps soil hold 20,000 gallons more water per acre,” said Claire O’Connor, a staff lawyer and agriculture specialist at the Natural Resources Defense Council.
In turn, more absorbent soil is less vulnerable to runoff and more resistant to droughts and floods. Cover crops also help suppress weeds. Environmental groups like the Defense Council have long been fans of soil-conservation techniques because they help protect waterways and increase the ability of soil to store carbon dioxide, rather than releasing it into the air, where it contributes to climate change.
One recent study led by the Environmental Defense Fund suggested that the widespread use of cover crops and other soil-health practices could reduce nitrogen pollution in the Upper Mississippi and Ohio River basins by 30 percent, helping to shrink the giant “dead zone” of oxygen-depleted water in the Gulf of Mexico. The Defense Council, Ms. O’Connor said, has proposed that the government offer a “good driver” discount on federal crop insurance for growers who incorporate the practices.
But the movement also has critics, who argue that no-tillage and other methods are impractical and too expensive for many growers. A farmer who wants to shift to no-tillage, for example, must purchase new equipment, like a no-till seeder.
Tony J. Vyn, a professor of agronomy at Purdue, said the reasons growers cite for preferring to fully till their fields vary depending on geography, the types of crops they grow and the conditions of their soil. But they include the perception that weed control is harder using no-tillage; that the method, which reduces water evaporation, places limits on how early in the year crops can be planted; and that the residue left by no-tilling is too difficult to deal with, especially when corn is the primary cash crop.
Even farmers who enthusiastically adopt no-till and other soil-conservation methods rarely do so for environmental reasons; their motivation is more pragmatic.
“My goal is to improve my soil so I can grow a better crop so I can make more money,” said Terry McAlister, who farms 6,000 acres of drought-stricken cropland in North Texas. “If I can help the environment in the process, fine, but that’s not my goal.”
For years, Mr. McAlister plowed his fields, working with his father, who began farming outside the town of Electra in the 1950s. But he began having doubts about the effects of constant tilling on the soil.
“We were farming cotton like the West Texas guys were, just plow, plow, plow,” he said. “And if you got a rain, it just washed it and eroded it. It made me sick. You’re asking yourself, ‘Is there not a better way?’ But at the time, we didn’t know.”
Mr. McAlister said that he switched to no-tillage in 2005, when an agricultural economist calculated that the method offered a $15-per-acre advantage over full tilling. Now he is a convert. Standing in a field of winter wheat, he pointed proudly at the thick blanket of stubble sprinkled with decaying radishes and turnips.
“One of the toughest things about learning to do no-till is having to unlearn all the things that you thought were true,” he said.
Mr. McAlister grows cotton, wheat, hay, grain sorghum and some canola as cash crops, using a GPS-guided no-till seeder that drills through residue, allowing him to plant precisely and effectively. He credits no-tillage for one of his biggest wheat crops, in 2012, when extreme drought left farmers throughout the region struggling to salvage any harvest. His healthier soil, he believes, made better use of the tiny amount of rain that fell than did the fully tilled fields of other farmers. But few growers go as far as Mr. Brown in North Dakota, who produces grass-fed beef and has given up most agricultural chemicals. Mr. McAlister, for example, still uses nitrogen fertilizer. He plants seeds that are genetically modified for drought or herbicide resistance. And he depends on herbicides like Roundup to kill off his cover crops before sowing the crops he grows for cash.
The philanthropist Howard G. Buffett, a proponent of soil-conservation practices, said that the drought and flooding that have plagued much of the country in recent years have drawn more farmers to no-till.
“When you get into a drought, that gets everybody’s attention,” said Mr. Buffett, the middle son of Warren E. Buffett, the billionaire investor. “Farmers don’t really change their behavior until they see that they have to, which is pretty much human nature.”
The Environmental Protection Agency’s regulation of nutrient pollution in the Chesapeake Bay under the Clean Water Act in 2010, Mr. Buffett said, should also be “a wake-up call that the E.P.A. is coming soon” and if farmers do not address fertilizer runoff, the government will do it for them. Still, he said, reaping the benefits of no-tillage farming demands patience, given that it may take several years for deadened soil to recover. Some farmers try no-tilling for one season and then get discouraged. And there is no one-size-fits-all solution: Farmers must adapt what they have learned to their own land and crops.
Mr. McAlister and other no-till farmers said that perhaps the biggest barrier to the spread of no-till is the mind-set that farmers must do things the same way as earlier generations did them.
“We have a saying in our area: ‘You can’t no-till because you haven’t buried your father yet,’” Mr. McAlister said.
“You can’t take on an endeavor like this with someone leaning over your shoulder every day telling you you’re wrong and it’s not going to work,” he said.
POTH: A seismic shift
Reply #58 on:
November 08, 2015, 10:06:17 AM »
IT’S easy to make fun of people in big cities for their obsession with gluten, or chia seeds, or cleanses.
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But urbanites are not the only ones turning away from the products created by big food companies. Eating habits are changing across the country and food companies are struggling to keep up.
General Mills will drop all artificial colors and flavors from its cereals. Perdue, Tyson and Foster Farm have begun to limit the use of antibiotics in their chicken. Kraft declared it was dropping artificial dyes from its macaroni and cheese. Hershey’s will begin to move away from ingredients such as the emulsifier polyglycerol polyricinoleate to “simple and easy-to-understand ingredients” like “fresh milk from local farms, roasted California almonds, cocoa beans and sugar.”
Those announcements reflect a new reality: Consumers are walking away from America’s most iconic food brands. Big food manufacturers are reacting by cleaning up their ingredient labels, acquiring healthier brands and coming out with a prodigious array of new products. Last year, General Mills purchased the organic pasta maker Annie’s Homegrown for $820 million — a price that was over four times the company’s revenues, likening it to valuations more often seen in Silicon Valley. The company also introduced more than 200 new products, ranging from Cheerios Protein to Betty Crocker gluten-free cookie mix, to capitalize on the latest consumer fads.
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Food companies are moving in the right direction, but it won’t be enough to save them. If they are to survive changes in eating habits, they need a fundamental shift in their approach.
The food movement over the past couple of decades has substantially altered consumer behavior and reshaped the competitive landscape. Chains like Sweetgreen, a salad purveyor, are grabbing market share from traditional fast food companies. Brands such as Amy’s Kitchen, with its organic products, and Kind bars are taking some of the space on shelves once consumed by Nestlé’s Lean Cuisine and Mars.
For the large established food companies, this is having disastrous consequences. Per capita soda sales are down 25 percent since 1998, mostly replaced by water. Orange juice, a drink once seen as an important part of a healthy breakfast, has seen per capita consumption drop 45 percent in the same period. It is now more correctly considered a serious carrier of free sugar, stripped of its natural fibers. Sales of packaged cereals, also heavily sugar-laden, are down over 25 percent since 2000, with yogurt and granola taking their place. Frozen dinner sales are down nearly 12 percent from 2007 to 2013. Sales per outlet at McDonald’s have been on a downward spiral for nearly three years, with no end in sight.
To survive, the food industry will need more than its current bag of tricks. There is a consumer shift at play that calls into question the reason packaged foods exist. There was a time when consumers used to walk through every aisle of the grocery store, but today much of their time is being spent in the perimeter of the store with its vast collection of fresh products — raw produce, meats, bakery items and fresh prepared foods. Sales of fresh prepared foods have grown nearly 30 percent since 2009, while sales of center-of-store packaged goods have started to fall. Sales of raw fruits and vegetables are also growing — among children and young adults, per capita consumption of vegetables is up 10 percent over the past five years.
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The outlook for the center of the store is so glum that industry insiders have begun to refer to that space as the morgue. For consumers today, packaged goods conjure up the image of foods stripped of their nutrition and loaded with sugar. Also, decades of deceptive marketing, corporate-sponsored research and government lobbying have left large food companies with brands that are fast becoming liabilities. According to one recent survey, 42 percent of millennial consumers, ages 20 to 37, don’t trust large food companies, compared with 18 percent of non-millennial consumers who feel that way.
Food companies can’t merely tinker. Nor will acquisition-driven strategies prove sufficient, because most acquisitions are too small to shift fortunes quickly. Acquired brands such as Annie’s Homegrown, Happy Baby and Honest Tea account for 1 percent or less of their buyers’ revenues. Moreover, these brands, along with their missions and culture, tend to get quickly lost in the sales and marketing machine of big food companies. It is easy for them to get orphaned.
For legacy food companies to have any hope of survival, they will have to make bold changes in their core product offerings. Companies will have to drastically cut sugar; process less; go local and organic; use more fruits, vegetables and other whole foods; and develop fresh offerings. General Mills needs to do more than just drop the artificial ingredients from Trix. It needs to drop the sugar substantially, move to 100 percent whole grains, and increase ingredient diversity by expanding to other grains besides corn.
Instead of throwing good money after bad for its lagging frozen products, Nestlé, which is investing in a new $50 million frozen research and development facility, should introduce a range of healthy, fresh prepared meals for deli counters across the country.
McDonalds needs to do more than use antibiotic-free chicken. The back of the house for its 36,000 restaurants currently looks like a mini-factory serving fried frozen patties and french fries. It needs to look more like a kitchen serving freshly prepared meals with locally sourced vegetables and grains — and it still needs to taste great and be affordable.
These changes would require a complete overhaul of their supply chains, major organizational restructuring and billions of dollars of investment, but these corporations have the resources. It may be their last chance.
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