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Food & Water Watch Launches Fair Farm Bill Campaign in Ohio

Food & Water Watch

by Tia Lebherz

Contact Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) or call 202-224-2315 and ask him to stand up for a fair food system that includes protections that ensure fair markets for small and mid-sized independent farmers, and rules that prevent ever-increasing mega-mergers by big agribusiness.

About every four years, the federal Farm Bill comes up for reauthorization by Congress. Many people—especially those living in urban areas—have never heard of the farm bill or think it has nothing to do with their lives. However, this policy is one major piece of federal legislation that everyone should be keeping an eye on.

The farm bill determines how the food we eat reaches our plate. It includes everything from nutrition programs for low income families to land conservation, and has more than 1,000 pages of in betweens.

Currently, the farm bill does not include protections that ensure fair markets for our small and mid-sized independent farmers, and rules that prevent ever-increasing mega-mergers by big agribusiness, like Monsanto and Cargill. It is for those reasons that Food & Water Watch has launched its Fair Farm Bill campaign.

Our current food system is broken, and it didn’t happen by accident. Decades of bad food policy designed to benefit agribusinesses and mega-farms, combined with unchecked corporate mergers, have wreaked havoc on family farmers, public health and rural communities.

Our food system is no longer working for most Americans. Most supermarket aisles do not offer good, nutritious foods as feasible shopping options. What you find instead is an abundance of cheap, processed foods that are generally unhealthy, or meat from factory farms produced with antibiotics and artificial hormones, and vegetables raised with pesticides that are often produced halfway around the world.

At the same time, small and medium-sized family farmers across the U.S. have been driven out of business or are barely making ends meet. Our country is losing its farming backbone because big companies set unfair prices for livestock and crops, cheating small and medium-sized farmers out of money they need to cover their costs. The companies get away with it because farmers often don’t have anywhere else to sell their products. A few large companies dominate the meat and poultry industries. Their control over these markets allows them to use oppressive contracts to squeeze both small producers and consumers. For example, nearly all producers of broiler chickens (chickens raised for eating versus laying eggs) operate under abusive, take-it-or-leave-it contracts and often pay growers less for the chickens than what they cost to raise. Companies have retaliated against growers that have demanded fairer contracts, and growers put up with it because, in many parts of the country, there is only one processing company for them to sell their chickens to.

This corporate consolidation of our food system is pushing our small and mid-sized farmers out of business, while companies like Monsanto are making record profits.

We can’t shop our way out of this problem. We have to start to fix the broken food policies at the federal level by taking control away from large agribusinesses and rebuilding a more secure and sustainable system that protects farmers and consumers.

This is where the farm bill comes in. The farm bill is a crucial opportunity to create a fairer, safer and more sustainable food system. U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) is on the Agriculture Committee, so he’s making decisions right now about what protections the bill will include for small farmers, consumers and the environment. The good news for Ohioans is that he has historically been a champion on these issues.

Senator Brown has the opportunity to bring more healthful, affordable food and more quality jobs back to Northeast Ohio. He needs to support a farm bill that re-establishes regional food systems and addresses unfair, deceptive and anti-competitive trade practices that are putting small and medium-size farms out of business.

Food & Water Watch is running the Fair Farm Bill campaign in Ohio because we believe that Senator Brown will stand up for small farmers and consumers. With big agribusiness spending millions of dollars lobbying to stop these reforms, he needs to hear from his constituents that we care about the food we feed our families and need his leadership in ensuring that it’s safe, healthy and fair.

For more information or to get involved click here or contact your local organizer in Cleveland—Tia Lebherz at tia@greencorps.org, Columbus—Chris Linsmayer chris@greencorps.org or Toledo—Adam Reaves adam@greencorps.org.

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Farms with just one or a handful of different crops encourage fewer species of pollinating and pest-controlling insects to linger, ultimately winnowing away crop yields, according to a new study.

Up to half of the detrimental impacts of the "landscape simplification" that monocropping entails come as a result of a diminished mix of ecosystem service-providing insects, a team of scientists reported Oct. 16 in the journal Science Advances.

Monocrop palm oil plantation Honduras.

SHARE Foundation / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0​

"Our study shows that biodiversity is essential to ensure the provision of ecosystem services and to maintain a high and stable agricultural production," Matteo Dainese, the study's lead author and a biologist at Eurac Research in Bolzano, Italy, said in a statement.

It stands to reason that, with declines in the sheer numbers of insects that ferry pollen from plant to plant and keep crop-eating pests under control, these services will wane as well. But until now, it hasn't been clear how monocultures affect the number and mix of these species or how crop yields might change as a result.

Aiming to solve these questions, Dainese and his colleagues pulled together data from 89 studies cutting across a variety of landscapes, from the tropics of Asia and Africa to the higher latitudes of northern Europe. They tabulated the number of pollinating and pest-controlling insects at these sites — both the absolute number of individuals and the number of species — along with an assessment of the ecosystem services the insects provided.

In almost all of the studies they looked at, the team found that a more diverse pool of these species translated into more pollination and greater pest control. They also showed that simplified landscapes supported fewer species of service-providing insects, which ultimately led to lower crop yields.

The researchers also looked at a third measure of the makeup of insect populations — what they called "evenness." In natural ecosystems, a handful of dominant species with many more individuals typically live alongside a higher number of rarer species. The team found as landscapes became less diverse, dominant species numbers dwindled and rare species gained ground. This resulting, more equitable mix led to less pollination (though it didn't end up affecting pest control).

"Our study provides strong empirical support for the potential benefits of new pathways to sustainable agriculture that aim to reconcile the protection of biodiversity and the production of food for increasing human populations," Ingolf Steffan-Dewenter, one of the study's authors and an animal ecologist at the University of Würzburg in Germany, said in the statement.

The scientists figure that the richness of pollinator species explains around a third of the harmful impacts of less diverse landscapes, while the richness of pest-controlling species accounts for about half of the same measure. In their view, the results of their research point to the need to protect biodiversity on and around crops in an uncertain future.

"Under future conditions with ongoing global change and more frequent extreme climate events, the value of farmland biodiversity ensuring resilience against environmental disturbances will become even more important," Steffan-Dewenter said.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Mongabay.

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