By Kendra Klein
Biden's election has boosted hopes that scientific integrity will be restored in the federal government. To make good on that promise, the administration will need to take action to safeguard against the risks of an entirely new type of pesticide, one developed by genetic engineers rather than chemists.
These pesticides will broadcast "gene silencing" agents across our farm fields — resulting in an open-air genetic engineering experiment. Among the concerns that scientists have raised are threats to bees and other beneficial insects essential to food production. Others have called out potential impacts on human health, including for some of our most essential frontline workers — farmworkers — and rural communities.
Farmers across the U.S. could soon fill their pesticide spray tanks with a substance known as interfering RNA (RNAi). (RNA is a molecule similar to DNA.) Insects that are exposed to it — either by eating crops sprayed with the substance or by landing on a crop and absorbing it through their bodies — would be genetically modified right there in the field. The pesticide would trigger a process inside the insects' cells to switch off or "silence" genes that are essential for survival — like those needed to make new, healthy cells — thus killing them.
At least one product has already been submitted to the Environmental Protection Agency for approval. But unless Biden's administration takes action, companies will be able to commercialize these new RNAi pesticides without submitting meaningful health or environmental risk assessments.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's pesticide rules were written fifty years ago, long before regulators could imagine a class of pesticides that could genetically modify living organisms. Perhaps most concerning is that once gene-silencing agents are released into the environment, there's no clean-up process when things go awry. Evidence shows that RNAi-related genetic modifications could be passed on for up to 80 generations in some cases.
What could go wrong? Quite a bit, according to scientific research summarized in a report from Friends of the Earth.
RNAi and the "Insect Apocalypse"
There is little reason to believe that this novel technology would be able to target only the "bad" insects and not the plethora of insects that are vital to farming, like pollinators. Bayer and other companies developing RNAi pesticides assert that they can target specific insects. But the genetic story of an ecosystem is one of interconnection — independent researchers warn that thousands of insect species have genetic sequences that are matching or similar enough that they could be unintentionally modified in a way that results in their death.
A 2017 study indicating that honeybees could be harmed by RNAi pesticides raises a red flag since we rely on pollinators for one in three bites of food we eat. Insects form the basis of the food webs that sustain all life on the planet. We are already in the midst of what scientists call an "insect apocalypse" — forty percent of insect species face extinction in coming decades. This is a loss so severe that it could cause a "catastrophic collapse of nature's ecosystems" according to leading researchers.
It's not just insects that may be harmed. While there are gaping holes in the research about potential human health impacts, what we do know raises concerns. Research indicates that naturally occurring RNAi that we consume in our food could regulate genes in our bodies. This suggests that synthetic RNAi could affect our gene expression, causing unforeseen problems. And medical research investigating therapeutic uses of RNAi has been hampered because some participants in clinical trials have experienced adverse immune reactions in their bodies.
Entrenching a Failed Paradigm
The pesticide industry is pitching RNAi pesticides as a solution to a problem the industry itself created: weed and pest resistance. As Rachel Carson warned in Silent Spring, her groundbreaking book about pesticides in the 1960s, our "relentless war" on insect life will inevitably fail because nature "fights back." Indeed, over 540 species of insects and over 360 types of weeds have evolved to resist the deadly effects of commonly used pesticides. Despite drastic and costly increases in pesticide use, some analyses show that farmers are losing more of their crops to pests today than they did in the 1940s.
It is foolish to continue down this same path and expect a different outcome. Research already shows the potential for pests to develop resistance to RNAi pesticides.
But pesticide giants like Bayer and Syngenta need new products to sell. A significant portion of their income is tied to pesticides that pose serious hazards to health and the environment. And as the scientific evidence mounts, the industry is facing increasing regulatory, legal, and market pressures.
Not only could RNAi pesticides provide a lucrative new suite of products, companies appear to be using them to extend their ownership over nature in an unprecedented way. Manufacturers are filing patents that claim property rights to the organisms exposed to RNAi pesticides as well as to their progeny.
Farming With Nature — a True Solution
The science shows clearly that pesticide-intensive agriculture is a disastrous dead end. Decades of data point to the same conclusion: we must rapidly shift to ecological farming methods in order to continue to produce food for generations to come.
Ecological farming offers a true solution to pest management with additional benefits. Practices like cover cropping, composting, and rotating crops build healthy soils that strengthen plants' defenses against pests and fungi while disrupting pest cycles and fostering biodiversity. These same methods, which underpin the success of organic farming, are also the lynchpins of regenerative agriculture, the idea that farmland can serve as a carbon sink.
Follow the Science
Biden has already signaled that he is likely to shy away from making the bold changes we need by appointing Tom Vilsack as head of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
But as he rebuilds the scientific backbone of the federal government, advocates hope that he will take steps to update our decades-old pesticide regulations, such as those outlined in this recently introduced bill. In addition, specific criteria need to be added to ensure a science-based approach to regulating RNAi pesticides. Risk assessments of this novel technology should include genome analyses of beneficial organisms in the regions where they will be sprayed to see if bees and other critical species could be harmed, assessments of the hereditary impacts across generations of organisms, evaluations of how long the pesticides will remain active in ecosystems, and rigorous toxicity analysis to understand potential impacts on human health.
If Biden's EPA does not take these measures, we will soon embark on an open-air genetic experiment, the consequences of which may be felt for generations to come.
Reposted with permission from Food Tank.
At first glance, you wouldn't think avocados and almonds could harm bees; but a closer look at how these popular crops are produced reveals their potentially detrimental effect on pollinators.
Turns out, bee labor is required to produce most avocados and almonds in the U.S. Honeybees pollinate most fruits and vegetables in the country, The Washington Post reported. With native bee populations in sharp decline, there aren't enough of them to complete the job naturally or efficiently, The Post added.
Enter migratory beekeeping. Farmers truck beehives full of European honeybees across the country and into their fields so that the insects can pollinate crops during important fertile periods, The Post reported. Without this practice, farmers would lose about one-third of their crops, including broccoli, blueberries, cherries, apples, melons and lettuce, according to The Post.
The practice is so widespread that Tracy Reiman, a representative for PETA, said, "Average shoppers can't avoid produce that involves migratory beekeeping, any more than they can avoid driving on asphalt," Vegan Life reported.
In 2013, Scientific American estimated that California's booming almond industry used 31 to 80 billion migrant honeybees a year in order to achieve maximum pollination during almond trees' two-week bloom. California produces up to 80 percent of all the world's almonds, Scientific American noted, and could not achieve such scale without migratory beekeeping.
Migratory beekeeping involves trucking millions of bees across the U.S. to pollinate different crops, including avocados and almonds. Timothy Paule II / Pexels / CC0
According to From the Grapevine, American avocados also fully depend on bees' pollination to produce fruit, so farmers have turned to migratory beekeeping as well to fill the void left by wild populations.
U.S. farmers have become reliant upon the practice, but migratory beekeeping has been called exploitative and harmful to bees. CNN reported that commercial beekeeping may injure or kill bees and that transporting them to pollinate crops appears to negatively affect their health and lifespan. Because the honeybees are forced to gather pollen and nectar from a single, monoculture crop — the one they've been brought in to pollinate — they are deprived of their normal diet, which is more diverse and nourishing as it's comprised of a variety of pollens and nectars, Scientific American reported.
Scientific American added how getting shuttled from crop to crop and field to field across the country boomerangs the bees between feast and famine, especially once the blooms they were brought in to fertilize end.
Plus, the artificial mass influx of bees guarantees spreading viruses, mites and fungi between the insects as they collide in midair and crawl over each other in their hives, Scientific American reported. According to CNN, some researchers argue that this explains why so many bees die each winter, and even why entire hives suddenly die off in a phenomenon called colony collapse disorder.
Adding pesticides to the picture, bees don't stand a chance. Many countries still use neonicotinoid pesticides (neonics), which are believed to kill bees. In Jan. 2021, the U.K. faced backlash after approving the emergency use of the toxin on sugar beets, despite pledging not to increase its usage in the wake of Brexit. Although restricted, this family of pesticides is still the most widely used in the U.S., and scientists warn that neonics' continued prevalence could be catastrophic for food supplies, honeybee populations and mass die-offs of native species. Neonics are a primary cause behind the massive honeybee and native bee losses each year, researchers and environmentalists argue.
In Columbia, mass bee deaths are being blamed directly on avocado farms, Phys.org reported. Avocado exports from Columbia skyrocketed from 1.7 tons in 2014 to 44.5 tons in 2019, and in 2021, Colombia became Europe's largest avocado supplier, Phys.org added. This boom has resulted in the increased use of neonic insecticide fipronil. Banned in Europe and restricted in the U.S. and China, fipronil is still used in Colombia to grow avocados and citrus for export. This has been bad for neighboring bees, which become contaminated as they buzz through pesticide-treated plantations looking for food.
"They bring this poison to the hive and kill everyone else," Abdon Salazar, a Columbian beekeeper, lamented to Phys.org after losing 800 hives and 80 million bees in the last two years.
Avocado and almond crops depend on bees for proper pollination. FRANK MERIÑO / Pexels / CC0
Salazar and other Columbian beekeepers described "scooping up piles of dead bees" year after year since the avocado and citrus booms began, according to Phys.org. Many have opted to salvage what partial colonies survive and move away from agricultural areas.
The future of pollinators and the crops they help create is uncertain. According to the United Nations, nearly half of insect pollinators, particularly bees and butterflies, risk global extinction, Phys.org reported. Their decline already has cascading consequences for the economy and beyond. Roughly 1.4 billion jobs and three-quarters of all crops around the world depend on bees and other pollinators for free fertilization services worth billions of dollars, Phys.org noted. Losing wild and native bees could trigger food security issues.
Salazar, the beekeeper, warned Phys.org, "The bee is a bioindicator. If bees are dying, what other insects beneficial to the environment... are dying?"
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
By Jessica Corbett
Sen. Bernie Sanders on Tuesday was the lone progressive to vote against Tom Vilsack reprising his role as secretary of agriculture, citing concerns that progressive advocacy groups have been raising since even before President Joe Biden officially nominated the former Obama administration appointee.
The Senate voted 92-7 to confirm Vilsack, with Sanders (I-Vt.) and six Republicans opposing his appointment. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) was the only member who did not vote.
In a statement on his decision, Sanders first said that "I have known Tom Vilsack for many years and look forward to working with him as our new secretary of agriculture."
"I opposed his confirmation today because at a time when corporate consolidation of agriculture is rampant and family farms are being decimated, we need a secretary who is prepared to vigorously take on corporate power in the industry," Sanders explained. "I heard from many family farmers in Vermont and around the country who feel that is not what Tom did when he last served in this job."
The Hill reports Sanders made similar remarks about Vilsack to journalists after the vote, saying that "I think he'll be fine, but not as strong as I would like."
The progressive group RootsAction praised Sanders on Twitter for taking a stand against Biden's pick to run the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
🚨🚨🚨 Bernie Sanders voted against Tom Vilsack's nomination. It's great to see the Senator stick to his principles a… https://t.co/u4XNU4viNC— RootsAction (@RootsAction)1614109634.0
Fordham University law professor Zephyr Teachout also welcomed Sanders' move.
"This is the correct vote. Vilsack failed farmers, farmworkers, the land, and the public, and Shirley Sherrod," Teachout tweeted, referencing the former Georgia state director of rural development at USDA who was ousted under Vilsack.
Sherrod, who is Black, recently told The 19th that "I have no ill will towards him, none at all," but added that if Vilsack returned as USDA chief, "he should be ready to get on the ground to make real change this time around. And we need to hold him to it. Black people need to see some real change."
As Common Dreams previously reported, Vilsack has faced criticism for the USDA's treatment of Black farmers when he headed the department during the Obama administration—among other critiques.
Center for Food Safety policy director Jaydee Hanson said in December that Biden's potential selection of Vilsack was "a huge step backwards in our urgent need to support agricultural systems that protect public health, the environment, and mitigate the ongoing climate crisis."
Early Tuesday, in anticipation of Vilsack's bipartisan confirmation, Food & Water Watch executive director Wenonah Hauter—whose group has been raising alarm about him for months now—issued a warning about what to expect going forward.
"We can confidently predict what Tom Vilsack's leadership of the Agriculture Department will look like, because he's led it before. And the prediction is grim," she said. "In his previous stint at USDA, Vilsack backed mass corporate consolidation of our food system at the expense of struggling family farmers. Similarly, he readily advanced industry-driven initiatives allowing companies to inspect their own poultry processing plants, dismantling federal oversight of food and worker safety."
"This administration needs to drastically shift course from the Trump era by supporting sustainable, independent farming, halting the toxic expansion of polluting factory farms, and ultimately, prioritizing consumer health and worker safety," Hauter added. "We have little hope that Tom Vilsack cares to undertake this effort, so we will be pressuring him doggedly to see the light."
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
By Philip H. Howard and Mary Hendrickson
Agribusiness executives and government policymakers often praise the U.S. food system for producing abundant and affordable food. In fact, however, food costs are rising, and shoppers in many parts of the U.S. have limited access to fresh, healthy products.
This isn't just an academic argument. Even before the current pandemic, millions of people in the U.S. went hungry. In 2019 the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated that over 35 million people were "food insecure," meaning they did not have reliable access to affordable, nutritious food. Now food banks are struggling to feed people who have lost jobs and income due to COVID-19.
As rural sociologists, we study changes in food systems and sustainability. We've closely followed corporate consolidation of food production, processing and distribution in the U.S. over the past 40 years. In our view, this process is making food less available or affordable for many Americans.
Fewer, Larger Companies
Consolidation has placed key decisions about our nation's food system in the hands of a few large companies, giving them outsized influence to lobby policymakers, direct food and industry research and influence media coverage. These corporations also have enormous power to make decisions about what food is produced how, where and by whom, and who gets to eat it. We've tracked this trend across the globe.
It began in the 1980s with mergers and acquisitions that left a few large firms dominating nearly every step of the food chain. Among the largest are retailer Walmart, food processor Nestlé and seed/chemical firm Bayer.
Between 1996 and 2013 Monsanto acquired more than 70 seed companies, before the firm was itself acquired by competing seed/chemical firm Bayer in 2018. Philip Howard, CC BY-ND
Some corporate leaders have abused their power – for example, by allying with their few competitors to fix prices. In 2020 Christopher Lischewski, the former president and CEO of Bumblebee Foods, was convicted of conspiracy to fix prices of canned tuna. He was sentenced to 40 months in prison and fined US$100,000.
In the same year, chicken processor Pilgrim's Pride pleaded guilty to price-fixing charges and was fined $110.5 million. Meatpacking company JBS settled a $24.5 million pork price-fixing lawsuit, and farmers won a class action settlement against peanut-shelling companies Olam and Birdsong.
Industry consolidation is hard to track. Many subsidiary firms often are controlled by one parent corporation and engage in "contract packing," in which a single processing plant produces identical foods that are then sold under dozens of different brands – including labels that compete directly against each other.
Recalls ordered in response to food-borne disease outbreaks have revealed the broad scope of contracting relationships. Shutdowns at meatpacking plants due to COVID-19 infections among workers have shown how much of the U.S. food supply flows through a small number of facilities.
With consolidation, large supermarket chains have closed many urban and rural stores. This process has left numerous communities with limited food selections and high prices – especially neighborhoods with many low-income, Black or Latino households.
As unemployment has risen during the pandemic, so has the number of hungry Americans. Feeding America, a nationwide network of food banks, estimates that up to 50 million people – including 17 million children – may currently be experiencing food insecurity. Nationwide, demand at food banks grew by over 48% during the first half of 2020.
Simultaneously, disruptions in food supply chains forced farmers to dump milk down the drain, leave produce rotting in fields and euthanize livestock that could not be processed at slaughterhouses. We estimate that between March and May of 2020, farmers disposed of somewhere between 300,000 and 800,000 hogs and 2 million chickens – more than 30,000 tons of meat.
What role does concentration play in this situation? Research shows that retail concentration correlates with higher prices for consumers. It also shows that when food systems have fewer production and processing sites, disruptions can have major impacts on supply.
Consolidation makes it easier for any industry to maintain high prices. With few players, companies simply match each other's price increases rather than competing with them. Concentration in the U.S. food system has raised the costs of everything from breakfast cereal and coffee to beer.
As the pandemic roiled the nation's food system through 2020, consumer food costs rose by 3.4%, compared to 0.4% in 2018 and 0.9% in 2019. We expect retail prices to remain high because they are "sticky," with a tendency to increase rapidly but to decline more slowly and only partially.
We also believe there could be further supply disruptions. A few months into the pandemic, meat shelves in some U.S. stores sat empty, while some of the nation's largest processors were exporting record amounts of meat to China. U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Cory Booker, D-N.J., cited this imbalance as evidence of the need to crack down on what they called "monopolistic practices" by Tyson Foods, Cargill, JBS and Smithfield, which dominate the U.S. meatpacking industry.
Tyson Foods responded that a large portion of its exports were "cuts of meat or portions of the animal that are not desired by" Americans. Store shelves are no longer empty for most cuts of meat, but processing plants remain overbooked, with many scheduling well into 2021.
Toward a More Equitable Food System
In our view, a resilient food system that feeds everyone can be achieved only through a more equitable distribution of power. This in turn will require action in areas ranging from contract law and antitrust policy to workers' rights and economic development. Farmers, workers, elected officials and communities will have to work together to fashion alternatives and change policies.
The goal should be to produce more locally sourced food with shorter and less-centralized supply chains. Detroit offers an example. Over the past 50 years, food producers there have established more than 1,900 urban farms and gardens. A planned community-owned food co-op will serve the city's North End, whose residents are predominantly low- and moderate-income and African American.
The federal government can help by adapting farm support programs to target farms and businesses that serve local and regional markets. State and federal incentives can build community- or cooperative-owned farms and processing and distribution businesses. Ventures like these could provide economic development opportunities while making the food system more resilient.
In our view, the best solutions will come from listening to and working with the people most affected: sustainable farmers, farm and food service workers, entrepreneurs and cooperators – and ultimately, the people whom they feed.
Philip H. Howard is an associate professor of community sustainability at Michigan State University.
Mary Hendrickson is an associate professor of rural sociology at the University of Missouri-Columbia.
Disclosure statements: Philip H. Howard is a member of the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems, and a member of the Rural Sociological Society. He has received funding from the National Science Foundation and the US Department of Agriculture. Mary Hendrickson is a member of the Rural Sociological Society, Agriculture Food and Human Values Society, and serves on the North Central Region SARE Administrative Council. She has received funding from USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture, USDA's Sustainable Agriculture and Research Program and various foundations.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
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By Kenny Stancil
A growing number of people around the world are calling for the public ownership of seeds, which they say is essential for a more democratic and ecologically sound food system, as the coronavirus-driven spike in empty supermarket shelves and the continued loss of biodiversity this year sparked a rise in the popularity of saving and swapping seeds and shed more light on the negative consequences of allowing a handful of agrochemical corporations to dominate the global seed trade.
In the United Kingdom, the seed saving movement had been "quietly growing" for a while, but "from March onwards, when the pandemic hit the UK, seed producers and seed banks across the country were overwhelmed with demand," with multiple organizations experiencing a "sharp surge in orders, 600% in some cases," Alexandra Genova reported Monday in The Guardian.
"People crave connection," David Price, managing director of the Seed Cooperative, told The Guardian. "They want connection with other people and connection with the planet, and growing and saving seed is a way of getting both."
Genova noted that while "many British consumers feel disconnected from the processes of food production ... seed saving allows everyone to be involved in the food system." Moreover, advocates say seed saving can contribute to reversing the dramatic decline in the availability of plant varieties that are "richly diverse, well adapted to the soil and local climate, and more resilient to climate change."
The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) has estimated that since the beginning of the 20th century, roughly 75% of the genetic diversity of agricultural crops and 93% of unique seed varieties have disappeared. This biodiversity loss has been attributed to industrialized agriculture and what Genova called "the big boom in agrochemicals."
As the FAO has explained, the increasingly commercialized nature of plant breeding has permitted transnational seed and agrochemical corporations — which enjoy so-called plant breeders' rights that give "patent-like protection to breeders with limited monopoly rights over the production, marketing, and sale of their varieties" — to privatize access to genetic resources taken from countries in the global south.
Seed saving movement calls for seeds to be publicly owned. Empty shelves during the pandemic made clear, allowing h… https://t.co/rsxXUloXdC— B.E.A.T. (@B.E.A.T.)1609149173.0
Scholar-activist Pat Mooney of the ETC Group coined the term "biopiracy" to describe how genetic material originally nurtured by impoverished farmers is turned into patented seeds that now generate huge profits primarily for BASF, Bayer/Monsanto, ChemChina-Syngenta, and Corteva Agriscience.
In a 2018 report on industrial food chain concentration, Mooney explained that these "four companies have gained oligopolistic control over more than two-thirds of commercial seed and pesticide sales, while decimating the innovative contribution of public sector researchers and threatening the 12,000-year-old right of peasants to breed, save, and exchange their seeds."
The blossoming of what researchers Karine Peschard and Shalini Randeria call "seed activism" is "largely in response to the intensification of corporate seed enclosures and to the loss of agrobiodiversity," Genova reported. "Many seed savers are motivated by this idea of dismantling the increasing privatization of seeds ... by drawing attention to the negative impact of such high levels of concentration." She continued:
Less than 50 years ago, most of the world enjoyed food that came from entirely open-pollinated seed varieties, which could be saved for future crops. Much of the seed sold now by the large companies are, in contrast, GM or F1 hybrid seeds. These cannot be saved for use in following years because they are genetically unstable and are protected by seed and patent laws, meaning most farmers are tied to chains of dependency.
According to Helene Schulze, who works on the Seed Sovereignty Program of the UK and Ireland and co-directs the London Freedom Seedbank, "Covid made people really understand how our food system is dominated by a few large corporations, and this has put a focus on seed sovereignty," which Genova defined as "a grower's right to breed and exchange diverse, open source seeds, which can be saved and are not patented, genetically modified, or owned by one of the four agrochemical companies that control more than 60% of the global seed trade."
Campaigners at Open Source Seeds, the Campaign for Seed Sovereignty, and elsewhere are pushing for seeds to be brought back into public ownership, arguing that "something as universal as food crops should belong to everyone, not a small group of agrochemical companies."
"This land was made a treasury for everyone to share" Seeds should not be private property https://t.co/4l7G1yFNMK— Global Justice Manchester (@Global Justice Manchester)1609164001.0
"If you own the seeds you own the food system," Schulze told The Guardian. "Access to open-pollinated seeds is the cornerstone of food citizenship because it creates non-market access to growing."
"I want all local communities or regions to have their own seed bank," she added, "so everyone knows exactly where to get free seed."
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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By David Coman-Hidy
The actions of the U.S. meat industry throughout the pandemic have brought to light the true corruption and waste that are inherent within our food system. Despite a new wave of rising COVID-19 cases, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently submitted a proposal to further increase "the maximum slaughter line speed by 25 percent," which was already far too fast and highly dangerous. It has been made evident that the industry will exploit its workers and animals all to boost its profit.
The revelations continued when Tyson Foods, the world's second-largest producer of chicken, beef and pork, cooperated with the Department of Justice to avoid scrutiny into the company's role in the monopolization of the industry to fix prices of chicken for both consumers and retailers. This news comes at a time when Tyson has already been under fire for exposing its workers to an enormous risk of contracting COVID-19. We can now add competitors and consumers to the ever-growing list of those victimized by the corporate giant. This is further evidence that it's time for our nation's food supply chain to change in a big way.
Tyson Foods former CEO Noel White, replaced by Dean Banks in October, rushed to cooperate under the Department of Justice's antitrust leniency program, stating, "I am proud to lead a company that took appropriate and immediate actions in reporting the wrongdoing we discovered to the Department of Justice." What White failed to mention is that cooperating will afford Tyson protection from public scrutiny and legal fines, at the expense of its competitors.
Unethical business practices seem to be the norm for Tyson Foods. Due to a lack of proper safety measures and harsh attendance policies, more than 10,000 Tyson plant workers tested positive for the virus, substantially more than any other U.S. meat company. Before the pandemic, working on a meat processing line was one of the most dangerous jobs in the United States. Now, with the constant threat of COVID-19 looming over these elbow-to-elbow assembly lines, meat processing may be among the most deadly jobs in the world. Workers are not just getting sick from this virus—they're dying.
The pandemic has led to major disruptions in the supply chain. While Tyson has not yet engaged in the mass "depopulation" of animals that other producers resorted to, in a typical week, the company slaughters an estimated 37 million chickens. The poor treatment of the chickens within its supply chain—including breeding birds to grow at such an unnaturally fast rate that they can't even hold up their own bodies—has made Tyson the target of public campaigns urging the company to make meaningful changes.
More than 120 labor, food justice, animal welfare and environmental organizations have banded together to take action against the company. Tyson must take immediate action to protect the safety and well-being of its workers, make improvements to support animal welfare and reduce its harsh impact on the environment.
For too long, the unethical, avaricious practices of the meat industry have been hidden from view. The scandals surrounding Tyson and other major producers are making clear that vulnerable workers, abused animals and a rigged system are the foundation of an unethical and destructive business model.
Tyson had a role in creating the industrialized system, and it must step up its role in fixing it. The meat giant has had one singular focus since its inception: profit. The company's greed has caused it to exploit anyone in its path. Tyson's disregard for human and animal life extends to its workers, animals killed in its plants, consumers and now its competitors. Tyson took ownership for rigging the system using price-fixing. It's time for Tyson to take ownership for exploiting and endangering its more vulnerable victims as well.
Sign the petition urging Tyson to stop neglecting workers, animals and public health.
Sign the petition urging the U.S. chicken meat industry to end the cruel practice of boiling birds alive.
David Coman-Hidy is president of The Humane League, a global nonprofit working to fix our broken food system and end the abuse of animals raised for food.
By Andrea Germanos
A new report released Tuesday details the "shocking" state of global land equality, saying the problem is worse than thought, rising, and "cannot be ignored."
Among the key findings is that the largest 1% of the world's farms operate 70% of farmland and "form the core of production for the corporate food system." What's more, "given the trends in the agriculture and food systems, land consolidation will inevitably increase further."
The warning is laid out in "Uneven Ground: land inequality at the heart of unequal societies." Released by the International Land Coalition in collaboration with Oxfam, the publication synthesizes new research and existing data and shows how land inequality is linked with other issues including poverty, intergenerational justice and migration, environmental degradation, and the climate crisis.
"These findings radically alter our understanding of the extent and far reaching consequences land inequality has, proving that not only is it a bigger problem than we thought but it's undermining the stability and development of sustainable societies," said Ward Anseeuw, a co-author of the report.
The shocking reality of #LandInequality Read more about rising land inequality 📈 on: 💻 https://t.co/uRxTpE4fm7… https://t.co/Q3OyiJ4hCV— Land Coalition (@Land Coalition)1606230882.0
According to the analysis, the issue of land inequality should encompass a broader range of dimensions than typically used to capture not only differences in land ownership but other factors such as the size and quality of land and the ability to have real decision-making power over how the land is used.
The report lays out the scope of the issue:
Land is a common good, providing water, food, and natural resources that sustain all life. It is the guarantor of biodiversity, health, resilience, and equitable and sustainable livelihoods. It is immovable, non-renewable, and inextricably connected to people and societies. How we manage and control land has shaped our economies, political structures, communities, cultures, and beliefs for thousands of years.
Who gets that control is not decided by accident, says Giulia Baldinelli of ILC and co-author of the report.
"What we're seeing is that land inequality is fundamentally a product of elite control, corporate interests, and political choices. And although the importance of land inequality is widely accepted, the tools to address it remain weakly implemented and vested interests in existing land distribution patterns, hard to shift," Baldinelli said in a statement.
The impacts of the imbalance are far-reaching, with links stretching to the coronavirus pandemic. From the report:
Covid-19 is the latest zoonotic disease to emerge from a combination of unsanitary animal farming and pressure on wildlife populations. While its main impact has been on urban populations, Covid-19 has further exposed inequalities faced by land-disadvantaged groups, such as indigenous peoples, lower castes, the elderly, women, youth, and migrants, as well as casual workers (common in agribusiness) and landless tenants (UNDP, 2020; FAO, 2020; ILC, 2020). Land inequality diminishes resilience to disease shocks and, at a household level, may lead to loss of shelter and lack of access to infrastructure and services, traditional community networks, and institutions of social reciprocity. Women's resilience and coping strategies are limited by weaker land rights, which puts them at even greater disadvantage in these situations, with a knock-on effect on children and youth in their households (FAO, 2020; FAO, IFAD and UNIDO, 2016). Land grabbing and forced evictions have been documented in the context of Covid-19 (ILC, 2020), exacerbating land and land rights inequalities, particularly in societies that are heavily policed.
"As we move towards a post-Covid world, we will see increased pressure for fast economic gain at the expense of people and nature," warned Mike Taylor, director of the International Land Coalition Secretariat He added that "there is always, however, a more inclusive path to rebuilding our economies, that emphasizes sustainable use of natural resources, respects human rights, and addresses systemic causes of inequality."
While low-income countries have seen an "increasing number of mega-farms, each taking up thousands, even tens of thousands, of hectares," the issue of land inequality stretches globally. "After 1980, in all regions, land concentration has either been increasing significantly (North America, Europe, Asia, and the Pacific) or a decreasing trend is being reversed (Africa and Latin America)," the report finds.
In North America, for example, the report points to the decades between 1960 and 1990 when there was a "drastic increase in land and agricultural concentration" and the number of farms plummeted by 1.6 million, dropping to 2.1 million. The same time period also saw the average farm size swell from 122.6 hectares to 187 hectares.
Although there has been a more recent stabilization in the number of farms in North America, that doesn't capture the whole story:
What the figures on farm size do not reveal, however, are the even more substantial increases in the concentration of large-scale production on a shrinking number of farms. Almost 1 million farms (980,000) in the USA have less than $5,000 in sales per annum, while the largest 7% of farms account for 80% of production value (MacDonald, 2016). This leaves a situation where some 1.3 million, or 60%, of the farms in the USA produce only 6.6% of the total production value (Gollin, 2019). These include farms of below five hectares, many of which are known as "retirement farms" or "off-farm occupation farms," with owners who do not depend on agricultural production for their livelihoods."
So what is to be done?
The report outlines a number of possible steps: democratize land governance; strengthen land-related regulation; invest in well-functioning land registries; strengthen transparency and monitoring of land holdings; legally enforce responsible corporate practice; Protect common and customary rights; recognize and protect women's land rights; respect and strengthen civil society institutions and capacities; and build more sustainable and equitable production models and food systems.
"A transformative agenda of this magnitude is not optional," the report concludes. "It is urgent and is in the interests of all humanity, for more resilient, sustainable, and equitable societies."
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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An herbicide commonly used in corn and sorghum fields to kill grasses and weeds is being reviewed by the Environmental Protection Agency as being harmful to endangered species, according to a biological evaluation draft currently open for public comment.
The exact number of species the herbicide atrazine affects is unknown. However, many environmental groups, such as the Center for Biological Diversity, say more than 1,000 species could be at risk. For example, frog and fish species that are exposed to atrazine show damaged reproductive systems, even at very low concentrations.
"Finally the EPA has been forced to acknowledge atrazine's far-reaching harms," Nathan Donley, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity said in a statement. "This alarming assessment leaves no doubt that this hideously dangerous pesticide should be banned in the U.S., just as it is across much of the world."
The new report, released Nov. 5, details how the herbicide's reach is measured. The EPA "considers overlap of the species range (or critical habitat) with areas directly treated with atrazine and those receiving spray drift," the executive summary explained.
"To address uncertainties associated with how treated acres may be distributed within a state (relative to a species range or critical habitat), and the magnitude of usage on any given year, approaches are employed to represent a central estimate of overlap."
In addition to its use on crop fields, atrazine is also frequently used on household lawns. In September, the agency reapproved continued use of the weed killer for two years, with prohibitions in Hawaii, five U.S. territories and Christmas tree farms.
Atrazine is banned throughout the European Union. After glyphosate, an herbicide that has been used for more than 45 years, atrazine is the most common weed killer in the U.S. Swiss-based Syngenta is the largest worldwide manufacturer of atrazine.
It was noted earlier this year in Vermont that while overall herbicide use is decreasing, farmers increased using atrazine due to its lower price.
In 2018 the EPA concluded that atrazine and two other herbicides "share a common neuroendocrine mechanism of toxicity which results in both reproductive and developmental alterations," in humans. It is often designated a pollutant in ground and drinking water.
The Rural Coalition Pesticide Action Network North America, the Center for Food Safety and the Center for Biological Diversity's Beyond Pesticide action group recently filed a lawsuit to ban atrazine's use in the U.S.
The EPA is accepting public comments until Jan. 5. If the final evaluation proves harm through exposure, the agency, working with the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service, will determine the endangered species most at-risk and propose ways to curtail exposure.
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The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved the use of products containing the weedkiller dicamba for use on cotton and soybeans Tuesday. The EPA announcement means that two products that contain the herbicide found to cause cancer can be registered for five years. It also extended the use of a third product that also has dicamba in it, according to The Hill.
The EPA said that two canceled dicamba herbicides — XtendiMax and Engenia — will now have a five-year registration. The same five-year extension was granted to the herbicide Tavium. The EPA argued that it provides relief to farmers who were unsure how they would treat their dicamba-resistant cotton and soybean crops.
"With today's decision, farmers now have the certainty they need to make plans for their 2021 growing season," said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler in a statement. "After reviewing substantial amounts of new information, conducting scientific assessments based on the best available science, and carefully considering input from stakeholders we have reached a resolution that is good for our farmers and our environment."
The new rules around the three products are meant to address the concerns of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which struck down a 2018 registration of dicamba products, stating that the EPA "substantially understated" some of the risks associated with the chemical's use, as The Hill reported.
The EPA's new rules seek to mitigate the risk by increasing the required downwind buffer from 110 feet to 240 feet, and up to 310 feet in areas where endangered species are located. States can still impose their own restrictions on the herbicide, but they will have to work with the EPA and file the appropriate requests, according to the EPA's statement.
Lobbying groups for big agriculture and industry insiders welcomed the decision.
"The economic damage that would result from not being able to use dicamba herbicides would be tremendous," said Ken Fountain, National Cotton Council chairman, as Ag Web reported. "We greatly appreciate EPA's timely issuance of a new five-year label for the critical crop protection product for cotton farmers."
Environmentalists and consumer advocacy organizations were predictably appalled by the decision that seems to be an end-run around the court's decision.
"Rather than evaluating the significant costs of dicamba drift as the 9th Circuit told them the law required, EPA rushed re-approval as a political prop just before the election, sentencing farmers and the environment to another five years of unacceptable damage," said George Kimbrell, legal director at the Center for Food Safety, according to Ag Web. "Center for Food Safety will most certainly challenge these unlawful approvals."
Other critics noted the damage already caused by dicamba use.
"Given EPA-approved versions of dicamba have already damaged millions of U.S. acres of crops and natural areas there's no reason to trust that the agency got it right this time," said Nathan Donley, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity, in a statement, as The Hill reported.
"At this point, the EPA has shown such callous indifference to the damage dicamba has caused to farmers and wildlife alike, and has been so desperate to appease the pesticide industry, it has zero credibility when it comes to pesticide safety," Donley added.
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Art by Matteo Farinella, written by Jeremy Deaton
Algal blooms are killing wildlife and making people sick. Here's how we aided their reign of terror.
Matteo Farinella is a neuroscientist-turned-cartoonist who uses comics to explain science. You can follow him @matteofarinella. Jeremy Deaton writes for Nexus Media, a nonprofit climate change news service. You can follow him @deaton_jeremy.
Reposted with permission from Nexus Media.
By Andrea Germanos
A new report released Tuesday draws attention to the worldwide decline in insects and calls for global policies to boost the conservation of both agriculture and the six-footed creatures.
The publication, entitled Insect Atlas, comes from two progressive networks: Brussels-based Friends of the Earth and Berlin-based Heinrich Böll Foundation.
"The global loss of insects is dramatic," Heinrich Böll Foundation president Barbara Unmüßig said in a statement.
The report points to various studies documenting that loss, including 2018 research finding 41% of insect species are in decline and that one-third of all insect species are threatened by extinction. The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) estimated that 10 percent of insect species are endangered, and another study cited in the new analysis found that at least one in 10 bee and butterfly species in Europe is threatened with extinction.
While there's no definitive count of the global loss of insects, Insect Atlas says the trend is unmistakable.
Insect Atlas. Bartz / Stockmar, CC BY 4.0
That decline has major impacts on food.
"Three-quarters of the world's most important crops exhibit a yield benefit from pollinators: they contribute directly to around one-third of global food production," says the report.
The methods used for that production have a huge impact on insects.
"Alongside climate change and light pollution, the spread and intensification of farming is by far the most important cause of the global decline in insect numbers," the report adds.
This type of farming is dependent upon expanding pasture—often at the expense of destroying Indigenous land and wild animal habitat—and prioritizes monocultures and therefore insect-killing pesticides, the use of which has steadily increased for the past nine decades, the economic profits of which are predominantly flowing towards just four entities: BASF, Bayer, Syngenta, and Corteva. From the publication:
What is more, the number of chemical products in use around the world continues to increase. And, their negative effects on the insect world are also becoming more and more evident. This is not just because a growing number of chemicals are being applied; the formulations are also increasingly effective and can be used more selectively
Even when some nations ban certain pesticides over concerns, the chemicals' adverse impacts don't disappear; they just change locations.
The developed world is waking up to the risks associated with the use of pesticides. The situation is different in the developing world: chemicals that are banned in Europe and North America are still used routinely to control pests. Stricter controls are needed, along with better information for farmers.
Insect Atlas. Bartz / Stockmar, CC BY 4.0
Dismantling industrial agriculture, says the report, is essential. "There is no alternative: to protect insects, farming must become part of the solution. Not just for the sake of society, but also for the sake of farming itself—because it, too, needs insects."
"The evidence is clear: pesticide use is wiping out insect populations and ecosystems around the world, and threatening food production," Mute Schimpf, food and farming campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe, said in a statement.
"A handful of corporations control the bulk of pesticide supply, and if left unchecked will continue to use their immense political influence to lock in a system of industrial farming which will continue to wipe out nature and destroy rural communities," she continued.
One area of reform that would address deforestation and the resulting insect habitat losses is curbing meat consumption and therefore the huge swathes of land on which genetically modified animal feed is grown. "If the developed world were to consume less meat and if agricultural products were no longer used as fuel," says the report, "the pressure on the land areas could be reduced considerably."
Insect Atlas lays out a number of solutions for global policymakers to pursue. They include:
- Gradually reducing the use of synthetic pesticides by 80 percent in EU agriculture by 2030, starting from 2020 and phase out exports of pesticides banned in the EU;
- Radically reforming the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), including the phasing out of harmful untargeted direct payments, setting aside at least 50% of the CAP budget for environmental, nature, and climate objectives and support farmers in the transition to agroecology;
- Phasing out harmful farming methods like growing genetically modified plants or introducing a new generation of genetically modified insects;
- Taking urgent actions to achieve the targets suggested in the European Farm to Fork and Biodiversity strategies to increase organic farming;
- Reducing the production and consumption of industrial meat and other animal products and supporting plant-based options; and
- Cutting the overall EU demand for agrocommodities in order to reduce global deforestation.
Schimpf spoke about those solutions and the report on Euronews Tuesday:
What are the consequences for our food supply? "If we continue using pesticides so heavily, farmers will lose the… https://t.co/Kiz6VXe6Mc— Friends of the Earth #BlackLivesMatter (@Friends of the Earth #BlackLivesMatter)1591694883.0
Schimpf also drew renewed attention to the Save Bees and Farmers European Citizens Initiative. It's centered on three key demands: a phase-out of the use of synthetic pesticides; measures to increase biodiversity; and support for farmers.
As of press time, the petition has over 355,000 signatures.
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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By Dipika Kadaba
The emergence of multiple pandemics in the animal agriculture industry over the past few decades, coupled with COVID-19's suspected origins in wildlife meat markets, has prompted renewed calls from experts to transform the global food system to prevent diseases harmful to humans.
Industrial agriculture puts humans in contact with scores of animals in cramped conditions, which is ideal for disease transfer.
But that's only one of the health dangers it causes. Antibiotics are used ubiquitously in all kinds of large-scale agriculture, causing antibiotic resistance and environmental toxicity that studies show we're not prepared to combat.
Watch our new video to learn more about issues arising from antibiotic use in agriculture.
Dipika Kadaba is an ecologist who uses data visualization and design to communicate environmental issues in her role as The Revelator's visual storyteller. Her interdisciplinary work originates in her background in environmental health research as a veterinarian, a graduate degree in conservation science, and a lifetime spent creating webcomics and animations for fun.
Reposted with permission from The Revelator.
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