Meredith Niles

Meredith Niles is a PhD student in Ecology at the University of California, Davis. Her research examines the variables that influence the adoption of climate change mitigation and adaptation practices in agriculture. Her work focuses in California at the farm level and New Zealand with agricultural processors, which is implementing the world's first greenhouse gas emissions trading scheme to include agriculture. At UC Davis she is a board member of the Agricultural Sustainability Institute and on the Executive Board of the Russell Ranch Long-Term Agricultural Research Center. She is the former coordinator of the Cool Foods campaign at the Center for Food Safety.

Genetically modified science

How biotech companies control research on GMO crops

Recently I wrote about the dwindling faith the American people seem to have in science, seemingly choosing to either ignore or disregard the latest research on global warming. Why has science lost its place in the hearts and minds of America? Has the media been a culprit? Did the Bush administration dismiss one too many scientific reports? But now, a recent article leaves me wondering if science has not only taken a backseat to American thoughts, but a backseat to industry influence as well. In Thursday's New York Times, Andrew Pollack reported on how crop scientists throughout the country have been unable to perform adequate testing and research on biotech crops, because of the strong hand of biotechnology companies. Pollack was likely alerted to the story after a group of 26 corn insect scientists from 16 different states anonymously submitted a statement to the EPA on a docket regarding the evaluation of insect resistance risks with a brand of Pioneer Hi-Bred biotech corn. In their statement the scientists noted that they chose to remain anonymous because "virtually all of us require cooperation from industry at some level to conduct our research." Remaining anonymous allowed the scientists to fully express their real concern with biotech crop research controlled by the industry through technology and stewardship agreements, required to be signed for the purchase of genetically modified seeds. Such agreements are the same that farmers must sign before purchasing seeds, which prevent them from replanting seeds or thus risk legal action. The scientist coalition noted that such agreements "explicitly prohibit research" and "inhibit public scientists from pursuing their mandated role on behalf of the public good unless the research is approved by industry." The effects were clearly stated -- "no truly independent research can be legally conducted on many critical questions regarding the technology." Yet the scientific research community has not always been this way. Before patents were granted for life forms, the Plant Variety Protection Act passed by Congress in 1970 allowed farmers to save and replant protected seeds and gave scientists the right to research protected varieties.

Losing our faith in science?

Poll shows more Americans do not believe global warming is result of man-made activity

Amidst the chaos of the Inauguration events and Obama administration's transition, Rasmussen Reports conducted a global warming poll late last week. As I perused through the poll questions and responses I could barely believe what was reported: An increasing number of people do not think global warming is caused by human activity. According to the poll, 44 percent of all people polled thought long-term planetary trends were the primary cause of global warming as opposed to the 41 percent of people who blamed human activity. In 2006, only 35 percent of people believed that global warming was caused by planetary trends. Overall, 41 percent of people polled stated global warming was a very serious problem, and 23 percent of people polled thought that it was a somewhat serious problem. Interesting though, according to Rasmussen Reports, 64 percent of Democrats think global warming is a serious problem while only 18 percent of Republicans believe the same. Affiliations aside, this news is not only disheartening, but it is also downright disturbing.

Food security and global warming: Monsanto versus organic

Organic farming beats genetically engineered corn as response to rising global temperatures

This week Science published research ($ub. req'd) detailing the vast, global food-security implications of warming temperatures. The colored graphics are nothing short of terrifying when you realize the blotches of red and orange covering the better part of the globe indicate significantly warmer summers in coming decades. The implications of the article are clear -- we need to be utilizing agricultural methods and crops that can withstand the potential myriad impacts of global climate change, especially warmer temperatures. The article significantly notes, "The probability exceeds 90 percent that by the end of the century, the summer average temperature will exceed the hottest summer on record throughout the tropics and subtropics. Because these regions are home to about half of the world's population, the human consequences of global climate change could be enormous." Whether you believe global warming is part of a "natural cycle" or a man-made phenomenon is irrelevant. The bottom line is that our earth is rapidly warming, and this is going to drastically affect our food supply. We must undertake both the enormous task of reducing our carbon emissions now to avert the worst, while at the same time adapting our society to the vast and multitudinous effects of unavoidable global climate change. Failing to do either will, as the Science article indicates, have dire effects on a large portion of our world's population. Determining the best course of action for ensuring food security in the face of global climate change remains a challenging task. Recognizing that climate change is slated to affect developing countries and small-scale farmers the most is a crucial point. Such understanding enables people to realize that viable solutions must be accessible, affordable, and relevant to the billions of small-scale farmers in the developing world. Unfortunately, it appears that some of the solutions on the table fail to meet these criteria. Last week, Monsanto made a big public relations splash by filing documents with the FDA regarding a drought-tolerant GM corn variety it is developing with a German company, BASF. Monsanto claims that in field trials, the corn got 6-10 percent higher yields in drought-prone areas last year, but the release is extremely short on details. Regardless of the reality, Monsanto is presenting the corn as a way to help improve on-farm productivity in other parts of the world, notably Africa. Yet, absent from the media hype were the many technical and social problems with Monsanto's corn.

If they have it their way, they'll supersize the world

Burger King launches film Whopper Virgins, simplifies U.S. to land of fast food

In the past year or so, I have had the opportunity to meet and experience a vast variety of inspiring food, environmental, and agricultural people and places. I met small-farmers in Ethiopia experimenting with pit composting instead of synthetic fertilizers. I shared meals with activists and writers in the sustainable food movement like Tom Philpott and Anna Lappé. Perhaps most exciting has been the increasing interest in sustainable food and agriculture throughout this country and among my family and friends. Helping my parents start composting, sharing books with friends, and watching the enthusiasm for a "Farmer in Chief" left me hopeful and excited at the end of 2008. My vision came to a screeching halt when I saw a television ad during the holidays that left me laughing: Burger King trounces around the world feeding Whoppers to unsuspecting indigenous peoples in hopes of spreading the gospel of fast food. What a great parody, I thought! Who could have thought up such an ironic idea? And as the website for Whopper Virgins flashed on the screen, I had a sinking feeling that, like those high-fructose corn syrup ads, perhaps this Burger King film was no parody. It turns out that the ad was actually an excerpt of a longer seven-minute film. The very concept of this idea -- flying around the world, feeding hamburgers to people who have never eaten hamburgers -- is in itself strange. For the first half of the film, the crew travels to Romania where they feed utterly confused people Whoppers and Big Macs from nearby restaurant locations. Strangely enough, it seems like the same number of people has no preference or prefers the Big Mac as compared to the Whopper.

Bad meat, bad air, bad health: Why do we still have CAFOs?

New research demonstrates that higher infant mortality rates surround CAFOs

Thanks to Proposition 2, Californians will soon phase out some of the most egregious confining animal conditions. However the rest of the country continues to utilize concentrated animal feeding operations for the production of meat, poultry and dairy products. CAFOs are industrial facilities that are designed to produce the most amount of meat in the shortest amount of time. In practice this means confining animals tightly together, often in unsanitary conditions, without access to the outdoors. According to the EPA, CAFOs divide into small, medium or large distinctions depending on the number of animals these facilities are confining. What’s most …

Feed a company, starve a country

Monsanto purchased a Brazilian sugarcane ethanol company for $290 million

At a time when many people were questioning causes of the recent food crisis, many more were investigating how our food systems can move forward to sustainably feed the increasing world population. Recently, the U.N. Task Force on Trade, Environment and Development released a report touting the noteworthy yields and economic benefits of organic agriculture in Africa. Even recognizing that organic production offers significant hope for increasing food security. Another report released earlier this year by the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development noted that a “radical change” was needed for agriculture, and that agricultural biotechnology …

The ethics of ethanol

Big Ethanol descends on Africa for land, water, and sympathetic governments

A few weeks ago I was in Mozambique for a conference that brought together NGOs, small-scale farmers, agricultural associations, and local media to discuss the impact of biofuel production in southern Africa. While the United States and other Western countries mandate ethanol quotas to supposedly reduce their consumption of fossil fuels, many farmers in Africa are questioning the reasons and implications for such programs. As the only American at the conference, I was continually asked about the real reasons behind America’s ethanol push and the truth about biofuels and greenhouse gas emissions. Most strikingly they wondered if the United States …

Trick or treat?

As Halloween nears, beware of the ‘fat-free’ candy corn

It’s the beginning of October and as the cooler temperatures and colorful leaves start to make an appearance, every retailer in America is switching storefronts to include pumpkins and of course, Halloween candy. The orange and black packages are cropping up in drugstores and supermarkets nationwide, and the glycemic high that lasts from Halloween through Easter has certainly begun. Since the lipid-phobia of the late 80s, high-sugar candies like gummy bears, gum drops, and candy corn have marketed themselves as “fat-free,” but, because most candy contains high-fructose corn syrup, recent research might make you reconsider those “fat-free” claims. In June, …

Wheat and ethanol: They just don't mix

New research shows that ethanol will continue to increase the cost of wheat

I, like most Americans, love bread. Crusty, warm, and fresh-baked bread is a carb overload I am willing to indulge in even if it means a few extra minutes of running. But the American love affair with all things baked might be at jeopardy. We all know that oil and water don’t mix, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that wheat and ethanol are a bad combination as well. New research from the University of Illinois indicates that the high prices for wheat, as well as corn and soy, are here to stay. The research confirms what common sense should have …

Welcome to the new Grist. Tell us what you think, or if it's your first time learn about us. Grist is celebrating 15 years. ×