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Profit Actually

Monsanto execs make millions off farmers’ backs

Hugh Grant -- Monsanto chair, CEO, and president -- probably won't notice the increased price of a loaf of bread. And if he does, it will be with a smile. Grant is $13-million-and-change wealthier today than he was on Monday, as he choose to exercise stock options -- 116,000 shares worth -- that netted him a profit of over $114 per share. Like many of us, I wouldn't mind paying the extra dollar per loaf of bread if I knew the majority of that dollar was going back into the hands of farmers. Instead, the higher prices at the checkout …

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Lessons from a sustainable-food conference at the Monterey Bay Aquarium

Information you can eat. Photo: Monterey Bay Aquarium/Randy Wilder A couple of months ago, I wrote about how the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California comes up with its wallet-sized cards -- the ones that tell us what seafood choices are sustainable. I got so interested in the topic that when I got an invitation to attend the aquarium's annual Cooking for Solutions conference, I couldn't pass it up. The event brings together high-profile chefs from across the country who are devoted to sustainability, and puts them in the same room with luminaries from the sustainable-food world. For me, it was …

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Farm and function

Agriculture produces more than just crops — and it’s time for policy to reflect that

In spite of the best efforts of sustainable agriculture, environmental, and healthy food advocates over the past two years to reform U.S. farm policy, the bill recently passed by Congress lacks fundamental reform. Although the bill includes some environmental and healthy food system improvements over existing legislation, the system of commodity subsidies remains intact, and it is these subsidies, together with biofuels subsidies and mandates embodied in the farm bill and energy legislation, that drive the basic structure of the U.S. farm and food system. To break the farm-block stranglehold on farm and food policy the next time around, we …

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The truth about no-till farming

It does not save carbon and is not a carbon offset

The list of very knowledgeable folk who still are pushing no-till farming as a greenhouse-gas mitigation strategy -- even though science passed them by a while ago -- includes: Sen. John McCain Princeton University* [PDF] The Chicago Climate Exchange [PDF] The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions [PDF] I buried the science in the McCain post, but it deserves higher visibility. As a major review article [PDF] from Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment, "Tillage and soil carbon sequestration -- What do we really know?" concluded: In essentially all cases where conservation tillage was found to sequester C[arbon], soils were only sampled …

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Biofictions

Wall Street Journal editorial mischaracterizes both my position and biofuels

To my surprise, on Tuesday I found myself cited by the Wall Street Journal as a strong advocate of subsidies for food-based ethanol, and as a recipient of "federal dole" who ought to "take a vow of embarrassed silence." While I appreciate the Journal's foray into fiction writing (and I'd love to discuss my status on the dole with my accountant, who recently filed my taxes), I would like to clarify a few facts and offer a more rounded view of biofuels and ethanol in general. A few facts: I have not advocated subsidies for food-based ethanol. In fact, I …

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The Onion on GM tomatoes

From The Onion: PASADENA, CA--Geneticists at the California Institute of Technology announced Monday that they have developed a tomato with a 31 percent larger price tag than a typical specimen of the vine-ripened fruit. "By utilizing an exciting new breakthrough in gene-splicing technology, we've been able to manipulate this new tomato with recombinant DNA in such a manner as to make it nearly as pricey as a similarly sized tangelo," said Dr. Lee Nolan, who headed up the project. "Genetically modified crops such as this will be instrumental in helping average grocers keep pace with unaffordable organic stores such as …

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Da yoots take over Maverick Farms

A new generation pilots the farm’s operations as it transitions to training others

Some Grist readers may have noticed that I've been writing on the blog nearly every day, while keeping up the Victual Reality column. How can I do all of that and farm, too? The truth is, I went full-time at Grist last November, when I took on the position of food editor. And to maintain my sanity, I've moved into a much less active role on Maverick Farms. We're in the process of turning Maverick into a farm incubator -- a program designed to train our area's next generation of farmers and link them to land -- while maintaining our …

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Fertile for problems

South America’s industrial-ag powerhouse eyes rainforest potash deposits

I've been writing for a while about industrial agriculture's fertilizer problem -- about how mass-scale food (and biofuel) production relies on finite, geopolitically problematic, and environmentally destructive resources to maintain soil fertility. (See posts here, here, and here.) Well, that story is heating up down in Brazil, an increasingly important hub in the global industrial food system. Brazil ranks as the world's second-largest soy producer (soon to overtake the U.S. for the top spot), third-largest corn producer, and leader in coffee, orange juice, and sugar. According to a must-read Reuters story, Brazil policymakers and farming magnates are getting nervous about …

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No farmers? No food

Much depends on finding a new generation to put dinner on the table

Every time I come in from my farm fields and tune into the news these days, the headline is about food: food prices, food scares, food shortages, food riots. Food has America's attention these days, but folks are overlooking a critical piece of the brewing crisis: a national shortage of farmers. We farmers make up a mere 1.6 percent of the U.S. population right now. Picture an inverted pyramid balanced precariously on its nose: that's our national food supply, with about 3 million of us feeding three hundred million of you. In food terms, our nation resembles an elephant perched …

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Not-so-organic salmon

USDA considers first-ever organic standards for farmed fish

You may have seen "organic salmon" on the menu in your favorite seafood restaurant or counter. Guess what? It's not organic, according to the USDA. It turns out that some fishmongers have been promoting their fish as organic with definitions of their own. This week, a USDA advisory panel will consider a key element of the country's first-ever standards for "organic" farmed fish, including salmon. The surprising news is that this standard -- if adopted -- could be a boon for both seafood consumers and conservation. Salmon are carnivorous fish. It can take up to 10 pounds of wild fish …

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