Yielding to reality

Biotech’s history of overpromising and underdelivering may be catching up with it

GMOs: false promise?km6xoTom Philpott’s post on USDA chief Tom Vilsack’s comments regarding biotech deserves a bit more attention. Vilsack was speaking at the first ever meeting of the Group of Eight agricultural ministers. I guess we have to consider it progress that the top ag officials from the eight largest industrialized nations finally decided it was worth getting together despite the fact that there’s no consensus on what to do about food. It doesn’t help that when Tom Vilsack leaves the country — the meeting was held in Italy — he goes from being “Farmer Tom” to “Salesman Tom.” His …

We Soaked In It

A test of green(er) dishwasher detergents

Like the thorn under the rosebud, big piles of dirty dishes symbolize the tragedy of existence: pleasure (e.g., the pleasure of eating and cooking) invites pain. But dishes are more than just a symbol; they also (unfortunately) need to be done, day in and day out. The question becomes: how to do them as painlessly — and harmlessly — as possible? Thankfully, Grist’s own Umbra Fisk has signed off on the automatic dishwasher as the greenest option. “Dishwashers have been proven, again and again, to be more efficient than the typical hand-washer,” Umbra writes.  The choice of detergent matters, Umbra …

Techno beat

Vilsack: biotech will solve our ag problems

USDA chief Tom Vilsack has been in Italy at the G8 meeting, talking ag policy with reporters. As the global hunger crisis lingers and climate-change and population fears fester, Vilsack is using the opportunity to push agri-biotech as the solution to the globe’s food needs. Here is the Financial Times: Mr Vilsack said the challenge to boost output to feed the world’s population – expected to reach 9bn by 2050 from today’s 6.5bn – was compounded by climate change. For that reason, he called on the G8 to back the use of science in agriculture, including genetically modified organisms, to …

the usda's newest hire

Vilsack names former head of Iowa’s Health and Human Services as new USDA nutrition chief

Phil Brasher at the Des Moines Register is reporting that USDA chief Tom Vilsack has named Kevin Concannon the new Undersecretary of the Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services, i.e. the head of the federal food and nutrition programs — which include food stamps and the national school lunch program. Concannon ran Iowa’s Department of Health and Human Services — responsibile for administering the state’s Medicaid and nutrition programs — from 2003-2008. The USDA post is typically held by a former state health department administrator — the main question will be what, if any, reformist credentials Concannon has. According to Brasher, …

Make a list, check it twice

Pare down the pesticides

Tip #7: Be a picky eater. Pare down the pesticides in your diet (without cutting too far into your food budget) by focusing your organic purchases on the “dirty dozen” fruits and veggies that tend to be chem-laden to the core. Buying local and organic as often as possible is a good way to help the planet and, more importantly, your health, but that doesn’t always mean it’s the easiest on your wallet. Organic foods can cost twice as much as conventional goods, but not all organics are created equal. Put a paltry paycheck to good use by being picky …

Gates of power

Breaking: Gates Foundation ag official gets USDA post

Rajiv ShahPresident Obama has named Rajiv Shah, the Gates Foundation’s director of agricultural develpopment, as Under Secretary for Research, Education, and Economics at the USDA. The Gates Foundation’s agriculture efforts have been criticized for ties to Monsanto, the globe’s largest seed company and dominant purveyor of genetically modified seed traits. In 2007, the Gates Foundation named Rob Horsch, a long-time Monsanto VP, deputy director of its agricultural development initiative. I’ll have more on this story soon.

What a load of manure

Stop the environmental subsidy for factory farms

  North Catolina hog-waste lagoon: Smells like CAFO spiritDefMoIn one of the most deliciously perverse (not to say Orwellian) twists in our deliciously perverse (not to say Orwellian) system that is US agricultural policy, the prime beneficiaries of one of the USDA’s main environmental programs are beef, pork, and poultry factory farms. This money, of course, comes on top of the monetary benefit that these vast (literal) cesspools of industry reap from an almost total lack of government oversight (a benefit which the GAO has estimated to be in the billions of dollars). Even subsidies to corn and soy farmers …

Food is the new green

Earth Day reflections on food as an environmental issue

Courtesy Stewart via Flickr Michael Pollan ended The Omnivore’s Dilemma with this line: “we eat by the grace of nature, not of industry, and what we’re eating is never anything more or less than the body of the world.” Sustenance, it seems to me, has always been humanity’s most persistent and direct link to the landscape. But at least since the rise of agriculture 10,000 years ago, class relations have had the power to obscure that link. It’s doubtful, for example, that Queen Victoria knew very much about what it took to supply her table, which (telegraphing today’s food-miles debate) …

Green Devolution

NPR: Industrial ag in India on the verge of collapse

Field of screamsIn a glowing Atlantic profile back in 1997, Greg Easterbrook declared Norman Borlaug the “Forgotten Benefactor of Humanity.” Borlaug is the intellectual father of what became known as the “Green Revolution,” the concerted effort by the U.S. government, leading foundations, and large agribusinesses in the 1960s and ’70s to deliver the gift of industrial agriculture to the global south. With Borlaug cheering them on and the Ford and MacArthur Foundation providing cash, farmers in the fertile Punjab state — the subcontinent’s answer to our midwest — state turned shunned traditional crops and turned to high-yielding strains of wheat …