More thoughts on USDA and Obama

With the food world’s eyes on farm policy, is the real action at Treasury?

Food-politics blogs and listservs are blowing up with speculation about whom Obama will tap as USDA chief. I’ve weighed in myself here and here. (Update: House Ag Committee chair Colin Peterson, tipped as a top contender for the USDA spot, says he’s not interested. Evidently, he calculates that his current post is the more powerful one). But I’m starting to think the real action has already happened — with Obama’s recently announced economics team. Our food system is intimately intertwined with the broader economy; reforming it will require new ways of thinking about economics. And Obama has delivered a team …

Making biofuel out of small farmers

Impoverished Africans can’t eat their own crops

From an interesting article by Dave Harcourt in Ecoworldly: The castor [oil], equivalent to 12,000 tons of oil, would actually be grown by 25,000 families [small African farmers] contracted by GEE and would have a value of around US$ 10 million [$400 per year or $1.10 per day per family]. … Ashenafi Chote was one of the farmers contracted by GEE. He as well as the other farmers have not been paid for their production because … GEE has been unable to raise the loan it was expecting to use to buy the castor. Ashenafi Chote is now in a …

Reclaiming the beauty of Thanksgiving

Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others. – Cicero   In a couple of days, we’ll celebrate our best, most important holiday. While celebrations of the harvest have existed for as long as civilization (for indeed it was agriculture that necessitated both), this particular holiday is uniquely American. Or at least it was until other former British colonies started having a festival called Thanksgiving too. There are those who enjoy pointing out the tragic irony of the American Thanksgiving: that it was originally a celebration of the bountiful harvest provided by the …

Beyond secretary of agriculture

How to change USDA with sustainable agriculture allies

In a recent post, I discussed likely candidates for secretary of agriculture in the Obama administration and encouraged you to voice your support or dislike of the names being floated to Obama’s transition team. You can have an impact: in large numbers, voices of the people are very powerful. Please continue to make your opinions known on the candidates for secretary of agriculture under consideration. (Note: Since the original post, Philip Brasher of the Des Moines Register reported yesterday that Tom Vilsack is no longer in the running; in addition to the candidates listed, Lancaster Farming has said that Dennis …

Biofuelishness unbowed

‘Second generation’ or not, biofuels contribute to Peak Soil

The Seattle Times has another story peddling the fantasy that there are "second generation biofuels" that magically appear without use of energy, land, or water (not to mention subsidies). The most revealing comment in the piece pushes that idea that biologic systems generate "waste," and that "waste" is a huge resource that’s going unused. Apparently it’s available for conversion into motor fuel, and we can keep the whole carburban dream going by other means. It’s funny how many of the same people who love to talk about biomimicry and closed-loop processes that imitate nature maintain the fantasy belief that you …

New annual quota for bluefin tuna does the fish no favors, say greens

A new legal quota set Monday for Atlantic bluefin tuna is a “mockery of science” and may cause the tuna population to collapse, green group WWF warned. The 46 member nations of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas set the annual quota at some 24,000 tons, defying scientists’ recommendations that it be lowered to 16,500 tons.

Turkey-ish delight

A meat-free turkey slideshow and other vegetarian Thanksgiving fare

In the spirit of holiday gratitude, Grist would like to give thanks for those creative souls who play with their food. Because without them, we wouldn’t have this festive slideshow of meat-free masterpieces shaped like turkeys! (OK, you’ll notice we snuck in one or two non-edible turkeys too, but they were just too good not to pass around the table this Thanksgiving.) We’re not pulling your wattle here; we just love to gobble up vegetarian-friendly holiday fare every chance we get. What better way to celebrate not eating our feathered friends than with a shrine to their likeness? Whether it’s …

Obama's USDA chief: And then there were two?

Vilsack out; Peterson and Herseth Sandlin square off

Until very recently, speculation around who would take the top spot at Obama’s USDA centered on former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack, a champion of both genetically modified seed technology and farm-subsidy reform. But now Vilsack’s out of the running, the Des Moines Register reports. Evidently, a petition from the Organic Consumers Association helped sink his prospects. What now? According to The Hill, two serious candidates remain, both farm-state legislators: Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), chairman of the House Ag committee, and Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-S.D.). Peterson is widely reviled in sustainable-ag circles for his staunch defense of the federal farm …

Time to fundamentally reassess the WTO's Doha Round

Food sovereignty needs to be the center of renewed negotiations

With each new event or international conference in 2008’s saga of economic and food crises, there are calls to complete the long-running Doha Round of World Trade Organization negotiations. The international players all act as if achieving a Doha agreement, seemingly any agreement, will help solve one or more aspects of these crises. The latest such conference was the G-20 Summit, Nov. 14-15 in Washington, D.C., called to coordinate actions on the financial and consequent economic crises that have spread from the U.S. to much of the world. The joint statement released at the conclusion of the G-20 Summit called …

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