The <em>Guardian</em> uncovers a 'secret' World Bank biofuel report

Economist says biofuels have pushed up global food prices by 75 percent

The “Republican war on science” has evidently opened a new front: economics, a discipline often fetishized by the right. In a startling article published July 4, the Guardian reports that in a "secret" study, a World Bank senior economist concluded that the recent explosion in biofuels use has driven global food prices up by 75 percent — a number much higher than estimates from other major sources. The USDA — which has vigorously defended President Bush’s seemingly bottomless support for crop-based fuels — claims biofuels account for only 3 percent of recent food price hikes. The World Bank study’s author, …

Organic carrots, or a new iPhone?

What people cling to when the going gets tough

Things are getting rough here in the land of cheap food. Corn and soy — building blocks of the industrial-food system — are trading at or near all-time highs. And that’s rippling through the food chain, from feedlots and food factories to the supermarket shelf. Here’s the latest: [B]y next year, the price of a pound of chicken breast would climb to $2.63; beef round roast to $4.22, both up 10 percent. And the price of a pound of pork chop could be up to $4.78 — a 30 percent increase. Some folks see opportunity for reform in this situation: …

Revisiting Malthus

Robert Kaplan: Nevertheless, if Malthus is wrong, then why is it necessary to prove him wrong again and again, every decade and every century? Perhaps because a fear exists that at some fundamental level, Malthus is right. For the great contribution of this estimable man was to bring nature itself into the argument over politics. Indeed, in an era of global warming, Malthus may prove among the most-relevant philosophers of the Enlightenment.

Chipotle grilled

When will the conscientious burrito giant pay up for less exploitative tomatoes?

Tomato pickers in Florida: To earn $50, fill and carry 125 buckets. Photo: Coalition of Immokalee Workers. Chipotle Grill has received a lot of good press over its efforts to support local food systems in the areas where it operates. Even I’ve gotten into the act. In a post back in March, I reported on a conversation I had had with a Chipotle PR person: I told her that as long as Chipotle was committed to paying a fair price to farmers — and not merely using them them for marketing leverage — I thought the company could play a …

How author Betsy Block convinced her finicky family to mend their dietary ways

In her new book The Dinner Diaries: Raising Whole Wheat Kids in a White Bread World, Betsy Block writes compellingly about trying to feed one’s family and oneself in a nutritious, sustainable, economical, and harmonious way — and dealing with various likes and dislikes within the family dining unit. Betsy Block Photo: Andrew Pockrose I imagine reviewers will liken the experience of reading this book to sitting and talking at the kitchen table with a trusted friend, and they’ll be right. How do I know? Because Betsy is my trusted friend, and I am sitting at the kitchen table of …

Milking sustainability

Sustainability goals for the U.S. dairy industry

Last week, we witnessed the dairy industry hold their first ever Sustainability Summit for U.S. Dairy. The week long conference culminated in the announcement of an industry-wide commitment and action plan to reduce milk's "carbon footprint" while simultaneously increasing business value (translation: profit) from farm to consumer. But how truly "green" are their efforts?

30,000 farmed salmon escape off B.C. coast, endangering wild stocks

Some 30,000 farmed Atlantic salmon have escaped from their pen off the coast of British Columbia into the Pacific Ocean. Farmed salmon can harm wild salmon stocks — which are already declining on the west coast — by competing with them for food as well as spreading disease. In this case, the escaped salmon are also a different species which is not native to the area. A spokesperson for the company that owns the fish farm explains what happened. “One of the anchor lines … apparently slipped to a low spot on the ocean floor and in so doing pulled …

Wal-Mart gobbles up local produce

You thought you took home a haul at the farmers market last week, but you’ve got nothin’ on Wal-Mart. The big-box retailer has become the nation’s largest buyer of local produce, planning to purchase and sell $400 million worth of locally grown fruits and veggies this year. Wal-Mart says it works with “hundreds” of individual farmers, and has 50 percent more partnerships with local growers than it did in 2006. During the summer months, says the company, one-fifth of available produce in Wal-Mart stores is sourced locally. An emphasis on local produce — which Wal-Mart defines as grown and sold …

Crisis and opportunity in the farm belt

Sen. Grassley: Screw conservation, let’s grow more corn!

Here in the U.S., our grocery bills are rising faster than they have since Gerald Ford bumbled about the Oval Office. Across the globe, the recent surge in crop prices is putting sufficient food out of reach of millions of people. The dismal human dimension of the food crisis has been amply (if sporadically) covered by the media. But its budding ecological component has gotten short shrift. The price surge has inspired a virtual tsunami of agrichemicals to be spilled onto farmland globally, not least the U.S. heartland, as farmers scramble to take advantage of high prices by boosting yields. …