After two weeks in the fog of travel, speechifying, movie screenings, and redesign, I’ve missed commenting on a bunch of important stuff. I’ve emerged extremely energized by the potential of our new food “kingdom” — a place to dive deep into all sorts of issues relating the food we eat to the health of the planet. Now to work.
• On Ethicuren, the excellent Elanor Starmer has a great backrounder on the furor around HR 875, the House food-safety bill that would, according to internet lore, ban organic farming and lock up even home gardeners. (I weighed in on HR 875 a few weeks ago.) According to Elanor, HR 875 is actually the most progressive food-safety bill floating around Congress, with respect to the interests of small- and mid-sized farms.
The bill does contain reporting requirements that could, if unmodified, fall heavily on small farms. But here’s the catch: According to Elanor, HR 875 is “dead in the water,” unlikely to make it out of committee to the House floor. Instead, an unhappy combination of two other food-safety bills — HR 1332 and HR 759 — looks likely to emerge to the House floor. And these bills are significantly more onerous to small farmers than demonized 875. Elanor nails it when she argues that the sustainable food movement needs to develop workable guidelines on food safety. “[I]f we want ‘niche’ farm products like organic to become more mainstream, if we want more farm-to-institution programs, if we want farmers markets in every town and city — well, pretty soon we’re going to have to figure out how to create food safety regulations that work for small farms and processors.” One group doing just that is the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association.
• HR 875 hysteria fixated on a link between its sponsor, Rep. Rosa Delauro, and Monsanto, the globe’s largest seed supplier and dominant purveyor of genetically modified seeds and traits. in the nightmare visions of certain fabulists, Delauro’s husband, Stan Greenberg, “works for” Monsanto — and in some versions serves as its CEO. Here on planet Earth, Greenberg is a big-time Democratic pollster who did a contract gig for Monsanto a decade ago. And HR 875 doesn’t touch on seeds at all. Meanwhile, a bill that plays directly to Monsanto’s interests skated right through the Senate Foreign Relations Committee without causing much of an Internet fuss. The Global Food Security Act of 2009 would boost U.S. investment ag research to help farmers in the global south. And it explicitly includes “research on biotechnological advances appropriate to local ecological conditions, including genetically modified technology.” In other words, promoting pricey, patent-protected, genetically modified seeds for farmers in poor countries will become explicit U.S. policy. (Of course, US AID has been pushing [http://www.usaid.gov/our_work/agriculture/biotechnology/] the biotech agenda for years.) Elanor has the scoop on why The Global Food Security Act is so problematic. Soon it will be considered by the full Senate.Unfortunately, Obama has already tacitly endorsed it.
• Speaking of Monsanto, it’s one of the major movers in a trade group called Croplife America, which promotes the interests of pesticide makers. (Monsanto’s herbicide Roundup is one of the globe’s highest selling “crop-protection” products.) And unlike folks in the sustainable-food movement, Croplife America had a less-than-euphoric reaction to Michelle Obama’s recent planting of an organic garden on the White House lawn. Blogger Jill Richardson obtained a copy of a letter Croplife sent to the Obamas chiding them to promote “technology advances” proffered by agribusiness firms. The letter itself is vague ad boring. The good bit came after, in a mass email sent by a Croplife flack boast about the missve. Here it is, cut and pasted from Jill’s blog post:
Did you hear the news? The White House is planning to have an “organic” garden on the grounds to provide fresh fruits and vegetables for the Obama’s and their guests. While a garden is a great idea, the thought of it being organic made Janet Braun, CropLife Ambassador Coordinator and I shudder. As a result, we sent a letter encouraging them to consider using crop protection products and to recognize the importance of agriculture to the entire U.S. economy.
The bit about “consider using crop protection products” has a delicious mafia ring — use our products or we’re going to send in the thug insects to take down your peas.