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Articles by Tom Philpott

Tom Philpott was previously Grist's food writer. He now writes for Mother Jones.

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  • Rebels slash production production take hostages in Nigeria.

    Everyone's favorite fungible commodity is causing some real trouble in Nigeria, where rebels claiming to represent "ethnic Ijaw communities" are laying siege to property owned by Royal Dutch Shell, the Guardian reports. There's even a hostage crisis brewing:

    The group of three Americans, two Thais, two Egyptians, a Filipino, and a Briton -- John Hudspith -- were seized by up to 40 gunmen who stormed a pipe-laying barge. In emails to news agencies, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (Mend) said its goal was to punish oil corporations and the government for siphoning off the region's wealth without returning anything to its impoverished ethnic Ijaw communities; as well as saying the hostages' fate had yet to be decided, the movement also warned that they might end up being killed in crossfire with the army.

    The rebels managed to halt about a fifth of supply in Nigeria, which according to the Wall Street Journal is "Africa's leading oil exporter and the U.S.'s fifth-largest supplier, usually exporting 2.5 million barrels daily." Crude surged past the $60/barrel mark on the news.

    I wonder what ol' Shotgun Dick Cheney thinks of all this.

  • Biotech crops have benefited shareholders in seed giants, but nobody else

    A couple of days ago, NY Times writer Andrew Pollack attempted to address the failure of biotech companies to "improve" fruits and vegetable crops -- that is, to bring a genetically altered fruit or vegetable strain (as opposed to grains like corn and legumes like soy) from seed to supermarket.

    Unwittingly, the article illustrates the industry's hubris and the mainstream press's gullibility in covering the topic.

    Pollack opens thusly:

  • Monsanto’s move into veggie seeds shakes up small organic farmers.

    Here at Maverick Farms, a foot-thick blanket of snow swaths the cover crops and garlic beds, insulating them from sub-freezing temperatures. In the depths of the field, a big compost pile smolders. As at small farms all over the country, we've been been flipping through seed catalogs as we plan what to plant this coming season.

    At this time of year, optimism burns bright, sparked by the glowing prose of the seed catalogs. Here is my favorite catalog, Fedco, engaging in a bit of beet poetry:

    The genius of Alan Kapuler at work, this [root grex beet] is an interbreeding mix of Yellow Intermediate heirloom, Crosby Purple Egyptian heirloom and Lutz Saladleaf heirloom. It absolutely wowed me in my 2004 trial and aroused considerable interest at our Common Ground Fair booth display last fall. The term "grex" is commonly used in orchid breeding. There are 3 distinct colors in this gene pool: a pinkish red with some orange in it, a bright gold and a beautiful iridescent orange. We were impressed by the unusual vigor, glowing colors and length of these gradually tapered elongated roots.

    Farmers have to work hard to avoid way overbuying seeds, with tempting descriptions like that dominating the catalogs.

    This year, however, a new statement confronts us throughout the Fedco book: "This is the last year we will be offering this Seminis variety." Many venerable varieties bear this unhappy statement. Last year, Monsanto bought Seminis, the world's largest vegetable-seed purveyor, shaking up the small-scale organic farming world. (Here is an analysis of that deal I posted a while back.) Fedco, responding to outrage among its growers, decided to stop buying seeds from Seminis/Monsanto. And that means many varieties people have come to love in their CSA boxes and at the farmers market won't be available for much longer.

  • High-end book printing races to the bottom.

    While we're on the topic of shocking revelations regarding high-profile green types, check out what I found out when reviewing two great, sustainable-minded books for Grist. The books, Michael Ableman's Fields of Plenty and Peter Menzel and Faith D'Aluisio's Hungry Planet, are big, beautiful, and lavishly illustrated, with powerful photographs and printed on really, really nice paper (especially Fields). Thus I was stunned at their relatively paltry price tags: $40 for Hungry, $35 for Fields. I found the answer to this riddle inside their dust jackets: One was printed in China, the other in Singapore.

    The fossil-fuel energy embedded in these books rises even as their retail price tags fall, financed by cheap labor overseas. Ah, the wonders of neoliberal globalization!