From The Orangutan Project: On Wednesday 9 November members of the Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA) in East Kalimantan rescued a tiny baby orangutan from East Kutai district in East Kalimantan. They handed the infant over to the Bornean Orangutan Rescue Alliance (BORA) so she could receive urgent medical care in the BORA Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre.
Farmers are already leading the way on methane reduction and it’s time the gas and coal industries did the same, Farmers for Climate Action said today.
The mainstream media has given a great deal of coverage to the COVID-19 pandemic - as it should - but interwoven among the stories on poor vaccination rates, conspiracy theories, and the people ignoring quarantine, there is a consistent run of horror stories on the impact of lockdowns, often with a message that we must get back to the pre pandemic "normal" life. This is understandable, businesses are going broke, unemployment is rising, domestic violence and mental illness are increasing. It is an unpleasant situation, but returning to the old norm is not a solution. This, after all, was the lifestyle that created human movement into wilderness areas, bringing us into contact with pathogens that we have little resistance to combat.
While Covid is terrible, Ebola is far worse, as was the Black Death before antibiotics, and scientists warn that there are more diseases in the pipe line, either through contact with animals, or the mutations of existing ones. We have made pandemics more likely by concentrating humans in apartment towers, prisons, aged-care centres, and supermarkets. As well, we have simplified transmission, with fast transport systems that spread the virus rapidly around the globe, while human failures - denial, human rights issues - all assist in keeping the virus in circulation.
But while we anguish over these self-induced plagues, most of us are unaware of other plagues that threaten the global food system. The world is even more susceptible to an agricultural pandemic than it was to COVID-19, and is less prepared to fight it, simply because of the enormous range of threats to live stock and plants. Food production is also highly concentrated. In the US, three states supply 75% of the vegetables, and 2 percent of feedlots supply three-quarters of the country’s beef. More alarmingly, both crops and livestock are genetically uniform. "Over the past century, crops have lost 75 per cent of their genetic diversity, making them potentially more susceptible to new pathogens or pests.". (See https://ecos.csiro.au/australian-farmers-face-increasing-threat-new-diseases-report/.)
A quarter of the genetic material in America’s entire Holstein herd comes from just five bulls. Monocultures like this are exceptionally vulnerable to disease. They are like fast-food for pests, like locusts, rats or mice, and for pathogens like stem rust, rice blast, foot-and-mouth disease, avian flu, hog cholera, all of which threaten all our major food sources.
Foot-and-mouth disease is so contagious that the discovery of one case in a herd usually triggers mass culls. In the UK, an outbreak in Northumberland in 2001, occurred when contaminated pork, that had likely been illegally imported from Asia, was fed to a herd of pigs, triggering a national epidemic of foot-and-mouth disease. Soldiers were brought in to help slaughter the affected herds. Six million sheep, pigs, and cattle, died. As film of the British countryside alight with burning animal corpses, and bulldozers shoveling rigid carcasses into huge piles for incineration, reached more people, tourism dropped 10 percent. By the time the outbreak ended, at least 60 farmers had taken their own lives.
Researchers are racing to develop a treatment or vaccine for African swine fever. This highly contagious hemorrhagic disease does not infect humans, but in the past couple of years, it has killed a quarter of the world’s pigs. African swine fever has not yet been detected in Australia but in China, the virus has claimed at least 40 percent of the country’s pig population, and the price of pork more than doubled from 2018 to 2019 — a serious problem for a commodity whose cost has a high political significance, and forcing the government to import over a million tonnes in March this year. There has also been mass cullings of poultry in Korea, India and Japan due to the H5N1 virus. The situation was even worse in China, where 100 million young chicks were slaughtered because Covid travel restrictions had blocked poultry food shipments.
Australian agriculture, plants, animals, fish, and native fauna, are highly vulnerable to imported pathogens due to free trade, people movements, and a lack of understanding of the dangers. One example is Myrtle rust, a fungus that causes diseases in the plant family Myrtaceae, which is Australia’s dominant plant family, with over 2000 varieties, right across the continent. This Myrtle rust fungus jumped from the Amazon forests to eucalyptus trees, which had been raised in large commercial plantations in Brazil. Australian scientists warned governments of the danger in 2008.
The Invasive Species Council at https://invasives.org.au/our-work/pathogens/myrtle-rust/ describes how the rust was found on a commercial property in NSW in April 2010. And that, “Inexplicably, after just one week of searching and finding the rust in only one other nearby facility and none in surrounding bushland, the national response was stood down by a federal committee.” A national response was “only reinstated in December after the disease was found in in multiple sites” … and “deemed irradicable.”
“It has now spread to far north Queensland and Victoria and there are no control options in bushland. NSW has already made a preliminary determination to list myrtle and eucalyptus rusts as key threatening processes. They note that the area of highest risk in NSW – the coastal zone from Illawarra to the Queensland border – includes a large proportion of the state’s conservation reserve system, many Myrtaceae-dominated ecological communities, and most of NSW’s World Heritage-listed rainforest.”
Our failure to prevent this disease from entering suggests that we are likely to see many more, including rabies, which, if it became established, would have a profound toll on human and animal health, with mass cullings of domestic and wild dogs necessary.
This is borne out by the discovery of a new disease – cucumber green mottle mosaic virus – which suddenly appeared in the NT - devastating crops around Katharine and seems likely to spread to other regions. See https://nt.gov.au/industry/agriculture/food-crops-plants-and-quarantine/cucumber-green-mottle-mosaic-virus. Atlantic salmon have been hit by a virus that possibly arrived with imported fish food, while the white spot disease that hit prawn farms in Queensland has now spread to wild prawns and crabs. See https://www.abc.net.au/news/rural/2021-01-17/prawn-white-spot-virus-killing-wild-australian-prawns-and-crabs/13060200
The fungal disease wheat rust, which can reduce harvests by up to 40%, is believed to have arrived here in 1973, on the clothes of an international traveler. This strain has now been controlled but a new and more virulent strain, Ug-99 is sweeping through the world and is expected to reach Australia. See https://www.agriculture.gov.au/pests-diseases-weeds/plant/ug99
Honeybees pollinate a third of Australia’s food crops but they are under threat from the Varroa mite, as well as our absurd reliance on pesticides that are fatal to bees. Combined with an outbreak of foot and mouth disease these three would create a disastrous scenario according to Gary Fitt in his report to the CSIRO http://www.csiro.au/en/Research/Farming-food/Innovation-and-technology-for-the-future/Biosecurity-Future-Report. Such a combination would not only cost Australia’s economy billions of dollars, but would also devastate our agricultural industries and environment and severely alter our way of life.
Gary Fitt reminds us that “Australia’s agriculture sector is already constrained by limited soil and water resources and future intensification will bring its own challenges through herbicide resistance and more intensive animal production systems. These factors could all increase the impacts of a biosecurity incident, and reduce the industry’s ability to sustainably meet demand”.
It is an alarming situation, considering that we need to increase food production in order to cater for a growing population, and the need to export food in order to balance our trade, which - through bad governance - depends heavily on imported goods.
To this we could add climate change.
To keep up with global food demand, the UN estimates, six million ha of new farmland will be needed every year. Instead, 12 million ha are lost every year through soil degradation. Australia lost 36 million ha of agricultural land in just the four years from 2005 till 2009. Some of this lost land has occurred because of urban sprawl which is swallowing up some of our best soils close to cities that used to supply the fresh fruit and vegetables. A scathing report by the Royal Commission has gone as far to accuse the Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) of negligence and being "incapable of acting lawfully," apparently because they overestimated the amount of water returned to the river by a factor of ten. The many warning signs all around us are continually ignored by politicians obsessed with economic theories that defy even the basic laws of mathematics.
Australia is mostly a big desert
Australia is the sixth largest country in the world and also the driest inhabited continent on earth, with the least amount of water in rivers, the lowest run-off and the smallest area of permanent wetlands of all the continents.
Its ocean territory is the world's third largest, spanning three oceans and covering around 12 million square kilometers.
One third of the continent produces almost no run-off at all and Australia's rainfall and stream-flow are the most variable in the world.
Australia also has some of the oldest land surface on earth and, while rich in biodiversity, its soils and seas are among the most nutrient poor and unproductive in the world. This is due mainly to the country's geological stability, which is a major feature of the Australian land mass, and is characterized by, among other things, a lack of significant seismic activity.
Only six per cent of the Australian landmass is arable. As a result, agricultural yields are low compared to other nations: German farms produce over nine metric tonnes/ha compared to Australia's two tonnes.
Australian soils are highly dependent upon vegetation cover and insect biomass to generate nutrients and prevent erosion. It is the native vegetation's long root systems that help break down the sub soil and bring nutrients to the surface, while insects, bacteria, and small animals, reduce ground litter and add nitrogen.
Land clearing, water extraction and poor soil conservation are all causes of a decline in the quality of Australia's soils, now the collapse of insect populations adds another blow. 
What causes land-degradation in Australia
The two most significant direct causes of land degradation are the conversion of native vegetation into crop and grazing lands, and unsustainable land-management practices.
Other factors include the effects of climate change and loss of land to urbanization, infrastructure and mining.
However, the underlying driver of all these changes is rising demand from growing populations for food, meat and grains, as well as fibre and energy. This in turn leads to more demand for land and further encroachment into areas with marginal soils.
Market deregulation, which has been a trend since the 1980s, can lead to the destruction of sustainable land management practices in favor of monocultures and can encourage a race to the bottom as far as environmental protection is concerned. The 2016 State of the Environment report noted that:
”Current rates of soil erosion by water across much of Australia now exceed soil formation rates by an order of magnitude or more. As a result, the expected half-life of soils (the time for half the soil to be eroded) in some upland areas used for agriculture has declined to merely decades.”
Our soils are losing their fertility
The carbon content of Australian soils, which is a measure of fertility, is now some five to 10 times lower than when measured in 1845. The UN has warned that there could be as little as 60 harvests remaining before the world's soils in places like Australia reach the limits of agricultural production.
To keep up with global food demand, the UN estimates, six million ha of new farmland will be needed every year. Instead, 12 million ha are lost every year through soil degradation. Australia lost 36 million ha of agricultural land in just the four years from 2005 till 2009. Some of this lost land has occurred because of urban sprawl which is swallowing up some of our best soils close to cities that used to supply the fresh fruit and vegetables.
Despite this, agricultural products accounted for 15 per cent of Australia’s total exports in 2015-16, and the gross value of farm production was more than $63 billion largely because we currently have around two ha of arable land per person, one of the highest rates in the world.
Murray Darling Basin
However 40% of that production came from the Murray Darling irrigation area which had high production based on historic over-allocation of water, something that has now come back to bite us. A scathing report by the Royal Commission has gone as far to accuse the Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) of negligence and being "incapable of acting lawfully," apparently because they overestimated the amount of water returned to the river by a factor of ten.
With our highly variable surface water supply, groundwater resources are critical for many Australian communities and industries. In some cases, groundwater is the only reliable water supply available to support towns, agriculture and the resources sector. Australia is a very dry country so groundwater is extensively used right across the continent.
Perth relies heavily on the Gnangara Mound aquifer for its water supply, but the water table has been dropping for the past 40 years or more because of reduced rainfall, increased extraction, and decreased recharge.
The Great Artesian Basin, underlying about 1.7 million square kilometres of Australia, contains about 65,000 km3 of water, but it is a “Fossil water”, being up to 2 million years old, so extraction is far faster than replenishment.
It is not widely understood that vegetation and many streams and rivers are supported by the availability of groundwater, either as discharge into streams and rivers or through groundwater uptake by plant roots directly.
In the Northern Territory, Palm Valley has an average rainfall of only 200mm, but spring fed pools allow its unique flora to survive. The same applies for the Doongmabulla Springs Complex, a one-square-kilometre expanse of nationally important wetlands near the proposed site of the Carmichael coal mine in Queensland, which would probably be destroyed if Adani is allowed to extract the water it needs.
As the pressure in the Great Artesian Basin has declined and the water table drops, mound springs (where groundwater is pushed to the ground surface under pressure) have begun to dry up in South Australia and Queensland.
Associated paperbark swamps and wetlands are also being lost and it gets more and more expensive to extract the groundwater for irrigation and other commercial applications. On average, rates of groundwater extraction across Australia have increased by about 100 per cent between the early 1980s and the early 2000s, reflecting both our increased population size and the associated commercial usage of groundwater stores.
We are also putting these resources at risk from pollution. Already there have been many incidences of ground water being polluted by petroleum products, chemicals, fertilizers, pesticides, salt and even nuclear waste. However the main aquifers are being put at risk from fracking, acid leaching of minerals like uranium and underground coal gasification.
Converting the aquifer’s recharge area into farmland is likely to increase the level of nitrogen compounds while the large blasting used in open cut mining is fracturing rock formations deep underground, allowing contamination of water from above or intermingling with salty water.
Growth economics deaf to reason
All of which explains why scientists have been warning us for years that we cannot continue to grow without doing great damage to our fragile nation, but they are continually ignored by politicians obsessed with economic theories that defy even the basic laws of mathematics.
Underground Coal Gasification was trialed and was proved to have failed in three sites in Queensland with the operator gas company Linc Energy charged with five counts of wilful and unlawful environmental harm. They faced penalties of up to $9 million but were declared bankrupt, leaving the Qld government with a clean up bill of $80m.
Despite this, a similar plant at Leigh creek has been given the green light after a failed challenged by the Adnyamathanha people in the Supreme Court of South Australia. The chairman of Leigh Creek energy claimed that Linc energy was a great company and that there was no environmental damage. Well he would have to say that since he was also chairman of Linc before they went broke.
The Stanley Plateau nestled in the foothills of the Victorian Alps, is fighting for the right to preserve its water resources from extraction by a company that transports the water to a plant in Albury, across the border in NSW, for bottling. The bottled water from Stanley and surrounding areas is for domestic and overseas distribution processed by a multi-national company. Stanley has commenced fund raising for the next stage of the Cue Springs Water Challenge - an appeal to the Victorian Court of Appeal. The website http://stanleywater.org.au/ invites a contribution to the fundraising appeal. Please distribute the webpage through your networks as Stanley needs all the help it can get. Stanley is a small Australian community fighting for its water and needs your help.
The Stanley Plateau is entirely dependent on rainfall for its existence. The residents of Stanley do not have access to a municipal water supply. They provide their own water for domestic and farming uses by accessing bores that draw water from groundwater aquifers, pump from creeks and streams, many of which are tributaries to rivers and dams that supply water to surrounding towns and villages, or by collecting rainwater in tanks.
Rich soils support thriving agriculture and horticulture production, and cattle and sheep farming. Stanley is known for its high-quality nut, berry, apple, and pear production, as well as cottage industries that produce high quality preserves and other products.
First class bed and breakfast accommodation supports thriving touris activity with visitors drawn to the area by farm door sales, in-season pick your own berries, and access to the beauty of Alpine flora and fauna through the four seasons. Spring and Autumn in the alpine country is spectacular. All this depends on access to high quality water. Depletion of Stanley’s water resources causes much anxiety in a community dependent upon annual rainfall for its existence.
At the moment it is chestnut harvest season. Approximately 500 tonnes of chestnutswill be harvested over the next few months. It is worth at least $A2M to local growers. Many will benefit; growers and their families; pickers, haulage companies; local businesses and other services. These benefits all derive from the rain that falls on Stanley.
There are no social, economic or environmental benefits for Stanley from the extraction and bottling of its groundwater. There are social, economic and environmental benefits to Stanley and the surrounding area by letting the water remain in the aquifer for access by the local community.
Please support us by contributing through this website: http://stanleywater.org.au/
As human overpopulation in Victoria Australia fuels new sprawling suburbs, kangaroos are being continually deprived of habitat and pushed out into roads. There is an ongoing pantomime to pretend that it is not the human population, but the kangaroo population that is making new impositions on the environment. Culls are called for and, not unexpectedly, country MPs are trying to win votes from the fringes by calling for a commercial kangaroo meat processing industry. Maryland Wilson, President of the Australian Wildlife Protection Counsel, has leapt into the breach to defend kangaroos. Among other things she has said that it is inappropriate for the Minister for Agriculture to make decisions affecting wildlife. She has also repeated her call for wildlife corridors.
Nationals MP Mr O'Brien has asked Minister Peter Walsh (Agriculture and Food Security) to consider a proposal to use kangaroo meat commercially from 'culls' in Victoria. Victoria is currently undergoing government engineered human population growth to such an extent that kangaroos are being pushed out of their habitats by new suburbs and onto new roads. Victorians often find this shocking and would protest so the government tries to get rid of the kangaroos with so-called humane culls before their dreadful plight becomes obvious to those moving into the new suburbs. The human population pressure is mostly caused by mass immigration, which now accounts for well over half of all population growth in Australia.
"This is 2013, not 1788," says AWPC's Maryland Wilson
On 23 February, Maryland Wilson, President of the Australian Wildlife Protection Council, said that Mr O'Brien was behaving as if it was 1788 (the year of Australia's settlement by the British) rather than 2013. She implied that in Victoria there is an attitude of "If it moves SHOOT it and if it doesn’t chop it down."
"This is 2013 Sir, not 1788 and we must establish interconnecting linking wildlife corridors for remaining native species to survive," said President Wilson.
She added that, "Alarmingly, no one knows how many kangaroos there are in Victoria- NO ONE!" And she asked, "Should that not be a starting point before [the Minister allowed or condoned] any industry or farmers to profit from their demise?"
She said, "Farmers must act responsibly, as must Councils/Shires like the South Grampians Shire who for years have been pushing this barrow [of commercial harvesting of kangaroos].
Kangaroos are not an agricultural product; they are wildlife with intrinsic value
She pointed to issues of cruelty and of gene pool depletion. She also warned that there was a "lack of meat hygiene as kangaroos are killed in the outback NOT abattoirs."
Finally, she asked why the Minister for Agriculture would be making such decisions when kangaroos are not an agricultural product. Her implication was, of course, that a department with responsibilities for wildlife should involved here.
The Greens are expected to oppose any move to lift commercial bans, with Victorian Leader Greg Barber stating that it wouldn't work in practice. "It's cruel, it's wasteful, and it wouldn't pass the food safety rules other farmers have to comply with," Mr Barber has said.
Feed the world with Genetically Modified foods? The French Minister for Agriculture is preparing a new law to prevent GM crops in France as the European Court of Justice has questioned the health-risk basis of current French laws against GM. It probably suits GM patenters to keep the battle on this footing as a decoy because the major danger lies elsewhere - in loss of productive land tenure. In the US, meanwhile, the Public Patent Foundation (PUBPAT) has filed suit against Monsanto Company to challenge the chemical giant’s patents on genetically modified seed. The organic plaintiffs were forced to sue preemptively to protect themselves from being accused of patent infringement should they ever become contaminated by Monsanto’s genetically modified seed, something Monsanto has done to others in the past.
French Law on GM 28 November 2011
Yesterday (28 November 2011) the French Conseil d'Etat took European Court of Justice advice that France's laws against OGM have no basis because France has not provided evidence that OGM presents any especially high risk to human or environmental health.
If France want to continue to outlaw GM then it will have to make a new law. The Minister for Agriculture, Bruno Le Maire has stated that he is preparing one.
"We do not want to cultivate Monsanto 810 on our territory because the environmental doubts are too great," he said.
About 30 countries in the world produce OGM crops. At the moment four countries are major producers of OGMs, the United States, Brazil, India and Argentina. Lesser producers are Spain, Portugal, Sweden, Germany (representing about 2% of world production) and Poland, the Tchec Republic and Slovakia.
OGMs have been studied as if they were medications - with reviews to see if they are toxic or produce allergies. These results have shown no danger of medical toxicity or allergy. The problems lie in other directions.
Turbo-industrialised agriculture a threat to democracy
The major legal and social problem is contamination of non-OGM by OGM because it carries the risk of widespread loss of land and crop tenure and self-government. This is a simply enormous problem, because these seeds are privately owned. If OGM seeds are found on your property you can be forced to pay for them and there have been many instances of this where farmers have been bankrupted. (Cases cited at 11.47 minutes into the on-line film.)OGM in private hands causes dispossession and alienation from traditional food-sources, with starvation and enslavement to corporate producers in non-industrialised and industrialised countries alike. The French Revolution was all about winning the right to own land for all citizens from feudal regimes where only a small proportion of people owned the land and the means of production. The OGM Revolution is shaping up as a means to segregate land and food production again from most people, although its proponents present it as a means to 'feed the world'.
March 29, 2011 Organic Farmers and Seed Sellers sue Monsanto to protect themselves from patents on genetically modified seed:
You can purchase a dvd of the new film: "The Future of Food". Below we have republished a statement about a new class action against Monsanto's industrial patents on OGM genes.
"Preemptive Action Seeks Ruling That Would Prohibit Monsanto From Suing Organic Farmers and Seed Growers If Contaminated By Roundup Ready Seed
(Originally posted here.)
NEW YORK – March 29, 2011 – On behalf of 60 family farmers, seed businesses and organic agricultural organizations, the Public Patent Foundation (PUBPAT) filed suit today (http://www.pubpat.org/assets/files/seed/OSGATA-v-Monsanto-Complaint.pdf) against Monsanto Company to challenge the chemical giant’s patents on genetically modified seed. The organic plaintiffs were forced to sue preemptively to protect themselves from being accused of patent infringement should they ever become contaminated by Monsanto’s genetically modified seed, something Monsanto has done to others in the past.
The case, Organic Seed Growers & Trade Association, et al. v. Monsanto, was filed in federal district court in Manhattan and assigned to Judge Naomi Buchwald. Plaintiffs in the suit represent a broad array of family farmers, small businesses and organizations from within the organic agriculture community who are increasingly threatened by genetically modified seed contamination despite using their best efforts to avoid it. The plaintiff organizations have over 270,000 members, including thousands of certified organic family farmers.
“This case asks whether Monsanto has the right to sue organic farmers for patent infringement if Monsanto’s transgenic seed should land on their property,” said Dan Ravicher, PUBPAT’s Executive Director and Lecturer of Law at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York. “It seems quite perverse that an organic farmer contaminated by transgenic seed could be accused of patent infringement, but Monsanto has made such accusations before and is notorious for having sued hundreds of farmers for patent infringement, so we had to act to protect the interests of our clients.”
Once released into the environment, genetically modified seed contaminates and destroys organic seed for the same crop. For example, soon after Monsanto introduced genetically modified seed for canola, organic canola became virtually extinct as a result of contamination.
Organic corn, soybeans, cotton, sugar beets and alfalfa now face the same fate, as Monsanto has released genetically modified seed for each of those crops, too. Monsanto is developing genetically modified seed for many other crops, thus putting the future of all food, and indeed all agriculture, at stake.
In the case, PUBPAT is asking Judge Buchwald to declare that if organic farmers are ever contaminated by Monsanto’s genetically modified seed, they need not fear also being accused of patent infringement. One reason justifying this result is that Monsanto’s patents on genetically modified seed are invalid because they don’t meet the “usefulness” requirement of patent law, according to PUBPAT’s Ravicher, plaintiffs’ lead attorney in the case. Evidence cited by PUBPAT in its opening filing today proves that genetically modified seed has negative economic and health effects, while the promised benefits of genetically modified seed – increased production and decreased herbicide use – are false.
“Some say transgenic seed can coexist with organic seed, but history tells us that’s not possible, and it’s actually in Monsanto’s financial interest to eliminate organic seed so that they can have a total monopoly over our food supply,” said Ravicher. “Monsanto is the same chemical company that previously brought us Agent Orange, DDT, PCB’s and other toxins, which they said were safe, but we know are not. Now Monsanto says transgenic seed is safe, but evidence clearly shows it is not.”
The plaintiffs in the suit represented by PUBPAT are: Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association; Organic Crop Improvement Association International, Inc.; OCIA Research and Education Inc.; The Cornucopia Institute; Demeter Association, Inc.; Navdanya International; Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association; Northeast Organic Farming Association/Massachusetts Chapter, Inc.; Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont; Rural Vermont; Ohio Ecological Food & Farm Association; Southeast Iowa Organic Association; Northern Plains Sustainable Agriculture Society; Mendocino Organic Network; Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance; Canadian Organic Growers; Family Farmer Seed Cooperative; Sustainable Living Systems; Global Organic Alliance; Food Democracy Now!; Family Farm Defenders Inc.; Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund; FEDCO Seeds Inc.; Adaptive Seeds, LLC; Sow True Seed; Southern Exposure Seed Exchange; Mumm’s Sprouting Seeds; Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Co., LLC; Comstock, Ferre & Co., LLC; Seedkeepers, LLC; Siskiyou Seeds; Countryside Organics; Cuatro Puertas; Interlake Forage Seeds Ltd.; Alba Ranch; Wild Plum Farm; Gratitude Gardens; Richard Everett Farm, LLC; Philadelphia Community Farm, Inc; Genesis Farm; Chispas Farms LLC; Kirschenmann Family Farms Inc.; Midheaven Farms; Koskan Farms; California Cloverleaf Farms; North Outback Farm; Taylor Farms, Inc.; Jardin del Alma; Ron Gargasz Organic Farms; Abundant Acres; T & D Willey Farms; Quinella Ranch; Nature’s Way Farm Ltd.; Levke and Peter Eggers Farm; Frey Vineyards, Ltd.; Bryce Stephens; Chuck Noble; LaRhea Pepper; Paul Romero; and, Donald Wright Patterson, Jr.
Many of the plaintiffs made statements upon filing of the suit today.
Jim Gerritsen, a family farmer in Maine who raises organic seed and is President of lead plaintiff Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association ased in Montrose, Colorado, said, “Today is Independence Day fo America. Today we are seeking protection from the Court and putting Monsanto on notice. Monsanto’s threats and abuse of family farmers stops here. Monsanto’s genetic contamination of organic seed and organic crops ends now. Americans have the right to choice in the marketplace – to decide what kind of food they will feed their families - and we are taking this action on their behalf to protect that right to choose. Organic farmers have the right to raise our organic crops fo our families and our customers on our farms without the threat of invasion by Monsanto’s genetic contamination and without harassment by a eckless polluter. Beginning today, America asserts her right to justice and pure food.”
Dr. Carol Goland, Ph.D., Executive Director of plaintiff Ohio Ecological Food & Farm Association (OEFFA) said, “Consumers indicate, overwhelmingly, that they prefer foods made without genetically modified organisms. Organic farms, by regulation, may not use GMOs, while other farmers forego using them for other reasons. Yet the truth is that we are rapidly approaching the tipping point when we will be unable to avoid GMOs in our fields and on our plates. That is the inevitable consequence of releasing genetically engineered materials into the environment. To add injury to injury, Monsanto has a history of suing farmers whose fields have been contaminated by Monsanto’s GMOs. On ehalf of farmers who must live under this cloud of uncertainty and isk, we are compelled to ask the Court to put an end to this unconscionable business practice.”
Rose Marie Burroughs of plaintiff California Cloverleaf Farms said, “The devastation caused by GMO contamination is an ecological catastrophe to our world equal to the fall out of nuclear radiation. Nature, farming and health are all being affected by GMO contamination. We must protect our world by protecting our most precious, sacred resource of seed sovereignty. People must have the right to the resources of the earth for our sustenance. We must have the freedom to farm that causes no harm to the environment or to other people. We must protect the environment, farmers livelihood, public health and people’s right to non GMO food contamination.”
Ed Maltby, Executive Director of plaintiff Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance (NODPA) said, “It’s outrageous that we find ourselves in a situation where the financial burden of GE contamination will fall on family farmers who have not asked for or contributed to the growth of GE crops. Family farmers will face contamination of their crops by GE seed which will threaten their ability to sell crops as organically certified or into the rapidly growing ‘Buy Local’ market where consumers have overwhelmingly declared they do not want any GE crops, and then family farmers may be faced by a lawsuit by Monsanto for patent infringement. We take this action to protect family farms who once again have to bear the consequences of irresponsible actions by Monsanto.”
David L. Rogers, Policy Advisor for plaintiff NOFA Vermont said, “Vermont’s farmers have worked hard to meet consumers’ growing demand for certified organic and non-GE food. It is of great concern to them that Monsanto’s continuing and irresponsible marketing of GE crops that contaminate non-GE plantings will increasingly place their local and egional markets at risk and threaten their livelihoods.”
Dewane Morgan of plaintiff Midheaven Farms in Park Rapids, Minnesota, said, “For organic certification, farmers are required to have a buffer zone around their perimeter fields. Crops harvested from this buffer zone are not eligible for certification due to potential drift from herbicide and fungicide drift. Buffer zones are useless against pollen drift. Organic, biodynamic, and conventional farmers who grow identity-preserved soybeans, wheat and open-pollinated corn often save seed for replanting the next year. It is illogical that these farmers are liable for cross-pollination contamination.”
Jill Davies, Director of plaintiff Sustainable Living Systems in Victor, Montana, said, “The building blocks of life are sacred and should be in the public domain. If scientists want to study and manipulate them fo some supposed common good, fine. Then we must remove the profit motive.
The private profit motive corrupts pure science and increasingly precludes democratic participation.”
David Murphy, founder and Executive Director of plaintiff Food Democracy Now! said, “None of Monsanto’s original promises regarding genetically modified seeds have come true after 15 years of wide adoption by commodity farmers. Rather than increased yields or less chemical usage, farmers are facing more crop diseases, an onslaught of herbicide-resistant superweeds, and increased costs from additional herbicide application. Even more appalling is the fact that Monsanto’s patented genes can blow onto another farmer’s fields and that farmer not only loses significant revenue in the market but is frequently exposed to legal action against them by Monsanto’s team of belligerent lawyers.
Crop biotechnology has been a miserable failure economically and iologically and now threatens to undermine the basic freedoms that farmers and consumers have enjoyed in our constitutional democracy.”
Mark Kastel, Senior Farm Policy Analyst for plaintiff The Cornucopia Institute said, “Family-scale farmers desperately need the judiciary anch of our government to balance the power Monsanto is able to wield in the marketplace and in the courts. Monsanto, and the biotechnology industry, have made great investments in our executive and legislative branches through campaign contributions and powerful lobbyists in Washington. We need to court system to offset this power and protect individual farmers from corporate tyranny. Farmers have saved seeds since the beginning of agriculture by our species. It is outrageous that one corporate entity, through the trespass of what they refer to as their ‘technology,’ can intimidate and run roughshod over family farmers in this country. It should be the responsibility of Monsanto, and farmers licensing their technology, to ensure that genetically engineered DNA does not trespass onto neighboring farmland. It is outrageous, that through no fault of their own, farmers are being intimidated into not saving seed for fear that they will be doggedly pursued through the court system and potentially bankrupted.”
The Public Patent Foundation (PUBPAT) is a not-for-profit legal services organization affiliated with the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law.
PUBPAT protects freedom in the patent system by representing the public interest against undeserved patents and unsound patent policy. More information about PUBPAT is available from www.pubpat.org."
Aussies take action! Lock the gate!" Australians to gather in Brisbane to defend water and land from coal and coal-seam gas fracking, which has already been totally banned in France. (See comments.) On Sunday October 16, 11a.m. Queens Park Cnr George & Elizabeth Sts. Brisbane City. lockthegateqld[AT]gmail.com Facebook: Defend Our Water Qld Tel. 0404 677 781 www.lockthegate.org.au
More information on Fracking
For more information about gas-fracking, see "Fracking democracy - Gaslands- the movie, the industry and national responses." France completely banned all fracking a few months ago and last week it revoked licences given to some companies which tried to demonstrate a new, safer method. The French Government said that there is no safe method of fracking. It is environmentally destructive, socially destructive and dangerous to water catchments.
Contacts and details for Sunday 16 October protests in Brisbane.
Aussies take action! Lock the gate! Defend our water from coal and coal seam gas!
Coal Seam Gas and Coal represent the biggest threat to our precious underground water reserves in our history. On Sunday October 16, join with communities across the country to demand a moratorium until the full social and environmental impacts are known. Gather 11a.m. Queens Park, Cnr George & Elizabeth Sts., Brisbane City.
Facebook: Defend Our Water Qld,
Tel. 0404 677 781
Is there really any social justice or ethics that we continue to grow our own population and consumption levels if it means we parasitically must acquire valuable arable land from a country already being preyed upon by developed nations?
Prof Robin Batterham was the Chief Scientist of Australia from 1999 to 2005 and is President of the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (ATSE).
Behind ATSE is the property developer Peter Scanlon of the Scanlon Foundation. At his address to the ATSE in 2007, he is quoted as saying - The Scanlon Foundation is committed to the belief that Australia needs to continue to grow and that this growth will require a substantial and increasing role for migration...
Mr Scanlon, whose family wealth is estimated to be more than $600 million, set up a foundation in 2009 with the aim to create a larger and socially cohesive Australia. Mr Scanlon has extensive property development interests, which clearly benefit from immigration-fuelled high population growth.
Mr Scanlon's Brencorp Properties is a partner in the $1 billion Somerfield housing estate at Keysborough, said Australia's greatest asset was its “diversity”- a euphemism for high immigration.
Large investments in Africa
A new and surprising investment vehicle has Africa as one of the main destinations for inflows of capital, for one of the most prized and sensitive assets, the acquisition of arable land. The land grab has only just begun.
There has been large investments in Africa by firms linked to governments such as Saudi Arabia that has US$800m of agricultural investments in Ethiopia for the growing of major crops such as rice and wheat. China has 1.3 billion mouths to feed due to 7% of the arable land is being lost in China to desertification and pollution as a by-product of rampant economic and population growth, and has invested US$800m into Mozambique agriculture. The price of land in Africa is the cheapest in the world.
September last year, thirteen people died and hundreds were wounded in Mozambique when police cracked down on a three-day protest over a 30 percent hike in the price of bread.
Mozambique bread riots could be a warning sign for African nations who have leased fertile agricultural land to foreign countries. Nearly 250,000 acres has been secured by the Swedish firm Skebab to produce biofuels.
Many African small-holder farmers know they can be moved off their land at any time, and the growing number of farming deals confirms their worst fears. As a result, many African farmers are reluctant to invest in their land or to improve their techniques, knowing the benefit may be taken away in the future.
Food security threats to the world
According to United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, “By 2050, the risk of hunger is projected to increase by 10 – 20 %, and child malnutrition is anticipated to be 20 % higher compared to a no-climate change scenario.” It’s easy to blame climate change, a convenient scapegoat, rather than overpopulation and foreign investors as the biggest driver of growing food scarcity.
Although the estimated 700-900 million of the world's poor suffer in silence, food shortages have recently caused riots in Bolivia, Peru, Mozambique, Haiti, Indonesia and India. Within 40 years, global food production will have to increase by at least 40 percent to feed the additional 2.5 billion people who will then inhabit a planet endowed with just 11 percent arable land. Haiti, Indonesia, Cameroon and Mozambique have all been racked by violent food riots.
CSIRO efforts to lift food production
The CSIRO is predicting global crop yields need to double within 50 years to meet food demand. The benefits of Norman Borlaug’s “green revolution” are finite and his 40 year reprieve of food shortages has ended.
Dr Jeremy Burdon is the head of CSIRO's plant industry division. His researchers are collaborating with the Chinese Academy of Science to lift food production. They're trying to fast track plant breeding of improved wheat, rice and corn varieties. It’s an attempt at another “green revolution”.
I believe that we can generate another green revolution as a consequence of the application of modern biological techniques – using GM technologies.
Sharp rises in food prices in 2008 and 2010 had demonstrated that supply was no longer meeting demand, said Professor Julian Cribb, author of The Coming Famine.
Professor Robin Batterham
One of the prime minister's advisers on science and innovation, Professor Robin Batterham says purchasing farms in Mozambique, a former African food bowl, should be investigated to shore up Australia's food supply.
Professor Robin Batterham, wants Australian companies to consider buying land in Mozambique to counterbalance foreign purchases of farming land in Australia and shore up Australia's food supply. Why are we losing control of our own land, and failing to enforce our sovereignty?
Instead of heading towards a “big Australia”, and adding to the number of parasite nations grabbing land in developing countries where they need it, we should protect our nation, our people, and our food production against global greed. We hear a lot about “sustainability” but government policies simply rough-shod over any sustainable and ethical principles.
The suggestion by Prof Robin Batterham that we buy up farms in Mozambique to ensure OUR food security is reprehensible.
Globalization and a “free market” economy means that nations with power can legally grab territories from indigenous people, living on subsistence levels, and corruptly threaten their well-being, human rights, and survival.
Is there really any social justice or ethics that we continue to grow our own population and consumption levels if it means we parasitically must aquire valuable arable land from a country already being preyed upon by developed nations?
This year many Australians may wish they had a backyard to grow food in. Already impoverished by rising costs for rent, land and power, this year we will see food go through the roof as the impact of the floods in Queensland and Northern New South Wales carries through to the supermarkets and then to interest rates on mortgages and other loans. And, since so many of us rely on jobs in the cities originally generated by the production, transport and packaging of food from the country, unemployment will make things worse. When Australians find that their wages no longer cover the cost of food this year, perhaps more will understand why there are so many articles on this website protesting about the loss of backyard and the rise of Food Inc.
The point is that, if most of us still had access to a backyard with fruit trees and a vegetable patch, and a neighbour with a paddock and a few animals, we simply would not run the same risk of starving, given a disaster or two, as we will if population growth continues and the cost of living outpaces the value of wages and the availability of paid work.
Australians are used to responding to the news of devastating floods in third world countries, such as Bangladesh, almost annually. We read of many lives lost and crops lost, then of food shortage and disease. More people have been drowned in Bangladesh floods than have been drowned in the Queensland floods, although Bangladesh has recently made progress with strategies for evacuating populations.
Floodplains covered by houses in an elitist economy with an irresponsible government
In Queensland, Australia, land-speculation has taken precedence over prudence and flood-plains have been covered with houses. Local laws meant until very recently that property owners could sue local councils for lost potential profits if they were prohibited from clearing and developing land, notably farmland. The Queensland Government encourages land speculation at all levels and places pressure to develop new land for more intensive settlement by vigorously encouraging interstate and international immigration. The results are predictable and many tragedies could have been avoided:
"Major flooding causing inundation of large areas, isolating towns and disrupting road and rail links occurs on average about every ten years somewhere in the South-East Queensland region. Smith (1998) estimated that around 35% of the buildings at risk from flooding in Australia are located in Queensland, with 21% being in the South-East Queensland region. The large numbers of buildings at risk of flooding in South-East Queensland is exacerbated by the absence of Statewide floodplain management regulations which might typically aim to preclude residential development in areas subject to flooding up to the 1% AEP (100 year ARI) level. In Queensland such regulations are left to individual Local Government Authorities (LGAs) to establish." (Source: Miriam Middelmann, Bruce Harper and Rob Lacey, "Cost of Flooding" in "Chapter 9: Flood Risks", at http://www.ga.gov.au/image_cache/GA4210.pdf)
The flooded area in Queensland and NSW is many times larger than the whole of Bangladesh.
Because Queensland/Northern New South Wales produce far more food and fuel (coal) for local and overseas consumption than Bangladesh, the impact of destroyed crops and interruptions to mining by the floods will be massive. 
"The state government estimates 100 million dollars a day is being lost in coal exports with floodwaters disrupting operations at at least 40 coal mines - and the damage to industry and agriculture is so severe that banking analysts predict it will hurt the nation's gross domestic product." (Source: "The soaring financial cost of the floods," SBS, 6 January 2011, www.sbs.com.au/news/article/1459892/The-soaring-financial-cost-of-the-floods)
Damage to personal property and assets will be formidable, and questions are likely to be raised by insurers where residences have been built on floodplains. People will be traumatised for many years by their losses and experiences in these floods. Some may never recover their emotional well-being.
Agribusiness and the real-estate economy have deprived us of life-saving options:
James Sinnamon wrote in "How to make our agricultural sector sustainable," in 2008,
"The government needs to control the activities of any sector where they threaten the viability of other sectors, particularly vital sectors like food production. To risk severe social disruption for short-term profit might make sense to corporations, but it is the duty of governments to mitigate corporate excesses and to direct and balance activities so that the community is buffered and major conflicts are avoided.
... If incomes to be earned from sustainable farming practices are low in comparison to those to be earned by working in the city or in mines, then we need to consider whether those economic activities are sustainable."
Indeed. This year many Australians may wish they had a backyard to grow food in. Already impoverished by rising costs of rent, land and power, this year Australians will see food go through the roof as the impact of the floods carries through to the supermarkets. And, since so many of us rely on jobs in the cities originally generated by the production, transport and packaging of food from the country, unemployment will make things worse. When Australians find that their wages no longer cover the cost of food this year, perhaps more will understand why there are so many articles on this website protesting about the loss of backyard and the rise of Food Inc.
How will they feel about the heroic marketers of a big population for Australia when we cannot meet our own food needs, let alone earn export income to pay for our imports?
Aggressively imposed government policies, such as paving over market gardens close to city, as described in "Vic Gov to trash Melbourne's water recycling market gardens for quick bucks in thirsty new suburbs,")and concentrating agriculture into what amount to 'agribusiness zones' - see "Orwellian Waterworks: big-agribusiness and Victorian Gov") by removing local individual capacity to supplement food production, have left Australians virtually defenseless against food shortage, particularly in the case of disasters affecting the national economy. This officially encouraged chicken now comes home to roost with the destruction of agricultural produce we rely on by this week's 'biblical' floods in Queensland and Northern New South Wales.
Queensland flooding and climate change
There are many historic accounts of flooding in the area currently affected. See a collection of quotes and figures at http://www.ga.gov.au/image_cache/GA4210.pdf, pages 9.16 to 9.31.
And it's not like the government wasn't formally warned that floods will probably get worse in the future:
"CSIRO (2000, 2001) regional modelling experiments show thatQueensland could be warmer with more downpours, with the possibility of more cyclones, stormsurges and flood events. The effect of regional climate change on particular sectors has been examined for rangelands (Howden et al., 1999-a) and for wheat cropping (Howden et al., 1999-b).These studies show, that while it is possible to adapt production systems in many areas, and that some areas may in fact benefit, in other areas production systems could become marginalised and disappear altogether. The blue and green water systems will be driven by global change and human management, and more resilient systems have the best chance of long-term survival." Barney Foran and Franzi Poldi, Future Dilemmas, CSIRO Resource Futures, October 2002, p. 210
But, in fact, the Howard Government which commissioned the report imposed economists who were out of their depth on the scientific team and suppressed the scientists' frank conclusions, which were that it was foolish to keep growing our populations and to keep pushing the boundaries of agriculture and development. In the end, it seemed they got rid of one of the chief scientists, Barney Foran, who wrote a personal report, entitled, Between a Rock and a Hard Place. See the 2002 Four Corners report at www.abc.net.au/4corners/.../2002b_Tuesday5November2002.htm
Linsay Tanner and Bangladesh
Reacting to Kelvin Thomson's sane expression of fears as Australia's Federal and State governments continue to engineer faster and faster population growth in Australia, in 2009, the then Treasurer, Linsay Tanner, compared Bangladesh favorably with Australia, suggesting that Australia should have a much bigger population because Bangladesh does ...
"Bangladesh is roughly twice the size of Tasmania, and home to about seven times the population of Australia. If Australia seeks to persuade the rest of the world that we are overpopulated, we will be rightly laughed at,'' Mr Tanner will say, according to a copy of his speech supplied to The Age." Ari Sharp, "Population fear is nonsense: Tanner," The Age, November 13, 2009.
To many people Tanner's comments seemed the ultimate in callousness and absurdity. How could a democracy like Australia have a politician who talks like Tanner? How could a democracy like Australia become like Bangladesh?
Just look at Queensland now.
Beware Disaster Capitalism
The political corruption of the State of Queensland is another factor that will move Queensland and Australia closer to third world status in the wake of natural disasters like this one. If the Queensland government remains true to form, it wferer: http://candobetter.net/nohe floods as an excuse to borrow money internationally and to sell off remaining public assets to private interests. See Naomi Klein's book, The Shock Doctrine, which gives the history of this style of government. It was Klein who coined the term, "disaster capitalism," to describe a widespread form of economics where finance moves in on wounded countries and offers help ... at a terrible price involving asset stripping, dispossession and disenfranchisement.
Each year in Bangladesh about 26,000 km2, (around 18%) of the country is flooded, so far[when?] killing over 5000 people and destroying 7 million homes. During severe floods the affected area may exceed 75% of the country, as was seen in 1998. This volume is 95% of the total annual inflow. By comparison only about 187,000 million m3, of streamflow is generated by rainfall inside the country during the same period. The floods have caused devastation in Bangladesh throughout history, especially during the years 1966, 1987, 1998 and 1988. The 2007 South Asian floods also affected a large portion of Bangladesh.
 2004 Bangladesh 730 killed
 36 000 000 affected; US$ 2 200 000 000 damage (Source: http://www.searo.who.int/LinkFiles/Publication_&_Documents_EHA_FOCUS.pdf)
illustration from http://www.elzpublishing.com/index.html
(Thanks to editor Jim Stiles and author John Feeney for permission to reprint this article, that was originally posted at Zephyr Canyon at http://www.canyoncountryzephyr.com/html/aug10-20.htm)
So how's all that modern environmentalism working out for us -- the green living, the carbon credits, reduced consumption, development in the Third World, better solar panels? If it all seems hopelessly inadequate, even laughable in the face of today's global ecological crisis, perhaps that’s because it’s rooted in denial of the origins of the ecological drama now playing out.
It's a drama of which climate change is only a part. It goes back ten thousand years and farther into the human past, confronts us with how we relate to nature, and brings reminders of abandoned civilizations.
We turn away from this drama because it raises troubling questions going straight to the foundations of our way of life. But grappling with converging environmental crises and the specter of widespread ecological collapse, for the sake of the human future it's time we face it. 
The big switch
Pull back and consider the whole of human history. For perhaps 2.5 million years, well over 99 percent of our time on Earth, we lived in small bands or tribes, foraging and hunting for food. With baskets and tools of stone, bone, and wood we walked the bush, blending gracefully into Earth's ecosystems.
Then around 8,000 BC we began the transition to agriculture, growing and storing our own food. That changed everything. Arguably, there have been only two fundamentally different phases of human existence: before and after agriculture.
Why the switch? Why quit something which had worked for us for thousands of millennia? We have only partially informed guesses. Perhaps changes in climate made hunting less productive or the domestication of grains in some areas more attractive. No one mentions, though, that only a few people had to make the initial change for it to take over the world. Nor do many observers acknowledge that the adoption of agriculture was not as nice for us as we've been led to believe.
At what cost?
Examine it closely, in fact, and agriculture emerges as a springboard for most of today's environmental and social problems.
Yes, it made possible civilization with its cities, jet liners, and corporations. But at what cost? Its most immediate impact was the elimination of all who stood in its way as farming cultures spread around the world. Part genocide and part culture killing, the process continues today as the handful of remaining hunter-gatherers on earth struggle for survival. 
With farming came a large increase in work and a steep decline in health, the latter discovered by archeologists examining the bones and teeth of people living in the same regions before and after agriculture. It brought social hierarchies, sexual inequality, famine, slavery, time clocks, money, and a massive upscaling of violence.  Jared Diamond called it "the worst mistake in the history of the human race."  More recently, anthropologist and geneticist Spencer Wells provided his own list of some of the costs of the shift away from hunting and gathering: "diabetes, obesity, mental illness, climate change." 
Less publicized have been agriculture’s ecological impacts. History texts glorify civilization, based on agriculture, as the pinnacle of human existence. They don't mention it required an end to living in harmony with nature as contributing members of local ecosystems. Author John Zerzan has said of agriculture, "The land itself becomes an instrument of production and the planet's species its objects." 
Trying to live apart from nature carries a price. Why don’t we take more seriously the many peoples, such as the Maya and the Anasazi, who adopted farming only to see their civilizations fall apart as drought, depleted resources, or too little arable land for a growing population sent a recurring message from nature? Why don't we hear about those who simply walked away and returned to hunting and gathering? 
Circumventing nature’s limits
The problem of agriculture is in part a problem of human numbers. Before farming human population size had been regulated by the same process that works for black bears, dingos, bonobos, rainbow trout, and long-tailed parakeets. It works for all species, generally keeping their numbers within carrying capacity. It’s simple: Population follows food supply. Normal oscillations in available food exert multiple small, cumulative, typically painless influences on fertility and mortality. With agriculture we circumvented this process. Growing and storing food we could go on growing our food supply. The result has been predictable: more humans.
In publications ranging from peer reviewed journal articles to novels, analysts such as Russell Hopfenberg, David Pimentel, and Daniel Quinn have described a continuous cycle of human population growth followed by expanding agriculture to feed our growing numbers, followed in turn by more population growth.   In less than one percent of our history our numbers shot from perhaps five million to 6.7 billion, an increase of 134,000 percent.
This cycle of growth explains how agriculture spread around the world. It was not a matter of hunter-gatherers observing farmers and eagerly adopting their practices. It was the spread of farmers themselves.  Their ever increasing food supply meant ever more agriculturalists who needed more land and took it, often violently.
The resulting environmental impacts of human population growth are well known. From species loss and climate change to the global spread of chemical toxins and the death of coral reefs, human numbers figure as a fundamental driver of nearly all environmental degradation.
Some insist those problems are mainly the result of excessive per person resource consumption. Population does multiply with per person consumption to determine total consumption. But individual levels of consumption only became a global issue as the number of consumers grew large enough to make them so. Agriculture made it happen. It links with human population growth to destroy the biosphere.
The sixth mass extinction
Chief among the destructive impacts of agriculture are today's alarmingly elevated extinction rates. Just as agriculture has crowded out hunter-gatherers, it has pushed out other species. Most biologists agree we are today in the midst of the sixth mass extinction event in Earth's history, the fifth having eliminated the dinosaurs. This time one species -- our own -- is the cause.
Fossil evidence suggests an increase in extinctions even before agriculture. Anthropologist Paul S. Martin has championed the "overkill" hypothesis, arguing the cause was the spread of human hunting out of Africa to continents containing large mammals unaccustomed to human predators. Other investigators such as Donald K. Grayson dispute his conclusions and point to evidence implicating changes in climate. What we do know is that extinction rates have accelerated greatly since the advent of farming. 
A primary cause of extinctions is habitat disruption. And what better way to disrupt, to destroy habitat than to level a piece of land, eliminating all life on it, then to plant a single crop exclusively for human use. That's agriculture, and it has spread over more than a billion hectares of the earth. Indeed, any human-caused environmental damage prior to agriculture pales in comparison to what has come after.
The industrial age and our use of oil has meant yet another acceleration of the Sixth Extinction as far more land has been put under cultivation and the human population has skyrocketed, obliterating habitat to make way for cities, subdivisions, shopping malls, and highway systems.
We hear all about resource consumption, particularly energy consumption. Why don't we hear about our consumption, through agriculture and the human population growth it drives, of the very web of life on which we and all other species depend for our survival?
Paleontologist Niles Eldredge writes, "Agriculture represents the single most profound ecological change in the entire 3.5 billion-year history of life.... Indeed, to develop agriculture is essentially to declare war on ecosystems." 
Author Lierre Kieth says, "The truth is that agriculture is the most destructive thing humans have done to the planet... [It] requires the wholesale destruction of entire ecosystems." 
Once the cycle of agriculture and population growth was underway, of course, there seemed little choice. We did what we could to keep feeding our growing numbers. We've trapped ourselves. As Keith puts it, "Except for the last 46 tribes of hunter-gatherers, the human race is now dependent on an activity that is killing the planet."
Further making crop cultivation unsustainable on anything like a scale to feed billions is its often inevitable erosion of the soil and depletion of soil nutrients. This happens at rates far faster than natural rates of renewal.
Soil microbiologist Peter Salonius writes, "The simple shallow rooting habit of food crops and the requirement for bare soil cultivation produces soil erosion and plant nutrient loss far above the levels that can be replaced by microbial nitrogen fixation, and the weathering of minerals." 
Already we have lost perhaps one third of all arable land worldwide.  We are using it up just as we are coal or oil. Keith coins the term "fossil soil." It may have taken ten thousand years for us to see it, but that is barely an eye blink in human history.
Some hunter-gatherer societies have long included small scale gardening in their repertoires. But once we upped the scale, clearing land and increasing production to produce food surpluses, we committed to agriculture proper and the trouble began. While a more ecologically sensible option such as permaculture moves farming in a more sustainable direction, it was never intended to feed increasing billions of people.  If it were it would still run into the problem of transforming wilderness, turning the land excessively to human consumption with all that implies for the web of life. Planting crops on any large scale means seriously damaging ecosystems. Agriculture cannot be sustained.
Overshoot and collapse
The historical view of humanity's ecological path leaves no doubt we long ago overshot human carrying capacity. Our numbers are today supported only by temporary measures such as our use of limited stores of fossil fuels and, more fundamentally, the use of agriculture and our consumption of our own life support system. In his classic text, Overshoot, William Catton calls such supports "phantom carrying capacity."  They are not carrying capacity at all; they cannot last.
Contrary then to the popular notion that our technologies have increased carrying capacity, we have created only a carrying capacity illusion. We're a species which evolved to live in the millions, yet here we sit, well into the billions. It's basic to ecology that when a population overshoots carrying capacity it must inevitably return to a lower number, often via a crash.
It is of course not only our numbers which will come to an end. Civilization is made possible by agriculture. Agriculture is unsustainable. If it weren’t obvious already, you can see where this is going. There's no predicting the timeline of civilization's collapse. Techno-fixes and any resiliency industrial society possesses may draw it out. No matter, a better future, indeed the only future for humanity and the rest of Earth’s inhabitants is one beyond civilization.
What we could do, what we might do
Few people want to hear that agriculture is unsustainable. Fewer still care to consider that the civilization it supports will therefore come to an end. Who wants to hear their whole world is going to go away? Yet as surprising as it may seem, there is room for optimism. The way out will be difficult, but will open to a new beginning.
Ideally we could begin systematically scaling back agriculture and gradually dismantling civilization. We could turn instead to small scale, localized horticulture and then to tribal, non-industrial and non-agricultural ways of living. The transition could include a concerted worldwide effort to support humane, voluntary measures enabling our numbers to decline gradually and dramatically. Perhaps most importantly, we could work to spread a different view of our place in nature, acknowledging that we are of the earth, just one of millions of species, as much subject to ecological laws as any other. At some point, the few surviving hunter-gatherer groups on Earth might serve as mentors rather than objects of academic study. This, however, would be an exquisitely delicate undertaking, as the last thing such groups need today is the increased intrusion of those of us in civilization.
But despite converging ecological catastrophes we show few signs of such a massive, voluntary shift. Those with vested interests in the status quo see to that. So writers such as Zerzan and Derrick Jensen advocate a purposeful resistance movement designed to hasten civilization's end.  In this they owe a clear though too seldom mentioned debt to Edward Abbey. The Monkey Wrench Gang opened multiple generations' eyes to the option of direct action against perpetrators of environmental destruction. Says Jensen today, "Systems of power are created by humans and can be stopped by humans. Those in power are never supernatural or immortal, and they can be brought down."  Though this raises the frightening specter of triggering loss of life before it would happen otherwise, the argument is that bringing down civilization sooner would leave more life intact than would a delayed and drawn out collapse. We face hard choices.
The first daunting challenge, though, faced by those against civilization lies in disabusing enough people of the ingrained message that our way of living is a great thing. Perhaps, in the end, our best hope lies in building resistance as we work to soften the landing through efforts, for instance, to address population growth and to protect biodiversity.
Meanwhile, participants in the growing "rewilding" movement work today to prepare for a post-civilization world. No gloom and doom in this group, rewilders like Peter Bauer (AKA "Urban Scout"), Jason Godesky, and Emily Porter acknowledge a collapse of civilization is inevitable and work with zest toward a shift to a tribal, wild way of living.    Learning aboriginal living skills and exploring ways of creating more genuine connection with the earth and those close to them, they strive to "undo domestication."
Critics argue they're romanticizing a lifestyle Thomas Hobbes rightly characterized as "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short." Others insist "we can't go backwards." These are predictable responses, imbued with the same pervasive cultural message to which we are all subject. It tells us constantly that the development of civilization was an amazing improvement and that its course has been one unbroken line of progress. Everything's getting better all the time, isn't it? A look at our ecological plight alone suggests it's not, and Marshall Sahlins, among other anthropologists, easily debunked Hobbes's view beginning in the 1960s. 
It is difficult, as well, for most people to appreciate what a tiny moment of human history civilization has occupied. Without perspective it’s natural to assume this way of living will and should continue for eons to come. Debate continues, but the notion that the hunter-gatherer life is a terrible one is as absurd as suggesting the gorilla life or the lion life is terrible. It's wrong on its face. 
How much evidence do we need to see that civilization is not the ultimate expression of human existence after all? It has been a momentary detour, the fleeting, cameo appearance of a dysfunctional approach to life, the result of straying from living at one with the natural world. Whatever the path to civilization’s wind-down, if we can preserve enough biodiversity, those coming out the other end will have the chance to enjoy anew a different, yet satisfying way of living, the only way proven sustainable for humans. Racing toward a precipice, can it be wrong to embrace once again a life which worked for over two million years when it has become obvious the current approach is an abject failure? We don’t have to go backwards; we need only nurture who we really are. Whatever our course, we have only to consider the agricultural origins of our ecological crisis to understand civilization is an unsustainable trap.
""There is no box. That is the mind-set we need if civilization is to survive."
In “Ishmael”, Daniel Quinn used the character of a gorilla to get outside of our politically correct, green-left box of humanitarianism, as conditioned by a heritage of agrarian-born “Sky-God” religions, socialism and feminism. Seen from a gorilla’s point of view, our social and environmental problems could seem open to solutions that our Judeo-Marxist inhibitions will not allow on the table.
"It is definitely the view of humanity from a non-human point of view, so that our perceived virtues are not necessarily virtues when they're perceived from the outside," Quinn explained. "The food race is a good example, the race between growing more food and birthing more people. We perceive generally that this race can be won by agriculture, so we cheer when we hear that agriculture has made some advance to support a growing population ¬ whereas in fact the race is unwinnable. It's like the arms race of the '70s and the '80s. ... There's no winning of the arms race. There's no winning of the food race either."
I would add an amendment to Quinn's dictum:The food race is a race that humanity cannot afford to win. The capability of continuing to expand the food supply to meet a growing human population which in turn would demand more food would be as calamitous as the discovery of a cheap energy source that could fuel all of consumption needs and wants. We are in desperate need of limiting factors, and nothing is more limiting than hitting a brick wall called “Imminent Mass Starvation”. The lack of food is the only effective contraceptive on the market today. We talk of voluntary family planning, or a One-Child Per-Family law miraculously applied world-wide, but the fact is, this is like betting your life’s savings on a lottery ticket. We have run out of time and haven’t the luxury of wishing on a star that a vast grassroots constituency for population reduction will emerge and rise up to impose their will on governments. The politically incorrect fact is that the balance of birth and death must be restored by working on both sides of the equation by being aggressively pro-active in preventing life and passively determined not to extend it at all costs.
So Mr. Brown, it is not too late to get out of your box. You must consider the possibility that civilization is not "sustainable", and that your quest to find a way to feed 9 billion people is a fool's errand. We cannot sustainably feed 9 billion, or 0.9 billion people for that matter---and trying to do that will only degrade our environment to a point where the prospects for species survival are even further diminished. You must come to realize that it is a matter of historical record that, like other species, left to our own devices the number of humans will expand to meet a higher level of food supply. Calling that realization immoral or callous is like railing against the Law of Gravity. A cap on food supply will be applied whether we like it or not. If it is done by nature, billions more people will suffer starvation down the road than will perish now if we reflexively resort to food relief without strings attached, that is, the implementation of an effective birth control regime. I suspect that even that condition will not suffice to bring population levels down quickly enough. As Peter Goodchild observed, lower birth rates must combine with higher death rates to avoid full catastrophe. The question may be, which is more valuable, our Judeo-Christian sensibilities---or the continuity of our species itself? So far the answer has been "Virtuous and extinct".
September 5, 2010
(Scroll down for information from writers in Australia, Canada, USA to date. More input welcome)
Solar Power - photovoltaics - in France
In France, as in Australia, many people have installed solar panels in order to benefit from selling electricity they generate but do not use back to the grid. In France they sell it back to Electricité de France (EDF). The number of professionals who supply electricity back to the grid in France is increasing.
In the photograph of a rural landscape we can see the equivalent of 300 football fields has been dedicated to photovoltaic surfaces.
Workers add 4,500 daily.
The photovoltaic-center is huge, on a non-human scale.
When it is finished it will be the biggest site in Europe. It is 300 hectares (ha) in area and is expected to produce 76 megawats (MW) once completed, which would supply the consumption of something around 40,000 citizens.
(Ed. We are not told by France2 whether this is average French per capita, or average French private household. Obviously, by taking such factors as industry and food transport into account, consumption per capita would far exceed consumption per capita per household. Also, in Australia electricity and fuel consumption per capita or per capita per household are greater than in France. Per capita, this is because Australian food and other goods travel further than in France and, per capita per household, it is because we have very poor building insulation and design (deterioriating as we speak and many new suburbs replace vegetated areas with eaveless, tarmack-surrounded, uninsulated boxes.)
This year part of this new photovoltaic center will use 'tracking' technology whereby the panels can turn themselves to follow the sun. This is expected to increase electricity production by between 20 and 30 per cent.
France has 30 times less photovoltaic stock than Germany
France's 175 MW of public stock of photovoltaic panels was multiplied by three in one year, but remains 30 times less than the German stock.
Yves Bruno Civel, General Director of the Observatory of Renewable Energyies, commented, "If France tried to catch up with Germany by making giant photovoltaic installations, it would run into limitations eventually due to competition for ground space, which is already intense, between those who want more land to expand cities and roads and those who want it for biofuels and food."
Tariffs for grid-feed
Photovoltaic panels are not only found in vast fields. More and more are found on house roofs. Individuals sell all their production to EDF. They get 60c per kilowatt and can buy back electricity for only 10c a kilowatt.
Erwan Tesson, Director of Arkensol Society says this isn't the only benefit. You get money back on income tax, which, for the average family in France, would amount to 8000 Euros.
Frederic Borrot, a farmer in Gironde says, "It's better than life insurance. The return over 20 years is 10-12 per cent."
With 200 square meters of photovoltaic panels on his outbuildings a farmer can pay back his loan. Borrot's aim is to prepare for the future.
"To have additional revenue and for my retirement, because today farmers haven't got much of a retirement income - far from it. With this one can expect a monthly return of 1,500 Euros.
But future profits may not be guaranteed
The possibility that the rates the EDF currently pays may be revised downwards is causing some anxiety - especially for professionals.
In France 34,000 projects are in a queue for connection.
From Bill Parker, Editor of Australian Solar Energy Society's on-line magazine
The PV industry in OZ is dominated by installers. There is no longer any pull through that builds a real industry with the departure of BP Solar. Their factory is now in the hands of a nuclear company and the only other organisation is Spark Solar in Canberra.
The "industry" is hardly stable and has to react to the mismanagement in Canberra - the investment is not there and the
players are scratching at the edges. Australia has failed and failed to get to grips with an industrial development policy that creates stability and certainty. The knee jerk operates. There is no sound thinking, and any of the sound thinkers who were left are now gone.
The country needs a uniform GROSS fee in tariff, like France, to create the proper settings for a sunrise industry. It MUST be enshrined in legislation nationally otherwise we are just talking greenwash and hot air. On a bigger scale, there is a simple mechanism that would assist - a bit like the completion guarantee for a film. Indemnify the companies that would build bigger solar plants. The money is out there.
Frankly, Australia is not even in the race anymore and to even contemplate that K. Rudd would change that is wishful thinking only.
Don Chisholm writes:
In Ontario Canada, our provincial gov has take a lead in promoting "green" energy. Last May they passed the Ontario Energy Act.
Its Feed In Tarrif (FIT) program provides easier access to the grid by large produces, and long term contracts for wind and solar developers, with prices significantly higher than current fossil fuel costs, today.
I live in an island county on the eastern end of Lake Ontario, with excellent wind potential. However, a very strong well-financed NIMBY lobby has, to date, prevented wind-farm developers from becoming established here. I'm co-chair of a local group called, the County Sustainability Group, and we have written an essay to rebut the NIMBYists, and to elaborate on why their disinformation holds appeals to many in the general public. You can see this essay
At the home owner level, the FIT provides great incentive for rooftop or backyard wind or solar, up to 10 kw. For example, it gives a 20 year contract for solar energy paying about 6 times the home owners cost from energy from the grid. Buy low, sell high – it should work! ROInvestment should be over 10%/year, significantly better than money invested anywhere else these days. I have recently had a contract proposal accepted and am currently working on getting a 10kw system system in place.
Of interest might be the Ontario hourly energy that provides our grid.
The CANDO reactor chug along providing almost half of our energy with the other large contributor hydro, especially the Beck generators at Niagara Falls.
Don Chisholm (watching the snow fall at -15c,)
New York, USA
Sir Edmund the Green writes:
I just had a 2.08 KW solar PV system installed on a shed i built for the purpose in New York State.
We qualified for a New York State rebate of $4. per watt (this has since been lowered to $2.50 per watt.)
We were required to use a "professional" installer approved by NYSERDA (NY Energy Authority) to receive the rebate.
Between a labor charge of $2,000 for about 40 hours of work, and hidden mark-ups of about $5 - 6 K, the entire rebate went to the installer, who made out like a bandit. We could have purchased the materials, (10 Sharp panels, 216's rather than the 208's we got , a Sunnyboy SMA3000 US inverter, and a rail mounting system) in the competitive marketplace from a supplier like Solar Electric Supply in California, for LESS than we paid after the rebate!
The rebate system as it currently exists in NY is a rip off, basically a welfare program for approved installers, and does little or nothing to encourage more people to go Solar.
Most of the work of installing a PV system involves knowing how to operate a ladder, and basic electricity. The rebate system needs to be re-oriented towards allowing the do it yourselfer to take advantage of it, and the greed of professional installers needs to be capped. Of course, as in any electrical project, there must be rigorous safety inspection.
But as marginal as the financial payback is for photovoltaic, the current rebate system is a killer for anyone but the true solar fanatic.
sir edmund the green
In general, cut down
From Dave Kimble, North Queensland, Australia
[Referring to report on France]:
76 MW is the peak power of the installed panels under full summer midday sun.
Most of the time the panels will produce a lot less than that.
Customers actually consume energy, not power.
In Queensland the average household uses at an average rate of 21 KW.h per day.
But they don't use it at a continuous rate of ( 21 / 24 ) KW, nor at the rate at which the solar panels supply it (mostly around midday).
So the solar farm must be connected into an electrical grid that has sufficient generating capacity of other kinds to be able to match supply to demand.
While it is important to know the peak power, so that electrical equipment can be sized to cater for full load, what is also important is the KW.h produced each hour over the day and over days at different times of year.
In France an average day for a 1 KW panel might produce 4.5 KW.h ( that's a guess - search for "insolation" ).
If each household uses 21 KW.h per day then 76 MW is equivalent to 3,619 households, so that 40,000 citizens looks wrong - more like 14,000 .
As well as being weaker in winter, when the sun is lower in the sky, and the days are shorter, there is also the interruption of clouds. As solar becomes a larger proportion of the national energy mix, the "matching" capacity must get larger to cover for the cloudy days and cloudy hours.
Coal and nuclear cannot do this matching capacity job because they are very slow to change their output.
Wind can't do it either, because it also is variable.
Hydro is good, but good locations are few and far between.
Gas is OK, but it is wasteful to keep it "ready to go" - it might be economically OK because the grid controller will pay highly for matching capacity, but it is poor from the GW viewpoint to have gas running at night and gas spinning in reserve during the day.
And the solution is ...
there is no good solution.
Candobetter invites people to describe their experiences in different places.
Articles are also welcome.
 Source of pictures and much of report: France2, (tv news) 1 Jan 2010
 Note that France is not intentionally growing its population, which is projected to fall after the deaths of the 'baby-boomer' bubble, over a period extending between around 2010 and 2060. Only the English-speaking polities are currently afflicted by their property development magnates with a populate and perish democratic opposition mentality. See more on The Growth Lobby
I've only ever met a wild pig once, and it was on the run.
It was in a rainforest park in North Queensland, where pigs were reportable animals.
I came round a corner on a trail, and there it was, a little black and white creature, rooting around happily.
It looked up, saw me, and ran for its life.
The pigs locked in metal stalls are prisoners with no chance of running. Some of them cannot even turn round. Many never see the light of day before they die miserable deaths.
The activists who fight for animal rights and the activists who fight to save our forests must be the bravest people in the world. The animal rights activists don't shy away from what has become allowable, hidden away from ordinary shoppers.
A pig's life can be very happy, or very very sad. It doesn't take much to make it a great deal happier, but while our politicians don't care how much other creatures suffer, then most farmers will figure that they have to be cruel to 'compete'. The retail food industry leaves no margin for happiness for pigs.
I have visited a farm where the pigs had wallows and interacted together, as families, so I know that it is possible. Let's try to make it easier for farmers and for the rest of us who want to be kinder.
The embedded film in the teaser and here is the first televised ad that Animals Australia has run.
Help End Factory-Farming at AnimalsAustralia.org
"The shocked look on her face says it all. This shopper has just seen for the first time the miserable lives endured by mother pigs in factory farms. Like most Australian consumers she had no idea that the pork, bacon and ham that she had been purchasing for years had come from factory farms – and were the products of cruelty.
Most Australians are appalled by animal cruelty, but are totally unaware that their shopping habits are supporting one of the cruellest industries on Earth. Animals Australia's new campaign will alert the community to their power to end the suffering of animals in factory farms, and that what they buy, or choose not to buy, sends a crucial message to these cruel industries.
With your help, this powerful television commercial can air in homes across Australia reaching millions of people with the truth, calling on them to vote against animal cruelty at the supermarket.
Even if you've never donated before, please make this rare opportunity to help factory-farmed animals the reason to start.
On behalf of all animals thank you for your support.
The Animals Australia Team.
P.S. And don't forget to order your free action pack!"
The Discovery of Honey, painting by Piero di Cosimo, taking the happy social connotations of honey to the mythical plane.
According to the film, The Vanishing of Bees, there are 90 food crops dependent on bee pollination. If we lost bees, rice, corn, and wheat would continue to be available, but there would be little fruit or vegetables.
Bees most common insect pollinators
Here the film includes other insect pollinators as well as bees - such as flower wasps: "If we want a diet that is more than gruel, we need insect pollinators."
Emotionalism and Rationalism
In "Pollination and Reproductive Behavior of Crop Plants" by Dr. C Kameswara Rao of the Foundation for Biotechnology Awareness and Education, Bangalore, India, Dr Rao says, "Biotic pollen vectors such as honey bees and bumble bees and some others have an important role in sustainable agriculture, but that has been exaggerated, romanticized and emotionalized by expansive claims by the environmentalists."
But what are we humans, if not emotional, and what is life to us, if not an emotional experience? Without emotions there is no concentration and no learning. Without emotions there is no capacity to imagine what we might lose.
Garden of Eden
To highlight the shallowness of confining discussion to human survival prospects alone with a severely depleted and dumbed-down natural ecosystem, consider how it makes you feel to contemplate the myth of the Garden of Eden without the food trees and flowers and almost devoid of wild birds and animals - for all of the other creatures on earth depend on a natural environment which relies heavily on pollination. Agribusiness and genetic plant engineering aren't going to look after them. To the contrary!
Without the bee
Without the bee, it would be as if we had all been banished from the garden of Eden, a notion which gives pause.
Insecticides and Colony Collapse Disorder
See also "From Watchdog to Lapdog: An Insider's History of the EPA"
The name which has been given to the problem of bee colonies dying off is "Colony Collapse Disorder - CCD".
The blog associated with the film implicates pesticides in this awful problem, notably one from Bayer’s CropScience division, Clothiantin, with the trade name Poncho® among others.
The blog states:
"BAYER are the last remaining major global brand still producing and distributing this vile pesticide even though it is proven that farmers can Banned in Europe, this European company sell this primarily to the poorest countries in the world – including to many farmers in India where they dominate the pesticides market.
We believe that this is wrong and that BAYER should live up to their responsibilities and support a global ban rather than fight it. 14 years ago, they also pledged to remove some of the most toxic pesticides from the Indian market. And they still have not yet done that!"
Maryam Heinan writes,
"Bayer makes baby aspirins (which are supposedly bad for infants) and also gives headaches to bees.
Bayer has global sales of $45 billion and owns a subsidiary called Bayer CropScience AG that manufactures herbicides, fungicides, and insecticides as well as treated seeds. CropScience alone does $8.8 billion in global sales that is about 20% of Bayer’s business.
Poncho and Gaucho are some of the trade names that have caused strife to the bees.
The EPA in a fact sheet issued 5/31/2003 has described Bayer’s Clothiantin, one of who’s trade names is Poncho® a pesticide from Bayer’s CropScience division, as follows: “ Poncho® is highly toxic to honey bees on an acute contact basis (LD50 > 0.0439 µg/bee). It has the potential for toxic chronic exposure to honey bees, as well as other nontarget pollinators, through the translocation of Poncho® residues in nectar and pollen. In honeybees, the effects of this toxic chronic exposure may include lethal and/or sub-lethal effects in the larvae and reproductive effects in the queen.”
In May 2008 Germany banned the use of Poncho® when German beekeepers reported loosing over 50% of their hives after a Poncho® application was linked to the deaths of millions of bees in the Baden-Württemberg region. Bayer responded that the toxic effect was an isolated incident caused by an “extremely rare” application error. So Poncho® is banned in Germany where Bayer was founded in 1863 and has its global headquarters. After the “extremely rare” application error people started to link Poncho®with Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD).
So why does the EPA still allow the use of this insecticide in the US even though they described it in 2003 as “highly toxic to honeybees”? And why does the EPA still allow the use of this insecticide when its use has been banned in Germany where Bayer was founded 146 years ago, and has its global headquarters?
Because this country doesn’t adhere to the Precautionary Principle. In other countries when there is a slight risk they err on the side of caution. Not in America. Money and Greed rules."
See also :
"Trouble with bees", ABC Radio National's Background Briefing of 29 Jul 07, including transcript and link to 22Mb MP3 file.
A typically excellent documentary from the Background Briefing team. Much of it describes the insane US agricultural which is dependent, for pollination, on mobile bee colonies which are transported in trucks backwards and forwards across the US.
On Wednesday, 12 August 2009 the Victorian Parliament Upper House passed a motion moved by the Liberal Nationals Coalition to disallow parts of a water regulation which would have seen the Brumby Labor Government break key water promises.
The Coalition’s disallowance motion was supported by the Greens and DLP member Peter Kavanagh.
Coalition spokesman says it opposed the order because it broke three key promises
Leader of The Nationals and Shadow Minister for Regional and Rural Development, Peter Ryan, said the Coalition opposed the order because it broke three key promises made to Victorian communities.
The government’s intention was to redirect water to Melbourne through the north-south pipeline despite it being promised to the Snowy and Murray rivers,” Mr Ryan said “Labor also planned ‘negotiating with the Commonwealth’ on distributing savings from the second stage of the Food Bowl Modernisation Project, which contradicts its original promise of allowing the water to be split 50/50 between farmers and the environment.
He added that, “Furthermore the order lacks the necessary rigour in auditing savings from the Food Bowl Modernisation Project.” Mr Ryan said the Coalition was determined to hold the government to account over its promises to the environment, to irrigators and communities in northern Victoria.
Mr Ryan accused the Government of attempts at "looting water" due to failing to plan for Melbourne's future water needs
“Today’s successful disallowance motion in Parliament highlights the overwhelming opposition to the Government’s attempts to loot water from food producers and the environment because it has failed to plan for Melbourne’s future water needs,” Mr Ryan said.
“Labor’s hyperbole that by disallowing this order, the Coalition has denied water to the environment and Melburnians is factually incorrect.
“The ball is now in Premier Brumby and Minister Holding’s court to actually come back to Parliament with a fair and honest amendment to the bulk entitlement.
“Such an amendment should include a rigorous auditing process for savings which is approved by Parliament and where environmental water and savings that are meant for irrigators are delivered to them, rather than to Melbourne.”
Greg ... of the Greens commented that the Coalition should not treat the matter like political football and should do more than just criticise the Government. It should tell the electorate what it will do if it comes to power.
The message coming from Fair Water Use Australia is that the Federal and State Governments are not handling Australia's water properly, transparently or effectively. The mishandling is causing a dangerous crisis. The public should be very concerned and NGOs should support Fair Water Use and the UN in their call for a state of emergency and a Royal Commission. Australia, this is really serious.
Higher rainfall should mean more water - so where is it going?
Higher rainfall should mean more water in public and environmental reserves, but it is going to private holdings instead and the public is not aware
Private sector increases its strangle-hold on the Murray-Darling
Data obtained by Fair Water Use from the Bureau of Meteorology and the Murray-Darling Basin Authority provides confirmation of the effect of the rapid increase in privately-held water in the Darling Basin on the volumes of water available for essential public and environmental use, refuting claims that the crisis in the Darling is predominantly drought-related.
image from Fair Water Use site http://www.fairwateruse.com.au/
Despite average-to-above average rainfall in the Darling Basin over the last two years, the amount of water flowing down the Darling has reduced dramatically.
image from Fair Water Use site http://www.fairwateruse.com.au/
Public H20 store 80% less than it should be
Storage in the Menindee Lakes is currently around 80% less than would be expected under average rainfall conditions. As there has been no similar increase in volumes released from the Lakes, the water-hoarding activities of the private sector stand clearly incriminated.
There can be little doubt that, although compounded by drought, rampant water-privatisation is also a major contributor to the current devastation of the Murray catchment. However calculations are impeded by the apparent unwillingness of State Governments to provide required data.
UN Senior Water Advisor supports State of Emergency and Royal Commission on MDB Water
Fair Water Use is encouraged by the recent support of the senior water advisor to the United Nations for its call for declaration of a State of Emergency and the establishment of a Royal Commission of Inquiry into the management of the water of the Murray-Darling Basin. Such actions offer the only means whereby Australians can regain control of this vital and acutely-threatened resource.
Listen to interview.
Source: Fair Water Use Australia. Fair Water Use Australia strives for a revived Murray-Darling basin by supporting environmentally sustainable water-use.
This document is republished to give background dating from 2003 as the Victorian government began to take control away from citizens and locals over water, land and government, and to assume more and more control, in public-private associations. It was the beginning of overt attempts to promote private profit from induced scarcity. The induced scarcity was created by the government policy to grow Victoria's population and economic activities. At the time few Victorians had the faintest idea of what was going on. I was one of few environmentalists to question the authority of the government's actions.
Wimmera Mallee Water Piping Scheme and PipeRight Inc
(Originally published at home.vicnet.net.au/~aespop/spavicnews.htm in August 2003.)
Note that the environmental allocation of 1000 megalitres of water to the affected farmers (mentioned in this 2003 article below) has still not been delivered.)
Water privatisation and economic rationalism: impact on democracy and environmental values
The privatisation of water and economic rationalist schemes that alienate water from the land and aim for totally managed total redistribution for 'economic' objectives are disturbing. I am not convinced that efficiency is a value which can be prioritised over all other human values, nor am I convinced that this is the value that is really driving privatisation. Clearly water trading is being exploited by the rich for speculative purposes; prices are inflating from the same population and consumer growth push which drives up land prices.
SPA Vic recently responded [President and Vice President Sheila Newman and Jill Quirk in 2003] to an invitation by Culgoa members Audrey Mather and Glen Marshall to investigate the concerns about water allocations of a group of drylands farmers in Birchip. The farmers had formed a group called PipeRight to counter a proposal by Wimmera Mallee Water to enclose and control every drop of water in the area at what seemed to be substantial benefit to irrigators and little or no benefit but great cost, to Wimmera Mallee farmers, who would also be required to fill in 22,000 farm damns. The proposal seems largely driven by these past four years of drought, when the supply of water has been completely interrupted there for the first time in 96 years, according to PipeRight. Jill and myself feel that many of the farmers concerns are valid and I have included below information from PipeRight.
The Wimmera Mallee is where the famous stump jump plow and various inventions for pulling out mallee roots came from. Subsequently the results of these 'miracles' of human ingenuity became infamously associated with massive soil loss. This part of the Wimmera Mallee has been watered a century by over 17,000 km of open earthen channels dug by man with horse. Few Australians know of this outback wonder, although it is said to be the largest gravity fed system in the world. On a map the channels look like a complex uniformly spaced geometric maze, but one that covers 3 million hectares and occupies approximately 10 % of Victoria. The earthen channels provide water to 14 recreational and environmental lakes, 22,000 farm dams and 51 towns. The system runs South to North from the Grampians to the Murray River. For 2 to 4 months of the year it receives water released from twelve storage areas, of which the largest are the Grampians and Rocklands. The overflow goes to the Glenelg River. The water is used only for stock, domestic and environmental purposes meaning for trees and habitat that are not directly benefiting agriculture, including land for wildlife and land which has social value and also supports native vegetation and wildlife, for instance around recreational lakes.
Livestock form up to 34% of Southern Mallee mixed farming. When there is little water there are few stock. The bulk of farming is broad acre cropping, entirely reliant on rainfall, which is traditionally described as good for up to 6 years in ten depending on proximity to the desert. If it does not rain no crops are grown. High protein wheat for bread and high quality wine are two crops special to the area. None of the PipeRight farmers are feedlot farmers.
The descendents of the original selection farmers, who learned to farm this near desert land, surviving the government land clearing policies which led to so much damage, form a close knit community of highly skilled professional farmers with major investment in the land. Farms average 9000 hectares. They are like giant factories with many moving parts. Fuel comes by the tanker and machines cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. But business and efficiency are not the whole story, of course. People remain on these farms because they also value the lifestyle. The lifestyle of farming communities depends greatly on open water on farm and in the community and on the natural amenity where plant and fauna have adapted to man made water distribution and have been preserved and enhanced in many places.
Many PipeRight farmer-activists have longstanding involvement in Land for Wildlife and Land Care. Much remnant mallee and black box dominating this arid red sandy country would rely on seepage or dedicated water from the man made system to supplement rainfall. In turn the vegetation keeps the soil in place and supports numerous native birds, some remaining native animals, and the potential for more. Given the vast area of the channel system the habitat in place is probably quite extensive.
Wimmera Mallee Water wants to bypass the open channel system with water transported via 7000 km of small diameter pipes using coal fired electricity at financial, environmental and social costs far outweighing some purported benefits which are arguably meagre or even non-existent.
The scheme would deliver to 9,000 service points and 40 towns. Four main trunk pipelines would transmit water continually to existing urban storages. This would be redistributed to farm tanks, stock troughs and households.
The project claims it would provide near full supply in 93 years out of 100, however the farmers of PipeRight claim that the current system has supplied them for 96 years out of 100. Much of the new proposal appears to rest on arguments based on the past 4 years of drought. An additional argument is that climate change may further reduce rainfall, however the new proposal would give much of the water saved from seepage to irrigators at a lower price than the dryland farmers would pay. According to the 'Business Case' of Part 5 of the WMW proposal, the Glenelg and Wimmera rivers would only receive new environmental flow if the farmers agreed to foot about 40% of the cost for the whole scheme! This plan, led by Government and undisclosed members of a 'business case' group (whose names arguably should be made public before any decision is made) seems to be a case for extension and intensification of development, based on that ideological excuse for greed of doing 'more with less'. Commercial in confidence is no excuse when water is at stake; this is a community issue and discussion must be absolutely open.
My feeling is that water should not be decoupled from land and that regions should be assessed separately according to their long term viability on environmental, agricultural and social grounds. I would not support allocating MORE water to irrigation or to extending irrigation to more land on current evidence. This is partly due to my mistrust of powerful irrigation lobby members, individuals and corporate, my horror at water speculation and the dangers inherent in trading decoupled water, and my impression that economic arguments for preferring irrigation are based on short term market considerations, concern for Riverina votes, (Wimmera Mallee only has one vote), and pressure from a corporate sector with little or no concern for Australians' quality of life.
"PIPE RIGHT INC.
The piped system for the Wimmera Mallee Region will cover 2.3 million hectares to achieve water savings of 93,000 megalitres.
PIPE RIGHT INC SUPPORTS THE PIPED SYSTEM OF WATER MANAGEMENT FOR THE WIMMERA MALLEE REGION.
The cost of the system is $300 million. State Government $77 million, Federal Government $77 million. Approximately 2555 Farms: $117.3 million (including on farm costs); 23,750 Urban users: 15.9 million DRYLAND FARMERS ARE THE LARGEST SINGLE CONTRIBUTORS TO THE SYSTEM.
PRESIDENT: K Barber Phone 54922426, Fax 54922786 helenbarber[AT]bigpond.com
Secretary: J Chivell Phone 53990528 Fax 53990539 Key areas of concern arising from the preliminary Wimmera Mallee Feasibility Study - June 2001 are:
Allocation of 83,000 ML of water savings mainly to the Wimmera and Glenelg Rivers . No allocation for farm dams, lakes and wetlands to sustain the flora and fauna away from river system . Inadequate flood management strategy when channels are filled in . No shire dams to provide habitat for birds and ground dwelling species and access for emergency water for fire fighting Pipe Right recommends a formal environmental survey of species in areas away from rivers
2. ON FARM IMPACT
The cost/benefit analysis of the Feasibility Study based on the Northern Mallee pipeline is not applicable to the Wimmera Mallee system . Benefits such as increased stocking rates, reduced cultivation time and increased production have limited benefits in our region .Improved water quality and security of supply will have varied benefits to customers. System must have the capacity to deliver water for present needs and future development
On Farm Infrastructure costs. Water to be delivered to farm boundary in 2" pipe . Farmer must have the facilities to store 3 days supply in peak periods . On farm costs for a property of 900 hectares is estimated at $46,800 or $52 hectare . Extra time and labour cost involved in checking troughs and tanks . Farmers should have the option of retaining a percentage of dams to help reduce infrastructure costs and maintain environmental, economic and social sustainability
The proposed allocation to irrigators is 29,000 ML. Allocation to all other customers is 27,000 ML. Pipe Right recommends a
. Tariff Review
A tariff review is sought to reflect the difference in cost between domestic and commercial water Northern Mallee customers pay a hectare charge of $2,02 and $560 ML... If half ML water is used per 256 ha the cost of water is $1570 per annum.
Government make a one off payment of $1800 ML with no future service fee or ongoing maintenance cost.
For fire purposes pipeline must be able to deliver water at 600 litres per minute . Pipeline is restricted to filling one tanker at a time . Who is responsible for paying for water for fire fighting purposes? . Who pays for large tanks for fire fighting purposes if they are necessary? . Shire dams have provided emergency water in the past. Shire dams could be important in the event of accidental contamination in the pipeline.
Pipe Right seeks 2 entitlements: Farm entitlement attached to the title of the property not saleable but transferable between block of the same ownership. Commercial Entitlement tradeable on an annual basis
RECREATIONAL LAKES/SOCIAL AMMENITY
Allocation of 2000 ML is insufficient to maintain the lakes in the region (allocation only for 3 lakes) . Lakes contribute to the environmental, social, and economic well being of the community . Capacity of the system must be great enough to fill lakes from empty and keep them topped up. The cost of water and maintenance of the lakes should be shared by tax payers. Some of the $3000 ML of water savings should be retained in our region. Piped system must acknowledge that dryland areas need water for social, amenity, recreation, economic and environmental purposes
Pipe Right recommends All lakes with facilities to be filled
4. ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
.The piped system must have the capacity to support existing agriculture and commercial industries. The capacity and flexibility for future value adding enterprises and intensive agricultural industries. System must be able to deliver sufficient water to all farms across the region . Failure to deliver sufficient water could devalue farms. Small towns could suffer loss of income if there is no provision for recreational water. Angling contributes $75 million to the local economy. The cost of water will be the limiting factor for the development of new industries. Stock and domestic Water may need to be replaced by a Farm and Commercial Entitlement to reflect equity in costs
5. PROJECT COST
.Farmers will be expected to contribute over 40% of the cost of the system must have equitable sharing of costs and benefits."
Many thanks to Glen Marshall and Audrey Mather, who attended to our every need and organised meetings with very hospitable local farmers. Audrey, at whose home we stayed, is also a member of the CWA and Glen was educated as an agricultural scientist and taught much of his life, in Australia and in New Guinea, finally retiring to Culgoa town.
"The Wimmera River is one that does not empty into the sea; it is entirely landlocked and its water has been over-allocated for many years, i.e., demand exceeds supply. Those who have travelled through this area will have seen that the water is distributed in open channels. To me, it follows that any technical improvement which conserves water should see that water kept in the river and not used for any further expansion of demand. The costs given in this piece suggest to me that the economic cost will be too great for farmers to bear and the scheme will not get up on these grounds. The figures are very interesting for if a technical solution to the problems of our much larger river systems such as the Murray/Darling are to be based on piping rather than open channel distribution, the economic cost is going to be high indeed." Dr John Coulter, SPA National Vice President.
The Regional context - Related 2003 Report
If State Government plans to upgrade rail services between Melbourne and Ballarat, Bendigo, Geelong and the Latrobe Valley perceptibly improve those services, then towns along the rail lines are all likely to gain population, both transient and permanent.? Land prices would then rise in these areas.?
Victorian government projections for regional areas probably greatly underestimate the rate of growth in the respective populations.
Projections from the Department of Infrastructure (DOI) [Now Department of Sustainability -ed.] and other planning bodies tend to link prosperity to population growth, because they measure everything with GDP, which is merely a measure of activity involving financial transactions. These transactions could be increasing national debt, as indeed are a lot of property and infrastructure projects, but they count as positive. At a per capita level we are dividing an increasing number of people into a type of economy that does not require much labor and which is selling low cost commodities on the world market.? Population growth in this kind of economy is not such good news except for those who own property and utilities which increase price with increased demand. It is in fact these people who are driving population growth in Australia.
Property development and construction directly benefit from population growth. The industries upstream from property are the suppliers of raw materials for building, such as mining and forestry, and the suppliers of processed building materials. The major downstream industries are the finance industries, such as banks and building societies, which rely on mortgages as a major source of profitable income and to finance other business investments. State Governments also earn billions each year through collection of stamp duties on property sales. Solicitors earn money from conveyancing and real estate agents, of course, rely on sales and rentals. The individuals and companies who stand to gain the most are possibly the big developer-building companies that own large land banks which they sell out in parcels of land to home buyers when demand is high. Many of these developers also have housing finance companies. Some build shopping centres and roads as well as houses. But speculation is big business and transnational corporations, like insurance companies, also invest in water, property markets and agriculture. The print media relies heavily on real-estate ads for income. The Murdoch and the Fairfax press both have property dot coms which market Australian real estate to buyers and investors all over the world.
Some organisations representing these major interests are the Business Council of Australia, the Australian Population Institute (Apop), the Housing Institute of Australia (HIA), the Urban Development Institute of Australia and the Real Estate Institute of Australia.
For most of the rest of us, rising land, water and energy costs contribute to inflation that is, they raise the cost of living. More population, especially in a deregulated industrial system, drives down wages. Since land is the basis of everything in our economies, rising land costs contribute not only to unaffordable housing, but they increase costs to business as well.
Home owners can sometimes capitalise on their assets by selling up and moving to cheaper outlying areas. Many may finish up in the large, medium and small regional cities and towns. Coastal and mountain areas are particularly attractive for people who are retiring and for whom the rising cost of living in the cities and the fall in superannuation value makes moving out good sense.
In the Victorian regions, population is generally less than the infrastructure provides for, since people have been leaving for decades. Here, the population growth which was bad news in the city, is probably good news for the country in a number of ways.
Although our commodity based economy has many drawbacks, regions that produce wood from plantations, such as those in the area around Bairnsdale, will have the added attraction of providing semi skilled and skilled jobs.
Parts of regional Victoria will experience population loss due to land degradation and pricing of water beyond a point where farming becomes profitable. The has already happened in Kerang, for instance. Some parts of Victoria, notably the Riverina for which population growth is predicted by DOI, may suffer population implosion if the Murray Darling River river system and the land it feeds degrades and industry flounders, as has been warned by numerous land and water ecologists in CSIRO and elsewhere.
Cost of food is likely to rise steeply along with the cost of water as competition between the demands of an increasing number of people and industrial concerns causes scarcity. Climate change also threatens to make dry areas dryer. The Hubbert Peak theory of petroleum production, widely subscribed to, predicts peak production of oil between 2006 and 2011, with a quite rapid decline in oil and gas supply after that.
What could this mean to the regions? Again, what is bad news generally for the cities is probably better news for the regions. If the cost of living rises due to competition for water and land, and if fuel becomes much less affordable, there would be a tendency to produce less and to rely on local markets. Life would be led in situ, with less travel and fewer organisations doing the same things.
Regional populations may be thrown back to judicious use of dryland farming in any areas which have managed to retain access to local catchment water, despite competition from corporate irrigators and water speculators. Caution inclines one to advocate maintenance of independent sources of water so that regions can maintain some self sufficiency if democracy further erodes and water is privatised. The cities will not have so many options, having covered their farmland with housing.
In the short term there are also what economists would term some positive indicators for regional areas. House prices could rise so that country people will have more chance of borrowing from banks. Currently city peoples' land assets are far superior items for negotiating finance. Recreational/health industries could have new population types to service and more customers with less mobility, due to age, reduced income and increased travel costs. Increased infrastructure demand in the short-term could lead to high demand for raw materials and to processing industries. New opportunities for jobs and business could arise from this demand and would attract a variety of new population types, including young people.
A regional town with a university able to attract international students, would be likely to attract both population and money and increase property values through rentals and sales. Current immigration policy encourages foreign students who take degrees in Australia to become permanent migrants, and this creates a heavy demand for rental and owner property. Universities currently vie to attract foreign students because they can charge them high fees and because of the flow on benefits to the property investment market. It would not be surprising to find that universities have made substantial property investments.
Feedback from a recent talk to YMCA regional managers was informative and confirmed that there were increasing trends of urban-rural migration, growing housing unaffordability in the regions and speculation by developers. For instance, in Phillip Island, where much of the population is social welfare dependent, I was told that land prices have recently quadrupled. Regional officers were indeed observing housing become progressively more unaffordable as speculators and people from the city moved in. Of great concern to regional officers everywhere was the shortage and cost of water and its effect on the ability to run swimming pools and recreational lakes.
Details of Shepparton inquiry even are below the italicised editorial. The comments preceding the details of the Senate Inquiry in Shepparton are my response to AWPC's Maryland Wilson's questioning of my supporting irrigators. Comments and independent reports of this event will be most welcome. Submit to "contact" at top left margin of this site or reply in the comments function at the bottom of this article.
What is the link between Foodbowl Unlimited, the North South Pipeline and the Senate Inquiry on the 14th?
There is a link between the "Foodbowl unlimited project" and the North South Pipeline because the savings proposed to be made from Goulburn River water are supposed to be made through claimed increased efficiency of the Foodbowl unlimited project. It is sad that supporters of the Plug the Pipe project probably benefited from an earlier democracy-destroying and land and water alienating project, which was the Wimmera-Malley pipeline. Australian farmers should stand together against big agribusiness, but it is so easy for government to divide and conquer over regional interests and water. Irrigators, who settle land more densely than drylands farmers, carry more electoral clout than dryland farmers, and have used this to their advantage and the disadvantage of dryland farmers in the past - not necessarily all of them knowingly. Now big agribusiness is playing the irrigators at their own game, because big agribusiness has the government in its pocket - literally - in this public-private venture called the Foodbowl Unlimited project.
Unfortunately, if we do not support the incumbent irrigators, my fear is that we will lose all control of this section of the Murray Darling to corporate interests.
For those of you who are interested in the politics of big-water and corporatised government, it is instructive to look through electoral system glasses at the way the State and Federal governments during Howard's era, manipulated the irrigators and the public over the then proposed privatisation of the Snowy River Hydro Scheme. At the time the Victorian ALP and the Federal Liberal Party were vying for electoral popularity among irrigators. The Hydro Privatisation scheme was unpopular everywhere because privatisation is unpopular, but it was especially unpopular with irrigators because of the likelihood that their allocations would be up for grabs and become more expensive. Howard, whilst he pushed for the privatisation of the Snowy Hydro, was deeply unpopular with them. The Bracks Victorian government struggled with itself over exploiting the situation for popularity with irrigators and giving in to its ideological committment to selling off Victoria's assets. But they had little to lose if they were on the same side as the Federal government in this instance, because the voters would have no choice at all. So eventually Bracks gave in and joined the Howard Government support for privatising the Snowy Hydro scheme. That was when Howard did one of his most breathtaking political acrobat tricks. Suddenly he dropped the privatisation scheme, leaving the Victorian Government looking like the only snake in the grass. Well they haven't lost their privatisation agenda, even though Mr H has departed the halls of government.
The Senate inquiry into the Water Amendment (Saving the Murray and Goulburn Rivers) Bill 2008
Plug The Pipe Gathering of Supporters
In Shepparton at Country Comfort Motel (opposite Skate Park beside Shepparton dry Lake) on Tuesday April 14th
Plug The Pipe Submission at Starts at 11.15 am
Seating available for 50-75 people (People are advised to be seated early 10:30am onwards)
BBQ Available afterwards in Park opposite ( Gold coin Donation)
Plug The Pipe has been scheduled to appear before the Committee from 11.15 am to 12.00 noon on Thursday 14 April 2009 at the Country Comfort Hotel, 481 Wyndham Street, Shepparton Vic.
Northern Victoria Irrigators Inc will also be appearing before the Senate at 10:30am
Please make the effort to be there and support our Plug the Pipe Irrigators who will be making our presentation.It would be ideal to have a crowd there in attendance by 10.30am
Food garden in White House
In the aftermath of breaking ground on the new, 1100 square foot White House garden, Michelle Obama named chef Sam Kass to head the White House Food Initiative. And Kass isn't a fan of big agriculture and mass fertilisers.
All of this positive PR for organics feels very threatening to Big Ag. So one group, the Mid America CropLife Association, has sent an email defending chemical ag to Mrs. Obama. See the letter reprinted below.
After sending the letter, MACA forwarded it around to others, with the following message:
"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. Read below for the entire letter.
If you want to send your own letter, it can be sent to the White House ..."
Except one person on the forward list didn't shudder at the idea of an organic garden - and that's how the letter reached the person who sent it on. Here it is:
Letter from Big Ag
"March 26, 2009
Mrs. Barack Obama
The White House
Washington, DC 20500
Dear Mrs. Obama,
We are writing regarding the garden recently added to the White House grounds to ensure a fresh supply of fruits and vegetables to your family, guests and staff. Congratulations on recognizing the importance of agriculture in America! The U.S. has the safest and most abundant food supply in the world thanks to the 3 million people who farm or ranch in the United States.
The CropLife Ambassador Network, a program of the Mid America CropLife Association, consists of over 160 ambassadors who work and many of whom grew up in agriculture. Their mission is to provide scientifically based, accurate information to the public regarding the safety and value of American agricultural food production. Many people, especially children, don't realize the extent to which their daily lives depend on America's agricultural industry. For instance, children are unaware the jeans they put on in the morning, the three meals eaten daily, the baseball with which they play and even the biofuels that power the school bus are available because of America's farmers and ranchers.
Agriculture is the largest industry in America generating 20% of the U.S. Gross Domestic Product. Individuals, family partnerships or family corporations operate almost 99% of U.S. farms. Over 22 million people are employed in farm-related jobs, including production agriculture, farm inputs, processing and marketing and sales. Through research and changes in production practices, today's food producers are providing Americans with the widest variety of foods ever.
Starting in the early 1900's, technology advances have allowed farmers to continually produce more food on less land while using less human labor. Over time, Americans were able to leave the time-consuming demands of farming to pursue new interests and develop new abilities. Today, an average farmer produces enough food to feed 144 Americans who are living longer lives than many of their ancestors. Technology in agriculture has allowed for the development of much of what we know and use in our lives today. If Americans were still required to farm to support their family's basic food and fiber needs, would the U.S. have been leaders in the advancement of science, communication, education, medicine, transportation and the arts?
We live in a very different world than that of our grandparents. Americans are juggling jobs with the needs of children and aging parents. The time needed to tend a garden is not there for the majority of our citizens, certainly not a garden of sufficient productivity to supply much of a family's year-round food needs.
Much of the food considered not wholesome or tasty is the result of how it is stored or prepared rather than how it is grown. Fresh foods grown conventionally are wholesome and flavorful yet more economical. Local and conventional farming is not mutually exclusive. However, a Midwest mother whose child loves strawberries, a good source of Vitamin C, appreciates the ability to offer California strawberries in March a few months before the official Mid-west season.
Farmers and ranchers are the first environmentalists, maintaining and improving the soil and natural resources to pass onto future generations. Technology allows for farmers to meet the increasing demand for food and fiber in a sustainable manner.
Farmers use reduced tillage practices on more than 72 million acres to prevent erosion.
Farmers maintain over 1.3 million acres of grass waterways, allowing water to flow naturally from crops without eroding soil.
Contour farming keeps soil from washing away. About 26 million acres in the U.S. are managed this way.
Agricultural land provides habitat for 75% of the nation's wildlife.
Precision farming boosts crop yields and reduces waste by using satellite maps and computers to match seed, fertilizer and crop protection applications to local soil conditions.
Sophisticated Global Positioning Systems can be specifically designed for spraying pesticides. A weed detector equipped with infrared light identifies specific plants by the different rates of light they reflect and then sends a signal to a pump to spray a preset amount of herbicide onto the weed.
Biogenetics allows a particular trait to be implanted directly into the seed to protect the seed against certain pests.
Farmers are utilizing 4-wheel drive tractors with up to 300 horsepower requiring fewer passes across fields-saving energy and time.
Huge combines are speeding the time it takes to harvest crops.
With modern methods, 1 acre of land in the U.S. can produce 42,000 lbs. of strawberries, 110,000 heads of lettuce, 25,400 lbs. of potatoes, 8,900 lbs. of sweet corn, or 640 lbs of cotton lint.
As you go about planning and planting the White House garden, we respectfully encourage you to recognize the role conventional agriculture plays in the U.S in feeding the ever-increasing population, contributing to the U.S. economy and providing a safe and economical food supply. America's farmers understand crop protection technologies are supported by sound scientific research and innovation.
The CropLife Ambassador Network offers educational programs for elementary school educators at http://ambassador.maca.org covering the science behind crop protection products and their contribution to sustainable agriculture. You may find our programs America's Abundance, Farmers Stewards of the Land and War of the Weeds of particular interest. We thank you for recognizing the importance and value of America's current agricultural technologies in feeding our country and contributing to the U.S economy.
Please feel free to contact us with any questions.
Bonnie McCarvel, Executive Director
Janet Braun, Program Coordinator
Mid America CropLife Association
11327 Gravois Rd., #201
St. Louis, MO 63126"
Real proportion of farmers in the US
Note that Christopher Cook, in Diet for a dead planet gives the number of farmers in the US at around 2 million only now, and he comments that this is fewer than the number of Americans in prison.
As for big ag being environmentally caring ....!
Listen to the interview with him about his research for many more realities of the unsustainable and depraved basis of our industrial economy - currently worst of all in the US but quickly turning Australia into something very similar.
As for the claims made by Big Ag above about the time needed to tend a garden - well, it certainly takes a lot longer to work to buy food and the car to tote it from the supermarket than it takes to produce enough for one person to eat! And it's a lot more enjoyable. What is hard is making a big profit out of agriculture, but that's not what you and I are necessarily seeking when we plant an easy to maintain orchard and a few vegetables. I am so over hearing how hard gardening is. Once everyone did it and had plenty of time to spare.
See also: discussion on the Life After the Oil Crash Forum
see Candobetter review here of Peter Andrews' book on Natural Sequence Farming
By Duane Norris (Natural Sequence Farming)
The present circumstances around the country pose a huge headache for Governments with devastating fires in Victoria and floods in Queensland.
Once this Australian landscape ran itself.
The fire cycle, prior Aboriginals, was once in every 300 years. Today, it is once in every 2-3 years (regardless of the cause).
Inground water and a dense cover of fire retardant, biodiverse plants once cooled the Australian landscape.
Today, our landscape is drained, dried, desiccated, barren of plant cover except for incendiaries of Eucalyptus trees waiting to vaporise like petrol tankers.
The answers to the problems we are witnessing are there for all to see...they are simple solutions. Solutions given to us by Nature and available for all to see.*
The floodwaters and fire regimes could be far better managed if only authorities understood these simple landscape processes.
The national landscape catastrophes currently facing our country need to be addressed at the highest levels including the Premier's proposed Royal Commission.
Premier, you will be inundated with experts and eyewitnesses on the ground saying this solution and that solution will be the best.
THE ONLY SOLUTION THAT MATTERS, IN THE END, IS THE ONE THAT WORKS.
The Key is WATER!!
This is the only ingredient that saved lives and houses in the terrible recent events across Victoria.
We need to rehydrate the Victorian landscape like it was once.
This simple proof can be dramatically illustrated by doing a simple test.
"If you purchase two copies of The Age this Saturday, soak one in the bath overnight and read the other. Think of the copy coming out of the bath, as the landscape prior [to the impact of repeated fires] and the dry paper, as the landscape is today." (Article by Duane Norris for Natural Sequence Farming)
If you purchase two copies of The Age this Saturday, soak one in the bath overnight and read the other.
Think of the copy coming out of the bath, as the landscape prior and the dry paper, as the landscape is today.
Next day, put both copies out in the Sun for a few hours. Then take a match and see which paper catches fire.
It’s as simple as that.
There are models available where this information can be dramatically demonstrated as to how our landscape once functioned under a wet rehydrated paradigm.
We would encourage you to see it for yourself.
* Peter Andrews’s books ‘Back from the Brink’ and ‘Beyond the Brink’ say it all.
 This letter was originally sent to Premier John Brumby as a 'Special Message', on 17 February 2009, by Duane Norris, Workshop Coordinator and Personal Assistant to Peter Andrews, originator of Natural Sequence Farming It is republished here with permission. If you would like to participate in the Natural Sequence Forum, go here.
This book paints a picture of the ecological mechanics of this continent, using clear, concise prose. It is a painlessly educative book. The bold claim of its subtitle, "How Australia's landscape can be saved," stands up to scrutiny.
Take a new look at thistles, dock plants and other hardy weeds. Enjoy trialling the author's theories in your neglected front garden or replot your broadacre farm. Re-examine the cause of total re-nativisation in the light of galloping desertification. Peter maintains that his simple hydrological theory holds true for the entire continent. He re-interprets the history of this land; he may well be right.
It is a pleasure to read an inspired ecological work by an Australian farmer for Australian farmers. This book is full of practical experience and experiment. The author tells a tale of several farms in his life, of discussions with other farmers and with scientists. He has acted in his life with confidence and conviction, in accordance with his observations. He has learned and remembered lessons, which he knows to be important and hopes to teach the reader. He has lived his research.
If you break down what he says, he is a systems thinker and he has a systemic theory and methodology, which means that his arguments are logical and testable.
Australian deserts are man-made
I found the chapter, "Australia's deserts are man-made" very satisfying because it linked the removal of trees to the drying of climate. God knows why this isn't being shouted from the rooftops everywhere. (Well, perhaps because you cannot package it and sell it as toilet paper or recycle it as plastic.) Andrews doesn't say this, but I will; we should not wait for climate change policy and practice to be agreed at the global, national or even state level. We can start locally - by paying attention to the landscape and protecting the trees and other plants it already has, and adding many more. Trees lower temperature and increase humidity locally, below and above ground; they are not just carbon sinks.
Peter argues clearly that aboriginal use of fire massively transformed Australia's landscape by changing and reducing the vegetation varieties. The effect of this was drying. On top of this, the effect of 220 years of mechanised agriculture, with industrial fertilisers (like feeding soil vitamin pills and no food, as Alice Friedman writes(1)) and half-baked economic propaganda has brought us right to the brink of ruin.
Without mentioning Gaia - or fractals for that matter - Andrews conveys the idea of Australia as a huge organism with fractal systems which can be managed from micro to macro, using the hydrological properties of trees and other plants, like reeds, and identifying topographical forms peculiar to the Australian landscape. The swale and contour system writ large. But he says it like this, "Unless we all come to understand how the Australian landscape functions and then conduct our agriculture in harmony with it this country is dead. It will collapse, no question."
He describes familiar landscape elements like deeply eroded streams and shows that they are produced by damage to live systems, causing water to flow faster and more forcefully than it otherwise would. The immediate solution is weeds, reeds and trees.[video] The finer choices of trees can be worked out later in cases of emergency.
(Andrews' familiarity with the concepts of erosion, salt and fresh water tables, and transpiration comes as a relief. I could contrast this with three days I once spent at the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT), trying to defend an ancient coastal creek against more development of its catchment. The question of run-off was crucial. Engineers claimed that they could reduce run-off by putting in mechanical devices - basically holes - to retard the flow of water into the creek after rain. Quite apart from the question of biodiverse habitat, this incredibly dumb and clunky non-solution failed to replace the hydrology that trees provide - in their ability to stabilise the water table, through osmosis and transpiration. It completely ignored the heat and moisture exchanges involved in transpiration above the canopies. It was blind to the remarkable ability of trees to vary the amount of water they pump from the ground and transpire through their leaves according to the weather and the moisture in the ground. After a while I realised that the sitting member and the barristers had absolutely no idea of what transpiration was. What was more they did not intend to find out. That was the point where I gave up on Australia's medieval legal system and just another thing that made me an activist. This kind of self-defeating institution that maintains a fatal system is what Australia is up against.)
Why underground water?
The author retells the story of the importance of Australia's underground water, as part of his theory of Australia as a living continent. Why is so much of our water stored underground? Because of the huge risk of evaporation above the ground. With this principle in mind, he has a whole chapter about farm dams - should we damn them or not? Dig them much deeper and shade them, he suggests, and build them along landscape contours and so that the water can overflow usefully. Make your own little flood-plain. There is much more; simple, practical and effective, in line with his hydrological theories.
At the end of the book Andrews congratulates the reader for coming so far, but I found this a direct and refreshing book. Not a hard read. True, some complex bits, which one can always return to. Secondary school children could and probably should read this book.
Fixing the Murray-Darling
Andrews writes, perhaps tongue in cheek, of "well-intentioned people [who] have come up with proposals for constructing a pipe or canal to transport excess water from the tropics in the north to water deprived areas in the south..." Then he says, "(...) yet the objective - bringing excess water to where it's needed - is certainly a sensible one. What's more, we don't need a pipe or a canal. We already have a conduit capable of moving huge volumes of water from one side of the continent to the other at virtually no cost to anyone. It's called the Darling River."
Peter's recipe for fixing the Murray could be undertaken by the people who live and farm there, together. Once again it isn't top down; but bottom up. It requires careful observation of the natural topography and the lie of clay and sandy soil.
It requires vegetation - trees and reeds. Livestock would have to be managed so that they did not destroy the reeds. Peter Andrews reluctantly suggests that the major part of the early work of fixing the river system could no longer be done by native trees. It could be done by willows - the latest in a series of trees which governments have been ripping out. Remember, our land is dying - any plant is better than man-made desert. If the flood plains were restored, the natives might grow back again; at the moment they are all dying. (For more on natives following willows see Peter Andrews video)
Andrews patiently deals with the issue of trees and reservoirs... Governments have been taking trees away from water-reservoirs in the belief that they use up water. This is totally half-baked, since it completely ignores the greater fact that trees shade water stores above and below ground, preventing evaporation.
As Peter Andrews says, talking elsewhere, about irrigation, "In other words, you want a system where there is transpiration, not evaporation."
Human, not corporate
But he isn't talking about millions of kilometers of expensive pvc pipes and engineering works. That is the only reason, I am sure, that his ideas have not been taken up by government and agribusiness and promoted. The engineering and construction and corporate lobbies want a totally prosthetic environment, paid for by the rest of us, to their great profit. They seem to be trying to turn Australia into a huge concrete drain punctuated by retardant basins. (Consider the North-South pipeline currently being pushed down our throats by the Victorian government, or the costly pipelines they have cruelly inflicted on the Wimera-Mallee farming communities.)
Andrews doesn't say we must relocalise government and economy and get rid of centralised bureaucracies and big-engineering; he doesn't say that we should start using our eyes and ears and stop listening to people who are paid to tell us what their masters want us to believe, but that is the message I get out of this book.
Apparently Peter Andrew's story, when first told as television, was the most popular in the history of the ABC program, Australian Story. Obviously a lot of people care about this message getting out. Andrews has created something very valuable and true, which can unite us, city and country.
Here is Peter Andrew's site, Natural Sequence Farming at http://www.nsfarming.com/principles.html
(1)Alice Friedemann, "Peak Soil" in Sheila Newman, The Final Energy Crisis, Pluto Books, UK, 2008
Cows have to give birth to a calf every year in order to produce milk. Mother cows are known to have highly developed maternal instincts and can bellow for days for their stolen babies! The killing of bobby calves, usually at 5 days old as unwanted by-products of the dairy industry, is one aspect that shows it is not a benign industry. We kill over one million new-born calves each year. In Australia, legal means of destroying these unviable calves on farm includes bludgeoning calf skulls with a hammer or shooting them in the head with a rifle or a mechanical bolt. Vealers are raised in crates to be anaemic, for white flesh.
The dairy industry is a high water consumer, and must take a lot of responsibility for the demise of the Murray-Darling food basin! We are also heavy exporters of dairy products. How sustainable is our dairy industry?
Methane emissions from dairy cattle contribute around 30% of all agricultural emissions that total an 18% contribution from agriculture, due mainly to livestock.
According to ABS, in 2005-06, the agricultural commodities that used the most water in the Murray Darling Basin (MDB) were dairy farming - 1,287 GL or 17% and pasture for other livestock - 1,284 GL or 17%, much of this for dairy cattle. In 2005-06, the dairy industry accounted for 39% of the total irrigated area of pasture in the MDB.
About 45% of Australian milk is exported (2007/2008), mainly as milk powders, cheese and butter.
European style diary products can be replaced by more humane and sustainable plant-based ones such as soy, rice and oat milks.
Dairy products have naturally high levels of saturated fat which raises blood cholesterol and will increase vascular disease risk in many people. The traditional cuisines of many countries are dairy-free. Australia's Western-style diseases can be attributed to the amounts of animal-saturated fats we consume, including that found in dairy products.
The amount of water used to make a litre of milk is between 320 and 1000 litres. Soymilk requires about half the amount water of dairy milk. Soymilk is high in protein without the water consumption, the environmental impact of livestock, without the deaths of calves and cruelty to cows, and is healthier!
Note from Candobetter Editors:
Since this article is so popular, we feel we should tell readers that there is more, much more by Antony Boys, in Sheila Newman (Ed.) The Final Energy Crisis, Pluto, UK, 2008. Antony has two long articles in it: The first is about how North Korea coped without cheap soviet oil. The second evaluates in detail Japan's carrying capacity in the Edo period, then looks at changes to agriculture and population during Japan's industrialisation, then looks at how Japan may fare with oil depletion.
A short while ago I wrote a "food and energy survey" of the city where I live in Japan to try to get some idea of how the city might do if there was an extended food and energy crisis. A pdf file of the survey is attached to this article. Please feel free to read and comment on it. Until October 2004, what is now Hitachi Omiya City had been Omiya Town, one other town and three other villages, and although I had lived in Omiya Town since 1986, when the town and village amalgamation occurred I had only a vague idea of what the new city consisted of.
Take the word "city" with a degree of skepticism, by the way. This is not London or New York. In Japan, any administrative unit with a population over 30,000 can be a "city". That can mean that you have a small commercial and administrative district with a large rural hinterland, as we have here. Don't go looking around for the "city". There really isn't one.
After writing the survey, I sent it off to several people for comments. One of these was my good friend Martin, who lives near Tokyo. Martin is writing a book about food in Japan, so he has a good feel for the subject, but the problem was that he had very little idea of what the city looked like. Martin came up to visit my family a few days ago, and so we set off on a five-hour drive around the city so that we could both get a much better idea of what is there. You can also see Martin's version of the trip on his blog.
Here's a sketch map of the city. It is very roughly a square, each side being about 12 miles, or 19 km. The brown shaded area near the southeast corner of the city is the main commercial and administrative area. An interesting feature of the city that you can see from the map is that there are two quite substantial rivers that approach each other and come quite close together at the southern end of the city area. The river flowing north to south on the east is the Kuji River and the river flowing roughly southeast in the south of the city is the Naka River.
One further notable geographical fact is that the city is on the northern edge of the Kanto Plain, the large flat area that surrounds Tokyo.
2. What's different about Japanese Agriculture?
Martin and I decided to drive along some of the main roads as far as the border with the next administrative unit, and to stop to take pictures every time we saw something interesting or representative of the city, or of Japanese farming in general. Perhaps three of the most representative features of Japanese farming are:
1) Field areas are small,
2) Farmers are mostly older people,
3) Capital intensity is high.
The first two are fairly clear, but the third feature refers to the fact that the amount and size of machinery is out of proportion to the land it is used to work. This is also one factor in the high energy-intensity of Japanese agriculture, which is expressed either in terms of high levels of chemical (fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, and so on) inputs to the land, or in terms of very intensive labour inputs. In addition, for some fruit and vegetable crops, large amounts of plastic sheeting for covering the ground or for making hothouses are used, and in the colder seasons kerosene is sometimes used to heat the hothouses from the inside.
I will try to illustrate these three features with photographs taken during our half-day trip.
3. A Local Farmer
Actually, as we came out of the house, I saw that the farmer who is now growing a crop of upland rice (i.e. a rice variety that does not need to be grown in a wet paddy field) right next to my house had turned up on his morning round of his fields. We went over and said hello and I took out my camera and snapped him right there. The evening before, Martin and I had passed by another of his fields which is on my regular dog walk. The field is a bit less than one-tenth of a hectare and is now covered with a dense growth of soybeans. It's very 'clean', but it's interesting how it got that way. Since I walk our dogs along the same route nearly every day between about four and five in the afternoon, I had seen what had happened in the field over the few weeks since the soy had been planted. The farmer had been out there with a tiny hand-pushed machine (like a small manual lawn mower about 20 or 25 centimetres wide) almost every day, slowly and labouriously, and with meticulous care, removing anything green in the rows between the soybean plants. Sometimes he was just walking up and down between the rows, with his eyes on the ground, occasionally bending down to pluck out a weed. Only once in the two weeks or so that I walked by the field every day did we greet each other, because he was concentrating so hard on what he was doing that he probably didn't notice me, and I didn't want to disturb his concentration by calling out to him.
Martin and I agreed as we walked the dogs that this man's work is now being replaced by herbicide-resistant GE soybeans. If you are farming hundreds of hectares of soybeans, perhaps that makes sense to you. But it does not make sense in about 90% of Japanese farming, which is done something like I describe here, on very small plots of land. (There is NO commercial planting of GE soy in Japan.) When I visited Kumamoto Prefecture some years ago, the topography was so hilly/mountainous, that field sizes were even smaller than where I live. The people there told me that in the 1950s and early 60s they had switched to chemical/mechanical farming along with everyone else, but had given up a few years later because it just did not make economic sense on their small fields. That's why now Kumamoto Prefecture has more organic farming than any other area in Japan. I didn't hear anyone complain about it, though.
This farmer, growing his upland rice and soybeans on small fields here and there in the area (and is also well-known for his good vegetable seedlings) is about in his mid-seventies. I don't know anything about his children, but I have never seen any younger people in his fields. The 'funny' thing was that when Martin and I arrived back at my house about two in the afternoon, at the end of our drive around the city, there was a bicycle standing at the edge of the field with the upland rice growing in it; the farmer's wife had turned up to do a little weeding!
4. Small fields, disproportionally large amounts of machinery
First of all, we drove out along the main road that roughly follows the course of Naka River, which cuts across the southern end of the city. We reached the border with the next prefecture (Tochigi Prefecture), took a few pictures and turned back again. Here's a picture of what the river looks like at this point.
As we drove back towards the town again, we saw a brilliant example of feature number three (and one) taking place right up ahead; a farmer preparing a miniscule patch of land with a tractor. You can imagine his concern as, early on what should be an uneventful Monday morning, a car screeches to a halt and two foreigners jump out and start to take pictures! He smiled as we explained who we were and what we are doing (Martin's Japanese is pretty good too) and then went on to his next job for the morning.
This example is clearly extreme. I'm sure small plots of land as small as this are farmed all over the world, but do the farmers come round to prepare the ground with a tractor? These photos will make some of you, used to farming 100s of hectares at a time, laugh your heads off, but it is pretty typical of the way Japanese farming works, as you will see below.
5. Japanese agriculture: Elderly individuals with little family or local solidarity
A little further on, we saw a sign for "ostriches" and decided to take a look, expecting to see some kind of ostrich farm, but there were only the two giggly specimens that you can see in the chain-link pen here.
As we were having a laugh about the size of the 'ostrich farm', Martin caught sight of something interesting in a paddy field close by; a farmer with a basket on his back weeding the field.
We decided to go over and investigate. The farmer noticed us immediately as we stood at the edge of the field taking pictures and decided to come out and talk to us. He turned out to be extremely friendly and open, as most Japanese farmers are. He told us that his main work was growing vegetables for sale and that the rice he would harvest from the paddy field was just for family consumption. Looking around, we could see that there were plastic sheet hothouses nearby for preparing vegetable seedlings, and also vegetable fields.
I asked the man if the vegetables were his main source of income. I half expected him to say that he had other family members who bring in more income, but he did not, simply replying 'yes' to my question. I imagined that he lived nearby with his wife. I asked if he had been farming long and he said he had been farming in the same place for 55 years - he told us he was now 65.
He mentioned that he was doing his vegetable farming business as a group. I was interested in this because working as a group is one way of reducing the capital-intensity of the farming; the group could buy machines and chemicals as a collective, thereby holding down the average cost to each individual farmer. Martin and I had talked about this the previous day, and I was hoping we had perhaps run into a positive example of feature number three. I asked the farmer how many people were in the group. He said that they had started as seven, but were now down to two. That was disappointing, but he agreed with us that there were advantages to working as a group and I encouraged him to see if he could find more local farmers he could work with.
I was interested to know if the administrative areas had changed before and he told us that the area had been a small village before the previous round of town and village amalgamations in the 1950s. Then the area had become Gozenyama Village, which was then amalgamated into Hitachi Omiya City in October 2004.
I told him that I had recently completed a survey of the city to get some idea of how the city would fare if there were a sudden 'food and energy' crisis in Japan, given all the 'news' we were getting from the media about global food and energy problems, as well as the prices of gasoline at the pump and food in the supermarkets.
He seemed to be quite interested in this, but then, quite unprompted, began to talk about his son. I suddenly realized that we had stumbled upon a typical example of feature number two.
The farmer told us that his son, who lived with him in the house close by, was 38, but had only just recently begun to help out with the farmwork by sometimes cutting the grass (at the edges of fields and so on) with a kusaharaiki, the ubiquitous little two-stoke engine grass-cutter that every farming family here seems to have. The son apparently had no idea how to grow rice or vegetables.
This is absolutely typical of the situation here; children of farming families, with farmland that they will eventually have to take over, but with not a clue about how to grow their own food. I told the farmer that he had better hurry up and pass on his skills to his son, because if there is a problem in the future the son will not want to find himself hungry, and yet with fields that he doesn't know how to farm.
Martin told him that he could tell his son that two "European specialists" had just visited him and told him to do just that. I thought that was quite amusing. I don't know if the ostriches found it funny as well. Anyway, we exchanged names and I promised to visit him again sometime. In a month or so I will probably drive out and see how he's doing.
6. Prototypical Japanese agricultural scenery
Martin and I then continued on down the road back towards the city 'centre', but turned left onto a small road heading north towards the areas where the golf courses are. I had never driven up this road before, and it turned out to be a very pleasant typical Japanese country road in a low mountain area. We decided to stop and look when we saw a small area of paddy fields nestling in a tiny valley.
In hilly areas in Japan (all over Asia, actually) you will come across tiny valleys like this where the original stream bed has been built up and leveled so that the farmer can take advantage of the natural water flow of the stream to construct paddy fields. Large areas of paddy fields tend to be areas close to larger rivers and so work on the same basic principle. These small valley paddy fields are generally surrounded by densely wooded hills, as here, and so are fed with the runoff from the woods, usually full of minerals and other nutrients. This is sometimes called the "original Japanese scenery" - a kind of prototypical essence of the Japanese agricultural lifestyle. (You may get some idea of why the Doha Round and so on does not make a lot of sense out here.)
The rice flowers were just 'blooming' in the field so I tried to photograph some of them. If you haven't seen rice flowers before, this is what they look like.
Over the last 30 or 40 years, some of these tiny paddy fields have been abandoned as the owners become older and unable to farm all the land, or as the rice consumption per capita has declined and the government has ordered farmers to take some land out of use - 'set-aside'. Sure enough, the old paddy field at the head of the little valley had been abandoned. The paddy fields are nearly always abandoned from the head of the valley down - pretty obvious really, I suppose - but the main reason is that the top paddy field will always be the least productive because the water temperature is always lowest in that field.
Unfortunately, in this particular case, the little valley backed onto one of the local golf courses, which means that the runoff probably contained high concentrations of chemicals. That would certainly be one good reason for abandoning the top field, though I should think the rice in the other paddies would not be much better. Since there was no one around, we could not ask, but I have a feeling that the farmer is possibly eating the rice he grows in other paddies elsewhere and selling the produce from this little valley into the industrial food chain.
Sometimes one or two of the paddies have been turned into ordinary 'upland' fields, like the one you can see here, so tiny that you can even see the farmer's footprints.
Further up the road, we saw a field with an unusual dark red colour. We stopped to take a few photos. This was a small field of 'akajiso' plants. ("Aka" is red in Japanese. There are red and green varieties of this plant, the green one being called "aojiso". The word "ao" covers a wide range of colours all the way from what we call blue to green.) This is an edible leaf - quite tasty once you get used to it - which is used as a decorative leaf on certain kinds of food, especially sashimi, raw fish slices. If you buy a small plastic tray of sashimi in a supermarket here, the sashimi slices are placed on shredded Japanese radish (daikon) and then decorated with two or three of these leaves. The colour contrasts make the fish look really appetising. This small field of akajiso is maybe one-tenth of a hectare, perhaps a little less. When I got home, I showed the photo to my (Japanese) wife, who immediately exclaimed, "What a big field of akajiso!" (The ostriches probably would have had a good laugh at that.)
7. What Japanese call a "large" area
Martin and I drove up the main road to the border with Tochigi Prefecture close to the northwest corner of the city, enjoying the forests as we went. The trees are mostly Cryptomeria japonica, a kind of conifer in the cypress family. The tree is called "sugi" in Japanese and is sometimes called the 'Japanese cedar' in English, though it is unrelated to the cedars. Being a conifer, it is good for construction wood, but not much good for leaf mold. I am told it is also not a good fuel wood, perhaps because it burns too quickly and fiercely.
We then drove eastwards along a small and very pretty road through the low mountains until we came to the main north-south road, where we turned right to head home again. On the way there is a good lookout spot which overlooks an area of rice paddies close to the Kuji River. In the photo, you can see low wooded hills in the distance, which are on the far side of the river. In the middle distance, if you look carefully, you can see the river embankment. In this area, this is what we would call a 'large' area of rice paddies. Even so, you can see that the individual fields are one-tenth to one-fifth of a hectare each, each one of them owned by different families, with one family having one, two or three fields dotted about here and there. You can also see that some of the fields have been abandoned. It's either 'set-aside' or the owners have become too old to farm the land, or died, and the younger members of the family either cannot be bothered to farm it, or don't know how to, or have moved away to Tokyo (or other conurbation) in search of higher incomes.
8. Final comment
These three features of Japanese agriculture, small fields, age of farmers, and capital intensity, are generally not known to people in the US, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Argentinia, or Brazil and so on, although Asian agriculture is quite similar and people in India and China would be able to relate fairly easily with this description.
Large-scale 'industrial' farming no doubt 'feeds the world'. Without the green revolution, humanity may well have run up against land-population limits in the 1980s or 90s, and Japan relies on industrial agriculture to feed 60% of its population, since only 40% of the food calories needed to keep the Japanese population alive are actually produced here. So what will happen if imports of cheap food and oil cease? That's why I wrote the survey; to try to see whether this small city can survive without 'imports' of food and energy from outside. If you read the survey you will see that there are many problems to be overcome even for a city like this to reach sustainable self-sufficiency (not the least of which is what to do about the hordes of hungry people from Tokyo who will want to relocate here - but that is another story). At least, after reading this and seeing the photos you have a better idea of what the city looks like, and perhaps what life might be like here after "peak oil" becomes really serious.
Please also feel free to comment below on either this 'photo essay' or the survey. If you care to ask questions, please also feel free do do so as a 'comment' and I will try to get around to answering your question(s) within a reasonably short period of time.
An oasis of sanity in a sea of growthist madness?
Could this be happening in the Land of MORE, MORE, MORE?
Bloomington, Indiana supports a steady-state economy!
You heard it right….
The City of Bloomington Environmental Commission issued a statement which identifies steady state conditions as being in the best interests of the community..
Apparently the Commission built on the work of:
1] Economist Herman Daly, who describes the economy as a "wholly owned subsidiary of the environment"
2] Eben Fodor, who demonstrated that population growth imposes capital costs far in excess of taxes that can be recouped from a community's new residents; and
3] The American Farmland Trust which showed that residential growth is a net economic drain on community resources.
Press Release, for immediate release, August 8, 2008
Contact: Kelly Boatman, Chair, City of Bloomington Environmental Commission
Environmental Commission addresses growth
"The City of Bloomington Environmental Commission has adopted a position statement and completed a report to increase awareness of growth and sustainable development. The statement, “Position of the City of Bloomington Environmental Commission on Economic Growth in the United States” is modeled on similar statements issued by the United States Society for Ecological Economics and over 40 other groups inspired by the work of the Center for the Advancement of a Steady State Economy (CASSE). The statement advocates a steady state economy in which resource consumption and waste production are maintained within the environment’s capacity to regenerate resources and assimilate waste, emphasizing development as a qualitative, rather than quantitative, process.
“This position statement acknowledges that the human economy is contained within, and dependent on, a finite and depletable natural environment.”
“This position statement acknowledges that the human economy is contained within, and dependent on, a finite and depletable natural environment,” said Environmental Commission member Heather Reynolds. “Ever-increasing economic growth ultimately leads to resource consumption and waste production at rates greater than can be sustained by nature.” A steady state economy for the U.S. will depend in no small part on the efforts made by communities across the nation to achieve sustainable local economies. The first step is awareness and acceptance of the concepts, both of which it is hoped that the position statement will foster.
Report examines costs associated with residential growth
The report, “An Examination of the Costs Associated with Residential Growth in Bloomington” is modeled after similar studies in other communities. Such studies have shown that infrastructure costs to support growth often outpace the benefits of that growth to the city. A sustainable approach to development would mean ensuring long-term benefits outweigh costs.
The Commission’s report focuses on the City of Bloomington’s capital expenditures and how these expenditures are impacted by residential growth. The report is not intended to define the full costs of growth in Bloomington, but rather to illustrate that there are substantial costs incurred by the City to provide necessary infrastructure to residences. To fully examine costs, further analysis of not only facilities and infrastructure, but also social and environmental impacts is needed.
“The Commission’s report illustrates that the City incurs real costs that are associated with residential growth,” said Environmental Commission member Mike Litwin. “The Commission would like to see the costs of growth balanced against the benefits and incorporated into the decision-making process in order to promote sustainable development in Bloomington.” The report and position statement are available on the Environmental Commission website at http://bloomington.in.gov/environmental-commission.
Position of the City of Bloomington Environmental Commission on Economic Growth in the United States
(Adapted from the Position of the United States Society for Ecological Economics on Economic Growth in the United States and adopted on May 22, 2008 in a 4-2-0 vote following two years of discussion.)
1) Economic growth, as understood by most professional economists, policy officials and private citizens, is an increase in the production and consumption of goods and services, and;
2) Economic growth occurs when there is an increase in the multiplied product of population and per capita consumption, and;
3) Economic growth has long been a primary policy goal of U.S. society and government because of the belief that it leads to an enhanced quality of life, and;
4) Economic growth is usually measured by increasing gross domestic product (GDP), although this is an incomplete indicator of quality of life that excludes the equity of income distribution, other social factors such as physical health and level of crime, and ecological health, and;
5) The U.S. economy grows as an integrated whole consisting of agricultural, extractive, manufacturing, and services sectors (and the supporting infrastructure) that requires physical inputs of non-renewable resources, land and water, and that produces wastes, and;
6) Economic growth occurs in a finite and depletable biophysical context, and;
7) Continuing non-renewable resource-intensive economic growth is having unintended damaging consequences for ecosystems and human societies…
Therefore, the Bloomington Environmental Commission takes the position that based on the above evidence:
1) There is a fundamental conflict between economic growth and ecosystem health (in such areas as biodiversity conservation, clean air and water, and atmospheric stability) and the ecosystem services deriving from healthy ecosystems that underpin the human economy (for example, regeneration of renewable resources, decomposition and recycling of wastes, pollination of crops and other vegetation, and climate regulation), and;
2) Although technological progress and unregulated markets have had many positive effects they cannot be depended upon to fully reconcile the conflict between economic growth and the long-term ecological and social welfare of the U.S. and the world, and;
3) A sustainable economy (that is, an economy with a relatively stable, mildly fluctuating product of population and per capita consumption) is a viable alternative to a growing economy and has become a more appropriate goal for the U.S. and other large, wealthy economies, and;
4) A long-run sustainable economy requires its establishment at a size small enough to avoid the breaching of ecological and economic capacity (especially during supply shocks such as droughts and energy shortages) to promote the efficient use of energy, materials and water, and enable an accelerated shift toward the use of renewable energy sources, and;
5) A sustainable economy supports economic development, an increase in human welfare through strategic changes in the relative prominence of economic sectors and techniques (e.g. renewable vs. non-renewable energy) that maintains the human economy within the regenerative and assimilative capacity of the larger earth system, and;
6) While establishing a sustainable economy, it would be advisable for the U.S. to assist other nations in moving from the goal of economic growth to the goal of a sustainable economy, beginning with those nations currently enjoying adequate per capita consumption, and;
7) For many nations with widespread poverty, increasing per capita consumption through economic growth and often via more equitable distributions of wealth remains an appropriate goal."
[End of press release.]
Good grief. With a State Senator in Hawaii who supports a Steady State economy and a Democratic Socialist Senator in Vermont who wants closed borders and an end to runaway population growth maybe, just maybe there is hope that enough people in America want to stop the train from speeding off the tracks.
Tim Murray August 10/08
Ecosystems matter more than biofuel
By Climate Ark, a project of Ecological Internet - July 22, 2008
In partnership with Rettet den Regenwald e.V. -- Rainforest Rescue
Kenya has recently approved plans to destroy some 20,000 hectares of the globally important and ecologically sensitive Tana Delta for sugar and biofuel production. Covering 130,000 hectares, these wetlands' diverse riverine vegetation -- forests, swamps, dunes, beaches and ocean -- will be forever altered by widespread vast fields of toxic, monoculture sugar cane and biofuel mill. The project threatens 350 species including birds, lions, hippos, nesting turtles, elephants, sharks, reptiles and the Tana red colobus, one of 25 primates facing extinction globally.
Mumias Sugar Company, the nation's largest sugar company, owns 51 percent of the project, while most of the rest is owned by state-run Tana and Athi River Development Authority. Local people live in an intricate relationship with the delta’s ecosystems, and are generally opposed to the mill. Irrigation would cause severe drainage of the Delta, leaving local farmers without water for their herds during dry seasons. The Kenya Wetlands Forum is calling on the Government to cancel its approval given to the project. "We cannot just start messing around with the wetland because we need biofuel and sugar," Kenyan Nobel laureate and environmentalist Wangari Maathai has said.
Biofuel production worldwide continues to destroy crucial natural ecosystems required for local and global sustainability. While hailed as a climate change remedy, this destruction of natural habitats for biofuel production almost always releases more carbon than saved. Using food such as sugar for fuel has raised food prices, leading to riots globally, including in Kenya. Let the Kenyan government know destroying ecosystems for toxic monocultures is unethical, ask them to please follow their own environmental laws, and respectfully request the project be permanently cancelled.
What you can do: Let the Kenyan government know that destroying ecosystems for toxic sugar monocultures is unethical, and ask them to please follow their own environmental laws, and permanently cancel the project.
See also: Agrofuel company violently represses communities in Guatemala of 12 Jul 08, Public Hearing against Agrofuels in Valle del Cauca, Colombia of 25 Jun 08, Evo Morales re-nationalises energy and telecommunications companies, denounces biofuel-driven starvation of 12 May 08.
In the early 1970's, a book titled "The Limits to Growth" was published, a report by the Club of Rome on the predicaments of mankind. Ultimately translated in 30 languages, it caused a furore, predicting that should civilisation continue on its present path, it would run out of every resource under the sun, causing a collapse of society and a major dieoff of human population.
Over the past few years, many, no, almost all economists have lambasted this report, usually misquoting it completely and erroneously saying civilisation would, for example, disintegrate by the year 2000. In fact, the computer models described in "The Limits to Growth" predicted that within a period of 100 years from its writing, there would be famines, shortages of resources, and world population would greatly reduce. Because 'nothing has yet happened', the report is lampooned as the literal poster child of misinformed "Malthusian" type thinking that misled many people into believing the end of the world was nigh.
So then, thirty five percent of the way into this Century of Doom, how are we faring?
Not well is how I perceive it. Everything the Club of Rome predicted is bang on target. Already, economic growth world wide has caused the supply of many essential resources to fall short of demand. The three that concern me most are water, food, and energy. The immediate result of this in a free market is to cause the price of these resources to go up, sometimes dramatically such as oil.
We live in an increasingly complex societal system in which everything is interconnected, and as a result the failure of any one single component can cause the failure of the entire system. A major failure of the electricity grid, for instance, would cause the failure of the sewerage system, not to mention water supply to your taps.
As a rule, when it comes to resources exploitation, we always go for the easiest ones first, what I call the low hanging fruit syndrome. It's like picking mangoes. You always start at the bottom of the tree, then you have to start climbing the tree to get more, only to discover that the bats and the birds have got at them, and by the time you reach the top they're all rotten. Well, all the low hanging fruit has now been picked. Politicians are now clutching at straws in their insistence we must keep growing at all cost, even if it means, as an example, building a dam on the Mary River. So, what should we do?
- Education. Everyone ought to get educated about where their food and energy comes from. 90% of all store bought food calories are sourced from fossil fuels, and when these become scarce and expensive over the next five years, we have to find new ways of feeding ourselves, organically. http://www.fromthewilderness.com/free/ww3/100303_eating_oil.html
- The big switch. Cars are dinosaurs. It doesn't look like it now as governments encourage freeways to airports, but public transport must be increased dramatically whilst we still have enough oil to build the infrastructure with.
- The other big switch. We must switch to renewable energy, as soon as possible and as much as remaining energy sources will allow. Our house runs 100% off solar power, if we can do it, anyone can do it.
- Relocalise. Believe it or not, a lot of bananas grown in Qld (even those grown in Tully) go to Melbourne to be sorted and sent out all over the country, including back to here on the Sunny Coast. Our hinterland has the capacity to feed us all if properly managed, much land is wasted for housing development.
- Farmers' Markets. Centralised markets, such as the one in Brisbane, are only doable when we have ample supplies of cheap fuel. With Peak Oil now almost certainly behind us, this must cease, we have to source our food, the water used to irrigate it, and the fuel for distributing it, locally. Sugar cane could again be grown locally to fuel the trucks needed to move the hinterland crops to our coastal strip's Farmers' Markets.
- Use energy much more efficiently. I estimate that 80% of all the energy used by household is squandered. No one likes the idea of austerity, but austerity is what we need to aim for in a world constrained with ever diminishing energy supplies. Our household uses a mere 20% of the average electricity consumption, and we certainly do not do without. We are aiming to reduce this further!
- Work less. You all work too hard (I don't work at all, at least for wages!). It is my opinion society works to borrow money, so as to consume stuff it doesn't need, to impress people we don't even know. And most of the stuff we consume ends up in landfill. Families today are half the size they were 50 years ago, yet our houses are twice as big. Why do we do it?
- Downsize. Look around you and ask yourself, "do I need all this stuff?" When we moved from Brisbane, we threw out two and a half
tonnes of junk....
- Forgive debts. This economic system is doomed to fail. Capitalism relies on economic growth so that interest on debts can be repaid. Growth is finished. Maybe not today, nor tomorrow, but soon, because all the growth we have experienced over the last 75 years is entirely due to a supply of cheap and abundant fossil energy, and that energy is already waning.
- Permaculture. Google it. Permaculture is a design system which integrates all the things around you so as to satisfy all your needs, food, housing, water, energy. This is done so as to waste nothing, whether that be land, water, energy, or even your precious time. Permaculture fosters happiness and an immense sense of satisfaction that what you are doing for your survival is totally sustainable, and totally within your control. It's freedom from the slavery and drudgery of modern life. No driving in traffic, no ingesting food that slowly kills you, more time for family ties.
#TheProblem" id="TheProblem">The problem
Are GM (genetically modified, some prefer "GE", genetically engineered) crops and food safe? Reading the mainstream press is probably going to confuse you more than anything else. The reason for this is it's extremely hard to tell who's telling "the truth". However, use of the Internet (and a few books that you can purchase through the Internet) can help you to see through the half-truths and distortions frequently used by proponents of GM crops and food. People who oppose the introduction of GM crops and food can, of course, resort to the same kind of tactics, so it's really up to the individual to look at the evidence and come to his or her own conclusion. The information is freely available on the Internet, all I do is give a few guidelines below to help you find it.
As I write (late June 2008), Australia is slowly trying to make up its collective mind about whether to allow the introduction of GM crops. Victoria and New South Wales, for example, have ended their moratorium on the planting of GM crops, and WA is maintaining its moratorium, though a debate on whether to extend it or not is now raging in that state. A friend of mine sent me an article from the Farm Weekly and I would like to use this article as an example of pro-GM writing. I would like to show how the writer uses half-truths and distortions to make his points, and how more detailed knowledge about much of the material in the article, allowing the reader to see 'where the writer is coming from,' is quite easily available on the Internet. Since information is democracy's oxygen, it would be a good idea perhaps if Australians take a deep breath before they finally decide on whether they really want GM crops and food or not.
The writer, Peter Lee, uses quotations from Shakespeare to back up some of the arguments he makes in the article. That's fine. I know almost nothing about Shakespeare, but I think this shows that Peter is a well-educated person of the English-speaking world. He especially gives the Shakespearean quotejust before he launches into his main argument about Let's have a look at Peter's argument.
#ScientificProof" id="ScientificProof">Why the lack of scientific proof?
Just after the Shakespeare quote, Peter says,
Yes, there is no scientific proof concerning whether GM foods are safe or not because the entire biotechnology industry has quite adamantly refused to do any conclusive testing on GM foods. Several preliminary and rigorous experiments by independent researchers on the feeding of GM foods to rats (e.g. by Arpad Pusztai and Irina Ermakova) have shown that there may be severe health impacts from the consumption of GM foods, but the biotechnology industry, whilst rebutting these experimental results has not followed up on them. The researchers who have carried out these experiments have complained of being forced to desist, through a cutting off of their funding, sudden firing, or retirement (in the case of Arpad Pusztai). The relevant books, see below, which are easily available from Internet bookstores, documentaries, such as the YouTube broadcasts here and here and The Genetic Conspiracy, and websites, e.g. ISIS (www.i-sis.org.uk), whose director is Dr Mae Wan Ho, note several such examples. What is frightening people is what appears to be a refusal to carry out rigorous testing on the human health effects of GM foods.
A small sample of useful books:
- Jeffrey M. Smith, Genetic Roulette: The Documented Health Risks of Genetically Engineered Foods
- Jeffrey M. Smith, Seeds of Deception: Exposing Industry and Government Lies About the Safety of the Genetically Engineered Foods You're Eating
- Mae-Wan Ho, Genetic Engineering Dream or Nightmare?: The Brave New World of Science and Business
#OrganicVsConventional" id="OrganicVsConventional">The organic vs. conventional and the non-GM vs. GM analogy
Peter goes on to set up an analogy on possible similarities in the contrasts between organic and conventionally-grown food on the one hand and between non-GM food (essentially the same thing as conventionally-grown food) and GM food on the other. However, we need to look at what Peter says in a little detail to see whether his analogy is actually valid or not.
Anyone as apparently ill-informed on agriculture as this really should not be writing a column as an "agripolitical analyst" in a farm-related newspaper. I can only suggest that Peter go to Wikipedia and enter the keywords "(Sir) Albert Howard". He will find information on Sir Albert Howard's 1940 book, An Agricultural Testament, and Lady Eve Balfour's The Living Soil. These contain information on comparative studies on the effects of eating organic food and conventionally-grown (using chemical fertilizers and pesticides) food on people. This is over half a century ago, when food, water, soil and air were nowhere near as polluted with chemicals as they are now. These books are available at no cost as electronic editions on the Internet#main-fn1">1. I recommend anyone who is interested in food issues read them.
Closer to home, I recently visited Caralyn Lagrange, who does wonderful organic gardening near Perth, WA. Caralyn came to organic farming through breast cancer as a viable way to get good chemical-free nutrition. Her book "Gardening and Eating for Living" is a little treasure, and you can find out more about it on her website. You see, most people seem to be able to eat conventionally grown food with no apparent problems, but some people are more sensitive to the chemicals used to produce the food. I've heard of people in Japan whose lips become numb as soon as they put chemically-grown vegetables in their mouths and thus cannot survive without very conscientiously grown organic food.
#JapaneseConsumers" id="JapaneseConsumers">With respect to the non-GM/GM canola problem, I was told by a friend who was a member of the Japanese consumer group representatives mission to WA, mentioned #VisitOfJapanese">below, that GM canola will not help Japanese children's atopy (skin allergy) problems. Only when food is cooked with non-GM canola is the atopy relieved. Because the scientific tests have not been carried out, we have no way of knowing why this is, but we may conjecture, for example, that it is the different, possibly novel, protein content in the GM canola that is the culprit. Perhaps we'll know if anyone is ever allowed to do the tests. Of course, organic canola would be even better than the conventionally-grown non-GM canola, but it is not available in the amounts necessary. If WA canola farmers want to try their hand at producing organic canola for the Japanese market, I'm sure they will be welcomed with open arms.
Yes, that's because organic farming and conventional farming has managed to coexist, for example by taking precautions (overwhelmingly on the side of the organic farmer) against the chemicals polluting organic farming lands. The seeds used in both types of farming might be the same, and there is usually no big problem with pollution from wind-blown or insect-carried pollen.
Now let's take a look at the GM/non-GM issue. The point is that the novel genes from the GM plant will pollute the non-GM varieties. When the farmer next door plants a GM crop (canola, soybeans, maize, and so on) next to your field where you have planted a non-GM variety of the same crop, your produce will almost certainly be polluted with the GM variety genes. There are two major problems with this. Firstly, depending on who you are planning to sell the produce to, the level of GM pollution in your produce may become unacceptable to the buyer. If you are trying to export non-GM canola to a Japanese consumer group, NO level of GM contamination is acceptable. 0%. At this point you have lost your market. If you are an organic farmer, there is no way, once the GM contamination is discovered, that you can sell your produce as organic. In other words, the coexistence of GM and non-GM varieties is extremely problematical. With respect to canola, this fact has already been amply demonstrated in Canada, which has been extensively contaminated with GM canola genes such that it is effectively impossible to grow non-GM canola in Canada now.
Secondly, that's just how the GM variety seed producing companies want it. In the USA and Canada, non-GM farmers have been ruined by court cases, or the threat of them, from GM seed companies simply because of the contaminated plants that have 'fortuitously' grown on their land. A well-known case is that of Percy Schmeiser, information on whom you can find with a simple web search. The actions of the companies threaten to have the effect of driving out all non-GM growers. Coexistence just doesn't seem to be possible.
In WA, the recommended buffer zone between GM and non-GM canola crops is five meters, which is supposed to be on the non-GM farmer's side of the fence, by the way. You can find references to this on the website of the the Network of Concerned Farmers. Japan's Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) recommends 600 m. Hokkaido, Japan's northernmost island, where concern over the commercial planting of GM crops is higher, the recommended distance is 1200 m, but it is not certain whether this distance will completely prevent contamination (cross-pollination by wind-borne pollen and so on) or not. If you type in the search words "five-metre buffer zone canola" in Google, you will see that one entry says"GM canola pollen has been found up to 26 kilometres from its source." Try putting that buffer zone on the inside of your fence. Five meters is laughable. It also comes with a caveat that the non-GM farmer "is to accept" a 0.9% contamination of his/her crop. You can find this in the pdf file of the Australian Grains Research and Development Corporation report "Delivering Market Choice with GM Canola". Just type the title into Google to find the file. That's not coexistence, that's downright surrender. Surrender to what? What are the GM seed companies trying to achieve? It looks to me like they are trying to achieve nothing less than the total control of all the world's food crop seeds. They appear to be acting in a manner that would give them control of the world's food supply and an everlasting source of income from the sale of the seeds, which must be bought anew each year. This comes courtesy of the legalistic sleight of hand that allows patents on life. If that doesn't send a chill up your spine, nothing ever will.
#PayingMore" id="PayingMore">Paying more for your food
Peter goes on to say,
Yes, people pay more for organic food because under the present economic arrangements organic food is more expensive to produce. Generally speaking, food produced on farms which run a chemical and mechanical system of farming are more efficient in terms of labour. Very few people are producing a lot of food, so relatively the labour costs are low. In organic farming, although cash inputs (chemicals, fuel and so on) are fewer, it is labour-intensive. Given the amounts of money required to live a decent life these days, i.e. wage levels, organic farmers have to charge relatively more for their produce in order to make a living. This accounts for a large proportion of the price differential between organic and conventionally produced food. There are more factors, as you can see here. (This website takes a little while to load, but you will also see here that prices of organic food include not only the cost of the food production itself, but also a range of other factors that are not captured in the price of conventionally-grown food).
However, consumers of organic food are willing to pay more because they feel that cheap food might actually turn out to be more expensive in terms of health effects. Paying a little more for food that is more likely to keep you in good health may eventually be saving you steep hospital bills.
Now, what will happen if the price of oil continues to rise? Chemicals are mostly produced from oil, natural gas, or coal (fossil energy resources), so the economic advantage of the cheap part of the chemical-mechanical farm that makes it so efficient (relatively cheap fuels, fertilizers and other chemicals) will be eroded. This may eventually result in people paying the same or less for organic produce.
All very well and good and protects consumers' right to choose what they eat.
Peter then says,
Not as planned, it won't, as we have already seen above.
#ProofOrLiability" id="ProofOrLiability">Proof or liability
Peter then says,
Peter is implying that consumers of organic food are paying higher prices for their food because of the inspection and accreditation systems necessary to prove that the food is really organic. However, as seen above, that's neither the main reason why organic food is more expensive, nor is it necessarily true that organic food will always be more expensive than conventionally produced food, or GM food for that matter. OK, so perhaps there should be some mechanism for proving that non-GM food is just what it says it is. Who should pay for the testing is something that can be argued over, since there is no system in place now. And maybe the non-GM farmer will end up having to pay for this and will pass the cost on to the consumer, who will have to pay a little more for the food.
Let's look a little closer at the difference between this and the contrast between organic and conventionally grown food. Suppose an organic farmer is growing a crop next door to a conventional farmer. The organic farmer will surely take precautions to see that his/her produce is not affected by the neighbouring farmer, but it might happen. The organic farmer might be extremely annoyed about this, depending on the seriousness of the pollution, and may lose income, but it is extremely rare that any irreversible permanent damage would be done. The organic farmer might try to sue the chemical farmer for damage, but I cannot find on the Internet any examples of this ever having occurred. Can you? Anyway, now we're not talking so much about proving that organic produce is organic as whose liability it is if pollution occurs and the farmer loses income because of that.
Peter seems to be confident that GM and non-GM crops can coexist, just as organic and conventional farming manage to coexist today. The Canadian experience shows that in the case of canola this is very doubtful. So, rather than this being a problem of who pays for testing to prove that a harvested crop is what it is said to be, since pollution is almost certain to occur (according to the GRDC, the non-GM farmer is supposed to accept 0.5% pollution of seed and 0.9% pollution of a non-GM crop anyway), who takes responsibility for the loss of income that results? Thus far, as in the example of Percy Schmeiser and many others in Canada and the USA, far from the company that manufactured the GM seed taking any responsibility for GM pollution, these companies are likely to threaten to sue the non-GM farmer for infringement of patent rights. Slowly, this is now beginning to turn around (Percy Schmeiser did eventually win a court case against Monsanto), but let's look at the nature of GM pollution when compared with the chemical pollution of an organic crop. (All farmers are, of course, concerned about cross-fertilization of crop varieties, but have learned to control it. See, for example, the Seed Savers' Network).
Once the transgenes (the new genes the biotechnology company has inserted into the DNA of the plant to give it the novel trait) enter the genome (the totality of DNA in the cell nucleus of the plant) of the non-GM plant, how can you get them out again? You cannot, and that means your seed is contaminated with the transgenes; permanent irreversible damage. So if you are a non-GM farmer who has been saving your own seeds for replanting, like Percy Schmeiser was, you might lose decades of work. You cannot plant those polluted seeds because you would be infringing a patent right if you did. The GM seed manufacturing companies do not seem to be seriously interested in preventing this problem, as we have seen with the five-metre canola buffer zone above. There's little doubt that after a number of years under a system like this only GM crops will be planted. That appears to be what the seed companies want.
Peter goes on to say,
Quite wrong; they will pay. They are already paying because the price of oil is rising. And anyway, why should they have to pay just because the biotechnology industry wants to sell its seeds? After what you have read above, is it any surprise that some people feel they need legislation to protect their farming, their food, and their way of life?
#VisitOfJapanese" id="VisitOfJapanese">Visit of the Japanese consumer group reps
Here, the argument shifts a little to mention the visit by a group of Japanese consumer group representatives. Peter says,
The Conservation Council of Western Australia did not 'sponsor' the visit of the group. They 'hosted' it. Perhaps Peter missed the substantial articles mentioning the group's visit and participation in the forum at Williams (June 13) on pages 4, 5, and 6 in the June 19 edition of Farm Weekly. The consumers' group representatives came of their own accord#main-fn2">2 to ask the government and farmers of WA to extend the moratorium so that they could continue to buy non-GM canola from WA, perhaps soon to be the only place where they can obtain it in sufficient quantities.
Why does Peter say NO! GMO Campaign (closely associated with the Consumers' Union of Japan), the Green Co-op, the Kirari Cooperative Union Association, The Association to Preserve the Earth (Daichi wo Mamoru Kai), and the well-known Seikatsu Club. Unfortunately, most of the websites are in Japanese, but you will be able to see that these organizations, as well as working to provide safe and nutritious food to their members, are also social movements which work for grassroots democracy, assistance for handicapped and other socially disadvantaged people, and carry out other socially beneficial activities. Certainly not fanatics, and certainly not fanatical organizations posing as consumer groups.I cannot imagine what is meant by this. They are consumer group representatives whose organizations represent 2.9 million members. These co-ops and organic food suppliers do what they do to help consumers obtain the safe and nutritious food they want to eat instead of having to put up with being force-fed the chemically-produced and GM food that they do not want to eat. The organizations represented were: The
Then Peter says,
Sounds like a contradiction doesn't it? Public opinion polls show that around 60% to 75% of Japanese people do not want to eat GM foods. But the reason that they are buying and using canola oil produced from Canadian GM canola is that they don't have a choice. The Japanese food labelling system is very similar to the Australian one. There's nothing on labels to show that a food product is produced from GM crops. If you want to buy non-GM, then you have to look for the labels that say "non-GM", "GM free" and so on. So a very large number of people are eating GM foods without knowing or being aware that they are doing so. The feeling is that the governments of Australia and Japan have introduced these labelling systems because they know what would happen to purchasing behaviour if foods were labelled accurately. Looks like someone doesn't want you to enjoy your right of consumer choice. GM seed companies and governments are effectively cooperating to force-feed you GM food without your knowledge. By the time we find out what the human health problems are with these foods, it will be far, far too late to anything about it. Who will benefit from that?
#MuchAdoAbout Nothing" id="MuchAdoAbout Nothing">A fanatical much ado about nothing?
Peter goes on to say,
Apart from the implication that the above-mentioned consumer group representatives are "fanatics", given the potential for information democracy provided by the Internet, the really astounding thing is that pro-GM analysts like this can get articles printed in the newspaper and actually expect that some poor fools will believe them!
Finally, Peter says,
It is quite clearly not- it's a lot of fuss about controlling the world's food supply (and all that that implies). Perhaps more appropriately we should say, "There's no smoke without fire." If people are protesting about something, then it is just as well that we take pains to see if they have reasonable grounds for doing so. If Peter wants to refute their arguments, under our current social system, where freedom of speech is respected, he is at liberty to do so. However, if he uses terms like 'fanatics' and implicates that these people only hold their views through some form of irrational 'belief', or because their 'thinking made it so,' I would like to suggest that his readers take a long hard look at the evidence for and against before they swallow his arguments whole.
#main-fn1" id="main-fn1">1. #main-fn1-txt">↑ I couldn't locate an online version of The Living Soil although Wikipedia implies that one is to be found on www.soilandhealth.org. To order printed version, visit the Soil Association.
#main-fn2" id="main-fn2">2. #main-fn2-txt">↑ See, also, comments posted by two of the visitors #comment-986">The media's responsibility and duty to report the truth about GM and #comment-991">Only 4000 tonnes canola per year, but ZERO contamination and a comment by another Japanese consumer #comment-994">Monsanto makes coexistence between GM and non-GM impossible.
This article raises the vexing question of how we are to live sustainably off the land in the longer term. If incomes to be earned from sustainable farming practices are low in comparison to those to be earned by working in the city or in mines, then we need to consider whether those economic activities are sustainable.
The government needs to control the activities of any sector where they threaten the viability of other sectors, particularly vital sectors like food production. To risk severe social disruption for short-term profit might make sense to corporations, but it is the duty of governments to mitigate corporate excesses and to direct and balance activities so that the community is buffered and major conflicts are avoided.
Clearly in the case of mining, and in that light, the current activities are not sustainable, as I argued earlier. Is it any wonder that farmers, who are ultimately attempting to turn the comparative trickle of energy obtained from the sun into wealth, cannot offer wages competitive with those on offer from industries which are, in large part, simply plundering energy accumulated over at least tens of millions of years by biological and geological processes? If other city-based economic activities were also placed under the microscope, we would invariably find that they are also ultimately based upon the unsustainable destruction of the our finite capital.
So, agriculture has been placed at an extremely unfair disadvantage compared with other economic activities. To expect it to compete with those other activities under these circumstances would guarantee the destruction of our soil and our future impoverishment. As David R. Montgomery's Dirt - the Erosion of Civilisations (2007) shows, this is far from being just a theoretical question.
If we are to establish an economy which is to be sustainable in the longer term, we are going to have to face the fact that many of us may find unpalatable, that is, whether we live on the land or in cities, we are going to have to learn to live by consuming far fewer material resources than we do now. Even if we eliminate many absurdly wasteful practices of our throw-away society, and even if we remove the enormous inequalities in income distribution, we may still find ourselves without the same access to all the convenient gadgets and comforts to which we are now accustomed. We are going to have to get used the idea that we won't all be able to travel by air to the other side of the world every year or across the continent every two months or so, or be able to buy every gizmo we desire almost at will only to throw them away a mere 12 months later.
Of course one first and necessary step will be to remove the often crippling burden placed upon on farms by the finance sector, which, in turn, drives farmers to ruin their land. As I mentioned earlier, one means towards achieving this would be to re-establish a Peoples' (i.e. Commonwealth) Bank.
On top of that, the rest of us should consider paying more for food in order to allow farmers to be able to both earn a decent income and to properly look after the land. It would also help if were to change the grossly inefficient industrialised food processing and distribution system (the US version of which is described lucidly in the US by Christopher Cook's Diet for A Dead Planet – See YouTube broadcast). Breaking the Coles Woolworths duopoly would help. Similar to the re-establishment of a Peoples' Bank, why not establish a publicly owned supermarket company that only has to meet its operating expenses and not pay inflated returns to its shareholders, company directors and CEO's? Local cooperative producers' markets could complement the aforementioned Peoples' Supermarket to allow as much food as possible to be consumed locally.
Local food distribution and consumption would reduce transport, storage and packaging costs, which can only continue to climb from now on due to the growing scarcity of petroleum, and to make easier the recycling of all nutrients. The alternative of continuing to mine nutrients from the soil and dump most of them in landfill up to hundreds of kilometres away cannot be sustainable. The fertilisers currently used to partially replace lost nutrients are either finite resources or are manufactured unsustainably using finite and limited fossil fuels. Moreover, their use, in conjunction with the use of pesticides, tends make soil sterile and lifeless as Jenny Hume is, no doubt, aware.
Some links which may be of interest include: Working the land - or not of 24 Jun 08 by Jenny Hume on Web Diary, Who owns your sewage? of 3 Jul 08 by Valerie Yule on Online Opinion, Last gasp for single desk marketing of Australian wheat of 17 Jun 08, Peak oil prices cause South Australian Farmers to call for 'fair market forces' of 10 Jun 08, Orwellian Waterworks: big-agribusiness and Victorian Gov of 27 May 08, Insight program's take on Labor Shortage of 17 Jun 08, A 10,000 year misunderstanding of 1 May 08 by Canadian soil microbiologist Peter Salonius, I will govern for all Victorians (caveat: but only if you are powerful and connected) of 26 Jun 08.