March 8, 2013

Links: Rice, Farmers, Drought, and the Fiscal Cliff

Robert Lawrence, MD

Robert Lawrence, MD

Director Emeritus

Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future

Does genetically engineered rice help or hurt?

Sequestration. Budget cuts kicked in on March 1, and here are just a few bits of fallout. The USDA has “no choice” but to eventually furlough meat inspectors, said Secretary Tom Vilsack. Roughly 600,000 low-income women and children who are eligible for WIC will be turned away if the budget cuts remain in place. And crucial funding for environmental conservation is on the chopping block.

Superbugs. Deadly infections with bacteria that resist even the latest generation antibiotics are on the rise in hospitals in the U.S., and there is only a “limited window of opportunity” to halt their spread. Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, called the organisms “nightmare bacteria.” Meanwhile, the evidence continues to strengthen connecting the misuse of antibiotics for growth promotion and disease prevention in the industrial food animal system with the spread of antibiotic resistance among bacteria that are pathogens for both animals and humans.

Rice revolution. In Bihar, a village in India’s poorest state, farmers are growing world record amounts of rice—with no genetically engineered products, and no herbicide. In West Africa, NERICA (for NEw RICe for Africa), also developed through classical cultivar selection breeding techniques, is increasing the yields and promises to reduce the reliance on rice imported from Pakistan and the Philippines.

Golden rice. And speaking of rice, here’s NPR’s exploration of the controversy around genetically engineered foods designed to help the poorest citizens of the world.

Feminizing farms? Olivier De Schutter writes about how women are increasingly on the front lines of the fight to sustain family farms. But pervasive discrimination, gender stereotypes and women’s low social standing have frustrated these women’s rise out of poverty and hunger.

Unregulated pesticides in Hawaii. Hawaii’s farmers increasingly spray atrazine, but rivers, streams and coastal waters are not being tested for the chemical, even though the EPA established water safety levels a decade ago under the Clean Water Act.

Reducing nitrates in dairy country. Five Yakima Valley, Washington, dairies will reduce groundwater nitrate pollution in what federal officials are calling a groundbreaking agreement announced yesterday.

Drought. Millions of people in western India are suffering their worst drought in more than four decades; regular droughts in winter, spring and early summer have continued to affect Southwest China this year, causing a major shift in the agricultural industry.

A Place at the Table. Produced by celebrity chef Tom Colicchio, the film brings attention to the economic problems caused by the hunger epidemic in America and tries to break down cultural stigmas associated with hunger.

Meatless Monday. I attended a meeting in Pretoria, South Africa, designed to explore the challenges to food security in Africa in the presence of climate change. I had the opportunity to give a lunchtime talk entitled, “Why a high-meat diet in Africa is unsustainable.” I described the Meatless Monday campaign launched ten years ago in the U.S. by Sid Lerner with the cooperation and scientific guidance of the Center for a Livable Future. Several of my African colleagues commented on the appealing nature of this approach to starting the week with a modest decrease in total meat consumption.

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