May 10, 2013

CLF Week in Links: Farm Bill, Honeybees, Urban Ag and More

Robert Lawrence, MD

Robert Lawrence, MD

Director Emeritus

Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future

Farm bill markups next week. If you’ve been following the long, slow ride that is the reauthorization of the farm bill, now it’s time to fasten your seatbelts. It looks like the markup by the Senate will take place on Tuesday, and the House will do its markup on Wednesday. That will make for two very intense days. We’ll be keeping our ear to the ground to see what makes it into the bills, what doesn’t, and what to do about it. The best way to stay apprised is to follow the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition’s updates on Twitter via @sustainableag or via their website. If you have a senator or representative on one of the agriculture committees, now is the time to write and express your support for improving the SNAP program, strengthening the conservation title, or any other aspect of our food system you care about. I wrote this morning, and my letter is here.

More news on honeybees. Honeybees and colony collapse disorder (CCD) continue to make the news—and well they should. Honeybees pollinate hundreds of crops, from almonds to strawberries to soybeans, American agricultural products worth tens of billions of dollars a year. Professional beekeepers (or apiculturists, as some like to be called) rent their hives to farmers and orchardists by the tens of thousands, transporting them long distances to follow the flowering times of crops throughout the country. According to this New York Times article, a new study by the USDA and EPA has concluded that there is no single “smoking gun” in CCD. (Other studies have pointed the finger at a group of pesticides known as neonicotinoids.) This new study says that pesticides, parasites, poor nutrition and a lack of genetic diversity are working in concert. EPA’s decision is disappointing, especially in light of a recent vote in the European Union to ban the use of neonicotinoids. The European Commission announced its intended ban after the European Food Safety Agency concluded that the pesticides represented a “high acute risk” to honeybees and other pollinators. has responded to the U.S. study, quoting some experts from the National Resources Defense Council and the Pesticide Action Network. Unfortunately, the USDA and EPA have recommended more research instead of action. Once again, the Europeans have wisely applied the precautionary principle while waiting for all the final data, while the U.S. approach continues to put the burden of proof on those raising legitimate concerns about safety.

Migrant workers, immigration woes. Our senior policy adviser did a terrific job addressing the complexities of the current immigration reform climate in this blogpost. And this week, the New York Times ran this story about the many low-income Americans, mostly black, who live near large-scale farms and report being discriminated against for employment on account of migrant workers. So many migrant workers are disempowered by virtue of their unregistered status, and unfortunately their vulnerability to exploitation in wages and working conditions is negatively affecting natural-born citizens—a trickle-down effect, if you will.

Inspiring actors in urban gardening. Here’s a story about a fearless urban gardener in Los Angeles, Ron Finley. His work as a guerrilla gardener in low-income neighborhoods was brought to a wide public eye in a TED talk last year. Stay tuned to LivableFuture blog early next week for a sneak peek into Baltimore’s new plan for urban gardening, from CLF fellow Melissa Poulsen.

The heartless heartland? Here’s another great column from our friend Alan Guebert. In this essay, he discusses how modern monoculture polarizes communities, pitting neighbor against neighbor with a relentless focus on the bottom line. And he asks, Is that how it has to be?

Meatless Monday in campus dining. The May issue of Today’s Dietitian covers how college foodservice has stepped up its game in recent years by hiring dietitians to develop healthful eating initiatives. Not surprising is a mention of Meatless Monday, which is gaining ground at universities around the world.

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