April 4, 2014

CLF Week in Links: Climate, California Sinkholes, and More

Robert Lawrence, MD

Robert Lawrence, MD

Director Emeritus

Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future

Cornfield in drought

Cornfield in drought

Climate caution. The big news this week has been the IPCC’s warning on the risks and potential negative consequences of climate change. The New York Times headline reads, “Worst Is Yet to Come.” Sadly, we’re not surprised—we wish more governments would heed the warning and take steps not only to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but also to prepare for the increasingly volatile climate changes. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has warned of floods, disease, and a lack of food as some of the risks. This is the first time that the IPCC is projecting declines in crop production up to 14 percent based on climate change, and this at a time when population growth requires an increase in crop production to provide food security for everyone. A lot more hungry people may join the 800,000 to 1 million malnourished people currently lacking food security. (@NYTimesScience)

Sinking San Joaquin Valley? It’s been three years of devastating drought for California, and the residents are “draining the precious aquifer beneath the nation’s most productive farmland like never before, pitting neighbor against neighbor in a perverse race to the bottom.” This story by the San Jose Mercury News reports on overpumping in the Valley, and how new areas are starting to sink, much like they did decades ago, when one area sunk 28 feet. What will be the impact on bridges and canals and on farmland—and when will Californians stop doing this? Meanwhile, farmers are still growing alfalfa, the thirstiest of the California crops, to support the huge dairy industry, and some of the alfalfa is being exported to China for industrial farm animal production. As with soybeans exported from the Amazon basin to China for animal feed, this represents another form of “virtual water” exported to satisfy part of China’s water scarcity—but at the expense of fellow Californians in the diary business.

Organic wins. A report from Food Safety News declares a modest victory for organic farmers. According to the story, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack has “made it a point to tip his hat to the impressive growth the [organic] industry has been enjoying.” With the February passage of the 2014 farm bill, funding will support, for example, dedicated organic research, agricultural extension programs and education ($20 million annually) and data collection ($5 million). Our director of Food System Policy, Bob Martin, says that while the farm bill was bad in terms of SNAP benefit cuts and payment limitations, the actions about organics are positive.

COOL law. Last year, the Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) law took effect in Washington, D.C., requiring labeling of meat sold in retail outlets with information about where the food animal was born, raised, and slaughtered. Since the law’s passing, the meat industry has tried to block it, but this week the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that the law will continue to be in effect. Food & Water Watch is one of the several organizations that filed a brief arguing that the labeling helps consumers make informed decisions about the quality and potential safety of the meat they buy.  “The court recognized that COOL labels should be transparent and informative enough for consumers to make these choices,” said FWW executive director Wenonah Hauter. (@foodandwater)

Eat those veggies. In the 1990s the World Heath Organization suggested that a healthy diet includes five servings of fruit and vegetables a day. A new study published Monday in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health says that five servings are not enough. According to this Washington Post story, seven is the ideal number of servings, it says, preferably vegetables. This study tracked the eating habits of more than 65,000 people for 12 years, and while no study on diet can be entirely conclusive, the findings at least support a recipe for better health for the planet. By reducing our consumption of meat and creating more consumer demand for vegetables, we can play a part not only in our own improved health, but in better use of our land and better environmental outcomes from that use. Meatless Monday is a great place to start. (@meatlessmonday)

Family-scale aquaculture. While many industrial aquaculture operations are guilty of irresponsible stewardship of the Earth’s seas, not all fish farms are guilty. In this story in Feed the Future, a U.S. government initiative, we learn how family-scale aquaculture helps Nepalese women achieve greater nutritional value to the meals they serve in their homes. (@FeedTheFuture)

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