October 24, 2014

CLF Week in Links: Food Day, Fish Farms, Agent Orange

Robert Lawrence, MD

Robert Lawrence, MD

Director Emeritus

Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future

Roundup devastated the monarch butterfly population. What will Dow's Enlist Duo do?

Roundup devastated the monarch butterfly population. What will Dow’s Enlist Duo do?

Food Day. Today is Food Day, a day to inspire and be inspired in all things concerning our diets and food policies. Their tagline is “Real food, just food,” which says succinctly what our goals are for food system change. Check out the website for information about Food Day events happening across the U.S.—www.foodday.org—and join the online conversation with @FoodDay2014 and #FoodDay2014.

Two things. Earlier this week Mark Bittman wrote a New York Times column in which he encouraged readers to use their power as consumers to fix the food system. He expresses some feelings of hopelessness about being to effect change through either industry or government policy, but he suggests that eaters can do it themselves. “The overall environment means that you’re pretty much on your own if you try to eat healthfully in spite of the system, and you must take up that battle through a dozen or more decisions each day.” When it comes to the food system, health definitely favors the privileged; the most fortunate among us have the resources necessary for eating healthfully in spite of the systems that thrive on our eating unhealthily. For some more than others, that battle and those dozen or more daily decisions are too much to ask. This is why it’s important to remember the justice in “just food.”

Chicken manure. According to this Baltimore Sun story, large Maryland chicken farms are being fined for failing to report how they’re keeping their chickens’ waste out of the Chesapeake Bay and its feeder rivers and streams—almost one in five have been fined, in fact. The fines are meager, only $250, but it’s a new step for the Maryland Department of the Environment. Half of the violators simply ignored the law requiring nutrient management plans, while the other half claimed the process was too complicated. Few seemed to care about the environment we all share.

Toxic fish farms. Perhaps the issue of pesticide use in fish farms is beginning to get some media attention. This story in the Irish Examiner addresses how the excessive use of pesticides in salmon farms is harming the shellfish industry in Bantry Bay. And it seems the Irish are plagued with a problem all too familiar to us in the U.S.: the Irish Department of Agriculture refuses to release data about the emission of pesticides from the farms.

Dastardly duo. This month the EPA approved the use of an herbicide known as Enlist Duo, by Dow. The herbicide is a combination of glyphosate and another chemical known as 2,4-D. Glyphosate has been used in Monsanto’s Roundup, but as weeds have developed resistance to the herbicide, the ante has been upped. As has been said before, the use of pesticides—and the creation of genetically engineered crops that can tolerate them—is an arms race. Now six states in the Midwest are suing the EPA for its decision; one of the suit’s claims is that the EPA did not adequately analyze the impacts of 2,4-D on human health. 2,4-D was one of the ingredients in Agent Orange, the herbicide widely used during the Vietnam war. It’s bad enough that Roundup has destroyed much of the milkweed habitat for the Monarch butterfly, threatening its very existence. The new combination will threaten human health as well.

Drought. Sao Paulo state, Brazil, is experiencing the worst drought it’s seen in eight decades. According to a story in Al Jazeera, 70 cities in the state are facing extreme drought, with 30 cities already rationing water. California is not in straits as dire as Sao Paulo’s, but it is experiencing its worst drought in about 30 years. As we see more and more evidence of climate change, it will become increasingly important for regions like Sao Paulo and California to adapt to the new reality so that food and water crises can be avoided.

Corn crisis. This Mother Jones story illuminates what corn farmers are facing this year—mainly, losses. From the article: “crop prices have fallen so low (a bumper crop has driven down corn prices to their lowest level since 2006), and input costs (think seeds, fertilizers, pesticides) have gotten so high, that they’re losing $225 per acre of corn and $100 per acre of soybeans.” It might be time to revisist the corn-soy infrastructure; diversity in crop production would be a good start. And we might also go back to policies of the pre-Earl Butz era when farm policy allowed purchase of bumper crops for government grain stores to smooth out commodity prices.

Photo (c)2008 Derek Ramsey (Ram-Man) under the GNU Free Documentation License.

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