A Winona LaDuke Reader

Winona LaDuke | April 2012

In a true sense of the words, Winona LaDuke is a force of nature.

An environmentalist, farmer, activist, writer, and advocate for native communities and ways of life, she is an Anishinaabe force to be reckoned with. As the Ms. Magazine Woman of the Year (1997), Ralph Nader’s vice presidential running mate on the 1996 and 2000 Green Party tickets, and recipient of the International Slow Food Award, her contributions have been widely recognized. But in January she was honored by an unlikely party—the Tucson United School District board, which became infamous for banning Mexican-American studies. Her response to the ban: “Recently, I had the distinction of becoming one of a select list of authors banned by the Tucson United School District. Now this is no small feat.” She went on to name the essay that had been specifically banned, and then wrote, “Interestingly enough, if I were going to ban one of my essays from a public school, this would probably not be the one.”

A few days ago, I was lucky enough to spend some time with Ms. LaDuke and ask which of her books is more ban-worthy. Read More >

Roundup-Resistant Weeds Threaten U.S. Food Security

Roundup-resistant weeds are a rapidly emerging threat that puts U.S. agriculture in a terribly precarious position. The threat has evolved from farmers’ heavy use of the herbicide glyphosate, (aka Roundup, a Monsanto product) to control weeds, and farmers’ simultaneous reliance on crop varieties (also Monsanto products) that are genetically modified to resist Roundup. Despite a New York Times  article last year, this topic has received far less attention than it deserves, as the potential for Roundup-resistant weeds to raise food prices and threaten U.S. food security is severe.

The latest issue of peer-reviewed Weed Science contains a number of articles on the rising threat of herbicide-resistant weeds, with 21 weeds now confirmed as resistant to Monsanto’s Roundup, as reported by Fast Company. An article by University of Georgia scientists reported that Palmer Amaranth, a problematic weed found in cotton, corn, and soybean crops, which can impede harvesting, is now resistant to Roundup as well as another herbicide.   Read More >

Increasing global food security: The next gold rush?

What do Archer Daniels Midland, Cargill, Coca-Cola, DuPont, Monsanto, Kraft Foods, and Wal-Mart have in common?

Some of the most financially successful companies in the world? Absolutely. Exploiters of workers and the environment? Some say so. The newest solution to global food insecurity and natural resource conservation? Apparently so.

These seven global companies, along with ten others spanning the agricultural value chain (including BASF, Bunge Limited, General Mills, Metro AG, Nestlé, PepsiCo, SABMiller, Syngenta, Unilever, and Yara International) are at the center of a new strategy presented at the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland on January 28th. Announced by Rajiv Shah, Director of U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the strategy is called “Realizing a New Vision for Agriculture: A roadmap for stakeholders” and aims to increase food production in an environmentally sustainable way while spurring economic growth. Each decade, the initiative aims to: (1) increase agricultural production by 20% to eliminate hunger and undernourishment; (2) reduce greenhouse gas emissions per tonne of production by 20%; and (3) decrease rural poverty by 20%.

Why is a “new vision for agriculture” needed?First and foremost, even in our world of plenty, nearly a billion people remain undernourished, 98% of who live in developing countries.The world’s population continues to grow at a rate of about 200,000 people per day, putting greater pressure on food production systems. At the same time, the intensity of food consumption is growing in emerging markets such as China; as people’s incomes rise, so does their demand for meat and dairy products, foods which are much more land and energy-intensive to produce.Another challenge arises as urban populations grow. We passed the point at which just as many people live in urban areas as do rural areas in 2007. This trend of urbanization will likely continue, requiring additional resources for packaging, shipping, storing, and distributing food to urban populations.

More food is needed, but it must be produced in environmentally sustainable ways if we expect the earth to continue to support us. The 2005 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment revealed the horrifying extent to which humans have degraded the natural environment through our efforts to secure food, water and fuel (most of this damage has occurred over the past 50 years). One of the most alarming repercussions of human activity on the environment is global climate change, which will have dire consequences for health – including food security – in the coming years. Agriculture both contributes to and is threatened by environmental degradation and climate change. Additionally, the current agricultural system is heavily reliant on oil, and considering that oil is believed to have reached global peak production, the food system must undergo a massive transition if it is to function in a world of energy scarcity. Read More >

New analysis claims Monsanto skewed GM corn findings, but is hype clouding the real story?

Monsanto conducted studies to evaluate the toxicity of genetically modified (GM) corn on rats as part of European regulatory registry of GM food and feed, prior to commercialization. To our knowledge, only a summary of the findings were made available to the public (for examples see European Food Safety Authority reports NK603, MON863). Greenpeace sued Monsanto to access the original study data, which it then passed along to French investigator Dr. Joël Spiroux de Vendômois, who published a reanalysis of the Monsanto study.


Flickr Creative Commons

Unlike what was concluded in the Monsanto study, Vendomois’ group’s reanalysis found consumption of GM corn to be associated with rat kidney and liver toxicity. The strains of GM corn evaluated in the study (NK 603, MON 810 and MON 863) contained residues of chemicals that allow the plants to tolerate herbicides or insecticides, such as Round-up.

Online sources were quick to cite the GM corn article as evidence of the ills of GM crops. At the time of this writing, social bookmarking sites Reddit and Digg had a combined total of 4,341 tags/votes for a single Huffington Post article about GM corn study.

It is useful that the Huffington Post is raising awareness of GM foods debate; what is concerning is that the media coverage of the study appears to muddle the study conclusions.

Dr. Vendômois and colleagues are quick to say their findings are merely “signs of toxicity rather than proofs of toxicity”; no mention of organ failure in rats is made in the article. This is in contrast with the Huffington Post story that uses organ failure in the title, Monsanto’s GMO Corn Linked To Organ Failure, Study Reveals, and the follow-up story, Monsanto GM Corn Causing Organ Failure In Rats Study: Everything You Need To Know, which further exaggerated study findings to imply a causal link between GM corn consumption and organ failure. Link and causation are distinct concepts and are not interchangeable. Overextending the study’s findings is unwarranted, especially given the study authors’ reservation regarding the quality (and quantity) of the Monsanto data. A similar opinion was expressed from another online source. Read More >

Is the UK Abandoning the Precautionary Principle on Genetically Modified (GM) Crops?

The latest posting by FoodforeThought summarizes recent debate in the United Kingdom about the role of genetically modified (GM) crops in planning for future food security. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) report, Food 2030 was released at the Oxford Farming Conference. The comments below by William Surman captured the mood of sustainable agriculture supporters, a group critical of industrial agriculture in the U.K. who held a concurrent meeting called the Oxford Real Farming Conference:

“The government is ‘dangerously deluded’ if it believes genetically modified crops will solve the world’s food security issues,” members of the breakaway Oxford Real Farming Conference warned. Professor John Beddington, the Government’s chief scientist, told the Prime Minister on Wednesday, January 8, that genetic technology would help deliver ‘a new and greener food revolution’ for Britain.

But Colin Tudge, a science writer and organiser of the rival farm conference, which took place alongside the Oxford Farming Conference, said farmers did not need ‘novel and untried’ technology. Instead he said the Government must ‘free farmers from the shackles of economic dogma’. Read More >

The GM Stranglehold

Monsanto brand corn used all over the world; courtesy of Flickr

Monsanto brand corn used all over the world; courtesy of Flickr

In recent weeks some 280 South African corn farmers went to harvest their corn and discovered that although the exterior of the plants looked lush the interior was bare. An article by the Digital Journal reports that millions of dollars were lost to farmers when their three varieties of Monsanto brand corn seeds failed to produce. Monsanto’s “on the record” statement that 75,000 hectares, or 25 percent of the total planted hectares were damaged while other sources choose to emphasize an 80 percent reduction in crop yield for some farmers. Many activists are taking this opportunity to criticize genetically modified (GM) seeds and food in efforts to ban their use in South Africa. Monsanto insists that there was no error in the production technology, rather in the fertilization process and has offered to compensate affected farmers in this instance.

My criticism is focused not at the broad category that is GM but at the single company that has come to control the world’s agricultural production and transitively the fates of many countries. The problem is that Monsanto is a monopoly in global GM seed production and sales. When their seeds prove as unreliable as they have been, the world’s (or at least the countries that depend on Monsanto products, primarily India, Brazil and South Africa) ability to feed itself and all the economic and political complications that follow famine are at the mercy of one company. And that is what it comes down to, Monsanto is a company and its goal is ultimately profit, not the welfare of the people who rely on them. Read More >

Hollywood Takes On Big Food in New Hard-Hitting Documentary


“We put faith in our government to protect us, and we’re not being protected at the most basic level,” strong words from a mother whose two-and-a-half-year-old son died just days after eating a hamburger tainted with E. coli O157:H7. Barbara Kowalcyk’s personal fight to ensure that the food we feed our children will not endanger their health or their lives, was just one of the many powerful stories told in the soon to be released documentary Food Inc. The hard-hitting film takes a critical look at the industrial food production system and the many risks it poses on society from public health threats and environmental degradation to social injustice.

Read More >