Happy the man, whose wish and care A few paternal acres bound, Content to breathe his native air, In his own ground. Whose herds with milk, whose fields with bread, Whose flocks supply him with attire, Whose trees in summer yield him shade, In winter fire. Blest, who can unconcernedly find Hours, days, and years slide soft away, In health of body, peace of mind, Quiet by day, Sound sleep by night; study and ease, Together mixed; sweet recreation; And innocence, which most does please, With meditation. Thus let me live, unseen, unknown; Thus unlamented let me die; Steal from the world, and not a stone Tell where I lie.
Taking inspiration from the dozens of faux Q&As sent to me throughout the year by the PR departments of the corporate food world, I thought I would produce my own Q&A about corporate food’s most recent contribution - the AquaBounty AquAdvantage salmon.
Q: AquaBounty calls the AquAdvantage an “advanced hybrid” fish and the company’s president Ronald Stotish said recently on CNN that there is not “any material difference between the AquaBounty salmon and an Atlantic salmon.” Is this fish an Atlantic salmon? And is it a hybrid or a genetically modified animal?
A: The AquAdvantage salmon is an Atlantic salmon with a Chinook salmon growth gene inserted into its DNA. In addition, a regulator protein from a fish called an ocean pout has been added to the Chinook growth gene turning the gene permanently in the “on” position. It is a genetically modified animal.
Q: Does it grow very fast?
A: Yes, very fast. Twice as fast as an unmodified salmon.
Q: Isn’t that a little uncomfortable for the fish?
A: Probably. In fact, experiments with artificially accelerating growth in terrestrial animals have been known to cause crippling skeletal deformations. Fish, however, float, and can endure some of the negative effects of precocious growth. But in the end we do not know how much these fish will suffer.
Q: But is the AquAdvantage salmon safe to eat?
A: According to the Center for Food Safety, AquaBounty has tested a total of 12 fish for allergens and other potential human health risks. AquaBounty claims they have tested 30 fish. If the number really is 12, most statisticians say this is too small a sample size to be statistically valid. Whatever the number of fish, the individuals tested were not grown in Panama, the location where AquaBounty plans to produce their fish. This, the Center for Food Safety asserts, is a violation of testing standards set forth by the United States Food and Drug Administration.
Q: Wait, the AquAdvantage salmon is being grown in Panama?
A: Sort of. Actually the eggs will be created in Canada and then shipped to Panama where they will be grown out to mature size in a facility in the Panamanian mountains. After they are full size they will be slaughtered and the meat will be sent to U.S. supermarkets, where they will be packaged under many familiar brand names and sold as “Atlantic salmon.”
Q: But they’ll be labeled as genetically modified salmon so I know what I’m eating, right?
A: No. They will be labeled as “Atlantic salmon.”
Q: But why are they being grown in Panama?
A: Two reasons. First, the warm waters of Panama might ensure that if these fish escape they won’t survive to maturity. The other reason seems to be that if they are grown outside of the United States, AquaBounty will not have to complete a full Environmental Impact Statement as required by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Q: What about the food miles required to ship those eggs and salmon all over the place?
A: AquaBounty may offset some of those costs because the AquAdvantage salmon requires 10 percent less feed than an unmodified salmon.
Q: Only 10 percent less? I thought that the whole point of the AquAdvantage™ salmon was that it was twice as efficient as an unmodified salmon, and would require half as much wild fish used as feed to bring to market.
A: No. The AquAdvantage salmon grows twice as fast. But according to AquaBounty’s own optimistic predictions, it is not much more feed-efficient than an unmodified salmon. Greenpeace asserts that the AquAdvantage salmon may actually require more feed than an unmodified salmon. Greenpeace also asserts that the AquAdvantage salmon may necessitate the use of more antibiotics than an unmodified salmon since the fish may suffer compromised health as a result of artificially accelerated growth.
Q: But then who benefits from this faster growth rate?
A: AquaBounty. Twice as much salmon every year means twice as much money per dollar spent.
Q: But won’t having more salmon on the market take pressure off endangered stocks of wild salmon?
A: There are still many wild salmon left in the world. The state of Alaska produces hundreds of millions of pounds of salmon every year in closely regulated fisheries. The biggest threat to salmon right now is not overfishing but rather habitat destruction. The “Pebble” copper and gold mine project being proposed for Bristol Bay, Alaska, for example, could wipe out the most productive sockeye salmon grounds in the world—an annual run of 40 million fish. More information on the Pebble Mine project can be found here.
Q: Still, AquaBounty says that it will grow its fish in closed containment facilities and that this will be better for the environment: no escapes, no disease transfer, right?
A: Closed containment facilities are indeed a good thing. Keeping salmon farms out of wild salmon migration routes is a positive step. But the Arctic char, a close relative of the Atlantic salmon, is already being grown nearly exclusively in closed containment facilities and requires no genetic modification. It’s good-tasting and performs all the culinary roles that farmed salmon perform. Furthermore a closed-containment-grown coho salmon that is not genetically modified is now in production and has been given a “best choice” rating by the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch.
Q: All the media I’ve seen gives the impression that it is inevitable that the AquAdvantage salmon will be approved by the FDA and that we will see modified salmon on the market very soon. Is the AquAdvantage salmon “inevitable”?
A: No. The AquAdvantage salmon is far from approved. In September, the FDA’s panel asked for further research and gave no final approval date for the fish. Thirty-eight representatives and senators requested that FDA halt the approval process. In addition, lawsuits could follow should the FDA approve the fish for human consumption. The soonest we could see the AquAdvantage salmon on the market would be 2012, but given the company’s volatile stock price, which fell by nearly 30 percent off its high following the FDA hearings, it is difficult to predict whether the company will have sufficient resources to survive the waiting period.
Q: Which organizations are opposing the FDA approval of the AquAdvantage salmon?
A: Food and Water Watch and The Center for Food Safety are particularly active.
Q: Would you eat the AquAdvantage salmon?
A: I would not. In fact, more than 60 percent of readers of the conservative Wall Street Journal would not either, according to a recent online poll. A survey I conducted for the public radio station WHYY during an online webchat indicated that 0 percent would eat the AquAdvantage salmon. But why not tell GOOD what you think?
Do you eat farmed salmon?
Would you eat the AquAdvantage™ salmon?
Should the AquAdvantage be labeled “genetically modified”?
Would you continue to eat farmed salmon if you knew that some farmed salmon might be genetically modified but was not labeled as such?
Paul Greenberg is the author of book Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food
* Upholds Lower Court’s Rulings Requiring New USDA Approval Decision And Rigorous Review of the Crop’s Impacts
* Litigation Over USDA’s Interim Approval of Planting Continues
Today the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a summary order concluding a long-standing lawsuit over the impacts of genetically engineered (GE) “Roundup Ready” sugar beets. As a result, previous court rulings in favor of farmers and conservation advocates will remain, including the order requiring the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to prepare a rigorous review of the impacts of GE sugar beets, engineered to be resistant to Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, before deciding whether to again allow their future commercial use.
Center for Food Safety (CFS) attorney George Kimbrell: “Today’s order cements a critical legal benchmark in the battle for meaningful oversight of biotech crops and food. Because of this case, there will be public disclosure and debate on the harmful impacts of these pesticide-promoting crops, as well as legal protections for farmers threatened by contamination.”
CFS, Organic Seed Alliance, High Mowing Organic Seeds, and the Sierra Club, represented by CFS and Earthjustice, challenged the USDA approval in 2008. They argued that GE sugar beets would contaminate organic and non-GE farmers of related crops, such as table beets and chard, as well as increase pesticide impacts on the environment and worsen the current Roundup-resistant “superweeds” epidemic in U.S. agriculture. In September 2009, Judge Jeffrey S. White in the federal district court in San Francisco agreed, and ordered USDA to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) assessing these and other impacts, as required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). In August 2010, after a year of vigorous litigation over the proper remedy for USDA’s unlawful approval, the court again agreed with plaintiffs, threw out the USDA’s approval, and halting planting.
Monsanto and other biotech industry intervenors appealed on procedural grounds which, if granted, threatened to undo the earlier rulings. Today’s order dismissed that appeal and affirmed the lower court’s rulings.
Earthjustice attorney Paul Achitoff: “Dismissal of the appeal confirms that the district court rightly concluded that in this case, as in every other case that has challenged USDA’s oversight of genetically engineered crops, the agency has flouted the law, favoring the interests of Monsanto over those of American people. With every court decision the need for fundamental reform in this area becomes ever more obvious.”
Remarkably, the EIS is only the second USDA has undertaken for any GE crop in over 15 years of approving such crops for human consumption. Both analyses were court-ordered. USDA said it expects to finish the GE sugar beets EIS and have a new decision on commercialization in 2012.
Despite the absence of lawful review or a new agency decision, in summer 2010, USDA and the biotech industry demanded the court allow planting to continue unabated. The district court refused to do so and instead set aside USDA’s approval of the crop based on the agency’s failure to comply with environmental laws. That precedential ruling was also preserved by today’s order.
During this case’s appeal, USDA approved 2011-2012 planting of GE sugar beets under the terms of a novel permitting and “partial deregulation” scheme while it conducted the court-ordered analysis. That decision is the subject of separate litigation that is ongoing in the District of Columbia.
Monsanto created “Roundup Ready” crops to withstand its Roundup herbicide (with the active ingredient glyphosate). Growing previous Roundup Ready crops such as soy, cotton, and corn has led to greater use of herbicides. It has also led to the spread of herbicide resistant weeds on millions of acres throughout the United States and other countries where such crops are grown, as well as contamination of conventional and organic crops, which has been costly to U.S. farmers.
New research from Canada has found a Bt toxin produced by GM insect resistant crops in the blood of women and clear evidence that it was passed to foetuses. 
Pesticides used on GM herbicide tolerant (HT) crops were also detected.
GM Freeze is calling for an immediate halt to GM Bt crop cultivation and imports of Bt GM food and feed until the findings are properly evaluated and further study confirms product safety. 
The same Bt toxin as detected by the researchers is present in Mon810 maize, which has EU cultivation approval but is currently banned in France, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Luxemburg and Greece.
Regulators advise that no GM protein survives intact in the intestinal tract to enter the blood stream , so the detection of intact Cry1Ab toxin in human blood is of great significance.
The new study was carried out by a team at Sherbrooke University Hospital in Quebec and has been accepted for publication in the peer reviewed journal Reproductive Toxicology. The team took blood samples from 30 pregnant women prior to delivery, 30 samples from umbilical cords immediately after birth and samples from 39 non-pregnant women who were undergoing treatment. All the women were of a similar age and body mass index, and none worked with pesticides or lived with anyone who did.
The results show that the toxic Bt protein Cry1Ab was present in blood serum from all three sources (93% of pregnant women, 80% in umbilical blood and 67% of non-pregnant women). The researchers suggest that the most probable source of the toxin is GM food consumed as part of a normal diet in Canada, where GM presence in food is unlabelled. The Canadian scientists have not speculated on any health effects from the presence of Cry1Ab protein as this was beyond the scope of their study.
The findings add to concerns about the toxicity and potential allergenicty of Bt proteins expressed by many scientists. 
In a statement issued in July 2007 the European Food Safety Authority stated:
“A large number of experimental studies with livestock have shown that recombinant DNA fragments or proteins derived from GM plants have not been detected in tissues, fluids or edible products of farm animals such as broilers, cattle, pigs or quails.”
This was subsequently adopted as the official advice of the UK’s Food Standards Agency in “Transfer of GM material from feed” .
Pete Riley of GM Freeze said:
“This research is a major surprise as it shows that the Bt proteins have survived the human digestive system and passed into the blood supply – something that regulators said could not happen.
“The study throws into serious doubt the validity of the risk assessment carried out on Bt crops, which always assumed it would be destroyed in the gut. Here there is also evidence that it has been passed on to foetuses.
“Regulators need to urgently reassess their opinions, and the EU should use the safeguard clauses in the regulations to prevent any further GM Bt crops being cultivated or imported for animal feed or food until the potential health implications have been fully evaluated.
“GM techniques repeatedly produce unexpected outcomes. This is yet another adding to the worry that its presence in the food chain is based on partial information and false assumptions.”
Twenty-four types of GM maize and cotton containing Bt GM traits have been granted approval for importing into the EU and one can be grown (Mon810 maize). 
The researchers also looked for, and found, two herbicides used on GM herbicide tolerant crops in blood samples. Glyphosate is used on Monsanto Roundup Ready (RR) crops and Glufosinate on Bayer’s Liberty Link (LL) crops. Both were found in the non-pregnant women, as was glufosinate’s metabolite 3-MMPA. The researchers did not speculate about potential health impacts, as this was beyond the scope of their study, although concerns about the safety of both weed killers have been repeatedly raised by other scientists since their use on GM crops has increased their use.  Scientists are particularly concerned that the studies done to demonstrate the “safety” of glyphosate were not long enough to ensure there are not long-term or cumulative health impacts of long-term exposure in food.
Use of glyphosate in South America and the US has escalated dramatically since GM crops were approved in the mid 1990s, despite the assurances from the GM industry that the intention of the crops is to reduce pesticide use. As a result of the increased use of, and dependence on, a single herbicide, weeds resistant to glyphosate have developed .
Safety concerns about both products have been growing since the introduction of GM herbicide tolerant crops, including links to Parkinson’s disease and cancer in the case of glyphosate.  Residues of these herbicides in food are infrequently monitored, and the maximum permitted residue level for crops directly sprayed with glyphosate, such at GM HT crops, were raised over 200 tines in the 1990s.
Pete Riley said:
“These weed killers are used directly on the growing crops close to harvest, so there is no surprise that they can pass along the food chain and into people. The long-term health implications of prolonged exposure to such residues need to be properly investigated and there is very strong case for suspending their use right now.”
Calls to Pete Riley 07903 341 065.
 Aziz A. and Leblanc S., 2010, Reproductive Toxicology, accepted 13 February 2011 Currently available online or from GM Freeze.
 See GM Freeze media briefing www.gmfreeze.org/uploads/GM_blood_study_summary_FINAL.pdf.
 Seralini G-E., Mesnage R. Clair E., Greese S., Spiroux de Vendômois J.ann Cellier D., 2010. Environmental Sciences Europe 2011, 23:10, see www.enveurope.com/content/23/1/10.
 See GMO Compass http://www.gmo-compass.org/eng/gmo/db/.
 For instance see Benachour N and Séralini G-E, 2009. Glyphosate Formulations Induce Apoptosis and Necrosis in Human Umbilical, Embryonic, and Placental Cells, Chemical Research in Toxicology Vol22 No1 pp 97-105 available from
 See www.gmfreeze.org/uploads/resistance_full_Briefing_final.pdf
2. GM food toxins found in the blood of 93% of unborn babies
GM firms claimed toxins were destroyed in the gut
By Sean Poulter
20th May 2011
Toxins implanted into GM food crops to kill pests are reaching the bloodstreams of women and unborn babies, alarming research has revealed.
A landmark study found 93 per cent of blood samples taken from pregnant women and 80 per cent from umbilical cords tested positive for traces of the chemicals.
Millions of acres in North and South America are planted with GM corn containing the toxins, which is fed in vast quantities to farm livestock around the world – including Britain.
However, it is now clear the toxins designed to kill crop pests are reaching humans and babies in the womb – apparently through food.
It is not known what, if any, harm this causes but there is speculation it could lead to allergies, miscarriage, abnormalities or even cancer.
To date the industry has always argued that if these toxins were eaten by animals or humans they would be destroyed in the gut and pass out of the body, thus causing no harm.
Food safety authorities in Britain and Europe have accepted these assurances on the basis that GM crops are effectively no different to those produced using conventional methods.
But the latest study appears to blow a hole in these claims and has triggered calls for a ban on imports and a total overhaul of the safety regime for GM crops and food.
Most of the global research which has been used to demonstrate the safety of GM crops has been funded by the industry itself.
The new study was carried out by independent doctors at the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, at the University of Sherbrooke Hospital Centre in Quebec, Canada.
They took blood samples from 30 pregnant women and 39 other women who were not having a baby.
They were looking for residues of the pesticides associated with the cultivation of GM food.
These include so-called Bt toxins, which are implanted using GM techniques into corn and some other crops.
Traces of Bt toxin were found in the blood of 93 per cent of the pregnant mothers – 28 out of 30. It was also found in 80 per cent of the umbilical cords – 24 out of 30.
In the non-pregnant group, traces were found in the blood of 69 per cent – 27 out of 39. It is thought the toxin is getting into the human body as a result of eating meat, milk and eggs from farm livestock fed GM corn.
The Canadian team told the scientific journal Reproductive Toxicology: ‘This is the first study to highlight the presence of pesticides associated with genetically modified foods in maternal, foetal and non-pregnant women’s blood.’
They said the Bt toxin was ‘clearly detectable and appears to cross the placenta to the foetus’.
Calling for action, the team said: ‘Given the potential toxicity of these environmental pollutants and the fragility of the foetus, more studies are needed.’
The director of GM Freeze, an umbrella group for community, consumer and environmental organisations opposed to GM farming, described the research as ‘very significant’.
Pete Riley said: ‘This research is a major surprise as it shows that the Bt proteins have survived the human digestive system and passed into the blood supply – something that regulators said could not happen.
‘Regulators need to urgently reassess their opinions, and the EU should use the safeguard clauses in the regulations to prevent any further GM Bt crops being cultivated or imported for animal feed or food until the potential health implications have been fully evaluated.’
The Agriculture Biotechnology Council, which speaks for the GM industry, questioned the reliability and value of the research.
Its chairman, Dr Julian Little, said: ‘The study is based on analysis that has been used in previous feeding studies and has been found to be unreliable.’
He said the toxins found are also used in other farming systems and gardening ‘with no harm to human health’.
Dr Little said: ‘Biotech crops are rigorously tested for safety prior to their use and over two trillion meals made with GM ingredients have been safely consumed around the world over the past 15 years without a single substantiated health issue.’
3. Toxic pesticides from GM food crops found in unborn babies
Toxic pesticides which are implanted into genetically modified food crops have lodged in the blood of pregnant women and their unborn babies, research shows.
By Andy Bloxham
20 May 2011
Scientists at the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, at the University of Sherbrooke Hospital Centre in Quebec, took dozens of samples from women.
Traces of the toxin were found 93 per cent of the pregnant mothers and in 80 per cent of the umbilical cords.
The research suggested the chemicals were entering the body through eating meat, milk and eggs from farm livestock which have been fed GM corn.
The findings appear to contradict the GM industry’s long-standing claim that any potentially harmful chemicals added to crops would pass safely through the body.
To date, most of the global research which has been used to demonstrate the safety of GM crops has been funded by the industry itself.
It is not known what, if any, harm the chemicals might cause but there has been speculation it could lead to allergies, miscarriage, abnormalities or even cancer.
One of the researchers told the scientific journal Reproductive Toxicology: “This is the first study to highlight the presence of pesticides associated with genetically modified foods in maternal, foetal and nonpregnant women’s blood.”
Pete Riley, the director of GM Freeze, a group opposed to GM farming, described the research as “very significant”.
The Agriculture Biotechnology Council, which speaks for the GM industry, has questioned the reliability and value of the research.
Dr Julian Little, its chairman, said: “Biotech crops are rigorously tested for safety prior to their use and over two trillion meals made with GM ingredients have been safely consumed around the world over the past 15 years without a single substantiated health issue.”
By the close of its 39th session, the United Nations’ Codex Alimentarius Commission was poised to adopt Labeling Guidelines for GMO foods that will provide some protection from the World Trade Organization for national-scale GMO-labeling programs around the world. The Non-GMO Project sponsored activist Phil Bereano’s participation in this session, and in so doing helped to ensure that the voices of the Activist and NGO communities would be heard, in an industry-dominated debate.
Find below Dr. Bereano’s report on the outcome of the session, with links to the relevant Codex Alimentarius documents:
NON-GMO PROJECT REPORTBACK
Codex Committee on Food Labeling
39th Session, Quebec, Canada
Labeling of GE Foods
The Codex Alimentarius Commission is a somewhat obscure UN agency (joint between the World Health Organization and the Food and Agricultural Organization) which sets international norms for food safety and the food trade. It operates through a number of issue-area committees.
After nearly two decades of contentious debate, the Codex Committee on Food Labeling has finally adopted a Guideline on labeling of GE foods. Although the text is not as strong as many countries and NGOs would have liked, the adopted language does provide guidance to countries which have requested it. Since the WTO decided in 1995 that it would follow Codex rules in international trade disputes, this text would also appear to provide protection against a WTO challenge to a national labeling scheme that is consistent with it.
Officially, the text must be adopted by the Codex Commission at its July meeting in Geneva before it is final; this is generally expected to occur, but not guaranteed. As with all Codex texts, this guideline is voluntary; no country is obligated to adopt it.
The Non-GMO Project supported my attendance at this meeting, enabling me to continue the work I have been doing at Codex for over a decade.
The 19th session of the Codex Alimentarius Commission (1991) originated work on this topic “to provide guidance on how the fact that a food was derived from modern biotechnology could be made known to the consumer.” Although this seems like a very straightforward idea, and although many countries were already on the way to requiring some sort of labeling, there was tremendous resistance to such work, primarily by the USA. (It will, perhaps, not be a surprise to know that the US has historically exercised an outsized influence over the operations of the Codex.) The Codex Committee on Food Labeling (CCFL) began work on the topic in 1993. In 1996, the Executive Committee of the CAC disappointingly noted that “the claimed right to know was ill defined and variable and in this respect could not be used by Codex as the primary basis of decision making on appropriate labeling.”
For almost two decades this issue has been debated, moving forward and suffering setbacks. In recent years, a workshop in Oslo compiled a listing of various labeling actually being followed by different countries at that time (2007); subsequently, a Background Paper was prepared by Nigeria/Canada/US enumerating Codex texts that are relevant to the issue; and a Working Group met in Accra, Ghana (2008) to try to move along a text. In addition to the yearly CCFL meetings, the Chair (Paul Mayers of Canada) conducted a two-day facilitated Work Session in Brussels last November (where I was one of only 2 NGO delegates, other than the industry people) which isolated the issues and made the various concerns explicit; it agreed on a rudimentary text based on reference to existing Codex documents, to be decided upon at this meeting (under a Commission deadline to complete the work this spring). The report of that meeting is at ftp.fao.org/codex/ccfl39/fl39_13e.pdf
As you can see in Appendix 3 of the above report, three options were sent forward for CCFL’s consideration—differing only in how they would present the relevant existing Codex texts—by name, by reproduction of the relevant sections only, or by reproduction of the full documents. (Many developing countries wanted the whole texts because of problems they experience trying to access materials on-line.) These portions of the document would provide the “guidance” function; it is the language of the “Purpose” section and of the “Considerations” which could provide WTO protection.
Given these materials—strenuously fought over (and Mayers was a skillful chair, both in Brussels and here in Quebec, not even favoring the Canadian position on various matters)—we were not going to get an outcome that a green NGO activist would have authored. The US was successful in avoiding any clear new rule (eg, that nations had the right to require GE labeling), insisting that existing texts were sufficient (hence the listing). But sufficient for what? Sufficient to allow labeling, which is what would provide WTO protection. But the wording is not robust.
The final text was an amended version of Option 1, with the Codex references in hyperlinks to make it easy for country officials to access. (And I argued that transparency required it as well, since the Codex site is not the easiest to navigate, as some of you undoubtedly know.) Some comments by me are below the text.
Here’s what was adopted:
Proposed Draft Compilation of Codex texts relevant to labeling of foods derived from modern biotechnology
The purpose of this document is only to recall and assemble in a single document some important elements of guidance from Codex texts, which are relevant to labelling of foods derived from modern biotechnology.
Different approaches regarding labelling of foods derived from modern biotechnology are used. Any approach implemented by Codex members should be consistent with already adopted Codex provisions. This document is not intended to suggest or imply that foods derived from modern biotechnology are necessarily different from other foods simply due to their method of production.
3. Compilation of Relevant Codex Texts
3.1 The Codex General Standard for the Labelling of Prepackaged Foods, (Codex Stan 1-1985); and particularly, Sections 3.1, 3.2, 4.1.1, 4.1.2, 4.2.2, 7.1
3.2 The Codex General Guidelines on Claims (CAC/GL 1-1979); and particularly, Sections 1.2, 1.3, Section 2 – Definition of Claim, 3.3, 3.5, 4.1, 5.1(iii), 5.1(iv), 5.1(v), 5.1(vi)
3.3 The Codex Guidelines for Use of Nutrition and Health Claims (CAC/GL 23-1997); Introduction and particularly, Sections 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1.4 and 1.5
3.4 The Codex Guidelines for the Production, Processing, Labelling and Marketing of Organically Produced Foods (CAC/GL 32-1999); and particularly Section 1.5
3.5 General Guidelines on the Use of the term Hallal (CAC/GL 24-1997)
3.6 Working Principles for Risk Analysis for Food Safety for Application by Governments (CAC/GL 62-2007)
3.7 Principles for Risk Analysis of Foods Derived from Modern Biotechnology (CAC/GL 44-2003); and particularly, Paragraph 19.
3.8 Guidelines for the Conduct of Food Safety Assessments of Foods Derived from Recombinant-DNA plants (CAC/GL 45-2003)
3.9 Guidelines for the Conduct of Food Safety Assessments of Foods Derived from Recombinant-DNA microorganisms (CAC/GL 46-2003)
3.10 Guideline for the Conduct of Food Safety Assessment of Foods derived from Recombinant- DNA Animals (CAC/GL 68-2008)
The Purpose section—the inclusion of the word “guidance” makes a direct connection back to the mandate from the Commission: “to provide guidance on how the fact that a food was derived from modern biotechnology could be made known to the consumer.” In other words, it can be read that Codex is promoting GE labeling. Thus, if there were a WTO challenge, the defending nation can argue that the Codex has authorized/ accepted/normalized the labeling of GE foods as such.
The “Considerations -
(a) The first sentence said, in the draft, that the parties “acknowledged” the various approaches to GE labeling. The US repeatedly objected to this language, saying that it is not the business of Codex to validate whatever any nation does or doesn’t do. Of course, “acknowledge” does not mean “endorse,” as I and others pointed out. This seems like a rear-guard ideological position by the US, and since the sense of the sentence is not really changed by the elimination, countries finally seemed to just let the US get its way;
(b) Different approaches are noted; thus, there is no labeling scheme that is OK and none that is interdicted.
(c) “consistent with Codex provisions” - this is fairly standard sort of language, and in my view perhaps the most important provision referenced is, using the words of Consumers International:
The Principles for the Risk Analysis of Foods Derived from Modern Biotechnology (CAC/GL 44-2003) clearly state that labeling can be used as a risk management option to deal with scientific uncertainties associated with the risk assessment of GE/GM foods: “18. Risk managers should take into account the uncertainties in the risk assessment and implement appropriate measures to manage these uncertainties. 19. Risk management measures may include, as appropriate, food labeling, conditions for market approval and post-market monitoring” (pars 18, 19 in CAC/GL 44-2003). [emphasis supplied]
(d) “not intended to suggest” - another sentence that was an obsession of the US. It is fine that this document doesn’t make a distinction between engineered and non-engineered foods, since many of the Codex texts referenced already do, especially those that came out of the seven years of work of the Task Force on Biotech Foods held in Japan (and included in the listing above). This is, after all, a document about labeling, not biology, so there was no need to re-argue whether GE foods posed risks; our position is that we won that debate when Codex set up the special Task Force, and confirmed the win when it adopted the special texts for GE.
(a) The Secretariat will publish (based on funding availability) a hard copy of this text and the full texts of all the referenced Codex documents. The possibility that subsequent text changes would affect the usability of such a booklet were addressed only generally (maybe it will be a loose-leaf format).
(b) Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica, and Mexico consistently supported the US.
49th Parallel Biotechnology Consortium
Most of us will be familiar with the Hindu and Buddhist concept of Karma as a factor in our personal lives. In nature, as a general rule, we can experience Karma, as a direct reaction by, for example, animals – as a response to our behaviour and attitude towardsthem.
Action and reaction. Cause and effect. It is my contention that this concept is also operative in the plant world, as a response to our treatment of them.
If we accept the basic law of Isaac Newton about action and reaction, then surely our dealings with the plant world have their consequences.
I believe therefore that the existence of ‘weeds’ is nothing but a reaction by nature as a consequence of our maltreatment of nature in general and of plants in particular. Only when we accept this and so take responsibility for our behaviour will we be able to do something about this unpleasant phenomenon.
It was while studying for my science degree and while doing some much-needed weeding, that I came to the realisation that weeds can in fact serve a purpose; this realisation came about while reflecting on the teaching of Jesus to “Love your enemy”, for initially I saw these weeds as enemies. When I saw them in a different, more encompassing light, I realised that these plants, usually seen as a nuisance, were in fact just as much plants like all other plants. Though they are usually not seen as actual crop-plants, producing a marketable commodity, I realised that these plants (‘weeds’) did actually produce something that most soils, often depleted, sorely lacked, namely: fibre. Weeds are prodigious producers of fibre.
This fibre can be made to serve as nutrition for soil-microbes which enrich the soil, hence the ancient practice of fallowing – nowadays hardly, if at all, practiced in high-tech agriculture.
The curse of weeds can be turned to good use and profit when we let these plants do the job that they do so well, namely, producing fibre. As in many other instances in nature, medicine or life in general, the condition, in this case the occurrence of weeds, gives a clue as to how to go about correcting it. The fibre that weeds produce forms part of the cure to the problem of depleted soils, which often only and spontaneously give rise to weeds.
Most folk-legends and also the old testament relate the story that “Once upon a time” mankind lived in Paradise. Somehow this became spoilt and weeds (and thorns) arose.
In order to bring about change, we need to emulate aboriginal traditions of respect for the land and so respect for weeds, rather than trying to wipe them off the face of the earth – because such a battle can simply not be won.
It is remarkable that many of those who accept the theory of evolution do not accept weeds as part of that same evolution. The 21st century challenge is to find a rightful place for these plants, in harmonious and dynamic management of the land.
Ancient aboriginal, Buddhist, Hindu and Christian philosophy give a good guideline as to how to approach this troublesome aspect of Nature.
With respect to the practical aspects of dealing with these plants please refer to the very effective work of Australian farmer Peter Andrews as described in his book : “Back From The Brink – How Australia’s landscape can be saved” ( Sydney, ABC Books, 2006).
by Nick Huggins
Final colour master plan
Experience? Well yes, but that’s something that you can learn along the way. You don’t need to be the World’s best Graphic artist or AutoCAD genius, but you do need to be creative, have an eye for landscape patterning and a PDC in hand.
I just finished my first Permaculture design commission and I was hoping to share some of the process with you. Within the 11 years of experience with my own landscape design firm, I rarely put pen to paper with design. I found success even while employing experienced people to draw plans and document. My job then, like now, is main-frame design. I leave the finer points to specialists.
Your job as a designer is to know the process. You have the contacts in place to co-ordinate, instruct, manage, and even educate, if the professionals you engage are not permaculture systems trained.
What’s the process?
The process is the series of events that you will need to successfully master over time and refine to suit each client. Don’t think just because you’re now in the realm of the Permaculture world, full of ethics and good will, that people’s attitude towards paying money for your services will change, or the value they place on your time. I spend a lot of time speaking with my clients on the phone before I even think of getting out of my office chair to go and see them! (Mind you that office chair looks over the Pacific Ocean, and that’s hard enough to leave!)
Google map with topo map overlay for property.
The reason I question my potential clients so much is to look at some basics: 1) What’s their vision? 2) How do they plan to implement a permaculture design once the design is completed? 3) What do they think it’s going to take to achieve their vision? You can go and spend thousands of your clients dollars on reports, colour plans, graphs, and yet a client may still look at your work and won’t be able to find north on the map.
In my experience, it is easy for clients to have grand visions of what it means to live a sustainable lifestyle. Many have romantic ideas about growing their own food, reusing their waste and building compost without considering that yes(!) it is a lot of work: it’s going to take maintenance! I often refer my clients back to question three from above. “What do they think it’s going to take to achieve their vision?” “Oh that’s easy, we’ll just plant some veggies in the corner and use the water from the water tank”. Stop!!! At the moment a client says “Oh that’s easy” that’s a warning bell that the clients you’re dealing with don’t understand the undertaking or commitment of what they are dealing with…. and your backside has not event left the seat yet.
The vision they expressed to you was one of abundance. They saw food growing from every corner of their property, water harvesting systems, and miles of food forest and animal systems. Yet, a realistic and practical maintenance schedule wasn’t a part of their vision. Home renovation and landscape gardening TV shows that flood our screens sell the easy 30min crash course of how to construct a garden. From that, so many feel capable and experienced enough to chuck in a garden. The television’s easy sell often misses the accounting related to the cost of design, cost of project management, labour and the amount of people behind the scenes coordinating the process. So often their vision doesn’t match the reality of implementation. As a designer, it’s your job to look at the process and find the best process to suit the client’s needs and, most of all, the client’s time & budget.
It is encouraging that we’ve seen a popular trend in going “green” or “sustainable” these days. Yet, whatever the trend may be, you’re going to get calls from people that have the money to do great things and have all the good intentions but very little of the design skills needed to make a practical system work. If they don’t understand how permaculture systems work and how to use them, it is your job to look at the process with them. There is an education element in that process that will allow you spend time with your client. You can show them how their plan will evolve and come together, realistically. I find it helpful to remember the small steps. Humans are very funny creatures. You don’t want to scare clients away with over-the-top architect plans or overly complicated specifications. These will be the parts of the design process that you will need to break down for your clients and incorporate into your plans: reports that you will receive from the consultants you engage.
Once you’ve worked with your clients to articulate a comprehensive vision, how do your clients plan to implement a permaculture design once the design is completed? Well, if they say to you “we plan to tender it out, get it installed by professionals and have a gardener look after it”. That’s fine and that will happen, but the questions you have to ask your self are: Are you cut out for the massive commitment to do the planning to a standard from where a contractor can pick up the plans and give the client a price to construct based on your plans? Could you set out a bill of quantities? Can you draw scale technical plans?
Your client may express “We want to install it ourselves!” O.K.! But even if they install it themselves, do you know the construction process to document for your client to follow? Will you need to do site visits during the design process? How do you move forward as a designer here? So this is where you need set out what your skill level is; how you could service this client without biting off more than you could chew. Are you capable of setting up a process by where you consult to your new clients, get the vision, and engage your technical professionals? Do you know how to find professionals that have the skills to put full landscape architect designed plans together with your permaculture main frame experience (water, access, structures)? Can you engage a horticulturalist, engineer, drafts person, etc?
These are very important questions we as permaculture designers need to ask before we leave the chair and get our minds around the design process. That’s just the first phone call! A good use of a website in this process can show your potential clients how you work and what services and processes you follow to get them a result. I have found that putting prices for types of design work, like consultation, looking at sizes of properties (urban – suburban – small farms – broad acre) and giving clients prices on deliverables within each design size works well.
Google map overlay with proposed design systems placed as a concept
I have included some concept pictures of plans throughout the process on this first commission. I used Google maps to place a contour map overlay over the Google image to give me very rough idea of how the farm looks and where I can start looking at the big three (water, access, and structures). It is wise to never fully trust a contour map unless you have had a surveyor on site with a highly detailed topographical plan. Being on the ground with a laser level for a day will save you in the long run. Whether a small urban garden or a 500 acre farm, walking the site step-by-step, meter-by-meter, is the only way to do it.
I use a very simple program – Microsoft Paint. I know of others out there using Google SketchUp and other programs that allow more flexibility. You can see where I mark, using different colours, elements that would be used as the base of the concept. I then print out the Google map on A2 size paper. I then use tracing paper to draw in property lines, and contour lines. I mark the swales, dams, farm tracks, roads, swale crossings, and then structures. While on the property the whole day is spent with a measuring wheel in hand looking at revegetation areas and pasture cropping. You might say, “Why don’t you just use a scale plan to mark them out?” You don’t know the farm until you walk them and take notes on what each area is and what it requires. I then, again on the tracing paper, colour it with different markers to show swale trees, bamboo, gabion, fences, rock outcrops for non workable land, etc…. Then once I have enough detail (and you will only know this once you hand it to your AutoCAD genius or in my case a graphic artist, if they can look at it and make sense of it then you job is done), then you end up with what I have shown in the site plan Master Plan.
I like a graphic artist’s finish. It looks more natural in its application and more detailed. On a scale of 1-10, 1 being very basic and 10 being very detailed, this master plan would be about a six. If my approach interests you, I’m setting up (Landscape) Permaculture Designing Courses next year in Victoria, NSW & QLD.
These courses will spend time looking at the steps of consultation, designing, drawing, pricing your time and quoting while also focusing on business management and how to get yourself started. The details are listed below.
The Aim of the Program:
I’m committed to training creative, confident and professionally superior permaculture designers. On completion of your course you will be entitled to design within the permaculture field, fully competent to undertake the following tasks:
- Creating sustainable, functional permaculture designs. (Permaculture design is a system of assembling conceptual, material, and strategic components in a pattern which functions to benefit life in all its forms. It seeks to provide a sustainable and secure place for living things on this earth. Functional design sets out to achieve specific ends, and prime directives. Every component of a design should function in many ways. Every essential function should be supported by many components.)
- Designing concepts and plans for urban, rural and aid projects with water, access, structures.
- Producing concept plans, planting plans, and site maintenance schedules.
- Preparation of concept drawings for land re-contouring and retaining.
- Preparation of construction and working drawings for hard landscaping items (not requiring specialist engineering and when permitted by law).
- Managing the contractor bidding and the installation of the design on behalf of the client.
- Running a professional permaculture design business.
What you will learn?
The Permaculture (Landscape) Design covers every aspect of garden and landscape design as well as other topics concerned with the setting up and running of a professional permaculture design and consulting business. You will learn things a professional permaculture designer needs to know.
- Project Assessment: You will learn how to talk with the Client about their concerns, assess the potential of the site, ascertain the client’s needs, suggest the best course of action, and give a written quotation for design work.
- Site Survey: You will learn to measure a site, including surveying ground levels, and use this data to draw an
accurate and useful survey (base) plan.
- Concept Plan: Showing a ‘bird’s eye’ view of the proposed design, this drawing is the starting point in the development of a new garden. You will learn to create exciting and functional designs and present them to your clients as attractive concept plans.
- Planting Plan: You will learn to design the planting scheme to complement the new design. Preparing detailed
planting plans and schedules are covered for your climate.
- Hard Landscape Construction: You will learn about hard landscape construction and materials. This will enable you to design viable permaculture hardscapes and structures to enhance your designs.
- Ground Contouring Design: You will learn to recognize a site’s greater potential through re-contouring, and how to produce concept plans detailing the new ground levels, swales, dams and house pad levels.
- Running a professional design and consulting business: You will learn all the aspects of running your own business in a professional manner. This includes dealing with Clients, effective communication, getting new business, industry protocols, working to a Client’s budget, bidding and tendering, and writing technical specifications.
How long does it take?
Intro Design (intense 24 hour) courses run over a Fri – Sat – Sun weekend will cover all the areas and give you a basic idea of design to get your business started. There will be one teacher plus two teacher aids per course. This gives the course a very personal touch and attention to detail.
Full Design courses (96 hours) will cover the process in depth and home work set during the week. The course is run over 1 month, 3 days a week. Fri, Sat, Sun for 12 days. There will be one teacher plus two teacher aids per course. This gives the course a very personal touch and attention to detail.
- Intro Course 24hr 3x 8-hour days = $295 per student, limited to 30 students.
- Full Design Course. 96hr, 12x 8-hour days = $1250.00 per student limited to 10 students.
This is a brief outline of the main topics included in the program. The course material informative with many pictures and diagrams used to illustrate concepts. You will be taught and encouraged to think and solve problems.
- 24, information-packed study modules covering all aspects of professional Permaculture design.
- 3 relevant, hands-on assignments reflecting the actual work done by Permaculture designers.
- Several useful portfolios to aid you in developing your designs.
- 3 full, real-life permaculture design projects (no installation is required for any projects).
- several small urban design projects (no installation is required).
- continual assessment and feedback to keep you informed of your progress.
The Study Modules
- Course overview; Equipment and Materials; Drawing to Scale.
- Classification and Naming of plants; Plant physiology; Soil in the landscape.
- Introduction to the different types of landscape drawings; learning to draw.
- The design process; analyzing a site; discovering the client’s needs; introduction to site surveying; writing a design proposals.
- Site surveying – theory and practical.
- The drawing sheet and title block; lettering and titling; the concept plan.
- The zoning and functional placement of areas.
- Major permaculture design project #1.
- Design principles and design development.
- Solving site problems; function and safety.
- Surveying ground levels – theory and practical.
- Drawing elevations, cross-sections and working drawings.
- Major permaculture design project #2.
- Planting design; color theory, shape and texture.
- Designing; how to choose the right plants; the planting plan.
- Water, natural pools and ponds, swales & dams.
- Hard landscaping materials; site contouring and leveling.
- Retaining walls; paving and other horizontal surfacing.
- Introduction to timber construction; steps and ramps; walls; fences and screens.
- Decorative structures; using trees, shrubs, hedges, vines.
- Major permaculture design project #3.
- Natural habitat; maintenance of design; eco-friendly design.
- Small urban gardens; functional planting; irrigation, estimating installation costs for budgetary purposes.
- Business procedures; documents and contracts; the client-designer-contractor relationship; specification writing; the bidding process; project facilitation; costing your design services; getting started; promoting your business: final design project – an exploration of design creativity.
Expressions of interest for this course in your area can be directed to Nick Huggins at hugginsn (at) bigpond.net.au
IDEP’s Companion Planting Guide
Click here for full PDF
Sometimes you end up wishing you had a resource at hand to make it easier to apply Permaculture principles. This was the case for myself when it came time to start thinking about beneficial groupings of plants and those groupings that do not go well together.
This is what I often find lacking with the current publications on offer from PRI and from those in the community. There is a lot of good knowledge locked up that could benefit so many of us in applying permaculture principles.
A simple A3 or A4 information sheet or booklet of a small number of pages is easy to mentally digest and take in and very handy to have as a reference, either printed out and hung up on the wall or on the computer when we sit down and start thinking about designing our gardens or food systems.
That is why I was so happy to learn about the IDEP Foundation, a non-profit non-government organisation in Indonesia. IDEP maintains a host of produced small documents on permaculture from free training guides and tools to teach the very basic of permaculture principles to students to information on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO), gardening, composting, waste management, health and nutrition, seed saving, seed propagating, and community based disaster management. Best of all, they offer their materials free of charge to the wider community in English and Indonesian languages.
I would like to call out special attention to the A3 poster on companion planting. This chart is just fantastic. It communicates so much, so easily and is a tool of great benefit to many.
More important we should make more of these brochures even more expanded in coverage by adding listing items for E (edible) N (nitrogen fixing) and G (green manure). We can break these down by climate zones so that anyone who needs help getting started can find the lists of plant resources to get them started on the right footing in their move to a more sustainable and permanent way of living.
Wooden debris will decompose faster,
(and be transformed into a resource)
when hugelkultur techniques are
Used for centuries in Eastern Europe and Germany, hugelkultur (in German hugelkultur translates roughly as “mound culture”) is a gardening and farming technique whereby woody debris (fallen branches and/or logs) are used as a resource.
Often employed in permaculture systems, hugelkultur allows gardeners and farmers to mimic the nutrient cycling found in a natural woodland to realize several benefits. Woody debris (and other detritus) that falls to the forest floor can readily become sponge like, soaking up rainfall and releasing it slowly into the surrounding soil, thus making this moisture available to nearby plants.
Hugelkultur garden beds (and hugelkultur ditches and swales) using the same principle to:
- Help retain moisture on site
- Build soil fertility
- Improve drainage
- Use woody debris that is unsuitable for other use
Applicable on a variety of sites, hugelkultur is particularly well suited for areas that present a challenge to gardeners. Urban lots with compacted soils, areas with poor drainage, limited moisture, etc., can be significantly improved using a hugelkultur technique, as hugelkultur beds are, essentially, large, layered compost piles covered with a growing medium into which a garden is planted.
Creating a hugelkultur garden bed is a relatively simple process:
1. Select an area with approximately these dimensions: 6 feet by 3 feet
2. Gather materials for the project:
- Fallen logs, branches, twigs, fallen leaves (the “under utilized” biomass from the site). Avoid using cedar, walnut or other tree species deemed allelopathic.
- Nitrogen rich material (manure or kitchen waste work well and will help to maintain a proper carbon to nitrogen ratio in the decomposing mass within the hugelkulter bed).
- Top soil (enough to cover the other layers of the bed with a depth of 1 – 2”) and some mulching material (straw works well).
3. Lay the logs (the largest of the biomass debris) down as the first layer of the hugelkulter bed. Next, add a layer of branches, then a layer of small sticks and twigs. Hugelkultur beds work best when they are roughly 3 feet high (though this method is forgiving, and there is no fixed rule as to the size of the bed. That is where the “art” comes in!)
4. Water these layers well
5. Begin filling in spaces between the logs, twigs and branches with leaf litter and manure of kitchen scraps.
6. Finally, top off the bed with 1 – 2” of top soil and a layer of mulch.
The hugelkulter bed will benefit from “curing” a bit, so it is best to prepare the bed several months prior to planting time (prepare the bed in the fall for a spring planting, for example, in temperate northern climates), but hugelkultur beds can be planted immediately. Plant seeds or transplants into the hugelkulter bed as you would any other garden bed. Happy hugelkulturing!
Peak Oil, loss of diversity, species extinction, conspiracy, oil spills, food insecurity…. The problems that we face seem to increase both in size and complexity every day. However we can simplify all of these global issues and emphasize three primary concerns. In order of increasing priority, the three biggest issues are:
- Soil destruction and erosion
Old growth forest we visited in Tasmania
Biology is remarkable in its ability to break down and lock up pollutants. Mushrooms have been shown to be effective in breaking down hydrocarbons and even nuclear waste. However, without soil and without forests, we are unable to support the biology required to deal with pollution.
We continue deforestation at record rates, which further emphasizes soil loss. In addition, removal of our forests is removing the planet’s most important energy transducer and climate stabilizer. Without forests we will not have a stable climate.
Last year the world lost 83 billion tons of topsoil. Healthy topsoil is the most biodiverse ecosystem we know of. Without it, life could not be sustained on this planet.
I like this simplification because many of the other issues are second generation issues to these primary factors. What this exposes is that, unfortunately, recycling, biofuels, CO2 sequestration, wind turbines and solar panels aren’t going to cut it unless we deal with soil loss. In the end it really all comes back down to healthy soil.
The good news is that teachers, designers and grass-roots activists around the world are spreading the word that all our problems: pollution, deforestation and soil loss, can be solved in a garden. This is such an empowering message as we can forget about being paralyzed by fear and focusing energy into negative issues we have no control over (i.e. peak oil, climate change, etc) and we realize that each and everyone of us has the opportunity to profoundly shift the course of humanity with the simple act of stewarding soil.
And now that I’ve laid out what the problems are, why do these problems persist? Why do we drive big trucks that only use 1% of the energy consumed to transport passengers? Why do we design our cities to concentrate and dispose of water? Why are we drawing down fresh water aquifers to irrigate crops that won’t grow with the annual rainwater budget? Why are the average North American house size and energy demands continuing to climb? And my personal favorite – why do we defecate into drinking water then wipe with toilet paper made from old growth forests?
The answer is sentiment. I’m making a generalization here, and I’m referring the the sentiment held in common in overdeveloped countries. We believe that “it’s better that way”, “there’s no other way”, or “we like it that way”, but there is no fundamental reason or underlying logical explanation. In fact, many of the design decisions make no sense whatsoever. Sentiment leads to poor design and we pay the price in extra energy usage and pollution.
Here’s the interesting thing. Sentiment is dissolved with a common ethic. In permaculture, our common ethic is: Care of Earth, Care of People and Return of Surplus. Our decisions are not based on frivolous beliefs, but based on practical and natural constraints, ultimately allowing us to live in harmony with the ecology. And this is how we create permanent cultures.
And so, tackling cultural sentiment is the most important thing we can do and would have the largest positive impact on the above mentioned problems.
- Currently, approximately 30-40% of the energy consumed by society is invested into the delivery of potable water and the removal of sewage. Pumping fluids is extremely energy intensive. If cities adopted rain water catchment, grey water, composting toilets and landscape water harvesting we could stop this monumental misallocation of finite energy resources.
- If consumers started demanding that architects, engineers and city planners face homes to the sun, rather than to the direction of the best view, we could eliminate 30% of a households heating energy. Add in super insulation and efficient design and we further reduce heating and electrical needs by up to 90%.
- It has been estimated that 10 units of hydrocarbon energy are used to produced 1 unit of food energy (i.e. calorie). This problem could largely be alleviated if we converted the most energy wasteful icon on the planet (the lawn) into food production.
I’m not saying it is going to be easy, but we must dissolve sentiment so that we can install composting toilets, catch rainwater, use smart home design, and start growing food in our yards.
And we must tackle this first, before going out to seek “solutions” to energy supply or pollution, such as biofuels or using CO2 sequestration. The reason; technological solutions driven by sentimentality will never work because they perpetuate a broken system, whereas technological solutions driven by design and ethics yield appropriate technology and leads us in a sustainable direction.
I know that changing the sentiment of a culture seems nearly impossible, insurmountable, unbelievable. However, as a permaculture educator, I have found that this is not the case. When students are exposed to the facts, and empowered through simple design concepts and strategies, the move past sentiment is almost instantaneous. This is the power of the Permaculture Design Course. We know that it is so effective that we have made teaching permaculture our life mission! Get the word out, educate, inform, teach more teachers and as my good friend and mentor Jesse Lemieux says, “we need practicality not sentimentality.”
As educators, we bring together engineering, renewable energy and low energy buildings but emphasize the importance of biological systems, soil health, nutrient cycling, food production, urban and rural land regeneration and ecological design strategies. Students will leave this course empowered, active and be positive agents of change. For more info, please visit the courses page on the website.
Gull Lake Permaculture Design Course Graduates, August 2009
Monsanto is the epitome of everything that is wrong with modern agriculture. What worries me the most is that whilst we can reduce and reverse a lot of the damage from things like GHG’s, pesticides, fertilizers, deforestation – the threats from GMO’s may well be irreversible and worse than we can even imagine.
There will be no penalty severe enough for the crimes they are committing against humanity and nature.
Is Monsanto poisoning babies? You could be forgiven for thinking so given this month’s report from the University of Sherbrooke, Canada.
Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) is a naturally occurring soil bacteria. These bacteria produce proteins which are inherently insecticidal. Because of this, ‘brilliant’ reductionist scientists eager to justify their employment — by creating new, patentable products in their employer’s biotech labs — thought it’d be a great idea to introduce them into the genes of various plant species, like corn, cotton and potatoes, and in doing so effectively making every cell of the plant toxic to insects.
Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) is a naturally occurring soil bacteria. These bacteria produce proteins which are inherently insecticidal. Because of this, ‘brilliant’ reductionist scientists eager to justify their employment — by creating new, patentable products in their employer’s biotech labs — thought it’d be a great idea to introduce them into the genes of various plant species, like corn, cotton and potatoes, and in doing so effectively making every cell of the plant toxic to insects.
Now, eating a plant whose cells contain toxic proteins is an alarming thought, as is eating an animal that has spent its life doing likewise. (Understanding the bio magnification phenomenon for the latter scenario is important here.) But, given the incredibly complicated task of pinpointing the potential collateral damage of this, Big Biotech has effectively been in the same position that Big Tobacco was in previous decades — able to defend themselves with the “there’s no conclusive link” argument that sidelines the precautionary principle to embrace the cost-externalising rationalisation that’s typical of the corporate world.
In recent years, however, more and more reports are finding increasingly conclusive evidence that human initiated genetic interventions in the plant kingdom are not without consequence.
Here is yet another report (PDF), summarised in the following article:
Till now, scientists and multinational corporations promoting GM crops have maintained that Bt toxin poses no danger to human health as the protein breaks down in the human gut. But the presence of this toxin in human blood shows that this does not happen.
Scientists from the University of Sherbrooke, Canada, have detected the insecticidal protein, Cry1Ab, circulating in the blood of pregnant as well as non-pregnant women.
They have also detected the toxin in fetal blood, implying it could pass on to the next generation. The research paper has been peer-reviewed and accepted for publication in the journal Reproductive Toxicology. The study covered 30 pregnant women and 39 women who had come for tubectomy at the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire de Sherbrooke (CHUS) in Quebec.
None of them had worked or lived with a spouse working in contact with pesticides.
They were all consuming typical Canadian diet that included GM foods such as soybeans, corn and potatoes. Blood samples were taken before delivery for pregnant women and at tubal ligation for non-pregnant women. Umbilical cord blood sampling was done after birth.
Cry1Ab toxin was detected in 93 per cent and 80 per cent of maternal and fetal blood samples, respectively and in 69 per cent of tested blood samples from non-pregnant women. Earlier studies had found trace amounts of the Cry1Ab toxin in gastrointestinal contents of livestock fed on GM corn. This gave rise to fears that the toxins may not be effectively eliminated in humans and there may be a high risk of exposure through consumption of contaminated meat. — India Today
The argument from Monsanto has always been that Bt bacteria is broken down and rendered harmless in the human gut. Not so, it appears.
The thought of insecticides running around in my veins, and even in that of my unborn child, is disconcerting to say the least.
When I tell people I prefer not to travel in the U.S. and Canada, they always ask me why. My answer is always unexpected… that I prefer not to travel in countries where most of the food is riddled with genetically modified organisms. For those who have no option — those who must live in these countries — I can only encourage you to take a stand and fight for your right to eat natural, risk-free foodstuffs. Some of you will just recommend ignoring the corporations and to grow your own instead, but, whilst that’s a definite advantage and highly recommended, it will not ensure you’re eating GM-free produce either.
…and here is the paper:
Conclusions, page 5:
On the other hand, Cry1Ab toxin was detected in 93% and 80%
of maternal and fetal blood samples, respectively and in 69% of
tested blood samples from nonpregnant women. There are no other
studies for comparison with our results. However, trace amounts
of the Cry1Ab toxin were detected in the gastrointestinal contents
of livestock fed on GM corn , raising concerns about this
toxin in insect-resistant GM crops; (1) that these toxins may not be
effectively eliminated in humans and (2) there may be a high risk
of exposure through consumption of contaminated meat.
Getting information out is the important thing to do right now and I am glad that it is of great benefit to you.
How the IEA was silenced about the future of global oil production.
The US Government Dirty Tricks Department certainly has a lot to answer for, not only to its own people but to the world at large.
I see that the world crude oil prices are down today as a result of yesterdays posted US news of increased stock levels. Are they either deliberately stockpiling or more likely manipulating the truth to affect the short term outcome? Have a look at how the graph of US stock levels has gone up in the last three weeks, on this link posted yesterday by the EIA (The US version of the IEA): http://www.eia.doe.gov/oog/info/twip/twip.asp Can they be trusted after what has been revealed by Lionel Badal about their earlier dastardly subterfuge on energy.
by Lionel Badal
12 years ago, the International Energy Agency (IEA) discovered that Peak Oil would threaten the prosperity and stability of our societies. Yes, they knew it. While some IEA officials tried to inform the world about this game-changing event, it appears that others had different priorities.
In 1998, the IEA team working on the influential World Energy Outlook (WEO) made a detailed and authoritative assessment about the future of oil production. The team was composed of the world’s finest energy experts, amongst whom Jean-Marie Bourdaire, coordinator of the study, Ken Wigley, Keith Miller and the man who would later become Chief-Economist of the IEA, Dr. Fatih Birol.
By using confidential databases and sophisticated expertise, they reached a dramatic conclusion: Peak Oil, the moment when global oil production starts its irreversible decline, would happen well before 2020, around 2014.
Although the IEA publicly claims to be free of any external meddling, the team was under intense pressure and scrutiny. As recalled by the veteran geologist Dr. Colin Campbell, who advised the IEA on the 1998 WEO, at one point, Bourdaire had to stop calling him from his IEA office as the issue apparently became “so sensitive” that he couldn’t be seen in contact with him.
Formed in the aftermaths of the 1973 oil shock by wealthy countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the IEA, a self-proclaimed “global oil watchdog” (1), and its flagship report, the WEO, are considered to be the most authoritative source of information in the energy sector. To put it in the words of the Agency:
Governments and industry around the world have come to rely on the WEO to provide a consistent basis on which they can formulate policies and design business plans. (2)
Nevertheless, in 1998, the most influential member of the Agency, the USA, didn’t like at all what was coming from their study. A structural problem with oil as identified by the IEA team would undeniably question the sustainability of the current economic model. During the study, the IEA team realised the extent to which economic growth was correlated to the availability of abundant and cheap energy. Hence, once oil production would stop to grow and tensions appear, economic growth would become far more difficult to sustain, if not impossible. The IEA team was effectively walking on eggshells.
In order to soften the striking message, the IEA added that a “balancing item” called “Unidentified Unconventional Oil” would suddenly appear and rise from nothing in 2010 to 19.1 mb/d in 2020 (conveniently about enough to cancel the shortages). The only problem was that unconventional oil resources were well known. This “balancing item” was in reality a code for: shortages. The “balancing item” never existed and never will. A former member of the IEA team in charge of this WEO confirmed that to me. Interestingly too, the Energy Information Administration (EIA), the statistical branch of the US Department of Energy (DOE), will use a similar subterfuge in 2009, when it will talk of “unidentified projects” filling the gap of declining production. (3)
Fortunately, the story did not end there. Campbell had been in contact with a British environmental expert, Dr. David Fleming, who was by chance a regular contributor to the magazine Prospect. As such, when the 1998 WEO (4) was published, Campbell who was fully aware of the message it contained, explained this to Fleming. On the 20th of April 1999 , Fleming wrote a prophetic article entitled, “The next oil shock?” (5). The article effectively said what the IEA team could not write in its report:
“The latest issue of the International Energy Agency’s annual publication, World Energy Outlook, is a case in point. It has a story to tell which will profoundly affect the future of every man and woman on earth… The prospect of a one-way oil price shock early in the next decade changes the present economic and political agenda profoundly. Assumptions of sustained economic growth and low unemployment will be blown out of the water… So why is the IEA not shouting about this? As the most influential policy body in the oil business, it is in a delicate position. It cannot just blurt it out. It cannot say: ‘We are looking at a big, permanent oil deficit, for which we can offer no solutions’… The IEA has revealed the situation in coded form.”
From its Paris HQ, the IEA had raised a powerful, and yet unwelcomed alarm. A backlash was about to fall on the authors of the 1998 WEO.
Part II – The shadow of the US
As revealed by Dr. Colin Campbell, when the article was published, “the IEA evidently got into serious trouble” (6). So what happened behind the walls of the Agency?
First of all, high-ranking elements of the US Administration got mad when they heard what a couple of European civil servants had done with the 1998 WEO. Coded message or not, what was coming out of the Paris-based agency was unacceptable for them. The kind of structural crisis pointed out in the 1998 WEO was to be buried and quickly.
Besides, it is important to know that the 1998 WEO went out only a couple of months after the 1998 International Energy Outlook (IEO) published this time by the US Energy Information Administration (EIA). Unlike the IEA, the EIA never bothered making oil production scenarios; its studies have always consisted in modelling the demand, and then supposing that production would follow. Rather simple, but utterly unreliable. Putting that aside, in the 1998 IEO, the EIA reached cheerful conclusions and even declared that:
Oil prices are expected to remain relatively low, and resources are not expected to constrain substantial increases in oil demand through 2020… In 2020, world oil consumption is projected to exceed 115 million barrels per day. (7)
That of course, turned out to be pure fantasy, but the EIA added:
There is now widespread agreement that resources are not a key constraint in satisfying increases in world oil demand to 2020.
Well, to the great displeasure of the EIA, a few months later the IEA would say and demonstrate the complete opposite. One can imagine how pleased the EIA and its host department, the DOE must have been. A 2006 article on oil production forecasts and methodologies from Dr. Roger Bentley (University of Reading) and Professor Godfrey Boyle (Open University) similarly talked of “political pressure of the USA and Canada ” (8) after the publication of the 1998 WEO.
Motivated by what can only be described as incompetence and arrogance, elements of the US Administration then put extensive pressure on the IEA leadership. What did they want? The coordinator of the 1998 WEO, Bourdaire, would have to leave the Agency. Meanwhile, Wigley retired and Miller also left the IEA. The IEA team who wrote the 1998 WEO was knocked down and its only “survivor”, Dr. Fatih Birol, who was now in control of the WEO, would learn a lot from these events.
Indeed, the 2000 WEO which he designed and managed suppressed any warning about a structural problem with oil:
The (2000) Outlook views the world oil-resource base as adequate to meet demand over the projection period… One need expect no global ‘supply crunch’.
The supply crunch did happen. Despite rising demand, higher prices and massive investments, between 2005 and 2008, and for the first time in history, conventional oil production ceased to grow (9). As expected by the 1998 IEA team, these tensions led to a severe oil price shock which weakened the foundations of an already fragile globalized economy (10).
But how did the Agency manage to explain its spectacular turnaround in the 2000 WEO?
By a lucky coincidence, in 2000, the United States Geological Survey (USGS), published an extremely optimistic “World Petroleum Assessment” which would be used by the IEA from 2000 to 2006. According to the former IEA official I met, “the USGS announced gigantic reserves which were based on a completely rubbish methodology”. In fact, soon after its publication, Jean Laherrère, the former Deputy-Exploration Manager of Total and a renowned petroleum consultant, made a detailed analysis of the USGS assessment and concluded that:
The foregoing discussion demonstrates that the new USGS study has failed to respect the evidence of past discovery both in terms of amounts and rates… In short, the new USGS report is misleading. It is also unrepresentative of the normal standards of this highly respected organization. (11)
Laherrère added, “One is left to wonder if there is not a hidden agenda” (12) behind the USGS numbers. Ten years later, we now know that the real figures were 60% lower than what the USGS then forecasted (13).
Importantly, the anticorruption NGO, Global Witness (GW), identified another disturbing fact with the IEA’s use of the 2000 USGS assessment. In 2005, senior geologists of the USGS published an update of the 2000 assessment in which they warned that real discoveries were far lower than what their original study expected. But as discovered by GW, the Agency ignored this update even though it was published before the 2005 WEO. GW will also reveal that, “correspondence with the IEA confirmed the Agency was aware of a low actual discovery rate” but did nothing. GW added:
Given that one of the key functions of the IEA is to provide governments with accurate information from which they can make economic plans, their misrepresentation of data in this way was intellectually dishonest… The Agency’s over-confidence, despite credible data, external analysis and underlying fundamentals all strongly suggesting a more precautionary approach, has had a disastrous global impact. (14)
Bentley and Boyle were also able to identify “serious technical errors” in the 2000 WEO. (15)
Although the IEA told its member states in 2004 that oil prices were “assumed to remain flat until 2010, and then to begin to climb steadily to $29 in 2030” (16), in the real world, prices started to rise dramatically. As oil prices reached record levels year after year, the scenarios made by the Agency became increasingly absurd and difficult to defend. As critics (17) started to question the reliability of IEA’s outlooks, the position of the Chief-Economist became critical.
As such, it was finally decided that the IEA would publish in its 2008 WEO a detailed field-by-field analysis of global oil production prospects. In December 2008, Birol admitted that previous WEOs were based on nothing more than a “global assumption” (18), which, unsurprisingly, turned out to be far too optimistic and thus misleading. In fact, a decade after the 1998 IEA team, the 2008 IEA global assessment reached a similarly bleak conclusion (19). And once again, it appears that elements of the US Administration (20) intervened in order to massage the pessimistic assessment made by the IEA.
The following quotes provide interesting insights into the US Administration’s awkward relationship towards Peak Oil:
There is, I think, ample evidence, and some people in DOE have gone so far as to say it specifically, that people in the hierarchy of DOE, under both administrations, understood that there was a problem and suppressed work in the area… The peak oil story is definitely a bad news story. There’s just no way to sugar-coat it… (21) — Dr. Robert Hirsch, lead author of a Peak Oil report (22) for the National Energy Technology Laboratory (DOE)
(Steven Chu, US Secretary of Energy) was my boss… He knows all about peak oil, but he can’t talk about it. If the government announced that peak oil was threatening our economy, Wall Street would crash. He just can’t say anything about it. (23) — David Fridley, Energy Scientist, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (DOE)
Part III – What they don’t want you to know
In previous parts, we looked at how the IEA was silenced when it raised a subtle alarm about the future of global oil production. A crucial question remains, why does it matter? How could this event be so important?
Well, as the most authoritative source of information, the IEA misled European governments and businesses by declaring until 2008 that oil prices would remain low. They didn’t. By doing so, the Agency managed to make renewable energies look uncompetitive compared to oil. As mentioned by the Swiss MP and member of the Swiss Parliamentary Energy Commission, Dr. Rudolf Rechsteiner, the IEA has effectively been “delaying the change to a renewable world” (24). Remarkably, the so-called “global oil watchdog” acted more and more like a zealous oil industry lobby (25).
Nevertheless, the IEA would pay a heavy price for this when the concurrent International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) was launched in January 2009. The reason why?
Hans Jorgen Koch, the Danish deputy secretary in the ministry of energy and climate change, said that IRENA had only been formed because the IEA was not doing enough to address climate change and support renewables. “For ten years the IEA has underestimated the competitiveness of renewable energy sources” he said (26)
Now the key question: was the IEA simply incompetent or was it deliberately misleading its European member states? A 2004 article from the BBC provides an element of answer:
In public, Mr Birol denied that supply would not be able to meet rising demand, especially from the buoyant economies in the USA , China and India . But after his speech he seemed to change his tune… When BBC News Online followed up by asking if this giant increase in production was actually possible rather than simply a desire he refused to answer. “You are from the press? This is not for you. This is not for the press.” (27)
Why would the Chief-Economist of the IEA hide crucial information from the press and the public?
More worryingly, when the Guardian broke the story about the IEA whistleblower (28) in November 2009, Campbell wrote an open-letter to Terry Macalister, Energy Editor of the newspaper. He explained the events around the 1998 WEO and declared:
I explained this (the “coded message” of the 1998 WEO) to a journalist (David Fleming) who contacted the element within the IEA which was pleased that this important hidden message should get out. (29)
Having read that with great interest, I immediately wanted to know who the “element within the IEA” could be. To my surprise, Campbell told me that the “element” was Birol, who wasn’t yet the powerful Chief-Economist of the Agency. In order to verify the information, I met Fleming on the 4 th of December 2009 in London. Fleming, a highly respected environmentalist, confirmed the information.
He explained that when he published his article in 1999, he sent an email to Birol asking if he would accept to comment on the article. Birol called him and asked if he would accept to meet in a discreet manner. At the request of Birol, they secretly met at the Oxford and Cambridge Club in London and had tea. Fleming perfectly remembered that they entered a quiet room and when Birol sat, he apparently even looked over his shoulders to check that nobody could hear what he was about to say.
According to Fleming, Birol then told him, “There are six people in the world who understand it” and it seems that he was referring to people like Campbell. Fleming added that Birol made this confidence about his article, “you are right”. He reportedly said that the “unidentified unconventional oil” was effectively a code and that OPEC was unlikely to ever fill the gap. During the discussion, Birol explained that the IEA was constrained and even complained about the interference of the USA, or so remembered Fleming.
Fleming still had a pretty good opinion of Birol when we talked. During their meeting, Birol was “very perceptive” and apparently even offered his help. When I asked Fleming in which mood Birol was, and whether or not he seemed anxious or nervous, Fleming told me “not at all”. He seemed to be “witty” and “on good form”. He even remembered a joke Birol made, “this is a lovely club, but not a lively one”, good joke recalled Fleming.
My question: why has the Chief-Economist of the IEA been publicly saying since 2000 that global oil production can increase until 2030, as long as we invest, while in 1999 he reportedly, secretly, confirmed that global oil production would start to decline around 2014? Was it because he saw what happened to his former boss when the latter courageously tried to inform IEA’s member states about the seriousness of the situation?
I’ve contacted Birol’s assistant at the IEA and asked if he would comment on the meeting with Fleming; my request has yet to be answered.
A report (30) commissioned by the US Department of Energy concluded that we would need 20 years to prepare for Peak Oil otherwise we would face “unprecedented economic, social, and political costs”. 12 crucial years have just been lost, how many more will we waste before we finally start to prepare for this unprecedented event?
As I was able to say recently during my presentation on Peak Oil and the IEA at the European Commission, an independent and thorough enquiry into the actions of the Agency is urgently needed. Furthermore, the creation of a truly independent and transparent European Energy Agency needs to be considered.
Time is running out.
Lionel Badal is a postgraduate student at King’s College London (Department of Geography) and for over a year now, has been working on the issue of Peak Oil. This is how Lionel describe his work so far “As I interviewed experts from both sides of the debate, my work quickly became more of an investigation within the oil industry. On the 10th of November 2009, the Guardian published a story about an IEA whistleblower that was mostly based on my research (“Key oil figures were distorted by US pressure, says whistleblower”). On the 22nd and 23rd of February 2010, I was asked to make several presentations about the topic (“Peak Oil and the IEA”) at the German Parliament to MPs, journalists and scientists (including a political advisor of BP). The German newspaper Die Zeit wrote about it (http://www.zeit.de/wirtschaft/2010-02/peak-oil-interview-badal) and more recently, The Ecologist published an article about my research, “How a 22-year-old student uncovered peak oil fraud”
by Rob Avis
If you’ve been following permaculture, then you’ve probably been hearing about Permablitz – the transformation of lawns into productive, abundant landscapes. (For those of you in our region, here in Canada, check out this site.)
You may be thinking: why food? Why not lawns?
Obviously, the bright green, manicured lawn is a human invention — Mother Nature certainly doesn’t use a lawnmower. So where did the grass lawn come from? Why do we work so hard to keep it green?
And why, after all this time, are we giving it up to plant other stuff?
Well, here’s a little story about the trouble with lawns, how the lawn came to be, and why the Permablitz movement is outgrowing the out-moded lawn.
The History of the Lawn
The front lawn is an icon. It is a monoculture; a form that does not exist anywhere in nature. The lawn was developed in Britain in the 1800s, and became a statement of the upper class, indicating one had enough wealth to grow for beauty rather than food production. When wealthy Americans travelled to Europe in the early 1900s they saw these vast, “flawless” green areas and wanted to recreate them back home. Replicating the lawn in North America turned out to be more daunting than expected, as there were no native grasses that would fit the bill. The U.S. Golf Association then set out to find grasses in Africa and Europe that would thrive here. Shortly after they established their desired grass mix the lawnmower was invented, followed by the invention of the combustion engine. It became a social requirement to grow a monoculture instead of food on one’s property for the first time in history when the American Garden Club stepped in and stated: “it is a citizen’s civic duty to grow a green front lawn”. Fast forward to the present, and North Americans currently spend over $30 billion a year maintaining a false ‘civic duty’, while much of our food is imported from out-of-country, at our expense.
Why Lawns are so Draining…
The lawn represents one of the largest misallocations of resources on the planet. In order to maintain the ideal lawn, we fight against nature, attempting to hold a completely alien landscape in stasis through the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, and a great deal of work. Natural ecologies do not remain static. In fact, the only thing constant about an ecosystem is that it’s constantly changing. This change is known as succession, the process whereby bare landscapes become stable, thriving forests over time.
To get an idea of the resources we drain in order to maintain our lawns, consider this:
In the United States, there are over 40 million acres of land planted to lawn, a figure approaching the 53 million acres planted last year to wheat. Since mowing one acre uses nearly 4 litres of fuel, the fuel consumption for cutting grass is astronomical. To mow all of this lawn just once uses over 160,000,000 litres of fuel. This is enough fuel to drive a hummer 884,466,556 km or 22,070 times around the earth. What a complete waste of fossil energy!
It is estimated that close to 3 million tons of fossil-fuel-based fertilizer is used per year in order to keep our lawns green, and another 30 thousand tons of pesticides and herbicides are used to keep them in a monoculture state. Because these chemicals are water soluble, they end up in our rivers, lakes, streams and eventually our oceans. They end up in the water we use to irrigate farm crops, in the rivers and oceans where we catch fish, and ultimately back on our dinner plates. It is hardly surprising then, that our society’s increasing use of toxic chemicals coincides so closely with our increasing rates of disease.
Finally, it’s estimated that the lawn consumes between 30% and 60% of the North American water budget. In a world where water scarcity threatens our future, what are we doing pouring 30-60% of it on the grass just to make it greener?
What About Food?
The idea of swapping lawns for gardens becomes even more attractive when you look at our current food system.
On average, for every calorie of food we consume from the grocery store, 10 equivalent calories were used in the planting, fertilization, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, harvesting, processing, refrigeration, transport, and retail processes.
By replacing the lawn with a productive food system (like a food forest, annual vegetable garden, chicken coup or greenhouse) we immediately solve two problems:
- eliminating the energy and toxins used to maintain the lawn, and
- reducing the immense energy used to deliver food from the farms to our mouths.
That’s without even considering the community and social benefits of bringing food production back into our neighbourhoods.
Since growing a garden in our own front yard we have met and connected with our neighbours more then ever before — whether we are hanging out in the front picking strawberries and raspberries, delivering surplus produce next-door or answering questions for curious passers-by.
This makes urban food production one of the most radical things we can do as citizens to reduce our negative impact on the environment and improve our communities.
While I was writing this article, a friend of mine told me about a heated debate he’d had with someone with a master’s degree in urban food sheds. My friend was arguing that a city could supply the majority of the food needed to feed its citizens with the sheer amount of space wasted for lawns, while the master’s graduate argued that it wasn’t possible. I did the math, and this is what I found:
From above, there is a little over 40 million acres of lawn in the U.S. (per capita, Canada is on par), enough space to produce 76,160,000,000 kg of wheat, or 2.597 x 10^4 calories a year. This is enough food to feed 355 million people a 2000 calorie/day diet for one year. In short, on lawns alone, there’s enough space to grow food for the entire population of the United States. Of course, if we were using diverse permaculture systems instead of a relatively unproductive monocrop wheat system, we could produce even more efficiently.
Lastly, an intensively managed vegetable garden can yield about $1/square foot in the value of its produce and this is equivalent to $43,560/acre. A conventional farm is lucky to make $300/acre, which is 143 times less productive than intensive vegetable gardening.
Productivity through patterned design
So how do we turn our resource-draining lawns into healthy, food-producing ecosystems? Well, if left up to her own devices, Mother Nature would sooner or later reclaim your lawn on her own. And so, in permaculture design, we look to nature for inspiration — after all, she has 3.8 billion years of experience. When we bring this inspiration into our designs, we get resilience, soil creation, animal habitat, clean water, climate stabilization, economic stability, healthy communities and abundance.
Healthy ecologies do not have little garden gnomes running around spraying chemicals, pulling weeds and complaining about pests. Instead, they self-regulate. We can design our yards to do the same thing. By observing interactions in nature and facilitating them, we help create systems where different elements work together. Using examples from nature, we can design our houses and gardens back into nature’s network of self-regulating, self-regenerating systems. Just by understanding weather patterns and the physical properties of flowing water, we can effectively capture and store water for drinking, food production, and sanitation, without ever draining our vital city watershed. We can plant mutually beneficial plants that control each other’s pests, balance each other’s soil nutrients, and, of course, feed ourselves.
By transforming your lawn using permaculture design, you can eliminate the huge drainage of time, resources and energy it takes to maintain it. You can produce much of your own food for very little work, eliminating the social and environmental implications of its delivery, and save money.
What we have is a reinvention of that old phrase: the grass isn’t greener on the other side of the fence.
As the world’s bee population is becoming more and more endangered we are keen to embark on the journey of native bee keeping.
by Zaia Kendall
Australian Stingless Bee
As many of you already know, the world’s bees are in trouble. Colony collapse disorder, predator beetles and probably a range of other factors that have to do with our lack of care for the earth is slowly annihilating the world’s bee population. We have definitely noticed a decrease in bee activity in our garden this year and are extremely concerned about this problem, since a lot of our plants depend on bees to produce fruit or vegetables.
So, we were very excited to discover a native beehive in a log on our property.
Most Australian native bees are solitary. That means they do not live in a hive but live alone in small holes in logs and other small crevices. We try to encourage these into our garden by drilling small holes into timber, so they can nest. Solitary bees do not store honey.
Honey is stored in hives of social bees during the warmer times of the year so that the bees can survive in the colder times of the year. Due to the winters in Europe being long and cold, the European honey bees make a lot more honey (70 – 100kg per year per hive) than our Australian native bees (only about 1kg per year per hive). Our native bees are only found in the warmer areas of Australia. The hive we found was theTrigona Carbonaria variety (Australian Stingless bees).
Tom cut both sides of the log off so only the part with the hive in it was left. Then he screwed blocks of wood to each side to close it off, leaving their natural entrance open. We had to take the hive off the property for
about 3 weeks, and then bring it back and put it in its permanent spot in our veggie garden upon return. This was to ensure they would not try and fly back to where they used to be on our property. Tom mounted a little roof over their entrance, to keep the weather out for them (yes, they’re pampered bees…) and found a beautiful spot for them in our veggie garden, under a mandarin tree.
At left you can see our beautiful little beehive, blending in perfectly with its surroundings. The bees only get active at around 18 degrees Celsius, so we had to do a little bit of clearing in our garden to ensure they have enough winter sun.
Our hive of bees has been in this spot for a few months now. Tom is keen to split the hive in the next few months. Apparently the half without a queen create a new queen to ensure their survival. Tom has made up some boxes to make the splitting process easier in the future.
At right is one half of the new hive. The idea is to add the part we’ve split off the hive into this box and then add another box on top so the new hive can grow:
There will be a floor on the bottom and a lid for the top, possibly with some perspex in between the lid and the top of the boxes, to catch the honey. There will also be an entrance added to the box for the bees to get in and out.
Here is the future hive with the honey “super” (no lid yet). As you can see the
wood used is very thick, which will be ideal for insulating the bees, since they
are sensitive to temperature fluctuations.
We are looking forward to starting the splitting process in the next few months. Watch this space for updates on this process!!
The photo on the right shows our existing hive’s entrance. The picture was taken late in the day, when the temperature was warmer so the bees were coming and going. The bees are a lot smaller than the European honeybees. The little dark dots you see are their bodies reflecting the light.
If you would like more information on Australian Native Bees please go to the Australian Native Bees website.
NOTE: For why the RTRS, referred to in the article, perpetuates the problem rather than being part of the solution, see: http://www.toxicsoy.org
GM soy: the high cost of the quest for ‘green gold’
The Telegraph, 17 May 2011
*Scientists and villagers in rural Paraguay are questioning the health and environmental impact of GM soy. Louise Gray reports.
The green shack where Petrona Villasboa lives in Itapua is surrounded by shimmering fields. It represents a lucrative golden harvest for some but, for this grieving mother, it has become a symbol of death. The crop that dominates this impoverished area of rural southern Paraguay is genetically modified (GM) soy, and she blames it for her son’s death. “Soy destroys people’s lives,” Petrona says. “It is a poison. It is no way to live.”
Sitting outside her home, the mother of eight describes the day in January 2003 when 11-year-old Silvino Talavera arrived home. He had cycled to the stalls by the nearest main road to buy some meat and rice for a family meal.
“I was washing clothes down by the river, and he came to tell me that as he’d ridden along the community road, which runs through the soy fields, he’d been sprayed by one of the ‘mosquitoes’,” she says. (”Mosquitoes” are what locals call the pesticide or herbicide crop-spraying machines pulled by tractors.) “He smelt so bad that he took his clothes off and jumped straight in the water.”
Petrona did not think much more about it. For peasant communities living amid the soy fields, chemical spraying is a frequent occurrence. But later that day, she says the whole family fell ill after eating the food that Silvino had bought.
“Silvino was violently sick. He said, ‘Mummy, my bones ache’ and then his skin went black’,” she says.
By the time they had begged a lift to the nearest hospital. Silvino was unable to move. His stomach was pumped, but he had lost consciousness. Petrona was told her son was ”paralysed by intoxication”. All doctors could do was to offer pain relief. Within a few hours he was dead.
His family were in no doubt that his death was caused by his exposure to the crop spray, but no autopsy was carried out. It was only after years of campaigning that Petrona managed to have the case heard in court. In 2006, two farmers were each sentenced to two years in jail for manslaughter. According to Petrona, the men, who are her neighbours, have never served their sentence, and she continues to fight for justice.
Now Silvino’s story has been taken up by environmentalists concerned about the spread of GM crops in parts of the world where communities have little power to fight back when big agri-businesses arrive in town.
The latest figures from the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications show that almost 150 million hectares of land was planted with GM crops last year, 10 per cent more than in 2009. The fastest growing areas are in Brazil, Argentina and other South American countries where GM soy grows fast, needs little input and is in demand. In 2010, some 33 million tons of soy (GM and non-GM) were exported to Europe, mostly for animal feed. Britain took three million tons, but the Food Standards Agency is unable to say how much was GM.
The economies of these developing countries are receiving a boost, but groups such as Friends of the Earth (FoE) are concerned by this “soya boom”. It is not only the “Frankenfoods” fears about the long-term effects of transgenic seeds in the food chain. FoE claims that “green gold” is displacing small farmers from their land and may even be poisoning communities.
On a recent visit to Paraguay with FoE, I saw trees burning in areas of deforestation and met people who claim to have been “poisoned” by chemicals used to grow GM crops.
Over the past 12 months in Paraguay, the area planted with soy has grown to a record 2.6 million hectares, and most of it is GM. The World Land Trust estimates that more than 90 per cent of the Atlantic Rainforest in the south has been lost to make way for crops, taking with it thousands of unique bird and plant species and endangered animals, such as the jaguar.
Now agri-businesses and large-scale farmers are targeting the Gran Chaco, an area of dry forest that is just as important to wildlife. In a short flight over the vast area, there was clear evidence of deforestation, in the long lines of trees felled for burning.
The impact on communities is also cause for concern, according to FoE. Thousands of people claim to have been driven off the land that has sustained them for centuries. In the main square in the capital Asuncion, indigenous people have set up camp, and tarpaulin shacks by the sides of the road are a common sight now. FoE estimates that 100,000 people have been driven into the urban slums because of the expansion of soy production in Paraguay.
In Itakyru, in the east of the country, a forest community claims that poisons “rained from the sky”, resulting in women and children being taken to hospital.
Amnesty International has confirmed that a number of communities have complained that aerial spraying is being used to force people to leave their homes so that the land can be reclaimed for soy production. This has resulted in civil disturbance, with armed men brought in to guard crops.
Dr Miguel Lovera, head of Paraguay’s environment agency, Senave, says aerial spraying should not have been carried out in areas where indigenous people were living. He also agrees Silvino was certainly killed by ”acute intoxication with pesticides”.
A small Paraguayan 2006 study reported in the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics found women living within 1km of sprayed fields were twice as likely to give birth to a child with deformities.
Dr Lovera’s greatest concern about the GM soy boom his country is enjoying is the irresponsible use of chemicals used to protect the GM crops from weeds and infestation.
Most of the GM soy planted in Paraguay is a variant known as RoundUp Ready Resistant, which is resistant to a common weed killer, glyphosate. Farmers can use it without harming the crop, and biotech companies claim they use less because only weeds are targeted.
Dr Lovera says the amount of pesticide used in Paraguay has grown tenfold over the past 10 years to 200 million tons in 2006. This is not a problem in itself as glyphosate, if used as directed, is safe, according to manufacturers. But Dr Lovera says that the huge profits to be made from growing GM soy, local corruption and a lack of regulation is driving many farmers to buy cheaper brands, mixing chemicals with no idea of the consequences, and spraying near people’s homes.
He is leading the Paraguayan Government’s efforts to stop farmers spraying within fifty metres of people’s homes, in a strong wind or in high temperatures.
“The picnic is over,” he says. “Farmers should start being serious and professional, and comply with the law.”
British consumers have a role to play, too, according to Oskar Rivas, the Environment Minister in Paraguay’s new socialist government. GM soy might not be grown in the UK but it is part of our daily diet. A recent investigation by The Daily Telegraph found that every supermarket in Britain stocks meat and dairy from animals that could have been fed GM soy, as well as possibly being used in brands including Cadbury and Unilever.
“You have the right to demand cheap milk and meat but you also have the right to demand milk and meat from environmentally sound sources,” says Señor Rivas.
While Sr Rivas accepts it is too late to stop GM being grown in Paraguay, he insists that more non-GM could also be grown. He points to the lead taken by Parana state in Brazil, where the local government is promoting non-GM soy as a premium crop.
New initiatives, such as the Round Table on Responsible Soy, backed by the World Wildlife Fund, will encourage this sort of production by issuing a new label for soy – including GM – in a sustainable way. Some British supermarkets are already signing up. In addition, Friends of the Earth International is working with a local charity, Sobrevivencia, to teach communities environmental law and organic farming techniques.
“At the moment we are all losing out,” says Paraguayan Sr Rivas. “With a different structural process we could all win.”
EXTRACT: Monsanto’s efforts to cultivate new lines of consumer-focused produce do not involve direct manipulation of genetic code.
There’s an economic incentive at work here, as well. Monsanto said it generally takes around 10 years and $100 million to make a genetically modified seed.
Advanced cross-breeding techniques [without GM] can shorten that process to five or eight years, Stark [a vice president at Monsanto] said.
“It’s significantly cheaper and with a different regulatory requirement, and let’s face it, a different public perception,” Stark said.
NOTE: This may seem a surprising admission from a Vice President at Monsanto but this is not the first time Monsanto’s let the cat out of the bag.
Over a decade ago, after talking to key people in Monsanto, Farmers Weekly reported: “Biotechnology rather than genetic modification is the key to improving wheat varieties, says Monsanto.”
Farmers Weekly also quoted Monsanto’s global head of plant breeding as saying:
“Genetic transformation can only be used to introduce one segment of novel genetic material to a variety at a time, but biotech tools can be used to enhance a host of existing traits. It’s a numbers game and ultimately non-transformation [ie non-GM] biotech offers the greatest potential.”
But the article below tries to strike a balance by telling us:
“But it’s not a one-size-fits-all technology.
Consider Monsanto’s Vistive Gold soybeans, which received U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval in 2010 for testing in things like cooking oils that could eliminate the need for trans-fats.
The company said it tried to create the Vistive Gold seed with breeding but had to turn to genetic modification to provide farmers a seed with high yield potential.”
This is complete nonsense. These supposedly healthier low linolenic acid soya beans, which make the use of unhealthy trans fats by food manufacturers less necessary, were created entirely by non-GM means. But Monsanto then deliberately turned them into a GM crop by adding a GM trait, not for greater yield but for resistance to Roundup!
So this has nothing to do with “high yield potential” and it also, incidentally, has absolutely nothing to do with consumer benefits. It’s simply a means of the company promoting GM (off the back of the non-GM breakthrough) and selling lots of its herbicide!
Interestingly, Iowa State University conventionally bred an even lower linolenic acid soybean variety than the Monsanto one and did not add any GM traits to it:http://www.notrans.iastate.edu/
Unsurprisingly, very little has been heard about it, compared to Monsanto’s much hyped GM Vistive!!
For many more non-GM breakthroughs that put GM completely in the shade, click here.
Monsanto’s new gambit: fruits and veggies
Harvest, April 8 2011
At the store this morning, you finally ditched the old “thump test” and picked out a perfectly ripe melon based on color alone. The broccoli in your fridge will supercharge the level of antioxidants your body produces, helping repel disease. And now, you’re tearlessly chopping away at an onion while making your famous chili.
Not for long, according to Saint Louis based agri-business giant Monsanto, which is throwing its considerable weight behind developing new varieties of produce with added benefits for consumers.
“We’re definitely at the first wave,” said David Stark, a vice president at Monsanto who oversees the company’s push into the checkout aisle.
With a catalog of seeds that now spans 4,000 vegetable and fruit varieties across 20 species, Monsanto researchers and executives said the potential to replicate desired traits goes well beyond what it could do in the past. The tearless EverMild onion and SweetPeak melon that turns light orange when it’s ripe are just the opening acts.
“Monsanto is definitely putting its time and its energy behind these investments in fruits and vegetables,” Stark said. “I’ve got tons of things coming.”
So how much demand is there for superstar fruits and vegetables?
“Unlimited,” said Kathy Means, vice president for the Produce Marketing Association. “When you hit the right mark consumers will buy it.”
Between January 2010 and January 2011, fresh produce sales in the U.S. totaled $39.8 billion, up 3.5 percent from the previous 52-week period according to the Perishables Group, a Chicago-based market research firm that tracks and analyzes retail sales data of fresh foods.
Numbers that big have scientists from university labs to established biotech companies like Switzerland-based Syngenta on the lookout for new varieties of fresh produce.
But harvesting a hit in the produce section involves more than just flavor and eye-appeal; shoppers also make choices based on the science behind their food, especially when it comes to tinkering with genetic code.
“Most U.S. consumers are unaware that many of the foods they eat already are derived from genetically modified crops such as corn and soybeans,” Means said.
At the same time, customers often balk at knowingly buying genetically modified fruits and vegetables.
“The perception is someone’s been messing with my food,” Means said. “Though the (U.S.) government and others have deemed these breeding techniques safe, marketers still have to deal with these consumer perceptions.”
There’s ongoing controversy and legal battles surrounding Monsanto’s genetically modified row crops like alfalfa and sugar beets, and the European Union has been particularly reluctant to approve the sale of food that’s had its DNA altered.
“Clearly there are a lot of people who have questions about biotechnology, not just (in the U.S.) but around the world,” Stark said.
That’s partly why Monsanto’s plan for fresh fruits and vegetables differs from efforts like that of Okanagan Specialty Fruits Inc., a Canadian based company that grabbed headlines last year with a genetically modified apple that never turns brown.
Monsanto’s efforts to cultivate new lines of consumer-focused produce do not involve direct manipulation of genetic code.
There’s an economic incentive at work here, as well. Monsanto said it generally takes around 10 years and $100 million to make a genetically modified seed.
Advanced cross-breeding techniques can shorten that process to five or eight years, Stark said.
“It’s significantly cheaper and with a different regulatory requirement, and let’s face it, a different public perception,” Stark said.
But it’s not a one-size-fits-all technology.
Consider Monsanto’s Vistive Gold soybeans, which received U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval in 2010 for testing in things like cooking oils that could eliminate the need for trans-fats.
The company said it tried to create the Vistive Gold seed with breeding but had to turn to genetic modification to provide farmers a seed with high yield potential.
Though it has longstanding breeding programs for row crops like corn, Monsanto for the most part left the fruit and vegetable seed business in the mid-1990s.
The agri-business heavyweight bought its way back in during the mid-2000s when it laid down a combined $2.2 billion to purchase seed companies Seminis and De Ruiter.
To get a return on its investment Monsanto’s revenue plan extends from field to checkout aisle, and leans heavily on seed sales to farmers and royalty fees from retailers.
The challenge facing the company now is marketing new varieties like its tearless EverMild onion to shoppers and retailers alike.
“Yeah I’ve used them, they’re very good,” said Michael O’Brien, vice president of produce for Saint Louis based Schnuck Markets Inc. “The regular Spanish Onions they make you cry, and I hate to cry.”
Schnuck Markets sold the EverMild through February of this year and O’Brien advises Monsanto on what his shoppers are looking for in the produce section.
“By working with us and us working so closely with the customers and doing consumer research we can provide what the customer wants.” O’Brien said. “I think that’s the difference.”
PHILLIP CHIDAVAENZI, SENIOR FEATURES REPORTER
HARARE - May 17 2011
At the turn of the millennium, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) were touted as an answer to food shortages haunting the globe, particularly in developing countries.
But a local agricultural policy expert Roger Mpande says this has turned out to be a false start and Zimbabwe’s best bet is to stick to local knowledge systems and resources.
He says the health, environmental and social impact of GMOs cannot be underestimated.
Mpande — who spoke during a Humanitarian Information Facilitation Centre knowledge brief for journalists in Harare last week on why Zimbabwe should refuse to licence the commercialisation of GMOs — says a look at the GM products leaves a lot to be desired.
“There is no drought-tolerant variety (among the GMOs), no vitamin enhancement, no medicinal traits and no yield increases,” he says.
Mpande, who works with the Zimbabwe Organic Producers and Promoters Association (Zoppa), says only two traits — herbicide tolerance and B toxin expression — have made it onto the market while only four crops have been commercialised. These are maize, soya beans, cotton and canola.
There has been extensive debates surrounding GMO issues in relation to organic farming in the country and Africa in particular and the subject of genetic modification has been contentious owing to various reasons. So much uncertainty still surrounds GMOs which can cause unpredictable health and environmental effects.
Zoppa Trust executive director Fortunate Nyakanda says her organisation is promoting organic agriculture which she defined as “a process that uses methods respectful of the environment from the production stages through handling and processing”.
She says organic farming systems are more beneficial as their practices combine science, tradition and innovation to benefit shared environment and promote fair relationships.
“As such they are highly relevant to smallholders although also applicable to big land holdings and offer an opportunity for every farmer to earn a livelihood,” she adds.
She says this agricultural system also establishes sustainable livelihoods for farming families and their communities.
“There is also low-cost production as most inputs are locally available and generated. It gives access to new market opportunities and premium prices in most cases,” she says.
According to Mpande, commercialisation of GM products increases the cost of production.
“The costs are incurred through procurement of seed annually, supported by high input production systems when you look at fertilisers, irrigation and regulatory requirements,” Mpande says. “It also displaces local seed industry and replaces it with multinational companies such as Monstanto and Cargill while there are cumbersome export permit requirements when you look at the need for labelling and other liabilities.”
Mpande says it is important to appreciate that Zimbabwe’s environment is best suited for healthy foods and the future of the food industry does not have to depend on GMOs as compared to Europe, Asia and the US. He says Zimbabwe is not ready for this kind of technology.
Major chemical companies are said to be against organic farming as it is regarded as a threat to the crop chemical industry in the world.
The organic market, says Nyakanda, is among the fastest growing market segments globally, with a growth of about an average of 20% in the last seven years.
Consumers, especially in international markets, are increasingly preferring products grown with natural methods and with due respect to environmental and social dimensions.
As a result, demand and marketing in products such as organic products, fair-trade products, and eco-friendly products is rising.
Organic agriculture, according to Nyakanda, is key as a livelihood because “it can replace agro-chemical inputs by multiple cropping, natural enemies and rebuilding of the soil in areas where there has been environment concerns on chemical overuse and building of pest resistance”.
She adds that this system can also stabilise the ecosystem and allow even poor farmers to earn a living from agriculture without input constrains.
GMOs allow for enhanced disease and pest resistance and also prevent heavy usage of herbicides as the crop will be able to outgrow and fight weeds just on application of single and moderate herbicide, thereby saving the environment.
Adding to the natural rice industry’s woes after Bayer CropScience contaminated a third of the US rice supply with transgenic rice in 2006, the widespread application of Bayer’s glufosinate and Monsanto’s glyphosate is reducing crop yields, and burning and deforming rice plants that survive. [Image: Glyphosate deforms the growing points on rice plants.]
The Mississippi Rice Council (MRC) has sounded a national alarm over damage caused by aerial drift of glyphosate, the main ingredient in Monsanto’s herbicide Roundup, calling for severely restricted aerial application.
MRC president Mike Wagner recently told crop dusters at this year’s Mississippi Agricultural Aviation Association annual meeting that glyphosate is wreaking havoc on the natural rice industry where “non-transgenic rice is planted in a sea of genetically modified crops that are tolerant to glyphosate.”
Wagner reported that, “Rice specialists noticed that rice that had no obvious damage through the growing season would yield and mill poorly and would exhibit the classic trait associated with late glyphosate drift — the kernel would be shaped like a parrot beak instead of its normally elongated, symmetrical shape.”
[Image: Glyphosate causes rice to deform from a cylinder into a parrot beak shape.]
Field studies run in 2007 and 2008 by the University of Arkansas showed reduced rice yield by up to 80% from glyphosate, as well as glufosinate, an herbicide produced by Bayer. On top of reduced yield, both herbicides burned the leaves and stunted the growth of rice plants.
In December, the MRC unanimously recommend an annual cutoff date of June 1 for its aerial application, when yield potential for rice is determined.
“Damage occurring at this time does not allow for an alternate crop to be replanted. Consequently, the farmer has two nooses around his neck: (1) he is stuck with a crop that will generate lower revenues, and (2) he has already incurred nearly all expenses that are associated with that crop,” said Wagner.
Because those expenses range from $650 to $900 per acre, “One can see that any losses can be staggering. This is a losing proposition for our rice industry, and one that continues to occur. Our alarm is warranted.”
In 2010, Louisiana Rice Man noted that the pressure from bacterial panicle blight, leaf scald and leaf smut “was about the worst I have ever seen.” Though he attributes it to abnormally high temperatures, most likely the cause is glyphosate and/or glufosinate, which destroy soil microflora that assist in plant defense.
The 2006 genetic contamination of natural rice resulted in the collapse of the export market to Europe and other nations. Further reductions in the yield of natural rice now threaten the industry with collapse.
Publicizing this information can be difficult at best and career-ending at worst. In the U of Arkansas study cited above, researchers noted that most rice farmers wrongly believe the damage from glufosinate is only cosmetic. Worse, in 2008, the US Dept. of Agriculture announced it would stop publishing information about the amounts and types of agrochemicals sprayed on crops, leaving the public blind to the corporate poisoning of our environment. Since then, we’ve had to rely on sporadic reports, whistle blowers, or independent scientists to warn us of emerging dangers.
Bertram Verhaag’s scenically beautiful film, Science Under Attack, is one of several he produced on biotechnology. (Also see David vs Monsanto, Seeds and Seed Multinationals, and Life Running out of Control.) In Science Under Attack, he interviews scientists whose careers were ruined because they published studies warning of health dangers from genetically modified crops. From smaller brain size in rats fed biotech food, to lowered immunity, organ damage, and infertility, the information is suppressed by the biotech industry and governments beholden to it.
When world-renowned biochemist Arpad Pusztai studied the effect of a GM potato on rats, he found “36 significant differences” between those fed the GM versus non-GM potatoes. The film includes the clip from his career-ending interview on a UK television show in 1999, exposing some of these problems. Those 150 seconds changed his life forever. He and his wife (also a researcher) were both fired, and his reputation smeared.
In a 1998 lawsuit, the Center for Food Safety produced thousands of documents showing that the Food and Drug Administration suppressed its own science reporting that GM crops are not “substantially equivalent” to normal food, refusing to perform the recommended studies.
Ignacio Chapela is another scientist who made world news when he exposed widespread genetic contamination of natural corn in Mexico, which at the time banned GM crops. UC Berkeley tried to fire Chapela three times before he finally took a job in Norway at the Institute of Gene Ecology. This multidisciplinary research institute studies biosafety. Its existence reveals a global scientific rebellion resisting and confronting the technocracy serving only profits.
Earlier this year, in response to scientific suppression concerning GM foods and their associated agrochemicals, the European Union Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy, John Dalli, promised to overhaul the risk assessment process, providing funding for independent investigation into “toxicological, environmental, allergenic or nutritional aspects.”
Glyphosate, Spontaneous Abortions and Birth Defects
Another scientist warning about glyphosate and featured in the film is Andres Carrasco. In 2010, he released a summary of scientific evidence on genetically modified soy and the herbicide glyphosate, and its impact on humans. In Science Under Attack, Carrasco reports that glyphosate causes brain, intestinal and heart defects in fetuses.
The summary includes a “study on human cells [which] found that all four Roundup formulations tested caused total cell death within 24 hours. These effects were found at dilution levels far below those recommended for agricultural use and corresponding to low levels of residues found in food or feed.”
Of note, “The adjuvants in Roundup increase the toxicity of glyphosate because they enable the herbicide to penetrate human cells more readily.”
In The Poison of the Pampas, a 22-minute news report by journalist Rolando Grana, broadcast in Argentina in April of last year, severe birth defects have been documented in babies whose mothers were exposed to glyphosate during pregnancy. (English subtitles can be activated by clicking on the closed captioning icon:cc. Also see Part 2.)
Industrial scale agrochemicals and GM crops are also linked to the collapse of honeybee populations, which the film Queen of the Sun details. Indeed, with growing evidence from independent scientists showing harm to animals ingesting GM crops, it’s no wonder many of the speakers in this film are convinced that GM crops contribute to colony collapse disorder (My review here.)
(Late term spontaneous abortion)
Earlier this year, plant pathologist Don Huber revealed a link between glyphosate and a dangerous new pathogen which is found in nearby soil and in the feed of animals suffering with infertility and spontaneous abortions. The pathogen is present in sudden death syndrome in Monsanto’s Roundup Ready soy and Goss’s wilt in RR corn.
In addition to warning the USDA in January, Huber also notified the European Union president and several key ministers in April of the dangers to plants and animals associated with glyphosate. “In layman’s terms, it should be treated as an emergency,” he told the USDA.
The newly discovered submicroscopic organism is “infectious to cattle, pigs, horses, poultry,” Huber told Food Democracy Now! earlier this month in a 20-minute video interview. “It will kill a fertilized egg in 24-48 hours.”
An important aside: Huber has serious concern with genetic contamination of natural alfalfa, which is guaranteed with this open-pollinated perennial crop. Huber predicts, “In five years, you won’t have anything except Roundup Ready alfalfa. Coexistence is not possible,” he says. “When you take a number one forage crop and you place it any kind of jeopardy, we have a tremendous impact on the sustainability of our animal production.”
Ignoring Huber’s dire warnings, the USDA approved the deployment of GM alfalfa this year. This can be seen as nothing other than a deliberate move to destroy the organic beef and dairy industry in the U.S. and Canada. You can send a letter to President Obama asking for an immediate moratorium on GM alfalfa at this Food Democracy Now! action page.
The National Agricultural Aviation Assn. will hold this year’s annual convention in Las Vegas Dec. 5-8 at the Las Vegas Hilton. Crop dusters might appreciate well crafted literature showing the destruction wrought by agrochemicals on human and animal health, as well as the environment.
Found this link on a forum for milk cows. Thought it was really neato!
An Illinois steel-company executive turned Nebraska dairyman has stumbled onto an amazingly low-cost way to grow high-quality grass – and probably even crops – on depleted soil.
Can raw milk make grass grow? More specifically, can one application of three gallons of raw milk on an acre of land produce a large amount of grass?
The answer to both questions is yes.
Call it the Nebraska Plan or call it the raw milk strategy or call it downright amazing, but the fact is Nebraska dairyman David Wetzel is producing high-quality grass by applying raw milk to his fields and a Nebraska Extension agent has confirmed the dairyman’s accomplishments.
David Wetzel is not your ordinary dairyman, nor is Terry Gompert your ordinary Extension agent. Ten years ago Wetzel was winding up a five-year stint as the vice president of an Illinois steel company and felt the need to get out of the corporate rat race. At first he and his wife thought they would purchase a resort, but he then decided on a farm because he liked to work with his hands. The Wetzels bought a 320 acre farm in Page, Neb., in the northeast part of the state, and moved to the farm on New Year’s Day in 2000.
“We had to figure out what to do with the farm,” Wetzel said, “so we took a class from Terry Gompert.” They were advised to start a grass-based dairy and that’s what they did. “There’s no money in farming unless you’re huge,” Wetzel said, or unless the farmer develops specialty products, which is what they did.
In their business, the Wetzels used the fats in the milk and the skim milk was a waste product. “We had a lot of extra skim milk and we started dumping it on our fields,” Wetzel said. “At first we had a tank and drove it up and down the fields with the spout open. Later we borrowed a neighbor’s sprayer.”
Sometime in the winter of 2002 they had arranged to have some soil samples taken by a fertilizer company and on the day company employees arrived to do the sampling, it was 15 below zero. To their astonishment they discovered the probe went right into the soil in the fields where raw milk had been applied. In other fields the probe would not penetrate at all.
“I didn’t realize what we had,” Wetzel said. “I had an inkling something was going on and I thought it was probably the right thing to do.” For a number of years he continued to apply the milk the same way he had been doing, but in recent years he has had a local fertilizer company spray a mixture that includes liquid molasses and liquid fish, as well as raw milk. In addition he spreads 100 to 200 pounds of lime each year.
Gompert, the extension agent that suggested Wetzel start a grass-based dairy, had always been nearby – literally. The two are neighbors and talk frequently. It was in 2005 that Gompert, with the help of university soils specialist Charles Shapiro and weed specialist Stevan Kenzevic, conducted a test to determine the effectiveness of what Wetzel had been doing.
That the raw milk had a big impact on the pasture was never in doubt, according to Gompert. “You could see by both the color and the volume of the grass that there was a big increase in production.” In the test the raw milk was sprayed on at four different rates – 3, 5, 10 and 20 gallons per acre – on four separate tracts of land. At the 3-gallon rate 17 gallons of water were mixed with the milk, while the 20-gallon rate was straight milk. Surprisingly the test showed no difference between the 3-, 5-, 10- and 20-gallon rates.
The test began with the spraying of the milk in mid-May, with mid-April being a reasonable target date here in central Missouri. Forty-five days later the 16 plots were clipped and an extra 1200 pounds of grass on a dry matter basis were shown to have been grown on the treated versus non-treated land. That’s phenomenal, but possibly even more amazing is the fact the porosity of the soil – that is, the ability to absorb water and air – was found to have doubled.
So what’s going on? Gompert and Wetzel are both convinced what we have here is microbial action. “When raw milk is applied to land that has been abused, it feeds what is left of the microbes, plus it introduces microbes to the soil,” Wetzel explained, adding that “In my calculations it is much more profitable (to put milk on his pastures) than to sell to any co-op for the price they are paying.”
Wetzel has been applying raw milk to his fields for 10 years, and during that time has made the following observations:
- Raw milk can be sprayed on the ground or the grass; either will work.
- Spraying milk on land causes grasshoppers to disappear. The theory is that insects do not bother healthy plants, which are defined by how much sugar is in the plants. Insects (including grasshoppers) do not have a pancreas so they cannot process sugar. Milk is a wonderful source of sugar and the grasshoppers cannot handle the sugar. They die or leave as fast as their little hoppers can take them.
- Theory why milk works. The air is 78% nitrogen. God did not put this in the air for us but rather the plants. Raw milk feeds microbes/bugs in the soil. What do microbes need for growth? Protein, sugar, water, heat. Raw milk has one of the most complete amino acid (protein) structures known in a food. Raw milk has one of the best sugar complexes known in a food, including the natural enzyme structure to utilize these sugars. For explosive microbe growth the microbes utilize vitamin B and enzymes. What do you give a cow when the cow’s rumen is not functioning on all cylinders (the microbes are not working)? Many will give a vitamin B shot (natural farmers will give a mouthful of raw milk yoghurt). Vitamin B is a super duper microbe stimulant. There is not a food that is more potent in the complete vitamin B complex than raw milk (this complex is destroyed with pasteurization). Raw milk is one of the best sources for enzymes, which break down food into more usable forms for both plants and microbes. (Again, pasteurization destroys enzyme systems.)
- Sodium in the soil is reduced by half. I assume this reflects damage from chemicals is broken down/cleaned up by the microbes and or enzymes.
- If you choose to buy raw milk from a neighbour to spread on your land, consider offering the farmer double or triple what he is paid to sell to the local dairy plant. Reward the dairy farmer as this will start a conversation and stir the pot. The cost for the milk, even at double or triple the price of conventional marketing, is still a very cheap soil enhancer.
- Encourage all to use their imagination to grow the potential applications of raw milk in agriculture, horticulture and the like – even industrial uses – possibly waste water treatment.
The purpose of this story is to convince farmers and livestock producers in this area to look into the possibility of using raw milk, compost tea, earthworm castings tea, liquid fish or sea minerals or some combination thereof to boost production at an affordable cost. It’s my experience that people in the Midwest are to a great extent unaware of the benefits of microbes. If the first part of this story has caught your attention and you intend to consider the use of raw milk or any of the other methods, you need to learn about microbes and the best way I have discovered is a book co-authored by Jeff Lowenfels and Wayne Lewis, Teaming with Microbes.
In this story I cannot go into detail about microbes, the miniscule little critters that exist in abundance in good soil. There are four principal types of microbes – bacteria, fungi, protozoa and nematodes. To get an example of their size, consider that there are a billion bacteria in one teaspoon of good soil. The role of microbes is to consume carbon, along with other minerals and nutrients, and these are stored in their cells until their ultimate release for use by plants. Microbes also store water, which make them drought-fighters as well.
I realize this is an inadequate description, but you need to read the book.
Brix is another concept that is not widely understood in the middle of the country. Brix is the measure of the sugar content of a plant (that’s an oversimplification but good enough for this article) and is measured by a device called a refractometer. If your grass has a brix of 1, that’s cause for nightmares. Our grass is routinely a 1. Clover and johnsongrass might on occasion measure 4 or 5 in the middle of the afternoon on a bright, sunny day. That’s deplorable for plants that should be double or triple that figure.
It’s not just our farm that has grass that’s not fit to feed livestock. I communicate frequently with three young cattlemen from this area – Jeremia Markway, Bruce Shanks and Chris Boeckmann – and they have the same problem. Last summer we were singing the blues over lunch and decided our refractometers must be broken. Someone came up with the idea of measuring sugar water. We tried it. Boom. The refractometer measured 26. Our equipment wasn’t broken, only our grass.
About three months ago Markway discovered a short article on what Wetzel and Gompert had been doing in Nebraska with raw milk. He emailed the article to me and that’s what got me to do this story. An interesting thing is what Markway discovered about the impact of raw milk on brix levels. He has a milk cow and took some of her milk, mixed with water and sprayed on his pastures with a small hand sprayer. Where he sprayed, the brix level of the grass was raised to a level of 10. That’s a great start and was good news to Wetzel and Gompert, who had not been measuring the brix levels of Wetzel’s grass.”
1. AgResearch Ignoring Bio-security Risks
2. GE Cover-Up or Just Bad Science?
1. AgResearch Ignoring Bio-security Risks
Sunday, 1 May 2011, 8:44 pm
Press Release: GE Free NZ
AgResearch Ignoring Bio-security Risks
AgResearch’s 200 acre facility at Ruakura could pose a dangerous bio-security risk to populations in Hamilton and surrounding farmlands, but the threat is being ignored.
New concerns about the site have been raised following a tour of the facilities by GE Free NZ president Claire Bleakley and Soil and Health spokesperson Steffan Browning.
The conditions in the fields were shocking, with waste matter from blood, effluent and milk visible. The GE animals suffer a high abortion rate and hawks could be seen flying over the facility. With recent heavy rain, excess water run-off went into a major drain that flowed through the facility to the outskirts of town.
“There were clots of blood fallen on the ground from the disposal of animal’s carcass and signs that a tractor had run over the blood mass and transferred it through the fields,” said Claire Bleakley president of GE Free NZ in Food and Environment.
“But the of particular concern was the pit containing a mixture of effluent and blood-washings running into a tank the contents of which are sprayed onto the paddocks transferring viable transgenic cells over the fields.”
In the last few days weather conditions also caused extreme levels of surface flooding throughout the facility. The offal pits are centered at the top of the hill with one side facing the administration block of many organisations and the other running into the field’s that the animals were grazing.
Scientists have previously raised concerns over the situation of the offal pits and the possibility of animal waste effluent leachate entering the ground water.
“The surface water in these fields runs into a creek and then a small steam into the farmland. This raises the concern that we could have another Pirbright catastrophe on our hands if we are not careful,” said Mrs Bleakley.
Pirbright is a research facility in England that conducts research into vaccines. This facility created through genetic engineering a vaccine for foot and mouth. Due to a failure of precautionary procedures and wet weather conditions the virulent foot and mouth strain escaped into the stream and infected 5 herds up to 10 miles down stream of the facility, closing down England’s meat exports for a few months.
“The AgResearch facility is a laboratory with the potential creation of a new disease that could contaminate the Hamilton water supply and the agricultural land surrounding it,” said Mrs Bleakley.
This is a major breach of our internal biosecurity measures. What’s worse it appears that Regulatory Authorities are turning a blind eye to the poor farm hygiene protocols as they believe there could be no escape of any transgenic material out of the facility.
The poor hygienic conditions not only raise concerns about the ability of GE escape through water ways but also the emergence of a new disease from the recombination of GE genetic material an soil microorganisms. Transformation of soil bacteria with novel genes cells in waste material (Horizontal Gene Transfer) could be exacerbated as different species are grazed all together with no segregation.
After ten years there are still no published studies into the possibility of horizontal gene transfer to soil microorganisms from the waste material. It is alarming that the government has put millions of dollars into these cruel animal experiment yet officials have removed all requirements to test for new disease that might occur as a result.
A new disease could spread through the whole herd of all animals’ goats and cows and further affect the non-transgenic animals that are allowed to graze in between the fences.
References: Initial report on potential breaches to biosecurity at the Pirbright site, 2007, House and Security, DEFRA, retrieved 1/05/2011. http://www.hse.gov.uk/news/archive/07aug/pirbright.htm
2. GE Cover-Up or Just Bad Science?
May 5, 2011
Press Release – GE Free NZ
The failure by AgResearch and ERMA to properly test and monitor environmental effects from GE field experiments has put New Zealand’s bio-security in serious jeopardy and needs immediate action.
An independent report on AgResearch’s legal obligation to test soil for Horizontal Gene Transfer has found AgResearch’s study  was totally inadequate for the task.
The review by Professor Jack Heinemann and colleagues from The Centre for Integrated Research in Biosafety (INBI) published in The Journal of Organic Systems  says despite the deeply flawed research AgResearch told ERMA that “no problems of HGT [horizontal gene transfer] were found,” which ERMA blindly accepted. The report says ERMA were ‘remiss’ in failing to ask for the full data.
Worse, ERMA then cancelled any further research into the environmental impact of GE animals when approving a new AgResearch experiment to run GE cows sheep and goats for the next twenty years.
GE-Free NZ has written to ERMA for an urgent reassessment of the AgResearch GE animal experiments  approved in 2010, including
- A stop to field-spraying animal waste from experimental GE cows, sheep and goats
- The overhaul of currently non-existent tests for environmental impacts
- mandatory animal segregation
A formal enquiry into the scientific and regulatory failure is also needed, and those involved need to be held accountable.
“This is a major breakdown in science that puts our economy at risk. ERMA had the wool pulled over their eyes, and failed to even consider the full report for almost a year and a half,” says Claire Bleakley president of GE Free NZ in food and environment.
Soil contamination and spread of novel gene constructs could devastate New Zealand’s agricultural sector. Testing for Horizontal Gene Transfer was intended as a central pillar for bio-security research.
Authorities have no idea what the impact on soil has been from previous GE ‘novel’ experiments. The whole process has been undermined because of a cover-up, scientific incompetence, or bureaucratic bungling, probably all three.
“GE-Free NZ are calling on Fonterra, Federated Farmers, and all sectors of the agriculture economy to support action requiring ERMA to stop the spraying of GE animal milk and effluent onto fields. Also there needs to be an immediate reassessment that would implement stringent regulations around ecosystem effects,” says Ms Bleakley. “Any deleterious ‘novel’ GE ecosystem-changes if left undetected and unmonitored threatens the environment, biosecurity, farmers’ livelihoods and our food exports.”
References  Microbial characterisation of soils from offal pits, 2004 -2009, AgResearch, recieved under OIA 2010.  Heinemann J., Kurenbach B. and Bleyendaal N, 2011, Evaluation of horizontal gene transfer monitoring experiments conducted in New Zealand between 2004 and 2009, Journal of Organic Systems; Vol 6; 1; 2011 http://www.organic-systems.org/journal/Vol_6(1)/index.html  ERMA 200223. www.ermanz.govt.nz
Premium for non-GM canola set to continue
ABC, 3 May 2011
The premium for non-genetically modified canola looks set to continue at least into next season.
Tom Puddy, from Western Australia’s largest grain handler, CBH, says European demand for ‘sustainable’ canola means the non-GM price is likely to remain $30-$40 higher than that of GM canola.
“It really comes down to customer preference to have a non-GM product in the food chain,” he said.
“There’s consumers that will demand that, so they’ll pay a premium at a supermarket shelf for particular items that are certified non-GM.
“The other driver is from the by-product. That’s fed to animals and they don’t want to have a GM by-product in their food chain that’s fed to their animals.”
But Mr Puddy said the price for all types of canola is expected to remain strong, due to adverse weather conditions around the globe.
“That’s obviously increasing the demand for countries that are producing canola in a sustainable agricultural environment.”
Mr Puddy said it was difficult to tell how the prices would compare beyond this growing season.
[But CBH has previously said demand for the non GM canola crop should continue for at least five years, and that major end users, such as the EU, were looking for a stable non-GM supply for the medium to long term.]
EU farm chief: GM food meets no quality, diversity criteria
EurActiv, 3 May 2011
EU Agriculture Commissioner Dacian Ciolos says he strongly favours traditional agriculture that produces quality food, diverse diets and natural biodiversity, requirements which genetically-modified crops cannot satisfy.
In an interview published early this morning in Romanian daily Adeverul, Commissioner Ciolos slammed genetically modified food products, which he said did not meet the quality or diversity criteria that he as a consumer would opt for.
Cioloş stressed that his opinion was personal and recalled that within the European Commission, the person in charge of GMO dossiers was his colleague John Dalli, the commissioner responsible for health and consumer protection.
The EU farm chief insisted that European agriculture cannot be based on cheap products whatever the cost, citing the risk of mounting consumer distrust. The bloc’s policy on GM crops should not affect the confidence that European and worldwide consumers have in European food products, he said.
Ciolos does not see genetically-modified organisms as a panacea for EU or Romanian agriculture either. He said that the bloc should not bet as much on the performance of GM crops as it should on the diversity and quality of local products. EU agricultural research should also be directed towards the latter, he added.
Europe has always promoted the maintenance and enhancement of agricultural and food diversity, as well as quality and local products, Ciolos said, arguing these may actually be solutions for the development of high value-added production, with direct benefits for both farmers and consumers.
While the commissioner believes that farmers should be entitled to choose what they want to cultivate, including GM crops, Ciolos underlined that such choices should not be to the detriment of those farmers who opt to grow traditional crops.
Last month, members of the European Parliament’s environment committee said that member states should have the right to restrict or ban GM cultivation for reasons related to the risk of contamination of conventional crops (cross contamination) and on other “socioeconomic” grounds, such as protecting organic farming.
In the interview, Ciolos also acknowledged that the United States was pushing the EU to adopt the same open policy on engineered crops as that implemented on the other side of the Atlantic and the rest of the world, despite consumer uneasiness towards genetically-modified foods.
GE Red Apple Scientists Pipped At The Post
Press Release: Jon Muller
GE Free NZ, 3 May 2011
Plant and Food scientists working on a GE red apple have been pipped to the post by the commercial launch of the RedLove variety of apple. The RedLove apple is the work of Swiss researcher Markus Kobelt, who over 20 years has successfully developed a number of red fleshed apple varieties that are sweet, tangy and delicious.
Lubera orchardist/ developer Markus Kobelt  expressly states that these apples are not genetically engineered, but produced through careful pollination and selection.
Kobelt mentions that he is aware New Zealand scientists at Crop and Food have been developing a genetically engineered red apple over the last ten years and knew about his non GE varieties development. This highlights the slowness of GE over conventional breeding techniques and the reluctance of New Zealand researchers to fully disclose what natural breeding development techniques are available to achieve the same result without Genetic engineering.
“It cannot be logical to spend millions of taxpayers dollars and research resources on a red GE apple we know could have dangers to the environment and people health and is simply not acceptable to the market, and already exists as a non-GE variant,” says Claire Bleakley from GE-Free NZ in food and environment
The Redlove is cross-pollinated with new apple varieties  of Royal Gala and Braeburn apples with a range of old varieties and strains of apples.
“These varieties of new apple have been created through Non-GE techniques which is fantastic. New Zealand is renowned for its high quality apples and kiwi orchardists can plant them without worrying about market resistance to GE. Traditionally “playing bees” pollination is a much faster natural means to produce healthy plants varieties” says Claire Bleakely.
This apple is on the market for gardeners to buy today. It provides all the sought-after traits that an orchardist and consumer may want through safe natural cross pollination, not experimental genetic engineering.
The Deliciously tasty Redlove ERA apple is
•Crisp and juicy with a hint of berries
•Uniquely coloured - Rosy-red flesh with a beautiful pattern running through it
•Even better for you - Higher in antioxidants than other apples
•Disease resistant - Exceptionally high resistance to scab
•Attractive in the garden - Unusual, long-lasting, deep pink spring blossom
•Versatile in the kitchen - Delicious eaten raw but also ideal for cooking (it retains its red color) 
European Orchardists have been planting their orchards with this nutritious specially selected apple and they will be available in July through to October.
“We will have to hold off here in New Zealand until the nurseries are able to import the stock. Koanga Gardens has a few apples that have a rosy heritage hue. A good Happy Mothers Day present even for those scientists who have been trying so hard to create what already exists in their lab.”
Lubera does not use Genetic engineering http://www.lubera.co.uk/luberacouk/4-lubera-does-not-use-methods-of-genetic-engineering_vid_31204.html
Markus Kobelt pollination of Redlove varieties
Salt Spring Island Apple Festival http://www.appleluscious.com/festival/apple_festival_2008_promo.html
Suttons Nursery Apple Red love. http://www.suttons.co.uk/Gardening/Fruit/Fruit+Trees/Apple+Redlove_MH2213.htm
by Lester R. Brown, Earth Policy Institute
Captured from a bus window, while crossing the no-man’s land between
Jordan and Israel/Palestine, the once-mighty Jordan river is today just a murky
trickle (see bottom centre of image) that wouldn’t flow at all today if it wasn’t for the pollution poured into it…. It is estimated that the Jordan River will dry up
completely by the end of 2011.
Photo © Craig Mackintosh
Long after the political uprisings in the Middle East have subsided, many underlying challenges that are not now in the news will remain. Prominent among these are rapid population growth, spreading water shortages, and ever growing food insecurity.
In some countries, grain production is now falling as aquifers are depleted. After the Arab oil-export embargo of the 1970s, the Saudis realized that since they were heavily dependent on imported grain, they were vulnerable to a grain counter-embargo. Using oil-drilling technology, they tapped into an aquifer far below the desert to produce irrigated wheat. In a matter of years, Saudi Arabia was self-sufficient in wheat, its principal food staple.
But after more than 20 years of wheat self-sufficiency, the Saudis announced in January 2008 that this aquifer was largely depleted and they would be phasing out wheat production. Between 2007 and 2010, the wheat harvest of nearly 3 million tons dropped by more than two thirds. At this rate the Saudis likely will harvest their last wheat crop in 2012 and then be totally dependent on imported grain to feed their Canada-sized population of nearly 30 million people.
The unusually rapid phaseout of wheat farming in Saudi Arabia is due to two factors. First, in this arid country there is little farming without irrigation. Second, irrigation there depends almost entirely on a fossil aquifer, which, unlike most aquifers, does not recharge naturally from rainfall. And the desalted sea water Saudi Arabia uses to supply its cities is far too costly for irrigation use, even for the Saudis.
Saudi Arabia’s growing food insecurity has even led it to buy or lease land in several other countries, including two of the world’s hungriest, Ethiopia and Sudan. In effect, the Saudis are planning to produce food for themselves with the land and water resources of other countries to augment their fast growing imports.
In neighboring Yemen, replenishable aquifers are being pumped well beyond the rate of recharge, and the deeper fossil aquifers are also being rapidly depleted. As a result, water tables are falling throughout Yemen by some 2 meters per year. In the capital, Sana’a—home to 2 million people—tap water is available only once every 4 days; in Taiz, a smaller city to the south, it is once every 20 days.
Yemen, with one of the world’s fastest-growing populations, is becoming a hydrological basket case. With water tables falling, the grain harvest has shrunk by one third over the last 40 years, while demand has continued its steady rise. As a result, the Yemenis now import more than 80 percent of their grain. With its meager oil exports falling, with no industry to speak of, and with nearly 60 percent of its children physically stunted and chronically undernourished, this poorest of the Arab countries is facing a bleak and potentially turbulent future.
The likely result of the depletion of Yemen’s aquifers—which will lead to further shrinkage of its harvest and spreading hunger and thirst—is social collapse. Already a failing state, it may well devolve into a group of tribal fiefdoms, warring over whatever meager water resources remain. Yemen’s internal conflicts could spill over its long, unguarded border with Saudi Arabia.
In addition to the bursting food bubble in Saudi Arabia and the fast-deteriorating water situation in Yemen, Syria and Iraq—the other two populous countries in the region—have water troubles. Some of these arise from the reduced flows of the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers, which both countries depend on for irrigation water. Turkey, which controls the headwaters of these rivers, is in the midst of a massive dam building program that is slowly reducing downstream flows. Although all three countries are party to water-sharing arrangements, Turkey’s ambitious plans to expand both hydropower generation and irrigated area are being fulfilled partly at the expense of its two downstream neighbors.
Given the future uncertainty of river water supplies, farmers in Syria and Iraq are drilling more wells for irrigation. This is leading to overpumping in both countries. Syria’s grain harvest has fallen by one fifth since peaking at roughly 7 million tons in 2001. In Iraq, the grain harvest has fallen by one fourth since peaking at 4.5 million tons in 2002.
Jordan, with 6 million people, is also on the ropes agriculturally. Forty or so years ago, it was producing over 300,000 tons of grain per year. Today it produces only 60,000 tons and thus must import over 90 percent of its grain. In this region only Lebanon has avoided a decline in grain production.
Thus in the Arab Middle East, where populations are growing fast, the world is seeing the first collision between population growth and water supply at the regional level. For the first time in history, grain production is dropping in a geographic region with nothing in sight to arrest the decline. Because of the failure of governments in the region to mesh population and water policies, each day now brings 10,000 more people to feed and less irrigation water with which to feed them.
Now you know the real reason for so much unrest in the Middle East.
Where in the world can you get hold of raw cheese? Not in this country, unless you make your own that is.
So what’s so special about eating raw cheese? Well it’s the flavour that you notice first. When chomping into a piece of cheese made from organic, raw milk, you really taste the difference! There is a certain complexity about raw cheese that is noticed straightaway after that first bite; and then you know you’re onto something good! Flavour is the first stage of experiencing the way cheese was meant to be. Another bonus is that it’s actually good for you! Healthy, organic, raw milk is very beneficial to your health, adds good bacteria into your gut and brings its own package of digestive enzymes with it. Raw cheese abounds in enzymes that help to digest the fats and proteins. When the food you eat has abundant bacteria and enzymes, then the digestive system is not over taxed.
Most of us suffer from depleted digestive enzymes and our health is often compromised for it. People often complain about feeling sluggish and lacking energy. This is because we are chronically short on healthy gut flora and digestive enzymes, as the food we eat is mostly dead.
How do you get these life-giving raw dairy products? You make them at home in your kitchen!
The yogurt you buy probably has too low a bacterial count to start with to do you much good but if you eat yogurt made from a live culture you will also boost the population of the good critters and at the same time build up your immune system. Supplementing your diet with kefir will also give you a definite edge in the stake for good health. Eat only butter made from raw fermented cream, and have kefired cream on top of your fruit salad! Enjoy food again as it was meant to be.
You won’t have a cholesterol problem when you eat raw milk products and you will assimilate far more calcium from the milk. People enjoyed excellent health on raw dairy products for thousands of years until we pasteurized and homogenized our milk.
Check out www.westonaprice.org for more info on raw milk.
Have a go making some simple cheeses without any special equipment. The cheese cultures can be ordered through a selection of home brew shops.
Making old fashioned cottage cheese (otherwise known as quark), is the easiest cheese you’ll ever make.
Simply take some milk and place it in a glass jar and allow to curdle at room temperature. Any amount of milk can be poured into the jar and any milk can be used as long as it is raw. The curds and whey can be seen through the glass jar as the milk begins to curdle. When it is about a third to a half curd and whey, then the entire contents can be poured out into a muslin lined colander sitting in a large pot. Leave the curds to drain for twenty four hours then spoon the curd into a container ready for use.
- If the ambient temperature is too cool then find a warm spot to sit the milk in such as an incubator, top of the fridge or on a hot water system. A temperature of around 30- 35ºC is best.
- Don’t leave it to sit any longer than five days.
- Make sure everything is very clean.
Neufchattel – a spreading cheese
- 5 litres of skim or full cream milk
- mesophillic starter – 3 grams
- rennet- 1.5 ml
Bring the milk to 20ºC and add the starter.
Add the rennet by diluting it in cooled boiled water and stir for more than one minute but no more than three.
Leave to set for twelve hours.
Cut the curd into 1” cubes and leave for twelve hours.
Ladle the curd into a draining bowl and drain for twelve to twenty four hours.
Add a teaspoon of salt, some kefired cream, kefired milk and/or some of the drained whey, and place the ingredients into a blender or food processor and whiz until smooth.
This spreading cheese will keep for several weeks in the fridge and freezes really well.
How many times must we ‘discover’ something we’ve discovered before – particularly when our lives and our futures depend on reacting appropriately, and shaping society, to incorporate the lessons learned?
One of the most transformative experiences in my life was from studying soil science many years ago. Getting something of an understanding of the inner workings of that thin skin which covers our earth created thought-connections in my mind that had me looking at the world in a profoundly new way.
Amongst the many things I realised and gained appreciation for was the myriad mechanisms in natural systems that, in concert with each other, provided incredible stability and harmony. I recognised that if only many more people would come to study and learn genuine, holistic, biological soil science (rather than the reductionist chemistry- and product-focussed ’science’ encouraged in universities today by industry) we are actually well able to mimic these systems to bring the same harmony into our own fields, and thus retain resilience whilst still providing for our needs. We could give back to the soil as much as we take. Indeed, we could even reverse our current soil inventory deficit by building soil.
I learned that the carbon cycle was a, or the, critical element. Contrary to popular belief, water soluble nitrogen applications actually depletes soil carbon, rather than builds it – because soil micro-organisms, if I am to use simplistic terminology, feed on nitrogen, and excess soluble supplies send them into a frenzy of activity. That activity is focussed on breaking down organic matter (carbon rich humus). Regular dousings of water-soluble nitrogen fertiliser (and yes, that also includes concentrated chicken litter and blood meal) turns our microscopic soil buddies into hyperactive, and short lived, soil baddies. The same thing occurs with over-aeration of soil from ploughing and other manipulations. The result is rapid plant growth, but at the expense of plant health – and, significantly, resulting in our effectively burning up the organic matter content in our soils, without which there can be no life on this earth.
I learned these things a decade and a half ago, and from reading books decades older, and yet today we still find articles titled ‘New research: synthetic nitrogen destroys soil carbon, undermines soil health‘.
The case for synthetic N as a climate stabilizer goes like this. Dousing farm fields with synthetic nitrogen makes plants grow bigger and faster. As plants grow, they pull carbon dioxide from the air. Some of the plant is harvested as crop, but the rest—the residue—stays in the field and ultimately becomes soil. In this way, some of the carbon gobbled up by those N-enhanced plants stays in the ground and out of the atmosphere.
Well, that logic has come under fierce challenge from a team of University of Illinois researchers led by professors Richard Mulvaney, Saeed Khan, and Tim Ellsworth. In two recent papers (see here and here) the trio argues that the net effect of synthetic nitrogen use is to reduce soil’s organic matter content. Why? Because, they posit, nitrogen fertilizer stimulates soil microbes, which feast on organic matter. Over time, the impact of this enhanced microbial appetite outweighs the benefits of more crop residues.
And their analysis gets more alarming…. – Grist (emphasis ours)
This is an excellent article that I’d recommend all to read and absorb. But, the worrying aspect is that we’re calling it ‘new research‘. The things I learned years ago have been known for decades, something the article above expresses also – quoting from renowned organic pioneer, Sir Albert Howard, from the 1940s – but in a competition- and product-oriented world it has not been a popular concept, because widespread uptake and implementation of this knowledge would make most agricultural products not only redundant, but they’d also be seen as an enemy to sustainable, and healthy, human existence.
The ’self-interest’ basis of our western ‘invisible structures’ (economics, politics, etc.) is the foundational motivation that ensures extraction today with little thought for tomorrow. We create a perception of need, by creating problems that don’t, or shouldn’t, exist – so we can simultaneously create saleable ’solutions’ for them. The self-interest, economy-must-grow mindset thus either consistently ignores or, as is the case here, actively obscures important ecological truths.
How many times will we ‘discover’ these facts? How many times must we re-invent the wheel? As long as profits are the basis of our society, and private interests the controlling powers, then this information will never reach momentum. Why? Because when schools operate for the public good, unbiased, non-commercialised research can be undertaken with taxpayer dollars. When private interests reign, and schools operate without government support, then schools either close, or get funded by BigAgri.
While it’s clear that funding cash is the carrot used by agribusiness to entice researchers into asking the questions industry is most interested in having answered, there is a stick involved: corporately held patents used to block them from asking others. – Monsanto U: Agribusiness’s Takeover of Public Schools
It should be no surprise that the privatisation of our schooling systems worldwide has helped BigAgri propagandise the next generation and has leveraged their control of the world’s food systems.
Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium
on the Menu. Courtesy: Marc Roberts
As our soils continue to degrade through the use of Big Agri’s ‘products’, I see an explosion of social and environmental disasters coming to pass. Amongst all the obvious issues, there will also be an ever-increasing public health disaster as the nutrient density of the ‘food’ grown on ever-more-inert, ever-more-lifeless, soils continues to diminish.
We often call this an agricultural treadmill. Our use of nitrogen depletes soils, creating the need for more nitrogen applications. The resulting unbalanced, nutrient-starved plants attract legions of insects, resulting in the need for increasing pesticide applications. The land’s natural effort to restore balance causes soil-restoring plants to spring up (some call them ‘weeds’), inspiring farmers to douse their land with herbicides. In both cases we’re effectively pouring poison on our own food. That’s not smart – but we’ve somehow come to regard it as normal.
Things progressively deteriorate in a downward spiral, but instead of solving the root issue we instead move to genetic engineering to try to patch things up.
Now, you probably assume the ‘root issue’ I’m talking about is our lack of understanding of soil science. And, you’d be right. But perhaps even deeper is the root issue of the kind of economics we base our society on – the kind of economics whose existence relies on obscuring the truth, to preserve and grow a customer base. This entire agricultural treadmill is caused by ’self-interest’ perpetually expressing itself in creating desire and/or need for products that should not exist, and the genetic tinkering of plant genes is an effort to see if we can’t get nature to adapt to the economic framework we’ve built, rather than discover and build a social framework that can work harmoniously with her unchangeable laws.
Using the term treadmill is arguably increasingly inappropriate too, as it leads people to think it can continue ad infinitum. The reality is we’re now watching it collapse. Just as we’ve all but completely exhausted our soils with the fossil fuel based Green Revolution, we’re also at peak oil.
Let’s stop calling this ‘new research’. This knowledge needs to saturate and become ‘established fact’ in our school systems, and our school systems need to fulfil the needs of society, not private interests, to help transition us to a world where we recognise our place in the carbon cycle, amongst all the other interdependent elements within the biosphere.
The Dark Side of Synthetic Nitrogen Fertilizers
Click on image above, and see title ‘Dr Fatih Birol’ in the ‘Extended Interviews’ section
In the past I’ve made fun of the International Energy Agency (IEA) for their inexplicably optimistic projections for oil production mining supply capacity. And in similar fashion, the IEA has made fun of us gloomy ‘peakers’. Well, click on the image above, and look for the video titled ‘Fatih Birol’ — he being head of their Economic Analysis Division. In it he, on behalf of the IEA, concedes for the first time that conventional oil mining has already peaked; five years ago, in point of fact — back in 2006. Many of us have been pointing at around that date as being the beginning of our supply flat line for some time now….
It’s rather astonishing to watch Mr. Birol respond to the interviewer’s question:
So, do you think a lot of governments… are in denial? — ABC interviewer
Before you read Mr. Birol’s answer, consider something significant here. This is the IEA. The IEA’s key (almost sole) reason for existence is to keep as accurate an inventory of oil supplies as possible, and to create the best projections on future supply and demand levels, and to present this to world governments so as to enable them to make better policy decisions. Without even a blush, or a nervous clearing of throat, Mr. Birol simply says:
I think governments, in general, are not well prepared to (sic) the difficulties we are going to face in the oil markets…. — Fatih Birol
Why are the world’s governments “not well prepared”, Mr. Birol?? Could it be because governments have been relying on the IEA, and the IEA has been consistently overly optimistic — and this with a topic where misplaced optimism is deadly dangerous?
The ABC interviewer, near the end, after Mr. Birol advises that this “will be definitely very bad for our economy and for our daily lives”, asks:
And how urgent is this? — ABC interviewer
Again avoiding taking any responsibility for failing to help prepare the world for a key, defining and destructive moment in the history of mankind, and for having nonchalantly brushed off the warnings of those who endeavoured to do so, Mr. Birol comes out with:
I think it would have been better if the governments… er… have started to work on this at least ten years ago — Fatih Birol
Welcome to the gloomy ‘peaker’ table Mr. Birol….
Now, the question is, what’s to happen next? My prediction, if I may, is that the almost universal desire to maintain business as usual will lead governments and corporations to do anything and everything they can to keep oil — the lifeblood of their precious economies — flowing. This means greater emphasis on unconventional fossil fuel supplies: tar sands, coal to liquids, shale oil, gas fracking, etc. We’ll also be wishing the icecaps would melt just a bit more, so we can get at the cheddar there as well. All who know just a little about these sources of energy know they’re far more destructive than present oil and coal mining. In other words, as I’ve said before, instead of peak oil marking the beginning of a new era where we begin to power down, and where environmental conscientiousness has a better chance of becoming widespread and ingrained, it will instead mark an intensification of ever more frantic, and hence ever more careless, environmental destruction. In our bid to ’survive’ we’ll fail to notice, or choose to ignore, that we’re well into an exponential curve in society’s ignoble bid to undermine our own viability.
We either begin to cooperate and share ways to get through this in one piece, or we continue on the present Easter Island trajectory.
- Peak Oil – the Debate is Over
- Heading into a Perpetual Recession
- Last Days of Ancient Sunlight?
- World Energy Outlook 2009 Report Released, as Senior IEA Employees Blow Whistle
- Jeff Rubin – $225 p/barrel Oil in 18 Months and the End of Globalisation
- Staring at the Future from the Top of the Slippery Slide
Editor’s Preamble: This is a first for me. Who would have thought I’d be posting a quarterly newsletter written by the Chief Investment Officer of a large investment firm? “Jeremy Grantham is a British investor and Co-founder and Chief Investment Strategist of Grantham Mayo Van Otterloo (GMO), a Boston-based asset management firm. GMO is one of the largest managers of such funds in the world, having more than US $107 billion in assets under management as of December 2010. Grantham is regarded as a highly knowledgeable investor in various stock, bond, and commodity markets, and is particularly noted for his prediction of various bubbles.” (Wikipedia). After reading this, you could be forgiven for thinking it was put together by someone like Dr. Albert Bartlett instead. But no…. When a stock guru starts telling his investors the same kind of things I’ve been sharing with you for years, then I’m only too happy to reinforce the message with his. How many of his peers are listening is the big question — I’m guessing not too many unfortunately. I think the underlying investment message I personally take from this is to put your all into natural capital, permaculture education and community building.
The purpose of this, my second (and much longer) piece on resource limitations, is to persuade investors with an interest in the long term to change their whole frame of reference: to recognize that we now live in a different, more constrained, world in which prices of raw materials will rise and shortages will be common. (Previously, I had promised to update you when we had new data. Well, after a lot of grinding, this is our first comprehensive look at some of this data.)
Accelerated demand from developing countries, especially China, has caused an unprecedented shift in the price structure of resources: after 100 hundred years or more of price declines, they are now rising, and in the last 8 years have undone, remarkably, the effects of the last 100-year decline! Statistically, also, the level of price rises makes it extremely unlikely that the old trend is still in place. If I am right, we are now entering a period in which, like it or not, we must finally follow President Carter’s advice to develop a thoughtful energy policy and give up our carefree and careless ways with resources. The quicker we do this, the lower the cost will be. Any improvement at all in lifestyle for our grandchildren will take much more thoughtful behavior from political leaders and more restraint from everyone. Rapid growth is not ours by divine right; it is not even mathematically possible over a sustained period. Our goal should be to get everyone out of abject poverty, even if it necessitates some income redistribution. Because we have way overstepped sustainable levels, the greatest challenge will be in redesigning lifestyles to emphasize quality of life while quantitatively reducing our demand levels. A lower population would help. Just to start you off, I offer Exhibit 1: the world’s population growth. X marks the spot where Malthus wrote his defining work. Y marks my entry into the world. What a surge in population has occurred since then! Such compound growth cannot continue with finite resources. Along the way, you are certain to have a paradigm shift. And, increasingly, it looks like this is it!
Malthus and Hydrocarbons
Malthus’ writing in 1798 was accurate in describing the past – the whole multi-million year development of our species. For the past 150,000 years or so, our species has lived, pushed up to the very limits of the available food supply. A good rainy season, and food is plentiful and births are plentiful. A few tough years, and the population shrinks way back. It seems likely, in fact, that our species came close to extinction at least once and perhaps several times. This complete link between population and food supply was noted by Malthus, who also noticed that we have been blessed, or cursed, like most other mammals, with a hugely redundant ability to breed. When bamboo blooms in parts of India every 30 years or so, it produces a huge increase in protein, and the rat population – even more blessed than we in this respect – apparently explodes to many times its normal population; then as the bamboo’s protein bounty is exhausted, the rat population implodes again, but not before exhibiting a great determination to stay alive, reflected in the pillaging of the neighboring villages of everything edible. What hydrocarbons are doing to us is very similar. For a small window of time, about 250 years (starting, ironically, just in time to make Malthus’ predictions based on the past look ridiculously pessimistic), from 1800 to, say, 2050, hydrocarbons partially removed the barriers to rapid population growth, wealth, and scientific progress. World population will have shot up from 1 to at least 8, and possibly 11, billion in this window, and the average per capita income in developed countries has already increased perhaps a hundred-fold (from $400 a year to $40,000). Give or take.
As I wrote three years ago, this growth process accelerated as time passed. Britain, leading the charge, doubled her wealth in a then unheard of 100 years. Germany, starting later, did it in 80 years, and so on until Japan in the 20th century doubled in 20 years, followed by South Korea in 15. But Japan had only 80 million people and South Korea 20 million back then. Starting quite recently, say, as the Japanese surge ended 21 years ago, China, with nearly 1.3 billion people today, started to double every 10 years, or even less. India was soon to join the charge and now, officially, 2.5 billion people in just these two countries – 2.5 times the planet’s entire population in Malthus’ time – have been growing their GDP at a level last year of over 8%. This, together with a broad-based acceleration of growth in smaller, developing countries has changed the world. In no way is this effect more profound than on the demand for resources. If I am right in this assumption, then when our finite resources are on their downward slope, the hydrocarbon-fed population will be left far above its sustainable level; that is, far beyond the Earth’s carrying capacity. How we deal with this unsustainable surge in demand and not just “peak oil,” but “peak everything,” is going to be the greatest challenge facing our species. But whether we rise to the occasion or not, there will be some great fortunes made along the way in finite resources and resource efficiency, and it would be sensible to participate.
Take a minute to reflect on how remarkable these finite resources are! In a sense, hydrocarbons did not have to exist. On a trivially different planet, this incredible, dense store of the sun’s energy and millions of years’ worth of compressed, decayed vegetable and animal matter would not exist. And as for metals, many are scarce throughout the universe and became our inheritance only through the death throes of other large stars. Intergalactic mining does not appear in so many science fiction novels for nothing. These are truly rare elements, ultimately precious, which, with a few exceptions like gold, are used up by us and their remnants scattered more or less uselessly around. Scavenging refuse pits will no doubt be a feature of the next century if we are lucky enough to still be in one piece. And what an irony if we turned this inheritance into a curse by having our use of it alter the way the environment fits together. After millions of years of trial and error, it had found a stable and admirable balance, which we are dramatically disturbing.
To realize how threatening it would be to start to run out of cheap hydrocarbons before we have a renewable replacement technology, we have only to imagine a world without them. In 17th and 18th century Holland and Britain, there were small pockets of considerable wealth, commercial success, and technological progress. Western Europe was just beginning to build canals, a huge step forward in transportation productivity that would last 200 years and leave some canals that are still in use today. With Newton, Leibniz, and many others, science, by past standards, was leaping forward. Before the world came to owe much to hydrocarbons, Florence Nightingale – a great statistician, by the way – convinced the establishment that cleanliness would save lives. Clipper ships were soon models of presteam technology. A great power like Britain could muster the amazing resources to engage in multiple foreign wars around the globe (not quite winning all of them!), and all without hydrocarbons or even steam power. Population worldwide, though, was one-seventh of today’s population, and life expectancy was in the thirties.
But there was a near fatal flaw in that world: a looming lack of wood. It was necessary for producing the charcoal used in making steel, which in turn was critical to improving machinery – a key to progress. (It is now estimated that all of China’s wood production could not even produce 5% of its current steel output!) The wealth of Holland and Britain in particular depended on wooden sailing ships with tall, straight masts to the extent that access to suitable wood was a major item in foreign policy and foreign wars. Even more important, wood was also pretty much the sole producer of energy in Western Europe. Not surprisingly, a growing population and growing wealth put intolerable strains on the natural forests, which were quickly disappearing in Western Europe, especially in England, and had already been decimated in North Africa and the Near East. Wood availability was probably the most limiting factor on economic growth in the world and, in a hydrocarbonless world, the planet would have hurtled to a nearly treeless state. Science, which depended on the wealth and the surpluses that hydrocarbons permitted, would have proceeded at a much slower speed, perhaps as little as a third of its actual progress. Thus, from 1800 until today science might have advanced to only 1870 levels, and, even then, advances in medicine might have exceeded our ability to feed the growing population. And one thing is nearly certain: in such a world, we would either have developed the discipline to stay within our ability to grow and protect our tree supply, or we would eventually have pulled an Easter Island, cutting down the last trees and then watching, first, our quality of life decline and then, eventually, our population implode. Given our current inability to show discipline in the use of scarce resources, I would not have held my breath waiting for a good outcome in that alternative universe.
But in the real world, we do have hydrocarbons and other finite resources, and most of our current welfare, technology, and population size depends on that fact. Slowly running out of these resources will be painful enough. Running out abruptly and being ill-prepared would be disastrous.
The Great Paradigm Shift: from Declining Prices…
The history of pricing for commodities has been an incredibly helpful one for the economic progress of our species: in general, prices have declined steadily for all of the last century. We have created an equal-weighted index of the most important 33 commodities. This is not designed to show their importance to the economy, but simply to show the average price trend of important commodities as a class. The index shown in Exhibit 2 starts 110 years ago and trends steadily downward, in apparent defiance of the ultimately limited nature of these resources. The average price falls by 1.2% a year after inflation adjustment to its low point in 2002. Just imagine what this 102-year decline of 1.2% compounded has done to our increased wealth and well-being. Despite digging deeper holes to mine lower grade ores, and despite using the best land first, and the best of everything else for that matter, the prices fell by an average of over 70% in real terms. The undeniable law of diminishing returns was overcome by technological progress – a real testimonial to human inventiveness and ingenuity.
But the decline in price was not a natural law. It simply reflected that in this particular period, with our particular balance of supply and demand, the increasing marginal cost of, say, 2.0% a year was overcome by even larger increases in annual productivity of 3.2%. But this was just a historical accident. Marginal rates could have risen faster; productivity could have risen more slowly. In those relationships we have been lucky. Above all, demand could have risen faster, and it is here, recently, that our luck has begun to run out.
… to Rising Prices
Just as we began to see at least the potential for peak oil and a rapid decline in the quality of some of our resources, we had the explosion of demand from China and India and the rest of the developing world. Here, the key differences from the past were, as mentioned, the sheer scale of China and India and the unprecedented growth rates of developing countries in total. This acceleration of growth affected global demand quite suddenly. Prior to 1995, there was (remarkably, seen through today’s eyes) no difference in aggregate growth between the developing world and the developed world. And, for the last several years now, growth has been 3 to 1 in their favor!
The 102 years to 2002 saw almost each individual commodity – both metals and agricultural – hit all-time lows. Only oil had clearly peeled off in 1974, a precursor of things to come. But since 2002, we have the most remarkable price rise, in real terms, ever recorded, and this, I believe, will go down in the history books. Exhibit 2 shows this watershed event. Until 20 years ago, there were no surprises at all in the sense that great unexpected events like World War I, World War II, and the double inflationary oil crises of 1974 and 1979 would cause prices to generally surge; and setbacks like the post-World War I depression and the Great Depression would cause prices to generally collapse.
Much as you might expect, except that it all took place around a downward trend. But in the 1990s, things started to act oddly. First, there was a remarkable decline for the 15 or so years to 2002. What description should be added to our exhibit? “The 1990’s Surge in Resource Productivity” might be one. Perhaps it was encouraged by the fall of the Soviet bloc. It was a very important but rather stealthy move, and certainly not one that was much remarked on in investment circles. It was as if lower prices were our divine right. And more to the point, what description do we put on the surge from 2002 until now? It is far bigger than the one caused by World War II, happily without World War III. My own suggestion would be “The Great Paradigm Shift.”
The primary cause of this change is not just the accelerated size and growth of China, but also its astonishingly high percentage of capital spending, which is over 50% of GDP, a level never before reached by any economy in history, and by a wide margin. Yes, it was aided and abetted by India and most other emerging countries, but still it is remarkable how large a percentage of some commodities China was taking by 2009. Exhibit 3 shows that among important non-agricultural commodities, China takes a relatively small fraction of the world’s oil, using a little over 10%, which is about in line with its share of GDP (adjusted for purchasing parity). The next lowest is nickel at 36%. The other eight, including cement, coal, and iron ore, rise to around an astonishing 50%! In agricultural commodities, the numbers are more varied and generally lower: 17% of the world’s wheat, 25% of the soybeans (thank Heaven for Brazil!) 28% of the rice, and 46% of the pigs. That’s a lot of pigs!
Optimists will answer that the situation that Exhibit 3 describes is at worst temporary, perhaps caused by too many institutions moving into commodities. The Monetary Maniacs may ascribe the entire move to low interest rates. Now, even I know that low rates can have a large effect, at least when combined with moral hazard, on the movement of stocks, but in the short term, there is no real world check on stock prices and they can be, and often are, psychologically flakey. But commodities are made and bought by serious professionals for whom today’s price is life and death. Realistic supply and demand really is the main influence.
Exhibit 4 shows how out of line with their previous declining trends most commodities are. We have stated this in terms of standard deviations, but for most of us, certainly including me, a probabilistic – 1-in-44-year event, etc. – is more comprehensible. GMO’s extended work on asset bubbles now covers 330 completed bubbles, including even quite minor ones. These bubbles have occurred only 30% or so more than would be expected in a perfectly random world. In a world where black swans are becoming very popular, this is quite a surprise.
Exhibit 4 is headed by iron ore. It has a 1 in 2.2 million chance that it is still on its original declining price trend. Now, with odds of over a million to one, I don’t believe the data. Except if it’s our own triple-checked data. Then I don’t believe the trend! The list continues: coal, copper, corn, and silver … a real cross section and all in hyper bubble territory if the old trends were still in force. And look at the whole list: twelve over 3-sigma, eleven others in 2-sigma territory (which we have always used as the definition of a bubble), four more on the cusp at 1.9, two more over 1.0, and three more up. Only four are down, three of which are insignificantly below long-term trend, and the single outlier is not even an economic good – it’s what could be called an economic “bad” – tobacco. This is an amazing picture and it is absolutely not a reflection of general investment euphoria. Global stocks are pricey but well within normal ranges, and housing is mixed. But commodities are collectively worse than equities (S&P 500) were in the U.S. in the tech bubble of 2000! If you believe that commodities are indeed on their old 100-year downward trend, then their current pricing is collectively vastly improbable. It is far more likely that for most commodities the trend has changed, just as it did for oil back in 1974, as we’ll see later.
Aware of the finite nature of our resources, a handful of economists had propounded several times in the past (but back in the 1970s in particular) the theory that our resources would soon run out and prices would rise steadily. Their work, however, was never supported by any early warning indicators (read: steadily rising prices) that, in fact, this running out was imminent. Quite the reverse. Prices continued to fall. The bears’ estimates of supply and demand were also quite wrong in that they continuously underestimated cheap supplies. But now, after more than another doubling in annual demand for the average commodity and with a 50% increase in population, it is the price signals that are noisy and the economists who are strangely quiet. Perhaps they have, like premature bears in a major bull market, lost their nerve.
Why So Little Fuss?
I believe that we are in the midst of one of the giant inflection points in economic history. This is likely the beginning of the end for the heroic growth spurt in population and wealth caused by what I think of as the Hydrocarbon Revolution rather than the Industrial Revolution. The unprecedented broad price rise would seem to confirm this. Three years ago I warned of “chain-linked” crises in commodities, which have come to pass, and all without a fully fledged oil crisis. Yet there is so little panicking, so little analysis even. I think this paradox exists because of some unusual human traits.
The Problem with Humans
As a product of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of years of trial and error, it is perhaps not surprising that our species is excellent at many things. Bred to survive on the open savannah, we can run quite fast, throw quite accurately, and climb well enough. Above all, we have excellent spatial awareness and hand/eye coordination. We are often flexible and occasionally inventive.
For dealing with the modern world, we are not, however, particularly well-equipped. We don’t seem to deal well with long horizon issues and deferring gratification. Because we could not store food for over 99% of our species’ career and were totally concerned with staying alive this year and this week, this is not surprising. We are also innumerate. Our typical math skills seem quite undeveloped relative to our nuanced language skills. Again, communication was life and death, math was not. Have you not admired, as I have, the incredible average skill and, perhaps more importantly, the high minimum skill shown by our species in driving through heavy traffic? At what other activity does almost everyone perform so well? Just imagine what driving would be like if those driving skills, which reflect the requirements of our distant past, were replaced by our average math skills!
We also became an optimistic and overconfident species, which early on were characteristics that may have helped us to survive and today are reaffirmed consistently by the new breed of research behaviorists. And some branches of our culture today are more optimistic and overconfident than others. At the top of my list would be the U.S. and Australia. In a well-known recent international test,1 U.S. students came a rather sad 28/40 in math and a very mediocre eighteenth in language skills, but when asked at the end of the test how well they had done in math, they were right at the top of the confidence list. Conversely, the Hong Kongers, in the #1 spot for actual math skills, were averagely humble in their expectations.
Fortunately, optimism appears to be a real indicator of future success. A famous Harvard study in the 1930s found that optimistic students had more success in all aspects of their early life and, eventually, they even lived longer. Optimism likely has a lot to do with America’s commercial success. For example, we attempt far more ventures in new technologies like the internet than the more conservative Europeans and, not surprisingly, end up with more of the winners. But optimism has a downside. No one likes to hear bad news, but in my experience, no one hates it as passionately as the U.S. and Australia. Less optimistic Europeans and others are more open to gloomy talk. Tell a Brit you think they’re in a housing bubble, and you’ll have a discussion. Tell an Australian, and you’ll have World War III. Tell an American in 1999 that a terrible bust in growth stocks was coming, and he was likely to have told you that you had missed the point, that 65 times earnings was justified by the Internet and other dazzling technology, and, by the way, please stay out of my building in the future. This excessive optimism has also been stuck up my nose several times on climate change, where so many otherwise sensible people would much prefer an optimistic sound bite from Fox News than to listen to bad news, even when clearly realistic. I have heard several brilliant contrarian financial analysts, siding with climate skeptics, all for want of, say, 10 or 12 hours of their own serious analysis. My complete lack of success in stirring up interest in our resource problems has similarly impressed me: it was like dropping reports into a black hole. Finally, in desperation, we have ground a lot of data and, the more we grind, the worse, unfortunately, it looks.
Failure to Appreciate the Impossibility of Sustained Compound Growth
I briefly referred to our lack of numeracy as a species, and I would like to look at one aspect of this in greater detail: our inability to understand and internalize the effects of compound growth. This incapacity has played a large role in our willingness to ignore the effects of our compounding growth in demand on limited resources. Four years ago I was talking to a group of super quants, mostly PhDs in mathematics, about finance and the environment. I used the growth rate of the global economy back then – 4.5% for two years, back to back – and I argued that it was the growth rate to which we now aspired. To point to the ludicrous unsustainability of this compound growth I suggested that we imagine the Ancient Egyptians (an example I had offered in my July 2008 Letter) whose gods, pharaohs, language, and general culture lasted for well over 3,000 years. Starting with only a cubic meter of physical possessions (to make calculations easy), I asked how much physical wealth they would have had 3,000 years later at 4.5% compounded growth. Now, these were trained mathematicians, so I teased them: “Come on, make a guess. Internalize the general idea. You know it’s a very big number.” And the answers came back: “Miles deep around the planet,” “No, it’s much bigger than that, from here to the moon.” Big quantities to be sure, but no one came close. In fact, not one of these potential experts came within one billionth of 1% of the actual number, which is approximately 1057, a number so vast that it could not be squeezed into a billion of our Solar Systems. Go on, check it. If trained mathematicians get it so wrong, how can an ordinary specimen of Homo Sapiens have a clue? Well, he doesn’t. So, I then went on. “Let’s try 1% compound growth in either their wealth or their population,” (for comparison, 1% since Malthus’ time is less than the population growth in England). In 3,000 years the original population of Egypt – let’s say 3 million – would have been multiplied 9 trillion times! There would be nowhere to park the people, let alone the wealth. Even at a lowly 0.1% compound growth, their population or wealth would have multiplied by 20 times, or about 10 times more than actually happened. And this 0.1% rate is probably the highest compound growth that could be maintained for a few thousand years, and even that rate would sometimes break the system. The bottom line really, though, is that no compound growth can be sustainable. Yet, how far this reality is from the way we live today, with our unrealistic levels of expectations and, above all, the optimistic outcomes that are simply assumed by our leaders. Now no one, in round numbers, wants to buy into the implication that we must rescale our collective growth ambitions.
I was once invited to a monthly discussion held by a very diverse, very smart group, at which it slowly dawned on my jet-lagged brain that I was expected to contribute. So finally, in desperation, I gave my first-ever “running out of everything” harangue (off topic as usual). Not one solitary soul agreed. What they did agree on was that the human mind is – unlike resources – infinite and, consequently, the intellectual cavalry would always ride to the rescue. I was too tired to argue that the infinite brains present in Mayan civilization after Mayan civilization could not stop them from imploding as weather (mainly) moved against them. Many other civilizations, despite being armed with the same brains as we have, bit the dust or just faded away after the misuse of their resources. This faith in the human brain is just human exceptionalism and is not justified either by our past disasters, the accumulated damage we have done to the planet, or the frozen-in-the-headlights response we are showing right now in the face of the distant locomotive quite rapidly approaching and, thoughtfully enough, whistling loudly.
Let’s start a more detailed discussion of commodities on by far the most important: oil. And let’s start with by far the largest user: the U.S. In 1956, King Hubbert, a Shell oil geologist, went through the production profile of every major U.S. oil field and concluded that, given the trend of new discoveries and the rate of run-off, U.S. oil production was likely to peak in around 1970. Of course, vested interests and vested optimism being what they are, his life was made a total misery by personal attacks – it was said that he wasn’t a patriot, that he was doing it all to enhance his own importance, and, above all, that he was an idiot. But he was right: U.S. production peaked in 1971! This, typically enough, did not stop the personal attacks. There is nothing more hateful in an opponent than his being right. In 1956, Hubbert also suggested that a global peak would be reached in “about 50 years,” but after OPEC formed in 1974 and prices jumped, he said it would probably smooth out production and extend the peak by about 10 years, or to 2016, give or take. Once again, this could be a remarkably accurate estimate!
The U.S. peak oil event of 1971 is important in rebutting today the same arguments that he faced in the 1960s. This time, these arguments are used against the idea that global oil is nearing its peak. The arguments back then were that technological genius, capitalist drive, and infinite engineering resourcefulness would always drive back the day of reckoning. But wasn’t the U.S. in the 1960s full of the most capitalist of spirits, Yankee know-how, and resourcefulness? Didn’t the U.S. have the great oil service companies, and weren’t there far more wells drilled here than anywhere? All true. But, still, production declined in 1971 and has slowly and pretty steadily declined ever since. Even if we miss the inherent impossibility of compound growth running into finite resources, how can we possibly think that our wonderful human attributes and industriousness will prevent the arrival of global peak oil when we have the U.S. example in front of us?
Exhibit 5 shows that global traditional onshore oil, in fact, peaked long ago in 1982, and that only much more expensive offshore drilling and tertiary recovery techniques allowed for even a modest increase in output, and that at much higher prices. Exhibit 6 shows that since 1983, every year (except one draw) less new conventional oil was found than was actually pumped!
Global Oil Prices, the First Paradigm Shift
We have seen how broad-based commodity prices declined to a trough from 2000-03. Oil however, was an exception and, given its approximate 50% weight by value, a very important exception. In 1974, it split off from other commodities, which continued to decline steeply. It was in 1974 that an oil cartel, OPEC, was formed. What better time could there be for a fast paradigm shift than during a cartel forming around a finite resource?
Exhibit 7, which may be familiar to you, was developed when the penny first dropped for me five years ago, and was soon after reproduced in the Sunday New York Times. It shows that for 100 years oil had a remarkably flat real price of around $16/barrel in today’s currency, even as all other commodities declined. It was always an exception in that sense. Oil has a volatile price series, which is not surprising given supply shocks, the difficulty of storage, and, above all, the very low price elasticity of demand in the short term. Normal volatility is, relative to trend, more than a double and less than a half, so that around the $16 trend we would normally expect to see price spikes above $32 and troughs below $8. Drawing in the dotted lines of 1 and 2 standard deviations, it can be seen that the series is well behaved: it should breach the 2-sigma line about 2.5 times up and 2.5 times down in a 100-year period (because 2-sigma events should occur every 44 years), and it does pretty much just that. It is also clear that this well-behaved $16 trend line was shifted quite abruptly to around $35/barrel in 1974, the year OPEC began. And OPEC began in a very hostile and aggressive mood, resulting in unusual solidarity among its members. Oil prices remained very volatile around this new higher trend, peaking in 1980 at almost $100 in today’s currency (confirming, to some degree, the new higher trend) and falling back to $16 in 1999.
Today, looking at the oil price series from about 2003, it seems likely that a second paradigm jump has occurred, to about $75 a barrel, another doubling. Around this new trend, a typical volatile oil range would be from over $150 to under $37. The validity of this guess will be revealed in, say, another 15 to 20 years. Stay tuned. There is, though, a different support to this price analysis, and that is cost analysis. We are not (yet, anyway) experts in oil costs, but as far as we are able to determine, the full cost of finding and delivering a major chunk of new oil today is about $70 to $80 a barrel. If true, this would make the idea of a second paradigm jump nearly certain.
The Great Paradigm Shift
So, oil caused my formerly impregnable faith in mean reversion to be broken. I had always admitted that paradigm shifts were theoretically possible, but I had finally met one nose to nose. It did two things. First, it set me to thinking about why this one felt so different to those false ones claimed in the past. Second, it opened my eyes to the probability that others would come along sooner or later.
The differences in this paradigm shift are obvious. All of the typical phantom paradigm shifts are optimistic. They often look more like justifications for high asset prices than serious arguments. They are also usually compromised by the source. It is simply much more profitable for the financial services business to have long bull markets that overrun and then crash quite quickly than it is to have stability. Imagine how little money would be made by us if the U.S. stock market rose by its dreary 1.8% a year adjusted for inflation, its trend since 1925. Volume would dry up, as would deals, and we’d die of boredom or get a different job. In short, beware a broker or a sell side “strategist” offering arguments as to why overpriced markets like today’s are actually cheap. Finally, the public in general appears to like things the way they are and always seems eager to embrace the idea of a new paradigm. The oil paradigm shift and the “running out of everything” argument is the exact opposite: it is very bad news and, like all very bad news, ordinary mortals and the bullishly-biased financial industry seriously want to disbelieve it or completely ignore it. (Just as is the case with climate warming and weather instability.) It is in this sense a classic contrarian argument despite being a paradigm shift.
On the second point – looking for other resources showing signs of a paradigm shift – the metals seemed the next most obvious place to start: they are finite, subject to demand that has been compounding (that is, more tonnage is needed each year), and, after use, are mostly worthless or severely reduced in value and expensive to recycle. Copper, near the top of the standard deviation list, has an oil-like tendency for the quality of the resource to decline and the cost of production to rise. Exhibit 8 shows that since 1994 one has to dig up an extra 50% of ore to get the same ton of copper.
And all of this 150% effort has to be done using energy at two to four times the former price. These phenomena of declining ore quality and rising extraction costs are repeated across most important metals. The price of all of these metals in response to rising costs and rising demand has risen far above the old declining trend, at least past the 1-in-44-year chance. (There is a possibility, I suppose, that some of the price moves are caused by a cartel-like effect between the few large “miners.” There just might have been some deliberate delays in expansion plans, which would have resulted in extra profits, but it seems unlikely that this possible influence would have caused much of the total price rises. These very high prices are compatible with such possibilities, but I am in no position to know the truth of it.) There also might be some hoarding by users or others, but given the extent of the price moves, it is statistically certain that hoarding could not come close to being the only effect here. Once again, the obvious primary influence is increased demand from developing countries, overwhelmingly led by China; and that we are dealing with a genuine and broad-based paradigm shift.
The highest percentage of any metal resource that China consumes is iron ore, at a barely comprehensible 47% of world consumption. Exhibit 9 shows the spectacular 100-year-long decline in iron ore prices, which, like so many other commodities, reach their 100-year low in or around 2002. Yet, iron ore hits its 110-year high a mere 8 years later! Now that’s what I call a paradigm shift! Mining is clearly moving out of its easy phase, and no one is trying to hide it. A new power in the mining world is Glencore (soon to be listed at a value of approximately $60 billion). Its CEO, Ivan Glasenberg, was quoted in the Financial Times on April 11, describing why his firm operates in the Congo and Zambia. “We took the nice, simple, easy stuff first from Australia, we took it from the U.S., we went to South America… Now we have to go to the more remote places.” That’s a pretty good description of an industry exiting the easy phase and entering the downward slope of permanently higher prices and higher risk.
Moving on to agriculture, the limitations are more hidden. We think of ourselves as having almost unlimited land up our sleeve, but this is misleading because the gap between first-rate and third-rate land can be multiples of output, and only Brazil, and perhaps the Ukraine, have really large potential increments of output. Elsewhere, available land is shrinking. For centuries, cities and towns have tended to be built not on hills or rocky land, but on prime agricultural land in river valleys. This has not helped. We have, though, had impressive productivity gains per acre in the past, and this has indeed helped a lot. But, sadly, these gains are decreasing. Exhibit 10 shows that at the end of the 1960s, average gains in global productivity stood at 3.5% per year. What an achievement it was to have maintained that kind of increase year after year. It is hardly surprising that the growth in productivity has declined.
It runs now at about one-third of the rate of increase of the 1960s. It is, at 1.25% a year, still an impressive rate, but the trend is clearly slowing while demand has not slowed and, if anything, has been accelerating. And how was this quite massive increase in productivity over the last 50 years maintained? By the even more rapid increase in the use of fertilizer. Exhibit 11 shows that fertilizer application per acre increased five-fold in the same period that the growth rate of productivity declined. This is a painful relationship, for there is a limit to the usefulness of yet more fertilizer, and as the productivity gains slow to 1%, it bumps into a similar-sized population growth. The increasing use of grain-intensive meat consumption puts further pressure on grain prices as does the regrettable use of corn in ethanol production. (A process that not only deprives us of food, but may not even be energy-positive!) These trends do not suggest much safety margin.
The fertilizer that we used is also part of our extremely finite resources. Potash and potassium are mined and, like all such reserves, the best have gone first. But the most important fertilizer has been nitrogen, and here, unusually, the outlook for the U.S. really is quite good for a few decades because nitrogen is derived mainly from natural gas. This resource is, of course, finite like all of the others, but with recent discoveries, the U.S. in particular is well-placed, especially if in future decades its use for fertilizer is given precedence.
More disturbing by far is the heavy use of oil in all other aspects of agricultural production and distribution. Of all the ways hydrocarbons have allowed us to travel fast in development and to travel beyond our sustainable limits, this is the most disturbing. Rather than our brains, we have used brute energy to boost production.
Water resources both above and below ground are also increasingly scarce and are beginning to bite. Even the subsoil continues to erode. Sooner or later, limitations must be realized and improved techniques such as no-till farming must be dramatically encouraged. We must protect what we have. It really is a crisis that begs for longer-term planning – longer than the typical horizons of corporate earnings or politicians. The bottom line is, as always, price, and the recent signals are clear. Exhibit 12 shows the real price movements of four critical agricultural commodities – wheat, rice, corn, and soybeans – in the last few years. Unlike many other commodities, these four are still way below their distant highs, but from their recent lows they have all doubled or tripled.
Bulls will argue that these agricultural commodities are traditional bubbles, based on euphoria and speculation, and are destined to move back to the pre-2002 prices. But ask yourselves what happens when the wheat harvest, for example, comes in. Only the millers and bakers (actually the grain traders who have them as clients) show up to buy. Harvard’s endowment doesn’t offer to take a million tons and store it in Harvard Yard (although my hero, Lord Keynes, is famously said to have once seriously considered stacking two months’ of Britain’s supply in Kings College Chapel!). The price is set by supply and demand, and storage is limited and expensive. All of the agricultural commodities also interact, so, if one were propped up in price, farmers on the margin would cut back on, say, soybeans and grow more wheat. For all of these commodities to move up together and by so much is way beyond the capabilities of speculators. The bottom line proof is that agricultural reserves are low – dangerously low. There is little room in that fact for there to be any substantial hoarding to exist.
Weather Instability and Price Rises
But there is one factor big enough, on rare occasions, to move all of the agricultural commodities together, and that is weather, particularly droughts and floods. I don’t think the weather instability has ever been as hostile in the last 100 years as it was in the last 12 months. If you were to read a one-paragraph summary of almost any agricultural commodity, you would see weather listed as one of the causes of the price rising. My sick joke is that Eastern Australia had average rainfall for the last seven years. The first six were the driest six years in the record books, and the seventh was feet deep in unprecedented floods. Such “average” rainfall makes farming difficult. It also makes investing in commodities difficult currently, for the weather this next 12 months is almost certain to be less bad than the last, and perhaps much less bad.
The Unusual Entry Risk Today in Commodity Investing: Weather …
For agricultural commodities, it is generally expected that prices will fall next year if the weather improves. Because global weather last year was, at least for farming, the worst in many decades, this seems like a good bet. The scientific evidence for climate change is, of course, overwhelming. A point of complete agreement among climate scientists is that the most dependable feature of the planet’s warming, other than the relentless increase in the parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere, is climate instability. Well, folks, the last 12 months were a monster of instability, and almost all of it bad for farming. Skeptics who have little trouble rationalizing facts will have no trouble at all with weather, which, however dreadful, can never in one single year offer more than a very strong suggestion of long-term change.
Unfortunately, I am confident that we should be resigned to a high probability that extreme weather will be a feature of our collective future. But, if last year was typical, then we really are in for far more serious trouble than anyone expected. More likely, next year will be more accommodating and, quite possibly, just plain friendly. If it is, we will drown, not in rain, but in grain, for everyone is planting every single acre they can till. And why not? The current prices are either at a record, spent just a few weeks higher in 2008, or were last higher decades ago. The institutional and speculative money does not, in my opinion, drive the spot prices higher for reasons given earlier, but they do persistently move the more distant futures contracts up.
Traditionally, farmers had to bribe speculators to take some of the future price risk off of their hands. Now, Goldman Sachs and others have done such a good job of making the case for commodities as an attractive investment (on the old idea that investors were going to be paid for risk-taking), that the weight of money has pushed up the slope of the curve. This not only destroys the whole reason for investing in futures contracts in the first place, but, critically for this current argument, it lowers the cost to the farmers of laying off their price risk and thus enables, or at least encourages, them to plant more, as they have in spades. Ironically, institutional investing facilitates larger production and hence lower prices! Should both the sun shine and the rain rain at the right time and place, then we will have an absolutely record crop. This would be wonderful for the sadly reduced reserves, but potentially terrible for the spot price. (Although wheat might be an exception because the largest grower by far – China – is looking to be in very bad shape for its upcoming harvest.)
… and China
Quite separately, several of my smart colleagues agree with Jim Chanos that China’s structural imbalances will cause at least one wheel to come off of their economy within the next 12 months. This is painful when traveling at warp speed – 10% a year in GDP growth. The litany of problems is as follows:
a) An unprecedented rise in wages has reduced China’s competitive strength.
b) The remarkable 50% of GDP going into capital spending was partly the result of a heroic and desperate effort to keep the ship afloat as the Western banking system collapsed. It cannot be sustained, and much of the spending is likely to have been wasted: unnecessary airports, roads, and railroads and unoccupied high-rise apartments.
c) Debt levels have grown much too fast.
d) House prices are deep into bubble territory and there is an unknown, though likely large, quantity of bad loans.
You have heard it all better and in more detail from both Edward Chancellor and Jim Chanos. The significance here is that given China’s overwhelming influence on so many commodities, especially in terms of the percentage China represents of new growth in global demand, any general economic stutter in China can mean very big declines in some of their prices.
You can assess on your own the probabilities of a stumble in the next year or so. At the least, I would put it at 1 in 4, while some of my colleagues think the odds are much higher. If China stumbles or if the weather is better than expected, a probability I would put at, say, 80%, then commodity prices will decline a lot. But if both events occurtogether, it will very probably break the commodity markets en masse. Not unlike the financial collapse. That was a once in a lifetime opportunity as most markets crashed by over 50%, some much more, and then roared back. Modesty should prevent me from quoting from my own July 2008 Quarterly Letter, which covered the first crash. “The prices of commodities are likely to crack short term (see first section of this letter) but this will be just a tease. [Editor’s Note: the section referred to is titled “Meltdown! The Global Competence Crisis,” which discusses the aftermath of the global financial crisis.] In the next decade, the prices of all raw materials will be priced as just what they are, irreplaceable.” If the weather and China syndromes strike together, it will surely produce the second “once in a lifetime” event in three years. Institutional investors were too preoccupied staying afloat in early 2009 to have obsessed much about the first opportunity in commodities and, in any case, everything else was also down in price. A second commodity collapse in the next few years may also be psychologically hard to invest in for it will surely bring out the usual bullish argument: “There you are, its business as usual. There are plenty of raw materials, so don’t listen to the doomsayers.” Because it will have broad backing, this argument will be hard to resist, but should be.
Finally, there is some good, old-fashioned speculation, particularly in the few commodities that can be stored, like gold and others, which are costly per pound. I believe this is a small part of the total pressure on prices, and the same goes for low interest rates, but together they have also helped push up prices a little. Putting this speculation into context, we could say that: a) we have increasing, but still routine, speculation in commodities; b) this comes on top of the much more important effects of terrible weather; and c) most important of all, we have gone through a profound paradigm shift in almost all commodities, caused by a permanent shift in the underlying fundamentals.
The Creative Tension in Investing in Resources Today
As resource prices rise, the entire system loses in overall well-being, but the world is not without winners. Good land, in short supply, will rise in price, to the benefit of land owners. Technological progress in agriculture will add to the value of land holdings. Fertilizer resources – potash and potassium – will become particularly precious. Hydrocarbon reserves will, of course, also increase in value. In general, owners or controllers of all limited resources, certainly including water, will benefit. But everyone else will be worse off, and a constrained-resource world will increase in affluence per capita more slowly than it would have otherwise, and more slowly than in the past. Remember, this is not simply a recycling of income and wealth as it was when Saudi Arabia stopped some of its pumping for political reasons. Then, we paid a few extra billion and they put money in the bank for recycling. There was no net loss. But now when they pump the last of the cheapest $5/barrel of oil and we replace it with a $120/barrel from tortured Canadian Tar Sands, the cost differential is a deadweight loss. GDP accounting can make it look fine, and it certainly creates more jobs but, like a few thousand men digging a hole with teaspoons, it adds jobs but no incremental value compared to the original cheap oil.
How does an investor today handle the creative tension between brilliant long-term prospects and very high short-term risks? The frustrating but very accurate answer is: with great difficulty. For me personally it will be a great time to practice my new specialty of regret minimization. My foundation, for example, is taking a small position (say, one-quarter of my eventual target) in “stuff in the ground” and resource efficiency. Given my growing confidence in the idea of resource limitation over the last four years, if commodities were to keep going up, never to fall back, and I owned none of them, then I would have to throw myself under a bus. If prices continue to run away, then my small position will be a solace and I would then try to focus on the more reasonably priced – “left behind” – commodities. If on the other hand, more likely, they come down a lot, perhaps a lot lot, then I will grit my teeth and triple or quadruple my stake and look to own them forever. So, that’s the story.
The Position of the U.S….
The U.S. is, of course, very well-positioned to deal with the constraints. First, it starts rich, both in wealth and income per capita, and also in resources, particularly the two that in the long run will turn out to be the most precious: great agricultural land and a pretty good water supply. The U.S. is also well-endowed with hydrocarbons. Its substantial oil and gas reserves look likely to prove unexpectedly resilient, buoyed by improving skills at fracking and lateral drilling. And, by any standard, U.S. coal reserves are very large. All other countries should be so lucky. Second, we are the most profligate or wasteful developed country and this fact, paradoxically, becomes a great advantage. We in the U.S. can save resources by the billions of dollars and actually end up feeling better for it in the end, like someone suffering from obesity who succeeds with a new diet.
The slowing growth in working age population has reduced the GDP growth for all developed countries. Adding resource limitations is further reducing it. If our GDP in the U.S. grew 2% for the next 20 years, I think we would be doing very well. Dropping to 1.5% would not surprise me, nor would it be a disaster. In the past 28 years, we have increased our GDP by 3.0% per year with only a 0.9% increase in energy required. That is, we increased our energy efficiency by 2.1% without a decent energy policy and despite some very inefficient pockets like autos and residential housing. This would suggest that at a reduced 2% GDP growth rate, we might expect little or no incremental demand for energy, even without an improved effort. If in addition we halved our deficit in energy efficiency compared with Europe and Japan in the next 20 years, then our energy requirements might drop at 1.5% a year. Given the plentiful availability of low-hanging fruit in the U.S., this is achievable.
… as for the Rest
Other countries will not be so lucky. Almost all will suffer lower growth, but resource-rich countries will have a relative benefit as the terms of trade continue to move in their favor. Less obviously, those countries that are particularly energy efficient will also benefit. If the Japanese, for example, can produce over twice the GDP per unit of energy than the Chinese, then, other things being equal, the terms of trade will move in their favor as oil prices rise. At the bottom of the list, poor countries with few resources and little efficiency, which already use up to 50% of their income on the commodity “necessities,” will suffer. The irony that they suffered the most having used up the least will probably not make their misery less. Limited resources create a win-lose proposition quite unlike the win-win we are accustomed to in global trade. Theoretically, we all gain through global trade as China grows. But with limited resources, the faster they grow and the richer they get (and, particularly, the more meat rather than grain that they eat), the more commodity prices rise and the greater the squeeze on the poorer countries and the relatively poor in every country. It’s a gloomy topic. Suffice it to say that if we mean to avoid increased starvation and international instability, we will need global ingenuity and generosity on a scale hitherto unheard of.
The U.S. and every other country need a longer-term resource plan, especially for energy, and we need it now!(Shorter-term views on the market and investment recommendations will be posted shortly.)
- P.I.S.A. Test 2003, OECD.
- Edward Chancellor, “China’s Red Flags,” GMO White Paper, March 23, 2010.
Disclaimer: The views expressed are the views of Jeremy Grantham through the period ending April 25, 2011, and are subject to change at any time based on market and other conditions. This is not an offer or solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security and should not be construed as such. References to specific securities and issuers are for illustrative purposes only and are not intended to be, and should not be interpreted as, recommendations to purchase or sell such securities.
by Frank Gapinski
For many years they’ve been seen as a symbol of pride in Australia. Expatriate writers in the 50s and 60s would write about returning to Sydney by ship and about being greeted by the smell of wafting gum tree leaves as they waxed lyrical about the nostalgia they felt for home.
Authorities still plant them everywhere. In parks, next to footpaths, street corners, new housing development estates, Eucalypts are as Australian as the Emu and the Kangaroo. They are seen nearly everywhere and nobody seems to take them as a threat in Australia.
But should Eucalypts be re-examined as a noxious weed?
Supporters of Natural Sequence Farming describe Eucalypts as:
- It is invasive
- It burns
- It’s alleolopathic
- Its residue fails to break down
- It’s a monoculture
- It’s poisoning and killing all of our catchments
- It prevents biodiversity from growing beneath it
Peter Andrews thinks so and gives them a blast at Mulloon Creek recently whilst we were filming at the field day held there. In this video clip he gives a frank assessment of their worth in planting along river beds. Oddly enough its the humble Willow tree that he loves and has plenty of time for, replanting them along creek beds. This has brought him at odds with Government authorities who have declared willows as noxious weeds and are ripping them out of creeks and rivers.
We filmed Mr Andrews hugging the trunk of a willow for the cameras as he said,
“If I had a daughter, I’d name her Willow!’
Government authorities in Land, Parks & Conservation declare Willows as rampant invaders and believe Peter Andrews’ methods are disruptive of biodiversity and the natural ecosystem. Tony Coote of Mulloon Natural Creek Farms where willows are grown on the creek beds is a firm supporter of Peter Andrews and his methods of land management and sees no evidence of Willows threatening landholders downstream.
The photograph above is of my home made bee hive. This is the ultimate beginner bee hive and the one I highly recommend you consider. Its benefits are that it is horizontal and not vertical so you don’t break your back lifting heavy boxes. The legs are cut to make the top of the hive at your own waist level. Now you can tend your bees without much bending and in a very comfortable relaxed state. This hive does not use bee frames. Instead of forcing bees to make comb cells the size we humans want, bees in the hive design I run build their entire comb themselves with their own wax (store bought wax has chemicals and pesticides treatment that stores in the wax fat, so your bees get medication even if you don’t want them to, or other potential diseases). Because the bees make all their own wax you get lots of honey like with traditional hives but you also get lots of wax. This is perfect for the homestead as you can make so many useful things from wax – from furniture and wood polishes, to candles, and so on! This hive is also perfect for beginners because you don’t have to buy thousands of dollars of honey extraction equipment. I bought a bread knife from a dollar shop and use that to harvest comb.
These hives are called Top Bar Hives because a single bar of wood lays on top of the hive. An embedded popsicle stick, or, as I do, a simple piece of jute string lain along the middle of the bar and glued by dripping hot wax melted with a cheap soldering iron from an electronics store, gives the bees a guide to build their comb along the bar. The jute string is less work than the popsicle stick and natural jute string means when the bees chew through it, it won’t harm the bees or contaminate your honey when harvesting like plastic string will.
I simply lift a bar at a time out of the hive and slice the top of the bar with the bread knife and let the entire honey comb fall into a bucket. I keep a cloth over the bucket after to keep bees out. When I have enough honey comb I go inside. Instead of the thousands of dollars in equipment. I take a fine sheer curtain material, here they sell it as Swiss Voile made from Polyester, or if I have none and have a new package of dish cloths I take a new clean one of those as it has fine holes in it. I put the comb in the cloth and then mash it up with a fork, spoon, wooden lemon juicer, or simply my hands (so long as I have a nice container of warm soapy water to clean my hands when finished). Then the mashed comb suspends in the cloth and I hang that inside a large jar. In a few days to a week the honey has gone through the cloth and into the jar with no pieces of wax or dirt or anything, just pure honey. Because I have not warmed or heated my honey it has all the delicate, sweet flavor and aroma that is destroyed when you harvest honey the traditional way or buy honey in the stores.
The only item you buy from traditional beekeeping companies is a bee suit, because when we first start out we have lots of unnecessary insecurities and it may take a few years of beekeeping until we calm down and realise it’s not so difficult. Long term beekeepers slowly evolve to working bees with no suit at all.
I would not recommend buying a bee smoker. Smoke makes bees stress out and think a fire is coming and gorge themselves on honey and fly around like crazy. If you switch to a garden sprayer filled with some sugar water syrup that is runny you will find when you spray bees they don’t buzz and go crazy, they get very quiet and stop what they are doing and start licking each other and the syrup like crazy.
It makes for a calm, happy, healthy hive and a calm happy beekeeper.
The plans and instructions to build the bee hive are kindly provided free of charge in the form of PDF documents you can view and print out on your computer. The web site hosting these files is www.biobees.com and they have a forum where you can ask plenty of questions and get helpful answers.
Bees are a perfect compliment to any suburban backyard, homestead, or farm. I would highly recommend anyone give it a go, especially with natural beekeeping methods as can be learned at the website and in those PDF document files.
Before transferring bees to the large Kenyan Top Bar Hive:
After transferring bees to the large Kenyan Top Bar Hive:
by Lester R. Brown, Earth Policy Institute
From the Middle East to Madagascar, high prices are spawning land grabs and ousting dictators. Welcome to the 21st-century food wars.
In the United States, when world wheat prices rise by 75 percent, as they have over the last year, it means the difference between a $2 loaf of bread and a loaf costing maybe $2.10. If, however, you live in New Delhi, those skyrocketing costs really matter: A doubling in the world price of wheat actually means that the wheat you carry home from the market to hand-grind into flour for chapatis costs twice as much. And the same is true with rice. If the world price of rice doubles, so does the price of rice in your neighborhood market in Jakarta. And so does the cost of the bowl of boiled rice on an Indonesian family’s dinner table.
Welcome to the new food economics of 2011: Prices are climbing, but the impact is not at all being felt equally. For Americans, who spend less than one-tenth of their income in the supermarket, the soaring food prices we’ve seen so far this year are an annoyance, not a calamity. But for the planet’s poorest 2 billion people, who spend 50 to 70 percent of their income on food, these soaring prices may mean going from two meals a day to one. Those who are barely hanging on to the lower rungs of the global economic ladder risk losing their grip entirely. This can contribute — and it has — to revolutions and upheaval.
Already in 2011, the U.N. Food Price Index has eclipsed its previous all-time global high; as of March it had climbed for eight consecutive months. With this year’s harvest predicted to fall short, with governments in the Middle East and Africa teetering as a result of the price spikes, and with anxious markets sustaining one shock after another, food has quickly become the hidden driver of world politics. And crises like these are going to become increasingly common. The new geopolitics of food looks a whole lot more volatile — and a whole lot more contentious — than it used to. Scarcity is the new norm.
Until recently, sudden price surges just didn’t matter as much, as they were quickly followed by a return to the relatively low food prices that helped shape the political stability of the late 20th century across much of the globe. But now both the causes and consequences are ominously different.
In many ways, this is a resumption of the 2007-2008 food crisis, which subsided not because the world somehow came together to solve its grain crunch once and for all, but because the Great Recession tempered growth in demand even as favorable weather helped farmers produce the largest grain harvest on record. Historically, price spikes tended to be almost exclusively driven by unusual weather — a monsoon failure in India, a drought in the former Soviet Union, a heat wave in the U.S. Midwest. Such events were always disruptive, but thankfully infrequent. Unfortunately, today’s price hikes are driven by trends that are both elevating demand and making it more difficult to increase production: among them, a rapidly expanding population, crop-withering temperature increases, and irrigation wells running dry. Each night, there are 219,000 additional people to feed at the global dinner table.
More alarming still, the world is losing its ability to soften the effect of shortages. In response to previous price surges, the United States, the world’s largest grain producer, was effectively able to steer the world away from potential catastrophe. From the mid-20th century until 1995, the United States had either grain surpluses or idle cropland that could be planted to rescue countries in trouble. When the Indian monsoon failed in 1965, for example, President Lyndon Johnson’s administration shipped one-fifth of the U.S. wheat crop to India, successfully staving off famine. We can’t do that anymore; the safety cushion is gone.
That’s why the food crisis of 2011 is for real, and why it may bring with it yet more bread riots cum political revolutions. What if the upheavals that greeted dictators Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia, Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, and Muammar al-Qaddafi in Libya (a country that imports 90 percent of its grain) are not the end of the story, but the beginning of it? Get ready, farmers and foreign ministers alike, for a new era in which world food scarcity increasingly shapes global politics.
The doubling of world grain prices since early 2007 has been driven primarily by two factors: accelerating growth in demand and the increasing difficulty of rapidly expanding production. The result is a world that looks strikingly different from the bountiful global grain economy of the last century. What will the geopolitics of food look like in a new era dominated by scarcity? Even at this early stage, we can see at least the broad outlines of the emerging food economy.
On the demand side, farmers now face clear sources of increasing pressure. The first is population growth. Each year the world’s farmers must feed 80 million additional people, nearly all of them in developing countries. The world’s population has nearly doubled since 1970 and is headed toward 9 billion by midcentury. Some 3 billion people, meanwhile, are also trying to move up the food chain, consuming more meat, milk, and eggs. As more families in China and elsewhere enter the middle class, they expect to eat better. But as global consumption of grain-intensive livestock products climbs, so does the demand for the extra corn and soybeans needed to feed all that livestock. (Grain consumption per person in the United States, for example, is four times that in India, where little grain is converted into animal protein. For now.)
At the same time, the United States, which once was able to act as a global buffer of sorts against poor harvests elsewhere, is now converting massive quantities of grain into fuel for cars, even as world grain consumption, which is already up to roughly 2.2 billion metric tons per year, is growing at an accelerating rate. A decade ago, the growth in consumption was 20 million tons per year. More recently it has risen by 40 million tons every year. But the rate at which the United States is converting grain into ethanol has grown even faster. In 2010, the United States harvested nearly 400 million tons of grain, of which 126 million tons went to ethanol fuel distilleries (up from 16 million tons in 2000). This massive capacity to convert grain into fuel means that the price of grain is now tied to the price of oil. So if oil goes to $150 per barrel or more, the price of grain will follow it upward as it becomes ever more profitable to convert grain into oil substitutes. And it’s not just a U.S. phenomenon: Brazil, which distills ethanol from sugar cane, ranks second in production after the United States, while the European Union’s goal of getting 10 percent of its transport energy from renewables, mostly biofuels, by 2020 is also diverting land from food crops.
This is not merely a story about the booming demand for food. Everything from falling water tables to eroding soils and the consequences of global warming means that the world’s food supply is unlikely to keep up with our collectively growing appetites. Take climate change: The rule of thumb among crop ecologists is that for every 1 degree Celsius rise in temperature above the growing season optimum, farmers can expect a 10 percent decline in grain yields. This relationship was borne out all too dramatically during the 2010 heat wave in Russia, which reduced the country’s grain harvest by nearly 40 percent.
While temperatures are rising, water tables are falling as farmers overpump for irrigation. This artificially inflates food production in the short run, creating a food bubble that bursts when aquifers are depleted and pumping is necessarily reduced to the rate of recharge. In arid Saudi Arabia, irrigation had surprisingly enabled the country to be self-sufficient in wheat for more than 20 years; now, wheat production is collapsing because the non-replenishable aquifer the country uses for irrigation is largely depleted. The Saudis soon will be importing all their grain.
Centre pivot irrigation in northern Saudi Arabia
Photo © Craig Mackintosh
Saudi Arabia is only one of some 18 countries with water-based food bubbles. All together, more than half the world’s people live in countries where water tables are falling. The politically troubled Arab Middle East is the first geographic region where grain production has peaked and begun to decline because of water shortages, even as populations continue to grow. Grain production is already going down in Syria andIraq and may soon decline in Yemen. But the largest food bubbles are in India and China. In India, where farmers have drilled some 20 million irrigation wells, water tables are falling and the wells are starting to go dry. The World Bank reports that 175 million Indians are being fed with grain produced by overpumping. In China, overpumping is concentrated in the North China Plain, which produces half of China’s wheat and a third of its corn. An estimated 130 million Chinese are currently fed by overpumping. How will these countries make up for the inevitable shortfalls when the aquifers are depleted?
Even as we are running our wells dry, we are also mismanaging our soils, creating new deserts. Soil erosion as a result of overplowing and land mismanagement is undermining the productivity of one-third of the world’s cropland. How severe is it? Look at satellite images showing two huge new dust bowls: one stretching across northern and western China and western Mongolia; the other across central Africa. Wang Tao, a leading Chinese desert scholar, reports that each year some 1,400 square miles of land in northern China turn to desert. In Mongolia and Lesotho, grain harvests have shrunk by half or more over the last few decades. North Korea and Haiti are also suffering from heavy soil losses; both countries face famine if they lose international food aid. Civilization can survive the loss of its oil reserves, but it cannot survive the loss of its soil reserves.
Beyond the changes in the environment that make it ever harder to meet human demand, there’s an important intangible factor to consider: Over the last half-century or so, we have come to take agricultural progress for granted. Decade after decade, advancing technology underpinned steady gains in raising land productivity. Indeed, world grain yield per acre has tripled since 1950. But now that era is coming to an end in some of the more agriculturally advanced countries, where farmers are already using all available technologies to raise yields. In effect, the farmers have caught up with the scientists. After climbing for a century, rice yield per acre in Japan has not risen at all for 16 years. In China, yields may level off soon. Just those two countries alone account for one-third of the world’s rice harvest. Meanwhile, wheat yields have plateaued in Britain, France, and Germany — Western Europe’s three largest wheat producers.
In this era of tightening world food supplies, the ability to grow food is fast becoming a new form of geopolitical leverage, and countries are scrambling to secure their own parochial interests at the expense of the common good.
The first signs of trouble came in 2007, when farmers began having difficulty keeping up with the growth in global demand for grain. Grain and soybean prices started to climb, tripling by mid-2008. In response, many exporting countries tried to control the rise of domestic food prices by restricting exports. Among them were Russia and Argentina, two leading wheat exporters. Vietnam, the No. 2 rice exporter, banned exports entirely for several months in early 2008. So did several other smaller exporters of grain.
With exporting countries restricting exports in 2007 and 2008, importing countries panicked. No longer able to rely on the market to supply the grain they needed, several countries took the novel step of trying to negotiate long-term grain-supply agreements with exporting countries. The Philippines, for instance, negotiated a three-year agreement with Vietnam for 1.5 million tons of rice per year. A delegation of Yemenis traveled to Australia with a similar goal in mind, but had no luck. In a seller’s market, exporters were reluctant to make long-term commitments.
Fearing they might not be able to buy needed grain from the market, some of the more affluent countries, led by Saudi Arabia, South Korea, and China, took the unusual step in 2008 of buying or leasing land in other countries on which to grow grain for themselves. Most of these land acquisitions are in Africa, where some governments lease cropland for less than $1 per acre per year. Among the principal destinations were Ethiopia and Sudan, countries where millions of people are being sustained with food from the U.N. World Food Program. That the governments of these two countries are willing to sell land to foreign interests when their own people are hungry is a sad commentary on their leadership.
By the end of 2009, hundreds of land acquisition deals had been negotiated, some of them exceeding a million acres. A 2010 World Bank analysis of these “land grabs” reported that a total of nearly 140 million acres were involved — an area that exceeds the cropland devoted to corn and wheat combined in the United States. Such acquisitions also typically involve water rights, meaning that land grabs potentially affect all downstream countries as well. Any water extracted from the upper Nile River basin to irrigate crops in Ethiopia or Sudan, for instance, will now not reach Egypt, upending the delicate water politics of the Nile by adding new countries with which Egypt must negotiate.
The potential for conflict — and not just over water — is high. Many of the land deals have been made in secret, and in most cases, the land involved was already in use by villagers when it was sold or leased. Often those already farming the land were neither consulted about nor even informed of the new arrangements. And because there typically are no formal land titles in many developing-country villages, the farmers who lost their land have had little backing to bring their cases to court. Reporter John Vidal, writing in Britain’s Observer, quotes Nyikaw Ochalla from Ethiopia’s Gambella region: “The foreign companies are arriving in large numbers, depriving people of land they have used for centuries. There is no consultation with the indigenous population. The deals are done secretly. The only thing the local people see is people coming with lots of tractors to invade their lands.”
Local hostility toward such land grabs is the rule, not the exception. In 2007, as food prices were starting to rise, China signed an agreement with the Philippines to lease 2.5 million acres of land slated for food crops that would be shipped home. Once word leaked, the public outcry — much of it from Filipino farmers — forced Manila to suspend the agreement. A similar uproar rocked Madagascar, where a South Korean firm, Daewoo Logistics, had pursued rights to more than 3 million acres of land. Word of the deal helped stoke a political furor that toppled the government and forced cancellation of the agreement. Indeed, few things are more likely to fuel insurgencies than taking land from people. Agricultural equipment is easily sabotaged. If ripe fields of grain are torched, they burn quickly.
Not only are these deals risky, but foreign investors producing food in a country full of hungry people face another political question of how to get the grain out. Will villagers permit trucks laden with grain headed for port cities to proceed when they themselves may be on the verge of starvation? The potential for political instability in countries where villagers have lost their land and their livelihoods is high. Conflicts could easily develop between investor and host countries.
These acquisitions represent a potential investment in agriculture in developing countries of an estimated $50 billion. But it could take many years to realize any substantial production gains. The public infrastructure for modern market-oriented agriculture does not yet exist in most of Africa. In some countries it will take years just to build the roads and ports needed to bring in agricultural inputs such as fertilizer and to export farm products. Beyond that, modern agriculture requires its own infrastructure: machine sheds, grain-drying equipment, silos, fertilizer storage sheds, fuel storage facilities, equipment repair and maintenance services, well-drilling equipment, irrigation pumps, and energy to power the pumps. Overall, development of the land acquired to date appears to be moving very slowly.
So how much will all this expand world food output? We don’t know, but the World Bank analysis indicates that only 37 percent of the projects will be devoted to food crops. Most of the land bought up so far will be used to produce biofuels and other industrial crops.
Even if some of these projects do eventually boost land productivity, who will benefit? If virtually all the inputs — the farm equipment, the fertilizer, the pesticides, the seeds — are brought in from abroad and if all the output is shipped out of the country, it will contribute little to the host country’s economy. At best, locals may find work as farm laborers, but in highly mechanized operations, the jobs will be few. At worst, impoverished countries like Mozambique and Sudan will be left with less land and water with which to feed their already hungry populations. Thus far the land grabs have contributed more to stirring unrest than to expanding food production.
And this rich country-poor country divide could grow even more pronounced — and soon. This January, a new stage in the scramble among importing countries to secure food began to unfold when South Korea, which imports 70 percent of its grain, announced that it was creating a new public-private entity that will be responsible for acquiring part of this grain. With an initial office in Chicago, the plan is to bypass the large international trading firms by buying grain directly from U.S. farmers. As the Koreans acquire their own grain elevators, they may well sign multiyear delivery contracts with farmers, agreeing to buy specified quantities of wheat, corn, or soybeans at a fixed price.
Other importers will not stand idly by as South Korea tries to tie up a portion of the U.S. grain harvest even before it gets to market. The enterprising Koreans may soon be joined by China, Japan, Saudi Arabia, and other leading importers. Although South Korea’s initial focus is the United States, far and away the world’s largest grain exporter, it may later consider brokering deals with Canada, Australia, Argentina, and other major exporters. This is happening just as China may be on the verge of entering the U.S. market as a potentially massive importer of grain. With China’s 1.4 billion increasingly affluent consumers starting to compete with U.S. consumers for the U.S. grain harvest, cheap food, seen by many as an American birthright, may be coming to an end.
No one knows where this intensifying competition for food supplies will go, but the world seems to be moving away from the international cooperation that evolved over several decades following World War II to an every-country-for-itself philosophy. Food nationalism may help secure food supplies for individual affluent countries, but it does little to enhance world food security. Indeed, the low-income countries that host land grabs or import grain will likely see their food situation deteriorate.
After the carnage of two world wars and the economic missteps that led to the Great Depression, countries joined together in 1945 to create the United Nations, finally realizing that in the modern world we cannot live in isolation, tempting though that might be. The International Monetary Fund was created to help manage the monetary system and promote economic stability and progress. Within the U.N. system, specialized agencies from the World Health Organization to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) play major roles in the world today. All this has fostered international cooperation.
But while the FAO collects and analyzes global agricultural data and provides technical assistance, there is no organized effort to ensure the adequacy of world food supplies. Indeed, most international negotiations on agricultural trade until recently focused on access to markets, with the United States, Canada, Australia, and Argentina persistently pressing Europe and Japan to open their highly protected agricultural markets. But in the first decade of this century, access to supplies has emerged as the overriding issue as the world transitions from an era of food surpluses to a new politics of food scarcity. At the same time, the U.S. food aid program that once worked to fend off famine wherever it threatened has largely been replaced by the U.N. World Food Program (WFP), where the United States is the leading donor. The WFP now has food-assistance operations in some 70 countries and an annual budget of $4 billion. There is little international coordination otherwise. French President Nicolas Sarkozy — the reigning president of the G-20 — is proposing to deal with rising food prices by curbing speculation in commodity markets. Useful though this may be, it treats the symptoms of growing food insecurity, not the causes, such as population growth and climate change. The world now needs to focus not only on agricultural policy, but on a structure that integrates it with energy, population, and water policies, each of which directly affects food security.
But that is not happening. Instead, as land and water become scarcer, as the Earth’s temperature rises, and as world food security deteriorates, a dangerous geopolitics of food scarcity is emerging. Land grabbing, water grabbing, and buying grain directly from farmers in exporting countries are now integral parts of a global power struggle for food security.
With grain stocks low and climate volatility increasing, the risks are also increasing. We are now so close to the edge that a breakdown in the food system could come at any time. Consider, for example, what would have happened if the 2010 heat wave that was centered in Moscow had instead been centered in Chicago. In round numbers, the 40 percent drop in Russia’s hoped-for harvest of roughly 100 million tons cost the world 40 million tons of grain, but a 40 percent drop in the far larger U.S. grain harvest of 400 million tons would have cost 160 million tons. The world’s carryover stocks of grain (the amount in the bin when the new harvest begins) would have dropped to just 52 days of consumption. This level would have been not only the lowest on record, but also well below the 62-day carryover that set the stage for the 2007-2008 tripling of world grain prices.
Then what? There would have been chaos in world grain markets. Grain prices would have climbed off the charts. Some grain-exporting countries, trying to hold down domestic food prices, would have restricted or even banned exports, as they did in 2007 and 2008. The TV news would have been dominated not by the hundreds of fires in the Russian countryside, but by footage of food riots in low-income grain-importing countries and reports of governments falling as hunger spread out of control. Oil-exporting countries that import grain would have been trying to barter oil for grain, and low-income grain importers would have lost out. With governments toppling and confidence in the world grain market shattered, the global economy could have started to unravel.
We may not always be so lucky. At issue now is whether the world can go beyond focusing on the symptoms of the deteriorating food situation and instead attack the underlying causes. If we cannot produce higher crop yields with less water and conserve fertile soils, many agricultural areas will cease to be viable. And this goes far beyond farmers. If we cannot move at wartime speed to stabilize the climate, we may not be able to avoid runaway food prices. If we cannot accelerate the shift to smaller families and stabilize the world population sooner rather than later, the ranks of the hungry will almost certainly continue to expand. The time to act is now — before the food crisis of 2011 becomes the new normal.
EXCERPT: Glyphosate has been thought of as more or less harmless: you spray the weeds, they die, the glyphosate goes away, and nothing else in the environment is harmed.
Why Is Damning New Evidence About Monsanto’s Most Widely Used Herbicide Being Silenced?
It turns out that Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide might not be nearly as safe as people have thought, but the media is staying mum on the revelation.
by Jill Richardson
Apr 27, 2011
Dr. Don Huber did not seek fame when he quietly penned a confidential letter to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack in January of this year, warning Vilsack of preliminary evidence of a microscopic organism that appears in high concentrations in genetically modified Roundup Ready corn and soybeans and “appears to significantly impact the health of plants, animals and probably human beings.” Huber, a retired Purdue University professor of plant pathology and U.S. Army colonel, requested the USDA’s help in researching the matter and suggested Vilsack wait until the research was concluded before deregulating Roundup Ready alfalfa. But about a month after it was sent, the letter was leaked, soon becoming an internet phenomenon.
Huber was unavailable to respond to media inquiries in the weeks following the leak, and thus unable to defend himself when several colleagues from Purdue publicly claiming to refute his accusations about Monsanto’s widely used herbicide Roundup (glyphosate) and Roundup Ready crops. When his letter was finally acknowledged by the mainstream media, it was with titles like “Scientists Question Claims in Biotech Letter,” noting that the letter’s popularity on the internet “has raised concern among scientists that the public will believe his unsupported claim is true.”
Now, Huber has finally spoken out, both in a second letter, sent to “a wide number of individuals worldwide” to explain and back up his claims from his first letter, and in interviews. While his first letter described research that was not yet complete or published, his second letter cited much more evidence about glyphosate and genetically engineered crops based on studies that have already been published in peer-reviewed journals.
The basis of both letters and much of the research is the herbicide glyphosate. First commercialized in 1974, glyphosate is the most widely used herbicide in the world and has been for some time. Glyphosate has long been considered a relatively benign product, because it was thought to break down quickly in the environment and harm little other than the weeds it was supposed to kill.
According to the National Pesticide Information Center, glyphosate prevents plants from making a certain enzyme. Without the enzyme, they are unable to make three essential amino acids, and thus, unable to survive. Once applied, glyphosate either binds to soil particles (and is thus immobilized so it can no longer harm plants) or microorganisms break it down into ammonium and carbon dioxide. Very little glyphosate runs off into waterways. For these reasons, glyphosate has been thought of as more or less harmless: you spray the weeds, they die, the glyphosate goes away, and nothing else in the environment is harmed.
But Huber says this is not true. First of all, he points out, evidence began to emerge in the 1980s that “what glyphosate does is, essentially, give a plant AIDS.” Just like AIDS, which cripples a human’s immune system, glyphosate makes plants unable to mount a defense against pathogens in the soil. Without its defense mechanisms functioning, the plants succumb to pathogens in the soil and die. Furthermore, glyphosate has an impact on microorganisms in the soil, helping some and hurting others. This is potentially problematic for farmers, as the last thing one would want is a buildup of pathogens in the soil where they grow crops.
The fate of glyphosate in the environment is also not as benign as once thought. It’s true that glyphosate either binds to soil or is broken down quickly by microbes. Glyphosate binds to any positively charged ion in the soil, with the consequence of making many nutrients (such as iron and manganese) less available to plants. Also, glyphosate stays in the soil bound to particles for a long time and can be released later by normal agricultural practices like phosphorus fertilization. “It’s not uncommon to find one to three pounds of glyphosate per acre in agricultural soils in the Midwest,” says Huber, noting that this represents one to three times the typical amount of glyphosate applied to a field in a year.
Huber says these facts about glyphosate are very well known scientifically but rarely cited. When asked why, he replied that it would be harder for a company to get glyphosate approved for widespread use if it were known that the product could increase the severity of diseases on normal crop plants as well as the weeds it was intended to kill. Here in the U.S., many academic journals are not even interested in publishing studies that suggest this about glyphosate; a large number of the studies Huber cites were published in the European Journal of Agronomy.
If Huber’s claims are true, then it follows that there must be problems with disease in crops where glyphosate is used. Huber’s second letter verifies this, saying, “we are experiencing a large number of problems in production agriculture in the U.S. that appear to be intensified and sometimes directly related to genetically engineered (GMO) crops, and/or the products they were engineered to tolerate — especially those related to glyphosate (the active chemical in Roundup® herbicide and generic versions of this herbicide).”
He continues, saying, “We have witnessed a deterioration in the plant health of corn, soybean, wheat and other crops recently with unexplained epidemics of sudden death syndrome of soybean (SDS), Goss’ wilt of corn, and take-all of small grain crops the last two years. At the same time, there has been an increasing frequency of previously unexplained animal (cattle, pig, horse, poultry) infertility and [miscarriages]. These situations are threatening the economic viability of both crop and animal producers.”
Some of the crops Huber named, corn and soy, are genetically engineered to survive being sprayed with glyphosate. Others, like wheat and barley, are not. In those cases, a farmer would apply glyphosate to kill weeds about a week before planting his or her crop, but would not spray the crop itself. In the case of corn, as Huber points out, most corn varieties in the U.S. are bred using conventional breeding techniques to resist the disease Goss’ wilt. However, recent preliminary research showed that when GE corn is sprayed with glyphosate, the corn becomes susceptible to Goss’ wilt. Huber says in his letter that “This disease was commonly observed in many Midwestern U.S. fields planted to [Roundup Ready] corn in 2009 and 2010, while adjacent non-GMO corn had very light to no infections.” In 2010, Goss’ wilt was a “major contributor” to an estimated one billion bushels of corn lost in the U.S. “in spite of generally good harvest conditions,” says Huber.
The subject of Huber’s initial letter is a newly identified organism that appears to be the cause of infertility and miscarriages in animals. Scientists have a process to verify whether an organism is the cause of a disease: they isolate the organism, culture it, and reintroduce it to the animal to verify that it reproduces the symptoms of the disease, and then re-isolate the organism from the animal’s tissue. This has already been completed for the organism in question. The organism appears in high concentrations in Roundup Ready crops. However, more research is needed to understand what this organism is and what its relationship is to glyphosate and/or Roundup Ready crops.
In order to secure the additional research needed, Huber wrote to Secretary Vilsack. Huber says he wrote his initial letter to Secretary Vilsack with the expectation that it would be forwarded to the appropriate agency within the USDA for follow-up, which it was. When the USDA contacted Huber for more information, he provided it, but he does not know how they have followed up on that information. The letter was “a private letter appealing for [the USDA’s] personnel and funding,” says Huber. Given recent problems with plant disease and livestock infertility and miscarriages, he says that “many producers can’t wait an additional three to 10 years for someone to find the funds and neutral environment” to complete the research on this organism.
If the link between the newly discovered organism and livestock infertility and miscarriages proves true, it will be a major story. But there is already a major story here: the lack of independent research on GMOs, the reluctance of U.S. journals to publish studies critical of glyphosate and GMOs, and the near total silence from the media on Huber’s leaked letter.
On a slow Friday afternoon, a surprising bit of news came down the pike: Roger Beachy, head of National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), the main research arm of the USDA, has officially resigned his post, effective May 20.
Who is Beachy? When Obama hired Beachy in 2009, I got a case of policy whiplash, because it seemed to me that the administration kept whipping back and forth between progressive food-system change and agribusiness as usual. Beachy, you see, came to the post from the Danforth Plant Science Center, where had he served as the organization’s president since its founding in 1998. Nestled in Monsanto’s St. Louis home town, Danforth has long and deep ties to Monsanto.
According to its website, the center “was founded in 1998 through gifts from the St. Louis-based Danforth Foundation, the Monsanto Fund (a philanthropic foundation), and a tax credit from the State of Missouri.” Monsanto CEO Hugh Grant sits on the center’s board of trustees, along with execs from defense giant McDonnell Douglas and pharma titan Merck. Another notable board member is Alfonso Romo, a Mexican magnate who cashed in big during his country’s notoriously corrupt privatization /liberalization bonanza in the early ’90s, and who sold Seminis, the globe’s largest vegetable-seed company, to Monsanto in 2005. (Here’s my account of that deal from the time.)
In his short stint at USDA, Beachy never hid his enthusiasm for ag biotechnology — or his disdain for organic ag. When I met him at an agriculture conference in Mexico and asked him about funding for organic research, he came up with a novel slander against synthetics-free ag: “I’m concerned about the safety of organic food… I’m concerned about the issue of microbial contamination with organic.” It was a strange encounter; I wrote about it here.
Beachy also hotly promoted GMOs, and thundered against organic, in a recent profilein Scientific American.
Now he has quit abruptly — according to the USDA’s internal announcement, posted on ScienceInsider, to “spend more time with his wife, his children, and his grandchildren” back in St. Louis. Be that as it may — sometimes, no doubt, people actually do abruptly quit jobs to “spend more time with family” — Beachy’s exit coincides with news that NIFA’s budget outlook has darkened considerably. Reports ScieceInsider:
This year’s pot for competitive grants is down about 1%, a far cry from the 64% increase that the Obama Administration had requested for FY 2011. And reflecting larger fiscal realities, the department’s request for FY 2012, submitted in February and still pending before Congress, was scaled back substantially, although still a robust 25% increase.
Meanwhile, the Danforth Center, where Beachy is still listed as a researcher, is going great guns. According to the April 14 St. Louis Today, “Researchers working to develop genetically modified, nutrient-dense cassava got another major boost Wednesday with an $8.3 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.” Total funding awarded to Daforth by the the Gates Foundation “now tops $20 million,” St. Louis Today reports.
Regulatory breakdown: http://bit.ly/du2NdC
Biotech Industry Allowed To Conduct Their Own GMO Assessments
April 28, 2011
It has been twelve years since the world’s first GM crop, the Flav Savr tomato, was commercially approved, and hundreds more GM varieties were granted deregulation status. The global area of GM crops has reached 102 million hectares, according to industry sources, though this has been strongly contested around the world.
In August 2006, a federal district judge in Hawaii ruled on the first case involving GMOs – drug-producing GM crops. The judge in this case ruled that the USDA violated the Endangered Species Act as well as the National Environmental Policy Act in allowing drug-producing GM crops to be cultivated throughout Hawaii, and failing to conduct even preliminary investigations on environmental impact prior to the approval of planting.
The plaintiffs were the Center for Food Safety, KAHEA (The Hawaiian Environmental Alliance), Friends of the Earth, and the Pesticide Action Network, North America.
The defendants were the US Secretary of Agriculture and administrators of the USDA.
In all cases involving GMOs, the USDA was found to have overlooked the law and disregarded health and environmental concerns in their approvals of the GM crops.
Before approving any GM crop, the USDA is required to conduct proper environmental impact statements (EIS). Despite years-worth of GM crop approvals, the agency has never once actually completed an EIS — that is until the 2007 court ruling that required it to for GM alfalfa.
After being legally challenged in 2007 over its initial approval of GM alfalfa, the USDA was ordered by a federal court to complete a proper EIS, and Monsanto was ordered to stop planting GM alfalfa until it could be proven that its “Frankencrop” was safe for the environment and humans.. The USDA completed the EIS in late December, and it actually revealed very serious problems with GM alfalfa, including the widespread damage it will cause through cross-pollination.
However, despite the clear evidence that GM alfalfa is highly problematic and unfit for approval, USDA chief Tom Vilsack went ahead and approved it anyway.
“We expect Monsanto to force-feed people genetically engineered (GE) crops — that’s its business model,” said Paul Achitoff, attorney for nonprofit environmental law firm Earthjustice. “We hoped for better from the USDA, which has much broader responsibilities.”
Now, the USDA plans to experiment with a new way of evaluating bio-tech crops for potential commercialization. Under the agency’s new two-year pilot project, bio-tech developers would conduct their own environmental assessment of transgenic crops or pay contractors to perform the analysis. Currently, officials at USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) are responsible for the studies.
Federal environmental law requires the agency to complete such reviews before deregulating bio-tech crops.
The goal of the new pilot program is to make the process more timely and efficient, according to APHIS. The approach has met with support from the bio-tech industry, which wants to reduce delays in the approval of transgenic crops. Many worry the program will result in biased and inaccurate environmental reviews.
Karen Batra of the Biotechnology Industry Organization said, the pilot program will not only help move crops through the process more quickly, but the added resources will also help the documents hold up in court.
“A big deterrent to future lawsuits would be if USDA were to win some of them,” Batra said. “The more information the department has, the better case they can make.”
In recent years, biotech opponents have won lawsuits claiming the agency violated environmental law by inadequately supporting its decision to deregulate transgenic alfalfa and sugar beets.
By allowing biotech developers to conduct their own environmental assessments, the process becomes subject to conflicts of interest, said Bill Freese, science policy analyst for the Center For Food Safety and a biotech opponent.
“It’s like asking BP to write an assessment of an offshore drilling operation,” he said.
The pilot program basically treats the environmental review process as a “rubber stamp” for getting biotech crops to market more quickly, side Freese.
28 Apr 2011
AFP - The city of Lima plans to declare the Peruvian capital a “GMO-free zone” after a controversial government decree that critics fear will see the country flooded with genetically modified organisms.
Several municipalities in addition to Lima — a city of more than eight million inhabitants — as well as agricultural groups, agronomists and doctors have denounced the decree, which was published earlier this month.
Deputy Mayor Eduardo Zegarra said he hopes the GMO-free ordinance will be approved “as quickly as possible” by Lima’s new socialist administration.
“We are not going to allow the entrance of GMO seeds. With this declaration Lima is saying not to experimentation with GMO seeds. It’s a precautionary measure, to preserve our biodiversity, after this surprising decree.”
Peru’s Minister of Agriculture, Rafael Quevedo, played down the April 15 decree and said it was only intended to regulate entry procedures for GMOs among various government agencies responsible for biodiversity.
“It’s a regulation which tries to eliminate errors, control the use of genetically modified organisms, and make sure they don’t come into the country if they are found to be a risk,” he said.
Experimental corn crops for humans using genetically modified seed are expected at some point in Peru, but genetically modified plants, especially soya and corn, are already imported for livestock use. By law, foods containing GMO’s must be labelled as such.
In a statement, the Agriculture Ministry noted that Peru is one of the world’s largest exporters of organic food, including coffee and cocoa, with $3 billion a year in revenues and 40,000 certified producers.
NOTE: Thanks to Bengt Ingerstam, President of the Swedish Consumer Coalition, for this great news - see below.
Our understanding is that GM grain is now not going to be imported by Swedish livestock producers or food manufacturers, so all Swedish food will be non-GM!
Some GM grain had been coming in to Sweden for a minority of large farmers involved in intensive pig rearing, even though the vast majority of Swedish farmers refused to use GM feed because of strong consumer resistance.
The change from 1st of May will mean that GM grain will no longer be imported at all into Sweden, either for the food or feed supply chains, leaving Sweden completely GM-free bar some imported foods and some BASF (non-food) GM potatoes - BASF will cultivate 5 hectares up in the north of Sweden.
Sweden will soon be GM-free!
Ever since the European Union, after strong lobbying from GM companies, accepted that products from animals that have been given GM-feed did not have to be labeled, we have worked hard to get voluntary agreements with producers not to use GM-feed.
Producer organisations for poultry/chicken,lamb, beef, veal and milk all set rules not permitting GM-feed for their animals. Strong lobbying by the importer of GM-soy tried to make them change their mind, mainly pointing at the level of cost (which they could manipulate!). Consumer opinion was strong enough for the producers to resist and continue to say no to GM-feed, except for a few big pig producers, including the former president of their organisation.
Our strategy was to tell the pig farmers that without GM-free feed, there was no reason for consumers to pay more for Swedish pig meat and we started a boycott campaign 2010-03-02: initially limited to 3 months to start a dialogue. Since this dialogue did not give any immediate results it was prolonged.
Finally the biggest slaughterhouse company SCAN decided to stop accepting GM-fed pigs from farmers and their new rules will take effect on the 1st of May, and after 1st of September no more GM-fed pigs will be accepted. Other slaughterhouses have declared that they will follow the SCAN decision.
Consequently we have communicated to consumers to start to buy meat from Swedish pigs again immediately and continue the boycott of cheaper imported pig meat. We have also invited the big retail chains not to promote imported pig meat.
Here is a translation of the text we have now published on our boycott page:
NEW! The boycott is lifted on Swedish pork. The rules are changed at SCAN from May 1st and from September 1st no pigs raised on GM feed will be accepted at the SCAN slaughterhouses.
The number of pigs given GM feed is already small enough to be ignored, but if you want to be 100% sure, you can wait until September.
In the meantime we will have to check the other slaughterhouses to make sure that they too have changed their policy.
For the time being, we can buy SCAN pork, but not store brands, unless it is clearly stated that the pigs are given only GM-free feed, ICA Selection for example.
Even bigger reason now to avoid all “offers” to buy cheap imported pork, most certainly raised on at least some GM feed.
Swedish Consumer Coalition