By asking Who is control here? the sustainable food movement sets example for broader green movement
It’s an exciting time for the good food movement. Sometimes it can feel as though the efforts to make agriculture more sustainable are the most visible and active component of the broader environmental movement. This shouldn’t be surprising. Our relationship to food is visceral, emotional, and continues daily. Climate change, as important as it is, can feel abstract.
If you’ve seen Food Inc. or read any Eric Schlosser, Michael Pollan, or Rachel Carson, you know that the sustainable food movement is trying to address the social and environmental problems created by an industrial farming system in which convenience and profit trump everything else. The responses to industrial farming have included critiques like Silent Spring, the back-to-the-land and organic farming spark of the late 1960s, the family farm movement that resisted bankruptcy and corporate consolidation in the 1980s, and now the urban farming movement that has burgeoned during the past 10 years.
photo by Hals - Leandro Bierhals (Flickr CC)
Many elements of the sustainable food movement have been organized by (or organized for) the two most obvious sectors of the food system: eaters and producers. Generally food activism has revolved around those who grow the food and those who eat it. In parts of the world where populations are still largely agrarian, eaters and producers are often the same people, but here in the United States (where the farming population hovers around 1 percent) consumers have been the dominant focus of food policy, at least for the past 40 years.
In the global North, much of the past 20 years of activism has been framed by the concept of “food security”: that is, the right of all people to have enough food to avoid hunger and malnutrition. While this consumer-focused concept has its benefits, some people have found it lacking. There is, then, a new effort underway to deepen food activism and to focus it on a more radical idea: the concept of food sovereignty. The global food sovereignty movement is making the case that reform of the food system will be insufficient if it does not democratize and make more transparent the means of food production. In short: we’ll never be able to resolve the environmental and social abuses of industrial agriculture without changing who controls the food system.
Review of Wikileaks cables reveals effort to break down other nations' resistance to GMOs
by Suzanne Goldenberg
American diplomats lobbied aggressively overseas to promote genetically modified (GM) food crops such as soy beans, an analysis of official cable traffic revealed on Tuesday.
The review of more than 900 diplomatic cables by the campaign group Food and Water Watch showed a carefully crafted campaign to break down resistance to GM products in Europe and other countries, and so help promote the bottom line of big American agricultural businesses.
The cables, which first surfaced with the Wikileaks disclosures two years ago, described a series of separate public relations strategies, unrolled at dozens of press junkets and biotech conferences, aimed at convincing scientists, media, industry, farmers, elected officials and others of the safety and benefits of GM products.
The report offers a further glimpse of the power of the agricultural and biotech industries in America, after the supreme court came down on the side of Monsanto in its effort to enforce its patented GM soybeans.
Keith Weller, U.S. Department of Agriculture, via Wikimedia Commons Kernels of GM seed corn in a Monsanto lab in St Louis, Missouri.
The court ruled on Monday that an Indiana farmer had to buy new seeds directly from Monsanto every time he planted the GM Roundup Ready soybeans.
The public relations effort unrolled by the State Department also ventured into legal terrain, according to the report. US officials stationed overseas opposed GM food labelling laws as well as rules blocking the import of GM foods.
The report notes that some of the lobbying effort had direct benefits. About 7% of the cables mentioned specific companies, and 6% mentioned Monsanto. "This corporate diplomacy was nearly twice as common as diplomatic efforts on food aid," the report said.
Wenonah Hauter, the executive director of Food and Water Watch, said it was unsettling to see the State Department investing so much effort into promoting industry. "I'm especially concerned to see how much of the cables have to do with changing laws and regulations of many of those countries," she said. "Instead of focusing on security and promoting democracy, they are focusing on pressuring foreign governments."
In some instances, there was little pretence at hiding that resort to pressure – at least within US government circles. In a 2007 cable, released during the earlier Wikileaks disclosures, Craig Stapleton, a …more
Film Review: Bidder 70
Bidder 70 is a stand-up-and-cheer documentary about an activist who made waves while sitting down. Shortly before the Bush regime left office W. leased vast swathes of federally-owned pristine acreage to developers for drilling and mining — an exploitation of public property intended to enrich energy companies. But there was an unexpected fly in the ointment: Due to what this documentary indicates was a case of mistaken identity by the authorities, Tim DeChristopher managed to infiltrate the December 19, 2008 Bureau of Land Management Oil and Gas Lease Auction in Salt Lake City. Acting, he says, “on the spur of the moment,” the 27-year-old became “bidder 70,” proffering almost $2 million for 22,000 acres of wilderness in the red rock country near Arches and Canyonlands National Parks.
There was only one problem. Far from being an energy or mining industry representative, DeChristopher was a University of Utah economics student who did not have the money to lease the dozen or so parcels he successfully bid upon. But by doing so in an effort to save the public land from being developed and exploited, he gummed up the works of the auction process.
For “disrupting” the auction, DeChristopher was indicted on two felonies and faced up to 10 years behind bars plus an almost $1 million fine. After Obama moved into the White House his new Interior Secretary, Ken Salazar, directed the BLM and Interior Department not to accept the bids for 77 parcels near environmentally sensitive land. But the charges against DeChristopher weren’t dropped.
Bidder 70 reveals how conscience, consciousness and peaceful civil disobedience remain powerful weapons in the arsenal of dissent. Award-winning veteran filmmakers Beth and George Gage use archival footage of Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King, and the anti-Vietnam War movement —- including shots of protesters burning draft cards — to vividly make this point.
The documentary follows DeChristopher’s growth as a world figure and the struggle to keep him from becoming a political prisoner, as activists, actors, and attorneys rallied around the environmentalist, who says onscreen that he took spontaneous action because: “It’s really hard for me not to think about climate change… It’s this big weight our generation is bearing on its shoulders.”
Photo by Tim DeChristopher's story is a telling example of how conscience, consciousness, and peaceful
This isn’t the first time the agency has investigated political groups – just the first time it’s become a full-blown controversy
On Wednesday night President Obama, speaking from the East Room of the White House, called the IRS scrutiny of some 300 conservative groups “inexcusable.” “I will not tolerate this kind of behavior in any agency, but especially in the IRS, given the power that it has and the reach that it has into all of our lives,” the president said. “It should not matter what political stripe you’re from – the fact of the matter is, is that the IRS has to operate with absolute integrity.”
I agree with the president – even though I think it’s long past time that Congress and the courts developed clearer rules so the IRS can evaluate whether a 501 (c)4 “social welfare organization” is violating the law.
But before any more public servants get thrown under the bus (see: poor Steven Miller), let’s remember this: Not too long ago, it was environmental organizations and other progressive groups that were being targeted by the Internal Revenue Service.
Let’s go into the Wayback Machine to puncture some of our collective amnesia.
In 2005, Greenpeace USA was subjected to a rigorous IRS audit to see whether the group had engaged in activities prohibited by its 501 (c)3 and 501 (c)4 statuses. (Like many public interest groups, Greenpeace has both entities.) Greenpeace passed the audit.
The Wall Street Journal later reported that the Greenpeace audit had been spurred by a request from a little-known outfit called Public Interest Watch. That sounds like a high-minded, do-gooder organization, right? Well, turns out that Public Interest Watch was little more than a front group for Exxon Mobil. In one year, more than 95 percent of its $124,000 budget came from the oil industry giant.
Right before the IRS’s audit of Greenpeace, another in-your-face environmental group, Rainforest Action Network, was also targeted by conservatives. In 2004, the then chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, Republican Bill Thomas of California, subpoenaed 10 years’ worth of RAN records. According to the folks at the Civil Liberties Monitoring Project, “right wing groups” such as Frontiers for Freedom and the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise had been publicly clamoring for an IRS audit of RAN since at least 2001.
Over at RAN’s in-house blog, The Understory, Melanie Gleason writes:
“Six months before the subpoena, RAN had …more
We should honor the 1976 public interest agreement and affirm “America’s greatest idea”
Last November, then-Interior Secretary Ken Salazar made an historic decision for America’s national parks and wilderness legacy by honoring a decades-old agreement the government made to the people of the United States regarding Point Reyes National Seashore. Salazar decided to let the lease of a commercial oyster company operating within a congressionally designated wilderness area expire on its own terms, ushering in the protection of our first marine wilderness on the West Coast.
Photo by Marsha KirschbaumPoint Reyes National Seashore’s ecological heart – Drakes Estero – is a remarkable estuary that is home to one of the largest harbor seal colonies in California, tens of thousands of migrating birds, and prized underwater eelgrass meadows.
Salazar’s decision symbolized government at its best: acting in the interest of all Americans and ensuring that public trust resources such as national parks and wilderness are protected for future generations. Some Members of Congress who have a long history of working on public lands issues stated: “We applaud the decision to follow the clear intent of Congress, as well as an agreement signed almost four decades ago to establish the nation's first marine wilderness on the west coast at Point Reyes National Seashore. This decision will protect the ecological heart of the National Seashore.” In short: a deal is a deal.
But the owners of Drakes Bay Oyster Company believe they are entitled to continue operating on publicly owned land and in publicly owned waters that were long-planned to be protected from commercial uses. After Salazar issued his decision the company immediately filed a lawsuit against the Interior Department.
On May 14 the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments as the company seeks to continue its commercial operations far beyond its lease expiration in this sensitive marine environment. In February, the federal District Court ruled that the company did not deserve an injunction as it pursues its lawsuit. The judge found that the Court did not have jurisdiction and, even if it did, the company’s lawsuit lacked merit and failed to demonstrate that it is in the public interest. The judge also found that an injunction is not equitable for the American public, who own the land and waters where the company operates and who were long promised its protection and enjoyment free of motorized and commercial uses.
Tourists largely unaware that industrial pollution from rivers upstream is making them sick
Over the past few decades, Sayulita, a small fishing village along Mexico’s 200-mile Riviera Nayarit coastline, has grown into a boutique eco-tourism and retiree destination. It’s known among surfers for its consistent river mouth surf break. The town has a water treatment plant built in 2009, it recycles its rubbish, and many restaurants use only ‘organic’ locally grown food. A common conversation in many cafes around its pretty stone plaza is how to improve the town’s sustainability. This would be an almost idyllic community but for the fact that its small river is heavily polluted.
Photos by Justine KellyForeign tourists and expat surfers wonder about the constant flu and respiratory troubles
they suffer from after swallowing the water in Sayulita and other Nayarit beaches.
Unaware of the extent of pollution flowing in the river, foreign tourists and expat surfers wonder about the constant flu and respiratory trouble they suffer from after swallowing the water in Sayulita and other Nayarit beaches.
“We only surf when the water is moving [out] and taking the waste from the river out to sea,” says Mitch Carr, an Australian surfer and long term Sayulita resident. He has a respiratory complaint and lethargy for a few months, but believes he had just some bad luck with a “one-off bit of e-coli” infection and that his immune system is low. He continues surfing daily.
But local Mexicans are aware that the respiratory, bronchial, and stomach problems that people suffer from after swimming and surfing here may be caused by industrial waste that pollutes the once-great El Rio Grande de Santiago or Santiago River — the source of their river and all of the rivers that flow down to the tourism zones of Jalisco and Riviera Nayarit.
They also know that beaches of Riviera Nayarit often host high levels of Enterococcus, a strain of e-coli bacteria that causes various respiratory and stomach infections and is resistant to antibiotics. Enterococcus is often generated as waste in the production of antibiotics. It can also come from agricultural waste. SEMARNAT, Mexico’s environmental agency, rates 100 enterococcus per 1000 ml (1 quart) of water as acceptable. The number deemed safe by the US Environmental Agency is 35 per 1000 ml.
In March 2013, when SEMARNAT deemed all beaches along the Pacific coast as safe, but the beach waters at San Francisco …more
Legislation is “constitutionally suspect,” says Gov Bill Haslam
Great Monday morning news! Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam has just vetoed his state’s “ag-gag” bill that would have criminalized undercover investigations at horse stables and factory farm facilities.
Photo by Tom HartA 2011 undercover investigation of a horse training facility in Tennessee revealed painful
chemicals were being applied on the horses’ front legs to force them to perform an artificially
high-stepping gait for show competitions.
In his statement describing his reasons for vetoing the bill, Haslam said: “First, the Attorney General says the law is constitutionally suspect. Second, it appears to repeal parts of Tennessee’s Shield Law without saying so…. Third, there are concerns from some district attorneys that the act actually makes it more difficult to prosecute animal cruelty cases, which would be an unintended consequence.”
The governor’s veto comes after widespread opposition to the anti-whistleblower legislation that would require that anyone recording abuse in livestock operations turn the evidence over to law enforcement within 24 hours or face criminal charges.
Animal welfare activists say the deadline is far too short to allow for actual documentation of the extent to which animal abuse can be a pervasive practice at large livestock and cattle facilities. Also, it would immediately expose the undercover investigator, which, they say, is exactly what the meat industry wants.
Thousands of Tennesseans, animal welfare groups, and free speech advocates had protested the bill that had squeezed through both houses of legislature in April. More than 300 Tennessee clergy also spoke out against the bill, as did several state celebrities, including Priscilla Presley, singers Carrie Underwood and Emmylou Harris, and Miss Tennessee USA 2013.
In addition to Tennessee, such bills were introduced this year in 10 other states — Arkansas, California, Indiana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and Wyoming. So far none of the bills have been successful. (In Indiana, the state assembly adjourned for the year this morning without passing its ag-gag bill.)
As I’ve been reporting since last year, (see here, here and here), these bills are part of Big Ag’s efforts to block undercover investigations of industrial-scale livestock operations which have repeatedly exposed unsanitary conditions and inhumane treatment of animals. Such investigations have led to the closure of farming facilities and even criminal convictions.
In Tennessee, for instance, a 2011 Humane Society …more
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