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How Ancient Crops Could Counteract Climate Change Effects

Author: Steve Gillman| Published: May 2, 2017

Intensively growing single crops for commercial purposes is the most common farming practice in Europe. These so-called cash crops include corn and wheat and they depend on stable weather to get a good harvest.

‘With climate change we will see much more drought in different places of the world, especially in the Mediterranean region, and large parts of Africa,’ said Professor Sven-Erik Jacobsen from the Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark. ‘Even in north Europe we will see more drought and heavier rainfalls.’

An unusually hot or wet period could devastate harvests of traditional crops, but species originating in warmer climates could serve as a solution to European farmers under threat.

‘These crops could be the answer to the climate change effects that we will experience more and more,’ said Prof. Jacobsen, who is the project coordinator of PROTEIN2FOOD, an EU-funded project that’s exploring ancient crops and legumes to help make modern agriculture more sustainable.

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Want Healthier Soil? Link It to Crop Insurance

Author: Elizabeth Grossman | Published on: May 2, 2017

Most farmers know that the health of their soil is important, but they don’t all prioritize it over, say, maximizing what they grow each year. Now, some scientists are looking into ways to ensure that more farmers—especially those producing commodity crops in the middle of the country—start taking soil seriously.

The world’s biggest crop insurance program, the U.S. Federal Crop Insurance Program (FCIP) provides coverage to help farmers recover from “severe weather and bad years of production.” But recently, a pair of Cornell University scientists looked at what might happen if crop insurance were also tied to soil quality—that is, if insurance companies began considering soil data when determining rates.

In a new paper, Cornell University assistant professor of agricultural business and finance Joshua Woodard and post-doctoral research assistant Leslie Verteramo Chiu argue that tying the Crop Insurance Program to the health of a farm’s soil could make it a powerful tool for promoting more sustainable and resilient farming. Including soil data in crop insurance criteria, they write, would “open the door to improving conservation outcomes” and help farmers better manage risks to food security and from climate change.

Or, as Paul Wolfe, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) senior policy specialist, explained, “The big picture is that crop insurance could be a great way to incentivize conservation, but it isn’t now.”

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International Monsanto Tribunal Calls for Human Rights Over Corporate Rights

Author: Katherine Paul | Published: April 18, 2017

On Tuesday, April 18, representatives of the Organic Consumers Association and our Regeneration International project gathered in The Hague, Netherlands, along with members of other civil society groups, scientists and journalists.

We assembled to hear the opinions of the five judges who presided over the International Monsanto Tribunal. After taking six months to review the testimony of 28 witnesses who testified during the two-day citizens’ tribunal held in The Hague last October, the judges were ready to report on their 53-page Advisory Opinion.

The upshot of the judges’ opinion? Monsanto has engaged in practices that have violated the basic human right to a healthy environment, the right to food, the right to health, and the right of scientists to freely conduct indispensable research.

The judges also called on international lawmakers to hold corporations like Monsanto accountable, to place human rights above the rights of corporations, and to “clearly assert the protection of the environment and establish the crime of ecocide.”

The completion of the Tribunal judges’ work coincides with heightened scrutiny of Monsanto, during a period when the company seeks to complete a merger with Germany-based Bayer. In addition to our organization’s recently filed lawsuit against Monsanto, the St. Louis-based chemical maker is facing more than 800 lawsuits by people who developed non-Hodgkin lymphoma after being exposed to Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide. As a result of recently-made-public court documents related to those lawsuits, pressure is mounting for Congress to investigate alleged collusion between former EPA officials and Monsanto to bury the truth about the health risks of Roundup.

The timing couldn’t have been better for the Monsanto Tribunal to announce its opinions. But is time running out for us to hold Monsanto accountable—and replace its failed, degenerative model with a food and farming system that regenerates soil, health and local economies?

Citizens’ tribunals historically contribute to developing international law

The Monsanto Tribunal judges had barely finished delivering their opinions before Monsanto spit out the usual pablum, claiming to be committed to finding “real solutions” to the challenges of hunger, food security and the role of farmers to “nourish our growing world sustainably.”

In a statement issued by the biotech giant’s Global Human Rights Steering Committee (who knew?), Monsanto claimed the Tribunal was “staged by a select group of anti-agriculture technology and anti-Monsanto critics who played organizers, judge and jury.”

In fact, organizers of the Tribunal had no say in the judges’ final opinion. And the judges themselves are all independent, highly qualified lawyers and legal experts, recognized by the international legal community for their accomplishments and credentials.

In their Advisory Opinion, the judges didn’t directly address criticism of the Monsanto Tribunal specifically, nor did they address attempts to delegitimize citizens’ tribunals (which the judges referred to as “Opinion Tribunals”) in general. But the judges did outline what an Opinion Tribunal is—and is not—and why they are important:

Their objective is twofold: alerting public opinion, stakeholders and policy-makers to acts considered as unacceptable and unjustifiable under legal standards; contributing to the advancement of national and international law.

The work and conclusions of opinion tribunals are shared with all relevant actors and widely disseminated in the national and international community. Most opinion tribunals have had a considerable impact, and it is now accepted that they contribute to the progressive development of international law.

Judges: Monsanto violated basic human rights

As we wrote last year, the Monsanto Tribunal judges were asked to consider six questions, referred to as the “Terms of Reference.” During two days of testimony, the judges heard from 28 witnesses (representing about 15 countries) on matters relating to the six questions.

On four of those questions—whether or not Monsanto violated the right to a healthy environment, right to food, right to health, and right to freedom of expression and academic research—the judges concluded in all cases that yes, Monsanto’s activities have violated all of those rights. (Detailed answers to all questions are included in the Advisory Opinion).

On the question of war crimes, related to Monsanto supplying Agent Orange to the U.S. military during the Vietnam War, the judges concluded:

Because of the current state of international law and the absence of specific evidence, the Tribunal cannot give any definitive answer to the question it was asked. Nevertheless, it seems that Monsanto knew how its products would be used and had information on the consequences for human health and the environment. The Tribunal is of the view that, would the crime of Ecocide be added in International law, the reported facts could fall within the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC).

And that brings us to question six: Could the activities of Monsanto constitute a crime of ecocide, understood as causing serious damage or destroying the environment, so as to significantly and durably alter the global commons or ecosystem services upon which certain human groups rely?

Possibly—if ecocide were recognized as an international crime, under the Rome Statute. Because it isn’t, at least not yet, the judges could only add to existing calls for the International Law Commission to amend the Rome Statute to include ecocide on its list of international crimes.

On complicity in war crimes, the Tribunal judges wrote:

The Tribunal assesses that international law should now precisely and clearly assert the protection of the environment and the crime of ecocide. The Tribunal concludes that if such a crime of ecocide were recognized in international criminal law, the activities of Monsanto could possibly constitute a crime of ecocide. Several of the company’s activities may fall within this infraction, such as the manufacture and supply of glyphosate-based herbicides to Colombia in the context of its plan for aerial application on coca crops, which negatively impacted the environment and the health of local populations; the large-scale use of dangerous agrochemicals in industrial agriculture; and the engineering, production, introduction and release of genetically engineered crops. Severe contamination of plant diversity, soils and waters would also fall within the qualification of ecocide. Finally, the introduction of persistent organic pollutants such as PCB into the environment causing widespread, long-lasting and severe environmental harm and affecting the right of the future generations could fall within the qualification of ecocide as well.

International law has ‘failed woefully’, but we have to hope

We can’t do justice here to the Tribunal judges’ 53-page Advisory Opinion. The Opinion, which include 120 citations, paints a detailed picture of how Monsanto violates human rights and ravages the environment, on a global scale. In their published Opinion, the judges call for changes in international law in order to give priority to human rights, over the rights of corporations, and to hold corporations accountable for violating human and environmental rights.

While according companies like Monsanto unprecedented rights and entitlements, international law has failed woefully to impose any corresponding obligation to protect human rights and the environment. However, it is beyond the scope of this advisory opinion to consider the breadth of reforms required to re-align the respective priorities of commercial and public interests that must be brought about under international law. Therefore, the Tribunal strongly encourages authoritative bodies to address the legal and practical limitations that currently confine the scope, content and ultimately the effectiveness of international human rights law.

As she wrapped up the April 18 press conference in The Hague, Tribunal Judge Françoise Tulkens said that while the judges’ work was done, the work of civil society has just begun.

“Now this Advisory Opinion is in your hands, it’s for you to use it. You, as in civil servants, as in lawyers and judges, if it’s possible . . .  maybe this Opinion will serve in the development of international law, and of course international law does develop under the impetus of civil society, so for that maybe we have to wait one year, two years, decades, maybe centuries, I don’t know, but we still have to hope that it’s possible.”

As we hope for international law to start holding corporations like Monsanto (or Bayer or Dow or Syngenta) accountable for the devastating consequences of their poisonous chemicals, we must also look for hopeful solutions for feeding the world’s growing population. Monsanto will have you believe that its failed GMO monoculture model provides those solutions—but increasingly, the world is wising up to that lie.

In “3 Big Myths about Modern Agriculture,” David R. Montgomery, professor of Earth and Space Sciences at the University of Washington, says that conventional farming practices that degrade soil health undermine humanity’s ability to continue feeding everyone over the long run. Montgomery writes:

I no longer see debates about the future of agriculture as simply conventional versus organic. In my view, we’ve oversimplified the complexity of the land and underutilized the ingenuity of farmers. I now see adopting farming practices that build soil health as the key to a stable and resilient agriculture.

Do we have decades or centuries, as Tulkens suggests, for international law to crack down on Monsanto? Probably not, if climate scientists’ predictions are correct. But as humans with rights, and consumers with responsibility for our purchasing decisions, we can help fuel a Regeneration Revolution that can both cool the planet and feed the world—without poison.

Watch the Monsanto Tribunal April 18 press conference

Summary of the Monsanto Tribunal Advisory Opinion

Monsanto Tribunal Advisory Opinion—full document

Katherine Paul is associate director of the Organic Consumers Association.

Death From Above

Author: Christopher Collins | Published: April 17, 2017

It’s December in Quitaque, and from dusk till dawn, convoys of trucks brimming with freshly picked cotton barrel down Highway 86, destined for gins in nearby Silverton and Roaring Springs. There, giant vacuums draw the cotton into the bellies of whirring machines and then, emptied of their cargo, the trucks race back to the fields to be repacked. During harvest season, the roadsides of this part of the Texas Panhandle are lined with little white drifts of cotton.

Cotton farming is big business in this region, where most of the state’s $2.2 billion crop is grown. Quitaque, a community of 387 people about an hour and a half southeast of Amarillo, is surrounded by a phalanx of cotton farmers who each year plant tens of thousands of acres. The town is an island in a vast white sea.

Though the industry is a lifeline for Quitaque’s economy, and the lives of folks in town are tied to the work of neighboring farms, residents say the relationship has a big drawback: the repeated and indiscriminate spraying of pesticides that is killing trees, poisoning livestock and making people sick.

The cotton convoy is rushing up and down the highway as Jerry Beck, a portly, white-bearded man in his 60s, steps into the Caprock Cafe, a country diner run by his wife. Despite below-freezing temperatures, he wears a short-sleeved shirt with a pocket that bears the imprint of a chewing tobacco can. He looks every bit the former sheriff that he is.

Beck periodically spits into a Styrofoam cup as he explains that Quitaque is under siege by crop dusters, pilots hired by farmers to spray pesticides on fields to kill weeds and prepare the cotton plants for harvest. Sometimes the pilots miss their marks and inadvertently deliver a cloud of poison to people, plants and animals.

Beck has firsthand experience with the “chemical drift” problem, as regulators call it. In May 2016, a duster spraying a field near Beck’s house sent an off-target blast of paraquat dichloride, a toxic pesticide, wafting over his home. The next day, he noticed that his vegetable garden and fruit trees were starting to show signs of being poisoned, which he blames on the paraquat, according to his complaint with the Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA). His biggest worry is that three of his grandkids were playing outside when the chemical drifted through his property.

“I remember thinking, ‘Boy, that ain’t good,’ because they were all exposed to it,” Beck said. In the following days, Beck’s granddaughters complained of headaches and difficulty breathing, problems that he attributes to the pesticide exposure.

The use of paraquat is tightly regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) because of the chemical’s extreme toxicity. It can cause death in humans, and even limited exposure can be “corrosive to the skin and eyes,” according to a risk assessment conducted by the agency. A 2009 UCLA study found that people exposed to paraquat are three times more likely to develop Parkinson’s disease. The chemical has been banned by the European Union and China.

The label printed on containers of Gramoxone, a widely used pesticide whose active ingredient is paraquat, warns against breathing the chemical’s mist and says to seek medical attention if the poison comes into contact with skin or clothing.

Based on interviews with 11 people in Quitaque, it appears that the chemical drifted at least 5 miles. Its path started behind Beck’s house on the south side of town, cutting a swath through downtown and moving farther east, where it spread to more rural areas. In its path were trees, gardens, livestock, pets and people.

Kim Reiss, who runs a commercial organic garden in Quitaque, claims the pesticide made her nose bleed. “That was so weird. I never have a bloody nose,” she said. Over the next few days, the fruits and vegetables in her garden began to die. The leaves of the plants were pocked with what she described as “cigarette burns” that kept getting bigger. Reiss said she lost $8,000 worth of produce. That’s in addition to the adverse effects of being exposed to pesticides before the fall harvest each year, when farmers hire crop dusters to spray cotton fields. “Usually, while they’re defoliating [the cotton], I spend a good portion of that time being sick,” she said. “They call it allergies. I call it being defoliated. It’s a strange place to choose to live.”

About a month later, in late June, Quitaque farmer and rancher C.L. Hawkins was repairing a fence in one of his fields when he says the wind carried a wave of pesticide onto him. “I was working on a fence right across the road, and he was sprayin’. Boy, I just went ahead and got out of there,” said Hawkins, who complained to TDA.

Then, in September, Quitaque wheat farmer and cattle rancher Paul Teegardin reported to the agency that the pesticide drifted onto grass he uses to feed his beef cattle. Though it was the first time he had filed a formal complaint, Teegardin said his land has been under assault by crop dusters for at least two years.

KEEP READING ON TEXAS OBSERVER

Protect Small Farms to Meet Growing Global Food Needs

Author: Chris Arsenault | April 5, 2017 

As the world moves towards large-scale plantation agriculture, it’s crucial poor countries protect small farmers to meet the food needs of a growing global population, said a study from Australian researchers published on Wednesday.

More than half of the world’s food is produced by small and medium farmers, particularly in Africa and Asia, said researchers at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) in Australia.

While large-scale plantation agriculture is expanding, small farms with less than 20 hectares of land should be protected because they produce more diverse and nutritious food, the study said.

“It is vital that we protect and support small farms and more diverse agriculture so as to ensure sustainable and nutritional food production,” Mario Herrero, the study’s lead author, said in a statement.

“Large farms, in contrast are less diverse.”

Big farms larger than 50 hectares dominate food production in the western hemisphere, Australia and New Zealand, producing more than three quarters of the cereals, livestock and fruit in those regions, the study said.

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Gender and Climate Change – Gender, Climate Change and Food Security

Published: April 17, 2017 

The interlinked challenges of climate change and food security are most evident in the agriculture sector, which (combined with land-use change) produces about a quarter of global greenhouse emissions. At the same time, climatic stresses on agriculture and food systems present formidable food security and livelihood challenges to millions.

The climate challenge in agriculture requires integrated approaches that increase productivity, enhance adaptive capacity and cut back net emissions. The agency of rural female farmers is essential for enhancing agricultural productivity and realizing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including ensuring food security (SDG 2) and addressing the perils of climate change (SDG 13). Despite significant strides in addressing gender inequalities over the years, rural women are still among the most marginalized groups in society and are particularly vulnerable to current and future climate change and food insecurity. Given these close relationships, the response to climate change vis-à-vis the agricultural sector should therefore take into account gender dynamics and be gender-responsive.

READ THE FULL REPORT HERE

Market Rejection of GMOs Grows — Four-Year Plan to Topple Toxic Agriculture

Author: Dr. Joseph Mercola | Published: March 26, 2017 

Our annual GMO Awareness Week is upon us, and in this interview, Ronnie Cummins, founder of the Organic Consumers Association (OCA) details the current state of the opposition to genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

We first met about six years ago, when we collaborated to create the direct ballot initiative to label GMOs in California.

A lot has happened since then, including the passing of what’s colloquially known as the Deny Americans the Right to Know (DARK) Act, ironically misnamed “The Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act” — this despite a full 90 percent of consumers supporting mandatory labeling.

The Trump administration has also selected or appointed notorious cheerleaders for GMOs and factory farms to his cabinet — Mike Pompeo as head of the CIA, Sonny Perdue as USDA Secretary, and Rick Perry as Energy Secretary.

Meanwhile, his Tea Party allies in Congress have called for the abolition of the entire National Organic Program!1

On the upside, in 2016 we saw, for the first time in nearly 20 years, a decrease in the amount of genetically engineered (GE) crops grown around the world, in terms of acreage.

As noted by Cummins, “This represents the fact that this technology is failing, in the sense of superweeds and superpests are popping up all over the world.” In the U.S., three-quarters of farmers growing GE crops like soybeans, corn or canola are having problems with these herbicide- and pesticide-resistant pests.

Market Rejection of GMOs Has Grown

Even more importantly, consumers around the world have become aware of the many problems associated with GE crops and the toxic herbicides and pesticides used on them, and do not want any of it on their plates.

In other words, the market has started rejecting GMOs, and that’s what we’ve been fighting for all along. Nothing can or will change unless consumers apply pressure in the form of refusing to buy GMOs.

In the European Union (EU), which is the biggest agriculture market in the world, few if any GMOs are found on supermarket shelves.

In the U.S. — despite industry spending hundreds of millions of dollars to manipulate market preference — about 40 percent of Americans still believe GE foods and GE ingredients are dangerous. Another 20 percent are unsure whether GMOs are dangerous or not.

“This combination of consumer rejection and, basically, Mother Nature’s resistance, has caused a drop-off,” Cummins says. “I think this is the beginning of the end of at least this generation, the first generation, of GMO crops.

Now, industry is saying, ‘Don’t worry about the fact that we’re using more and more toxic pesticides and herbicides … Don’t worry about these pests spreading across the fields. We’ve got a new generation of GMO crops where we can just do gene editing.

We don’t have to pull some DNA from a foreign species and haphazardly splice it into a corn or a soybean crop.’

But the bottom line is that this gene-splicing and this so-called new gene editing are unnatural processes that disrupt the genetic structure, the natural workings of living organisms. These aren’t going to work either.”

Organics and Grass fed Are Increasing in Popularity

Worldwide, we’re also seeing strong growth in organics and grass fed farming and ranching. In the U.S., the organic sector grew 11.5 percent in 2016. Grass fed grew about 50 percent. In France, organics grew by 20 percent.

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Research Center Proposes Carbon Tax on Unsustainable Food

Author: Nithin Coca | Published on: December 2, 2016

Agriculture has a huge negative impact on the environment, including being responsible for 11 percent of global carbon emissions. Could a carbon tax on food, as proposed by the International Food Policy Research Institute, help make our food system not only more green, but healthier too?

In a report published in the journal Nature, researchers from the institute argue there is immense climate mitigation potential if we just change our diets.

Right now we, as a planet, have an unsustainable food system. We take up huge swaths of the earth for intensive, chemical-laden food production. The least sustainable food, the researchers insist, is red meat. But the problem is that these very foods are, often, the cheapest choices.

This is something all of us experience every day. The true impacts of food are not included in the price we pay at the store, not at all. Go to your local grocery, and you’ll see that organic produce is far more expensive than a factory-farmed piece of red meat, despite the fact that the former has a far smaller carbon footprint. It is why a healthy sit-down, farm-to-kitchen meal is far more costly than a trip to McDonald’s.

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Why Owning Your Own Farm Isn’t Necessarily a Ticket for Financial Well-Being

Authors: Michael Colby & Will Allen | Published on: December 10, 2016

These are economically tragic times for America’s farmers. This year, the average on-farm income for a farm family will be -$1,400. Yes, negative. In other words, they’re paying to produce the nation’s food and fiber. And it’s been going on for decades, all the result of a food system, from production and processing to sales and regulations, that is dominated and controlled by a handful of integrated corporate behemoths. That control, coupled with an economic model centered on the devaluation of production (farming!), has spelled nothing but doom for farmers.

While it’s happening everywhere, we live amidst its damage in Vermont, seeing firsthand the impact commodity-priced dairy is having on our agriculture. It’s a horror, really, with thousands of farms lost in the last few decades, all squeezed and pinched and eventually forced to leave the only thing they knew—working the land. And again, it’s all the result of a cheap food model, dictated by the corporate few and allowed by a largely shrugging public.

There’s plenty of money in food. It’s just not getting to the farmers. Vermont’s dairy industry, for example, is dominated by two well-known corporate giants: Ben & Jerry’s and Cabot Creamery. Last year, Ben & Jerry’s grossed around $600 million and Cabot and its parent, Agri-Mark, grossed nearly a billion dollars. Both have bragged in financial reports about how well they’re doing, with increased executive pay and all kinds of bells and whistles for the office set. Ben & Jerry’s makes so much money that they have a foundation to give some of it away.

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Promoting Soil Carbon Sequestration: An Interview With Kiss the Ground

Published by: Food Tank

Lauren Tucker is the Executive Director at Kiss the Ground, an organization based in Venice, CA. Established in 2013, Kiss the Ground is a nonprofit organization with the mission of “We can do this!” This simple phrase stems from the idea that eaters and farmers have the science and technology to balance the climate and recreate our food system, but everyone needs to feel hopeful and catalyze diverse community solutions. Because of this concept, everything that Kiss the Ground does has an underlying message of a hopeful future.

Food Tank had the opportunity to speak to Lauren about Kiss the Ground’s goals to produce media content, engage homeless youth in their community garden, and advocate for the restoration of soil worldwide. Soil carbon sequestration is kept at the center of everything they do.

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