Archive for December, 2009

Why we left our farms to come to Copenhagen–La Vía Campesina

Posted in Uncategorized on December 19, 2009 by alejandracuellar

Speech of Henry Saragih, general coordinator of Via Campesina at the opening session of Klimaforum

I would like to share with you some facts about who the
emitters of green house gases in agriculture really are: new data that
has come out clearly shows that industrial agriculture and the
globalized food system are responsible of between 44 and 57% of total
global greenhouse gas emissions.

This figure can be broken down as follows:
(i) Agricultural activities are responsible for 11 to 15%,
(ii) Land clearing and deforestation cause an additional 15 to 18%,
(iii) Food processing, packing and transportation cause 15 to 20%, and
(iv) Decomposition of organic waste causes another 3 to 4%. It means that our current food system is a major polluter.

And to achieve that we need social movements to work together and struggle together to put an end to the current false solutions that are today on the table at the climate negotiations. This is a must, otherwise we will face an even bigger tragedy worldwide. We, as social movements, have to bring our own agenda onto the table, because we are the first climate victims and climate refugees and therefore climate justice is in our hands.

At the FAO Food Summit in 1996, governments committed themselves to reduce hunger by half by 2015. The reality is that the number of hungry people has recently increased dramatically. We do not want the same thing to happen with the climate talks and see the emissions increase even further regardless of what the governments negotiate within the UNFCCC.

We invite all the movements present in Copenhagen to join together to bring climate justice to the table. Climate justice will only be achieved through solidarity and social justice.

Copenhagen, 7th December 2009

The Economist: It’s OUR view for the future of FOOD

Posted in Environmental Concerns, Glad to be Food, World Food on December 17, 2009 by alejandracuellar

There was an article in a November issue of the Economist titled “How to Feed the World.” The article begins: “In 1974, Henry Kissinger, then America’s secretary of state, told the first world conference in Rome that no child would go to bed hungry within ten years. Just over 35 years later in the week of another United Nations food summit in Rome, 1 billion people will go to bed hungry.”

The article blames the rise of crop prices on agricultural ‘failings,’ that have not gone away. What those are, it does not specify quite enough–however, we do know that the world’s population will rise by a third in 2050 and demand for agricultural goods will rise by 70%, demand for meat, will double.

Here is another little snippet: “Countries need to do two things, invest in the productive capacity of agriculture and improve the operation of food markets. Governments have done one but not the other. Over the past year investment has risen faster than anyone expected. But distrust of markets and reaction against farm trade are growing. Unless governments restrain those impulses, they will undermine the gains from rising investment.”

This is partly something I can agree with, and partly not. I believe that what this article is trying to get at ignores the complexity of the uneven food market, the fact that rich countries can subsidize crops and boost their products and then sell them to poor countries for cheap, for example. The fact that markets for rural farmers have to grow is true, and acting at a local level (which I think has been undermined by the Bigger levels) is crucial. The article says, GM crops have to have a role in the agriculture and thankfully suggests that the technology should be distributed in a localized level as opposed to controlled by Monsanto.

Finally, the article emphasizes the importance of opening up trade between nations as opposed to shifting towards a self-reliance in agriculture. This, the article argues, is ‘in nobody’s interest.’ I don’t disagree, but I would add the importance of fair trade and a further examination of the inequality in the market.

MY Proposition and Approach to finding a Solution to the Meat Industry’s Perils

Posted in World Food on December 17, 2009 by alejandracuellar

When addressing the problems of the rise in meat consumption and its consequences, it is important to enter the solution from a structural point of view. Too many of the proposed amends by the fast food industry, the meat producers and governmental agencies focus on very specific issues within a larger context that ignore the connections between problems. For example, the reaction of the meat industry during the recent E.Coli outbreaks was to spray chlorine dioxide gas on the meat, instead of addressing the unsanitary conditions under which animals live and die. When hogs in factory farms became violent against each other because of the insanity their confined state caused them, the industry introduced anti-psychotics to quell their attitudes. The list goes on, the continual addressing of problems through technocratic solutions is only a way to quell the symptoms of what is a potentially self-destructive system. Ultimately the problem rests on an unsustainable and environmentally destructive trend that must be curved in threat of dire consequences.

In the context of the rise of meat production and consumption worldwide and in developing countries in Asia, the solutions have to come by examining the causes of the rises that have been occurring. If one considers both the realities that urbanization coupled with higher incomes lead to higher meat consumption, and also that the private sector plays a huge role in pressuring markets to sell and grow meat, then it becomes clearer where the solution should emerge from.

If one is going to really come up with a solution to fix the issue of the meat industry, it is going to be directed particularly at the way meat is being produced industrially because this is the source that allows for cheap production of meat. If the prices of meat reflected the true costs of making it, it would be much more of a luxury for many people and would be consumed less. This could be achieved through taxation and removal of the costs that are evaded in production through things like subsidies on crops for feed. This implies more governmental supervision over its private actors—not an unrelated move in context to the larger picture of the unregulated capitalist system that has been the cause for the recent market crash. However, only addressing the issue from an economic point would be incomplete; depriving people with lower incomes and allowing for wealthier people to continue of the same trends of consumption does not solve the problem entirely, although it is a step in the right direction.

The responsibility that developed countries have against developing countries is great because after all, it is their industry that is being mimicked. Developed countries have the power to serve as a model for the negative consequences of the industry they are exporting to the developing Third-World, and ignoring these is a threat to global food security and the environment. One of the angles for this exemplary behavior can be through a change in diet.

Consider some of the trends that have happened in American consumption of meat. If one takes the post WWII dietary campaigns that advocated for meat consumption and a modern phenomenon of the Atkins diet, it is clear that these have an influence on the increase of meat consumption. At the same time, the growing population of the vegan and vegetarian movement in the United States demonstrates the opposing trend of discontentment from the American public. Both of these examples shed light on the fact that a country’s diet can be influenced by forces greater than individual choices—sometimes it is the media, sometimes government propaganda. A greater awareness from the public about the dangers of industrial meat consumption in terms of health and the environmental consequences is necessary and this can come in the form of activism, dissemination of information and directly through educational programs. It is in the power of governments, particularly in cases like China that has such control of its dissemination of information, to inform people about the risks of consuming and producing industrial meat.

Public awareness and the reflection of true costs would help steer consumption in a better direction. The problem that looms over lies in the fact that the vertically integrated Mega Meat Conglomerates have taken such control of the industry and bent the rules to their advantage aided by the government itself, that having a reflection of true costs is unlikely. Accepting the fact that change is not going to come from the industrial meat producers themselves, it must be supported by the international bodies of regulation, the World Bank and the United Nations. It is a problem that cannot be ignored, and one that is growing at unprecedented rates.

Solutions coming from different actors for the Meat problem

Posted in Glad to be Food, World Food on December 17, 2009 by alejandracuellar

The issues present in the industrial meat industry are especially pressing in this period when developing countries continue to grow and expand their markets and adopt unsustainable production methods. China, within the Asian developing nations is of particular notoriety because of its rapidly expanding middle class, economic and environmental influence in a global scale. In view of the problems described, there have been measures taken by diverse governmental and non-governmental agencies in order to counteract some of the most harmful effects of the industry.

An influential buyer of meat, McDonalds, has taken measures to reduce some of the most criticized aspects of its distributors. Under pressure, they agreed to sign a two-year agreement not to buy soy from Brazil’s deforested land, and also promised to expand cages for hens and abstain from the practice of starving them in order for them to lay more eggs. A number of other fast food chains have promised to take similar steps to make slaughterhouses more bearable for animals.

There are a number of efforts from other non-profit organizations such as Heifer international that are trying to find alternative more sustainable ways of producing meat. Heifer international helps small livestock farmers in developing countries stay in business, by directly acting in communities and finding ways to fund the construction of slaughter houses and educating producers and consumers about the benefits of locally produced meat. Helping small livestock farmers maintain a market for their products is a crucial part of the project as well.

In the efforts to conserve genetic variety for the future, the leaders of traditional pastoral communities, non-governmental groups and governmental representatives in 2003 signed the Karen commitment for the protection of animal genetic  resources from patenting  signed in Kenya.

In 2001, the World Bank reversed its previous commitment to fund large-scale livestock projects in developing nations. In its new livestock strategy, the bank stated “there is a significant danger that the poor are being crowded out, the environment eroded, and global food safety and security threatened.” It has promised to use a “people centered” approach to livestock development projects that will reduce poverty, protect environmental sustainability, ensure food security, and promote animal welfare.

This turnout did not happen out of a sudden visit from the consciousness fairy, but rather from the fact that large-scale intensive animal production methods the World Bank once advocated fro are proving to be too costly. Past policies drove out smallholders because economies of large scale do not internalize the environmental costs of producing meat. The Bank’s new strategy includes integrating livestock-environment interactions into environmental impact assessments, correcting regulatory distortions that favor large producers, and promoting development of markets for organic products.

Global Health and Genetic Un-variation

Posted in Uncategorized on December 17, 2009 by alejandracuellar

Because commercial breeders select for traits that will be the most profitable such as animals gaining weight faster, producing more milk or eggs, they do not allow animals to mate naturally. Instead, they use artificial insemination to maintain control of the genetic pool. There are also cases of direct cloning of animals, a controversial issue that animal rights activists have been protesting in recent years in light of the fact that no labeling indicates cloned vs. not cloned meats.

Within the last century, 1000 breeds which amounts to about 15 percent of the world’s cattle and poultry varieties, have disappeared according to the U.N. FAO. About 300 of these losses happened in the past 15 years, and many more breeds are in danger of extinction. This genetic homogeneity has consequences for farmers who are unable to fend against climate variation, pests, and particularly disease. The famous cases of the avian flu and bovine spongiform encephalopathy, (mad cow disease) spread from animal products. The unsanitary conditions of the factory farms are cause for concern in the face of the danger of diseases brought by meat consumption and the lack of genetic variation leaves animals naturally more vulnerable.

E. Coli 0157:H7 has been fluctuating in the attention particularly of the American media as a dangerous food born pathogen. Meat gets infected with E. Coli when it comes in contact with fecal matter, and animal hides are covered in manure in the industrial meat factories. There are many moments in the processing where it can get on the meat, so as a preventive solution gases are sprayed on the meat to kill the pathogens.

The production of meat and Global Warming

Posted in Uncategorized on December 17, 2009 by alejandracuellar

The most recent studies that have evaluated the environmental impacts of animal agriculture have determined the seriousness of its influence on global warming. Despite studies that have examined the negative impacts of animal agricultural production on the environment, the global impacts of the sector have been undermined. Green house emissions of the equivalence of carbon dioxide in the meat industry are so significant, that they surpass emissions from the transportation sector.

The three main greenhouse gases that influence global warming are CO2, methane gas (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N20). Although most attention has been geared towards CO2, methane gas and N2O both have greater global warming potential than CO2 does. According to the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) the animal agriculture sector emits 18%—about one fifth of human induced green house gases more than the transportation sector. The animal agriculture sector accounts for an estimated 9% of total CO2 emissions, which come out of fertilizer used in the production for feed crops, on-farm energy expenditures, the transportation of feed and animal product processing and transport.

According to the FAO’s estimates, CO2 emissions from farm animal processing total several tens of millions of metric tons per year.

The Birth of the Big American Meat Industry

Posted in Uncategorized on December 17, 2009 by alejandracuellar

Due to the large grazing areas of these regions, the United States, Argentina, Australia and New Zealand the countries were suitable for the development of ranching. Beef exports before the turn of the century were limited by transportation underdevelopment, until new methods of shipping equipped with cooling devices appeared during the second half of the nineteenth century. This created a new possibility for trade for the key beef producing countries. The United States’ emphasis on agrarianism during this time is attributed to the historical success of national economic development, thus influencing the structure of political institutions and the substance. The rising population of the United States during this time fueled the industry’s growth to satisfy the growing local demand.

Toward the end of the first food regime, the federal legislation created the land grant university system and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in order to improve productivity through applying scientific and technical skills to farming. During this time of nationalist economic development, the United States employed substantial barriers to free trade, allowing cattle raising and beefpacking to provide the rapidly growing demand and the working class. After the Second World War the expansion of these new agricultural technologies led to an increase in production and in tradability of beef through improved transportation methods, without having any substantial increase in international trade. Instead, internal specialization continued to evolve as large-scale mechanization and agrotechnology contributed to rapid increases in cereal yields.

This was a turning point in beef production, as livestock became a key consumer of these grain surpluses. It led to the emergence of the modern-day feedlot system, which serves as a deposit for the surplus of corn and soybeans as feed for cattle. In the feedlot system all animals began eating grains for the first time, speeding up their natural growth cycles, and the production of beef.