Sunday, September 23, 2007

Weekend Update

Here's a cute, animated film on factory farming, courtesy of the Sierra Club, to start your Sunday.

And while you're sipping your coffee, consider a recent University of Illinois study of groundwater near pig confinement lots that found transferable genes that confer resistance to antibiotics, specifically tetracycline. Livestock in industrial settings are routinely given antibiotics to ward off the diseases that come with being crammed into close quarters. The result appears to be these Frankengenes that are now loose in the environment.

Just another reason to look for meat that has been raised humanely on pasture.

Meanwhile, Oklahoma's attorney general has filed a lawsuit against the nation's biggest poultry producers over the pollution emanating from chicken confinement lots in that state.


And if that isn't enough to cool your bacon, consider this projection from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control that nearly half of all African American and Hispanic children born in this country in the year 2000 will be diabetic at some point in their life. That, of course, seems to be the end game for this factory food system we've established, all subsidized and encouraged by our own gubberment....


A case of going too far, or not far enough? A Chicago-area middle-school teacher who is a practicing vegan was suspended after he threatened to sue the school district over posters mounted in the lunchroom promoting milk.


South Dakota is seeing a banner year for its favorite game bird, the pheasant, but that may be about to change, and not for the better. Pheasants need grasslands and about 18 percent of the land that farmers have been paid to keep fallow is likely to be plowed to produce--you guessed it--corn, because of the demand for our old pal, ethanol.

The irony is, biofuels could be good for pheasants if production were switched away from corn toward a cellulosic fuel made from grasses. Any bets on that happening soon?

This year's corn crop is expected to be the biggest ever--again, largely due to the demand for ethanol. The New York Times weighs in with an editorial noting that ethanol production threatens starvation in developing countries by jacking up the price of food, to go along with the bad weather that seems to be the hand maiden of global warming.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, an economic forum of rich nations, has called on the United States and other industrialized nations to eliminate subsidies for the production of ethanol which, the report said, is driving up food costs.

"The economics of corn ethanol have never made much sense," says the Times. "Rather than importing cheap Brazilian ethanol made from sugar cane, the United States slaps a tariff of 54 cents a gallon on ethanol from Brazil. Then the government provides a tax break of 51 cents a gallon to American ethanol producers — on top of the generous subsidies that corn growers already receive under the farm program."

Food & Water Watch has issued a new downloadable report laying out the many reasons why ethanol is not the solution to the country's energy needs.


Among the many ways our government messes with our food, here's one you probably were not expecting: Uncle Sam, by paying coca farmers in South America to plant alternative crops, is helping to put Michigan asparagus farmers out of business. Small asparagus producers in the U.S. heartland just can't compete with the cheap product coming out of countries helped along with subsidies funded by our own tax dollars. There's even a documentary film on the subject.

It's so hard to keep up....


Planning a trip to the farmers market today for some of those wonderful heirloom tomatoes that are now at their peak? Well, consider this piece from the San Francisco Chronicle explaining why so many farmers eventually quit the farmers market scheme.

For many, getting up at the crack of dawn, loading a truck full of produce, setting up the market stand, tending customers for several hours, then breaking everything down again and driving an hour or two back to the farm makes for a long day. For some, it's not even all that profitable. Burnout sets in.

Now there are more and more farmers markets opening, creating just that much more competition between farmers. There's a question how many farmers markets any one area can support. Selling at the farmers market "is by far the hardest way for us to make a dollar," one burnout victim is quoted as saying.

Something to think about while you're filling your grocery bag with juicy peaches, fresh string beans, okra....


Finally, if you're just too lazy to make the trip to the farmers market for fresh eggs, here's a delightful piece on raising chickens in your own back yard. Even city folks are getting in on the act.


bs said...

i'm getting unnerved with the farmer's markets. i read something very similar to what you're describing in the la times i think, and it described the same burn out and inefficiency. here in northern california, i have my choice of 5 on the weekends. then it waxed on about if only there was a place where the farmers could take their produce to be sold, then get back to the farm...

and i'm thinking, the grocery store? shoot. start again...

do you see anything on the horizon? i feel like the number of us that cares enough to modify our behavior is still pretty small, but this is really demoralizing. everything i discover just tells me how bad every system is.

Ed Bruske said...

Most people I think will gravitate toward whatever is easiest and cheapest. That leaves a hardy few who are will to seek out and generally pay a bit more for produce that's grown locally and according to natural methods. The economics of the system encourages farmers to bring their most unusual, most beautiful and most profitable items to the market. This naturally raises prices and means fewer of the everyday staples that are produced so much more cheaply by industrial agriculture.

Plus, most of the country cannot produce crops year-round, or at least not outdoors, they way California or Texas or Florida can. So farmers in areas wtih four distinct seasons are at a real disadvantage and have to make their money during the time available to them.

Since land prices, sprawl, fuel costs and a host of other factors are putting small-scale farming more and more out of reach, I think it will take some sort of major shift in the balance, such as a breakdown in the availability of fuel, to force a return to local food production on a large scale.

Then again, I could be wrong...