Middle-class Americans take it for granted that whatever hardships we face in life, we can always count on food appearing on the table. Supermarkets feature well-stocked shelves, restaurants bustle with business, and the choice of cuisines available to us would even dazzle Old World aristocrats. But the great majority of the world’s peoples don’t enjoy such blessings. For them, the task of feeding their families is a challenge they face anew each day. Chronic hunger and malnutrition afflict close to 850 million people; another billion subsist on substandard diets; and billions more spend a huge portion of their income, even as much as half, on their humble meals of rice, wheat or corn. The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights recognizes the right to food as integral to a satisfactory standard of living, affirming “the right of every individual, alone or in community with others, to have physical and economic access at all times to sufficient, adequate and culturally acceptable food that is produced and consumed sustainably, preserving access to food for future generations.”
The push for more people to buy and eat locally produced foods keeps growing, but which states are actually practicing what they preach? For the third consecutive year, Strolling of the Heifers answers that question with its 2014 Locavore Index. The rankings take the per-capita number of farmers markets, consumer-supported agriculture operations (CSAs) and food hubs into account, along with the percentage of school districts with active farm-to-school programs. Strolling of the Heifers couldn’t deny the evidence right in front of its Vermont headquarters, ranking its own state first for the third year in a row. Hawaii made an eight-spot jump from last year to enter the top five, while Maryland made the biggest improvement, moving from 29 to 14. Nebraska, South Dakota and Kentucky each took tumbles of at least 10 places in the past year.
When two bodies of water come together in a confluence, each stream provides its unique characteristics to form a more powerful entity. Much as the Monongahela and Allegheny rivers combine to form the mighty Ohio River, the same can be said of River Rally 2014, when River Network and Waterkeeper Alliance join forces to convene the largest gathering ever of clean water advocates. From May 30-June 2, more than 700 national and international environmental leaders will join together in Pittsburgh, PA to share best practices for watershed restoration, stormwater management, water quality monitoring, water and energy conservation, green infrastructure, habitat restoration, safe drinking water and more. For the second time, River Network and Waterkeeper Alliance are joining forces to host River Rally. Participants will hail from more than 40 U.S. states as well as Bangladesh, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Czech Republic, Ecuador, India, Iraq, Mexico, Peru, Senegal and the United Kingdom.
President of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim, is warning that the combined crises of planetary climate change and rising global inequality in a highly interconnected world will lead to the rise of widespread upheaval as the world’s poor rise up and clashes over access to clean water and affordable food result in increased violence and political conflict. Despite the acknowledgement of the problem, however, and even as he made mea culpa for past errors by the powerful financial institution he now runs (including a global push to privatize drinking water resources and utilities), Kim laid the blame on inaction on the very people who have done the most to alert humanity to the crisis, saying that both climate change activists and informed scientists have not done enough to offer a plan to address global warming in a way he deems “serious.”
The Organic Consumers Association has a long history of defending the integrity of organic standards. Last September, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), under pressure from corporate interests represented by the Organic Trade Association, made our job harder. They also made it more important than ever for consumers to do their homework, even when buying USDA certified organic products. Without any input from the public, the USDA changed the way the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) decides which non-organic materials are allowed in certified organic. The change all but guarantees that when the NOSB meets every six months, the list of non-organic and synthetic materials allowed in organic will get longer and longer. The USDA’s new rule plays to the cabal of the self-appointed organic elite who want to degrade organic standards and undermine organic integrity.
Ontario residents have been kept in the dark, but Canada’s most populous province is about to become an unlikely and international battleground. After all, how many times does the Great White North threaten the drinking water of more than 40 million people, including their neighbours in America? Legislators from south of the border have already taken issue with plans for a deep geologic repository. Less than a mile from the shores of Lake Huron, Bruce Power intends to store 200,000 cubic meters of nuclear waste within the natural rock formation. Senators and congressmen shared their dissent with the Canadian government, but the fed responded by sending police to the homes of eco protesters, in what some would call an act of intimidation.
one Mexican actor-turned-director has made Chavez’s life the subject of a new film – opening in theaters across America this Friday, March 28 – which, for him, was both a cause to educate himself and an invitation to resolve Chavez’s legacy. “I knew his name and that he was an activist, and part of the movement that had something to do with the farm workers in California,” said director Diego Luna, who starred most recently alongside Matt Damon in last year’s dystopian sci-fi film Elysium. “But I didn’t know what they had achieved, and what he represents. Once I realized there was no film that celebrated his legacy, he became a necessity and it became my priority.” Luna, who also had a role in the 2008 film Milk, about the life of gay San Francisco politician and activist Harvey Milk, said he took extensive input from the family of Chavez in writing the script.
“Evidence from a variety of sources concludes that food insecurity among northern aboriginal peoples is a problem that requires urgent attention to address and mitigate the serious impacts it has on health and well-being,” the report said. The cause of food insecurity — the lack of consistent access to an adequate amount of healthy food due to cost or other factors — is complex. It is more than the high cost of flying food into isolated communities far from distribution centers in the south of Canada. Environmental and cultural as well as economic factors are in play, the researchers said.
URBAN warehouses, derelict buildings and high-rises are the last places you’d expect to find the seeds of a green revolution. But from Singapore to Scranton, Pennsylvania, “vertical farms” are promising a new, environmentally friendly way to feed the rapidly swelling populations of cities worldwide. In March, the world’s largest vertical farm is set to open up shop in Scranton. Built by Green Spirit Farms (GSF) of New Buffalo, Michigan, it will only be a single storey covering 3.25 hectares, but with racks stacked six high it will house 17 million plants. And it is just one of a growing number. Vertical farms aim to avoid the problems inherent in growing food crops in drought-and-disease-prone fields many hundreds of kilometres from the population centres in which they will be consumed.
The campaign to require labeling on products containing GMO’s is using the tactic of targeting individual products as well as seeking law demanding labeling. Elaine Watson writes about how Heinz is the latest target. She writes a lawsuit filed in California on March 17 by Debbie Banafsheha alleging false advertising as the term “natural ingredients” does not mean the unnatural GMOs. “Defendant’s ‘all natural’ representations are false, deceptive, misleading, and unfair to consumers, who are injured in fact by purchasing products that Defendant claims are ‘all natural’ when in fact they are not,” reads the lawsuit, according to FoodNavigator. Banafsheha calls it “false, deceptive and misleading; and unfair to consumers.” She also notes that consumers can be injured by these products.
A major decision in federal court today will put an end to government-sanctioned pollution that’s been fouling Lake Okeechobee for more than three decades. The case, first filed in 2002 by Earthjustice, challenged the practice of “backpumping.” For years, South Florida sugar and vegetable growers have used the public’s waters, pumped out of giant Lake Okeechobee, to irrigate their fields. They wash the water over their industrial-sized crops, where it is contaminated with fertilizers and other pollutants. Then, they get taxpayers in the South Florida Water Management District to pay to pump the contaminated water back into Lake Okeechobee, where it pollutes public drinking water supplies. Lake Okeechobee provides drinking water for West Palm Beach, Fort Myers, and the entire Lower East Coast metropolitan area.
Monday afternoon, March 24, an estimated 500 gallons of oil from the tar sands in Alberta, Canada, leaked into Lake Michigan, poisoning the source of drinking water for 7 million people in and around Chicago. The BP refinery on the lake’s shore has admitted responsibility, but has yet to take sufficient action to ensure the safety of drinking water and the ecosystem. This serves as further evidence that the reliance on fossil fuels in all its forms has serious and long-term effects on the health of the planet and the people who inhabit it. This is doubly true in the case of the processing of tar sands that goes on at BP’s Whiting facility. This most current spill comes after years of legal challenges to the Whiting plant, which is one of the largest sources of industrial pollution in the nation.
Is it conventional crude or tar sands? That is the question. And it’s one with high stakes, to boot. The BP Whiting refinery in Indiana spilled between 470 and 1228 gallons of oil (or is it tar sands?) into Lake Michigan on March 24 and four days later no one really knows for sure what type of crude it was. Most signs, however, point to tar sands. The low-hanging fruit: the refinery was recently retooled as part of its “modernization project,” which will “provide Whiting with the capability of processing up to about 85% heavy crude, versus about 20% today.” As Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) Midwest Program Director Henry Henderson explained in a 2010 article, “heavy crude [is] code for tar sands.”
Nestled in the latest annual report from Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (NYSE:WMT) is a line that underscores just how much the world’s largest general merchandise retailer and its shareholders have depended on public assistance programs in recent years. A couple of items stand as newcomers to Walmart’s menu of risks. Here’s what the annual report released on Friday says: “Our business operations are subject to numerous risks, factors and uncertainties, domestically and internationally, which are outside our control … These factors include … changes in the amount of payments made under the Supplement[al] Nutrition Assistance Plan and other public assistance plans, changes in the eligibility requirements of public assistance plans, …”
In calling for democratic control of our food, De Schutter and Patel are threatening the business interests of some of the world’s largest and wealthiest corporations. Given that De Schutter’s report has been submitted to the highest international representatives of civil society, it has the potential to effect change, but only if there is enough pressure from below. Patel told me the report is “only as good as the mobilization that is able to use it.” Although it provides “ammunition to groups like La Via Campesina in their ongoing fight to be able to democratize the food system,” he warned that there is much work to be done, saying, “we do need to keep organizing and to keep the pressure up and in fact to be dreaming much bigger than we’re allowed to be dreaming by the governments that purport to represent us.”