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America: Becoming a Land Without Farmers

Abandoned Farmhouse

Evaggelos Vallianatos (Photo Credit: Homini:))

The plutocratic remaking of America has a parallel in the countryside. In rural America less than 3 percent of farmers make more than 63 percent of the money, including government subsidies.

The results of this emerging feudal economy are everywhere. Large areas of the United States are becoming impoverished farm towns with abandoned farmhouses and deserted land. More and more of the countryside has been devoted to massive factory farms and plantations. The consequences, though worse now than ever, have been there for all to see and feel, for decades. … Continue Reading

Designed to Fail: Why Regulatory Agencies Don’t Work

EPA Cleans up the San Juan River oil spill disaster 1972

William Sanjour*

Albert Einstein said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. We have been “reforming” regulatory agencies over and over again, and over and over again they have failed. Yet, as a result of the recent catastrophic failures of regulatory agencies, politicians and pundits are talking about the same old “Regulatory Reform” again.  “Fill the regulatory agencies with honest people who won’t cave in to special interests.”  “Give them more money, more authority and more people.”  But my experience has shown that by concentrating all legislative, executive and judiciary authority in one regulatory agency just makes it easier for it to be corrupted by the industries it regulates.

I worked for the US Environmental Protection agency for 30 years and lived through many cycles of “Regulatory Reform,” doing the same “reforms” over and over again and expecting different results. I’ve learned that the way to achieve true regulatory reform is to give regulatory agencies less money, less authority, fewer people but more intelligent regulations. The theme of this article is that by dispersing regulatory authority, rather than concentrating it, we would make corruption more difficult and facilitate more sensible regulation.
… Continue Reading

The Unsettling of America

March 25, 2012 (Un)Sustainable Farming, Environment, Reviews Comments Off on The Unsettling of America
The Unsettling of America

Book Author: Wendell Berry

Reviewed by Jonathan Latham (The Bioscience Resource Project)

In 2002, peasant associations from all over Asia organised an international scientific conference. The motivation for the conference was the fact that peasants and their leaders had no dialogue with agricultural scientists, either from their own countries or with those from abroad. A lack of support from scientists was not the only motivation however. The peasants had also come to believe that the science with which they were familiar was actively hostile to their way of life. As a result, many had demonstrated outside the UN-sponsored International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Phillipines, a research centre set up specifically to support farming in developing countries.

… Continue Reading

Way Beyond Greenwashing: Have Corporations Captured Big Conservation?

Jonathan Latham, PhD (Photo Credit: auspices)

Imagine an international mega-deal. The global organic food industry agrees to support international agribusiness in clearing as much tropical rainforest as they want for farming. In return, agribusiness agrees to farm the now-deforested land using organic methods, and the organic industry encourages its supporters to buy the resulting timber and food under the newly devised “Rainforest Plus” label. There would surely be an international outcry.

Virtually unnoticed, however, even by their own memberships, the world’s biggest wildlife conservation groups have agreed exactly to such a scenario, only in reverse. Led by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), many of the biggest conservation nonprofits including Conservation International and the Nature Conservancy have already agreed to a series of global bargains with international agribusiness. In exchange for vague promises of habitat protection, sustainability and social justice, these conservation groups are offering to greenwash industrial commodity agriculture.
… Continue Reading

New Report Links Food, Climate and Agricultural Policies

Jonathan Latham and Allison Wilson

Understanding of the ‘problem’ of agriculture took a giant step forward in 2007 with publication of the UN IAASTD report. This report, which was as important for agriculture as the IPCC reports have been for the climate, pinpointed a move to ecology-based agriculture as the key to meeting many other fundamental needs such as clean water, safe food and sustainability. What the IAASTD didn’t do, at least directly however, was to focus on politics, especially the obstacles to progress in improving agriculture.

A new report, The Wheel of Life:  Food, Climate, Human Rights and the Economy (Sept. 2011), released by the Center for Food Safety (CFS) and the Heinrich Böll Stiftung Foundation, usefully complements this deficit. … Continue Reading

How Agriculture Can Provide Food Security Without Destroying Biodiversity

Jonathan Latham and Allison Wilson

According to conventional wisdom, the Brazilian city of Belo Horizonte (pop. 2.5 million) has achieved something impossible. So, too, has the island of Cuba. They are feeding their hungry populations largely with local, low-input farming methods that enhance the environment rather than degrade it. They have achieved this, moreover, at a time of rising food prices when others have mostly retreated from their own food security goals.
… Continue Reading

European Community Law and Nanotechnology: A Risky Business?

June 26, 2009 Commentaries, Environment, Health Comments Off on European Community Law and Nanotechnology: A Risky Business?
European Community Law and Nanotechnology

Naomi Salmon, Department of Law and Criminology, Aberystwyth University, Wales, UK

Following hot on the heels of the ‘Biotechnology Revolution’, the ‘Nanotechnology Revolution’ is now gathering steam. After twenty or so years of basic and applied research, industry players are now seeing the fruits of their R&D investments incorporated into all manner of products ranging from high performance tennis rackets and anti-odour socks to self-cleaning glass, food packaging materials and sunscreen lotions1.

… Continue Reading

The Real Burning Question: Are Liquid Fuels the best use of Non-Woody Biomass?

March 28, 2009 Commentaries, Environment, Science Media Comments Off on The Real Burning Question: Are Liquid Fuels the best use of Non-Woody Biomass?
Are Liquid Fuels Really the Best Use for Non-Woody Biomass?

David Malakoff, Science Writer (Photo Credit: PortWorks)

If Roger Samson had a coat of arms, it might be a flickering flame encircled by a wreath of grass.

For decades now, the Canadian agriculture expert has been talking up the environmental and economic benefits of burning non-woody biomass – such as pellets made from perennial grasses – to produce heat and electricity. And he’d won some converts: Policymakers, industry executives and farmers in the United States and Canada were warming to the idea, conducting research and starting pilot projects.

… Continue Reading

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Commentaries

The Meaning of Life (Part I)

DNA double helix

by Jonathan Latham, PhD Many people date the DNA revolution to the discovery of its structure by James Watson and Francis Crick in 1953. But really it began thirty years before, conceived by the mind of John D Rockefeller, Sr. Thus it is fitting that DNA is named after him. …

The War Over Mangoes

Mangoes from Mexico

by Meredith Rector (Committee on U.S.-Latin American Relations (CUSLAR)) Growing mangoes in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca has racked up an enormous socio-political expense for the region far greater than the price tag on the fruit in the supermarket. For a Mexican drug cartel desperate to move product, hiding …

Gene Drives: A Scientific Case for a Complete and Perpetual Ban

Mosquito and DNA

by Jonathan Latham, PhD One of the central issues of our day is how to safely manage the outputs of industrial innovation. Novel products incorporating nanotechnology, biotechnology, rare metals, microwaves, novel chemicals, and more, enter the market on a daily basis. Yet none of these products come with an adequate …

Genetics Is Giving Way to a New Science of Life

Phytoplankton

by Jonathan Latham, PhD Test your understanding of the living world with this simple question. What kind of biomolecule is found in all living organisms? If your answer is “DNA”, you are incorrect. The mistake is very forgiveable though. The standard English-language biology education casts DNA (DeoxyriboNucleic Acid) as the …

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Reviews

Poison Spring: The Secret History of Pollution and the EPA

Poison Spring Evaggelos Valllianatos

Book Author: Evaggelos Vallianatos with McKay Jenkins Reviewed by: Carol Van Strum “Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts,” Richard Feynman famously declared in 1966. Ever quick to challenge accepted wisdom, he distinguished the laudable ignorance of science, forever seeking unattainable certainties, from the dangerous ignorance of experts …

The Real Cost of Fracking: How America’s Shale Gas Boom Is Threatening Our Families, Pets, and Food

The Real Cost of Fracking book cover

Book Authors: Michelle Bamberger and Robert Oswald Reviewed by Allison Wilson (The Bioscience Resource Project) The first researchers to systematically document ill health in livestock, pets, and people living near fracking drill sites were Michelle Bamberger and Robert Oswald. Bamberger, a veterinarian, and Oswald, a professor of molecular medicine at …

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