Thursday, March 3, 2011


USDA (Headed by TomVilsack, former Monsanto man)‘partially deregulates’ GM sugar beets, defying court order 

sugar beets Grist admin avatar badge avatar for Tom Philpott    by Tom Philpott    5 Feb 2011 2:07 PM
More: Business, Food, GMOs, Monsanto, sugar, USDA
Big Ag -- can't beet 'em.Beet down
A week ago, the USDA shocked the organic-farming community by "fully deregulating" genetically modified alfalfa, after acknowledging that organic farmers had legitimate concerns about the move and hinting they'd be taken into account.
On Friday, the agency didn't simply skulk away from its own words in an apparent attempt to appease the agrichemical industry. This time, it defied a court order banning the planting of GM sugar beets until a proper study of their environmental impact can be done. The USDA announced that it would allow farmers to begin planting Monsanto's Roundup Ready sugar beets -- genetically tweaked to withstand copious lashings of Monsanto's herbicide -- even though the environmental impact study has yet to be completed, The Wall Street Journal reports.
"The USDA (Headed by TomVilsack, former Monsanto man. -Clean Food Earth Woman)decision is the second big victory for the crop-biotechnology industry in a week," the Journal noted.
Sugar beets provide about half of the sugar consumed in the United States -- and Monsanto controls 95 percent of the sugar beet seed market with its Roundup Ready genes. The company's stranglehold over the beet market demonstrates its insidious market power. When a federal judge demanded in August 2010 that farmers stop planting Monsanto's GM beet seeds pending an impact study, farmers quickly found out that virtually no non-GM seed was available. Between 2005, when the USDA first greenlighted GM beets, and 2010, Monsanto had essentially driven all competition out of the market.
That August court order roiled the food industry, raising the specter of higher sweetener costs because farmers would be forced to plant fewer beets due to lack of seeds. Rather than seeing this effect as an opportunity to reduce U.S. sweetener consumption, the USDA (Headed by TomVilsack, former Monsanto man. -Clean Food Earth Woman)evidently saw it as a crisis that needed to be addressed by defying the court order.
As with alfalfa, blanketing cropland with GM beets raises the threat of cross-pollination -- genetic material from modified beets could make its way into organic table beet and chard crops, both of which can cross-pollinate with sugar beets. Moreover, the problem of "superweeds" -- weeds resistant to Monsanto's Roundup herbicide, which require heavier doses of more powerful herbicides -- will only compound.
But the decision didn't reflect a complete cave-in to the industry, according to the Journal:
The USDA (Headed by TomVilsack, former Monsanto man. -Clean Food Earth Woman), in a move that seemingly expands its regulatory powers over crop biotechnology, will for the first time "partially deregulate" a genetically modified crop. USDA (Headed by TomVilsack, former Monsanto man. -Clean Food Earth Woman) is permitting farmers to plant genetically modified sugar beets this year only if they adhere to rules designed to prevent the plant's wind-blown pollen from reaching organic fields, where its biotechnology traits could spread.
I'm glad the USDA (Headed by TomVilsack, former Monsanto man. -Clean Food Earth Woman) is at least finally placing restrictions on a GM crop. But it has again avoided tackling the serious issue of Monsanto's vast market power -- and the environmentally damaging nature of its ubiquitous Roundup Ready products, which now dominate virtually all of the largest U.S. crops: corn, soy, cotton, sugar beets, and, soon enough, alfalfa.
Tom Philpott is Grist’s senior food and agriculture writer.


BOCA Burgers Admits It Uses Genetically Engineered Ingredients 

"It's a fact that much of the high-quality soy grown in the U.S. has been genetically engineered, so the traditional BOCA line of soy-based products may contain ingredients derived from these crops."
- BOCA's Frequently Asked Questions
BOCA Burgers is a popular so-called "natural" brand of veggie burgers owned by Kraft Foods. Companies like Kraft work hand-in-hand with Monsanto to lace common foods with GM (Genetically Modified) ingredients, with absolutely no labeling nor safety-testing required, and in many cases market these products as "natural." Kraft, North America's largest food company, has perfected the art of turning genetically engineered crops and animals raised in factory farms on GMO feed and injected with Monsanto's (now Elanco's) rBGH into "food."
While Kraft/BOCA claims to offer what they describe as "non-GMO" versions of its soy foods, these products are neither certified organic (organic prohibits GMOs) nor monitored by the Non-GMO Project, so it's impossible to verify BOCA's non-GMO claims. Likewise, Back to Nature, another so-called "natural" Kraft brand, claims that some of the corn and soy ingredients in their non-organic foods are "non-genetically engineered," but these claims are not verifiable either.
Tell Kraft you'll be boycotting BOCA Burgers, Back to Nature products, or any Kraft products that aren't certified as organic.
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The Sixth Wave?? This Ain't Due to an Astreroid, Friends!

Next Mass Extinction an Eyeblink Away: Scientists

Life on Earth is hurtling towards extinction levels comparable to those following the dinosaur-erasing asteroid impact of 65 million years ago, propelled forward by human activities, say scientists.
This week, scientists from the University of California, Berkeley, announced that if current extinction rates continue unabated, and vulnerable species disappear, Earth could lose three-quarters of its species as soon as three centuries from now.
"That's a geological eyeblink," said Nicholas Matzke, a graduate student at UC Berkeley and author of a paper describing the doom-and-gloom scenario.
Death in the Badlands II - The decision to drain most of the reservoir for new infrastructure and repair work on the pipeline seems to have had a dire effect on the wild life that has grown dependent on the eco-system provided here.
"Once you lose species, you don't get them back. It takes millions of years to rebound from a mass extinction event."
This means that not, too far in the future, backyards might not be buzzing with bees, bombarded by seagulls or shaded by redwood trees. And while that might seem far off, species are already disappearing on a global scale.
In recent history, we've lost the dodo bird and the passenger pigeon, the Javan tiger and the Japanese sea lion, and now, maybe the eastern cougar - declared extinct by the US Fish and Wildlife Service on Wednesday.
Amphibians, mammals, plants, fish - none are immune to going the way of the dinosaurs, courtesy of the human impact on fragile ecosystems.
Such enormous losses have occurred only five times in the past half-billion years, during events known as "mass extinctions".
The best-known of these events occurred 65 million years ago - a "really bad day," according to paleontologists - when an asteroid collided with Earth, sending fiery dust into the atmosphere and rapidly cooling the planet.
These "Big Five" events set the extinction bar high: to reach mass wipe-out status, 75 per cent of all species need to disappear within a geologically short time frame, meaning that Earth is currently on the brink of the sixth mass extinction.
To determine whether current losses could equal these mass extinction rates, scientists compared recent rates with species die-offs during the Big Five, taking into account presently endangered species.
They also looked at the number of species lost in recent history, and found that while rates are dramatically higher than expected, the percentage of vanishing species is not elevated - yet.
We already are engaged in a seemingly inexorable march toward barren landscapes and empty seas, a procession fuelled by human population growth, resource consumption and climate change, scientists say.
"The good news is, we still have most of what we want to save," said Berkeley paleobiologist and lead study author Anthony Barnosky. "But things are clearly going extinct too fast today."
The paper, published in this week's issue of Nature, resulted from a graduate seminar Barnosky organised in autumn 2009.
Together, he and students used fossils to compare extinction rates with more modern data, wanting to answer whether we really are seeing the sixth mass extinction.
To make comparisons, scientists used information from well-preserved fossils and modern accounts of disappearing animals, focusing on our milk-bearing relatives: mammals.
Stanford University biologist Paul Ehrlich, who was not involved in the study, said evidence of the sixth extinction is all around. For years, he studied the bay checkerspot butterfly on Stanford's campus - but then, the butterfly disappeared from the campus, more than a decade ago.
And, when Ehrlich journeyed to Morocco to sample a different checkerspot species, he found no butterflies, just "sheep droppings and not one blade of grass".
Scientists say habitat destruction, global climate change, introducing invasive species, and population growth are contributing to losses.
"Those four things working in concert are kind of a perfect storm that's setting up a recipe for disaster," Barnosky said. "But people are the ones who are driving this extinction, so we can fix it."
In addition to prioritising species preservation, Ehrlich suggested starting with caps on human population growth and limiting resource consumption.
"We could do something about it, but I don't see that we have the slightest inclination to," he said.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Don’t End Agricultural Subsidies, Fix Them

Mark BittmanMark Bittman on food and all things related. Tags:    March 1, 2011, 8:53 pm
Agricultural subsidies have helped bring us high-fructose corn syrup, factory farming, fast food, a two-soda-a-day habit and its accompanying obesity, the near-demise of family farms, monoculture and a host of other ills.
Yet — like so many government programs — what subsidies need is not the ax, but reform that moves them forward. Imagine support designed to encourage a resurgence of small- and medium-size farms producing not corn syrup and animal-feed but food we can touch, see, buy and eat — like apples and carrots — while diminishing handouts to agribusiness and its political cronies.
Farm subsidies were created in an attempt to ameliorate the effects of the Great Depression, which makes it ironic that in an era when more Americans are suffering financially than at any time since, these subsidies are mostly going to those who need them least.

That wasn’t the plan, of course. In the 1930s, prices were fixed on a variety of commodities, and some farmers were paid to reduce their crop yields. The program was supported by a tax on processors of food — now there’s a precedent! — and was intended to be temporary. It worked, sort of: prices rose and more farmers survived. But land became concentrated in the hands of fewer farmers, (Reagan called in the loans of small family farmers in the 1980's -650,000 family farmers were evicted. -Clean Food Earth Woman) and agribusiness was born, and along with it the sad joke that the government paid farmers for not growing crops.
The farm bill, up for renewal in 2012, includes an agricultural subsidy portion worth up to $30 billion, $5 billion of which is what you might call handouts, direct payments to farmers.
The subsidy-suckers don’t grow the fresh fruits and vegetables that should be dominating our diet. Indeed, if all Americans decided to actually eat the five servings a day of fruits and vegetables that are recommended, they would discover that American agriculture isn’t set up to meet that need. They grow what they’re paid to grow: corn, soy, wheat, cotton and rice.
The first two of these are the pillars for the typical American diet — featuring an unnaturally large consumption of meat, never-before-seen junk food and a bizarre avoidance of plants — as well as the fortunes of Pepsi, Dunkin’ Donuts, KFC and the others that have relied on cheap corn and soy (It's NOT cheap when we look at the external costs of chemicals, fuel for transport, royalty fees to Big AG IPR -Intellectual Property Rights, Patents on Seeds - contracts make re-use of seed illegal- Big Pharma fees, soil depletion, chemical leaching into waterways - See: Gulf Dead Zone - Clean Food Earth Woman),  to build their empires of unhealthful food. Over the years, prices of fresh produce have risen, while those of meat, poultry, sweets, fats and oils, and especially soda, have fallen. (Tom Philpott, writing in the environment and food Web site Grist and citing a Tufts University study, reckons that between 1997 and 2005 subsidies saved chicken, pork, beef and HFCS producers roughly $26.5 billion. In the short term, that saved consumers money too — prices for these foods are unjustifiably low — but at what cost to the environment, our food choices and our health?)
Eliminating the $5 billion in direct agricultural payments would level the playing field for farmers who grow non-subsidized crops, but just a bit — perhaps not even noticeably. There would probably be a decrease in the amount of HFCS in the market, in the 10 billion animals we “process” annually, in the ethanol used to fill gas-guzzlers and in the soy from which we chemically extract oil for frying potatoes and chicken. Those are all benefits, which we could compound by taking those billions and using them for things like high-speed rail, fulfilling our promises to public workers, maintaining Pell grants for low-income college students or any other number of worthy, forward-thinking causes.
But let’s not kid ourselves. Although the rage for across-the-board spending cuts doesn’t extend to the public — according to a recent Pew poll, most people want no cuts or even increased spending in major areas — once the $5 billion is gone, it’s not coming back.
That the current system is a joke is barely arguable: wealthy growers are paid even in good years, and may receive drought aid when there’s no drought. It’s become so bizarre that some homeowners lucky enough to have bought land that once grew rice now have subsidized lawns. Fortunes have been paid to Fortune 500 companies and even gentlemen farmers like David Rockefeller.
Thus even House Speaker Boehner calls the bill a “slush fund”; the powerful Iowa Farm Bureau suggests that direct payments end; and Glenn Beck is on the bandwagon. (This last should make you suspicious.) Not surprisingly, many Tea Partiers happily accept subsidies, including Vicky Hartzler (R-MO, $775,000), Stephen Fincher (R-TN, $2.5 million) and Michele Bachmann (R-MN $250,000). No hypocrisy there.
Left and right can perhaps agree that these are payments we don’t need to make. But suppose we use this money to steer our agriculture — and our health — in the right direction. A Gallup poll indicates that most Americans oppose cutting aid to farmers, and presumably they’re not including David Rockefeller or Michele Bachmann in that protected group; we still think of farmers as stewards of the land, and the closer that sentiment is to reality the better off we’ll be.
By making the program more sensible the money could benefit us all. For example, it could:
• Fund research and innovation in sustainable agriculture, so that in the long run we can get the system on track.
• Provide necessary incentives to attract the 100,000 new farmers Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack claims we need.  (Vilsack: Former Monsanto Man should be replaced due to conflict of interest- Clean Food Earth Woman)
• Save more farmland from development.
• Provide support for farmers who grow currently unsubsidized fruits, vegetables and beans, while providing incentives for monoculture commodity farmers to convert some of their operations to these more desirable foods.
• Level the playing field so that medium-sized farms — big enough to supply local supermarkets but small enough to care what and how they grow — can become more competitive with agribusiness.
The point is that this money, which is already in the budget, could encourage the development of the kind of agriculture we need, one that prioritizes caring for the land, the people who work it and the people who need the real food that’s grown on it.
We could, of course, finance or even augment the program with new monies, by taking a clue from the ‘30s, when the farm subsidy program began: Let the food giants that have profited so mightily and long from cheap corn and soy — that have not so far been asked to share the pain — pay for it. (They can start first by PAYING TAXES! According to the GAO, the top 500 US Corporations pay NO TAXES. AND - OUR TAX DOLLARS pay these subsidies, and they set price fixes on food so high - $6 -Bunch Broccoli - we need to get FOOD out of the Commodities for any price- out of Wall Street trading! - Clean Food Earth Woman)

Tuesday, March 1, 2011


Plan to end discards protects fishermen for the long haul

Throwing away thousands of tonnes of fish is unacceptable. At last the problem is getting a serious airing in Brussels
  • Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall  Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall,
  • Half of the fish caught in the North Sea today are thrown away, dead, because of an EU fisheries policy that is no longer fit for purpose. We can all agree that the system is broken – throwing away thousands of tonnes of edible fish is unacceptable. But on Tuesday we heard a bold proposal from the European commission that would aim to eliminate discards. It deserves a fair hearing. When we started our campaign against discards, I was surprised by the fantastic sign-up to our petition – 653,000 people so far. Discards are an emotive issue – people are appalled by images of fish being thrown back into the sea, dead and dying. Many of us had an inkling this was going on, but most didn't realise the scale of the problem – and people needed to know. When we brought it to public attention, I expected a good response, but in fact it was overwhelming. I would like to think it's hard to ignore more than half a million signatures. Now discards are at the heart of common fisheries policy reform, and that is where the issue needs to be. It's too early to talk of success, but I am thrilled the problem is getting a serious airing in Brussels. Maria Damanaki, the fisheries commissioner, has made a bold move, and I applaud that. Fishermen hate discarding – it is anathema to them, as they want to bring back their catch to sell for a fair price. Yet in some quarters, including representatives of the Scottish fleet, this proposal has been dismissed as a threat to fishermen's livelihoods. It was perhaps unfortunate that Scotland was not independently represented in Brussels. As it was, the whole of the UK was represented by Richard Benyon, the fisheries minister in Westminster. Some have been too quick to condemn the proposal. Understandably, fishermen fear there are going to be more restrictions on what they can do, and it will be harder to make a living. But when all fish caught are landed for sale, and none thrown away, that should provide for bigger quotas while still wasting less fish. I believe fishermen would like to work in waters where they are not obliged to discard fish. If they can still land a reasonable amount and take them to market, they should have no fear of compulsory landing. But the transition needs to be managed well. And perhaps anyone who thinks that a ban on discards is not the right way to go has an obligation to explain how to do it better. But the aim of our campaign was never to dictate policy in Brussels. We set out to show the extent of public outrage on discards, and force politicians to act on it. The Commissioner has made a bold move, but is just the beginning of the debate. I can only hope they come back with a new CFP that both eliminates discards and provides fishermen with a chance to make a living. Source:


Pittsburgh’s drinking water is radioactive, thanks to fracking. Only question is, how much? 

Grist admin avatar badge avatar for Christopher Mims by Christopher Mims    28 Feb 2011 6:00 PM

Pittsburgh, PAThe drinking water of tens of millions of Pennsylvanians is threatened by natural-gas fracking -- including the 2.3 million who live in Pittsburgh.Photo: Via TsujiResidents of Pittsburgh -- as well as potentially tens of millions of other everyday citizens in the Northeast corridor who rely on their taps to deliver safe water -- are consuming unknown and potentially dangerous amounts of radium in every glass of water. That's the buried lede in the Sunday New York Times' massive exposé on fracking, the relatively new process for extracting natural gas from the massive shale formation that stretches from Virginia to New York state.
But don't take the Times' word for it: The day the exposé appeared in print, John Hanger, secretary of Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection until June 2010, confirmed on his own blog that the main thrust of the story was dead-on: No one has any idea if the radioactive material in the wastewater from fracking is appearing downstream, in drinking water supplies, in quantities in excess of EPA recommendations, and we'd better find out:
We must not drift into a war of competing theories or studies. We need the facts. Pennsylvanians deserve nothing less. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection should order today all public water systems in Pennsylvania to test immediately for radium or radioactive pollutants and report as soon as good testing allows the results to the public. Only testing of the drinking water for these pollutants can resolve the issue raised by the NYT.
Hanger also says there are a number of oversights in the Times article: He says it unfairly characterizes Pennsylvania's response to the fracking crisis. Under his tenure, the number of gas-well inspectors doubled and a number of new regulations were put in place -- basically, he makes the case that Pennsylvania would be much worse off if it weren't for its efforts to curb the worst atrocities of fracking.
Industry dodges on the issue of radiation: A rebuttal of the Times piece by an industry group, the Marcellus Shale Coalition, does not even address the issue of radium in the wastewater that is dumped from fracking operations into water-treatment plants and thence water sources that are ultimately used by cities for drinking water.
The Coalition does claim that the majority of wastewater from fracking operations in Pennsylvania is reused, however, and that the industry aims for 100 percent reuse. This is great news, if it's achieved -- but you can bet it wouldn't happen in the absence of tough regulation.
What the Times piece and the subsequent responses illustrate is that oversight and environmental protection can work, even in the face of headwinds generated by industry -- but that in this case, regulation has been incomplete, and even those responsible for drafting and enforcing that regulation believe there are legitimate worries about the current state of fracking wastewater in Pennsylvania.
Oscar-nominated doc Gasland covers the other, even more dramatic issues with fracking: Importantly, the radium and wastewater issues are completely independent of the issue of groundwater contamination in the immediate area of fracking operations. The latter is the subject of the documentary Gasland, which was nominated for an Oscar for best feature-length documentary but didn't ultimately win. (Donald Carr reviewed the film for Grist when it first debuted at Sundance.)
Gasland's reach and Oscar nomination brought enough attention to the issue to warrant apparent censorship of industry concessions that the documentary got things right:
"We have to stop blaming documentaries and take a look in the mirror," Matt Pitzarella, a spokesman for gas producer Range Resources Corp., was quoted as saying in [The Wall Street Journal].
However, if you go to the article, you won't find Pitzarella's statement because within the hour the quote disappeared, say citizen journalists, who screen captured it and posted it on Twitter. Gasland director [Josh] Fox, in Los Angeles, awaiting Sunday night's Oscar ceremony, has the screen shot of the original version.
The industry also tried to get Gasland disqualified from the Oscars altogether: (Would the "industry" be our good friends, the Brothers Koch?)
The natural gas industry has spent months attacking the documentary Gasland as a deeply flawed piece of propaganda. After it was nominated for an Oscar, an industry-sponsored PR group asked the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to reconsider the film's eligibility.
New York state is next -- and the resulting drilling could threaten the drinking water of New York City itself: If the industry has its way, Pennsylvania is just the start. New York state is next, if it's not feeling the effects already -- the Times reported that fracking waste fluids have already been discharged into Cayuga Lake, which abuts Ithaca, N.Y. The Natural Resources Defense Council sees the Times exposé as yet more evidence that fracking is an unsafe technology that warrants a go-slow approach, especially in a state as dependent on natural waterways for its drinking water as New York.
The article makes the important point that in Pennsylvania -- where fracking has exploded over the past few years -- the vast majority of drilling wastewater is being handled in sewage treatment plants that discharge into surface water bodies (like the Susquehanna, Delaware, and Monongahela Rivers, which collectively supply over 21 million people with drinking water). [...]
The same is true in New York. As conceded in the highly flawed draft environmental review document issued by the state's Department of Environmental Conservation in the fall of 2009, wastewaters contaminated with radionuclides and other hazardous substances generated in New York would have to be handled at treatment plants for discharge into surface waterbodies. The document further concedes that there are no adequately permitted facilities to handle this material in the state.
Worth noting: New York City's water supply is unfiltered and comes straight from reservoirs after just minor chlorination. Try doing that after fracking comes to upstate New York.


Sunday, February 27, 2011


February 25, 2011
2:44 PM
CONTACT: Farm Sanctuary
Meredith Turner, Farm Sanctuary, 646-369-6212,

USDA Seeks Comments on Disabled Livestock Petition Submitted by Farm Sanctuary

Nation’s Leading Farm Animal Protection Organization Demands Federal Regulations to Curb Inhumane Handling of Sick and Injured Animals

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. - February 25 - The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is asking for public comments on a Petition for Rulemaking submitted by Farm Sanctuary (, the nation’s leading farm animal protection organization,requesting that regulations be extended, beyond cattle, to prohibit the slaughter of non-ambulatory pigs, goats, sheep and other farm animals. Non-ambulatory livestock, commonly referred to as "downers" or "downed" animals, are animals too ill or injured to stand or walk unassisted. According to findings released by the USDA in 2005, the annual number of downed sheep in the United States was estimated at 39,000, downed goats 36,000, and although there are no USDA statistics, industry reports estimate there are approximately 850,000 downed pigs every year.
The petition urges that downed pigs, goats, and sheep be humanely euthanized and not sent to slaughter for human consumption. Transporting, handling and slaughtering these incapacitated animals is inhumane, and as long as they can be used for human food there is an economic incentive to engage in these cruel practices. In addition, the slaughter of ill and injured animals for human consumption poses a serious human health and safety risk, as downed animals are more likely to be infected with and transmit food-borne illnesses. Several non-compliance reports demonstrating workers shocking, prodding, dragging and otherwise abusing downed animals at federally-inspected facilities are referenced, and the petition concludes that if slaughter were prohibited, facilities would have an incentive to treat animals better to prevent them from becoming ill, injured and downed in the first place.
A recent undercover investigation at a federally-inspected facility showing slaughterhouse workers kicking cows, prodding them with the blades of a forklift, jabbing them repeatedly in the eyes and other sensitive areas with electric shock prods, and forcing water up their nostrils with a hose in attempts to make them to rise to their feet, led the USDA, in its 2009 rulemaking regarding non-ambulatory cattle, to recognize the enormous potential for abuse and inhumane treatment when animals become downed.
“We appreciate that the Food Safety and Inspection Service has finally made good on its long stated intention to prevent downed cattle from entering the food supply, and that it is now considering other species,” says Farm Sanctuary President and Co-Founder Gene Baur. “Pigs, goats and sheep are highly sensitive, intelligent creatures who are equally capable of experiencing pain and distress during inhumane handling as cattle and should be afforded the same protections from abuse. We hope FSIS will take the logical next step by extending 9 C.F.R. section 309.3(e) to all farm animals. The USDA has an obligation to ensure the humane treatment of animals at slaughter facilities and this regulation is 100% necessary to carry out that responsibility.”
According to a 2003 Zogby poll, 77% of Americans find slaughter of non-ambulatory animals for human consumption unacceptable. Since 1986, Farm Sanctuary has advocated an end to downed animal abuse and urged the USDA to ban their marketing through the organization’s No Downers Campaign. During the past quarter-century, the organization has worked for passage of the first laws in this country to end the marketing of downed animals, achieved the first cruelty convictions of slaughterhouses and stockyards, and rescued and rehabilitated downed animals.
Comments on the proposal will be accepted through April 8, 2011. A copy of the petition is available here.
The public is encouraged to join Farm Sanctuary in urging the USDA to extend the 2009 “no downer” rule to include downed pigs, goats, sheep, and other farm animals.
To speak with Farm Sanctuary President and Co-Founder Gene Baur or receive images/b-roll of downed animals, please contact Meredith Turner at 646-369-6212 or
Farm Sanctuary is the nation's leading farm animal protection organization. Since incorporating in 1986, Farm Sanctuary has worked to expose and stop cruel practices of the "food animal" industry through research and investigations, legal and institutional reforms, public awareness projects, youth education, and direct rescue and refuge efforts. Farm Sanctuary shelters in Watkins Glen, N.Y., and Orland, Calif., provide lifelong care for hundreds of rescued animals, who have become ambassadors for farm animals everywhere by educating visitors about the realities of factory farming.


The Price of Food is at the Heart of This Wave of Revolutions

No one saw the uprisings coming, but their deeper cause isn't hard to fathom

by Peter Popham
Revolution is breaking out all over. As Gaddafi marshals his thugs and mercenaries for a last-ditch fight in Tripoli, several died as protests grew more serious in Iraq. Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah tried to bribe his people into docility by splashing out $35bn on housing, social services and education. Across the water in Bahrain the release of political prisoners failed to staunch the uprising. In Iran, President Ahmadinejad crowed about chaos in the Arab world, but said nothing about the seething anger in his own backyard; in Yemen, the opposition gathers strength daily.

And it's not just the Middle East. This is an African crisis: Tunisia, where it started, is an African country, and last week in Senegal, a desperate army veteran died after setting fire to himself in front of the presidential palace, emulating Mohamed Bouazizi, the market trader whose self-immolation sparked the revolution in Tunisia. Meanwhile, the spirit of revolt has already leapt like a forest fire to half a dozen other ill-governed African nations, with serious disturbances reported in Mauritania, Gabon, Cameroon and Zimbabwe.
Nowhere is immune: dozens of activists in China are in detention or under other forms of surveillance, and the LinkedIn network was shut down as authorities seek to stamp out Middle East-style protests there. In what is arguably the most repressive state on the planet, North Korea, the army was called out and five died in the northern city of Sinuiju after violent protests erupted there and in two other cities. The generals who rule Burma under a trashy façade of constitutional government were keeping a close eye on the Middle East, ready to lock up Aung San Suu Kyi again at the first sign of copycat disturbances.

Nowhere is immune to this wave of rebellion because globalisation is a fact; all the world's markets are intricately interlinked, and woe in one place quickly translates into fury in another. Twenty years ago, things were more manageable. When grain production collapsed in the Soviet Union during the 1980s and what had been one of the world's greatest grain exporters became a net importer, the resulting surges of anger brought down the whole Communist system within a couple of years – but stopped there. Today there are no such firebreaks, and thanks to digital communications, events happen much faster.
Why are all these revolutions happening now? Plenty of answers have been offered: the emergence of huge urban populations with college degrees but no prospect of work; the accumulation of decades of resentment at rulers who are "authoritarian familial kleptocracies delivering little to their people", as Peter Bergen of the New America Foundation put it; the subversive role of Facebook and Twitter, fatally undermining the state's systems of thought control.
Absent from this list – to the combined bewilderment and relief of the US and Europe – are the factors that were universally supposed to be driving populist politics in the Middle East: Islamic fundamentalism coupled with anti-Zionism and anti-Americanism. As one Egyptian pointed out after the fall of Mubarak, at no point during weeks of passionate revolt did either the Israeli or the US embassies become a target of the crowd's fury, even though both are within easy reach of Tahrir Square. "Not so much as a Coke can was thrown over the wall," he said.
Of course, that does not mean that allies of al-Qa'ida will not seek to exploit the growing chaos in Libya in particular, striving to turn it into a new Somalia-sur-Med. Nor does it guarantee that any of the other revolts will produce stable democracies. Because the real cause of these revolutions, beyond all the chatter about social networks, is a problem that is liable to get worse in coming years rather than better, and that is largely beyond the power of anyone to contain or control.
The first warnings of what was to come appeared in the form of a briefing paper on the website of the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization in December. "Recent bouts of extreme price volatility in global agricultural markets," it said, "portend rising and more frequent threats to world food security. There is emerging consensus that the global food system is becoming more vulnerable and susceptible to episodes of extreme price volatility. As markets are increasingly integrated in the world economy, shocks in the international arena can now transpire and propagate to domestic markets much quicker than before."
The "shocks" all occurred a long way from Cairo and Tunis. They included fires in Russia last autumn which wiped out hundreds of thousands of acres of grain; heavy rains in Canada, destroying the wheat crop there; hot, dry weather in Argentina which destroyed the soybean crop; the Australian floods which ruined the wheat harvest. The Middle East accounts for one-third of worldwide wheat imports. The combined effect of these far-flung agricultural problems was to bump up the food price index by 32 per cent in the second half of 2010.
The FAO likens "extreme price volatility" to great natural disasters – major earthquakes, tsunamis, catastrophic cyclones. "Historically, bouts of such extreme volatility... have been rare," they say. "To draw the analogy with natural disasters, they typically have a low possibility of occurrence but bring with them extremely high risks and potential costs to society."
A similar chain of unconnected farming catastrophes in early 2008 led to a similar outbreak of "extreme price volatility" around the world which provoked food riots in more than 40 countries, from Haiti to Bangladesh, including Mexico, Uzbekistan and Eritrea but also involving several countries caught up in the present round of uprisings, including Egypt, Yemen, Morocco, Mauritania, Senegal and Zimbabwe. All were among the 80 countries around the world that combine low incomes with food deficits – the need to import food, bringing exposure to wildly fluctuating world market prices. In these poor countries, food purchases can consume 70 per cent of income. The result, when prices of flour and grains shoot up by 30 per cent, is extreme distress – the sort of distress that sends people out into the streets in fury.
Abdolreza Abbassian, FAO's chief economist saw – in his dry, cautious, academic manner – the present turmoil coming. "It's getting a little bit uncomfortable," he said back in December. "A lot of countries, especially the poorer ones, have to rely so much on world markets. They have to import food at much higher prices. Whether or not this will lead to domestic problems, turmoil, demonstrations, riots, the kind of things we saw in 2008, it is not possible to predict."
For the poor of the Middle East, the price shocks at the start of this year were like experiencing a second killer earthquake in three years – but unlike with an earthquake, there was someone you could blame. So angry were the food price protesters in Tunisia that, after Mohamed Bouazizi set fire to himself, President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali declared a state of emergency and promised to reduce the price of food. But it was too little, too late: by mid-January he was gone.
Tunisia's turmoil, warned The Washington Post as the toppled president flew off into exile, "has economists worried that we may be seeing the beginning of a second wave of global food riots". As we know now, it turned out somewhat differently. Food riots in 2008, revolutions in 2011 – what, where, who is next?