Saturday, September 24, 2011


Radioactive Rice "Far Exceeding" Safe Levels Found in Japan

by Chikako Mogi
TOKYO  - Japan found the first case of rice with radioactive materials far exceeding a government-set level for a preliminary test of pre-harvested crop, requiring thorough inspection of the rice to be harvested from the region, the farm ministry said late on Friday.
A rice field is seen in Soma, about 40 km (25 miles) north of the tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, in Fukushima prefecture, September 10, 2011. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon The ministry said radioactive caesium of 500 becquerels per kg was found in a sample of the pre-harvested rice in Nihonmatsu city, in Fukushima Prefecture, 56 km (35 miles) west of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant which was crippled by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, triggering the world's worst nuclear disaster in 25 years.
The ministry said the Fukushima Prefecture will expand the inspection spots nearly ten-fold to around 300 areas.
It is the first case in Japan of rice containing radioactive caesium exceeding 200 becquerels per kg, a level which requires further thorough testing of the area for the harvested rice.
The government introduced inspection guidelines in August, with preliminary tests followed by more before approving shipments.
If preliminary tests found rice to contain radioactive caesium levels of 200 becquerels per kg or more, the crop will be tested more thoroughly before approvals are made for shipments.
If the level of caesium in rice exceeded the government-imposed cap of 500 becquerels per kg, shipments from locally produced rice will be halted.
So far, no rice crop has been banned for shipments.
If the follow-up tests of rice harvested from Nihonmatsu city find radioactive materials exceeding the government-imposed cap, it would deal a huge blow to Japan.
The country has been struggling to regain public trust in the safety of nuclear power so it can resume operations of nuclear reactors to supply energy as well as food safety after wide-ranging products from water to vegetables were found with radiation contamination.

Thursday, September 22, 2011


MDG : Landgrab in Sudan : employee from the Phillipines works in an agricultural field in al-WahaOxfam warns of spiralling land grab in developing countries

  • Many of world's poorest 'being left worse off by unprecedented land deals', despite claims by governments and speculators. A Filippino employee works in a field near Khartoum, Sudan, where Arab and Asian investors are competing to exploit large fertile land. Photograph: Ashraf Shazly/AFP/Getty Images
    The scale of the rush by speculators, pension funds and global agri-businesses to acquire large areas of developing countries is far greater than previously thought, and is already leading to conflict, hunger and human rights abuses, says Oxfam.
    The NGO has identified 227m ha (561m acre ha) of land – an area the size of north-west Europe – as having being reportedly sold, leased or licensed, largely in Africa and mostly to international investors in thousands of secretive deals since 2001. This compares with about 56m ha identified by the World Bank earlier this year, again predominantly in Africa.
    The new land rush, which was triggered by food riots, a series of harvest failures following major droughts and the western investors moving out of the US property market in 2008, is being justified by governments and speculators in the name of growing food for hungry people and biofuels for environmental benefit.
    But, says Oxfam, "many of the deals are in fact 'land grabs' where the rights and needs of the people previously living on the land are ignored, leaving them homeless and without land to grow enough food to eat and make a living".
    "Many of the world's poorest people are being left worse off by the unprecedented pace of land deals and the frenetic competition for land. The blinkered scramble for land by investors is ignoring the people who live on the land and rely on it to survive," said Oxfam chief executive Dame Barbara Stocking.
    Oxfam expects the land grabbing to increase as populations grow. The report said: "The huge increase in demand for food will need to be met by land resources that are under increasing pressure from climate change, water depletion, and other resource constraints, and squeezed by biofuel production, carbon sequestration and forest conservation, timber production, and non-food crops."
    While some investors might claim to have experience in agricultural production, many may only be purchasing land speculatively, anticipating price increases in the coming years, a practice known as 'land banking'.
    In addition, developing countries are under pressure from the IMF, the World Bank and other regional banks to put farmland on the international market to increase economic development and improve the balance of payments.
    Much of the land grabbing has being driven by the expansion of sugar cane and oil palm for biofuel production. "Thousands of people have been persuaded to part with their land on the basis of false promises in Indonesia, or have been evicted from their lands and their homes in Uganda, Guatemala and Honduras," says the report.
    Most of the land deals done in Ethiopia, Ghana, Mali, Mozambique Senegal, and Tanzania have been to grow crops for export commodities, including cut flowers as well as biofuels. In Mozambique, where approximately 35% of households are chronically food insecure, only 32,000 ha out of the 433,000 approved for land deals between 2007 and 2009 were for food crops.
    The report said: "Unrestricted export clauses in contracts, together with small-scale food producers losing their key productive asset, may well worsen rather than improve food security. Moreover, investors' short time scales may tempt them into unsustainable cultivation practices, undermining food production in the long-term.
    Stocking called on the EU to scrap the incentive offered to investors to grow biofuel crops, and organisations like the World Bank to ensure that local people are consulted on land deals.
    "Governments should avoid pandering to investors' wishes, and prioritise existing land use rights – not just where legal land title or formal ownership rights are held," said the report.
    Stocking said: "Land investment has great potential to help people work themselves out of poverty, but the current rush for land is leaving people worse off. Global action is crucial if we are to protect local people from losing what little they have for the profits of a few, and build towards a tomorrow where everyone has enough."

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


walmart_growing powerDid Walmart buy urban agriculture group’s silence?

by Michele Simon    

Follow 19 Sep 2011 3:22 PM
Photo of Walmart register courtsey of Walmart stores and photo of Growing Power greenhouse courtsey of grfray. Last week, retail behemoth Walmart announced a $1.01 million donation to Milwaukee-based Growing Power, a well-known urban farming nonprofit, whose founder Will Allen has gained many accolades for his hard work to bring local, healthy food to low-income areas.
So far the online debate over Growing Power taking this funding is predictable: Some defend it for pragmatic reasons, while others deplore the move, either because they don't like this particular company or they think all corporate money is evil. However, this donation cannot be viewed in such a narrow context. There is a pattern here that spans decades. By partnering with a group that could otherwise be one of its staunchest critics, Walmart is taking a page right out of the Big Tobacco playbook: buying silence.
Philanthropy to win over potential critics is a time-honored tradition in Corporate America, and this is the just the latest installment. The tobacco industry saw great success with sponsorships of women's causes (Philip Morris promoted its support of women's shelters in ads, for instance) and both the tobacco and alcohol industries have simultaneously made significant donations to Latino groups while heavily targeting them with advertising. In fact, they've done the same with a number of other minority groups, as I've described before.
Of course Growing Power needs the cash and will do good things with it. It's understandable, in these hard times, how the group could justify taking it. Why not put a corporation's profits to good use? Viewed in that narrow frame, there's logic in taking almost any donation.

But what happens if Walmart's pledge made earlier this year -- with the first lady by their side -- to sell more fresh produce at affordable prices, falls through (or squeezes farmers), as it inevitably will? What happens next year, when Allen needs more money, and Walmart ups the ante? One colleague I spoke to says he has no problem with the deal, as long as Walmart doesn't ask for a seat on Growing Power's board. But they just might.

It's not at all clear where Growing Power is drawing the line. On their blog, Allen defends the move by arguing that we "can no longer refuse to invite big corporations to the table of the Good Food Revolution."
Invite them to the table? These corporations -- McDonald's, PepsiCo, Kraft, and especially Walmart -- have already been to the table: In fact, they have set the table.

Corporate America can hardly claim that it's been left out of the conversation about our food supply. My book, Appetite for Profit, was inspired by the retaliation the food industry has leveled against its critics. Retaliation in the form of a massive public relations campaign designed to convince the American public and policymakers alike that they have the public's interest in mind.
McDonald's pushing cheeseburgers and fries? No problem, now they sell salads. General Mills promoting sugary cereals to kids? Enter whole grain Reese's Puffs. Not enough access to fresh food in poor areas? Walmart to the rescue.
Meanwhile, any policy effort to reform the food system in more meaningful ways is resisted by these same companies with powerful lobbying campaigns. Walmart is no exception to this pattern. Last year, the retail chain's lobbying expenditures topped $6 million.
Christopher Cook (author of Diet for a Dead Planet: Big Business and the Coming Food Crisis -- which I highly recommend) recently hit the nail on the head. He posted to a list-serve arguing that such donations are "not only tainted but tied to political allegiance with the corporate agenda." He went on to say:
The PR and influence that Walmart and others gain from this "charitable giving" expands their corporate power and their market control -- the very things that are directly undermining our food system, sustainability, and food access and justice. These corporations are a huge part of precisely why we are in such deep trouble with our food today. It's not just about "tainted" dollars, it's about how these corporations will profit (and they will) both economically and politically by buying market share in the food justice movement.
Andy Fisher, former head of the Community Food Security Coalition, also wrote an excellent critique on Civil Eats, where he concluded that Walmart cannot possibly be part of the solution to our broken food system because the company "hurts communities more than it helps them."  So what then, I hear many asking, is the alternative given that the money is still sorely needed? Cook offers an admittedly more challenging solution: "We need a strongly united movement pushing aggressively for public investment in the great and vital work of Growing Power and other groups."
I agree. Let's get to work.

Michele Simon is a public health lawyer specializing in industry marketing and lobbying tactics. She is the author of Appetite for Profit: How the Food Industry Undermines Our Health and How to Fight Back. She is grateful to live in Oakland, Calif., within walking distance of a farmers market.


New Report Will Show How Taxpayer Dollars Subsidize Junk Food 

WASHINGTON - September 20 - WHAT: U.S.PIRG will release its new report, Apples to Twinkies, which examines how billions in taxpayer agricultural subsidies end up supporting junk food and contributes to the childhood obesity epidemic. The report is the first to make specific estimates of the amount of tax dollars going to junk food ingredients including high fructose corn syrup, and breaks down these estimates by calculating how many Twinkies, and how many apples, each taxpayer is paying for.
WHEN: 9 A.M. Eastern, Wednesday, September 21, online at

U.S. PIRG, the federation of state Public Interest Research Groups (PIRGs), stands up to powerful special interests on behalf of the American public, working to win concrete results for our health and our well-being. With a strong network of researchers, advocates, organizers and students in state capitols across the country, we take on the special interests on issues, such as product safety,political corruption, prescription drugs and voting rights,where these interests stand in the way of reform and progress.


September 20, 2011
12:03 PM

Michael Russo
Phone: (213) 251-3680 ext 332


Super Weeds Pose Growing Threat to U.S. Crops  

by Carey Gillam

PAOLA, Kansas - Farmer Mark Nelson bends down and yanks a four-foot-tall weed from his northeast Kansas soybean field. The "waterhemp" towers above his beans, sucking up the soil moisture and nutrients his beans need to grow well and reducing the ultimate yield. As he crumples the flowering end of the weed in his hand, Nelson grimaces.
"We are at a disturbing juncture," said Margaret Mellon, director of the food and environment program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. "The use of toxic chemicals in agriculture is skyrocketing. This is not the path to sustainability." "When we harvest this field, these waterhemp seeds will spread all over kingdom come," he said.
Nelson's struggle to control crop-choking weeds is being repeated all over America's farmland. An estimated 11 million acres are infested with "super weeds," some of which grow several inches in a day and defy even multiple dousings of the world's top-selling herbicide, Roundup, whose active ingredient is glyphosate.
The problem's gradual emergence has masked its growing menace. Now, however, it is becoming too big to ignore. The super weeds boost costs and cut crop yields for U.S. farmers starting their fall harvest this month. And their use of more herbicides to fight the weeds is sparking environmental concerns.

With food prices near record highs and a growing population straining global grain supplies, the world cannot afford diminished crop production, nor added environmental problems.  "I'm convinced that this is a big problem," said Dave Mortensen, professor of weed and applied plant ecology at Penn State University, who has been helping lobby members of Congress about the implications of weed resistance.
"Most of the public doesn't know because the industry is calling the shots on how this should be spun," Mortensen said.   Last month, representatives from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Agriculture and the Weed Science Society of America toured the Midwest crop belt to see for themselves the impact of rising weed resistance.
"It is only going to get worse," said Lee Van Wychen, director of science policy at the Weed Science Society of America.


At the heart of the matter is Monsanto Co, the world's biggest seed company and the maker of Roundup. Monsanto has made billions of dollars and revolutionized row crop agriculture through sales of Roundup and "Roundup Ready" crops genetically modified to tolerate treatment with Roundup.
The Roundup Ready system has helped farmers grow more corn, soybeans, cotton and other crops while reducing detrimental soil tillage practices, killing weeds easily and cheaply.
But the system has also encouraged farmers to alter time-honored crop rotation practices and the mix of herbicides that previously had kept weeds in check.

And now, farmers are finding that rampant weed resistance is setting them back - making it harder to keep growing corn year in and year out, even when rotating it occasionally with soybeans. Farmers also have to change their mix and volume of chemicals, making farming more costly.
For Monsanto, it spells a threat to the company's market strength as rivals smell an opportunity and are racing to introduce alternatives for Roundup and Roundup Ready seeds.  "You've kind of been in a Roundup Ready era," said Tom Wiltrout, a global strategy leader at Dow AgroSciences, which is introducing an herbicide and seed system called Enlist as an alternative to Roundup.   "This just allows us to candidly get out from the Monsanto story," he said.
Gilford Securities analyst Paul Christopherson last month reiterated a "sell" recommendation on Monsanto's shares, citing Monsanto's "overdependence" on glyphosate and Roundup Ready crops, calling glyphosate resistance by weeds a "big and growing phenomenon."  Monsanto officials say they are asking farmers to use different types of herbicides to fight weeds, but insist that Roundup remains effective for the majority of U.S. farmers.

Still, company spokesman Tom Helscher said weed resistance was a "wake-up call for all U.S. farmers."  "We have a shared responsibility and we're committed to working with farmers to take the steps necessary to insure that glyphosate continues to be an effective weed control tool for many years to come," Helscher said in a statement.
To fight superweeds, farmers are using stronger dousings of glyphosate as well as other harsh chemicals that have sparked concern among environmental and public health groups.
Nelson, for example, has been a fan of Roundup since Monsanto introduced Roundup Ready soybeans and corn in the 1990s. For years he needed no other herbicides for his 2,000 acres, marveling at how easily Roundup wiped out weeds. He often did not even use the full concentration recommended.
Now Nelson uses several pesticides and sprays his fields multiple times to try to control waterhemp, which can grow eight-feet tall and can be toxic to livestock.  He uses the maximum amount of Roundup along with other herbicides including one known as 2,4-D, which some scientific organizations have deemed a cancer risk. "Just spraying Roundup was so easy," he said. "There is no ease anymore."
In Ohio, the nightmare weed for farmer John Davis is "marestail," an annual weed that grows well in key crop-growing areas of the U.S. Midwest and which is resistant to glyphosate and other herbicides.
"I see marestail in my sleep," said Davis, president of the Ohio Corn Growers organization. "I have spent a significant amount of dollars trying to control marestail until I realized I was not going to control marestail."  Davis calls the weed resistance problem a "major economic blow" to his farming operation.

Some farmers have resorted to hiring crews to weed fields by hand, and some are returning to tilling their fields, a practice that contributes to soil erosion.  "We are at a disturbing juncture," said Margaret Mellon, director of the food and environment program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. "The use of toxic chemicals in agriculture is skyrocketing. This is not the path to sustainability."
Penn State's Mortensen said farmer efforts to control resistant weeds are estimated to cost nearly $1 billion a year and result in a 70 percent increase in pesticide use by 2015.  Since Monsanto introduced its glyphosate-resistant crops, 21 weed species have evolved to resist the herbicide, up from none in 1995. The list is growing by one to two species per year, Mortensen said.

Farmers and crop experts say that when superweeds take root in farm fields, yield reductions of 1-2 bushels an acre are common, even with extra pesticide doses.   With soybeans at more than $14 a bushel, a 1,000-acre farm might lose more than $20,000 to weeds on top of the costs of the added pesticides.

Then there are the environmental woes. A U.S. government study released last month gave evidence that glyphosate is also polluting the air and waterways. The chemical was found in waterways through Mississippi and Iowa, according to the report issued in August by the U.S. Geological Survey Office, a part of the U.S. Department of the Interior.   The USGS said more than 88,0000 tons of glyphosate was used in 2007, up from 11,000 tons in 1992.
"This is a big problem that actually does threaten the ability of nations to feed their people. it needs a fair amount of research and studies dedicated to it," said Iowa agronomist Bob Streit.  Streit is among a group of scientists who believe glyphosate is actually harming the plants it is supposed to protect by tying up nutrients in the soil the plants need. The group has lobbied regulators to rein in use of glyphosate.

The Environmental Protection Agency has started a review of the safety and efficacy of glyphosate and is considering the arguments of critics and the findings of the USGS study.  "EPA considers all relevant information in its review," said an EPA spokesperson. "We will be evaluating it as part of the glyphosate review." EPA plans to propose a decision in 2014 and issue a final registration review decision for glyphosate in 2015.
For Monsanto, the weed resistance problem is more significant than the recent concerns raised about possible insect resistance developing to Monsanto's corn seed, said Gabelli & Co analyst Amon Wilkes.

Wilkes remains bullish on Monsanto's prospects. While he sees competition to Roundup as a "potential problem," he noted the company has been moving to introduce new products.   "You always have to be continually innovating. Monsanto is doing that."
Monsanto insists that the Roundup Ready crops and herbicide system "has long-term value" and that any rivals will also run the risk of triggering weed resistance.   "The benefits of glyphosate-tolerant crops have been real for farmers and the environment," said Monsanto's Helscher.
© 2011 Reuters.