Saturday, July 14, 2012


Top Ten Reasons to Reject the House's Farm Bill

The budget-busting farm bill approved by the House Agriculture Committee late Wednesday night is quite simply the worst piece of farm and food legislation in decades. The bill will feed fewer people, help fewer farmers, do less to promote healthy diets and weaken environmental protections–and it will cost far more than Congressional bean counters say.
Here are the TOP TEN reasons to reject the bill:
  • Cuts Nutrition Assistance – Hard economic times mean that more Americans than ever before depend on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as food stamps) to get an adequate diet, and nearly half of them are kids. The House bill proposes to cut $16 billion in SNAP funding that low-income Americans rely on. More than 2 million Americans will lose benefits under the farm bill devised by the committee’s leaders, Reps. Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) and Collin Peterson (D-Minn.).
  • Gives Big Farmers a Big Raise – The Lucas-Peterson farm bill would give every big subsidized grower a raise in the form of higher price guarantees for their crops–at a time when large commercial farms have average household incomes of more than $200,000 a year and net farm income has nearly doubled in recent years. The largest 10 percent of subsidized growers collect roughly three-fourths of federal farm subsidies, so the Lucas-Peterson farm bill will give mega-farms even more tax dollars to drive out small family farmers.
  • Expands Crop Insurance by $9.5 billion – Right now, farm businesses can get unlimited insurance subsidies. As a result, 26 of them collected more than $1 million each in 2011 and more than 10,000 growers collected more than $100,000 each. Rather than place reasonable limits on crop insurance, the Lucas-Peterson proposal actually expands insurance subsidies – at a cost of more than $9 billion! Reasonable reforms such as payment limits, means testing and administrative reforms–which are applied to SNAP but not crop insurance–could save taxpayers more than $20 billion.
  • Cuts Conservation Programs by $6 billion – Like the farm bill passed by the Senate, the Lucas-Peterson bill cuts conservation programs that assist farmers in all parts of the country and benefit consumers in the form of cleaner air and water. High commodity prices and unlimited insurance subsidies are encouraging farmers to plow up millions of acres of wetlands and grasslands to grow crops, but the bill cuts more than $3 billion from programs designed to protect and restore wildlife habitat.
  • Lacks Protections for Prairies – Chairman Lucas turned back a bipartisan proposal by Reps. Tim Walz (D-Minn.) and Kristi Noem (R-S.D.) to expand to all states a provision temporarily reducing crop insurance subsidies when prairie land is converted to grow row crops. This “sodsaver” proposal would help offset the damage done by rising crop insurance subsidies and cuts to critical conservation programs.
  • Includes Anti-Environmental Riders – Reps. Lucas and Peterson included two riders that would gut common-sense rules that protect water quality and wildlife from agricultural pesticides. That’s despite the fact that more than 1,000 lakes and streams are already too polluted by pesticides to meet clean water standards. What’s more, the bill guts environmental protections on logging by short-circuiting environmental review and public involvement in “critical areas.”
  • Has Few Incentives for Healthy Diets – More than a third of Americans are obese, and consumers have said that supporting healthy diets should be the top priority for this farm bill. But the House bill would cut SNAP by $16 billion (as much as 20 percent of SNAP purchases go to buy fruits and vegetables) and does not include as many incentives as the Senate bill to encourage more fruit and vegetable consumption by low-income consumers. What’s more, the bill omits proposals to expand access to fruits and vegetables and takes the “fresh” out of the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Snack Program for school children.
  • Weakens Regulation of GMO Crops – Exempting GMO crops from environmental reviews and setting arbitrary deadlines on regulators will eviscerate already weak oversight over biotech crops by allowing the sale of foods that haven’t been approved or analyzed by USDA. Even industry groups such as the National Grain and Feed Association oppose this poorly designed provision.
  • Guts State Food and Farm Standards – Thomas Jefferson must be turning over in his grave. A last-minute amendment to prevent states from setting their own standards for farm and food production will do far more than block a California law that requires more humane treatment of egg-laying hens. This proposal will block any state from setting its own standards for how crops and livestock can be produced.
  • Repeals Organic Certification Program – The bill repeals a program that helps farmers certify that their crops meet organic standards–at a time when demand for organic food is soaring.
Scott Faber
Scott Faber is the vice president for government affairs for Environmental Working Group (EWG), a public interest research and advocacy organization that uses the power of information to protect human health and the environment.


USDA Declares 'Natural Disaster' in 26 States as Drought Devastates

- Common Dreams staff
The US Department of Agriculture declared a natural disaster on Thursday as a widespread drought stretched over 1,016 counties in 26 states, covering over half the country. The natural disaster is said to be the largest in US history due to its breadth.
The declaration will initiate a series of emergency loans for farmers in drought stricken areas; however, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the low-interest loans and penalty reductions are only “limited tools” for relief.
According to the National Climatic Data Center, some parts of the Midwest have experienced the worst conditions since 1988 as crops and pastures continue to sizzle.
And the record setting drought does not seem to be easing any time soon. Scientists for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recently released a report which ties extreme weather events such as prolonged heat waves and drought to the broader implications of climate change. June temperatures revealed that once again the past 12 months have been the warmest on record in the US since the National Climatic Data Center began recording temperatures in 1895.
Subsequently, roughly 56% of the country is currently experiencing extreme drought conditions, the farthest reaching drought in over a decade, according to the US Drought Monitor.

Friday, July 13, 2012


July 12, 2012
1:48 PM
CONTACT: Earthjustice
Raviya Ismail, Earthjustice, (202) 745-5221

House Bill Approves Provisions Harmful to Human Health and Natural Resources

Agriculture bill includes language that favors industry over our waters, wildlife and forests

WASHINGTON - July 12 - Today the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Agriculture approved several dangerous Farm Bill provisions that seek to skirt environmental protections for our waters, wildlife and forests. These provisions include allowing more pesticides to be sprayed directly onto our waters, exempting genetically engineered crops from environmental laws or even USDA review, blocking measures to protect endangered species from toxic pesticides, and increasing logging and road projects in our national forests.

The following statement is from Sarah Saylor, Senior Legislative Representative for Earthjustice:

“The House of Representatives is a broken record on repeat, continuing their anti-environmental agenda that includes attacks on our water, wildlife, and public lands. Certain elected officials repeatedly favor their corporate benefactors at the expense of our health, safety and environment.

“The bill contains a provision to allow for pesticide application directly onto our waterways without any protections currently afforded under the Clean Water Act. This is an insult to Americans who expect and deserve clean water for drinking and for fishing and recreation. Such practices also poison fish and other species that live in and around our waters.

“Further, the bill puts the interests of pesticide manufacturers ahead of the health of our wildlife and communities, undermining measures recommended by federal wildlife experts to protect endangered species from pesticides. This spells disaster for species already on the brink of extinction because of pesticides and other threats.

“Another provision seeks to bypass our environmental laws and rubber-stamp approval of genetically engineered crops. This will not only put the food system at risk but also potentially cost farmers millions of dollars if and when their crops become contaminated with genetically engineered crops. Such crops also are associated with the use of greater and more potent pesticides and herbicides, which can harm farm workers and wildlife.

“The bill also allows logging, road-building and other controversial projects to proceed in our national forests with limited or no public review, regardless of whether these projects address immediate fire or disease risks. This essentially authorizes destruction of critical areas of forests without any meaningful oversight.

“We urge those members of Congress who care about our health to remove all anti-environmental provisions from the final 2012 farm bill.”
Earthjustice is a non-profit public interest law firm dedicated to protecting the magnificent places, natural resources, and wildlife of this earth, and to defending the right of all people to a healthy environment. We bring about far-reaching change by enforcing and strengthening environmental laws on behalf of hundreds of organizations, coalitions and communities.



Insult to injury: How the House snuck protection for GMOs into their farm bill

Apparently it wasn’t quite enough for the House Agriculture Committee to pass a version of the farm bill that made over $16 billion in cuts to food stamps and allowed for an open-ended expansion of crop insurance for Big Ag.
No, the members of the committee also felt the need to sneak something in to help out those poor struggling biotechnology behemoths in their attempts to win approval for new genetically engineered seed. Since we all know genetically modified seeds never win approval. I’m sorry. Did I say never? I meant always.
But apparently an unending winning streak isn’t enough for the biotech industry. They want to make sure that the U.S. Department of Agriculture approves their new seeds with minimal study, and loses the ability to withdraw them from the market should they prove harmful. To top it off, biotech companies want to ensure that anyone harmed by these seeds will have no recourse for damages.*
Such a provision was slipped into the farm bill at the last minute. It would eliminate the liability biotech companies may have and effectively lift all regulations on genetically modified seeds. The provision bears a strong similarity to one that was added to the annual agriculture spending bill now working its way through the House (the one activist group Food Democracy Now! has dubbed the Monsanto Protection Act).
Of course, not all industry groups are thrilled. The National Grain and Feed Association, which has an interest in protecting the interests of its members who don’t use GMO seeds, has come out against it. As Scott Faber of the Environmental Working Group told the San Francisco Chronicle, “Most of agribusiness was just as surprised as [GMO opponents] that Lucas and Peterson would choose to use the farm bill to gut USDA review of GMO crops and open this particular Pandora’s Box.”
As predicted, the newly approved House bill is awful otherwise. As the Environmental Working Group put it, “The House bill would feed fewer people, help fewer farmers, do less to promote healthy diets and weaken environmental protections — and it would cost far more than Congressional bean counters say.” So the Senate may also have bigger fish to fry when it comes time for both sides of Congress to battle it out.
Before this biotech language can become law, it would need to be added to the Senate version of the farm bill, which lacks any such GMO provision. What the leaders of the House Ag Committee might be banking on is that, with so many differences between the House and Senate bills, any objections to a provision such as this could get drowned out in the race to final passage. With time running out and the current farm bill set to expire on Sept. 30 (and with it many of the programs that make up federal farm policy), perhaps an itty bitty provision like GMO deregulation might get ignored by House and Senate negotiators.
All that said, the whole farm bill mishegas may be for naught — GMO handouts included. The Hill reports that House Speaker John Boehner is still refusing to commit to bringing the bill up for a vote. And in another article, The Hill recounts Boehner’s longstanding antipathy to farm subsidies — “he hates the farm bill,” says one lobbyist — so the odds of getting this bill into law are long indeed.
But given the attempts to include GMO deregulation in every recent piece of agriculture-related legislation, even total farm bill Armageddon probably won’t be enough to stop biotech’s friends in Congress. I’m guessing it’s a question of when, not if, a giveaway provision to the biotech industry like this one becomes law.
*And for those of you who doubt that GMOs produce harm — it’s worth noting that Bayer was forced to pay out hundreds of millions of dollars in damages to farmers whose crops were contaminated by its GMO rice.
Tom Laskawy is a founder and executive director of the Food & Environment Reporting Network and a contributing writer at Grist covering food and agricultural policy.


House Agriculture Committee Farm Bill Fails Farmers and Consumers 

Statement from Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter      

WASHINGTON - July 12.2012- “Late last night, the House Agriculture Committee passed a Farm Bill that slashes the food stamp safety net during an economic recession, dismantles programs supporting sustainable agriculture and fails to address the corporate control of America’s food system from seeds to supermarkets. The House Agriculture Committee bill further entrenches the corporate control of food and agriculture while curtailing or eliminating the few programs that encourage beginning farmers and ranchers and facilitate the transition to organic farming.
“The House Farm Bill also weakens the already woefully inadequate federal oversight of genetically engineered crops, livestock and food. The proposed bill would allow farmers to cultivate unapproved genetically engineered crops before the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency have finished studying the potential impact of the proposed new crops on consumers, farmers and the environment.
“The legislation also fails to address the impact of rampant consolidation in the meatpacking, agribusiness, food processing and retail sector on consumers and farmers. The last Farm Bill made some important first steps to ensure that livestock producers received fairer prices and contracts. The House Agriculture Committee’s version of the Farm Bill ends even the small provisions on contract fairness that survived the meatpacker and poultry company lobbying assault on the sensible provisions required by the last Farm Bill.
“As the Congress moves forward and the Senate and House reconcile their different Farm Bill measures, the conference committee should reject House cuts to the nutrition title, conservation title, programs supporting organic and sustainable farming, and the repeal of the improvements to livestock reforms from the 2008 Farm Bill.”
July 12, 2012
10:06 AM

Food & Water Watch is a nonprofit consumer organization that works to ensure clean water and safe food. We challenge the corporate control and abuse of our food and water resources by empowering people to take action and by transforming the public consciousness about what we eat and drink. 

Thursday, July 12, 2012


StopSyngenta.jpgAloha, here is a reminder of our Action Alert: SYNGENTA from Switzerland is in Hawaii. They make chemicals for ag that is banned in their own country, but allowed in America. This is a very large corporation, another chemical company now part of the new "FARMERS" in Hawaii.

These "New" farmers are using our limited water and farm lands to grow GMO seeds which they export.  FOOD SECURITY? We need to grow our own food in Hawaii not more dangerous exports. 

The farm lands are being filled with chemicals for industrial mono cropping. The GMO crops are bad for our health. This future of farming in Hawaii is a and profits have made our elected officials blind to the negative impacts to our lands and to our people. 

For a better future join us in protest of these "NEW" farmers on our lands!!!

Walter Ritte

This is a non-violent demonstration.


Monsanto is not the only GMO corporation experimenting on Hawai'i residents
...and land!

Join us Thursday 12 July from 3:00 to 5:00.
PROTEST LAWS: ACLU Hawaii First Amendment Toolkit Know Your Rights – Protests & Demonstrations in Honolulu




This is a non-violent demonstration.
Join us Thursday 12 July
from 3:00 to 5:00.
Syngenta in Kunia - 94-880 Kunia Rd, 
Kunia, HI 3:00 PM


RomaniaRomania must not sell out traditional farmers to the biotech giants

Romania's smallholder farmers are being denied EU funding as ministers allow the encroachment of large-scale agribusiness
Farmers plough the land near Ploiesti, Romania, using traditional methods. Photograph: Vadim Ghirda/AP
Time in Romania seems to fold with the landscape. Where the hills of Transylvania rise from the Hungarian plains, life carries on as it has for centuries; farmers cultivate their small plots of land by hand while pigs, chickens and children roam unpaved village streets.
However, where the land drops and the horizon opens up, history closes in and the reforms of the past 75 years, first under communism and then capitalism, become evident.
Around villages sealed off by concrete blocks built under Ceausescu, the land stretches out in huge fields carrying single crops, occasionally punctuated by the slow crawl of a €500,000 combine harvester. With uncapped EU subsidies rewarding growth and productivity over all else, these farms are growing exponentially, swallowing all in their way. This, it seems, is the future of Romanian agriculture. Yet, where this model of farming might have worked in other countries, Romania, like many of its Balkan neighbours, is a different story.
Despite the best efforts of Ceausescu to throw them off the land and the draw of new markets and employment opportunities since, around 30% of Romania's 19 million population continues to live off their subsistence and semi-subsistence farms. However, both Romanian government and policy makers in Brussels refuse to acknowledge that these are the people who prop up the Romanian economy, keep the culture alive and the environment diverse.
Instead, officials are systematically undermining the infrastructure that the country relies on. By applying the widely condemned "one size fits all' policy central to the EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), the vast majority of Romania's farmers are being cast to the sidelines. At present 51% of the €6bn yearly subsidies coming into Romania go to just 0.9% of farms, while a total of 70% of Romanian farms are considered ineligible for subsidies of any kind.
The networks of trade that peasant farmers have traditionally relied on are being eroded on both ends. With the seed market largely monopolised by multinationals who drive the price up for seeds that won't reproduce and must be bought anew each year, farmers are often forced into spending unnecessarily. At the other end, local markets are dying under competition from foreign superstores, selling food at low prices that are only made affordable by subsidies and technology that the peasant farmers don't have.
Today, an annual agribusiness conference is being held in Bucharest. It is the first such meeting under the new minister of agriculture, Daniel Consantin, the third person to hold the position this year. Smallholder farmers tentatively placed their hopes on Constantin, as he marks a break from the previous ministers, Valeriu Tabără and Stelian Fuia, both of whom had previously worked for controversial Biotech giant, Monsanto, and in favour both of further GMO cultivation and intensive farming.
However, the conference, sponsored by Monsanto, Pioneer and DuPont, and attended by some of the country's largest landowners, promises to continue in the old vein, leaving power in the hands of private investors. Even the secretary of state for agriculture, Achim Irimescu, was unable to deny that the sponsors and attendants had political motives for funding the event, saying "usually (these companies) have an interest in sponsoring these events for some kind of lobby purposes".
If the conference turns out as expected, it will be a demoralising sign for farmers and environmental NGOs who have been fighting for changes in the ministry of agriculture in the lead up to the CAP reforms in 2013. In order to both support its citizens and compete internationally on the food market, Romania needs to start to view its poor farmers as the building blocks on which it can create its future, rather than a persistent problem that needs to be phased out. Small farms are able to produce as much or more food as their large competitors, yet they are being killed off under the false promise of increasing yields and economic development. Until Romania focuses funds towards rural development and sustainable agriculture, it threatens its own culture, environment and the largest part of its population.


Ban food waste from Landfill : Seagulls fly around as a bulldozer compacts freshly dumped rubbish

Ban food waste from landfill for renewable energy, urges thinktank

Councils should be given support for collections to provide a supply of organic waste for anaerobic digestion, study says
The government should ban all food from landfill to boost technology which can turn it into energy, a study has warned. Photograph: Matt Cardy/Getty Images
The government should ban all food leftovers from landfill by the end of the decade to boost technology which can turn it into energy, a study from thinktank CentreForum suggested on Tuesday.
Councils should be given financial support to help them bring in separate food waste collections for households and businesses to ensure a steady supply of organic waste for anaerobic digestion, a renewable power source.
The process could create enough biogas from green waste and purpose-grown crops to power more than 2.5m UK homes by 2020, the report said.
But barriers to increasing energy from anaerobic digestion need to be removed if the technology is to be scaled up significantly from current levels where it produces enough energy to power 300,000 homes, the report found.
Currently, getting an anaerobic digestion scheme going was like "trying to win a cycle race with the brakes on," the report's authors warned.
Anaerobic digestion plants use micro-organisms to break down organic material without oxygen to create biogas that can be burned to produce renewable energy or injected directly into the gas grid.
But the study said the schemes often struggle to secure long-term contracts to ensure supplies of the feedstock such as food waste.
The report said that only 13% of homes in England had separate food waste collections, compared with 82% of households in Wales.
A ban on food waste going to landfill would force local authorities to collect leftovers separately from households and businesses, which would provide the supplies needed for anaerobic digestion.
Such a move is also necessary because the UK will run out of new landfill sites by 2020 and the UK has to meet EU rules to stop biodegradable waste going into landfill by the end of the decade.
Local authorities should be given financial support to invest in the more expensive vehicles needed to collect the food waste collections.
Alternatively, they should be able to access funding, which could be raised from planned increases in the taxes put on sending rubbish to landfill, through schemes similar to the current £250m government programme aimed at encouraging a return to weekly bin collections.
The report also said the industry body needed to produce a guide on how to secure financing, and that developers need more certainty on government support for anaerobic digestion.
It said concerns about growing crops specifically for anaerobic digestion, including fears that they could compromise UK food security and divert incentives away from waste schemes, did not stand up to scrutiny.
Changing regulations to make it easier to inject biogas into the gas grid, which is the most efficient use of the gas, would also boost the sector.
The market for "digestate", the leftover organic material from anaerobic digestion which can be used as fertiliser for crops, also needs to be developed.
The report's co-author Quentin Maxwell-Jackson said: "Anaerobic digestion technology has so many clear advantages over other waste treatment and energy generation options that it is very surprising it has not taken off in a big way yet in the UK."
Co-author Thomas Brooks added: "There are some simple things government can do to release the brakes on anaerobic digestion.
"For instance, simply banning organic waste to landfill in England, as they are already planning to do in Scotland, would give anaerobic digestion a huge boost."
The independent report will be published this week at a conference held by the Anaerobic Digestion and Biogas Association (ADBA), which funded the study.


Barack Obama buys corn in OhioUS drought threatens price of food as hot weather fries corn

Parched fields drives up price of corn, with higher prices likely to be passed on in the cost of hamburgers, steak and bread
The USDA now predicts that the corn crop will average just 146 bushels an acre, down 20 bushels from its previous forecast. Photograph: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images
The worst drought to hit the United States in nearly 25 years is threatening to drive up food prices around the world.
The price of corn, the staple crop of much of the midwest and the prairies, has risen by a third in the past month and rose again on Wednesday after a US government report said farmers would not yield as much from their parched fields as expected. Higher prices are likely to be passed on in the cost of hamburgers and steak and also affect a range of other foods such as corn flakes and bread.
Almost a third of America's corn crop is already showing signs of damage and a report released by the US Department of Agriculture on Wednesday forecast that farmers would only reap a fraction of the corn expected last spring when they planted 96.4m acres (39m hectares) – the most since 1937.
The USDA now predicts that the corn crop will average just 146 bushels an acre, down 20 bushels from its previous forecast. It estimates the harvest at 12.97bn bushels of grain, down 12% from the 14.79bn bushels forecast in June. One bushel of corn equals 25.4kg.
A mild and early planting season had raised hopes of a record corn crop. But then the drought came, sweeping from Ohio to California, and the hot weather is showing no signs of abating.
"To see something on this continental scale where we're seeing such a large portion of the country in drought you have to go back to 1988," said Brad Rippey, a USDA agricultural meteorologist. That year saw corn yield drop by nearly a third.
While corn is pollinating, temperatures over 95F (35C) can stunt the growth of ears and prevent kernels from fully developing.
David Kellerman, a farmer in southern Illinois, one of the worst-hit areas, told AP: "Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday we had 108F. It just pretty much fried the corn."
The 12% cut in the yield forecast is the largest in memory and reignited a rally in grain prices. Corn on the Chicaco Board of Trade initially jumped 23 cents and later settled to a 15¢, or 2% gain, to $7.76 a bushel. Prices have climbed 34% in the last month.
Wheat and soybean stocks have also been hit by the drought and are lower than previously estimated.
Plunging corn yields are likely to push up meat prices, as corn is used to feed cattle. Meat prices were already rising and were expected to stay high after last year's drought in Texas forced many ranchers to scale back their herds.
Corn is also used as an ingredient in corn flakes, ketchup, bread and fizzy drinks, although it accounts for a small fraction of their costs compared to transport and marketing. Food prices typically climb about 1% for every 50% increase in average corn prices, said Richard Volpe, a USDA food markets research economist.
Corn, wheat and soybeans, the three most common US crops, are used in a variety of foods from cereals and salad dressing to scones and cooking oil.
The US government has already predicted food prices will increase by up to 3.5% this year.
However, even farmers who lose much or all of their corn are unlikely to go under. Most take out crop insurance to cover weather-related losses.


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Live blog from Oxford University: food, water and energy for all

Jo Confino blogs live from the high level Resource sustainability conference at Oxford University's Smith School, which is looking at new ways to manage resources and mitigate the risks of scarcity
ReSource 2012 conference in Oxford
Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen of Harvard University talks to broadcaster Jonathan Dimbleby at the ReSource 2012 conference in Oxford. Photograph: Matthew Lloyd/[Matthew Lloyd for ReSource 2012]
3.55pm: A little known fact: An aircraft carrier does an average of 12 inches per gallon of fuel
If you worry about the mpg of your car, spare a thought for rear admiral Neil Morisetti, the climate and energy security envoy of the UK Ministry of Defence.
When he was in charge of an aircraft carrier, he calculated that he used to get 12 inches for every gallon of fuel he used.
Morisetti uses this example to point out that the Ministry of Defence is increasingly needing to think, like other businesses, how to reduce its reliance on fossil-fuels.
Without fuel, the army cannot fight but securing supplies is increasingly difficult, and Morisetti gives the example of the problems with getting fuel to troops in Afghanistan.
More than this, it has to be protected, it ties people down, and the cost of fuel in war zones is 10 times the normal price.
"We have to have an energy plan which recognises we need to reduce costs and risks by changing our behaviour," he says. "For example big bits of kit needs generators while smaller bits of kids can use batteries."

If you read Jeremy Grantham's predictions of the future, pour yourself a stiff drink first

If you are depressed about the sustainability challenges of our age, you will be reaching for the bottle if you listen to Jeremy Grantham, the head of successful fund manager GMO.
Grantham, says he is a cheerful pessimist, seeing the glass as three-quarters empty, but there was precious little liquid to see after hearing his view of the world.
He says that it is possible to adapt to our current circumstances, but the likelihood of that happening is limited due to a lack of courageous politicians, vested interests, inertia and dedication to short-termism.
While it may be possible to stop the global population at 10 billion, the carrying capacity of the planet is likely to be less than five billion.
Added to this is the extraordinary demands for raw materials from China, which now uses 59% of the world's cement, 48% of all coal, 45% of all steel and 47% of all pigs.
Beyond that, even if we get far better at recycling, "metal is slipping through our fingers," and water scarcity will lead to wars. Water problems are self-inflicted because the problem is caused by waste and a lack of valuing it in terms of pricing.
Soil erosion is accelerating and we are at a peak of using fertilisers because prices have jumped five-fold and availability will be limited in the future. Beyond that, the increase in beef consumption is eating into the ability to produce crops such as rice and wheat.
Grantham says that climate instability will lead to more unprecedented weather changes and this will cause a ruinous drop in food production.
Beyond all this, scientists have been underestimating the threat from climate change and that the problem is far worse than most people so far recognise.
"Almost all climate scientists recognise the problem is worse that they are saying," he says.
Beyond this, food currently accounts for at least 40% of poor household incomes and with food prices likely to double over the next 20 years, "who will pay for this?"
Perhaps Grantham's greatest vitriol is aimed at incentives for the use of US maize for producing ethanol. As he points out, the maize needed to produce the fuel to fill one tank of one SUV, would feed an Indian person for a year.
Grantham finishes up by quoting Churchill: "The era of procrastination, of half-measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays is coming to its close. In its place we are entering a period of consequences."
How are you feeling now?


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Nestle chairman warns that water presents us with a global crisis

Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, chairman of Nestle, says there is little recognition in society of just how important water is for our social and economic livelihood and how vulnerable we are from overuse.
Interestingly he also pointed out that new technologies across sectors is leading to increasing water usage.
Brabeck-Letmathe said that not only has water been primarily responsible for people living longer but also for extraordinary GDP growth.
In the past, with a population of 2.5bn, we did not even have to think about water but now we are using it unsustainably.
He says: "In 2005 we were for the first time using water unsustainably and for the first time today we are using non sustainable water. We are now taking it away from the environment," which is leading to natural disasters.
Brabeck-Letmathe said that in the future we will not have the water to produce the energy we need, nor to produce the food for an increasing population.
He says research of 154 water basins does show there are solutions to balance sustainable water use with economic growth and 240 different levers of change have been identified.
"There are sufficient possibilities to bring water usage to balance," he says, "but it needs political decisions and a better understanding of the water supply.
"It is clear that if we are not tackling this issue, which is not the next 100 years. This problem is of today. We are already using too much water ."


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

TRADER JOE'S -ALBRECHT FAMILY OWNED -PRIVATE LABELS DO - OR DO NOT HAVE GMO'S? the secret world of Trader Joe's - Full Version

By Beth Kowitt, reporter
FORTUNE -- Apple's retail stores aren't the only place where lines form these days. It's 7:30 on a July morning, and already a crowd has gathered for the opening of Trader Joe's newest outpost, in Manhattan's Chelsea neighborhood. The waiting shoppers chat about their favorite Trader Joe's foods, and a woman in line launches into a monologue comparing the retailer's West Coast and East Coast locations. Another customer suggests that the chain will be good for Chelsea, even though the area is already brimming with places to buy groceries, including Whole Foods and several upscale food boutiques.
But Trader Joe's is no ordinary grocery chain. It's an offbeat, fun discovery zone that elevates food shopping from a chore to a cultural experience. It stocks its shelves with a winning combination of low-cost, yuppie-friendly staples (cage-free eggs and organic blue agave sweetener) and exotic, affordable luxuries -- Belgian butter waffle cookies or Thai lime-and-chili cashews -- that you simply can't find anyplace else.

Employees dress in goofy trademark Hawaiian shirts, hand stickers out to your squirming kids, and cheerfully refund your money if you're unhappy with a purchase -- no questions asked. At the Chelsea store opening, workers greeted customers with high-fives and free cookies. Try getting that kind of love at the Piggly Wiggly.

It's little wonder that Trader Joe's is one of the hottest retailers in the U.S. It now boasts 344 stores in 25 states and Washington, D.C., and strip-mall operators and consumers alike aggressively lobby the chain, based in Monrovia, Calif., to come to their towns. A Trader Joe's brings with it good jobs, and its presence in your community is like an affirmation that you and your neighbors are worldly and smart.
The privately held company's sales last year were roughly $8 billion, the same size as Whole Foods' (WFMI, Fortune 500) and bigger than those of Bed Bath & Beyond, No. 314 on the Fortune 500 list. Unlike those massive shopping emporiums, Trader Joe's has a deliberately scaled-down strategy: It is opening just five more locations this year. The company selects relatively small stores with a carefully curated selection of items. (Typical grocery stores can carry 50,000 stock-keeping units, or SKUs; Trader Joe's sells about 4,000 SKUs, and about 80% of the stock bears the Trader Joe's brand.) The result: Its stores sell an estimated $1,750 in merchandise per square foot, more than double Whole Foods'. The company has no debt and funds all growth from its own coffers.

You'd think Trader Joe's would be eager to trumpet its success, but management is obsessively secretive. There are no signs with the company's name or logo at headquarters in Monrovia, about 25 miles east of downtown Los Angeles. Few customers realize the chain is owned by Germany's ultra-private Albrecht family, the people behind the Aldi Nord supermarket empire. (A different branch of the family controls Aldi Süd, parent of the U.S. Aldi grocery chain.) Famous in Germany for not talking to the press, the Albrechts have passed their tightlipped ways on to their U.S. business: Trader Joe's and its CEO, Dan Bane, declined repeated requests to speak to Fortune, and the company has never participated in a major story about its business operations.
Some of that may be because Trader Joe's business tactics are often very much at odds with its image as the funky shop around the corner that sources its wares from local farms and food artisans. Sometimes it does, but big, well-known companies also make many of Trader Joe's products. Those Trader Joe's pita chips? Made by Stacy's, a division of PepsiCo's (PEP, Fortune 500) Frito-Lay. On the East Coast much of its yogurt is supplied by Danone's Stonyfield Farm. And finicky foodies probably don't like to think about how Trader Joe's scale enables the chain to sell a pound of organic lemons for $2.

To get inside the mysterious world of Trader Joe's, Fortune spent two months speaking with former executives, competitors, industry analysts, and suppliers, most of whom asked not to be named. What emerged is a picture of a business at a crossroads: As the company expands into new markets and adds stores -- analysts say the grocer could easily triple its size in the coming years -- it must find a way to maintain its small-store vibe with customers. "They see themselves as a national chain of neighborhood specialty grocery stores," says Mark Mallinger, a Pepperdine University professor who has done research for the company. "It means you want to create an image of mom and pop as you grow." That's no easy task. Just ask Starbucks (SBUX, Fortune 500) CEO Howard Schultz, whose expansion has been a huge success but has come at the expense of credibility with some coffee aficionados. The alternative is to remain a small brand with unflagging devotees, like outdoor clothier Patagonia. If it can get the balance right, Trader Joe's may be one of the few retailers to marry cult appeal with scale. Just don't expect anyone from the company to talk about it.

Who's a fan of Trader Joe's? Young Hollywood types like Jessica Alba are regularly photographed brandishing Trader Joe's shopping bags -- but Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor reportedly is a fan too. "What's not to like?" says Costco (COST, Fortune 500) co-founder and CEO Jim Sinegal. "They're very good retailers, and we admire them a lot." Visit a Trader Joe's early in the day, and there are senior citizens on fixed incomes shopping for bargains; on weekends and evenings a well-heeled crowd takes over. Kevin Kelley, whose consulting firm Shook Kelley has researched Trader Joe's for its competitors, jokes that the typical shopper is the "Volvo-driving professor who could be CEO of a Fortune 100 company if he could get over his capitalist angst."
The rise of Trader Joe's reflects Americans' changing attitudes about food. While Trader Joe's is not a health food chain, it stocks a dizzying array of organics. It sells billions of dollars in food and beverages that years ago would have been considered gourmet but are now mainstays of the U.S. diet, such as craft beers and white-cheese popcorn. The genius of Trader Joe's is staying a step ahead of Americans' increasingly adventurous palates with interesting new items that shoppers will collectively buy in big volumes.

The retailer's foodie roots and quirky in-store culture date to the original Joe. Joe Coulombe (pronounced COO-lomb), now 80, opened the first Trader Joe's 43 years ago in Pasadena to serve a sophisticated -- but strapped -- consumer. He named the store Trader Joe's to evoke images of the South Seas. He stocked it with convenience-store items and good booze, and at one time his shop boasted the world's largest assortment of California wine. (Decades later Trader Joe's would again become famous for wine, specifically its $1.99 Charles Shaw label, better known as "Two-Buck Chuck.") Coulombe then added health food -- a seemingly odd combination that totally worked in 1970s California. By the late 1970s he was operating more than 20 locations.
The company's success did not go unnoticed. German grocery mogul Theo Albrecht, who died in July at age 88, coveted Trader Joe's -- not as part of a major U.S. expansion but as a smart financial investment. Even in the early days, Trader Joe's appeal was its narrow but zany selection and loyal customers, recalls Dieter Brandes, who did due diligence on the company for Albrecht. "It was fantastic. It was different," he says. In 1979, Coulombe sold his company to Albrecht. Coulombe tells Fortune he "can't remember" the selling price.
The Albrechts, who own Trader Joe's through a family trust, have generally stayed out of the business. They visit the U.S. operation about once a year, and word around the office spreads that "the Germans" are coming. Coulombe stayed on without a management contract for a decade; in 1987 he hired John Shields, a fraternity brother from his undergraduate days at Stanford, who was CEO until 2001. Under Shields' reign, Trader Joe's expanded outside California to Arizona in 1993 and to the Pacific Northwest in 1995. Although executives worried that Northeastern shoppers wouldn't "get" Trader Joe's, the company in 1996 leapfrogged the country and opened two stores in places crawling with college professors and other bargain-hunting elites: Brookline and Cambridge, both outside Boston.

Push your way into the bustling Trader Joe's in Manhattan's Union Square neighborhood, and it's hard to believe that executives ever worried that East Coasters wouldn't groove on the experience. Make no mistake: A typical family couldn't do all its shopping at the store. There's no baby food, toothpicks, or other necessities. But for this crowd of urbanites and college kids, Trader Joe's is nirvana.
A closer look at its selection of items underscores the brilliance of Coulombe's limited-selection, high-turnover model. Take peanut butter. Trader Joe's sells 10 varieties. That might sound like a lot, but most supermarkets sell about 40 SKUs. For simplicity's sake, say both a typical supermarket and a Trader Joe's sell 40 jars a week. Trader Joe's would sell an average of four of each type, while the supermarket might sell only one. With the greater turnover on a smaller number of items, Trader Joe's can buy large quantities and secure deep discounts. And it makes the whole business -- from stocking shelves to checking out customers -- much simpler.
Swapping selection for value turns out not to be much of a tradeoff. Customers may think they want variety, but in reality too many options can lead to shopping paralysis. "People are worried they'll regret the choice they made," says Barry Schwartz, a Swarthmore professor and author of The Paradox of Choice. "People don't want to feel they made a mistake." Studies have found that buyers enjoy purchases more if they know the pool of options isn't quite so large. Trader Joe's organic creamy unsalted peanut butter will be more satisfying if there are only nine other peanut butters a shopper might have purchased instead of 39. Having a wide selection may help get customers in the store, but it won't increase the chances they'll buy. (It also explains why so often people are on their cellphones at the supermarket asking their significant other which detergent to get.) "It takes them out of the purchasing process and puts them into a decision-making process," explains Stew Leonard Jr., CEO of grocer Stew Leonard's, which also subscribes to the "less is more" mantra.
Customers accept that Trader Joe's has only two kinds of pudding or one kind of polenta because they trust that those few items will be very good. "If they're going to get behind only one jar of Greek olives, then they're sure as heck going to make sure it's the most fabulous jar of Greek olives they can find for the price," explains one former employee. To ferret out those wow items, Trader Joe's has four top buyers, called product developers, do some serious globetrotting. A former senior executive told me that Trader Joe's biggest R&D expense is travel for those product-finding missions. Trade shows that feature the flavor of the moment "are for rookies," a former buyer said. Trader Joe's doesn't pick up on trends -- it sets them.
The other dozen or so buyers, or category leaders, spend more time in the office, fielding hundreds of cold calls a week from vendors tripping over themselves to make Trader Joe's a customer. Trader Joe's is a supplier's dream account: It pays on time and doesn't mess with extra charges for advertising, couponing, or slotting fees that traditional supermarkets charge suppliers to get their products onto the shelves. "It's all transparent -- no BS," says a former executive. In exchange, suppliers have to agree to operate under Trader Joe's cloak of secrecy. Fortune obtained a copy of a standard vendor agreement, which states, "Vendor shall not publicize its business relationship with TJ's in any manner."

Why the lockdown? Former executives say that Trader Joe's wants neither its shoppers nor its competitors to know who's making its products. And many suppliers aren't that keen on consumers knowing that they produce a lower-cost version for Trader Joe's either. Take Tasty Bite, which makes much of Trader Joe's Indian food. The Tasty Bite Punjab Eggplant ran $3.39 at a Whole Foods in Manhattan. The seemingly identical Punjab Eggplant that the Stamford, Conn., company makes for Trader Joe's is more than $1 cheaper.
Over the years Trader Joe's has improved the way it distributes Joe's-branded goodies to its stores. Management has sought to minimize the number of hands that touch a product; whenever possible, Trader Joe's purchases directly from the manufacturers, which then ship their wares straight to Trader Joe's distribution centers. A U.S.-made cheese, for example, is sent to distribution centers nationwide, where it's sometimes cut and wrapped, taking another cost out of the equation. At a traditional supermarket, that same cheese would probably go through a distributor first, tacking on another cost. Trucks leave the distribution centers daily for the stores. Trader Joe's small stores don't have much of a back room, so ordering from the distribution centers has to be precise.

This distribution process helps determine where the company opens its stores. Texas and Florida have cities that boast consumers Trader Joe's covets, but insiders say the current distribution infrastructure makes it difficult for the company to efficiently get products to those states. To pick their next locales, employees look at demographics such as education level. In the past they've even looked at who's subscribing to high-end food and cooking magazines as a way of divining where the epicures are.
On a Tuesday evening just before dinnertime, retail expert Burt P. Flickinger III joins the steady hum of foot traffic at the Trader Joe's in Larchmont, N.Y. Because Trader Joe's won't give Fortune any information on its stores, Flickinger, of consulting firm Strategic Resource Group, has agreed to walk through a few suburban locales and offer feedback. In Larchmont, Flickinger does a little bit of his own shopping. (It's what happens when you walk into a Trader Joe's -- you get sucked into buying stuff you didn't plan to.) An employee, noticing that he has his arms full, brings him a basket. At the register the perky cashier offers up that the mango sorbet Flickinger has selected is on her top 10 list of favorite Trader Joe's items.
You can't buy engagement from employees, but the pay at Trader Joe's helps. Store managers, "captains" in Trader Joe's parlance -- the nautical titles are a holdover from Coulombe (newly promoted captains are commanders; assistant store managers are first mates) -- can make in the low six figures, and full-time crew members can start in the $40,000 to $60,000 range. But on top of the pay, Trader Joe's annually contributes 15.4% of employees' gross income to tax-deferred retirement accounts.
All of that can lead to a better customer experience. A ringing bell instead of an intercom signals that more help is needed at the registers. Registers don't have conveyor belts or scales, and perishables are sold by unit instead of weight, speeding up checkout. Crew members aren't told the margins on products, so placement decisions are made based not on profits but on what's best for the shopper. Every employee works all aspects of the store, and if you ask where the roasted chestnuts are he'll walk you over instead of just saying "aisle five." Want to know what they taste like? He can probably tell you, and he might even open the bag on the spot for you to try.
Can Trader Joe's maintain that kind of charm as it expands? Former employees worry that the company is losing its entrepreneurial zeal and that CEO Dan Bane has made the place more corporate, adding more senior vice presidents, and creating new titles such as product developer. At headquarters Bane encourages employees to wear Hawaiian shirts and name tags. But putting systems in place isn't necessarily a bad thing. "You have to grow up at some point," says a former employee. "You have to start following rules. You have to start putting in checks and balances." The stakes are higher now that Trader Joe's has hundreds of stores. A buying error could cost the company millions.
Bane, 62, who has a background in accounting, graduated in 1969 from the University of Southern California, where he played baseball -- or, as he's said, "spent a lot of the time on the bench." During a talk at USC, Bane said that he's modeled his leadership style on his famed coach, Rod Dedeaux. Bane joined the company in 1998 as president of West Coast operations and became CEO only three years later.

A few former employees describe him as gruff, but he also has a softer side. In a video tribute to a sixth-grade teacher named Mrs. Bidwell, he talked about how she helped him adjust to life in El Dorado, Ark., after the Navy relocated Bane's father there from Southern California.
Some former employees say Trader Joe's has already lost its quirky cool. "In the early days we never tried to be the neighborhood store," says a former employee. They didn't have to: Trader Joe's was the neighborhood store. And yet walk into the Chelsea location on a busy weekday night and you'll see something you almost never see in Manhattan: strangers chatting with one another. Veteran customers tell newbies what products they absolutely have to try, and serious cooks share tips on how to spike sauces and semi-prepared foods to make them even tastier. If Trader Joe's can maintain that kind of mojo, it could end up the biggest neighborhood store ever.  Source:

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The latest New York Times exposé won’t stop me from eating organic

If you’re even remotely interested in food, there’s a very good chance you’ve seen the article that ran in Sunday’s New York Times called “Has ‘Organic’ Been Oversized?” We summarized it here, and it has been all over the web for the last few days.
Author Stephanie Strom profiled Michael Potter, the owner of Eden Foods, and one of a shrinking list of people who own large, independent companies producing organic food. She also spent a great deal of time detailing the consolidation of the organic industry (a fact many consumers were introduced to by these popular mind map-like charts from Michigan State University). Strom writes:
Bear Naked, Wholesome & Hearty, Kashi: all three and more actually belong to the cereals giant Kellogg. Naked Juice? That would be PepsiCo, of Pepsi and Fritos fame. And behind the pastoral-sounding Walnut Acres, Healthy Valley and Spectrum Organics is none other than Hain Celestial, once affiliated with Heinz, the grand old name in ketchup.
Strom names representatives from companies such as General Mills, Driscoll, Earthbound Farm, and Whole Foods who are currently (or recently) on the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB). And while she acknowledges that only four of the current 15 seats are occupied by people representing corporations, she also points out that all four voted to approve several controversial additives in processed organic foods. (One additive is a synthetic form of the omega-3 fatty acid DHA made from algae oil, which the Cornucopia Institute, an advocacy organization, says is the subject of something they call “Organic Watergate”[PDF].)
It’s chilling stuff, for sure. But is it enough to convince us that — as Strom writes — the organic industry is “mostly pure fantasy”?
On Monday, I was interested to see Strom tweet a response to her article [PDF] from the Organic Trade Association (OTA). After all, OTA does represent those who’d have the most to lose if  consumers were to stop trusting the overall organic “brand.”
In its statement, the OTA says the New York Times article “has done a disservice to families seeking healthy choices for their children and farmers choosing organic to stay in business.” They refer to the The National Organic Program (NOP) and NOSB as part of “a well thought-out system thoroughly vetted by the industry” — and from what I’ve always heard and observed, I think that’s a commonly held impression of the group. As the OTA sees it, the process behind organic certification and rule making is transparent (open to consumer and industry comments), inclusive, and rigorous, regardless of the scale of the operation. The response reads:
Neither size nor ownership structure matters in organic agriculture. To earn certification, everyone must follow the same regulation and meet the same requirements regardless of size or ownership. The National List of allowed non-organic substances used in organic farming and food process, in fact, is quite limited and well-scrutinized.
… Organic food and farming represent a diverse economic sector fueled by a value-chain with single owner operators, co-ops, mid-sized and larger independent companies, and divisions of the nation’s largest food purveyors. … Currently, there are roughly 14,500 certified organic farms and 2,500 certified organic processing facilities in the United States.
The use of the USDA Organic seal on well-known brands has helped raise consumer awareness of organic. … Our size and growth mean increasingly fewer pesticides applied to soil and waterways, fewer antibiotics given to livestock, a hedge against GMOs, more choices for farmers to stay on the land, and options for families looking for healthy food.
Now, most consumers know that size and ownership structure do often influence the way a company is run. And much of the OTA’s response reads as a bit naïve in today’s world of corporate lobbying. But the association does make some valid points. And as I see it, the organic industry is neither Watergate nor is it a perfectly transparent, well-oiled machine.
And if the New York Times article does little else but raise people’s awareness about the fact that there is a board of individuals constantly discussing what exactly “organic” means, and that the standards they uphold are vulnerable to corporate influence, that’s probably a good thing. But I share OTA’s concern that it could also suggest that all organic food has ultimately been corrupted.
At the base of it, what has always mattered to me about organic is still largely true. Organic farmers are still not allowed to use synthetic nitrogen fertilizer (the cause of the Gulf dead zone and a contributor of a dangerous greenhouse gas), the most dangerous pesticides (although I know people who point to some dangers with organic pesticides, from what I can tell they are much less toxic overall), and they can’t plant genetically engineered seeds. There’s much more to it, but even if the standard stopped there, it would still be a huge, huge step in the right direction.
While mid-sized and large independent organic companies are few and far between, as OTA points out, the number of small organic producers is not unimpressive. (There are all kinds of policy changes, including some that have been up for discussion in this year’s farm bill negotiations, that could help their number continue to grow, but I’ll refrain from getting too wonky here.)
But it’s also worth noting that Strom’s article is mainly about processed foods — the stuff that’s been canned, packaged, frozen, etc., and required additives in the first place. If you’re buying processed foods, it’s always worth reading the label — whether it’s organic or not.
The best thing you can do to ensure that the food you eat aligns with your values is still to buy whole foods directly from the producers you get to know and trust. As I pointed out in my recent post about Community-Supported Fisheries, the more we ask questions, visit producer’s operations, and sign up to support farms, ranchers, and yes, fishermen, directly, the less weight labels begin to carry.
And let’s face it: The fact that there are advocacy groups campaigning to keep DHA and carrageenan (the other organic food additive Strom mentions that has concerned some advocates) out of organic food is also a good thing. In the case of most conventional food, there is no discussion at all, let alone an intensive investigation. It’s all relative; but given the way Big Food has shaped the rest of our food system, organic is still the best we have.
Could organic be a more rigorous standard free of corporate interest? Absolutely. Will I continue to rely on the label to guide some of my food choices? You bet I will.
Twilight is the food editor at Grist.