Earlier this year, Michelle Bamberger, an Ithaca, N.Y., veterinarian, and Robert Oswald, a professor of molecular medicine at Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine, published the first and only peer-reviewed report to suggest a link between fracking and illness in food animals.
The authors compiled 24 case studies of farmers in six shale-gas states whose livestock experienced neurological, reproductive and acute gastrointestinal problems after being exposed — either accidentally or incidentally — to fracking chemicals in the water or air. The article, published in “New Solutions: A Journal of Environmental and Occupational Health,” describes how scores of animals died over the course of several years. Fracking industry proponents challenged the study, since the authors neither identified the farmers nor ran controlled experiments to determine how specific fracking compounds might affect livestock.
Really great interactive map. Hover your mouse over nearly any country to view stats on ag production and needs. There’s also a drop down menu to help show various densities by color on the map. Straight forward and well researched. Check it out and follow the center for investigative reporting.
The United States is the world’s biggest economy and the leading exporter of wheat, corn, beef and many other commodities. It also has the most unequal wealth distribution of all major developed countries. Economic woes in the U.S. have led to one in seven Americans to rely on food assistance.
Duane Braesch’s cornfields are prime evidence of how unforgiving the elements have been for him and so many others across the Midwest this summer. To demonstrate the hardship, the 79-year-old Nebraska farmer let The Associated Press show the world what he’s weathered during the worst U.S. drought in decades.
The romance between Romney and Monsanto began back in 1977, when the recently minted Harvard Law and Business School graduate joined Bain, the Boston-based consulting firm launched in 1973, the same year Monsanto became one of its first clients. One of Bain’s founding partners, Ralph Willard, described to the Boston Globe in 2007 how “Romney learned the technical aspects of the chemical business so thoroughly that he sounded as if he had gone to engineering school instead of business school,” and that Monsanto executives soon began “bypassing” him to go directly to Romney.
John W. Hanley, the Monsanto CEO at the time, has said how “impressed” he was with the 30-year-old Mitt. Hanley became so close to Romney that he and Romney’s boss Bill Bain devised the idea of creating Bain Capital as a way of keeping Romney in the fold. Unless Mitt was allowed to run this spin-off venture firm, Hanley and Bain feared, he would leave. Hanley even contributed $1 million to Romney’s first investment pool at Bain Capital. Monsanto’s Hanley is in fact the only business executive outside of the Bain founding family to so shape Romney’s career—jumpstarting the two companies, Bain & Company and Bain Capital, that account for all but two years of Romney’s much-ballyhooed business experience. Bain and Romney whispered in Monsanto’s ear until 1985, when Hanley’s successor Richard Mahoney says he “fired” them and when Romney moved on to Bain Capital.
Two months of dry weather and high heat that stunted plants and shriveled ears likely caused the absorption of excessive amounts of nitrogen, experts say. Instead of being distributed safely through the plant, the chemical built up in the lower portions of the stalk at potentially toxic levels.
Kenny Wagler, a dairy farmer in Nashville, Indiana who also farms 2,500 acres (1,000 hectares) of corn and pasture, is testing his corn for the first time since the last major drought in 1988.
"It’s almost never a factor," said Wagler, who raises about 1,500 dairy cows and cattle, adding that he is testing this year on recommendation from his farm nutritionist.
Nearly half of what he typically harvests to sell as a cash corn crop will be cut for silage this year because most of the plants had no ears of grain.
In the worst-case scenario, silage with high levels of nitrate can be absorbed into an animal’s bloodstream, causing poisoning leading to death.
The absorption causes hemoglobin to be converted to methemoglobin, which is incapable of transporting oxygen and so can be fatal to the animal, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Symptoms of nitrate poisoning include labored breathing, rapid heartbeat, weakness, lack of coordination and blue-gray discolored skin.
Extensive losses of livestock are an unlikely, extreme scenario, beef and dairy experts say.
"Certainly there are instances of dead cattle from nitrate," said Chris Hurt, agriculture economist at Purdue University. "Widespread education has helped reduce the problem."
But nitrate-laced silage would force those farmers to buy extra feed grains in order to sustain their animals.
The world is depleting underground water reserves faster than they can be replenished due to over-exploitation, according to scientists in Canada and the Netherlands.
A new Dust Bowl? US drought can’t be separated from climate change
August 6, 2012
More than 50 percent of counties in the United States are now officially designated “disaster” zones. The reason given in 90 percent of cases is the continent-wide drought that has been devastating crop production. Forty-eight percent of the U.S. corn crop is rated as “poor to very poor,” along with 37 percent of soy; 73 percent of cattle acreage is suffering drought conditions, along with 66 percent of land given to the production of hay.
The ramifications of the drought go far beyond what happens to food prices in the United States. The U.S. producing half of all world corn exports. As corn and soy crops wilt from the heat, without coordinated governmental action, we can expect a replay of the disastrous rise in food prices of 2008, which caused desperate, hungry people to riot in 28 countries.
In that instance, food was available, but hundreds of millions of people couldn’t afford to buy it. Should food prices increase to anywhere near the levels of four years ago, it will be a catastrophe for the 2 billion people who are forced to scrape by on less than $2 per day.
The poor in developing countries spend 80 percent of their income on food, much of it directly as grain, rather than as manufactured products like bread or cereal, and so any increase in the price of basic necessities immediately puts them in dire food distress.
In the U.S., prices for a loaf of bread or a corn muffin are unlikely to see major increases because, in a nod to capitalist priorities, the cost of those products is largely determined by packaging, advertising, transportation and storage costs—and ultimately the labor that is embodied in those activities, not the cost of growing the corn or other natural base material.
However, because about one-third of corn in the U.S. goes to feed animals, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) predicts that the price of animal products such as beef, dairy products, chicken, eggs and turkey will increase by 4.5 percent or more, depending on just how bad the harvest turns out to be. There will be a similar impact on vegetable oil due to the dire predictions about soy production, though these effects will likely not be felt until early 2013.
The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) publishes its monthly Food Price Index figures on August 9. Abdolreza Abbassian, a senior economist at the FAO, commented, “It will be up…How much up is anyone’s guess.” Ominously, he adds; “It would really surprise me if we didn’t see a significant increase.”
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For the one in five children in the United States living in food insecure households and the millions of Americans living from hand to mouth, still trying to recover homes, jobs and a stable livelihood after the crash of 2008, let alone tens of millions of other poor people around the world, any rise in food costs will be a crushing—and for many, life-threatening—calamity.
With the possibility of food shortages, the vultures of finance, otherwise known as commodity speculators, will once again begin to circle the food markets, looking to make a killing. As the financial markets were not re-regulated after the economic crisis of 2008, hedge funds and short-sellers will inevitably be on the lookout for additional profits by gambling on the price of food, exactly as they did four years ago.
Rather than any lack of actual food, most analysis indicates that the primary cause of the dramatic escalation in food prices that caused the 2008 crisis was financial speculation in the food commodity sector. That is to say, it was a human tragedy manufactured by the laws of motion of capitalism, rather than the laws of nature.
The USDA could and should be taking pro-active steps to ensure that there is no replay of 2008 as the number of people who became “food insecure”—which is to say starving—topped 1 billion worldwide.
In the short term, any crop failures need to be compensated by changing the allocation of U.S. corn and preventing commodity speculation on food. In the longer term, measures to raise grain storage volumes; address infrastructure deficiencies through appropriate investment; re-evaluate inhumane, environmentally destructive and dangerously unhealthy industrialized livestock feeding practices; and examine the location, sustainability and type of crops and monoculture farming are all issues that need attention.
Up to now, however, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has resisted calls to reduce or eliminate the federal mandate that sees more than one-third of the U.S. corn crop diverted to ethanol refineries to make “bio-fuel” to burn in car engines. The federal government has mandated that over 13 billion gallons of ethanol is made from corn this year, which would equate to 40 percent of this year’s crop.
Supposedly adopted to reduce demand for “overseas oil” and associated geopolitical concerns after oil almost topped $150 per barrel in 2008, the Obama administration raised the federal requirement to 36 billion gallons by 2022, with at least 15 billion coming directly from corn.
Even on the best of days, turning corn into ethanol is an idiotic thing to do. Many studies have shown that it takes more energy to turn the corn into ethanol than is recovered when the ethanol is burnt in a car engine. Not only that, but ethanol doesn’t have the energy density of gasoline, so cars running on a mixture of ethanol and gasoline have to burn more fuel to go the same distance and the blended mix costs more to transport.
In any year, this is bad policy. In a year of extreme drought, it should be a criminal offense to waste food resources in this manner.
Additionally, in one of the more ridiculous circular irrationalities to emerge from the anarchy of capitalist decision-making, the cost of ethanol-blended gasoline in the U.S. is also on the rise. Growing crops in the West is heavily dependent on oil for fertilizer production and mechanization—to the extent that it takes 10 calories of oil to produce one calorie of food.
Immediate elimination of the biofuel mandate is a concrete step that Vilsack could be promoting, particularly after he predicted at a White House press briefing that the drought would cause “significant increases in prices” by the end of the year.
Oil companies, which are required to blend ethanol into gasoline as part of the inappropriately named “renewable fuel standard” (RFS), are allowed to carry RFS credits over year to year. They thus have 2.4 billion credits available to allow the continued acquisition of corn for ethanol refineries.
But it’s hard to imagine suddenly freeing up 40 percent of whatever remains of the U.S. corn crop for livestock and human use not having an impact on corn prices, even accounting for the activities of the oil companies. As Gawain Kripke, director of policy and research for Oxfam America has argued, “The federal government can…put an end to the biofuel mandates, which are diverting food into fuel, and work to cut greenhouse gas emissions, which are leading to ever more erratic and extreme weather.”
Vilsack should be arguing for such a policy shift. Significantly, Lisa Jackson, head of the Environmental Protection Agency, has the power to make it happen without waiting on legislation.
This is especially necessary as some experts are beginning to worry about next year’s crop. For much of the U.S. corn belt, the main precipitation period has already passed. So without some unseasonal weather events releasing massive amounts of rain, Mark Svoboda, a climatologist at the National Drought Mitigation Center, based at the University of Nebraska, has said that what matters is getting enough rain for the beginning of next year’s crop: “This drought isn’t going anywhere…The damage is already done. What you are looking for is enough moisture to avert a second year of drought.”
Vilsack could also offer to annul small farmers’ debts to the banks. The only step he’s taken in this direction is to allow farmers an extra 30 days to pay insurance premiums—as if an extra month is going to make any difference if you’ve got no crops to sell.
He could campaign for greater agricultural aid for farmers in the Global South, specifically to build food storage facilities. Investment in this kind of food infrastructure to smooth out the ups and downs of harvests was drastically cut in developing countries throughout the 1980s and ’90s as international lenders demanded reductions in government spending in exchange for loans. In addition, such insurance was seen as unnecessary when “the market” would automatically adjust for any shortfall; similarly, in the United States, grain reserves are low and unable to make up any deficit because of a reduction in grain storage.
Perhaps more importantly still, if Vilsack and the Obama administration in general had any concern for humanity and the world’s poor, they could begin an aggressive campaign to re-regulate financial speculation on food prices in international commodity markets. Such an attack on the bankers, stockbrokers and speculators would no doubt prove wildly popular.
NBC covers the drought baking 50% of US counties. Quick stats:
- 218 counties added to “natural disaster area” list today
- 1,452 counties labeled “natural disaster areas”
- Millions of fish killed (see video)
- Protected wetlands and public lands temporarily opened up for cattle grazing
- Corn and soy crop health downgraded this week
- Estimated 100-500 million trees killed since 2011
More at NBC
Representative Steve King (R-IA), who is the sponsor of an amendment to the House Farm Bill that is both astonishingly hypocritical and devastating to food safety laws that protect millions of Americans from illness, recently gave an interview to the Daily Caller to brag about what he had accomplished. The King Amendment would essentially prevent states from developing strong independent health, safety, and cruelty standards, even if local voters want them.
However, King might want to reconsider that position, as his amendment would legalize several horrific farming and food practices that some states have chosen to do away with:
- Florida, Ohio, and seven other states have banned confining pregnant pigs in cages that prevent them from moving their limbs or walking in a circle. Pigs confined in so-called gestation crates are forced to defecate where they stand, exposed to serious risk of traumatic injury as a consequence of immobility, and develop sores as a consequence of attempting to move against or bite the bars the bars that confine them. They live their whole lives like this.
- Seven states have banned similar confinement for baby calves. So-called veal creates are designed to atrophy muscles to improve the taste of meat, creating what the ASPCA calls “lives of agony and frustration” for the cows until they are slaughtered at four or five months.
- Three states have banned tail-docking, wherein parts of cows tails are lopped off, occasionally without anesthetic. The American Veterinary Medical Association opposes tail docking as unnecessary and highly painful.
- Maryland prohibits adding arsenic to chicken feed, which – besides the obvious problems – also spreads the poison into the surrounding soil.
King, though, brags that his legislation “wipes out everything they’ve [animal rights advocates] done with pork and veal.” Indeed, King has a long record of opposing animal welfare law — he has, for example, been Congress’ leading advocate against anti-dogfighting legislation. He also believes that the Humane Society and other animal rights advocates are attempting to ban “production agriculture” and has fantasized about exposing vegetarians with “an agenda for our diets” on the House floor.
Wildfires in Eastern Oregon kill hundreds (perhaps thousands) of cattle, burns hundreds acres of prime land.
One of my knitting students was just out there, yesterday she mentioned hundreds of cows dying due to smoke inhalation. This burned land will be unavailable for cattle grazing for probably at least two years.
Additional corn crop failures are likely, due to too little rain and too much heat through the middle of August.
Reilly’s study, recently published in Environmental Science & Technology, compares the effects of slashing emissions from energy sources alone to a strategy that also incorporates emissions associated with land use.
The report finds that, with a growing global population, fast-developing nations, and increasing agricultural productivity and energy use, the world is on the path to seeing average temperatures rise by as much as 6 degrees Celsius by the end of the century. Even with an aggressive global tax on energy emissions, the planet will not be able to limit this warming to 2 C — the target world leaders have agreed is needed to avoid dangerous climate change. But when the tax is applied to land-use emissions, the world community could come much closer, with temperatures by the year 2100 rising 2.4 C above pre-industrial levels.
To go one step further in reducing emissions the study incorporates biofuels production, which could increase carbon storage on land and be a cleaner source of energy, lessening the use of fossil fuels. The researchers find that increased biofuels production could cut fossil-fuel use in half by the end of the century — from 80 percent of energy without a tax to 40 percent with a tax — and further limit warming to bring the world just shy of the target.
The world could get even closer to the target, the study shows, by creating economic incentives for storing carbon on land — such as through reforestation. In combination with the global carbon tax, this could “bring the world closer to keeping warming below the 2 degree Celsius temperature,” Reilly says.