Meet The Group Everyone in the Food Movement Should Be Watching

After a recent national gathering, delegates discussed their emphatic opposition to federal firearm registration, argued against attempts to address climate change through cap and trade, and decried the so-called “war against Christmas.” Attendees went home with a “lobbyist bible” that defined marriage between a man and woman, called for national voter identification, and demanded the repeal of “Obamacare.” Read more

Rating the Politicos Shaping Our Food System

Last November, Mark Bittman, Micheal Pollan, Olivier De Schutter, and Ricardo Salvador made the case for a national food and farm policy to improve American diets and the environment. In a collectively penned Washington Post opinion piece, the authors and food system experts identified a crucial roadblock for implementing system-wide change. They wrote:

…reforming the food system will ultimately depend on a Congress that has for decades been beholden to agribusiness, one of the most powerful lobbies on Capitol Hill. As long as food-related issues are treated as discrete rather than systemic problems, congressional committees in thrall to special interests will be able to block change.

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Louisiana Lawmakers Put Corn Belt Farms Before Gulf Shrimpers

Agriculture field run-off is the main contributor to the Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone, an oxygen-deprived swath of ocean the size of Connecticut. Fertilizer from farms throughout the Midwest washes into the Mississippi River and eventually makes its way into the Gulf. This pollution kills everything in its wake and threatens Louisiana’s $2 billion a year seafood industry with yearly losses to shrimp farmers alone estimated between $300 and $500 million.

And in what could only be described as a case of national sticker shock, a newly released study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences says that fixing the problem would cost an eye-popping $2.7 billion a year.

The Gulf Dead Zone isn’t the only agriculture body of water imperiled by farm pollutants either. Des Moines, Iowa and Toledo, Ohio have both been in the news recently as residents in both cities struggle with fertilizer run-off in their drinking water.

There are five basic ways to address the problem. Read more

Where is the Scrutiny of Crop Insurance Fraud?

Minnesota Congressman Colin Peterson (D-Minn.) struck a nerve this month when he said that “there is five times as much fraud” in the federal crop insurance program as there is the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program.

“There is less fraud in food stamps than in any government program,” Peterson told the National Journal on April 10. “There is five times as much fraud in crop insurance than in food stamps.” Read more

Meet the New Dust Bowl, Same as the Old Dust Bowl

There is no better time than the Thanksgiving Holiday to explore the connection between our food and the land it comes from. Ken Burns, America’s premiere documentarian, has tackled topics from jazz to the Civil War. His new film chronicles the Dust Bowl, the massive ecological disaster that plagued a large swath of U. S. farmland during the 1930’s.

The same forces that wreaked havoc on soil and farmer’s livelihoods in the Dust Bowl era are in play today. Read more

Protecting Water at the Source

One of the big challenges facing the globe in the next century will be access to clean water.

In America, federal agriculture policies are putting drinking water used by millions of people at risk. Perverse incentives such as farm subsidies and ethanol mandates have ushered in an era of fencerow-to-fencerow planting of chemical-intensive commodity crops, even as funding to protect water sources has been repeatedly slashed.

The result is that water running off poorly managed fields that have been treated with chemical fertilizers and manure is loaded with nitrogen and phosphorus, two potent pollutants that set off a cascade of harmful consequences.

Troubled Waters, a new Environmental Working Group report released on April 12, examines the water pollution caused by farm runoff in the upper Midwest and demonstrates that treating the problem after the fact is increasingly expensive, difficult and, if current trends continue, ultimately unsustainable. Because most farm operations are exempt from the requirements of the federal Clean Water Act and states have little authority to compel farmers to control water contamination, the burden of cleaning up agricultural pollution in drinking water falls mostly on municipal treatment systems – and the taxpayers who pay for them. Read more

The Farm Bill is a Climate Bill

As a possible 2012 farm bill looms, the agriculture committee leaders and their industrial agriculture lobby remoras are sorting through the smoking ruins of the 2011 secret farm bill process. They hope to come up with a unified position from which to begin deliberations on a new farm bill. Sadly, one thing they’ve all agreed to cut is 7 million acres from the Conservation Reserve Program. The CRP is administered through the U.S. Department of Agriculture and pays farmers to keep highly erodible land out of production.

While many recognize that putting land into conservation programs leads to cleaner water, healthier soil and robust wildlife habitat, few realize that CRP land also plays a major role in fighting climate change. According to the USDA, one acre of protected land sequesters 1.66 metric tons of carbon every year, carbon that would otherwise end up in the atmosphere.  The 7 million acres about to be cut from the Conservation Reserve Program have been putting 11.6 million metric tons of carbon into the soil every year. Read more