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Michigan Takes on the Behemoth Food & Farm Bill

Not a lot of people know much about the Food & Farm Bill, which normally comes up for congressional review and reauthorization every five years. And yet, it is the primary piece of legislation that determines our nation’s food and agricultural policies from production to distribution at an annual budget of $57 billion or $284 billion over five years (2008 figures). In this new era, where citizens have shed their complacency or fear to take on the monolithic structures of government and corporate power, a small group of Kalamazoo, Michigan food activists and professionals have decided to begin studying and understanding the Food & Farm Bill so that they can talk to and influence policymakers, two of whom will play a key role in this year’s appropriations. Read more

Eating Less, Better Meat: Yes We Can

I’m a vegetarian. But my husband’s not. And, go figure, my kids aren’t either. Which is exactly why I care about the meat I buy. Yes, I buy meat. I’d rather not, but if it’s coming into the house–and into my kids’ bodies–then I need to know exactly what I’m buying. And I not only want to know how it’s affecting my family’s health, I also care deeply about how it’s affecting our family’s environmental footprint (including climate change).

Enter Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) new Meat Eater’s Guide to Climate Change + Health. In it, EWG took a close look at how a variety of protein foods rank when their total, “cradle-to-grave” greenhouse gas emissions are calculated. Then we factored in the non-climate environmental impacts (like water pollution) and health effects of meat and confirmed that, indeed, not all meat is created equal. Read more

Environmental Working Group Releases New Farm Subsidy Database

Farm subsidies are complicated, making them the central front of a heated debate between farmers, politicians and consumers. Farmers don’t like to be dependent on them, but most large-scale producers cannot live without them. Politicians see opportunities for making budget cuts ($245.2 billion was spent on farm payments from 1995-2009 alone, and after all, when subsidies were created during the Great Depression, they were meant to be temporary) and yet these payments are now providing cheap raw materials to the ADMs, Cargills and Monsantos of the world, who give major campaign contributions. Consumers see that the most heavily subsidized crops (corn, soybeans, cotton, wheat, and rice) are producing a lot of things that they no longer want to eat (high fructose corn syrup, processed foods and feedlot meat), but they often misunderstand what is actually needed to transition away from the subsidy system.

Will transparency help to build a more nuanced discussion around changing our farm subsidy system? Today, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) released the latest version of their widely referenced Farm Subsidy Database, with more detailed information on farm payments by individual, county, state and congressional district and including a national summary. In looking at the numbers closely, it becomes apparent that still, the wealthiest farms are receiving the most subsidies. With populist anger over federal spending spilling over, the government searching to get out of debt, and 74% of earnings having gone to the top 10% of farmers from 1995-2009, will farm subsidies finally come under the knife in the 2012 Farm Bill? Read more

California Releases First of its Kind State Climate Adaptation Strategy

California is once again at the forefront of national climate change policy. California’s Department of Natural Resources recently issued the nation’s first state-wide strategy of its kind that lays out a blue print for how California should adapt and respond to the impacts of climate change. Many of these impacts, including severe drought, increased wildfires and floods, and prolonged warmer temperatures are already being felt across the state. The plan puts forth key recommendations across seven different sectors, including agriculture.

Unfortunately, the action plan for agriculture leaves out one critical proven strategy for coping with extreme weather events: the promotion of organic agricultural practices that will make soils healthier and more productive, while also conserving water and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The draft adaptation strategy points out what most critics of federal and state climate change legislation constantly fail to acknowledge: That taking no action to address climate change now could cost key sectors in the state “tens of billions of dollars per year in direct costs.” Read more