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Bioeconomy: Blueprint or Biotechnology Boost?

Last week the White House released its National Bioeconomy Blueprint  (PDF) which “outlines steps that agencies will take to drive the bioeconomy—economic activity powered by research and innovation in the biosciences—and details ongoing efforts across the Federal government to realize this goal.”

Unfortunately, this new bioeconomy is not as green as the Obama administration is making it out to be. The so-called bioeconomy is dependent primarily on the risky, unregulated field of synthetic biology and the use of unsustainably produced biomass to feed synthetic organisms created by these technologies. The National Bioeconomy Blueprint, while offering little in new substantive policy, causes more harm than good by giving the green light to the growth and profit of the synthetic biology industry without making any real effort to protect people and the environment from the novel risks posed by this emerging technology. Read more

Killing the Competition: Meat Industry Reform Takes a Blow

 

One of the least-discussed but most promising attempts at food system reform was dealt a serious blow the other day. The USDA itself eviscerated its proposed reform to a set of rules which would have given a government division with a wonky name–the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyard Administration (GIPSA)–authority to crack down on the way large corporate meatpackers wield power over small and mid-sized ranchers.

To say this was a lost opportunity is a vast understatement. After all, the top four companies control 90 percent of all beef processing. In the case of pork, four companies control 70 percent of the processing, while for poultry it’s nearly 60 percent. When you get that kind of market power,* abuse becomes rampant. Indeed, ranchers all around the country now agree that it’s impossible for them to get a fair price for livestock. Read more

GM and Organic Co-Existence: Why We Really Just Can’t Get Along

Last Friday, the USDA announced the partial deregulation of genetically modified sugar beets, defying a court order to complete an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) in advance of a decision. This move follows on the heels of the full deregulation late last month of genetically modified (GM) alfalfa, the fourth most common row crop in the United States, which is most often used as feed for cattle.

If you eat beef, or take milk and sugar in your coffee (and even if you don’t), here is why you should care: The move could put organic foods at risk for contamination and make it more expensive. Read more

Two Ice Cream Entrepreneurs Talk About Starting a Food Business

On one of the hottest days of 2010, Santa Cruz, California was blessed with the unveiling of The Penny Ice Creamery, one out of a handful of ice cream shops in the country that are licensed pasteurizers.  Just a few short months later, business partners Kendra Baker and Zachary Davis are seeing their dream realized, a difficult balance to achieve in our current economic climate.  However, despite the financial crisis, or perhaps because of it, they are the first people to admit that much of their success was made possible by Obama’s stimulus plan.  On the heels of the Penny’s now famous YouTube video, thanking the administration for the Recovery Act (which prompted a live call from Vice President Biden), I sat down with the pair to hear directly about the ins and outs of their business. Read more

US State Department vs. Critics of Biotechnology

When the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) met in Chicago May 3rd-6th they were, no doubt, elated to hear that the U.S. State Department would be aggressively confronting critics of agricultural biotechnology.

Jose Fernandez, Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Economic, Energy and Business Affairs noted that the State Department was ready to take on the naysayers. In addition to confronting the critics, Fernandez stated they would be building alliances (presumably with the biotech industry and foreign governments), anticipating roadblocks to acceptance and highlighting the science. Read more

Obama’s Broken Promises, Disappointing and Dangerous for Farmers and Eaters

And it means ensuring that the policies being shaped at the Departments of Agriculture and Interior are designed to serve not big agribusiness or Washington influence peddlers, but the family farmers and the American People.”  President-elect Barack Obama, December 17, 2008, Chicago, Illinois.

The message was one of hope, the words of a newly elected President echoing the Populism of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the promise of John F. Kennedy.  It stopped there, the delivery of the promise fell short. Read more

Obama Administration Nominates Lobbyists for Key Ag Positions

“Lobbyists won’t find a job in my White House.” President Obama assured us with this claim upon inauguration. And yet he just nominated to two key posts “Big Ag” industry power brokers, who come straight from the chemical pesticide and biotechnology sectors. While they may not be registered as lobbyists, both men come from organizations representing powerful agribusiness interests, which every year spend millions of dollars in lobbying to advance their companies’ chemical and transgenic products. Read more

Obama’s Chief Agricultural Negotiator Nominee a Pesticide Pusher

The industrial agriculture complex has been doing back flips for the last few weeks, first because of the ascendance of Blanche Lincoln (ConservaDem-AR) to the high throne of the Senate Agriculture Committee, where she promises to pinch climate legislation (or at the very least shove it aside until next year) and push a southern Big Ag agenda in the Senate for rice and cotton interests. Now, the White House has announced Islam A. Siddiqui, current Vice President for Science and Regulatory Affairs at CropLife America (you will remember the organization as the one that sent the First Lady a letter admonishing her for not using pesticides on the White House garden) as nominee for Chief Agricultural Negotiator, who works through the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) to promote our crops and ag products abroad. Read more

Unchecked Swine Flu, (sick?) CAFO Workers and Lax Regulation, Oh My

The United States Department of Agriculture agreed last week to buy an additional $30 million dollars worth of pork from the ailing pork industry, for a total of $151 million dollars purchased this year, as recompense for supposed damage wrought by the emergence of the swine flu in our common public lexicon (and the result will no doubt keep kids in public schools flush with factory-farmed sausage pizza this year).

The industry has been pushing the American media and our politicians to refer to the virus instead as “novel H1N1,” which is indeed a scientific way to reference the flu. But “swine flu” has stuck because this is a virus that has passed between humans and pigs. It is uncertain still how the virus evolved and from where exactly, but as we are producing a glut of pork in the US it is not far off to consider that keeping thousands of pigs in close confinement in order to create cheap meat could be exacerbating the potential for disease. Read more