Thursday, February 18, 2010

Nobel Economist Joseph Stiglitz on Democracy Now

Nobel Economist Joseph Stiglitz spoke with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now February 18, 2009. The spoke on Obama’s Stimulus Plan, Debt, Climate Change, and Stiglitz new book “Freefall: America, Free Markets, and the Sinking of the World Economy
As President Obama defends the success of his one year-old $787 stimulus package, we speak to Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, who says the stimulus was both not big enough and too focused on tax cuts. Stiglitz is the author of the new book “Freefall: America, Free Markets, and the Sinking of the World Economy”, which analyzes the causes of the Great Recession of 2008 and calls for overcoming what he calls an “ersatz capitalism” that socializes losses but privatizes gains

The State of Food and Agriculture

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations released a report on creating a more sustainable livestock sector.

From their press release:
The report stresses that livestock is essential to the livelihoods of around one billion poor people. Livestock provides income, high-quality food, fuel, draught power, building material and fertilizer, thus contributing to food security and nutrition. For many small-scale farmers, livestock also provides an important safety net in times of need.

But the agency stressed the need for substantial investments and stronger institutions at global, regional, national and local levels, to ensure that continued growth of the livestock sector contributes to livelihoods, meets growing consumer demand and mitigates environmental and health concerns.

"The rapid transition of the livestock sector has been taking place in an institutional void," said FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf in the foreword of the report. "The issue of governance is central. Identifying and defining the appropriate role of government, in its broadest sense, is the cornerstone on which future development of the livestock sector must build."
The report stresses the balance needed between livelihoods, food security (issues more predominant for developing nations) and human health and the environment (issues more focused on by post-industrialized nations). They also have some great graphics that help paint the picture.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Farm Bureau President draws line in the sand

President of the American Farm Bureau Federation Bob Stallman has chosen to go to war with critics of agriculture (and the growing public) in his speech to the Bureau saying the will "no longer tolerate opponents' efforts to change the landscape of American agriculture."
“Emotionally charged labels such as monoculture, factory farmer, industrial food, and big ag threaten to fray our edges.We must not allow the activists and self-appointed and self-promoting food experts to drive a wedge between us.”
“A line must be drawn between our polite and respectful engagement with consumers and how we must aggressively respond to extremists who want to drag agriculture back to the day of 40 acres and a mule. The time has come to face our opponents with a new attitude. The days of their elitist power grabs are over.”
Those are some big word coming from one of the most powerful lobbies in Washington. It will be interesting to see how they get consumers to give up caring about things like antibiotic resistance, environmental degradation or animal rights. I have a feeling their case will sound somewhat familiar: "safe food" "affordable food" and "feed the world."

Pork Board reacts to antibiotic resistance story

For years I have been following the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act or PAMTA legislation (H.R. 1549/S. 619) which has been introduced numerous times in various forms and is now stronger than ever. The latest version, introduced by the late Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and Representative Louise Slaughter (D-NY)--(the only microbiologist serving in Congress), would require that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) deny any new animal antibiotic drugs unless the federal government is certain the drugs will not contribute to antimicrobial resistance. The bill would also ban the routine, or nontherapeutic,* use of antibiotics in food-producing animals--a widespread practice in animal agriculture.

*According to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) an estimated 70 percent of the antibiotics and other antimicrobial drugs used in the United States are fed to farm animals for nontherapeutic purposes, including-- growth promotion; and compensation for crowded, unsanitary, and stressful farming and transportation conditions; and unlike human use of antibiotics, these nontherapeutic uses in animals typically do not require a prescription.

The emergence of the animal production system we have today (concentrated animal feeding operations) can be partly attributed to the liberal use of antibiotics. But as many are beginning to realize: more is not always better, efficiencies cause unintended consequences and the industry is not trying to protect only their bottom line.

In response to the recent antibiotic media coverage (a two part series on CBS news with Katie Couric) the Pork Board offered their response:

The National Pork Board recognizes the importance of getting the facts out about this important issue and fostering open, honest dialog about why tools such as antibiotics are a vital way to keep animals healthy and the food supply safe. The top four messages that consumers should know about antibiotic use are:
  • Antibiotics are given strategically – administered when pigs are sick, susceptible or exposed to illness.
  • Using antibiotics strategically ensures that the safest meat in the world ends up on America's dinner tables.
  • Only antibiotics approved by the FDA are used to treat pigs.
  • We have a 20-year history of continuous improvement working with modern farm production to make pork better, healthier and safer to eat

According to a 2006 USDA study over 8 of 10 nursery sites (85.3 percent) and grower/finisher sites (81.2 percent) used antibiotics in feed. This is the SAME study that the Pork Board cited on its FACT's page to argue the findings of the Union of Concerned Scientists.

A majority of the antibiotics approved by FDA for agriculture were done so before resistance was a consideration. They are the same ones used in human medicine and none of them have been reviewed. New drugs are subject resistance discretion. Drug companies are not developing new antibiotics, because the ones we have are and have been so effective. This legislation aims to make humans "better, healthier and safer."