Joel Achenbach, Washington Post, July 11, 2008
"Under pressure from farmers, livestock producers and soaring food prices, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is weighing a policy change that could lead to the plowing of millions of acres of land that had been set aside for conservation.
"At issue is the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), under which the government has paid farmers to stop growing row crops, such as corn and soybeans, on 34 million acres across the country. Designed in the mid-1980s to hold down production and bolster commodity prices, the $1.8 billion-a-year program has turned into a major boon for conservation, with much of the acreage planted with perennial grasses or trees, or restored to wetlands.
"Environmentalists are decrying the idea of renewing farming on the land, saying that the program represents a huge taxpayer investment in conservation and that expanded cultivation might exacerbate future flooding."
Sam Cage, Reuters, July 8, 2008
"Europeans remain wary of foods derived from tinkering with the genetic makeup of plants. But policy makers and food companies are pressing the genetic modification topic in a bid to temper aversion to biotech crops like pesticide-resistant rapeseed for oils and "Roundup-ready" soybeans, which tolerate dousing of the Roundup herbicide....
"The European Union has not approved any genetically modified crops for a decade, and the Union's 27 member countries often clash on the issue. Outside the EU, Switzerland has a moratorium on growing GM crops, though that authorities have granted permission for three GM crop trials between 2008 and 2010 for research.
"The market represents a substantial opportunity for biotechnology companies: the European seeds market is worth $7.9 billion, out of a global total of $32.7 billion, according to data from Cropnosis, a consultancy. The global genetically modified seeds market was worth $6.9 billion in 2007 and is set to grow further.
"Agrochemical companies are riding a wave of high food prices and soaring demand for farm goods, and Monsanto, DuPont and Syngenta have all raised 2008 earnings forecasts. Although high prices are a boon for farm suppliers, much of the cost has been passed on to consumers, sparking protests in many countries including Argentina, Indonesia and Mexico."
Robert Winnett, Telegraph, July 8, 2008
"Gordon Brown and his fellow world leaders have sparked outrage after it was disclosed they enjoyed a six-course lunch followed by an eight-course dinner at the G8 summit where the global food crisis tops the agenda. The Prime Minister was served 24 different dishes during his first day at the summit – just hours after urging the world to reduce the "unnecessary demand" for food and calling on British families to cut back on their wasteful use of food....African leaders including the heads of Ethiopia, Tanzania and Senegal who had taken part in talks during the day were not invited to the [dinner] function."
Aditya Chakrabortty , Guardian, July 4, 2008
"Biofuels have forced global food prices up by 75% - far more than previously estimated - according to a confidential World Bank report obtained by the Guardian. The damning unpublished assessment is based on the most detailed analysis of the crisis so far, carried out by an internationally-respected economist at global financial body.
"The figure emphatically contradicts the US government’s claims that plant-derived fuels contribute less than 3% to food-price rises. It will add to pressure on governments in Washington and across Europe, which have turned to plant-derived fuels to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and reduce their dependence on imported oil."
Andrew Grice, Independent, June 20, 2008
"Gordon Brown is calling on the European Union to relax its rules on importing genetically modified animal feed in a further sign of the Government's willingness to embrace the controversial technology. Mr Brown believes GM crops are vital to the attempt to cut spiralling food prices....
"Ministers who support GM crops believe there are no convincing arguments against them. They want to turn the tables on environmental groups who campaigned successfully against widespread GM production in Britain during the last government review in 2004. Although there is no ban, the ministers want the rules changed in light of the food crisis, as no GM crops are currently being grown commercially in this country.
"At a two-day summit in Brussels which began last night, EU leaders were urged to "bite the bullet" and embrace GM products as a solution to rocketing food prices. The plea came from Jose Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission. Several EU countries, led by France, are unconvinced that "Frankenstein foods" are safe.
"At the meeting, Mr Brown suggested allowing more GM animal food into the EU. The move may raise safety fears because contaminated feed was blamed for the outbreak in Britain of BSE in the 1990s."
Melinda Peer, Forbes, June 19, 2008
"On Thursday, Monsanto agreed to acquire Marmot S.A., which operates Central America's leading corn seed company, giving it a distribution network to deliver new products to farmers in the region.Meanwhile, Dow AgroScience, the agricultural arm of Dow Chemical, exercised an option to license so-called zinc finger technology from Sangamo Biosciences for use in agricultural crops, industrial products and plant-based biopharmaceuticals....
"Although genetically modified crops aren't allowed in Central America, except for in Honduras, that could change as governments become increasingly concerned about global food supply. On May 29, the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization called for a reconsideration of genetically-modified crops, which have been banned by most governments. Monsanto has made similar requests to regulators and doesn't want to waste any time setting up a distribution network if and when genetically altered crops are approved for planting."
Andrew Pollack, New York Times, June 5, 2008
"Monsanto, the leader in agricultural biotechnology, pledged Wednesday to develop seeds that would double the yields of corn, soybeans and cotton by 2030 and would require 30 percent less water, land and energy to grow. The announcement, coming as world leaders are meeting in Rome to discuss rising food prices and growing food shortages, appears to be aimed at least in part at winning acceptance of genetically modified crops by showing that they can play a major role in feeding the world....
"While Mr. Grant said that skeptics might say Monsanto was exploiting the food crisis to win acceptance for its technology, other people 'will say it’s long overdue, and thank goodness the companies are stepping up.'
"Shares of Monsanto fell by $1.54, to close at $131.60 Wednesday. But the stock has more than doubled in the last year, in part because of soaring crop prices. Besides being a leader in genetic engineering, Monsanto is one of the largest suppliers of seeds in the world."
Rick Weiss, Washington Post, May 13, 2008
"A handful of the world's largest agricultural biotechnology companies are seeking hundreds of patents on gene-altered crops designed to withstand drought and other environmental stresses, part of a race for dominance in the potentially lucrative market for crops that can handle global warming, according to a report being released today.
"Three companies -- BASF of Germany, Syngenta of Switzerland and Monsanto of St. Louis -- have filed applications to control nearly two-thirds of the climate-related gene families submitted to patent offices worldwide, according to the report by the Ottawa-based ETC Group, an activist organization that advocates for subsistence farmers....
"The ETC report concludes that biotech giants are hoping to leverage climate change as a way to get into resistant markets, and it warns that the move could undermine public-sector plant-breeding institutions such as those coordinated by the United Nations and the World Bank, which have long made their improved varieties freely available. 'When a market is dominated by a handful of large multinational companies, the research agenda gets biased toward proprietary products,' said Hope Shand, ETC's research director. 'Monopoly control of plant genes is a bad idea under any circumstance. During a global food crisis, it is unacceptable and has to be challenged.'"
Geoffrey Lean, Independent, May 4, 2008
"The World Bank says that 100 million more people are facing severe hunger. Yet some of the world's richest food companies are making record profits. Monsanto last month reported that its net income for the three months up to the end of February this year had more than doubled over the same period in 2007, from $543m (£275m) to $1.12bn. Its profits increased from $1.44bn to $2.22bn.
"Cargill's net earnings soared by 86 per cent from $553m to $1.030bn over the same three months. And Archer Daniels Midland, one of the world's largest agricultural processors of soy, corn and wheat, increased its net earnings by 42 per cent in the first three months of this year from $363m to $517m. The operating profit of its grains merchandising and handling operations jumped 16-fold from $21m to $341m.
"Similarly, the Mosaic Company, one of the world's largest fertiliser companies, saw its income for the three months ending 29 February rise more than 12-fold, from $42.2m to $520.8m, on the back of a shortage of fertiliser. The prices of some kinds of fertiliser have more than tripled over the past year as demand has outstripped supply. As a result, plans to increase harvests in developing countries have been hit hard."
Sarah van Gelder, Yes Magazine, April 28, 2008
"We need to take a page from Naomi Klein's new book, The Shock Doctrine. Her book shows that disasters--natural and human made--often provide openings for policies that people would never accept under ordinary circumstances. She calls this anti-democratic practice, disaster capitalism.
"Perhaps we need to do the inverse. Use disastrous times to create the bottom-up, deeply democratic alternatives that, during ordinary times, might seem more trouble than they're worth. These alternatives may be small scale at first, but they can function like seeds in a supersaturated solution. Without these particles, a solution can remain in a dissolved state. But add the "seeds" and crystals rapidly take shape and grow.
"On KUOW this morning, people talked of planting more gardens, going to the farmers market, hooking up with local farmers. Local food is not expected to get more expensive, one farmer said.
"Rather than follow the advice of World Bank president Robert Zoellick, who is calling for more of the same trade liberalization and instead of pushing GM crops on more farmers and consumers, we should turn to local production for local, human consumption. Biofuels should be made from waste crops and manure, not from food. The Farm Bill has provisions we should support and others we need to resist. We should be developing the local capacities to feed ourselves, turning lawns into "victory gardens," supporting local farmers, helping new farmers to get a start, creating farm incubators.
"Via Campesina, an international organization of farmers, has been pressing for these changes for years. Also Food First and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy."