Last week, the UK Guardian posted an investigative article and accompanying short film, “Pineapples: Luxury fruit, at what price?”. Focusing on the human health and environmental impacts of pesticide-dependent pineapple plantations in Costa Rica, the film links what happens to workers and communities with what consumers have come to expect — artificially inexpensive produce flown in from across the globe year-round. To meet market demand for cheap pineapples, field workers are exposed to cancer-causing, hormone-disrupting herbicides like endosulfan and bromocil while receiving only four percent of what consumers pay for the fruit of their labors.
On September 30th, a congressional oversight committee conducted the second of two hearings on the issue of herbicide-resistant “superweeds” created by unregulated cultivation of genetically engineered, Roundup Ready crops. The focus of the hearing is on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s failure to take action against the rapid evolution of weeds resistant to Roundup (glyphosate), which now infest over 10 million acres of U.S. cropland.
World leaders met in New York this week at the United Nations to assess progress in halving the proportion of hungry people in the world—the first of eight lofty Millenium Development Goals set by the UN in 2000.
One bit of good news you might have heard is that after the last couple of really disastrous years, we seem to be headed in a slightly better direction: the number of hungry people appears to be inching down, and at 925 million, is 98 million less than the 1.023 billion who were hungry last year. 98 million fewer hungry people is meaningful. But we are still talking about nearly a billion people without adequate food and nutrition—a far cry from the 1996 World Food Summit’s goals of reducing hunger to 400 million people by 2015. We’re basically back to where hunger levels were just before the big food price spikes of 2008. And here’s the real news: food prices are expected to surge again, as they already have in Mozambique and elsewhere, with disastrous consequences for the poor.
On the 20th anniversary of the Organic Foods Production Act, organic farmers joined Micheal Sligh of Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI-USA) in testifying before the Senate Agriculture Committee. Sligh, representing the National Organic Coalition (NOC) and founding Chair of the National Organic Standards Board, explained, "We are seizing the moment of commemorating two decades of certified organic food and farming in America to publicly acknowledge the many environmental and health benefits and to call for more government funding and participation in increasing the amount of organic food produced and consumed in the U.S."
I'm just back from a week in Rio de Janeiro strategizing on the future of food with an amazing group of activists from Brazil, South Africa, India, the Philippines and Germany. The event was organized by PAN partner AS-PTA, Brazil’s lead NGO campaigning against agricultural GMOs (genetically modified organisms) and promoting agroecology as the better way forward. As an agroecologist myself, I was thrilled to be invited.
While in Rio, I was inspired by stories of courage, persistence and deep commitment. I talked with mothers and fathers, farmers, ecologists, agronomists, community organizers, health experts and human rights lawyers. Like many of us in the U.S., they are seeking to build healthy, safe, fair and sustainable food systems at home, and want more than anything to leave a healthy legacy for their children and for future generations.
PAN summarizes the key findings from Agriculture at a Crossroads, the landmark UN report from the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD). More than 400 scientists examined the successes and shortcomings of the world’s food and agricultural systems, and evaluated the impact that public agencies, agricultural research institutions and the private sector have on the well-being of farmers, farmworkers and rural communities.
There’s nothing quite like a fresh, juicy strawberry. Our family lives near the central coast of California where most of the strawberries in the U.S. are grown, so we enjoy fresh-picked strawberries nearly year round.
What many people don’t know is that some of the nastiest pesticides are used in strawberry fields. Most non-organic berries are grown in soil that’s been zapped clean with chemicals that kill everything they touch. Fields are covered with huge tarps while pesticides are pumped in and the soil is stripped of all living things before planting. Workers, neighbors and parents sending their kids to school near strawberry fields dread fumigation season.
Personally, I like my cranberries and pumpkin pie chemical-free.
It’s not that you can taste or smell pesticides on food – the levels are much too low for that. It’s just that I sleep better knowing I’ve done all I can to minimize the number of chemicals I put into my body and feed to my kids.
I’ve been a mom for 15 years and a pesticide reform advocate for almost as long. I’ve organized around international treaties, lobbied government officials, and cheered at a lot of swim meets and baseball games. For me, these two worlds come together most clearly around food – in our backyard garden, in the produce aisle and at the dinner table.
The overwhelming majority of pesticides used on U.S. farms do not show up on our food. And yet,
What happens when we view people as citizens rather than consumers and treat food as a human right? Food democracy.
"Food democracy" may sound lofty, but it is in fact a very practical idea emerging from communities in places like Michigan and Oklahoma struggling to feed themselves without starving future generations.