Friday, May 30, 2014

Can GM and organic farms coexist?

Writing for the Guardian, Australian Research Council future fellow Matthew Rimmer said the ruling raised the prospect of "biotrespass" laws to protect organic farmers.

The decision in Marsh v Baxterwill no doubt reignite the debate over GM crop liability. A number of scholars have argued that there is a need to revise liability regimes in respect of biotechnology. Professor Jeremy de Beerfrom the University of Ottawa has argued that there is a need to adapt the legal principles of trespass to accommodate recent developments in biotechnology, nanotechnology, and synthetic biology. He has called for the creation of a cause of action for "biotrespass".

No doubt the agricultural biotechnology industry would resist such efforts at law reform. From their perspective, GM crops should be subject to the same liability regimes as other forms of farming and agriculture.

At an international level, there will be further debate over the position of GM crops in the sweeping regional agreements under negotiation – including the Trans-Pacific Partnership. There is an intense struggle between organic farmers and the biotechnology industry at a number of levels in these international agreements.

The Marsh's lawyer, Mark Walter, said the case would have ramifications for Australia's organic industry and raised the possibility of appeal:

"This is a disappointing result for Mr Marsh and leaves Australia’s non-genetically modified food farmers with no legal protection against contamination from nearby properties ... We will closely examine the judgement of this complex and unique case and advise our client of his legal options, including his right to appeal."

The Safe Food Foundation, which helped bankroll Marsh's case, said the future for organic food in Australia was now "uncertain". The Foundation said the judge had erred by criticising Australia's organic food regulators for stripping Marsh's organic status.

The court in its judgment stated the decision by NASAA (National Association of Sustainable Agriculture Australia) to decertify Steve was erroneous. Given the extent of the contamination of Steve’s farm we fail to see how NASAA could have taken any other decision. Certainly 100% of organic consumers would support the NASAA decision.

Because the court did not recognise the NASAA decertification the court did not recognise the economic loss Steve suffered, and dismissed the case that Steve had brought for negligence and nuisance.

Foundation director, Scott Kinnear, said:

“This is a huge setback for organic and Non GM farmers and their choice to remain GM Free. This has been an important test case, of interest to many parties, locally and globally.

“We also call on our legislators to work on finding a solution to this vexed issue. State and Federal governments have continuously stated that the solution to any GM contamination events is common law. This has clearly failed today and demonstrates that the law has not kept up with new technologies such as GM.”

NASAA general manager Ben Copeman said the decision highlighted the need for legislative change for the sector and that it had opened up a "Pandora box" of conflict between the GM and organic farming sectors.

“We found GM canola growing on organically certified land. The court found that there was no risk of GM contamination. While tolerance thresholds for GM contamination are governed by the Federal Government under the National Standard for Organic and Biodynamic Produce, it is not a legislated standard and is not recognised by the courts." More


Corporate stranglehold of farmland a risk to world food security, study says

The world's food supplies are at risk because farmland is becoming rapidly concentrated in the hands of wealthy elites and corporations, a study has found.

Small farmers, the UN says, grow 70% of the world's food but a new analysis of government data suggests the land which they control is shrinking every year as mega-farms and plantations squeeze them onto less than 25% of the world's available farmland, says international land-use group Grain. These mega-farms are less productive in terms of amount of food they produce per area of land, the report argues.

"Small farms have less than a quarter of the world's agricultural land – or less than 20% excluding China and India. Such farms are getting smaller all the time, and if this trend persists they might not be able to continue to feed the world," says the report which draws on government statistics and calls for a stop on land grabbing by corporations.

The report suggests that the single most important factor in the drive to push small farmers onto ever smaller parcels of land is the worldwide expansion of industrial commodity crop farms. "The powerful demands of food and energy industries are shifting farmland and water away from direct local food production to the production of commodities for industrial processing," it says. The land area occupied by just four crops – soybean, oil palm, rapeseed and sugar cane – has quadrupled over the past 50 years. Over 140 million hectares of fields and forests have been taken over by these plantations since the 1960s – roughly the same area as all the farmland in the EU.

"What we found was shocking," said Henk Hobbelink of Grain. "If small farmers continue to lose the very basis of their existence, the world will lose its capacity to feed itself. We need to urgently put land back in the hands of small farmers and make the struggle for agrarian reform central to the fight for better food systems."

Big farms have been getting bigger nearly everywhere with rising numbers of small and medium-sized farmers going out of business in the past 20 years, say the authors. Belgium, Finland, France, Germany and Norway in western Europe have each lost about 70% of their farms since the 1970s while Bulgaria, Estonia, the Czech Republic and Slovakia each lost over 40% of their farms from 2003 to 2010. Poland alone lost almost 1m farmers between 2005 and 2010.

"Within the EU as a whole, over 6m farms disappeared between 2003 and 2010, bringing the total number of farms down to almost the same level as in 2000, before the inclusion of 12 new member states with their 8.7m new farmers," says the report , released with international peasant organisation Via Campesina.

But the concentration of land ownership is seen on every continent. Argentina lost more than one-third of its farms in the two decades from 1988 to 2008. Between 1997 to 2007, Chile lost 15% of its farms with the biggest farms doubling their average size, from 7,000 to 14,000 ha per farm. The United States has lost 30% of its farms in the last 50 years. Here, the number of very small farms has almost tripled, while the number of very large farms has more than quintupled.

In addition most farms have been getting smaller over time due to factors such as population pressure and lack of access to land. In India, the average farm size roughly halved from 1971 to 2006. In China, the average area of land cultivated per household fell by 25% between 1985 and 2000. In Africa, average farm size is also falling.

The authors say land reform is urgently needed if enough food is to be grown to feed everyone. "What we see happening in many countries ... is a kind of reverse agrarian reform, whether it's through corporate land grabbing in Africa, the recent agribusiness-driven coup d'├ętat in Paraguay, the massive expansion of soybean plantations in Latin America, the opening up of Burma to foreign investors, or the extension of the European Union and its agricultural model eastward," says Hobbelink.

"In all of these processes, control over land is being usurped from small producers and their families, with elites and corporate powers pushing people onto smaller and smaller land holdings, or off the land entirely into camps or cities," he said.

The takeover of small farmers' land is now accelerating, says the report with nearly 60% of this land use change occurring in the past 20 years. The report estimates that 90% of all farms worldwide are "small", holding on average 2.2 hectares.

The report also found that small farmers often twice as productive as large farms and are more environmentally sustainable. "Although big farms generally consume more resources, control the best lands, receive most of the irrigation water and infrastructure ... they have lower technical efficiency and therefore lower overall productivity. Much of this has to do with low levels of employment used on big farms in order to maximise return on investment.

"Our data [suggests] that if all farms in Kenya had the current productivity of the country's small farms, Kenya's agricultural production would double. In Central America and Ukraine, it would almost triple. In Hungary and Tajikistan it would increase by 30%. In Russia, it would be increased by a factor of six," the report says.

"Beyond strict productivity measurements, small farms also are much better at producing and utilising biodiversity, maintaining landscapes, contributing to local economies, providing work opportunities and promoting social cohesion, not to mention their real and potential contribution to reversing the climate crisis."

The most productive farmers in the world are possibly found in Botswana, the report argues, where 93% of the farmers have small patches of land but together they grow all the country's groundnuts, 99% of its maize, 90% of the millet, 73% of beans and 25% of the sorghum on just 8% of the farmland. More


Thursday, May 29, 2014

Concerns grow over farm drugs used like 'sweets'

The widespread use of antibiotics on farms without medical supervision has been condemned at a meeting of the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).

There are particular concerns about the US where authorities say it contributes significantly to resistance. There are also worries that a new US-EU trade deal will see a watering down of tougher European laws on their use. The OIE says it has tried to broker a compromise between the two regions.

But so far this has been unsuccessful.

It's estimated that 80% of the antibiotics purchased in the US are used on farm animals. The drugs are given as prophylactics to livestock to help them avoid illnesses that are transmitted easily between beasts confined in large-scale feed lots. The drugs are also used to boost the animal's weight. But the large-scale use has prompted concerns that microbes will develop resistance. These toughened bugs are a threat to humans as well as animals.

Recent reports suggest a strong link between the overuse of antibiotics in animals and infections in humans. Earlier this year, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said this abuse of the drugs led to 23,000 deaths from infections resistant to treatment. Part of the problem in the US is that often the antibiotics are administered by producers or farmers, without medical supervision. A survey by the Department of Agriculture found that less than half of dairy farmers followed a vet's recommendations on using antibiotics. Speaking at its annual congress in Paris, the head of the OIE condemned these practices. "Antibiotics must be used by people with appropriate training on the risk," Dr Bernard Vallat told BBC News.

"If they are circulating like... food or sweets, it can be an at-risk practice."

In Europe, the drugs on farms are more tightly controlled and their use as a growth aid is banned. Concerns have also been raised about the current negotiations between the US and EU over the Transalantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). The aim of these talks is to reduce or remove trade barriers to boost economic activity between the EU and US.

While the EU says that its consumer, health and environmental protection regulations are "not negotiable", trade campaigners are worried that a deal will see compromises - especially in the area of animal medicine.

"It is very clear in terms of industry interests on both sides of the Atlantic, that they are interested in removing barriers to trade and antibiotics are one of those key areas," said Shefali Sharma from the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.

"They are going to agree to a framework where industry is at the table and the framework is going to be what is least restrictive on trade." "That is what is really problematic about having food safety standards being part of that equation." The OIE said it has already attempted to build a consensus on this issue - so far without success. "The risk analysis about the use of antibiotics is different between the EU and North America," said Dr Vallat. "OIE tried to propose a compromise on the prudent use of the drugs in animals but those compromises must be democratically adopted by our members."

Concern over the direction of these trade talks is higher on mainland Europe, especially Germany, according to Shefali Sharma. "This is a big issue, every day you are seeing new constituencies waking up and saying we don't like the fact that there are a whole range of standards being discussed behind closed doors that implicate every public concern that we might think about," she said.

The scale of the threat from both human and animal was underlined at this meeting by the director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO), Dr Margaret Chan, who warned that the world was headed to a "post-biotic" era. More



Allan Savory: How to fight desertification and reverse climate change

"Desertification is a fancy word for land that is turning to desert," begins Allan Savory in this quietly powerful talk. And it's happening to about two-thirds of the world's grasslands, accelerating climate change and causing traditional grazing societies to descend into social chaos.Savory has devoted his life to stopping it. He now believes — and his work so far shows — that a surprising factor can protect grasslands and even reclaim degraded land that was once desert.

Allan Savory works to promote holistic management in the grasslands of the world.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Permaculture PDC in Palestine in September

Marda Permaculture Certification Course, Register Now!

For more information click here


Monday, May 19, 2014

The California Drought Is Far From Over, And The Entire State Is Suffering

For a few days last month, it rained in San Francisco. Residents across the city cheered a welcomed respite from a drought that has crippled California for more than two years -- but the celebration turned out to be premature.

On Thursday, for the first time this century, the U.S. Drought Monitor declared that all of California is in a “severe” drought, with many areas of the state in an even worse condition, from "extreme" to "exceptional," the poorest possible rating.

“This is a once-in-a-generation conversation,” Mark Svoboda, a climatologist at the National Drought Mitigation Center, told The Huffington Post. He added that the last time California experienced comparable conditions was in the mid-1970s.

“The state has doubled its population between then and now,” Svoboda said. “You’ve got a lot more people using a relatively finite amount of water.”

The map below, courtesy of the U.S. Drought Monitor, shows the varying levels of drought throughout California. The orange represents “severe,” the red is “extreme,” and the maroon is “exceptional” -- the agency’s highest level (Story continues below):

No area of the state is feeling the effects of the drought more harshly than San Diego, where wildfires have ripped through more than 10,000 acres of land and tens of thousands of residents have been forced to evacuate. “In a drought, the biggest threat to health and human safety is wildfire,” Doug Carlson, an information officer at the California Department of Water Resources, told HuffPost.

And there doesn’t appear to be an end in sight. “The drought has set the stage for a very busy, very long, potentially very dangerous fire season,” Daniel Berlant, a spokesperson for CAL FIRE, said to HuffPost. “As we move into the more traditional summer months, the days are only going to get longer, and the temperatures are only going to get higher.”

California’s wildfire season usually peaks during summer and fall months and then tapers during the typically rainy winter. But the drought has turned wildfires into a year-round issue. “With that lack of rain, the grass, brush and trees really have been tinder-dry all year long,” Berlant explained, noting such conditions help flames flourish.

Svoboda added that the state’s hot, dry surface leads to a hot, dry, atmosphere, which creates a prime environment for wildfires to spread. “You also typically see windier conditions,” he added. “These are all things that fires feed on.”

The damage in Southern California has ravaged hills, homes and businesses. Beloved craft brewery Stone Brewing Company evacuated its premises on Thursday. On Wednesday, KTLA senior producer Marcus Smith tweeted a widely-recirculated photo of a “firenado,” a dangerous phenomenon caused by strong winds whipping spirals of fire into the air. More