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August 2005: Notes of Interest

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From Earth Policy News, “Oil and Food, A Rising Security Challenge” ( As food undergoes more processing and travels farther, the food system consumes ever more energy each year. The US food system uses over 10 quadrillion BTU of energy each year. Growing food accounts for only one-fifth of this. The other four-fifths is used to move, process, package, sell, and store food after it leaves the farm. Some 28 percent of energy used in agriculture goes to fertilizer manufacturing, 7 percent goes to irrigation, and 34 percent is consumed as diesel gasoline by farm vehicles. Crop production now relies on fertilizers to replace soil nutrients, and therefore on the oil needed to mine, manufacture and transport these fertilizers around the world.The use of mechanical pumps to irrigate crops has allowed farms to prosper in the middle of the desert. It also has increased farm energy use, allowed larger water withdrawals, and contributed to aquifer depletion worldwide. As water tables drop, ever more powerful pumps must be used. Processed food now makes up three-fourths of total world food sales. Processing breakfast cereals requires 7,125 kilocalories per pound—easily five times as much energy as is contained in the cereal itself. Processed foods…are often individually wrapped, bagged and boxed, or similarly overpackaged. … Almost all of it ends up in our landfills.

A related story comes from Yahoo News, written by Juliana Barbassa of the Associated Press: Farmers are paying higher prices for diesel for their farm equipment, fertilizer, and transportation of crops to market, and they have no one to pass their higher expenses on to. “Farmers across the country will spend about 10 percent more this year, or about $3 billion…even as the price consumers pay for produce remains relatively stable.”

The following information comes from Issue 12 of Amberwaves: One of the hundred orders enacted by the US Provisional Authority in Iraq made it illegal for farmers to save their own seeds. They are now allowed to plant only “'protected' crop varieties brought into Iraq by transnational corporations in the name of agricultural reconstruction. …The new patent law also explicitly promotes the commercialization of genetically modified seeds.” Iraqui farmers have traditionally saved their own seeds and exchanged planting materials among communities. This is now illegal.

From an Internet article sent to us by Sandra Mardigian: The first Soil Atlas of Europe was published at the end of May. It shows that more than 16 percent of the European Union's land is affected by soil degradation , with more than a third of the land in the newly-accessed countries being degraded. “The chief threats to soil are identified by the atlas as erosion, degradation from the overuse of fertilizers and pesticides, the loss of organic content, contamination from industry, the loss of biodiversity, salinity, the compacting of soil by agricultural vehicles, landslides and flooding.”

The following is taken from Organic, Inc, by Jason Mark in the San Francisco Chronicle: “According to figures supplied by the Organic Consumers Association, a significant and growing percentage of the organic food market is owned by conventional food processors. General Mills owns the organic brands Cascadian Farms and Muir Glenn. Heinz holds a 20 percent equity share in food distributor Hain, which owns Rice Dream soy milk, Garden of Eatin', Earth's Best and Health Valley, along with 15 other brands. Kellogg owns Sunrise Organic, while Philip Morris' Kraft makes the popular vegetarian Boca Burgers.The largest organic seed company, Seeds of Change, is controlled by M&M/Mars, and just five farms are consolidated to market half of the organic produce sold in California. Your morning Odwalla juice is brought to you by Coca-Cola.”



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