Overweight? Hungry? Blame ‘Hollow Food’

 

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Conventional agriculture produces “hollow food”, with low levels of nutrients and vitamins studies show

By Stephen Leahy

TORONTO, Canada, Mar 4, 2006 (Tierramérica)

(Originally published in 2006)

Organic foods protect children from the toxins in pesticides, while foods grown using modern, intensive agricultural techniques contain fewer nutrients and minerals than they did 60 years ago, according to two new scientific studies.

A U.S. research team from Emory University in Atlanta analysed urine samples from children ages three to 11 who ate only organic foods and found that they contained virtually no metabolites of two common pesticides, malathion and chlorpyrifos. However, once the children returned to eating conventionally grown foods, concentrations of these pesticide metabolites quickly climbed as high as 263 parts per billion, says the study published Feb. 21 (2006).

Organic crops are grown without the chemical pesticides and fertilisers that are common in intensive agriculture. There was a “dramatic and immediate protective effect” against the pesticides while consuming organically grown foods, said Chensheng Lu, an assistant professor at the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University.

These findings, in addition to the results of another study published in Britain earlier this month, have fueled the debate about the benefits of organically grown food as compared to conventional, mass-produced foods, involving academics, food and agro-industry executives and activists in the global arena.

According to the new British analysis of government nutrition data on meat and dairy products from the 1930s and from 2002, the mineral content of milk, cheese and beef declined as much as 70 percent in that period.

“These declines are alarming,” Ian Tokelove, spokesman for The Food Commission that published the results of the study, told Tierramérica.

The Commission is a British non-governmental organisation advocating for healthier, safer food. The research found that parmesan cheese had 70 percent less magnesium and calcium, beef steaks contained 55 percent less iron, chicken had 31 percent less calcium and 69 percent less iron, while milk also showed a large drop in iron along with a 21 percent decline in magnesium.

Copper, an important trace mineral (an essential nutrient that is consumed in tiny quantities), also declined 60 percent in meats and 90 percent in dairy products.

“It seems likely that intensive farming methods are responsible for this,” Tokelove said from his office in London.

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Rampant Speculation Inflated Food Price Bubble – Wall St./Grain Traders Pushing Price Rises

“Hunger is not a food production problem. It is an income problem”

By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Jan 28, 2011 (IPS)

Billions of dollars are being made by investors in a speculative “food bubble” that’s created record food prices, starving millions and destabilising countries, experts now conclude.

[This is the second of a multi-part series investigating what is driving food prices higher]

Wall Street investment firms and banks, along with their kin in London and Europe, were responsible for the technology dot-com bubble, the stock market bubble, and the recent U.S. and UK housing bubbles. They extracted enormous profits and their bonuses before the inevitable collapse of each.

Now they’ve turned to basic commodities. The result? At a time when there has been no significant change in the global food supply or in food demand, the average cost of buying food shot up 32 percent from June to December 2010, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

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Nothing but price speculation can explain wheat prices jumping 70 percent from June to December last year when global wheat stocks were stable, experts say.

“There is no food shortage in the world. Food is simply priced out of the reach of the world’s poorest people,” said Robert Fox of Oxfam Canada in reference to the estimated one billion people who go hungry.

“Hunger is not a food production problem. It is an income problem,” Fox told IPS. Continue reading

Climate Change Could Be Worsening Effects of El Niño, La Niña

Global Warming Worsening Impacts; Creating New ENSO ‘Flavors’

By Stephen Leahy*

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Jan 11, 2011 (Tierramérica) 

The strongest La Niña weather system in 50 years has brought historic flooding to Australia and drought to Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay, driving up food prices.

Scientists now believe climate change is likely enhancing the impacts of the famous El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO), a cyclical climate phenomenon that affects weather patterns around the world.

La Niña and El Niño are, respectively, the cold and warm phases of the ENSO cycle, and form part of the system that regulates heat in the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean.

Both accompany simultaneous changes in surface ocean temperature and air pressure.

In conditions defined by climatologists as “neutral,” high air pressure predominates in the eastern Pacific, while low pressure predominates in the west.

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The difference in pressure generates the trade winds, which blow east to west over the surface of the tropical Pacific, pushing the warm waters westward. The deeper, cooler waters then surface in the east, replacing the warm waters.

During episodes of La Niña, the differences in pressure are more marked, the trade winds blow more strongly, and the cold-water currents in the eastern Pacific intensify.

On the other hand, during El Niño, high surface air pressure in the western Pacific and lower pressure on the coasts of the Americas cause the trade winds to weaken or change direction, resulting in warmer water temperatures in the eastern Pacific.

“There has been a very rapid transition from El Niño to La Niña in 2010,” Kevin Trenberth, a senior climate scientist with the National Centre for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in the central U.S. state of Colorado, told Tierramérica. Continue reading

Towards a New and Improved Green Revolution

By Stephen Leahy

JOHANNESBURG, Apr 6 (IPS) – As food prices soar and hundreds of millions go hungry, experts from around the world will this week present a new approach for ensuring food security, at the intergovernmental plenary for the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD). The Apr. 7-12 conference is taking place in South Africa’s commercial hub, Johannesburg, and will be attended by representatives of an estimated 60 governments.

In the past year the price of corn has risen by 31 percent, soybeans by 87 percent and wheat by 130 percent. Global grain stores are currently at their lowest levels ever, with reserves of just 40 days left in the silos. Meanwhile, food production must double in the next 25 to 50 years to feed the additional three billion people expected on the planet by 2050.

“The question of how to feed the world could hardly be more urgent,” said Robert Watson, director of the IAASTD and chief scientist at the British environment and agriculture department. Continue reading

Only Green Part of Most Biofuels is the Wealth (Subsidies) They Generate

sugar-cane-field-oz-rslpix1By Stephen Leahy

Feb 4 (IPS) – Biofuels have quickly turned from environmental saviour to just another mega-scale get-rich quick scheme. Countries and regions without their own oil reserves to tap now see their farms, peatlands and forests as potential “oil fields” — shallow but renewable lakes of green oil.

Renewable does not mean sustainable, and in most cases the only green part of biofuel is the wealth they generate.

Not surprisingly, given the record high oil prices, worldwide investment in bioenergy reached 21 billion dollars in 2007, according to the U.N. Environment Programme. The Inter-American Development Bank announced 3 billion dollars for investment in private sector biofuel projects — mainly in Brazil — while the World Bank said it had 10 billion dollars available in 2007.

Meanwhile development assistance for food-producing agriculture had fallen to 3.4 billion dollars in 2004 — with the World Bank’s share less than 1 billion dollars, according to the Bank’s own World Development Report on Agriculture released in October 2007. And most of this financial assistance was spent on subsidising use of chemical fertilisers. Continue reading