Overweight? Hungry? Blame ‘Hollow Food’

 

wheat harvest sml

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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Global Land Grabbing by Speculators, Investment banks, Pension funds

Kenya green hills CIAT Neil Palmer sml

By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, May 10, 2012 (IPS)

Land is the missing element at next month’s big U.N. sustainable development summit known as Rio+20, where nations of the world will meet Jun. 20-22 with the goal of setting a new course to ensure the survival and flourishing of humanity.

However, governments are apparently unaware that a reversal of decades of land reform is underway with speculators, investment banks, pension funds and other powerful financial interests taking control of perhaps 200 million hectares of land from poor farmers in Africa, Latin America and Asia in recent years. Speculators and investors know land is the key to three necessities of life: food, water and energy. But neither land nor community land rights are on the summit agenda.

“Rural people are losing control over land and water because of this global land grab,” said Honduran farmer leader Rafael Alegria of the international farmers’ movement La Via Campesina.

Anywhere from 80 to 227 million hectares of rural, often agrarian land have been taken over by private and corporate interests in recent years, according to an April report released by Friends of the Earth International.

Many small land holders are being displaced in Central America and up to 40 percent of Honduran small farmers live in extreme poverty, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation, Alegria told IPS through a translator.

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Green Energy Solves Dual Crises of Poverty and Climate

Ain Beni Mathar Integrated Combined Cycle Thermo-Solar Power Plant

By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Feb 25 2013 (IPS) 

Green energy is the only way to bring billions of people out of energy poverty and prevent a climate disaster, a new study reveals.

Conservative institutions like the World Bank, the International Energy Agency and accounting giant Price Waterhouse Coopers (PwC) all warn humanity is on a path to climate catastrophe unless fossil fuel energy is replaced by green energy.

The U.N.’s Sustainable Energy for All initiative intends to bring universal access to modern energy, doubling the share of renewable energy globally, and doubling the rate of improvement in energy efficiency by 2030.

Poverty eradication, sustainable development and the transition away from fossil fuel energy go hand in hand.

If those targets are met and similar efforts undertaken to reduce deforestation, then climate disaster can be avoided, said Joeri Rogelj of the Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science in Zurich  who headed the analysis published Sunday in the journal Nature Climate Change.

 

Green Energy Solves Dual Crises of Poverty and Climate

native-windmill-art1Dirty fossil fuel energy leads to 350,000 premature deaths in Europe

By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Feb 25 2013 (IPS)

Green energy is the only way to bring billions of people out of energy poverty and prevent a climate disaster, a new study reveals.

Conservative institutions like the World Bank, the International Energy Agency and accounting giant Price Waterhouse Coopers (PwC) all warn humanity is on a path to climate catastrophe unless fossil fuel energy is replaced by green energy.

The U.N.’s Sustainable Energy for All initiative intends to bring universal access to modern energy, doubling the share of renewable energy globally, and doubling the rate of improvement in energy efficiency by 2030.

If those targets are met and similar efforts undertaken to reduce deforestation, then climate disaster can be avoided, said Joeri Rogelj of the Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science in Zurich  who headed the analysis published Sunday in the journal Nature Climate Change.

“Poverty eradication, sustainable development and the transition away from fossil fuel energy go hand in hand,” Rogelj told IPS. Continue reading

Majority of Oil, Gas and Coal Reserves Too Dangerous To Use – International Energy Agency (IEA)

ttfiscal carbon cliff

Industry spent more than $600 billion on new exploration and production in 2012 

By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Nov 15 2012 (IPS)

Two-thirds of the world’s proven fossil fuel reserves cannot be used without risking dangerous climate change, the International Energy Agency (IEA) warned this week.

Preventing the consumption of those two-thirds will be the primary task of the annual U.N. climate negotiations that resume at the end of this month.

Late Wednesday, U.S. President Barack Obama surprised many by saying climate change will be a personal mission in his second term.

“The re-election of President Obama guarantees continuity of the U.S. pledge of reducing emissions 17 percent below its carbon emissions in 2005 by 2020,” said Christina Figueres, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

“The U.S. is fully aware of the need to increase its ambition in terms of mitigation (emissions reduction) and finance to help developing countries adapt,” Figueres told IPS.

The U.S. emission reduction target is equivalent to a three-percent reduction compared to 1990 levels – a baseline most countries use. Global emissions need to be 25 to 40 percent below 1990 levels in the year 2020 to keep temperatures from rising beyond two degrees C, climate scientists have said.

By contrast, the United Kingdom is already 18 percent below its 1990s level and plans to be 34 percent below in 2020.

In 2010, there was a binding agreement to limit global warming to two degrees C at the U.N. climate conference in Cancun, Mexico, said Andrew Steer, president of the World Resources Institute, a Washington-based NGO.

“We are nowhere near to getting there. The situation is urgent. Climate change is not tomorrow’s problem, it is today’s problem. Superstorm Sandy was a wake-up call to the people of the United States,” Steer said at a press conference. Continue reading

The Environmental Crisis Is in Reality a Crisis in Democracy

Frances Moore Lappé, author of "EcoMind: Changing the Way We Think to Create the World We Want"

 “Our economy creates scarcity by being extraordinarily wasteful and destructive.”

Stephen Leahy interviews writer and environmentalist FRANCES MOORE LAPPÉ

UXBRIDGE, Canada (IPS)

To meet the challenges of the 21st century, including climate change, feeding the world and eliminating poverty, we need to free ourselves from the “thought traps” that prevent us from seeing the world as it truly is and narrow our vision of how to respond.

At same time, we need to eliminate “privately-held government”, says Frances Moore Lappé, author of “EcoMind: Changing the Way We Think to Create the World We Want” published by Nation Books. Lappé has written 18 books, including the very influential “Diet for a Small Planet”.

“There is no way to deal with climate change or poverty without real democracy,” she says.

IPS climate and environment correspondent Stephen Leahy spoke with Lappé about her new book.

Q: What do you mean by the term “thought traps”?

A: We don’t see the world as it really is but through a filter or mental map. Research in neuroscience shows that we interpret the world based on our previous experiences and understanding of the world. In other words we see what we expect to see.

One of the dominant ideas in our society is about scarcity or lack. There isn’t enough resources or food or whatever for all of us. We then “see” or interpret everything from that filter or frame of reference.

Q: How does this widely-held idea of “scarcity” affect us? 

A: Believing there isn’t enough makes us defensive and competitive with each other. We think we’d better get ours before someone else does. The majority of people I talk to insist with seven billion people on the planet scarcity is our reality now and into the future. They are blinkered by this scarcity mentality.

Q: But isn’t it true that we are running out of resources like water, energy, food and so on? 

A: I discovered as a young student that the U.S. food production was extraordinarily wasteful and inefficient. Sixteen pounds of corn and soy fed to cattle to get one pound of meat. That pound of meat also requires as much as 12,000 gallons of water. Nearly half of all food harvested is never consumed.

This staggering waste is the rule, not the exception, and not just in food production. The U.S. energy sector wastes 55-87 percent of the energy generated – most of it in the form of waste heat at power plants. It’s not just the U.S. U.N. studies showed that 3,000 of the world’s biggest corporations caused two trillion dollars in damage to the global environment in 2008 alone.

Powerful and inspiring, EcoMind will open your eyes and change your thinking. I want everyone to read it — Jane Goodall

Q: Why are we so destructive and wasteful? 

A: It’s a result of the current market economy with its single focus on generating the quickest and highest return to a small minority of wealth-holders. Our economy creates scarcity by being extraordinarily wasteful and destructive. The term “free market economy” is completely wrong. What we have is a corporate-monopoly market economy of waste and destruction. We need to be more careful and more precise in our language.

Q: There is a growing call by environmentalists and some economists of the need to shift from a growth economy to a no-growth economy, but you say this is a thought trap? 

A: Yes, it leads to a distracting debate about merits of growth versus no-growth. Growth sounds like a good thing so most people will resist the idea of no growth. Better to focus on creating a system that enhances health, happiness, ecological vitality and social power.

Q: In your book you also say everyone needs to focus on “living democracy”. 

A: America has become what’s called a “plutonomy”, where the top one percent control more wealth than the bottom 90 percent. Inequality is now greater in the U.S. than in Pakistan or Egypt, according to the World Bank. The result is corporations and the very wealthy sway public decision making via political contributions and lobbying. There are now two dozen lobbyists for every member of Congress.

To counter this privately-held government we need to re-create a culture of mutual responsibility, transparency, citizen participation and public financing of elections. Democracy is not just voting once a year, it is a culture, a way of living.

The “mother of all issues” in most countries is removing the power of concentrated wealth from public-decision making and infusing citizens’ voices instead. The environmental crisis is in fact a crisis in democracy.

Q: There is a feeling amongst many environmentally-aware people that it is already too late and there is too much to be overcome. 

A: Thinking it’s too late is another thought trap. It may be too late to avoid significant impacts that could have been avoided if action had been taken two decades ago. It is not too late for life. My book is filled with examples of people taking charge and turning things around.

What makes people think it’s too late is that they feel alone and powerless. People feel that way because of the thought traps, the false beliefs about scarcity and of human nature as greedy and selfish. Those beliefs and a privately-held government have led to feelings of powerlessness.

Q: This year is the 20th anniversary of the historic Earth Summit and major conference called Rio+20 will be held in June. What are your thoughts? 

A: I participated in the Rio+10 conference and we’ve gone backwards in those 10 years. Rio+20 could be the opportunity to reverse course and align ourselves with nature to create the world we really want.

First published on IPS Feb 7, 2012 Q&A: “The Environmental Crisis Is in Fact a Crisis in Democracy” – IPS ipsnews.net.

Danger in Turning Africa’s Foodlands into “Carbon Farms”

Keep Agriculture for Food, not Carbon$$

By Stephen Leahy

DURBAN, South Africa, Dec 2 2011 (IPS)

Civil society has warned of the danger of turning Africa’s food-producing lands into “carbon farms” so that rich countries can avoid making cuts in their carbon emissions.

On Friday, they called on host country South Africa to refrain from forcing so-called “climate smart” agriculture into the United Nations climate treaty negotiations known as the 17th Conference of the Parties (COP 17).

South African President Jacob Zuma has stated that agriculture should be part of a new climate treaty. South African officials have previously told IPS they want it included so there will be “specific funds and specific actions” for agriculture under the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.

“Putting agriculture into a future climate treaty is supposedly a consolation prize to Africa for failure by rich countries to agree to legally binding targets,” said Teresa Anderson of the Gaia Foundation, an international non-governmental organisation based in London.

“This consolation prize is a poisoned chalice. It will lead to land grabs and deliver African farmers into the hands of fickle carbon markets,” Anderson told IPS.

Agriculture is a major source of global warming gases like carbon and methane – directly accounting for 15 percent to 30 percent of global emissions. When the entire food production system is included, total agriculture emissions represent nearly half of all emissions. For those reasons there have been previous efforts to incorporate agriculture under a new climate treaty.

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Changes in agricultural practices can greatly reduce emissions. However, the best way to do that is through regulations, not a climate treaty and carbon credits, said Anderson.

“Why are markets now seen as the only solution when less than 10 years ago they weren’t a focus at all?” Continue reading