Peak Food. It’s Here.

What has long been just a walk in the park for most Americans -- food shopping -- is about to become considerably more grueling. (Photo by Wonderlane/Flickr)

What has long been just a walk in the park for most Americans — food shopping — is about to become considerably more grueling. (Photo by Wonderlane/Flickr)

High food prices — which have been destabilizing (and in some cases, vaporizing) governments around the world — are coming belatedly to America. The prices of beef, pork, shrimp, eggs, dairy products and produce are all reaching record highs right now. Overall food prices are up almost 20% this year. The reasons appear at first glance to be varied, but in almost every case the root cause turns out to be either climate change or the practices of industrial agriculture. Indications are that there is no relief in sight. In fact the days of cheap and plentiful food, like the days of cheap and plentiful oil, may well be over for good. Continue reading

World Bank: Agriculture Faces “Havoc.”

Is this to be the legacy of climate change? Big Ag could not care less. (Photo: Bloomtrigger.com)

Is this to be the legacy of climate change? Big Ag could not care less. (Photo: Bloomtrigger.com)

The World Bank’s vice president for climate change — yes, it has a vice president for climate change — last weekend issued a blunt warning to a meeting of agriculture ministers, held in Berlin. To paraphrase Rachel Kyte just a little: agriculture must adapt or die. And do it fast.

Okay, she was not quite that blunt, but she came very close. She told the ministers that the world will warm two degrees Celsius “in your lifetime,” that the changes won’t be pleasant and slow, but “volatile…with unpredictable impact.” Moreover, “significant damage and destruction are already happening.” Yet, she said “The agricultural community has still some way to go in realizing the full significance.” Or, to translate from bureaucratic/diplomatic English, they still have their heads up their you-know-whats. Continue reading

China Disintegrating: Stunning New Evidence

In Chongqing, China, in 2011, they were saying “If we don’t do something about this real soon, it’s going to get real bad. They didn’t. It did. And on it goes. (Photo by Leo Fung/Flickr)

It’s not just the air in China that is becoming toxic to human life, now it’s the earth itself. (Photo by Leo Fung/Flickr)

Just as China became the envy of the industrial world by achieving growth (of its gross national product) of ten percent and more per year for two decades, so its consequent collapse is about to demonstrate clearly to the rest of the world what happens when you turn your country over to unfettered greed. Stunning new evidence of the imminence of that collapse became public last week. Unfortunately, it is not just their end of the Titanic that is sinking, and it is too late to avoid catastrophe. But understanding what is happening there might help some of us survive catastrophe. Continue reading

Muscling the Meat Industry: Fuhgedaboudit

meat marketLong ago, in a certain state, I called a certain agency (I am blowing smoke here to protect the obviously guilty) to enquire whether I could legally move a “farm use” (i.e. unlicensed, unregistered, uninsured) trailer from one state into another on public roads. The rather hard bitten sergeant (did I say sergeant? I meant person.) responded by asking, “Are you familiar with (name if state redacted)’s motto?” I said I thought it was sic semper tyrannis. “Do you know what it means?” he asked. Something to do with tyrants, I responded. “No, you’re wrong. It means ‘Don’t F#@k With Farmers.’ You can take that “farm use” trailer anywhere you want and nobody is going to bother you.”

I missed the memo, but apparently the United States has adopted my former state’s motto, now understood as sic semper agricolas. With the implied addition of the adjective “industrial.” Recent evidence abounds. Continue reading

AP Trashes Ethanol Mandate: “Raping the Land.”

The (Corn) Wasteland: Unprotected fields like this, the soil laced with leftover fertilizer and pesticide, will wash away with their toxic contents come spring. Yet we must have more corn! (Photo by Perry McKenna/Flickr)

The (Corn) Wasteland: Unprotected fields like this, the soil laced with leftover fertilizer and pesticide, will wash away with their toxic contents come spring. Yet we must have more corn! (Photo by Perry McKenna/Flickr)

A major, meticulous study by the Associated Press published today concludes that the government mandate for corn ethanol to be mixed with gasoline has brought none of the promised benefits and a raft of unintended consequences. When President George W. Bush signed the law he said it would make America “stronger, cleaner and more secure.” Instead it made industrial agriculture stronger, dirtier, and more secure while accelerating the destruction of the natural systems from which all food comes. Continue reading

Phear of Phosphorus: “We Will Begin to Starve.”

Not really the farmer's friend, synthetic agriculture is leading the way toward a crash. (International Institute of Tropical Agriculture photo/Flickr)

Not really the farmer’s friend, synthetic fertilizer is leading the way toward a crash. (International Institute of Tropical Agriculture photo/Flickr)

The declining amount of phosphorus left in the world illustrates perfectly a basic premise of Brace for Impact: Surviving the Crash of the Industrial Age: that it’s too late to save all of us from the crash of the industrial age, but on the other hand any of us, in small groups, can escape the worst consequences by living sustainably. Industrial agriculture cannot survive without industrial supplies of mined phosphorus, of which a diverse, small family farm has no need whatsoever. It also illustrates other components of our situation: a mortal threat recognized by a small group of scientists with their hair on fire who are ridiculed by industry hacks and ignored by a public who could not find a way to care less. [Wait, don’t leave. I’m about to explain why you should care more.] Continue reading

Toxic Green Slime Attacks America

Algae -- the rising tide that poisons all boats.  (Photo by gorize/Flickr)

Algae — the rising tide that poisons all boats. (Photo by gorize/Flickr)

Toxic Green Slime Attacks America! What a great movie pitch! Awesome special effects! Multitudes of bikini-clad victims! Unfortunately, it’s true, so hardly anybody is interested. This summer, 21 states that we know of — most don’t even bother to keep records on this pestilence — closed beaches and issued public-health warnings when their waters became clogged with blooms of toxic green algae. At least one person and 20 pets have been killed by the slime, along with untold numbers of birds and wildlife. Yet no cable news network has gone wall-to-wall on this spreading, deadly threat — perhaps because there’s no mystery here. We know who the culprit is, and we know how to stop the threat. Continue reading

Feds: Poison Chicken Approved, Cantaloupe Farmers Jailed

sick chicken

This chicken is safe to eat. Just handle while wearing a biohazard suit, in a negative-pressure, double-sealed room, and cook for several days at 900 degrees.[See also: Handling the Ebola Virus for Dummies] (Photo by amslerpix/Flickr)

When 33 people died and hundreds were sickened from eating cantaloupe contaminated with listeria, the owners of the farm involved were hauled into court in handcuffs and charged with six criminal offenses. When hundreds of people were sickened by salmonella in chicken — seven different strains of salmonella, all resistant to antibiotic treatment — from a chicken plant that did the same thing last year, nothing happened. No prosecutions, not even a recall of the contaminated chicken. It’s being suggested that the latter outbreak is not being dealt with because of the government shutdown, but the real reason is far worse than that. Continue reading

Steroids for Cows: How to Gag a Hyena

Far from the fields of grass they once roamed, and on which they evolved, cows such as these -- sick, crowded, dirty, stressed, being force fed unnatural food and shot up with chemicals -- are the source of today’s T-bone steak. (Photo by Randy Heinitz/Flickr)

Far from the fields of grass they once roamed, and on which they evolved, cows such as these — sick, crowded, dirty, stressed, being force fed unnatural food and shot up with chemicals — are the source of today’s T-bone steak. (Photo by Randy Heinitz/Flickr)

It is possible to gag a hyena; the food industry has actually choked on its own latest solution to an economy-of-scale problem. The problem was created when the corn industry mandated (through its wholly owned subsidiary, the United States Congress) the use of corn ethanol in automobile fuel. Among the unintended consequences were an immediate tripling of the cost of corn, leading to  1) widespread famine in countries whose staple food is the tortilla, and 2) more importantly, decreased profits for cattle feedlots. The feedlots demanded, and got, a quick fix: a chemical that would reduce the amount of corn needed to fatten cattle by making them swell up. Oddly, not everything worked out well. Continue reading

Agriculture Running Amok

Indiscriminate use of neonicotinoids threatens to bring back the Silent Spring. (Photo by Mrs Gemstone/Flickr)

Indiscriminate use of neonicotinoids threatens to bring back the Silent Spring. (Photo by Mrs Gemstone/Flickr)

For many industries, rampant destruction of the world’s topsoil (in the US, at least three tons lost for every ton of crop, multiples of that in many other countries) and water (the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico from agricultural runoff is the size of New Jersey) might be accomplishments enough, but not Big Agriculture. It is now busily poisoning a wide range of the world’s living things. The culprit — a class of pesticides called neonicotinoids. Brought to market just 20 years ago, they are the world’s most widely used pesticides. And only now are we finding out how deadly they are. Continue reading