Heading for the Last Roundup

Dumping chemicals on genetically mutilated plants, once the leading edge of industrial agriculture, may soon be its last ditch..

Of all the destructive scams perpetrated by industrial agriculture. none has been more profitable, or more destructive, than the massive Roundup round-robin perpetrated by Monsanto for 40 years. Now the scam appears to be falling apart. This is a story with the global reach of the housing bubble, all the inventive greed of the sub-prime mortgage stampede, and the tender mercies toward fellow humans of a Bernie Madoff, that now appears to be heading toward a Wall-Street-style meltdown. Continue reading

All of Our Aquifers are Leaking

Relentlessly, our industrial society continues to destroy the natural resources essential to its survival, with industrial agriculture leading the way. Perhaps the worst — and least recognized — example, in terms of the accelerating pace and ominous portents of the destruction, is the depletion of water resources by overconsumption. Continue reading

You Want Fries With That? Ammonia? Bacteria?

Two little-noticed stories during the year-end holiday period demonstrated the ominous, increasing stresses on our industrial food-supply system, and the absence of any rational, let alone effective, measures to safeguard it.

First, a 16-state outbreak of E. Coli contamination in meat, sickened more than 20 people in the Midwest and required the recall of a quarter-million pounds of beef. Continue reading

Yes, We Have No Bananas

Monoculture is a form of mass suicide practiced by groups of people who think they are smarter than Mother Nature. The Irish put their faith in the potato, and the potato famine that resulted nearly extinguished them. In vast reaches of the equatorial world, the potato equivalent — the staple food without which life is not sustainable — is the banana.

The banana famine is imminent. A country such as ours, whose economy and diet depends heavily on one plant — corn — should pay attention. Continue reading

Putting the Fox in Charge of the Canary

Even after you have accepted the degree to which money has locked down the American political system, and hence its government; after you realize that there are really no more Democrats and Republicans in American politics, just Moneycrats and losers; it can still be astonishing what Money can do.

In Ohio this year, Big Agriculture decided it was threatened by the pesky people from the Humane Society of the United States who have persuaded several states to moderate the brutal treatment of animals in factory farms — such things as confining nursing sows in cages so small they can neither turn around nor even get up. Widely broadcast videos of the misery and brutality that is routinely involved in providing our beef, pork and poultry have aroused the disgust of enough people that the usual chant of “leave us alone our your food prices will go up,” or “leave us alone or we’ll stop creating jobs,” aren’t working so well any more. Continue reading

Got Swine Flu? Thank a Swine Factory

Even when the Washington Post gets around to placing the blame for the H1N1 Flu pandemic squarely where it belongs — on industrial agriculture — it does so obliquely, and with the mindset created by the industry’s flacks that prevents us from facing its increasingly dire consequences. Continue reading

The Swine Weed Pandemic

The Swine Weed Pandemic
It’s ironic that while our attention is being directed to the swine flu epidemic, which doesn’t seem to be hurting much of anything, a real threat to our life-support system is crawling out of the wasteland created by chemical-industrial agriculture: the super-pig-weed.
It looks just like the pig weed that corn-, cotton- and soybean-farmers have been fighting in the South forever. It’s big, it kicks the crap put of any crop it’s contesting with, and it’s tough enough to stop a combine in its tracks. The only thing different about the superweed variety is that it can’t be killed by any manmade chemical.
Twenty years or so ago, that wouldn’t have been a threat to life as we know it. But it is now. The reason —  the most successful single promotion of a destructive chemical farming practice ever perpetrated. The winner was Monsanto, which in the 1970s introduced the glyphosate herbicide Roundup, which was less persistent after application and thus less toxic to groundwater and other plant life that many other herbicides. Then, in the mid-1990s, Monsanto introduced Roundup-resistant crops, which had been genetically modified so that Roundup couldn’t kill them.
It solved an old problem of chemical farming. Until then, sprays could kill broadleaf plants, or they could kill grasses, but they couldn’t knock the wild oats out of a wheat field without killing the wheat, or select broadleaf weeds in a soybean field. Now, Roundup could. It killed everything
In about ten years, the application of Roundup went from about eight million pounds (1994) to about 120 million pounds (2005). In 2006, Roundup-Ready crops occupied nearly one-half of the available cropland in the United States.
The inherent flaw in chemical agriculture is that no chemical kills everything it’s supposed to, and every application of a chemical spurs the development of resistant mutants. There are already 16 weed species in the world, nine on the United States, that shrug off Roundup as if it was a spring rain. Pigweed is one of them.
The inherent flaw in industrial agriculture, with its relentless pursuit of the economies of scale (while it ignores the simultaneous and equal concentration of risk), is that when you have ten thousand acres of one thing, a threat to that thing is going be pretty catastrophic. Sustainable farming, by contrast, will grow 20 or 50 things on a hundred acres.
So here we have the corn and soybean and cottonseed farmers of the South who are facing ruination because of pig weed. They are trying applications of four times the previously adequate amounts of Roundup. It’s not working. They are rolling out mechanical cultivators, which have not been seen in these fields for 20 years. The problem here is that sow-and-spray agriculture was so easy, and the farms got so big (10,000 acres-plus is now the norm), that the tractors, implements and manpower needed to go back to mechanical cultivation simply don’t exist.
The pigweed problem emerged as a major threat only this summer. As Arkansas extension agent Ken Smith described it, “In July we began hearing horror stories all over the state. ‘Man, there are ankle-high weeds out there that Roundup won’t even touch.’” This year, the pig weed spread to more than a million acres of cotton and soybeans. Says Smith: “I’ve never seen anything that had this major an impact on our agriculture in a short period of time.”
This winter, farm groups all over the country will be trying to come up with an answer to the spreading plague of pigweed (the most effective control yet devised — hand weeding. Try that on 10,000 acres). Monsanto has promised a vaccine — honest,  they swear they’ll have a chemical answer by 2015.
Here’s what you can count on: the pigweed plague, and the associated accumulating failures of industrial agriculture, are going to hit us all a lot harder that the swine flu.
For a careful description of the spreading pigweed panic, written for the industrial-agriculture press, check out this piece in the Delta Farm Press: “Resistance threatens conservation tillage.”
http://deltafarmpress.com/cotton/conservation-tillage-0914/
For a less restrained version, this piece in Grist: “The chemical treadmill breaks down and the superweeds did it.”
http://www.grist.org/article/the-chemical-treadmill-breaks-down-and-the-superweeds-did-it/
And for a more complete explanation of of how we got here, see my forthcoming book Brace for Impact: Surviving the Crash of the Industrial Age by Sustainable Living.

It’s ironic that while our attention is being directed to the swine flu epidemic, which doesn’t seem to be hurting much of anything, a real threat to our life-support system is crawling out of the wasteland created by chemical-industrial agriculture: the super-pig-weed. Continue reading

Weapons of Mass Digestion

Suppose that the company that supplies our water notified us that from now on it would deliver water that was perfectly safe — as long as we boiled it before we touched it. We would be in the streets with placards and pitchforks before noon. Yet the food industry takes the position that its responsibilities are met when it delivers to us meat that is safe — as long as it is heated to 160 degrees Fahrenheit before we touch it. And we have accepted this with the silence of the proverbial lambs.
The New York Times has given this remarkable arrangement some attention with a long take [“E. Coli Path Shows Flaws in Beef Inspection”] that showcased the plight of a 22-year old woman nearly killed, and left paralyzed, by a hamburger tainted with E. Coli and not sufficiently cooked. (See! It was the cook’s fault! In this case her mother, now plagued by guilt.) Like most writing on the subject, the Times spends a lot of time emphasizing the “there oughtta be a law” aspect of the issue, faulting the US Department of Agriculture for its lackadaisacal inspection practices, as if we could somehow legislate or inspect our way away from the effects of this industrial weapon of mass digestion.
The Times does a very good job of detailing how hamburger is assembled, making it clear that it should be handled in our kitchens in the same way as any other lethal biohazard. And it profiles the Mafia-like ethics of the hamburger grinders who refuse to sell their product to anyone who threatens to test it for purity. “Nice store you got here. Be a shame if anything happend to it.” (Once again, Costco stands out here as one of the few ethical companies on the planet: they test all the burger they buy before they mix it or process it further.)
But the Times piece does not point out that the food industry not only refuses to control this threat to public health — it created it! By force-feeding corn to grass eaters, industry turns the contents of their four stomachs into acid that makes the cows sick and kills most of the E. Coli bacteria that used to l;ive there happily and benevolently, helping in the digestion of grass. The surviving bacteria were 1) acid tolerant and thus able to survive where they had never been able to before — in human stomachs, and 2) teenage mutant ninjas with some weird weapons, such as incredibly potent shiga toxins, as few as 50 of which can perforate your intestines, infect your blood and destroy your kidneys.
But, hey, you’re perfectly safe as long as you, or your hamburger provider, heat the meat to 160 degrees, sterilize all utensils, pans and dishes that touched it prior to heating, and incinerate all clothing, towels or furniture that came in contact with it.
The Times says that the paralyzed young woman “ran out of luck in a food-safety game of chance.” They should have named the game. It’s not canasta, it’s Russian Roulette.

Suppose that the company that supplies our water notified us that from now on it would deliver water that was perfectly safe — as long as we boiled it before we touched it. We would be in the streets with placards and pitchforks before noon. Yet the food industry takes the position that its responsibilities are met when it delivers to us meat that is safe — as long as it is heated to 160 degrees Fahrenheit before we touch it. And we have accepted this with the silence of the proverbial lambs. Continue reading

Forever Blowing (Up) Bubbles

The current financial meltdown offers a good model for other, far more serious disruptions that are on their way. If you think the greed-maddened, amoral stupidity of the investment bankers was unique, take a closer look at the masters of our supplies of food, water and energy. Continue reading