Industrial agriculture


In yesterday’s mail I received a flier with an attention getting headline, “Don’t let Sacramento Politicians Remove Products From Your Grocery Bag”. Inside, another headline read “Banning Materials That Keep Our Food Fresh And Safe Is A Terrible Idea”, followed by “Soon, many common everyday products could disappear from grocery store shelves all across California.” The back page had a final fear-mongering headline “Your Favorite Products May Soon Disappear”. The flier had no indication on it of who it was from, except a small box that said “Paid for by BPAfacts.org”. It urged me to call a local California State Assembly member to urge him to vote no on a specific legislative bill. The text inside had no substantive information about what was at stake, other than that a substance, BPA, has been used as a coating to line canned food and beverages, “…a material that’s been safely used for 50 years in food packaging and a wide variety of plastic products like reusable water and baby bottles.”

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Because industrial agriculture is in trouble, creative approaches are needed to respond to threats to food security that we face. While industrial agriculture gets some of its efficiency from a centralized production model that provides economies of scale, centralized systems are notably poor at adapting to change. To adapt to change, decentralized and small systems are much better, because many small and different approaches provide more chances to find better approaches to new conditions. When something isn’t working, they also respond much more quickly; it’s much easier to turn around my small kayak than it is a big oil tanker. This ability to adapt is why much more innovation in technology takes place in small firms than large firms. (more…)

Given that logic wasn’t working, thank gawd politics did. Today the State of California and the Federal government announced that aerial spraying of urban areas to “eradicate” the light brown apple moth (LBAM) would not be conducted as planned. This is a victory for those activists who let their elected representatives know that they didn’t want to be sprayed with untested chemicals for a questionable purpose with failure the likely result. I thank all those who took a more active role than I did. Given my concerns with asthma and the fact that the sprayed particles were small enough to be breathed into¬†lungs, it’s no wonder there were earlier reports of problems from people with asthma. I was not looking forward to having to deal with the spraying.

In addition, as an ecological urban gardener, I had a “down to earth” concern. (more…)

[WARNING: Long post. It’s long because it’s important. The myths surrounding industrial agriculture’s “cheap food” are widespread, and this post addresses those myths by responding to a “cheap food” blog post at Freakonomics.]

Stephen Dubner, co-author of the book Freakonomics, recently wrote in his blog about trying to make orange sherbet with his children (Do We Really Need a Few Billion Locavores?). Apparently, he wasn’t very good at it, spending far more than is reasonable for ingredients and making a product that wasn’t very good. This isn’t surprising, of course, for a first effort. What is surprising is that he used his first-time-effort failure to introduce an argument that eating locally produced food is inefficient due to lack of scale and specialization. In the process he exhibits an appalling ignorance of the locavore (local food) movement and industrial agriculture, plus he makes egregious rhetorical leaps. Let’s take a look. (more…)

In my last post (Gotcha! Agroecology in action) I said I wasn’t particularly concerned about aphids in my garden, because I rely on natural predators like ladybugs to deal with the problem. Ecological controls work.

However, in the bigger picture this isn’t a small issue. (more…)

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