El Niño could leave 4 million people in the Pacific without food or drinking water

The Guardian – Monday 12th October

The arrival of the El Niño weather pattern could wreak havoc across the South Pacific and add to the woes of people already subject to severe drought and extreme weather generated by climate change. Some four million people across a range of island nations may be affected in the coming months.

The frequency of El Niño is likely to double as the effects of climate change grow more intense. With many countries already becoming drier, the further impact of El Niño weather patterns will add to the stresses. This is likely to bring about greater food insecurity, increasing water shortages and a looming humanitarian crisis in countries that are almost wholly dependent on producing their own food.

Dr Simon Bradshaw, climate change policy advisor for Oxfam Australia, told The Guardian, “…we’re in uncharted waters. What we’ve seen is somewhat unprecedented and climate change is increasingly going to put us in that position.” It has long been predicted that these small developing island nations will be on the front line, warning us all of things to come. Let’s hope their trials leave an impression and urge the rest of the world into greater climate change action.

California enacts strictest animal antibiotic law in US

BloombergBusiness – Sunday 11th October

California is at the forefront of meaningful change in animal antibiotic use – one of the most pressing issues in the fight to preserve antibiotics as a front line medical treatment. The law, recently signed by Governor Jerry Brown, will be the most restrictive in the United States, surpassing even FDA legislation. It bans the use of medically important antibiotics in animals unless prescribed by a veterinarian for an animal that is actually sick or for those that have an elevated risk of infection. It bans any kind of prophylactic use of the drugs, which is highly significant.

What was most remarkable about the passage of this legislation was the absence of heavy lobbying against the proposed bill. Remarkably, the head of the California Poultry Association commented “I think the bill is basically doing something that we in California have been doing all along, which is phasing out antibiotic use.” It testifies to the impact of consumer choice in the issue of antibiotics. With a growing market for antibiotic-free meat, even McDonald’s has jumped on the bandwagon.

California’s legislation may turn the tide for antibiotic use in animals, but we should remember that the market for antibiotic-free meat is still only about 5%. There’s a long way to go to change practices in intensive farming – as journalist Anna Rohleder reminds us this week in her article for the SFT, In the United States, cheap meat still trumps concern over antibiotics.

Land ‘grabbing’ grows as agricultural resources dwindle

Farming Online – Friday 9th October

The insidious practice of land ‘grabbing’ is growing across the globe as more agricultural land falls into the hands of foreign investors. The practice is a fundamental threat to the food sovereignty of people all over the world and land is often unfairly taken from communities and indigenous peoples that have long-standing rights to them.

The land grabs are largely made by companies in developed countries from farmers in developing countries. Perhaps surprisingly, the United States is one of the key protagonists of the practice (but also China and UK…), having amassed some seven million acres across the world, despite their own country having ample agricultural land within its borders. Unsurprisingly, Africa is the continent from which the most land is acquired through this practice.

The Worldwatch Institute sees land grabbing as a “hidden [threat] to sustainability”. In its State of the World 2015 report, it states that the practice has already significantly undermined the food security of several countries. With global warming increasing the challenges for agriculture, wealthier countries are looking outside their borders for a back-up plan for their food production.

But this trend will, inevitably, leave poorer countries immensely vulnerable. This worrying situation puts the right to food firmly on the table of human rights.

EFSA report considers risks of eating insects

BBC News – Thursday 8th October

With growing interest in how insects could play a role in increasing global nutrition and food security, a new report by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) looks at the possible risks. Its conclusion is that the potential hazards of eating insects are dependent on how they are farmed and processed. It’s a simple, systemic assessment of risk that speaks to basic common sense. Implicit in the report is that if we farm insects intensively, rather than sustainably, we will likely encounter the same problems as with other intensively farmed animals.

Insects could be a valuable food source, providing an important supply of protein as the global population grows towards nine billion. Further, insects require less food and water than bigger beasts, making them less impactful on the environment – which could be critical as the pressure on land and resources becomes more severe. But as we rush to embrace this valuable new food source, its sustainability could turn out to be a mirage unless we extend the lessons of our current food system and the environmental degradation it has caused, to this new crop.

New dietary guidelines won’t include sustainability

Mother Jones – Wednesday 7th October

In February 2015, a report from the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee included a hopeful chapter on ‘Food Sustainability and Safety’– for the very first time. It was a recognition that diets must not only be healthy but also sustainable and that you can’t really have one without the other. The report stated that “The environmental impact of food production is considerable and if natural resources such as land, water and energy are not conserved and managed optimally, they will be strained and potentially lost.” This could have made you think the United States had turned a corner on its thinking about healthy eating.

But it was not to be. An announcement on the USDA website confirmed that the 2015 Dietary Guidelines would not include recommendations on sustainability. Many commentators, including the Director of the Earth Institute Jeffrey Sachs, suggested that the USDA gave in to pressure from lobbying groups for corporate-controlled agriculture.

Photograph: CIFOR

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