American farmers are struggling to feed the country’s appetite for organic food

The Guardian – Tuesday 19th July

With the market for organic produce and products at a staggering $13.4 billion in the US, demand is beginning to significantly outstrip supply. Notably, only 1% of land in the US is certified organic, making it difficult to meet the growing market in US-produced organic food.

Part of the problem lies in the transition period: most organic certification programmes require that farmers have an ‘in conversion’ period in which they must farm organically for up to three years before the land, and their produce, can be certified organic. But this ‘in conversion’ period is costly to farmers and can be a deterrent for those seeking to transition.

The potential solution is certification for ‘in-conversion’ produce and products. This would give farmers some financial support to mitigate costs during transition and ultimately help to increase the amount of organically certified land in the US – a critical next step in the expansion of the organic market. ‘In conversion’ certification will make it easier to farm organically and not harder – as is currently the case.

Fears grow of a new supermarket price war

Farmers Guardian Insight – Friday 22nd July

There is growing concern of another price war between UK supermarkets as discounters put increased pressure on the market share of larger supermarkets. Prices are again falling away, with June seeing the largest drop in a year. This relentless push downward in food costs may seem a good thing for consumers, but its impact on producers is tremendously damaging. At the moment both horticulture and egg production are being hurt by this drop in food prices.

We’ve already seen low prices reduce the number of UK dairy producers by half to less than 10,000 in the last decade – the lowest ever in Britain. Yet another price war will add to the already extreme pressure British producers face, and accelerate the problem of businesses going bankrupt: in 2010, 48 British food production companies failed, in 2015 that number rose precipitously to 162. With the cost of imports on the rise as the pound falls to record lows, we can ill afford to damage our domestic market in food production.

Our economic system is serving the vast majority of us poorly, as evidenced in the growing separation between rich and poor that is increasing across the globe. Supermarket price wars damage food production at its heart – with food producers paying the true cost of cheap food to their detriment. It is truly time to ask, as Colin Tudge has, ‘How much should food cost?’ and to consider how we might readjust the global marketplace to reflect the values of food justice.

Holiday hunger: parents skip meals to feed children

BBC News – Monday 25th July

Hunger continues to be a problem in the UK, and especially in Wales, where the use of food banks continues at “record levels” says the Trussell Trust, which works to stop UK hunger and poverty. School holidays bring increased pressure on poorer families, as children no longer have access to Breakfast Clubs and free school meals and parents may go hungry to feed their children.

The Trussell Trust has developed holiday clubs for children in the poorest areas of Ebbw Vale, Port Talbot and Llandridod, to help ease the pressure on families. More clubs are planned for next year, as this time of year has been identified as a time of deep need.

While the work of the Trussel Trust is easing the problem, the Trust’s Food Bank Network Manager for Wales, Tony Graham, has noted that a “long-term coordinated solution” is needed which engages government, as well as schools and businesses. The ongoing issue with hunger in the UK – one of the wealthiest country’s in the world – is something to be deeply ashamed at, and while the work of charities does much to keep the issue from becoming catastrophic, the responsibility for addressing the systemic issues that produce such widespread hunger lies with government. 

Disasters linked to climate can increase risk of armed conflict

The Guardian – Monday 25th July

Disturbing new research shows that there is a causal link between extreme weather events and armed conflict, showing how environmental stresses can lead directly to social unrest and violence. The link is particularly robust in places where ethnic divisions are already causing tensions. Increasing weather and climate events generated by climate change, means the 21st century could be dangerous and unstable for many people, just as we have already been seeing in its early years.

The Syrian conflict is a vivid illustration of this – see Megan Perry’s piece on this for the SFT which considers the country’s agricultural decline and extended drought as factors in the outbreak of Syria’s terrible civil war. Drought is becoming a notable feature of climate in many parts of the world, but when it’s mixed with ethnic division it is much more likely to result in armed conflict – researchers point out that California has also suffered an extended drought like Syria, but in a wealthier country the chances of civil war are hugely reduced.

The most important outcome of the research is that it suggests a way to predict and pre-empt conflict by recognising the causal link between ethnic division and extreme weather. If natural disasters are  recognised as a ‘threat multiplier’ in places where ethnic division is strong, measures can be taken to mitigate the environmental impacts caused by them before conflict erupts. The report also asserts that there is “a very special co-benefit of climate stabilisation: peace,” so if we can master this, the world will be a much better place.

The world’s biggest seed companies are wooing

Grist – Tuesday 19th July

If it weren’t bad enough that just six companies generate nearly half of global seed sales (as well as sales of pesticides and fertilisers), where will we be if that six drops to just three? Deep in monopoly country, watching our plant biodiversity plunging into the abyss. It’s not a good situation – one that will make achieving important global aims for food justice and sovereignty difficult at best.

Why should we be concerned about this now? The Big Six agricultural companies – BASF, Bayer, Dow, Dupont, Monsanto and Syngenta – who generate nearly half of global seed, pesticide and fertiliser sales, are seeking mergers to make their already huge companies even bigger. Anti-trust regulation could make things difficult, but such is the nature of large corporations where consolidation often makes for a stronger business. And with consolidation could come a further reduction in the number of commercial crops and the increased cost of seed. In this climate (literally), seed sovereignty – the right for farmers to breed and exchange open source seeds – is becoming a desperately important issue. We need diverse, accessible seed varieties to survive and thrive as the climate changes and we’re not going to get that with the stranglehold that the Big Six have over seed banks.

Photograph: Torbak Hopper

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