White House makes bid to save bees but ignores toxic pesticides

The Guardian – Tuesday 19th May

It just makes you want to shake your head in despair. The White House has developed a plan to address the decline in bees and pollinators, but it is hamstrung by its unwillingness to do anything about the pesticides believed to be a key contributor to the problem. It’s a bit like implementing measures to address drought without promoting water conservation.

You can’t develop an effective plan by ignoring one of the main problems, and as much as the chemical companies want you to think that neonicotinoids don’t have anything to do with the decline of bees, there is a growing body of research that indicates they do. This Guardian article notes a Harvard study last year that showed that when bees were exposed to neonicotinoids, half of them died. Hmmm….

While loss of habitat, which the White House plan does address in spades, is also significant in the decline of bees, it’s only half the problem. You can have all the habitat in the world for bees, but if you are consistently exposing them to a dangerous and deadly chemical that affects their nervous system, it’s unlikely that the problem with their decline will improve. Given what’s at stake, shouldn’t we be doing everything we can to make things better for them?

TTIP controversy: EU drops pesticide laws because the US says it should

The Independent – Friday 22nd May

Here we go – the European Union is selling its citizens’ health upstream in the name of ‘fair trade’. The United States convinced the European Union to back off a ruling that might have led to the banning of 31 pesticides considered dangerous to human health, despite public promises that the trade deal would not affect EU standards. Controversial EDCs (endocrine disrupting chemicals), which have been linked to both cancer and male infertility and are believed to impact the body’s hormones even at low doses, are a particular concern. A vote on their regulation has been moved from 2014 to 2016 under pressure from US negotiators and heavy lobbying by, largely US-based, chemical companies – Bayer and Dupont among them. It’s hard not to argue with the Friends of the Earth’s assertion that “The repeated claims that TTIP will not undermine our standards here in Europe and the UK are becoming less and less credible by the day.”

It’s official: California farmers volunteer to give up water

Grist – Friday 22nd May

The drought in California steps up a notch as farmers volunteer to give up some of their water. In a bid to stop cuts to water in the midst of the growing season, farmers across the state have agreed to cut their water usage by 25%. As the state goes after those with riparian water rights – the longest held and therefore hardest to impinge on – the extremity of the drought is brought home. By volunteering to cut their water usage, farmers are hoping to cut a deal with the state that will leave them with water when they most need it, as their crops grow. The state has wisely shaken hands on the deal and those who don’t volunteer to cut their water will lose out most. But while violations to the pact will be hard to monitor (the agreement is based on an honour system), those who are caught cheating will pay big time.

It’s all starting to get edgy out west. Perhaps a vision of things to come?

Can these shareholders curb deforestation?

Grist – Monday 18th May

A number of major multinational food companies have recently made pledges to eradicate deforestation from their supply chain. The question is, will they make good on it? The move started in the palm oil industry where some of the worst abuses of deforestation have taken place, but it has now spread, most notably to Archer Daniels Midland, which has made a comprehensive commitment to eliminating deforestation from both its palm oil and soy supply chains. Bunge, a major player in farm commodities, is the latest company to up the ante on the initiative.

What’s interesting about Bunge is that the move comes from shareholders, who have drawn a direct relationship between the company’s global sustainability and its profits. Making these kind of connections are critical to creating systemic change in business practice. Profit becomes contextualised within a broader frame – as Nathanael Johnson writes in this Grist article:

“If a business is just looking at the next three months, it makes rational sense for it to adopt a smash-and-grab approach. But when a business is focused on the next 20 to 100 years, it has to take care of the place where it does business.”

But even though Bunge appears to have taken this reality to heart, it has still been cagey about its next steps forward. When Johnson queried this with the company, he was told to “stay tuned”, and this is where the danger lies – actually following through on company pledges. It sounds really good on a public relations level to make a big pledge on something like deforestation, but the follow through can become a little vague. So, definitely “stay tuned” to see if meaningful change does happen.

Why aren’t we all drinking peanut milk?

Modern Farmer – Thursday 21st May

The astoundingly popular almond milk might soon have competition: peanut milk. The popularity of the peanut has suffered in the limelight of the almond, but it could make a comeback in the form of milk. The alternative milk sector is huge in the United States and almond milk dominates as it has the kudos of a ‘super food’ with purported health benefits. The peanut doesn’t quite sit that high on the horse, but there is something alluring in a peanut milkshake – apparently the Jamaican version includes peanut butter, milk and sugar – it’s definitely not a health food. However, the peanut is native to the United States and it’s a legume not a nut, so production is pretty inexpensive, which is more than you can say for almonds – a crop that requires intensive supplies of labour, pollination and water. This might just be the upper hand that the peanut is looking for.

Calls for sustainable agriculture on International Day of Biodiversity

Farming Online – Friday 22nd May

It is widely recognised that biodiversity is in severe decline – many scientists acknowledge that we’re in the midst of a sixth extinction. The International Day of Biological Diversity on 22nd May aimed to make everyone aware of just how important biodiversity is to our species. The biodiversity of the earth is an integral part of our own survival: we are dependent on a wide range of other species. Bees are a really good example of this, providing a critical ‘ecosystem service’ that helps us eat through pollination. A lot less food will be available to us if bees become extinct, so their decline is something we should be very concerned about.

The biodiversity of plant varietals is another important area of concern: as we privatise seed production, we inevitably limit what can be grown. And as the climate changes, it’s the regional varietals – uniquely adapted to their locale – that will save our food supply. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization asserts that 75% of agricultural crops have declined in variety in the past hundred years. A further 25% of wild relatives, which may retain old and valuable traits, could disappear by 2050.

Industrial agriculture is a major contributor to biodiversity loss and activist Vandana Shiva, speaking on the International Day of Biological Diversity, was highly critical of it. She called for “a shift to biodiverse ecological agriculture which is free of high cost chemical inputs and dependence on corporate seeds”. In her native India, farmer suicide is again on the rise as the cycle of poverty and debt resulting from the industrial practices of the green revolution overwhelm farming families. The theme of this year’s Day of Biological Diversity was sustainable development, aiming to integrate the issue of biodiversity loss with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. The preservation of the earth’s remaining biodiversity must be an intrinsic component of any plan for a sustainable future.

Photograph: Dirk-Jan Kraan 

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