Tag Archives | Agribusiness

Moms, “Food Fears” and the Power of the Internet

food ingredient fearsA great dissection of the corporate food lobby’s fear of social media and the Internet over at The Lunch Tray

Dr. Brian Wansink, a professor of consumer behavior at Cornell University and director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab, has published a new study in the journal Food Quality and Preference entitled “Ingredient-Based Food Fears and Avoidance: Antecedents and Antidotes.”  This study, co-authored by Aner Tal and Adam Brumberg, seeks to determine why people – mothers in particular – develop so-called “food fears” about certain ingredients (such as sodium, fat, sugar, high fructose corn syrup, MSG and lean finely textured beef) and what the food industry and government can do about it.

The study’s ultimate conclusion, that “food fears” can be addressed by “providing information regarding an ingredient’s history or the other products in which it is used,” is hardly controversial.  But some other things about this study raise red flags, starting with the fact that what might be entirely legitimate concerns about particular ingredients are uniformly (and patronizingly) characterized as “food fears,” and that the study’s findings have been overblown and mischaracterized not just in the media but in Dr.

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The Fiefdom Will Soon Be Complete: Wall Street Buying Up Farmland

PIC: LOC (PD)

PIC: LOC (PD)

Not merely satisfied with purchasing our foreclosed homes en masse and charging us to rent them back (thanks to a crisis they created), Wall Street has set their sights on America’s fertile soils. Sing it with me! This land is their land, this land is their land…

Via Tom Philpott at Mother Jones:

In a couple of posts last fall, I showed that corporations don’t do much actual farming in the United States. True, agrichemical companies like Monsanto and Syngenta mint fortunes by selling seeds and chemicals to farmers, and grain processors like Archer Daniels Midland and Cargill reap billions from buying crops cheap and turning them into pricey stuff like livestock feed, sweetener, cooking oil, and ethanol. But the great bulk of US farms—enterprises that generally have razor-thin profit margins—are run by independent operators.

That may be on the verge of changing. A recent report by the Oakland Institute documents a fledgling, little-studied trend: Corporations are starting to buy up US farmland, especially in areas dominated by industrial-scale agriculture, like Iowa and California’s Central Valley.

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Why Does Everyone Hate Monsanto?

Hazardous-pesticideIn recent years, no company has been more associated with evil than Monsanto, says Lessley Anderson, asking “why?” for Modern Farmer:

The house was raised above the ground, like a mushroom or a white ray gun, its rooms radiating out like spokes of a wheel. It was 1957 and this was the “House of the Future,” a prototype modular house created by Monsanto, in collaboration with M.I.T. to help solve the housing crisis baby boom America was in the middle of. Not coincidentally, the house was made of plastic, one of Monsanto’s products at the time.

“They imagined fast subdivisions of this house, like Levittown,” says Gary Van Zante, curator of architecture and design at the M.I.T. Museum.

While that never happened, Walt Disney did select it as an exhibition at his new Disneyland. For 10 years, until it was torn down, the chemical giant’s creation stood peacefully in The Happiest Place On Earth, where millions of people marveled at it.

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High Fructose Corn Syrup’s PR Battle To Become Corn Sugar

United States Food Admininstration corn products posterHere’s hoping that the lead story in today’s New York Times Business section is enough to steel Congressmen and women against the big-spending lobbyists and public relations flacks hired by agribusinesses like ADM to try to sneak more High Fructose Corn Syrup into Americans’ foodstuffs. As if we don’t already consume enough of their toxic sludge!

WASHINGTON — The corn refinery and sugar industries, bitter rivals in the manufacture of billions of dollars’ worth of sweeteners for sodas and other high-calorie foods, covertly funded dueling nonprofit groups in Washington in a multiyear effort to grab market share, while also stoking fears among consumers about possible health risks, court records made public in a federal lawsuit between the two parties show.

The lawsuit, which has brought hundreds of pages of secret corporate emails and strategy documents into the public domain, demonstrates how Washington-based groups and academic experts frequently become extensions of corporate lobbying campaigns as rival industries use them to try to inflict damage on their competitors or defend their reputations against such assaults.

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Monsanto’s Terrifying New Scheme: Massive Amounts of Data Collection

Procesos y productosFor all you Monsanto watchers, here’s where the corporation we all love to hate is looking to expand its reach, via Salon via AlterNet:

Imagine cows fed and milked entirely by robots. Or tomatoes that send an e-mail when they need more water. Or a farm where all the decisions about where to plant seeds, spray fertilizer and steer tractors are made by software on servers on the other side of the sea.

This is what more and more of our agriculture may come to look like in the years ahead, as farming meets Big Data. There’s no shortage of farmers and industry gurus who think this kind of “smart” farming could bring many benefits. Pushing these tools onto fields, the idea goes, will boost our ability to control this fiendishly unpredictable activity and help farmers increase yields even while using fewer resources.

The big question is who exactly will end up owning all this data, and who gets to determine how it is used.

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How Monsanto Is Planning To Profit From Climate Change

Landscape

Not everyone is either worried or skeptical regarding man-made global warming. Mother Jones on how Monsanto is eagerly banking on it:

Data to help farmers grow crops in a changing climate. Climate Corporation, which Monsanto is acquiring, sells detailed weather and soil information to “help…manage and adapt to climate change.” Monsanto thinks the ag data business will be a $20-billion market.

Insurance for when it’s too hot, cold, dry, wet, or otherwise extreme outside. Climate Corporation currently sells both federally subsidized crop insurance and supplemental plans.

Drought-resistant corn. Monsanto lists the effects of climate change-related precipitation changes and droughts as a potential “opportunity.” This year, Monsanto started rolling out a new line of patented, first-of-its-kind genetically engineered corn seeds that are resistant to drought.

Cotton that needs less water to grow. The company is piloting genetically modified cotton that that can grow while using less water and survive drought.

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Why Monsanto Bought The Climate Corporation (It’s The Weather, Stupid)

The_Climate_Corporation_Logo2Monsanto’s billion-dollar acquisition of The Climate Corporation plants the seeds for an agribusiness revolution, writes Vlad Savov for The Verge:

To look at Monsanto’s product pages, you’d think the company’s business is in selling two closely related commodities: agricultural seeds and weed killers. But that would be like saying that Verizon sells people data and phone calls. What these companies are truly engaged in is an effort to make themselves indispensable to their target market’s daily activities. Now Monsanto is stepping up that campaign by expanding into the high-tech world of big data with its $930 million acquisition of The Climate Corporation.

It’s not that Monsanto is unfamiliar with the cutting edge of technology — as its long list of patents will attest — but so far most of the company’s energies have been spent on altering, enhancing, and otherwise rearranging the basic ingredients that go into land farming. With Climate Corp’s expertise in hyper-local weather prediction and big data analytics, Monsanto looks set to become a fully fledged services company as well.

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Space Farming: The Final Frontier

VEGGIE1

Vegetable Production System (NASA)

What do you do next when you’ve successfully screwed up the Earth? Screw up Space too! Agricultural science is approaching its next frontier reports Modern Farmer:

Last year, an astronaut named Don Pettit began an unusual writing project on NASA’s website. Called “Diary of a Space Zucchini,” the blog took the perspective of an actual zucchini plant on the International Space Station (ISS). Entries were insightful and strange, poignant and poetic.

“I sprouted, thrust into this world without anyone consulting me,” wrote Pettit in the now-defunct blog. “I am utilitarian, hearty vegetative matter that can thrive under harsh conditions. I am zucchini — and I am in space.”

An unorthodox use of our tax dollars, but before you snicker, consider this: That little plant could be the key to our future. If — as some doomsday scientists predict — we will eventually exhaust the Earth’s livability, space farming will prove vital to the survival of our species.

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Neo-Colonizing Africa Through GMO Crops

african_farm

Via This Is Africa, Paula Akugizibwe on conquering the world through the food chain:

While the science of GMOs may remain murky, the economics are crystal clear. The most obvious and direct of these is the matter of seed ownership and control.

Unlike traditional agriculture, in which seeds are the property of nobody in particular and nature at large, GMO farming places the ownership of seeds firmly in the hands of corporations, and entitles them to a share of profits from crop sales. GMO farmers are not allowed to save seed produced through their crops for use in the coming season, as they have always done.

Meanwhile, in some African countries such as Nigeria, genetically modified cotton is viewed as an ideal entry point for GMOs. “We don’t eat our clothes, so people are less concerned about cotton. This would be the first way in for GMOs,” explained Kola Masha, a Nigerian agribusiness advisor, earlier this year.

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Why Poor Kids in the US are Fat and Hungry and What to do About It

photo_09I was thinking about Buckminster Fuller, dedicating his life to help humanity. I was really seriously thinking about this. I wanted to do it. I wanted to seriously consider it and then do it and not take it back. Then soon after this, I went to my friend’s (liberal not Fundy) Presbyterian church and the message was about feeding the hungry. After church we had a luncheon and watched a DVD about how to end Childhood hunger in America. It was called A Place at the Table, and it explained how hunger and obesity are related. Because of the US system of Farm subsidies, corn, wheat and soy are really cheap and so food companies use these commodities to make lots of junk food. The subsidies were created for family farmers recovering from the depression, but now huge agribusinesses get 70% of it. Vegetables and fruit are smaller operations and don’t get many subsidies and so fruits and vegetables have gone way up and commodities have gone way down.… Read the rest

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