Feed the world? We are fighting a losing battle, UN admits

Huge budget deficit means millions more face starvation.

Ears of wheat growing in a field. Photograph: Steve Satushek/Getty images

The United Nations warned yesterday that it no longer has enough money to keep global malnutrition at bay this year in the face of a dramatic upward surge in world commodity prices, which have created a “new face of hunger”.

Read moreFeed the world? We are fighting a losing battle, UN admits

Food riots fear after rice price hits a high

Shortages of the staple crop of half the world’s people could bring unrest across Asia and Africa, reports foreign affairs editor Peter Beaumont

A global rice shortage that has seen prices of one of the world’s most important staple foods increase by 50 per cent in the past two weeks alone is triggering an international crisis, with countries banning export and threatening serious punishment for hoarders.

With rice stocks at their lowest for 30 years, prices of the grain rose more than 10 per cent on Friday to record highs and are expected to soar further in the coming months. Already China, India, Egypt, Vietnam and Cambodia have imposed tariffs or export bans, as it has become clear that world production of rice this year will decline in real terms by 3.5 per cent. The impact will be felt most keenly by the world’s poorest populations, who have become increasingly dependent on the crop as the prices of other grains have become too costly.

Read moreFood riots fear after rice price hits a high

Homeland Ministry Plans Raytheon “Ray Guns” at Airports

The DHS, affectionately called the “Ministry” here because it resembles something out of Orwell’s famous novel, wants to fit airports with ray guns. I kid you not. “The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will consider fitting high-power microwave electropulse rayguns at US airports, in order to defend against the threat of terrorists firing portable anti-aircraft missiles at airliners,” reports Lewis Page for The Register. “American defense heavyweight Raytheon would partner with Israel’s Rafael and Kongsberg of Norway to provide the technology, according to a report in Flight International. The proposed kit is known as ‘Vigilant Eagle’, and is competing for DHS securo-dollars with defensive systems that could be fitted to the airliners themselves – for instance BAE Systems’ JetEye.”

Okay, tell me this does not sound like another “defense industry” scam, yet another scheme to make billions of dollars. Sure, there is the possibility somebody with a rocket launcher may take out an airliner. But if al-Qaeda hates our freedom, why haven’t’ they done this already? Is al-Qaeda conducting a war against the Great Satan, one with battles strung over decades? At this rate, it will take a thousand years to install the Great Caliph/Khalifah.

Read moreHomeland Ministry Plans Raytheon “Ray Guns” at Airports

Are the oceans giving up?

Studies seem to indicate that oceans, which are major carbon sinks, may have had enough. If so, the consequences are BAD, writes Jayalakshmi K.

Ocean deserts, which are non-productive areas, have increased by 15 per cent in the period 1998-2007, according to a study done by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the US and the University of Hawaii. This translates into a total of 6.6 million sq km. On the whole, there are 51 million sq km of such desert zones. The data was collected by Nasa’s orbiting SeaStar craft.

Attributed mostly to warming surface waters, which is happening at a rate of 1 per cent every year, this creates many layers in the ocean waters, preventing deep ocean nutrients from rising to the surface and feeding plant life.

Read moreAre the oceans giving up?

Rush to restrict trade in basic foods

Governments across the developing world are scrambling to boost farm imports and restrict exports in an attempt to forestall rising food prices and social unrest.

Saudi Arabia cut import taxes across a range of food products on Tuesday, slashing its wheat tariff from 25 per cent to zero and reducing tariffs on poultry, dairy produce and vegetable oils.

On Monday, India scrapped tariffs on edible oil and maize and banned exports of all rice except the high-value basmati variety, while Vietnam, the world’s third biggest rice exporter, said it would cut rice exports by 11 per cent this year.

The moves mark a rapid shift away from protecting farmers, who are generally the beneficiaries of food import tariffs, towards cushioning consumers from food shortages and rising prices.

Read moreRush to restrict trade in basic foods

Monsanto’s Harvest of Fear

Monsanto already dominates America’s food chain with its genetically modified seeds. Now it has targeted milk production. Just as frightening as the corporation’s tactics-ruthless legal battles against small farmers-is its decades-long history of toxic contamination.

No thanks: An anti-Monsanto crop circle made by farmers and volunteers in the Philippines.
By Melvyn Calderon/Greenpeace HO/A.P. Images.

Gary Rinehart clearly remembers the summer day in 2002 when the stranger walked in and issued his threat. Rinehart was behind the counter of the Square Deal, his “old-time country store,” as he calls it, on the fading town square of Eagleville, Missouri, a tiny farm community 100 miles north of Kansas City.

The Square Deal is a fixture in Eagleville, a place where farmers and townspeople can go for lightbulbs, greeting cards, hunting gear, ice cream, aspirin, and dozens of other small items without having to drive to a big-box store in Bethany, the county seat, 15 miles down Interstate 35.

Everyone knows Rinehart, who was born and raised in the area and runs one of Eagleville’s few surviving businesses. The stranger came up to the counter and asked for him by name.

“Well, that’s me,” said Rinehart.

As Rinehart would recall, the man began verbally attacking him, saying he had proof that Rinehart had planted Monsanto’s genetically modified (G.M.) soybeans in violation of the company’s patent. Better come clean and settle with Monsanto, Rinehart says the man told him-or face the consequences.

Rinehart was incredulous, listening to the words as puzzled customers and employees looked on. Like many others in rural America, Rinehart knew of Monsanto’s fierce reputation for enforcing its patents and suing anyone who allegedly violated them. But Rinehart wasn’t a farmer. He wasn’t a seed dealer. He hadn’t planted any seeds or sold any seeds. He owned a small-a really small-country store in a town of 350 people. He was angry that somebody could just barge into the store and embarrass him in front of everyone. “It made me and my business look bad,” he says. Rinehart says he told the intruder, “You got the wrong guy.”

When the stranger persisted, Rinehart showed him the door. On the way out the man kept making threats. Rinehart says he can’t remember the exact words, but they were to the effect of: “Monsanto is big. You can’t win. We will get you. You will pay.”

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GM Seeds Still Active in Soil 10 Years Later

Scientists discovered seeds from certain genetically modified crops can endure soil for at least 10 years in some cases.

A field planted with experimental oilseed rape a decade ago found transgenic specimens were still growing there despite intensive efforts over the years to remove the seeds, according to researchers in Sweden.

This is the first time a genetically modified crop has endured so long and critics say it shows that genetically modified organisms cannot be contained once released.

Tina D’Hertefeldt and a team of researchers from Lund University searched a small field that hosted the GM trial 10 years ago looking for “volunteers” – plants that have sprung up spontaneously from seed in the soil.

“We were surprised, very surprised,” said D’Hertefeldt. “We knew that volunteers had been detected earlier, but we thought they’d all have gone by now.”

Read moreGM Seeds Still Active in Soil 10 Years Later

Gore to recruit 10m-strong green army


Al Gore at the UN climate change conference in Bali in 2007.
Photograph: Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty images

· Huge drive for Congress action on global warming
· $300m TV campaign will focus on job opportunities

Al Gore yesterday launched a drive to mobilise 10 million volunteers to force politicians to act on climate change – twice as many as the number who marched against the Vietnam war or in support of civil rights during the heyday of US activism in the 1960s.

During the next three years, his Alliance for Climate Protection plans to spend $300m (about £150m) on television advertising and online organising to make global warming among the most urgent issues for elected American leaders.

The wecansolveit.org initiative aims to build up pressure on the next US president to support stringent mandatory emissions controls when they come before Congress, and take a leadership role at the renegotiation of the Kyoto treaty.

Read moreGore to recruit 10m-strong green army

Warming withers Aussie wine industry

High cost of water adds to pressure to sell, change grapes or even move

MELBOURNE – Australian grape growers reckon they are the canary in the coal mine of global warming, as a long drought forces winemakers to rethink the styles of wine they can produce and the regions they can grow in.

The three largest grape-growing regions in Australia, the driest inhabited continent on earth, all depend on irrigation to survive. The high cost of water has made life tough for growers.

Some say they probably won’t survive this year’s harvest, because of the cost of keeping vines alive. Water prices have more than tripled.

Read moreWarming withers Aussie wine industry