Multinationals make billions in profit out of growing global food crisis

Speculators blamed for driving up price of basic foods as 100 million face severe hunger

Giant agribusinesses are enjoying soaring earnings and profits out of the world food crisis which is driving millions of people towards starvation, The Independent on Sunday can reveal. And speculation is helping to drive the prices of basic foodstuffs out of the reach of the hungry.

The prices of wheat, corn and rice have soared over the past year driving the world’s poor – who already spend about 80 per cent of their income on food – into hunger and destitution.

The World Bank says that 100 million more people are facing severe hunger. Yet some of the world’s richest food companies are making record profits. Monsanto last month reported that its net income for the three months up to the end of February this year had more than doubled over the same period in 2007, from $543m (£275m) to $1.12bn. Its profits increased from $1.44bn to $2.22bn.

Cargill’s net earnings soared by 86 per cent from $553m to $1.030bn over the same three months. And Archer Daniels Midland, one of the world’s largest agricultural processors of soy, corn and wheat, increased its net earnings by 42 per cent in the first three months of this year from $363m to $517m. The operating profit of its grains merchandising and handling operations jumped 16-fold from $21m to $341m.

Similarly, the Mosaic Company, one of the world’s largest fertiliser companies, saw its income for the three months ending 29 February rise more than 12-fold, from $42.2m to $520.8m, on the back of a shortage of fertiliser. The prices of some kinds of fertiliser have more than tripled over the past year as demand has outstripped supply. As a result, plans to increase harvests in developing countries have been hit hard.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation reports that 37 developing countries are in urgent need of food. And food riots are breaking out across the globe from Bangladesh to Burkina Faso, from China to Cameroon, and from Uzbekistan to the United Arab Emirates.

Read moreMultinationals make billions in profit out of growing global food crisis

Exposed: the great GM crops myth

Genetic modification actually cuts the productivity of crops, an authoritative new study shows, undermining repeated claims that a switch to the controversial technology is needed to solve the growing world food crisis.

The study – carried out over the past three years at the University of Kansas in the US grain belt – has found that GM soya produces about 10 per cent less food than its conventional equivalent, contradicting assertions by advocates of the technology that it increases yields.

Professor Barney Gordon, of the university’s department of agronomy, said he started the research – reported in the journal Better Crops – because many farmers who had changed over to the GM crop had “noticed that yields are not as high as expected even under optimal conditions”. He added: “People were asking the question ‘how come I don’t get as high a yield as I used to?'”

He grew a Monsanto GM soybean and an almost identical conventional variety in the same field. The modified crop produced only 70 bushels of grain per acre, compared with 77 bushels from the non-GM one.

The GM crop – engineered to resist Monsanto’s own weedkiller, Roundup – recovered only when he added extra manganese, leading to suggestions that the modification hindered the crop’s take-up of the essential element from the soil. Even with the addition it brought the GM soya’s yield to equal that of the conventional one, rather than surpassing it.

The new study confirms earlier research at the University of Nebraska, which found that another Monsanto GM soya produced 6 per cent less than its closest conventional relative, and 11 per cent less than the best non-GM soya available.

The Nebraska study suggested that two factors are at work. First, it takes time to modify a plant and, while this is being done, better conventional ones are being developed. This is acknowledged even by the fervently pro-GM US Department of Agriculture, which has admitted that the time lag could lead to a “decrease” in yields.

But the fact that GM crops did worse than their near-identical non-GM counterparts suggest that a second factor is also at work, and that the very process of modification depresses productivity. The new Kansas study both confirms this and suggests how it is happening.

A similar situation seems to have happened with GM cotton in the US, where the total US crop declined even as GM technology took over. (See graphic above.)

Monsanto said yesterday that it was surprised by the extent of the decline found by the Kansas study, but not by the fact that the yields had dropped. It said that the soya had not been engineered to increase yields, and that it was now developing one that would.

Critics doubt whether the company will achieve this, saying that it requires more complex modification. And Lester Brown, president of the Earth Policy Institute in Washington – and who was one of the first to predict the current food crisis – said that the physiology of plants was now reaching the limits of the productivity that could be achieved.

A former champion crop grower himself, he drew the comparison with human runners. Since Roger Bannister ran the first four-minute mile more than 50 years ago, the best time has improved only modestly . “Despite all the advances in training, no one contemplates a three-minute mile.”

Last week the biggest study of its kind ever conducted – the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development – concluded that GM was not the answer to world hunger.

Professor Bob Watson, the director of the study and chief scientist at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, when asked if GM could solve world hunger, said: “The simple answer is no.”

By Geoffrey Lean, Environment Editor
Sunday, 20 April 2008

Source: The Independent

Time to Stockpile Food?

A Guide to Preparing for Rising Food Costs or That Next Big Emergency


The inside of H-bomb steel shelter from 1955. (AP Photo)

Worried about the dramatically rising cost of food? Afraid of a shortage?

Well, then maybe it’s time to clean out that old Cold War-era bunker and stockpile your favorite treats. Just move those gas masks to the side and start stacking up the canned string beans.

OK, so maybe that is a bit extreme. But some families have been talking about stockpiling to hedge against further increases and possible shortages.

The idea took hold last week when Costco and Sam’s Club announced that they would limit customers to four wholesale-size 20-pound bags of imported jasmine, basmati and long-grain white rices per trip.

That has caused some concern, but think about the last time you bought 20 pounds of rice in one shopping trip, let alone 80, 100 or even 120 pounds.

How Is the Economy Treating You? Tell ABC News
(A Clever way to find out who is in financial trouble. – The Infinite Unknown)

The clubs’ restrictions were probably not aimed at everyday consumers, however.

In a statement Friday, Sam’s Club said: “These limits are designed to prevent large distributors or wholesalers from depleting our stock. We believe limiting rice purchases to four bags per visit is consistent with the needs of the majority of our members, including many restaurants.”

In other words, the big chains are afraid some restaurants will deplete their stocks because their prices are cheaper than some traditional restaurant suppliers.

Stockpiling Hurts Everyone

The reasons for the food price increases include more grains being used for fuel production, increased demand in countries including China, and poor harvests.

For consumers concerned about rising food prices, stockpiling probably makes little economic sense, said Bill Knudson, a professor in the Department of Agricultural Economics at Michigan State University.

“The thing about stockpiling is that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy,” he said. “The easiest way to raise food prices is if everybody went out and stockpiled food.”

(If everybody went out buying just 20% more food there would be empty shelves everywhere. And if you do not stock up food now, you will probably find yourself in big trouble very soon. This is a crisis played down.
– The Infinite Unknown
From recent articles:

“Even if people increased their purchasing by 20%, all the store shelves would be wiped out.”

…global grain reserves are “precarious,” at just 1.7 months of consumption, down from 3.5 months of reserves as recently as 2000.”…)

In the past two decades food prices have only increased by an average of 2.5 percent each year. But from 2006 to 2007, prices spiked 4 percent. The Department of Agriculture is forecasting a 4 to 5 percent increase in retail prices this year.

But some individual staples have jumped in price.
(Just some individual staples have jumped in price
??? What a bad joke.- The Infinite Unknown)

The cost of white bread alone was 16.3 percent higher in March than a year earlier, according to the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, which tracks inflation through the Consumer Price Index. Grade A large eggs were up nearly 35 percent during the same period and sliced bacon rose 4.6 percent.

Read moreTime to Stockpile Food?

Robobug goes to war: Troops to use electronic insects to spot enemy ‘by end of the year’

It may have seemed like just another improbable scene from a Hollywood sci-fi flick – Tom Cruise battling against an army of robotic spiders intent on hunting him down.

But the storyline from Minority Report may not be quite as far fetched as it sounds.

British defence giant BAE Systems is creating a series of tiny electronic spiders, insects and snakes that could become the eyes and ears of soldiers on the battlefield, helping to save thousands of lives.

Prototypes could be on the front line by the end of the year, scuttling into potential danger areas such as booby-trapped buildings or enemy hideouts to relay images back to troops safely positioned nearby.

Soldiers will carry the robots into combat and use a small tracked vehicle to transport them closer to their targets.

Then they would swarm into the building and relay images back to the soldiers’ hand-held or wrist-mounted computers, warning them of any threats inside.

BAE Systems has just signed a £19million contract to develop the robots for the US Army.

Plans for a creature that can crawl like a spider are said to be well developed, and researchers eventually hope to be able to create creatures that can slither like a snake or fly like a dragonfly.

While some of the creatures will be fitted with small cameras, others will be equipped with sensors that will be able to detect the presence of chemical, biological or radioactive weapons.

Read moreRobobug goes to war: Troops to use electronic insects to spot enemy ‘by end of the year’

Audit: Up to 400 State Department laptops missing

The State Department has lost track of as many as 400 laptop computers, an internal audit ordered by the Inspector General has found.

“The importance of safeguarding official laptops and office equipment containing sensitive information is not a new concern,” said State Department overseer Rep. Nita M. Lowey (D-NY) through a spokesperson to CQ Politics. “I intend to review the facts about this situation.”

The computers belong to the Anti-Terrorism Assistance Program, run by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, which protects diplomats during stateside visits and trains and equips foreign police, intelligence and security forces. Anonymous sources say that officials are “urgently” scouring offices in the Washington, D.C. area to account for the equipment.

The State Department is not keeping good records of its inventory, official John Streufert told a panel at a February 6 meeting on the security of “personal identification information,” citing a “significant deficiency.” Mark Duda, the Inspector General’s representative, also warned of scandal like the one that erupted in May of 2006, after the home of a Veterans Administration employee was burglarized and a laptop he was using for a work project, containing names, Social Security numbers and birthdates of more than 26 million people, was taken.

“It’s the worst flaw you can have in management control,” said a “close observer.”

Published: Saturday May 3, 2008

Source: The Raw Story

IBM joins Lockheed on FBI identification contract

IBM Corp. and Lockheed Martin Corp. have agreed to work together on the $1 billion contract to develop and maintain the FBI’s Next Generation Identification (NGI) system, IBM said today. Federal, state and local authorities will use the new multimodal biometrics system.

Lockheed Martin won the 10-year contract in February, but IBM lodged a protest with the Government Accountability Office and work was held up. Big Blue’s announcement that it is joining Lockheed Martin’s team as a subcontractor made no mention of the protest.

As the prime contractor, Lockheed Martin will provide program management and oversight in addition to biometric and large-systems development and integration expertise, the news release said. As a subcontractor, IBM will provide some information technology services in addition to specific software and hardware to be used in the NGI system.

NGI is an upgrade to the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System, which collects and stores fingerprints related to law enforcement investigations.

The system will expand fingerprint processing capacity and also include palm prints and iris- and facial-recognition capabilities. The system requires a significant degree of technical flexibility to accommodate other biometric modalities that may mature and become important to law enforcement efforts in the future.

When completed, the system will double the FBI’s IAFIS capabilities. The Clarksburg, W.Va., facility houses the largest collection of its kind in the world — more than 46 million sets of digitized fingerprints. Searches require only a matter of minutes.

In addition to IBM, the Lockheed Martin team includes Accenture Ltd, BAE Systems Information Technology Inc., Global Science and Technology Inc., Innovative Management and Technology Services LLC, Platinum Solutions Inc. and the National Center for State Courts.

05/02/08 — 04:17 PM
By David Hubler

Source: Washington Technology

Probe of USS Cole Bombing Unravels

ADEN, Yemen — Almost eight years after al-Qaeda nearly sank the USS Cole with an explosives-stuffed motorboat, killing 17 sailors, all the defendants convicted in the attack have escaped from prison or been freed by Yemeni officials.

Jamal al-Badawi, a Yemeni who helped organize the plot to bomb the Cole as it refueled in this Yemeni port on Oct. 12, 2000, has broken out of prison twice. He was recaptured both times, but then secretly released by the government last fall. Yemeni authorities jailed him again after receiving complaints from Washington. But U.S. officials have so little faith that he’s still in his cell that they have demanded the right to perform random inspections.

Two suspects, described as the key organizers, were captured outside Yemen and are being held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, beyond the jurisdiction of U.S. courts. Many details of their alleged involvement remain classified. It is unclear when — or if — they will be tried by the military.

The collapse of the Cole investigation offers a revealing case study of the U.S. government’s failure to bring al-Qaeda operatives and their leaders to justice for some of the most devastating attacks on American targets over the past decade.

A week after the Cole bombing, President Bill Clinton vowed to hunt down the plotters and promised, “Justice will prevail.” In March 2002, President Bush said his administration was cooperating with Yemen to prevent it from becoming “a haven for terrorists.” He added: “Every terrorist must be made to live as an international fugitive with no place to settle or organize, no place to hide, no governments to hide behind and not even a safe place to sleep.”

Since then, Yemen has refused to extradite Badawi and an accomplice to the United States, where they have been indicted on murder charges. Other Cole conspirators have been freed after short prison terms. At least two went on to commit suicide attacks in Iraq.

“After we worked day and night to bring justice to the victims and prove that these Qaeda operatives were responsible, we’re back to square one,” said Ali Soufan, a former FBI agent and a lead investigator into the bombing. “Do they have laws over there or not? It’s really frustrating what’s happening.”

To this day, al-Qaeda trumpets the attack on the Cole as one of its greatest military victories. It remains an improbable story: how two suicide bombers smiled and waved to unsuspecting U.S. sailors in Aden’s harbor as they pulled their tiny fishing boat alongside the $1 billion destroyer and blew a gaping hole in its side.

Read moreProbe of USS Cole Bombing Unravels

US feels the heat after Iran-Switzerland $42b gas deal

The US and its allies are worried that the sanctions regime against Tehran is under threat from a possible new wave of European investment in Iran’s strategically important gas sector.

Tehran has already concluded gas deals with Chinese and Malaysian companies – ending a protracted lull in investment in its energy sector – and has alarmed Washington by reaching an agreement with a Swiss group.


The dilemma threatens to expose the limited US influence over foreign companies strategic decisions.

Although Washington and its allies have convinced the United Nations Security Council to sign up to three sets of sanctions against Iran’s nuclear and missile sectors and banks, it has been unable to broaden such international measures into the key energy sector.

Now, the US fears that a 25-year supply agreement concluded in March between Elektrizitäts-Gesellschaft Laufenburg (EGL) of Switzerland and Iran could encourage other deals, particularly in the gas sector, despite American calls for tougher sanctions against Tehran over its controversial nuclear program.

The Swiss government says the deal could be worth up to €27bn ($42bn, £21bn). “The worry is that the Swiss deal will lead others, such as the Austrians, to confirm energy investments in Iran, and that companies like [France’s]
Total could then follow suit and sign contracts of their own,” said one western diplomat.

Read moreUS feels the heat after Iran-Switzerland $42b gas deal

Russia new missile base response to US

Russia begins the construction of a new missile base in the Southern Caucus region amid a row with the US over its missile shield.

Citing informed Georgian sources, the Azeri newspaper Ayna reported that Russia has started the construction work near the Armenian city of Noyemberyan.

The report added the base is located in a place overlooking Sadighlu village near the Georgian town of Marneuli and it would reportedly be equipped with advanced air defense and missile systems.

The move by Moscow is considered as a response to Washington’s plans for stationing the components of a missile defense shield system in Eastern Europe.

Russia says the US plan poses a threat to its national security and it has vowed to take retaliatory measures against the United States if Washington goes ahead with the project.

SB/RE

Sat, 03 May 2008 20:40:08

Source: Press TV

Your personal data just got permanently cached at the US border

Now that US customs agents have unfettered access to laptops and other electronic devices at borders, a coalition of travel groups, civil liberties advocates and technologists is calling on Congress to rein in the Department of Homeland Security’s search and seizure practices. They’re also providing practical advice on how to prevent trade secrets and other sensitive data from being breached.

In a letter dated Thursday, the group, which includes the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the American Civil Liberties Union and the Business Travel Coalition, called on the House Committee on Homeland Security to ensure searches aren’t arbitrary or overly invasive. They also urged the passage of legislation outlawing abusive searches.

The letter comes 10 days after a US appeals court ruled Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents have the right to rummage through electronic devices even if they have no reason to suspect the hardware holds illegal contents. Not only are they free to view the files during passage; they are also permitted to copy the entire contents of a device. There are no stated policies about what can and can’t be done with the data.

Over the past few months, several news reports have raised eyebrows after detailing border searches that involved electronic devices. The best known of them is this story from The Washington Post, which recounted the experiences of individuals who were forced to reveal data on cell phones and laptop devices when passing through US borders. One individual even reported some of the call history on her cell phone had been deleted.

“The Fourth Amendment protects us all against unreasonable government intrusions,” the letter, which was also signed by the Center for Democracy and Technology and security expert Bruce Schneier, states. “But this guarantee means nothing if CBP can arbitrarily search and seize our digital information at the border and indefinitely store and reuse it.”

Several of the groups are also providing advice to US-bound travelers carrying electronic devices. The Association of Corporate Travel Executives is encouraging members to remove photos, financial information and other personal data before leaving home. This is good advice even if you’re not traveling to the US. There is no reason to store five years worth of email on a portable machine.

In this posting, the EFF agrees that laptops, cell phones, digital cameras and other gizmos should be cleaned of any sensitive information. Then, after passing through customs, travelers can download the data they need, work on it, transmit it back and then digitally destroy the files before returning.

The post also urges the use of strong encryption to scramble sensitive data, although it warns this approach is by no means perfect. For one thing, CBP agents are free to deny entry to travelers who refuse to divulge their passwords. They may also be able to seize the laptop.

If it sounds like a lot of work, consider this: so far, the federal government has refused to reveal any information about border searches, including what it does with the electronic data it seizes. Under the circumstances, there’s no way of knowing what will happen to, say, source code or company memos that may get confiscated. Or the email sent to your lawyer.

By Dan Goodin in San Francisco
Published Thursday 1st May 2008 21:11 GMT

Source: The Register