Paper millionaires

No Comments

Two weeks ago, in a post on biofuels, I mentioned the effects that increased corn production for ethanol is having on other crops, particularly wheat. Kevin Drum offers his own (much more concise) analysis of the situation:

Let’s see: (a) environmentally speaking, corn ethanol is a pretty dodgy idea, (b) we’re subsidizing it anyway to the tune of $3 billion per year, (c) farmers, as you’d expect, are responding to the subsidies by reducing the amount of farmland used for food production, (d) this is driving up the price of staple food worldwide, and (e) we’re going to toss another $10 billion in ag welfare to already-rich corn farmers on top of all that.

A commentor at Kevin’s place also hits the nail on the head:

It doesn’t help that any politician who wants to be president has to either vote for this policy or lose the Iowa Caucus.

Welcome to US agriculture policy.

Won’t somebody think of the bees?

1 Comment

Actually, plenty of people are. NewMexiKen was wondering back in April (along with the New York Times) and here in Silver City bees have been an issue for the past several weeks.

Today in Salon, four experts tackle the declining-bee-population problem:

The buzz about the alarming disappearance of bees has been all about people food. Honeybees pollinate one-third of the fruits, nuts and vegetables that end up in our homey kitchen baskets. If the tireless apian workers didn’t fly from one flower to the next, depositing pollen grains so that fruit trees can bloom, America could well be asking where its next meal would come from. Last fall, the nation’s beekeepers watched in horror as more than a quarter of their 2.4 million colonies collapsed, killing billions of nature’s little fertilizers.

But as a Salon round table discussion with bee experts revealed, the mass exodus of bees to the great hive in the sky forebodes a bigger story. The faltering dance between honeybees and trees is symptomatic of industrial disease. As the scientists outlined some of the biological agents behind “colony collapse disorder,” and dismissed the ones that are not — sorry, friends, the Rapture is out — they sketched a picture of how we are forever altering the planet’s delicate web of life.

Head on over to check out the latest (hint: it’s not cellphones).

Speaking of the Farm Bill

No Comments

I mention the Farm Bill briefly in today’s article, so, I guess this is a good opportunity to bring up this NY Times Magazine article:

Compared with a bunch of carrots, a package of Twinkies, to take one iconic processed foodlike substance as an example, is a highly complicated, high-tech piece of manufacture, involving no fewer than 39 ingredients, many themselves elaborately manufactured, as well as the packaging and a hefty marketing budget. So how can the supermarket possibly sell a pair of these synthetic cream-filled pseudocakes for less than a bunch of roots?

For the answer, you need look no farther than the farm bill. This resolutely unglamorous and head-hurtingly complicated piece of legislation, which comes around roughly every five years and is about to do so again, sets the rules for the American food system — indeed, to a considerable extent, for the world’s food system.

An interesting look at the way we get our food, why we pay what we do at the checkout aisle, and why those in poverty face obesity:

For the last several decades — indeed, for about as long as the American waistline has been ballooning — U.S. agricultural policy has been designed in such a way as to promote the overproduction of these five commodities, especially corn and soy.

That’s because the current farm bill helps commodity farmers by cutting them a check based on how many bushels they can grow, rather than, say, by supporting prices and limiting production, as farm bills once did. The result? A food system awash in added sugars (derived from corn) and added fats (derived mainly from soy), as well as dirt-cheap meat and milk (derived from both).

The way low-income households deal with food scarcity is something I’ve blogged about in the past. It’s simply cheaper for low-income families to eat less nutritious foods. When you’re worried about paying the rent/mortgage, or whether you’ll be able to put gas in the car this week, or if you’ll have enough money to pay for prescriptions, making healthy choices in the supermarkets becomes a secondary concern.

It’s nice, however, to see the NY Times pick it up. If you want more information on poverty in America, I’d recommend this special report by The American Prospect. From the introduction:

In assigning and editing these articles, we were struck by a paradox. There is now growing ideological convergence on what it takes to end poverty. Liberals and conservatives agree that ending poverty is about both personal behaviors and rewards to work; about both values and economics. Ending poverty requires opportunities for wealth creation as well as income support, empowerment as well as transfer payments. It requires all children to be school-ready, which takes both stronger families and more effective public programs.

Yet mocking this hopeful consensus there is a disabling one. Too many elected officials, both liberal and conservative, believe that we know what to do, but just can’t afford it — whether because of budget deficits, or entitlement overloads, or national security demands. There is no shortage of good pilot programs, but time and again we hear that there is no money to take them to scale.

We disagree. This nation, on average, is twice as rich as in the 1960s. If America is to compete in a global economy, and honor its ideals, we can’t afford to waste a single American. There is no good excuse for failing to end poverty in our lifetime.