It is important to talk about the environmental issues that are impacting the sustainability of our food system. Here are a few poignant news items that I would like to talk about and share with you this week.
Leading water scientists have issued one of the sternest warnings yet about global food supplies, saying that the world’s population may have to switch almost completely to a vegetarian diet over the next 40 years to avoid catastrophic shortages. The Stockholm International Water Institute said, “There will not be enough water available on current croplands to produce food for the expected 9 billion population in 2050 if we follow current trends and changes towards diets common in western nations.” Adopting a vegetarian diet is one option to increase the amount of water available to grow more food in an increasingly climate-erratic world, scientists say.
After two decades of fighting to force U.S. food companies to tell consumers when their products are made with genetically modified organisms, activists in California have mounted what is potentially their most promising action to date. In November, voters in the nation’s most populous state will decide whether to require labels on food and drinks containing so-called GMO’s, or ingredients that come from plants whose DNA has been manipulated by scientists. Unbeknownst to many Americans, some of the most popular U.S. GMO crops, including corn, soybeans and canola, have been staple ingredients for years in virtually every type of packaged food, from soup and tofu to breakfast cereals and chips. Supporters of the ballot initiative, who include food and environmental activists as well as organic growers, say consumers have the right to know what is in the food they eat and want GMO products cut from the food chain.
According to many scientists, in the near future, the majority of fish we eat will be farmed, and by mid-century, it might be easier to catch our favorite wild fish ourselves rather than buy it in the market. Still, plenty of scientists say a turnaround is possible. Studies have found that even declining species can quickly recover if fisheries are managed well. Global consumption of fish, both wild and farm raised, has doubled since 1973, and 90% of this increase has come in developing countries. We have overfished certain species to the point that it now takes more work, more energy, more equipment, more money to catch the same amount of fish.
The University of Vermont Farmer Training Program is now accepting applications for the 2013 term! This is a 6-month intensive program (May 2 – October 31, 2013) for aspiring farmers and food system advocates that provides a hands-on, skills-based education in sustainable agriculture. This full-time program offers participants the unique opportunity to manage their own growing site, take classes from professors and expert farmers, and rotate as workers and learners on successful, diverse farms in the Burlington area.
So with oil companies making more money in the history of money, who do Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan continue to support? Oil companies enjoy about $4 billion annually in federal tax subsidies, and Ryan’s budget, which Romney supports, preserves these giveaways while cutting back on Medicare, Medicaid, education, and other vital services. Defenders of these subsidies will tell you that if we get rid of them, gas prices will go up and we can curtail American oil exploration. Here’s what the experts say: gas prices are set at a global level in a global market, so removing subsidies here would have no effect on prices. Want another reason to end these subsidies? How about the fact that fossil fuels are cooking the planet!