agriculture

Grand Rapids Press Advocates for More Ethanol Production

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In recent years, there has been an increasing amount of attention placed on global warming. From the focus on “green jobs,” to “sustainability,” and “clean energy” there has been a lot of talk about what to do to address the problem. Much of this talk has centered around finding ways to “address” the problem while maintaining the current levels of production and industrialization, something which I just can’t see happening. If the underlying system is inherently destructive, it’s hard to image that giving it a new “green” coating–say with wind power instead of coal power–is really going to make that much of a difference if we maintain the ideology of unlimited growth.

Yesterday, the Grand Rapids Press published an editorial that advocated the passage of a bill that would allow small-scale ethanol plants in Michigan. Ethanol–one of the great false solutions to global warming–requires growing plants to provide fuel. According to the Grand Rapids Press, not only would this help Michigan’s farmers remain economically sound, but it would also be an important step towards a renewable energy future:

Ethanol is the most common biofuel. An efficient, renewable fuel source that proves less expensive is good for Michigan’s economy and the national effort to break our foreign-oil dependency. There are not many farmers currently engaged in small-scale production, but fluctuating energy prices and better technology could lead to more interest.

Unfortunately, biofuels really aren’t anywhere near sustainable. To run every vehicle in the United States on biofuels, you would have to dedicate the entire country’s agriculture output to fuel. Moreover, growing such crops relies on–and would likely expand–the destructive industrial agricultural system. That agriculture system–as well as ethanol production–is powered by fossil fuels.

Greenpeace writes:

Other ‘innovative’ solutions, like biofuels (which are mentioned in the ‘Clean Energy Dialogue’), have a terrible human cost. In 2007, the United Nations special rapporteur on the right to food called biofuels, which are made from food crops like wheat and corn, a ‘crime against humanity.’ According to the Earth Policy Institute, the grain needed to fill the gas tank of an SUV could feed one person for a year. Biofuels are already taking food out of the mouths of people. In 2008, approximately one-third of the US corn crop went to biofuel. Last year the United Nations World Food Programme also warned that it lacked the resources to keep up with rising food prices which it attributed, in part, to biofuels.

New Year-Round Downtown Market Being Studied

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In Saturday’s Grand Rapids Press, there was an interesting article about a study being undertaken by Grand Action to look at the feasibility of constructing and operating a downtown market that would feature fresh produce, meats, and other local goods. The market would be designed to compliment existing farmers markets in the city.

According to the article:

Frey, Spitzer and Mayor George Heartwell said leaders of the often-bustling but seasonal Fulton Street Farmers Market have supported their efforts.

A year-round market would be designed to provide space for a wider array of products than the typical seasonal market, Frey said.

Frey and Spitzer envision a place where local produce is sold alongside freshly butchered meats, seafood, breads, cookies and other items.

Artists also may have space in the facility.

“One of the goals we’ve enunciated throughout the project is to be supportive of the Grand Rapids local foods system, to develop more interest in local foods,” Spitzer said. “It is very important for us that the development of this project not harm Fulton Street or other markets. It’s really intended to expand interest in local foods.”

It’s a pretty good idea. Purchasing locally grown food is more sustainable than transporting food for hundreds of miles. Moreover, the more money that is spent locally, the more money stays in the community.

Local and Michigan Headlines: Community Supported Agriculture in Michigan; The GRPS Teacher Contract Dispute

Here’s some interesting articles pertaining to Grand Rapids and Michigan from elsewhere on the Internet:

  • Michigan Will Lead the Green Industrial Revolution – Governor Jennifer Granholm takes to the Huffington Post to talk up Michigan’s work addressing climate change. Specifically, she is championing efforts to make cars made in Detroit more fuel-efficient. I’m really as excited about it as she is, but at least she’s out there making the effort to improve Michigan’s reputation.
  • Details of new UAW deal with General Motors – Not surprisingly, the UAW leadership made many concessions to GM on the union health plan, raises, and medical benefits for retirees.
  • EPA pledges ‘expeditious action’ on Dow dioxin clean-up, but Superfund status not in the works – While promising to hold Dow Chemical accountable for dioxin pollution, the organization failed to place the contaminated Saginaw Bay and Saginaw River watershed on the Superfund list. Nevertheless, environmental groups are cautiously optimistic that the EPA will finally hold Dow accountable.
  • Employee Stock Ownership, But Not Control – While not about Michigan per se, this article looks at union stock ownership in the auto industry and what that has meant for unions. This is particularly interesting as it relates to the Chrysler bankruptcy and the likely GM bankruptcy. The article was published in Labor Notes, so it is more focused on the perspective of workers and unions than what we typically see in the corporate press.
  • Cox: Top priority as governor would be tax cut – Attorney General Mike Cox has announced that he is running for governor of Michigan in 2010. His main goal would be to enact a $2 billion tax cut which include a 50% reduction is business taxes. Less revenue? That sounds just like what a struggling state government needs.
  • Arab Americans discuss profiling with security chief – Secretary for the Department of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano recently met with members of the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services (ACCESS) and the Michigan chapter of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee to discuss their concerns about profiling of Arab Americans at Michigan’s border crossings. The groups want the Department of Homeland Security to collect statistics on the race, national origin, and gender of those stopped at border crossings.
  • Kentwood police identify Michael Sulewski as pedestrian struck on 28th Street – Another pedestrian was hit by a car recently. Drivers really need to look out for cyclists and pedestrians–this is getting ridiculous.
  • What gives in Grand Rapids Public Schools? Either union or district must budge in contract dispute – Here’s the Grand Rapids Press’ look at the ongoing dispute in the Grand Rapids Public Schools (GRPS) over contracts for its teachers. It’s a decent summary of some of the issues in the nearly two-year old labor dispute.
  • Policy change works to provide permanent housing for the homeless, rent payments to those on brink of evictionThe Grand Rapids Press reports that a new state policy shift will allow Emergency Shelter Partnership funds to go towards rent subsidies to keep people in their homes rather than shelters. The Grand Rapids Area Coalition to End Homelessness applauded the move.
  • Community farms sprouting up across areaThe Muskegon Chronicle has a nice story on Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) and its popularity as more people look at the health and cost-saving benefits of locally grown produce.

If we missed anything, let us know in the comments.

“Humane” Meat Labels Do Little to Protect Animal Welfare

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In recent years, animal abuses in the meat industry have received increased attention. In response, some consumers have demanded meat produced in a “humane” fashion, giving rise to labels such as “free range,” “cage free,” and “organic.” Unfortunately, according to a new report from Farm Sanctuary, these labels are often misleading and mean relatively little in terms of animal welfare.

Farm Sanctuary’s report–”The Truth Behind the Labels: Farm Welfare Standards and Labeling Practices”–traces the origins to the problem of corporate-dominated animal agriculture. With consolidation has come increased mechanization and animals have come to be viewed primarily as productive units. Meat, dairy, and egg farmers are concerned with how much can be produced, not how animals are treated. This has led to a number of abusive practices such as “battery cages” and “debeaking” that allow a greater number of animals to be kept in small locations. While meaning that animals are treated worse, it has helped to secure greater profit.

In some cases, this has lead to a backlash. Animal rights activists have criticized abusive agriculture practices and there have been some successes in illuminating the abuses that happen on factory farms. In response, meat producers have responded by producing a variety of products that purport to be free of the worst abuses. This is a niche market in which consumers pay a premium for “humane” products.

Farm Sanctuary’s report analyzed these various labeling schemes and found that in many cases they mean little for animal welfare. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) allows produces to use a variety of terms–”cage free,” “free range,” “free roaming,” “pasture raised,” “grass fed,” “organic,” “natural,” and “naturally raised”–but they have vague and informal definitions and in most cases have no form of verifying compliance. This often means little improvement in the conditions in which animals are kept.

Two of the most common–”cage free” and “free range”–are particularly vague:

  • Farmers are not required to provide “cage free” laying hens with access to the outdoors. Often, hens are crowded by the thousands into large barns where each bird is allotted approximately one square foot of space.
  • “Free range” birds raised for meat often lead lives very similar to their factory farmed counterparts. They may be crowded by the thousands into factory-like warehouses with no flock size limits, and the outdoor area may be little more than a barren dirt lot that is difficult for them to access.

The animal agriculture industries have sought to produce their own voluntary standards and interpret federal standards in a way that allows for inhumane factory farming practices. They have taken only the most minimal steps to improve the conditions in which animals are treated and most of their labels seek only to alleviate consumer concerns rather than actually improving the conditions under which animals are raised.

Overall, Farm Sanctuary argues that it is next to impossible for consumers to know if animals are treated humanely. While some third-party standards have been developed with animal advocacy organizations, Farm Sanctuary says that even if those standards were followed, animal agriculture is by its very nature “inhumane” as it is based on commodifying and slaughtering animals.

Headlines: Study: Worst of Global Warming Can be Avoided; Germany Bans Monsanto Crop

Democracy Now Headlines: Study: Worst of Global Warming Can be Avoided; Germany Bans Monsanto Crop

Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

Report: Under CIA Pressure, Obama to Withhold Parts of Torture Memos

President Obama is reportedly wavering on a pledge to fully reveal Bush administration memos authorizing CIA torture. According to the Wall Street Journal, the White House is leaning towards withholding graphic details of tactics authorized in three classified memos from 2005. The details include approval for striking a prisoner’s head against a wall and the practice known as waterboarding. The issue is reportedly centering around warnings from top intelligence officials that the memos’ full disclosure would anger CIA employees and alienate them from the White House. President Obama faces a Thursday court deadline to act on releasing the memos under a lawsuit brought by the ACLU.

Gitmo Prisoner: Torture Has Worsened Under Obama

“I refused to leave my cell as they were not granting me my rights. I was only demanding my basic rights like walking, meeting other inmates, and eating normal food. So a group of six soldiers wearing protective gear and helmets came to my cell. They were accompanied by a soldier carrying a camera, and one with tear gas. They had a thick rubber or plastic baton they beat me with. They emptied out about two canisters of tear gas on me. After I stopped talking, and tears were flowing from my eyes, I could hardly see or breathe. They then beat me again to the ground, one of them held my head and beat it against the ground. I started screaming to his senior ‘see what he’s doing, see what he’s doing’ [but] his senior started laughing and said ‘he’s doing his job.’ He broke one of my front teeth.”

Qaraani was interviewed by the Al Jazeera journalist Sami El-Haj, who was imprisoned at Guantanamo for over six years. Qaraani repeated claims made by other Guantanamo prisoners and their attorneys that the abuse has worsened since President Obama’s election.

Mohammad al-Qaraani: “This treatment started about 20 days before Obama came into power, and since then I’ve been subjected to it almost every day. Since Obama took charge he has not shown us that anything will change.”

Obama Addresses Economic Crisis

President Obama spoke at Washington, D.C.’s Georgetown University Tuesday in his most comprehensive remarks to date on the economic crisis. Obama predicted a worsening recession but said he foresees a long-term recovery.

President Obama: “2009 will continue to be a difficult year for America’s economy. The severity of this recession will cause more job loss, more foreclosures, and more pain before it ends. If we don’t invest now in renewable energy or a skilled workforce or a more affordable health care system, this economy simply won’t grow at the pace it needs to in two or five or ten years down the road. If we don’t lay this new foundation, it won’t be long before we are right back where we are today.”

Survey: More Pay Rises than Cuts for U.S. CEOs

A new survey has found more American CEOs got pay raises than salary cuts last year. According to the AFL-CIO, the median CEO salary rose seven percent while executive perks rose thirteen percent. Some executives that saw cuts to their base pay were granted lavish stock options to offset the losses. Despite reporting an $11 million dollar salary, Vikram Pandit of the bailed-out financial giant Citigroup made $38 million with stock options included.

DHS Links Right-Wing Extremism to Recession

The Department of Homeland Security is warning right-wing extremist groups are gaining new recruits by exploiting fears about the economy and the election of the nation’s first black president. A new report says there’s been a resurgence of right-wing extremism amidst the recession and President Obama’s election last year. Officials predict a worsening economy will lead more people to join militias and skinhead groups, or carry out individual acts modeled after Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.

Iran Begins Secret Trial for Jailed Iranian-American Journalist

In Iran, a jailed Iranian-American journalist has gone on trial in secret. Thirty-one-year-old Roxana Saberi has been imprisoned in Iran since January. She was arrested for working without press credentials but was charged with spying last week. Iran says her trial will continue behind closed doors.

Haiti Appeals for International Aid

Haiti is appealing for international aid to avoid what it calls a looming collapse. On Tuesday, Haitian Prime Minister Michele Duvivier Pierre-Louis made the appeal at a donor conference in Washington.

Haitian Prime Minister Michele Duvivier Pierre-Louis: “We are treading on very fragile ground. If no action is taken now, the consequences will be catastrophic. I want to take back with me the commitments and hope we are longing for in our quest for lasting development and democracy.”

The poorest country in the Western hemisphere, Haiti has been devastated by a string of hurricanes and two U.S.-backed coups over the last two decades.

Bolivian Lawmakers Approve Electoral Reform

In Bolivia, lawmakers have passed a landmark electoral law that would increase representation for low-income rural areas. President Evo Morales had gone on a five-day hunger strike to campaign for the bill. On Tuesday, Bolivian Vice President Alvaro Garcia hailed what he called a victory over the country’s elite.

President Evo Morales: “If the oligarchy insults me, if they attack me, it means that I am doing my job. It means that I am defending the people. It means I am doing my constitutional duty of defending the homeland.”

The bill also sets Bolivia’s next presidential and congressional elections for December.

Germany Bans Monsanto Crop

Germany has become the sixth European country to ban genetically-modified maze produced by the American biotech giant Monsanto. The German government said the Monsanto crop is harmful to the environment. Until the new ban, it had been the only Monsanto crop permitted in Germany.

Study: Worst of Global Warming Can be Avoided

In environmental news, a new study says the world can still avoid the worst of global warming if current European Union proposals for cutting greenhouse gases are adopted. A computer simulation by National Center for Atmospheric Research based on a seventy percent emissions cut found world temperatures will still increase but not to an unsustainable level. The Arctic sea shelf would still shrink but not completely disappear, while about half of changes in droughts and floods could be avoided. Heat waves would also be 55 percent less intense.

Tax Resisters to Hold Day of Protest

And today is tax day. As millions scramble to mail in their last-minute returns, the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee says tax resisters will hold protests around the country to show their opposition to funding war. The day of protest is being called “The War is Not Over.” A new study meanwhile from the National Priorities Project says that more than 37 cents of every income tax dollar goes to military spending. By contrast, environment, energy and science spending projects split 2.8 cents of every tax dollar, while housing, community and food programs split 3.8 cents.

Factory Farms a Global Food Problem, Connected to Michigan

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In January, Newaygo County upheld a preventative state regulation against pollution from factory farms. The Michigan Farm Bureau questioned whether the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) could require all concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) to obtain pollution discharge permits, as it began to do in 2003. Farm groups expressed the opinion that the DEQ should only require permits after a CAFO has actually had a discharge of manure that caused pollution.

According to the Grand Rapids Press, there are 250 CAFOs operating in Michigan, and at least 30 have illegally discharged manure into surface waters.

History of Factory Farming

Factory farming began in the 1920s, when vitamins A and D were discovered – when these vitamins are added to the feed, animals no longer require sunlight and exercise for physical growth. The majority of animals used for food in the U.S. are raised in factory farms – CAFOs that keep the animals indoors, confined to small cages and pumped full of hormones. Antibiotics and other chemicals in order increase their “productivity.”

Health and Environmental Factors

Factory farms are also cited as the cause of a considerable amount of water and air pollution that can be harmful to residents in the surrounding areas. Manure from 10,000 cows creates the sewage equivalent to a city of 230,000 people.

According to the American Public Health Association, the practices of factory farms can affect those who live far from CAFOs as well. The overuse of antibiotics given to animals in factory farms is creating antibiotic resistant bacteria that will be a threat to human health.

Lynn Henning, Sierra Club CAFO Water Sentinel and a leader of the Environmentally Concerned Citizens of South Central Michigan (ECCSCM), spoke on CAFOs in Michigan:

“Factory farm dairies in Michigan are so bad that they’re a tourist attraction. Federal and state regulation of CAFOs is so bad that my community has been targeted for European dairy operators to move in here, buy up cheap land and operate without the kind of public health, water and air protections that are required in their countries. Showing just how bad it is in Lenawee and Hillsdale Counties is one way to advocate for stronger laws here as well as to make sure Europeans don’t weaken their laws to allow these horrible facilities to move into their communities.”

Michigan Factory Farming Information Sources

MediaMouse.org has previously written about a documentary video by the Sierra Club which brings to light how a community in Michigan has been affected by the presence of CAFOs.

The ECCSM web site shows photographs of water pollution from CAFOs in local waterways (many of which provide drinking water) in Michigan communities such as Hudson, Morenci, Adrian and Blissfield. The site also provides a map of local CAFOs and sustainable alternatives to factory farming.

Earth Democracy Author, Vandana Shiva, Speaks at WMU

Activist Vandana Shiva Recently Spoke at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo

Indian activist and author Vandana Shiva spoke at Western Michigan University last Thursday on the theme of sustainability, the topic of one of her most recent books,Earth Democracy: Justice, Sustainability, and Peace.

Shiva began her talk by saying that we live in extremely important times, because the paradigm of fossil fuels consumption is killing us. She also used a comment from the founder of the Indian Satyagraha movement, Mohandas Gandhi. Gandhi, when writing about the Western World, said that it “only promotes consumerism and comfort.” But, this model, according to Gandhi, is one that is self-destructive.

Corporate Globalization is a Dictatorship

Shiva then went on to talk about corporate globalization as a form of dictatorship. Corporate globalization uses force to achieve its goals as well as legal and institutional constructs such as the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and the World Trade Organization (WTO). One example the author gave was how the global grain giant Cargill took control of the agricultural policies under the GATT/WTO. Shiva said they wrote the agreement and essentially represented the US at the international level to push through an agricultural policy that would allow them control of much of the world’s grain market.

Another way that Cargill has negatively impacted local agriculture is their dumping of soy oil on the market in India several years ago. Shiva said they were able to do this with huge subsidies, also part of the WTO agreements, which undercut the local market. People could not compete with the price of the soy oil, which was not nearly as good for human consumption as the dozens of other oils that Indians used. In response, women organized a Satyagraha campaign and made their own oil in defiance of the law.

Intellectual Property Rights and Seed Theft

The other main issue that Shiva addressed was the destructive consequences of intellectual property rights. Intellectual property rights were essentially an expansion of traditional property rights that included seeds, humans, and any other form of life. India had a non-patent framework for products built into their constitution, but that changed with the WTO. What this has meant is that Monsanto controlls 95% of the global seed store. Seeds–which are the ultimate regeneration resource–have now been privatized.

This control of the global seed stock is being manifested in three ways. First, corporations are using genetic modification that necessitates the use of more pesticides, most of which are manufactured by the same corporations. Second, the control of global seed stock means that these corporations can control the price of seeds. So for example, last year Monsanto raised corn seed costs from $200 a bag to $300, which meant that they profited even more off world hunger. The third way they control seed stock was to legally insert into the WTO agreements the inability of farmers to save their own seeds, thus making them dependent on companies like Monsanto to buy their seeds.

One crop where this seed control has been devastating for Indian farmers is with cotton. The GMO cotton seeds that Indian farmers are now forced to buy also require large amounts of pesticides and farmer just end up going into debt. This crisis has resulted in a great deal of resistance, but it has also meant that many Indian farmers have taken their own lives. Shiva said that over 200,000 farmers have committed suicide as a protest of the seed control. One irony with this is that the highest areas of suicide are the same area of Indian where Gandhi’s campaign of homespun cotton began, a campaign that complimented a national boycott of British made clothes from cotton.

Climate Chaos or Earth Democracy

Shiva also addressed the issue of Climate Change, which she said is an inaccurate way of naming the problem. We should call it climate chaos, because with Global Warming, weather patterns have become unpredictable and destabilizing. This, the author/activist said was due to our addiction to fossil fuels.

“We are not phasing out fossil fuels, because they are now used in agribusiness. The toxic nature of fossil fuels agribusiness is killing the soil. 40% of greenhouse gases are produced because of the way we grow and distribute food.”

Shiva believes that the only way to move away from this addiction to fossil fuels, as it relates to agriculture, is a shift to localism, “The local level is where the change must happen, with food production and energy creation. Local food systems are very important and are even an antidote for wars,” Shiva said. “Why did the US go to war in Iraq? Oil. The same is true for Afghanistan and other parts of the world.” She then said that a shift to bio-fuels is not a sustainable solution either. “If all of the corn that is grow in the US right now is used for bio-fuel it would only provide 7% of the fuel needs. So, if the appetite of resource consumption continues then wars are inevitable.”

The author/activist said that the only viable transition away from this corporate structure is what she calls earth democracy:

“The current economic system is based on theft. We have to restore our economy. I started the seed saving group Navdanya as a way of defending life. Life is to be shared, not bought and sold. The earthworm does not eat up the soil that it lives in, it enriches it. We need to catch up to these other species. We need to look to them as teachers, these species, the soil, because that is where life gets renewed. The soil is an alternative to the collapsing economy, to the fossil fuel destruction, and it is an alternative to wars.”

Shiva concluded by saying that earth democracy is different than electoral democracy because in electoral democracy you expect someone else to do it for you, but with earth democracy we must make the changes ourselves.

Soil Not Oil: Environmental Justice in an Age of Climate Crisis

Click on the image to purchase this book through Amazon.com. Purchases help support MediaMouse.org.

With all the trendy “green consumerism” and corporate green-washing that dictates so much of current discourse around environmentalism, it is important that we examine independent perspectives on the severity of the world’s ecological crisis.

Vandana Shiva has provided a fresh and independent perspective for more than two decades now as she has confronted how we think about environmentalism by writing books about water, seeds, global trade policies, and patriarchy’s relationship to the natural world. In her most recent book Soil Not Oil: Environmental Justice in an Age of Climate Crisis, the Indian activist provides needed analysis for those of us who might be duped by the market approach to environmental justice.

Shiva argues that the world is faced with three fundamental global crises: global warming, energy use/depletion and food. The author believes that these three issues are inter-connected, therefore how we respond as a global community with any of these issues will impact the other two. Soil Not Oil does not just address those three issues, it provides an analysis and challenge to those of us in the US who think we have the best approach to solving the climate, energy and food crises.

For example, the business community has primarily dominated the response to global warming in the US, much of which has been supported by the ideas put forth by Al Gore. Shiva argues that these “solutions” are imperialist in nature since they dictate what the poorer countries of the world should do. This imperialist response by rich countries is best demonstrated by the idea of carbon trading. Carbon trading allows the biggest polluting nations and corporations to transfer their pollution onto other nations and communities by investing in “green” technology abroad. Shiva believes that the market should not be deciding how to deal with something so crucial as climate change and suggests that carbon trading is a false solution since “it does not begin with policies and laws that protect and support the nonpolluting patterns of production, distribution and consumption.”

Carbon trading will in effect mean that the big polluters will be subsidized to continue to pollute, because “slightly greener” companies can sell their carbon credits to the worst polluters. This market solution provides no real incentive for developing truly sustainable ways of production, which is why Shiva believes that the nuclear industry has been cashing in on the global warming frenzy. Nuclear power has received the support of politicians and some environmental groups despite the fact that the uranium mining that is done in order for nuclear power to work is highly toxic and unsustainable.

When discussing energy use, Vandana Shiva focuses on the cost of car use in her home country of Indian. With the increase in personal auto transportation on the rise in countries like India, it not only increases the global demands of oil production, it has resulted in increased deaths and road construction. The new road construction throughout India has primarily impacted India’s rural farming communities, communities that have lost their land and their livelihood.

This shift to greater car production and use in countries like India has meant less land for food, the third major crisis that Shiva tackles in Soil Not Oil. Not only does road and parking lot construction take away precious land from small farmers, it necessitates that more land is used for bio-fuels to power the machines. This has resulted in less land for food production and high prices for basic food staples. Those of us in the US have experienced increased in the cost of basic grains, but this increase in global food prices has hit people harder in countries like India. So why bio-fuels are presented as a green fuel it has actually caused more environmental destruction and poverty.

Shiva believes that the market-based solutions that the rich nations have adopted in responding to the global climate/energy/food crisis has and will only make things worse. The author believes that the power to make decisions about food and energy should be put in the hands of smaller communities, decisions that she believes would be more sustainable. Shiva cites numerous examples in India where people have created their own seed banks to promote traditional grains like millet, which is more nutritious and sustainable to grow. When local communities have control over the most fundamental resources such as food and energy production there is a greater chance that the issue of how it impact that community will be central to the decision making process, unlike when corporations or nation states impose their decisions on communities.

Soil Not Oil concludes with the author appealing to the idea encompassed in the Indian work Shakti, which means the “capacity to do” or “to have power.” When local communities have the capacity and the power to determine the futures, a future that is not driven by external market forces, only then can the world overcome the global climate crisis we are faced with. Soil Not Oil is an excellent resource for those who are serious about not just averting a larger global climate crisis, but for those who want to preserve living communities of bio-diversity.

Vandana Shiva, Soil Not Oil: Environmental Justice in an Age of Climate Crisis, (South End Press, 2008).

Investigation Undercovers Widespread Abuse of Turkeys

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A recent investigation by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has found that workers at the self-proclaimed “world’s leading poultry breeding company,” West Virginia’s Aviagen Turkeys, Inc, regularly tortured, mutilated, and maliciously killed turkeys.

PETA’s investigator brought the abuses to a suprervisor’s attention. However, the supervisor responded by saying “Every once in a while, everybody gets agitated and has to kill a bird.”

The group has released a video–albeit quite disturbing–that documents some of this mistreatment:

Among the abuses documented:

* Employees stomped on turkeys’ heads, punched turkeys, hit them on the head with a can of spray paint and pliers, and struck turkeys’ heads against metal scaffolding.

* Men shoved feces and feed into turkeys’ mouths and held turkeys’ heads under water. Another bragged about jamming a broom stick 2 feet down a turkey’s throat.

* A supervisor said he saw workers kill 450 turkeys with 2-by-4s.

* One man said he saw a coworker fatally inject turkey semen and sulfuric acid into turkeys’ heads

Aside from these abuses, PETA reports that “the usual” horrors of factory farming are present at Aviagen, including cramped conditions, dead birds mixed in with living ones, cutting of birds’ beaks with pliers, and overfed birds dying of exhaustion or heart attacks.

Given that 72 million of the nearly 270 million turkeys killed in the United States are killed for holiday meals, PETA is asking people to give up turkey this Thanksgiving. Additionally, the company has setup an online letter generator to help people write to the National Turkey Federation to encourage it to recommend that turkey breeders adopt PETA’s animal welfare plan.

Protest Demands “Fair Food” at Subway

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On Saturday, Calvin College’s Social Justice Coalition organized a protest outside of the Subway in Eastown to urge the company to take a stand in support of higher wages for farm workers.

Subway is the latest target of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW)–a farm worker organization out of Florida that has an impressive record of winning concrete gains for farm workers. Subway is the latest target of the group, which has already won victories against Taco Bell, McDonalds, and Burger King. Subway is a major purchaser of tomatoes from Florida and as such, the CIW is calling on the company to demand higher wages and better working conditions. Currently, farmworkers picking tomatoes sold to Subway earn an average of $10,000/year and are paid virtually the same piece rate (40-50c per 32-lb. bucket) as they were in 1978.

Throughout the CIW’s history, college students such as Calvin College’s Social Justice Coalition have played a key role in the organizing by acting in solidarity with the CIW, as they are one of the target demographics for fast food companies.

Photos from the protest (with faces blurred in accordance with MediaMouse.org’s photo policy):

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There is a long history of student organizing in solidarity with the CIW in Grand Rapids, including a protest last year at Burger King organized by the same Calvin group. The now defunct Grand Valley State University Students Against Sweatshops also organized for several years against Taco Bell.