Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Senate Farm Bill Update and Action

OrangeClouds115 writes a very similar farm bill digest to the one I was reluctantly gearing up for; now I don’t have to. (Mine wouldn't have had such a provocative title, though.)

We can be pleased that the Senate Agricultural Committee bill contains a pretty good livestock/competition title (read OC’s diary for more details), as well as some other victories for conservation and community-minded farmers and eaters. A few problems, however, to keep our eyes on:

The committee’s version raises EQIP (Environmental Quality Incentives Program) payment limits from $240,000 to $450,000 over 5 years. Payments in these kinds of giant chunks help large CAFOs build and manage manure lagoons while depleting funds that could otherwise be available to smaller farms.

The livestock title, though I’m really grateful that it contains so many provisions to help small producers compete against giant ones, is still missing Captive Supply Reform, which would “restore competition in the market for livestock contracts by requiring a fixed base price on contracts and marketing agreements [and] requiring trading of contracts in open, public markets to which all buyers and sellers have access.” Sen. Enzi (R-WY) is expected to offer an amendment re-introducing Captive Supply Reform.

Small livestock owners and small farm advocates are upset (as previously noted) by mentions of NAIS (National Animal ID System) in the committee’s bill. While the bill does not make NAIS mandatory (phew!), it still contains a provision (sec. 10305) that gives implicit approval and support to the “voluntary” USDA program. Section 10305 amends the Animal Health Protection Act to 1) define NAIS, and 2) exempt certain information collected under NAIS from the Freedom of Information Act.

The Farm Bill will probably go to the Senate floor next week (week of Nov. 5), so this is the time to ask your senators to:

  • support Sen. Enzi’s Captive Supply Reform amendment
  • strike sec. 10305, which brings NAIS one step closer to entrenched ubiquity.
  • oppose raising EQIP payment limits if there is an opportunity to do so.

Monday, October 29, 2007

From the first sentence you just know

I finally had the opportunity to start Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. And-- here's the thing-- it's fantastic. If you haven't read it yet, go read it now. If you're not moved to tears within, oh, four pages, by sheer amazement at how good this book is, I'm not sure if you're someone I can know.

On eating and drinking in Tucson:
Like many other modern U.S. cities, it might as well be a space station where human sustenance is concerned. Virtually every unit of food consumed there moves into town in a refrigerated module from somewhere far away. Every ounce of the city's drinking, washing, and goldfish-bowl-filling water is pumped from a nonrenewable source-- a fossil aquifer that is dropping so fast, sometimes the ground crumbles. In a more recent development, some city water now arrives via a three-hundred-mile-long open canal across the desert from the Colorado River, which-- owing to our thirsts-- is a river that no longer reaches the ocean, but peters out in a sand flat near the Mexican border.

If it crosses your mind that water running through hundreds of miles of open ditch in a desert will evaporate and end up full of concentrated salts and muck, then let me just tell you, that kind of negative thinking will never get you elected to public office in the state of Arizona.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

New to Me

American Dippers

and a whole covey of
gray partridges!

Neither of these birds are in the least rare, but I've never encountered either before (that I was aware of at the time)-- and then it was both in one morning. There were two dippers working the stream that runs beneath a bridge where I was running. There were 6 or 8 partridges bobbing around right near my lab on the university campus. Yes, it was a Sunday, no, not a central location, but still this seemed rather brazen.

"But look at the detailing!"

CTLiberal at DailyKos diaries more horrific sweatshop abuses perpetrated by contractors for the Gap in Delhi.

For those of us involved in this issue only as consumers, I'd call your attention to the following passage from the Observer article.
"Professor Sheotaj Singh, co-founder of the DSV, or Dayanand Shilpa Vidyalaya, a Delhi-based rehabilitation centre and school for rescued child workers, said he believed that as long as cut-price embroidered goods were sold in stores across Britain, America, continental Europe and elsewhere in the West, there would be a problem with unscrupulous subcontractors using children."
Please think about that (I am). We don't need to wait for the practices of the Gap, or any other company, to be "exposed" by the media. If we find a garment that has elaborate handwork (embroidery, beading, all the details that are in fashion now), and its price does not seem to reflect the labor involved, we have to assume that it wasn't made by someone being paid a fair wage.

Of course, the people who run the Gap aren't stupid either; they're experts who should certainly come to the same realization instead of hiding their heads in the sand. Even if they "didn't know," they knew, and they bear responsibility. But we bear responsibility too, when purchasing, to assess: am I paying a fair price for this item? If I'm not, what are the probable implications?

I'm accustomed to going through that thought process when purchasing food. Now I'll think harder about clothing. Especially the kind with all that ornamentation.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Something Old

A wonderful Barbara Kingsolver piece, featuring the marvelous Vandana Shiva, appeared in the September 30th Washington Post-- since this was the day my grandfather died, I missed it. A particularly startling assertion made by Shiva and new to me:
"Most of those who have moved off of farms are still working in the industry of creating food and bringing it to consumers: as cashiers, truck drivers, even the oil-rig workers who generate the fuels to run the trucks. Those jobs are all necessary to a travel-dependent, highly mechanized food system. And many of those jobs are menial, life-taking work, instead of the life-giving work of farming on the land. The analyses we have done show that no matter what, whether the system is highly technological or much more simple, about 50 to 60 percent of a population has to be involved in the work of feeding that population. Industrial agriculture did not 'save' anyone from that work, it only shifted people into other forms of food service."
Huh, really? Take the poll I just put up above-- I'm curious. And think carefully: for instance, no, of course I don't work in any kind of food-related job, I work in a fisheries laboratory. Then I thought about it a little more. Our lab has been mostly dedicated to addressing whirling disease, a pathogen that's been decimating trout populations throughout the West. Why, indeed, do we care about trout populations? Partly because of concern for ecological ramifications, or love of sport fishing. But also because trout are a wild food resource still widely exploited by Westerners. Are we so removed from the idea that wild food is real "food" that trout don't count, whereas if I worked with a cattle disease I'd certainly have a consciousness of my role in feeding the country's population? So, yes, okay, I'm (still) in food service.

Other food-service jobs I've held: bakery assistant. Grocery cashier. If you take "feeding the population" literally, nursing home aide. Grill cook. Prep cook. Waitress. Hostess. The past seven years in fisheries. Plus substantial unpaid cooking and gardening. Shiva is right. How about you, dear reader?

My grandpa, by the way, was born to a farm family. Later he grew up and "moved off the farm" (though still a farm-owner), becoming a small-town independent banker and politician. Oh, except the money coming in to the bank was that of local farmers, and plenty of the voters and constituents were farmers too. He was still in food service.

Friday, October 26, 2007

News and Links, 10/26/07

FEMA briefs itself on its handling of California wildfires. More discussion and links at UncommonSense's Daily Kos diary.

The Senate Agriculture Committee has agreed on a Farm Bill which will now go to the Senate floor. Food and Water Watch has come up with a simple list of victories and "needs-work" areas and has an email form to let your Senators know which provisions you want them to fight for.

The current Senate version contains several good things we should hang onto hard, including steps forward on country-of-origin labelling (COOL) and a real competition title (.pdf).

Another persisting problem in addition to the ones Food and Water Watch mentions: the National Animal ID System (NAIS) received tacit approval in Section 10305. NAIS is not
appropriate for small farmers selling locally, and its costs make small producers even less competitive against livestock giants. Please ask your Senators to support stripping this section from the bill.

Desmogblog demonstrates the "edits" that the White House made to CDC Director Julie Gerberding's Congressional testimony on the impacts of climate change. Said press secretary Dana Perino:
The CDC testimony "was not watered down in terms of its science (or) ... in terms of the concerns that climate change raises for public health."
You decide.

The Anti-Consumerist Child

I went to the mall this week with my 6-year-old daughter, to search for components to this year's Halloween costume. She's going to be a carrot.

The things we were looking for were: orange pants. An orange or green knit cap. Orange face paint. Green pipe cleaners and some type of big green paper or something, to make fronds out of.

We purchased the last two craft items and the face paint right away, and were left cruising the department stores, hoping to happen upon orange pants or hats. My daughter saw a display of fuzzy animal slippers, cute frogs and bunnies and puppies, and pointed them out.

"Uh-huh," I said warily.

"But I don't need any slippers!" she cheerfully went on. "I've already got two pairs!"

Wow, okay. She stole my line. We went on into the children's department at Macy's, which had a display of gorgeous fancy dresses. Not pink ruffles and lace, but sophisticated, truly beautiful (and expensive) full-length satins in red-and-white patterns, or black, or sage green (my personal weakness). My daughter loves fancy dresses, and picks up a lot of them at yard sales with her dad. I stopped to admire them, ready with my explanation that, while they were beautiful, we would have nowhere to wear something so formal.

But my daughter moved purposefully right past me and the dresses, into the recesses of the children's department to search for orange pants. "Mooommm," she said impatiently. I was wasting time, looking at and touching stuff we obviously weren't going to buy.

She didn't even want a snack at the food court. "No, I can wait," she said.

Later, at another shopping center (orange pants are tough to find), she consented when I suggested stopping to refuel on a couple of tacos; and later still she spent $1.99 of her own money on a Halloween trick-or-treat bag at Kmart and asked for a quarter for the gumball machines. She's not an abnormal child.

We still didn't have all our costume components, so another trip was in the works. But... when did my kid become such a joy to shop with? I remember when, at about age four, Store Lust suddenly hit. Everything we passed-- toys, shoes, towels, can openers-- became an object of intense desire. She didn't throw tantrums, but every shopping expedition became an exhausting odyssey of rational explanation. We don't need that. We can't buy everything. We don't have the money for anything except what's on our list. They're just saying that thing is great because they want to get you to buy it, so their company can make more money. We don't need one of those.

But somehow, somewhere, all that must have sunk in. The presumption of not-buying has overtaken the drive to possess or consume. On that day and the one following (during which we still couldn’t find orange pants, but settled for orange shorts and very long orange socks), we bought only the items we were specifically looking for, plus a very few small treats (on the second day, she bought herself a 50-cent lollipop).

It’s a wonderful thing. Except she wants Heelys.