agriculture


It’s been almost four weeks since the hostage situation took place at the Morrison County Government Center.  This fish still feels shaken by that event and will try not to comment directly on it further other than to say that the Morrison County Record did a fine job of covering the various angles of the situation.  (If you want to find the Record’s articles, just go to its website and type Gordon Wheeler into the search feature.)

What I’d like to do, instead, is discuss property rights because this is ostensibly what was at the root of the event.  When it comes to owning property, most Americans believe that property owners should be able to do whatever they want with their property.  In direct opposition to this thought is the belief that we also get to decide what our neighbors do with their property.  (How often have you found that your lawn aesthetic doesn’t match that of your neighbor’s?  Or complained about how that neighborhood feed lot is going to decrease the value of your property?)

So, which is it?  Do we get to do what we want with our property, or are we going to set up rules that restrict what our neighbors do?  There are no easy answers to this question, yet, when there is a dispute over property rights, someone has to step in and make some sort of decision.

That’s where our govenment officials come in – our county commissioners, city administrators, planning & zoning officials, and inspectors.  Not only are these officials concerned with making decisions about individual property rights, they also have to keep an eye on what’s good for an entire community, plus make sure their decisions square with local ordinances and state laws.  The latter can be notoriously difficult to interpret due to vague language that’s meant to cover all possible situations.

These officials juggle all of the aforementioned requirements and variables in making their decisions and sometimes their decisions don’t sit well with the property owner or with the public.  Then what?  Well, the property owner and public can learn to live with the decisions or the decisions can be appealed to a higher authority.  Perhaps a particular law in question needs to be revised, in which case those concerned with the issue can head to the legislature and work that angle.  If a property rights decision seems particularly unfair, but can’t seem to be resolved with a particular set of government officials, perhaps it’s time to use the power of the vote to bring new leaders into the situation.  The point is that there are all sorts of potential solutions to a property rights disagreement.

The real crux of the matter, however, is that property rights decisions are notoriously contentious because of the underlying premises I mentioned at the beginning of this post.  Sometimes there just isn’t an easy fix, no matter how thoughtfully officials contemplate an issue, and no matter how hard a property owner works to get a decision changed in his/her favor.  What we need to change is our idea of owning property.  While we may legally “own” a piece of property, we don’t really own it.  We’re just borrowing it for a time.  It behooves us to think about who will be using the land next and start making decisions not simply for our own selfish needs, but for the needs of its future inhabitants.

I’ll share my reef, if you’ll share yours,

Phineas F. A. Pickerel

I was listening to a program on Minnesota Public Radio this past week on which Michael Osterholm, former Minnesota epidemiologist and current director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, was a guest.  Osterholm is a HUGE supporter of food irradiation.  At one point during the program, he said that there are still fervent anti-irradiation people out there and he referred to them as “radicals.”  The way he said the word made it very clear to me that he is unwilling to listen to anyone who has anything to say on the issue that disagrees with what he believes.  That’s not a good way for a scientist to behave.

Please don’t irradiate me!  (Trust me, I won’t taste very good that way.)

Phineas F. A. Pickerel

For those of you who faithfully stay abreast of what is happening with American agriculture and the meat industry;  this ones for you.

The U.S. Olympic team decided to take its own food to Beijing after a massive chicken breast is found to contain high levels of steroids.  So they’re bringing free range or something…nope, more like KFC.

Here’s that report…

Recently, Brett left a comment under my Which Majority? post that makes a good point.  The discussion was about global warming / global climate change and Brett said,

Advocates of global warming claim that skeptics are all paid off by the oil industry but we never hear what kind of money is being exchanged for supporting the global warming cause. Money will always confuse the issue and it is sad that we will never get a straight answer from the supposedly objective scientific community.

He is correct in saying that we don’t typically hear anything about potential conflicts of interest concerning scientists who believe we should act now to try to reverse global warming.  How many of these scientists are being paid off by the solar, wind, and ethanol energy industries?  How many are being paid to throw the research on compact fluorescent bulbs?

We could spend our time quibbling over all the conflicts of interest that happen on both sides of the debate, but this ignores the larger issue – the planet is showing evidence of warming.  Whether that warming is a natural cycle or produced by humans or some combination of both misses the point.  If the planet is warming, we are going to have to adapt and the only thing we can control is our own behavior.  There is no available temperature switch we can easily throw on Mother Nature in order to rebuild the polar icecaps.

Further, Mother Nature doesn’t give a tinker’s damn about whether we stay on this planet or not.  If we’re driven off by drought or excessive storms or disease or hunger, all the better for her to rebuild her natural resources.  The only ones who care whether we are here or not are human beings.

Setting global warming aside for the moment, we have some practical issues that we immediately need to address.  We are in the middle of an energy crisis with the cost of oil getting so high that consumers are deciding to find other less costly ways to get around.  Globally, a food shortage has developed, partially due to the hoarding of food stuffs for use in energy production.  We are also facing fresh water shortages in certain areas of the globe.  All of these are signs of our excessive consumption (and/or global climate change, if you choose to believe that it’s happening).  While these shortages may be good economically for those who control the resources, they aren’t good in the long run as far as creating a stable base of consumers.   If populations are killed off due to food and water shortages, industry will have lost a potential customer base, which means that the economy is going to contract, rather than continue to grow.  It’s an unsustainable system no matter how you slice it – unsustainable for homo sapiens, that is.

So then, we can continue on as we have been and not make any changes in our behavior until we definitively prove the cause of global climate change and find ourselves in straits more dire than we are currently experiencing, or we can figure out how we’re going to adapt by finding solutions that are well-considered  and sustainable for all sectors of society.  What would you rather do?

When homo sapiens is gone, fish will once again rule the world!!

Phineas F. A. Pickerel

A Family Fighting for Answers

—— Portsmouth Woman Dies from what doctors believe could be the human form of mad cow disease, autopsy to confirm.

—>Portsmouth woman may have the human form of mad cow disease.

On 3/25/2008, the Morrison County Record printed an article written by columnist Peter Graham in Farming and Your Freedom with the headline Can Iraq Rebuild its Ag Economy? 

In his article Graham refers to a story published in the High Plains/Midwest Journal and writes, “it will take millions to put them back on their feet and help them become productive again. It will also take enlightened government policy-on the part of the Iraq and the U.S. governments.”

The operative words being enlightened government policy.

 Unfortunately, in his 400 day stint as administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) (the American body that ruled the “new Iraq” in the early days of the U.S. invasion) Paul Bremer issued a series of directives known as the “100 Orders”. These orders established the blueprint for the new Iraq.  Among the items contained in the 100 Orders relevant to Graham’s original question is Order # 81, officially titled: Amendments to Patent, Industrial Design, Undisclosed Information, Integrated Circuits and Plant Variety Law.*** (Enacted by Bremer on April 26, 2004.)

Order 81 is a legal tweak establishing strong intellectual property protections on seed and plant products that a company like Monsanto (producers of genetically modified (GM) seeds and other patented agricultural goods) required prior to moving into new markets like Iraq.  

In a nutshell, Order 81  mirrors the business conditions created years earlier in India, conditions leading Monsanto to highly profitable success within that region while simultaneously unleashing a pandemic proportioned onslaught of suicides among Indian farmers, the subject of the PBS documentary The Dying Fields.  

While the U.S. stopped short of mandating Iraqi farmers to purchase from corporations like Monsanto, basic laws of nature coupled with Order 81 could quickly and easily leave American agribusiness claiming rights on Iraqi farm fields regardless of where they obtain their seed supply.

Percy Schmeiser, a Saskatchewan farmer found himself tangled with Monsanto in a lawsuit after a few rogue GM seeds blew from a truck passing by his land. Monsanto didn’t care how the Roundup® Ready plants got there, as far as the company was concerned, Schmeiser was in possession of an agricultural product whose intellectual property belonged to them and they didn’t care how it happened. Monsanto sued Scheimer for $400,000.00 .  

 

In 2005 the Centre for Food Safety(CFS) reported that Monsanto had a 10 million dollar budget and a staff of 75 devoted to investigating and prosecuting farmers. Monsanto admits to aggressively investigating farmers it suspects and according to the CFS report, evidence suggests that the number of farmers investigated reachs into the thousands.

Prior to the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq it was illegal to patent seeds. Now, under U.S. decree all that is necessary to obtain a patent is to be the first to “describe” or “characterize” the plants.*

While technically, Iraqi farmers are not being stopped from saving and sharing seed from their traditional crops as they have always done, there is now nothing stopping Monsanto, Cargill, Dow, Bayer and other multinationals from “describing” or “characterizing” Iraq’s traditional seeds. Once this is done Iraqi farmer will be prohibited from saving and sharing the very seeds that have been cultivated and passed down in their country for generations and they will be forced  to buy them from who ever owns the patent.   Also, Iraqi farmers can be sued by companies like Monsanto if they discover their non-GMO crops polluted by GMO crops planted in their vicinity like Percy Schmeiser did.

It is important to note that prior to Abu Graib’s infamous tabloid debut that the city was once host to Iraq’s seed bank. In 1996, Iraqi botanists packed up 200 kinds of seed and sent them to Syria for safekeeping. When the Iraq war began the Abu Graib seed bank was looted, all that remains of Iraq’s long, rich agricultural heritage are the seeds held by its farmer and those shipped to Syria.

While it would be nice to think that the intentions of the U.S. government are honorable, the broader U.S. plan appears to be geared more towards incorporating Iraqi agriculture into the massive web of U.S. agribusiness, leaving Iraq to grow a few high-yield cash crops for export instead of growing basic crops to feed the Iraqi people. Subsequently, under the U.S. policy the state-run food companies (who had traditionally provided a food basket to every Iraqi household rich or poor), will be privatized under the policy, farm subsidies will be eliminated and the traditional Iraqi food baskets assured to every household, will only be provided to the poorest of Iraq’s people.

While Graham’s article insinuates that the U.S. is working to ensure that Iraq regains its capacity to feeds its own people, exporting high-yield cash crops has not proven to be a successful mean of reaching this objective.

Graham ends his column with, “Root suggested that we make our research available to Iraqi farmers and where practicable send experts over to help. He believes, though, that there may be more value in bringing the Iraqis to America to be trained and then to be sent back to revitalize their agriculture and begin feeding their own people. Who wants to see an Extension specialist blindfolded and awaiting execution for helping farmers to farm?” 

If Graham is truly that naïve it is perhaps time he retire his column. It took nothing more than a cursory glance at the sources used by the High Plains Midwest Journal to see that the universities commenting on Iraq were departments notorious for being heavily financed by the multinational corporations who stand to profit from Order 81.

In the end maybe extension specialist will find themselves blindfolded and awaiting execution in Iraq because the 100,000 Indian’s who committed suicide between 1993 and 2003, some of whom died in their fields after ingesting their last bottle of Roundup, failed to capture any real attention.

*The Hague Regulations requires that an occupying power “re-establish and insure, as far as possible, public order and safety, while respecting, unless absolutely prevented, the laws in force in the country.” The imposition of major structural economic reforms is viewed by legal scholars around the world as a violation of international law.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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