Archive for June, 2010


SILICON VALLEY’S apricot and cherry orchards disappeared decades ago, replaced by semiconductor plants and office parks populated by technologists. Now some of the Valley’s most prominent venture capitalists are looking to the region’s roots for what could be the next new thing in an old business: agriculture.

“Sustainable agriculture is a space that looks as big or bigger than clean tech,” said Paul Matteucci, a venture capitalist with U.S. Venture Partners in Menlo Park, Calif. “Historically, we have not seen a ton of entrepreneurial activity in agriculture, but we are beginning to see it now, and the opportunities are huge.”

A catch-all phrase for environmentally beneficial farming, sustainable agriculture has long been the province of organic enthusiasts.

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SKARA, Sweden — Johan Bergstrom, a blond and boyish man of 31, who farms here with his father, reached into the dark, soft soil and extricated a tennis-ball-size potato, holding it gently so as not to snap off any of a half-dozen white shoots that were growing out of the potato’s eyes. He advised against tasting the potato, whose dulcet name Amflora belies its harsh flavor, a result of genetic jiggling that has made it almost pure starch.

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Russian researchers have found that hamsters fed a diet of genetically engineered (GE) soy failed to reproduce after three generations. “‘This study was just routine,’ said Russian biologist Alexey V. Surov, in what could end up as the understatement of this century,” writes Jeffrey Smith in the Huffington Post. Smith heads the Institute for Responsible Technology, a U.S. nonprofit that advocates rejection of GM foods. “Surov and his colleagues set out to discover if Monsanto’s GE soy, grown on 91% of U.S. soybean fields, leads to problems in growth or reproduction. What he discovered may uproot a multi-billion dollar industry.”

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SAN FRANCISCO – A federal district court judge on March 17 denied a request by organic seed growers, conservation and food safety groups to ban the use of genetically engineered sugar beet seeds until an environmental review of the seeds can be completed.

Judge Jeffrey White’s decision allows growers in Colorado and other states to continue planting Monsanto Co.’s genetically engineered Roundup Ready sugar beet seeds when planting season arrives in May.

Last fall, a federal court in California ruled that the U.S. Department of Agriculture failed to adequately study possible environmental and economic risks that the genetically engineered beets might cause. A court-ordered review is under way by the federal Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

According to Monsanto, more than 1 million acres of Roundup Ready sugar beet varieties have been planted in 10 U.S. states and two Canadian provinces over the last four years. About 95 percent of the seeds planted in the United States last year were Roundup Ready, according to the company

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A myriad of interests – ranging from food companies to farmers unions to scientific experts and legal scholars – have filed briefs to the U.S. Supreme Court in support of the Center for Food Safety and opposed to Monsanto in a case to be argued on April 27,Monsanto v. Geertson Seed Farms. This will be the first genetically engineered crop case ever heard by the High Court.

All lower courts that have heard the case temporarily stopped the planting of Monsanto’s “Roundup Ready” alfalfa because the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) failed to analyze the crop’s impacts on farmers and the environment. Although it is undisputed that USDA violated environmental laws and that the agency must rigorously analyze the crop’s impacts if it is to again approve it for sale, Monsanto is arguing that the lower courts should have allowed the planting of the now-illegal crop to go forward anyway.

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The era of climate-change deniers may (almost) be behind us, but a new battle has just begun. As we grapple with global warming, we will face increasing controversies over which industries are most responsible for the greenhouse gases of most concern and which actions and policies will most help us mitigate the crisis.

In these heated debates, the food industry has so far managed to stay out of the climate-change hot seat. Most of us don’t think about our lunch when we think about global warming.

In Diet for a Hot Planet, Anna plunge into the heart of this eras newest food fight with a simple message: if we are serious about addressing climate change, we have to talk about food.  See video of Anna Lappe talking about her new book.

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A recent study by researchers from Cornelland Rhodes universities and the Sebakwe Black Rhino Conservation Trust found that traditional food crops, such as mubovora(pumpkin) and ipwa (sweet reed), are an important source of community resilience in Zimbabwe—including resilience to climate change and economic turbulence.

Unlike traditional crops, the majority of commercial crops that have been introduced to the region “are not adapted to local conditions and require high inputs of agrochemical inputs such as fertilizers, mechanization, and water supply,” according to the study. These crops tend to be more vulnerable to climatic changes, such as the drought and subsequent flooding that occurred in Zimbabwe’s Sebakwe area in 2007–08.

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