Does “Corporate Farming” Exist? Barely.

By Tom Philpott

Goaded on by small-is-good gospel, plenty of people have adopted a Manichean view of modern US farming: large, soulless corporate enterprises on one side, human-scale, artisanal operations on the other.

Want to know what’s missing from Chipotle’s green-tinted ads?

Take, for example, Chipotle’s much-discussed new web ad, which tugs at the heartstrings by painting a haunting picture of a small-time farmer who finds himself working for—and then competing against—a fictional industrial-farming behemoth.

Reality is a lot more complicated. While there are plenty of mega-corporations in the food industry, they rarely do the actual farming themselves.

A USDA study released in August found that 96.4 percent of US crop farms are “family farms,” or “ones in which the principal operator, and people related to the principal operator by blood or marriage, own more than half.” That number doesn’t leave a lot of room for corporate farmers, does it?

The story is a bit—but not that much—different in meat production. Pork, and pork only, actually has corporations raising significant numbers of livestock. Here are the largest hog producers in the United States, lifted from an interesting 2010 paper by Tufts University researchers Tim Wise and Sarah Trist:
Smithfield, recently bought by the Chinese conglomerate Shuanghui International (in a deal just approved by Smithfield’s shareholders), is obviously a massive, globe-spanning corporation. Not only does it raise about 1 in 5 American hogs, it also has a 31 percent share of the hog-processing market, Wise and Trist show. When Smithfield directly raises 1.2 million hogs per year, that’s corporate farming.

But after Smithfield, things change quickly. As the above chart shows, the nation’s fourth-largest hog producer, Iowa Select Farms, has a 2.5 percent market share. Yes, that’s a lot of hogs—150,000 per year, to be exact—but the vast majority of America’s other 70,000 pig farms tend to be family-owned operations. It’s true that they usually operate under contract with mega-processors like Smithfield and peers like Tyson and JBS. But these aren’t corporate-owned farms.

In beef, the last stage of conventional cow production—fattening them for slaughter—is largely dominated by big players. Here (from a 2010 paper by Texas Tech University ag scientist M. L. Galyean) are the biggest operators of feedlots—those massive, infamous pens where cows spend their last days chomping on corn and soy-based feed, laced with dodgy additives:

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Independent NSA spying review not so independent

Stung by public unease about new details of spying by the National Security Agency, President Barack Obama selected a panel of advisers he described as independent experts to scrutinize the NSA’s surveillance programs to be sure they weren’t violating civil liberties and to restore Americans’ trust.

But with just weeks remaining before its first deadline to report back to the White House, the review panel has effectively been operating as an arm of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which oversees the NSA and all other U.S. spy efforts.

The panel’s advisers work in offices on loan from the DNI. Interview requests and press statements from the review panel are carefully coordinated through the DNI’s press office. James Clapper, the intelligence director, exempted the panel from U.S. rules that require federal committees to conduct their business and their meetings in ways the public can observe. Its final report, when it’s issued, will be submitted for White House approval before the public can read it.

Even the panel’s official name suggests it’s run by Clapper’s office: “Director of National Intelligence Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies.”

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4 decades after war ended, Agent Orange still ravaging Vietnamese

By Drew Brown

In many ways, Nguyen Thi Ly is just like any other 12-year-old girl. She has a lovely smile and is quick to laugh. She wants to be a teacher when she grows up. She enjoys skipping rope when she plays.

But Ly is also very different from other children. Her head is severely misshapen. Her eyes are unnaturally far apart and permanently askew. She’s been hospitalized with numerous ailments since her birth.

Her mother, 43-year-old Le Thi Thu, has similar deformities and health disorders. Neither of them has ever set foot on a battlefield, but they’re both casualties of war.

Le and her daughter are second- and third-generation victims of dioxin exposure, the result of the U.S. military’s use of Agent Orange during the Vietnam War, when the U.S. Air Force sprayed more than 20 million gallons of Agent Orange and other herbicides over parts of southern Vietnam and along the borders of neighboring Laos and Cambodia. The herbicides were contaminated with dioxin, a deadly compound that remains toxic for decades and causes birth defects, cancer and other illnesses.

To this day, dioxin continues to poison the land and the people. The United States has never accepted responsibility for these victims – it denies that Agent Orange is responsible for diseases among Vietnamese that are accepted as Agent Orange-caused among American veterans – and it’s unclear when this chain of misery will end.

On Thursday, President Barack Obama will meet with Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang at the White House, only the third meeting between chief executives of the two countries since Vietnam and the United States established diplomatic relations in 1995.

The two countries share many contemporary concerns. The White House says Obama plans to discuss cooperation on regional issues and trade, plus other U.S. priorities such as climate change and human rights. The two countries share a strong common interest in countering China, which has become increasingly assertive over potentially oil-rich areas of the South China Sea.

Many Vietnamese say it’s time for the United States to do more to address the issue of Agent Orange and its victims, so that the last tragic chapter of the Vietnam War finally can be closed.

Le Thi Thu’s father served in the North Vietnamese army and was wounded in Quang Tri province, one of the most heavily sprayed areas of the country.

“Before he went to war, my father had two children: my older brother and sister,” said Le, who was born in 1970. “They were normal. But after he came back, he had me.”

“I could see the differences in myself and others right away,” she recalled. “When I was a small child, I felt pain inside my body all the time. My parents took me to the hospital, and the doctors determined that I had been affected by Agent Orange.”

When her daughter Ly was born, “we knew right away” Agent Orange was to blame, Le said.

The Vietnam Red Cross estimates that Agent Orange has affected 3 million people spanning three generations, including at least 150,000 children born with severe birth defects since the war ended in 1975.

“During the war, we were hostile, but after the war ended, we normalized our relations and are now building a strategic partnership between Vietnam and the United States,” said retired Col. Thai Thanh Hung, the chairman of the 16,500-member Da Nang Veterans Association. “We no longer have hatred towards the Americans and the U.S. government, but we want this one lingering and remaining issue to be addressed, which is that the United States help solve the Agent Orange and dioxin problem. That’s why we’re keeping an eye on this issue, to see if the United States is really interested in healing the wounds or not.”

The most significant event to date occurred last August – 37 years after the war ended – when U.S. contractors began a project to remove dioxin from 47 acres of contaminated soil at the Da Nang International Airport, which was one of the largest U.S. bases during the war.

The $84 million effort, which is expected to take until the end of 2016 to complete, has been hailed as an important milestone in U.S.-Vietnamese relations. The airport is one of the most heavily contaminated areas in the world, with dioxin levels measuring more than 365 times the acceptable limits set by the United States and other industrialized countries.

Observers say that while the project represents a long overdue first step, more work needs to be done. More than two dozen other known or potential dioxin “hot spots” have been identified at former U.S. bases. Also left unresolved is the thorny issue of how best to help Vietnamese who’ve been sickened and disabled because of Agent Orange and dioxin exposure.

U.S. aid for these people so far has amounted to a pittance. According to the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi, only $11 million of the $61.4 million that Congress has allocated since 2007 – a year after then-President George W. Bush pledged to help clean up contaminated areas – has been earmarked for public health programs in Vietnam.

U.S. officials caution that the money is to help people with disabilities “regardless of cause,” and isn’t specifically for Agent Orange victims. This semantic sleight of hand outrages many American veterans of the war, who say the United States has a moral obligation to help Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange, just as sick and dying U.S. veterans have received government help for the last two decades.

“There’s a hypocrisy there,” says Chuck Searcy, who served in Vietnam as an intelligence analyst during the war and has lived in Hanoi since 1998, heading up a project to clear battlefields of unexploded ordnance, which also continues to kill and maim Vietnamese. “It’s a glaring disconnect, and it’s embarrassing because the whole world can see it.”

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs says that all 2.8 million Americans who served “boots on the ground” in Vietnam from 1962 to 1975 were exposed to Agent Orange and other herbicides, which were in use from 1961 to 1971. They qualify for compensation if they become sick from any of 15 illnesses presumed to have been caused by their exposure. The VA also recognizes another 18 birth defects in the children of female veterans.

In 2011, the last year for which data was published, the VA paid nearly $18 billion in disability benefits to 1.2 million Vietnam-era veterans, including 303,000 who received compensation for diabetes mellitus, the most common of the 15 diseases associated with herbicide exposure.

U.S. officials have long held, however, that there’s no proof that Agent Orange is to blame for the same diseases and birth defects in Vietnam.

“Few independent studies have been conducted in Vietnam to assess possible health effects on the local population,” said Chris Hodges, a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi. “The lack of validated data and scientific review makes it difficult to estimate accurately the number of actual or potentially affected people or the extent of related health effects.”

In many ways, the fight for recognition of Vietnam’s Agent Orange victims mirrors the 20-year struggle that U.S. veterans endured before Congress granted them compensation in 1991.

Hoping to emulate a case that resulted in a 1984 settlement requiring Dow Chemical, the Monsanto Corp. and other Agent Orange manufacturers to pay $197 million in damages to sick U.S. veterans, a group of Vietnamese victims sued in 2004, only to have the same federal judge dismiss their case a year later, saying the companies were immune because they were following government orders. The Supreme Court declined to hear the case in 2009.

As occurred with U.S. veterans, momentum in Congress appears to be shifting favorably toward the Vietnamese. In 2011, lawmakers directed the U.S. Agency for International Development to develop a plan for assisting Vietnam with Agent Orange programs in the coming years. The agency hasn’t yet released its proposals.

For its part, Vietnam has put into motion a set of steps that it says will “fundamentally solve” its problems with Agent Orange by 2020. The document, signed in June 2012 by Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, outlines preferential treatment for all ailing veterans who fought against the Americans, monthly stipends and health coverage for families with disabled members and special care for pregnant women from contaminated areas.

The Aspen Institute, a Washington-based research center, has called on the United States to spend $450 million over 10 years to clean up Vietnam’s dioxin hot spots, restored damaged ecosystems and expand health care for people with disabilities.

It’s unclear how much Congress is willing to do. Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., introduced a bill last month that would commit the United States to cleaning up all remaining sites and would provide assistance to help Vietnam give better

health care and other resources to Agent Orange victims. An identical bill introduced two years ago failed to make it out of committee.

Searcy, the former intelligence analyst who lives in Hanoi, points out that after nearly 40 years, Vietnam’s expectations of the United States remain modest.

The Vietnamese have never demanded that the U.S. do for the Vietnamese what they’ve done for U.S. veterans,” he said. “But the Vietnamese have left the door open to do what’s fair.”

“I think it’s possible to bring some closure to this within the next decade,” he added.


Fish Frenzy: GM Salmon Breed with Trout, Threaten Wild Populations

A newly released scientific report reveals yet another disturbing concern when it comes to the genetically modified salmon that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is threatening to approve soon. Apparently, not only are Atlantic salmon and wild brown trout (a near relative of salmon) able to mate and create a genetic combination of the two species, but these hybrid offspring apparently grow even more rapidly than the GM salmon themselves (already designed to be excessively large). And this could cause big problems for the free-swimmers in their natural habitat.

According to this latest research, results indicate that the GE salmon/wild trout mix would have a competitive advantage over other fish should they escape into rivers and oceans. Since they would grow 80% faster and have increased appetites, these super-fish could voraciously consume much of the available food, causing other wild fish to end up being far smaller.

Monsanto’s next conquest for GMO dominance: Africa

1.Monsanto’s Next Conquest for GMO Dominance
2.African farmers’ problems can’t be solved by high-tech seeds
3.Tanzania: Government to Endorse GM Maize Trials Soon?

Many followers of the #GMO hashtag on Twitter were startled recently by a flurry of tweets from the US Embassy in Harare promoting the safety and efficacy of GM crops.

It turned out to be the social media phase of a “biotech outreach” programme underway in Zimbabwe involving Wayne Parrott, a well known GM proponent long associated with the AgBioWorld lobby group.

You can see details of one of the “outreach” events he’s been doing here.

Thanks to Wikileaks we know the US State Dept has been aggressively promoting Monsanto’s interests across the developing world – see the report: Biotech Ambassadors: How the U.S. State Department Promotes the Seed Industry’s Global Agenda.

And Wayne Parrott is just the latest GM lobbyist to head for Africa. Earlier this year Jay Byrne, Monsanto’s most notorious spin doctor, was there liaising with local industry front groups.

Prior to Monsanto, Byrne worked for the US State Dept’s US Agency for International Development, which has for years been specifically tasked with promoting GM crops and integrating them into local food systems.

While in Africa, Byrne flagged up material that he thought would be useful to Mark Lynas, who followed him to Africa on a GM promotional tour just a few months later. From what little is know about Lynas’ funding it seems very possible that it is coming from groups and programmes with US State Dept and industry backing.

But as well as these overt PR efforts, USAID and industry backed groups are also active in setting the agenda behind the scenes. For instance, for some years ISAAA and Florence Wambugu’s Africa Harvest have been running training workshops for African journalists, like a recent one in Ghana, “to help them report biotechnology news more accurately”.

AGRA, the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, and the Gates Foundation are big players, and a lot of the GM push is being accomplished through changes in seed regulations and the establishment of GM-sympathetic biosafety regulations.

At this point even US investment websites like the well known Motley Fool (see item 1 below) are waking up to the scale of the assault on Africa and the potential seriousness of its impact.

1. Monsanto’s Next Conquest for GMO Dominance

Rich Duprey. The Motley Fool, 14 September 2013

While Africa has long been intransigent in its stance against introducing genetically modified crops, cracks are forming in the opposition, and the world’s leading biotechs — DuPont, Monsanto, and Syngenta among them — are poised to take advantage of the weakening stance and flood the market with seed, fertilizer, and pesticides. With Europe effectively closed off to GM crops, the seed and chemical giants are looking to Africa to be their next growth market.

To pave the way for choking off conventional seed stock and replace it with GM seeds, an African agricultural organization issued a report last week saying opposition in Africa to GM crops is a “farce” based on a “fear of the unknown”. Backed by the former head of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, or AGRA, says GM crops have been closely studied for decades and are no riskier than conventional crops.

The report goes on to note that only four African countries have permitted fully commercialized GM crops — Burkina Faso, Egypt, South Africa, and Sudan — and of those four, South Africa accounts for 82% of the total.

That’s why DuPont’s acquisition of South Africa’s largest seed company, Pannar, was seen as an important conquest. It gives the chemicals company a large handhold over maize, one of the most important crops on the continent, three-quarters of which is already genetically modified. DuPont, through its Pioneer Hi-Bred division, now has control over one of the largest collections of genetic resources for the crop.

AGRA says enabling environments for adopting GM crops are being put into place. Five countries are conducting field trials of biotech crops — the final step before adoption — while most others have signed on to conventions and protocols that set the stage for adopting the necessary policy and regulatory “frameworks”.

If Africa does succumb to the siren song of GM crops, control of the food chain will be taken from the hands of the family farmer and placed into those of the agri-giants. No longer will the traditional practices of seed saving from one year to the next be permitted, but farmers will be forced instead to buy new seed from DuPont or Monsanto each year, or at the least pay royalties. We’ve seen that here in the U.S., where Monsanto has successfully sued farmers because they bought seed from third parties and then tried to grow crops afterwards without rendering royalties to the biotech.

Then starts a cycle of becoming ever more reliant on the herbicides and pesticides necessary to grow those crops. Why buy Monsanto’s Roundup-resistant seed if you’re not going to spray the herbicide afterwards? Unfortunately, the overapplication of these chemicals is leading to the creation of superweeds and superbugs and have been linked with the destruction of the honeybee population. For farmers who wished to go back to the old ways, their fields would have to lie fallow for years before the chemicals poured onto them were gone, a practical impossibility when the harvests are used for subsistence.

Monsanto withdrew bids to grow eight of nine genetically modified crops in Europe because of staunch opposition and will instead focus on conventional seed types. Syngenta is now fighting the EU’s ban on its pesticide thiamethoxam, the neonicotinoids thought responsible for honeybee colony collapse disorder. Monsanto, Syngenta, and Dow Chemical’s AgriScience division have resorted to combating the anti-GMO sentiment rampant on the continent by creating a website dedicated to pushing its agenda and combating fears.

Perhaps the far easier solution is to look elsewhere for easier fish to fry — or turn into Frankenfood. The fertile, untapped potential of Africa is just such a place, and while local resistance to GM crops is mounting, the individual governing bodies may yet pave the way for their introduction. A new era of agricultural colonialism will be born where the local farmer ends up becoming enslaved to the global profit demands of corporate agriculture.

Corporate investment in foreign markets isn’t always the subject of international fury, and you can profit from our increasingly global economy simply by looking in your own backyard…

2. African farmers’ problems can’t be solved by high-tech seeds

MAJWALA MEAUD MAJOR, Africa Review, 13 September 2013

As Uganda’s parliament debates the National Biotechnology and Bio-safety Bill, a lot still remains unknown. Employing experts in this field for capacity building and knowledge enhancement may be essential.

New biotechnology has evoked high hopes, high stakes and fears for ultimate human control over nature amidst food insecurity, poverty, and climate change.

Behind claims for hypothetical risks and benefits, there lies conflicts over how nature may be controlled and even reconstructed for specific human purposes.

Agricultural biotechnology has provoked much debate on how to anticipate unintended effects on soil quality, nutritional values, natural resources and the general environment.

At a recent G8 Summit, President Obama unveiled a $3 billion 10-year programme to reduce hunger in Africa. At the meeting, Mr Obama announced the New Alliance
for Food Security and Nutrition, arguing that the advanced farming techniques developed by corporations such as Monsanto, Cargill and DuPont can be an effective response to the “moral imperative” of ending hunger in Africa.

As part of the alliance, agricultural corporations from several countries will collaborate with government officials in selected African nations, along with civil society groups and local farmers to increase crop yields.

Monsanto is committing $50 million to the plan. The US-based corporation, which specialises in biotechnology research and applications, says it will focus its investment partly on Kilimo Kwanza project in Tanzania.

Monsanto seeks to introduce new maize hybrids suitable for Tanzania, in addition to making financing more easily available to farmers.

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TAFTA, the US-EU’s Trojan Trade Agreement: Talks (and Leaks) Begin

The first round of talks in what the U.S. and EU trade representatives intend to be the largest bilateral trade agreement ever have begun. The governments call it TTIP, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). Everyone else calls it TAFTA, the Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Agreement. Whatever the name, it will regulate all U.S. and EU trade, or around 30 percent of world trade in goods. And according to the first leaks of negotiation documents, it threatens to be yet another trojan horse for copyright and internet issues. ( )

We have been following developments since Pres. Barack Obama announced his intention to create a U.S.-EU agreement at his State of the Union address earlier this year. Now, it seems that our concerns were warranted: a newly leaked document from La Quadrature du Net shows how EU delegates intend to set rules around liability for Internet Service Providers and regulations over the transfer and processing of users’ personal online data, as well as rules to set a “uniform approach” to cyber security across the region. While the document makes no mention of copyright enforcement, other statements lead us to believe that it will also be included.
U.S. and European delegates will negotiate TAFTA secretly, mirroring the same undemocratic processes that led to the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA). Like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement, TAFTA’s objective is to address a wide range of cross-border regulatory issues under one overarching agreement. In March, EFF joined 44 other U.S. and EU organizations in calling for transparency in the process and to ask our trade representatives to leave copyright, patent, and trademark issues off of the drafting table.

In light of the recent revelations, La Quadrature du Net says TAFTA is bound to threaten freedoms online:
The precedent of ACTA shows that industries can have tremendous (if not total) influence on the content of such an agreement, and that EU negotiators from the Commission can hardly be trusted to defend general interest […]
The same goes for U.S. negotiators. Lobbyists paid by the concentrated wealth of special interests currently dominate the objectives of our national trade policies—such as Internet companies that would prefer lax privacy controls, or entertainment industry companies pushing for copyright crackdowns. The creators and users of new, decentralized technology, who exercise their right to free speech and association over the Internet, have no voice at the table. This results in agreements, like ACTA or TPP, that uphold the concerns of a few powerful private interests at the expense of the present and future public interest and the civil liberties of Internet users worldwide.

Given how trade delegates have reacted so far over this latest transatlantic agreement, there is no doubt that established corporate interests from both sides of the Atlantic will do the same to influence TAFTA. If the process were open and transparent, we would at least know if and when problematic language was being included in this agreement. Until there are more leaked documents, we can only guess what kinds of specific proposals trade negotiators are developing inside these closed-door meetings.
Last week, European leaders publicly complained that TAFTA was impossible given the revelations that the U.S. spies on its Europe’s negotiators. That now looks to have been political bluff. It seems that surveillance by trade partners will continue to be acceptable, as long as the negotiations themselves are concealed from the general public.