Category Archives: Food

water. AUS style.

I had not hear about this from my AUS kids…  Hmm?

Dead kangaroos and a dying river are results of Australian system considered in the U.S.

Australia’s Darling River was once filled with fleets of paddle steamers carrying wool to ships bound for England. For nearly two centuries, it provided fresh water to farmers seeking to tame Australia’s rugged interior.

No longer. The Darling River hasn’t flowed for eight months, with long stretches completely dried up. A million fish died there in January. Kangaroos, lizards and birds became sick or died after drinking from toxic pools of stagnant water.

Australia’s water-trading market is drawing blame. The problems with the system, created more than a decade ago, have arisen as similar programs are being considered in the U.S.

“We’ve seen a complete market failure,” says Katharine McBride, whose husband, Rob McBride, is a rancher at Tolarno Station, along the Darling River some 700 miles west of Sydney. “It is becoming pretty clear that there is large-scale corruption and manipulation.”

Water crises are unfolding across the world as surging populations, industrial-scale farming and hotter temperatures deplete supplies.

Australia’s experience is a warning to the U.S., where Western states including California, Nevada and Arizona are looking at Australian-style water-trading plans to apply more market discipline to water usage.

Australia thought it had the answer: a cap-and-trade system that would create incentives to use water efficiently and effectively in the world’s driest inhabited continent. But the architects of water trading didn’t anticipate that treating water as a commodity would encourage theft and hoarding.

A report produced for a state resources regulator found the current situation on the Darling was caused by too much water being extracted from the river by a handful of big farmers. Just four license holders control 75% of the water extracted from the Barwon- Darling river system.

The national government, concerned that its water-trading experiment hasn’t turned out as intended, last month requested an inquiry by the country’s antitrust regulator into water trading.

Anticorruption authorities are investigating instances of possible fraud, water theft and deal making for water licenses. In one case, known as Watergate, a former agriculture minister allegedly oversaw the purchase of a water license at a record price from a Cayman Islands company cofounded by the current energy minister.

The former agriculture minister said he was following departmental advice and had no role in determining the price or the vendor. The energy minister said he is no longer involved with the company and received no financial benefit from the deal.

Water has been bought and sold in parts of the U.S. for decades. The Colorado-Big Thompson project in Colorado is one of the most active markets, but trading has never grown to make much of a difference in overall supply.

In California, some local authorities see trading as a way to comply with legislation that requires groundwater use to reach sustainable levels by the early 2040s. In Nevada, the state engineer approved a water- trading plan in January in the Diamond Valley, near the town of Eureka.

The Nevada plan is meant to change a system in which farmers each year use twice the amount of groundwater replenished by rainfall. Under the plan, which faces a court challenge from farmers and ranchers, water users would be allocated shares that they could freely sell, trade or bank, with each share representing a unit of water. Each

year, the number of water units decline, resulting in a reduction of use.

Since 2007, Australia has allowed not only farmers but also investors who want to profit from trading to buy and sell water shares. The water market is now valued at some $20 billion.

Putting a price on water was supposed to encourage smarter decisions. Farmers would grow crops that paid the highest returns, and local river systems would be nursed back to health because people would stop wasting cheap water. One benefit of the system has been that farmers who couldn’t plant during dry years could sell their water rights to others, saving many from bankruptcy.

But making water valuable had unintended consequences in some places. “Once you create something of real value, you should expect people to attempt to steal it and search for ways to cheat,” says Mike Young, a University of Adelaide professor.

Big water users have stolen billions of liters of water from rivers and lakes, according to local media investigations and officials, often by pumping it secretly and at night from remote locations that aren’t metered.

A new water regulator set up in New South Wales investigated more than 300 tips of alleged water thefts in its first six months of operation.

In 2018, authorities charged a group of cotton farmers with stealing water, including one that pleaded guilty to pumping enough illegally to fill dozens of Olympic-size pools.

Another problem is that water trading gives farmers an incentive to capture more rain and floodwater, and then hoard it, typically by building storage tanks or lining dirt ditches with concrete. That enables them to collect rain before it seeps into the earth or rivers.

David Littleproud, Australia’s water-resources minister, says 14% of water licenses are now owned by investors. “Is that really the intent of what we want this market to be?” he asks.

Even without theft and hoarding, the water market has changed Australia’s landscape. Because investors could secure large quantities of water, there was a shift from crops including wheat to the more water-intensive citrus, cotton and almonds, further taxing Australia’s limited supply. The risk is that a drought, rather than wiping out one or two wheat crops, will kill the nut and citrus trees, causing much deeper losses.

“When you push people to find the highest return, the system’s vulnerability is hugely intensified,” says Erin O’Donnell, a water expert at the University of Melbourne.

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Glyphosate?

WSJ  9/4/2019   One of the safest herbicides on the planet.

Perhaps you’ve read that science should rule when determining environmental standards. So why aren’t progressives cheering an Environmental Protection Agency order declaring that the chemical glyphosate doesn’t cause cancer?

In an extraordinary intervention, the EPA recently said it will no longer approve product labels that claim glyphosate is carcinogenic to humans. Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Roundup, the popular weed killer. The herbicide has been on the U.S. market since 1974, and the scientific consensus is that it isn’t carcinogenic in humans.

The letter is a rebuke to California, which in 2015 said it would add glyphosate to its official list of carcinogens under the state’s 1986 Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act, known as Proposition 65. California cited the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer’s finding that glyphosate “probably” causes cancer.

This is the U.N. outfit that has warned against cancer from pickled vegetables, caffeine and working the night shift. California’s move has inspired a flood of lawsuits against Roundup-maker Monsanto, including a $2 billion jury judgment (reduced to $86 million by a judge) in May for a California couple claiming glyphosate caused their cancer.

EPA’s letter is an attempt to restore science to the glyphosate debate and counter California’s rogue regulation. The letter cites EPA’s extensive review of the scientific literature on glyphosate, as well as the concurring judgments of regulators in Canada, Australia, the European Union, Germany, New Zealand and Japan.

The agency also cites its labeling authority under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act, which should pre-empt

The EPA intervenes against California’s rogue cancer regulation.

state law. The EPA letter says it “considers the Proposition 65 warning language based on the chemical glyphosate to constitute a false and misleading statement.”

The EPA letter should also be evidence in current litigation brought by farm groups against California. In 2018 a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction against California, finding the farm plaintiffs would likely prevail in their claims that the state’s cancer-label requirement violates their First Amendment rights.

California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment responded to the EPA letter by calling it “disrespectful of the scientific process,” but the opposite is true. California is the regulatory outlier attempting to impose its standards despite the precedent that federal law sets national standards on health and safety when Congress’s language is clear.

The EPA might also make a difference in thousands of lawsuits against glyphosate manufacturers. Many of the suits claim Monsanto and others failed to warn consumers about cancer risks, and defendants can now point out that they are barred by federal regulators from issuing such warnings.

California state judges overseeing current glyphosate lawsuits have largely excluded EPA’s conclusions as evidence in court. But anyone who cares about science and the law should welcome the EPA’s intervention.

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Is the FDA Lying?

I think this is something that needs more visibility.
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WSJ 8/6/2018

In the mold of “Mad Men’s” Don Draper, clever ad execs know a thing or two about manipulating consumer ignorance, confusion and even fear to sell a product.

Nowhere is this truer than modern food advertising, where dubious health claims and questionable scientific assertions abound. The Food and Drug Administration is supposed to police such deceptive practices, as it sometimes does with ridiculous zeal: Witness the FDA’s warning letter sent to a Massachusetts bakery for including “love” in its ingredient list.

But when it comes to the $47-billion-a-year organic industry, the FDA gives a complete pass to blatantly false and deceptive advertising claims. Consider the Whole Foods website, which explicitly claims that organic foods are grown “without toxic or persistent pesticides.” In fact, organic farmers rely on synthetic and natural pesticides to grow their crops, just as conventional farmers do, and organic products can contain numerous synthetic as well as natural chemicals. As observed by UC Berkeley biochemist Bruce Ames and his colleagues in 1990, “99.99% (by weight) of the pesticides in the American diet are chemicals that plants produce to defend themselves.”

Pesticides are by definition toxic, and many organic pesticides pose significant environmental and human health risks. One is copper sulfate, a widely used broad-spectrum organic pesticide that persists in soil and is the most common residue found in organic food. The European Union determined that copper sulfate may cause cancer and intended to ban it, but backed off because organic farmers don’t have any viable alternative.

In addition to blatant untruths, food marketers are masters at subtly misleading consumers. A favored technique is the “absence claim”— asserting a meaningless distinction between products in order to make theirs seem superior. Generally, the FDA comes down hard on such behavior. They would never allow an orange-juice producer to label its product “fat free,” for example. To claim an absence of a certain ingredient, there has to be a “standard of presence” in that product to begin with, and there is no fat in orange juice.

But Tropicana gets away with labeling its orange juice “Non-GMO Project

Verified,” and Hunt’s labels its canned crushed tomatoes “non-GMO,” even though there are no GMO (genetically modified organism) oranges or tomatoes on the market. In fact, absence claims about GMOs are never enforced: I was unable to find a single FDA warning letter or other enforcement action against deceptive “non-GMO” labeling.

The “Non-GMO Project” butterfly label emblazons more than 55,000 organic and nonorganic products on supermarket shelves today—many of which have no GMO counterpart or couldn’t possibly contain GMOs. The clear purpose of these labels, as one peer-reviewed academic study found, is to “stigmatize food produced with conventional processes even when there is no scientific evidence that they cause harm, or even that it is compositionally any different.” The labels and anti-genetic engineering propaganda are effective. Another recent study found nearly half of consumers avoid GMO-labeled foods. The FDA’s inaction is all the more surprising inasmuch as it has published explicit guidance on this issue: “Another example of a statement in food labeling that may be false or misleading could be the statement ‘None of the ingredients in this food is genetically engineered’ on a food where some of the ingredients are incapable of being produced through genetic engineering (e.g., salt).”

The FDA guidance goes even further. GMO absence claims can also be “false and misleading” if they imply that a certain food “is safer, more nutritious, or otherwise has different attributes than other comparable foods because the food was not genetically engineered.” But this is exactly what Non-GMO Project butterfly labels are all about. Its website describes certain foods as being at “high risk” of “GMO contamination.”

Giving the organic industry and others a pass to engage in such active deception undermines consumers’ choice, erodes trust in the market, and rigs the game. Consumers need aggressive FDA action to curb these abuses and level the playing field.

Dr. Miller, a physician and molecular biologist, is a fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. He was founding director of the FDA’s Office of Biotechnology.

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Farm to Fable

10% of the world’s population might have the $$ to pay for local, happy food, but the other 90% doesn’t want to pay the price of starvation on behalf of the 10%.
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WSJ 4/18/2016
From the first in a series of “Farm to Fable” articles by Tampa Bay Times food critic Laura Reiley, April 13:

With the tagline “Local, simple and honest,” Boca Kitchen Bar Market was among the first wave of farm-to-table restaurants in Tampa Bay to make the assertion “we use local products whenever possible.” I’ve reviewed the food. My own words are right there on their website: “local, thoughtful and, most importantly, delicious.”

But I’ve been had, from the snapper down to the beef.

It’s not just Boca. At Pelagia Trattoria at International Plaza, the “Florida blue crab” comes from the Indian Ocean. . . .

At Maritana Grille at the Loews Don CeSar, chefs claim to get pork from a farmer who doesn’t sell to them.

This is a story we are all being fed. A story about overalls, rich soil and John Deere tractors scattering broods of busy chickens. A story about healthy animals living happy lives, heirloom tomatoes hanging heavy and earnest artisans rolling wheels of cheese into aging caves nearby.

More often than not, those things are fairy tales.

http://ereader.wsj.net/?

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