Published May 3 2009 by Energy Bulletin
Archived May 3 2009

Food & agriculture - May 3

by Staff

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Report: "Evaluating the Performance of Genetically Engineered Crops"

Union of Concerned Scientists
For years the biotechnology industry has trumpeted that it will feed the world, promising that its genetically engineered crops will produce higher yields.

That promise has proven to be empty, according to Failure to Yield, a report by UCS expert Doug Gurian-Sherman released in March 2009. Despite 20 years of research and 13 years of commercialization, genetic engineering has failed to significantly increase U.S. crop yields.

Failure to Yield is the first report to closely evaluate the overall effect genetic engineering has had on crop yields in relation to other agricultural technologies. It reviewed two dozen academic studies of corn and soybeans, the two primary genetically engineered food and feed crops grown in the United States. Based on those studies, the UCS report concluded that genetically engineering herbicide-tolerant soybeans and herbicide-tolerant corn has not increased yields. Insect-resistant corn, meanwhile, has improved yields only marginally. The increase in yields for both crops over the last 13 years, the report found, was largely due to traditional breeding or improvements in agricultural practices.

The UCS report comes at a time when food price spikes and localized shortages worldwide have prompted calls to boost agricultural productivity, or yield -- the amount of a crop produced per unit of land over a specified amount of time. Biotechnology companies maintain that genetic engineering is essential to meeting this goal. Monsanto, for example, is currently running an advertising campaign warning of an exploding world population and claiming that its “advanced seeds… significantly increase crop yields…” The UCS report debunks that claim, concluding that genetic engineering is unlikely to play a significant role in increasing food production in the foreseeable future.
(14 April 2009)
Suggested by a scientist working in the field. The full report is available online. Oxfam comments on the report:
With the occasion of the launch of the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) report, “Failure to Yield: The Unmet Promise of Genetically Engineered Crops in the US,” Kimberly Pfeifer, Head of Research at Oxfam America, made the following statement:

“The UCS offers a useful report for emphasizing and demonstrating what is commonplace knowledge:
1. That genetically engineered (GE) crops to date do not increase intrinsic yield
2. They are limited in improving yield (with the exception of Bt varieties)
3. Other approaches have demonstrated improvements to yield

“With this review in hand UCS rightly questions why GE technology receives such privileged attention over other approaches."

Biochar good news, bad news
International Biochar Initiative newsletter
Executive director Stephen Brick's monthly column; unveiling of new biochar trials field guide; announcement of SSSA presentation availability; regional biochar group updates; Practitioner's Profile Mantria Industries LLC; and April 2009 biochar news.

Notes from Director
Steve Brick

... We have lots of basic blocking and tackling to do to bring biochar into the mainstream-which, by the way, continues to emerge as shorthand for IBI's mission. (Note to self: define mainstream, define biochar).

Well, I've got some good news and some bad news.

The good news is that there is rapidly growing awareness of biochar and its role in solving the world's environmental, energy and agricultural problems. A cadre of highly-credentialed scientists has identified biochar as a potential weapon in the battle against global warming. Some others have gone so far as to suggest that biochar can singlehandedly solve the climate problem, that it is a panacea.

The bad news is that this is not true; there are no panaceas, especially when it comes to decarbonizing the global economy. The bad news is that we have fewer actual answers than we need to make a watertight case for biochar, especially in a climate context. The bad news is that the world is full of incipient critics, looking for something to criticize-and a few of them have decided to focus on biochar as their particular object of derision.

So why don't sit on the sidelines and wait until we know the whole story? Simple. We don't have that luxury. We know enough about biochar's benefits-waste reduction, energy production, soil improvemen and carbon sequestration-to want to insure a role for it in our environmental and agricultural future. The policy world in particular is moving ahead quickly, and if we don't make a place in it for biochar now, it will
be much harder to do so later. So what's the plan?

I think we have a pretty good sense for what our basic blocking and tackling involves, and as IBI Executive Director, it's my job to make sure we maintain laser focus on these objectives:

First, we must promote the basic science needed on biochar production and utilization. What is biochar? How should we classify it? Which production systems and techniques make the best biochar? Which feedstocks should be promoted and which avoided?

Second, we need to advocate for policies that allow for the emergence of a biochar industry, recognizing its multi-faceted benefits. This means working simultaneously in environmental, energy, and agricultural policy arenas. This means working regionally, nationally, and internationally. Most challenging, this means arguing for policies before we have answers to the many research questions.

Third, we need many more well designed and monitored projects to produce and use biochar. We need these projects across the full range of production technologies and feedstocks. And we need them now.

Finally, we have to help the rapidly growing biochar community communicate with each other, learn from others, and succeed. ...
(1 May 2009)
International Biochar Initiative main site / newsletter archive .

Brazil slave labor complaints rise

AP via Yahoo!News
Reports of debt slavery reached record numbers in Brazil last year, and most of the cases were connected to the nation's booming sugarcane ethanol sector, according to a report released Wednesday by a watchdog group.

The report from the Catholic Land Pastoral, indicated there were 280 cases debt slavery reported in 2008, a 6 percent increase over 2007.

The report — relying on government data — also showed that 36 percent of those cases were linked to sugarcane production, which drives Brazil's much-lauded production of ethanol.
(29 April 2009)

Egypt orders slaughter of all pigs over swine flu

Maamoun Youssef, The Independent
Egypt began slaughtering the roughly 300,000 pigs in the country Wednesday as a precautionary measure against the spread of swine flu even though no cases have been reported here yet, the Health Ministry said.

The move immediately provoked resistance from pig farmers. At one large pig farming center just north of Cairo, farmers refused to cooperate with Health Ministry workers who came to slaughter the animals and the workers left without carrying out the government order.

"It has been decided to immediately start slaughtering all the pigs in Egypt using the full capacity of the country's slaughterhouses," Health Minister Hatem el-Gabaly told reporters after a Cabinet meeting with President Hosni Mubarak.

Egypt's overwhelmingly Muslim population does not eat pork due to religious restrictions. But the animals are raised and consumed by the Christian minority, which some estimates put at 10 percent of the population.
(29 April 2009)