David Rogers piece in today’s Politico on the reasons for the current profitability of cattle ranching is must read for anyone wanting a better understanding of the economics of a central segment of our food system. Clocking in at over 2500 words, it’s a bit of an investment, but well worth the investment.
The basics? Beef prices are up, corn prices are down.
Beef prices are up because we have far few head of cattle than we did even a few years ago.
As of January 2014, the total inventory of cattle and calves in the U.S. had fallen to 87.7 million — the lowest since Harry Truman was president. More important, the number of all cows and heifers that have calved was just 38.3 million, the lowest since 1941 and Franklin D. Roosevelt.
That’s been driven by the ethanol boom, which displaced hay and pasture in the Midwest to make room for more corn and three years of drought in states like Texas and Oklahoma. Meanwhile, exports to Asia have doubled in recent years, creating competition with domestic demand. This is in part driven by demand from China where US beef imports are illegal, but pour in through Vietnam and Hong Kong in a barely secret black market.
With prices high, the industry is trying to respond by increasing herd sizes again. Here’s the catch, cows don’t have litters, they have one calf at a time. Too produce bigger herds, ranchers need to hang on to more cows to have more calves. The project of rebuilding a herd is a multi-year project. The challenge is compounded by the fact that cattle live outdoors in an uncontrolled environment. There’s a lot going on.
Among the many fun facts in the piece: 84 percent of the beef cows in America are still in herds of 500 head or fewer. There are some parts of Ag that Big just won’t go.
Nathanael Johnson’s recent interview with veteran organic farmer Tom Willey made about a dozen great points and raised about a dozen vexing issues. I’d like to look at just one of them.
In the interview, Willey is outlines two problems with one solution. One of those problems is going to get more difficult for organic producers over time.
[On the value of farmer’s labor] Because we think that growing other people’s food is as important as, you know, being people’s pastor or doctor or lawyer, and those professions are certainly well compensated. So why have farmers always had to take it in the shorts economically? And grow food for so many people and work so many hours and so hard for so little remuneration?
I don’t have his permission to say who he is, but there’s a very successful and highly revered organic farmer on the East Coast, and two years ago he had a horrible bout with cancer and he didn’t have the money for health insurance. I mean that is just unconscionable. And he is feeding many people some of the best organic products that we know of. It’s just not right.
[On tracking costs] We don’t do that to that anal of a level in our farm, but we do it. We do it particularly with labor, because on a farm like ours it’s insanely labor intensive. I’m telling you the truth here: When I sell you a dollar’s worth of produce, 70 cents of that goes to labor compensation. We’ve had a wave of wage increases here in the Valley over the past year, because the scarcity of labor has become extreme with the border shut down for so many years. The border used to be a semi-permeable membrane, they’d open the valve a little bit close the valve a little bit, but since everyone has gone apoplectic about immigration, the border is basically shut down. So little by little the labor pool is eroding here.
[On working with immigrant workers] Well we do, we do, and a lot of our employees appreciate the fact that they have year-round work and other benefits. But when that wage started going up, our employees came to us and said, “Hey we need to have a chat here.” So we had a big meeting out in the front yard of the farm and we discussed it. They said, the disparity is just getting too great and you have to do something, or some of us are going to start melting away. So we instantly raised the wage a dollar. And with that, some of our crops became money losers, so we actually had to lose some of our diversity.
[On the need for serious attention to bookkeeping and marketing] There’s a saying that farmers are always price takers, not price makers. You have to become a farmer who is a price maker. You have to distinguish your product from the masses in the market.
We really need to be growing the highest quality, most nutrient-dense produce. Unfortunately we don’t have the tools to assess that cheaply on a daily basis. If you can do that, you are a price maker.
If you are just selling into an amorphous market, under someone else’s label, you are a price taker. But if you are selling locally, you can really identify your customers. We established our name and our label and found a few thousand people who would support it. You just carve out your constituency, figure out how to produce what they need, and get them to understand that they need to pay you fairly for it.
The first problem is the historical weakness that farmers have suffered from in the market’s price mechanism. For specialty growers (produce), this stems from the fact that they are selling a perishable good and they feel the clock ticking much more keenly than the buyer on the other end of the transaction. This is compounded by the tendency of agricultural markets towards gluts. Everyone’s asparagus crop hits the market at the same time, and they all need to sell in the same window of time.
That problem affects all specialty growers, not just organic growers and the problem of gluts is an even bigger problem for commodity crop growers which is the reason why we have had various price stabilization policies in place since the Great Depression. The second problem Willey talks about is the fact that cultivating, processing and transporting organic produce on a small scale is incredibly labor intensive. This is where small organic producers run into a parallel version of Baumol’s cost disease.
The New Yorker’s James Suroweiki explains the disease:
When Mozart composed his String Quintet in G Minor (K. 516), in 1787, you needed five people to perform it—two violinists, two violists, and a cellist. Today, you still need five people, and, unless they play really fast, they take about as long to perform it as musicians did two centuries ago. So much for progress.
An economist would say that the productivity of classical musicians has not improved over time, and in this regard the musicians aren’t alone. In a number of industries, workers produce about as much per hour as they did a decade or two ago. The average college professor can’t grade papers or give lectures any faster today than he did in the early nineties. It takes a waiter just as long to serve a meal, and a car-repair guy just as long to fix a radiator hose.
The rest of the American economy functions differently. In most businesses, workers are continually getting more productive and can produce a lot more per hour than they could ten or twenty years ago. In 1979, workers at G.M. needed forty-one hours to assemble a car. Today, they need just twenty-four.
. . . Generally, productivity growth is a boon, but it creates problems for non-productive enterprises like classical music, education, and car repair: to keep luring talent, they have to increase wages, or else people eventually migrate to businesses that pay better. Instead of becoming nurses or mechanics, they become telecom engineers or machinists. That’s why teachers are getting paid a lot more than they were twenty years ago. (The average salary for an associate college professor has risen almost seventy per cent since the early eighties, and that’s if you adjust for inflation.) To pay those wages, schools and hospitals have to raise prices. The result is that in industries where productivity is flat costs and prices keep going up. Economists call this phenomenon “Baumol’s cost disease,” after William Baumol, the N.Y.U. economist who first made the diagnosis, using the Mozart analogy, in the sixties.
The problem for farmers is that they are competing with more productive industries for workers, but that they the goods they are selling compete directly with substitutes from more productive competitors.
Even the most vocal supporters have found organic [pdf] to require 35% more labor. On top of that, organic yields are consistently lower which is another way of saying that land costs per unit are higher. Because of the way that organic standards in the US are structured, the productivity gaps in labor and yield will almost certainly continue to widen over time. This means organic farmers will be competing with products that are increasingly cheaper in relative terms over time. Compound this with the structural problems that make all farmers price takers and you are facing a very steep climb. This is too say nothing of the problems with economies of scale that small farmers are saddled with.
From the start, Willey’s solution to these problems has been marketing. For farmers who choose organic certification, there are currently only two paths to profitability. You can either sell your soul and go big; selling tomatoes for sauce and canned tomatoes, salad greens for supermarket clamshells; or you can go niche, reaching high end restaurants, farmers markets and use the CSA model. This doesn’t bode well for those of us who’d like to see more produce grown under organic best practices at scales that can feed more people, more afford-ably, more sustainably. It’s not at all clear how marketing can take organic past carving out a niche market to capture the necessary price premium. If that is sufficient for those that want to follow their farming muse and find meaningful, remunerative work as farmers, that’s all to the good, but it relegates independent organic produce farms to being significant cultural assets, but insignificant parts of the food system.
Sustainable farming needs math as much as mulch, says one veteran
Nathanael Johnson | Thought for Food | Grist | 30 January 2014
What Ails Us
James Surowiecki | The New Yorker | 7 July 2003
Organic and Conventional Farming Systems: Environmental and Economic Issues [pdf]
David Pimentel1, Paul Hepperly, James Hanson, Rita Seidel and David Douds | Bioscience | July 2005
The crop yield gap between organic and conventional
Tomek de Ponti,Bert Rijk,Martin K. van Ittersum | Agricultural Systems | April 2012
Comparing the yields of organic and conventional agriculture
Verena Seufert,Navin Ramankutty & Jonathan A. Foley | Nature | 09 March 2012
Remarkable slideshow in The New York Times today.
Despite its small size, the Netherlands punches above its weight in farm exports, second only to the United States. When Henk Wildschut set out to photograph the food industry for “Document Nederland,” an exhibition by the Rijksmuseum and the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad, he says he saw it as unhealthy and unethical. But his project, which focused on innovative production efforts and became the basis for his book, “Food,” revealed a gap between the “consumer-driven romanticized ideal and the reality of food production.’’ Increasingly, he says, ‘‘our food is created in a clean world of rules and protocols.”
I can appreciate his feeling of disconnect from the agriculture that he found. But consider the contrast with the filth and cruelty of an industrial egg laying operation or the pollution from our CAFO’s.
The farm’s of a planet with 4 billion people are not going to feed a planet with 9 billion. They need to be the smartest farms they can be. The Dutch are giving us a glance at that.
The productivity is astonishing. Consider. The Netherlands is 41,543 sq km. The US is 9,826,675 sq km. The US is 236 times the size of the Netherlands. Yet at $102 Billion, the Netherlands agricultural exports are 70% of the United States $145 billion in exports.
The Netherlands agriculture economy is 5x’s as productive as the European average. Factor those productivity numbers on top of the fact that the Netherlands minimum wage at $11.77 an hour is high compared to most of Europe. In fact, higher productivity in that sector would imply higher wages relative to less productive sectors in the Dutch economy. Meanwhile in the US farm workers bottom out at $7.25 an hour.
It goes to show that high tech, high productivity agriculture can be sustainable and humane without being exploitative. Check it out if you want to see what agriculture on a planet with 9 Billion middle class inhabitants is going to look like.
De Wieringermeer grows red, yellow and green sweet peppers on a 40-hectare site in Wieringermeer. An individual hectare is marked off with colored ribbon to provide staff with a visual clue of the growth process and allow for work to be planned accordingly.
At the Swine Innovation Center at Wageningen University, a small porker used a toilet system called Pigsy. Piglets are trained early to defecate in a special corner of the facility, making it possible to collect feces at a single point, which lowers ammonia emissions.
More of Henk Wildschut’s food photography can be food here.
1.WHAT THE FEDERAL SHUTDOWN MEANS FOR PEOPLE WHO EAT AND GROW FOOD
Sam Brasch | Modern Farmer
The USDA Can’t…
Help pregnant women or women with new children buy healthy food. Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) doesn’t have funding to continue during the shutdown. The $6 billion dollar program buys healthy food for pregnant women or new mothers if they are poor or at risk of buying unhealthy food. The Huffington Post reports that states can step in for a few days, but if the shutdown goes on too long, mothers and kids could be turned away.
Keep in touch with consumers. In the event of a shutdown, the USDA will basically shutter its office of communications. The website will go dark, reporters won’t have anyone to contact, and all USDA publications and press releases will stop. So even if the agency can find a listeria outbreak, it’s won’t have all channels available to let you know about it.
Keep their databases open. This might not seem like a big deal, but for farmers, it’s huge. Markets rely on reports from the USDA to set the price of soy, wheat, corn, beef, etc. Without an October report traders would be adjusting prices in the dark and farmers would be selling without knowing the real value of their crops.
2.THE RISE OF FOOD ALLERGIES AND FIRST WORLD PROBLEMS
Noah Davis | Pacific Standard
Dr. Scott H. Sicherer, a professor of pediatrics and chief of the Division of Allergy and Immunology at The Mount Sinai Medical Center’s Jaffe Food Allergy Institute, told me that his team conducted a random calling in 1997. It showed one in 250 children were allergic to peanuts. When they did the same study in 2008, the number jumped to one in 70. “That sounds crazy, because it’s a tripling, but the numbers from other countries are similar,” the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI) fellow said, pointing to similar studies with similar results from Canada, the U.K., and Australia.
4. DO HIPSTERS ON FOOD STAMPS SHOP AT WHOLE FOODS?
Dana Woldow | BeyondChron
How many of Saunders’ imagined able-bodied childless moochers can possibly be getting SNAP benefits? According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, as recently as 2011, children and elderly or disabled adults comprised 64% of SNAP recipients. Of the remaining 36%, 22% are adults in families with children; just 14% of SNAP recipients are able bodied, childless adults of working age. With about 48 million individuals getting SNAP, that would be about 6.7 million potential “deadbeats”.
But according to the USDA, “Generally, able-bodied adults aged 18 to 50 who do not have children and are not pregnant can only get SNAP benefits for 3 months in a 3-year period unless they are working or participating in a work or workfare program.”
5. THE PLIGHT OF THE POLLINATORS
Jason Mark | Civil Eats
“Earlier this year people were getting very worried, because they weren’t seeing monarchs very far north,” says Lincoln Brower, a research professor of biology at Sweet Briar College and a butterfly expert. “Our predictions have proven to be true. There have been very few sightings in August and now into September. Right now things are looking very grim. I have seen a total of five monarchs in my garden since October 2012. I would normally see a couple of hundred, at least.”
Several species of native bumblebees are also suffering.
“As dramatic as the honeybee declines have been, they pale in comparison to what we have seen with our native bumblebees,” says Eric Mader, a program director at the Xerces Society, an Oregon-based group working to raise awareness about the role of native pollinators. “Honeybees are not going extinct, and that’s the crucial difference with our native pollinators.”
HOUSE MEMBERS ADVOCATE FOR ORGANIC AGRICULTURE IN FARM BILL
National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition
A bipartisan group of Representatives delivered a “Dear Colleague” letter to House leadership on Friday September 27th, calling for House farm bill conferees to support key programs for organic agriculture in any upcoming negotiations.
Thanks to the leadership of Representatives Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Richard Hanna (R-NY), Sam Farr (D-CA), and Ron Kind (D-WI) , as well as strong grassroots pressure from NSAC members and partners in the organic sector, dozens of Representatives from both parties and all parts of the country have joined together in calling for key investments in the future of organic agriculture as an essential part of the 2013 Farm Bill.
7. RECIPE: WHOLE WHEAT PENNE OR FUSILLI WITH FRESH TOMATOES, SHELL BEANS AND FETA
Martha Rose Shulman | The New York Times
Shell beans and tomatoes are still available at the end of September in farmers’ markets, and I’ll continue to make pasta with uncooked tomatoes until there are no sweet tomatoes to be found. Shell beans are a rare treat, soft and velvety, to be savored during their short season.
This piece has gotten fairly wide circulation and deservedly so. I have a few quibbles and observations.
1. You really need to disentangle biotech seeds and problems relating to the pesticide use associated with specific seeds before you explain how they are related. To someone who isn’t already on top of the issues, they are hopelessly conflated in this piece.
The local differences over glyphosate are feeding the long-running debate over biotech crops, which currently account for roughly 90 percent of the corn, soybeans and sugar beets grown in the United States.
While regulators and many scientists say biotech crops are no different from their conventional cousins, others worry that they are damaging the environment and human health. The battle is being waged at the polls, with ballot initiatives to require labeling of genetically modified foods; in courtrooms, where lawyers want to undo patents on biotech seeds; and on supermarket shelves containing products promoting conventionally grown ingredients.
This is the opposite problem from what Amy Harmon was criticized for in her citrus greening piece. Many felt that she did not provide enough context. I disagreed with that criticism. I thought Harmon was wise not to attach a giant boilerplate rehash of the entire GMO debate before moving on to tell the story that she had chosen to tell. Balancing the proper amount of background necessary for clarity and context is tricky.
2. Strom’s choice to use the term ‘biotech’ without ever using ‘GMO’ is an interesting and loaded choice. I’m not entirely sure what to make of it. Is there a move a foot at The Times to tell these stories in a less polarizing way? Not enough data. Stay tuned.
3. I’m sure that this story will fuel Monsanto Derangement Syndrome but it’s not clear to me that there are any clear policy takeaways other than the need for funding independent ag research at our public universities to make sure farmers get the information they need to make good choices.
1.WHITEHOUSE CONVENING ON MARKETING TO CHILDREN
Eddie Gehman Kohan | Obamafoodorama
“I’m here today with one simple request– and that is to do even more and move even faster to market responsibly to our kids,” Mrs. Obama said.
Speaking from beneath the historic portrait of Lincoln in the packed State Dining Room, Mrs. Obama laid out her vision for continuing the “cultural shift” toward healthier eating she said is already underway thanks to her Let’s Move! campaign.
More than 100 guests attended the event, billed by the White House as the first of its kind at 1600 Penn. They included representatives from food, beverage and media giants, as well as academic experts, parent leaders and public health advocates.
2. MICHAELS FINGERS
Paul Bennett | Medium
I am sitting talking to Sean, a 17-year-old working-class kid from Handsworth, a notoriously tough area of Birmingham in the UK’s Midlands. His speech is strangely inarticulate and slurred, his accent heavy and laced with slang—original Jamaican patois mixed with English street. I have family from Birmingham and know the nasal dialect,but even I am struggling to understand and keep up.
What I do understand is that Sean is hiding something. He has a condition known as Phenylketonuria, a serious metabolic disorder that we are studying for a client of ours. They manufacture a food supplement which helps moderate the effects. PKU, as it is known, is an inability for the human body to process any form of complex protein, meaning that the sufferer is resigned to a life of bland, low-protein food: no red meat, chicken, cheese, nuts, or legumes. Staples such as bread, pasta and rice have to be carefully monitored. Most are simply impossible to digest.
4. USDA PILOT PROGRAM FAILS TO STOP CONTAMINATED MEAT
Kimberly Kindy | The Washington Post | 8 September 2013
A meat inspection program that the Agriculture Department plans to roll out in pork plants nationwide has repeatedly failed to stop the production of contaminated meat at American and foreign plants that have already adopted the approach, documents and interviews show.
The program allows meat producers to increase the speed of processing lines by as much as 20 percent and cuts the number of USDA safety inspectors at each plant in half, replacing them with private inspectors employed by meat companies. The approach has been used for more than a decade by five American hog plants under a pilot program.
But three of these plants were among the 10 worst offenders in the country for health and safety violations, with serious lapses that included failing to remove fecal matter from meat, according to a report this spring by the USDA inspector general. The plant with the worst record by far was one of the five in the pilot program.
5. MAKING FOOD FROM FLIES (IT’S NOT THAT ICKY)
Dan Charles | The Salt | NPR
n the quirky little college town of Yellow Springs, Ohio, home to many unconventional ideas over the years, there’s now a small insect factory.
It’s an unassuming operation, a generic boxy building in a small industrial park. It took me a while even to find a sign with the company’s name: . But its goal is grand: The people at EnviroFlight are hoping that their insects will help our planet grow more food while conserving land and water.
They don’t expect you to eat insects. (Sure, Asians and Africans do it, but Americans are finicky.) The idea is, farmed insects will become food for fish or pigs.
6. US DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE GUTS ORGANIC LAW
In a move decried by consumer and environmental groups as severely weakening the meaning of the organic label, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced this week that the agency had changed the process for exempting otherwise prohibited substances (such as synthetics) in food that carries the “organic” or “made with organic” label. No public comment period was provided for the changes to this policy, which had been in place since 2005.
Under the federal organic law and prior to Friday’s announcement, there was a controlled process for allowing the use of substances not normally permitted in organic production because of extenuating circumstances. These exemptions were supposed to be made for a five-year period, in order to encourage the development of natural (or organic) alternatives. The exemptions were required by law to expire, known as “sunset,” unless they were reinstated by a two-thirds “decisive” majority vote of the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) and include a public review. This is no longer the case.
7. MISGIVINGS ABOUT HOW A WEED KILLER AFFECTS THE SOIL
Stephanie Strom | The New York Times
Dirt in two fields around Alton where biotech corn was being grown was hard and compact. Prying corn stalks from the soil with a shovel was difficult, and when the plants finally came up, their roots were trapped in a chunk of dirt. Once freed, the roots spread out flat like a fan and were studded with only a few nodules, which are critical to the exchange of nutrients.
In comparison, conventional corn in adjacent fields could be tugged from the ground by hand, and dirt with the consistency of wet coffee grounds fell off the corn plants’ knobby roots.
“Because glyphosate moves into the soil from the plant, it seems to affect the rhizosphere, the ecology around the root zone, which in turn can affect plant health,” said Robert Kremer, a scientist at the United States Agriculture Department, who has studied the impact of glyphosate on soybeans for more than a decade and has warned of the herbicide’s impact on soil health.
Here’s some food for thought: One-third of the world’s food goes to waste every year. In the U.S., about 40 percent of our food gets thrown out. It’s happening on the farm, at the grocery store and in our own homes.
Lately, there’s been a lot of talk about what to do about it — from that’s past its prime to getting restaurants to .
, the former president of Trader Joe’s, is determined to repurpose the perfectly edible produce slightly past its sell-by date that ends up in the trash. (That happens in part because people misinterpret the labels, according to a out this week from Harvard and the National Resources Defense Council.) To tackle the problem, Rauch is opening a new market early next year in Dorchester, Mass., that will prepare and repackage the food at deeply discounted prices.
HOW TO EAT ON NATIONAL TALK LIKE A PIRATE DAY
Jesse Rhodes | Food and Think | Smithsonian
From a food standpoint, a pirate’s life was problematic. Being at sea and without easy access to major seaports meant that there was rarely a steady supply of food and hunger was a regular aspect of day-to-day living. Much of their lives were spent on board a ship, and perpetually damp conditions put normal pantry staples such as flour and dried beans at high risk of mold. Climate also presented preservation problems: if sailing in warmer regions of the world, such as the Caribbean, keeping fresh fruits and meats was near impossible. Fresh water was also difficult to keep during long sea voyages because it could develop algae scum. By contrast, alcohol would never spoil, making beer and rum the preferred preferred beverages. Rum, in addition to being consumed straight up, was used along with cinnamon and other spices to sweeten stagnant water and make grog. Dried meats and hardtack, a relatively shelf-stable biscuit, were regular parts of a pirate’s diet, although the latter was frequently infested with weevils.
SLIDESHOW: THE SAD STATE OF SCHOOL LUNCH IN THE U.S.
The photos come to us from the youth nonprofit DoSomething.org, who have asked teens to share photos of their school lunches throughout the month of September. The full gallery is on the Do Something site, and users can vote to “toss” or “eat” each photo.
As demonstrated by the cringe-worthy images above, it’s an effective campaign idea — and the nonprofit plans to use the data gathered to create a “heat map” of school lunches in the U.S. Their goal is to raise awareness of the sad state of nutrition in public schools.
JUST WHAT THE DOCTOR ORDERED: MED STUDENTS TEAM WITH CHEFS
Kristen Goulray | The Salt | NPR
For the past few weeks, the culinary arts students at University in Providence, R.I., have been working with some less-than-seasoned sous chefs.
One of them, Clinton Piper, may look like a pro in his chef’s whites, but he’s struggling to work a whisk through some batter. “I know nothing about baking,” he says.
Luckily, he’s got other qualifications. Piper is a fourth-year medical student at , and he’s here for a short rotation through a new designed to educate med students and chefs-in-training about nutrition.
Johanna Terron, 14, has lost over 20 pounds over the past year. She receives a prescription for fruits and vegetables from her pediatrician at Lincoln Hospital.
“I think it’s forward thinking to start to see, to view food as medicine,” he says. “That’s not something that’s really on our radar in medical education. But with the burden of disease in the United States being so heavily weighted with lifestyle disease, I think it’s a very, very logical next step.”
David Hayden | Farming America
2)You portray meat being processed and coming straight out of factories. Where do you think your meat comes from? I’m a meat scientist and have been in PLENTY of “Factories” that produce YOUR products. That’s right, farmer John isn’t killing and processing your meat on the family farm, it’s all coming from a factory. So please don’t act like just because you carry an “All Natural” label your products are exempt from processing.
Really Chipotle, what is this? Are you simulating farmers pumping hormones into their chicken so they grow big and fat? Let’s talk about that for a second; hormones are ILLEGAL, so since they are illegal, they are NOT used in poultry production. My family raises commercial poultry, and let me tell you, there is no “shot giving” to any of those animals. I couldn’t imagine giving 100,000 birds an individual shot. THIS DOESN’T HAPPEN.
GM FOOD FIGHT: WHY THE GATES FOUNDATION WANTS TO MAKE RICE GOLDEN
Tom Paulson | Humanosphere
“We fully expect golden rice will continue to be a lightning rod in this debate,” said Alex Reid, a spokeswoman for the Gates Foundation on its agricultural programs. The Seattle philanthropy supports research into a variety of GM crop technologies as one of many options aimed at improving agricultural productivity and utility in poor communities, Reid said, but their spending on GMOs remains less than 10 percent of the entire agricultural program budget. She noted that the Gates Foundation has spent about $2 billion on agriculture since adding that to its humanitarian portfolio in the mid-2000s. The most recent annual report, Reid said, put agriculture spending at more than $370 million in 2011 (with the golden rice project getting about $10 million).
Support for golden rice research also comes from the Rockefeller Foundation and the US Agency for International Development.
“If it turns out to be safe an effective, we would support it,” she said. “For now, we just see it as one of many options. We would describe our position on this as ‘technologically agnostic,’ meaning we are neither for or against GM crops. We just want to use what works.”
GOLDEN RICE NOT SO GOLDEN FOR TUFTS
Martin Enserink | Science
A study in which Chinese children were fed a small amount of genetically modified rice violated university and U.S. federal rules on human research, according to a statement issued yesterday by Tufts University in Boston, whose scientists led the study. Tufts has barred the principal investigator, Guangwen Tang, from doing human research for 2 years and will require her to undergo training in research on human subjects.
In August 2012, Tang and colleagues published a study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showing that golden rice is a promising source of vitamin A in Chinese children aged 6 to 8 years old. The study ignited a media firestorm in China a few weeks later, after Greenpeace issued a statement claiming that the children were used as “guinea pigs” and labeling the study a “scandal of international proportions.” Three Chinese collaborators who initially denied involvement in the study, according to media reports, were punished for their participation in December, following an official investigation in China, and parents of the children received generous financial compensation from the Chinese government.
. . . The reviews found no evidence of health or safety problems in the children fed golden rice; they also concluded that the study’s data were scientifically accurate and valid. Indeed, Souvaine’s letter to the USDA stresses that the results “have important public health and nutrition implications, for China and other parts of the world.”