Myth Three – Industrial Food is Cheap

From Fatal Harvest
The Seven Myths of Industrial Agriculture

3/31/09 Ukiah, North California

The Truth If you added the real cost of industrial food—its health, environmental, and social costs—to the current supermarket price, not even our wealthiest citizens could afford to buy it.

In America, politicians, business leaders, and the media continue to reassure us that our food is the cheapest in the world. They repeat their mantra that the more we apply chemicals and technology to agriculture, the more food will be produced and the lower the price will be to the consumer. This myth of cheap food is routinely used by agribusiness as a kind of economic blackmail against any who point out the devastating impacts of modern food production. Get rid of the industrial system, we are told, and you won’t be able to afford food. Using this “big lie,” the industry has even succeeded in portraying supporters of organic food production as wealthy elitists who don’t care about how much the poor will have to pay for food.

Under closer analysis, our supposedly cheap food supply becomes monumentally expensive. The myth of cheapness completely ignores the staggering externalized costs of our food, costs that do not appear on our grocery checkout receipts. Conventional analyses of the cost of food completely ignore the exponentially increasing social and environmental costs customers are currently paying and will have to pay in the future. We expend tens of billions of dollars in taxes, medical expenses, toxic clean-ups, insurance premiums, and other pass-along costs to subsidize industrial food producers. Given the ever-increasing health, environmental, and social destruction involved in industrial agriculture, the real price of this food production for future generations is incalculable.

Environmental Costs
Industrial agriculture’s most significant external cost is its widespread destruction of the environment. Intensive use of pesticides and fertilizers seriously pollutes our water, soil, and air. This pollution problem grows worse over time, as pests become immune to the chemicals and more and more poisons are required. Meanwhile, our animal factories produce 1.3 billion tons of manure each year. Laden with chemicals, antibiotics, and hormones, the manure leaches into rivers and water tables, polluting drinking supplies and causing fish kills in the tens of millions.

The Quiet Coup

The crash has laid bare many unpleasant truths about the United States. One of the most alarming, says a former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund, is that the finance industry has effectively captured our government—a state of affairs that more typically describes emerging markets, and is at the center of many emerging-market crises. If the IMF’s staff could speak freely about the U.S., it would tell us what it tells all countries in this situation: recovery will fail unless we break the financial oligarchy that is blocking essential reform. And if we are to prevent a true depression, we’re running out of time.

Keep reading The Quiet Coup at The Atlantic Magazine→

Once the five problem banks have been put into isolation by the FDIC and the Treasury, the Administration must introduce legislation to immediately repeal the Larry Summers bank deregulation including restore Glass-Steagall and repeal the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000 that allowed the present criminal abuse of the banking trust. Then serious financial reform can begin to be discussed, starting with steps to ‘federalize’ the Federal Reserve and take the power of money out of the hands of private bankers such as JP Morgan Chase, Citibank or Goldman Sachs.

See also Geithner’s ‘Dirty Little Secret’ at Global Research→

I suspect a trick…

From Michael Laybourn

3/30/09 Ukiah, North California

With a tip of the fedora for Janie Sheppard
The big question is why would DDR want to change the zoning to build a mall these days? The economy tells us quite clearly that malls and shopping centers are not the way to go. Mall developers including DDR are all in serious financial trouble, as we can see here:

Friday March 27, 2009, 10:58 am EDT
NEW YORK (AP) — Fitch Ratings downgraded several ratings on Developers Diversified Realty Corp. on Friday, citing the shopping center developer’s liquidity position.

Fitch downgraded Developers Diversified’s issuer default rating, $1.3 billion in unsecured revolving credit facilities, $1.4 billion in unsecured medium-term notes and $833 million in unsecured convertible notes one notch to “BBB-” from “BBB.” The new rating is Fitch’s lowest investment-grade rating.

Fitch also downgraded $555 million in preferred stock to “BB+” from “BBB-,” sending it into non-investment grade, or “junk,” status. It assigned a negative outlook to the new ratings, implying another downgrade could be forthcoming. Fitch also said the company would have a liquidity shortfall of $300 million through the end of 2010 due to limited availability under the company’s revolving credit facilities and debts coming due in 2010. Last week, the company was removed from the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index due to a low market capitalization.

Holy smokes! Here is a company spiraling down to worthlessness that wants to spend a huge amount of money to convince voters to change the zoning for the Masonite property they bought to build a mall. This doesn’t seem to make any sense, just considering their own financial problems. In the past year DDR’s stock has plummeted from a high in 2007 of around $70 per share to a low of under $2 a share as of March, 2009. Nosing around a little bit more, we find that In December, 2008, another article noted that:

Mendocino County Voters Beware!

From Janie Sheppard

3/30/09 Ukiah, North California

In April, a group calling itself Mendocino County Tomorrow will launch an effort to get enough signatures on a petition to allow placing an initiative on the ballot.

The initiative, if passed by a majority of Mendocino County voters, would allow building an 800,000 square foot mega mall on the old Masonite site, just north of the Ukiah city boundary.

Diversified Development Realty, better known by its initials “DDR,” realizing that the Board of Supervisors would vote 4-1 to defeat the attempt to change the zoning from industrial to retail, will now go to the voters.

The initiative, a 310-page document, would become the law on the Masonite site without environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act.  Once passed, the developer could do anything it pleased, provided what it wanted to do fit within the very loose parameters of the initiative.  The county would have no leverage to get changes.  Now, when the county finds a builder’s plans would damage the environment, the county planners can get the plans changed.  Not so on the Masonite site if the initiative passes.

DDR, if it remains the developer, has very little capital.  It would skimp on the fancy stuff that you likely saw in the appealing mailers.  We know this because on Friday, March 27th, Fitch Ratings, the same rating agency that downgraded the county’s debt, downgraded DDR’s debt.  DDR debt was downgraded to the lowest investment grade.  Its preferred stock now has “junk” status.  And, it has a “liquidity shortfall” of 300 Million Dollars.  DDR’s broke.

Alternatively, what DDR may be trying to do is put the Masonite site up for sale, recouping its 6 Million Dollar investment and then some.   In which case, the county would not be dealing with DDR, but with some other developer that would be so leveraged after buying the site, it too would have no money for niceties.

Don’t sign DDR’s petition.  Just say NO.

Let’s save the Masonite site for industry and real jobs.

We can do it.  Si se puede.

See also Is the American mall dying? at MSN Money→

Mendocino Coastline Threats

From Annie Esposito

3/30/09 Ukiah, North California

The Mendocino Coastline is facing three threats right now.  (Well, at least three.)  Offshore oil and gas development are back on the table, along with experiments in wave energy generation.  And the Navy wants to extend military training on the coast.

The Navy does a kind of high tech target practice out of Puget Sound, which extends down to the Humboldt-Mendocino line.  Supervisor John McCowan notes that fish and sea mammals don’t know about the line; and high tech target practice will affect Mendocino’s coast as well.  Officials from the Navy will be at the Board of Supervisors Tuesday March 31st, at 4 pm. They will be answering questions from the Supervisors and the public.  Community members are encouraged to be there to let the Navy know that there are grave concerns about militarization of the coast and the threat it poses both to peace and marine habitat.

Meanwhile Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar, will be in San Francisco April 16th. It is the nearest of several regional meetings on energy development on the outer continental shelf.  Judith Vidaver of the Mendocino County chapter of the Sierra Club is encouraging people to attend that meeting as well.  People will get a chance to inform the Secretary about regional opposition to offshore drilling and experimental wave energy devices.  And people can also give their input on the militarization of the coast while they’re at it.  For information on car pooling, people can contact Vidaver at 964-2742.  If there are 50 people interested in going, they may rent a bus.  It would leave from Willits early in the morning, to get to San Francisco by 8:30 a.m. – again, on Thursday, April 16th.

Wendell Berry

From Wendell Berry
Interview mashup

3/20/09 Ukiah, North California

People need to live from their local landscape and their local countryside as much as they possibly can, as much as they reasonably can… The idea that a city surrounded by fertile farmland that’s well-watered should be importing food 2,500 miles away is preposterous. It drives the cost up and it removes from the consumers all the powers of choice, of knowledge and of judgment. The consumers who import foods from long distances eat what they’re given to eat, what they’re sold. Many things would improve if they ate closer to home, including the local farm economy.

It would be wonderful because the quality of our food would go up. As the distance that it’s transported decreased, the quality would go up, and it would also go up as it came more and more under the influence of the consumers. Consumers don’t eat hard, tasteless, characterless tomatoes because they choose to. They eat those tomatoes because those are the only tomatoes they’re offered…

If you’re talking about a local food economy or any other kind of local economy, you’re talking about an economy that’s going to have to run a considerable extent on cooperation, not on competition between consumers and producers. You’re talking about an atmosphere of good feeling in which people try to find out what they can do well for one another. The local consumer is going to have to be concerned that the local producer have a livable income. The local consumers want the best products possible and the local producers are going to have to be interested in supplying the most desirable products possible to the local consumers. So if you’re going to succeed, it can’t be a situation in which everybody is in an economic war against everybody. That’s a description of the global economy.

The advantage of the local economy is you can secede from the global economy, which permits the exploitation of everybody and everything for the benefit of relatively few.

There’s  a lot of scorn now toward people who say, “Not in my backyard,” but the “not-in-my-backyard” sentiment is one of the most valuable that we have. If enough people said, “Not in my backyard,” these bad innovations [big box malls] wouldn’t be in anybody’s backyard. It’s your own backyard you’re required to protect because in doing so you’re defending everybody’s backyard. It is an altogether healthy and salutary.

However, a community has to understand that if it refuses the proposal, then it has to come up with something better. And if a corporation comes in and says, “We want you to have this obnoxious installation because it will employ your people; it will bring jobs,” then the community has to have an answer to the question: “Where are we going to find jobs?” Sometimes it won’t be an easy question. Sometimes it will be a devastating question, but the community nevertheless has to begin to look to itself for the answers, not to the government—and not to these corporations that come in posing as saviors of the local community, because they don’t come in to save the local community.

So the community has to begin to ask what they need that can be produced locally, by local people and from the local landscape, and how it can be produced in a way that doesn’t damage the local landscape or the local community. You have to realize that people are working very hard to remove the choice between an economy of grace, based on generosity, and in an economy of scarcity based on acquisition. They can remove that choice simply by making it impossible for small economic enterprises to survive.

A community, for one thing, is an economy. And if you have a community but no local economy your community is seriously impaired. It becomes a thing of feeling only. And you can’t exclude any members from the community. If a community becomes false, it becomes artificial, and is in danger the way all false things are. A community can’t exclude the nonhuman creatures, for instance, if it hopes to last. It can’t exclude its climate. It can’t exclude the air. All these, in a real community, are members. So if you are careful enough in defining a community, you see that it’s a pattern of practical relationships. It’s also, of course, a pattern of loyalties and it’s an emotional pattern.

Trust Your Guts

[We do not have a democracy if our economics is not democratically controlled. The Federal Reserve runs our economy and it is not answerable to our elected representatives, only to the private bankers. Here’s a solution. -DS]

by William Greider

A reassuring new story line is emanating from our leaders. I heard Representative Barney Frank, chair of the House Banking Committee, explain it. Then I read the same line in a Washington Post news story. That tells me people in high places are selling it. Dynamic capitalism, they explain, invents ways to create greater wealth, but sometimes it goes a little too far. Then government has to step in to correct things. This need typically occurs every generation or so, all in a day’s work. The Obama administration is proposing “sweeping” new regulatory laws so that capitalism can continue its good works.

The story makes disturbing current events sound practically normal. But what are the storytellers leaving out? They aren’t saying that this financial catastrophe was not merely an inevitable development of history but a man-made disaster. Greedheads on Wall Street did their part, but so did Washington. The reason we need new rules is that a generation of Democrats and Republicans systematically repealed or gutted the old ones–the regulatory controls enacted eighty years ago to remedy the last breakdown of capitalism (better known as the Great Depression).

The White House executed a nifty two-step this week to re-educate the public and deflect anger. On Tuesday Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner relaunched the massive bailout of banking and finance. Knowing how unpopular this is with the people at large, Geithner followed on Thursday with his “sweeping” plans to re-regulate the bankers and financiers. Whenever official plans are called “sweeping,” it indicates that they really, really mean it this time.

Most Americans are not financial experts. It’s very difficult, nearly impossible, for normal mortals to sort through the dense policy talk and conflicting opinions to figure out if the rhetoric of reform is real. Confusion is widespread in the land. Most Americans want to believe this president is leading us out of the swamp, but how can they know? I say, trust your gut feelings. They are as reliable as the learned experts.

Keep reading Trust Your Guts at Common Ground via The Nation

Where are our young, local, small business entrepreneurs now that we need them?

From Dave Smith
My Foreword to Finding The Sweet Spot by Dave Pollard

[To counter the efforts of those who would foist The Masonite Monster Mall on our community, we need young entrepreneurs to galvanize new local businesses at the potential Masonite Transition Park. The intended gathering of Big Box Dinosaurs and other chain and franchise stores to force their way in, feed at our community trough, and leak their ill-gained revenues and profits to parts unknown, rather than allow small locally-owned businesses to thrive and re-circulate our money locally, will leave our community with lasting scars. If they overrule local citizens and government through their big bucks purchase of the initiative process, and the zoning of the Masonite site is changed adding $30 million to its value, then you can kiss local small business opportunities here goodbye for a generation at least. It’s highly doubtful, for many reasons, that a mall will ever be built. But by keeping the zoning industrial, we will keep the property price within reach of local appropriate technology startups, with good paying jobs, rather than having some retail monstrosity imposed on us from outsiders. Recessions, with great changes upon us, are opportune times to help create the next world of business. Because credit and investment capital is tight or non-existent, businesses will have to be started on shoestrings. This is good. It focuses attention and requires great tenacity. The choice is ours. This book is a key business how-to manual from Dave Pollard for budding entrepreneurs. And here is my Foreword. -DS]

3/27/09 Ukiah, North California

A couple of stories, one a “business failure”, the other a “business success.”

During the seventies, with high unemployment and energy shortages a fact of daily life, some friends and I started and ran a very successful natural food cooperative in Menlo Park, California called Briarpatch Natural Foods. It was created to fill a real community need, following the age-old business adage of “find a need and fill it.” People had time on their hands, and natural foods were expensive, so by working 8 hours every three months, members were able to purchase healthy foods for at least 30% less. Three of us co-managed the store, and the work of unloading trucks, stocking shelves, buying fresh produce at the produce terminal, running the cash registers, and everything else needed to operate a small grocery store was done by members. At one point, there were over 350 families on the waiting list.

Because labor is, by far, the largest expense of doing business, taking most of that cost out of the expense statement created not only cheaper food but an enormous forgiveness for the obvious inefficiencies of volunteer, untrained labor and the lack of basic business skills by its enthusiastic and smart, but woefully unskilled management. What fun we had playing store!

It eventually proved to be unsustainable long-term for the simple fact that business is cyclical and when Silicon Valley exploded into runaway growth and success, no-one had time to play store, and the store didn’t adapt quickly enough to the rapidly changing times that did it in. All vendors were fully paid, all member investments were fully returned, and the graceful ending of a beautiful success left us only fond memories. By our current business standards, it was a failure because it didn’t grow and make its “investors” a ton of money. By those of us most intimately involved in the daily business of running a community cooperative, it was one of our most beautiful, successful business experiences.

On the other hand, Smith & Hawken, the $100 million garden company I co-founded is considered an enduring entrepreneurial success. I disagree, and here’s why.

Myth Two – Industrial Food is Safe, Healthy and Nutritious

From Fatal Harvest
The Seven Myths of Industrial Agriculture

3/27/09 Ukiah, North California

The Truth

Industrial agriculture contaminates our vegetables and fruits with pesticides, slips dangerous bacteria into our lettuce, and puts genetically engineered growth hormones into our milk. It is not surprising that cancer, food-borne illnesses, and obesity are at an all-time high.

A modern supermarket produce aisle presents a perfect illusion of food safety. Consistency is a hallmark. Dozens of apples are on display, waxed and polished to a uniform luster, few if any bearing a bruise or dent or other distinguishing characteristics. Nearby sit stacked pyramids of oranges dyed an exact hue to connote ripeness. Perhaps we find a shopper comparing two perfectly similar cellophane-wrapped heads of lettuce, as if trying to distinguish between a set of identical twins. Elsewhere, throughout the store, processed foods sit front and center on perfectly spaced shelves, their bright, attractive cans, jars, and boxes bearing colorful photographs of exquisitely prepared and presented foods. They all look unthreatening, perfectly safe, even good for you. And for decades, agribusiness, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have proclaimed boldly that the United States has the safest food supply in the world.

As with all the myths of industrial agriculture, things are not exactly as they appear. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report that between 1970 and 1999, food-borne illnesses increased more than tenfold. And according to the FDA, at least 53 pesticides classified as carcinogenic are presently applied in massive amounts to our major food crops. While the industrialization of the food supply progresses, we are witnessing an explosion in human health risks and a significant decrease in the nutritional value of our meals.

Increased Cancer Risk
A central component of the industrialized food system is the large-scale introduction of toxic chemicals.
This toxic contamination of our food shows no signs of decreasing. Since 1989, overall pesticide use has risen by about 8 percent, or 60 million pounds. The use of pesticides that leave residues on food has increased even more. Additionally, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that more than 1 million Americans drink water laced with pesticide runoff from industrial farms. Our increasing use of these chemicals has been paralleled by an exponential growth in health risks, to both farmers and consumers.

The primary concern associated with this toxic dependency is cancer. The EPA has already identified more than 165 pesticides as potentially carcinogenic, with numerous chemical mixtures remaining untested. Residues from potentially carcinogenic pesticides are left behind on some of our favorite fruits and vegetables. In 1998, the FDA found pesticide residues in over 35 percent of the food tested. Many U.S. products have tested as being more toxic than those from other countries. What’s worse, current standards for pesticides in food do not yet include specific protections for fetuses, infants, or young children, despite major changes to federal pesticide laws in 1996 requiring such reforms. Many scientists believe that pesticides play a major role in the current cancer “epidemic” among children. And the cancer risk does not just affect consumers; it also imperils tens of thousands of farmers, field hands, and migrant laborers. A National Cancer Institute study found that farmers who used industrial herbicides were six times more likely than non-farmers to develop non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a type of cancer. Along with their cancer risk, pesticides can cause myriad other health problems, especially for young people. For example, exposure to neurotoxic compounds like PCBs and organophosphate insecticides during critical periods of development can cause permanent, long-term damage to the brain, nervous, and reproductive systems.