MADGE digest 108

Digest No #108, Friday 11th June 2010

  1. WA Dept of Ag moves to biotech and Murdoch University – investigation needed
  2. Why is Coles involved in Monsanto’s GM canola photo competition?
  3. GM boosterism rampant– signs the technology is about to collapse?
  4. Techno optimism and photo of the 12 year old MacDonald’s hamburger
  5. Inspirational US farmer, Joel Salatin, shows how to have a thriving local food system
  6. Labelling confusion – MADGE questioned
  7. Take action, events and inspirations

1. WA Dept of Ag moves to biotech and Murdoch University – investigation needed

Now the ban has been lifted biotech is sweeping into the state’s agricultural sector. 150 jobs will be lost in the Department of Agriculture and Food (WADAF) amidst allegations that dissenters are fired.

The Department has also relocated from South Perth to Murdoch University and appears to have become a biotechnology centre. Associated organisations to the university include: Grain Biotech Australia, NemGenix Pty Ltd, Spirogene Ltd and Saturn Biotech.

NemGenix has received grants from our Federal Government and is also partnered by Dow Agrosciences. It is developing GM wheat, barley and sugarcaneSpirogene develops GM vaccines for animals. The WA government will build two facilities “in Katanning and Merredin, to test new varieties of GM crops supplied by biotechnology companies.” The WA government is boosting funding to biotechnology by $9 million.

Here are the WA governments media releases on the issue:

State Budget 2010-11: Funding injection for grains innovation

State Budget 2010-11: Investment in agriculture increased

Interestingly WA canola breeder whistleblower Patrick Fels says the WADAF has grown too close to the multinational biotech companies. He alleges the trials last year were shonky, that AgSeed used publicly owned varieties but did not pay royalties to the Department for their use and that senior management behaved improperly in terminating the Departments canola breeding programme . He said “A ‘boys club’ of senior agricultural bureaucrats is acting against the wishes of West Australians by ending crop breeding programs, divesting public-owned genetic assets to the private sector and handing market power over to GM corporations.” Mr Fels was sacked last yearAgseed is a division of Monsanto. Monsanto owns the GM Roundup Ready canola that was released this year in WA. Monsanto’s share price in January was $86. It had dropped to $49 yesterday before Monsanto announced a $1B share buyback scheme. GM is failing for all the obvious reasons, yet Australia is jumping on board.

GM canola was approved in WA this year despite strong and well-informed opposition both in Parliament and the general public. Any cool examination of the evidence would suggest caution over GM as is shown in this excellent overview of GM by Greens MP Giz Watson.

Also the WA government has reneged on a promise to have a register of GM farms. Instead organic farmers received a letter asking them to notify their neighbours of their organic status.

In summary weeks after the decision to allow GM canola:

  • the State’s agriculture department sacks 150 staff,
  • moves to a university that promotes biotech and
  • promotes only biotech breeding
  • uses $9 million of taxpayers’ money
  • broke the promise of a register of GM canola sites

The links between governments, universities and biotech companies seem to make them one body with three heads. Where is the oversight and regulation?

These actions are especially suspicious as GM breeding is less successful than non-GM breeding. Ten years of trying to develop a GM potato with blight resistance is still at the experimental stage while non-GM breeding has produced several varieties of potatoes already on the market. This article shows why GM breeding is a risky and unproductive enterprise.

Maybe there needs to be a Royal Commission into what is happening in WA’s agriculture sector?

2. Why is Coles involved in Monsanto’s GM canola photo competition?

Coles Myer vouchers are prizes in a photo competition being run by Monsanto for GM canola farmers.

Coles says that its own branded products do NOT contain GM. GM canola is likely to be used as an animal feed and products from animals fed GM (milk, meat, fish, eggs, honey) do not have to be labelled. Why are Coles part of this promotion? Tell them what you think.

This short extract from the TV show Hungry Beast shows how Coles and Woolies together control 70% of the grocery market. They use this power to squeeze out rivals and dominate farmers.

3. GM boosterism rampant– signs the technology is about to collapse

There has been a noted increase in stories about how GM is the way of the future. They come from:

Once again fears are fanned that people will starve without GM and new technologies. This ignores the fact that the biggest research effort ever done into how to feed the world did not see a role for GM. Instead it showed agro ecological farming can nourish the world and restore economies and land. The world already grows enough food to make everyone fat. It is just that selling biofuels and animal feed is more profitable than feeding poor people.

Additionally the policies of the IMF and World Bank from the 1980’s have meant many countries were forbidden to support their farmers and instead were encouraged to earn export income. Now there is a sustained push to bring a new green revolution to Africa. MADGE reported on this last year, with special reference to Pedro Sanchez and his Millenium villages that are not the great success story he promotes.

Australia is not the only country awash with this propaganda:

Sooner or later the discovery will be made that the GM emperor is wearing no clothes.

4. Techno optimism and the 12 year old MacDonald’s hamburger

There is an outbreak of techno-optimism as shown by this kitchen without pots and pans.

There are also plans to extend the shelf life of food through the use of nanopackaging.

This may be unnecessary as this photo of a 12 year old MacDonald’s hamburger still looks as good as new.

The European environment committee seems to want to spoil the techno-optimists party by suggesting that products containing nanotechnology already on the market should be removed until safety testing can be done.

Techno-optimism is also a name given to a technique used to distract attention from a problem and to mitigate its seriousness. We saw this recently when the announcement of Craig Venter’s first ‘synthetic organism’ gave rise to techno-optimistic hopes that one day we may be able to create a synthetic organism that can clean up oil spills. This is a noble idea, but we have seen these techno-optimist expressions before.

The very first judgment to allow the patenting of a life organism was in fact a GM bacteria with the supposed properties of being able to clean up oil spills. This patent then lead the way for patenting of all genetically modified materials we have today. However the oil eating bacteria unfortunatley was not a success and is not being used in the current Gulf of Mexico oil crisis we have today.

Consider the purposes to which techno-optimism is put. We are told that Nuclear power waste isn’t a serious issue because we’re going to have a high-tech solution for it in the future. The crime of a massive oil spill isn’t so serious because we’re going to have a synthetic organism to fix it in the future. Techno-optimism serves those who profit from making a mess now. What techno-optimist solutions will be needed to clean up problems that may arise from untested nanotechnology?

5) Inspirational US farmer, Joel Salatin, shows how to have a thriving local food system

Joel Salatin is the self confessed lunatic farmer who features in the films Food Inc and Fresh. He runs Polyface farm. “We are in the redemption business: healing the land, healing the food, healing the economy, and healing the culture.” MADGE was lucky enough to attend two talks by him at the Lake House in Daylesford recently. Here are his essential components in a local food economy:

1) Producer

  • Need to make agriculture aesthetically and aromatically sensually romantic
  • Needs transparency to build the reputation
  • Embedded in the community
  • Solar driven ie use animals and lightweight fences , fertiliser in-sourced and not from outside, retain surface runoff water, value add on farms
  • Jeffersonian intellectual agrarian concept
  • Collaborate with others

2)Young people on the farm

  • We need the best and the brightest for land stewardship
  • The average age of people in healthy industries should be around 35. In the US farmers are 60 years old on average
  • Most innovation starts very small. Current regulations tend to stifle this and this needs to change
  • Polyface has an apprenticeship and intern programme

3)Accounting:

  • Someone has to watch the money
  • Need to divide into categories to show exactly what part of the business is making/losing money. Joel has 180 categories.

4)Marketing:

  • Needs a gregarious story teller
  • If you can’t do it yourself, outsource ie one group of produce growers employs someone to market for them. They pay 10% commission but it frees them up to farm.

5)Distribution:
This is often where local food systems fail. As can’t achieve economies of scale instead need to be collaborative, creative, fluid, responsive and be where people are. Polyface farms sales are:

  • 25% on farm sales
  • 35% direct to restaurants within 40 mile radius. Always has the delivery as a separate cost on the invoice otherwise produce ends up subsidising the transport. Chefs are welcome to collect from farm. Can also outsource delivery and contractor can see exactly income available.
  • 45% metropolitan buying club. Uses the internet to have a running inventory so people can see what is available. Delivered 8 times a year. Drops pre-ordered, pre-sold food at hostess houses that others collect from.

Other creative examples given were:

  • A school bus turned into a traditional town store complete with counter, shelving, pot belly stove and chairs to sit and chat. Produce collected from farmers and driven into the city to sell to office workers. It is so successful now converting a second bus into a mobile kitchen staffed by chefs to show people how to cook. This attracts customers to the chef’s restaurant as well.
  • Sponsors send vans to inner city food deserts
  • Box scheme community supported agriculture. Farmers stay on the farm but consumers get fresh food. Examples in Australia would include the Food Connect systems in several cities and other box schemes.
  • Internet based system run by people with a background in pizza delivery. Has 30-40 farmers. Customers place an order by Tuesday 8pm. Wed am gofers are sent to pick up the produce, collated that evening and sent out on Thursday morning 5-8am. Delivery by moonlightling pizza deliverers.

6)Buyer/patron

  • The vital catalyst – someone who realises that life is more than the supermarket
  • Needs to be: philosophically consistent, appreciate seasonality, rediscover kitchens, realise how expensive processed food is, “don’t go shopping – go to the pantry”

Joel Salatin was enthusiastic and full of interesting and inspiring ideas. It is obvious that he takes great delight in nurturing young farmers and that his dedication is paying off as ex-apprentices often set up nearby therefore increasing the diversity and depth of the local food economy. As Joel said “Change this food system one bite at a time and heal our planet.”

Hear Joel being interviewed on Radio National

Joel will be running workshops in Australia later on this year.

Watch this film to show how a landscape of bare hills was turned into a beautiful productive landscape.

6) Labelling confusion

Encouragingly the NSW Food Authority successfully prosecuted smallgoods manufacture Primo for labelling as “Product of Australia” and “Meat content 100% Australian” meat that had come from Denmark.

A MADGE contacted us about a recent Channel 7 programme reporting that food from China imported into Australia via New Zealand was not required to have labels showing it originated in China.” MADGE was unable to find the report but here is an article from last year on imports from China and the limitations of labelling.

7)Take action, events and inspriation

Take Action:

Ring Coles Myer to ask them why they are part of a Monsanto photo competition see item 2

Help defend Karri forests and agriculture in WA from bauxite mining.

Stop a biomass power plant in Manjimup, WA.

Review of the Gene Technology Regulations – due by 18th June. Geneethics says “The proposed changes, in most cases, weaken present assessment and monitoring protocols so need critical review. We urge you to have your say. Please let Gene Ethics know if you will make a submission as we’ll prepare a draft NGO discussion briefing this week.”

Perth City Farm Cafe, and exciting new enterprise, get involved.

Conferences:

Australasian Association of Professional and Applied Ethics AAPAE Sydney 15th to 17th June 2010.

If anyone is going to the workshop entitled “The Ethical Challenges of New Technologies – Risk & Responsibility in Nanotechnology; Biotechnology & Synthetic Biology” MADGE would be very interested in a report.

Sunday 27th and Monday 28th June 8am to 4pm, St Ita’s Hall, Highgate Hill, Brisbane Food Sovereignty through farmer solidarity Brisbane. Hear Australian farmers and also from the worldwide farmer group Via Campesina. Don’t miss this! Details on facebook.

Patents on Seed, The Turning Point. Munich, Germany, July 19th 2010; 10.15 am to 3.15 pm. Conference to discuss the negative impacts of patents granted on plants and animals. Will also look at necessary changes and how to implement these.

Donations welcome for:

Radiothon for 3CR. This is a community radio station that runs great programmes and often interviews MADGE. It is run entirely on tax deductable donations. Please consider supporting it especially programmes like: Food FightHometime and Tuesday breakfast programme.

MADGE – After 3 years of operation this is the first time we have asked for donations. Any money received would be spent on:

  • MADGE leaflets
  • An expensive upcoming conference a couple of us want to attend and report back on
  • Travel to various speaking engagements and meetings

We are volunteers so none would be spent on wages. We will be concentrating more on research and collating what we have already done. Digests will report what we are up to but will be less frequent.

To make a donation please direct deposit to:

Bendigo Bank
BSB Number: 633-000
Account Number: 139388631
Account Title: MADGE AUSTRALIA INC.

We do not have tax deductable status. If you would like tax deductibility donate to:

Geneethics – a network concerned about new technologies

Greenpeace – who produce the TrueFood Guide and have organised the Chef’s Charter and much more.

Film:

Saturday 12th June, Forum Cinema at Shop1/ 7 Pendrigh Place, St Helens, Tasmania 7216 at 12:30pm. A new documentary “A worm in the Apple” is about how “Tasmania suffers from tyranny at the hands of a corrupt government, propelled by the fuel of commerce.” This is the story of the people who are fighting back. RSVP only $10. entrance fee to pay for the cinema. A wine bar and cafe are also available. EMAIL to RSVPecobard@gmail.comYou can see a trailer and purchase the DVD here.

GM Watch has “trawled the web in search of the best videos on GM and related issues.” See the list they have compiled here.

Books:

The town that saved food.

Farm City.

STOP PRESS

MADGE hopes that you have enjoyed the past three years of digests. Originally they were weekly and until recently, fortnightly. MADGE now wants to concentrate more on research and collating what we have already done. Digests will report what we are up to but will be less frequent. Please follow us on Twitter and Facebook as well.

Happy Eating
Love
MADGE