Archive for the ‘ News ’ Category

Colombian Farmers Defeat Monsanto: Win Back Control of Seeds After Prolonged Strike

london-colombians-protest-seed-monopolyOn Sept. 10 in Colombia, after 21 days of a nationwide strike by thousands of farmers, who were supported by bus and truck drivers, miners, students, and others joining massive demonstrations in cities and towns all around the country in places as far as Boyacá, Cundinamarca, Cauca, Huila, Putumayo, Caldas, Cundinamarca, and Nariño, and blocking more than 40 roads, in an historic moment, protesting farmers forced the Colombian government to negotiate the rejection of a farm bill and the release of detained protesters.

On Sunday, September 8, Vice President Angelino Garzón met with the Strike Negotiating Commission in Popayan and agreed to suspend Law 970, the one that gave control over seeds to the government [which made it illegal for farmers to save seeds, any seeds, forcing them to buy patented ones].

They also were promised the release of the 648 arrested during the strike and the creation of a new mining law.

Under this first and provisional agreement, the government will compensate the farmers for their losses when competing with cheaper products imported under as much as ten free market treaties with countries all around the world. In other cases it will suspend the importation of such products.

The strike was ended and negotiations started to discuss the farmers’ proposals. The process of negotiation, as well as the final agreement and its implementation, will be verified by the United Nations.

In Putumayo in the south of the country, farmers leaders and other actors of Colombian society met with President Santos and other authorities and officially started the negotiations after signing the initial document.

The destruction of the farmers’ rice stock seeds, seeds they were keeping for the following year’s planting time, occurred in Campo Alegre and other towns in 2012. For some these images became the symbol of the farmers’ strike fighting for the right to keep their seeds. Seed control was described by President Santos as having Colombia “tune up to international reality”.

Having the Law 970 suspended is a partial yet symbolic victory for Colombia’s social movement. Not only they got the seed control suspended, but most importantly, they got the Government to recognize their leadership, the Mesa de interlocución agraria, Agricultural Dialogue Table, which was elected by the the Coalition of Colombia’s Social and Political Movements to negotiatie with the government when they were organizing the strike.

The press reported a number attempts by the government to negotiate and extract concessions with various farmer groups. But 13 regions where still on strike, and the government was forced to finally sit down on the farmers’ table and negotiate.

This is a profound contrast with Colombia’s recent past. Human rights groups such as Amnesty International have documented attacks on Colombian farmers and union leaders, who have been kidnapped, tortured, and massacred by paramilitary forces, and sometimes even by the army, according to a number of reports published by Amnesty International.

Index Number: AMR 23/035/2013

One of the towns that initiated the social strife was El Catatumbo, in Tibu, north of Santander in the northwest of Colombia, where local farmers resisted 51 days in street battles like this one in the video.

El Catatumbo’s fight inspired thousand of other farmers who “lost their fear”, and about a month after that, they started a nationwide farmers strike, a strike that 21 days after it began, managed to force the government to suspend law 970 and at least study their other proposals.

To push a resumption of negotiations, the strikers opened the roads they had blockaded. The negotiations are ongoing, and they have to decide over more structural issues.

These are some of their petitions:

  • •To set the prices for agricultural products independently of the international market, and to set a fund to cover the difference so local farmers can get a fair price and the government can guarantee their crops;
  • •A reduction in the price of gas and diesel, road tolls, and reduction on the price of fertilizers and other supplies;
  • •Cancellation of the current agricultural policy, including the control of seeds, but also other policies not favorable to small and medium farms;
  • •To stop the importation of many products, but most importantly to suspend and review the free trade agreements with United States, European Union, China, and other countries;
  • •Pardon for small and medium farmers’ debts, and the adoption of “softer credit” for farmers via public banks;
  • •To stop and reverse the sale of public lands to international owners, and give them back to local farmers.

The mining sector also pledged to the strike and even incorporated its demands, some of which are:

  • The participation of traditional and small mining operators when setting policy that regulates the industry;
  • •To stop and even revert some mining concessions and public contracts until it’s determined if the local communities are affected, if the resources generated in the mines benefit them, and if local small operations are allowed to work as well.

MINER (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): In my town, the big open mines will destroy a way of life we’ve had for 500 years. This fills our hearts with sorrow, because we have historically fought for those lands, for the tradition of artisanal mining.

LEÓN: For the population in general, they demand investment on rural populations and cities to get access to education, health care, public services, and affordable housing. Many of these demands go against the core of the neoliberal policies adopted by previous Colombian administrations.

The strike represented a broader segment of population than first thought. What started as a farmers and miners strike very soon turned into a general strike, with bus drivers, truckers, students, and even general population in the streets claiming for their own demands.

Street battles of all kinds took place, like this one in Bosa, La Libertad, a neighborhood outside Bogotá, where many protesters attempted to take a police station by storm.

The strike organization reported 660 human rights violations that were documented. The police brutality and the negative by president to recognize the farmers’ leadership, as well as the dire economic situation Colombians live every day, with a minimum salary of $291 and a gas price of $4.6 a gallon. All of this created a sort of perfect storm that exploded in August.

Police reported 648 arrested. The farmers’ organization claimed 262 of them were illegally detained. There was 485 wounded and 12 dead on a week marked by protest. And while Santos put up a political fight, at the end of the day, after his popularity went down to an all time record low of 21 percent, his government was forced to admit that it needed to recognize and negotiate with the national strike’s leaders.

We are yet to see if the Santos Administration will concede any more of the farmers demands, especially the more structural ones.


World War 4 Report:

However, just as the peasant strike ended Sept. 10, some 330,000 public school teachers across Colombia opened an indefinite strike, accusing the government of failing to deliver on promises made to pay an estimated $40 billion in back wages. Leaders of the Colombia Federation of Education Workers (FECODE) charged that the government is intentionally bleeding the national school system with the intention of privatizing it. (UPI, Sept. 11; BBC Mundo, Sept. 10)



Burlington City Council passes resolutions opposing tar sands oil: the beginning of a groundswell against tar sands in New England

This blog was jointly written with NRDC Senior Consultant Shelley Kath.

Big Oil has a plan that will put communities at risk in New England and Eastern Canada. The Portland-Montreal Pipeline – a very old oil pipeline owned mostly by ExxonMobil – may be reversed to enable dirty corrosive tar sands oil to be pumped through Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom en route to Portland, Maine, part of a broader project including the reversal of an Enbridge pipeline through Eastern Canada. But not if Vermont communities have a say. On Monday night, Burlington, Vermont took a bold and important step toward taking Vermont – and New England – on the path to being “tar sands free.” By a vote of 10 to 4, the Council passed two resolutions, each of which will help Vermont take concrete action to say a firm “No” to both the transport of tar sands and its role as a potential fuel source in New England. Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger voiced strong support for both resolutions and signed them into effect this morning. This is just the beginning of a groundswell against tar sands in New England. Last week, 350 Vermont, NRDC and other national and local partners published a toolkit to help Vermont activists in working to secure anti-tar sands resolutions at their town meeting days in March; concerned citizens have sprung into action, working to secure passage of resolutions opposing tar sands and supporting policies that discourage tar sands such as a Clean Fuel Standard in dozens of New England towns. Hundreds of citizens will also come together in late January for a major rally in Portland, Maine opposing proposals to bring tar sands to the East Coast, as well as a number of local solidarity actions.


The ExxonMobil tar sands pipeline to Portland, Maine would put New England communities at risk of facing a toxic spill like the one into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan that occurred over two years ago and is still being cleaned up. Tar sands underlie an area of Alberta, Canada approximately the size of Florida. The Boreal forest in Alberta is being decimated by Big Oil companies extracting tar sands. Caribou, black bears, fish, and migratory birds are all being caught in the crossfire. Even worse, communities downstream are facing high rates of rare cancers.

For the sake of profits, Big Oil wants to send this bottom of the barrel tar sands oil through Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine – oil that causes 20% more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional oil over its full life-cycle and that isn’t even really like oil. Tar sands is practically a solid, so before getting sent through pipelines, they dilute it, creating a substance called diluted bitumen which must be transported at high temperatures and pressures, creating a greater risk for pipeline spills, and a much riskier situation when the pipelines do spill.

Communities across North America are rising up and saying no to dirty tar sands oil. This pipeline through Vermont is not the only tar sands pipeline proposal. Other tar sands pipeline proposals include the Northern Segment of TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline from Alberta to Steele City, Nebraska, from where the tar sands could ultimately reach the U.S. Gulf Coast and the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline from Alberta to the British Columbia coast. There has been tremendous opposition to all of these proposals, with millions of people writing, protesting, and rallying against them. Communities are rightly worried that they could be the next to face a spill like the million gallon one into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River in July 2010 which is still getting cleaned up – and about the climate impacts of increased reliance on dirty fuels like tar sands.

Burlington’s leadership on this issue in passing these anti-tar sands resolutions is an important first step in standing up to tar sands in New England. The first resolution includes various specific measures, including: a declaration of opposition to tar sands transport on the Portland-Montreal pipeline; requirements that fuel vendors identify the refineries that supply them, and that the city avoid buying tar sands-sourced fuel whenever possible;  support for policies such as a Clean Fuels Standard to help keep such fuel out of the region’s fuel supply; and a request to the City Retirement Board that it pursue divestment of funds from companies that profit from tar sands. The second resolution requires a nonbinding ballot item to be placed before Burlington voters in March, affording them an opportunity to weigh in directly on some of these anti-tar sands measures.

The tar sands pipeline to Portland, Maine is a bad bet not just for New England but for the planet. Tar sands takes us in the wrong direction when we need to slow climate change, and create a clean energy future. Increasing climate change pollution puts treasured Vermont economic drivers at risk – the ski industry, sugaring, tourism, fall foliage, and creates stronger storms, more serious droughts and wildfires, and other major threats to livelihood across the United States and beyond. What we need is clean energy and policies like a clean fuels standard that incentivize the use of low carbon fuels and discourage the use of high carbon fuels like tar sands. Burlington’s actions provide inspiration to municipalities everywhere seeking to take concrete action toward a clean energy future.


The cost of growing corn free, soy free, free range eggs

eggsThese are our beautiful, farm fresh eggs! We currently have 10 dozen eggs ready to sell. We didn’t sell any through the winter, and I wanted to make sure that we were actually making a profit on eggs, so I did some calculating today. Interestingly, I also read this post today, about how small, local farms are making a huge profit margin on their products (and how that’s unfair to the consumers).

I don’t want to over-charge our customers. They’re all working hard to make a living. I want our living to be an honest one. Farming isn’t cheap, though. We’ve been here nearly 2 years, and we have learned a lot, made mistakes, and spent more money than we needed to on things (example: word to the wise: never buy “1 year old” chickens on Craigslist. People lie.). But we’re serious about real food. We’re serious about growing it for our own family, and about growing it for other people. We’re serious about, someday, somehow, getting The Farmer home on the farm. And we’re serious about actually paying ourselves a wage for the work we do on this farm. We can’t sit back, feed our friends, and take a loss. We have to be realistic about this farming thing if we’re going to make a living at it. So, I pulled out my calculator…

Last year we charged $4 per dozen for our eggs. We had no clue if we were actually making any money. We were new to this gig, and didn’t even really know how much our chickens were eating. This year, we will be charging $6.50 per dozen. Another local farm that uses the same feed as us charges $7 per dozen, which sounded amazingly high to me, until I did the math. Someday soon, we may be charging $7 per dozen as well.

Here’s the math:

  • Over the last 53 days, our chickens have produced approximately 1,479 eggs.
  • In that same amount of time, they have eaten about 1/2 ton of feed. We buy from Magill Ranch, and we get really good quality corn free, soy free, non-GMO, organic feed. The total cost of feed for the last 53 days has been $420.
  • We estimate that we spend about 20-30 minutes per day taking care of the chickens (feeding them washing the eggs, etc.).
  • We buy about 100 new chicks every year, and raise them up until they are layers. It costs $188 (from Far West Hatchery) to buy 100 layers. It costs almost $600 to feed those baby chicks before they ever produce an egg for us.
  • I am guesstimating that we spend about $150 per year on other supplies (brooder fixing/re-building, waterers, feeders, any supplements we may need (we feed them apple cider vinegar and yogurt to prevent disease), etc.).

So our costs are something like this:

  1. $3.50 per dozen, feed
  2. $.26 per dozen towards new birds every year
  3. $.83 per dozen towards feeding baby birds that don’t produce eggs
  4. $.21 per dozen towards other supplies

The total so far, without labor is $4.80 per dozen (.80 per dozen more than we were charging last year!).

So now let’s look at labor. It really comes down to how much we want to make per hour. Like I said, we want to make an honest living at this. We don’t want to charge our customers crazy amounts, but we have to be realistic.

  • If we wanted to make $10 per hour, that would be $1.48 more per dozen
  • If we wanted to make $20 per hour, that would be $2.94 more per dozen
  • If we wanted to make $30 per hour, that would be $4.41 more per dozen
  • And so on…

At $6.50 per dozen, we are making a wage of $11.33 per hour. Not a lot, really. If we were full time egg farmers and using this method, we would only make about $23,500 per year.

There are a couple of things that probably impact our cost.

  • We did buy some of those “1 year old chickens” on Craigslist that will be slaughtered this year. They are eating up feed and probably aren’t producing any eggs. We are currently getting approximately 48 eggs per day and we have somewhere around 100 chickens. Most of our chickens are truly 1-2 years old (we raised them as chicks), but we do have some hens (that I’m sure are old geezers)
  • We have Araucanas, which produce beautiful green eggs, but they are not very good layers, compared to other breeds.
  • Since our chickens are free rangers, we occasionally find stashes of eggs that may or may not go towards our total count of eggs. During the winter months, they’re usually fine. During the summer months, a stash of eggs is probably rotten and needs to be thrown out (literally–I throw them out into the trees…It’s fun!).
  • We are raising roosters. They don’t give us eggs, but they do fertilize our eggs and make them more nutrient dense. They also make sure that all of the hens get into the barn at night before we close the door.
  • It may be cheaper to let some chickens brood & raise their own chicks. We had one chicken do this last year, and she had several baby chicks (I think 13 or 14). They were so cute & followed their Mama around. After predators and hard weather, we ended up with one baby chicken, and it was a rooster! (And he decided to live in the tree near our bedroom and practice crowing at 4 and 5 am. Lovely!).

We could spend less, for sure, if we bought regular feed from our local feed store. It costs $19.80 for 80# of pellets. Over the last 53 days, it would have cost us $247.50 for this kind of feed (a $172.50 difference). That totals a $1.40 per dozen difference, which is significant. But still, our cost, at $11.33 per hour, would be $5.10 per dozen. And who wants to pay $5.10 per dozen for eggs that are barely any different from grocery store eggs? (Granted, they’re not cooped up in a big building with no windows, but the feed is the same).

With the feed we buy, we know for sure a couple of things:

The other benefits of our eggs:

  • Our chickens free range. You won’t find fenced in chickens on bare ground at our farm. I don’t believe that an un-moveable chicken house with fencing right around it is a good solution for chickens. Eventually, they will eat down the grass and they will be living on bare ground. The result is more expensive eggs (they eat less grass & more feed) and less healthy eggs.
  • Our chickens eat bugs.
  • Our chickens lay colorful eggs (that’s worth the price, right?). :)
  • Our chickens have fun names, like Fabio and Jackie O. :)

Do you buy farm fresh eggs? Are you paying your farmer what they’re worth? :) Do you grow farm fresh eggs? Have you calculated your cost of raising them?



Not-so-sweet death: Critics call on Canada to ban pesticide linked to dwindling bee populations

imageFood production and bees: Believe it or not, the two go hand-in-hand … like milk and honey.

Bees serve an all-important role in transferring pollen and seeds from one flower to another – a practice that supports at least 30 per cent of the world’s food crops and 90 per cent of our wild plants, according to the U.S.-based Natural Resources Defense Council.

But despite a bee’s integral role in cross-pollination, news that their population is on the decline is unlikely to come up at the dinner table.

But it is catching the attention of governments around the world, including in Europe, the U.S, as well as here at home, in Canada.

In 2012, more than 200 bee yards in southern Ontario and Quebec reported an “unusually high number” of losses, according to a recent Health Canada report. An analysis of the dead bees found that approximately 70 per cent of their bodies contained residue of the commonly-used neoncotinoid class of pesticides. According to evidence from the European Food Safety Authority, neoncotinoid pesticides attack a bee’s nervous system, potentially reducing its chances of survival.

Following the Health Canada report, the federal government launched a re-evaluation of the rules around use of these popular pesticides. The Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) is currently conducting a review of three pesticides in the neonicotinoid class to determine if they pose an environmental risk to bees.

“The 2012 bee incidents will be considered as part of the re-evaluation…. If warranted, regulatory action will be taken at any time to further protect pollinators,” Mary Mitchell, the co-chair of Health Canada’s PMRA, said in a statement.

In the meantime, farmers and chemical producers are being encouraged to adopt such practices as avoiding pesticide use in areas where beehives are known to be located.

That nonchalant approach has the Sierra Club of Canada shaking its head.

“I think Health Canada has got it wrong,” executive director John Bennett told CTV’s Canada AM this week. “The government has chosen to protect the companies that produce the pesticides, not Canadians.”

He believes the government needs to take immediate action by banning such pesticides, which are commonly used on tree fruit, corn and soy crops. Neoncotinoid pesticides are intended to protect crops often attacked by other insects, but Bennett says bees are getting caught in the crossfire.

“They’re not the target insect,” he said.

Bennett suggests Ottawa take a page from the European Union, which decided this week to restrict the use of neonicotinoid pesticides in order to protect the quickly-declining bee population.

A two-year moratorium – to be applied to plants and crops that attract bees — will come into effect on Dec. 1, 2013.

The ban is being applauded by environmentalists who say it will throw a “vital lifeline” to Europe’s dwindling bee population.

“Europe is taking science seriously and must now put the full ban in place to give bees the breathing space they need,” Iain Keith, of the Avaaz environmental organization, told The Associated Press.

But not everyone agrees.

In the EU, for example, the decision to restrict the pesticide was made without the consensus of all of the bloc’s 27 members. While 15 EU countries voted in favour of the moratorium, eight were against it, and another four abstained.

Many of the nations that voted against the ban, including the U.K., pointed to inconclusive science linking the use of the pesticides to documented hive deaths. Even the EU’s parliamentary environmental committee admits “precise data is still lacking.”

Globally, researchers have suggested there are multiple culprits behind the collapse of the honeybees, and say focusing on pesticides alone is a mistake. In a report published in October 2012, the U.S. Department of Agriculture ranked pesticides at the bottom of the list of potential causes, saying the decline of the bee population is a “complex problem.”

“It is not clear, based on current research, whether pesticide exposure is a major factor associated with the U.S. honeybee health declines in general, or specifically affects production of honey or delivery or pollination services,” the report explains.

However, researchers did say “in some instances” severely high doses of pesticides can harm honeybee colonies. The report ultimately concludes more research is needed to determine the effect of pesticide exposure.

But according to the Sierra Club and other bee activists, waiting would be a mistake.

While Bennett recognizes that the rapid drop of the bee population cannot be solely attributed to the use of pesticides, he says bees currently endure a “tremendous amount of stress.”

Here at home, he says the Canadian government needs to be proactive, before it’s too late.

“(Pesticide use) is just one of the causes of the overall decline of bees, but it’s one of the causes that we can actually control,” he said.

Fukushima Operator Dumps 1,000 Tons Of Polluted Water In Sea

fukushima-typhoonThe operator of the leaking Fukushima nuclear plant said Tuesday that it dumped more than 1,000 tons of polluted water into the sea after a typhoon raked the facility.


Typhoon Man-yi smashed into Japan on Monday, bringing with it heavy rain that caused flooding in some parts of the country, including the ancient city of Kyoto.

The rain also lashed near the broken plant run by Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO), swamping enclosure walls around clusters of water tanks containing toxic water that was used to cool broken reactors.

Some of the tanks were earlier found to be leaking contaminated water.

“Workers measured the radioactive levels of the water collected in the enclosure walls, pumping it back into tanks when the levels were high,” said a TEPCO official.

“Once finding it was mostly rain water they released it from the enclosure, because there is a limit on how much water we can store.”

The utility said about 1,130 tons of water with low levels of radiation — below the 30 becquerels of strontium per litre safety limit imposed by Japanese authorities — were released into the ground.

But the company also said at one site where water was found contaminated beyond the safety limit workers could not start the water pump quick enough in the torrential rain, and toxic water had leaked from the enclosure for several minutes.

Strontium is a potentially cancer-causing substance that accumulates in bones if consumed.

Thousands of tonnes of water that was poured on the reactors to tame meltdowns is being stored in temporary tanks at the plant, and TEPCO has so far revealed no clear plan for it.

The problem has been worsened by leaks in some of those tanks that are believed to have seeped into groundwater and run out to sea.

Separately, around 300 tonnes of mildly contaminated groundwater is entering the ocean every day having passed under the reactors, TEPCO says.