As part of our four-part investigation into labor practices at Mexican mega-farms, L.A. Times photojournalist Don Bartletti traveled across nine Mexican states, observing conditions and interviewing workers at some of the farms, which have powered the country’s agricultural export boom. Here are some of those laborers.

Read the third story in the series – on how company stores on the labor camps often put workers in debt – here. The final part will be published Sunday.

I don’t believe a position that is “anti-GMO” is a tenable one, because most insulin that is synthesised today is derived from a genetically modified organism, usually from E.Coli or yeast (S. cerevisiae). Being anti-GMO in principle would mean protesting medicine for diabetics.

I understand having objections to particular GM crops, say BT corn; I also understand having objections to the industry monopolies possessed by unscrupulous agribusiness firms like like Monsanto. Further, I think it is perfectly reasonable to have objections to unsustainable farming practices that deplete soil and eat up forests, or predatory business practices that take up tracts of indigenous land.

What I don’t understand is being against fruits and vegetables that have received the transgenic equivalent of a vaccination: like the Ringspot-resistant Papaya, or the Sharka-resistant Plum.

It’s the lack of clarity and specificity in this conversation that I find maddening: I think complex questions deserve complex answers, and those aren’t to be found in a consumer boycott, or a sign that reads “hell no GMO.” If you are protesting GM crops, but can’t tell me the names of five, then why are do you feel entitled to speak on behalf of people who work in agriculture and horticulture?


If you want to learn about the wide variety of crops available, check out the Centre for Environmental Risk Assessment’s Global GM Crop Database.


The Title pretty much says it all. Via the Washington Post

Map: Literally every goat in the United States

There were 2,621,514 goats in the United States as of 2012, the year of the most recent USDA Agricultural Census. If America’s goats were their own state, its population would be larger than that of Wyoming, Vermont, D.C. and North Dakota — combined. This is what all those goats look like on a map. Now. This may not be the World’s Most Important Map. But consider this: you might say that goats are having a moment.

read the full post.

Pineapple Fruit (Ananas comosus)

Unlike the banana, the natural history of the pineapple is fairly unknown.

The pineapple is named after its pinecone-like shape and raw texture, and its genus (Ananas) comes from the Tupi word for “excellent fruit”.

When a pineapple blooms, it has a cluster (inflorescence) of small flowers. All of the flowers that are fertilized begin to develop into their own fruits, and as they grow bigger and bump into each other, they coalesce, becoming what’s known as a multiple fruit. Mulberries and breadfruit are also multiple fruits.


When Columbus arrived in the West Indies, pineapple was already cultivated throughout the region. One of the few studies on the archaeological and anthropological finds concluded that its wild origins are in the basin of the Paraguay River. Southern Brazilian tribes were known to be some of the first to trade and cultivate this fruit, but beyond that little has been conclusively proven.

Pineapples require a high average temperature to grow and fruit, and despite being brought back to Europe on Columbus’s original voyage in 1492-93, and cultivated by the Dutch in Suriname by the early 17th century, they weren’t cultivated in a temperate region until 1658.

It wasn’t until the early 18th century that hothouses (also called “pineries”) were developed to cater to the desires of wealthy Europeans seeking to display the flamboyant fruit on their tables. Indeed, most people who could afford pineapples in the 1700s didn’t eat them - they were kept on the table until they began to rot.

Catherine the Great, however, had no interest in rotting fruit - she had a custom-made pinery and loved the taste of pineapple, and frequently made a show of allowing her more important guests to taste the fruit, themselves!


Amsterdamse Hortus. Jan Moninckx, 1688.

The Pineapple: King of Fruits. Francesca Beauman, 2011.

Coming from that rural-centred background, it’s frustrating to me to see agricultural justice activism co-opted by urban-dwellers who hysterically yell about getting cancer from everything, when they have no connection to, or idea about how food is produced, or who produces it, or even who needs it most. It’s easy for the perpetual consumer to say “hell no GMO!” and talk about the purity of the natural world, or an ethic of noninterference, but I dare them tell the kid halfway around the globe with nutritional deficiencies that amino-acid enriched sweet potatoes should be banned, because they are “unnatural.”

This shouldn’t be about drawing artificial lines between manmade and natural: we gave up the right to complain about that when we domesticated animals and started farming during the Neolithic Revolution, 12,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent. Nothing about the way we live now is “natural,” but paradoxically, that sort of means everything we do is, because we too are evolving biological organisms, and technology—as well as being masters of our own genetic destinies—is a part of our evolutionary trajectory. If there is anything I learned in studying anthropology, it’s that this nature/culture divide is a false dichotomy.

With that in mind, one of my goals here at BiodiverSeed is to change the conversation about GMOs: let’s make it about scientific ethics, about not using poor people as guinea pigs, about food justice, about affordable land access, about protection of biodiversity, and about protecting open-source genetics, instead of debunked studies about GMO corn causing tumours in rats. Let’s centre an agricultural and food justice movement first and foremost on the needs of the people who produce our food, and around the people in the world who need more food.

We can change the conversation if we make a point of being critical, scientifically-literate, and open-minded. We started “playing God” when we invented agriculture, surgery, vaccines, and 3-D printed organs. We’re not about to stop with our food; so let’s make sure that food is healthy and accessible, and doesn’t continue to destroy the integrity of our biomes as we produce it.

Understanding egg labels

By Robin Shreeves

When you’re standing in the grocery store, staring at a dozen or more different cartons of eggs, the various labels can get confusing. The more a carton has, the more expensive it seems to be.

How do you know if spending that extra money on a dozen eggs is worth it for your health or for the health or the well-being of the chickens they came from? The first step is understanding what those labels mean. Some are regulated by the USDA and some are not. A few of them are just marketing terms that mean absolutely nothing.

Cage-free: Cage-free eggs come from chickens that weren’t kept inside cages and can freely roam around the building they are in. They have unlimited access to food and fresh water, but not access to the outdoors.

Comfort Coop/Enriched Colony: A fairly new label, Comfort Coop chickens are in larger cages than traditionally caged birds. They live in an “Enriched Colony Barn that allows them the opportunity to experience natural behaviors like nesting in a private area, flapping their wings, stretching, scratching and perching all in a very safe, clean, comfortable environment.”

Farm Fresh/Farm Raised: This label is a marketing term. All chickens are raised on farms, even if they’re factory farms. The marketers hope you picture the chickens roaming freely outside a red barn on a sunny afternoon, but the word “farm,” when it comes to egg labeling, means nothing specific.

Fertile: The hens lived with roosters. This may mean they were cage-free.

Free-range/Free-roaming: Free-range or free-roaming chickens have the ability to move around inside their building and have unlimited access to food and fresh water, like cage-free birds do. They also must have access to the outdoors “during their production cycle.” However, there is no regulation for how easy that access needs to be for the chickens, the conditions or the size of the outdoor area is, or how much time (if at all) chickens must spend outdoors.

Grass-fed: The USDA says that grass-fed animals must get the majority of their nutrients from grass throughout their life. Chickens that are grass-fed eat a more natural diet, including digesting insects, but the chickens’ food could be supplemented with feed containing pesticides and animal products.

Humanely-raised: A generic “humanely raised” label doesn’t mean anything, but there are third-party organizations that will put their humane seal on eggs like Certified Humane or The Humane Society. To find out if those organizations definition of humane meets your own definition of humane, read up on each organization’s standards on their websites.

Natural: The USDA states that “egg products labeled as ‘natural’ must be minimally processed and contain no artificial ingredients.” Beyond that, there is no regulation regarding farming practices, how the chickens are kept, or what they’re fed.

No antibiotics: The chickens were raised without being given antibiotics for health maintenance, disease prevention or treatment of a disease.

No hormones: This one is strictly a marketing term. The FDA prohibits the use of hormones in chickens. All eggs and all chicken products are always hormone-free.

Omega-3 enriched: Eggs that are enhanced with omega-3 fatty acids come from chickens that have been given feed with ingredients like flax seeds or fish oils to increase the omega-3 in their eggs.

Organic: Organic eggs must have the USDA Organic seal that verifies the eggs meet the organic standards including coming from uncaged hens that are free to roam in their houses and have access to the outdoors. The hens are fed an organic diet of feed produced without conventional pesticides or fertilizers.

Pasteurized: Eggs that have been pasteurized have been exposed to heat to destroy potential bacteria. Pasteurization may reduce the amount of vitamins in the eggs.

Vegetarian-fed: The feed given to the chickens contains no animal products like processed protein and fats and oils from meat and poultry by-products. Because chickens in their natural habitats aren’t vegetarian — they do eat insects — vegetarian-fed isn’t for the benefit of the birds.

Reinventing the Potato
by Ferris Jabr on modfarm

The relationship between potatoes and their human cultivators is long and tumultuous. The Inca’s ancestors first domesticated the wild potato between 7,000 and 10,000 years ago on the border of Peru and Bolivia. By 4,000 years ago, the potato had become a staple crop for native Andeans. The tuber was so integral to their culture that some groups based units of time on how long it took to cook various types.

Back then, the potato was synonymous with diversity. The Andeans inhabited a mountainous mosaic of microclimates in which one plot of land presented a very different set of growing conditions than its neighbor. No single variety could survive in such a heterogeneous landscape, so the Andeans diversified — to the extreme. Farming so many different types of potatoes also provided a more interesting and enjoyable diet, a tradition that is still alive today. “If you go to a typical Andean household,” explains Stef de Haan, a researcher at the International Potato Center in Lima, “they will eat what is called chajru, which means ‘mixture’ in the Quechua language. They sit around a big bowl of potatoes. And the joy of eating those, the culinary delight, is that every time you pick a potato, you pick a different one. In Quechua, especially when it comes to the taste of potatoes, they have this whole unique vocabulary — almost like somebody from France would tell you about the taste of wine.”

Read more

#potatoes #indigenous #plant breeding #Andes #Peru #alpine #biodiversity

"WARNING: This product contains deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). The Surgeon General has determined that DNA is linked to a variety of diseases in both animals and humans. In some configurations, it is a risk factor for cancer and heart disease. Pregnant women are at very high risk of passing on DNA to their children."