Category Archives: Gardens

California: Roundup™ must carry a cancer warning

A new California law will force Monsanto to slap a cancer warning on its Roundup weedkiller.

Score one for the good guys.

The story, from RT America:

California to force Monsanto to label its herbicide as possibly carcinogenic

Program Notes:

Agrochemical giant, Monsanto has lost its court battle in California after a Fresno county judge ruled that the active ingredient in the company’s notorious weed killer ‘Roundup,’ glyphosate, can be added to the state’s list of cancer-causing agents. Once the chemical is added to the list, the company will have one year to label that it’s a possible carcinogen on their products. RT America’s Brigida Santos reports, speaking to Zen Honeycutt, founder of Moms Across America, and Alexis Baden-Meyer, political director of the Organic Consumers Association.

EnviroWatch: Ills, climate, water, fuel, GMOs

And more, but we open with more tragedy in Pakistan via the Express Tribune:

Swat reports its first polio case in five years

The first polio case in five years from the scenic Swat valley was confirmed on Monday, which, along with a fresh case from Sindh, raised the national tally to 262.

According to an official of the ministry of health, the cases were confirmed after being tested for polio virus at the National Institute of Health (NIH).

The victim was identified as 21 month-old Abu Takha, son of Noor Muhammad from UC Khwaza Khela of Tarogay Village in the Swat Valley. The second polio case confirmed on Monday was that of Sumaira, daughter of Qadir Bux, from UC Humayon in Hadi Bux Bakhrani, Sheikhupura.
refused drops for their child.

The two cases raise the total number of cases reported in Pakistan this year to 262. These include 163 from Fata,  55 from K-P, 27 from Sindh, three from Punjab and 14 from Balochistan.

The Express Tribune charts the course of polio in Pakistan over recent years [and click on it to enlarge]:

BLOG Pak polio

From the Guardian, another look at another outbreak we’ve been covering;

Chikungunya: Ebola pushes South American epidemic out of the spotlight

  • With global media attention focused on the Ebola outbreak in Africa, the spread of the Chikungunya virus has largely gone unnoticed outside of Latin America

The Americas are experiencing an epidemic that has been largely ignored by the rest of the world as it focuses on west Africa’s Ebola outbreak.

The debilitating mosquito-borne Chikungunya virus has infected almost one million people since it first emerged in South America and the Caribbean less than a year ago. The virus has rapidly spread across the Americas, causing huge pressure on health services in some of the poorest countries in the western hemisphere.

The Dominican Republic, the most popular Caribbean island for tourists last year with 4.7 million visitors, has recorded 500,000 cases. A third of the population lives on 80 pence ($1.25) a day. Central America has also been affected, with 123,000 cases in El Salvador.

The epidemic has failed to attract international media attention amid the Ebola crisis, as deaths from Chikungunya are relatively rare: . About 150 people have died among nearly 931,000 cases in the Americas – the US has had more than 1,830 cases.

From MintPress News, a classic case of the corporate war on public health:

Worldwide, Tobacco Regulators Monitoring Philip Morris Lawsuit Against Uruguay

  • The tobacco giant’s lawsuit against Uruguay is a key example of the growing trend of multinational companies using trade agreements and mechanisms to circumvent national legislation — even legislation meant to protect public health

The issue goes back to new regulations passed by the Uruguayan government in 2009 regarding tobacco product packaging and sales. First, the government required that 80 percent of individual cigarette packs be covered by graphic health warnings, an increase from 50 percent previously.

Second, manufacturers would be allowed to market only a single variation of their brand’s product, and also had to remove language on their packaging that appeared to differentiate different types of cigarettes (“low tar,” for instance). Critics say these practices mislead consumers into believing that the negative health effects of some cigarettes are lower than others.

Philip Morris, which notes that it supported Uruguay’s pre-2009 regulations, says the new rules forced the company to remove seven of its 12 products from the country. The maker of Marlboro is seeking $25 million for costs incurred.

The company also claims that the new 80-percent requirement for cigarette packaging infringes on trademark guarantees included in a trade agreement between Uruguay and Switzerland, where Philip Morris International is based. The case is being heard before an arbitration panel here in Washington, the World Bank’s International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID).

And from the Associated Press, criminals by desperate necessity:

Chilean moms growing support for medical marijuana

Paulina Bobadilla was beyond desperate. The drugs no longer stopped her daughter’s epileptic seizures and the little girl had become so numb to pain, she would tear off her own fingernails and leave her small fingers bleeding.

Bobadilla was driving on a mountain road with Javiera, intent on ending it all by steering their car off a cliff.

“All I wanted to do was to die along with her,” the 34-year-old mother recalled of that day in April 2013. “I told her: ‘This is it.’ But then she said, ‘Mommy, I love you.’ I looked at her and I knew I had to continue fighting.”

Bobadilla’s desperation to ease her daughter’s condition is an emotion familiar to other Chilean parents who say medical marijuana can help their children and who, rather than wait for Congress to act, have taken matters into their own hands.

Despite the risk of jail time, about 100 parents have formed a group, Mama Cultiva or “Mama Grows,” to share knowledge about cultivating marijuana to extract cannabis oil for their seizure-stricken children.

BBC News covers green thumbs in the ‘hood:

Global importance of urban agriculture ‘underestimated’

Urban agriculture is playing an increasingly important role in global food security, a study has suggested.

Researchers, using satellite data, found that agricultural activities within 20km of urban areas occupy an area equivalent to the 28-nation EU. The international team of scientists says the results should challenge the focus on rural areas of agricultural research and development work.

The findings appear in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

“This is the first study to document the global scale of food production in and around urban settings,” explained co-author Pay Drechsel, a researcher for the International Water Management Institute (IWMI).

From the Ecologist, more plutocratic “benevolence” at the expense of the commons:

Why is Bill Gates backing GMO red banana ‘biopiracy’?

The Gates Foundation has sunk $15 million into developing GMO ‘super bananas’ with high levels of pre-Vitamin A, writes Adam Breasley. But the project is using ‘stolen’ genes from a Micronesian banana cultivar. And what exactly is the point, when delicious, popular, nutritious ‘red bananas’ rich in caroteinoids are already grown around the tropics?

Among the controversial projects funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is the development and testing of a biofortified GMO banana developed to boost its iron, Vitamin E and pro-Vitamin A content.

To this end the Foundation, via its Grand Challenges in Global Health Initiative, has so far given $15 million to Queensland University of Technology for the program run by Professor Dr James Dale, with a latest tranche of $10 million handed over this year.

Funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to the tune of $15 million, and currently in Iowa undergoing human feeding studies, the GMO banana human feeding trials appears have been designed for marketing purposes. Certainly Scientific American calls them simply “market trials”.

From Want China Times, water woes in the world’s most populous nation:

Water pollution recognized as a huge problem for China

Water safety has become a serious problem in China. Half of the nation’s 10 largest water systems are polluted, 40% of major lakes have pollution problems and 17 of the country’s 31 large freshwater lakes are polluted, the People’s Daily Online reports, citing various provincial research reports.

In Hebei province, Beijing and Tianjin, average water resources stand at just 286 cubic meters per capita, far below the international standard for extremely dry levels at 500 cubic meters per capita, while one-third of the region’s groundwater is already polluted.

The region’s major streams are all also heavily polluted, with third-level polluted waters exceeding 60%, according to a 2013 survey.

“Water safety problems have become the scourge of the nation,” said Lu Zhongmei, dean of Hubei University of Economics, who conducted research on environmental law for 30 years.

The Diplomat covers a successfulcorporate conquest where an army was defeated:

Vietnam, Agent Orange, and GMOs

  • An Agent Orange maker is being welcomed back to Vietnam to grow genetically modified organisms

Vietnam continues to roll out the red carpet for foreign biotech giants, including the infamous Monsanto, to sell the controversial genetically modified (GM) corn varieties in the country. Critics say that by welcoming Monsanto, Vietnam has been too nice to the main manufacturer of Agent Orange, the toxic defoliant used during the Vietnam War that left a devastating legacy still claiming victims today.

According to Vietnamese media reports, in August that country’s agriculture ministry approved the imports of four corn varieties engineered for food and animal feed processing: MON 89034 and NK 603, products of DeKalb Vietnam (a subsidiary of U.S. multinational Monsanto), and GA 21 and MIR 162 from the Swiss firm Syngenta.

The Vietnamese environment ministry has to date issued bio-safety certificates for Monsanto’s MON 89034 and NK 603 corn varieties and Syngenta’s GA 21, meaning farmers can start commercially cultivating the crops. The ministry is considering issuing a similar certificate for the other variety, MR 162. Given the current political landscape, it seems that approval is just a matter of time.

Some rare good polar news from the Guardian:

Antarctic ice thicker than previously thought, study finds

  • First of its kind robotic survey of underside of sea ice floes reveals denser ice fringing the continent

Groundbreaking 3D mapping of previously inaccessible areas of the Antarctic has found that the sea ice fringing the vast continent is thicker than previous thought.

Two expeditions to Antarctica by scientists from the UK, USA and Australia analysed an area of ice spanning 500,000 metres squared, using a robot known as SeaBed.

The survey discovered ice thickness average between 1.4m and 5.5m, with a maximum ice thickness of 16m. Scientists also discovered that 76% of the mapped ice was ‘deformed’ – meaning that huge slabs of ice have crashed into each other to create larger, denser bodies of ice

And from teleSUR English, a look at the roots of fracker power:

Interviews from Washington DC – Fracking industry money and Congress

Program notes:

Today’s program looks at how the fracking industry uses its financial power to influence Congress. Jorge Gestoso interviews Melanie Stone, a recognized expert on the issue, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, and author of the recently released report “How the fracking industry fuels Congress”. The increase in fracking activity has been accompanied by a massive 231% growth from 2004 to 2012 in the industry’s campaign contributions to congressional and senatorial candidates from districts and states home to such activity, from about US$2.1 million to US$6.9 million. Such cash contributions is money well spent and has effectively bought the silence of many legislators.

And from EcoWatch, frenetic fracker thirst:

‘Monster’ Fracking Wells Guzzle Water in Drought-Stricken Regions

The fracking industry likes to minimize the sector’s bottomless thirst for often-scarce water resources, saying it takes about 2-4 million gallons of water to frack the average well, an amount the American Petroleum Institute describes as “the equivalent of three to six Olympic swimming pools.” That’s close to the figure cited by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as well.

But a new report released by Environmental Working Group (EWG) located 261 “monster” wells that consumed between 10 and 25 million gallons of water to drill each well. Among the conclusions EWG teased out of data reported by the industry itself and posted at is that between April 2010 and December 2013, these 261 wells consumed 3.3 billions of water between them, a average of 12.7 million gallons each. And 14 of the wells topped 20 million gallons each.

“It’s far more relevant to compare those figures to basic human needs for water, rather than to swimming pools or golf courses,” said EWG’s report. “The 3.3 billion gallons consumed by the monster wells was almost twice as much water as is needed each year by the people of Atascosa County, Texas, in the heart of the Eagle Ford shale formation, one of the most intensively drilled gas and oil fields in the country.”

After the jump, GOP Arctic drilling aspirations, a Canadian author funds pipeline foes, Canary Islands offshore drilling opposition, a toxic Canadian mine threatens to take another dump, World Bank goes green with its green, Massive giraffe die-off underway, and some good news for the Monarch butterly. . . Continue reading

Ralph Nader on wealth, power, and politics

This is the first of three segments from The Real News Network featuring an extended Paul Jay interview of Ralph Nader:

McCarthyism Made Us Veer Away From a Systemic Doctrine for Change – Ralph Nader

From the transcript:

JAY: But now, you know, as we see capitalism in its–the ’08 financial crisis and the sort of recovery of Asia, you start to see–and let me add another big thing is there’s no longer this–even if it’s hypothetical–or was it theoretical?–but there wasn’t this supposed socialist Soviet Union that was going to guarantee jobs and insurance, health insurance, and this and that. I mean, the message of European capitalism and America to Europe, not so much to Americans: well, you don’t need socialism to get all this; capitalism can do it for you.

NADER: Yeah, social democratic politics they called it.

JAY: But now Europe is now turning on itself, and they’re doing everything they can to get rid of all this stuff. And now they want to be like the American model, to be more competitive.

But I guess where I’m going with this is: have we entered a kind of new stage of history of capitalist development?

NADER: Well, basically it was globalization that did it to Western Europe. Once they took in the model of the World Trade Organization, once they in effect financialized more of their economy–derivatives, speculation, stock market, all that–that’s when they started going down. I warned them: do not accept the U.S. multinational model, ’cause it’s going to happen to you. And the effect of the multinational model was exacerbated by the European common market. So if they got in one country, they’d get in a lot of the other countries.

However, they still have a safety net. And it’s frayed badly in England. For example, they’re charging students now as high as $12,000 a year for tuition. But by comparison with us, nobody dies in Western Europe–nobody dies in Western Europe because they don’t have health insurance. They’re insured from the cradle to the grave. In this country, 800 Americans die every week, every week, ’cause they can’t afford health insurance to get diagnosed and treated in time.

And that’s–figure comes from a Harvard Medical School peer-reviewed study in the December 2009 Journal of American Public Health. This is not some wild figure. Eight hundred a week, and not a single major politician is talking about it in the election year last year.

‘You say Tom-Ta-to, I say Tom-Tah-to. . .’

What’s next? Real, live Turduckens? But at least it’s not a GMO. . .

From ITN News:

TomTato hybrid – tomato and potato hybrid plant launched

The program notes:

A hybrid plant that combines a tomato and a potato has been launched in the UK. The firm behind the TomTato has called it a “Veg plot in a pot” and says it could help many people grow their own vegetables at home.

Project Development Manager at Thompson and Morgan, Michael Perry, said: “It’s a hundred per cent natural, so no GMs involved, it is completely natural and safe and each plant is grafted by hand so a very, very delicate process.”

The grafting process involves providing a clean cut on the two plants and taping the ends together until they heal. The procedure has been around for more than 15 years but hasn’t been made commercially available until now. Report by Ashley Fudge.

Cuba at the crossroads: The rise of the co-op

In the aftermath of the 1917 revolution in Russia, Vladimir Lenin aggressively nationalized industry and merchandising, a policy that quickly led to popular

“Socialist Russia will come from NEP.” —Lenin Source.

“Socialist Russia will come from NEP.” —Lenin

discontent. The Party’s response was to allow small-scale private enterprises and food production, a policy known as the New Economic Policy, or NEP.

But the NEP was brutally destroyed by Stalin after his consolidation of power after Lenin’s death, with the program declared finished in 1928.

In 1959, when Fidel Castro’s revolutionary took control of the Cuban government, both of the world’s leading self-declared communist states were still in the throes of Stalinist central control, though Nikita Khrushchev had loosened the reins a bit in the Soviet Union.

Castro, financially supported by the Soviets, adopted a modified version of the Moscow system, which was maintained trough the collapse of the Soviet system, then modified creatively and by necessity when the flow of Soviet cash and oil evaporated — leading to, among other things, the world’s most productive system of urban agriculture.

Cuban adapted and endured, and despite the decades-long economic embargo by the United States and a ban on U.S. tourism — once an economic mainstay of the island nation.

Now Cuba is embarking on what might be described as its own version of the NEP, most notably in agriculture.

Now the Cuban experiment is treated to coverage by only major international power claiming the communist mantle, China — which has traveled much farther down the market economy road than Cuba.

Here’s the coverage by CCTV’s Americas Now:

Cuba Shifting from State-Operated Establishments to Private Co-Ops

The program notes:

In 1968, Cuba nationalized its businesses, adopting a Soviet style system that had all enterprise controlled by the state. CCTV correspondent Michael Voss finds that conditions appear to be changing.

We love that 1951 Chevrolet driving by the food co-op manager, an amazing testament both to the durability of Detroit’s vintage iron and to the spirit of the Cuba people in keeping it running for the last 62 years.

Chris Hedges: On building a strong movement

In the latest and penultimate segment of Paul Jay’s interviews of Chris Hedges for The Real News Network, Jay and the former New York Times Middle East bureau chief focuses on the narrow range of mainstream political discourse and the need to build institutions to challenge And circumvent the ever-consolidating wealth and power of the elite.

Chris Hedges: As a Socialist, I Have No Voice in the Mainstream

From the transcript:

JAY: So people watching this, what would you suggest they do next?

HEDGES: We have to begin to build organizations to protect ourselves from corporate forces that are determined to exploit the ecosystem until it collapses. We have to recognize that the implantation of global capitalism is one that will reconfigure the world into a kind of neo-feudal society where workers here will be told that they have to be competitive with the sweatshop workers in Bangladesh and make $0.22 an hour prison labor in China. That’s already happening. We have to recognize that the vast corporate systems that we have set up.

For instance, our food system is very fragile and is not sustainable. Food must once again be local. We can’t continue to feed ourselves on a system where we’re shipping all of our fruits and vegetables from California or Florida across the country. That means beginning to–and more than community gardens, but essentially buying local, creating sustainable systems that are local, bcause when things go down, the elites will withdraw into their gated compounds, where they will have access to security, water, medical facilities, all sorts of things that they will deny to the rest of us. They’re not going to take care of us when things come, when things go bad. And we have to begin to prepare for that.

It’s not a very pleasant scenario. It’s not pleasant to think about. But it’s survivable if we begin to respond to what’s coming. As long as we remain unplugged, as long as we are checked out, which is how they want us, we’re going to be left defenseless.

Monday evening eye candy: French gardens

Ten minutes of virtual tourism from FRANCE 24 English:

Journey through France’s most celebrated gardens

The program notes:

Today the culture show takes you to some of France’s most celebrated gardens. A journey throughout the country to understand what makes the Tuileries or Claude Monet’s Giverny so special and what kind of new challenges they face. You’ll see that the work of landscape architects and gardeners is art itself. Standing the test of time, these gardens attract hundreds of thousands of visitors every year.

Headline of the day II: Botanical boldness bared

From the Shropshire Star:

Royal Mail takes action over “aggressive raspberries” at Shropshire home

A pensioner has been issued with a health and safety warning by the Royal Mail – after he was told his “aggressive raspberries” were threatening a postwoman.

H/T to Nothing To Do With Abroath.

Occupy the Farm returns to UC Berkeley land

It was three days short of a year since UC Berkeley campus cops evicted Occupy the Farm from their three-week takeover [previously] of the university-owned Gill Tract in nearby Albany when protesters returned to their occupation today.

From vlogger Em Raguso:

Judith Scherr reports for the Oakland Tribune:

Chanting “Whose farm? Our farm!” some 150 people marched from Albany City Hall to a weed-strewn plot of University of California-owned land where they yanked out 3-foot-tall weeds and planted squash and tomato seedlings.


Protesters want the Gill Tract to become an urban farm, while the university said it uses the land for agricultural research. A development is planned for an area adjacent to the land which has not been agriculturally zoned in decades, university officials have said.

As protesters entered the area Saturday, bringing with them two chickens, three goats and a rabbit, police informed them via bullhorn that they were trespassing and subject to arrest. As of late Saturday afternoon, no arrests had been made.

Read the rest.

And from the Occupy the Farm website, a report on today’s action:

Three days after UC Berkeley’s new development proposal on the Gill Tract was voted down at the City of Albany’s Planning and Zoning Commission meeting on May 8th, the organizing group Occupy the Farm has again taken a stand for public education and urban agriculture, setting down roots on the hotly contested land.

“People have been fighting to preserve this land for farming for decades, because they recognize that because this is UC land, all residents of the East Bay have a stake and a say in what happens to this public resource,” said Lesley Haddock, a third year student in UC Berkeley’s College of Natural Resources. “After fifteen years of trying to work through UC’s undemocratic process, public protest is our last option.”

Since 1997, coalitions of local residents, non-profits, and UC students and faculty have brought forth proposals to the UC administration for the creation of a sustainable urban agriculture curriculum on the entire Gill Tract. Administrators consistently rejected these proposals, and have been accused of not giving the proposals due consideration.

“Today we’re planting on the site of the proposed commercial development because we want to remind people what they will lose if a chain store and parking lot get built here,” stated Ashoka Finley, urban farmer and UC alum. “The UC, Albany even, could be on the cutting edge of participatory, community-based urban ag research, and they’re just throwing that opportunity away.”

Building on Occupy the Farm’s action in April-May 2012, today’s protest was focused on community education around food production . Farmers and activists were seen planting vegetables together, watering crops and passing out free plant starts to passers-by. There was a range of educational activities, including a seed-ball making workshop organized by a seven year-old. The young girl stated, “I just wanted to do it at a time when I knew a lot of kids would show up.”

As one of the last large plots of fertile agricultural soil left in the East Bay, the Gill Tract holds great potential for shifting our communities towards self-sufficiency through large-scale urban agriculture education. Occupy the Farm will be working all weekend to turn the south plot of the Gill Tract from an empty lot into an urban farm and community asset.

For more visuals and interviews, see this brief clip from ABC News 7 in San Francisco.

And here’s a report from the Daily Californian on the 14 May 2012 police raid ending the last occupation:


Another kind of austerity yields joy, community

Here’s a remarkable video from *faircompanies, a Spanish website focused on voluntary simplicity and sustainable living.

It’s the story that might be called Occupy Lakabe, the saga of the occupation of an abandoned village in the hills of Northern Spain that began three decades ago and has blossomed into a exemplary community, showing that a different way of living is not only possible but desirable.

The program notes from *faircompanies:

Medieval Spanish ghost town now self-sufficient ecovillage

It’s a utopian fantasy- discover a ghost town and rebuild it in line with your ideals-, but in Spain where there are nearly 3000 abandoned villages (most dating back to the Middle Ages), some big dreamers have spent the past 3 decades doing just that.

There are now a few dozen “ecoaldeas” – ecovillages – in Spain, most buil[t] from the ashes of former Medieval towns. One of the first towns to be rediscovered was a tiny hamlet in the mountains of northern Navarra.

It was rediscovered in 1980 by a group of people living nearby who had lost their goats and “when they found their goats, they found Lakabe”, explains Mauge Cañada, one of the early pioneers in the repopulation of the town.

The new inhabitants were all urbanites with no knowledge of country life so no one expected them to stay long. At first, the homes weren’t habitable so they lived 14 in a large room. Slowly they began to rebuild the homes and the gardens.

When they first began to rebuild, there was no road up to the town so horses were used to carry construction materials up the mountain. There was no electricity either so they lived with candles and oil lamps.

After a few years, they erected a windmill by hand, carrying the iron structure up the hill themselves. “Even though it seems tough and in some ways it was, but you realize you’re not as limited as you think,” says Mauge. “There are a lot of things people think they can’t do without a lot of money and there’s never been money here.”

In the early years, they generated income by selling some of their harvest and working odd jobs like using their newfound construction experience to rebuild roofs outside town. Later they rebuilt the village bakery and sold bread to the outside world.

Their organic sourdough breads now sell so well that today they can get by without looking for work outside town, but it helps that they keep their costs at a minimum as a way of life. “There’s an austerity that’s part of the desire of people who come here,” explains Mauge. “There’s not a desire for consumption to consume. We try to live with what there is.”

Today, the town generates all its own energy with the windmill, solar panels and a water turbine. It also has a wait list of people who’d like to move in, but Mauge says the answer is not for people to join what they have created, but to try to emulate them somewhere else.

“If you set your mind to it and there’s a group of people who want to do it, physically they can do it, economically they can do it. What right now is more difficult is being willing to suffer hardship or difficulties or… these days people have a lot of trouble living in situations of shortage or what is seen as shortage but it isn’t.”

From our own experience going back a few decades, we can say that we lived life at its fullest when we had the least cash and the most friends, all working toward common goals.

Austerity’s getting a bad rap these days, because the term has been coopted by economists to signify the sacrifice of the common good for the sake of private profits.

For Buckminster Fuller the desideratum was synergistic emphemeralization, which he defined as the art of doing more with less. With human communities, the process occurs when we rely more on community and less on commodity, finding the infinite variety of richness that comes from interaction with others in pursuit of common, mutually enriching goals.

So our hat’s off to the people of Lakabe for giving us a glimpse of what’s possible now.

Agrofuel roundup I: Scams, schemes, dreams

It’s been a while since we’ve covered the agrofuel scene, that wondrous playground of billionaires, Al Gore, and UC Berkeley millionaire patent-mongering profs.

There’s a whole lot to report, but we’ll start with one of the sweetest scams ever, in which a clever Canadian figured out how to make millions off Uncle Sugar simply by shipping trains full of agrodiesel south across the border, then bringing them right back to Canada without ever unloading a drop.

Then we’ll look at the latest news from BP and the university it owns right here in Berkeley.

In a second part we’ll give you a brief update on one of Berkeley’s agrofuel startups that isn’t and the fate of another partnership spearheaded by the same prof who launched the startup.

Canadian newsies investigate

The Canadian scam, which appears to have been perfectly legal, was first reported 3 December by John Nicol and Dave Seglins, a pair of intrepid journalists for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

In their first story, the reporters cited reports that the tasnkers made their down-and-back trips between 15 and 28 June 2010, earning CN Rail a potential $23.6 million [Canadian] in charges.

From their report:

“In 25 years, I’d never done anything like it,” one railway worker told CBC News on the condition he not be named for fear he might be fired. “The clerk told me it was some kind of money grab. We just did what we were told.”


According to internal CN records, Train 503 shipped the biodiesel to Port Huron, Mich., from Sarnia, Ont.; Train 504 brought them back. The number of cars on the train would remain mostly the same, but cars were added and removed, between 68 and 89 cars at a time. As soon as the paperwork and car shuffling was completed, the trains made the return trip.

“This unit train will move at least once daily to Port Huron starting on Tuesday, June 18,” said an email written by Teresa Edwards, CN’s manager of transportation for Port Huron/Sarnia.

It will “clear customs and return to Sarnia. If we can get in more flips back and forth we will attempt to do so. Each move per car across the border is revenue generated for Sarnia/Port Huron.

“It will be the same cars flipping back and forth and the product will stay on the car.”

Damned fishy, right?

Why the hell would a company send a total of 1,984 tank cars full of fuel into the U.S., then bring them back without ever unloading them?

The reporters were back with a second story on the 20th, and it’s just as sordid as you might imagine.

They note:

It turns out the shipments were part of a deal by a Toronto-based company, which made several million dollars importing and exporting the fuel to exploit a loophole in a U.S. green energy program.


Bioversel Trading hired CN Rail to import tanker loads of biodiesel to the U.S. to generate RINs, which are valuable in the U.S. because of a “greening” policy regulating the petroleum industry. The EPA’s “Renewable Fuel Standard” mandate that oil companies bring a certain amount of renewable fuel to market, quotas they can achieve through blending biofuel with fossil fuel or by purchasing RINs as offsets.

Because RINs can be generated through import, the 12 trainloads that crossed into Michigan would have contained enough biodiesel to create close to 12 million RINs. In the summer of 2010, biodiesel RINs were selling for 50 cents each, but the price soon fluctuated to more than $1 per credit.

Once “imported” to a company capable of generating RINs, ownership of the biodiesel was transferred to Bioversel’s American partner company, Verdeo, and then exported back to Canada. RINs must be “retired” once the fuel is exported from the U.S., but Bioversel says Verdeo retired ethanol RINs, worth pennies, instead of the more valuable biodiesel RINs. Bioversel claims this was all perfectly legal.

However, one of the companies Bioversel approached to be the ‘importer of record’—Northern Biodiesel Inc. of Ontario, N.Y. — discovered that the same fuel was going back and forth across the border and the same gallons were being used to repeatedly generate new RINs under their company’s name. The company called the EPA and also sent a letter that would become an open letter to the biodiesel industry, accusing Bioversel of “trying to perpetrate a fraud against NBI and the Renewable Fuel Standard program.”

And what was the result? Were the whistleblowers rewarded for their virtuous reporting of their inadvertent involvement in a potential ripoff of American taxpayers?

Yeah, right.

The CBC reports:

Northern Biodiesel insisted the RINs issued were not valid because it had never received any bills of lading or chemical analysis reports from Verdeo, and thus Northern Biodiesel never reported/certified them with the EPA. However, millions of these RINs were sold in its name.

As a result, Northern Biodiesel RINs became tainted within the industry and [company owner Bob] Bechtold said that put him out of business.

“That was about the dumbest thing we ever did,” said Bechtold about the letter and coming forward to the EPA. “We thought we were saving the industry, doing good to protect the industry, but it ended up being the kiss of death for us, because we are no longer able to participate in the field.”

Why are we not surprised?

BP turning sour on cellulosic?

One of the most prominent names in Berkeley campus politics has been BP, once known as the Anglo Iranian Oil Company.

The oil giant’s $500 million Energy Biosciences Institute [EBI] effort to create next generation fuels at th Helios lab at UC Berkeley was the largest corporate funding ever on an American college campus, and the subject of some intense faculty politics after the school’s administration accepted the cash without the requisite consultation with the academic senate [which eventually voted an ex post facto approval].

The research, conducted in a purpose-built taxpayer-funded lab complex in downtown Berkeley, with the corporation occupying most of the space for its own proprietary research and the rest of the complex protected from prying eyes by campus security.

While the research has been going on for the past five years, one thing that hasn’t happened is the development of the technology for production of cost-effective internal combustion fuels from plant cellulose, the widely truumpeted goal of most of the research.

Chris Somerville, the multimillionaire bioentrepreneur who heads the Energy Biosciences Institute [EBI], admitted as much in an interview published earlier this month on the EBI website:

[I]t is probably premature to build a biorefinery for production of lignocellulosic fuels. Academic work in the field has not yet converged to an optimal process. As I said, we think that such an optimized process will be continuous. When we get to a situation where academic studies have converged on the most efficient process and predict economic feasibility without subsidies, then it will be appropriate to start building biorefineries. Some companies appear to have started building lignocellulosic fuel biorefineries because they have adequate confidence in their own technologies, they want to capture possible business advantages of being early movers, and (because of) pressure from the government to get on with it in order to preserve the subsidies that are currently available for advanced biofuels. I cannot evaluate the merit of these possible motivations.  However, based on technical progress in the field, I remain very optimistic that we will eventually have a very large industry based on lignocellulose feedstocks.

Somerville has a habit of omitting inconvenient truths, as we learned early on when covering the birth of the EBI for the late Berkeley Daily Planet.

Back when he was selling campus colleagues and the community on the BP grant, he repeatedly claimed that the crops used for the new miracle fuels would be grown only on marginal land east of the Mississippi.

Chris Somerville

Chris Somerville

That was at best a gross distortion. First, the “marginal lands” were those which had been taken out of production under the federal Conservation Reserve Program, which was created to end farming on lands susceptible to catastrophic erosion. Lobbyists for Big Agra and Big Oil managed to get a law passed that removed the protection if the land is used for growing fuel crops — thus gutting a program created to head off a return of the Dust Bowl years of the 1930s.

The land also provides critical habitat for threatened and endangered wildlife Continue reading

Edible City: Remarkable film about city farming

From director Andrew Hasse, a delightful documentary on the urban agriculture movement, focusing mainly on what’s happening along the eastern side of San Francisco Bay.

Local readers will see a lot of familiar faces, including UC Berkeley’s Miguel Altieri, the last remaining faculty member from the university’s now-gutted agroecology program, Jason Harvey of the Oakland Food Collective, Eric Holt-Gimenez, Willow Rosenthal of Oakland’s City Slicker Farms, educator Joy Moore of Berkeley Alternative High School, Leon Davis of the Hope Collaborative, permaculture specialist Brock Dolman, and more. Altieri also addresses the short-lived occupation of the university’s Gill Tract in Albany.

Hasse’s done an excellent job of exploring a very important response to the global economic crisis, a way to reclaim some of our independence as citizens and communities. And note the job on the faces of the young people as they participate in growing food to feed themselves and their families.

The film’s website is here.

Engineering our food to make us fatter, sick

Stephan Guyenet, a University of Washington neurobiologist who studies the neurobiology of body fat regulation and blogs at Whole Health Source, examines the way the corporate food complex has engineered the stuff we eat in ways that make us fatter and sicker in this TEDXHarvardLaw talk.

The program notes:

The United States has experienced a major health transition in the last 150 years, which has included an increase in the prevalence of obesity, diabetes and coronary heart disease. As these conditions are heavily influenced by food choices, it is important to understand how the American diet has changed over this time period. This talk will describe qualitative and quantitative changes in American food habits that may be relevant to modern disease patterns.

We’d only add that another key factor involved in the obesity epidemic is the plastic used to package and serve our food. Ample scientific evidence, establishes that plastic-packaged food contains leached chemicals resembling estrogens — hormones inclining us toward obesity and a whole host of other bodily and behavioral changes, as well as outbursts of political idiocy.

Massive drought sparks food shortage, riot fears

Here in the U.S., it’s the driest year in the last half-century and the hottest year ever recorded, a double whammy that’s leading to widespread crop failure and raising the specter, when combined with crops shortages in other countries, of massive unrest in the world’s poorer lands.

Dry weather is also cutting down on harvests in Africa, as the U.N.  International Strategy for Disaster Reduction reports:

More than two-thirds of Africa’s population lives in rural areas and depend on rain-fed agriculture and pasture, making them highly vulnerable to bouts of extreme dry weather, says ARC, noting that there have been 132 recorded droughts in sub-Saharan Africa since 1990.

This year, drought is causing a crisis in the Sahel, affecting an estimated 18 million people in Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal and Sudan. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization says overall Sahelian cereal production is 26 per cent lower than last year, with countries like Chad losing as much as half its cereal crops.

Only a year ago, drought in the Horn of Africa led to a severe food crisis for 10 million people in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and Uganda. Britain’s Department for International Development, a major aid provider, says one year after famine was declared 2.5 million people in Somalia — the hardest hit country in the region — are still at risk of chronic food shortages.

Read the rest.

And then there’s the Indian subcontinent, where Agence France-Presse reports that the annual monsoon rains arrived late this summer, and they’ve been yielding much less moisture:

The much-romanticised annual downpour that normally sweeps in at the start of June in the far south of the country is a lifeline for. . .about two thirds of the 1.2-billion population who depend on agriculture for their incomes.

But the rains have been so poor that some farmers have decided not to sow crops, spelling more bad news for a slowing economy buffeted by its worst power crisis this week following massive blackouts.


Haryana, along with neighbouring Punjab state, is known as the “bread basket” of India, the source of over 60 per cent of food grains such as wheat, maize, rice and pulses that are grown annually.

It has been one of the worst affected this year with 65 per cent less rain than the long-term average, according to the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) in New Delhi.

Nation-wide, the monsoon has been more than 20 per cent below its average, sparking fears of drought among farmers who remember vividly the failure of 2009, when India suffered its worst drought in nearly four decades.

Read the rest.

The grim news from close to home

The situation has reached extreme levels here in the U.S., breadbasket to the world. Hardest hit has been corn, where demand is driven not only by livestock and human consumption but by the federal ethanol mandate.

Here’s a status report on the drought from Bloomberg’s Brian K. Sullivan:

The two worst levels of drought now grip nearly one-fourth of the lower 48 states, the U.S. Drought Monitor reported.

About 24.1 percent of the region was suffering extreme or exceptional drought in the week ended Aug. 7, up from 22.3 percent in the previous period and 18.3 percent last year, according to the monitor, based in Lincoln, Nebraska.

While there has been some improvement in drought conditions in the Midwest, that wasn’t the case in the Great Plains, Mark Svoboda of the National Drought Mitigation Center in Lincoln said in an accompanying analysis.


The drought has helped push corn prices to a record. World food prices have surged 6.2 percent as dryness has also gripped Russia and below-average monsoon rains fell in India.

The primary corn and soybean agriculture areas in the U.S. had their sixth-driest April-July growing season in records dating back to 1895, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said yesterday.

Read the rest.

For an idea of the extent of the crisis, here’s the latest edition of the U.S. Drought Monitor:

Heat wave breaks all previous records

By itself, drought would be bad enough, but then there’s record-breaking heat engulfing the American grain belt.

From Sam Nelson and Deborah Zabarenko of Reuters:

In the throes of a historic drought in the United States, a government agency said on Wednesday that it broke a heat record in July that had stood since the devastating Dust Bowl summer of 1936.

Reeling from widespread crop damage in July, Midwest farmers found some comfort on Wednesday in forecasts for rain over the next 10 days, a prospect that could take the edge off rising grain prices and concerns of food inflation worldwide.

The scorching month of July turned out to be the hottest month in the continental United States on record, beating the hottest month recorded in July 1936, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said.

The January-to-July period was also the warmest since modern record-keeping began in 1895, and the warmest 12-month period, eclipsing the last record set just a month ago. It was the fourth time in as many months that U.S. temperatures broke the hottest-12-months record, according to NOAA.

Read the rest.

More from the New York Times’ Joanna M. Foster:

“July was a pretty interesting month because there were two different things at play,” Jake Crouch, a climatologist at the agency’s National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C., said in an interview. “We saw very warm daytime temperatures over a large part of the country related to the ongoing drought, just as in 1936. When soils are dry, especially during the summer, it drives the daytime temperatures up. But this is a very local effect.”

“On the other side, at the national level, we have also seen very warm nighttime temperatures, and that is part of a long-term trend we’ve seen across the contiguous U.S. over the past several decades,” he said. “The hotter days increase the amount of moisture the lower atmosphere can hold, and this means it doesn’t cool off as much at night anymore.”

“This clearly shows a longer-term warming trend in the U.S., not just one really hot month,” Mr. Crouch said.

Read the rest.

Global food prices edge upward, U.N. reports

UPDATE: First, a euronews video report on spiking food prices:

Next, the graphics, from the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization [FAO]:

And the details:

The FAO Food Price Index (FFPI) averaged 213 points in July 2012, as much as 12 points (6 percent) up from June, but still well below the peak of 238 points reached in February 2011. The July surge of the Index followed three months of decline. The sharp rebound was mostly driven by a jump in grain and sugar prices, and more modest Continue reading

Venezuela launches urban farming initiative

A fascinating report from Agence France-Presse on one nation’s efforts to reduce the price of food by opening up urban land to community farming. Providing citizens with free seeds, tools, and other materials needed to organically grow food, Venezuela is following in the footsteps of Cuba following the collapse of the Soviet Union:

And for more on the Cuban program, see here.

Cops clear out Gill Tract’s Occupy the Farm

Here’s a video capture via Occupy the Stream of a Livestream broadcast of the raid at 6:30 this morning by UC Berkeley and Albany police, ending with the videographer’s arrest

From the San Francisco Chronicle’s Michael Cabanatuan:

Police cleared out Monday morning the small group of protesters who had set up an urban farming camp in a patch of UC Berkeley agricultural research land in Albany.

University police officers in riot helmets gave the protesters 1o minutes to leave the Gill Tract before they marched across the fields near Marin and San Pablo avenues about 6:15 a.m. The handful of protesters who had not obeyed the police order were sent scurrying off the property and onto San Pablo, which is closed to traffic.

Two protesters were arrested for trespassing after they disobeyed police orders to leave the property, said Lt. Eric Tejada, a police spokesman.

Read the rest.

UPDATE: The latest from Occupy the Farm, posted at their blog:

Gill Tract Farm Raided, Reconverge Tomorrow 5 PM at the Albany Community Center

Well over 100 UCPD and Alameda County Sherriffs officers, armed with less-than-lethal impact-force projectiles, 36″ batons, and pepper-ball guns, arrested about five people at the Gill Tract Farm near 7 AM on Monday morning.

The Gill Tract Farmers Collective has called for a reconvergence meeting at the Albany Community Center, 1249 Marin Ave., at 5 PM tomorrow.

At the time of this post, the police officers occupying the Gill Tract escorted a large tractor onto the farmland.

UPDATE II: UC Berkeley has now released an official statement on the raid.

Here’s the opening:

Early this morning officers from the UCPD, along with personnel from other UC police departments, began taking the steps necessary for UC Berkeley to regain full control and supervision of our property in and around the Gill Tract. After weeks of patient dialogue, engagement and rejected offers of compromise, we deeply regret that the occupiers’ actions and continued insistence on free and unfettered access to what is an open-air laboratory left us no choice but to take this step. As the occupiers said in their statement rejecting our invitation to participate in efforts to sustain urban agriculture, “We’re not ceding control or supervision.”

It is no cause for celebration that the involvement of law enforcement is required to secure our fundamental property rights and protect a core value that is an indivisible part of who we are: academic freedom; the ability of our faculty and students to pursue their scientific interests without interference. We have said from the beginning that we would honor our commitment to protect the university’s rights and values.

Read the rest.

UPDATE III: Christopher Yee of the Daily Californian has the final arrest tally:

UCPD arrested 9 protesters as they retook control of UC-owned land in Albany Monday morning.

Officers from UC Berkeley and seven other UC campuses issued a dispersal order to the protesters — most of whom were outside the east gate to the land near the corner of San Pablo and Marin Avenues — at 6:15 a.m.

Two protesters were arrested after remaining on the land, known as the Gill Tract, and seven were arrested outside of the encampment’s entrances for unlawful assembly.

Read the rest.

Occupy the Farm gives up camp, farming stays

Occupy the Farm declined UC Berkeley’s for a meeting on the university’s terms, but they did give up their encampment today — but they’re not giving up their farming activities at the Cal-owned Gill Tract.

While the activists didn’t post a statement of their own at their website, they did reprint an article from Nanette Asimov of the San Francisco Chronicle:

Occupy the Farm protesters agreed Saturday to end their three-week encampment on UC Berkeley property in Albany, but rebuffed an invitation from the university to discuss how the area can be used for both urban farming and for research.

Instead, the several dozen protesters set up ladders to scale the fence UC had erected around the area along San Pablo Avenue known as the Gill Tract and said they will continue to tend the vegetables and fruit trees they’ve planted on 2 of the 5 disputed acres.

As a result, the UC regents said they won’t drop the civil lawsuit they filed Wednesday accusing 13 protesters of trespassing.

Read the rest.

More from Rick Hurd of the Contra Costa Times:

The group agreed to end their three-week encampment on the university property in Albany and dismantled much of its encampment Saturday morning, UC Berkeley spokesman Dan Mogulof said. But by 3 p.m., several people continued to use the area known as the Gill Tract and some tents remained, he said. Occupiers have said they will continue to do their own farming on the land.

Mogulof said the “window is still open” for a voluntary exit by protesters, but that they are “short on time,” because the research season begins next week.

Read the rest.

And from the Daily Californian’s Christopher Yee:

Occupy the Farm spokesperson Anya Kamenskaya said they will remove camping-related structures but continue to stay and farm the land. She said some protesters will camp outside the fence surrounding the tract though they had not yet worked out details as to how that would work.

“We’re moving our living infrastructure off-site to be painfully obvious that the issue isn’t camping,” Kamenskaya said. “The issue is farming — making sure people have access to the farm, allowing farmers and the community to come out and support us by planting and watering.”

Read the rest.

It’s an clever ploy, and it’ll be interesting to see how the university responds.

With Cal ultimatum, Gill Tract showdown looms

It’s fascinating to read the media coverage about the Occupation of UC Berkeley’s Gill Tract, the last prime piece of urban farmland along the eastern shore of San Francisco Bay and the inevitable showdown approaches between campus cops and the urban farmers now in occupation.

San Francisco Chronicle scribe Chip Johnson is abruptly dismissive of the action, declaring “their claim to the land and the reasons they’ve cited for their actions are as empty as the section of field they have commandeered.”

The whole tone of Johnson’s column won him inclusion on

Our sympathies are with the Occupy activists, because the issue they raise is critical: Creating educational centers to teach communities the skills of food cultivation in an era of economic uncertainty and dwindling resources.

The university contends it’s already made concessions, though experience teaches that UC Berkeley usually does only what the administrators want, and these days that’s catering to corporate needs.

Here’s the latest from Cal’s administrators, including a 10 a.m. Saturday deadline for evacuation of the tract:

On May 11 the UC Berkeley administration released the following statement concerning the Gill Tract:

After weeks of patient dialogue and rejected proposals for a peaceful resolution of the occupation, UC Berkeley will be taking the steps necessary for research to commence, and urban agriculture to continue on the Gill Tract.

On Saturday morning the dean of our College of Natural Resources, Keith Gilless, will lead a planning meeting that will tackle the details of how the Gill Tract will be shared by our researchers and urban agriculture, and how the effort will be supported, coordinated and sustained under the university’s supervision. The meeting and its agenda were developed in collaboration with the City of Albany, and participants will include appointed city officials, members of the Albany community identified by the city manager’s office, residents of University Village and UC Berkeley faculty members and students.

We are also reserving two seats at the table for representatives of the group that is still occupying our property. They have claimed that they do not want to interfere with our research and seek only to support urban agriculture. If that’s the case, we are hard-pressed to understand why the occupation needs to continue, given the fact that we are now moving forward with plans to have a portion of the land used for urban agriculture. In order to take their seat at the table, all they need to do by Saturday at 10 a.m. is pack up the encampment, leave our property and join a discussion that will advance one of their Continue reading

Campus cops seal off Gill Tract Occupation

As we suspected, UC Bertkeley Police completed the second [or third] phase of their campaign against the Occupy the Farm activists now camped at the university Gill Tract.

From their blog:

Today, May 10, 2012 at approximately noon, the UCPD closed off the last remaining pedestrian access to the Gill Tract by chaining and locking the gate at San Pablo and Marin Avenues.  For the past 24 hours, that gate had remained open, and despite a heavy police presence people had been able to enter and exit freely through it.

This represents the latest in a series of measures taken by the UC Administration to force the Farmers off of this piece of public farmland.  To date, the UCPD has cut off all water to the Gill Tract, incapacitated the fire hydrant on the land, placed concrete barriers around the land preventing vehicular access, and locked all entrances shut.  Farmers note that these actions threaten more than just their plants: that in this dry, windy weather, which poses a high fire-risk, there are no working fire hydrants on the land, and significantly restricted access points for firefighters and exits for people on the land.

Farmers are upset that the UC Administration is preventing scientists from carrying out their research on the Gill Tract.  For the second day, UC Berkeley Professor Miguel Altieri has come to the Gill Tract to attempt to plant his crops. Whereas the Gill Tract Farmers Collective has directly assisted Altieri with his planting effort, the UCPD has physically prevented him from planting his dry-farmed tomato crop, saying he has no “authorization” to do his research.  Professor Altieri says that he is “disappointed that the University has missed this opportunity to acknowledge that a coexistence of researchers and occupiers is possible, and that they have blocked access to my experimental plot.”

The university’s moving a lot faster against the activists who want to see Gill Tract preserve and transformed into demonstration teaching farm for sustainable community gardens than they did against the treesitters, in part because a lawsuit was pending against the stadium development project.

And the university added a new twist this time, lawsuits against the Occupy activists which are certain to result in large legal bills for someone, as well as civil damages.

Occupy the Farm celebrates third week

From their blog, which has more details.