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How Much of World’s Greenhouse-Gas Emissions Come From Agriculture?

Agriculture might seem green by definition, but farming accounts for a lot of greenhouse-gas emissions when the entire food production system is taken into account.

Typically, estimates of greenhouse-gas emissions from agriculture are around 11%-15% of global emissions. Estimates discussed last month at the United Nations Climate Summit put that number closer to 50%. This is an important calculation as climate change issues come to the fore, with record greenhouse-gas emissions and international negotiations to halt the rise.

The reason for the difference is that the 11%-15% estimates only take into account emissions from the farming part of agriculture, such as plowing and fertilizing. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s 14% estimate, for example, includes emissions from agriculture’s mechanical equipment, soil management, enteric fermentation (which produces, say, belches from a cow), manure management, rice cultivation and field burning. It doesn’t include transport, food processing, packaging, and sale of agricultural products.

The 43%-57% estimates, which are published in the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development‘s 2013 Trade and Environment Review, look at food production more broadly to also include emissions from land-use change and deforestation, as well as the processing, packaging, transport and sale of agricultural products.

The estimates come from Grain, an international nonprofit research foundation that contributed to the U.N. report. It analyzed existing data on global emissions to determine the full extent of agriculture’s emissions.

Agronomist and coordinator at Grain, Henk Hobbelink, says the solution to reducing agriculture emissions lies in small farming and decentralized food systems.

“The more localized emissions of small farmers barely contribute to the overall agriculture emissions because they use very little chemical fertilizer, a main source of emissions, and produce more for local markets, so they don’t contribute as much to the transport emissions. Fresh foods also don’t create as much emissions from processing, freezing, packaging and storing in supermarkets.”

Hobbelink advocates smaller-scale farming, which use traditional practices like cover crops, low tillage and organic fertilizer that reduce carbon in the atmosphere without adding a lot more to it.

Another area of emissions waste comes from the fact that much of agricultural production doesn’t go directly to human consumption, but rather to animal feed and biofuel. Of what does go for human consumption, a third is wasted.

Crop-Duster

GMO Crops Accelerate Herbicide & Insecticide Use While Mainstream Media Gets It Wrong

Michael Specter’s recent articles bashing Vandana Shiva and the labeling of genetically engineered foods in the New Yorker (Seeds of Doubt and The Problem with G.M.O. Labels) are the latest high-profile pro-GMO articles that fail to engage with the fundamental critique of genetically engineered food crops in U.S. today. Rather than reduce pesticide inputs, GMOs are causing them to skyrocket in amount and toxicity.

Setting the record straight, Dr. Ramon J. Seidler, Ph.D., former Senior Scientist at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), has recently published a well-researched article documenting the devastating facts. Dr. Seidler’s article cites and links recent scientific literature and media reports, and should be required reading for all journalists covering GMOs, as well as for citizens generally to understand why their right to know if food is genetically engineered is so important.

More than 99 percent of GMO acreage is engineered by chemical companies to tolerate heavy herbicide (glyphosate) use and/or produce insecticide (Bt) in every cell of every plant over the entire growing season. The result is massive selection pressure that has rapidly created pest resistance—the opposite of integrated pest management where judicious use of chemical controls is applied only as necessary. Predictably, just like overuse of antibiotics in confined factory farms has created resistant “supergerms” leading to animals being overdosed with ever more powerful antibiotics, we now have huge swaths of the country infested with “superweeds” and “superbugs” resistant to glyphosate and Bt, meaning more volume of more toxic pesticides are being applied.

For example, the use of systemic insecticides, which coat GMO corn and soy seeds and are incorporated and expressed inside the entire plant, has skyrocketed in the last ten years. This includes use of neonicotinoids (neonics) which are extremely powerful neurotoxins that contaminate our food and water and destroy non-target pollinators and wildlife such as bees, butterflies and birds. In fact, two neonics in widespread use in the US are currently banned in the EU because of their suspected link to Colony Collapse Disorder in bees.

Mainstream pro-GMO media also fail to discuss the ever-increasing amount of older much more toxic herbicides like 2,4 D and Dicamba being sprayed along with huge volumes of Glyphosate to deal with superweeds. Most importantly and egregiously, this biased reporting does not mention the imminent approval of the pesticide industry’s next generation herbicide-tolerant crops that are resistant not only to glyphosate, but also high doses of 2,4 D and Dicamba, that will lead to huge increases of these toxic chemicals sprayed on our food and farming communities.

U.S. Department of Agriculture and EPA are in the process of rubber-stamping these into our farming communities (and unlabeled onto our dinner plates) this fall, yet pro-GMO media consistently fails to discuss their imminent approval even as the lower-toxicity profile of glyphosate is touted. Such reporting gives a pass to the chemical pesticide industry that pours millions into lobbying government and media elites and defeating voter ballot initiatives to require labeling of GMO foods.

Hopefully Dr. Seidler’s article will be widely read and disseminated, so reporters can learn the facts and check their biases against industry-fed distortions.  Citizens and consumers need to hear the fundamental concern that GMOs are doubling down on, not freeing us from, the pesticide treadmill that contaminates our food and water while lining the pockets of the chemical companies that make both the GMOs and the pesticides used on them.

A Journey Into Deeper Understanding

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