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February 2006: Notes of Interest

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Information for the following comes from "Peruvian Farmers Move to End Terminator Seeds,"; by Sanjay Suri, published October 11, 2005 by the Inter Press Service:

"A United Nations moratorium at present blocks commercialization of terminator seeds. But a group of countries led by Canada have challenged the UN safety regulation."; New discussions on the subject have been opened. One of the strongest voices so far against lifting the moratorium has come from Peru. "About 70 indigenous leaders representing 26 Andean and Amazon communities met in a mountain village"; in September under the auspices of the Quechua-Aymara Association for Nature and Sustainable Development (ANDES). The farmers not only pointed out how dependent small farmers worldwide are on seeds from the harvest, but "evaluated the evidence and assessed the risks of terminator technology on land, spiritual systems and on women, who are their seed keepers."; Concerns were expressed about risks to Peru’s "2,000 varieties of potato"; and about the possibility of sterility being transferred to other plant life. "The moratorium issue will come up at a conference on biological diversity to be held in Brazil in March.";

This information comes from "Rain Forest Nations Seek Incentive to Conserve," by Miguel Bustillo, printed November 27, 2005, in the Los Angeles Times:

A group of ten rain forest nations, led by Papua New Guinea and Costa Rica, suggests "they be compensated for the benefits of green areas." They made this proposal at a United Nations conference on climate change. "Until recently Michael Somare, the prime minister of Papua New Guinea, felt that global economic forces were pressuring him to cut down his country’s lush tropical rain forest, the third-largest left in the world." He believes the forests "should be far more valuable to the world than hardwood timber or coffee plantations. Forests serve as natural air filters that suck up the greenhouse gases that are causing global warming," and that "the rest of the world is benefiting from this natural wealth without sharing the cost. Under the Kyoto pact, countries that slash greenhouse gas emissions can profit by selling ‘pollution credits’ to countries that do not cut emissions enough. However, there is no similar incentive to reward rain forest preservation."

Two other items concern global warming:

From the U.K. Independent, November 15, 2005: "A catastrophic collapse in sea and bird life numbers along America’s Northwest Pacific seaboard is raising fears that global warming is beginning to irreparably damage the health of the oceans. Scientists say a dramatic rise in the ocean temperature led to unprecedented deaths of birds and fish this summer all along the coast from central California to British Columbia. Normally, winds blow south along the coast in spring and summer, pushing warmer surface waters away from the shore and allowing colder water that is rich in nutrients to well up from the sea bottom feeding the phytoplankton. These are eaten by zooplankton, tiny animals that in turn feed fish, seabirds and marine mammals. But this year the winds were extraordinarily weak and the cold water did not well up in spring as usual." The number of phytoplankton was about one-quarter of its normal level and "record numbers of dead seabirds washed up on beaches along the coast. Tests showed the birds died of starvation." A similar development is also taking place in the North Sea.

From "Is It Hot in Here?" by Lauran Neergaard, Associated Press Writer, November 24, 2005: A major new study by a team of European researchers reports that "there is more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere today than at any point during the last 650,000 years." The team used ice core samples from Antarctica which go back that many years. The ice "encases tiny air bubbles formed when snowflakes fell over hundreds of thousands of years. Extracting the air allows a direct measurement of the atmosphere at past points in time, to determine the naturally fluctuating range. Today’s still rising level of carbon dioxide already is 27 percent higher than its peak during all those millennia," the lead researcher stated. He added that the rise is occurring at a speed that "is over a factor of a hundred faster than anything we are seeing in the natural cycles."

From "Doomsday Vault to Avert World Famine" by Fred Pearce in the January 12, 2006, edition of New Scientist: Next year, at the behest of crop scientists, the Norwegian government is planning to build a $3 million vault "deep inside a sandstone mountain lined with permafrost on the Norwegian Arctic island of Spitsbergen. The vault will have meter-thick walls of reinforced concrete and will be protected behind two airlocks and high-security blast-proof doors." It is "designed to hold around 2 million seeds, representing all known varieties of the world’s crops and is being built to safeguard the world’s food supply against nuclear war, climate change, terrorism, rising sea levels, earthquakes and the ensuing collapse of electricity supplies. The vault’s seed collection, made up of duplicates of those already held at other seed banks, will represent the products of some 10,000 years of plant breeding by the world’s farmers. Though most are no longer widely planted, the varieties contain vital genetic traits still regularly used in plant breeding."

From the University of Illinois: In Illinois, 76.1 percent of stream pollution and 95.8 percent of inland lake pollution "are due in some part to agricultural sources, according to estimates by the Illinois environmental Protection Agency. … Additionally, agricultural chemicals represent major sources of ground water quality problems."

From "Corn Farmers Smile as Ethanol Prices Rise, but Experts on Food Supplies Worry" by Matthew L. Wald, in the January 16, 2006, edition of the New York Times: "Some states are requiring that ethanol be blended in small amounts with gasoline to comply with anti-pollution laws. … Iowa has 19 ethanol plants now and will have 27 by the end of the year. … High oil prices are dragging corn prices up with them, as the value of ethanol is pushed up by the value of the fuel it replaces. … The rising corn prices may be good news for farmers, but they are worrying some food planners." Lester R. Brown of the Earth Policy Institute said: "We’re putting the supermarket in competition with the corner filling station for the output of the farm." The chief economist at the Department of Agriculture said: "Nationwide, the use of corn for energy could result in farmers’ planting more of it and less wheat and cotton," then pointed out "the United States is paying farmers not to grow crops on 35 million acres, to prop up the value of corn … and much of that land could come back into production." Other experts point out that most Iowa corn is used to feed farm animals or make corn syrup; that corn remnants from the ethanol plants are being used for animal feed; and that corn products have been used for years for non-food purposes. The director of the Food Policy Research Institute said: "Even a small shift could have big effects … because the mouth of your car is a monster compared to your family’s stomach needs."



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