Pioneer Valley companies are investing in local produce to grow the economy and profits

By RICHIE DAVIS – Gazette Contributing Writer – Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Three homegrown food purveyors are changing the way they do business.

gazzzzThe three — Real Pickles, Artisan Beverage Cooperative and New England Natural Bakers — may all have slightly different objectives and techniques for putting a new twist on the way they do business, but they’re all examples of a trend likely to continue in the coming year.

It’s an innovative model for growing the local economy, as well as growing more food locally in a way that sinks deeper roots in the region.

“CISA has been saying that the next step for the committed consumer is to invest in local products, but there are not a lot of options for doing that,” said Sam Stegemen of Deerfield-based Community Involved in Supporting Agriculture and PV Grows, a collaborative that’s been tilling the soil for local investment in the food economy.

PV Grows oversees a $750,000 loan fund that’s helped a Hadley malt operation and a distributor for farms around the region, and plans to unveil a new investment fund this year that would let people with $1,000 or more to provide capital for fledgling farm and food initiatives.

Working with the Slow Money PV Chapter, which is also dedicated to funneling investors to help the local food system, PV Grows will present a Pioneer Valley Entrepreneur Showcase from 4 to 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Hampshire College Red Barn in Amherst, providing examples of how local entrepreneurs like the Artisan Beverage Cooperative have worked to solidify Katalyst Kombucha and Green River Ambrosia in the local economy.

The two decade-old Greenfield businesses, making distinct lines of beverages, had shared facilities, equipment and workers routinely at the Franklin County Community Development Corp. food processing center on Wells Street, but decided to change their ownership structures to merge the two businesses into a single worker-owned co-op.

“We kept two complete sets of books, with charge-backs to one another if, for example, we used the Katalyst Kombucha crew to do bottling, with reimbursements, and it got messier and messier to force that to be two separate things,” said Garth Shaneyfelt, a Green River Ambrosia founder who is now among seven worker-owners of the combined co-op, which expects to sell more than $1 million worth of beverages — one based on a 2,200-year-old, cultured Chinese drink and the other honey-derived mead products — throughout the Pioneer Valley and as far away as Florida.

“It makes a lot of sense,” Shaneyfelt said. “We’re all owners and are directly invested, so these are solid jobs, and we all make the decisions about where we expand and what we’re doing with products. There’s a lot consolidation of beverage companies in general, and natural foods and even small alcohol producers, so we’re able to say, ‘This is something that’s staying here, we’re part of the community. It feels pretty solid.’ ”

The same attitude prevails at Real Pickles, where seven workers are now members of the new worker-owned cooperative formed from what had been a private enterprise. There, the original partners worked with the state Securities Division to raise $500,000 in capital from 77 investors to buy out the business in less than two months — less than one-third of the time allowed, said founder and general manager Dan Rosenberg.

So far, about half of the workers have decided to become owners.

Increasingly, he said, when entrepreneurs start food-related businesses these days — especially here in the Pioneer Valley — they’re driven not solely by a profit motive, but also by wanting “to make some improvements in the world.” They also have a social mission to keep jobs in the community for the long haul and to have workers have a say in how the business is run.

“If someone’s interested in building strong local and regional food economies, a worker cooperative is a great way to keep the business in the community and not ship off jobs,” said Rosenberg, adding that the change has also added to workers’ sense that they’re truly invested in the business.

That’s the case, too, at New England Natural Bakers, now a worker-owned business that’s kept a hierarchical decision-making process that’s inclusive of the 50 employees.

The company, with about $12 million in sales — about 70 percent of which are in private labels for supermarket chains along the Eastern Seaboard — took out a loan of several million dollars to finance a buyout of the 35-year-old business, and has seen “an even greater amount of loyalty” by workers, as demonstrated by their exceeding what Broucek calls standard labor efficiencies.

“The Pioneer Valley has always been a hotbed of natural food companies in various forms, and the folks who have been in the management and ownership level of these kinds of establishments in general have been of the persuasion that wages should be more equal, that workers should have more say to make sure things are fair.”

Stegeman said Tuesday’s showcase — also featuring Amherst’s new All Things Local Cooperative Market, Northampton’s River Valley Market Cooperative, a proposed Mexican restaurant that features local meats and other businesses seeking local investors — will illustrate ways entrepreneurs are finding innovative ways to attract investment from people so committed to the local food economy that they’re literally willing to put their money where their mouths are.

In the case of Santa Oaxaca Taco Shop, for which El Jardin Bakery owner Neftali Duran is seeking alternative financing, the Oaxaca native hopes to set up a limited-menu eatery, possibly with a pub, that’s sustainable, affordable and serves good food with an option for customers to choose local meats and other ingredients

“If people are willing to pay a little extra for local, so be it,” says Duran, who’s thinking such a “realistic, very simple taco shop” serving southern Mexican fare could work in Greenfield, depending on who he’s able to find as a partner.

Such are the possibilities, say food entrepreneurs, to keep it local.

“There are a lot of businesses out there doing what they need to do and saying, ‘We’re not going to get big loans, so we’ll get investors,’” Stegeman said. The classic “fast money” investment story is to sell the business after 10 or so years so investors can get their money back, he said, but that runs counter to the notion of a business with roots in the community, one that will remain true to a principled local-first mission even after the founding owners move on.

Shaneyfelt said that in this area, there’s a lot of support for alternative approaches that are aimed at preserving and strengthening the locally rooted economy.

“It’s a really viable alternate economic structure,” he said of the new Artisan Beverage Cooperative approach. “We’re still doing the capitalism thing, I’m still using Quickbooks, we’re still sending invoices, and taking in money and paying the bills. And we’re working with other cooperatives.”

Source URL:http://www.gazettenet.com/news/townbytown/northampton/10310707-95/the-big-return-area-companies-are-investing-in-local-produce-to-grow-the-economy

UMass food services expands efforts to serve sustainable food

By SCOTT MERZBACH – Monday, January 13, 2014 in Daily Hampshire Gazette

dinnngAMHERST — The University of Massachusetts is amping up efforts to rely on locally produced food with the Real Food Challenge, a national movement pushing colleges to adopt more sustainable food practices, and a two-year grant from a Boston-based foundation.

The Real Food Challenge at UMass has set a goal of ensuring 20 percent of all food served at UMass is “real food” by 2020. “Real food” is defined as food that is grown locally and regionally, is organic, and is sustainably grown, humanely raised and produced with fair trade principles.

Participation in the challenge received boost this fall when UMass snagged a two-year, $485,000 grant from the Henry P. Kendall Foundation of Boston, which aims to make contributions toward creating “a resilient and healthy food system in New England that increases the production and consumption of local, sustainably produced food.”

“We’re hoping this grant will be a catalyst for progress to this goal over the next couple Continue reading UMass food services expands efforts to serve sustainable food

“Breaking Bad” in the heart of the corn belt

authorThe author of this article titled “Large-scale farming is Iowa’s Breaking Bad” which appeared in the DesMoines Register, teaches at University of Northern Iowa.

This could not have made some farmers happy in Iowa, as the most financially successful are “hooked” on industrial agriculture.  I don’t think we can blame the farmers…..

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The TV series “Breaking Bad” has ended, but the real thing goes on in Iowa just as bad or much worse. And I am not referring to meth business, which we know is thriving in Iowa, unfortunately. The Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier reported in November that the Tri-County Drug Enforcement Task Force seized nearly $2 million of methamphetamine in the last three months, including $1 million worth in the first two weeks of October alone. Seventy some meth labs were investigated in 2012.

As Nick Reading put it in “Methland,” “all drug epidemics are only in part about the drug. Meth is indeed uniquely suited to Middle America, though this is only tangentially related to the idea that it can be made in the sink. Meth’s basic components lie equally in the action of government lobbyists, long-term trends in agricultural and pharmaceutical industries, and the effects of globalization and free trade.”

During a conversation over coffee, I asked several friends what enterprise in Iowa would parallel the tragedy portrayed in “Breaking Bad”? To my surprise, without missing a beat, several people independently nominated commodity agriculture and the vast network of global corporations behind it.

Industrial commodity agriculture is entirely based on acres. It does not need stable communities. All that is needed are land, machinery, energy and chemical inputs to produce one or two products for distant markets. Civic organizations, schools, churches, libraries, rural businesses are all unnecessary to “feed the world” or to fuel ethanol plants. Long-term anthropological studies in many rural communities in the U.S. have confirmed these realities. As we have seen all over Iowa, in once-thriving towns a gas station and, if you are lucky, a bar are all that’s left.

Think of coffee or banana plantations. The markets are not local, the benefits go elsewhere, farmers receive very little, which means rural poverty. It’s the same in Iowa.

Sociologists and economists report that markets in nearly every agricultural sector (corn, beans, beef, hogs, corn processing, etc.) are all controlled by a handful of global corporations, leaving farmers as price takers while production expenses rise. Add soil erosion, water pollution and below-poverty wages for food sector workers, and the result is rural decline and desperate situations that are the habitat for the meth enterprise.

Among key ideas so masterfully brought to life in “Breaking Bad” were the fact that extraordinary and tragic things go on in ordinary days, in ordinary neighborhoods.

In an ordinary day in Iowa, there is pesticide drift from an aerial sprayer into your kitchen, a giant fish-kill from a manure spill, respiratory illnesses among rural residents living near confinement hog operations, atrazine and nitrate in your rural well water, salmonella poisonings from factory chicken farms with proven records of evading public health laws, and flash floods downstream due to degraded soils and impaired watersheds upstream. You are watching a season of “Breaking Bad” in Iowa.

The TV series made it abundantly clear that the waves of tragedy emanating from the meth enterprise reach far and wide and manifest their violence in ways not clearly traceable to meth. One example was the father who has a hard time dealing with the loss of his daughter who had died of meth overdose. He works as an air traffic controller and, in a moment of weakness, he neglects to warn the two passenger planes approaching one another in time. Two plans collide, with hundreds dead.

In Iowa, more than 6 million pounds of the weed killer atrazine are applied annually. This hormone-disrupting chemical is banned in Europe because of its likely connection to breast cancer and other chronic illnesses. The rate of Parkinson’s disease in the Midwest is twice the national rate, and corn and soybean pesticides are among the suspects.

As the city of Des Moines struggles at high costs with off-the-chart levels of corn fertilizer in its drinking water source, the livelihood of hundreds of fishermen in the Gulf of Mexico has diminished due to excessive corn fertilizer run-off from the Midwest down the Mississippi River.

We must chart a different path. Many Iowans are striving to change all this. They include farmers who are practicing good agronomy based on ecological understanding of the land, integrating crops and livestock, grass-based production, long-term crop rotations, organic practices.

Groups across Iowa are expanding local markets for local agricultural products to create new opportunities for beginning farmers and create markets that are fair. They include food service directors and restaurant owners who support these farms. They include ordinary Iowans who value the way these farmers are growing their food and are making a point of supporting them and the land stewardship they practice.

They include Practical Farmers of Iowa, a network of farmers and others who are proving that a sane, productive, profitable, system of food and agriculture is possible and practical.

We need state and federal policies that support these forms of being in Iowa rather than breaking bad.

Original Post

History-making day for Boston urban agriculture

Rachel Greenberger reported that….

This morning in City Hall, by unanimous consent, the Zoning Commission passed Article 89, a progressive series of measures to pave the way for farming in Boston.

At the request of Mayor Tom Menino, Edith Murnane of the Mayor’s Office of Food Initiatives and Tad Reed and Marie Mercurio of Boston Redevelopment Authority have led an incredible nearly two-year charge, convening a Urban Agriculture Working Group in the process, to reach this day.

“Urban agriculture is currently forbidden,” Tad Reed told the board and the room of citizens and stakeholders who turned out in support, “because it has not been addressed in the zoning code to date.”

Higher Ground Farm
Higher Ground Farm

Article 89 concerns commercial agriculture only and does not touch current code pertaining to gardens for personal use. Its focus areas are ground-level farming, open air roof-level farming, and rooftop greenhouses. It also addresses on-site composting, soil safety and raised beds, and the keeping of hens and bees.

When Chairman Bob Fondren invited public comment, ten citizens, local leaders, and business people stood to speak in support of Article 89. No one stood to speak against it.

Article 89 then passed by a unanimous vote.

Edith Murnane had tears in her eyes as I hugged her and congratulated her for her impeccable work.

Now Article 89 goes to Mayor Menino’s desk for signature. Considering that the Mayor requested this initiative in the first place, there is little chance of impediment.

This is a Red Letter Day for Boston, which now joins the ranks of urban-agriculture progressive cities like New York, Portland, Chicago and Madison. As Bruce Bickerstaff put it, “not as a novelty but as a legitimate business proposition in a burgeoning industry.”

Original Post –  by Rachel Greenberger

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Anyone interested in this work may also be curious about our Urban Agriculture Online class at UMass.  Check out our online program here:  ONLINE UMass Certificate in Sustainable Food and Farming.

Margaret Christie & Philip Korman: Taking action in the cause of local food

Margaret Christie & Philip Korman; CISA – Daily Hampshire Gazette Editorial

December 10, 2013

Luckily, we are well-nourished for that effort — stomachs, hearts, and souls — by our local farms.

During this anniversary year, we set an ambitious goal at CISA to double the amount of local food in the diets of Pioneer Valley residents. In the next 20 years, we’ll make local food a full quarter of our diet as a region. As an organization, our next steps toward reaching that goal include providing more support for new farmers, increasing the availability of locally grown food for Hampden County residents and aiding the businesses that connect farms and tables — processors, retailers, institutions, restaurants, and distributors, for example.

Filling your family’s table with food from local farms is a delicious way to support farm businesses in your community, and is perhaps even more meaningful during special holiday meals. But you can do more to build a vibrant local food economy.

Using the power of our food dollars and our strength as active, engaged citizens, we can create a local food system that nurtures our families, our communities, our economy and our environment.

Doubling the amount of local food in our diets will require new infrastructure, new businesses and new market outlets, as well as the financing, public policy, support services and enthusiastic customer base to ensure their success.

This big goal brings together many organizations with diverse interests in the Pioneer Valley: economic development, public health, food access and the environment, for example. Ultimately, though, to succeed, it must be a community effort, and there’s a role for everyone.

CISA’s new publication, “Eat Up and Take Action for Local Food,” provides resources and encouragement to bring your love of local food to your workplace, your neighborhood and your friends and family.

The publication includes stories of local people and businesses that are going the extra mile for local food. You can read about the Springfield Food Policy Council, where residents come together to fill gaps in the city’s food system and champion such initiatives as a new city ordinance that supports gardening in the city. At Cooley Dickinson Hospital, wellness policies encourage employees to eat more fresh food from local farms by allowing employees to pay for a CSA share through payroll deduction, pick up the farm share at the hospital, and earn wellness credits by joining a CSA.

Or learn about Greenfield’s Real Pickles, which cemented its commitment to local ownership by forming a worker-owned cooperative and funded the co-op’s purchase of the business through a highly successful community investment campaign that raised half a million dollars.

“Eat Up and Take Action” also provides ideas for how you can take action. Here are just a few, both large and small:

• Bring a friend to the farmers’ market.

• Volunteer at your school garden or community farm.

• Become a local foods entrepreneur.

• Tell your child’s school that you’d like more local food at lunch.

• Make your workplace local-food-friendly: bring local snacks to meetings, add local-food-related benefits to your health insurance options, or give a corporate gift that supports local food.

Eating fresh, seasonal food nourishes our connection to the land where we live and the people that grow our food. It supports our local economy, creating jobs and increasing our economic resilience. It gives us a way to take concrete, hopeful action, every day, to address some of the big problems facing us: climate change, corporate power, a fragile global economy.

And it provides a route to building a local food system that nurtures our community for the long term.

Realizing that vision may require us all to do a bit more, to think about how we can promote and support local food not only at our dining tables but in the board room, break room, cafeteria, fitness center and town meeting room. Eat up and take action for local food. Find the report at www.buylocalfood.org.

Margaret Christie is special projects director and Philip Korman is executive director of Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture.

Original Post

Pioneer Valley Food System Resources

We live in a region in which awareness of the value of local food and building a vibrant local food system is strong.  I’ve collected some of the reports that have done analysis of the current situation and made proposals for continuing growth below.  I hope you find these useful.  IF YOU KNOW OF OTHER REPORTS, PLEASE LET ME KNOW!

PIONEER VALLEY

nohoA newsletter on efforts in Northampton to encourage production, purchasing and consumption of local food.

 A report on food security in Franklyn County, MAfrank

Pioneer Valley Planning Commission Food  pvpc
Security Plan – Nobody goes hungry!

A Pioneer Valley Report on the potential for a  localjobsstrong local food economy to create jobs.

A report on how a 25% shift in food buying in the 25%Pioneer Valley can have a huge impact on the local economy.

CISA has a new publication on how to get involved in the  local food movement. 

cisaeatNEW ENGLAND REPORTS

A vision for a robust New England Food System. newenglN

NATIONAL REPORTS

Here is a regional research project which focused on Iowa but demonstrates the impact of building a healthy local food system.

Check out this national publication which studied the impact of local food investments.

A research journal article on the value of local food.

An Orion Magazine article on rebuilding a local foods infrastructure.

How Industrial Agriculture Has Thwarted Factory Farm Reforms

In an interview with Yale Environment 360, Robert Martin, co-author of a recent study on industrial farm animal production, explains how a powerful and intransigent agriculture lobby has successfully fought off attempts to reduce the harmful environmental and health impacts of mass livestock production.

by Christina M. Russo

In 20Robert Martin08, the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production released a landmark report, Putting Meat on The Table: Industrial Farm Animal Production in America. The commission’s study condemned the way the U.S. raised its cattle, pigs, and chickens and made a sweeping series of recommendations on how to reduce the severe environmental, public health, and animal welfare problems created by the current system. Last month, the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future (CLF) released a study analyzing the fate of these reforms and reached a stark conclusion: The power of the industrial agriculture lobby had blunted nearly all attempts at change.

In an interview with Yale Environment 360 contributor Christina Russo, Robert Martin — the executive director of the Pew Commission’s 2008 report and now the Food System Policy program director at the CLF and co-author of its recent study — discusses what went wrong and how reforms can proceed. According to Martin, the key is building public pressure on the Obama administration and Congress to demand changes from an intransigent industry that Martin describes as “having more money than Big Tobacco did in efforts to regulate cigarettes and the personality of the National Rifle Association.” One hopeful sign, said Martin, “is that there are more and more people who are concerned about where their food comes from and how it’s produced.”

Yale Environment 360: Can you highlight the findings of your latest report?

Robert Martin: There was a lot of activity generated by the Pew report, and in a very important way it focused the debate in a way that hadn’t happened before. But what we found was that very little progress had been made and that in almost every case things had worsened in the last five years.

Our number one public health recommendation [in the 2008 report] was to ban the non-therapeutic use of antibiotics, and we define therapeutic as treating sick animals that have a diagnosed microbial disease. We also had a provision for disease prevention — that is, if several animals in a flock or herd became sick, you should treat the whole flock or herd at therapeutic levels for very short period of time to try and kill the bacteria.

The practice that is common now is daily, low-level amounts of antibiotics added to the animal feed or water to really suppress bacteria long enough for the animals to get through the production system. And what this does is it leads to very serious antibiotic resistance issues that are housed in these operations but make their way into the human population either through flies carrying the resistant bacteria out, wild birds carrying them out, bacteria being flushed out in the waste of the animals, or by being carried out into the community by workers.

In the last five years, Rep. Louise Slaughter of New York has sponsored the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act, which would ban for use in animal agriculture the top seven antibiotics important in human medicine. Unfortunately, that legislation has gone nowhere. Eighty percent of the antibiotics sold by weight in the country are used in food animal production. So, while we can make strides in reducing inappropriate use of antibiotics in human medicine, if 80 percent of the antibiotics are being sold and used in food animal production, clearly that is where we can now make the most important strides.

Yale Environment 360: What did you find in terms of the environmental impact of the Pew report?

Martin: On the environmental side there is a very troubling aspect. At the time of the release of the Pew Commission report, only about 34 percent of the waste generated by these operations was permitted under Clean Water Act permits; the only way you can regulate Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations — or CAFOs — is through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Water Act. So the Pew Commission recommended that there be a full inventory of these operations, because we don’t even know where all of them exist. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) said these operations generate 350 million tons of waste per year. The EPA says they generate 500 million tons of waste per year. And so we said ‘Look, you need to do an inventory and you need to bring more of them under permitting.’

The Obama administration had just started to find out where these operations were. But because of pressure from the industry, they abandoned that effort late last year before the election. Every [presidential candidate] gets so focused on winning Iowa and Ohio and Minnesota — states that are heavy CAFO states — that they abandoned that effort to inventory operations. And there are more of these operations coming online everyday. The environmental damage is getting worse, and the federal regulatory agencies that should be stepping up aren’t.

As for animal welfare, the animals are overcrowded and they stand either in or over their own waste all their lives. And the only reason why they don’t die in those situations is because of the non-therapeutic use of antibiotics. And the only reason why the overcrowding can go on from a waste standpoint is because these swine barns are built over concrete waste pits that are flushed into an open cesspool twice a day. The waste is then collected and then sprayed untreated on fields surrounding the CAFOs. So, the way these animals are overcrowded with lack of natural movement, which is a very serious animal welfare issue — it’s just really all part of one system.

In looking at all these areas, I was asked by a reporter what kind of grade I would give progress on the Pew Commission’s recommendations, and I answered that I’d give the regulatory [agencies] and lawmakers an ‘F.’ Because really no progress has been made. These are enormously powerful industries. I always say that Big Ag has more money than Big Tobacco did in efforts to regulate cigarettes and the personality of the National Rifle Association. I think it puts it in a context people can understand.

Yale Environment 360: The Pew Commission’s report was released with the hope that Obama would take the lead in industrial agriculture reform, which the Bush administration had not done. What indication did you have that the Obama administration would take these recommendations seriously to begin with?

Martin: When Obama was a candidate in the Iowa caucus, his platform really read like an aggressive support for sustainable agriculture. He talked about checking the growth of the large industrial animal operations. Then, during the North Carolina primary he was shown a copy of the Pew Commission report and he said he endorsed the findings and he would work to implement its recommendations. And I take him at his word. But when you put the former governor of Iowa as the Secretary of Agriculture — Tom Vilsack, who had stated publicly there was no problem with antibiotic use and food animal production — well, Vilsack’s interest was in not really rocking the boat.

In January 2009, as Obama was taking office, the Economic Research Service at the USDA said that antibiotics tended to be overused in large-scale animal operations. And a month or two later Vilsack said we are using them judiciously, there’s no problem. And what the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) seems to be doing now is promulgating regulations — they are voluntary guidelines — only at the consent of the regulated. They are only willing to do what the industry says it will accept.

I would guess Teddy Roosevelt is spinning in his grave. He was more worried about the ‘meat cartel,’ as he called it, than Standard Oil and the railroads. And that’s why the Food and Drug Administration was formed.

Yale Environment 360: What are the most concerning environmental impacts of industrial farm animal production?

Martin: In the fields around these operations, it’s also an over-application of phosphorous, which over the long term will harm the productivity of the land because the phosphorous will burn out of the soil. And I think the public health link to this environmental damage is a real concern, as well: What kinds of pathogens are being carried in this waste into the waters that can make people sick?

There is also a very serious air quality problem. Studies by the University of Iowa and University of North Carolina have shown that up to five miles downwind of these operations children have an increase in asthma-like symptoms because of the particulate matter that is blown out of these barns by the ventilation systems.

Yale Environment 360: The Pew report said that, pound for pound, pigs produce four times the waste of a human. Can you describe in more detail the crude process of waste disposal at these facilities?

Martin: In a typical industrial swine operation, there may be 5,000 animals housed in two barns. The barns are built over concrete pits that are probably three feet deep. The animals stand on metal-slated floors, so their waste drops through the floor and is collected in these pits under the building. And two times a day the pits are flushed into what is called a waste lagoon, which is really an open cesspool containing the liquid and solid waste from the animals. When that pit fills up, the waste is either pumped into a truck and hauled a very short distance and sprayed on fields or pumped directly from the cesspool onto surrounding fields near the CAFO — with no treatment.

Not only is it serious environmental degradation because a lot of the waste just runs off into surface water, but swine waste contains a lot of the same pathogens that human waste does; physiologically, pigs and people are very similar. Untreated swine waste is 200 times more concentrated than treated human waste. And treated swine waste is 75 times more concentrated than human waste. But swine waste is not treated — it’s just held in these lagoons and pumped onto fields. And whatever is in that waste goes into the ground water and into the surface water.

Yale Environment 360: Do you think the environmental movement has appropriately seized on industrial farms as an environmental issue?

Martin: I think some of the national environmental groups have been a bit slow on this. It’s an interesting thing — people who live closest to these operations become environmentalists very quickly, because they see the damage not only to air quality, because of the stench, but they also see the damage because of the over-application of the waste.

Yale Environment 360: Undercover videos have shown animals being violently abused in the U.S. Are the efforts by animal welfare groups successfully bringing attention to the problems of the industrial livestock operations, even more so than environmentalists?

Martin: I would really have to commend the Humane Society of the United States for a couple of reasons. Number one, they did the really tough work going state by state — in some states to ban gestation crates for pigs or in other states to ban [confined] cages for chickens. They finally got the attention of the industry because everywhere they went up against the industry, the Humane Society won. So, they deserve a huge amount of credit for using the animal welfare concerns as the symptoms of a sick system.

Yale Environment 360: How does the recent purchase of Smithfield Foods by a Chinese company factor into this larger storyline?

Martin: The purchase of Smithfield by a large Chinese company is very concerning. Number one, it is a huge export of U.S. energy and grain and water to China in the form of pigs. There is a virtually insatiable appetite for pork in China. So I worry that we will be a net loser from an environmental and energy standpoint — and all we will be left with is the hog [manure].

One of the things the industry always says is, ‘Oh my god, we have to feed 10 billion people in 2050.’ The fact is there was a report called Agriculture at a Crossroads in 2008, and they said that we annually raise enough food calories for 10 billion people. The problem is what we are doing with those calories and the waste and spoilage of those systems. There is about 48

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percent wastage, especially in developing countries. But also about 80 percent of the corn we raise in the country is fed to animals that we then consume, which is an inefficient transfer of energy.

Yale Environment 360: There are so many actors in your report. Which actor could provide the most reform if it wanted to?

Martin: I think clearly if the president said, ‘I want to do X,’ then the agencies in the executive branch would have to follow suit. If he told the FDA that more voluntary guidelines weren’t the way to go on antibiotics, and he wanted rules and not suggestions, and he wanted a program to ratchet down and eliminate the non-therapeutic use of antibiotics in food animals, it could happen. They did it in Denmark. They eliminated the non-therapeutic use of antibiotics in swine production and their productivity has gone up. They have more piglets per sow, fewer infections in the swine herd, and fewer infections in the human population.

Yale Environment 360: It’s the five-year mark of the Pew report, and your assessment is quite grim in terms of reform. So how can these recommendations be implemented in the future?

Martin: The chairman of the Pew Commission was the former governor of Kansas and he had a saying that I quote all the time: ‘A politician begins to see the light when he feels the heat.’ Our conclusion in the report was that an informed and engaged public is essential to getting the attention of policy makers and regulatory officials. So a hopeful sign, actually, is that there are more and more people who are concerned about where their food comes from and are interested in how it’s produced. I think the only optimistic thing is the growing number of people who are worried about the food system.

POSTED ON 19 Nov 2013 IN Business & Innovation Business & Innovation Policy & Politics Pollution & Health Sustainability Central & South America North America