May 25, 2018

How did Murray Goulburn, once Australia’s biggest milk processor and a successful dairy cooperative since 1950, end up sold to its international competitor, Canadian dairy giant Saputo? In this  multi-part series, Elena Garcia provides some answers.

After nearly 70 years as a cooperative that was wholly owned by the farmers who supply the milk, on April 5 Victorian dairy farmers voted to sell Murray Goulburn, once Australia’s biggest dairy processing business, to foreign owners.
The $1.31 billion deal, unanimously supported by the Murray Goulburn board, includes the cooperative’s operating assets and liabilities, including the 10-year contract to supply Coles with $1 a litre milk. Saputo officially took over Murray Goulburn on May 1.
After a campaign, begun by Murray Goulburn directors at the annual general meeting on October 27, to present the sale as the only way to protect the cooperative from the banks, nearly 96% of farmer shareholders voted in favour of the takeover deal by Canadian dairy giant Saputo.

Apr 4, 2018

No pesticide residue levels are safe

Poisoning Our Children: The Parent’s  Guide to the Myths of Safe Pesticides,
By André Leu, 2018,  
Published by Acres USA, 205pp.

Reviewed by Alan Broughton.

André Leu is an organic tropical fruit grower  at Daintree in North Queensland. He  is the former president of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements(IFOAM), the peak world organic farming body.

This book shows there is plenty of peer-reviewed science finding monumental faults with pesticide use and regulation, science that regulators do not use in their deliberations. André Leu uses this science to show that pesticide safety is based on data-free myths.

There are five myths: that pesticides are  rigorously tested, that residues in food are so small they are harmless, that pesticides quickly biodegrade, that regulations are reliable, and that pesticides are essential for agriculture.

A total of 232 chemicals have been found in placental cord blood of newborn babies  in the   United States. Many of these are endocrine disruptors, affecting the developing brain and hormones of children. No safety tests are done on the young – all are performed on adolescent or adult animals (usually rats). Even minute amounts are dangerous for foetuses and babies. Some pesticides, for example glyphosate, the most widely used herbicide in theworld, have a greater effect on hormones in parts per billion than in parts per million. This is because the body can recognise higher amounts and reject them.

Feb 28, 2018

Vandana Shiva and the struggle to take back control of seeds

By Alan Broughton

Crop varieties have been selected and reproduced over thousands of years by farmers, creating great

After the end of World War II, with the sudden availability of nitrate fertilisers – used in munitions – and pesticides developed for protecting soldiers from lice and mosquitoes, corporations saw great opportunities in agriculture. New crop varieties were developed that responded well to nitrate fertilisers and were more susceptible to pests and diseases.

These new varieties were often hybrids that either failed to germinate in the next generation or reverted to one of their parents, meaning they have to be purchased each year. Some, however, do reproduce well, so plant breeders rights legislation, under various names, was introduced to legally prevent seed saving of those patented varieties.

Genetic modification is a further strategy to ensure continual re-purchase of seeds.

Consequently, huge numbers of crop varieties have been lost as control over genetic resources is transferred from farmers to corporations.

As alarm over this was raised around the world, seed saving networks sprang up to protect the remaining traditional varieties.


Feb 26, 2018

Heavy metal contamination of food: Where does it come from?

By Alan Broughton
Arsenic levels in rice periodically hit the news. Arsenic is one of several toxic heavy metals found in foods – cadmium, lead, mercury and chromium are others. While these are naturally occurring elements in soil and rock, natural sources are not the main cause of contamination of agricultural produce. Principal sources include fertilisers, pesticides, mining, industrial waste and air pollution. This article focuses on the two most prevalent heavy metal contaminants – cadmium and arsenic.


There are two major sources of heavy metal contaminants in fertilisers. One is naturally occurring cadmium in rock phosphate, which is mined and processed to produce superphosphate and other soluble phosphatic fertilisers, or used directly. The other arises from the practice of adding industrial waste to fertilisers as a means of disposal, material containing mercury, arsenic, nickel, copper, zinc, uranium, lead, chromium and cadmium.
In the US any material that has some qualities as a fertiliser can be used on fields in the name of recycling, even low level radioactive waste from uranium processing. The California Public Interest Research Group identified 22 toxic elements in chemical fertilisers in 1996, all of which contained industrial waste from steel works, cement factories, paper making and electronic plants. The practice of adding industrial waste to fertilisers was revealed by Duff Wilson in Fateful Harvest (Wilson 2001). Until at least 2002 this practice was totally unregulated. Indeed, the US EPA stated (1997): “EPA’s longstanding policy encourages the beneficial reuse and recycling of industrial waste, including hazardous wastes, when such wastes can be used as safe and effective substitutes for virgin raw materials” (Asokakumar 2017). Few states in the US have any regulations for heavy metal content of fertilisers, only California, Washington and Oregon; nationally there are recommended maximum levels but they are not mandated (McLaughlin 2004).

Sep 5, 2017

Agricultural experts urge a halt to Shenhua coalmine

An open letter from eight former agronomists and soil scientists, including five who worked for the Department of Primary Industries, has urged NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian to halt Shenhua’s Watermark coalmine and protect the Liverpool Plains from mining.
The letter said the agreement the government reached last month with Shenhua to renew its coal exploration licence, paving the way for the mine to proceed, puts at risk “the future of one of the major contributors to food and fibre security”.
Last month the government paid Shenhua $262 million for just over half the exploration licence area of the proposed mine at Watermark in northern NSW. Energy Minister Don Harwin said the buyback would ensure there was no mining on the fertile black soils of the plains.
But the agronomists said limiting the proposed open cut mine to ridges would still likely affect surface and groundwater flows in the plains and downstream regions.

Gazans turn to rooftops for food supplies

Rooftop farming is a new concept in Gaza. It was first introduced on a significant scale through a project sponsored by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation in 2010.
That project involved more than 200 households provided with fish tanks and equipment for aquaponic units. Aquaponics is the practice of soilless vegetable growing in combination with fish tanks whose nutrient-rich wastewater is used as fertiliser.
The practice has since spread, as Palestinians in Gaza adapted the methods to suit their own needs and the materials available to them. The result provides a means to address a problem that has grown to dangerous proportions.


Sep 1, 2017

The Green Revolution: Effects in Asia and implications for Africa

by Alan Broughton 

The term Green Revolution refers to the introduction of high-yielding varieties of staple food crops, particularly wheat and rice, into Third World countries, starting in the 1960s. Initially Mexico, India and the Philippines were targeted. The stated aim was to increase food production to end hunger and prevent uprisings. 

The Green Revolution did increase agricultural production, and no more successful revolutionary uprisings occurred, but it failed to reduce hunger and poverty, improve nutrition, or protect the environment. While some of these failures are now acknowledged by the proponents, the answer is that “there was no alternative”, and that for untouched areas of the world, particularly Africa, there is still no alternative. However, that alternative does exist: it is called agroecology. Science takes credit for successes but takes no responsibility for failures (Shiva 2001). 

The Green Revolution was promoted by the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations, the World Bank and the US government. The most immediate aim was to prevent revolution in the Third World. The Western world had lost China and Cuba and was in the process of losing Vietnam; there were insurgencies in Malaya and the Philippines and uncertainty about President Soekarno in Indonesia. It was decided to fight revolution with food (Cleaver 1972). “The only way to prevent a Red Revolution is to promote a Green Revolution” – Peer Maurin of Catholic Worker, and “Where hunger goes, Communism follows” – Rieff (Patel 2013). President Macapagal in the Philippines said: “We consider this institute [the International Rice Research Institute which developed the new rice varieties] as a potent weapon in the struggle against poverty and communism in Asia” (Patel 2013). 

An unstated secondary aim was to increase the penetration of agribusiness into the Third World. Profits could be made by selling the new varieties of seed and the fertilisers, pesticides and equipment (tractors, pumps) that were indispensable to their success. American fertiliser companies were looking for new markets after the Second World War when nitrate was less needed for bomb making; Norman Borlaug, the plant breeder who developed the first new high-yielding crop varieties, emphasised the importance of fertilisers to Indian politicians, and both the World Bank and US Aid for International Development (USAID) strongly pushed for increased fertiliser use (Shiva 2001). Part of the strategy of US AID funding was to increase chemical fertiliser use; this is now the strategy used in Africa, where in many countries the majority of department of agriculture spending is allocated to fertiliser subsidies (African Centre for Biodiversity 2016).

Aug 11, 2017

A people's food policy for England

Stepping away from market imperatives frees our minds and thinking about food and farm production. Agriculture and food systems, the resources needed for producing food and the landscapes where this takes place are a kind of commons or a public good. The more food is viewed as a public good, the less appropri­ate it is that the productive factors needed to produce foods, seeds, land, water etc., are private property and provided by the market. ...Rethinking food as a right, farming as a management system of the planet and the food system as a commons is what I would call a real shift in paradigm (a most overused word!). It doesn’t rule out markets as one of several mechanisms for food distribu­tion, but does it reject market hegemony over our food supplies, and rejects the view that market forces are the best way of allocating food producing resources.

If the allegations are true that billions of litres of water worth millions of dollars were illegally extracted, this would represent one of the largest thefts in Australian history. It would have social and economic consequences for communities along the entire length of the Murray-Darling river system, and for the river itself, after years of trying to restore its health.

Water is big business, big politics and a big player in our environment. Taxpayers have spent $13 billion on water reform in the Murray-Darling Basin in the past decade, hundreds of millions of which have gone directly to state governments. Governments have an obligation to ensure that this money is well spent.

The revelations cast doubt on the states’ willingness to do this, and even on their commitment to the entire Murray-Darling Basin Plan. This commitment needs to be reaffirmed urgently. 


Aug 10, 2017

Chemical spray damage results in record $7m negligence court payout

A farmer has been awarded $7 million in damages for losses caused by a neighbour's negligent spraying.
For grape grower, Tony Caccaviello, it has been a four-year legal fight for compensation, after a mix of toxic chemicals destroyed his vineyard in northern Victoria.
In Spring 2013, Mr Caccaviello noticed his vineyard, near Swan Hill, looked different. The leaves were 'translucent' and covered in yellow spots.
He initially he thought the vineyard had been hit by a bad frost.
The Supreme Court of Victoria later heard a cloud of agricultural chemicals, all deadly to grapevines, had blown across the vineyard from his neighbour, Rodney Hayden's property.
In Mr Caccaviello's case, the chemicals involved; 2,4-D, glyphosate and metsulfuron-methyl, are toxic to grapevines and never used in vineyards.