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Ag News Roundup: “Animal Ag Destroying the Environment”

Non-GMO labels, like this one at Whole Foods, may strengthen consumer perceptions that genetically modified foods may carry risks to health. Ordon Chibroski/Portland Press Herald/Getty Images

Non-GMO labels, like this one at Whole Foods, may strengthen consumer perceptions that genetically modified foods may carry risks to health.
Ordon Chibroski/Portland Press Herald/Getty Images

NPR: Americans Don’t Trust Scientists’ Take On Food Issues:”If you’re curious about what people really think about some of the hottest of hot-button food controversies, the Pew Research Center has just the thing for you: a survey of attitudes toward genetic modification, organic food and the importance of eating healthfully.

The survey results are published in a 99-page report that can keep you occupied for days. But if you’re pressed for time, here are some of the most interesting highlights that caught our eye.

1. A lot of Americans don’t care what scientists think about GMOs

For instance, 39 percent of the survey participants believe that genetically modified foods are worse for your health than non-GM food. However, there’s essentially no scientific evidence to support that belief — a conclusion confirmed most recently by a National Academy of Sciences report. Among the relatively small group who say they care about the issue of GM foods “a great deal” (16 percent of the public), three-quarters believe that GMOs are bad for your health.

At the same time, it’s notable that almost half the respondents — 46 percent to be precise — say that they care about the issue of GMOs “not too much” or “not at all.”

Americans believe that there’s no scientific consensus on GMOs. Just over 50 percent of respondents believe that “about half or fewer” of scientists agree that GM foods are safe to eat. Only 14 percent’s beliefs match the reality — that “almost all” scientists agree that GM foods are safe to eat.

And finally, there is deep cynicism about the motives of scientists. According to the survey, Americans feel that research findings are influenced in equal measure by the following factors: the best available scientific evidence; desire to help their industries; and desire to advance their careers. In the view of the public, all of those factors are more important to scientists than concern for the public interest.

Scientists can take heart, though, from one other finding of the survey. People still trust them more then politicians. Sixty percent of the public still wants scientists to play a major role in government policies toward GM foods. Remarkably, only 24 percent of Americans want their elected officials to have a major role in such policies.

2. Food sympathies don’t follow political sympathies

Roughly equal shares of Republicans and Democrats (39 percent versus 40 percent) feel that GMOs are worse for people’s health. More Democrats than Republicans (60 percent versus 50 percent) believe that organic foods are healthier. It’s significant, but not a huge difference.

This result is quite different from what Pew found in surveys about climate change, says Cary Funk, the Pew Research Center’s associate director of research on science and society. When it comes to climate change, she says, liberal Democrats are much more likely to believe that humans are responsible. Food issues, by contrast, are not as politically polarized.

The survey also didn’t find any major differences between men and women, or between rich and poor, when it came to views about GMOs or about the healthy qualities of organic food. The wealthy, however, were more likely actually to buy organic food regularly.

Finally, there’s an overwhelming consensus about one point; 72 percent of Americans believe that healthy eating habits are very important in improving one’s chances of a long and healthy life, and an additional 25 percent say that it’s somewhat important. But most (58 percent) also say they fall short of their goals and that “most days I probably should be eating healthier.”

3. Food issues don’t divide people into neat little camps

If you look closely at the results, you find that there aren’t clearly defined groups of people who all believe the same things about various food issues.

For instance, 18 percent of Americans say that their “main focus” is eating healthy and nutritious food. And 16 percent says that they care about genetically modified foods “a great deal.” But these are not the same people. Only a third of the people who care most about eating healthfully also care a lot about GMOs.

And whether a person cares about eating healthful food or not is no predictor of whether he or she considers GMOs to be bad for health.

There is a much stronger connection, however, between attitudes about healthy eating and consumption of organic food. People who describe healthy eating as their “main focus” were almost three times as likely to eat organic food regularly, compared with people who say that healthy eating is not at all important to them.

Finally, support for local and organic food seems to be much more mainstream than the opposition to GMOs. Almost three-quarters of Americans said that they bought local food recently, and just over two-thirds said they had purchased organic food. By comparison, a much smaller group — 44 percent — reported that they’d recently bought food labeled “GMO-free.”

Newsweek:

$32 BILLION MARKET EXPECTED FOR AGRICULTURAL DRONES: “Agricultural efficiency is poised to take a big leap with drone technology now that the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration is streamlining regulations for unmanned aerial vehicles. A recent report from PwC pegs the addressable market for agricultural drones to be worth a whopping $32.4 billion, second only to infrastructure.

That’s a big number. And the interesting part is that PwC isn’t the only one expecting drones to revolutionize agriculture.

Bank of America Merrill Lynch projects agriculture to make up almost 80 percent of the commercial drone market in the future, with the potential to generate $82 billion worth of economic activity in the U.S. between 2015 and 2025.
Goldman Sachs predicts the agriculture sector to be the largest user of drones in the U.S. and the second largest in the world in the next five years.
Research company Markets and Markets estimates the agricultural drone market to grow at a compounded average rate of 30 percent through 2022.”

Progressive Farmer:

The Cuban Question Time of Change for Cuban Agriculture: “Fidel Castro’s death Nov. 25 set off a round of speculation about Cuba’s future, which could have implications for American farmers eager to trade with the island country.

Fidel’s brother Raul has been running the family business for the last eight years while Fidel’s health faded. During that time, Cubans and the rest of the world didn’t know for certain if Fidel was pulling strings in the background.

They watched as Raul allowed more free enterprise; he encouraged more Cubans to farm; he opened doors for the United States to do more business in Cuba. Now that his brother — the dictator with the cigar and military fatigues — is gone, will Cuba continue on the liberalization path Raul Castro began?

That’s a key question for Cuba and the U.S. Adding to the uncertainty is the change of administrations in the U.S.

President Barack Obama shook Raul’s hand last March and for two years has used executive orders to begin ending a nearly 60-year-old embargo. President-elect Donald Trump, meanwhile, has said he wants more concessions from the Cubans before relations can move forward. USA Today quoted Trump’s vice president Mike Pence telling a Miami audience just before the election: “Let me make you a promise. When Donald Trump is president of the United States, we will repeal Obama’s executive orders on Cuba.”

Iowa State Daily:

Woodruff: Animal agriculture is destroying the environment: “The millennial generation, those born between 1982 and 2004, haven’t shied away from voicing their opinions regarding climate change.

This generation is one that is showing the most concern for the environment. A study by Statista in March 2014 found that 50 percent of millennials thought climate change was, indeed, real and that humans were the main cause of it, while Generation X only had a 47 percent agreement rate.

One of the many concerns of the millennial generation is that agriculture is being ignored as a major contributor to climate change. “Cowspiracy: The sustainability secret” is an interesting documentary on Netflix that emphasizes society’s tendency to turn blindly away from the effects of animal agriculture on the environment.

The film emphasizes how even large environmental organizations such as Greenpeace and the Sierra Club choose to blatantly ignore the adverse effects of animal agriculture on wildlife, fresh water and ecosystems.

One of the absolutely horrifying truths about animal agriculture is that it accounts for 91 percent of all Amazon rain forrest deforestation. Another is that farmers and ranchers have advocated for the killing of natural predators, such as wolves, in order to protect their livestock. They have also been major players in penning up wild horses in order to have less competition for their grazing cattle.

Most terrifying of all is that livestock and their byproducts make up 51 percent of all worldwide greenhouse gas emissions. These are just a fraction of the adverse impacts of animal agriculture.

To break it down a little further, let’s look at something as simple as a hamburger from Burger King. It takes about 5,000 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef, according to Stanford Environmental Law Journal.

In fact, raising animals for food purposes takes so much fresh water that animal agriculture accounts for 80 to 90 percent of all fresh water consumption in the United States, according to the United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service. So with the current way animal agriculture is being run, something as simple as a Whopper has a vast amount of unseen costs.

Over fishing is also a major concern, according to many environmentalists. More than 75 percent of the world’s fish population is between exploited and depleted levels. Even worse, some estimations say that there could be no fish left in currently fished areas by the year 2048.

So other than exploiting and abusing natural resources such as wildlife populations, ecosystems and natural resources, how else is animal agriculture affecting the environment?

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) clearing land for agricultural use is very much a part of CO2 emissions in the world. Admittedly, it is not the only cause. But the EPA also states that of global gas emissions, methane, which is heavily produced in animal agriculture, accounts for 16 percent.

While methane is produced in smaller quantities than CO2, it may be having an even worse effect on the environment than carbon emissions. In fact, methane warms the planet 86 times as much as carbon dioxide.

None of this should be taken as an attack on farmers, in fact, they are not the ones to blame. So few rules and regulations have been placed on the farming industry regarding climate change, an individual farmer may not know how much their farm is affecting the environment. Or they may choose to stick to their current methods regardless of climate change because that is the best option for them personally. Either way, they can hardly be at fault.

In fact, the “Agriculture Act of 2014,” otherwise known as the “Farm Bill,” only made one reference to climate change. The bill only mentions voluntary methods that the animal agricultural industry can participate in to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Nothing was made mandatory.

So while the animal agricultural industry is a major player in the nation’s economy, it is also a major contributor to climate change, an issue that needs addressed. Individual farmers cannot be blamed for the lack of conservation and sustainability in animal agricultural practices, rather the USDA, or another government organization needs to implement mandatory policies to reduce emissions.

With a growing world population, animal agriculture could never sustain such a large appetite, and individuals outside of the agriculture community need to do their share as well. If the average household had a vegan-based diet for just one day a week, it could reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by the equivalent of driving a thousand fewer miles a year.

It is time for our nation to admit that our current animal agriculture practices are not sustainable, especially with the world’s ever-growing population. Mandatory practices need to be put in place to help reduce the effects of agriculture on climate change, and to ensure a healthy world with enough food and resources for future generations.”

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