Everything we eat is made from corn?

At the Yutube video, The Office Sustainability Committee have a conversation about technology and sustainability, but there is little two-way communication.

David Tribe

Written by David Tribe

David Tribe’s research career in academia and industry has covered molecular genetics, biochemistry, microbial evolution and biotechnology. He has over 60 publications and patents. Dr. Tribe's recent activities focus on agricultural policy and food risk management. He teaches graduate programs in food science and risk management as a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Agriculture and Food Systems, University of Melbourne.

3 comments

  1. I have to wonder about certain comparisons made between factory farms and small farmers. The U.S. spends 20 billion dollars a year on agricultural subsidies, GM or not. Most of it goes to the top 10%.
    I am not used to referring to the reactionary Heritage Foundation, but they have this related article.
    http://www.heritage.org/Research/Reports/2002/04/Farm-Subsidies-for-the-Rich-amp-Famous-Shattered-Records-in-2001
    This report from 2001 ends, “Conclusion
    The farm bills currently being considered by a House-Senate conference committee would further accelerate the transformation of farm subsidies into corporate welfare programs. Most of their enormous $171 billion cost would subsidize highly profitable Fortune 500 companies, agribusinesses, and celebrity “hobby farmers” and help fund their purchases of small family farms, and the average American family would be left paying $4,400 in taxes and inflated food prices to benefit millionaires — unless Congress or President George W. Bush finally puts an end to this counterproductive waste of taxpayer dollars.”
    The situation most likely has not improved. To find out who gets the money,
    http://farm.ewg.org/
    With the current structure, it is hard to see how small farmers are being helped or encouraged.
    Europe is not any better.
    http://www.stwr.org/imf-world-bank-trade/farm-subsidies-the-report-card.html
    The royal family gets over a million, “The richest man in the United Kingdom, the Duke of Westminster, owns about 55,000 hectares of farm estates, received a subsidy of US$ 480,000 as direct payments in 2003-04, and in addition gets US$ 550,000 a year for the 1,200 dairy cows he keeps. Under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reforms, his subsidy entitlement will remain intact except that the subsidy he receives for the cows will now be shifted the grasslands that he maintains.”
    Of course these comments are not dealing with GMO’s, but with the current farming structure in developed countries.

  2. Basically, you have two options: farm subsidies (as in the US or Europe) or no subsidies (as in New Zealand).
    Farm subsidies have two main effects: they shape the agricultural landscape, for good or bad (these are notions which are to a large extent subjective); they enable produce to get on the market at a lower price (since part of the production cost is covered by the subsidies). This again has two consequences: food prices are lower, which is of advantage to the poor (the subsidies being paid by the taxes collected from the rich); agriculture in the country, or in a particular region (think of mountains), can compete with agriculture in better endowed countries and regions (and in particular countries which practice social and/or ecological dumping).
    Countries going for subsidies of course have to define the granting conditions and mechanisms, for which there is no magic solution. However one does it, it seems inevitable that large farms will get more than small farms. I haven’t seen anything really shocking in the HF paper, but admired the artistic work on the figures to embellish their case.
    We can have a discussion on old (the Devinder Sharma paper is clearly outdated) and even current figures and situations. But any meaningful discussion ought to look at the future prospects of a world with 9 billion inhabitants, or even the current world in which food prices have become an issue. There are people out there who can’t have it both ways. They were complaining that subsidies unfairly drove prices down. The same now complain that prices go up (making subsidies less ‘necessary’) and that food becomes unaffordable to many.

  3. I’m probably completely misunderstood on all this but I thought the original point of subsidies (at least in the US) was to provide a price bottom for crops. So, if the market forces caused low prices a farmer could stay in business. This complementary to but very different from crop insurance which protects against losses due to environmental conditions and such that aren’t market related (although these do affect the market). What I’ve never understood is how subsidies got from this idea to being what seems today to be handouts.

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