September Hunger Notes: Fewer people poor and hungry in the U.S., the Bayer-Monsanto merger and more
Much worthwhile and interesting news in September.
The biggest news was that the number of poor people in the United States dropped by an estimated 3.5 million according to the latest census estimates and the number of food insecure families dropped by 1.2 million, according to the latest Department of Agriculture. This represented the first really substantial drop in either since the great recession began in 2006. However the official poverty rate for 2015 is 13.5 percent and the official food security rate is 12.7 percent of the population, still very high and higher than they were before the recession. See U.S. household incomes soared in 2015. Number of people in poverty declines by 3.5 million and 12.7% of U.S. households are food insecure, Department of Agriculture says.
We have highlighted the conflict in Southern Sudan and the hunger it has caused. Now a good report points out that the conflict is caused by factions within the South Sudanese government fighting for control of the government and the resources it controls, including oil. See the story How South Sudan’s leaders robbed their country – and nearly got away with it and the full report . See Hunger Notes fact sheet Harmful economic systems as a cause of hunger and poverty for a fuller discussion of this key issue.
Bayer AG has agreed to buy Monsanto for $57 billion, reducing even further the number of “agrochemical” firms. This is important news first because of the further restriction of competition in this sector, one that we hope will be opposed by the U.S. government and the European Union. But the WSJ article Behind the Monsanto deal, doubts about the GMO revolution brought out further important points. Given current farm prices, purchasing GMO seeds is proving not to be cost effective for U.S. farmers. (How much more unable to afford GMO seeds, will poor farmers in developing countries be, if GMO methods of production get established there.) It also establishes that the real strength of GMO crops such as soybeans has been their ability to tolerate herbicide. The GMO soybean seeds were “Roundup Ready”–the seeds were bred to survive the herbicide Roundup, while the weeds were not. This facilitated a vast expansion of GMO soybeans. Now the weeds are beginning to make a comeback as they evolve to tolerate Roundup.
An important article in JAMA Internal Medicine, as reported in the New York Times says that the sugar industry paid scientists to emphasize saturated fat as a cause of heart disease and diminish the role of sugar. The articles provide a real insight into how industry influences food policy, including determining how specific foods influence our health.
Why good nutrition is important by the Center for Science in the Public Interest gives specifics on the importance of food for health. “Unhealthy eating and physical inactivity are leading causes of death in the U.S. Unhealthy diet contributes to approximately 678,000 deaths each year in the U.S., due to nutrition- and obesity-related diseases, such as heart disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes.”
The L.A. Times article In historic move, Gov. Jerry Brown expands overtime pay for California farmworkers describes how California farmworkers will gradually get increased overtime pay. Now farmworkers must work 10 hours before they are eligible for overtime. The new law will, beginning in 2019, reduce the amount of time they must work before becoming eligible by one-half hour per year until the eight-hour standard is reached. The legislation was strongly opposed by California farmer organizations.