Beyond the Book: Background information when reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

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Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

A Year of Food Life

by Barbara Kingsolver

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver
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  • First Published:
    May 2007, 384 pages
    Paperback:
    Apr 2008, 400 pages

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  • The average supermarket food item has traveled 1500 miles to reach our kitchens - that's further than most families go on vacation.
  • If every US citizen ate just one meal a week from locally grown meat and produce we would save 1.1 million barrels of oil every week!
  • Six companies now control 98 percent of the world's seed sales; the largest of these is Monsanto. The most common seed modifications are genes that kill caterpillars and make the plant resistant to a specific herbicide; for example, Monsanto create plants that are resistant to Roundup, which they also own.
  • Since the beginning of time, farmers have saved seeds from one crop in order to plant the following year. Now, Monsanto, leader in the production of genetically modified seeds, maintains a $10m budget for investigating and prosecuting "seed savers", and has won cases against farmers whose only crime is that, due to the birds, bees and wind, some of their plants have been pollinated by plants containing patented Monsanto genes.
  • 24 US states have proposed or passed legislation to block or limit particular genetically modified (GM) products and attach responsibility for GM drift to seed producers and defend a farmer's right to save seeds, but the US federal government has stepped in to circumvent these measures by passing the 2006 National Uniformity for Food Act that will eliminate more than 200 state-initiated food safety laws. In principle, having one common set of standards sounds like common sense, but in reality this Act, endorsed by huge food conglomerates such as ConAgra, Dean Foods and Hormel, provides for the weakest consumer and small farmer protection. The Act is opposed by the Consumers Union, the Sierra Club, the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Center for Food Safety and 39 state attorney generals.
  • Garden seed companies are now primarily owned by large conglomerates. The result is that in 1981 about 5,000 non-hybrid vegetable varieties were available from catalogs, by 1998 there were just 600. The reason that the reduction in seed varieties is a problem is that many thousands of locally adapted plant varieties are being lost. These are plants that have naturally adapted to the local pathogens and are naturally resistant to various diseases, enabling farmers to juggle different varieties of different crops in order to stay one step ahead of the plant diseases. With these varieties being lost forever our food supply is increasingly reliant on a handful of varieties which makes the food supply more vulnerable.
  • Over the last decade, the USA has lost an average of 300 farms a week, these are mostly small farms. Small farms tend to be more environmentally responsible, sustainable and diverse and, contrary to perception, they are also more efficient: According to USDA records from 1990 onwards, farms less than four acres in size average net income of $1,400 per acre, whereas farms of 1,000 acres or more average $40 an acre. Small farms usually go out of business because they cannot find a market for their products, because supermarkets don't bother buying vegetables by the box when they can buy by the truck.
  • 67 million birds die from pesticide poisoning every year.
  • Egg laying factory farmed hens are housed in cages 18 x 20 inches, with five or more hens per cage.

This article was originally published in May 2007, and has been updated for the April 2008 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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