Fisheries Scientist Under Fire For Undisclosed Seafood Industry Funding

A fishing dragger hauls in a net full of Atlantic Cod, yellowtail flounder and American lobster off the coast of New England. Greenpeace says Ray Hilborn, a prominent fisheries scientist known for challenging studies that show declines in fish populations, failed to fully disclose industry funding on some of his scientific papers.

A fishing dragger hauls in a net full of Atlantic Cod, yellowtail flounder and American lobster off the coast of New England. Greenpeace says Ray Hilborn, a prominent fisheries scientist known for challenging studies that show declines in fish populations, failed to fully disclose industry funding on some of his scientific papers. Jeff Rotman/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Jeff Rotman/Getty Images

A prominent and outspoken fisheries scientist at the University of Washington is under attack from Greenpeace for not disclosing industry funding in several scientific papers stretching back to 2006.

Greenpeace calls Ray Hilborn, a professor at the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, a “denier of overfishing,” and says he has received at least $3.56 million in funding from dozens of fishing and seafood industry groups over a 12-year period. Greenpeace claims that on several occasions, Hilborn failed to disclose those affiliations in published scientific papers.

“This is about a person who is the most vocal critic of marine conservation efforts. And it turns out that he has received millions of dollars from industry and failed to consistently disclose those conflicts of interest appropriately,” says John Hocevar, Greenpeace campaign director.

Hilborn defends his work in a response he made public Wednesday night. He says he’s been in conversations with officials at the University of Washington, where he works, and has alerted an editor at the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, where he has published several papers, that he is being scrutinized by the environmental group.

Greenpeace obtained information about Hilborn’s research-funding sources through a Washington state public records request to the university. It’s the latest example of food activists using FOIA and other records requests to obtain information that will embarrass scientists seen as friendly to industry.

Ray Hilborn

Ray Hilborn Wikimedia Commons hide caption

toggle caption Wikimedia Commons

In an eight-page letter sent to UW President Ana Mari Cauce on Wednesday, Greenpeace said that Hilborn’s funding and consulting work from industry groups were not properly disclosed. Those industry groups include Bristol Bay Science and Research Institute, Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association, Trident Seafoods, Peter Pan Seafoods, the National Fisheries Institute and more. They say Hilborn acknowledges only 21 groups by name in his work, but say he’s received funding from a total of 69 different industry groups.

“I don’t know where that number comes from,” Hilborn tells NPR. “I never had any significant industry funding until I published a paper in 2009 on rebuilding global fisheries, and at that point, I discovered the fishing industry was willing to give me the money to do that work. I’ve made no secret about it. My website lists major funding sources.

“If you look at whose interest is in rebuilding fisheries, it’s not the NGOs, it’s the fishing industry. They and the public benefit from successful fishing.”

Greenpeace, for example, alleges Hilborn did not disclose $58,000 in funding from the New Zealand Seafood Industry Council in a 2006 paper for the Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences on orange roughy. They also say he neglected to mention employment from the California Fisheries Coalition, which includes 27 recreational and commercial fishing associations, while questioning the environmental benefit of establishing marine protected areas off the coast of California.

Hilborn is not one to shy away from controversy. He has a reputation for challenging studies that show declines in fish populations. He’s been embroiled in public disagreements with other prominent fisheries scientists, and is the lead voice behind the CFOOD project, which harshly calls out reporters (including this one) on coverage they deem erroneous, and openly critiques emerging fishery science studies, sometimes frustrating fellow researchers. Renowned ocean scientist Sylvia Earle is frequently a favorite target of the group’s blog and Twitter account.

Greenpeace says the CFOOD project, which was launched last year, has received $30,000 from Arctic Storm (a fish processing company); $30,000 from Glacier Fish Co.; $10,000 from the International Coalition for Fisheries Association; and $210,000 from the seafood industry group, the National Fisheries Institute (NFI). As of publication time, no funding sources were disclosed on the CFOOD site — though a tweet Thursday afternoon said they are trying to update this “asap.”

Hilborn says CFOOD is an umbrella term for a broader project.

“The website is a trivial part of that. There are three students working part-time to run it. They’re all paid from the industry donation account,” he says. “The ‘C’ is for collaborative. We’re developing a network of people around the world knowledgeable in sustainable fishing.”

Gavin Gibbons, a spokesperson for NFI, says the group is pleased to have sponsored some of Hilborn’s work, adding: “We do not encourage [our] members to rebut sound science. That said, correcting the record on misreporting on fisheries science could be a full-time job.”

The money Greenpeace has called into question is only a small portion of the $16.1 million in research funding Hilborn has brought in since 2003. And industry groups are not the only ones interested in collaborating with him. Donations from foundations, environmental and government groups have included the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation ($6.6 million); the National Science Foundation ($1.9 million); the David and Lucile Packard Foundation ($307,500); NOAA ($582,000) and more.

And Hilborn has plenty of defenders among his fellow scientists. Douglas Rader, chief oceans scientist with the nonprofit Environmental Defense Fund, calls Hilborn an “accomplished, world-renowned scientist who has made important contributions to the field of fisheries science and conservation.”

In 2012, EDF donated $100,000 to fund analysis of fishing cooperatives.

“While we cannot speak to Dr. Hilborn’s individual compliance with disclosure requirements across all of his publications, his partnerships with industry have always been well-known,” Rader writes in an email.

Hocevar acknowledges that Greenpeace is borrowing a page from the playbook of non-GMO activists. Over the past year, opponents of genetically modified foods have used freedom of information requests to target researchers at public universities, including Bruce Chassy, a professor at the University of Illinois, and Kevin Folta, a food and agriculture science professor at the University of Florida. In both cases, the emails revealed previously undisclosed ties to the biotech industry. In this case, however, Greenpeace did not seek access to Hilborn’s emails, only funding disclosures.

And they’re not done. On Friday, Greenpeace submitted a records request for Trevor Branch, a colleague of Hilborn and a professor at UW’s School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences. The request seeks funding documents stretching back to 1987. “I was 12 [years old] at the time,” says Branch. “I don’t have any money from the fishing industry, so I’m not worried about their request. It’s a fishing expedition looking for anything they can find to discredit you.”

Branch says acknowledging funders is a standard part of science disclosures, but he says there’s a limit to how long scientists need to disclose the information. He says the tactic used by Greenpeace will make researchers more wary of the funding they accept in the future.

“Ray [Hilborn] has received funding from 50-100 sources. If he had to list all of them every time, it would be longer than the paper. That’s not what we do in science. There are no papers that require a list of funding from every source you’ve ever gotten money from,” Branch says.

Hilborn has a simpler explanation for being in the line of fire. “Greenpeace can’t attack the science because they don’t do science. Instead they attack the messenger.”

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Brazil's New Cabinet Has No Women, Drawing Social Media Backlash

Ministério de Temer é o primeiro desde a Ditadura Militar sem mulheres https://t.co/DvcwuDM5Jf pic.twitter.com/mBVyPqAY5r

— Jornal O Dia (@jornalodia) May 12, 2016

In the photo above, Brazil’s acting president, Michel Temer, signs his oath as president on Thursday after Dilma Rousseff was suspended. Temer’s new Cabinet is composed entirely of men, the first time since 1979 that a woman hasn’t been in the cabinet.

Amid all the upheaval in Brazil, women have suddenly become much less prominent at the top levels of government, and this hasn’t escaped the notice of social media.

The country’s first female president, Dilma Rousseff, was suspended from her post after a marathon session in the Senate that concluded early Thursday. She now faces an impeachment trial that could last months.

The man replacing her on an interim basis, Michel Temer, who had been the vice president, quickly announced his cabinet picks. There wasn’t a woman among them.

In addition, there were no people of color in a country where a large portion of the population is of African descent or of mixed-race.

Social media in Brazil was quick to note it’s the first time since 1979 there hasn’t been a woman in the cabinet.

The top of the page shows Temer’s new cabinet signing in, with the newspaper Jornal O Dia tweeting: “Temer’s is first cabinet since military dictatorship without women.”

The country’s military dictatorship ended in 1985. Rousseff was a militant who fought against military rule and was jailed and tortured.

The tweet below, translated from Portuguese, reads:

1ª mulher eleita presidente do brasil
torturada na ditadura
defendendo a democracia
golpeada
por homens
com novo governo
sem mulheres

— carolinr (@tristecinha) May 12, 2016

“1st Woman elected in Brazil

Tortured in the dictatorship

Defending democracy

Suffered a coup

By Men

New Government

No women.”

“Ordem e Progresso” sem mulheres e negros no 1º escalão. Governo Temer começa c/muita testosterona e pouco pigmento pic.twitter.com/GvqaihSfoE

— André Trigueiro (@andretrig) May 12, 2016

And the tweet above reads:

“‘Order and Progress’ without blacks and women in the first step. Temer Government starts off with a lot of testosterone and little pigment.”

Nem mulheres nem negros no ministério Temer. Uma casa grande patriarcal 100%. A Ponte para o Passado já se abriu e por ela avançamos.

— Ivan Martins (@IvanHM) May 12, 2016

And the tweet above, in a similar spirit, reads:

“No women, No blacks in Temer’s cabinet. A big patriarchal house 100%. The Bridge to The Past has been opened. And that’s where we are headed.”

There was much more, including the following tweet, which says, “More than half of the Brazilian population didn’t produce anyone capable of holding a ministry?”

+ da metade da população brasileira não produz ninguém à altura de ocupar ministério?O que tem a ver com futebol? https://t.co/gB8s6kJ2H7

— Lúcia Guimarães (@luciaguimaraes) May 12, 2016

During the impeachment debate, the president’s supporters have pointed to sexist behavior. When some congressmen were voting to initiate the impeachment proceedings last month, dozens held up signs that read, “Bye, Dear.”

And back in March, wiretapped conversations of senior officials included sexist comments run rampant, including some by Rousseff’s predecessor as president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who belongs to the same party.

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Convoy Carrying Desperately Needed Aid Refused Entry To Besieged Damascus Suburb

A Syrian soldier walks on a ravaged street in Daraya, a besieged suburb of Syria's capital, in February.

A Syrian soldier walks on a ravaged street in Daraya, a besieged suburb of Syria’s capital, in February. Xinhua News Agency via Getty hide caption

toggle caption Xinhua News Agency via Getty

A long-anticipated international convoy carrying desperately needed aid to Daraya, a besieged suburb of Damascus, was refused entry by Syrian government forces.

The International Committee of the Red Cross and the United Nations said in a joint statement that the convoy was refused entry “at the last government checkpoint, despite having obtained prior clearance by all parties that it could proceed.”

The U.N. later released a statement saying that the mission was aborted “because the convoy was refused entry, due to the medical and nutritional supplies on board.” It called the conditions imposed by government security personnel “unacceptable” and “contrary to earlier guarantees and approvals obtained by the Syrian government.”

Daraya is “probably the place in Syria where the greatest unmet needs exist,” Jan Egeland, special adviser to the U.N. special envoy for Syria, told reporters before the convoy was turned back.

NPR’s Alison Meuse tells our Newscast unit that the convoy would have been “the first since Daraya fell under siege in November 2012.” She says authorities only approved limited items, “including vaccines and baby formula.” Here’s more from Alison:

“An activist on the ground says regime forces shelled the area where people had gathered to wait for the aid, killing a man and his grown son. Footage purports to show the mangled bodies being carried away against a backdrop of absolute destruction.”

The Red Cross continues to push for access. “Communities in Daraya are in need of everything, and it’s tragic that even the basics we were bringing today are being delayed unnecessarily. We must be able to provide aid impartially and safely,” Marianne Gasser, head of the ICRC in Syria, said in a statement.

She adds: “There must be minimum conditions for independent humanitarian action in Syria. Today those conditions were not met. We urge the responsible parties to grant us this access immediately.”

The suburb’s population is “between 4,000 and 8,000 people, down from over 70,000 before the war,” The Associated Press reported, citing U.N. figures.

As we have reported, multiple parties to the conflict in Syria are using siege tactics as a weapon of war.

The U.N. says at least 255,250 people are besieged across Syria in at least 18 locations.

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The Haves And Have-Nots Have At It In 'High-Rise'

Tom Hiddleston in High Rise.

Tom Hiddleston in High Rise. Aidan Monaghan/Magnolia Pictures hide caption

toggle caption Aidan Monaghan/Magnolia Pictures

J.G. Ballard’s classic 1975 science-fiction novel High-Rise is a caustic vision of modernity gone awry, witnessing a high-tech utopia of domestic convenience undone by class conflict. Located on the outskirts of London, the building of the title has 40 floors, and its amenities — a grocery store, a swimming pool and gym, high-speed elevators, and even its own primary school — discourage residents from ever leaving the premises. In other words, it’s a self-contained vertical society, with the wealthy elites occupying the top floors and the cash-strapped plebeians toward the bottom. As order breaks down, anarchy consumes the building and guerrilla warfare breaks out between parties from different sections.

Like Ballard’s preceding novels, Concrete Island and Crash, High-Rise reflects an interest in the convergence of technology and humanity, but from an anthropologist’s distance — cold, clinical and exacting in its observations. By contrast, Ben Wheatley’s screen adaptation plunges itself into the chaos as if it were a restless tenant, eschewing the remove of Ballard’s book for an on-the-ground, bare-knuckle fight. There’s barely a moment’s pause over two hours to consider the bigger picture: It depicts anarchy by exemplifying it.

The eye at the center of the Category 4 hurricane is Dr. Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston), a handsome bachelor who lives on the 25th floor, squeezed between the hostile classes above and below. After a framing sequence that shows Laing in post-apocalyptic rubble, roasting the leg of a dog on a spit, Wheatley cuts to three months earlier, when Laing first moved into the apartment and could look forward to the benefits of sustained ultramodernity. It isn’t long before Laing has a congenial chat with the building’s architect, Anthony Royal (Jeremy Irons), who resides in the penthouse suite on the top floor, which is spacious enough to include a small field and a horse.

His relationships elsewhere are murkier. On the floor above, there’s the seductive Charlotte (Sienna Miller), who works for Royal and helps give Laing access to one of his parties, where revelers stroll around in powdered wigs and finery while a string quartet plays Abba’s “S.O.S.” Then all the way down on the second floor, Laing meets the very pregnant Helen (Elisabeth Moss) and her indulgent husband, Richard Wilder (Luke Evans), a documentary filmmaker who acts as the chief agitator, fueled by a vigorous appetite for liquor and cocaine. When the power goes out, supplies dwindle, and nobody leaves, pre-existing tensions between the haves, the have-somes and the have-nots boil over into violent conflict.

Given the novel’s vaunted reputation among sci-fi enthusiasts, Wheatley deserves credit for making the material his own, asserting a strong vision that’s contrary to Ballard’s tone yet respectful of his ideas. He offers this immense concrete tower as a malevolent organism, infecting humanity through a series of decadent parties that tip into the apocalyptic. High-Rise wears its influences on its sleeve — the grotesque black comedy of A Clockwork Orange, the ambition and hyperaggression of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, the anarchy of Lindsay Anderson’s If…. — but at heart, it’s a scenario close to Luis Buñuel’s The Exterminating Angel, a class statement about revelers who cannot leave a dinner party.

Yet High-Rise is a deeply and relentlessly unpleasant experience, and a borderline incoherent one at that. Wheatley treats essential information as hasty shorthand: He does little to establish the self-sustaining wonders of the building itself, which is more of a character in Ballard’s novel than any of its residents. He’s equally careless about fleshing out the key relationships, particularly those in relation to Laing, who exists more as a human fulcrum for the battles between the upper and lower floors than a character with any resonant features in his own right. The film is all chaos, no connective tissue.

That may be by design, of course. Wheatley’s earlier films, like Kill List and Sightseers, have drifted toward gruesome abstraction, and his last one, A Field in England, staged the English Civil War as a full-on psychedelic freakout. The sustained madness of High-Rise feels like a natural progression in his career, but a flawed articulation of Ballardian themes. It’s so consumed with the viscera of class warfare that it loses sight of the bigger picture.

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Big Money Bad Guys Are Back In 'Money Monster'

Giancarlo Esposito and George Clooney in Jodie Foster's thriller Money Monster, which never gets quite as crazy or convincing as, say, The Big Short.

Giancarlo Esposito and George Clooney in Jodie Foster’s thriller Money Monster, which never gets quite as crazy or convincing as, say, The Big Short. Atsushi Nishijima/TriStar Pictures hide caption

toggle caption Atsushi Nishijima/TriStar Pictures

The financial legerdemain lampooned in The Big Short was designed to be opaque and arcane — so much so that even the supposed experts didn’t really know what they were doing. The scenario of Money Monster is much simpler, which is both a strength and a weakness. The movie is easier to understand, but that’s because, as with so many Hollywood conspiracy thrillers, the big payoff is actually pretty small.

The film’s villains are not real investment banks, but the fictional Ibis Clear Capital and its CEO, Walt Camby (Dominic West). The protagonist stands somewhere between documentary and fantasy: Lee Gates (George Clooney), host of FNN’s Money Monster, is a slightly camouflaged version of Jim Cramer, host of CNBC’s Mad Money.

Lee’s program features sexy dancers, silly props, and the sort of macho bluster typical of sports-talk and drive-time radio. Also in the mix are stock tips, one of which recently was Ibis. It proceeded to tank.

To Lee, that’s entertainment. But one viewer takes offense, and arrives at the show’s Manhattan studio with a pistol and what appears to be an explosive-packed vest. Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell) takes Gates hostage while he’s on the air, live.

The cops come running, but the person who’s really in charge of the standoff is the show’s flawlessly efficient producer, Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts). She cues Gates and the crew while researching Kyle and juggling Ibis spokesperson Diane Lester (Caitriona Balfe).

Diane is on the spot because her boss was scheduled to appear on the show, but has gone missing. Is that suspicious? Does a bear market sleep in the woods?

Aside from using Ibis to represent all the rogue companies that have crashed and burned since 2007, Money Monster‘s agenda is to humanize Kyle and redeem Lee. Kyle is just a little guy from Queens who’s been pushed too far. (It sounds like even farther, since O’Connell’s accent betrays his British origins). The thrice-divorced Lee is Clooney’s usual silver-tongued rascal, self-serving and sexist, but just about to notice that Patty is kind of great.

As the woman who can oversee a bustling set and manage the bad-boy star, Patty is an obvious surrogate for the movie’s actual director, Jodie Foster. Patty keeps Lee alive while following clues about Ibis’s misbehavior that lead to hackers, quants, and old-fashioned physical laborers on several continents. That makes her as formidable as Foster, a woman who could direct Mel Gibson in *The Beaver**.

One of the challenges Foster sets for herself is staging *Money Monster** in real time. The movie begins just a few minutes before the show does, and follows the on-air hostage drama to its conclusion barely 90 minutes later. The action is set mostly in Ibis and FNN’s respective buildings, but ultimately takes to the streets for Lee and Kyle’s tense tour of New York’s financial district.

The procession, conducted while dozens of cops stand ready, is not especially plausible, but is well choreographed. What deflates the last act is the easy explanation, and glib resolution, of the Ibis matter. This plot’s tricks can’t rival the perplexities and absurdities of the *The Big Short**.

The filmmakers do emulate that predecessor at the very last moment, which offers a few seconds of commentary by big-capital critic Robert Reich and ends with *Rolling Stone** writer Matt Taibbi’s line that Goldman Sachs is “a great vampire squid.” But the brief finale is much testier than the rest of *Money Monster**, which plays it straight with a topic that in reality is far more twisted.

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'Last Days In The Desert' Finds Truth Away From The Path

Ewan McGregor plays both Jesus and the Devil in Rodrigo Garcia's Last Days In The Desert.

Ewan McGregor plays both Jesus and the Devil in Rodrigo Garcia’s Last Days In The Desert. Gilles Mingasson/Broad Green Pictures hide caption

toggle caption Gilles Mingasson/Broad Green Pictures

Some of the best films about Christianity don’t treat the Gospel as, well, gospel. The filmmakers don’t view the act of moviegoing as a pilgrimage only for the devout to undertake, nor do they allow theological rigor (an expectation that Biblical entertainment must adhere as closely as possible to the source material) to overtake the more necessary task of telling an engaging narrative. If a filmmaker can treat Jesus as a fully realized character rather than a deity, and the story as something cinematic instead of a Sunday school class, then the result can have meaning for an audience beyond Christians by addressing itself to more universal struggles.

Last Days in the Desert is the most intelligent, engaging film about Jesus since The Last Temptation of Christ. Like Martin Scorsese’s epic, which some Christian leaders declared “blasphemous” upon its 1988 release, the movie invents a version of its hero not based on scripture, one who is allowed to express doubt and anger and, in general, act human. It is much smaller in scope: it meets Jesus near the end of his 40 days of fasting and praying in the Judaean Desert, at the moment when Satan appears to tempt him into straying from his path. Throughout the film, we never see any sign that God is listening, that Jesus’ path is indeed righteous, or that Satan is anything but a hallucination brought on by the heat and lack of nourishment. There are no easy answers in the desert.

Ewan McGregor excels in a dual role as both Jesus and the Devil, and the double casting allows writer-director Rodrigo García (Nine Lives) to reject the idea that doubt is some external, alien force we can overpower with enough good vibes. Instead, the film hints that darkness and desperation can lurk within the best of us. McGregor’s Jesus is a man who observes the world around him with quiet remove, but it’s his and García’s brilliant characterization of Satan that pulls our attention. He is not a purely malevolent force, but an inquiring sort, asking the questions about God and the unknowable that give Jesus pause. There are moments when we see him letting his guard down as he admits that, though he can see into the future, what he sees only makes him more perplexed by the ideas of selflessness and love. What good are they in such a cruel world, he demands of his alter ego? “It’s stunning, isn’t it,” he asks, “how life ends?”

Last Temptation infamously included a sequence where Jesus imagines himself stepping down from the cross to start a family, but the new film’s deviations from the source material likely won’t be nearly as controversial as Scorsese’s. Here, Jesus meets a struggling family that lives alone in the desert: a hard-edged father (Ciarán Hinds), a plucky son (Tye Sheridan) who envisions a different path for himself in Jerusalem, and a dying mother (Ayelet Zurer) whose illness throws their isolation into harsh focus. We see Abraham and Isaac’s story echo here. Satan strikes a wager: If Jesus can heal the relationships between every family member, he will leave him alone. So the prophet, while remaining anonymous, sets about trying to mend this family, though we can tell from McGregor’s unnerved expressions that merely casting out the Devil wouldn’t erase all doubt from his mind.

Filmed in California’s Anza-Borrego Desert, Last Days has an understated visual wonder. The film embraces the vibrant color palette and topography of its setting in a way few desert movies dare: Reds, oranges and purples streak across ground and sky alike, and characters frequently peer over the edges of cliffs, with the camera following their gaze, moving at a meditative pace. Renowned cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki is much more restrained and unobtrusive here than in his recent hat-trick of looping, careening Oscar winners Gravity, Birdman, and The Revenant, and his approach lulls us into the patterns (both visual and behavioral) of Biblical life.

I’m not a Christian, but I talked to Christian critics following the film’s screening who said Last Days in the Desert gets much closer to the heart of Jesus’ dilemma than other recent Biblical epics like Son of God and Risen. It’s one of those wonderful paradoxes of fiction, the idea that only through invention, even of such well-worn material, can we uncover new emotional truths. But this is also why the ending, which gives us brief flash-forwards of the crucifixion, doesn’t work as well. It pulls us back into the common literal interpretation of the New Testament that García had so carefully veered away from. The film is best when, like its subject, it has the conviction to set off on its own course.

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As Big Candy Ditches GMOs, Sugar Beet Farmers Hit A Sour Patch

In the past two years, many food companies — including candymakers — have decided to label their products as non-GMO. Because practically all sugar beets in the U.S. are genetically modified, those food products are now using sugar derived from sugar cane. There is no genetically modified sugar cane.

In the past two years, many food companies — including candymakers — have decided to label their products as non-GMO. Because practically all sugar beets in the U.S. are genetically modified, those food products are now using sugar derived from sugar cane. There is no genetically modified sugar cane. Tetra Images/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Tetra Images/Getty Images

In the Red River Valley of Minnesota and North Dakota, sugar beets await processing in frozen piles during the winter.

In the Red River Valley of Minnesota and North Dakota, sugar beets await processing in frozen piles during the winter. Dan Charles/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Dan Charles/NPR

Sugar, you might think, is just sugar, no matter where it comes from. But not anymore.

About half of all sugar in the U.S. comes from sugar beets, and the other half comes from sugar cane. Now, for the first time, sugar traders are treating these as two different commodities, with two different prices.

It’s all because about eight years ago, nearly all the farmers who grow sugar beets in the United States decided to start growing genetically modified versions of their crop. The GMO beets, which can tolerate the weedkiller glyphosate, otherwise known as Roundup, made it easier for them to get rid of weeds.

They really didn’t expect any problems.

I interviewed David Berg, president of the American Crystal Sugar Company, about this change in 2008. “Most of our buyers, the people who buy sugar for industrial uses — as an ingredient in cereals and candies and baked goods and things like that — they’ve not expressed big concerns about it,” Berg said. “We have not come across any specific place where we’re under any constraints where we can’t sell our sugar.”

Just in the past two years, though, that’s changed. Many food companies have decided to label their products as non-GMO. And because practically all sugar beets in the U.S. are genetically modified, those food products are now using sugar derived from sugar cane grown in Florida, Louisiana, or outside the U.S. There isn’t any genetically modified sugar cane.

Deborah Arcoleo, director of product transparency at the Hershey Company, told me that in 2015, “we started reformulating Hershey’s Kisses, Hershey’s milk chocolate, and Hershey’s milk chocolate with almonds, to move from beet sugar to cane sugar, and that’s complete. Now we’re looking to do that across the rest of our portfolio, to the extent that we can.”

Hershey’s is one of the top 1 sugar users in the country, and other companies have made similar moves. It’s been a jolt for the American Crystal Sugar Company, which is mainly in the sugar beet business.

American Crystal is a cooperative, owned by sugar beet farmers like Andrew Beyer, from Kent, Minnesota. Beyer went to the company’s annual meeting earlier this year and was shocked to hear just how many of American Crystal’s customers — those pastry and chocolate companies — were moving away from sugar beets. “They were talking like a third or up to half of them were converting their systems to strictly non-GMO,” Beyer says.

The result has been a remarkable change in the American sugar market. Slowly, but consistently, a gap has opened up between the price of sugar from cane, and sugar from beets.

“The current price for beet sugar is about 3 to 5 cents below the price for cane sugar on the spot market,” says Michael McConnell, an economist with the US Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service.

It means that buyers are paying 10 to 15 percent more for cane sugar.

Meanwhile, the amount of beet sugar looking for buyers has been increasing, while there’s a shortage of cane sugar. That shortage is bad enough that sugar users, such as candy companies, are asking the USDA to allow more imports of cane sugar to ease the shortage.

Andrew Beyer says that he and his fellow sugarbeet farmers are thinking about going back to growing non-GMO beets.

They couldn’t do it quickly; right now, there aren’t enough non-GMO seeds to go around. And they would prefer not to do it.

Planting genetically modified sugar beets allows them to kill their weeds with fewer chemicals. Beyer says he sprays Roundup just a few times during the growing season, plus one application of another chemical in order to kill off any Roundup-resistant weeds.

He says that planting non-GMO beets would mean going back to what they used to do, spraying their crop every 10 days or so with a “witches brew” of 5 or 6 different weedkillers.

“The chemicals we used to put on the beets in [those] days were so much harsher for the guy applying them and for the environment,” he says. “To me, it’s insane to think that a non-GMO beet is going to be better for the environment, the world, or the consumer.”

But Beyer says he’ll do it if he needs to. He’ll do what his customers want.

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Pope Francis Says He's Open To Studying Whether Women Can Be Deacons

Pope Francis greets participants in a special audience with members of the International Union of Superiors General on Thursday in the Paul VI hall at the Vatican.

Pope Francis greets participants in a special audience with members of the International Union of Superiors General on Thursday in the Paul VI hall at the Vatican. L’Osservatore Romano via AP hide caption

toggle caption L’Osservatore Romano via AP

Pope Francis told a gathering of about 900 heads of women’s religious orders that he supports studying whether women can become deacons. The step is seen as a possible turning point for the Roman Catholic Church, which does not allow women to serve in ordained ministry.

At Thursday’s meeting of the International Union of Superiors General, Francis was asked why women are not allowed to be deacons and whether he would form an official commission to look into the issue. He responded, “I accept, it would be useful for the church to clarify this question. I agree.”

NPR’s Sylvia Poggioli tells our Newscast unit that women served as deacons in the early centuries of Christianity. She adds:

“Throughout the Mediterranean, images on tombstones, frescoes and mosaics provide evidence that women held leadership and ministerial roles in the early church identical to those held by men as teachers of theology and deacons.

“That changed in the 4th century, when women started to be pushed out of the public arena and lost their role as officeholders. Today, male deacons are ordained ministers who can perform many of the same functions as priests — but cannot celebrate mass.”

Referring to early female deacons, the pope told the gathering that “understanding about their role in the early Church remained unclear,” according to News.va, the official Vatican news network. It mentions “ample evidence” that there were female deacons in the early centuries of the church, include one named Phoebe mentioned in the book of Romans.

Catholic News Service reports that Francis questioned whether the early female deacons were ordained, and suggested that their primary role was assisting with baptizing other women.

More generally, Francis lamented that the “integration of women into the life of the Church has been ‘very weak,'” according to the news service. He said he hoped to see more women in decision-making roles.

At the same time, he appeared to rule out women preaching homilies, News.va reports:

“Asked about the possibility of women preaching the homilies during Mass, the Pope said it’s important to distinguish between other types of liturgies, where the sermon can be preached by consecrated or lay women, and the Mass, where the homily is connected to the role of the priest serving ‘in persona Christi’.”

Francis’ willingness to consider the issue of female clergy sharply contrasts with the views of his recent predecessors. As the National Catholic Reporter notes, “Pope John Paul II claimed in his 1994 apostolic letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis that ‘the Church has no authority whatsoever’ to ordain woman as priests, citing Jesus’ choosing of only men to serve as his twelve apostles.”

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