National park closed following arrival of 300 migrants

Just In | The Hill 

The National Park Service (NPS) closed a park in the Florida Keys on Monday after about 300 migrants arrived there over the weekend.

The temporary shutdown at Dry Tortugas National Park, about 70 miles from Key West, Fla., could stretch through the week as police and emergency responders assist the migrants, park officials said.

“The closure, which is expected to last several days, is necessary for the safety of visitors and staff because of the resources and space needed to attend to the migrants,” the NPS said in a Monday statement.

Across the entire Florida Keys, at least 500 migrants arrived over the holiday weekend. The recent wave of migration is being spurred by economic turmoil in Cuba and other parts of the Caribbean.

Among that total, the NPS said roughly 300 migrants arrived by boat and landed on islands located within Dry Tortugas National Park.

Park officials are providing food, water and medical attention to the migrants until authorities with the Department of Homeland Security take over their cases.

In Monroe County, which encompasses Key West, Sheriff Rick Ramsay said the U.S. Border Patrol would not respond with resources for some migrant landings until Tuesday, which he said was aggravating a “mass migration crisis” on the islands.

“This shows a lack of a working plan by the federal government to deal with a mass migration issue that was foreseeable,” Ramsay said in a Facebook statement.

The latest wave of migrant boat landings in the Florida Keys is one of the largest encounters the U.S. Border Patrol and the Coast Guard have faced in the region in almost a decade.

In South Florida, Border Patrol agents have taken more than 2,000 migrants, mostly from Cuba, into custody since Oct. 1, according to local radio station WLRN.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

​State Watch, News, Dry Tortuga National Park, migrants, Rick Ramsay Read More 

Tesla delivered a record 1.3 million vehicles in 2022, but it still disappointed Wall Street

New York

Tesla delivered a record number of cars last year, as sales continued to grow by percentages any other major automaker would dream about. But Tesla still managed to disappoint Wall Street throughout 2022 – and the last quarter was no different.

The electric automaker delivered 1.3 million vehicles in 2022, up 40% from 2021. It produced nearly 1.4 million vehicles, up 47% from the prior year.

Yet the fourth quarter underwhelmed: Tesla delivered only 405,278 vehicles, well below the median estimate of 431,000 according to analysts polled by Refinitiv, as recession fears and higher interest rates led to a slowdown in demand.

Although 40% growth is nothing to sneeze at, Tesla’s pace of growth is slowing. Deliveries nearly doubled in 2021 and more than quadrupled in 2020.


stock plunged 65% in 2022 as demand weakened. Competition in electric vehicles from established automakers surged last year. The company missed its growth targets throughout the year and it scaled back production in China.

Evidence of car buyers’ sinking interest in Teslas became apparent last month after the company announced a rare sale in a bid to clear out inventory. Tesla offered two rebates for buyers taking delivery of a vehicle before the end of the year, initially offering a $3,750 discount then doubling the rebate to $7,500 with two weeks left in 2022.

Investors were rattled by the rebates, sending the stock plunging 37% in December alone.

Tesla thanked customers and employees for helping the company “achieve a great 2022 in light of significant Covid and supply chain related challenges throughout the year,” according to a statement released on Monday.

The company also said it was proud of its growth and progress.

“We continued to transition towards a more even regional mix of vehicle builds which again led to a further increase in cars in transit at the end of the quarter,” the statement read.

Tesla said it delivered 1.25 million of its less-expensive Model 3 and Model Y electric cars, and nearly 67,000 of its higher-end Model X and Model X lines.


Winter Classic 2023: Bruins rally behind Jake DeBrusk’s two goals, Pens’ last-ditch goal waved off

Latest & Breaking News on Fox News 

The Boston Bruins defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins 2-1 on Monday in a thrilling comeback victory to claim the 14th annual Winter Classic in front of a crowd of more than 39,000 fans at a transformed Fenway Park.

Bruins forward Jake DeBrusk tied the game up early in the third period but just 10 minutes later he would score the game winner with assists from Taylor Hall and David Krejci, marking his 16th goal of the season. 

With an empty net and a five-game losing streak on the line, the Penguins won a faceoff with just over 10 seconds left. 


Veteran forward Evgeni Malkin knocked one into the back of the net but time expired just as he took his shot. 

Pittsburgh forward Kasperi Kapanen got the Penguins on the board first at the 8:40 mark, scoring his sixth goal of the season off a pass from Danton Heinen from behind the net. 


But Linus Ullmark kept the Penguins offense at bay, making 25 saves for Boston.

“There’s a fine line between winning and losing. It comes down to subtle details,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said. “There were momentum swings on both sides in all periods.”

Two-time NHL All-Star, Tristan Jarry, left near the end of the third period with an apparent injury. He made eight saves before getting replaced by Casey DeSmith, who finished the day with 19 saves.

The NHL-leading Bruins improved to 19-0-3 and are now 9-0-3 in their last 11 games. 

Monday marked the Bruins fifth outdoor game and fourth Winter Classic appearance. They previously won in 2010 and most recently in 2019 against the Chicago Blackhawks at Notre Dame Stadium.


Read More 


More than 60,000 come to view Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s body on first day

Latest & Breaking News on Fox News 

On the eve of the first day of Pope Emeritus Benedict’s body being available for viewing, Italian police predicted 30,000 visitors. By the end of the evening, 65,000 people passed through St. Peter’s Basilica

As the day began 10 Papal Gentlemen – lay assistants of the Pope – carried the body on a cloth covered wooden stretcher to its resting place in front of the main altar. 


A Swiss Guard – legendary guards of the Pope dating back to 1506 – saluted Benedict’s body as it was transferred from the monastery grounds where the 95-year-old pontiff died, to the Basilica via van. Benedict’s longtime secretary, Archbishop Georg Gaenswein, followed behind on foot along with a group of consecrated laywomen who served in Benedict’s household. 

Before the general populace were allowed into the basilica, prayers were recited and the basilica’s archpriest, Cardinal Mauro Gambetti, sprinkled holy water over the body. Benedict’s hands were clasped, a rosary around his fingers. 

On Monday, the Vatican confirmed widely reported burial plans. In keeping with his wishes, Benedict’s tomb will be in the crypt of the grotto under the basilica that was last used by St. John Paul II, before the saint’s body was moved upstairs into the main basilica ahead of his 2011 beatification, Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, born Joseph Ratzinger, was born in Germany before the Second World War and was a reluctant conscript into the Hitler Youth and German Army before joining the priesthood. Ratzinger was elected Pope in 2005 and resigned from the papacy, the first Pontiff to do so in nearly 600 years, citing his failing health.


“Pope Benedict leaves many legacies; I would point to two. First, he stressed the organic development of doctrine in his famous formulation ‘reform in continuity with the great tradition.’ The latest conciliar teaching, that of Vatican II, does not contradict the past but reaffirms and develops it.” Prof. Christopher J. Malloy, Chair of the Department of Theology at the University of Dallas told Fox News Digital. “Second, and relatedly, he opened wide the doors for celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass. The youthful movement that this generous permission enkindled remains strong and grows daily.” 

“When Benedict XVI stepped down he drew attention to the crisis in the Church – the abuse scandals were a marker of a deeper struggle, a struggle that Benedict XVI described in his memoirs as ‘diabolical’ rather than ideological. He specifically referenced the Marxist takeover of theology faculties and seminaries in the 1960s as a rejection of Christian hope.” Dr. Susan Hanssen, history professor at the University of Dallas told Fox News Digital. “This was a theme of his encyclical Spe Salvi as well: the replacement of supernatural hope of salvation from sin with purely political and philanthropic activism…essentially turning the Catholic Church into a secular humanitarian aid group.”

Benedict XVI will be interred in the Vatican crypt on January 5th. 


Read More 


Uche Nwaneri, former Jaguars offensive lineman, dead at 38

Latest & Breaking News on Fox News 

Uche Nwaneri, a former NFL offensive lineman who played seven seasons for the Jacksonville Jaguars, has died, the team announced Monday. He was 38.

Nwaneri died Friday at his wife’s West Lafayette, Indiana, home after making a trip up from Georgia, according to the Lafayette Journal & Courier. Tippecanoe County Coroner Carrie Costello said Nwaneri’s wife found him unresponsive in a bedroom of her house at around 1 a.m. ET and called for help.


Costello said there were no signs of foul player and a preliminary investigation determined that the former NFL player died of a possible heart attack.

Word of Nwaneri’s death resonated in the NFL world.


Nwaneri’s parents immigrated to the United States from Nigeria in the 1970s, according to the Journal & Courier. He was born in Dallas, Texas, and went to Purdue to play college football.

The Jaguars chose him in the fifth round of the 2007 draft and he worked his way up to being a starting guard protecting quarterbacks like David Garrard, Luke McCown, Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne.

He made 92 starts for Jacksonville out of the 104 games he appeared in over the course of his career.

Jacksonville released him following the 2013 season and he hit the free-agent market in March 2014. He signed with the Dallas Cowboys later that summer but never latched onto the team and was released before the start of the season.

In his post-playing career, Nwaneri launched a YouTube page to comment on the happenings of the NFL. He recently posted a YouTube short talking about the late Franco Harris.


Read More 


[World] Elephants: Covid and ethics reshape Thailand’s tourism industry

BBC News world 

Image caption,

Kwanmueang and his mahout Lek have returned to their home town as the tourism industry changes

As he ambles in for his annual health check, Kwanmueang’s size takes your breath away.

Nearly three metres high at the shoulder, weighing at least four tonnes, and with spectacular tusks that curve together until they almost touch, the 18-year-old Thai bull elephant is an imposing sight.

Yet he and his keeper, or mahout, Sornsiri “Lek” Sapmak, are in trouble.

They used to make a living by having Kwanmueang take part in ceremonies to ordain new monks, or dress up as a war elephant for re-enacting historic battles. All that stopped during the Covid lockdowns.

More elephants are used for tourism in Thailand – over 3,000 – than anywhere else. Unlike other countries with captive populations, those in Thailand are nearly all privately owned. So the collapse of tourism during the pandemic has had a devastating impact on the elephants and their owners, who no longer earn enough to look after them.

Even as tourism starts to recover, another threat hangs over this unique industry. Ethical concerns over how captive animals are kept and trained are prompting many foreign visitors to boycott the elephant shows, which were once a staple of tour groups, raising questions over whether elephant tourism can ever go back to what it was before Covid.

Lek and Kwanmueang have come back to Lek’s home village in Surin province – a region whose people are famed for their skill in keeping, training, and in the past capturing, elephants.

Image caption,

Elephants are everywhere in Surin

Lek is not alone. Hundreds of other elephants have returned to Surin from tourist hot spots like Phuket and Chiang Mai, where they made money by performing tricks or giving rides to foreign visitors.

Walking through these villages is a disarming experience. Nearly every house has one or more elephants chained up in their front yards, or resting under trees. You get used to seeing the huge animals plodding along the road, their mahouts straddling their broad necks, and when driving you learn to take care to move around them.

Boonyarat “Joy” Salangam owns four elephants, which she and her partner brought back from Phuket when tourism dried up in 2020. One is a playful baby, penned in with its mother in an enclosure Joy built in front of her house.

“Covid stopped everything,” she says. “The mahouts, owners and elephants have all been unemployed. In the tourist camps the females are kept apart from the bulls, but here we have all been hanging out together, and the elephants have been having sex. We don’t force them. They do it in their own time. So the population is increasing.”

Joy says she thought about selling her baby elephant to raise funds – they can fetch as much as a luxury car – but worried about how well he would be looked after. Joy has lived with his mother, who is 39 years old, nearly all of her life, and inherited her from her grandparents.

Image caption,

Elephants are expensive animals to care for – needing vast amounts of food and water each day

The mahouts too may live for decades with the same elephant from when they are both young, sometimes choosing to sleep with them, taking them to lakes or rivers to bathe in the evening, and keeping a close eye on their health. That has been a challenge under Covid.

Elephants are expensive. An adult needs to eat 100-200kg (220-440lb) of food a day, and drinks up to 100 litres (22 gallons) of water. Without any other income, owners like Joy have been livestreaming their animals on social media, while appealing for donations.

Sometimes this is done at home, as the elephants play or bathe, or they get a friend to ride a motorbike alongside them to film them on their evening walks. Viewers can pay online for the elephants to earn baskets of bananas by performing tricks, but this is not ideal for their health.

Their diet should mainly be different kinds of leaves and grass, but with so many elephants coming back to the area it is hard to find enough for them.

“We are finding they have digestive problems, because of the change in diet,” says Nuttapon Bangkaew, a vet giving free check-ups offered by Elephant Kingdom, a project started seven years ago to improve the welfare of elephants in Surin.

“When the mahouts or elephant owners come back home, they don’t have any income. So, they don’t have money to buy grass or food for them. They have to do these social media livestreams to make money, but this causes health problems.”

This video can not be played

To play this video you need to enable JavaScript in your browser.

Media caption,

Some elephant owners have turned to social media livestreams to make enough money to keep them

Elephants are native to Thailand, but the wild population has shrunk from around 100,000 a century ago, to perhaps only 3,000-4,000 today. In the past large numbers were captured and used in the logging industry, but when that was banned in the late 1980s to protect what remained of the country’s forests, they started being used to entertain tourists instead.

In the earliest shows, they demonstrated their skill with logs. But these expanded, as Thailand’s tourism boomed, to offering rides, or antics such as having the animals paint or play football. The campaigning group World Animal Protection (WAP) estimates that before Covid elephants generated up to $770m (£626m) a year for Thailand.

WAP is one of a number of groups trying to end the use of elephants for entertainment, arguing that it is unnatural, and always involves cruel training techniques. Many tourists are already seeking more ethical ways to experience elephants in Thailand. Some tour groups in Europe and North America will no longer send clients to elephant camps which include riding or bathing.

So a new niche has emerged in the eco-tourism industry to meet these concerns.

Saengduean “Lek” Chailert, a pioneer in ethical elephant tourism, opened the Elephant Nature Park, north of Chiang Mai, in the 1990s – both as a refuge for injured animals and to explore better ways to allow tourists and elephants to interact.

“We wanted to go fully ethical, to focus on conservation. So we decided to stop the programmes of elephant baths and feeding for tourists,” she said.

That cost them half their bookings. And, she adds, tour operators said they couldn’t send clients to them because everyone “wants to touch and hug the elephants, they want to put their hands on them”.

Image caption,

Thailand’s captive elephants would not be able to live independently in the wild

But today, Lek says, there are signs everywhere in Chiang Mai advertising “no bull-hooks, no chains, no riding”.

“I checked in Koh Samui – before there were so many camps doing elephant riding. Now there are only two players left. In Phuket, only a few places are left, and in Chiang Mai, just two places.”

However, ethical elephant tourism has its limits. Out of more than 200 camps which were operating before the Covid shutdown, only 11, including Lek’s, get the WAP’s approval.

Lek has a large plot of land, around 100 hectares (250 acres), along the Mae Taeng river. That is just about enough space for the 122 elephants she has – 45 of them rescued from bankrupt businesses during Covid – to be able to wander freely without being chained.

Other camps do not have that option. One, also in Chiang Mai, which advertises “ethical elephant tours”, does allow bathing with humans. It says that because it does not have the means to build a sufficiently large enclosure it has to chain them in the evening, for the safety of the elephants and humans.

Image caption,

Some elephants are chained up to stop them wandering – something rights groups criticise

Some in the industry say this is all right; that there needs to be a more balanced approach between the abuses which used to characterise the industry and the demand of animal rights groups that all elephant entertainment should end.

“Riding elephants can be part of a system for taking care of them,” says Theerapat Trungprakan, who heads the Thai Elephant Alliance Association, a group of elephant owners and business operators.

“They get to go to different places, going to a waterfall, for example, where they can drink the best quality water, or swimming there. It also increases the safety for the elephant to go with humans because there are dangers like pesticides or electricity cables beyond an elephant’s judgement.”

He describes some of the arguments made by animal rights groups as emotional and melodramatic, and believes that ethical sanctuaries can be less healthy, because without humans being paid to ride them the elephants get fewer opportunities to take long walks.

There are two debates now hanging over the future of Thailand’s captive elephants. One is over what humans should and should not be allowed to do with them. The other, larger question is over what practical options there are for supporting such a massive population of large and long-lived animals.

“I have a wish list in my head, and on top of the wish list is to end the captivity of all wildlife, but we just know that that’s not going to happen,” says Edwin Wiek, one of the most prominent anti-trafficking campaigners in Thailand.

Image caption,

Edwin Wiek has worked with wildlife in Thailand for two decades

He started the Wildlife Friends Foundation of Thailand 21 years ago to rescue animals that were injured and kept illegally. He has 24 rescued elephants that roam freely in a 16-hectare corral.

“The ideal scenario would be having elephants semi-wild, like we keep them here, in large natural enclosures where they can hang around, bathe, run or forage for food, as they would in nature.”

But he realises that would be a costly project with few takers given Thailand is home to 3,000 captive elephants.

“I’m afraid that the majority of elephants, three-quarters of them at least, will still need to find alternative income. And that means there will still be a lot of places where elephant rides, elephant bathing and feeding by tourists will be part of daily routine.”

This is all the more likely to happen when tourists from markets like China, Russia and India start travelling to Thailand again, as they tend to enjoy the old-fashioned elephant entertainment shows more, which are often included on their package tours.

What Edwin Wiek believes should happen is for the breeding of domestic elephants to stop – so that the population falls to a level where they can all be kept in those ideal, semi-wild conditions, visited by the smaller number of tourists willing to pay just to see, not touch them.

Then, he says, the government could turn its attention to managing a growing wild population by creating corridors that allow them to move between Thailand’s national parks and fragments of forest without coming into conflict with humans.

Image caption,

Thailand used to have an estimated 100,000 elephants living in the wild

But Thailand has no strategy in place for that. In fact, regulation of domestic elephants is a muddle, divided between three ministries which do not co-ordinate with each other.

So the future of these magnificent creatures is left largely with their owners, many of them still in precarious financial shape.

The mahouts are counting the days until the tourists come back in the numbers they used to, but also worry that the only business many of them know may be threatened by changing tastes.

Bringing her elephants back to Surin from Phuket cost Joy more than $2,000. She says she cannot afford to return there until she is sure the shows are getting big crowds again.

“Right now it is very difficult for us, because we don’t have enough money. The elephants and humans are both unemployed. Will there still be shows? I think there will, but not so many, because some foreign tourists think we, those who keep elephants, do not love them, that we torture them with bull-hooks to make them perform. I think things will change.”


Read More 

Tesla Likely To Announce New Lower-Priced Model Y Soon


Reports indicate that the Tesla Model Y, one of the brand’s most popular models, is about to get a new trim and a lower price. Back-end coding on the automaker’s website indicates a new base price of $61,990. From the looks of it, the new Model Y will keep its dual-motor AWD system but have less range than the current base trim.

As of this writing, those interested in a brand-new Tesla Model Y have two trims to choose from. The base car is called the “Long Range”. Priced at $65,990, it comes with 330 miles of range. The top-spec Model Y Performance also features dual-motor AWD but limits range to just 303 miles.

Code on the configurator site indicates that Tesla has another trim, a ‘Standard Range’ or ‘Short Range’ Model Y in the works. According to Electrek, the code indicates that this new base model will feature Tesla’s in-house 4680 battery cells as well.

More: German Tuner Gives The Tesla Model Y A Neat Off-Road Makeover

Offering a new lower-priced Model Y could help Tesla compete better with newer rivals like the Kia EV6, the Mustang Mach-E, and the Hyundai Ioniq 6. Each of those costs considerably less than a Model Y. Of course, each one is also available as a rear-drive-only EV as well. Tesla could at some point offer a similarly-spec’d Model Y to compete. It’s worth noting that Tesla offers a RWD-only version of the Model Y in Europe right now.

At $61,990, this new US model isn’t much cheaper than the current car, but it’s better than nothing. Early indications point to a range somewhere in the neighborhood of 279 miles per charge. That was the range of the last Model Y dual-motor AWD with 4680 cells built at the Texas Gigafactory.

There’s no telling when or even if Tesla will introduce this model but they’ve done the work on the back end to make it possible. We’ll keep you posted as new details emerge.

Read More 

[World] Cuba: Women boxers allowed to compete after rule change

BBC News world 

Image caption,

Cuba has finally relaxed its rules to allow women to compete in boxing

For Joanna Rodriguez, a recent rule change by the Cuban authorities to finally allow women to compete in boxing couldn’t come soon enough.

Already in her 30s, time was fast running out for her shot at an Olympic or world boxing title. Working as a bouncer at a bar at night, she felt she was being forced to choose between her sporting career and putting food on the table.

Now though, as the women’s leading heavyweight in Cuba, Joanna hopes her name might one day sit alongside those of Cuban boxing greats like Felix Savon or Teofilo Stevenson.

“This (new rule) is going to change everything,” says Joanna after a gruelling training session in a dingy gym in Central Havana. “It could even shift the way of thinking because there is machismo among both men and women here.”

Joanna should soon get the opportunity to prove her mettle on the international stage. But for the woman she calls the pioneer of women’s boxing in Cuba – her trainer, Namibia Flores – the decision by the Cuban government came a decade too late.

Women’s boxing was introduced as an Olympic discipline for the Games in London 2012. I met Namibia a few years after those games, as she prepared to leave Cuba to pursue a boxing career abroad. The lure of family and familiarity back home, however, became too great and she returned to the island soon after.

Now too old to be eligible to box competitively for Cuba, she has refocused – or, as she puts it, “adjusted” – her Olympic dream.

“It’s a bittersweet moment,” Namibia admits, after two decades of dedication to a sport in which she wasn’t allowed to compete.

“I’m really happy it’s happened, of course. But at the same time, a little sad as I’d hoped it would be my fists, my gloves which would bring Cuba victory.”

Instead, she hopes to attend Paris 2024 as the leading women’s boxing trainer on the island. “I’m just trying to do my part,” she adds.

Given her agility and ferociousness even in retirement, Namibia may well prove crucial to Cuba claiming back a title it once enjoyed: the country with the highest number of Olympic boxing golds in the world.

Cuba’s exalted position in amateur boxing has slipped since the rest of the world began to let women fight and the communist-run island clung on tightly to an outdated vision of femininity championed by Raul Castro’s late wife, Vilma Espin.

The former Cuban president’s wife was the head of the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC) and apparently considered Cuban’s women’s faces too beautiful and precious to be sullied by boxing.

At best, it was a misplaced form of “over-protection”, as one young boxer put it to me. Others, though, considered it outright discrimination in a nation where entrenched gender roles are hard to shake, despite the government’s rhetoric of absolute equality.

At the selection process for the first Cuban women’s boxing team last month, however, such debates were set aside for the fighters’ first taste of meaningful competition.

Image caption,

Cuba held bouts in seven weight categories late last year to decide which women will represent their country

Image caption,

Those picked will fight for Cuba at the Central American Games in June 2023

For years, female Cuban boxers have been reduced to simply watching the men from the sidelines. For once, though, it was the men who watched on. Bouts were held in seven weight categories to determine who would progress to wearing Cuba’s colours in the Central American Games in June.

Following an exhausting fight, Edamelis Moreno was chosen in the featherweight category.

“Everyone knows what Cuban men have done in boxing over the years, they have reached an incredible standard,” she tells me. “With respect to the rest of the world, we [Cuban women] are a little behind because this change has only just been approved.”

Fortunately, she says, there’s a wealth of boxing expertise and experience already in place to draw upon.

“By training hard, following the instructions of those who really understand boxing and, of course, giving it my complete commitment, I’m sure we’ll bring home positive results.”

Image caption,

Edamelis Moreno was picked to represent Cuba in the featherweight category

As well as coming to the fight too late, these “boxeadoras” face greater daily challenges than most other competitors.

Cuba is in the grip of its worst economic crisis since the Cold War. Essentials like boxing gloves, punching bags and skipping ropes have long been hard to come by. But these days it’s tough even to find enough food or vitamins, especially for an elite fighter’s regime.

“It taken a great effort,” admits heavyweight Joanna Rodriguez, who at times has struggled to keep up her training with an eight-year-old daughter to provide for.

Still, she says, having been banned from competitions for so long, Cuba’s women are used to boxing with one arm tied behind their backs.

At least now they’re free to land a clean punch.


Read More 

Compared to Europe, the American farm system is more efficient and sustainable

Just In | The Hill 

One of the more notable misconceptions of many Americans is that people in the United States are worse off than their European counterparts. If we were to only look at income, Americans are wealthier than Europeans on multiple data points: the U.S. outperforms GDP per capita for most of the European Union. The American middle class also outperforms the European one, all while challenging what even counts as the middle class in the first place. 

Adding to that, primary needs goods are cheaper for most consumers. As I’ve previously written, Americans spend 5 percent of their disposable income on groceries, compared to 8.7 percent in Ireland (the lowest in the EU), 10.8 percent in Germany, 12 percent in Sweden, 17 percent in Hungary and 25 percent in Romania. However, some critics claim the American food system prioritizes efficiency over sustainability, which in turn hurts the environment. Here is where the analysis gets very interesting.

Toward the end of the 1980s, the divergence between Europe and the United States in terms of agricultural output became noticeable. While Europe has retained a steady agricultural production level since about 1985, the United States doubled its productivity between 1960 and the year 2000 and is on route to breaking the 150 percent productivity gain in the near future. Meanwhile, American agricultural inputs are slowly retracting to the levels of the 1960s, meaning the U.S is producing a much larger amount of food with fewer resources. For instance, in maize production, this means that the United States produces 70 bushels per hectare, while European countries make less than 50. 

An interesting mix of regulatory action and inaction has led to this divergence. A large contributor started in the 1970s, when Germany introduced the “Vorsorgeprinzip,” now commonly known as the precautionary principle. This policy is a preventative public safety regulation that inverts the burden of proof for the regulatory approval process: For example, a new crop protection chemical can only be approved if it is shown to have no adverse effects on human health or biodiversity. The precautionary principle does not only rely on mere toxicity but extrapolates to a comprehensive and difficult-to-establish level of proof that a product could never represent any harm. This elongated approval processes for new chemicals significantly as the EU enshrined it into its treaties — with the ironic effect that older pesticides remained on the market while newer products could not get approval. 

In fact, a demonstration of the ill effects of the precautionary principle, and incidentally another reason why American farming is more effective, have become visible in the field of biotechnology. Genetically modified foods, commonly known as GMOs, as well as newer gene-editing technology, remains illegal in the European Union. Despite the fact that jurisdictions such as the United States, Canada, Brazil and Israel, have been using these plant-breeding techniques for decades, the precautionary principle and Europe’s heavy-handed regulatory approach prevent it from being used. 

The European policies have, in fact, made farming less sustainable because Europe has neglected the innovation angle. Take the example of soil disruption. Agriculture is a large contributor to greenhouse gas emissions because carbon dioxide is stored in the soil, and as farmers disrupt the soil through tillage, that CO2 is released into the atmosphere. The more you disrupt the soil, the more you emit. While in the United States, over 70 percent of farming functions on reduced tillage or no-till farming, Europe still produces over 65 percent of its food on conventional tilling. The reason: no-till farming requires a more considerable use of pesticides, which are frowned upon in Europe.

Without innovation, agriculture cannot become more sustainable. While the European Union intends to reduce farmland, cut synthetic pesticide use and keep novel biotech solutions illegal within its “Farm to Fork” strategy (known as F2F), the United States has opted for a different approach. The USDA’s Agriculture Innovation Agenda (AIA) advances the notion that more innovation, through public and private research and investment, makes the food system more efficient and sustainable. The AIA is the forward-looking approach, while F2F attempts to reduce the impacts of farming on the environment by cutting back on farmland use and reducing the toolboxes of farmers to fight pests and plant diseases.

That said, the American food system also faces challenges. American environmental campaigners and trial lawyers appear to want to introduce a European-style regulatory system through the courts — including by suing food companies. The highly litigious American system creates a perverse effect in which you have to convince a judge or jury of the ill effects of a crop protection tool, not a scientific agency staffed with experts in analyzing data. As a result, developing farming chemicals becomes a liability that only large companies can actually afford, leading to market concentration. This is problematic because in an age when we need agricultural efficiency and innovation more than ever, it is essential for competition to reign in the agrochemical and agro-tech sphere. Competition creates the baseline for scientists, industry professionals and farmers to get a variety of choices in the marketplace.

Ultimately, we should recognize the wonders of modern agriculture. The benefits of high-yield farming are apparent: We feed more people more sustainably, all while having to charge them less for it. For instance, we need 60 percent fewer cows yet produce twice as much milk as we did in the 1930s. We need to build on these types of successes to make our food system more efficient and sustainable.

Bill Wirtz is the senior policy analyst at the Consumer Choice Center, focusing on new technology, agriculture, trade and lifestyle regulations. He recently published “No Copy-paste: What not to Emulate from Europe’s Agriculture Regulation.”

​Energy and Environment, Opinion Read More