April 2010

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The latest issue of the IATP Food and Society Fellows’ Digest, Exploring the Cuban Food System, reflects on the fellows’ recent visit to Cuba examining sustainable and urban agriculture systems. As the new digest explains, despite the fundamental differences between the U.S. and Cuba, there was much to learn. As Food and Society Fellows Program Director Mark Muller writes, “The urban food production in Havana was very impressive, and the ingenious ways that people found to grow food provides a model for local foods enthusiasts in the United States.We in the land of plenty can learn something from those who have struggled so much against scarcity.”

Some key topics explored in the issue include:

Monday, April 26, 2010

The U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Department of Agriculture are holding a series of historic workshops throughout this year on the effects of decreased competition in the agriculture sector. In March, we wrote three reports (one, two and three) on the first workshop—held in Ankeny, Iowa—which focused on the effects of market concentration on farmers. Upcoming workshops will be held in Alabama (poultry), Wisconsin (dairy), Colorado (livestock) and Washington, D.C. (price margins).

While the Iowa workshop succeeded on many fronts, a different format could have greatly strengthened the meeting. IATP helped organize a letter to the USDA and DOJ, signed by 40 organizations, outlines a series of proposed reforms for future workshops:

  1. Public participation should be expanded throughout the agenda so each panel has at least 30 minutes of public comments and questions.
  2. Incorporate an assessment of the impact of global agricultural market concentration and the role of trade and investment agreements into future workshops.
  3. Add an additional workshop focused solely on seeds and the implications of seed patenting in relation to competition potentially undermining sustainable agriculture.
  4. Include the Federal Trade Commission, which has jurisdiction over retail grocery stores and most food manufacturers, in the workshops.
  5. Add more regional workshops in states that have a strong agriculture sector with different characteristics, such as California, Minnesota, Texas, Florida and states in the Northwest and Northeast.

The Iowa workshop was impressive in demonstrating the commitment of high-level officials, like Attorney General Eric Holder and USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, to addressing competition issues in agriculture; improvements in the workshops' organization would be another step in the right direction.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Last week, the Feria del Agua—a water festival and fair—marked the 10th anniversary of the water wars that thwarted attempts to privatize water services in Cochabamba, Bolivia. Celebrations were kicked off April 15 with a parade from downtown Cochabamba to the Complejo Fabril (home of the Cochabamba Federation of Workers).

Nationally, the water wars not only paved the way for blocking privatization attempts of other natural resources in Bolivia, but also helped change the balance of power there, leading to the successful election of its first indigenous president. Globally, the Bolivian water wars called attention to attempts to privatize water in Asia, Africa and elsewhere in Latin America. In their wake, it became increasingly acceptable to claim water as a basic right.

In 2001, IATP used the Bolivian water privatization case study to successfully persuade the UN office of the Special Rapporteur—who was conducting a detailed study towards the formulation the U.N. General Comment 15 on right to water—to remove overt references to privatization as a strategy for ensuring the water supply and sanitation in realizing the right to water. IATP also made the case that the General Comment must include water for farming and other subsistence livelihood practices to help establish the right to adequate food as a necessary component of realizing the right to water.

The struggle for the right to water continues even now in Bolivia. As several bloggers from the international water fair have pointed out, the gains of the water war have yet to reach la zona su—a wide swath of poor communities at the southern edge of the city that are highly organized and militant—some of the principal protagonists of the struggle in 2000 that led to the expulsion of the multinational Bechtel. Hence the need for small, autonomous water committees that continue to serve the needs of the local population. La Feria del Agua was thus not only a celebration of the 10th anniversary of the water wars, but also a  public event celebrating the work of these water committees.

Earlier this week, thousands more arrived in Cochabamba to participate in the People's Conference on Climate Change, at the invitation of Bolivian President Evo Morales and civil society groups. In an attempt to draw attention to the fact that water is in the eye of the climate storm, one of the days at the Feria was celebrated as a climate and water day. It was planned as a day to question the political processes that promote market-based solutions as an answer to the water and climate crises, and to advance alternatives. IATP, along with On the Commons and several other groups from around the world that work on water justice issues, came together to develop a fact sheet, “Water and Climate Change: What’s the connection?” and a draft declaration “On the Connection between Water and Climate Justice: Reviving a healthy climate through commons-based water management practices.” These were presented at the Feria. The purpose was to reach out to other constituencies and to show that their struggle is our struggle too—since water permeates climate, forests, agriculture and life itself.

As a participant at the climate forum pointed out to Jeff Conant (read him at Climate Connections), “The most important outcome of this meeting would be a stronger people’s movement on the climate crisis. It’s not about documents, it’s not about policy, it’s about standing up together against the climate criminals.” It is also about showing the world that there is an alternative.

Friday, April 23, 2010

IATP's Karen Hansen-Kuhn is blogging from Cochabamba, Bolivia at the World People's Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth.

The Climate Conference concluded today with a dialogue between social movements and governments. Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca described the process leading up to the meeting and the central role of indigenous people in the conference and on these issues, as guardians of the balance among peoples and between people and Mother Earth.

He also reported on the overwhelming participation in the conference. More than 35,000 people from 142 countries attended the meetings, 19,000 of them from outside of Bolivia. Some 47 governments were represented.

People from Australia, Malaysia, the United States and Bolivia reported back on the recommendations from the 17 working groups. They included proposals for a global referendum on climate change and the establishment of an international climate court. They insisted on the Kyoto Protocol as the only binding instrument to reduce global warming, and called on governments to review the failure of carbon markets. They held out agro-ecology and small-scale farming as the best way to feed the world while cooling the planet. The complete recommendations will be available on the conference website by April 26.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, as well as the vice presidents of Cuba and Ecuador, responded with endorsements of the proposals. President Morales offered to facilitate sending the recommendations directly to the UN Secretary General, as well as inserting them in the negotiating process at the UNFCCC.

Of course, not all of these proposals fit within the UNFCCC process, but that really isn’t the point. People from around the world came together in Bolivia to confront the impending climate catastrophe. Action is needed at all levels—local, national and international. The World Peoples Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth was an exhilarating step along the way.

This post is one of a three part series of blog entries from Karen Hansen Kuhn's visit to Cochabamba:
Part 1   Part 2   Part 3

Thursday, April 22, 2010

In an exciting new project, Debra Eschmeyer and Curt Ellis (IATP Food and Society Fellows) are working to connect farms, schools and the peoplepower that is often lacking when trying to bring them together. Something almost everyone can agree with is schools should offer healthier, fresher foods to students—how to actually do that has been a difficult question for many.

FoodCorps is a hybrid between farm to school and an Americorps service-learning opportunity. According to the press release, “Once launched, FoodCorps will recruit enthusiastic members for a yearlong term of public service in school food systems in communities of need. Service members will build and tend school gardens, conduct nutrition education, and build Farm to School supply chains.”

The value-added in a program like FoodCorps is its multifunctionality. “Beyond increasing access to healthy food in public schools, the program promises to train a new generation of American farmers. FoodCorps can help make farming ‘cool’ again,” said FoodCorps co-creator Curt Ellis. “It’s a chance to get your hands dirty and consider agriculture as a career.” 

If you missed the Food and Society Fellow program's webinar about the Food Corps program, it's available to view here. Also, make sure to check out www.food-corps.org for more information and to sign up and stay informed!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

IATP's Karen Hansen-Kuhn is blogging from Cochabamba, Bolivia at the World People's Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth.

The Conference opened today with a series of speeches by delegations from around the world. Each stressed the urgency of going beyond addressing the symptoms of global warming to taking actions to achieve deeper systems change.

A representative of La Via Campesina spoke on behalf of Latin America, emphasizing food sovereignty as a central solution to climate change. Throughout the day, in different panels and workshops, Via Campesina members stressed locally produced foods and sustainable agriculture grown by small-scale farmers as essential to cooling the planet while reducing hunger and strengthening rural livelihoods.

The opening events concluded with a rousing speech by President Evo Morales. He began with a concise critique of the Copenhagen Accord and the need for all countries to re-commit to the Kyoto Protocol process. However, he echoed the concerns raised by other delegations that market-based solutions will not solve the problems they helped to create.

Then, perhaps straying a bit from his prepared speech, he spoke about the importance of local foods. Too often, he said, multinational corporations promote genetically engineered crops and other technological solutions when the answers are really closer to home. During the food price crisis, wheat became very expensive, and many Bolivians returned to eating quinoa—a local crop that had been neglected for years. Now, he said, the FAO has released a report saying that quinoa is one of the most nutritious grains in the world. He pointed to his own full head of hair and joked that perhaps one reason so many European men are bald is that they eat too many genetically engineered, hormone-laced foods, instead of nutritious, locally grown foods.

It’s hard to talk about climate change without looking at inequality, both within and among nations. And there are no easy answers to either of them. But it just might be that the creative ideas and alliances formed at this conference help us to move a few steps towards fresh new solutions to both.

Evo Morales

This post is one of a three part series of blog entries from Karen Hansen Kuhn's visit to Cochabamba:
Part 1   Part 2   Part 3

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

If you haven't already, the Oscar-nominated film Food Inc. is really worth seeing. And lucky for you, it's on 8 p.m., Central Standard Time tonight on PBS. Director Robert Kenner riffs off the investigative work of Eric Schlosser and Michael Pollan to cover our food system, from the field to the meatpacking plant to the supermarket. The film graphically depicts the stranglehold a few big corporations—like Monsanto, Tyson, Perdue and Smithfield—have on our food system. It's a powerful look at people caught in this system, including the poultry contractor, the family who lost a son to food poisoning, and the seed cleaner put ouf business by Monsanto. Viewers will also learn about inspiring stories of how many are fighting back. Finally, Food Inc. is a testament to the power of filmmaking itself, as it often gets to the heart of our industrial food system in ways that even great food writers can't.

Food Inc Big 
Food, Inc. A film by Robert Kenner
Credit: Magnolia Pictures   
  

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

IATP's Karen Hansen-Kuhn is blogging from Cochamamba, Bolivia at the World People's Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth.

Bolivia Thousands of people from around the world streamed into the World People's Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth (CMPCC) on Monday to continue discussions that started online on a range of issues related to climate justice. The location of the conference itself makes a political statement. This is the ten-year anniversary of the Cochabamba “Water War,” when thousands of local people rose up against the privatization of their water system. Walking into the conference site, the dramatic backdrop of the Andean mountains makes its own statement.

The online discussions were organized into 17 working groups on topics ranging from emissions reductions and finance to issues not on the official agenda, like migration and climate debt. Talks also centered on strategies, including the possible launch of a global peoples’ referendum on climate change. The final documents will help to shape the Bolivian government's positions on climate change and hopefully influence other government delegations arriving later in the week. 

Cochabamba More than 900 people registered for the working group on agriculture and food sovereignty (our contribution is summarized here) and, of those, 130 submitted comments electronically. Those talks continued in Cochabamba with presentations by Via Campesina, who asserted that as much as 57 percent of greenhouse gas emissions are associated with industrial agriculture. This includes emissions all along the production chain, including processing, packaging and transport (especially for export). On the other hand, converting to agroecological, locally oriented, smaller-scale production could lower emissions as much as 50 to 75 percent, while advancing food sovereignty, according to Via Campesina.

The working group discussions continued throughout the day, focusing on the need to address the role of agribusiness in climate change, the obstacles created by free trade and the climate challenges facing women, among other issues. Organizers worked late into the night to incorporate comments into new drafts of the position papers to be finalized in the coming days. Whatever the outcome of the papers, these talks have deeply involved farm organizations, raised the profile of agriculture and climate, and led to new ideas moving forward.

This post is one of a three part series of blog entries from Karen Hansen Kuhn's visit to Cochabamba:
Part 1   Part 2   Part 3

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Nanotechnology and its applications are so small that it can be hard to get your head around, but there are more than 1,000 products with nanomaterials already on the market, so we'd better get a handle on this quick. 

Nanoscale science and technology manipulate matter at the level of 1–300 nanometers (or billionths of a meter) and claim a seemingly amazing array of applications for medicine, technology, energy and food. Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter Andrew Sheider's recent investigative series "The Nanotech Gamble" lays bare the potential health and environmental risks and extent to which largely unregulated nanotech products are already on the market, and in the food supply, without our knowledge.

Given the risks and speed with which nanotechnology is entering the marketplace, U.S. states are starting to explore what they can do in light of federal inaction. In testimony before the Minnesota state legislature, IATP's Steve Suppan outlines the regulatory holes at the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency, which thus far have largely given nanotechnology a free ride. (You can listen to the entire April 14 hearing here.)

On April 15, the University of Minnesota hosted Governing Nanobiotechnology: Reinventing Oversight in the 21st Century. Academics, private industry, public interest representatives and government regulators grappled with the particular regulatory challenges posed by nanotechnology (videos of presentations coming soon).

As Steve points out in his testimony to state legislators, traditional regulation targets pollutants partially in terms of volume: that approach won't work for nanotechnology. "The quantity of nanomaterials that may cause environmental and/or public health harm will be much smaller in volume than what [...] has traditionally been inventoried. Prioritizing when and where to monitor pollutants will be a difficult task because potential risks of nanomaterials are not indicated simply by their size but also by their configuration and shape."

When scientific advancement overtakes our ability to regulate it's time to take a step back. The U.S. government's National Nanotechnology Initiative spent an estimated $1.8 billion developing new nanotech products in 2009. Little more than one percent of that taxpayer investment is dedicated to research to protect consumers and nanotechnology workers from potential environental, health and safety hazards of nanotechnology products. This is an unacceptably nano-sized start to a huge regulatory challenge.

Friday, April 16, 2010

After official UN global climate talks stumbled again in Bonn last week, another global gathering will take a shot at reaching agreement on a plan to address climate change. Next week, the World People's Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth will run from April 19–22 in Cochabamba, Bolivia. The gathering is expected to attract civil society groups around the world, along with developing country–government representatives, to develop alternative proposals to address global climate change.

Bolivian President Evo Morales is leading the call for the meeting after many developing-country governments were frustrated with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change talks in December, which produced the Copenhagen Accord. Last week's Bonn meeting, the first since Copenhagen, revealed the growing rift between countries who want to continue negotiations based on the Kyoto Protocol and others, led by the U.S., who want to use the Copenhagen Accord as the basis for negotiations. IATP has been critical of the accord and the negotiating process in Copenhagen.

Organizers for the World People's Conference have set up 18 working groups to develop proposals on various aspects of a global climate treaty. IATP's Karen Hansen-Kuhn will report from Cochabamba next week. She is part of the "Agriculture and Food Sovereignty" and "Dangers of Carbon Markets" working groups. You can read Karen's submission on agriculture and climate change. A summary of IATP's concerns about the susceptibility of carbon markets to Wall Street speculators can be read here in English and in Spanish.

More from Cochabamba next week....

Friday, April 16, 2010

This blog entry is re-posted, with permission, from Healthy Legacy, a coalition promoting healthy lives by supporting the production and use of everyday products without toxic chemicals. IATP is a member of Healthy Legacy's steering committee.

The author, Kathleen Schuler, is co-director of Healthy Legacy and an IATP senior policy analyst.

It's finally here—landmark federal legislation to protect families from harmful chemicals. The Safe Chemicals Act, introduced by Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Congressmen Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Bobby Rush (D-IL), will overhaul the way the federal government protects the public from toxic chemicals. Healthy Legacy supports the legislation, but cautions that the bill needs improvement in three critical areas. See Healthy Legacy's press release.

Healthy Legacy is part of the 200 plus–member Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition working to reform the 34-year-old Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). TSCA, the law regulating industrial chemicals, including those used in used in consumer products, is broken. Hundreds of toxic chemicals, from lead to cadmium to phthalates to brominated flame retardants, continue to be allowed in everyday consumer products. In 2009 Minnesota became the first state to ban the hormone-disrupting chemical bisphenol A in baby bottles and sippy cups. While this ban is an important step in reducing exposure of young children, strong TSCA reform is needed to address hundreds of other problem chemicals. 

Critical reforms in the Safe Chemicals Act include:

  • Requiring chemical companies to develop, and make publicly available, critical health and safety information for all chemicals.
  • Requiring a minimum level of protection from toxic chemicals for vulnerable populations, including children and pregnant women.
  • Establishing a new program to identify communities that are disproportionately impacted by chemicals and to create action plans to reduce that burden.

The bill should also be strengthened in three critical areas. As currently drafted, the legislation:

  • Allows hundreds of new chemicals to enter the market and be used in products for many years without first requiring them to be proven safe.
  • Does not provide clear authority for EPA to immediately restrict production and use of the most dangerous chemicals, even persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic (PBT) chemicals like asbestos and lead, which have already been extensively studied and are restricted by governments around the world.
  • Does not require EPA to adopt National Academy of Sciences recommendations to incorporate the best and latest science when determining the safety of chemicals, although the Senate bill does call on EPA to consider those recommendations.

The Safe Chemicals Act of 2010 would amend the federal Toxic Substances Control Act, which is widely understood to be ineffective. When TSCA passed, it “grandfathered” 62,000 chemicals in use without restriction or testing. In more than 30 years since then, the U.S. EPA has only required testing for 200 chemicals and only restricted some uses of 5 chemicals under TSCA. The EPA did not even have the authority to ban asbestos, an established carcinogen already banned in 40 countries!

Enacting strong TSCA reform could save billions in health care costs. A new report by some of the nation’s leading public health professionals, entitled The Health Case for Reforming the Toxic Substances Control Act, describes the toll that toxic chemicals are taking on our health and our budget. It summarizes the insidious contribution of environmental toxins to an array of chronic health problems, including cancer, learning and developmental disabilities, asthma, reproductive disorders and Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. Chemical exposures are costing the U.S. an estimated $5 billion per year in chronic health care costs.

Healthy Legacy and Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families will continue working to strengthen the bill to assure that it prevents harmful chemicals from creeping into our consumer products. Read up on the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families platform for reform and analysis of the bill.  

Minnesota's own Senator Amy Klobuchar sits on a key committee that will hear the bill. Contact Senator Klobuchar and ask her to advocate for the strongest bill possible.