June 2010

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

With the passing of Senator Robert Byrd, and the retreat of several Senate Republicans, the passage of financial reform now appears to be in doubt. While most of the press coverage has focused on the bill's impact on financial services, including credit cards, mortgages, payday loans and investment bank practices, the effect of the bill on farmers and ranchers has been given less attention.

In a commentary written right before the House-Senate conference committee agreement on financial reform last week, IATP's Steve Suppan outlines how excessive financial speculation from Wall Street banks prevented the commodity futures markets from playing their traditional role in agriculture.

Steve writes, “In 2008, futures prices had become so volatile that rural banks could not assess price risks in order to make loans. Some banks were not loaning to country elevators, and some of those elevators therefore could not pay farmers to forward contract their grain and oilseed production.”

A primary target of the financial reform bill is over-the-counter (OTC) trading: trades that are conducted in private and not over regulated exchanges but that can deeply influence commodity futures markets. OTC trading by big Wall Street led commodity index funds, combined with a regulatory loophole allowing those funds to flood the market and contributing to massive price volatility in agriculture and energy prices in 2007 and 2008. As IATP reported in 2008, this volatility not only affected U.S. farmers but had repercussions—particularly for countries battling hunger.

Reforming our financial system is a work in progress. As Steve writes, we can't afford a watered down approach or to continue “creating unfair markets that damage farmers, ranchers and rural communities.”

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

According to the Wall Street Journal, the U.S. is poised to make a renewed push for completion of a free trade agreement with South Korea. If the agreement moves ahead it will help President Obama make good on his pledge to double U.S. exports in the next five years, but will do so by undermining public health in what was once touted as a model of health and wealth in Asia.

Korea’s experience up to just a few years ago showed that a sovereign nation that values its health and its culture can become wealthy without growing obese. As recently as 2001, nutritionist Barry Popkin and his colleagues wrote:

“South Korea provides an example of the possible benefits of promotion of health through retention of the traditional diet. Despite the very rapid economic change and the very high per capita GNP, South Korea’s fat intake level and obesity level are approximately half of what would be expected for a country at its level of economic development. In addition, its vegetable intake is much higher.

One plausible explanation is that movements to retain the traditional diet have been strong in South Korea. These include mass media campaigns, such as television programs that promote local foods, emphasizing their higher quality and the need to support local farmers. For example, KBS first station’s daily program, Six O’clock My Village, introduces famous products of South Korean villages and promotes consumption of traditional dishes. South Korea also promotes the concept of Sin-To-Bul-Yi, translated directly as “A body and a land are not two different things,” which is interpreted to mean that a person should eat foods produced in the land where he was born and lives.

Part of this effort is reflected in a unique training program offered by the Rural Development Administration. Beginning in the 1980s, the Home Management Division of the Rural Living Science Institute trained thousands of extension workers to provide monthly training sessions in cooking methods for traditional Korean foods, such as rice, kimchi (pickled and fermented Chinese cabbage) and fermented soybean food. These sessions are open to the general public in most districts in the country and the program appears to reach a large audience.”

Traditional diets were also maintained through government trade policies that protected Korean producers and largely kept out the worst international purveyors of fast food and junk food. Just this January, the government banned junk food advertising on television during the evening hours when most schoolchildren watch.

But as Popkin wrote in his subsequent book, The World is Fat, South Korea’s accession to the WTO and other free trade agreements (FTAs) weakened the government’s ability to discourage unhealthy imports. European food and beverage industry pundits drooled when the EU signed a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with South Korea in 2009 that “will bring the end of almost all tariffs between the two economies” by the middle of 2010.

These agreements, signed with almost no debate and in the face of widespread public opposition, have been devastating to the country’s farmers. But although protecting rural livelihoods and food security should be reason enough to reject trade deregulation, the mass movement in Korea against the FTA with the U.S. has also been rooted in deep concerns for national culture and public health. They know that along with Happy Meals and Chicken Nuggets, they will be importing Genuine American Style chronic disease and lower life expectancies.

Monday, June 28, 2010

An adaptation of Paul Greenberg's book, “Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food,” will be featured on the cover of Sunday's New York Times Magazine.  Greenberg, a 2007-2008 Food and Society Fellow, writes prolifically on global fisheries, and his latest book will be published next month by Penguin Press.

Tuna’s End

By Paul Greenberg

Tuna_NYTimesOn the morning of June 4, in the international waters south of Malta,
the Greenpeace vessels Rainbow Warrior and Arctic Sunrise deployed
eight inflatable Zodiacs and skiffs into the azure surface of the
Mediterranean. Protesters aboard donned helmets and took up DayGlo
flags and plywood shields. With the organization’s observation
helicopter hovering above, the pilots of the tiny boats hit their
throttles, hurtling the fleet forward to stop what they viewed as an
egregious environmental crime. It was a high-octane updating of a
familiar tableau, one that anyone who has followed Greenpeace’s Save
the Whales adventures of the last 35 years would have recognized. But
in the waters off Malta there was not a whale to be seen.

What was in the water that day was a congregation of Atlantic bluefin
tuna, a fish that when prepared as sushi is one of the most valuable
forms of seafood in the world. It’s also a fish that regularly journeys
between America and Europe and whose two populations, or “stocks,” have
both been catastrophically overexploited. The BP oil spill in the Gulf
of Mexico, one of only two known Atlantic bluefin spawning grounds, has
only intensified the crisis. By some estimates, there may be only 9,000
of the most ecologically vital megabreeders left in the fish’s North
American stock, enough for the entire population of New York to have a
final bite (or two) of high-grade otoro sushi.

Read more in The New York Times Magazine Preview.

This entry was written by Abigail Rogosheske and was originally posted on the IATP Food and Society Fellows Fresh Ideas Blog. Photo Credit: Kenji Aoki for The New York Times.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The ability of natural systems to overcome assaults by outside forces that threaten their livelihood is nothing short of phenomenal. When I was kid growing up in Iowa in the 1950s, I recall when we sprayed DDT on the cows to control flies, except the flies soon fought back, so we had to use more. First used as an outgrowth of nerve gas from WWII, DDT was regarded as a lifesaver for control of mosquitoes carrying malaria but it soon became ineffective. Never mind that the full health and environmental risks of toxic DDT were never fully evaluated before it was in widespread use, and when it was found in milk, some people began to worry. Other pesticides, such as dieldrin and aldrin, were substituted, but mosquitoes again became resistant in 18 months or less.

Not to be deterred, humanity has continued to try to use pesticides to control pests over and over—only to find that pests continue to fight back over and over. Now more than 500 species of insects and fungus are resistant to pesticides and the list continues to climb.

Even corn rootworm, which used to be controlled by alternating corn with another crop such as soybeans, has figured out that it can exist nicely with the soybean and come back the next year, a phenomenon known as extended diapauses.

Aside from insects, resistance also operates efficiently in the plant world. Weeds are ever with us. Indeed they are called weeds because they end up where they are not wanted and cause economic damage. In 1943 Aldo Leopold wrote a classic essay called “What is a Weed.” The essay, published in River of the Mother of God (UW Press), said “To live in harmony with plants is, or should be, the ideal of good agriculture. To call every plant a weed which cannot be fed to livestock or people is, I fear, the actual practice of agricultural colleges. [...] The first false premise is that every wild species occasionally harmful to agriculture is by that reason of fact to be blacklisted for general persecution.”

I spent many hot days chopping weeds out of corn and soybean fields when I was a youth. When a miracle product called 2,4-D (an early Monsanto product) came along to use on the corn fields, I rejoiced. But lo and behold, by 1957, weeds were reported in Hawaii sugarcane fields that were resistant to 2,4-D. Weed scientists did not worry much. The slow growth pattern of weeds meant it would take many years before widespread resistance would occur. But weeds did not wait.

The triazines, especially atrazine, came into widespread use the 1960s. Predictably, weed resistance soon developed. While triazine resistance is commonplace, atrazine remains a major herbicide for corn.

But all was not lost. In the 1970s a Monsanto organic chemist named John Franz found a triamine salt, called glyphosate, that had broad spectrum toxicity toward green plants. Glyphosate was branded  as Roundup and formulations were first marketed in 1976. Over the last three decades, glyphosate has brought enormous profits to Monsanto, which had exclusive U.S. rights until 2000 when the patent expired. Roundup has been the most widely sold herbicide worldwide since 1980.

The company’s profits greatly expanded with the introduction of crops genetically engineered to be tolerant of Roundup. With the introduction of Roundup Ready (RR) crops patented by Monsanto, the company's sales not only of the chemical but also of the seed and associated patents skyrocketed.

Over 90 percent of soy, 75 percent of cotton and 70 percent of corn grown in the U.S. in 2009 contains the RR trait. This amounts to 130 million acres of corn and soy, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

While Roundup has been touted as safe and environmentally friendly, much data indicates the contrary. Of particular concern are the “inert” adjuvants (chemicals added to enhance the activity of the pesticide) that often are not disclosed nor tested by EPA.

Worldwide, at least 25 countries have now adopted biotech crops (statistics are not available to sort these out by herbicide-tolerant and insecticide-tolerant crops)—amounting to a total of over 300 million acres.

But as predicted by weed and ecological scientists for a couple of decades, resistance to Roundup is developing, and the number of new species resistant to Roundup has increased markedly in the last few years. Many of the resistant weeds are economically important and difficult to control. Some, such as waterhemp, have been observed to have developed resistance (PDF) to at least three different classes of herbicides.

Over 19 genotypes are Roundup resistant worldwide. And with the increasing potential for large acreages of Roundup-ready alfalfa and sugarbeet crops, more difficult to control weeds will likely emerge. Importantly for all herbicides evaluated by 2009, the Weed Science Society lists 346 Resistant Biotypes, 194 Species (114 dicots and 80 monocots) and over 340,000 fields worldwide that have developed resistance. This covers virtually all herbicides that have been used commercially since the chemical era began.

Growing resistance to herbicides means farmers have to use more to achieve the same effect. The amount of herbicide used in U.S. agriculture has increased dramatically—up 46 percent in the last 13 years for corn, cotton and soybean production. Much of this increase is attributed to Roundup resistance. Remarkably, the Associated Press reported earlier this week that Monsanto was paying cotton farmers an additional $12 an acre to cover the costs of other herbicides to use alongside of Roundup. Further, the use of older, more toxic herbicides such as 2,4-D and paraquat are increasing, adding to water quality and offsite drift issues, and another gallery of resistant weeds.

Where this will lead is obvious; curtail herbicide use or face the consequences of less herbicide effectiveness with more economic, human health and ecological consequences. I would bet that if they could, Aldo Leopold and Charles Darwin would have a good laugh at this conundrum.

Chemical-based weed control may be hitting a brick wall—or at least a wall that is getting more difficult to traverse. No major new pesticides are being developed for corn or soybeans. The last major advancement in chemical weed control was pigment inhibitors (chemicals that prevent plants from forming photosynthetic pigments) developed in the 1980s. We are entering a new era where farmers cannot rely on technology to bail them out.

This little horror story points out once again the fallacies of industrial agriculture, built on short-sighted corporate control of crop inputs, and supportive government policies. Weed scientists sounded the alarm on resistance years ago but many were told to cool it for fear of angering the corporate sponsors of University research and outreach funding. Of course, the discipline of weed science likes to take credit now for being right, but where were they when they should have spoken out more strongly?

When I was executive director of the Leopold Center at Iowa State University in the 1990s I banned research funding for biotech crops, and was widely criticized for this move. Other leaders such as Dr. Chuck Benbrook who previously led the National Academy of Sciences Agriculture Committee spoke out, and soon lost their jobs. The pattern is a familiar one for academia, except the stakes for the future of agriculture are becoming more and more serious. It is up to groups such as IATP to move the playing field back to biointensive pest control (the use of ecological principles to control pests, rather than relying solely on pesticides).

In a future blog, I will tackle the more evasive issue raised by genetically engineered crops containing the Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) gene for control of moths and borers. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

To be in Brazil during the World Cup of futbol (soccer) is to see both a massive outpouring of national pride and mass marketing of the very first order. Museums will change their opening hours and churches will change the times they offer mass on any day that Brazil plays. Brazil will host the World Cup 2014. The government is already planning for ways to sweep the streets of beggars and hide the shanty towns (favelas) behind walls, not so they won’t be seen but so the favelas and beggar residents cannot interfere with the tourism and commerce of the tournament.

I am here to talk with NGOs about U.S. climate change policy and more specifically the U.S. financial reform legislation that will have much to do with how carbon emissions are traded in commodity futures markets if and when they are established. Given the current diplomatic stalemate in climate change negotiations, it would be idle to suggest that countries must compete more fiercely to reduce their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions than they compete to win the World Cup. Certainly the stakes of losing the GHG Games are immeasurably higher than the national disappointment or even disgust when its team is ousted but where is that commercial GHG hook that will have “Beat Climate Change!” T-shirts outselling "Go Brazil" T-shirts?

Granted, the U.S. climate change story is not a happy one or one easy sell to Brazilian groups. Unhappily I explain that our most immediate challenge is not the members of the U.S. Congress who don’t believe that climate change is happening or that it is not serious enough to warrant a massive change in U.S. technology and investment policy. Our most immediate problems are the environmental organizations who believe that carbon markets will induce investment decisions to reduce GHGs.

Earlier this month, IATP published a critique of an International Emissions Trading Association (IETA) proposal that would finance GHG reductions by selling bonds to developing countries. The bond terms would be defined and administered by a new International Green Bond Board that would displace the Clean Development Mechanism of the Kyoto Protocol. The collateral for bond repayment would be developing country carbon credits that would be sold and resold in U.S. and EU markets. When I explained that several U.S. environmental organizations worked closely with IETA the Brazilian NGOs weren’t as shocked as I had been when I listened to IETA and the big enviros sing the same tune in Copenhagen.

They said that Brazilian conservation organizations, desperate for funds to fight the destruction of the Amazon by agribusiness, forestry and mining firms, had become believers that selling carbon offset credits to U.S. and EU businesses would stop the destruction of the Amazon. Indeed, as I had read in No Rain in the Amazon, some of the former deforesters were planting fast-growing eucalyptus trees to claim carbon offset credits from a space that once had been home to an immense wealth of biodiversity and climate stabilization. U.S. environmental groups, such as the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), had sold Brazilian conservation groups on carbon markets in such market conditions.

If Wall Street and other financial centers remain fundamentally unreformed, they will create extreme price volatility in carbon markets, as surely as they did in agricultural and energy markets in 2006–2008. IETA has argued that there should be no limits on the number of carbon derivatives, based on the value of the carbon credits, that some draft U.S. legislation proposes to give away for free to the biggest polluters. Furthermore, IETA opposes any attempt to reduce unregulated trading in the over-the-counter markets.

IATP, with the Commodity Markets Oversight Coalition (CMOC) and Americans for Financial Reform (AFR), is fighting to put binding limits on derivatives trading and allow OTC trading only for commodity traders, such as municipal power companies, for whom the greater cost of trading on public and regulated exchanges impedes their ability to provide energy to all consumers. As Wall Street rains campaign contributions on New Democrats to help the Republican Party defeat reform, we fear that if real reform is defeated, the next bill to be bought and paid for by industry will be climate change legislation. Then the only thing for which we will be able to cheer is the World Cup—if it isn’t disrupted by drought, flash floods and more frequent and violent weather.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Roger Doiron, founder of Kitchen Gardeners International (KGI) and former IATP Food and Society Fellow, is well-known for KGI's “Eat the View” campaign that helped to bring an organic garden to the lawn of the White House. Now KGI, with help from the IATP Food and Society Fellows, is pushing for food independence this July 4.

The goal of the petition, according to the press release, is “50 states. 50 governors. 50 first families celebrating July 4 with locally sourced food,” in order to inspire their constituents to “source local and sustainable ingredients for their holiday meals.”

FoodindependenceThe petition is available at www.FoodIndependenceDay.org. Including last year’s signatures, more than 6,000 have already signed but many more are needed. To show your support, organizers encourage four steps:

  1. Show your support for locally grown foods by becoming a fan of Food Independence Day on Facebook
  2. Invite 4 (4 as in July 4th) friends to join the page
  3. Sign the Declaration of Food Independence (6000+ food revolutionaries and counting!)
  4. Add your July 4th local foods feast to the group map 

So this year, declare your food independence and show support for locally sourced, sustainable, healthy and delicious foods!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

We know demand for more locally produced food is growing. A recent U.S. Department of Agriculture study found sharp increases in direct farmer-to-consumer marketing ($551 million in 1997 to $1.2 billion in 2007), the number of farmers markets (2,756 in 1998 to 5,274 in 2009) and community supported agriculture organizations (400 in 2001 to over 1,400 in 2010).

But, as the USDA study also pointed out, direct farmer-to-consumer sales still account for less than one percent of the overall food system. How do we ramp it up? Currently, most local food production comes from small farms. While helping more small-scale farms succeed is critical, we also need to bring more medium-sized farms into the picture.

Last year, IATP began working with Compass Group of North America to design a new “Ag in the Middle” initiative aimed at expanding markets for mid-sized, independent farmers. Compass is a leading food service management company that serves over 10,000 hospitals, colleges, K-12 schools and other accounts in the United States. The Ag in the Middle initiative was launched last year with pilot programs in Minnesota, North Carolina and Washington, D.C. Yesterday, the company announced the initiative would be rolled out nationwide. In 2009 alone, Compass purchased $17 million in local food products (Local is defined as food produced within 150 miles or less of where it is consumed.). Compass plans on purchasing from 2,013 mid-sized farmers providing local food by 2013.

“This initiative is about building mutually beneficial relationships between farmers and buyers and creating a new way of doing business with the farming community,” said IATP's JoAnne Berkenkamp in a Compass press release.

The Compass/IATP partnership is just one of a number of innovative efforts around the country involving mid-sized farms in local food production. An excellent new report by Farm Aid documents a number of other efforts around the country—utilizing a variety of models—helping mid-sized farms take advantage of local food opportunities. It all makes you wonder what could be achieved if government policy—like the Farm Bill—devoted more resources toward local food systems that work for farmers and consumers. 

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

On Monday IATP Food and Society Fellow Sean Sellers and the CIW Modern Slavery Museum parked outside the U.S. State Department for the release of the most recent Trafficking in Persons
report, a global evaluation of progress in the global fight against
slavery. The museum was the backdrop for a ceremony hosted by
Secretary of State Hilary Clinton in which Laura Germino of the
Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) was named a 2010 “Anti-Trafficking
Hero” by the U.S. State Department.

As part of the annual report's release, the State Department recognizes
people from around the world who have shown extraordinary commitment
and leadership in the fight against slavery. The Fort Meyers News-Press notes that Germino, coordinator of the coalition's Anti-Slavery Campaign, is the first U.S.-based recipient of the recognition.



The fact that the State Department included the U.S. in these ratings is significant: An NPR story
notes that “by admitting it faces this issue, the U.S. has a powerful
diplomatic tool to encourage others to help tackle modern slavery.”



In her address, Secretary Clinton touched themes important to the CIW:



“Traffickers must be brought to justice. And we can’t just
blame international organized crime and rely on law enforcement to
pursue them. It is everyone’s responsibility. Businesses that knowingly
profit or exhibit reckless disregard about their supply chains,
governments that turn a blind eye or do not devote serious resources to
addressing the problem, all of us have to speak out and act forcefully.”


Germino was recognized for doing just that. On Monday, she expressed
hope by saying “thanks to the growing number of transnational global corporations
that have adopted new purchasing policies, thanks to the Campaign for
Fair Food that includes zero-tolerance—enforceable zero-tolerance
policies for slavery in their supply chain.”

On NPR, Lucas Benitez of the CIW expressed gratitute for the
recognition of the Obama Administration but adds that “at the same time
it's really sad that in 2010 we're still giving out awards and
recognition for fighting against slavery in the United States and in
the world. We shouldn't have to do that.”

View the CIW photo report of the State Department 2010 “Trafficking in Persons” (TIP) Report Ceremony.

This blog entry was written by Abigail Rogosheske and originally published on the Food and Society Fellows' Fresh Ideas blog.

Monday, June 14, 2010

As combined economic entities, members of the International Emissions Trading Association (IETA) exceed the size of most governments. So, when IETA made a new financing proposal just prior to last week's UN global climate talks in Bonn, attention was paid.

IETA's 170 transnational financial, law, energy and manufacturing firms are aggressively pushing for a global system for trading carbon emission credits and their financial derivatives. Their latest proposal, “green sectoral bonds,” are being sold as the only option for developing countries to access financing for projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Like conventional bonds, the green sectoral bonds would allow developing countries to borrow money from private investors to meet greenhouse gas reduction targets—the principle to be paid back with interest over time. The proposal represents a major shift in climate finance discussions.

As IATP's Steve Suppan writes in a new analysis of the IETA proposal, “If implemented, the proposal would transform climate finance from a public fiduciary duty primarily funded by developed countries to a new source of developing country debt to private creditors and of profits for IETA members.”

Friday, June 11, 2010

Our latest Radio Sustain podcast is packed! First, Maryn McKenna, author of SUPERBUG, discusses the antibiotic-resistant MRSA—an epidemic that kills nearly 19,000 Americans per year—and why our reliance on antibiotics in agriculture is partially to blame.

Next, Lindy Bannister from the Wedge Natural Foods Coop in Minneapolis reflects on her recent trip to China with IATP president Jim Harkness, where they held a workshop to explore opportunities for consumer food coops in China (Read a blog post about their trip here.)

Finally, IATP's Karen Hansen-Kuhn describes the highlights and shortfalls of new food security legislation currently before Congress. Will U.S. aid have strings attached in support of genetically modified crops or allow countries facing hunger the flexibility to decide what types of agricultural practices are best for them?

Listen to the episode here (mp3) and let us know what you think!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

At the food reserves meeting that IATP co-organized in Brussels, Belgium along with Collectif Stratégies Alimentaires and Oxfam Solidarity, I was particularly interested in reports from Africa and Asia. Speakers from the East African Farmers Federation (EAFF), the permanent Interstate Committee for drought control in the Sahel (CILSS) and West African Peasant Farmers Network (ROPPA) emphasized that before discussing food reserves, Africa needs broader investment in the agricultural sector to adapt to climate change and achieve food security. 

In terms of establishing food reserve programs, it seems there are some initiatives already underway. One such example is the East African Grain Council initiative, which is working to establish warehouses and warehouse receipt systems. The East African Commission also intends to establish a regional mechanism for the management of food reserves by 2012, which would include an information management system to track food stocks. In East and West Africa, there is the World Food Program Purchase for Progress initiative (P4P), which facilitates the local procurement of food. The Club du Sahel is working toward the establishment of regional food reserves with minimal contribution from participating countries. Farmer organizations and cooperative societies can play an important role in their respective areas by constructing and managing food storage facilities. They are in a position to assist in the reduction of post-harvest losses and to serve as information hubs.

Southeast Asia has its own programs underway. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) already has an emergency rice reserve system that was established in 1979 and then amended in 1997. There is also the East Asia Emergency Rice Reserve (EAERR), which operates as part of ASEAN+3 (China, South Korea and Japan). It seems that neither of the programs was effective in responding to the most recent rice price crisis. Today, governments are working toward an ASEAN+3 Emergency Rice Reserve (APTERR) to better respond to shocks and food scarcity in the future. The Asian Farmers Association’s (AFA) position is that in order for a rice reserve mechanism to be effective, it must:

1.   be easily accessible to address emergencies and related needs;

2.   have safeguards so that it is not used to dump surplus rice;

3.   not undermine incentives for local rice production;

4.   have clear modalities (modes and triggers for access, price and/or volume shortages and mechanics of distribution of rice stocks from the reserves);

5.   be subject to regular participative review and assessment.

AsiaDHRRA, a Philippines-based NGO, is working with small-scale producers to establish community reserves based on local traditions and Indigenous culture. Their programs support food preservation techniques, local rice banks and community nurseries, prioritizing the needs of women farmers, facilitating access and ownership of land by small-scale farmers and building public consciousness.

I walked away from the meeting wanting to know much more about regional, national and community reserves programs that already exist or those that are in formation. Clearly, each region is approaching this discussion differently and varied approaches are needed even as we discuss the need for a globally coordinated system to support reserves.