Action Alert


Fair trade or free trade? Let your voice be heard on Minnesota’s future!


The Obama Administration is negotiating two new mega trade deals (one with Pacific Rim countries, another with Europe) entirely in secret, with the goal of further expanding the NAFTA-model of free trade. These trade agreements could have major impacts on Minnesota's farmers, workers, small business owners and rural communities. They could limit Minnesota’s ability to support local food and energy systems and grow local businesses. In order to stay up to speed, Minnesota has set up a new Trade Policy Advisory Council (TPAC) to advise the state legislature and Governor.


TPAC wants to hear from Minnesotans: What concerns do you have about free trade? What role could TPAC play in the future? Now is your opportunity to have a say in our future trade policy. Complete the survey and let them know future trade negotiations should be public, not secret. Help ensure the voices of all Minnesotans are heard in the development of trade agreements and that they protect local control and our quality of life. The free trade model has failed for Minnesota and we need a new approach to trade. Help ensure the voices of all Minnesotans are heard before trade agreements are completed, and that they protect local control, our natural resources and our quality of life.


Please take five minutes and complete the survey. To find out more about these trade agreements, go to iatp.org/tradesecrets.

September 2011

Friday, September 30, 2011
Now two weeks in, the occupation of Wall Street originated from a July call to action by Adbusters to draw a line in the sand on the growing corporate control of our democracy and government—and in particular, Wall Street’s influence.
 
Agriculture markets have been especially hard hit by Wall Street’s political prowess. Wall Street deregulation has not only made the stock market extremely volatile, it has increased prices and price volatility in agricultural markets. The cost of protecting against price volatility are considerable for the future of agriculture not only in the U.S., but around the world.  
 
In 2008, we reported on the role a new wave of financial speculators, operating through commodity index funds controlled by Wall Street firms like Goldman Sachs, played in creating extreme volatility in agriculture commodity markets—and ultimately contributing to rising global rates of hunger. Wall Street speculators were able to enter commodity futures markets after a successful and systematic decade-long lobbying effort to dismantle strong market safeguards. According to Wall Street Watch, from 1998–2008, Wall Street invested over $5 billion in lobbying and campaign contributions in support of their deregulatory agenda.
 
Monday, September 26, 2011

In mid-September, I had the pleasure to attend a two-day consultation run by the Center for Women's Global Leadership (CWGL), housed at Rutgers University (which, by the way, I was told boasts a freshman year this year that includes no less than 46 percent first generation university students. Kudos!). The consultation was the third that the CWGL has held with U.N. Special Rapporteurs—last week's was with Olivier de Schutter, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food. Dr. de Schutter is in the first stages of preparing a report on women's rights and the right to food, which he will present to the U.N. Human Rights Commission in March 2012. CWGL assembled a group of some 30 people to discuss the report, focusing on the right to food, gender equality and macro-economics. It was a great two-day brainstorm with a lot of smart and experienced (mostly) women. Fun and stimulating and useful.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Tomorrow, IATP will join millions of people in 176 countries in Moving Planet, a coordinated a day of activities to advocate for a sharp reduction of greenhouse gases and other sustainable solutions to climate change. The activities will range from bike marches, prayer services, workshops, lectures, presentations of petitions, press releases and concerts. IATP will be at a Moving Planet event on the grounds of Minnesota’s state capitol building in St. Paul.

One of the issues we’ll be talking about there will be finance: how do we pay for a global shift toward a low carbon economy? Over the past three years, IATP has focused on problems with using carbon emissions markets to address climate change, particularly as these markets relate to agriculture. Earlier this month, we published our analysis of the World Bank’s model project in Kenya for reducing greenhouse gases. The project would pay farmers an average of one dollar per year for 20 years to practice Sustainable Agricultural Land Management to sequester carbon emissions in soil. The World Bank would buy the results of the farmers’ work at $4 per metric ton of carbon emissions, converted into carbon emission offset credits to be sold to major polluters to help them comply with greenhouse gas caps without having to actually reduce their own pollution. Because the science of measuring soil carbon is fraught with uncertainties, the World Bank discounts 60 percent of the result of the farmers’ work, although the carbon accountants doing the monitoring and verification of that work will be paid well and in full.

Friday, September 23, 2011

This post was originally featured on the Triple Crisis blog.

G-20 development ministers meet on Friday in Washington, D.C. One of the items on their agenda is a proposal developed in June for the G-20 agriculture ministers to allow the World Food Program to develop a pilot proposal for an emergency food reserve. The decision was possibly the most important outcome in an otherwise thin summit communiqué: however circumscribed, we know that food price volatility correlates with low stocks, and that providing stocks is a proven way to curb excessive volatility. We also know that in emergencies, in most of the poorest countries, it takes an average of 90 days to bring food into food-deficit areas. 90 days is too long. The costs of working in emergency conditions are also too high, in both resources and human life. There are cheaper, better ways to ensure food is available when it’s needed: a reserve in the food-vulnerable regions is one of them.

The pilot is to be part of the G-20 Action Plan on Food Price Volatility. Preparation of the proposal included extensive consultation with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which accepted an invitation to host the pilot project.

Between the last days of June and just last week, an astonishingly short period of time, the WFP coordinated a process among a number of intergovernmental and national agencies; coordinated the drafting of a report, which is both a feasibility study and pilot project proposal; found a willing partner region (ECOWAS); worked with an ad hoc group of interested G-20 governments who provided oversight; and managed some outreach to NGOs with experience in humanitarian emergencies and stocks policies. It is an impressive achievement. Bravo.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

IATP hosted a conference last week at the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment that addressed the contentious issue of indirect land use change (ILUC)—put simply, if we take an acre of corn used in food production and begin using it for fuel instead, how will the global agriculture system make up for that missing corn for food? Will more land be cleared somewhere else? What are the environmental implications?

With the rising demand for alternative energy sources, more and more farmers are entering this transition. In March 2011, IATP led a group of U.S. researchers, farmers and biofuel producers down to Brazil to explore ILUC on the ground. IATP’s conference was part of a follow-up to that trip and brought a group from Brazil up to Minnesota to learn more about U.S. biofuel production. 

The conference was designed to look ahead, and find ways to sustain the delicate global system of farmers, land and the environment as the demand for alternative energy sources rises and more farmers enter transition from food to fuel.

Minnesota 2020 has put together a short video about the conference and its participants. Watch the video below, read more about IATP’s recent work on ILUC or listen to audio interviews (scroll to bottom of page) with the delegation that visited Brazil in March.

 

Friday, September 16, 2011
If we had a better U.S. farm policy from 1998 through 2010, we could have saved close to $100 billion in government payments for crops, provided essentially the same farm income and helped stabilize increasingly volatile agriculture prices. These are the conclusions of a new study commissioned by the National Farmers Union (NFU) and authored by the University of Tennessee Agricultural Policy Analysis Center.
 
The study couldn’t come at a better time, as a budget cutting–obsessed Congress is considering new approaches for the 2012 Farm Bill. The study looks backwards to determine what would have happened if a different farm policy designed to ensure fair prices from the marketplace, rather than relying on government payments when prices drop, had been in place during the 12-year period. The alternative policy includes a combination of farmer-owned reserves, increased loan rates, set-asides, the elimination of direct payments and reduced reliance on other government payments.
 
Among many findings, the study found that: government payments for crops would have dropped from $152.2 billion to $56.4 billion during the period; the value of exports would have been $4.9 billion higher; and farmers and consumers would have benefited from more stable and predictable price signals than when excess speculation created enormous volatility in commodity futures markets.
 
NFU, IATP and others have been pushing for the inclusion of a reserve system in farm policy for several decades. If it works for taxpayers, farmers and consumers, who’s against it? You guessed it, the powerful grain companies. Current farm policy places the supply of agriculture commodities in the hands of these companies—and they’ve profited handsomely. But what’s good for agribusiness isn’t necessarily good for the rest of us.
Wednesday, September 14, 2011
Antibiotics are waning in effectiveness, and as a result more and more Americans are getting sick and dying of hard-to-treat—and hugely expensive—infections. The names of these superbugs, like MRSA, are becoming known to all.
 
Driving resistance is the use of antibiotics. And last year, the FDA revealed that 80 percent of all U.S. antibiotics are used in agriculture, the vast majority as additives to animal feed for healthy animals. No feed antibiotics have ever been taken off the market, despite proposals to do so appearing as early as 1977.
 
Today, a new report by the non-partisan U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) raises alarms about the inadequate government response. Its title says it all: Antibiotic Resistance: Agencies Have Made Limited Progress Addressing Antibiotic Use in Animals.
 
As the report makes clear, the problem is not simply one of the feed antibiotics continuing to be sold. It is also that federal agencies, like the FDA and USDA, have failed to put forth a clear plan to improve their collection of farm data about how antibiotics in agriculture are being used, or to research alternatives to the squandering of precious antibiotics in animal feed.
 
Tuesday, September 6, 2011
Like most parents in Minnesota, last week I received an information packet from my daughter’s school. It was the annual get-ready-for-school packet, full of various forms and fall activities for her school in St. Louis Park. Deep in the pile was a bright orange flyer from the school lunch room. This year, they will be offering grass-fed, high–omega 3, all-beef hot dogs from Thousand Hills—a small, Minnesota company. That’s right. Grass-fed beef from a company previously most likely to be found in your local food co-op or natural food store—now in my daughters lunchroom. Also, this September, during Farm to School Month in Minnesota, the school is offering apples, squash, tomatoes and potatoes all grown by local farmers. And hormone-free milk, whole grain brown rice and fresh fruit at every lunch.
 
These are huge changes in the lunch program since my daughter began school five years ago, and what’s happening in St. Louis Park is not unusual. IATP’s JoAnne Berkenkamp and Lynn Mader have been working with the state’s school nutrition association (a.k.a., the lunch ladies), to greatly expand Farm to School programs all over the state. Participation has skyrocketed from 10 school districts in 2006 to over 123 last year. Find out what’s happening this year at farm2schoolmn.org.
 

Healthy food that supports local farmers. What could be better for our next generation of eaters? 

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

This post originally appeared September 4, 2011 on The Huffington Post.

In many cultures, it's common before a holiday meal to give a prayer of thanks for the food and the people that prepared it. At these times, we may think of our family members in the kitchen, or possibly the hard-working farmers we met at the farmers market.