January 2012

Monday, January 30, 2012

On January 23, over 20,000 people poured into the streets of Berlin to say that they have had enough of industrial agriculture. The demands made in Germany can be heard all over the world starting with fair treatment of farmers and consumers, safe food, an end to food speculation and a respect for nature and the welfare of animals.

Tomorrow, in New York City, the Occupy Wall Street movement is calling for protests to support 60 family farmers, small and family-owned seed businesses, and agricultural organizations that are challenging Monsanto's patents on genetically modified seed in federal court.

Like the Germans, it time for us to say, “We’ve had enough!” of Monsanto’s agriculture. From super weeds to pest resistance in corn, genetically modified seeds have failed. Now Monsanto is turning to even more dangerous products with new varieties that will only increase the amount of herbicides in the environment.

At the heart of industrial agriculture is a long running conflict between corporations and farmers on who will control food production. Occupy Wall Street has come out on the side of farmers and all who eat to say, “We’ve had enough!”

Monday, January 30, 2012

Farming is a tough way to make a living and no segment of the American farm community has been harder hit in recent decades than the farmers known as Ag in the Middle (AITM).  These are the producers of fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy and meat products that are too big to sell directly to consumers and too small to effectively compete with agribusiness—a difficult place to be in a globalized food system and yet these midsize farmers are essential for supplying the significant quantities of food needed by retailers, institutions and other larger market channels. 

While the number of very small farmers in the U.S. has started to rebound, the number of Ag in the Middle farmers (those with gross annual farm sales of $50,000 to $500,000) fell nearly 18 percent from 1997 to 2007. 

One strategy helping to keep these farmers on the land are efforts by institutions such as colleges, hospitals and schools to purchase locally and regionally grown foods.  Since 2009, IATP has partnered with Compass Group USA on just such an initiative. Compass Group is one of the largest food service management companies in the world, serving over one million meals per day in North America. Compass also owns Bon Appétit, which manages foodservice operations for colleges and clients across the country. Bon Appétit has led the way for local, sustainable food sourcing and is a catalyst for improving fairness and equity in the food system, while reducing their carbon footprint.

Friday, January 27, 2012

In its purest form, green chemistry is nothing short of fine art: creating chemicals for use in products and processes that are just as effective as their traditional—and often toxic or resource intensive—counterparts, but safer, cost neutral, environmentally benign and a source of economic boon for everyone involved. Sounds like common sense, and indeed, this was the sentiment of many at yesterday’s Minnesota Green Chemistry Conference, co-hosted by IATP and the Center for Science, Technology and Public Policy at the University of Minnesota.

The day opened with Senator Al Franken delivering a video welcome from Washington, D.C., in which he declared Minnesota a natural leader in green chemistry due to its strong university system—in fact, the University of Minnesota is one of few with a dedicated green chemistry course—and long history of environmental stewardship. He warned, however, that to remain a leader, Minnesota will need to make further investments to expand educational programs to train the next generation of green chemists as well as mid-career training for professionals already in the field.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012
If, as the old saying goes, states are the laboratory of democracy in our country, then counties, townships and cities are surely the shop floors, where citizens have a direct hand in crafting solutions to their needs and protecting their communities. On Thursday, January 26, the  Minnesota House Government Operations and Elections Committee will attempt to tie the hands of local governments by limiting their power to enact temporary or interim ordinances. This erosion of democracy comes at a moment when many small communities find themselves contending with corporations whose net values are greater than that of many countries, and whose influence and legal power dwarf the capacity of cash-strapped local governments to evaluate and respond to their corporate agenda. The bill will limit  communities’ ability to say “Slow Down!” to developers, mining companies, big box stores, toxic waste and other businesses.
Rural communities in particular often find themselves being rushed to act with the threat that if they don’t go along, the outside developer will move on to other townships that are more accommodating.  Economic opportunities deserve the serious consideration that local governments are willing to give. With Minnesota’s strong tradition of citizen engagement and civic participation, it is a travesty to say that local governments can’t make important decisions on what is in their best interest. We have today and tomorrow to let Minnesota representatives know that our counties and local communities are not ready give up the power to make informed decisions.
Friday, January 20, 2012

On Saturday, January 21, the giant grain and financial company, Cargill, is going to be the recipient of a Global Citizens' arrest for, as the organizers say, “profiteering off people and the planet.” It would take too long to list the indictment of Cargill’s many crimes, but one of its latest is a campaign to destroy the Canadian Wheat Board in partnership with a gang of powerful agribusiness corporations, called Grain Visions. Its members include, in addition to Cargill, Louis Dreyfus Canada Limited, Rahr Malting Canada Limited, Agricore United (a company whose largest single shareholder is ADM), Saskatchewan Wheat Pool (no longer a farmer cooperative) and James Richardson International Limited.

The Canadian Wheat Board (CWB) has been a thorn in the side of the big grain companies since 1935. The CWB came from a long line of Canadian wheat marketing boards, coops and grain pools led by western farmers who used their collective marketing power to force the Cargills of the world to pay a fair price.

CWB operates under the authority of parliament, but the majority of its board members are farmer-elected. Over the years the CWB has been weakened by the steady assaults of agribusiness, NAFTA provisions and WTO rulings that if implemented would put the Wheat Board out of business permanently.

Friday, January 20, 2012

A rapidly growing body of evidence is spotlighting the overuse of antibiotics—and the antibiotic-resistant bacteria it breeds—in pork production as a widespread and serious danger to the American food supply and public health.

Today, IATP issued a press release detailing a new, peer-reviewed study we conducted in partnership with the University of Iowa College of Public Health finding methicillan-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)—a bacteria that can cause serious human infections of the bloodstream, skin, lungs (pneumonia) and other organs—in retail meat products at nearly double the rate previous research suggests.

The samples, 395 in total, were collected from a total of 36 retail stores in Iowa, Minnesota and New Jersey. Among these samples, S. aureus was isolated from 256 samples (64.8 percent) and of those, 26 pork samples (6.6 percent of the total) were found to contain MRSA.

Take a potentially deadly bacteria like S. aureus and make it resistant to antibiotics and you have a dangerous, difficult to treat and costly public health threat. According to 2005 estimates, MRSA accounts for about 280,000 infections and nearly 19,000 deaths a year in hospitals. Infections outside of hospitals, in communities and on farms, are rising as well.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012
In August 2011, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that they would complete their reanalysis of non-cancer health effects of dioxin and post the results by the end of January 2012. The EPA also promised to move on to the cancer portion of the Reanalysis as expeditiously as possible. For the sake of public health, we sent a letter to the EPA this week urging the agency to move forward with this plan without further delay.
Since 1985, EPA’s assessment of health risks from dioxin has been delayed time after time, while Americans continue to be exposed to toxic dioxin and dioxin-like compounds. (IATP called for the EPA to act on dioxin back in 2000.) While dioxin might not be on the radar of the average American, it continues to be a key environmental pollutant and a big contributor to the toxic body burden of the U.S. population. An extensive body of science links exposure to dioxin to cancer and adverse effects on development.
Dioxins are unintentional byproducts of industrial processes like metal smelting and refining, chemical manufacturing, biological and photochemical processes and combustion. Burning chlorine-containing products, like polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic, generates dioxin.
Dioxins released into the air from combustion settle on grasslands, where grazing cows ingest them, and in water bodies where they build up in fish. Dioxins can also accumulate in animal feed. Fetuses are at greatest risk from exposure to dioxins, which cross the placenta during pregnancy. This means that a mother’s body burden of dioxins is passed on to her fetus.
Wednesday, January 18, 2012

This piece by Sophia Murphy and Timothy A. Wise was originally published on the Triple Crisis blog.

The spikes in global food prices in 2007-08 served as a wake-up call to the global community on the inadequacies of our global food system.  Commodity prices doubled, the estimated number of hungry people topped one billion, and food riots spread through the developing world. A second price spike in 2010-11, which drove the global food import bill for 2011 to an estimated $1.3 trillion, showed that while global leaders may now be alert to the problems, our agricultural systems remain deeply flawed.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Yesterday more than 300 people gathered on an unseasonably warm January day at a conference center outside of Minneapolis to talk about food, farming and health. The conference, State of the Plate: Minnesota Healthy Food Futures, was co-hosted by IATP, Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Minnesota and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The event included national figures like Dr. Kelly Brownell of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity and Anne Haddix from the CDC, as well as state leaders like Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Ed Ehlinger and University of Minnesota’s Dr. Mary Story—as well as community, public health and food activists.

Much of the discussions centered on the important role health professionals need to play in advocating for a healthier food system, whether at the community or state and federal policy level. Dr. Brownell argued that our children are being robbed of their future. For the first time in history, the current generation of children, he said, is expected to have a shorter lifespan than their parents, largely due to diet-related disease. Instead, Dr. Brownell said in his keynote to attendees, we need to make healthy food the “optimal default”—or put more simply, the easiest food to access.

Other topics covered at the conference included the role of the food system in health, the existing food environment, the challenges for farmers to grow healthy food and the social justice implications of our food system. See our interview with Dr. Kelly Brownell below or check out some photos from the event on IATP’s Flickr.


Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Today the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced a ban for unapproved uses of cephalosporins in food animals. Cephalosporins, a class of critically important human antibiotics, are also widely used in livestock and poultry—in 2010 alone, nearly 54,094 lbs. were used in U.S. livestock operations, according to recent FDA data. While some cephalosporins are used in treating sick animals, many more have been routinely given for so-called extra-label use to prevent disease, such as by injecting the eggs meant to hatch chickens that would grow into broiler chickens. The FDA action comes in the face of abundant scientific evidence that extra-label uses have helped to create cephalosporin-resistant bacteria, in animals and also in the food products from them.  

“While we welcome FDA’s belated action, the delay is shocking. Tens of thousands of people continued to become ill from cephalosporin-resistant Salmonella when there was clear evidence the extra-label use of these drugs contributes to the spread of these and other resistant superbugs,” IATP’s David Wallinga said in a press release issued today by the Keep Antibiotics Working (KAW) coalition, of which IATP is a member.

Unfortunately, widespread use of antibiotics in animal agriculture and the increasingly resistant superbugs it helps to breed are not new developments. While the FDA’s newest ban is indeed a step forward it comes years late, and certainly leaves a lot more work ahead.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

On December 21, IATP joined five other NGOs, headed by the International Center for Technology Assessment (ICTA), to sue the Food and Drug Administration for failure to regulate nanoparticles. The lawsuit is the first concerning the health and environmental effects of nanoparticles and nanotechnology enabled products. The FDA currently does not require pre-market health and environmental safety testing of nanomaterials prior to their introduction on the marketplace.

A June 9, 2011 White House memo acknowledged that a broad array of products containing sub-molecular sized particles, including those engineered for “disease detection” under FDA authority, are marketed in the United States.  IATP’s Steve Suppan said that part of the FDA response to the lawsuit must be the testing of engineered nanoparticles “as part of a pre-market safety assessment in a broader regulatory initiative to protect public health.”