February 2012

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The food price crisis and global financial meltdown had many causes, but it would be hard to overstate the role of the deregulation and privatization policies that had taken root in the 1990s and 2000s. Globalization and financial “innovations” pushed by speculative investors also mean that when U.S. food and energy prices rise, they affect prices around the world. So the passage of the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill in 2010 was an important step forward in establishing sensible rules to stabilize volatile commodity markets.

Over the next year, Dodd-Frank should make commodity markets more transparent and prevent just a few firms from dominating markets as it moves to implementation—should, but won’t unless the right regulations and definitions to implement the law are passed, and the resources are in place to make it happen despite Wall Street’s powerful resistance to change. We put together a short progress report on the U.S. commodity reforms to explain what’s happened so far with rules on position limits, commodity index funds, transparency, coordination with EU reforms and resources for rulemaking and implementation. Without clear rules, food prices and hunger could continue to grow the world over.

Read Speculation Update: Progress Report on U.S. Commodity Market Reforms for more. 

Wednesday, February 29, 2012
You’ve got to believe something has gotten into the water up in the Red River Valley of Minnesota and North Dakota when a proud, farmer-ownedsugar cooperative is locking out the union. Sugar co-ops and their unions have together built a strong regional industry that is valuable to all concerned. The cooperative’s leadership is risking a great deal in its drive to break the union and for the union, the livelihood of its members hangs in the balance. 
 
Also hanging in the balance is one the few remaining New Deal style farm programs that not only doesn’t cost tax payers an arm and a leg, but has kept markets stable for manufacturers, consumers and trade with 40 some countries exporting sugar to the United States.
 
We might ask ourselves, why aren’t all farm programs like this? At one time they were, but after decades of unrelenting attacks from agribusiness, we are left with expensive and ill-conceived programs that don’t really meet our needs. Now even these poor excuses for a safety net are on the chopping block.
 
Tuesday, February 28, 2012

It’s all too easy, especially in the United States, to take water access for granted—turn on the tap, and fill up a glass—but across the world, lines are being drawn as governments and financially interested multi-national corporations ask the same question: Who will control the world’s water and how will it be allocated? India’s draft national water policy, released in January, is the latest example of a policy that, if passed as currently written, will continue to marginalize small-scale farmers and low-income communities, ultimately failing to reinforce water as a fundamental human right.

In a new report, IATP’s Shiney Varghese analyzes India’s draft policy and why, even though at first glance “it appears […] a holistic approach,” it comes up short—both in protecting people and the environment—and may set a dangerous precedent for water management worldwide. The People’s Campaign for the Right to Water has organized an e-petition, opposing “the very concept of water as an economic good” and India’s draft national water policy.

Read the new IATP paper, Corporatizing Water: India's Draft National Water Policy, for more, or see Shiney Varghese’s recent op-ed, “Turning off the tap on water as a human right” in India’s national daily, The Hindu. Take action by signing the Peoples Campaign for Right to Water e-petition.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Dehli, India – On February 12, India and the European Union (EU) held their 12th joint summit here. Outside the summit, Indian HIV and access-to- medicine activists, farmers, dairy producers, small retailers, trade unionists and development, agriculture and health NGOs took part in a massive rally in the capital to protest against the EU-India Free Trade Agreement (FTA) that is being negotiated behind closed doors. At stake are several “life and death” matters including access to cheap medicines for Africa and other poor countries, livelihoods of Indian farmers and fisherpeople and impacts such a deal would have on the people living on land rich with the natural resources that the EU wishes to import from India.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Last November, Rep. Chellie Pingree, an organic farmer from Maine, introduced federal legislation that could have a profound impact on local food system development across the United States.  The proposed legislation would make it easier for schools and institutional buyers to purchase locally grown foods and requires that various federal grants and loans be made available for local food system development.  Other components would help food and farm entrepreneurs add-value to locally grown foods through the creation of processing, distribution, aggregation and marketing businesses. Identical legislation was introduced in the Senate by Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio.  More than 65 Members of the House and Senate have now co-sponsored the legislation.

At a time when farmers and rural economies are struggling for survival and schools are trying to combat childhood obesity, the Pingree/Brown legislation (known as the “Local Farms, Food and Jobs Act”) can enhance farmer profitability, grow rural and urban economies through local food business development, and connect consumers with nutritious, locally grown food.

Minnesota has been a national leader in revitalizing our local and regional food system through new farmers markets, Farm to School and Farm to Hospital initiatives, healthy cornerstores, farmer engagement and new businesses that connect “farm to fork”.  Recently, 39 Minnesota organizations and businesses representing farm, food, consumer and health groups signed a letter endorsing the Pingree/Brown legislation.  Nationally, more than 220 organizations have endorsed the legislation.  We hope that you will join us.

Friday, February 17, 2012

A new peer-reviewed study released yesterday (Read our response.) found arsenic in infant formula and cereal bars. Perhaps more surprising to many consumers is that the two brands of organic formula that were tested contained levels of arsenic 20 times higher than the non-organic varieties. This is because the main ingredient in the formula is organic brown rice syrup, which is sometimes substituted for high fructose corn syrup (another problematic sweetener, found to contain mercury—yet another harmful chemical). Unfortunately, there are no current standards under the organic label that prohibit arsenic ending up in certified food. 

Arsenic can be found in many foods. Some seafood, for example, has arsenic from the earth’s crust that makes its way up the food chain. But Infant formula contaminated with arsenic is a different kind of problem—a preventable problem. It has more to do with an industrial food system where ingredients are added to processed or manufactured foods with little government oversight, leaving consumers ignorant of the risks to their children and families.

For moms, it’s yet another reason to save money (and worry) by breastfeeding babies whenever possible. We know that breast milk is the best baby food to put her or him on the path to a healthy life. But for those who must use formula, try to avoid products that list organic brown rice syrup as a main ingredient (or any sweetener, for that matter).

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

This blog entry was originally published in the Global Food Safety Monitor and as an op-ed on Food Safety News. Read the entire Global Food Safety Monitor for more.

"There's no money for . . ." well you name it. At a time when all manner of government services are being cut, trillions in bailouts to the financial services industry aside, why should food safety be spared? In fact, food safety protections are being systematically slashed across the boardand while this might achieve some short-term savings, the long-term costs could be catastrophic.

On January 9, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced it would close 259 offices, laboratories and other facilities to save $60 million in its $145 billion budget. These closings include five of the 15 Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) offices. FSIS is responsible for ensuring meat, poultry and egg safety. USDA undersecretary Dr. Elisabeth Hagen said, "There will be no reduction in inspection presence in slaughter and processing facilities and no risk for consumers." Unfortunately, previous inspector cutbacks and FSIS rules to limit the number and detail of inspector reports on industry non-compliance do put consumers at risk, as a recent 36-million pound meat recall attests.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

When land previously used for producing food is transformed into land for producing ethanol, what impact does its change have on the environment and global food supply? Does the net difference in food production spur development in other parts of the world—often meaning deforestation to make way for increased acreage—that ultimately increases global greenhouse gas emissions? If so, what does this say about the sustainability of ethanol production?

This concept, known as indirect land use change (ILUC), has ignited debate among ethanol producers and environmental advocates. In a new essay, released today by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP), author Julia Olmstead looks at the current state of the indirect land use change (ILUC) debate and what parties on both sides of the debate can stand to learn.

Read the report.