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.

March 2012

Friday, March 30, 2012

Today the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) made a decision about the hormone-disrupting chemical bisphenol A (BPA) and its use in food packaging. Their decision affects everyone’s health and our right to be protected from exposure to harmful chemicals in our food, our homes and our environment. The agency ruled that it will not limit the use of BPA in food packaging products.

The BPA backstory

I won’t go into a full history of the problems with BPA, because our colleagues at Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families have put together a great introduction to the chemical. But I do want to talk about why we are concerned that it is being used in an essentially unregulated manner and in a broad range of products—from the linings of food cans to thermal receipt paper to amalgam dental fillings. An ever-growing body of science continues to find links between the chemical and several harmful health effects, including: diabetes, obesity, breast and prostate cancer.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Yesterday our Minnesota Senators Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken introduced a bill in the Senate to protect energy programs in the Farm Bill that are critically important for rural communities. Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa led the bill’s introduction, and Sen. Kent Conrad from North Dakota was also a co-sponsor.

This bill sets the stage for the 2012 Farm Bill Energy Title and draws a line in the sand to make sure that programs like the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP)and the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) don’t lose their funding. These programs have helped farmers plant more perennial crops and increase energy efficiency on the farm. Without them, farmers would have a harder time getting over some of the financial hurdles they encounter when getting started making environmental and energy improvements on the farm.

We would like to see the entire Minnesota congressional delegation show similar support and leadership in the House, and we are working together with several otherMinnesota groups to encourage them to do so. See a sample of the letter we sent to all of our federal legislators.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The U.S. Farm Bill—arguably the nation’s largest and most influential food policy tool—is written by Congress every five years. It includes far-reaching programs for crop production, farmers, rural development, energy, conservation and international food aid—the largest portion going to food assistance programs.

With a lot at stake, and serious economic and political challenges at hand, the 2012 Farm Bill will set the stage for the ongoing public debate: In one corner, the industrial food system and powerful lobbyists paid generously to protect the interests of agribusiness and the food industry giants; in the other, growing public support for fair sustainable agriculture that supports farmers, rural communities and protects the environment.

IATP has been fighting for a fair, healthy and sustainable Farm Bill for more than 25 years. In our new What’s at Stake? series, we will analyze how the Farm Bill affects issues we all care about.

Read the entire series, including an introduction, on IATP’s Farm Bill page:

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Today, even as the world celebrates World Water Day, some countries at the United Nations are trying to remove the reference to the “right to water” from a document that will guide the international development path in the coming decade.  

It was less than two years ago, in the summer of 2010, that the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) adopted a resolution recognizing water as a human right. This was followed by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UN HRC) adopting a resolution on “human rights and access to safe drinking water and sanitation,” which made these rights legally binding. The recognition of the right to water at these U.N. bodies, and the developments since, such as the appointment of a Special Rapporteur on right to water and the resolution by the World Health Assembly recognizing right to water, have helped place water rights on the global agenda.

These successes were partly the result of collective efforts of water justice activists over the last 10 years. IATP's own advocacy on right to water was a direct response to the reference to water as a “need” [instead of a right], in the Ministerial Declaration of the 2nd World Water Forum in 2000.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Some ideas just make sense. One such idea is enabling low-income members of our community to purchase fresh, locally grown foods at the farmers market.

Farm-fresh, healthy choices at farmers markets are now easier to buy for Minnesotans who receive food support or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. Farmers markets across the state are investing in EBT (Electronic Benefit Transfer) debit card technology, allowing them to accept food support benefits. In 2011, sixteen markets across the state accepted EBT cards with over $67,000 in EBT sales.

IATP partnered with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, the City of Minneapolis, Hennepin County and participating markets to help catalyze the expansion of EBT at farmers markets in Minneapolis over the last two years, providing technical support and leading community outreach and promotional efforts. By last summer, six markets in Minneapolis were accepting food support benefits. The main Minneapolis Farmers Market alone registered $36,500 in EBT sales to low income shoppers in 2011, up 169 percent from 2010.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Three years of negotiations on guidelines to govern the tenure of land, fisheries and forests (commonly referred to as the Voluntary Guidelines, or VG) came to a successful close on Friday, March 9 in Rome. Under the auspices of the newly reconfigured Committee on World Food Security (CFS) (housed at the FAO with a secretariat shared among the FAO, the World Food Program and the International Fund for Agriculture and Development, or IFAD), the negotiations were contentious and important.

Ninety-six governments, accompanied by U.N. agencies, civil society organizations, farmer organizations and private sector representatives worked through three rounds of negotiations over as many years to come to agreement. The talks were chaired by the United States, whose negotiators earned the praise of the participants for their commitment to finding agreement across often significant divides. The conclusion of the VGs (see the FAO press release) marks an important step towards providing some protection for small-holders and communities around the world, who have found their productive assets (arable land, or fishing waters, or forests) under siege by a wave of investor interest from private companies and wealthy food importing countries.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Today, the Senate Agriculture Committee will hear arguments to expand the federal crop insurance program in the 2012 Farm Bill. Most likely, proponents of this expansion will point to the devastating crop losses wrought by extreme weather last year. Indemnity payouts for 2011 have so far cost taxpayers a record $10 billion, a number expected to grow as claims are processed.

Crop insurance proponents are right: Farming is getting riskier all the time. Last year we saw more extreme storms, more record heat, more droughts and more floods than in almost any previous year. According to climatologists, it’s a pattern that’s only going to get worse as the effects of climate change grow. Right now, our federal crop insurance program only protects farmers from being wiped out financially from extreme weather. Farmers need that protection, but the rest of us—the eaters—also need a secure, reliable food system.

There are ways to make agriculture more resilient to extreme weather. Farmers can plant more perennial crops, which require less water and hold on better to soil during floods. In drought-prone regions, they can select drought-tolerant crop varieties or change grazing or irrigation methods, among other strategies. Farming techniques that protect and enhance the soil, and use less water and energy, are those that stand the best chance of holding on when the weather turns bad.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Our global food system hinges on secrecy. The anonymous nature of where the food in our supermarket was produced brings one layer of secrecy. But even if you can solve that puzzle, how it was produced—and more specifically under what working conditions it was produced—remains completely hidden. This is the curtain that author Tracie McMillan pulls back in her remarkable new book, The American Way of Eating.

In the spirit of investigative journalists like Barbara Ehrenreich before her, McMillan documents her experiences picking grapes, peaches and garlic in California, working in the Wal-Mart produce section in Michigan, and in the kitchen at Applebee’s in New York City. The book is receiving a ton of high praise and deservedly so, with Rush Limbaugh a notable exception.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

By Ron Leonard

Last week, Dr. Willard Cochrane passed away at the age of 98. Dr. Cochrane was an agricultural economist whose career spanned the development of agricultural economics as a profession. He was dean of the School of Agricultural Economics at the University of Minnesota where he emerged nationally as the leading proponent of the concept of supply management, which dominated a ferocious debate over farm policy after the second World War. Cochrane became the chief economist at the Department of Agriculture in 1961, joining fellow Minnesotan Orville Freeman when President John F. Kennedy appointed the latter as Secretary of Agriculture.

Freeman created the position of chief economist, which gave Cochrane responsibility for economic policy and planning. Cochrane in turn recommended that Freeman establish the Economic Research Service (ERS), restoring the Bureau of Agricultural Economics that had been dismembered after the Korean War.

With ERS as the planning platform, Cochrane directed the planning and development of the legislative proposal for supply management policy and the development of a food stamp demonstration project and the drafting of legislation for a national food stamp program. Both supply management and food stamps would become central elements of policy initiatives on farm and food programs of the Kennedy administration.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

I am in Marseille, France this week, home to some of the biggest water multinationals, to participate in two parallel events on water in a resource-constrained world. From March 12–17, the 6th World Water Forum brings together multilateral agencies such as the World Bank, governments, water professionals, water technologists, development organizations and of course the multinational corporations involved in water. Many development organizations participate in the event because the discussions here influence national and regional decisions that affect poor and marginal groups around the world.

On the outside, I will also be participating in the Alternative Water Forum, a parallel event for water advocates promoting water solutions that are inclusive, fair and rights based. IATP has been involved since 2002 in the planning of these alternative water events.

Much of our advocacy inside the WWC-organized forum has been in response to the refusal by the ministerial of the forum to recognize water as a right. In fact IATP’s campaign on the right to water began in response to the 2nd World Water Forum Ministerial Declaration in 2000, which said that “water is a need,” despite demands to have it recognized as a basic human right.

The issue has come a long way since then as a result of struggles around the world, and work by committed individuals in CSOs and governments at various levels. The human right to safe drinking water and sanitation is now recognized by the United Nations General Assembly, the Human Rights Council and the World Health Assembly (resolutions A/RES/64/292, A/HRC/RES/15/9, A/HRC/RES/16/2, A/HRC/RES/18/1 and WHA 64/24).

Friday, March 9, 2012

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) are in the fifth day of a 6-day fast to draw attention to the unfair treatment of farmworkers in Florida tomato fields. The target of the fast, supermarket retailer Publix, has refused to join the Fair Food Program. The program's demands include paying tomato pickers a penny more per pound. Retailers will also ensure safe and healthy work conditions and support ending child labor in the fields. Publix has refused to meet with CIW to discuss the Campaign for Fair Food.

Cheap labor is one ingredient that makes food retailing profitable for corporate America. The refusal to ensure safe work conditions and fair wages for farm workers is a core problem in a food system that claims to feed the world. Perhaps the claim should be adjusted, to reflect that farm laborers and their families are excluded from the world that industry claims to feed.

The plight of farm laborer is virtually missing from most mainstream conversations about food. It is as if food magically appears from farms located in far and distant places. Another twist of fate happens and food appears in the grocery aisles of supermarkets across America. The American public must begin to understand that the industrial food complex is not magical, but a series of complex interlocking relationships between multinational companies that are supported by an even more complex set of public policies that often pit consumers' health and wellbeing against corporate interests. Frequently, the interests of the general public, family farmers and poor people are forsaken in the name of profit. Caught in the web of corporate interests and federal policies, farmworkers are purposefully ignored.