April 2012

Friday, April 27, 2012

On April 12, IATP staffer Dr. David Wallinga co-published a study online that explores the links between food and autism.

The paper proposes a macroepigenetic model as one scientific approach that allows us as researchers to consider multiple factors, including nutrition and environmental exposure to toxins, and how they can impact our health. Because this is a new approach, we’ve prepared a brief Q & A we hope will address many potential questions.

Q: What causes autism?

A: There is no one cause of autism. Multiple factors in our food and broader environment combine with inherited factors to contribute to autism. All of these factors can play different roles, and can take on various levels of significance in different individuals—all of us are unique in our susceptibility to diseases and disorders, like autism.

In the real world, we are exposed to a complex equation of factors that can ultimately influence our health. As Harvard pediatric neurologist Martha Herbert, M.D. puts it, there is an important difference between “cause” and “risk.” It isn’t even appropriate to talk about a “cause” of autism. Instead, it is more fitting to talk about multiple, interactive risks in our broader environment that may accumulate and contribute to autism. In any child these environmental factors have the potential to modify the genetic susceptibility she or he is born with.

Q: Does consumption of HFCS cause autism?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Three conflicts going on right now in the Philippines illustrate just how high the stakes are in struggles over rights and resources around the world.

I got an email this morning from Esther Penunia, secretary general of the Manila-based Asia Farmers Association and IATP board member, informing me that the Supreme Court of the Philippines has ordered that the country’s second-largest family-owned plantation should be divided up among 6000 farm families. (See the New York Times story on this decision.) Although the amount of land and number of beneficiaries is limited, the decision has a much larger significance. The distribution of land and wealth in the Philippines have remained staggeringly unequal since colonial times, and one of the most prominent popular demands following the fall of Ferdinand Marcos in 1986 was for land reform, but until now, the country’s plutocrats had skillfully used their influence over the government and courts to prevent any meaningful redistribution. After 25 years, the Philippines is taking a huge step toward realizing the People Power Revolution’s vision of equality and democracy. “We feel that this is social justice,” Esther said of the decision.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee has finally issued its draft of the 2012 Farm Bill. Despite some good provisions supporting the growing and consumption of healthy food, the Senate’s draft doesn’t level the playing field for small and midsize family farmers who produce fruits and vegetables and makes significant cuts to food stamp (SNAP) benefits for low income people. The Senate’s draft incentivizes large farms to grow a few commodity crops (primarily corn and soybeans) through a revamped crop insurance program, without taking any steps to manage the overproduction of these crops.  The bill does not go nearly far enough in supporting farmers who grow healthy food for local and regional food systems. 

It’s URGENT that you contact committee members TODAY about the key healthy food provisions that are still missing, because the Senate Agriculture Committee will begin work on the bill tomorrow. Write or call members of the Senate Agriculture Committee today and ask them to include the following key provisions:

Full funding for the SNAP program (food stamps) that protects against hunger and improves nutrition by providing critical resources to vulnerable people. Cuts to SNAP will only make it harder for millions of families to afford a nutritious diet.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

There is a lot to talk about following last Friday’s release of Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow’s draft Farm Bill, but hardly any time to talk about it. The bill is scheduled for mark-up tomorrow. Yes, that’s April 25th. After the full mark-up, the Committee bill will move to the Senate floor for debate, probably sometime in May. We’ll have time, then, to do some thorough analysis. Today, however, we’ll try to give you a couple of bites to chew on, with accompanying actions to take. Here’s the scoop on important energy title programs.

What’s at stake?

The Senate Ag Committee draft of the 2012 Farm Bill includes zero mandatory funding for the Farm Bill Energy Title, which includes important programs that promote on-farm energy efficiency and perennial-based renewable energy. Over the last month, we’ve been working with many other agriculture, energy, and environmental groups to let Congress know how important these programs are. But without mandatory funding, these programs will be left virtually dead.

How much do we need these programs? Take the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), for example. In 2011 alone, REAP saved or created almost 7,000 jobs; reduced greenhouse gases by almost 2 million metric tons; saved the equivalent of over 2 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity; and generated $465 million of investments in our communities.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

There is a lot to talk about following last Friday’s release of Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow’s draft Farm Bill, but hardly any time to talk about it. The bill is scheduled for mark-up tomorrow. Yes, that’s April 25. After the full mark-up, the Committee bill will move to the Senate floor for debate, probably sometime in May. We’ll have time, then, to do some thorough analysis. Today, however, we’ll try to give you a couple of bites to chew on, with accompanying actions to take. First up, conservation compliance.

What’s at stake?

In 1985, American taxpayers and farmers entered into a contract to provide a safety net for the country’s food producers in return for protection of critical natural resources.  Known as “conservation compliance,” this policy requires farmers to follow conservation plans that limit soil erosion on highly erodible land as well as preventing destruction of wetlands and native grasslands. Farmers who willfully violate their conservation plans risk losing taxpayer funded benefits.

Today, this important connection is at risk. Taxpayer-funded subsidies for crop insurance are not currently linked to conservation compliance as they once were. In the current Farm Bill debate, Congress is considering eliminating Direct Payments, the major subsidy program that is linked to conservation compliance, and move some of those funds to support increased subsidies for crop insurance, which currently lacks compliance requirements. Unless Congress reconnects crop insurance subsidies to conservation compliance, a significant part of farmers’ incentive to follow conservation plans will disappear this year.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Climate change will have significant impacts on world food security in our lifetimes. Indeed, we have already begun to feel the impacts from extreme events—droughts, heat waves, torrential rains leading to floods, with consequent impacts on crop production in Russia, Texas and the U.S. Midwest, Pakistan, Thailand, to name a few recent high-profile locations. Scientists predict that in the changing climate, extreme events such as these will increase in frequency and magnitude.

More insidious and potentially more threatening are slow onset events that over time will incrementally diminish or eliminate crop production in some parts of the world. These slow onset events—temperature rise, salt-water intrusion, loss of soil moisture and water supplies, loss of productive coastal areas due to sea level rise—will reduce crop yields and eliminate agriculture as a livelihood strategy for many.

So the decision by the newly reformed Committee on World Food Security to request its High-level Panel of Experts (HLPE) to conduct a study on climate change and food security was welcomed enthusiastically, especially by many of the civil society organizations working on food and climate change. At the end of 2011, the HLPE established a project team of experts from around the world to write the report. The mandate given to the team was to “review existing assessments and initiatives on the effects of climate change on the most affected and vulnerable regions and populations and the interface between climate change and agricultural productivity, including the challenges and opportunities of adaptation and mitigation policies and actions for food security and nutrition.”

Monday, April 23, 2012


UNCTAD—the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development—is holding its 13th quadrennial conference in Doha, Qatar this week (April 21–26). As South Centre Director, Martin Khor, underscored in his Triple Crisis blog last Friday, the meeting has generated considerably controversy, the first time UNCTAD has created such waves in more than a decade. Created in the 1960s as a forum for developing countries to explore global and regional macro-economic issues independently of the Western country-dominated Bretton Woods institutions, UNCTAD has never had an easy ride from the U.S., UK and other major powers. But for the first 20 or so years of its existence, UNCTAD received the resources and respect it needed to make a big contribution to supporting initiatives that supported development, from preferential trading schemes, to commodity agreements, to what were called “rules to control restrictive business practices” (today more commonly referred to as competition policy).



Thursday, April 19, 2012

This blog post was originally published April 17 by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR).

In response to Walmart’s release of its Global Responsibility Report, Food & Water Watch and the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) have published the Top 10 Ways Walmart Fails on Sustainability. Since 2005, the country’s largest retailer has been making splashy announcements and issuing slick reports to highlight its environmental and social responsibility efforts. Food & Water Watch and ILSR contend that Walmart fails to live up to its promises and continues to ignore the fundamental problems with its business model that harm the environment, undermine healthy food choices, and exacerbate poverty.

“No amount of greenwash can conceal the fact that Walmart perpetuates an industrialized food system that diminishes our natural resources, causes excessive pollution, and forces smaller farmers and companies to get big or get out of business,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch.

“Once again, Walmart is using sustainability as a marketing tool to improve its public image and propel its growth—even as it continues to pave over critical habitat, increase its greenhouse gas emissions, and flood the market with shoddy products that go from factory to landfill in record time,” said Stacy Mitchell, senior researcher at ILSR.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

You might think that the devastating impacts of commodity price volatility on global hunger would require policy debates in multiple international organizations. Last week, the United Nations’ General Assembly (UNGA) held a high-level debate on how to address this very issue. The opposing views of panelists concerning the extent to which financial speculation is driving commodities prices comprised a vigorous debate. More troubling is an attempt to squelch U.N. agency policy analysis of this issue and other economic governance topics.

U.N. member countries with globally influential financial and commodity markets are attempting to remove economic policy analysis from the mandate of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). This attack elicited an April 11 letter of protest from former UNCTAD staff, well as protests from developing countries that welcome UNCTAD’s analysis of the impact of financial speculation on commodity prices. According to the U.S. and EU, the U.N. should concern itself with capacity building to enable implementation of or adjustment to policies decided among the Group of 20 countries and at the International Monetary Fund and World Bank.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

In January of 1969 the Santa Barbara Channel was the site of an oil well blowout that still ranks today as the third-largest oil spill in U.S. waters, after the Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico and the Exxon Valdez in Prince William Sound. Wisconsin’s Senator Gaylord Nelson went to Santa Barbara to see what happened when an estimated 100,000 gallons of crude oil washed up on the coast of California killing sea life and birds, and destroying the shoreline. His anger at the environmental damage from off-shore oil drilling led Senator Nelson, along with activists Dennis Hayes and John Gardner, to found the first Earth Day in 1970.

Earth Day launched a national environmental movement that quickly achieved significant regulatory and policy goals. By December of 1970, President Nixon was calling for the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency. The long hard work of so many environmental heroes like Rachel Carson, author of Silent Spring, was taking hold. Teach-ins were happening at campuses across the country. A new generation was defining environmentalism.

As Earth Day 2012 approaches, we are left looking back at a 40-year battle to protect the earth from corporate pillage and abuse. Major off-shore oil spills have occurred every 20 years since then, with the Exxon Valdez in 1989 and Deepwater Horizon in 2010. A National Geographic map  of oil wells in the Gulf of Mexico shows a mass of red dots that looks like an open wound; there are literally thousands of wells in the Gulf.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The effects of trade liberalization (so-called free trade agreements like NAFTA) on the economy, jobs, the environment and even food security have all been studied closely, but as more and more governments start to confront the large and growing costs of poor diets on human health, new questions are emerging about the relationship between free trade agreements and the growing global obesity epidemic. When countries agree to liberalize the exchange of goods and capital among themselves, are they unwittingly also agreeing to share chronic diseases?

In a new article in the latest issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health, IATP takes a hard look at how the deregulation of trade and investment undermines human health. The article is co-authored by three IATP staff, Dr. David Wallinga, Karen Hansen-Kuhn and Sophia Murphy, together with Sarah Clarke, a graduate student at Tufts University and Corinna Hawkes, an environmental geographer with an extensive background on the links between health, food and global trade and finance.

The article looks at how NAFTA contributed to what nutritional experts call an “obesogenic environment” in Mexico. An explosion in the availability of low-quality, calorie-dense foods in Mexico in the wake of NAFTA coincided with Mexico going to second place worldwide for the highest percentage of overweight and obese people in its population (the USA takes first place).