May 2012

Thursday, May 31, 2012

IATP's Jim Kleinschmit was recently interviewed by ARC2020,  a multi-stakeholder platform, of over 150 organisations within 22 EU Member States working for reform the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). They asked about his work, and the links between the U.S. Farm Bill and the CAP. Learn more about ARC2020 at or read the interview below:

Last month, we received a visit from Jim Kleinschmit, Rural Communities Program Director at the Institute of Agriculture and Trade Policy, USA. We took the opportunity to ask him about his work, his organisation and the links between the US Farm Bill and Europe’s Common Agricultural Policy…

1. Can you tell us how you came to be involved in your work and what are the strongest images and/or influences that have been accompanying you?

I was fortunate to be raised on a farm in Northeast Nebraska by parents involved in the U.S. family farm and sustainable agriculture movement. Over the last twenty five years, my family has transitioned our farm from conventional dairy, livestock and crop production to organic crop and grass-fed beef production. Throughout our childhood and even today, my parents instilled in me and my siblings the importance of farming in society, the responsibility farmers have to protect and enhance soil and other natural resources, and the fact that our current farm policies are not working for farmers, the environment or society.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Many of us on staff at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy enjoy an occasional Chipotle burrito. Compared to other casual dining options, the company has done an outstanding job of sourcing antibiotic-free meat from farmers committed to the humane treatment of animals. We applaud its efforts to provide “food with integrity” and, of course, the touching “Back to the Start” video that depicts the life of a family farmer.

Yet despite these admirable efforts, we are disappointed by Chipotle’s blind spot when it comes to farmworkers. As mentioned in a previous post and illustrated in a video by IATP Food and Community Fellow Shalini Kantayya, the treatment of workers in Florida’s tomato fields is atrocious. Tomato harvesters are still paid by the piece, and the average piece rate today is 50 cents for every 32 pounds of tomatoes they pick, a rate that has remained virtually unchanged since 1980. As a result of that stagnation, a worker today must pick more than 2.25 TONS of tomatoes to earn minimum wage in a typical 10-hour workday—nearly twice the amount a worker had to pick to earn minimum wage thirty years ago, when the rate was 40 cents per bucket.

Effectively addressing this crisis is not easy. Federal labor policy has overtly ignored the plights of farmworkers, and any individual grower would price himself/herself out of business if they tried to institute better labor standards as an individual business.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Earlier this week, The Guardian reported on a study that looked at rising sea levels from a new angle. The study found that efforts to meet increasing freshwater demand by harnessing “fossil” groundwater [groundwater that cannot be replenished for millennia under current climate conditions] contributes more to rising sea levels than melting glaciers. Since there it cannot be replenished, tapping groundwater results in land subsidence (downward-shifting of ground surface) and a one-way transfer of water into the oceans. Researchers involved concluded that the deep tube-well drilling for water has contributed to sea level increases by an average of a millimeter every year since 1961. Neither the climate community nor the water community had paid attention to this aspect of tube-well drilling before.

Friday, May 25, 2012

“Antibiotic levels nearly nil” screams the headline from this article in the industry trade publication, National Hog Farmer. It was a piece of spin doctoring in response to IATP’s report earlier this month on the widespread and unregulated use of human antibiotics in ethanol production. Ethanol producers use antibiotics to control bacterial outbreaks during production, which can interfere with the fermentation process and lower ethanol yields.

Our report, “Bugs in the System,” made some basic points:

  1. We know antibiotic use, wherever it occurs, can drive antibiotic resistance.
  2. Antibiotics in ethanol, we now know, leaves residues in what are known as “distillers grains” (DGS) a co-product that gets sold as livestock feed. The FDA has determined that sales of antibiotics to the ethanol  industry should be restricted, but has turned a blind eye to actually regulating such sales.
  3. Using human-medicine antibiotics and their analogues to produce much of the nearly 14 billion gallons of ethanol produced each year is both unnecessary and a pretty poor idea. Many ethanol producers have turned to non-antibiotic alternatives, which are readily available and effective, and those producers remain profitable.

The industry has said nothing to refute points #1 and #3. They can’t. They are irrefutable. The process of antibiotic resistance is basic to microbiology. POET, the world’s largest ethanol producer, is certified antibiotic-free.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

IATP’s Steve Suppan is in Bonn, Germany blogging from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiations.

The UNFCCC negotiations have thus far been a pretty quiet affair. There are just over 3,000 government delegates, intergovernmental officials and accredited NGO observers going about their jobs, with just a handful of journalists to report the results. It is very unlikely that there will be any of the front-page drama of negotiators photographed huddling over the meaning of a phrase to come to an agreement to “save” the negotiations, as happened in Durban, South Africa, 36 hours after many developing country negotiators had gone home. Protest actions are few, small and polite, with none of the beatings of climate negotiations protestors that occurred in Durban and at previous Conference(s) of the Parties (CoP) to the UNFCCC. For example, today the Youth Nongovernmental Organizations staged a “marriage” between climate finance and climate science, complete with costumes and a blessing.

So instead of street fighting, there is a lot of infighting, some of it subtle and some not so subtle. On May 19, IATP went to two UNFCCC workshops called for by the Durban CoP.  The workshops featured about two dozen presentations that are thematized here. The first had the title “Workshop on a framework for various approaches,” for financing projects to reduce greenhouse gases (GHGs) and to adapt to climate change. The diplomatically cumbersome title notwithstanding, much of the workshop was about whether the trading of carbon emissions credits would result in any net reduction in GHGs to prevent a catastrophic global warming.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The G-8 met this past the weekend in the United States. Three years earlier the group of the most powerful industrialized nations met in L’Aquila, Italy, just as food-price spikes were sending millions into poverty. They stepped up to the challenge, with a three-year, $22 billion pledge of aid for agricultural development to address the food crisis.

Well, three years is done and, apparently, so is the G-8 commitment to address the food crisis. How else to interpret the sad excuse of an aid program that is “The New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition.”

According to President Barack Obama, who unveiled the program before the G-8 convened May 18, this is a commitment to “raise 50 million people out of poverty” in Africa in the next ten years. How? Mobilize private sector money. Already some 45 private companies have been brought in, creating a partnership with G-8 governments and some African governments. The initial commitment from the private sector is worth $3 billion, and the first three recipient governments are Tanzania, Ethiopia and Ghana. To qualify to join the alliance, according to the press release, African governments must, “refine policies in order to improve investment opportunities.”

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The global scramble for land and resources has a big new player, and if you’re a teacher or work for a nonprofit, it might be you. The Financial Times reported this week that TIAA-CREF is developing a new “investment vehicle” that will bet the retirement funds of millions of American on the rising price of farmland around the world. According to the report:

The move represents a further step by institutional investors to look for ways to exploit the rapid growth of emerging markets and for long term alternatives to stocks and bonds following the poor performance of the last decade.

“We see increased protein consumption in developing economies and alternative energy mandates driving increased demand for food, fibre and fuel from a limited resource—land,” said Jose Minaya, head of global natural resources and infrastructure investments at TIAA-CREF.

TIAA-CREF holds half a trillion U.S. dollars representing the retirement funds of over three million American college professors and nonprofit workers. It is joining a huge wave of investment into farmland that has swallowed over 560 million acres worldwide since 2001. (Equivalent to about one quarter of all farm and ranch land in the U.S.)  Proponents call this a win-win proposition, with wealth from the finance industry flowing to the cash-starved farming sectors of Africa, Asia and Latin America, and generating profits for Wall Street while feeding the world.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The issue of food waste is a hot topic these days. Everyone from the Food Network to the Environmental Protection Agency is talking about it and trying to get people thinking about the fact that throwing away food really is a waste. Here at IATP, where we strive to ensure fair and sustainable systems, we can’t overlook the ways in which throwing away food is neither fair nor sustainable for people or the planet.

I recently had a chance to attend the 26th Annual BioCycle West Coast Conference in Portland, Oregon. The conference brings together experts and leaders on compost, anaerobic digestion, bioplastics, biogas and organic waste management to discuss science, regulation, innovation and a whole gamut of related issues. Focused not only on identifying the problems, the BioCycle gathering strives to challenge conventional thinking about how we use resources, and offer solutions which make our communities more sustainable, while providing economic opportunities for business.

One of the most widely shared opinions among attendees is that we must make the idea of “organic waste” an oxymoron. Dennis McLerran, US EPA Region 10, reminded us in his keynote that approximately 40 percent of the food we produce in the United States ends up wasted, and that only 3 percent is recovered for compost. While we obviously need to address front-end ways to prevent waste in the first place, we cannot keep thinking of food, or any organic materials for that matter, as waste. As one speaker put it, we’ve got to adopt a “waste-to-worth” attitude.

Monday, May 14, 2012

The multi-million dollar initiative known as AGree released their mission and strategies for transforming food and agriculture policy by 2030 last week. Despite a litany of plans and players involved, it’s still hard to know what to make of AGree.

AGree is the brainchild of nine foundations (with the Gates Foundation far and away the largest) that already fund a variety of initiatives of food and agriculture in the U.S. and around the world. They announced a year ago that they would combine forces and launch “an initiative designed to inform and address food and agriculture policy issues through the direct engagement of diverse groups” to “drive transformational change.”

AGree is led by four co-chairs including former USDA Secretary Dan Glickman, and a diverse Advisory Committee that includes farmers of all sizes and types as well corporate giants like Cargill and DuPont.  AGree has identified four interrelated challenges: meeting future demand for food; conserving and enhancing water, soil and habitat; improving nutrition and public health; and strengthening farms, workers and communities. And last week, AGree announced their five strategic priorities to take on these challenges:

Friday, May 11, 2012

Earlier this month as the U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development was hosting one of the last meetings to bring out a final draft for the negotiations in Rio de Janeiro, I came across a flurry of reports issued by various entities, including the one by UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA), entitled Sustainable Development in the 21st century (SD21) Report for Rio+20, which will serve as a roadmap during the Rio+20 conference this June. (In all fairness, I should mention that IATP contributed to the component of this report entitled, “Food and Agriculture: The future of sustainability.”) While all of these reports focus on sustainability, the call for sustainability in the agricultural sector is worth our attention for the simple reason that it is where one of the most crucial fights for world’s resources is taking place.

Friday, May 11, 2012

IATP has issued a press statement applauding Representatives Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) for writing  to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and calling for action on antibiotics in ethanol production.

Our latest investigation, Bugs in the System: How the FDA Fails to Regulate Antibiotics in Ethanol Production, is heavily cited in their letter, and it's encouraging to see them addressing the FDA's apparent neglect of their responsibilities. Check out the press statement, posted below, or read up on the IATP investigation that made it happen. Hopefully the FDA will recognize its responsibility and take the actions necessary to correct the situation. Get involved in the fight against antibiotic resistance by signing IATP's latest petition.