June 2012

Friday, June 29, 2012

Today's episode of Radio Sustain features IATP Food and Community Fellow Valerie Segrest. As a nutritionist and a member of the Muckleshoot Tribe of the Pacific Northwest, her work centers on creating a culturally appropriate system of health through traditional foods and medicines, storytelling, and what she calls "place-based foods.

She'll also be speaking at IATP's September conference Food + Justice = Democracy

Take a listen to the episode below, or take a look at all of our Radio Sustain episodes

Thursday, June 28, 2012

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed the controversial Citizens United ruling by striking down a Montana law limiting corporate campaign spending. The ruling is a win for agribusiness and food companies exerting their influence over elections and government, and a loss for those advocating or farmers, the environment and consumers.

As we wrote earlier this month, there’s not an issue at the intersection of food, agriculture and government policy that doesn’t run into the enormous political influence of big corporations. Whether it is the Farm Bill, international trade or food safety, corporate influence in U.S. politics and within government is reaching unprecedented levels.

The Citizen United ruling, and accompanying Super PACs, have changed the game and are undermining our democracy. Corporate spending on elections is now unlimited and virtually unregulated at the federal level. The Supreme Court ruling on Monday clarified that the Citizens United decision also applies to state and local elections. Get ready for even more campaign attack ads.

If we want a responsive government that reflects the interests of all farmers, workers and the environment we have to fight back. There is a growing movement pushing for local resolutions in support of a Constitutional Amendment to overturn the Citizens United ruling. IATP supports that initiative and the United for the People campaign that is challenging corporate influence in our political system. 

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

 IATP is pleased to announce our new partnership with child-care provider New Horizon Academy (NHA) and the launch of our Farm to Child Care pilot program (press release).

Working with New Horizon, IATP is launching a new Farm to Child Care program that will take place at thirteen New Horizon child care sites in the Twin Cities metro, St. Cloud and Rochester areas beginning in June. The pilot is intended to help catalyze and inform the emerging Farm to Child Care movement around the country.

Leading up to the June launch, IATP and NHA have been building relationships with area farmers, revamping menus to include locally grown fruits, vegetables and wild rice, developing curriculum for the children, and generating helpful tips for parents. IATP has also released national research on nascent Farm to Child Care programs around the country, and the opportunities and challenges of connecting farmers with children in child care settings.

Given growing diet and nutrition challenges among youth, engaging children early in life is essential.  Reaching young children, particularly between the ages of three and five, is a golden opportunity to connect them with healthy food choices while creating new opportunities for the local farm economy. 

In 2013, the program will be extended to all 60 of NHA’s Minnesota child care locations, reaching a total of 7,500 children. After evaluation of the program, IATP will report its findings nationally and provide tools to encourage others around the nation to develop Farm to Childcare initiatives in their own communities.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Today is the last day of the U.N Conference on Sustainable Development that is taking place in Rio de Janiero from June 20 to 22 of June. Over 100 heads of states (with a notable absence of Barack Obama), and governments are in Rio, participating in the plenary meetings and High-level Round Tables as a prelude to adopting the negotiation document. On the final day of the last preparatory committee, on the evening of June 15, the negotiations had come to a standstill. Brazil however, as a host nation, did not want Rio+20 to end in failure. As we suspected, Brazil opted to provide the negotiators with a new, watered-down draft that would cause minimal disagreements. 

Brazil’s draft was negotiated over for the next four days and the new document. “The Future We Want,” was agreed upon by June 19, a day before the heads of states arrived and was called the “final draft text.” Before the high-level segment even started we had a text that was adopted by the negotiators, all but waiting for the endorsement of the final plenary. By the end of the day today we will know to what extent this document is tweaked to accommodate the interests of specific constituencies, but as of now the document remains more or less unchanged.

From June 16 to 19, the Brazilian government organized a series of sustainability dialogues, including those on water food and energy. The discussion on food security had an exceptionally strong panel with several advocates of agroecolgy. However, what was said in the dialogues was not reflected in the negotiating text and it is disappointing to see no reference to agroecology in this final draft.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

As the G-20 Summit in Los Cabos came to a close yesterday, various civil society observers expressed their disappointment at the lack of ambition in the leaders’ statement, particularly on food security and food price volatility. ActionAid’s Neil Watkins commented that, “With food prices swinging wildly and the planet burning, this was the moment for bold proposals from the G-20. Instead, on food security and climate change, the G-20 turned in last year’s homework, content to reaffirm old plans and commission more studies.” Others echoed these concerns, damning with faint praise the mild proposals to exchange information and support agricultural innovation, as well as criticizing the narrow focus on increasing productivity.

The problem is not only that the proposals are so lacking in ambition, but that the G-20 is evolving from an informal crisis-management confab to a rigid and undemocratic structure that serves to lock in policy changes in other multilateral forums. The minor mention of emergency reserves means that efforts by the World Food Programme or the FAO to expand beyond limited national reserves will be stymied, and the G-20’s heavy reliance on the "Business 20" (B-20) for policy guidance will likely mean that critical approaches to regulate public-private partnerships will remain off the table. G-20 recommendations effectively limit input by the other 173 U.N. member countries in these big decisions, to say nothing of the lack of channels for civil society engagement.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

When the Heads of State of the G-20 countries meet in Los Cabos, Mexico on June 18–19, they will have plenty to discuss—not least, the fragile global economy and the instability of international finance. Food security is on their agenda as well. Yet after the intense focus on agriculture and food security under the leadership of France, both ahead of and during its time as host of the G-20 in 2011, this year’s efforts are low-key.

The host government, Mexico, is preoccupied with national elections in July. The President chose to advance the Heads of State summit to mid-June, ahead of the election, rather than wait for later in the year, when G-20 summits are more normally held. The change of program has left the different working groups without much time to do their work. Mexico also chose a much narrower set of issues for the Agricultural Ministers’ contribution this year: agricultural productivity growth, with a linked focus on small family farms.

Monday, June 18, 2012

You’ve heard the numbers: 30 percent of American kids between the ages of 2 and 5 are either overweight or obese. Overweight children and adolescents suffer disproportionately from diabetes, asthma, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, atherosclerosis, bone and joint problems, and sleep apnea. Further, overweight youth have an estimated 70–80 percent chance of becoming obese adults.

That said, a new report from IATP highlights an emerging opportunity to bend the curve on early childhood obesity and nutrition. The years before children go to school are a critical time to influence kids’ lifelong eating habits. Children’s taste preferences are most actively developed between the ages of 3 and 5, and younger children are often more willing than older children to try new foods. That makes the early years, when many children are in child care, a golden opportunity for setting kids on the path toward healthy eating.

Farm to Child Care  programs—which link young children in child care settings with locally grown, minimally processed foods and the farmers who grow them—have the potential to make a lasting impact on the diets of young children, reducing their risk of obesity and diet-related disease throughout life.

By stressing healthy food choices from nearby farms and integrating experiential learning opportunities—like curriculum innovations, garden-based education, interactions with farmers and other strategies—Farm to Child Care can improve the quality of food being served and help kids develop a healthy and informed relationship with their food. 

Friday, June 15, 2012

From north to south, Mexican farmers are facing some of the most severe climate instability they’ve ever confronted. The northern states are suffering from what the Mexican government has called the worst drought the country has ever experienced; rain just won’t fall, and the crops that have been planted have dried up. In the south, they’ve had year after year of devastating floods, the result of which has been devastating topsoil loss on the uniformly hilly terrain.

Elias Ventura, a small-holder corn farmer in the state of Oaxaca, told me about the hopelessness of this situation when we sat next to each other yesterday at the seminar IATP is co-hosting this week in Mexico City, “New Paradigms and Public Policies for Agriculture and Global Food Systems,” in advance of next week’s G-20 meeting in Los Cabos, Mexico. He said that he’s had either too much rain, or not enough, and that getting a good harvest under the unpredictable new weather extremes (that he said are the result of climate change) seemed like an impossibility. I asked him if the Mexican government provided any support when his crops failed and he gave me a resolute “No.” Not only would he be without the income that the crop would provide, but his community would have to adjust to a sharp decrease in food availability. This challenge Mexican farmers and rural communities face in the wake of climate change stands in stark contrast to the risk-management program the U.S. Senate has proposed for the 2012 Farm Bill, which would guarantee up to 90 percent of farmers’ revenue if crops fail or prices fall, but there are some similarities.

Friday, June 15, 2012

IATP’s Shiney Varghese is in Rio participating in the Rio+20 Earth Summit.

Today, as we go into the last day of the official negotiations on the outcome document referred to as the “Future We Want,” well over half the document still remains bracketed. It is clear that the current world leadership is not able to deliver us a consensus document, let alone the future we want. It is still possible that the Brazilian government, as the host of this once in a generation event, might step forward and submit an entirely fresh document fashioned out of thin air, for the world leaders to sign, and save their face. Unfortunatley, it's a certainty, like the 2010 Cancún Climate Agreement brokered by the Mexican government, that this document will be watered down to the least common denominator issues.

So, what are the contentious issues blocking agreement? The primary disagreements appear to be around the Rio Principles, which the G-77 and allies insist on putting back in the text, and others, such as the U.S. government, do not want to be included.

Another seriously contested topic is on the so-called "green economy." Developing countries see sustainable consumption and production as central to any discussion on green economy, while the U.S. does not. The U.S. and several EU countries see ecosystems services (placing a market value on nature) as key to the green economy, while the G-77 and allies would prefer not to have it included at all, preferring a reference to ecosystem protection.

Thus, yesterday in the second working group on the green economy, a frustrated G-77 refused to continue negotiations until there was more clarity on implementation mechanisms.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Duking it out this spring to be crowned "Scourge of the 21st Century": the dual public health epidemics of obesity and antibiotic resistance.

Obesity, the reigning champion, costs the nation more than $190 billion per year in direct treatment costs alone—a figure more than $40 billion higher than estimates from just two years ago. It's an epidemic creating a future where many of our children will live shorter, more disabled lives than our own. Maybe no other health problem drives America harder towards fiscal insolvency.

Just last month, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) released Accelerating Progress in Obesity Prevention: Solving the Weight of the Nation. The new report highlights the monumental task before us. There are a constellation of factors in our collective food system that, together, contribute to the epidemic. They include the ubiquitous marketing of junk food to children; school and other child environments where it's simply easier and more convenient to eat junk food or drink sugar-sweetened beverages than it is to drink water or to eat healthy foods, like fruits and vegetables; and agricultural research and policy (read: the Farm Bill) that fails to ensure "an optimal mix of crops and farming methods for meeting the Dietary Guidelines for Americans," i.e., national guidelines for what constitutes healthy eating.

The IOM report reinforces that there is no magic bullet solution; rather, we must work to tackle all these factors at the same time. Simply put, they constitute a failed system, and we can't afford not to act.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Next week, 20 years after the original Earth Summit, the United Nations will host the Conference on Sustainable Development, also known as Rio+20, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. This conference will be the third of its kind organized by the U.N. and is preceded by the 1992 U.N. Conference on Environment and Development (or the Earth Summit), in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and the 2002, World Summit on Sustainable Development (Rio+10 conference) in Johannesburg.

IATP participated in the past two conferences and we are currently in in Rio de Janeiro, from June 13–23, 2012. While the conference itself is from June 20–22, it is preceded by the Third prep-com (June 13–15), the last round of intergovernmental negotiations. In addition to monitoring the negotiations, we are organizing a side event and cosponsoring several others. IATP has been involved with the Rio +20 process since last fall, when we submitted our input towards developing the negotiation document.