July 2012

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Steve Ells is doing a great thing. It’s not just the Chipotle founder and CEO’s decision to buy organic, or local, or avoid antibiotics in animal products. It’s not even his focus on ethically raised meat. No, his greatest contribution is one of omission. While nationwide protests urge Mr. Ells to sign a labor agreement with farm workers, the mainstream press (most recently Time magazine) has chosen to focus on the eco-friendly practices of the Chipotle fast food chain. They call this “sustainability,” but it’s not; and this is what Mr. Ells has given us—an opportunity to redefine sustainability.

Most people think of sustainability as environmentalism for the business owner, but this is a narrow redefinition of a broad, inclusive term. To sustain is to keep something going, to endure. A sustainable system is one in which the elements are used only to the point where they can regenerate, where resources are not simply used up and disposed of. In this more comprehensive and accurate sense, a food system that exploits workers is not sustainable.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Six years ago, an IATP intern with a bright idea and a lot of determination launched what has become known fondly as the Minneapolis “Mini Market” project.  With technical assistance and support from IATP, a wide variety of public housing facilities, churches, hospitals and neighborhood-based organizations have launched small farmers markets in Minneapolis, providing market opportunities for small and start-up farmers and bringing locally grown foods to under-served areas across the city. 

Today, IATP is pleased to announce that we are passing leadership of the Mini Farmers Market Network to four terrific community-based partners:  the West Broadway Business and Area Coalition, Greater Minneapolis Council of Churches' Minnesota FoodShare program, Northeast Minneapolis Farmers Market and Kingfield Farmers Market.

These organizations are proven leaders in community building, food access and/or farmers market management. We are thrilled to pass the baton to them, to guide them through this first year of transition, and to see the network unfold under their leadership in the years ahead. Each organization will provide support and guidance to a cluster of markets in the area of Minneapolis in which they are based. The markets themselves are each managed by a community organization that hosts the market on their grounds.

Since the beginning of the project in 2006, more than 20 organizations have hosted Mini Markets. Most of the markets accept WIC (Women, Infants and Children) benefits and several have begun accepting food support (SNAP/EBT) benefits.

Monday, July 30, 2012

One of the many ironies of the U.S. Farm Bill debate over crop insurance and revenue “assurance” programs was a tacit bipartisan agreement not to say in public four words that summarized major drivers in creating the proposed programs. The U.S. drought, covering 80 percent of arable land and the worst since 1956, has pressured Congress to expand taxpayer subsidized crop insurance while refraining from uttering its cause: climate change. In 2011, crops insurers paid out a record $11 billion, according to the American Association of Crop Insurers’ manager David Graves.

Promoters of “revenue assurance” to counter price drops, which decimate farm income, were loath to mention “financial speculation.” (Earlier this year, Farm Bill writers took into account the possibility of planting binges and subsequent low prices, on the assumption that there would be a robust harvest to sell. They did not acknowledge the role excess financial speculation plays in price-setting).

Notwithstanding the commodity and financial market crimes and debacles of the past five years, market regulation, including enforcement of current law and the implementation of the “Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act,” still faces well-financed opposition in Congress and on Wall Street.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

It’s moving fast: The promised benefits of nanotechnology in food applications are astounding, almost unbelievable. For example, applying certain nanomaterials (simply put: materials manipulated at an atomic level) to conveyer belts in food production plants could prevent pathogen growth by keeping the belts clean and lowering the chance of contamination. Nanotech applications like these are finding their way into our food system at breakneck speeds. The bad news is that there are no FDA regulations for nanotechnology to ensure public health and the environment are protected.

In fact, very little research has been done on possible health effects from nanotechnology. The research that has been done associates significant health risks with both inhalation of nanomaterials and exposure to skin. Meanwhile, a 2012 National Research Council study reported “little progress” on research about health effects associated with oral consumption.

The FDA has drafted new guidance to industry on the use of nanotechnology in food, and is accepting public comment until July 24. IATP is collecting letters as part of an action campaign to tell the FDA to put consumer health first and impose mandatory regulation that protects public health.

Take part in our action alert, or for more information on nanotechnology in agriculture, read IATP’s 2011 report, Racing Ahead: U.S. Agri-Nanotechnology in the Absence of Regulation.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

There has been a lot of noise on the Farm Bill lately. Last month, the Senate approved its Farm Bill, and last week the House Agriculture Committee approved its own version. Despite major differences, both Houses of Congress have one thing in common: they are virtually silent on corporate market power and competition in agriculture.

Nearly every sector of agriculture is now dominated by four or fewer companies. In the 2008 Farm Bill, fair markets and competition were at least acknowledged as an issue to be addressed. The Livestock Title included provisions that required the updating of rules to the Packers and Stockyards Act, and helped spur a national series of workshops co-hosted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Justice (DoJ) on competition and agriculture in 2010.

Not so in the 2012 Farm Bill. It’s almost as if excess corporate power in agriculture has magically disappeared. In fact, the House Agriculture Committee Farm Bill actually prevents the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) from implementing new rules on fair contracts for poultry growers.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

With the U.S. government announcement last week that this year’s corn crop is expected to be much smaller due to an extended drought, agricultural commodity markets are yet again headed for high and unstable prices this summer. Is the world better prepared for the shortfall then it was in 2007? Certainly, the United States is not. To cite agricultural journalist Alan Guebert:

Indeed, according to CCC (Commodity Credit Corporation), there is not one teaspoon of sugar, one pound of peanuts, one slice of butter, one wheel of cheese, one bushel of wheat or even one chickpea in USDA’s pantry. CCC has nothing—nada, zip, goose egg—to release into the marketplace to slow or moderate what’s certain to be fast-climbing food prices in the coming months.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

While the food movement gains steam and several hundred good food advocates across the country gear up after the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s annual Food and Community Gathering, it may be worth our while to stop for a moment and reflect. Perhaps taking a cue from the Occupy Movement’s General Assembly, this year’s gathering was titled Assembly Required,calling on those of us who identify with the struggle for a more humane and just world created through food to come to the table together.

Coincidentally, this is just what food worker justice struggles have been seeking for years. Although focused on what might have traditionally been identified as “labor struggles,” organizations like the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, (CIW) the Food Chain Workers Alliance (FCWA), and Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en La Lucha (CTUL, Center for Workers United in Struggle, in English) all lend texture to the fabric of sustainable food struggles. And in doing so, they confront some of the biggest entities in the food world today.

Some of the companies being targeted for food worker injustice may not be a big surprise—such as the FCWA campaign against Darden (owner of Olive Garden and Red Lobster) to stop discrimination and wage theft at some of its NYC chains, or the recent CTUL campaign to win better wages and protections for workers who clean retail and grocery stores in the Twin Cities area.