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.

September 2012

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Mammals fed a diet of genetically engineered (GE) Roundup Ready corn for two years died earlier and developed more tumors and liver and kidney damage, according to a new study published this week in the peer-reviewed journal, Food and Chemical Toxicology.  

The findings reinforce recent calls by the American Medical Association that GE crops be safety tested for possible health impacts before they enter the marketplace. No such premarket testing is currently required in the United States.

Corn genetically engineered to be pesticide-tolerant or insect-resistant makes up 88 percent of the U.S. corn crop.  Monsanto’s Roundup Ready varieties make up the vast majority—an estimated 70 percent of the U.S. corn crop; it is widely planted in Brazil as well. 

This GE corn, which allows farmers to spray the herbicide, Roundup, on fields without damaging the corn, largely ends up in ethanol plants, animal feed and processed human foods. But just last fall, Monsanto introduced for the first time a Roundup Ready sweetcorn, bringing GE technology directly to consumers’ mouths.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

It has always been an amusing pastime for agricultural policy wonks to envision what would happen if a Farm Bill was allowed to expire. Nobody actually thought that it could come to fruition; after all, the uncertainty that it would impose on farmers and agricultural markets would be too great for Congress not to act on passing a new Farm Bill. Yet, remarkably, it now looks like that scenario is inevitable.

The current Farm Bill, passed in 2008, will expire on September 30. The Senate passed a bill over the summer, and the House has yet to have a floor vote on the bill that emerged from the House Agriculture committee, and will not have a vote prior to September 30. There is a lot of guessing about the overall impacts of an expired Farm Bill, and the media is already full of stories of the stalemate and frustrating lack of Congressional action.

So for those of us not farming or trading agricultural commodities, what impact would this legislative breakdown have on our lives? It’s a complicated question, because some programs would most likely continue unchanged, some programs would disappear and some programs would revert to “permanent law” of Farm Bills past. Overall, it appears that an incorporation of policies from the 1930s and 1940s, coupled with the elimination of many of the more recent programs, would create some major problems. Here are some rough generalizations that can be made, thanks in large part to the Congressional Research Service’s review of this question back in March.

Friday, September 14, 2012

September 10, 2012

No, it really was not a rallying cry for sanitation—but rather the “TP..P” stands for the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, and the call was made by hundreds of non-profits, labor unions and family farm groups on September 9 at the site of the closed-door trade negotiations in Leesburg, VA. How many people remember the North American Free Trade Agreement? Well, the TPP is supposed to be a bigger version of NAFTA. Just when we thought that the free trade paradigm had come to a sobering halt (what with the WTO in a coma, a global economic crisis and recent food crises forcing hard questions about our global trade, finance and agriculture policies), we need to think again!

Apparently, the US Trade Representative’s office thinks that the way to address unemployment and economic woes in this country is to further lower import and export duties and relax the rules that govern investment, services, intellectual property and much more. USTR has been negotiating the TPP for over two years with Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Chile, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam. The negotiations also involve chapters on environment and labor. Yet neither environmentalists nor labor unions have been allowed to see the negotiating document, even though USTR has concluded 14 rounds of talks on an agreement with 29 chapters.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Overusing antibiotics has spurred a crisis in antibiotic resistance.

Since their advent in the 1940s, it’s been no secret that the more you use antibiotics, the quicker bacteria get resistant to them.

What’s newer is the realization of the scale of antibiotic overuse, at least in agriculture. Since 2010, the FDA has collected data from pharmaceutical companies definitively showing that more than 80 percent of all U.S. antibiotics – some 29 million lbs per year– are sold for use in livestock or poultry. Ninety percent of these are put at low doses into livestock feed or water for flocks or herds, often to spur growth or economic gain and not to treat a diagnosed disease.

What’s also new is that bacteria generally now have the capability to become resistant to most if not all antibiotics quite quickly. More and more now, people are getting sick and dying from infections that no longer respond easily to antibiotics. Some, like MRSA, have become household names. Others are less known, though often no less deadly.

But most resistant infections still take place in hospitals. Inside those walls, the impact is huge: Patients with resistant infections get sicker, stay in the hospital longer, and die more frequently than do patients with non-resistant bugs. The economics are scary, too. Resistant hospital infections cost $18,000 to $29,000 per case to treat, causing a cumulative $20 billion price tag for the nation.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The current drought facing the U.S. should send down jitters among net food importers worldwide as the price of major grain crops is set to rise dramatically. The drought can be seen as a result of climate change that has led to unpredictable weather patterns the world over.

Farmers in Kenya continue to face the challenges of unpredictable weather patterns that either bring too much or insufficient rain and extreme weather conditions. The situation has been worsened by the loss of local and traditional seed varieties that are more resilient to dry weather.

Women, have since time immemorial been the custodians of seeds in Africa. They bred, selected, sorted and stored seeds for different seasons and ceremonies. They understood their environment to the extent that they could read nature signs and predict what the next season would bring. That is how communities would always be prepared for droughts and would save sufficient food to take them through hard times.

Even with women as custodians of seed, men too had their role in ensuring food security for their families. Some crops like yams were crops tended to by men. I remember going to the village as a young child and grandma would ask grandpa to dig up some yams for us to carry back to the city. One time I asked grandma why she could not dig up the yams herself and she responded that that was the work of men and a crop tended to by grandpa. This remains vivid in my memory, almost twenty years after grandma passed on from throat cancer. 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Agricultural prices, both national and international, are affected by commodity and financial market rules. Export revenues and import costs depend on the value of the dollar, the dominant international currency for commodity trading, relative to the value of other currencies. Interest rate rules affect the interest rates for all kinds of agricultural borrowing, from loans for planting to those for shipping products. However, financial market rules that affect agriculture, and thus food security, are written for all economic sectors, not just agriculture, so agriculture is usually not mentioned explicitly in the rulemaking.

U.S. regulators writing new rules to regulate financial and commodity markets have focused on how these rules will be applied in U.S. markets. However, if the foreign branches of U.S. and European firms are allowed to continue to act with reckless abandon outside of U.S. jurisdiction, legislation to reform Wall Street will be in vain. This summer, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) proposed guidance that grapples with the tough question of how to regulate financial instruments called “swaps,” which are traded by foreign affiliates of U.S. banks. Getting this “cross-border” rulemaking right will be critical for farmers and global food security.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

September is Farm to School Month in Minnesota, so treat yourself to some delectable locally grown foods and thank your farmer. In 2011, Governor Dayton officially proclaimed September to be Farm to School Month and this year, more schools than ever are participating.

Farm to School initiatives—which link school age children with local foods and the farmers who produced them—are taking off around the country. That’s especially true here in Minnesota, where 145 school districts serving two-thirds of Minnesota’s K-12 students are now dishing up tasty, locally grown foods.

Students are learning where their food comes from, trying fresh foods they haven’t eaten before and learning to grow food in school gardens. Our farmers are doing their part by providing top quality, healthy foods grown nearby. And school lunch ladies are making it all come together by trying out new recipes featuring fresh, healthy choices like tomatoes, zucchini, sweet corn and peppers.

The volatile weather this growing season has been particularly tough on Minnesota’s small- and mid-size farmers, with challenges ranging from too little rain, unrelenting high temps, flooding and hail. An early freeze was devastating to apple growers across the Upper Midwest. So please remember to support your local farmers in whatever way you can: Tell your school board that you support Farm to School, or shop at your local farmers market and support nearby restaurants or retailers that support local growers.