October 2012

Friday, October 26, 2012

I came away from the 39th session of UN Committee on World Food Security (CFS) last Saturday tired but hopeful. In a world where many are skeptical of global institutions' ability to solve the world’s most challenging problems—not least of which, climate change—the CFS offers a new approach to global governance, and is getting results. It’s a rare place in the multilateral system where transparency and participation have stretched to allowing civil society a place at the negotiating table. The processes are not perfect, and as Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food Olivier de Schutter’s summary reminds us, there is still a need for a “strong, innovative monitoring and accountability mechanism” to give the organization teeth. Nonetheless, it’s getting things done, and keeping a surprising diversity of people happy while doing it.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Last week in Rome, the United Nations’ Committee on World Food Security (CFS) agreed on key principles on how governments must address the massive food security challenge that climate change brings. The big news: Governments at the CFS recognized that policies addressing climate change must also support the Right to Food—an important step forward that if taken seriously by governments could result in a major shift in the way agriculture and land use are considered at the global climate talks.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

According to a new report from Common Cause, the American Chemistry Council (ACC) reported spending $2.8 million on political advertising so far in the 2011-12 election cycle. Scores of candidates “fighting for jobs” and “cutting government regulation” were funded by the ACC. The ACC is the trade group that represents big chemical companies like Dow Chemical and Exxon Mobil. In the 2011-12 election cycle the chemical industry also contributed $10 million to candidates for federal office and gave $388,000 to congressional leadership PACs.

Chemical companies are investing in a Congress that will represent their interests, and the money continues to flow after these officials take office. In 2011 the ACC spent $10.8 million lobbying Congress and for the first half of 2012 has spent $14.8 million. On top of this, individual chemical companies, including Dow Chemical and DuPont, have invested significant resources in lobbying Congress to the tune of $81.6 million to lobby the 112th Congress!

Why are big chemical companies spending big bucks on elections and lobbying? The chemical industry is trying to prevent reform of the outdated and ineffective Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). TSCA does a poor job of regulating the over 80,000 chemicals used in commerce, with only 5 chemicals restricted in its 35-year history. For the first time in 35 years, TSCA reform saw some positive momentum with the passage of Sen. Frank Lautenberg’s Safe Chemicals Act through the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in 2012. This legislation requires basic safety data on all chemicals and prioritizes the phase out of the worst chemicals, ones that are toxic and build up in the environment, in the food system and in the human body.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

IATP has long recognized that many of the drivers of the destructive industrial food system are not based on a sound rationale, but instead on a series of corporate marketing myths. IATP Food and Community Fellow Raj Patel, for example, has recently been taking on the false assumptions that contributed to the Green Revolution and the revitalized interest in a new Green Revolution.

Another common assumption is that we have a moral obligation to “feed the world,” and that we should not only embrace chemically intensive, industrial food production and distribution systems for profit, but also to fulfill a moral obligation to feed hungry people in other parts of the world. It’s an extremely effective frame. Surely you’re not willing to ignore the plight of the hungry in order to selfishly provide local wildlife habitat or eat local and organic foods?

IATP has researched the relationship between U.S. grain exports and hunger, an important component of this myth. A recent report by IATP Senior Associate Julia Olmstead reveals that dramatic increases in U.S. grain production and export has not alleviated global hunger.

This confirms the conclusions of the exhaustive review conducted for the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), which found that inadequate income and the inability of countries facing hunger to develop their own sustainable food systems are important drivers to hunger that are often ignored in the drive for increased industrial food production.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Guest blogger Sarah Leavitt is the digital outreach manager of the Lambi Fund of Haiti.

It’s a common scene in Haiti: Marceline, a small farmer, walks into a bustling market to sell her harvest and the marketplace is riddled with imported goods.  Fruits and vegetables are from the Dominican Republic, packaged goods from the U.S. line the rows and large bags of rice stamped with USAID lay on the ground. To an unknowing eye, this wouldn’t mean much, but to Marceline these imported goods are undercutting her and other Haitian farmers’ ability to make an honest living.

In Haiti, the idea of food sovereignty means so much more than growing food that is healthy, culturally appropriate and produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods (as defined by the International Planning Committee for Food Sovereignty). For the more than half of Haitian society that depends on agriculture for its livelihood, an agriculture system that that supports locally grown foods is imperative.

The struggle to protect and strengthen local agriculture is nothing new to Haiti. Severe environmental degradation and years of deforestation have eroded the soil and left much of the land devoid of the nutrients essential to producing high yielding crops. This, coupled with Haiti’s propensity for natural disasters, like hurricanes, leaves small farmers especially vulnerable to fluctuations in the environment. 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

On September 24–26, 2012, hundreds of food justice advocates gathered in Minneapolis for the Food + Justice = Democracy conference. One of the primary features of the conference was the use of a People’s Movement Assembly process to craft principles around food justice. View and comment on the draft Principles of Food Justice or read a summary of the conference and its aims below. Join IATP for a post-conference webinar to review the outcomes and plan for moving forward on November 15. RSVP now.

The U.S food system has never been just, fair or healthy. This is a shocking statement to some, but to the vast majority of people of color and tribal nations in the United States this has always been a reality. This sentiment was the thread connecting many of the conversations throughout all three days of IATP’s Food + Justice = Democracy conference last month in Minneapolis.

African Americans, Native Americans, Asian Americans and Latinos experience higher incidence of chronic diseases, higher mortality, and poorer overall health outcomes. To address the health disparities that those communities face, we must recognize their experience in the overall analysis of the problem of a failed food and agriculture system.  

Thursday, October 18, 2012

In the mid-1970s, I was a member of the Detroit-based Pan-African Congress, USA. Inspired by the South African political party, the Pan-Africanist Congress, the PAC-USA, asserted that “land is the basis of power.” Of course, this slogan echoed the words of Malcolm X and countless other Black activists before him. It embodied the understanding that it is from the land that we get the food that sustains our lives. It is from the land that we get the materials needed for housing, and clothing. It is from the land that we get mineral resources that feed economies and generate wealth. It is on the land that we build, grow and create community. As we struggle to foster food security, food justice and food sovereignty, the question of land, who “owns” it, who controls it and who benefits from it, must be in the forefront of our discussions.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

World Food Day is an event perhaps best known to those already advocating to end hunger in their own countries and around the globe. That seems like such an obvious goal, and yet how to achieve it is subject to vigorous debate. This year we’re in the middle of the third global food price crisis since 2008. It seems likely that those crises will become the upward swings of ever more unstable prices unless we make some serious shifts in policy and practice.

To begin with, it’s about time we abandon the idea that the problem of global hunger is simply about producing enough food. Increasing the volume of food production is important, but who has access to that food, and who controls how it is grown is even more vital. The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) reports that 70 percent of rural people live in poverty. Many of those people are themselves farmers who are also facing new threats to their ability to feed their families and their communities.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

After a six-year struggle, Chipotle Mexican Grill has signed an agreement with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) to join the Fair Food Program. This victory came just days before a massive CIW action was to take place at the Chipotle "Cultivate Festival" near its headquarters in Denver, Colorado and represents a historic moment for the Food Justice movement. "After six long years, people all across the country have added their own grain of sand to this growing movement," IATP Food and Community Fellow Kandace Vallejo said in an email about the victory.

The agreement, which will improve wages and working conditions for farmworkers in Florida who pick tomatoes for Chipotle, comes in advance of the winter tomato-growing season, when most of the nation’s tomatoes come from growers in Florida.

The Fair Food Program provides a bonus for tomato pickers to improve wages and binds growers to protocols and a code of conduct that explicitly include a voice for workers in health and safety issues, worker-to-worker education on the new protections under the code, and a complaint resolution procedure which workers can use without fear of retaliation. The Program also provides for independent third party audits to ensure compliance.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Last week a U.S. federal judge struck down a Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) rule designed to prevent excessive speculation in agricultural and non-agricultural commodities by Wall Street and its biggest corporate clients. A growing body of peer-reviewed research and public interest analysis has shown how the dominance of financial institution speculation in commodity markets has resulted in structurally higher and more volatile prices. The position limit rule restricts the amount of contracts that can be held by any one trader and its affiliates during a given time period. The rule was scheduled to go into effect on October 12. Agribusiness firms, such as Archer Daniel Midlands and Bunge Ltd., are among the non-banks seeking to delay and weaken rules on over-the-counter  trades (OTC) that are privately negotiated and not reported to regulatory authorities.

IATP, as a member of the Commodity Markets Oversight Coalition (CMOC), has advocated the extension of CFTC position limit rules to include OTC trades. As CFTC Chairman Gary Gensler has stated in dozens of speeches, most recently on October 1 at the Bank of England, the lack of regulation of the OTC markets was a major factor in the financial service industry crisis of 2008-09, triggering the Great Recession in which we are still ensnared.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

What does it take to get the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to fulfill their duty to protect public health? More than a letter from two members of Congress, apparently.

FDA finally responded to a letter sent by Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY), Congress’ only microbiologist, and Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA) last May. Following on the heels of the release of IATP’s Bugs in the System report, the letter asked what FDA was doing to control the unapproved, and possibly illegal, marketing of antibiotics by animal drug companies for use in ethanol production.

As IATP documented in our report, antibiotics are widely used in ethanol production to control bacterial contamination, although non-antibiotic alternatives are also effective and readily available on the market. Our investigation showed that the agency considers antibiotics used in ethanol production to be “food additives.” Under federal code, food additives must be FDA approved before they can be lawfully marketed. None of the antibiotics used in ethanol production—including the human drugs penicillin and erythromycin, and human-drug analogues tylosin and virginiamycin—have been so approved, yet the FDA has refused to regulate their marketing and use.