November 2012

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Two new studies published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology document routine exposure to toxic flame retardants in household dust and furniture. The first study, conducted by the Silent Spring Institute, found 55 chemicals in household dust, including chlorinated tris, a carcinogen, at levels exceeding EPA health guidelines. HBCD (HBCYD), listed as priority chemical in Minnesota, was found in every home. Because the study included dust samples from 2006 and 2011, it documented changes in flame retardant use over time. For example, penta-BDE was phased out of use in polyurethane foam in 2005, after it was found to be persistent, toxic and build up in the environment, food system and human body, but it was been replaced with alternatives that are themselves problematic. Levels of penta-replacement chemical, Firemaster 550, increased in 2011. This is concerning because safety data on Firemaster 550 are lacking and there is evidence of reproductive harm. Another toxic chemical found in household dust, chlorinated tris, is also a penta-replacement in foam used in infant products like breastfeeding pillows and changing table mats.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The money in your mug. The nickel in your nip. The cashflow in your cup. What’s the connection and what does it have to do with you?

After oil, coffee is the world’s most traded commodity. Globally, over 25 million farmers grow coffee to support themselves and their families.  Many of these growers are very small, with a typical Fair Trade coffee farmer growing on less than eight acres of land. 

At the beginning of each growing season, farmers need to come up with the cash needed to run their farm as the coffee grows, to harvest it and get it to market. Like  farmers around the world, they have to finance these costs, as well as cover living expenses year round, even though they only harvest and get paid once a year.

Small-scale farmers have long struggled to access traditional financing. Lacking conventional collateral and access to fairly-priced loans they often have to borrow money from middle-men at exorbitant interest rates that cut into their profits and their ability to meet their families’ most basic needs.  Around the world, the annual demand for sustainable trade financing for farmers is estimated at $3 billion. The financing that is actually available to small growers is more like $300 million.

That’s where you come in.

Peace Coffee (which is owned by IATP) and a group of like-minded coffee roasters in the U.S. and Canada are exploring a new way for you to put your money where your mug is. In conjunction with the Grow Ahead Foundation, they are participating in a new model for social trade finance that connects coffee drinkers and others with the farmers who grow their coffee.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The biggest threat for agriculture at the 18th Conference of Parties (COP) of the UNFCCC is the certain likelihood (oxymoron intended) of “non-decisions” for setting ambitious emissions reduction targets for the post-2012 period, when the Kyoto Protocol’s first commitment period expires. Bill McKibben’s widely circulated article Global Warming's Terrifying New Math tells us in starkly clear terms what we need to do to set things right:

We have five times as much oil and coal and gas on the books as climate scientists think is safe to burn. We'd have to keep 80 percent of those reserves locked away underground to avoid that fate. Before we knew those numbers, our fate had been likely. Now, barring some massive intervention, it seems certain.

McKibben lays out in simple terms what we policy advocates and scientists have failed to do thus far: convince the average citizen in the industrialized world why immediate, ambitious and drastic cuts in our fossil fuel use is necessary to prevent the deadliest impacts of global warming, not just for future generations, but for this generation. Yet, government representatives will be going to the climate talks prepared to take years to cobble together a legally binding deal to cut emissions worth the paper they sign. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy is pleased to announce that we’ve been chosen as a recipient by the USDA’s new Farm to School grant program.

Farm to School efforts that connect K-12 students to foods produced nearby are growing by leaps and bounds. Across the country, more than 12,000 schools are involved. In IATP’s home state of Minnesota, nearly 150 school districts serving two-thirds of Minnesota’s students are now offering locally and regionally grown foods.

With USDA’s support, IATP will begin working on a couple of the key challenges and opportunities now facing the Farm to School movement. One of those challenges is that in the Northern half of the United States the harvest season for fresh fruits and vegetables only partially overlaps with the school year (primarily in September and October). Another is that, while fresh fruits and vegetables have been a very successful starting point for Farm to School procurement, we need to engage a broader swath of the agricultural community and to impact more and more types of food on the tray.

And lastly, we need to complement innovation at the school and district level with more collaboration across multiple districts. School districts acting individually are challenged to have a significant impact on larger supply chains or to create enough demand to support new product development by food entrepreneurs. By working together, districts can identify opportunities for new types of products and collaborate with farmers, food processors and other supply chain players to provide markets for those foods.

Monday, November 19, 2012

I’ve been a feminist all my life. It had something to do with having three brothers and no sisters, perhaps—that and parents who encouraged me to be who I wanted to be.  It had to do, too, with the sexism I experienced. The school careers councillor who suggested that it might be awkward to be a diplomat because it would mean my husband would have to follow my career, for example. But of course, I am one of the lucky women. Not only did I have access to an education; so did my mother, and her mother before her, who was one of the first two graduates from her all-girl high school in London to attend university, in 1929. I have my own career, economic independence, a vote, and legal protections that ensure my assets, and my share of the assets I have built with my spouse, are and will be mine—whether I stay married, divorce or am widowed. These are protections and entitlements only too few women enjoy: education, economic independence, a political voice and legal protection. They are essential to allowing women to enjoy their rights.

On Monday 19th November, Oxfam launches a two-week online policy discussion called: Making the food system work for women. Over ten days, ten essays will be presented, each written by a different contributor—I had the chance to write about trade, and former IATP Trade and Global Governance Program Director, Alexandra Spieldoch, makes a pitch for women’s leadership. Other contributors include eco-feminist Vandana Shiva; Jayati Ghosh, feminist economist at Jawaharlal Nehru University, and ActionAid International’s Director, Joanna Kerr. Olivier de Schutter, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, will provide a concluding analysis.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Dear Friends,

Give to the Max Day in Minnesota is a special day to support your favorite Minnesota nonprofits.

The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) has long prided itself as being on the cutting edge of identifying and addressing global issues that affect our daily lives. We analyze complex challenges, bring people together, and work to shift power in our quest for a more democratic, sustainable and just world.

Our ever-vigilant policy analysts report back that there is but one unifying forum recognized around the world for sharing ideas and vision: the cat video.

I invite you to enjoy IATP’s latest production, Chiko, Le Chat Politique.

Please share this important message with your friends. And give now at

Thanks to a generous friend of Chiko the cat, all gifts today will be matched dollar for dollar up to $8,000.

Thank you for participating in Give to the Max. Your support makes our work possible. To learn more, go to


Jim Harkness, President

The fine print: No cats were harmed in the filming of this video, unless you count licking a McDonald’s cheeseburger. With special thanks to Henri, Le Chat Noir.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Harvard study just published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine journal, associates a mother's low level exposure to mercury while pregnant with greater risk of her child later developing ADHD-related behavior.

The research coincides with another study earlier this year that correlated the increased prevalence of ADHD in the U.S.—along with other developmental disorders, including autism—with the introduction of high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) to the American food supply. The link is that until quite recently, it was common for HFCS to be manufactured using mercury-contaminated caustic soda.

Together the findings are leading to closer examination of the myriad toxins that fetuses are exposed to such as lead, nicotine, pesticides, and mercury; science consistently shows such exposures early in life contribute to the development of brain and behavior disorders later in life.

In the case of mercury, exposure from food occurs through the consumption of fish, HFCS and food colors according to a 2009 article published in the Behavioral and Brain Functions journal. Through its website, the U.S. Department of Agriculture records average annual consumption in the U.S. of 9.5 pounds per year of fish and shellfish and 28.7 pounds per year HFCS.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

It didn’t make headlines, but Tuesday was the start of an important movement to reform our food and agriculture system by restoring our democracy. Statewide initiatives in Montana and Colorado, and local measures in Massachusetts, San Francisco, Chicago and Oregon, all opposed the role of corporations in political campaigns; they all passed by convincing margins.

These efforts to get corporate money out of politics are linked to the devastating Supreme Court Citizens United ruling in 2010 (see the Story of Stuff’s great video for the lowdown). That ruling, for the first time, allows corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money to push their issues in political campaigns. IATP and many others issued a statement last week calling to get money out of politics and an end to voter suppression laws.

The Citizens United ruling has unquestionably changed the way campaigns are run—just ask your poor friends in swing states still suffering from political advertisement overload, or browse the Wall Street Journal’s reporting of $560 million in SuperPac money. How campaigns are run affect how politicians govern—particularly in Washington where favors and retribution are a powerful currency.


Tuesday, November 6, 2012

This piece is an introduction to a new collection of commentaries by the IATP Food and Community Fellows, originally published on Follow the links below for each piece.

The Norman Rockwell painting “Freedom from Want” is a tribute to one of the four freedoms that President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared people ought to enjoy in his 1941 State of the Union speech. For Roosevelt, this freedom meant having “economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants—everywhere in the world." His words later influenced the inclusion of the right to an adequate standard of living—which includes a right to food—in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Reading these words 70 years later, we need to recognize that our country of over 300 million people has close to an equal number of images of what "freedom from want" really means. An extended family enjoying an enormous turkey dinner for Thanksgiving is just one idealized perspective from the dominant culture.

With these diverse perspectives come very different ideas for what government’s role should be in achieving a truly just and healthy food system. The past 70 years have brought different actors to our dinner table, most notably agribusiness and food marketers. Given these new dinner companions, how many spaces should be saved for Congress and local government officials?

Friday, November 2, 2012
  • George Osborne, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Government of the United Kingdom
  • Michel Barnier, Commissioner for Internal Market and Services, European Commission
  • Ikko Nataksuka, Minister of State for Financial Services, Government of Japan
  • Pierre Moscovici, Minister of Finance, Government of France

Your Excellencies,

Soon you will be on your way to the Group of 20 finance ministers meeting on November 4–5 in Mexico City. To judge by what has been posted at G-20 websites, you will have reviewed many reports that indicate progress towards fulfilling the Heads of State commitment in September 2009 to place all “standardized Over the Counter derivatives” (OTC) on regulated trading venues “as appropriate” by the end of 2012. However, as the Financial Stability Board has reported to you, this goal will not be met in 2012. Unfortunately, if and when that goal is achieved, it may have small relevance to the broader goal of regulating OTC derivatives, to achieve more transparent and stable markets.