January 2013

Thursday, January 31, 2013

“Any defenders of the status quo are not on my team.”

That was Dr. Paul Anastas, a bit into his keynote speech at Beakers to Business Plans: The 2013 iteration of the Minnesota Green Chemistry Forum’s annual conference, cohosted by IATP on January 25.

As he spoke, pictures flashed on the screen behind him: first, 60,000 plastic bags—the amount used in the U.S. every five seconds. Then, a shot of what 106,000 cans looks like (or the product of 30 seconds of can consumption in America). The photos were part of Photographer Chris Jordan’s Intolerable Beauty: Portraits of American Mass Consumption collection and dramatically illustrated our country’s urgent need for innovation—even as waste is only one small part of the picture.

Here, Anastas highlighted two properties that remain front and center in product lifecycle design: Persistence and toxicity. Think pesticides. Potentially toxic, and persistent enough to build up in our land and water, damage the environment and impact public health on a large scale. Green chemistry means designing products, from concept to production to the end of their use, to potential reuse, that are nontoxic, and will degrade safely when their time has come to shuffle off this mortal coil. Quite a brilliant idea, and not all that radical, especially as businesses in Minnesota and around the country begin to see that any successful business model will require such consideration as resources deplete and consumption continues to rise.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

People across the country are concerned about toxic chemicals like bisphenol A (BPA), flame retardants, phthalates and formaldehyde in products they use every day, including those designed for babies and children. Most people agree that hormone disrupters, carcinogens and developmental toxins don’t belong in our consumer products. While action at the federal level is needed to better regulate toxic chemicals, states are taking the lead on protecting their citizens. At least 26 states will consider policies in 2013 to address concerns over toxic chemicals in consumer products, according to an analysis by Safer States, a national coalition of state-based environmental health organizations. The bills will cover a broad range of topics from bans on toxic flame retardants and bisphenol A (BPA) in consumer products to requirements that states identify chemicals of concern for health, manufacturers disclose their use of chemicals in products and the phase out of chemicals of concern.

Chemicals in our food system contribute to much of the human exposure to toxic chemicals, as persistent, toxic chemicals build up in the food chain and the human body. In addition, we are exposed to hormone-disrupting chemicals like BPA, PFCs and phthalates in food packaging.

“With more studies showing increased exposure to toxic or untested chemicals in our homes, citizens are demanding action at the state level,” said Sarah Doll, national director of Safer States. “Stronger state laws not only benefit public health, but the marketplace, too, by restoring consumer's confidence that products in stores are safe. We urge state legislators across the country to continue leading on these critical public health protections.”

Monday, January 28, 2013

On January 19, Deutsche Bank (DB) issued “Questions and Answers on investments in agricultural commodities”.  The DB stated that after an internal examination, it was resuming investments in agricultural derivatives contracts that it had suspended since March 2011. Nongovernmental organizations had successfully pressured the DB and a few other European banks to “stop gambling on hunger” due to the banks’ concern about risk to their reputations. The World Development Movement had organized an October 2011 letter signed by 450 economists to the Group of 20 (G-20) demanding an end to bank speculation on agricultural contracts, so the DB was an early adopter of the investment moratorium. 

The derivatives contracts include both the regulated futures and options contracts that farmers and food manufacturers use to protect against price decreases and increases respectively, and the unregulated over-the-counter (OTC) contracts. The DB’s internal investigation, bolstered by non-cited studies of unnamed agricultural economists, found “there is little empirical evidence to support the notion that the growth of agricultural based financial products has caused price increases or volatility.”

Friday, January 18, 2013

Writing in National Geographic in December 2012 about “small-scale irrigation techniques with simple buckets, affordable pumps, drip lines, and other equipment” that “are enabling farm families to weather dry seasons, raise yields, diversify their crops, and lift themselves out of poverty” water expert Sandra Postel of the Global Water Policy Project cautioned against reckless land and water-related investments in Africa. “[U]nless African governments and foreign interests lend support to these farmer-driven initiatives, rather than undermine them through land and water deals that benefit large-scale, commercial schemes, the best opportunity in decades for societal advancement in the region will be squandered.”

That same month, the online publication Market Oracle reported that “[t]he new ‘water barons’—the Wall Street banks and elitist multibillionaires—are buying up water all over the world at unprecedented pace.” The report reveals two phenomena that have been gathering speed, and that could potentially lead to profit accumulation at the cost of communities and commons —the expansion of market instruments beyond the water supply and sanitation to other areas of water governance, and the increasingly prominent role of financial institutions. 

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Last week, IATP, in partnership with Sustainable Northwest and the National Rural Assembly, hosted the kick-off meeting in Minneapolis for a new initiative: the Rural Climate Network, designed to support rural action and education around climate change. This inaugural meeting brought together rural organizations and leaders from around the country to discuss what resources, tools and information are most needed to help rural citizens understand and respond to the mounting climate crises. The meeting made clear the need for a specifically rural effort that builds connections and capacity among existing organizations, supports and promotes on-the-ground climate projects and supports rural leaders who can speak to both rural communities and policy makers about the need and value of effective climate policy and action on the community, state, national and international levels.

The meeting took place at the McKnight Foundation and included representatives from the following organizations: California Climate and Agriculture Network; Center for Rural Affairs; Center for Rural Strategies; CROPP Cooperative and Organic Valley; CURE; Farm Aid; Forest Guild; Land Stewardship Project; Lutheran Coalition for Public Policy; MACED; Main Street Project; National Congress of American Indians; National Family Farm Coalition; NCAT; Pesticide Action Network; RAFI-USA; Sustainable Northwest;  The Watershed Research and Training Center; Threlkeld Farm Organic Dairy / Organic Valley; and the Western Organization of Resource Councils.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Dear Friends,

The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy will be ending the IATP Food and Community Fellows program at the conclusion of the current two-year class of fellows’ term in April 2013.

Launched in 2001, the program has made major contributions to efforts for a fair, green, healthy and affordable food system. With 86 outstanding alumni, the program has supported the development of many leading public officials, farmers, community advocates, writers, filmmakers, academics, public health experts and other professionals contributing to a better food system. The IATP Food and Community Fellows website provides a biography for each fellow, as well as several blog posts that highlight some of the outstanding work over the years.

Over the past 12 years, the program has not only contributed to the career of fellows but has made major contributions to the growing food movement. Several fellows have been integral to efforts to address or promote farm to school, farmworker justice, childhood obesity, equitable food access, local food systems, better conservation practices, food sovereignty, and greater equity across race, class and gender in the production and distribution of food. We all benefit from the leadership and creativity that fellows developed over their two-year fellowship as many fellows are serving in positions of leadership or continuing to provide public education and outreach around these topics.

Funding has now ended for this program. IATP would like to express its enormous gratitude to past supporters of this program, including the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Woodcock Foundation and the Fair Food Foundation. IATP will continue to work on many of the topics addressed by fellows, and will continue to collaborate with many of the alumni of the program.

Jim Harkness
IATP President

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Just when you thought Congress couldn’t screw up the Farm Bill any worse, they surprise us all. As part of a fiscal cliff, New Year’s Day bender, Congress and the White House extended a barebones version of the Farm Bill for yet another nine months—giving the bumbling legislative body more time to further decimate the nation’s main farm and food policy.

The Farm Bill extension, apparently written largely by powerful Republican Senator Mitch McConnell and VP Joe Biden, continues existing commodity programs (including controversial direct payments), keeps the food stamp program largely intact, and provides a temporary extension of the dairy program. But there’s a long list of what it doesn’t do, including funding extension for 37 programs. It also doesn’t include immediate emergency relief to livestock producers and fruit growers still dealing with the damaging effects of the ongoing drought. The Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), a critical program supporting agroecology, can’t sign up new farmers to participate in 2013. Other programs that received no mandatory funding include a host of renewable energy programs, the Beginning Farmer and Rancher program, rural development programs and organic and specialty crop research programs.  Additionally, an important pilot program for local and regional procurement of international food aid was not funded. (See excellent summaries of the deal by the National Farmers Union and the National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture).

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

It seems every week, mainstream media is reporting on a new study pointing to food A, or beverage B, as the latest malign of the American eater. The truth is, the rising obesity rates in the U.S., and the frightening rate of decline in children’s health in our country are complicated. While new research is vital in contributing to a better understanding of our food environment, and our physicians’ sound advice about getting more exercise and “eating right” may help strengthen our resolve, it has not—at least by any measurable statistic—proven to be enough to stop the host of diet-related disease we’re currently facing.

In a new contribution to Minnesota Medicine, IATP’s Dr. David Wallinga places the increasingly industrialized food system (as more and more science does) at the heart of our plight. Further, he asserts, health professionals hold one of the keys to making change: By getting involved in their patients’ health outside of the clinic and advocating for a healthier food system that makes “eating right” a more attainable goal.

Read Dr. Wallinga’s complete piece, “Our Unhealthy Food System: Why physicians’ voices are critically needed,” at Minnesota Medicine’s website.