Think Forward blog

Monsanto wins on Senate GMO labeling “compromise”

Posted June 28, 2016 by Ben Lilliston   

On July 1, Vermont’s law requiring the labeling of genetically modified foods will go into effect. That simple requirement to inform consumers about what they are eating sent a shiver through a Congress hooked on millions of dollars in biotech and food industry money. In a last minute desperate attempt to block the Vermont bill, Senate Agriculture Committee leaders Pat Roberts and Debbie Stabenow proposed a new mandatory Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) labeling bill that would pre-empt the rights of states like Vermont to set labeling rules for GMO food.

The problem with the compromise is that it’s not really a compromise – it’s very close to what Monsanto and the food industry asked for. The industry’s priority was to avoid at all costs mandatory language or a GMO symbol on food products. The compromise bill gives food companies two options: they can use a symbol or clear language that the product contains GMOs, or they can use a bar code or QR code that could be accessed by the consumer through a smartphone. Smaller food companies would have the option to just list a website or an 800 number for consumers to find out whether the food contains GMO ingredients. Wonder which options the food companies using GMO ingredients will choose?

Many consumers don’t have smartphones to access QR codes or the instant high-speed internet access necessary to check a website on the spot when buying foods. And do you want to call an 800 number with each individual food purchase?

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Carbon Markets: Reducing Carbon Emissions or Missing the Mark?

Posted June 23, 2016 by Tara Ritter   

Used under Creative Commons license via Wikipedia, image by Arnold Paul cropped by Gralo.

The Clean Power Plan is the predominant plan in the U.S. to address climate change. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is encouraging states to set up regional carbon markets to comply with the plan; however, carbon markets to date have not achieved their intended goals. If states follow the EPA’s advice and set up new carbon markets across the country, they must learn from past mistakes to prevent more of the same underwhelming results.

California’s Global Warming Solutions Act (AB 32) is the most prominent U.S. example of a carbon market that has resulted in unexpected outcomes. AB 32 includes a cap-and-trade program to reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. The program sets a statewide emissions cap and then distributes emissions allowances to industries covered under the regulation (“covered entities”). A majority of the allowances are given away for free—a reversal of the polluter pays principle—and the remainder are auctioned off quarterly. Each year, the emissions cap and the number of free allowances each covered entity gets are ratcheted down. Ratcheting is intended to increase the value of allowances, but this strategy has not worked as of yet.

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Coordination on agriculture policy could undermine developing country interests.

Posted June 10, 2016 by Karen Hansen-Kuhn   

Used under creative commons license from world_trade_organization.

U.S. Trade Representative Ambassador Michael Froman at the Tenth WTO Ministerial Conference in December 2015 in Nairobi Kenya

The proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the U.S. and the European Union has been negotiated in secret – preventing the public from knowing what exactly is on the negotiating table. In May, TTIP text was leaked by Greenpeace Netherlands. The leaked text provides a snapshot of the status of the talks. Review of the leaked TTIP text—U.S. and EU proposals along with an EU “Tactical State of Play” document— provides important insights into the direction of the trade talks, and raises alarm bells for advocates of fair and sustainable food and farming systems. This is part five in a five part series.


Both the U.S. and EU have stated their intention for TTIP to be the “gold standard” for other agreements. This could mean that rules set in TTIP could become the default position at the World Trade Organization (WTO) and other trade talks. Early in the TTIP talks, the U.S. proposed a special chapter that would encourage the EU and U.S. to work together to eliminate “localization barriers to trade”—measures that favor local content or preferences for local businesses—used by other countries not party to TTIP. It’s not clear if that idea ever saw the light of day, but now, the EU is proposing a chapter on Agriculture that could also serve to unite pressure on developing countries to conform to EU and U.S. proposals.

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Proposals on regulatory cooperation would lower standards

Posted June 9, 2016 by Dr. Steve Suppan   Sharon Anglin Treat   

Used under creative commons license from oragriculture.

The proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the U.S. and the European Union has been negotiated in secret – preventing the public from knowing what exactly is on the negotiating table. In May, TTIP text was leaked by Greenpeace Netherlands. The leaked text provides a snapshot of the status of the talks. Review of the leaked TTIP text—U.S. and EU proposals along with an EU “Tactical State of Play” document— provides important insights into the direction of the trade talks, and raises alarm bells for advocates of fair and sustainable food and farming systems. This is part four in a five part series.


“Regulatory Cooperation” is an apparently benign name for an insidious process that would be inserted into trade agreements to establish new tools for corporate “stakeholders” to frame and dominate the development of virtually any kind of public regulations as they are being developed or even to weaken or eliminate existing rules. The U.S. and other TPP members took a first run at it in that accord, although what resulted was mainly a voluntary forum. Leaked drafts of the plurilateral Trade In Services Agreement (TISA) call for similar disciplines on Domestic Regulations. The TTIP push for Regulatory Cooperation also advances that idea, with slightly different approaches coming from the EU and U.S.  

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Tariff reductions could disrupt local farming systems

Posted June 8, 2016 by Shefali Sharma   

Used under creative commons license from beantin.

The proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the U.S. and the European Union has been negotiated in secret – preventing the public from knowing what exactly is on the negotiating table. In May, TTIP text was leaked by Greenpeace Netherlands. The leaked text provides a snapshot of the status of the talks. Review of the leaked TTIP text—U.S. and EU proposals along with an EU “Tactical State of Play” document— provides important insights into the direction of the trade talks, and raises alarm bells for advocates of fair and sustainable food and farming systems. This is part three in a five part series.


Though the main critique of TTIP has been its sweeping impacts on rule making and standard setting in the two regions, further agricultural tariff liberalization will have a major impact, in particular in the E.U.  The leaks offer a first look at which agricultural goods will be on the line. While average tariffs on goods traded between the U.S. and EU are quite low, those figures obscure substantial differences on key products, some of which currently protect vulnerable farming sectors that are already suffering from low prices and unstable markets. In a memo describing tariff reduction offers dated November 20, 2015, the EU notes the intention under TTIP to eliminate tariffs on 97 percent of goods. While exactly how this will play out will only become clear during the final “endgame” of the negotiations, the memo describes substantial, and in many cases, abrupt changes in tariffs on farm goods. As of November, the EU was offering to lower more tariffs than the U.S., but in the latest round of negotiations in April, the U.S. reaffirmed its goal for total tariff elimination. The EU still opposes this position in the interest of its most sensitive agriculture products.

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Local governments could be required to abandon buy-local requirements

Posted June 7, 2016 by Sharon Anglin Treat   

The proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the U.S. and the European Union has been negotiated in secret – preventing the public from knowing what exactly is on the negotiating table. In May, TTIP text was leaked by Greenpeace Netherlands. The leaked text provides a snapshot of the status of the talks. Review of the leaked TTIP text—U.S. and EU proposals along with an EU “Tactical State of Play” document— provides important insights into the direction of the trade talks, and raises alarm bells for advocates of fair and sustainable food and farming systems. This is part two in a five part series.


One of the EU’s key offensive interests in the trade talks has been to open U.S. public procurement programs at all levels of government to bids by EU firms, removing policies that support local employment, local content or portions of contracts set aside for small businesses. While many states have agreed to those kinds of commitments in previous trade deals (although the number has dwindled in recent agreements), this could mean an unprecedented expansion to municipal and county governments and agencies. As indicated in the Tactical State of Play document, so far, the U.S. has been cool to proposals to commit local governments on procurement. Exactly which state or local governments or institutions would agree to those commitments would be indicated in an annex to the Procurement chapter text. That annex was not leaked, and probably doesn’t yet exist.

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Secret science would help streamline biotech and other food product approvals

Posted June 6, 2016 by Dr. Steve Suppan   

Used under creative commons license from USDAgov.

The proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the U.S. and the European Union has been negotiated in secret – preventing the public from knowing what exactly is on the negotiating table. In May, TTIP text was leaked by Greenpeace Netherlands. The leaked text provides a snapshot of the status of the talks. Review of the leaked TTIP text—U.S. and EU proposals along with an EU “Tactical State of Play” document— provides important insights into the direction of the trade talks, and raises alarm bells for advocates of fair and sustainable food and farming systems. This is part one in a five part series.


To judge by the U.S. proposals in the leaked TTIP chapter on Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) measures, which includes food safety rules, the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) is seeking to export a flawed regulatory system to the EU, a system based on risk assessments that rely often on inadequate, secret data. While the leak indicates that the U.S. is trying to use TTIP to impose its weaker system for setting and enforcing SPS standards on the EU, this new transatlantic regulatory regime would also limit efforts in the U.S. to improve food safety standards and performance.

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When elephants dance: potential TTIP impacts on developing-countries’ farms

Posted June 2, 2016

Used under creative commons license from celinet.

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) has the potential to transform agricultural trade between the United States and the European Union. TTIP could potentially lower tariffs and non-tariff barriers on a range of agricultural goods. While the impact of this on U.S. and EU food and farm systems has been heavily debated, there has been much less discussion of its possible impacts on developing countries. Could TTIP make it more difficult for developing countries to export, particularly goods which many communities have come to heavily rely on for their livelihoods?

TTIP is at the forefront of the “new era” of trade deals in that it seeks to move beyond simple reduction in tariffs towards regulatory harmonization on issues such as labor and environmental standards. In an agricultural context, tariff barriers and regulatory harmonization in areas where the U.S. and the EU differ, such as pesticide use, have garnered the most attention in the negotiations. While many states are implementing innovative pesticide regulations, in general, U.S. standards are lower than those in the EU. However, the push for regulatory convergence within TTIP—advocated by lobby groups such as CropLife America—would push standards to the lowest common denominator, while reducing individual U.S. states’ ability to regulate pesticides, as well as future efforts to regulate pesticide use within the EU.

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Nanomaterials in baby formula: why?

Posted May 18, 2016 by Dr. Steve Suppan   

Used under creative commons license from roebot.

A new report from Friends of the Earth (FoE), “Nanoparticles in baby formula: Tiny ingredients are a big concern,” will prompt a lot more commentary than can be summarized in this blog.

Two questions likely to be raised in all commentaries:

  1. Why did the manufacturers of six brand name baby formula decide to risk the value of their brands by adding molecular-sized nanomaterials to their infant formula, whose inhalation from powdered formula is a probable health hazard to babies, childcare providers and the workers manufacturing the formula?
  2. Why did the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allow the makers of two Gerber® formulas, two Similac® formulas, one Enfamil® formula and one Well Beginnings™ formula to manufacture and sell these products without the consultation with FDA scientists that the agency very strongly advised in its 2014 voluntary guidance to industry? (IATP submitted comments in 2012 to three of four draft-guidance documents on nanomaterials in FDA-regulated products.)

Answering these questions may seem as simple as, well, child’s play. The simple answer is if governments refuse to regulate, companies will do what they perceive to be in their economic interest. As anyone who has watched children play, their activity is not simple.  

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How the poultry industry is blaming farmers for H5N2

Posted May 16, 2016 by Robert G. Wallace   

Used under creative commons license from urbanseastar.

Over the past year, the Star Tribune, the largest paper in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area, has published almost all its articles on the outbreak of highly pathogenic H5N2 in its business section. 

The placement is telling and reminds us that the paper views the virus, which has killed 50 million poultry across 21 states, as a matter for food companies and investors. It seems the ecologies and epidemiologies in which we are all embedded are to be treated as mere subsets of commodity economics.

An update last week, published—where else? —in the business section, repeated unsupported declarations about the origins of the outbreak. The newspaper claims the virus originated in Asia; migratory waterfowl brought it here and spread it; and farmer error is to blame for the outbreak. Anything but the poultry sector itself.

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