Big Meat imitates Big Tobacco in fighting the public’s right to know

Posted August 15, 2013 by Jim Harkness   

Used under creative commons license from Robert Couse-Baker.

Eight meatpacking industry groups recently sued to stop implementation of the popular Country of Origin Label (COOL) law (supported by 93 percent of Americans) that was passed back in 2008.

Proceeding from the commonsense notion (and economic principle) that in a free market, buyers should have access to sufficient information to make educated choices, the law required retailers to tell customers the country of origin of a variety of foods, including meat, fruits, vegetables and nuts. I might not know where all the pieces of my cell phone were made—and there are serious issues with that—but I don't plan to eat my phone. Why shouldn’t I be able to know where my food comes from? 

The big meat companies have objected the loudest to COOL. Canadian and Mexican meat groups took the U.S. to court at the World Trade Organization (WTO) when the USDA first announced its regulations for implementing COOL, charging that the rules would discriminate against them, and they won. To the Obama Administration’s credit, they issued a revised rule that actually strengthened COOL, requiring more detail about where an animal was born, raised and slaughtered. The current suit is intended to block the revised regulations that were issued this spring in response to the WTO ruling.

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Searching for the Farm Bill

Posted August 9, 2013 by Anna Claussen   

Representative Tim Walz addresses the crowd at the 32nd annual Farmfest.

Farmfest is the largest farm show in Minnesota, bringing farmers together to talk about and see the latest in tractors, seeds, and other farm-related equipment. But Farmfest also brings out the politicians to talk about what is happening with agricultural policies and markets. With no farm bill in place,  the question understandably on everyone’s minds at this year’s policy panel was “What’s next?” While the policymakers in attendance did a pretty good job of explaining how we got  where we are today, the future of farm policy was left unclear.

Representatives Colin Peterson and Tim Walz, both of whom are on the House Agricultural Committee and participated in the policy discussion, gave their perspectives on why Congress still hasn’t passed a Farm Bill. Peterson and Walz pointed to the relatively speedy and nonpartisan work of the House and Senate agricultural committees, as well as the ongoing support of both parties’ leadership; they made clear that the fault didn’t lie there. Instead, the blame was leveled squarely at Eric Cantor and his fellow right-wing Republicans, who broke with their party’s leadership and scuttled the deal that the agricultural committee had developed. Both representatives were quite pessimistic of the possibility of passing a Farm Bill in the remaining months of 2013; Representative Peterson suggested that a 2-year extension was the most likely outcome, followed by many questions about whether we would actually have a Farm Bill (as we know it today) ever again.

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The future of agriculture

Posted August 8, 2013 by Andrew Ranallo   

Ask anyone who's been working on policy-change or advocacy efforts in any arena long enough and they’ll tell you: Change takes time. Except in very rare cases, big, noticeable shifts take years—often decades—of work by countless people, working on all levels and in different ways to achieve change. On one hand, this glacial pace makes sense. After all, it took years to get where we are—a climate on the fritz, food for some while others go hungry, a financial system that is more akin to an online casino—why should getting somewhere else be any quicker? On the other hand, if we aren’t able to think big about the changes we want, and get caught up in little victories, we risk losing sight of our real goals.

It is in this spirit that Oxfam held an online discussion last year calling on experts from across the food and development policy world to write a series of essays focused on four “big picture” questions:

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Biotech industry moves toward “transparency” while pulling the curtain over trade agreements

Posted August 1, 2013 by Dale Wiehoff   

Used under creative commons license from biocat.

A meeting of the Council for Biotechnology Information (BIO) in Europe in March 2013.

Earlier this week, Andrew Pollack reported in the New York Times that biotech companies like Monsanto, Dupont and Dow Chemical announced through an industry association that they would be more transparent with the public about the chemicals and genetically modified seeds they sell. According to Cathleen Enright, executive vice president at the Council for Biotechnology Information (BIO), “We have not done a very good job communicating about GMOs. We want to get into the conversation.”

To move that conversation along, they’ve opened a new web site, Any move toward greater transparency from companies who have spent decades suing farmers, spending millions to prevent the labeling of food containing GMOs, hiring private security firms to break into their critics offices and steal information—not to mention generally bullying anybody who questions the safety and value of their products—should be good news. But like with most news from chemical and seed companies, it is another reason to worry that the public will be misled and the issues will be futher obfuscated.

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Celebrating the IATP Food and Community Fellows

Posted July 19, 2013 by Colleen Borgendale   

Valerie Segrest talking about huckleberry while teaching the group about making tea. 

In late June, alumni from the past eight classes of the IATP Food and Community Fellows program met for the last time against the backdrop of the Snoqualmie Falls outside of Seattle. Almost every class was represented at the event heldand its alumni and to discuss the future of the network within the context of the larger food movement.

Launched in 2001 as the Food and Society Policy Fellows, the program was originally envisioned as a “public policy education team” that would work in support of the vision and goals of this new program at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and hosted by IATP. The Fellows were innovative changemakers who advocated for food and farming systems that would be just and healthy for all people. The program nurtured the development of 86 alumni, many leaders in their fields, and helped make major contributions to the growing food movement. In late 2012, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation announced that it would no longer be funding the Fellows’ program.

A reception featuring local fruits and beverages and a dinner highlighting Washington cuisine kicked off the event allowing Fellows to share stories, meet alumni from other classes, reconnect and discuss the latest news and ideas in their fields. Discussions included the challenges of modern fishing, mushroom foraging and the finer details of what was served for dinner that evening.

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The obesity epidemic: What do chemicals have to do with it?

Posted July 9, 2013 by    

Used under creative commons license from beana_cheese.

BPA, used in metal can linings, can have obesogenic effects—especially on developing children.

We are all hearing a lot about obesity these days and more people are obese than ever; one-third of American children and two-thirds of adults are overweight or obese. The American Medical Association has declared that obesity is a disease.

While some disagree with the designation of obesity as a disease, there is strong evidence that obesity is linked with diseases—specifically Type II diabetes and heart disease. There is also general agreement that obesity is a major public health problem. Preventing obesity would contribute to a healthier, happier population and save an estimated $190 billion per year in direct health care costs.

But how do we prevent obesity? We all know that we should eat healthier and exercise more to maintain a healthy weight, but few people are aware that avoiding exposure to certain chemicals could reduce their risk of obesity, especially during prenatal life and in childhood. An emerging body of science links chemicals that disrupt hormones to increased risk for obesity.

Fetuses and children are the most vulnerable to adverse health effects from hormone-disrupting chemicals. Like hormones themselves, these chemicals exert health impacts even at minute levels of exposure and exposures in the womb can have lifelong impacts.

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Measuring hunger: A Response to the FAO

Posted June 20, 2013 by Sophia Murphy   

FAO’s 2012 State of Food Insecurity in the World (SOFI)

In December 2012, I received an email from Frances (Frankie) Moore Lappé, a woman whose name I had known since I was a teenager interested in hunger and poverty issues and reading all I could on the subject. I was honored. Frankie was reaching out to organizations and individuals who work to end hunger to ask if we had read the FAO’s 2012 State of Food Insecurity in the World (SOFI) report and if so, what we had made of it. Frankie was concerned about a number of things, including that the report presented too rosy a view on how the world’s governments were doing in their ambition to eliminate hunger, and too rosy a view on what economic growth could do about the problem.

It did not take Frankie long to persuade a group of us, including IATP, to take notice and formalize our concerns. Those concerns include:

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Planting the seeds: Connect kids with farms using the MN Grown directory

Posted June 10, 2013 by Erin McKee VanSlooten   

Summer and Antigone with an almost full bucket! (Photo by Erin McKee VanSlooten)

As I dream of real summer weather, one of the things I look forward to most is picking strawberries with my little cousins at a pick-your-own farm near our family cabin up in Aitkin County. The first time we tried it, the kids were so excited we had to go back two times in one day and filled five ice cream gallon buckets with ruby red fruit, sweet and sun-warmed as we relished in harvesting that evening’s dessert.

Not every child gets to experience the wonder of connecting with our local food system in such a direct way, but this year’s issue of the Minnesota Grown Directory is here to help families make that connection.

Minnesota Grown is a partnership between the Minnesota Department of Agriculture and producers of specialty crops and livestock. Their annual directory of local producers is always a huge hit with our vibrant local foods community. This year’s issue, just published last week, lists nearly 1,000—a record number!—local farmers, markets and businesses where consumers can buy directly from the producer. It also boasts a strong family-friendly focus. IATP worked with Minnesota Grown to include information on Farm to Childcare programs, fun farm facts, kid-friendly activities like farm tours, and other techniques families with young children can use to engage with locally grown foods. The family-centered content is a great supplement to the detailed information on local producers the Minnesota Grown Directory always provides, and makes this year’s issue a wonderful resource for parents, teachers, childcare facilities and anyone interested in engaging with kids on local agriculture.

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“Two Converging Rivers”: Understanding Shuanghui’s acquisition of Smithfield

Posted June 6, 2013 by Shefali Sharma   

A domestic breed of pig reared organically in a backyard farm (Shared Harvest Farm) for the Chinese community-supported agriculture market. Native breeds are hardier to disease than industrialized American breeds. (Photo by Shefali Sharma)

Two Converging Rivers—That’s what Shuanghui means in Chinese, apparently. It seems appropriate when we look at the scale at which both Shuanghui and Smithfield operate in their respective countries. Shuanghui is said to be China’s largest meat manufacturer and Smithfield is the largest pork processor in the United States. It’s a convergence of two very big and very dirty rivers. Contrary to the common theme in media reports on the acquisition, food safety problems and environmental pollution are not just the domain of the Chinese livestock industry. One doesn’t have to look very far to see Smithfield’s own record in this regard. Unmanageable non-point source pollution from concentrated animal farms, antibiotic resistance, disease and chemical-related deaths related to poultry factories are very much associated with and originate from the American model of industrial livestock production. Smithfield was embarrassed after an undercover video of animal cruelty was taken from one of its plants and released by the Humane Society.

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795 doctors, nurses and health professionals urge White House to jumpstart stalled FDA on antibiotics

Posted June 4, 2013

Used under creative commons license from Iqbal Osman1.

Today, 795 health professionals from across the country sent a joint letter to President Obama urging his leadership in getting the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to jumpstart its now-stalled policies to help protect the future effectiveness of antibiotics by reducing their overuse in food animal production. The letter was delivered by IATP's Healthy Food Action, Health Care Without Harm and the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Close to 30 million pounds of the antibiotics are sold for use in U.S. food animals each year.  Many of them are identical, or nearly so, to antibiotics used in human medicine. Most are used for non-sick animals, to promote their faster growth and compensate for the risks created by raising such animals in overcrowded and often unhygienic conditions.

“In our hospitals, and in our communities, antibiotics increasingly are failing to treat drug resistant superbugs,” says David Wallinga, MD of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy  and Healthy Food Action. “The huge overuse of these antibiotics on our farms, in meat production, is an important—and unaddressed—contributor to the problem.”

What this letter shows is this superbug epidemic is too important for FDA and the White House to sit on the sidelines. We need President Obama to make sure his administration leads in the fight to protect antibiotis.”

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