It’s not just the price of food, stupid

Posted November 26, 2013 by Dr. M. Jahi Chappell   

Participants play a "Food System Plinko" game at the Minnesota State Fair. Photo credit: K.V. Cadieux

Eric Holt-Giménez, director of the amazing food policy think tank FoodFirst, recently wrote in the Huffington Post that if healthy, organic food is unaffordable, this is a problem of wages and rights, not inherently a problem with healthy, organic foods. Meanwhile, Doug Rauch, the former president of the grocery chain Trader Joe’s is set to open a market “to repurpose the perfectly edible produce slightly past its sell-by date that ends up in the trash . . .  [the market] will prepare and repackage the food at deeply discounted prices.” One could take Rauch’s apparently noble kludge to reinforce the old saw that people only care about price when it comes to food.

This, of course, is nonsense.

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Who’s afraid of COOL?

Posted November 15, 2013 by Ben Lilliston   

Used under creative commons license from USDAgov.

To truly see the power of agribusiness, and its growing disconnect from regular people and farmers, look no further than the current dust-up over Country of Origin Labeling (COOL). Polls say more than 90 percent of consumers want simple labeling indicating what country the meat they are buying comes from. Farm groups like the National Farmers Union and the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association support it because of the marketing advantage it gives to U.S. produced meat and livestock producers. Yet, agribusiness has repeatedly flexed its lobbying muscles to block COOL and now they are at it again as Congress negotiates a new Farm Bill. Why do companies like Cargill, JBS and Tyson care so much about COOL? Remarkably, these enormously profitable global corporations are frightened that if consumers better understood their business model—which pays no attention to what country animals come from—they might have to make some changes.

On October 29, big meat (Cargill, Smithfield, Tyson, JBS, among others) sent a letter (subscription required) to the House and Senate Agriculture Chairs demanding that the Farm Bill “reform” COOL. Soon thereafter, House Agriculture Chair Frank Lucus (R-OK) parroted big meat’s arguments in announcing he wants to repeal COOL to avoid retaliation from trade partners. Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow has admitted that COOL is on the agenda for the Farm Bill conference committee. 

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The local food “safety” burden

Posted November 14, 2013 by Pete Huff   

Used under creative commons license from LizMarie_AK.

Submit a comment by Friday, November 15 to tell the FDA why their proposed food safety rules don't work for small- and medium-scale food producers. 

Access to safe food is something that many of us take for granted.  It is assumed that the jam we pick up from the farmers market or the chicken purchased from the grocery store will have been grown and processed in a way that will nourish, not harm, our health or the health of our family. Behind these and all food purchases is a long line of farmers and processors with the responsibility to ensure that we can be afforded this assumption of safety.

The rise of the industrialized food system has deteriorated this trust through increasingly common breaches. Just In the past two months, outbreaks of Salmonella in industrialized chicken production and E. coli in the prepared food products of national retailers have, once again, made consumers suspicious of the food on their shelves. Too often, these outbreaks are the result of the scale and cost-cutting priorities of the industrial food system, making public health the collateral damage of an unsustainable food systems.

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Scaling up agroecology: A tool for policy

Posted November 6, 2013 by Shiney Varghese   

Sustainable Rice Intensification (SRI) is an example of agroecology: plants are carefully planted well-spaced from their neighbors, and minimal water is used.

For those who see agroecological approaches as necessary for achieving the food, health, and environmental targets of post 2015 agenda, agroecology is not only central to maintaining ecosystem integrity, but also to realizing food sovereignty of those involved in food production and consumption.

IATP's new report, Scaling up Agroecology: Toward the Realization of the Right to Food, begins from five principles of agroecology, presents examples of practices that could be used to implement that approach. We also developed a set of ecological as well as socioeconomic indicators of success, and mutually supportive national and international policies that would be needed for that approach to flourish.

In this report, we explore how sustainable intensification (which relies on GMOs and intensive use of technology and agrochemicals) is fundamentally different from an agroecological approach because of the latter’s roots in the political economical critique of modern agricultural systems and a holistic ecosystem analysis.

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Remarks to the World Food Prize Panel on “Stakeholders & synergies: Socio-economic dimensions of sustainable ag”

Posted November 4, 2013 by Dr. M. Jahi Chappell   

Dr. M. Jahi Chappell speaks at the World Food Prize, October 18, 2013.

These are the remarks of M. Jahi Chappell, Ph.D., IATP's director of agroecology and agriculture policy to the World Food Prize on October 18, 2013. Videos of Dr. Chappell’s speech can be found at the IATP YouTube channel, in both English and Portuguese.

There has been, with this World Food Prize, a celebration of science. In the lead up to the Prize; in the ceremony last night; and more broadly within the career of the late Norman Borlaug, science is rightly praised as a powerful and important set of tools.

Unfortunately, the power of these tools has been blunted. It has been blunted because science—which at its most basic is the careful and systematic study of the world around us, and the consistent testing of our ideas against reality—this wonderful and powerful process has been narrowed too often in discussions of food to mean technology. Technology is but one way to use science; it is only the tip of one particular tool that can be found in the powerful toolbox that is science.

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Don’t stop at the seed: Going beyond non-GMO

Posted October 31, 2013 by Jim Kleinschmit   

Used under creative commons license from desrowVISUALS.com.

As the anti-GMO movement grows, there are opportunities to take our food and farming system even further.

Next week the state of Washington will vote on mandatory labeling of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in food products. This is an important election and moment in the battle over GMOs, but in many critical ways, it is increasingly obvious to me that GMO opponents have already won. 

News story after news story makes it clear that, even in the U.S., where the introduction and acceptance of GMOs in the fields and grocery aisles has been most pronounced, the tide has shifted. While the “war” is by no means over in a country that has genetically modified crops growing on over 60% of its total crop acres, we need to celebrate this victory. But, as importantly, we need to take advantage of the market and policy openings it provides to go beyond opposing GMOs and achieve greater overall sustainability in our farming and food system.

The most apparent signs of the change in American public opinion on GMOs are the labeling campaigns rolling around the country. Connecticut and Maine have already successfully passed labeling laws, but require neighboring states to pass complementary labeling legislation before it goes into force. The California labeling initiative on the ballot in 2012 was defeated, due in large part to overwhelming spending by the food and biotech companies that opposed it. Similar tactics and heavy corporate spending is happening in the current Washington battle as well, with the outcome still too close to call.  

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Campos do trigo: Nanotechnology and civil society microscopy in Brazil

Posted October 30, 2013 by Dr. Steve Suppan   

“Campos do trigo” (fields of wheat) represented by carbon nanotubes synthesized on a silicon layer.

In the hall at the University of São Paulo School of Mining, Materials Science and Engineering is an exhibit of electronic microscopy photographs of nanomaterials which have been engineered to between atomic and molecular size. One of the most beautiful photographs is titled “Campos do trigo”, that is, "fields of wheat," represented by carbon nanotubes synthesized on a silicon layer. These waves of grain measure about one hundred millionth of a meter. Nanotechnology requires visualization of materials at this scale to manipulate them for use in consumer and industrial products.

I was invited to give one presentation on agriculture and nanotechnology and another on the regulatory and trade policy outlook for nanotechnology at X Semisonoma, the 10th international seminar of Renanosoma, the Brazilian Network on Nanotechnology, Society and Environment. The former presentation was based in part on an IATP report on the effect of nanomaterials on soil health. The latter presentation reflected a small section in IATP’s just published report on agriculture and food under the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

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Secret trade agenda threatens shift toward sustainable food system

Posted October 24, 2013 by Karen Hansen-Kuhn   

Used under creative commons license from alicehenneman.

After being delayed by the U.S. government shutdown, talks for a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) are quietly gearing up again. Tariff barriers between the U.S. and EU are already low, so these negotiations are focused squarely on achieving “regulatory coherence.” In other words, industry lobby groups and their political allies on both sides of the Atlantic see the trade deal as an opportunity to get rid of rules and regulations that limit their ability to buy and sell goods and services. The outcome of TTIP has implications for the rest of the world. Leaders from both regions have made clear, the terms of this trade agreement will set the standard for future free trade agreements.

TTIP could affect a broad range of issues, from energy to the environment, and intellectual property rights to labor rights. It could also have a significant impact on the evolution of agricultural markets and food systems in the U.S. and EU, as well as solidify the ability of corporations and investors to challenge new regulations that could affect expected profits through international tribunals. Unfortunately, little concrete information is known about the content of the TTIP proposals, since the governments involved have refused to publish draft text.

In both the U.S. and EU, the time to influence the substance of the agreement is before it is completed. That’s a tricky task, since the negotiations are happening behind closed doors, but it means that civil society groups and legislators need to pay close attention to what is on the agenda, even without complete information.

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It’s time to move Beyond the Farm Bill

Posted October 22, 2013 by IATP   

Used under creative commons license from Bread for the World.

The Farm Bill was designed to reign in price volatility, manage supply and protect nature while providing vital nutrition programs for the country’s poor. Instead, it’s been ravaged by constant corporate assault and a Congress too emboldened with industry money to stand up for our best interests.

The result? An agriculture system that is highly productive at the expense of health, the environment and rural communities.

It's time to move Beyond the Farm Bill and design the type of food and agriculture policy we need. One that provides: 

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IATP welcomes new staff

Posted October 10, 2013 by Andrew Ranallo   

Left to right: Pete Huff and Dr. M. Jahi Chappell

Pete Huff and Dr. M. Jahi Chappell have joined IATP’s staff this fall and together will be leading the organization’s efforts to further a sustainable, diversified and prosperous agriculture and food system.

Pete Huff, IATP’s new director of food systems, will be focusing on advancing healthy and fair food systems in the coming year, including our Beyond the Farm Bill initiative. His background spans the worlds of organic agriculture, market gardening, school food-waste reduction and urban agriculture policy in the nonprofit and local government sectors in both the U.S. and Australia. Learn more about Pete on his staff page.

Dr. M. Jahi Chappell is IATP’s new director of agriculture policy, working on farm policy that supports agroecology and more democratic systems. Most recently, Dr. Chappell served as an assistant professor in the Environmental Science and Justice program of Washington State University Vancouver’s School of the Environment. He is a leading scholar of the food security policies of the city of Belo Horizonte, Brazil, which served as a basis for Brazil’s acclaimed national Zero Hunger programs. He’ll be a featured speaker at the upcoming Borlaug Dialogue as part of the World Food Prize. Learn more about Jahi on his staff page.

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