Environmental and public health still secondary to product development in new national nanotech strategy

Posted March 19, 2014 by Dr. Steve Suppan   

The 2014 National Nanotechnology Initiative Strategic Plan was released on February 28, a Friday afternoon. Perhaps it was a coincidence, but when the U.S. government doesn’t want to draw attention to a report, often that report will be released on a Friday afternoon.

There was no need to downplay the Strategic Plan, which, like the previous plan, continued to emphasize public funding for product development. However, a new “signature initiative” to develop nanotechnology enabled sensors, while not targeting public and environmental impacts of nanotechnology, can be used to protect public and environmental health.

(Nanotechnology involves the manufacture, visualization and manipulation of atomic to molecular sized materials. The NNI’s Nanotechnology 101 offers a concise introduction to the subject.)

The National Nanotechnology Coordinating Office (NNCO) wrote the Strategic Plan for a Congress that is generally optimistic and enthusiastic about nanotechnology, particularly its potential for job creation and economic growth. A February study (subscription required) co-funded by the NNCO claims to have identified a $1 trillion global market for nanotechnology enabled products in 2013. It is one of many ironies of federal nanotechnology investment that publicly funded research, such as this nanotechnology market evaluation, is privatized and available to the public only for at a steep price.

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Action Alert: Send 30,000 comments to the FDA on taking antibiotics out of our meat

Posted March 11, 2014 by IATP   

A minimum of 23,000 people die in the United States due to antibiotic resistance, according to the Center for Disease Control. Yet, antibiotic resistance—the rise of so-called “super bugs”—is on the rise because of overuse and abuse of antibiotics in our food system. Eighty percent of antibiotics sold in the U.S. go toward food animal production—mostly for the corporate meat industry that uses it for growth promotion and to keep a large number of animals alive in confined spaces. While doctors, nurse practitioners and pharmacists are required to write prescriptions for antibiotics to treat sick people, anyone can buy them over the counter in animal feed stores. This lack of regulation is creating a public health crisis that is entirely possible to avert.

After years of delay, FDA is finally attempting to address this major gap by requiring animal drug makers to have veterinary supervision of antibiotics in feed. Veterinary supervision is critical to slow the overuse of these drugs and the related spread of antibiotic resistance. However, the FDA (in order avoid resistance from drug companies) is watering down what “veterinary supervison” means, and therefore, undermining the ability of government agencies to effectively track how drugs in animal feed are used.

The existing rule (called the Veterinary Feed Directive, or VFD), which is stronger, only applies to two drugs. But the FDA is weakening this rule in order to apply it to many more antibiotic drugs. While regulating a broad range of antibiotics under the VFD is absolutely critical for public health, the FDA should create a strong and comprehensive rule that requires the drug industry to change its practices.

To read the proposed FDA rule, click here.

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Putting Farm to School in students’ hands

Posted March 4, 2014 by Andrew Ranallo   

Busy hands make for busy minds—that’s the theory behind experiential, or hands-on learning. IATP’s new high school–level Farm to School Youth Leadership Curriculum, released today, is designed with this in mind: Beyond learning about sourcing local food and the research that goes into localizing their school lunch, students actually participate in creating or expanding a Farm to School program, assisting their school lunchroom staff and administration with the nitty gritty of sourcing local foods for lunch.

From the press release:

The Farm to School Youth Leadership Curriculum is comprised of six lessons that can be taught consecutively over a semester or as single lessons or activities to complement other classes. Each lesson contains a lesson summary, facilitator preparation notes, activities, worksheets, recommended optional work and further resources for students and teachers. Lessons include themes such as “School Lunch: How Does it Really Work?” and “Communicating with Producers of Local Foods.”

Development of the Farm to School Youth Leadership Curriculum was a collaborative process, including consultation with educators, food service professionals and Farm to School experts, supported by the Center for Prevention at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, the John P. and Eleanor R. Yackel Foundation, the Minnesota Agricultural Education Leadership Council and the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.

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A path toward better agricultural investment

Posted February 26, 2014 by Shiney Varghese   

Gerda Verburg, Chairperson of the Committee on Food Security. Photo: ©Alessandra Benedetti

The food crisis of 2008 led to a broad agreement in the agricultural development community that the lack of appropriate investment in agriculture had been a key contributing factor to unstable prices and food insecurity. The crisis coincided with an increase in land grabbing in many parts of the world, but especially in Africa. It is in response to these events that the idea of developing some criteria on agricultural investments came up in international policy and governance arenas.

The food crisis also led the United Nations in 2008-09 to reform its Rome-based Committee on Food Security (CFS) to address both the short term food crisis, and the long-term structural issues that led to it. It involved bringing new people to the table where decisions were being made, and this included a new Civil Society Mechanism (CSM).

In October 2010, the newly reformed CFS was faced with a challenge: Should it endorse the international Principles for Responsible Agricultural Investment that Respect Rights, Livelihoods and Resources (PRAI) developed by the Inter-Agency Working Group (IAWG), composed of FAO, UNCTAD, IFAD and the World Bank, or refuse to endorse it in response to the CSM position rejecting the PRAI?

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We deserve more than this bad Farm Bill

Posted February 5, 2014 by Ben Lilliston   

Used under creative commons license from Bread for the World.

Was it just exhaustion from two-plus years of negotiations that finally produced the Farm Bill that is expected to be signed by the President this week? Or, was it the sense that “it could have been a lot worse” when compared with a mean-spirited, destructive Farm Bill passed by the House of Representatives last year. For whatever reason, there is a sense that a deeply flawed Farm Bill—the terms of which were dictated largely by austerity fanatics from the start—is the best we’ll get under the current political environment.

That’s a problem for all of us. It’s definitely a problem for the growing number of working age Americans who rely on food stamps. This Farm Bill cuts food stamp benefits (about 80 percent of the Farm Bill costs) by $8.6 billion.

It’s a problem for the environment and the urgent need to help farmers shift toward more climate resilient production systems to deal with extreme weather events. The bill cuts about $6 billion from conservation programs, the first time conservation funding has been cut since it became part of the Farm Bill in 1985 (excellent analysis by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition). Those cuts reduce the number of acres for the Conservation Reserve Program (which takes sensitive land out of production to protect habitat and wildlife) from 32 million to 24 million acres. It also limits the new acres of enrollment into the Conservation Stewardship Program (which support conservation measures on working farms) to 10 million per year—a cut of 2.8 million acres per year over the next decade.

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Fast track targets local foods efforts

Posted January 28, 2014 by Karen Hansen-Kuhn   Ben Lilliston   

Used under creative commons license from Caelie_Frampton.

Congress is quietly considering legislation that would speed the passage of two mega trade agreements, and seeks to specifically eliminate government programs that favor “localization.” The bill would give the Obama Administration what is known as “fast track” authority—meaning Congress would surrender its constitutional authority to shape trade agreements negotiated by the president and instead can only vote up or down on the deal.

Why should those working for a fair, sustainable food system care? Perhaps no area of policy has undermined local food systems around the world more than the slew of trade agreements passed over the last several decades. These trade rules cover everything from tariffs, food safety and intellectual property to enshrining corporate rights. They place restrictions on what is allowed in national policies, like the Farm Bill, as well as the state and local level. These deals have heavily tilted the playing field from farmers and consumers toward global agribusiness and food giants like Cargill, Monsanto and Wal-Mart.

Because these trade deals, like NAFTA and CAFTA, have been so blatantly negotiated on behalf of multinational corporations and have contributed to growing income inequality, they’ve been extremely unpopular. This is why the Obama Administration has decided to negotiate these two new trade agreements in secret. That’s right, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (including more than a dozen countries) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (with our biggest trading partner, the EU) is being negotiated entirely behind closed doors. The negotiating text has not been made public, and, amazingly, even many members of Congress are in the dark about what’s happening.

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We’re fed up!

Posted January 24, 2014 by Karen Hansen-Kuhn   

On a slightly chilly morning last Saturday in Berlin, more than 30,000 people marched through the city to raise their voices against industrial agriculture and for good food and good farming. This was the fourth year for the Wir Haben Agrarindustrie Satt (We’re Fed Up with Agribusiness) march, and the biggest so far. The day started off with a breakfast led by family farmers from around Germany and the region. They led the march with a caravan of tractors, followed by slow food, animal rights, environmental, trade, development and other activists in a joyous celebration of food justice and local democracy.

The march was the culmination of a series of events during Green Week. We started with a public forum on agriculture and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (“TTIP: No We Can’t!”) organized by Martin Haüsling, a Green Party Member of the European Parliament. The German government held its annual Global Forum for Food and Agriculture, which included informative sessions organized by NGOs, academics and corporations on the future of the food system. All great events, but hard to beat the Snippledisco (Disco Soup), where hundreds of people chopped vegetables deemed not quite good enough for the supermarket to pounding music, at once protesting food waste, preparing soup for the demo the next day and just having a great time.

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Germans speaking out against industrial meat and agriculture

Posted January 9, 2014 by Shefali Sharma   

Author Shefali Sharma stands inside an industrial pig operation near Muenster, Germany.

One of Berlin’s big newspapers, the Berlin Zeitung, flashed images of little piglets today and of mass produced turkeys. This is part of a bigger build up towards a major demonstration on January 18 in which over 20,000 citizens are expected in Berlin to protest against industrial farming in the country—mass meat production being the vivid centerpiece for why it is so bad for people and the environment.

I have been in Germany for the last few weeks and am struck by how hot this topic is becoming—capturing media attention and putting the Green Party into elected positions in different states where animal factory farms have become a major problem. A slow movement is building, garnering ever increasing consumer support towards direct farmer-to-consumer marketing of organic, small-scale, locally produced, humane agriculture products.  

The campaign that is organizing events and the demonstration during Germany’s “Green Week” is called "Meine Landwirtschaft" or “My Agriculture,” building a message to put back agriculture into the hands of better stewards who can respect soil, water and integrate human and animal health into good food for the people and the planet. This year’s theme for the campaign demonstration is "Wir Haben Agrarindustrie Satt!" or "We’re fed up with industrial agriculture!" The poster child: a big pig face.

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Have it THEIR way

Posted January 8, 2014 by Dr. M. Jahi Chappell   

Used under creative commons license from cafemama.

The illusion of choice takes away from our ability to get to a just, sustainable food system, meaning we’ll have to “Vote with our Vote.” We can’t afford to just “Vote with our Fork.”

We’ve been told that we in the U.S. have the best, safest food system in the world. Without getting bogged down in endless debate, let’s get some context: the U.S. has 6 percent of households with very low food security and almost 9 percent more who are not sure they’ll have enough money or resources for food (at the same time, our average food availability is equal to 3,800 calories per person per day, much more than the recommended 1900 to 2500 calories/person/day); we throw away and waste 30 to 50 percent of our food; our food system is rated as fourth in food safety; we’re first (among industrialized countries) in overweight and obesity and tied with Greece for second in terms of the number of people who can’t reliably afford adequate food. That’s right: despite having some of the world’s cheapest food, we have one of the highest levels among wealthy countries of people not being able to reliably afford it.

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The tree of knowledge of good and evil

Posted December 12, 2013 by Dale Wiehoff   

Used under creative commons license from OldOnliner.

It’s common to make biblical references when we want to underscore how ancient something is, but in the case of apples, we know they’ve been around for a very long time. Originating in Central Asia, hybrid varieties propagated through grafting were well established over 6,000 years ago. Today there are over 7,500 cultivars world-wide. Despite the range, diversity and quantity of apples produced in the world, however, Malus domestica apparently isn’t measuring up to the modern consumer’s expectations. At least that’s what Neal Carter, president of Okanagan Specialty Fruits thinks. He has developed genetically engineered Granny Smith and Golden Delicious apples that won’t turn brown when the flesh is exposed to air. Carter isn’t alone in searching for technological improvements to the apple. Nanotech coatings to keep fruits like apples, pears and mangos firm are already in use.

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