Twenty three years ago, in 1993, the first annual World Water Day was an occasion to draw attention to water related challenges around the globe. It will be observed again tomorrow, with a focus on sustainable water governance. We join with others to celebrate the many successes in the intervening two decades.
The number of people with access to drinking water and sanitation has increased manifold. In many communities people have met their water needs through successful watershed development and rainwater harvesting efforts. At the same time, around the world communities are asserting that water is a fundamental human right. They are pushing back attempts to privatize their water supply and sanitation services.
In countries such as France, where privatization has been the norm in the past, and elsewhere around the world, we see an increasing trend towards the re-municipalization of water supply and sanitation services. At times change has come through directly engaging in a participatory democracy, including taking to the street and to the ballot, as we have seen both in New Delhi and in Greece. The newly elected government in the state of New Delhi had free water as part of their campaign platform. In Greece, likely in response to the promise of social policies that Syriza has made to people, the public water company Thessaloniki has introduced social tariffs that allow poor people to receive about 12.5 cubic meter of free water per month.
Americans are much more vocal today than we have ever been about the kind of food we eat, where it comes from and what it does to our bodies and our planet. And though powerful agriculture and food corporations are able to stifle laws and regulations that hold them accountable to our interests, these changing American attitudes are forcing a shift in the way Big Food Retail operates. McDonald’s recent announcement to stop using antibiotics used to treat humans is one clear example.
The addition of nanomaterials in food, food packaging and other food contact surfaces, is moving so quickly that regulators and even businesses cannot keep up. That’s why today, IATP and partners have released a fact sheet and policy statement for businesses on how they should deal with food nanotechnology products, whether they are in the research and development phase or are in the marketplace.
According to a Center for Food Safety internet based survey, atomic to molecular size nano-silver particles have been incorporated into more than 100 food and food-related products on the market without government regulation or pre-market safety testing.
IATP has been a co-plaintiff in lawsuits litigated by the International Center for Technology Assessment (ICTA) to compel the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency (in December 2014) to regulate and to pre-market safety testing of nanomaterials and nanotechnologies in products under their authority. Thus far, the legal actions have failed to achieve their objectives. What else can be done to protect public and environmental health?
The North American Meat Institute, national beef and pork associations and other corporate lobbies of the powerful meat industry are seething at the historic new scientific report by the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. Why historic? Because the committee takes on the meat industry head to head in a scientific report intended to help set five year national guidelines on nutrition and because for the first time, the recommendations take into account the environmental footprint of our food (production) choices. If these recommendations are accepted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the report will not only help set national nutrition policy but will also likely impact the $16 billion school lunch program. The USDA and HHS will jointly release the National Dietary Guidelines later this year.
Based on their research, the Committee came to the conclusion that, “a healthy dietary pattern is higher in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low- or non-fat dairy, seafood, legumes, and nuts; moderate in alcohol (among adults); lower in red and processed meat; and low in sugar sweetened foods and drinks and refined grains.”[i]
It is the emphasis on lower red and processed meat consumption that has the meat industry up in arms, particularly so because the Committee integrates environmental impacts in its approach to dietary guidelines:[ii]
The eighth negotiating session for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership Agreement (TTIP) is happening this week in Brussels. One of the thorniest parts of the negotiations between the U.S. and EU concerns food safety.
Today, IATP published an analysis of the European Commission’s proposed chapter on food safety, plant health and animal health and welfare (SPS), released on January 7, and a January 28 leak of the chapter on “regulatory cooperation”. The proposal for regulatory cooperation covers all U.S. and EU “regulatory acts” (pre-regulatory research and draft proposed regulations, finalized regulations, and their implementation and enforcement), including those of U.S. states and EU member states that might have a “significant impacts on trade and investment” (Article 5).
Additionally, IATP has contributed to a joint NGO statement about the SPS chapter that was released in time for an EC-sponsored TTIP Stakeholders meeting on February 4. IATP’s analysis of the proposed chapters and of the U.S. government’s insufficient capacity to provide the “appropriate level” of SPS protection guaranteed in TTIP, give plenty of reason to doubt that public, environmental and animal health and welfare will be protected, as negotiators have promised.
One of the big sticking points in the TTIP talks has been the EU’s prohibition on imports of beef treated with growth hormones. EU officials continue to insist the issue is off the table, but U.S. officials keep pushing it right back on. Just this week, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack told reporters at Politico that EU restrictions on hormone beef (and GMOs) were problem areas in the trade talks. “We should be given an equal opportunity to make the case [for U.S. farm products],” Vilsack said. “It may very well be that European consumers decide not to buy product from the United States, but they ought to be given the choice.”
Well, in fact they are given the choice, at least in the case of hormones. According to a new report by Vilsack’s own Department of Agriculture, U.S. sales to Europe of beef raised without hormones have increased substantially over the last few years. It’s an interesting story of a trade dispute spurring new, and apparently profitable, changes in production.
The EU has banned the use of growth-promoting hormones in beef since 1989 over concerns about the safety for human health. The U.S. and Canada won a WTO challenge to that decision at the WTO, winning the right to impose retaliatory tariffs on EU farm goods. In the meantime, USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service began a Non-Hormone Treated Cattle Program, which certifies U.S. beef for export to the EU.
New research shows that production from organic agriculture shapes up better against input-heavy conventional agriculture than previously thought; meanwhile, evidence for the benefits of agroecology continues to accumulate
A new study was released today examining that evergreen chestnut (to mix metaphors): does “organic agriculture” have lower yields than “conventional agriculture”? Published in the prestigious scientific journal Proceedings of the Royal Society of London by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, the study found that some previous estimates comparing organic agriculture’s productivity were too low. What’s more, they found that there was a bias in the data in favor of conventional agriculture, which means even their updated estimate may still overestimate in favor of the current resource-intensive, high-input systems that dominate much of agriculture today.
How much would you pay for a pork chop that was two percent leaner? Would you eat such a pork chop if nanoscale minerals were mixed into the hog feed to achieve that two percent reduction? Such questions are before the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as it considers what to advise the animal feed and mineral supplement industry about their efforts to incorporate atomic- to molecular-sized materials into feed.
This summer, the FDA requested comment on what to advise the animal feed industry about nanomaterials. IATP and others have repeatedly called for the FDA to require pre-market and post-market safety assessment of nanomaterials prior to their commercialization. To the latest FDA request, IATP responded that if FDA continues to not require adequate pre- and post-market safety assessments, it should at least strongly urge the industry to report to FDA in great detail about its nano-feed products. We also said that industry reported data affecting public health, the environment and worker safety should be not classified as Confidential Business Information (CBI) not available to the public.
Earlier this summer, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advised the food industry what a manufacturer should do if it puts nanomaterials in food: Please call us. The human health effects of ingesting nanomaterials are not well understood, but a few food manufacturers claim to include nanomaterials in their products. The FDA’s advice could have been worse: Don’t call us. But it could have been a lot better by requiring pre-market and post-market safety assessments and testing of any “food substance” containing nanomaterials.
Nanotechnology, the synthesis, visualization, configuration and manipulation of atomic to molecular size particles, has been practicable since the Nobel-prize winning invention in 1981 of a kind of microscope that made nano-visualization and manipulation possible. (See the superb “Timeline: Nanotechnology” published in April by the University of Ottawa.) The application of nanotechnology to industrial processes, such as coating semi-conductors and other electronic parts with infinitesimally thin layers of metal oxides, has enabled the production of computer server farms and cell-phones, to name just two of the most famous applications.
Synthetic biology is “Still in [the] Uncharted Waters of Public Opinion,” according to a recent focus group study by the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars. That’s not surprising since the technology involved sounds like something out of science fiction. It includes a range of techniques to modify organisms using artificially constructed sequences of genetic information (DNA) not found in nature. The Center’s Synthetic Biology Project gives an introduction to this discipline, sometimes referred to as “synbio.”
The advancement of synbio has taken place largely under the radar, with little public debate, but that’s changing. A June 17 criticism of an NGO synbio letter by an industry lobbyist, published on the investor website The Motley Fool, served to put more of a spotlight on the issue. The Motley Fool blog was almost immediately rebutted by Synbio Watch.