Many of us on staff at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy enjoy an occasional Chipotle burrito. Compared to other casual dining options, the company has done an outstanding job of sourcing antibiotic-free meat from farmers committed to the humane treatment of animals. We applaud its efforts to provide “food with integrity” and, of course, the touching “Back to the Start” video that depicts the life of a family farmer.
Yet despite these admirable efforts, we are disappointed by Chipotle’s blind spot when it comes to farmworkers. As mentioned in a previous post and illustrated in a video by IATP Food and Community Fellow Shalini Kantayya, the treatment of workers in Florida’s tomato fields is atrocious. Tomato harvesters are still paid by the piece, and the average piece rate today is 50 cents for every 32 pounds of tomatoes they pick, a rate that has remained virtually unchanged since 1980. As a result of that stagnation, a worker today must pick more than 2.25 TONS of tomatoes to earn minimum wage in a typical 10-hour workday—nearly twice the amount a worker had to pick to earn minimum wage thirty years ago, when the rate was 40 cents per bucket.
Effectively addressing this crisis is not easy. Federal labor policy has overtly ignored the plights of farmworkers, and any individual grower would price himself/herself out of business if they tried to institute better labor standards as an individual business.
Earlier this week, The Guardian reported on a study that looked at rising sea levels from a new angle. The study found that efforts to meet increasing freshwater demand by harnessing “fossil” groundwater [groundwater that cannot be replenished for millennia under current climate conditions] contributes more to rising sea levels than melting glaciers. Since there it cannot be replenished, tapping groundwater results in land subsidence (downward-shifting of ground surface) and a one-way transfer of water into the oceans. Researchers involved concluded that the deep tube-well drilling for water has contributed to sea level increases by an average of a millimeter every year since 1961. Neither the climate community nor the water community had paid attention to this aspect of tube-well drilling before.
The issue of food waste is a hot topic these days. Everyone from the Food Network to the Environmental Protection Agency is talking about it and trying to get people thinking about the fact that throwing away food really is a waste. Here at IATP, where we strive to ensure fair and sustainable systems, we can’t overlook the ways in which throwing away food is neither fair nor sustainable for people or the planet.
I recently had a chance to attend the 26th Annual BioCycle West Coast Conference in Portland, Oregon. The conference brings together experts and leaders on compost, anaerobic digestion, bioplastics, biogas and organic waste management to discuss science, regulation, innovation and a whole gamut of related issues. Focused not only on identifying the problems, the BioCycle gathering strives to challenge conventional thinking about how we use resources, and offer solutions which make our communities more sustainable, while providing economic opportunities for business.
One of the most widely shared opinions among attendees is that we must make the idea of “organic waste” an oxymoron. Dennis McLerran, US EPA Region 10, reminded us in his keynote that approximately 40 percent of the food we produce in the United States ends up wasted, and that only 3 percent is recovered for compost. While we obviously need to address front-end ways to prevent waste in the first place, we cannot keep thinking of food, or any organic materials for that matter, as waste. As one speaker put it, we’ve got to adopt a “waste-to-worth” attitude.
Earlier this month as the U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development was hosting one of the last meetings to bring out a final draft for the negotiations in Rio de Janeiro, I came across a flurry of reports issued by various entities, including the one by UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA), entitled Sustainable Development in the 21st century (SD21) Report for Rio+20, which will serve as a roadmap during the Rio+20 conference this June. (In all fairness, I should mention that IATP contributed to the component of this report entitled, “Food and Agriculture: The future of sustainability.”) While all of these reports focus on sustainability, the call for sustainability in the agricultural sector is worth our attention for the simple reason that it is where one of the most crucial fights for world’s resources is taking place.
IATP has issued a press statement applauding Representatives Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) for writing to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and calling for action on antibiotics in ethanol production.
Our latest investigation, Bugs in the System: How the FDA Fails to Regulate Antibiotics in Ethanol Production, is heavily cited in their letter, and it's encouraging to see them addressing the FDA's apparent neglect of their responsibilities. Check out the press statement, posted below, or read up on the IATP investigation that made it happen. Hopefully the FDA will recognize its responsibility and take the actions necessary to correct the situation. Get involved in the fight against antibiotic resistance by signing IATP's latest petition.
This blog post was originally published April 17 by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR).
In response to Walmart’s release of its Global Responsibility Report, Food & Water Watch and the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) have published the Top 10 Ways Walmart Fails on Sustainability. Since 2005, the country’s largest retailer has been making splashy announcements and issuing slick reports to highlight its environmental and social responsibility efforts. Food & Water Watch and ILSR contend that Walmart fails to live up to its promises and continues to ignore the fundamental problems with its business model that harm the environment, undermine healthy food choices, and exacerbate poverty.
“No amount of greenwash can conceal the fact that Walmart perpetuates an industrialized food system that diminishes our natural resources, causes excessive pollution, and forces smaller farmers and companies to get big or get out of business,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch.
“Once again, Walmart is using sustainability as a marketing tool to improve its public image and propel its growth—even as it continues to pave over critical habitat, increase its greenhouse gas emissions, and flood the market with shoddy products that go from factory to landfill in record time,” said Stacy Mitchell, senior researcher at ILSR.
What is the “glue” that connects the farm and the fork? With “direct-market” channels like farmers markets and CSAs, we have the privilege of literally shaking the hand that feeds us. In other cases, we need allied businesses in “the middle of the chain” to help make that connection possible—the meat processors, the creameries, the businesses that slice and dice locally grown fruits and vegetables for sale to colleges, hospitals and schools, and the entrepreneurs who turn local veggies into salsa and local grains into tortillas.
These businesses in the middle of the food chain add value to farmers’ products and connect them with markets that many couldn’t reach on their own. These businesses can also help take our local food system to scale, while creating jobs and revitalizing local economies along the way.
But whether you’re talking about a brand new business concept or a small business looking to grow, all local food enterprises need capital—often a combination of equity and borrowing—to get going and to thrive over time.
Unfortunately, the mainstream financial system isn’t always in sync with the financial needs of these innovators. For instance, while banks may have deep knowledge of corn and soy producers’ financing needs, few are equally familiar with small-scale meat processing or the aggregation of organic vegetables. Although venture capitalists and other financiers may be willing to bet on start-ups, the high rates of return and operating control they ask for can make any entrepreneur think twice.
Yesterday our Minnesota Senators Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken introduced a bill in the Senate to protect energy programs in the Farm Bill that are critically important for rural communities. Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa led the bill’s introduction, and Sen. Kent Conrad from North Dakota was also a co-sponsor.
This bill sets the stage for the 2012 Farm Bill Energy Title and draws a line in the sand to make sure that programs like the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP)and the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) don’t lose their funding. These programs have helped farmers plant more perennial crops and increase energy efficiency on the farm. Without them, farmers would have a harder time getting over some of the financial hurdles they encounter when getting started making environmental and energy improvements on the farm.
We would like to see the entire Minnesota congressional delegation show similar support and leadership in the House, and we are working together with several otherMinnesota groups to encourage them to do so. See a sample of the letter we sent to all of our federal legislators.
Farming is a tough way to make a living and no segment of the American farm community has been harder hit in recent decades than the farmers known as Ag in the Middle (AITM). These are the producers of fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy and meat products that are too big to sell directly to consumers and too small to effectively compete with agribusiness—a difficult place to be in a globalized food system and yet these midsize farmers are essential for supplying the significant quantities of food needed by retailers, institutions and other larger market channels.
While the number of very small farmers in the U.S. has started to rebound, the number of Ag in the Middle farmers (those with gross annual farm sales of $50,000 to $500,000) fell nearly 18 percent from 1997 to 2007.
One strategy helping to keep these farmers on the land are efforts by institutions such as colleges, hospitals and schools to purchase locally and regionally grown foods. Since 2009, IATP has partnered with Compass Group USA on just such an initiative. Compass Group is one of the largest food service management companies in the world, serving over one million meals per day in North America. Compass also owns Bon Appétit, which manages foodservice operations for colleges and clients across the country. Bon Appétit has led the way for local, sustainable food sourcing and is a catalyst for improving fairness and equity in the food system, while reducing their carbon footprint.
In its purest form, green chemistry is nothing short of fine art: creating chemicals for use in products and processes that are just as effective as their traditional—and often toxic or resource intensive—counterparts, but safer, cost neutral, environmentally benign and a source of economic boon for everyone involved. Sounds like common sense, and indeed, this was the sentiment of many at yesterday’s Minnesota Green Chemistry Conference, co-hosted by IATP and the Center for Science, Technology and Public Policy at the University of Minnesota.
The day opened with Senator Al Franken delivering a video welcome from Washington, D.C., in which he declared Minnesota a natural leader in green chemistry due to its strong university system—in fact, the University of Minnesota is one of few with a dedicated green chemistry course—and long history of environmental stewardship. He warned, however, that to remain a leader, Minnesota will need to make further investments to expand educational programs to train the next generation of green chemists as well as mid-career training for professionals already in the field.