Think Forward blog

Trade laws undo local progress on food systems

Posted November 20, 2015

Used under creative commons license from rusty_clark.

So much of trade policy involves searching through legal texts and leaked documents for clues about what’s coming next. Careful examination of the recently released text for the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) is already revealing new risks for our food system. Those findings also tell us what to watch out for in the other big pending trade deal—the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the European Union. Unlike earlier trade agreements focused primarily on reducing tariffs to open up markets, these agreements are likely to include extensive provisions intended to reduce or eliminate state and federal regulations viewed as “trade irritants.” The focus on state and local rules and programs is one of the “innovations” in recent trade deals.

First, the good news. Sort of. Farm to School programs funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) that provide bidding preferences for healthy, locally grown foods have been kept out of federal procurement commitments in TPP. And, for the time being at least, state and local procurement is off the table. The bad news is that the text directs that “No later than three years after the date of entry into force of this Agreement, the Parties shall commence negotiations with a view to achieving expanded coverage, including sub-central coverage.” No word on how that would be decided or who would be consulted, but it indicates the clear intention to include programs by states, counties and perhaps even public universities or hospitals, at some point in the future. In that case, our clue comes from the TTIP negotiations, where leaked meeting reports indicate that the EU is seeking such commitments from the U.S. for all goods and all sectors.

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Agroecology, the expertise coffee needs

Posted November 17, 2015 by IATP   

Oscar looking over his coffee field and his brother's coffee field.  

Oscar Omar Alonzo Aguilar farms coffee on a plot of land alongside his brother in Honduras. Oscar’s field is on the left; his brother’s field is on the right. Why is Oscar’s coffee thriving while his brother’s crop struggles?

The brothers are growing coffee in a region highly affected by climate change—one result of this climate change is the dramatic increase in a destructive parasitic fungus called Hemileia vastatrix, also known as coffee leaf rust.

Oscar has applied efficient micro-organisms that strengthen his plant’s defenses and the results are extraordinary. This is part of a method of farming called agroecology—a practice that's about finding solutions to nature’s problems by utilizing nature herself.

Agroecology is an approach to agriculture that values people and the planet over the profits of global agribusiness. By combining the best in science with farmer knowledge, we can authentically assist farmers and inform global policymaking to create a just, fair and sustainable food system.

The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) and our fair-trade coffee company Peace Coffee are working together to learn more about farmers’ own agroecology innovations while sharing and creating cutting-edge research from top agroecology researchers. We need your help! In our latest edition of our podcast Radio Sustain, we sat down with Peace Coffee CEO and Queen Bean, Lee Wallace, and IATP's Senior Staff Scientist and agroecology expert, Dr. M. Jahi Chappell, to discuss this project in depth.

In 2016, IATP is partnering with Peace Coffee to increase our collective impact—we're going to roll out expanded work on agroecology to take advantage of new opportunities in global policy.

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TPP Fine Print: Biotech Seed Companies Win Again

Posted November 16, 2015 by Ben Lilliston   

Used under creative commons license from Environmental Illness Network.

After six years of secret negotiations, the dozen countries that make up the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) have finally made the text public. The full implications of the broad-reaching, 30 chapter, 5000-plus page deal will be analyzed intensely in the coming months leading up to a U.S. Congressional up or down vote. Big concerns about the deal’s impact on public health, workers, the environment and the legal rights of corporations are already being raised. A close look at the Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) chapter shows how just a few lines in TPP can turn into a big win for an industry—in this case, the biotech seed industry.

The IPR chapter, a draft version was posted by Wikileaks last month, has already received considerable criticism because of its lengthy patent protection for drugs, which could lead to high costs of essential medicines. But the chapter also requires patent protection important to another sector—the seed biotech industry. Companies like Monsanto and Syngenta depend on strong patenting regimes to control the market for genetically engineered crops. The IPR chapter largely reflects the wish list that BIO, the biotech industry’s powerful trade group, outlined when TPP negotiations began in 2009.

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US State legislators ‘shocked’ by EU trade deal implications

Posted November 12, 2015

This is a republished blog post from The Greens / European Free Alliance TTIP page

When State Senator Virginia Lyons thought it would be wise to develop legislation to reduce harmful electronics waste in her state of Vermont, the last complaint she expected to receive was from the People’s Republic of China. The Chinese it seemed, had issue with how new E-Waste reduction measures for Vermont would impact their sales of electronics to the USA.

“I was taken aback” said Senator Lyons at a meeting of the Vermont Commission on International Trade and State Sovereignty. “Why was an issue like better recycling causing such a fuss? They pushed hard on us to change our minds. In the end we implemented the changes, and I’m pretty sure the Chinese are still selling electronics.” 

This small anecdote might sound innocuous to some, but it raises compelling questions about the intrusion of other countries into legislators work at state-level. On health and environmental issues, Vermont is known for setting the bar high, and is well versed in the pushback that comes from the powers that be. They were the first state to ban Fracking in 2012, and have worked hard to protect waterway systems and develop coherent environmental and consumer protection policies. This year the state is being sued by a consortium of agri-industry giants lead by the Grocery Manufacturers of America, for introducing labeling requirements for genetically engineered (GE) foodstuffs.

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3 Ways the TPP Will Hurt the Climate—If We Let It Pass

Posted November 12, 2015 by Ben Lilliston   

This article is part of New Economy Week, a collaboration between YES! Magazine and the New Economy Coalition that brings you the ideas and people helping build an inclusive economy—in their own words.

President Obama announced his decision last week to reject approval for the Keystone XL pipeline, which would have brought fuel from the Canadian tar sands through the heartland of the U.S. to the Gulf of Mexico. Because this oil emits more greenhouse gases than other forms of fuel, the decision had everything to do with climate change and came just a month prior to the United Nations climate talks in Paris.

“America is now a global leader when it comes to taking serious action to fight climate change,” Obama stated. “And frankly, approving this project would have undercut that global leadership.”

While environmental groups hailed the Keystone announcement, they have criticized the Administration’s push for a massive new trade agreement called the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) as a big step backward on climate. In fact, the proposed agreement, finally made public last week, is literally in climate denial: nowhere in its 5,000-plus pages do the words “climate change” appear.

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UN Committee on Food Security links Water with Food and Nutrition Security

Posted October 28, 2015 by Shiney Varghese   

Used under creative commons license from CIFPOR.

In its 42nd session, the UN Committee on World Food Security (CFS) two weeks ago made landmark recommendations linking water with food security and nutrition. It is a matter of pride for the negotiators that these recommendations are rooted in a human rights framework. Launched barely two weeks earlier in New York, the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda (SDA), with 17 sustainable development goals and 169 corresponding social development targets, also has human rights at its heart. These are important milestones.

However, for the global Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) indicator framework is to be truly human rights-based, and to have an integrated, ecosystem-based approach to development, there is a need to monitor the progress for all, including the most marginalized and vulnerable. Only then will we ensure that no one is left behind” and extreme inequalities are addressed. Thus the CFS recommendations on water for food security and nutrition come at an opportune time, as the UN develops these indicators.

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The Council of Canadians is prepared to push the new Liberal government on key campaign areas

Posted October 20, 2015

More than a year ago the Council of Canadians set twin objectives for this federal election: to get out the vote and to defeat the Harper government. Both were accomplished last night. More than 17.5 million people, about 68 per cent of all eligible voters, cast a ballot in this election. That's a dramatic increase of almost 3 million voters from the 14.8 million people, or 61.4 per cent of eligible voters, who voted in May 2011. And last night not only was Stephen Harper defeated as prime minister, he resigned as leader of the Conservative Party. We celebrate both of these accomplishments.

We had felt though that the best likely outcome of this election would be a minority government. And if we had a system of proportional representation that would have been the outcome last night. Under that system, the Liberals would have won a minority government of about 133 seats (rather than a majority with 184 seats), the NDP 67 seats and the Greens 12 seats. We could have had a stable minority government through a multi-party coalition or accord. Instead, the Liberals won 54 per cent of the seats in the House of Commons with just 39.5 per cent of the vote. We believe this is wrong.

While we welcome Prime Minister-elect Justin Trudeau's election night speech that focused on hope, inclusion and the end of the politics of division and fear evident under the Harper government, we are deeply concerned by his party's support for 'free trade' agreements like the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). And with about 40 days until the critical United Nations COP 21 climate talks begin in Paris, the Liberals have only pledged "real climate change solutions" rather than more concretely an end to export pipelines and no new approvals for the tar sands.

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Algae: Raceway to the future?

Posted October 15, 2015 by Dr. Steve Suppan   

Used under creative commons license from agrilife.

 An algae raceway at Texas A&M AgriLife.

Can genetically modified algae feed and fuel the world, as scientific entrepreneur J. Craig Venter predicted in 2011? For entrepreneurs of manufacturing with algae biomass, the future is now. That was the message of the Algae Biomass Organization (ABO) Summit held September 30th to October 2nd in Washington, DC. Yet, to the product developers who rely on synthetically modified microbes to genetically “edit” and customize algae for industrial and agricultural purposes, an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) hearing on “new microbes” modified by “Advanced Genetic Engineering” posed a lot of questions.  For some of those questions, there are not yet answers; at least parts of the algal future are not now.

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The Hidden Cost (or Tax) of Food Dialogues®

Posted October 15, 2015 by Pete Huff   

Used under creative commons license from Donna Cleveland.

In the current media environment, there’s a lot of seemingly contradictory information about the “right” way to grow and eat food. Setting out to address these tensions in a public forum, the Food Dialogues® came to Minneapolis this summer. The event–entitled “Farm to Consumer: Bridging the Gap Between Consumer Concerns and Food Production and Sourcing Decisions”–was presented as an open panel discussion on the way the nation grows and eats food, now and into the future.

At first glance, the dialogue between actors such as Minneapolis Public Schools, a national leader in providing healthy, regionally sourced foods, and General Mills, a major financial backer for groups that fight improved school nutrition standards, appeared promising. Equally promising was the presence of the farm voice, specifically Riverbend farm, a small, community supported organic farm, side-by-side with Cargill, the nation’s largest privately held corporation. However, looking behind the curtain of this and other Food Dialogues® events around the country reveals the less objective agenda of those setting the stage–an agenda that had little interest in a real dialogue about the future of farming and food systems.

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A Tale of Two Food Prizes

Posted October 13, 2015

An OFRANEH youth brigade member waters sweet chili pepper in a family garden. Photos by Steve Pavey.

This is part of a blog series around the 2015 U.S. Food Sovereignty Prize, which will be presented in Des Moines on October 14, 2015. The Food Sovereignty Prize is awarded by the US Food Sovereignty Alliance, which IATP is a member organization. The US Food Sovereignty Alliance works to end poverty, rebuild local food economies, and assert democratic control over the food system. We believe all people have the right to healthy, culturally appropriate food, produced in an ecologically sound manner. As a US-based alliance of food justice, anti-hunger, labor, environmental, faith-based and food producer groups, we uphold the right to food as a basic human necessity and public good and work to connect our local and national struggles to the international movement for food sovereignty.

What’s in a prize? The politics of distribution versus growth.

On October 14th in Des Moines, Iowa, the Food Sovereignty Prize will be awarded to the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, run by African-American farmers of the southern United States and to OFRANEH—the Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras (Organización Fraternal Negra Hondureña).

The next day, hundreds of distinguished international guests will also gather in Des Moines, Iowa as Sir Fazle Hasan Abed accepts the World Food Prize in the name of BRAC—the world’s largest non-governmental rural development agency.

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