The amazingly terrible new spending agreement reached by the House and Senate this week illustrates the heavy price we all pay for a government increasingly influenced by big corporate and financial industry donors.
This backroom deal has been marketed by some in Congress as a “monumental achievement” demonstrating how Washington can get things done. Instead, it’s really a stocking full of early Christmas gifts for corporate interests at the expense of the rest of us. Here are just a few examples relevant to food and agriculture issues:
The efforts by millions of citizens across the country to label food containing GMOs must have touched a nerve. The likes of DuPont, American Farm Bureau, Coca Cola and General Mills are lobbying hard to get a new bill passed that would prohibit state-based GMO labeling laws—also known as the DARK (Deny Americans the Right to Know) Act.
The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy invites you to join with the likes of the National Farmers Union, Organic Consumers Association and Right-to-Know Minnesota to tell Congress to reject H.R. 4432, The Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2014 and instead to support mandatory GMO labeling laws.
Don’t let agribusiness and big food keep us in the dark about what is in our food. Take action here!
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.
The 20th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP), a body under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), started on Monday, at the General Army Headquarters in Lima, Peru. With almost 30 tents set up across the premises, and thousands of representatives from governments and observer organizations running between plenaries, contact groups, and side events, the climate change negotiations are in full throttle.
The climate change negotiations in Peru are critical, because they will establish the foundation of a proposed new climate agreement expected to be finalized in Paris at the end of 2015. The convention’s primary objective has historically been on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. While vitally important, this approach has largely ignored the impact climate change has already taken on vulnerable regions around the world, particularly agricultural communities, that urgently need resources to adapt to an altered climate. Such communities also need funds to deal with loss and damage caused by severe weather events that have destroyed crops, increased salinization of soils, and diminished agricultural production.
For the final agreement in Paris, negotiators will consider issues like reducing emissions (mitigation), adaptation, finance, transparency of actions and support, capacity-building and transfer of technology.
But where will agriculture and land-use more broadly stand in these two weeks of negotiations? These issues fall within different tracks of the global climate talks, and are addressed in a variety of ways.
The Story of Drought has opened a new chapter in California this week, with a welcomed pouring rain storm: the most rain to fall in Los Angeles in two years. As California enters its fourth year of a drought, the immediate concern of the state’s water managers is that the rains will send the wrong signal to the population. But as crucial as water conservation is, the signal we need today is one that would begin to address the social, economic and political drivers that cause climate change.
Droughts are very slow weather disasters that can go unnoticed even as rain falls and ground water supplies are drying up. We keep saying that California and other western states are entering into the fourth year of a drought, but the real truth is, California and many areas of the west have been living for too long on borrowed water from aquifers and mountain snowpack that will not be renewed. The modern history of water in California going back to the destruction of the Paiute irrigation system and the Owen’s Valley water diversion are part of a pattern of mismanagement and abuse that is still reverberating today.
Like droughts, many of the underlying causes of climate change are not perceived as threats when first encountered. Three interconnected drivers that are major contributors to climate change are global trade, industrial agriculture and the petroleum production and consumption.
During the fight to pass and implement the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Financial Protection Act of 2010, a favorite Wall Street lobbyist tactic was to organize small and large non-financial business owners to talk with members of Congress about the “unintended consequences” for Main Street of regulating Wall Street. Wall Street didn’t want to be seen as directly lobbying for continuing the regulatory exemptions that lead to the big bank bankruptcies and multi-billion dollar bailouts of 2007–2009.
Instead the Chamber of Commerce, International Swaps and Derivatives Association and other lobby groups’ strategy used “Main Street” clients to promote the idea that global banks such as Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan should operate under many of the same rules as small businesses under Dodd-Frank. In sum, they argued, it is in the interest of Main Street business to not reform Wall Street “too much.”
For example, Dodd-Frank exempts municipal electricity and gas companies from having to put money down (margin collateral) to trade to manage their price risks in the commodity derivatives market. (Derivatives are financial contracts that manage the price risk of an underlying asset, such as wheat, oil or a mortgage interest rate.) Municipal companies must provide service to all, and the cost of posting margin collateral for each trade puts them in a competitive disadvantage with electricity and gas companies that can deny service to the poor. Through their lobbying associations, Wall Street banks argued that they are essential buyers and sellers of such derivatives contracts, and sought to benefit from this margin collateral and other Dodd-Frank exemptions for derivatives trading by commercial users of commodities.
This year’s World Food Prize and Borlaug Dialogue, held from October 17–19, 2014 in Des Moines, Iowa once again brought together the big gun stakeholders in industrial agriculture, and provided many insights to the current framing on the global food security challenge.
Given the parallel celebration of the Borlaug Centennial marking 100 years since the birth of Norman Borlaug, it should come as no surprise that Sanjaya Rajaram was named this year’s World Food Prize Laureate. As Borlaug’s protege in terms of sustaining his legacy of wheat breeding, this award for Rajaram appears to reinforce the importance of remembering what Borlaug was said to have achieved, while also ensuring that current research efforts at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) in Mexico, where Rajaram is based, continue to be perceived to play an important role in meeting global agricultural research needs. It is also noteworthy to acknowledge that Rajaram was born in India but has become a naturalized Mexican citizen given that Borlaug pioneered many Green Revolution ideas and technologies in Mexico in the mid 20th century before subsequently institutionalizing them in India’s post-independence agricultural sector. Indian agriculture continues to be geared towards a commitment to use “modern” and “improved” crop varieties and inputs even as many small farmers face a variety of severe social, environmental and economic challenges that fundamentally threaten production levels and livelihood security of a significant proportion of its population.
Just ahead of the G-20 Leaders’ Summit in Brisbane, Australia (November 15-16, 2014), India and the United States announced a breakthrough in their trade negotiations impasse over agriculture. That fight had brought trade negotiations to a crashing standstill in July after the few months of tentative optimism among negotiators that followed the eleventh-hour agreement in at the Bali Ministerial Conference in December 2013. Confidence in the multilateral rules-based trading system had reached an all-time low, and while the response was muted (an agreement between two WTO members is not the same as an agreement among all), the media coverage made it clear the news of the U.S.-India agreement was very welcome in trade circles.
Should the rest of the world share this excitement? The discussion underlying the fight between India and the United States has important implications for countries’ ability to set policy to promote food security and control their food systems—and the role the WTO and the multilateral system should play in that effort.
The last few years have not been good for the factory farm industry. High prices for corn and other crops (in part driven by the growth of ethanol) made feed costs incredibly high, while at the same time, environmental and animal welfare advocates have been winning ballot and marketplace battles to shift more meat production out of intensive confinement and industrial systems. Hog and cattle producers have been hit by disease, drought and weather related disasters, resulting in losses in both sectors.
Communities across the United States and Europe are working to transform local economic systems so that they are more sustainable and equitable. Many states and communities are utilizing public procurement programs to support those efforts, especially bidding preferences for healthy, locally grown foods, energy or transportation programs that create local jobs and fair markets. Especially in the aftermath of the Great Recession, Buy American programs have helped ensure that taxpayer-funded programs create local jobs and serve social goals. Farm to School programs that incentivize purchases from local farmers have grown in all 50 U.S. states and many European countries. Innovative efforts are also underway to expand this approach to other institutions such as hospitals, universities and early childcare programs like Head Start.
In a move that could undermine those important initiatives, the European Union has made the opening of U.S. procurement programs to bids by European firms one of its priority goals for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). IATP published a new report today, Local Economies on the Table, which takes a look at what those proposals could mean.
The EU has been insistent on the inclusion of procurement commitments at all levels of government, for all goods, and in all sectors. At a speech in San Francisco, French trade minister Nicole Bricq declared, “Let’s dream a little with respect to public procurement. Why not replace ‘Buy American’ which penalizes our companies with ‘Buy Transatlantic’ which reflects the depth of our mutual commitment?”