Fair trade or free trade? Let your voice be heard on Minnesota’s future!
The Obama Administration is negotiating two new mega trade deals (one with Pacific Rim countries, another with Europe) entirely in secret, with the goal of further expanding the NAFTA-model of free trade. These trade agreements could have major impacts on Minnesota's farmers, workers, small business owners and rural communities. They could limit Minnesota’s ability to support local food and energy systems and grow local businesses. In order to stay up to speed, Minnesota has set up a new Trade Policy Advisory Council (TPAC) to advise the state legislature and Governor.
TPAC wants to hear from Minnesotans: What concerns do you have about free trade? What role could TPAC play in the future? Now is your opportunity to have a say in our future trade policy. Complete the survey and let them know future trade negotiations should be public, not secret. Help ensure the voices of all Minnesotans are heard in the development of trade agreements and that they protect local control and our quality of life. The free trade model has failed for Minnesota and we need a new approach to trade. Help ensure the voices of all Minnesotans are heard before trade agreements are completed, and that they protect local control, our natural resources and our quality of life.
Posted September 14, 2009 by
In the newest IATP Radio Sustain podcast, we sit down with Brother David Andrews to discuss the fundamental human right to food and water and how this right is being established internationally. Next, we talk with Wayne Rogers of the Toronto Food Policy Council about what a food policy council is, and why every city could use one. Lastly, Filmmaker Ana Joanes discusses her new documentary FRESH and the optimism she found after exploring the farms, businesses and people that are changing—and improving— the American food system.
Listen to the entire episode here (mp3).
Posted September 11, 2009 by
The facts shared at last night's IATP event, "Climate Equity: Ensuring a Just Response to Climate Change," were at many points staggering—at others, supremely encouraging. Dr. Cecilia Martinez and Fellow-in-Residence Shalini Gupta, from IATP's Center for Earth, Energy and Democracy (CEED) hosted an event to discuss the inequity that exists within our highly inefficient energy infrastructure. As Dr. Matinez pointed out, our current energy system is often built on the backs of whole sets of populations, while those consuming the energy, and creating energy policy, see little consequence.
Both internationally and within the U.S., the inequity between those that produce carbon and those that pay for its impacts, is real and widening. Dr. Cecilia Martinez credits this gap, among other things, to a highly inefficient infrastructure built on outdated, short-sighted and sometimes discriminatory ideals. She cited Robert Moses, the twentieth century urban planning giant responsible for much of New York City's current suburb-oriented design. Moses's tendency to favor highways over public transit did more than influence urban planners around the country—it separated communities from the inner city (often low-income) from those who could afford cars and to live in the suburbs. This energy-intensive transportation system still exists today and as Dr. Martinez pointed out: if modern policies are to succeed and ensure justice, they will need both physical goals (reducing carbon emissions, etc.) as well as social and political goals (improving a broken community infrastructure and ensuing equal access to energy).
Shalini Gupta addressed the international issues surrounding climate change, including past and present proposals for cutting emissions. Who has rights to the atmosphere? Currently, in the U.S., we produce about 20 tons per capita annually of carbon emissions. India, on the other hand, a mere 2 tons per capita, annually. Gupta said, if the world was truly to be equal, carbon emissions would need to reduce to 3.3 tons per capita globally—quite a far off goal when you consider the currently proposed goals; the most aggressive of which comes from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change which proposes reducing carbon emissions by 40 percent from the 1990 levels. Such a reduction would still only put the U.S. at around (conservatively) 11 tons of carbon emissions per capital annually.
Among the daunting figures and historical injustices discussed at last night's event, a thread of "Where do we go from here?" connected the problems with solutions. Efforts like Sustainable Energy Utilities (detailed in this article coauthored by Dr. Martinez) and the determination to push for diversified, small-scale energy solutions, can and will serve to not only reduce our dependence on a commodified, highly inefficient energy infrastructure, but will provide equity for those who have long been denied equal access to energy and energy independence. As Dr. Martinez put it last night, energy must be viewed not as a commodity, but as a commons.
Posted September 10, 2009 by
A new report, issued today by IATP and Food & Water Watch titled “Bridging the GAPs: Strategies to Improve Produce Safety, Preserve Farm Diversity and Strengthen Local Food Systems,” explains why the current (non) food safety system for produce growers needs to change, and offers several ideas on how to improve safety and balance the playing field for small, diversified and organic farms.
Currently, a patchwork of public and private protocols are being used ostensibly to ensure food safety on produce farms, including the federal Good Agriculture Practices (GAPs), the Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement (LGMA), private industry “super metrics,” and international food safety protocols. In the absence of federal regulations governing on-farm food safety, private industry third party auditors are quickly becoming the standard—not only for companies, but also for larger institutional buyers like hospitals or schools.
But these private industry protocols are geared almost exclusively towards large-scale, single crop operations. For small and diversified farms, the industry requirements effectively close them out of the market. Audit requirements differ greatly among buyers, most require extensive documentation, testing and other added costs; and many requirements conflict with those of environmental programs supported by state and federal agencies.
“Most produce-related food-borne illnesses have been traced to processors, not to the farm,” said IATP's Marie Kulick in today's press release. “For farmers, it’s important to have transparent, inclusive standards that reflect the diversity of U.S. farm operations. A nationally supported produce safety program can benefit everyone—more farms participating, safer food for consumers.”
Posted September 9, 2009 by
Numerous agriculure and family farm organizations have issued a letter to President Barack Obama and Senate leaders urging support for the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA) S. 619, in an effort to reduce the widespread overuse of antibiotics in animal agriculture.
More than 70 percent of all antibiotics in the U.S. are added to animal feed to promote growth and manage stresses of animals in confinement housing. While PAMTA would still allow farmers to treat sick animals with antibiotics, it would withdraw the approval of seven specific classes of medically important antibiotics for nontherapeutic feed additive use. Under the bill, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) would review each antibiotic to determine if there is a reasonable certainty of no harm to public health.
According to the letter: "In supporting a restriction on nontherapeutic use of antibiotics, the FDA is joining a broad consensus of physicians, scientists and other governments that have taken the same position. The American Medical Association, the Centers for Disease Control, the World Health Organization (WHO), and the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies of Science have all called for restrictions on the use of antibiotics for nontherapeutic purposes in food animals. And in 2006, on recommendation from the WHO, the European Union banned nontherapeutic antibiotic use in food animals."
IATP President Jim Harkness said in our press release, "The FDA believes we should act. We have thousands of farmers around the country who are already raising livestock without antibiotics. Now, it’s time for Congress to act.”
For more on how the overuse of antibiotics in raising food animals effects public health, check out the Keep Antibiotics Working Web site.
Posted September 4, 2009 by
Farmers markets and community supported agriculture (CSAs) are the ultimate in food traceability. But they make up only a tiny portion of the food system. The rest is more difficult. There's been a decade-old global push for an integrated food safety system from farm to fork. In the latest issue of Global Food Safety Monitor, IATP's Steve Suppan reports on why building a "farm to farm" food safety system is so difficult.
Steve reviews the political compromises that watered down the food safety bill passed by the House of Representatives in July, Nestle cookie dough contamination and private company testing, and the latest from the World Health Organization and Codex Alimentarius Commission on food safety.
You can read the full Global Food Safety Monitor here.
Posted September 3, 2009 by
In the latest issue of Geneva Update, IATP's Anne Laure Constantin reports on the unusually quiet summer at the World Trade Organization. Despite WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy's best efforts, there is no serious momentum to re-start the WTO's Doha round of negotiations to further liberalize global trade rules. The Obama Administration has yet to appoint a new WTO Ambassador. And an upcoming WTO ministerial in late November is more a formality than an attempt to advance negotiations.
The global financial crisis, the rising number of hungry people around the world and international negotiations on climate change have all usurped the WTO in international circles. Constantin writes that it is time for "a realistic assessment of the specific role of the WTO and a better definition of how it fits within the broader multilateral system when it comes to food."
Read the full Geneva Update here.
Posted September 1, 2009 by
Farming is one of the most dangerous jobs out there, with a fatality rate nine times higher than the average job. Farm families, including children, are also at risk for injuries and death. So, the stakes are particularly high for farmers in the current debate over national health care.
In an August analysis, the USDA's Economic Research Service breaks down the health risks to farmers: "Farmers face risks from working with machinery and animals as well as from potential exposures to high concentrations of hazardous substances associated with agricultural chemicals, including pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers. As a result, farmers are at high risk for fatal and nonfatal injuries, work-related respiratory diseases, noise-induced hearing loss, skin diseases, and certain cancers associated with chemical use and prolonged sun exposure."
As far as health insurance, farmers are on their own. The challenge of finding affordable insurance is why many farmers themselves, or members of their family, take off-farm jobs. Among non-elderly whose primary occupation is farming, the USDA found that one in five (and 5 percent of seniors) did not have health insurance; not surprisingly one in five farmers struggle with medical debt, according to the Access Project.
The current health care debate rivals the farm bill in its complexity—but one of the key issues is whether a public option from the government will be included. A public option would compete with private insurers and could provide particular benefits for individuals who are not part of an employer plan—like farmers. The Center for Rural Affairs makes a strong case for why a public option plan is good for rural communities overall.
With so much at stake for farmers, where do the two biggest U.S. farm groups come down on health care? The American Farm Bureau Federation is against a public option. The National Farmers Union is for it. Does the Farm Bureau's position reflect its heavy investments in the private insurance industry (among other industries) laid out in a 2000 report by Defenders of Wildlife?
The failings of the our health care system affect all farmers—big and small, conventional and organic. Maybe we need a new variation on a popular bumper sticker: "No healthy farmers, no food."
Posted August 31, 2009 by
My Aunt Kathryn is the only person that I know who successfully and consistently invested in the commodities futures markets. During a visit to her and Uncle Claude's farm, as a 15-year-old, I tried to understand why she needed all those newspapers, a calculator and notebooks spread out on the kitchen table. She tried to explain to me, with increasing frustration, what she was doing; using the analogy of investing in the stock market, which we were studying in high school. She explained how traders made verbal deals on the trading floors (the "pits") of Chicago, New York, Minneapolis and Kansas City, and how commodity futures markets helped to set the cash prices for what Uncle Claude produced. Then she looked an uncomprehending me straight in the eye and said, "Stevie, the next stop after commodity futures is Las Vegas." Even a callow youth could understand that explanation.
Aunt Kathryn turned 90 a few days ago and soon my parents and I will go down to Iowa for a big birthday bash paid for by a trust fund filled with her killings in pork belly and corn futures. She wouldn’t recognize the markets now. The traders and "pits" are gone, replaced by Bloomberg "Market Masters" and other marvels of 24/7 round-the-clock and round-the-world electronic trading. In February, the last open outcry called out in the pits of the Minneapolis Grain Exchange, which I had first visited as an employee of IATP fourteen years earlier. I ran across my earnest notes from that visit: e.g., “speculators add enough liquidity to the market so that other speculators (farmers included) can get in and out of trades.”
Today liquidity is far in excess of what is required to clear trades. Huge financial institutions, such as Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, dominate the market, after having successfully lobbied for a decade to deregulate and de-supervise their industry. Among their achievements was the removal of the speculative position limits to which traditional speculators (such as Aunt Kathryn) had been subject. IATP joined other members of the Commodity Markets Oversight Coalition (CMOC) in an August 5 letter to the Congressional leadership, calling for the same aggregate position limits for all market participants and other measures.
We also sent an August 12 comment to the Commodities Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) in support of aggregate position limits. IATP noted that since the CFTC would be in charge of regulating the carbon emissions permit trading envisioned in the House of Representatives “American Clean Energy and Security Act,” (ACES) that the CFTC should hold hearings on how to write rules to prevent excessive speculation in carbon markets. If the CFTC fails to prevent excessive speculation in the carbon markets, the result could be more than the extreme price volatility affecting the market since 2007 (with a concomitant rise in food and energy insecurity). Speculators could jump in as short sellers to drive down the price of carbon emission futures, thus discouraging investment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to mitigate climate change. Excessive carbon speculation could fuel an increase in GHG emissions and the economic damage forecast to result, after a two-degree centigrade increase in the global average temperature.
There are at least some signs that the CFTC recognizes the need to address position limits. On August 19, the CFTC withdrew letters permitting Deutsche Bank’s commodity service and Gresham Investment Management to exceed position limits in wheat, soybean and corn futures. These limits apply to traders who use the futures markets to protect themselves against price volatility in commodities they trade or use for manufacture (commercial traders). For a decade these limits had not applied to “non-commercial” traders, such as investment banks. During a CMOC conference call discussing this CFTC action and others, one CMOC member said, “two down and 700 to go.”
Even if Congress acts to prevent excessive speculation in the commodity and financial markets and the CFTC continues to withdraw the hundreds of “No Action” letters that enabled excessive speculation, the process of restoring fairness to the market will likely be slow. Deutsche Bank and Gresham had already reduced their positions in advance of the CFTC ruling. According to The Wall Street Journal, the two financial institutions will have until October 31 to comply with the rulings, but both were confident that they could already meet their clients’ trading needs within the new limits.
The late Al Krebs, in his indispensable The Corporate Reapers:The Book of Agribusiness (Essential Books, 1992) wrote, “No one enduring myth in American agriculture has taken deeper root than that which says that the law of supply and demand is the determining factor in establishing fair prices for agricultural commodities.” He documented how speculators in the1970s and 1980s determined prices by providing far more liquidity than what was needed to clear futures contract trades, 41 times as much liquidity in the case of soybean speculators. Al would not be the least bit surprised by the dominance of energy futures over agricultural futures in today’s commodity index funds—nor by the current spike in oil prices at a time when oil reserves are full to overflowing.
I like to think that if Al had met my Aunt Kathryn (in the 1980s they lived fewer than 200 miles apart in Iowa), he would have advised her to get out the market until the CFTC started to provide a level trading field for commercial traders, such as Aunt Kathryn, with the financial speculators. And I like to think that she, despite the thrill of trading, which Al documents so eloquently, would have taken his advice.
Posted August 28, 2009 by
Last spring, Nicholas Kristof opened eyes about the link between pigs, health and MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus).
The piece reported on science, stronger in Europe and less well-developed in the U.S., that farms are important reservoirs for MRSA, the staph superbug that is wreaking havoc in hospitals and healthcare budgets.
We now know there is MRSA in North American pigs and on farms. What's less clear is how much this is impacting the human population now and will into the future. The big worry is that farm-associated MRSA will open another pathway for this serious infection—which is resistant to treatment from multiple antibiotics—to pop up in communities. The more farmers, farmworkers and vets carrying MRSA (or, in technical parlance, are "colonized" with MRSA), the greater the risk that its appearance in communities will occur—if not now, then eventually.
In one European study, veterinarians were found to carry farm-associated MRSA at rates several hundred times greater than the general population. Until recently, though, we had no idea whether the same problem existed in U.S. vets.
Last year, though, U.S. swine vets used the occasion of one of their own conferences to swab the nostrils of 150 volunteers. Nostrils are one place where MRSA in particular likes to hang out in humans.
The results are as follows:
Results from 37 volunteers who were not veterinary graduates (mostly students) tested negative, leaving 113 actual working vets sampled: 26 from abroad and 87 from the U.S. Of those, 7 percent of the U.S. swine vets (and a comparable percent of the foreign vets) tested positive for MRSA. This rate is about seven times greater than the rate at which we find MRSA colonized in the average American.
The particular clone, or kind, of MRSA found is important, too. In five of the vets, the MRSA found was closely related to the "livestock-associated" MRSA that we now know is widespread in Dutch and Canadian hogs and, in some cases, on pork meat.
Since this farm-associated MRSA was found on vets working in three different states, it raises concerns that this MRSA clone is widespread across U.S. hog farms. Earlier this year, a limited study in Iowa found MRSA in 45 percent of hogs sampled from two swine facilities.
Researchers from Ohio, Iowa and Minnesota are now doing more comprehensive testing to see how widespread the problem is across the country. Expect to hear more this Fall as they start reporting their results.
Posted August 27, 2009 by
As Congress debates a U.S. climate bill this fall, and governments around the world are focused on global climate negotiations in Copenhagen in December, a new community-based approach to addressing climate change is taking hold.
The Sustainable Energy Utility, or SEU, is turning the traditional role of an energy utility on its head in a growing number of states, cities and communities.
In a new article published in Delaware Lawyer, Dr. John Byrne of the Center for Energy and Environmental Policy and IATP's Dr. Cecilia Martinez write, "The energy utility of the 20th century was invented to rapidly and continuously increase the energy supply. . .The 21st-century energy utility must have a different focus: to help every citizen and every business conserve energy and, when energy is needed, to utilize the energy gifts of our planet—sunlight, vegetation, the winds and the constant temperature of the earth's mantle just three meters below the surface."
But aggregating government, private and philanthropic resources, the SEU differs from traditional utilities by focusing on: 1) a transition to carbon-free energy sources; 2) a reorientation from energy as commodity to energy as a service; 3) the transition to distributed energy infrastructure; and 4) the direct involvement of energy users in energy decisions.
The SEU directly tackles two of the most difficult challenges in shifting our energy system: high upfront capital costs to obtain long-term benefits in efficiency and renewable energy; and the shock of significant energy price increases. Acting as a nonprofit, the SEU coordinates innovative approaches like third-party financing, tax-exempt bonds, revolving funds, federal and state incentives and grants, and funding from other public and philanthropic resources to invest in sustainable energy infrastructure with long-term savings that are shared by the community.
The SEU concept has been catching on and it's remarkably scaleable. The April 2009 issue of the Bulletin of Science, Technology and Society reports on applications of the SEU in Europe, Africa, Latin America and Asia. In the U.S., Delaware has become the first state in the country to create a state-wide SEU.
In Minnesota, IATP is working with the small rural town of Milan in western Minnesota, and a community organization on the west side of St. Paul, to explore the SEU model.
The Center for Earth, Energy and Democracy at IATP is working with West Side Citizens Organization to put an SEU into action in their neighborhood. The west side of St. Paul is a densely populated community of 16,000 in a former industrial zone, with a large percentage of low-income households and people of color. This SEU will focus on energy efficiency and on-site renewable projects.
In Milan, IATP is working with community leaders to develop the first rural-based SEU in the Midwest. Milan, a town of about 350 people, with an average annual household income of about $30,000, will be a model for rural communities in promoting energy affordability, community focused sustainability and attracting energy service businesses to their town.
New policies at the national and international level will set the framework for our collective efforts to stop climate change, but it will take transformative models like the SEU, working on the ground, in communities around the world, to get us there. You can find out more at IATP's SEU page.