Posted April 23, 2010 by

ClimateFood security

IATP's Karen Hansen-Kuhn is blogging from Cochabamba, Bolivia at the World People's Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth.

The Climate Conference concluded today with a dialogue between social movements and governments. Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca described the process leading up to the meeting and the central role of indigenous people in the conference and on these issues, as guardians of the balance among peoples and between people and Mother Earth.

He also reported on the overwhelming participation in the conference. More than 35,000 people from 142 countries attended the meetings, 19,000 of them from outside of Bolivia. Some 47 governments were represented.

People from Australia, Malaysia, the United States and Bolivia reported back on the recommendations from the 17 working groups. They included proposals for a global referendum on climate change and the establishment of an international climate court. They insisted on the Kyoto Protocol as the only binding instrument to reduce global warming, and called on governments to review the failure of carbon markets. They held out agro-ecology and small-scale farming as the best way to feed the world while cooling the planet. The complete recommendations will be available on the conference website by April 26.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, as well as the vice presidents of Cuba and Ecuador, responded with endorsements of the proposals. President Morales offered to facilitate sending the recommendations directly to the UN Secretary General, as well as inserting them in the negotiating process at the UNFCCC.

Of course, not all of these proposals fit within the UNFCCC process, but that really isn’t the point. People from around the world came together in Bolivia to confront the impending climate catastrophe. Action is needed at all levels—local, national and international. The World Peoples Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth was an exhilarating step along the way.

This post is one of a three part series of blog entries from Karen Hansen Kuhn's visit to Cochabamba:
Part 1   Part 2   Part 3

Posted April 22, 2010 by

In an exciting new project, Debra Eschmeyer and Curt Ellis (IATP Food and Society Fellows) are working to connect farms, schools and the peoplepower that is often lacking when trying to bring them together. Something almost everyone can agree with is schools should offer healthier, fresher foods to students—how to actually do that has been a difficult question for many.

FoodCorps is a hybrid between farm to school and an Americorps service-learning opportunity. According to the press release, “Once launched, FoodCorps will recruit enthusiastic members for a yearlong term of public service in school food systems in communities of need. Service members will build and tend school gardens, conduct nutrition education, and build Farm to School supply chains.”

The value-added in a program like FoodCorps is its multifunctionality. “Beyond increasing access to healthy food in public schools, the program promises to train a new generation of American farmers. FoodCorps can help make farming ‘cool’ again,” said FoodCorps co-creator Curt Ellis. “It’s a chance to get your hands dirty and consider agriculture as a career.” 

If you missed the Food and Society Fellow program's webinar about the Food Corps program, it's available to view here. Also, make sure to check out www.food-corps.org for more information and to sign up and stay informed!

Posted April 21, 2010 by

AgricultureClimateFood security

IATP's Karen Hansen-Kuhn is blogging from Cochabamba, Bolivia at the World People's Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth.

The Conference opened today with a series of speeches by delegations from around the world. Each stressed the urgency of going beyond addressing the symptoms of global warming to taking actions to achieve deeper systems change.

A representative of La Via Campesina spoke on behalf of Latin America, emphasizing food sovereignty as a central solution to climate change. Throughout the day, in different panels and workshops, Via Campesina members stressed locally produced foods and sustainable agriculture grown by small-scale farmers as essential to cooling the planet while reducing hunger and strengthening rural livelihoods.

The opening events concluded with a rousing speech by President Evo Morales. He began with a concise critique of the Copenhagen Accord and the need for all countries to re-commit to the Kyoto Protocol process. However, he echoed the concerns raised by other delegations that market-based solutions will not solve the problems they helped to create.

Then, perhaps straying a bit from his prepared speech, he spoke about the importance of local foods. Too often, he said, multinational corporations promote genetically engineered crops and other technological solutions when the answers are really closer to home. During the food price crisis, wheat became very expensive, and many Bolivians returned to eating quinoa—a local crop that had been neglected for years. Now, he said, the FAO has released a report saying that quinoa is one of the most nutritious grains in the world. He pointed to his own full head of hair and joked that perhaps one reason so many European men are bald is that they eat too many genetically engineered, hormone-laced foods, instead of nutritious, locally grown foods.

It’s hard to talk about climate change without looking at inequality, both within and among nations. And there are no easy answers to either of them. But it just might be that the creative ideas and alliances formed at this conference help us to move a few steps towards fresh new solutions to both.

Evo Morales

This post is one of a three part series of blog entries from Karen Hansen Kuhn's visit to Cochabamba:
Part 1   Part 2   Part 3

Posted April 21, 2010 by

If you haven't already, the Oscar-nominated film Food Inc. is really worth seeing. And lucky for you, it's on 8 p.m., Central Standard Time tonight on PBS. Director Robert Kenner riffs off the investigative work of Eric Schlosser and Michael Pollan to cover our food system, from the field to the meatpacking plant to the supermarket. The film graphically depicts the stranglehold a few big corporations—like Monsanto, Tyson, Perdue and Smithfield—have on our food system. It's a powerful look at people caught in this system, including the poultry contractor, the family who lost a son to food poisoning, and the seed cleaner put ouf business by Monsanto. Viewers will also learn about inspiring stories of how many are fighting back. Finally, Food Inc. is a testament to the power of filmmaking itself, as it often gets to the heart of our industrial food system in ways that even great food writers can't.

Food Inc Big 
Food, Inc. A film by Robert Kenner
Credit: Magnolia Pictures   
  

Posted April 20, 2010 by

IATP's Karen Hansen-Kuhn is blogging from Cochamamba, Bolivia at the World People's Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth.

Bolivia Thousands of people from around the world streamed into the World People's Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth (CMPCC) on Monday to continue discussions that started online on a range of issues related to climate justice. The location of the conference itself makes a political statement. This is the ten-year anniversary of the Cochabamba “Water War,” when thousands of local people rose up against the privatization of their water system. Walking into the conference site, the dramatic backdrop of the Andean mountains makes its own statement.

The online discussions were organized into 17 working groups on topics ranging from emissions reductions and finance to issues not on the official agenda, like migration and climate debt. Talks also centered on strategies, including the possible launch of a global peoples’ referendum on climate change. The final documents will help to shape the Bolivian government's positions on climate change and hopefully influence other government delegations arriving later in the week. 

Cochabamba More than 900 people registered for the working group on agriculture and food sovereignty (our contribution is summarized here) and, of those, 130 submitted comments electronically. Those talks continued in Cochabamba with presentations by Via Campesina, who asserted that as much as 57 percent of greenhouse gas emissions are associated with industrial agriculture. This includes emissions all along the production chain, including processing, packaging and transport (especially for export). On the other hand, converting to agroecological, locally oriented, smaller-scale production could lower emissions as much as 50 to 75 percent, while advancing food sovereignty, according to Via Campesina.

The working group discussions continued throughout the day, focusing on the need to address the role of agribusiness in climate change, the obstacles created by free trade and the climate challenges facing women, among other issues. Organizers worked late into the night to incorporate comments into new drafts of the position papers to be finalized in the coming days. Whatever the outcome of the papers, these talks have deeply involved farm organizations, raised the profile of agriculture and climate, and led to new ideas moving forward.

This post is one of a three part series of blog entries from Karen Hansen Kuhn's visit to Cochabamba:
Part 1   Part 2   Part 3

Posted April 20, 2010 by

HealthNanotechnology

Nanotechnology and its applications are so small that it can be hard to get your head around, but there are more than 1,000 products with nanomaterials already on the market, so we'd better get a handle on this quick. 

Nanoscale science and technology manipulate matter at the level of 1–300 nanometers (or billionths of a meter) and claim a seemingly amazing array of applications for medicine, technology, energy and food. Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter Andrew Sheider's recent investigative series "The Nanotech Gamble" lays bare the potential health and environmental risks and extent to which largely unregulated nanotech products are already on the market, and in the food supply, without our knowledge.

Given the risks and speed with which nanotechnology is entering the marketplace, U.S. states are starting to explore what they can do in light of federal inaction. In testimony before the Minnesota state legislature, IATP's Steve Suppan outlines the regulatory holes at the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency, which thus far have largely given nanotechnology a free ride. (You can listen to the entire April 14 hearing here.)

On April 15, the University of Minnesota hosted Governing Nanobiotechnology: Reinventing Oversight in the 21st Century. Academics, private industry, public interest representatives and government regulators grappled with the particular regulatory challenges posed by nanotechnology (videos of presentations coming soon).

As Steve points out in his testimony to state legislators, traditional regulation targets pollutants partially in terms of volume: that approach won't work for nanotechnology. "The quantity of nanomaterials that may cause environmental and/or public health harm will be much smaller in volume than what [...] has traditionally been inventoried. Prioritizing when and where to monitor pollutants will be a difficult task because potential risks of nanomaterials are not indicated simply by their size but also by their configuration and shape."

When scientific advancement overtakes our ability to regulate it's time to take a step back. The U.S. government's National Nanotechnology Initiative spent an estimated $1.8 billion developing new nanotech products in 2009. Little more than one percent of that taxpayer investment is dedicated to research to protect consumers and nanotechnology workers from potential environental, health and safety hazards of nanotechnology products. This is an unacceptably nano-sized start to a huge regulatory challenge.

Posted April 16, 2010 by

After official UN global climate talks stumbled again in Bonn last week, another global gathering will take a shot at reaching agreement on a plan to address climate change. Next week, the World People's Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth will run from April 19–22 in Cochabamba, Bolivia. The gathering is expected to attract civil society groups around the world, along with developing country–government representatives, to develop alternative proposals to address global climate change.

Bolivian President Evo Morales is leading the call for the meeting after many developing-country governments were frustrated with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change talks in December, which produced the Copenhagen Accord. Last week's Bonn meeting, the first since Copenhagen, revealed the growing rift between countries who want to continue negotiations based on the Kyoto Protocol and others, led by the U.S., who want to use the Copenhagen Accord as the basis for negotiations. IATP has been critical of the accord and the negotiating process in Copenhagen.

Organizers for the World People's Conference have set up 18 working groups to develop proposals on various aspects of a global climate treaty. IATP's Karen Hansen-Kuhn will report from Cochabamba next week. She is part of the "Agriculture and Food Sovereignty" and "Dangers of Carbon Markets" working groups. You can read Karen's submission on agriculture and climate change. A summary of IATP's concerns about the susceptibility of carbon markets to Wall Street speculators can be read here in English and in Spanish.

More from Cochabamba next week....

Posted April 16, 2010 by

This blog entry is re-posted, with permission, from Healthy Legacy, a coalition promoting healthy lives by supporting the production and use of everyday products without toxic chemicals. IATP is a member of Healthy Legacy's steering committee.

The author, Kathleen Schuler, is co-director of Healthy Legacy and an IATP senior policy analyst.

It's finally here—landmark federal legislation to protect families from harmful chemicals. The Safe Chemicals Act, introduced by Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Congressmen Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Bobby Rush (D-IL), will overhaul the way the federal government protects the public from toxic chemicals. Healthy Legacy supports the legislation, but cautions that the bill needs improvement in three critical areas. See Healthy Legacy's press release.

Healthy Legacy is part of the 200 plus–member Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition working to reform the 34-year-old Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). TSCA, the law regulating industrial chemicals, including those used in used in consumer products, is broken. Hundreds of toxic chemicals, from lead to cadmium to phthalates to brominated flame retardants, continue to be allowed in everyday consumer products. In 2009 Minnesota became the first state to ban the hormone-disrupting chemical bisphenol A in baby bottles and sippy cups. While this ban is an important step in reducing exposure of young children, strong TSCA reform is needed to address hundreds of other problem chemicals. 

Critical reforms in the Safe Chemicals Act include:

  • Requiring chemical companies to develop, and make publicly available, critical health and safety information for all chemicals.
  • Requiring a minimum level of protection from toxic chemicals for vulnerable populations, including children and pregnant women.
  • Establishing a new program to identify communities that are disproportionately impacted by chemicals and to create action plans to reduce that burden.

The bill should also be strengthened in three critical areas. As currently drafted, the legislation:

  • Allows hundreds of new chemicals to enter the market and be used in products for many years without first requiring them to be proven safe.
  • Does not provide clear authority for EPA to immediately restrict production and use of the most dangerous chemicals, even persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic (PBT) chemicals like asbestos and lead, which have already been extensively studied and are restricted by governments around the world.
  • Does not require EPA to adopt National Academy of Sciences recommendations to incorporate the best and latest science when determining the safety of chemicals, although the Senate bill does call on EPA to consider those recommendations.

The Safe Chemicals Act of 2010 would amend the federal Toxic Substances Control Act, which is widely understood to be ineffective. When TSCA passed, it “grandfathered” 62,000 chemicals in use without restriction or testing. In more than 30 years since then, the U.S. EPA has only required testing for 200 chemicals and only restricted some uses of 5 chemicals under TSCA. The EPA did not even have the authority to ban asbestos, an established carcinogen already banned in 40 countries!

Enacting strong TSCA reform could save billions in health care costs. A new report by some of the nation’s leading public health professionals, entitled The Health Case for Reforming the Toxic Substances Control Act, describes the toll that toxic chemicals are taking on our health and our budget. It summarizes the insidious contribution of environmental toxins to an array of chronic health problems, including cancer, learning and developmental disabilities, asthma, reproductive disorders and Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. Chemical exposures are costing the U.S. an estimated $5 billion per year in chronic health care costs.

Healthy Legacy and Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families will continue working to strengthen the bill to assure that it prevents harmful chemicals from creeping into our consumer products. Read up on the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families platform for reform and analysis of the bill.  

Minnesota's own Senator Amy Klobuchar sits on a key committee that will hear the bill. Contact Senator Klobuchar and ask her to advocate for the strongest bill possible.  

Posted April 15, 2010 by

AgricultureBioeconomy

Minneapolis – The Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) must undergo
significant revision before the program’s next phase is launched, said the
Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) in comments submitted on
April 8
to the USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA).

BCAP, a 2008 Farm Bill program, was created to help farmers
grow and sell new biomass crops for renewable energy. But the FSA’s
implementation of the program has come under widespread criticism for straying
far the program’s original intent. The FSA began the initial phase of the
program before setting clear rules for qualifying grants, and before it had
completed a full environmental impact statement as required under the National
Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). As a result, nearly all of the more than $164
million in funding that has been awarded so far has gone to the forest paper
and products industries to burn lower-value wood for their own energy needs.
But as most of these users were already buying or using biomass for
pre-existing energy purposes, BCAP support does not seem to be contributing in
any substantial way to new renewable energy production or new supplies of
biomass.

“Done right, BCAP could go a long way toward helping farmers
transition to growing perennial biomass crops and increasing renewable energy
production,” said Jim Kleinschmit, IATP Rural Communities Program Director.
“But so far, it appears neither farmers nor energy consumers have seen much
benefit from the millions of dollars already spent on this program.”

The FSA is expected to finalize rules for BCAP
implementation later this year. IATP’s recommendations for improving BCAP
include:

  • Modifying the current collection, harvest, storage and
    transportation phase of the program to stop matching payments for woody,
    agricultural and herbaceous resources and waste materials unless they were
    sourced within a BCAP project area and used for new energy production.
  • Establishing a competitive ranking process for the selection
    of BCAP funded projects, giving priority to soil, water, climate and wildlife
    protection as well as to local ownership opportunities and beginning and
    socially disadvantaged farmers.
  • Prioritizing perennial and dedicated energy crops by making
    residues of annual crops or forests, and food and animal wastes, ineligible for
    BCAP payments.
  • Prohibiting genetically modified biomass crops or irrigation
    in BCAP contract acres.
  • Clearly ruling out conversion of forests, wetlands, prairies
    or any natural ecosystems to biomass crops.

“There’s still time to right the ship on BCAP,” said IATP
Senior Associate Julia Olmstead. “The best place to start is to revisit the
original intent of the program, and take seriously the numerous constructive
comments submitted on how to improve the program.”

IATP’s full comment to the FSA can be viewed here. The BCAP
comment period closed April 9. The USDA will announce a final rule later this
year.

Posted April 13, 2010 by

After 15 years on the market, and constituting 80 percent of soybeans, corn and cotton grown in the U.S., we still know remarkably little about genetically engineered (GE) crops; and some of what we do know is cause for alarm. This is one of the main conclusions of a report released today by the National Research Council.

First, the headline picked up by the New York Times and others: there has been a rapid rise in weeds resistant to the herbicide glyphosate (also known as Roundup) that could rapidly undercut any environmental or economic benefits of GE crops. Glyphosate-resistant crops allow farmers to kill weeds with the herbicide without destroying their crop. To date, at least nine species of weeds in the U.S. have developed resistance to glyphosate since GE crops were introduced. The other primary type of GE crop is designed to produce Bacillus Thuringiensis (Bt), a bacteria deadly to insect pests. Thus far, two types of insects have developed resistance to Bt. The loss of effectiveness of glyphosate and Bt crops could lead to increased use of more potent herbicides.

"This problem is growing, it's real, and it's going to get worse," said chair of the NRS committee David Ervin, of Portland State University, at a press conference today.

But just as alarming as growing weed and pest resistance is the dearth of research data on so many fundamental issues surrounding GE crops. The NRC report focused on how GE crops are affecting U.S. farmers. The assessment looked at GE crops through the three pillars of sustainability: economic, environmental and social. In the end, the researchers didn't have enough data. 

"As more GE traits are developed and incorporated into a larger variety of crops, it's increasingly essential that we gain a better understanding of how genetic engineering technology will affect U.S. agriculture and the environment now and in the future," said Ervin. "Such gaps in our knowledge are preventing a full assessment of the environmental, economic and other impacts of GE crops on farm sustainability."

More specifically, what we don't yet know about GE crops:

  • The full extent of weed resistance problems, or what those problems will mean in the future to the environment and farmers' bottom line.
  • Little understanding of how the use of GE crops affects water systems—positively or negatively.
  • The effects of GE crops on farmers not growing GE crops, including both conventional and organic farmers. The committee reported on anecdotal information that farmers have had trouble finding conventional non-GE seeds. And as Bob Scowcroft of the Organic Farm Research Foundation noted at the press conference, there is little peer-reviewed research on the enormous costs borne by organic farmers for testing to prove their crop is GE-free, let alone farmers who have lost organic certification from GE contamination.
  • The impact of consolidation in the seed industry—accelerated by the transition to proprietary GE seeds—on prices and seed choices.
  • Other social issues that have been overlooked include the impact of GE crops on labor dynamics, farm structure, farmer and community conflict and property rights.

The White House and USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack should take a good look at this report. After 15 years, we still can't fully assess whether GE crops are good for U.S. farmers—let alone consumers. Yet, the White House and Vilsack continue to aggressively push for other countries to use GE crops. As IATP's Dennis Keeney and Sophia Murphy wrote last month in the Des Moines Register, GE crops that are widely used in the U.S. don't make sense for the challenges facing Africa, for example.

Given the NRC report's findings, it's hard to justify the enormous amounts of money spent on the development of new GE crops, and harder still to justify pushing the technology on other countries, until we fill in the enormous research gaps that remain.




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