Posted January 30, 2012 by Dale Wiehoff
On January 23, over 20,000 people poured into the streets of Berlin to say that they have had enough of industrial agriculture. The demands made in Germany can be heard all over the world starting with fair treatment of farmers and consumers, safe food, an end to food speculation and a respect for nature and the welfare of animals.
Tomorrow, in New York City, the Occupy Wall Street movement is calling for protests to support 60 family farmers, small and family-owned seed businesses, and agricultural organizations that are challenging Monsanto's patents on genetically modified seed in federal court.
Like the Germans, it time for us to say, “We’ve had enough!” of Monsanto’s agriculture. From super weeds to pest resistance in corn, genetically modified seeds have failed. Now Monsanto is turning to even more dangerous products with new varieties that will only increase the amount of herbicides in the environment.
At the heart of industrial agriculture is a long running conflict between corporations and farmers on who will control food production. Occupy Wall Street has come out on the side of farmers and all who eat to say, “We’ve had enough!”
Posted January 30, 2012 by JoAnne Berkenkamp
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.
Given their size and reach, Compass has the capacity to steer significant dollars to AITM farmers through their procurement practices. Recognizing Compass’ purchasing power, IATP launched its partnership with Compass to expand their local and regional produce purchasing. Starting from initial pilots in North Carolina, Minnesota and the Washington, D.C., area, the initiative was rolled out nationally in 2010 and further expanded in 2011.
We’re pleased to announce that Compass’ purchases from Ag in the Middle farmers across the country rose by 46 percent from 2009 to 2011. That equates to more than $26 million in purchases of fresh fruits and vegetables that are produced by AITM farmers and eaten within 200 miles of where they were grown. This effort also builds upon widespread training efforts with Compass chefs and the company’s “Four Seasons of Eat Local” program, which aims to make local foods available year-round.
As Marc Zammit, Compass vice president for sustainability and culinary initiatives puts it, “The local food movement is here to stay and we expect that it will continue to grow. To put seasonal and regional flavors on our plates, we need the Ag in the Middle farm community to be successful and to keep growing the healthy, fresh foods that our patrons love. Our Ag in the Middle initiative demonstrates that it is possible to support local farmers through a large-volume business model. We look forward continuing this work with our farmers, distributors and IATP to keep building that momentum in the years ahead.”
Posted January 27, 2012 by Andrew Ranallo
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.
“We must reinforce argument with results.” –Booker T. Washington
Minnesota’s Secretary of State Mark Ritchie used the aforementioned quote to both contextualize the state of green chemistry and to introduce the keynote of the day, Dr. Patrick Gruber, Gevo CEO and former University of Minnesota graduate.
Gevo is working to develop “biobased alternatives to petroleum-based products using a combination of synthetic biology and chemistry,” specifically isobutanol, with uses as broad as “jet fuel and feedstocks for the production of synthetic rubber, plastics and polyesters” beyond the usual use as an additive to gasoline.
Dr. Gruber showed, beyond exciting plans for the future, a deep understanding of the complexity of the issues at hand. Touching on topics as diverse as the unequal distribution of arable land—and malnutrition—around the world as related to land use for biostocks, and the naturally frightening lack of health and environmental information we have about the countless chemicals—often petrochemicals—in our food, medicine and industry.
Going further, Gruber argued that the rising costs of oil coupled with rising global demand, means that even beyond the health of people and environment—something that should be persuasive enough on its own—the time is now to move away from petrochemicals on an economic basis as well. He then asked the attendees to imagine the possibilities of taking the $400 billion the U.S. pays out annually for oil and used it domestically to advance and develop alternatives.
In the end, he said, it’s all about “cleaner, greener, cheaper.” So where does that leave companies?
The conference panels, “Product Improvement through Green Chemistry,” “Green Product Value Chain” and “Minnesota Grown to Minnesota Made—the Promise of Bio-Industrial Processing,” spanned both the production and retail sides of the equation, with professionals sharing their experience with incorporating green chemistry. Lynne Olson, senior program leader at Ecolab, said advocates of green chemistry may feel like the Lorax in the current infrastructure, but that in her eyes, “green chemistry will be viewed as common sense,” in the future. Linda Meschke of Rural Advantage highlighted the Madelia Model project, which is using a variety of sustainably grown crops to fuel a bio-based industrial park in south central Minnesota. Roger McFadden, vice president and senior scientist at Staples, Inc., called green chemistry a team sport: “No company is large enough, no government agency is powerful enough,” to make it happen alone, he said.
Indeed, cooperation was a recurring theme throughout the afternoon. Beyond environmental sustainability, solutions must be economically viable as well, and therein lies the rub, but Dr. Patrick Gruber wasn’t intimidated. Of the replacement of petrochemicals with biobased, sustainable alternatives he remarked “It’s not magic. It’s not 10 years from now. It’s happening.”
IATP is working, as co-convener of the Minnesota Green Chemistry Forum, with businesses, government, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and academia to advance green chemistry practice and policy in Minnesota and nationally. Learn more at www.greenchemistry.org. Presentations from the 2012 Minnesota Green Chemistry Conference will be available soon.
Posted January 25, 2012 by Dale Wiehoff
Posted January 20, 2012 by Dale Wiehoff
On Saturday, January 21, the giant grain and financial company, Cargill, is going to be the recipient of a Global Citizens' arrest for, as the organizers say, “profiteering off people and the planet.” It would take too long to list the indictment of Cargill’s many crimes, but one of its latest is a campaign to destroy the Canadian Wheat Board in partnership with a gang of powerful agribusiness corporations, called Grain Visions. Its members include, in addition to Cargill, Louis Dreyfus Canada Limited, Rahr Malting Canada Limited, Agricore United (a company whose largest single shareholder is ADM), Saskatchewan Wheat Pool (no longer a farmer cooperative) and James Richardson International Limited.
The Canadian Wheat Board (CWB) has been a thorn in the side of the big grain companies since 1935. The CWB came from a long line of Canadian wheat marketing boards, coops and grain pools led by western farmers who used their collective marketing power to force the Cargills of the world to pay a fair price.
CWB operates under the authority of parliament, but the majority of its board members are farmer-elected. Over the years the CWB has been weakened by the steady assaults of agribusiness, NAFTA provisions and WTO rulings that if implemented would put the Wheat Board out of business permanently.
The conservative Canadian administration of Stephen Harper declared all-out war on the CWB, driving out pro-wheat board provincial appointees and attempting to enforce the Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act without holding a legally required farmer’s plebiscite. This latest attack on the CWB was challenged in federal court in December of 2011 and found to be “an affront to the rule of law.”
When three companies—Archer Daniels Midland, Bunge and Cargill—control an estimated 90 percent of the world's grain trade, making billions in profits while the world faces the prospect of devastating food crises, it isn’t surprising that citizens are calling for their arrest.
Posted January 20, 2012 by Andrew Ranallo
A rapidly growing body of evidence is spotlighting the overuse of antibiotics—and the antibiotic-resistant bacteria it breeds—in pork production as a widespread and serious danger to the American food supply and public health.
Today, IATP issued a press release detailing a new, peer-reviewed study we conducted in partnership with the University of Iowa College of Public Health finding methicillan-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)—a bacteria that can cause serious human infections of the bloodstream, skin, lungs (pneumonia) and other organs—in retail meat products at nearly double the rate previous research suggests.
The samples, 395 in total, were collected from a total of 36 retail stores in Iowa, Minnesota and New Jersey. Among these samples, S. aureus was isolated from 256 samples (64.8 percent) and of those, 26 pork samples (6.6 percent of the total) were found to contain MRSA.
Take a potentially deadly bacteria like S. aureus and make it resistant to antibiotics and you have a dangerous, difficult to treat and costly public health threat. According to 2005 estimates, MRSA accounts for about 280,000 infections and nearly 19,000 deaths a year in hospitals. Infections outside of hospitals, in communities and on farms, are rising as well.
Our latest study comes in the wake of other research published in 2011, and one as recent as earlier this week out of Michigan, suggesting that using antibiotics in pig feed increases the number of antibiotic-resistant genes in gastrointestinal microbes in pigs—even resistance for antibiotics other than those administered.
The growing evidence against nontherapeutic use of antibiotics in animal feed speaks for itself. Threats like deadly MRSA are only increasing, and unless additional testing can inform both food policy and the American consumer, the trends will continue. We know the dangers of the estimated 20 million pounds a year of antibiotics used in animal feed, now we need action.
Posted January 18, 2012 by Kathleen Schuler, MPH
Posted January 18, 2012 by Sophia Murphy
This piece by Sophia Murphy and Timothy A. Wise was originally published on the Triple Crisis blog.
The spikes in global food prices in 2007-08 served as a wake-up call to the global community on the inadequacies of our global food system. Commodity prices doubled, the estimated number of hungry people topped one billion, and food riots spread through the developing world. A second price spike in 2010-11, which drove the global food import bill for 2011 to an estimated $1.3 trillion, showed that while global leaders may now be alert to the problems, our agricultural systems remain deeply flawed.
Sophia Murphy is a senior advisor at theInstitute for Agriculture and Trade Policy and a regular contributor to the Triple Crisis Blog. Timothy A. Wise is Policy Research Director at the Global Development and Environment Institute at Tufts University.
Posted January 6, 2012 by Ben Lilliston
Yesterday more than 300 people gathered on an unseasonably warm January day at a conference center outside of Minneapolis to talk about food, farming and health. The conference, State of the Plate: Minnesota Healthy Food Futures, was co-hosted by IATP, Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Minnesota and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The event included national figures like Dr. Kelly Brownell of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity and Anne Haddix from the CDC, as well as state leaders like Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Ed Ehlinger and University of Minnesota’s Dr. Mary Story—as well as community, public health and food activists.
Much of the discussions centered on the important role health professionals need to play in advocating for a healthier food system, whether at the community or state and federal policy level. Dr. Brownell argued that our children are being robbed of their future. For the first time in history, the current generation of children, he said, is expected to have a shorter lifespan than their parents, largely due to diet-related disease. Instead, Dr. Brownell said in his keynote to attendees, we need to make healthy food the “optimal default”—or put more simply, the easiest food to access.
Other topics covered at the conference included the role of the food system in health, the existing food environment, the challenges for farmers to grow healthy food and the social justice implications of our food system. See our interview with Dr. Kelly Brownell below or check out some photos from the event on IATP’s Flickr.
Posted January 4, 2012 by Andrew Ranallo
Today the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced a ban for unapproved uses of cephalosporins in food animals. Cephalosporins, a class of critically important human antibiotics, are also widely used in livestock and poultry—in 2010 alone, nearly 54,094 lbs. were used in U.S. livestock operations, according to recent FDA data. While some cephalosporins are used in treating sick animals, many more have been routinely given for so-called extra-label use to prevent disease, such as by injecting the eggs meant to hatch chickens that would grow into broiler chickens. The FDA action comes in the face of abundant scientific evidence that extra-label uses have helped to create cephalosporin-resistant bacteria, in animals and also in the food products from them.
“While we welcome FDA’s belated action, the delay is shocking. Tens of thousands of people continued to become ill from cephalosporin-resistant Salmonella when there was clear evidence the extra-label use of these drugs contributes to the spread of these and other resistant superbugs,” IATP’s David Wallinga said in a press release issued today by the Keep Antibiotics Working (KAW) coalition, of which IATP is a member.
Unfortunately, widespread use of antibiotics in animal agriculture and the increasingly resistant superbugs it helps to breed are not new developments. While the FDA’s newest ban is indeed a step forward it comes years late, and certainly leaves a lot more work ahead.
How belated is FDA’s action? Well, back in 2008, IATP and KAW submitted comments to the FDA on this very issue, and today’s ban is only the second action the FDA has taken on the overuse of antibiotics in animal agriculture in nearly seven years (the first coming in 2005). IATP’s Healthy Food Action also led an action in July 2011, urging supporters to write FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg to ban cephalosporins once and for all.
Let’s hope the momentum continues and other sources of antibiotic resistance, like antibiotics given to livestock via feed—over 70 percent of all antibiotics administered to livestock, in fact—are addressed before public health suffers even further.