Posted April 7, 2014 by Tara Ritter   

Used under creative commons license from Dawn Endico.

Of Minnesota’s 55.6 million acres, 27 million acres are taken up by farmland. Currently, crop production is dominated by summer annuals like corn and soybeans, which need to be replanted each year and grow only in the summer. The consequence of this type of cropping is that for most of the year, no active roots exist in the soil to filter water, reduce runoff, or prevent erosion. Covering the ground with crops for a larger portion of the year by adding winter annuals and perennials to the landscape provides multiple benefits, including diversifying agricultural operations, protecting soils and waterways, and increasing wildlife habitat.

Part of the reason that perennials are not already more widespread on the landscape is that seed suppliers have a vested interest in annual crops. Annuals require farmers to purchase seeds every year, thereby boosting profits for the seed suppliers. These suppliers include large stakeholders such as Monsanto, DuPont, and Syngenta, all of which have the resources to wield powerful influence over farmer decision making. However, increasing ground cover throughout the year is imperative to ensure continued production in the face of climate variability, especially in a state like Minnesota where nearly half of the land is in agricultural production.

An exciting prospect for increasing perennial land cover is the Forever Green Initiative out of the University of Minnesota. The project has a two-pronged focus to improve plant genetics while creating new economic opportunities for winter annual and perennial crops. The emphasis on economics in addition to ecology makes this project particularly smart, because proving monetary benefits motivates change more easily than proving other benefits. Research will focus on perennials such as sunflowers, flax, wheat, forages, and some native species, and winter annuals such as pennycress, winter barley, hairy vetch, winter rye, camelina, and winter pea. Markets for these materials include biomass production and high value commodities like oils. More research is needed to commercialize and develop these markets, which is precisely what the Forever Green Initiative is poised to do well.

Minnesota’s House Agriculture Policy Committee approved nearly $1.4 million in state funding for the Forever Green Initiative at the end of March 2014 and referred the bill to the House Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture Finance Committee. Appropriating such funding could boost agricultural resilience in Minnesota by increasing the profitability of cover crops and increased land cover, which could motivate more farmers to incorporate such practices on their operations.

The University of Minnesota is concurrently working on other projects to pair perennial biomass with economic advantages. The Seven Mile Creek Fuelshed Planning Project recently wrapped up a series of nine workshops to plan biomass production areas for a potential biomass processing facility in Nicollet County. IATP, along with representatives from other organizations and interested stakeholders, reviewed opportunities and tradeoffs between production of food, biomass, and conservation in the study area. Using mapping tools, participants evaluated a suite of biomass options, including annuals like corn stover and cover crops as well as perennial grasses. The proposed market for this biomass is an AFEX (ammonia fiber expansion) processing facility, which pelletizes biomass into a commodity product that can be fed to ruminant animals. The goal of the workshops was not necessarily a production plan; instead, the workshops aimed to evaluate the feasibility of increasing biomass production in Nicollet County. Evaluative processes that engage a wide range of stakeholders, like this one, could increase the feasibility and public support of maximizing perennial land cover.

Another Minnesota initiative to encourage perennial landscape cover is the Reinvest in Minnesota Clean Energy Program (RIM-CE). Passed by the Minnesota legislature in 2007, this program supports native perennial biofuel production by acting as a working lands conservation easement program. A tiered payment system ensures that payments are in line with public benefits, so payments increase when more perennials are planted and when plantings address specific problems, such as planting on flood-prone land. Funding for this program is currently minimal, and it should be expanded to elevate the amount of year-round land cover.

With so much current policy focusing on damage control, it’s encouraging to see the work happening in Minnesota to create a true agricultural risk management system that promotes resilient operations that are both economically and environmentally sustainable.

Posted March 28, 2014 by Andrew Ranallo   

Learn more about the Food Chain Workers Alliance at foodchainworkers.org.

Healthy, sustainable food cannot come from an unhealthy system that exploits its workers. Right now, part of that exploitation is an unacceptably low minimum wage in all sectors of the food system, from production to distribution, retail, restaurants and food service. In response, the Food Chain Workers Alliance (FCWA) is coordinating a day of action in support of a higher minimum wage this coming Monday, March 31—César Chávez Day. Representatives will deliver a petition with over 101,000 signatures to House Speaker John Boehner in support of the Fair Minimum Wage Act (H.R. 1010 / S.460), which would increase the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 per hour and the tipped minimum wage from $2.13 to 70 percent of that ($7.07 when minimum wage is $10.10).

It’s still not too late to sign the petition, so add your name before March 31 and keep your eyes on the FCWA Facebook and Twitter pages for more action opportunities this weekend and into Monday.

From the FCWA press release:

The actions come on the heels of drastic $8.6 million cuts to the Farm Bill. These cuts mean deeper poverty and more hunger to the country’s poorest residents instead of livable wages, public policies, and social programs that help people eat, work and get access to vital services designed to flow with the economic fluctuations of the U.S. economy. Additionally, a raise in the minimum wage would help the food workers who use Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps, at 1.5 times the rate of the rest of the U.S. workforce because of their low wages. Food workers also face food insecurity, or the inability to afford to eat as defined by the USDA, at 1.2 times the rate of all other workers.

As the country’s largest private sector workforce, the nation’s 20 million food system workers make up the backbone of the economy, comprising one-sixths of all jobs in the U.S. Over one-third of the workers along the food chain would benefit passage of the Fair Minimum Wage Act.

Sign the petition now.

Posted March 26, 2014 by Andrew Ranallo   

Food securityUnited NationsWater

Food, farming, livelihoods—no matter what you’re looking at, water is there, and when it’s not, things start to fall apart. California is facing currently its worst drought on record. Australia, too, with Queensland currently home to the state’s largest drought-declared area on record. With agriculture accounting for close to 70 percent of water withdrawals, the connection to our food supply is basic and utterly obvious.

In late February, the U.N. Committee on Food Security’s High Level Panel of Experts (CFS-HLPE) announced the composition of the expert team that will carry out its study on water and food security. We are pleased to announce that IATP’s Shiney Varghese has been selected as one of the team members. Shiney will bring to the collaborative effort her extensive experience with the water activist community, knowledge of agricultural water management, along with her grasp of water and food rights and the connections to climate change.

The Committee on World Food Security (CFS), established in 1974, is the foremost international and intergovernmental forum trying to address global food security and nutrition. Following the food crisis of the 2007-08, it was reformed to be a more inclusive body, with a Private Sector Mechanism (PSM, representing the interests of agri-businesses and food profiteers) and Civil Society Mechanism (CSM, representing the interests of small-scale producers, workers and those advocating their rights) participating alongside governments and donor agencies. They also created a High level panel of Experts (HLPE) to help them in identifying the problems and to bring expert knowledge to the attention of the CFS.

The HLPE report on water and food security is expected to put together information on how countries and regions currently manage their water; analyze water use and management practices from a food security lens; and provide recommendations so as to improve water and food security policies, with a long-term perspective. As part of its report elaboration process, the HLPE conducted an e-consultation to seek feedback and comments, on the proposed scope and building blocks of the report. Over the next year, the six-member HLPE project team will build on this to produce a draft report that will be available for comments early next year. The final report will be presented to CFS 42 in October 2015.  

Posted March 19, 2014 by Dr. Steve Suppan   

Agricultural TechnologyNanotechnology

The 2014 National Nanotechnology Initiative Strategic Plan was released on February 28, a Friday afternoon. Perhaps it was a coincidence, but when the U.S. government doesn’t want to draw attention to a report, often that report will be released on a Friday afternoon.

There was no need to downplay the Strategic Plan, which, like the previous plan, continued to emphasize public funding for product development. However, a new “signature initiative” to develop nanotechnology enabled sensors, while not targeting public and environmental impacts of nanotechnology, can be used to protect public and environmental health.

(Nanotechnology involves the manufacture, visualization and manipulation of atomic to molecular sized materials. The NNI’s Nanotechnology 101 offers a concise introduction to the subject.)

The National Nanotechnology Coordinating Office (NNCO) wrote the Strategic Plan for a Congress that is generally optimistic and enthusiastic about nanotechnology, particularly its potential for job creation and economic growth. A February study (subscription required) co-funded by the NNCO claims to have identified a $1 trillion global market for nanotechnology enabled products in 2013. It is one of many ironies of federal nanotechnology investment that publicly funded research, such as this nanotechnology market evaluation, is privatized and available to the public only for at a steep price.

The Strategic Plan outlines common goals and five interagency initiatives carried out by 15 federal agencies and departments that will spend about $1.7 billion, mostly for research and development of products, during 2014. It is not likely that Congress will significantly reduce the NNI Supplement to President Barack Obama’s budget for nanotechnology.

IATP participated in a June 2013 NNI workshop on the draft Strategic Plan and submitted one of 13 comments on the draft during a short 30 day comment period. The comment length was limited to 4000 characters 20 percent less than the length of this blog), so concision and acronyms were the order of the day. Read a slightly expanded version of that comment, footnoted and with acronyms explained.

IATP participated in two NNI workshop breakout sessions on the Environmental, Health and Safety (EHS) consequences of manufacturing with nanomaterials. Our comments on the draft strategy likewise focused on EHS concerns. First, IATP wrote that the NNI strategy should commit to make public all safety data related to NNI finance research. No world class EHS impact research program will develop without a commitment to sharing EHS data with the public.

Second, IATP noted that despite the National Research Council’s criticism of the previous NNI Strategic Plan for not emphasizing research on the effects of Engineered Nano-scale Materials (ENMs) on the gastro-intestinal system, NNI sponsored projects have yet to produce EHS relevant data on the consequences for human health of ingesting ENMs. IATP urges NNI to prioritize such research, particularly in light of the number of manufacturers who claimed to include ENMs in commercialized food and food-related products.

Third, although the NNI has funded laboratory research into the effect of ENMs on earthworms and beneficial soil microbes, the draft strategic plan lacked a frank admission that ENMs are entering into natural ecosystems. IATP wrote about the likelihood that ENMs were being applied to agricultural land in the form of “biosolids,” i.e., treated wastewater residues used as a cheap form of fertilizer on millions of acres of U.S. agricultural land. (For more information, see IATP’s recent fact sheet “Nanomaterial Risk To Soil Health”.) The final strategic plan added a drawing of the environmental fate of ENMs to indicate that they are not only going to landfills, largely in the form of ENM coated electronics equipment, and into incinerators, but also into natural ecosystems.

Fourth, the NNI budget provides about $37 million for research into the Ethical Society and Legal Implications (ESLI) of nanotechnology, almost entirely distributed by the National Science Foundation in the form of grants to universities. Since there are ESLI aspects in the research and product development of most federal agencies and departments, IATP urged the NNI to finance ESLI research at federal agencies as well. 

And last but not least, there is no interagency mechanism to enable negotiation of possible conflicts among agency research projects or commercial uses of nanotechnology. For example, as IATP discussed in the NNI workshop, the use of nanosilver, a bactericide, in consumer products such as wash machines and socks, could result in anti-microbial resistance for the effectiveness of nanosilver suffused wound dressings for third-degree burn victims. IATP recommended that the National Nanotechnology Advisory Panel undertake development of such an interagency technology assessment mechanism.

In its Strategic Plan, the NNI appeared to acknowledge some of these concerns, and what was already being documented in some NNI funded projects,– that ENMs are entering natural ecosystems.

The Strategic Plan is a federal research and development document and so makes no recommendations regarding the regulation of ENMs and nanotechnology, which IATP and many others have advocated with no great success over several years. However, informing Congress that ENMs are entering natural ecosystems and that we don’t know what happens to ENMs in the human gut, well, that might cause a few Members of Congress to raise a few questions before they approve the next NNI budget. 

Posted March 17, 2014 by Harriet Barlow   

 Juliette Majot, IATP's new president

Dear Friends,

The Board of Directors of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy is very pleased to announce the selection of Juliette Majot as our new president. We are inspired and impressed by Juliette’s experience, knowledge and commitment to building a fair, just and sustainable world. She comes to IATP with a keen appreciation and understanding of the global challenges we face, and brings with her the optimism and energy that is needed to make the important changes that IATP has been working on for the last 28 years.

The search process that brought us to Juliette was extensive and rewarding. Along the way we were humbled by the amazing, smart and dedicated people who engaged with us during the process. So many of you helped identify candidates to whom we reached out. Many of those applied or had thoughtful conversations with us as they considered applying. While we can only have one president, the search reminded us that we have many wonderful friends who share IATP’s vision of making justice a reality. The board wants to sincerely thank everybody who participated in the process.

Juliette is an activist dedicated to movement building for social change. Her activism began in her teens as part of a successful grassroots effort to halt construction of a nuclear reactor along the shore of Lake Michigan near her home town. After earning a degree in management from Purdue University, she joined the staff of Friends of the Earth U.S. under David Brower, where she eventually served as deputy director. After five years with FoE U.S. she turned her attention to Friends of the Earth UK.

In 1989 she joined the staff of the fledgling San Francisco-based organization, International Rivers Network (now “International Rivers”). At IRN she worked with local, national and regional organizations worldwide to expose and bring an end to the poor economic performance, harm to society and environmental destructiveness of large-scale river projects, particularly large dams in the global south. In 1994, she co-founded “Fifty Years Is Enough,” an international campaign designed to shine a spotlight on the destructive policies and practices of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. She served as executive director of IRN from 2000 to 2005.

Since leaving IRN, Juliette has been an independent consultant to NGOs and foundations, designing and undertaking strategy, outcome, and developmental evaluations, and promoting the importance of international advocacy campaigning. Her clients included the Ford Foundation, Oxfam Novib, Friends of the Earth International, Pesticide Action Network, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, and Oxfam America.

A native of Michigan City, Indiana, Juliette will be moving back to the Midwest, where she will dive into the world of food and agriculture policy and rural development issues, and tackle the persistent trade and global governance issues that define our era. We look forward to introducing you to her personally in the coming weeks and months. Upon accepting the position, Juliette left immediately for Brussels, where she joined IATP staff at a strategy meeting about the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

We are confident that we, and you, will find Juliette’s leadership inspiring. Here is an excerpt from her response to an application question about advancing IATP’s agenda:

We are, and always will be, faced with a constellation of problems solved only by eliminating poverty and hunger, ending inequality and inequity, protecting human rights, and living with the planet in ways that nurture and sustain it. I use the term constellation intentionally—as the causes of human suffering and environmental degradation, do, indeed, form a complex system. Among IATP’s greatest strengths is its systems approach, internationalist in perspective, yet grounded in the real experience of U.S. farmers…

IATP must continue to be both tenacious and nimble, to spot opportunities, to provide excellent research and analysis, grounding itself in the real experience of farmers in the U.S. and abroad, leveraging and expanding movement capacity through true solidarity with those with whom we share our most treasured values. IATP’s work is, after all, not ultimately about grain reserves, or investor-state mechanisms, or renewable fuel standards. It is about the rights and duties of individuals and communities to shape the informed opinion necessary to water, feed, fuel and strengthen our societies in perpetuity.

We hope you will have the opportunity to meet and talk with Juliette as she starts her tenure at IATP. We are sure you will agree with us that she is the right woman to lead us in this crucial era. In the meantime, here is a very short video of Juliette talking about coming to IATP.

For the IATP Board of Directors,

Harriet Barlow
Board Chair

Posted March 11, 2014 by IATP   

Food and HealthAntibiotics HealthLivestock

A minimum of 23,000 people die in the United States due to antibiotic resistance, according to the Center for Disease Control. Yet, antibiotic resistance—the rise of so-called “super bugs”—is on the rise because of overuse and abuse of antibiotics in our food system. Eighty percent of antibiotics sold in the U.S. go toward food animal production—mostly for the corporate meat industry that uses it for growth promotion and to keep a large number of animals alive in confined spaces. While doctors, nurse practitioners and pharmacists are required to write prescriptions for antibiotics to treat sick people, anyone can buy them over the counter in animal feed stores. This lack of regulation is creating a public health crisis that is entirely possible to avert.

After years of delay, FDA is finally attempting to address this major gap by requiring animal drug makers to have veterinary supervision of antibiotics in feed. Veterinary supervision is critical to slow the overuse of these drugs and the related spread of antibiotic resistance. However, the FDA (in order avoid resistance from drug companies) is watering down what “veterinary supervison” means, and therefore, undermining the ability of government agencies to effectively track how drugs in animal feed are used.

The existing rule (called the Veterinary Feed Directive, or VFD), which is stronger, only applies to two drugs. But the FDA is weakening this rule in order to apply it to many more antibiotic drugs. While regulating a broad range of antibiotics under the VFD is absolutely critical for public health, the FDA should create a strong and comprehensive rule that requires the drug industry to change its practices.

To read the proposed FDA rule, click here.

We are asking you to help make our food system healthy and safe. Take action right now by submitting comments to the FDA before March 12—the deadline for public comments.

Send a personal message and demand that FDA address the following concerns: 

  • Require antibiotic drugs used in feed to be under veterinary supervision and NOT DEPEND ON VOLUNTARY ACTION for the change.
  • Ask FDA to maintain the existing federal requirement that VFD drugs only be used when the veterinarian has seen the animals to be treated (described as a Veterinarian-Patient-Client-Relationship in the current rule). Doctors or veterinarians must not be able to prescribe drugs to patients outside their care.
  • The revised rule MUST require veterinarians and feed companies to send copies of orders for VFD feeds to the FDA. Keeping track of how antibiotic drugs are used on farm is important for FDA to control the spread of resistance
  • The rule should keep the current requirement that veterinarians keep records for 2 years instead of shortening it to one year.
  • Finally, refills on the feed directives should be time-constrained, keeping veterinarians in the loop on future use of antibiotics.

Write FDA Commissioner Hamburg today by submitting comments directly to the FDA, here. Here is a sample letter:

Commissioner Hamburg:

I am concerned about the spread of antibiotic resistance and its potential devastating effects on the health of my family. Given that the bulk of antibiotics used in the United States are given to animals in feed without any veterinarian supervision, I am encouraged to learn that FDA is trying to at least require that a veterinarian be involved. This is the right thing to do, but I believe that the FDA is going about it in the wrong way. I ask you to strengthen the current FDA rule on VFDs in feed in the following way:

  • Require that all medically important antibiotics in feeds only be used under veterinary supervision and not wait for voluntary action by drug companies to make the change.
  • Keep the current federal requirement that a valid relationship (VCPR) is maintained between the veterinarian and his / her animal clients. In other words, veterinarians writing a feed directive should have recently laid eyes upon the animals to be treated, or at least visited the farm where they are kept.
  • Require veterinarians and feed companies to submit VFD orders to the FDA, so that the Agency can track how these drugs are being used.
  • Maintain the current two year record keeping requirement.
  • Don’t allow illegitimate re-ordering of feed antibiotics: Ensure that the VFD expires no later than the actual end of life of the animals it was intended to benefit -- or six months after it is written, or the label directions—whichever is shortest.
Without these improvements, the VFD will not fully ensure that antibiotics which are important to humans—such as penicillins, tetracyclines, erythromycins and steptogramins—remain effective for treating future generations of both sick people and sick animals.

Because of the critical importance to public health, I further urge you to take two important steps that go beyond the purview of the VFD:

  1. On FDA’s books, there are many approvals for livestock antibiotics delivered in feed or water that do not address a specific illness and have no limits on the duration of their use. FDA must discontinue them. So long as these approvals remain, there is little to prevent medically important antibiotics from continuing to be used routinely for non-sick animals.
  2. The public, including public health researchers, must have data granular enough to track whether the Agency’s new rules designed to end routine antibiotic use in food animals are in fact working. Given the nearly 30 million pounds of antibiotics used in food animals today and the growing problem of antibiotic resistance, stewardship of these drugs is vital.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Submit your comment now!

Posted March 10, 2014 by Shefali Sharma   

TradeIndustrialized MeatFree trade agreements

Trade negotiators from the United States and the European Union are meeting in Brussels this week behind closed doors to inch towards a transatlantic free trade agreement, benignly referred to as the TransAtlantic Trade and Investment partnership (TTIP). Twenty-nine U.S. based community, farm, environmental, animal welfare and consumer organizations sent a letter today to United States Trade Representative Michael Froman voicing strong concerns about prominent corporate meat industry demands in TTIP. The aim of the agreement is to “harmonize” standards between the European Union and the U.S. on a wide range of issues that touch our lives, including how our food (meat in particular) is produced and processed and who controls that system.

Over 20 corporate meat and feed industry associations and representatives submitted public comments to USTR last May. Together, their comments demonstrate how these interests seek to weaken standards on meat and animal products that could undermine food safety, public health, animal welfare, worker safety and environmental regulations.

Across the U.S. and the EU, citizens, farmers and civil society organizations are advocating for a fairer, healthier and more humane form of meat production that eliminates the use of chemicals, hormones and antibiotics and which allows independent and local producers to flourish. The letter states:

The growing movement in the United States to rebuild local food systems relies heavily on leveraging local, state and federal procurement dollars to increase the aggregate demand for locally farmed crops and livestock, as well as value-added production of local foods. There can be climate, health, environmental, agricultural, and consumer benefits to such procurement approaches.

The TTIP negotiations could undermine these efforts.

The groups strongly criticized the secrecy of the negotiations where the negotiating text is not even available for our elected officials, let alone concerned citizens and organizations. The groups call on USTR to “to immediately publish negotiating texts on these and other important issues in the trade agreement to foster an informed public debate.”

Posted March 7, 2014 by Dr. Steve Suppan   

FinanceMarketsCommoditiesMarket speculation

Used under creative commons license from World Economic Forum.

Mark J. Carney, chairman of the Financial Stability Board (FSB), speaks at the World Economic Forum.

This September, it will be five years since President Barack Obama and other Group of 20 leaders committed to regulating the over-the-counter (OTC) derivatives markets jointly and in each of their jurisdictions. The world’s largest banks would have defaulted in 2008–2009 on their bets in the nearly unregulated $700 trillion global OTC market had it not been for publicly funded bailouts, above all the $29 trillion U.S. Federal Reserve Bank emergency loan program of 2007–2010.

Fulfilling the G-20 commitments has been a political, legislative, budgetary, regulatory and technological struggle, due in part to the opposition of those same publicly rescued banks. For example, the International Swaps and Derivatives Association (ISDA), which represents OTC broker dealers and their largest corporate clients, is one of three parties suing the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) to prevent the application of the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation to the foreign affiliates of U.S. OTC broker dealers. Losing foreign affiliate trades, booked to their U.S. headquartered firms, triggered the 2008-2009 default cascades.

Nevertheless, persistent national and international financial regulators have been hard at work to agree on how to prevent circumvention of national regulations by the cyber-world of global banks. The G-20 leaders assigned much of the work to the Financial Stability Board (FSB), a body of central bankers and top regulators, coordinated by a small secretariat housed in the Bank for International Settlements in Basel Switzerland. In a February 17 letter to G-20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors, FSB Chair Mark Carney outlined OTC derivatives reform as one of four crucial regulatory objectives.

In January, the Senior Supervisors Group of financial regulators reported to the FSB that “Five years after the financial crisis, firms’ progress toward consistent, timely and accurate reporting of top counterparty exposures fails to meet both supervisory expectations and industry self-identified best practices. The area of greatest concern remains firms’ inability to consistently produce high-quality data.” So regulators are still not getting accurate and comprehensive data on the risks (“counterparty exposures”) posed to the financial system from OTC trades. The potential for another financial market failure remains as regulators are still in the dark about much of the OTC universe. As Thomas Hoenig, vice president of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), noted on February 24 of the OTC trade-leveraged mega-banks, “If even one of the five largest [U.S.] banks were to fail, it would devastate markets and the economy.”

In February, the FSB released for comment a consultation paper on the feasibility of a global mechanism to aggregate OTC trade data that could be computer monitored by regulators both to prevent excessive risk-taking and violations of national regulations. The Aggregation Feasibility Study Group (AFSG) will make a recommendation to the FSB in May on which, if any, of three proposed OTC data aggregation options should be adopted for implementation.

IATP had submitted comments to the CFTC on data aggregation rules to prevent excessive speculation in agricultural derivatives contracts, which contributes to food insecurity in net import dependent developing countries.  IATP’s comment on the FSB consultation paper first explained our interest in data aggregation. As of June 2013, OTC commodity derivatives contracts accounted for just $3 trillion of the reported $693 trillion global OTC gross notional value [an estimate of total risk exposure]. However, commercial hedgers, commodity prices, and hence food and energy security, are affected not only by prices, but by the foreign exchange, interest rate and other derivatives data that will be aggregated for regulator surveillance by the approaches discussed in the Consultation Paper (CP). Therefore, effective agricultural commodity derivatives regulation and financial stability require effective data aggregation practices.

The AFSG presents the FSB with three options for aggregating OTC trade data across borders. First, Option 3 is a status quo data aggregation model for regulators to compile and analyze data outside their jurisdictions. Regulators would access OTC trade data from foreign Trade Data Repositories (TDR), after filing a case-by-case petition for data with the regulator in whose jurisdiction the TDR resides. The AFSG remarked that Option 3 was vulnerable to unjustified refusals of access data that could result in the building up of risk exposures far beyond the capital reserves of banks to pay back in the event of losses.

Option 2 concerns a logical index or catalogue of TDRs in all jurisdictions, defined in terms of FSB agreements on uniform financial product and transaction identity codes, and uniform rules on regulator access to data. Because work on such agreements is already somewhat advanced, the regulator software platform of the logical index for regulator access to foreign TDRs could be built in the near term.

Option 1 would involve the centralized storage of OTC data from TDRs in all FSB jurisdictions. That option would require the agreements to build the standards and computer infrastructure of Option 2, plus hardware and security to protect the centrally stored OTC data from all jurisdictions. While the third option represents the most efficient and comprehensive mechanism for aggregating data and facilitating foreign regulator access to that data for monitoring and enforcement activities, it also presents problems of political feasibility not considered in the AFSG’s analysis of the legal and technical feasibility of the options.

A decision on the location, staffing and financing of a centralized data storage facility will require legislative decisions, as well as diplomatic negotiations. Given the heated nationalistic rhetoric about who’s to blame for the big bank meltdown, the location, staffing and financing decisions could become political flashpoints. We fear that nationalistic rhetoric used by bank lobbyists and some regulators to argue against cross-border application of national market laws will manifest itself in the debate about where to locate the centralized storage of OTC data. The result of a prolonged debate over the location of centralized data storage could be a financially fatal delay in the implementation of political commitments to effective and comprehensive cross-border regulatory cooperation.

IATP urged the AFSG to recommend Option 2 as the best platform for the intensive intergovernmental cooperation necessary to regulate the global banks and OTC corporate clients who otherwise will continue to elude nationally defined regulation. If Option 2 is successfully implemented, it may be possible to agree later on centralized data storage as a further step in regulating the global cyber-markets of finance.

Option 3, i.e., a continuation of the status quo offers an insufficient basis for cross border cooperation to regulate global OTC traders and markets. It is no exaggeration to say that if the Financial Stability Board fails to agree on an effective and comprehensive aggregation mechanism, the Group of 20 Leaders’ commitments to regulate OTC derivatives will remain unfulfilled. Furthermore, continued circumvention of national rules by global banks and OTC corporate clients will leave us vulnerable to another financial services mega-default, even as we still are trying to recover from the economic and fiscal consequences of the 2008-09 default.

Posted March 5, 2014 by Karen Hansen-Kuhn   

TradeFree trade agreementsNAFTA: North American Free Trade Agreement

Used under creative commons license from G20Voice.

U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman

One of the most controversial provisions in free trade agreements is the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanism, which gives corporations the right to sue governments over public measures that undermine their expected profits. It’s a pretty outrageous assault on democratic structures. In fact, when I tell people new to the trade debate about it, at first they often don’t believe me.

But it is a fact. ISDS is included in bilateral and regional trade and investment pacts around the world. The supposed justification is that legal systems in many countries don’t adequately protect foreign investments, so it creates a special tribunal just for them. For example, under NAFTA, three U.S. agribusiness firms sued the Mexican government over restrictions on high-fructose corn syrup, and won $169 million in compensation. Tobacco giant Phillip Morris, operating through its Hong Kong subsidiary, has sued the Australian government over new rules on cigarette labels that highlight fthe health dangers. If that one seems a bit convoluted, it’s because when the Australian government signed a free trade agreement with the United States, it refused to include ISDS, saying its legal system was perfectly able to handle any disputes. But Australia was already bound by an investment pact with Hong Kong.

This expansion of corporate rights has become a big issue in the public debate on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP, also known as TAFTA). The EU announced in January that it would pause the negotiations on that mechanism in TTIP so it could hold a public consultation on the issue. But the Obama Administration has not followed suit, so a group of 43 U.S. organizations (including IATP, along with labor, environmental, faith and farm groups), led by the AFL-CIO, sent a letter to the U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman demanding a similar pause in the U.S., to get more public input.

Even without ISDS, there are many very real problems with TTIP, including a drive for “regulatory coherence” that could push health and environmental standards down to the lowest common denominator on both sides of the Atlantic. But if they can at least stop and talk about the wisdom of this dubious proposal for new corporate rights in the EU, why not here as well? What is the Obama Administration afraid of? 

Posted March 4, 2014 by Andrew Ranallo   

Local FoodFarm to InstitutionFarm to SchoolEducationHealth

Busy hands make for busy minds—that’s the theory behind experiential, or hands-on learning. IATP’s new high school–level Farm to School Youth Leadership Curriculum, released today, is designed with this in mind: Beyond learning about sourcing local food and the research that goes into localizing their school lunch, students actually participate in creating or expanding a Farm to School program, assisting their school lunchroom staff and administration with the nitty gritty of sourcing local foods for lunch.

From the press release:

The Farm to School Youth Leadership Curriculum is comprised of six lessons that can be taught consecutively over a semester or as single lessons or activities to complement other classes. Each lesson contains a lesson summary, facilitator preparation notes, activities, worksheets, recommended optional work and further resources for students and teachers. Lessons include themes such as “School Lunch: How Does it Really Work?” and “Communicating with Producers of Local Foods.”

Development of the Farm to School Youth Leadership Curriculum was a collaborative process, including consultation with educators, food service professionals and Farm to School experts, supported by the Center for Prevention at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, the John P. and Eleanor R. Yackel Foundation, the Minnesota Agricultural Education Leadership Council and the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.

Check out the full press release, or download the entire curriculum for free at www.iatp.org/f2s-curriculum.




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