Posted May 20, 2013 by Dr. Steve Suppan
If you want to reduce crime, you have to make sure there are enough cops on the beat. Something similar can be said for market regulation. We can’t expect markets to work if we don’t invest resources into making sure government agencies have the right regulatory tools at their disposal and have adequate resources to effectively implement and enforce the rules. A Better Markets study estimates the quantifiable cost of the financial services industry triggered Great Recession at $12.8 trillion. Now the publicly bailed out industry and its Congressional allies want to take cops off the market beat. Tomorrow, the House Committee on Agriculture is holding a public hearing entitled The Future of the CFTC: Market Perspectives, featuring a panel of CEOs who have opposed most attempts to regulate the unregulated parts of the markets and supported CFTC budgets that are inadequate for enforcing the rules.
The U.S. Congress last authorized the work of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) as part of the 2008 Farm Bill. Senators Debbie Stabenow and Thad Cochrane, Chairwoman and Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, requested comment for the 2013 reauthorization of the CFTC. We responded in a May 1 letter, outlining seven ways in which the CFTC should be reauthorized to improve regulation of the $300 trillion of derivatives contracts over which the CFTC has authority.
Most of the commodity and financial derivatives market reform since the 2008 CFTC reauthorization is the result of the partial implementation of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (DFA). Already during this session of Congress, the House of Representatives has introduced several bills to annul parts of the DFA and/or to impede the ability of the CFTC to implement the bill. We advised the Senators of our opposition to these bills in the form of sign-on letters submitted by Americans for Financial Reform and the Commodity Markets Oversight Coalition. Senators should not emulate the House’s path to “improving” the DFA by undermining it and underfunding the CFTC with a budget appropriate for the much smaller markets of the late 1990s. Instead, we present seven ways in which the Senate should reauthorize the CFTC and improve market regulation:
1. Enable the CFTC to work with the Federal Reserve Bank to determine whether the warehousing and trading of physical commodities by banks distorts price formation in the commodity derivatives contracts of those physically traded commodities. Banks such as Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and JP Morgan have vastly more financial resources with which to influence derivatives prices than do commodity producers and users. However, this influence is difficult to demonstrate statistically because banks are not required to report their trades of physical commodities and commodity derivatives contracts separately, impeding comparison of price movements. Banks should be required to disaggregate their physical commodity and commodity derivatives trade data, so that the CFTC and the Fed could produce a major study that could serve as the basis for regulating or ending the trading of physical commodities by banks.
2. The DFA requires unregulated Over the Counter (OTC) derivatives contracts to be traded on regulated exchanges, which report trade data daily to the CFTC. However, OTC dealers and their major corporate clients claim that OTC contracts are so “customized” that they cannot be coded uniformly to enable the CFTC to do the data surveillance to enforce the DFA. The CFTC should be empowered to require uniform and comprehensive reporting of OTC contracts, as a condition for the trading of the contract, to enable data surveillance and enforcement.
3. High Frequency Trading has become notorious for causing sudden and drastic price declines, known as “flash crashes” in commodity and financial markets, in a matter of minutes or even seconds. For example, a hijacked Associate Press Twitter account falsely reported on April 23 that President Obama had been injured in a bombing of the White House. The false report, fueled by HFT, temporarily erased $136 billion of market value. The DFA provides the CFTC with no authority to regulate HFT. Draft European legislation would provide such authority. The CFTC should be authorized to do a major study of HFT and recommend to the Senate whether and how HFT could be regulated.
4. The DFA does not directly discipline commodity index funds (CIFs), which combine up to 24 commodity contracts in a single fund formula. CIFs are invested to increase agricultural and non-agricultural prices over the long term of the investment objectives of pension funds, endowments and other institutional investors. Therefore, CIFs do not respond to the supply and demand factors that guide the price risk management investments of both commodity producers and users (commercial hedgers) and traditional speculators. The CFTC should be authorized to undertake a major study of CIFs, both Over the Counter and exchange traded, and advise the Congress on whether the CIFs violate the objectives of the DFA and the Commodity Exchange Act.
5. The CFTC’s penalties for regulatory violations are fines that are too small to dissuade some market participants from regarding them as a normal cost of doing business to be paid by shareholders. The CFTC should be authorized to study to determine how to make fines more dissuasive for repeat and egregious offenders, and to evaluate whether trading bans and loss of license to trade could be effective penalties.
6. The CFTC is the only financial regulatory agency that is not self-funded to some extent, on the basis of registration and other fees levied on market participants. The Senate should authorize the CFTC to become a self-funded agency, to enable continuity and consistency of its work in overseeing futures exchanges that have grown five-fold in the past decade and OTC markets that are forty times larger in value than in 2000. Otherwise, the agency will be vulnerable to the budget cuts that will curtail DFA implementation and their enforcement activities, according to testimony by CFTC Chairman Gary Gensler.
7. The DFA requires that foreign firms, including foreign affiliates of U.S. firms, which trade on U.S. markets, have “comparable, comprehensive oversight” to that of the DFA in their home jurisdictions. The CFTC proposed guidance for the cross-border application of the DFA has been met with furious resistance by the U.S. firms. These are many of the same firms (such as AIG, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, MF Global) whose trades triggered the financial catastrophes that have resulted in at least $10 trillion, and perhaps as much as $22 trillion in damage to the U.S. economy, according to the General Accountability Office. Wall Street lobbyists, their Congressional allies and foreign regulators are advocating to U.S. officials mere “recognition” of high level principles of regulation instead of the CFTC’s cross-border requirements. However, to prevent U.S. firms from evading U.S. rules by trading through their foreign affiliates in weak regulatory jurisdictions, IATP told the Senate that it should support the CFTC’s proposal to negotiate the terms of regulators’ access to data on foreign affiliate trades of U.S. registered firms. Without access to that data, the CFTC will not be able to prevent trading fiascos, such as the JP Morgan “London Whale” trades investigated by Senator Carl Levin, from once again bankrupting U.S. taxpayer bailed out firms. Firms registered in regulatory jurisdictions that refuse the CFTC access to foreign affiliate trade data should be temporarily barred from trading in the U.S. unless and until arrangements could be made to ensure such data access. Data access negotiations must ensure reciprocal access for foreign regulators to the U.S. affiliate trades of foreign firms. Otherwise, the United States could become a haven from regulation, like the Cook Islands.
The Senate should seek the reauthorization of the CFTC independent from the Farm Bill negotiations, which may not be concluded before the Congressional elections in the fall. Regardless of the timing of the reauthorization, as the trillions of dollars scale of price-fixing and other financial malfeasance become apparent, the Senate should repudiate the attempts of the House of Representatives to weaken the CFTC and to cut its budget for enforcement. Furthermore, insofar as the trading of price fixed contracts and instruments occurs through the foreign affiliates of U.S. firms, we urge the Senate to support the CFTC’s implementation of cross-border rules to regulate the trading of global firms.
The Congress, rather than supporting U.S. companies that trade in weak foreign regulatory jurisdictions to circumvent U.S. law, should support the CFTC and other financial regulatory agencies as they fight to implement the DFA against fierce Wall Street resistance.
Posted May 1, 2013 by Kathleen Schuler, MPH
Over 5000 children’s products contain toxic chemicals linked to cancer, hormone disruption and reproductive problems, including the toxic metals, cadmium, mercury and antimony, as well as phthalates and solvents. A new report by the Washington Toxics Coalition and Safer States reveals the results of manufacturer reporting to the Washington State Department of Ecology.
Makers of kids’ products reported using 41 of the 66 chemicals identified by WA Ecology as a concern for children’s health. Major manufacturers who reported using the chemicals in their products include Walmart, Gap, Gymboree, Hallmark, H & M and others. They use these chemicals in an array of kids’ products, including clothing, footwear, toys, games, jewelry, accessories, baby products, furniture, bedding, arts and crafts supplies and personal care products. Besides exposing kids in the products themselves, some of these chemicals, for example toxic flame retardants, build up in the environment and in the food we eat.
Examples of product categories reported to contain toxic chemicals include:
The chemical reports are required under Washington State’s Children’s Safe Products Act of 2008. A searchable database of chemical use reports filed with the Washington State Department of Ecology is available at http://www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/swfa/cspa/search.html.
Like Washington, the Minnesota Department of Health has published a list or priority chemicals in children’s products. Eight of the nine chemicals on this list are also on the Washington list. The nine priority chemicals are lead, cadmium, bisphenol A, formaldehyde, two brominated flame retardants and three phthalates. However, in Minnesota, manufacturers are not required to report if they use a priority chemical in a children’s product—so both states agencies and consumers are in the dark when it comes to these chemicals. Last month Minnesota’s Senate Commerce Committee voted down the Toxic Free Kids Act of 2013, a bill that would have required such reporting.
Minnesota can take a lesson from the Washington experience. Manufacturers were able to produce this information without undue burden and yes these chemicals are in products our kids are chewing on, touching and inhaling every day! It’s time for Minnesota to follow Washington’s lead and require manufacturers to submit the same type of data. I urge the Minnesota Legislature to come back in 2014 and pass the Toxic Free Kids Act.
Posted April 30, 2013 by Jim Harkness
Earlier this spring, the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) was in the news because of a threat that the agency’s 8000+ inspectors would be furloughed as part of the sequester. Since, by law, all meat packing processing facilities in the U.S. must have a USDA inspector on site in order to operate, this would have brought the U.S. beef, pork and poultry industries to a screeching halt.
Of course, as soon as one of the most powerful, Inside-the-Beltway industries objects to any part of the sequester, Congress decides that although the legislation was designed precisely to inflict painful cuts in order to force action, they’ll make an exception in this one little case. (All of which shows that the real purpose of Budget Hysteria is to cut the parts of government that help the politically powerless: poor people, workers, sick people and children.) So when President Obama signed the continuing resolution, which keeps the government operating for the next six months, it included an amendment allowing the USDA to make cuts elsewhere in order to keep the inspectors on the job.
Unfortunately, it seems the inspectors are not breathing so easy, if at all. The Washington Post reports that the increased use of microbe-killing chemicals in poultry processing facilities has created a serious threat to the health of workers in those facilities. After the death of an otherwise-healthy FSIS inspector in 2011, a federal investigation found that the chemicals causing the issue have become more prevalent as line speeds in the facilities have increased in recent years. Those findings have been confirmed by the Government Accountability Project’s Food Integrity Campaign. More meat moving past the same number of eyes on the processing line means more chances that fecal matter and other contaminants will be missed. The industry solution: douse everything with chlorine and other anti-bacterial chemicals. It’s exposure to these chemicals that is now being linked to “asthma and other severe respiratory problems, burns, rashes, irritated eyes, and sinus ulcers and other sinus problems.”
The industry claims these increases in line speeds are to meet increasing consumer demand, but which consumers are they referring to? Per capita chicken consumption in the U.S. has been flat for ten years, turkey for more than twenty. So the real reason appears to be either increased exports (And no, exported chicken is not feeding the hungry of the world.) or it’s simply a way for industry to increase their profits at the expense of workers. Not to mention consumers, who for no good reason are now eating meat that is contaminated with fecal matter and then doused in chemicals.
Further, despite the well-documented risks, the “department [of agriculture] is now poised to allow a further increase in line speeds, boosting the maximum by about 25 percent” to “make poultry production more efficient and reduce the number of government inspectors while increasing the number of private company inspectors,” according to the Washington Post.
The brunt of these “efficiency” gains will be borne by the invisible human infrastructure that props up our unjust and unhealthy food system: food chain workers. While there may be one or two inspectors in a poultry plant on a typical day, there are dozens or hundreds of workers in each facility who are exposed to the same chemicals, probably more directly and for longer periods of time. Even before this particular piece of news, meat processing jobs are already among the lowest paying and most dangerous jobs in America—mostly made up of people of color, including many undocumented workers who are afraid to report health and safety violations or other abuses because of their immigration status.
So while Congress goes out of their way to make sure that corporations are able to sidestep the sequester and continue (and increase!) dangerous practices that boost profits for the very few, workers in these facilities remain invisible to policymakers and continue to pay the price for our industrial meat system with their health and livelihoods.
Posted April 29, 2013 by JoAnne Berkenkamp
Sixty-eight percent. That’s the percent of corporate food and agriculture industry executives who said that weather extremes/volatility will be the “single biggest factor affecting North American food and agribusiness in 2013,” according to a poll by the Dutch bank, Rabobank in late 2012. Rabobank went on to say that business leaders’ concerns about weather extremes “far outweighed the next two closest factors—consumer demand (13%) and policy/regulation (10%).” “Geopolitical events” and “trade/tariffs/exchange rates” received votes in the single digits.
This striking data is another sign that the increasing volatility of our weather is not only real but is impacting even the largest food and agriculture businesses.
To dig more deeply into perceptions in the food industry about changing climate patterns, I recently conducted a series of conversations with produce distributors around the United States. These are folks who buy and sell vast quantities of fruit and vegetables from suppliers in the U.S. and all over the world, every day.
Although they are largely hidden from view, distributors are a key link in the chain of relationships that make it possible for most of our food (except that which is “direct marketed” via farmers markets and the like) to make its way from farms to grocery stores, restaurants and so on. Many I spoke with are multi-generation, family-owned businesses that sell a local and global supply of produce to institutions in their region of the country.
Produce distributors have a unique window on global agricultural trends and they see firsthand the impact that changing weather patterns are having on the supply chains that bring us our tomatoes, avocadoes and bananas. When there’s a snap freeze in Mexico or Chile or Florida, it affects them within hours. As such, they are well-informed and insightful canaries in the global coal mine that we all now live in.
I interviewed these produce distributors in collaboration with Compass Group USA, a leading foodservice management company that serves a million meals per day at colleges, hospitals, schools, corporate cafeterias, restaurants and other locations across the country.
My hope was to understand how increasing weather volatility looks through produce distributors’ eyes, both in the short run and for the long term: What has happened in the past few years with changing weather patterns in key growing regions? How do those shifts affect business? How might a changing climate affect the price and availability of fresh fruits and vegetables in the decades ahead? What they had to say was both instructive and sobering.
Most reported a marked increase in weather volatility in recent years in the regions they buy from most—the U.S., and Central and South America. As one asserted, “We are seeing a drastic uptick in extreme weather patterns in the past few years. There may be controversy about whether it’s climate change or a natural trend, but either way the trend in coming decades is not good. We expect these weather extremes to continue and to become more common. It won’t be a situation where there’s no food, but it will be more expensive. Whether it’s climate change or not, something is happening.”
These weather impacts range from specific events—like hail, flooding, hurricanes and snap freezes—to shifting patterns of precipitation, temperature and other factors that make some crops less productive and reliable in areas where they have historically been grown.
To maintain a reliable product supply, many distributors are reaching out to a greater number of potential suppliers for each crop. With suppliers lined up in multiple regions or countries, the risk of bad weather in any one place is mitigated. As one distributor put it, “we’re likely to have bigger growing areas in the future, with less geographic concentration.”
That may bode well for more decentralized production, but a changing climate has the potential to cause severe consequences for produce growers all over the country and around the world. A shifting climate may make new crops possible in some locales, and some larger produce aggregators will add new suppliers in other states or regions of the world to diversify their own risk, but many farmers will be challenged to make the transition to an altered climate and heightened weather extremes.
For produce growers (who typically can’t access the crop insurance that is afforded to corn, soy beans and other commodity growers), a few years of crop failures can drain their financial reserves and force some out of business as we saw in the 2012 drought. And most growers outside the U.S. do not have any access to crop insurance.
“The transitions happening in places that can no longer grow what they’ve grown historically will be painful,” says one distributor. “People say that changing weather will create winners and losers geographically, but droughts just create losers. If you don’t have water, a longer growing season doesn’t help you.”
Another distributor summarized how the produce industry itself is changing due to rising weather volatility: “The challenge is that there’s no historical data to guide what’s happening now. We know it may get hotter and wetter, and the farmers are doing their best to choose varieties and production techniques, but the weather is crazy for everyone. We’ve never seen weather like this and we’re not sure how people will respond. It’s harder to predict product pricing and quality. There have always been imbalances between supply and demand, but now it’s like being in Vegas!”
For eaters and growers alike, destabilized growing conditions are likely to lead to rising and increasingly volatile prices for fruits and vegetables. When severe weather hits a major growing region and supplies tighten, it tends to force up prices across the market as a whole. For instance, in early 2011, snap freezes hit Mexico and Florida hard and within days of each other. The cost of tomatoes (before shipping) shot up from roughly $8 per 25-pound case to $50 per case. Earlier this year, freezes in California resulted in the price of head lettuce nearly tripling.
While shoppers can navigate these fluctuations in the near-term by adjusting their shopping habits, a sustained rise in produce prices would likely complicate efforts to raise consumption of healthy fruits and vegetables, particularly among people of limited means.
Climate uncertainty is also intertwined with various other factors that impact produce markets. For instance, there has been significant growth in “protected agriculture” methods around the world. These methods range from high-tech heated greenhouses to lower-tech plastic-covered high tunnels. They make possible a more controlled growing environment and tend to yield very high quality product with less crop waste.
The adoption of these methods has largely been driven by consumer demand for out-of-season and cosmetically perfect produce (like the greenhouse-grown, vine-on tomatoes that are now all the rage). Fortunately, they also afford growers some protection from volatile weather and the chance to extend their income beyond the standard growing season. As weather volatility amps up, we are likely to see continued growth of protected production methods that can soften the blow of bad weather and diversify farm incomes.
Other factors—like structural and regulatory changes in the trucking industry and rising diesel prices—also come into play. Each of these factors contribute to the cost of shipping produce from where it’s grown to where it is eaten, and those costs can be significant, depending on the crop and the geography involved. As a distributor in Virginia pointed out, he could buy a case of celery (which is a relatively heavy product) from California last summer for $7–$10 per case, but the cost of shipping it to Virginia added another $11–$12. Over the longer term, prices at the store will likely be buffeted both by changes in the cost of the food itself and rising transportation costs.
The need to diversify sources of supply raises some interesting questions about how increasing weather volatility may affect markets for produce grown closer to where it is eaten. On the one hand, many locally oriented growers are benefitting from growing demand for local product. Buying locally can substantially reduce transportation costs as well (by 80 percent according to one distributor in the Midwest), which is an asset for growers located close to the end market.
On the other hand, growers who sell into local and regional markets are also affected by the price of oil (which affects the price of fertilizers and other inputs). Some are located in areas with short growing seasons. In many regions of the U.S., limited aggregation and processing infrastructure are a significant constraint on the ability of local food systems to meet existing demand. And of course, regionally oriented growers will, themselves, face the challenges of increased weather volatility. Addressing these structural constraints will be crucial to increasing the resiliency and scale of regionally oriented production.
These and many other factors paint a challenging picture for food and agricultural production in the decades ahead. While the future is hard to predict, I think it’s fair to say that we will be in for a wild ride in a world where weather volatility has become “the single largest factor.”
Posted April 24, 2013 by Andrew Ranallo
Commercialization of all kinds of nanotech is happening fast. As of March 2011, the nongovernmental Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies (PEN) had registered more than 1,300 products whose manufacturers claim to include ENMs, and estimates that the number could grow to 3,400 by 2020—all without a broad-based body of science to support claims that it’s safe for public health or the environment.
With the World Bank and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) pushing for “sustainable intensification” to counteract a growing population and increasing resource scarcity, it seems our soil is in the nanotech crosshairs—whether we know the long-term impacts or not.
In a new IATP report, Nanomaterials in Soil: Our Future Food Chain?, Dr. Steve Suppan digs in to the science behind why companies are pushing ahead with nanotech, why governments are so far behind, and why real (read: non-industry) science and conversation is sorely needed before our soil and the microfauna that keep it functioning become nothing but dirt.
Until that research is available, IATP is pushing for an immediate moratorium on fertilizing with biosolids (also known as sewage sludge) from sewage treatment plants near nanotech fabrication facilities.
As Dr. Suppan writes, “…if we are what we eat, surely what we eat is only as healthy and sustainable as the soil it comes from.”
Posted April 19, 2013 by Ben Lilliston
The Goldman Environmental Prize honors grassroots environmental leaders in each of the six continents. It’s an important forum that lifts up inspirational, justice-based work in communities around the world that often goes unrecognized. Earlier this week, the six winners were announced:
Jonathan Deal, South Africa – led a successful campaign against fracking in South Africa to protect the Karoo, a semi-desert region treasured for its agriculture, beauty and wildlife.
Azzam Alwash, Iraq – returned to war-torn Iraq to lead local communities in restoring the once-lush marshes that were turned to dustbowls during Saddam Hussein's rule.
Rossano Ercolini, Italy – began a public education campaign about the dangers of incinerators in his small Tuscan town that grew into a national Zero Waste movement.
Aleta Baun, Indonesia – organized hundreds of local villagers to peacefully occupy marble mining sites in "weaving protests," successfully stopping the destruction of sacred forestland in Mutins Mountain on the island of Timor.
Kimberly Wasserman, USA – led local residents in a successful campaign to shut down two of the country's oldest and dirtiest power plants, and is now transforming Chicago's old industrial sites into parks and multi-use spaces.
Nohra Padilla, Colombia – organized Colombia's marginalized waste pickers to make recycling a legitimate part of waste management.
IATP heartily congratulates the winners! A few years ago, we were honored to host an event organized by the Center for Earth, Energy and Democracy on climate justice that included this year’s winner, Kimberly Wasserman. She gave a great talk about her work in Chicago and perspective on community. You can watch the video below for more.
Posted April 18, 2013 by Ben Lilliston
“You can have food in the stores, but will people in the community be able to buy it?” This was the question posed by Buba Khan, of ActionAid in Africa, to attendees at a Congressional briefing IATP co-hosted last week with ActionAid, Oxfam America and the Heinrich Boll Foundation.
Khan was referring to the effects of “land grabs,” a growing global phenomenon spurred by rising demand for natural resources like agricultural land and mining. These land grabs often displace people and communities who rely on the land for their livelihoods, food and water, as well as deep historical and cultural connections.
At the Congressional briefing last week, speakers from Cambodia, Ghana and Guatemala spoke about how land grabs have occurred in their countries, and what role U.N. Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Land Tenure agreed to last year might play in developing new rules to protect local communities from powerful foreign investors.
Yune Mane, of the Cambodian Indigenous Youth Association, told attendees about how the Cambodian government had granted land to outside investors (often Chinese, French or Vietnamese) for giant rubber plantations or mining. As a result, Indigenous people in the country have lost their right to land and access to spiritual areas, affecting their access to food and increasing poverty. In Cambodia, there are actually strong laws protecting Indigenous rights, including the 2001 Land Law and 2002 Forest Law, Mane said, but enforcement of these laws has been poor.
In Guatemala, about 46 percent of smallholder farmers have lost their land in the last 15 years, reducing their ability to feed their families and increasing poverty, according to Laura Hurtado of Oxfam in Guatemala. Hurtado cited the entrance of palm and sugar plantations used for biofuels and food ingredients as being the major driver of land purchases in Guatemala.
Approximately 200 million hectares have been purchased in Africa over the last 10 years, Khan explained. Land is being bought by foreign governments and companies, mostly in secret deals, for food, biofuels, mining, forestry and livestock production. He cited Sun Biofuels’ 99-year lease on land in Tanzania as an example of how communities throughout the continent are losing control of their natural resources.
Richard Gaynor, of the Millenium Challenge Corporation (a quasi-U.S. government program that works with developing countries to reduce poverty and promote economic development), talked about the value of the U.N. Committee on Food Security’s Voluntary Guidelines on land tenure. As an example of how the guidelines have been useful, he pointed to an irrigation project in Senegal, which included two years of community engagement to ensure property rights were documented and respected, local design was included, and it was fully transparent. He believed that these types of participatory approaches with communities, and that follow the principles of the U.N. voluntary guidelines, are essential for the future.
The U.S. government’s role in land grabs has been mixed. The Obama administration has endorsed the CFS voluntary guidelines, but, as we reported earlier this year, the administration’s free trade agenda has strengthened the hand of foreign investors and contributed to land grabs.
Congress has largely been silent about global land grabs. Meanwhile, the rush for control of the world’s natural resources shows no signs of slowing down.
Posted April 16, 2013 by Dale Wiehoff
Efforts to solve the problem of hunger and poverty by turning to the same corporations that helped create the problem have gone viral. Michelle Obama and the President of Mexico have hit on the same scheme (and the same companies) for solutions to hunger and the growing crisis of diet-related illnesses. Both will likely make matters worse.
In a recent commentary, Stacy Mitchell of the Institute for Local Self Reliance asks the question, “Why is Michelle Obama’s food initiative promoting Wal-Mart?” Wal-Mart and other giant food retailers are part of Michelle Obama’s Partnership for a Healthier America, a national campaign that includes in its goals eliminating “food deserts,” economically depressed communities with limited access to food. Wal-Mart, a scandal-riven corporation, has wreaked havoc on regional and local food retailers with its profits-at-any-cost business strategy that leads to thoroughly uncompetitive business environments. Local grocery stores, both chains and Mom and Pop operations, have succumbed to the market dominance of Wal-Mart, leaving many communities without a place to buy food. The Partnership’s promotion of opening new Wal-Marts in poor neighborhoods is like inviting the fox to live in the chicken coop after he’s eaten all the little chickens.
Similarly, Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto has his own campaign called Crusade against Hunger to help the estimated 7.4 million Mexicans who are underfed. In addition to Wal-Mart, the Crusade includes Nestlé, the largest food company in the world, and PepsiCo, the second largest food and beverage company in the world. With combined annual net revenue of over $100 billion, these two food giants have played an important role in lowering the quality of the food—and the health of people—everywhere.
Nestlé’s project in the Mexican Crusade is called My Sweet Business, a training course for woman on making desserts. PepsiCo has volunteered to develop a product to improve the nutrition of children and pregnant and nursing woman, according to Baby Milk Action. Both attempts at alleviating hunger are barely disguised attempts to take control of a greater share of the food market of Mexico.
To help them along, the Mexican government is planning to assign the Mexican military, an institution with a record of human rights abuses and involvement with narco-gangs, to the Crusade. The nexus of global corporations, the Mexican military and the government of Enrique Peña Nieto does not bode well for the welfare of the millions of hungry people in Mexico. This story has a common link, going back to the neoliberal policies of Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, called NAFTA. This free trade agreement displaced millions of Mexican farmers and virtually destroyed Mexico’s’ ability to feed itself. In addition to turning over the country to global corporations, NAFTA and the maquiladora system of manufacturing played a significant role in building an economy based on illegal drug trafficking. Looking to Wal-Mart and Nestlé to help Mexico or the U.S. is a continuation of the failed policies of globalization that have undone the bonds of community and created a poorer and hungrier world.
Posted April 15, 2013 by Mark Muller
An overarching theme for the current fellowship class has been growing equity in the food system. The fellows have worked to address imbalances in wealth power—predominantly across racial lines—that contribute to discrepancies in health, food access, economic opportunity and overall quality of life. Such efforts often focus on the conduct of Corporate America and D.C. powerbrokers, as inequities can be exacerbated by their decisions. Yet we also recognize the need to look internally, within the food movement and within our own communities.
For example, many of the leading food justice organizations have struggled to diversify their leadership. There are plenty of reasonable excuses for not doing more to reach outside of the dominant culture, yet we know that diversifying leadership is key to expanding and equalizing our impacts. This digest taps into the wisdom of many fellows that have worked and studied these equity challenges.
It is also bittersweet to note that this is our final dgest, released in the last month of our last class’s tenure. With eight classes and 86 fellows since the program’s inception in 2001, it has been a remarkable run with an amazing group of people and an impressive record of accomplishment. Overall, the U.S. food system has enjoyed some tremendous positive changes over the past 13 years, and I would like to think that the fellowship program has played a small role.
Spring is a time of renewal and emergence. The good work will continue, in part with fellows continuing their good work in other forums, and in part with new food justice leaders emerging. The opportunities are there—let’s continue to embrace them.
Read the final IATP Food and Community Fellows Digest in its entirety, or see the individual pieces at the links below.
To Build Community Leadership, Redefine the Meaning of Leadership, by Brahm Ahmadi
Why the Food Movement Needs Paula Deen, by Jane Black
Let’s Talk About the Table, by Andrea King Collier
Race, Equity and Leadership: What's Land Got to Do With It?, by Cheryl Danley
Who’s Minding the Movement?, by Andy Fisher
Whither the Good Food Movement?, by Nina Kahori Fallenbaum
Building a Racially Just Food Movement, by Malik Yakini
Want a Better Food System? Help Young People Grow, by Rebecca Wiggins-Reinhard
Sharing Our Stories, Listening for Equity, by Valerie Segrest
More Guides, Fewer Bosses, by Raj Patel
Reinvent the Leadership "Table", by Jenga Mwendo
Invest in Leaders of Color, by Haile Johnston
Faces Like Mine: Developing Young African American Food Movement Leaders, by Kelvin Graddick
Funders, Kill the Project Model, by Kandace Vallejo
A Lack of Diversity in Breastfeeding Leadership Means Developing Our Own, by Kimberly Seals Allers
Posted April 12, 2013 by Kathleen Schuler, MPH
This week, Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families launched Mind the Store, a campaign that asks the nation's top 10 retailers to move away from the Hazardous 100+ toxic chemicals. The Hazardous 100+ is a list of chemicals that have been determined to be harmful to human health by several states, the U.S. EPA and the European Union and includes Minnesota’s nine priority chemicals in children’s products.
The Hazardous 100+ have been determined by authoritative bodies to be linked to cancer, developmental or reproductive problems, asthma, hormone disruption and other health problems. It includes chemicals like brominated flame retardants and PFOS that build up in the food chain and in our bodies.
These toxic chemicals don’t belong in our food, they don’t belong in our bodies and they don’t belong in our consumer products. Mind the Store is asking the top ten retailers—Walmart, Kroger, Target, Walgreens, Costco, Home Depot, CVS Caremark, Lowe’s, Best Buy and Safeway—to evaluate whether these chemicals are in any of products they sell and if so, to develop an action plan to phase out their use.
Some of these companies are already taking steps to reduce the use of toxic chemicals in their products. For example, Minnesota-based Target Corporation has an initiative to phase out the use of PVC in products and packaging. They also offer an array of cleaning and personal care products with safer ingredients. We’re asking Target and the other nine companies to take the next step and commit to phasing out other harmful chemicals in their products.
Sure, we need stronger regulation of toxic chemicals at both the state and federal levels, but we don’t need to wait for regulation to take action now. The top ten retailers have the power to move the marketplace toward the use of safer chemicals starting today. They can help create a world in which a mom doesn’t have to do a research project every time she goes shopping, a world where all the products on the shelves are safe to buy.
Let your local retailer know that you want them to phase out the Hazardous 100+ toxic chemicals in the products they sell, so you don’t have to worry about the products you buy. Send a letter to your favorite retailer today.