Posted March 31, 2015 by Ben Lilliston
Since the Supreme Court’s Citizen United ruling five years ago, we’ve seen a flood of so-called Dark Money spent on political campaigns. While secret Dark Money helps agribusiness and food corporations advance their agenda in Washington, we get stuck with the tab for dysfunctional policies that don’t effectively serve the interests of farmers, consumers or the environment.
The good news is that shining a light on Dark Money is simple – but it will take some political courage. In the 2014 elections, more than $170 million in Dark Money was spent in elections through political organizations that don’t have to disclose their donors, according to Open Secrets. Since Citizens United, no new rules have been put into place to better inform shareholders about corporate political spending. Now, over one million people, and a growing coalition of investors and reform groups like IATP, are calling on the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) to require public corporations to disclose their political spending to shareholders.
A new ad campaign is challenging SEC Chairwoman Mary Jo White to respond to this growing chorus pushing for full political spending disclosure. The ad campaign, “Where is Mary Jo White?” asks the SEC chairwoman to be a superhero and stand up for shareholders.
The growing pressure on the SEC to act on political disclosure is but one of several fronts citizens and shareholders are moving to shine a light on Dark Money. Investors have filed more than 110 shareholder proposals this year to increase disclosure on political spending. On April 2, more than 55 events in 28 states will call for President Obama to issue an executive order requiring that government contractors disclose their political contributions. Over 500,000 people around the country have joined the call for President Obama to act. Earlier this year, we documented how food and agriculture companies benefit from government contracts, yet are able to hide much of their political spending.
Full disclosure is but a first step in reforming our political system. But it’s a critical one. Dark money is one of the many tools agribusiness and food companies use to rig our democracy to their benefit, while blocking reform efforts. The 2016 election will likely be the costliest campaign season in our nation’s history. The President and SEC Chairwoman White need act on corporate political spending disclosure – our democracy can’t afford to wait.
Posted March 25, 2015 by Friends of the Earth Europe
The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP, is a massive trade deal currently being negotiated between the EU and US, and could have major implications for our food standards if completed.
Laws that check our foods are safe or minimise the risk to people or the planet could be compromised if TTIP goes ahead. Europe's food production and many of our laws are often stricter than in the USA. Yet big business wants food products currently banned in the EU, but on sale in America, to automatically be allowed in Europe through TTIP.
Here are some of the foods produced in worrying ways we could see served up on European plates if TTIP is agreed.
Disinfectant meat washes
Chicken, turkey, pork and other meats are regularly washed or sprayed with disinfectants in the USA. These so-called 'pathogen reduction treatments', such as hyper chlorinated water and acid washes, are supposed to reduce harmful bacteria. But this could allow poor hygiene standards along the food chain to be hidden, with meat being disinfected only at the end before going on sale.
The EU has banned most of these practices since 1997 (only water rinsing is allowed). The EU prefers a preventative approach by ensuring high levels of hygiene at all stages of food production 'from farm to fork'.
The EU says it will not bow to US pressure in the trade talks to change its food safety standards on disinfectant rinses. But the European Commission has pushed for the authorisation of disinfectant rinses several times (only to be over-ruled by national governments), and it's advancing on approving Europe's first disinfectant wash for chicken, peroxyacetic acid.
'Pathogen reduction treatments' are bad for people. Instead of relying on disinfectants at the end of the production chain, good on-farm hygiene practices are a more effective way of protecting the public and farm workers from food bugs such as salmonella or campylobacter.
Beef cows in the US are regularly given hormone drug implants to promote faster growth prior to slaughter. Use of hormones – including oestrogen, progesterone, testosterone and their synthetic versions – has been allowed in the US since the 1950s. The EU has banned the sale of hormone-treated beef in Europe since 1981, reaffirming this in 2003, due to public health concerns.
The EU recognises that "the use of hormones as growth promoters in cattle poses a health risk to consumers", after EU scientists found eating beef treated with hormones poses cancer risks, as well as endocrine, developmental, immunological, neurobiological effects, especially for children.
It is clear that hormone treated beef is being discussed in the TTIP negotiations. The US government, with the backing of big food businesses, launched an international trade dispute in 1996 to challenge the EU ban. The influential lobby group American Farm Bureau Federation, has said "continuing barriers to the export of U.S. beef... are major areas of interest" in the TTIP negotiations; while US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack states "we are still going to have to have some conversation about the beef question."
Moreover, the EU is proposing to weaken inspection on imports of meats and foods, as well as to work towards accepting international standards which are often less stringent. Hormone beef and dairy products could therefore in the future start landing on our plates. Future bans on factory farm practices that could harm our health will be more difficult if TTIP is agreed.
Growth promotion drugs
Ractopamine is a drug given to pigs, cattle and turkeys as a growth promoter to build muscle. It's fed to 80% of pigs in the USA. But the EU banned its use in 1996, because its use "may be dangerous to consumers". The European Food Safety Authority has concluded that risks to human health cannot be ruled out: a classic example of putting public safety before the profits of agri-business, the so called precautionary principle.
Ractopamine is banned in over 160 countries worldwide, also because it can cruelly impact animals – causing stress, hyperactivity, trembling, broken limbs and sometimes death.
US agribusinesses say they "will continue to push negotiators to have the EU ban on ractopamine fed pork lifted under TTIP". Meanwhile, the United States government has targeted this ban as a barrier to trade that "appear[s] to lack scientific justification [and] pose[s] a major impediment to U.S. pork exports to the EU." As a result the US government has vowed to push the EU to implement weaker international standards that would allow certain levels of ractopamine-laced meat. In its TTIP position, the EU also supports moving towards adopting these weaker standards.
Genetically modified organisms
Where they are grown, genetically modified (GM) crops are linked to massive increases in herbicide use, the extension of mono-cultural farming practices, and increased costs all along the food production chain. The resulting social, environmental and economic impacts are severe.
European citizens – who have repeatedly voiced their objections to GM food – are currently protected, especially from imported foods or farmers' seeds that may be contaminated from GM crops that have not been approved for use in the EU. This is called the EU's 'zero tolerance' law. But in the US, genetically modified maize, soy and rapeseed are widely grown.
US negotiators and industry lobbyists have been pushing for weaker rules on GM imports in the US-EU trade talks, arguing that the 'zero tolerance' rule is a barrier to trade, and damages business for US exporters.
As a result, TTIP could, as with a similar new trade deal with Canada, allow low levels of GM foods and seeds to be imported into Europe that have not been authorised for sale in Europe or tested for their safety for humans and the environment. This would mean farmers and citizens would not know if the food or seeds they were buying contained GM ingredients – and Europeans could be eating unauthorised GM ingredients which have not been through any form of safety check.
More generally, the US and their big agribusinesses want to weaken all our laws on GM foods, including labelling. The American Soybean Association lobby group says: "TTIP must address the key EU biotech policies that are discriminating against US exports... First and foremost, the EU's mandatory traceability and labelling policies for products containing biotech ingredients must be replaced." The US government wants the EU to accept a faster authorisation process for GM crops and the removal of various 'trade barriers' which limit imports of GM crops to the EU.
It is clear, despite many reassurances from politicians, that TTIP is trading away our safeguards, the protection of our nature and local sustainable food and farming. The use of genetically modified crops and the growing production of factory farmed animals is not sustainable, raising big concerns about how TTIP might affect farm workers, our health and environment.
Friends of the Earth Europe, together with countless other organisations, is working towards a better food system that is kinder to the environment, puts people before profits, and ensures equitable access to safe and fairly produced food for all. We will not let TTIP open the doors to more factory farms and GM crops.
Posted March 23, 2015 by Mallory Morken - @MalloryMorken
We may not see it in the mainstream news, but we surely see the costs to our communities—corporate spending in food and farm politics has detrimental effects on our health, environment, our farmers and local economies. We know that many of the efforts in the food and farm justice movement run head on into barriers in a political system that has been bought out by big agribusiness and food companies for their own benefit. This brings us to a hard truth - we won’t change the food and farm system until we change our political system.
The good news is that a growing number of different movements are joining together to demand change. More than 120 groups have agreed that pushing for reform policies reflected in a set of Unity Principles will make our democracy (and, as a result, all the organizations’ work) more effective. The priorities outlined in the Principles are seeing some success in practice. And since polls show that a striking majority of Americans think there is too much corporate money and influence in politics, these reform strategies are making headway.
Here are some of the efforts to reform our political system that fair and sustainable food and farm advocates should get behind:
Overturning Citizens United
The 2010 Supreme Court decision Citizens United opened the floodgates for corporate spending in elections. To challenge Citizens United:
Greater Disclosure of Political Spending
Since Citizens United, we have also seen an explosion of outside spending through Super PACs and “dark money” organizations that are not required to disclose their donors.
Some activists are bypassing the legislative process and targeting companies directly to demand spending disclosure.
Requiring Shareholder Approval
Some states are even working proactively to the step prior to disclosure: permission.
Public Financing and Fair Elections
In addition to damage control in keeping corporate spending in check, we also need strategies that simultaneously empower everyday voters to re-engage in the political process.
The Government by the People Act has been reintroduced in 2015 in the House and currently boasts 144 cosponsors. This bill would invite a more diverse pool of candidates to run for office by reducing the barrier of the “money primary,” give more residents the opportunity to support their candidate of choice by offering a refundable tax credit, and also encourage candidates to re-engage with small donors and forgo Big Money fundraising by offering a public match on small donations.
Voter turnout for the 2014 elections was the lowest since 1942, likely due to a combination of disillusionment with our corrupt system and a renewed wave of attacks on voting rights since 2010. However:
It’s making a difference
Change is happening! Yes, we are up against some heavy hitters. But we’ve got the vast majority of Americans on our side as well as a growing trail of data that demonstrates that these democratic reform strategies are working. In his February keynote introducing a new paper on corruption and democratic reform, U.S. Representative John Sarbanes shared his experience winning his seat through Maryland’s Fair Elections program. He urged us all to keep advocating for these reforms and to push through our apathy, declaring: “I don’t believe the Koch Brothers are more powerful than 300 million people fighting to get their government back.” The movement for food and farm justice can’t be separated from the growing wave of efforts to restore our democracy. Any strides we make in the movement are vulnerable until we successfully wrangle our government from the hands of Big Money and reinstate it back into the hands of the people.
Posted March 20, 2015 by Shiney Varghese
Twenty three years ago, in 1993, the first annual World Water Day was an occasion to draw attention to water related challenges around the globe. It will be observed again tomorrow, with a focus on sustainable water governance. We join with others to celebrate the many successes in the intervening two decades.
The number of people with access to drinking water and sanitation has increased manifold. In many communities people have met their water needs through successful watershed development and rainwater harvesting efforts. At the same time, around the world communities are asserting that water is a fundamental human right. They are pushing back attempts to privatize their water supply and sanitation services.
In countries such as France, where privatization has been the norm in the past, and elsewhere around the world, we see an increasing trend towards the re-municipalization of water supply and sanitation services. At times change has come through directly engaging in a participatory democracy, including taking to the street and to the ballot, as we have seen both in New Delhi and in Greece. The newly elected government in the state of New Delhi had free water as part of their campaign platform. In Greece, likely in response to the promise of social policies that Syriza has made to people, the public water company Thessaloniki has introduced social tariffs that allow poor people to receive about 12.5 cubic meter of free water per month.
We have also had some institutional initiatives that address unsustainable water consumption patterns. San Francisco recently passed an ordinance to go bottle-water free. The recently proposed dietary guidelines (USDA/ USDHHS), which suggest substantial reduction in the consumption of red meat, is a less obvious example: according to water footprint studies, red meat has the highest water foot print per calorie, close to ten times as pulses, the primary source for vegetable based protein. (However this assertion needs unpacking: meat sourced from Integrated agro-pastoral systems are very different from that sourced from concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), that create substantial demand for animal feed production, the component of the livestock cycle that constitutes the bulk of the water footprint.)
In fact, the local and healthy food movement has achieved much over the last decade to protect water resources. Whether deliberately or inadvertently, the move towards earth friendly farming practices (agroecological, natural or organic) and healthy food habits have reduced the water pollution that arises from agrochemical use, and have promoted water-conserving agricultural practices.
But many opportunities remain. Consider the proposed new diet guidelines from the U.S. government. As the New York Times notes, the government’s “new focus on the environment would mean asking people to choose more fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains and other plant-based foods — possibly at the expense of meat.” If adopted, these guidelines can help nudge America not only towards a healthier diet, but also help conserve our water and other resources, especially relevant at a time of increasingly frequent seasonal water shortages and or even droughts, as New York times noted in another article earlier this month.
Currently, the vertically integrated meat industry sits close to the epicenter of water crisis, food insecurity and climate change in the U.S. If appropriate changes are introduced to the sector, they have the potential to have the single most important impact on food and nutrition security and water quality especially in the U.S. and even globally. Yet, as we have pointed out, a powerful lobby is planning an all-out offensive in Congress to prevent USDA and HHS from adopting these recommendations as the national guidelines.
A similarly powerful lobby also resists, often in the name of farmers, an important effort to minimize water pollution from agricultural runoff (from the use of agrochemicals in our food system even when they are harmful for farm workers and also pollute our waters).
These challenges become especially relevant given that one important thematic area for the UN World Water Day in 2015 is how to integrate water and agriculture into a post 2015 sustainable development agenda. We already know many of the appropriate solutions. Whether we take the right path depends on our political will, and on our ability to make tough choices as a society. Thus, as we celebrate this World Water Day in the United States, we stand with our fellow citizens, asking our elected representatives to do the right thing. We ask President Obama to not to give in to the pressures of the meat industry, nor to that of the Farm Bureau!
Globally, we stand in solidarity with a broad coalition of environmental, campesino/a, religious and labor organizations in El Salvador that have joined together to promote a Constitutional Amendment (Article 69) that that would define both water and food as human rights to be protected in El Salvador.
We also stand in solidarity with Europeans as they gather in Brussels this Monday the 23rd March, 2015 to call on the European Commission to implement the human right to water into EU law, to increase EC efforts to achieve universal access to water, to keep water out of all trade agreements and to remind the European Commission that they should work for their citizens, not for corporations. The European Citizens’ Initiative, which gathered close to 2 million signatures to move a right to water agenda in the European commission, remains an inspiration. In the United States progressive movements should consider a similar citizens initiative that demands that elected representatives be accountable to and work for people, and not for the corporations.
Posted March 18, 2015 by Shefali Sharma
Americans are much more vocal today than we have ever been about the kind of food we eat, where it comes from and what it does to our bodies and our planet. And though powerful agriculture and food corporations are able to stifle laws and regulations that hold them accountable to our interests, these changing American attitudes are forcing a shift in the way Big Food Retail operates. McDonald’s recent announcement to stop using antibiotics used to treat humans is one clear example.
Now, we are set to have a big fight with the powerful meat industry on our diets. National Dietary Guidelines not only inform food choices in government funded schemes such as the $16 billion school lunch program for a five year period, but also inform national policy on nutrition. Earlier this year, for the first time, a government scientific advisory panel on the National Dietary Guidelines recommended that environmental impacts of our food choices should also be considered in our diets in order to sustain future food security and nutrition—hence the idea of sustainability along with nutrition. Tell the Obama Administration that the Guidelines must take into account our health and the health of our environment. This is particularly important now because profit-driven corporate interests such as Tyson Foods and Cargill are spending enormous political and economic clout to stop the adoption of the recent scientific recommendations that include sustainability in our dietary guidelines. The meat industry is unsurprisingly alarmed about this because animal factory farms, in addition to mistreating animals, are one of the largest sources of planet-warming nitrous oxides, air and water pollution and soil contamination. In contrast, pasture-raised, organic and other agroecological methods of farming are not only humane, but also benefit our health and the environment. Let Secretary Tom Vilsack (U.S. Department of Agriculture) and Secretary Silvia Burwell (Department of Health and Human Services) know that you feel strongly about eating healthy and want to ensure that our soils and water are healthy for feeding future generations. Sign this petition today and ask your friends and family to do it too.
The powerful meat industry has already succeeded in getting the government to extend the comment period for the guidelines to May 8th. They will use this time to try to discredit the Scientific Advisory Panel’s recommendations. But the extension is also an opportunity for our voices to be heard. Let’s take back the power to choose how our tax dollars are used and let our government know that we care about our food and how it is grown!
Sign the Petition to Support Sustainability in our Dietary Guidelines here.
Posted March 12, 2015 by Dr. Steve Suppan
The addition of nanomaterials in food, food packaging and other food contact surfaces, is moving so quickly that regulators and even businesses cannot keep up. That’s why today, IATP and partners have released a fact sheet and policy statement for businesses on how they should deal with food nanotechnology products, whether they are in the research and development phase or are in the marketplace.
According to a Center for Food Safety internet based survey, atomic to molecular size nano-silver particles have been incorporated into more than 100 food and food-related products on the market without government regulation or pre-market safety testing.
IATP has been a co-plaintiff in lawsuits litigated by the International Center for Technology Assessment (ICTA) to compel the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency (in December 2014) to regulate and to pre-market safety testing of nanomaterials and nanotechnologies in products under their authority. Thus far, the legal actions have failed to achieve their objectives. What else can be done to protect public and environmental health?
As You Sow, which focuses on shareholder activism, coordinated the efforts of the Center for Food Safety, Center for International Environmental Law, Environmental Working Group, Food and Water Watch, Friends of the Earth, ICTA, International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations (IUF) and IATP to produce a press release, policy statement and fact sheet. The policy statement and fact sheet will be used to prepare meetings with company officials about food-related products known to contain nanomaterials.
According to As You Sow, in 2014 a record 433 resolutions were tabled at corporate shareholder meetings to change a broad array of corporate policies and practices. On March 5, As You Sow announced that it would withdraw a Dunkin’ Donuts shareholder resolution after company executives committed to stop using nano-titanium dioxide to whiten Dunkin’ Donuts pastries and retard their spoilage.
The policy statement makes four recommendations to companies that have commercialized or are developing food and food-related products with nanomaterials. First, companies should put on their website a policy statement “clearly explaining the Company’s practices regarding use of nanomaterials in its food and beverage products and packaging, whether those use are in the research and development phase or in a commercialized product.” Second, if the company does not prohibit use of nanomaterials in its policy statement, it must require each of its suppliers to adopt and publicize the company’s policy on use of nanomaterials and nanotechnologies.
Third, any company that uses nanomaterials in its products must state which nanomaterials are used in the product on a clear and prominently placed label, e.g. near the nutrition label. That company should have on its website, scientific studies that demonstrate the safety of the nanomaterials in the food and food-related products “in the particle size used.” And fourth, the company is to adopt and publish its industrial hygiene practices to protect workers from inhaling nanomaterials or having nanomaterials penetrate their skin.
The policy statement could serve as a basis for discussions with companies prior to filing shareholder resolutions. The IUF plans to use these statements to help its members negotiate agreements with. The IUF plans to use these statements to help its members negotiate agreements with corporations to protect food processing and farm workers from nanomaterial hazards and to purchase the necessary equipment to realize those protections. Other civil society organizations will use the policy statement as basis for advocacy on regulatory requirements. Or, if governments that have invested heavily in nanotechnology believe that authorizing regulation is too difficult politically, as well as technically, particularly in the ideologically anti-regulatory majority in the U.S. Congress, the policy statement may be a basis for developing public, environmental and worker health protections, even in the absence of regulation.
Detection of nanomaterials in complex inorganic materials is becoming easier and cheaper technically, according to a recent article in Nanowerk. Hopefully, nanomaterial detection in food soon will likewise become easier and cheaper. If so, even if governments continue to resist regulating nanotechnology, it may be possible to achieve a modest degree of consumer and worker protection even in the absence of regulation. As detection becomes cheaper and more widespread, knowledge about which foods contain nanomaterials will allow consumers to opt not to buy them, and even to boycott companies that do not make public which of their foods include nanomaterials.
Andrew Maynard, has argued in the March issue of Nature Nanotechnology (subscription required) that industry self-regulation, such as the Nanotechnology Industry Association’s “The Responsible Nano-Code,” will incentivize entrepreneurs to build public health, environmental and worker safety protections upstream in their innovation process: “by embedding responsibility and social responsiveness into the process of innovation from the get-go, the odds can be stacked against entrepreneurs starting along paths that end in failure due to regulatory barriers, unexpected health and environmental impacts, and eroded confidence among key constituencies.” Let’s hope he’s right.
Industry self-regulation, though better than nothing, cannot resolve the conflict of interest between the regulator and the regulated, as pressures to commercialize products lead to the present state of unregulated commercialization. But the lack of studies on the gastro-intestinal consequences of ingesting nanomaterials in our food points to the urgent need for the FDA to take at least four steps.
First, the agency must develop the scientific capacity to detect and characterize nanomaterials in food quickly and cheaply, in order to test foods and food contact surfaces whose manufacturers claim to incorporate nanomaterials. Second, it must halt further commercialization of such foods, until such time as it has finalized rules governing food substances and food contact surfaces that incorporate nanomaterials. Third, the FDA must require the withdrawal from the market of foods and food packaging with nanomaterials. Fourth, the agency must work with the Occupational Health and Safety Administration to develop policies, practices and equipment to protect workers who use nanomaterials in a food processing and/or packaging environment. Campaigns organized around such policy tools as the As You Sow coordinated statement likely will need to grow in size and number to build a critical mass towards regulation.
Posted March 9, 2015 by Ben Lilliston
Whether we like it or not, our taxpayer dollars go to many of the big corporations that dominate U.S. food and farming through government contracts. These same corporations use their considerable financial resources to support political candidates in a variety of ways, often without full disclosure. Is this a system of covert corruption? We need to find out. Last week, over 50 groups called on President Obama to require that any corporation receiving a government contract disclose their political spending.
Giant food and agribusiness companies rake in big money from government contracts. For example, since 2010, Tyson Foods has been paid $2.3 billion from federal contracts; Kraft $1.2 billion; Nestle $700 million; Cargill nearly $700 million; and Pepsi $600 million. These same companies are players in both electoral campaigns as well as Beltway lobbying powerhouses (see chart for some of the top food and agribusiness recipients).
But this is only part of the story. Not all political spending is required to be reported. One of the most damaging developments after the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision is that hundreds of millions of dollars are being spent to influence elections by donors that remain anonymous—leaving voters in the dark about who candidates have to thank for their electoral victory. In 2014, more than $170 million of “dark money” was spent in the elections, according to Open Secrets. This flood of money, from a small class of wealthy donors, is now regularly overwhelming the voices of everyday people.
In the letter, the groups call on President Obama to issue an executive order requiring full disclosure of political spending by business entities receiving federal government contracts, as well as that of senior management and affiliated political action committees. Barely one-fourth of the biggest government contractors disclose their contributions to outside political groups, according to Public Citizen.
“As the dominance of Big Money continues to corrupt our democracy, the incentives are too great for federal contractors to spend money on elections in exchange for favors with contracts, service deals, leases and more,” the groups write. “An executive order shining a light on political spending by contractors would attack the perception and the reality of such ‘pay-to-play’ arrangements.
President Obama and a growing number of politicians, including an increasing number of Republicans, are bemoaning the explosion of big money in our political system since the Citizens United decision.
We all can’t afford a pay-to-play government, particularly when it appears to deeply favor big food corporations at the expense of smaller businesses. Help support the campaign to shine a light on these corporations’ political spending. Eaters and voters should know who these corporations are supporting. With a stroke of the pen, President Obama can take one step toward greater transparency—for both our food and political systems.
Posted March 5, 2015 by Dr. Steve Suppan
On February 25, the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee (HSGAC) held another hearing that attacked federal regulations and regulators as an unnecessary burden on corporations, employment creation and economic growth. Among the antidotes that the HSGAC majority will propose is a revised version of the Regulatory Accountability Act (RAA) (S. 1029 in the previous session of Congress). The RAA advocates and the industry lobbyists for “regulatory cooperation” in free trade agreements are largely the same. There is no such consistency from the White House, which opposes the RAA, but supports industry’s anti-regulatory agenda when it is cloaked in the trade policy euphemisms of “regulatory cooperation.”
The White House has already rejected the 2015 House of Representatives version of the RAA, stating it “would impose unprecedented and unnecessary procedural requirements on agencies that would prevent them from efficiently performing their statutory responsibilities. It would also create needless regulatory and legal uncertainty and further impede the implementation [of] protections for the American public. This bill would make the regulatory process more expensive, less flexible, and more burdensome.” The statement concludes, “If the President were presented with the Regulatory Accountability Act, his senior advisors would recommend that he veto the bill.”
However, the Obama administration’s laudable antipathy to the RAA and other proposed anti-regulatory legislation has not translated into its trade agenda, in particular the “regulatory cooperation” chapters the U.S. Trade Representative has negotiated in the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) agreements. The deceptively characterized “cooperation” would be effectively enforced by the Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanism of binding arbitration, which grants foreign investors far more flexible grounds for redress of alleged violations of trade agreements with far fewer elements of due process than are featured in U.S. public law. ISDS lawsuits against “regulatory actions,” of federal and sub-federal governmental agencies, including the entire rulemaking process and substance, implementation and enforcement measures, could produce the very “needless regulatory and legal uncertainty” that the Obama administration would prevent by vetoing the RAA and its ilk.
The RAA and other anti-regulatory bills are the brainchild, in part, of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber has a large international program, including the Business Coalition for Transatlantic Trade (BCTT). Among the objectives of the BCTT is to “develop new regulatory coherence and cooperation obligations.” These obligations would cover all economic sectors, including food and agriculture. And, according to “Principles and Objectives for the TTIP ” in food safety and agriculture “Obligations that go beyond the WTO [World Trade Organization] must also be subject to TTIP enforcement provisions,” i.e. be subject to the ISDS.
Regulatory coherence would, among many demands, end the EU’s use of the precautionary principle in food safety management decisions. For example, a January 16 U.S. government submission to the European Commission negotiators, based on a pesticide industry letter to the U.S. Trade Representative, demanded an end to the EU’s hazard-based assessment of pesticides and other chemicals (“U.S. Warns EU Pesticide Proposal May Thwart Regulatory Cooperation,” Inside U.S. Trade, February 27, 2015, subscription required) and adoption of the U.S. risk-based approach.
The EU’s chemicals and pesticide laws allow for a de facto precautionary ban on pesticides that are so hazardous, such as those that disrupt the hormonal development of children, as to preclude setting a safe exposure level or “tolerance.” The U.S. January 16 submission argued that TTIP regulatory cooperation will not occur unless the EU adopts the U.S. risk-based system, which requires exposure assessment and almost never bans chemicals, no matter how hazardous. According to a Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) study, TTIP “harmonization” of EU and U.S. pesticide and chemical laws and regulation would require the EU to approve the use of 82 U.S. pesticide products, currently evaluated by the EU as too hazardous for use on food and agricultural products. A CIEL and Client Earth evaluation of a 2014 EC proposal for regulatory cooperation found that the EU negotiators, while promising to not repeal the precautionary principle as a matter of law, would trade it away in regulatory practice by acceding to USTR and pesticide industry demands. It almost goes without saying that once the EU adopts the U.S. risk-based pesticide and chemical evaluation system, there will be few, if any, pesticides and chemicals banned from commercial use.
The widespread European opposition to the ISDS and to TTIP, even among EU member governments, is due in large part to fears that U.S. companies would use ISDS lawsuits to overturn health and safety protections over alleged “impairment” of anticipated benefits under TTIP. However, U.S. federal and sub-federal governments would likewise be vulnerable to ISDS lawsuits. Public Citizen has estimated that about 24,000 U.S. subsidiaries of EU parent corporations could help their headquarters attack U.S. laws, “regulatory actions” and judicial rulings through the ISDS.
Thus far, foreign investors have cost taxpayers around the world nearly $3 billion in legal expenses and judgments arising from these lawsuits, but this figure could skyrocket with the huge increase in the number and size of foreign investors who would become eligible to sue under TTIP and the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement. All “regulatory actions” in the TTIP regulatory cooperation chapter would have to demonstrate they were “least trade restrictive” and have undergone trade impact assessments. Even if they go through that tortuous process, they could still face the possibility of ISDS litigation. Given the government austerity budgets for regulatory agencies, most recently documented in a Food and Water Watch study of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s declining number of meat and poultry inspectors, there will be fewer regulatory resources to defend U.S. regulatory actions.
Regulatory cooperation among regulators can have many benefits for public, environmental and labor health, but not if it means that every regulatory action must first pass the “least trade restrictive” litmus test. EU member states, unfortunately, are learning the wrong lesson from the TTIP subordination of public and environmental health regulations to the pursuit of the always-potential increases in trade flows. For example, the Parliament of the United Kingdom is debating a Deregulation Bill that would require all regulators to promote economic growth, regardless of the consequences for their other statutory duties, such as promoting public health and the economic gains that come with universal access to public health programs.
The desire of the European Commission to promote economic growth is understandable, after the Great Recession triggered by the deregulation of the European financial services industry. Why they believe that a strongly deregulatory TTIP will produce sufficient economic growth to counter the costs of TTIP-framed deregulatory failures and the failure of the austerity budgets to promote growth is a mystery. The mystery only grows when one understands that U.S. anti-regulatory bills introduced by House and Senate Republicans, with their dozens of procedural hurdles and required pre-implementation cost to industry analyses, have been rejected by the White House. And yet the White House promotes “least trade restrictive” hurdles to regulation when packaged in the euphemisms of “regulatory cooperation.” As Senator Elizabeth Warren contended in a Washington Post opinion piece, the enforcement of regulatory cooperation by ISDS panels of trade lawyers gives transnational corporations and banks veto power over public regulation and U.S. jurisprudence. That’s not cooperation – it's coercion.
Coercion works best when it is done behind the closed doors of negotiations whose draft texts not even members of Congress can read without an armed guard outside the reading room. IATP strongly opposes the Fast Track Trade Promotion Authority that keeps Congress and public in the dark about the all-important details of what the Obama administration and its corporate advisors are negotiating in TTIP and the TPP. See IATP’s “Trade Secrets” series for more about what you can do to democratize trade policy and trade negotiations.
Posted March 3, 2015 by Shiney Varghese
Last week, a landmark event took place in Mali. International movements of small‐scale food producers and consumers, including peasants, indigenous peoples and communities (together with hunter and gatherers), family farmers, rural workers, herders and pastoralists, fisherfolk and urban people from around the world gathered at the Nyéléni Center in Sélingué, Mali from February 24 to 27, to reach a common understanding of agroecology as a key element of Food Sovereignty. The participants developed joint strategies to promote agroecology and to defend it from co‐optation.
Together, these diverse constituencies produce some 70% of the food consumed by humanity. They are the primary global investors – in terms of labor, time, and their knowledge of the food system practices – in agriculture, as well as the primary providers of jobs and livelihoods in the world. In 2002, at the Forum for Food Sovereignty in Nyéléni, these movements came together to strengthen their alliances and to expand and deepen their understanding of Food Sovereignty. Since then, the Food Sovereignty movement has come a long way, as a banner of joint struggle for justice, and as the larger framework for Agroecology. (See IATP paper on Scaling Up Agroecology)
The gathering identified the industrial food system as a key driver of the multiple crises of climate, food systems, environmental, public health and others (see former IATP President Jim Harkness speaking on this ). Seeing agroecology as a key form of resistance to an economic system that puts profit before life, the gathering identified agroecology as an answer to transforming and repairing our food systems and rural worlds that have been devastated by industrial food production and its so‐called Green and Blue Revolutions.
The gathering also recognized that agroecology is at a crossroads: Under pressure from movements and their allies, multilateral institutions, funders and research institutions are beginning to recognize it. However, there are attempts to redefine it as a narrow set of technologies, to offer some tools that appear to ease the sustainability crisis of industrial food production, while the existing structures of power remain unchallenged. The gathering rejected this attempt to co‐opt agroecology to help fine‐tune the industrial food system, while paying lip service to the environmental discourse, through initiatives with names, such as “climate smart agriculture”, “sustainable‐” or “ecological‐ intensification”, industrial monoculture production of “organic” food, etc. (see IATP blogs and commentaries: climate smart agriculture isnt agroecology; Defining our terms: Agroecology and sustainable agriculture)
Reiterating that the real solutions to the crises of the climate, malnutrition, and others will not come from conforming to the industrial model, the gathering recognized agroecology as the essential alternative to the model, and as the means of transforming how we produce and consume food into something better for humanity and our Mother Earth. The Forum developed common pillars and principles of Agroecology, strategies for moving forward. Here is a link to the Nyéléni Declaration on Agroecology, (See common pillars and Principles identified at the forum, pasted below)
Agroecology is now gaining legitimacy within international institutions, thanks to the power of these movements. For, example, late last year, FAO held a conference on Agroecology, and the final report provides guidelines and examples for food system change and improvement (Final Report of the FAO International Symposium on Agroecology for Food Security and Nutrition). As they plan future symposiums later this year – and should use this declaration, particularly its emphasis on movements as leaders, as a basis for organizing those symposiums. The Declaration warns that policy makers cannot move forward on agroecology without the legitimate leaders, the practitioners of agroecology, and insisted that policy makers must respect and support agroecological processes on the ground rather than continuing to support the forces that destroy people and planet.
COMMON PILLARS AND PRINCIPLES OF AGROECOLOGY
Agroecology is a way of life and the language of Nature that we learn as her children. It is not a mere set of technologies or production practices. It cannot be implemented the same way in all territories. Rather it is based on principles that, while they may be similar across the diversity of our territories, can and are practiced in many different ways, with each sector contributing their own colors of their local reality and culture, while always respecting Mother Earth and our common, shared values.
The production practices of agroecology (such as intercropping, traditional fishing and mobile pastoralism, integrating crops, trees, livestock and fish, manuring, compost, local seeds and animal breeds, etc.) are based on ecological principles like building life in the soil, recycling nutrients, the dynamic management of biodiversity and energy conservation at all scales. Agroecology drastically reduces our use of externally‐purchased inputs that must be bought from industry. There is no use of agrotoxics, artificial hormones, GMOs or other dangerous new technologies in agroecology.
Territories are a fundamental pillar of agroecology. Peoples and communities have the right to maintain their own spiritual and material relationships to their lands. They are entitled to secure, develop, control, and reconstruct their customary social structures and to administer their lands and territories, including fishing grounds, both politically and socially. This implies the full recognition of their laws, traditions, customs, tenure systems, and institutions, and constitutes the recognition of the self‐determination and autonomy of peoples.
Collective rights and access to the commons are fundamental pillar of agroecology. We share access to territories that are the home to many different peer groups, and we have sophisticated customary systems for regulating access and avoiding conflicts that we want to preserve and to strengthen.
The diverse knowledges and ways of knowing of our peoples are fundamental to agroecology. We develop our ways of knowing through dialogue among them (diálogo de saberes). Our learning processes are horizontal and peer‐to‐peer, based on popular education. They take place in our own training centers and territories (farmers teach farmers, fishers teach fishers, etc.), and are also intergenerational, with exchange of knowledge between youth and elders. Agroecology is developed through our own innovation, research, and crop and livestock selection and breeding.
The core of our cosmovisions is the necessary equilibrium between nature, the cosmos and human beings. We recognize that as humans we are but a part of nature and the cosmos. We share a spiritual connection with our lands and with the web of life. We love our lands and our peoples, and without that, we cannot defend our agroecology, fight for our rights, or feed the world. We reject the commodification of all forms of life.
Families, communities, collectives, organizations and movements are the fertile soil in which agroecology flourishes. Collective self‐organization and action are what make it possible to scale‐up agroecology, build local food systems, and challenge corporate control of our food system. Solidarity between peoples, between rural and urban populations, is a critical ingredient.
The autonomy of agroecology displaces the control of global markets and generates self ‐ governance by communities. It means we minimize the use of purchased inputs that come from outside. It requires the reshaping of markets so that they are based on the principles of solidarity economy and the ethics of responsible production and consumption. It promotes direct and fair short distribution chains. It implies a transparent relationship between producers and consumers, and is based on the solidarity of shared risks and benefits.
Agroecology is political; it requires us to challenge and transform structures of power in society. We need to put the control of seeds, biodiversity, land and territories, waters, knowledge, culture and the commons in the hands of the peoples who feed the world.
Women and their knowledge, values, vision and leadership are critical for moving forward. Migration and globalization mean that women’s work is increasing, yet women have far less access to resources than men. All too often, their work is neither recognized nor valued. For agroecology to achieve its full potential, there must be equal distribution of power, tasks, decision‐making and remuneration.
Youth, together with women, provide one of the two principle social bases for the evolution of agroecology. Agroecology can provide a radical space for young people to contribute to the social and ecological transformation that is underway in many of our societies. Youth bear the responsibility to carry forward the collective knowledge learned from their parents, elders and ancestors into the future. They are the stewards of agroecology for future generations. Agroecology must create a territorial and social dynamic that creates opportunities for rural youth and values women’s leadership
Read the preamble, common pillars & principles as well as strategies for moving forward here: DECLARATION OF THE INTERNATIONAL FORUM FOR AGROECOLOGY
Posted February 25, 2015 by Ben Lilliston
President Obama, like the Bushes and Clinton before him, is all in on expanding the type of free trade multinational corporations love. Unfortunately, these trade agreements fuel an extractive form of globalization that has negatively impacted jobs and inequality, and have also been devastating for the climate. This week 40 groups—many of them focusing on rural and community-based responses to climate change—wrote Congress calling for the rejection of Fast Track trade authority, which would speed through two mega trade deals without fully assessing their impacts on the climate.
The letter is timely. In the next few weeks, Congress will consider whether to surrender their role under the Constitution to influence trade agreements before they are completed and grant the President Fast Track authority. Fast Track limits Congress’ role on trade agreements to an up or down vote, no amendments and limited debate. President Obama wants Fast Track to pass two massive trade deals—the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) with a dozen Pacific Rim countries, and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with Europe. Both TPP and TTIP have been negotiated in secret, with only restricted access to the text for Members of Congress (but much greater access for corporate trade advisors).
“There is little question that the economic globalization largely driven by trade deals over the last several decades has contributed to the expansion of fossil fuel and other dirty energy production that cause climate change, expanded deforestation and other methods of natural resource extraction, while undermining local and community-level responses to climate change,” the groups wrote. “We are concerned that Fast Track authority would expedite the quick passage of trade agreements without a full debate or assessment of climate and other potential negative impacts, and threatens to undermine efforts to address climate change at the local and community level.”
The letter outlines how trade rules established in NAFTA and at the World Trade Organization (WTO) have contributed to: the expansion of the tar sands in Canada; the undermining of green job creation linked to locally-sourced energy; establishing the right of multinational corporations to legally challenge the ability of countries to set their own energy policy; and the weakening of the rights of local communities to prohibit fracking.
Specific climate concerns about TPP and TTIP include a potential requirement to automatically approve all exports of natural gas to countries included in the agreements. This would greatly expand fracking in rural communities around the country. Both TTIP and TPP grant multinational corporations additional legal rights to challenge local rules and regulations.
The letter cited the challenges facing many rural communities trying to respond to climate change, emphasizing that “communities must retain control over their local natural resources.” Many rural communities are facing climate-related challenges such as: mounting energy costs, rising variability in farm production, transportation infrastructure damage, insurance rate increases and less stable water availability. At the same time, community-level responses to climate change are taking hold.
“Climate impacts at the community level have not been fully or adequately considered prior to passing past trade deals,” the groups wrote. “This has been a crucial mistake that continues to drive global increases in greenhouse gas emissions and hinders our ability to build bottom-up solutions to climate change.”
President Obama is certainly not alone in ignoring the enormous role trade rules have on responses to climate change. The UN global climate talks virtually ignore the role trade agreements played in incentivizing polluters to offshore their emissions to countries with weaker environmental protections, while simultaneously granting greater legal rights for investors in dirty energy production or activities that drive deforestation. If we hope to effectively respond to climate change, we’re going to have to reform our trade rules, starting with rejecting Fast Track—the sooner the better.