Posted November 4, 2013 by Dr. M. Jahi Chappell   

AgroecologyFood securityGenderSustainable Agriculture

Dr. M. Jahi Chappell speaks at the World Food Prize, October 18, 2013.

These are the remarks of M. Jahi Chappell, Ph.D., IATP's director of agroecology and agriculture policy to the World Food Prize on October 18, 2013. Videos of Dr. Chappell’s speech can be found at the IATP YouTube channel, in both English and Portuguese.

There has been, with this World Food Prize, a celebration of science. In the lead up to the Prize; in the ceremony last night; and more broadly within the career of the late Norman Borlaug, science is rightly praised as a powerful and important set of tools.

Unfortunately, the power of these tools has been blunted. It has been blunted because science—which at its most basic is the careful and systematic study of the world around us, and the consistent testing of our ideas against reality—this wonderful and powerful process has been narrowed too often in discussions of food to mean technology. Technology is but one way to use science; it is only the tip of one particular tool that can be found in the powerful toolbox that is science.

What do I mean? Well, the World Food Prize is well-named, as it is about food for the world, not just agriculture for the world. Scientifically, these are two different things. We know that what is produced is not the same as how much actually goes to become food for people[1], but too often we forget this. Luckily, this is a place where the toolbox of science can help us, but only if we open it wider to use all of the tools—including social sciences like sociology, anthropology, ecological economics and political ecology.[2]

So let’s do that. Let’s talk science.

We know that most countries produce more than enough food, even after waste, but many of them still have hungry people.

We know that in places where production is a challenge like sub-Saharan Africa, yields can be increased through innovation, agroecological technology, education, and support for women and small farmers. We also know that producing enough food does not eradicate hunger. India, which produces more than enough food for its citizens, has more hungry people than the whole continent of Africa[3]; it also has one of the highest infant malnutrition rates in the world and, parallel to Jomo’s comments[4], a malnutrition rate nearly twice its economic poverty rate[5].

And we know that in India, as in many other places, this is tied to the legacies of monoculture, cash crops, and a lack of support for smallholder farmers, household equality, especially gender equality, and agrobiodiversity.[6]

We know that smallholders produce a disproportionate amount of the world’s food, in some places as much as twice as much as the proportion of land they hold. We’ve consistently seen that smallholder farmers very often produce more per unit area than larger farmers. Indeed, the observation is so common that it has been formally named the Inverse Relationship between Farm Size and Productivity. I know many researchers, including perhaps, some here, are somewhat skeptical about the rigor or significance of these findings. But I think the same type of skepticism has quite often accompanied new innovations and new ideas. Skepticism, for example, about the usefulness of biotechnology, should not and has not stopped investigation of how it might be used.

We have to be brave enough to ask ourselves, especially about this Inverse Relationship and its implications, whether we may need to move away from large farms and invest more heavily in small farms.[7] We have to ask ourselves if our skepticism may reflect certain biases or a reluctance to engage against the current trends of agricultural consolidation—or whether it reflects the empirical reality, where this relationship is seen, again and again[8].

Additionally, we know that smallholder farmers tend to have a larger variety of diverse, healthy crops and cultivars, which can provide sufficient dietary variety and micronutrients. Too often, the diverse crops that smallholders rely on for stability, resilience, and nutritional diversity are defined as “women’s crops.” Traditional crops, and the fact that often they cannot easily be made into large-scale monocultures, can be both a strength and a weakness. The strength stems from the fact that diversity, field, plot, landscape and garden-scale variation is the very biological basis of that powerful process: evolution. Diversity allows adaptation and is the very stuff that evolution is made of. Diverse crops often correspondingly support diverse and resilient livelihoods, and—study after study has confirmed this—higher levels of ecosystem services.

They talk in economics—and in the previous panel—about “getting the prices right.”[9] That is, paying the true costs and for the true benefits of items in our society. Well, estimates put the value of unmarketed ecosystem services at three times the size of the nominal world economic size. We act as if being a small farmer is hard only because the work is hard. And of course it is. But it’s also hard because farmers are too often forced to be our world’s volunteers in keeping agrobiodiversity. The ecosystem services, and the cultural services, provided by small farmers are not socioeconomically valued, and so while they’re paid part of the price of making food, we’re making many of the world’s smallholder farmers work as our unpaid volunteers in maintaining, fighting for, and struggling to stay keepers of huge amounts of the world’s biodiversity.

And those farmers, especially larger-scale farmers, who make the rational decision to focus on producing only what they’re paid for—just making one crop, and a lot of it—are simply following a rational response in narrowing diversity, separating crops and livestock, and using energy-intensive and unsustainable levels of inputs. We should understand these kinds of decisions, but we must also understand that these decisions are in the face of a system that doesn’t include all the costs (like climate change) and doesn’t pay for all the services (like preservation of biodiversity and different cultural ways of being). We need to realize that proper pricing might lead to smaller farms and that decreasing the amount of large farms dramatically would be simply following the science towards appropriately sized farms. We need to keep realizing that science does not simply mean production, and that production does not at all mean food security.

And lastly, we need to remember that, scientifically, our biggest opportunity to fight hunger is pushing hard for equality, particularly equality for smallholder women. Over 50 percent of the decrease in hunger between 1970 and 1995 is likely to have come from increases in gender equality[10]. Yet we don’t see 50 percent of research effort going towards this. Estimates say that increasing women’s education and status to simple equity has 3 to 4 times the potential to reduce hunger than just producing more food alone—but I’m quite sure that this does not get 3 to 4 times the attention.

So if I am to conclude with one message, it is for us to remember that science is a powerful set of tools, but to use it we must learn about how to use all of its tools. Social, natural and technological—and we must expressly and purposefully use them to support small farmers, especially women farmers, and must never let “social” approaches be the second step in our conversations about feeding the world, but always—in line with the science—be at the forefront of our considerations.

Posted November 3, 2013 by Patrick Tsai   

Enbridge Oil is bringing a new pipeline from North Dakota to Minnesota posing a threat to farmers and land owners across the state.

On the morning of September 29, North Dakota farmer Steven Jensen discovered a gurgling pool of oil in his wheat field. From a quarter-inch hole in the pipeline, 865,000 gallons of crude oil from the Bakken oil field leaked into his fields. It was 11 days before there was any public notification of the spill. In the last two years, North Dakota has had over 300 pipeline oil spills that were never publicly reported.

As the oil polluted soil is being removed from Steven Jensen's wheat field, the Enbridge oil company is planning a new pipeline from North Dakota carrying crude oil across northern Minnesota. In Carlton county, local residents and farmers along the proposed pipeline route are concerned about the risks the new pipeline, called Sandpiper, poses to their lives, land and environment. Citizens in the region have come together under the name Carlton County Land Stewards. IATP met with some members to learn more about the pipeline plans. Like so many extreme energy development projects, the citizens most affected are often the last to know what is being planned. Fortunately, land owners and farmers in Carlton County are working together to protect their farms and community.

Enbridge’s PR has focused on the temporary jobs that will be created by the Sandpiper project. This generic rallying cry neglects to recognize the loss of land and livelihoods the pipeline will cause. The Sandpiper project’s preferred southern route runs directly through a number of farms in Carlton County. Carlton County has a burgeoning local foods movement with many new farmers continuing to increase production year after year, and some farmers looking to expand onto new land. The misguided pursuit of corporate profits over sustained local economic growth and stability at the expense of farmers' livelihoods will only be detrimental to the already established agricultural economy in Carlton County.

Steve Schulstrom and his family run Spectrum Farm, established 12 years ago. Spectrum Farm prides itself on being a model of sustainable living, serving customers maple syrup, milk and organic hay. The pipeline’s route is expected to run through a field where Schulstrom grazes his cows and a large area of forest. A large swath of trees would have to be cut down affecting Schulstrom’s maple syrup production.

The Sandpiper pipeline project would suppress the growth of Janaki Fisher-Merritt’s Food Farm, an organic farm serving over 180 CSA customers. 

Stay up to date with the Carlton County Land Stewards at their website and Facebook page.

Posted October 31, 2013 by Jim Kleinschmit   

FoodGMOSustainable Agriculture

Used under creative commons license from

As the anti-GMO movement grows, there are opportunities to take our food and farming system even further.

Next week the state of Washington will vote on mandatory labeling of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in food products. This is an important election and moment in the battle over GMOs, but in many critical ways, it is increasingly obvious to me that GMO opponents have already won. 

News story after news story makes it clear that, even in the U.S., where the introduction and acceptance of GMOs in the fields and grocery aisles has been most pronounced, the tide has shifted. While the “war” is by no means over in a country that has genetically modified crops growing on over 60% of its total crop acres, we need to celebrate this victory. But, as importantly, we need to take advantage of the market and policy openings it provides to go beyond opposing GMOs and achieve greater overall sustainability in our farming and food system.

The most apparent signs of the change in American public opinion on GMOs are the labeling campaigns rolling around the country. Connecticut and Maine have already successfully passed labeling laws, but require neighboring states to pass complementary labeling legislation before it goes into force. The California labeling initiative on the ballot in 2012 was defeated, due in large part to overwhelming spending by the food and biotech companies that opposed it. Similar tactics and heavy corporate spending is happening in the current Washington battle as well, with the outcome still too close to call.  

The labeling campaigns are the most public demonstration of this shift, but there are other, less recognized, yet very important signs of a change in public perception and the marketplace around GMOs: 

·         The commitment of Whole Foods, Chipotle and other large and public companies to require transparency on the GMO aspects of all food ingredients and items


·         Mexican Federal judge Jaime Verdugo’s ruling that immediately halted cultivation of GMOs throughout Mexico

·         The recent rejection of GMO salmon by several grocery chains

·         The vote by the Big Island of Hawaii County Council Committee to restrict cultivation of GMO crops on the Big Island of Hawaii.

·         The admission of complete defeat in Europe by Monsanto, with their decision to cease efforts to promote GMO crop production on the continent

·         Clear and growing interest from farmers and food industry players (including the biggest ones!) in understanding and building non-GMO supply chains 

Yet perhaps the most important, but least acknowledged indicator of change is the recent approval by USDA of the non-GMO verified label for meat and liquid eggs products. This USDA-approved label is a game-changer along the lines of the first voluntary labeling of Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormones (RBGH) in milk. Those “voluntary” labels quickly became de facto requirements, as consumers made clear that they were not interested in buying milk from cows injected with hormones. I believe the same will be true with the new non-GMO verified label—poll after poll indicate that, given the choice, consumers say they will choose not to eat GMO food. Now, with this label, we will finally get to see if their actual purchasing habits reflect this desire. 

We need to celebrate both this victory over GMOs and those who worked tirelessly on this often lonely issue (including, but not limited to our colleagues at the Center for Food Safety, the non-GMO Project, the Organic Consumers Association, Just Label It and all of the state campaigns). But as important as this victory over GMO technology is, we can’t let it stop at the seed. This market opening provides a rare and needed opportunity to advance broader sustainability in the fields and on our grocery shelves. Chemical use, greenhouse gas emissions, soil and water quality impacts and other environmental concerns associated with farming need to be brought into this discussion and market area as well—something that has to be done with, rather than to farmers.

The great news is that there is already growing interest among farmers in non-GMO, or “conventional” crop production. Whether a result of the increasing limits and problems (i.e., growing pest and weed resistance) associated with the use of GMOs and related herbicides, the falling commodity prices or the premiums linked to non-GMO markets, farmers across the country are beginning to look at non-GMO options. They can do more. With the appropriate market incentives, farmers are ready to not only stop using GMOs and eliminate the biodiversity and other sustainability concerns that come with these crops, but also reduce negative impacts on soil, water, pollinators, animal and human health, and the climate from their farming practices as a whole. 

We believe this because we have experienced it. For over 10 years, IATP has been working closely with farmers to implement just such a “non-GMO Plus” approach through our Working Landscapes Certificates (WLC) program. Created to support sustainability endeavors in the bioplastic sector, IATP’s WLC program provides farmers with a payment for following clear criteria around chemical selection, use and handling, nutrient management, biodiversity and habitat conservation, among other areas of concern associated with their farming practices. Tested through numerous and very different seasons, crop production under the WLC system has proven to neither significantly increase farmers’ costs or negatively impact yields, all while providing a host of environmental benefits and a premium market for the participating farmers.

The emerging market for non-GMO food and ingredients offers the chance to focus not only on the seed, but to also take a big step forward on some of these other major sustainability challenges associated with farming. These opportunities don’t come along very often, so it’s important we recognize and utilize this opening to support more sustainable farming approaches. Companies and advocates that have already been leading on the issue of non-GMOs will be key to this effort. But doing it right means this effort needs to be led not by them alone, but by the farmers, consumers and other stakeholders who have together managed to achieve such a real and crucial victory over GMOs in our food and farming system. 

Posted October 30, 2013 by Dr. Steve Suppan   


“Campos do trigo” (fields of wheat) represented by carbon nanotubes synthesized on a silicon layer.

In the hall at the University of São Paulo School of Mining, Materials Science and Engineering is an exhibit of electronic microscopy photographs of nanomaterials which have been engineered to between atomic and molecular size. One of the most beautiful photographs is titled “Campos do trigo”, that is, "fields of wheat," represented by carbon nanotubes synthesized on a silicon layer. These waves of grain measure about one hundred millionth of a meter. Nanotechnology requires visualization of materials at this scale to manipulate them for use in consumer and industrial products.

I was invited to give one presentation on agriculture and nanotechnology and another on the regulatory and trade policy outlook for nanotechnology at X Semisonoma, the 10th international seminar of Renanosoma, the Brazilian Network on Nanotechnology, Society and Environment. The former presentation was based in part on an IATP report on the effect of nanomaterials on soil health. The latter presentation reflected a small section in IATP’s just published report on agriculture and food under the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

The week-long seminar covered a broad array of issues affecting the use of Engineered Nanoscale Materials (ENMs) in consumer and industrial products. Among Renanosoma’s most powerful members is the Metal Workers’ Union, which is lobbying the Brazilian government to require companies to report to the unions which kind of ENMs are being used in union workplaces and pay for a hierarchy of occupational safety and health controls. The hierarchy spans from workplace design to safety procedures to protective clothing and masks. The carbon nanotubes in “Campos do trigo” are beautiful to look at, but cause cancerous lesions when put on the lungs of laboratory rats. 

In August, the Brazilian government committed 440 million reales (about $186 million USD) to support nanotechnology research and development in 2014—further solidifying its position as a global leader in nanotech development. However, as with the U.S. National Nanotechnology Initiative budget, there is almost no budget dedicated to research into the environmental, health and safety effects of ENMs manufacturing. One of the great challenges of such research is to develop nanotech specific toxicology metrics that would serve as a basis for the risk assessment of ENMs as they are used in the workplace, not just as they are evaluated in laboratories.

A presentation via Skype by Professor Pieter van Broekhuizen outlined how such metrics might be developed. Current toxicology metrics and regulation are mass-based. However, the minute mass itself of ENMs is irrelevant to the chemical reactivity that may be toxic. Rather, said van Broekhuizen, to measure ENM toxicity requires a metric that takes into account the density of nanoparticles in a three-dimensional surface area. Van Broekhuizen’s “Nano Reference Values” of toxicity are defined by the number of nanoparticles within a cubic centimeter over an eight hour Time Weighted Average (TWA), i.e., the length of a typical workday. For nanosilver, for example, 20,000 particles per square centimeter TWA suffices to trigger a precautionary approach to use of nanosilver in the workplace. Different classes of different nanomaterials have different particle counts for triggering precautionary controls in the workplace. Such nano-specific reference values are not unique within toxicology, but they are laboratory developed rather than workplace developed. Broekhuizen’s consultancy works with labor unions, government scientists and employer associations to develop Nano Reference Values that represent the metrics of toxicity to which workers are exposed in the workplace.

Van Broekhuizen’s research, in a U.S. context, is unusual in that it proposes a Precautionary Approach to use of ENMs in the workplace. These Nano Reference Values are not yet part of Dutch or European Union regulation of ENMs but their development with the cooperation of employers to protect workers is a considerable advance over the U.S. regulatory situation, in which the Precautionary Approach continues to be regarded as a disguised non-tariff barrier to trade.

The seminar featured ENM presentations by University of São Paulo graduate students and post-doctoral researchers on research and development phases of various ENM applications. Professor José María Monserrat’s presentation of his introduction to nano-toxicology long-distance learning course was not only impressive for its scientific content, but also for its pedagogy, and use of the internet. With a budget of just $300,000, Professor Monserrat was able to offer two free on-line courses, one of 20 hours and the other 120 hours, to introduce hundreds of students at dozens of Latin American universities to the basics of nanotechnology and nano-toxicology. I suggested that the dozen or so law school participants in the seminar should be signing up for the course to begin to acquire the scientific literacy that future Brazilian nanotech regulators would need.

In August, the Brazilian legislature rejected a bill that would have required the labeling of nano-cosmetics, including sunscreens. As with the rejection of earlier legislation to regulate ENMs and nanotechnologies, officials claimed that labeling would lead to consumer alarm about a technology in which the government was investing heavily. Luiz Carlos Olivera, an occupational health and safety expert for the Steel Workers Union of São Paulo, said that legislation had been rejected in 2010 to require employers to disclose to unions when ENMs were being used in their manufacturing and to design nano-specific worker safety controls.

Nevertheless, Brazilian labor unions continue to campaign for such legislation and are building a scientifically robust worker education program in ENMs and nanotechnology related worker safety. Three labor union comic books on nanotechnology were distributed as part of the seminar materials, along with the Portuguese language version of “Principles for the Oversight of Nanotechnologies and Nanomaterials”, to which IATP is a signatory. Because of the political power of Brazilian labor unions, relative to their U.S. counterparts, when nanotechnology regulation comes to Brazil, it will likely be as a result of the combined efforts of the labor unions, nano-toxicologists, such as Professor Monserrat and Dr. van Broekhuizen, and the public education activity of Renanosoma and its webcast program, “Nanotechnology Inside Out”.

I participated in the 232nd webcast of the program, hosted by Dr. Paulo Martins. That program was a round table dedicated to exploring how “Nanotechnology Inside Out” could improve. With the stated purpose of ensuring that the public who pays for nanotechnology research has a say in its future development and regulation, “Nanotechnology Inside Out” will surely be part of nanotechnology’s future in Brazil. 

Posted October 24, 2013 by Karen Hansen-Kuhn   

Local FoodFinanceTradeFood safetyFree trade agreementsToxics

Used under creative commons license from alicehenneman.

After being delayed by the U.S. government shutdown, talks for a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) are quietly gearing up again. Tariff barriers between the U.S. and EU are already low, so these negotiations are focused squarely on achieving “regulatory coherence.” In other words, industry lobby groups and their political allies on both sides of the Atlantic see the trade deal as an opportunity to get rid of rules and regulations that limit their ability to buy and sell goods and services. The outcome of TTIP has implications for the rest of the world. Leaders from both regions have made clear, the terms of this trade agreement will set the standard for future free trade agreements.

TTIP could affect a broad range of issues, from energy to the environment, and intellectual property rights to labor rights. It could also have a significant impact on the evolution of agricultural markets and food systems in the U.S. and EU, as well as solidify the ability of corporations and investors to challenge new regulations that could affect expected profits through international tribunals. Unfortunately, little concrete information is known about the content of the TTIP proposals, since the governments involved have refused to publish draft text.

In both the U.S. and EU, the time to influence the substance of the agreement is before it is completed. That’s a tricky task, since the negotiations are happening behind closed doors, but it means that civil society groups and legislators need to pay close attention to what is on the agenda, even without complete information.

In Promises and Perils of the TTIP: Negotiating a Transatlantic Agricultural Market, (which we are co-publishing with the Heinrich Boell Foundation) we outline some of the key differences between rules in the U.S. and EU that will likely be on the negotiating table during the trade talks:

  • Food safety:  Differing food safety standards, especially around GMOs and controversial growth hormones have been the subject of trade disputes between the U.S. and EU for years, at the WTO and in standards setting bodies. TTIP proposals seek to go beyond WTO commitments, and allow food safety standards to be challenged directly by corporations. There is also pressure to lower EU standards on meats and poultry, including controversial growth promotion hormones, such as ractopamine, and chlorinated rinses of poultry. The EU, for its part, is seeking to overturn limits on its exports of beef despite concerns over EU member state controls to prevent Mad Cow Disease. This deregulatory approach could carry over into emerging technologies, such as the use of nanotechnology in food and agriculture, even though there are no clear U.S. regulatory definitions of nanomaterials or risk assessment of their impacts on human health and the environment.
  • Chemical policy reforms: Rules on the use of potentially toxic chemicals would be negotiated in the Technical Barriers to Trade chapter of TTIP. These rules could affect the regulation chemicals like Bisphenol A (BPA)  used in food packaging that disrupt the delicate hormone balance in the human body. Rules to regulate those chemicals are advancing at the US state and EU member state level. The EU’s Regulation on Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) process is firmly grounded in the Precautionary Principle. In the U.S. to the contrary, the outdated Toxics Substance Control Act of 1976 (TSCA) puts pressure on the Environmental Protection Agency to prove that chemicals are unsafe, rather than on the industries producing the chemicals to prove that they are safe before they enter the market.
  • Procurement policies and local foods: As part of the global movement towards healthier foods, new governmental programs, such as U.S. Farm to School Programs and similar initiatives in Italy, Denmark and Austria, include bidding contract preferences for sustainable and locally grown foods in public procurement programs. Both the U.S. and EU have criticized “localization barriers to trade.” The EU, in particular, has been insistent on the inclusion of procurement commitments in TTIP at all levels of government, for all goods, and in all sectors—potentially including commitments on these public feeding programs, taking the preference away from locally grown.
  • Financial service reforms: The links between agriculture, food security, financial services and commodity market regulation are multifaceted. New rules being developed to implement Dodd-Frank in the U.S. and the EU’s revised Markets in Financial Instruments Directive (MiFID) process seek to increase the transparency and comprehensiveness of reporting to regulators by market participants and prevent market disruption by unregulated, dark market trading. Efforts at upward harmonization of financial and commodity market regulation could be derailed by proposals to include them in the TTIP financial services chapter and to make financial reforms subject to investor legal challenges.

Discussions on these rules on safer and more sustainable food systems need to happen under conditions of full transparency and should not be subsumed within a trade agreement.

If there is any hope that the focus on regulatory coherence does not simply mean shifting standards toward the lowest common denominator, then the U.S. and EU governments need to prioritize human and environmental well-being over market openings for multinational corporations. That seems entirely improbable given statements made by the governments up to this point. Improbable isn’t the same thing as impossible though. The current approach is a political choice; a different path is possible.

Read Promises and Perils of the TTIP: Negotiating a Transatlantic Agricultural Market for more.

Posted October 22, 2013 by IATP   

Food and HealthFood JusticeEnvironmentFarm BillFood safety

Used under creative commons license from Bread for the World.

The Farm Bill was designed to reign in price volatility, manage supply and protect nature while providing vital nutrition programs for the country’s poor. Instead, it’s been ravaged by constant corporate assault and a Congress too emboldened with industry money to stand up for our best interests.

The result? An agriculture system that is highly productive at the expense of health, the environment and rural communities.

It's time to move Beyond the Farm Bill and design the type of food and agriculture policy we need. One that provides: 

  Fair prices for farmers.

  Safe food for everyone.

  Access to healthy food.

  Fair pay and dignity for food workers.

  Local control and fair competition.

  A voice for all Americans in food policy.

  Protected natural resources.

The Farm Bill can no longer deliver. Now it’s up to us.

We can't do it alone. Join IATP’s Beyond the Farm Bill, sign up to stay engaged and contribute, and help IATP build a better future for our food and agriculture systems before it’s too late.

Posted October 10, 2013 by Andrew Ranallo   

AgricultureFoodFood security

Left to right: Pete Huff and Dr. M. Jahi Chappell

Pete Huff and Dr. M. Jahi Chappell have joined IATP’s staff this fall and together will be leading the organization’s efforts to further a sustainable, diversified and prosperous agriculture and food system.

Pete Huff, IATP’s new director of food systems, will be focusing on advancing healthy and fair food systems in the coming year, including our Beyond the Farm Bill initiative. His background spans the worlds of organic agriculture, market gardening, school food-waste reduction and urban agriculture policy in the nonprofit and local government sectors in both the U.S. and Australia. Learn more about Pete on his staff page.

Dr. M. Jahi Chappell is IATP’s new director of agriculture policy, working on farm policy that supports agroecology and more democratic systems. Most recently, Dr. Chappell served as an assistant professor in the Environmental Science and Justice program of Washington State University Vancouver’s School of the Environment. He is a leading scholar of the food security policies of the city of Belo Horizonte, Brazil, which served as a basis for Brazil’s acclaimed national Zero Hunger programs. He’ll be a featured speaker at the upcoming Borlaug Dialogue as part of the World Food Prize. Learn more about Jahi on his staff page.

Posted October 9, 2013 by     John Parker

Food JusticeAgribusinessFoodFree trade agreements

Used under creative commons license from Jason Hargrove.

This piece was produced by IATP intern John Parker for IATP's Beyond the Farm Bill.

When it comes to faith in our democracy, this year has raised some eyebrows. In the case of food and agriculture policy, a disturbing fact emerges: Our democracy is increasingly a façade.

Agribusinesses have been subverting the democratic process from Washington D.C. to state legislatures across the country to ensure that people know less and less about how their food is produced and distributed. Moreover, they have engaged in a determined effort to obstruct opportunities for citizens and legislators to engage in the democratic process. Consider the following to illustrate the point.

Having failed to pass a Farm Bill in June, House GOP leadership brought forward a new bill in July with a radical change that would repeal permanent agriculture laws form 1938 and 1949. The House Agriculture Committee never debated such a provision, not once in two years of hearings. GOP leadership placed the provision into the 600-page Farm Bill late on a Wednesday night; they did not allow for debate or amendments and forced the House to vote on it the next day. What happens if Congress replaces permanent law with the Farm Bill they pass this year? Instead of allowing for review and reform every five years, this current Farm Bill would be permanent and very difficult to change. Rep. Peterson’s (D-Minnesota) reaction sums it up, “I think that repealing permanent law all but ensures that we’ll never write a Farm Bill again. If you’re concerned about conservation, fruits and vegetables, research, these other areas, there’s never going to be [another] Farm Bill if we [pass] this.”

Speaking of sneaking provisions into legislation, Monsanto scored a similar victory earlier this year. After the House Appropriations Committee defeated a provision on genetically modified foods, Monsanto asked for help from Senator Blunt (R-Missouri) who, in March, quietly attached Monsanto’s policy onto a budget bill written to avert a government shutdown. Most members of Congress were unaware it was even there. There was no debate. The policy, by the way, prevents federal courts from halting the planting or sale of GMOs due to health issues or pending litigation.

Almost entirely in secret, the U.S. is currently negotiating trade agreements with Europe and countries included in the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Leaked details of the negotiations reveal that lowering standards affecting health, the environment and consumer labeling are on the negotiating table. This could affect things like chemical safety, the use of technologies such as genetic engineering and nanotechnology in food production as well as the use of antibiotics in animal production. If approved, these trade deals will make it more difficult for individual countries to reform standards in the future.

Interestingly, the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) has allowed certain corporations into the talks, but so far, members of Congress and the public are in the dark. What we do know is the USTR wants to eliminate all “local barriers to trade” which could potentially include farm-to-school programs.

On the state and local levels, agribusiness and lawmakers are colluding to silence those reporting on these issues, while at the same time limiting the ability of communities to create policy.

This summer, Kansas authorities arrested famed National Geographic photographer George Steinmetz for taking aerial photos of an animal feedlot. On assignment for National Geographic, Steinmetz and his assistant ran afoul of an “Ag-Gag” law when they were paragliding across Kansas taking photos. The law prohibits individuals from photographing animal facilities and feedlots. These so called “Ag-Gag” laws are designed to keep secret the practices and treatment of animals housed in concentrated animal feeding operations. Eleven states introduced similar legislation this year. Utah authorities arrested and filed charges against a woman in April under similar legislation only to drop the charges due to massive public backlash.

This past spring, Mississippi passed a law preventing cities, counties, towns and villages within the state from regulating or restricting the sale of food based on nutritional information. A month later, Kansas and Missouri introduced legislation to ban the “use of public funds to promote or implement sustainable development.” Alabama passed similar legislation last year. The effort is in reaction to a non-binding United Nations sustainability plan.

Thankfully, there are many exceptions to the trend. Notably, 193 food councils across the U.S. are reinvigorating local democratic decision-making. When it comes to policies affecting the food system as a whole, however, we appear to be a democracy in name only. What does it mean for a state like Vermont to require GMO labeling, if agribusinesses can secretly influence trade agreements that strip away the right of states to enact such legislation? What does it mean for a food council to create a farm-to-school program if agribusinesses buy legislation to eliminate such programs as “barriers to trade”?

U.S. food and agriculture policy seems to be built on secret provisions snuck into bills at the 11th hour with little opportunity for debate, or trade negotiations taking place behind closed doors. The result is government rigged against farmers and workers who want to have a say in policies affecting their livelihoods, against communities who want to protect their natural resources and against parents who want to know what is in the food they feed to their children.

Democracy means rule of the people, not rule of the corporations. We need to move beyond this flawed mess, redefine what democratic participation means and act on it. It is no longer enough to call your Senator or write a letter to your local newspaper. We need to begin the work of reclaiming authentic participation in democratic decision-making. Otherwise, we will continue to watch agribusiness steal the game and tell us all to shut up.

Posted October 3, 2013 by Harriet Barlow   

Dear Friends,

As you may have heard, Jim Harkness intends to step down as president of IATP at the end of this year, to work fulltime on China. I am writing to ask your help in finding IATP’s next leader.

But first, I want to say something about Jim.

Jim came to IATP in 2006, taking the reins from founding director Mark Ritchie. There is always a danger when a founding director leaves that an organization will stumble; instead, Jim has led us through the past seven years with intelligence, grace and courage, and IATP is the stronger for it. Under his leadership, we have deepened our commitment to our core values of justice, internationalism, and sustainable, decentralized food, farm and energy systems. Under his leadership, IATP brought rural communities and agriculture to the table, whether the discussion was climate, finance, trade agreements, food policy, public health or GMOs. Under his leadership, IATP’s board shifted to bring on seven new members while keeping three of the founding members and myself. In short, Jim leaves IATP a strong, vibrant organization and we are truly grateful for that.

We are also eager to find the next president of IATP, and here I need your help. I am heading the board-staff search team that is looking for a collaborative, values-driven, visionary leader who is internationalist in perspective, passionate about agriculture and food systems, and skilled at managing a complex, dynamic organization. Applicants should have stature in a relevant field, experience with other cultures, excellent communication skills and demonstrated leadership ability. The position is based in Minneapolis. You can read the full job announcement here.

I would ask you to share it widely. I am confident that together we can find an extraordinary leader for IATP as it approaches its fourth decade.   

 Harriet Barlow, Chair

 on behalf of the IATP Board of Directors

Dr. Arie van den Brand, President, Groupe de Bruges, The Netherlands

Becky Glass, Deputy Director, Labor Network for Sustainability, U.S.A.

Dr. Sivan Kartha, Senior Scientist, Stockholm Environment Institute (U.S. Office), Tufts University, U.S.A.

Jane Kretzmann, Senior Fellow, University of Minnesota, U.S.A.

Hannes Lorenzen, Senior Adviser, Comm. on Agriculture and Rural Development, EU Parliament, Belgium

Firoze Manji, Director, Documentation and Research Centre, CODESRIA, Senegal

Estrella Penunia, Secretary General, Asian Farmers Association, Philippines

Pam Saunders, Quality and Industry Relations Manager, Organic Prairie, U.S.A.

Steven Shrybman, Law Partner, Sack Goldblatt Mitchell, Canada

Dr. Daniel De La Torre Ugarte, Associate Dir., Agricultural Policy Analysis Center, Univ. of Tennessee, U.S.A.

Posted October 2, 2013 by Andrew Ranallo   

Local FoodNatural resourcesFood

IATP's new Director of Agriculture Policy, Dr. M. Jahi Chappell, has published a review of The Localization Reader, an overview and primer on "the coming downshift," the need and potential for local food systems in the October 2013 edition of Landscape Ecology. Raymond De Young and Thomas Princen, both professors of natural resources at the University of Michigan, compiled The Localization Reader's 26 pieces--a mix of old and new writings, including an introduction and concluding chapter by De Young and Prince themselves.

According to Dr. Chappell's review, "Landscape ecologists looking for inspiration, philosophical rumination on the local, or a glimpse of the historical evolution of its underlying ideas will find much to enjoy."

You can read the review on Jahi’s personal webpage.

       Sign up for our free newsletter!