Posted April 2, 2015 by Dr. Steve Suppan
We finally know what the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will and will not do about regulating the use of nanomaterials in pesticides. It has taken seven years and a lawsuit to force the EPA to act. And unfortunately, its action leaves much to be desired: there are still no requirements to protect nano-pesticide manufacturer workers, farmer workers and those living downwind from nano-pesticide drift. (A 2014 General Accountability Office report stated that the EPA’s oversight of pesticide residue testing laboratories was inadequate. Nano-pesticide residue testing standards have yet to be developed.)
Atomic to molecular sized particles of silver (nano-silver) are a biocide, which is incorporated into pesticide products to increase toxicity while reducing the volume of pesticide applied. The exponentially greater surface to mass ratio of nano-silver (and nanomaterials in general) enables the toxins to attack more effectively the nanoscale pores of plant pests. The EPA relies on the toxicity and biosafety data supplied by the commercialization applicant in deciding whether to approve a pesticide for commercial use.
A little history: in May 2008, IATP joined a petition filed by the International Center for Technology Assessment (ICTA) to demand that the EPA regulate nano-silver under the law governing pesticide products. According to the Administrative Procedures Act, U.S. federal agencies have a maximum of 180 days to respond to such petitions, following a comment period. The EPA received more than 1500 comments in response to the petition by March 2009. In December 2014, IATP joined an ICTA et al lawsuit to force the EPA to respond to the petition. On March 19, the EPA finally responded to the petition.
EPA agreed with petitioners that it has the authority to regulate nano-silver under the Federal Fungicide, Insecticides and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) and the Federal Food Drug and Cosmetics Act (FFDCA). They disagreed with our request to declare all uses of nano-silver under FIFRA and FFDCA to be pesticidal. Granting that request would have required EPA to set a Maximum Residue Level (MRL) or tolerance for nano-silver, and forced the withdrawal from commerce of any and all products found to have MRLs above the established limit. Instead, EPA said it would apply its authority on a case by case basis to each application for “registration,” the regulatory term that is equivalent to commercialization approval.
EPA also denied the petitioners’ request to have the EPA compel publication of data and information, currently classified as Confidential Business Information, about all nano-silver used in products under EPA authority. Without such information, it is very difficult to do independent pre-market safety studies and post-market studies of these products.
In a Center for Food Safety press release on March 24 commenting on the EPA’s decision, I stated, “It is unfortunate that the EPA has chosen not to exercise its enforcement authority categorically by requiring withdrawal from the market of pesticide products incorporating nano-silver whose developers have chosen not to submit data and other information required for an EPA risk assessment. By deciding to use its enforcement authority only on a case by case basis, the EPA risks possible failure to execute its statutory obligations due to inadequate resources to pursue a case by case enforcement strategy. In this event, a prudent ‘no data, no market’ regulatory approach would be undermined by the EPA’s de facto allowance of commercialization for a product whose developers had failed to submit nano-specific data to the agency.”
Prior to the lawsuit, the EPA had released a draft decision in September 2013 to approve the commercialization of the nano-pesticide, NanoSilva. The EPA’s proposed approval would be “conditional,” meaning that the approval would be for a limited time, and would be only for a specific purpose, in this case for application as a textile preservative. EPA approved its first conditional registration of a nano-silver product in December 2013.
EPA has blocked the sale of products with nano-silver that have not applied to EPA for registration to enter into commerce. (Robert Iafolla, “EPA ‘Open for Business on Nanosilver, Administrative, Enforcement Actions Indicate,” Bloomberg BNA, September 2, 2014. Subscription required.) For example, on March 30, EPA announced that it was taking two nano-silver based products off the market, due to the manufacturer’s unsubstantiated claims about the products’ efficacy in protecting hospitals and athletic facilities from harmful bacteria and viruses. George Kimbrell, the lead attorney in the aforementioned lawsuit, welcomed EPA’s announcement and described it as a consequence of the lawsuit.
According to a Center for Food Safety inventory, there are more than 400 products whose manufacturers claim to contain nano-silver. Since manufacturers are not required to label their products as containing nano-silver—in a broad array of personal care products, cleaning products, clothing, cosmetics, blankets, paints, dietary supplements, beverages, air purifiers, food storage containers etc.— it is likely that the number of nano-silver infused or coated products is far higher than 400. The widespread and largely unregulated use of nano-silver is such that there is concern that anti-microbial resistance could develop to continuous exposure to the biocide. A few, but not most of these products do fall under EPA’s authority.
In response to a 2006 ICTA et al petition to the Food and Drug Administration, which IATP joined, to regulate nanomaterials in products under FDA authority, the FDA released in 2014 four voluntary guidance to industry documents (drafts, about which IATP commented, were released in 2012), including one concerning “food substances” and food packaging materials, and another on nanomaterials in animal feed. Guidance to industry documents are better than nothing, but like the March 19 EPA response to the ICTA et al petition to regulate nano-silver, guidance documents are a long way from developing mandatory regulations for the use of nanotechnology and nanomaterials in commercial products and industrial inputs.
Posted April 2, 2015 by Shefali Sharma
A massive global increase in factory-farmed meat production by 2030 will increase antibiotic use by 67 percent, posing a “public health threat,” predicts a newly released study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Scientists (PNAS). Rampant antibiotic use in factory farms, required by global meat corporations, is already resulting in an antibiotic-resistance crisis in the U.S. (over two million illnesses and 23,000 deaths a year due to resistant bacteria) and in the European Union (25,000 deaths annually). For the first time, scientists have mapped out the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria due to global antibiotic use in the feed of animals packed tightly in confined conditions.
Antibiotic use is projected to double in Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS countries) given their shift towards “vertically integrated intensive livestock production systems” to meet rising demand for animal protein. Two-thirds of the global increase in antibiotics is predicted to come from a net increase in the number of animals used in factory farms and the remaining third will come from a shift in agricultural practices leading to new factory farms.
According to the study, 46 percent of Asia’s shift will come from switching traditional animal agricultural practices to factory farming. By 2030, antibiotic use in Asia will be close to 52,000 tons, roughly representing 82 percent of the total global use of antibiotics in meat production in 2010. China, US, Brazil, Germany and India ranked as the top five users of antibiotics in 2010.
IATP’s research on industrial livestock production in China found that:
In 2008, China already produced 210 million kg of antibiotics, nearly half of which was put to use in the livestock sector. In contrast, in the U.S., the amount of antibiotics used for livestock was more than 29 million pounds (13.2 million kgs), which is 80 percent of total antibiotics sold in the country.1
According to the PNAS study, in 2030, China, U.S. and Brazil will remain the top three users of antibiotics in livestock while India will replace Germany for the fourth spot. Mexico is projected to become the fifth largest user, as shown in Figure 1. The largest increase in antibiotic use will take place in China followed by Brazil, India, U.S. and Indonesia from 2010-2030. However, several low-income countries will have the largest relative increase (relative to the much smaller quantity they use today): Myanmar (205 percent), Indonesia (202 percent), Nigeria (163 percent), Peru (160 percent) and Vietnam (157 percent).
The researchers point out that while global mapping has been conducted for other major public health issues such as malaria or tuberculosis, this is the first study to undertake a baseline study for global antibiotic use linked to livestock production. In the U.S., close to 80 percent of the antibiotics sold are used for industrial livestock production, with no binding regulations on the drugs’ use.
The study cautions that antibiotic-resistant bacteria (ARB) is already a serious problem in China and in India, one of the highest bacterial-disease burdens in the world where overuse of antibiotics in human medicine is also rampant. For instance, close to 95 percent of Indian adults carry at least one strain of ARBs. As India rapidly converts its livestock rearing into industrial production, this problem is expected to become “a formidable challenge for Indian public health authorities."2 This is particularly so if India continues to lack any regulations on antibiotic use in the livestock sector. In fact, the lack of antibiotic-use regulation is prevalent in all developing countries where growth in factory farms is expected.
Even in the United States where the crisis has been evident for decades, the powerful meat industry has successfully influenced Congress to block the passage of the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA) several times. Last year, after years of public health advocacy, the best the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) achieved was a set of voluntary guidelines for the industry to not use antibiotics as growth promoters. This is seen as inadequate by many policymakers and experts.
The researchers of the PNAS study were forced to make conservative estimates on global antibiotic use based on projected global meat demand, livestock densities and antibiotic use in high-income countries because:
Data on antimicrobial use in livestock are scarce, stemming from both the lack of publicly funded surveillance systems and the reluctance of food animal producers, animal feed producers, and veterinary pharmaceutical companies to provide comprehensive reports of antimicrobial consumption or sales.3
Antibiotic use monitoring and regulation in industrialized countries has been difficult because the meat industry is enormously powerful and able to successfully thwart attempts to collect data let alone create effective regulation. In fact, in the U.S., the industry has been able to expand in spite of considerable opposition from rural constituencies.
The PNAS study demonstrates that the costs of inaction are high and that with timely regulation now, this epidemic can be averted. It is an important step in quantifying the global ARB epidemic linked to industrial meat production and provides strong rationale for a global approach to regulating the industry in the short term while empowering farmers and ranchers to transition away from this model of livestock production.
(1) Sharma et al. 2014, pg. 23. China’s Dairy Dilemma: The Evolution and Future Trends of China’s Dairy Industry. Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.
(2) Van Boeckel et al. 2015, pg 4. Global Trends in Antimicrobial Use in Food Animals. PNAS early edition
(3) Ibid, pg. 3.
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.