Action Alert

Fair trade or free trade? Let your voice be heard on Minnesota’s future!

The Obama Administration is negotiating two new mega trade deals (one with Pacific Rim countries, another with Europe) entirely in secret, with the goal of further expanding the NAFTA-model of free trade. These trade agreements could have major impacts on Minnesota's farmers, workers, small business owners and rural communities. They could limit Minnesota’s ability to support local food and energy systems and grow local businesses. In order to stay up to speed, Minnesota has set up a new Trade Policy Advisory Council (TPAC) to advise the state legislature and Governor.

TPAC wants to hear from Minnesotans: What concerns do you have about free trade? What role could TPAC play in the future? Now is your opportunity to have a say in our future trade policy. Complete the survey and let them know future trade negotiations should be public, not secret. Help ensure the voices of all Minnesotans are heard in the development of trade agreements and that they protect local control and our quality of life. The free trade model has failed for Minnesota and we need a new approach to trade. Help ensure the voices of all Minnesotans are heard before trade agreements are completed, and that they protect local control, our natural resources and our quality of life.

Please take five minutes and complete the survey. To find out more about these trade agreements, go to

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.

Posted October 1, 2013 by Ben Lilliston   

Food and HealthFood safetyHealthToxics

Industrial chicken operations like this use arsenic-containing feed to promote growth and improve meat color. Photo CC Socially Responsible Agricultural Project on Flickr.

In a major win for public health, the FDA reported yesterday that it would withdraw approval of three of the four arsenicals in animal feed for poultry and hog production. The effective result is that of the 101 drug approvals for arsenic-based animal drugs, 98 will be withdrawn.

This action is the result of a more than seven-year effort by IATP and partners to force the FDA to remove this known carcinogen from animal feed, including a petition filed by IATP and the Center for Food Safety (CFS) in 2009, and the filing of a lawsuit earlier this year by CFS on behalf of IATP and eight other NGOs to force the agency to act on the petition. Better late than never.

In 2006, IATP published a report by David Wallinga, M.D. examining the use of arsenic in animal feed and how that arsenic ends up in chicken meat that consumers eat. Pharmaceutical companies add arsenic to animal feed in order to speed growth and improve pigmentation. The 2006 report estimated that more than 70 percent of all U.S. chickens raised for meat were fed arsenic and found detectable arsenic in much of the products we tested from supermarkets and fast food restaurants. We also found that many companies were not using arsenic in their animal feed, confirming our main point that the use of arsenic by these pharmaceutical companies was entirely unnecessary.

New research published earlier this year placed further pressure on the FDA to act. Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Center for Livable Future and Bloomberg School of Public Health confirmed those findings and went a step further, concluding that chickens likely raised with arsenic-based drugs result in chicken meat that has higher levels of inorganic arsenic, a known carcinogen.

Behind the scenes, the industry was already acting. In 2011, Pfizer announced that it has voluntarily agreed to stop selling 3-Nitro, an arsenical known as roxarsone. Last month, after receiving letters from the FDA requesting additional information about the presence of arsenic in animal tissue, two other major feed manufacturers announced they would withdraw their arsenical products from the market. Zoetis requested that the FDA withdraw approval of roxarsone and carbarsone on September 19, and Fleming Laboratories, Inc. requested that FDA withdrawal approval of arsanilic acid on September 26.

The FDA has been slow to act on arsenic and a number of other practices by the pharmaceutical and animal feed industry. including the overuse of antibiotics in animal production, which is contributing to the rising risk to humans of antibiotic resistant bacteria. Let’s hope yesterday’s action on arsenic is a first step toward further action to address public health risks associated with animal feed. 

Read the press release.

Posted September 30, 2013 by Dr. M. Jahi Chappell   

Food securityGenderGMO

Used under creative commons license from MikeBlyth.

Researchers found that land redistribution and education (for rural women in particular) had the biggest impact on rural poverty reduction and inequality.

I’m sorry, but saying that the Green Revolution saved millions of lives is unscientific.

Ambassador Kenneth Quinn, the president of the World Food Prize Foundation, recently made this widely repeated, but unscientific, claim in responding to columnist Rekha Basu. Basu recently criticized the foundation for awarding this year’s World Food Prize to three scientists who helped invent crop genetic modification. (Two of who are current or former vice presidents at Monsanto and Syngenta.) Quinn notes that the founder of the World Food Prize, famed Green Revolution researcher Norman Borlaug, specifically encouraged the foundation to consider these three scientists before his death. In his piece, Quinn admonishes Basu that “Dr. Borlaug would tell us it is our responsibility to use the power of science” to help solve widespread malnutrition. He does this shortly after lauding Borlaug as “the man who saved millions from famine and death in India and Pakistan.”


The reality is more complicated. And using careful social science and an examination of the history around the Green Revolution (AKA evidence), it is clear that Quinn’s statement is at best controversial and incomplete; at worst, it has been (at least in the case of India) disproven. The problems with his statements are related to at least two broad oversights, and these two things are crucially important if we want a future with a sustainable food system that is fair to farmers and healthy for eaters.

1.) People Power

Humans have very strong tendencies for certain kinds of cooperation. Economists Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis have called these “strong reciprocity and basic needs generosity”—in other words, a tendency to trust, share and cooperate with those who share and cooperate with us, alongside a willingness to personally pay to punish those who violate this trust; and “a virtually unconditional willingness to share with others to assure them of some minimal standard” of living, especially through the provision of essential goods. (For those of you skeptical about these claims, Bowles and Gintis have literally written the book on human cooperation; their combination of history, psychology, economics, political science, evolutionary biology and mathematical modeling is hard to argue with, in my opinion.)

What does this have to do with anything? Well, in the long and short I’d argue many of the improvements in well-being (access to food, health, equity) are the result of peoples’ struggles based on these deeply human drives for (certain kinds of) justice. The many social movements and revolutions in human history, and the expanding understanding that all of our fellow human beings are in fact our fellow human beings, and not innately inferior or less deserving of rights, is at least as important as “science and technology” in improving the lots of many (though not all!) humans over the past centuries.

As important as science and technology are to human well-being, the list of important changes that are not solely or mostly due to technological change is notable: the end of outright empire and colonialism, the end to slavery and the slave trade, the end to the U.S.’s de jure system of repression under Jim Crow, ending the South African Apartheid; the improved socioeconomic status (and therefore health and well-being) of many former immigrant populations (e.g., Jews, Italians, and the Irish in the U.S.); increased suffrage for women and minorities around the world—science and technology played roles, good and bad, in all of these cases, and sometimes they represented one of the forces brought to bear in equality, but in ALL cases, the striving of oppressed groups and their allies for social and economic justice was pivotal.

figure 1 Figure 1
Figure 2

What does this have to do with food? In short: the most powerful remedies to malnutrition and hidden hunger are and have been food sovereignty, and political sovereignty and equality more broadly. They are essential to get and to protect the right to a fair share of the food available in any society. In recent (and less recent) history, they are the most important element because in the majority of cases, enough food has indeed been available. Nobel Laureate economist Amartya Sen has been at the forefront of pointing this out—that (a lack of) sociopolitical rights predict hunger far more than presence or absence of enough food. Nowhere is this perhaps more visible than Smith and Haddad’s landmark study, “Explaining Child Malnutrition in Developing Countries: A cross-country analysis,” which found that over half—54 percent—of the decrease in infant malnutrition in developing countries between 1970 and 1995 was due to improvements in women’s status and women’s education (see figure 1). They also found that, at educational parity, women’s education could reduce infant malnutrition by three times as much as raising agricultural production to optimum levels. (see figure 2).

People have fought hunger and repression. Science and technology have been tools used to support—and to block—this fight. Without social movements, they are not enough—not nearly.

2.) Saying “A then B” does not count as evidence: Science doesn’t support the “Green Revolution fed millions” narrative.

If you were wondering what a controversial statement might look like, that’s probably a good one for you. It is widely “known” that the Green Revolution, particularly the hybrid crop varieties and packages of “improved” seeds and fertilizers saved millions of people from starving. The calculations for this are simple: productivity went up, number of hungry went down. A (increased productivity) must have caused B (decreased hunger), right?


Well, um…no. This is not how science works—while this is by no means a SILLY conclusion to make (unlike the Pirate Loss Theory of Climate Change), it is also not a proven one. Observing two things change at the same time, that seem like they should be related, does not prove one causes the other; science is the hard work of developing and analyzing real evidence around such relationships. Science is not blithely asserting the same (highly intuitive and likely seeming) idea again and again without assessing the nitty-gritty details.

And what do the details tell us? You won’t be surprised that (in my analysis) the nitty-gritty details show that the Green Revolution was NOT a primary cause of decreased hunger.

If this idea causes you to spit your coffee out, a.) IATP is not liable for the damage to your computer, and b.) you’re welcome to contest this using science:detailed and careful study of the evidence. One such attempt at a study, Evenson and Gollin’s “Assessing the Impact of the Green Revolution, 1960 to 2000” essentially says “it’s hard to imagine how else you could’ve made all that food.” Leaving aside the question of imagination, “it’s hard to imagine how else you’d do it” is, let us say, a very low level of scientific evidence. Especially since well-regarded researchers have presented strong evidence that in India, the Green Revolution “mainly led to the replacement of cut-rate American wheat with Indian-grown wheat…  I’m thinking that India wouldn’t have starved even without the Green Revolution”*; and that “the [Indian] state could not rely on the GR [Green Revolution] for poverty reduction and thus started a ‘direct attack’ on poverty” (poverty being the primary cause of hunger). And, as I’ve previously written, India alone continues to be home to more malnourished people than the entire continent of Africa.

In fact, between 1970 and 1990, the number (though not proportion) of malnourished people in the world increased if you exclude China, even though world per capita food production went up. China, the exception, saw a decrease in the number of malnourished by 217 million. And the mechanism for this? Researchers from the FAO and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) found that land redistribution and education (for rural women in particular) had the biggest impact on rural poverty reduction and inequality. These improvements in distribution, equality and education themselves caused (not resulted from) additional increases in productivity.

It is uncontroversial among hunger researchers that more production (or productivity) does not decrease hunger (or poverty) by itself. Now, of course, this consensus may be wrong, or the Green Revolution an important exception to the rule. But I have seen little evidence for the “GR saved millions” narrative that is, frankly, much stronger than the Pirate Loss Theory of Climate Change. “This makes sense to me in my head” is NOT science. “I can’t imagine things working out differently” is NOT evidence.  The GR and Dr. Norman Borlaug Fed the World narrative is over-simplistic and under-scientific.

The issues we’re dealing with in the food system are complex and challenging. And while the often heated scientific conversations about what to do about it are important, they need to go beyond (WAY beyond) production = hunger reduction. They need to go way beyond technology and science. Without a moral, ethical and social movement–based understanding of how equality and improvements actually come about, we could continue on into a future where we produce even more food, but just like today, throw away one-third of it; have one in seven people eating nutritionally empty food that hurts their health in the long run; and one in seven people without adequate agency and access to enough food to sustain their most basic health. Let’s commit to leave this kind of world behind us.

*This quote is from the blog of anthropologist Glenn Davis Stone. He is referencing for evidence, however, John Perkins’s Geopolitics and the Green Revolution, which was published by Oxford University Press in 1997 and reviewed here at IATP in 1999.

Posted September 27, 2013 by Dr. M. Jahi Chappell   

Used under creative commons license from Oculator.

Wow. This seems likely to cause a long-term stir, and I’m quite sure vociferous critiques from many quarters (though likely mostly from the usual suspects). University of Canterbury Professor Jack Heinemann and his team have found that

…Relative to other food secure and exporting countries (e.g., Western Europe), the U.S. agroecosystem is not exceptional in yields or conservative on environmental impact. This has not been a trade-off for sustainability, as annual fluctuations in maize yield alone dwarf the loss of caloric energy from extreme historic blights. We suggest strategies for innovation that are responsive to more stakeholders and build resilience into industrialized staple crop production.

In terms of making a splash and what the big, viral attention has been about, though, this excerpt from their abstract buries the lede. In an interview with the journal’s publisher, Prof. Heinemann elaborates:

Our most significant findings were that:

–GM cropping systems have not contributed to yield gains, are not necessary for yield gains, and appear to be eroding yields compared to the equally modern agroecosystem of Western Europe. This may be due in part to technology choices beyond GM plants themselves, because even non-GM wheat yield improvements in the U.S. are poor in comparison to Europe.

–Herbicide reductions can be achieved in European countries that do not adopt GM crops. In contrast, use is rising in the U.S., the major adopter of GM crops. Chemical insecticide use is decreasing in both agroecosystems, but more more profoundly in France (also Germany and Switzerland) that do not use GM plants and only modestly in the U.S. Total insecticide use is not decreased in the U.S. when insecticidal plants are included in total insecticide use.

I have not reviewed the findings in depth yet, myself. You, like me and everyone else, should go read the study. Interestingly, their results seem to back up the results of my WSU colleague Dr. Chuck Benbrook. Last year, Dr. Benbrook concluded that “Herbicide use is much greater on GE acres compared to conventionally managed acres planted to non-GE cultivars,” meaning that overall pesticide use in the U.S. has gone up, even though insecticide use has gone down. Although Heinemann et al. do rely in part on Chuck’s results, they also point out that “The short-term reduction in insecticide use reported in the period of Bt crop adoption appears to have been part of a trend enjoyed also in countries not adopting GM crops… reductions attributed to GM crops (Fedoroff 2012) are in question… similar if not more impressive reductions have been achieved in countries not adopting GM crops.”

It will be quite interesting to see how this plays out. Dollars to donuts that someone, at least, accuses them of being “unscientific," returning to the tired trope of conflating “I disagree with you/you’re wrong” with “You’re not conducting science.” It is quite possible (indeed, *likely*) that “good science” will be wrong (our own methods are premised on a “false positive” rate of at least 5%, if not much more), so proving (or believing) that someone is wrong has no little bearing on whether they’re “scientists” or “conducting [good] science.” Proving that they are asking or doing something wrong most likely means they made errors, which again is distinct from not practicing science. (Even good scientists make errors; should all science with any errors be declared “not science” or simply “wrong”?) Even phrasing a question in a way you consider incorrect, illegitimate, or (horror of horrors), insufficiently objectively does not mean they’re not practicing science. In my opinion, such charges should be made when there is verifiable malfeasance. In any case, check it out yourself, and decide if the “good science” is now telling us concretely that [the studied] GM crops are not necessary, sufficient, efficient, or even effective for sustainable or food-secure/food-sovereign systems.

Originally posted on AgroEcoPeople.

Posted September 20, 2013 by Ben Lilliston   

AgricultureFree trade agreementsSustainable AgricultureUnited Nations

Transformative changes are needed in our food, agriculture and trade systems in order to increase diversity on farms, reduce our use of fertilizer and other inputs, support small-scale farmers and create strong local food systems. That’s the conclusion of a remarkable new publication from the U.N. Commission on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

The report, Trade and Environment Review 2013: Wake Up Before it is Too Late, included contributions from more than 60 experts around the world (including a commentary from IATP). The report includes in-depth sections on the shift toward more sustainable, resilient agriculture; livestock production and climate change; the importance of research and extension; the role of land use; and the role of reforming global trade rules.

The report links global security and escalating conflicts with the urgent need to transform agriculture toward what it calls “ecological intensification.” The report concludes, “This implies a rapid and significant shift from conventional, monoculture-based and high-external-input-dependent industrial production toward mosaics of sustainable, regenerative production systems that also considerably improve the productivity of small-scale farmers.”

The UNCTAD report identified key indicators for the transformation needed in agriculture:

  • Increasing soil carbon content and better integration between crop and livestock production, and increased incorporation of agroforestry and wild vegetation
  • Reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of livestock production
  • Reduction of GHGs through sustainable peatland, forest and grassland management
  • Optimization of organic and inorganic fertilizer use, including through closed nutrient cycles in agriculture
  • Reduction of waste throughout the food chains
  • Changing dietary patterns toward climate-friendly food consumption
  • Reform of the international trade regime for food and agriculture

IATP’s contribution focused on the effects of trade liberalization on agriculture systems. We argued that trade liberalization both at the WTO and in regional deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) had increased volatility and corporate concentration in agriculture markets, while undermining the development of locally-based, agroecological systems that better support farmers.

The report’s findings are in stark contrast to the accelerated push for new free trade agreements, including the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the U.S.-EU Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which expand a long discredited model of economic development designed primarily to strengthen the hold of multinational corporate and financial firms on the global economy. Neither global climate talks nor other global food security forums reflect the urgency expressed in the UNCTAD report to transform agriculture.

In 2007, another important report out of the multilateral system, the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), with contributions from experts from over 100 countries (and endorsed by nearly 60 countries), came to very similar conclusions. The IAASTD report concluded that “Business as Usual is Not an Option,” and the shift toward agroecological approaches was urgent and necessary for food security and climate resilience. Unfortunately, business as usual has largely continued. Maybe this new UNCTAD report will provide the tipping point for the policy transformation that must take place “before it’s too late.”

Posted September 19, 2013 by Shiney Varghese   

DroughtDevelopmentFood securityWater

Used under creative commons license from ingodesigng5.

Turkana woman heading home with water, Kalokal, Kenya (near the shore of Lake Turkana).

In the midst of worrisome news about droughts, desertification, unreliable monsoons and growing concerns around water security around the world, the announcement by the UNESCO and Kenyan officials at the recent International Water Security Conference in Nairobi was anything but gloomy. The finding of potentially huge groundwater resources in northwestern Kenya is indeed a blessing, not only for the herding communities of drought-prone Turkana, but also for the region as a whole.

Until very recently the region was best known to the global water community both for the lack of access to water that mark the lives and livelihoods of indigenous communities that live there, and for their efforts to save Turkana Lake, the largest permanent desert lake in the world according to International Rivers.

But a recent survey by RTI, a company hired by U.N., found groundwater systems with a potential of storing about 250 billion cubic meters (or about 66 trillion gallons) in the Kachoda, Gatome, Nkalale and Lockichar areas, with the largest aquifer being located in the Lokitipi Basin—all of them in Turkana county, one of the 47 counties in Kenya.  Of these, the three smaller aquifers combined are estimated to store about 30 billion cubic meters of water, once confirmed by drilling.

But the Lotikipi Basin Aquifer, the largest of them—it has already been confirmed—is likely to store about 207 billion cubic meters, and has a recharge rate of 1.2 billion cubic meters or about 317 billion gallons a year, equivalent to 40 percent of the current annual water use in Kenya. Kenyan water resource planners, with their ability to estimate the recharge rate, are in a better position today to plan and keep the water withdrawal below this rate. The Kenyan government, which has ushered in policy reforms in several sectors, might be in a position to ensure this environmental cap.

Yet, some of the issues I raised in an earlier blog come to mind. Referring to a Guardian report on a study that looked at rising sea levels from a new angle, we urged caution. That study found that efforts to meet increasing freshwater demand by harnessing “fossil” groundwater [which cannot be replenished for millennia under current climate conditions] contributes more to rising sea levels than melting glaciers. The authors were particularly concerned about deep tube-well drilling—a technology adapted from the oil industry—which has contributed to a number of problems associated with irrigated agriculture.  New initiatives in groundwater development could learn from past lessons (India, China and the United States to list a few), and in view of these experiences the temptation to promote groundwater development in Kenya needs to be tempered with caution.

This is especially important in the Kenyan context. Along with the new ground water resources, RTI has also located some oil reserves in the region. As far as the Kenyan government is concerned, the temptation to exploit oil will be high, as will the temptation to extract water to ensure food security. As far as international investors and international institutions are concerned, the temptation to appropriate the newfound wealth for global good will be high.

Turkana is also the poorest county in the country, ranking 47th in poverty rate (94.3 percent, while the national average is 47.2 percent as per the Kenya Household and Budget Survey). Most people who live there, especially in the rural areas, belong to herding/ fishing communities which have a different relation with natural resources as well as with cash economy. As the state and private sector begin investing in the region, it is up to democratic institutions in Kenya to ensure that marginalized groups amongst the Turkana inhabitants have a say in the development of these water resources. 

Posted September 12, 2013 by Shefali Sharma   

ChinaBusiness and industryFood securityGlobalizationLivestock

Used under creative commons license from chenevier.

Last week, the U.S. treasury approved the largest takeover by an international firm of a U.S. food company. It paved the way for China’s largest pork processor, Shuanghui, to merge with Smithfield, the U.S.’s largest pork processor. The fact that it was a Chinese company stirred up so much controversy that the Senate Agriculture Committee held a hearing July 10 entitled,  “Smithfield and Beyond: Examining Foreign Purchases of American Food Companies.”  A major concern was foreign ownership of the U.S. food supply and whether the U.S. review process of foreign takeovers addresses food safety and “protection of American technologies.” There was little doubt that this merger would be approved by Treasury’s Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS): Shuanghui is willing to absorb over $2 billion of Smithfield’s debt; U.S. hog exports to China are expected to increase; and private equity firms on both sides of the Pacific will profit from a much stronger global hog processing company in two of the largest pork markets in the world (See IATP's blogs Two Converging Rivers: Understanding Shuanghui’s acquisition of Smithfield and Shuanghui acquires Smithfield: The view from China and IATP's webinar China, Smithfield and the Global Meat Industry)

This was a rare time when the U.S. Senate agriculture committee tackled the question of how developments in the food industry affect national security and whether this deal sets a bad precedent. Their analysis of course was limited to whether China would steal U.S. technology on pork genetics, feed and slaughtering, whether the deal would weaken U.S. food safety, result in job losses and hurt U.S. hog exporters. What the hearing could and should have addressed is how this deal will exacerbate the extreme corporate concentration of the U.S. (and global) meat industry, the resulting impact on hog farmers and rural communities, working conditions in processing plants and the continued offloading of environmental and public health costs generated by global companies like Smithfield and Shuanghui onto the American (and Chinese) public.

Rather than curbing corporate concentration, the House of Representatives has gone one step further in its version of the Farm Bill to limit USDA’s authority to protect against unfair practices in the livestock and poultry sectors. A letter sent September 9 by over a 140 U.S. organizations (including IATP) to the Senate and House agriculture committees called for a rejection of such a provision in the House version of the 2013 Farm Bill. The letter states:

During the 2008 Farm Bill process, Congress heard extensively from livestock and poultry producers, farmer organizations, and consumer groups about anti competitive and unfair business practices that unfortunately have become commonplace in the livestock and poultry sectors of our agricultural economy. As a result, the final 2008 Farm Bill included provisions to require USDA to write regulations to address the most egregious of these practices and to define certain terms in the statute. Section 11102 of the House version of the 2013 Farm Bill would repeal the 2008 Farm Bill provision that addressed these concerns and place a broad limitation on USDA’s authority to enforce many aspects of the Packers and Stockyards Act of 1921.

The critical issue here is the concentrated power of the livestock industry. And we are heading in the wrong direction. The Shuanghui-Smithfield deal fundamentally highlights the global nature of this industry and its trend towards further concentration. The CFIUS approval shows U.S. administration support for that trend as does the House version of the Farm Bill. Isn’t the corporate takeover of the U.S. food supply a national security issue?

In 2010, the U.S. Department of Justice and the Department of Agriculture held five public hearings on the role of antitrust in U.S. agriculture—the livestock industry was a critical part of that discussion. Sadly, there was little follow up after the rigorous examination of the industry. Over 15,000 comments were submitted by farmers, consumers, researchers, industry and elected officials.

The Global Development and Environment Institute (GDAE) submitted a paper titled Buyer Power in the U.S. Hog Markets: A Critical Review of the Literature. They found that the U.S. pork industry has gone through rapid concentration in just 25 years—with four packers controlling two-thirds of the market. Smithfield controlled 31 percent of that market, being the only buyer in the U.S. Southeast. The share of hogs sold in the open market dramatically dropped from 62 percent to just 8 percent in 15 years (1995-2010). This is the oppressive effect of the meatpacking industry on small and independent livestock producers. And it has left producers with little choice and little power, forcing low spot prices for hogs in the market (below the cost of production) and “unusually large variation in prices.”[1] Trade union representatives of workers in meat packing plants also complain of the concentrated power of the food retail industry in further pushing down the supply chain and forcing poor worker conditions. According to GDAE, the top four U.S. food retailers went from 19 percent control of the market to nearly 60 percent in a period of 12 years (1997–2009). Farmers, workers and the public all lose in such a scenario. And it makes our food system beholden to corporate greed.

In a letter submitted to the U.S. Administration on the Smithfield deal, a group of organizations raised several objections about the Shuanghui-Smithfield merger. They also underlined problems with Smithfield:

While Smithfield’s safety record is better than Shuanghui’s, the company is not without blemishes. In 2013, Smithfield recalled 38,000 pounds of sausage over concerns that the products might contain plastic fragments. In 2012, Smithfield’s packing plants in Poland recalled 13,600 pounds of meat products for microbial or labeling issues. In 2011, Smithfield recalled 216,000 pounds of flavored pork loins that may have contained unlabeled dairy ingredients that could pose an allergy risk to consumers.

There have been many complaints against the company for environmental issues as well, particularly in North Carolina, home of much of the company’s production. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition reports that 600 residents in Wake County, North Carolina have filed complaints against Smithfield that the company’s hog waste lagoons and manure applications are causing problems for them.[2]

China’s farmers, consumers and environment are also confronting similar problems with commercial and specialized hog production (see IATP’s Feeding China’s Pigs). The critical issue here is not the nationality of the industrial livestock company, but its size, practices and market power. It’s the ability of a few companies to change the entire system of producing livestock in a globalized world where people, the environment and public health come out as losing entities. Our government has a responsibility to rectify this injustice—reversing corporate concentration of this industry is the first step in that direction.

To better understand the role of the global meat industry around the world, IATP will be publishing a series of reports on China’s livestock sector in the coming months.



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