Posted March 12, 2015 by Dr. Steve Suppan   

Food safetyNanotechnology

Used under creative commons license from Justin Kern.

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   

Money and Politics

Used under creative commons license from Redfishingboat.

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   

TradeFree trade agreements

Used under creative commons license from Twitter user @TheProspect.

The White House is demonstrating its inconsistent stance on regulation with its opposition to the RAA's attack on federal regulations and regulators while still supporting industry's anti-regulatory agenda of "regulatory cooperation" in new trade agreements.

On February 25, the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee (HSGAC) held another hearing that attacked federal regulations and regulators as an unnecessary burden on corporations, employment creation and economic growth. Among the antidotes that the HSGAC majority will propose is a revised version of the Regulatory Accountability Act (RAA) (S. 1029 in the previous session of Congress). The RAA advocates and the industry lobbyists for “regulatory cooperation” in free trade agreements are largely the same. There is no such consistency from the White House, which opposes the RAA, but supports industry’s anti-regulatory agenda when it is cloaked in the trade policy euphemisms of “regulatory cooperation.”

The White House has already rejected the 2015 House of Representatives version of the RAA, stating it “would impose unprecedented and unnecessary procedural requirements on agencies that would prevent them from efficiently performing their statutory responsibilities. It would also create needless regulatory and legal uncertainty and further impede the implementation [of] protections for the American public. This bill would make the regulatory process more expensive, less flexible, and more burdensome.” The statement concludes, “If the President were presented with the Regulatory Accountability Act, his senior advisors would recommend that he veto the bill.”

However, the Obama administration’s laudable antipathy to the RAA and other proposed anti-regulatory legislation has not translated into its trade agenda, in particular the “regulatory cooperation” chapters the U.S. Trade Representative has negotiated in the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) agreements. The deceptively characterized “cooperation” would be effectively enforced by the Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanism of binding arbitration, which grants foreign investors far more flexible grounds for redress of alleged violations of trade agreements with far fewer elements of due process than are featured in U.S. public law. ISDS lawsuits against “regulatory actions,” of federal and sub-federal governmental agencies, including the entire rulemaking process and substance, implementation and enforcement measures, could produce the very “needless regulatory and legal uncertainty” that the Obama administration would prevent by vetoing the RAA and its ilk.

The RAA and other anti-regulatory bills are the brainchild, in part, of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber has a large international program, including the Business Coalition for Transatlantic Trade (BCTT). Among the objectives of the BCTT is to “develop new regulatory coherence and cooperation obligations.” These obligations would cover all economic sectors, including food and agriculture. And, according to “Principles and Objectives for the TTIP ” in food safety and agriculture “Obligations that go beyond the WTO [World Trade Organization] must also be subject to TTIP enforcement provisions,” i.e. be subject to the ISDS.

Regulatory coherence would, among many demands, end the EU’s use of the precautionary principle in food safety management decisions. For example, a January 16 U.S. government submission to the European Commission negotiators, based on a pesticide industry letter to the U.S. Trade Representative, demanded an end to the EU’s hazard-based assessment of pesticides and other chemicals (“U.S. Warns EU Pesticide Proposal May Thwart Regulatory Cooperation,” Inside U.S. Trade, February 27, 2015, subscription required) and adoption of the U.S. risk-based approach.

The EU’s chemicals and pesticide laws allow for a de facto precautionary ban on pesticides that are so hazardous, such as those that disrupt the hormonal development of children, as to preclude setting a safe exposure level or “tolerance.” The U.S. January 16 submission argued that TTIP regulatory cooperation will not occur unless the EU adopts the U.S. risk-based system, which requires exposure assessment and almost never bans chemicals, no matter how hazardous. According to a Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) study, TTIP “harmonization” of EU and U.S. pesticide and chemical laws and regulation would require the EU to approve the use of 82 U.S. pesticide products, currently evaluated by the EU as too hazardous for use on food and agricultural products. A CIEL and Client Earth evaluation of a 2014 EC proposal for regulatory cooperation found that the EU negotiators, while promising to not repeal the precautionary principle as a matter of law, would trade it away in regulatory practice by acceding to USTR and pesticide industry demands. It almost goes without saying that once the EU adopts the U.S. risk-based pesticide and chemical evaluation system, there will be few, if any, pesticides and chemicals banned from commercial use.

The widespread European opposition to the ISDS and to TTIP, even among EU member governments, is due in large part to fears that U.S. companies would use ISDS lawsuits to overturn health and safety protections over alleged “impairment” of anticipated benefits under TTIP. However, U.S. federal and sub-federal governments would likewise be vulnerable to ISDS lawsuits. Public Citizen has estimated that about 24,000 U.S. subsidiaries of EU parent corporations could help their headquarters attack U.S. laws, “regulatory actions” and judicial rulings through the ISDS.

Thus far, foreign investors have cost taxpayers around the world nearly $3 billion in legal expenses and judgments arising from these lawsuits, but this figure could skyrocket with the huge increase in the number and size of foreign investors who would become eligible to sue under TTIP and the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement. All “regulatory actions” in the TTIP regulatory cooperation chapter would have to demonstrate they were “least trade restrictive” and have undergone trade impact assessments. Even if they go through that tortuous process, they could still face the possibility of ISDS litigation. Given the government austerity budgets for regulatory agencies, most recently documented in a Food and Water Watch study of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s declining number of meat and poultry inspectors, there will be fewer regulatory resources to defend U.S. regulatory actions.  

Regulatory cooperation among regulators can have many benefits for public, environmental and labor health, but not if it means that every regulatory action must first pass the “least trade restrictive” litmus test. EU member states, unfortunately, are learning the wrong lesson from the TTIP subordination of public and environmental health regulations to the pursuit of the always-potential increases in trade flows. For example, the Parliament of the United Kingdom is debating a Deregulation Bill  that would require all regulators to promote economic growth, regardless of the consequences for their other statutory duties, such as promoting public health and the economic gains that come with universal access to public health programs.

The desire of the European Commission to promote economic growth is understandable, after the Great Recession triggered by the deregulation of the European financial services industry. Why they believe that a strongly deregulatory TTIP will produce sufficient economic growth to counter the costs of TTIP-framed deregulatory failures and the failure of the austerity budgets to promote growth is a mystery. The mystery only grows when one understands that U.S. anti-regulatory bills introduced by House and Senate Republicans, with their dozens of procedural hurdles and required pre-implementation cost to industry analyses, have been rejected by the White House. And yet the White House promotes “least trade restrictive” hurdles to regulation when packaged in the euphemisms of “regulatory cooperation.” As Senator Elizabeth Warren contended in a Washington Post opinion piece, the enforcement of regulatory cooperation by ISDS panels of trade lawyers gives transnational corporations and banks veto power over public regulation and U.S. jurisprudence. That’s not cooperation – it's coercion.

Coercion works best when it is done behind the closed doors of negotiations whose draft texts not even members of Congress can read without an armed guard outside the reading room. IATP strongly opposes the Fast Track Trade Promotion Authority that keeps Congress and public in the dark about the all-important details of what the Obama administration and its corporate advisors are negotiating in TTIP and the TPP. See IATP’s “Trade Secrets” series for more about what you can do to democratize trade policy and trade negotiations.

Posted March 3, 2015 by Shiney Varghese   

Food JusticeAgroecologySustainable Agriculture

Image credit: La Via Campesina

Last week, a landmark event took place in Mali. International movements of small‐scale food producers and consumers, including peasants, indigenous peoples and communities (together with hunter and gatherers), family farmers, rural workers, herders and pastoralists, fisherfolk and urban people from around the world gathered at the Nyéléni Center in Sélingué, Mali from February 24 to 27, to reach a common understanding of agroecology as a key element of Food Sovereignty. The participants developed joint strategies to promote agroecology and to defend it from co‐optation.

Together, these diverse constituencies produce some 70% of the food consumed by humanity. They are the primary global investors – in terms of labor, time, and their knowledge of the food system practices – in agriculture, as well as the primary providers of jobs and livelihoods in the world. In 2002, at the Forum for Food Sovereignty in Nyéléni, these movements came together to strengthen their alliances and to expand and deepen their understanding of Food Sovereignty. Since then, the Food Sovereignty movement has come a long way, as a banner of joint struggle for justice, and as the larger framework for Agroecology. (See IATP paper on Scaling Up Agroecology)

The gathering identified the industrial food system as a key driver of the multiple crises of climate, food systems, environmental, public health and others (see former IATP President Jim Harkness speaking on this ). Seeing agroecology as a key form of resistance to an economic system that puts profit before life, the gathering identified agroecology as an answer to transforming and repairing our food systems and rural worlds that have been devastated by industrial food production and its so‐called Green and Blue Revolutions.

The gathering also recognized that agroecology is at a crossroads: Under pressure from movements and their allies, multilateral institutions, funders and research institutions are beginning to recognize it. However, there are attempts to redefine it as a narrow set of technologies, to offer some tools that appear to ease the sustainability crisis of industrial food production, while the existing structures of power remain unchallenged.  The gathering rejected this attempt to co‐opt agroecology to help fine‐tune the industrial food system, while paying lip service to the environmental discourse, through initiatives with names, such as “climate smart agriculture”, “sustainable‐” or “ecological‐ intensification”, industrial monoculture production of “organic” food, etc. (see IATP blogs and commentaries: climate smart agriculture isnt agroecology; Defining our terms: Agroecology and sustainable agriculture)

Reiterating that the real solutions to the crises of the climate, malnutrition, and others will not come from conforming to the industrial model, the gathering recognized agroecology as the essential alternative to the model, and as the means of transforming how we produce and consume food into something better for humanity and our Mother Earth. The Forum developed common pillars and principles of Agroecology, strategies for moving forward. Here is a link to the Nyéléni Declaration on Agroecology, (See common pillars and Principles identified at the forum, pasted below)

Agroecology is now gaining legitimacy within international institutions, thanks to the power of these movements. For, example, late last year, FAO held a conference on Agroecology, and the final report provides guidelines and examples for food system change and improvement (Final Report of the FAO International Symposium on Agroecology for Food Security and Nutrition). As they plan future symposiums later this year – and should use this declaration, particularly its emphasis on movements as leaders, as a basis for organizing those symposiums. The Declaration warns that policy makers cannot move forward on agroecology without the legitimate leaders, the practitioners of agroecology, and insisted that policy makers must respect and support agroecological processes on the ground rather than continuing to support the forces that destroy people and planet.

COMMON PILLARS AND PRINCIPLES OF AGROECOLOGY

Agroecology is a way of life and the language of Nature that we learn as her children. It is not a mere set of technologies or production practices. It cannot be implemented the same way in all territories. Rather it is based on principles that, while they may be similar across the diversity of our territories, can and are practiced in many different ways, with each sector contributing their own colors of their local reality and culture, while always respecting Mother Earth and our common, shared values.

The production practices of agroecology (such as intercropping, traditional fishing and mobile pastoralism, integrating crops, trees, livestock and fish, manuring, compost, local seeds and animal breeds, etc.) are based on ecological principles like building life in the soil, recycling nutrients, the dynamic management of biodiversity and energy conservation at all scales. Agroecology drastically reduces our use of externally‐purchased inputs that must be bought from industry. There is no use of agrotoxics, artificial hormones, GMOs or other dangerous new technologies in agroecology.

Territories are a fundamental pillar of agroecology. Peoples and communities have the right to maintain their own spiritual and material relationships to their lands. They are entitled to secure, develop, control, and reconstruct their customary social structures and to administer their lands and territories, including fishing grounds, both politically and socially. This implies the full recognition of their laws, traditions, customs, tenure systems, and institutions, and constitutes the recognition of the self‐determination and autonomy of peoples.

Collective rights and access to the commons are fundamental pillar of agroecology. We share access to territories that are the home to many different peer groups, and we have sophisticated customary systems for regulating access and avoiding conflicts that we want to preserve and to strengthen.

The diverse knowledges and ways of knowing of our peoples are fundamental to agroecology. We develop our ways of knowing through dialogue among them (diálogo de saberes). Our learning processes are horizontal and peer‐to‐peer, based on popular education. They take place in our own training centers and territories (farmers teach farmers, fishers teach fishers, etc.), and are also intergenerational, with exchange of knowledge between youth and elders. Agroecology is developed through our own innovation, research, and crop and livestock selection and breeding.

The core of our cosmovisions is the necessary equilibrium between nature, the cosmos and human beings. We recognize that as humans we are but a part of nature and the cosmos. We share a spiritual connection with our lands and with the web of life. We love our lands and our peoples, and without that, we cannot defend our agroecology, fight for our rights, or feed the world. We reject the commodification of all forms of life.

Families, communities, collectives, organizations and movements are the fertile soil in which agroecology flourishes. Collective self‐organization and action are what make it possible to scale‐up agroecology, build local food systems, and challenge corporate control of our food system. Solidarity between peoples, between rural and urban populations, is a critical ingredient.

The autonomy of agroecology displaces the control of global markets and generates self ‐ governance by communities. It means we minimize the use of purchased inputs that come from outside. It requires the reshaping of markets so that they are based on the principles of solidarity economy and the ethics of responsible production and consumption. It promotes direct and fair short distribution chains. It implies a transparent relationship between producers and consumers, and is based on the solidarity of shared risks and benefits.

Agroecology is political; it requires us to challenge and transform structures of power in society. We need to put the control of seeds, biodiversity, land and territories, waters, knowledge, culture and the commons in the hands of the peoples who feed the world.

Women and their knowledge, values, vision and leadership are critical for moving forward. Migration and globalization mean that women’s work is increasing, yet women have far less access to resources than men. All too often, their work is neither recognized nor valued. For agroecology to achieve its full potential, there must be equal distribution of power, tasks, decision‐making and remuneration.

Youth, together with women, provide one of the two principle social bases for the evolution of agroecology. Agroecology can provide a radical space for young people to contribute to the social and ecological transformation that is underway in many of our societies. Youth bear the responsibility to carry forward the collective knowledge learned from their parents, elders and ancestors into the future. They are the stewards of agroecology for future generations. Agroecology must create a territorial and social dynamic that creates opportunities for rural youth and values women’s leadership

Read the preamble, common pillars & principles as well as strategies for moving forward here: DECLARATION OF THE INTERNATIONAL FORUM FOR AGROECOLOGY

Posted February 25, 2015 by Ben Lilliston   

TTIPTPPFast TrackClimateClimate ChangeFree trade agreements

Used under creative commons license from Corporate Europe Observatory.

President Obama, like the Bushes and Clinton before him, is all in on expanding the type of free trade multinational corporations love. Unfortunately, these trade agreements fuel an extractive form of globalization that has negatively impacted jobs and inequality, and have also been devastating for the climate. This week 40 groups—many of them focusing on rural and community-based responses to climate change—wrote Congress calling for the rejection of Fast Track trade authority, which would speed through two mega trade deals without fully assessing their impacts on the climate.

The letter is timely. In the next few weeks, Congress will consider whether to surrender their role under the Constitution to influence trade agreements before they are completed and grant the President Fast Track authority. Fast Track limits Congress’ role on trade agreements to an up or down vote, no amendments and limited debate. President Obama wants Fast Track to pass two massive trade deals—the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) with a dozen Pacific Rim countries, and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with Europe.  Both TPP and TTIP have been negotiated in secret, with only restricted access to the text for Members of Congress (but much greater access for corporate trade advisors).

“There is little question that the economic globalization largely driven by trade deals over the last several decades has contributed to the expansion of fossil fuel and other dirty energy production that cause climate change, expanded deforestation and other methods of natural resource extraction, while undermining local and community-level responses to climate change,” the groups wrote. “We are concerned that Fast Track authority would expedite the quick passage of trade agreements without a full debate or assessment of climate and other potential negative impacts, and threatens to undermine efforts to address climate change at the local and community level.”

The letter outlines how trade rules established in NAFTA and at the World Trade Organization (WTO) have contributed to: the expansion of the tar sands in Canada; the undermining of green job creation linked to locally-sourced energy; establishing the right of multinational corporations to legally challenge the ability of countries to set their own energy policy; and the weakening of the rights of local communities to prohibit fracking.

Specific climate concerns about TPP and TTIP include a potential requirement to automatically approve all exports of natural gas to countries included in the agreements. This would greatly expand fracking in rural communities around the country. Both TTIP and TPP grant multinational corporations additional legal rights to challenge local rules and regulations.

The letter cited the challenges facing many rural communities trying to respond to climate change, emphasizing that “communities must retain control over their local natural resources.” Many rural communities are facing climate-related challenges such as: mounting energy costs, rising variability in farm production, transportation infrastructure damage, insurance rate increases and less stable water availability. At the same time, community-level responses to climate change are taking hold.

“Climate impacts at the community level have not been fully or adequately considered prior to passing past trade deals,” the groups wrote. “This has been a crucial mistake that continues to drive global increases in greenhouse gas emissions and hinders our ability to build bottom-up solutions to climate change.”

President Obama is certainly not alone in ignoring the enormous role trade rules have on responses to climate change. The UN global climate talks virtually ignore the role trade agreements played in incentivizing polluters to offshore their emissions to countries with weaker environmental protections, while simultaneously granting greater legal rights for investors in dirty energy production or activities that drive deforestation. If we hope to effectively respond to climate change, we’re going to have to reform our trade rules, starting with rejecting Fast Track—the sooner the better. 

Posted February 23, 2015 by Shefali Sharma   

Food and HealthAgricultureIndustrialized MeatMoney and PoliticsLivestock

Used under creative commons license from usdagov.

The North American Meat Institute, national beef and pork associations and other corporate lobbies of the powerful meat industry are seething at the historic new scientific report by the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. Why historic? Because the committee takes on the meat industry head to head in a scientific report intended to help set five year national guidelines on nutrition and because for the first time, the recommendations take into account the environmental footprint of our food (production) choices. If these recommendations are accepted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the report will not only help set national nutrition policy but will also likely impact the $16 billion school lunch program. The USDA and HHS will jointly release the National Dietary Guidelines later this year.

Based on their research, the Committee came to the conclusion that, “a healthy dietary pattern is higher in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low- or non-fat dairy, seafood, legumes, and nuts; moderate in alcohol (among adults); lower in red and processed meat; and low in sugar sweetened foods and drinks and refined grains.”[i]

It is the emphasis on lower red and processed meat consumption that has the meat industry up in arms, particularly so because the Committee integrates environmental impacts in its approach to dietary guidelines:[ii]

  • Access to sufficient, nutritious, and safe food is an essential element of food security for the U.S. population…Current evidence shows that the average U.S. diet has a larger environmental impact in terms of increased greenhouse gas emissions, land use, water use, and energy use, compared to the above dietary patterns [Healthy U.S.-style Pattern, Healthy Mediterranean-style Pattern and Healthy Vegetarian Pattern]. This is because the current U.S. population intake of animal-based foods is higher and plant-based foods are lower, than proposed in these three dietary patterns.

Now, the powerful lobby is planning an all-out offensive in Congress to prevent USDA and HHS from adopting these recommendations as the national guidelines. Citizens can comment on the report until April 8th—the meat lobby hopes to extend this period to 120 days rather than the 45 typically allotted.

Quoted in Politico, Dave Warner, a spokesperson, for the National Pork Producers Council said, “We’ll go through it with a fine-tooth comb. We certainly will then talk to lawmakers about it and express to them our concerns.

Anticipating this response from the meat industry, close to 50 food, health and environmental organizations sent a letter to the USDA and HHS calling for the agencies to support the recommendations of their own advisory committee. The letter stated:

  • The vast majority of animal products consumed in America today are produced with large quantities of energy-intensive inputs (like water, pesticides, fertilizers and fuel) and presents what the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production characterizes as “...an unacceptable level of risk to public health and damage to the environment.” Therefore, we are asking the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Health and Human Services (HHS) to show a strong commitment to keeping Americans, and our shared environment, healthier by developing clear dietary recommendations on the need for reduced consumption of animal products and more plant-based foods.

IATP also endorses the recommendations made by the advisory committee and cautions against the power of the meat industry in watering down our standards for healthy and safe food!

Public Comments to the Report can be given here until, April 8, 2015.

Read the Full Report, here.


[i] Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. Part A: Executive Summary, pg. 4

[ii] Ibid, pg. 7

 

 

 

Posted February 18, 2015 by IATP   

TTIPTPPFast TrackFree trade agreements

Later this month, Congress will consider whether or not to hand Fast Track authority over to the President, limiting themselves to a simple up or down vote on two extraordinarily complex trade agreements now being negotiated in secret and without Congressional oversight.

Trade agreements affect a huge range of laws and programs that govern how our economies work, how we grow and sell food, and who benefits—or loses. These trade agreements could set new rules that would:

  • Affect standards on food safety, pesticides, GMOs and patents on seeds;
  • Undermine local food efforts such as farm to school; and
  • Eliminate programs that require food or energy to come from local sources, or benefit local businesses.

The new free trade agreements are the biggest ever—the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) with 11 Pacific nations and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with Europe. Once in place, free trade agreements often supersede state, local and even federal laws.

Let’s face it, these trade deals are negotiated on behalf of multinational corporations—not farmers, workers or consumers. Fundamentally, these trade agreements are about making it easier for corporations to shift production to where it’s cheapest, while undermining local economies and food systems. They could even grant corporations new rights to sue governments directly if their future profits are threatened. No wonder the negotiations are in secret!

Help stop Fast Track now!

View our new video "Fast Track to an Empty Basket" to learn about how free trade agreements are threatening our food system and share it with your friends!

*** Maps used for this video are from the Wikimedia Commons and include countries who have announced interest in joining and potential future members of the TPP. The delineation is by color.

TTIP map used: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:European_Union_United_States_Locator.svg
TPP map used: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:TPP_enlargement.png

Maps are used under the GNU Free Documentation License and the certification that the copyright holder of the work, has released this work into the public domain. ****

Posted February 18, 2015 by Karen Hansen-Kuhn   Hannes Lorenzen   

Local FoodTradeTTIPFree trade agreements

Wir Haben Es Satt Stoppen TTIP

Repost from ARC2020

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) talks have revealed a contentious debate over local food names, so-called Geographical Indications (GIs). Far from a technical issue, the differing approaches to protections for local food names underscore very different traditions. Karen Hansen-Kuhn and Hannes Lorenzen unpack the issues in this long read.

Historically, European farmers have sought to protect names and processes for certain food products associated with a specific local food culture. GIs were originally a tool used by disadvantaged regions to protect their specific products and receive a premium price for unique, and sometimes difficult natural conditions of production, especially in mountain areas. It has been seen as a tool to keep a higher added value in a specific region and to create closer connections with consumers through clear rules for quality production.

To many Americans, this might sound like an obscure, new issue or appear as a trick of European negotiators to impose barriers in trade. Reports on EU demands to protect what most Americans would consider common food names such as “feta” have elicited surprised and rather derisive comments among Members of Congress and the media. On the other hand, some U.S. local producers of cheeses and specialty goods who are creating their own new traditions, are supportive of this approach and seek to enhance inadequate trademark protections in the U.S.

In each case, the foundation for this approach has been the protection of local markets and local traditions against an outside corporate takeover. In this age of globalization, however, the debate becomes a bit murkier. If EU negotiators use GI protections around the world to create new export opportunities, it seems likely that the drive to expand production to sell to those new markets will undermine the very nature of GIs in Europe itself and result in greater corporate control and fewer connections to local landscapes and traditions. What is more: the quality of those special goods will suffer.

Some historical perspective

Protections for Geographical Indications have existed for more than a century. The Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property of 1883 (Paris Convention) established protections for industrial and agricultural goods with a view toward protecting producers’ intellectual property. While there was much less trade than today, diplomats at the time were concerned about protections for their citizens’ products at international trade fairs. That accord was followed by the Madrid Agreement for the Repression of False or Deceptive Indications of Source on Goods of 1891 and the Lisbon Agreement for the Protection of Appellations of Origin and their International Registration of 1958. (1)

The World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) includes a special section on the protection of GIs. Article 22.1 of the TRIPS Agreement defines GIs and establishes that Members have a duty to prevent deceptive uses of product names through trademark or other intellectual property protections.

The central idea behind protections for GIs is that these products have inherent qualities related to their place of production (such as soil or climatic conditions, called terroir), as well as cultural knowledge and traditions, that differentiate them from similar products. That designation creates a kind of place-based “brand” that informs consumers about their special qualities and often allows producers to charge a premium price. GIs are most common for wines, cheeses and certain meats, but there are also some GIs for certain kinds of textiles (such as Thai Silk) or Swiss Watches produced according to specific criteria. (2)

Unlike other forms of intellectual property, protections for GIs are not held by specific companies or individuals. As opposed to trademarks, which are owned by a particular company or trade association, GIs are a collective initiative and right. They cannot be bought, sold or assigned to other rights holders.

These protections are most advanced in the European Union, which has established a process to register and protect GIs. In each case, producers apply to register a product using specific production, processing and geographic standards. Those decisions are made first at the regional and then at the national level, although non-EU applicants may also apply directly to the European Commission.

The EU has separate registration and protection regimes for wines, spirits, and agricultural and food products. As of May 2014, 1226 food and agricultural products were registered at the European Commission as protected products. Those products include meats and meat products, cheeses, beers, fruits and flowers. They are produced and marketed locally or regionally, but some categories, especially cheeses, are widely exported as well. The list includes 216 cheeses, among them Gruyere, Roquefort, Queso Manchego, Mozzarella di Bufala, Camembert de Normandie, Neufchatel, Fontina, Gorgonzola, Asiago, Pecorino Romano, Gouda Holland, Edam Holland and Feta. It is important to note that in some cases, it is the compound name, such as Parmigiano Reggiano, that is protected, rather than the broader category of parmesan cheese. (3)

Geographical Indications in the trade debate

In 2006, the U.S. and EU reached a bilateral agreement on the protection of wines. That agreement requires the U.S. to make changes in laws to limit the use of certain wine names considered “semi generic”: Burgundy; Chablis; Champagne; Chianti; Claret; Haut Sauterne; Hock; Madeira; Malaga; Marsala; Moselle; Port; Retsina; Rhine; Sauterne; Sherry and Tokay. (4) Existing producers of these wines would be “grandfathered” in, but non-EU producers not meeting the GI criteria for those wines would not be allowed to use those names. The EU has a similar bilateral agreement on wine with Australia, and agreements on wine and spirits with Canada, Mexico, Chile and South Africa. On the 14 of January 2015 an agreement between the EU and Morocco was finalized. It provides direct protection to more than 3,200 EU GI names in Morocco and 30 Moroccan GIs in the EU (names registered until 15 January 2013, which is to be considered the cut-off date. (5) There are no indications that traditional producers of goods protected by GIs in the various regions of the EU are seeking to increase exports of their products to third countries. On the contrary, in some cases there have been initiatives of producers to voluntarily limit production in order not to undermine the quality of products. Certain cheese producers like Compté or Beaufort in South France have set limits for production through specific agro-environmental rules and limits for carrying capacity for cattle. (6)

However, EU trade negotiators have been seeking to use geographical indications in the negotiation of bilateral free trade agreements to expand trade – and thereby undermine the original intentions of GIs. New commitments on the issue were reached in FTAs with Peru and Colombia, Central America, and Korea. In May, former EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht told a United Kingdom House of Lords subcommittee hearing on TTIP that, without securing at least partial protection for EU GIs in the United States, it would be very difficult to conclude a deal on agriculture. According to a report in Inside U.S. Trade, the EU is seeking GI protections for a list of 200 items, including meats, fruits and vegetables, wines and spirits, and 75 kinds of cheese. (7) While the idea of promoting GIs as a tool to protect a diversity of food traditions and quality is a good one, the push for GIs as a better kind of trademark enshrined within trade law seems to undermine the very basic idea.

There is no public information yet on the exact list of GI protections the EU will seek in TTIP, but an examination of the commitments made in other recent trade agreement could give some indications. The trade agreements negotiated between the EU and Central America, Peru-Colombia, and South Korea all protect such cheese names as Camembert de Normandie, Feta, Gorgonzola, Parmigiano Reggiano, Roquefort and Taleggio. (8)

The EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), which was concluded in 2014, lists protections for 173 European food names for products sold in Canada. The governments would take action to prevent the use of a GI unless they are produced according to specific standards and from the specific countries identified in the Annex, even when the product is identified as being from Canada. Certain cheese names that many would consider common names have more limited protections, at least for now. Under Articles 7.6.1 and 7.6.2, companies that were selling Asiago, Feta, Fontina, Gorgonzola and Munster before October 18, 2013 can continue to use those names, but new entrants to the Canadian market will be required to add qualifiers such as “kind”, “type”, “style” or “imitation”.

While the details of the EU’s specific negotiating objectives on GIs in TTIP are not clear, it is a priority area in the negotiations. The EU Council’s Directive for the TTIP negotiations outlines main negotiating objectives for the agreement. The only specific issue identified in the section on intellectual property rights is a mention of GIs.

The debate on GIs in the United States

While this concept is most developed in the EU, there are a number of Geographical Indications already in use in the United States. Although there is no centralized list as in the EU, names such as Maine Lobsters, Idaho Potatoes, Vidalia Onions, Kona Coffee and Florida Oranges are protected under trademarks held by industry associations. The American Origin Products Research Association, an organization established to promote the establishment and protection of GIs in the United States, argues that increased designation and protection of GIs for locally produced cheeses and other goods would enhance value added for local producers and provide more accurate and useful information to consumers. They argue that existing trademark law puts the burden of protection on those industry associations, raising unfair obstacles to producers of locally established products to establish their own place-based names for cheeses and other products.

Those concerns have found some resonance among local producers. In an article in the Portland Press Herald, Caitlin Hunter, a cheese maker at Appleton Creamery in Maine said, “I completely agree with the Europeans that we should not use their cheese names. They have spent centuries developing their distinctive regional styles, and we should not steal them, or try to reproduce them.” She labels her cheese “Camdenbert,” (a takeoff on the coastal town Camden) for example. However, she argues that extending those protections to what most would regard as generic names is another matter. (9)

The Consortium for Common Food Names, an industry association, (CCFN) argues that the EU’s agenda on GIs would unfairly restrict food names that are no longer strictly associated with particular regions. It argues for a process to establish which food names are actually in common usage, perhaps with a registry at the international level. It further suggests requiring that GIs include the name of the place where the good is produced, i.e., Camembert de Normandie (which is the actual GI approved by the EU) rather than simply Camembert (which, in fact, the EU has not sought to protect).

These issues have found support in Congress, where two letters to the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) have rejected the EU’s push for GI protections in TTIP. In an April 4, 2014 letter to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack and USTR Michael Froman, 45 Senators rejected the EU’s approach on GIs in TTIP, focusing on protections for processed meat names such as bologna. They called on USTR to work aggressively to ensure that the EU’s approach on GIs does not impair the ability of U.S. businesses to compete, stating, “We are concerned that these restrictions would impact smaller businesses who specialize in artisan and other specialty meat products such as bratwurst, kielbasa, wiener schnitzel and various sausages.” (10)  The EU does not actually recognize GIs for any of those terms as single meat names. According to the European Commission’s Database of Origin and Registration (DOOR), it does recognize Mortadella Bologna, Thüringer Rostbratwurst, Nürnberger Bratwürste, Nürnberger Rostbratwürste and Kiełbasa lisiecka.

That letter was followed in May by a letter from 177 members of the House of Representativesfocused on GIs for cheese names. That letter, led by the Congressional Dairy Farmers Caucus with support from the National Milk Producers Federation, asserts that, “The EU is taking a mechanism that was created to protect consumers against misleading information and instead using it to carve out exclusive market access for its own producers. The EU’s abuse of GIs threatens U.S. sales and exports of a number of U.S. agricultural products, but pose a particular concern to the use of dairy terms.” (11)

Back to basics: protecting GIs for local economies and sustainable food chains

Fundamentally, protections for Geographical Indications should ensure consumers’ right to know how and where their food was produced, while enhancing local producers’ rights to livelihoods and cultural traditions. Extending these kinds of protections to local producers in the U.S. or other trading partners, with strong governmental support, could be an element that would help to rebuild connections among local consumers, farmers and natural environments.

On the other hand, bolstering those protections to facilitate unlimited expansion of production in foreign markets seems a sure recipe for corporate control and industrial-scale production. GIs should not become the premium trademark of the global food industry. As a collective initiative of producers defining agro-ecological rules for sustainable use of local resources which enhance the production of a great variety of quality food, decent jobs in rural areas and a fair income for farmers in disadvantaged areas, GIs should consciously put cooperation between farmers and consumers before competition on international markets and food quality before growth in market shares.

Two cases of GIs for cheese from the South East of France may illustrate how European producers, mainly in disadvantaged rural regions, have developed such a strategy to defend a fair income for farmers, to preserve and develop sustainable farming practices in ecologically sensitive areas, and to offer a high quality product to consumers which also attracts attention or interest in visiting that region as a tourist.

The raw milk cheese “Beaufort” is produced in the mountain region of Savoie. The Geographical Indication was registered in 1968 and the EU accepted an EU AOC label in 2009. The GI is carried by 600 milk farmers, 4 processors and 47 cheese agers. The annual production is around 4000 tons of cheese which ripens in 8 -15 months. The cooperatives sell two seasonal cheeses: summer and winter cheese. Milk for summer cheese is collected between June and October in the higher parts of the mountains where cows are taken to graze the steep slopes. It receives a higher price for a special taste. Farmers are not allowed to use any artificial fertilizer or feed which does not stem from the region. Only hay, not silage, is allowed for winter feed.Cows must have at least one hectare of grazing area and must be one of seven local cattle races which is adapted to the climate and mountain conditions.

The region profits from this local product as tourists come for the beauty of the cultivated landscape as well as for the specific products like Beaufort Cheese and others. Farmers receive a premium price not only for the name, but for the sustainable practices and the good raw milk they deliver to the processors. The region keeps young people, because there are jobs available in a highly integrated rural community.

The case of Compté cheese in the Jura area of southern Franceis similar, but has reached a bigger size of production. Compte has an annual production of 40,000 tons of cheese, which is also exported to other member states of the EU. However, similar limitations on fertilizer use, the exclusion of GMOs and a clear link to the carrying capacity of the land is obligatory for all producers.

A different case is Feta cheese, which has no regional limitation and is considered by most registered GI holders as the bad case of the story. Feta cheese was originally produced in Greece by small farmers from sheep milk using a special recipe for soft cheese with a longer shelf life due to added salt. This cheese did not receive unchallenged GI protection until 2006. During the period of the great surplus production of milk in Europe in the 1970s and 80s, many large dairy industries in Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands started imitating Feta, even produced from cow milk and sold it as Feta. Only upon the initiative of large Greek Feta industries in 1996, was Feta recognized as a GI. Some member states then appealed to the European Court for the annulment of this decision. Their position was that the name Feta had become a common one. The European Court decided the partial annulment, removing the name Feta from the protected geographical indication register. The thinking behind this decision was that during establishment of Feta as GI, the Commission had not taken into account the analysis of the situation in other member states regarding the documentation of the authenticity of its origin.

In 2001, the Commission suggested the re-registration of Feta in the rule (ΕC) 1107/96. The name Feta was re-introduced in the GI registry with the (EC) 1829/2002 ruling of the Commission in October of 2002.

These three cases differ in some fundamental aspects. The production of Beaufort and Compte cheeses are integrally linked to local cultures, environments and economies. In many ways they epitomize the ideal of re-localization of food. While their GI designation rightfully protects their use within the EU from imported products using those names, their designation as export commodities included in free trade agreements risks losing their essential character.

Exactly where one draws the line between a product that is truly linked to local economies and traditions and one that has become more of a large scale commodity for export is perhaps difficult to draw. But it would seem best suited to an open process involving all stakeholders. U.S. producers of local cheeses, wines and other products would also welcome a dialogue that would enhance the limited protections they enjoy under U.S. law. While this might be possible to achieve through a process of bilateral consultations, it is hard to imagine how it could occur within the black box of negotiations for TTIP.

Karen Hansen Khun is Director for international Strategies of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) based in  Washington, DC

Hannes Lorenzen is senior advisor at the Committee for Agriculture and Rural Development of the European Parliament in Brussels and is a co-founder of  the Agriculture and Rural Convention Arc2020.

[1]World Intellectual Property Organization, Geographical Indications: An Introduction, WPO Publication No. 952(E), p. 6-7.

[2] WIPO, p. 11.

[3] EC Database of Origin and Registration, http://ow.ly/J5Ro3

[4] O’Conner and Company, Geographical indications and TRIPs: 10 Years Later… A roadmap for EU GI holders to get protection in other WTO Members, p. 11.

[5]Commission press release 14 January 2015

[6]http://www.cooperative-de-beaufort.com/ and http://androuet.com/Beaufort-94.html

[7]“TTIP Talks On GIs Focused On Comparing Systems, Not On EU GI List,” Inside U.S. Trade, May 23, 2014.

[8] Source: http://ec.europa.eu/trade/policy/countries-and-regions/agreements/#_other-countries

[9] Whit Richardson, “Europe wants its cheese names back, and some Mainers agree,” Portland Press Herald, April 15, 2014.

 

[10] Posted at http://www.commonfoodnames.com/the-issue/current-activities/meat-gis-eu-ttip-vilsack-and-froman-april-2014/.

[11] Letter posted at http://www.commonfoodnames.com/wp-content/uploads/House-Dairy-TTIP-Letter1.pdf.

Posted February 16, 2015 by     Mallory Morken @mallorymorken

TradeMoney and PoliticsFast TrackFree trade agreements

Used under creative commons license from nasahqphoto.

In his State of the Union address, President Obama urged Congress to renew Trade Promotion Authority, often called “Fast Track,” to complete two controversial international trade deals currently under negotiation, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). In attempts to portray this urgency, the President warned of China’s rising power in the realm of trade and global economics, and China is “trying to write the rules,” which would “disadvantage” American workers and businesses. Obama said, “We should write those rules. We should level the playing field.” But who actually writes the rules of these trade deals?

In mid-January, the Trade Benefits America Coalition submitted a letter to Congress leadership, urging the passage of Trade Promotion Authority. The undersigned Coalition members include over 200 of the largest corporations and trade associations in the country, a sample of which include Walmart, Coca Cola, the notorious corporate-led, state-focused ALEC, and four of the “Big 6” pesticide and GMO corporations: BASF, Bayer, Dupont, and Dow Chemical Company. Not one of the Coalition members appear to represent workers, the environment, or public health - a glaring indication of who will benefit from Fast Track and the pending trade deals.

Of the 200+ undersigned Coalition groups promoting Fast Track, about 33 could be identified as agribusiness- or food-related. Just these 33 agribusiness groups alone spent nearly $170 million in lobbying in 2013-2014. (This is a fraction of the total lobby power of the 200+ groups urging Fast Track.) We’re talking about serious capital to ensure that their interests are seriously represented in the TPP and TTIP.

U.S. Trade Representative top official Michael Froman (a Citigroup alum) claims that Fast Track puts “Congress in the driver’s seat.” A perplexing declaration, since the reality is quite the opposite. Under Fast Track, the trade agreements are presented to Congress for an up or down vote, with little debate and no ability to amend. The years of negotiations for these deals have taken place behind closed doors. Congress and the public do not have full access to the text. Members of Congress can read the text in guarded reading rooms, but they can’t bring their staff or outside experts, can’t take notes, and can’t discuss specifics outside of the room. Meanwhile, nearly 600 corporate and Wall Street representatives have been intimately involved in the crafting of the bills the entire time. That doesn’t sound much like being in the driver’s seat.

Corporations and free trade evangelists are pushing for Fast Track now because the trade deals are so dense and controversial that granting our elected representatives (and the public) full access to the text will likely slow down the process, if not kill the agreements altogether.

The agribusiness companies pushing Fast Track have a record of opposing issues that American consumers overwhelmingly support in order to preserve their profit margins. These are the same companies that have spent $100 million since 2012 to fight the labeling of GMOs, the same companies that oppose Country of Origin Labeling (COOL), and same companies who benefit from cheap corn and soy and prolific use of neonics that are killing bees and other pollinators. These also happen to be a lot of the same companies that comprise the U.S.Trade Representative advisory committees, providing direct input into the crafting of the TPP and TTIP.

The agribusiness sector is positioned to significantly benefit from these mega trade deals through lower tariffs, lower food safety and labeling regulations, and the expansion of corporate rights to challenge regulations they don’t like. But agribusiness wealth does not trickle down to our local farms and consumers. For example, during the first 7 years of NAFTA, Archer Daniels Midland’s profits increased from $110 million to $301 million while ConAgra’s grew from $143 million to $413 million. During that same period of booming agribusiness wealth, 700,000 U.S. jobs were lost, U.S. exports grew at a slower pace (except corn), U.S. food imports rose 239 percent, and the price of food in the U.S. jumped 67 percent. Since NAFTA, U.S. farmers have experienced major shifts with more volatile market prices; fewer, larger farms; losses in mid-sized farms; and increased corporate concentration in all agricultural sectors. The deal was also bad for Mexico: two million farmers lost their livelihoods and were forced to migrate to the border or the U.S. in search of work. Despite the adverse effects seen by workers and farmers in both countries, NAFTA is the model for these new trade deals; the TPP has been labeled “NAFTA on steroids.” Uh-oh.

The Obama administration claims that the TPP will yield 650,000 new U.S. jobs, but the Washington Post’s Fact Checker labeled this projection a farce, based on faulty models. Similar promises of job gains from free trade deals have not delivered, as companies offshore to other countries with more lax labor and environmental standards in order to cut costs.

Communities all across the globe are protesting the deception and corruption inherent in these trade deals. Demonstrations in Mexico, Berlin, New Zealand, Japan,and Brussels, the European Citizens’ Initiative, and the recent protest at the Senate Finance Committee barely scratch the surface in representing the opposition.

When our elected representatives are not allowed to participate in the process, clearly the result will not be in our interests. Multinational corporations have been molding the deals in the interest of their bottom lines with disregard to the health of the planet, workers, and our food supply. In order to halt these trade deals, we need to first defeat Fast Track. And moving forward, to ensure Big Money does not continue to drown out the voices of the American people, we need to reform the way we do politics: to #GetMoneyOut and reclaim our democracy. 

Posted February 12, 2015 by Tara Ritter   

Industrialized MeatClimateClimate ChangeEnvironment

Used under creative commons license from sraproject.

Recommended changes to the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), a farm program designed to encourage conservation, may instead promote the expansion of factory farms that harm the climate. EQIP is administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (USDA NRCS), and is one of the largest federal conservation programs. It is a voluntary program that provides financial and technical assistance to agricultural producers to address soil, water, air, and other natural resource concerns. Since its inception in 1997, EQIP has invested in nearly 600,000 contracts for a total of about $11 billion on 232 million acres.

As climate change makes farming more risky with erratic temperatures, increased drought and flood, and other extreme weather events, conservation programs can provide an opportunity for producers to undertake practices that increase their farm’s resilience to climate impacts without taking a large economic hit. The 2014 Farm Bill authorized several changes to the program intended to simplify regulation, but instead the proposed changes would provide distinct advantages for Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). Animal waste storage and treatment facilities have become the second largest user of EQIP funds, behind only irrigation equipment. Funding projects that benefit large-scale CAFOs not only wreaks havoc on the climate; it also ends up disproportionately benefiting large operations over small to mid-sized family farms.

Among the changes proposed in the EQIP interim final rule was an elimination of the requirement for EQIP applications of $150,000 or greater to require the review of a Regional Conservationist. The projects most likely to receive such large payments would be in support of CAFOs, including construction of manure lagoons and methane digesters. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC), which IATP is a member of, submitted comments to urge requiring the approval of Regional Conservationists for all projects as an invaluable check to track the cumulative impacts of projects in a region.

The 2014 Farm Bill directs 60% of EQIP funds to be allocated to livestock-related practices, with no additional stipulations. These funds are not currently required to prioritize sustainable livestock management, and could be used to build new CAFOs and expand existing ones. IATP agrees with NSAC’s comments asserting that prioritizing sustainable livestock management practices – including rotational grazing, forage management, and infrastructure to protect streams and lakes from livestock impacts – should be required in the final EQIP rule.

Animal agriculture contributes an estimated 18% of global annual greenhouse gas emissions. Conservation programs such as EQIP should not be propping up or fixing CAFOs that pollute the air and water, contribute to deforestation and draining of wetlands, and encourage chemical-heavy farming to grow the corn and soy fed to the animals. Instead, investment should go to livestock production systems such as rotational grazing that reduce risks associated with climate change while at the same time significantly reducing or eliminating water and air pollution and increasing soil health.




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