Posted February 23, 2015 by Shefali Sharma
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]
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:
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
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:
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.
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. ****
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.
World Intellectual Property Organization, Geographical Indications: An Introduction, WPO Publication No. 952(E), p. 6-7.
 WIPO, p. 11.
 EC Database of Origin and Registration, http://ow.ly/J5Ro3
 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.
Commission press release 14 January 2015
“TTIP Talks On GIs Focused On Comparing Systems, Not On EU GI List,” Inside U.S. Trade, May 23, 2014.
 Letter posted at http://www.commonfoodnames.com/wp-content/uploads/House-Dairy-TTIP-Letter1.pdf.
Posted February 16, 2015 by Mallory Morken @mallorymorken
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
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.
Posted February 6, 2015 by Dr. Steve Suppan
The U.S. Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) rule is headed for a showdown at the World Trade Organization Appellate Body (AB) on February 16-17. At stake are not just the economic interests of those affected by the WTO ruling on COOL and the right of consumers to know the origin of their food, but also the capacity of WTO jurisprudence to reverse a ruling when new evidence emerges. In this instance, the AB will be presented with evidence that thoroughly rebuts the facts upon which a WTO Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) panel based its ruling against COOL.
COOL for a broad array of horticultural, nut, fish, shellfish and meat products was first mandated in the 2002 U.S. Farm Bill. Only the application of COOL to meat products has been challenged in court. The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy first supported COOL’s regulatory implementation at a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) hearing in 2003. In successive Farm Bills, global meatpackers have sought to “reform” COOL by making the labeling rules so confusing as to be meaningless. COOL proponents have defended the labeling law successfully four times in U.S. Courts.
The meatpackers and their political allies have succeeded in delaying implementation through myriad tactics, including persuading the governments of Canada and Mexico to seek to annul COOL at the WTO. IATP summarized the evidence presented in 2009 at the WTO for and against COOL, including the USDA’s grossly overestimated price tag for implementing COOL. In response to the WTO DSB ruling against COOL in 2011, the USDA revised its COOL rule.
The United States filed its notice of appeal with the AB on November 28, 2014 after an October 20 DSB panel declared that the May 2013 revised USDA COOL rule still did not comply with the WTO Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT). The DSB panel concluded, “We have found that the amended COOL measure has increased the original COOL measure's detrimental impact on the competitive opportunities of imported livestock, and that this impact does not stem exclusively from legitimate regulatory distinctions. We therefore find that the amended COOL measure accords less favourable treatment to imported livestock than to like products of US origin” (page 108).
Last month, the U.S. Trade Representative was presented with a study, supported by the National Farmers Union and Food and Water Watch, by Professor C. Robert Taylor for use at the AB hearing. (Alan Guebert, “The COOL Facts,” for the week of January 25, 2014, Farm and Food File, subscription required) Professor Taylor shows how a study (“Sumner Econometric Study”) cited as evidence of COOL-caused harm to Canadian cattle producers in a 432 page DSB panel ruling against COOL in November 2011, is both analytically deficient and based on proprietary Canadian data not available for peer review. The DSB panel allowed the use of the propriety data, which could not be reviewed by COOL supporters in friend-of-the-court briefs to the AB.
Professor Taylor’s study analyzes more robust, comprehensive and publicly available data, including U.S. Department of Agriculture Mandatory Price Reporting 2005–2014 data, live cattle import and meatpacker “captive supply” (meatpacker contracted cattle production not available on a competitive market) data and currency exchange rate data. He demonstrates that, contrary to Canadian presentations to the DSB panel, “COOL did not negatively impact imports of slaughter cattle” nor of feeder cattle. In terms of the TBT Agreement, COOL did not “accord less favorable treatment” to Canadian (and Mexican) cattle imports.
Professor Taylor concludes, “The analysis above indicates cattle export opportunities from Canada and Mexico to the U.S. are subject to a number of variables that are completely independent of the implementation of COOL. Changes in market access are caused by these other forces rather than by COOL. In light of this reasoning, USDA should not undertake any changes to COOL based on arguments that COOL has limited Canadian and Mexican access to the U.S. market.” Among these variables independent of COOL are quality differences in cattle that affect price, the effect of the global financial crisis on currency exchange rates, and the effect of Great Recession macro-economic factors on consumer demand for beef and meatpacker import and slaughter volumes.
If the USTR uses this study effectively to defend COOL, the AB should dismiss the DSB ruling concerning purported economic harm and “less favorable treatment” of Canadian and Mexican cattle producers allegedly caused by COOL. If the AB allows the part of the DSB ruling on “less favorable treatment” to stand, based on Professor Sumner’s statistically skewed study, WTO jurisprudence will be tarnished substantively, but perhaps not procedurally.
The WTO’s Understanding on Dispute Settlement (DSU) is largely an administrative and procedural agreement on conciliation, mediation and arbitration, with litigation as a last resort. There are no DSU rules relative to evidence, save for Appendix 4 on “Expert review groups” that may assist the DSB panels and Article 3.10 on “Correction of factual errors and procedural deficiencies” (paragraph 125). For example, WTO jurisprudence reports that in EC Asbestos, the DSB panel required Canada to correct misrepresentations of fact in an interim review because “unlike errors of law, errors of fact cannot usually be modified on appeal.” Perhaps the AB will require a correction to the Sumner Econometric Study and/or use of public data about cattle prices and imports.
Article 17.6 states, “An appeal shall be limited to issues of law covered in the panel report and legal interpretations developed by the panel.” However, Article 17.13 states, “The Appellate Body may uphold, modify or reverse the legal findings and conclusions of the panel.” Presumably, “issues of law” include the quality, quantity and validity of evidence upon which a DSB ruling is founded. The AB’s precedents regarding the DSU provision that “Resolution of trade disputes excludes tactics and maneuver” (paragraph 113) may provide a basis for ruling that a deceptive econometric analysis of confidential Canadian cattle data constituted a litigation tactic forbidden in DSU Article 3.10.
In sum, there is AB precedential basis, as well as the factual correction basis of Taylor’s study, that would justify a reversal of the DSB panel ruling in U.S. COOL. A successful WTO defense of the U.S. COOL would have at least two kinds of immediate beneficiaries. First, U.S. consumers will get to know the origin of their meat purchases, just as they know the origin of their fruits, vegetables, grains, fish and nuts. The second class of beneficiaries are independent U.S. cattle producers, who want to sell and buy cattle in competitive markets not controlled by the global meatpackers’ anti-competitive “captive supply.”
However, the secondary beneficiaries of a successful WTO defense of U.S. COOL may be even more consequential. First, COOL will support the international consumer right to know, part of a broader set of consumer rights and responsibilities. For example, the Transatlantic Consumer Dialogue (IATP is a member) has urged U.S. and EU officials to include COOL in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership Agreement. Second, a WTO defense of U.S. COOL could be a legal precedent for other WTO members who want to use a COOL rule to support competitive livestock and meat markets in their countries, not subject to “captive supply” and other anti-competitive practices of global meat companies.
The third and perhaps most important benefit of an AB reversal of the DSB ruling on U.S. COOL would be to show to WTO members and their citizens that WTO jurisprudence is capable of demanding corrections of false evidence and reversing rulings based on false evidence that otherwise would favor some of the most politically well-connected and economically influential transnational corporations.
Posted February 4, 2015 by Dr. Steve Suppan
The eighth negotiating session for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership Agreement (TTIP) is happening this week in Brussels. One of the thorniest parts of the negotiations between the U.S. and EU concerns food safety.
Today, IATP published an analysis of the European Commission’s proposed chapter on food safety, plant health and animal health and welfare (SPS), released on January 7, and a January 28 leak of the chapter on “regulatory cooperation”. The proposal for regulatory cooperation covers all U.S. and EU “regulatory acts” (pre-regulatory research and draft proposed regulations, finalized regulations, and their implementation and enforcement), including those of U.S. states and EU member states that might have a “significant impacts on trade and investment” (Article 5).
Additionally, IATP has contributed to a joint NGO statement about the SPS chapter that was released in time for an EC-sponsored TTIP Stakeholders meeting on February 4. IATP’s analysis of the proposed chapters and of the U.S. government’s insufficient capacity to provide the “appropriate level” of SPS protection guaranteed in TTIP, give plenty of reason to doubt that public, environmental and animal health and welfare will be protected, as negotiators have promised.
TTIP and the TransPacific Partnership (TPP) are primarily agreements about ensuring that regulations to protect public health, food safety, environmental health and worker safety are “least trade restrictive,” although the TPP also proposes sharp reductions in import tariffs. Because the public has no access to the U.S. Trade Representative’s (USTR) negotiating texts and because industry demands to the USTR to remove “trade irritants” include SPS regulations, these agreements are extremely controversial, particularly in Europe.
For example, an anti-TTIP rally on food and agriculture last month in Berlin drew more than 50,000 people. In December, the European Citizens Initiative delivered to EU President Jean-Claude Juncker a “birthday card” with a million signatures on a petition to stop TTIP negotiations altogether. If the Congress gives President Obama “fast track” Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) in March, the USTR could present the TPP and the TTIP to Congress for a yes or no vote, since “fast track” TPA forbids amendments and allows very limited debate on the trade agreements.
IATP’s analysis of the EC proposed SPS chapter and the leaked regulatory cooperation chapter, which applies to the SPS chapter, yields the following highlights:
Much remains to be negotiated, particularly more than a dozen annexes that will contain crucial details about how the SPS chapter is to be implemented. The European Commission has promised to publish future negotiating proposals after they have been discussed with the USTR. The Obama administration has made no such commitment for any trade agreement. Indeed, given the Obama administration’s relentless pursuit of whistle-blowers, it is not likely that U.S. officials will leak draft negotiating text.
Members of Congress, without their staff or experts of their choosing, may read the draft negotiating texts in a room with guards posted at the door. The People’s representatives are not allowed to take notes about what they are reading nor may they discuss publicly the textual specifics of the USTR negotiating proposals. If the Obama administration wins fast track Trade Promotion Authority, the USTR will present a final TTIP text to Congress for a yes or no vote, with no amendments allowed. To give fast track a semblance of democracy, the expedited procedure allows each chamber of Congress 20 hours to debate the text it has forbidden itself to amend.
The conclusion of IATP’s analysis urges TTIP negotiators to take a hard look at the very high costs of SPS regulatory and market failure. TTIP’s carefully modulated pressure against regulation in all economic sectors takes place seven years after the deregulation of the financial service industry resulted in the Great Recession in which most U.S. and European citizens still live. The U.S. economy alone suffered at least $12.8 trillion in damage. A 2010 study by a former U.S. Food and Drug Administration economist put the average annual cost of acute (requires hospitalization) foodborne illness at $152 billion. Only part of that cost can be attributed to regulatory failure and only part due to imported food and agriculture products.
However, given that the TTIP economic benefits forecast by proponents amount to a “rounding error” in terms of the EU and U.S. Gross Domestic Product, IATP urges U.S. and EU negotiators to delete the requirement that all SPS regulations must be “least trade restrictive.” TTIP related deregulatory failures could cost a lot more than the negligible macroeconomic gains forecast by TTIP proponents over the next decade or more.
Posted January 30, 2015 by Erin McKee VanSlooten
New school meal standards set by the federal Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act have been getting a lot of press lately. To provide healthier meals, the bill upped requirements for servings of whole grains and legumes. Farm to School programs are one way to meet this requirement while taking advantage of healthy, regionally grown products and supporting local farmers. IATP has come up with a report to help schools add regionally grown grains and legumes to your Farm to School repertoire.
Increasing grains and legume portions in school lunch programs often requires more resources for schools. This year, Congress will pass a new Child Nutrition Act to set a path for school lunches for the next five years, determining whether the new healthy standards are maintained and how much support schools get to meet these requirements and implement Farm to School programs. Check back here for more information as the Child Nutrition Act debate unfolds.
Posted January 29, 2015 by IATP
Trade agreements can affect a huge range of laws and programs that determine how our economies work, how we grow and sell food, and who benefits―or loses. And they lock those decisions into permanent agreements that in many cases supersede state, local and even federal laws.
Shockingly, these powerful agreements aren’t the result of a thorough and informed public debate. While bills in Congress can be contentious, they do provide at least the possibility that the public can weigh in and even influence the final legislation. Under Fast Track rules, trade deals are negotiated behind closed doors, with the final results presented to Congress for an up or down vote, no amendments allowed, and limited floor debate.
Sometime soon, perhaps in the next month, Congress will be asked to give the Obama administration Fast Track authority. Earlier this year, IATP and more than 600 groups told Congress they should reject Fast Track, and instead take new a approach on trade, one that gives a voice to those most affected. We are launching a new webpage called Trade Secrets that uncovers what’s wrong with these new mega trade deals and how they affect our everyday lives, with our first piece focused on Fast Track.
Posted January 23, 2015 by Mallory Morken - @MalloryMorken
About 200 people gathered in Lafayette Square outside of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in D.C. on Wednesday to profess loudly and clearly that our democracy is not for sale. Public Citizen organized the rally to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the Citizens United ruling; and despite the cold and the snow, a lineup of lively speakers and talented musicians ensured that the crowd remained in high spirits. The speakers shared both statistics and personal stories about how the political power afforded to big corporations is undermining our quality of life.
Minnesota Representative Keith Ellison was the featured speaker from Congress. Mid-way through his speech, after a roll call and verbal appreciation for the diversity of issues represented at the rally, he said:
“I was going around asking folks what’s the biggest problem confronting our country? People said, ‘It’s climate change!’- that’s a good one, that’s a serious problem. They said, ‘It’s wage stagnation!’- and that’s a serious problem. Some said, ‘The right to organize!’- and they also have a very good point to make. Or maybe it’s pay equality for women. Big deal, right? But if we cannot let our voice shine through our democratic institutions because they’ve been taken over by big money corporations, then none of these very important issues will be able to come through. Which, in my mind, makes reclaiming democracy, the issue.” [Resounding applause and cheers from the crowd.]
Across the board, regardless of our priorities in our respective organizations, all our issues are affected by the unprecedented ability of corporations to spend millions to influence government.
Rep. Ellison announced that he would introduce the Protect Democracy from Criminal Corporations Act, and that until Citizens United is overturned, this could be a significant step in limiting the political power of corporations. Currently when corporations are caught breaking laws, the typical punishment is a mere slap on the wrist and a fine. However, under the proposed law, criminal corporations would be prohibited from contributing to federal, state, or local elections.
The rally was energizing, and this new bill sounds promising. There are many groups and individuals working together to end corporate personhood and defeat Citizens United, about five million, actually. Minnesota is one of five states that will push for a state constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, putting pressure on Congress to make the change nationally (see more at www.getmoneyoutaction.org). One of the speakers at the rally drove home the point that even if we personally are not working on the issue, how important it is to share the good news that many people are- and it’s making an impact.