Posted August 20, 2014 by Dr. Steve Suppan
Earlier this summer, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advised the food industry what a manufacturer should do if it puts nanomaterials in food: Please call us. The human health effects of ingesting nanomaterials are not well understood, but a few food manufacturers claim to include nanomaterials in their products. The FDA’s advice could have been worse: Don’t call us. But it could have been a lot better by requiring pre-market and post-market safety assessments and testing of any “food substance” containing nanomaterials.
Nanotechnology, the synthesis, visualization, configuration and manipulation of atomic to molecular size particles, has been practicable since the Nobel-prize winning invention in 1981 of a kind of microscope that made nano-visualization and manipulation possible. (See the superb “Timeline: Nanotechnology” published in April by the University of Ottawa.) The application of nanotechnology to industrial processes, such as coating semi-conductors and other electronic parts with infinitesimally thin layers of metal oxides, has enabled the production of computer server farms and cell-phones, to name just two of the most famous applications.
However, the application of nanotechnology to food and agriculture products in the new millennium presents environmental, health and safety (EHS) problems of an order magnitude greater than what currently exists for industrial nano-coatings. Among these problems is the near dearth of studies on the effects on the chronic consumption of nanomaterials in food, despite the presumed the bio-accumulation of some nanomaterials in the human body. Furthermore, there is a lack of agreed ways and measures to test toxicity of nanomaterials, regulatory definitions for nanotechnology and nanomaterials, and other elements of a nano-specific regulatory system. In the face of such challenges, what is the FDA, charged under the Food, Drugs and Cosmetics Act, with protecting human health, to do when product developers claim to incorporate nanomaterials in commercialized foods?
Thus far, the FDA and other U.S. regulatory agencies with EHS obligations, have sought the cooperation of industry by voluntary means and by building the agencies’ regulatory scientific capacity to evaluate nanotechnology applications. Earlier this summer, FDA released three final voluntary guidance to industry documents on nanotechnology. Although guidance documents do not impose any legal requirements on nanotechnology product developers, they do present FDA’s official understanding of nanotechnology and recommend when nano-product developers should consult with the agency at the research and development stage of those products.
When the draft guidances were first posted in 2012, IATP analyzed the documents concerning the application of nanotechnology to foods and to cosmetics. The draft documents contained in outline most of the features of the final guidances and did not respond to a 2006 petition by the International Center for Technology Assessment (ICTA) and others to issue mandatory rules on nano-titanium dioxide, used in sunscreen and food packaging to block ultra-violet rays. (IATP was a co-plaintiff in a 2011 lawsuit against FDA filed by the ICTA et al, to require regulation of some nanomaterials and applications of nanotechnology in FDA regulated products. The lawsuit did not succeed in its objective.) In July 2012, IATP submitted a regulatory comment on FDA’s draft guidance document about nanomaterials in “food substances.” Then we waited for the final guidances.
On August 12, I gave an overview of two of the guidance documents in a Spanish language presentation on Nanotecnologia do avesso (Nanotechnology Inside Out), a webcast program of the Brazilian Research Network on Nanotechnology, Society and Environment (Renanosoma). One guidance concerned how FDA understands whether or not a material used in FDA regulated products is a nanomaterial. This guidance received input from every office in the FDA because it applies to all FDA regulated products. The other guidance, drafted by the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, explained how FDA understands the use of nanomaterials in food processing and food packaging.
The “whether nano or not” guidance urges, but does not require, nanotech product developers to consult with the agency early during the research and development phase, if 1.) a product incorporates an Engineered Nano-scale Material (ENM) measuring between one and 100 nanometers (the diameter of a human hair is about 80,000 nanometers) or 2.) if the application of nanotechnology results in physical, chemical or biological changes to materials measuring up to 1000 nanometers. In a footnote to the second criterion, the guidance notes that the European Commission has also proposed a 1000 nm threshold of pre-regulatory concern. The FDA laudably states that its pre-regulatory focus is not just on the size of the material, but how nano-sizing and configuration affects the chemical, physical and biological properties of materials in FDA-regulated products.
The guidance does not say what will happen to any industry proposed nanotechnology application as a result of a FDA consultation, but at this point, we can be sure that the FDA cannot require nano-product developers to do anything under the guidance.
Like the European Commission’s recommendation for a regulatory definition of “nanomaterials,” FDA excludes from regulatory concern ‘incidental’ nanomaterials that result from the “food substance” manufacturing process, as opposed to the intentional use of Engineered Nano-scale Materials (ENMs). (The European Consumers Organization urged the European Parliament in March to reject the Commission’s definition, in part because of the intentional use definition of nanomaterials.) There is no scientific basis for this exclusion. Nanomaterials in a given product, whether incidental or not, have the physical, chemical and biological reactivity of ENMs in that product. Therefore, both “incidental” nanomaterials and ENMs must be subject to a safety assessment to determine whether their use or consumption poses unacceptable risks to human health, worker safety and/or the environment.
Both documents state that FDA’s consultation with nano-product developers will take place on a “case-by-case” basis. The case-by-case approach is not unique to FDA but is dictated by a White House Office of Science and Technology policy first applied in 1992 to the deregulation of genetically modified organisms. As I argued in a recent fact sheet on synthetic biology, the case-by-case approach to regulatory or pre-regulatory review facilitates deregulation for the underfunded and understaffed EHS agencies under pressure to commercialize new technologies and products.
About half of the guidance on manufacturing methods for “food substances,” including use of nanotechnology, summarizes existing FDA regulations that apply to all FDA regulated foods. Within this summary is an outline of the steps that FDA takes to determine that a food is safe to consume. Among these steps is an evaluation of the “self-limiting level of use” by the food product developer, who is presumed to know how much of a given food additive can be added to achieve a targeted “technical effect,” such as a certain thickness, before the food becomes unpalatable or inedible.
Traditionally, “self-limiting level of use” pertains to ingredients measured in terms of mass. However, as IATP noted in our June 2012 comment letter on the draft guidance, mass-based measurements are irrelevant to determining “self-limiting levels of use” of food grade ENMs. The mass of ENMs is far too small to be a toxicologically relevant metric for FDA’s safety assessment methodology. The final guidance on ENMs in food does not provide any insight into how FDA believes that it can use the concept of “self-limiting levels of use” for assessing the safety of ENMs in food. Nano-toxicological relevant metrics have been proposed, but not for chronic exposure to ENMs in food.
One praiseworthy feature of the guidance is that FDA alerts industry that it is very unlikely to assume that ENMs in food can be Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS). For example, just because macro forms of silicon dioxide, a processed food thickener, are GRAS, food manufacturers should not assume that FDA will consider nano-sized silicon dioxide to be GRAS. Given the differences in chemical, physical and biological properties of nano and macro forms of the same material, it may seem self-evident, that ENMs must not be assumed to qualify for FDA GRAS certification. However, following the General Accountability Office’s criticism of FDA’s GRAS determinations, it is a small relief to read FDA’s alert to industry.
Finally, the guidance states that FDA has yet to receive any applications to commercialize “food substances” incorporating nanomaterials. However, there is test-based evidence, summarized in a 2013 report by As You Sow, that such goods are already in our food system. It is alarming that the FDA is not proposing to test food products for ENMs or to publish the results of such tests of products by those manufacturers that already claim to use ENMs in food or food packaging. Perhaps the FDA is just turning a blind eye to those possible uses in order to protect itself.
If the FDA doesn’t officially recognize the use of ENMs in food, it’s not violating its obligations under the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act to determine the safety of “significant new process changes” in manufacturing foods with ingredients that the agency is unlikely to characterize as GRAS. That legal strategy may be understandable in light of the constant pressure by industry, federal trade agencies and Congress to make regulations “least trade restrictive.” But the voluntary guidance to industry documents provide very little evidence that the FDA has scientific resources or political will to initiate mandatory rule-making to protect consumers from nano-food products on the market or about to be commercialized with or without the agency’s official knowledge.
Posted August 5, 2014 by Pete Huff
Today, Missouri goes to the polls to decide—among other things—if they want to amend the state’s constitution to include what is being referred to as the “right to farm.” This debate has been a fiercely pitched and costly battle to enshrine a right that many farmers rightly assume they already have.
The National Agricultural Law Center notes on their website that “All fifty states have enacted right-to-farm laws that seek to protect qualifying farmers and ranchers from nuisance lawsuits filed by individuals who move into a rural area where normal farming operations exist, and who later use nuisance actions to attempt to stop those ongoing operations.” In short, farmers and ranchers everywhere, including Missouri, are protected from those who complain about their daily operations on the basis of comfort.
So why such an adamant fight for something redundant? The simple truth is that the proposed Amendment 1—which would ensure the right of Missouri citizens to engage in agricultural production and ranching practices without infringement—has nothing to do with the protection of Missouri citizens at all. Despite the seemingly local origins of a measure to protect local farmers from “unreasonable regulations” and outside groups, the effort is nothing more than a national corporate wolf in a local sheep’s clothing. While the fate of Missouri will be known later today, it is important to understand the national context of fights like these.
Right-to-farm amendments, regardless of the state claiming them as their own, are the product of a national effort aimed at furthering corporate interests under the veneer of freedom and states’ rights. The mill that produces the stock right-to-farm legislation is the DC-based American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). From agriculture to education, ALEC offers generic “model legislation” aimed at the advancement of “limited government, free markets, and federalism at the state level through a nonpartisan public-private partnership of America’s state legislators, members of the private sector and the general public.” Simply, they create fodder legislation that favors big business and use private money to push it through as many state legislatures as possible via pseudo-grassroots initiatives.
Ironically invoking agrarian Thomas Jefferson in their agriculture principles, ALEC’s right to farm legislation trades the vigilance of democracy—which, despite its challenges, protects the rights of citizens above all else—for the indifference of corporations in the governance of the common good. The exhaustive list of the corporations that support and fund the formation and rollout of ALEC’s model legislation swiftly extinguishes any notion that any right-to=farm effort is for citizens.
To further understand the pervasiveness of ALEC’s national efforts to advance the interests of business over the citizens, one only has to move up the food chain. ALEC’s opposition to efforts to increase food worker wages is publically available and driven by the National Restaurant Association (NRA), a trade association and political front group for over 170 corporate restaurant chains that include the most dominant brands on the national food landscape. Backed by ALEC political influence, the NRA has been the predominant force working against state minimum wage increases and paid sick leave for workers over the past 20 years.
In the case of the right-to-farm push in Missouri, the amendment would essentially prevent the state legislature or local governments from responding to the needs of its citizens by passing laws or enacting regulations that might change the current agriculture or ranching status quo. Beyond the protection from nuisance complaints, this would also exempt agriculture and ranching operations from future legislative efforts to protect the environment and labor. The intentionally broad language of the measure effectively turns the determination of what is considered acceptable agriculture and ranching practices over to the courts, favoring the interests with the greatest capacity to litigate.
This state-by-state charade of corporate sheltering must be combated by authentic grassroots and public awareness efforts to maintain the right of a state to self-determine based on the yet unknown future. While ALEC quotes Thomas Jefferson’s 1787 letter to George Washington by saying “[a]griculture is our wisest pursuit, because it will in the end contribute most to real wealth, good morals, and happiness,” as mandate for its right-to-farm efforts, it must reconcile with his 1809 letter to Colonel Larkin Smith in which Jefferson warns of "the selfish spirit of commerce [that] knows no country, and feels no passion or principle but that of gain.”
Posted August 1, 2014 by Sophia Murphy
Late July is a quiet time for much of the Northern hemisphere: even the United States takes a week or two off work at some point to enjoy the summer. It is a busy time, however, for international trade negotiators—this year more than most. The General Council of the WTO (its primary decision-making body) concluded its last meeting before the summer recess yesterday without signing the trade facilitation agreement (TFA). Director-General Azevêdo was not pleased.
WTO members committed to the TFA at the Bali ministerial last year, promising to adopt it before the end of this month. No one knows what comes now: those who most wanted the agreement passed say the multilateral trading system itself is in jeopardy. U.S. trade officials have been busy making dire pronouncements on social media and at press conferences about the loss of credibility of the multilateral trading system, while a joint statement signed by 26 countries, including Australia, Canada, Malaysia, Nigeria and Viet Nam, warned that if the WTO members failed to adopt the TFA, the whole “Bali Package” (three issues on which governments agreed to make commitments at the WTO Ministerial in December 2013) would unravel. India replied, with some support from other countries, that they needed to see progress on all issues, especially on agriculture talks, before any single agreement can become law.
The fight is an echo of last year’s negotiations, when the U.S. and others held India responsible for the lack of progress on trade talks before the Bali Ministerial because India was insisting on revisions to the WTO Agreement on Agriculture that would allow developing countries more room to provide domestic support for small-scale producers, particularly in programs linked to food security initiatives. Narendra Modi’s new government in India, in place since June, was in part elected on a private sector-friendly platform. There is also considerable support within India’s large international business community for the TFA. But the government’s resolve has apparently hardened: they are implementing the National Food Security Act, passed by the previous government, and have effectively upped the ante in the fight for India’s right to maintain an expanded program of purchasing staple foods from farmers and using the resulting public stocks of these grains in the government’s expanded food security program.
India is not alone in this fight, even if it is the most vocal participant. WTO members that have expressed support for India’s position include South Africa, China, Cuba, Bolivia and Venezuela. The African Group did not mention the TFA when it made its statement to the General Council last week, but it did express disappointment at the lack of meaningful provisions for development—the ostensible objective of the Doha Agenda that the WTO has been negotiating since 2001—and for Least Developed Countries in particular (a series of measures for LDCs specifically was the third element in the Bali Package).
As in many other parts of the multilateral system, the negotiations are suffering from a profound lack of trust. The U.S. blames India for undermining the multilateral system, yet they are busy negotiating major plurilateral agreements: one with the European Union and another with selected developed and developing countries, in the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Inevitably, this sidelines the multilateral system and diverts time and political energy away from the WTO.
India is claiming the right to do what the U.S. and European Union have been doing all along—protecting some parts of their domestic production while simultaneously promoting the interests of their multinational commodity traders and agri-business firms. The anomalies in the rules that India disputes are real. India’s claim to be fighting for the right to support small-scale producers and domestic food systems is an ambition shared by many developing countries, as evidenced in the proposals of the group of developing countries called the G-33 (which has been the most vocal group for developing countries in the agriculture negotiations), the LDCs, the African Group and some of the other configurations of developing countries at the WTO.
Developing countries never liked the Agreement on Agriculture. They felt cheated. The then-European Community and U.S. made a side deal at Blair House that became the basis of the final agreement adopted in 1994. The rules allowed many of the most problematic of the rich countries’ agricultural policies to persist, from export subsidies and export dumping to high levels of domestic support for a handful of products. Nothing was done to address the lack of transparency and competition in international commodity markets.
Much has changed since 1995 and there is no doubt the WTO agreements have played their part in initiating those changes. A handful of developing countries have become major agricultural exporters, while Asia has overtaken Europe as the dominant importing region. Yet at the same time many developing countries have increased their dependence on food imports while lacking the purchasing power to feel confident of their place as buyers in the market. Food exporting countries refuse to accept rules that would make their exports predictable and transparent, private commodity trading firms have increased their oligopoly power over international markets, and expanded further into finance and investment, and other markets, such as those for seeds and farm machinery, have also grown more concentrated.
Of course it is frustrating for trade diplomats that India should seem to pull the rug out from under the talks. In some ways, it is also disingenuous of the Indian government to wrap itself in the mantle of support for small-scale farmers. Like any country, India has to deal with powerful domestic politics, and farmers are just one constituency among many (and they are divided among themselves as well). India is a sub-continent, full of competing interests. But if rich countries continue to push the interests of global commodity firms at every opportunity, while continuing to protect a few domestic interests with the exceptions they built in the rules back in 1994, they can hardly expect the multilateral system to work. It’s time to take a good hard look at just what rules would support food security for everyone in a rapidly changing global environment. The rethink has to start with those who have the lion’s share of the power.
Posted August 1, 2014 by Dale Wiehoff
In 1986, corn was selling at $1.80 a bushel. Today, in the summer of 2014, corn is selling for under $4.00 a bushel. If we adjust for inflation, the $1.80 corn of 1986 would be worth $3.90 a bushel today.
In 1986, the response from farmers to the $1.80 bushel of corn was as close to a populist uprising that this country has ever experienced. A prairie fire of protest spread across the country. Tractorcades, penny auctions, lenders forced to renegotiate farm loans and a whole lot of hell raising in farm country.
In 2014, $3.00 corn has failed to provoke much of a reaction. Why? What has changed?
There were 6 million farmers in the U.S. in 1986. Today there are around 2.2 million farmers, with the bulk of our commodity crop production coming from some 150,000 of them. Between 1970 and 1990, nearly 7 million farmers were forced off the land because of low prices, high interest rates and crushing farm debt. This was the culmination of the “Get big or get out” policies of the Nixon/Reagan era.
The wholesale elimination of millions of family farms sparked the rural rebellion of the late 70s and 80s. Farm families witnessed the end to a way of life that many had inherited from their parents and grandparents. Organizations like the American Agriculture Movement, Farmers Legal Action Group, Farm Aid, the Missouri Rural Crisis Center and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy came into being in response to this crisis. Looking back, farmers and their allies put up a good fight, but in the end, the powerful forces of agribusiness, banks and the pusillanimous politicians of both parties set our nation on a course where farmers were replaced by machines, petroleum, chemicals and monoculture cropping. For those who survived, farm incomes improved and farms got much bigger.
A great deal has changed since 1986. One reason we see December corn futures selling at $3.75 is that not only are American farmers growing a lot more corn, but so are farmers in other countries. In 1986, Brazil produced almost 27 million metric tons of corn compared to 75 million tons in 2013.
In 1986, we didn’t have GMO corn, herbicides or the massive highly technical equipment that have reduced the labor needed to grow bin busting crops of corn.
In 1986, we didn’t have ethanol plants to convert corn into fuel or China building a massive industrial meat operation. Cheap corn is good news for the owners of ethanol plants and Chinese pork producers like WH Group (owners of Smithfield), but not so much for U.S. farmers paying high prices for fuel, seeds, fertilizer, equipment and rent.
A few things haven’t changed since 1986. Willie Nelson and Neil Young still have to raise money to help farmers who are in trouble. Drought still stalks the land and, as in the late 1970s, land prices are high. We would only need the other shoe to drop, as it did in the 1970s, when interest rates spiked and banks started foreclosing. In 2011, the Kansas City Federal Reserve raised the specter of the combination of low crop prices and interest rate increases. Such a combination could call in the chips of many of the remaining 2.2 million farmers.
Another reason $3.00 corn hasn’t ignited a prairie fire is that farmers have few places to turn. Anti-farm groups have worked hard to create the impression that farmers are all welfare cheats. On the other hand you have hungry-eyed hedge fund investors, Silicon Valley billionaires and Walmart looking to own farm land and send crop farmers the way of chicken and hog farmers, to become contract workers for big corporations.
It is way too early to say whether this round or the next of low farm prices will be a serious problem for America’s farmers, but the trend lines are not looking good. What is as clear today as it was in 1986 is that price volatility, no public food reserves to speak of, and the absence of any means to control production is a formula for fewer farms and fewer farmers. This steady erosion of the family farm is not only a threat to national security, but a sign that democracy itself is at risk.
Posted August 1, 2014 by Dr. M. Jahi Chappell Jill Carlson
Food democracy must start from the bottom-up, at the level of villages, regions, cities, and municipalities. – UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food Olivier De Schutter in March 2014
Olivier De Schutter recently finished his widely acclaimed term as the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food. During his 6-year tenure, he called for a "radically and democratically-redesigned" food system. In his closing address, he highlighted the significant changes he has witnessed: the small-scale food producers having a more visible voice in decision-making; the growing number of local initiatives that create a ‘transition from below’ for a more sustainable food system; and ‘agroecology’ becoming a part of mainstream discussions about solutions to current modes of food production and consumption. De Schutter stated, “Much work remains to be done, of course. But there are promising signs that things are moving in the right direction.”
Innovation is the key to solving so many of the problems facing us: widespread malnutrition, environmental damage, and a warming and increasingly unpredictable climate. Our need for innovation is an uncontroversial statement; something we’ve heard a million times over, from politicians, agronomists, environmentalists, and agricultural corporations alike.
They keep using this word, but we do not think innovation means what they think it means. Or at least, it shouldn’t.
Most of the time, “innovation” is being used to describe some new technology, a gadget, an app, a machine, or maybe a specific agricultural technique. And these can all, indeed, be innovations. However, this point of view reflects a “technocratic” mentality, where experts and technical wizzes toil away in their laboratories and board rooms, inventing the solutions that the rest of us can gratefully adopt. The ability of people, of citizens to deliberate and discover innovations from and for their own communities and regions is marginalized when a technocratic approach dominates, and abdicates our abilities and responsibilities in a democracy.
This is especially important in the areas of food and agriculture. In light of the clear evidence that equality, most especially equality for women, is our greatest tool for fighting hunger, it seems beside the point (if not misguided entirely) to focus on production practices and technology as our inspirations for innovation. If a lack of production is not the fundamental problem, then how will technology to increase it be “the solution”? Indeed, technological approaches have many times hurt women and the poor by replacing their traditional roles—without creating new ones—and thus exacerbating poverty and disempowerment. For example, technology that sped up and changed how rice was hulled in Java (Indonesia) “is estimated to have thrown 1.2 million landless women, who were employed in the hand-pounding of rice, out of work.”
But then, what is the innovation we’re speaking of, if not in technology? What do we think it should mean?
Simply stated, the answer is a deeper democracy. Deep democracy involves citizens coming together, sharing perspectives, exchanging ideas, challenging other ideas, and refining their own. Deep democracy acknowledges that all perspectives—whether held by a minority or majority—must come into contact with each other to yield informed decision-making and transparent policy outcomes.1 Deep democracy takes a different approach and appreciation of “innovation”, emphasizing that each of us can and should be able to more directly engage in decision-making throughout society. Using a suite of democratic or “social technologies”, we can productively share the responsibilities to act and govern our systems in collaboration with each other, rather than through a large number of elected and unelected experts and leaders far-removed from our day-to-day realities.
Specifically in the areas of food and agriculture, we have often heard of “science-based” approaches to improving development, food security, and agricultural sustainability—which is all well and good, but the research could hardly be clearer that equality and a responsive democracy are key to food security. These two “soft” variables have a huge advantage that technological innovations do not: all else being equal, increased equality and democratic engagement improve multiple key elements of quality of life, especially for the poorest. New technologies, on the other hand, have no such guarantee: they likely will make some people better off, but their effects on the poorest and least food-secure might be positive, negative, or simply non-existent.2 For example, in discussing extreme hunger, historian Cormac Ó Gráda points to the march of “accountable government” as a key factor in averting famine. According to him, a famine-free world depends on “improved governance and peace; it is as simple—or difficult—as that”.
It’s important to point out, however, that what we're talking about is not democracy as we in the US often think about it—at least, not just that. Rather, when we refer to it as “deeper”, we're referring to ideas that have been variously called “strong”, “deliberative”, “participatory”, and “deep” democracy. More specifically, we mean systems that decentralize decision-making to local peoples and communities so that they are “supported, but not directed” by central governments.3 Further, the power, authority, and resources to enact the decisions made by local groups have to be present in some form. Although this kind of decision-making by citizens themselves, and not simply their representatives, will require some challenging shifts in the way we do things, examples of the improvements possible are all around—from thousands of panchayats4 in India, Citizens’ Juries throughout the United States, the more than 1,500 cities that have tried “participatory budgeting”, and the thousands more examples from around the world of effective watershed, fisheries, and forest management. Using deep democratic approaches will mean a far more engaged civic life than we’ve become accustomed to in much of the world, but it’s a challenge worth rising to: as the saying goes, you can’t fix a problem using the same methods that got you into it.
Porto Alegre, the capital of the Brazilian state Rio Grande de Sul, is renowned for its “participatory budgeting” model that was in place from 1991 to 2004.5 Now being used in over 1,500 cities worldwide, Participatory Budgeting directly engages citizens in making priorities for spending in their communities and neighborhoods. In Porto Alegre, participation reached the level of at least 50,000 of its 1.5 million citizens. In some cities where it’s been implemented, as much as 10% of a town’s total population have participated.
It was in Porto Alegre, however, that the most advanced form of participatory budgeting seems to have developed. In their system, each of the 16 regions of the city held two annual meetings. At the first session (in some areas attended by over 1,000 people), the people elect delegates to represent specific neighborhoods, and review the budget and results from the previous year. After this meeting, these delegates hold a number of meetings with their fellow residents to set neighborhood budget priorities and develop specific proposals.6 Three months later, each region holds a second annual meeting to choose and approve neighborhood proposals, and to elect councilors to the Municipal Council on the Budget. The 42 councilors (two from each district and ten who have specialized in city-wide thematic areas) then develop criteria for evaluating proposals (including social justice criteria), develop a budget based on the proposed projects, and approve and send a budget to the city legislature and the Mayor. The legislature may suggest, but not require, changes; the mayor can approve the budget as proposed, or send it back to the participatory Municipal Council (who can override a veto with 2/3 vote), but otherwise the budget has to be adopted as proposed.
Between 1989 and 2004, the portion of the city budget decided through this process expanded from two percent to 20 percent; poorer districts saw much greater levels of investment and improvement; the percent of city residences with running water went from 75 to 98 percent; and functioning municipal schools nearly tripled. Beyond this, the process also seemed to promote more civic engagement throughout the city, the formation of more city groups, and improved understanding of the compromises and processes of city budgeting. AND, research indicated that although women, low-income, and low-educated citizens did not have representation at the Municipal Council proportionate to their slice of the city population, they did make up as much as 35, 34, and 18 percent of the councilors, respectively. So if you’re wondering how this is different than plain old “normal” representative democracy, one comparison to make is to see how many city councils are 1/3rd women, 1/3rd low-income, and 1/5th citizens without a high school diploma.7
More detailed accounts of Porto Alegre abound (for example, here and here), but researchers Gianpaolo Baiocchi and Ernesto Ganuza point out that Porto Alegre maintained some very important innovations that haven’t always been translated to the 1,500 other cities using these processes. Specifically, they point out that Porto Alegre saw the successes it had in part because of the scope and importance of the PB process in Porto Alegre (eventually deciding 20% of the city budget.)
In other words, this is a process where—whether it’s on your city block, in your apartment building, at the grocery store, or at a public event—you’re no more than a short walk away from someone who had direct input into the city budget. Indeed, all you need to do to be one of those people is to attend a meeting.
Democratic innovation has been at the heart of numerous successful interventions to improve equality and quality of life, particularly for women and children. And over time, truly deep democracy must also address inequalities, for a number of reasons. For one thing, it increases the ability for individual communities to make appropriate decisions and recommendations. This is because so many local idiosyncrasies and differences can complicate (or simplify) creating equitable management: “from a community’s culture, history and tradition to the political system in which decisions are made—…no single solution will apply.” (Judith Layzer, The Environmental Case).8 Additionally, strong local governance, such as the Panchayat reforms, has seen formerly unheard of numbers of women participating in policy. Not only can the structure allow for equal participation by gender, but issues relevant to the struggles of women and children are voiced more clearly and assertively with women’s representation.9 Also, we know that people support specific forms of egalitarianism and equality, as was discussed in a previous post: people have a tendency to trust, share and cooperate with those who share and cooperate with them, and a “virtually unconditional willingness to share with others to assure them of some minimal standard” of living, especially through the provision of essential goods. (Relative equality has been pointed to by some researchers as a requisite for deep democratic technologies.) Further, humans have a much easier time cooperating, and making mutual sacrifices for, people they must regularly interact with face-to-face, a robust scientific finding that manifests itself in many different ways. Today many of our institutions and policies do not support or encourage this face-to-face interaction nor the unconditional willingness to share, so that most would tell a different story of human behavior: one of selfish and ungenerous tendencies, one of distrust and skepticism of neighbors. We can instead, however, design different spaces for our human interactions that bring out the cooperation and mutual generosity we are biologically ready to undertake.
As Nobel laureate Elinor Ostrom explained in a 2010 interview, humans are not hopeless when it comes to cooperation:
“[W]e’ve done experiments where we create an artificial form of common [shared, resource-limited] property—such as an imaginary fishery or pasture—and we bring people into a lab and have them make decisions about that property. When we don’t allow any communication among the players, they overharvest. But when people can communicate, particularly face to face, and say, ‘Well, gee, how about if we do this? How about we do that?’ then they can come to an agreement.”
Which is not to say that creating well-designeddeep democratic processes is easy—this is precisely why we need to focus much more of our attention and support for innovation around “democratic technologies”. The exciting and heartening news is that there is already plenty to build on. There is ample evidence, for example, that participation in well-designed democratic processes increases people’s capability to effectively participate in deep democratic processes. That is, when properly implemented deep democracy doesn’t assume that everyone knows how to act collectively, truly listen, debate points, and come to agreements—but rather relies on evidence that people can learn to do all these things when circumstances permit and require them to do so. Further, there are actually many practical and innovative examples that already exist that we can learn from. For example:
As we have said, we believe deep democratic approaches have the distinction that they’re the only way forward in the face of the problems that face us.
Authors and ecological economists Prugh, Costanza and Daly succinctly cover why:
“The problems of sustainability… are not mainly technical. Nor do they affect simple linear systems… The systems involved are complex and interactive in ways that make them inherently unpredictable… Because there can be no permanent solutions in a world that is ecologically and culturally dynamic, these choices will have to be made again and again as circumstances evolve. Therefore, moving toward sustainability will require a radically broadened base of participations and a political process that continuously keeps them engaged. The process must encourage the perpetual hearing, testing, working through, and modification of competing visions at the community level.” (In The Local Politics of Global Sustainability, xiv).
The changes necessary to make these kinds of systems work are numerous, and the challenges of implementing them on a larger and more systemic scale are immense. They don’t work automatically, or without struggle. But rather than focusing on how hard and different this kind of democratic involvement is, we would turn it around: the challenge of creating and sustaining deep democracies is the challenge before us, and our responsibility is not to quail in the face of its difficulty. We admire and eulogize technological innovators; it’s time for panchayat reform to be as well-known as Gates Foundation initiatives; for participatory budgeting to be spoken of as much or more than micro-finance; for existing projects like the Dudley Street Initiative to be carefully supported, and new projects based on and in community conversations to flourish. This will require increased autonomy and resources for local governance; it will require us to do less impersonal railing on the internet and suffering from partisan gridlock among elected figures, and more talking directly to fellow citizens and going through the long, difficult process of hashing out our differences ourselves.
In concluding, a favorite phrase is appropriate here: “The difficult we do immediately; the impossible takes a little longer.” The necessary social change will not be easy or instant, but at IATP we take the long view—social change always happens, the important part is who is involved in making the changes. Deep democracy—and its close cousin, food sovereignty—will not come tomorrow. But to get there, we need to talk to each other, work together and build together, today.
At IATP, we're currently exploring how to build a deeper democracy and spread the word of how democratic innovation can advance us toward a more sustainable future. You can read about our most recent effort, the Rural Climate Dialogues with our partner The Jefferson Center and look for a new report on deep democracy and how it can help us achieve a food sovereign, just, and sustainable world in the coming months!
 One quite notable example is geographer Raju Das’s analysis of the Green Revolution in India. In a 2002 paper, he wrote: “the very fact that the [Indian] state could not rely on the [Green Revolution] for poverty-reduction and thus started a ‘direct attack’ on poverty through [other] policies is an indirect indicator of the limited impact of the GR… technology is neither a necessary nor sufficient condition for poverty reduction. If the lack of technology was a necessary cause of poverty, one in seven people in the United States of America would not have to live below the line of absolute poverty.” Interestingly, at least two other papers have also tied inequality and biodiversity loss.
 Panchayats are decentralized forms of village self-governance that can be found in parts of India, as well as parts of Southeast Asia.
 There are also parallel “thematic” meetings where delegates consider problems that affect the city as a whole.
 Some might question whether the latter two numbers—low-income and low-education participation—are not bad things. To me, this jibes rather uneasily with two other deep American tendencies—skepticism of authority and supposed respect for those who have gone through the “school of hard knocks”. I’d argue that low-income and low-education citizens deserve as much direct representation as anyoneeveryone else. Also, we strongly disagree with the idea that you can solve problems like poverty or lack of education by developing solutions “at” people, rather than with them.
 Layzer was here referring to common property resource systems, but the admonition clearly applies beyond this specific form of a resource system.
 Local governance structures can facilitate more equitable inclusion amongst women and the marginalized. Women face many barriers to entering political office, including lack of time, information access, child care, and transportation. Local participation can abate these barriers. (http://www.un.org/womenwatch/directory/pdf/Source_BK_9-May.pdf)
Posted July 31, 2014 by Shefali Sharma
This past weekend, the Toronto Globe and Mail reported that Germany would reject the Canadian-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) as it contains investment provisions that allow foreign investors to sue governments over policies that undermine corporate profits. That reportgot the attention of those tracking the U.S.-EU trade negotiations. The Mail article was based on German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung’s coverage of the issue.
Saturday’s announcement created a flurry of calls to the German Economic Ministry. Was the most powerful EU country going to block the negotiations in their endgame? If so, it would be an unprecedented event in Europe with massive implications on how corporate investment rights are handled in free trade treaties around the globe, including with the United States. The Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported that [translated] “while Germany in principle would be willing to initial the treaty [CETA] in September, the chapter on investment protection is seen to be ‘problematic’ and currently not acceptable.”
In response to rumors of the German “rejection,” the Ministry has been forced to refute the claim by issuing a media statement, reported in Germany’s public international broadcasting outlet Deutsche Welle and Reuters, saying basically that the German government has yet to examine the whole text; only after the government has had the chance to review the treaty in its entirety will it take a position on whether to accept or reject the CETA.
It should be no surprise that Germany’s objections to the corporate rights provisions, known as Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS), were louder and stronger last week in Brussels given that the commission is putting finishing touches to the agreement. The German Economic Ministry has been voicing these concerns all along—not, as one would assume, because Vattenfall (the Swedish Energy Company) is suing Germany for well over 3.7 billion euros for phasing out its nuclear energy after a massive public outcry post-Fukushima, but more so because the German Economic Ministry is interested in securing its much stronger investor protection provisions in its own bilateral investment treaties (BITs). The Ministry never wanted to give rights to the commission under the Lisbon Treaty (signed in 2009) to negotiate investment, but given that the commission now has the mandate to negotiate it on behalf of the EU, Germany does not want to concede a weaker investment chapter in CETA or TTIP which could undermine its own BITs.
ISDS provisions in trade agreements are particularly controversial and downright undemocratic. They have been around since NAFTA—with corporations suing governments in secret tribunals because of lost profits, such as Canada’s Pacific Rim (a gold mining company denied mining rights that would lead to arsenic poisoning in rivers), and Cargill (Mexico taxing obesity-causing high fructose corn syrup imports from the U.S.). Mexico, for instance, now has to pay Cargill, one of the world’s largest agribusinesses, $77 million dollars in compensation plus legal fees and interest. Over 3,000 investment treaties contain ISDS provisions that stand to undermine government measures meant to protect the environment, public health and the public interest
There has been much speculation about what Germany’s stand on ISDS could mean for the end of CETA and eventually, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the U.S. and the EU. Even beyond the ISDS controversy, TTIP takes the concept of “free trade” to a whole different level—recently eliciting objections from regulatory agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration and waking up legislators that an international trade treaty might interfere with their job at hand. This is because the treaty would attack U.S. and EU domestic regulations and standards of all sorts that come in conflict with trade goals, and make them “least trade restrictive” through “regulatory cooperation” provisions being negotiated.
So what might “do in” CETA in the end? Possibly Germany’s stance on ISDS. But Germany may still sign CETA with ISDS out of the treaty. And either action could seriously derail TTIP because the Obama Administration wants these corporate rights provisions in both TTIP and the Transpacific Partnership it is negotiating with 11 countries in Asia and the Pacific. The U.S. sees TTIP as a template for future trade deals—giving up ISDS would be a major setback for the U.S. corporate agenda. In fact, the Obama Administration is so worried about German opposition that they offered to fund pro-TTIP voices in Germany.
However, CETA’s demise could also come from below. Because there is much greater and growing public awareness in Germany and the EU about ISDS thanks to civil society networks articulating problems with the provisions: soliciting close to a whopping 150,000 responses to an online public consultation the commission just concluded on ISDS and TTIP. The large majority of those responses came from individual citizens rejecting these provisions. European organizations are launching a massive campaign through the European Citizens Initiative against TTIP and CETA this summer. The end goal of collecting over a million signatures is to start a massive Europe-wide public debate on such over-reaching free trade treaties. The ECI will amp up the growing opposition and public awareness of the impacts of agreements such as CETA and TTIP on deregulating public interest provisions that get in the way of “free” trade.
In Germany, perhaps, more than any other European country at this moment, this public opposition is getting louder on both treaties. Chancellor Merkel, fondly called “Mutti” (“mother” in German), might just have to take into account this growing political resistance to corporate rights over public benefits as another political reason why Germany must say no to CETA.
Posted July 25, 2014 by Dr. Steve Suppan
Trade policy negotiations, such as those for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), are conducted largely as if they were private business deals. Despite many public interest issues that are subject to “least trade-restrictive” criteria in the TTIP and other so-called Free Trade Agreements, access to draft negotiating texts is restricted to negotiators and their security-cleared advisors, overwhelmingly corporate lobbyists. About 85 percent of 566 advisors to the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) come from various industry sectors.
Trade negotiations texts are exempted from public disclosure otherwise required under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act by presidential Executive Order 13526, which can be rescinded by President Barack Obama. U.S. NGOs, including IATP, have repeatedly urged the USTR to end trade policy transparency exemptions. IATP was among 250 non-governmental organizations to sign a May 19 letter to the EC’s director of trade demanding the EC release for public comment draft negotiating texts and related documents.
Consultations and “listening sessions,” held by the USTR and the European Commission (EC), offer a very occasional opportunity for public comment on the general issues under negotiation, not on draft negotiating texts. The great majority of EC trade negotiator meetings with “stakeholders” are with industry representatives, 92 percent according to a July 8 Corporate Europe Observatory analysis. Agri-business representatives meet most frequently with EC officials.
Assurances by negotiators that TTIP will not reduce food safety, animal health, plant health or environment regulatory protections have not allayed public concern that the negotiating texts will lead to a weakening of those protections. Partly because the texts remain restricted to negotiators and their corporate advisors, the concern has grown to anxiety. Indeed, as my analysis of an IATP leaked EC draft proposal for a TTIP chapter on trade related Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) issues reports, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is likewise anxious about the terms of the leaked chapter.
The FDA reportedly is trying to remove the SPS regulatory cooperation and standards harmonization provisions from the draft leaked chapter. It is not fanciful to think that the FDA shares public concern that the numerous “least trade restrictive” provisos in the draft EC proposed SPS chapter will prevail over specific FDA regulations to protect consumer health, animal health and plant health.
It is important not to overstate what we now know on the basis of the draft SPS chapter, and not only because it is just a draft, and not only because it is a text proposed by the EC and not a joint EC/USTR draft. The draft refers to nine annexes, yet to be agreed, that have not been leaked and that are crucial to the content of the chapter and any eventual implementation of it.
Among the issues referred to in the annexes are TTIP administrative matters, specific animal diseases about which TTIP member governments may request “additional guarantees” of disease health status prior to import, guidelines for checking paperwork on import consignments, and rules for auditing the certification of food processing and distribution facilities as qualified to export or import.
The EC proposed chapter poses some challenges for U.S. negotiators, food processors and agribusiness companies. Article 4 requires that TTIP member governments “shall avail themselves of the necessary resources to effectively implement this Chapter.” But the Republican-controlled House of Representatives has rejected Obama administration budget proposals to implement the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), signed by President Obama in January 2011. Furthermore, the food processing industry, led by the Grocery Manufacturers Association, has repeatedly refused to pay for a food facilities inspection fee. Currently, the U.S. could not comply with Article 4 because it can neither “avail” itself of public or private resources sufficient to “effectively implement” the chapter.
Facilities inspection and certification is a core element of the TTIP approach to import food safety. According to the draft text, recognition of SPS systems as “equivalent” by TTIP member governments will occur “without a need for individual re-inspection [of products] or other additional guarantees” (Article 9, paragraph 1) (emphasis added). Because SPS equivalence can be granted in the absence of any evidence of port of entry food product inspection and testing, verification of equivalence by facilities inspection and certification is what stands legally between the consumer and contaminated food. The FDA port of entry inspection rates is a small fraction of that mandated under EU law, so relying on food facilities inspection as the last line of defense from food product contamination will put EU consumers in a buyer beware situation.
But what is the food safety value of a food facilities inspection and certification program that is not funded sufficiently to be implemented and enforced? The anti-tax dogma both in the U.S. food industry and the Republican Party majority in the House of Representatives could make Article 4 on implementation resources a paper tiger. Would failure to fund FDA and other agencies with food safety, animal health and plant health obligations constitute a violation of this provision on effective implementation, presumably including enforcement, of the terms of the draft chapter? What would the penalty be for such a violation, particularly if failure to enforce resulted in a TTIP mediated foodborne illness outbreak? The TTIP draft text does not give an indication of how governments would respond to such questions.
Unfortunately for consumers, the terms of the draft chapter do not mention specific concerns, such as the non-therapeutic abuse of antibiotics in animal feed; the use of chemical rinses to disinfect poultry exports that are inspected at very high speed by poultry plant employees; or the mandatory labeling of food products containing genetically modified organisms. Trade policy language renders such concrete concerns into abstract language that is often opaque.
TTIP Parties must ensure that SPS “measures” (laws, regulations, implementation measures, even court rulings) provide the “appropriate level of protection” for human, animal and plant health, as determined by governments. However, Parties must be able to demonstrate “objectively” that such measures are “necessary” to achieve the “appropriate level of protection” and yet also be “least trade-restrictive.” These requirements place a very steep burden of proof on prospective TTIP government regulators, who already are under constant lobby pressure and the pressure of corporate-sponsored science subject to Confidential Business Claims (i.e., “sound science”) that impede peer-reviewed scientific review.
The leaking and analysis of a draft and incomplete TTIP chapter, as proposed by one TTIP Party, is only the beginning of one public interest initiative to open up the TTIP negotiating process to substantive public dialogue. The opportunity for the non-corporate public to influence the terms of the trade policy that affects their lives begins with timely and full disclosure of the draft negotiating texts and preparatory documents.
It is crucial for democracies to take advantage of such opportunities before the final TTIP agreement is presented as a done deal to legislatures for a yes or no vote with no possibility of amendment, as has been the case for past U.S. trade agreements under Trade Promotion Authority. The importance of timely debate about draft negotiations texts is all the greater when one considers that under the Investor State Dispute Settlement proposed for TTIP, a private tribunal of three trade lawyers could overturn domestic laws, including SPS measures that the tribunal determined to conflict with TTIP obligations to U.S. and EU investors. If governments continue to withhold draft negotiating texts from the public, then analysis of leaked drafts is one means to protect some measure of democracy in trade policy.
Posted July 22, 2014 by ARC2020
An interesting window of opportunity for legislators dialogue between the USA and the European Union opened last week in Strasbourg, during the plenary session of the European Parliament, when Sharon Anglin Treat, from the House of Representatives of the US State of Maine, met Members of Parliament (MEPs) from various Committees and political groups in order to exchange views on the impact of on-going negotiations on a free trade agreement between the United States and Europe (TTIP) with regard to food, agriculture, environment and related issues.
Rep. Treat co-chairs the Citizen Trade Policy Commission, which advises the Maine Legislature and Governor on trade policy, and also is a member of the Intergovernmental Policy Advisory Committee (IGPAC) in the office of US Trade Representative Froman.
Representative Treat spoke about the very lively public debate among all stakeholders in her State of Maine and the growing awareness she has noticed about how TTIP could affect policies enacted or under consideration in Maine and other US states, particularly policies supporting small and organic farms, requiring GMO labelling, and regulating pesticides and chemicals in consumer products. She discussed the interest of other state legislators across the US who share these concerns and have joined together to draft letters and pass resolutions on trade agreements including TTIP.
Some of the fields being negotiated in TTIP that Rep. Treat discussed included technical barriers to trade, so-called harmonizing rules or “regulatory coherence,” and procurement rules, all of which could have an impact on farming and food systems. She drew attention to concepts like “localization barriers to trade” which she qualified as a threat to the growing local food movements on both sides of the Atlantic trying to build closer ties between farmers and consumers and to offer fair income and reasonable food prices on both sides of the food chain.
MEPs from the majority groups of the EP, the conservative European Peoples Party and Socialists and Democrats, as well as Greens, Regionalists and the European Left showed interest in establishing closer ties between legislators from State and regional levels, so as to clarify for their constituencies which effects a free trade agreement would have in their rural and urban communities, their food systems and the quality of food. With the EU and the US trade representatives negotiating a number of trade agreements in parallel, such as the Transpacific trade partnership, MERCOSUR/EU, etc. legislators were keen to learn from experience with existing trade agreements like NAFTA. And they were keen to draw public attention to consequences of agreements on certain commercial standards such as “codex alimentarius” or the confrontation between the “precautionary principle” applied in the EU, and “sound science” being favoured by US corporations which would favour trade companies rather than improve quality of food production schemes.
Much concern was raised about transparency of the negotiation process and the influence Parliaments on all levels would have on the outcome. The fact that fast track in the US and the consent procedure in Europe would reduce legislators to a blunt yes or no to a final deal was strongly criticized.
MEPs present at the meeting expressed strong interest in establishing a more structured transatlantic dialogue which should include legislators and possibly involve experts and civil society so as to increase understanding and participation in the process. Rep. Treat noted that there are many areas of mutual concern among parliamentarians in the US and the EU, and offered help to involve legislators from various levels in the US in future transatlantic exchanges, and thanked MEPs and the initiating civil society networks of the meeting, IATP in the U.S. and ARC2020 in for their support.
Posted July 17, 2014 by Andrew Ranallo
Last month, President Obama issued a memorandum to create a national strategy to promote pollinator health. The strategy includes creating a pollinator health task force and taking steps to increase and improve pollinator habitat. The fact that pollinator decline is starting to be addressed at the Federal level signals increasing recognition of the severity of this problem. Nearly one out of every three mouthfuls of food we eat relies on a pollinator, and without the bees, butterflies, moths, flies, bats and other pollinators, the world food supply will become increasingly unstable.
The two largest threats to pollinators are habitat loss and pesticide use. Of particular concern are neonicotinoids, an increasingly popular kind of insecticide that control a wide variety of insects. The most common way that neonicotinoids are applied is as a seed coating. This means that the pesticide is on the seed before it’s even planted, and it travels through the plant’s vascular system as it grows. This transports the pesticide throughout all parts of the plant, including leaves, stems, flowers, fruit, pollen and nectar.
Over 94 percent of the corn and half of the soy planted in the United States is pretreated with neonicotinoids. As a result, many farmers are not even aware that they are using neonicotinoids. Awareness of the problem is growing however, especially in parts of Europe, where they have been banned. Non-neonicotinoid treated seeds are available in the U.S. too, but they need to be specifically sought out and can be hard to find.
In response to this problem, IATP has authored a Farmer and Landowner Guide to Pollinators and Neonicotinoids in collaboration with Pesticide Action Network. This guide provides landowners basic information on the science around neonicotinoids and pollinators, as well as information on pollinator friendly approaches that landowners can undertake to help right now. On-the-ground action can, and must, come immediately if we want to ensure the stability of pollinator populations and crops.
Posted July 17, 2014 by Pete Huff
This week, organizations and individuals around the country are coming together to tell Walgreen’s—the largest drug retailing company in the United States—to eliminate products containing toxic chemicals from their shelves. Led by the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition (of which IATP is a part), the July 17 “Instagram Day of Action” is asking the company to join the Mind the Store campaign and, by doing so, agree to create an action plan to reduce and eliminate the Hazardous 100+ toxic chemicals from their supply chain. Customers will share their messages with Walgreen’s via social media to create a less toxic world.
Fantastic, right? But what do the shelves of Walgreen’s have to do with food and agriculture? Answer: Eliminating toxic chemicals from consumer products, such as phthalates in children’s toys, reduces the amount of toxic chemicals that enter our agricultural system and, thus, the food that ends up on our dinner plates.
Despite the fact that organic food sales in the United States have increased from $11 billion on 2004 to an estimated $27 billion in 2013, consumers—particularly low income communities—are still exposed to a variety of toxic chemicals through their food. While the direct use of agricultural chemicals and food additives pose known threats to human health, certain toxins, such as those on the Hazardous 100+ list, find their way to our plate in indirect ways.
A majority of organic and non-organic foods—regardless of the chemicals used in the production of their single or multiple ingredients—are processed, transported and distributed through system filled with hazardous chemicals that pay little heed to the boundaries between industrial and agricultural systems, let alone organic standards. Despite consumer information and limited government action to eliminate points of direct exposure to such chemicals, researchers are finding that the levels of indirect exposure to toxins through the food chain have not significantly decreased.
Last week, the Washington Post published an article on the findings of a team of researchers studying phthalates in a variety of diets, including infants. Phthalates, according to the Mind the Store campaign, are chemicals linked to low testosterone, birth defects and cancer that are used to soften vinyl plastic and can be found in products like school supplies and flooring. The article notes that the “study shows that an infant with a typical diet is still consuming twice as much of the chemicals as the Environmental Protection Agency considers safe.” Meat and dairy and other foods that have higher levels of fat accumulate higher levels of the bioaccumulative chemical.
These findings reinforce the fact that addressing toxic chemicals in the food chain—itself a complex set of relationships - must be done holistically to mitigate both direct and indirect exposure, rather than linear approaches that simply focus on direct exposure. Phthalates were banned in certain consumer products, particularly children’s products, when Congress passed the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA). This measure broadly banned the chemical from children’s toys that can be placed in the mouth and other products with high concentrations of the chemical.
However, Congress failed to take action on the presence of phthalates in broader ecosystems that support agricultural production, nor the products that are part of the associated food system. Given their tendency to bioaccumulate in fat, it’s not a surprise that the phthalates present in chicken feed, plastic tubing used in dairy operations and food packaging result in high phthalate exposure, even for infants wielding phthalate free toys. These indirect exposures require a more comprehensive management plan.
Phthalates are just one of the Hazardous 100+ toxic chemicals targeted by the Mind the Store campaign and this week’s push to have Walgreen’s remove these chemicals from their shelves is a fight that the food and agriculture community must show up for. By achieving this and other similar efforts in agriculture and food system, all people are less likely to have toxic chemicals as part of the dinner menu.
To sign the petition for Walgreen’s to join the Mind the Store Campaign, visit: http://saferchemicals.org/2013/05/14/why-are-we-asking-retailers-to-mind-the-store/. You can share your thoughts with Walgreen’s on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/Walgreens), Twitter (@Walgreens) and Instagram (http://instagram.com/walgreens).