Posted October 2, 2013 by Andrew Ranallo
IATP's new Director of Agriculture Policy, Dr. M. Jahi Chappell, has published a review of The Localization Reader, an overview and primer on "the coming downshift," the need and potential for local food systems in the October 2013 edition of Landscape Ecology. Raymond De Young and Thomas Princen, both professors of natural resources at the University of Michigan, compiled The Localization Reader's 26 pieces--a mix of old and new writings, including an introduction and concluding chapter by De Young and Prince themselves.
According to Dr. Chappell's review, "Landscape ecologists looking for inspiration, philosophical rumination on the local, or a glimpse of the historical evolution of its underlying ideas will find much to enjoy."
You can read the review on Jahi’s personal webpage.
Posted October 1, 2013 by Ben Lilliston
In a major win for public health, the FDA reported yesterday that it would withdraw approval of three of the four arsenicals in animal feed for poultry and hog production. The effective result is that of the 101 drug approvals for arsenic-based animal drugs, 98 will be withdrawn.
This action is the result of a more than seven-year effort by IATP and partners to force the FDA to remove this known carcinogen from animal feed, including a petition filed by IATP and the Center for Food Safety (CFS) in 2009, and the filing of a lawsuit earlier this year by CFS on behalf of IATP and eight other NGOs to force the agency to act on the petition. Better late than never.
In 2006, IATP published a report by David Wallinga, M.D. examining the use of arsenic in animal feed and how that arsenic ends up in chicken meat that consumers eat. Pharmaceutical companies add arsenic to animal feed in order to speed growth and improve pigmentation. The 2006 report estimated that more than 70 percent of all U.S. chickens raised for meat were fed arsenic and found detectable arsenic in much of the products we tested from supermarkets and fast food restaurants. We also found that many companies were not using arsenic in their animal feed, confirming our main point that the use of arsenic by these pharmaceutical companies was entirely unnecessary.
New research published earlier this year placed further pressure on the FDA to act. Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Center for Livable Future and Bloomberg School of Public Health confirmed those findings and went a step further, concluding that chickens likely raised with arsenic-based drugs result in chicken meat that has higher levels of inorganic arsenic, a known carcinogen.
Behind the scenes, the industry was already acting. In 2011, Pfizer announced that it has voluntarily agreed to stop selling 3-Nitro, an arsenical known as roxarsone. Last month, after receiving letters from the FDA requesting additional information about the presence of arsenic in animal tissue, two other major feed manufacturers announced they would withdraw their arsenical products from the market. Zoetis requested that the FDA withdraw approval of roxarsone and carbarsone on September 19, and Fleming Laboratories, Inc. requested that FDA withdrawal approval of arsanilic acid on September 26.
The FDA has been slow to act on arsenic and a number of other practices by the pharmaceutical and animal feed industry. including the overuse of antibiotics in animal production, which is contributing to the rising risk to humans of antibiotic resistant bacteria. Let’s hope yesterday’s action on arsenic is a first step toward further action to address public health risks associated with animal feed.
Posted September 30, 2013 by Dr. M. Jahi Chappell
I’m sorry, but saying that the Green Revolution saved millions of lives is unscientific.
Ambassador Kenneth Quinn, the president of the World Food Prize Foundation, recently made this widely repeated, but unscientific, claim in responding to columnist Rekha Basu. Basu recently criticized the foundation for awarding this year’s World Food Prize to three scientists who helped invent crop genetic modification. (Two of who are current or former vice presidents at Monsanto and Syngenta.) Quinn notes that the founder of the World Food Prize, famed Green Revolution researcher Norman Borlaug, specifically encouraged the foundation to consider these three scientists before his death. In his piece, Quinn admonishes Basu that “Dr. Borlaug would tell us it is our responsibility to use the power of science” to help solve widespread malnutrition. He does this shortly after lauding Borlaug as “the man who saved millions from famine and death in India and Pakistan.”
The reality is more complicated. And using careful social science and an examination of the history around the Green Revolution (AKA evidence), it is clear that Quinn’s statement is at best controversial and incomplete; at worst, it has been (at least in the case of India) disproven. The problems with his statements are related to at least two broad oversights, and these two things are crucially important if we want a future with a sustainable food system that is fair to farmers and healthy for eaters.
1.) People Power
Humans have very strong tendencies for certain kinds of cooperation. Economists Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis have called these “strong reciprocity and basic needs generosity”—in other words, a tendency to trust, share and cooperate with those who share and cooperate with us, alongside a willingness to personally pay to punish those who violate this trust; and “a virtually unconditional willingness to share with others to assure them of some minimal standard” of living, especially through the provision of essential goods. (For those of you skeptical about these claims, Bowles and Gintis have literally written the book on human cooperation; their combination of history, psychology, economics, political science, evolutionary biology and mathematical modeling is hard to argue with, in my opinion.)
What does this have to do with anything? Well, in the long and short I’d argue many of the improvements in well-being (access to food, health, equity) are the result of peoples’ struggles based on these deeply human drives for (certain kinds of) justice. The many social movements and revolutions in human history, and the expanding understanding that all of our fellow human beings are in fact our fellow human beings, and not innately inferior or less deserving of rights, is at least as important as “science and technology” in improving the lots of many (though not all!) humans over the past centuries.
As important as science and technology are to human well-being, the list of important changes that are not solely or mostly due to technological change is notable: the end of outright empire and colonialism, the end to slavery and the slave trade, the end to the U.S.’s de jure system of repression under Jim Crow, ending the South African Apartheid; the improved socioeconomic status (and therefore health and well-being) of many former immigrant populations (e.g., Jews, Italians, and the Irish in the U.S.); increased suffrage for women and minorities around the world—science and technology played roles, good and bad, in all of these cases, and sometimes they represented one of the forces brought to bear in equality, but in ALL cases, the striving of oppressed groups and their allies for social and economic justice was pivotal.
What does this have to do with food? In short: the most powerful remedies to malnutrition and hidden hunger are and have been food sovereignty, and political sovereignty and equality more broadly. They are essential to get and to protect the right to a fair share of the food available in any society. In recent (and less recent) history, they are the most important element because in the majority of cases, enough food has indeed been available. Nobel Laureate economist Amartya Sen has been at the forefront of pointing this out—that (a lack of) sociopolitical rights predict hunger far more than presence or absence of enough food. Nowhere is this perhaps more visible than Smith and Haddad’s landmark study, “Explaining Child Malnutrition in Developing Countries: A cross-country analysis,” which found that over half—54 percent—of the decrease in infant malnutrition in developing countries between 1970 and 1995 was due to improvements in women’s status and women’s education (see figure 1). They also found that, at educational parity, women’s education could reduce infant malnutrition by three times as much as raising agricultural production to optimum levels. (see figure 2).
People have fought hunger and repression. Science and technology have been tools used to support—and to block—this fight. Without social movements, they are not enough—not nearly.
2.) Saying “A then B” does not count as evidence: Science doesn’t support the “Green Revolution fed millions” narrative.
If you were wondering what a controversial statement might look like, that’s probably a good one for you. It is widely “known” that the Green Revolution, particularly the hybrid crop varieties and packages of “improved” seeds and fertilizers saved millions of people from starving. The calculations for this are simple: productivity went up, number of hungry went down. A (increased productivity) must have caused B (decreased hunger), right?
Well, um…no. This is not how science works—while this is by no means a SILLY conclusion to make (unlike the Pirate Loss Theory of Climate Change), it is also not a proven one. Observing two things change at the same time, that seem like they should be related, does not prove one causes the other; science is the hard work of developing and analyzing real evidence around such relationships. Science is not blithely asserting the same (highly intuitive and likely seeming) idea again and again without assessing the nitty-gritty details.
And what do the details tell us? You won’t be surprised that (in my analysis) the nitty-gritty details show that the Green Revolution was NOT a primary cause of decreased hunger.
If this idea causes you to spit your coffee out, a.) IATP is not liable for the damage to your computer, and b.) you’re welcome to contest this using science:detailed and careful study of the evidence. One such attempt at a study, Evenson and Gollin’s “Assessing the Impact of the Green Revolution, 1960 to 2000” essentially says “it’s hard to imagine how else you could’ve made all that food.” Leaving aside the question of imagination, “it’s hard to imagine how else you’d do it” is, let us say, a very low level of scientific evidence. Especially since well-regarded researchers have presented strong evidence that in India, the Green Revolution “mainly led to the replacement of cut-rate American wheat with Indian-grown wheat… I’m thinking that India wouldn’t have starved even without the Green Revolution”*; and that “the [Indian] state could not rely on the GR [Green Revolution] for poverty reduction and thus started a ‘direct attack’ on poverty” (poverty being the primary cause of hunger). And, as I’ve previously written, India alone continues to be home to more malnourished people than the entire continent of Africa.
In fact, between 1970 and 1990, the number (though not proportion) of malnourished people in the world increased if you exclude China, even though world per capita food production went up. China, the exception, saw a decrease in the number of malnourished by 217 million. And the mechanism for this? Researchers from the FAO and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) found that land redistribution and education (for rural women in particular) had the biggest impact on rural poverty reduction and inequality. These improvements in distribution, equality and education themselves caused (not resulted from) additional increases in productivity.
It is uncontroversial among hunger researchers that more production (or productivity) does not decrease hunger (or poverty) by itself. Now, of course, this consensus may be wrong, or the Green Revolution an important exception to the rule. But I have seen little evidence for the “GR saved millions” narrative that is, frankly, much stronger than the Pirate Loss Theory of Climate Change. “This makes sense to me in my head” is NOT science. “I can’t imagine things working out differently” is NOT evidence. The GR and Dr. Norman Borlaug Fed the World narrative is over-simplistic and under-scientific.
The issues we’re dealing with in the food system are complex and challenging. And while the often heated scientific conversations about what to do about it are important, they need to go beyond (WAY beyond) production = hunger reduction. They need to go way beyond technology and science. Without a moral, ethical and social movement–based understanding of how equality and improvements actually come about, we could continue on into a future where we produce even more food, but just like today, throw away one-third of it; have one in seven people eating nutritionally empty food that hurts their health in the long run; and one in seven people without adequate agency and access to enough food to sustain their most basic health. Let’s commit to leave this kind of world behind us.
*This quote is from the blog of anthropologist Glenn Davis Stone. He is referencing for evidence, however, John Perkins’s Geopolitics and the Green Revolution, which was published by Oxford University Press in 1997 and reviewed here at IATP in 1999.
Posted September 27, 2013 by Dr. M. Jahi Chappell
Wow. This seems likely to cause a long-term stir, and I’m quite sure vociferous critiques from many quarters (though likely mostly from the usual suspects). University of Canterbury Professor Jack Heinemann and his team have found that
…Relative to other food secure and exporting countries (e.g., Western Europe), the U.S. agroecosystem is not exceptional in yields or conservative on environmental impact. This has not been a trade-off for sustainability, as annual fluctuations in maize yield alone dwarf the loss of caloric energy from extreme historic blights. We suggest strategies for innovation that are responsive to more stakeholders and build resilience into industrialized staple crop production.
In terms of making a splash and what the big, viral attention has been about, though, this excerpt from their abstract buries the lede. In an interview with the journal’s publisher, Prof. Heinemann elaborates:
Our most significant findings were that:
–GM cropping systems have not contributed to yield gains, are not necessary for yield gains, and appear to be eroding yields compared to the equally modern agroecosystem of Western Europe. This may be due in part to technology choices beyond GM plants themselves, because even non-GM wheat yield improvements in the U.S. are poor in comparison to Europe.
–Herbicide reductions can be achieved in European countries that do not adopt GM crops. In contrast, use is rising in the U.S., the major adopter of GM crops. Chemical insecticide use is decreasing in both agroecosystems, but more more profoundly in France (also Germany and Switzerland) that do not use GM plants and only modestly in the U.S. Total insecticide use is not decreased in the U.S. when insecticidal plants are included in total insecticide use.
I have not reviewed the findings in depth yet, myself. You, like me and everyone else, should go read the study. Interestingly, their results seem to back up the results of my WSU colleague Dr. Chuck Benbrook. Last year, Dr. Benbrook concluded that “Herbicide use is much greater on GE acres compared to conventionally managed acres planted to non-GE cultivars,” meaning that overall pesticide use in the U.S. has gone up, even though insecticide use has gone down. Although Heinemann et al. do rely in part on Chuck’s results, they also point out that “The short-term reduction in insecticide use reported in the period of Bt crop adoption appears to have been part of a trend enjoyed also in countries not adopting GM crops… reductions attributed to GM crops (Fedoroff 2012) are in question… similar if not more impressive reductions have been achieved in countries not adopting GM crops.”
It will be quite interesting to see how this plays out. Dollars to donuts that someone, at least, accuses them of being “unscientific," returning to the tired trope of conflating “I disagree with you/you’re wrong” with “You’re not conducting science.” It is quite possible (indeed, *likely*) that “good science” will be wrong (our own methods are premised on a “false positive” rate of at least 5%, if not much more), so proving (or believing) that someone is wrong has no little bearing on whether they’re “scientists” or “conducting [good] science.” Proving that they are asking or doing something wrong most likely means they made errors, which again is distinct from not practicing science. (Even good scientists make errors; should all science with any errors be declared “not science” or simply “wrong”?) Even phrasing a question in a way you consider incorrect, illegitimate, or (horror of horrors), insufficiently objectively does not mean they’re not practicing science. In my opinion, such charges should be made when there is verifiable malfeasance. In any case, check it out yourself, and decide if the “good science” is now telling us concretely that [the studied] GM crops are not necessary, sufficient, efficient, or even effective for sustainable or food-secure/food-sovereign systems.
Originally posted on AgroEcoPeople.
Posted September 20, 2013 by Ben Lilliston
Transformative changes are needed in our food, agriculture and trade systems in order to increase diversity on farms, reduce our use of fertilizer and other inputs, support small-scale farmers and create strong local food systems. That’s the conclusion of a remarkable new publication from the U.N. Commission on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).
The report, Trade and Environment Review 2013: Wake Up Before it is Too Late, included contributions from more than 60 experts around the world (including a commentary from IATP). The report includes in-depth sections on the shift toward more sustainable, resilient agriculture; livestock production and climate change; the importance of research and extension; the role of land use; and the role of reforming global trade rules.
The report links global security and escalating conflicts with the urgent need to transform agriculture toward what it calls “ecological intensification.” The report concludes, “This implies a rapid and significant shift from conventional, monoculture-based and high-external-input-dependent industrial production toward mosaics of sustainable, regenerative production systems that also considerably improve the productivity of small-scale farmers.”
The UNCTAD report identified key indicators for the transformation needed in agriculture:
IATP’s contribution focused on the effects of trade liberalization on agriculture systems. We argued that trade liberalization both at the WTO and in regional deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) had increased volatility and corporate concentration in agriculture markets, while undermining the development of locally-based, agroecological systems that better support farmers.
The report’s findings are in stark contrast to the accelerated push for new free trade agreements, including the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the U.S.-EU Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which expand a long discredited model of economic development designed primarily to strengthen the hold of multinational corporate and financial firms on the global economy. Neither global climate talks nor other global food security forums reflect the urgency expressed in the UNCTAD report to transform agriculture.
In 2007, another important report out of the multilateral system, the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), with contributions from experts from over 100 countries (and endorsed by nearly 60 countries), came to very similar conclusions. The IAASTD report concluded that “Business as Usual is Not an Option,” and the shift toward agroecological approaches was urgent and necessary for food security and climate resilience. Unfortunately, business as usual has largely continued. Maybe this new UNCTAD report will provide the tipping point for the policy transformation that must take place “before it’s too late.”
Posted September 19, 2013 by Shiney Varghese
In the midst of worrisome news about droughts, desertification, unreliable monsoons and growing concerns around water security around the world, the announcement by the UNESCO and Kenyan officials at the recent International Water Security Conference in Nairobi was anything but gloomy. The finding of potentially huge groundwater resources in northwestern Kenya is indeed a blessing, not only for the herding communities of drought-prone Turkana, but also for the region as a whole.
Until very recently the region was best known to the global water community both for the lack of access to water that mark the lives and livelihoods of indigenous communities that live there, and for their efforts to save Turkana Lake, the largest permanent desert lake in the world according to International Rivers.
But a recent survey by RTI, a company hired by U.N., found groundwater systems with a potential of storing about 250 billion cubic meters (or about 66 trillion gallons) in the Kachoda, Gatome, Nkalale and Lockichar areas, with the largest aquifer being located in the Lokitipi Basin—all of them in Turkana county, one of the 47 counties in Kenya. Of these, the three smaller aquifers combined are estimated to store about 30 billion cubic meters of water, once confirmed by drilling.
But the Lotikipi Basin Aquifer, the largest of them—it has already been confirmed—is likely to store about 207 billion cubic meters, and has a recharge rate of 1.2 billion cubic meters or about 317 billion gallons a year, equivalent to 40 percent of the current annual water use in Kenya. Kenyan water resource planners, with their ability to estimate the recharge rate, are in a better position today to plan and keep the water withdrawal below this rate. The Kenyan government, which has ushered in policy reforms in several sectors, might be in a position to ensure this environmental cap.
Yet, some of the issues I raised in an earlier blog come to mind. Referring to a Guardian report on a study that looked at rising sea levels from a new angle, we urged caution. That study found that efforts to meet increasing freshwater demand by harnessing “fossil” groundwater [which cannot be replenished for millennia under current climate conditions] contributes more to rising sea levels than melting glaciers. The authors were particularly concerned about deep tube-well drilling—a technology adapted from the oil industry—which has contributed to a number of problems associated with irrigated agriculture. New initiatives in groundwater development could learn from past lessons (India, China and the United States to list a few), and in view of these experiences the temptation to promote groundwater development in Kenya needs to be tempered with caution.
This is especially important in the Kenyan context. Along with the new ground water resources, RTI has also located some oil reserves in the region. As far as the Kenyan government is concerned, the temptation to exploit oil will be high, as will the temptation to extract water to ensure food security. As far as international investors and international institutions are concerned, the temptation to appropriate the newfound wealth for global good will be high.
Turkana is also the poorest county in the country, ranking 47th in poverty rate (94.3 percent, while the national average is 47.2 percent as per the Kenya Household and Budget Survey). Most people who live there, especially in the rural areas, belong to herding/ fishing communities which have a different relation with natural resources as well as with cash economy. As the state and private sector begin investing in the region, it is up to democratic institutions in Kenya to ensure that marginalized groups amongst the Turkana inhabitants have a say in the development of these water resources.
Posted September 12, 2013 by Shefali Sharma
Last week, the U.S. treasury approved the largest takeover by an international firm of a U.S. food company. It paved the way for China’s largest pork processor, Shuanghui, to merge with Smithfield, the U.S.’s largest pork processor. The fact that it was a Chinese company stirred up so much controversy that the Senate Agriculture Committee held a hearing July 10 entitled, “Smithfield and Beyond: Examining Foreign Purchases of American Food Companies.” A major concern was foreign ownership of the U.S. food supply and whether the U.S. review process of foreign takeovers addresses food safety and “protection of American technologies.” There was little doubt that this merger would be approved by Treasury’s Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS): Shuanghui is willing to absorb over $2 billion of Smithfield’s debt; U.S. hog exports to China are expected to increase; and private equity firms on both sides of the Pacific will profit from a much stronger global hog processing company in two of the largest pork markets in the world (See IATP's blogs Two Converging Rivers: Understanding Shuanghui’s acquisition of Smithfield and Shuanghui acquires Smithfield: The view from China and IATP's webinar China, Smithfield and the Global Meat Industry)
This was a rare time when the U.S. Senate agriculture committee tackled the question of how developments in the food industry affect national security and whether this deal sets a bad precedent. Their analysis of course was limited to whether China would steal U.S. technology on pork genetics, feed and slaughtering, whether the deal would weaken U.S. food safety, result in job losses and hurt U.S. hog exporters. What the hearing could and should have addressed is how this deal will exacerbate the extreme corporate concentration of the U.S. (and global) meat industry, the resulting impact on hog farmers and rural communities, working conditions in processing plants and the continued offloading of environmental and public health costs generated by global companies like Smithfield and Shuanghui onto the American (and Chinese) public.
Rather than curbing corporate concentration, the House of Representatives has gone one step further in its version of the Farm Bill to limit USDA’s authority to protect against unfair practices in the livestock and poultry sectors. A letter sent September 9 by over a 140 U.S. organizations (including IATP) to the Senate and House agriculture committees called for a rejection of such a provision in the House version of the 2013 Farm Bill. The letter states:
During the 2008 Farm Bill process, Congress heard extensively from livestock and poultry producers, farmer organizations, and consumer groups about anti competitive and unfair business practices that unfortunately have become commonplace in the livestock and poultry sectors of our agricultural economy. As a result, the final 2008 Farm Bill included provisions to require USDA to write regulations to address the most egregious of these practices and to define certain terms in the statute. Section 11102 of the House version of the 2013 Farm Bill would repeal the 2008 Farm Bill provision that addressed these concerns and place a broad limitation on USDA’s authority to enforce many aspects of the Packers and Stockyards Act of 1921.
The critical issue here is the concentrated power of the livestock industry. And we are heading in the wrong direction. The Shuanghui-Smithfield deal fundamentally highlights the global nature of this industry and its trend towards further concentration. The CFIUS approval shows U.S. administration support for that trend as does the House version of the Farm Bill. Isn’t the corporate takeover of the U.S. food supply a national security issue?
In 2010, the U.S. Department of Justice and the Department of Agriculture held five public hearings on the role of antitrust in U.S. agriculture—the livestock industry was a critical part of that discussion. Sadly, there was little follow up after the rigorous examination of the industry. Over 15,000 comments were submitted by farmers, consumers, researchers, industry and elected officials.
The Global Development and Environment Institute (GDAE) submitted a paper titled Buyer Power in the U.S. Hog Markets: A Critical Review of the Literature. They found that the U.S. pork industry has gone through rapid concentration in just 25 years—with four packers controlling two-thirds of the market. Smithfield controlled 31 percent of that market, being the only buyer in the U.S. Southeast. The share of hogs sold in the open market dramatically dropped from 62 percent to just 8 percent in 15 years (1995-2010). This is the oppressive effect of the meatpacking industry on small and independent livestock producers. And it has left producers with little choice and little power, forcing low spot prices for hogs in the market (below the cost of production) and “unusually large variation in prices.” Trade union representatives of workers in meat packing plants also complain of the concentrated power of the food retail industry in further pushing down the supply chain and forcing poor worker conditions. According to GDAE, the top four U.S. food retailers went from 19 percent control of the market to nearly 60 percent in a period of 12 years (1997–2009). Farmers, workers and the public all lose in such a scenario. And it makes our food system beholden to corporate greed.
In a letter submitted to the U.S. Administration on the Smithfield deal, a group of organizations raised several objections about the Shuanghui-Smithfield merger. They also underlined problems with Smithfield:
While Smithfield’s safety record is better than Shuanghui’s, the company is not without blemishes. In 2013, Smithfield recalled 38,000 pounds of sausage over concerns that the products might contain plastic fragments. In 2012, Smithfield’s packing plants in Poland recalled 13,600 pounds of meat products for microbial or labeling issues. In 2011, Smithfield recalled 216,000 pounds of flavored pork loins that may have contained unlabeled dairy ingredients that could pose an allergy risk to consumers.
There have been many complaints against the company for environmental issues as well, particularly in North Carolina, home of much of the company’s production. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition reports that 600 residents in Wake County, North Carolina have filed complaints against Smithfield that the company’s hog waste lagoons and manure applications are causing problems for them.
China’s farmers, consumers and environment are also confronting similar problems with commercial and specialized hog production (see IATP’s Feeding China’s Pigs). The critical issue here is not the nationality of the industrial livestock company, but its size, practices and market power. It’s the ability of a few companies to change the entire system of producing livestock in a globalized world where people, the environment and public health come out as losing entities. Our government has a responsibility to rectify this injustice—reversing corporate concentration of this industry is the first step in that direction.
To better understand the role of the global meat industry around the world, IATP will be publishing a series of reports on China’s livestock sector in the coming months.
Posted September 9, 2013 by Corinne Rafferty
IATP is proud to announce the election of two new members to its board of directors, Firoze Manji and Daniel De La Torre Ugarte.
Firoze Manji is a leading African intellectual and activist. He is the founder and former editor-in-chief of Pambazuka News and Pambazuka Press, and the founder and former executive director (1997–2010) of Fahamu – Networks for Social Justice. He has published widely on health, social policy, human rights and political sciences, and authored and edited a wide range of books on social justice in Africa, including on women’s rights, trade justice, China’s role in Africa and more on the recent uprisings in Africa. In March of 2013 Firoze moved to Dakar to be head of the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA) documentation and information center. He shares IATP’s vision of a world in which the global commons is protected, corporate control is dismantled, and agriculture, food and energy systems are decentralized and democratized. He is the first IATP board member from Africa, and we are grateful to have his keen analytic mind in helping shape IATP’s direction.
Dr. Daniel De La Torre Ugarte, a longtime friend and ally of IATP, has been one the nation’s strongest proponents of agriculture policy which benefits farmers, the land, the environment and public health. He is a professor in the Department of Agricultural Economics of the University of Tennessee, where he is also the associate director of the Agricultural Policy Analysis Center. Originally from Peru, where he earned a degree in economics, he went on to earn a Ph.D. in agricultural economics at Oklahoma State University in 1992. Dr. De La Torre's primary areas of research have been the impacts of U.S. agricultural policy; the consequences of trade liberalization in agriculture; the feasibility of international supply management in agriculture; and the synergism of agricultural and energy policy in reducing poverty and reduced greenhouse gas emissions. He is engaged in international dialogues to develop mechanisms that would allow agricultural trade to contribute to global food security and sustainable economic development. Daniel has recently returned to his native Peru, where he will be consulting with the government in addition to continuing his work in academia.
Posted September 6, 2013 by Dr. Steve Suppan
This question was posed to me after I was detained for questioning at passport control in St. Petersburg, Russia airport. The Group of 20 Leaders’ meeting will take place here on September 5–6. I had arrived for the G-20 Counter Summit organized by the Post-Globalization Initiative, whose name was stamped on my visa as the inviting organization. Nevertheless, this was a question worth asking, if not for the apparent purpose of turning me away at the border.
After producing evidence of my hotel address, Russian contact person, return plane ticket etc., I was allowed to pass and now am free to ponder this question. More free than members of Russian civil society organizations and even Parliamentarians, who, according to the St. Petersburg Times, have been interrogated by the police about whether during the G-20, they would engage in “terrorist activities” in protest of the G-20. Shades of the aftermath of November 2001, when opposition to the World Trade Organization’s Doha agenda was affiliated with “terrorism” by proponents of that agenda. Although the technologies of official surveillance have become more sophisticated, the ideological purposes behind them have not changed so much.
The PGlobal organizers said that fundraising for the Counter Summit was not as difficult as they had anticipated. Finance-led globalization, to invoke the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development analysis, has not been good for most Russians. “Speculation” is a dirty word here, not the least because the government invested state pension funds in the derivatives market and lost heavily, according to Oskana Dmitrieva, an economist and member of Russia’s Parliament. Dr. Dmitrieva spoke on the panel “Confronting Speculation, Illicit Capital Flows and Tax Havens.” According to a Russian colleague, she spoke with unusual frankness for a Russian politician, given that some Russian politicians are the beneficiaries of banking secrecy laws that hide their tax evasion and offshore bank accounts. She said that the Russian government had sunk nearly three trillion rubles into the “virtual economy” of speculative instruments, even though the government had done little research into the risks of these instruments. Some of the money went into mortgage derivatives in Russia’s own subprime crisis
It was my role on the panel to explain the what and how of dark market (over-the-counter derivatives) speculation, and why the G-20 commitment in 2009 to make dark markets transparent had been resisted by governments who sought to restrict regulator access to trading data. While conceding that the global banks rescued by governments had seemingly unlimited budgets to lobby against financial reform, I concluded my presentation with a summary of institutional and civil society sources of support for financial reform. Not the least of these sources is a July 11 agreement between the European Commission and the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) that “the stricter rule applies” in cases of overlapping rules. The official Over the Counter Derivatives Regulators Group summarized the July 11 agreement in its August 30 report to the G-20 finance ministers meeting just prior to the arrival of their bosses.
The questions about my presentation were not entirely new to me, but the answers still unnerve me. For example, why aren’t Commodity Index Funds banned since they have caused price volatility and increases unjustified by market fundamentals, disrupted markets and harmed consumers? I said that in U.S. commercial law it is very difficult to ban any activity that cannot be shown to be inherently fraudulent, even if it is highly damaging. Nor did I have a good answer to the question “When will the global banks finally be regulated as global entities, and not with regulations designed to stop at national boundaries?” Is it anti-globalist to require global banks and corporations to submit to globally effective regulation?
Boris Kagarlitsky, a Counter Summit organizer, said that the meeting brought together the largest group of critics of the “free” but dark market economic order ever assembled in Russia. I was among the 30 international guests who spoke to and with a small but intensely engaged Russian public, thanks to a valiant and skilled group of interpreters. It is difficult to summarize so many speakers and topics but a few themes emerged.
First, there was a huge amount of capital flight from developing countries’ banks to U.S. and European banks, resulting in developing country currencies falling sharply against the dollar. For example, thus far in 2013, the value of the Brazilian real has fallen 14 percent; the value of the Indian rupee by more than 21 percent. Capital controls and performance requirements for investment could stem some of this currency depression but the former are punished by the International Monetary Fund, while the latter are banned in Bilateral Investment Treaties and/or Free Trade Agreements.
Uncontrolled Foreign Direct Investment can have very negative effects on food security, reported Riza Damanik of Indonesia for Global Justice. The Indonesia government evaluates economic health in terms of Gross Domestic Product and invests little to support domestic agricultural production. For example, 99 percent of investment in seed production is foreign. Investment in palm oil plantations has displaced domestic rice production and resulted in environmental damage to forests and forest people when land is cleared for palm oil production, and huge import dependence both for food and agricultural inputs.
Indonesia will host the next World Trade Organization ministerial meeting, December 3–6 in Bali. Riza said that under the WTO, only corporations have rights. At the meetings his coalition and others will organize in Bali, they plan to champion human rights, including the right to food.
However, human rights, financial regulation and trade policy are overshadowed in the mass media whenever the threat of war looms. Venezuelan Edgardo Lander, a fellow at the Transnational Institute, said that the Obama administration’s threat to bomb Syria in retaliation for the Syrian government’s alleged use of chemical weapons against civilians would trigger a wider conflict. He said that the Obama administration’s resort to violence revealed a crisis of “civilizational models” since G-20 governments would bail out banks and defend corporate assets with military force, but do nothing to reduce “the greatest levels of inequality in human history.”
Even though the debate about whether to bomb Syria was not on the Counter Summit agenda, it was added in a prefatory panel. The issue was less whether chemical weapons had been used but whether the U.S. should defy likely Russian and Chinese vetoes in the U.N. Security Council and bomb unilaterally. U.S. military power, and not its control over global finance, was characterized by several Counter Summiteers as the ultimate guarantor of economic imperialism. Professor Samir Amin said that the attack on Syria would be another episode in which the military is used strategically to preserve capitalism, as in his home country of Egypt.
Dorothy Guerrero, of Focus on the Global South, provided a great example of the interconnected analyses of many Counter Summit participants: the G-20 Summit would attempt to present the broken world economy and austerity policies to slash aid to the most vulnerable as “the new normal.” But in her native Philippines, “there is no new climate normal, just climate chaos and more climate change–related migration”. Indeed, she said, if the bombing of Syria triggered military conflict in the Middle East, millions of Philippines working in Middle Eastern countries would return to a country without jobs and services for them.
Most Counter Summit participants consider the G-20 to be an illegitimate venue for global and economic governance, because it circumvents the universal representation of the United Nations. Therefore, those participants would not be involved in the G-20 civil society (C-20) meeting of what Boris Kagarlitsky characterized as the “tame and civilized NGOs.” No doubt, the C-20 process provides less room for the radical thinking typical of the Counter Summit. And no doubt, the G-20 does not represent, nor even try to represent, the demands and needs of more than 170 other U.N. members. But still it is a pity that no G-20 government representative, save for a sole Brazilian finance ministry official, got to listen and respond to Counter Summit participant views on globalization in its varied forms.
Posted September 6, 2013 by Ben Lilliston
In the wake of protests in the Philippines over genetically engineered Golden Rice, a series of articles have appeared in the U.S. mainstream press (e.g., the New York Times) and alternative publications like Slate and Grist, all coming to the vigorous defense of the latest incarnation of this wonder rice designed to prevent malnutrition. Through veiled and at times explicit condescension, the U.S. media consensus seems to be that opposition to this wonder rice is based on scientific ignorance: Why wouldn’t you want to address global malnutrition?
A gaping hole in U.S. coverage is the perspectives of Philippine farm organizations, like the Asian Farmers Association affiliate PAKISAMA, or really anyone from the Philippines who opposes Golden Rice. By not including these voices, these reports miss a fundamental issue at the center of all issues around genetically engineered (GE) foods: power. Who controls the technology? Who controls what farmers can grow, and what people eat? Not coincidently, these questions are also at the center of addressing global hunger.
While most GE crops have virtually no benefit for eaters (they are fed to animals or used as ingredients in processed food or are non-food items like cotton), Golden Rice has always been touted as the exception. Golden Rice, still in the pipeline after more than a decade of research, intends to boost Vitamin A levels in rice and promises to address a number of nutritional challenges, including blindness, for the world’s hungry.
Opposition to Golden Rice needs to be placed in the global context of how the biotech industry has relentlessly and aggressively (with the assistance of the U.S. government) thrust this technology on the rest of the world. Resistance to GE crops is widespread around the world among both developed and developing countries, often led by farmers and aligned organizations. SEARICE (the Southeast Asia Regional Initiatives for Community Empowerment) offers insight by describing the experience of Philippine farmers after the introduction of GE Bt corn: corn farmers lost access to traditional varieties, they can no longer share or exchange seeds with other farmers, and they are paying double the cost for GE seeds for what is largely the same yield, leading to increasing indebtedness.
Farmers have had similar experiences with GE crops all over the world, where legal and policy frameworks (bolstered by global trade rules) empower biotech seed companies over the rights of farmers and communities.
SEARICE writes in their critique of Golden Rice: “The issue on GMO is not on genetic engineering per se, but on how this has been used and is being used to wrest control and access over plant genetic resources on which the farmers’ over time have been the stewards and innovators so that we would have sufficient food to eat and raw materials for the wide range of economic and industrial uses […]. Science and technology then for the farmers should be able to strengthen not supplant their traditional knowledge and it should democratize access to plant genetic resources and not control or monopolize it.”
While Golden Rice supporters argue that it is different than other GE crops—it has a “Humanitarian license” which sublicenses the technology to public research institutions and low-income farmers in developing countries free of charge—SEARICE points out that Syngenta still holds the commercial rights to the Golden Rice patent for some mysterious future use.
Suggesting that we have to pick between supporting Golden Rice or mass malnourishment is a false choice. What if the billions of dollars (and now over a decade of time) spent on developing Golden Rice had instead been invested on a program supporting food sovereignty goals linked to farmer and consumer empowerment, like what Philippine groups are calling for: increased capacity for technical support and farmer-led seed breeding; promotion of the many other locally produced natural food sources of vitamin A; and encouraging the planting of small, bio-intense gardens in homes and communities.
At the heart of efforts to push for GE labeling here in the U.S., to opposition to new GE crops in Europe, the Philippines, Chile or India, is power. Who controls seeds, who controls the research agenda, who controls what happens on the farm, and who controls what we feed ourselves? These are all issues on which the biotech industry hasn’t ceded an inch– they want it all. Power is not an issue the scientific community likes to talk about openly, but journalists can and should.