Posted July 16, 2015 by Dr. Steve Suppan   

Nanotechnology

Used under creative commons license from brookhavenlab.

Visualizing and measuring materials at the nanoscale: Center for Functional Nanomaterials at the Brookhaven National Laboratory.

A slogan that summarizes NGO and European Union Parliament requirements for regulating products of nanotechnology is “No data, no market.” But what kind of data and for what kind of market? I participated in a National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI)/Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) workshop, “Quantifying Exposure to Engineered Nanomaterials from Manufactured Products,” (QEEN) to get answers to those and related questions. The CPSC, whose budget was described by one of its officials as a “rounding error” relative to other NNI agencies’ budgets, co-organized an excellent workshop dedicated to producing data to protect consumers. According to both academic and regulatory scientist presentations at QEEN, it is no small task to generate reliable, good quality data to measure the exposure of humans, animals and the environment materials ranging from atomic to molecular-size that have been advertised as the basis for the 21st Century Industrial Revolution.

At the opening of QEEN, the pressure on the scientists to deliver the data to enable regulatory permits to commercialize nano-products was expressed by the assistant director of the presidential Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). Dr. Lloyd Whitman said that fifteen years after the launch of the NNI, it was time for NNI 2.0, the era of nanotechnology commercialization. However, Dr. Whitman talked about how a new “ Environment, Health and Safety (EHS) ecosystem” with a faster throughput of data for evaluating risks would be needed. He announced an OSTP call for the scientists to pose (and later achieve) solutions to “Nanotechnology-Inspired Grand Challenges.” But first it would be necessary for the scientists to resolve the pesky problem of generating data.

The scientists identified three interrelated problems in generating data that reliably would inform regulators which nanomaterials in which products at what point in their life cycle would pose “unreasonable risks,” (a term in U.S. law) to consumers, workers and the environment. I found the three problems crucial to understanding exposures that could result from agri-nanotechnology products in the research and development pipeline, including nano-enabled pesticides, fertilizers and food packaging materials, for consumers, farm workers, rural communities and the environment.

First, to get realistic data about possible risks of nanotechnology-enabled products as they are used, it will be necessary to have the cooperation of nanotechnology product developers. The scientists must evaluate nanomaterials in their product matrix, e.g. nano silicon dioxide in a dry soup mix or nano titanium in sunscreen ointments. This kind of evaluation is a different, and more difficult, task than safety assessment of the pristine nanomaterials that scientists synthesized and studied during the first decade of the NNI.

However, that necessary cooperation by the nanotech industry has not been forthcoming, since there is no rule to compel it to submit nanotechnology-enabled products and data about those products for pre-market safety assessment. The scientists have had to resort to informal networks to get unofficial product samples, the risk assessment of which may have scientific validity but not regulatory validity, since the products have not been obtained with the cooperation of the product developer who seeks commercialization.

Second, many of the relevant experiments to simulate the “weathering,” or use of nano-enabled products over time, to obtain realistic exposure data often require expensive equipment and repeated trials. Sometimes such equipment is not available over the longer timeframe needed for exposure studies. Such practical considerations are crucial in determining how and how many nanoparticles are released from their product matrix, which, in turn, determines human and environmental exposure. But scientists do not yet understand what triggers particles to release under what conditions for many nanomaterials, so more experiments will be required to get realistic exposure data.

One academic scientist said that few commercial toxicology labs currently have the equipment and training to detect nanomaterials in products. How could their testing capacity be enhanced with less costly equipment than that used by government agencies and major research universities? One regulatory scientist indicated that currently there is no way to validate techniques for environmental modeling. This means there is data generated by experiments, but no database that will inform a lab reliably on the “fate and transport” of nanomaterials, i.e. where they will go and with what environmental, health and safety effects. There is an urgent need to publish the data sets, as well as the nanotechnology research papers funded by the government, so that scientists can mine the data sets outside their own research to be able to predict the environmental, health and safety effects of a nanotechnology application.

U.S. government funding has not been as forthcoming for exposure studies as it had been for determining nanomaterial hazards, such as unquantified potential for toxicity or mutagenicity. Another academic scientist said that he believed the use of carbon nanotubes (CNT) to strengthen polymers, such as those used in automobiles bumpers, could not become widespread without developing data to determine the effect of worker exposures to CNTs and to develop adequate protective equipment and manufacturing procedures to minimize risks to workers.

A third problem is that the anticipated increased complexity of nanomaterials and their multiple insertion points in products and the human and natural environment require a research strategy that groups similar materials for experimentation and risk assessment. There is scientific consensus, if not publicly available industry data, about which Top Ten nanomaterials are most widely used. However, there are no public databases that group nanomaterials on the basis of their electrical, chemical, magnetic, thermal and other properties, such as shape, particle distribution and other metrics.  Without such databases, regulator and industry demands for high throughput determination of environmental, health and safety effects cannot be realized. A smart industry would be happy to pay for such data bases as part of its sustainable business model.

The OSTP recommends that the EHS regulators evaluate each application for commercialization on a case by case basis, even if the EHS agency does not have the budget, infrastructure or personnel to do scientifically robust risk assessment on a scale. If the government and industry demanding the data are willing to pay for the experiments to generate it and the computer programming to organize the data into relatable groups, a product by product pre-market safety assessment is technically feasible.

However, in my view, the default procedure of inadequately resourced regulators under the current anti-regulatory siege in Congress likely will be to deregulate. Deregulation, in which neither industry nor the government is legally liable for product safety, may be an attractive alternative to trying to regulate product applications for which the agency lacks resources to conduct risk assessments on products based on robust exposure data of nanomaterials and nano-enabled products in realistic use simulations.

The science presented at QEEN was impressive in both its experimental design and ambition. While I cannot summarize the variety of experiments reported in a blog, nor, indeed, accurately report them in detail, some past NNI workshops have been reported on and included in some of the presentations, such as the recent report on the 2014 NNI workshop on nano-biosensors, in which IATP participated.

For example, it is now possible, as reported by Dr. Robert Mercer of the National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety, to visualize and count individual nanoparticles of different engineered nanomaterials in tissues sections samples from different sections of the lungs and lymph nodes of postmortem laboratory rats. After 12 days of inhalation exposure to Multi-Walled Carbon Nanotubes (MWCNTs), the agglomeration of MWCNTs can be visualized over a 336-day period in the lungs, lymph nodes, diaphragm, kidneys and brains of the exposed rats. Such experiments are crucial for determining the environmental, health and safety effects of MWCNTs and to designing industrial processes and protective equipment for those working with MWCNTs in an industrial setting.

Notwithstanding such an impressive experimental achievement in pathology, the technical limitations of  the life cycle modeling of how nanoparticles are transported in the air, water, blood, saliva and other fluids produce a wide range of uncertainty about data, e.g. for predictive toxicology. Variants of one scientist’s comment were repeated by many: despite a decade of research in life cycle modeling of nanomaterials, scientists still cannot respond to questions about human exposure assessment with the degree of precision and standardization required by regulators.  

There are nanotechnology jokes made about doing more with less, but if governments fail to finance adequately the research into human, animal and environmental exposures to nanomaterials, and if industry continues to fail to provide the scientists with nano-products to analyze in a regulatory process, regulators could allow a market for nanotechnology to develop without robust exposure data. The human and environmental health consequences of such a market, even if not resulting in acute toxicity, will not be funny at all.

Posted July 14, 2015 by Dr. Steve Suppan   

TradeTPPFree trade agreements

Used under creative commons license from afge.

Note: The following blog was submitted as a commentary in mid-June to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, which declined to print it.

Peter Orszag’s attempt to discredit Senator Elizabeth Warren’s leadership of the movement against fast-track Trade Promotion Authority and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement neglects to disclose his financial interest in TPP and to accurately characterize the TPP (“So trade with Asia is OK if it benefits your own port?” Star Tribune, June 15, 2015).

Orszag identifies himself accurately as the former Director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Obama. But he left the Obama administration in 2009 to become Vice Chairman of Investment Banking and Corporate Strategy and Chairman of the Financial Strategy and Solutions Group at Citigroup. Citigroup received more than $2.6 trillion in ultra-low interest Federal Reserve Bank loans from 2007 to 2010 to save it from bankruptcy (according to a Levy Institute study by James Felkerson).

In May, the banking group pled guilty to a felony for price-fixing billions of dollars of trades in foreign exchange rates. However, the Securities and Exchange Commission voted to waive felony penalties to allow Citigroup and other felon banks to continue to do business as usual. Neither Orszag nor any Citigroup executive was personally charged with a crime, but his strategic role in defending Citigroup drives the underhanded animus of this screed.

Citigroup is among the publicly rescued Wall Street banks fiercely opposing the financial institution reforms championed by Senator Warren. Citigroup is the former employer of several Obama administration officials, including current U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman.

Orszag’s attack on Senator Warren for her support of a bill to enhance Boston harbor infrastructure and for her opposition to the TPP, implies that the TPP is about nothing more than shipping goods through the Panama Canal to the Boston harbor. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Senator Warren knows the content of TPP, because she has read it under armed guard, but is prohibited from divulging its contents to the public under the draconian Obama administration rules for access to the negotiating texts. However, from some TPP drafts released through Wikileaks, we know that just five of 29 planned or completed chapters concern the trade of goods Orszag discusses.

The rest of the TPP chapters, when shorn of bland language about “regulatory cooperation” and “harmonization,” are about submitting all U.S. and sub-federal legislation, regulation, regulatory implementation, enforcement and court rulings to tests about their “necessity” to determine whether they are “least trade restrictive” or whether they could potentially harm the anticipated profits of   “investors” under TPP. All U.S. law rules could be subject to cost-benefit tests before their implementation, a favorite Wall Street tactic to delay and, if possible, crush bank reform.

In the case of disagreement about whether governments should modify or repeal myriad “trade-related” or “investment-related” laws and rules, the TPP chapter on Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) empowers foreign investors to sue governments. Governments are granted no powers to sue foreign investors for environmental or public health damage, violations of human rights or financial damage resulting from the investments. For example, under a bilateral ISDS, Phillip Morris is suing Australia, a prospective TPP member, for a cigarette packaging rule that the transnational tobacco firm alleges will reduces its profits. But Australia may not sue Phillip Morris under the ISDS.

Indeed, it would be easy to find a “foreign investor” in any of Citigroup’s hundreds of affiliates in TPP countries who could use the TPP to overturn part of the “Dodd Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Financial Protection Act of 2010”  and/or to prevent or weaken its implementation. Orszag would get a big bonus for helping to design the strategy for such a financial regulatory overthrow of the United States.

And if you don’t think that Congress can move quickly to repeal a law, the very popular Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) provision in the Farm Bill was repealed in the House of Representatives just 48 hours after the World Trade Organization issued a contradictory ruling declaring part of COOL implementation to be WTO inconsistent. Big Ag failed four times to get U.S. courts to declare COOL illegal, but succeeded in getting the law declared WTO illegal. Passing the TPP would mean that public interest laws will be throttled so that corporations and banks like Citigroup can prosper, that is, until the next bailout.  Passing fast track TPA, which prohibits Congress from amending TPP and subsequently protects them from casting politically unpopular votes against amendments, will make TPP’s approval more likely.

Posted July 2, 2015 by Dale Wiehoff   

The people of Greece are at a critical moment as the country teeters on the verge of financial default. This is a clear case of the people against global banks and financial institutions. The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy urges all of our friends and allies to stand together with the Greek people and say no to the banks.

Greece is getting the kind enhanced financial torture from the European Union that the poor and working class received from Obama in the 2008 financial meltdown. Banks were bailed out and the people left to make do. The slow recovery in the U.S. has helped us to forget the days when ninety year old grandmothers, like Addie Polk in Akron, Ohio, were killing themselves in the face of bankruptcy and foreclosure. But in Greece, a country similarly brought to its knees by uncontrolled banks and corrupt politicians, the majority of its citizens have yet to experience any relief.

Years of austerity imposed on the Greek people have failed to solve the problems confronting the birthplace of democracy. Five months ago, the Greek people elected a progressive party called Syriza to say no to the austerity policies of the IMF and European Union. The Greek government has called for a referendum on Sunday, July 5th, when the people of Greece can say whether or not they want to submit to more unemployment, wage cuts, destruction of pensions, regressive taxes, and deregulation.

It is the International Monetary Fund, on behalf of the global elite, that is driving the austerity agenda against the Greek people. With the U.S. controlling almost 17% of the votes in the IMF, if President Obama wanted, he could lend a hand to the Greek people in this dark moment. He has done it before for others. When the big credit insurance agency, AIG, was going under, the President stepped up and provided a bailout. The AIG bailout included $36 billion from U.S. taxpayers for French and German banks, the same banks that have their feet on the necks of the Greek people.

Time is of the essence. Many of us are still reeling from the passage of Fast Track, but need to stand with the people of Greece who have had to bear the brunt of this latest assault by the global banking titans. We are asking you to send a message to President Obama and the U.S. Treasury to use their votes in the International Monetary Fund to press for a just and democratic solution to the Greek crisis.

Posted June 29, 2015 by Dr. M. Jahi Chappell   

Agroecology

IATP’s Dr. Jahi Chappell is blogging from Brasilia as the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) hosts the first of three public symposiums on national and regional strategies focused on agroecology.

On Friday, the first regional agroecology seminar of the FAO came to a close in Brasilia. The seminar and closing day ended with a “mística” (the cultural/spiritual ceremony I described when it occurred at the opening of the pre-meeting). Lighting a candle, movement leaders told us that it represented fire, a basic element, and in doing so, evoked the vital importance of other basic elements of life, especially the need to honor the land, and for peasants and indigenous peoples to have access and make good use of it.

Following the ceremony, participants from all sectors – social movements, NGOs, academics, governments, and international organizations – gathered as friends and comrades, old and new, hugged each other and expressed gratitude for the space this FAO seminar had created. The morning and afternoon had seen difficult negotiations, both in plenary and within a smaller, closed-door drafting group, on a final platform of recommendations from the seminar. (We will post the final declaration when it is officially released.) There were the expected tensions among the participants from the different sectors, with academics and social movements pushing for ambitious and concrete statements and commitments, and the ability and willingness of governments and the FAO to go only go so far, given their own commitments, pressures, and restrictions to many constituencies going beyond the groups in the room.

And this, perhaps, reflects the deep potential, and incredible challenge of agroecology. The respect, productive dialogue, and collaboration that agroecology emphasizes between farmer and scientist, people and the environment, and society and governments means it is able to uniquely draw people from across what can be vast divides. Indigenous communities, farmers and consumers from countries both rich and poor, environmentalists, scientists, and increasingly governments are coming together around agroecology, and agreement is growing that new policies, and even entirely new paradigms are needed. This was affirmed by pretty much all of the speakers present, regardless of the sector they belonged to. From one member of FAO-Brazil: “We must work together as movements and government to make sure that agroecology is on every pertinent international agenda.” Another speaker, representing the Brazilian Ministry of Agrarian Development (whose head, Patrus Ananias, spoke the previous day) observed that the seminar hadn’t been “a space to exchange technologies, but to talk politics”. He acknowledged that the policies supporting agroecology and family farmers in Brazil “are the result of an on-going dialogue between civil society, the movements, and the government,” and promised that the Brazilian government “will go over the platform document [resulting from this meeting] point by point.”

As the president of the Brazilian National Food Security Council had emphasized the previous day, ongoing dialogue, and further, ongoing pressure from social movements is utterly essential. Members of the Latin American Scientific Society for Agroecology re-emphasized the need to respect and actively support indigenous and farmer knowledge as well as collaborative academic work, and further, the need to materially support the collaborations between scientists and peasant farmer. And here we begin to see the crux of the challenge. The space created by these seminars is clearly meant to be an opportunity to inform and advise governments, to convene pertinent groups, and bring together excellent evidence. But when said evidence points to the need for broad political changes, for new paradigms and approaches, the trickiness of the space is clear: what does it mean to “advise” governments of the agreed-upon need for political and paradigm change, given that it is these very governments, with their current paradigms, that the FAO is meant to serve?

This seminar was one opportunity for scientists, governments, and social movements to exchange notes and build solidarity. With the enthusiastic promises made by the Brazilian government, we see the result of historical and on-going processes of social mobilization and pressure in the Brazilian context. It falls to the civil society and academic participants and their allies, then, to maintain and expand the mobilization, both within and between countries. Because as agroecology is indeed a necessary paradigm shift requiring new approaches and policies—approaches and policies that will challenge entrenched inequality and big business interests—we would do well to remember the words of American abolitionist and escapee from the deprivations of American slavery, Frederick Douglass:

If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom yet deprecate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.

Posted June 26, 2015 by Dr. M. Jahi Chappell   

AgricultureAgroecologyFood

The opening session of the Regional Seminar in Latin America and the Caribbean quickly built to a roar, at the same time raising questions that would have fit in at the last sessions of the day: how do we get to a system that supports food sovereignty and agroecology as the alternative paradigm for food and agriculture from our current system when many governments and corporate interests seek technical fixes that don't actually fix the real problems?

The first session of the day started with comments from several of the key coordinating organizations: the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), the Reunión Especializada sobre Agricultura Familiar en el MERCOSUR (REAF), the Alianza por la Soberanía Alimentaria de los Pueblos de América Latina y el Caribe, FAO Brazil and the Ministry of Agrarian Development of Brazil. The Latin American Scientific Society of Agroecology [SOCLA], who also helped organize these meetings, wasn’t in the first session, but SOCLA’s President, Dr. Clara Nicholls, did present in the second session. The relatively new Minister of Agrarian Development, Patrus Ananias de Souza, who served as the Minister of Social Development under former President Lula and was key to implementing Brazil’s Zero Hunger programs, built to an incredible crescendo, promising that the Dilma Administration was soon to launch a new plan for agrarian reform, one that would secure land for all of the landless people located in camps and settlements throughout Brazil. His passionate pledge brought appreciative applause from the audience of farmers, FAO and government officials, academics and NGO staff members. It was an agreed high note that will be revolutionary if the Brazilian government is able to pull it off. (The details of the plan will not be announced until next month.)

Riding on this wave of hope for revolutionary governmental action, the President of Brazil’s National Food and Nutritional Security Council (CONSEA), Maria Emilia Pacheco, spoke of the vital role of social mobilization in motivating and securing good government policy. CONSEA recently added consumers’ representatives to the council, which she hopes can foster an organized consumers’ movement in Brazil to start matching the high levels of organization seen in other constituencies in Brazil, such as the landless, the family farmer, the food and nutrition security sectors and increasingly, agroecology. We got a tantalizing overview of the philosophy and approach behind Brazil’s national-level food policy council; this institution goes back decades in Brazil, barring an extended interruption during the Cardoso administration of the 90s and early 2000s, and was re-instituted under former President Lula. Indeed, Brazil’s system of food policy councils at many levels, local to national, is built into its federal food security policies, and could serve as a model of some of the elements of participatory food democracy we’ve discussed at IATP recently.

As the day continued, we heard more from social movement members, farmers and scientists about the research, practice and potential of agroecology. Attendees from indigenous and peasant[i] farmer groups discussed practices, organizing and innovation throughout Latin America and the Caribbean—Colombia, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Cuba, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, Guatemala, and Mexico particularly—making agroecology’s reach, scope and potential abundantly clear from the positive stories shared with the audience.

As we approached the end of the day, several panelists discussed the meaning of the word “innovation” for them, and the importance of social and practical innovation, not just technical innovation. Agroecologist Peter Rosset pointed out the incredible organization represented by the institution of local schools and programs seen in the presentations, and noted that these innovations, set up by the local people themselves, are often overlooked by those from the outside looking to support agroecology. There is often a focus on new institutions, networks and ideas, sometimes imposed from the outside, that doesn’t acknowledge or build on the political agency built by communities themselves. He pointed out that government and officials’ responses to agroecological research sometimes go so far as to question the underlying validity of agroecology by denying the existence of demonstrable innovations from farmers. They overlook the fact that farmer-to-farmer networks, rural schools, movement building and new ways of relating and organizing with each other are all important innovations. Dr. Rosset admonished that we must not overlook policy and social innovations in favor of some machine or technique.

Agroecology cannot be confined to such a narrow definition. Indeed, scaling up agroecology will be about supporting cooperation and learning how to work together as much as it will be about how to work the land. Which perhaps gets to the crux of agroecology’s dilemma: like Minister Patrus Ananias de Souza’s  vision of a comprehensive new wave of agrarian reform, the question for many of us is not the desirability of the objective, but rather the social and political innovations and struggles it will take to get there. The Minister’s plan, and the kind of recognition for farmers and their social innovations that Dr. Rosset called for, means changing power relationships. Reforming land ownership means tackling the vast inequality in Brazil, but those who currently have more power and resources often don’t like to see it rivaled by the empowerment of those who have less. For example, as Dr. Rob Wallace pointed out in a recent presentation at IATP, large agribusiness long ago figured out that raising animals themselves was a risky, hard endeavor—one that lost money with the margins they wanted for their “raw materials”—and agribusiness is obviously afraid of their contract farmers even getting the basic power to exercise their constitutional rights.

Agroecology without justice, without empowerment, without changing power relationships, is not agroecology. But empowering female farmers, indigenous peoples and peasant farmers means an end to being able to push them into bad deals where they take the risk and agribusiness takes the rewards. Fulfilling this vision would be better for farmers, for consumers, for the environment—for pretty much everyone but large multi-national corporations. This is the implication of agroecology that many interested parties throughout the world want to paint as “unscientific” or even unnecessary. The question is, with clear evidence coming from both science and the lived experiences of producers on these necessities, will the regional seminars be able to step up to this challenging realization? Or is the possibility of rebalancing societal power going to be too much to ask of this first opening of a window at the “Cathedral of the Green Revolution”?[ii]

[i] “Peasant” (campesino in Spanish) at its root means “person of the land”, and it is this image of hard-working agricultural stewards of the land that many movements of Latin America seek to evoke with the word campesino/peasant. It does not necessarily have the same kind of distinctly negative connotation that it carries in English.

[ii] Based on comments made by FAO Director-General at the closing of the first International Meeting on Agroecology last year in Rome.

Posted June 25, 2015 by Dr. M. Jahi Chappell   

AgricultureAgroecology

Used under creative commons license from Twitter user @FAOnoticias.

IATP’s Dr. Jahi Chappell is blogging from Brasilia as the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) hosts the first of three public symposiums on national and regional strategies focused on agroecology.

As the civil society pre-meeting draws to a close the day before the opening of the FAO’s first Regional Seminar on Agroecology, the agroecological challenges facing farmers, academics, governments and the FAO remain clear.  Issues of insufficient funding; a world-wide lack of familiarity with the term “agroecology;” threats of cooptation, and the use of agroecology as a mere “tool” to prop up the current system, separation of agroecology’s vital elements of justice from the elements of science and practice; and the perception of insufficient evidence have all been raised. The pre-meeting day consisted of conversations between civil society organizations, academics and government and FAO representatives.

I started the day with the civil society groups.  We were welcomed and started off with a “mistica,” a ceremony that is often practiced by the international small farmers’ movement La Via Campesina and seeks to open a meeting with a recognition of the gifts we have been given by the earth, by our cultural inheritance and through the struggles and knowledge of the ancestors, particularly the ancestors of indigenous peoples.

After the opening ceremony, the civil society meeting split into smaller groups to discuss the recent Nyeleni Declaration on Agroecology, which set out common pillars and principles for a full and inclusive definition of agroecology, one that includes rights, responsibilities, food sovereignty and a fundamental paradigm shift in how we do agriculture in the world. (See here for the recent Scholars’ Open Letter supporting the Nyeleni Declaration, sent to the Director-General of the FAO on June 24, 2015.) The morning welcome also included a reiteration of the significance of the role of the Latin American Scientific Society of Agroecology (SOCLA) in helping organize the meeting, alongside the key coordination by the Latin America Movement for Agroecology (MAELA), the Latin America and Caribbean People’s Alliance for Food Sovereignty, the FAO and the Ministry of Agrarian Development of Brazil.

Given my dual identities as a scientist and a staff member of an NGO, it was good to start the day with the civil society groups and then join the scientists’ group after the introductory session.

Along with allies from throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, we discussed Brazil’s leadership in agroecology (it now hosts well over 100 “nuclei” for agroecology research and practice, in addition to its role in hosting and helping to organize this meeting) and the opportunities for agroecology that are before us, alongside the potential threats I mentioned above, given that attention to agroecology is growing.  Additionally, we discussed the role of the “dialogue of knowledges,” where farmers’ traditional, experiential, and on-going knowledge creation must be honored equally alongside the knowledge generated by academic research.  Finally, we also addressed the need to continue to bridge gaps between academia and social movements and how to build from the regional meetings to continue the strength and momentum of agroecology, with academics alongside and in collaboration with social movements, not separated from them.

The day ended with the launch of a book on women and agroecology, and a short documentary called “The Seeds” in which four Brazilian women shared their stories of agroecological innovation, growing autonomy, challenges and joys from switching to agroecological systems.

Oh, and of course, this was followed with cervejas (beers) and caipirinhas (Brazil’s national drink), with music from a great live band and continued conversations among all the attendees as night fell in Brasilia.

A great first day with much to think about, a clear assessment of many of the challenges ahead of us and appreciation for Brazil’s leadership in hosting this important meeting. Looking forward to Day Two!

Posted June 25, 2015 by Dr. Steve Suppan   

TradeTTIPFree trade agreements

Used under creative commons license from european_parliament.

For the past year, IATP has been working with partners Europe and the U.S. in a project to consider the potential impacts of TTIP on the rest of the world. As part of those efforts, we participated in a meeting in Brussels on TTIP and the Caribbean-Latin American region (CELAC). The title of the project working paper, “TTIP: why the world should beware,” indicates the general tenor of the Brussels meeting, which took place during the EU CELAC Summit and a tempestuous European Parliament debate about TTIP.

U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman has characterized TTIP as a ‘high standards’ 21st century trade agreement that non-TTIP countries will want to join if they want access to the U.S. and EU member state markets. However, nobody asked the non-TTIP governments if they will now agree to new trade policies that they successfully have resisted at the World Trade Organization. According to the Brussels meeting participants, TTIP, the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Trade In Services Agreement (TISA) would force the “rest of the world” to trade, invest and develop their national economies according to rules decided by U.S. and European Union negotiators.

In the U.S., we read in mainstream media editorials that TTIP, TPP and TISA must be approved in the U.S. Congress or the United States will lose “credibility,” or “prestige” or “leadership,” all of which would then pass to China, as President Obama contended in his State of the Union address. Governments, unable to convince their citizens that past or present trade and investment policy has brought wage gains or benefits for more than senior management, are claiming that passing the trade agreements is necessary for national security. For example, TTIP has been referred to as an “economic NATO,” i.e., a branch of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, by U.S. presidential candidate Hilary Clinton, among many others.

EU President Donald Tusk has accused the European opposition to TTIP of being “pro-Putin” and financed from Russia, without evidence. According to Miguel Urban, a Member of the European Parliament speaking at the opening session of the “TTIP and the rest of the world” meeting, the purpose of such accusations is to create a climate of fear in which There Is No Alternative (TINA) to the trade and investment policies decided by corporate and government elites behind closed doors. (Indeed, according to an analysis of the Wiki leaked TISA financial services text, the draft negotiating texts must not be made public for five years after the final agreed text is ratified by the [currently] 23 TISA prospective governments.) The TINA agreements are then presented to legislatures for their assent under fast track procedures.

IATP reviewed several of these geopolitical justifications in “Trade Policy Removal of Regulatory ‘Irritants’: An Effective Geopolitical Tool?” Among the foreign policy elites, there is debate about whether TTIP’s “high standards” will function as an “economic NATO” or whether TPP will “contain” China, with whom the United States is negotiating a bilateral investment agreement. The conservative Heritage Foundation even questions whether TTIP and TPP should be sold to the public as geopolitical protection from Russia and China respectively.

But none of the geopolitical analyses consider government failure to punish cross-border corporate crime, with sufficient penalties to prevent future crime, to be a threat to national security. For example, the $2.5 billion in fines levied by the Securities and Exchange Commission on five global banks for price fixing foreign exchange rates in the $75 trillion foreign exchange market were puny relative to the banks’ earnings and the SEC voted to waive the penalties that apply to financial felons. In addition, the Internal Revenue Service allows 75 percent of the fines to be deducted as a business expense. Mark Carney, Chairman of the Financial Stability Board, wrote in April to the G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors that “financial misconduct” was so widespread among global banks that it endangers the integrity of the entire financial system.  And yet the Investor State Dispute Settlement provisions in TTIP and TPP would allow financial “investors” to sue governments for financial “regulatory actions,” including enforcement actions that would diminish their anticipated profits under the agreements.

At the “TTIP and the rest of the world” meeting, it was striking how many presentations involved analysis of government failure to prosecute the investors that TTIP and TPP will protect despite well-documented corporate environmental depredation and violations of human rights, including the murder of activists and trade union officials. Ambassador Maria Fernanda Espinoza, who represents Ecuador in Geneva, told the meeting that the purpose of the Investor State Dispute Settlement system of private arbitration panels is to restrict the sovereignty of States over the operations of transnational companies operating in their territories. An arbitration panel awarded Chevron $106 million against Ecuador based on evidence that was later discovered to have been falsified. Ecuador’s attempts to get Chevron to pay for the clean-up costs of massive contamination of Ecuador have been foiled by the private arbitration system.

Ambassador Espinoza urged meeting participants to become involved in a United Nations Human Rights Council process to negotiate a binding legal instrument concerning the activities of transnational corporations and enterprises to protect human rights. The first meeting of the intergovernmental group to negotiate the instrument will take place July 6-10 in Geneva. The United States and the European Union strongly opposed the UN General Assembly resolution to begin the negotiations and are working hard to weaken any legal instrument to be non-binding voluntary guidelines. It is perhaps too predictable that a lobbyist-dominated process should insist on binding legal measures to protect private investors and non-binding guidelines to protect human rights from violation by transnational corporate business practices. Those are the real geopolitics being promoted by TTIP.

Posted June 24, 2015 by Dr. M. Jahi Chappell   

AgricultureAgroecologyFood

Used under creative commons license from unicphoto.

FAO Director General Graziano da Silva

On June 24, more than 40 scholars and scientists of agriculture and food systems sent the Director-General (DG) of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) a second open letter, calling for the FAO to acknowledge and build on the historic, civil-society led Declaration of the International Forum for Agroecology. This follows up on last year’s letter on the same subject, sent on the occasion of the FAO’s first International Symposium on Agroecology for Food and Nutrition Security. As IATP wrote earlier this year, the Nyéléni Agroecology Declaration was the culmination of a landmark meeting of “international movements of small‐scale food producers and consumers, including peasants, indigenous peoples and communities (together with hunter and gatherers), family farmers, rural workers, herders and pastoralists, fisherfolk and urban people from around the world,” coming together at the Nyéléni Center in Sélingué, Mali this past February. The participants sought to reach a common understanding of agroecology as a key element of Food Sovereignty, and to develop joint strategies to promote agroecology and defend it from cooptation.

In their letter, the scholars affirm the importance of the Nyéléni Agroecology Declaration and discuss its origin from civil society and its strength in including concepts of human rights and justice, which they argue cannot be separated from any properly scientific approach to improving food security, food sovereignty and sustainability throughout the world. They then call on the Director-General to “seek to build on the Nyéléni Agroecology Declaration, in particular, to build on its incorporation of sovereignty, rights and justice as key elements of a rational approach to a sustainable and food-secure system that promotes human dignity.”

This second letter coincides with the first of a series of regional agroecology meetings, the Regional Seminar on Agroecology in Latin America and the Caribbean, which begins in the capital of Brazil, Brasilia, on June 24th. (Meetings will also be held in Senegal and Bangkok later this year.) The letter  further calls on the Director-General to continue to develop these regional meetings “with active participation and [to] reflect the priorities of autonomous diverse organizations and international movements of small-scale food producers and consumers”; to avoid “the reduction and cooptation of agroecology as a narrow set of technologies to fine-tune and further consolidate the industrial food system through concepts such as ‘climate-smart agriculture’ or ‘sustainable intensification,’” (as we’ve written about here and here); and to plan “the organization of two additional regional symposia on agroecology in Europe and North America”. Agroecology, after all, is not something that is only useful to Africa, Asia, and Latin America and the Caribbean—the tools it has to offer farmers, and its respect for their knowledge and autonomy, should be available to all farmers, and supported in all areas as the best way to face the multitude of challenges before us in our food systems.

Noting, with disappointment, that the FAO’s Medium Term Plan mentions agroecology only once, while using variations on the phrases “climate-smart” and “sustainable intensification” throughout, the scholars commit themselves to contributing “scientific analyses from our various established research projects relevant to the principles and pillars of the Nyéléni Declaration,” and to volunteer to help build on what has been called the “dialogue of knowledges” that can be found at the heart of agroecology. The Nyéléni Declaration enunciates the important foundations for efforts that truly honor and collaborate with farmers’ traditional and experiential knowledge, together with scientific knowledge. With the historic Declaration originating from civil society, and now backed by a slate of scholars from around the world, we very much hope that the FAO and its member countries will heed the growing consensus that crosses the typical boundaries between “scholar” and “farmer,” and find them coming together around the importance of agroecology.

Posted June 24, 2015 by Shiney Varghese   

Used under creative commons license from Twitter user @PostLandfill.

The hazy term “Climate Smart Agriculture” (CSA) came into sharper focus this month after a series of high-level intergovernmental meetings that prioritized corporate-led solutions. While actual climate negotiators were immersed in talks in Bonn during the first two weeks in June (as part of the lead up to the annual UN climate meeting later this year in Paris), other groupings circled around the term at other key international summits. The most powerful western governments, known as G7 (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, United Kingdom and the United States), had their annual gathering on June 7 and 8 in Schloss Elmau, in Bavaria, Germany. CSA was on the agenda in both places, and it was also an important focus of the 39th session of the FAO held in Rome from June 6 to June 12, 2015.

CSA advocates define food security in the context of water and climate challenges, often equating it with increasing agricultural productivity and resource use efficiency. While increasing productivity of the resources is indeed desirable, unfortunately it is often conflated with increasing private sector investments in land, water and agricultural infrastructure in developing countries, and in the African continent in particular. 

In Bonn, the UN food agencies – International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the World Food Program and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)— organized an event with the World Farmers Organization (WFO) to share their experience ”in enhancing adoption of climate smart agriculture.” While WFO has small farmers and large farmers as its members, its advocacy positions on climate change tend to coincide with that of agri-biotech corporations. For example, the WFO, Canadian Federation of Agriculture and CropLife International (on behalf of Farming First) made identical submissions to UNFCCC in 2013, advocating for greater scientific research on agriculture. The lobbying efforts of these groups in the context of Rio+20 have been shown to have both suppressed other civil society voices and influenced the Rio texts on Agriculture.

There are also important leadership connections among the groups. In 2008, the then Director/ Manager of Corporate and Crop Protection Communications of the group, Robynne Anderson, became the founding chair of Farming First, one of the leaders in the WFO in 2008 when it was formed. At the time, she was also the spokesperson for the IFAP. As the founding president of the lobbying firm Emerging Ag Inc.—which hosts International Agri-Food Network (IAFN)—and Director General of IAFN, Anderson also facilitates the Private Sector Mechanism at the UN Committee on Food Security in Rome.

The G7 declaration from Bavaria acknowledges and commits to building on the long-term G7 efforts for food security and nutrition, including the L’Aquila Food Security Initiative (2008), the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition (2012), the Land Partnerships (2013) and the Global Nutrition for Growth (N4G) Compact (2013). These initiatives have evolved over the years from a sharp focus on public-sector commitments to end global hunger in the wake of the 2008 food price crisis to almost exclusive reliance on private sector investment and solutions. Several recent studies and reports point out how the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition in particular has pushed changes in policy frameworks, enabling the private sector to acquire land in African countries by displacing communities, and this without making any contribution towards food security. In fact, according to one of these case studies, these investments have diverted land and water resources away from food crops for energy crops; the study has resulted in a Call for Action, “Stop EcoEnergy’s Land Grab in Bagamoyo in Tanzania.”

The G7 declaration builds on the New Alliance proposal in ways that raise further concerns about food sovereignty. It endorses Sustainable Intensification (a term that includes use of GMO crops) and makes a nod to Global Alliance on Climate Smart Agriculture (GACSA). GACSA is a 90 member platform launched in September 2014 to promote Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA does not exclude GMO crops as a solution) despite several concerns raised by civil society from the outset.  While advocates tend to leave the term CSA undefined, IATP has pointed out how, “Climate Smart Agriculture incentivizes destructive industrial agricultural practices by tying it to carbon market offsets based on unreliable and non-permanent emissions reduction protocols.”

Some countries like France, a member of the GACSA, have an ambivalent relationship with it. At the recent third Science Conference on Climate Smart Agriculture, the French Minister of Agriculture, Food and Forestry, Stéphane Le Foll, announced a public subsidy for an international research project  on restoration of degraded soils and soil carbon sequestration, which they see as a major option for supporting the three pillars of CSA (adaptation, mitigation, food security). However, the French Government spokesperson has indicated that they do not see agriculture as central to UNFCCC negotiations in Paris later this year. They also recognize the civil society concerns as valid, and they point to the need for those concerns to be addressed if GACSA is to be successful.

On the other hand, whether in Bavaria, Bonn or Rome, there seems to have been a concerted effort to promote GACSA. The FAO hosts the GACSA secretariat, a fact that was evidenced by their prominent role in the FAO conference. In Rome the co-chairs of the GACSA were fully engaged during the entire period of the FAO conference; GACSA has identified outreach (mobilization/ consolidating membership) as an important priority program area, with a special focus on an “Aggressive” communication and advocacy plan–communicating CSA and GACSA.

While there is certainly an urgent need to expand the public debate on climate change and agriculture, the kinds of solutions being proposed, and who controls them, are also vitally important. A recent briefing paper by European development network CIDSEshows that the attempts at climate smartness are more about corporate green washing than about building climate resilience or food security. For example, in addition to the ongoing lobbying efforts, the meetings in June were preceded by a gathering of 82 of the world’s leading companies (May 2015) to advance their roles in the ground-breaking Low Carbon Technology Partnerships initiative (LCTPi) with focuses on four areas that are directly relevant for food security:  Advanced Biofuels, Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) and  Forests and Forest Products as Carbon Sinks.  This in turn was preceded by a meeting in early May of the GACSA Investment Action Group, which France plans to join in. The framing note for the meeting stresses the Role of Private Finance Investments in Climate Smart Agriculture.

The developments in June reveal a concerted effort on the part of the business sector, UN agencies and donor governments to work together to promote a corporate-driven global alliance to push investments in agriculture. So why not call it Corporate Smart Agriculture?

Posted June 22, 2015 by Ben Lilliston   

Money and PoliticsFast TrackFree trade agreements

Opponents of Fast Track rallying outside Senator Amy Klobuchar's office in Minneapolis. 

When fast track trade authority squeezed through the House of Representatives last week by 10 votes, big corporate donors breathed a sigh of relief. They had heavily invested in political donations and K Street lobbying power to advance their trade agenda—and expected a return on investment.

And it has been quite an investment. According to Maplight, corporate interests supporting Fast Track contributed more than nine times as much money to House members ($197 million), compared to interests opposing Fast Track ($23 million).

Now, the Fast Track fight returns to the Senate where the flood of corporate money flows just as rapidly. The Guardian, analyzing Federal Election Commission data, reported that corporate members of the U.S. Business Coalition for TPP contributed $1,148,971 to U.S. Senate campaigns between January and March 2015—an average of $17,676.48 was donated to each of the 65 “yea” votes in a previous Fast Track vote in May.

Why do corporate donors care so much about Fast Track? Fast Track, granted to the President for the next six years, would facilitate the negotiation of least two mega trade deals, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) involving 11 Pacific Rim countries and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with Europe, to not only set rules for trade, but expand corporate rights to challenge national and local regulations. Fast Track ties Congress’ hands to only an up or down vote on any future trade agreements—eliminating the possibility of amendments to protect local businesses, workers or the environment. TPP and TTIP are at the top of the corporate and financial industry wish list but first they need Fast Track to finish the deal.

Corporate donors are confident these trade deals will serve their interests because they are working hand-in-glove with the U.S. Trade Representative. Corporate and financial industry interests are represented throughout the USTR’s office, starting at the top with former Citigroup executive Michael Froman leading the agency, reports David Dayen in the American Prospect. Dayen writes: “Assistant trade representative for agricultural affairs, Sharon Bomer Lauritsen previously lobbied for the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO). Christopher Wilson also represented BIO as part of the trade consulting group C&M International, before becoming the U.S. deputy chief of mission to the World Trade Organization. Deputy trade representative Robert Holleyman worked for the Business Software Alliance, representing Microsoft, Apple, and IBM, among others.” Open Secrets documents more than 140 USTR current and past staff using the revolving door between government and industry.  

Industry groups and representatives also dominate trade advisory committees that “advise” the USTR as it negotiates trade agreements. These corporate advisors are allowed access to the otherwise secret trade negotiating text of the TPP and TTIP. A Washington Post analysis, breaks down how industry groups and representatives dominate these trade advisory groups.

There continues to be strong public opposition to Fast Frack and the proposed free trade agreements. Nearly two-thirds of Americans oppose Fast Track. And more than 2,000 organizations from across the political spectrum have written to Congress opposing Fast Track.

The Fast Track fight in Congress is not only about trade, it’s also about our democracy, and the price we pay for what appears to be an increasingly corrupt pay-to-play system of governance. We’ll find out soon where our Senators stand.   




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