Posted April 10, 2013 by Andrew Ranallo
IATP joins many NGOs, academics and policy experts today in celebrating a move that could make U.S. food aid more efficient and responsive to the world’s hungry. Obama’s budget for fiscal year 2014 proposes to shift close to half the food aid budget to procuring food aid from local and regional markets rather than the shipping U.S. grains on U.S. ships halfway around the world. With local and regional purchasing, food aid can get to those who need it faster and cheaper while also building local capacity to deal with an increasingly unstable international food supply. It’s a big move, especially when you consider U.S. food aid makes up more than half of all food aid worldwide.
So why are some upset about a move that saves money and gets more food, faster, to those who need it? Enter the “iron triangle”— U.S. shippers, grain companies and a handful of humanitarian NGOs. Scared for their jobs, jealous of their profits, or concerned that Congress will not support more effective forms of aid—the members of the triangle had different reasons for supporting widely discredited programs. (See Kevin Drum’s aptly titled article “Obama Proposes Making Food Aid Less Insane” published by Mother Jones earlier this week.) None of those reasons was persuasive, though. And now the White House has joined the chorus for change.
Thinking about food aid in this way is nothing new though, and there are many who have seen its merits for a long time, even if the U.S. government is only now catching up. In 2005, IATP produced U.S. Food Aid: Time to Get It Right pushing for cash-based aid over shipping U.S. commodities. And, many anti-hunger advocates like CARE and CRS (themselves food aid providers), American Jewish World Service, Oxfam, and many others in the faith, farm and development communities, have made huge strides in advocating for a more effective aid deployment system. The Bush administration tried to make the shift in 2006, but Congress (under intense lobbying from vested interests) only approved a small pilot project. Let’s hope implementation goes more smoothly this time around..
Read IATP’s press release, Overdue reforms to food aid a welcome change in new Presidential budget.
Posted April 10, 2013 by Kathleen Schuler, MPH
With chemicals like chlorinated tris, a carcinogen, turning up infant changing table pads, the respiratory irritant formaldehyde in baby bath products and hormone disrupter, BPA in food can linings, what’s a parent to do? Parents try to protect their kids from exposures to toxic chemicals by making smart purchases, but they don’t have all the information they need to know what is harmful. It’s the government’s job to assure that harmful products don’t end up on store shelves in the first place. While states like Minnesota are taking action to protect children from toxic chemical exposures, federal action is also critical. The 37-year-old Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the law regulating industrial chemicals in the U.S., is not doing the job.
A couple of years ago, Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) introduced the Safe Chemicals Act of 2011, which proposed sweeping reforms of this toothless law. While the bill did get through one committee, it never made it through to the floor. The Safe Chemicals Act is back and both Sen. Klobuchar and Sen. Franken are original co-sponsors. We thank Sen. Klobuchar and Sen. Franken for being champions for protecting the health of our kids and families!
The Safe Chemicals Act of 2013 would provide long overdue fixes to the nation’s broken chemical policies and limit the use of unsafe chemicals linked to health problems. It would help prevent the use of persistent chemicals that build up in our food chain and go a long way toward protecting Americans from chemicals before they are linked to reproductive and developmental disorders, cancers and other illnesses that are costly to treat and often preventable. Specifically, it would:
People don’t need or want toxic chemicals in their consumer products. While many companies are reducing their use of toxic chemicals to meet consumer demand for safer products, voluntary action alone will not ensure product safety. Effective regulation, like the Safe Chemicals Act of 2013, is a key driver toward safer chemistry and it embodies the concept of public health prevention. If we prevent toxic exposures that could harm health, we prevent the illnesses linked with those exposures. It’s just common sense public policy. Healthy Legacy is a member of Safer Chemicals, Health Families, working nationally to strengthen federal chemical policies to protect the health of families and children. Sign up to take action through Health Legacy in Minnesota.
Posted April 8, 2013 by Sarah Martin
Large commodity farmers in the U.S. have done well in the past few years, with major crops reaching record prices. According to the USDA, net farm income in 2010 was up more than 20 percent from 2009, and 2011 and 2012 almost double 2009’s numbers. All this good news was reflected in the festive atmosphere at the Commodity Classic 2013, the annual meeting for the National Corn Growers Association, the American Soybean Association, National Association of Wheat Growers and the National Sorghum Producers held at the Gaylord Palms Resort and Convention Center just outside Orlando, Florida in early March.
In a bland, cavernous meeting room occupied by 1,699 commodity farmers, and me, the Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack told us that U.S. agriculture has produced record exports over the last four years. Down the hall Bayer Crop Sciences supplied free popcorn, Koch Agronomic Services and Monsanto provided free box lunches at the trade show, and DuPont Crop Protection offered complimentary shoulder and foot messages in a little room just off to the side of the main entrance.
With all this celebration, and Disneyworld just down the road, it is easy to overlook some of the less festive news which emerged from the workshops and “learning sessions” at the conference. These included predictions of lower prices and incomes, “horror stories” coming out of the U.S. south about herbicide-resistant weeds that were described by herbicide sales representatives as “extremely aggressive,” and the need for farmers to have weather insurance in the face of climate change and increasing extreme weather events. The highly capitalized operations and model of industrial agriculture that are highlighted at the conference seem to be showing some serious cracks.
I was expecting production technology to be at the center of the conference, and to some extent it was, with a massive trade show exhibiting ethanol-fueled race cars, combines as big as houses, equipped with refrigerators, mobile offices and GPS technology, and handheld sensors that measure plant “vigor” and prescribe fertilizer applications. However, a sole focus on production was set aside in the workshops, and the general sessions where industry and agricultural commodity associations exhorted their members to tell their own stories.
An example was the workshop titled “Green Beans: The Importance of Providing Sustainable Soy to Your Customers Around the World,” sponsored by The United Soybean Board and Checkoff. The vice chair of the United Soybean Board, introduced the session by describing the new pressures emerging from export markets in Europe and Asia. Importantly, these export markets are demanding sustainable “green” soybeans. He reported that one of U.S. soybeans’ biggest customers in SE Asia would be demanding “100 percent sustainability” within 5 years, and that both China and India were focused on sustainability.
Christopher Brown, Head of Ethical and Sustainable Sourcing for ASDA Stores (a large UK retailer acquired by Walmart in 1999), described the importance of sustainable and ethical sourcing to their stores. ASDA is being pushed by its customers to provide sustainable products, and to better address sustainability issues. Speaking to the soy farmers, Brown stated that ASDA is being pressured on the issue of soybeans, primarily because of images of rainforest destruction in South America reaching consumers. This, he said, provides a particular opportunity for U.S. soybeans. In addition, he stated that the GMO issue is very sensitive, and the last time the issue came up for ASDA, he received 3000 emails.
Tim Venverloh, director of global sustainability at Archer Daniels Midland, discussed how sustainability was a “global conversation,” in which the U.S. could get left behind. Again, the issue of South American soybean suppliers arose when he stated that “rainforest encroachment” was a problem and that these “rare and global treasures” needed to be protected through agricultural intensification in the United States. The push from U.S. soybean importers, from large bean crushers in Asia to retail outlets in the UK, is clearly having an impact and nudging the commodity associations approach to sustainability.
At the general session, the leaders of the four major commodity groups highlighted the importance of farmers “telling the[ir] story.” As Pam Johnson of the National Corn Growers said, “the 1 percent needs to reach the 99 percent,” referencing the low numbers of farmers in relation to the population, Erik Younggren of the National Association of Wheat Growers put forward his approach to answering the public’s demands to know where their food comes from by using social media to highlight how agriculture is a sustainable business.
At the same session, Matthew Rekeweg, U.S. industry relations and food chain leader at Dow AgroSciences, spoke about how partnerships between farmers and industry would ensure continued access to markets and technology, which in turn would help keep farmers independent. In particular, he spoke about how Industry is taking steps to counter and “deal with those who are against our way of agriculture.” He exhorted the audience of 1,700 to tell stories of farm innovation, and to counter the organizations with “agendas and junk science” efforts to take farmers’ choice away. By supporting new technologies, sustainable agriculture practices and pushing back against “senseless bans and unreasonable delays on new technology,” he emphasized, farmers would help to ensure their own independence.
Following on the heels of the general session was a workshop titled “Join the Conversation About the Food You Produce,” led by public relations executive Linda Eatherton, who is also partner and director for Ketchum’s Global Food and Nutrition Practice. The U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance had contracted with the communications strategy firm Maslansky, Luntz + Partners to conduct market research. The resulting report gives insight into the constant refrain from the conference’s podiums to “tell [their] own story”.
Eatherton stated that the more educated are “pushing their opinions on others,” and because the real facts and figures do not work (if they did, industry “would win this war on negativity”) a new tact needs to be taken. The people polled by the PR firm are not giving modern agriculture the benefit of the doubt, are suspicious of its motives, regularly challenge its facts and respond emotionally rather than rationally (USFRA 2012).
Their research showed that farmers and ranchers are perceived to be beholden to agricultural corporations that care only about profit, to the detriment of land and animals. At the same time, there is only one human face in the supply chain: that of the farmers and ranchers who can “turn this war into a respectful conversation.”
With that, Eatherton laid out a program that highlighted ways to talk about agriculture. In particular, she emphasized the need to focus the narrative on continuous technological improvement and sustainable practices that, for example, use GPS technology to regulate fertilizer application only where it is needed.
So what story can we expect to hear from commodity organizations and agribusiness in the coming years? In part we have already begun to hear it, and not only at the conference. Late last year, Anderson Cooper Live ran two segments in which the USFRA sponsored a contest to send two winners to a farm and a ranch respectively, and videos of those visits to the Martz Family Farm and Blythe Angus Ranch are available.
It is important to watch how agribusinesses partner with commodity groups to increasingly use media and adopt many of the tools of alternative agriculture, such as public visits to farms and with farmers, and a narrative based in the language of sustainability. If the Commodity Classic is any indication, all is not well with industrial agriculture, but they are definitely trying to get their story out.
Sarah Martin is working as a fellow with the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy on food security and financialization of agriculture with the support of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.
Posted April 8, 2013 by JoAnne Berkenkamp
It’s tough not being perfect. Everyone who has ever had a bad hair day knows that. And that’s no more true than for those misshapen, oddly sized fruits and vegetables that Mother Nature inevitably produces. For them, the price of being imperfect is being consigned to a slow death, rotting in the farm field or the landfill, while their cosmetically perfect brothers and sisters head off to a grocery store near you.
Two fascinating reports from the Natural Resources Defense Council do a deft job of explaining why we should all care about “crop waste”—the widespread loss of otherwise edible fresh and vegetables that never make it past the farm gate or the landfill. One report, Wasted by Dana Gunders, looks at food waste across our food system. The other, Left-Out, looks specifically at fruit and vegetable losses on the farm.
The numbers reported by NRDC are astounding. For instance, from farm to fork, about 40 percent of all the food produced in the United States goes uneaten. That amounts to $165 billion of wasted food every year (a figure which, notably, is in the same ballpark as the annual cost of obesity). More than 6 billion pounds of fresh produce go unharvested or unsold each year, and preliminary data from a cluster of fruit and vegetable growers in California suggests that losses on the farm and in the packing stage range as high as 14–60 percent for a variety of common crops.
Why are losses on the farm so high? There are many contributing factors, but a big one that you and I play a part in is consumer demand for cosmetic perfection—for perfectly shaped peppers and uniform, bright red strawberries that seem to get bigger every year. The whole supply chain, from the farm to the grocery store, is geared toward meeting that expectation. From apples to zucchini, produce has to fit within very specific ranges for size, shape, color and other parameters. Some produce that doesn’t make it goes to a processor for juicing or other uses, but many of the imperfect fruit and vegetables never make it out of the field.
Other factors contribute to high waste rates as well. Contracting practices that are common in the produce industry, as well as the threat of bad weather, pests and price volatility, encourage growers to overplant. Labor shortages that are exacerbated by the sorry state of U.S. immigration policy are a factor too.
What’s more, when prices at the time of harvest are below the cost of getting the crop to market, it can make economic sense for farmers to leave some or all of their production in the field unharvested. Product specifications are also set by entities with enormous market power—such as major retail chains—while most of the risk associated with bad weather, supply gluts that force down prices, and Nature’s imperfections land in the laps of farmers.
And what else is wrong with this picture?
Let’s begin with the waste of food itself. As NRDC points out, reducing overall food waste by just 15 percent would provide enough food to feed more than 25 million Americans every year. Even though “the marketplace” may not want the crops that go to waste every day, current waste levels make no sense when looked at in the context of hunger, obesity, food justice and the impact of poor health on our economy.
Environmentally, crops that don’t make it to market involve significant uses of water, fertilizer, pesticides and other inputs. For instance, NRDC estimated that the unsold broccoli grown in just one county (Monterey County, California) required 2.5 billion gallons of water to grow (yes, that billions with a “b”, in a state where the water wars will only intensify as water becomes more scarce). Chemical fertilizers and pesticides impact farmworkers and the environment whether the product makes it to market or not.
Wasted crops also hold “imbedded carbon.” Carbon is released into the atmosphere when soil is tilled. Diesel fuel powers farm equipment and many agricultural chemicals start out life as crude oil. Further, only 3 percent of the food that is wasted between the farm and the fork is composted. When unsold crops end up in the landfill, they emit methane gas, a greenhouse gas at least 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide.
And as noted above, farmers pay the price when they grow a crop only to plow it under or leave the edible-but-imperfect to rot. Farmer incomes are adversely impacted even though our fruit and vegetable producers grow the healthy foods that are needed by an increasingly unhealthy country. The irony is hard to beat.
Fortunately, a number of initiatives hold hope for addressing these issues. For instance, the Los Angeles Food Policy Council recently put out new food procurement guidelines calling on restaurants and institutional buyers to “buy lower on the beauty chain” by purchasing smaller and less aesthetically perfect produce. A commitment by colleges, schools, hospitals and other institutions to purchase such “seconds” could make a real difference back on the farm. Several states in the West provide tax credits to farmers who donate crops to state food banks (providing a more effective incentive than charitable donation deductions). The California Association of Food Banks’ Farm to Family program uses paid, skilled farm labor to harvest unmarketable produce that is then made available to food banks at greatly discounted prices. The European Parliament has even set the aggressive goal of reducing food waste by 50 percent by 2020.
These are steps in the right direction, but overall, food waste largely remains a hidden problem in the U.S., shrouded in a belief that we can afford to be wasteful and that waste doesn’t have real consequences. Alas, we all pay the price for perfection.
Posted April 3, 2013 by Dr. Steve Suppan
The Bardo Museum in Tunis, Tunisia has the largest collection of ancient mosaics in the world. Most of the mosaics, depicting Roman, Greek Phoenician and Nubian life, gods and royalty, are incomplete. Some have had to be radically reconstructed, with the help of archeology and very skilled and imaginative art conservationists. The Bardo mosaics have something in common with the World Social Forum (WSF): it is impossible to see more than a handful of the WSF’s nearly one thousand events, but it is possible to reconstruct a sense of the whole from some of its pieces.
The slogan of this WSF is The Revolution for Dignity. For a U.S. audience, this may seem like a strange slogan, but the Revolution in Tunisia, which deposed a dictator, began in January 2011 when a vegetable vendor harassed by police for operating without a license burned himself to death, literally crying to be treated with dignity. In a country with an unemployment rate of 60 percent and a large part of its wealth parked in European banks, rather than invested to create jobs, to be treated with dignity does not seem to be asking very much.
Dignity is, in part, about valuing human health and safety. One of the daily indignities in Tunisian life is the search for a clean public toilet, including toilets at the El Manar campus of the University of Tunisia, the site of the WSF. In a panel on the crises of water and climate change, a Tunisian activist explained that university toilets were neglected because the university itself was neglected. Water to flush a toilet was two and a half times as expensive as bottled water. Further, in a country where potable water was in short supply because of extensive contamination of water by fertilizers and pesticides, plastic water bottles littered the streets because there is no recycling industry in Tunisia. A professor of chemistry at the University said that Tunisia desperately needed a recycling infrastructure, both to remedy a catastrophic degree of unemployment and to begin to repair Tunisia’s ravaged environment.
At IATP’s event “Regulating to protect the environment, public health and worker safety: Challenges of Nanotechnology,” Tunisian pesticide researcher and environmental activist Semia Gharbi gave a thorough review of damage caused by lack of protection for workers using pesticide, pesticide caused public health problems, and lack of regulation of pesticides due to the power of agribusiness exporters. A telling sign of the extent of industry influence is that the Arabic word for “medicine” and “pesticide” is the same (as it is in Hindi and many other languages). Pesticides, used to control household and garden pests, are sold on the same shelf on packaged foods.
Brazilian professor of law Wilson Engelmann discussed how nanotechnology presented an unprecedented challenge for Brazilian legislation, regulation and jurisprudence. Traditionally in Brazil, law is written after a factual basis for the law has been agreed. In the case of nanotechnologies, products are commercialized in the absence of law, but in the presence of large degree of uncertainty about the effects of nanomaterials on the environment, public health and worker safety. Professor Engelmann said that sustainable nanotechnology would require a high degree of cooperation among natural and social sciences, and a broad public debate to develop law that would enable it to be subject to public control rather than imposed on the public. He concluded that nanotechnology was so complex that it should become the subject of international law and regulation rather than starting from national legislation.
Dignity is also about valuing public discourse. Brazilian professor of sociology Tania Magna discussed her research on the marketing of products claiming to incorporate nanomaterials, including products for children and infants. One of the characteristics of Brazilian nanotech marketing is to present products “with nano” as the future in a country advertized by elites as “The Country of the Future.” Research into nanotechnology is difficult, however, because much of this new technology, though developed with public money, is not made available to the public but is only published in expensive journals, often foreign, that are too expensive for many Brazilian library subscription budgets. Furthermore, Brazilians scientists said they would conduct any regulation needed of nanotechnology, hence there was no need for them to talk with social scientists, much less with the public.
Retired professor of sociology Paulo Martins discussed his public engagement project in nanotechnology, which includes a near weekly webcasting of Nanotechnology Inside Out. With the help of young Tunisian technical and translation volunteers, both the IATP and Brazilian Research Network on Nanotechnology, Environment and Society panels were webcast to six universities in Brazil.
Dignity is also about the ability to chart one’s path. The struggle to get the Group of 20 governments to regulate their commodity and finance markets made a small appearance in my commodity market regulation presentation. A bigger review of the whole G-20 agenda was presented by Russia’s Boris Kagalitsky. He bravely noted that civil society movements, including those in Russia, were losing most of the battles to advance an economy in which everyone prospered. He said that the G-20s “development” agenda would reduce Russia to a commodity export dependent country with a huge capital flight resulting from the privatization of state resources. He invited WSF participants to engage in the G-20 struggle and said that St. Petersburg, the site of the next G-20 summit, is a beautiful city.
In the meantime, back in the U.S., I read of ongoing challenges to new commodity market regulations or even to prosecute high profile malefactors like HSBC because of fears that the jailing of an executive would cause a loss of market confidence. It reminded me of a display at the Bardo Museum in which the rulers of ancient Carthage walled themselves off from their subjects. The ongoing G-20 failure to change the banking culture of regulatory defiance and evasion to one of compliance is a grave danger not only to the global non-financial economy but to our individual dignity. Indeed, we urgently need a Revolution for Dignity.
Posted April 1, 2013 by Kathleen Schuler, MPH
Healthy Legacy’s 2013 legislative agenda is making great progress. We are supporting three bills this legislative session that address priority chemicals in children’s products. After countless committee hearings, two of our bills have completed their committee paths and await floor votes in both houses.
Our third bill, the Toxic Free Kids Act (TFKA) of 2013 requires that manufacturers report the presence of a priority chemical in their children’s products and requires the eventual replacement of these harmful chemicals with safer alternatives. This bill passed through several committees in each house, but was voted down on March 18 in the Senate Commerce Committee. The bill was transformed through the committee process into a strong reporting bill that harmonizes with Washington and would put Minnesota on a solid path to address priority chemicals. We thank our chief authors Sen. Chris Eaton and Rep. Ryan Winkler for their leadership and hard work on these bills.
Thanks to the Minnesota legislature, the work of state agencies and the Healthy Legacy coalition, Minnesota is already a leading state in protecting children from toxic chemical exposures. We need to take the next step and assure that we have policies to address all priority chemicals by passing TFKA. We will be back in 2014!
Healthy Legacy is a diverse public health coalition that works to phase out the use of toxic chemicals in consumer products. The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy is a co-founding member of the coalition.
Posted March 28, 2013 by Shiney Varghese
For well over a decade, IATP has advocated for alternatives to the current water governance regime that privileges profit over people, communities and ecosystems. In advocating against neoliberal approaches to solving water crises, we have argued for the promotion of the right to water and the right to food, for the precautionary principle and for the need to respect our common but differentiated responsibility to protect our commons.
This month, as the United Nations celebrates World Water Day, and as many organizations at the World Social Forum celebrate Water Justice Day, we offer Water Governance in the 21st Century: Lessons from Water Trading in the U.S. and Australia, a new paper that looks at the possibilities for water governance based on on cooperation rather than competition. We look at the experiences of water trading in Australia and North America for relevant lessons to help chart a path for just and sustainable water governance in 21st century.
As water insecurities increase globally, there is an increasing emphasis on demand-management approaches, which for the most part emphasize market mechanisms as a means to ensure water security for all. Water trading is one of the market based mechanisms that helps transfer water from one user to another. It involves buying and selling water rights (which are permanent access entitlements), or water allocation entitlements (which are seasonal and temporary). This process results in the re-allocation of water among competing uses by facilitating the transfer of water from low-valued to higher-valued uses. This approach is gaining ground as climate uncertainties grow, as corporations want to control water for their value chain and as scarcity conditions give rise to the idea of water primarily as an economic good.
The new IATP paper focuses on the experiences in the western United States and southeastern Australia, both regions in which sophisticated institutional frameworks have been developed that recognize water as a limited resource and an economic good, and which facilitate the re-allocation of water through market mechanisms such as water trading. We show that water markets often exacerbate failures in water governance (manifested as economic or physical water scarcity) and that the third party effects associated with water trading (which have been well documented) are only the most evident symptom of the underlying governance problems.
Instead, we should consider a holistic framework that considers water as a commons, questions the premise that water trading is a transaction that takes place between only two parties, and urges caution to ensure that wider social concerns are not neglected. We propose the use of the public trust doctrine in order to protect both public use and public interest. The former is concerned with access to the commons for current generations, while the latter is concerned with conserving the commons in the interest of current and future generations [of all beings]. We suggest that the combined use of the commons principles with public trust doctrine or its principles provides a way forward to resolve the problems that have arisen in the context of water trading in the western United States and southeastern Australia.
We conclude by suggesting that allocation of water should not be based on commodification and economic efficiency alone. The national water sector reforms underway in many countries should consider the hidden costs of existing market based approaches, and should be premised on the notion of water as a commons, available first and foremost for public purposes (including the realization of right to water and right to food). In sum, public policy rooted in cooperation and mutual responsibility, instead of competition, would help address the crisis in shared commons such as water. In this International Year of Water Cooperation it is extremely timely and appropriate.
Read the full report: Water Governance in the 21st Century: Lessons from Water Trading in the U.S. and Australia.
Posted March 26, 2013 by Dale Wiehoff
Rotisserie chicken, chicken nuggets, Kung pao chicken, chicken livers, Buffalo wings, chicken Kiev, lemon chicken, chicken soup, barbecue chicken, chicken salad, fried chicken—there is no denying that the U.S. loves chicken. According to the USDA, poultry production exceeds $20 billion annually, with over 43 billion pounds of meat produced. The National Chicken Council estimates per capita consumption of chicken in the U.S. at over 80 pounds a year. What’s surprising is that it hasn’t always been this way. This is the story of how an Italian immigrant farmer and his son helped launch the industrial production of chicken.
Prior to World War II, chicken was reserved for special occasions. If you lived on a farm back then, the arrival of visiting relatives meant roast chicken for dinner. Sunday dinner with the family was often graced with chicken and peas. Farm flocks were generally the domain of women and children to earn some cash selling eggs. Back then, chickens for eating were a by-product of egg production (that is, chickens would be butchered only when their laying days were done), with the modern broiler industry only starting to take shape in the 1920s and 30s in places like the Delmarva Peninsula on the Atlantic coast.
Flock sizes grew from a rooster and few hens to some flocks with 10,000 or more chickens, but it wasn’t until the 1950s and 60s when vertical integration of the broiler industry occurred and chicken factories with hundreds of thousands of birds appeared. Before that, flocks were an assortment of breeds, with names like Jersey Giant, California Gray, Wyandotte and Rhode Island Red. The turning point for industrial chicken came when the Atlantic and Pacific supermarket chain held a national contest for the “Chicken of Tomorrow.”
A&P, Arbor Acres and the Chicken of Tomorrow
In 1945, the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company (or the A&P as it was universally known), the country’s largest poultry retailer, sponsored a national contest in partnership with USDA to produce a breed of chicken that would grow bigger, faster and put on weight in all the right places. The idea that a supermarket and the USDA would partner to develop a breed of chicken seems odd today, but the A&P was no ordinary supermarket chain.
In the age of Wal-Mart and Target, A&P looks almost quaint, but in the history of food retailing, A&P was the dominant force for many decades, having created the model of high-volume, low-cost food marketing. Marc Levinson’s The Great A&P and the Struggle for Small Business in America tells the story of how a small tea-importing and animal hides company grew starting in the 1860s into the largest retailer in the world, reaching annual sales of $1 billion and owning over 16,000 stores nationwide by the end of the 1920s.
Through vertical integration and a policy of demanding volume discounts from manufacturers and wholesalers, A&P drove thousands of Mom and Pop retailers out of business. In 1945, the U.S. Justice Department won a conviction of A&P for criminal restraint of trade. The conviction had little impact on A&P’s business, but the giant supermarket chain took every opportunity during the trial and appeal to improve its image through press releases and public service work. The “Chicken of Tomorrow” contest was part of A&P’s damage control.
Farmers and breeders from across the country took part, submitting eggs for hatching at specially built facilities where the chicks were hatched and raised in controlled conditions on a standard diet. The chicks were closely tracked and monitored for weight gain, health and appearance. After 12 weeks, the birds were slaughtered weighed and judged for edible meat yield. In 1946 and 1947, a series of state and regional contests took place and from them 40 finalists were chosen to compete for the national title of Chicken of Tomorrow. In 1948, and again in 1951, Arbor Acres White Rocks won in the purebred category. The white feathered Arbor Acres birds were preferred to the higher preforming dark feathered Red Cornish crosses from the Vantress Hatchery. Eventually the two breeds were crossed to become the Arbor Acre breed that came to dominate the genetic stock of chicken worldwide.
Arbor Acres was run by Franks Saglio, an Italian immigrant who grew fruits and vegetables in Glastonbury, Connecticut on a small family farm. His son, Henry, started raising chickens for local sales. It was Henry’s birds that eventually won the Chicken of Tomorrow contest, from which the family went on to build a national breeding business which sent parent stock to all the major broiler companies in the country. In addition to supplying Arbor Acres breeding stock, the company also developed techniques and facilities to promote the best performance of the birds. Driven by processors’ demands for more and cheaper chicken, the broiler industry went through a rapid vertical integration process with hatcheries, growers, feed mills and processors all merged into larger and larger commercial farms. The Saglio family helped found the National Chicken Council, the chicken industry’s public relations and lobbying organization.
Arbor Acres, the International Basic Economy Corporation (IBEC) and Nelson Rockefeller
Here is where the story takes a big turn. In 1964, Nelson Rockefeller bought Arbor Acres and took it global through his company, International Basic Economy Corporation (IBEC).
Nelson Rockefeller left government service the same year A&P held the first Chicken of Tomorrow contest, and in 1947 set up two new organizations to demonstrate his alternative approach to President Truman’s Point IV Program for technical assistance to developing countries. The American International Association for Economic and Social Development (AIA) was Rockefeller’s policy arm and IBEC was the business arm. Called by some the Rich Neighbor Policy, Rockefeller’s private development companies initially brought U.S. capital and technology to places like Brazil and Venezuela to jump start modern consumer capitalism. IBEC began with $3 million from Nelson Rockefeller, and $21 million from Standard Oil. IBEC’s investments included poultry production, supermarkets, housing, agribusiness and textiles.
In addition to demonstrating that U.S. capital and American know-how could create a thriving middle class in places ruled by autocrats and populated by the poor and illiterate, IBEC had a Cold War agenda as well. As Nelson Rockefeller was known to say, "it's hard to be a Communist with a full belly.” Many of IBEC’s operations were located in countries where Standard Oil was pumping oil and nationalist and peasant uprisings were occurring.
IBEC’s model undercut peasant production of food, replacing it with a capital-intensive system. To make this system work required, on the production side, a steady supply of feed grain, and on the consumer-side, a way to distribute and sell the meat that looked more like A&P than traditional open air markets and bodegas. In 1949, IBEC formed a joint venture with Cargill to build grain elevators in Argentina. Cargill had been hoping to enter the Latin American market and the IBEC partnership opened the door, first in Argentina and then in Venezuela and Brazil. Today, Cargill has over $8 billion invested in Latin America and 25,000 employees. By 1956, according to an IBEC consultant reporting on supermarcados in Venezuela, it could “truthfully be said that the modern supermarkets are displacing the old fashioned ‘bodegas.’” (In 1969, 14 of the 17 IBEC supermarkets in Buenos Aires were burnt to the ground by nationalists when Nelson Rockefeller came to visit.)
With IBEC’s purchase of Arbor Acres, the AA genetic stock—as it is known in the trade—went global, starting in Latin America and moving quickly to Africa, Asia and Europe. In Asia, one IBEC employee, John Rogers, founder of Rogers Enterprise International, setup Arbor Acres joint ventures with leading agribusiness companies, including Charoen Pokphand Foods with operations in Thailand, Taiwan, Indonesia and India; the San Miguel Corporation in the Philippines; and Mitsui and Co. in Japan. Still today, 50 percent of the chicken raised in China comes from the Arbor Acres genetic stock.
Not all of IBEC’s development projects were as successful as Arbor Acres, and by the 1970s IBEC started to divest of it holdings. In 1980, when it merged with Booker McConnell Limited of Great Britain, IBEC changed its name to Arbor Acres. Since then, Arbor Acres has changed hands several times and is currently owned by Avigen, a chicken breeder selling three brands of chicken—Arbor Acres, Ross and Indian River in 130 countries worldwide.
What do you get when you combine a family farm, a supermarket contest and a global corporation? It is a bad joke, and even more, it misses the real question we have to answer: What have we lost to the creation of industrial chicken?
Let’s start with the chickens. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) there has been a marked decline in the past half century of farm livestock breeds. “Up to 30% of global mammalian and avian livestock breeds (i.e., 1,200 to 1,500 breeds) are currently at risk of being lost and cannot be replaced.” A Purdue University study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reported that 50 percent or more of ancestral chicken breeds have been lost and that the greatest decline in chicken diversity took place in the 1950s with the introduction of industrial chicken production.
The thousands of farmers who took part in the Chicken of Tomorrow contests disappeared even more quickly than the breeds. They were replaced by ever larger chicken operations managed by farmers with little control over their farms. The remaining farmers are faced with signing bad contracts with immense transnational chicken processors that control every aspect of the process, from cage to carcass.
Despite the best efforts of the breeders to develop disease-resistant birds, the combination of chickens bred to gain weight and muscle rapidly, plus living in very confined cages, has led to sicker birds requiring more and more antibiotics. The declining diversity of breeds has also contributed to less resistance to disease. The use of antibiotics to keep battery-raised chickens healthy has contributed to widespread bacterial resistance to antibiotics, creating a public health crisis.
Everybody knows that if you can’t describe the flavor
When Henry Saglio died in 2003, according to his New York Times obituary, he was the “father” of the poultry industry. In 2000, Henry formed a new company called Pureline Genetics because of his growing concerned about the use of antibiotics in chicken production. Pureline’s drug-free breeds couldn’t penetrate the market, and by 2009 was sold to Centurion Poultry in Lexington, Georgia.
We are still eating the Chicken of Tomorrow, but it is time for a new contest, a contest not for a new Chicken of Tomorrow, but rather for a new kind of agriculture, one that is less focused on corporate profits and more focused on producing strong healthy farms and food.
Posted March 25, 2013 by Dr. Steve Suppan
IATP's Dr. Steve Suppan is blogging from Tunis, Tunisia, the site of the World Social Forum.
In Tunisia, important events begin with a poem. The interpretation technology was not working yet, but poetry is difficult to translate in any event. The opening session of the World Forum on Science and Democracy was no less significant because of a momentary technology glitch.
The very notion of science and democracy may seem antiquated or self evident. The Union of Concerned Scientists has a Center for Science and Democracy, which is petitioning the U.S. Food and Drug Agency (FDA) to allow FDA scientists to speak with the public about their work without vetting from their managers. But here, the birthplace of the democratic revolutions of 2011—called the “Arab Spring” by Western journalists—nothing is taken for granted. As a representative of IATP, the only U.S. NGO at a conference of about 200 academics and NGOs from around the world, I am surprised to discover what is taken for granted.
The newly elected Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences of the University of Tunisia, our host, begins his welcoming remarks with a quote from the French-Algerian writer Albert Camus, writing in the midst of the Algerian revolution of the 1950s against French occupation of Algeria: democracy is to be able to choose and to allow one to choose without imposition. If this seems an odd way to open a quasi-academic conference, the quote from Camus prefaced an eloquent discussion of how scientists, such as the Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget and the U.S. anthropologist Gregory Bateson, show how human interdependence, beginning with mother and child, is the basis of all democracy.
I came prepared to present on the application of nanotechnology to fertilizers and its implications for soil health and biodiversity. Tunisia is major producer of phosphorus for fertilizer. The presentation was derived from an upcoming IATP report, Nanomaterials in Soil; Our Future Food Chain?, but the open windows of the lecture hall and the brilliant Tunisian sun made the text and images nearly illegible. No matter.
The discussion about a presentation long on words to describe what could not be seen but had to be taken on faith was lively but surprising. I explained how technology assessment offered a way to create a democratic dialogue between scientists and the citizens who paid for much of their education and research. I outlined how in the United States, government and corporate scientists worked on nanotechnology projects with no public input in comparative technology choice or investment of public money for products that sometimes harm public and environmental health. The application of treated sewage sludge—biosolids, to use the EPA approved term—now including nanomaterials from the nanotechnology production waste stream is an example of a technology investment with no citizen participatory technology assessment.
Despite the heroic efforts of interpreters, more than a few questions assumed that technology assessment would prevent developing countries from building their own advanced technologies. What right did the West have to deny Iran nuclear energy? If developing countries were denied such advanced technologies, how would they develop? I explained that a better technological choice for decentralized energy might be solar energy, but this short answer did little to counter an old belief that all advanced technologies bring enlightenment, progress and democracy.
But just this first day of the Science and Democracy World Forum has shown me that I understand even less of the world than I had supposed. I have learned, however, that a university which welcomes a debate on science and democracy with a poem and an elegant presentation on the human interdependence of democracy has much to teach us.
Posted March 15, 2013 by Andrew Ranallo
Antibiotics and ethanol seems like a non sequitur, unfortunately that’s far from the truth. A petition filed by IATP and partners shows why and asks the FDA to ban the use of antibiotics in ethanol byproducts as unnecessary and illegal.
After the ethanol production process is complete, the leftover, nutrient-rich grains used in the process (known as distillers grains with solubles) are often sold as animal feed. Many livestock producers depend on distillers grains as a cheap, nutritious feed option that helps put weight on animals. The issue is, despite available alternatives, many ethanol producers use antibiotics in their fermentation vats to prevent bacterial infections, so when the leftover grains are sold as animal feed, the antibiotics follow—adding even more unnecessary antibiotics to their already overloaded systems.
The petition focuses on evidence that this practice is unregulated and unmonitored, despite the fact that it adds to the antibiotic exposure in food animals. The FDA, despite acknowledging antibiotic resistance as one of their top concerns, has done nothing
Instead, the FDA has left the issue up to ethanol producers and pharmaceutical companies. In response, IATP, along with the Center for Food Safety, has filed a petition asking the FDA to halt antibiotic use in the production of distillers grains.