The devastating drought in California, home to much of the country’s fruit and vegetable production, is spurring discussions about the future of food production in a new age of climate change. When broaching the topic of solving the future food dilemma – feeding a growing population while using the same amount of land and facing more volatile weather events – the arguments typically fall into one of two camps: 1.) produce more food on less land through the use of technology, chemicals, and genetically modified seeds, or 2.) turn to decentralized and diversified farming practices that naturally boost soil health and farm resilience, such as diverse crop rotations, cover crops, reducing tillage where it makes sense, and building local food systems.
Feedstuffs, a weekly newspaper for agribusiness, recently ran an article on the topic of solving the future food dilemma that included results from an Oklahoma State University study called FooDS (Food Demand Survey). FooDS is a national online survey which includes at least 1,000 individuals each month, measuring consumers’ priorities, expectations, and awareness and concern about various food and agriculture issues, among other topics.
When such studies appear in an agribusiness publication, one might expect them to highlight the benefits of technological fixes to farming problems. However, the FooDS results found that “more than three-quarters of the consumers polled said adopting a more ‘natural’ agricultural production system – that includes additional local, organic and unprocessed foods – would be most effective at addressing the future food challenges rather than adopting a more ‘technological’ agricultural system.”
The three out of every four consumers advocating for a natural—as opposed to a technological—food system to solve the impending food crisis are in line with the science: farming grounded in agroecology is shown to not only boost and support robust crop yields in the long term, but help farms better withstand extreme weather events, and put the control of food systems in the hand of local communities.
Unfortunately, changing the minds of people who disagree with the efficacy of agroecology and promote increasingly technological farming systems is not as easy as presenting evidence. For example, work done at the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication shows that people accept or reject beliefs based on their worldviews and who they trust. In other words, people are more likely to listen to trusted community members who share their worldview than to messengers they’ve never met and who view the world in a different way. Indeed, previous stories in Feedstuffs have reported that consumers trust farmers far more than scientists, and that scientists are viewed as “competent, but not entirely trustworthy,” arguably because scientists are not seen as warm or empathetic.
This makes the case that the way to build agricultural systems grounded in agroecology – the type of agricultural systems that three out of four consumers say that they want – is to work directly with farmers and consumers themselves. There’s a great need to develop more mutual understanding and trust between farmers and consumers. Closing the gaps between rural and urban communities will not only fulfill the stated desires of so many eaters and the desire of so many farmers for their work and livelihoods to be better understood, but it is also essential to building an agroecological, food sovereign world. Creating spaces and opportunities for real conversations and exchange will help us change from this system that “as individuals none of us would choose,” and bring us to a future where farmers do well and are well-supported, and everyone has access to healthy, sustainable, fairly produced and served food. We think this is a future we can all agree on.
Posted April 10, 2015 by Karen Hansen-Kuhn
One of the most surprising parts of my visits to Europe around trade issues has been the misconceptions people have about the U.S. And I’m not talking about generalizations about problems in our food system, but the idea that all Americans support free trade agreements. At a recent meeting in Brussels, people from many European countries complained of being branded as anti-American because of the concerns they are raising about TTIP’s impacts on European environment and food systems.
But in fact, campaigns in the U.S. and around the world on TTIP, TPP and other free trade agreements are for the most part not based on nationalism but instead on issues of democracy. Who decides if a community can ban a toxic waste dump, the government or the investor? Under NAFTA’s Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanism, the investor won millions of dollars in compensation over a Mexican community’s refusal to reopen a toxic waste dump. Who decides on Country of Origin Labeling for beef? Under a WTO dispute brought by Mexico and Canada – with a strong push from U.S. industry -- the U.S. is being pressed to abolish this sensible program. Perhaps the most basic problem with NAFTA, CAFTA, TTIP, TPP and other free trade agreements is that they give new powers to corporations to set those kinds of rules. As trade campaigners know, the issue is not whether the U.S. or Europe wins, but which corporations stand to benefit.
We have an important opportunity to make that point on April 18, the Global Day of Action on Free Trade Agreements. Our friends at AbL, a German family farm network that is part of the global La Via Campesina network, contacted us about their plans, a series of signs planted in farmers’ fields on TTIP. People will take pictures of the signs across the country, hold press events, and post photos of their actions across Germany. They asked if U.S. groups might be interested in similar actions to show the breadth of concerns across the Atlantic.
There will be dozens of actions focused on fast track and the TPP taking place across the U.S. (see Citizens Trade Campaign for more information). We’d also like to raise the profile of efforts on TTIP. IATP has produced electronic versions of those posters in English that we hope people across the U.S. might use in similar actions. We have three versions of the sign, using the same image of a field as our German friends, with three slogans (TTIP and GMOs: Stay Off Our Farms!; TTIP is Bad for Local Foods!; and TTIP – another job destroying corporate trade agreement). If you take a picture of yourself, your family or your community event with the sign, we’ll post it to an online map of actions taking place all around the world.
We hope you’ll join us to raise the profile of our common efforts across the Atlantic, and in fact around the world, to challenge corporate-led free trade deals and instead insist that another world is possible.
Posted April 7, 2015 by Ben Lilliston
We have entered a new era of corporate rights—where, in their quest to access natural resources around the world, multinational firms now routinely ride roughshod over governments and communities. Two trade tribunal rulings issued last month explain how.
Digby Neck, on the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia, is a popular whale-watching area. After hearing community concerns about the environmental impact of a proposal to expand a basalt quarry, a Canadian government review panel denied approval of the project. The Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador requires oil companies drilling offshore to invest a portion of their profits into local research and development projects. Last month, separate trade tribunals ruled both of these Canadian policies illegal and awarded damages to multinational corporations to compensate them for the loss of anticipated profits under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
These corporate rights cases, known as Investor State Dispute Settlements (ISDS), are rapidly on the rise, says Public Citizen. And based on leaked text from the proposed Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) posted last month – they could become even more common in the years to come.
In the Digby Neck case, the U.S. company Bilcon challenged the findings of a Joint Review Panel (JRP) by Canada’s federal and provincial governments as part of an environmental review of the quarry expansion, first proposed in 2002. The JRP recommended in 2007 that the project not be approved – and pointed out that the project ran counter to “community core values.”
Bilcon disputed the whole concept of “community core values” and objected that the JRP never proposed options to address the issues raised by the community. The company also claimed that Nova Scotia had long made a show of being “open for investment” and that Bilcon had previously had political support for the project – so had a reasonable expectation that its investment would go forward.
It’s worth noting that the case did not involve a new environmental law or regulation – but rather existing rules that had been interpreted differently than how Bilcon preferred. Instead of challenging the law’s implementation in Canadian courts—the company decided to pursue a NAFTA case before a private panel of trade lawyers.
A sharply worded dissent by one member of the three-person panel called the Bilcon case a “remarkable step backwards” for environmental protection, arguing that the decision will inhibit future environmental review processes. Bilcon is seeking $300 million in damages.
In the other NAFTA case from last month, an international tribunal awarded $17.3 million in damages to Exxon Mobil Corp., and Murphy Oil Corp. Going back to the 1980s in Newfoundland and Labrador, oil companies have been required to spend some percentage of their revenues from their offshore oil drilling rights on research and development in the local economy. The oil giants successfully claimed that this type of “performance requirements” is prohibited under NAFTA.
These kinds of cases have been receiving a lot more public scrutiny lately as part of the debate on fast track. In response to concerns raised by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the White House asserted that ISDS in TPP would be different. Trust us, they seem to say. But when WikiLeaks posted the secret TPP investment chapter last week it confirmed what public interest groups have long been warning. The investment chapter grants foreign corporations and investors in the dozen TPP countries the same rights established under NAFTA in order to guarantee profits anticipated by investors. The chapter defines investments to cover permits, intellectual property rights, derivatives and other financial instruments, and contracts, according to a Friends of the Earth analysis.
The leaked TPP chapter grants greater rights for foreign companies than those for U.S. companies or citizens, by allowing foreign companies to challenge U.S. laws, regulations and regulatory implementation measures. In fact, the TPP would essentially place transnational corporations on the same jurisdictional level as nation-states, but without the public interest obligations of nation-states. FOE writes, “Foreign investors would be able to bypass domestic courts and bring suit before special international tribunals designed to encourage international investment. The authority of domestic judicial institutions is undermined.”
According to Public Citizen, trade tribunals have awarded $3.6 billion to foreign investors through these type of investor state provisions. The group estimates that there are about 9,000 foreign-owned firms in the U.S. who would be empowered under TPP to launch cases against the U.S. government.
U.S. negotiators are still pushing to expand the scope of ISDS enforcement within TPP to include government procurement contracts, which could cover contract disputes about natural resources on federal lands, infrastructure projects, and the operation of utilities, among other things.
While proponents of TPP often claim that the U.S. has never lost an investor state case, that seems unlikely to continue. Under NAFTA, 20 such cases have been filed against the U.S., according to the Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives. Each of these cases costs money to defend—and, as a threatened case alone, can inhibit regulations that protect environmental, public and worker health and safety.
For example, Obama administration officials have already acknowledged that a threatened NAFTA challenge by TransCanada figures into their decision on whether to block the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.
We shouldn’t have to rely on WikiLeaks to discover the details of trade agreements . The secrecy of these trade deals is legitimated by presidential Executive Order 12356, signed by President Reagan, who designated trade negotiations as “national security information.” This secrecy limits public understanding of, and therefore ability to oppose, the terms of trade agreements negotiated with public funds and ostensibly for the benefit of the public. In the next few weeks, Congress is expected to debate fast track trade authority. Fast track would allow the President to continue to negotiate TPP in secret, and present a final version to Congress for a simple up or down vote—depriving Congress of its right to amend the finalized agreement.
The leaking of the TPP investment chapter and the two NAFTA rulings in favor of multinational corporations this past month together reveal the real agenda of these trade agreements—to overturn or preempt any public law or regulation that impedes private profiteering. Defeating fast track is a crucial first step toward a larger showdown about how and by whom trade-related policy is set, and whose rights will be protected.
Posted April 7, 2015 by Dr. Steve Suppan
For more than four years, IATP has been submitting comments on proposed U.S. regulations to limit the share of positions controlled by financial speculators in commodity derivatives markets. A position is a financial interest in one or more contracts of a commodity, e.g. Chicago Board of Trade No. 2 Yellow Corn. Commercial hedgers who can show that they have a bona fide commercial need to use the commodity and to manage price risk in a given contract—rather than accumulating contracts without bona fide need, in order to manipulate the commodity’s price—are exempt from position limits placed on financial speculators.
If financial speculators chronically exceed position limits, excessive speculation distorts prices for commercial hedgers, often to a degree where they fail to manage their price risks. For example, food processors will take positions to try to prevent price increases in their raw materials costs. Price risk management failure, if prolonged, can be devastating at every point of a commodity supply chain from producer to consumer.
IATP has submitted what well may be its last comment, for the foreseeable future, on a Commodity Futures Trading Commission rule to establish speculation position limits in 28 of the most frequently traded commodity derivatives contracts, 19 of them agricultural. The “Dodd Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Financial Protection Act of 2010” authorized the CFTC to set position limits by 2011 to prevent market manipulation, excessive speculation by financial entities and price distortion.
A successful Wall Street lawsuit against the rule and thousands of comments have delayed the rule’s implementation and enforcement. The CFTC hopes to finalize this, the third proposed rule, by this summer. But the Commissioners may not vote to finalize the rule. IATP does not believe the terms of the rule, as proposed, will be adequate to achieve Dodd-Frank objectives. If the rule is finalized and adequate, the Republican majority in Congress very likely will continue its assault on Dodd Frank by voting again for a budget and terms of CFTC reauthorization inadequate to implement the law.
It was seven years ago that IATP began to research why high price levels and price volatility in agricultural derivatives contracts did not reflect supply, demand and other market fundamentals. We published a compendium of such research in 2011. As we emphasized in our March 30th comment to the CFTC, high and volatile derivatives prices resulted in high and volatile agricultural and energy import prices in 2008 and 2009, which caused food price riots in at least 30 countries, destabilizing governments and contributing to the fall of a few of them, e.g. in Tunisia. The current low price outlook for agriculture and energy commodities could change very quickly, due to climate change and the geo-politics of oil. Excessive speculation usually comes with such changes.
In our comment, we urged the CFTC to take five steps to finalize the rule:
There is no end to irony in commodity market regulation. Just as the Designated Contract Markets for the position limits rule—including the Chicago Board of Trade and the Intercontinental Exchange—were ramping up their campaign for “position accountability,” (supported by the big banks, who likewise want no effective position limits) on April 1 the CFTC announced its lawsuit against the Kraft Foods Group and its spin-off, Mondelez Global. The CFTC complaint alleges in great and specific detail that Kraft and Mondelez had been engaged in numerous “non-competitive trade practices” in the CBOT wheat contract “beginning in at least 2009 and continuing through January 2014” (p. 1).
For example, in December 2011, Kraft and Mondelez abused their commercial hedger exemptions from reporting position limits to the CFTC by accumulating 87 percent of all CBOT wheat contracts that had not been physically delivered or cash-settled. This exceeds by more than three times the already too high proposed spot month limit, i.e. the period during which physically delivery on a contract is taken. The CBOT was supposed to have alerted the CFTC to this egregious position limit violation and other alleged violations of the Commodity Exchange Act.
(The Chicago Mercantile Exchange Group, the CBOT parent company, explained how it monitored positions at a December 9, 2014 meeting of the CFTC’s Agricultural Markets Advisory Committee. The CME Group elsewhere explained that the failure of the CBOT wheat contract to provide a reliable price benchmark for the forward contracting of wheat by farmers and grain elevators was due to an error in calculating the contract's “variable storage rate.” (Krissa Welshans, “Non-convergence in grain markets solved,” Feedstuffs, January 12, 2015, (subscription required))
Kraft said that its spin-off company Mondelez would be responsible for most of the legal costs and fines. Because CFTC fines are far too small to dissuade companies from future law breaking, Kraft and Mondelez were correct to say that the penalties will not have a “material effect” on the companies. (Proposals to fine companies on a per violation basis, rather a per company basis, have floundered in the U.S. Congress, ever zealous to protect even law-breaking traders.) However, the policy effect on the Wall Street/ LaSalle Street (home of the CBOT) campaign to persuade the CFTC to let the exchanges manage commodity positions may well be to terminate the campaign.
In our March 30th comment, we also evaluated the CFTC consequences of the European Securities and Markets Authority recommendations (pp. 533-536) for implementing a European Union wide position limit rule. The recommendations, made to the European Commission, contain “flexibilities” for position limits that will make the contracts to which they are applied incompatible with the CFTC position limits rule. Agreement on cross border implementation of financial and commodity market rules in G20 jurisdictions continue to elude regulators, as IATP noted in a February 23 comment on a proposed International Organization of Securities Commissions (IOSCO) consultation paper for a regulators’ ‘tool kit’ to enable effective cross-border regulation.
Finally, we commented on the CFTC’s proposed rule for standardizing and aggregating the trade data reporting of positions to the CFTC. IATP noted that the failure of traders to report their Over the Counter commodity positions to the CFTC two years after being required to do so would prevent the CFTC from aggregating data to determine whether traders were complying with proposed position limits. OTC traders claim that standardizing the purportedly customized data elements of their trades to enable CFTC computer enabled surveillance is a costly and technically challenging burden.
Exchanges must report to the CFTC trades in futures and options contracts within 15 minutes of their conclusion, i.e. agreement on a settled price. OTC traders take advantage of public, exchange provided information while supplying no information of their own, save for rumors, which jumpstart trader herd behaviors and unwarranted price volatility. We concluded that as long as OTC trade data remained unstandardized and disaggregated, OTC traders would pose the same risk to market integrity as they did during the 2008 near bankruptcies that triggered the Great Recession, in which we still live.
Implementation of the Dodd Frank Act had has varying degrees of success. Despite industry and Republican Party opposition, the reform of retail consumer finance, such as mortgages, student loans, credit cards and predatory payday lending, is arguably well-established in the form of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Progress in regulating institutional finance, such as “Too Big To Fail Banks” and the derivatives market has been more successfully opposed. As Financial Stability Board Chairman Mark Carney wrote in February, despite the political commitments of G20 leaders to reform derivatives markets, there has been “slow and uneven implementation of agreed reforms.” If the big banks and their major corporate clients succeed in imposing a weak CFTC position limit rule, Chairman Carney will have to write of a retreat from reform.
Posted April 7, 2015 by Pete Huff
High tunnels—also known as hoop houses or passive solar greenhouses—are an increasingly common feature on farms through the Upper Midwest, where their use provides valuable extension to the region’s short growing season. Local food markets—including farm to school—stand to benefit from the increased availability of fruits and vegetables throughout the year produced by the increased use of high tunnels. IATP’s new report, Extending the Growing Season: High Tunnels Use and Farm to School in the Upper Midwest, explores this relationship further. By looking at best practices in high tunnel use and Farm to School activities, the report identifies innovative approaches with the potential for linking the two practices more effectively. Such innovative ideas drive recommendations for more comprehensive support for increased on-farm implementation of high tunnels and for farm to school activities throughout the Upper Midwest.
The release of this report is timely, as critical federal funding and resources for the expansion of high tunnel use in the Upper Midwest and the nation are at risk. President Obama’s budget for fiscal year 2016, which is currently being considered by the House and Senate Budget Committees in their budget resolution processes, carries a request to cut $373 million from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). This program, among other things, helps fund the popular Seasonal High Tunnel Initiative, which provides financial and technical support for farmers interested in implementing or expanding the use of high tunnels on their farm. High tunnels are low-cost and flexible tools that, when integrated and managed successfully, provide farmers with greater control over growing conditions and create an opportunity to increase the length of the growing season for specialty crops.
The Obama Administration’s proposed cut could result in a slowdown on the expansion of high tunnel use on Upper Midwestern farms, which would reduce the amount of early and late season fruits and vegetables available to supply burgeoning local food markets, including farm to school. The growing season of the Upper Midwest is naturally limited – typically lasting from mid-May to early October – and, as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency notes, increasingly volatile due to climate change, potentially offsetting any gains attributed to anthropogenic warming. Such climatic realities pose challenges for farm to school activities throughout the region. While such activities are increasingly popular options for successfully enhancing student, farmer and community well-being, building alignment between the growing season and the school year is a perennial challenge that is exacerbated by the new climate reality for farmers in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa. The increased use of high tunnels by fruit and vegetable farms offers an opportunity to create better alignment between local farmers and their neighboring schools.
Often, stringent budgetary limitations for K-12 food services can put fruits and vegetables produced in high tunnels out of reach of the cafeteria tray. Such early and late season production is typically geared toward higher margin direct sale markets, such as farmers’ markets and restaurants, which will maximize the return for the farmer and the return on investment for the high tunnel. While there are instances where seasonal produce is purchased from local farmers by K-12 schools, the primary benefit of high tunnel use is more indirect. Research on the productivity gains provided by high tunnels and the price premium season-extended produce commands in high-margin direct markets indicates that increased high tunnel use can increase farmer incomes and will, in turn, encourage increased participation in farm to school markets as farms seek to diversify their secondary markets or uphold their commitment to social values that farm to school activities yield.
Snug Haven Farm in Wisconsin is an excellent example of this in action. While not subsidized by EQIP’s high tunnel program, the farm’s CSA for premium winter spinach allows subscribing members to pay a little extra in order to help subsidize the farm’s supply of the same spinach to Farm to School Snack programs. The success of the farm also allows it to continuously support farm to school activities in other ways, upholding the broader values of the farm. The work of Snug Haven Farm demonstrates how balancing high-margin markets with lower-margin markets can result in healthy, locally-produced food showing up in classrooms while ensuring the financial success of the farmers.
Since the inception of the EQIP Seasonal High Tunnel Initiative, the number of -funded high tunnels in the Upper Midwest has increased dramatically, with Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa averaging a higher number of newly constructed tunnels than the national 2010-2013 average. USDA data shows that of the 10,273 high tunnels funded nationally in 2010-2013, just over 12 percent were in these states. Despite this success, the high tunnel funding “eggs” remain primarily in the federal budget “basket.” This puts the future of high tunnel support at risk due to cuts such as those proposed by the Obama administration. It is critical that EQIP funding for dedicated high tunnels be reinstated in the federal budget.
At the same time, we need to encourage diverse options for farmers to gain access to resources to offset the startup costs of constructing high tunnels on the state and local level. The Hoop Houses for Health program run by the Michigan Farmers’ Market Association (MIFMA) provides an excellent example for encouraging high tunnel use amongst farmers while also encouraging participation in farmers’ markets and farm to school markets. Participating farmers are able to repay their high tunnel construction loans by providing free produce to qualifying low-income individuals via farmers’ markets and farm to school programs. In doing so, the program promotes these markets in low-income communities while simultaneously increasing access to fresh food and reducing the financial burden of high tunnel uptake for farmers. It is a model that should be replicated throughout the country – particularly in states with limited growing seasons, such as those in the Upper Midwest.
Posted April 2, 2015 by Dr. Steve Suppan
We finally know what the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will and will not do about regulating the use of nanomaterials in pesticides. It has taken seven years and a lawsuit to force the EPA to act. And unfortunately, its action leaves much to be desired: there are still no requirements to protect nano-pesticide manufacturer workers, farmer workers and those living downwind from nano-pesticide drift. (A 2014 General Accountability Office report stated that the EPA’s oversight of pesticide residue testing laboratories was inadequate. Nano-pesticide residue testing standards have yet to be developed.)
Atomic to molecular sized particles of silver (nano-silver) are a biocide, which is incorporated into pesticide products to increase toxicity while reducing the volume of pesticide applied. The exponentially greater surface to mass ratio of nano-silver (and nanomaterials in general) enables the toxins to attack more effectively the nanoscale pores of plant pests. The EPA relies on the toxicity and biosafety data supplied by the commercialization applicant in deciding whether to approve a pesticide for commercial use.
A little history: in May 2008, IATP joined a petition filed by the International Center for Technology Assessment (ICTA) to demand that the EPA regulate nano-silver under the law governing pesticide products. According to the Administrative Procedures Act, U.S. federal agencies have a maximum of 180 days to respond to such petitions, following a comment period. The EPA received more than 1500 comments in response to the petition by March 2009. In December 2014, IATP joined an ICTA et al lawsuit to force the EPA to respond to the petition. On March 19, the EPA finally responded to the petition.
EPA agreed with petitioners that it has the authority to regulate nano-silver under the Federal Fungicide, Insecticides and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) and the Federal Food Drug and Cosmetics Act (FFDCA). They disagreed with our request to declare all uses of nano-silver under FIFRA and FFDCA to be pesticidal. Granting that request would have required EPA to set a Maximum Residue Level (MRL) or tolerance for nano-silver, and forced the withdrawal from commerce of any and all products found to have MRLs above the established limit. Instead, EPA said it would apply its authority on a case by case basis to each application for “registration,” the regulatory term that is equivalent to commercialization approval.
EPA also denied the petitioners’ request to have the EPA compel publication of data and information, currently classified as Confidential Business Information, about all nano-silver used in products under EPA authority. Without such information, it is very difficult to do independent pre-market safety studies and post-market studies of these products.
In a Center for Food Safety press release on March 24 commenting on the EPA’s decision, I stated, “It is unfortunate that the EPA has chosen not to exercise its enforcement authority categorically by requiring withdrawal from the market of pesticide products incorporating nano-silver whose developers have chosen not to submit data and other information required for an EPA risk assessment. By deciding to use its enforcement authority only on a case by case basis, the EPA risks possible failure to execute its statutory obligations due to inadequate resources to pursue a case by case enforcement strategy. In this event, a prudent ‘no data, no market’ regulatory approach would be undermined by the EPA’s de facto allowance of commercialization for a product whose developers had failed to submit nano-specific data to the agency.”
Prior to the lawsuit, the EPA had released a draft decision in September 2013 to approve the commercialization of the nano-pesticide, NanoSilva. The EPA’s proposed approval would be “conditional,” meaning that the approval would be for a limited time, and would be only for a specific purpose, in this case for application as a textile preservative. EPA approved its first conditional registration of a nano-silver product in December 2013.
EPA has blocked the sale of products with nano-silver that have not applied to EPA for registration to enter into commerce. (Robert Iafolla, “EPA ‘Open for Business on Nanosilver, Administrative, Enforcement Actions Indicate,” Bloomberg BNA, September 2, 2014. Subscription required.) For example, on March 30, EPA announced that it was taking two nano-silver based products off the market, due to the manufacturer’s unsubstantiated claims about the products’ efficacy in protecting hospitals and athletic facilities from harmful bacteria and viruses. George Kimbrell, the lead attorney in the aforementioned lawsuit, welcomed EPA’s announcement and described it as a consequence of the lawsuit.
According to a Center for Food Safety inventory, there are more than 400 products whose manufacturers claim to contain nano-silver. Since manufacturers are not required to label their products as containing nano-silver—in a broad array of personal care products, cleaning products, clothing, cosmetics, blankets, paints, dietary supplements, beverages, air purifiers, food storage containers etc.— it is likely that the number of nano-silver infused or coated products is far higher than 400. The widespread and largely unregulated use of nano-silver is such that there is concern that anti-microbial resistance could develop to continuous exposure to the biocide. A few, but not most of these products do fall under EPA’s authority.
In response to a 2006 ICTA et al petition to the Food and Drug Administration, which IATP joined, to regulate nanomaterials in products under FDA authority, the FDA released in 2014 four voluntary guidance to industry documents (drafts, about which IATP commented, were released in 2012), including one concerning “food substances” and food packaging materials, and another on nanomaterials in animal feed. Guidance to industry documents are better than nothing, but like the March 19 EPA response to the ICTA et al petition to regulate nano-silver, guidance documents are a long way from developing mandatory regulations for the use of nanotechnology and nanomaterials in commercial products and industrial inputs.
Posted April 2, 2015 by Shefali Sharma
A massive global increase in factory-farmed meat production by 2030 will increase antibiotic use by 67 percent, posing a “public health threat,” predicts a newly released study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Scientists (PNAS). Rampant antibiotic use in factory farms, required by global meat corporations, is already resulting in an antibiotic-resistance crisis in the U.S. (over two million illnesses and 23,000 deaths a year due to resistant bacteria) and in the European Union (25,000 deaths annually). For the first time, scientists have mapped out the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria due to global antibiotic use in the feed of animals packed tightly in confined conditions.
Antibiotic use is projected to double in Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS countries) given their shift towards “vertically integrated intensive livestock production systems” to meet rising demand for animal protein. Two-thirds of the global increase in antibiotics is predicted to come from a net increase in the number of animals used in factory farms and the remaining third will come from a shift in agricultural practices leading to new factory farms.
According to the study, 46 percent of Asia’s shift will come from switching traditional animal agricultural practices to factory farming. By 2030, antibiotic use in Asia will be close to 52,000 tons, roughly representing 82 percent of the total global use of antibiotics in meat production in 2010. China, US, Brazil, Germany and India ranked as the top five users of antibiotics in 2010.
IATP’s research on industrial livestock production in China found that:
In 2008, China already produced 210 million kg of antibiotics, nearly half of which was put to use in the livestock sector. In contrast, in the U.S., the amount of antibiotics used for livestock was more than 29 million pounds (13.2 million kgs), which is 80 percent of total antibiotics sold in the country.1
According to the PNAS study, in 2030, China, U.S. and Brazil will remain the top three users of antibiotics in livestock while India will replace Germany for the fourth spot. Mexico is projected to become the fifth largest user, as shown in Figure 1. The largest increase in antibiotic use will take place in China followed by Brazil, India, U.S. and Indonesia from 2010-2030. However, several low-income countries will have the largest relative increase (relative to the much smaller quantity they use today): Myanmar (205 percent), Indonesia (202 percent), Nigeria (163 percent), Peru (160 percent) and Vietnam (157 percent).
The researchers point out that while global mapping has been conducted for other major public health issues such as malaria or tuberculosis, this is the first study to undertake a baseline study for global antibiotic use linked to livestock production. In the U.S., close to 80 percent of the antibiotics sold are used for industrial livestock production, with no binding regulations on the drugs’ use.
The study cautions that antibiotic-resistant bacteria (ARB) is already a serious problem in China and in India, one of the highest bacterial-disease burdens in the world where overuse of antibiotics in human medicine is also rampant. For instance, close to 95 percent of Indian adults carry at least one strain of ARBs. As India rapidly converts its livestock rearing into industrial production, this problem is expected to become “a formidable challenge for Indian public health authorities."2 This is particularly so if India continues to lack any regulations on antibiotic use in the livestock sector. In fact, the lack of antibiotic-use regulation is prevalent in all developing countries where growth in factory farms is expected.
Even in the United States where the crisis has been evident for decades, the powerful meat industry has successfully influenced Congress to block the passage of the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA) several times. Last year, after years of public health advocacy, the best the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) achieved was a set of voluntary guidelines for the industry to not use antibiotics as growth promoters. This is seen as inadequate by many policymakers and experts.
The researchers of the PNAS study were forced to make conservative estimates on global antibiotic use based on projected global meat demand, livestock densities and antibiotic use in high-income countries because:
Data on antimicrobial use in livestock are scarce, stemming from both the lack of publicly funded surveillance systems and the reluctance of food animal producers, animal feed producers, and veterinary pharmaceutical companies to provide comprehensive reports of antimicrobial consumption or sales.3
Antibiotic use monitoring and regulation in industrialized countries has been difficult because the meat industry is enormously powerful and able to successfully thwart attempts to collect data let alone create effective regulation. In fact, in the U.S., the industry has been able to expand in spite of considerable opposition from rural constituencies.
The PNAS study demonstrates that the costs of inaction are high and that with timely regulation now, this epidemic can be averted. It is an important step in quantifying the global ARB epidemic linked to industrial meat production and provides strong rationale for a global approach to regulating the industry in the short term while empowering farmers and ranchers to transition away from this model of livestock production.
(1) Sharma et al. 2014, pg. 23. China’s Dairy Dilemma: The Evolution and Future Trends of China’s Dairy Industry. Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.
(2) Van Boeckel et al. 2015, pg 4. Global Trends in Antimicrobial Use in Food Animals. PNAS early edition
(3) Ibid, pg. 3.
Posted March 31, 2015 by Ben Lilliston
Since the Supreme Court’s Citizen United ruling five years ago, we’ve seen a flood of so-called Dark Money spent on political campaigns. While secret Dark Money helps agribusiness and food corporations advance their agenda in Washington, we get stuck with the tab for dysfunctional policies that don’t effectively serve the interests of farmers, consumers or the environment.
The good news is that shining a light on Dark Money is simple – but it will take some political courage. In the 2014 elections, more than $170 million in Dark Money was spent in elections through political organizations that don’t have to disclose their donors, according to Open Secrets. Since Citizens United, no new rules have been put into place to better inform shareholders about corporate political spending. Now, over one million people, and a growing coalition of investors and reform groups like IATP, are calling on the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) to require public corporations to disclose their political spending to shareholders.
A new ad campaign is challenging SEC Chairwoman Mary Jo White to respond to this growing chorus pushing for full political spending disclosure. The ad campaign, “Where is Mary Jo White?” asks the SEC chairwoman to be a superhero and stand up for shareholders.
The growing pressure on the SEC to act on political disclosure is but one of several fronts citizens and shareholders are moving to shine a light on Dark Money. Investors have filed more than 110 shareholder proposals this year to increase disclosure on political spending. On April 2, more than 55 events in 28 states will call for President Obama to issue an executive order requiring that government contractors disclose their political contributions. Over 500,000 people around the country have joined the call for President Obama to act. Earlier this year, we documented how food and agriculture companies benefit from government contracts, yet are able to hide much of their political spending.
Full disclosure is but a first step in reforming our political system. But it’s a critical one. Dark money is one of the many tools agribusiness and food companies use to rig our democracy to their benefit, while blocking reform efforts. The 2016 election will likely be the costliest campaign season in our nation’s history. The President and SEC Chairwoman White need act on corporate political spending disclosure – our democracy can’t afford to wait.
Posted March 25, 2015 by Friends of the Earth Europe
The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP, is a massive trade deal currently being negotiated between the EU and US, and could have major implications for our food standards if completed.
Laws that check our foods are safe or minimise the risk to people or the planet could be compromised if TTIP goes ahead. Europe's food production and many of our laws are often stricter than in the USA. Yet big business wants food products currently banned in the EU, but on sale in America, to automatically be allowed in Europe through TTIP.
Here are some of the foods produced in worrying ways we could see served up on European plates if TTIP is agreed.
Disinfectant meat washes
Chicken, turkey, pork and other meats are regularly washed or sprayed with disinfectants in the USA. These so-called 'pathogen reduction treatments', such as hyper chlorinated water and acid washes, are supposed to reduce harmful bacteria. But this could allow poor hygiene standards along the food chain to be hidden, with meat being disinfected only at the end before going on sale.
The EU has banned most of these practices since 1997 (only water rinsing is allowed). The EU prefers a preventative approach by ensuring high levels of hygiene at all stages of food production 'from farm to fork'.
The EU says it will not bow to US pressure in the trade talks to change its food safety standards on disinfectant rinses. But the European Commission has pushed for the authorisation of disinfectant rinses several times (only to be over-ruled by national governments), and it's advancing on approving Europe's first disinfectant wash for chicken, peroxyacetic acid.
'Pathogen reduction treatments' are bad for people. Instead of relying on disinfectants at the end of the production chain, good on-farm hygiene practices are a more effective way of protecting the public and farm workers from food bugs such as salmonella or campylobacter.
Beef cows in the US are regularly given hormone drug implants to promote faster growth prior to slaughter. Use of hormones – including oestrogen, progesterone, testosterone and their synthetic versions – has been allowed in the US since the 1950s. The EU has banned the sale of hormone-treated beef in Europe since 1981, reaffirming this in 2003, due to public health concerns.
The EU recognises that "the use of hormones as growth promoters in cattle poses a health risk to consumers", after EU scientists found eating beef treated with hormones poses cancer risks, as well as endocrine, developmental, immunological, neurobiological effects, especially for children.
It is clear that hormone treated beef is being discussed in the TTIP negotiations. The US government, with the backing of big food businesses, launched an international trade dispute in 1996 to challenge the EU ban. The influential lobby group American Farm Bureau Federation, has said "continuing barriers to the export of U.S. beef... are major areas of interest" in the TTIP negotiations; while US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack states "we are still going to have to have some conversation about the beef question."
Moreover, the EU is proposing to weaken inspection on imports of meats and foods, as well as to work towards accepting international standards which are often less stringent. Hormone beef and dairy products could therefore in the future start landing on our plates. Future bans on factory farm practices that could harm our health will be more difficult if TTIP is agreed.
Growth promotion drugs
Ractopamine is a drug given to pigs, cattle and turkeys as a growth promoter to build muscle. It's fed to 80% of pigs in the USA. But the EU banned its use in 1996, because its use "may be dangerous to consumers". The European Food Safety Authority has concluded that risks to human health cannot be ruled out: a classic example of putting public safety before the profits of agri-business, the so called precautionary principle.
Ractopamine is banned in over 160 countries worldwide, also because it can cruelly impact animals – causing stress, hyperactivity, trembling, broken limbs and sometimes death.
US agribusinesses say they "will continue to push negotiators to have the EU ban on ractopamine fed pork lifted under TTIP". Meanwhile, the United States government has targeted this ban as a barrier to trade that "appear[s] to lack scientific justification [and] pose[s] a major impediment to U.S. pork exports to the EU." As a result the US government has vowed to push the EU to implement weaker international standards that would allow certain levels of ractopamine-laced meat. In its TTIP position, the EU also supports moving towards adopting these weaker standards.
Genetically modified organisms
Where they are grown, genetically modified (GM) crops are linked to massive increases in herbicide use, the extension of mono-cultural farming practices, and increased costs all along the food production chain. The resulting social, environmental and economic impacts are severe.
European citizens – who have repeatedly voiced their objections to GM food – are currently protected, especially from imported foods or farmers' seeds that may be contaminated from GM crops that have not been approved for use in the EU. This is called the EU's 'zero tolerance' law. But in the US, genetically modified maize, soy and rapeseed are widely grown.
US negotiators and industry lobbyists have been pushing for weaker rules on GM imports in the US-EU trade talks, arguing that the 'zero tolerance' rule is a barrier to trade, and damages business for US exporters.
As a result, TTIP could, as with a similar new trade deal with Canada, allow low levels of GM foods and seeds to be imported into Europe that have not been authorised for sale in Europe or tested for their safety for humans and the environment. This would mean farmers and citizens would not know if the food or seeds they were buying contained GM ingredients – and Europeans could be eating unauthorised GM ingredients which have not been through any form of safety check.
More generally, the US and their big agribusinesses want to weaken all our laws on GM foods, including labelling. The American Soybean Association lobby group says: "TTIP must address the key EU biotech policies that are discriminating against US exports... First and foremost, the EU's mandatory traceability and labelling policies for products containing biotech ingredients must be replaced." The US government wants the EU to accept a faster authorisation process for GM crops and the removal of various 'trade barriers' which limit imports of GM crops to the EU.
It is clear, despite many reassurances from politicians, that TTIP is trading away our safeguards, the protection of our nature and local sustainable food and farming. The use of genetically modified crops and the growing production of factory farmed animals is not sustainable, raising big concerns about how TTIP might affect farm workers, our health and environment.
Friends of the Earth Europe, together with countless other organisations, is working towards a better food system that is kinder to the environment, puts people before profits, and ensures equitable access to safe and fairly produced food for all. We will not let TTIP open the doors to more factory farms and GM crops.
Posted March 23, 2015 by Mallory Morken - @MalloryMorken
We may not see it in the mainstream news, but we surely see the costs to our communities—corporate spending in food and farm politics has detrimental effects on our health, environment, our farmers and local economies. We know that many of the efforts in the food and farm justice movement run head on into barriers in a political system that has been bought out by big agribusiness and food companies for their own benefit. This brings us to a hard truth - we won’t change the food and farm system until we change our political system.
The good news is that a growing number of different movements are joining together to demand change. More than 120 groups have agreed that pushing for reform policies reflected in a set of Unity Principles will make our democracy (and, as a result, all the organizations’ work) more effective. The priorities outlined in the Principles are seeing some success in practice. And since polls show that a striking majority of Americans think there is too much corporate money and influence in politics, these reform strategies are making headway.
Here are some of the efforts to reform our political system that fair and sustainable food and farm advocates should get behind:
Overturning Citizens United
The 2010 Supreme Court decision Citizens United opened the floodgates for corporate spending in elections. To challenge Citizens United:
Greater Disclosure of Political Spending
Since Citizens United, we have also seen an explosion of outside spending through Super PACs and “dark money” organizations that are not required to disclose their donors.
Some activists are bypassing the legislative process and targeting companies directly to demand spending disclosure.
Requiring Shareholder Approval
Some states are even working proactively to the step prior to disclosure: permission.
Public Financing and Fair Elections
In addition to damage control in keeping corporate spending in check, we also need strategies that simultaneously empower everyday voters to re-engage in the political process.
The Government by the People Act has been reintroduced in 2015 in the House and currently boasts 144 cosponsors. This bill would invite a more diverse pool of candidates to run for office by reducing the barrier of the “money primary,” give more residents the opportunity to support their candidate of choice by offering a refundable tax credit, and also encourage candidates to re-engage with small donors and forgo Big Money fundraising by offering a public match on small donations.
Voter turnout for the 2014 elections was the lowest since 1942, likely due to a combination of disillusionment with our corrupt system and a renewed wave of attacks on voting rights since 2010. However:
It’s making a difference
Change is happening! Yes, we are up against some heavy hitters. But we’ve got the vast majority of Americans on our side as well as a growing trail of data that demonstrates that these democratic reform strategies are working. In his February keynote introducing a new paper on corruption and democratic reform, U.S. Representative John Sarbanes shared his experience winning his seat through Maryland’s Fair Elections program. He urged us all to keep advocating for these reforms and to push through our apathy, declaring: “I don’t believe the Koch Brothers are more powerful than 300 million people fighting to get their government back.” The movement for food and farm justice can’t be separated from the growing wave of efforts to restore our democracy. Any strides we make in the movement are vulnerable until we successfully wrangle our government from the hands of Big Money and reinstate it back into the hands of the people.