Posted February 16, 2017 by     Ben Lilliston, Juliette Majot

Used under creative commons license from gageskidmore.

President Donald Trump’s nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a record of hostility for environmental and public health protection at both state and federal levels. Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt may be best known for suing the agency he hopes to lead 14 different times in an attempt to block EPA rules protecting the air and water. In his own state, Pruitt disbanded the Attorney General’s environmental protection unit and repeatedly sided with agribusiness and energy interests over protecting the environment.

In the 2016 election Pruitt supported and, according the Oklahoma Farm Bureau, inserted important language into a resolution that would have changed the state’s Constitution to prevent the state legislature and local governments from protecting their land and water from agriculture-related pollution “without a compelling state interest.” This so-called Right to Farm resolution was soundly rejected by Oklahomans at the ballot box.

A coalition including many family farmers raised objections to the resolution, arguing that its broad language went too far toward making it difficult to regulate out-state and foreign-owned corporations like the Chinese-owned hog giant Smithfield and Brazilian-owned beef company JBS. Both operate in Oklahoma. Objections also centered on how the resolution would restrict the state’s ability to protect its water, particularly related to a series of discharges from large hog, cattle and dairy waste lagoons in the state. According to theTulsa World Herald, the resolution would “give enormous legal protections to big-time corporate agriculture.”

The proposed Right-to-Farm law is largely drawn from similar versions as part of a national strategy led by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). ALEC develops model state legislation designed to benefit corporate interests, such as laws to limit citizens’ ability to sue when injured by dangerous products from chemical companies; laws to curb workers’ rights; and laws restricting regulation of hydraulic fracking. ALEC praised Trump’s selection of Pruitt for the EPA calling him “just the right person to bring fresh leadership and much-needed reform to an agency currently out of control.”

The Right to Farm resolution wasn’t the only time Pruitt has carried water for agribusiness. In another case reported on by the New York Times, Pruitt chose to refrain from aggressively seeking damages from poultry companies polluting Oklahoma waters. That decision was reached after Pruitt received major contributions from representatives of the poultry industry, according to the Times.  

In 2014, Pruitt stepped in again on behalf of agribusiness, veering well beyond the borders of Oklahoma to join other state Attorneys General in an attempt to block an EPA deal to clean up the Chesapeake Bay from farm-related runoff from fertilizers and animal waste.

Pruitt’s well-documented disregard for environmental protection appears to be precisely what the new administration is looking for in a new head of the EPA. Pruitt’s close ties to the oil and gas industry are evident in his partnerships with energy industry donors. During his confirmation hearing before a Senate committee he refused to recuse himself, should he head the agency, from future legal action pertaining to the 14 lawsuits has already brought against the EPA. The Center for Media and Democracy sued Pruitt on February 7, after waiting two years for him to turn over at least 3,000 emails and other correspondence with oil and gas companies.

Pruitt’s record on climate change also demonstrates his lack of suitability to head the EPA. In line with his well-funded allegiance to the fossil fuel industry, Pruitt has denied the scientific consensus on human contributions to climate change. Not a passive denier, he led efforts by the Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA) to challenge the Clean Power Plan, which aims to reduce air pollution and promote renewable energy production. The flexible state-specific plan has the potential to benefit rural communities in the country’s transition to renewable energy. RAGA has raised over $4 million from the fossil fuel industry since 2014 – much of it linked to opposing the Clear Power Plan and stalling investigations into ExxonMobil’s efforts to promote climate change denial.

In an embarrassing incident that revealed Pruitt’s intimate relationship with polluters, a 2014 letter he wrote to the EPA and Department of Interior on his Oklahoma Attorney General letterhead opposing efforts to regulate mercury air pollution was found to have been written by the oil company Devon Energy. Pruitt had simply cut and paste.

President Trump’s selection of Pruitt to run the EPA is a major blow to efforts to address water and air pollution, climate change, and will hinder transition from polluting fossil fuels toward cleaner renewable energy. The nomination will further entrench corporate agribusiness interests at the expense of protections for rural water and land. His nomination should be swiftly rejected.


Posted February 15, 2017 by Ben Lilliston   

Used under creative commons license from gageskidmore.

Just before this posting, Andrew Puzder withdrew from consideration for Secretary of Labor. We welcome this development for the reasons stated below.

If one believes, as we do at IATP, that the public sector has a role in ensuring the safety, prosperity, and dignity of work, then Puzder's nomination must be opposed strongly and without reserve.

Until last week, it was still unclear whether Andrew Puzder still wanted the position in the Trump administration for which he has been nominated, Secretary of Labor. Late to file his paperwork, Puzder was on the verge of going the way of other of Trump's nominees who could not untangle their personal fortune from themselves in order to enter public service. Of course, even with all the i's dotted and t's crossed to get to the hearing that is scheduled for February 16th, Puzder's professional history and apparent worldview make him a unique threat to the very department he's been nominated to run.

There are approximately 21.5 million workers in the U.S. food system, the largest sector of employment in the nation and growing. Despite that, frontline food chain workers make the lowest hourly wage compared to all other industries, according to a Food Chain Workers’ Alliance report. To make matters worse, agricultural labor is excluded from protection under the National Labor Relations Act. This was a giveaway in the 1930s to racist senators to exclude a primarily black population from workplace rights which has been extended to today to exclude protection to a largely immigrant workforce. If any population needs a greater voice in government, it is the people who produce what we eat. The Labor Department, though far from perfect, is the closest thing they have to that voice in the federal government.

The U.S. Department of Labor, like many other government agencies, has a mission statement. It's mission is, “To foster, promote, and develop the welfare of the wage earners, job seekers, and retirees of the United States; improve working conditions; advance opportunities for profitable employment; and assure work-related benefits and rights.” Pudzer's record as a fast food CEO, however, is one of direct opposition to this mission. CKE Restaurants, which Puzder has run for 15 years is owned primarily by Roark Capital Management,a private equity firm named after the protagonist of Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead, a literary foreshadowing of Puzder's attitude towards workers.

In his time as CEO, CKE incurred over 1,100 violations through Department of Labor investigations, affecting over 1,500 workers and costing over $300,000 in penalties and back wages. Puzder’s rhetoric regarding workers, according to the website that promotes his nomination, is, in essence, that regulations, like minimum wage and overtime rules, cost jobs because businesses can’t afford to hire. Even if this dubious claim were true, which it’s not, that rhetoric is, at best, irrelevant to the Labor Department’s mission. DOL exists to improve conditions for workers, the vast majority of whom already have or had jobs.

Not surprisingly, there actually is a department that IS tasked with creating jobs, the Department of Commerce whose mission is “to create the conditions for economic growth and opportunity.” If the senators who question him are concerned about government efficiency, they might ask why he thinks two government departments should be doing the same thing.  At best, Puzder demonstrates a clear lack of understanding about the department he’s been nominated to run, and at worst, he will extend the conditions of CKE Restaurants to vulnerable workers across the country by turning a blind eye to violations of workers’ rights.

The apparent good news is that four GOP senators are withholding their support of Puzder, leaving the onus on GOP leadership to bring them back into the fold for this nomination to go through. We add our voice to the growing chorus, including over 100 Food and Agriculture organizations, urging the opposition of Andrew Puzder to become Secretary of Labor.

Posted February 5, 2017 by Ben Lilliston   Dr. Steve Suppan   

AgricultureCabinetPOTUS AppointeeFoodRural Development

Used under creative commons license from usembassy_montevideo.

The next Secretary of Agriculture will have to hit the ground running, because the manure is hitting the fan. Farm income has fallen for three straight years. The farm income to debt ratio is the highest since 1985. President Trump’s decision to tear up the Trans Pacific Partnership, pick a fight with Mexico and threaten other key trading partners limits the potential for expanded exports. Trump’s executive order to crackdown on new immigrants will likely disrupt dairy, fruit and vegetable production and meat processing in the U.S. A series of proposed seed/chemical company mergers threatens to greatly reduce farmers’ seed choices. And extreme weather events linked to climate change continue to disrupt agricultural production around the country.

For his part, President Trump seems to have put farmers and the rural economy on the back burner. Trump’s pick for Agriculture Secretary, former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue, was the last of his cabinet selections. Perdue is embedded in industrialized agriculture. He grew up on a farm, and has run businesses selling fertilizer, grain and a broad array of agricultural exports. But nothing in his background indicates he has the vision and leadership to address the big and increasingly complex challenges facing farmers today.

A veterinarian by training, Perdue is a political player. He served on Trump’s agricultural advisory committee, where the campaign’s talking points emphasized the need to “defend American agriculture against its critics”, fight the so-called Good Food movement, prevent states from dictating food and agriculture policy, and reduce regulations.

Perdue closest ties are to agribusiness. Perdue has been a champion of the contract poultry industry in Georgia, the largest poultry producer in the country. Like former Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Perdue was named Governor of the year by the Biotech Industry Organization (BIO). As Governor, Perdue signed an industry bill restricting local government control over any crop management or animal husbandry. Not surprisingly, agribusiness is a fan of Perdue. His selection immediately won over the endorsement of the National Chicken Council, the American Sugar Alliance, the North American Meat Institute, and the International Dairy Foods Association, among others.

There are conflict of interest questions for Perdue—as there are for many of Trump’s nominees--regarding his continued agribusiness holdings. As a two-term Governor, Perdue refused to put his investments into a blind trust, a break with previous Governors. Later, a series of real estate deals and tax breaks, from which Perdue benefited personally while serving as Governor, raised questions, reports the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

Like the President, Perdue has mocked concerns about climate change, writing that those calling for climate action “are so obviously disconnected from reality.” Over the last six months, Perdue’s home state has experienced almost a remarkable series of extreme weather events. First a prolonged drought throughout the southeast. Then, Hurricane Matthew hit southeast states. Followed by intense wildfires in the region. And most recently, a series of winter tornadoes killing 18 people and injuring more than 40 people hit Mississippi and Georgia.

As Governor, Perdue signed into law one of the nation’s toughest laws on undocumented immigrants. But his position seems to have softened in recent years, warning Republicans against a “gang-type mentality” on immigrants.

Perdue’s lifelong status quo approach to agriculture is an outdated skill set and, wrong fit for the 21st century problems of the farm-to-fork continuum. Perdue is expected to come up before the Senate Agriculture committee later in February. Here are some key questions he should answer:

  1. What will you propose to lift farm incomes and fix the broken Farm Bill? The current U.S. Farm Bill assumes the market will fail farmers, building in programs like revenue insurance to help farmers when prices drop and stay depressed. But the bill is much more expensive than projected by Congress (as IATP predicted)—Congressional Budget Office estimates $10.2 billion of federal income support payments in FY 2017. Simply calling for expanded exports to benefit global agribusiness is a longstanding failed profitability strategy for most farmers. What new policies do we need to lift all farm and rancher incomes, regardless of their size and market?  
  2. How will you address the fallout for the agriculture economy from President Trump’s executive orders designed to restrict new immigrants and refugees from entering the U.S.? The U.S. agriculture economy depends on, and often exploits, immigrant labor. According to the American Farm Bureau Federation, about half of all hired farm workers are undocumented immigrants. According to the National Milk Producers Federation, cutting immigrant labor would nearly double retail milk prices, and result in the loss of 208,000 jobs. The United Food and Commercial Workers union said its members include tens of thousands of first generation immigrants and refugees. How can we ensure food system immigrant workers are not exploited and have a path to citizenship?
  3. How will you improve competition in the agricultural sector to protect farmers? The three proposed mergers in the seed industry threaten to put much of the world’s seed supply in the hands of just three companies (Dow-DuPont), (Monsanto-Bayer), (Syngenta-Chem-China). But this problem is not exclusive to seeds: extreme market share concentration has reduced competition throughout the agriculture sector to the detriment of farmers.
  4. How will the department lead in helping farmers adapt to climate change and reduce agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions? Nearly every agribusiness company, and a growing number of food companies, are incorporating climate change science into their business models. According to an EPA estimate in 2014, agriculture is responsible for 9 percent of the country’s greenhouse gas emission. Will the USDA support the necessary research to enable farmers to adapt to climate change? Will the agency’s climate hubs be supported? What will you do to advance the agency’s critical soil health initiative?
  5. Will you support the Farmer Fair Practice Rules issued by the USDA in December to reduce deceptive and abusive grower contracts in the poultry industry? These rules, several years in the making, are necessary to protect poultry growers from unfair ‘my way or the highway’ contracts from big poultry companies. What will USDA do to prevent abusive and deceptive contracts, if Congress votes to disapprove this rule and prevent the development of a “substantially similar” rule under the Congressional Review Act? Will the USDA refer cases of contract abuse and deception to the Department of Justice for prosecution, even if the December rules are annulled by Congress?
  6. How will the USDA address the growing prevalence of super-weeds and insect resistance (weeds and insects resistant to common herbicides and pesticides) affecting farmers around the country? These superweeds and insect-resistance are a product of consistent heavy exposure to pesticides associated with genetically engineered crops, speeding up the development of resistance. As new, more toxic pesticides are being approved, farmers with few input purchase options are forced to race on a chemical/resistance treadmill. What will the USDA do under your leadership to prevent the proliferation of superweeds and insect resistance?
  7. How will you address the widely documented problems with food safety inspection? Over the past 20 years, the USDA has delegated more meat poultry and egg inspection authority to plant inspectors, and reduced the ability of federal inspectors to issue non-compliance reports and stop production, as necessary. This delegation of federal authority has been criticized by the USDA Office of the Inspector General and the General Accountability Office for failure to produce robust public health data to justify the program, by whistle blowers who’ve stated that production line speed increases make inspection impossible, and by consumer groups, e.g. Consumers Union, who have documented contamination of a high percentage of poultry products. As Secretary, how, when and why would you direct the Food Safety Inspection Service administrator to remedy the widely documented problems with food safety inspection?
  8. What is your plan to reduce agricultural runoff into the nation’s waterways? According to a years’ long study by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, in central and southern Minnesota, nitrates and other chemicals in agricultural runoff have contaminated municipal and rural water supplies, streams and Minnesota’s famous lakes, making them unfit for swimming, fishing and other recreational and touristic purposes. The President has promised to eliminate the Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule that would protect our nation’s waterways. What is your WOTUS replacement plan to ensure our rural communities have access to clean, potable water?

These are complex and difficult questions, the answers to which will require effective and innovative leadership, an understanding of farming of all sizes and production methods, the ability to stand up to corporate interests, and an incorporation of current federal and academic science into USDA policy making, particularly when it comes to climate change. The USDA is one of government’s largest agencies with over 90,000 staff, a budget of $150 billion, and programs on agriculture, food and nutrition, energy, forestry and rural development. If confirmed, Perdue’s management of what President Lincoln called “the Peoples’ Department” will deeply affect the lives of farmers, workers and eaters, rural communities and the sustainable use of natural resources for agriculture. If Perdue avoids responding to the kind of questions we have posed above, it will be a sign that the “Peoples’ Department,” will be a Corporate America First department during the Trump administration.  

Posted February 1, 2017 by Dr. Steve Suppan   


Used under creative commons license from gageskidmore.

Next week, the U.S. Senate will consider President Donald Trump’s nominee to direct the presidential Office of Management and Budget (OMB), Representative Mick Mulvaney (R-SC). Mulvaney will propose huge spending cuts to compensate in part for the $10 trillion deficit that will be triggered by Trump’s promised tax cuts and infrastructure spending over the next decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Part of those cuts will almost certainly hit federal child nutrition, agricultural research and conservation programs.

OMB is not only responsible for proposing the President’s budget to Congress, but also evaluates the costs and benefits of each and every federal regulatory action. In a press statement for the Coalition for Sensible Safeguards (CSS), IATP wrote, “Mulvaney would have approval and veto power over budgets to implement and enforce—or not—federal regulations. Under Republican deregulatory bills, only a rule’s costs, as claimed by industry, are evaluated, while its social, public health and environmental health benefits are ignored. Senate approval of Mulvaney would unleash a budgetary assault on agricultural conservation, food safety, nutrition programs and food assistance, farmer and food worker safety, food labeling, and other farm to fork rules.”

IATP was one of 52 organizations that signed the CSS letter opposing Senate approval of Mulvaney. Among the reasons for disapproval, IATP finds this one particularly compelling in relation to the scientific basis for food, agricultural and environmental policy: “Rep. Mulvaney’s nomination threatens the scientific integrity of our public health and research institutions. He believes global warming is ‘based on questionable science’ and has even questioned the scientific consensus that the Zika virus causes the birth defect microcephaly. He has gone one step further and questions the necessity of government-funded research.”

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan lauded Mulvaney’s nomination: “Mick Mulvaney is the absolute right choice . . . In Congress, he has been a conservative reformer from day one, proposing solutions to fix the budget process and our regulatory system.” These solutions have included voting against a budget to keep the government open for business in 2013, which Mulvaney characterized as “good policy.” He voted against raising the federal debt limit in 2011, which could have resulted in U.S. government default, triggering a global economic recession according to a 2013 Treasury report cited in a Public Citizen brief on the Mulvaney nomination.

The conservative journal Forbes warned Trump’s Secretary of Treasury nominee, Steven Mnuchin, that Trump’s proposed tax cuts would add $7 trillion to federal debt over 10 years unless offset by spending cuts. One place Mulvaney will seek tens of billions of dollars in cuts is in the Supplementary Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and other Farm Bill nutrition programs, as he did during the 2013 Farm Bill debate. In a BuzzFeed report, he stated, “If we broke that unholy alliance between ag and nutrition once and for all, then I could vote for just about every subsidy in the book that they could think of if they [the Senate and House agriculture committees] could make some real structural long term changes.”  

Though he failed to disjoin SNAP from the Farm Bill and cap SNAP payments at their 2008 pre-recession levels during the 2013 Farm Bill debates, as OMB director, he will have greater influence over SNAP payment levels and eligibility rules. He was willing to vote for any commodity program subsidy in order to gut SNAP in the midst of the Great Recession. But following the Obama administration-guided economic recovery and reduction in SNAP spending (SNAP spending fluctuates based on the number of people in need), Mulvaney will have to find more Farm Bill-related budgets to cut in order to meet the debt and spending-cut demands of Speaker Ryan and President Trump.

At Mulvaney’s January 24 hearing, he did not recognize a “nexus between climate change and OMB.” As OMB director, he will have the power and the support of other climate change deniers among the Trump nominees to propose to Congress cuts in budgets for climate research and programs, including that in the U.S. Department of Agriculture. For example, eliminating the USDA’s Climate Change Program Office wouldn’t save much money in the federal budget, but elimination could help keep other USDA programs in the dark about how they would be affected by climate change and what they might do to help rural communities and farmers adapt to “climate change,” whether or not those two demonized words are used in federal agricultural policy.

It is tempting to suggest that because the average tenure of an OMB director is less than two years, Mulvaney’s damage to the federal budget cycle will be limited. However, Mulvaney will be making detailed and specific cuts to realize the three elements of his patron’s, Speaker Ryan’s, vague budgets, which according to Paul Krugman are: “1.) Huge tax cuts for the wealthy. 2.) Savage cuts in aid for the poor. 3.) Mystery meat,” i.e. trillions promised to be raised through closing unspecified tax loopholes and trillions in unspecified cuts. Krugman writes that Ryan has “been a huge beneficiary of false balance” in mainstream media looking for a model of fiscal probity in the Republican Party.

Given the rate, scale and specificity of OMB proposed spending cuts, Mulvaney is very unlikely to be the beneficiary of false balance for long. As Trump, Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell dole out tax cuts, contracts, subsidies and federal resource giveaways to their electoral donor base, Mulvaney will be tasked with slashing the budget, staff and infrastructure of programs that serve the vast majority of the U.S. public. Even this so-called budget hawk may tire of wreaking the budgetary carnage required by his masters.


Posted January 31, 2017 by Juliette Majot   

From the Executive Director

In his first week in office U.S. President Donald Trump has thrown his presidential weight behind executive orders, which if implemented, will have disastrous short- and long-term impacts on farmers, farm and food system workers, and ecosystems. He has signaled that his approach to renegotiating trade agreements will be autocratic and without regard for the rest of the world, further destabilizing an already quaking geopolitical reality. He has made clear his plans to unravel America’s history as a country of immigrants and religious tolerance, threatening to lock U.S. citizens into a future of isolationism as he locks out refugees and heightens racism and xenophobia.

He has issued and partly withdrawn instructions to effectively gag government scientists, thus threatening continuity and public accountability in research, and is preparing to gut regulations across multiple sectors—regulations that were designed in the public interest. He is building a cabinet of powerful millionaires and billionaires, some of whom oppose the very purpose that their agencies are mandated to serve. He is perpetuating the idea that recognition of climate change is subject to a belief system rather than to scientific evidence. He is attempting to reverse the social, economic and environmental achievement and promise of renewable energy. He is systematically discrediting individual journalists (and journalism generally) dismissing the role of a free press in democracy. And he is undermining American’s health care by calling for “prompt repeal” of Obamacare in the absence of clear policies for much needed improvements.

Against this blitzkrieg, the job creation programs he promises may well create jobs, but only in the short term. Job creation programs that ignore climate change have no chance of building sustainable livelihoods. Plans to rebuild American infrastructure, which do not foresee the impacts of climate change on that infrastructure (and the impact of infrastructure choices on GHG emissions), will also go up in smoke. Ditto for the rural development so clearly called for by many rural Americans who were so frustrated by both political parties that they placed their sincere faith in candidate Trump.

For 30 years IATP has understood agriculture and trade to be components of a much larger economic and political system that must be designed and operated for the benefit of all people, globally. And that means that our research, analysis, advocacy, and acts in solidarity have not and will not be confined to national interests only, nor to single-issue causes hovering as though they are disentangled from a web of cultural, economic and political imperatives.

Expect to find in IATP publications, on our web site, on social media and at IATP events, and in our direct engagement with others, research, analysis and advocacy dedicated to environmental integrity and social justice globally, starting right here at home in Minnesota. With partners around the world, we will tenaciously work in the interests of fair trade systems for all, food security, sustainable livelihoods for the people who sustainably grow, process and market our food and biofuel, and the environmental integrity that makes it all possible.

Expect to see more from IATP on a range of issues relevant to and influenced by agriculture and trade, including:

  • Who benefits from selling agricultural commodities at below the cost of production and who pays? What can we do about it?
  • What do new immigration policies mean for farm and food system workers here and elsewhere? How can we influence those policies?
  • When and how could an animal health crisis, such as outbreaks of bird flu in a number of countries, become a public health crisis? Why do we need to know about this?
  • Where in the world will family farms stand a chance if agribusiness continues to consolidate its control of inputs, data, markets, and agricultural policy? How do we turn this around?
  • How are rural communities here in the U.S. and elsewhere finding ways to adapt to climate change, and how are farmers building resilient agriculture? How do we learn from them and support them?
  • And much more.

Your support and critical engagement are key. Be in touch. Stay engaged. Reach out to others.

Posted January 27, 2017 by IATP   

AgricultureGlobalizationNAFTA: North American Free Trade Agreement

Endorsed by

Food & Water Watch
Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy
National Family Farm Coalition
National Farmers Union
Rural Coalition

Current U.S. trade policy is designed to promote the interests of agribusinesses and other multinational corporations over those of family farmers. The resulting agreements have contributed to the economic and social erosion of rural communities in the U.S. and oftentimes devastation of its trading partners and fail to address very real problems of price volatility and environmental sustainability. These problems will not be solved simply by increasing exports.

We support the demands of many civil society organizations who reject NAFTA and similar free-trade agreements. NAFTA should be replaced with a different agreement with the goal of increasing living standards in all three countries. This should start from a thorough, open and democratic assessment of those agreements that involves both rural and urban communities. The trade negotiation process itself must be made more transparent to include the participation of all affected sectors, including independent farmers. If trade agreements include provisions related to agriculture, the overall goal should be to achieve balanced trade that supports fair and sustainable rural economies and food supplies. We call for the following priorities:

  1. Restore local and national sovereignty over farm and food policy: Trade agreements subjugate national laws and standards to legal rulings of foreign trade tribunals. U.S. farm programs must adhere to the World Trade Organization Agreement on Agriculture (AoA), which restricts farm policies that address price or production — the two most effective policy levers to ensure that farmers are not hurt by the vagaries of weather, disease or market volatility. All nations should have the right to democratically establish domestic policies supported by their citizenry. That includes farm policies that ensure that farmers are paid fairly for their crops and livestock and other farm and food policies that protect farmers and consumers. In the case of NAFTA, this should include:
    • Restore Country-of-Origin Meat Labels (COOL): The 2002 farm bill established country-of-origin meat labels for beef and pork, but Canada and Mexico challenged the commonsense label as an illegal trade barrier in 2009. Canada and Mexico should withdraw their WTO COOL complaint and award in the NAFTA Renegotiated Agreement. The U.S. should clearly address the complexity of the label to clarify points previously raised by Mexico and Canada. All countries should enforce consumers right to know about what is in their foods.
    • Reject new proposals on Regulatory Cooperation that undermine state and local authority to determine the best rules for their communities. Current proposals in TTIP and TPP would establish new international bureaucracies to pass judgment over local and federal rules on pesticides, food labels, and other measures designed to improve local food systems.
    • Together, the NAFTA countries should advocate for revisions in the rules at the WTO AoA to protect the right of each country to establish policies with respect to food and agriculture that allow for inventory management and strategic food reserves and to establish border control and other mechanisms to protect the right of each country to prevent dumping of agricultural commodities at below the cost of production. A first step in this direction would be to agree to a Special Safeguard Mechanism for agricultural commodities key to food security.
  2. Stop corporate giveaways in trade agreements. NAFTA has consolidated corporate control over many aspects of agriculture in ways that are unfair to farmers, farmworkers and consumers. It was the first trade deal signed by the U.S. to include the controversial investor-to-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanism, which allows foreign companies to sue for damages over laws, rules or actions that allegedly undermine their profits. ISDS dispute in NAFTA have already been used to challenge rules on softwood lumber, high fructose corn syrup and pesticides. U.S. trade policy should:  
    • Remove ISDS provisions in NAFTA and other trade agreements. Investment disputes should be dealt with under existing national legal systems.
    • Respect and protect regulations or policies intended to reduce anti-trust and anti-competitive practices in agriculture, including laws on price manipulation and limits on mergers of agribusiness firms. Such rules should not be limited by state-to-state or any other form of dispute resolution in trade or investment agreements.
    • Reject intellectual property rights or other provisions in trade agreements that limit farmers’ ability to save and share seeds and strengthen the power of seed companies and agribusinesses over farmers. Mexico is not currently bound by those rules and should not be coerced into signing it under the guise of a trade agreement.
    • Reject new proposals in TPP that speed up rules on approval of agricultural biotechnology products in ways that bypass national efforts to assess their safety, effectiveness and impacts on rural communities.
  3. Ensure economic viability and resilience in rural communities. Major changes in domestic farm policy are needed to ensure that farmers and ranchers receive prices that meet their costs of production. In addition, countries should have the right and ability to protect their farmers from unfair imports that distort the domestic market, undermine prices and ultimately compromise the economic viability of independent farmers.
    • Apply existing laws to prevent dumping.The United States has several tools to prevent unfair imports, including anti-dumping mechanisms (when imports from a company are unfairly priced below the cost of production), countervailing duty mechanisms (for artificially low-priced imports that benefit from government subsidies) and import surge protections on products that flood and distort domestic markets. The U.S. International Trade Commission generally has not effectively applied them to farm products despite numerous investigations. Similar mechanisms should be employed in all three NAFTA countries, starting with investigations of fruit and vegetable imports to the United States and corn imports to Mexico.
    •  Protect the rights of farmworkers to decent wages and working conditions.One of the consequences of the devastation of Mexican farming communities under NAFTA has been an increase in migration to the U.S., where farmworkers often labor under precarious conditions. New rules should be established that generate rural jobs in all three countries and that protect farmworkers’ labor and other human rights

Posted January 25, 2017 by Robert G. Wallace   

Image used under creative commons license via Wikipedia from Naim Alel.

Published with the kind permission of Noticias de Abajo.

Varios brotes mortales de gripe aviar H5 están diezmando las aves de corral de Europa, Asia y Oriente Medio.

La epidemia, que se extiende a través de Eurasia en oleadas sucesivas, es continuación de una erupción de gripe aviar H5N2 en los Estados Unidos, durante 2015. Todas las nuevas cepas, H5N2, H5N3, H5N5, H5N6, H5N8 y H5N9, denominadas en conjunto H5Nx, descienden del subtipo H5N1, que apareció por primera vez en China en 1997 y desde 2003 ha provocado la muerte de 452 personas.

Big Poultry y sus colaboradores del Gobierno están culpando de estos brotes a las aves acuáticas salvajes, que actuarían como reservorios de muchas cepas de virus de la gripe, y que infectarían a las aves de corral.

Por ejemplo, la investigación dirigida por Carol Cardona, profesora de la Universidad de Minnesota, que ocupa la Cátedra Pomeroy financiada por la Industria, afirma que el cambio climático está impulsando cambios en la ecología de las aves acuáticas salvajes y por lo tanto las aves de corral estarían más expuestas a los virus de la gripe, en Minnesota.

Contrariamente a lo que afirma la Industria, un muestreo exhaustivo realizado por ornitólogos del Estado de Minnesota no encontraron el virus de la gripe H5N2 en las aves acuáticas salvajes. Sin embargo, el equipo de Cardona sigue buscando el virus H5N2 en las muestras recogidas en la primavera de 2015 ¿Por qué? Simplemente porque afirma que el virus debe estar allí. La ausencia de pruebas supone un impedimento frente a la conveniencia en favor de la Industria sobre la naturaleza de los brotes de gripe aviar.

Culpar a las aves acuáticas es otra falacia. Incluso si la búsqueda del virus H5N2 en las aves acuáticas tuviese éxito, ¿qué demostraría eso? ¿Cómo podría explicar la presencia del virus H5N2 en las aves acuáticas los daños en la cría del pavo industrial y en los huevos en el Medio Oeste durante 2015 o en toda Eurasia ahora mismo?

La linea de investigación emprendida por la Industria omite abordar por qué varias cepas de la gripe, incluyendo la H5N2 y otras muchas nuevas cepas H5Nx, provocan la mortalidad en las aves de corral y no en la mayoría de las aves acuáticas. De hecho, no se ha registrado ningún caso de gripe patógena entre las aves acuáticas salvajes en ningún lugar durante el año 2015. La gripe mortal en las aves acuáticas sólo ha aparecido como daños colaterales de los brotes aparecidos en las granjas industriales.

A medida que la producción agrícola va convirtiendo los humedales en tierras agrícolas, las aves acuáticas migratorias que tradicionalmente visitaban los humedales a lo largo de sus vías migratorias, han cambiado a la alimentación que obtienen de los cereales de las granjas industriales. Es decir, la ampliación del contacto entre las aves acuáticas y las producción intensiva de aves de corral no se debería exclusivamente a los cambios climáticos, como sugiere el equipo de Cardona, sino por acciones llevadas a cabo por el propio sector agrícola industrial.

Culpar a las aves acuáticas salvajes y al cambio climático modifica las indagaciones que señalan al modelo industrial de producción avícola, que la creciente literatura científica dice que es en sí mismo un modelo potencialmente catastrófico para la salud pública.

Los modelos matemáticos de la evolución de los agentes patógenos, que se examinan aquí y aquí, nos dicen que la ganadería intensiva (la cría de miles de aves de corral como un monocultivo homogéneo) ofrece un buen caldo de cultivo para el virus de la gripe y otros patógenos, estimulando unas altas tasas de mortalidad.

Los modelos deducen que un suministro continuo de clones genéticos en un espacio reducido elimina las barreras, lo que favorece la evolución de virus de la gripe mortales. Con el continuo trasiego de aves cada seis semanas, están siempre disponibles miles de clones con su sistema inmunitario debilitado. Una cepa de gripe aviar puede ser especialmente virulenta, diezmando las poblaciones de aves, de modo que ya no dispone de nuevos huésped que infectar. Pero el virus de la gripe, ahora más dañino, se expande de forma rutinaria entre los pequeños productores locales y las aves acuáticas salvajes. Los científicos de la Industria culpan a los impactos de la gripe como la causa de la gripe misma.

Una nueva investigación muestra que los factores ambientales más amplios sobre los que el equipo de Cardona está trabajando como una explicación probable, no tienen más que un efecto marginal sobre la aparición de las nuevas cepas de virus de la gripe aviar H5.

En un artículo revisado recientemente publicado en eLIFE, un equipo dirigido por el ecologista belga Marius Gilbert introdujo modelos que explicaban la diferencia de las distribuciones espaciales en brotes de la gripe entre el subtipo H5N1 y otros emparentados H5Nx. El equipo de Gilbert mostró que los modelos que incluían variables ecoclimáticas, como la temperatura de la superficie terrestre, las aguas superficiales y la vegetación, tenían poco valor explicativo.

Más bien el estudio demuestra que es la combinación de especies del huésped lo que mejor explica la distribución de los brotes de la gripe aviar.

Como se muestra en la Figura 1, el equipo de Gilbert dedujo las contribuciones relativas de las distintas variables al explicar las distribuciones espaciales globales de los antiguos N5N1 ( en azul) y los nuevos H5Nx (en rojo). Vemos que la densidad de patos (DuDnLg) es un importante contribuyente a ambos tipos de gripe aviar, aunque menos para H5Nx, aunque debemos tener en cuenta que los patos son criados como aves de corral en condiciones intensivas en muchos países europeos y asiáticos.

Figura 1: Contribuciones relativas medias (%) ± desviación estándar de diferentes conjuntos de variables predictoras para modelos de árboles de regresión para la gripe aviar muy patógena H5N1 (en azul) y H5Nx (en rojo). La contribución relativa es una medida de la importancia relativa de cada variable predictora incluida en un modelo de regresión para calcular la predicción del modelo. Se pueden encontrar más detalles en Dhingra et al. (2016) : <a href= Reimpreso bajo Licencia Creative Commons Atribución 4.0 Internacional. " width="610" height="352" srcset=" 610w, 1220w, 150w, 300w, 768w, 1024w" sizes="(max-width: 610px) 100vw, 610px" />

Figura 1: Contribuciones relativas medias (%) ± desviación estándar de diferentes conjuntos de variables predictoras para modelos de árboles de regresión para la gripe aviar muy patógena H5N1 (en azul) y H5Nx (en rojo). La contribución relativa es una medida de la importancia relativa de cada variable predictora incluida en un modelo de regresión para calcular la predicción del modelo. Se pueden encontrar más detalles en Dhingra et al. (2016) : Reimpreso bajo Licencia Creative Commons Atribución 4.0 Internacional.

La información más importante es que el virus H5 se desplazó de la cría extensiva de pollos (ChDnLgExt), característica de la mayoría de los pequeños productores, a la producción intensivo de pollos (ChDNLgInt). Esto significa que las nuevas cepas parecen ahora estar adaptadas a la producción avícola industrial situada cerca de los centros urbanos.

Como se muestra en la Figura 2, el equipo de Gilbert realizó la cartografía global de los cambios resultantes en el nicho ambiental de la gripe aviar (la combinación de factores que favorecen los brotes de gripe aviar), mostrando los puntos calientes ya documentados para H5N1 (arriba) y H5Nx (abajo). Como se informó en la prensa, se muestra la difusión de H5Nx en los Estados Unidos, Europa, China y Corea del Sur, entre otras zonas calientes.

Pero los mapas también muestran áreas de potencial peligro de aparición de los nuevos virus, pero con la limitación de tener datos desde las primeras etapas de un brote en curso. Bangladesh, Indonesia, Australia, partes de América del Sur, y el delta del Nilo, están en peligro de tener brotes en el caso de que H5Nx migrase allí.

Figura 2 : Predicción de la probabilidad de aparición del virus H5N1 altamente patógeno (superior) y el subtipo H5Nx (inferior). La línea negra discontinua representa un conjunto de datos sobre la presencia de predicciones HPAI H5N1 y subtipo H5Nx, correspondientes a un área de la que se seleccionaron pseudoausencias [se refieren a datos generados de manera ad hoc para simular ausencias]. El círculo muestra la predicción obtenido cuando se eliminó el efecto de la variable IsChina, una variable que explica el efecto de la masiva vacunación de aves en China. Se pueden encontrar detalles en Dhingra et al. (2016) : <a href= Reimpreso bajo Licencia Creative Commons Atribución 4.0 Internacional. " width="610" height="560" srcset=" 610w, 150w, 300w, 768w, 818w" sizes="(max-width: 610px) 100vw, 610px" />

Figura 2 : Predicción de la probabilidad de aparición del virus H5N1 altamente patógeno (superior) y el subtipo H5Nx (inferior). La línea negra discontinua representa un conjunto de datos sobre la presencia de predicciones HPAI H5N1 y subtipo H5Nx, correspondientes a un área de la que se seleccionaron pseudoausencias [se refieren a datos generados de manera ad hoc para simular ausencias]. El círculo muestra la predicción obtenido cuando se eliminó el efecto de la variable IsChina, una variable que explica el efecto de la masiva vacunación de aves en China. Se pueden encontrar detalles en Dhingra et al. (2016) : Reimpreso bajo Licencia Creative Commons Atribución 4.0 Internacional.

El aumento de H5Nx no es sólo una cuestión de un cambio debido a la expansión del virus. Las nuevas cepas también se han ajustado molecularmente. Es decir, el virus está evolucionando y adquiriendo nuevos atributos para infectar las aves de corral.

En un nuevo estudio, un equipo de virólogos de la Universidad de Utrecht y el Instituto de Investigación Scripps, muestran la evolución de una molécula particular llamada hemaglutinina, la H de H5, que el virus de la gripe utiliza para entrar en las células huésped.

Una rara sustitución de aminoácidos en la parte de unión al receptor de la molécula permite que el nuevo virus H5Nx se expanda más cuanto más eficazmente se una a las células diana. El virus ha pasado de unirse específicamente a receptores de los intestinos de las aves acuáticas para expandirse a receptores encontrados en las gargantas de las aves de corral. Eso significa que el virus es capaz de infectar una gama más amplia de especies de acogida, incluyendo ahora a la especies de avicultura, que mueve miles de millones.

Los cambios moleculares también pueden explicar por qué se ha producido un rápido aumento en la aparición de nuevas cepas H5Nx, que intercambian segmentos de genes por un proceso denominado de reasentamiento. A medida que el virus comienza a evolucionar hacia una forma más eficiente para infectar a sus huéspedes, las nuevas versiones de la proteína neuraminidasa, la N de Nx, están aparentemente siendo intercambiadas en diversas cepas de H5Nx. La cantidad de virus que se producen durante una infección y la rapidez de progresión de la enfermedad también pueden verse afectada.

Afortunadamente, el equipo de Utrech no encontró ninguna adaptación a los receptores de los mamíferos. Por lo tanto, parece que no es probable una transmisión sostenido del virus entre los seres humanos. Pero los investigadores sólo probaron el subtipo H5N8 en este estudio y los casos de infección humana por el virus H5N6 ya han sido documentados en China. A medida que H5Nx se diversifica y se adapta a las aves de corral, que decenas de miles de manipuladores humanos cuidan y procesan todos los días, aumenta la probabilidad de aparición de una gripe mortal en los humanos.

El resultado neto es que disponemos de análisis ecológicos y evolutivos divergentes que confluyen en señalar que los nuevos virus de la gripe H5Nx están cada vez más adaptados a la cría de aves de corral. Es decir, hay una mayor cantidad de literatura científica escrupulosamente documentada que muestra tendencias alarmantes que están fuera de control de las investigaciones financiadas por el Agronegocio.

<>Estos hallazgos están en franco contraste con la narrativa rosada presentada por investigadores muy bien pagados y respaldados por Big Poultry, lo que la Universidad de Minnesota describe como el “Silicon Valley de los alimentos”. Esos equipos siguen culpando a cualquier cosa menos al modelo económico que está en el corazón de la producción avícola industrial.

Los avicultores de todo el mundo, y las poblaciones a las que alimentan, se merecen algo mejor. Los productores están soportando los costes económicos de un modelo de producción que genera patógenos mortales para las aves de corral y potencialmente peligrosos para los seres humanos. La nueva investigación que muestra adaptaciones en los virus de la gripe aviar debe ser considerada para realizar cambios fundamentales en las políticas públicas. Los modelos más seguros de producción de aves de corral que se están desarrollando aquí, en Minnesota, y en todo el mundo, deben ser apoyados antes de que se produzca una mortal pandemia.

[Nota: la totalidad de los enlaces se pueden encontrar en el artículo original en inglés]

Rob Wallace es biólogo evolutivo y filogeógrafo de salud pública que actualmente visita el Instituto de Estudios Globales de la Universidad de Minnesota. Tiene un blog titulado Patógenos en la agricultura. Otros artículos suyos en este blog: Ébola neoliberal: los orígenes agroeconómicos del brote de ébola.

Posted January 24, 2017 by Robert G. Wallace   

Image used under creative commons license via Wikipedia from Naim Alel.

Multiple outbreaks of deadly H5 bird flu are decimating poultry across Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.

The epidemic, moving across Eurasia in wave after wave, follows an eruption of H5N2 here in the U.S. in 2015. All the new strains—H5N2, H5N3, H5N5, H5N6, H5N8, and H5N9, together called H5Nx—are descendants of the H5N1 subtype that first emerged in China in 1997 and since 2003 has killed 452 people. 

Big Poultry and its collaborators in government are blaming wild waterfowl, which act as reservoirs for many influenza strains, for the new poultry outbreaks.

For instance, research under the aegis of University of Minnesota Professor Carol Cardona, who holds the industry-funded Pomeroy Chair in Avian Health, claims that climate change is driving shifts in wild waterfowl ecology and therefore in the influenza to which industrial poultry here in Minnesota are now exposed.

Contrary to the industry’s claim, however, exhaustive sampling conducted by state ornithologists found no H5N2 in wild waterfowl in Minnesota. Yet Cardona’s team continues to search for H5N2 in Spring 2015 samples. Why? Simply because it claims the virus must be there. The absence of evidence is treated as no barrier to an expedient assumption in industry’s favor about the nature of the outbreak.

Blaming waterfowl is based on another fallacy. Even if a search for H5N2 in waterfowl proved successful, what would it show? How would the presence of H5N2 in waterfowl here in Minnesota explain the damage the outbreak has caused to industrial turkey and chicken egg layers here in the Midwest in 2015 or across Eurasia today?

The industry’s line of research omits addressing why multiple influenza strains, including H5N2 and many of the other new H5Nx strains, develop a deadliness in its poultry that isn’t found in most waterfowl. Indeed, no cases of highly pathogenic flu in wild waterfowl were recorded anywhere before 2005. Deadly flu in waterfowl has since been discovered only as collateral blowback from outbreaks on farms.

As agricultural production turns wetlands into farmland, migrating waterfowl that have traditionally visited wetlands along their flyways have switched to feeding on grain on industrial farms. That is, the expanding interface between waterfowl and intensive poultry production isn’t caused exclusively by climatic changes, as the Cardona team suggests, as by the actions of the industrial agricultural sector itself.

Focusing on wild waterfowl and climate change shifts scrutiny from an industrial model of poultry production that a growing scientific literature indicates is itself a potentially catastrophic public health danger.

Mathematical models of pathogen evolution—reviewed here and here—show that intensive husbandry (raising barns of thousands of poultry in packed homogeneous monoculture) offers so much food for flu (and other pathogens), spurring the evolution of explosive deadliness.

The models infer that a continual supply of cramped-in genetic clones removes a cap on how deadly influenza can evolve. With one new batch of birds after another every six weeks, thousands of immunologically weak clones are always available. The most virulent bird flu can be selected for, decimating fowl populations without running out of new hosts to infect. The now deadlier flu routinely spills back out among local smallholder flocks and wild waterfowl. But industrial scientists blame the resulting impact as the cause of the outbreak.  

Now new research is showing that the broader environmental factors on which Cardona’s team is banking as an explanation likely had at best only marginal effect on the emergence of the new H5 influenzas.

In a peer-reviewed paper recently published in eLIFE, a team led by Belgian spatial ecologist Marius Gilbert introduced models explaining the difference in spatial distributions in influenza outbreaks between the H5N1 subtype and its daughter H5Nx. Gilbert’s team showed that models including popular eco-climatic variables, such as land surface temperature, open water, and vegetation, added little in explanatory value.

Instead, the study demonstrates, it’s the combination of host species that best explained the distribution of outbreaks.

As shown in Figure 1, Gilbert’s team inferred the relative contributions the various variables made in explaining the global spatial distributions of old school H5N1 (blue) and newbie H5Nx (red). We see that, yes, duck density (DuDnLg) is a major contributor to both kinds of bird flu—although less so for H5Nx—but we should keep in mind that ducks are also raised as poultry in intensive conditions in many European and Asian countries.

Figure 1

Figure 1. Mean relative contributions (%) ± standard deviation of different sets of predictor variables for regression tree models for highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1 (in blue) and H5Nx clade (in red). The relative contribution is a measure of the relative importance of each predictor variable included in a regression model to compute the model prediction. Details can be found in Dhingra et al. (2016) DOI: Reprinted under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International.

The headline news here is that the H5 virus shifted from extensive chicken production (ChDnLgExt) characteristic of mostly smallholder production to intensive chicken production (ChDNLgInt), urbanized human populations (HpDnLg), and managed horticulture (CultVeg). This means that the new strains now appear to be adapted to industrial poultry production near urban centers.

As shown in Figure 2, the Gilbert team globally mapped the resulting shift in influenza’s environmental niche (the combination of factors supporting outbreaks) showing already documented hot spots for H5N1 (top) and H5Nx (bottom). As reported in the press, H5Nx is shown spreading in the U.S., Europe, China, and South Korea, among other hot zones.

But the maps also show areas in potential danger of the new virus, albeit under the constraint of applying data from the early stages of an ongoing outbreak. Bangladesh, Indonesia, Australia, parts of South America, and, prophetically it turns out, the Nile Delta, are in danger of hosting outbreaks, should H5Nx migrate there.

Figure 2

Figure 2. Predicted probability of occurrence of highly pathogenic H5N1 (top) and of H5Nx clade (bottom). The dashed black line represents a buffer around the occurrence data for the HPAI H5N1 and H5Nx clade predictions, corresponding to an area from which pseudo-absences were selected. The circle inset shows the prediction obtained when the effect of the variable IsChina, a variable to account for the effect of mass vaccination of poultry in China, was removed. Details can be found in Dhingra et al. (2016) DOI: Reprinted under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International.

H5Nx’s rise isn’t just a matter of a shift in where the virus is spreading, however. The new strains have also molecularly adjusted. That is, the virus is evolving new attributes fit for infecting poultry.

In another new paper, a team of virologists from Utrecht University and the Scripps Research Institute show an evolution in a particular molecule called hemagglutinin–the H of H5–that the influenza virus uses to enter host cells.

A rare amino acid substitution in the receptor-binding part of the molecule permits the new H5Nx both broader and more efficient binding to target cells. The virus has switched from binding specifically to receptors in waterfowl intestines to expanding to receptors found in poultry throats. That means the virus is able to infect a broader range of host species, now including the poultry global agribusiness raises in the billions.

The molecular changes may also account for why there is a rapid rise in so many new strains of H5Nx, which swap gene segments by a process called reassortment. As the virus begins to evolve more efficiently to target its hosts, new versions of the neuraminidase protein—the N in Nx—are apparently being swapped in and out of the various strains of H5Nx. How much virus is shed as a result during an infection and the rapidity of disease progression may also be affected.

Fortunately, the Utrecht team found no adaptation to mammalian receptors. So it seems no sustained transmission of the virus among humans is likely. But the researchers only tested H5N8 in this study and human cases of H5N6 have already been documented in China. As H5Nx diversifies and adapts to poultry that tens of thousands of human handlers care for and process every day, the likelihood of a deadly human-specific flu emerging increases.

The immediate take-home is that we have here divergent ecological and evolutionary analyses converging upon the conclusion that the new H5Nx are increasingly influenzas adapted to intensively raised poultry. That is, a growing literature of scrupulously documented science is showing alarming trends that are beyond the control of agribusiness-funded research.

These findings are in stark contrast to the rosy narrative presented by extremely well-paid researchers backed by Big Poultry in what the University of Minnesota describes as the “Silicon Valley of food.” Those teams continue to blame anything and anyone for bird flu other than the economic model at the heart of industrial poultry production.

Farmers around the world, and the populations they feed, deserve better. Growers are bearing the economic costs of a model of production that supports pathogens deadly to poultry and potentially dangerous to humans. The new research showing a newly adapted influenza must be heeded and adopted for a fundamental change in public policy. Safer models of poultry production now being developed here in Minnesota and around the world must be supported before the next deadly pandemic sweeps the globe.

Read the Spanish translation of this blog.

Rob Wallace is an evolutionary biologist presently visiting the Institute for Global Studies at the University of Minnesota. He is an advisor for the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy and has consulted on influenza for the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization and on ecohealth for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He is author of Big Farms Make Big Flu and Neoliberal Ebola.


Posted January 23, 2017 by Ben Lilliston   

 Tar Sands processing facility

Rural communities in the U.S. and around the world are vulnerable to industries, often with headquarters elsewhere, who view local natural resources simply as an asset to be extracted. No global corporation better exemplifies this approach than the oil giant ExxonMobil. Now, President Donald Trump has nominated the company’s CEO, Rex Tillerson, to run the U.S. State Department. Tillerson’s damaging record at ExxonMobil, often at the expense of the public good and even U.S. security interests, should disqualify him from managing U.S. policy around the world.

Tillerson is deeply infused with ExxonMobil DNA, having spent his entire professional career of 41 years working at the company and serving as CEO since 2008. ExxonMobil operates in more than 100 countries. During Tillerson’s time at ExxonMobil the company has: aggressively advocated for corporate-friendly free trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP); used past free trade deals to sue governments who try to regulate it; done deals with dictators and human rights violators; and all the while leading a multi-decade disinformation campaign to oppose action on climate change.

While Trump has promised to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), ExxonMobil and Tillerson have been strong defenders of the deal as a win-win. Trump has promised to withdraw from the TPP. But Tillerson stated in his testimony before the Senate that he supports the TPP. ExxonMobil has consistently lobbied in favor of trade deals, such as those with Korea, Panama, Columbia and advocated Russia’s entry into the WTO. It’s not hard to see why ExxonMobil likes these deals—they all grant the company expanded powers to challenge the authority and sovereignty of governments.

An investigation of Exxon/Mobil’s lobbying files by International Business Times found that the company has explicitly lobbied the State Department on special corporate rights provisions of free trade deals, known as investor state dispute settlement or ISDS. The ISDS, first included by the U.S. in NAFTA, allows corporations to sue governments if new regulations or other programs are determined to “nullify or impair” their future anticipated profits. Exxon/Mobil used the ISDS provision in NAFTA to sue Canada over a dispute about offshore drilling. The Canadian provinces of Newfoundland and Labrador require oil companies drilling offshore to contribute to research and economic development in the area. Exxon/Mobil claimed that type of performance requirement wasn’t required under NAFTA and successfully won that legal challenge, sharing a $17.3 million damage award with Murphy Oil. ExxonMobil was recently awarded a contract from Mexico to develop deep water projects in the Gulf of Mexico—an investment potentially protected under NAFTA’s ISDS.

The ISDS provision in NAFTA is also important for ExxonMobil in another case. TransCanada is suing the U.S. government for $15 billion in damages under NAFTA’s ISDS as a result of the Obama Administration’s rejection of the Keystone Pipeline. They pipeline would move oil extracted from the Alberta tar sands to U.S. refineries. Exxon/Mobil is one of the largest owners of the Canadian tar sands, considered among the most greenhouse gas emitting forms of oil to extract, and enormously damaging to the surrounding ecosystem.

NAFTA also includes another truly remarkable, little known, provision important for ExxonMobil and the U.S. oil industry. Under the energy proportionality clause (article 605 of NAFTA), Canada must indefinitely export energy to the U.S. at the equivalent level of the previous 36 months. While the proportion of exports have varied, it cannot decline, only increase, under NAFTA. This clause only pertains to Canada, to no other country, and is in no other free trade agreement involving the U.S. The clause not only locks in a portion of Canada’s energy production for the U.S., it pressures Canada to keep producing energy in order to meet the rising demand in the U.S.

Under Tillerson, ExxonMobil has also been a fervent supporter of the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with Europe, flexing its lobbying might on both sides of the Atlantic. As the Sierra Club has written, Exxon/Mobil through its trade associations lobbied the U.S. Trade Representative on TTIP to weaken Europe’s policy designed to encourage purchases of lower carbon fuels. The policy would have effectively blocked European imports of high GHG emitting tar sands oil – which ExxonMobil hoped to export into Europe after passing through the Keystone Pipeline into the U.S. The EU quickly buckled under USTR’s pressure and changed the policy. The oil industry also effectively lobbied the European Commission on its negotiating stance on TTIP, pressuring it to require the U.S. Department of Energy to automatically approve the export of liquefied natural gas (LNG). The industry lobbied for the same provision in the TPP, which includes the world’s largest LNG importer, Japan.

As ExxonMobil’s advocacy for free trade agreements helped expand its fossil fuel extraction around the world, the company consistently and forcefully worked to block action on the biggest global challenge of our time - climate change. According to a 2014 study, Exxon/Mobil has contributed more to global climate change than any company other than Chevron. A recent investigation of company documents found that its own internal scientists warned ExxonMobil about the role of fossil fuels in driving climate change in the late 1970s, yet the company funded a decades-long, estimated $33 million effort to debunk climate science and promote climate deniers. ExxonMobil is a major funder of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) which has worked with state legislators to pass industry-friendly legislation, and oppose efforts to address climate change.

Exxon/Mobil is currently under investigation by attorneys general (AG) in Massachusetts and New York for climate fraud. The AGs claim the company misled consumers and investors about the risks climate change poses to its business. The company has fought back, attempting to intimidate those involved by suing those AGs and seeking to document their connections with environmental organizations.

Tillerson’s position at the State Department would put him in charge of international climate negotiations and the implementation of the Paris climate agreement. During Tillerson’s confirmation hearing, he stated that he did not believe climate change was the urgent national security threat that many others (including the Defense Department) have stated it is. He believes that climate science was “inconclusive.” He did testify that it’s important that the U.S. retain its seat at the table when it comes to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, apparently indicating that immediate withdrawal wasn’t imminent. While it is unclear whether the Trump Administration will withdraw from the Paris agreement, Tillerson could still do much to undermine implementation of the agreement, by retaining a seat at the table.

At the State Department, Tillerson would also lead the country’s engagement with the G-20. In 2009, G-20 countries committed to reduce fossil fuel subsidies. Tillerson’s statements during the Senate confirmation hearing did not give confidence that he will uphold the G-20 commitment. Tillerson told the Senate committee that the fossil fuel industry does not receive any subsidies, claiming that it only benefits from a favorable tax code. The statement runs counter to reports by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office and the Stockholm Environmental Institute, which recently found that the fossil fuel industry benefits from $2-4 billion a year in federal subsidies.

As the nation’s chief diplomat, Tillerson would play a critical role in defending human rights around the world. But Exxon/Mobil cuts deals with anyone, anywhere, as long as the company can exploit a country’s natural resources on terms favorable to the company. Tillerson won an “Order of Friendship” award from Russian President Vladimir Putin after signing a mega joint venture for offshore gas and oil exploration in the Russian Arctic Sea. In Tillerson’s Senate testimony, he claimed that Exxon/Mobil hadn’t opposed recent economic sanctions against Russia that put a halt to the company’s joint venture deal. But public documents indicate that the company lobbied against a bill that would make it harder for the next Administration to lift sanctions against Russia. ExxonMobil leases more land in Russia than it does in the United States. As Secretary of State, Tillerson would be able to lift the Russian sanctions and allow the multi-billion ExxonMobil deal to move forward.

A recent analysis of Security and Exchange Commission documents found that ExxonMobil did business with Iran, Syria and Sudan during a period when those countries were under U.S. sanctions as state sponsors of terrorism. In Kurdistan, Tillerson defied the State Department and cut an oil deal with the regional government, undermining the national government in Baghdad. During Tillerson’s confirmation hearing, he was reluctant to call out Russia, the Phillippines and Saudi Arabia for human rights abuses, despite overwhelming public evidence of abuses in those countries, according to Human Rights Watch.

The list of questionable ExxonMobil dealings around the world goes on and on. A legal case is moving forward in Indonesia charging that ExxonMobil was complicit in the murder, torture and other atrocities in the province of Aceh. The lawsuit claims ExxonMobil should have known about these atrocities by the Indonesian military that was on its payroll. As reported In These Times, since 2010, Exxon/Mobil has been charged with taking farmland in Iraq, damage associated with a pipeline rupture in Arkansas that resulted in 210,000 gallons of tar sands oil spilling out into the community, and a 2012 oil spill off the coast of Nigeria. 

In many ways, ExxonMobil under Tillerson is a dinosaur in the energy industry. As rural communities are starting new businesses and creating jobs in the clean energy sector, ExxonMobil has refused to invest in renewable energy. A recent Department of Energy report found that solar energy now employs more people in the U.S. than oil, natural gas or coal. Earlier this month, hundreds of companies, many of them rural-based, wrote the President calling on his administration to reduce emissions, invest in clean energy and continue as a party to the Paris climate agreement.

Tillerson’s single-minded focus on fossil fuel extraction at ExxonMobil, regardless of the impact on rural communities and the earth’s climate, should disqualify him from running the State Department, where he must represent the common interests Americans share with the rest of world.   

Posted January 19, 2017 by Shiney Varghese   

Agriculturecorporate controlWorld Bank

Ahead World Bank’s release of the 2017 “Enabling the Business of Agriculture” (EBA) project report this month, 156 organizations (including IATP) and academics from around the world, denounced the Bank’s scheme to undermine farmers’ rights to seeds and destroy their food sovereignty and the environment. In letters to World Bank President Jim Yong Kim and EBA’s five Western donors, the group has demanded the immediate end of the project, as a key step to stop the corporatization of global agricultural development.

The Obama administration played a lead role in launching the highly controversial New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition at the 2012 G8 Camp David Summit. From the White House fact sheet, G-8 Action on Food Security and Nutrition, it appears that the New Alliance was instrumental in urging the World Bank to develop options for generating a “Doing Business in Agriculture Index.” The index involved a ranking of the ease of doing business in a country, to help investors with agricultural investment decisions. This G8/New Alliance initiative appears to have given rise to Enabling the Business of Agriculture project, formerly called Benchmarking the Business of Agriculture. EBA focuses on identifying and monitoring regulations” which the Bank considers to “negatively affect agriculture and agribusiness markets”. 

When taken together with other initiatives that seek to lower the barriers to investment, EBA becomes a problematic initiative. This is especially so in the context of small-holder food production systems, since such approaches often exclude a long-term view about the future of smallholder farming communities, and the interests of those engaged in such food systems. For example, the EBA awards the best scores to countries that ease private companies’ – but not farmers’ – access to public gene banks. 

In Down On the Seed, the World Bank Enables Corporate Takeover of Seeds, the Oakland Institute’s Alice Martin-Prevel argues that while the World Bank claims to promote “smart and balanced policies,” its EBA index blatantly ignores farmer-managed seed systems. Instead, it reinforces the stranglehold of agrochemical companies and western nations by pushing for intellectual property rights in seeds, g seeds, germplasm, and plant varieties, so that private breeders profit from the use of their seeds by farmers.

Farmer-managed seed systems currently provide 80 to 90 percent of the seed supply in developing countries through on-farm seed saving and farmer-to-farmer seed exchange. On the other hand, only six multinationals currently control over two-thirds of the industrial seed sales, and pending agroindustry mergers stand to further consolidate this oligopoly. Further protections and bias toward those companies will undermine the vital farmer managed seed systems.

The consolidation of corporate power in agriculture is opposed by family farmers in the United States as well. National Farmers Union president Roger Johnson testified in Congress in September 2016 that the proposed mergers would enable just three corporations to control 80 percent of the U.S. seed supply (and 70 percent of the global pesticide market). In addition to pro-corporate initiatives such as New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, as IATP’s Karen Hansen-Kuhn has argued, that ‘the expansion of corporate control is also happening in three international treaties that establish the global rights of various stakeholders to seeds, germplasm, and plant varieties.” While each of these treaties strikes a certain balance among those interests, she adds that recently, as with the agribusiness mergers, the balance has been tilting away from the interests of smaller-scale farmers and diversified agriculture. This is most evident in the push to compel countries to adhere to the most corporate-friendly of the three: the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV). Although earlier versions of the treaty included some flexibility for family farmers to save and share seeds, the 1991 version eliminated those rights. 

In its 2016 EBA report, the World Bank upheld Tanzania as a model country for enacting intellectual property laws in agriculture, and becoming the one of the first least-developed nations bound by the 1991 UPOV Convention. UPOV-1991 is a pro-industry treaty that dramatically restricts farmers’ rights to save, exchange, and sell seeds. As Michael Farrelly (of the Tanzania Organic Agriculture Movement) pointed out in an email exchange, the current Tanzanian legislation criminalizes farmers who share, exchange or sell seed. Under the amended seed act (Special Bill Supplement of 12 May 2014), farmers now risk fines and imprisonment for practicing ancestral seed saving and trading!  Tanzanian civil society groups (and pan-African civil society networks such as the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa) have called on their governments to recognize the use and exchange of farm-saved seed by any person.

Against such a backdrop, the signatories to these letters have come together to demand the end of the corporate-led EBA project as key step to uphold farmers’ rights to seeds, their food sovereignty and to enable their full participation in food and agricultural policy making.

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