Posted May 2, 2016 by Dr. Steve Suppan
A long standing claim by the U.S. government and agribusiness lobby is that U.S. regulations on genetically engineered (GE) crops are science-based while European regulations are not. For example, an April 8 letter from the American Soybean Association to the U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack, states that “approval of these events [three GE soy crops] is now needed for the EU Commission to have any semblance of a working biotech approval system.” A “working biotech approval system” is that of the United States, which invariably “approves” GE crops, i.e. deregulates them, on the basis of an agency review of data and studies, some classified as Confidential Business Information, submitted by the GE crop developer.
This approach has been in place for two decades. For example, a Food and Drug Administration letter to Monsanto in 1996 states, “Based on the safety and nutritional assessment you have conducted, it is our understanding that Monsanto has concluded that corn products derived from this new variety are not materially different in composition, safety, and other relevant parameters from corn currently on the market, and that the genetically modified corn does not raise issues that would require premarket review or approval by FDA.” A 2013 FDA letter to Monsanto regarding a GE soybean “event” deregulates the product, but does not approve it, in almost identical language.
From the inception of U.S. policy on GE crops, science-based risk analysis has been systematically subordinated to trade policy objectives. A U.S. biotechnology lobby and diplomatic offensive to prevent European science-based regulation of the newest generation of GE crops and animals has delayed the scheduled release in mid-April of an EU legal opinion about GE rules for what the transatlantic biotech industry calls New Breeding Techniques. U.S. officials warned that diverging from the U.S. (de-) regulatory regime would impede trade in biotechnology products in the context of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) Agreement negotiations. This latest subordination of science-based risk analysis to trade policy has a long history.
Documents discovered as a result of a lawsuit by the Alliance for Bio-Integrity against the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) show that FDA scientists vigorously protested in 1992 the draft “Coordinated Framework for the Regulation of Biotechnology,” a White House policy document. Dr. Louis Pribyl wrote of the draft, “What has happened to the scientific elements of this document? Without a sound scientific base to rest on, this becomes a broad, general, ‘What do I have to do to avoid trouble’ document. A scientific document is needed because there is very little (even when things are called scientific) scientific information supplied.”
The critical comments of Dr. Pribyl and other regulatory scientists discovered in the Alliance for Bio-Integrity lawsuit fell on deaf trade policy ears. The Biotechnology Science Coordinating Committee could not agree on the terms and scientific basis for the Coordinated Framework document, so the White House turned over U.S. biotechnology policy to the Council on Competitiveness, which finalized the draft in 1992
The Coordinated Framework remains the White House policy that dictates that U.S. agencies with statutory obligations to protect plant, animal, environmental and human health do so, but only to the extent of also promoting trade in the products of the biotech industry. In October 2015, the White House announced its intention to revise the Coordinated Framework to improve confidence in the U.S. regulatory system and to “Design a Long Term Strategy for the Regulation of the Products of Biotechnology.” IATP submitted comments in November.
The third question of five in the White House request for information about how to revise the Coordinated Framework, indicated that the “Long Term Strategy” would involve better public relations techniques. “How can Federal agencies improve their communication to consumers, industry and other stakeholders regarding the authorities, practices and bases used to ensure the safety of the products of biotechnology?” We answered that before Federal agencies devote more resources to focus groups, workshops and polling to improve communication about the agencies “authorities, practices and bases,” they should scrutinize what is being communicated, rather than merely the how of communication. Our response may well fall on deaf trade promotion ears.
To judge by the USDA’s April 13 deregulation of a GE mushroom designed to prevent browning and extend shelf life, there will be no fundamental change in the (de-)regulation of GE plants and animals. It appears they will continue to follow the Coordinated Framework mandate that U.S. agencies should promote trade in products of biotechnology. A powerful new GE process, CRISPR CAS-9, which makes it possible to edit plant or animal genomes much more quickly and extensively, modified the mushroom. The USDA deregulated it on the basis—once again according to information submitted by the product developer—that the CRISPR engineered mushroom did not contain an organism that is a plant pest or could potentially become a plant pest. By deregulating the GE mushroom, the USDA avoided having to conduct a pre-market safety assessment and issuing an affirmative approval of the product.
Used under Creative Common License from Test Biotech.
In an April 21 comment to the USDA on revising its biotechnology regulatory practice, we cited a recent editorial in Nature: “What is new is the advent of CRISPR . . . because it makes gene drives much easier to create and could dramatically accelerate the timeline for a potential release—accidental or intentional . . . efforts to understand the ecological consequences of a gene drive should be made an urgent priority.” The ability of gene drives to copy the CRISPR-edited DNA from one chromosome to another in every generation means, according to Nature, that “newly introduced DNA will speed through a population exponentially faster than normal.” For example, pathogenic mold from CRISPR engineered mushroom spoors could spread through a mushroom population at warp speed. Nevertheless, the USDA followed the instructions of the 1992 Coordinated Framework to (de-)regulate the GE end product only and not the GE process required to understand the ecological consequences of CRISPR-modified plants and animals.
In 2015, as the White House was beginning to revise U.S. biotechnology policy, it mounted, together with the Biotechnology Industry Organization and other lobbying groups, a successful campaign to prevent the European Union from adopting EU regulations on a new generation of GE crops and plants that would differ from U.S. deregulatory practices. Links to European Commission correspondence with lobbying groups and U.S. officials were published in a briefing released on April 21 by Greenpeace, Gene Watch and Corporate Europe Observatory.
Here’s just one example of U.S. government lobbying on behalf of the biotechnology industry: according to the briefing, on November 3, “the US mission [in Brussels] also sent a letter to the Commission warning it of “unjustified regulatory hurdles” for “New Breeding Techniques.” It also rather ominously said that “different regulatory approaches between governments to NBT classification would lead to potentially significant trade disruptions.” How could the United States determine that EU regulations were “unjustified” for NBTs when the EU Legal Opinion about regulating NBTs was not scheduled for publication until November 19?
One possible source of U.S. intelligence about unpublished EU documents on the NBTs is a continuation of U.S. National Security Agency spying on EU officials and European corporations, first brought to light by former NSA official Edward Snowden. Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth U.S., said of the most recent revelations of NSA commercial espionage, “The spying on European Union and French embassies is characteristic of the secretive and ruthless style of contemporary trade and investment negotiations.”
Whatever the benefits may be for the corporations at whose behest and with whose input the TTIP is being negotiated, the benefits that President Barack Obama declared to be “indisputable” during an April 24 dinner with 29 U.S. and German CEOs do not include strengthening democracies. Surely, German Prime Minister Angela Merkel, whose personal cell phone calls were monitored by the NSA, must harbor doubts that such a ruthless trade negotiations process can produce a trade policy product that is supported by a majority of Germans.
Finally, consider the impact of the U.S. TTIP negotiating process on the transatlantic biotech industry strategy to “harmonize” EU rules on GE crops down to the U.S. deregulatory practice. If what is required to import GE soybeans and other crops in European member states is to emulate the U.S. practice of not regulating the processes by which a new and more powerful generation of GE plants and animals is created, how long will it be before EU scientists are asking themselves, as FDA scientist Dr. Louis Pribyl did of the draft Coordinated Framework in 1992, “What has happened to the scientific elements of this document?”
Or more broadly, since scientific evidence and principles have been subordinated to a trade policy that relies on U.S. espionage to obtain TTIP negotiations advantages to set the terms of the agreement, will TTIP “succeed” only by weakening both science and democracy in Europe, as well as in the United States?
Posted April 29, 2016 by Ben Lilliston
The controversial new trade deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, has been a tough sell for the Obama Administration. The top four Presidential candidates oppose its passage and support in Congress is waning. The road to TPP approval got a little tougher when 161 food, farm, faith and rural organizations sent a letter to Capitol Hill urging lawmakers to reject the deal.
“The main beneficiaries of the TPP are the companies that buy, process and ship raw agricultural commodities, not the farmers who face real risks from rising import competition. TPP imports will compete against U.S. farmers who are facing declining farm prices that are projected to stay low for years,” the organizations wrote.
At a time when the farm economy is struggling, the 12-nation TPP is being sold as a boost to farmers. But many farm groups are not buying it. “Trade deals do not just add new export markets—the flow of trade goes both ways—and the U.S. has committed to allowing significantly greater market access to imports under the TPP,” the groups explained.
An IATP paper earlier this month raised concerns about the impact of increased imports of milk and whey protein concentrates from the largest dairy exporting company in the world, based in the TPP country New Zealand. U.S. dairy farmers are already suffering under a climate of extremely low prices.
“Low prices are already forcing local dairy processors to pour raw milk from U.S. dairy farms down the drain,” says Steve Suppan, senior policy analyst at IATP. “Under the TPP, dairy processors can import even more cheap, low-nutrient dairy products at the expense of U.S. farmers. The TPP serves the interests of a handful of the largest dairy product manufacturers and exporters, while setting the terms to force most U.S. dairy farmers out of business and further impoverish rural communities.”
Last week, IATP joined faith, development and sustainable agriculture organizations in urging Congress to reject the TPP because of the impact the deal would have on developing country farmers. The TPP also covers important agricultural policy areas such as investment, procurement, labeling, food safety and patents for new technologies like genetically engineered crops. The stringent rules and dispute system under the TPP make it easier to successfully challenge and overturn domestic laws, as happened last year to country of origin meat labels.
Posted April 21, 2016 by Karen Hansen-Kuhn
The EU is being asked to give up a lot in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), especially its relatively higher standards on food and chemical safety. It’s also asking for a lot in return, including the massive opening of U.S. public procurement to bids by EU firms. A new leaked memo from the European Commission shows just how much they want to open up those markets. It’s a bad tradeoff for both sides.
The March 29 European Commission non-paper addressed to its Trade Policy Committee titled “TTIP–Messages on public procurement” begins with the assertion that, “Public procurement is a key component of the TTIP negotiations and an area where almost all Member States have offensive interest, and in consequence the EU has been requesting a substantial market opening in this area.” The short paper provides arguments against the idea that U.S. procurement markets are already fairly open and accessible to European companies. The memo also takes aim at local decision making on procurement and preferences for small businesses.
Procurement contracts cover a broad range of public spending on all kinds of goods and services, from massive roads, transit, renewable energy and construction projects to much smaller Farm to School programs or university cleaning service contracts. Since it is taxpayer-funded spending, these programs often have conditions designed to benefit local economic activity. In the case of Farm to School programs, for example, preferences are given for healthy, locally grown foods, benefitting both farmers and students. Most often that kind of preference will be one of several criteria (including cost) used to judge the best value of a given bid for the community, but this public spending is often directed to improving the public good. Small business and minority set asides (which allocate a certain percentage of procurement contracts to those groups) can help to address past injustices and level the playing field so that those firms can effectively compete with much larger corporations.
From the start of the TTIP talks, the EU has insisted on the opening of public procurement contracts for all goods, all services and all levels of government. Its initial position papers indicated that it would target 24 U.S. cities (New York, Los Angeles, Houston, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Diego, San Jose, Jacksonville, Austin, San Francisco, Columbus, Fort Worth, Charlotte, El Paso, Memphis, Seattle, Denver, Baltimore, Washington, Louisville, Milwaukee, Portland and Oklahoma City), as well as the remaining 13 states not already covered under the Government Procurement Agreement (GPA, a plurilateral agreement at the World Trade Organization), for procurement commitments. Subsequent leaked texts indicated its interest in commitments from counties, as well as public institutions like hospitals or universities. The new non-paper reiterates its ambition for commitments reaching municipal levels, noting that, “No U.S. city or county is currently committed in the GPA. But some cities procure more than States. For instance, New York [City] procures more than 17Bn USD every year and it is not yet covered.”
It also takes aim at measures that condition procurement spending, including the Berry Amendment (which requires local content for Defense spending on clothing, food and other supplies), Buy America provisions and small and medium enterprise (SME) set asides, saying that “According to the most recent U.S. GPA statistical report, the value of SME set asides is worth 38 Bn USD for GPA covered contracts at the Federal level and 92 Bn USD for all Federal procurement.’’
It is not at all clear who would decide if New York City, for example, were to be bound by procurement commitments in TTIP. Could Mayor Bill de Blasio sign on? Or perhaps the City Council? Would there be any kind of public consultations with local small businesses or unions over that decision? These are not rhetorical questions: the next round of TTIP negotiations will happen the week of April 25 in New York City, where presumably that issue will be very much on the table.
The Commission also targets federal local content requirements, complaining that “European companies are often obligated to change their supply chain partially or fully in order to comply with buy-local provisions and to establish a local business/manufacturing/assembly plant in the U.S. in order to fulfill U.S. requirements.”
EU firms can already bid on many U.S, state and local procurement contracts, whether as foreign firms or through locally established subsidiaries. In fact, the non-paper notes that between $102-188 billion in U.S. procurement markets are already open to EU firms. What is being challenged in TTIP are preferences for local content or ownership by small businesses. Analysis by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives of similar provisions in the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA, the EU-Canada trade agreement) argues that these provisions would go well beyond preventing discrimination against EU firms to instead ensure unconditional access, especially for municipal governments and provincial entities that had been kept out of previous trade deals. They note that the procurement commitments in CETA, “are extensive, and will substantially restrict the vast majority of provincial and municipal government bodies from using public spending as a catalyst for achieving other societal goals, from creating good jobs to supporting local farmers, to addressing the climate crisis.”
Because of its critical role in promoting local development, procurement is an issue that has largely been left out of global trade negotiations. It is one of four “Singapore Issues” (along with investment, competition policy and trade facilitation) that developing countries have flatly refused to negotiate at the World Trade Organization (although some commitments were made on trade facilitation in recent years). Instead, some 45 countries (including the U.S. and the 28 EU member countries) negotiated and joined the plurilateral GPA. In that accord, the U.S. lists specific sectors that are excluded from commitments (such as Farm to School Programs), as well as continuing preferences for small and minority-owned businesses.
So far, USTR seems cool to the EU procurement proposals. But while the details of U.S. negotiating objectives on procurement in TTIP have not been published (or leaked), this push to eliminate local content requirements is entirely consistent with U.S. trade policy with other countries. The new 2015 National Trade Estimates Report on Foreign Trade Barriers complains about local content requirements in procurement rules in Algeria, Angola, Argentina, Brazil, China, Egypt, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kuwait, Malaysia, Nigeria, Paraguay, Philippines, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Thailand, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Venezuela and Vietnam, and in several cases details the pressure it has exerted on those trading partners to drop those preferences.
So, like so many trade issues, it’s not a question of the U.S versus the EU, per se, but rather the corporate interests driving the trade agenda on both sides. On the U.S side, that includes pressure to “harmonize” EU food safety standards to allow for sales of GMOs, beef produced with hormones and chlorine-rinsed chicken. On the EU side, it seems to be pushing aside U.S. procurement programs that favor small businesses and local producers. Either way, it’s a bad deal to trade off local standards in Europe for local economies in the U.S.—one that should be soundly rejected.
Posted April 21, 2016 by
The Committee on World Food Security (CFS) is the foremost international and intergovernmental platform trying to address global food security and nutrition challenges. The current version of the CFS emerged following the food crises of 2008 as a result of a reform process that sought to increase stakeholder participation, especially participation by those engaged in small scale food production systems. Its High-Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition (HLPE) mechanism was created in 2010 as part of the reform to be “the science-policy interface of the UN Committee on World Food Security (CFS),” and “aims to improve the robustness of policy making by providing independent, evidence-based analysis and advice at the request of CFS.”
Since its establishment, the HLPE has taken on issues related to food security and nutrition, including last year’s report “Water for food security and nutrition,” which was co-authored by IATP senior policy analyst Shiney Varghese.
At its recent October 2015 session, the CFS decided that the HLPE will prepare a report on Nutrition and Food Systems, which is expected to be presented at CFS 44 in October 2017. As an initial step in this process, there was an “e-consultation” to seek feedbacks, views and comments on the relevant issues. Comments contributed by IATP’s Senior Staff Scientist, Jahi Chappell, were posted to their e-consultation website, and are reprinted below:
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Posted April 18, 2016 by Shiney Varghese
Twenty years ago, on April 17th, 19 members of the Brazilian Landless Workers Movement (MST) were killed during a peaceful action to obtain land for farming and other livelihoods. Since then, this day has been called the International Day of Peasants and Farmers Struggles—a day of action to put small-holder food producers, such as peasants, landless workers, farmers, fishermen and pastoralists, back in control of their natural resources—land, waters, seeds, breeds—as well as food processing and marketing systems.
The word ‘peasant’ has not been doing well: an Ngram search reveals that its use peaked in 1968, and by 2000, its use was down by half. In a way, this decline reflects the fate of peasant agriculture. The term ‘peasant’ carries connotations of subsistence economy and small holdings. It often has connotations of minimal engagement in the market economy, but also minimal damage to environment. And with the neoliberal turn and globalization, peasant agriculture has increasingly been integrated into larger economies.
But this integration has been on terms deeply unfavorable to those people. Many have become landless because of the consolidation of farms. This process of dispossession is not confined to the spread of industrial agriculture; it extends to all investments that require acquisition of lands belonging to marginalized farming communities, indigenous peoples and pastoralists. In many cases, government policies have compelled those who have held on to their land to adapt to industrial agriculture based on chemical fertilizers, high cash inputs and intensive irrigation. This has left many of them deeply indebted, causing, for example, the rash of suicides in agricultural communities in India. Many have been forced to migrate to urban areas at least seasonally because they find agriculture by itself now an unviable activity.
Those who protest face brutal state repression, even killing. The last month saw several such killings, drawing international condemnation from around the world: Honduran Indigenous leaders Berta Cáceres on March 2 and Nelson García on March 15 for fighting against dams and displacement, Guatemalan environmental activist Walter Manfredo Méndez Barrios on March 16, and South African anti-mining activist Sikhosiphi Bazooka on March 22. The farmers protest in the Philippines (that resulted in several farmers being killed in police action earlier this month) is attributed to the “government’s policy of systematic land grabbing combined with the intensified El Nino” that pushed farmers and indigenous peoples of the Philippines to heighten their struggles in defense of their right to land and life. On April 7, MST members Vilmar Bordim and Leomar Bhorbak were killed in an ambush by Brazil’s State Military Police and private security forces of the logging company Araupel in an MST encampment on land that had been declared public by the Brazilian Justice Department.
These people and their allies continue to fight for a different vision of agriculture, justice and sustainability. It is not possible, nor even in many cases desirable, to go back to the world of peasants—that world was not necessarily either egalitarian or capable of providing secure livelihoods through the year. But an alternative vision must put them, family farms and smallholder food production at the center. By now, we know that there are many environmental externalities associated with industrial agriculture, with its primary focus on increases in grain production. Polluted waters, salinized lands, depleted ground water levels, disappearing forests, greenhouse gas emissions from factory farms and extensive paddy field cultivation are all decreasing biodiversity and fresh water availability.
Around the world communities are finding ways to counter these effects through a different vision: agroecology, which has food sovereignty and people-centered agriculture and food systems at its core. Peasant communities are at the core of this turn to agroecology for many of their practices were agroecological by default. Given a conducive policy environment that ensures access to land and other resources, family farms could build on these practices to develop an alternative to industrial agriculture that is not only sustainable—climate resilient, water and biodiversity conserving—but also helps build the foundations for a healthy and fair food and agricultural system.
On April 18, several members of the U.S. Food Sovereignty Alliance1 and the U.S. Friends of the MST organized an action in New York City in solidarity with the social movements in Brazil and around the world to push for food sovereignty and agrarian reforms and in support of International Day of Peasants and Farmers Struggles.
At the same time, more than 50 faith, development and sustainable agriculture groups (including IATP) are calling on the U.S. Congress to reject the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which has the potential to impact the food security and sustainable development of communities, especially in signatory countries. This effort follows a similar letter released last week rejecting the agreement because of its potential impacts on access to essential medicines. A different vision of trade and economic justice is both possible and imperative and can support the struggles of frontline communities around the world for food sovereignty and ecological sustainability.
1. The US Food Sovereignty Alliance is a network of US based organizations that works to end poverty, rebuild local food economies, and assert democratic control over the food system. USFSA members believe that all people have the right to healthy, culturally appropriate food, produced in an ecologically sound manner. As a US-based alliance of food justice, anti-hunger, labor, environmental, faith-based, and food producer groups, we uphold the right to food as a basic human right and work to connect our local and national struggles to the international movement for food sovereignty. IATP is a member of the US Food Sovereignty Alliance.
Posted April 15, 2016 by Ben Lilliston
It’s campaign season—a time when the pervasive influence of money in our political system seems to slap us in the face with each new political ad. This weekend, tens of thousands of people and more than 200 organizations will rally in Washington to demand Congressional action to address the corrupting role of big money in our political system that has shifted into overdrive following the Supreme Court’s disastrous Citizens United ruling and to protect voting rights under attack in states around the country. This effort for political reform, called Democracy Awakening, is essential if we hope to transform our farm and food system to one that is fair for farmers, protects the environment and climate and produces enough healthy food for all.
The challenges that we face in our food system are too big, too complex and there is too much at stake, to allow a handful of largely multinational corporations such disproportionate political influence. In food and agriculture policy, the power of corporate money in our political system is literally everywhere. In the last Farm Bill, the crop insurance industry flexed its muscles through more than $57 million in lobbying firepower to shift government payments to benefit the industry. From buying state ballot initiative wins on GMO labeling and pro-factory farm “Right-to-Farm” rules, to rolling back financial reform that wreaked havoc in agriculture markets, to blocking the fight to increase the minimum and tipped-minimum wage—the fingerprints of corporate money and influence seem to be omnipresent.
One of the clearest examples of big money influence is the prize at the top of the multinational corporate and financial industry agenda—new free trade deals. To the surprise of many in the political establishment, the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is unpopular among primary voters and has drawn the ire of Presidential candidates in both parties. The trade deal involving 12 Pacific Rim countries was negotiated largely in secret, shaped by advisory committees dominated by corporate interests.
To lay the groundwork for the TPP, Congress needed to pass Fast Track trade authority last year. Fast Track gave President Obama the right to conclude TPP negotiations in secret and present a final version of the deal to Congress for a simple up or down vote. The corporate interests that invested heavily in the passage of Fast Track are a virtual who’s who of inside-the-beltway power: the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, US Business and Industry Council, American Natural Gas Alliance, Bayer, Caterpillar, Coca-Cola, GlaxoSmithKline, Koch Industries, Pfizer, Dow Chemical, JP Morgan and Kraft Foods, among others. At the end of the day, according to Maplight, corporate interests supporting Fast Track contributed more than nine times as much money to House members ($197 million), compared to interests opposing Fast Track ($23 million). That investment paid off with the passage of Fast Track in June 2015.
Now the focus of corporate lobbying has now shifted toward the TPP, where corporate lobbying, and specifically lobbying from agribusiness, has jumped. The rejection of the TPP by leading Presidential candidates has slowed momentum for the TPP, but there is talk of Congress considering the controversial trade deal in the lame duck session (after the election and before the next President and Congress take office).
The Democracy Awakens rally and growing movement to reform our political system is critical for determining the future of our farm and food system. Rally supporters, including IATP, are calling for Congress to pass five bills that will take a big step forward toward reasserting the power of citizens in our political process. Those bills are:
The Presidential campaigns for both parties has produced some unexpected results—much of which is linked to growing discontent over how our government works and who it represents. A recent New York Times poll supported what many others have found—that there is strong support for addressing excess money in our political system. It’s time for Congress and the President to pay attention.
Posted April 7, 2016 by Dr. Steve Suppan
“Dairy in Crisis: TPP Dumping on Dairy Farmers,” by IATP intern Erik Katovich, is a sober recitation of facts that raise important questions about the objectives of the U.S. Trade Representative’s (USTR) negotiation of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement.
First, as Katovich reports, global dairy prices continue to drop due to worldwide oversupply of raw milk, and U.S. dairy processors are dumping millions of gallons of raw milk into sewers. The dumped milk contradicts the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) objectives to reduce food waste and conserve the natural resources used to grow dairy cattle feed. During the negotiations, the USDA projected a 20 percent increase in U.S. dairy imports by 2025 due to TPP rules. Given the vast U.S. oversupply of raw milk, why did the USTR lower the tariff rates on dairy products, including on milk protein concentrate (MPC), a powder that contains 30 to 40 percent of the protein of raw milk and casein, a starch used in processed cheese? In other words, why did the USTR favor MPC and casein importers to the detriment of U.S. dairy farmers?
Katovich quotes Darci Vetter, chief agricultural negotiator for the USTR: “US agriculture, as a whole, has a lot to gain from this agreement.” (Cited in Jacqui Fatka, “Ag Support for TPP Remains Strong,” Feedstuffs, January, 2016. Subscription required) Clearly this “whole” does not include the U.S. dairy farmers whose milk is dumped so that dairy processors, such as Kraft-Heinz and Dean Foods, can import much cheaper MPC and casein from the world’s largest raw dairy materials exporter, New Zealand’s Fonterra. These companies and other food processors can export processed cheese and other products containing dairy-like elements that do not meet the Food and Drug Administration’s identity standard for cheese but can be sold as a processed good. Indeed, there is no international standard for processed cheese that would facilitate trade.
Food Chemical News (subscription required) reports that the Milk and Milk Products Committee of the Codex Alimentarius Commission, whose standards are presumed to be authoritative by the World Trade Organization, cannot agree on a standard for processed cheese. One proposed draft standard for processed cheese would facilitate trade if the product contained a minimum 51 percent of cheese content. (Declan Conroy, “Codex processed cheese standard remains elusive,” March 28, 2015.) The U.S. Codex Office (email@example.com) will continue to take comments on this draft standard until May 1.
The TPP dairy tariff reductions, flexible labeling rules and tariff classifications for MPC and casein, lauded by the U.S. Dairy Export [and Import] Council, are key elements of a trade policy strategy that continues to reduce the number of U.S. dairy farms and the benefits those farms provide to the families and counties in which they are located. On March 8, the Board of the National Milk Producers Association announced its resolution to support the TPP. The Board assumed that “the net effect of all TPP market access concessions is expected to be neutral to slightly positive,” but that the addition of other Asian countries joining the TPP later would make the net effect of import and export tariff concessions a positive for U.S. NMPA members.
The economic viability of the U.S. dairy trade model does not depend on a well-functioning, competitive and transparent market that pays farmers cost of production plus prices. Rather, as a March report by the USDA’s Economic Research Service points out, the increasing concentration of U.S. raw milk production in fewer and fewer farm operations requires taxpayer subsidies, most recently in the form of the 2014 Farm Bill’s Dairy Margin Protection Program (Dairy MPP), to offset the lower than cost of production prices received by farmers. (The ERS report does not evaluate the natural resource cost nor the environmental sustainability of the dairy industry in its econometric modeling).
Furthermore, the Farm Bill subsidizes the cost of feed grains consumed in the dairy Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). As reported by Katovich, the Congressional Budget Office estimates the corn and soybean subsidies alone at $3.37 billion for Fiscal Year 2017.
Nevertheless, CoBank, which finances both CAFOs and family farm scale operations, opined in its March outlook report, “Our assessment of current market conditions is that dairy product prices still have a ways to go before they hit bottom” (p.12). CoBank doesn’t estimate how far prices (an averaging of futures contract prices, such as those of cheese futures on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange) will fall nor explain why they might rebound. A plausible explanation for a modest rebound from the bottom is that a continuation of the dairy price collapse will force CAFOs, even subsidized by the Farm Bill, to liquidate their herds.
This crude and brutal form of supply management contrasts with the planned programs of Canadian dairy supply management that the USTR attacked throughout the TPP negotiations. Under the TPP, Canadian dairy farmers are projected to lose about four percent of their domestic market to cheaper imports, including those at below cost of production prices such as New Zealand’s lower nutrient Ultra High Temperature milk, which has a shelf life of up to a year. Exporting at below the cost of production, colloquially termed “dumping,” has been prohibited by the WTO in all industries but agriculture. Against the permanent pressure of lowered tariffs and no TPP discipline against dumping agricultural exports, the Canadian government plans to offer its dairy farmers compensatory subsidies in an amount and formula subject to parliamentary negotiations. TPP proponents exulted at the low tariff and the consequent below cost of production import erosion of Canada’s supply management programs.
An extraordinary legislative procedure, known as “fast track” Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), requires the U.S. Congress to reduce its authority to an up or down vote on the TPP and other trade and investment agreements. The TPA also requires the U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC) to submit a study to Congress by May 18th before the Congress can vote on the TPP, at least until after the November U.S. elections, given the extent of popular opposition to the agreement.
IATP submitted comments to the USITC, urging its staff to analyze the impact of U.S. imports under the TPP tariff cuts. We further asked USITC to estimate the costs to consumer and environmental health that would result from the TPP’s weak standards on risk assessment of imported food and agricultural inputs, such as pesticide and veterinary drug residues in foods. For example, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) identified foreign foods as the source for 18 out of a total 120 foodborne illness outbreaks. Given the very low percentage of foodborne illness that is reported, as estimated by the CDC, and the estimated $93.2 billion annual cost of U.S. foodborne-illness-related costs, weakening food inspection and testing intensity under the TPP is not only inhumane—it’s bad business.
For those agribusiness exporters and importers that have already announced their support for the TPP, anything less than full-throated support for the TPP in the USITC report will be dismissed, if not simply ignored. But for those who are planning to vote in the fall elections and for whom the results of U.S. trade policy play a role in their vote, the USITC report, if it includes the true cost of this risky market opening, could provide important evidence of the need for a new approach to dairy markets and to agricultural trade policy more generally.
Posted March 31, 2016 by Tara Ritter
In this season of political speeches and debates, a harmful myth continues to surface: taking action on climate change will ravage the economy. Recently, this myth has been applied to the Clean Power Plan, the first regulation in the U.S. to limit carbon emissions from existing power plants.
In February 2016, the Supreme Court halted implementation of the Clean Power Plan until a federal appeals court rules on its legality in June 2016. Although implementation of the plan has been stayed, officials in the Obama Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency remain confident that they have strong legal footing and that the Clean Power Plan will resume as planned once it has made its way through the courts.
A new IATP report, titled “The Clean Power Plan: Opportunities for an Equitable Energy Transition in Rural America,” outlines how the Clean Power Plan can benefit all communities, especially the rural communities that produce most of the nation’s energy. The report makes the case that the artificial divide between the environment and the economy obscures the many opportunities for rural America that come along with clean energy development.
The Clean Power Plan is designed to function at the state level. Each state has been assigned a unique emissions reduction goal and has flexibility in deciding how to meet that goal, whether it be through energy efficiency measures, an increase in renewable energy or a switch from coal to natural gas. The flexibility afforded to states in creating their State Implementation Plans will result in very different plans from state to state, each with its own repercussions for rural communities in terms of jobs, energy prices and more.
According to an analysis from the Economic Policy Institute, the Clean Power Plan will create 120,000 jobs in the U.S. by 2020 from energy efficiency projects and construction of new generating capacity. In the same year, about 24,000 jobs will be lost from a reduction in coal-fired electricity generation. This equates to a net gain of 96,000 jobs. However, a net increase in jobs does not mean that every displaced worker will be neatly provided with a new job. This means that states must engineer their State Implementation Plans and other policies to include financial support and job retraining for the communities most impacted by the transition.
In addition to job creation, the Clean Power Plan is an important tool to keep energy affordable. If states include energy efficiency as a substantial portion of their plans, the EPA estimates that household electricity bills will decrease by an average of $8 per month by 2030. Even if energy prices per kilowatt hour rise slightly at first, a decreased demand for energy as a result of energy efficiency improvements results in net savings for the consumer. When paired with the swiftly falling costs of renewable energy, household energy bills will remain stable or even decrease as time goes on. The issue of energy costs is particularly important to rural communities who, on average, have higher poverty rates.
Finally, the Clean Power Plan is an opportunity to move away from the current energy drivers that damage the rural natural resource base. Both coal and natural gas are extractive industries, often controlled by outside investors, that hold little long-term benefit for rural communities. Not only do extractive industries impact the landscape and natural resource base, but they also drive a boom-and-bust cycle that leaves rural communities with little once the extraction is complete. A study by Headwaters Economics found that though fossil fuel extraction creates enormous wealth, most of that wealth leaves the region where the extraction occurs. The Clean Power Plan aims to establish a cleaner, renewable energy system that will not only protect natural resources, but also avoid the boom-and-bust cycle that has historically hurt rural communities.
Climate change will continue to impact rural people, natural resources and economies as long as it continues to worsen. The Clean Power Plan takes a step towards slowing climate change, but it can also create jobs and affordable energy supplies. As the Clean Power Plan makes its way through the courts, states should continue moving forward with clean energy initiatives, including developing State Implementation Plans, in order to create an energy future that is fair and equitable for all communities.
Posted March 29, 2016 by
Every day of the school year, more than 80,000 meals are served in the cafeterias of the Minneapolis and St. Paul Public School Districts—that’s over 1.3 million meals a year. While these school districts are two of the largest in Minnesota, they share the daily rhythm of providing meals and snacks with the other school districts in the state—over 540 districts in total, which spent close to $450 million in the 2014-15 school year on food service.
These school meals, as well as those served by other public and private institutions—such as hospitals, universities and colleges, child care centers, government offices, prisons and beyond—are critical sources of nutrition for the 5.45 million Minnesota residents who rely on their services, either directly or indirectly. Beyond nutrition, the scale and consistency of institutional meals means that food purchasing—also called food procurement—by Minnesota institutions has a significant impact on the economy and environment of the state and the Upper Midwest region as a whole.
The focus on how institutions—particularly public institutions—can use their food procurement dollars to leverage positive change from farm to fork has grown exponentially in the past two decades. With practices such as farm-to-school increasingly well established and other efforts such as farm-to-hospital rapidly gaining momentum throughout the United States, institutions are influencing how food is produced, priced and distributed at the national, regional and local levels. With this increasingly pivotal role, there is a need and an opportunity to work within and across institutions, as well as within the communities they support, to ensure that what ends up on the cafeteria tray, so to speak, supports a better, more equitable world from the soil to the salad bar.
The Good Food Purchasing Program (GFPP) is an important tool to help institutions down this path. Created by the Los Angeles Food Policy Council (LAFPC) in 2012, the GFPP helps major public institutions measure and shift their food procurement to prioritize food that is healthy, sustainable, fair and affordable. This is done through a comprehensive and progressive framework for verifying, scoring and publically recognizing responsible and holistic practices centered on five core values. The unique aspect of the GFPP’s structure is that rather than prioritizing one value at the expense of others (e.g., increasing purchases of local produce from farms and/or food businesses with unfair labor practices), it strives to create a holistic approach to improving the food system by balancing all five of the following values:
To accomplish this, the framework uses a tiered, points-based scoring system that, once adopted by an institution, allows for the creation of a tailored action plan for that particular institution’s food procurement needs. This action plan is rooted in the institution meeting a minimum baseline commitment within each value category and improving their performance in each over a set period. The end result of the point-system is a one to five star rating for the participating institution. This recognition provides the public and other institutions with an understanding of how the institution is leveraging their dollars—often public dollars—to create public benefit. Further, this recognition, and the GFPP as a whole, creates an opportunity for the public and decision-makers to work with institutions to identify, address and—hopefully—reach shared goals.
After its creation by the LAFPC in 2012, the GFPP was adopted by the City of Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) and several other institutions. Implementation efforts were evaluated after one year, with the biggest factor being that the school system served over 716,000 meals per day! Along with greater understanding and transparency about the food procurement of seven participating institutions, the GFPP effort in Los Angles also reported key outcomes in each of the GFPP value categories: it created $12 million in new local produce purchases, saved 19.6 million gallons of water per week via Meatless Mondays, created 150 new well-paying jobs in the supply chain; secured a commitment to source 100 percent antibiotic free chicken by December 2016, and inspired healthier food products such as low-sodium bread that is free of high fructose corn syrup and made with sustainably produced local wheat.
The adoption of the GFPP is currently being explored in multiple cities, including Chicago, Oakland and New York City. The work of developing, adopting and upholding the GFPP—regardless of the city—is supported by the Center for Good Food Purchasing (CGFP). This organization was formed as an offshoot of the LAFPC efforts with the GFPP and provides planning, implementation and evaluation support for institutions using the framework.
As these cities learn how to adopt the program to meet the unique needs of their communities and environment, those in Los Angeles continue to lead the way in pioneering the implementation of the GFPP. Most recently, the Food Chain Workers Alliance (FCWA), organized a coalition of organizations that included the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), Food and Water Watch, and other environmental, animal rights, and public health groups to demand that the GFPP standards be upheld by LAUSD in its chicken procurement contracts. Specifically, the coalition demanded transparency in the procurement process when LAUSD was considering bids from Tyson Foods, a major poultry producer with a long record of labor violations, and was successful in stopping the rubber-stamping of the contract between the district and the company.
In February and March 2016, a group of Twin Cities stakeholders came together in two preliminary meetings to discuss how the GFPP framework could be brought to Minnesota. These stakeholders—representing a diverse range of perspectives from each of the five GFPP value categories—have begun the process of building the relationships, shared understanding and agreements on the process that will be necessary for determining if the GFPP is a useful tool for Minnesotans.
To learn more about how you can get involved in the conversation about the Good Food Purchasing Program in the Twin Cities, and help build a more resilient and equitable food system for all, please contact Christina Spach.
Posted March 23, 2016 by Karen Hansen-Kuhn
While civil society groups around the world raise a variety of concerns about the substance of free trade agreements, for the most part their criticisms begin with the lack of transparency. Instead of a robust public debate on the merits of the issues under negotiation, civil society groups are forced to rely on bits of leaked text or the evidence of past trade agreements to guess at what might be under negotiation. In the U.S., members of Trade Advisory Committees (which are heavily dominated by corporate advisors) have greater access, but are sworn to secrecy. In the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) process, EU and U.S. legislators are allowed to make appointments to view consolidated negotiating text, but they must do so in a closed room, without access to experts to help them discern what the reams of bracketed text could mean for the issues they care about.
The EU has taken some important steps towards greater transparency in the TTIP negotiations with the publication of negotiating objectives and some textual proposals. That openness has not been matched by the U.S. Information on the U.S. Trade Representative’s website describes general negotiating objectives, and meetings with U.S. trade officials rarely provide more than clues about the issues being debated in TTIP.
What we can see very clearly, however, are the results of the negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) between the U.S. and eleven Pacific Rim countries. More than 5,000 pages encompassing 30 chapters of text and scores of annexes and bilateral side letters have been posted online. The USTR has indicated that it intends to replicate many of these provisions in other trade negotiations, including TTIP. Of course, the TPP provisions are the compromise positions after years of negotiations, so it’s likely that the USTR would seek even stronger positions in other trade deals. Still, the TPP provides clues about what the U.S. is likely pushing for behind the closed doors of the TTIP negotiations.
Our new paper, Following Breadcrumbs: TPP Text Provides Clues to U.S. Positions in TTIP, focuses on TPP provisions that could affect food and farm systems in Europe if they were adopted in TTIP:
We hope this paper will help identify clues to some of the positions the U.S. is likely advancing in TTIP. Those who have access to the consolidated TTIP proposals should look to see if the TPP language is replicated in the TTIP. Those who do not have that access could assume that these provisions indicate the U.S. positions in TTIP.
While many food and farm standards in the EU are relatively higher than those in the U.S., there are strong pressures by agribusiness and other corporate interests on both sides of the Atlantic to push these and other standards to their lowest common denominator. Advocates for better food system rules—farmers and eaters, legislators and regulators—should continue to collaborate across borders and across sectors to counter that push and to insist that trade agreements support better rules that are fair, equitable and sustainable. Knowing—and exposing—the devils in the details of those trade deals is an important first step.