Posted September 23, 2016 by IATP
The 2016 election is bizarre, to say the least. While the vast majority of reporting has focused on the horserace and he said she said aspects of the campaigns, the policy proposals put forward by the candidates will have profound and lasting impacts on the citizens they seek to govern. As a recent article in The Atlantic notes, “Once in office, presidents almost always try to carry out their pre-election agendas. When they’re unable to keep those promises, it’s usually because of congressional opposition—not because they’ve discarded campaign rhetoric to pursue other goals.”
With an increasingly globalized food system, trade and agricultural policies have become integral to combating climate change, providing economic security, and ensuring public health. These policies affect our jobs, the food we eat, and the land we live on. The trade and agricultural agenda set by the United States will affect billions of people around the globe. As the presidential debate season begins on Monday, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy will be watching closely to see if and how the candidates address the following questions:
Posted September 22, 2016 by Shiney Varghese
This piece originally published by Farming Matters on September 20, 2016 and republished under the Creative Commons license.
Agro-chemical and fossil fuel intensive agricultural food systems not only destroy the environment but also ignore both the health implications (of the crops/food produced), and the socio-economic implications (for the people engaged in producing that food). Agroecological approaches, in contrast, see food production as one, albeit crucial, component in the larger web of life. They draw on science, but are built on the firm foundations of traditional knowledge; and they seek to enhance ecological integrity while attempting to address food sovereignty concerns. While industrial farming operations are dependent on outside (and often fossil fuel-based) inputs like herbicides, synthetic fertilizers, antibiotics and genetically modified crops, local food and farming systems minimise off-farm inputs by rotating crops, integrating livestock production, and following agroecological practices. For those who see ecological approaches as necessary for achieving the food, water, health, poverty and environmental targets of the post 2015 agenda, agroecology with its emphasis on local, shared knowledge is not only central to maintaining ecosystem integrity, and revitalising rural economies but also to realising the food sovereignty of those involved in food production and consumption.
Meeting global challenges Many readers are likely well familiar with the three fundamental aspects of agroecology—a scientific discipline, a practice, and a movement. While it has long been known as a scientific discipline, agroecology as a practice and a movement has come of age at a time when there is growing support around the world for changing agricultural practices in response to natural resource depletion and climate change. Agroecological approaches are developed in the context of an increasing support for less chemical-intensive, more resource use efficient, ecological approaches to agriculture – especially systems that produce healthy food for local markets while also ensuring fair wages and safe working conditions to agricultural workers. This approach is supported not only by farmers and workers engaged in farming, but also by parents interested in healthy food choices for their children, by food workers and chefs interested in supplying healthy food alternatives to consumers, and by local governments interested in rebuilding local economies. Such agricultural-food systems have the potential to provide a whole host of benefits – from environmental to social to health to local economy.
Agroecological transition However, in most agricultural research and policy circles, these benefits are not assessed or valued adequately in a holistic manner. Most agricultural research supports the industrial farming systems, with an almost exclusive focus on crop productivity and cash income. But there are two problems with this primary focus on industrial agriculture.
First, it puts any other methods of farming at a distinct disadvantage, since there is relatively little data to show how agroecological farming systems positively impact the environment, farm economics, public health and the food sovereignty of the community at large. As a result, whole systems of food and farming get excluded from research and policy support. Second, policy recommendations stemming from current mainstream research often propose single vector solutions (which in fact may exacerbate the crisis on another vector) to the complex set of ills resulting from industrial food and farming systems. For example, faced with the problem of low productivity associated with resource depletion, researchers working on industrial farming systems may propose modifying seeds with in-built traits such as improved water resource use efficiency or drought resistance. However, there is little examination as to whether such seeds are in conflict with either ecological, or socioeconomic interests of the communities that grow, harvest and/or consume the crops, or whether adoption of these seeds will support the food sovereignty of communities concerned.
To truly measure the value and sustainability of agroecological approaches to local food and farming systems, we need indicators that are multidimensional and cross-disciplinary, and that fully capture the range of outcomes contributing to the success — economic, environmental, socio-political — of the system. This recognition led us at the IATP to develop a set of indicators that would help identify the markers of agroecological practices. In developing those indicators, the report, Scaling up Agroecology (2013), not only looked at the interconnections between agroecology and food sovereignty, but also at policies and practices needed to make agroecological approaches central to food and farming systems.
From principles to policy We wanted to situate the scaling up of agroecology very firmly in the context of food sovereignty. Thus we drew up seven principles—five principles informed by an ecosystem-based approach shared by all strands of agroecologists; and two principles recognising the pivotal role of small scale producers and workers in ensuring their food sovereignty both in terms of their tremendous agroecosystem knowledge base and also in terms of the democratic control of local institutions. We started with the principles of agroecology and food sovereignty, and for each of those principles we listed a set of practices. Corresponding to each particular practice, we developed some indicators of success—ecological as well as socioeconomic—to help policy makers understand what makes a particular practice agroecological: it is not simply about ecological benefit, but also about addressing the questions raised by political ecologists and their critique of modern agricultural systems. Against each of the principles and corresponding practices, we went on to identify policy support needed to promote wider adoption of those practices. In developing these indicators, feedback from our partner organisations and from many individuals was crucial. A matrix of principles, practices, assessable indicators and policy support is found in Appendix 1 of the report.
Not only farmers faced with environmental challenges, but also national and international agricultural research and policy establishments concerned with food security, have been concerned with natural resources (soil, water, biodiversity) related challenges. Initiatives such as Sustainable Intensification and Climate Smart Agriculture proposed by technocrats, and supported by international actors including philanthropy capitalists and state and international agencies, are top-down responses to climate related challenges to food security. Climate Smart Agriculture is advanced by UN agencies such as FAO in intergovernmental spaces such as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Moreover, for example, the Global Alliance on Climate Smart Agriculture includes stakeholders such as Yara and Haifa Chemicals Ltd – agribusiness corporations selling fertilizers. While initiatives such as Sustainable Intensification and Climate Smart Agriculture may at times also include sustainable practices, these are fundamentally different from agroecological approaches. This is because the latter’s roots lie in a political and economic critique of modern agricultural systems, a holistic ecosystem analysis as well as being founded on a sound local knowledge base.
Indicators of success For example, let us take one of the five agroecological principles: ‘Agroecological practices enhance beneficial biological interactions and synergisms among agrobiodiversity components thus resulting in the promotion of key ecological processes and functions.’ We identified two practices (from amongst many) that could help contribute to promoting key ecological processes and functions: having democratically controlled, local renewable energy programs and water resource development that respects ecological limits; and having crop diversification programmes that integrate crops, vegetables, livestock, trees and fish in the ecosystem.
Next we identified how such practices can contribute, on the one hand, to ecosystems, and on the other hand, to socioeconomic benefits to the community. In this case these practices could help global efforts in: biodiversity conservation; water conservation; climate mitigation and adaptation. In this instance the increased ecological functions could be measured in terms of water quality improvement of runoff; increased plant biodiversity; increased soil microbial diversity. At the same time, the synergies among economic, ecological and climate adaptation benefits (especially stability in terms of assured farm outputs from unit of land by integrating trees, crops, vegetables, livestock and fish in the agroecosystem) could help contribute to enhancing socioeconomic conditions of the community.
The next step was to identify the supportive policy environment to promote these practices. For these practices to be adopted widely by communities, it is necessary that agricultural, water and energy policies prioritise the use of natural resources (such as land and water) for food production, local energy security and local water security.
Similarly, corresponding to the two principles recognising the pivotal role of small scale producers, we listed sets of practices, a set of ecological indicators and socio economic indicators, and finally the policy support needed for scaling up those practices around the world.
To take another example, we start with the principle that ‘agroecological movements enhance abilities of small scale producers and workers to self-organise, retain, reproduce and redefine cultural practices to pursue sustainable and gender-sensitive livelihood strategies; and effectively influence social and policy processes as well as governmental decisions’.
A corresponding practice would be mutual support among farmers and their communities to establish locally controlled democratic institutions, including cooperatives that have a mission and vision to promote key ecological processes and functions.
Here too, we identified indicators to assess how such efforts by agroecological movements can contribute to on the one hand to ecosystem sustainability and on the other hand to socioeconomic benefits to the community. Practices such as developing local democratic institutions with clear commitment to ecological sustainability can ensure not only that livelihood strategies at community level are ecologically sustainable, but also contribute to the empowerment of local communities, increased economic viability of traditional livelihood practices, revitalised rural and agrarian economies. Once again for such practices to spread widely, it is necessary, though not sufficient, to have pro-democratisation policies that recognise women’s central roles in agricultural and food systems, revitalise rural economies, minority cultures as well as marginalised livelihood practices.
Together, these agroecology policy options can achieve a number of interlinked goals that are part of any sustainable development agenda, including, but not limited to: climate adaptation for agriculture, stability of farm outputs, community access to micronutrient rich food and local food security while ensuring long term ecosystem sustainability. The important role of the corresponding indicators is that they can be used to track change and show whether we are heading towards the vision of agroecology firmly rooted in food sovereignty.
Posted September 8, 2016 by Dr. Steve Suppan
Regardless of their operation, do all farmers benefit when they sell their production to traders and processors who export crop- and livestock-derived products? According to a recent interview with Ambassador Darci Vetter, the chief U.S. agricultural trade negotiator, the answer is unequivocally yes. Even now, when prices paid to farmers and ranchers by those traders and processors are well below the cost of producing those crops and livestock, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)? Consider the case of dairy farmers.
IATP contends that the dairy import provisions of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) will do nothing to stem the global raw milk price collapse that is driving U.S. dairy farmers out of business. Those low prices provide very cheap raw materials to such mega-dairy processors as Kraft Foods, Dean Foods and Land O’Lakes, which is owned by the mega-cooperative, the Dairy Farmers of America, but the benefits to farmers are vanishingly small.
How can farmers remain in business if prices paid for their raw materials in most years are below the cost of production? They often don’t, as the loss of half of all dairy farms since 2000 attest. With raw milk prices decreasing by 55 percent since 2014 and U.S. dairy processors pouring tens of millions of gallons of raw milk down hi-tech sewers, increased imports under the TPP of ultra-heat treated milk, low-protein milk protein concentrate and casein (a starch used in multiple dairy products) would accelerate dairy farm loss. Current U.S. dairy policy combined with TPP import measures would further favor global dairy processors, at the expense of most U.S. dairy farmers.
The 2014 Farm Bill introduced the most radical dairy policy changes in 70 years, according to a North Dakota State University economist, on the basis of counter-factual econometric projections of high dairy prices through 2018. Chief among these changes was the introduction of a one size fits all dairy operations “margin insurance” program to which dairy farmers would pay into voluntarily. The “margin” in the Dairy Margin Protection Program (DMPP) is the difference between the price of milk and the average cost of dairy cattle feed components, corn, soy and alfalfa (hay). Regionally affected dairy herd size, feeding practices and raw milk transportation costs no longer matter under the DMPP, to say nothing of other costs of raw milk production.
Farmers would be “insured” against losses under this peculiar definition of “margin” (conventionally, the difference between revenue and all costs of production), according to how much they paid into the program. Confined Animal Feed Operations (CAFOs) would be on the proverbial level playing field with small-herd dairy operators because everybody would receive as much in margin insurance payments as they could afford to buy.
According to the trade journal Farmshine, USDA had collected $73 million in margin insurance payments but distributed only $700,000 in indemnities until August 4, when it distributed $11.2 million to 4,258 dairy operations, about 10 percent of those remaining. According to an August blog by Food and Power, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) wrote to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack to protest the USDA’s failure to make DMPP payments. However, given the USDA’s DMPP formula and the collapse of raw milk prices and of the corn and soy prices that comprise the lion’s share of feed prices for non-grass fed dairy cattle, there is little margin loss for the USDA to compensate.
By excluding the cost of the dairy farmworker labor from the definition of dairy “margin,” on which CAFOs depend, the DMPP tips the playing field further in favor of the CAFOs. They have the economies of scale to weather low raw milk prices, provided that corn and soy for dairy feed remain below the cost of production. Not surprisingly, the Dairy Farmers of America (DFA) and other dairy organizations with CAFO members supported the DMPP, as well TPP dairy provisions. If the DMPP payouts continue to be meager and raw milk prices remain low, what will change the grim outlook for farmers?
The Farm Bill alternative to the failure of the DMPP to protect the surviving dairy farmer margins is an ad hoc, short-term supply management solution one ironically consistent with Canada’s successful supply management schemes, which is under siege in the TPP. Representative Collin Peterson of Minnesota, a top recipient of DFA electoral contributions and praise, announced his thanks on August 23 to the USDA for purchasing surplus cheese stocks for distribution to food banks to relieve the supply pressure that is assumed to be the sole cause of rock bottom raw milk prices. Representative Peterson also thanked the USDA for extending the deadline three months for farmers to enroll in the DMPP, in response to his request and that of other congressional agriculture leaders. But the leaders propose no change to the DMPP margin calculation nor a proposal for congressional hearings for long-term solutions to the dairy price crisis.
The Dairy Export Council anticipates a raw milk price rebound in 2017, if only Russian and Chinese raw milk import demand increases. However, according to IATP’s 2014 report, “China’s Dairy Dilemma,” the price rebound, if it happens, is unlikely to be rapid because the industrialization of Chinese dairy production is even more ruthless than its U.S. counterpart in driving down raw milk prices and driving small-scale dairy farmers out of business. Russia is investing in its dairy industry as well. Its embargo of Western agricultural products is unlikely to end until and unless there is a geo-political détente that recognizes Russia’s sphere of influence in controlling natural resources and military superiority in the Ukraine and the Black Sea.
Let’s consider other possible causes for below total cost of production U.S. raw milk prices. DFA paid a $156.8 million fine in 2013 for dairy price fixing over several years in 14 U.S. Southwestern states, while “admitting to no wrong-doing.” As part of the settlement with the court, DFA agreed to take steps to allow the price of raw milk to increase. Notwithstanding DFA’s claim of innocence, in 2014, an anti-trust lawsuit was reinstated against DFA and Dean Foods for “conspiracy not to compete” in buying raw milk in Southeastern states. In 2014, DFA agreed to pay a $46 million fine for manipulating the price of cheese on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) with “no admission of wrong-doing.” Price movements in the CME Cheese market help determine the price offered for raw milk. In 2014, DFA agreed to pay a $50 million fine for driving down the price of raw milk for Northeastern dairy farmers, all the while protesting its innocence. Dean Foods agreed to pay a $30 million fine in a related case.
For DFA—a corporation legally organized as a cooperative which reported $13.8 billion sales in 2015—these fines, which have resulted from class action lawsuits and not USDA or Department of Justice action, are just the cost of doing business. The Department of Justice published a 24-page report in 2012 on its 2010 agribusiness anti-trust hearings, which resulted in 18,000 public comments. However, the report had little to say about specific anti-trust or anticompetitive merger or business practice cases.
Current U.S. agriculture, trade and anti-trust policy harms, or at best is indifferent, to the needs of small herd dairy farmers. Nevertheless, with both polling results and the U.S. presidential candidates against the TPP, President Obama is not relying on the post-electoral economic self-interest of lame ducks (members of Congress who will be defeated in the November elections or who are not seeking re-election) to lock in approval of the TPP. A New York Times photoshows the President meeting with former and present State Department and Defense Department officials, who will argue passing the TPP is a national security bulwark against Chinese military aggression and global economic control. Clyde Prestowitz, a former Reagan and Clinton administration official has outlined in an August 23 opinion piece the futility of using TPP rules to try to contain Chinese economic and geo-political influence. According to Prestowitz, China has a $4 trillion fund it is investing, while U.S. headquartered corporations have parked $2.2 trillion in offshore tax evasion havens awaiting the next tax evasion amnesty before they consider investing.
U.S. farmers doubt that the $43 billion acquisition of the biotech seed and pesticide giant Syngenta by the China state owned pesticide colossus ChemChina will benefit farmers. Instead they worry that further market share consolidation will mean higher seed and agricultural chemical prices and less choice about what inputs to buy. The inter-agency Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States had no national (food) security qualms about greenlighting the Chinese purchase of Syngenta in mid-August, nor the Chinese acquisition of Smithfield, the largest U.S. pork producer, for a mere $7.1 billion. As Alan Guebert noted in a prescient column, the U.S. agribusiness claim that U.S. farmers ‘feed the world’ with their exports rings hollow as the Chinese and other foreign corporations buy up the U.S. means of agricultural production.
Congressional approval of the TPP will not strengthen U.S. national security nor will it help U.S. dairy farmers. U.S. agribusiness executives, Wall Street investment banks that advise the Chinese, biotech seed companies and their patents lawyers will become yet wealthier as the Chinese state buys up U.S. agricultural assets. The Communist Party’s 13th Five Year Plan has promised active promotion of pesticide dependent GMOs, which the ChemChina acquisition of Syngenta will enable. But U.S. farmers, rural communities and natural resources will continue to be ravaged by an agricultural investment and weak regulation model that the TPP would codify.
Posted September 8, 2016 by Tara Ritter
The two-day Minnesota Rural Climate Dialogue State Convening got underway today bringing together citizens from rural communities in the state. Over the past two years, Rural Climate Dialogues held throughout Minnesota in Stevens, Itasca and Winona Counties brought together groups of rural citizens to learn and deliberate about the effects of climate change and extreme weather in their communities, and create plans for how their communities should act to sustain and improve resilience. Over the course of two days, rural citizens from each of the three communities are convening to recall and share their community plans, form statewide rural climate priorities and present them to state agency staff to connect them with existing financial and technical assistance programs.
The day kicked off with introductions. People shared what they do for work—the group included sustainability and healthcare professionals, timber mill and railroad employees, and farmers—but everyone focused primarily on the pride they have for their communities. People talked about the beauty of rivers, bluffs and forests and their towns’ engaged residents. Everyone agreed that their communities had countless assets worth preserving, and that many of those assets are at risk from extreme weather and climate change impacts.
To prepare the rural citizens for presenting their priorities on the second, the Center for Rural Strategies—a co-host of the event—provided a public narrative training that allowed people to share what makes them care about these topics and why these critical areas for investment. Participants volunteered their stories of growing up and living in rural communities. One person from Itasca County spent his childhood in the forests surrounding his community, and noticed over the years that the trees were being harvested younger and younger, and not growing back as fast. He shared how much he questioned these seemingly unsustainable practices. Another person from Stevens County shared a story of a local swimming area that was a community-gathering place, but through the years, the water quality declined to the point of the swimming area being filled in. Several people lost friends and loved ones in floods. Stories like these demonstrate how wide-ranging climate impacts truly are; no matter the community, no matter your background, climate change is happening in rural Minnesota and must be addressed.
The afternoon was spent reviewing and sharing the three community plans to work create a set of statewide climate priorities. These priorities include promoting more sustainable agricultural practices to increase food security, improve water quality, strengthen local economies, and promote healthy soils; working closely with schools to educate students and include them in conversations on weather, climate, resilience, and renewables; and investing and testing new technologies for road infrastructure to focus on longevity and reduce maintenance needs. The full list of priorities will be included in the final report following the event.
The stories and priorities created today will be presented the second day to connect existing financial and technical assistance with the rural communities that are too often left out of climate policy and conversations. The first day’s connections and conversations reinforced the fact that rural communities have an important role to play in addressing climate change and plenty of ideas on how to address the challenges in a way that boosts community resilience.
Posted September 6, 2016 by Ben Lilliston
Free trade deals, and in particular the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), have taken a beating this election season. Most of the noise on trade from Presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton has focused on the loss of jobs linked to the offshoring. Much less attention has been paid to the serious impact the TPP and past trade agreements will have on our ability to respond to climate change.
In a new report on the TPP and climate commitments made by countries as part of the Paris climate agreement, we found that trade rules consistently benefit multinational corporations in high greenhouse gas emitting sectors like agriculture and energy, while creating barriers for governments in setting climate-related policies.
Our analysis found that the Trans Pacific Partnership expands the scope of past trade agreements to harm the climate in three important ways:
Countries and corporations can challenge climate-related policies: A series of rulings at the World Trade Organization (WTO), most recently in February against India, have ruled against renewable energy programs that incentivize local production and green jobs. Many countries, and several U.S. states, have similar green jobs programs. The TPP goes further than WTO rules by also including special corporate rights provisions called the Investor State Dispute Settlement system. Under investor state, foreign corporations can sue governments when they feel government action impinges on their future profits. In June, TransCanada formally filed an ISDS suit seeking $15 billion in damages from the U.S. government under NAFTA, charging that the Obama administration had unfairly rejected the Keystone pipeline. Other corporate rights cases have challenged bans on offshore drilling to protect wildlife, and a ban on fracking to protect waterways. (For more, see Buzzfeed’s excellent investigation of ISDS in action)
A structure to challenge new regulations that could benefit the climate: The TPP, like other free trade agreements, reinforces an industrial model of agricultural production favored by agribusiness companies like Monsanto, Smithfield and Cargill that is significant contributor to climate change. The global food system, including agricultural production and associated land use, is responsible for one-third of global GHGs. The TPP tips the scales in favor of these agribusiness giants by ensuring food safety standards prioritize trade over public health or environmental sustainability, for example. Biotech companies benefit from the TPP’s intellectual property rights provisions related to seeds and new rules to handle cases of genetic contamination (when a genetically engineered food approved in one country is traded to another country that has not approved it). Restrictions on protecting local markets enable agricultural dumping (exporting at below cost) into TPP countries. And corporations from many sectors will benefit from a committee on regulatory coherence, which provides an early warning system on new regulations in any TPP country.
New climate policies will likely conflict with trade rules: As we enter into this new era of post-Paris climate policy, approaches like a carbon tax or carbon markets will undoubtedly be affected by trade rules. The practice of moving GHG emissions from one country to another (ie moving manufacturing from the U.S. to China), without actually reducing the total level of global emissions, (aka carbon leakage) remains a serious challenge for carbon taxes and markets. One leading proposal to address carbon leakage is through border taxes or tariffs, though doing so would run counter to the trade liberalization goal of tariff reduction or elimination found in the TPP and other trade regimes.
The success of TPP countries in meeting their climate goals is critical in the global race to slow climate change. TPP countries like the U.S., Australia and Japan are major global producers, buyers and users of oil, natural gas and coal. Other TPP countries like Malaysia, Peru and Chile are dealing with expanded mining and agriculture operations that are leading to massive deforestation. TPP countries like the U.S., Mexico, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, and Chile are already developing various types of carbon pricing policy.
As countries take action on climate, conflicts between trade rules and climate goals will escalate. Unfortunately, in most cases trade concerns will win out. While trade deals like the TPP include strong enforcement tools to settle disputes, the Paris climate agreement relies on voluntary pledges.
The good news is that the TPP is in trouble. With its surprisingly high profile in the Presidential campaign, and plummeting public support, there’s a real opportunity to stop the TPP in its tracks, and to take bold steps toward reforming existing trade deals.
It is impossible to separate the outcomes of current trade regimes from the ways in which they were negotiated – often in secret, with heavy corporate influence and very little public scrutiny or input. Further, trade agreements should no longer be considered in isolation, or given legal priority over other global agreements. Trade policy is too influential, and provides too many obstacles for successful governing on issues like climate change, health, food security and natural resource management.
The official signing of the Paris climate treaty is an important first step toward a global response to climate change. But no climate deal will work if it is not supported by other policies. The TPP and the WTO are outdated trade regimes modeled on 19th century ideas. The 21st century demands something very different—trade rules that move countries together towards sustainability, starting with the urgent need to curb greenhouse gas emissions and support adaptations to climate change.
You can read the full report: The Climate Cost of Free Trade: How the TPP and trade deals undermine the Paris climate agreement.
Posted August 30, 2016 by Juliette Majot
We’re excited to welcome Josh Wise as the new Director of Development and Communications at IATP.
At our core, everything IATP does is communications. Josh’s role is a new one. We’ve merged the development and communications departments into one, to help us unify our message and increase our engagement. IATP’s work has always demanded clear communication of our research and policy advocacy to the public, government officials, and our partners and colleagues. His work supports the critical analysis and advocacy work carried out by IATP staff and partners; puts our issues into context and ensures we are engaging with key allies. And, he will expand communications with donors and funders to reflect the growing importance of strategic partnerships evolving in the funding community.
Josh has a strong background in trade, having served as the Executive Director of the Minnesota Fair Trade Coalition, a group of more than 80 organizations—including IATP—dedicated to lobbying elected officials to support trade policies that work for working people, farmers, and the environment. He also served as the Midwest organizer for the Citizens Trade Campaign, leading the campaign in the Midwest to oppose Fast Track, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). At the local level, Josh worked to ban sweatshop-produced goods from local procurement agreements and established the Minnesota Trade Policy Advisory Council, which oversees Minnesota’s role in international trade negotiations.
Just prior to joining the IATP staff, Josh served as the Executive Director of One Voice Mixed Chorus, an arts organization dedicated to social justice and organizing in the LGBTQ community. During that time, Josh tells us, he realized just how important it was for him to get back to working on issues related to globalization; to feel a part of the worldwide efforts to constantly improve our global and local agriculture, food and trade systems. We are thrilled to have him.
Josh has been getting to know us throughout August, and will start full time in September. Please keep an eye out. You’ll be hearing quite a bit from him and he’s looking forward to hearing from you too!
You can contact Josh at email@example.com to welcome him aboard, to share ideas, or even, to make a donation! IATP depends on individuals like you, to support our work on issues such as stopping the TPP and expanding farm to school. Our supporters are part of it all and you can join them by donating today.
Welcome Josh! Onward toward a fair and sustainable future!
Posted August 22, 2016 by Tara Ritter
This month marks the one-year anniversary of the announcement of the Clean Power Plan, President Obama and the EPA’s regulation to reduce carbon pollution from existing power plants. While the Clean Power Plan focuses on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, it also includes a program to make sure all communities benefit from a clean energy transition. This program—the Clean Energy Incentive Program—is currently open for comment, providing an important opportunity to shape the environmental justice and rural implications of the Clean Power Plan.
The Clean Energy Incentive Program (CEIP) is a voluntary part of the Clean Power Plan that provides support for low-income communities to undertake renewable energy and energy efficiency projects. The CEIP will match state funds to incentivize early investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency before the Clean Power Plan’s first compliance deadline in 2020. The renewable energy projects can happen anywhere, but the energy efficiency projects must happen in low-income communities. This is an excellent opportunity to level the playing field for low-income communities, which often face barriers to accessing renewables and energy efficiency upgrades.
Although IATP supports the goals of the CEIP to reward states for early action, install more renewable energy and improve energy efficiency in low-income communities, we developed comments on the CEIP to increase equity considerations, with a specific focus on rural communities, which are hit disproportionately hard by climate change. Rural communities have higher poverty rates (18.1 percent in rural areas compared to 15.1 percent in urban areas), more persistent long-term poverty rates and higher child poverty rates than urban communities. Rural areas also have lower housing quality with lower average energy efficiency. This means that households with lower average incomes are paying a higher percentage of their income to heat, cool and power their homes. In addition, many rural economies are linked to natural resources (e.g. agriculture, forestry, fishing, tourism), so extreme weather impacts these areas much more. For these reasons, rural communities should not be left out of CEIP funding opportunities.
The comment deadline for the CEIP is August 29, 2016. We encourage you to read through IATP’s comments and submit your own; you can see the CEIP in the Federal Register and find instructions on how to comment here. If implemented well, the CEIP provides an exciting opportunity to benefit rural, low-income communities throughout the country that are facing negative impacts from climate change.
Posted August 18, 2016 by Karen Hansen-Kuhn
Public opposition to free trade agreements, like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), that serve to increase inequality and concentrate corporate power has reached a loud crescendo. We got to this point through years of effort by thousands of civil society groups around the world, reaching out to educate people on the likely impacts of the very specific rules embedded in those documents, as well as defining alternatives for our economies, environments and food systems. That debate was never simply about trade; it was about decisions on the kinds of economies and societies we choose to accept.
And it’s not over yet. As public pressure continues this year, whether through vibrant events like Rock Against the TPP ! or organized pressure on specific members of Congress, there is a concerted demand by progressive civil society organizations and leaders to halt current trade agreements and to insist on a different process, different rules, and a different vision of what comes next. We need trade policy that serves to reduce inequality, build local economies and enhance environmental sustainability.
Those alternatives must be grounded in the kinds of economies and societies we want. I witnessed some elements of an alternative approach to food systems last week at the Second International Conference on Rural Economies and Agroecology in the Americas, held in Texcoco, Mexico. The conference was convened by Mexican organizations including Mexican farmers’ organization ANEC (National Association of Producers' Enterprises del Campo), Semillas de Vida, and the Agroecology Program at Chapingo Autonomous University (in Texcoco), which is celebrating its 25-year anniversary. Renowned Indian author and activist Dr. Vandana Shiva was a keynote speaker at the event.
IATP was a co-sponsor with those organizations of the first conference, held last year in Mexico City. That meeting highlighted the scientific evidence in favor of agroecology and the “dialogue of knowledges” inherent in a process that brings together farmers’ knowledge of what works in their specific situations with new information on ways to produce that works with nature to enhance food production, farmers’ livelihoods and ecosystems.
This year, the focus embodied that dialogue of knowledges even more directly. About a third of the 500 or so participants were farmers from different parts of Mexico. Many students from the Chapingo Agroecology program also participated, not only learning from the expert presenters, but raising questions and asserting their own ideas. Food and farming leaders from Mexico, Brazil, Guatemala and Venezuela presented lessons from their own experiences. Mexican researcher Miguel Angel Damian Huato summarized one discussion with the observation that agroecology is based on technologies generated and regenerated in different times, combining traditional knowledge with newer techniques.
Representatives of the Frente de Pueblos en Defensa de la Tierra de San Salvador Atenco (FPDT) challenged conference participants to go beyond the confines of the auditorium to support a very real struggle going on nearby, where social movements have been campaigning against the construction of a new airport for more than 15 years. I was part of a delegation from the conference that included Dr. Vandana Shiva, to visit community and learn about their campaign of resistance.
As we travelled to the site, FPDT leader Ignacio del Valle told us about the history of the area. Centuries ago, emperor and poet Nezahualcoyotl established extensive gardens along Lake Texcoco, including the planting of massive Ahuehuete trees (“old man of the water” in Nahuatl). Many of those ancient trees have died as a result of the lowering of the water table in recent years. Ignacio pointed out one of those trees that he said symbolizes their struggle, as it continues to resist despite tough conditions. In many ways, the community’s heritage, identity and livelihood is connected to this land. If it is paved over to build a new airport, those connections will be lost.
Agroecology flourishes in situations in which the farmers who know their lands best can work with specialists from other disciplines to find new solutions. ANEC leader Victor Suarez insisted that it requires public policies to support those innovations and treat farmers as producers of food and knowledge, rather than objects of charity. NAFTA displaced millions of corn producers and the TPP would threaten the interests of Mexican coffee and dairy producers, as well as requiring adherence to intellectual property rules that lock in corporate control over seeds.
Removing those obstacles by defeating the TPP is a necessary first step. Building the alternatives through agroecology will be a vital element of a new approach moving forward.
This imaginary message from a truck driver hauling 15 tons of a nano-copper (Cu) and nano-silicon (Si) powder could one day be the start of a very real accident. To think through the scientific and practical aspects of accident response preparation and intervention, U.S. and European participants, mostly scientists at an early June workshop in Washington DC on the environmental, health and safety (EHS) effects of exposure to nanomaterials, were asked to advise risk managers about EHS risk factors resulting from this and one other fake nano-accident scenario. Four hours after the truck rollover, “Nano Inc.” risk managers had to explain to public officials, to their employees and to the media what they had done to protect an elementary school, residential high rises and a business district, all downwind from the accident site. Wind, with gusts of up to 20 miles an hour, was blowing atomic to molecular size nano-particles with laboratory-characterized EHS risks. I was one of two risk managers for the nano-CU scenario.
The myriad details of the mock accidents are at the “2016 US-EU Communities of Research nanoEHS Scrimmage” website. Key among the Scrimmage documents is a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for the fictitious, but very plausible, “Nano-Cu-cide,” an agricultural fungicide. MSDS are required to be posted in every workplace that handles hazard chemicals. It lists the composition, use, workplace labeling and hazards of the chemicals and the first aid measures to be taken for acute and immediate exposure to the chemicals. Brief advice to firefighters and environmental precautions are also included in the 10 page MSDS. The “Nano-Cu-cide” MSDS comprised a mix of EU and U.S. regulatory and workplace safety requirements, which scientists remarked on just how far apart nanomaterial EHS standards are in the U.S. and EU.
The U.S. co-chair of the nanoEHS Scrimmage, Professor Christine Ogilvie Hendren of the Center for the Environmental Implications of Nanotechnology, cautioned participants that the objective of the exercise was not to make real EHS policy recommendations or to propose real emergency management measures. Rather, the purpose of the Scrimmage was to focus scientific specialists on a systems approach to nanoEHS in a quasi-real time scenario. Converting their scientific knowledge into a Nano Inc. public information statement was done with more improvisation than a risk communication expert would have liked.
Nevertheless, a few of the salient points in the Nano Inc. statement about the fictitious accident to employees and public officials were to assure that:
These kind of actions could help to minimize harm in the event of a real accident. In the fake accident scenario, those who played the roles of the Mayor, the Concerned Mother, Bunky Ferguson, long-time employee in the loading dock, etc. had very relevant questions, for which the Nano Inc. Public Information Officer and the Nano Inc. scientists had less than definitive answers:
In a post-Scrimmage review, participants had many criticisms to make of the Nano Inc. statement and of the Scrimmage scenarios as a whole. A lawyer said that to better defend the company against lawsuits, the Nano Inc. lawyers would never have allowed the public information officer to speak at length or in detail. Environmental toxicity scientists said that no measures were proposed to prevent entry into the sewage system of liquid that could result from applying a foam to the powdered Nano-CU-cide. How would Nano Inc. prevent panic resulting from false information spread by social media?
My view, expressed to the workshop participants, was that the Scrimmage was a very useful exercise, if only because an emergency focuses the mind to perceive better the regulatory, risk assessment and emergency management shortcomings relevant to nanomaterials. The U.S. National Nanotechnology Coordinating Office and the EU’s Joint Research Committee are to be congratulated for supporting the Scrimmage.
Whether or not nanomaterial companies are carrying out this kind of exercise already with local and state public authorities, IATP hopes that future iterations of the Scrimmage will be part of the U.S. and EU public engagement on nanotechnology and nanomaterials. In a well-regulated industry, companies using nanomaterials would be required to demonstrate to public authorities their training and technical capacity to respond to a more realistic and complex version of the mock accident scenarios in the Scrimmage.
While food and agriculture were not on the official agenda for the latest round of Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations, July 11-15 in Brussels, the intense debate generated by Greenpeace Netherland’s leaks of 14 chapters of the draft agreement continue to reverberate through the trade policy world. Consumer and other civil society groups, having scrutinized the official texts, are pressing for major changes in the agreement’s alarming “innovations” in setting standards on agricultural animal health and welfare, plant health and food safety (in trade policy terminology, Sanitary and Phytosanitary Standards or SPS).
The Transatlantic Consumer Dialogue (TACD), an alliance of about 25 U.S. and 50 European NGOs, for which IATP serves as the U.S. co-chair of the Food Policy Committee, published a resolution on the TTIP SPS chapter in January. Because the Obama administration refuses to make public its negotiating proposals, TACD developed its resolution by using the SPS chapter of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) as a proxy for the U.S. SPS positions in TTIP. In July, TACD published an update to its January resolution that made recommendations to the European Commission (EC) Directorate General of Trade (DG Trade) and to the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) on the basis of their negotiating proposals, as published by Greenpeace.
Both DG Trade and USTR attempted to downplay the importance of the Greenpeace leaked texts, claiming that NGOs either did not understand or willfully misinterpreted the texts. Furthermore, they argued that nothing in TTIP would compromise food safety, public health or environmental health. (“USTR, EU Immediately Seek to Soften Impact of Greenpeace TTIP Leak,” Inside U.S. Trade, May 2, 2016. Subscription required.) DG Trade chief negotiator Ignacio Garcia Bercero insisted that U.S. proposals on trade in food and agriculture products with genetically modified organisms were unacceptable to the EU. (“EU Chief Negotiator Rules Out U.S. TTIP Proposals on GMOs, Rulemaking,” Inside U.S. Trade, May 5, 2016. Subscription required.)
TACD members, like many non-governmental organizations, were not placated by these official declarations. For example, the update summarized Corporate Europe Observatory Gene Watch and Greenpeace research show how the Commission caved in to USTR pressure not to publish an EU legal opinion that would have required products of synthetic biology to be regulated as GMOs under EU law. Emails discovered under EU freedom of information law implied that TTIP negotiations and trade would be negatively impacted by publishing the opinion and acting on it. (An IATP blog in May summarized the history of U.S. GMO deregulation, including that of foods derived from synthetic biology techniques.) By parsing the definition of a “GMO,” DG Trade sought, but failed, to quell public criticism of the Commission’s effort to circumvent EU law on GMOs through the TTIP back door.
TACD made recommendations on four issues in the proposed TTIP SPS chapter:
Equivalence determinations are fundamental to enabling trade among countries whose governments have different SPS measures to protect consumer, animal and plant health. The DG Trade proposal for equivalence is the traditional one derived from the World Trade Organization (WTO); the exporting country authorities apply for an equivalence determination to the importing country authorities, which have the sole discretion to grant, reject or revoke an equivalence determination. The U.S. proposal would require EC authorities to take into consideration decisions of the WTO SPS Committee. TACD opposes introducing SPS decisions concerning non-TTIP members as evidence in TTIP equivalence decisions. There is no valid reason for TTIP to erode the total discretion the WTO gives to importing country members to make equivalence determinations by requiring TTIP members to consider WTO SPS decisions that may have nothing to do with equivalence.
The USTR “Science and Risk” proposal for a standard of scientific evidence, to be used in risk assessment, would contravene peer scientific review standards. According to the U.S. proposal, “each Party,” carrying out risks assessments, “shall ensure that it takes into account relevant available scientific evidence.” Based on existing U.S. practices, TACD believes that under this standard, applicants to commercialize a new food or agricultural product or technology would be able to declare) public and environmental health data in studies, submitted to support the commercialization application, as Confidential Business Information (CBI. In the U.S., risk managers routinely allow commercial applicants to determine what is CBI and thus, not available for peer review. TACD recommends replacing the language cited in the U.S. proposal with “Parties shall ensure that risk assessments are made only on the basis of publicly available scientific studies, data and information, with no classification of such evidence as Confidential Business Information.”
It is striking that the USTR proposal on “Regulatory Approvals for Products of Modern Agricultural Technology” fails to define what is included under the term “modern agricultural technology.” TACD assumes that this proposal would go beyond its TPP proposal for deregulating “products of modern biotechnology” and allowing the import of “low-level presence” of genetically modified products not authorized for import.
The U.S. proposal likely will define “products of modern agricultural technology” to include food and agricultural products with atomic- to molecular-sized nanomaterials. These products are unregulated in the United States and nearly unregulated in the European Union, save for nanomaterials in cosmetics and the inclusion of the word “nano” on consumer product labeling. TACD recommends suspension of negotiations on this article until the negotiating parties agree, implement and demonstrate the capacity to enforce rules pertaining to nanomaterials in food, agriculture and other consumer products. Citing a recent report by Friends of the Earth on nanomaterials in baby formula bought in U.S. supermarkets, TACD stated, “A vague trade rule on ‘products of modern agricultural technology’ by a negotiating Party without the capacity to protect the smallest consumers will not provide the ‘appropriate level of sanitary and phytosanitary protection’ required by the WTO SPS agreement.”
TACD has sent to governments a resolution on the TTIP proposal for a chapter on regulatory cooperation in all economic sectors. The U.S. proposal for the chapter would allow industry lobbyists to intervene at the very outset of the regulatory process to determine whether SPS and other public protection rules would have a negative trade and investment impact. An earlier version of this chapter was described as an “early warning system” against regulation. Read in conjunction with the aforementioned U.S. proposal on “Science and Risk,” the U.S. proposal for SPS regulatory cooperation would require governments to cooperate to revise their risk assessments in response to industry provided studies, possibly including those classified as CBI, following U.S. practice.
The SPS chapter of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement allows for the “primary representative” on the SPS Joint Management Committee to come from an agency without SPS competency or legal obligations. TACD suggested that the recent definition by the European Commission of Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals, such as pesticides, is an example of TTIP induced “pre-harmonization” with the U.S. deregulation of EDCs. Undermining the scientific basis for the EU’s de facto ban on EDC pesticides has become a TTIP negotiating chip. TACD strongly recommended that only officials with SPS competency and legal obligations serve on the SPS Joint Management Committee, to reduce the pressure for the TTIP’s trade maximization objective to override consumer and environmental health protection.
TACD members discuss resolutions with government officials during TACD’s Annual Meeting and then intermittently throughout the year. On June 28, IATP and the European Office of Consumer Organizations lobbied the January resolution on the TTIP SPS chapter with DG Trade and DG Santé (formerly Consumer Health and Protection) officials. Discussions are on a not-for-attribution basis and government officials are usually non-committal about resolutions. Our impression was that DG Santé believed that SPS commercialization applications under CBI was necessary and that “trade in products of modern biotechnology” referred only to GMOs and not to products of synthetic biology, both errors in our view. However, the officials said they looked forward to receiving the update to the resolution. TACD plans to discuss the resolution and update with officials in September in Washington.