Posted October 24, 2012 by Mark Muller
IATP has long recognized that many of the drivers of the destructive industrial food system are not based on a sound rationale, but instead on a series of corporate marketing myths. IATP Food and Community Fellow Raj Patel, for example, has recently been taking on the false assumptions that contributed to the Green Revolution and the revitalized interest in a new Green Revolution.
Another common assumption is that we have a moral obligation to “feed the world,” and that we should not only embrace chemically intensive, industrial food production and distribution systems for profit, but also to fulfill a moral obligation to feed hungry people in other parts of the world. It’s an extremely effective frame. Surely you’re not willing to ignore the plight of the hungry in order to selfishly provide local wildlife habitat or eat local and organic foods?
IATP has researched the relationship between U.S. grain exports and hunger, an important component of this myth. A recent report by IATP Senior Associate Julia Olmstead reveals that dramatic increases in U.S. grain production and export has not alleviated global hunger.
This confirms the conclusions of the exhaustive review conducted for the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), which found that inadequate income and the inability of countries facing hunger to develop their own sustainable food systems are important drivers to hunger that are often ignored in the drive for increased industrial food production.
Some of the research that debunks the “feeding the world” myth can get technical and esoteric. IATP Food and Community Fellow alum Anna Lappé has cut through the jargon with an excellent short video, released today on Food Day, titled “Do we really need industrial agriculture to feed the world?” In the six-minute video Anna uses animation to tell a compelling story that allows all of us to appreciate the conclusions of the 600-page IAASTD report and so many other studies.
Have a wonderful Food Day! Eat well, support policies that give everyone the ability to eat well, and pass the video along so that everyone can better understand the destructive nature of the “feed the world” myth.
Posted October 24, 2012 by Sarah Leavitt
Guest blogger Sarah Leavitt is the digital outreach manager of the Lambi Fund of Haiti.
It’s a common scene in Haiti: Marceline, a small farmer, walks into a bustling market to sell her harvest and the marketplace is riddled with imported goods. Fruits and vegetables are from the Dominican Republic, packaged goods from the U.S. line the rows and large bags of rice stamped with USAID lay on the ground. To an unknowing eye, this wouldn’t mean much, but to Marceline these imported goods are undercutting her and other Haitian farmers’ ability to make an honest living.
In Haiti, the idea of food sovereignty means so much more than growing food that is healthy, culturally appropriate and produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods (as defined by the International Planning Committee for Food Sovereignty). For the more than half of Haitian society that depends on agriculture for its livelihood, an agriculture system that that supports locally grown foods is imperative.
The struggle to protect and strengthen local agriculture is nothing new to Haiti. Severe environmental degradation and years of deforestation have eroded the soil and left much of the land devoid of the nutrients essential to producing high yielding crops. This, coupled with Haiti’s propensity for natural disasters, like hurricanes, leaves small farmers especially vulnerable to fluctuations in the environment.
Take Hurricane Isaac for example. Heavy rains came and quickly washed away topsoil no longer anchored down by the roots of trees, leading to the destruction of many crops and livestock. The damage was so severe, it is estimated that the agriculture sector suffered $2,420 million in losses (Caribbean Journal 2012). This susceptibility to crop loss makes relying on agriculture in Haiti a difficult endeavor. For small Haitian farmers like Marceline, losing crops to a hurricane is devastating. Selling goods from a harvest in the market is now out of the question and the need to feed her children, send them to school and eke out an existence becomes a herculean feat.
If the seemingly ever-present threats of the environment were not enough, small farmers continually face ramifications of unfair trade policies that promote the incessant dumping of food aid and cripple local markets.
The most well-known example of this is the infamous U.S. rice programs that destroyed Haiti’s rice production in the mid 1990s. The Clinton Administration negotiated an agreement with the Haitian government that dramatically cut tariffs on imported U.S. rice, which became cheaper than Haitian rice. As a consequence, the floor dropped out from beneath Haitian rice growers. As Clinton explains it, "It may have been good for some of my farmers in Arkansas, but it has not worked. It was a mistake." Clinton told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in March of 2010, "I had to live everyday with the consequences of the loss of capacity to produce a rice crop in Haiti to feed those people because of what I did; nobody else."
Then again in May 2010, on the heels of the earthquake, when communities were still reeling from the devastation and loss of life—farmers’ crops were attacked yet again. Monsanto announced the donation of $4 million dollars' worth of hybrid corn and vegetable seeds. Much like Clinton’s rice subsidy policies that were at the time touted as providing Haitians with a cheap and affordable source of food, this donation was given under the veil of benevolence to help farmers who “may not have had sufficient seeds to plant” (Monsanto 2010), an assumption without merit.
Monsanto’s actions were harmful for a couple of reasons. First, the seeds came coated in toxic fungicides and require significantly more water, chemical fertilizers and pesticides than local Creole heirloom and organic seeds. In addition, these hybrid seeds cannot be saved and re-planted, so farmers who use them must purchase new seeds for planting each year.
Small farmers saw this ruse for what it was—a move by Monsanto to create agricultural dependency in Haiti. The peasant farmer leader Chavannes Jean-Baptiste of the Peasant Movement of Papay (MPP) called this donation, “a new earthquake [for Haiti]” and “a very strong attack on small agriculture, on farmers, on biodiversity, on Creole seeds…and on what is left of our environment in Haiti.” Local peasant farmer movements were so opposed to this attack on food sovereignty that they committed to burning Monsanto’s seeds upon arrival. Undoubtedly, not all of the seeds were destroyed and thousands of Haitians were distributed these seeds unaware of the long-term risks and impending dependency—all of which impoverished farmers simply cannot afford. (Read more about the continued impacts of Monsanto’s influence in Haiti.)
In spite of these egregious threats from the U.S. and international corporations, small communities throughout Haiti are uniting to strengthen local food production, protect the environment and promote Creole seed and food storage.
One such example is the Youth Association of Sél (AJS) who are partnering with the Lambi Fund of Haiti to build a grain storage facility and to launch a community credit fund in their community. The organization is building a grain silo to store surplus grains and seeds for use in times of need—droughts, natural disasters and between growing seasons. The storage facility will also be a place to store local Creole seeds. With this silo, AJS members are working to increase access to high quality, local seeds that they can share and sell to one another at an affordable rate.
AJS, a youth organization comprised of 255 members (120 women) is a young and vibrant group that realizes the importance of fighting for and promoting food sovereignty in its community. In order to increase their capacity, members attended workshops administered by Lambi Fund on grain storage management and operation, bookkeeping, the issuing of loans and how to manage a community credit fund.
To date, 50 low-interest loans have been issued to members who are using the funds to purchase more seeds, tools and organic fertilizers for growing more peanuts, peas and corn in the area. One recipient noted that investments from the loan allowed him to cultivate 25 percent more land. All of these loans were repaid on time, and since AJS manages the credit fund and interest earnings stay within the community, the fund is growing. As a result, AJS members are planning toHaitis issue an additional 19 loans this fall to farmers in preparation for the upcoming planting season. The silo is currently under construction and committees have been formed that will be responsible for managing the food storage unit and distributing the grains and seeds in an equitable manner.
While members of AJS may be young, each of these members is not naïve to the difficulties of farming in Haiti. Hurricanes, droughts, a degraded environment, unfair trade policies and corporate influences make growing food and earning a fair income markedly difficult, yet members of AJS and countless other Haitians living in rural Haiti realize the importance of standing in unity and working together toward a food secure Haiti. Cooperatives and community organizations much like AJS are working together to promote food storage, seed sharing and community lending practices that are strengthening the foundation of agriculture in Haiti. To read more about efforts like these or to support community-led efforts for sustainable agriculture, please visit www.lambifund.org.
Posted October 23, 2012 by LaDonna Redmond
On September 24–26, 2012, hundreds of food justice advocates gathered in Minneapolis for the Food + Justice = Democracy conference. One of the primary features of the conference was the use of a People’s Movement Assembly process to craft principles around food justice. View and comment on the draft Principles of Food Justice or read a summary of the conference and its aims below. Join IATP for a post-conference webinar to review the outcomes and plan for moving forward on November 15. RSVP now.
The U.S food system has never been just, fair or healthy. This is a shocking statement to some, but to the vast majority of people of color and tribal nations in the United States this has always been a reality. This sentiment was the thread connecting many of the conversations throughout all three days of IATP’s Food + Justice = Democracy conference last month in Minneapolis.
African Americans, Native Americans, Asian Americans and Latinos experience higher incidence of chronic diseases, higher mortality, and poorer overall health outcomes. To address the health disparities that those communities face, we must recognize their experience in the overall analysis of the problem of a failed food and agriculture system.
Contemporary food movements emphasize the return to and protection of the family farm. This emphasis paints a pristine picture of America that is foreign to many communities of color. Grounding the brokenness of the food system solely in this perspective ignores the history of Native Americans and their removal from native land that prepared the country for the arrival of European immigrants. This analysis also ignores the enslavement of Africans and the unpaid labor force that created much of the wealth for corporate America. It cannot be one analysis over the other: We must have an analysis that represents the reality of all communities.
The call for food justice is a call for inclusion of every community, ethnic group, class and gender identity.
The Food + Justice = Democracy conference provided an opportunity to issue that call and bring together as many strands of the food movement as possible and unite our voices to call for an end to injustice in our food system.
Reframing the narrative of the food system is no easy task. It requires incorporating the truth about our food system and facilitating a deep engagement with the communities that feel most exploited. The space and opportunities to engage are limited.
The Food + Justice = Democracy conference organized around narratives instead of traditional presentations, and peoples movement assemblies (PMA) instead of workshops. The idea was to maximize the brain power of 300+ activists from around the country by coming together to find the spark of the movement for food justice—an ambitious endeavor seeking to ignite conversations with the purpose of crafting a cohesive public policy agenda for food justice.
The conference reframed the industrial food and agriculture narrative into five critical assumptions:
The conference structure used narratives to deliver a new framework. This process allowed conference attendees to hear presentation that highlighted the complexities of racial, ethic, class and gender identity and their impact on the food system.
Narratives that describe the lives of African Americans, Native Americans, Hmong and Latino communities were shared without forfeiting the added layers of class and gender. This proved a much more dynamic and instructive way to discuss disparities in America.
The conference used People Movement Assemblies (PMAs) to help conference attendees develop a national vision for the food system based on justice. PMAs were lightly structured conversations led by groups and activists that are working toward a food justice.
The PMAs were divided into these areas:
Each PMA was tasked with creating a set of principles that captured the vision of what a fair, just and healthy food system would do for our communities under that category. The principles of food justice, in draft form, will travel around the country to solicit input from every community that wants to talk about organizing for food justice.
To get involved in the process moving forward, read and share your comments on the draft principles. Also, watch for details on upcoming opportunities, including a webinar on November 15, and a Facebook chat hosted by IATP.
View and comment on the draft Principles of Food Justice.
Posted October 18, 2012 by Malik Yakini
In the mid-1970s, I was a member of the Detroit-based Pan-African Congress, USA. Inspired by the South African political party, the Pan-Africanist Congress, the PAC-USA, asserted that “land is the basis of power.” Of course, this slogan echoed the words of Malcolm X and countless other Black activists before him. It embodied the understanding that it is from the land that we get the food that sustains our lives. It is from the land that we get the materials needed for housing, and clothing. It is from the land that we get mineral resources that feed economies and generate wealth. It is on the land that we build, grow and create community. As we struggle to foster food security, food justice and food sovereignty, the question of land, who “owns” it, who controls it and who benefits from it, must be in the forefront of our discussions.
Many forces have shaped the past 700 years of human history, but none as profoundly as the global imperial expansion by England, France, Spain, Portugal and Germany. The centuries long conquest, colonization, enslavement, domination and exploitation of Africans and other people of color and their lands was deeply rooted in a white supremacist worldview. European explorers came to the shores of West Africa and the east coast of what we now call the United States, with ideas about the private ownership of land that were shaped by the feudal societies that they came from; highly stratified societies were the wealthy owned much of the land, and the masses were landless, impoverished and subject to all manner of abuse and exploitation. Those European explorers encountered Africans and “Native Americans” whose cultures suggested that the earth cannot be privately owned, but only wisely used by humans for the common good, and preserved for future generations. Because Europeans eventually won the hard fought military campaigns they waged against Africans and the indigenous peoples of the western hemisphere and created institutions to maintain their cultural dominance, we have been taught the idea that the earth is a commodity that can be bought and sold.
This idea has continuing impact. Many contemporary national boundaries are the result of colonization by Europeans. We can’t intelligently discuss the present economic, political, social and health disparities impacting Africans, both on the continent and in the diaspora, without understanding how these inequities were shaped by and continue to be perpetuated by European imperialism, colonialism, neo-colonialism and the global system of white supremacy. Across the planet, this thirst for continued dominance plays out in land-grabs. More and more land “ownership” is being concentrated in the hands of the few. Small-holder farmers are being forced out of business. People leave rural areas coming to cities where, if they find employment, they become wage-slaves to the wealthy.
Land grabs are taking place in many African-American communities such as Harlem, Washington D.C. and Detroit. But, Detroit is unique. The population of the city declined from 2,000,000 in 1950 to 713,000 according to the 2010 census data. The City government struggles with how to maintain city infra-structure and services for a geographic footprint which has not shrunk, with the meager resources afforded by a much smaller tax base. No easy task indeed. With more than 1/3 of the city’s land-mass vacant, Detroit is a prime target for land-grabbers. One can clearly see the temptation facing City government to sell off unused city-owned land to the highest bidder, putting the land back on the tax rolls, and in the process ridding themselves of the responsibility of cutting the grass and otherwise maintaining the property. But, this is not a time for easy solutions. This is a time for bold, innovative thinking that is informed by history and guided by values that work for the betterment of humanity.
Because Detroit is viewed by many around the world as the poster-child for urban decay, there is great interest in our efforts to think, create and build ourselves out of the seemingly intractable situation in which we find ourselves. The eyes of the nation are on Detroit. Detroit’s political leadership has the opportunity to shift the paradigm from more concentrated ownership of land in the hands of wealthy whites, to strategies that recognize the value and developmental potential of commonly held land, and the value of facilitating increased land “ownership” by the city’s residents. Except for its people, land is Detroit’s most important asset.
Detroiters should ask our elected political leaders the following five questions.
If the people of Detroit do not quickly learn the lesson taught by the Pan African Congress USA, that “land is the basis of power,” we will find ourselves in a continuing subordinate position.'
Posted October 16, 2012 by Karen Hansen-Kuhn
World Food Day is an event perhaps best known to those already advocating to end hunger in their own countries and around the globe. That seems like such an obvious goal, and yet how to achieve it is subject to vigorous debate. This year we’re in the middle of the third global food price crisis since 2008. It seems likely that those crises will become the upward swings of ever more unstable prices unless we make some serious shifts in policy and practice.
To begin with, it’s about time we abandon the idea that the problem of global hunger is simply about producing enough food. Increasing the volume of food production is important, but who has access to that food, and who controls how it is grown is even more vital. The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) reports that 70 percent of rural people live in poverty. Many of those people are themselves farmers who are also facing new threats to their ability to feed their families and their communities.
Over the last few years there has been a resurgence of interest and activism on the issue of large-scale farmland acquisition in the Global South. Conflicts between small-scale farmers or farm workers and foreign investors have been raging for decades, if not centuries. The pace and scope of those acquisitions, however, is new. In the decades preceding the food price crisis of 2007-08, new international trade and investment agreements created the legal conditions for land grabs, but low and falling commodity prices depressed the demand for farmland in developing countries. When food prices spiked, there was a rush of new investments by corporations, financial investors and sovereign wealth funds, many of which are not directly involved in food production. Vast amounts of land, perhaps equal to the size of Western Europe, have been leased or sold, often without the knowledge or consent of the communities who will be most affected by those decisions.
There are several overlapping challenges here. Land tenure laws are unclear in many countries and often don’t serve to protect small-scale farmers’ interests. Under the customary laws prevalent in many African countries, for example, community elders might sign off on land deals without consulting the people farming those lands, or decisions can be made far up the line in remote bureaucracies. In any case, the assumption that these lands are somehow vacant, blank slates, just waiting for new investments, is often flatly wrong, and expanding industrial agricultural production (often for export) in delicate ecosystems (where farmers may practice shifting cultivation) can have devastating social and environmental impacts.
The failure of international trade rules is a big part of the problem, since they often prohibit governments from taking actions to protect local food supplies and rural communities. The sharp swings in agricultural commodity prices also undermine confidence in the trading system, creating incentives for governments and companies to acquire land abroad to protect their perceived interests. The investment rules contained in the trade agreements (or established as conditions of trade agreements, as in the case of Mexico) protect investors against any changes in rules to prioritize local land ownership, or even to ensure that the investments serve food security or environmental goals.
Those rules also favor banks, sovereign wealth funds, pension funds, and other investors looking for the next new target for innovative investments, or a means to diversify funding portfolios. The increased demand for biofuels, also driven in large part by rules set in the U.S. and Europe, creates new incentives for investors interested in taking advantage of this huge new market. In many cases, firms purchase land outright or lease it for decades into the future. They are assuming that land prices will continue to rise as pressure for food production increases, and that assumption itself, and the volume of new investments, puts upward pressure on land prices and therefore even greater pressure on farmers around the world.
So the problem is not just, or even primarily, about finding new ways to grow more food, but rather changing the rules of the game so that farmers, whether in Kenya or Kansas, have the right conditions to grow what makes sense to feed their families and their communities. Finding better ways to make sure that farmers can stay on their land is part of the solution. Earlier this year, the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) approved new voluntary guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of Food Security. This week, governments and civil society are debating the next steps in a process to build on the guidelines at the national and international levels.
Farmers around the world are finding ways to respond to increasing climate chaos by diversifying crops, strengthening soils and other agroecological approaches. Without rules that ensure they can stay on the land to make those changes, World Food Day will continue to be about mourning the dire situation of global hunger rather than, one day, celebrating progress in better food systems and the right to food.
Posted October 10, 2012 by
After a six-year struggle, Chipotle Mexican Grill has signed an agreement with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) to join the Fair Food Program. This victory came just days before a massive CIW action was to take place at the Chipotle "Cultivate Festival" near its headquarters in Denver, Colorado and represents a historic moment for the Food Justice movement. "After six long years, people all across the country have added their own grain of sand to this growing movement," IATP Food and Community Fellow Kandace Vallejo said in an email about the victory.
The agreement, which will improve wages and working conditions for farmworkers in Florida who pick tomatoes for Chipotle, comes in advance of the winter tomato-growing season, when most of the nation’s tomatoes come from growers in Florida.
The Fair Food Program provides a bonus for tomato pickers to improve wages and binds growers to protocols and a code of conduct that explicitly include a voice for workers in health and safety issues, worker-to-worker education on the new protections under the code, and a complaint resolution procedure which workers can use without fear of retaliation. The Program also provides for independent third party audits to ensure compliance.
“With this agreement, we are laying down a foundation upon which we all—workers, growers and Chipotle—can build a stronger Florida tomato industry for the future,” said Gerardo Reyes of the CIW. “But more than this, today’s news marks a turning point in the sustainable food movement as a whole, whereby, thanks to Chipotle’s leadership, farmworkers are finally recognized as true partners—every bit as vital as farmers, chefs and restaurants—in bringing ‘good food’ to our tables.”
Chipotle is the 11th company to join the CIW’s Fair Food Program, which is designed to create a sustainable tomato industry through respect for the rights and concerns of all involved. The Fair Food Premium paid by participating buyers like Chipotle is used to help participating growers improve wages and working conditions for Florida farmworkers.
On October 10, 2012, the CIW will be the only US-based organization awarded with the Food Sovereignty Prize, “for creating one of the most powerful and inspiring worker-led movements that is transforming not only an industry but the consciousness of a nation.”
Watch the Food Sovereignty Prize ceremony live, tonight on http://foodsovereigntyprize.org/live/.
This blog entry was originally posted by the IATP Food and Community Fellows program.
Posted October 10, 2012 by Dr. Steve Suppan
Last week a U.S. federal judge struck down a Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) rule designed to prevent excessive speculation in agricultural and non-agricultural commodities by Wall Street and its biggest corporate clients. A growing body of peer-reviewed research and public interest analysis has shown how the dominance of financial institution speculation in commodity markets has resulted in structurally higher and more volatile prices. The position limit rule restricts the amount of contracts that can be held by any one trader and its affiliates during a given time period. The rule was scheduled to go into effect on October 12. Agribusiness firms, such as Archer Daniel Midlands and Bunge Ltd., are among the non-banks seeking to delay and weaken rules on over-the-counter trades (OTC) that are privately negotiated and not reported to regulatory authorities.
IATP, as a member of the Commodity Markets Oversight Coalition (CMOC), has advocated the extension of CFTC position limit rules to include OTC trades. As CFTC Chairman Gary Gensler has stated in dozens of speeches, most recently on October 1 at the Bank of England, the lack of regulation of the OTC markets was a major factor in the financial service industry crisis of 2008-09, triggering the Great Recession in which we are still ensnared.
The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act authorizes the CFTC to set limits on what percentage of specified commodity contracts can be held by any one entity and its affiliates. The purpose of the position limits rule is to reduce or prevent financial speculation in excess of the liquidity needs of the commodity producers, processors and transporters that are protecting themselves against sudden price increases or decreases in the commodities covered by the rule.
Agricultural contracts, when bundled into commodity index funds, are bet to increase prices, regardless of supply and demand fundamentals. The “weight of money” of unlimited positions drives prices higher than can be explained by market fundamentals. As the banks “roll” in and out of contracts, price volatility increases beyond supply and demand related volatility. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) regards price volatility as a major driver of increased rates of hunger, particularly in developing countries.
According to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (not a regulator of these contracts), during the first quarter of 2012, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, Citibank and Bank of America were counterparties to 57.3 percent of all OTC contracts. The "Big Four" were dealmakers in 93 percent of all derivatives contracts (OTC plus regulated contracts). These banks, major beneficiaries of the $29 trillion Federal Reserve Bank emergency loan program (which rescued them from bankruptcy), strongly oppose a position limit rule that would reduce their control over the OTC market. (A September 2012 Bank for International Settlements report stated “...we find no evidence that rescued banks reduced the riskiness of their new lending.”) They joined other bank and non-bank members of the International Swaps and Derivatives Association (ISDA) and the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (SIFMA) in a lawsuit to prevent the implementation of the position limit rule.
On September 28, Judge Robert Wilkins of the Washington, D.C., district court, declared that the CFTC had misinterpreted the Dodd-Frank legislation by not making the rule respond to “ambiguities” he found in the law. Among these ambiguities was whether, as the plaintiffs argued, the words “as appropriate” qualified the “shall” authorizing the CFTC to set position limits only if appropriate, or whether, as the CFTC argued, “as appropriate” applied to the amount of position limits that Congress categorically had obliged the agency to set. Judges customarily defer to federal agency interpretations when the judges find ambiguities in laws. However, Judge Wilkins chose to side with the plaintiff’s claim that “as appropriate” qualified “shall” to mean that the CFTC was not obliged to set position limits. Judge Wilkins, again concurring with the ISDA et al., further ruled the CFTC was obliged to conduct a “necessity finding,” which likely would entail a “complete” cost-benefit analysis demanded by the plaintiffs, before the position limit rule could go into effect. In a 43-page order, he nullified the rule and required the CFTC to revise it in “further proceedings consistent with this Opinion.”
Judge Wilkins rejected the validity of Friend of the Court brief filed by some Democratic Party members of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate that affirmed there was no ambiguity in the law and legislative history to authorize the CFTC to set and enforce position limits. Instead, Judge Wilkins concurred with the ISDA and SIFMA argument that the CFTC had to demonstrate that position limits are both “necessary” and “appropriate” to prevent or reduce excessive speculation before it could set, implement and enforce them.
Again, concurring with the plaintiff’s arguments, Wilkins criticized the CFTC for not having conducted “necessity findings” based on cost-benefit analyses for each and every position rule covered contract, as the agency had done for a handful of agricultural contracts from 1938 to 1956. During that time exchanges were required to report all agricultural contract data daily to the CFTC’s predecessor agency. Remarkably, Wilkins ignored the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000, which authorized the CFTC not to require reporting of OTC data for position limit surveillance by regulators. The contract specific reported OTC data that would factor into the “complete” cost-benefit analyses the judge and Wall Street demand to justify position limits do not exist as a result of CFMA market deregulation. OTC and index trader data reported monthly to the CFTC since July 2010, as a result of Dodd-Frank, could well be regarded by the judge as an insufficient basis for “complete” cost-benefit analyses.
John Kemp, Reuters’ peerless commodity markets analyst, has suggested that the most likely viable future for a position limits rule is not judicial but legislative. He proposes that a new bill might pass judicial muster by removing the words “necessity” and “appropriate” from the Dodd-Frank text to clarify the CFTC’s unambiguous authority to set and enforce position limits. Such a bill would be attached by Dodd-Frank supportive legislators to a must-pass piece of legislation, most likely an appropriations bill to keep the government operating.
Kemp is right to forecast that an appeal to the Washington, D.C. Court of Appeals very likely would be in vain. Much of Judge Wilkins’ ruling is justified by reference to Court of Appeals law. As Floyd Norris commented recently in The New York Times, the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) efforts to implement Dodd-Frank have been struck down by the Court of Appeals. There is no reason to think that the court would defer to the CFTC’s authority and competence to implement and enforce a position limits rule.
The CFTC could consider answering Judge Wilkins’ challenge by requesting an expedited ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court on the position limits rule. Judge Wilkins charged “the agency failed to brings its expertise and experience to bear when interpreting the statute and offered no explanation for how its interpretation comported with the policy objectives of the Act” (at 42). Wilkins reproached the CFTC for relying on a defense that parsed the plain-text meaning of the terms of the Dodd-Frank provisions that authorized the agency to set position limits. Why shouldn’t the CFTC respond to this accusation by showing the Supreme Court how the costs and benefits of industry self-regulation under CFMA failed to achieve the policy objectives of the Commodity Exchange Act, while the historical limits in the rule had achieved those objectives?
Judge Wilkins chose to disregard Dodd-Frank’s legislative history in his decision that Congress did not require the CFTC authority to set and enforce position limits. The Supreme Court could not so readily dismiss legislative history, given its obligation to review appeals within the framework of the U.S. Constitution. For example, the Supreme Court likely would review Judge Wilkins’ ruling to determine whether the CFTC had interpreted Dodd-Frank within the constitutional “Necessary and Proper” clause, and the clause that gives Congress the authority to regulate commerce. Would it be “necessary and proper” for the CFTC to conduct a “necessity test,” documented by a “complete” cost-benefit analysis, before implementing the position limit rule, rather than, as Dodd-Frank requires, providing Congress with a cost-benefit analysis after the rule had been in effect for sufficient time to gather position data and analyze compliance with the rule?
However the CFTC decides to respond to Judge Wilkins’ order, the damage to investors from exchange-managed “position accountability” and other nostrums of financial self-regulation continue to mount. Friend of the Court briefs to a CFTC request for an expedited Supreme Court ruling on the position limit rule should present the costs of deregulation (the benefits for the plaintiffs being well established), as well as the costs and benefits of regulation. Such a presentation can only approximate the “complete” cost-benefit analysis that Judge Wilkins’ order all but requires of a CFTC hamstrung by the CFMA and its exemptions, exclusions, waivers and “no action” letters on Bush administration CFTC rule violations.
There is no certainty that a Supreme Court ruling would establish that the CFTC can set and enforce position limits without doing pre-implementation, cost-benefit analyses, as if OTC and energy trading regulatory evasion authorized by the CFMA had never disappeared the 2000–2010 data needed for such analyses. A more robust presentation on the failure of “position accountability” to prevent excessive speculation, together with detailed costs of that failure, might tip the scales of justice in favor of a ruling that it is “necessary and proper” for the CFTC to set position limits.
Posted October 4, 2012 by Julia Olmstead
What does it take to get the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to fulfill their duty to protect public health? More than a letter from two members of Congress, apparently.
FDA finally responded to a letter sent by Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY), Congress’ only microbiologist, and Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA) last May. Following on the heels of the release of IATP’s Bugs in the System report, the letter asked what FDA was doing to control the unapproved, and possibly illegal, marketing of antibiotics by animal drug companies for use in ethanol production.
As IATP documented in our report, antibiotics are widely used in ethanol production to control bacterial contamination, although non-antibiotic alternatives are also effective and readily available on the market. Our investigation showed that the agency considers antibiotics used in ethanol production to be “food additives.” Under federal code, food additives must be FDA approved before they can be lawfully marketed. None of the antibiotics used in ethanol production—including the human drugs penicillin and erythromycin, and human-drug analogues tylosin and virginiamycin—have been so approved, yet the FDA has refused to regulate their marketing and use.
The FDA response to Slaughter and Markey’s letter in fact support’s our report’s conclusions. In the letter, the FDA states it has not recognized any ethanol antibiotics as safe, nor has it completed a review of the food additive petitions that have been submitted by the manufacturers.
Despite those admissions, and a clearly stated acknowledgement in the letter that the agency has not carried out sufficient safety reviews to properly assess the multiple risks posed by antibiotic use in ethanol, the FDA continues to allow the unapproved marketing of antibiotics to the ethanol industry.
Big Pharma counters our analysis by claiming that the FDA has not yet issued an official guidance regarding the use and regulation of antibiotics in ethanol production. In a phone call, FDA officials told IATP that they are indeed creating a guidance, but it won’t be released until at least the early part of 2013.
The lack of proper guidance, however, should not be grounds for FDA failing to adhere to the law. Bugs in the System lays out a clear case showing why federal code requires the FDA to regulate antibiotic use in ethanol production. Yesterday’s letter from the FDA to Reps. Slaughter and Markey indicates that there exists more than enough uncertainty around the human and animal health risks of antibiotic use in ethanol production—including around antibiotic resistance—to put an immediate halt to antibiotic sales to the ethanol industry until those risks are assessed and a proper approval process carried out.
Posted October 1, 2012 by Shiney Varghese
On Wednesday, September 26 Governor Jerry Brown of California signed the bill AB 685, into law, establishing the policy that every person in California has the right to safe, clean, affordable and accessible water. This is a historic moment in the U.S. debate over the right to water.
The U.S. federal government has not recognized water as a human right, but this policy initiative at the state level could become a turning point as far as water policy and politics goes. It is indeed a step in the right direction, given the concerns about “right to water” violations in California which were raised by the U.N. Special Rapporteur Catalina de Albuquerque following her visit to the United States in 2010.
The bill was authored by assembly member Mike Eng (D-Alhambra) and was co-sponsored by Safe Water Alliance, a coalition which includes many of our allies, and has been advocating for right to water in California for several years. The reach of the bill is extensive, and would help address some of the issues raised in the U.N. report, which identified specific cases where people were denied access to water or had to spend a large percentage of their income to secure water for domestic use.
The bill would “require all relevant state agencies, including the Department of Water Resources, State Water Resources Control Board, and State Department of Public Health, to employ all reasonable means to implement this state policy. Those state agencies would be required to revise, adopt, or establish policies, regulations and grant criteria to further this state policy, to the extent that those actions do not affect eligibility for federal funds.”
Not surprisingly the bill was opposed by almost all established (and powerful) water interests in the state. These include groups such as Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA), which called on the Governor to veto the bill. They were concerned that the bill will prohibit water agencies from turning off the tap of a customer who does not pay the bill, irrespective of her or his ability to pay. Some farm and industrial interests also opposed the bill, fearing that it would add to the regulations with which they have to comply. However, these fears are misplaced, as pointed out by the Safe Water Alliance, “as AB 685 merely underscores what is already required by the” existing “policies and regulations to protect the State’s water resources relied upon as a source of drinking water.”
On World Water Day earlier this year, reflecting on what is at stake in recognizing the right to water, I wrote that “in the absence of effective regulatory frameworks, safeguards and the clear recognition of water as a fundamental human right, corporate interests will continue to supersede marginalized, low-income communities and smallholder farmers.” While the right to water is now enshrined in international law and in the constitution of several countries (including Bolivia, Congo, Ecuador, South Africa, Uganda and Uruguay), and national legislations of many others, we still have a long way to go globally. At the Food + Justice=Democracy conference last week in Minneapolis, local activists from around the country insisted that policies don’t always need to start at the federal level, they can follow a bottom up approach too.
California has created history by becoming the very first state in the U.S. to recognize human right to water; it need not remain the only state to do so. The way is now open for other states to follow suit.
Posted September 20, 2012 by
Mammals fed a diet of genetically engineered (GE) Roundup Ready corn for two years died earlier and developed more tumors and liver and kidney damage, according to a new study published this week in the peer-reviewed journal, Food and Chemical Toxicology.
The findings reinforce recent calls by the American Medical Association that GE crops be safety tested for possible health impacts before they enter the marketplace. No such premarket testing is currently required in the United States.
Corn genetically engineered to be pesticide-tolerant or insect-resistant makes up 88 percent of the U.S. corn crop. Monsanto’s Roundup Ready varieties make up the vast majority—an estimated 70 percent of the U.S. corn crop; it is widely planted in Brazil as well.
This GE corn, which allows farmers to spray the herbicide, Roundup, on fields without damaging the corn, largely ends up in ethanol plants, animal feed and processed human foods. But just last fall, Monsanto introduced for the first time a Roundup Ready sweetcorn, bringing GE technology directly to consumers’ mouths.
U.S. regulations also do not require the labeling of GE foods—despite consistent polls showing over 90 percent of consumers favor labeling. More than a decade ago the American Public Health Association, the world’s largest, called for GE foods to be so labeled. (The AMA falls short of supporting labeling, although the recent science may cause it to reexamine the position). The absence of GE labeling means that not only consumers are left in the dark, but so are their healthcare providers.
If physicians or researchers wanted to track whether a patient with breast cancer or liver damage had been consuming a diet high in GE corn, it would be nearly impossible to do so.
In the study published today, researchers fed laboratory rats a diet of GE roundup-ready corn (NK603) for two years. Half the males and 70 percent of the females fed the GE corn, the researchers found, died prematurely. Only 30 percent and 20 percent of males and females in the control group did so. Animals on the GE diet suffered mammary (breast) tumors, and severe damage to the kidney and liver.
A significant aspect of this study is its length. Most previous rat feeding studies for GE crops have been limited to 90 days—which in human terms would equate only to early adulthood. Because today’s study went for two years, it captures the possible impacts of eating such a diet over the entire course of the animal’s (or presumably a person’s) life.
Why so few long-term studies on the health effects of GE crops to date? Partly because scientists must seek permission from the patent holder, in this case Monsanto, before the research can take place. We agree with the editors at Scientific American that this ridiculous barrier to independent research needs to end.
The French government has asked its National Agency for Health Safety to investigate the study’s findings and consider protective steps to protect public health. This precautionary approach makes sense.
This study is yet another reminder of how little research on the long-term effects of the near ubiquitous consumption of GE foods has taken place.
When it comes to GE crops we’ve, for too long, taken a “ready, shoot, aim” approach to regulation. The public deserves better.