The devastating drought in California, home to much of the country’s fruit and vegetable production, is spurring discussions about the future of food production in a new age of climate change. When broaching the topic of solving the future food dilemma – feeding a growing population while using the same amount of land and facing more volatile weather events – the arguments typically fall into one of two camps: 1.) produce more food on less land through the use of technology, chemicals, and genetically modified seeds, or 2.) turn to decentralized and diversified farming practices that naturally boost soil health and farm resilience, such as diverse crop rotations, cover crops, reducing tillage where it makes sense, and building local food systems.
Feedstuffs, a weekly newspaper for agribusiness, recently ran an article on the topic of solving the future food dilemma that included results from an Oklahoma State University study called FooDS (Food Demand Survey). FooDS is a national online survey which includes at least 1,000 individuals each month, measuring consumers’ priorities, expectations, and awareness and concern about various food and agriculture issues, among other topics.
When such studies appear in an agribusiness publication, one might expect them to highlight the benefits of technological fixes to farming problems. However, the FooDS results found that “more than three-quarters of the consumers polled said adopting a more ‘natural’ agricultural production system – that includes additional local, organic and unprocessed foods – would be most effective at addressing the future food challenges rather than adopting a more ‘technological’ agricultural system.”
One of the most surprising parts of my visits to Europe around trade issues has been the misconceptions people have about the U.S. And I’m not talking about generalizations about problems in our food system, but the idea that all Americans support free trade agreements. At a recent meeting in Brussels, people from many European countries complained of being branded as anti-American because of the concerns they are raising about TTIP’s impacts on European environment and food systems.
But in fact, campaigns in the U.S. and around the world on TTIP, TPP and other free trade agreements are for the most part not based on nationalism but instead on issues of democracy. Who decides if a community can ban a toxic waste dump, the government or the investor? Under NAFTA’s Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanism, the investor won millions of dollars in compensation over a Mexican community’s refusal to reopen a toxic waste dump. Who decides on Country of Origin Labeling for beef? Under a WTO dispute brought by Mexico and Canada – with a strong push from U.S. industry -- the U.S. is being pressed to abolish this sensible program. Perhaps the most basic problem with NAFTA, CAFTA, TTIP, TPP and other free trade agreements is that they give new powers to corporations to set those kinds of rules. As trade campaigners know, the issue is not whether the U.S. or Europe wins, but which corporations stand to benefit.
We have entered a new era of corporate rights—where, in their quest to access natural resources around the world, multinational firms now routinely ride roughshod over governments and communities. Two trade tribunal rulings issued last month explain how.
Digby Neck, on the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia, is a popular whale-watching area. After hearing community concerns about the environmental impact of a proposal to expand a basalt quarry, a Canadian government review panel denied approval of the project. The Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador requires oil companies drilling offshore to invest a portion of their profits into local research and development projects. Last month, separate trade tribunals ruled both of these Canadian policies illegal and awarded damages to multinational corporations to compensate them for the loss of anticipated profits under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
These corporate rights cases, known as Investor State Dispute Settlements (ISDS), are rapidly on the rise, says Public Citizen. And based on leaked text from the proposed Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) posted last month – they could become even more common in the years to come.
For more than four years, IATP has been submitting comments on proposed U.S. regulations to limit the share of positions controlled by financial speculators in commodity derivatives markets. A position is a financial interest in one or more contracts of a commodity, e.g. Chicago Board of Trade No. 2 Yellow Corn. Commercial hedgers who can show that they have a bona fide commercial need to use the commodity and to manage price risk in a given contract—rather than accumulating contracts without bona fide need, in order to manipulate the commodity’s price—are exempt from position limits placed on financial speculators.
If financial speculators chronically exceed position limits, excessive speculation distorts prices for commercial hedgers, often to a degree where they fail to manage their price risks. For example, food processors will take positions to try to prevent price increases in their raw materials costs. Price risk management failure, if prolonged, can be devastating at every point of a commodity supply chain from producer to consumer.
IATP has submitted what well may be its last comment, for the foreseeable future, on a Commodity Futures Trading Commission rule to establish speculation position limits in 28 of the most frequently traded commodity derivatives contracts, 19 of them agricultural. The “Dodd Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Financial Protection Act of 2010” authorized the CFTC to set position limits by 2011 to prevent market manipulation, excessive speculation by financial entities and price distortion.
High tunnels—also known as hoop houses or passive solar greenhouses—are an increasingly common feature on farms through the Upper Midwest, where their use provides valuable extension to the region’s short growing season. Local food markets—including farm to school—stand to benefit from the increased availability of fruits and vegetables throughout the year produced by the increased use of high tunnels. IATP’s new report, Extending the Growing Season: High Tunnels Use and Farm to School in the Upper Midwest, explores this relationship further. By looking at best practices in high tunnel use and Farm to School activities, the report identifies innovative approaches with the potential for linking the two practices more effectively. Such innovative ideas drive recommendations for more comprehensive support for increased on-farm implementation of high tunnels and for farm to school activities throughout the Upper Midwest.
We finally know what the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will and will not do about regulating the use of nanomaterials in pesticides. It has taken seven years and a lawsuit to force the EPA to act. And unfortunately, its action leaves much to be desired: there are still no requirements to protect nano-pesticide manufacturer workers, farmer workers and those living downwind from nano-pesticide drift. (A 2014 General Accountability Office report stated that the EPA’s oversight of pesticide residue testing laboratories was inadequate. Nano-pesticide residue testing standards have yet to be developed.)
Atomic to molecular sized particles of silver (nano-silver) are a biocide, which is incorporated into pesticide products to increase toxicity while reducing the volume of pesticide applied. The exponentially greater surface to mass ratio of nano-silver (and nanomaterials in general) enables the toxins to attack more effectively the nanoscale pores of plant pests. The EPA relies on the toxicity and biosafety data supplied by the commercialization applicant in deciding whether to approve a pesticide for commercial use.
A massive global increase in factory-farmed meat production by 2030 will increase antibiotic use by 67 percent, posing a “public health threat,” predicts a newly released study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Scientists (PNAS). Rampant antibiotic use in factory farms, required by global meat corporations, is already resulting in an antibiotic-resistance crisis in the U.S. (over two million illnesses and 23,000 deaths a year due to resistant bacteria) and in the European Union (25,000 deaths annually). For the first time, scientists have mapped out the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria due to global antibiotic use in the feed of animals packed tightly in confined conditions.
Antibiotic use is projected to double in Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS countries) given their shift towards “vertically integrated intensive livestock production systems” to meet rising demand for animal protein. Two-thirds of the global increase in antibiotics is predicted to come from a net increase in the number of animals used in factory farms and the remaining third will come from a shift in agricultural practices leading to new factory farms.
According to the study, 46 percent of Asia’s shift will come from switching traditional animal agricultural practices to factory farming. By 2030, antibiotic use in Asia will be close to 52,000 tons, roughly representing 82 percent of the total global use of antibiotics in meat production in 2010. China, US, Brazil, Germany and India ranked as the top five users of antibiotics in 2010.
IATP’s research on industrial livestock production in China found that:
Since the Supreme Court’s Citizen United ruling five years ago, we’ve seen a flood of so-called Dark Money spent on political campaigns. While secret Dark Money helps agribusiness and food corporations advance their agenda in Washington, we get stuck with the tab for dysfunctional policies that don’t effectively serve the interests of farmers, consumers or the environment.
The good news is that shining a light on Dark Money is simple – but it will take some political courage. In the 2014 elections, more than $170 million in Dark Money was spent in elections through political organizations that don’t have to disclose their donors, according to Open Secrets. Since Citizens United, no new rules have been put into place to better inform shareholders about corporate political spending. Now, over one million people, and a growing coalition of investors and reform groups like IATP, are calling on the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) to require public corporations to disclose their political spending to shareholders.
A new ad campaign is challenging SEC Chairwoman Mary Jo White to respond to this growing chorus pushing for full political spending disclosure. The ad campaign, “Where is Mary Jo White?” asks the SEC chairwoman to be a superhero and stand up for shareholders.
The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP, is a massive trade deal currently being negotiated between the EU and US, and could have major implications for our food standards if completed.
Laws that check our foods are safe or minimise the risk to people or the planet could be compromised if TTIP goes ahead. Europe's food production and many of our laws are often stricter than in the USA. Yet big business wants food products currently banned in the EU, but on sale in America, to automatically be allowed in Europe through TTIP.
Here are some of the foods produced in worrying ways we could see served up on European plates if TTIP is agreed.
Disinfectant meat washes
Chicken, turkey, pork and other meats are regularly washed or sprayed with disinfectants in the USA. These so-called 'pathogen reduction treatments', such as hyper chlorinated water and acid washes, are supposed to reduce harmful bacteria. But this could allow poor hygiene standards along the food chain to be hidden, with meat being disinfected only at the end before going on sale.
We may not see it in the mainstream news, but we surely see the costs to our communities—corporate spending in food and farm politics has detrimental effects on our health, environment, our farmers and local economies. We know that many of the efforts in the food and farm justice movement run head on into barriers in a political system that has been bought out by big agribusiness and food companies for their own benefit. This brings us to a hard truth - we won’t change the food and farm system until we change our political system.
The good news is that a growing number of different movements are joining together to demand change. More than 120 groups have agreed that pushing for reform policies reflected in a set of Unity Principles will make our democracy (and, as a result, all the organizations’ work) more effective. The priorities outlined in the Principles are seeing some success in practice. And since polls show that a striking majority of Americans think there is too much corporate money and influence in politics, these reform strategies are making headway.
Here are some of the efforts to reform our political system that fair and sustainable food and farm advocates should get behind:
Overturning Citizens United
The 2010 Supreme Court decision Citizens United opened the floodgates for corporate spending in elections. To challenge Citizens United: