Think Forward blog

Selling TPP as the Farm Economy Drops off a Cliff

Posted March 21, 2016 by Ben Lilliston   

Used under creative commons license from andrew-stawarz.

The farm economy is beyond struggling. Farm income was 50 percent lower in 2015 than in 2013 and is expected to drop further in 2016, reports the USDA.  Prices for commodity crops, livestock and poultry are tumbling. Farmland prices are declining. Farm debt is rising. Approximately 45 percent of crop farms are in poor financial condition. Under these dire conditions, a new proposed trade agreement, the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), is being pitched as a savior for the farm economy. But given the experience of past trade deals, this will be a tough sell.

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TACD’s recommendations on the proposed food safety chapter in TTIP

Posted March 15, 2016 by Dr. Steve Suppan   

Used under creative commons license from danicuki.

Last November the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP), a trade and investment agreement between the U.S. and 11 other countries of the Pacific Rim was published. Finally, there is a proxy for the U.S. position in the TTIP negotiations on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS), i.e. the food safety and animal and plant health rules and enforcement practices that must protect consumers. Since the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) prohibits release of its draft TTIP negotiating positions to the public, we are forced to use the TPP SPS chapter as a next best alternative for constructing a ‘dialogue’ between the negotiating proposals of the European Commission and the SPS chapter that the USTR is likely to propose for the TTIP. Our initial analysis of the texts and the institutional capacity of governments to enforce the texts to protect consumers leads to several recommendations, including the following:

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Collaborating for the Community: Winona Climate Dialogue Convenes

Posted March 15, 2016 by Tara Ritter   

Participants in the Winona Climate Dialogue, held from March 3-5 2016 on the Winona State University campus, identified opportunities for the region to respond to a changing climate. Opportunities included local development of clean energy, creating balanced watersheds, adopting agricultural best management practices, and striving for responsible land use practices.

The Winona Climate Dialogue was the third in a series of Rural Climate Dialogues organized throughout Minnesota by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy and the Jefferson Center. The Rural Climate Dialogue model is a unique approach to engaging rural communities on climate change at the local level. Each Dialogue brings together a microcosm of a community to study local climate impacts in-depth for three days and generate a shared community response. The participants are chosen from a pool of individuals who respond to a mailing sent to 5,000 households in the county or to invitations in the local newspaper or on social media.

The Winona Climate Dialogue consisted of 18 individuals from across Winona County, an area of southeastern Minnesota on the Mississippi River marked by gorgeous bluffs and landscapes. Some of the participants had lived in Winona for their entire lives, and some had chosen to move to the area later in life. What united all the participants was a love of the area’s natural beauty, landscape and outdoor opportunities. In the opening introductions, one of the participants professed, “We live in God’s country!”

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Honduran activist Berta Cáceres' legacy

Posted March 11, 2016 by Shiney Varghese   

Used under creative commons license from Prachatai.

Early in the morning on March 3, 2016, the environmental justice community was jolted by news of the assassination of Berta Cáceres, the Honduran feminist activist. She was nearly 45 and was shot dead the previous night in her home, in La Esperanza. It seems almost certain that she was killed because of her sustained opposition to illegal logging, agricultural plantations and the construction of dams that caused environmental destruction and displacement of communities. The Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), cofounded by Berta in the early 1990s, has been in the forefront of the fight to stop the construction of the Agua Zarca cascade of four giant dams in the Gualcarque river basin—the spiritual, economic and cultural habitat of the Lenca People.

In 2015 she was awarded the 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize for her courage and leadership. At the time she said, “There is a racist system in place that sustains and reproduces itself. The political, economic and social situation in Honduras is getting worse and there is an imposition of a project of domination, of violent oppression, of militarization, of violation of human rights, of transnationalisation, of the turning over of the riches and sovereignty of the land to corporate capital, for it to privatize energy, the rivers, the land; for mining exploitation; for the creation of development zones.”

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Obama Undermines Climate Efforts in Solar Trade Dispute

Posted February 25, 2016 by Ben Lilliston   

Used under creative commons license from barefootcollege.

At the Paris climate talks, negotiators chose not to address the sticky issue of trade rules, and how those rules undermine each nation’s efforts to address climate change. A new ruling today from the World Trade Organization (WTO) may make that willful silence more difficult. Today, a WTO dispute panel ruled in favor of an Obama Administration challenge to India’s solar program—a program that bears a strong resemblance to solar programs in many U.S. states.

India’s solar initiative, known as the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission (JNNSM), is designed to boost the nation’s renewable energy use and create local, green jobs. India’s program requires the purchase of domestically manufactured solar cells and modules in order for companies to receive a variety of government benefits, including favorable rates for electricity purchases. The U.S. Trade Representative charged that India’s “local content requirements” violate WTO national treatment obligations (which require foreign firms to be treated the same as domestic firms). The WTO agreed.

In responding to the WTO ruling, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman issued a warning to other governments attempting to support local, green businesses: “This is an important outcome, not just as it applies to this case, but for the message it sends to other countries considering discriminatory `localization’ policies.”

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Drinking water and Democracy: Tale of Two Cities

Posted February 25, 2016 by Shiney Varghese   

Image used under creative commons license from YouTube user TruthSec Anons.

The tragic situation in Flint is in many ways a cautionary tale of democracy subverted, one that ties directly to the United States’ refusal to recognize basic human rights such as the right to water. These rights are enshrined in international law, including in the 2010 United Nations General Assembly declaration that all nations have a duty to ensure safe drinking water and sanitation.

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Climate, Livestock, Carbon & the Lobby #LivestockDebate

Posted February 23, 2016 by Shefali Sharma   

Photo by Brigitte Werner

While the debate continues about holistic management and what “true cost” actually means for livestock production models and climate change, technocrats and governments are busy establishing standards for carbon intensity reduction in industrial animal agriculture. These discussions are proceeding at a rapid pace and remain largely obscure—both in terms of the technical language used and in terms of visibility.

For instance, the Livestock Working Group of the Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases, established at the Copenhagen climate talks in 2009, is forging ahead with defining standards for emissions inventories for livestock production. The goal is not to change or transform animal production to become more climate-friendly, but rather to find ways to reduce emissions within an ever-expanding, unsustainable, industrial model of production.

Read the livestock debate in full

Countries report these inventories to quantify their reductions of emissions (intensity) to meet international commitments on climate change that served as a basis for the Paris climate agreement. The most recent newsletter of the Working Group reports:

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Congress: Defending Wall Street in the Name of Defending Main Street, Again

Posted February 16, 2016 by Dr. Steve Suppan   

In a February 4 speech at the Georgetown University Law School, Commissioner Sharon Bowen, of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), responded concisely to one of two questions she was asked to discuss: “Is Wall Street reformed? The short answer is no.” The following blog illustrates just a few details entailed in that “no.”

CFTC Chairman Tim Massad was summoned to the House of Representatives on February 10.  Members of the Committee on Agriculture, which oversees CFTC’s legal obligations, asked him why the CFTC isn’t doing more with less to make it easier for Wall Street hedge funds to make a killing from the automated trading systems (ATS) that remain under-reported and thus “dark” to regulators. As the Wall Street Journal reported on January 26, “The market upheaval [in oil, stocks and currency prices] has provided near-ideal conditions for so-called commodity trade advisors or CTAs, hedge funds that use computer programs to guide how they trade.” ATS-exacerbated extreme price volatility is a very profitable playground for the still unregulated automated traders.

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Supreme Court decision on Clean Power Plan deals a blow to rural communities

Posted February 12, 2016 by Tara Ritter   

Used under creative commons license from mizzmurray.

On Tuesday, a Supreme Court decision temporarily halted implementation of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan. The decision was prompted by a lawsuit from 29 states and state agencies challenging the EPA’s authority to impose the Clean Power Plan under the Clean Air Act. Implementation of the Clean Power Plan will remain suspended until June 2, 2016 at least, when a federal appeals court will consider the states’ challenge.

The Clean Power Plan is the first regulation to limit carbon emissions from existing power plants in the U.S. and it does so ambitiously, aiming to reduce electricity sector emissions to 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. Each state was assigned an emissions reduction target based on past emissions and capacity for future emissions reductions. Originally, states had until 2018 to create State Implementation Plans outlining how they would meet the targets, but this timeline could be altered depending on how the legal challenges play out.  

When the Clean Power Plan was announced six months ago, states and industry groups that depend economically on coal were quick to attack the law, characterizing it as federal overreach. Tuesday’s Supreme Court ruling is a temporary win for the fossil fuel industry, but supporters believe the Clean Power Plan will ultimately be upheld by the federal appeals court. California, Colorado, Virginia and Washington have reported that they will continue implementing the Clean Power Plan despite the Supreme Court’s ruling, and 14 states have vocalized continuing support for the Clean Power Plan.

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Behind closed doors–the vulnerability of big meat production

Posted February 2, 2016 by Ben Lilliston   

Used under creative commons license from chesbayprogram.

This blog first appeared as a contribution to #Livestockdebate hosted by the European coalition ARC2020 (Agriculture and Rural Convention 2020). You can read contributions to the #Livestockdebate from other experts at the ARC2020 website.


Last month, workers entered ten massive, confined turkey and chicken operations in Indiana and sprayed foam designed to suffocate the birds. When the cold temperatures froze the hoses, local prisoners were brought in to help kill the birds manually. Other operations shut down the ventilation systems killing the birds as heat temperatures rose. More than 400,000 birds have been euthanized so far in an effort to contain a new strain of avian flu in the U.S. Last year, approximately 45 million birds were killed to contain the spread of a different avian flu strain in the U.S. These epidemics are not limited to poultry: two years ago, a massive piglet virus outbreak killed millions of pigs (an estimated 10 percent of the U.S. hog population).

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