There were some decidedly Kafkaesque aspects of the Congressional debate this week on Fast Track legislation, designed to speed through the passage of secret trade deals that could have a serious impact on our food system. At first, the Senate refused to approve a bill to limit debate on Fast Track. Then, when the Senate did approve that bill, it turned out the real debate over Fast Track wouldn’t be happening in the Senate at all, but rather in the House (but not yet).
What?? Essentially, the Senate votes this week were over a procedural mechanism (cloture) to bring Fast Track to a vote (but not yet over Fast Track itself). The actual Fast Track vote will likely come in the Senate in the next few weeks. As we’ve discussed before, Fast Track would limit Congressional debate on trade agreements to an up or down vote, no amendments allowed. It would include the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP, with 11 other Pacific Rim countries) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP, with Europe) and any other trade agreements negotiated over the next six years, including those completed by the next President. The votes this week were notable mainly because the Senate action had been expected to pave the way for a much more contentious vote in the House of Representatives. And it didn’t work out that way at all.
While it might seem obvious that the rights to water and food are inextricably linked, all too often policies around their use and governance are developed for one without regard to the other. To address this problem, the UN Committee on World Food Security formed a High Level Panel of Experts and charged it with weaving these two policy strands together. The resulting report provides a list of recommendations on the critical issue of Water for Food Security and Nutrition.
Committee on World Food Security (CFS) is the foremost international and intergovernmental platform trying to address global food security and nutrition challenges. Following the food crises of 2008, it initiated a reform process, increasing stakeholder participation, especially participation by those engaged in small scale food production systems. It also created a High-Level Panel of Experts (HLPE) mechanism to gain deeper understanding and ‘independent scientific knowledge based analysis and advice on issues related to food security and nutrition. Since its establishment HLPE has brought out nine reports. I was fortunate to serve on the most recent project team, which just completed its report on Water for Food Security and Nutrition (FSN). The launch of the report is this week.
As the Senate lurches toward consideration of Fast Track, it's important to remember that the debate is more than a political game. Fast Track Authority is an abdication of Congressional responsibility and accountability. Adding insult to injury, the trade agreements that such authority would, in effect, guarantee are the product of non-democratic and secretive processes heavily engineered by corporations. Chiseling away at what is left of our democracy isn’t popular among the majority of the people who vote for Democrats, Republicans, and Libertarians. That is why there is unity among the opposition to Fast Track, and that is why President Obama has a political problem on his hands that will not be solved by offering rides in Air Force One, or by promising to offset the inevitable (and proven) destruction of jobs that will follow right on the heels of ratifying two new trade agreements should Fast Track be approved. Ultimately, representatives of the people in Washington DC have to get elected. And anyone who steps up to vote YES on Fast Track authority will have a hard time explaining, quite soon, exactly why they dodged their responsibility to ensure that trade agreements serve the interests of the people. Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians. Voters.
This past Friday, over 29,000 comments, including IATP’s review of the Guidelines, were submitted to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Department of Agriculture (USDA) on the 2015 Dietary Guidelines. The Guidelines, revised every five years, set policy guidance on the American diet and nutrition. They inform the design and implementation of federally funded nutrition programs such as the School Nutrition Program and the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program. Policy makers, educators and nutrition and health professionals use them.
According to Politico (subscription required), the last Scientific Report on the Dietary Guidelines (in 2010) elicited only 2,000 comments by comparison. This year’s report raised a firestorm—mainly due to the meat industry—because the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) peer-reviewed report recommended that “Sustainability” should be an integral criteria for an optimal diet. They defined a sustainable diet as a pattern of eating that promotes health and well-being and provides food security for the present population while sustaining human and natural resources for future generations and concluded the following:
A diet higher in plant-based foods (vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds)and lower in animal-based foods is both healthier and more sustainable than the current American diet.
Coming up May 8, HBO will air another episode of Vice, the Emmy-winning documentary series coming out of the Vice Media group. Already this season, Vice has addressed topics from the challenges facing us due to growing antibiotic resistance, to how much of the $10 billion in reconstruction and relief aid sent to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake has actually reached and helped Haitian communities.
The May 8 episode will focus on the future of our food system, in particular, the role of GMOs in helping us achieve a sustainable and food-secure future. Vice interviewed IATP's Director of Agroecology and Agriculture Policy, Dr. Jahi Chappell, to respond to the claims they heard directly from Monsanto about how useful, necessary, and safe GMO crops are. Dr. Chappell's arguments follow:
Although recent pieces in the popular media and press have dismissed critics of GMOs as being anti-science or ideological, many credentialed scientists, myself included, argue that the “GMO = Science” line is incorrect. I would point to three reasons why:
Requiring country-of-origin labeling (COOL) of our meat at the grocery story is one of the most common sense food policies we have. Consumers want to know where their meat comes from, and COOL supports local farmers and ranchers. Yet, the big meat companies have been fighting against COOL for more than a decade. Despite losing repeatedly in Congress and the courts they’ve found a backdoor way to kill COOL: global trade rules.
It's hard to believe, but last year a World Trade Organization (WTO) dispute panel ruled that COOL was an illegal trade barrier under international trade rules. The good news is that the Obama Administration appealed the ruling – and new evidence has shown that COOL has not restricted trade. In the coming months a WTO’s Dispute Panel will issue a final ruling. The meat industry is putting enormous pressure on the White House to repeal COOL now – even before the WTO’s final ruling.
We need the President to stand up for consumers, farmers and ranchers and support COOL. Today, IATP and allies like Farm Aid and the National Farmers Union are supporting a National Call-in Day to Protect COOL.
We are asking people to take five minutes and call the White House to support COOL. You can call President Obama at: 888-793-4597. Ask him to stand up for COOL to preserve our right to know where our food comes from! Your voice matters. The White House records every call they receive. We know they’re hearing from the meat industry. Now, they need to hear from us.
(An editorial from IATP president, Juliette Majot in response to an April 25, 2015 editorial in the Minneapolis StarTribune endorsing Fast Track legislation currently before Congress.)
Fast-track Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), supported by the Star Tribune in an April 25 editorial (“Congress should pass ‘fast track’ on trade”), requires Congress to all but abandon its oversight role in trade negotiations, reducing that role to a yes-or-no vote on negotiating texts of enormous importance to nearly every part of our economy and governmental operations.
The Star Tribune writes that critics of U.S. trade policy “mischaracterize” this trade negotiations system as “somehow secretive.” In fact, the U.S. trade representative has chosen to negotiate trade agreements under Executive Order 13526, which classifies negotiations as national security information. The public cannot read what is being negotiated ostensibly on its behalf until the agreement is completed, signed by the president and presented to Congress. Under “fast track,” no amendments are allowed. Indeed, members of Congress can currently only read the negotiating texts under armed guard and without being able to take notes. Only advisers cleared by the trade representative, overwhelmingly corporate lobbyists, have substantive input to the content of the negotiating texts. This process is the very definition of “secretive.”
The corporate lobbying frenzy is heating up as Fast Track trade authority starts to make its way through Congress. The bill’s passage, with only one hearing and a tight timeline, is being greased by corporate cash and lobbying power—while a wide coalition of pretty much everyone else, workers, environmentalists, social justice and food and agriculture groups work to defeat it.
Why is Fast Track near the top of the multinational corporate agenda? Fast Track would allow the President to negotiate two mega-trade deals in secret, and present a final version to Congress for a simple up or down vote. The two mega trade deals in question, the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) would include 11 Pacific Rim countries and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with Europe, would not only set rules for trade, but also expand corporate rights to challenge national and local regulations. TPP and TTIP are at the top of the corporate and financial industry wish list—but first they need “Fast Track” to finish the deals.
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.