Think Forward blog

Minnesota's continuous living groundcover

Posted April 7, 2014 by Tara Ritter   

Used under creative commons license from Dawn Endico.

Of Minnesota’s 55.6 million acres, 27 million acres are taken up by farmland. Currently, crop production is dominated by summer annuals like corn and soybeans, which need to be replanted each year and grow only in the summer. The consequence of this type of cropping is that for most of the year, no active roots exist in the soil to filter water, reduce runoff, or prevent erosion. Covering the ground with crops for a larger portion of the year by adding winter annuals and perennials to the landscape provides multiple benefits, including diversifying agricultural operations, protecting soils and waterways, and increasing wildlife habitat.

Part of the reason that perennials are not already more widespread on the landscape is that seed suppliers have a vested interest in annual crops. Annuals require farmers to purchase seeds every year, thereby boosting profits for the seed suppliers. These suppliers include large stakeholders such as Monsanto, DuPont, and Syngenta, all of which have the resources to wield powerful influence over farmer decision making. However, increasing ground cover throughout the year is imperative to ensure continued production in the face of climate variability, especially in a state like Minnesota where nearly half of the land is in agricultural production.

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Take action on minimum wage: Support a food system that supports its workers

Posted March 28, 2014 by Andrew Ranallo   

Learn more about the Food Chain Workers Alliance at foodchainworkers.org.

Healthy, sustainable food cannot come from an unhealthy system that exploits its workers. Right now, part of that exploitation is an unacceptably low minimum wage in all sectors of the food system, from production to distribution, retail, restaurants and food service. In response, the Food Chain Workers Alliance (FCWA) is coordinating a day of action in support of a higher minimum wage this coming Monday, March 31—César Chávez Day. Representatives will deliver a petition with over 101,000 signatures to House Speaker John Boehner in support of the Fair Minimum Wage Act (H.R. 1010 / S.460), which would increase the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 per hour and the tipped minimum wage from $2.13 to 70 percent of that ($7.07 when minimum wage is $10.10).

It’s still not too late to sign the petition, so add your name before March 31 and keep your eyes on the FCWA Facebook and Twitter pages for more action opportunities this weekend and into Monday.

From the FCWA press release:

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IATP’s Shiney Varghese to serve on UN High Level Panel of Experts on water and food security

Posted March 26, 2014 by Andrew Ranallo   

Food, farming, livelihoods—no matter what you’re looking at, water is there, and when it’s not, things start to fall apart. California is facing currently its worst drought on record. Australia, too, with Queensland currently home to the state’s largest drought-declared area on record. With agriculture accounting for close to 70 percent of water withdrawals, the connection to our food supply is basic and utterly obvious.

In late February, the U.N. Committee on Food Security’s High Level Panel of Experts (CFS-HLPE) announced the composition of the expert team that will carry out its study on water and food security. We are pleased to announce that IATP’s Shiney Varghese has been selected as one of the team members. Shiney will bring to the collaborative effort her extensive experience with the water activist community, knowledge of agricultural water management, along with her grasp of water and food rights and the connections to climate change.

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Environmental and public health still secondary to product development in new national nanotech strategy

Posted March 19, 2014 by Dr. Steve Suppan   

The 2014 National Nanotechnology Initiative Strategic Plan was released on February 28, a Friday afternoon. Perhaps it was a coincidence, but when the U.S. government doesn’t want to draw attention to a report, often that report will be released on a Friday afternoon.

There was no need to downplay the Strategic Plan, which, like the previous plan, continued to emphasize public funding for product development. However, a new “signature initiative” to develop nanotechnology enabled sensors, while not targeting public and environmental impacts of nanotechnology, can be used to protect public and environmental health.

(Nanotechnology involves the manufacture, visualization and manipulation of atomic to molecular sized materials. The NNI’s Nanotechnology 101 offers a concise introduction to the subject.)

The National Nanotechnology Coordinating Office (NNCO) wrote the Strategic Plan for a Congress that is generally optimistic and enthusiastic about nanotechnology, particularly its potential for job creation and economic growth. A February study (subscription required) co-funded by the NNCO claims to have identified a $1 trillion global market for nanotechnology enabled products in 2013. It is one of many ironies of federal nanotechnology investment that publicly funded research, such as this nanotechnology market evaluation, is privatized and available to the public only for at a steep price.

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Welcoming Juliette Majot as IATP’s new president

Posted March 17, 2014 by Harriet Barlow   

 Juliette Majot, IATP's new president

Dear Friends,

The Board of Directors of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy is very pleased to announce the selection of Juliette Majot as our new president. We are inspired and impressed by Juliette’s experience, knowledge and commitment to building a fair, just and sustainable world. She comes to IATP with a keen appreciation and understanding of the global challenges we face, and brings with her the optimism and energy that is needed to make the important changes that IATP has been working on for the last 28 years.

The search process that brought us to Juliette was extensive and rewarding. Along the way we were humbled by the amazing, smart and dedicated people who engaged with us during the process. So many of you helped identify candidates to whom we reached out. Many of those applied or had thoughtful conversations with us as they considered applying. While we can only have one president, the search reminded us that we have many wonderful friends who share IATP’s vision of making justice a reality. The board wants to sincerely thank everybody who participated in the process.

Juliette is an activist dedicated to movement building for social change. Her activism began in her teens as part of a successful grassroots effort to halt construction of a nuclear reactor along the shore of Lake Michigan near her home town. After earning a degree in management from Purdue University, she joined the staff of Friends of the Earth U.S. under David Brower, where she eventually served as deputy director. After five years with FoE U.S. she turned her attention to Friends of the Earth UK.

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Action Alert: Send 30,000 comments to the FDA on taking antibiotics out of our meat

Posted March 11, 2014 by IATP   

A minimum of 23,000 people die in the United States due to antibiotic resistance, according to the Center for Disease Control. Yet, antibiotic resistance—the rise of so-called “super bugs”—is on the rise because of overuse and abuse of antibiotics in our food system. Eighty percent of antibiotics sold in the U.S. go toward food animal production—mostly for the corporate meat industry that uses it for growth promotion and to keep a large number of animals alive in confined spaces. While doctors, nurse practitioners and pharmacists are required to write prescriptions for antibiotics to treat sick people, anyone can buy them over the counter in animal feed stores. This lack of regulation is creating a public health crisis that is entirely possible to avert.

After years of delay, FDA is finally attempting to address this major gap by requiring animal drug makers to have veterinary supervision of antibiotics in feed. Veterinary supervision is critical to slow the overuse of these drugs and the related spread of antibiotic resistance. However, the FDA (in order avoid resistance from drug companies) is watering down what “veterinary supervison” means, and therefore, undermining the ability of government agencies to effectively track how drugs in animal feed are used.

The existing rule (called the Veterinary Feed Directive, or VFD), which is stronger, only applies to two drugs. But the FDA is weakening this rule in order to apply it to many more antibiotic drugs. While regulating a broad range of antibiotics under the VFD is absolutely critical for public health, the FDA should create a strong and comprehensive rule that requires the drug industry to change its practices.

To read the proposed FDA rule, click here.

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U.S. groups voice concerns about meat industry demands in transatlantic trade deal

Posted March 10, 2014 by Shefali Sharma   

Trade negotiators from the United States and the European Union are meeting in Brussels this week behind closed doors to inch towards a transatlantic free trade agreement, benignly referred to as the TransAtlantic Trade and Investment partnership (TTIP). Twenty-nine U.S. based community, farm, environmental, animal welfare and consumer organizations sent a letter today to United States Trade Representative Michael Froman voicing strong concerns about prominent corporate meat industry demands in TTIP. The aim of the agreement is to “harmonize” standards between the European Union and the U.S. on a wide range of issues that touch our lives, including how our food (meat in particular) is produced and processed and who controls that system.

Over 20 corporate meat and feed industry associations and representatives submitted public comments to USTR last May. Together, their comments demonstrate how these interests seek to weaken standards on meat and animal products that could undermine food safety, public health, animal welfare, worker safety and environmental regulations.

Across the U.S. and the EU, citizens, farmers and civil society organizations are advocating for a fairer, healthier and more humane form of meat production that eliminates the use of chemicals, hormones and antibiotics and which allows independent and local producers to flourish. The letter states:

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Getting the data to regulate global banks

Posted March 7, 2014 by Dr. Steve Suppan   

Used under creative commons license from World Economic Forum.

Mark J. Carney, chairman of the Financial Stability Board (FSB), speaks at the World Economic Forum.

This September, it will be five years since President Barack Obama and other Group of 20 leaders committed to regulating the over-the-counter (OTC) derivatives markets jointly and in each of their jurisdictions. The world’s largest banks would have defaulted in 2008–2009 on their bets in the nearly unregulated $700 trillion global OTC market had it not been for publicly funded bailouts, above all the $29 trillion U.S. Federal Reserve Bank emergency loan program of 2007–2010.

Fulfilling the G-20 commitments has been a political, legislative, budgetary, regulatory and technological struggle, due in part to the opposition of those same publicly rescued banks. For example, the International Swaps and Derivatives Association (ISDA), which represents OTC broker dealers and their largest corporate clients, is one of three parties suing the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) to prevent the application of the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation to the foreign affiliates of U.S. OTC broker dealers. Losing foreign affiliate trades, booked to their U.S. headquartered firms, triggered the 2008-2009 default cascades.

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Obama administration told to stop expanding "corporate rights" in trade agreements

Posted March 5, 2014 by Karen Hansen-Kuhn   

Used under creative commons license from G20Voice.

U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman

One of the most controversial provisions in free trade agreements is the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanism, which gives corporations the right to sue governments over public measures that undermine their expected profits. It’s a pretty outrageous assault on democratic structures. In fact, when I tell people new to the trade debate about it, at first they often don’t believe me.

But it is a fact. ISDS is included in bilateral and regional trade and investment pacts around the world. The supposed justification is that legal systems in many countries don’t adequately protect foreign investments, so it creates a special tribunal just for them. For example, under NAFTA, three U.S. agribusiness firms sued the Mexican government over restrictions on high-fructose corn syrup, and won $169 million in compensation. Tobacco giant Phillip Morris, operating through its Hong Kong subsidiary, has sued the Australian government over new rules on cigarette labels that highlight fthe health dangers. If that one seems a bit convoluted, it’s because when the Australian government signed a free trade agreement with the United States, it refused to include ISDS, saying its legal system was perfectly able to handle any disputes. But Australia was already bound by an investment pact with Hong Kong.

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Putting Farm to School in students’ hands

Posted March 4, 2014 by Andrew Ranallo   

Busy hands make for busy minds—that’s the theory behind experiential, or hands-on learning. IATP’s new high school–level Farm to School Youth Leadership Curriculum, released today, is designed with this in mind: Beyond learning about sourcing local food and the research that goes into localizing their school lunch, students actually participate in creating or expanding a Farm to School program, assisting their school lunchroom staff and administration with the nitty gritty of sourcing local foods for lunch.

From the press release:

The Farm to School Youth Leadership Curriculum is comprised of six lessons that can be taught consecutively over a semester or as single lessons or activities to complement other classes. Each lesson contains a lesson summary, facilitator preparation notes, activities, worksheets, recommended optional work and further resources for students and teachers. Lessons include themes such as “School Lunch: How Does it Really Work?” and “Communicating with Producers of Local Foods.”

Development of the Farm to School Youth Leadership Curriculum was a collaborative process, including consultation with educators, food service professionals and Farm to School experts, supported by the Center for Prevention at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, the John P. and Eleanor R. Yackel Foundation, the Minnesota Agricultural Education Leadership Council and the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.

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