On the morning of September 29, North Dakota farmer Steven Jensen discovered a gurgling pool of oil in his wheat field. From a quarter-inch hole in the pipeline, 865,000 gallons of crude oil from the Bakken oil field leaked into his fields. It was 11 days before there was any public notification of the spill. In the last two years, North Dakota has had over 300 pipeline oil spills that were never publicly reported.
As the oil polluted soil is being removed from Steven Jensen's wheat field, the Enbridge oil company is planning a new pipeline from North Dakota carrying crude oil across northern Minnesota. In Carlton county, local residents and farmers along the proposed pipeline route are concerned about the risks the new pipeline, called Sandpiper, poses to their lives, land and environment. Citizens in the region have come together under the name Carlton County Land Stewards. IATP met with some members to learn more about the pipeline plans. Like so many extreme energy development projects, the citizens most affected are often the last to know what is being planned. Fortunately, land owners and farmers in Carlton County are working together to protect their farms and community.
Next week the state of Washington will vote on mandatory labeling of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in food products. This is an important election and moment in the battle over GMOs, but in many critical ways, it is increasingly obvious to me that GMO opponents have already won.
News story after news story makes it clear that, even in the U.S., where the introduction and acceptance of GMOs in the fields and grocery aisles has been most pronounced, the tide has shifted. While the “war” is by no means over in a country that has genetically modified crops growing on over 60% of its total crop acres, we need to celebrate this victory. But, as importantly, we need to take advantage of the market and policy openings it provides to go beyond opposing GMOs and achieve greater overall sustainability in our farming and food system.
The most apparent signs of the change in American public opinion on GMOs are the labeling campaigns rolling around the country. Connecticut and Maine have already successfully passed labeling laws, but require neighboring states to pass complementary labeling legislation before it goes into force. The California labeling initiative on the ballot in 2012 was defeated, due in large part to overwhelming spending by the food and biotech companies that opposed it. Similar tactics and heavy corporate spending is happening in the current Washington battle as well, with the outcome still too close to call.
In the hall at the University of São Paulo School of Mining, Materials Science and Engineering is an exhibit of electronic microscopy photographs of nanomaterials which have been engineered to between atomic and molecular size. One of the most beautiful photographs is titled “Campos do trigo”, that is, "fields of wheat," represented by carbon nanotubes synthesized on a silicon layer. These waves of grain measure about one hundred millionth of a meter. Nanotechnology requires visualization of materials at this scale to manipulate them for use in consumer and industrial products.
I was invited to give one presentation on agriculture and nanotechnology and another on the regulatory and trade policy outlook for nanotechnology at X Semisonoma, the 10th international seminar of Renanosoma, the Brazilian Network on Nanotechnology, Society and Environment. The former presentation was based in part on an IATP report on the effect of nanomaterials on soil health. The latter presentation reflected a small section in IATP’s just published report on agriculture and food under the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).
After being delayed by the U.S. government shutdown, talks for a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) are quietly gearing up again. Tariff barriers between the U.S. and EU are already low, so these negotiations are focused squarely on achieving “regulatory coherence.” In other words, industry lobby groups and their political allies on both sides of the Atlantic see the trade deal as an opportunity to get rid of rules and regulations that limit their ability to buy and sell goods and services. The outcome of TTIP has implications for the rest of the world. Leaders from both regions have made clear, the terms of this trade agreement will set the standard for future free trade agreements.
TTIP could affect a broad range of issues, from energy to the environment, and intellectual property rights to labor rights. It could also have a significant impact on the evolution of agricultural markets and food systems in the U.S. and EU, as well as solidify the ability of corporations and investors to challenge new regulations that could affect expected profits through international tribunals. Unfortunately, little concrete information is known about the content of the TTIP proposals, since the governments involved have refused to publish draft text.
In both the U.S. and EU, the time to influence the substance of the agreement is before it is completed. That’s a tricky task, since the negotiations are happening behind closed doors, but it means that civil society groups and legislators need to pay close attention to what is on the agenda, even without complete information.
The Farm Bill was designed to reign in price volatility, manage supply and protect nature while providing vital nutrition programs for the country’s poor. Instead, it’s been ravaged by constant corporate assault and a Congress too emboldened with industry money to stand up for our best interests.
The result? An agriculture system that is highly productive at the expense of health, the environment and rural communities.
It's time to move Beyond the Farm Bill and design the type of food and agriculture policy we need. One that provides:
Pete Huff and Dr. M. Jahi Chappell have joined IATP’s staff this fall and together will be leading the organization’s efforts to further a sustainable, diversified and prosperous agriculture and food system.
Pete Huff, IATP’s new director of food systems, will be focusing on advancing healthy and fair food systems in the coming year, including our Beyond the Farm Bill initiative. His background spans the worlds of organic agriculture, market gardening, school food-waste reduction and urban agriculture policy in the nonprofit and local government sectors in both the U.S. and Australia. Learn more about Pete on his staff page.
Dr. M. Jahi Chappell is IATP’s new director of agriculture policy, working on farm policy that supports agroecology and more democratic systems. Most recently, Dr. Chappell served as an assistant professor in the Environmental Science and Justice program of Washington State University Vancouver’s School of the Environment. He is a leading scholar of the food security policies of the city of Belo Horizonte, Brazil, which served as a basis for Brazil’s acclaimed national Zero Hunger programs. He’ll be a featured speaker at the upcoming Borlaug Dialogue as part of the World Food Prize. Learn more about Jahi on his staff page.
This piece was produced by IATP intern John Parker for IATP's Beyond the Farm Bill.
When it comes to faith in our democracy, this year has raised some eyebrows. In the case of food and agriculture policy, a disturbing fact emerges: Our democracy is increasingly a façade.
Agribusinesses have been subverting the democratic process from Washington D.C. to state legislatures across the country to ensure that people know less and less about how their food is produced and distributed. Moreover, they have engaged in a determined effort to obstruct opportunities for citizens and legislators to engage in the democratic process. Consider the following to illustrate the point.
As you may have heard, Jim Harkness intends to step down as president of IATP at the end of this year, to work fulltime on China. I am writing to ask your help in finding IATP’s next leader.
But first, I want to say something about Jim.
Jim came to IATP in 2006, taking the reins from founding director Mark Ritchie. There is always a danger when a founding director leaves that an organization will stumble; instead, Jim has led us through the past seven years with intelligence, grace and courage, and IATP is the stronger for it. Under his leadership, we have deepened our commitment to our core values of justice, internationalism, and sustainable, decentralized food, farm and energy systems. Under his leadership, IATP brought rural communities and agriculture to the table, whether the discussion was climate, finance, trade agreements, food policy, public health or GMOs. Under his leadership, IATP’s board shifted to bring on seven new members while keeping three of the founding members and myself. In short, Jim leaves IATP a strong, vibrant organization and we are truly grateful for that.
We are also eager to find the next president of IATP, and here I need your help. I am heading the board-staff search team that is looking for a collaborative, values-driven, visionary leader who is internationalist in perspective, passionate about agriculture and food systems, and skilled at managing a complex, dynamic organization. Applicants should have stature in a relevant field, experience with other cultures, excellent communication skills and demonstrated leadership ability. The position is based in Minneapolis. You can read the full job announcement here.
IATP's new Director of Agriculture Policy, Dr. M. Jahi Chappell, has published a review of The Localization Reader, an overview and primer on "the coming downshift," the need and potential for local food systems in the October 2013 edition of Landscape Ecology. Raymond De Young and Thomas Princen, both professors of natural resources at the University of Michigan, compiled The Localization Reader's 26 pieces--a mix of old and new writings, including an introduction and concluding chapter by De Young and Prince themselves.
According to Dr. Chappell's review, "Landscape ecologists looking for inspiration, philosophical rumination on the local, or a glimpse of the historical evolution of its underlying ideas will find much to enjoy."
You can read the review on Jahi’s personal webpage.
In a major win for public health, the FDA reported yesterday that it would withdraw approval of three of the four arsenicals in animal feed for poultry and hog production. The effective result is that of the 101 drug approvals for arsenic-based animal drugs, 98 will be withdrawn.
This action is the result of a more than seven-year effort by IATP and partners to force the FDA to remove this known carcinogen from animal feed, including a petition filed by IATP and the Center for Food Safety (CFS) in 2009, and the filing of a lawsuit earlier this year by CFS on behalf of IATP and eight other NGOs to force the agency to act on the petition. Better late than never.
In 2006, IATP published a report by David Wallinga, M.D. examining the use of arsenic in animal feed and how that arsenic ends up in chicken meat that consumers eat. Pharmaceutical companies add arsenic to animal feed in order to speed growth and improve pigmentation. The 2006 report estimated that more than 70 percent of all U.S. chickens raised for meat were fed arsenic and found detectable arsenic in much of the products we tested from supermarkets and fast food restaurants. We also found that many companies were not using arsenic in their animal feed, confirming our main point that the use of arsenic by these pharmaceutical companies was entirely unnecessary.