In the early morning hours Monday, on a remote road near the Texas-Mexico border, Mexican marines picked a deadly and rotten piece of fruit when it captured Miguel Angel Treviño Morales, the sadistic boss of Los Zetas criminal cartel. Los Zetas appeared on the scene in 1999, an elite unit of the Mexican military that went rogue, working at first for the Gulf drug cartel and eventually breaking off to form their own criminal organization known for employing extremely brutal methods of torture, terror and mass murder. Los Zetas quickly became a major force in Mexican drug trafficking.
Drug cartels existed long before the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994, but not drug cartels as we know them today. As we approach the 20th anniversary of NAFTA, we can no longer ignore its contribution to building a powerful and violent criminal enterprise that has brought Mexico close to being labeled a failed state and made the Mexican-U.S. border into a war zone.
Most often when we analyze trade agreements, the focus is on trade volumes, jobs and manufacturing statistics, poverty levels and immigration—all extremely important ways to understand the impact of neoliberal policies bequeathed to us from Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. But to fully appreciate how devastating free trade has been, we need to look more closely at the aftermath of free trade on the bonds that hold communities together. It starts out small, a single thread that eventually leads to unraveling the whole cloth.
In September 2009, the Group of 20 Leaders, including President Barack Obama, announced their commitment to regulate the over-the-counter (OTC) commodity and financial derivatives market. Since then, however, ferocious industry resistance, abetted by sympathetic lawmakers, has frustrated realization of this commitment. Substantive differences in law and market infrastructure, combined with this resistance, have made the reform process a long and winding road without a comprehensive agreement on how to prevent another OTC-triggered global financial crisis.
It would be hard to overstate the impacts of the 2008 financial meltdown. Losses among major players in the global OTC market threatened to bankrupt the global financial system. Taxpayer-funded bailouts of the world’s largest banks and nearly $30 trillion of U.S. Federal Reserve Bank emergency ultra-low interest rate loans saved the banks from losses for which they had woefully inadequate reserves to pay up. The General Accountability Office (GAO) has estimated the financial damage to the U.S. economy from the OTC market meltdown at about $13 trillion, to say nothing of untold costs of human suffering.
We are all hearing a lot about obesity these days and more people are obese than ever; one-third of American children and two-thirds of adults are overweight or obese. The American Medical Association has declared that obesity is a disease.
While some disagree with the designation of obesity as a disease, there is strong evidence that obesity is linked with diseases—specifically Type II diabetes and heart disease. There is also general agreement that obesity is a major public health problem. Preventing obesity would contribute to a healthier, happier population and save an estimated $190 billion per year in direct health care costs.
But how do we prevent obesity? We all know that we should eat healthier and exercise more to maintain a healthy weight, but few people are aware that avoiding exposure to certain chemicals could reduce their risk of obesity, especially during prenatal life and in childhood. An emerging body of science links chemicals that disrupt hormones to increased risk for obesity.
Fetuses and children are the most vulnerable to adverse health effects from hormone-disrupting chemicals. Like hormones themselves, these chemicals exert health impacts even at minute levels of exposure and exposures in the womb can have lifelong impacts.
Transparency and trade negotiations don’t seem to go together these days. Recent revelations in Spiegel disclosed that the U.S. government had been spying on its EU “partners” connected to negotiations on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP, probably better stated as the Trans Atlantic Free Trade agreement, or TAFTA, which very much rhymes with NAFTA). The French and German governments are outraged, with some parliamentarians calling for a suspension of the talks, slated to start next week in Washington, D.C.
Unfortunately, the only way civil society groups find out about the negotiations are through basically one-way conversations, where we express our concerns to trade officials, or through leaked negotiating documents. One such text came our way over the weekend, a set of position papers summarizing some of the EU’s initial goals on regulatory harmonization, which would be sent to the U.S. ahead of the talks. It includes initial proposals on regulatory issues involving the automotive sector, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, Sanitary and Phytosanitary issues (SPS), competition policy, a proposal for a chapter on trade and sustainable development, trade in raw materials and energy, and an ambitious proposal for cross-cutting disciplines on regulatory issues. It starts out by asserting that, “the TTIP offers a unique chance to give new momentum to the development and implementation of international regulations and standards (multilateral or otherwise plurilateral). This should reduce the risk of countries resorting to unilateral and purely national solutions, leading to regulatory segmentation that could have an adverse effect on international trade and investment.”
A recent announcement by the European Commission has consequences for anyone affected by an interest rate, the price of oil or the price of wheat [read: everyone].
On June 15, Reuters reported that the European Commission had decided to extend the deadline for U.S. financial firms to comply with European Securities Market Authority (ESMA) regulatory deadlines. However, the compliance concession is deceptive since ESMA has yet to finish issuing rules that would apply to EU and non-EU financial firms. Rules to implement the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act require that most trades be “cleared” on a central platform, to protect other market participants from the consequences of default by one or more counterparties to a trade.
Indeed, the U.S. and EU are among the Group of 20 members that committed to centralize clearing in 2009. ESMA is still trying to decide which commodity and financial contracts will have to be cleared. Other European market reform legislation has yet to be passed, much less implemented. In addition to extending its own deadline, the European Commission is hoping to use the “concession” as a bargaining chip to push the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) into extending its July 12 compliance deadline for European financial firms on rules it has finalized. This proposed exchange for a European deadline extension to comply with rules it has yet to finalize, is disingenuous. Perfect synchronicity and harmonization in transatlantic rulemaking is not achievable. The CFTC should not, yet again, extend its compliance deadline beyond July 12 in response to the Commission’s gambit.
In December 2012, I received an email from Frances (Frankie) Moore Lappé, a woman whose name I had known since I was a teenager interested in hunger and poverty issues and reading all I could on the subject. I was honored. Frankie was reaching out to organizations and individuals who work to end hunger to ask if we had read the FAO’s 2012 State of Food Insecurity in the World (SOFI) report and if so, what we had made of it. Frankie was concerned about a number of things, including that the report presented too rosy a view on how the world’s governments were doing in their ambition to eliminate hunger, and too rosy a view on what economic growth could do about the problem.
It did not take Frankie long to persuade a group of us, including IATP, to take notice and formalize our concerns. Those concerns include:
As the U.S. Farm Bill debate drags on like a bad dream you can’t wake up from, Europe is entering the final stretch of multi-year negotiations on the 2014–2020 Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). As with the Farm Bill, agreement on the CAP is far from a sure thing.
In the U.S., we have the House of Representatives working overtime to eliminate funding for almost everything in the Farm Bill. The President is threatening to veto it if Congress takes too much from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamp) program, which accounts for close to 70 percent of the Farm Bill’s cost.
In Europe, the CAP debates have a familiar ring over direct payments and capping and coupling aid. Unlike the U.S., high on the list are proposals designed to “Green the CAP,” which includes addressing environmental and economic challenges. The CAP debate is simplified by not including a massive food aid program like SNAP, but complicated by a process that in the current phase is called “triolgues.”
Triolgues bring together the European Parliament, the European Commission and the European Council to hammer out the final agreement. In the European Parliament, civil society organizations like ARC 2020 have led in the debates on greening the CAP. Starting in 2010, ARC 2020 issued an outline for comprehensive reform of European agriculture and rural policy. Their proposals have been met with widespread popular support but serious foot dragging from the EU ministers. A live debate between Agriculture Commissioner Dacian Cioloş and the European ParliamentAgriculture Committee Chair, Paolo De Castro on June 20 will highlight what is at stake.
As I dream of real summer weather, one of the things I look forward to most is picking strawberries with my little cousins at a pick-your-own farm near our family cabin up in Aitkin County. The first time we tried it, the kids were so excited we had to go back two times in one day and filled five ice cream gallon buckets with ruby red fruit, sweet and sun-warmed as we relished in harvesting that evening’s dessert.
Not every child gets to experience the wonder of connecting with our local food system in such a direct way, but this year’s issue of the Minnesota Grown Directory is here to help families make that connection.
Minnesota Grown is a partnership between the Minnesota Department of Agriculture and producers of specialty crops and livestock. Their annual directory of local producers is always a huge hit with our vibrant local foods community. This year’s issue, just published last week, lists nearly 1,000—a record number!—local farmers, markets and businesses where consumers can buy directly from the producer. It also boasts a strong family-friendly focus. IATP worked with Minnesota Grown to include information on Farm to Childcare programs, fun farm facts, kid-friendly activities like farm tours, and other techniques families with young children can use to engage with locally grown foods. The family-centered content is a great supplement to the detailed information on local producers the Minnesota Grown Directory always provides, and makes this year’s issue a wonderful resource for parents, teachers, childcare facilities and anyone interested in engaging with kids on local agriculture.
Two Converging Rivers—That’s what Shuanghui means in Chinese, apparently. It seems appropriate when we look at the scale at which both Shuanghui and Smithfield operate in their respective countries. Shuanghui is said to be China’s largest meat manufacturer and Smithfield is the largest pork processor in the United States. It’s a convergence of two very big and very dirty rivers. Contrary to the common theme in media reports on the acquisition, food safety problems and environmental pollution are not just the domain of the Chinese livestock industry. One doesn’t have to look very far to see Smithfield’s own record in this regard. Unmanageable non-point source pollution from concentrated animal farms, antibiotic resistance, disease and chemical-related deaths related to poultry factories are very much associated with and originate from the American model of industrial livestock production. Smithfield was embarrassed after an undercover video of animal cruelty was taken from one of its plants and released by the Humane Society.
Today, 795 health professionals from across the country sent a joint letter to President Obama urging his leadership in getting the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to jumpstart its now-stalled policies to help protect the future effectiveness of antibiotics by reducing their overuse in food animal production. The letter was delivered by IATP's Healthy Food Action, Health Care Without Harm and the Pew Charitable Trusts.
Close to 30 million pounds of the antibiotics are sold for use in U.S. food animals each year. Many of them are identical, or nearly so, to antibiotics used in human medicine. Most are used for non-sick animals, to promote their faster growth and compensate for the risks created by raising such animals in overcrowded and often unhygienic conditions.
“In our hospitals, and in our communities, antibiotics increasingly are failing to treat drug resistant superbugs,” says David Wallinga, MD of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy and Healthy Food Action. “The huge overuse of these antibiotics on our farms, in meat production, is an important—and unaddressed—contributor to the problem.”
What this letter shows is this superbug epidemic is too important for FDA and the White House to sit on the sidelines. We need President Obama to make sure his administration leads in the fight to protect antibiotis.”