Earlier this month, IATP was part of a six-event speakers’ tour organized by the progressive German farmers’ organization, ABL and sponsored by over 20 German organizations on the proposed U.S.-EU free trade agreement. The tour, spanning north, south east and west, drew an amazing response over the last two weeks as we literally moved around Germany. Crowds of anywhere between 200 people on a Wednesday evening (in Dresden) to 70 to 100 people on other weeknights in rural communities came to learn and engage on the implications of TTIP on food and agriculture on both sides of the Atlantic. They were interested in hearing the “U.S. perspective,” but I was joined by prominent leaders of the food and farming movement in Germany and Europe at the various events, like the president of the European Milk Board and head of its German association BDM (Bundesverband Deutscher Milchviehhalter), Romuald Schaber and the Board Chair of ABL, Georg Janssen, as well as other local and regional farm leaders of ABL.
The Obama Administration’s feverish cheerleading for genetically modified crops is being put to the test with growing evidence that the technology is unpopular with consumers, causing problems in the field and facing increasing rejection in the marketplace.
The state of Vermont is set to become the first in the country to require mandatory labeling of genetically modified foods. Maine and Connecticut have also passed mandatory labeling bills, but they require neighboring states to also pass such bills before they come into law. More than 25 states have GMO labeling laws working their way through state legislatures and ballot initiatives. Hawaii, a major testing ground for new GMO crops, has become another battleground as several counties now require greater disclosure and tougher regulations for GMO plantings.
This is a big deal and the biotech seed industry knows it. The industry has already spent millions to defeat ballot initiatives and state-based bills. Its next line of defense against the states is litigation, where it will likely sue states’ requiring labeling for violating the interstate commerce clause (restricting trade between states).
The Board of the Federal Reserve asked this question, in essence, and 25 questions related to it in an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. IATP responded, because while banks generally do not own and trade agricultural commodities, the energy commodities they trade, including fertilizer (occasionally), oil, gas and electricity are agricultural inputs and, hence, affect agricultural prices. (The Fed has posted all comments here.) (On April 22, Barclay’s, which traded agricultural commodities, announced that it would be selling most of its commodity trading division. Greater regulatory scrutiny and declining profits were cited as reasons for the sale.)
We’ve all made recipes and forgot that one key ingredient, only to forgive ourselves because, after all, food is more than just its physical ingredients: Too salty or not, we made that soup and we’ll be damned if we’re not proud of ourselves.
So what about the food we buy? Other than the items listed on the nutrition facts, food companies know we want to feel good: “The Breakfast of Champions” or something that’s “Mmm Mmm Good.” These famous slogans say nothing of ingredients, and everything about emotional appeal. Of course, advertising doesn’t include the whole story: The U.S. food system, controlled by a handful of corporations, is missing some key ingredients. We know there’s plenty of salt, sugar and fat, replacing the ingredients we might use at home, the freshness or family recipes we might cherish, and greater nutrition and variety provided by whole and home-cooked foods. In the same way, fair wages and prices for workers and farmers in the food system have been replaced with huge volumes of cheap food (and accompanying waste), low prices and inadequate wages.
From the soil and water that feeds our crops, to the waiters and waitresses that serve us our lunch, to the seeming myriad choices we have at the grocery store about what we eat, justice and health for ourselves, our farmers, workers and the environment is in drastically short supply.
Tomorrow, Thursday, April 17, the Open Source Seed Initiative (OSSI) will release over 29 seed varieties into the global commons and humanity's “moral economy.” This new initiative hopes to provide a counterweight to private patenting of seeds, which has undermined farmers’ rights around the world.
OSSI is composed of faculty, breeders, students and supporters from Washington State University, Oregon State University, High Mowing Organic Seeds, Lupine Knoll Farm, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Wild Garden Seeds, and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, among other members and allies. The group has sought a way to support the innovative efforts, traditions, and rights of those who breed seeds, by pioneering a system whereby plant varieties could be released into a “protected commons”: a commons populated by those who agree to share but effectively inaccessible to those who do not—a necessary tool in light of private corporate interests' persistent and too-often successful attempts to lock away elements of humanity's common agricultural heritage behind patents and other forms of kleptocratic intellectual property.
This blog was originally published on RuralClimateNetwork.org.
The U.S. federal budget proposal for fiscal year 2015 was released on March 4 with climate change playing a more substantial role than it has in the past. Much of the funding for climate resilience comes from a new Opportunity, Growth and Security Initiative that allocates $56 billion dollars overall, including $1 billion for a Climate Resilience Fund that will support research to understand the impacts of climate change and help communities plan for those impacts. While $1 billion is only a fraction of the total money in the budget, the acknowledgment of climate change as a real entity with tangible consequences is a definite step forward.
The specific dollars for climate resilience are peppered throughout the budget and spread across many federal departments. Some examples include funding to the Department of Agriculture for regional climate hubs, researching resilient crop production techniques and investing in renewable energy; funding to the Department of Commerce for improving coastal resilience to severe weather events; funding to the Department of Energy for developing clean energy and analyzing infrastructure vulnerabilities; funding to the Department of the Interior for expanding the U.S. Geological Survey to monitor, research, and analyze climate resilience; and funding to the Environmental Protection Agency for supporting the President’s Climate Action Plan to reduce carbon pollution. Although this list is not exhaustive, it displays the pervasiveness of climate change throughout the entire budget.
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.
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).
From the FCWA press release:
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.
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.