Think Forward blog

Transparency in the Food System Should Include Political Giving

Posted March 9, 2015 by Ben Lilliston   

Used under creative commons license from Redfishingboat.

Whether we like it or not, our taxpayer dollars go to many of the big corporations that dominate U.S. food and farming through government contracts. These same corporations use their considerable financial resources to support political candidates in a variety of ways, often without full disclosure. Is this a system of covert corruption? We need to find out. Last week, over 50 groups called on President Obama to require that any corporation receiving a government contract disclose their political spending.

Giant food and agribusiness companies rake in big money from government contracts. For example, since 2010, Tyson Foods has been paid $2.3 billion from federal contracts; Kraft $1.2 billion; Nestle $700 million; Cargill nearly $700 million; and Pepsi $600 million. These same companies are players in both electoral campaigns as well as Beltway lobbying powerhouses (see chart for some of the top food and agribusiness recipients).

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White House would veto anti-regulation bill but support its trade policy cousin

Posted March 5, 2015 by Dr. Steve Suppan   

Used under creative commons license from Twitter user @TheProspect.

The White House is demonstrating its inconsistent stance on regulation with its opposition to the RAA's attack on federal regulations and regulators while still supporting industry's anti-regulatory agenda of "regulatory cooperation" in new trade agreements.

On February 25, the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee (HSGAC) held another hearing that attacked federal regulations and regulators as an unnecessary burden on corporations, employment creation and economic growth. Among the antidotes that the HSGAC majority will propose is a revised version of the Regulatory Accountability Act (RAA) (S. 1029 in the previous session of Congress). The RAA advocates and the industry lobbyists for “regulatory cooperation” in free trade agreements are largely the same. There is no such consistency from the White House, which opposes the RAA, but supports industry’s anti-regulatory agenda when it is cloaked in the trade policy euphemisms of “regulatory cooperation.”

The White House has already rejected the 2015 House of Representatives version of the RAA, stating it “would impose unprecedented and unnecessary procedural requirements on agencies that would prevent them from efficiently performing their statutory responsibilities. It would also create needless regulatory and legal uncertainty and further impede the implementation [of] protections for the American public. This bill would make the regulatory process more expensive, less flexible, and more burdensome.” The statement concludes, “If the President were presented with the Regulatory Accountability Act, his senior advisors would recommend that he veto the bill.”

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The Historic Nyéléni Declaration on Agroecology

Posted March 3, 2015 by Shiney Varghese   

Image credit: La Via Campesina

Last week, a landmark event took place in Mali. International movements of small‐scale food producers and consumers, including peasants, indigenous peoples and communities (together with hunter and gatherers), family farmers, rural workers, herders and pastoralists, fisherfolk and urban people from around the world gathered at the Nyéléni Center in Sélingué, Mali from February 24 to 27, to reach a common understanding of agroecology as a key element of Food Sovereignty. The participants developed joint strategies to promote agroecology and to defend it from co‐optation.

Together, these diverse constituencies produce some 70% of the food consumed by humanity. They are the primary global investors – in terms of labor, time, and their knowledge of the food system practices – in agriculture, as well as the primary providers of jobs and livelihoods in the world. In 2002, at the Forum for Food Sovereignty in Nyéléni, these movements came together to strengthen their alliances and to expand and deepen their understanding of Food Sovereignty. Since then, the Food Sovereignty movement has come a long way, as a banner of joint struggle for justice, and as the larger framework for Agroecology. (See IATP paper on Scaling Up Agroecology)

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Obama’s Trade Agenda Smacks Down the Climate

Posted February 25, 2015 by Ben Lilliston   

Used under creative commons license from Corporate Europe Observatory.

President Obama, like the Bushes and Clinton before him, is all in on expanding the type of free trade multinational corporations love. Unfortunately, these trade agreements fuel an extractive form of globalization that has negatively impacted jobs and inequality, and have also been devastating for the climate. This week 40 groups—many of them focusing on rural and community-based responses to climate change—wrote Congress calling for the rejection of Fast Track trade authority, which would speed through two mega trade deals without fully assessing their impacts on the climate.

The letter is timely. In the next few weeks, Congress will consider whether to surrender their role under the Constitution to influence trade agreements before they are completed and grant the President Fast Track authority. Fast Track limits Congress’ role on trade agreements to an up or down vote, no amendments and limited debate. President Obama wants Fast Track to pass two massive trade deals—the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) with a dozen Pacific Rim countries, and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with Europe.  Both TPP and TTIP have been negotiated in secret, with only restricted access to the text for Members of Congress (but much greater access for corporate trade advisors).

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Big Meat Lobby to Attack New Dietary Guidelines

Posted February 23, 2015 by Shefali Sharma   

Used under creative commons license from usdagov.

The North American Meat Institute, national beef and pork associations and other corporate lobbies of the powerful meat industry are seething at the historic new scientific report by the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. Why historic? Because the committee takes on the meat industry head to head in a scientific report intended to help set five year national guidelines on nutrition and because for the first time, the recommendations take into account the environmental footprint of our food (production) choices. If these recommendations are accepted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the report will not only help set national nutrition policy but will also likely impact the $16 billion school lunch program. The USDA and HHS will jointly release the National Dietary Guidelines later this year.

Based on their research, the Committee came to the conclusion that, “a healthy dietary pattern is higher in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low- or non-fat dairy, seafood, legumes, and nuts; moderate in alcohol (among adults); lower in red and processed meat; and low in sugar sweetened foods and drinks and refined grains.”[i]

It is the emphasis on lower red and processed meat consumption that has the meat industry up in arms, particularly so because the Committee integrates environmental impacts in its approach to dietary guidelines:[ii]

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Fast Track to an Empty Basket

Posted February 18, 2015 by IATP   

Later this month, Congress will consider whether or not to hand Fast Track authority over to the President, limiting themselves to a simple up or down vote on two extraordinarily complex trade agreements now being negotiated in secret and without Congressional oversight.

Trade agreements affect a huge range of laws and programs that govern how our economies work, how we grow and sell food, and who benefits—or loses. These trade agreements could set new rules that would:

  • Affect standards on food safety, pesticides, GMOs and patents on seeds;
  • Undermine local food efforts such as farm to school; and
  • Eliminate programs that require food or energy to come from local sources, or benefit local businesses.

The new free trade agreements are the biggest ever—the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) with 11 Pacific nations and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with Europe. Once in place, free trade agreements often supersede state, local and even federal laws.

Let’s face it, these trade deals are negotiated on behalf of multinational corporations—not farmers, workers or consumers. Fundamentally, these trade agreements are about making it easier for corporations to shift production to where it’s cheapest, while undermining local economies and food systems. They could even grant corporations new rights to sue governments directly if their future profits are threatened. No wonder the negotiations are in secret!

Help stop Fast Track now!

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Local Food Names: not for sale

Posted February 18, 2015 by Karen Hansen-Kuhn   Hannes Lorenzen   

Wir Haben Es Satt Stoppen TTIP

Repost from ARC2020

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) talks have revealed a contentious debate over local food names, so-called Geographical Indications (GIs). Far from a technical issue, the differing approaches to protections for local food names underscore very different traditions. Karen Hansen-Kuhn and Hannes Lorenzen unpack the issues in this long read.

Historically, European farmers have sought to protect names and processes for certain food products associated with a specific local food culture. GIs were originally a tool used by disadvantaged regions to protect their specific products and receive a premium price for unique, and sometimes difficult natural conditions of production, especially in mountain areas. It has been seen as a tool to keep a higher added value in a specific region and to create closer connections with consumers through clear rules for quality production.

To many Americans, this might sound like an obscure, new issue or appear as a trick of European negotiators to impose barriers in trade. Reports on EU demands to protect what most Americans would consider common food names such as “feta” have elicited surprised and rather derisive comments among Members of Congress and the media. On the other hand, some U.S. local producers of cheeses and specialty goods who are creating their own new traditions, are supportive of this approach and seek to enhance inadequate trademark protections in the U.S.

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Fast Track to (More) False Promises

Posted February 16, 2015

Used under creative commons license from nasahqphoto.

In his State of the Union address, President Obama urged Congress to renew Trade Promotion Authority, often called “Fast Track,” to complete two controversial international trade deals currently under negotiation, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). In attempts to portray this urgency, the President warned of China’s rising power in the realm of trade and global economics, and China is “trying to write the rules,” which would “disadvantage” American workers and businesses. Obama said, “We should write those rules. We should level the playing field.” But who actually writes the rules of these trade deals?

In mid-January, the Trade Benefits America Coalition submitted a letter to Congress leadership, urging the passage of Trade Promotion Authority. The undersigned Coalition members include over 200 of the largest corporations and trade associations in the country, a sample of which include Walmart, Coca Cola, the notorious corporate-led, state-focused ALEC, and four of the “Big 6” pesticide and GMO corporations: BASF, Bayer, Dupont, and Dow Chemical Company. Not one of the Coalition members appear to represent workers, the environment, or public health - a glaring indication of who will benefit from Fast Track and the pending trade deals.

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Conservation, Climate, and CAFOs

Posted February 12, 2015 by Tara Ritter   

Used under creative commons license from sraproject.

Recommended changes to the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), a farm program designed to encourage conservation, may instead promote the expansion of factory farms that harm the climate. EQIP is administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (USDA NRCS), and is one of the largest federal conservation programs. It is a voluntary program that provides financial and technical assistance to agricultural producers to address soil, water, air, and other natural resource concerns. Since its inception in 1997, EQIP has invested in nearly 600,000 contracts for a total of about $11 billion on 232 million acres.

As climate change makes farming more risky with erratic temperatures, increased drought and flood, and other extreme weather events, conservation programs can provide an opportunity for producers to undertake practices that increase their farm’s resilience to climate impacts without taking a large economic hit. The 2014 Farm Bill authorized several changes to the program intended to simplify regulation, but instead the proposed changes would provide distinct advantages for Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). Animal waste storage and treatment facilities have become the second largest user of EQIP funds, behind only irrigation equipment. Funding projects that benefit large-scale CAFOs not only wreaks havoc on the climate; it also ends up disproportionately benefiting large operations over small to mid-sized family farms.

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The COOL Showdown at the WTO

Posted February 6, 2015 by Dr. Steve Suppan   

Used under creative commons license from Tom Magliery.

The U.S. Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) rule is headed for a showdown at the World Trade Organization Appellate Body (AB) on February 16-17. At stake are not just the economic interests of those affected by the WTO ruling on COOL and the right of consumers to know the origin of their food, but also the capacity of WTO jurisprudence to reverse a ruling when new evidence emerges. In this instance, the AB will be presented with evidence that thoroughly rebuts the facts upon which a WTO Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) panel based its ruling against COOL.

COOL for a broad array of horticultural, nut, fish, shellfish and meat products was first mandated in the 2002 U.S. Farm Bill. Only the application of COOL to meat products has been challenged in court. The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy first supported COOL’s regulatory implementation at a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) hearing in 2003. In successive Farm Bills, global meatpackers have sought to “reform” COOL by making the labeling rules so confusing as to be meaningless. COOL proponents have defended the labeling law successfully four times in U.S. Courts.

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