Think Forward blog

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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A path toward better agricultural investment

Posted February 26, 2014 by Shiney Varghese   

Gerda Verburg, Chairperson of the Committee on Food Security. Photo: ©Alessandra Benedetti

The food crisis of 2008 led to a broad agreement in the agricultural development community that the lack of appropriate investment in agriculture had been a key contributing factor to unstable prices and food insecurity. The crisis coincided with an increase in land grabbing in many parts of the world, but especially in Africa. It is in response to these events that the idea of developing some criteria on agricultural investments came up in international policy and governance arenas.

The food crisis also led the United Nations in 2008-09 to reform its Rome-based Committee on Food Security (CFS) to address both the short term food crisis, and the long-term structural issues that led to it. It involved bringing new people to the table where decisions were being made, and this included a new Civil Society Mechanism (CSM).

In October 2010, the newly reformed CFS was faced with a challenge: Should it endorse the international Principles for Responsible Agricultural Investment that Respect Rights, Livelihoods and Resources (PRAI) developed by the Inter-Agency Working Group (IAWG), composed of FAO, UNCTAD, IFAD and the World Bank, or refuse to endorse it in response to the CSM position rejecting the PRAI?

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Bracing for impacts as China enters industrial meat complex

Posted February 18, 2014 by Andrew Ranallo   

IATP is excited to announce the release of a series of new reports looking in-depth at China’s feed, pork, poultry and dairy sectors, the past and future trajectory of the industry, and global impacts of China’s efforts to balance grain self-sufficiency and the desire to provide cheap meat.

China's transition to an industrial, resource-intensive model of livestock production could have major implications around the world, impacting farmers, public health and the environment. 

Read the press release for more information, download the reports below, or find all of our industrialized meat work at iatp.org/industrial-meat.

Global Meat Complex: The China Series

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New EU market reform: Content and possible consequences for U.S. rulemaking

Posted February 12, 2014 by Dr. Steve Suppan   

Used under creative commons license from dskley.

Economists are still struggling to quantify the trillions of dollars of costs to the global economy of collapse and bailouts of the world largest private banks. Three Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas economists “conservatively estimate” $6-14 trillion dollars of damage to the U.S. economy alone from the 2007-2009 financial and commodity market crisis. At the upper end of their estimate, that’s $120,000 for every man, woman and child in the U.S. The global damage caused by the global bank near defaults, publicly funded bank rescues, and fiscal crises that followed the rescues, has yet to be estimated.

International cooperation on the regulation of global banks is required because of the global trading practices and corporate structure of the largest banks, most of which are major commodity traders. For example, according to another Fed study, the seven largest U.S. headquartered bank holding companies have about 5,700 foreign subsidiaries in dozens of foreign jurisdictions. To judge by the geographic distribution of these subsidiaries, the largest banks are structurally transatlantic institutions that require intensive U.S. and EU regulatory cooperation to prevent another 2007-2009 debacle.

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Climate hubs: A step forward

Posted February 7, 2014 by Tara Ritter   

Used under creative commons license from mlhradio.

Sights like this at the San Luis Reservoir are more common as California experiences its worst water shortage in decades.

It’s a big week in the agriculture world. Just days before Obama signed the new Farm Bill into law, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the locations of seven regional hubs for climate change adaptation and mitigation. These hubs will attempt to address the risks that farmers increasingly face due to climate change—including fires, pests, droughts and floods—by disseminating research on ways landowners can adapt to and adjust management strategies to build resilience.

This is a notable step forward in climate policy and has important implications for rural communities. Many rural communities tend to view large governmental agencies negatively, especially those agencies that regulate the agricultural activities that dominate many of those communities’ economies. However, farmers feel the direct impacts of extreme weather more than anyone. The climate hubs will help by linking a diverse network of partners, including universities, nongovernmental organizations, federal agencies, state departments, native nations, farm groups and more. Broadcasting climate change research and information from this wide array of sources, including sources that farmers trust and regularly interact with, could make climate change adaptation and mitigation a more accepted and commonly desired goal.

Encouraging action on climate change is paramount not only from an environmental perspective, but from an economic perspective as well. The drought of 2012 cost the American economy an estimated $50 billion between 2011 and 2013. It’s too early to assess the costs of the current drought punishing California, which produces nearly half of the country’s fruits and vegetables. Clearly, the risks posed by volatile weather events have implications not only for farmers, but for the economy and society as a whole.

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We deserve more than this bad Farm Bill

Posted February 5, 2014 by Ben Lilliston   

Used under creative commons license from Bread for the World.

Was it just exhaustion from two-plus years of negotiations that finally produced the Farm Bill that is expected to be signed by the President this week? Or, was it the sense that “it could have been a lot worse” when compared with a mean-spirited, destructive Farm Bill passed by the House of Representatives last year. For whatever reason, there is a sense that a deeply flawed Farm Bill—the terms of which were dictated largely by austerity fanatics from the start—is the best we’ll get under the current political environment.

That’s a problem for all of us. It’s definitely a problem for the growing number of working age Americans who rely on food stamps. This Farm Bill cuts food stamp benefits (about 80 percent of the Farm Bill costs) by $8.6 billion.

It’s a problem for the environment and the urgent need to help farmers shift toward more climate resilient production systems to deal with extreme weather events. The bill cuts about $6 billion from conservation programs, the first time conservation funding has been cut since it became part of the Farm Bill in 1985 (excellent analysis by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition). Those cuts reduce the number of acres for the Conservation Reserve Program (which takes sensitive land out of production to protect habitat and wildlife) from 32 million to 24 million acres. It also limits the new acres of enrollment into the Conservation Stewardship Program (which support conservation measures on working farms) to 10 million per year—a cut of 2.8 million acres per year over the next decade.

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Agriculture in TPP: Repeating NAFTA’s mistakes

Posted February 3, 2014 by Karen Hansen-Kuhn   

More than 65,000 people rallied at Mexico’s Monument to the Revolution and marched to the historic Zocalo Square to demand a new economy that puts equality, justice and human rights first.

Farmers, union, environmental and women’s activists gathered in Mexico City last week to take stock of the lessons from NAFTA and plan strategies to confront the next big threat: the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). One of the earliest lessons from the NAFTA experience was that people and environments in all three countries were affected. The stories from Mexico, Canada and the U.S. were remarkably similar: environmental destruction, threats to union and community organizing, and, in all sectors, a marked increase in corporate concentration as companies gained new abilities to move different aspects of production across borders in search of lower costs and higher profits.

This has been especially true in agriculture. As part of the multisectoral forum, more than 100 members of ANEC, (the National Association of Rural Commercialization Enterprises, which brings together more than 60,000 Mexican small- and medium-scale farmers), organized a farmers’ forum with international allies. Alberto Arroyo, a longtime leader in the Mexican Action Network on Free Trade (RMALC), explained that Mexico’s dependency on food imports has increased dramatically since the agreement began, from 16 percent before NAFTA, to more than 42 percent today. That situation is even more alarming when we consider that today nearly half of Mexican families, even with two wage earners, can’t afford the “canasta basica” of basic necessities. Adding on to the devastation wreaked on the countryside by the influx of cheap corn under NAFTA, TPP would compel Mexican coffee farmers to compete with cheap Vietnamese robusta coffee.

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Negotiating oppression: A developed-country approach to agricultural trade

Posted January 31, 2014 by Patrick Tsai   

Used under creative commons license from world_trade_organization.

Michael Punke - Deputy USTR. Day 2 of the WTO's Ministerial Conference, Bali, 3 December 2013.

Food insecurity is a lucrative endeavor for U.S. agribusiness corporations. As a matter of course, hunger has taken a backseat to maintaining a dominant trade position when it comes to U.S. trade negotiations and domestic policy. As long as the U.S. holds its position as the world's largest agricultural exporter, and import-dependent countries continue to be bound by rules that exploit their vulnerability to volatile commodity markets, U.S. agribusiness will profit indefinitely at the expense of the most vulnerable.

In order to address global hunger effectively, the U.S. government will have to acknowledge the effect its current agricultural policy has on global food security and extend the same lenience to allow developing countries the reestablishment of sovereignty in their own food systems without threat of dispute settlement or retaliatory trade sanctions. As it stands, wealth, subsidy classification, export credits and food aid contribute to a system of subjugation and persisting power disparities.

Inequalities in power between nations exist before negotiations begin. Initial positions of wealth determine the degree to which countries can leverage the allowed subsidies outlined within international agricultural agreements to promote food security and rural development. Developed countries’ subsidies comprise the “lion’s share” of global spending supporting agriculture (though they are, in theory, bound by greater reduction commitments under trade agreements). This raises the question, “Given the inequality in initial positions, must [the situation]  inevitably result in inequality in outcomes?” (Matthews 2008, 82). Developing countries’ stagnant progress toward food security and rural development, compared to developed countries relative effectiveness, attests to the importance of economic wealth.

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Rural Climate Network expands

Posted January 29, 2014 by Tara Ritter   

The second Rural Climate Network newsletter was released last week, featuring updates on how rural America is responding to the climate challenge. Since the first newsletter, the network has welcomed five new member organizations that represent the diversity of climate work across the country and display how climate change impacts sectors ranging from fisheries to forestry to meat production. The member spotlight this month is Organic Valley, and a featured interview with Sustainability Program Manager Jonathan Reinbold outlines the organization’s views on climate change. Policy that incentivizes this kind of on-the-ground work is critical in supporting the growing rural movement to adapt to and mitigate climate change.

This edition of the newsletter also features a brief interview with Renata Brillinger of the California Climate and Agriculture Network (CalCAN) to better understand how California farmers and ranchers are handling the drought that is currently underway in California. According to Brillinger, “mandated cutbacks in water distributions, along with depletions in available surface water and groundwater, are forcing farmers to dig deeper into their pockets while making tough decisions about crop planting and livestock management.” Some farmers have resorted to pumping groundwater to compensate for the lack of water elsewhere, but that is not a sustainable strategy in the long term should the drought persist and other ideas are needed.

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