Commercialization of all kinds of nanotech is happening fast. As of March 2011, the nongovernmental Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies (PEN) had registered more than 1,300 products whose manufacturers claim to include ENMs, and estimates that the number could grow to 3,400 by 2020—all without a broad-based body of science to support claims that it’s safe for public health or the environment.
With the World Bank and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) pushing for “sustainable intensification” to counteract a growing population and increasing resource scarcity, it seems our soil is in the nanotech crosshairs—whether we know the long-term impacts or not.
In a new IATP report, Nanomaterials in Soil: Our Future Food Chain?, Dr. Steve Suppan digs in to the science behind why companies are pushing ahead with nanotech, why governments are so far behind, and why real (read: non-industry) science and conversation is sorely needed before our soil and the microfauna that keep it functioning become nothing but dirt.
Until that research is available, IATP is pushing for an immediate moratorium on fertilizing with biosolids (also known as sewage sludge) from sewage treatment plants near nanotech fabrication facilities.
As Dr. Suppan writes, “…if we are what we eat, surely what we eat is only as healthy and sustainable as the soil it comes from.”
The Goldman Environmental Prize honors grassroots environmental leaders in each of the six continents. It’s an important forum that lifts up inspirational, justice-based work in communities around the world that often goes unrecognized. Earlier this week, the six winners were announced:
Jonathan Deal, South Africa – led a successful campaign against fracking in South Africa to protect the Karoo, a semi-desert region treasured for its agriculture, beauty and wildlife.
Azzam Alwash, Iraq – returned to war-torn Iraq to lead local communities in restoring the once-lush marshes that were turned to dustbowls during Saddam Hussein's rule.
Rossano Ercolini, Italy – began a public education campaign about the dangers of incinerators in his small Tuscan town that grew into a national Zero Waste movement.
Aleta Baun, Indonesia – organized hundreds of local villagers to peacefully occupy marble mining sites in "weaving protests," successfully stopping the destruction of sacred forestland in Mutins Mountain on the island of Timor.
Kimberly Wasserman, USA – led local residents in a successful campaign to shut down two of the country's oldest and dirtiest power plants, and is now transforming Chicago's old industrial sites into parks and multi-use spaces.
Nohra Padilla, Colombia – organized Colombia's marginalized waste pickers to make recycling a legitimate part of waste management.
“You can have food in the stores, but will people in the community be able to buy it?” This was the question posed by Buba Khan, of ActionAid in Africa, to attendees at a Congressional briefing IATP co-hosted last week with ActionAid, Oxfam America and the Heinrich Boll Foundation.
Khan was referring to the effects of “land grabs,” a growing global phenomenon spurred by rising demand for natural resources like agricultural land and mining. These land grabs often displace people and communities who rely on the land for their livelihoods, food and water, as well as deep historical and cultural connections.
At the Congressional briefing last week, speakers from Cambodia, Ghana and Guatemala spoke about how land grabs have occurred in their countries, and what role U.N. Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Land Tenure agreed to last year might play in developing new rules to protect local communities from powerful foreign investors.
Yune Mane, of the Cambodian Indigenous Youth Association, told attendees about how the Cambodian government had granted land to outside investors (often Chinese, French or Vietnamese) for giant rubber plantations or mining. As a result, Indigenous people in the country have lost their right to land and access to spiritual areas, affecting their access to food and increasing poverty. In Cambodia, there are actually strong laws protecting Indigenous rights, including the 2001 Land Law and 2002 Forest Law, Mane said, but enforcement of these laws has been poor.
Efforts to solve the problem of hunger and poverty by turning to the same corporations that helped create the problem have gone viral. Michelle Obama and the President of Mexico have hit on the same scheme (and the same companies) for solutions to hunger and the growing crisis of diet-related illnesses. Both will likely make matters worse.
In a recent commentary, Stacy Mitchell of the Institute for Local Self Reliance asks the question, “Why is Michelle Obama’s food initiative promoting Wal-Mart?” Wal-Mart and other giant food retailers are part of Michelle Obama’s Partnership for a Healthier America, a national campaign that includes in its goals eliminating “food deserts,” economically depressed communities with limited access to food. Wal-Mart, a scandal-riven corporation, has wreaked havoc on regional and local food retailers with its profits-at-any-cost business strategy that leads to thoroughly uncompetitive business environments. Local grocery stores, both chains and Mom and Pop operations, have succumbed to the market dominance of Wal-Mart, leaving many communities without a place to buy food. The Partnership’s promotion of opening new Wal-Marts in poor neighborhoods is like inviting the fox to live in the chicken coop after he’s eaten all the little chickens.
An overarching theme for the current fellowship class has been growing equity in the food system. The fellows have worked to address imbalances in wealth power—predominantly across racial lines—that contribute to discrepancies in health, food access, economic opportunity and overall quality of life. Such efforts often focus on the conduct of Corporate America and D.C. powerbrokers, as inequities can be exacerbated by their decisions. Yet we also recognize the need to look internally, within the food movement and within our own communities.
For example, many of the leading food justice organizations have struggled to diversify their leadership. There are plenty of reasonable excuses for not doing more to reach outside of the dominant culture, yet we know that diversifying leadership is key to expanding and equalizing our impacts. This digest taps into the wisdom of many fellows that have worked and studied these equity challenges.
It is also bittersweet to note that this is our final dgest, released in the last month of our last class’s tenure. With eight classes and 86 fellows since the program’s inception in 2001, it has been a remarkable run with an amazing group of people and an impressive record of accomplishment. Overall, the U.S. food system has enjoyed some tremendous positive changes over the past 13 years, and I would like to think that the fellowship program has played a small role.
This week, Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families launched Mind the Store, a campaign that asks the nation's top 10 retailers to move away from the Hazardous 100+ toxic chemicals. The Hazardous 100+ is a list of chemicals that have been determined to be harmful to human health by several states, the U.S. EPA and the European Union and includes Minnesota’s nine priority chemicals in children’s products.
The Hazardous 100+ have been determined by authoritative bodies to be linked to cancer, developmental or reproductive problems, asthma, hormone disruption and other health problems. It includes chemicals like brominated flame retardants and PFOS that build up in the food chain and in our bodies.
These toxic chemicals don’t belong in our food, they don’t belong in our bodies and they don’t belong in our consumer products. Mind the Store is asking the top ten retailers—Walmart, Kroger, Target, Walgreens, Costco, Home Depot, CVS Caremark, Lowe’s, Best Buy and Safeway—to evaluate whether these chemicals are in any of products they sell and if so, to develop an action plan to phase out their use.
IATP joins many NGOs, academics and policy experts today in celebrating a move that could make U.S. food aid more efficient and responsive to the world’s hungry. Obama’s budget for fiscal year 2014 proposes to shift close to half the food aid budget to procuring food aid from local and regional markets rather than the shipping U.S. grains on U.S. ships halfway around the world. With local and regional purchasing, food aid can get to those who need it faster and cheaper while also building local capacity to deal with an increasingly unstable international food supply. It’s a big move, especially when you consider U.S. food aid makes up more than half of all food aid worldwide.
So why are some upset about a move that saves money and gets more food, faster, to those who need it? Enter the “iron triangle”— U.S. shippers, grain companies and a handful of humanitarian NGOs. Scared for their jobs, jealous of their profits, or concerned that Congress will not support more effective forms of aid—the members of the triangle had different reasons for supporting widely discredited programs. (See Kevin Drum’s aptly titled article “Obama Proposes Making Food Aid Less Insane” published by Mother Jones earlier this week.) None of those reasons was persuasive, though. And now the White House has joined the chorus for change.
With chemicals like chlorinated tris, a carcinogen, turning up infant changing table pads, the respiratory irritant formaldehyde in baby bath products and hormone disrupter, BPA in food can linings, what’s a parent to do? Parents try to protect their kids from exposures to toxic chemicals by making smart purchases, but they don’t have all the information they need to know what is harmful. It’s the government’s job to assure that harmful products don’t end up on store shelves in the first place. While states like Minnesota are taking action to protect children from toxic chemical exposures, federal action is also critical. The 37-year-old Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the law regulating industrial chemicals in the U.S., is not doing the job.
A couple of years ago, Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) introduced the Safe Chemicals Act of 2011, which proposed sweeping reforms of this toothless law. While the bill did get through one committee, it never made it through to the floor. The Safe Chemicals Act is back and both Sen. Klobuchar and Sen. Franken are original co-sponsors. We thank Sen. Klobuchar and Sen. Franken for being champions for protecting the health of our kids and families!
Large commodity farmers in the U.S. have done well in the past few years, with major crops reaching record prices. According to the USDA, net farm income in 2010 was up more than 20 percent from 2009, and 2011 and 2012 almost double 2009’s numbers. All this good news was reflected in the festive atmosphere at the Commodity Classic 2013, the annual meeting for the National Corn Growers Association, the American Soybean Association, National Association of Wheat Growers and the National Sorghum Producers held at the Gaylord Palms Resort and Convention Center just outside Orlando, Florida in early March.
In a bland, cavernous meeting room occupied by 1,699 commodity farmers, and me, the Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack told us that U.S. agriculture has produced record exports over the last four years. Down the hall Bayer Crop Sciences supplied free popcorn, Koch Agronomic Services and Monsanto provided free box lunches at the trade show, and DuPont Crop Protection offered complimentary shoulder and foot messages in a little room just off to the side of the main entrance.
With all this celebration, and Disneyworld just down the road, it is easy to overlook some of the less festive news which emerged from the workshops and “learning sessions” at the conference. These included predictions of lower prices and incomes, “horror stories” coming out of the U.S. south about herbicide-resistant weeds that were described by herbicide sales representatives as “extremely aggressive,” and the need for farmers to have weather insurance in the face of climate change and increasing extreme weather events. The highly capitalized operations and model of industrial agriculture that are highlighted at the conference seem to be showing some serious cracks.
It’s tough not being perfect. Everyone who has ever had a bad hair day knows that. And that’s no more true than for those misshapen, oddly sized fruits and vegetables that Mother Nature inevitably produces. For them, the price of being imperfect is being consigned to a slow death, rotting in the farm field or the landfill, while their cosmetically perfect brothers and sisters head off to a grocery store near you.
Two fascinating reports from the Natural Resources Defense Council do a deft job of explaining why we should all care about “crop waste”—the widespread loss of otherwise edible fresh and vegetables that never make it past the farm gate or the landfill. One report, Wasted by Dana Gunders, looks at food waste across our food system. The other, Left-Out, looks specifically at fruit and vegetable losses on the farm.
The numbers reported by NRDC are astounding. For instance, from farm to fork, about 40 percent of all the food produced in the United States goes uneaten. That amounts to $165 billion of wasted food every year (a figure which, notably, is in the same ballpark as the annual cost of obesity). More than 6 billion pounds of fresh produce go unharvested or unsold each year, and preliminary data from a cluster of fruit and vegetable growers in California suggests that losses on the farm and in the packing stage range as high as 14–60 percent for a variety of common crops.