Think Forward blog

Food democracy: Rule of the people or corporations?

Posted October 9, 2013

Used under creative commons license from Jason Hargrove.

This piece was produced by IATP intern John Parker for IATP's Beyond the Farm Bill.

When it comes to faith in our democracy, this year has raised some eyebrows. In the case of food and agriculture policy, a disturbing fact emerges: Our democracy is increasingly a façade.

Agribusinesses have been subverting the democratic process from Washington D.C. to state legislatures across the country to ensure that people know less and less about how their food is produced and distributed. Moreover, they have engaged in a determined effort to obstruct opportunities for citizens and legislators to engage in the democratic process. Consider the following to illustrate the point.

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Help us find IATP's next president

Posted October 3, 2013 by Harriet Barlow   

Dear Friends,

As you may have heard, Jim Harkness intends to step down as president of IATP at the end of this year, to work fulltime on China. I am writing to ask your help in finding IATP’s next leader.

But first, I want to say something about Jim.

Jim came to IATP in 2006, taking the reins from founding director Mark Ritchie. There is always a danger when a founding director leaves that an organization will stumble; instead, Jim has led us through the past seven years with intelligence, grace and courage, and IATP is the stronger for it. Under his leadership, we have deepened our commitment to our core values of justice, internationalism, and sustainable, decentralized food, farm and energy systems. Under his leadership, IATP brought rural communities and agriculture to the table, whether the discussion was climate, finance, trade agreements, food policy, public health or GMOs. Under his leadership, IATP’s board shifted to bring on seven new members while keeping three of the founding members and myself. In short, Jim leaves IATP a strong, vibrant organization and we are truly grateful for that.

We are also eager to find the next president of IATP, and here I need your help. I am heading the board-staff search team that is looking for a collaborative, values-driven, visionary leader who is internationalist in perspective, passionate about agriculture and food systems, and skilled at managing a complex, dynamic organization. Applicants should have stature in a relevant field, experience with other cultures, excellent communication skills and demonstrated leadership ability. The position is based in Minneapolis. You can read the full job announcement here.

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A review of The Localization Reader

Posted October 2, 2013 by Andrew Ranallo   

IATP's new Director of Agriculture Policy, Dr. M. Jahi Chappell, has published a review of The Localization Reader, an overview and primer on "the coming downshift," the need and potential for local food systems in the October 2013 edition of Landscape Ecology. Raymond De Young and Thomas Princen, both professors of natural resources at the University of Michigan, compiled The Localization Reader's 26 pieces--a mix of old and new writings, including an introduction and concluding chapter by De Young and Prince themselves.

According to Dr. Chappell's review, "Landscape ecologists looking for inspiration, philosophical rumination on the local, or a glimpse of the historical evolution of its underlying ideas will find much to enjoy."

You can read the review on Jahi’s personal webpage.

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Big win to eliminate toxic arsenic in meat

Posted October 1, 2013 by Ben Lilliston   

Industrial chicken operations like this use arsenic-containing feed to promote growth and improve meat color. Photo CC Socially Responsible Agricultural Project on Flickr.

In a major win for public health, the FDA reported yesterday that it would withdraw approval of three of the four arsenicals in animal feed for poultry and hog production. The effective result is that of the 101 drug approvals for arsenic-based animal drugs, 98 will be withdrawn.

This action is the result of a more than seven-year effort by IATP and partners to force the FDA to remove this known carcinogen from animal feed, including a petition filed by IATP and the Center for Food Safety (CFS) in 2009, and the filing of a lawsuit earlier this year by CFS on behalf of IATP and eight other NGOs to force the agency to act on the petition. Better late than never.

In 2006, IATP published a report by David Wallinga, M.D. examining the use of arsenic in animal feed and how that arsenic ends up in chicken meat that consumers eat. Pharmaceutical companies add arsenic to animal feed in order to speed growth and improve pigmentation. The 2006 report estimated that more than 70 percent of all U.S. chickens raised for meat were fed arsenic and found detectable arsenic in much of the products we tested from supermarkets and fast food restaurants. We also found that many companies were not using arsenic in their animal feed, confirming our main point that the use of arsenic by these pharmaceutical companies was entirely unnecessary.

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Science means having to say “I’m Sorry”

Posted September 30, 2013 by Dr. M. Jahi Chappell   

Used under creative commons license from MikeBlyth.

Researchers found that land redistribution and education (for rural women in particular) had the biggest impact on rural poverty reduction and inequality.

I’m sorry, but saying that the Green Revolution saved millions of lives is unscientific.

Ambassador Kenneth Quinn, the president of the World Food Prize Foundation, recently made this widely repeated, but unscientific, claim in responding to columnist Rekha Basu. Basu recently criticized the foundation for awarding this year’s World Food Prize to three scientists who helped invent crop genetic modification. (Two of who are current or former vice presidents at Monsanto and Syngenta.) Quinn notes that the founder of the World Food Prize, famed Green Revolution researcher Norman Borlaug, specifically encouraged the foundation to consider these three scientists before his death. In his piece, Quinn admonishes Basu that “Dr. Borlaug would tell us it is our responsibility to use the power of science” to help solve widespread malnutrition. He does this shortly after lauding Borlaug as “the man who saved millions from famine and death in India and Pakistan.”

Butbut

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Agroecosystem study implies genetic modification neither helpful nor necessary for yield gains and sustainability

Posted September 27, 2013 by Dr. M. Jahi Chappell   

Used under creative commons license from Oculator.

Wow. This seems likely to cause a long-term stir, and I’m quite sure vociferous critiques from many quarters (though likely mostly from the usual suspects). University of Canterbury Professor Jack Heinemann and his team have found that

…Relative to other food secure and exporting countries (e.g., Western Europe), the U.S. agroecosystem is not exceptional in yields or conservative on environmental impact. This has not been a trade-off for sustainability, as annual fluctuations in maize yield alone dwarf the loss of caloric energy from extreme historic blights. We suggest strategies for innovation that are responsive to more stakeholders and build resilience into industrialized staple crop production.

In terms of making a splash and what the big, viral attention has been about, though, this excerpt from their abstract buries the lede. In an interview with the journal’s publisher, Prof. Heinemann elaborates:

Our most significant findings were that:

–GM cropping systems have not contributed to yield gains, are not necessary for yield gains, and appear to be eroding yields compared to the equally modern agroecosystem of Western Europe. This may be due in part to technology choices beyond GM plants themselves, because even non-GM wheat yield improvements in the U.S. are poor in comparison to Europe.

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New UN report calls for transformation in agriculture

Posted September 20, 2013 by Ben Lilliston   

Transformative changes are needed in our food, agriculture and trade systems in order to increase diversity on farms, reduce our use of fertilizer and other inputs, support small-scale farmers and create strong local food systems. That’s the conclusion of a remarkable new publication from the U.N. Commission on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

The report, Trade and Environment Review 2013: Wake Up Before it is Too Late, included contributions from more than 60 experts around the world (including a commentary from IATP). The report includes in-depth sections on the shift toward more sustainable, resilient agriculture; livestock production and climate change; the importance of research and extension; the role of land use; and the role of reforming global trade rules.

The report links global security and escalating conflicts with the urgent need to transform agriculture toward what it calls “ecological intensification.” The report concludes, “This implies a rapid and significant shift from conventional, monoculture-based and high-external-input-dependent industrial production toward mosaics of sustainable, regenerative production systems that also considerably improve the productivity of small-scale farmers.”

The UNCTAD report identified key indicators for the transformation needed in agriculture:

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Kenya’s challenge: How best to manage its new-found water wealth?

Posted September 19, 2013 by Shiney Varghese   

Used under creative commons license from ingodesigng5.

Turkana woman heading home with water, Kalokal, Kenya (near the shore of Lake Turkana).

In the midst of worrisome news about droughts, desertification, unreliable monsoons and growing concerns around water security around the world, the announcement by the UNESCO and Kenyan officials at the recent International Water Security Conference in Nairobi was anything but gloomy. The finding of potentially huge groundwater resources in northwestern Kenya is indeed a blessing, not only for the herding communities of drought-prone Turkana, but also for the region as a whole.

Until very recently the region was best known to the global water community both for the lack of access to water that mark the lives and livelihoods of indigenous communities that live there, and for their efforts to save Turkana Lake, the largest permanent desert lake in the world according to International Rivers.

But a recent survey by RTI, a company hired by U.N., found groundwater systems with a potential of storing about 250 billion cubic meters (or about 66 trillion gallons) in the Kachoda, Gatome, Nkalale and Lockichar areas, with the largest aquifer being located in the Lokitipi Basin—all of them in Turkana county, one of the 47 counties in Kenya.  Of these, the three smaller aquifers combined are estimated to store about 30 billion cubic meters of water, once confirmed by drilling.

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Food and National Security: The Shuanghui-Smithfield Merger Revisited

Posted September 12, 2013 by Shefali Sharma   

Used under creative commons license from chenevier.

Last week, the U.S. treasury approved the largest takeover by an international firm of a U.S. food company. It paved the way for China’s largest pork processor, Shuanghui, to merge with Smithfield, the U.S.’s largest pork processor. The fact that it was a Chinese company stirred up so much controversy that the Senate Agriculture Committee held a hearing July 10 entitled,  “Smithfield and Beyond: Examining Foreign Purchases of American Food Companies.”  A major concern was foreign ownership of the U.S. food supply and whether the U.S. review process of foreign takeovers addresses food safety and “protection of American technologies.” There was little doubt that this merger would be approved by Treasury’s Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS): Shuanghui is willing to absorb over $2 billion of Smithfield’s debt; U.S.

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IATP's board of directors welcomes Firoze Manji and Dr. Daniel De La Torre Ugarte

Posted September 9, 2013 by Corinne Rafferty   

Daniel De La Torre Ugarte and Firoze Manji

IATP is proud to announce the election of two new members to its board of directors, Firoze Manji and Daniel De La Torre Ugarte.

Firoze Manji is a leading African intellectual and activist. He is the founder and former editor-in-chief of Pambazuka News and Pambazuka Press, and the founder and former executive director (1997–2010) of Fahamu – Networks for Social Justice. He has published widely on health, social policy, human rights and political sciences, and authored and edited a wide range of books on social justice in Africa, including on women’s rights, trade justice, China’s role in Africa and more on  the recent uprisings in Africa. In March of 2013 Firoze moved to Dakar to be head of the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa  (CODESRIA) documentation and information center. He shares IATP’s vision of a world in which the global commons is protected, corporate control is dismantled, and agriculture, food and energy systems are decentralized and democratized. He is the first IATP board member from Africa, and we are grateful to have his keen analytic mind in helping shape IATP’s direction.

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