May 2016

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

A new report from Friends of the Earth (FoE), “Nanoparticles in baby formula: Tiny ingredients are a big concern,” will prompt a lot more commentary than can be summarized in this blog.

Two questions likely to be raised in all commentaries:

  1. Why did the manufacturers of six brand name baby formula decide to risk the value of their brands by adding molecular-sized nanomaterials to their infant formula, whose inhalation from powdered formula is a probable health hazard to babies, childcare providers and the workers manufacturing the formula?
  2. Why did the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allow the makers of two Gerber® formulas, two Similac® formulas, one Enfamil® formula and one Well Beginnings™ formula to manufacture and sell these products without the consultation with FDA scientists that the agency very strongly advised in its 2014 voluntary guidance to industry? (IATP submitted comments in 2012 to three of four draft-guidance documents on nanomaterials in FDA-regulated products.)

Answering these questions may seem as simple as, well, child’s play. The simple answer is if governments refuse to regulate, companies will do what they perceive to be in their economic interest. As anyone who has watched children play, their activity is not simple.  

Monday, May 16, 2016

Over the past year, the Star Tribune, the largest paper in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area, has published almost all its articles on the outbreak of highly pathogenic H5N2 in its business section. 

The placement is telling and reminds us that the paper views the virus, which has killed 50 million poultry across 21 states, as a matter for food companies and investors. It seems the ecologies and epidemiologies in which we are all embedded are to be treated as mere subsets of commodity economics.

An update last week, published—where else? —in the business section, repeated unsupported declarations about the origins of the outbreak. The newspaper claims the virus originated in Asia; migratory waterfowl brought it here and spread it; and farmer error is to blame for the outbreak. Anything but the poultry sector itself.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Defenders of high-frequency trading (HFT) claim that they provide necessary capital to commodity derivative markets that enable commercial users of commodities to trade in “liquid” markets, i.e., to manage price risks by buying and selling what they want, when they want. However, HFT orders provide capital to the market milliseconds before computer-automated trading systems (algorithms) cancel those orders. In other words, HFT provides phantom liquidity by emitting trade order price and volume “noise,” but very rarely executed trade information that is usable by commercial traders. HFT administers nearly continuous micro-shocks to price formation.

Farmers and ranchers rely on derivatives markets to set benchmark prices and price trends for forward contracting of grains and oilseeds to local grain elevators and of livestock to stockyards. When HFT “hot money” creates price volatility and price surges with little, if any, relationship to supply, demand and other fundamental factors, derivatives prices no longer help forward contracting. The “hot money” traders induce price volatility not only on U.S. markets, such as the Chicago Board of Trade, but also on Chinese commodity markets.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

In early March, farmers and rural residents of southeast Minnesota gathered for three intensive days of presentations, discussion and deliberation around the thorny issue of climate change. The Winona, Minnesota Climate Dialogue participants, most of them in shirts and jeans, were a blend of ages, cultural backgrounds and jobs. Some had lived in the community their whole lives, while others had moved to the area recently. All said they loved where they lived and cared about its natural beauty—ideally positioned where fertile farmland meets the deeply carved Mississippi River Valley. But, all certainly did not come to the table with any shared view of climate change or common political perspective. 

There is a common misconception that you can’t talk about climate change in rural communities because the issue is considered too polarizing. Many would likely wage a bet that a climate discussion would paralyze Winona residents, divide them, and lead to more finger pointing than hand holding. But not here.  Despite their differing viewpoints, the 18 participants in the Winona County Climate Dialogue produced a collective statement and action plan, crafted solely using participant input, based on six topical presentations from local experts on weather trends, energy use, water, insurance, public health and agriculture in Winona County.

Monday, May 2, 2016

A long standing claim by the U.S. government and agribusiness lobby is that U.S. regulations on genetically engineered (GE) crops are science-based while European regulations are not.  For example, an April 8 letter from the American Soybean Association to the U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack, states that “approval of these events [three GE soy crops] is now needed for the EU Commission to have any semblance of a working biotech approval system.” A “working biotech approval system” is that of the United States, which invariably “approves” GE crops, i.e. deregulates them, on the basis of an agency review of data and studies, some classified as Confidential Business Information, submitted by the GE crop developer.

This approach has been in place for two decades. For example, a Food and Drug Administration letter to Monsanto in 1996 states, “Based on the safety and nutritional assessment you have conducted, it is our understanding that Monsanto has concluded that corn products derived from this new variety are not materially different in composition, safety, and other relevant parameters from corn currently on the market, and that the genetically modified corn does not raise issues that would require premarket review or approval by FDA.” A 2013 FDA letter to Monsanto regarding a GE soybean “event” deregulates the product, but does not approve it, in almost identical language.