As I dream of real summer weather, one of the things I look forward to most is picking strawberries with my little cousins at a pick-your-own farm near our family cabin up in Aitkin County. The first time we tried it, the kids were so excited we had to go back two times in one day and filled five ice cream gallon buckets with ruby red fruit, sweet and sun-warmed as we relished in harvesting that evening’s dessert.
Not every child gets to experience the wonder of connecting with our local food system in such a direct way, but this year’s issue of the Minnesota Grown Directory is here to help families make that connection.
Minnesota Grown is a partnership between the Minnesota Department of Agriculture and producers of specialty crops and livestock. Their annual directory of local producers is always a huge hit with our vibrant local foods community. This year’s issue, just published last week, lists nearly 1,000—a record number!—local farmers, markets and businesses where consumers can buy directly from the producer. It also boasts a strong family-friendly focus. IATP worked with Minnesota Grown to include information on Farm to Childcare programs, fun farm facts, kid-friendly activities like farm tours, and other techniques families with young children can use to engage with locally grown foods. The family-centered content is a great supplement to the detailed information on local producers the Minnesota Grown Directory always provides, and makes this year’s issue a wonderful resource for parents, teachers, childcare facilities and anyone interested in engaging with kids on local agriculture.
Two Converging Rivers—That’s what Shuanghui means in Chinese, apparently. It seems appropriate when we look at the scale at which both Shuanghui and Smithfield operate in their respective countries. Shuanghui is said to be China’s largest meat manufacturer and Smithfield is the largest pork processor in the United States. It’s a convergence of two very big and very dirty rivers. Contrary to the common theme in media reports on the acquisition, food safety problems and environmental pollution are not just the domain of the Chinese livestock industry. One doesn’t have to look very far to see Smithfield’s own record in this regard. Unmanageable non-point source pollution from concentrated animal farms, antibiotic resistance, disease and chemical-related deaths related to poultry factories are very much associated with and originate from the American model of industrial livestock production. Smithfield was embarrassed after an undercover video of animal cruelty was taken from one of its plants and released by the Humane Society.
Today, 795 health professionals from across the country sent a joint letter to President Obama urging his leadership in getting the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to jumpstart its now-stalled policies to help protect the future effectiveness of antibiotics by reducing their overuse in food animal production. The letter was delivered by IATP's Healthy Food Action, Health Care Without Harm and the Pew Charitable Trusts.
Close to 30 million pounds of the antibiotics are sold for use in U.S. food animals each year. Many of them are identical, or nearly so, to antibiotics used in human medicine. Most are used for non-sick animals, to promote their faster growth and compensate for the risks created by raising such animals in overcrowded and often unhygienic conditions.
“In our hospitals, and in our communities, antibiotics increasingly are failing to treat drug resistant superbugs,” says David Wallinga, MD of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy and Healthy Food Action. “The huge overuse of these antibiotics on our farms, in meat production, is an important—and unaddressed—contributor to the problem.”
What this letter shows is this superbug epidemic is too important for FDA and the White House to sit on the sidelines. We need President Obama to make sure his administration leads in the fight to protect antibiotis.”
The announcement last week of a bid by China’s Shuanghui International to acquire Smithfield Foods Incorporated came midway through my research trip to Beijing for IATP’s initiative on the globalization of industrial meat production. The responses to the news from back home have been all over the map, albeit fairly predictable. But what are they saying in China? Below I share some initial views from the press, blogosphere, academia and government. I’ll have more later this week.
The government seems positive about the deal. The first thing I noticed was the use of the word “merger” in the official Xinhua News Service’s initial piece on the acquisition. (The U.S. press prefers “sale” or “takeover.”) Xinhua’s second article actually uses “Win-Win” in the title, and describes how the merger will relieve the U.S. of the burden of our excess pork while easing trade deficits and improving Shuanghui’s food safety standards. “We can learn a lot from the industry leader,” Shuanghui CEO Wan Long is quoted as saying. Clearly he has never Googled “Smithfield recall.”
On Saturday, May 25, IATP participated in the March Against Monsanto (MAM) in St. Paul, Minnesota. The MAM took place in 436 cities in 52 countries, with an estimated two million participants. Monsanto was the focus not only because of the scale and reach of its products, but because of its undue influence on the global food system. A recent Food and Water Watch report, summarizing 936 Wikileaks documents, gives an idea of what the U.S. State Department has done to change laws and enable sales of Monsanto products around the world. Indeed, multiple U.S. federal agencies have advanced the company’s commercial interests, in the face of the rejection of Monsanto products by many farmers, consumers, academics and governments. Nevertheless, in the name of free trade and food security, the U.S. promotes GMOs to “feed the world.”
The spring campaign season against frac sand mining has started to take off. It’s not that we’ve been sitting quietly all winter biding our time. As many town boards and county supervisors can tell you, opposition to frac sand mining in the Driftless region of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa has been churning away for months, but something happened when the ice finally melted and the first Spring Beauties bloomed in the woods. In Minnesota, Representative Matt Schmit from Redwing introduced legislation to limit sand mining near trout streams. On April 29th, 35 Catholic Workers were arrested in Winona protesting with over 100 supporters and friends at two frac sand operations. On May 15th, IATP, Wisconsin Farmers Union and the Wisconsin Towns Association released a report raising concerns about the economic impact of frac sand mining in West Central Wisconsin. And coming up on June 1 in Black River Falls, a regional conference called Standing Against the Sand Storm will bring together community leaders and activists from across region to address the growing threat from industrial sand mining and find ways that we can work together.
In all of the discussions and proposals associated with the current Farm Bill debate, climate change has gotten little official recognition (although we have pointed out that from IATP’s perspective, the singular focus on crop insurance is clear evidence that climate change is the primary concern of farmers and agriculture state politicians). As the Farm Bill debate goes to the Senate floor, we apploaud two amendments that are trying to bring greater recognition of climate change to the farm policy discussion.
The first, Senator Whitehouse’s Sense of the Senate Resolution #1029, is a largely symbolic, yet ultimately very important resolution about the authenticity of climate change science and determined causes. This resolution expresses that it is the sense of the Senate that climate change research is in fact based on sound practices, that a scientific consensus exists that humans are contributing to climate change, and that climate change poses a risk to agriculture and related industries. While “Sense of the Senate” resolutions do not result in any direct legislative actions or laws, passage of this resolution would be an important, if quite belated indicator that the U.S. Congress is finally getting serious about climate change and its impacts, especially as they relate to agriculture and our food system.
The Minnesota Green Chemistry Forum hosted a happy hour event on May 15, entitled The Business Case for Chemical Policy Reform. The group of fifty, over half from the business community, heard presentations about how sound chemical policies can benefit businesses and why business voices are needed in chemical policy debates.
We heard from David Levine, co-founder & CEO of the American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC), a growing coalition of over 165,000 businesses and social enterprises and more than 300,000 entrepreneurs, owners, executive, investors and business professionals. David cited the results of an ASBC polling showing that 87 percent of small businesses think there should be government regulations to ensure that chemicals used in growing food are safe and 73 percent support government regulation to assure that consumer products are free of toxins. Nine out of 10 small businesses surveyed believe that chemical manufacturers should be held responsible for ensuring that chemicals they use are safe and 94 percent support disclosure of chemicals of concern in products.
If you want to reduce crime, you have to make sure there are enough cops on the beat. Something similar can be said for market regulation. We can’t expect markets to work if we don’t invest resources into making sure government agencies have the right regulatory tools at their disposal and have adequate resources to effectively implement and enforce the rules. A Better Markets study estimates the quantifiable cost of the financial services industry triggered Great Recession at $12.8 trillion. Now the publicly bailed out industry and its Congressional allies want to take cops off the market beat. Tomorrow, the House Committee on Agriculture is holding a public hearing entitled The Future of the CFTC: Market Perspectives, featuring a panel of CEOs who have opposed most attempts to regulate the unregulated parts of the markets and supported CFTC budgets that are inadequate for enforcing the rules.
The U.S. Congress last authorized the work of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) as part of the 2008 Farm Bill. Senators Debbie Stabenow and Thad Cochrane, Chairwoman and Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, requested comment for the 2013 reauthorization of the CFTC. We responded in a May 1 letter, outlining seven ways in which the CFTC should be reauthorized to improve regulation of the $300 trillion of derivatives contracts over which the CFTC has authority.
Over 5000 children’s products contain toxic chemicals linked to cancer, hormone disruption and reproductive problems, including the toxic metals, cadmium, mercury and antimony, as well as phthalates and solvents. A new report by the Washington Toxics Coalition and Safer States reveals the results of manufacturer reporting to the Washington State Department of Ecology.
Makers of kids’ products reported using 41 of the 66 chemicals identified by WA Ecology as a concern for children’s health. Major manufacturers who reported using the chemicals in their products include Walmart, Gap, Gymboree, Hallmark, H & M and others. They use these chemicals in an array of kids’ products, including clothing, footwear, toys, games, jewelry, accessories, baby products, furniture, bedding, arts and crafts supplies and personal care products. Besides exposing kids in the products themselves, some of these chemicals, for example toxic flame retardants, build up in the environment and in the food we eat.
Examples of product categories reported to contain toxic chemicals include:
The chemical reports are required under Washington State’s Children’s Safe Products Act of 2008. A searchable database of chemical use reports filed with the Washington State Department of Ecology is available at http://www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/swfa/cspa/search.html.