Food, finance and climate crises are fundamental failures, not short-term glitches

Posted June 21, 2012 by Karen Hansen-Kuhn   

Mexican President Felipe Calderón addresses the participants of the B-20 (Business 20).

As the G-20 Summit in Los Cabos came to a close yesterday, various civil society observers expressed their disappointment at the lack of ambition in the leaders’ statement, particularly on food security and food price volatility. ActionAid’s Neil Watkins commented that, “With food prices swinging wildly and the planet burning, this was the moment for bold proposals from the G-20. Instead, on food security and climate change, the G-20 turned in last year’s homework, content to reaffirm old plans and commission more studies.” Others echoed these concerns, damning with faint praise the mild proposals to exchange information and support agricultural innovation, as well as criticizing the narrow focus on increasing productivity.

The problem is not only that the proposals are so lacking in ambition, but that the G-20 is evolving from an informal crisis-management confab to a rigid and undemocratic structure that serves to lock in policy changes in other multilateral forums. The minor mention of emergency reserves means that efforts by the World Food Programme or the FAO to expand beyond limited national reserves will be stymied, and the G-20’s heavy reliance on the "Business 20" (B-20) for policy guidance will likely mean that critical approaches to regulate public-private partnerships will remain off the table. G-20 recommendations effectively limit input by the other 173 U.N. member countries in these big decisions, to say nothing of the lack of channels for civil society engagement.

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The G-20 agricultural agenda: Agricultural productivity growth in a vacuum

Posted June 19, 2012 by Sophia Murphy   

Used under creative commons license from Gobierno Federal.

 Presidents Obama and Calderón in Los Cabos.

When the Heads of State of the G-20 countries meet in Los Cabos, Mexico on June 18–19, they will have plenty to discuss—not least, the fragile global economy and the instability of international finance. Food security is on their agenda as well. Yet after the intense focus on agriculture and food security under the leadership of France, both ahead of and during its time as host of the G-20 in 2011, this year’s efforts are low-key.

The host government, Mexico, is preoccupied with national elections in July. The President chose to advance the Heads of State summit to mid-June, ahead of the election, rather than wait for later in the year, when G-20 summits are more normally held. The change of program has left the different working groups without much time to do their work. Mexico also chose a much narrower set of issues for the Agricultural Ministers’ contribution this year: agricultural productivity growth, with a linked focus on small family farms.

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Climate change, food security and the G-20

Posted June 15, 2012 by    

Mexican President Felipe Calderón issues a press statement on the G-20 Summit to be held June 18 and 19 in Los Cabos, Mexico.

From north to south, Mexican farmers are facing some of the most severe climate instability they’ve ever confronted. The northern states are suffering from what the Mexican government has called the worst drought the country has ever experienced; rain just won’t fall, and the crops that have been planted have dried up. In the south, they’ve had year after year of devastating floods, the result of which has been devastating topsoil loss on the uniformly hilly terrain.

Elias Ventura, a small-holder corn farmer in the state of Oaxaca, told me about the hopelessness of this situation when we sat next to each other yesterday at the seminar IATP is co-hosting this week in Mexico City, “New Paradigms and Public Policies for Agriculture and Global Food Systems,” in advance of next week’s G-20 meeting in Los Cabos, Mexico. He said that he’s had either too much rain, or not enough, and that getting a good harvest under the unpredictable new weather extremes (that he said are the result of climate change) seemed like an impossibility. I asked him if the Mexican government provided any support when his crops failed and he gave me a resolute “No.” Not only would he be without the income that the crop would provide, but his community would have to adjust to a sharp decrease in food availability. This challenge Mexican farmers and rural communities face in the wake of climate change stands in stark contrast to the risk-management program the U.S. Senate has proposed for the 2012 Farm Bill, which would guarantee up to 90 percent of farmers’ revenue if crops fail or prices fall, but there are some similarities.

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Amendment craziness and the Farm Bill

Posted June 13, 2012 by Ben Lilliston   

This article in Politico suggests the slew of amendments introduced to the Farm Bill on the Senate floor is part of a conservative strategy to kill the bill.

An article in Politico yesterday suggested that the introduction of more than 200 amendments to the Farm Bill on the Senate floor was part of a conservative strategy to “bait Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) into a confrontation that will ultimately kill the bill.” Aside from potentially upsetting Reid, the avalanche of amendments also makes it extremely difficult for citizens to track and weigh in on the type of Farm Bill they want. And maybe that’s another part of the amendment bomb strategy.

Senate leaders are working to winnow down the amendments to something manageable, and still hope to complete the bill by their July break. Last week, IATP sent a letter to Minnesota Senators outlining our priority amendments, including those focused on: a packer ban to restore competition in livestock markets, linking conservation to crop insurance, public research focused on crop diversity, rural development programs, and support for Beginning and Disadvantaged farmers. 

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Critical issues in agriculture discussed during the climate change negotiations

Posted June 5, 2012 by Dr. Steve Suppan   

Photograph courtesy of IISD/Earth Negotiations Bulletin.

Heated debates on equity of burden sharing and finance dominated much of the discussions at the UNFCCC negotiation in Bonn Germany. Within this broader debate, there is growing recognition of the urgent need to find new solutions to the challenges of agriculture and food security in the face of abrupt and violent climate events and slow-onset events, such as extended drought. IATP, ActionAid and the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance presented information at a side event on the scope of the challenges, and proposed work on agriculture that could be undertaken by UNFCCC. In the discussions on agriculture in the Subsidiary Body on Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA), developing countries have repeatedly insisted that their priority is adaptation to climate change, particularly for agriculture.

ActionAid’s Harjeet Singh began by noting that in 2011 there were about  500 major weather events globally compared to an average of 120 a year during the 1980s. If the emphasis in work on agriculture under the UNFCCC becomes reducing greenhouse gases in agricultural activities of developing countries, as proposed by developed countries and the World Bank, climate risk and food insecurity will increase. Rather than using agriculture to create emissions offset credits for sale to developed countries, Parties should agree on how to adapt agriculture to climate change and invest accordingly.

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UNFCCC parties kick the agriculture can down the road to Doha

Posted June 4, 2012 by Doreen Stabinsky   

Used under creative commons license from adopt a negotiator.

Demonstrators in the plenary at the UNFCCC climate change negotations in Bonn.

Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) met in Bonn, Germany, for the past two weeks. On the rather full agenda for the meeting was an exchange of views on agriculture, mandated by a decision taken last year at the 17th Conference of the Parties in Durban, South Africa.

The exchange of views was preceded by a submission process, where parties and observers were invited to submit their views on what might be discussed during the exchange. Contained in the views were proposals for how the UNFCCC Subsidiary Body on Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) might address the sector.

From the first meeting, parties were divided on how the SBSTA should address agriculture. While all Parties agreed to a framework based on the SBSTA mandate on scientific and technological matters, there was a division on whether the emphasis of future work should be on adaptation or on both adaptation and mitigation. Developed-country parties in particular were emphatic that both adaptation and mitigation should be covered, and that identification of synergies between adaptation and mitigation was an essential element of future work.

For example, developed countries early in the second week floated a proposal that would have SBSTA consider:

a)   how to enhance the adaptation of agriculture to climate change impacts;
b)    how to improve the efficiency and productivity of agricultural systems in a sustainable manner;
c)    how to address synergies and trade-offs between adaptation and mitigation.

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White House caves on antibiotics

Posted June 4, 2012 by Ben Lilliston   

 Antibiotics crucial to human health, like penicillians and tetracyclines, are at risk of losing their effectiveness.

In another display of Big Pharma’s political influence, the Obama Administration will appeal a court ruling that would have protected public health by withdrawing certain antibiotics from being used in animal feed. The decision to appeal the ruling (reported Friday), despite overwhelming scientific evidence that the overuse of these antibiotics poses a public health risk, is both deeply troubling and confusing.

In 1977, the FDA proposed withdrawing penicillins and tetracyclines from animal feed, but never acted. In late March of this year, the Natural Resources Defense Council won a court ruling to force the FDA to act, unless the antibiotic manufacturers can show these feed drugs are not contributing to the creation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

It’s widely recognized that antibiotics are declining in effectiveness, and everyone from the American Medical Association to the Center for Disease Control, USDA and the World Health Organization agrees that reckless use in agriculture is at least partly at fault for the increase in drug resistant infections in humans. FDA data on pharmaceutical sales shows 80 percent of all antibiotics in the US are sold for use in food animals—about three-quarters of which are added to animal feed for healthy animals to promote growth or control disease among flocks or herds under confinement conditions. 

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ARC2020 interviews IATP's Jim Kleinschmit

Posted May 31, 2012 by IATP   

 Jim Kleinschmit

IATP's Jim Kleinschmit was recently interviewed by ARC2020,  a multi-stakeholder platform, of over 150 organisations within 22 EU Member States working for reform the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). They asked about his work, and the links between the U.S. Farm Bill and the CAP. Learn more about ARC2020 at www.arc2020.eu or read the interview below:

Last month, we received a visit from Jim Kleinschmit, Rural Communities Program Director at the Institute of Agriculture and Trade Policy, USA. We took the opportunity to ask him about his work, his organisation and the links between the US Farm Bill and Europe’s Common Agricultural Policy…

1. Can you tell us how you came to be involved in your work and what are the strongest images and/or influences that have been accompanying you?

I was fortunate to be raised on a farm in Northeast Nebraska by parents involved in the U.S. family farm and sustainable agriculture movement. Over the last twenty five years, my family has transitioned our farm from conventional dairy, livestock and crop production to organic crop and grass-fed beef production. Throughout our childhood and even today, my parents instilled in me and my siblings the importance of farming in society, the responsibility farmers have to protect and enhance soil and other natural resources, and the fact that our current farm policies are not working for farmers, the environment or society.

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Chipotle, please add some farmworker justice to my burrito

Posted May 30, 2012 by    

Many of us on staff at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy enjoy an occasional Chipotle burrito. Compared to other casual dining options, the company has done an outstanding job of sourcing antibiotic-free meat from farmers committed to the humane treatment of animals. We applaud its efforts to provide “food with integrity” and, of course, the touching “Back to the Start” video that depicts the life of a family farmer.

Yet despite these admirable efforts, we are disappointed by Chipotle’s blind spot when it comes to farmworkers. As mentioned in a previous post and illustrated in a video by IATP Food and Community Fellow Shalini Kantayya, the treatment of workers in Florida’s tomato fields is atrocious. Tomato harvesters are still paid by the piece, and the average piece rate today is 50 cents for every 32 pounds of tomatoes they pick, a rate that has remained virtually unchanged since 1980. As a result of that stagnation, a worker today must pick more than 2.25 TONS of tomatoes to earn minimum wage in a typical 10-hour workday—nearly twice the amount a worker had to pick to earn minimum wage thirty years ago, when the rate was 40 cents per bucket.

Effectively addressing this crisis is not easy. Federal labor policy has overtly ignored the plights of farmworkers, and any individual grower would price himself/herself out of business if they tried to institute better labor standards as an individual business.

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Antibiotics in ethanol: An unnecessary risk despite the spin

Posted May 25, 2012 by    

 Used with permission from the USDA Agriculture Research Service. 

“Antibiotic levels nearly nil” screams the headline from this article in the industry trade publication, National Hog Farmer. It was a piece of spin doctoring in response to IATP’s report earlier this month on the widespread and unregulated use of human antibiotics in ethanol production. Ethanol producers use antibiotics to control bacterial outbreaks during production, which can interfere with the fermentation process and lower ethanol yields.

Our report, “Bugs in the System,” made some basic points:

  1. We know antibiotic use, wherever it occurs, can drive antibiotic resistance.
  2. Antibiotics in ethanol, we now know, leaves residues in what are known as “distillers grains” (DGS) a co-product that gets sold as livestock feed. The FDA has determined that sales of antibiotics to the ethanol  industry should be restricted, but has turned a blind eye to actually regulating such sales.
  3. Using human-medicine antibiotics and their analogues to produce much of the nearly 14 billion gallons of ethanol produced each year is both unnecessary and a pretty poor idea. Many ethanol producers have turned to non-antibiotic alternatives, which are readily available and effective, and those producers remain profitable.

The industry has said nothing to refute points #1 and #3. They can’t. They are irrefutable. The process of antibiotic resistance is basic to microbiology. POET, the world’s largest ethanol producer, is certified antibiotic-free.

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