West Africa takes action on the food crisis

Posted December 14, 2010 by Sophia Murphy   

While the world's governments gathered in Cancún, ultimately failing to reach a meaningful multilateral commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to help save the planet, I was across the Atlantic in a different tropical country: Ghana.

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Practical nutrition for physicians

Posted December 7, 2010

Last month, the journal San Francisco Medicine published what we hope will become an annual nutrition issue, titled Food for Thought: Practical Nutrition for Physicians. Some of the gems include a piece from our own David Wallinga, MD on "An Unhealthy Food System: Suggestions for Physician Advocacy" and another from Brian Raymond, MPH of Kaiser Permanente called "Taking Action: A Health Sector Guide to Food System and Agricultural Policy."  

Read the entire issue (.pdf).

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How health professionals can green their practice

Posted December 3, 2010

There is growing scientific evidence that environmental exposures affect both individuals' health and the health of the population as a whole. Our health professionals are on the front lines treating diseases associated with a variety of environmental contaminants.

In a new article for Medscape titled "Greening Your Practice," IATP's David Wallinga, M.D., outlines how clinicians can address two critical environmental issues with important health consequences: the daily exposure of people to combinations of toxic chemicals, and an unhealthy "obesogenic" food environment. Dr. Wallinga writes, "Because chemical and food environments are inherently community issues, clinicians may find advocacy for healthier chemical and food policies to be an essential component for reducing the unhealthy food and chemical exposures already affecting their patients."

You can read the full article here.

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Animals and our obesogenic environment

Posted November 30, 2010

Many things “cause” the obesity epidemic, acting together. But the general consensus around how to respond to this fact has changed significantly.

For years the focus within academic medicine was on changing lifestyle or behavior—in short, approaches that focus on the individual. The approach didn't work very well. 

The new approach is to change the default environment that appears to constrain individuals to make bad choices and become obese in the first place by eating more calories than they can burn. A permissive culture that allows even the youngest, most vulnerable children to be bombarded with soda and other junk food ads is one example. Local zoning that leaves many neighborhoods lacking in sidewalks or bike lanes—or virtually any way of getting from point A to B except by car—is another.

But might there be some other mysterious factors like environmental chemicals or contaminated food? Science pointing in that direction is mounting.

This week, Nature reports on a study that looks at the obesity epidemic of the four-legged kind. (Though it’s hard to see how pets and laboratory animals would be as impacted by marketing or zoning as are kids.)
The study, called "Canaries in the Coal Mine," and published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, looks at statistics on more than 20,000 animals and finds an epidemic of obesity in family pets, among laboratory animals and even among wild animals living near people.

The study raises as many questions as it answers. The authors acknowledge that there are many conceivable explanations for what they observed. Perhaps rats are fatter because our garbage has become richer as we have. However, an NIH-funded workshop on the “Role of Environmental Chemicals in the Development of Diabetes and Obesity,” is being held January 11–13, 2011in Raleigh, North Carolina.

This promises to be a story we’ll be hearing more about.

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NYC’s ‘FoodWorks’ leverages food system for health, job creation and the environment

Posted November 22, 2010

New York City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn today announced "FoodWorks New York," a new effort by the city council to produce a comprehensive plan to use the city’s food system to create jobs, improve public health and protect the environment. Over the next six months, the city council will work with experts from government, industry, labor and academia, as well as hunger and environmental advocates and community leaders to examine every step in the city’s food cycle. In a speech, Speaker Quinn outlined five outcomes for the plan:

  1. Improve the city’s food infrastructure
  2. Create new and better jobs in the food industry
  3. Keep more local food dollars in the local economy
  4. Reduce diet-related diseases like obesity, heart disease and diabetes
  5. Reduce environmental damage from the production, transport and consumption of food

As part of developing the plan, the council will require city agencies to report back on food-related measures. The data will be used to set goals and better coordinate efforts across city government.

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Learning from China's food system

Posted November 16, 2010 by Ben Lilliston   

China faces the challenge of feeding 22 percent of the world's population on 9 percent of its arable land. What does this really mean for China's farmers, the environment and the world? And what can we learn from China's experience as we grapple with challenges of development, environment and hunger?

IATP President Jim Harkness, who lived and worked in China for 16 years, will examine the challenge of feeding China and explain why, despite two decades of dire warnings, China’s growing appetite has not brought famine to the rest of the world...yet.

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Fast food advertising to children is relentless

Posted November 9, 2010

FastFoodFACTS_LogoYesterday at The American Public Health Association (APHA) Annual meeting in Denver, researchers from Yale's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity released Fast Food FACTS (Food Advertising to Children and Teens Score). They found that children as young as two are seeing more fast food advertising than ever before and that children are targeted through various media and in the restaurants themselves.

Read this summary of their findings and a rundown of the best and worst kids meals available at popular fast food restaurants. If you're going to visit one, be sure to ask for the healthy sides (milk, fruit, yogurt). The study found that if you leave the choice to the restaurants, most will serve your kids french fries and soda.

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Don't forget the carbon speculators

Posted November 3, 2010

This week, the World Bank, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization and a number of governments are meeting in the Hague at the Global Conference on Agriculture, Food Security and Climate Change. The original goal was to develop a Roadmap for Agriculture that would feed into the global climate change negotiations at the United Nations.

One of the key obstacles to developing a joint approach on agriculture and climate change is financing: finding money to help farmers and communities adapt to the effects of climate change while reducing agriculture's contribution to climate change. Carbon markets have been one of dominant proposals for financing agriculture-related projects on climate change.

IATP's Shefali Sharma is in the Hague and delivered the below statement to conference participants on the risks carbon markets pose to food security and greenhouse gas reduction goals.

Between 2007 and the spring of 2008, the food price index shot up by 85 percent, then in a few months, agriculture commodity prices fell by 60 percent. The massive price spike and drop was devastating for developing countries, particularly net-food importers. The food price crisis drove another 150 million people into hunger. According to UNCTAD, the extent of price volatility during the food crisis cannot be attributed to supply and demand alone. There is now a wide consensus that speculation on commodity markets by financial traders had a significant role to play in creating the crisis.

In our discussions in the Hague on food security, climate change and “innovative finance," the discussion on speculation in carbon markets and their impact on agriculture commodities is glaringly missing. 

Carbon and commodity markets are tied together through futures markets. And carbon trading is essentially derivatives trading. Unregulated derivatives trading, starting with mortgage-backed securities, was a major source of the current global financial crisis. This crisis is the reason most developed countries claim they have inadequate public funds for climate finance. Yet, carbon trading, to the scale at which it is being proposed, would create a large secondary market of carbon derivatives that has thus far been poorly regulated. When bundled with other commodities, such as maize, wheat  or oil, carbon derivatives have a large potential to destabilize agriculture prices. A second way that carbon derivatives can destabilize markets is through over-the-counter trading: a preferred mechanism of financial speculators who can make unlimited bets in commodity markets through this window. In 2008, 44 percent of carbon traded on the European Emissions Trading Scheme was through over-the-counter trades. As a result the carbon price in the ETS has been highly volatile and low.

Land-based offsets included in carbon markets therefore have significant implications on land tenure, food sovereignty, biodiversity and the right to food. These linkages need to be carefully examined and have thus far been neglected as a topic of discussion in this conference.

Industrialized countries and their industries have a legal and historical responsibility under the UNFCCC to mitigate climate change. They should not pass this responsibility to countries who have had little to do with creating the problem, but who nonetheless will bear the largest impacts. 

Reliable, predictable and public finance needs to fund adaptation needs in developing countries and there are several proposals including carbon, transport and financial transaction taxes that are on the table that should be considered.

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Reporting on the roadmap at the global conference on ag and climate

Posted November 3, 2010

IATP's Shefali Sharma is reporting from the Global Conference on Agriculture, Food Security and Climate Change at The Hague.

It is the fourth evening of this six-day long conference, which promises to deliver a “roadmap” of concrete actions on agriculture, food security and climate change through a participatory process. This evening, a draft copy of the roadmap is supposed to be made available at the conference center with the announcement that this was “not going to be a negotiated text” and that only a “chairman’s summary” would be produced as the outcome of the meeting.

For three days now, the meetings have continued nonstop from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. with plenaries morphing into working groups, morphing into numerous side events and an investment fair in the evening.  Participants have complained about not having any breaks or enough time to engage on the numerous topics. The conference has been dominated by panels and confusion has reigned with regards to the objectives of such a “roadmap” that will simply be delivered onto the participants in a top down manner.  Certainly, the chairmen’s summaries of what happened in working groups the day before illustrates that the conference is not meant to necessarily capture the diversity of views (and there are many, with little consensus on anything!), but steadily drive towards a planned outline of a “roadmap.”

Such a shell of an outline was handed to participants today with the headings such as: “Shared Understanding of the Challenges,” “Shared understanding of the Solutions,” “Urgent Need for Action,” and  “A Roadmap for Action.” This latter heading is further divided into “Policies and Strategies” for the catch phrase of the conference: “climate-smart agriculture,” “Tools and Technologies for Climate-Smart Agriculture” and “Financing for Transformational Change.” And yet the working groups have not necessarily been addressing these issues in any meaningful way, nor has there been adequate governmental and civil-society participation in the debates or time to merit a “shared understanding.”

The conference appears to be dominated by agribusiness interests and those promoting opportunities for carbon-related offsets and market-based approaches to solve the climate crisis in agriculture sector in the Global South. The words “mitigation” and “adaptation” have been used interchangeably, particularly by representatives from industrialized countries such as the U.S. and New Zealand, raising concerns that this so-called “roadmap” of the chair of the conference will simply ignore the legal obligations of industrialized countries who are party to the UNFCCC to reduce their own carbon footprint and greenhouse gases domestically and to set the stage for carbon offsets in agriculture.

In response to the proceedings of the conference, Bolivia and Nicaragua on behalf of the ALBA group of countries (Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Venezuela) made 13 recommendations to the conference organizers regarding the chairman’s summary as the outcome document of the conference. 
They noted that “a process that genuinely seeks to draw together the linkages between agriculture, food security and climate change should involve government delegates from both the agriculture and climate change sectors in order to support fair and effective solutions to the agriculture and climate crises.“ 

They called on the chair to “honor the commitments” under the UNFCCC on mitigation, adaptation and financing. They said, “Developed countries should not shift the burden of reducing their emission to developing countries through the carbon market and offsetting […]” Instead, they called for a “holistic framework” that also includes water management, biodiversity, agricultural prices, commodities markets, livelihoods, employment, salaries, womens’ and indigenous rights and poverty reduction.”

The ALBA group also supported the findings of the International Assessment on Agriculture Science Technology and Development (IAASTD) and referenced the World People's Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth held in Cochabamba on April 2010. They stressed that ecological agriculture “is the route to food security and adaptation to climate change” and as such adaptation should be the main priority of the conference. They noted that a market-based approach will lead to carbon speculation “and inevitably a carbon bubble. On the contrary, we need to get non-sector speculators out of food futures markets. Speculation in food security that leads to mass malnutrition is immoral and should be illegal,“ they said.

They concluded by emphasizing the Adaptation Fund of the Kyoto protocol as the appropriate channel for financing and stressed that further funding could also be obtained through Special Drawing Rights at the International Monetary Fund.

Tomorrow begins the ministerial roundtable to deliberate on the chair’s summary.

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Fairness in food from farm to [every] plate: November's Radio Sustain

Posted November 1, 2010

This month's Radio Sustain podcast is all about food security and farmworker justice: Why does exploitation of farmworkers and modern-day slavery still exist in the United States, and why do some (both domestically and internationally) go hungry while others have more than enough? 

First, IATP Food and Society Fellow Sean Sellers discusses the shocking modern-day farmworker exploitation that takes place throughout the country. In a new campaign, he and IATP Food and Society Fellow Shalini Kantayya have created a video with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers to ask for One Penny More for farmworkers.

Domestically, hunger remains—unsurprisingly—concentrated in low-income urban areas. Mark Winne, author of Closing the Food Gap, is a veteran food security and anti-hunger advocate. He's founded multiple food security organizations, including the Community Food Security Coaltion (CFSC). Winne talks about his ideas on where the food gap comes from and shares his insights on what steps must be taken to close it.

Finally, IATP's Sophia Murphy discusses the state of international food security, and why food reserves hold promise as a tool for stabilizing volatility in agriculture markets that devastates farmers and poor consumers around the globe.

Listen to the latest Radio Sustain (mp3) and check our archives for past podcasts.

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