The Codex Alimentarius Commission is an overlooked international body with representatives of 136 governments, about 100 food industry associations, several intergovernmental organizations, and a smattering of consumer and other nongovernmental organizations. Codex food standards are recognized by the World Trade Organization (WTO) as authoritative, so seemingly small matters of wording in a standard often can have major international trade consequences. The Codex has a duel (and often conflicting) mandate to protect consumer health, as well as to write standards that facilitate international trade.
A standing item of contention on the Codex Committee on Food Labeling (CCFL) for two decades has been whether or not to recommend to the commission the adoption of a labeling standard for foods with genetically modified ingredients. The United States and several other exporting countries of genetically modified organisms (or “foods derived from modern biotechnology” in the Codex terminology) had opposed any labeling of GMOs as “misleading even if true.” The justification for opposition was that even though governmental adoption of any Codex standard is voluntary, the adoption of a GM labeling standard would become an unfair trade barrier. However, at a June 16 meeting, the U.S. Codex Office announced that it would not oppose the adoption of a Codex guidance on the voluntary labeling of GMOs.
Nanotech holds lots of promises: products that are stronger, lighter and longer lasting; food packaging that can detect, and more effectively resist, bacteria. All of this amazing potential has industry chomping at the bit—already, 1,300 products now on the market claim to implement Engineered Nanomaterials (ENMs) in some way. The problem? Not one of these 1,300 has been through pre-market testing to determine the effect of ENMs on public health, worker safety or the environment. In a new report, "Racing Ahead: Racing Ahead: U.S. Agri-Nanotechnology in the Absence of Regulation," IATP's Dr. Steve Suppan addresses the broad lack of regulation and oversight of nanotech applications in food and agriculture.
On June 9, the FDA and EPA released draft, voluntary guidance to industry as the first step towards requiring companies to submit ENM data for regulatory review. The same day, the White House issued an executive memorandum on principles of regulation and oversight of nanomaterials. While this step is encouraging, there is so much more to be done—especially as related to the application of nanomaterials in food and agriculture. According to the report:
ENM residues that could not be washed away by consumers in nano-coated produce are already reportedly being exported from Latin America to the U.S., without pre-market safety assessment or regulation.
Tomorrow the first ever summit of G-20 Agriculture Ministers will take place in Paris. The French government is to be commended for the initiative. Concerned by the evident disarray in government responses to the food price crisis of 2007-08, the French government moved quickly and deliberately to consider how best to respond. One of their investments, one that might be overlooked in the drama of a G-20 summit, has been in research to understand what kinds of tools governments have used to respond to price spikes and volatility, and how effective those tools have been, particularly in developing countries, and particularly with an eye on reducing poverty and vulnerability to hunger. The results of that investment is informing the debate at many levels, and is a welcome addition to a literature that is otherwise rather too orthodox.
Our friend Jill Krueger at the Public Health Law Network has written a great post about why, if you care about getting more fruits and vegetables into schools, hospitals and people in general, you have to support policies that support farmers. This requires taking a hard look at a food system that prizes cheap food and confronting the challenge of getting more young farmers into the field. Jill points to our Healthy Farms, Healthy People Summit held in May in Washington, D.C. as a positive step toward creating a stronger alliance between public health, farmers and other key stakeholders.
Toxic chemicals are about to get the recognition they deserve.
On Thursday, June 16, the Healthy Legacy coalition (IATP is a cofounding member) will host a viewing party of The Toxies, a satirical awards ceremony which will recognize toxic chemicals for the harmful health effects they are linked to and their prevalence in our lives. Toxic chemicals Formaldehyde, Bisphenol A (BPA), Lead and others, portrayed by actors at the event, will be in attendance, hoping to accept awards in categories such as “Worst and Longest Running Performance” (Mercury) and “Worst Chemical Body Burden” (Dioxin).
The Toxie Awards were created by Californians for a Healthy and Green Economy (CHANGE) and led by Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles (PSR-LA). Now, several supporting organizations are hosting viewing parties all across the nation to raise awareness around the issue of toxic chemicals in everyday products that are linked to cancer, developmental disorders, infertility and other health problems.
IATP’s Dr. David Wallinga has posted a piece at the Huffington Post on the use of antibiotics in ethanol production. Some ethanol producers add human antibiotics to their fermentation tanks in order to control growth of bacteria that might reduce their yields. This practice creates yet another source of unnecessary antibiotics in our food system—on top of the 74 percent of all American antibiotics that the FDA says are added to animal feeds—and contributes to the rapid decline in effectiveness of certain antibiotics in treating sick people.
The G-20 agriculture ministers will meet on June 22–23 in France to discuss how to address the major challenges facing agriculture. A report issued this week by a U.N. agency on the growing influence of financial speculators on commodity markets, including agriculture prices, should be required reading.
"The 'financialization' of commodity markets has changed trading behaviour and significantly affects the prices of such basic goods as staple foods," reported the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) on Monday. The UNCTAD report documented the new forces of financialization in commodity markets beginning in 2004—and its role in steadily rising prices, accompanied by increasing volatility.
The study's findings, backed by interviews with physical traders and financial investors, determined that the rise of the commodity derivatives market had encouraged herding behavior to the point where financial investment, rather than market fundaments like supply and demand, increasingly influences prices. The report's findings concluded that acting against the majority of investors, even if justified by market fundamentals, may result in large losses. "It may therefore be rational for market participants to ignore their own information and follow the trend."
Among the varied insightful voices at the TEDxTC event Monday night in St. Paul, I had the distinct privilege of listening to the talks of two giants working on the intersection of food and justice: Winona LaDuke, activist and author from the White Earth Reservation, and LaDonna Redmond, originally hailing from Chicago but recently joining our IATP team here in Minneapolis. Each activist cut the issue of food justice in a personally, culturally and geographically relevant way, and each story resonated close to what our relationship with food could be.
Today, IATP and the Center for Food Safety issued the below press release on a major announcement to temporarily halt the use of arsenic in some animal feeds. IATP issued a report in 2006 on the heavy use of arsenic in animal feeds. In 2009, we partnered with the Center for Food Safety to petition the FDA to halt the use of arsenic in animal feed.
Major contributor of arsenic in animal feed halts practice
Center for Food Safety and Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy urge continued action to remove all arsenic from animal feeds permanently
Washington, D.C., June 08, 2011 – The federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) today announced that Alpharma, a division of the pharmaceutical company Pfizer, has agreed to stop selling (for now) its arsenic-containing product, 3-Nitro, for use in chicken, turkeys and swine. In 1944, 3-Nitro became the first arsenic-containing product approved by the FDA for use in food animals.
Staff from congressional offices, development agencies and family farm organizations jammed into a crowded briefing room on Capitol Hill on Thursday to hear more about new approaches to food security that help farmers feed their communities while working with nature. The briefing was sponsored by IATP and the Interfaith Working Group on Global Hunger and Food Security, and hosted by Rep. Jim McGovern.
Olivier de Schutter, U.N. Special Rapporteur on the right to food (see right with Cheryl Morden), led off the event with a bold assertion: we’re not actually facing a hunger crisis, but really three interlocking crises: a poverty crisis, an environmental crisis and a nutrition crisis. In many cases, the volume of food available isn’t really the issue. Poor people can’t afford the food that is available, and they can’t influence agricultural prices and policies. Unsustainable farming practices that rely on agrochemicals derived from petroleum products mean that farmers can’t afford the inputs, and that the land becomes degraded. And, many countries are facing a new nutrition crisis, with obesity rates in some communities increasing at the same time as hunger persists in others.