Who, or what, will be at your table this Thanksgiving?

Posted November 15, 2011 by Andrew Ranallo   

Used under creative commons license from QUOI Media.

Be careful not to invite BPA to your table this Thanksgiving.

According to a new Breast Cancer Fund report, co-released today by Healthy Legacy and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, the notoriously common endocrine-disrupting bisphenol A (BPA) could be hiding in your green bean casserole this Thanksgiving.
The tests focused on popular Thanksgiving canned goods—green beans, cream of mushroom soup, turkey gravy, creamed corn, cranberry sauce, pumpkin, and evaporated milk— and showed that single servings of almost half of the products tested had levels of BPA comparable to those linked to adverse health effects in the lab.
Levels of BPA were highly variable throughout the samples. For example, the sample of Del Monte Fresh Cut Sweet Corn, Cream Style purchased in Minnesota contained 221 parts per billion (ppb) while the same product purchased in California only contained 4 ppb. This variability among cans of the same product, as the report points out, “means […] consumers have no way of knowing how much BPA is in the canned goods they’re buying and consuming.”
The products tested included four cans, each purchased in a different state (including California, Massachusetts, Minnesota and New York), of:
  • Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup
  • Campbell’s Turkey Gravy
  • Carnation Evaporated Milk (Nestlé)
  • Del Monte Fresh Cut Sweet Corn, Cream Style
  • Green Giant Cut Green Beans (General Mills)
  • Libby’s Pumpkin (Nestlé)
  • Ocean Spray Jellied Cranberry Sauce

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Need versus greed at Rio+20

Posted November 10, 2011 by Shiney Varghese   

Used under creative commons license from Rodrigo_Soldon.

Twenty years after the original Earth Summit, leaders will meet again in Rio de Janeiro to discuss the environmental limits to development. 

Over the last month, U.N. agencies, Member States and civil society groups have been busy: they made well over 600 contributions toward Rio+20, the next United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (U.N. CSD), to be held in Rio de Janeiro in June 2012. The inputs submitted by the stakeholders will be assembled into a compilation document by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA), where a Rio+20 Dedicated Secretariat has been established to support the U.N. CSD bureau in steering the preparatory process leading up to Rio+20. The compilation document will form the basis for developing the draft that will be negotiated at Rio+20.

As I said in an earlier blog, Rio+20 will mark the 20th anniversary of the first Earth Summit, held in the same city where heads of states came together to address what was then seen as the priority issue: environmental limits to development. If anything the situation is much worse now.

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Will the G-20 learn to listen?

Posted November 8, 2011 by Karen Hansen-Kuhn   

Used under creative commons license from shivalichopra.

The reformed Committee on Food Security includes the participation of 11 constituency groups, including farmers, fisherfolk, women and NGOs, who coordinate their efforts to influence global food policies. 

Since the first food crisis erupted in 2008, there have been a number of debates at the multilateral level about why our food system is failing and what needs to change. One important outcome is that a broader range of groups are weighing in on the issue, and finding the right forums to do so. The Committee on Food Security (CFS) brings together the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Food Program (WFP) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD)—the three leading U.N. food agencies—along with donor governments and agencies, and creates a new space for civil society input. The reformed CFS includes the participation of 11 constituency groups, including farmers, fisherfolk, women and NGOs, who coordinate their efforts to influence global food policies.

Such a participatory process can be messy, but it can also yield innovative solutions and new agreements on how to deal with such issues as food price volatility and land grabs. IATP’s Sophia Murphy attended the latest meeting of the CFS meeting in Rome last month. In a new commentary, she discusses what emerged from those discussions, and how the narrower agreements reached by the G-20 may be undermining those accords. 

Read IATP's latest commentary, "Stepping up: Will the G-20 allow the CFS to function? Will other countries allow the G-20 to stop them?"

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Raise more voices for effective farm policy—now!

Posted November 7, 2011 by    

ParentEarth creates online videos to help increase parent's awareness of food policy, currently the Farm Bill is a focus.

The projected course of action regarding the Farm Bill changed dramatically over the past two weeks. The general expectation was a spring 2012 Farm Bill, with the possibility that Presidential election politics would push things back to potentially 2013. Now it seems that the odds-on favorite is to have a Farm Bill introduced any day now as part of the super committee budget reduction process.

As IATP’s Ben Lilliston described last week, the super committee process would throw democracy and transparency out the window:

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A hell of a way to write a Farm Bill

Posted October 27, 2011 by Ben Lilliston   

Used under creative commons license from Wyoming_Jackrabbit.

The Farm Bill has a direct effect on the more than 900 million acres in farmland in the United States, the country's 2 million farmers and the 43 million Americans on food assistance. 

If you want to see what political dysfunction looks like, take a look at how Congress is bungling the nation’s most important food and farm policy—the Farm Bill. The sprawling Farm Bill sets policy for the next five years and is directly relevant to our 2 million farmers, the 43 million people on food assistance and the more than 900 million acres in farmland. It’s also tied less directly to things like rising rates of diet-related disease, rural depopulation and economic struggles, and the water quality and quantity of our nation’s rivers and streams. In other words, it’s a big deal.
The writing of the Farm Bill begs for a deliberative, open discussion of ideas and perspectives on how to best meet the nation’s goals. Instead, there is a strong chance the chairs of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees will submit detailed Farm Bill proposals to the so-called Super Committee by the end of October. The 12-member Super Committee will consider these recommendations in secret. Then, the Super Committee’s proposal on the Farm Bill will be presented after November 23 and put to a simple up or down vote in December.
No hearings, no amendments, no debate. Under this scenario, we may have very little idea about what is in the Farm Bill until after it has passed.

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What does the occupation of Wall Street have to do with agriculture?

Posted September 30, 2011 by Ben Lilliston   

Used under creative commons license from marniejoyce.

The occupation of Wall Street protests originated from a July call to action by Adbusters to oppose growing corporate control over democracy and government.

Now two weeks in, the occupation of Wall Street originated from a July call to action by Adbusters to draw a line in the sand on the growing corporate control of our democracy and government—and in particular, Wall Street’s influence.
Agriculture markets have been especially hard hit by Wall Street’s political prowess. Wall Street deregulation has not only made the stock market extremely volatile, it has increased prices and price volatility in agricultural markets. The cost of protecting against price volatility are considerable for the future of agriculture not only in the U.S., but around the world.  
In 2008, we reported on the role a new wave of financial speculators, operating through commodity index funds controlled by Wall Street firms like Goldman Sachs, played in creating extreme volatility in agriculture commodity markets—and ultimately contributing to rising global rates of hunger. Wall Street speculators were able to enter commodity futures markets after a successful and systematic decade-long lobbying effort to dismantle strong market safeguards. According to Wall Street Watch, from 1998–2008, Wall Street invested over $5 billion in lobbying and campaign contributions in support of their deregulatory agenda.

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Women and the right to food

Posted September 26, 2011 by Sophia Murphy   

Used under creative commons license from IRRI Images.

In mid-September, I had the pleasure to attend a two-day consultation run by the Center for Women's Global Leadership (CWGL), housed at Rutgers University (which, by the way, I was told boasts a freshman year this year that includes no less than 46 percent first generation university students. Kudos!). The consultation was the third that the CWGL has held with U.N. Special Rapporteurs—last week's was with Olivier de Schutter, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food. Dr. de Schutter is in the first stages of preparing a report on women's rights and the right to food, which he will present to the U.N. Human Rights Commission in March 2012. CWGL assembled a group of some 30 people to discuss the report, focusing on the right to food, gender equality and macro-economics. It was a great two-day brainstorm with a lot of smart and experienced (mostly) women. Fun and stimulating and useful.

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The G-20's opportunity on food reserves

Posted September 23, 2011 by Sophia Murphy   

Used under creative commons license from CGIAR Climate.

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has accepted an invitation to host the World Food Program's pilot emergency food reserves project. Farmers, like these in Kaffrine, Senegal, are some of the hardest it by food price volatility.

This post was originally featured on the Triple Crisis blog.

G-20 development ministers meet on Friday in Washington, D.C. One of the items on their agenda is a proposal developed in June for the G-20 agriculture ministers to allow the World Food Program to develop a pilot proposal for an emergency food reserve. The decision was possibly the most important outcome in an otherwise thin summit communiqué: however circumscribed, we know that food price volatility correlates with low stocks, and that providing stocks is a proven way to curb excessive volatility. We also know that in emergencies, in most of the poorest countries, it takes an average of 90 days to bring food into food-deficit areas. 90 days is too long. The costs of working in emergency conditions are also too high, in both resources and human life. There are cheaper, better ways to ensure food is available when it’s needed: a reserve in the food-vulnerable regions is one of them.

The pilot is to be part of the G-20 Action Plan on Food Price Volatility. Preparation of the proposal included extensive consultation with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which accepted an invitation to host the pilot project.

Between the last days of June and just last week, an astonishingly short period of time, the WFP coordinated a process among a number of intergovernmental and national agencies; coordinated the drafting of a report, which is both a feasibility study and pilot project proposal; found a willing partner region (ECOWAS); worked with an ad hoc group of interested G-20 governments who provided oversight; and managed some outreach to NGOs with experience in humanitarian emergencies and stocks policies. It is an impressive achievement. Bravo.

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How a better farm policy could save money and stabilize prices

Posted September 16, 2011 by Ben Lilliston   

Used under creative commons license from US Army Africa.

IATP, among others, has been pushing for the inclusion of a food reserve system in farm policy as a way to decrease volatility in food prices.

If we had a better U.S. farm policy from 1998 through 2010, we could have saved close to $100 billion in government payments for crops, provided essentially the same farm income and helped stabilize increasingly volatile agriculture prices. These are the conclusions of a new study commissioned by the National Farmers Union (NFU) and authored by the University of Tennessee Agricultural Policy Analysis Center.
The study couldn’t come at a better time, as a budget cutting–obsessed Congress is considering new approaches for the 2012 Farm Bill. The study looks backwards to determine what would have happened if a different farm policy designed to ensure fair prices from the marketplace, rather than relying on government payments when prices drop, had been in place during the 12-year period. The alternative policy includes a combination of farmer-owned reserves, increased loan rates, set-asides, the elimination of direct payments and reduced reliance on other government payments.
Among many findings, the study found that: government payments for crops would have dropped from $152.2 billion to $56.4 billion during the period; the value of exports would have been $4.9 billion higher; and farmers and consumers would have benefited from more stable and predictable price signals than when excess speculation created enormous volatility in commodity futures markets.
NFU, IATP and others have been pushing for the inclusion of a reserve system in farm policy for several decades. If it works for taxpayers, farmers and consumers, who’s against it? You guessed it, the powerful grain companies. Current farm policy places the supply of agriculture commodities in the hands of these companies—and they’ve profited handsomely. But what’s good for agribusiness isn’t necessarily good for the rest of us.

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Obama administration lags on farm drivers of antibiotic resistance

Posted September 14, 2011

Used under creative commons license from Microbe World.

Microscopic image of Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus bacteria (MRSA)—and emerging superbug as antibiotic resistance increases in the United States.

Antibiotics are waning in effectiveness, and as a result more and more Americans are getting sick and dying of hard-to-treat—and hugely expensive—infections. The names of these superbugs, like MRSA, are becoming known to all.
Driving resistance is the use of antibiotics. And last year, the FDA revealed that 80 percent of all U.S. antibiotics are used in agriculture, the vast majority as additives to animal feed for healthy animals. No feed antibiotics have ever been taken off the market, despite proposals to do so appearing as early as 1977.
Today, a new report by the non-partisan U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) raises alarms about the inadequate government response. Its title says it all: Antibiotic Resistance: Agencies Have Made Limited Progress Addressing Antibiotic Use in Animals.
As the report makes clear, the problem is not simply one of the feed antibiotics continuing to be sold. It is also that federal agencies, like the FDA and USDA, have failed to put forth a clear plan to improve their collection of farm data about how antibiotics in agriculture are being used, or to research alternatives to the squandering of precious antibiotics in animal feed.

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