G-20 struggles to face up to agriculture price volatility

Posted May 17, 2011 by Sophia Murphy   

Last week, a background paper for the G-20 Summit of Agricultural Ministers on price volatility from eight international organizations appeared [1]. The paper, dated May 2, was presented last week to the sherpas who are preparing for the summit, to be held in Paris on June 23.  

The analysis treats the failures of international markets seriously. It provides a clear and useful explanation for why price volatility, so useful at low levels in the movement of goods, becomes a serious problem when price swings are too large. Yet the paper is fundamentally dissatisfying.

The start and end points of the recommendations (more so than the analysis) is how to ensure open market liberalization works. And even at that, ends up compromised by the politics of free trade, in which poorer countries can be held to a much higher standard than the richer countries that fund the international agencies providing the advice. So on the one hand, developing countries should further increase their dependence on international markets, while relying on finance (including loans) from the international system—finance that has a poor track record to date, both for timeliness and adequacy. On the other hand, the G-20 countries themselves can continue to disrupt those same international markets, asked only to moderate their public subsidies and mandates for biofuels.

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Loud and clear: Report finds state laws get BPA out of baby bottles, sippy cups

Posted May 11, 2011 by Katie Rojas-Jahn   

The Minnesota-based public health coalition Healthy Legacy, cofounded by IATP in 2006, has some good news for parents today.

ToddlerWithBottle250 In a new market survey, Message in a Bottle: A Market Survey on Bisphenol A (BPA) in Baby Bottles and Sippy Cups (PDF), Healthy Legacy found that state legislation was a key driver in actions of key states, parents in states with BPA bans can be pretty sure that baby bottles, sippy cups and breast-milk storage products on the market are free of bisphenol A (always look for a BPA-free label, though). Unfortunately, states without BPA laws, like Oregon, still have BPA-containing children’s products lurking on some store shelves.

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New primer on excessive speculation in agricultural commodity markets

Posted April 29, 2011

Specreader IATP has just released a first-of-its-kind collection of writings about excessive speculation in commodity markets and the toll it has taken on agricultural prices. Excessive Speculation in Agricultural Commodity Markets: Selected Writings from 2008–2011 includes a total of 19 different pieces covering everything from the basics of what speculation in commodity markets looks like to why such speculation is responsible for the agricultural price crisis, as well as information on regulating excessive speculation.

In the foreward, IATP's Steve Suppan writes:

As former National Director of Intelligence Dennis Blair told a stunned U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on February 12, 2009, the global economic crisis, triggered by financial and commodity market deregulation, has replaced Al-Qaeda as the number one U.S. national security threat. Blair’s intelligence agencies forecast widespread regime destabilization if the economic crisis continued to fester without major policy and political reform within two years. His agencies did not specify what reforms were needed nor advocate for their enforcement. That is up to us.

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IATP announces the 2011–2013 Food and Community Fellows

Posted April 21, 2011

The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) is pleased to announce the selection of 14 new Food and Community Fellows. The 2011–2013 class of fellows is a mix of grassroots advocates, thought leaders, writers and entrepreneurs. You can see the full class below and at foodandcommunityfellows.org.

The two-year fellowship provides an annual stipend of $35,000 in addition to communications support, trainings and travel. The program supports leaders working to create a food system that strengthens the health of communities, particularly children. For this class of fellows, a selection committee focused on work that creates a just, equitable and healthy food system from its roots up. Over 560 individuals applied for fellowships.

“We had more than three times the number of applicants of previous classes. Such a talented and diverse pool of people working for food systems change was exciting and challenging for our selection committee and application readers. We look forward to this class building on the great work of previous classes,” said IATP’s Mark Muller. “The six-person selection committee provided a diversity of expertise and perspective that was essential for the decision-making process.”

“This new group of fellows parallels their predecessors in skill, capacity and experience,” says Keecha Harris, a food systems and public health expert, member of the very first fellowship class and member of the selection committee. “The selection process demonstrates that this country has a cadre of profoundly dedicated individuals committed to better food in their communities and improved food policies in all levels of government.” The new class of fellows represents work from Bainbridge Island, Washington to west Georgia, and from southern New Mexico to Queens, New York.

Another selection committee member, August Schumacher, former USDA Undersecretary of Farm and Agriculture Services agrees. “The caliber of the final awardees reflects extraordinary capabilities, outstanding and innovative proposals, and plain hard work,” Schumacher says.

“The Food and Community Fellows have always been change agents,” says Jim Harkness, President of IATP.” We invest in individuals that have a vision and plan for bettering the food system. These fellowships aren’t about incremental change; we want big visions that have the potential to provide our children with new opportunities for growing, processing, eating and thinking about food.”

The Food and Community Fellows program is generously funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation in Battle Creek, Mich. and the Woodcock Foundation, based in New York, New York. 

To follow the work of the new class of IATP Food and Community Fellows, visit our website and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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Class VIII IATP Food and Community Fellows

2011-2013

Brahm Ahmadi, founder of People’s Grocery and CEO of People’s Community Market in Oakland, is a social entrepreneur redesigning food retail to better engage, serve and support food desert communities.

Jane Black is a Brooklyn-based food writer who covers food politics, trends and sustainability issues.

Don Bustos is a traditional farmer in New Mexico working on issues of land and water rights using community-based approaches and providing farmer-to-farmer training.

Cheryl Danley, an Academic Specialist with the C.S. Mott Group for Sustainable Food Systems at Michigan State University in East Lansing, engages with communities to strengthen their access to fresh, locally grown, healthy and affordable food.

Nina Kahori Fallenbaum, the Washington, DC-based food and agriculture editor of Hyphen magazine, uses independent media to engage Asian American and Pacific Islander communities in local and national food policy.

Kelvin Graddick, a west Georgia-based, fair food system advocate, manages a cooperative that maintains a local sustainable food system, promotes healthy living, builds cultural and economic knowledge, and creates economic opportunities.

Haile Johnston, a Philadelphia-based social entrepreneur, works to improve the vitality of rural and urban communities through food system connectivity and policy change.

Jenga Mwendo, a community organizer based in New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward, focuses on strengthening community through urban agriculture.

Raj Patel, a writer, academic and activist in San Francisco, works in support of Food Sovereignty in the US and the Global South through advocacy, analysis and protest.

Kimberly Seals Allers, an award-winning, Queens-based journalist and author, is the leading voice of the African American motherhood experience and a champion for children through her work advocating for improved maternal and infant health and increased breastfeeding in the black community.

Valerie Segrest, a member of the Muckleshoot Tribe outside of Seattle, works as a Community Nutritionist and Native Foods Educator to create a culturally appropriate system of health through traditional foods and medicines.

Kandace Vallejo
, a staff member at Austin, Texas-based  Proyecto Defensa Laboral/Workers Defense Project, coordinates the organization's Youth Empowerment Program, where she works with low-income, first-generation Latino youth and their families to educate, organize, and take action to create a more just and equitable food system for workers and consumers alike.

Rebecca Wiggins-Reinhard works with La Semilla Food Center to improve access to healthy, affordable, and culturally appropriate foods in the Paso del Norte region of southern New Mexico and El Paso, Texas.

Malik Kenyatta Yakini, an activist and educator, is Interim Executive Director of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network, chairs the Detroit Food Policy Council and serves on the facilitation team of Undoing Racism in the Detroit Food System.

 

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Agriculture in rural India: How will it cope with free trade?

Posted April 19, 2011 by Shefali Sharma   

IATP's Shefali Sharma is part of a delegation visiting rural areas in India to assess the human rights impacts of the country's trade and investment policies.You can view her previous post here.

New Delhi – Last I wrote, I was embarking on a journey into some of the most rural villages of Southern India. Over a four-day period, our team met with groups of farmers—men and women—in the State of Andhra Pradesh. We travelled from west to east across Chittoor District and then took an overnight train to the Northern district of Medak, covering hundreds of kilometers.

Our difficult task was to understand what small farmers in India grow, how much they keep for eating and how much they sell to the market. We wanted to understand if they can continue to sustain themselves and their consumption needs through growing food alone and whether they have access not just to food, but adequate nutrition all year long. 

We also wanted to understand whether a European Union–India Free Trade Agreement (FTA), currently under negotiation, would have an impact on their livelihoods. In particular, what role does dairy and poultry play for their income and food security and what would liberalizing investment with the European Union do to land access and natural resources for local farmers. Historically, the European Union has a habit of dumping both dairy products and poultry parts in developing countries, decimating small-scale dairy and poultry producers in the process. For example, Ghana’s poultry sector was wiped out when frozen poultry parts flooded Ghanian markets and the EU-India FTA is likely to include an “asset”-based definition of investment, including both “movable and immovable property.”

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Safe Chemicals Act introduced, good news for people and families

Posted April 14, 2011

Today, the Senate introduced the Safe Chemicals Act, which seeks to  reform the outdated and badly broken Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). We think this is good news for people and families across the United States. Why? Because TSCA has failed so completely to protect our health! Of the more than 80,000 chemicals on the market today, only about 200 have ever been tested for safety. Of those, only five have been banned. Despite 10 years of rulemaking, the EPA could not even ban asbestos, a substance widely known to be harmful to health.

Now, more than 35 years after TSCA was passed, there is no shortage of stories about toxic chemicals, like BPA, phthalates, formaldehyde and lead ending up in the products we use everyday. These chemicals don't just end up in our products, they end up in food. For example, one of the most prevelant exposure routes for people to BPA is canned foods (can linings almost always contain BPA, which leaches into the contents of the can). A recent study from Environmental Health Perspectives found that by eliminating canned foods, levels of BPA were reduced by an average of 60 percent in study participants, after only three days!

The Safe Chemicals Act will change all of that by changing the way we review and regulate chemicals. 

Here's what we like about the bill:

  1. Takes fast action to address highest risk chemicals.
  2. Further evaluates chemicals that could pose unacceptable risk.
  3. Ensures safety threshold is met for all chemicals on the market.
  4. Provide broad public, market and worker access to reliable chemical information.
  5. Promotes innovation, green chemistry and safer alternatives to chemicals of concern.

Toxic chemicals, and their health effects, know no party lines. Let's hope Congress moves this bill forward quickly. 

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Free trade and human rights: a voyage into India's countryside

Posted April 14, 2011

IATP's Shefali Sharma is part of a delegation visiting rural areas in India to assess the human rights impacts of the country's trade and investment policies.

I am in Bangalore tonight—a key metropolis for India’s economic growth story. In Bangalore reside many of India’s premier IT companies and back-end offices for multinational companies, be it for telecommunications or travel. But I won’t be staying in the silicon valley of India for long. Tomorrow, a team of us—from an Indian NGO called Anthra, a German development organization called Misereor, the Heinrich Boell Foundation, a photographer and I—will be waking up at the crack of dawn and driving three hours from the South Indian state of Karnataka to another southern state called Andhra Pradesh.

Over the next four days, we'll visit the districts of Chittoor and Medak and talk to people in the villages of Yallakulu, Raipedu and Chennapur. Our purpose? To understand how changes in India’s international trade and investment policies are likely to affect dairy farmers and food growers in some of the most rural areas of India.

India is negotiating a free trade agreement with the European Union and talking about possibilities of a future trade deal with the United States. While such deals often take place behind closed doors between governments and their industrial lobbies, such agreements can have drastic impacts on environmental and other public interest laws and regulations. Trade and investment policies also have a lot to say about who will continue to eke out a living while facing increased competition. Under these agreements, the most powerful and the least powerful must be treated “alike” under the free trade concept of nondiscrimination.

Human rights law, on the other hand, stresses the need to discriminate in favor of the marginalized and vulnerable populations and claims supremacy over all other international law. This principle sets the stage for our next few days where we will be learning about the lives of people dependant on dairy production (something the European Union wants to import into India with much greater ease) and growing other agriculture commodities. In particular, based on the stories they will tell us, we will analyze to what extent the right to food—the “physical and economic access at all times to adequate food or the means to its procurement”—is being respected under the liberalization policies the Indian government has steadily been adopting. And how a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the EU may strengthen or undermine this critical right.

We begin this journey after an intensive, two-day consultation in New Delhi on building a Human Rights Impact Assessment of key areas of the FTA that are likely to impact small food producers in India. These consultations provided us with data and information we needed to understand the changes that are taking place in the dairy, poultry, food retail, India’s public food distribution system and in land-based investments. Now, we go to the field to see how these changes are playing out in the lives of vulnerable people themselves. Stay tuned.

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U.S. subsidizes Brazilian cotton to protect Monsanto's profits

Posted April 8, 2011

On February 18, Republicans in the House of Representatives defeated an obscure amendment to the House Appropriations bill by a 2-to-1 margin. The Kind Amendment would have eliminated $147 million dollars that the federal government pays every year directly to Brazilian cotton farmers. In an era of nationwide belt tightening, with funding for things like education and the U.S. Farm Bill on the chopping block, defending payments to Brazilian farmers may seem curious.

In order to understand this peculiar political move, one has to look all the way back to 2002, when Brazil filed a case in the WTO challenging U.S. cotton subsidies. In 2004, the Dispute Settlement Body of the WTO found in favor of Brazil, ruling that government subsidies afforded U.S. cotton producers an unfair advantage and suppressed the world market price, which damaged Brazil's interests. After multiple appeals the WTO upheld the original ruling, and by 2009 the U.S. still had not reformed its cotton programs. Brazil then asked the WTO for permission to retaliate against the U.S. by imposing trade sanctions. The WTO decided that Brazil was entitled to impose 100-percent tariffs on over 100 different goods of U.S. origin. Even more importantly, however, Brazil was entitled to suspend intellectual property rights for U.S. companies, including patent protections on genetically engineered seeds.

In WTO language, Brazil was allowed to suspend its obligations to U.S. companies under the Trade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement. This constituted a major threat to the profits of U.S. agribusiness giants Monsanto and Pioneer, since Brazil is the second largest grower of biotech crops in the world. Fifty percent of Brazil’s corn harvest is engineered to produce the pesticide Bt, and Monsanto’s YieldGard VT Pro is a popular product among Brazilian corn farmers. By targeting the profits of major U.S. corporations, the Brazilian government put the U.S. in a tough spot: either let the subsidies stand and allow Brazilian farmers to plant Monsanto and Pioneer seeds without paying royalties, or substantially reform the cotton program. In essence, Brazil was pitting the interests of Big Agribusiness against those of Big Cotton, and the U.S. government was caught in the middle. 

The two governments, however, managed to come up with a creative solution. In a 2009 WTO “framework agreement,” the U.S. created the Commodity Conservation Corporation (CCC), and Brazil created the Brazilian Cotton Institute (BCI). Rather than eliminating or substantially reforming cotton subsidies, the CCC pays the BCI $147 million dollars a year in “technical assistance,” which happens to be the same amount the WTO authorized for trade retaliation specifically for cotton payments. In essence, then, the U.S. government pays a subsidy to Brazilian cotton farmers every year to protect the U.S. cotton program—and the profits of companies like Monsanto and Pioneer. 

In 2005, I attended the committee meeting of Brazil’s foreign trade ministry where Pedro Camargo Neto—a Brazilian trade lawyer and then-president of the Brazilian pork producers association—proposed suspension of the TRIPS agreement as retaliation for U.S. non-compliance with the WTO ruling on cotton. It was a brilliant political tactic, and dramatically shows the power of private firms in both countries to influence trade policy in the WTO. When I interviewed him as part of my dissertation, Camargo said the Brazilian cotton case would never have been launched without political pressure and funding from Brazil’s powerful cotton industry. Despite facing substantial resistance from the Brazilian government in launching the case, he said, “the producers were really backing it.”

Today in the U.S., taxpayers are bearing the cost of the cotton subsidies and the cost of failure to reform them. Although major news outlets called the payments yet another insane perversion of already insane U.S. agricultural policy, it clearly wasn’t just about preserving subsidies. In 2006, Steve Suppan anticipated the use—and drawbacks—of TRIPS suspension as a one of few tools of cross-retaliation available to poorer countries. However, because of the size of the market for genetically modified seeds there, TRIPS suspension was Brazil’s trump card. Apparently when the stakes are high enough for American business interests, the government will make sure that American taxpayers subsidize not just agriculture, but intellectual property, too.

Emelie Peine is an assistant professor of international political economy at the University of Puget Sound.

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Buying better chicken for schools, hospitals and other organizations

Posted April 8, 2011 by Andrew Ranallo   

Making healthy choices can be difficult, even when you know what you're looking for. The myriad of standards and certifications can be hard to navigate, especially in poultry: Does antibiotic-free mean no antibiotics in the feed or no antibiotics used in raising the animal? Do poultry producers have to list whether or not arsenic is used? Now, imagine being responsible for feeding a school's student body, or a hospital. Getting enough of the right product, and getting it on time, can be difficult when trying to source healthier alternatives.

Large-scale food purchasers now have a resource guide to help them make healthy decisions when purchasing poultry for their organizations. Today, IATP is releasing a new fact sheet entitled "Buying Better Chicken," which helps sort out the complicated system of certifications, standards and terminology in the poultry industry.

Take a look at the guide.

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Food packaging major exposure route for BPA

Posted March 30, 2011 by Katie Rojas-Jahn   

A new peer-reviewed study published today in Environmental Health Perspectives has found evidence suggesting that food packaging is a major source of exposure to Bisphenol A (BPA).

The study, conducted by the Breast Cancer Fund and the Silent Spring Institute, recruited five families (each with two parents and two children, for a total of 20 people) and tested them for levels of BPA and certain phthalates in their urine while feeding them a diet of freshly prepared foods. 

BPA is a known endocrine-disrupting chemical and has been linked to numerous health effects, including behavioral changes, early-onset puberty, reproductive harm, diabetes and even cancer. Due to its dubious reputation, it was also recently named on the Minnesota Priority Chemicals list, which includes toxins that are harmful to children and are present in products kids are exposed to. Phthalates are no treat either, having been linked to poor sperm quality, obesity and cancer.

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