My mother was a kitchen girlMy father was a garden boyThat’s why I’m a farmer now
Occupy Wall Street (OWS) held a Farmers March in Washington, D.C., on December 4 to highlight issues of corporate control of the food system. Farmers, community gardeners, food workers and activists spoke on issues such as fair prices for farmers, sustainable farming, local food and the growing specter of hunger in America.
Unregulated commodity speculation and corporate greed have contributed to a global food crisis that includes the 45 million Americans currently receiving food assistance. (See recent interview with with Jim Harkness, president of IATP.) And how are national political leaders responding to this crisis, which was created by the banks? With proposals to cut food assistance, which would only intensify food insecurity. In other parts of the world, the response to such policies has been food riots and national uprisings. As the peaceful and thoughtful OWS Farmers March demonstrated, we don't need to go down that road, but if we hope to avoid it, we had better act immediately to reform our corporate-controlled food system.
As I flew back from Bonn last week, on my way back from the Bonn 2011 Nexus Conference (16–18 November), one thing was clear to me. Corporate environmentalism is entrenching itself firmly in the corridors of global governance, and challenging its advance will require new strategies. The "in-your-face" approach of yesterday is being replaced with a softer, albeit more dangerous "corporate responsibility" garb. This softer path also seeks to ensure that civil society stakeholders are seen as party to the decisions.
The Bonn Nexus conference is symptomatic of the way that corporate environmentalism is developing. "The water, energy and food security nexus, Solutions for the Green Economy," as it is called, is an initiative of the federal government of Germany to develop specific contributions to the Rio+20 Conference. It is an important event because this is the first of several nexus conferences being planned to gain political support for advancing the green economy at Rio+20. The next follow-up conference is being organized by World Economic Forum and will be held in January 2012.
In its recognition of a "nexus," these conferences could be seen as a step forward. Two years ago, when we published a report on the need for integrated solutions for the water, climate and food crises, the idea of connections between these three sectors was simply not on any official agenda.
The media has been splashed with recent findings of elevated levels of arsenic in apple juice. Much less attention has been given to concerns about the presence of arsenic in meat. Last week, IATP and the Center for Food Safety filed a series of petitions with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) calling for the agency to vastly reduce the legally permissible levels of arsenic in meat. Pharmaceutical companies produce and sell four arsenic compounds that are added to animal feed for turkey, chicken and swine production to increase weight and improve pigmentation of the meat.
“Arsenic’s a poison that causes cancer, among other harm,” IATP’s David Wallinga, M.D. said in a press release on the petitions. “The FDA can’t seriously uphold its public health mission while allowing residues of arsenic in the meat our children and families eat. That’s why we’ve submitted this petition.”
In 2006, IATP’s report Playing Chicken: Avoiding Arsenic in Your Meat estimated that more than 70 percent of all U.S. chickens raised for meat are fed arsenic. That report found detectable levels of arsenic in many name brand poultry products from supermarkets and fast food restaurants.
The latest Food and Community Fellows Digest brings together different perspectives of the many and varied ways culture and food interact. In his introduction, Editor Mark Muller writes:
Each fellow has provided their own perspective on the influence of culture on food. Culture has often been perceived as a barrier to better eating and best to be ignored. It’s more appropriate to consider culture—when respected and embraced—as a powerful driver for just and healthy foods. Below are brief stories of people doing just that. Enjoy!
Stories on food and faith, class wars, race and community self-determination fill the October issue. Explore the Food and Community Fellows Digest.
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.
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?"
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: