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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Big changes for school food

Posted September 6, 2011 by Ben Lilliston   

Schools across Minnesota are bringing fresh, local produce into their lunchrooms during Farm to School month. (Photo: Dover-Eyota Schools)

Like most parents in Minnesota, last week I received an information packet from my daughter’s school. It was the annual get-ready-for-school packet, full of various forms and fall activities for her school in St. Louis Park. Deep in the pile was a bright orange flyer from the school lunch room. This year, they will be offering grass-fed, high–omega 3, all-beef hot dogs from Thousand Hills—a small, Minnesota company. That’s right. Grass-fed beef from a company previously most likely to be found in your local food co-op or natural food store—now in my daughters lunchroom. Also, this September, during Farm to School Month in Minnesota, the school is offering apples, squash, tomatoes and potatoes all grown by local farmers. And hormone-free milk, whole grain brown rice and fresh fruit at every lunch.
 
These are huge changes in the lunch program since my daughter began school five years ago, and what’s happening in St. Louis Park is not unusual. IATP’s JoAnne Berkenkamp and Lynn Mader have been working with the state’s school nutrition association (a.k.a., the lunch ladies), to greatly expand Farm to School programs all over the state. Participation has skyrocketed from 10 school districts in 2006 to over 123 last year. Find out what’s happening this year at farm2schoolmn.org.
 

Healthy food that supports local farmers. What could be better for our next generation of eaters? 

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Honoring the hands that prepare our food

Posted September 6, 2011 by    

Used under creative commons license from National Farm Worker Ministry.

This post originally appeared September 4, 2011 on The Huffington Post.

In many cultures, it's common before a holiday meal to give a prayer of thanks for the food and the people that prepared it. At these times, we may think of our family members in the kitchen, or possibly the hard-working farmers we met at the farmers market.

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World's largest ethanol producer drops the antibiotics

Posted August 30, 2011 by    

Used under creative commons license from reddthompson.

According to IATP’s 2009 Fueling Resistance? report, more than 40 percent of U.S. ethanol plants are already using some form of antibiotic-free antimicrobial.

Good news doesn’t come often enough in this business, so when POET—the world's largest ethanol producer—announced they’d decided to phase out antibiotic use in some of their ethanol plants, we celebrated. IATP has been pushing ethanol producers hard to stop using antibiotics—a common practice that we’ve determined is not only unnecessary, but also rife with public health risks.

During the ethanol fermentation process, there’s a risk of bacterial outbreaks—bacteria love the combination of a warm, moist environment and sugary corn mash. If bacteria get out of control, they compete with the yeasts (which turn the corn sugars into ethanol) and can decrease yields. Producers have traditionally doused fermentation tanks with antibiotics like penicillin and erythromycin to thwart the bacteria, but that’s problematic because along with fuel, ethanol plants also produce animal feed known as dried distillers grains with solubles (DDGS), made up of the leftover grain mash. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) testing has revealed antibiotic residues in DDGS, adding them to the already high burden of unnecessary antibiotics fed to livestock.

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Governor Dayton: September is Farm to School Month in Minnesota

Posted August 29, 2011 by Andrew Ranallo   

Farm to School in Minnesota has been continually growing, and now it's been  recognized by the state for its importance to students and local farmers.

Last Thursday, Governor Dayton declared September Farm to School Month in Minnesota. The proclamation request was initiated by IATP as part of its ongoing Farm to School efforts.

Read the press release for more on Governor Dayton's proclamation.

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IATP sends fair food delegation to Trader Joe's

Posted August 26, 2011 by    

At the request of our colleagues working with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy formed a delegation today that delivered a letter to the manager of the Trader Joe’s store in St. Paul, MN. The letter, which was signed by several leading agriculture and labor organizations in the Twin Cities, requested that Trader Joe’s sign onto the CIW Fair Food Agreement and use their purchasing power to help put an end to the forced labor, poverty wages and other human rights abuses faced by farmworkers harvesting tomatoes for the U.S. retail food industry.

The average piece rate today is 50 cents for every 32 lbs. of tomatoes picked, a rate that has remained virtually unchanged since 1980. As a result of that stagnation, a worker today must pick more than 2.25 TONS of tomatoes to earn minimum wage in a typical 10-hour workday – nearly twice the amount a worker had to pick to earn minimum wage thirty years ago. Grinding poverty leaves farmworkers vulnerable to the most exploitative employers, often resulting in egregious labor rights abuses, and in the most extreme cases, documented cases of slavery.

Today several Florida tomato growers – including East Coast, the state's third largest producer – are implementing the CIW's Fair Food agreements with retail food industry leaders Yum Brands, McDonald's, Burger King, Subway, Whole Foods Market, Compass Group, Bon Appétit Management Co, Aramark and Sodexo. The agreements require those retailers to demand more humane labor standards from their Florida tomato suppliers, to pay a premium price for more fairly produced tomatoes, and to buy only from growers who meet those higher standards.

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