Posted February 29, 2012 by Karen Hansen-Kuhn   

FinanceCommoditiesMarket speculation

Used under creative commons license from champura.

The food price crisis and global financial meltdown had many causes, but it would be hard to overstate the role of the deregulation and privatization policies that had taken root in the 1990s and 2000s. Globalization and financial “innovations” pushed by speculative investors also mean that when U.S. food and energy prices rise, they affect prices around the world. So the passage of the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill in 2010 was an important step forward in establishing sensible rules to stabilize volatile commodity markets.

Over the next year, Dodd-Frank should make commodity markets more transparent and prevent just a few firms from dominating markets as it moves to implementation—should, but won’t unless the right regulations and definitions to implement the law are passed, and the resources are in place to make it happen despite Wall Street’s powerful resistance to change. We put together a short progress report on the U.S. commodity reforms to explain what’s happened so far with rules on position limits, commodity index funds, transparency, coordination with EU reforms and resources for rulemaking and implementation. Without clear rules, food prices and hunger could continue to grow the world over.

Read Speculation Update: Progress Report on U.S. Commodity Market Reforms for more. 

Posted February 29, 2012 by Dale Wiehoff   

Used under creative commons license from Wes Peck.

You’ve got to believe something has gotten into the water up in the Red River Valley of Minnesota and North Dakota when a proud, farmer-ownedsugar cooperative is locking out the union. Sugar co-ops and their unions have together built a strong regional industry that is valuable to all concerned. The cooperative’s leadership is risking a great deal in its drive to break the union and for the union, the livelihood of its members hangs in the balance. 
Also hanging in the balance is one the few remaining New Deal style farm programs that not only doesn’t cost tax payers an arm and a leg, but has kept markets stable for manufacturers, consumers and trade with 40 some countries exporting sugar to the United States.
We might ask ourselves, why aren’t all farm programs like this? At one time they were, but after decades of unrelenting attacks from agribusiness, we are left with expensive and ill-conceived programs that don’t really meet our needs. Now even these poor excuses for a safety net are on the chopping block.
The conflict between American Crystal Sugar and its union comes in the midst of a broad campaign against federal farm programs which could lead to the demise of the sugar program. What protected the sugar program all these years was the combined support of farmers and labor for a program based on supply management. When the farmer-owners and the workers turn on each other, the only winners will be the speculators and manufacturing sector.


Posted February 28, 2012 by Andrew Ranallo   


Used under creative commons license from Tricia Wang 王圣捷.

India's draft national water policy could serve as a global precedent: Who will control water and how will it be allocated?

It’s all too easy, especially in the United States, to take water access for granted—turn on the tap, and fill up a glass—but across the world, lines are being drawn as governments and financially interested multi-national corporations ask the same question: Who will control the world’s water and how will it be allocated? India’s draft national water policy, released in January, is the latest example of a policy that, if passed as currently written, will continue to marginalize small-scale farmers and low-income communities, ultimately failing to reinforce water as a fundamental human right.

In a new report, IATP’s Shiney Varghese analyzes India’s draft policy and why, even though at first glance “it appears […] a holistic approach,” it comes up short—both in protecting people and the environment—and may set a dangerous precedent for water management worldwide. The People’s Campaign for the Right to Water has organized an e-petition, opposing “the very concept of water as an economic good” and India’s draft national water policy.

Read the new IATP paper, Corporatizing Water: India's Draft National Water Policy, for more, or see Shiney Varghese’s recent op-ed, “Turning off the tap on water as a human right” in India’s national daily, The Hindu. Take action by signing the Peoples Campaign for Right to Water e-petition.

Posted February 21, 2012 by Shefali Sharma   

Free trade agreementsGlobal GovernanceGlobalization

Dehli, India – On February 12, India and the European Union (EU) held their 12th joint summit here. Outside the summit, Indian HIV and access-to- medicine activists, farmers, dairy producers, small retailers, trade unionists and development, agriculture and health NGOs took part in a massive rally in the capital to protest against the EU-India Free Trade Agreement (FTA) that is being negotiated behind closed doors. At stake are several “life and death” matters including access to cheap medicines for Africa and other poor countries, livelihoods of Indian farmers and fisherpeople and impacts such a deal would have on the people living on land rich with the natural resources that the EU wishes to import from India.

Last Friday, the Delhi Network of Positive People (DNP+), many of whom are HIV positive themselves, raised slogans and carried inflatable pills across Delhi to raise awareness that India could lose its status as the “pharmacy of the developing world” if it agrees to many of the EU’s demands on intellectual property protection and enforcement in the FTA. Thanks to the Indian generic drugs industry, the price of first-line anti-retroviral drugs in developing countries battling with AIDS has dropped down to $150 per person per year compared to $10,000 per person per year in 2000. Eighty percent of the HIV medicines used to treat 6.6 million people in developing countries comes from Indian generic drugs producers. And 90 percent of children’s HIV medicine that Medicines Sans Frontieres (MSF) uses comes from India. Cheap and good quality Indian drugs are used to treat other major diseases in developing countries as well, such as cancer and tuberculosis.

The EU’s demand for a term called “data exclusivity” in the EU-India FTA would literally force hundreds of Indian drug manufacturers out of business because it prohibits the use of test data by generic producers for drugs that have already proven to be effective. This can increase the amount of time a drug is under a patent by five to ten years. In addition, the EU’s IP “enforcement” provisions would allow European patent holders to prevent Indian drugs from reaching third party countries if they felt that the Indian generic company violated their own patents. This would be the case even if the European patent was not recognized in the third party country where the drugs were headed. In fact, this happened in 2008 when the European Union seized Indian generics headed through European ports to Latin America and Africa even though those developing countries did not recognize the patents.

The FTA would not only impact the right to health, but also the right to food of many millions of Indians who depend on fisheries for their livelihood and often their only source of protein. According to a study by Barria and Mathews for Focus on the Global South, the marine fisherfolk population of India is around 3.5 million people. If inland fisheries and acquaculture is included, the sector is said to include 36 million people. Through the FTA’s investment provision, the EU is seeking access for its large mechanized fishing fleets and trawlers and on-board processing units to India’s fishing grounds. Given that nearly half of India’s fishing fleet is non-motorized and over 70% of the marketing and traditional processing of fish is done by women fishworkers, the FTA is a real threat to their livelihoods, particularly since Indian fisheries are already experiencing declines in catch without major trawlers.

Yet not only coastal populations, but other food producers such as those involved in dairying stand to lose from “free trade” with the EU in agriculture. Women form the backbone of the dairy sector in India, with a total of 14 million dairy producers out of which 75% are small and marginal farmers. India once paid compensation to the WTO in exchange for “binding its tariff” (maximum duty level) up to 60%on skim milk powder after major losses to its dairy sector when it joined the WTO at zero percent duty on the product. Now, the EU wants India to cut over 90% of its agriculture and non-agriculture tariffs to zero or close to zero and a major area of export interest for the EU is of course, dairy. This spells trouble for small producers who will have to compete with cheaper dairy products made from imported skim milk powder from the EU. But small producers alone will not suffer.

If the EU has its way, Indian cheese producers will not be able to produce gouda, emmental or mozzarella because the EU wants special rights over the names of these cheeses through an IP right called “geographical indications,” meaning specific regions have exclusive rights to call certain products by a specific name. If the same cheese is produced elsewhere, it cannot be called by the same “geographical” name as an “original” European cheese.

IATP took part in the Right to Food Impact Assessment of the EU-India FTA in April last year—the final report was presented by the authors in Brussels and Geneva in November. In the run up to the rally, I participated in a two day conference held in Delhi, 8-9 February, to highlight the impact the FTA provisions on investment will have on the land rights of some of the most marginalized populations in India. The EU seeks to import mineral resources such as bauxite from India with greater ease with much more investor rights and protection through an investor-to-state mechanism for arbitration in case conflict arises. Meanwhile, India is in the process of revising its land acquisition law that originates in the 1800s during British Rule. The FTA could have a “chilling” effect on the reform process and could add to land-related conflicts if local communities are further marginalized and displaced off their lands either due to increased foreign investment that requires natural resources and land; or even through government pressure to make land more readily available and hence India more attractive to those investors regardless of the costs to peoples’ rights and livelihoods..

Prior to the EU-India Summit, there were rumors that the two parties may make a major announcement regarding parts of the FTA that had been successfully concluded. However, neither government made such remarks following the summit. The next projected deadline of the controversial FTA has been set for the end of 2012.

Posted February 20, 2012 by JoAnne Berkenkamp   Bill Wenzel   

Congresswoman Chellie Pingree announcing the Local Farms, Food and Jobs Act in October 2011.

Last November, Rep. Chellie Pingree, an organic farmer from Maine, introduced federal legislation that could have a profound impact on local food system development across the United States.  The proposed legislation would make it easier for schools and institutional buyers to purchase locally grown foods and requires that various federal grants and loans be made available for local food system development.  Other components would help food and farm entrepreneurs add-value to locally grown foods through the creation of processing, distribution, aggregation and marketing businesses. Identical legislation was introduced in the Senate by Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio.  More than 65 Members of the House and Senate have now co-sponsored the legislation.

At a time when farmers and rural economies are struggling for survival and schools are trying to combat childhood obesity, the Pingree/Brown legislation (known as the “Local Farms, Food and Jobs Act”) can enhance farmer profitability, grow rural and urban economies through local food business development, and connect consumers with nutritious, locally grown food.

Minnesota has been a national leader in revitalizing our local and regional food system through new farmers markets, Farm to School and Farm to Hospital initiatives, healthy cornerstores, farmer engagement and new businesses that connect “farm to fork”.  Recently, 39 Minnesota organizations and businesses representing farm, food, consumer and health groups signed a letter endorsing the Pingree/Brown legislation.  Nationally, more than 220 organizations have endorsed the legislation.  We hope that you will join us.

It’s time to cast your ballot in favor of healthy food, grown locally and sustainably, by producers who can restore economic vitality to our rural and urban communities. Call your elected officials and ask them to throw their support behind the Local Farms, Food and Jobs Act (S 1773/HR 3286). Read more about the Local Farms, Food and Jobs Act.

Posted February 17, 2012 by Katie Rojas-Jahn   

Food and HealthFood safetyHealthToxics

Used under creative commons license from stardumb_21.

A new peer-reviewed study released yesterday (Read our response.) found arsenic in infant formula and cereal bars. Perhaps more surprising to many consumers is that the two brands of organic formula that were tested contained levels of arsenic 20 times higher than the non-organic varieties. This is because the main ingredient in the formula is organic brown rice syrup, which is sometimes substituted for high fructose corn syrup (another problematic sweetener, found to contain mercury—yet another harmful chemical). Unfortunately, there are no current standards under the organic label that prohibit arsenic ending up in certified food. 

Arsenic can be found in many foods. Some seafood, for example, has arsenic from the earth’s crust that makes its way up the food chain. But Infant formula contaminated with arsenic is a different kind of problem—a preventable problem. It has more to do with an industrial food system where ingredients are added to processed or manufactured foods with little government oversight, leaving consumers ignorant of the risks to their children and families.

For moms, it’s yet another reason to save money (and worry) by breastfeeding babies whenever possible. We know that breast milk is the best baby food to put her or him on the path to a healthy life. But for those who must use formula, try to avoid products that list organic brown rice syrup as a main ingredient (or any sweetener, for that matter).

We tested chicken meat in 2006, uncovering the fact that it was contaminated with arsenic, that for 60 years has been needlessly added to poultry feed. This, too, is an avoidable problem. In 2010, we petitioned the FDA and asked that the allowable amount of arsenic in animal feed be reduced. It’s going on two years later, and we’ve received no response.

FDA Commissioner, Dr. Margaret A. Hamburg—a mom and physician herself—could do better. So could formula companies. Give them a call.

Posted February 8, 2012 by Dr. Steve Suppan   

FoodFood safety

Used under creative commons license from 401K.

This blog entry was originally published in the Global Food Safety Monitor and as an op-ed on Food Safety News. Read the entire Global Food Safety Monitor for more.

"There's no money for . . ." well you name it. At a time when all manner of government services are being cut, trillions in bailouts to the financial services industry aside, why should food safety be spared? In fact, food safety protections are being systematically slashed across the boardand while this might achieve some short-term savings, the long-term costs could be catastrophic.

On January 9, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced it would close 259 offices, laboratories and other facilities to save $60 million in its $145 billion budget. These closings include five of the 15 Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) offices. FSIS is responsible for ensuring meat, poultry and egg safety. USDA undersecretary Dr. Elisabeth Hagen said, "There will be no reduction in inspection presence in slaughter and processing facilities and no risk for consumers." Unfortunately, previous inspector cutbacks and FSIS rules to limit the number and detail of inspector reports on industry non-compliance do put consumers at risk, as a recent 36-million pound meat recall attests.

Aside from closing offices, the budget cutting axe has weakened agencies in charge of protecting public health. In November, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration stated it cannot afford to withdraw the many animal drugs used non-therapeutically in livestock feed to promote growth and prevent disease. Non-therapeutic use, resulting in meat laced with antibiotic residues, is a factor in increasing human antibiotic resistance. FDA, responding to petitions by medical associations and non-governmental organizations, the first of which were filed in 1999, alleged that the withdrawal of just one drug used in poultry production took five years and $3.3 million, due to industry legal resistance. Instead, FDA proposes to begin a program with animal drug manufacturers to phase-out some drugs voluntarily. Keep Antibiotics Working (KAW), a coalition to which IATP belongs, wrote to FDA protest that the decision violated FDA's public health mandate. 

In September, USDA announced that budget cuts would curtail or end data collection and reporting on pesticide use on fruits, vegetables and in livestock pens by the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS). NASS surveys are used to help formulate food and farm worker safety policy. In November, NASS announced cutbacks to its survey of pesticide and fertilizer use on field crops. Non-governmental organizations protested the cutbacks, saying that the public would be forced to rely on pesticide and fertilizer companies for unverified reporting about agricultural chemical use. 

Our thin budgetary margin for error in curtailing the spread of foodborne illness was brought home forcefully by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC (and its state partners, especially in Colorado) took justifiable pride in tracing back a Listeria monocytogenes infection to the packing facility of a melon farm in Colorado just 10 days after the initial hospital report of listeriosis, which had led to 29 deaths by the end of November.

Thomas Frieden, the CDC director, noted in a recent speech that his agency had absorbed the biggest budget cuts in its history in 2010 and 2011. (The U.S. House of Representatives is promising further cuts to the 2012 budget.) Furthermore, "there are 44,000 fewer people working at the state and local level because of the fiscal crisis" in the public health professions. As a result, in Colorado, college students used their own cell phones and a CDC questionnaire to interview those afflicted with listeriosis. The students helped to trace back to a single farm the source of the Listeria, doing work that had previously been done by public health officials.

"How many more cuts to food safety?"—before students equipped with cell phones and a CDC questionnaire cannot trace back the source of foodborne illness before many more than 29 people die?

It should not take a spike in death or illness from foodborne disease to shock us into recognition that food safety is not cheap, nor can food safety be self-regulated among competing companies. Systematic failure to regulate the financial services industry resulted in ongoing bailouts that have forced FDA and other agencies to claim that rules to protect public health are too expensive, despite plenty of evidence to show the economic and human suffering costs of food safety failures.

Posted February 1, 2012 by Andrew Ranallo   

When land previously used for producing food is transformed into land for producing ethanol, what impact does its change have on the environment and global food supply? Does the net difference in food production spur development in other parts of the world—often meaning deforestation to make way for increased acreage—that ultimately increases global greenhouse gas emissions? If so, what does this say about the sustainability of ethanol production?

This concept, known as indirect land use change (ILUC), has ignited debate among ethanol producers and environmental advocates. In a new essay, released today by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP), author Julia Olmstead looks at the current state of the indirect land use change (ILUC) debate and what parties on both sides of the debate can stand to learn.

Read the report.

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