The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy promotes resilient family farms, rural communities and ecosystems around the world through research and education, science and technology, and advocacy.
Founded in 1986, IATP is rooted in the family farm movement. With offices in Minneapolis and Geneva, IATP works on making domestic and global agricultural policy more sustainable for everyone.
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About Think Forward
Think Forward is a blog written by staff of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy covering sustainability as it intersects with food, rural development, international trade, the environment and public health.
Farm and Food Policy
June 03, 2011
Cuts versus investment in farm policy
The U.S. and the European Union are both beginning to rewrite farm policy, and the differences in the process are wider than the Atlantic. The 2012 U.S. Farm Bill will set farm and food policy for the next five years. Europe's new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) will enter into force in 2014, guiding policy through 2020.
Two recent developments reveal just how different the Europeans and Americans think about food and farm policy. In the U.S., there is no public goal-setting that sets priorities for the kind of food system we want. Instead, policy is based on backroom politicking and knee jerk responses to the latest headlines (budget cutting all the time). So, it wasn't surprising that the U.S. House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday took a chainsaw to Farm Bill spending and slashed nearly everything in sight—including massive cuts to a variety of farm programs (including for conservation), nutrition and international food-aid programs, while blocking efforts to restore fair markets for livestock producers and handcuffing the Commodity Futures Trading Commission as it tries to limit Wall Street speculators from gambling on agricultural commodity markets. (See IATP's letter to Congress last week outlining our concerns.)
Contrast this haphazard approach with the European Union. Last year, the European Commission (EC) held a very public input-gathering process for defining the next CAP, including an online forum. In November, the EC published a communication summarizing the input, including identifying areas of priority including: food security, sustainable practices and renewable energy, and strengthening the rural economy.
Last week, the European Parliament's Agriculture Commission approved a report that maintains existing spending and shifts the focus of existing programs to emphasize its priority areas. As part of an effort to green the CAP, programs will incentivize farmers to practice climate-friendly and sustainable methods. The report emphasizes the need to take steps to address speculation in agricultural markets and increase bargaining power for farmers in the food chain.
Both processes are in the early stages, but the differences are striking. While the CAP process is far from perfect, Europe does recognize that to reach long-term goals, it must invest in a strong food system and involve the public in the process. In the U.S. House of Representatives, our food system is treated like just another budget line item to cut—one that we all will likely pay for later.
May 24, 2011
Healthy Farms, Healthy People Summit
The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy joined with Public Health Insititute, Public Health Law & Policy, Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, California Food & Justice Coalition, and American Farmland Trust to convene the CDC-funded Healthy Farms, Healthy People Summit last week in Washington, D.C (See the event agenda). The blog post below from our partners at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition provides an overview of the topics and discussions that took place over the course of two-day summit.
Dietz encouraged participant consideration of how these facts in agriculture and public health are intricately linked.
The conveners of the summit will be surveying participants on next steps including the possibility of forming a farm bill public health coalition of some kind. They will host a series of discussion webinars over the summer to explore the feasibility of and interest in various policy options and will organize a meeting for advocates.
-- by Helen Dombalis, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (See original post.)
May 18, 2011
What's standing in the way of healthy, sustainable agriculture?
Transforming U.S. agriculture to make it healthier and more sustainable is suddenly a hot topic. Last week, Science published an essay in its policy forum, Transforming U.S. Agriculture, concluding that we already have the technology to grow healthier food more sustainably. Standing in the way is the domination of agricultural markets by monopolies and oligopolies, the lack of means for getting up-to-date information to farmers, and, maybe most importantly, the lack of appropriate policies that incent farmers to adopt healthier, more sustainable practices.
May 17, 2011
The global impact of China's pig industry
Minneapolis – China’s decision to shift toward industrial pig operations, and away from smaller-scale production, has important implications for the future of China’s farmers, the environment and global agricultural markets, finds a new report by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP).
The report, Feeding China’s Pigs: Implications for the Environment, China’s Smallholder Farmers and Food Security, by Mindi Schneider, traces the history of China’s pig industry as it has evolved over the last several decades from backyard production to highly industrial operations. The paper examines the global implications of China’s decision to rely on imported soybeans to feed the country’s pig industry.
“China’s pig industry has become more and more dependent on multinational agribusiness investment and imports for feed,” said IATP President and China expert Jim Harkness. “This development has changed the dynamic of agriculture in China and pushed smaller-scale pig producers out of business. It has also played a role in increasing demand for agricultural land internationally.”
China is the biggest pork producer in the world—almost all of its 50 million metric tons of production in 2010 (half of all the pork in the world) was consumed domestically. While domestic companies dominate the Chinese pork industry, transnational agribusiness firms like Archer Daniels Midland, Bunge and Cargill dominate the country’s soybean crushing industry. The growth of the country’s pork industry is a direct result of polices that have liberalized trade for some products, like soybeans, and retained protections and other policy tools like a pork reserve, in others.
The policies are a response to growing demand for meat in China, but they will not close the dietary and income inequalities that persist, and serious environmental and public health costs are escalating, according to the report. The increased liberalization of agriculture is taking a toll in rural China, where smallholder farmers struggle to access markets and make a living. Industrial livestock production generates more than 4 billion tons of manure annually, which has grown into one of the largest sources of pollution in China’s waterways. Globally, as more land is converted to soybeans to feed China’s pigs, there is an increase in pesticide and fertilizer use, as well as a loss of biodiversity. The heavy use of feed additives, such as hormones and antibiotics, in China’s livestock production has been linked to a variety of health concerns.
“The crises of industrial agriculture are emerging in China as it is elsewhere in the world,” said Schneider. “This signals an opportunity for policymakers to consider supporting more sustainable ways forward.”
The paper recommends that China reassess the impacts of its strong adoption of industrial pork production and pig feeding on China’s population and environment. Redirecting research and subsidies from industrial systems to locally embedded systems, while maintaining food reserves, are steps in the right direction that could help meet national food security, development and environmental needs.
April 13, 2011
Who's benefitting from higher farm prices
Higher prices for crops mean higher profits for farmers, right? Not so fast, says a new Policy Brief by Timothy Wise at the Global Development and Environment Institute at Tufts University. Looking at the latest data available (through 2009), Wise finds that while agriculture commodity prices are rising, so are costs to farmers. In fact, small- and mid-sized farmers (between $100,000 and $250,000 in sales, not profit), with an average of 1,100 acres, have seen a decline in net farm income. In 2009, small- and mid-sized farms had an average net farm income of just $19,274—continuing to rely heavily on non-farm income to stay on the land.
In the current climate of rabid budget cutting, and higher commodity prices, agriculture programs have been a popular target. The media are trumpeting the farm boom but Wise's paper reminds us that if we want small- and mid-sized farmers to survive and thrive, we need to look deeper than the headlines—and pay closer attention to who is really reaping the rewards of higher prices.
February 17, 2011
Is famine the new normal?
A version of this commentary appeared in Policy Innovations, a publication of the Carnegie Council.
When global food prices spiked in 2007-08, a hundred million people were added to the ranks of the world’s hungry, pushing the total number over 1 billion for the first time in history. Now, just two years later, we are seeing another food price hike, and more famine is likely to follow.
Earlier this month, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) published its global food price index for January 2011. The agency’s index was at its highest level (both in real and nominal terms) since the FAO started measuring food prices in 1990. Food riots have already begun in Algeria. As history repeats itself and the second major global food crisis in two years takes shape, it is vital that we learn the lessons of the first crisis, and address its fundamental causes.
Food security depends on stable and predictable weather and markets, and access to resources—all of which have been knocked dangerously off balance in just the past few decades. Since the 1970s, human-caused climate change has brought more frequent extreme weather events worldwide. Farmers used to dealing with the prospect of a lost harvest every ten seasons now experience flood, drought or major pest infestations every second or third year. In 2010 and early this year, Australia, Argentina. China, Russia and Pakistan have all seen extreme weather events disrupt their agricultural production.
The second source of instability is an increasingly chaotic marketplace. In the name of free trade, the U.S. government and World Bank have spent the past three decades forcing the markets of developing countries to open to cheap imports, which undermined local food production. In a cruel irony, poor countries were also pressured to cut support for their own farm sectors, and even forced to sell off emergency food reserves, under the rationale that it would be more efficient to simply buy food on international markets. By 2006, more than two-thirds of the world’s poorest nations were dependent on food imports. Then came the wave of financial deregulation over the past decade, unleashing speculators onto commodity markets, and creating index funds that tied together commodity market prices for food, oil and metals like never before. But the leveraging, bundling and “innovative instruments” that were supposed to reduce risk in these markets had the opposite effect. The result has been a wildly volatile global food market, in which factors unrelated to actual supply and demand often drive prices.
This global double whammy of climate and financial instability has not hurt everyone. Volatility is good for the biggest players in any market. Many agribusiness companies are experiencing record profits now, as they did during the last food crisis. Some African countries will not be hit as hard this time precisely because they insisted on boosting local production instead of relying on global markets. But for the most part, poor farmers are struggling in this changed and hostile climate. No wonder famine has become the new normal.
If we consider world hunger an abomination, and not an investment opportunity, we need to make some big changes. Nearly everyone from the World Bank to the U.N. to the G-20 recognizes that investment is urgently needed to support small-scale farmers, particularly women, in countries facing hunger. Globally, 70 percent of the world’s food is grown on farms less than two hectares (4 acres) in size, tended in large part by women. Increased support should help farmers utilize sustainable practices that reduce costly inputs, produce higher yields and increase farm incomes. Food production for meeting domestic needs must take priority over cash cropping for export.
But there is much more to do. Funding to assist developing-country farmers in adapting to climate change is woefully inadequate. Countries and regions struggling with hunger need greater policy space to protect domestic food production and stabilize supplies. Food reserves should be reexamined as a key tool for addressing shortages, as well as stabilizing food supplies and prices for farmers and consumers. Governments need to get serious about implementing rules to curb excess speculation.
The destabilization of the global food supply, which took decades to achieve, can be undone. But it cannot happen if we fail to learn from the past and support new approaches that would bring greater stability and resilience to farming, markets and food systems.
February 16, 2011
Seattle city council weighs in on the Farm Bill
Another sign that the Farm Bill debate is attracting a much broader audience this time around: the Seattle City Council is weighing in with the Seattle Farm Bill Principles. Yesterday's news release states that one of the Council's aims is to "provide guidance to Congress on the importance of access to fresh and nutritious food and other critical issues as they begin considering the 2012 renewal of the Farm Bill." This goal is consistent with principles we've outlined as part of the Charter for a Healthy Farm Bill. The Seattle Council also hopes that the Principles can be a catalyst for dialogue between urban and rural leaders about the future of our food system. Let's hope so.
February 07, 2011
Public health cost of global (corn) trade
Last week Mexico paid a U.S.-based corn processor, Corn Products International, Inc. (CPI) $58.4 million in accordance with a 2009 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) tribunal decision. The case illustrates the important intersection of U.S. trade policy with food and public health.
Corn Products International, Inc. provides corn “ingredients” to the global food, beverage, brewing and pharmaceutical industries. The company brought the 2003 case claiming that the Mexican government—by putting a tax on soft drinks sweetened with high fructose corn syrup instead of sugar—had discriminated against CPI in order to protect Mexican cane sugar producers. Ruling in CPI’s favor, the NAFTA tribunal required Mexico to compensate CPI for its lost revenue.
CPI is only one among many cases brought by corporations under NAFTA’s little known Chapter 11. Chapter 11 enables corporations, or individuals, to sue the three nations signing NAFTA—Canada, the U.S. or Mexico—when they believe an action by those governments adversely affects their present or future profits.
Chapter 11 imparts rights to international investors that go well beyond those present in existing international trade agreements (e.g., the GATT and WTO), and has important ramifications for public health. In one of the most well-known Chapter 11 cases, the Mexican state of San Luis Potosí refused to grant a permit to U.S.-based Metalclad Corporation to operate a hazardous waste treatment facility and landfill in La Pedrera. The Mexican state also created an ecological preserve in the area where the facility was located. Metalclad brought its case and in 2000 the NAFTA tribunal ruled that Mexico’s establishment of the ecological zone and failure to grant Metalclad a permit was “tantamount to expropriation,” requiring Mexico to pay Metalclad $15.5 million in compensation.
These Chapter 11 rulings also illustrate two relatively recent phenomena: 1.) the costs to Mexican farmers and consumers of the NAFTA-led, ever-increasing economic integration between Canada, the U.S. and Mexico [i], and 2.) the increasing legal rights granted to corporations relative to governments. NAFTA Chapter 11 makes it more difficult for governments to protect public health because corporations or individuals may legally challenge regulations they believe are adversely affecting their financial investments.
As costs of chronic disease rise, along with global challenges to public health, the public health community cannot afford to ignore the often subtle, yet powerful, influence of the legal and economic trends of globalization. For more information on such issues, check out the American Public Health Association’s Trade and Health Forum and the Center for Policy Analysis on Trade and Health.
Sarah Clark is a former IATP intern and master's degree candidate in international agriculture and trade policy at Tufts University.
[i] Sarah Clark, Corinna Hawkes, Sophia Murphy, Karen Hansen-Kuhn and David Wallinga, “Exporting Obesity: How U.S. Food and Farm Policy is Transforming the Mexican Consumer Food Environment,” [forthcoming]
February 02, 2011
An ounce of prevention...
Press attention has again focused this past month on rising food prices. As Financial Times journalist Javier Blas tells us, panic buying has now reared its head, completing the already present factors of crop failures, export restrictions and food riots that were the trademarks of the 2007-08 food price crisis. Last week, Algeria added 800,000 tons to its January imports, bringing the monthly total to 1.7 million tons—that is already roughly a third of the normal annual purchases for a country that is one of the world's biggest wheat importers. Saudi Arabia has announced it will double its wheat purchases in 2011, to create a stockpile equivalent to a year's demand.
Wheat was already on the food crisis watch list—it's a heavily traded commodity (around 18 percent of the world's wheat crosses an international border) that's in relatively short supply after some bad harvests in some of the regions that supply world markets. Rice is the other big food crop. There, the market is much thinner (about 7 percent of total production is traded internationally). Rice is in relatively plentiful supply, but prices are also rising because importers such as Indonesia and Bangladesh have placed much larger orders than usual on the world market.
Needless to say, such unusually big purchases are only going to drive prices higher. But it is not Saudi Arabia that will worry about the cost. No, that concern is going to fall on much poorer countries, whose governments buy a lot less grain but whose treasuries can much less well afford it.
For all the talk and pledged money to help the world's hungry after the last food crisis, it seems the world is poised for another food crisis.
Yet the issue is on the global policy agenda, and on the overseas aid agenda as well. The discussion on price volatility is focused on several issues: the need for greater regulation of commodity and futures exchanges; the need for greater transparency of information regarding stock levels; the proposal to ban or curtail export controls; and, the possibility of creating strategic food reserves at regional and global levels to curb short-term price fluctuations. All of these are important. None are solutions to chronic hunger. But the uncertainty in commodity markets is doing nobody a favor, except the firms poised to profit from their superior information and deeper pockets.
The public interest needs prices high enough to ensure natural resources are sustainably managed, while farmers and farm laborers earn a decent income for their work. This is wholly compatible with food at prices people can afford. Tackling the causes of unwanted volatility in world food markets is a central part of the solution. Not sufficient on its own but absolutely necessary.
January 07, 2011
Health leaders call for healthy Farm Bill
A growing and impressive number of health professionals are calling for changes in the next Farm Bill. Below is our press release from today:
Health leaders call for healthy Farm Bill
Next Farm Bill should put Americans on path to healthier eating and living
Minneapolis – U.S. health professionals are calling on new leadership in Congress to make health a priority in writing the next Farm Bill. National health leaders, including Dr. Andrew Weil and Dr. Marion Nestle, have signed onto a “Charter for a Healthy Farm Bill.” (See the full list of signatories at HealthyFoodAction.org.)
The Charter for a Healthy Farm Bill calls for a food system that incorporates health into the entire lifecycle of how food is produced, processed, consumed and disposed. Such a food system must protect the environment as well as ensure farmers and workers are fairly compensated. The charter’s principles emphasize a food system that is healthy, sustainable, resilient, fair, diverse, economically balanced and transparent.
Congress is expected to begin work on the five-year Farm Bill this year. The Farm Bill includes programs for farmers and for food assistance. Traditionally, Congress has not integrated public health issues into Farm Bill programs, despite strong scientific evidence that food production and consumption patterns are linked to rising health costs and associated diseases.
“The Farm Bill helps create an American food environment where unhealthy food is the cheapest and most readily available,” says David Wallinga, M.D., of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP). “Given the enormous health costs of obesity and other food-related epidemics, integrating health goals into the next Farm Bill is a good investment and smart public policy—a real no-brainer.”
“Healthy food is fundamental for good health,” says noted physician and author Dr. Andrew Weil. “It only makes sense that the Farm Bill should encourage production of more foods that are good for our health and are grown in ways that do not undermine our health.”
“The links between agriculture, public health and the environment become more apparent every day,” says Marion Nestle PhD, of New York University and author of Food Politics. “The next revision of the Farm Bill presents the perfect opportunity to create American food policies that promote healthier and more sustainable diets for everyone.”
Healthy Food Action, a project of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, works to engage health professionals as advocates for a healthier, more sustainable food system. Read the full charter at HealthyFoodAction.org.Download this press release in PDF.
November 18, 2010
Clock ticking to take on big meat companies
U.S. livestock and poultry markets are some of the most concentrated in the world. Just four companies control 83 percent of the beef production, four control 66 percent of pork production, and another four control 58 percent of poultry production. You know the companies: Tyson, Cargill, Swift/JBS, Smithfield, Pilgrim's Pride.
Over the last several decades, these companies have established themselves as pillars of industrial food production. The result has been devastating for farmers, ranchers and rural communities.
Since 1980, the U.S. has lost nearly 600,000 hog farms and more than half a million cattle farms, according to USDA. Farmers and ranchers are making less and less of the food dollar spent in the grocery store. Unfair contracts, retaliation, secrecy and deception are now common in U.S. meat and poultry markets.
In June of this year, the USDA published new draft rules designed to reign in the market power of these companies and ensure fair competition in livestock and poultry markets. They are taking public comments on the draft rules until November 22. You can read IATP's comment here. We think these new rules are a good first step - and long overdue.
In a special issue of Radio Sustain, we interview poultry farmer Mike Weaver, rancher Gilles Stockton, R-CALF President Bill Bullard, and agriculture columnist Alan Guebert to find out more about the potential impact of these new rules.
Take a listen to Radio Sustain. Then, take few minutes to send a letter to the USDA by November 22 in support of our farmers and ranchers. To build a more sustainable and resilient food system - we need more independent farmers and ranchers – not fewer.
November 01, 2010
Fairness in food from farm to [every] plate: November's Radio Sustain
This month's Radio Sustain podcast is all about food security and farmworker justice: Why does exploitation of farmworkers and modern-day slavery still exist in the United States, and why do some (both domestically and internationally) go hungry while others have more than enough?
First, IATP Food and Society Fellow Sean Sellers discusses the shocking modern-day farmworker exploitation that takes place throughout the country. In a new campaign, he and IATP Food and Society Fellow Shalini Kantayya have created a video with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers to ask for One Penny More for farmworkers.
Domestically, hunger remains—unsurprisingly—concentrated in low-income urban areas. Mark Winne, author of Closing the Food Gap, is a veteran food security and anti-hunger advocate. He's founded multiple food security organizations, including the Community Food Security Coaltion (CFSC). Winne talks about his ideas on where the food gap comes from and shares his insights on what steps must be taken to close it.
Finally, IATP's Sophia Murphy discusses the state of international food security, and why food reserves hold promise as a tool for stabilizing volatility in agriculture markets that devastates farmers and poor consumers around the globe.
October 26, 2010
"Understanding the Farm Bill" on Facebook
What do farmers, public health professionals, food justice advocates, environmentalists, anti-poverty organizers and economic development authorities have in common? Probably an awful lot, but most pertinent at this time is the impact that the forthcoming Farm Bill will have on all of this work.
October 18, 2010
Good meat makes good food
As we put the summer garden to bed and our thoughts turn to winter meals of slow-cooked stews and roasts, a welcome guide to cooking and sourcing sustainable meat has arrived from Deborah Krasner. Good Meat: The Complete Guide to Sourcing and Cooking Sustainable Meats, published by Stewart, Tabori and Chang,combines all the information needed to understand what sustainable meat production is, where to find it and—most gloriously—how to cook it. With over 200 recipes and photographs, the James Beard Award winning author of The Flavors of Olive Oil has opened a window on the world of delicious meats—kept on the farm for far too long for the private enjoyment of farm families. Guinea fowl, lamb shanks, pig’s tails, rabbit hearts, livers, tongues and kidneys of all sorts. In addition to the uncommon, Good Meat is replete with the standard steaks, ribs, loin roasts, sausages, chops and hams. Rounding out the platters of meat are complimentary side dishes, deserts and salads.
The opening section provides an insider’s view of what sustainable meat is and where it comes from. It is this picture of the farmers, the farms and the animals that separates sustainable meats from meat produced in confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) and industrial meat processing plants. There is a reason you won’t find a cook book that combines pictures of industrial meat production and preparing food for dinner: Nobody would come to the table. From the animal feed to the slaughtering techniques, Good Meat introduces us to a way of producing and preparing food that benefits the farmer, nature and those who eat the food. Krasner has included a substantial resource section, which we are proud to say includes the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy as a source for information about good, safe and local food.
With the apple harvest nearly over and the cider press waiting, I was easily drawn to a recipe for roast chicken with apples, sausage and cider on page 302. My only suggestion is to follow the meal with glass of Calvados and to start planning what new fruit trees to plant in the orchard next spring.
October 15, 2010
Volatile times discussed in Rome
I'm in Rome to talk about volatility (my powerpoint here). More precisely, the volatility in agricultural commodity markets and what can be done to a) mitigate it and b) better cope with its consequences. The topic was part of one of three issues the first meeting of the revamped FAO Committee on World Food Security (CFS) has on its agenda. It will be one of the first topics to be addressed by the High Level Panel of Experts created as part of the revamped CFS structure. It's also an issue close to the French government's heart, as it made clear in the short speech given yesterday by France's Minister for Agriculture. France's President Sarkozy has committed to making agriculture a central part of the agenda for the G20 meeting that France will host next May.
It's great to see that the topic is preoccupying governments. It should be. Of course agriculture prices fluctuate and of course that fluctuation plays a number of very useful purposes in keeping markets on track. Volatility, however, especially unpredictable and extreme volatility, hurts producers, consumers and ultimately undermines investor confidence, starving the sector of much needed capital.
The problem should be tackled both at the source, by limiting the occasion for extreme volatility to occur, and where it hits home, in poor households especially, by providing safety nets and risk management tools. It has to be tackled comprehensively, too. Volatility has several distinct components that need to be considered jointly. There are the futures markets and speculative investors, a problem much discussed by IATP, on this blog and elsewhere. There is the question of grain reserves, the issue I came to Rome to talk about and also a hot topic for IATP writing. Then there is trade - do we have the right rules? What can governments do better?
Climate change is affecting the heart of any food system: the weather. We don't yet know all that it will mean for the future, but for the millions of people coping today with record-setting disasters, from Central America through South Asia with too many stops in between, it is clear that there is a new and particular urgency to addressing volatility quickly and effectively, with as few ideological fights about governments and markets and their respective roles as possible.
This year should see renewed attention from governments on understanding the causes and taking action to at least mitigate volatility. The background paper for the discussion written for the CFS was disappointing: it gave a useful and concise discussion of how climate change was increasing vulnerability to food insecurity but then turned into a very unpersuasive discussion about responses, mostly highlighting the failures of past reserves policies, and not very convincingly. Here's hoping the next iteration serves governments better. Perhaps by CFS 37 (i.e. in one year's time), we could hope to see some binding government decisions on the issues. Fingers crossed.
October 12, 2010
One Penny More: New video launches CIW supermarket campaign
IATP Food and Society Fellows Shalini Kantayya and Sean Sellers have collaborated on the latest campaign video for the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW). Watch the CIW's supermarket campaign video and take action for fair food here.
By leveraging its high-volume purchasing power, the U.S. supermarket industry plays an active role in farmworker exploitation. Publix, Ahold, Kroger and Trader Joe's all pack a very heavy punch when it comes to their market power in the produce industry. And with great power comes great responsibility—both for the poverty and brutal working conditions from which they have profited for so many years, and for the work of reforming farm labor conditions in their supply chains that lies ahead.
The supermarket giants are the only thing standing between us and a future of respect for human rights in Florida's fields, between a food industry based on farm labor exploitation and degradation today and a more modern, more humane industry tomorrow. Let's send them a message—loud and clear—that it's time for the supermarket industry to join the growing movement for Fair Food.
This blog post, written by fellows Sean Sellers and Shalini Kantayya was originally featured on the Food and Society Fellows Fresh Ideas blog.
September 28, 2010
NAFTA dumping on Mexican farmers
One of the most dramatic effects of deregulated trade has been an increase in agriculture dumping. In agriculture, dumping takes place when an agribusiness firm exports a crop—say, corn—at a price that is below what it costs the farmer to produce it. Dumping gives agribusiness an advantage in the importing country's market—and often puts that country's farmers out of business, making that country more dependent on imports for its food supply. Trade rules at the World Trade Organization (WTO) and regional trade agreements like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) limit what countries can do to protect their farmers from dumping, including policy tools like tariffs or certain types of subsidies.
A few years ago, IATP published a report looking at dumping by U.S.-based agribusiness on world markets for five major crops: corn, soybeans, wheat, rice and cotton. We found a sharp increase in dumping following the enactment of the WTO's Agreement on Agriculture and the 1996 Farm Bill—which stripped away the last remnants of supply-management programs and encouraged U.S. farmers to over-produce.
Earlier this year, Tim Wise at the Tufts University's Global Development and Environment Institute released a new report looking even deeper into the damaging effects of dumping. In this case, the effects of dumping eight U.S.-produced agricultural products on Mexican agriculture after the passage of NAFTA. The numbers are astounding. Prices paid to Mexican farmers were depressed nearly $1 billion a year from 1997–2005 due to dumping. You can find more details at GDAE's website.
Or, check out the video interview we did with Tim at a major meeting of Mexican farm groups last month.
September 27, 2010
Rethinking the fundamentals of food security
After a lull in public attention over the last couple of years, rising food prices are back in the spotlight. A spike in prices triggered in part by the Russian export ban, and a deadly food price riot in Mozambique have rekindled the debate on global food security. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) convened a special meeting on global grain prices last Friday, concluding that measures are needed to increase market information and transparency in agricultural trades. Olivier de Schutter, the UN special rapporteur on the right to food, released a new report on the need to address speculation on commodity markets. He called for regulation and the establishment of food reserves, along with a renewed focus on agroecological methods to increase food production in developing countries.
The last food crisis in 2007-08 highlighted some of the underlying problems of the broken global food system: decades of neglect of investment in agriculture; the foolhardiness of relying on trade for food security; and the vulnerability to wild swings in prices caused by deregulated speculation on commodities. World leaders have made some important new commitments to increase spending and attention to agriculture. And there have been some important first steps toward a new approach in the United States.
The recent financial reform legislation increases transparency and puts new limits on commodity speculation. The Obama administration’s Feed the Future initiative and bills under consideration in Congress would increase spending on agricultural development, emphasizing production by small-scale farmers, especially women farmers. The Global Food Security bill sparked a vigorous debate on the kind of research needed to strengthen local food production. Family-farm, faith, environmental and social justice organizations slammed the initial emphasis on GMOs, insisting on agroecological approaches that protect and build upon local knowledge and reduce dependence on imported inputs. Compromise language now broadens the approach to include research on technologies appropriate to local ecological and social conditions, including ecological agriculture, conventional breeding, and genetically modified technology. Of course, how this will all eventually play out on the ground in developing countries is what really matters.
In addition to how food is produced, it is also vital to ensure that people have access to it when and where they need it. Feed the Future and the Global Food Security Act are silent on the question of food reserves. They do provide for some increases in local and regional procurement of food aid. The USAID budget for local food aid expanded to over $280 million last year. This is a breakthrough in U.S. food aid programs, which up to now have overwhelmingly supported in-kind shipments of food purchased in the United States, transported by U.S. shipping companies, and distributed by U.S. agencies and NGOs. Several GAO reports have documented how much more in-kind food aid costs than locally procured food.The USAID humanitarian assistance program is an important step. Unfortunately, it is still dwarfed by the in-kind food aid programs which continue at about $2 billion a year. There is no doubt that food aid saves lives in times of disaster, and that droughts and flooding and the consequent crop failures could become even more frequent as global warming destabilizes production. There will clearly be times when it makes sense to ship U.S. food to respond to a crisis. But the current approach to food aid skips any assessment of whether it would be cheaper or faster to buy food locally or regionally in developing countries. And it is unlinked from the root causes of food crises, including the vital importance of local production of food in markets controlled by local people. The default is in-kind aid because that’s what we’ve always done. Never mind the fact that the U.S. no longer holds public food reserves. Or that nearly all other countries providing food aid made the transition to local and regional procurement years ago.
These first steps towards increased investment in agriculture and experiments with locally procured food aid matter. They just aren’t nearly enough.
By Karen Hansen-Kuhn
September 23, 2010
Time to put food reserves on the table
Agriculture prices have always experienced their ups and downs. But in recent years, those ups and downs have become more sharp and extreme. And the result has been deadly to many of those around the world facing hunger.
Tomorrow the UN Food and Agriculture Organization will hold a special meeting to examine extreme volatility in global grain prices. The meeting was brought on by the recent spike in the price of wheat and concerns that the the world will once again experience escalating food prices - similar to what happened in 2007-2008.
Historically, one of the key tools that communities and governments have used to temper the inevitable swings in agriculture supply has been reserves. Food reserves set aside food in times of plenty and release food in times of scarcity.
Unfortunately, a several decade push toward market deregulation has discouraged the use of reserves. But the recent extreme highs and lows in agriculture prices have spurred a resurgent of interest - not only at the international level, but at the regional and local level too. In our press release today, we call on the FAO to consider the establishment of food reserves. And we issued a new report by Sophia Murphy on how the international trade rules treat food reserves.
September 20, 2010
Dig your farmer: Minnesota celebrates its first annual Farm to School Week
As part of the national Farm to School movement, lunchrooms around Minnesota are pulling out all the stops on their quest for healthy, locally produced foods for the first annual Farm to School Week, September 20–24. IATP and the Minnesota School Nutrition Association initiated the celebration to increase awareness of the benefits of serving locally grown food in lunchrooms.Today, Congresswoman Betty McCollum, who introduced the National Farm to School Act of 2010, will be holding a press conference to discuss Minnesota’s Farm to School efforts. According to McCollum’s press release about Farm to School Week, St. Paul Public Schools purchased over 100,000 pounds of locally grown produce in the first six weeks of the 2009-10 school year.
Free-range turkey, bison, melons, tomatoes, peppers, squash, sweet potatoes, beets, parsnips, wild rice, pumpkins, maple syrup and fresh herbs, among others, are all making appearances on lunch trays around the state, according to the press release. IATP has also developed, and is making freely available, an extensive promotional package to help schools bring attention to their efforts (including the “I Dig My Farmer emblem featured in the picture!).
Sign up for the Minnesota Farm to School e-newsletter by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.