About IATP

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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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.

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Health

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.

Ben Lilliston

December 22, 2010

Hospitals support Minnesota farmers, purchase locally grown produce

Hospitals, as places of healing, have a natural incentive to provide food that’s healthy for people and the environment and to be models for healthy eating. A poor diet is a risk factor for four of the leading six causes of death nationally: heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer. More than 75 percent of the $2 trillion the U.S. spends annually on medical care is going to treat diet-related chronic diseases.

However, like many institutions seeking to contain food and labor costs, hospitals have become increasingly reliant on pre-processed and convenience foods, volume pricing and distribution agreements negotiated by national group purchasing organizations (GPOs). In some cases, they have completely outsourced their food service management and supplier relationships, giving up the ability to make day-to-day menu planning and purchasing decisions.

Nearly six years ago I wrote a report for IATP entitled Healthy Food, Healthy Hospitals, Healthy Communities: Stories of Health Care Leaders Bringing Fresher, Healthier Food Choices to Their Patients, Staff and Communities. In the report I described many of the barriers mentioned above. I also provided eight case studies of institutions that had found creative solutions to these barriers and were willing to share their experiences. At the time, these examples were far from the norm. Fortunately, this is no longer the case in Minnesota and nationwide.

In recent years, several Minnesota hospitals have formalized PercentMNGRNpiecharttheir commitment to “the goal of providing local, nutritious and sustainable food” by signing the Healthy Food in Health Care Pledge, including St. Luke’s Hospital in Duluth, Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, Hennepin County Medical Center, Ridgeview Medical Center and Winona Health. Others have been taking less public but noteworthy steps to do the same.

To better understand the progress that Minnesota hospitals have made in the last few years, IATP partnereded with the Institute for a Sustainable Future (ISF) and Land Stewardship Project (LSP) over the last 12 months to survey individual hospitals.

We attempted to track purchases, document lessons learned, and more. Our efforts were focused on health care facilities in four regions of the state, including the Twin Cities metropolitan area, Duluth metropolitan area, Rochester area, St. Croix River Valley, and portions of west central Minnesota. The effort was funded in large part by a grant from the USDA Specialty Crop Block Grant Program and the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.

As a result of our survey, we learned that a high percentage of Minnesota hospitals (about 68 percent of survey respondents) are purposefully buying Minnesota-grown produce when available. Though some hospitals (35 percent of respondents) purchased produce directly from Minnesota farms, most hospitals reported purchasing local products via their distribution partners (70 percent of respondents) such as Bix Produce and Sysco Minnesota. The most commonly purchased crops include apples, corn, tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, potatoes and winter squash. Also, 25 percent of respondents reported purchasing USDA Organic or Food Alliance Midwest certified produce items. This is great news since directing even a small portion of hospital purchasing dollars to support local farmers can help improve the overall economic health of our community, particularly Minnesota’s rural communities. 

Dollar value chartWe also confirmed that more hospitals are hosting farmers markets and farm stands on site and/or are acting as Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) drop sites. Approximately 25 percent of survey respondents (7) hosted a farmers market or farm stand during the 2009 growing season, and 10 percent (3) acted as a CSA drop site for employees who wanted the convenience of purchasing and receiving CSA shares at work. While interest in and plans to host farmers markets held steady for 2010, survey results indicated a potential doubling of the number of CSA drop sites. Through a separate process we also learned that many CSA farms are interested in adding more workplace drop sites to their existing routes.

In addition to the survey, staff from IATP, ISF and LSP worked individually with hospitals between May and October to set local-produce purchasing goals, determine steps needed to achieve the goals, measure progress and document lessons learned so they can be shared with Minnesota farmers and other hospitals.


The results of our survey and work with individual hospitals show positive signs that Minnesota’s health institutions are headed in the right direction, but we also found that there is lots of room for growth. For instance, the estimated annual dollar value of Minnesota-grown specialty crops purchased by surveyed hospitals varied considerably, with the largest percentage spending less than $1,000 per year and all but one hospital reporting annual purchases of between $1,000 and $10,000. These amounts generally represent a very small percentage of total reported produce expenditures, especially fruit. Hospitals buy lots of fruits and berries, but find it hard to get anything other than local apples through their distributors. For instance, one hospital we worked with purchased $26,000 of fruit between May and October of which less than 1 percent was grown in Minnesota.

   For many hospitals, it is still very challenging to spend even a small percentage of their food dollars outside their normal distribution channels. Most Minnesota hospitals are still relying on their distributor to provide them with produce, including produce grown on Minnesota farms. Right now there are only a few distributors that are going out of their way to provide these products, and only one that does pre-processing and carries at least some Minnesota-grown produce items most of the year. Thus, hospitals that do not or cannot do business with these distributors or buy direct from farms will have extremely limited ability to support local farmers until contracts expire or are renegotiated.

In the meantime, many of the hospitals we worked with this year are eager to continue their efforts to increase staff and community access to fresh produce grown on Minnesota farms in 2011, and we will continue to support them.

Written by IATP's Food and Health Senior Policy Analyst Marie Kulick. Download the pdf.

Ben Lilliston

December 15, 2010

A victory on mercury and HFCS

In my more desperate hours, I sometimes wonder whether raising my physician voice is enough to foster change, to make the food system healthier and more sustainable.

This week brought fresh evidence that it is. Early last year, I teamed up with other scientists to release data indicating that both commercial high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), and processed foods that contained high amounts of HFCS could be contaminated with mercury.

We surmised the likely problem was that some of the latter products were made using HFCS created from caustic soda produced in so-called “mercury cell” chlorine factories. In fact, the food industry referred to this as “mercury-grade” or “food-grade” HFCS. A few American chlorine factories continued to make cell mercury–grade caustic soda despite these problems.

Our reports were the first published information pulling the curtain from this scary practice. Now it appears the chlorine industry took notice. The giant chemical maker, Olin, announced it was spending $160 million to convert its dirty mercury cell chlorine plant in southeast Tennessee to non–mercury polluting technology. Another Olin plant, in Augusta, Ga., will also stop using mercury for manufacturing in 2012. Wahooo!

What changed their minds? Let’s listen to Olin CEO, Joseph Rupp: "Over the past 18 months we have experienced a steady increase in the number of our customers unwilling to accept our products manufactured using mercury cell technology," he said.

IATP’s work on mercury in high fructose corn syrup came out January 2009.

David Wallinga, M.D.

Ben Lilliston

December 03, 2010

How health professionals can green their practice

There is growing scientific evidence that environmental exposures affect both individuals' health and the health of the population as a whole. Our health professionals are on the front lines treating diseases associated with a variety of environmental contaminants.

In a new article for Medscape titled "Greening Your Practice," IATP's David Wallinga, M.D., outlines how clinicians can address two critical environmental issues with important health consequences: the daily exposure of people to combinations of toxic chemicals, and an unhealthy "obesogenic" food environment. Dr. Wallinga writes, "Because chemical and food environments are inherently community issues, clinicians may find advocacy for healthier chemical and food policies to be an essential component for reducing the unhealthy food and chemical exposures already affecting their patients."

You can read the full article here.

Ben Lilliston

November 30, 2010

Animals and our obesogenic environment

Many things “cause” the obesity epidemic, acting together. But the general consensus around how to respond to this fact has changed significantly.

For years the focus within academic medicine was on changing lifestyle or behavior—in short, approaches that focus on the individual. The approach didn't work very well. 

The new approach is to change the default environment that appears to constrain individuals to make bad choices and become obese in the first place by eating more calories than they can burn. A permissive culture that allows even the youngest, most vulnerable children to be bombarded with soda and other junk food ads is one example. Local zoning that leaves many neighborhoods lacking in sidewalks or bike lanes—or virtually any way of getting from point A to B except by car—is another.

But might there be some other mysterious factors like environmental chemicals or contaminated food? Science pointing in that direction is mounting.

This week, Nature reports on a study that looks at the obesity epidemic of the four-legged kind. (Though it’s hard to see how pets and laboratory animals would be as impacted by marketing or zoning as are kids.)
The study, called "Canaries in the Coal Mine," and published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, looks at statistics on more than 20,000 animals and finds an epidemic of obesity in family pets, among laboratory animals and even among wild animals living near people.

The study raises as many questions as it answers. The authors acknowledge that there are many conceivable explanations for what they observed. Perhaps rats are fatter because our garbage has become richer as we have. However, an NIH-funded workshop on the “Role of Environmental Chemicals in the Development of Diabetes and Obesity,” is being held January 11–13, 2011in Raleigh, North Carolina.

This promises to be a story we’ll be hearing more about.

David Wallinga, MD

November 22, 2010

NYC’s ‘FoodWorks’ leverages food system for health, job creation and the environment

New York City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn today announced "FoodWorks New York," a new effort by the city council to produce a comprehensive plan to use the city’s food system to create jobs, improve public health and protect the environment. Over the next six months, the city council will work with experts from government, industry, labor and academia, as well as hunger and environmental advocates and community leaders to examine every step in the city’s food cycle. In a speech, Speaker Quinn outlined five outcomes for the plan:

  1. Improve the city’s food infrastructure
  2. Create new and better jobs in the food industry
  3. Keep more local food dollars in the local economy
  4. Reduce diet-related diseases like obesity, heart disease and diabetes
  5. Reduce environmental damage from the production, transport and consumption of food

As part of developing the plan, the council will require city agencies to report back on food-related measures. The data will be used to set goals and better coordinate efforts across city government.

Jennifer Billig

November 09, 2010

Fast food advertising to children is relentless

FastFoodFACTS_LogoYesterday at The American Public Health Association (APHA) Annual meeting in Denver, researchers from Yale's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity released Fast Food FACTS (Food Advertising to Children and Teens Score). They found that children as young as two are seeing more fast food advertising than ever before and that children are targeted through various media and in the restaurants themselves.

Read this summary of their findings and a rundown of the best and worst kids meals available at popular fast food restaurants. If you're going to visit one, be sure to ask for the healthy sides (milk, fruit, yogurt). The study found that if you leave the choice to the restaurants, most will serve your kids french fries and soda.

Jennifer Billig

October 26, 2010

Health disparities and neighborhoods

Carousel_pub_F9790_Wiler Report cvr The Twin Cities are lot like other parts of the U.S. when it comes to health. "Health is strongly connected to race, income and the specific parts of the metro area in which people live in," according to a report released earlier this month by the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Foundation of Minnesota.

Specifically, the report found that when compared to whites, mortality rates were 3.5 times higher for American Indians, and 3 times higher for U.S.-born blacks in the Twin Cities. Residents in the highest income areas in the Twin Cities had an average life expectancy of eight additional years compared to those in the lowest income/highest poverty areas.

In a comment on the report, IATP's David Wallinga, M.D. writes about the role of a community's environment in public health. "Abundant science now shows that people who live in less healthy, more polluted neighborhoods are sicker and at greater risk for a slew of chronic diseases and conditions than people that are not living in those neighborhoods. And these neighborhoods generally are lower income and more populated by people of color. It is through conscious changes to neighborhood environments that many health improvements are to be had in Minnesota."

One of the essential elements of a neighborhood's environment is access to healthy food. But David writes, "Many lower-income communities also lack access to fresh fruits, vegetables and other healthy foods, or even access to full-service supermarkets."

You can read the full report and comments from David and other local leaders here.

Ben Lilliston

October 04, 2010

Health issues limit agricultural exports

The Obama administration has pledged to double exports by 2015. The administration will have trouble reaching that goal for agriculture if it continues following the lead of the big meat companies and ignore health issues raised by top U.S. trading partners.

The largest U.S. meat companies, and now Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, continue to disappoint by downplaying the now indisputable science linking antibiotic overuse in livestock to worsening epidemics of antibiotic-resistant infections in people.

In case you missed it, Vilsack kicked off the recent debate when he told the National Cattleman's Beef Association that the USDA thought America's livestock producers already use antibiotics "judiciously."

Of course, Vilsack is a lawyer and not a doctor who treats life-threatening infections in people. If you listen to the latter, you get a different picture.

The New York Times notes that Center for Disease Control Director Thomas Frieden—a physician—wrote to Congress last July about “compelling evidence” of a “clear link between antibiotic use in animals and antibiotic resistance in humans.” Much of that evidence shows that antibiotic overuse on farms helps create reservoirs of antibiotic resistant superbugs that can cause food poisoning in people when they eat the meat from those animals.

Minneapolis infectious disease expert Dr. James Johnson, also quoted by the Times, notes "the evidence is unambiguously clear. Most of the E. coli resistance in humans can be traced to food-animal sources.”

The best estimates still available are that over 70 percent of all antimicrobials used in the country are given to healthy animals—not because they're sick, but for growth promotion and other avoidable uses. Many of these antibiotics are also common human drugs, like tetracyclines or erythromycins.

What's this have to do with the success of meat industry exports? Well, many U.S. trade partners have banned—or are threatening to ban—U.S. meat imports because of our overuse of antibiotics, and the food safety risks it helps to create. In 2008-09, for example, Russia refused pork imports from U.S. plants—including those owned by Tyson and Smithfield—due to traces of tetracycline and oxytetracycline in tested pork. Russia previously banned U.S. poultry because of tetracycline residues. This was a blow because in many years Russia has been the largest importer of U.S. chicken—a multi-billion dollar industry.

So, it seems like Secretary Vilsack and the big meat industry players have something of a shared delusion going on. They may want to continue believing that current overuses of antibiotics are "judicious." But if U.S. trade partners listen our nation's physicians, instead of our big meat companies, doubling agriculture exports may be yet another shared delusion.

David Wallinga, MD

September 23, 2010

So what kind of salmon does Uncle Sam want?

It almost seems preposterous to ask this question, but what type of salmon would you prefer to see on your plate:

  1. Genetically-modified Atlantic salmon, spliced with Pacific salmon growth gene and modulated by a regulator protein from an Ocean Pout; or
  2. Wild Sockeye from the pristine unpolluted waters of Bristol Bay, Alaska.

But as Paul Greenberg points out in his commentary on Living on Earth, our government is making that choice, and many of us are afraid it isn't going to be the right one. How else can you explain that:

  1. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is close to approving an engineered Atlantic salmon; and
  2. Paul Greenberg with Salmon
  3. The international mining giant Anglo American plans to construct the largest open pit copper and gold mine in the U.S. at the headwaters of Bristol Bay, putting perhaps the most productive salmon run left on earth at risk, as the Environmental Protection Agency ignores the power it has to stop the mine through the Clean Water Act.

And as Paul points out in the commentary, it is a little ironic that the complete adoption of genetically engineered salmon into the existing farmed salmon industry would increase production by a quarter of a billion pounds of fish annually, and if a future Bristol Bay copper mine failure occurs similar to what happened in China this summer, that could result in the loss of a quarter billion pounds of fish.

Join the Consumers Union and other organizations that are raising concerns regarding FDA's approval process and the lack of labeling of genetically engineered fish. Read Paul Greenberg's new book Four Fish. And seek out sustainably managed, wild fish species. It's far better for your family's health and the marine environment.

This blog post was written by Mark Muller and originally appeared on the IATP Food and Society Fellows Fresh Ideas blog.

Ben Lilliston

August 10, 2010

Unlocking fresh produce

This month's Radio Sustain is all about farmers markets, community gardens and empowerment. First, we talk with Joe Rice, director of the Na-Way-Ee Center School in south Minneapolis, about the school's garden and how it connects students with the earth, their food and their native traditions.

Next, Pastor Steve Lomen, operator of the St. Olaf Community Campus Mini Farmers Market, fills us in on his expanding vision. What used to be an empty grass plot on the campus grounds is now a 40' by 60' garden providing fresh food to the community—and he has even bigger plans.

Finally, IATP Food and Society Fellow Andy Fisher, executive director of the Community Food Security Coalition in Portland, has co-authored a new report detailing what stands between those on federal food assistance programs and the fresh produce at farmers markets. 

Listen to the entire episode here (mp3) and let us know what you think: Radio Sustain Episode 28 (August 2010)

Andrew Ranallo

August 05, 2010

Food safety on the cheap

While billions of dollars are invested each year by food and agriculture companies in developing new technologies, only a small fraction is invested in ensuring food safety, writes IATP's Steve Suppan in the latest issue of the Global Food Safety Monitor.

The latest example of this unfortunate practice is the enormous investments being made in developing new food and agriculture applications for nanotechnology: the manipulation of molecular level matter. Governments and companies are developing nanotech applications in food packaging, plant production, animal breeding and food appearance, without establishing or investing in any clear system to ensure safety.

The Global Food Safety Monitor reports from this summer's NanoAgri 2010 conference in São Pedro, Brazil, where over 300 scientists and a handful of regulators and nongovernmental organizations discussed the latest nanotech applications and national and international regulatory issues.

The Monitor reports, "For governments hoping that nanotechnologies will create a new generation of jobs and wealth, product development, and not development of environmental, health and safety data about nanotechnologies, is the priority."

Ben Lilliston

July 01, 2010

Environmental justice, science leaders urge action linking climate and public health

In a letter sent to Congress and the Obama administration last month, leading voices in environmental justice, science and academics asked that: “1) the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) authority to regulate greenhouse gases (GHGs) should not be overturned or diminished; and 2) climate change policy should address the emissions of greenhouse gas co-pollutants, as well as the emissions of greenhouse gases themselves.”

The same facilities and vehicles that emit greenhouse gases also emit co-pollutants that lead to high rates of asthma and other serious public health concerns. In addition to the public health impacts associated with climate change itself, co-pollutants from coal plants and other fossil fuel sources disproportionately affect low-income communities and communities of color as these communities are largely located where fossil fuel facilities are located and where urban vehicle emissions are concentrated. This unique partnership of leading environmental justice activists, policy analysts, scientists and academics is the first of its kind.

While Congress has rejected initial attempts to undermine the EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions for public health reasons, additional attempts to challenge EPA’s authority are expected. Shalini Gupta, director of the Center for Earth, Energy and Democracy at IATP, was among the 18 leaders who signed onto the letter. To find out more, read the press release and full letter.

Shalini Gupta

May 20, 2010

New study uncovers alarming frequency of BPA in canned foods

What do over 90 percent of 50 cans from 19 states and one Canadian province have in common? BPA. It's not a riddle, but the disturbing results of a new study (No Silver Lining) released Tuesday by the Chemical Safety Workgroup. The Healthy Legacy Coalition (IATP is a steering committee member) is a contributor to the workgroup and has published a new blog post that details some key findings of the report.

Perhaps more important than the alarmingly high 90-percent incidence rate are the implications of where and at what levels BPA was discovered. The samples were made up of "real life" meal options—fruits, vegetables, soda, fish and others—and the levels of BPA were radically inconsistent between identical products: Two different cans of the same brand of peas (with different "lot numbers") contained very different levels of BPA, for instance. Both the broad swath of BPA's presence, and the lack of consistency, make avoiding exposure challenging to say the least.

Read Kim LaBo's blog entry over at the Healthy Legacy blog for more findings of the study and Healthy Legacy's next steps in the fight against toxics in consumer products.

Andrew Ranallo

May 14, 2010

Let's get arsenic out of animal feed

Four years ago, IATP released test results of chicken bought in U.S. grocery stores and fast food restaurants. The results revealed detectable levels of arsenic in the majority of chicken tested. What in the world is arsenic doing in chicken?

It turns out that arsenic-containing compounds have been approved as additives to animal feed since the 1940s and continue to be used in chicken, turkey and swine production. These arsenic-containing feed additives are not used to treat sickness. Instead, they are generally approved for increased weight gain and improved pigmentation. In other words, the use of this known carcinogen in animal feed is entirely unnecessary.

In December, IATP and the Center for Food Safety petitioned the Food and Drug Administration, calling on the agency to immediately withdraw approvals for all animal drug applications for arsenic-containing compounds used in animal feed.

Now others are joining the call. Last week, nine food coops in Minnesota sent a letter to the FDA calling for the agency to act on the petition. The coops cited numerous suppliers to their stores who provide healthy meat and poultry, and do not use arsenic in their feed. "Although some chicken, turkey and swine producers use arsenical-containing compounds in their animal feed, they are not necessary to provide a wholesome product or to treat animal sicknesses," the coops wrote.

The European Union has never approved the use of arsenic as an animal feed additive. Time for the U.S. to get with the program.

Ben Lilliston

May 12, 2010

Appropriate tech, safe chemicals and the state of nanotechnology

The power of new technology is undeniable. If adopted blindly, however, technology can carry with it a multitude of risks: to health, the environment or to a broad range of sociopolitical considerations. In the latest episode of Radio Sustain, we assess the potential and pitfalls of new technology.

Last month, IATP toured Compatible Technology International's (CTI) workshop in St. Paul to get the scoop on how their low-tech devices are used to improve quality of life while remaining appropriate—culturally, economically and environmentally—for the communities they are intended to assist. In our interview, Dan Grewe discusses CTI's work and what the engineers consider in each of the technologies they create.

Next we get Kathleen Schuler's take on the Safe Chemical Act of 2010. As co-director of the Healthy Legacy Coalition and an IATP senior policy analyst, she applauds the bill and offers some key changes to make the legislation more effective.

Finally, IATP's Steve Suppan explains what nanotechnology is and why we need a more informed regulatory framework before it spreads throughout the food system.

Have a listen now and let us know your thoughts!

Radio Sustain episode 25 (mp3)Linda turning the hand-powered grinder at CTI.

Andrew Ranallo

April 20, 2010

Who's regulating nanotechnology?

Nanotechnology and its applications are so small that it can be hard to get your head around, but there are more than 1,000 products with nanomaterials already on the market, so we'd better get a handle on this quick. 

Nanoscale science and technology manipulate matter at the level of 1–300 nanometers (or billionths of a meter) and claim a seemingly amazing array of applications for medicine, technology, energy and food. Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter Andrew Sheider's recent investigative series "The Nanotech Gamble" lays bare the potential health and environmental risks and extent to which largely unregulated nanotech products are already on the market, and in the food supply, without our knowledge.

Given the risks and speed with which nanotechnology is entering the marketplace, U.S. states are starting to explore what they can do in light of federal inaction. In testimony before the Minnesota state legislature, IATP's Steve Suppan outlines the regulatory holes at the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency, which thus far have largely given nanotechnology a free ride. (You can listen to the entire April 14 hearing here.)

On April 15, the University of Minnesota hosted Governing Nanobiotechnology: Reinventing Oversight in the 21st Century. Academics, private industry, public interest representatives and government regulators grappled with the particular regulatory challenges posed by nanotechnology (videos of presentations coming soon).

As Steve points out in his testimony to state legislators, traditional regulation targets pollutants partially in terms of volume: that approach won't work for nanotechnology. "The quantity of nanomaterials that may cause environmental and/or public health harm will be much smaller in volume than what [...] has traditionally been inventoried. Prioritizing when and where to monitor pollutants will be a difficult task because potential risks of nanomaterials are not indicated simply by their size but also by their configuration and shape."

When scientific advancement overtakes our ability to regulate it's time to take a step back. The U.S. government's National Nanotechnology Initiative spent an estimated $1.8 billion developing new nanotech products in 2009. Little more than one percent of that taxpayer investment is dedicated to research to protect consumers and nanotechnology workers from potential environental, health and safety hazards of nanotechnology products. This is an unacceptably nano-sized start to a huge regulatory challenge.

Ben Lilliston

April 16, 2010

Healthy Legacy's take on the Safe Chemicals Act of 2010

This blog entry is re-posted, with permission, from Healthy Legacy, a coalition promoting healthy lives by supporting the production and use of everyday products without toxic chemicals. IATP is a member of Healthy Legacy's steering committee.

The author, Kathleen Schuler, is co-director of Healthy Legacy and an IATP senior policy analyst.

It's finally here—landmark federal legislation to protect families from harmful chemicals. The Safe Chemicals Act, introduced by Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Congressmen Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Bobby Rush (D-IL), will overhaul the way the federal government protects the public from toxic chemicals. Healthy Legacy supports the legislation, but cautions that the bill needs improvement in three critical areas. See Healthy Legacy's press release.

Healthy Legacy is part of the 200 plus–member Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition working to reform the 34-year-old Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). TSCA, the law regulating industrial chemicals, including those used in used in consumer products, is broken. Hundreds of toxic chemicals, from lead to cadmium to phthalates to brominated flame retardants, continue to be allowed in everyday consumer products. In 2009 Minnesota became the first state to ban the hormone-disrupting chemical bisphenol A in baby bottles and sippy cups. While this ban is an important step in reducing exposure of young children, strong TSCA reform is needed to address hundreds of other problem chemicals. 

Critical reforms in the Safe Chemicals Act include:

  • Requiring chemical companies to develop, and make publicly available, critical health and safety information for all chemicals.
  • Requiring a minimum level of protection from toxic chemicals for vulnerable populations, including children and pregnant women.
  • Establishing a new program to identify communities that are disproportionately impacted by chemicals and to create action plans to reduce that burden.

The bill should also be strengthened in three critical areas. As currently drafted, the legislation:

  • Allows hundreds of new chemicals to enter the market and be used in products for many years without first requiring them to be proven safe.
  • Does not provide clear authority for EPA to immediately restrict production and use of the most dangerous chemicals, even persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic (PBT) chemicals like asbestos and lead, which have already been extensively studied and are restricted by governments around the world.
  • Does not require EPA to adopt National Academy of Sciences recommendations to incorporate the best and latest science when determining the safety of chemicals, although the Senate bill does call on EPA to consider those recommendations.

The Safe Chemicals Act of 2010 would amend the federal Toxic Substances Control Act, which is widely understood to be ineffective. When TSCA passed, it “grandfathered” 62,000 chemicals in use without restriction or testing. In more than 30 years since then, the U.S. EPA has only required testing for 200 chemicals and only restricted some uses of 5 chemicals under TSCA. The EPA did not even have the authority to ban asbestos, an established carcinogen already banned in 40 countries!

Enacting strong TSCA reform could save billions in health care costs. A new report by some of the nation’s leading public health professionals, entitled The Health Case for Reforming the Toxic Substances Control Act, describes the toll that toxic chemicals are taking on our health and our budget. It summarizes the insidious contribution of environmental toxins to an array of chronic health problems, including cancer, learning and developmental disabilities, asthma, reproductive disorders and Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. Chemical exposures are costing the U.S. an estimated $5 billion per year in chronic health care costs.

Healthy Legacy and Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families will continue working to strengthen the bill to assure that it prevents harmful chemicals from creeping into our consumer products. Read up on the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families platform for reform and analysis of the bill.  

Minnesota's own Senator Amy Klobuchar sits on a key committee that will hear the bill. Contact Senator Klobuchar and ask her to advocate for the strongest bill possible.  

Andrew Ranallo

April 02, 2010

On job creation—local fruits and vegetables vs. corn and soybeans

It turns out that foods that are better for you may also be better for farmers and local job creation. A new study by the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University found that expanding fruit and vegetable production in the upper Midwest could bring significantly more economic benefits than conventional corn and soybean production on the same acreage.

The study, by Iowa State Research Scientist Dave Swenson, looked at the potential for fruit and vegetable production in Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin. It identified 28 kinds of fruits and vegetables that farmers are able to grow in the region. Currently, much of the fruits and vegetables in the region come from other parts of the country or even outside the country.

Some key findings on the economic impacts on the region as a whole:

  • Increased fruit and vegetable production in the six states could mean $882 million in sales at the farm level, and more than 9,300 jobs. Corn and soybean production on that same acreage would support only 2,578 jobs.
  • If half of the increased production was sold in farmer-owned stores, it would require 1,405 such stores staffed by 9,652 people.
  • Only 270,025 acres—roughly equivalent to the average cropland in one of Iowa's counties—would be needed to grow enough fruits and vegetables for the six-state region.

Previous research found that smaller sized farms (50 acres and smaller) are more likely to produce fruits and vegetables than standard-sized farms so it is likely that more, smaller farms would be needed. Researchers assumed that 50 percent of fruit and vegetable production would be directly marketed in-state by farmer-owned stores. Local and regional ownership of the food chain will be essential for maximum job creation.  

The study breaks down the numbers by state and metropolitan region so it's easy to get a sense of what your neck of the woods could be doing to create new local food jobs.

The barriers to transitioning toward more fruit and vegetable production in the Midwest are enormous. Farmland is hard to come by as values are seen as a better investment than the stock market. U.S. farm policy greatly incentivizes corn and soybean production in a number of ways, including helping farmers to manage risks and supporting research for those crops. And then there's the lack of infrastructure needed to help local food systems serve a booming market. Despite these barriers, this study gives us a guidepost for the potential economic benefits of a new model for agriculture that produces healthier and more locally grown food.


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Ben Lilliston

March 25, 2010

FDA slow to act on food dyes

Despite growing concerns about the potential adverse effects of most currently approved food dyes, the Food and Drug Administration continues to sit on the sidelines. Meanwhile, many food companies have stopped using these food dyes of concern in European markets but continue to use them for the same foods sold in the U.S. market. (See this article from the Examiner about Kraft's Macaroni and Cheese.)

This week, IATP and seven other non-governmental organizations wrote to the FDA, calling on the agency to act on a formal petition filed by the Center for Science in the Public Interest in 2008 to ban currently approved dyes, including Blue 1, Blue 2, Green 3, Orange B, Red 3, Red 40, Yellow 5 and Yellow 6.

Last year, IATP put out two consumer tools to help inform parents about food dyes. IATP's Brain Food Selector is a database that helps parents easily find which foods contain synthetic dyes. Parents can search by brand, product type or whichever dye they're concerned with. IATP's Smart Guide to Food Dyes describes why synthetic food dyes are used, associated children's health concerns and what parents can do.

Increasingly, these dyes have been found to increase hyperactivity and other disturbed behavior in children. Synthetic food dyes are unnecessary and provide no health benefits. The European Union will require companies to use warning labels on most food dyed foods beginning in July 2010.

"The latest science indicates that even modest amounts of synthetic food dyes can affect learning in children," says IATP's David Wallinga, M.D. "We need the food industry and U.S. government agencies to catch up with the latest science and start protecting our children. Until then, parents need to be armed with information when they go shopping."

Ben Lilliston