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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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.



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Healthy Food Action

August 10, 2011

Waiter, There's a Newfangled Technology in My Soup

This commentary was originally published August 8, 2011 on http://www.otherwords.org.

The unregulated nanotech industry is spreading through the U.S. food system.

By Andrew Ranallo

The U.S. food system has a new bedfellow, and it may already be on your plate.

Increasingly, the coatings that keep supermarket produce fresh-looking and the chemicals used in pesticide-intensive farming are incorporating nanotechnology — a technology still in its infancy. Is it safe? And, perhaps more importantly, is it really necessary?

Nanotechnology, put simply, is the science of manipulating materials at tiny atomic levels to enhance or create certain novel properties that can often only be seen with a microscope. In agriculture, one of the applications of nanotechnology involves increasing the plant surface area to which toxic pesticides are effectively applied — reducing the amount of pesticides needed. The risk? Making the pesticide more "available" to plants could also make it more available to the farmworkers that apply it or to the consumers eventually handling the produce and eating their fruits and veggies.

Currently, like all other U.S. agencies, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has no regulations to ensure that nanotechnology products introduced into the market are safe for human health and the environment. As the estimated 888 million pounds of pesticides applied annually in the U.S. gradually employ more and more nanotechnology, all under the EPA's purview, regulators have a lot of catching up to do.

The potential risks identified in laboratory experiments could have major consequences. For instance, according to the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy's (IATP) latest report, "Racing Ahead: U.S. Agri-Nanotechnology in the Absence of Regulation," Chinese researchers have discovered in animal testing that the absorption of nano-silver could interfere with the replication of DNA molecules and possibly reroute molecular networks, causing genetic mutations. While several companies have applied to allow pesticides with nano-silver into the marketplace, the EPA believes there are already unapproved and unregulated pesticides with nano-silver being used.

Encouragingly, the EPA, along with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), has taken the first step toward regulation and issued draft voluntary guidance to industry on reporting nano-pesticide data and studies, but there is still much to be done. Currently, if the FDA does not object to a company's determination that a material is safe, a company could incorporate the material's nano-sized counterpart into products without reporting it to the FDA. This lack of oversight is cause for concern.

Nanotechnology in the food system extends beyond pesticide use. Nanomaterial residues in coated produce that could potentially fail to be washed away by consumers are already reportedly being exported from Latin America to the United States — without safety assessment or regulation.

With the myriad of potential risks to health, worker safety, and the environment, it seems like a no-brainer that nanotechnology developers should be required to submit safety and environmental data for agency review before going to market. While U.S. agencies debate how much to regulate products with nanomaterials, they continue to be developed and deployed — some as part of the U.S. food system.

Is the use of nanotechnology in food production really necessary? Are the potential risks to health and the environment worth the claimed benefits? Probably not. Strategies already exist for reducing pesticide use in food production, and it's certainly more affordable for us to avert a food safety crisis than to deal with its aftermath. While the agencies' first step toward regulation is encouraging, it's likely not enough to inspire companies to publicly self-regulate, since many of their applications are classified as confidential business information.

The EPA's draft guidance is open to public comment until August 17. Let's hope the message from commenters is clear: Collect all of the data on nanotechnology before putting U.S. farmworkers and consumers at risk.

Andrew Ranallo is the communications associate at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. www.iatp.org

Kendra Cuthbertson

June 20, 2011

The Farm Bill, public health and the next generation of farmers

NRCSFL97010 Our friend Jill Krueger at the Public Health Law Network has written a great post about why, if you care about getting more fruits and vegetables into schools, hospitals and people in general, you have to support policies that support farmers. This requires taking a hard look at a food system that prizes cheap food and confronting the challenge of getting more young farmers into the field. Jill points to our Healthy Farms, Healthy People Summit held in May in Washington, D.C. as a positive step toward creating a stronger alliance between public health, farmers and other key stakeholders.

Read the entire post.

Kendra Cuthbertson

June 10, 2011

Fueling Resistance: Rx for Trouble

Ethanol IATP’s Dr. David Wallinga has posted a piece at the Huffington Post on the use of antibiotics in ethanol production. Some ethanol producers add human antibiotics to their fermentation tanks in order to control growth of bacteria that might reduce their yields. This practice creates yet another source of unnecessary antibiotics in our food system—on top of the 74 percent of all American antibiotics that the FDA says are added to animal feeds—and contributes to the rapid decline in effectiveness of certain antibiotics in treating sick people.

Read the entire article.

Kendra Cuthbertson

June 09, 2011

Looking forward, looking back: the story and potential of food at TEDxTC

Tedxtc Among the varied insightful voices at the TEDxTC event Monday night in St. Paul, I had the distinct privilege of listening to the talks of two giants working on the intersection of food and justice: Winona LaDuke, activist and author from the White Earth Reservation, and LaDonna Redmond, originally hailing from Chicago but recently joining our IATP team here in Minneapolis. Each activist cut the issue of food justice in a personally, culturally and geographically relevant way, and each story resonated close to what our relationship with food could be.

Winona shared the experience of her people, the Anishinaabeg (Ojibwe). Until around one hundred years ago, the Anishinaabeg were entirely food secure and self-sufficient. Diabetes, heart disease and the other rampant afflictions of our modern industrial diet were unheard of. But what's more, the relationship the Anishinaabeg had with their food was truly that: a relationship. Winona expressed that "all food comes from our relatives, whether those with fins, legs or roots." That familial relationship with food continues to this day, despite European colonists, and the American government that followed, working to forcefully eradicate it. With the rise of genetic engineering and the patenting of life, a new kind of threat emerged to that relationship. Winona recounted the stories of the Anishinaabeg's successful fight to preserve Manoomin, or wild rice, against genetic engineering, the success of the Native Hawaiians fight to protect the taro root from genetic modification, and the success of the Maori's fight to preserve the peruperu potato against genetic patenting. So, all of these fights were against commodification, against yet another strain of colonization, and against inappropriate technologies, but what were they for? The answer from Winona was that it's a fight for family, culture and spirit every time: "These are the stories of our relatives with roots."

Where Winona outlined the workings of the food system on cultures, peoples and extended families, LaDonna illustrated the perils of a broken food system beginning through a personal lens. LaDonna shared how she had not been active in the food system until her son was born with extensive food allergies. What was previously a ten-minute stop at the supermarket now became hours-long excursions. She first attempted to decode the labels at convenience stores, then stuck to the perimeter of grocery store aisles, then, learning more about pesticides, antibiotics and genetic modification, was forced to take trips far outside of her neighborhood for healthy food for her family. This galvanized her interest in food access and urban agriculture activism, setting up local farmers' markets, small co-op grocery stores and urban CSA deliveries. Yet, as a now-seasoned food justice activist, she realized the solutions were not to scale. Even with community gardens and new fresh produce stands all around, LaDonna's neighbors were not able to choose healthier food due to income, familiarity or assistance barriers. It also remains possible to purchase a jar of salsa made from local, organic produce, but not possible to know the work conditions, pay, or treatment of the workers who planted, picked and processed the produce. As LaDonna explained, "there is only one food system," and it's impossible to buy or choose your way out of it, so there is still much work to do. And to what end? LaDonna answered in this way: She used to believe that, as a mother, she was there to protect her son's potential and allow it to bloom. Instead, she realized that her son came into her life to help her own potential bloom—that of reconnecting with the land and the earth, of rediscovering the spirit and soul of relating with food, and of loving self, family, and local, global and ecological community.

Each of these stories demonstrated the true depth of our relationship with food, a depth we’ve lost in our current broken system. Rather than merely a boxed commodity to be purchased at the local grocery store, food literally sustains our lives, and food that is culturally, geographically and healthfully appropriate helps us thrive in our lives. Each speaker challenged us to reflect on this vision and turn the questions on ourselves: What is our own story around food? How are we relating with our food? What is our potential to achieve with and through food? And, from those reflections, what is the work we must set ourselves to? Is it understanding the farm bill, creating viable funding for agriculture to adapt to climate change instead of current faulty proposals, starting a business that respects farmers, consumers, and the land, or some other way to get our hands in the dirt? As Winona’s father once put to her, "You're a really smart woman, but I don't want to know your philosophy if you can't grow corn."

Eleonore Wesserle

June 08, 2011

Major contributor of arsenic in animal feed halts practice

Poultry Today, IATP and the Center for Food Safety issued the below press release on a major announcement to temporarily halt the use of arsenic in some animal feeds. IATP issued a report in 2006 on the heavy use of arsenic in animal feeds. In 2009, we partnered with the Center for Food Safety to petition the FDA to halt the use of arsenic in animal feed.

Major contributor of arsenic in animal feed halts practice

Center for Food Safety and Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy urge continued action to remove all arsenic from animal feeds permanently

Washington, D.C., June 08, 2011 – The federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) today announced that Alpharma, a division of the pharmaceutical company Pfizer, has agreed to stop selling (for now) its arsenic-containing product, 3-Nitro, for use in chicken, turkeys and swine. In 1944, 3-Nitro became the first arsenic-containing product approved by the FDA for use in food animals.

When combined with antibiotics and other drugs, 3-Nitro is widely used by poultry producers to help control a parasitic disease in animals, but also has been used to induce greater weight gain and to create the appearance of a healthier color in meat. IATP estimated in its 2006 report, Playing Chicken: Avoiding Arsenic in Your Meat, that more than 70 percent of all U.S. chickens raised for meat are fed arsenic. Neither European poultry producers nor organic producers use 3-Nitro.

The sales suspension follows new FDA findings that use of 3-Nitro, which contains the organic arsenic roxarsone, also increases cancer-causing inorganic arsenic in chicken liver. The FDA did not test chicken muscle, the meat that most people eat.

The FDA stressed that it did not think the increased arsenic in chicken posed a human health threat. Inorganic arsenic, however, is known to cause multiple cancers in humans, and the science suggests that any additional exposure in food or elsewhere will increase the risk across the population of developing those cancers.

“The use of arsenic in meat production is unnecessary, and, from a public health perspective, reckless,” says Dr. David Wallinga, a physician and author of the IATP report. “Given what we know about this age-old poison, our exposure to all arsenic should be reduced—especially in food.”

Pfizer markets 3-Nitro by itself as a feed additive. However, the suspension also affects another 70 or so other products containing 3-Nitro in combination with other antibiotics and other ingredients, also marketed to poultry producers. In effect, the Pfizer move to voluntarily take its product off the market means that after 30 days, none of these 70 products will be on the market. However, Pfizer is not giving up the NADA or FDA-approval—it could resume manufacture and sale of its product at a later point in time.

“We applaud Pfizer’s voluntary step,” says Paige Tomaselli, staff attorney with the Center for Food Safety, “but we urge the FDA to now move forward on banning all arsenic-containing additives in animal feed. These include Pfizer’s own feed additives containing nitarsone, another arsenic compound as well as those containing arsanilic acid and carbarsone. Clearly, producers can do without them, and they pose a very real threat to public health.”

As IATP and the Center for Food Safety asserted in a 2009 petition to the FDA calling for a roxarsone ban, there is abundant science both that organic arsenics are directly toxic, but also that they convert into the more worrisome inorganic forms of arsenic in chickens, in chicken meat, and in humans. The 2009 petition is also supported by Food Animal Concerns Trust, Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility, San Francisco Physicians for Social Responsibility, Food and Water Watch, Center for Biological Diversity, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, Center for Environmental Health, Institute for a Sustainable Future, Health Care Without Harm and Ecology Center of Michigan.
On April 12, 2011, Rep. Steven Israel introduced H.R.1487, the Poison-Free Poultry Act of 2011, which would ban all uses of roxarsone as a food additive.

Read the FDA press release.

Read the full petition:

Read IATP’s 2006 report, Playing Chicken: Avoiding Arsenic in Your Meat.

The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy works locally and globally at the intersection of policy and practice to ensure fair and sustainable food, farm and trade systems. On the web at: www.iatp.org.

The Center for Food Safety is national, non-profit, membership organization, founded in 1997, that works to protect human health and the environment by curbing the use of harmful food production technologies and by promoting organic and other forms of sustainable agriculture. On the web at: http://www.centerforfoodsafety.org


Photo used under Creative Commons license from Flickr user whyswomen.

Ben Lilliston

May 24, 2011

Healthy Farms, Healthy People Summit

Deputy Sec. of Ag. Kathleen A. Merrigan at HFHP 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.

Healthy Farms, Healthy People Summit
May 19th, 2011

A diverse group of over 100 farm, food and health stakeholders came together in Washington, D.C., Tuesday and Wednesday for Healthy Farms, Healthy People: A Farm & Food Policy Summit for a Strong America. The summit was funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and convened by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Public Health Institute, California Food & Justice Coalition, Public Health Law & Policy, Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, and American Farmland Trust.

A.G. Kawamura, former California Secretary of Agriculture and co-chair of Solutions From the Land, opened the summit with a discussion about the current state of agriculture and public health, both domestically and abroad.  He said that he would add to USDA’s Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative a “Know Your Century” element, reminding attendees that we are no longer in the twentieth century – we must unite both the best practices in agriculture and public health to develop solutions that match today’s challenges.

Dr. William Dietz, Director of the Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity in the Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion at CDC, then offered a slew of facts about challenges and opportunities for agriculture and public health:

  • one-third of Americans have high blood pressure;
  • two-thirds of water and half of pesticides used in the U.S. are for agriculture;
  • 70 percent of water pollution stems from agriculture;
  • 44 percent of fruits and 16 percent of vegetables consumed in the U.S. are imported;
  • 4 percent of Americans live in a “food desert" yet 40 percent lack access to fresh food because they are more than one mile from a supermarket;
  • grass-fed beef contains less saturated fat and more omega-3 fatty acids than its conventional counterpart;
  • sugar-sweetened beverages now account for 250 calories in the average child’s daily caloric intake; and
  • feeding programs now touch 1 in 4 Americans.

Dietz encouraged participant consideration of how these facts in agriculture and public health are intricately linked.

When asked about the Administration’s priorities in the next farm bill, keynote speaker USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan (pictured above) mentioned the need for an expanded farm safety net, a strengthened rural development focus, and a beginning farmer intiaitve aimed at securing 100,000 new farmers and ranchers. She also suggested that the gains for specialty crops from the 2008 Farm Bill “are not going anywhere” with leadership efforts by Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow and First Lady Michelle Obama.

Dr. Kimberlydawn Wisdom, former Surgeon General for Michigan, kicked off the second day of the summit. She noted the need for more physicians to be a part of the conversation on food and farm policy. Dr. Wisdom mentioned farm to school and farm to institution programs as examples of ways to improve health outcomes.

Dr. Mike Hamm, C.S. Mott Professor of Sustainable Agriculture at Michigan State, gave the second day’s keynote. He offered three tasks for the next farm bill: (1) preserve the gains of the last two farm bills (e.g., Grain Inspection, Packers, and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) rule and conservation programs); (2) fund important programs for food access (e.g., Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly food stamps) and the Healthy Food Financing Initiative; and (3) build for the future.

Dr. Hamm then spelled out the reasons for needing local and regional food systems instead of the current reliance on a few states for a majority of our nation’s food supply. He noted that populations and energy costs are rising and thus there will be less land, water, and energy with which to produce more food for more people and added that with projected temperature increases in California, the state will no longer be able to supply for the U.S. the 50 percent of fruits and vegetables that it currently does.

Furthermore, Dr. Hamm noted, these considerations are all in the context of a nation that currently eats only half of the daily recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables; if consumption increases, so too will the need to produce more. As he put it, we will need two to three more Californias and thus there are plentiful opportunities in agriculture and economic development. Dr. Hamm proposes “locally-integrated food systems,” defined as “a dynamic blend of local direct, local indirect, regional, national, and global” food systems, with the first step being to buying local when possible.

Dr. Fred Kirschenmann, Distinguished Fellow for the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, concluded the summit by highlighting the similarities between the agriculture and health worlds: both have traditionally focused on fixing problems rather than on preventing them. From soil loss and pests in agriculture to obesity and diabetes in health, the model has been on correcting what has already happened. He envisions a shift in which both fields can align around forward-thinking prevention.

With a wide range of stakeholders in attendance, there were many and varied conversations.  Some of the themes that emerged included:

  • Despite historical tensions between agriculture, nutrition, and anti-hunger groups, there are real opportunities to partner with one another for the upcoming farm bill cycle. Public health is a key part of this dialogue.
  • A significant point of general agreement is the need increase access to and consumption of fruits and vegetables.
  • Nonetheless, public health goes beyond obesity and food access—it includes environmental health, farmworker health and safety, and production methods, among others.
  • Social justice must be an important part of the conversation—socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers, farmworkers, food service employees, and other low-income Americans are part of our food system and have an important voice.
  • Farm credit and access to capital, land, and training are important needs for beginning farmers and ranchers.
  • Great strides were made in the last two farm bills and a campaign is needed to maintain and build upon the progressive accomplishments; otherwise the “last hired” will be the “first fired.”

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.)

Kendra Cuthbertson

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.

This week’s Healthy Farms, Healthy People Summit in Washington, D.C., zeroes in on those policies. The CDC-funded meeting aims to find the common policy ground for helping Americans get access to healthier food while enabling farmers to make a living producing that food. The meeting agenda is viewable at HealthyFoodAction.org.

Finally, on Thursday, May 19, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) is convening a day-long conference entitled "Farm and Food Policy: The Relationship to Obesity" as part of a series of IOM reports on accelerating progress in preventing obesity, which is already epidemic and costing the nation hundreds of billions of dollars yearly.

by David Wallinga, M.D.

Kendra Cuthbertson

May 11, 2011

Loud and clear: Report finds state laws get BPA out of baby bottles, sippy cups

The Minnesota-based public health coalition Healthy Legacy, cofounded by IATP in 2006, has some good news for parents today.

ToddlerWithBottle250 In a new market survey, Message in a Bottle: A Market Survey on Bisphenol A (BPA) in Baby Bottles and Sippy Cups (PDF), Healthy Legacy found that state legislation was a key driver in actions of key states, parents in states with BPA bans can be pretty sure that baby bottles, sippy cups and breast-milk storage products on the market are free of bisphenol A (always look for a BPA-free label, though). Unfortunately, states without BPA laws, like Oregon, still have BPA-containing children’s products lurking on some store shelves.

The market survey checked the inventory of baby bottles and sippy cups in 89 stores from 35 communities in five different states. Minnesota, Wisconsin, Chicago and New York all have laws on the books that ban the use of BPA in baby bottles and sippy cups. The survey findings confirm that in these locations, nearly all bottles and sippy cups are BPA-free and labeled as such. However, in Oregon where legislation to ban BPA is still pending, parents need to be alert for BPA containing products still on store shelves. Based on our samples, parents should be particularly alert on shelves of dollar stores, value stores and drug stores.

Both state and federal action are needed to ensure that parents in every state, no matter where they live or where they shop, need not worry about BPA in baby products such as bottles and sippy cups. While the U.S. lags behind the European Union, China and Canada in federal action to restrict BPA, states are still moving to phase out BPA in baby products and food can linings. Beyond baby products, families should have information that makes it easy to make BPA-free purchasing choices when it comes to canned food and other consumer products.

We also need to fix the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the broken and out of date law that is failing to protect public health from exposure to toxic chemicals. Current legislation introduced by New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg seeks to fix many of the problems with TSCA through the Safe Chemicals Act of 2011. In Minnesota, Senators Franken and Klobuchar are both co-sponsors of the bill. Take a moment to thank them for their support.

The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy is a cofounding member of Healthy Legacy, a diverse public health coalition with 34 member organizations, representing over one million Minnesotans. Healthy Legacy promotes healthy lives by supporting the production and use of everyday products without toxic chemicals by advocating for consumer education, business leadership and protective policies to advance safe alternatives in Minnesota.

By Katie Rojas-Jahn, Healthy Legacy Coalition Coordinator

Katie Rojas-Jahn

April 08, 2011

Buying better chicken for schools, hospitals and other organizations

Making healthy choices can be difficult, even when you know what you're looking for. The myriad of standards and certifications can be hard to navigate, especially in poultry: Does antibiotic-free mean no antibiotics in the feed or no antibiotics used in raising the animal? Do poultry producers have to list whether or not arsenic is used? Now, imagine being responsible for feeding a school's student body, or a hospital. Getting enough of the right product, and getting it on time, can be difficult when trying to source healthier alternatives.

Large-scale food purchasers now have a resource guide to help them make healthy decisions when purchasing poultry for their organizations. Today, IATP is releasing a new fact sheet entitled "Buying Better Chicken," which helps sort out the complicated system of certifications, standards and terminology in the poultry industry.

Take a look at the guide.

Andrew Ranallo

March 30, 2011

Food packaging major exposure route for BPA

A new peer-reviewed study published today in Environmental Health Perspectives has found evidence suggesting that food packaging is a major source of exposure to Bisphenol A (BPA).

The study, conducted by the Breast Cancer Fund and the Silent Spring Institute, recruited five families (each with two parents and two children, for a total of 20 people) and tested them for levels of BPA and certain phthalates in their urine while feeding them a diet of freshly prepared foods. 

BPA is a known endocrine-disrupting chemical and has been linked to numerous health effects, including behavioral changes, early-onset puberty, reproductive harm, diabetes and even cancer. Due to its dubious reputation, it was also recently named on the Minnesota Priority Chemicals list, which includes toxins that are harmful to children and are present in products kids are exposed to. Phthalates are no treat either, having been linked to poor sperm quality, obesity and cancer.

What did the study do?

On the first two days of the study, participants ate as they normally do. On the following three days they were provided with freshly prepared organic meals—no canned food, and no plastic storage containers. After that they went back to their normal diets.

The levels of BPA and a particular phthalate called DEHP (used in food packaging) dropped substantially (an average of 60 percent for the BPA, and 50 percent for DEHP) during the three days when participants were only eating the freshly prepared foods.

Reduce your BPA exposure

Bpa_topten_media These findings suggest that food packaging (e.g., canned food, grease-resistant wrappers and polycarbonate bottles) is a major exposure route for BPA, and that removing it from food packaging would lead to an immediate and significant drop in BPA levels in the general population.

One recommendation from the authors is to cut out consumption of prepackaged foods and to cook from fresh as much as possible. They've even created this handy chart (right) which shows the top ten canned foods known to leach the most BPA, so start by avoiding those if you can.

BPA and phthalates have both been linked to certain types of cancer. You can act now by asking President Obama to take a strong stand on getting these cancer-causing chemicals out of our products.

Katie Rojas-Jahn

March 04, 2011

BPA-free doesn't mean estrogen free

IStock_000006558719Medium_webA new study in Environmental Health Perspectives found that most plastic containers that come  into contact with food or beverages leach chemicals that mimic estrogen, even when they are advertised as being BPA-Free.

Bisphenol A has been under fire in recent years because it is a compound used in products like baby bottles and sippy cups which releases an estrogen-like chemical that disrupts hormones in the human body. The exposure is believed to be problematic especially in children's products, because their bodies are still developing, making them more vulnerable.

The controversy over BPA has led many countries (Canada was the first) and states in the U.S. (Minnesota was the first) to ban it in certain products. Consumers have also become increasingly concerned about the chemical and have switched to buying BPA-free alternatives.

Researchers purchased more than 450 product samples between 2005 and 2008 to test for leaching of estrogen-like chemicals in common plastic products that come into contact with food and/or beverages. The tests included polycarbonate baby bottles (which contains BPA), and also products that are marketed and labeled as being "BPA-Free."

The testing found that most (over 70 percent) of the products released estrogen-like chemicals when initially tested. After exposing products to simulated sun exposure and heating, the percentage increased to over 90 percent.

The new study reminds us that we can't phase out chemicals on a case by case basis. The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) is the federal law meant to regulate chemicals in the United States but it is flawed and badly broken, allowing manufacturers to substitute one problem chemical with others that may also be problematic.

It's time for chemical companies to stop playing games with our health. We need real reform that protects people, especially the most vulnerable among us, from exposure to toxic chemicals.

--Katie Rojas-Jahn, Healthy Legacy Coalition Coordinator, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy

Katie Rojas-Jahn

March 03, 2011

Food Matters: Training for clinicians

Are you a clinician? What should you know about the food system to help ensure your patients’ healthy pregnancies, and the future life of their fetus and children?

Healthy Food Action’s David Wallinga, MD is teaming with Health Care Without Harm and Physicians for Social Responsibility to do a food system science and advocacy training this Spring to help prepare clinicians to answer that question.

Register now for the Food Matters: Clinical Education and Advocacy Program. Trainings are scheduled in Oakland, March 5, Philly, May 7, Boston, May 14, and Burlington, VT (date TBD).

See the Food Matters website for more information.

– David Wallinga, MD


Ben Lilliston

HFCS by any other name: Like putting lipstick on a pig

Tell the FDA you vote no on High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) being renamed “corn sugar.”

Two years ago, we published the first evidence that some HFCS was mercury contaminated. Ever since then, the corn refining industry has been growing ever more shrill in claiming there’s really no concern around HFCS. Take their multimillion dollar “Sweet Surprise” PR campaign, for example. (Methinks they protest too much.)

Now that consumers are shying away from food products carrying HFCS on their label, the Corn Refiners have a new gambit: Just change the name!

That’s right, they are petitioning the FDA to let them stop calling it high fructose corn syrup and to call it “corn sugar” instead. How sweet.  

This isn’t a science issue. It’s a simple matter of having a food system that’s transparent for everyone, and to eaters most of all. Transparency is key to the joint Principles for a Healthy, Sustainable Food System developed by the nation’s nurses, dieticians, public health folks and planners.

Maybe you disagree. And that’s fine. In a democracy you can and should tell the FDA what you think:

Click on this link to the FDA, click “Submit a Comment,” lodge your thoughts, and hit send.

David Wallinga, MD

March 01, 2011

Greater action urged on hormone-busting chemicals

The world's largest public health group, the American Public Health Association (APHA), has just announced a new policy calling for greater government action to protect the public from hormone-disrupting chemicals in the food supply.

Congress and government regulators should pay attention. APHA's policy statement follows official positions released earlier in 2010 by both the American Medical Association (AMA) and the Endocrine Society, the nation's premier professional association for medical experts in hormone physiology and medicine.

We now live amidst a virtual sea of synthetic environmental pollutants that can mimic or disrupt hormone function. Perhaps not surprisingly, a slew of hormone-related diseases, which are especially costly to treat, are common or on the rise. They include many cancers, obesity, diabetes, thyroid disease and infertility and other reproductive problems.

Much of our exposure to these endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) comes via a contaminated food supply. EDCs known or identified include several dozen pesticides and fungicides, arsenic, industrial pollutants like PCBs and dioxins, plastic monomers like bisphenol A, plastic additives like phthalates, as well as pharmaceuticals.

APHA's resolution supports several steps, including recommending that federal agencies with regulatory oversight for various individual EDCs better coordinate amongst themselves given the scientific "recognition that collectively EDCs likely will have common or overlapping effects on the endocrine system."

Specifically, the APHA policy urges government agencies to better regulate and restrict human exposure to EDCs in the food chain. The government should heed data on the ability of these hormone-like chemicals to have significant effects even at "low-dose" or minute levels of exposure, in addition to the more conventional assumption in toxicology that looks only at high-level effects.

The message from the public health community on EDCs is clear and urgent: It's time to act. View the APHA resolution for more.

David Wallinga, M.D.

Ben Lilliston

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.


Jennifer Billig

February 09, 2011

Let’s Move (our thinking) on childhood obesity

Today is the one year anniversary of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move initiative to blunt the epidemic of obesity in children. It marks an important fight against a wave of future chronic disease that threatens our national security, our economic growth and the solvency of our healthcare system.

The obesity epidemic began just about three decades ago. What I reflect upon this anniversary, however, is the much more recent sea change in public health thinking that Let’s Move signifies. 

At the core of the White House work to curb obesity – as well as the work of the Centers for Disease Control and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, – is the now accepted view that changes to our children’s environment, particularly around food and physical activity, have been key factors triggering the epidemic.

These include, for example, saturation marketing of unhealthy foods high in sugars, fats and calories, to the youngest of children – who, of course, lack the cognitive capacity to weigh the short-term pleasure of these snacks against the longer-term harm of diets so dominated by them. And they include school food environments which, while improving, still are not as healthy as they should be. They include community food environments for many children where convenient, walkable full-service supermarkets with fresh produce are a mirage. About 23.5 million urban and rural Americans live in these “food deserts,” without access to healthy foods

If environmental and policy change helped bring about this epidemic, then it makes sense that the CDC and other public health experts now see changes to government policy as one of the most effective ways to make sustainable, healthier changes to our children’s food environment. Change can be driven by policies at the local level, or at the national level like Let’s Move or the upcoming 2012 Farm Bill. Building support for these common sense policies in the health community is a key aim of an initiative I’m working on called Healthy Food Action.

Not everyone accepts the public health perspective. Sarah Palin, for example, has suggested that Let’s Move is tantamount to government interference in our lives. But it’s a core public health principle of the CDC and the world's leading obesity experts that individual eating behavior doesn't take place in a vacuum. Rather, unhealthy environmental and policy changes influence and constrain individual behaviors. One cannot walk to school when there are no sidewalks, where it’s unsafe, or where the neighborhood school has been closed. Similarly, school children are unlikely to choose drinking water where water fountains have been dismantled, vending machines only offer soda, or where the soda is cheaper than healthier alternatives.

Let’s Move has galvanized moms, doctors, school officials, Wal-Mart and soda companies to start acting as part of a community-wide effort to make our kids’ environments healthier. Voluntary efforts are great. But so long as public policy supports unhealthy environments, we will make limited progress. Now that we’ve moved our thinking, Let’s Move policy.

David Wallinga, MD

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]

Sarah Clark

January 26, 2011

Banning BPA from food containers

Bisphenol A (BPA) is a hormone-disrupting chemical. CDC data indicate BPA is present in the bodies and urine of more than 90 percent of Americans. It's widespread use in everything from food can liners to ATM receipts accounts for the exposure. Exposure to BPA has been linked to a variety of hormone-related diseases, from cancer to reproductive problems.

Yesterday, Rep. Ed Markey (D –MA) introduced a bill that would ban BPA’s use in food and beverage containers. Markey sits on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Canada declared BPA a toxin in 2008, and banned it from baby bottles, followed in 2010 by bans in France and Denmark. In January 2010, U.S. Food and Drug Administration officials stated they too had “some concern” about BPA’s safety, particularly for infants and young children. Now, it's Congress's turn to act.

David Wallinga, MD

Ben Lilliston

January 24, 2011

Feeding Animals Antibiotics: Not Helping U.S. Meat Export

At a 2010 Congressional briefing sponsored by Rep. Louise Slaughter, I warned the continued and routine overuse of antibiotics in U.S. meat production could be shooting the global competitiveness of that industry in the foot.

Data finally released last month by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) do little to allay those fears, while confirming the findings of a decade-oldreport from the Union of Concerned Scientists: More than 70 percent (74 percent, in fact) of all U.S. antibiotics are being used in food-producing animals. Most of our "medically important" antibiotics, like penicillins, tetracyclines and erythromycins, are used in animals, not people. And, nearly all of these are routine uses in feed for animals that are not clinically sick. Rather than to treat disease, these antibiotics are used for growth promotion or to avert sickness in animals that are stressed from the confined conditions in which they are raised.

There is no scientific basis for doubting the public health import of allowing antibiotics to be used in this way. The Center for Disease Control Director, the leadership of the Food and Drug Administration, the leadership of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the medical literature all conclude that agricultural overuse of antibiotics in feed is worsening the scourge of antibiotic resistance affecting the human and animal population.

The trade issue we raised in our presentation last March was that other countries, particularly in Europe, are also increasingly pointing to these feed antibiotics as worrisome and grounds for restricting imports of U.S. meat products.

In fact, a December 6, 2010 Congressional Research Service report itself confirms what we were saying six months earlier: "Although antibiotic use in animals has not been a significant factor affecting U.S. trade in meat products to date, evidence suggests that country restrictions on the use of these drugs could become an issue in the future and could affect U.S. export markets for livestock and poultry products."

What seems clear is that U.S. meat production is at a crossroads. Either we can try and cling to the way things have always been done, despite evidence that it is harming our citizens as well as putting our agriculture economy at risk. Or, we can all work together to make future meat production healthier, using fewer antibiotics, and become more competitive in a marketplace where people and countries care more and more about how their food is produced.

This post, by IATP's David Wallinga, M.D., originally appeared in The Huffington Post.

Ben Lilliston

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