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.

IATP Web sites

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.



RSS feeds

 Subscribe in a reader


June 13, 2011

Join the Healthy Legacy coalition at the Toxie Awards on June 16

Toxic chemicals are about to get the recognition they deserve.

On Thursday, June 16, the Healthy Legacy coalition (IATP is a cofounding member) will host a viewing party of The Toxies, a satirical awards ceremony which will recognize toxic chemicals for the harmful health effects they are linked to and their prevalence in our lives. Toxic chemicals Formaldehyde, Bisphenol A (BPA), Lead and others, portrayed by actors at the event, will be in attendance, hoping to accept awards in categories such as “Worst and Longest Running Performance” (Mercury) and “Worst Chemical Body Burden” (Dioxin).

The Toxie Awards were created by Californians for a Healthy and Green Economy (CHANGE) and led by Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles (PSR-LA). Now, several supporting organizations are hosting viewing parties all across the nation to raise awareness around the issue of toxic chemicals in everyday products that are linked to cancer, developmental disorders, infertility and other health problems.

The event will take place in Hollywood and be broadcast live over the internet around the country. Healthy Legacy’s screening at Intermedia Arts in Minneapolis (map) will be a full satellite event, complete with local actors, Minnesota-specific awards, and a reception including complimentary appetizers and drinks. Registration for the event is free with a suggested donation at the event of five to ten dollars.

In the spirit of the farcical nature of the show, Healthy Legacy has crafted blog posts and videos as if the chemicals themselves had created them.

Attendees are also encouraged to vote in advance for “Worst Performance of the Year” by a toxic chemical in Minnesota. The winning chemical will receive a Minnesota Toxie live at the event.

Healthy Legacy is a diverse public health coalition of 34 member groups that works to phase out the use of toxic chemicals in consumer products. The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy is a co-founding member of the coalition.

Jacob Taintor, Healthy Legacy/IATP Social Media Intern

Ben Lilliston

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 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 26, 2011

Antibiotics in ethanol? Just say no.

Image used under Creative Commons license from Fickr user Argonne National Laboratory Here's an issue you don't hear very much about: antibiotic use in ethanol production.

You heard me right. Some ethanol producers use antibiotics to keep bacteria under control in their fermentation tanks (yields can go down if bacteria get out of control). Unfortunately, the residues from these antibiotics are turning up in what are called distiller's grains, a byproduct of ethanol production that's fed to livestock—yet another source of unnecessary antibiotics in our food system.

We've been tracking this issue for a while. We've found that there are very good alternatives to antibiotics on the market, and many ethanol producers are not using antibiotics at all. Unfortunately, this fact hasn't stopped the ethanol supply industry from continuing to push antibiotics.

Antibiotic use in ethanol production occupies a regulatory gray area. The drugs aren't added directly to the feed, so the Food and Drug Administration hasn't yet begun regulating their use—but they might. To fend off any potential objections to human-grade antibiotics winding up in livestock feed, the ethanol supply industry is trying to get the antibiotics they market approved as food additives.

This is a dangerous business. Time and again, research has shown that that antibiotic overuse in agriculture contributes to the creation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and has caused severe threats to human health. The fact that effective, affordable alternatives to antibiotics are readily available to ethanol producers means there is absolutely no reason for continued antibiotics use in ethanol.

On Wednesday, IATP submitted comments to the FDA in response to a petition by Ferm Solutions, Inc. (a company that sells antibiotics to ethanol plants) to make erythromycin an approved food additive. You can read our comments, written jointly with our partners in the Keep Antibiotics Working coalition. For more information on the issue of antibiotic use in ethanol production, please read our report, "Fueling Resistance."

Image above used under Creative Commons license from Flickr user argonne.

Julia Olmstead

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 20, 2011

Exploding watermelons and exploding headlines in China

A new spate of food safety scares has hit China this spring, from tales of exploding watermelons (caused by application of a dodgy growth accelerator) to cadmium in rice to pork tainted by a dangerous feed additive

This sudden rush of bad news is not happening because food has become less safe (it has been unsafe for a while now!) but because of a change in government policy toward press reporting on this sensitive issue, according to the Associated Press

Zhang Yong, the director of the executive office of the new Cabinet-level Food Safety Commission, recently praised the media's "important watchdog role" after being asked why journalists have frequently able to find food safety problems before inspectors. 

Used under Creative Commons license from flickr user Bert van Dijk. Until recently, reporting on tainted or fake food was a risky move for the media, so Director Zhang is playing a new tune here, but if the government’s hope is that bad press alone will shame food companies into more responsible behavior, as is being reported, it’s a terrible miscalculation and an unfortunate abdication of regulatory responsibility. 

It's unlikely that media scrutiny and public opinion will compensate for the deficiencies of state regulatory power in China, where libel laws are notoriously pro-plaintiff, and companies frequently bring suit and win on the grounds that their profits have suffered due to statements made in the press or on the internet. They don’t even need to file suit themselves. Instead, they can go to sympathetic local officials, who often use criminal libel laws to silence anyone critical of either government behavior or of companies deemed vital for local employment or tax revenue.

It is certainly true that a century ago, muckraking played an important role in improving food safety in the U.S., but public shaming alone seldom changes corporate behavior. In most countries, press exposés of corporate abuses have brought reforms by fuelling public outrage, which was converted into political action by social movements that pressured government to reign in corporations. (Can you spot the missing link in that causal chain in China?) 

What’s needed is not a change of heart by embarrassed “bad actors,” but a transformation of the food system, which is currently built around making money above all else. Food is treated as just one more manufactured good, and in the search for market share and profits, companies will do virtually anything to lower costs and move product; a weak press and a weaker civil society can't fix that. If China’s leaders decide that they want a food system based instead on ensuring a supply of safe, healthy food for the Chinese people, the quest for profit will need to take a back seat to the rights of more empowered consumers, press and regulators, and a well-regulated market will work better for all but the most unscrupulous players, since consumers with a higher level of trust in the system will be less skeptical of all products. 

If regulation of the food system in China operates like policing other parts of the economy and society, we can expect that the current spate of food safety horror stories will lead to a “strike hard” campaign. There will be video footage of courageous police and perp walks, and then, within a few months, the status quo ante will return.

Jim Harkness

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

May 03, 2011

Second thoughts on lessons of children's health in China

Nick Kristof opined a few days ago in the New York Times that while there’s every reason to be critical of China’s human rights record, we should also recognize the country’s achievements, especially in the field of health. The average life expectancy of children born in Shanghai, he points out, is now higher than the average life expectancy for American children. I admire Kristof’s work, both his writing from China a couple of decades ago and he and his wife’s wonderful work on behalf of women’s rights. And I think that in general, we need more analysis that reveals the complexities of China to U.S. readers, who are fed too many sensational and even xenophobic Yellow Peril stories in the mainstream press. But while the stats in his story seem to contrast the two countries, a closer look shows that his snapshot of the present ignores trends toward China and the U.S. becoming more and more alike, and not in a good way.

The apparent difference between Chinese and U.S. children’s health is, in part, an artifact of the two statistics he chooses to compare. Instead of the average Chinese child and average American child, it is the average Shanghainese child versus the average American child. In the U.S., average life expectancy is affected by the tens of millions of poor, uninsured people whose lives have gotten worse since 1980. And in China, a range of policies during this same period have sucked wealth out of rural areas and into cities, widening the wealth gap so that today, even relatively poor urbanites are still far better off than their country cousins. (And as one of China’s wealthiest cities, Shanghai is an increasingly unrepresentative subpopulation.) So yes, China has made admirable strides in children’s health programs, but because—like the U.S.—societal inequality is increasing, not everyone the same chance to benefit.

The other concern I felt while reading Kristof’s piece had to do with an article I had read a few days prior. It was an announcement from McDonald’s Corporation that they would be opening 700 new stores in China over the next two years. In all but the poorest countries, neither starvation nor communicable disease are the real threats to a long and happy life. Instead, people’s lives are shortened (and made more miserable) by non-communicable diseases brought on by the overconsumption of alcohol, tobacco and unhealthy foods. In the U.S., rates of obesity and associated illnesses shot up back in the 1980s, (and along with increasing inequality, have pushed down our life expectancy). But until just a decade ago, China’s diet was hailed as one of the healthiest in the world. Recently, though, China has seen a rapid increase in the consumption of meat, sweets and edible oils—much of it in the form of processed and fast foods—bringing on an obesity epidemic and skyrocketing rates of diabetes. (Alcohol and tobacco abuse are also on the rise.) The McDonald’s expansion in China, part of a fierce war for market share with other international fast food chains, shows that this trend is not slowing. So while there may be many things we can learn from China about children's health, it also appears that China may be following a dietary (and social) trajectory dangerously similar to ours.

Jim Harkness

April 14, 2011

Safe Chemicals Act introduced, good news for people and families

Today, the Senate introduced the Safe Chemicals Act, which seeks to  reform the outdated and badly broken Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). We think this is good news for people and families across the United States. Why? Because TSCA has failed so completely to protect our health! Of the more than 80,000 chemicals on the market today, only about 200 have ever been tested for safety. Of those, only five have been banned. Despite 10 years of rulemaking, the EPA could not even ban asbestos, a substance widely known to be harmful to health.

Now, more than 35 years after TSCA was passed, there is no shortage of stories about toxic chemicals, like BPA, phthalates, formaldehyde and lead ending up in the products we use everyday. These chemicals don't just end up in our products, they end up in food. For example, one of the most prevelant exposure routes for people to BPA is canned foods (can linings almost always contain BPA, which leaches into the contents of the can). A recent study from Environmental Health Perspectives found that by eliminating canned foods, levels of BPA were reduced by an average of 60 percent in study participants, after only three days!

The Safe Chemicals Act will change all of that by changing the way we review and regulate chemicals. 

Here's what we like about the bill:

  1. Takes fast action to address highest risk chemicals.
  2. Further evaluates chemicals that could pose unacceptable risk.
  3. Ensures safety threshold is met for all chemicals on the market.
  4. Provide broad public, market and worker access to reliable chemical information.
  5. Promotes innovation, green chemistry and safer alternatives to chemicals of concern.

Toxic chemicals, and their health effects, know no party lines. Let's hope Congress moves this bill forward quickly. 

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

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 23, 2011

Can food safety race to the top?

"Many argue that globalized trade creates a ‘race to the bottom,’ where the country with the weakest regulations or lowest wages ultimately sets the standards in the global marketplace," writes IATP's David Wallinga, M.D. in the Des Moines Register. "Something different may now be happening around food safety: Global forces are putting pressure on U.S. regulators to catch up with the rest of the world."

Dr. Wallinga writes that weak U.S. regulations on antibiotic use in meat and poultry production have blocked or limited U.S. exports in Russia, the European Union and several other countries. A Congressional Research Service report released in December also concluded that antibiotic use in the U.S., commonly used for growth promotion in confined animal feeding operations (CAFO), could affect future U.S. export markets for livestock and poultry.

"At some point, the economic costs of lost exports may override even the purported—and very suspect—economic benefits from the routine use of antibiotics in animal feeds," Dr. Wallinga writes.

You can read the full commentary here.

Ben Lilliston

February 15, 2011

Upcoming webinar on health, justice and industralized meat production

Today’s predominant, industrialized farm animal production facilities raise huge numbers of livestock in small geographic areas, producing enormous concentrations of waste that pollute air and water. As a result, these Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) create a number of problems for the health of the environment and the people living in it, including increased respiratory symptoms, antibiotic resistance and decreased quality of life. And like other highly polluting industries, CAFOs are disproportionately located in low-income areas and communities of color.

Next week, IATP will host a webinar that reports on the health effects of CAFOs on surrounding communities, and examines how public health researchers can collaborate with affected communities. For more than a decade, Steven Wing and colleagues at the University of North Carolina have been studying the health effects of hog CAFOs in collaboration with community-based organizations in eastern North Carolina. He’ll present their most recent findings, to appear in Epidemiology next month. Naeema Muhammad, from Concerned Citizens of Tillery, the lead community organization in this research, will discuss community involvement and how the research has contributed to organizing and public education efforts. Discussion will be moderated by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy’s David Wallinga, M.D.

The webinar, Health, Justice, and Industrialized Meat Production, will take place on February 22 at 12 noon- 1pm EST. Join us and register today.

Ben Lilliston

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 11, 2011

Minnesota's green chemistry building blocks

No amount of clean living and eating can entirely avoid it: We all have toxic chemicals in our bodies, according to the Center for Disease Control. Exposed through the air, water, food and consumer products, we are bombarded everyday by these toxic chemicals. Fortunately, a new movement in chemistry is working to stop toxic chemicals before they start—in the laboratory.

The first event convened by the Minnesota Green Chemistry Forum and partners at the University of Minnesota: Adding Value through Green Chemistry conference, was held at the Humphrey Institute for Public Affairs last week. Nearly 200 representatives from government, business, academia and nonprofit organizations gathered to share ideas about how to advance the practice of green chemistry in the state.

Shapeimage_2 Dr. John Warner, of the Warner Babcock Institute for Green Chemistry and one of the early leaders of the movement, described green chemistry as the use of chemicals that pollute less; perform as good or better; and provide a better economic return. To expand the practice of green chemistry, Dr. Warner told participants that we must reform the way chemistry is taught in the United States. He explained how universities currently don't require chemists to take courses on toxicology, environmental impacts of chemicals, or law and policy.

"In chemistry, it was a fait accompli that it had to be hazardous," said Dr. Warner. "All the talk was about mitigating exposure. Green chemistry says, let's look at the intrinsic hazard in the firstplace. Does that molecule have to be toxic? Do I have to spend the money to store, transport, treat and dispose of this hazardous technology?"

Business leaders like Aveda, Segetis, Ecolab and NatureWorks told participants about how they are already implementing green chemistry practices.

Pascal Bordat of the hair and skin care product company, Aveda Corporation, told the group that green chemistry and sustainability were entirely compatible with profitability. Aveda is pushing for 100 percent green ingredients and packaging by 2020.

Segetis is a Minnesota-based company developing alternatives to petrochemicals through sustainable bio-based materials like agriculture crops. Cora Leibig, of Segetis, said a growing emphasis in business on carbon footprints and sustainability gives green chemistry a number of long-term economic advantages. By developing processes that are not toxic, bioaccumulative or persistant, Leibig said companies can save money and resources by not having to invest so much in end-of-the-pipe safety testing.

GreenChem 021 The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy's Kathleen Schuler told participants that green chemistry practices could save at a minimum $5 billion a year in health costs in the U.S. "Prevention is the core of public health and green chemistry is definitely a piece of the puzzle," said Schuler. "Green chemistry can potentially prevent air pollution, surface and groundwater pollution and food chain pollution." (left, Kathleen and Senator Al Franken at the Adding Value through Green Chemistry conference)

The new Commissioner for Minnesota's Pollution Control Agency, Paul Aasen, pointed out that the  economic benefits of green chemistry should not only include savings from reduced regulatory costs, but also environmental and health benefits. "Green chemistry is as much about changing culture and thinking as it is about science," said Aasen. "We need to make environmental decisions part of everyday decisions."

GreenChem 004 Former IATP President Mark Ritchie (see right), now Minnesota's Secretary of State, and current Minnesota Senator Al Franken also touted the benefits of green chemistry. "Green chemistry is the way forward," Franken told participants.

More details on the presentations at the Green Chemistry Forum, including powerpoints, videos and photos, will be available soon at: greenchemistrymn.org.

Minnesota 2020 has created a short video on green chemistry in Minnesota featuring the University of Minnesota's William Tolman and IATP's Kathleen Schuler. See below:


Ben Lilliston