Yesterday, Katherine Paul and Ronnie Cummins of the Organic Consumers Association analyzed at AlterNet the possible effects of two international trade agreements currently in the works. As they explain,
Designed to grease the wheels of world commerce, the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) would force the U.S. and other participating countries to “harmonize” food safety standards. That means all countries that sign on to the agreement would be required to abide by the lowest common denominator standards of all participating governments….
Both the TTIP and TPP could have dangerous consequences for food safety in the U.S., and around the world…. From day one, negotiations for the TTIP and TPP have been shrouded in secrecy. The public and participating governments, including the U.S. Congress, have been shut out of the negotiating process, denied access to everything from early proposals to final draft texts….
If the public is shut out, and Congress gets no say, who gets a seat at the table? Corporations. That’s right.
The article is written with the urgency of folks who care deeply about the state of our food supply; even though the rhetoric gets a bit heated at times, it makes for pretty compelling reading. Find the full piece here.
Finally, lest you doubt Paul and Cummins’ analysis that these agreements favor corporations, see what the folks at The Economist had to say in this op-ed from February:
[A]s the cautious Mr Obama’s willingness to gamble on this shows, the best time to push [for the TTIP] is now. Some of the most obstreperous lobbies have been giving ground. The EU recently opened its market to imports of live pigs and certain types of treated beef from America, suggesting that it may at last be possible to make progress on trade in genetically modified products…. The only reason for business not to throw everything it has behind TTIP would be if there were a bigger global trade pact to be had. Sadly, there is not. Done properly, a US-EU deal could even create a bit of momentum for other pacts, including agreements with Asian trading partners. And that potentially might lead to a new round of global trade talks.
It’s nearly December, but I’ve just now gotten around to reading Mark Bittman’s column about the food-related ballot initiatives that were voted down earlier this month on election day. It’s worth a read for both its sobering take on the influence of money in politics and its optimistic discovery of a silver lining in the election results. He introduces the former topic this way:
Proposition 37, which would have required packagers to label foods containing genetically modified organisms (G.M.O.’s) as such, was on the ballot in California. As recently as two months ago, the vote for labeling appeared to be a shoo-in. But then the opposition spent nearly a million dollars a day — a total of $46 million, or about five times as much as the measure’s backers — not so much chipping away at the lead but demolishing it.
Check out the full piece here.
Over at Grist, Tom Laskawy posted a piece yesterday in the wake of President Obama’s reelection entitled “Will Obama’s second term bring food system wins — or more of the same?” He takes a look back at the President’s first term in office as it relates to federal food and agricultural policy, and then casts an eye to the next four years. As Laskawy notes near the end of the post,
How much will things change? … [M]y guess is the administration will return to a more reform-minded position. I’ve also heard rumors the administration will renew its push for junk-food marketing restrictions.
As for the USDA, my expectation is that [Secretary] Tom Vilsack will stay on — he has hinted he’s willing. With this year’s farm bill process still incomplete, it would be a clear case of switching horses midstream — which is never a good idea. I would also expect that his deputy, Kathleen Merrigan, will remain in place, in order to build a permanent infrastructure for the support of local and regional food within USDA through her Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food program and other below-the-radar efforts.
I’m not expecting miracles, however….
Head here for the full piece, which is a thoughtful read and includes plenty of great links.
Thanks to Civil Eats, I discovered this photo essay from reporter Maria Wollan for the Food & Environment Reporting Network (FERN). As described by Paula Crossfield, Managing Editor and a Founding Director of FERN and Managing Editor of Civil Eats,
More Americans than ever before—50 million, or 1 in 7 people—rely on the government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, or food stamps. And they are not always the people you might expect. Formerly middle class families, recent veterans, college graduates and farmworkers are featured in this new photo essay, the latest report produced by the Food & Environment Reporting Network in collaboration with Switchyard Media, which first appeared on MSN.
Find the slidehow here. And for more on recent Congressional debates about reducing funding for SNAP, check out these pieces online (though, as of today, action on farm legislation that would cover SNAP is now stalled).
Twilight Greenaway, the food editor at Grist, recently wrote a really nice piece about the danger of smug, break-your-arm-from-patting-your-own-back-so-hard food righteousness that plagues a small minority most of the time and the rest of us thoughtful eaters at least some of the time. As she describes,
Last month, I wrote a post about a campaign by the Consumer’s Union to convince several major grocery chains to stop carrying meat from animals raised with antibiotics, and one commenter said, “GO VEGAN.”
These comments make perfect sense. If you want to see less support for factory farms, I think going vegan can be a great choice (this is not an anti-vegan rant). But it doesn’t really matter what the post is about. There will generally always be someone, if not many people, there to tell us that this or that huge systematic problem shouldn’t bother, let alone interest, them because they’ve already taken their “five easy steps” to fix it on a personal level. And more often than not, I find that people’s gut responses to stories that fall into the “food politics” category fail to reflect the fact that food is both personal and the product of industry, public policy, and a whole host of systems that we have the opportunity to look critically at (and, in doing so — ideally — change).
For a very long time our food system was essentially opaque, so individual choice was all most of us had. And I certainly understand that not everyone will care about the amazing array of tools for connecting the dots from personal to systemic change. But I’d argue that if we practice the former without the latter, sooner or later we’ll end up in a safe but limiting cul-de-sac where very little actually happens.
The full piece is great food for thought and includes some super links, so check it out here.