Tag Archives: Food policy

What Do Trade, Investment & Regulation Have To Do With Dinner?

The answer is:  Lots!

With all of the news and comment devoted to what’s happening in Washington we may tend to forget that today, October 16, is also World Food Day.  We probably didn’t forget to eat though….

Though World Food Day is truly global in reach, one prism through which to view the what’s happening on the global sphere is to focus on at the second session of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), the all-important trade negotiations between the EU and the US.  Actually the negotiators are on hold in Brussels – the US negotiators are stalled by the furlough of government employees.

While the Deciders cool their heels and gird their loins it gives armchair observers a chance to catch up on what’s happening across The Pond.

The intent of TTIP, nee TAFTA, talks is to fashion a trade agreement that removes trade barriers that inhibit trade between the EU and the US.  The trade relationship between the US and the US is by far the biggest in the world, together accounting for about half the entire world GDP and for nearly a third of world trade.  As such, EU and US investments are the real driver of the transatlantic relationship, contributing to growth and jobs on both sides of the Atlantic.  An estimated third of the trade across the Atlantic consists of intra-company transfers.

Topping the agenda for TTIP talks is the issue of differences in technical regulations, standards and procedures.  Commissioner Karel De Gucht, member of the EC in charge of trade, outlines the agenda for the TTIP negotiations in a talk presented October 10 at the annual Aspen Institute Conference in Prague; the theme of the Aspen Institute conference was “Overcoming barriers to growth:  The full video is online http://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/player.cfm?ref=I082387.

The term “regulatory convergence” as used by TTIP observers and participants refers to a range of considerations that critics maintain would lower or remove “the rules and standards that govern what kind of food is being produced and how.”  Critics see “regulatory convergence” as a pell-mell descent to the lower common denominator – a potential outright threat to our food supply and safety.

For their part the agribusiness industry has “been very vocal about the special objectives.”  Biotech companies want the EU to relax the restrictions on on-authorized GM crop imports, speed up GM authorizations, weaken safety tests for GM crops, and replace mandatory labeling of GM food and feed with voluntary rules.”

This and other goals supported by the agribusiness block are anathema to many critics, academics, environmentalists, and a host of public interest groups.  The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) at the University of Minnesota and Friends of the Earth Europe have published a major paper outlining those organizations’ severe objections to the overt goal of U.S. agribusiness interests.  An excerpt from the conclusions gives the flavor of the report:

Friends of the Earth Europe and IATP call on the European Commission, the European Parliament, the EU’s member states and the US government to prioritise the interests of people and the environment.  To this end they should not pursue transatlantic trade negotiations that compromise democracy, safety, or environmental well-being.

Full text of the position paper, “EU-US trade deal: A bumper crop for ‘big food’? is available at (http://www.iatp.org/documents/eu-us-trade-deal-a-bumper-crop-for-big-food)

The negotiators in Brussels will soon be back at the table.  The forces with an ax to grind will be close at hand.  The reason: Because the TTIP talks do make a difference.  The talks will not garner much media coverage.  Nor will the impact be dramatic or immediate.  The ramifications can be truly catastrophic for those of us who naively assume that the food we eat is safe.

Keeping informed about what’s happening at TTIP — the players, the forces, the issues and potential impact – may require some armchair surfing.  There’s no better starting point than IATP (www.iatp.org) and no clearer goal than that enunciated by Friends of the Earth Europe and IATP who “call for a real trade deal that builds a better future for people and the planet through supporting local food economics agro-ecological farming and vibrant rural communities.”

Such a deal, the partnering organizations say, should aim at the following:

  • Building new economies and improving lives
  • Improving life for future generations
  • Promoting trading conditions in favour of people and environment
  • Bringing transparency and accountability

John Parker, IATP intern, is a bit more blunt when he writes, “We need to begin the work of reclaiming authentic participation in democratic decision-making.  Otherwise we will continue to watch agribusiness steal the game and tell us all to shut up”  (http://civileats.com/2013/10/09/food-democracy-rule-of-the-people-or-corporations/)

 

Food Policy: Making a Place at the Table for Information

In recent months readers of Poking Around have quietly endured my efforts to grasp the anomaly of hunger in a world of plenty – the struggle to connect the dots between world hunger and overproduction, to get a grip on the politics that tolerate hungry families in our community, to comprehend what it means to embrace the right to food as a human right.  Because my predisposition is to view every issue through the prism of open government, my mind wants to create a holistic approach to thinking about hunger in lay terms.   Flailing in an unfamiliar world of ambiguity and complexity, my only tool is a structured approach to gathering and organizing information till it makes sense.

As usual, help is at hand.  Next week’s appearance of Anna Lappe at the Westminster Town Hall Forum offers a start.  The straightforward presentation of issues that she and her mother, Frances Moore Lappe,  offer on their Small Planet Institute website are digestible

The documentary film, A Place at the Table, is also getting the conversation started with some good information and the star quality that grabs the public attention and positions the issues at the micro level.

The information imperative leaves me to the work of scholars and policy analysts at the University of Minnesota Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy who study food issues from the macro level.   An article by Allen Levine, published in the Star Tribune some months ago, gave me a template for understanding “Global hunger – the Minnesota Connection” – not so much the answers but a frame of reference and a sense of relevance.

Levine writes that “as Minnesotans, it’s easy to dismiss global hunger as a problem that doesn’t directly affect us. And with a quarter of our state’s residents now considered obese, not having enough food may seem like the least of our worries.  But we should worry.  Demographers predict that by 2050, the world’s population will reach 9 billion; a high percentage of those people will live in cities or climate- challenged areas where they can’t grow their own food….As their incomes increase, people will expect not just food, but more nutritious (and thus, more expensive) food….Our farmers, our agribusiness, our nonprofits and, yes, our universities, all play key roles in global hunger prevention.…We have no choice: Minnesota must be part of the solution.”

Levine’s cogent proposal has five steps to reaching the goal of sustainably feeding everyone – five steps that I can count on one hand if not fully comprehend.  His construct refines my mental prism for assessing macro steps from a micro perspective – a handy guide for the lay person. The steps are straightforward and plausible:

  1. Support funding of agricultural research and development.
  2. Be vigilant about the effects of climate change, disease and drought.
  3. Accelerate the shift toward second- and third-generation biofuels such as algae and cellulosic material.
  4. Concentrate efforts on small-scale farmers, particularly those in sub-Saharan Africa and southern Asia, where many of the world’s poorest people reside and where much of the population growth will happen.
  5. Recognize that simply having enough food isn’t enough.

Another paper published just this week by the IATP has helped me get to the next plateau.  Karen Hansen-Kuhn of IATP asks the question “Who’s at the Table? Demanding Answers on Agriculture in the Trans-Pacific Partnership.”  Trust me, I would not have paid attention to the TPP discussions until I read this paper where I learned that “The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) has the potential to become the biggest regional free-trade agreement (FTA) in history, both because of the size of the economics participating in the negotiations and because it holds open the possibility for other countries to quietly ‘dock in’ to the existing agreement at some point in the future.”  In other words, it’s a Big Deal.  And the U.S. and other countries are just getting on the food wagon.

This is where the transparency issue really comes into play.  Hansen-Kuhn’s work caught my attention when she writes that “it may be that governments, particularly the U.S. government, think they’ve been burned by transparency in the past.”  She goes on to ask the question, “Is it that the trade deals can’t withstand the light of day?”  Trade policy, she writes “should start from such goals as ending global hunger, enhancing rural and urban incomes and employment, and encouraging a transition to climate friendly agriculture.  The burden of proof should be on governments to demonstrate that the commitments being negotiated in the TPP will advance the human rights to food and development.  Given the stakes for agriculture and food systems in all of the countries involved, they should include all sectors in a frank discussion of the trade rules that are needed to ensure that food sovereignty, rural livelihoods and sustainable development take precedence over misguided efforts to expand exports at any cost.”

March is Minnesota FoodShare Month, a time to think about and act on the issue of hunger in our midst..  My hope is that we take time as individuals, organizations, faith groups and families to think about the root causes and the long-term solutions to what is, after all, a solvable problem.

Open access to good information wisely wielded by informed people of conscience can make a difference.  We must make a place at the table for good information, sound judgment, and justice.