The exit interview: Ag Secretary Vilsack on Obama’s food legacy
Nathaniel Johnson, Grist
There is an ongoing and often inconclusive debate about Obama’s legacy in food and agriculture – whether or not the administration was too lenient towards corporate agribusiness, and whether or not First Lady’s partnership with big food in her war on obesity was effective. In this interview, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack highlights some positive trends over the past eight years including (1) working collaboratively rather than confrontationally for conservation, (2) stimulating rural economies, (3) making climate action part of USDA culture, and (4) improving healthy food access in poor communities.
As this interview points out, the incoming Trump administration has “pledged to roll back Obama’s actions on climate change and health care, [but] he hasn’t said what he’ll do on the food and ag front” and has yet to appoint a new agriculture secretary. Despite this ambiguity, an expected reinforcement of commodity crop and industrial meat production makes the mission of CFFP ever relevant and urgent to provide healthful alternatives.
50 Years Ago, Sugar Industry Quietly Paid Scientists To Point Blame At Fat
Camila Domonoske, NPR
The debate about sugars, fats, and human health has been long running, but NPR presents the information now at a public level. This article points to the immense sway that data and expertise have in policymaking – whether that data is truthful or not. As a research-based investment group, CFFP must clearly think through the implications of both approaches that surfaced from our research: enterprise success and systems change. As we see here, such implications can reach microscopic levels that determine human health outcomes.
As Americans, we have come to known fat as the enemy of good health. Overconsumption can lead to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and more – what many in academic circles refer to as the “slow death” of poor nutrition. However, evidence has surfaced that shows our understanding of nutrition has been shaped by corporations, who influenced the nutritional research publication in the 1960’s. While the original scientific results emphasized the potential links between sugar consumption and nutritional diseases, the industry-funded Sugar Research Institute shaped research to emphasize the harmful effects of fat in its place. Many scientists are now calling for a re-evaluation of sugar and its health effects.
Seed: The Untold Story
This documentary, scheduled to release in fall of 2016, tells the story of struggles for food sovereignty around the globe. Indigenous farmers in the American Southwest fight to preserve heritage foods, women in rural India lose their breadwinning roles to industrial agriculture, and communities in Hawaii are sickened by nearby Agribusiness testing grounds; in all these scenarios, control over seeds is the central issue. The film explores the nature of these conflicts and activism to preserve seed diversity in the face of powerful obstacles. Watch the trailer here.
Organic Economics In A World of Industrial Agriculture: Applying the Power of Nature
Harn Soper, Green Money
Not all of us at CFFP consider food to be our primary world of work, but we have a hunger to learn more. For many members, the Market Research process revealed the benefits of diving deep on certain topics and exploring “how things work”. In this article, author and founder of Sustainable Farm Partners Harn Soper gives a rapid-fire history of America’s journey to Industrial Agriculture, essentially answering the question: “How did we get here?” As we seek to change the inequities of that system, it is important to understand the history behind it.
From pre-WWII local food systems, to wartime rations and high-volume production, to post-war agriculture policies, the industrial agricultural system we see today was created intentionally – with unintentional side effects. Namely, deterioration of soil and potential human health threats continue to erode our faith in the current system. The author proposes a return to organic family farms, and not without justification. From his own farming experience, Soper even shows the economic benefits of sticking out the transition to organic and works to help others do the same.
"Hawaii May Become The First State To Help Farms Go Organic"
Carla Herreria, Huffington Post
CFFP currently works in a region where local, organic, and sustainable production is generally praised. However, we exist in a larger national and global food system that is characterized by tension between industry and policy. Hawaii’s new organic certification assistance will help local farmers feed the community affordably.
Hawaii awaits the approval of a bill that provides farmers up to $50,000 in tax credits to offset the cost of USDA certification. Many farmers, while practicing organic, avoid USDA certification due to a long process and high costs. This means, beyond direct to consumer sales, non-certified organic farmers compete with conventional prices. The bill would ease this transition for local farmers across the state. In Hawaii, where 88 percent of food is imported and a huge proportion of available farmland serves as a testing ground for agricultural giants like Syngenta and Monsanto, the state’s move to support local organic agriculture addresses a crucial need. Given this environment, local organic food in Hawaii will have trickle down implications for maternal & infant health, farmworker health, biodiversity, land management, and food sovereignty.
"Taxing Sugar to Fund a City"
Mark Bittman, New York Times
CFFP has described itself as a group that is “driving as far as the headlights show us” which requires significant patience, flexibility, and innovation. Cities like Berkley, which precedes Philadelphia in enacting a sugar tax, have demonstrated the benefits of such innovation. Philadelphia attempts to blaze the trail a bit further, leveraging sugar & junk food taxes for anti-poverty efforts. Similar to “farmraising” above, this is an example of how innovation in food systems work can often address several challenges at once – in this case, high burdens of nutritional disease in low-income communities and lack of public services in those same communities.
Philadelphia is proposing a sugar tax that will be leveraged for anti-poverty initiatives. A tax as high as three cents per-ounce on soda, sweet teas, energy drinks, and sugar-added juices could provide substantial revenue for the city. These funds would be used to service low-income communities in Philadelphia, which is the nation’s poorest big city. Proposed services include universal preschool, recreation centers, libraries, and parks. Mayor Kennedy aims to address structural inequalities, saying “[major soda companies] sell more of their product in poor communities than elsewhere, and for generations none of that profit was passed on to those communities. There is no downside to this other than that the three major soda companies may make a little less money.”
"Bellingham Schools Go Local, Turn To 'Farmraising' To Fund Garden Program"
Monica Spain, KPLU
CFFP’s Market Research with Ecotrust has revealed several product categories for which alternative distribution strategies are a key recommendation. Farmraiser provides a real-time example of how creative marketing and distribution strategies can address both production and consumption needs in the community.
School fundraisers have increased healthy food access and nutritional education in several western Washington communities where schools have engaged in “farmraising”. Rather than sell cookie dough or other junk foods to raise money for school and extracurricular programs, students direct community members to their Farmraiser site. Farmraiser allows participants to purchase produce and other healthy food products from local farms within a 30-mile radius of the community, and a portion of proceeds contributes to the school fundraiser. While small farmers benefit from new customers, increased demand, and geographically concentrated markets, schools and their communities receive healthy, local foods and nutritional awareness is increased among both students and adults.
“A Burgeoning Effort to Restore Native Foods in an Unlikely Food Desert”
Alix Wall, Civil Eats
The Klamath Basin Tribal Food Security Project perfectly illustrates the aforementioned Nature article: health equity is deeply tied to sociocultural equity. In this instance, the Karuk, Yurok, and Klamath tribes reclaimed space to practice traditional food ways, which will translate to restoration of traditional (read: healthy) diets and improved health outcomes.
Article Summary: The Karuk, Yurok, and Klamath tribes have called the Klamath river basin in Northern California and Southern Oregon home for thousands of years. Colonization and subsequent mining, logging, and other forces have degraded the environment that sustains the tribe’s primary food source. Tribes shifted from their no longer reliable traditional diets to to widely available industrialized foods and as a result, the tribes experience disproportionate rates of nutritionally related diseases – type 2 diabetes rates are twice the national average.
The Klamath Basin Tribal Food Security Project is working to combat these trends by restoring traditional food ways through a revival of tribal knowledge in foraging, cultivating, stewarding, and processing. Thus far, some 4,000 tribe members have collaborated with UC Berkeley staff in a wide variety of projects including community garden workshops surveys, focus groups, policy discussions, food production workshops, native food camps, and after-school programs to pursue their goals.
“Grain Traders Rejecting New Monsanto Soybeans”
Dow Jones Business News
GMO concerns have transcended environmental and health concerns and breached into the realm of product viability. As CFFP seeks to identify strategic investments within the differentiated production spectrum, for instance from no-till to organic no-till, this is something to consider.
Article Summary: Monsanto recently launched a new genetically modified soybean that has not yet been approved by EU regulations. Firms representing companies as influential as Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland have rejected the product, mainly on the basis that there are not mechanisms in place to ensure the unapproved GMO will not contaminate countries with GMO laws. In the wake of China’s rejection of US corn shipments due to contamination with Syngenta GMO material, compliance with GMO laws
"FDA to Start Testing for Glyphosate in Food"
Carey Gilliam, Civil Eats
As we pursue environmental and health equity in our local food system, the narratives presented by national research and political bodies hold weighty implications. Relevant to CFFP is the fact that glyphosate is sometimes used to spot treat weeds in no-till grain production. While we should not let perfection be the enemy of the good in working with non-organic farms, a glance down the road reveals momentum for transition.
Under pressure from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the FDA will now start reevaluating the presence of glyphosate, the active ingredient of Round Up, in food products. Referred to as “the most widely used pesticide in the world,” glyphosate use in the United States increased 20-fold over the last decade, to 1.65 billion pounds in 2014. Private and academic research has linked the chemical to various cancers, birth defects, and kidney and liver problems, but federal research has yet to pursue an investigation of this nature. The analysis of glyphosate in food products is a small but important first step.
For an additional perspective, read more here.
As part of its own research, CFFP regularly illuminates educative research, media, and resources related to our work. This page contains public versions of our synopses.