by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Agriculture

Dec 22 2017

Weekend Reading: America’s Diverse Family Farms

I’m not sure how USDA defines “diverse,” exactly, but I think it must be referring to size and income in this report.

Like so:

I’m also not sure how USDA defines “household” for very large-scale farms (Big Ag), but that’s where the money is, apparently.

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Dec 1 2017

Weekend action: Advocating for organics (Toolkit!)

IFOAM—Organics International–offers a Global Policy Toolkit on Public Support to Organic Agriculture, for use by anyone who wants to advocate for organics and sustainable agriculture.

The toolkit includes:

The main report offers Policy summaries for specific measures to promote organic production and consumption.

No excuses!

Nov 30 2017

Policy wonks: Here’s USDA’s latest introduction to global trade

The USDA has a new report out on global trade.  

It’s full of facts and figures about what foods we export and import, how the trade agreements and tariffs work, and how food aid works.  Here’s who we gets worldwide food aid:

And here’s why our food safety system is so important to protect:

If your eyes glaze over whenever you read anything about NAFTA or any other trade agreement, this is a good place to start understanding the issues.

Nov 29 2017

Good news about farming!

How about some good news for a change?

I.  Politico reports on on a new report, Feeding the Economy, on the importance of agriculture for the US economy (you can search the site for your own state and congressional district).

The findings are impressive:

As Politico puts it, “more than a fifth of the U.S. economy and a quarter of American jobs are either directly or indirectly tied to the food and agriculture sectors.”

That’s more than 43 million jobs and $1.9 trillion in wages, and $894 billion in taxes.  That’s $6.7 trillion for the impact..

Who paid for the study?  22 food and agriculture groups, including the Corn Refiners Association, the American Bakers Association and the United Fresh Produce Association.

II.  The Washington Post writes:

For only the second time in the last century, the number of farmers under 35 years old is increasing, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s latest Census of Agriculture. Sixty-nine percent of the surveyed young farmers had college degrees — significantly higher than the general population.

The implications for public policy are obvious: promote farming opportunities for young people.

III.  Here’s what The National Young Farmers Coalition says in its new report:

Its agenda:

Now, to make that happen…

Nov 24 2017

Farm bill #5: EWG, NASC, and other resources

I.  The Environmental Working Group

It just released its farm subsidy database for 2015 and 2016.

The new information reflects the demands of the 2014 farm bill.

The findings:

  • $32.2 billion is the total cost of federal crop insurance, disaster, and conservation programs.
  • $14.5 billion of this went mainly to growers of corn, soybeans, wheat, cotton and rice.
  • $12 billion went to crop insurance subsidies.
  • $3.7 billion went for conservation.
  • $2 billion went to disaster assistance.
  • Deline Farms Partnership was the #1 recipient with $4 million in commodity subsidies.
  • The Navajo Agricultural Products Industry was #2 with $2.3 million.

The website is interactive.  You can click on states and counties.

Tomkins County, New York, where Ithaca is, got $25 million in federal subsidies.

It’s fun. Check it out.

EWG also released it’s Double-Dipping report on how taxpayers are subsidizing farmers twice for crop losses.

II. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC)

It organized dozens of farm organizations to sign a letter calling for greater investment in agriculture through the farm bill education-and-research title.

It also released An Agenda for the 2018 Farm Bill.  This focuses on investing in:

  • Beginning farmers and ranchers
  • Conservation
  • Regional food economies
  • Plant research
  • Risk management

III.  Representative Chellie Pingree (Dem-Maine) is also working on farm bill issues.  

Her particular focus is the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act:

  • Expands access to farmland
  • Ensures equitable access to financial capital and federal crop insurance
  • Encourages commitment to conservation and stewardship

Many people are working on farm bill reform.  It needs it.

Nov 13 2017

An Atlas of Agribusiness for Food Systems Advocates

I’m going to be using this week’s posts to catch up on reports that have been flooding in.

Let’s start with a publication from the Heinrich Böll Foundation, the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, and Friends of the Earth Europe.

Agrifood Atlas: Facts and figures about the Corporations that Control What We Eat

Agrifood corporations are driving industrialization along the entire global value chain, from farm to plate. Their purchasing and sales policies promote a form of agriculture that revolves around productivity. The fight for market share is achieved at the expense of the weakest links in the chain: farmers, and workers…It is high time for a socially and politically oriented regulation of the agrifood industry.

The Atlas provides the facts and figures you need to advocate for healthier food systems.

Here is one example:

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Nov 1 2017

It’s NAFTA again: an update

I haven’t said anything about NAFTA since August, but events are moving so quickly in the Trump administration’s attempts to undo this trade agreement with Canada and Mexico that I’m having a hard time keeping up (Politico Morning Agriculture helps).

Also fortunately for anyone interested in this issue, the Haynes and Boone law firm has created the “NAFTA Renegotiation Monitor.”  This tracks the countries’ positions on more than 30 issues under debate. I’m particularly interested in agricultural and phytosanitary (translation: food safety) issues, but this is a great place to find out about any any of them.  This Monitor makes clear what is at stake:

According to Politico,

Trump has vowed to withdraw from the 23-year-old agreement altogether. That would usher in the new isolationist era that he has long threatened, potentially endangering tens of thousands of American jobs that depend on cross-border agreements for everything from manufacturing automobiles to the export of beef… officials made clear they were at an impasse on a number of changes specifically sought by the Trump administration that dovetail with its “America First” agenda. As a result, Canada, Mexico and the United States have agreed to delay their next round of talks by nearly a month 

The National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) and similar groups in Mexico and Canada issued a joint statement calling on their governments to make sure that whatever gets done to NAFTA does not hurt agriculture.

Politico reports that 86 food and agricultural industry groups say that if the Trump administration really does ask Congress to withdraw from NAFTA to pressure Canada and Mexico into meeting U.S. demands (as it has threatened to do, then it risks causing substantial harm to the U.S. economy: “Contracts would be canceled, sales would be lost, able competitors would rush to seize our export markets, and litigation would abound, even before withdrawal would take effect.”

Furthermore, a NAFTA withdrawal would affect specific agriculture sectors.  These effects are outlined in a letter to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross signed by numerous agriculture organizations.

  • Poultry: In 2016, U.S. poultry exports were 7.95 billion pounds, over 16 percent of total production. Canada was the second-largest market for the chicken industry and in the top five for turkey. Almost 70 percent of U.S. exports of turkey go to Mexico.
  • High-fructose corn syrup: U.S. exports to Mexico would decrease by $500 million per year.
  • Fruits and veggies: Canada and Mexico account for 18 percent of U.S. fresh fruit exports and 60 percent of U.S. fresh vegetable exports. Since 1993, fruit and vegetable exports from the U.S. to Mexico and Canada have more than tripled, totaling $7.2 billion.
  • Beef: In 2016, U.S. beef exports to Mexico and Canada exceeded $1.7 billion and accounted for 27 percent of total U.S. beef exports.
  • Dairy: Over $1 billion a year in U.S. dairy products are shipped to Mexico.

In other words, food and agriculture groups view NAFTA as good for US agriculture.  They do not view it as so broken that it needs fixing.

Oct 25 2017

Farewell to GIPSA and bad news for family farmers

Last week, the USDA withdrew its Farmer Fair Practices Interim Final Rule (a.k.a. the GIPSA—Grain Inspection, Packers & Stockyards Administration—rule).

The USDA announced this rule at the end of 2016 with great fanfare but, as I explained last April, then delayed it under pressure from the meat and poultry industries.  Now those industries have succeeded in getting rid of it.

The official explanation?  “Serious legal and policy concerns related to its promulgation and implementation.”

Oh, please.

According to last year’s USDA, the new rules would have leveled “the playing field for farmers by proposing protections against the most egregious retaliatory practices harming chicken growers.”  Without this rule, family farmers have little defense against the mean and unfair practices of meat packers and poultry dealers.

Senator Chuck Grassley (Rep – Iowa) minces no words: The USDA is “just pandering to big corporations. They aren’t interested in the family farmer…The USDA is the U.S. Department of Agriculture, not the U.S. Department of Big Agribusiness.”

Told by Agri-Pulse of USDA’s decision to withdraw the rule, Sen. Grassley said he “violently opposed USDA’s decision to withdraw the rule:

If they would know how some of these people are treated that contract with these big multi-corporations, they wouldn’t be withdrawing that,…They’re just pandering to big corporations. They aren’t interested in the family farmer…Everybody thinks draining the swamp is firing a whole bunch of congressmen and a whole bunch of bureaucrats; it’s changing the culture of the bureaucracy…This is a perfect example of a swamp that’s being refilled by withdrawing these rules.

What happens now?  More than 200 agriculture groups signed a letter to key ag-state lawmakers asking for more market transparency and anti-trust protections.

Will such calls grow?  I certainly hope so.

For further reading

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