By Karen Perry Stillerman
Sometimes gratitude feels like a stretch, and this fall has been one of those times. We're in the home stretch of a difficult year. Bad news abounds, and even the holiday that many of us will celebrate this week is complicated — a day of thanks that also evokes loss and grief for many Native people, along with expressions of resilience. With Thanksgiving approaching, I went looking for hopeful stories, scanning the news of food and agriculture for signs of progress and promise.
By Elizabeth Henderson
For almost five decades, organic farming associations like the Northeast Organic Farming Association, the Maine Organic Farming and Gardening Association and others across the country have been dedicated to supporting and expanding the community of farmers, homesteaders and conscious eaters who build their lives and livelihoods through agroecology — growing and consuming food, forage and other crops in as much harmony with natural processes and rhythms as we can muster.
Can we find solutions?<p>"The problem that has impoverished and destroyed farmers nearly always is that of low prices resulting from surplus production," poet and environmentalist Wendell Berry <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/01/opinion/wendell-berry-agriculture-farm-bill.html" target="_blank">told</a> the New York Times in a 2018 interview. "That is also, obviously, a land-destroying problem. The only solution to that problem that can sustain the small farmers is the combination of production control and price supports as exemplified by the Burley Tobacco Growers Cooperative Association as it was reorganized in my region under the New Deal in 1941."</p>
What does production control plus price supports mean and how did it work under the New Deal?<p><br>In 1933, in the depths of the Great Depression, so many family farms were going bankrupt that the federal government stepped in to help them avoid eviction and to increase prices for their crops. The Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA) <a href="https://fraser.stlouisfed.org/archival/1341/item/457089" target="_blank">declared an economic emergency</a>, justifying action as being in "the national public interest." The AAA set out to re-establish farmers' purchasing power, taking the years just before WWI as the base period when the proper balance existed.</p><p>To raise prices for farm products, the AAA reduced the oversupply by setting limits in the form of marketing quotas on the acreage farmers could use for basic commodities, and that first year, some crops were even plowed under. There were also marketing agreements that controlled the quantity, quality, and rate of shipment to market to limit some fruit and vegetable crops. Although agribusiness successfully brought suit against the first version of this parity system, the revised approach set up by the Soil Conservation and Domestic Allotment Act of February 29, 1936, proved more durable and lasted through the 1960s.</p><p>Farm income in 1935 was more than <a href="https://archive.org/stream/CAT31056120/CAT31056120_djvu.txt" target="_blank">50 percent higher</a> than farm income during 1932, due in part to the farm programs. From 1935 through 1974, legislation each year set the level of the price supports from 50 to 90 percent of parity, depending on the supply of each commodity and the changing economic conditions through the years of WWII.</p>
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Brian Barth
There's something of a civil war brewing in the organic movement.
By Stacy Malkan
The International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI) is a corporate-funded nonprofit group with chapters around the world that claim to conduct "science for the public good," but documents released in a new study reveal that the influential ILSI science group is a actually a lobby group that protects the interests of the food industry, not public health.
<p>Malaspina, a former senior vice president at Coca-Cola from 1969-2001, founded ILSI in 1978. Coca-Cola has kept close ties with ILSI ever since. From 2009-2011, the president of ILSI was Michael Ernest Knowles, who was also Coca-Cola's VP of global scientific and regulatory affairs from 2008–2013. In 2015, <a href="https://web.archive.org/web/20150721055103/http://ww" target="_blank">ILSI's president</a> was Rhona Applebaum, who <a href="http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-11-24/coca-cola-s-chief-science-officer-retires-after-obesity-outcry" target="_blank">retired from her job</a> as Coca-Cola's chief health and science officer (and from <a href="http://ilsi.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/ILSI_News_Q4_2015_vFinal.pdf" target="_blank">ILSI</a>) in 2015 after the <a href="https://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/08/09/coca-cola-funds-scientists-who-shift-blame-for-obesity-away-from-bad-diets/?_r=0" target="_blank">New York Times</a> and <a href="https://www.apnews.com/1fd235360ac94dcf893a87e3074a03a5" target="_blank">Associated Press</a> reported that Coke funded the nonprofit Global Energy Balance Network to help shift blame for obesity away from sugary drinks.</p><p>Emails <a href="http://www.ehn.org/coca-cola-war-on-science-2555599081.html" target="_blank">obtained by U.S. Right to Know</a> and reported in <a href="http://jech.bmj.com/content/early/2018/03/14/jech-2017-210375" target="_blank">a 2016 study</a> revealed that Coke proposed and financed the Global Energy Balance Network as a "weapon" in the "growing war between the pubic health community and private industry" over obesity and the obesity epidemic. </p><p>ILSI is funded by its <a href="https://ilsi.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Members.pdf" target="_blank">corporate members and company supporters</a>, including leading food and chemical companies such as Coca-Cola, BASF, Bayer, DuPont, Syngenta, Mars, McDonalds, chemical industry trade groups, and many others. <a href="https://s3.amazonaws.com/ilsiweb/ilsi/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/AR2018/index.html#22" target="_blank">In its annual report</a>, ILSI and its branches reported $17,481,251 in expenses for 2017 but did not disclose specific donor information. A document obtained via a state freedom of information request shows corporate <a href="https://www.usrtk.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/ILSI2012donors.pdf" target="_blank">contributions to ILSI Global amounting to $2.4 million</a> in 2012. The largest donations were $500,000 from Monsanto and over $500,000 from the pesticide industry trade group, Crop Life International. ILSI's <a href="https://usrtk.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/ILSI-Draft-2013-form-990.pdf" target="_blank">draft 2013 IRS tax returns</a> show $337,000 in donations from Coca-Cola and over $650,000 from six agrichemical companies, BASF, Bayer, Dow, Monsanto, Pioneer Hi Bred and Syngenta. </p>
2015 email from Alex Malaspina, founder of ILSI.
ILSI Undermined Obesity Fight in China<p>In January 2019, two papers by <a href="https://susan-greenhalgh.com/coca-cola-goes-to-china/" target="_blank">Harvard Prof. Susan Greenhalgh</a> revealed ILSI's powerful influence on the Chinese government on issues related to obesity. Prof. Geenhalgh's articles in the <a href="https://www.bmj.com/content/364/bmj.k5050" target="_blank">Journal of Public Health Policy</a> and <a href="https://www.bmj.com/content/364/bmj.k5050" target="_blank">the BMJ</a> document how Coca-Cola and other corporations worked through the China branch of ILSI to influence decades of Chinese science and public policy on obesity and diet-related illnesses such as Type 2 diabetes and hypertension. </p>
Jan. 9 article in New York Times.<p>ILSI is so well-placed in China that it operates from inside the government's Centre for Disease Control and Prevention in Beijing. Dr. Greenhalgh's papers document how Coca-Cola and other Western food and beverage giants "helped shape decades of Chinese science and public policy on obesity and diet-related diseases" by operating through ILSI to cultivate key Chinese officials "in an effort to stave off the growing movement for food regulation and soda taxes that has been sweeping the west," <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/09/health/obesity-china-coke.html" target="_blank">reported Andrew Jacobs in the New York Times</a>.</p><p>Recent studies on ILSI's influence and approach can also be found in <a href="https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/09581596.2017.1371844" target="_blank">Critical Public Health</a> and the <a href="https://www.milbank.org/quarterly/articles/public-meets-private-conversations-between-coca-cola-" target="_blank">Milbank Quarterly</a>.</p>
ILSI Sugar Study “Right Out of the Tobacco Industry’s Playbook”<p>In 2016, public health experts denounced an ILSI-funded <a href="https://annals.org/aim/fullarticle/2593601/scientific-basis-guideline-recommendations-sugar-intake-systematic-review" target="_blank">sugar study</a> published in a prominent medical journal that presented a "scathing attack on global health advice to eat less sugar," <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/19/well/eat/a-food-industry-study-tries-to-discredit-advice-about-sugar.html" target="_blank">reported Anahad O'Connor in The New York Times</a>. The ILSI-funded study argued that warnings to cut sugar are based on weak evidence and cannot be trusted.</p><p>The Times story quoted Marion Nestle, a professor at New York University who studies conflicts of interest in nutrition research, on the ILSI study: "This comes right out of the tobacco industry's playbook: cast doubt on the science," Nestle said. "This is a classic example of how industry funding biases opinion. It's shameful." </p><p>ILSI has also been accused of working directly on the tobacco industry playbook to thwart public safety measures to reduce smoking. A <a href="https://www.who.int/tobacco/en/who_inquiry.pdf" target="_blank">July 2000 report by an independent committee of the World Health Organization</a> outlined a number of ways in which the tobacco industry attempted to undermine WHO tobacco control efforts, including using scientific groups to influence WHO's decision-making and to manipulate scientific debate surrounding the health effects of tobacco. ILSI played a key role in these efforts, according to a <a href="https://www.who.int/tobacco/media/en/ILSI.pdf" target="_blank">case study about ILSI from the WHO Tobacco Free Initiative</a>. "Findings indicate that ILSI was used by certain tobacco companies to thwart tobacco control policies. Senior office bearers in ILSI were directly involved in these actions," according to the case study. </p>
ILSI Leaders Played Key Role in Defending Glyphosate as Chairs of WHO Panel<p>In May 2016, ILSI was caught "in a conflict of interest row over glyphosate cancer risk," <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/may/17/unwho-panel-in-conflict-of-interest-row-over-glyphosates-cancer-risk" target="_blank">reported Arthur Neslen</a> in the Guardian, <a href="http://usrtk.org/pesticides/conflict-of-interest-concerns-cloud-meeting-as-international-experts-review-herbicide-risks/" target="_blank">after revelations</a> that the vice president of ILSI Europe, Prof. Alan Boobis, was also chairman of the UN Joint Meeting on Pesticide Residues <a href="https://www.who.int/foodsafety/jmprsummary2016.pdf" target="_blank">(JMPR) panel</a> that found Monsanto's chemical <a href="https://usrtk.org/pesticides/glyphosate-health-concerns/" target="_blank">glyphosate</a> was unlikely to pose a cancer risk through diet. The co-chair of the JMPR panel, Prof. Angelo Moretto, was a board member of ILSI's Health and Environment Services Institute. Neither of the chairs declared their ILSI leadership roles as conflicts of interest, despite the <a href="https://www.usrtk.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/ILSI2012donors.pdf" target="_blank">significant financial contributions ILSI has received</a> from Monsanto and the pesticide industry trade group. </p>
ILSI’s Cozy Ties at U.S. CDC<p>In June 2016, <a href="https://www.huffingtonpost.com/carey-gillam/beverage-industry-finds-f_b_10715584.html" target="_blank">U.S. Right to Know reported</a> that Dr. Barbara Bowman, director of a U.S. Centers for Disease Control division charged with preventing heart disease and stroke, tried to help ILSI's founder Alex Malaspina influence World Health Organization officials to back off policies to reduce sugar consumption. Bowman suggested people and groups for Malaspina to talk to, and solicited his comments on some CDC summaries of reports, the emails show. (Bowman <a href="https://www.huffingtonpost.com/carey-gillam/cdc-official-exits-agency_b_10760490.html" target="_blank">stepped down</a> after our first article was published reporting on these ties.)</p><p>A January 2019 <a href="https://www.milbank.org/quarterly/articles/public-meets-private-conversations-between-coca-cola-and-the-cdc/" target="_blank">study in the Milbank Quarterly</a> describes key emails of Malaspina cozying up to Dr. Bowman. </p>
ILSI Influence in India<p>ILSI has close ties to some Indian government officials and, as in China, the nonprofit has pushed similar messaging and policy proposals as Coca-Cola — downplaying the role of sugar and diet as a cause of obesity, and promoting increased physical activity as the solution, <a href="http://www.indiaresource.org/news/2019/1011.html" target="_blank">according to the India Resource Center</a>. Members of ILSI India's board of trustees include Coca-Cola India's director of regulatory affairs and representatives from Nestlé and Ajinomoto, a food additive company, along with government officials who serve on scientific panels that are tasked with deciding about food safety issues. </p>
Longstanding Concerns About ILSI<p>ILSI insists it is not an industry lobby group, but concerns and complaints are longstanding about the group's pro-industry stances and conflicts of interest among the organization's leaders.</p><p>In 2010, Nature reported on concerns about conflicts of interest between ILSI and the European Food Safety Authority, and noted that the<a href="https://www.nature.com/news/2010/101005/full/news.2010.513.html" target="_blank"> industry ties may taint the reputation of the European regulatory body</a>. </p><p>A 2019 book by Dr. Tim Noakes and Marika Sboros, <a href="http://www.realfoodontrial.com/" target="_blank">Real Food on Trial</a> (Columbus Publishing), recounts the "unprecedented prosecution" of Dr. Noakes "in a multimillion rand case that stretched over more than four years. All for a single tweet giving his opinion on nutrition." Russ Greene reported on the controversy in a 2017 <a href="https://keepfitnesslegal.crossfit.com/2017/01/05/big-food-vs-tim-noakes-the-final-crusade/" target="_blank">article for Keep Fitness Legal</a>. "The Food Industry is attempting to use Dr. Noakes in order to set an example to anyone who dares challenge its authority in nutrition," Greene wrote.</p>
By Ronnie Cummins
A new study calling for a "radical rethink" of the relationship between policymakers and corporations reinforces what Organic Consumers Association and other public interest groups have been saying for years: Our triple global health crises of deteriorating public health, world hunger and global warming share common root causes—and that the best way to address these crises is to address what they all have in common: an unhealthy, inequitable food system perpetuated by a political and economic system largely driven by corporate profit.
By Helena Norberg-Hodge
If you're seeking some good news during these troubled times, look at the ecologically sound ways of producing food that have percolated up from the grassroots in recent years. Small farmers, environmentalists, academic researchers and food and farming activists have given us agroecology, holistic resource management, permaculture, regenerative agriculture and other methods that can alleviate or perhaps even eliminate the global food system's worst impacts: biodiversity loss, energy depletion, toxic pollution, food insecurity and massive carbon emissions.
By Andrea Germanos
Denouncing his "strong ties to corporate agribusiness and pesticide companies," more than 240 groups urged the Senate on Wednesday to reject the nomination of Scott Hutchins, President Donald Trump's pick for chief scientist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
By Rebecca Mackelprang
A University of California, Berkeley professor stands at the front of the room, delivering her invited talk about the potential of genetic engineering. Her audience, full of organic farming advocates, listens uneasily. She notices a man get up from his seat and move toward the front of the room. Confused, the speaker pauses mid-sentence as she watches him bend over, reach for the power cord, and unplug the projector. The room darkens and silence falls. So much for listening to the ideas of others.
More than a third of Americans eat fast food on any given day.
Ulet Ifansasti / Getty Images News
By Edward Davey
The world is vastly underestimating the benefits of acting on climate change. Recent research from the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate finds that bold climate action could deliver at least $26 trillion in economic benefits through 2030. This ground-breaking research, produced by the Global Commission and more than 200 experts, highlights proof points of the global shift to a low-carbon economy, and identifies ways to accelerate action in five sectors: energy, cities, food and land use, water and industry. Our blog series, The $26 Trillion Opportunity, explores these economic opportunities in greater detail.
By Reynard Loki
Whole Foods bills itself as "America's healthiest grocery store," but what it's doing to the environment is anything but healthy. According to a new report, the chain is helping to drive one of the nation's worst human-made environmental disasters: the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico.