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“Food is political!” 33,000 demand quicker change of our agricultural and food systems

By - La Via Campesina, January 30, 2018

Excerpts from the joint press release of German civil society organizations participating last weekend in Berlin’s “We’re fed up with it” demonstration. For the complete text (German only) please click here

With a deafening cooking-pot concert, 33,000 people at the “We’re fed up!” demonstration at the start of the Green Week in Berlin called on the next German government to come up with a new agricultural policy. ‘Industrial agriculture and food industry is causing local and global problems for farmers, climate, animals and the environment,’ says Jochen Fritz – spokesperson of “We´re fed up!” – on behalf of the more than 100 organisations that called for this demonstration. He adds: ‘The transition to an environmentally friendly, animal-friendly and climate-friendly agriculture in which farmers can live justly from their work must not be postponed by politicians.’

Demonstrators beat their pans in front of the Agriculture Ministers’ Summit gathered in the German Finance Ministry. They demanded respect for human rights, fair trade conditions and more support for the rural population worldwide. Already in the morning the 160 farmers who led the demonstration with their tractors handed over a protest note to the 70 ministers from all over the world present in the Summit. ‘We want to get out of the fatality of export agendas and land concentration, which have tied a noose on the neck of farmers here and around the world,’ says Fritz about the consequences of agricultural policies. ‘In the last 12 years, one third of all farms in Germany had to close their doors.’

Alliance spokesman Fritz continues: ‘Food is political, more and more people are recognizing this. But our policies are feeding the agricultural industry and produce at the expense of the environment, climate and animals. So that we don’t have all to pay for it in the long term, the big coalition (GroKo – CDU/CSU-SPD) must now turn the tables*. Those who produce and eat sustainably must be rewarded.’

Concrete projects in the next legislative period must be – in addition to glyphosate phase-out and proper transformation of livestock stables and pens – the obligation to label animal foodstuffs, prohibiting last-resort antibiotics in animal husbandry and fair market rules for the protection of farms. Furthermore, the payment of EU agricultural subsidies to non-agricultural investors, who are grabbing more and more farmland, must be stopped immediately.

‘We need a fundamental reform of European agricultural policy. Those who cultivate crops in an environmental and climate friendly way and raise animals in an appropriate manner must be supported by direct payments, not those who own the most land. Farmers are ready, but politicians must create the framework. Rural areas are in particular need of small and medium-size farms’, says Georg Janßen, Head of Office of the Arbeitsgemeinschaft bäuerliche Landwirtschaft (AbL).

* at the moment, the three biggest political parties in Germany (CDU/CSU-SPD) are negotiating the formation of the next government

The road to food sovereignty

By Pat Mooney and Nnimmo Bassey - New Internationalist, December 14, 2017

Time is running out if the world is going to slash greenhouse gas emissions enough to keep us below a 1.5°c temperature rise by 2100, an aspiration set by the Paris climate accords.

Two conferences this autumn tackled different ends of the problem, in splendid isolation from each other. The UN Committee on World Food Security held its annual meeting in Rome in mid-October, alarmed that the number of hungry people on the planet has suddenly climbed by 40 million in the past year – much of it due to the direct and indirect effects of climate change – and fearful that an unpredictable climate will cut global food production still more sharply in the decades ahead.

Meanwhile, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP23) met in Bonn and high on its agenda was the need to cut agriculture’s GHG emissions which experts say account for anywhere from one third to more than half of global warming. So, what for Rome delegates is a problem of food security is for Bonn delegates a problem of climate security.

The solution for both climate and food sovereignty is to dismantle the global industrial agri-food system (which we call the ‘industrial food chain’) and for governments to give more space to the already growing and resilient ‘peasant food web’ – the interlinked network of small-scale farmers, livestock-keepers, pastoralists, hunters and gatherers, fishers and urban producers who, our research shows, already feed most of the world.

Republicans Push Bill to Strip Migrant Workers of Their Few Rights, Undercut US Workers

By Simon Davis-Cohen - Truthout, December 18, 2017

Immigration arrests have surged (up 43 percent) under Trump, but deportations have dropped. That means detentions are on the rise. Meanwhile, a creeping labor shortage is reaching fever pitch as US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) continues its crackdown on employers.

Catalyzed by the agricultural labor shortage -- which has been years in the making, thanks to low wages, new requirements that employers comply with E-Verify immigration reforms and the crackdown on non-citizens in general -- significant immigration reform that could reshape the labor market is now being pushed in Congress. The bill, which is currently awaiting action after it was passed by the House Judiciary Committee in late October, proposes a massive overhaul and expansion of the federal government's decades-old H-2A agricultural visa program. Critics say that if passed, the reform could lead to millions of virtually indentured workers.

Under the current H-2A program, which itself has produced conditions akin to modern-day slavery, employers pay for foreign workers to be transported to their farms and then send them back home (often to Mexico) once the job -- such as seasonal berry-picking -- is done.

This legal migration route -- used by Trump at Mar-a-Lago -- has exploded under his administration. The American Farm Bureau Federation, a top agriculture lobby, calculates that the number of H-2A workers for berry and apple farms spiked 43 and 30 percent respectively in 2017, compared to 2016.

A massive expansion of the program is now on the table. The proposed reform, known as the Agricultural Guestworker Act (H.R. 4092), represents a worrying coming-together of ethno-nationalist interests who advocate "legal" migration, and corporate interests eager for cheap, guaranteed labor. Non-citizens and guest workers are not the only ones who would suffer under the new program; US workers, whose wages would be massively undercut by the expansion, would also lose out.

The bill, as it passed the US House Judiciary Committee on October 25, 2017, would replace the H-2A program with an "H-2C" program that expands the program beyond agricultural work to industries like meat and poultry processing, forestry and logging, and fish farming. It would also gut what few protections and guarantees workers currently enjoy under the H-2A program. Farmworkers in the United States are already excluded from labor protections, but they can still sue their employers for low wages and workplace violations. The ability for workers to take employers to court would be hampered by the reform, which prohibits workers from bringing "civil actions for damages against their employers." According to Catherine Crowe, an organizer with the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) of the AFL-CIO, the bill "makes it even harder for farmworkers to bring claims when their rights are violated." It also forces farmworkers to go through a mandatory mediation process before filing a lawsuit.

This ability to sue is critical for H-2A farmworker organizing efforts. Crowe told Truthout that FLOC uses lawsuits to pressure employers to sign union contracts. In fact, it was through this tactic that FLOC was able to win a contract for H-2A workers with the North Carolina Growers Association, which contracts with about 10,000 workers and 700 growers every year, according to Crowe. This contract won workers significant protections not enjoyed under the H-2A program, including the ability to appeal to an independent labor relations board, protections against retaliation and more job security.

However, North Carolina's Farm Act of 2017, signed by Gov. Roy Cooper in July, cuts off a key tool for worker organizing in the state by making it illegal to settle a lawsuit with a union contract. FLOC, along with Southern Poverty Law Center, the North Carolina Justice Center and others have sued North Carolina, arguing the Farm Act of 2017 violates the First and Fourteenth Amendment rights of more than 100,000 farmworkers. They've also filed a motion to block the implementation of the Act until the lawsuit concludes.

The proposed H-2C program threatens to establish a convoluted form of 21st century legalized indentured servitude. It would do away with H-2A program requirements for employers to provide guest workers with health insurance, housing and transportation to and from their home country, and would allow employers to deduct certain costs and the costs of tools from worker wages. For example, if an employer pays for housing or transportation, they could deduct that from worker wages. Shockingly, the bill also allows employers to deduct a flat 10 percent of workers' wages. Workers would only be able to recoup the deducted wages once they returned to their home country, which Republicans say would "incentivize" them to go home. On top of all this, H-2C would also lower guest worker wages to the minimum wage, well below the current wage set by the Department of Labor that is meant to guarantee that guest workers not undercut US farmworker wages.

EPA Moves To Gut Agricultural Worker Protection Standards

By Earth Justice - Common Dreams, December 14, 2017

Today, the Environmental Protection Agency announced that it will revise crucial protections for more than two million farm workers and pesticide applicators by the federal Agricultural Worker Protection Standard (WPS) and the Certification of Pesticide Applicators (CPA) rule.

The WPS establishes a minimum age of 18 for workers who mix, load, and apply pesticides; increases the frequency of worker safety training from once every five years to every year; improves the content and quality of worker safety trainings; and provides anti-retaliation protections and the right of a farm worker to request pesticide-application information via a designated representative.

The EPA also announced the reconsideration of the minimum age requirements established by the Certification of Pesticide Applicators (CPA) rule, which sets training and certification requirements for Restricted Use Pesticides (RUPs), the most toxic chemicals in the market. There are roughly half a million child farm workers in the United States.

Landworkers’ Alliance launch new Horticulture Policy Proposals

By staff - Land Workers Alliance, October 30, 2017

To meet the UK demand for fruit and vegetables a massive scaling up of production is required. Currently UK production represents 58% of vegetables consumed and only 11% of fruit. Only 1% of Pillar 1direct agricultural payments are offered to the horticultural sector, despite public health advice to increase consumption of fruit and vegetables, and reduce meat, dairy and sugar.

The Landworkers’ Alliance propose that a dramatic increase in the number of small and medium scale horticultural enterprises producing fruit and vegetables for local and regional markets would bring benefits, including:

  • Fresher produce, often bought within hours of harvest, brings greater nutritional benefit and better flavour, encouraging increased consumption.
  • Diverse market gardens provide fulfilling, varied and attractive career/employment opportunities for UK workers, whereas large scale, industrial production often struggles to attract local labour.
  • Spreads production risks over a much larger number of businesses in different geographic areas, insuring against problems of poor business management, spread of pests and diseases, and climatic extremes, compared with dependency on a handful of large businesses.

Author of the “A Matter of Scale” report, Rebecca Laughton says, “Contrary to popular belief, for labour intensive crops such as peas, kale, green beans and salad leaves, small-scale ecological growers often produce higher yields than industrial systems, while generating multiple environmental and social benefits. If every village, town and city was served by a network of these diverse and productive market gardens, which provide attractive opportunities for work, training and connection to the countryside, as well as fresh and tasty produce, the UK population would be healthier and happier”.

Today, the Landworkers’ Alliance outlines their proposals for how this increase in market gardens could be achieved in their new policy document, “A New Deal for Horticulture”. Seven specific measures are outlined, including:

· A coupled support scheme to incentivise domestic production and reward delivery of public goods, until the sector has strengthened sufficiently to meet a high percentage of UK demand.

· A programme to rapidly increase the number of growers, recruitment, training and access to land and start-up capital.

· A “Mixed Farms” scheme, supporting creation of horticultural units on larger farms.

· An orchard planting and maintenance scheme to encourage long term investment in fruit production.

The policy proposals are being launched on the eve of the Food Foundation’s Vegetable Summit, at which a number of leading figures in public health, agricultural policy and retail will be making pledges about measures they will take to increase fruit and vegetable consumption. The Landworkers’ Alliance supports this initiative to promote the production and consumption of UK fruit and vegetables, and believes that given an appropriate policy framework, agroecological horticulture could play a significant role in meeting the UK’s need for fresh produce.

“WTO, Out! Building Alternatives”: La Via Campesina to organise Peoples’ Summit during WTO’s XI Ministerial Conference in Argentina

By staff - La Via Campesina, November 17, 2017

15 November 2017: La Via Campesina is calling upon social movements and civil society organisations of the world to mobilise and organise our resistances against the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and Free Trade Agreements (FTAs), build solidarity alliances and to participate in the People’s Summit “WTO, Out! Building alternatives”, from the 10-13 December coinciding with the XI WTO Ministerial in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

A preliminary agenda of the summit is available here. As you may note, this is currently only available in Spanish. We will make the English version available shortly.

For the first time since its inception, the World Trade Organization (WTO) is planning to meet in Latin America. From the 10th to the 13th of December, Mauricio Macri’s government will host the WTO’s 11th Ministerial Conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Entrepreneurs, ministers, chancellors, and even presidents will be there. To do what? To demand more “freedom” for their companies, more “ease of doing business” for exploiting workers, peasants, indigenous people, and taking over land and territories. In other words, less “restrictions” on transnational wastage.

Since its beginnings in 1995 as derivative of General Agreement on Tariff and Trade (GATTs), the World Trade Organization has promoted the most brutal form of capitalism, better known as trade liberalization. At successive Ministerial Conferences, the WTO has set out to globalise the liberalisation of national markets, promising economic prosperity at the cost of sovereignty. In more or less the same terms, by its “liberalization, deregulation and privatization”, which is called Package of Neoliberalism, WTO has encouraged the multiplication of free trade agreements (FTAs) between countries and regional blocs, etc. On this basis and by making use of governments that have been co-opted, the world’s largest transnational corporations (TNCs) are seeking to undermine democracy and all of the institutional instruments for defending the lives, the territories, and the food and agricultural ecosystems of the world’s peoples.

In the previous Ministerial Conference (MC) in Nairobi in 2015, WTO had made six decisions on agriculture, cotton and issues related to LDCs. The agricultural decisions cover commitment to abolish export subsidies for farm exports, public stock-holding for food security purposes, a special safeguard mechanism for developing countries, and measures related to cotton. Decisions were also made regarding preferential treatment for least developed countries (LDCs) in the area of services and the criteria for determining whether exports from LDCs may benefit from trade preferences.

This year, with Macri Inc. in the Casa Rosada (Government House in Argentina), the coup leader Michel Temer in the Palacio del Planalto (the official workplace of the president of Brazil), and Brazilian Roberto Azevedo as its Director General, the WTO wants to return to the subject of agriculture, to put an end to small-scale fishing, and to make progress with multilateral agreements such as the misnamed General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS). Notwithstanding the misleading protectionist statements coming from Washington and London, the WTO will meet again to try to impose the interests of capital at the cost of Planet Earth, of the democratic aspirations of the world’s peoples, and of life itself.

How Milk with Dignity got a historic agreement

Enrique "Kike" Balcazar interviewed by Owen La Farge - Socialist Worker, October 19, 2011

WHAT WERE the most important victories that came with the signing of the Milk with Dignity agreement Ben & Jerry's?

FOR MANY years, the priority of dairy workers here in Vermont has been to improve working and living conditions on the farms. We had to build our way up to winning this agreement. First, we organized to secure things like drivers licenses for immigrants in Vermont and stopping the collaboration of police with immigration authorities.

In 2014, we started to speak with Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream about how they could behave more responsibility and lead the way in improving working conditions. The workers designed a program called "Milk with Dignity."

The program was created and led by dairy workers in Vermont. It has five essential elements, including a code of conduct that sets out standards that establish respect and dignity for workers in the areas of decent wages, hours of work, health and safety, and dignified housing.

AND ALL of this is included in the agreement that Ben & Jerry's signed?

YES. IN addition to the code of conduct, the program establishes a plan to educate workers when they start so they can learn about their rights and how to defend them.

Another important element of Milk with Dignity is that an independent third party will interview the workers and oversee the execution of the program. Farmworkers will also be able to call a 24/7 hotline to make complaints and to improve communication inside the dairy farms.

WHY DID Ben & Jerry's sign the agreement two years after initially saying that they supported the agreement?

WE ORGANIZED well, and we defined what we wanted clearly, and we knew that Milk with Dignity represented a new day for the workers. So we never stopped organizing, and with the support of students, faith groups, sister organizations, consumers and workers, we pushed Ben & Jerry's to sign the deal.

Ben & Jerry's has taken steps towards social responsibility in areas such as the environment and animal rights. So I believe Ben & Jerry's understood it was time to do right by the workers.

The MST and the Fight to Change the Brazilian Power Structure

Gilmar Mauro interviewed by Brian Mier - The Bullet, September 15, 2017

During the 1960s, legend has it that governor José Sarney sat down at a table with a group of cattle-ranching cronies and aerial photographs of Maranhão state, in Northeastern Brazil. They marked boundaries on the photos with pencil and divided up the land. In the decades that followed, these ranchers committed what Brazilians call grilhagem, altering documentation to illegally appropriate land. Sarney and his henchmen fenced off millions of hectares of land, then either kicked out the peasants who were living there, forcing them into mud hut settlements between the road and the fences, or keeping them on as labourers, often paying them with vouchers for use at their own stores and patrolling the grounds with armed guards so that no one can escape. Under Sarney’s control, Maranhão state was deforested, and roughly half of its majority Afro-Brazilian and indigenous population migrated to big cities in the Southeast, some of which, like São Paulo, saw their populations increase fivefold over a period of a few decades.

The case of José Sarney, who would become the president of Brazil (1985-90) and three-time Senate President, is just one chapter in the 500-year-old story of how large rural landholders dominate Brazilian political and economic life, which is represented today in the largest political caucus in the Brazilian Congress, the ruralistas, whose majority recently voted to throw out massive corruption charges against current President Michel Temer.[1]

Unlike other former European colonies in the Americas, Brazil has never implemented agrarian reform. With the world’s most unequal land division, three per cent of the population owns approximately 2/3 of the arable land.[2] When former president João Goulart attempted to enact agrarian reform in 1964, he was thrown out of office in a U.S.-backed military coup.[3] As the resultant dictatorship approached its end in the early 1980s, a new peasant-based social movement arose in Rio Grande do Sul state, called the Movimento de Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (Landless Rural Worker’s Movement, MST). Incorporating theories from liberation theology and intellectuals like Paulo Freire, Karl Marx, and Antonio Gramsci into practice, landless rural workers organized in groups to occupy fields of stolen land, resist eviction (sometimes fatally), and farm.[4] Using an innovative organizational structure of upwards and downwards democratic accountability through voluntary assemblies at the family, village, regional, state and national levels, the MST quickly spread across the country and now operates in all 26 Brazilian states, with “Friends of the MST” groups operating worldwide.

Although it has yet to reach its goal of enacting agrarian reform and building a socialist society, there are currently 400,000 families living and farming in MST agrarian reform villages across the county and the movement has successfully pressured the government to create a series of innovative policies, such as the Programa de Aquisição de Alimentos (Food Acquisition Program/PAA), ratified by former President Lula, which requires all public schools and hospitals in rural areas to purchase all food for their meal programs at subsidized prices from local family farmers.

The MST has a gender-balanced national directorate of 52 individuals, with two people elected periodically in each of its 26 state assemblies. Gilmar Mauro is a member of the national directorate, representing the state of São Paulo. I caught up with him at the MST national secretariat in São Paulo on August 25th, 2017, to talk about the current political context and its ramifications for small farmers.

What we sow is what we eat

By Michael Yates - Climate and Capitalism, September 19, 2017

I am lying in a meadow high in the Rocky Mountains. The sun is warm and comforting. I watch the clouds, puffy white in the blue sky, but soon pull a cap over my eyes and enter that state where thoughts swirl through your head and you don’t know if you’re sleeping or not.

While I rest, Karen is looking for wild strawberries. She has a remarkable eye for them, and has found the delicate plants everywhere from along the ocean in Nova Scotia to the volcanic highlands of the Big Island in Hawai’i. She remembers as she is searching the hard labor of picking the tiny berries as a girl, gathering enough for her mother to make jelly. No easy task as I have learned when she finds a patch big enough for me to collect some too.

When all you have ever eaten are the overly large and often woody and tasteless strawberries sold in grocery stores, putting a wild one in your mouth is a revelation. A gift from the earth, sweet, tart, wonderful, perfect. They leave your fingers smelling like, well, strawberries.

We’ve found many fruits on our hikes. Strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, cherries sweet and sour, currants, huckleberries, apples, plums, even liliko’i (passion fruit), guava, lemons, and limes. Some like the berries grow wild. Others have flourished long after they were planted and then abandoned.

Seeing and tasting these gifts of nature can’t help but make you think of the foods most of us eat.  Heavily processed and full of salt, hydrogenated oil, and high fructose corn syrup; loaded with chemicals; laden with pesticides; grown on factory farms; treated like any other mass-produced products, aimed for the market with costs per unit low and profits high. Our crops are planted and harvested in this country by a largely black and brown workforce, poorly paid and forced to live in shacks and tents. They are poisoned, along with their children, every day they labor, and their life expectancy, in the United States, is barely fifty years. What it was when Edward R. Murrow’s documentary, Harvest of Shame, was shown on television in 1960. Much the same can be said about farm laborers anywhere in the world.

Ben & Jerry’s Has No Clothes

By Michael Colby - CounterPunch, July 21, 2017

It was twenty years ago last month that Food & Water published our report on Vermont’s atrazine addiction, a toxic herbicide that is banned in Europe but continues to be used in abundance on Vermont’s 92,000 acres of GMO-derived feed corn – all for dairy cows. We used the report to get the attention of Ben & Jerry’s, and it worked. We thought when the doors swung open to the offices of Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield themselves that we’d be able to make the case to them.

Our plea at the time was the same as it is today: Ben & Jerry’s should practice what it preaches and help transition its farmers to organic production. If they took the lead, we argued, the entire state could begin a transition away from the kind of industrial, commodity-based dairy system that is wreaking so much havoc with Vermont’s agriculture – and culture. It’s a system that is doing exactly what it was designed to do: chase small farmers off the land by de-valuing production. And so it has been, for decades, an economic death spiral in which less and less is paid for more and more of the commodity product, in this case: milk.

We thought the obvious imbalance – and even direct, outright hypocrisy – between what Ben & Jerry’s was doing and what they were saying would be enough to get these do-good hippies to do the right thing. We were using logic. Because, certainly, the corporation that wanted to “save the planet” and “put the planet before profits” would want to stop being one of the state’s top polluters, right?

Wrong.

We were told at the time, by Ben himself, after a year’s worth of meetings and even an offer of a job to me “to work with us instead of going after us,” that Ben & Jerry’s was not going to transition to organic because it wouldn’t allow them to “maximize profits.” Quick, throw another tie-dyed shirt to the crowd! Or launch a new flavor! Send some ice cream to the schools! Anything, just get the attention off of what Ben & Jerry’s is doing to its homeland, and our homeland – all to maximize its profits.

This was all before they sold out to Unilever, when Cohen and Greenfield still had all the power they needed to do the right thing. But, even then, the harsh reality of profits over ideals was firmly in place, with the belief that if they could convince people that eating ice cream would bring world peace, they could convince them of anything. There was nothing that a little groovy marketing couldn’t fix.

It has, of course, only grown worse under Unilever in terms of corporate accountability and transparency. All the big decisions regarding Ben & Jerry’s are now made from Unilever’s London headquarters, where it also shepherds more than a dozen other billion-dollar-plus brands. But its corporate stand on most everything associated with the gross injustices of its dairy sourcing – from migrant labor exploitation to cow abuse to rural economic plunder – remains exactly the same: stay wedded to cheap, commodity milk, reject an organic transition, and keep relying on marketing to trump the nasty realities. Free cones!

Turns out, those free-cone days that Ben & Jerry’s rolls out every year for Vermonters aren’t so free, nor are the grants they provide to so many environmental and economic justice groups. With each lick and each cash of the foundation check, Ben & Jerry’s expects loyalty to its carefully orchestrated charade: the consumption of high-fat, pesticide-laden, climate-threatening, cow-abusing ice cream produced with the labor of exploited migrant workers all leads to social and ecological justice for all! Come on, people, really?

But let’s keep looking behind the curtain.

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