Saturday, August 6, 2011


Coalition of Immokalee Workers Brings Farmworker Movement to the Streets

by Michelle Chen
The hot summer has brought in a bumper crop of food activism from coast to coast. For the past few weeks, a group of Florida farm workers has embarked on a marketing coup that challenges the country's food business giants by educating consumers about exploitation in the tomato industry.
(Image: Coalition of Immokalee Workers) The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) has made a name for itself by using creative consumer-driven campaigns to promote fairer wages and working conditions for tomato harvesters, a workforce fueled by Latino migrant laborers. Though corporate resistance has been formidable, the group has scored a series of victories over the past few years over the likes of Taco Bell, Burger King and Subway. Partnering with consumer groups and fair-food activists, the CIW's Campaign for Fair Food seeks to educate people about the brutal labor that goes into each tomato.
Farmworkers' backbreaking toil will be spotlighted on some of the trendiest sidewalks in Manhattan on Friday, with rallies at Trader Joe's stores in the Village and Chelsea. The actions follow a similar campaign on the West Coast in which protesters in San Francisco and Berkeley wielded paper-bag picket signs and marched through the Mission District calling on drivers to “Honk for Farm Worker Justice.” The CIW now counts a number of religious leaders and gourmet food activist Barry Estabrook among its allies.
The Coalition says its multi-pronged struggle involves “all the elements of our country's food industry,” from the folks hauling baskets all the way up to the florescent-lit supermarket aisle. Most importantly, the organization banks on the political leverage of consumers to push stores and suppliers to abide by ethical standards. With an active membership of several thousand, the workers themselves participate as well through organizing and educating people on “humanizing our farm labor system.”
The workers' key demand, an additional penny per pound of tomatoes picked, seems a tiny cost for consumers and producers to absorb, given the workers' long hours, arduous working conditions and their vulnerability to maltreatment and even slave labor. The pennies do add up for laborers, potentially boosting yearly earnings by several thousand dollars. (Typical wages amount to less than $12,000 annually, according to the Coalition, and after years of virtually stagnant wages, “a worker today must pick more than 2.25 tons of tomatoes to earn minimum wage in a typical 10-hour workday.")
CIW's summer Truth Tour demonstrations, which focus on big-name grocers, have been decried by the right-wing blogosphere as a “Prototypical Example of Alinsky Tactics and Smug Self-Immortalization.” Translation: an effective protest action.
The campaign puts Trader Joe's hip, liberal brand in a bind: the company complained publicly in May that while it was willing to comply with CIW's demands in general, specific provisions of the draft agreement were “overreaching” and “improper.” CIW responded with lengthy point-by-point rebuttals and declared, 'It seems that the longer Trader Joe's resists the Fair Food movement, the more its leadership -- from the CEO to the public relations department -- is determined to tarnish the company's reputation as an ethical, progressive grocer.”
The organizing model evokes interesting historical comparisons with another wave of farm labor activist in the 1960s and 1970s led by United Farm Workers and Cesar Chavez, which pioneered union organizing in agriculture. Yet the UFW has lost political salience over the years, as working conditions have deteriorated.
The younger, nimbler CIW is not a union, but in many ways neither needs nor desires the conventional union structure. The fluid, precarious nature of migrant labor is a barrier to movement building, yet at the same time, the tomato industry's severe consolidation across the supply chain provide fertile ground for focused, visible campaigns that mobilize consumers and workers in tandem.
Last fall, Kari Lydersen reported that faced with pressure from consumers and workers, some of Florida's big growers had finally agreed to the penny-per-pound wage subsidy. Soon after, the Coalition clinched a groundbreaking deal with the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange, which bound major growers to a contract that includes “a strict code of conduct, a cooperative complaint resolution system, a participatory health and safety program, and a worker-to-worker education process.” The agreement, estimated to cover more than 90 percent of Florida's tomato industry, helps close a crucial gap in the chain, since retailers and restaurants agreeing to the penny raise could guarantee that the benefit would trickle down to workers.
The enforcement mechanism within the binding agreement is designed to keep growers and suppliers in check, using an outside nonprofit group to monitor compliance, so that, at least in theory, any grower that violates the code won't be able to sell to retailers also bound to the agreement. CIW organizer Lucas Benitez told Naples Daily News that employers have to answer to both their buyers and their workers:
With this agreement, we will be working with growers to identify and eliminate abuses through a cooperative complaint investigation and resolution system, with real consequences for violations, including zero tolerance for forced labor.
In the absence of strong government regulation, the Coalition's strategy aims not just to force employers to obey labor laws but also strive for decent working standards overall, in order to turn Florida's tomato industry from a bastion of poverty into, in Benitez's words, “a model of social accountability for the 21st century.”

Whether such industrial change can be wrought by a motley alliance of some of the country's poorest workers, the biggest food brands, and the savviest customers, has yet to be seen. But if a bunch of migrant farm workers can get Manhattan hipsters to think seriously about who picked their salad this summer, they're on the road to victory.



Do you know that Hawai'i is ground zero for GMO crop experimentation? The Hawai'i islands activists are among some of the most vigilant and successful. Here are a few of their accomplishments:
  • Launched a GMO papaya cleanup campaign, empowering farmers and gardeners by providing them with contamination test kits, teaching them how to save GMO-free seed and sharing cultivation solutions that are alternatives to GMOs.
  • Shepherded an agreement among the Hawai'i coffee industry stating that they do not want GMO coffee grown in Hawaii at this time.
  • Produced and distributed "Facing Hawai'i's Future," a 70-page educational booklet explaining the state of GMOs in the Hawaiian Islands.    
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USDA abdicates GMO oversight and welcomes Roundup Ready lawns  Jeffrey Smith   Institute for Responsible Technology
August 6, 2011

The US Dept of Agriculture just dropped a bomb on GMO regulations in America. Their announcement, released on the Friday afternoon before the July 4th weekend to reduce the media coverage, eviscerated government oversight over a whole new class of GMOs. The USDA announced that Roundup Ready Kentucky bluegrass would be exempt from regulation. That means that a new variety GM grass, produced by Scotts Miracle-Gro, will hit US markets without any government review, not from the USDA, EPA, or FDA. The modified grass, destined for lawns, playgrounds, soccer fields, and golf courses, is designed to survive applications of the weed killer Roundup. This will dramatically increase the use of the toxic herbicide, which is linked to birth defects, cancer, and reproductive problems. Its overuse will also speed up the spread of Roundup-resistant superweeds, requiring a return to other acutely toxic herbicides scrapped decades ago.
The approval also means that biotech companies can now exploit the same loophole used by the GM grass to put their crops on the market without anyone in government paying attention. The significance of this cannot be overstated. The USDA's loophole is based on the fact that they regulate GMOs using two "regulatory hooks;" the GM crops must pose the threat of a "plant pest" or a "noxious weed." In the bluegrass decision, the USDA signalled that it won't apply those hooks to any GM crops that are not created with pest material (e.g. bacteria or viruses). The GM bluegrass was created with a gene gun, and not from bacterial infection; the inserted gene was not from bacteria; and it did not have the normal "promoter" taken from a virus - which is used as the "on-switch" for most other GM crops on the market. Even without these materials, the GM grass still carries huge risks.
In a letter to Scotts, for example, agriculture secretary Vilsack acknowledged concerns that GM bluegrass will contaminate non-GM bluegrass, destroying markets in the process. Vilsack's suggestion? Scotts should talk to "stakeholders" and work out ways of minimizing cross-contamination. In other words, industry can regulate itself - but only if it wants to. See Mother Jones' excellent two articles here and here, Wired, or the New York Times.

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Source: Spilling the Beans is a publication of The Institute for Responsible Technology, with editorial support from    For GMWatch's daily GMO newsletter, click here.

Thursday, August 4, 2011


Big Food Recalls Once Again Reveal the Hidden Costs of our Big Food System

by Rich Bindell
Back in March, we tried to imagine through a short video what it would be like if the President got a wake-up call about his proposed food safety budget cuts and how they might affect one his favorite meals: a hamburger. On second thought, make that a turkey burger. Cargill Value Added Meats Retail, a subsidiary of Cargill Meat Solutions Corporation, just recalled 36 MILLION POUNDS of ground turkey products because of possible Salmonella contamination. This is exactly why it’s not a good idea to cut critical food and safety protections from the federal budget.
Massive consolidation in our food system means that a few big processors handle the majority of our widely distributed food. This makes it harder to trace back the origins of food contamination like Salmonella Heidelberg. Cargill, the third largest turkey processor in the United States, is recalling the turkey products because of a strain of bacteria called Salmonella Heidelberg, which has sickened 76 consumers and caused one death. The fact that Salmonella Heidelberg is antibiotic-resistant certainly reinforces the need for ending the overuse of antibiotics in livestock production.
Tracing the contamination back to its source — no easy task when you’re talking about 36 million pounds of processed food distributed to 26 states — has been the task of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in conjunction with USDA and state health agencies. In case you’re wondering how long it takes to figure out where food contamination originated, in this case it took five months since the first reported case of food illness was reported until they linked the public health threat to Cargill’s ground turkey.
Food recalls like this one have become typical in an age of consolidation in agriculture and food — when 58 percent of the poultry market is controlled by the top four firms. Big firms like Cargill brag about their market share in their quarterly reports, but this type of marketplace domination is putting consumers at risk and farmers out of business. There are hidden costs to doing business this big, and one of them is public health. And, we can only rely so much on our federal agencies to provide food safety if their budgets are being cut. They are strained now; what will their challenges be like next year if they have less funding and more responsibility?
This is the reason our Food & Water Watch organizers are currently out on the road, covering 20 states in 34 days, and talking to people about the Farm Bill. If we want to fix this broken food system — one that is controlled by food processing middle men, not farmers — we need to make better farm and food policy, and to fund critical programs that protect consumers.
As you sit down to dinner tonight, think about where you want your food to come from: a grower in your region of the country or a processing plant on the other side of it that’s handling millions of pounds of your dinner.
We’d love to know what you think about how this food recall relates to our efforts to improve our food system through the Farm Bill in 2012. Please go to our Facebook page and share your thoughts!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011


Walmart's Food Deserts: Greening the Bottom Line

Recently, First Lady Michelle Obama announced that SUPERVALU, Walgreens and Walmart committed to open or expand 1,500 supermarkets across America's food deserts -- low-income areas without easy access to a supermarket. But while improving food access is a noble goal, the announcement merits a closer look.
Critics of the program note that health disparities are more strongly related to poverty than location of grocery stores. In fact, a recently published study in a top medical journal found that "greater supermarket availability was generally unrelated to diet quality..." Responding to the announcement, Joe Hansen, of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW), pointed out that "Walmart is more responsible than any other private employer in our country for creating poverty-level jobs that leave workers unable to purchase healthy food." "For Walmart, urban expansion has nothing to do with food deserts. Walmart desperately needs a fix to its sagging bottom line." (photo: yomanimus)

The company is under pressure to expand after eight quarters in a row of falling sales. Walmart has historically been kept out of major urban areas by a combination of high real estate prices and resistance from organized labor. With post-recession real estate prices low, Walmart and other retail chains are swiftly moving in to capture the urban market.
Success would boost the company's profits by some $80 billion a year.
The corporate 'greening' of America's food deserts was not the first option put forth by the Obama administration. In February of 2010 the administration announced a national Healthy Food Financing Initiative (HFFI) modeled on a successful program in Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania Fresh Food Financing Initiative (FFFI) used $194 million to offer loans and grants to 93 fresh food retailers in the state. As a result, FFFI increased access to healthy food for more than 400,000 residents, created more than 5,000 local jobs, and boosted local tax revenues. Furthermore, all the funded projects were independent businesses. The FFFI had a special emphasis on job quality. Though not expressly part of the eligibility criteria, the program prioritized community development and turned down applicants due to low-wage, dead-end and unstable job prospects.
Like the FFFI in Pennsylvania, the federal HFFI is poised to attract and benefit independent retailers. However, the $400 million program failed to secure funding during the FY2011 budget negotiations. While the departments in charge of HFFI (Treasury, USDA and Health and Human Services) are implementing some programs with existing resources, the combined $20 million is a drop in the bucket compared to corporate cash flows. As the FY2012 budget negotiations unfold, HFFI's ambitious programs may never come to fruition.
Walmart however, has no need to access federal funds, and certainly no desire to commit to provisions on job quality. In October 2010, Walmart issued a $5 billion bond offering and tied Microsoft for the lowest interest rates on record -- startlingly close to the rates on the bonds issued by the U.S. Treasury. By December the company was sitting on $10 billion in liquidity.
On the same day that Michelle Obama announced the corporate commitments, she also unveiled the California FreshWorks Fund, a $200-million program modeled after the Pennsylvania FFFI. Whether this new fund will be able to replicate Pennsylvania's success in boosting local businesses in California is yet to be seen, but activists are hopeful.
Whether or not retailers like Walmart can make a meaningful contribution to greening urban food deserts may turn on the quality of the jobs on offer. Responding to the entry of corporate retailers, long time Oakland food justice advocate Brahm Ahmadi said:
We all know the model under which these large corporations operate, and there is no reason why they won't replicate the same essential business model in neighborhoods that need not just any jobs, but need good, living-wage jobs that pay meaningful earnings and teach meaningful skill sets.
Campaigns across the country are underway to pressure the promised 1,500 Walmarts, SUPERVALUs and Walgreens to hire full-time employees from the neighborhoods they serve, sign labor peace agreements, and pay living wages. Those who care about health disparities in low-income neighborhoods should join them.
It is clear that if greening the food deserts are a policy priority, then we need more than just new supermarkets. We need programs that reduce record high income inequality and create jobs with decent living wages.
(Thanks to Luis Lei and Annie Shattuck of Food First)
Eric Holt-Giménez
Eric Holt-Giménez, Ph.D. is a food system researcher and agroecologist. He is the Executive Director of Food First/Institute for Food and Development Policy. He is the main author of a new book on the world food crisis: “Food Rebellions: Crisis and the Hunger for Justice” from Food First.


August 3, 2011
11:36 AM
CONTACT: Environmental Working Group (EWG)
(202) 667-6982

EPA Report: Fracking Contaminated Drinking Water

WASHINGTON - August 3 - Contrary to the drilling industry claim that hydraulic fracturing has never contaminated groundwater, the Environmental Protection Agency concluded in a 1987 study that “fracking” of a natural gas well in West Virginia contaminated an underground drinking water source. That all-but-forgotten report to Congress, uncovered by Environmental Working Group and Earthjustice, found that fracturing gel from a shale gas well more than 4,000 feet deep had contaminated well water.
EPA investigators concluded that the contamination was “illustrative” of a broader problem of pollution associated with hydraulic fracturing but said the agency’s investigation was hampered by confidentiality agreements between industry and affected landowners. Environmental Working Group’s year-long investigation of the incident found that several abandoned natural gas wells located near the fractured well in West Virginia could have served as conduits that allowed the gel, a common ingredient in fracking fluid, to migrate into the water well.
“When you add up the gel in the water, the presence of abandoned wells and the documented ability of drilling fluids to migrate through these wells into underground water supplies, there is a lot of evidence that EPA got it right and that this was indeed a case of hydraulic fracturing contamination of groundwater,” said Dusty Horwitt, EWG’s senior oil and gas analyst and author of “Cracks in the Façade,” EWG’s report about EPA’s finding. “Now it’s up to EPA to pick up where it left off 25 years ago and determine the true risks of fracking so that our drinking water can be protected.”
Since the 1987 report, the industry has hydraulically fractured hundreds of thousands of wells and is continuing a historic push into natural gas-bearing shale formations, once considered inaccessible, that lie beneath populated areas in a number of states, including West Virginia, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Louisiana and Arkansas.
To access these formations, drillers often use a relatively new combination of horizontal drilling and higher-volume fracturing. As drilling activity has intensified, reports of pollution have sparked a growing national debate over the actual or potential environmental risks, including contamination of groundwater, the source of drinking water for more than 100 million Americans, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
Congress exempted hydraulic fracturing from the Safe Drinking Water Act in 2005 following an EPA study of hydraulic fracturing the previous year which found little risk to water supplies when fracturing is conducted in coal bed methane deposits. Neither Congress nor the EPA mentioned the agency’s 1987 finding. EPA is currently conducting a new study of fracking’s impact on water supplies.
“During the fracturing process,” EPA investigators wrote in the 1987 report, which focused on the handling of natural gas, oil and geothermal wastes generally, “fractures can be produced, allowing migration of native brine, fracturing fluid and hydrocarbons from the oil or gas well to a nearby water well. When this happens, the water well can be permanently damaged and a new well must be drilled or an alternative source of drinking water found.”
Environmental Working Group found that the evidence in the West Virginia case was consistent with pollution from hydraulic fracturing, though it is possible that another stage of the drilling process caused the problem.
In the EPA’s files in Washington, EWG also discovered a document submitted in 1987 by the American Petroleum Institute, the natural gas and oil industry’s major trade association, that appeared to agree with the EPA finding but suggested that it was not typical. “One case,” the API wrote, referring to the West Virginia contamination case, “resulted in a workover operation fracturing into groundwater as a result of equipment failure or accident. As described in the detail write-up, this is not a normal result of fracturing as it ruins the productive capability of the wells.”
The mission of the Environmental Working Group (EWG) is to use the power of public information to protect public health and the environment. EWG is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, founded in 1993 by Ken Cook and Richard Wiles.


Tell the EPA to Protect Consumers from Nano Pesticide Pollution

On June 17, 2011, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced its plans to begin protecting consumers and the environment from the growing environmental and  health dangers posed by nano-sized pesticides being used in everyday consumer products like cutting boards, baby bottles and clothing apparel.  This plan would require that companies submit much needed health and safety data about the nanoscale pesticide products already on the market as well as identify the nano-sized ingredients in their products.
However, powerful companies are standing in the way of EPA’s proposed plan and want to slow it down.  Tell EPA to begin protecting consumers now – don’t put off public safety any longer!
Nanotechnology is a powerful new set of technologies for observing, taking apart and reconstructing nature at the atomic and molecular level.  This level is measured in nanometers and 1 nanometer (nm) is equal to 1 billionth of a meter.  For reference, a molecule of sugar measures 1 nanometer (nm), which is about as big in relation to an apple as the apple is in relation to the earth.  A human hair is huge by comparison, about 50,000 nm wide.
Nano means more than just small; the radical reduction in size means that seemingly ordinary materials may behave completely differently than in their larger bulk or macro form. In recent years, nanoscale ingredients have been incorporated into more than 1,300 consumer products like baby bottles, cutting boards, food containers, food packaging, computer parts, curling irons, hair brushes, cosmetics and sunscreens.  However, studies show that the unique properties of nanomaterials can create unpredictable and potentially hazardous risks to human health and the environment.
  • Nano-silver (extremely small particles of silver, not to be confused with non-nano colloidal silver) has been found to bind with DNA, damaging the ability of DNA to replicate. 
  • Sock fabrics engineered with nano-silver leached nano-silver into water during washing tests, demonstrating the ease with which it can enter the environment.
  • Nano-silver is toxic to certain aquatic organisms, beneficial bacteria and ecosystems once the product enters the natural environment, and it has the potential to build up in the bodies of humans and animals.
  • EPA itself has recently recognized that nanoscale copper, which is increasingly used as an antimicrobial wood preservative, is more acutely toxic than micronized copper (one size bigger than nano).
Currently, companies do not have to identify or test their products for containing nanoscale ingredients and they don’t have to submit nano-specific safety data.  In the absence of labeling and nano-specific safety data, neither consumers nor the EPA know what products are using nanotechnology and if those products are safe.  EPA has broad authority under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) over all substances intended to kill pests, including germ killers, but has not addressed until now the growing nano-silver market or most other nanoscale chemicals. 
[object Object]Tell EPA to begin protecting consumers now! Please send your comments to EPA today. The public comment period closes on August 17, 2011.

Sunday, July 31, 2011


Who’s Grabbing Africa’s Land? U.S. Speculators, Including Universities 

When a massive tire corporation rolled into Nigeria’s Iguobazuwa Forest Reserve a few years ago, just one thing stood in the path of the CEOs’ plans to set up a rubber plantation: the communities that lived there. With cruel precision, the communities that got in the way were uprooted and displaced, their farmland devastated. As documented by Friends of the Earth International, the bulldozers of the French conglomerate Michelin sowed the ground for “increased hunger, malnutrition, poverty and forced migration, as food became harder to find or produce.”
“It was as if there was no reason to live again,” recalled a local woman. “Now, no land, no farm, no food.”
Land, farm, food—some of the few things that all societies hold sacrosanct, yet also some of the hottest commodities in financial markets. Land is up for grabs across the Global South, and U.S. investors are getting in on the action.
New research by the Oakland Institute, which monitors global agricultural trends, suggests that transnational land grabs in Africa—including Ethiopia, Mali, Sierra Leone, Mozambique, Tanzania and South Sudan—are setting up a repeat of the 2007-2008 food-price crisis, which was fueled by a blend of financial, political and environmental factors.
“We see really vertical integration and control of the markets [by investors] who will be able to both influence prices and also decide on what the production will be,” warns Oakland Institute Policy Director Frederic Mousseau. “We have the food chain, which is pervasively and quite rapidly in recent years being under the control of financial groups.
China and Arab countries have generally been scrutinized in the media for their land deals, but much of the cash flow comes through U.S. and European investors, according to Oakland Institute—through established pension funds, agribusiness behemoths and even educational institutions.
Oakland Institute’s report on land-grabbing in Africa calls out several universities for their ties to land-grabbing.
Investors include not only alternative investment firms like the London-based Emergent Asset Management that works to attract speculators—including universities such as Harvard, who have maintained secrecy on such potentially unpopular activities, Spelman and Vanderbilt—with a primary motivation of economic access to agricultural land that will have high returns for the endowment. Several Texas-based interests are associated with a major 600,000 hectares south Sudan deal which involves Kinyeti Development, LLC., an Austin, Texas, based “global business development partnership and holding company,” managed by Howard Eugene Douglas, a former United States ambassador at large and coordinator for refugee affairs.
For these investors, it’s just another lucrative transaction. An Emergent spokesperson, for instance, told the Guardian in June, “This is not landgrabbing. We want to make the land more valuable. Being big makes an impact, economies of scale can be more productive.”“
Being big does make an impact, but generally not the one that’s promised. Land is the object of a violent, but often unnecessary, tug of war between development and sustainability.
At the same time, multinational investors bank on humanitarian rhetoric by wrapping their land deals in the banner of “trade not aid.” But the land bubble in many ways poses greater danger than did the U.S. real estate boom: at stake are the fates of indigenous communities and the sovereignty of whole nations.
It’s also hard not to draw parallels with European colonialism. But the International Land Coalition, an NGO alliance, says “the new scramble for Africa” is taking place today on a far more complex political and environmental terrain.
One modern aspect to the new scramble is the expanding market in biofuel crops, which have been blamed for undermining and displacing traditional food crops—not to mention their role in creating water scarcity, global climate change and population pressures.
And while symmetrical land deals do carry the racial baggage of imperial history, land reform has also been a continual struggle since independence within many African countries. It has too often yielded policies that deepen existing patterns of segregation and inequality and encourage the displacement of farming communities that lack formal landholder status. That’s in part because land is a critical bargaining chip for political leaders who are courting foreign capital after years of failed development and agrarian reform initiatives. As ILC explains, “these acquisitions sit well with the new thinking among African political leaders frustrated by patronizing aid dependency and keen to forge relationships of trade with the developed world.”
But if parceling out prime real estate helps governments capture new investment, the land itself and its traditional stewards are withering away. Ecologically, the ILC says, “There is limited or no capacity in these countries to control or deter pollution of the air, soils, and groundwater by the heavy chemicals likely to be used in these ventures. Such pollution will add to the burdens of poor environmental health that rural populations already bear in many of these countries.” The use of aggressive industrial farming methods and genetically modified crops may further destabilize rural communities, since “many of these countries lack the capacity to effectively police the type of large-scale technological production envisaged over the large areas of land involved.”
Mousseau adds that despite promises of building new infrastructure and encouraging trade, the commodification of land portends the destruction of more sustainable, small-scale agriculture. “What they are bringing is what is required for industrial farming in large-scale plantations,” he explains. “Small-scale farmers in Ethiopia aren’t going to suddenly learn to drive a tractor and ride a tractor. It’s really about buying land in Africa.”
It’s too late to grab back the thousands of hectares already lost to global markets, but hundreds of civil society groups recently tried at least to reclaim the debate on land grabbing. Ahead of a G20 conference of agricultural ministers, the coalition rejected the centrist reform proposals for controlling agricultural investment and called on the United Nations World Food Program’s Committee on Food Security to “develop effective mandatory guidelines for land tenure that respect and protect peoples’ rights especially the right to food.”
Still, declaring a right is one thing; securing food in a wild global marketplace is another.
A report by Friends of the Earth International highlights examples of actions communities have taken to protect food systems from corporate predation. In Argentina, for instance, small farmers have staved off the the destructive impacts of monocultures like tobacco by encouraging more ecologically sustainable, traditional farm practices, supplemented by an agritourism initiative that markets local products.
In other regions, though, grassroots solutions are losing ground in the race to buy up rich soil in poor nations. This month, violent clashes in Nuagaon village in Odisha, India exploded as locals demonstrated against plans to build a giant steel plant, which is projected to displace thousands of families. To protect the “development” plans of the Korea-based firm POSCO, police reportedly arrested and brutalized demonstrators, not even sparing children and the elderly. Civil rights activist Mahtab Alam reported, “They are ready to give their lives but not their land for the project.”
Sadly, corporate investors seem willing to sacrifice both more lives and more land for their projects—just another cost of doing business on the new global frontier.
Michelle Chen
Michelle Chen's work has appeared in AirAmerica, Women's International Perspective, Extra!, Colorlines and Common Dreams. She is a regular contributor to In These Times' workers' rights blog, Working In These Times. She also blogs at