After a year of protest and hundreds of deaths, farmers won the longest nonviolent protest in India. But the history of resistance to agribusiness—both there and in the U.S.—suggests there is still a great deal of work ahead.
May 20, 2016
Here are the headlines that caught our eye this week.
Michelle Obama’s Labeling Crusade (Politico)
First Lady Michelle Obama will unveil on Friday the country’s first update to nutrition labels in more than two decades. The new Nutrition Facts labels will take effect in two years and appear on billions of food packages. For the first time, food companies will be required to list how much added sugar their products contain, and suggest a limit for how much added sugar people should consume. Additionally, calories will be listed in a much larger and bolder font, and standard serving sizes for many foods are being updated so they align more closely with how much people actually eat—in some cases, significantly larger portions than they are used to seeing fat and caloric breakdowns for. The final rule, issued today by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), has been in the works for more than a decade, but the Obama administration has been instrumental in shaping the policy and moving the process forward.
Produce Industry Giants Team Up to Promote Responsible Labor Practices (Los Angeles Times)
In response to consumers’ growing interest in where and how their food is grown, the largest produce industry groups in the country—the Produce Marketing Association and the United Fresh Produce Association—say they are joining forces to promote responsible labor practices. The move would be the industry’s first attempt to unite thousands of growers, distributors, and retailers behind a global approach to raising worker standards. Labor groups and industry experts say the effort’s credibility will hinge on a number of factors, including its willingness to include certification and labor groups in the process. Erik Nicholson, vice president of United Farm Workers, the nation’s largest farmworkers union, says the two major produce trade organizations haven’t reached out to the labor group yet, but they’re hoping they will in the near future.
Did you know that farmworker exclusion from the right to organize dates back to the Jim Crow era? As a concession to a bloc of Southern lawmakers, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s landmark workers-rights legislation, the Fair Labor Act of 1938, did not afford protections to farmworkers or domestic workers. Today, it’s primarily immigrant workers who are excluded from legal protection. About 75 percent of New York state’s farmworkers are undocumented, and 71 percent of the country’s 1.1 million farmworkers are foreign born. Last week, the New York Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against the state and governor, saying that denying New York’s 60,000 farmworkers the right to collective bargaining violates the state constitution. Governor Andrew Guomo said his administration will not fight the lawsuit.
Judge Upholds SF’s Pioneering Law on Sugary Beverage Ads (San Francisco Chronicle)
This week a federal judge ruled that San Francisco’s first-in-the-nation law requiring display ads for sugary drinks to carry warnings of increased risks of obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay can take effect as scheduled. The ordinance, due to take effect July 25, requires publicly displayed advertising for sugar-sweetened beverages to display a warning label that takes up 20 percent of their advertising space. It doesn’t apply to ads in newspapers, magazines, television, menus, or product labels.
A recent survey conducted by the Organic Trade Association (OTA) found that organic product sales reached a new benchmark of $43.3 billion, up 11 percent from 2014, yet only about 1 percent of all farmland in the U.S. is used to grow organic food. Organic food manufacturer Kashi wants to grow the organic industry by making it easier for farmers to transition from conventional agriculture. Their new “certified transitional” label will give transitioning farmers both credit and a price premium for starting the shift. California Certified Organic Farmers and Oregon Tilth already offer farmers a chance to become certified transitional, and the OTA is developing a proposal for an “industry-led” version of the label. Many consumers still don’t know what “certified-transitional” means, but with Kashi’s backing, the certification has a new way of reaching consumers.
Big Brands Swallow Up Bay Area Culinary and Wine Producers (San Francisco Chronicle)
Bay Area food and beverage companies and the artisan and sustainable niches they represent are hot investments right now. This week, Cowgirl Creamery was sold to a Swiss dairy cooperative that also owns two other Bay Area dairy companies, Copain Wines was sold to Jackson Family Wines, and last fall, news broke that humane-focused meat supplier Niman Ranch had been purchased by Perdue. Interest in healthy snacks and specialty foods has increased, and Jeff Pera, a consultant for food and beverage companies, says the market phenomenon is predominately based in the Bay Area, which is home to 70 percent of the organic food companies and wholesome brands that consumers have increasingly sought out. Also this week, Justin’s nut butter company, known for its natural and organic special nut butter spreads, was bought by pork giant Hormel. This isn’t Hormel’s first foray into the nut butter business—the company bought Skippy in 2013.
The saga involving Bayer and Monsanto—two of the world’s largest seed and chemical companies—continued this week. Monsanto, valued at $42 billion, said in a statement Thursday that it’s reviewing Bayer’s unsolicited offer. If the deal goes through, it could potentially be the biggest acquisition globally this year and the largest German deal ever. It would also extend a record-setting pace of consolidation in the global chemicals sector. Monsanto is facing a slump in agricultural commodities, and a deal with Bayer would help the company reduce its reliance on the agricultural industry.
The battle over whether glyphosate is carcinogenic to humans took a complicated turn this week. It was revealed that an institute co-run by the chairman of the United Nation (UN)’s joint meeting on pesticide residues received a six-figure donation from Monsanto, which uses glyphosate as a core ingredient in its bestselling Roundup weed killer. Professor Alan Boobis, who chaired the UN’s joint FAO/WHO meeting on glyphosate, also works as the vice president of the International Life Science Institute (ILSI) Europe. In 2012, ILSI took a $500,00 donation from Monsanto and a $528,500 donation from industry group Croplife International, which represents Monsanto, Dow, Syngenta, and others.
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