Monsanto and the U.S. Government

I came across this extensive (though I’m sure not exhaustive) list of the revolving door between Monsanto and the U.S. government in the movie The Future of Food. It’s no wonder genetically modified organisms still aren’t labeled!

Michael Taylor
Deputy Commissioner for Food Policy, Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
Monsanto’s senior counsel at King & Spalding
Vice president for public policy, Monsanto

Linda Fisher
Deputy Administrator, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
Assistant Administrator – Office of Prevention, Pesticides and Toxic Substances, EPA
Assistant Administrator – Office of Policy, Planning and Evaluation, EPA
Chief of Staff to the EPA Administrator
Vice President of Government Affairs, Monsanto

Clarence Thomas
Supreme Court Justice
Lawyer for Regulatory Affairs, Monsanto

Mickey Kantor
United States Secretary of Commerce
Board of Directors, Monsanto

Ann Veneman
United States Secretary of Agriculture
Board of Directors, Calgene (biotech company purchased by Monsanto)

Michael Friedman
Former acting commissioner of the FDA
Senior Vice President of clinical affairs, GD Searle (a subsidiary of Monsanto)

William Ruckelshaus
Chief Administrator, FDA
Monsanto Board Member

Donald Rumsfeld
Secretary of Defense
President, GD Searle (a subsidiary of Monsanto)

revolving-door

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Movie Review: Dive!

Last night, I was fortunate to attend a movie screening and panel discussion sponsored by ASU’s School of Nutrition & Health Promotion and the
Global Institute of Sustainability. The movie being shown was Dive! and the tagline is “Living off America’s Waste.” As it suggests, the film chronicles the journey of (mostly) one guy who procures food for his family through periodic dumpster-dives at grocery stores.

Dive DVD cover

While I can’t say that the movie made me want to follow in his footsteps, it was appalling to see the amount of completely edible food that is wasted in this country. At the time of the film, the figure was at about 93 billion pounds per year, but a recent report by the Natural Resources Defense Council puts the figure at closer to 135 billion pounds per year at a cost of $165 billion. Equally appalling was the lack of corporate responsibility for such issues: the corporate offices of most grocery chains refused to talk to him even off the record about why they don’t donate more of their food to food banks or pantries.

Of course, grocery chains aren’t the only culprits, and some waste is inherent in any system. An additional challenge is that even though the Good Samaritan Law should absolve corporations of responsibility should someone become sick from eating donated food, there is legal precedent suggesting that it has been successfully challenged in the past. That said, a loss of somewhere between 40 and 50% of our nation’s food, in my mind, is unforgivable. The relationship between food waste and food insecurity is strong. It’s easy to think about hunger as a problem that’s occurring “somewhere else,” but in 2012, 49 million Americans were food insecure. I think this film does an excellent job of showing just how much waste there is, and also how that waste could be better utilized to feed the millions of Americans who don’t know where they will get their next meal.

Fortunately, the panelists gave me some hope. In attendance were Eric Lehnhardt, the Executive Director of Flash Food; Jayson Matthews, Chief Development Officer of the United Food Bank; and Chris Wharton, ASU professor and the co-founder of Chow Locally (my CSA!). In their own ways, each of these men is doing a lot to fight hunger and food waste in Arizona. Jayson mentioned that since the film’s release, grocery stores are doing more to donate to local food banks and pantries (although there’s still a wide delta between the amount of waste generated and the amount of food donated). Eric started Flash Food as a student and it has grown into a successful just-in-time food donation operation. And Chris, whom I’ve heard speak before, pointed out that the waste of food is indicative of a larger pattern of over-consumption in the US and is unlikely to be solved as long as our mentality remains in the mode of consumption of all things at all times.

I wish I could recommend the panel discussion, but I’ll have to settle for recommending the film instead. Although it’s quite partisan, it’s well worth a watch.

Movie Review: Black Gold

Last weekend, I sat down and watched a movie that I’d been wanting to watch for quite some time: Black Gold. This movie is about coffee: the second most profitable commodity, only after petroleum. The film follows the work of Tadesse Meskela, who runs a coffee cooperative in Ethiopia and fights to get his growers higher prices for their beans. One scene in the film shows Meskela talking to a group of his growers about the price of a cup of coffee in the United States. The farmers literally laugh when they hear the number – they can’t even imagine it. If you purchase a cup of coffee for $3 at Starbucks, the amount that gets back to the farmer is 1/100th of that – $0.03.

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There is definitely a human aspect to this film and you do get to see the journey of a group of farmers and cooperatives as they engage in their trade. What I learned the most about, however, is how coffee prices are set in the US (and, ultimately, around the world). Essentially, the New York “C” market, a futures commodity trading market, sets the global price of coffee. Because there are so many levels to coffee production, the high price set by the New York Board of Trade for coffee doesn’t really filter down to the grower.

coffee beans

On a broader scale, the film does much to enlighten the viewer about global trade in general. Meskela and the filmmakers attend the 2003 World Trade Organization (WTO) summit in Mexico, where you can see that it is nearly impossible for underdeveloped nations to have their voices heard. The number of delegates that they are able to send to the meeting – sometimes as low as 3 per country – pales in comparison to the 650 delegates present from the European Union. Since most or all of the negotiations occur behind closed doors between 2 or more countries, it is impossible for underdeveloped nations to have a delegate in each negotiation session. In this, my favorite segment of the film, I learned several surprising things:

  • Africa is the only continent in the world to have gotten poorer over the last 20 years.
  • Through the Structural Adjustment Program, the IMF and the World Bank have effectively forced African countries to stop subsidizing their crops in order to spend more of their GDP on repaying debt to rich countries. Meanwhile, US farmers receive $300bn in subsidies each year.
  • The food subsidies received by US farmers allow for an overproduction of staple crops, which the US government then sends to Africa as food aid.
  • Africa is now more dependent on food aid than ever. Seven million people in Ethiopia rely on emergency food aid each year.
  • The African continent’s share of world trade has fallen to 1% over the last 20 years. An increase to 2% would generate an additional $70bn/year – 5 times the amount the continent currently receives in aid.

While these global financial issues are too much for any one of us to tackle on our own, there’s one thing we can easily do: drink Fair Trade coffee, which cuts out the middle men and ensures that growers get a fair price for their labor. Cheers to that!

fairtrade-coffee-cup-300x309

Have 4 free hours? Watch this.

I recently finished watching HBO’s excellent documentary series “The Weight of the Nation.” It pulls together experts in policy, medicine, community organizing, and more to outline the obesity crisis in the United States. It is an incredibly comprehensive, insightful, and entertaining look at obesity rates: how they got that way, what people are doing about it, and where we need to go from here. It’s split into 4 one-hour segments, so it’s easy to watch in pieces. The entire series is available for free on HBO’s website. I’ve included a teaser below. Happy viewing!

Movie Review: A Place at the Table

When I first started this blog, a coworker and friend suggested that I should watch and review the movie A Place at the Table. What a blog post dream come true! I get to watch a movie about food, write about it, and respond to a reader all at once. I loved it. And so, a few weeks ago, I settled in for a Netflix movie night.

APATT

I loved this movie. I think that the filmmakers did an excellent job of portraying the social factors that contribute to obesity that we sometimes can’t see from our layperson and/or health care professional perspective. The main premise of the movie is that if anyone wants to truly talk about how to solve the obesity crisis in America, what we really need to be looking at is social inequality and hunger. As crazy as it sounds to some, hunger and obesity go hand-in-hand more often than not. Because hunger is an extension of low socioeconomic status and people who don’t have enough money for food try to maximize their calories-per-dollar, they often end up buying the least healthful foods… and we all know the consequence of that.

The film follows a few different characters, each offering a different perspective on hunger and obesity. One woman received public nutrition assistance after losing her job. Once she became employed again, she was proud of her new position but made too much money to qualify for assistance, even though her salary was still very low and she was a single mom of 2 children. One issue that this raised for me was some kind of lag period between getting a job and being cut off from assistance. Just because you get a job doesn’t mean that you can save enough money overnight to be stable on your feet. It was hard for me to watch this determined woman be reduced to tears as she wonders out loud what she is going to feed her kids for dinner the next night. I can’t imagine the stress that she must live under every single day.

Overall, the thing that stuck with me most from this woman’s story and from the film was that in America, it’s okay to talk about obesity but not about social inequality. Until we can come to terms as a nation with many of the true contributors to obesity, we can’t do much toward solving it.

Have you seen A Place at the Table? What did you think?