AgroEco® Coffee has a New Look!

AgroEco® Coffee bags have a new look this Fall! It’s the same delicious coffee with a fresh, new look! The red label is for coffee from Nicaragua; the blue label is for coffee from Mexico.

Along with the new labels, we have a new poster that shows how your purchase of AgroEco® Coffee supports CAN’s work with coffee farmer cooperatives to promote environmental justice, gender justice, and economic justice. Invest in justice: Drink AgroEco® Coffee!

“Little Things Matter” in India, too

We’ve often talked about how low-dose exposure to pesticides are a serious cause for concern, and at the root of many health problems for children. Last fall, Dr. Bruce Lanphear — a physician and professor of pediatrics from Simon Fraser University in Canada — released a video entitled Little Things Matter, clearly illustrating the impact of chemicals on children's developing brains.

I’m very happy to report that Dr. Lanphear recently toured India to spread the word about the harms of low-dose exposures to pesticides and other common environmental toxins. Over the course of the five-city tour he met with medical students, fellow doctors, the media, concerned community groups and policymakers.

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Fewer pesticides, healthier kids

It's that time of year! Freshly scrubbed, nervous-looking kids don backpacks, pack lunches and head off to school.

This back-to-school season there's both excellent and not-so-great news when it comes to schoolkids and pesticides. On balance, it's fair to say there's exciting progress afoot for children's health — from pesticide-free school lunches to a nasty brain-harming chemical finally getting the boot.

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Farmworker protections? On their way — finally.

As we celebrate Labor Day this year, too many of this country's 80 million workers still don't receive fair wages or adequate workplace protections — including workers on farms across the country. But there's a change coming for farmworkers, with stronger workplace protections on the horizon.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been promising to strengthen existing rules for the past 15 years. Thanks to thousands of people — farmworkers, farmers, healthcare professionals and more — keeping clear, public pressure on the agency, the agency is finally poised to make it happen.

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Good Reads | Can We Level the Playing Field for Coffee Growers?

Check out Lucas Oliver Oswald’s article (August 12, 2015) in Grist: “Can we level the playing field for coffee growers?”  Oswald does an analysis about the changing coffee industry and the rise of direct trade. CAN affiliated researcher Dr. Christopher Bacon (Santa Clara University) was interviewed for the article and raised caution about direct trade. Read the article here.

Read about CAN’s alternative trade model — AgroEco® Coffee — operating under principles of participation and transparency. We build relationships to ensure that what’s behind the cup of coffee is quality of life and quality of bean.

Probable carcinogen? We need to act!

The news that a prestigious panel of 17 independent experts has deemed glyphosate — the world's most popular herbicide — to be "a probable human carcinogen" prompted the usual scoffing and stalling from Monsanto and others invested in agribusiness.

But this time, there might just be enough concern and momentum to stop inundating our fields and rural communities with this problematic chemical.

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Time to turn around McDonald’s pesticide problem

It’s been a rough year for McDonald’s. Everyone — from the company’s top executives to mainstream press — agrees that the fast food giant is struggling. The company’s sales have fallen for the past six quarters, and other measures of company success — traffic, income, and net revenue —  are all down as well. Steve Easterbrook, McDonald’s new CEO, said it himself: “We are not on our game.”

I’m no financial analyst. But as I read the headlines day after day about McDonald’s slump, it’s clear to me that the company has a few straightforward opportunities to start reshaping its brand. In short: McDonald’s should spend less time marketing itself as a socially responsible corporate actor, and more time making real changes to do business more responsibly. And as we’ve been saying in the Toxic Taters campaign, real action to protect communities from pesticides used to grow McDonald’s potatoes is one important place to start.

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Guest Blog: Pollinators & the rigged neonic seed market

Farmers are no different from any buyer – they want to know what they’re buying, how much it costs and its expected performance. But in the brave new world of agricultural seeds, where multiple traits and technology are stacked like Microsoft’s operating system, it’s becoming more and more difficult for farmers to separate out what is really needed and discover how much each piece is costing them. In the case of neonicotinoid (neonic) seed coatings used as a pesticide, both the effectiveness and costs are somewhat of a mystery, according to a new paper published by IATP today.

As farm income is expected to drop more than 30 percent from last year, farmers are carefully examining all input costs to see where they can save. With their financial cost and actual effectiveness unclear, neonic seed coatings may be one of those places to cut costs. But the real cost of neonics likely goes well beyond the input price. A growing body of science directly implicates neonicotinoid (neonic) pesticides as a contributor to the significant decline of bees and other pollinators. Neonics are applied in multiple ways in agriculture and horticulture but are most prevalent as a seed coating material for commodity crops like corn and soybeans. Based on convincing and mounting evidence, beekeepers, scientists and other individuals concerned about pollinators are working together to spur regulatory action and shifts in the marketplace to reduce the use of neonics.

In May 2015, the White House issued an interagency National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and other Pollinators.  The strategy focuses on efforts to restore honey bee loss, increase monarch butterfly populations and restore pollinator habitats. But the White House plan virtually ignores the on-the-ground farm economics that directly contribute to rising neonic use in seed coatings – specifically the role of a few large companies that have a stranglehold on the seed market. This concentrated market power in the seed industry has allowed a few multi-billion dollar companies like Bayer, Syngenta and Monsanto to significantly limit U.S. farmers’ choices around seed coating.

In most cases the seed is coated with neonics whether wanted or not and our paper found that this lack of choice has made it difficult for farmers and their advisors to assess the actual value of these pesticides in crop production, or to understand their true financial and environmental costs. Most farmers understand the value of pollinators to plant growth and the food system and would not intentionally harm them.  However, without credible information on the risks or the freedom to choose their seed coating, farmers are left with little choice but to accept what their seed company delivers.   

The good news is that there are independent seed companies and dealers able today to provide farmers with information and choice around seed coatings. Representing a small segment of a highly consolidated industry, independent seed producers and dealers are able and willing to respond to market changes and farmer preferences associated with not only neonics, but also other areas of market interest, such as non-genetically modified organisms (GMOs), certified organic, cover and specialty crops. But a farmer’s ability to choose what kind of seed coatings they want as part of their crop management system should be the rule, not the exception, in the seed market. 

One of the most basic and necessary aspects of a free market is available and accurate information about products and their efficacy, cost and benefits. It should go without saying, then, that in a competitive marketplace, farmers should receive accurate, up-to-date information from researchers and other farmers at field days about the costs and benefits of neonics and other seed coatings related to both crop production and the environment, including pollinators. Yet, this isn’t happening with neonics or other seed coating ingredients today. We need credible, farmer-led field trials that compare different seed coatings and traits, and that information should be shared with other farmers. And those findings should be compared with the effectiveness and costs of other pest control approaches, such as integrated pest management (IPM), that have proven benefits and economic returns. Only with complete information and choice – about neonics and other crop management tools – can farmers make smart choices that allow them to produce crops and take care of pollinators and the environment.

You can read the full paper: Unknown Benefits, Hidden Costs: Neonicotinoid seed coatings, crop yields and pollinators.

– See more at:

Farmers are no different from any buyer – they want to know what they’re buying, how much it costs and its expected performance. But in the brave new world of agricultural seeds, where multiple traits and technology are stacked like Microsoft’s operating system, it’s becoming more and more difficult for farmers to separate out what is really needed and discover how much each piece is costing them.

In the case of neonicotinoid (neonic) seed coatings used as a pesticide, both the effectiveness and costs are somewhat of a mystery, according to a new paper published by IATP today.

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No brain-harming insecticide needed

Citrus groves account for quite a bit of chlorpyrifos use — a highly hazardous insecticide that's been banned from use in homes and on pets because of its specific risks to children's developing brains. It also has serious impacts on farmers, farmworkers and rural communities and for years, we've been calling to restrict its use in agriculture as well.

But the pesticide industry continues to heavily promote the use of chlorpyrifos. And one of the pernicious pests it's purported to control — the Asian citrus psyllid — can indeed introduce a deadly disease, but organic citrus growers from California to Florida are successfully managing the pest in ways that avoid use of harsh poisons. No brain-harming insecticide needed.

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For the kids

Children around the globe are routinely exposed to pesticides — and sometimes the outcomes are drastic. It’s been over two years since school children in a village in Bihar, India fell severely ill from eating a pesticide-laden lunch, leading to the death of 22.

I’m writing to remember that tragic and avoidable incident, and to remind myself that children remain at risk — here in the U.S. and around the world — when our industrial agricultural system continues to depend on the use of highly hazardous pesticides.

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Nature’s best food for baby

Years ago, at a meeting of diplomats in Geneva, a freshly expressed vial of breastmilk was passed around the room. As dozens of men in suits squirmed, my friend and colleague Sandra Steingraber explained exactly why the global chemical treaty they were negotiating mattered so very much.

That treaty passed. And around the globe, nature's best food for babies is now less compromised by chemicals. This World Breastfeeding Week, August 1-7, we celebrate this important progress — and note that we still have work to do.

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Tax dollars, farming & the common good

As a California resident and taxpayer, I’m more interested in protecting my state’s soil, air, water and pollinators than supporting corporate profits from agriculture.

Earlier this month, Congress started the long, complex and very political process of deciding how funds will be spent next year for "food, agriculture and rural development." In other words, exactly which parts of the Farm Bill will get our tax dollars next year.

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The looming DARK Act

The Monsanto-backed bill to undercut GMO labeling efforts just got worse. Faced with increased push-back at state and local levels, the pesticide/biotech corporation — and its allies in Congress — are attempting to further limit choice in the food and farming system.

In this latest version of what critics have dubbed the "Denying American's Right to Know" or DARK Act, industry has snuck in a provision that would limit the authority of local government to create rules on genetically engineered (GE) crops. A House vote is scheduled for Thursday.

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What if Monsanto got even Monsanto-ier?

Monsanto has really been on a roll lately — with the company's new pesticide-intensive genetically engineered (GE) crop system being approved, Obama gaining Fast Track Authority for the TPP,  and the introduction of an even scarier version of the "DARK Act" to block GE labeling.

But just when we thought Monsanto was as big and bad as it could be, the agricultural giant out-Monsanto's itself. In case you missed the news, Monsanto, the largest seed company in the world, is putting in aggressive offers to acquire Syngenta, the largest pesticide company in the world. Because global domination of just one market is never enough. 

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The toxic legacy of DDT continues

Last month's groundbreaking DDT study — linking exposure in the womb to increased risk of breast cancer — represents more than an interesting footnote in the story of this legacy pesticide.

Not only is DDT still in our environment more than 40 years after it was banned in the U.S., it also continues to be sprayed inside homes in many African countries as part of malaria control programs — quadrupling the risk, it turns out, of breast cancer among daughters of women exposed to the chemical during pregnancy.

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New GE rules in the works — finally!

We've been saying it for years: the rules governing genetically engineered (GE) crops, and how they get on the market, are broken. There are significant loopholes, insufficient transparency, and outdated practices that fail to account for today's on-the-ground farming realities.

The White House agrees, at least in part. In a memorandum released July 2, the President called on the three agencies involved — U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) — to fully review and update GE regulations. It's about time.

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Agroecology World Fair Day

Celebrate Agroecology at UC Santa Cruz and Around the World

Friday July 17, 2015
4-6 pm
Cowell Ranch Hay Barn
UC Santa Cruz Campus (near main entrance)
Santa Cruz, California

Agroecology World Fair Day takes place during the 16th Annual International Agroecology Shortcourse. Participate in an exchange among course participants, the UC Santa Cruz campus, and the greater Santa Cruz community.

Details here.

DPR: Too little, too slow on chlorpyrifos

California's Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) announced today that the brain-harming pesticide chlorpyrifos is now a "restricted use" pesticide. Sounds pretty impressive, right? But wait, it’s actually not that great.

What it really means is this: anyone wanting to use chlorpyrifos in the state now has to file additional paperwork with county agricultural commissioners. Some conditions may apply once use is approved, such as adhering to small "protection zones" — which can be as little as 25 to 150 feet — around sprayed fields. We think California's children and rural communities deserve much better.

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Notes from the Field: Ixhuatlan del Café, Veracruz, Mexico

In early June, CAN Executive Director Rose Cohen and Associate Director Heather Putnam traveled to the Central Highlands of Veracruz, Mexico to meet with CAN network partners there and visit rural coffee-growing communities where CAN is working to promote food security and sovereignty in addition to women’s and youth economic empowerment. Heather filed this report:

Our visit included participating in a workshop with families working with CAN and VIDA’s food security and sovereignty project. Women and youth collectively reflected on what they had achieved in the last four years of the project and what they saw that still needs to be improved to further decrease seasonal hunger and strengthen livelihoods in their communities. The women shared their accomplishments, which include having more food available because of their vegetable gardens and all of the agroecological practices, like composting, that they had learned through the project. As one woman put it, “with all of the different food available, if there are no beans, then we can go get some squash or something else out of the garden and change our diet according to what is in the garden, and we eat well. Or we could trade foods that we have for foods that we don’t.”

However, the women pointed out that with the continuing crisis of the coffee leaf rust affecting their coffee yields even more this year than last, that things had been difficult in the last year and would probably be more challenging in the year to come. One woman said, “this year we will have to look for another way to earn money. I am going to take in sewing. That is what we have to do—be creative.” They also said that the situation will be difficult for a few years to come as they are replanting the affected coffee plants this year, but it will take at least three more years to have a coffee harvest from these plants.

The next day we were able to meet with AgroEco® coffee farmers from the Campesinos en la Lucha Agraria Cooperative and sign this year’s coffee importing contract based on the price and terms we had negotiated with them. They told us how they had invested the Women’s Unpaid Labor Fund from last year’s coffee harvest into the development of a women-centered agroecological coffee brand called Femcafe, which they will market locally in Mexico.

Finally we were able to visit the CAN-supported school garden in the high school in the community of Ocotitlan. There we met the graduating class of seniors who had built the school garden in its new location on land donated by a local farmer. The students showed us the amazing diversity of plants in the garden and shared the skills they had learned, like production planning, double-digging, making compost, and companion planting.

Win some, lose some for Minnesota bees

It’s been quite a roller coaster. After a series of gubernatorial vetoes and late-night negotiations, the Minnesota legislative session came to a close on June 13. This time around, our legislators passed a bundle of worrisome agricultural and environmental policy that had Minnesotans across the state voicing their concerns loud and clear.

Here at PAN, we focused on fighting for state policies to better protect honey bees and other pollinators from pesticides. How did things shake out on our issues? Well, there was some good, some hopeful and some ugly.

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Healthy soils, resilient farms

Innovative farmers and ranchers have, for generations, deliberately invested in building soil health. And this year — with the UN’s International Year of Soils and implementation of California's Healthy Soil Initiative well underway — we'll be pressing policymakers to turn innovation for healthy soil into standard practice.

The timing could not be better. Widespread implementation of practices that build and protect soil health is the only certain thing that will ensure farmers’ ability to both mitigate and adapt to worsening conditions associated with climate change. California's historic drought provides a dramatic case in point.

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Best present for Dad? Protecting our kids from pesticides

Gadgets and ties are great, but this Father's Day I'm celebrating the growing momentum to protect kids' health from pesticides in California and beyond.

Over the past two weeks, parents, teachers and health professionals filled hearing rooms across the state demanding better protections for their children. It's still not clear, though, if decisionmakers are listening.

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Ensia Magazine Essay | Agroecology can help fix our broken food system

Maywa Montenegro’s essay, co-published by Ensia Magazine and Food Tank, looks at  “agroeocology as a cross-pollination of knowledge, grounded in science, practice, and social movement.”

Maywa Montenegro
Food Systems Researcher
University of California – Berkeley

Read the essay: Agroecology can help fix our broken food system. Here’s how

Learn more about: Ensia Magazine

Learn more about: Food Tank

Watch Steve Gliessman’s Edible 101 exchange with Mark Bittman

EPA, bees need more

Last month, on the heels of the rollout of the White House’s plan to protect honey bees and other pollinators, EPA announced its own piece of the plan: a new rule that would limit the use of some bee-harming pesticides when honey bee colonies are contracted for pollination.

EPA’s new rule has made headlines. After years of pressure from PAN and our partners for federal decisionmakers to take the bee crisis seriously, it’s good to see EPA acknowledge the pesticide problem. But EPA’s proposed new rule is remarkably short on meaningful action.

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How would YOU regulate GE crops?

Criticisms of genetically engineered (GE) food have gone mainstream lately — from Chipotle going GMO free to GE labeling bills moving forward in states across the country. But very little public attention has been given to the important crossroads we are facing right now around how GE crops get onto the market to begin with.

After the controversial approval of Dow Chemical's latest GE corn and soybeans, Enlist Duo, USDA announced it will finally be revising the agency's outdated, ineffective, hands-off approach to regulating GE crops. We have until June 22nd to weigh in on how GE products should be evaluated before they enter our fields, and how the USDA should regulate them once they are planted. So what needs to change?

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Global dreams, global impact

To mark World Environment Day on June 5, the United Nations challenged the whole world to take action: “Seven billion dreams. One planet. Consume with care.”

A beautiful sentiment, to be sure. But I’d add, between the dreams and the planet, “Thousands of networks.” Because we’ll need to link our dreams — and our actions — across communities, borders and oceans if we want to see the sweeping changes that many of us envision.

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Guest Blog: The story McDonald’s didn’t get to hear

Last Friday, I was sitting at a coffee shop thinking about the previous 24 hours — and feeling uncertain about my next steps. I’d just gotten back from the McDonald’s annual shareholder meeting in Chicago, where I had planned to share my concerns about pesticides used to grow potatoes that become McDonald’s french fries.

Though I had mustered up the courage to speak before hundreds of people at the high-profile meeting, the corporation's security people turned us away.

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Swing & a miss on bee-harming pesticides

Once again, it looks like federal decisionmakers are sidestepping the issue of bee-harming pesticides. The Pollinator Health Task Force, launched almost a year ago by President Obama, released its strategy for addressing pollinator declines last week — without tackling the pesticide problem.

While the plan sets an ambitious goal for reining in honey bee losses, and calls for state plans to increase habitat for pollinators, it fails to directly address the impact of neonicotinoids and other insecticides, despite crystal clear science that these chemicals are impacting pollinators. 

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Victory! Another global pesticide ban.

An important victory and a disappointing setback came out of the global policy meetings I wrote about recently. The victory is a huge one: civil society leaders helped to secure a worldwide ban of the pesticide pentachlorophenol (PCP) under the Stockholm Convention. 

In a dramatic twist, participating countries took the historic step of 'voting to vote' instead of trying to achieve consensus, as is the norm. The step was taken in response to a few countries' aggressive efforts to thwart progress.

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Kaua’i takes on the Big 6 & wins. Again!

Chalk up another win for the little guy. A handful of residents of Kauai’s Waimea community prevailed in court over biotech giant DuPont-Pioneer last week. Citing extensive, harmful dust generated by DuPont’s seed operations, a jury awarded 15 residents $500,000 in damages.

This is just the latest in an impressive string of victories against pesticide and genetically engineered (GE) seed corporations in Kaua’i, the global epicenter for GE seed testing.

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Bringing local truths to global policies

Every year, our PAN International partners carry out amazing on-the-ground campaigns for safer food systems. As a network, we also have a long history of influencing global policies by participating in international treaties. One such gathering is taking place right now in Geneva, and PAN activists from all five regional centers are participating.

The key role PAN plays in these meetings is bringing the realities of pesticide exposures — both the latest science and stories from the field — into the room where high-level decisions are being made. Our active participation has led to significant wins over the years, like a global ban of the hazardous pesticide endosulfan, and strong restrictions on the use of DDT.

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It’s time for the “spring flush”… of pesticides

What, you may ask, is the "spring flush?" In late spring and early summer,  large concentrations of herbicides are flushed from croplands. These chemicals — like the herbicide atrazine — then get transported far and wide through surface water systems.

Herbicides are water-soluble and thus have the potential to leach into groundwater supplies as well as streams, lakes and other surface waters. Atrazine is a frequently found contaminant in drinking water supplies throughout the Corn Belt, and every year the spring flush raises concerns over the potential of atrazine spikes in drinking water supplies.

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Report from the Field | Quintana Roo

CAN Associate Director Heather Putnam recently visited the Zona Maya in Quintana Roo, Mexico to meet with women’s groups working with CAN and the Intercultural Maya University of Quintana Roo (UIMQRoo) to improve household food security and sovereignty in a two year project funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Here is her report from the field.

I traveled with Robin Pacheco, a project field technician, and three UIMQRoo students working in the field, to four of the six rural communities we are working with in the Zona Maya. The goal of the collaborative project between CAN and UIMQRoo is to improve household food security and nutrition by promoting increased production diversity (more vegetables and protein sources) and income diversification.  The project team on the ground make up of professors, field technicians, and students works directly with small groups of indigenous Maya women in the communities to strengthen traditional and agroecological food production practices, establish direct market channels between the women’s groups and local and regional venues like restaurants and markets, and also to ensure the long-term sustainability of the women’s groups themselves to operate these enterprises.

Our first stop was the community of Kancabchen, a community that was recently integrated into the project in October 2014. The eight women there established their vegetable gardens in October, and have now expanded their home production from yams, beans, and tomatoes to include habanero chile, green chiles, Maya squash, cilantro, radishes, and cucumbers. They told me that they were happy to have these products available right behind their houses for their families’ tables. Lidia Moo Poot, the president of the women’s organization, told me “Now we can have confidence in what we eat and what it contains. Our children will grow up healthier.”

The women were were excited to have participated for the first time the previous Saturday in the monthly tianguis, or farmers market, organized by UIMQRoo in José Mariá Morelos , where they enjoyed telling consumers there about their agroecologically grown produce. The women are looking forward to getting more training in the production of organic fertilizers, and to completing the fences around their gardens to keep animals out. One challenge that is worrisome is the unseasonal drought that is affecting production; the rains should have arrived in the middle of March, but as of the end of April still had not. We talked about the need to install water catchment systems to ensure that families could continue to produce diverse nutritious foods throughout the year, even as climate change brings more seasonal drought.

I also visited the communities of Candelaria, Bulukax, and Tabasco and spoke with the women’s groups there. The women in Candelaria are expanding their chicken and egg production through the project and are anticipating have enough hens producing enough eggs to bring to market in about six months. In the meantime they will be working with the team at UIMQRoo to establish relationships with buyers who will value the organic production and healthiness of their eggs.  In Bulukax and Tabasco my conversations with the women’s groups were dominated by their worries about water — they are affected not only by the drought, but by salty groundwater or chlorinated municipal water, both unfit for irrigation.  These conversations only reinforced by understanding of the urgency of focusing on ways to improve water access; any changes we hope to make in increasing the availability of healthy and nutritious foods year round will depend on water.

Newest news on bee-harming neonics

Guess what? Two more studies have confirmed that neonicotinoid insecticides (aka "neonics") are bad for bees. One study documented neonics' impacts on wild bees, which hasn't been looked at much to date. The second found that bees show a preference for neonic-laced food.

A third report from the European Academies Science Advisory Council underscores the importance of the ecosystem service provided by pollinators. The scientific case for taking action to protect bees and other pollinators from neonics just keeps getting stronger.

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Catching the drift in Iowa

What does it take to recruit a group of Iowa farmers and rural residents to an all-day, indoor training on one of the first beautiful days of spring? An issue as serious as pesticide drift.

A few weeks ago PAN Staff Scientist Emily Marquez and I led PAN’s fourth Drift Catcher training in Grinnell, Iowa. The Drift Catcher is a long-standing PAN program that uses community air monitoring to document the problem of pesticide drift in rural communities.

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CAN Youth Network Capacity Building Exchange

April 13-19, 2015: Nicaragua

The first internal capacity building exchange of CAN’s network this year took place the week of April 13-19, 2015.  More than 25 women and youth leaders from CAN’s partner organizations VIDA AC in Veracruz, Mexico, PRODECOOP and CII-ASDENIC in Las Segovias, Nicaragua, and the UCA San Ramón in San Ramón, Nicaragua joined together for 7 days of exchange and training. The aim was to build skills and knowledge around building sustainable food systems in coffee-growing communities. The exchange, which included activities in both San Ramón and Las Segovias, Nicaragua, built on the themes covered during the Intercambio event held in Santa Cruz, California in February 2015. The exchange included workshops and activities related to the topics of:

  • building artisanal water cisterns for water catchment and storage;
  • making organic fertilizers like effective microorganisms, biomineral applications, and other soil fertility preparations to help combat la roya agroecologically;
  • women-led rural enterprises, including the experience of the women’s coffee-roasting business and women’s café in San Ramon;
  • crop diversification in coffee forests;
  • natural medicine using garden plants; and
  • community-based rural tourism experiences.

Important outcomes of the exchange included 12 cooperative youth leaders trained in the construction of artisanal water cisterns; more than 20 women trained in making natural medicines from plants found in home gardens; increased knowledge of the potentials of community-based rural tourism, coffee-forest diversification, and innovative soil fertility techniques in building resilient families and communities.

An early outcome of this exchange was the drafting of a resolution consolidating the group’s commitment to agroecological coffee as a sustainable food system, with the following collective objectives identified:

  1. Initiate a dialogue about the definition of Agroecological Coffee;
  2. Receive feedback and support from CAN to generate a collective identity regarding an Agroecological Coffee Farmer;
  3. Analyze the importance of an Participatory Agroecological Certification as a strategy to strengthen the organizations and communities we work with; and
  4. Analyze the idea of creating a collective brand of women’s coffee to promote the economic empowerment of women.

Our partners have specifically requested CAN’s accompaniment in reaching these objectives. CAN is excited to support the furthering of these objectives that will benefit thousands of smallholder coffee growing families in Nicaragua and Mexico.

Presentation at SCAA Meeting in Seattle, Washington

Community Agroecology Network’s (CAN) Food Security & Sovereignty in Las Segovias, Nicaragua project was selected as a finalist for the 2015 Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) Sustainability Award. Roseann Cohen, executive director of CAN, Maria Eugenia Flores, project manager, Christopher Bacon, CAN affiliated researcher and assistant professor in the Department of Environmental Studies and Sciences at Santa Clara University; and Merling Preza, general manager of PRODECOOP traveled to Seattle for the awards presentation at the SCAA 2015 annual meeting. While there, Maria Eugenia also presented the project at the Innovations in Sustainability Panel.

CAN’s project contributes to the long-term sustainability of the coffee industry in three ways. First, it promotes food sovereignty in coffee growing communities, which means healthy and stable families and communities who are able to stay on their land and make a livelihood from coffee and food production, and benefit from improved nutrition. This in turn makes the coffee supply stable. Second, this project supports improved coffee quality and long-term ecological sustainability of coffee production by promoting improved soil fertility and improved coffee shade management practices that also result in increased availability of diverse foods at the farm level. Finally, the project promotes stronger farmer cooperative organizations and their capacity to enhance the well-being of their members.

Project Details

The Food Security and Sovereignty Project in Las Segovias, Nicaragua is a collective initiative funded over the last 5 1/2 years by Keurig Green Mountain and implemented through a long-time partnership model integrating participatory action research and agroecology with cooperatives between CAN, PRODECOOP. R. L, a second level coffee cooperative, CIIASDENIC, a local nonprofit organization, and Nicaraguan and U.S. based universities. It aims to reduce and eventually eliminate seasonal hunger with 1,500 family farmers in 18 smallholder cooperatives. Core strategies includes sustainable solutions managed and owned by the cooperative to re-localize control over the local food system and reduce vulnerability to climate shocks.

Click here to learn more.

Guest blog: Toward safer malaria control solutions

A new World Malaria Day is around the corner and we at PAN applaud the strides made to combat this deadly disease over the past year.

Next month we’ll be closely following discussions at the Conference of Parties of the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (aka the “POPs Treaty”) in Geneva. This is the body that banned DDT globally back in 2004, except for limited and specific uses for malaria control.

At the upcoming meeting, the use of DDT for malaria control will be reviewed — and it’s continued use will likely be recommended.

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RoundUp, cancer & the future of food

If you’ve been following the recent big news about Monsanto’s infamous weedkiller RoundUp and cancer, you’ll have heard that industry’s “dirty little secret” just got dirtier.

In case you missed it: the international scientific community sent us two very loud wake-up calls last month. First, the UN World Health Organization’s prestigious International Agency for Research on Cancer released a consensus report that glyphosate, the active ingredient in RoundUp, is a “probable carcinogen.” A few days later, a team of international scientists based in New Zealand reported that widely available commercial formulations of RoundUp, 2,4-D and dicamba can lead to the development of antibiotic resistance in common disease-causing bacteria.

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Got worms? Why healthy soil matters.

I’ve been an earthworm fan for decades. At my Oakland, California home I dump vegetable scraps into a big plastic bin with worms. Once or twice a year I collect incredibly rich worm compost, teaming with roly-poly bugs (isopods), worms — and billions of critters I can’t see. My garden plants love it, and it’s free.

In agricultural soils, worms (different kinds, but worms nevertheless) can contribute significantly to soil respiration with a direct and sharp increase in the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) released, as the number and length of worm canals increases. It turns out this soil respiration is critical to plant health.

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The volatile pesticides next door

Should parents, families and teachers be warned when hazardous and volatile pesticides are used next door? That was the question before a panel of experts in California last week. Their answer may provide the basis for critical new rules for use of pesticide fumigants, and any neighbor’s right to know.

Fumigant pesticides are a problem for the Golden State. They are highly volatile, likely to drift and linked to a wide range of health impacts, including cancer. Yet every year, over 40 million pounds of these soil-sterilizing chemicals are used on California fields.

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Steve Gliessman’s Lecture | Edible Education 101

On Monday, March 30, CAN’s Board President and co-founder Steve Gliessman gave a lecture as part of this year’s Edible Education 101. Steve gave an overview of agroecology, using  CAN’s work as an example. There were more than 200 people in attendance. After the lecture, Steve and Mark Bittman, co-host of Edible Education 101, continued the conversation about sustainable farming through agroecology. Steve’s lecture was streamed live. The video is available here.


Pesticides in your food? Watch your sperm count.

In the first study of its kind, researchers have linked pesticide residues on food with poor semen quality. The new study adds to a growing body of evidence tying very low-level chemical exposures with reproductive and other health harms.

Scientists from Harvard University's School of Public Health found that men who ate fruits and vegetables with higher levels of pesticide residues had fewer normal sperm and a lower sperm count than men who ate produce with lower residue levels.

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Bayer regrets neonic harms to bees

Today, Bayer AG apologized for the damage to pollinators caused by years of aggressive marketing and sales of bee-harming neonicotinoid pesticides; now the most widely used class of insecticides in the world.

To help restore and revitalize the bee populations harmed by their products — and in a good faith gesture to beekeepers whose livelihoods have been threatened by declining honey bee populations — the German-based corporation formally announced the unveiling of the world’s first bee spa.

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WhyHunger Releases New Agroecology Publication

WhyHunger has released its first agroecology publication, “Agroecology: Putting Food Sovereignty into Action.” The publication shares the knowledge and perspectives of 10 social movement leaders who are working to “scale up” agroecology around the world. It also highlights the social, political, cultural, nutritional and spiritual meanings of agroecology from within communities that have been negatively impacted by the commodification of food. This project was spearheaded by WhyHunger’s Global Movements Program with the support of partners such as La Via Campesina International and the World March of Women.

Download the publication here.

New report: On cancer risk & strawberry fields

Last fall PAN partnered with Justin Matlow, a concerned parent and teacher in the heart of California's strawberry-growing country, to monitor for pesticide drift. Today — to mark Cesar Chavez day — we joined Justin, farmworker advocates and other community partners to release our findings.

What did the data show? In short, our Drift Catcher project found that when the cancer-causing pesticide chloropicrin was being applied in a nearby field, concentrations in the air near Justin's Watsonville home were at or above levels considered "of concern" by both state and federal agencies. For the sake of thousands of California families living near strawberry fields, we hope the regulators are paying attention.

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Honoring farmworkers on Cesar Chavez day

Each year at the end of March we join partners across the country celebrating National Farmworker Awareness Week, a nationwide event honoring farmworkers and their families. The celebration culminates today, on Cesar Chavez Day.

A week set aside to raise awareness about the more than two million workers who plant, tend and harvest our food is a wonderful opportunity. This year, we invite you to explore — and share — the great resources below as National Farmworker Awareness Week (#NFAW) wraps up.

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Edible Education 101 at UC Berkeley | Stephen Gliessman

“Sustainable Farming through Agroecology” with Stephen Gliessman and Mark Bittman 

CAN Board President and co-founder Stephen Gliessman is giving a lecture on March 30 for the online course, Edible Education 101. This course was “created in conjunction with the 40th anniversary celebration of Chez Panisse Restaurant and Café in Berkeley, California. Alice Waters, founder of Chez Panisse and the Edible Schoolyard Project, launched the course in partnership with University of California, Berkeley to bring edible education to the university level. The course, a unique hybrid public lecture series and for-credit class, has been offered to undergraduate students and members of the general public for four semesters since 2011.” The 2015 course is co-hosted by Mark Bittman and Robert Haas.

The course has three parts:

Part I: The Trouble with the Food System

Part II: Getting Back to the Right Food System

Part III: Building the Food Movement

To learn more about the course, visit the website.

Iowa lawmakers tackle pesticide drift

In Iowa, two proposed laws would have provided support to farmers facing crop damage from drifting herbicides, and improved reporting and regulations around drift. While the laws were introduced this session, they will not be moving forward but the Iowa Farmers Union (IFU), PAN and other coalition partners have put the drift issue front and center on the legislative agenda in Des Moines.

A statewide, farmer-led coalition supporting these bills are asking for things like improved liability insurance and more readily available information about pesticide use and drift incidents. These are important pieces of legislation for small farmers growing healthy, local food for Iowa communities.

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Sisters are doin’ it for themselves!

A song's been running through my head for several days now: Sisters Are Doin' It for Themselves.

This International Women's History Month, I've been thinking about how women around the world are "standing on their own two feet, and ringin' on their own bells" on behalf of a fair, safe and sustainable global food system.

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Collaborations for Adaptation: Smallholder Coffee Farming in Latin America

CAN Executive Director Roseann Cohen and Associate Director Heather Putnam traveled to Vermont to participate in a workshop that held from January 8-10, 2015. The workshop brought together three groups who have a vested interest and experience in working with small holder coffee producers in Latin America: direct and fair trade coffee roasters; non-profit organizations; and select researchers. The aim was to explore and develop specific plans for collaborations among these groups, including a “participatory action research (PAR) project that will address the questions and issues related to developing resilience to the impacts of climate change that are deemed to be of the highest priority by all groups.”

Rose shared her thoughts on the workshop: “To say that we collectively achieved much in the time we had together is an understatement. It was a true pleasure and a joy to see folks with such diverse perspectives and strong opinions about the issues facing small holder coffee farmers so openly working to communicate, find common ground, and discover the questions that we could best come together to answer. We look forward to continuing these conversations, and in taking action together, in the weeks, months and years to come.”

Declaration of the International Forum for Agroecology

Nyéléni, Mali

La Via Campesina has published the Declaration of the International Forum for Agroecology on its website. The Declaration was produced by delegates from diverse organizations and international movements of small-scale food producers. The delegates gathered at the Nyéléni Center in Sélingué, Mali from February 24-27, 2015, “to come to a common understanding of agroecology as a key element in the construction of Food Sovereignty, and to develop joint strategies to promote Agroecology and defend it” from co-opted.

The International Forum on Agroecology was organized at the Nyeleni Center in Mali, from 24 to 27 February 2015 by the following organisations: Coordination Nationale des Organisations Paysannes du Mali (CNOP) as chair; La Via Campesina (LVC), More and Better (MaB), Movimiento Agroecológico de América Latina y el Caribe (MAELA), Réseau des organisations paysannes et de producteurs de l’Afrique de l’Ouest (ROPPA), World Forum of Fish Harvesters and Fishworkers (WFF), World Forum of Fisher Peoples (WFFP), World Alliance of Mobile Indigenous Peoples (WAMIP).

From the Roots Up

Global Justice Now, a social justice organization based in London, England, has just published a report that says “…small-scale farmers are the key to addressing food issues across African countries.” The report From the Roots Up : how agroecology can feed Africa discusses agroecology projects in Tanzania, Cameroon, Uganda, and Ethiopia. The report’s proposals include:

  • Supporting food sovereignty
  • Increasing investment in agroecology
  • Increasing research and evidence base
  • Focusing on small-scale solutions
  • Supporting women farmers.

To read the full report, click here.

Over four million speak up for bees

It's been a big week for honey bees! Yesterday, “bee kind Obama” and “save our bees” chants echoed at a rally on Pennsylvania Avenue, as our national coalition delivered more than four million (!!) signatures to White House. The petition calls on President Obama's pollinator task force to step up and take action on bee-harming pesticides. And soon.

The rally comes on the heels of Monday's delivery of a letter to the White House officials signed by more than 125 diverse groups calling for stronger protections for bees and other pollinators. Signers included conservation, beekeeping, food safety, religious and farming advocacy organizations.

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Ahem. We said “No fast track”

Here they go again. Congress is once again considering “fast track” approval of the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement. Fast track means no public hearings, no floor debate, no amendments — no civic engagement whatsoever.

The stakes are high. The TPP would be the largest trade deal in history, covering 792 million people and about 40% of the world’s economy. If fast track is approved, rules affecting food and farming — among many other sectors — will be negotiated completely behind closed doors.

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Who’s building the new food system? Farmers.

When more than 3,000 sustainable and organic farmers get together in one place, amazing things can happen.

I spent last weekend at the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service conference — aka MOSES. From its quiet beginnings in 1990, the MOSES event has grown into the largest organic farming conference in the country. The annual gathering in La Crosse, Wisconsin has become a mainstay of Midwest sustainable ag innovation, skill-sharing and community-building.

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Chemicals, kids & precaution

More and more public health experts are turning their attention to how we can prevent childhood diseases, rather than hunting for cures. This was my takeaway from an inspiring two-day meeting of scientists in Austin earlier this month.

Children: Food and Environment, sponsored by our partners at the Children's Environmental Health Network, brought together dozens of pediatric researchers from a wide range of disciplines. All seemed to share a recognition that environmental exposures are playing a key role in undermining our children's health, and that the resulting problems are both urgent — and preventable.

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Will Hawai’i lawmakers stand up to Monsanto & Co?

Later today, the Hawai'i House Committee on Agriculture will take up an important bill that could create new protections from pesticides for children. But if prior votes are any indication, the committee — and the industrial agricultural interests driving it — will be a tough obstacle to overcome.

We've seen this same showdown on island after island, as each county has attempted to enact new protections on the use of pesticides or pesticide-promoting genetically engineered seeds and crops. And we've also seen the force with which, each time, Monsanto and the rest of the Big 6 pesticide corporations have tried to stop these laws in their tracks.

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International Symposium on Agroecology for Food Security and Nutrition Final Report

FAO held the International Symposium on Agroecology for Food Security and Nutrition at its headquarters in Rome on September 18 and 19, 2014. Approximately 400 people from 61 different countries (including Permanent Representatives and staff members of representations, FAO / IFAD / WFP staff members, their guests and external participants) attended the event and an additional 186 people followed the Symposium through live streaming.

Steve Gliessman, Chair of CAN’s Board of Directors, chaired the opening plenary. He noted that the focus of Agroecology was originally at the local systems level, but has gradually increased to entire food systems and is now understood as a participatory action research process that leads to sustainability and resilience, as a movement of change and justice.

Steve and Pablo Tittonell reported the key findings and emerging themes of the first one and half days to the plenary. The main findings were: “By the final wrap up session, it was clear that the ecological foundation and food system focus of Agroecology provides an action-oriented approach for simultaneously developing alternative food systems, while transforming the current industrial model. FAO is in a unique position to help build a global agroecological network. The Symposium emphatically demonstrated that the stakeholders represented have everything necessary to make this transformation happen. It only requires action, vision, responsibility towards future generations and above
all courage.”

Key Outcomes

The Symposium generated the following key outcomes:

  • a proposal to continue the dialogue initiated through three regional meetings to be held in 2015;
  • a large amount of scientific evidence and examples of best practices already adopted in many different ecologies and the commitment to finalize proceedings;
  • the recommendation to accompany countries requesting FAO’s assistance to promote national policy dialogue and research on Agroecology and expand partnership towards a local level;
  • recommendation to operationalize Agroecology into FAO’s operational Work Plan for SO2 and other SOs, and to mainstream some ongoing planned national activities and projects towards Agroecology.

Next Steps

Based on the success of the Symposium and FAO’s commitment to facilitate three regional meetings in 2015 in Latin America, Africa and Asia, FAO is looking forward to collaborate with the relevant interested actors on this action plan. More precisely, the Director-General outlined the following points as next steps for FAO:

  • FAO will organize three regional meetings in 2015 in Latin America, Africa and Asia, under the leadership of the Regional Offices (Brazilian government offered to host the Latin America meeting in collaboration with FAO-RLC);
  • The Director-General mentioned during the United Nations Climate Change Summit that participants of the International Symposium on Agroecology called for a United Nations wide initiative on Agroecology in order to help sustainably promote food security, address climate change and build resilience;
  • The Director-General appointed Ms. Maria Helena Semedo, DDG-N as the person responsible for this way forward.

To download the complete report, check here.

A valentine for farmworkers

Before you head off to celebrate Valentine’s Day dinner with your loved one, take a moment to send some of that love to the hardworking men and women who put all that good, fresh food on your table.

If you're reading this before 11am pacific time on February 13th, you can send a "Thunderclap" valentine to EPA's Gina McCarthy, asking her to take a stand to protect farmworker health. All of the resulting tweets and Facebook posts will appear en masse Friday morning.

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Report from Veracruz, Mexico

3 February 2015: The coffee leaf rust (la roya) has reached the Central Highlands of Veracruz, Mexico and small-scale coffee farming families are working to quickly respond to the blight before it further impacts their livelihoods. As the Mexican government promotes a host of new agrochemicals, CAN’s partner VIDA A.C. is steadfast in its promotion of agroecological practices to replant coffee fields and is distributing seeds of the Geisha varietal, which is tolerant of leaf rust and also considered to be of excellent quality among coffee buyers. Geisha is hailed by specialty coffee roasters around the world as a vibrant cup with distinct notes of jasmine and bergamot; however, on-farm processing is crucial to achieving its famed profile.

During the last week of January 2015, AgroEco® coffee producers in Veracruz attended a three-day course on the improvement of on-farm coffee processing practices for export standards. Led by Engineer Clemente Santiago Paz—former organic certifier for CertiMex—this workshop highlighted the importance of quality control at every step of the process from picking to fermentation.

Suraya Arlsan, Technology Trainer for this year’s Youth Leadership & Food Sovereignty Project (YLFS) evaluation, is currently in the region with our partner VIDA, A.C. In addition to attending workshops with coffee producers, she is working to train VIDA, A.C. staff and youth leaders in CAN’s Youth Leadership & Food Sovereignty Project in the use of portable tablets and Excel in data collection, to improve youth leaders’ capacity to monitor changes in their communities. The group is working to create uniform and accessible definitions for fertilizer and soil conservation practices in order to increase the accuracy and consistency of the data collected this year. In the process, they are increasing their knowledge of methods that could further the health of the soil and in turn, producer families’ livelihoods. The data collected by youth leaders in the annual evaluation will work to identify the strengths of the beneficiary families as well as the areas where CAN and VIDA A.C.can further support them as they face the additional threat of la roya.

More evidence linking pesticides & ADHD

I'm not trained as a public health scientist, but I've learned how to decipher epidemiology studies since I started working at PAN — and a good thing, too, because this stuff is interesting.

Case in point: A new study reports that when developing mice are exposed to a pyrethroid insecticide called deltamethrin, it results in impacts on brain chemistry and changes in behavior similar to what's observed in attention deficit hyperactivity (ADHD). Like I said, interesting stuff.

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Shaking up the White House hive

As I spoke to a packed room at the EcoFarm Conference late last month, it was clear that many of us eagerly await the unveiling of the White House's new plan to protect bees. But if recent events are any indication, officials aren’t getting the message that pesticides are a key part of the problem. Just one day before my talk, EPA approved another bee-harming pesticide.

With this recent decision, it’s time to shake up the White House hive. No, not the beehive near the Obamas’ kitchen garden, but the politics that are blocking progress for the nation’s pollinators. It's the White House Task Force on Pollinator Health that's releasing a new plan, and they really need to get it right.

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Iowa farmers call for action on drift

Last week a new farmer-led coalition held a press conference in Des Moines, calling on state regulators to better protect Iowa farmers and communities from pesticide drift. The move reflects growing concern about the impacts of drift on Iowa farms and communities. Drift can undermine farmers’ ability to farm as they choose, jeopardize the state’s growing local food economy, and put Iowa children’s health at risk.

PAN's Iowa Policy Coordinator Kate Mendenhall was joined by the leadership and members of the Iowa Farmers Union (IFU) at the press event. Together they outlined the drift protection steps the coalition is requesting of the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS). Other organizations in the growing coalition include Practical Farmers of Iowa (PFI) and the Women, Food, and Agriculture Network (WFAN).

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TTIP: Free trade for pesticides?

In this week's State of the Union address, President Obama clearly signaled his renewed commitment to push free trade agreements through Congress. But civil society organizations across the world are speaking out louder than ever in firm opposition to the secretive "Fast Track" negotiations of the two global trade agreements now on the table: the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

The TTIP is one of the latest agreements in the queue, currently in negotiation between the U.S. and the European Union (EU). Along with the TPP, TTIP is threatening international policy change that puts the interests of multinational corporations ahead of everything else, and strips away a slew of protections that social movements across the world have won in recent years.

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Welcome to the “Year of Soils!”

As an agroecologist with a keen interest in soil, I'm excited to share that 2015 is the "International Year of Soils." In the coming months, I'll have a chance to dive into an issue that's near and dear to my heart.

I’ll be able to spread the word about how living, healthy soils provide the foundation for production of our feed, fiber and fuel — and about 95% of all the food we consume. I’ll tell stories of tried-and-true traditions of excellent soil stewardship and cutting-edge soil biology. What fascinates me most is the tremendous impact of biology — in all its incredible abundance and diversity — on soil systems.

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The “Big 6” drifting to a farm near you

Two weeks ago, I was speaking to a roomful of specialty crop growers and organic farmers from Indiana. They were concerned about the pesticide drift that is expected to accompany the planting of Dow and Monsanto’s new herbicide-resistant corn and soybean seeds this spring. Presenting alongside me was Anita Poeppel of Broadbranch Farms, a family-owned and operated farm in north central Illinois.

Anita shared a message with her fellow growers: We need to be ready. If USDA allows these new GE seeds — that’ve been designed to be sprayed with highly toxic, drift-prone herbicides — onto the market, we are all going to be in a lot of trouble.

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Steve Gliessman Keynote Speaker | Rose Cohen Speaker | USAID Symposium

CAN Board president Steve Gliessman (Professor Emeritus of Agroecology, UCSC) and CAN Executive Director Roseann Cohen head to Washington, D.C. to attend “Design for Resilience in Smallholder Farming Systems: Symposium and Consultation on Agroecological Principles, Design and Practice.” As keynote speaker, Steve will lay the foundation for agroecological principles and design, providing the foundation for the two days of discussion.

Rose will present a case study of the obstacles to adoption of agroecological principles, using CAN’s experiences in overcoming most of the obstacles faced by changing hunger and poverty through agroecology. Focusing on CAN’s work in rural communities in Central America and Mexico, Rose will present examples of how to work with communities to engage them successfully in agroecological transformation.

Rose is speaking in the session, “Effective Adoption of Agroecological Principles.” The purpose of this session is to offer the opportunity to discuss constraints to wider adoption and diffusion of agroecological practices, especially among smallholders living in marginal areas, and the technical and institutional solutions to overcome them.

The audience for this symposium is staff members from USAID and Private Voluntary Organizations, such as Catholic Relief Services, Save the Children, Mercy Corps, World Vision, ACDI/VOCA, and others who are part of USAID’s Food for Peace Program.

Bayer, bees & the Hall of Shame

This may be the only time you see PAN nominate a pesticide manufacturer for an award.

Every year, our friends at Corporate Accountability International (CAI) highlight the year’s worst corporate actors in their Corporate Hall of Shame. The Hall of Shame helps hold corporations accountable for the most egregious examples of corporate abuse. This year, we’re partnering with CAI to nominate a particularly bad actor in our food and farming system: Bayer CropScience.

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EPA fails our kids, again

EPA just released its long overdue look at how the brain-harming insecticide chlorpyrifos is affecting human health. Once again, we're beyond disappointed with the agency's lack of leadership when it comes to protecting children from pesticides.

On the good news side, the report does recognize (finally!) that this particular chemical poses unacceptable risks to farmworkers, and something must be done. The bad news? The solutions they propose don't go nearly far enough, plus they manage to completely dodge the growing evidence that chlorpyrifos can derail the development of children's brains.

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Safer strawberries or false choices?

California officials appear poised to make a decision that would spell safer strawberry fields and spur farmer innovation away from hazardous chemicals and towards safer solutions. That is, if pesticide proponents don’t get in the way.

After months of delay and years of review, next Friday the state plans to release a new series of "mitigations" (government speak for "protections") for the difficult-to-control fumigant pesticide called chloropicrin. And after a prolonged public hearing and comment process, the adequacy of these protections — from no-spray buffer zones to public disclosure issues — will be under intense scrutiny. 

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What a year!

Looking back at 2014, I'm proud of the progress we've made on some of our long-standing issues. And, in light of the country's renewed conversations about fairness and justice, it's good to be reminded of how much we can accomplish when we're committed to listening, learning and working together. 

Our movement is powered by a diverse, energized network of allies who coalesce around specific values and actions, often over the course of several years. Some of our work moves quickly, and some more slowly than we'd like. But either way, we're clearly making progress.

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Still in the dark?

No doubt, this week has been a tough one for advocates of transparency in food and farming. A House Energy and Commerce subcommittee spent Wednesday debating the merits of labeling genetically engineered food — and foreshadowing bigger congressional fights in 2015 — while the Oregon GE labeling initiative was handed a near-certain defeat by the courts.

H.R. 4432 (Pompeo), dubbed by critics as the Deny Americans the Right to Know (or DARK) Act, will likely be reintroduced early next year. And if passed, it would undermine any state or local mandates for labeling GE food — keeping U.S. consumers in the dark about the foods we eat and the way they're grown.

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Still in the dark on labeling

No doubt, this week has been a tough one for advocates of transparency in food and farming. A House Energy and Commerce subcommittee spent Wednesday debating the merits of labeling genetically engineered food — and foreshadowing bigger congressional fights in 2015 — while the Oregon GE labeling initiative was handed a near-certain defeat by the courts.

H.R. 4432 (Pompeo), dubbed by critics as the Deny Americans the Right to Know (or DARK) Act, will likely be reintroduced early next year. And if passed, it would undermine any state or local mandates for labeling GE food — keeping U.S. consumers in the dark about the foods we eat and the way they're grown.

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“Little Things Matter:” Shifting IQs down a notch

We know that certain environmental contaminants are linked to decreases in children's intelligence quotient (IQ). A recently released seven-minute video, titled "Little Things Matter," explains what scientists know about this association — and why it's important.

Three types of environmental contaminants were discussed in the video. All three have been linked to falling IQs, and all three have been found in the bodies of the U.S. population — both children and adults — by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). One of the three is a group of commonly used pesticides.

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Agroecological farming — better than ever

Organic farmers who use agroecological practices build healthy soil, conserve water, protect pollinators and keep the air and water clear of harmful pesticides. We owe them thanks for this. They also produce bountiful crops.

Yesterday, these hard-working farmers received an important boost of recognition from the scientific community with the release of findings from a major new study comparing the productivity of organic and conventional farming.

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From the Field | Ben Valdez

Ben Valdez has been an active FoCAN student leader for the past two years and is currently completing a field study with CAN’s partner organization VIDA AC in the Central Highlands of Veracruz, Mexico. Here is his latest update from the field:

Greetings from Ixhuatlan de Café, Veracruz Mexico! My name is Benjamin Valdez, and I am currently conducting an ethnographic study on migrant youth from the municipality of Ixhuatlan de Café. In the last seven weeks I have met countless families from most of the rural communities within the municipality who have shared their time, family stories, and delicious homemade meals with me. My study includes fifteen interviews of youth ages 13-21 that live within the municipality and observations that relate to their identity. Some of the most memorable observations have occurred while youth work on their family´s land, while playing on their community´s soccer team competing for bragging rights, and while selling their homegrown vegetables. I have reached ten interviews of youth within my age bracket and four outside my age bracket. Simultaneously, I have taught English for beginners to three communities: Guzmantla, Ixcatla, and Ocotitlan. In all communities there has been a least half a dozen youth who show interest in participating in my study, and learning more about the English language.

The families that I have had the privilege of meeting show passion toward growing the best coffee in the world in the most sustainable and organic way possible. Another passion that most families share is diligence in maintaining the land they live on, maintaining a sustainable livelihood, and maintaining their fruits and coffee rich in nutrients. Despite economic, social, and medical hardships all families and youth that I have met continue to have an uplifting attitude toward life especially while working, harvesting, and reaching academic goals.

I expect to keep the relationships that I have created for the rest of my life. I know that this will not be the last time I will be visiting the state of Veracruz, the municipality of Ixhuatlan de Café, and the countless families and youth that have made my stay here most memorable.

Keep food safety rules fair

Food safety matters to us all, and we all play a role in keeping food safe — from farm to fork. With the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) finalizing new food safety rules, it's critical for farmers and eaters alike to speak up and ensure the agency gets these rules right.

As our friends from the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) point out, provisions in the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) — if done wrong — run the risk of "putting farmers out of business, limiting consumer choice, and increasing the use of chemicals rather than natural fertilizers."

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From the Field | Suraya Arslan

Update from the Field
Suraya Arslan, CAN field intern

27 October 2014: The digital revolution has come late to Nicaragua. The country ranks last regionally and 114th globally in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) development according to a 2013 report by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). Despite this late start, Nicaraguans have quickly embraced mobile devices and 3G networks are increasingly being used to access the internet.
A key goal to CAN’s Youth Leadership and Education for Sustainable Agriculture and Food Sovereignty Project (YLFS) is to empower youth in rural communities with marketable skills in an effort to reduce outmigration and strengthen pride in agricultural livelihoods. In line with these goals, youth leaders have received computer training and led the annual monitoring and evaluation of YLFS. However, lack of regular use has prevented these trainings from being effective in building their technological capacity.
This year, in collaboration with the Everett Program at UC Santa Cruz, UCSC graduate Suraya Arslan is teaching eight cooperative youth leaders to use 2-in-1 laptops (tablets with keyboards) in the field data collection instead of paper questionnaires as in the past. Suraya has worked with youth leaders to learn how to use the tablets, manage the UserForm and database in Excel, as well as how to login and post updates on Facebook. These hybrid tablets will remain in San Ramón so youth leaders can continue to use them to take minutes during weekly meetings, conduct other field research, communicate with CAN’s International Youth Network for Food Sovereignty—Jóvenes SSAN—and increasing their digital literacy.

No more Bhopals

Thirty years ago, I’d never heard of Bhopal, India. Now to many, “Bhopal” — the site of one of the worst industrial accidents in history — signifies disaster, and justice denied. Marking today's solemn 30th anniversary of the deadly gas leak from a pesticide manufacturing facility, people around the world are saying, "We all live in Bhopal."

The 1984 disaster was a global wake-up call — but many more changes are needed so that history doesn't repeat itself. The corporations responsible for the deadly event are still not being held accountable, and Bhopal residents continue to suffer from the impacts all these years later.

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Seeds of (policy) change

Before we move fully into the busy end-of-year season, it seems useful to take a moment to step back, take a breath and take stock of where we landed after the mid-term elections. Some surprisingly heartening lessons emerge.

We're all familiar with the high-level analysis by now — the very big impact of big money, ascension of climate-deniers to Senate leadership, polarization of politics, etc. But as you dig a bit deeper, a more optimistic picture comes into focus. From community pushback of corporate control to a rekindled conversation about national food policy, some very real, very hopeful shifts are in motion.

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Who’s calling the shots?

Two weeks ago, sitting next to the current director of California’s Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) and across from the former director-turned-Clorox lobbyist, I hoped for the best. We sat around a table discussing alternatives to hazardous pesticide use on homes, schools and in agriculture.

But progress on this front can often feel like an uphill battle. And as a recent Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) piece pointed out, chemical corporations and their lobbyists are all too often dominating policy conversations.

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Thankful for bounty, motivated for change

At my Thanksgiving meal with family and friends, we’ll be talking about what we’re thankful for. I'm very thankful to live in the resource-rich state of California, the topmost producer of fruits and vegetables in the country. And I'm thankful for the hard, often dangerous work that thousands of farmworkers do across the state to help bring nature’s bounty to our table. 

I'm also thankful for the growing awareness that food choices matter. People in California — and across the country — are beginning to see that choosing food grown without chemical pesticides is not only healthier for their own families, but can help protect the health of farmers and farmworkers, families in rural communities and children everywhere. This is real and exciting progress.

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Taking on Monsanto — and winning

In Oregon, Hawai'i, California and beyond, we saw organized communities stand up to corporate money this election season. And despite record-breaking industry spending, community advocates made real and important strides toward reclaiming food and farming from the "Big 6" pesticide corporations.  

Voters in California and Hawai'i successfully pushed back against Monsanto & friends to create GE-free zones in Humboldt and Maui counties. And despite millions of industry dollars spent in opposition, the initiative to label genetically engineered food in Oregon is still too close to call. Change is on its way.

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Toward non-toxic ‘taters

When you think of potatoes, you might think of McDonald's french fries. But what do we know about how those potatoes are grown? Are hazardous pesticides applied? And what might that mean to the health and wellbeing of communities in potato-growing regions?

The fact is, more than 1,750,000 pounds of pesticides were applied to U.S. potatoes in 2012. Topping the list of pesticides of concern, particularly in the potato-growing regions of Minnesota, is the highly hazardous fungicide chlorothalonil (a probable carcinogen). But this is just one of dozens of health-harming chemicals routinely applied in conventional potato production.

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Spotlight on McDonald’s pesticide problem

Eight months and counting after the Toxic Taters Coalition kicked off its campaign, McDonald’s is still dodging the issue of pesticide drift. The corporation has made plenty of public promises to cut pesticide use on its potatoes, but so far the fast food giant has been short on follow-through.

So last week, Toxic Taters took the message straight to McDonald’s in a coordinated day of action to keep the issue front and center. PAN collaborated closely with the grassroots Toxic Taters Coalition and many other organizations across the country — and we’re happy to say that the day of action was a big success. There were 16 in-person events around Minnesota, with solidarity call-in actions fanning out across the country in support of communities impacted by pesticide drift.

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Neonics? Not much help to farmers.

Independent scientists have been saying it for a while now: neonicotinoid pesticides aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. And finally, scientists and economists at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are showing signs that they’re listening to the science.

Last Thursday, EPA released preliminary findings on neonic-coated soybeans — a small part of the agency’s broader review of neonicotinoids. EPA’s headline finding? Neonicotinoid seed treatments “provide negligible overall benefits to soybean production in most situations.”

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CAN Makes 1st Annual Good Food Org Guide

Posted in: News   Topics: About CAN,

The 1st Annual Good Food Org Guide, developed by The James Beard Foundation and Food Tank, highlights non-profit organizations that are “… doing exemplary work in the United States in the areas of food and agriculture, nutrition and health, hunger and obesity, and food justice. Only nonprofit, scholarly, and municipal initiatives have been selected in order to spotlight efforts that are focused on community building and engagement, advocacy, and service. More than 400 U.S.-based groups are cultivating a better food system. The list was determined by distinguished experts, including past recipients of the James Beard Leadership Award and food and agriculture leaders.” The issues the groups address include: childhood obesity, malnourishment, and physical inactivity; food waste; and consumer education on healthy, nutritious food choices. Through their work they create networks of social entrepreneurs; protect food and restaurant workers; highlight solutions for restoring the health of people and the planet; work with indigenous communities to preserve traditions, culture, and biodiversity; inspire and educate individuals to cook more of their own food; and protect public health, human health, and the environment. CAN is honored to be included among this year’s honorees.

2014 Update from the Field | Suraya Arslan, CAN Intern

27 October 2014 — Nicaragua

The digital revolution has come late to Nicaragua. The country ranks last regionally and 114th globally in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) development according to a 2013 report by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). Despite this late start, Nicaraguans have quickly embraced mobile devices and 3G networks are increasingly being used to access the internet.

A key goal of CAN’s Youth Leadership and Education for Sustainable Agriculture and Food Sovereignty Project (YLFS) is to empower youth in rural communities with marketable skills in an effort to reduce outmigration and strengthen pride in agricultural livelihoods. In line with these goals, youth leaders have received computer training and led the annual monitoring and evaluation of YLFS. However, lack of regular use has prevented these trainings from being effective in building their technological capacity.

This year, in collaboration with the Everett Program at UC Santa Cruz, UCSC graduate Suraya Arslan is teaching eight cooperative youth leaders to use 2-in-1 laptops (tablets with keyboards) with field data collection instead of using paper questionnaires, as in the past. Suraya has worked with youth leaders to teach them how to use the tablets, manage the UserForm and database in Excel, as well as how to login and post updates on Facebook. These hybrid tablets will remain in San Ramón so youth leaders can continue to use them to take minutes during weekly meetings, conduct other field research, communicate with CAN’s International Youth Network for Food Sovereignty—Jóvenes SSAN—and increase their digital literacy.

Thinking before pinking

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, and the public conversation has been noticeably different this year. I've heard much more talk about chemicals that increase cancer risk — and what can and should be done to prevent breast cancer — than talk about raising awareness. It's about time.

I've also seen a new eyes-wide-open awareness of how absurd it is for companies that produce or sell cancer-causing products to wrap themselves in pink for the month. (I think it was the pink fracking drill bit "for the cure" that finally broke through the noise.) Think Before You Pink has been a core campaign message of our friends at Breast Cancer Action for many years, and it's a message we stand firmly behind. It's high time to move beyond pinkwashing.

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Food Week for Food Workers

We close food week with a shout out in celebration of the millions of food workers around the world upon whose hard work the food system depends — from picking to packing, serving to selling. Sadly, these workers share one thing in common around the globe: they are among the worst paid workers in an industry that creates some of the largest corporate profits.

For an excellent analysis of the disparities between workers and corporate agriculture powers, mark your calendars for the November 21 debut of the film Food Chains. The film does a nice job placing the realities of U.S. food workers in a global perspective.

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Real solutions this World Food Day

Today is World Food Day and around the world, communities are taking a stand against hunger. But what solutions are put forward differs dramatically, depending on what one understands the “food problem” to be. For many, every day is World Food Day and presents both the necessity and opportunity to fight for farm and food justice as a matter of integrity and survival. Theirs (and ours) is a fight for food sovereignty, tackling the problems of hunger and our inequitable, imbalanced food system at their source.

For others, the Monsantos of the world, this day marks an opportunity to further push false, pesticide-dependent solutions to real problems. But democratizing our food system is the most powerful way I know to solve the underlying problems that World Food Day highlights — and people around the world are coming together to make it happen.

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GE labeling in Oregon & beyond

As I strolled through downtown Ashland, Oregon, last week, I was struck by how many “Yes on 92” signs and stickers I saw. There is clear, visible support from businesses and individuals for the measure to label genetically engineered (GE) foods.

And as the measure heads for a vote on November 4, industrial agriculture groups are pulling out all the stops to keep this ballot initiative from winning. Even so, there is an incredible groundswell of support for labeling GE food in Oregon and beyond. Things are looking hopeful!

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