Science

Farm-to-Fork plan suggests Europe wants sustainable farming. So why do EU politicians ignore the ‘green’ benefits of GM crops?

There is ongoing disagreement between the popularly elected European Parliament and the executives in the European Commission over approvals of “genetically modified” (GM) crops, which are made with modern molecular genetic engineering techniques. In December, members of the European Parliament objected to authorizations of no fewer than five new GM crops — one soybean and four corn (maize) varieties — developed for food and animal feedstock. These objections follow dozens of others that have been made over the previous five years. (These are the same varieties that are ubiquitous in many other countries, including the United States.) A European Commission spokesperson has suggested that a new approach will be necessary to authorize such “genetically modified organisms,” or GMOs, in order to align with the new Farm to Fork Strategy, an agricultural strategy recently embraced by Europe:

We look forward to constructive cooperation with the co-legislators on all these measures, which we believe will enable the achievement of a sustainable food system, including GMOs on which the EU feed sector is presently highly dependent.

The latter part of this quote is, in fact, incomplete: There is extensive reliance of the EU on imports of both food and feed, of which a significant portion is genetically engineered. In 2018, for example, the EU imported about 45 million tons a year of GM crops for food and livestock feed. More specifically, the livestock sector in the EU depends heavily on imports of soy. According to Commission figures, in 2019-2020 the EU imported 16.87 million tonnes of soymeal and 14.17 million tonnes of soybeans, most of which came from countries where GM crops are widely cultivated. For example, 90% originates from four countries in which around 90% of cultivated soybeans are GM.

For a GM crop to enter the EU marketplace (whether for cultivation or to be used in food or feed, or for other purposes), an authorization is required. Applications for authorization are first submitted to a Member State, which forwards them to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). In cooperation with Member States’ scientific bodies, EFSA assesses possible risks of the variety to human and animal health and the environment. Parliament itself plays no part in the authorization process, but it can oppose or demand rejection of a new GM crop based on any whim, prejudice, or the bleating of NGOs in their constituencies. They have chosen to ignore the sagacious observation of the 18th century Irish statesman and writer Edmund Burke that, in republics,

Your Representative owes you, not only his industry, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.

GM crops have been shown repeatedly to pose no unique or systematic risks to human health or the environment. The policies articulated in Farm to Fork suggest a renewed interest by the EU in environmental sustainability but conveniently ignore that that is the essence of what GM crops can bring to the table. Numerous analyses, in particular those of economists Graham Brookes and Peter Barfoot, have demonstrated that the introduction of GM crops lessens the amount of chemical inputs, improves farm yields and farmer incomes, and reduces the need for tillage, thus reducing carbon emissions.  The indirect benefits from GM crops include empowering women farmers by removing the drudgery of weeding, and lowering the risk of cancer by lessening crop damage from insect pests whose predation can increase aflatoxin levels. Reducing crop damage in turn reduces food waste. GM crops can also improve farmers’ health by lessening the likelihood of pesticide poisoning, and GM biofortified crops can also provide nutritional benefits that are not found in conventional crops, a life-saving innovation for the rural poor in low- to middle-income countries.

The rift between the views of the European Parliament and EU scientific agencies such as the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) shows no signs of healing. Bill Wirtz of the Consumer Choice Center predicts that trying to achieve the goals of the Farm to Fork strategy will have “dire impacts.” To address a legacy of environmental degradation, the EU proposes by 2030 to increase organic farming by 25% and reduce pesticide application on farmland by 50%. These plans fail to consider that pesticide use has sharply decreased over the past 50 years and that organic agriculture does not necessarily imply lower carbon emissions; often, the opposite is true.

Wirtz goes on to describe how slack compliance laws across the EU have made food fraud a viable business model. A significant proportion of this fraudulent organic food stems from international imports from countries, such as China, with a history of inferior quality and violation of food standards. However, he observes, increasing the surveillance and enforcement of food imports standards and rejecting those that are fraudulent could jeopardize current food security efforts, as well as the economy of the EU as a whole, given the EU’s substantial dependency on food imports.

The Farm to Fork initiative gets support from occasional specious articles in the “scientific” literature. An example is a paper published last December in Nature Communications, “Calculation of external climate costs for food highlights /inadequate pricing of animal products” by German researchers Pieper et al. The paper, which illustrates the hazards of meta-analyses on poorly selected articles, describes the use of life-cycle assessment and meta-analytical tools to determine the external climate-warming costs of animal meat, dairy and plant-based food products, made with conventional versus organic practices. The authors calculate that external greenhouse gas costs are highest for animal-based products, followed by conventional dairy products, and lowest for plant-based products, and they recommend that policy changes be made in order to make currently “distorted” food prices better reflect these environmental “costs.” They also claim that organic farming practices have a lower environmental impact than conventional, and for that matter, GM crops. They failed, however, to reference the immense body of work of Matin Qaim, Brookes and Barfoot, and many others, documenting the role that GM crops have played in furthering environmental sustainability by reducing carbon emissions and pesticide use, while increasing yield and farmers’ incomes. The omission of any reference to, or rebuttal of, that exemplary body of work is a flagrant flaw.

The paucity of GM versus organic crop data discussed in the paper is also deceptive. Anyone unfamiliar with the role of GM crops in agriculture would be left with the impression that organic crops are superior in terms of land use, deforestation, pesticide use and other environmental concerns. Yet many difficulties exist, especially, for pest management of organic crops, often resulting in lower yields and reduced product quality.

There is extensive and robust data suggesting that organic farming is not a viable strategy to reduce global GHG emissions. When the effects of land-use change are factored in, organic farming can result in higher global GHG emissions than conventional alternatives — which is even more pronounced if one includes the development and use of new breeding technologies, which are banned in organic farming.

Pieper et al claim — rather grandiosely, it seems to us — that their method of calculating the “true costs of food…could lead to an increase in the welfare of society as a whole by reducing current market imperfections and their resulting negative ecological and social impacts.” But that only works if we omit all the data on imported food and feed, turn a blind eye to the welfare of the poor, and disregard the impact of crop pests for which there is no good organic solution.

It is true that animal-based products have costs in terms of greenhouse gas emissions that are not reflected in the price, that plant-based products have varying external climate costs (as have all non-food products that we consume), and that adopting policies that internalizing those costs as much as possible would be the best practice. Conventional farming often has significantly higher yields, especially for food crops (as opposed to hay and silage), than farming with organic practices. The adoption of agroecological practices mandated by Farm-to-Fork policies would greatly reduce agricultural productivity in the EU, and could have devastating consequences for food-insecure Africa. Europe is the major trading partner for many African countries, and European NGOs and government aid organizations exert profound influence over Africa, often actively discouraging the use of superior modern farming approaches and technologies, claiming that adoption of these tools conflicts with the EU’s “Green Deal” initiative. Thus, there is a negative ripple effect on developing countries of anti-innovation, anti-technology policies by influential industrialized countries.

Moreover, the EU even now imports much of its food, which as described above, has significant implications for its trading partners and Europe’s future food security. The EU seems to have failed to consider that continuing on the Farm to Fork trajectory will require endlessly increasing food imports, increasing food prices and jeopardizing quality. Or maybe they have just chosen to embrace the fad of the moment and kick the can down la rueAprès moi, le déluge.

Originally published here.

An EU Carbon Tariff Is Policy Mischief

A carbon adjustment would be bad news for consumers…

In November of 2020, the European Roundtable on Climate Change and Sustainable Development accepted a paper on the concept of carbon border adjustments, otherwise known as carbon tariffs. It is now widely understood that the EU is seriously considering implementing a new regime of carbon tariffs as part of its overall climate strategy. 

Simply put, carbon tariffs would be taxes on goods from countries that do not meet the EU’s  level of environmental protection. Their main purpose is to avoid “carbon leakage,” in which companies move to countries that don’t impose costs on carbon.

The problem with this, first and foremost, is that tariffs are taxes paid for by domestic consumers, which means the end result is European consumers footing the bill via higher prices on international goods. At a time when all of Europe is eyeing the end of the pandemic, and the worrisome economic recovery that will follow, a price inflating carbon adjustment would be troublesome to say the least.

Supporters of this policy will argue that a border adjustment will have the positives of encouraging high emission exporters to clean up their act, and benefit European industry in the process. The thought process is that if foreign goods become more expensive, EU goods will become comparatively cheaper.

On getting high emission countries to meet European climate standards, it is naive to assume that the developing world can meet such benchmarks. As many in the development policy arena have rightly pointed out, the developed world propelled itself to its current status by first focusing on growth, which is what now allows Europe the luxury of enacting policies to protect the environment. Because of that, I’m hard pressed to see the developing world have the capacity, in the short-medium term, to create the infrastructure necessary to meet EU standards.

This means that the adjustment just serves as a tool to tilt the scales toward domestic industry. While that shift may seem positive to some, the Trump Administration’s tariffs give us a real life case study on why this is immensely negative. While the reasons for these tariffs were populist in nature, the lessons hold true for tariffs pushed forward for other policy goals.

Looking at the impact on washing machines, Trump’s tariffs increased the tariff on these goods to 20% on the first 1.2 million units imported, and to 50% for all units imported after that amount. The result was a 12% increase in the price of imported washing machines, and dryers, which despite not being taxed are often sold in pairs. Unfortunately, consumers were also faced with higher prices for domestic washing machines, largely because domestic producers were able to increase their prices as their competitor’s prices increased. For consumers, the end result of this policy was a price increase of around $88 per unit, which totaled to a total price inflation of $1.56 billion, generating $82.2 million in tariff revenue.

Now, supporters of tariffs might argue, as Trump did, that even though consumers were paying more for imported goods, and ironically domestic goods as well, the policy had the positive effect of emboldening domestic industry and creating jobs. This is actually true, the policy did create manufacturing jobs in the United States, approximately 1800 new positions. The problem is that those jobs came with an enormous cost for US consumers, so much so that American consumers paid $811,000 in higher prices per job created. This doesn’t even remotely come close to passing a cost benefit analysis.

We don’t know what the rate of the carbon adjustment would be, although it is likely that, per WTO rules, it would have to match whatever domestic rates of carbon taxation are. If the carbon tariff were to match, lets say, France’s domestic carbon tax of €44.81 per tonne of carbon emissions, the impact of a carbon adjustment would be significant. Take the figures from Trump’s washing machine fiasco, and apply those lessons to all products imported to Europe from high emission countries, and the bill consumers will have to shoulder is nothing short of astronomical.

Originally published here.

The Commission’s organic ambitions will be paid by consumers

Consumers will foot the bill for extravagant organic goals…

As I’ve previously explained on this website, the EU’s organic ambitions are seriously misled, because contrary to popular belief, organic food is neither environmentally friendly, nor better for consumers. Research has established that moving all current farming to organic farming would increase greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by up to 70%. Researchers analysed the hypothetical move of Welsh and English farm production to organic and found that reduced crop yields in organic farming increased the need to import food from overseas. Including the GHGs emitted growing that food abroad — a part of the equation often ignored advocates of organic agriculture — total GHGs emitted would increase between 21% in the best-case scenario to an astounding 70%, depending on how much natural habitat and forest had to be cleared to make up for the decline caused by England’s and Wales’ switch to organic production.

The recently released Organic Action Plan of the European Commission explains how exactly Berlaymont wants to boost organic production from the current 8 per cent to 25 per cent. On top of that, the Commission seeks to respond to the concerns of farmer’s unions, who remarked that if consumer demand does not match the supply, then they could be affected by serious price instabilities.

Two points in ‘Axis 1’ of the plan strike me:

  • promote organic canteens and increase the use of green public procurement;
  • reinforce organic school scheme

In essence, the Commission is trying to boost organic demand by forcing public institutions to adopt them in their canteens. This point remains vague, better it’s expected that the EU will adopt further subsidies for organic agriculture:

  • promote organic farming and the EU logo

Once again, consumers will be asked to foot the bill for agricultural ambitions of the EU. 

That said, the Organic Action Plan also includes the very necessary fight against fraud in the organic sector.

In its 2019 report titled “The control system for organic products has improved, but some challenges remain”, the European Court of Auditors found structural problems with the control system of organic food trade, despite controls being implemented in 1991. In a section on the communication on non-compliance, the ECA writes: 

“In Bulgaria, we found that some control bodies notified the competent authority about certain types of non-compliances only through their annual reporting. The competent authority did not notice this during its supervisory activities. In Czechia, we found that on average control bodies took 33 days in 2016 and 55 days in 2017 to report a non-compliance affecting the organic status of a product to the competent authority.”

The report also notes that non-compliance communication delays are 38 calendar days on average in the European Union, while existing regulations stipulate that reporting should happen without delay. This means that non-compliant organic products, i.e. fraudulent organic trade, continue a month on average in the legal circulation of the European single market, before being flagged to consumers.

The ECA also notes that member states were delayed in their reporting to the European Commission by an average of 4 months and that 50% of all analysed reports were missing information. China is the largest exporter of organic food to the European Union (based on weight, 2018 figures, from ECA report, see below). With significant difficulties concerning quality control of a large range of products originating from China, the EU institutions must prioritise the authenticity of these food imports

Overall, the Commission’s Plan is compiled of the problematic implementation of its organic ambitions at taxpayer’s expense, and the necessary fight against fraudulent imports. So we get the good, the bad, and once we get the stage of the directives, I fear we might see the ugly.

Originally published here.

Finding innovative ways to improve European health

Some of the answers are in front of us…

When one of the Consumer Choice Center’s policy fellows, Nur Baysal recently published a blog post on senolytics on this page, I started to wonder about other alternative ways to improve health. COVID-19 has had many people take up worse habits in their daily lives, while others have used their spare time to pursue healthier diets and exercise routines.

Meanwhile, the European Union is following old adages in their pursuit of making the continent live longer. Sugar taxes are quickly approved and supported by the European Commission, tobacco control rules are applauded, and alcohol is targeted by new measures. The EU’s Beating Cancer Plan even eyes vaping as a threat to public health, which has very little support from the scientific community, but unfortunately, evidence-based policy-making is not integrated too much into the hearts of the Berlaymont building in Brussels. 

Their responses are stale and old-fashioned, while the world keeps turning and innovating. Senolytics is a high-tech approach to prevent ageing, but some of our older household goods lying around turn out to be comparably helpful to improve our health. 

To turn to a personal story: two years ago, I underwent surgery to remove my tonsils and to fix a disfiguration in my nose that had bothered me for years. Both surgeries went poorly, which led to a much longer recuperation time. I faced long and painful days in the hospital that I was only able to deal with due to a large amount of anti-inflammatory medications and painkillers. I have since gotten better, but a lasting effect of the drugs I’ve been giving is a more sensitive stomach. With constant acidic reflux, I need to be more careful about what I eat and reduce my stress levels not to worsen it—avoiding snacking as a part of this effort.

I’ve since discovered that chewing has had positive effects on avoiding some of the sugary alternatives that cause my stomach upsets. With sugar-free gum, I’m able to keep my mind off of the sugary or salty snacks in the kitchen. This 2011 study found that chewing gum reduces the desire for snacks by 10%, which makes a significant dent in my afternoon cravings for those foods that are unhealthy. On top of that, it improves my ability to focus, which is particularly useful during long Zoom call mornings or proofreading afternoons.

Chewing gum contains xylitol, a chemical compound categorised as “sugar alcohol”. It has fewer calories than sugar and does not raise blood sugar levels. On top of that, daily chewing xylitol gum reduces biofilm formation by 42%, which reduces bacteria in the mouth. Thus, chewing gum has become a kind of wellness routine, freeing me from craving crisps or downing a third espresso.

My friends around me have taken different routes. A mix of meat-only diets and cycling seems to work for one of my good friends, while my father has completely given up on meat but taken up an impressive 100 kilometres running routine. Balancing work, exercise, and diets is essential because while healthier lifestyles are important, they ought not to take over our lives or make us miserable because we feel like we need to give up on too much.

The government is preaching abstinence while individuals are finding solutions. We should celebrate the ingenuity of companies that allow us to find smart solutions for complicated problems. On top of that, we should follow scientific evidence and adapt our decision-making accordingly. If the last two decades have taught us anything, it is that we can’t legislate away obesity or medical problems with large-scale policy plans or bans.

Originally published here.

Michael Bloomberg turns the dial on Indian health policy

By Shrey Madaan

Large sodas, alcohol, vaping devices and the Internet are just a few of the things the World Health Organization wants to keep us away from.

Lawmakers say it is safeguarding its subjects from evil elements in order to protect them. But many critics also believe Indian sensibilities are composed of graver stuff and are concerned about India’s transition to a “Nanny State”.

The Nanny State is the idea of a government or authorities behaving too protective for their constituents, i.e interfering with their personal choice and hindering their liberty and right to life. 

This is something we have seen Bloomberg Philanthropies try to establish here in India. For years, Bloomberg Philanthropies has bestowed billions of dollars to global issues close to the billionaire’s heart such as education, environment and public health, transforming Bloomberg into a sort of flamboyant private government. 

This is evident when he began the Anti-Tobacco Campaign in India, causing a drastic boom on tobacco products, laying a strong foundation for intellectual precision on imposing bans on vaping devices and persuading the Health Ministry to adopt larger health warnings on various consumer goods

Thanks to his Nanny State mission, Michael Bloomberg was named as World Health Organisation’s “Global Ambassador For Non-communicable Diseases and Injuries,” a mission funded by himself for many years.

While it’s noteworthy to appreciate Bloomberg’s recent expenditures into Covid-19 research, his prolonged mission to spread the nanny state overseas via the soft power of the WHO is not only paternalistic but derogatory as well. This emphasis on soft power and negligence towards substantive reforms highlights the inefficiency of WHO. 

Their focus on soft power is evident from foisting soda taxes, imposing bans on e-cigarettes and vaping devices in third world countries and initiating Anti-Tobacco campaigns like here in India. Because the WHO and Bloomberg put so much emphasis on these various issues, it is not too difficult to draw a line between those activities and the failure of the WHO to help contain the initial outbreak of COVID-19 in China. 

These lapses in Covid response, together with WHO detracting from its mission to safeguard us from pandemics, is a principal reason for opposing the global Nanny State expansion by people like Bloomberg. The recent channelling of funds into Indian non-profit agencies in exchange for a strong lobby against tobacco products and safer alternatives have called the credibility of Billionaire’s influence in question and has brought them under scrutiny. 

In response, the Indian government increased surveillance of non-profit groups, stating their actions to be against national interests. The Indian government tightened the scrutiny of NGOs registered under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA). The action has been opposed by critics claiming the use of foreign funding law by the government as a weapon to suppress non-profit groups concerned about social repercussions of Indian economic growth. 

The note drafted by the Home Ministry’s Intelligence wing raised concerns about targeting Indian businesses and its aggressive lobby against them. The three-page note acknowledged Bloomberg’s intention to free India from tobacco and other products but also elaborated upon the significance of the sector bringing revenue of 5 billion dollars annually for the governments, and employment generated for millions. The note also highlighted the negative implications of aggressive lobby against the sector and how it threatens the livelihood of 35 million people. 

The steps to promoting soft power Nanny State are not only appreciated but are aided by WHO. That is where WHO is pushing us into the abyss. Instead of providing doctors and health care workers with necessary supplies and honing the health care systems, the opulence of Bloomberg has commissioned the WHO as a “Global Police” enforcing taxes and bans on a plethora of consumer products around the world. 

Bloomberg’s Nanny Missions emerged as a grim threat to the health care sector, making the current pandemic more threatening. Let us hope we do not feel the repercussions here at home. 

Originally published here.

The obesity crisis? Innovation, not nannying, will cut our calories

Britain’s obesity crisis is acute and urgent. The government’s decision to make tackling it the number one public health priority has an empirical basis. Britons are fatter than ever before, with excess body fat responsible for more deaths than smoking every year since 2014. But as sound as the public health concerns might be, when they are translated into policy, we find ourselves running into a world of problems.

A few years ago, Boris Johnson liked to talk about rolling back the “continuing creep of the nanny state”. He once promised to put an end to “sin taxes” on sugary drinks. He liked to talkabout Britain as a “land of liberty” and, for many, he represented a break with the past. Theresa May had denounced what she called the “libertarian right” upon her elevation to 10 Downing Street, opting instead for “a new centre-ground”. Boris, we were assured, would be something entirely different.

So how did we get here? We have somehow reached a point where the pillars of the Government’s anti-obesity strategy are the regressive sugar tax – which remains firmly in place – along with a draconian advertising ban on foods high in salt, sugar or fat. Plus a bizarre £100 million fund which, one way or another, will supposedly help people to drop the pounds and keep them off.

In between the old Boris and the new, the man himself slimmed down following his jarring bout of Covid-19. After he came out of hospital and recovered from coronavirus, the Prime Minister embarked on a personal slimming programme of his own, allowing him to make himself the poster boy of his Government’s anti-obesity drive.

“The reason I had such a nasty experience with the disease,” he said in October of last year, “is that although I was superficially in the pink of health when I caught it, I had a very common underlying condition. My friends, I was too fat. And I have since lost 26 pounds… And I’m going to continue that diet because you have got to search for the hero inside yourself in the hope that that individual is considerably slimmer.”

Metafictional interpretations of ‘90s song lyrics aside, Johnson’s point here is essentially correct. All the data bears out the fact that obesity has a substantial effect on the dangers posed by a coronavirus infection. But it is unclear why that should warrant an abandonment of principles of liberty in favour of gratuitous and often random state intervention in people’s lives. No nanny state told the PM how to cut his calories. So if Boris could lose weight on his own, why can’t the rest of us?

It’s not like there are no alternatives on the table, leaving costly and damaging policies like new taxes and ad bans as the only option. The menu of unintrusive and unobtrusive anti-obesity policies, free of cost to the taxpayer, is endless. Studies have shown how simple changes, like marking out a section on shopping trolleys for fruit and veg with yellow tape, or rebranding healthy foods to make them more appealing to children, can have an enormous positive effect over a short period of time.

Plus, Britain is home to some of the best scientists and research institutes in the world. Even in times of economic constraint, thanks to lockdown, innovation in the private sector is booming. It was recently discovered, for instance, that a diabetes drug called semaglutide can also function as a weight-loss “miracle cure”. Something as simple as sugar-free chewing gum can suppress appetites, cutting down on unhealthy snacking by a tenth, with very little effort. Why is the Government not enthused by this constant shower of scientific breakthroughs?

For whatever reason, ministers and officials are unwilling to explore the wealth of opportunities for cost-free nudge policies and innovative scientific investments. It is wedded to its model of centralised diet control and appears to hang on Jamie Oliver’s every word. Obesity is shaping up to be the next global health disaster and if we’re not careful – if we remain blinkered by these short-sighted policies – we might find ourselves as unprepared for the next pandemic as we were for the present one.

The Government must step up to the plate now and offer real solutions that work. That is our only hope of preventing the looming catastrophe.

Originally published here.

Sugar is the new tobacco. Here’s what we should do about it!

Whichever way you look at it, Britain is facing an obesity crisis. A study into long-term public health in England and Scotland published earlier this month reached the startling conclusion that obesity is causing more deaths than smoking, with nearly two thirds of British adults now overweight.

This past year has brought rising obesity levels into sharp focus because of the effect that being overweight seems to have on the fatality of Covid-19. According to research from the World Obesity Federation, nine out of ten deaths from coronavirus occurred in countries with high obesity levels, which might go some way towards explaining why the UK has seen a disproportionately high death toll.

This issue has not passed the Government by. Led by a man who was elected on a platform of halting ‘the continuing creep of the nanny state’, this Conservative Government has unveiled a raft of policies designed to ease the pressure on Britain’s weighing scales, including the sugar tax, a ‘junk food’ advertising ban and even a fund – with a £100m price tag – which is apparently designed to bribe people into losing weight.

The problems with these policies are too numerous to count. Sin taxes hit the poor harder than anyone else, making the weekly shopping trip more expensive for families who are already struggling. The junk food ad ban is set to remove around 1.7 calories, or half a Smartie’s worth of energy intake, from children’s diets per day – according to the Government’s analysis of its own policy. And the state-funded version of Slimming World sounds like something that comes out of a pop-up book of policies. Yes, and ho!

It is unclear why Boris Johnson, who was able to lose weight after his brush with Covid without any of these new Government-sponsored initiatives in place, is now so firmly of the belief that the Government must crack down on unhealthy eating if we are to have any hope of slowing down the increase in obesity rates – especially when the private sector is doing most of the hard work voluntarily.

Tesco, for instance, recently bowed to external pressure by committing itself to increasing its sales of healthy foods to 65% of total sales by 2025. Time and time again, when there is an issue people care about, companies go out of their way to do their bit – even at the expense of their bottom line. We saw the same thing happen when the world woke up to the reality of climate change, with businesses eagerly signing up to costly net-zero plans.

Positive moves like this from incumbent giants are complemented by the wealth of innovation taking place around obesity. Semaglutide, a diabetes drug, was recently found to be extraordinarily effective in helping people lose weight. Even something as innocuous as sugar-free chewing gum might just represent part of the solution. Datasuggests that the mere act of idle chewing suppresses the appetite, resulting in a 10% reduction in the consumption of sweet and salty snacks.

Crucially, these remarkable steps towards a less obese Britain can take place at no cost to the taxpayer, free of the grip of Whitehall bureaucracy and at an astonishing pace. We have just lived through a year in which the Government pumped billions into a near-useless ‘test and trace’ system and repeatedly failed to clarify whether or not drinking coffee on a park bench is illegal. If there is one incontrovertible lesson we can surely take from that, it is that we should not leave such important tasks to the state.

Sugar is the new tobacco, so we need to be smart in how we tackle it. Sporadic, ill-thought-out Government interventions like banning Marmite adverts are not the answer. Private-sector innovation, not centralised policy, is Britain’s best hope of slimming down.

Originally published here

DelVal Communities Sue for Right to Ban Plastic Bags. But What Does the Science Say?

Earlier this month, a handful of Delaware Valley communities sued the state over their right to choose to ban the sale and use of plastic shopping bags. The issue raises questions about local authority vs. state power, one that got tangled up in the public policy over handling the threat of COVID-19.

Interestingly the question few people are asking is “What does the science say?” The answer is far more complicated than plastic bag opponents have acknowledged.

On March 3, Philadelphia, West Chester, Narberth, and Lower Merion filed suit claiming GOP state lawmakers violated the constitution when they inserted a ban on banning plastic bags, straws and other single-use plastic products into the budget last year. However, Philly’s efforts to ban the bags go back to well before December 2019, when the city council passed an anti-bag ordinance. Four previous attempts to ban plastic bag use in the city failed.

That ban was blocked, not only by state lawmakers, but by the coronavirus pandemic, which gave plastic shopping bags a second life.

Concerns about “surface contagion” made reusable cloth bags, carried in and out of homes and stores, a pathogen-carrying pariah. Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney announced on April 22 — Earth Day, ironically — the city was postponing the July 1, 2020 start date for its bag ban.

“This is not an announcement we want to make during Earth Week. We know the climate crisis and plastic pollution remain two very serious threats to our planet and society, even during the global pandemic,” the mayor said.

Politicians throughout the country took similar steps. New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, issued an executive order urging residents “to keep reusable bags at home given potential risks to baggers, grocers, and customers.” In New York, a state senator called for the state’s plastic bag prohibition to be suspended for similar reasons.

Meanwhile, in Harrisburg, lawmakers in 2020 extended a 2019 moratorium on plastic bag bans by placing it inside a budget bill (HB1083) just hours before a full vote by the General Assembly. The measure banned municipalities from imitating fees or restrictions on single-use plastics, such as bags and utensils.

The measure, in effect, prevented Philadelphia from implementing its 2019 plastic bag ban It also postponed bag bans in West Chester and Narberth, and stalled a similar ban from going forward in Lower Merion. Left unchallenged, this meant bag bans in all four municipalities could not be implemented until November 2021.

And so now they’re suing.

“In Philadelphia and across the commonwealth, local governments are increasingly concerned about the health and environmental effects of plastic bags,” Mayor Kenney said. “Yet, once again, we face a state legislature that is focused more on tying the hands of cities and towns than on solving the actual problems facing Pennsylvania.”

According to a WHYY report, the Commonwealth Court lawsuit challenges “the state’s ban on the bans, at least until July 1, 2021, or six months after Gov. Tom Wolf lifted the COVID-19 state of emergency. Under the current state of emergency, that would delay the implementation of the municipal bans at least until November of this year.”

Philadelphia officials say they will enact the bag ban on July 1, regardless of state law. If that happens, the result could be Pennsylvania’s attorney general, Democrat Josh Shapiro, representing the state against the liberal stronghold of Philadelphia and over an issue Democrats have widely embraced.

Meanwhile, state Rep. John Hershey (R-Juniata County), who supports the state’s actions, said the bans would have a negative effect on the livelihoods of the families who live and work near the Novolex plastics plant in Milesburg.

This puts the “small-government” GOP in a fight against local governance, a principle Republicans tend to embrace.

Amid the complex politics, however, a larger issue remains largely ignored: Are plastic bag bans smart environmental policy?

If the goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the science is settled: No. Multiple studies have confirmed that, as Stanford Magazine put it,”single-use plastic bags have the smallest carbon footprint.” A report from the MIT Office of Sustainability concluded: “Based on greenhouse gas emissions of material production, the paper bag would require five uses in order to have a lower impact per use than the polyethylene bag, whereas the jute bag would require 19.”

And it’s not just in the U.S. David Clement of the Consumer Choice Center wrote for InsideSources: “When Denmark considered a ban on single-use plastic grocery bags, its studies found they were far superior in comparison to alternatives. The Danes came to that conclusion based on 15 environmental benchmarks, including climate change, toxicity, ozone depletion, resource depletion, and ecosystem impact. They calculated paper bags would need to be reused 43 times to have the same total impact as a plastic bag.”

But what about litter and plastic pollution in the water? Delaware Valley Journal recently reportedon a study from the nonprofit environmental advocacy group PennEnvironment Research and Policy Center that found samples from every one of the state’s 53 popular waterways contained microplastics.

But despite complaints about plastic bags fouling our streets and sewers, the definitive litter study—the 2009 Keep America Beautiful Survey—found all retail plastic bags (which includes sandwich bags, dry cleaning bags, etc) account for just 0.6 percent of visible litter nationwide.

And a recent study revealed the United States is responsible for about 1 percent of the plastic litter in the world’s oceans.

Jenn Kocher, a spokeswoman for Republican state Sen. Jake Corman, said the desire of local municipalities to enact bans on single-use plastic ought to be balanced with economic concerns, as well as the loss of jobs. Corman stated that “bans hurt the economy” and that “the employers that manufacture these bags provide family-sustaining jobs in communities throughout Pennsylvania.”

Originally published here

Carbon tariffs are policy mischief

It’s hard to imagine a scenario in which such tariffs don’t make life more expensive for ordinary Canadians

At their virtual summit last month, Justin Trudeau and Joe Biden talked about how Canada and the U.S. could be partners on future projects. Trudeau’s jab at Donald Trump — “U.S. leadership has been sorely missed” — made all the headlines but there was another important policy discussion that likely will have more important implications. Trudeau and Biden both hinted that Canadian-American climate co-operation could include “carbon adjustments” on goods imported from high-emitting countries.

Carbon adjustments, often referred to as carbon tariffs, are levies on goods from countries that do not maintain our level of environmental protection. Their main purpose is to avoid “carbon leakage,” in which companies move to countries that don’t impose costs on carbon.

No one knows how high a carbon tariff would be but it seems likely it would be imposed at the rate of our own federal carbon tax. A back-of-the-envelope approximation using the example of imports of Chinese and Indian steel shows that the impact would be significant. In 2019, Canada imported 612,000 metric tons of steel from India and China. The emissions associated with those imports are around 1,132,200 tonnes of carbon dioxide, using McKinsey’s estimate of 1.85 tons of carbon dioxide per metric ton of steel produced.

Chinese and Indian steel presumably wouldn’t have to pay the full weight of the carbon tax on every ton of CO2, because we exempt 80-90 per cent of emissions from our domestic industry, and, to be non-discriminatory, the adjustment rate would have to match how we treat domestic producers. That said, even with an exemption rate of 85 per cent a carbon tariff would be costly. At that rate, 169,830 tons of CO2 related to these imports would be subject to the tax, which is currently $40/ton. That gives a cost of more than $6.7 million. At the 2030 rate of $170/ton, it balloons to more than $28.8 million.

Apply this technique across a long list of other products from these and other high-emitters and the costs become substantial.

Beyond cost, however, there are also a number of logistical hurdles, which have been outlined in a report submitted to the European Round Table on Climate Change and Sustainable Development. The report favours carbon adjustments but advises that they be approached with caution. It highlights that the revenue from the adjustment can either be kept domestically or sent abroad. Neither option is problem-free.

If the money is kept in Canada, one option would be to refund it to Canadian businesses — though giving Canadian firms revenue generated from taxing the sale of their competitors’ products seems unfair. In many cases it would also mean inflating the price of goods from developing countries like India to protect industry in the developed world.

If that’s a problem, the rebate could be returned to Canadians, preferably through a revenue-neutral rebate scheme like the one that in principle is used to recycle our domestic carbon tax — though problems with rollout mean it hasn’t been revenue-neutral yet. Moreover, the Parliamentary Budget Officer estimates that 40 per cent of Canadian families are paying more in carbon taxes than they receive in rebates.

Sending the rebate back to high-emission countries or to global climate funds to help with decarbonization, as suggested in the report to the European Roundtable, isn’t much more attractive. Sending tax revenue abroad won’t likely sit well with Canadians who have spent the last year worrying about the impact of the pandemic on their financial future. It would also run counter to the prime minister’s December pledge not to raise taxes to deal with the deficit.

Rather than taking a swipe at Trump’s leadership, Trudeau should instead have looked at Trump’s record on trade and how disastrous tariffs can be. Trump’s tariffs on imported washing machines, for example, caused a 12 per cent increase in prices, around $88/unit, which created $1.56 billion in extra costs for consumers. (Americans buy a lot of washing-machines!)

Supporters of tariffs would argue, as Trump did, that inflated prices are worth it to expand domestic industry and create jobs. Trump’s tariffs did create manufacturing jobs in the United States — approximately 1800 new positions. The problem is that those jobs came at an enormous cost to U.S. consumers: $811,000 per job created, which comes nowhere near passing a cost-benefit analysis. Carbon adjustments, no matter how well intended, are likely to involve similar numbers.

Carbon tariffs are hard to calculate and open to abuse by rent-seeking protectionists. It’s hard to imagine a scenario in which they don’t make life more expensive for ordinary Canadians. There has to be a better path towards carbon neutrality, one that doesn’t involve drastically raising the costs of importing.

David Clement is North American Affairs Manager with the Consumer Choice Center.

Originally published here.

The EU’s ‘Farm to Fork’ Strategy Is Ill-Conceived and Destructive

There is ongoing disagreement between the popularly elected European Parliament and the executives in the European Commission over approvals of “genetically modified” (GM) crops, which are made with modern molecular genetic engineering techniques. In December, members of the European Parliament objected to authorizations of no fewer than five new GM crops — one soybean and four corn (maize) varieties — developed for food and animal feedstock. These objections follow dozens of others that have been made over the previous five years. (These are the same varieties that are ubiquitous in many other countries, including the United States.) A European Commission spokesperson has suggested that a new approach will be necessary to authorize such “genetically modified organisms,” or GMOs, in order to align with the new Farm to Fork Strategy, an agricultural strategy recently embraced by Europe:

“We look forward to constructive cooperation with the co-legislators on all these measures, which we believe will enable the achievement of a sustainable food system, including GMOs on which the EU feed sector is presently highly dependent.”

The latter part of this quote is, in fact, incomplete: There is extensive reliance of the EU on imports of both food and feed, of which a significant portion is genetically engineered. In 2018, for example, the EU imported about 45 million tons a year of GM crops for food and livestock feed. More specifically, the livestock sector in the EU depends heavily on imports of soy. According to Commission figures, in 2019-2020 the EU imported 16.87 million tonnes of soymeal and 14.17 million tonnes of soybeans, most of which came from countries where GM crops are widely cultivated. For example, 90% originates from four countries in which around 90% of cultivated soybeans are GM.

For a GM crop to enter the EU marketplace (whether for cultivation or to be used in food or feed, or for other purposes), an authorization is required. Applications for authorization are first submitted to a Member State, which forwards them to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). In cooperation with Member States’ scientific bodies, EFSA assesses possible risks of the variety to human and animal health and the environment. Parliament itself plays no part in the authorization process, but it can oppose or demand rejection of a new GM crop based on any whim, prejudice, or the bleating of NGOs in their constituencies. They have chosen to ignore the sagacious observation of the 18th century Irish statesman and writer Edmund Burke that, in republics, “Your Representative owes you, not only his industry, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.”

GM crops have been shown repeatedly to pose no unique or systematic risks to human health or the environment. The policies articulated in Farm to Fork suggest a renewed interest by the EU in environmental sustainability but conveniently ignore that that is the essence of what GM crops can bring to the table. Numerous analyses, in particular those of economists Graham Brookes and Peter Barfoot, have demonstrated that the introduction of GM crops lessens the amount of chemical inputs, improves farm yields and farmer incomes, and reduces the need for tillage, thus reducing carbon emissions.  The indirect benefits from GM crops include empowering women farmers by removing the drudgery of weeding, and lowering the risk of cancer by lessening crop damage from insect pests whose predation can increase aflatoxin levels. Reducing crop damage in turn reduces food waste. GM crops can also improve farmers’ health by lessening the likelihood of pesticide poisoning, and GM biofortified crops can also provide nutritional benefits that are not found in conventional crops, a life-saving innovation for the rural poor in low- to middle-income countries.

The rift between the views of the European Parliament and EU scientific agencies such as the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) shows no signs of healing. Bill Wirtz of the Consumer Choice Center predicts that trying to achieve the goals of the Farm to Fork strategy will have “dire impacts.” To address a legacy of environmental degradation, the EU proposes by 2030 to increase organic farming by 25% and reduce pesticide application on farmland by 50%. These plans fail to consider that pesticide use has sharply decreased over the past 50 years and that organic agriculture does not necessarily imply lower carbon emissions; often, the opposite is true.

Wirtz goes on to describe how slack compliance laws across the EU have made food fraud a viable business model. A significant proportion of this fraudulent organic food stems from international imports from countries, such as China, with a history of inferior quality and violation of food standards. However, he observes, increasing the surveillance and enforcement of food imports standards and rejecting those that are fraudulent could jeopardize current food security efforts, as well as the economy of the EU as a whole, given the EU’s substantial dependency on food imports.

The Farm to Fork initiative gets support from occasional specious articles in the “scientific” literature. An example is a paper published last December in Nature Communications, “Calculation of external climate costs for food highlights /inadequate pricing of animal products” by German researchers Pieper et al. The paper, which illustrates the hazards of meta-analyses on poorly selected articles, describes the use of life-cycle assessment and meta-analytical tools to determine the external climate-warming costs of animal meat, dairy and plant-based food products, made with conventional versus organic practices. The authors calculate that external greenhouse gas costs are highest for animal-based products, followed by conventional dairy products, and lowest for plant-based products, and they recommend that policy changes be made in order to make currently “distorted” food prices better reflect these environmental “costs.” They also claim that organic farming practices have a lower environmental impact than conventional, and for that matter, GM crops. They failed, however, to reference the immense body of work of Matin Qaim, Brookes and Barfoot, and many others, documenting the role that GM crops have played in furthering environmental sustainability by reducing carbon emissions and pesticide use, while increasing yield and farmers’ incomes. The omission of any reference to, or rebuttal of, that exemplary body of work is a flagrant flaw.

The paucity of GM versus organic crop data discussed in the paper is also deceptive. Anyone unfamiliar with the role of GM crops in agriculture would be left with the impression that organic crops are superior in terms of land use, deforestation, pesticide use and other environmental concerns. Yet many difficulties exist, especially, for pest management of organic crops, often resulting in lower yields and reduced product quality.

There is extensive and robust data suggesting that organic farming is not a viable strategy to reduce global GHG emissions. When the effects of land-use change are factored in, organic farming can result in higher global GHG emissions than conventional alternatives — which is even more pronounced if one includes the development and use of new breeding technologies, which are banned in organic farming.

Pieper et al claim — rather grandiosely, it seems to us — that their method of calculating the “true costs of food…could lead to an increase in the welfare of society as a whole by reducing current market imperfections and their resulting negative ecological and social impacts.” But that only works if we omit all the data on imported food and feed, turn a blind eye to the welfare of the poor, and disregard the impact of crop pests for which there is no good organic solution.

It is true that animal-based products have costs in terms of greenhouse gas emissions that are not reflected in the price, that plant-based products have varying external climate costs (as have all non-food products that we consume), and that adopting policies that internalizing those costs as much as possible would be the best practice. Conventional farming often has significantly higher yields, especially for food crops (as opposed to hay and silage), than farming with organic practices. The adoption of agroecological practices mandated by Farm-to-Fork policies would greatly reduce agricultural productivity in the EU, and could have devastating consequences for food-insecure Africa. Europe is the major trading partner for many African countries, and European NGOs and government aid organizations exert profound influence over Africa, often actively discouraging the use of superior modern farming approaches and technologies, claiming that adoption of these tools conflicts with the EU’s “Green Deal” initiative. Thus, there is a negative ripple effect on developing countries of anti-innovation, anti-technology policies by influential industrialized countries.

Moreover, the EU even now imports much of its food, which as described above, has significant implications for its trading partners and Europe’s future food security. The EU seems to have failed to consider that continuing on the Farm to Fork trajectory will require endlessly increasing food imports, increasing food prices and jeopardizing quality. Or maybe they have just chosen to embrace the fad of the moment and kick the can down la rueAprès moi, le déluge.

Originally published here.

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