Our valley's reigning pundit on an ever widening range of issues is syndicated columnist Victor Hanson, a Stanford trained classicist from a south valley farming family who is also a long-standing Hoover Institution scholar and, if these were not enough credentials to be expert on almost everything, he helped found a program at Fresno State to teach Latin and Greek. He is also author of Mexifornia, which pretends to be a brave moral stand against Mexican immigration.
One of Hanson's minor themes is the obesity of Mexicans. He goes on and on about the health and economic threats this Hispanic obesity entails for Californians, but never seems the least bit curious about why or how such a situation developed. This leaves us with an assumption that Mexicans suffer from some dietary perversion peculiar to their "race" and if not proactively starved by nutritionally concerned ruling classes, they just get fat.
Perhaps Hanson imagines he is writing exclusively for an urban, coastal readership of anxiety ridden, anorexic yuppies about our poor valley, overrun by Hispanic butterballs. In fact, Mexico's obesity rate only surpassed that of the most obese county -- the USA -- in the first decade of the 21st Century.
Those of us who live in the same valley see quite as many obese white folk. We also see many more Mexicans walking the bike paths, working out in gyms and apparently taking better care of their health than their Anglo neighbors.
Nevertheless, it seems that something causing overweight seems to have hit Mexico in recent years. But Hanson requires us to accept his statement of the facts without any reference to supporting data and does not ask why this has happened.
The whole issue reminds one of our editors of conversations he had in Mexico in the mid-1990's, just after NAFTA was signed. People he met from the border to Mexico City were complaining that their tortillas were now being made of US livestock-feed corn dumped into Mexico by heavily subsidized US growers and grain companies.
To emphasize the point for him, on an airplane flight from Oaxaca to Mexico City our editor sat next to a Mexican businessman holding a large paper bag that he did not release for the entire flight. From the bag came the savory odor of fresh tortillas. The businessman, an employee of Pemex, the state oil company, said that his boss demanded that every time he went to Oaxaca for business that he bring back 100 tortillas made of Oaxaca corn, because tortillas of real Mexican corn were impossible to find in Mexico City.
We recalled the NAFTA negotiations. On the US side, these were conducted by: Secretary of Commerce Mickey Kantor, of O'Melveny Myers, among the most politically powerful law firms in California; Secretary of Treasury and former US Senator Lloyd Bentsen, native of the Rio Grande Valley; and William Daly, son of Richard Daly, longtime mayor of Chicago, and brother of Richard Daly Jr., another longtime mayor of Chicago (Daly operated as President Clinton's top NAFTA lobbyist). Therefore, the interests of both ends of the US-Mexican Border were represented by Kantor and Bentsen, and Daly covered the grain belt (growers, grain companies, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and Midwestern states, the national Farm Bureau and the chambers of commerce). Clinton, the New Democrat, thought globally and acted locally to further weaken American unions. The US Department of Agriculture provided economists waving pompoms.
We also recall that the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party) won the 1988 election, considered so corrupt that the government was forced to make real, public efforts to clean up the election process in the next four years. (IFE, the non-partisan Federal Election Institute was established). And it was during this massively corrupt, cartel infested presidency of Carlos Salinas Gotari that the NAFTA agenda gained approval in the Mexican government, despite intense criticism in cities and the countryside and a revolution in the state of Chiapas.
We wondered if recalling NAFTA might shed some light on why and how Mexico is experiencing an obesity epidemic. Of course, maybe it's just idle historical conjecture.-- blj
Undocumented immigrants arriving from Mexico (which has the highest obesity rates—70% of the population—in the world) are especially at risk—and discover that the America diet is no different from what caused the pandemic in Mexico. -- Victor Hanson, victorhanson.com, Jan. 8, 2016
We dare not suggest California is sitting atop a health tragedy of unprecedented proportions, as an epidemic of obesity among Latino immigrants and their American-born children is leading to early diabetes and with it costly hospitalization and lifelong medical support. I see relatively young people — in their thirties and forties — with near blindness, amputations, and the inability to walk. Go to any lab for a blood test, visit any GP in Central California, enter an emergency room — and the crisis is manifest; read any newspapers, turn on the news, listen to the latest talking head — and it does not exist. The ramifications of this health crisis threaten to dwarf the prior AIDS epidemic as the immigrant population both expands and ages. -- Hanson, victorhanson.com, Aug. 4, 2014
Given that California has the highest number of undocumented immigrants in the nation, and that well over half arrive from Mexico, where 70 percent of the population is overweight and nearly 33 percent are obese (the highest obesity rate in the world among heavily populated countries), the state should be in crisis mode. If state government insists on policies that encourage undocumented immigrants to settle in California, and allows so-called sanctuary cities to ignore federal immigration law, it should at least have a massive health-information and outreach campaign – given that Type 2 diabetes is almost always a preventable disease. Hanson, victorhanson.com Jan. 3. 2016
US News & World Report
Study: U.S. Exporting Obesity to Mexico
A study says that the U.S. is exporting obesity south of the border.
A new study says that the United States is exporting its obesity epidemic--to Mexico.
According to "Exporting Obesity," a recent paper from the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, a Minneapolis-based think tank, U.S. agricultural products and policies are feeding growth in Mexico's obesity rate. The paper asserts that opening up trade avenues with the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, allowed the U.S. to send even more of its massive quantities of corn, soybeans, sugar, meat, and other foods to Mexico. An influx of cheap calories helped to push Mexico's obesity rate upward.
"I think that certainly U.S. farm policies encourage farmers to produce largest volume of food as cheaply as possible and to rely on export markets," says Karen Hansen-Kuhn, international program director at the IATP. The trade shifts that took place since the start of NAFTA in 1994, not to mention America's high obesity rate, make the U.S.-Mexico example an interesting case study. "We can trace the very direct changes that have happened, the fact that U.S. corn exports quadrupled since NAFTA began."
Longstanding U.S. subsidies promote overproduction of crops like corn and soybeans, the think tank paper claims, making those commodities cheaper and bringing to market a massive supply of byproducts like corn syrup and soybean oil that are calorie-dense but not very nutritious. Corn, much of which is used as a feed grain, also promotes increased meat production.
These factors may have contributed to Mexicans' ballooning waistlines. According to the IATP paper, Mexicans' average daily energy obtained from fat grew 28.9 percent from 1988 to 1999, the period during which NAFTA was negotiated and implemented. Soda consumption in Mexico also grew by 37.2 percent from 1984 to 1998.
According to the most recent data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Mexico's obesity rate is 30 percent, second among member countries only to the America's 33.8 percent and a significant increase from 2000, when Mexico's obesity rate was less than 25 percent. By another measure, Mexico is even fatter than the U.S.: 69.5 percent of Mexicans are overweight or obese, compared to 68 percent in the United States.
It's not just Mexico that's gaining weight. Obesity is now an epidemic on a global scale. A 2010 OECD study found that Mexico and five other emerging economies—China, Brazil, Russia, South Africa, and India—are all facing the growing obesity epidemic.
This may be an example of what some experts call "nutrition transition"—a phenomenon in which low- and middle-income countries become less healthy as they gain in prosperity. This can mean that malnutrition and obesity can go hand in hand.
"What's interesting is in the developing countries, in the initial stage of nutrition transition, rich people are more likely to become obese," says Frank Hu, Professor of Nutrition and Epidemiology at the Harvard Public School of Health. Given time, he says, obesity becomes more prevalent among poorer populations.
It's not just raw, cheap commodities that are to blame. The exporting of sugary sodas or fast foods by U.S. corporations is also boosting obesity, says Hu. "When they sell their products in developing countries, it certainly directly or indirectly contributes to energy balance and unhealthy dietary patterns, as well as increased obesity." But he adds that pinning down the degree to which this occurs is nearly impossible. "It's very difficult to quantify the exact magnitude of the contribution by American companies or by American policies."
Hoover Daily Report
Nafta at 20: A Model for Trade Policy
Hoover Institution via Wall Street Journal
It's easy to take for granted the North American Free Trade Agreement, which turned 20 years old last week. Those who predicted that Nafta would lead to joblessness and poverty have been proven definitively wrong. Freedom to trade with the neighbors (Canada, Mexico and the U.S.) has instead created wealth and opportunity and made the continent more globally competitive.
Yet Nafta's stellar performance won't keep pace with rising expectations if North American integration is not deepened. And that won't happen without vision and leadership. For inspiration, I recommend a look back at the creation.
David Ricardo couldn't have dreamed up a better example than Nafta of how voluntary exchange makes all parties better off. A continental web of supply chains now supports production facilities and serves consumers in three countries with a combined population of 470 million. An estimated 40% of the content of imports to the U.S. from Mexico, and 25% of what Americans buy from Canada, originated in the U.S.
In everything from agriculture to aerospace, producers in North America now draw on comparative advantages in design, technology, labor and component manufacturing throughout the continent. This more dynamic region takes on competitors like China.
Yet if continental interconnectedness has become routine, it was never inevitable. Before Nafta, genuine free-trade agreements were rare, and even rarer between a developed country like the U.S. and a developing economy like Mexico's. Let's remember too that all three countries had powerful special interests bent on hanging on to the privileges of protectionism.
In December I was invited to the Hoover Institution at Stanford University for a panel discussion about the past and future of Nafta. Participants included the three top Nafta negotiators: American Carla Hills, CanadianMichael Wilson and Mexico's Jaime Serra Puche.
Mr. Wilson kicked things off with Canadian (trade) war stories. He noted that the 1965 auto pact, which removed tariffs on vehicles and parts, marked the birth of "the North American supply chain." It wasn't free trade but it was a crack in the door that let in light. Canada wanted more access to the U.S. market. On Jan. 2, 1988, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney signed the U.S.-Canada Free Trade Agreement.
It was a huge political risk, as the federal election in November of that year—still known in Canada as "the free-trade election"—proved. "It was fierce," Mr. Wilson recalled. Mr. Mulroney prevailed but only after "he took off his jacket and fought." His Conservatives won the election but lost 34 seats.
Less than two years later, in the winter of 1990, U.S. Trade Representative Hills and her Mexican counterpart, Mr. Serra Puche, had a discussion in Davos, Switzerland, about a bilateral agreement. Mrs. Hills told the Hoover panel that she brought the idea to President George H.W. Bush and in August "Jaime and I issued a report, saying it was a good idea." Mr. Bush agreed and announced that the U.S. "would pursue a bilateral." Canada's Mulroney government wanted in. The Nafta negotiations were launched.
These visionaries also had to be salesmen. Mrs. Hills went on the offensive. Her team "intensified our meetings with Congress," attended the governor's conference in Seattle in 1991, and took a congressional delegation to Mexico. She spoke at a textile manufacturing convention, where she "got booed." Listening to Mrs. Hills, I'd say she relished the fight.
Under President Carlos Salinas, the cultural fabric of Mexico's one-party corporatist system was coming apart. The economy had been "highly protected for five or six decades," Mr. Serra Puche pointed out, and there were "huge distortions in prices." To build support for Nafta, the Mexico team worked to show the business community that the reliance on trade preferences was hurting competitiveness.
The Nafta dreamers came from different worlds. But they held in common the belief that more freedom would make life better for all North Americans. Never did they shrink from their main challenge, which was to persuade skeptics.
Bill Clinton, who took office in January 1993 when the Nafta deal was on the one-yard line, played a key role in getting it across the goal line. According to his trade representative, Mickey Kantor, who was also at the Hoover gathering, the Clinton team ran into trouble with the Florida congressional delegation. To break the impasse, Mr. Clinton told him: "Open the candy store."
Mrs. Hills said she would have "liked to have seen immigration and energy as part of the deal. It would have avoided many problems today." The Obama administration's decision to block TransCanada's TRP.T -0.95% Keystone XL pipeline comes to mind. Some panel participants commented that the Keystone stall threatens to undermine confidence in the good faith of the U.S.
It's not too late. But now, as then, expanding economic freedom in North America requires a commitment to the cause. Regrettably that is in short supply in Washington
NAFTA Truth and Consequences: Corn
Position paper, undated
NAFTA Defenders’ Myth: The flood of U.S. corn that has been dumped in Mexico during NAFTA has not harmed Mexico’s farmers because the U.S. imports are yellow corn for animal feed while Mexican farmers grow white corn for human consumption.
· Since NAFTA came into effect on January 1, 1994, U.S. corn exports to Mexico have almost doubled to some 6 million metric tons in 2002. NAFTA eliminated quotas limiting corn imports (Mexico used to only import corn when its farmers’ production fell short of domestic needs) but allowed U.S. subsidy programs to remain in place – promoting dumping of corn into Mexico by U.S. agribusiness at below the cost of production. While U.S. corn exports to Mexico were almost all yellow corn in the mid-1990s, some 20% are now white corn. However, even before the U.S. white corn exports began to increase, the price paid to farmers in Mexico for corn fell by over 70% as huge amounts of U.S. yellow corn were dumped in the Mexican market.
· Yellow and white corn are treated as the same commodity under NAFTA. This policy has had serious consequences for Mexican corn growers, as it made it almost impossible to maintain price differentials between yellow corn and the normally-more-expensive white corn. U.S. corn is typically dumped in the Mexican market at up to 30% below the cost of production. In addition, corn buyers in Mexico are attracted to imported U.S. corn by the very favorable loan rates available to them through U.S. export agencies. In the years immediately following NAFTA’s introduction for example, buyers that contracted with U.S. exporters had access to loans through the U.S. Commodity Credit Corporation at 7% for 3 years. Interest rates from Mexican lenders ran between 25 and 30% at that time. The availability of large amounts of U.S. yellow corn, combined with the favorable credit terms, has given a small number of large corn purchasers in Mexico tremendous leverage over prices in their dealings with Mexican producers; if the Mexican farmers will not sell them corn at their demanded price, the large producers – including Mexican corn mills and other food processors now part-owned by U.S. agribusinesses – buy U.S. corn. In 2001, Mexican farmers produced 18 million tons of corn – 3 million of which were left unused.
· While large amounts of U.S. yellow corn are used in Mexico as animal feed, substantial amounts are also used in preparing food for human consumption. The growing use of yellow corn for human food has triggered protests and outrage in Mexico. At a news conference in August 2002, a coalition of corn producers, activists and representatives from the Mexican states of Chihuahua and Sinaloa gave voice to a widespread sense of outrage over the “indiscriminate importing” of U.S. corn, its use for human consumption and its alleged health risks (1)
According to the popular Mexican magazine Cambio, one out of every three corn tortillas in Mexico is now made out of imported corn. Under sustained political pressure from citizens and activists, the Mexican government in 2002 agreed to publish the list of companies that import U.S. corn, which showed extensive purchases by producers of food for human consumption. For more information about Mexican government data on these imports, click here (Spanish-language only). Click below to view U.S. corn imports by Mexican food producers in 2002:
· Prior to NAFTA, the white corn that most Mexican farmers grow was priced some 25% higher than yellow corn. By 1996, this price differential had disappeared. Under NAFTA’s terms, Mexico can collect tariffs on corn imports above a certain level, but this quota includes both yellow and white corn. So while large-scale protests and intense public pressure led the Mexican government to reinstate a NAFTA-permitted above-quota tariff for imported white corn in December 2003, but the Senate defeated a measure to also reinstate tariffs on imported yellow corn. Victor Suarez, a representative of the Partido de la Revolucion Democratica (PRD) argued that not placing a tariff on yellow corn will jeopardize 3 million small and medium-sized producers and will benefit 10 large corn transnational and Mexican firms; among the Mexican firms, he singled out Bachoco, Lala, Maseca and Minsa, and among multinational corporations, he named Cargill, Archer Daniels, Corn Products International, Tyson, Pilgrim’s Pride and Ralston.
· NAFTA provided for a 15-year phase-out of Mexican tariffs on imported corn. The Mexican government decided to almost entirely liberalize the sector within three years instead of the allowed 15 years. This greatly exacerbated what would have been a serious to the rural economy if it had been phased in over the full 15 years. According to Mexican activists, a government advisory panel called the Committee to Evaluate Corn Imports was instrumental in the decision to import twice as much U.S.corn each year as the government had agreed under NAFTA. Large-scale Mexican corn consumers (many of whom are substantially owned by U.S. agribusiness interests, two of which – Cargill and ADM – are responsible for fully two-thirds of all U.S.corn exports) dominate this committee. Only recently was the government forced to give domestic corn producers some representation on this panel.
·  Alejandro Nadal, “The Environmental and Social Impact of Economic Liberalization on Corn Production in Mexico,” study for Oxfam Great Britain and the World Wildlife Fund International, Sep. 2000, p.16.
·  Elba Mónica Bravo, “Representatives back agreement to eliminate tariff on yellow corn,” La Cronica, Dec. 29, 2003, http://www.cronica.com.mx.
·  Under NAFTA. the tariff rate quota (TRQ) for all corn was initially set at 2.5 million tons a year, with a planned constant increase of 3% per year, while the ad valorem tariffs for exceeding the quota would be reduced from 206% in 1994 to zero by 2008.
·  Hugh Dellios, “10 Years Later, NAFTA Harvests a Stunted Crop,” Chicago Tribune, Dec. 14, 2003.
·  Mary Beth Lake; Sophia Murphy; Mark Ritchie, “United States Dumping on World Agricultural Markets,” report by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, 2003, p.8.
Entry of Contaminated Corn Denounced in Chihuahua - article in La Crónica
ENTRY OF CONTAMINATED CORN DENOUNCED IN CHIHUAHUA
August 8, 2002
Corn producers of Chihuahua and Sinaloa and local representatives denounced the indiscriminate importing of foraging [animal feed] corn from the United States which they say is contaminated with carcinogenic substances that affect the liver and the memory of those who consume it.
The director of the National Front for the Defense of the Mexican Countryside, Rangel Espinosa López, believes the federal authorities are “playing deaf” to the need to resolve the problem confronting producers of this basic commodity.
In a press conference, he stated that corn is not even adequate for fattening up animals, yet in Mexico it is used for human consumption with the danger of causing serious health problems, especially to children who would be affected in their kidneys and their memory.
According to Rangel Espinoza, the country is importing at least eight million tons of yellow corn from the United States and South Africa annually, which is, according to laboratory evidence, contaminated with toxins which are highly carcinogenic.
This corn, he added, is considered “trash” and is prohibited in the United States, but is entering Mexico without any kind of sanitary control, since it is sold at prices much lower than that of white corn on domestic markets.
The worst part, he added, is that while it is categorized as ‘animal feed’, the large flour firms like Maseca and Minsa are indiscriminately selling it for use in tortilla production.
For his part, the local representative of the PRI, Edgar López Najera, maintained that the indiscriminate import of forage [animal feed] yellow corn, from the United States, without due sanitary control, represents noncompliance with the Mexican Official Norm for Corn Flour.
This means that tortillas of poor quality are being distributed and that these are contaminated with carcinogenic toxins and spores, damaging the nutritional and health levels of all Mexicans, he explained.