What is NAFTA?

what is Nafta with American, Mexican and Canadian flags

NAFTA at the grocery store

At D2D, we wanted to explore the role international trade plays in bringing food to your dinner table.

While you are selecting avocados or blueberries at the grocery store, the last thing you are thinking about is Mexico. Or when you eat a ham sandwich, does Canada come to mind? Probably not. But these are just a few of the products that depend on trade between North American countries to satisfy our food demands.

You can buy most fresh food all year round largely because other countries can either grow them cheaper than the U.S. or have growing seasons that are opposite of ours. Trade provides the best possible price for the products we want by moving food from where it is grown and produced to where it is eaten. It is an efficient, universal means of bringing balance to supply and demand, and taking the wild swings out of our daily food prices.

Those opposed to NAFTA, on the other hand, argue that the influx of produce from Mexico or Canada negatively affect their prices. For instance, the avocado farmer in California is able to sell the farms produce at a premium if avocados are not being imported from Mexico. However, NAFTA and trade with other countries have encouraged farmers to be more diverse and versatile in their farming practices. Today, some avocado farmers in California are adapting by diversifying into coffee plants.

NAFTA impacts the cost of groceries

How much your food costs or whether you can get your favorite produce out of season is very important. Agriculture is an intertwined network of farming, crops, transportation, water usage, labor, and processing. Since crops require different growing environments, food is not often grown in the same location as where it is consumed. We all know that blueberries don’t grow in North Dakota in December, and wheat is not grown in Florida…ever! Different climates with different growing conditions in Mexico, the United States, and Canada can give us the best prices for available produce and the most sustainable agricultural supply chain.

The North American Free Trade Agreement is one of the most important tools used by the United States, Mexico and Canada in maintaining exactly this sort of open trade. It was put into action in 1994 as a bipartisan effort originated by President Reagan and signed into law by President Clinton.  NAFTA created a trilateral trade block designed to help ease product movement across borders in North America. In simple terms, NAFTA was based in the belief that trade would help generate mutually beneficial economic growth by better enabling each country to use its natural advantages in various economic activities to find larger, more rewarding markets.  And in the process, consumers would reap substantial benefits, too.

Billions of dollars worth of agricultural products are traded between the US, Canada, and Mexico.

One can distill NAFTA into three basic categories as it relates to Canada, the United States, and Mexico:

1. It eliminates taxes (tariffs) on all imports and exports coming across the borders. To confirm this, exporters must get a certificate of origin that states the product was made or grown in the U.S., Canada, or Mexico.

2. All three countries have a ‘most favored nation’ status. This means that every business and product gets the same treatment from the governments regardless of which country it originated.

3. Government policies and environmental and labor laws are respected. That also includes all patents, trademarks, and copyrights and ensures that they are respected among the countries. There are also specific rules in place to prevent any trade disputes.

Since 2010, the U.S. export of agricultural goods has averaged $140 billion. We export the most to China with Canada and Mexico coming in a close second. Without the strong North American trade partnerships, our agricultural exports could decline up to $40 billion in revenue.

Since 2010, the U.S. export of agricultural goods has averaged $140 billion. We export the most to China with Canada and Mexico coming in a close second. Without the strong North American trade partnerships, our agricultural exports could decline up to $40 billion in revenue.

NAFTA helps keep groceries affordable

Let’s put NAFTA into perspective— here is how it affects your kitchen. You love breakfast and enjoy frying up some bacon and eggs every morning. But how did that pork end up at your local grocery store? Your bacon probably started its life as a piglet in Manitoba, Canada; was then trucked to southern Minnesota where it was fed corn from Iowa, processed into bacon in Iowa, and finally sent to a U.S. grocery store or back to Canada. Baby pigs, otherwise known as feeder pigs, are primarily born in Canada (most often in Manitoba) and then shipped to the United States when they are about 40 pounds.

In 2016, 4.8 million feeder pigs were trucked to those states that have cheap access to corn. After they grow to their production size of 280 pounds in the U.S., they are ready to be processed into sausage, bacon, ham, tenderloin or chops. These finished pork products are then trucked back to Canada, across the U.S., and down to Mexico. Because of NAFTA, the pigs and the processed meat can flow back and forth across the border without taxes. As a result, the U.S. has 27% of the global pork export market, which benefits our farmers, and your morning bacon is made much more affordable!

“The integrated nature of our trade relationship enables the three North American countries to remain competitive internationally. It allows us to create jobs and exports and enhances our potential to increase our respective contributions to the American Canadian, and Mexican economies.” (Canadian Pork Council)

Without NAFTA, there will be higher tariffs

What if there were no NAFTA? If NAFTA is removed, each country would revert to the import tariffs put in place by the World Trade Organization. The average cost to export to Mexico would be 7.1%, to the U.S. 3.5% and to Canada 4.2%. However, this varies product by product. For instance, Mexico would charge a 75% tariff on chicken coming from the U.S. This would reduce chicken exports and force chicken suppliers to send their chicken to other countries or produce less.

Free trade helps all economies grow

While some industries want to put a protectionist status on their products, having a competitive flow between borders creates more jobs. Economic growth allows more purchases and more products to be created. “Every $1.00 in ag exports generates an additional $1.27 in economic activity for the exporting country.” This is an increase of 127%! Free trade also provides a comparative advantage for the country that is producing a certain product. For instance, corn grows very well in the mid-west and is exported to Mexico for their animal feed. Or, if we’re looking again at growing blueberries in a North Dakota, an indoor environment just doesn’t make sense compared to importing blueberries grown in Mexico.

U.S. demand for produce has helped farmers in Mexico generate more income and create secure jobs because they are able to easily export fresh fruits and vegetables like avocados, tomatoes, watermelon, and blueberries. As a result, these farmers can also invest in more sustainable farming, education, and food safety. They are able to use phosphate fertilizer instead of night soil. They can drive tractors instead of using oxen. They will then buy cars, clothes, and send their children to school. This is mutually beneficial for the United States because of the higher the Mexican GDP per capita – the better the likelihood that they import more products from the U.S.

In speaking with 4th generation North Dakota farmer, Terry Wanzek, he emphasized the importance of NAFTA to American farmers as well as farmers in Canada and Mexico. Terry grows corn, wheat, and pinto beans. While discussing the beans, he said that about 70% a month goes to Mexico. He points out that if we didn’t have the agreement with Mexico then the demand for pinto beans would be far less, and the prices would not be enough to cover the production costs.

“If the United States quits NAFTA, then the United States quits on its farmers. It’s that simple: Withdrawal would devastate us. We wouldn’t just lose our jobs. Some of us could lose our homes and our farms.” Terry Wanzek

What are the issues with NAFTA?

NAFTA isn’t universally praised. The issue that President Trump has with NAFTA is that some of the trade with different products is not necessarily fair.  As with any trade agreement, NAFTA demands adjustment for some sectors in all three nations.  Some economic sectors that had enjoyed a safe national marketplace now have to deal with other competition and tougher economics.  But overall, trade experts argue, each economy benefits as citizens gain the benefits that come from open, freer trade.

There are still examples of where NAFTA can be modernized. For instance, while the food safety regulations are the same in both countries, meat crossing the border is subject to different standards. From the U.S. to Canada, meat can enter relatively easily. When meat comes from Canada to the U.S., there are inspection houses with set fees that slow down the transport – without an added benefit to food safety.

Trade between Mexico, U.S., and Canada means that consumers in North Dakota can enjoy blueberries whenever they like, even in December.  It means Mexican families can afford and enjoy more meals of beef, thanks to the feed grains imported from American farms.  It means farmers in both Mexico and the United States can count on fertilizers from Canada to achieve optimal crop yields and optimal profits every year.

Toxins and Toxicants – how much is too much?

beakers in a science lab

Fear of chemicals and ‘toxins’ in your food and our surrounding environment has fueled many misinformed opinions and left consumers confused. (The Dirt-to-Dinner team has discussed this misplaced fear in previous posts about GMOspesticide use, and rBST.) But, there is no need to panic. In reality, whether or not something is toxic depends on numerous factors, such as the substance’s form, the amount you are exposed to, how you are exposed, and your genetic make-up.

It is not as simple as “this is good, that is bad”

Answer the following…

  • Do you buy products that are labeled as “natural” or “no added chemicals”?
  • Do you think products labeled as “natural” are better for you than those not labeled “natural”?
  • If products had “made with chemicals” splashed across their labels in red letters would you avoid them?
Although the study of toxicology is a fairly modern scientific discipline, since ancient times humans have been aware of harmful chemicals. For more information about the history of toxicology, check out the Toxicology Education Foundation.

If you answered yes to all three, marketing tactics might be getting the best of you. Unfortunately, it’s just not that simple! Making choices that affect our health would certainly be easier if everything was as easy as “that is bad for you, and this is good for you.” Yes, some things, like habitually smoking cigarettes, are obviously not good for your health, but most things do not fit neatly into that “good” or “bad” category. Scientists were so intrigued by this fact that they created a discipline, toxicology, to study what effect chemicals have on our health.

There are two terms that people— even many non-toxicologist scientists and medical doctors— commonly get confused. Those two terms are toxicant and toxin. The term most frequently used incorrectly is toxin.

Toxins are naturally-occurring poisons produced by living organisms such as bacteriafungiplantsinsects, and algae. Toxin is frequently misused when people are really referring to “toxicants” or toxic substances resulting from human activities.

Toxicants are manufactured and extracted chemicals such as pesticides, cleaning agents, industrial emissions or by-products, mining by-products, etc. that are in our environment.

Our bodies are equipped to protect us

Our bodies are ready to protect us from toxic levels of chemical compounds. In order to best protect our health, our bodies respond either by  

1).  Metabolizing chemical compounds using specialized proteins called enzymes that catalyze chemical reactions to produce less harmful chemicals, called metabolites. Occasionally the metabolite is more harmful than the original chemical, but most often it is harmless or less harmful than the original compound.

2).  Attaching molecules to the harmful compound leading to either excretion or directing it to an enzyme for further processing.

Where we get in trouble, however, is when our bodies’ systems are overwhelmed. In these instances, there is too much for our systems to process and substances can become toxic. This all depends on the dose.

Too much of anything can be a bad thing

Dose is the amount of a chemical (i.e., in the form of food, beverage, nutritional supplement, medicine, etc.) administered at one time; the total dose is the amount times the frequency times the duration. If the dose is too high, your body’s ability to eliminate may be overpowered causing adverse effects. So, the dose makes the poison.

And too much of even a good thing can be damaging. Take, for example, water: on occasion, the news blasts a headline such as “Georgia teen dies from drinking too much water, Gatorade” or “Woman dies after water drinking contest”. Consuming large volumes of water faster than your body can eliminate the excess causes an imbalance of your body’s electrolytes, which damages your organ systems and can result in death.

Another example is polyphenols. Polyphenols are chemicals with antioxidant properties found in plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, and nuts that have been shown to protect DNA from damage at low doses but also damage DNA at high doses. We’ve discussed the properties of polyphenols in previous articles that discussed turmericred wine, and matcha, as polyphenols are naturally occurring in these foods. These days, there are many companies marketing polyphenol-containing products to boost your antioxidant levels, but rarely do those marketing campaigns ever mention what happens if you consume too much of their products. If you are taking over the counter supplements containing polyphenols and eating a diet rich in naturally occurring antioxidants you might actually be damaging your DNA. And this is where our genetics and other personal characteristics come into the picture…

What’s good for you may not be good for me…

Our genetic makeup (or genotype) has a major impact on how we respond to a chemical. For example, we all have varying levels of enzymes in our bodies and some of us do not produce certain enzymes at all. This is why some people will have an adverse reaction or get sick when they are exposed to particular chemicals while others do not, or one person may experience adverse health effects at a very small dose while others will not feel any effects until they are exposed to a much higher dose.

Alcohol metabolism is an example of a genetic variation that is very well studied. In some sectors of the human population, particular enzyme variants involved in alcohol metabolism are genetically modified so that aldehyde, a toxic alcohol metabolite, builds up in the person’s system making them feel sick after consuming only small amounts of alcohol.

In addition to our genetics, we also differ in our responses to chemicals because of our gender, age, life stage, race, and health. Children and adolescents are often more susceptible to chemicals because their systems are still developing and are more vulnerable to damage. And older people or people who are immune-compromised are more susceptible because their systems are weakened.

Advancements in genetic sequencing methodologies may soon help to determine an individual’s sensitivity to chemicals. Emerging technologies coupled with the sheer amount and availability of data is making it easier for scientists to study population and individual genomes to determine chemical susceptibility. (See our post about CRISPR for more information on emerging technologies related to our genomes.) With the decreasing cost of genetic sequencing methodologies and increasing computing capacity, it is quite conceivable that in the near future, there will be rapid tests to determine the chemicals, if any, to which you are more sensitive.

Since there are thousands of chemicals in our environment (remember, everything is made of chemicals), outside of a select, well-defined group of “bad apples”, very little is actually known about subpopulation or individual genetic susceptibility to specific chemicals.

Of course, chemicals often vary in how dangerous they are to humans, which is why you will see a warning on some products (e.g., a jug of household bleach) and not on others (e.g., a jug of spring water). Some chemicals are toxic to humans at such a small dose that it is best to avoid any exposure. An example of a particularly deadly chemical is methyl mercury, an organic mercury compound that can cause death in very small doses. In 1996, a scientist accidentally spilled a couple drops of organic mercury on her gloved hand during an experiment. Three months later she was feeling confused and off-balance and went to the hospital. Less than a year later, she was dead.


Pay attention to warning labels.

Routes of Exposure

If you ever had a big multicolored bruise on your arm or leg, you may have been asked, “How did you get that?”. But in toxicology, when toxicologists ask how someone gets a disease or is exposed to a toxic substance, they are really asking – “By which route is a person exposed?”

There are three “routes of exposure” or ways you may be exposed to a toxic substance:

  • Ingestion
  • Inhalation
  • Dermal (through our skin)

Route of exposure is an important factor in determining toxicity because, just like dose, it has bearing on what happens to the person who is exposed (the response). Mercury is a great example of different forms causing different health outcomes. Mercury is present in the environment in several forms – metallic or elemental mercury is the chemical found in thermometers. It’s not toxic if you touch or eat it, but beware if you inhale it as the vapors are toxic to your nervous system.

On the other hand, when mercury combines with carbon to form organic mercury it is extremely toxic in very small quantities, and exposure through your skin or ingestion can kill you as it happened to the scientist who accidentally dropped some on her gloved hand.

You may have heard warnings about mercury contamination in fish. Mercury in fish is in the form of inorganic mercury – that is, mercury combined with other elements such as oxygen and sulfur to form salts. Inorganic mercury occurs naturally in our environment or can be emitted through industrial processes and when consumed, has a tendency to concentrate in and cause damage to kidney tissues.

So as you can see by this mercury example, in addition to a chemical’s form, the way you are exposed to a chemical also influences how or if it will affect your health.

How long have you been exposed?

Also of interest to toxicologists is whether the exposure is acute or chronic. Acute exposures are of short duration and chronic exposures are repeated or occur over an extended period of time. If we think of alcohol consumption, acute exposure to a large dose may make us sick or leave us feeling ill the next morning, but chronic exposure to one 5 oz. glass of wine with dinner every night may actually be good for your health.

Are Insects the Future of Food?

Grasshopper, Fried insects

News about insects is buzzing and consumers in North America are starting to listen. As discussed in Insects: A New Protein Source, insects are a complete protein (meaning they contain all nine essential amino acids) and they are a strong source of vitamins and minerals. So, now it’s time to walk the talk. The D2D team decided to give some of the most popular products on the market a try.

Follow us as we put these products to the test and try cricket protein powder, chocolate covered insects and cricket protein bars…

Test 1: Cricket protein powder

We are not the biggest fans of traditional protein powders. We prefer getting protein from the source itself (i.e. chicken or beef) but this is not your typical protein powder. The only ingredient is dry roasted crickets have been ground up! So, this would count as a natural animal protein and is a great option for a smoothie when you’re on the run.

Our recipe:1 cup unsweetened almond milk
1 tablespoon chia seeds
2 tablespoons cricket powder
1 tablespoon almond butter
½ banana
½ cup frozen blueberries

The consistency of the protein powder was very fine, similar to that of traditional whey or vegan protein powders. But smell at your own risk!


While there were some mixed reviews amongst our team, the protein powder was relatively mild and easily incorporated into our smoothie. By adding the other yummy ingredients, the taste of the powder was masked nicely. Definitely worth a try.

Test 2: Chapul Protein Bars

Chapul – a Utah-based producer of cricket protein bars and flours – received $50,000 in funding from Mark Cuban after their appearance on Shark Tank.

And the review:

The protein bars were more to our liking. With less hassle and added flavor, they went down easier than the cricket smoothie. The Chapul flavors were good and the texture resembled that of an Rx Bar. These protein bars also contained 2x the B12 than salmon and 3x the iron found in spinach!

Test 3: Flavored Cricket Snacks

For our snacking taste test, we ordered toasted coffee and sriracha crickets and a chocolate cricket bar. While the visible crickets tasted better than we thought, there was an issue with the “ick” factor as we could see very clearly that they were bugs! The products were more difficult to stomach. We recommend them to the fearless!


And the review:

The chocolate masked all cricket flavor and the crunch reminded us of a Nestle Crunch Bar. Yum!

Who eats bugs, anyway?

You might be surprised to learn that we’re not the first to hop on this recent insect-crazed bandwagon. Although insects have been eaten around the globe for millennia, they have recently been becoming more acceptable in the West. Restaurants from Los Angeles to Brooklyn are turning their protein features into bugalicious treats with surprising success.

“There are more than 1,900 edible insect species on Earth, hundreds of which are already part of the diet in many countries. In fact, some two billion people eat a wide variety of insects regularly, both cooked and raw; only in Western countries does the practice retain an “ick” factor among the masses.” (National Geographic)
Infographic: littleherds.org

And that’s not all— they’re becoming even more mainstream than just specialty restaurants. Going to a game? How about swapping that hot dog for some cricket tacos? The Philips Arena, home of the Atlanta Hawks, recently added these alternative protein tacos to their stadium food options!

And on the business side of insects…

AgFunder News recently reported that Protix raised $50 million in the largest insect farming investment to date. Furthermore, alternative proteins have also been a big area of investment interest given the amount of land and resources livestock farming requires.

Insect farming is a sustainable protein source— they are fed unsold fruit and grain, and require less water and land than traditional livestock—  but it isn’t without its fair share of difficulties. In order for this farming potential to succeed, it needs proper support. Insect farming requires a lot of capital in order to build factories with proper food safety standards. And while consumer demand remains relatively low in the United States, we still have a lot of growing to do.

But how easy is it to incorporate this affordable and nutrient-dense protein into your daily routine? Will insects be the chosen protein source for the generations to come? The UN has estimated that our population will exceed 9 billion people by 2050. And we need to be asking ourselves— how can we feed everyone?

Stonyfield’s Marketing Misstep

stonyfield yogurt cups on a grocery shelf

In the competitive food marketplace, fear-based marketing continues to be a go-to strategy for some food companies trying to differentiate their products from one another. Grocery stores today stock so many varieties of the same product that consumers must make a decision based on different factors like the lowest price available, if it’s made in the USA, or any other criteria that’s particularly important to them.

How did Stonyfield find themselves in such hot water?

Dairy products are a commodity and it is difficult to distinguish one carton of milk from another – or one type of yogurt from another. Given their higher price point and the myriad of choices available to consumers, it’s no surprise that Stonyfield is trying to differentiate their products. So, the company turned to fear-based marketing tactics to help boost their sales. The following video from Stonyfield Farm illustrates just how far food producers will go to sway consumers.

In order to tap into the fear of conscious shoppers—mainly parents trying to make healthy food decisions for their families, Stonyfield brashly uses children to spread misinformation on GMOs.

Stonyfield has successfully pulled on our heartstrings by using a parent’s desire to protect their child by feeding them “safer” yogurt. And this is not the first time they have used children to deliver incorrect messages on food technology. Their “Kids Define” campaign also includes adorable children discussing rBST and pesticide use. The inference, then, is that other yogurt products are dangerous to your children because those “other” dairy farmers have used pesticides, hormones, and GMOs.

Of course, we know that they are misrepresenting the facts. Organic crops use pesticides, they are just not synthetic pesticides. Their criticism of GMOs was related to the use of glyphosate, which has been deemed safe and non-toxic by the ESFA, WHO, FDA, USDA, and NAS. And just last week, D2D discussed how fear-based marketing and the spread of misinformation regarding rBST has almost completely eliminated the use of this technology in farming.

It is known that marketing strategies that appeal to emotion are the most likely to alter consumer behavior than straight scientific facts. There have been studies that demonstrate when consumers are under an MRI and deciding between different products, they will make the decision based on their emotion rather than the facts about the brand. Therefore, a consumer who has an emotional connection to a brand will be increasingly loyal. (Source: Psychology Today)

Mis-leading marketing tactics to improve market share

The yogurt market is very competitive and the volume of yogurt purchased in the United States is on the decline. From 2016 to 2017, the volume of yogurt sales decreased by 1.7 billion pints (from 3.37 billion pints in 2016 to 1.67 billion pints in 2017). This decrease, coupled with the similarities between many yogurt products on the market, motivates companies to be more creative in their marketing strategy.

(Source: Statista)

Moreover, Stonyfield does not have a significant U.S. market share. They are among the least popular brands, having just marginally outsold Muller yogurt.

In response to the video, many mindful consumers began voicing their concerns and frustrations with the message that was being conveyed: “does believing in the science and technology behind GMOs make you a bad parent?”

In order to control their message, these carefully constructed, thought-provoking responses were subsequently deleted by the Stonyfield social media team.

You can visit AgDaily for more content from the “Banned by Stonyfield” social media group, but here is a snippet of their open letter to Stonyfield:

“This kind of marketing hurts us all. Fear-based food messages are negatively impacting the buying and eating habits of consumers, especially among the poorest demographics. It demonizes safe and beneficial technology — technology that allows farmers to grow more food on less land, using fewer resources and reduce the environmental impact of the agricultural sector. Marketing messages like yours work to take choices away from farmers and make consumers feel like they don’t have safe choices at the grocery stores.”

Not only did Stonyfield use children to misrepresent genetically modified technology by including harmful and inaccurate rhetoric like “monstrous” and “gene from a fish used in a tomato,” but they also refused to give the science a voice by deleting informative comments on their Facebook page. As the video received more and more visits from those on both sides of the issue, Stonyfield was provoked into responding with this message on their Facebook page, which has since been deleted.

“We do not believe that eating GMOs have been proven harmful to your health.”

Stonyfield’s response to the backlash they received from their anti-GMO video using children.

Dirt to Dinner collaborator Amanda Zaluckyj, The Farmer’s Daughter, tactfully addresses the many incorrect claims that were made about GMO technology by Stonyfield in this response. “Even though Stonyfield doesn’t believe eating GMOs is harmful, they are more than willing to keep manipulating children to scare people. They are willing to lie to their customers to move their product. They know full well being non-GMO does not make their product better in any way, yet they are more than happy to act like it does if it sells.”

Michelle Miller, The Farm Babe, also contributed to AgDaily, wrote this regarding the negative effect fear-based marketing has on science and developing helpful technology for farmers: “Ask any scientist or commercial farmer, everything we eat has had their genes modified by humans, and there are no commercially available GMO tomatoes, among many other crops. Scaring people about science is sad because our entire world revolves around scientific advancements to make it a better place. Sharing genes with something doesn’t make it weird or scary. In fact, humans share about 50 percent to 60 percent of the same DNA as a banana. Sound weird? That’s why STEM and science education are so important.”

And, to that end, as the D2D team has discussed in many posts, genetically modified foods are safe AND the most heavily tested and regulated in history.

Unfortunately, fear-based marketing exists because it works.

Of course, this is not the first time fear-based marketing tactics have been used to sway consumer perception, particularly with respect to GMOs. In a 2016 campaign by Hunt’s tomatoes, the company claimed, “No matter how far afield you look, you won’t find a single genetically modified tomato among our vines.” Well…of course you won’t, because genetically modified tomatoes, although previously available, are no longer being commercially produced! Hunt’s chose to try and differentiate their products despite the fact that the claim isn’t even applicable.

D2D has frequently discussed the spread of misinformation through various marketing tactics. In our articles on the natural labelclean eating, GMOs, hormones in milk, and pesticide use we clarify the overuse and often abuse of these labels in order to make a product look more desirable. Most recently, Are there Hormones in Milk? examined the negative effects consumer marketing had on the rBST technology. We do not want to see what happened with the misunderstanding of rBST repeated with GMO technology. It so important for consumers to stay informed and question the marketing tactics employed by food companies. D2D asks that you ignore the marketing labels and pay attention to the nutritional label— 3oz of Stonyfield YoKids contains 13 grams of sugar!

For more on this, we recommend visiting: 

The Farmers Daughter 
Farm Babe