October 29th, 2006
Coca Cola fielded some tough questions on bottled water from the audience and the other members of the panel Friday morning at the Society of Environmental Journalists conference (because what we eat and drink has an environmental impact and journalists should cover it, after all).
At a panel on the green efforts of corporations, Coca Cola Vice President for Environment and Water Jeff Seabright touted Coke’s great record and how they’ve reduced water use down to 2.6 liters of water used to every 1 liter of product produced (yes, you read that right 2.6L water used:1L soda or bottled water produced). “It takes a lot of water to wash bottles and clean machinery,” he said.
Food & Water Watch didn’t even have to respond to that because it turned out that Coke’s loudest critic this morning was sitting right next to Jeff. Environmental journalist and author Bill McKibben repeatedly lambasted Coke for the wasteful practice of bottling water. When challenged, Coke pointed out how they can provide water in an emergency. Bill didn’t think that was a particularly strong argument. He wasn’t impressed with the ‘we produce what the consumer wants’ argument either and challenged Coke to eliminate all their bottled water advertising in order to evaluate the true demand for the product. Nice.
We’ll be sending Bill our next copy of Aqua Bits, our quarterly newsletter on the bottled water industry. You should sign up to get it too (choose waterforall list).
October 27th, 2006
The next frontier of food production , if you ask the National Marine Fisheries Service , is industrial fish farming in the sea. Unfortunately for NMFS, too many Americans questioned their method of sea farming (contained in Senate Bill 1195) for being too environmentally harmful. As a result, this bill has been sent back to the drawing board and will likely resurface next year.
Politics can be ironic though. Despite all of the drawing boards, hoopla, negotiation and deliberation, a little known provision in energy legislation could open federal waters to industrial fish farms through the backdoor without proper public debate. This provision, dubbed ‚oil rigs to fish farms,” would let oil companies escape proper decommissioning of their oil rigs if they are converted to fish farms.
As if fish farms via energy legislation werent bad enough, this provision could be approved by a lame duck congress in November. Please stay tuned as we shine the light on this backdoor attempt to open your seas to industrial fish farms.
October 18th, 2006
Halloween is just around the corner and things are getting scary down at the Food and Drug Administration, where the US regulatory agency is getting ready to approve cloned dairy and meat products. (Although, they have said this many, many times before. But this time it‚ for reals. Probably.) The prospect of cloning animals for food disturbs consumers, both in its potential effect on food and the ethical implications of this technology. Although some say cloning will improve food consistency and quality, few studies have been conducted to determine its effect on human health. In fact, cloning animals has a disturbingly low survival rate- only 5% survive the cloning process and are born alive. And yet the FDA is secure that those 5% who survive are just as healthy to consume as regular animals? Just asking.
Aside from human health concerns, many people have ethical objections about cloning animals for profit. Even though a 2004 Gallup poll revealed that 64% of Americans (pollsters will tell you that this is a very high number) believe that cloning animals for food is ‚morally wrong,” the FDA is not planning to require labeling of products made with cloned animals. A recent Washington Post article states that, ‚The FDA has no authority to make decisions based on ethics concerns. Nor is it inclined to call for labeling of products from clones, as some have demanded.” The problem with cloned animal products being unlabeled is that, like with genetically modified food, it becomes very difficult for consumers to avoid such food or to even know if they are eating it. (Which I suppose is the point for the food industry.)
Interestingly enough, consumers aren’t the only ones worried about cloned cows infiltrating the food supply. The International Dairy Foods Association, which includes groups like Kraft Foods, Dannon, General Mills and Nestlé USA, has actually campaigned against the cloning revolution, fearing a consumer backlash. As they should. The prospect of consuming cloned animals, or their offspring, or their milk, is alarming to a whole lot of people, and may be just the ticket to keep the organic-sustainable-local food revolution burning.
October 17th, 2006
Last week the National Association of Water Companies (NAWC) held its annual conference at an exclusive hideaway resort in La Quinta, California. Speakers at included executives of the biggest water companies, their favorite state regulators, and Geoff Segal of the pro-privatization Reason Foundation. The conference highlighted the lack of public funds for improvement and upgrades in water infrastructure as a ripe opportunity for profit.
Mr. Segal gave pointers to the audience about how to play “hardball” with public-interest groups such as (you guessed it!) Food & Water Watch. Well gladly accept Mr. Segal‚ compliments but cant take all the credit. It turns out that people dont want their water controlled by a private company in the first place. Communities in Felton, CA and Lexington, KY are perfect examples of the private failure and ordinary community members standing up to protect their water service. Mr. Segal is perfectly right to be worried , the word is spreading and the repeated failure of private water could trigger a domino effect by encouraging other communities to follow suit.
Food & Water Watch will continue to help those communities fight privatization and restore local control of our essential resources.
October 13th, 2006
Last night, several Food & Water Watch staff, along with other lucky people in the DC food world, saw a sneak preview of Fast Food Nation. The movie is a fictional story detailing the (not-so-fictional) dangerous and dirty systems that result in cheap fast food meals.
Derived from Eric Schlosser‚ best-selling expose of the food industry, the movie is similar to both Syriana and Traffic in that it presents multiple story lines to paint a picture of the industry as a whole. In this case, we meet a wide-eyed “Mickey‚” executive played by Greg Kinnear, who‚ new to the job and sent to Colorado to investigate the high fecal bacterium counts found in their best-selling burger. (Sound familiar?) Not quite getting it, his bosses have to patiently explain that there‚ “s-t in the meat”. Yum.
Perhaps the most devastating part of the movie is the depiction of the illegal immigrants who come to work in the meatpacking plant. Played by Wilmer Valderrama (“That 70‚ Show”) and the talented Catalina Sandino Moreno (“Maria Saving Grace”), their story reflects the brutal pace of the production line, the high risk of injury, and the abusive practices that are likely at these plants. In fact, Human Rights Watch cited the U.S. meatpacking industry as “the most dangerous factory job in America,” with such terrible worker conditions that it violates basic human and worker rights.
Be sure to check it out in theaters on November 17th, although be forewarned that you may have to cover your eyes at times and rethink where you buy meat afterwards.
October 12th, 2006
Most of the talk surrounding the merger of French utility giants
Suez (the world‚ second-largest water company) and state-owned Gaz de
France (Europe‚ top natural gas supplier) has focused on nationalism
and intra-European competition.
Lost in the discussion is how
the merger could affect the water industry in the US, where Suez
subsidiary United Water is the second-largest private supplier. If
ultimately approved by the French Senate and President Jacques Chirac,
the Suez-GdF behemoth would become the world’s largest utility, with
$80 billion in annual sales. But only one-sixth of that comes from
selling water, giving the new corporation ample incentive to unload
Investors nowadays are wary of sinking their money into
‚utility” stocks. They want to know whether theyre buying into an
energy company or water company, not some amorphous bunchalliance of
the two. Germany‚ RWE and E.on, and Italy‚ Enel are selling off their
water operations. Could Suez be next?
This would send the US
water industry into deeper turmoil. RWE is in the process of
jettisoning industry leader American Water. And Aqua America, the
nation‚ largest publicly traded water company, is in the midst of a
ravenous buying spree throughout the rural East.
Were keeping our eye on Suez and United. If you live in a community where they provide water, then you should be watching them, too.
October 11th, 2006
Washington, DC - Food & Water Watch‚ Starbucks campaign is now up, running and making friends on MySpace.com.In a search to stand out from the masses on the popular networking website, Food & Water Watch (FWW) stated that the campaign to get Starbucks to use better milk needed an edge. “So I thought, what’s edgier than a dairy cow,” said a FWW employee.
The search for a dairy cow willing to stand up to a big corporation like Starbucks was challenging. “The cows I talked to were all very receptive and, quite frankly, enthusiastic about our campaign. They were just too shy to be the face of our MySpace effort.”
It has long been known that dairy cows have been strangely absent from the history of online organizing in the U.S. FWW hopes to change that with a small town dairy cow found in New England.
“I just happened to stumble upon a cow with a history in activism! I couldnt have asked for a better bovine! The only thing I have left to do is to teach her html coding!”
Who is this cow? FWW is not saying. “She wanted to keep her identity under wraps as she still has a job on a farm and does not want to jeopardize her position there.”
To find out more about this mystery cow, go to the Hold The Hormones MySpace page and sign up as a friend!
October 9th, 2006
Is recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH or rBST) on the way out? Maybe not yet, but two recent news articles underscore how the tide is turning against artificial growth hormones in dairy. The New York Times notes that rBGH-free milk brands have spread throughout the United States, with many mainstream brands banning the hormone. Even Dean Foods, the largest milk processor in the United States, now has milk processing plants that do not accept milk from hormone-treated cows. As the Times rightly notes “[W[hen one dairy company makes the shift to rBST-free, it puts pressure on others.” From farmers to company executives, the dairy industry points to consumer pressure (this means you!) as the driving force in this growing tide against rBGH.
“It’s like steroids for athletes,” said Stephen H. Taylor, New Hampshire‚ commissioner of agriculture, of the artificial growth hormone. The fact that even state agricultural officials- normally bosom buddies of biotechnology- are criticizing the use of recombinant bovine growth hormone is a turning point. Taylor goes on to say that, a dairy farmer himself, he used the hormone but it “put stress on his cows and made them thinner.” Adding fuel to the fire, the frontpage headline of a Vermont newspaper this Saturday was “Vermont Ag secretary backs milk hormone ban”. The VT Agriculture Secretary, Steve Kerr, said it makes sense for dairy farmers in Vermont to stop using the hormone “because the consumer doesn’t want it and it isn’t going to work.” Sounds about right to us.
Find out where to buy dairy products without artificial growth hormones.
October 6th, 2006
If youre anything like me, you often look for labels on food at the supermarket, hoping it will tell you where the product was grown, whether it is organic and so on. Unfortunately, not all labels are created equal, as I discovered in Bangkok, Thailand last week.
Some labels already exist for farmed shrimp, intended to indicate to the consumer that that product has been ‚sustainably-produced.” However, during a recent meeting of organizations from producer and consumer countries, representatives from certifying bodies and even the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, it became obvious that many existing standards for ‚sustainable” production are woefully inadequate. To see declaration of opposition to certification of farmed shrimp, you can: Download the PDF file.
In fact, it appears that some of these inadequate labels even stand to increase demand which is not at all helpful if the commodity is, in fact, being unsustainably-produced.
So, until we can trust these labels, keep looking for that wild-caught U.S. shrimp, or hey, maybe try something else!
October 2nd, 2006
Felton, CA – Scores of Feltonians attended a California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) hearing Wednesday night pleading that the CPUC require RWE to sell the local water system to the town. Felton passed a bond measure worth $11 million to purchase the system, but the company refuses to sell. However, RWE is selling its whole American Water Works and subsidiary Cal-Am, which manages the Felton system, and the transaction must first be approved by the CPUC.
Felton FLOW provided locally owned pizza to the 150 residents who attended. Surprisingly, RWE legal director Dietrich Firnhaber also attended and heard residents complain about high rate increases, poor service, and the lack of local control. Not a single person defended the company.
On the other side of the country, RWE and its subsidiary Kentucky-American Water are fighting residents in Lexington, Kentucky. Voters in Lexington will go to the polls in November to decide on the future of private ownership of their water. After failing to block the vote in state courts Kentucky-American’s president now says “The best thing for all of us is to let our customers vote.” Back in Felton residents have already spoken on RWE‚ poor management. Their Measure W, which authorized the $11 million bond, passed with more than 70% of the vote.
Read the report in the Santa Cruz Sentinel here.