October, 2007 | Food & Water Watch
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Blog Posts: October 2007

October 31st, 2007

Trick or Threat?

Just in time for Halloween, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council—advisory body that helps create fishing regulations in the region—is hoping to approve a scary ocean fish farming plan soon. The plan would allow destructive commercial-scale fish farming in Gulf of Mexico, and would threaten the environment, human health, and communities throughout the Gulf.

This past weekend a large fish—not actually a fish, but a Mardi Gras-inspired costume—visited the Voodoo Music Experience in City Park, New Orleans (as you can see in these photos), letting festival goers know about negative impacts associated with open ocean aquaculture, which involves dividing up and giving away our oceans to private, often foreign-based, companies that grow fish in large net pens and cages three to 200 miles of the coast.

Today, the fish is continuing on to the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council meeting in Biloxi, Mississippi along with fisher men and women, concerned citizens, elected officials, environmental advocates, students and scientists to express their concerns and urge the Gulf Council to seriously consider the risks involved with commercial-scale fish farming and to give the public more opportunity to comment on and participate in this process.

Food & Water Watch recently released a report entitled Offshore Aquaculture: Bad News for the Gulf that examines the possible negative economic consequences of ocean fish farming in the Gulf of Mexico. The report concludes that “based on experience elsewhere, the practice of offshore aquaculture, combined with the influx of farmed fish imports, could threaten the economic well-being of the Gulf‚ active fishing industries.”

Let‚ hope the Gulf‚ plan ends up RIP soon.

Read the report, Offshore Aquaculture: Bad News for the Gulf, and listen to a podcast discussion about open ocean aquaculture and the Gulf.

Then take action and tell the Gulf Council to do the right thing and seek more input before diving into uncharted waters. More than 8000 people have already written to the Gulf Council asking them to look before they leap into this dangerous new industry. Join them by adding your name.

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October 26th, 2007

Fishy Farming in the Gulf

Welcome to Issue 18 of SnackCast. Next week The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council will discuss their plan to streamline the permitting and regulation of open-ocean fish farming. Food & Water Watch, as well as other fishing and conservation groups, talk about how the Gulf Council’s proposal could lead to environmental and economic disaster in the region.

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October 25th, 2007

News Bites

Three little news items from this week to inform and amuse: 1. That “offshore aquaculture in Gulf of Mexico “may yield economic distress” won’t surprise you if you’ve been following our work on the issue.

2. What might is that law enforcement has been enlisted to recapture escaped culinary (though not biological) relatives of farmed fish as we discovered in the same issue of FishUpdate.com where we found our news story above. Saucy crayfish.

3. A compromise on the before-mentioned controversy over allowing interstate shipment of state inspected meat has been announced and would be a victory for producers and consumers alike. Read the coalition press statement and letter here.

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Water, water everywhere? Not a drop to drink

At least that seems like the current situation in the Southeast, where states are facing one of the most severe droughts in history. Many government officials are declaring a state of emergency, and are encouraging residents to limit their water consumption – from taking shorter showers (Governor Sonny Perdue of Georgia has even declared October “Take a Shorter Shower Month“) to not watering their lawns.

Some mayors have even considered raising water rates to further reduce water usage. According to an Atlanta Business Chronicle article, Atlanta mayor Shirley Franklin is currently deciding whether to raise rates on irrigation meters (meters that measure outdoor water use on homes) by as much as 100 percent. And some officials are talking about one option that would be would be economically and environmentally damaging: desalination.

Desalination is a process that converts seawater into distilled, drinkable water.  After all, water covers about 70 percent of the Earth‚ surface, so we would never run out of water.right?

Although this may seem like a good solution, desalination comes at a high cost that outweighs its potential benefits—literally. It‚ the most expensive form of “fresh” water—it costs anywhere from three to ten times more than freshwater sources due to the high price of construction and maintenance of the plants.

Desalination also harms marine ecosystems, promotes unsound coastal zone management, wastes energy, and impacts human health (check out Food & Water Watch‚ “Top 10” list of why desalination is so bad).  For example, a number of proposed desalination plants are to be built in estuaries, which are sensitive breeding grounds for aquatic life and the nurseries for young fish. In addition, toxic discharges of highly concentrated brine (water highly concentrated with salt) into the ocean can destroy sensitive marine habitat.

Desalination is just a way to put a thumb in the dike with the growing water supply problem. Instead, officials should focus on better water management practices, such as water conservation and recycling, which get to the root of the problem.

If it‚ yellow.well, you know the rest.

– Erin Greenfield
emailbio

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October 19th, 2007

Blue October Across the World

Welcome to Issue 17 of SnackCast. The month of October is known around the world as Blue October — an international month of action to protect water, a shared natural resource available to all. In this issue we discuss Blue October activities around the world, including a fight against privatization in El Salvador that has led to an international mobilization effort for human rights. Pedro Juan Hernandez, a leader for social justice in El Salvador, visited Food & Water Watch this week to discuss this issue. In the United States, Blue October has been a victorious month for clean and safe water, and we’ll discuss some recent victories that happened this week across the country.

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October 17th, 2007

Water Victories Making a Splash Across the Country! (HRes 725)

Water News Wednesday This week has been a very good week for water. Yesterday the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution that recognizes clean water as a national priority, and today Governor Schwarzenegger signed legislation that requires water bottlers to provide essential water quality information to consumers. Considering that the 35th anniversary of the Clean Water Act is tomorrow, October 18th, it looks like were heading on the right path for clean and safe water for all.

The resolution passed last night celebrates the progress made since the passage of the Clean Water Act, yet acknowledges the funding crisis our clean water infrastructure is currently facing. Were glad that Congress stepped up to the plate on this important issue, but as we highlighted in our recent report on clean water infrastructure, what Congress really needs to do is move funding for water out of the contentious appropriations cycle and ensure stable funding for future generations through a clean water trust fund. A clean water trust fund would provide a steady, reliable, and equitable source of funding for needed infrastructure investment across the country. (Find out if your Representative is a clean water leader and say thanks to those who are here!)

On the state level, it looks like California is cracking down on the bottled water industry. As mentioned in an article by Susan Wheeler at WaterTechOnline, Governor Schwarzenegger signed a state senate bill that requires the name and contact information for the bottler or brand owner, in addition to the source of the water, be printed on the bottle label. This will give consumers the opportunity to make informed decisions when purchasing bottled water (considering 40% of bottled water is really just tap water!) The bill will also increase the annual license fee for a water-vending machine from $10.25 to $40.

Although the bill wont take effect until January 1, 2009, the timing couldnt have been better. This month we should acknowledge the important steps taken since 1972, and focus on what our government officials need to do to ensure America has clean and safe water for the next thirty-five years and beyond.

– Erin Greenfield
emailbio

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October 16th, 2007

When the Devil is in the Details (H.R. 2419)

Drive a hundred miles away from Chicago, Illinois and you could easily find yourself in another state. Conscientious supporters of local food trying to adhere to a 100 mile diet could easily find themselves buying from small farmers in Wisconsin, Ohio, or Michigan. It seems crazy then that those farmers couldn’t ship their meat into Chicago. But if the meat was processed by a plant that was inspected by state employees (instead of USDA inspectors) it cannot be sold across state lines. And these frequently smaller state-inspected plans are often used by independent, small farmers. Conundrum, no?

Enter Congress, the 2007 Farm Bill, and big, big controversy in the sustainable ag community.

Food & Water Watch has fought for years for stronger food safety standards, especially federal meat inspection. We understand the obstacles that small livestock producers face in getting their animals to market and don’t want food safety rules to favor large companies over the little guy. And like most people examining the current state of our food supply, we think it‚ obvious that consumers would be better off if more sustainable, independent livestock producers could get their products into more markets.

BUT we don’t support the measure in the farm bill to allow meat from plants that are inspected by state governments instead of the USDA to cross state lines. Why? Because as the language stands right now it would do far more damage than good. There are several specific things in the bill that go way overboard and put consumer safety at risk:

  • The bill covers much more than “small” plants. The bill would allow any meat plant with up to 50 employees under state inspection to ship its products across state lines. This means that 80 percent of plants currently under USDA inspection could switch to state inspection. Instead of creating a system for truly small producers and processors to have access to the marketplace, this proposal could radically change food safety requirements for 80 percent of the industry.
  • The bill would let meat plants switch back and forth between state and federal inspection every 4 years. Besides creating a logistical (and funding) nightmare for both the states and the feds, this opens the door for meat companies to ‚shop around” for more sympathetic regulators if they are having quality or safety problems.
  • Not all state inspection programs are created equal, and not all of them are equal to USDA inspection. Federal courts and investigators at the USDA have documented problems in several state programs that amount to their inspection being weaker than USDA’s. But rather than require each state to be evaluated individually to see if it is up to snuff, this bill would make all of them eligible for interstate shipment at the same time.

We need to find ways for small meat plants and the sustainable livestock producers they serve to get into more markets. A great start would be by making sure that USDA had enough inspectors to get to every plant that needs inspection by filling vacant positions that have plagued the agency for years and possibly working cooperatively with states to use state employees to enforce federal standards (a wonky, but important, distinction from the farm bill proposal.)

The language in the farm bill might be well-intentioned, but it doesn’t get it right. Tell them so here.

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October 12th, 2007

Total Recall: Food Safety in Question

Welcome to Issue 16 of SnackCast. Food recalls have been making headlines in the past two weeks — specifically the ground beef recall from Topps Meat Company — bringing into question the vulnerability of our food supply. This week we are joined by Patty Lovera, Assistant Director of Food & Water Watch, who will discuss our nation‚ food safety and the weaknesses in our food system that led to the Topps Meat Company recall.

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October 11th, 2007

Call for Clean Water (HRes 725)

Today is the day! The National Call-in Day for Clean Water. If you’ve already called your Member of Congress, thank you. If you haven’t had a chance yet, please take one minute right now to
help us flood Congress with calls demanding clean water for all. (No worries if you are reading this after the 11th; call anyway.)

Special interests have targeted water, our most precious resource, as a new profit center‚Äîthe oil of the 21st century. On the 35th anniversary of the historic Clean Water Act, it’s time to stand up and make sure everyone has access to clean, safe and affordable water.

As early as next week, Congress will vote on whether to support clean, affordable water for future generations, and they need to hear from you.

Click here for instructions and a sample calling script.

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October 10th, 2007

Crops in Crisis: Oregon Strawberries

What happens to a nation’s farmers when the amount of imported food doubles within 10 years? In the United States, the value of agricultural products coming from overseas soared from $30 billion in 1995 to $60 billion last year.

Larry Thompson‚ family has grown strawberries in Boring, Oregon since 1947, when ‚five acres was all you needed to make a living.” Today, imports from Mexico and Chile make turning a profit more difficult.

Last year, $220 million worth of strawberries were imported into the United States, and only $1.5 million were grown domestically. The low wages paid to farm workers abroad make imported berries cheaper. Thompson used to sell his berries to processors, but now with prices so low, he only sells directly to the public.

To grow strawberries today, ‚you have to love it,” says Thompson, who now works seven days or 96 hours a week to keep up. Many farmers have given up the crop all together. If this trend continues, Oregonians could lose all access to local berries.

Food & Water Watch regularly profiles crops in crisis on our website and in our Food Alert newsletter. To find out what you can do to protect local food, sign up for our email lists and tell Congress to expand country-of-origin-labeling.

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