March, 2008 | Food & Water Watch
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Blog Posts: March 2008

March 31st, 2008

USDA Recalls: They'll give you all the info. If they feel like it.

On Friday, the AP published an article about the USDA‚ plan to announce the ‚retail consignees” of recalled meat and poultry products — the stores where they were sold. This rule has been in the works for nearly two years, and has been held up by pressure from the food industry. Finally, after all this time, the information may be made available so consumers can figure out, without having to dig in the freezer and scour packaging for tiny numbers on a tiny seal, whether the meat theyve bought is part of a recall. That is, if the problem causing the recall is deemed serious enough by the experts at USDA. For instance, the potentially Mad Cow-infected beef involved in the largest recall in U.S. history would not have been covered under this new proposal. Because the agency deemed this situation a ‚Class II” recall, their new policy would not apply — meaning youre not allowed to know which retailers sold it.

The problem is, USDA has watered down the rule to the point where this information would only be released for some recalls, based on a system theyve constructed of ‚recall classes.”  Under this new rule, a Class I recall merits giving the public all the available information, but classes II and III do not. Unfortunately, the decision,making process for what class a particular recall will fall into is still a bit mysterious; if USDA decides it‚ not likely youll die from the problem sparking the recall, they can slot a recall into a lower class. But dont you want to know where you might have bought any recalled goods — even if you will probably live through it?

More importantly, the decision about telling consumers where recalled products were sold shouldnt be left up to USDA.  After all, all these items have been recalled. If it was serious enough for a recall, isnt it serious enough to let consumers get all the information they need to actually avoid the product?

-Erica Schuetz
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March 26th, 2008

Students Take On World Water Day!

Instead of propping up their feet and soaking in the sun for spring break, some dedicated college students braved the chilly Washington, DC weather to do some good for world water.

The next generation of water activists visited the capital last weekend for the World Water Day Summit — a three,day event drawing over a hundred college students to learn about world water issues and advocate for solutions in the United States. Food & Water Watch helped sponsor the event and hosted a Clean Water Lobbying Day and Grassroots Advocacy Day where students learned about lobbying and grassroots organizing.

World Water Day grew out of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development to draw attention to the critical lack of clean and affordable water worldwide. Students participating in the World Water Day events saw this as an opportunity to urge their Members of Congress to keep water a public resource and human right by investing in the nation‚ water infrastructure and creating a clean water trust fund.

Paul Kostuck (pictured), a student from Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, visited the office of Congresswoman Moore to ask her for her support of a trust fund that would provide funding for needed water infrastructure projects in Milwaukee and across the country.

“Water security is a very broad issue that affects everyone. I got involved when I took a class on international water issues at Marquette, and learned about some of the water conflicts worldwide. Water should be safe, clean, and affordable for everyone, and I think that change can begin here.”

– Paul Kostuck

If youre interested in getting students on your campus involved in our water campaign, check out Take Back the Tap.

– Erin Greenfield
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March 17th, 2008

Onions Cry for Help

Orange County, NY is one of the few areas in the country where some growers earn their farm income exclusively from onion crops. The black soil there, which enriches onions with their characteristic pungent flavor and odor, is particularly well suited to the crop.

Despite the soil‚ predisposition to onion cultivation, most of the area‚ onion farmers have gone out of business in the past 15 years. While the price of running a farm has risen steadily, the price that growers earn for their onions has not.

Cheap imports have played a role in keeping American farmers from receiving a fair price for their onions. Total fresh onion imports have been increasing steadily since the 1990s. Between 1990 and 2006, edible onion imports have grown by 71 percent. The U.S. Department of Agriculture predicts that they will increase by another 32 percent in 2007. In that overall context, imports of onions and other vegetables from Peru have been increasing under current trade agreements. Peru‚ exports to the United States have skyrocketed from 365 thousand pounds in 1994 to 122 million pounds in 2006.  In 2007, Congress has been considering a Free Trade Agreement with Peru that would further open our doors to cheap imports and, as a result, could send onion prices plummeting. Indeed, in early November 2007, the House of Representatives voted to approve the free trade deal with Peru. The Senate is expected to approve the agreement, as well.

Even The Packer, a produce industry publication, has raised concerns about Peruvian onion imports. It reports that both Peru and Ecuador glutted the onion market this fall with higher-than-expected yields and have pushed prices down from the $21 to $22 range for a 40-pound carton to a range of $10 to $12. The change in the market has hurt farmers who had no way of knowing they would have to produce more than usual in order to earn a decent profit.

As imports have increased, U.S. onion acreage has dwindled. Between 1997 and 2002, the harvested dry onion acreage in New York State decreased by 16 percent. Orange County, the number of harvested farms and the number of harvested acres has decreased by almost 50 percent.

Consumers cannot always recognize this difference when they choose onions at the supermarket. Be a smart shopper and combat crops in crisis with your fork.

  1. Buy smart , Purchase food that is produced on small,
    local farms rather than large industrial operations, and choose organic over conventional foods.
  2. Be label savvy - Demand Country of Origin Labeling for food so you know where it comes from.
  3. Be in the know – Sign up for our e-mail lists to stay plugged into food issues that affect your dinner and your planet.
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March 13th, 2008

Pharma Down the Drain Shows Up on Tap

It was two in the morning when the hospice nurse knocked at our door. My father had died a little over an hour earlier but she was coming, as required by law, to dispose of the painkillers that had been prescribed to him. She gathered all the drugs and poured the morphine down the drain.

It’s some years later and AP has released its own report sounding the alarm about the safety of our drinking water. Our water
supply is substituting as a toxic waste dump for pharmaceuticals. AP estimates that at least 41 million Americans may be getting water that includes tiny concentrations of antibiotics, anti,convulsants, mood stabilizers and sex hormones. Currently, there are no federal laws regulating the presence of these drugs and, according to AP’s report, the EPA knows of no sewage treatment systems designed to remove them. In addition, the chlorine we add to our water can increase the toxicity of these pharmaceuticals.

It’s a wake-up call — just in time. With bottled water being no safer AND less tested, we have to protect our precious water supply from the disposal of medications. Pharmaceutical companies must be accountable for safely disposing of unused prescriptions.  And we need to take action to support our water infrastructure.

To the consumer, our advice is the same. Avoid bottled water, drink the water from your public utility and get informed about how to protect it. Find more incentives to take back the tap in our report Take Back the Tap: Why Choosing Tap Water Over Bottled Water is Better for Your Health, Your Pocketbook, and the Environment.

Our water is a public responsibility and that’s why Food & Water Watch is working to get a steady and reliable source of funding to keep our water clean and make it safe for our communities. Find out how your state would benefit from the establishment of a clean water trust fund in Clear Waters: Why America Needs a Clean Water Trust Fund.

Finally, help protect our water, sign the petition for a trust fund today.

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March 7th, 2008

Keep a Blue Covenant

Welcome to Issue 27 of SnackCast. This week, Maude Barlow, one of the world’s leading water activists and author of the new book Blue Covenant: The Global Water Crisis and the Coming Battle for the Right to Water, visited Washington, DC to urge Americans to take action for water conservation, water justice, and water democracy. Food & Water Watch sponsored Barlow’s national book tour and hosted an event to discuss some of the issues covered in her book. This week’s podcast includes some highlights from Barlow’s speech, as well as solutions to how the world can survive a global water crisis.

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March 6th, 2008

Stockton Privatization is Finally Dead in the Water

Another one bites the dust! On March 1st, the city of Stockton, California regained control of its water and sewer utilities after five years of protests and legal battles. The $600 million, 20,year contract with OMI,Thames Water was one of the largest — and most notorious — water contracts in the United States. Soon after the company took over the water utility in 2003, numerous problems started occurring such as rate increases higher than promised, increased sewer overflows (major YUCK factor), and poor maintenance of infrastructure. No wonder a group of Stockton citizens got together to fight off this behemoth!

And Stockton isn’t the only city rejecting private control of their water. Recently, a number of cities have started to break ties with their private water provider and instead opt for public ownership of their water services. Places like Cave Creek and Scottsdale, Arizona, Fort Wayne, Indiana, and Orcas Island communities in Washington have all found that privatization is not the solution to improving their water woes. Instead, many of them have experienced poor service and increased water rates — something that is unfortunately common in private takeovers.

However, more and more communities are starting to take action against this consumer rip,off, and are aiming to join the ranks with the 86 percent of Americans who receive their water from public utilities. After all, we have an essential right to safe, affordable water — a right that should never be subject to interference by private corporations.

– Erin Greenfield
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