June, 2008 | Food & Water Watch
Victory! Farm Bureau case challenging EPA’s right to share factory farm data dismissed. more wins »


You're reading Smorgasbord from Food & Water Watch.

If you'd like to send us a note about a blog entry or anything else, please use this contact form. To get involved, sign up to volunteer or follow the take action link above.

Blog Categories

Blog archives

Stay Informed

Sign up for email to learn how you can protect food and water in your community.

   Please leave this field empty

Blog Posts: June 2008

June 27th, 2008

I think my burger just said "Moo"

Summertime is perfect for BBQs, and Wegmans , a regional supermarket chain , has an interesting recipe for ‚cooking” hamburgers. Wonder why cooking is in quotes? In a BBQ hamburger recipe on their website, it is recommended to use three pounds of irradiated ground beef, cook the burgers until desired doneness, and if youre using non-irradiated beef, cook to 160 degrees.

This means Wegmans is telling consumers that irradiated beef doesnt have to be cooked to 160 degrees, which contradicts the U.S. Department of Agriculture guidance that ALL ground beef should be cooked to that temperature. Take a glance at the photo in the recipedoes that burger look cooked to you?

This is not the first time Wegmans grocery stores has used misleading advertising about the safety of undercooked irradiated meat. Despite being reprimanded by the USDA last year for improperly telling consumers they could undercook irradiated meat,  Wegmans is still on a mission to convince consumers that irradiation is the silver bullet for foodborne illness.

In a recent store flyer, Wegmans told customers that irradiated beef is “insurance againstE. coli.” But irradiating meat does not necessarily kill all of the bacteria, nor does it sterilize the meat. There is also still a chance of cross-contamination from handling the meat in the processing plant or even in your own kitchen. Furthermore, food irradiation, a process whereby food is exposed to gamma rays, x-rays, or electron-beams to kill off bacteria, creates its own problems. Recent studies have shown that irradiating food may promote cancer development, cause genetic damage, and deplete vitamins.

Despite all of the evidence against the safety of irradiation, Wegmans grocery store has been one of its most vocal supporters, and has been pushing the technology any way they can.  You can tell Wegmans to stop misinforming the public about the safety of irradiated beef by signing a letter to the store.

And next time youre at a backyard BBQ, ask where your meat‚ from and make sure it‚ cooked properly.

Hopefully your meal wont be moving on your plate.

– Erin Greenfield
June 24th, 2008

Year of the Chicken?

Chinese government and agribusinesses want to send processed chicken to the United States for your consumptive pleasure.  The problem?  This chicken may not be safe.  The main concerns stem from the findings of U.S. inspectors upon visiting Chinese facilities.  Their reports cite defective equipment, lack of employee hygiene, unsanitary conditions, and an absence of regulations requiring pre-shipment testing for Salmonella, E. coli and other contaminants.  Reports of avian flu outbreaks in China also raise questions about the safety of Chinese poultry.
That Chinese imports may compromise the health of consumers is not a new problem (Washington Post, NPR).  In recent years, the FDA has refused to import hundreds of products from China, ranging from seafood to cosmetics, in which it detected dangerous substances or other regulatory violations. 

However, the USDA continues to attempt to approve the importation of Chinese poultry.  The Administration even went so far as to propose an absurd back-and-forth trade system whereby birds would be raised in North America, shipped to China to be processed, and then sent back to be sold.  Having been blocked by Congress last year, the USDA is again trying to open up the American meat market to Chinese chicken.

 Why is the USDA so determined to allow this trade?  Are we facing a national chicken deficit?  On the contrary, the United States has been producing too much chicken.  The real reason seems to lie in the interests of the meat industry.  It is thought that accepting Chinese poultry is an important prerequisite to China opening its markets to U.S. beef and pork.    

While it is important that we stay on good terms with China, this should not happen at the expense of your safety.  Sign our petition to tell Congress not to import Chinese Chicken!

– Darcy White


June 23rd, 2008

Three Cheers for Smithfield?

You will all be happy to know that Smithfield Foods, the largest producer and processor of hogs in the United States and in the world, was recently honored with an Environmental Recognition Award from the American Meat Institute (AMI). A press release from Forbes explains that this award celebrates “companies that assess their own environmental challenges and develop unique solutions that encourage continuous improvement.”

So what are Smithfield facilities doing to prove their dedication to environmental stewardship? According to Smithfield‚ website, the corporation has been implementing programs to improve conservation, reduce emissions, and investigate alternative energy sources. That all sounds great, but curiosity drove me to review Food & Water Watch‚ 2008 report, The Trouble With Smithfield: A Corporate Profile, for more specifics.

In the report, I learned that the corporation has a multitude of environmental achievements, just not all positive. Perhaps the company‚ factory farms are being honored for their practice of storing hog waste in huge lagoons, which only overflow or leak occasionally, smothering nearby rivers and streams and killing millions of fish. Or maybe it is the failure of slaughterhouses to properly treat effluent, allowing the entire watershed to benefit from fecal coliforms and phosphorus, among other contaminants. A practice that I found particularly noteworthy is their efforts to share hogs waste and associated fumes with neighboring communities, the waste can even be potent enough to be enjoyed by pilots flying at an elevation of up to 3,000 feet!

Now you may be wondering, as am I, how Smithfield facilities earned this award. I suppose it is possible that they have drastically changed their ways since our report. Or, the standards being used to give the award aren’t exactly the same as my standards for good environmental performance.

– Darcy White

June 17th, 2008

For those who like their meat finely aged…

You may have read about the meat industry’s fun new practice of using carbon monoxide (CO) to turn meat artificially red for an indefinite amount of time. This deceptive technology may not be harmful in itself, but prevents consumers from using their own sense of sight to choose fresh, healthy meat at the grocery store. Since the color can last up to a year, shoppers have no way of knowing if their meat is rotten till after they get it home and unwrapped, and notice a bad odor or slimy texture.

The next idea, presented by Dr. Joseph Sebranek, professor in the Department of Animal Science at Iowa State University, Ames, IA, on October 30, 2007 before the House Agriculture Committee, is to combine this technology with irradiation‚ a process that may be very harmful. When meat is irradiated, it can turn an unappetizing color‚ purplish or even greenish. But pump some CO in there, and meat is back to cherry-red‚ eliminating one indicator that allows consumers to steer clear of meat that‚ been zapped.

The combination of these two technologies is the ultimate in treating the symptoms instead of the problem‚ masking bad meat with one techno-fix after another, rather than simply producing cleaner food. And get this‚ between the two, we can now extend the meat‚ shelf life to drum roll please 38 days. Who would want to eat a cut of meat that‚ well over a month old?  And the joke is that even after those 38 days after over, the meat will remain red‚ so we’ve got to rely on grocery chains to take perfectly good-looking meat off their shelves.


-Erica Schuetz

June 16th, 2008

Interns, Fellows, Staff Splash at Training

Get the Insiders’ Report on Intern Training at Food & Water Watch: For three intense days, a Food & Water Watch team of interns, fellows and staff crammed into a conference room for a marathon summer session of organizing training. Some report, were it not for the endless supply of coffee, tea and bagels –supplemented by the occasional Subway, Chipotle or Pasha falafel pick-me-up — they would have been in way over their strategizing heads.

The first day of training included a broad overview of grassroots organizing and issue briefings from the food, water, and fish teams. While a nine-hour day of organizing training could be much like waiting for an S2 bus and simultaneously watching paint dry (not that weve done that or anything), it turns out that when you gather a bunch of highly motivated, impassioned people together the energy flows like delicious, federally-funded, publicly-owned tap water.

If it wasnt for Sarah Alexander and Annie Weinberg‚ hard work and enthusiasm (we’re not sure if they ate or slept last week to be honest), we could never have hoped to be as productive as we were or as well-prepared as we are now.

And thanks to Erin Greenfield and Erica Schuetz from the communications team, we learned how to not make cheesy headlines like the one seen above.

The second and third days of training were led by Jackie Kendall from the Midwest Academy. On these days we were not only instructed in such actions as petitioning and calling reporters, but we were actually sent live into the lion‚ den (the genetically-altered, factory-farmed, super-vindictive kind) by calling reporters to pitch a media event and post-carding in Dupont Circle to talk to passersby about cloned animals in the American food supply.

In spite of our initial apprehensions, this tactic proved to be a realistic preparation for which we are grateful.

Jackie‚ anecdotes and wealth of knowledge were invaluable to the training experience.

We capped the week off with an office birthday celebration —

Thanks to the training, the interns and field fellows from different projects and states were able to get to know each other much better, creating a real Food & Water Watch summer team. And we all know that you cant spell ‚team” without M-E-A-T (the non-irradiated, carbon-monoxide free version)!

The Intern Nook

Food & Water Watch interns Julie Mierwa, Siobhan Thomas-Smith, Eric Hoffman, Sally Goodman are among the organizers recently trained and they are now ready for action.

June 11th, 2008

Go west, water crusaders.

There, amidst California‚ coastal redwoods, you shall find Felton, a community of water warriors celebrating victory over the corporate forces that controlled their water. The 3,000 adult residents of the Felton Water District organized for six years against California American Water, a subsidiary of American Water Works, which itself is part of German energy giant RWE. Feltonites offered to buy the water system, but got rebuffed big time: RWE leadership stated, flatly, that the system was not for sale at any price and expressed its determination to oppose all public acquisition efforts so that Felton did not start a domino effect of citizens taking control of their water resources.

This was despite the fact that RWE was losing money on its U.S. water investments and wanted out. Even its attempt to unload American Water has been a big flop.

Finally, less than a week to go before a jury was to decide how much Felton needed to pay the company to take the system through eminent domain, Cal-AM and RWE negotiated a sale. San Lorenzo Valley Water District will buy the water system for $10.5 million and manage it for the Felton community.

Jim Mosher, one of the lawyers representing Felton FLOW , Friends of Locally Owned Water , told Food & Water Watch: “We fought off every one of Cal-Am‚ tactics to derail the process. But in the end our position was completely vindicated.”

Much more about this at The Fight for Public Water in Felton, California.

Send a high-five to the Felton activists.

Robert Schubert
email bio

Irradiation: The 2-ACBs (or, Irradiation Giveth, and Doesn't Always Taketh Away)

So, if Food & Water Watch‚ reports havent already broken your gross-o-meter, give these next few paragraphs a read and check it again. As you may know from yesterday‚ blog, FDA is considering relaxing rules on irradiation, lifting labeling requirements or substituting the word ‚pasteurized.” The reason why they want to do this, though, is where the gag factor comes in. It‚ so you can eat poo. In the factory-farm meat production model, faster is always better. High production is the whole goal, so little things like sanitation and animal welfare can sometimes fall by the wayside. Remember that disturbing video the Humane Society put out a few months ago, leading to the massive Hallmark-Westland beef recall?  When a ‚downer” cow is pushed and dragged across the manure-covered floor of a facility before going to slaughter, and is possibly cut and injured, the resulting meat is contaminated with fecal matter, vomit, pus you get the picture. The health result of this, also, is pretty much as gross as youd imagine.

It would seem clear that the solution should begin right there in the plant, with improving conditions. But there‚ another option‚Äîone that some industry players favor because it doesnt threaten the crank-’em-out factory-farm model. Food irradiation kills most bacteria‚Äîso you dont have to make sure the meat is clean. Just sterilize that poo!  Then we can just eat it. Yum!

In addition to likely being dirty, irradiated meat contains some chemicals that materialize during the irradiation process. The scariest substances, known as 2-ACBs (short for 2-alkylcyclobutanones, if you were wondering), have been linked to colon cancer, and have never been found anywhere in the world outside of irradiated meat. Theyre formed when fat is exposed to radiation, and have been definitively identified in irradiated beef, chicken, pork, lamb, eggs, peanuts, salmon, mangoes, papayas, and more. FDA has never studied the potential health hazards of 2-ACBs, and scientists dont know how the body metabolizes them. And that‚ just one substance. Just, you might say, a taste of irradiation‚ goodness

Every story needs a moral, and this time it‚ more like one of those old-school warning-style fairy tales. Basically, irradiating dirty meat doesnt make it clean, and can even add bonus nasties that youve never even heard of.  But we hate to leave you simply with, ‚and then the wolf gobbled her up.”  There is, as always, our power as consumers. Since we currently have labeling for irradiated foods, we can make informed choices about the food we choose to purchase. And‚Äîfor now‚Äîwe can use our eyesight!  More on this next time


-Erica Schuetz