June, 2008 | Food & Water Watch
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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
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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


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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

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June 18th, 2008

Irradiation in the Agribusiness Agenda

What in the world does irradiation , zapping the life, essence, and nutrients out of our food , have to do with global trade? Everything. Bombarding fruits, veggies and meat with ionizing radiation that busts molecules and begets new types of matter is part of the global agribusiness agenda to remake farms, both here and abroad, into factories. The corporate cadre‚ relentless drive for maximizing profit demands that the mass manufacture of food happen in countries with cheap labor costs and non-existent environmental rules.

Our political leaders and their big business handlers sing the praises of corporate-managed trade, which the media they own prefer to call free trade. Sounds better. They dont tell us about the fly-infested fruit shipped across the Pacific or the filthy meat trucked over the border. They dont have to. Irradiation will mask any grossness covering the imported food.

The World Bank works hand-in-hand with the World Trade Organization to pressure developing nations to grow cash crops to export to rich countries. The idea behind the export-oriented orthodoxy is that developing countries could use earnings from selling cotton or cocoa beans to buy imported corn or wheat. Of course, it is an advantage for giant food corporations that are looking for the cheapest place to buy the raw commodities they need. Free trade encourages farmers to abandon growing food to cultivate non-food cash crops like tea, rubber and coffee.

Today, almost half of the world‚ population grows food for their families and communities. They grow staples and a mix of diverse crops. They have developed their own seed varieties, fertilizers, and pest management. They live in communities where the concept of the commons is strong, resulting in shared seeds, water, and labor. Unfortunately, this kind of local self-sufficiency is scorned by multinational corporations and the institutions they influence.

Jayson Cainglet, a Filipino activist working to stop irradiation and save family farming in the Philippines, spoke about this in the new book Zapped! Irradiation and the Death of Food: ‚Irradiation, if widely adopted, will facilitate this type of food production. Irradiation is designed to cover up inherent problems in production methods that agribusiness employs, but small-scale farms do not rely on these technologies.”

-Robert Schubert
email • bio

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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

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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.

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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

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June 9th, 2008

Irradiation: The ABCs, or, Where Did My Vitamins Go?

Carrying a box of copies of Zapped! downstairs the other day, my coworker Erin and I encountered a friendly man in the elevator. “What’s the name of your book there?” he asked, and once we showed him the cover, he hazarded, “Oh, like with microwaves, right?” Then we were on level 1 and our companion was continuing to the basement. We didn’t have time to explain the truth about food irradiation – namely, that it is not the same thing that happens in microwaves.

This is an understandable and common misconception. Most Americans today don’t know what food irradiation actually is. This is due in part to the success of activists, who have prevented the technology from becoming widely commercialized, and in part to industry hype that aims to keep people in the dark about what exactly happens to their food.

So to clarify: Hauter’s book explains that the distinction between irradiation and the types of radiation in microwaves, radio waves, infrared light, and visible light is that irradiation uses ionizing radiation. Non-ionizing radiation can cause molecules to vibrate and heat up – that‚ what makes microwaves good for leftovers. But ionizing radiation has enough energy to blow apart molecules, which then go careening into other molecules, knocking them apart, till they are all flying around like crazy and can combine into new types of matter (more on this later in the week). When people are exposed to ionizing radiation, that same energy can explode DNA molecules, leading to leukemia and other types of cancer.

When food is exposed to ionizing radiation, it doesnt hold up too well either.  Irradiation can wilt and discolor food, and cause it to smell and taste nasty –apparently comparisons have been made to “burned feathers” and “wet dog.” Mmmmm. Nutritionally, irradiation is also a disaster, destroying up to 91% of Vitamin E, 90% of Vitamin C, 50% of Vitamin A, and 95% of Vitamin B1. So why would we do it?

The motivation for irradiating is industry-driven. Irradiation allows food producers to store food longer, ship it farther, and avoid cleaning up dirty conditions at food production facilities. This translates for consumers simply as older food, fewer vitamins, and continued risk of foodborne illness. Irradiation is ineffective against mad cow disease and several other threatening pathogens, so irradiating instead of improving sanitation at plants is simply paying lip service to food safety.

But it wont kill you, right?  Actually, we don’t know. There just isn’t enough research. While there isn’t conclusive evidence that eating irradiated foods could have the same effects as being exposed to radiation itself, some studies seem to suggest it. Experiments on lab animals fed irradiated foods have shown ruptured hearts, sterility, blindness, internal bleeding, cancer, tumors, stillbirths, mutations, organ damage, immune system failure, stunted growth, and a host of other problems. Of course, conflicting studies exist that mysteriously show irradiated food as having no health effects whatsoever. So were not saying it will kill you – just that it might. But isn’t that bad enough?

Currently, it‚ possible to partially avoid irradiated foods. Single-ingredient foods, like fruits or cuts of meat, must be labeled with the flower-like “radura” symbol to show they’ve been irradiated, and are also more costly than their non-irradiated counterparts. But ingredients in prepared food can be irradiated without disclosure, and over 95 million pounds of spices are already irradiated annually in the US. Plus, the FDA is now considering a decision to further loosen labeling requirements on irradiated food, allowing it to be labeled as ‚pasteurized” in some cases, and in other cases to be sold without any labeling at all.

So, will we soon be facing supermarket shelves stocked completely with zapped foods?  Not if we can help it. It‚ due in large part to consumer rejection of irradiated food till now that the technology isnt more mainstream already. And we, as consumers, can continue to stand up for our right to safe foods – not zapped foods. And check back tomorrow for more on irradiation and its consequences.

-Erica Schuetz

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June 6th, 2008

Watch Zapped! Launch with Wenonah Hauter

Would you let a doctor zap one billion X-rays all at once through your body if you were injured? Would you let your food be treated with that same amount of radiation? Whether poultry, meat, fruit or vegetable, food around the world is being exposed to high doses of radiation under the veil of protecting consumers from foodborne illness.  Zapped! Irradiation and the Death of Food, a new book by Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter and researcher Mark Worth,  explores why this process, known as food irradiation, poses numerous health risks to consumers and ignores the fundamental problems plaguing food production systems.

Watch this video of Wenonah Hauter reading at th book launch at DC cafe Busboys & Poets, and learn more about this dangerous technology.


- Erin Greenfield

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