January, 2011 | Food & Water Watch
Victory! Farm Bureau case challenging EPA’s right to share factory farm data dismissed. more wins »


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Blog Posts: January 2011

January 28th, 2011

The Great Muffin Escape

Where there would normally be muffins, now there was nothing... just empty counter space.

Now that we’ve had a chance to take in feedback from our readers, volunteers and activists, it’s time to share what happened last week with our Great Muffin Debate.

First off, we did not polish off all of the mini-muffins as we typically would. More than half of the container remained full, though I’m not exactly sure what happened to the remaining muffins after we left for the day. They mysteriously disappeared, never to be seen again. It’s the Great Muffin Escape.

Second, and most important: if someone is feeding you treats every week, it is not necessarily in your best interest to potentially insult them by questioning their treat choices. It would be better to gently encourage them to explore new options. Today is a Friday but, sadly, there were no treats to be found on the counter today.

Perhaps, if we hold our tongues next time and wish real hard, the giver of treats might return to our office. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on methylparabens with us!

-Rich Bindell

USDA Secretary Chooses Favorite Son By Approving GE Alfalfa

Most alfalfa is grown to be used for feed in the form of hay bales. The use of GE alfalfa will have long-term, far reaching consequences on many aspects of agriculture, putting conventional and organic seed supplies at risk of contamination by GE alfalfa.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack did the deed yesterday — he gave the official nod to the “unrestricted commercial cultivation” of genetically modified alfalfa. Surprised? We shouldn’t be. Vilsack once attributed his seemingly centrist views of agriculture to his love for both of his “sons”: big agribusiness and small farms. “I have two sons and I love them both,” he said. Maybe so. But it’s pretty obvious which one is the golden child: Big Ag. Read the full article…

January 27th, 2011

Better Water Under Private Operation? Balderdash!

Fighting to keep water systems in the public domain is a tradition as old as, well, our water infrastructure.

In a recent CNN piece on our nation’s aging water infrastructure, Cato Institute Senior Analyst Randal O’Toole blamed the problem on the “socialization” of water systems and the government’s subsequent “mismanagement” of tap water. Apparently O’Toole would prefer for us to revert to the practices of the 19th Century when private ownership of water systems was the norm.

Since this issue is admittedly a little obscure, let’s pause for a history lesson. In 1870, 52 percent of the 244 water systems in the U.S. were privately owned. By 1896, a mere twenty-six years later, our nation boasted 3,000 water systems, the majority of which were publicly controlled. Fast-forward to the present day and about 80 percent of people in the U.S. are served by a publicly owned water system. Private, for-profit businesses own only 11 percent of the nation’s 49,000 community water systems.

So what, you may ask, happened to all of those privatized water systems? Read the full article…

A Test Case For The Right To Water

Flower workers and local residents line up outside one of the large flower farms near Lake Naivasha. With no running water, families walk or bike for miles to get access to water while flower farms pump the lake for irrigation.

You may remember last year when the UN passed a resolution recognizing the human right to water — a landmark decision that, while not legally binding, was a significant step in the right direction.

Now, the Botswana Court of Appeals has reversed a ruling that denied Bushmen access to water on their ancestral lands. The government had prevented them from accessing a borehole to reach water (while at the same time creating wildlife-only boreholes, and granting permission for tourist companies to operate within the reserve, complete with swimming pools.) Read the full article…

January 26th, 2011

Obama’s Salmon Joke: Funny and Scary

Obama referenced the beaurocratic nature of government regulation when he joked about smoked salmon in his speech. Meanwhile, the truth behind how the FDA is approving genetically engineered salmon for our plates, is far too scary for laughter.

By now, you’ve probably heard Obama’s salmon joke. The one that induced laughter in an otherwise largely divided Congress during his State of the Union last night. Calling out the often complicated, bureaucratic nature of government regulation, Obama said:”The Interior Department is in charge of salmon while they’re in fresh water, but the Commerce Department handles them when they’re in saltwater. And I hear it gets even more complicated once they’re smoked.”

If it gets that complicated when they’re smoked, how complicated is it when they’re genetically engineered? As it turns out, it’s pretty complicated and risky. Read the full article…

January 25th, 2011

The State of our Union Depends on Better Water Systems

Will President Obama address the need for improvements to the nation's water infrastructure?

Last night, many Washington D.C.-area residents watched local news footage of a water main break that affected 400,000 Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission customers and led to a boil alert. The break also caused traffic jams on the Beltway and forced several area schools to acquire bottled water. News of this nature has become somewhat common in the DC metro area in recent years, and many other cities have had similar experiences due to aging water systems throughout the nation.

Tonight, many of us will tune in to the President of the United States as he gives the State of the Union Address. In the midst of calls for restraint on government spending, one theme seems to echo throughout every city, town, county, burgh and hamlet: the public sector will need to make do with less at a time when we desperately need more. Read the full article…

Obama-Mart: Is the First Lady Choosing the Wrong Partner?

Michelle Obama is right to demand change, but is she asking the wrong people to lead the charge? Photo by Ben Schumin

Michelle Obama’s clarion call to fight against childhood obesity and to promote healthy, affordable food choices for children is one we can all get behind. Her alignment with Walmart, the largest grocery retailer in the U.S., could be viewed as an effort to tackle the problem directly by making positive changes to an already established system of food production and distribution. But look close enough and ask the right questions, and it’s easy to see that Walmart isn’t the solution to the problem; it’s one of the main contributors. Read the full article…

January 21st, 2011

The Great Muffin Debate

It's amazing what Friday treats can do for your day. Would YOU eat muffins that contain methylparaben?

Perhaps some of you have a nice person in your office that brings bagels or donuts for everyone as a way of saying thanks, or just because they know people tend to love free food and treats. Here at Food & Water Watch, Fridays are treat days, and today we arrived to find containers filled with little muffins placed on the counter for the enjoyment of all — tiny bundles of blueberry and chocolate joy. Normally, that container would be gone in less than 30 minutes. But something happened today that was rather interesting to watch unfold. Read the full article…

January 20th, 2011

Is the USDA Engaged in a Chicken-for-Beef-Swap?

The USDA is under pressure — due to trade negotiations — to approve Chinese chicken imports.

Relations with China figure prominently this week as Peoples Republic of China President Hu Jintao visits the United States to meet with President Obama and members of Congress. I wonder if they’ll talk about food safety. The USDA broke its own food safety rules a while back in an attempt to quickly approve China to export chicken to the U.S. For this reason, Food & Water Watch submitted a Citizen Petition asking the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service to remove China from eligibility to export processed poultry.

This is another instance of food safety taking a back seat to trade negotiations. This particular story has some history. Back in 2003, we had a slight beef problem here in the U.S., when mad cow disease was discovered in Washington State. China reacted by banning U.S. beef imports. In the beef industry’s (and the U.S. government’s trade negotiators’) efforts to overturn this ban, a chicken-for-beef swap has been on the table. The deal: if the U.S. allows Chinese chicken imports, China may start buying U.S. beef again.

Unfortunately, in the rush to approve Chinese chicken, the USDA has made critical mistakes. In 2006, they rushed the approval of a food safety rule, skipped a few steps in the approval process, and failed to submit their work to the USDA Office of Civil Rights for review, all because they wanted to be able to tell the Chinese President that they were moving forward on approving Chinese chicken in time for his visit to the U.S. at that time.

The USDA also led the public to believe that country of origin labeling would allow consumers to avoid poultry from China. But these rules would not apply to Chinese chicken, making it difficult for consumers to identify the products.

Submitting a FOIA request to the USDA revealed these mistakes, but it took close to two years of persistence to have that request fulfilled. What if we hadn’t been diligent?

Food safety in China is suspect at best; their own officials — and even Chinese consumers — point to systemic problems that could be dangerous to American consumers. The USDA’s job is to minimize risk associated with food production and importation, but their actions demonstrate that they are willing to increase risk to accommodate good trade relations.

-Rich Bindell

FDA Says Toxic Waste® Could be Hazardous to Eat

Kids should probably eat more apples than candy. But when parents do let them have sugar, they shouldn't have to worry about the food safety practices of other countries.

The FDA recently posted a notice about a voluntary recall of all flavors of Toxic Waste® brand Nuclear Sludge® Chew Bars in seven-ounce packages. Don’t worry; the recall does not affect the Toxic Waste® drum and piggy bank or the Sour Candy Spray puppet heads.

Think we got this information from an article in The Onion? Think again. Read the full article…

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