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Blog Posts: September 2011

September 30th, 2011

Industrial Animal Agriculture: Out of Sight, Out of Mind

By Ryan Frazier

The unyielding pressure to minimize costs and maximize production has changed the face of animal agriculture in the United States. Decades of extensive consolidation and vertical integration have led to an industrial operating model with devastating consequences for rural communities, the environment, public health and animal welfare.

Today, the vast majority of animals raised for meat, milk and eggs live in extreme conditions where they are unable to express their most basic instinctual behaviors. Many of these animals never once feel grass under their feet or the sun on their back.

Numerous organizations are committed to exposing the reality of what factory farming means for animals welfare. This has always been a challenging task, but it may soon become even more difficult. With the help of several state legislators, the meat industry is working harder than ever to ensure they maintain exclusive control over their public image by banning unauthorized images from their facilities. Read the full article…

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Big Win in Mexico on the Human Right to Water

By Claudia Campero, Water Campaigner for Food & Water Watch and Blue Planet Project in Mexico

The right to water and a healthy environment in the Mexican Constitution passed yesterday (September 29) in the plenary of the Senate!

Now we need to follow-up the votes in the state legislative bodies. Once the majority of them pass the initiative, the change will be published and will be officially part of the Mexican Constitution!

We are so excited that these rights will finally be acknowledged in our Constitution and we are now strategizing to make this acknowledgement a reality in people’s lives.

There will be plenty of work in the next several months to make sure the Water Law is amended to reflect this change, but today we celebrate!

This is a major WIN for many Mexican organizations, the Coalición de Organizaciones Mexicanas por el Derecho al Agua among them. However, it is also thanks to the support of the international water movement that we have accomplished this major achievement.

September 29th, 2011

Are We Free to Disagree?

By Rich Bindell 

Are you reading this post from somewhere in the United States, a place where you believe we are free to disagree—publicly and peacefully—with any actions of our government? Actually, judging from the police brutality that occurred in New York with the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators, perhaps this right isn’t as protected as we think. It’s certainly not protected in Yucumo, Bolivia, where police oppressed indigenous demonstrators who had gathered to peacefully protest the government’s plans to build a road through the El Territorio Indígena y Parque Nacional Isiboro Sécure (Isiboro Sécure National Park and Indigenous Territory or TIPNIS), a rainforest reserve.

When people in Yucumo recently marched to express their opposition to the construction of an Amazon Highway, about 500 members of the police force responded with violence and aggression. When it was all over, many demonstrators had been detained and many are believed to be missing. The incident even caused Defense Minister Cecilia Chacon to resign in protest of the police response. Since that time, four other high ranking officials have resigned, as well.

It’s surprising that such repression happened under the watch of Bolivian President Evo Morales, the nation’s first indigenous leader who played a critical activist role in the Cochabamba water wars and who has been an outspoken advocate for the rights of nature on the global stage. Pablo Salon, who was the Bolivian Ambasador to the United Nations until recently, has circulated this public letter to President Morales Read the full article…

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An Exclusive Report on GE Foods Answers Questions Big Ag Doesn’t Want You to Ask

Food & Water Watch released a new report today called Genetically Engineered Food, an Overview. Sounds rather textbook, yet this report contains answers to questions about this controversial method of food production that big agribusiness does not want you to know. Our researchers worked long hours to provide consumers with information to make informed decisions about GE foods, so you will want to check this out.

As agribusiness constantly reminds us, by 2050, the world’s population will reach approximately nine billion, and that’s a lot of people who will need to eat. While we should be having a comprehensive conversation about how to feed those nine billion people in a way that makes wise use of natural resources, agribusiness has been pushing biotechnology and genetically engineered foods as the only way to provide nourishment to a growing population. Since the mid-90’s agribusiness has found ways to engineer our plants and animals to possess more desirable traits (at least more desirable to their profit margins).

There is a tremendous push from the private sector to incorporate GE foods into our global food supply. More than 365 million acres of GE crops were cultivated in 29 countries in 2010, and the U.S. leads the world in production by being host to 165 million acres. Yet there are many questions that surround this controversial method of production. Do genetically engineered foods really provide long term food security? Are we tracking the health or environmental implications? Who stands to benefit from the policy changes that could potentially allow GE foods to infiltrate our entire global food system? How do GE foods compare to their natural counterparts? Read the full article…

September 27th, 2011

Is it Safe to Store Fracking Fluid Underground?

By Rich Bindell

It’s not enough to have to worry about oil and gas companies building more and more shale gas wells in places like Pennsylvania, Ohio and New York. We also have to worry about them drilling wells 8,000 feet deep to store the leftover fracking fluid, like they do in Cambridge, OH, with a company called Devco.

Next door, in Pennsylvania, industry tried dumping the wastewater leftover from fracking into streams. When environmentalists questioned this disposal method, industry responded with claims that the streams dilute the chemicals enough to make such a method safe. Then the EPA decided to investigate the matter more closely and found that wastewater treatment plants couldn’t process the chemicals. When the EPA decided to prohibit the oil and gas industry from dumping the wastewater in streams, industry opted to truck it over to Ohio and inject it 8,000 feet in the ground in storage wells—permanent storage wells. Forever. Well, the hope is that it is forever.

The shale gas industry, as they’ve done for fracking in general, try to assure the public that storing wastewater in injection wells is safe. They say it is too deep to ever be a worry and that we should just trust them.

Many gas companies still won’t reveal which toxic chemicals are used to make fracking fluid. Don’t worry though, just trust them.

Ohio Oil and Gas Association Vice President Tom Stewart fracking fluid storage is a good move. “We think they got it right,” he said. “Put it back where it came from, or deeper.” Back where it came from? Am I to understand that Tom Stewart thinks fracking fluid grows naturally in Ohio, just below the surface of the earth? Do Ohioans really want their state to be a dumping ground for toxic chemicals from fracking in Pennsylvania and New York?

The idea of storing toxic fracking wastewater underground is shortsighted at best. It ignores the risks involved. The fluid is transported through injection wells to relatively porous pockets deep underground, so there’s nothing that truly contains the fluid since it doesn’t stay in the well. Even if it did, wells age and fluid can migrate. The pollution could potentially exist there for decades, posing risks to the groundwater resources on which future generations of Ohioans will depend.

We cannot rely on industry to drill for shale gas safely; they have a bottom line to protect. If they support the idea of injecting fracking fluid a few thousand feet in the ground, chances are they do so because it’s the cheapest alternative, in this case, an alternative to dumping it in our streams.

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Photo of the Day: Maude Barlow Arrested at Protest

A few weeks ago you may recall the action against the Canadian tar sands that led to over 1000 people getting arrested in front of the White House. Yesterday, the action moved up North, with a sit in in Ottawa attended by our Board Chair Maude Barlow, where she was arrested.

To learn more and see video of the nonviolent protest, visit www.canadians.org.

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September 23rd, 2011

Communities Can Get Their Water Systems Back; They Just Have to Will it!

By Rich Bindell

Food & Water Watch helped achieve a major victory against water privatization in Illinois last month. Midwest Region Organizer Emily Carroll, state legislators (including Emily McAsey, the co-sponsor of the bill in the IL House of Representatives), and water advocates, pushed hard for legislation that will allow multiple communities sharing a drinking water or sewer system to take back their system from water corporations/private utilities. This legislation was inspired by six municipalities in Will County, served by a system that is owned by Illinois American Water. Five of the six municipalities, tired of skyrocketing water rates and poor water service, wanted to re-municipalize, but Illinois American Water repeatedly refused to sell it back to the public.

Passing this bill was no easy task, but over 1,000 Food & Water Watch activists e-mailed their state representatives, coordinated calls to the Governor’s office and helped deliver almost 2,000 petitions to garner support of the bill.

Normally, it can be very difficult to take back control of a water system once it has been privatized, particularly if multiple municipalities are served by the same system. However, thanks to this new legislation, these communities can form a water agency and, using eminent domain, take back their water system to ensure public ownership and operation. This bill sets a strong precedent for other communities who also wish to take back their water system from a private entity. We congratulate Emily, our volunteers, and the communities of Will County, Illinois for being diligent in their fight against water privatization!

September 22nd, 2011

Recirculating Aquaculture has a New Friend

By Rich Bindell

If you’re passionate about sustainability, localized agriculture, recycling and supporting a green economy, you should know there’s a new kid in town. The Recirculating Farms Coalition in New Orleans, LA, has launched their national campaign promoting locally grown, accessible food and the creation of green jobs. They are positioning themselves to become a major hub in the burgeoning industry of eco-friendly farms that incorporate recirculating aquaculture. Food & Water Watch is especially proud of the new kid, particularly because Marianne Cufone, a former Food & Water Watch-er, is the executive director. Ecocentric published a nice interview with Marianne on their blog. The Recirculating Farms Coalition (RFC) is a collaborative group of farmers, educators and non-profit organizations dedicated to establishing local food systems using the principles of sustainability and energy efficiency. RFC works with recirculating farms, which produce fish, vegetables, fruits, herbs, flowers and other plants while re-using up to 99 percent of their water, recycling waste and operating without the use of harmful substances like antibiotics and chemicals. Read the full article…

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September 21st, 2011

Safe Food Requires Inspectors Allowed to do Their Jobs

By Senior Lobbyist Tony Corbo

Much of what you see on this blog is meant for the average consumer. We don’t always delve into the nitty-gritty details of some of the policy work we do because, unless you’re a policy wonk or congressional staffer, it would be like reading Ulysses in a foreign language. Backwards. But today I’m making an exception because what happened at an assembly yesterday impacts anyone who occasionally enjoys a medium-rare hamburger or turkey meatballs in their spaghetti.

Meat and poultry inspectors are the public’s first line of defense against foodborne illnesses such as E. coli, Salmonella, and listeria. There are 6,000 inspectors for the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS); the entire program only makes up less than 1 percent of the USDA’s budget.  Read the full article…

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September 19th, 2011

Nestlé Executives are Not Experts on Solving the World’s Food and Water Issues

By Rich Bindell

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) and Nestlé have a serious romance going on. The WSJ has taken to regularly interviewing Nestlé executives about food and water issues and granting Nestlé the opportunity to opine about solving world problems in a way that enhances their bottom line. Whether its Chairman Peter Brabeck-Letmathe Brabeck-Letmathe or CEO Paul Bulcke, who better to offer solutions to world hunger and water shortages than the chairman and CEO of the second largest international processed food company with posh headquarters in Switzerland?

Nestlé executives have offered their opinions in big WSJ articles or op-eds three times in less than one year. What is so interesting to WSJ that they keep devoting time and space to what Nestlé thinks about their role in the world’s food and water supply?

Most recently, WSJ’s Brian M. Carney devoted his Weekend Interview spot to a fluff piece with Brabeck-Letmathe, where the Nestlé executive answered the question, “Can the world still feed itself?” According to Brabeck-Letmathe, the answer is yes, but only if we embrace the ideas of (and offer full financial support to) genetic engineering and charging market prices for water. Isn’t it just a little ridiculous to him seriously? ‘Take away the emotion of the water issue,” Mr. Brabeck-Letmathe argues. “Give the 1.5 percent of the water [that we use to drink and wash with], make it a human right. But give me a market for the 98.5 percent…” I think we know where his interests lie.

Read the full article…

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