January, 2012 | Food & Water Watch - Part 2
Victory! Farm Bureau case challenging EPA’s right to share factory farm data dismissed. more wins »


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Blog Posts: January 2012

January 13th, 2012

Can Catch Shares Save the Whales?

Catch shares for whalesBy Rich Bindell

No. The January 2012 issue of Nature suggests that a market approach to whale conservation would be beneficial for animal lovers and fishermen, alike. But this proposal is really a catch shares program dressed up in an environmental protection costume. It’s merely another example of commercial privatization of public resources, and what it really does is secure profits for private enterprise while ignoring the real problem: too may whales are being killed each year.

If the real goal is to reduce the number of whales harvested every year, then we should start by enforcing the International Whaling Commission moratorium on whale hunting. We could begin by no longer permitting 1000 whales to be taken for the commercial market under the guise of “scientific research.”

This proposal is really just a catch shares for whales program, allowing whalers the opportunity to buy and sell the right to hunt whales. That’s not a solution to the problem of harvesting too many whales; it’s just another way for big industry to hog and profit from public resources.

As they learned the hard way in Iceland—and as we’re learning here in the States—catch shares doesn’t even work for fisheries. It’s certainly not going to work for whales.

Looking Forward in 2012

Looking Forward to 2012: Food & Water Watch's Lane Brooks

Happy (belated) New Year! Our supporters are the best! Thanks to everyone who helped us make (and exceed!) our $100,000 end-of-year matching gift goal.

Three exclamation points already in the first paragraph – I have to cut the coffee back. But seriously, we are a young organization building our support person by person and you are helping to make a difference for the safety and accessibility of our food, water and essential resources. Thanks again for everything you do. Read the full article…

January 11th, 2012

Has Fracking’s Politicization Bent the Science in New York State?

Fracking Deadline for Comments in New York StateBy Hugh MacMillan

Today, January 11, is the final day that the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is accepting comments for their proposed plan that would open up large parts of New York to fracking. The agency reports receiving more than 20,000 comments, more than any issue in recent memory. As we prepare to submit our long technical comments, we realize that an important point has been missing from this debate: the DEC itself had the opportunity to choose the “no action alternative,” essentially banning fracking in New York state.

When citizens, communities, nonprofit organizations and environmental groups asked the DEC to protect the health and environment of the state by banning fracking, we were actually asking them to take an action well within their authority—accepting, rather than rejecting, the so-called “no action alternative.” But politics fast-tracked the science needed to create an accurate environmental impact statement. Given time, a sound scientific assessment would likely determine that an outright ban—the no action alternative—is the only prudent recommendation.

Instead, the DEC’s “political” study makes the unsupported claim that the oil and gas industry would provide the state with “substantial economic and environmental benefits.” Effectively, the DEC argues that the benefits of shale gas development in New York would outweigh the risks or costs.

In our comments, we explain why the DEC’s rejection of this “no action alternative” is based on a flawed assessment of the potential benefits, costs and risks of intensive shale gas development.

The socioeconomic impact analysis, which lays out the DEC’s claims of substantial economic benefits—including job projections—contains a number of flaws that lead to a gross overestimation of the job-producing potential of this industry. The job projections were made by an outside consulting firm and adopted by the DEC.

But this analysis fails to account for the significant public costs, including the impacts on roads, public health and social services. It also fails to consider potential economic losses that would be suffered by New York’s tourism and agriculture, as well as its value-added industries.

The report also dismisses the inherent risks that shale gas development poses to vital freshwater resources, as recently acknowledged by one of DEC’s own employees.

The DEC’s environmental impact study inaccurately claims potential benefits, inadequately accounts for potential public costs, and imprudently dismisses inherent risks. Food & Water Watch maintains that the DEC should go with the no-action alternative and that shale gas development should be banned in the State of New York. Click here to read our full comments.

Food Imports: From Toxic Apple to Orange Juice

Food & Water Watch’s Patty Lovera Discusses the Issue on ABC News
video platformvideo managementvideo solutionsvideo player

By Anna Ghosh

High levels of arsenic in apple juice imported from China and other countries with lax food safety standards was one of the biggest, and scariest, stories of 2011. Now, just a couple weeks into 2012, we’re faced with another imported juice scare.

This week, the FDA sent a letter to the juice industry about the fact that the fungicide carbendazim was found in several samples of orange juice concentrate coming from Brazil. In 2007, 32 percent of orange juice consumed in U.S. was imported, up from 23 percent in 1993. Top importers are Brazil and Mexico.It’s heartening, in this instance, that the FDA is doing its job and testing imported orange juice for toxic pesticide chemicals. But it’s impossible for the under-funded, under-staffed agency to police the tidal wave of food and beverage imports that flood our ports every day.

Exactly how much imported food comes into the U.S. every year? According to the 2008 Food & Water Watch report The Poisoned Fruit of American Trade Policy, each American consumed, on average, 31 pounds of imported fresh vegetables, 20 pounds of imported fresh fruit, and three gallons of imported juice in 2007 alone. And currently less than 2 percent of food and beverage imports get inspected by the FDA.

What’s scarier is that at the end of last year, the World Trade Organization ruled that the United States’ country-of-origin labeling (COOL) program is a violation of international trade law. If the U.S. does not appeal this ruling, Americans will be even more in the dark about where their food is coming from and less able to make informed food choices.

After more than a decade of hard work, the COOL rule was included in the 2008 Farm Bill and has had overwhelming support from both consumers and U.S. producers, despite repeated attempts by the food industry to kill the program and delay its implementation.

COOL doesn’t cover juice concentrate, but it does apply to seafood, meat, and fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables and several kinds of nuts. If COOL goes away, the entire contents of our grocery cart could fall under the category of mystery origins, potentially toxic.

Then there’s the nearly impossible job that U.S. farmers have of contending with foreign meat and produce that’s grown without the same environmental and health requirements we have here. These inferior products are often “dumped” on U.S. consumers, which means domestic farmers can’t compete on price and many are forced out of business, while we, the consumers, are duped into buying inferior quality imported foods and beverages when many of us would prefer to support American farmers.

About a year ago, President Obama took one step forward by signing the Food Safety Modernization Act. But if he doesn’t defend COOL from the WTO, food safety and consumers’ right to information about the origin of their food, will take two steps back. Tell President Obama to keep our food supply safer by appealing the WTO ruling.


For more information:

Action alert: Ask President Obama to appeal WTO ruling on COOL

Global Grocer: Fill your virtual grocery cart with produce from around the world and learn about its hidden dangers

Report: A Decade of Dangerous Food Imports from China

Report: The Poisoned Fruit of American Trade Policy

January 5th, 2012

Can Fracking Cause Earthquakes? Part 2: Youngstown Mayor Buys Quake Insurance

By Rich Bindell

Remember that east coast earthquake last August? We speculated half-kiddingly about the possibility that fracking could have been the cause. We didn’t really think that was the case last August, but we certainly wondered if it would be possible for fracking to cause such seismic activity. We’re taking that speculation much more seriously after two earthquakes hit Youngstown, Ohio over the holidays, which scientists determined were caused by the underground disposal of fracking wastewater.

With the Ohio quakes following on the heels of news announcing that the EPA linked fracking to groundwater contamination in Wyoming, you’d have to dig deeper than the water table to find even a tidbit of good news about drilling for natural gas.

Earthquakes are not common in Youngstown, yet they experienced two medium-sized earthquakes in December and nine small ones between March and November of 2011. Scientists believe that a fracking wastewater disposal well, drilled there in December 2010, is to blame for all eleven quakes. The well is owned by D&L Energy and operated in part by Northstar Disposal Services.

Authorities in Ohio have closed down the D&L well and have even halted four other wastewater-injection wells from opening until further notice. The unsettling seismic activity was enough to convince Youngstown Mayor Charles P. Sammarone to take out an earthquake insurance policy for his home. Bloomberg’s Mark Niquette reports that Sammarone also called for City Council to support a moratorium on “so-called fracking and injection-well activity.”

After drilling for natural gas via hydraulic fracturing, gas companies in Pennsylvania truck the millions of gallons of fracking wastewater—in most cases containing undisclosed amounts of hazardous chemicals—to Ohio, where it is injected deep underground for disposal. This method is utilized because water treatment facilities aren’t capable of safely treating fracking wastewater. The disposal of fracking wastewater via underground injection has also been linked to earthquakes in Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas.

It seems that big problems from fracking continue to haunt communities throughout shale country. The horse doesn’t usually like to push the cart.

January 3rd, 2012

Resolve to Keep Science Experiments off Your Dinner Table in 2012

Engineered crops have steadily increased over the past 15 years, despite the lack of independent research on their long-term effects on human health and the environment.

[Original post appears on OtherWords.org]

By Wenonah Hauter

‘Tis the season to reflect on the past year and hold high expectations for the blank slate that awaits in January. Here’s one resolution for all you consumers hoping to improve your health and the environment: Starting in 2012, avoid genetically engineered foods.

It won’t be easy. By some estimates, 70 percent of processed food contains engineered ingredients. That’s why we need lawmakers and grocery retailers to turn over a new leaf in the coming year and support our right to know what we’re eating.

The variety and volume of engineered crops have steadily increased over the past 15 years, despite the lack of independent research on their long-term effects on human health and the environment. Extolled for their potential to boost nutrients and increase yields to feed a hungry planet, in reality the vast majority of genetically engineered crops are designed solely to resist insects and weeds. In fact, 94 percent of soybeans, 88 percent of corn, and 90 percent of cotton are genetically engineered solely for that purpose.

But this widespread experiment isn’t working. So-called “super weeds” and hardy pests like the rootworm have evolved to resist the herbicides and pesticides that are used with engineered crops. As a result, even more toxic chemicals are needed to keep these mutated pests at bay. These chemicals poison our waterways, soil, and ultimately our bodies. Some have been associated with endocrine disruption and developmental abnormalities. Yet more risks are still being discovered.

Not only are genetically engineered foods risky to our environmental and physical health, they also hinder the financial well being of family farmers who must depend on just a few companies for seeds and their affiliated agrochemicals. They face the threat of lawsuits if their crops get contaminated by genetic material from engineered crops planted by someone else.

Opinion polls show that many people don’t want to eat these foods, and nearly everyone asked wants them labeled. While most of the developed world has either banned engineered food or required that it be labeled, most U.S. consumers unwittingly eat and drink engineered ingredients every day. Read the full article…

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