May, 2012 | Food & Water Watch
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Blog Posts: May 2012

May 31st, 2012

Economists are not Fishermen

Give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day. Give an economist a fishery, and he’ll eat all the fishermen.

Economists should not fishBy Meredith Moore 

A recent piece for The Standard-Times in New Bedford, Massachusetts, glowingly describes how the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), a long time champion of catch shares fisheries management, is providing some New England fishermen with business consultants and economic modeling in order to help them survive the transition to catch shares. The article fails to recognize that this sort of extraordinary intervention to keep fishermen from going out of business should never be required in the first place.

At Food & Water Watch, we talk a lot about the dangerous impulse to degrade our natural resources by selling, trading and speculating on them in the market. This exploitation of our natural resources threatens our basic access to food, water and fish, and jeopardizes the progress we have made cleaning up and preventing pollution.

Catch shares are one of these privatization schemes. These programs create markets for trading access to fish, and are often economically devastating to traditional, small-scale fishermen and the communities that depend upon them. In New England, just one year of catch shares management has caused significant job loss, industry consolidation, and hardship.

It shouldn’t require a degree in economics to catch fish. But under catch shares, our fishermen are forced to buy access to fish from the private individuals who control it. Buying at the wrong time in this shadowy stock market can mean bankruptcy, particularly for smaller scale fishermen.

Our fishermen have generations of experience in their business, but now the rules have changed completely. Under catch shares, our fish are going to be caught by the best economists, not the best fishermen.

We can’t patch over the fundamental flaws of catch shares by importing the same methods and values that have turned our financial markets into such a disaster. Catch shares, and resource commodification in general, only create more problems than they solve. We shouldn’t be gambling with the livelihoods of our fishermen and the sustainability of our fisheries to exploit a public resource for private profit. Fishing isn’t an economic trend or school of thought; it’s an important job that provides food for consumers.

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Would You Like Some Propaganda with Your Popcorn?

By Kate Fried

If you go to the movies this summer, you may get an eyefull from the oil and gas industry.

Summers can be oppressively hot in Washington, D.C., and for relief from the heat and humidity, I enjoy nothing more than retreating to a dark, cool movie theater to take in some of the season’s best cinema and forget my troubles, at least for a few hours.

In doing so, I do not expect, nor do I particularly relish, the prospect of being subjected to blatant, misguided, corporate propaganda. Unfortunately, it seems that the oil and gas industry has other plans for me and my fellow theatergoers this summer. According to Fuel Fix, the American Clean Skies Foundation is shelling out big bucks to create and place an ad campaign touting natural gas as a replacement for conventional fuel. You may recall that American Clean Skies is funded by none other than Chesapeake Energy, which is battling a credibility problem these days due to its CEO and former board chair’s history of sketchy financial holdings.

Of course, this information alone isn’t enough to make you spill your popcorn. After all, the oil and gas industry has been buying up the airwaves for ages, trying to sell us on all sorts of distortions, chief among them, the fact that shale gas development will deliver us from our economic woes. We’ve already refuted that crazy claim here. Read the full article…

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May 30th, 2012

Join the Movement to Ban Fracking Today

Donations to Food & Water Watch Are DoubledBy Mark Schlosberg

We have a wonderful opportunity to grow the movement to ban fracking and here’s why we need your help today: for every dollar donated before June 10, a generous donor will match your donation so we can continue our work to fight fracking.

Food & Water Watch was the first national organization to fight for a ban on fracking, and we’ve worked with communities in Colorado, Ohio, New York, Alabama, California and beyond to stop this dangerous practice that threatens human health, our communities, and our environment. Vermont recently became the first state to introduce, pass and enact into law a bill to ban fracking. It’s also exciting to note that over 200 communities now have passed measures against fracking.

But there is much more to do. Read the full article…

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May 25th, 2012

“Dear Governor Cuomo” Letters from Kids Ask Tough Questions on Fracking

Letters from children urge Gov. Cuomo to ban fracking in New York.

By Seth Gladstone

The groundswell of opposition to the dirty and dangerous practice of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in New York has come from all corners of the state and from all types of people. Parents have raised alarm over the prospect of fracking just feet from their children’s schools and playgrounds. Business owners have voiced concern over a loss of revenue from tourists and local patrons who could be frightened off by the drilling. Farmers wonder what will become of their pristine fields and pastures, and New Yorkers of all stripes are fearful of the potential for chemical spills, contaminated drinking water and even earthquakes - all sad symptoms of fracking in neighboring states.

But mixed in with all these concerned voices are a few that really hit home – those of children. Among the thousands of letters that Governor Cuomo has received asking him to ban fracking in New York, those from the young campers at the Eden Village Camp in Putnam Valley stand out.

“Dear Governor Cuomo,” begins one letter, handwritten, and not without the occasional spelling mistake. “I have just a moment ago learned about fracking. I just want to ask you, do you like digging holes in the ground? Are you okay with filling the ground, lakes and rivers with chemicals?” The letter concludes asking Cuomo to “bring awareness to this, and make the state, country and world a little happier and healthier.” Sometimes kids just say it the best. Read the full article…

May 24th, 2012

Keep Alabama Beautiful—Keep Fracking and Drilling Out

Keep Alabama BeautifulBy Alison Grass

Alabama isn’t called Alabama the Beautiful without reason. Anyone who has visited the state can attest to that. Then again, I may be partial to its splendor, seeing as how I am from Alabama and grew up across the street from endless fields of farmland, spending my childhood days climbing tall trees in the woods behind our house. Alabama has a rich and diverse geography. Open spaces are laden in valleys and rivers that roll through sloping hills. The Appalachian Valley characterizes several portions of the state, whereas the southern region consists of coastal plains, the Mobile Bay and the Gulf of Mexico’s sunny beachside.

When I recently found out that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the U.S. Forest Service plan to auction 43,000 acres of public land in the Talladega and Conecuh Nation Forests for potential oil and gas drilling, I grew concerned and wanted to know more. Read the full article…

May 23rd, 2012

Maryland Becomes First State to Ban Arsenic in Chicken Feed

By Miranda Carter

Victory in Maryland, Arsenic is Banned from Chicken

From left to right: Jorge Aguilar, Food & Water Watch; Kathy Phillips, Assateague Coastkeeper; Drew Koslow, Choptank Riverkeeper; Miranda Carter, Food & Water Watch

Yesterday, Maryland became the first state in the nation to ban the use of arsenic in chicken production!

Given the enormous power of our opponents, like the big chicken industry and pharmaceutical companies who fought against us for three years, this victory is a real testament to the power of grassroots organizing.
 Food & Water Watch volunteers did incredible work. In 2012 alone, we:

  • signed 60 organizations, businesses, and restaurants on to a coalition
  • knocked on 1,018 doors in a key Baltimore district
  • held a rally in Baltimore with 25 volunteers (see photo above) • made 1,395 phone calls to legislators across the state
  • sent 2,239 individual messages to legislators
  • sent 1,876 messages to Governor O’Malley

While Maryland took a significant step by banning arsenical drugs in chicken production, this is just one of many issues associated with industrial agriculture. We aren’t finished. We will continue to fight the industry’s attempts to block environmental regulations and reforms that would benefit the state’s farmers. If you would like to support our ongoing work in Maryland, please donate.

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May 22nd, 2012

Is Eco-Compensation Eliminating or Encouraging Polluters?

By Rich Bindell

pollution tradingThe path to a green economy is dotted with many mirages. Eco-compensation is one of them. World Resources Institute (WRI) describes eco-compensation as if it’s a just reward to companies for providing sustainable solutions to environmental problems, but it really just encourages business as usual for big polluters. It doesn’t solve the problem of poor water quality. In fact, it allows companies to profit while they continue to compromise our resources. It’s market-based pollution trading.

WRI uses a water quality trading market as an example of a program that provides a cost-effective solution for agricultural contamination. But the program relies on the good actors to give their earned credits to bad actors, who generally keep on polluting.

This is basically just another way for corporate polluters to buy their way into the green economy. This type of program doesn’t change behavior—polluting—so much as it gives companies an opportunity to manipulate the system and grants them a platform from which they can tout their faux version of environmental stewardship. It some cases, this pollution-trading can even lead to privatization of public water sources.

China faces a potential crisis from lack of safe drinking water, particularly in rural areas, due to pollution from chemical and fertilizer run-off from farms. Instead of creating and enforcing regulations that restrict or eliminate the use of contaminants that cause pollutant run-off, eco-compensation creates a market for it.

Buying credits to keep on polluting (or to pollute even more) does not move us forward in the age of the green economy. In fact, the term “green economy” almost seems like it was created by those who wish to benefit financially from the value of our dwindling natural resources.

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Brother Dave Andrews Honored with Distinguished Service to Rural Life Award

Brother Dave Andrews, Senior Representative for Food & Water Watch

This post about our very own Brother Dave Andrews originally appeared on Nourishing the Planet’s blog (he is an advisor to the project). We are reprinting it here with their permission. Congratulations Brother Dave!

Nourishing the Planet Advisory Group Member to be Honored with Distinguished Service to Rural Life Award

By Alison Blackmore

On July, 28 2012 Brother Dave Andrews, Senior Representative for Food & Water Watch and a member of Nourishing the Planet’s advisory group, will be honored with the prestigious Distinguished Service to Rural Life Award for his commitment to enhancing the life of rural people. The award is the highest honor given by the Rural Sociology Society, a professional social science association founded in 1937 with the intent of improving the quality of rural life, communities, and the environment.

Andrews has worked for over 30 years on sustainable development, food and water issues, and public policy, both nationally and internationally, and has a long-standing commitment to bettering the spiritual, social, and economic lives of rural people.

Since the 1970s, Andrews has dedicated his life to ensuring that the dignity of rural people is respected. As the Executive Director of the National Catholic Rural Life Conference for 13 years, he supported rural Catholic congregations, worked with farm communities to determine the best way to care for the earth, and advocated on behalf of rural people on pertinent food policy issues. Today, as a senior representative for Food & Water Watch, Brother Andrews acts as a liaison to the faith community, motivating people of faith to be thoughtful and deliberate about their choices within the food system. Internationally, he represents farmer and peasant voices at various high-profile summits and meetings, including World Food Summits and the last three World Trade Organization meetings. He frequently attends UN Food and Agriculture Organization international and regional meetings on food security, and works with UN officials to advocate for justice for the most vulnerable laborers in the world’s food system.

For his relentless work on behalf of rural society, both national and internationally, Brother Andrews is well-deserving of this award and the Nourishing the Planet team is honored to congratulate him for his service.

Do you know of other outstanding people or work being done to better rural society? Let us know in the comments section!

Alison Blackmore is a research intern with Nourishing the Planet.

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Green Water Sounds Bad, Right? Toms River Has Seen Much Worse

By Kate Fried

It sounds like a story ripped from the pages of a dystopian novel, but the horrors that the residents of Toms River (formerly called Dover Township), New Jersey have experienced thanks to their private water providers are all too real.

In the 1990’s, health officials identified a terrible development among children in Toms River: a high rate of certain types of cancer. After a massive five-year study, state and federal investigators linked this horrific trend to contamination of the area’s drinking water system. Five days before the study was released, United Water Toms River (a local subsidiary of French multinational Suez Environnement) and two chemical companies agreed to make undisclosed multimillion-dollar payments to 69 families of children with cancer. Several months later, they reached another monetary settlement with dozens of other families. In total, United Water paid $12 million, after insurance reimbursements, to settle the $800 million claims for wrongful death and injury.

Over the years Toms River’s water woes persisted, particularly when United Water was fined $64,000 for failing to notify the state and the public when the water contained high levels of radioactive contaminants.

Fast-forward to the present day, and some residents of Toms River have a new problem: their drinking water has turned green. This time the responsible entity is a different private water company—New Jersey American Water. The company has identified the source of the problem—high iron levels—and claims the water is perfectly safe. But given the private water industry’s track record, it’s easy to see why some residents are still leery

Even if the green water really poses no hazards, this further illustrates how communities often receive very bad services from private water providers. Residents of Toms River have suffered through enough without having to rely on pricey bottled water for their basic hydration and sanitation needs. Nor we can we entirely trust bottled water to be any safer than Toms River’s current supply since it is often subjected to less stringent testing than municipal water.

It’s beyond time we eliminated the gap between the haves and the have-nots when it comes to accessing water. Since many communities lack the means to provide safe, clean, affordable tap water to their residents, we must look to federal leaders to step up and fill this void.

Establishing a consistent source of federal funding for community water systems is our best bet in achieving that goal. Otherwise, more communities could be stuck with the consequences and inconsistencies of privatized water, as Toms Rivers is.

May 21st, 2012

The Corporate Hijacking of America’s Land-Grant Universities

By Tim Schwab

This post originally ran on Civil Eats

Unfortunately, today these public institutions are increasingly serving private interests, not the public good. Hundreds of millions of dollars are now flowing from corporate agribusiness into the land-grant university to sponsor buildings, endow professorships and pay for research. One land-grant university, South Dakota State, is headed by a man who sits on Monsanto’s board of directors.  

The influence this money purchases is enormous. Corporate money shifts the public research agenda toward the ambitions of the private sector, whose profit motivations are often at odds with the public good. It strips our public research institutions of the time, resources and independence needed to pursue public-interest research that challenges the status quo of corporate control over our food system or that offers farmers alternative agricultural systems to monocultures and factory farms.

Industry-funded research routinely produces results that are—surprise, surprise—favorable to industry. This “funder effect” produces a well-documented bias on research while weak conflict-of-interest policies throughout academia (including at many scientific journals, which don’t require full disclosure of funding source) mean agribusiness’s pervasive influence over public research is basically unchecked. Read the full article…

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