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

October 31st, 2012

Aqua America’s Spooky Alliance

By Kate Fried Ban Fracking!

It seems that Aqua America Chairman and CEO Nicholas DeBenedictis recently got a head start on Halloween, masquerading as…an oil and gas industry spokesperson. Sure, it’s not the most exciting costume around–all the sexy water baron costumes were apparently sold out. According to publicity materials recently released by the company, DeBenedictis said that he supports regulations that would help pave the proverbial road to fuel more cars and trucks with natural gas. Earlier this year, Aqua America even committed to transition many of its vehicles to burn the oil and gas industry’s current favorite fossil fuel.

From where does this fascination with natural gas arise? Has DeBenedictis been watching too many API ads? Does this have anything to do with what he hopes to find in his metaphorical trick or treat sack? It very well could. The fracking required to extract the gas to fuel these vehicles requires water—lots and lots of water and Aqua America wants to tap that market. Earlier this year, Aqua America was instrumental in evicting residents of the Riverdale Mobile Home Village from their homes so it could build a water withdrawal facility to supply the industry. We can only assume that Aqua America’s upcoming plans to exploit shale gas development are more trick than treat.

DeBenedictis has said that selling water to shale gas operations could comprise 10 percent of Aqua America’s total income in 2015. That means that he expects those water sales to bring in more than $15 million in profit. This year, the company expects to make about $1.5 to 2 million in profit from selling water to the fracking industry via the same pipeline that caused the eviction of residents in the Riverdale Mobile Home Village.

Private water has faced considerable public resistance in recent years as more people realize that water is best controlled and managed by the public. So what’s a corporation to do when its plans to sustain profits are foiled? In this case, the answer appears simple: join forces with another greedy industry.

While there are many, many reasons to oppose fracking, Aqua America’s apparent attempts to cozy up to the oil and gas industry serve as a reminder of some of the darker, possibly more insidious aspects of the fight—while we try to protect our communities and our collective future from fracking, it seems some CEOs just can’t wait to enjoy all their new loot.

October 30th, 2012

Prop 37 Countdown: Fighting Money with New Media

Think you have the right to know what’s in your food? So do Danny DeVito, Bill Maher, Jillian Michaels and other celebrities who think GE food should be labeled

By Eric Anderson

The No on 37 campaign has been carpet-bombing the airwaves with misleading ads, hoping to pummel people with enough misinformation to defeat the measure. Their spending has increased to more than $40 million, more than all donations for and against Props 31, 33, 34, 35, 36 and 40 combined. This has definitely taken on a toll on the poll numbers, which show the Yes side down for the first time.

Since the campaign in support of Prop 37 is being primarily funded by average Californians who can’t compete with the $1 million-a-day that the pesticide and junk food companies are spending to mislead undecided voters, we’ve had to take a more creative approach. Using a combination of new media and on-the-ground organizing, a grassroots campaign has taken shape to fight for our right to know what’s in our food.


Prop 37’s for luddites? WRONG

One of the arguments Prop 37’s opponents use is that the people fighting for their right to know what’s in their food hate technology. Really? Then how to you explain tech entrepreneur Ali Partovi who launched a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo driven by an irreverent video about GE foods. His strategy primarily consists of using Facebook ads to draw in more supporters and spread the word about Prop 37. Partovi says that enacting Prop 37 would “return us to a baseline of basic transparency from which a free market can thrive.”  

Or how to you explain this poignant op-ed by the molecular geneticist who helped commercialize the world’s first GE whole food?


Prop 37’s bad for business? Don’t tell these chefs for successful restaurants

With California being the premiere “foodie” state, it’s not surprising that an army of renown celebrity chefs – 1,200 so far – have joined godmother of California cuisine Alice Waters in pledging their support for Prop 37. So far, it has received over 1,200 signatures. Overall, more than 2,000 businesses have spoken out in support of Prop 37.


Prop 37 will cause family farmers to go out of business? Fact check please!

Over 2,000 farmers have endorsed Prop 37, undermining the narrative that the initiative will hurt farmers. The No on 37 campaign has used cotton farmer Ted Sheely in their advertisements. Sheely is a longtime ally of big agribusinesses having previously served on the board of the Westlands Water District, one of the most powerful water districts in the state. He hardly represents that average farmer.

Here at Food & Water Watch, we’ve released several videos featuring Danny DeVito, Bill Maher, Dave Matthews and Jillian Michaels as well as adorable kids. The overwhelming positive response led to a generous outpouring of individual donors, helping us catapult these ads on the airwaves.

Illustrating the power of on-the-ground grassroots organizing, the Los Angeles City Council unanimously passed a resolution supporting Prop 37. “It’s not often that the LA City Council votes unanimously to support a measure, but Prop 37 was a no-brainer. We have the right to know what’s in the food we’re eating and feeding our families,” said Councilmember Paul Koretz, the resolution’s author. “I’m proud to be a part of this true grassroots campaign in our struggle against the biggest pesticide and junk food companies in the world.” The LA City Council joins countless other local governments and politicians including the City of Long Beach and Senator Barbara Boxer in supporting Prop 37.

There’s no doubt that the odds and the money are stacked against Prop 37, but we have truth and people power on our side. That said, for the next 6 days, everyone who believes in their basic right to know whether or not their food is genetically engineered needs to be working to counteract the opposition’s expensive disinformation campaign. The California Right to Know campaign has set up an easy phone banking system so that anyone can help get out the vote for Prop 37 from their own couches – even people from out of state. So make a call and take on Big Food head on by helping Prop 37 to pass.

Eric is the California Communications and Outreach Assistant in Food & Water Watch’s San Francisco office.

October 26th, 2012

Defending Water, Defending Life: The Fourth Red Vida Assembly in Mexico City

By Marcela Olivera and Susan Spronk

Click here to learn more about water privatization in Latin America.

We are sitting in a large Catholic hall nestled in the heart of Mexico City, the type of space where many Latin American social movements have historically sought refuge from dictatorships. Today, we are not fending off the military but big multinationals and our governments who want to sell our water, use it to grow soy or poison it with their mines. 

We have gathered for the general assembly of Red Vida, an inter-American network of social movements working in defense of water from Canada to Argentina. Forty of us are debating political strategy to build on our successes in reversing the tide of privatization of the 1990s (see Struggles for Water Justice in Latin America).

Mexico in hot water

We can’t rest on our laurels. Mexico is just one ‘hot spot’ where our brothers and sisters are fighting private water companies and governments that support them. They have seen how private providers in Ecuador, Bolivia and Argentina have failed to deliver on their promises for cheaper and higher quality water services, and they can’t let their country make the same mistakes.

In Mexico, a national coalition of environmentalist organizations, COMDA, is currently embroiled in a campaign to reform the water law. COMDA wants the law to respect the right of communities to manage their own water resources and to defend the commons against ‘enclosure’, particularly from contamination by big mining companies.

Debating strategies

One of the productive tensions that has emerged in this meeting is whether we should be pushing our governments to include the ‘right to water’ in legislation or whether we should be focusing our energies on struggles to defend ‘the commons’.

Oscar Olivera from Fundación Abril (Bolivia) spoke eloquently about the need to defend spaces of self-government such as community-run water systems in the peri-urban areas of the Andes. If people have constructed their own water systems with sweat and blood, do we really ‘need’ the state to provide these services? Many members of such autonomous communities, most self-identifying as indigenous, see the state as an alien institution imposed by colonial rule.

By contrast, Adriana Marquisio from Uruguay’s publicly owned and operated water utility OSEhighlighted that state provision in her country has allowed to achieve near universal coverage, and much higher quality services than many of the small community systems could ever provide.

From our conversations it is clear that it is not enough to frame our campaigns around the right to water and we must document concrete alternatives to privatization. Red Vida is better able to do that thanks to collaboration with researchers from the Municipal Services Project, who attended our assemblies as invited observers in Buga, Colombia in May 2009 and are here with us again in Mexico. 

If we can articulate what the alternatives are perhaps we can convince others that privatization is not the solution. We can also demonstrate the negative impact of the more insidious practices of sub-contracting and corporatization, which threaten the ‘public’ nature of our utilities. These trends are affecting every one of us, whether our governments claim to be left-of-center or not.

As our Declaration signed in Mexico by all member organizations of the Red Vida states, in the face of all these struggles, we will continue to fight “like water, in a manner that is transparent, joyful and always in motion…until the final victory.” 

Marcela Olivera is the Latin American coordinator for the Water for All Campaign of Food and Water Watch, and coordinates the Red Vida.

Susan Spronk teaches international development at the University of Ottawa. She is an active participant in several projects of the Red Vida and a research associate with the Municipal Services Project. 

This was originally posted on the blog of the Municipal Services Project.

October 25th, 2012

The Obama Administration, Transparency and China

official White House photo

By Tony Corbo

There has been a lot of tough talk about China in this presidential campaign. Both major party candidates promise to make China a fair trading partner. Frankly, we are skeptical of both candidates because, according to their records, both Democratic and Republican administrations have let China run over the rights of American consumers.

Food imports from China have skyrocketed in recent years despite China’s sketchy food safety track record. Most of the food imports fall within the purview of the U.S. Food & Drug Administration and each year, FDA inspectors halt the importation of hundreds of Chinese food items that come to our ports-of-entry for major food safety violations such as microbiological and chemical contamination, filth, and mislabeling. However, the FDA only has the capacity to inspection about 2 percent of imported human food and around 1 percent of animal food, so thousands of Chinese food items come through U.S. borders unchecked. Read the full article…

October 24th, 2012

Catch Shares Ideology is a One-Way Street in the Wrong Direction

the fight over fish quotaBy Meredith Moore

Social media isn’t always as social as we’d like it to be. We recently noticed a blog by Environmental Defense Fund’s Matt Rand about catch shares. We decided to engage EDF in a brief exchange by posting a response to the blog in the comments section. Unfortunately, it looks like EDF disabled the comments section. Is this a sign that they aren’t open to feedback regarding their position on catch shares?

This is actually typical of the conversation about catch shares in the U.S. Rather than engage with fishermen, time and again we see special interests and regulators tell fishermen how much better off they’ll be under catch shares, and ignore fishermen when they say how much they are suffering. In that sense, catch shares is primarily a one-way street, just like the blog from our friends at EDF. But we have good reason to oppose this fishery management catastrophe. So here’s what we would have posted, had the comments section remained open…

Catch shares are a fishery privatization scheme that promises increased economic efficiency but delivers it at the cost of fishermen’s jobs. These programs are inherently intended to reduce the number of fishermen who can access a public resource. Suggesting they are good for fishing families is laughable. Accumulation limits are a stop-gap measure to limit the extreme consolidation that takes place when catch shares programs are implemented. They are absolutely necessary to have in a catch shares program to protect our fishermen and their communities’ well-being, but a better solution is to retain control of the resource in the public sector and administer it fairly, instead of creating private markets that destroy traditional fishing opportunities.

Change.org: We’ve Seen This Before

By Wenonah Hauter

Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director, Food & Water Watch

Recently, the Huffington Post reported that Change.org has abandoned its progressive roots and planned on doing it without telling anyone, according to documents leaked from a Change.org employee to Jeff Bryant with Campaign for America’s Future. (According to this petition on rival petition site Signon.org, that employee has now been fired.)

So why is Change.org changing?

“[W]e as an organization have transitioned from an American cause-based organizing network with a largely progressive agenda into a global platform open to a wider diversity of participants and perspectives,” wrote Change.org founder and CEO Ben Rattray to his staff, in an email also leaked to the Huffington Post.

For the past three years, Food & Water Watch has run campaigns with Change.org, so we were outraged when we heard that they would now potentially be working with the likes of Monsanto, the American Petroleum Institute, and anyone else that wants to run a campaign with them.

We spoke with several leaders inside Change.org yesterday, including Ben Rattray himself. He tried to reassure us that their change in policy did not mean a change in values, and they would not start working with Monsanto tomorrow.

Our conversations did not reassure us.

Rattray characterizes this new “open” policy as a way to indicate that they are non-partisan and focused on empowerment as a tool of change. I pointed out to him that in many cases the issues we work on from fracking and genetically modified organisms to privatization of our common resources and the destruction or weakening of unions has been embraced by both major parties.

In fact, wouldn’t we hope that a platform like Change.org would hold Democratic Party officials accountable to their base, rather than the corporations that are buying votes and ultimately creating a situation where public policy is for sale?

And let’s talk about empowerment. We don’t want to see climate change deniers empowered. We have worked with Change.org to empower people with a vision of a better world that is economically and socially equitable and where the environment is protected.

We’ve experienced time and time again being outspent on campaigns by industry front groups that have slick messaging and PR campaigns that are meant to confuse and paralyze voters and the democratic process. We’re seeing this right now in California where we’re trying to pass Prop 37 to give citizens the right to know if their food contains genetically modified ingredients. The biotech and processed food industries are pouring more than $35 million dollars into campaigns designed to mislead voters, while the side fighting for Prop 37 has pennies to their dollars to educate voters about the truth.  

Even after talking with Ben, I get the impression that their decision comes down to increasing their size and reach. This will mean more advertisers and higher revenues. We’re disappointed that Change.org has apparently decided that profit trumps progressive values. I think Change.org has become confused about what kind of change we want and what democracy really looks like.

This is just one more example of why it is so important to have a strong and vibrant public interest community that does not accept money from corporations and that keeps an appropriate distance because in a for-profit company, the pressure is always to increase earnings for shareholders and investors. As long as this is all above board and everyone understands the relationship, so be it. But it’s unseemly when an organization that claims to be progressive, and has built its organization on working with the progressive community, sells out like this.

Thankfully, there are other progressive groups that aren’t embarrassed about being progressive. Organizations like Care2, Credo Mobile, and Moveon.org who are working in this sphere are committed to the kind of change we want, and won’t compromise in the interest of increasing profits.

Recently there has been a lot of chatter about how our political system is so broken that we should just let business take the lead in creating social change. This is a dangerous sentiment. No matter how well meaning companies may be, the pressure will always be on increasing market share and making a profit. This doesn’t mean that there won’t be some good companies that maintain their principles and make a fair profit. But, there will always be people who are willing to put aside their principles and original vision to attract investors and to increase profits. We will be watching to see what happens at Change.org and keeping our fingers crossed that they don’t weaken the very movement that they were formed to strengthen.

October 23rd, 2012

The Word from Pennsylvania: Fracking Isn’t Worth It

By Seth Gladstone

Within the swirl of propaganda floating around about the supposed benefits of fracking for natural gas, one theme seems to have unfortunately been taken to heart by some folks who are understandably anxious about these economically trying times. The idea, that fracking will bring immediate wealth and prosperity to those who engage with it, is as alluring as it is false.

New Yorkers and others who are currently grappling with the debate over whether to allow the dangerous and destructive drilling process on their lands deserve to know the truth about the hollow promises from the oil and gas industry. And there’s no one better to speak on the topic than real people from Pennsylvania who were sold the industry’s bill of goods themselves and were burned in the end. Now a few of these folks are getting their chance to tell New Yorkers what they’ve learned: that fracking isn’t worth it.

A brand new television ad from Food & Water Watch, featuring Pennsylvanians dealing personally with the horrible effects of fracking, has hit the airwaves in New York’s Southern Tier (the region that Governor Cuomo has threatened to turn into a fracking sacrifice zone.) Watch our new ad here:

Food & Water Watch has been highlighting the false fracking promises of New York’s oil and gas industry for some time. Our report on the matter details the costs of the practice to pubic health, public infrastructure, the environment and existing industries like tourism and agriculture, rebutting the industry’s promises of wealth for New York landowners and jobs for Southern Tier communities. Also, we were up on the airwaves of New York’s Southern Tier earlier this year. Our last ad targeting Governor Cuomo, profiled by The New York Times, highlighted the failure rates of fracking wells over time.

Though we’ll never be able to match the spending power and television might of the oil and gas industry, we know how important it is to make sure the truth about fracking is told to those who would be first and foremost affected by its devastating consequences. And we know that Governor Cuomo is hearing us. Watch our latest ad and make sure Governor Cuomo hears you too.

October 22nd, 2012

Perdue Trial Testimony Reveals Hidden Pollution Sources

By Michele Merkel

There was some pretty stunning testimony in the Perdue trial this week that is just now winding down in federal court in Baltimore. This testimony implicates, not only the defendants, but also our entire broken system of controlling pollution pouring from the many industrial agriculture operations that are destroying the Bay and other waterways across the country.

By way of background, the Perdue case involves a claim made by environmentalists that Perdue and one of its contract growers, Hudson Farm, is responsible for high levels of pollution — nutrients and fecal bacteria — coming off of the chicken growing operation located on the Hudson’s property. At issue in the case is whether the pollutants found in the ditches running on and from the farm is caused, even in part, by the emissions of dust, feather, litter and manure blown out of the giant chicken exhaust fans, in addition to manure left on the ground outside of the houses during flock maintenance. Defendants, in their everything-but-the-chickens-did-it defense, claim that there is no evidence that the chicken growing operation contributed anything to the undeniable pollutant loads found in these nearby ditches, instead pointing to cows and wildlife.

During last week’s cross examination of Alan Hudson, an owner of the farm, the issue of his Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plan, or CNMP, came up. CNMPs are a farm’s waste management plan. It’s an examination of sources of pollution on the farm and a prescription for eliminating, or at least reducing, the flow of pollution from the farm into ditches and waterways. CNMP’s are critical documents; they are supposed to be prepared by objective professionals and driven by sound science and “best management practices,” in the ongoing effort to reduce the impact of operations like the Hudson Farm are having on the Bay, where agriculture remains the largest source of nutrients and sediments to this dying watershed. Read the full article…

October 18th, 2012

Let’s Get Our (Clean Water) Act Together!

What’s a Great Way to Celebrate the Clean Water Act? Protect it From EPA’s Pollution Trading Provisions

Photo by Joesparks at Dreamstime.com.

By Rich Bindell

Today marks the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act. This critical piece of legislation has been fraught with challenges, even from the time of its inception. President Richard Nixon, who pushed hard for the legislation, actually had to veto the Clean Water Act in October of 1972 due to budgetary concerns. Congress eventually overrode the veto and the Act became law on October 18, 1972. The law was created to regulate water pollution with the ultimate national goal of completely eliminating all pollution into public waterways. While hugely successful, the Clean Water Act now faces another threat, its biggest in 40 years: the EPA’s attempts to gut strong regulations that worked and replace them with unproven pollution trading provisions.

The Clean Water Act begins with the idea that it is illegal to pollute and, as a nation, we should strive to eliminate water pollution from our lakes, rivers and bays. Unfortunately, the fundamental principal behind the Clean Water Act is often ignored. Water pollution trading schemes are a disastrous substitute for proven means of regulating harmful chemical discharges into our waterways. These schemes are part of a market-based approach to cleaning the environment.

Recently, the financial market has turned its interests toward public resources, including water. Market-based “solutions” to the problem of pollution are based on a system of credit accumulation that allow polluters to amass the “right” to pollute and trade that right as if it were a commodity. These broker-driven deals are promoted using phrases like, “cap-and-trade,” “free-market solution” and “internalize the externalities,” but they are merely carving a place for pollution into the cost of doing business. They give polluters leeway to pollute by creating a market for it. Read the full article…

Should Credible News Organizations Call Us Extremists?

You spoke, KSN News listened—and aired a retraction. Can you thank them for acknowledging their error and doing the right thing by clicking on this image?

By Wenonah Hauter

Update, October 18: Food & Water Watch has learned that KSN News aired a retraction to their statement calling us extremists and ran an apology. We sincerely thank our supporters for taking action and we want to recognize KSN News for stepping up and correcting this on air.


Lately, I am haunted by the phrase, “extremist environmental groups.” I’ve been hearing those words strung together more often, and it usually comes from members of the right-wing media or the public relations team of a corporation trying to profit from a public resource. That’s expected, but what is worrying is when a mainstream news organization starts parroting these talking points. Last week, it came from a source that surprised me: KSNW, an NBC affiliate news station in Wichita, Kansas.

The station ran a short news segment about a joint lawsuit filed against the U.S. EPA by Food & Water Watch and Friends of the Earth. In the segment, KSNW made the mistake of injecting opinion into journalism by referring to us as two “extremist environmental groups.” Extremist? For what? For trying to protect the Chesapeake Bay from large companies that can pay for the “right” to pollute using entirely legal means? For trying to protect the integrity of the Clean Water Act, landmark legislation that has dramatically decreased water pollution over the past several years? Read the full article…

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