May, 2014 | Food & Water Watch
Victory! Cleveland passes resolution against antibiotic misuse on factory farms. more wins »
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Blog Posts: May 2014

May 30th, 2014

Hostile Takeover with a Twist

By Patrick Woodall meat aisle in grocery store

Remember those halcyon days when you could grill a Ball Park hot dog or Jimmy Dean sausage without a Wall Street bidding war breaking out? You know, at last Monday’s Memorial Day picnic? 

Because on Tuesday, Brazilian protein powerhouse JBS/Pilgrims Pride made a $6.4 billion dollar unsolicited, hostile takeover offer for Hillshire Farm, which owns the iconic processed pork brands. Then on Thursday, Tyson Foods upped the ante with a $6.8 billion bid for Hillshire. This battle aims to put a sausage link in the food chain of one of America’s top two meat companies. Both of these offers would require Hillshire to abandon its attempt to buy Pinnacle Foods. Read the full article…

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May 29th, 2014

What Happens When Your Antibiotics Don’t Work?

Thomas and Nicole

Nicole and Thomas, just after Thomas’ first birthday.

Congress can act now to save antibiotics for people who need them most!

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By Briana Kerensky

Antibiotic-resistant infections aren’t something you typically worry about, much less even think about, on a regular basis. But what happens when you get one? How does it change your life? With the growing misuse of antibiotics on factory farms, the concept of antibiotic-resistant infections is on people’s minds more than ever before.

About four years ago, an antibiotic-resistant infection changed the life of Nicole, a mom from Kensington, Maryland. Nicole leads what she jokingly calls a “pretty crunchy” lifestyle. She grows her own organic vegetable garden, sticks to local and organic meat, and limits the amount of processed foods in her pantry. Nicole was thrilled to breastfeed her new son Thomas, but when he was only three-and-a-half weeks old she developed mastitis.

“Sometimes the milk duct can get infected and it’s very painful,” Nicole said. “You’re supposed to work through it and I tried to do some homeopathic things to take care of it, but it got worse and worse. On a scale of 1 to 10, the pain became a 30.”

Nicole received antibiotics from her OB/GYN, but it quickly became apparent that they weren’t working. A team of doctors from different hospitals and offices soon discovered that she had antibiotic-resistant MRSA in her breast. The infection was spreading rapidly, and everyone was concerned that Nicole’s C-Section incision would soon become septic as well. Nicole was stunned by the whole situation. “I felt like I needed Dr. House!”

By far the scariest part of Nicole’s infection was learning that it had spread to her breast milk.

Read the full article…

May 27th, 2014

A Marriage Made in Meat Manufacturing Heaven, Consumer Hell

By Patrick Woodall 

We’ve noted before that almost every Monday brings news of another food company merger announcement, but yesterday’s was especially amazing. Brazil’s monolithic meat monopolist JBS announced it wants to buy sausage and processed pork powerhouse Hillshire Farms for more than $6 billion. Just a few weeks ago, Hillshire announced a takeover bid for Pinnacle Foods. Read the full article…

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May 23rd, 2014

Chesapeake Bay: Where MD Stores Its Fertilizer and Chicken Manure

By Mitch Jones

 

Photo by Jlastras.

In a new report the University of Maryland’s Center for Environmental Science gives an overall health grade to the Chesapeake Bay of a “C” for 2013. The report claims that the Bay’s health has remained steady from 2012 to 2013, except for one major problem: there is “a continuing degradation of the Eastern Shore” due to runoff from agriculture.

 

Pollution caused by agricultural runoff is one of the reasons Food & Water Watch supported legislation in this year’s Maryland General Assembly that would have provided more funding for cover crop programs. Delegate Shane Robinson in the House and Senator Rich Madaleno in the Senate introduced the Poultry Fair Share Act that would have placed a 5-cent per head fee on the large poultry companies on the Eastern Shore. The birds owned by those companies produced about 1.5 billion pounds of manure each year. The new report notes that “it’s the fertilizer and chicken manure that’s causing the problems” for Eastern Shore waterways. Read the full article…

May 22nd, 2014

Fracking Shows Its Viral Nature

By Royelen Lee Boykie

Merriam-Webster recently added the word “fracking” to the latest edition of its dictionary. We think you’ll find Food & Water Watch’s definition is more accurate:

Read the full article…

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May 20th, 2014

Leaked Memo: Trade Agreement Would Export Fracked Gas Without Restrictions from U.S. to EU

By Wenonah Hauter

For the media: Wenonah Hauter low resolution image.

Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter

This week, negotiators from the U.S. and the EU began their fifth round of negotiations on the Transatlantic Free Trade Agreement, also known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (or TTIP). Because the negotiations are all happening behind closed doors, the public is left largely in the dark about the content of the discussions. So what, exactly, do we know?

Officially, not much. But this week, an EU negotiation position “on raw materials and energy” was leaked to the Huffington Post. The text is nothing short of a wish list of demands from Big Oil and Gas, which will lock in any of their investments in fossil fuels in general, and shale gas and fracking in particular.

Article C of the document provides that no restrictions should apply to the “exports of energy goods” between the transatlantic trade partners. Any request, for example, for an export license to ship natural gas from the U.S. to the EU would be approved “automatically,” no questions asked. It would —even if this would lead to environmental damage from widespread use of fracking, increased gas prices for U.S. consumers, increased import dependency, and so on. It would lock in our mutual dependence on unsustainable fossil fuels at the expense of our climate. While it would lock in more business and better quarterly profits for Big Oil & Gas, it is hard to see how this serves the public interest.

The EU’s ideas for free trade in energy with the U.S. would also be a frontal assault on the possibility for governments to impose a “public service obligation,” requiring utility companies to deliver natural gas at certain prices to consumers, for example. Any such public service obligation should be “clearly defined and of limited duration” and also not be “more burdensome than necessary.” With such vague wording, lawyers will have a field day to attack any price regulation in the energy sector.

This leak shows that civil society groups on both sides of the Atlantic have been right all along to be suspicious about what is being negotiated behind closed doors. The expression “No news is good news” clearly does not apply to the transatlantic free trade deal. The more we learn about the ongoing negotiations, the less we like it.

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May 19th, 2014

Factory Farms are Bad for Your Health

By Katy Kiefer

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Every single day, factory farms feed their animals low doses of antibiotics to make them grow faster and prevent disease in filthy, crowded living conditions. In fact, the factory farming industry uses 80 percent of the antibiotics sold in the U.S. And now, the medical community is warning that the medicines we’ve been relying on since the 1940s may no longer work when we need them.

I started working on our grassroots efforts to protect the effectiveness of antibiotics last fall. At first, I was excited about the opportunity to fight the corporate abuse of our food system. But the more I read, and the more people I talked to, I was struck by how deeply personal and serious this issue really is. It’s not just about fixing our food system — it’s about saving lives.

Hearing stories from people like Marian really put this issue into perspective for me. 

Marian is a mother in Seattle who always eats good food, yet after a simple burn on her foot, found herself with a crippling antibiotic-resistant infection that’s made it hard for her to care for her family. The unfortunate reality is that antibiotic-resistant infections can affect anyone, no matter what you eat, where you work or how old you are. Read the full article…

May 15th, 2014

In Memoriam: Andrés Carrasco, a Crusader for Public Health

By Genna Reed 

The world lost more than just a prolific scientist when Dr. Andrés Carrasco passed away recently. Carrasco was a molecular biologist at the University of Buenos Aires and former president of Argentina’s CONICET (National Scientific and Technical Research Council). He spent years fighting the pesticide industry and publishing research examining the risks of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s popular herbicide Roundup. His work inspired a growing movement in Argentina comprised of farmworkers and community members who are urging their government to conduct more research on the risks of glyphosate and other pesticides, and to enforce limits on spraying.

Argentina is the third largest adopter of genetically engineered crops (namely soybeans, corn and cotton), after the United States and Brazil, growing 60 million acres across its landscape. In fact, GMO soybean fields have replaced once dominant cattle ranches in much of the country. A recent Associated Press investigation revealed that in order to produce several harvests in a single year, Argentinian farmers are using up to two times the amount of Roundup per acre as U.S. farmers. 

Between 1996 (before GMO soybeans were approved in Argentina) and 2008, soybean production increased fivefold, and glyphosate use increased fourteenfold from 13.9 to 200 million liters. Now it seems that there might be a relationship between the rise in pesticide use and the rise in cancer rates in towns adjacent to soybean fields. The BBC recently produced a great segment exploring the links between pesticides and health impacts on Argentinian families, especially children. The province of Chaco’s Minister of Public Health has called for an independent health study to look at the links between agrochemicals and adverse health impacts in the community, such as birth defects.

Like many other scientists who publish results with unfavorable conclusions regarding GMO crops or associated chemicals, Dr. Carrasco was bombarded with criticism regarding the methodology of his work. His controversial 2010 study exposed frog and chicken embryos to dilutions of glyphosate and found that the treated embryos were “highly abnormal,” shedding light on possible interactions between glyphosate and developmental defects. 

“If it’s possible to reproduce this in a laboratory, surely what is happening in the field is much worse,” said Carrasco. “And if it’s much worse, and we suspect that it is, what we have to do is put this under a magnifying glass.” 

The precautionary approach with which Dr. Carrasco carried on his work was refreshing in a field dominated by industry-funded studies that fuel approvals of more GMO crops and even more chemical use. His courage to challenge powerful agribusinesses and to work to protect struggling families too sick to fight for themselves will never be forgotten. 

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Closed-Door Agreement Shuts Out U.S. Fishing Industry and Consumers

the fight over fish quotaBy Patrick Woodall

This week, the U.S. Trade Representative’s (USTR’s) trade negotiators met in secret in Vietnam to hammer out the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). While many Wall Street and Big Business issues were reportedly discussed — like extending copyrights and patents and securing overseas corporate investment rights — protections for consumers continue to receive short shrift.

And that is a shame, because Vietnam is the perfect venue to discuss seafood safety and the impact that the global fish trade has on consumers and independent fishing businesses here in the United States. Vietnam is one of the biggest exporters of fish-farmed catfish and shrimp and many of these seafood products are raised with veterinary medicines or chemicals that are unsafe and illegal in the United States. U.S. border inspections have failed to keep pace with the flood of imports and dangerous imports may be slipping past the safety inspectors.

The TPP poses significant risks for both American fishing and fish farming businesses as well. Imports make up the vast majority — more than 90 percent — of the seafood eaten in the United States. In 2012, about one-third of all fish and seafood imports came from TPP countries and shrimp and catfish imports from Vietnam have increased significantly. Oftentimes, these shrimp and catfish are imported at unfair and illegally low prices, undercutting U.S. shrimpers and catfish farmers.

The TPP negotiators could address some of these key issues and ensure that the trade pact includes key protections for consumers and for independent fishing businesses and fish farms in the United States. This week, Representative Walter Jones (NC) spearheaded a letter, with other members of Congress, to USTR Ambassador Froman demanding that negotiators address key concerns on their trip to Vietnam.

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The letter notes that “Vietnam’s aquaculture and fisheries industry has been a scofflaw of U. food safety and trade rules for too long, these negotiations provide a key leverage point to ensure that Vietnam’s industry plays by the rules and does not unfairly disadvantage American fishing an aquaculture industries or imperil consumes with dangerous seafood exports.”

USTR needs to put the needs of consumers and independent small fishing and fish farming businesses on an equal footing with the corporate special interests who have set America’s free trade agenda for too long. Representative Jones is leading the charge to make sure that free trade deals don’t drown our consumers and fishing communities in a tidal wave of unsafe imported fish.

 

 

 

May 13th, 2014

“M” is for Monday and Mega-Mergers

By Patrick Woodall 

Consumer choice at the grocery store eroded yet again yesterday with news of another food company mega-merger. Hillshire Brands (Jimmy Dean sausages, Ball Park hot dogs, Sara Lee frozen desserts and more) announced it planned to buy Pinnacle Foods (Vlasic pickles, Lender’s frozen bagels, Mrs. Paul’s frozen fish and more). It seems that almost every Monday brings new merger announcements, but few match the $6.6 billion in food sales of the proposed Hillshire-Pinnacle mash-up. Read the full article…

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