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Blog Posts: Environment

March 31st, 2014

The Fight Against Fracking is a Fight For Social Justice

California fracking rally

Left to right: Food & Water Watch’s Adam Scow, social justice leader Lupe Anguiano and The Center for Biological Diversity’s Hillary Aidun at the March 15, 2014, Don’t Frack California rally in Sacramento.

By Anna Ghosh

Today, March 31, we celebrate the birthday of Cesar Chavez, the co-founder of what we know today as the United Farm Workers; now in its 52nd year. His heroic leadership of a 5-year grape strike in Delano, California, in the 60s is chronicled in the newly released film Cesar Chavez. Through aggressive but nonviolent organizing, Chavez organized thousands of poor Latino workers throughout Central California to win higher wages, better working conditions and collective bargaining rights for generations of farmworkers.

I had the honor last week of having a conversation with an amazing woman who worked alongside Chavez in the 60s and has been fighting for social justice her entire life. Lupe Anguiano is a civil rights activist known for her work on women’s rights, the rights of the poor, and the protection of the environment. In 2006, she founded the environmental nonprofit Stewards of the Earth to provide educational, social and economic services to low-income and Indigenous people in the United States, Mexico and Latin America. In 2007 she was designated a Women’s History Month Honoree by the National Women’s History Project and has an archive named after her at UCLA. Now, Anguiano’s fight for social justice has led her to fight fracking and dumping of toxic waste associated with fracking and drilling where she lives in Oxnard, California.

Here’s an excerpt from our talk:

How did you get involved working with Chavez? When the strike began I was a Catholic nun working with migrants and Latino people in Los Angeles. The grape growers didn’t adequately take care of their workers – they had no restrooms or clean water to drink – and it I felt that it was part of my mission as a nun to stand up for these workers rights. We would picket in Los Angeles where they would unload the grapes from Delano.

What led to you leaving the clergy to become a community organizer? The more I learned about the injustices being waged against Latinos, the more I got involved. I fought redlining (housing and financial discrimination), as did many religious people, but Cardinal McIntyre (who Harvard historian Lisa McGirr calls “the most extreme right-wing member of the American Catholic hierarchy), objected to Los Angeles clergy speaking out. He said we were getting too political, but we knew this was about social justice. This is what Christ did (stand up for the poor). Pope John XXIII even encouraged is, which gave me wings. But I continued to be reprimanded by the Cardinal, which led me to leave the order. I felt that I could do more as a layperson. This is when I was invited by Cesar to come to Delano. But then I was called to Washington by President Johnson to work on bilingual education.

What did you think of Washington? I was very disappointed, so I went back to Delano. Volunteers were paid $5 a week plus housing and food, but it was the most rewarding job of my life. I would get up at 3a.m. so I could ride in the truck with Cesar. He used great a great method of organizing to get the attention of workers and policy makers alike. He taught us the importance of nonviolence. I learned so much.

What is your personal connection to the land and agriculture? I am a Latina and Latinos build the agricultural industry in California. When I was a child, every summer we would pick fruit on the farm that my Uncle tended. Latino workers always protected and respected the soil, the land and the environment. Agriculture is what enriches our state. It’s what makes California so special and important. Why would we want to tarnish or risk the agricultural wealth of our state?

Why do you think Governor Brown can’t see how fracking and extreme extraction threatens California’s agricultural heritage? I’m completely disappointed by Brown. I have lived in California since I was in the third grade (Lupe is now 85), and every governor and president since I have lived here has protected our agriculture and environment. For example, Nixon initiated the Clean Air and Endangered Species Acts and when the big oil spill in Santa Barbara happened, Governor Reagan initiated CEQA (the California Environmental Quality Act). What is Governor Brown doing destroying California’s agricultural economy? Petroleum by its very nature destroys living organisms. Has he gone out of touch? I hear his wife is invested in petroleum and she’s probably influencing him. But how can a governor not understand that agriculture is so integral to our economy? Destruction of our agriculture is criminal. More than 50 percent of the nation’s fresh food comes from California and to destroy that would be it outrageously sinful.

Then there’s his rhetoric on climate change, but he continues to stand behind dirty fossil fuels. The whole thing is crazy. Can he not see the huge opportunities in renewable energy? We are leaving behind industrial era and moving into renewable technology. California is in the lead and our universities are set. The whole nation and world are moving towards more renewable sources. But Governor Brown’s lack of action to stop fracking and drilling could destroy California’s position as a leader in renewable energy.

What are you working on now? I live in Oxnard, which is the dumping ground of Ventura County. A few years ago, we fought tooth and nail to keep a liquefied natural gas terminal our or Oxnard. We won, but it’s a continuous battle. Now they’re dumping fracking waste in our strawberry fields and trying to build wells near an elementary school. They’re trying to turn Oxnard into a Bakersfield. Why aren’t they going to Thousand Oaks or Simi Valley? Because they would never allow it. We cannot allow our communities to become toxic dumping grounds. We’re not Texas, we’re not South Dakota.

What organizations do you think are doing the best work in this area? Groups that engage Latinos, like LULAC and the Latino Congreso, and groups that focus on agriculture, like Food & Water Watch, are critical. We must align ourselves. Food and water are the foundation for life. The Center for Biological Diversity and Earthjustice have good attorneys, great research and information.

How can we make the most impact?  
We must cultivate more responsible leaders. We need more independent, “decline to state” voters. We need more young people to get politically active. Afterall, this is the world that they are inheriting.

March 6th, 2014

Rick Berman Strikes Again With Environmental Policy Alliance

By Darcey Rakestraw

He’s been called an “arch-enemy of do-gooders” by 60 Minutes. Thanks to his orchestration of massive corporate PR campaigns using “deceptive corporate front groups” to discredit public interest efforts, he’s earned the nickname “Dr. Evil.”

And now, thanks to our outsized effectiveness in relation to our relatively small budget, he’s targeting us.

We’re honored to be called one of the “Big Green Radicals” by notorious corporate lobbyist Rick Berman through his apparent latest astroturf operation, the Environmental Policy Alliance, a “project of the Center for Organizational Research Education”. Ever heard of it? We hadn’t either. After doing a bit of digging, we found out that the Center for Organizational Research Education was recently known as the Center for Consumer Freedom led by the head of Berman & Co.—Rick Berman.

If you’ve never heard of Rick Berman, he earned his reputation in Washington, D.C. for spreading attacks on advocates through the Center for Consumer Freedom, which was funded initially through a sizable grant from Phillip-Morris. Other funders of Center for Consumer Freedom have included Monsanto, Cargill, Tysons Foods and various fast food restaurants. Sites like BermanExposed.org and Sourcewatch have helped reveal several other industry-funded front groups led by Berman.

It appears he’s now doing the same sort of work to discredit advocates for environmental protections. Who exactly is behind the effort? We don’t know but we’re pretty sure we’ll hear from them again.

If you’re interested in standing with us Big Green Radicals—if you support our mission to keep corporations accountable and to force government to do its job to regulate the industries that profit from our essential resources—then you can make a donation to Food & Water Watch today. After all, as Mr. Berman’s new organization implies, we’re getting the job done.

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3,000 Cows Living Next Door

By Eleanor Bravo

New Mexico is home to a billion-dollar dairy industry. Residents in the small town of Anthony, New Mexico, remember living there when just a few cows moved in. Now they are living next door to thousands of animals cramped in miserable quarters. The factory farm’s practice of maintaining unlined manure lagoons then spraying the mixture in the air, causes terrible distress in the neighborhood. Thousands of animals are crammed into close quarters in temperatures often at or above 100 degrees, Fahrenheit, which of course brings massive swarms of flies. The stench can be unbearable.

With huge influence over lawmakers, the dairy industry in New Mexico is protected by what is called the “Right to Farm” Act. In the recent legislative session, there was an attempt to exempt agricultural facilities from prosecution for nuisance such as flies, smell and water contamination. The proposed amendment came on the heels of a number of nuisance suits that were filed by multiple residents neighboring big dairy farms this past year.

Now why would a dairy industry come to a desert state with little water and practically no grass in the first place?  The answer: cheap labor and vast tracts of unused land. New Mexico has the highest income inequality in the nation. By 2010, the richest 20 percent of households in New Mexico made nearly ten times more than the state’s poorest 20 percent. These facilities are disproportionately located in low-income and minority areas. As you can imagine, the smell, noise and nuisances like flies that result from large factory farm dairies are terrible. Nuisance suits are virtually the only recourse New Mexicans have to protect their homes and property when a factory farm threatens quality of life. Read the full article…

March 5th, 2014

California Factory Farms are No Chicken Shangri-La

By Wenonah Hauter

For the Presss: High Resolution Image of Wenonah Hauter

Wenonah Hauter, Food & Water Watch Executive Director

I wrote my book Foodopoly to take on the handful of companies that control most of the food we eat and also profit from factory farms. Poultry, dairy and eggs are produced in an industrialized system that values profit and “economic efficiency” over food safety, animal welfare or fairness for farmers. So, it was with a critical eye that I read the recent New York Times article about how good factory farmed hens in California have it because their cages are slightly more roomy than chickens raised in factory farms in other states.

Let’s not lose sight of the fact that increasing the size of hens’ cages in giant warehouses where they never see the light of day and are forced to produce year long in their short lives is still a bad system. While the small boost in size is slightly better, we should be working hard for a different type of agriculture. We shouldn’t miss the larger point; it’s not just the size of the cage, it’s the size of the farm. Factory farms are bad, not only for animals, but for the environment, public health and consumers too. And this system of agriculture makes it impossible for smaller family run egg operations to compete. Let’s face it: California hens are still mostly raised on factory farms without access to pasture. A slightly better factory farm is still a factory farm.

Why do factory farms exist? Thanks to decades of agricultural and economic policy that helped companies swallow up other companies, a handful of huge corporations have become so big that they’re able to write all the rules (for example, just four companies process 80 percent of the beef sold in the U.S.) Their contract farmers (especially in the case of meat chickens) go into debt just to keep their farms thanks to the demands of Tysons, JBS and other mega-companies to produce more, more quickly, more cheaply. Their industry trade groups lobby congressmen so that they get what they want from Washington, for the most part. So the reasons these chickens are stuck in cages (whether they are in “economy class” ones in other states or “business class” sized-ones in California) is so that these few companies can grow their profits.

I have nothing against fair profits, but when it comes to our food system, some things are more important and it’s time for the food movement to force policymakers to regulate the industry, including the highly consolidated industry that brings us factory farms. We already know factory farms raise animals in ways that are bad for public health and the environment. Factory farms feed animals 80 percent of the antibiotics used in this country, and most of those are nontherapeutic—meaning that they are simply given to healthy animals to grow them faster or keep them from getting infections in the tightly cramped, unhygienic conditions. No wonder we now have a crisis of epic proportions when it comes to antibiotic resistance in humans. Factory farms also release obscene amounts of concentrated animal waste into nearby communities.

California law might have made things ever so slightly better for chickens, but those chickens are still raised without access to pasture, or room to roam freely and exercise natural chicken behaviors like running, foraging and perching. California factory farms are no Shangri-La for chickens. And they’re no picnic for the rest of us, either.

February 13th, 2014

ALEC Goes After Your Food

stack of one hundred dollar billsBy Anna Meyer

The anti-regulation, pay-to-play group ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) is infamous for pushing “Stand Your Ground” gun laws, anti-worker and anti-voter legislation, and trying to repeal renewable energy laws. But lately ALEC’s been busy trying to help the Foodopoly maintain its stranglehold on the American food system, despite the fact that it’s making us sick.

ALEC is pushing hard to thwart attempts to rein in antibiotic abuse on factory farms with its Resolution on Animal Antibiotic Use. Their resolution supports the continued overuse of antibiotics for nontherapeutic reasons in livestock feed, a practice that is commonly used to make up for filthy and inhumane living conditions on factory farms and has been linked to antibiotic-resistant bacteria.   

Continued overuse of antibiotics has resulted in the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, or superbugs, which decrease antibiotics’ effectiveness in fighting infections (read about our campaign to end the misuse of antibiotics on factory farms here). Despite a 2013 Centers for Disease Control report linking superbugs with antibiotic misuse on factory farms and nearly 40 years of medical research including DNA analysis, the ALEC resolution tries to blame the 2 million people who become infected with resistant bacteria and the 23,000 people who die as a result of these infections every year solely on the use of antibiotics in human medicine. Doctors disagree.

The resolution to pad the meat industry’s pocketbooks by perpetuating antibiotic abuse on factory farms is not the only ridiculous resolution to come out of ALEC’s Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force. The group also promotes widespread use of chemicals with minimal regulation with the Resolution on Chemical Policy Principles and promotes a model bill to take away the right of local governments to regulate genetically engineered crops. ALEC also tried to attack Country of Origin Labels (COOL), which gives consumers more information about where their meat comes from.

Then there’s ALEC’s notorious model bill, the Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act, which has served as inspiration for the many ag-gag bills that have been circulating through state legislatures over the past few years. Ag-gag bills are extremely hazardous for multiple reasons. They shield factory farms from public scrutiny, even though they put animal welfare at risk, and increase risks to food safety and environmental damage.

ALEC’s positions on food would put everyone’s health at risk and allow big food and ag corporations to hide what they are doing. Policy makers at every level of government should be drafting legislation that protects the health and well-being of all citizens, not just the bank accounts of a few rich executives.

Help us hold big food and ag corporations accountable by supporting commonsense legislation that puts people first. Join our list to take action

 

Anna Meyer is a communications intern for Food & Water Watch.

February 12th, 2014

Field Notes: Working to End Abuse of Antibiotics on Factory Farms

By Katy Kiefer

A woman in Seattle, WA, holds a sign to express her concern about resistant bacteria bred on factory farms.

For the past several years, awareness about all they ways that factory farms make animals, workers, the environment and consumer sick has been on the rise thanks to movies like Food, Inc. and Food & Water Watch’s Factory Farm Map.

But what you might not know is that 80 percent of the antibiotics used in the U.S. are used by the agriculture industry to promote growth and to compensate for filthy, crowded living conditions at these industrial livestock facilities. Nontherapeutic use of antibiotics on factory farms is making antibiotics less effective in healing infections, which is creating a public heath crisis. According to the CDC, each year in the United States, at least 2 million people become infected with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics and at least 23,000 people die as a result of these infections.

The FDA has known about this problem since the 70s and has yet to take meaningful action (read how its voluntary guidelines released in December fall short here). Despite this, consumer demand for better chicken has never been higher. This week, Chick-fil-A announced that within five years, it will join the ranks of companies such as Chipotle, Niman Ranch and Applegate Farms that already sell meat raised without nontherapeutic antibiotics. However, the burden should not be on consumers. We deserve the right to buy and eat better chicken no matter where we shop or dine. We need laws that protect against antibiotic misuse on factory farms. We can no longer sit by and wait for the FDA or Congress to act on this urgent public health issue, which is why we’ve kicked off a campaign to encourage local governments to take a stand.

This spring, Food & Water Watch is partnering with the Green Corps training program for organizers to pass resolutions in seven cities in support of banning the misuse of antibiotics on factory farms. We’ve already passed the first of these resolutions in Providence, RI, with more to come. Read more about our local efforts below. We will keep you posted as more resolutions are passed. In the meantime, tell your members of Congress to support federal legislation to save antibiotics for life-saving medicine, not animal feed on factory farms.

Read the full article…

January 20th, 2014

Why We Serve: Stories From Food & Water Watch Volunteers

In recognition of Martin Luther King, Jr. National Day of Service, we honor the dedicated, hard working volunteers whose service with Food & Water Watch is bringing real change to their communities and the wider world. We asked a few of them to tell their stories about why they serve, and here’s what they told us: Read the full article…

January 15th, 2014

Dear Governor Brown: It’s Time to Get Your Head Out of the Clouds on Fracking

This post originally ran on IndyBay

By Brenna Norton

As I boarded my plane from Los Angeles to the Bay Area the other week, I did a double take when I walked by a guy that looked an awful lot like California Governor Jerry Brown. Turns out it was him, which is ironic since earlier that week I had been following the governor around Los Angeles berating him for his support of fracking.

He was only sitting a row ahead and I began to think about what I could say to our governor who recently brokered a bad bill, SB 4, to allow companies to frack our state at the expense of our health, our water, and our climate.

Before I made my way off of the airplane, I took the opportunity to have a short chat with our governor from an empty seat across the aisle.

I told him that I know and work with people who have been sickened and harmed by fracking operations in Los Angeles, and then Brown immediately put up a wall and went on the defensive: “that’s not true,” he told me. “Fracking can be done safely and has been happening here for 60 years.” And, “what do you want to do? Ship in all this oil from Saudi Arabia instead?”

I thought to myself, is that the best you’ve got Jerry?  He had just repeated the oil companies’ main talking points, usually rattled off by their lobbyists.

This from the governor who goes around saying climate change is the greatest challenge to mankind? Did he forget that fracking for oil is perhaps the worst thing for our climate, spewing out both methane and carbon dioxide through the extraction, transport, refining and burning of the oil?

I let the governor know that it’s well documented that fracking has become infinitely more extreme in the last 15 years, using more water and toxic chemicals then ever before, and getting special federal exemptions such as the Halliburton Loophole in 2005. The industry is eager to use fracking and other forms of extreme extraction (acidizing, cyclic steam, acid fracking) to tap the Monterey Shale, our infamous rock formation that stretches from L.A. to the Bay Area and is estimated to hold 9-13 billion barrels of recoverable oil. 

If I had more time with the governor, I would have told him that when Zodiac Exploration announced in February of 2012 that it had drilled a horizontal well more than 14,000 feet below Kings County, the company’s president stated, “this type of deep high-pressure and high-temperature operation is new to California,” essentially admitting that this isn’t your grandma’s oil drilling anymore.

I told the governor that I’ve sat with Los Angeles residents living near fracking operations who are seeing an alarming increase in very rare cancers, and have children getting sick with nose bleeds and sudden unexplained severe respiratory problems. A recent report based on new data from the South Coast Air Quality Management District, reveals that 12 dangerous chemicals that raise cancer risk, harm the heart and damage the lungs and eyes have been used in the L.A. Basin over 300 times in fracking and other unconventional oil production methods in just the first three months of reporting.

While I didn’t have time to address his second myth – that fracking for California’s oil would replace imports from Saudi Arabia – I’ll set that record straight now. Governor: you should know as well as anyone that oil extracted on U.S. soil goes into an international market. Recent articles in the Financial Times and New York Times illustrate that the U.S. is becoming a net exporter of oil and gas and that refineries in California are exporting more refined oil than ever before. And now President Obama’s energy secretary, a friend of fracking, is seeking to lift the ban on exports of crude oil.

And even if the industry fracked and extracted all the 9 to 13 billion barrels of oil from the Monterey Shale and didn’t export it to China, it would only be enough to supply our nation’s energy needs for two years.

As for Jerry’s question about what I would do instead of letting oil companies frack? Well, he left before I could answer, but in three simple words: ban fracking now. Use your executive power to prohibit fracking and other extreme forms of stimulation (hydraulic fracturing, acidizing, acid fracking, cyclic steam injection) in California and work to ensure that California remains a global leader in the burgeoning clean energy economy. We need to invest in clean, homegrown American energy that will create more jobs and end our addiction to fossil fuels. This is the only way to ensure energy independence and security.

The Governor, not wanting to continue our conversation, made his way quickly off the plane and told me to send the research proving the dangers of fracking to the general email address on his website. I will take him up on this offer, but it’s a shame that he probably won’t actually read what I send him.

But if all Californians who are concerned about the threats fracking poses to our air, water, food and neighborhoods continue to remind the governor that he works for us, not the oil and gas industry, he won’t be able to ignore us. We will keep hounding Jerry to grow some spine reminding him that he can’t preach about climate change and let oil companies frack and dump tons of methane and carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. Until he does the right thing, Governor Brown will be hearing from us everywhere he goes – even 30,000 feet in the air: climate leaders don’t frack!

And Now Introducing Our Corporate Branch of Government…

The TPP is Real, It’s Happening Now, and We All Need to Call Our Congressmen

By Rich Bindell

Click here to take action.

Not that you had any reason to doubt our opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), but now you know we’re not crying wolf on the destructive potential of the controversial and largely secretive global trade deal the Obama administration is trying to push through Congress. Thanks in part to leaked documents shared by WikiLeaks, The New York Times reported today on the environmental chapter of the TPP, along with the reaction from several environmental groups who have also been closely following the progress of the trade deal.

The New York Times focused mostly on the environmental chapter of the leaked documents. They wrote, “As it stands now, the documents…show that the disputes could undo key global environmental protections.” Yes. But that’s merely one small aspect of the TPP that’s threatening.

We regard every single chapter of the TPP as unacceptable according to the standards and rights of American citizenship and Democracy, as the trade deal would lead to increased gas exports and potentially dangerous food imports, while simultaneously undermining our domestic laws and increasing the financialization of nature. Free trade agreements have already proven how they can disenfranchise American workers, undermine domestic policies and even interfere with attempts to use sensible economic development to help developing countries grow their economies.

But the TPP would take this even further. It will harm working families by increasing our reliance on imported food instead of furthering our trust in sustainable, locally grown food production. It will wreak havoc on the environment by increasing the production and exportation of liquefied natural gas from fracking that has already contaminated our air and water. It would even challenge our right to know if the ingredients in our food have been genetically modified.

But the most frightening aspect of the TPP might be the authority it grants corporate entities to undermine local sovereignty. Many decisions about public health, infrastructure and the environment that are currently made by our local city councils or county governments using the democratic process could actually be overturned by international corporate tribunals. Why? Because if your town votes to ban water privatization or fracking, for example, that decision might challenge the financial interests of a multinational corporation. Tragically, the TPP would allow financial interests to dictate how we manage public resources or dismantle the system of local, state and even federal protections we currently have in place to regulate food and water.

Right now, President Obama is seeking Fast Track authority to push the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the U.S.- EU Free Trade Agreement through Congress, which is why we should all pay close attention. The TPP would affect all of the issues we work on here at Food & Water Watch—from food safety, seafood imports and GMO labeling, to water privatization, water pollution and fracking—which is why it’s so critical that you get involved now by contacting your member of Congress to tell them to oppose this potentially devastating trade fiasco.

January 3rd, 2014

2014 Starts With a Biotech-sponsored Bang

By Genna Reed

In a completely unpropitious start to the new year, the USDA released its draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for Dow AgroScience’s 2,4-D tolerant Enlist corn and soybeans today after taking just six months to analyze over 400,000 comments and write a 223 page assessment.

Many of you sent in comments to the USDA regarding its Environmental Assessments released in 2011, which prompted the USDA to open a comment period for a proposed EIS (the more thorough of two options for environmental review required by the National Environmental Policy Act). Now farmers, farmworkers, consumers and environmental advocates will have 45 days to comment on the USDA’s EIS for Dow’s 2,4-D tolerant corn and soybean varieties. This is the public’s last opportunity to tell USDA to deny the approval of these genetically engineered crops.

The biotech industry wants to claim these new GE crops will help control herbicide resistant weeds, but instead these new herbicide tolerant crops will just perpetuate the problem and tack on harsher environmental consequences for good measure. In Food & Water Watch’s “Superweeds” report released last summer, we predicted that once 2,4-D corn is approved and adopted at the same rate as Roundup Ready corn, 2,4-D application on corn could increase by 2 million pounds in just two years. USDA’s own models in its EIS show that with the approval of Dow’s new corn and soybeans, 2,4-D use would increase two to six-fold.

This could have devastating impacts on grapes, tomatoes and all other specialty crops because 2,4-D is very prone to drifting away from the field where it is applied and killing other plants that aren’t engineered to survive it—not to mention the potential health effects associated with 2,4-D exposure, including non-Hodgkins lymphoma. (If 2,4-D sounds vaguely familiar, that’s because it was one of the ingredients in the infamous Agent Orange defoliant used during the Vietnam War.)

2,4-D-tolerant corn and soybeans are not only dangerous, but completely unnecessary.

The Union of Concerned Scientists just released a policy brief on superweeds and found that, “herbicide use could be reduced by more than 90 percent—while maintaining or increasing yields and net farmer profits—through practices based on the principles of ecological science that reduce weed numbers and growth.”

We hope you will join Food & Water Watch in calling on the USDA and EPA to deny approval for these toxic crops. Look for an opportunity to send in your comment in the coming weeks!

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