factory farms | Food & Water Watch - Part 7
Victory! Farm Bureau case challenging EPA’s right to share factory farm data dismissed. more wins »


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Blog Posts: Factory farms

June 8th, 2012

Governor Canoodling with Agribusiness? What You Can Do About It

By Wenonah Hauter

Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter

If you ever thought that the farm bill was just about agricultural subsidies and food stamps, think again. Not only does the farm bill dictate what we eat—it also establishes whom our nation’s leaders are listening to on issues far beyond food.

Right now the farm bill benefits a few large corporations, like Perdue, thanks to policies that help big agriculture companies keep getting bigger. The four largest companies in each industry slaughter nearly all the chicken and beef we eat, process two-thirds of the pork, sell half the groceries and process about half the milk in the United States. This is no accident. It’s the result of policies, largely outlined in the farm bill, which Congress has passed on behalf of these large companies for decades.

Nothing showcases this often-murky relationship between Big Ag and our political leaders more than emails revealed between Martin O’Malley, the Democratic governor of Maryland (and likely presidential contender in 2016) and poultry giant Perdue, Inc.

The emails we obtained through a Public Information Act request show that Perdue profits from chicken sold in California and Michigan are going to exert inappropriate power over O’Malley through intense lobbying efforts on everything from poultry litter incineration to the cases that a university law clinic engages in. Read the full article…

June 6th, 2012

What Does the Mass Slaughter of 500,000 Pigs in Chile Have to Do with the U.S. Farm Bill?

By Darcey Rakestraw

Think you can’t do anything about factory farms? Think again—and sign our petition telling your Senator to support the Packer Ban amendment to the Farm Bill.

Whether you are a die-hard carnivore or a card-carrying member of an animal welfare organization, this story will affect you. And it ties into work we’re doing to demand a fair farm bill that “busts” the meat trusts that built the factory farm system.

In Chile, a conflict erupted when local residents escalated months of protests over the smells and pollution emanating from a factory farm in their town. The conflict ended with the facility’s employees fleeing—with half a million pigs left there over five days without food or water. The plant has been shut down, and those pigs—the ones that remain—will be slaughtered en masse.

Why were half a million pigs concentrated into this factory in the first place? It’s no secret that the U.S. has exported its factory farm model around the world. And U.S. agricultural policies have helped meat processors get even bigger, consolidating meat production in the hands of these few giant players who use animals from factory farms. (Check out our Factory Farm Map to learn more about how meat production has become more consolidated in the U.S.) Read the full article…

May 17th, 2012

Why Did O’Malley Cross the Road? Because Big Chicken Told Him To

Scott Edwards, co-director of the Food & Water Justice project

By Scott Edwards

This originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

Just last week Food & Water Watch broke a story about extremely close ties between Maryland’s Governor Martin O’Malley and the poultry company Perdue.  O’Malley’s closeness to Perdue was evidenced in 70 pages of emails acquired under a state freedom of information request; they are largely between O’Malley and Perdue’s general counsel, Herb Frerichs. As revealing as the emails are, subsequent disclosures indicate that the relationship may be even more of a tangled web than was originally thought. 

Maryland is home to the Perdue chicken empire, a multibillion-dollar industry that has managed to game the system to avoid responsibility for its waste in a way that few companies have achieved. Proper disposal of the hundreds of thousands of tons of manure from its very profitable enterprise is critical given that agriculture, including Perdue’s chicken farms, remains the largest source of pollution in the Chesapeake Bay and many other waterways across the country.   Read the full article…

May 7th, 2012

Emails Reveal Cozy Relationship Between Gov. Martin O’Malley and Perdue

By Wenonah Hauter 

Image By: Maryland Office of the Governor, Maryland State Archives (flickr.com/MDGOVPICS)

*Updated May 9

During the 2012 Maryland legislative session, the burning of pollutant-laden chicken poop was embraced as a Tier I renewable energy resource, while readily available, clean wind power was dead. In Maryland, chicken is truly king. Or, as a series of emails obtained from Martin O’Malley’s office to a Perdue official indicate, it’s at least Governor. 

Food & Water Watch obtained the emails through a Public Information Act request for all correspondence between the Governor’s office and the giant Eastern Shore poultry company. 

In one back-and-forth between O’Malley and the Perdue representative from March 2011, the Governor acknowledges that wind energy may cost the poultry industry “18 cents to $2 additional per month at the outset,” but suggests that the cost is well worth it because “kids keep dying in the middle east.”

Eighteen cents a month to keep kids from dying in the Middle East was, apparently, a price too high to pay for the industry; Perdue responded by complaining of the additional costs to the integrators and stating that wind “is not high on [its] list of concerns.” Perdue, however, did buy into the chicken manure-to-energy scheme as a way to offload some of its mountains of waste in the state. And thanks to companies like Perdue, today in Maryland chicken crap is renewable, and wind is not. 

The 70 pages of emails we obtained were almost exclusively between O’Malley and Perdue’s General Counsel, Herb Frerichs. Mr. Frerichs is also a partner at the law firm that represents Perdue in the Clean Water Act suit bought by environmentalists for pollution coming from one of the company’s contract growers’ facilities. The emails depict a very close and personal relationship between the Governor and Frerichs, who were classmates at the Maryland School of Law in the mid-to-late 1980s. Read the full article…

May 2nd, 2012

Banking on the Bay

Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter

It used to be that unscrupulous salesmen would try to sell you the bridge; nowadays, they’ve climbed a rung lower – they’re trying to sell you the public trust water flowing under the bridge. A recent website, thebaybank.org, has planted a giant “For Sale” sign on the Chesapeake Bay and the stage is now set to create a marketplace out of this sacred common resource, with the Bay being sold off credit-by-credit.

So what exactly do you get when you buy a credit on Baybank’s website? You don’t actually get a cup of Bay water. The water bottling companies have already figured out how to commoditize our water resources by pouring it into containers and selling it in the supermarkets. Baybank actually promotes a much more insidious way to market our waterways – they’re facilitating the sale of the right to pollute the Bay with more of the same contaminants that are already threatening the very future of this important watershed.

Here how water pollution trading—also known as water quality trading—is supposed to work: instead of recognizing that waterways are owned by everyone as a public trust and enforcing the prohibition on polluting our water, these market-based approaches allow some polluters to claim they’ve decreased their pollution and then sell that alleged decrease, in the form of pollution credits, to other polluters who want to increase their pollution. Read the full article…

April 27th, 2012

5 Reasons a “Global Cattle Drive” to China Is a Bad Idea

By Wenonah Hauter

The Wall Street Journal reports that China is importing 100,000 heifers — 25 ships’ worth — to boost domestic dairy production in the wake of melamine and other milk-powder scandals that have decimated China’s relatively small dairy industry since 2008.

Where to begin? There are so many problems with this scenario, but here are just five reasons why this is a terribly bad idea:

1) The cows are destined for factory farms. China may be importing the cattle from Uruguay, Australia and New Zealand, but they are importing the model for factory farming from the U.S. The animals’ long nightmare starts on a harrowing journey overseas in ships, where they are confined tightly and face multiple health issues that may result in death. Those buried at sea might be the luckiest cattle, because once the animals get through the 45-day quarantine, they will continue their confinement in “football-field-size sheds” that resemble electronics factories more than farms and are milked three times a day on “bovine merry-go-rounds,” according to Wall Street Journal reporter Alex Frangos. Read the full article…

Farm Bill Update

Food Policy Director Patty Lovera

Patty Lovera, Assistant Director and Food Policy Director, Food & Water Watch

By Patty Lovera

Yesterday, the Senate Agriculture Committee passed its version of the 2012 farm bill. The next step in the process is for the bill to go to the Senate floor. We do not know when that will happen, although the Chair of the committee, Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan), says it will be in “a few weeks.” 

Overall, this is not the fair farm bill we have been fighting for, although there are a few bright spots (mostly on existing programs that were threatened but survived.) The Senate bill cuts support for nutrition programs that feed the neediest families, fails to provide an adequate safety net for farmers when prices are low and costs are high, and does nothing to address the power of big agribusiness over farmers and consumers. While it increased funding for some local food systems and organic farm programs, the funding for these programs remains about one out of every thousand dollars spent by this bill.

The Senate Agriculture committee kept the bill secret for months and only released it to the public less than a week before it was passed out of committee. Over a hundred amendments were listed when the committee met to consider the bill, however many of them were never introduced for a vote. Some of the potential amendments would have been dramatic improvements to the bill, such as Senator Grassley’s packer ban amendment and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s (D-New York) amendment to fund research into non-GE seeds and animal breeds, but these were not put up for a vote. Read the full article…

April 24th, 2012

What Is Mad Cow Disease?

Food & Water Watch talks about why we can do more to prevent mad cow disease.Today, the USDA announced that a dairy cow in California’s Central Valley tested positive for Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), otherwise known as mad cow disease. Mad cow disease is spread among cattle when their feed contains infectious material from other cattle or sheep, which get a similar disease called scrapie.

While the U.S. has strengthened some rules to protect the public from mad cow disease, they have not gone far enough. Practices are still allowed which can spread mad cow disease, such as allowing cows to eat waste from the floors of poultry houses, cattle blood, and processed leftovers from restaurants. Testing for the disease should also be expanded.

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April 19th, 2012

Walmart Gets an A on Greenwash but an F on Actual Sustainability

by Patty Lovera

It’s been a busy week for the folks who work hard to put the green sheen on Walmart’s public image. To counter the spin, Food & Water Watch and the Institute for Local Self-Reliance have put together the Top 10 Ways Walmart Fails on Sustainability for a little reality check. Check out my blog on Grist for an explanation of why it’s important for all of us to let Walmart know we see through their green smokescreen.

April 16th, 2012

I Did Not Get the Job

Tony Corbo, senior lobbyist

By Tony Corbo

Late Friday afternoon, I heard a knock on my office door. As I opened the door, a courier handed me a lengthy letter from Mike Brown, the President of the National Chicken Council, denying my request to be a company chicken sorter in a plant operating under the privatized inspection model that USDA has been running since 1998.

Mr. Brown explained that not anyone can walk off the street to be a company chicken sorter. He claimed that company employees receive extensive training before they can be assigned to the slaughter line. The letter stated:

“Company sorters must learn not only the technical requirements of the job, but must also be trained to comply with all relevant USDA and other government agency regulations. Most company sorters will have spent considerable time in training to recognize defects and deficiencies on chicken carcasses, and companies will have made substantial investments to ensure each employee performs competently…In other words, what you are requesting – a quick assignment on the evisceration line of a chicken processing plant of your choosing – is simply unrealistic.”

Mr. Brown never offered to show me the training materials that company employees are given to make them proficient to work on the slaughter line or how the training compares with that required of USDA inspectors before they are assigned on the slaughter line.

This morning, I received an email from a USDA inspector who works in a poultry slaughter plant.  She made the following observation:

“By their own admissions, many (company employees) have stated that they don’t have a clue what they would be looking for if they had our job. They also have indicated that they do not believe they would receive the proper training to perform the duties of an inspector and, if the lines were sped up, there would be no way of keeping up. I have also heard (company employees) make comments to the extent that they don’t feel it would be right for them to do the job of an inspector without getting the same pay so ‘why should I care what goes down the line?’” Read the full article…

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