December 22nd, 2011
By Rich Bindell
There’s never a shortage of interesting and incendiary stories about food issues to choose from at the end of the year. This year is no exception. As we continue to build our campaign to improve the Farm Bill in 2012, we can see examples of why this work is so important just by taking a look at some of the most outrageous food stories of 2011…
1. Attack on Food Safety Budgets
2011 started out with a bang; our food safety programs got banged up by threatened budget cuts. In addition, we witnessed a number of food recalls due to contamination that threatened public health with serious illness and, in some cases, even death. It’s not a surprise that a large and complex food system such as ours requires an aggressive approach to food safety. Unfortunately, federal and state governments’ ability to use that strategy was weakened when food safety budgets were slashed. While the meat and poultry inspection program at USDA escaped relatively unscathed, the Food and Drug Administration didn’t fare as well. FDA’s budget only allotted about half of what it needed to put the newly passed Food Safety Modernization Act into action. In 2012, Congress needs to get their food safety priorities in order. Read the full article…
December 13th, 2011
By Michele Merkel
Governor Martin O’Malley has spent an enormous amount of time talking about the successes of his trade mission to India. Meanwhile, he falters on an issue of importance to all Marylanders: the health of the Chesapeake Bay. And while he’s talking trade in India, back home he’s bartering the Bay’s future for the support of industrial agriculture. To add insult to injury, he’s maligning the environmental law students that are giving their time and expertise to help undo this calamity.
On November 14, Governor O’Malley sent out two letters just before fleeing to India. One was to his fellow governors across the country urging them to join him and his wife in taking a “Stop Bullying, Speak Up” pledge to end the bullying of students in schools throughout the nation. The second was to the Maryland School of Law in which he ignored his oath and tried to bully the students in the environmental law clinic into representing polluters instead of working to fulfill the Clinic’s mission to protect the Bay.
For a man who’s already anointed himself as the Democratic presidential candidate for 2016, the letter showed a complete lack of balanced leadership. For an attorney, it showed a total disregard for equity and the sanctity of the judicial process. For a man who prides himself on his environmental record, it showed an inexcusable ignorance of the largest threat to one of the most important waterways in the country. And for an anti-bullying crusader, it showed an inexcusable level of hypocrisy that has become all too commonplace among our political leaders.
The Chesapeake Bay is dying. Like many other waterways in the country, it’s being hammered by nutrient and sediment pollution from irresponsible industrial agriculture operations. A 2010 EPA report finds that pollution from agriculture is overwhelmingly the largest source of these pollutants to the Bay. Waste from factory farm operations account for a good portion of the nutrients poisoning the waters. Read the full article…
December 6th, 2011
By Rich Bindell
Bullying is usually discussed in the context of kids—misguided youth who don’t have the maturity to know better. But, what about the bullying that happens in business, perpetrated by adults? We certainly know of a few companies within our food system that would qualify as bullies. Instead of fists, they use expensive attorneys, lobbying power and—in a strange twist—even anti-bullying politicians.
For years, Monsanto has usually gotten their way. Their billions of dollars buys them serious lobbying power and lots of lawyers to take advantage of farmers by suing them for accidentally acquiring Monsanto patented genetic material in their fields through contaminated seeds or drifting pollen. Many farmers that end up on the wrong end of a Monsanto lawsuit usually settle because they can’t afford to fight it, which is why the story about Percy Schmeiser is so special. He counter-sued Monsanto… and won!
Schmeiser found himself face-to-face with Monsanto when the seed company wanted him to pay $15 per acre or face enforcement for patent infringement after finding “Roundup Ready Canola” in parts of his field. The problem is that he didn’t plant the genetically engineered crop; the seed was transported to his land via the wind from another canola grower using GE seeds.
As reported by Care2 blogger Michelle Schoffro Cook, Schmeiser decided to face-off against Monsanto by charging them with “libel, trespassing, improperly obtaining seed samples from his farm, callous disregard for the environment for its introduction of genetically-modified (GM) crops without proper controls and containment, and contamination of his crops with unwanted GM plants.” Read the full article…
November 21st, 2011
The Obama Administration is caving to meatpacker interests and many Democratic members of Congress aren't standing up for independent livestock producers.
By Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director of Food & Water Watch
[Originally posted at Huffington Post]
While the big news among good food activists has been the unsettling possibility that a secret farm bill could be snuck into the Super Committee’s recommendations and passed with no public input, Republicans have furtively dealt a crippling blow to family farmers and consumers. This week, House Republicans included language in a budget bill that gutted the fair livestock rules that have languished for more than 80 years. Once again BIG MEAT has derailed the commonsense protections that allow small livestock producers to compete and check the abusive practices of the poultry industry.
The 2008 Farm Bill included reforms to protect small and medium-sized farmers who raise cattle, hogs, and chickens from unfair treatment at the hands of meatpackers and poultry companies. In 2010, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyard Administration proposed rules (known as the GIPSA Rule, after the agency) to protect poultry and hog farmers from unfair contract terms – like retaliating against poultry and hog growers who speak out about abuses – and ensured that cattle and hog producers could get a fair price from meatpackers for their livestock.
Nearly three years later, the fair livestock rules have been shredded and there is plenty of blame and shame to go around. The Obama administration failed to show leadership on this issue and reneged on President Obama’s campaign pledge to “fight to ensure family and independent farmers have fair access to markets, control over their production decisions, and transparency in prices.”
Agriculture Secretary Vilsack caved to meatpacker money and power by issuing significantly watered down rules – after nearly 18 months of foot dragging to issue the final rules at all. USDA’s final proposal indefinitely postponed any efforts to protect independent cattle and hog farmers and issued a much weaker set of protections for contract chicken and hog farmers. Many Democratic Senators on the Agriculture Committee – including Chairman Debbie Stabenow from Michigan – stood on the sidelines and refused to stand up for livestock producers in their states. Read the full article…
November 18th, 2011
By Rich Bindell
Right now, some members of Congress are pushing hard for “regulatory reform” that would make it next to impossible for the federal government to create any new regulations. Their anti-regulatory battle plan attacks on two fronts: the REINS Act and the Regulatory Time-Out Act. While their rhetoric conveniently claims these bills would address issues of money, jobs and inefficiency in government, their main goal is to kill all regulations, even those regulations that are tantamount to public safety.
The “reforms” that some members of Congress are trying to pass could strip federal agencies of their ability to update meat and poultry inspection, safe drinking water standards and even fair competition in the marketplace among food producers —basic functions of government that shouldn’t be tied into the political dysfunction of the past several years.
Remember the Food Safety Modernization Act that became law early this year? This recalibration of the FDA’s food safety program should enable federal regulators to catch up to modern challenges in food production, including provisions that protect against pathogens like Listeria and Salmonella in produce and processed food. We’ve had recent outbreaks of both, complete with massive product recalls. The Regulatory Time-Out Act would push these critical regulations off for another year.
Imagine, for a moment, that your drinking water wasn’t monitored or that food processors were no longer properly inspected for safety. Life without these protections in place would be very different, indeed. While the public would go unprotected, the powerful corporations would get to operate as they please, with no one reigning in practices that could damage the environment or public health. No matter what folks think about the budget deficit or job creation, most would agree that there are basic functions best performed by the government – and protecting common resources like food and water are pretty high on that list.
The claims made about creating jobs and saving money by deregulating powerful industries are rhetoric, not reality. We need regulations to safeguard our food, water and natural resources. These are basic protections that ensure public health and safety, not a source for savings.
November 16th, 2011
By Rich Bindell
You know Jillian Michaels as the now-famous inspirational trainer (and former overweight consumer) from The Biggest Loser. Did you know that the main reason she has been able to maintain her healthy body is from eating organic foods and staying FAR AWAY from processed food products? It sounds like Jillian is well aware of the problems that burden our corporate-controlled food system, run by giants like Monsanto, Cargill, Tyson and Nestlé. If only the show could focus on that part of a better health strategy, it could really teach people about the critical importance of the Farm Bill in improving our food and our health as a nation.
Wait a minute… that gives us an idea!
America has already opened its collective consciousness to the lessons of The Biggest Loser. The show’s contestants are close to our hearts for good reason: they’ve allowed us to examine ourselves and how we view our own health. But, now it’s time to welcome a new group into the fold and follow them as they head down a path toward self-improvement and healing. Only this time, the contestants aren’t playing for themselves, but for everyone who depends upon a healthy food system.
Welcome to the Biggest FARM BILL Loser. Read the full article…
November 10th, 2011
By Rich Bindell
The USDA has once again failed to protect independent farmers from the companies that control our broken food system. They have sent part of the much-debated GIPSA rule over to the White House for final approval – without critical parts of the proposed rule that are needed to equalize competition for independent cattle and hog producers in the livestock marketplace. While there may be some positive changes in the rule for the poultry industry (see more detail in the statement from Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter), it is clear that those companies who have solid control over the livestock market also have a lobbying arm that exerts solid control over the current administration.
In 1921, the U.S. government came to the conclusion that something needed to be done about the lack of competition in the meatpacking industry that was allowing a few companies to dominate the market. Congress passed a law called the Packers & Stockyards Act and the USDA created the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyard Administration (GIPSA) rule to address the problem. The problem is that they have never enforced the law. What good is a seatbelt if you don’t use it? Read the full article…
November 9th, 2011
So… you think you’re a foodie, do ya? Well, why not test yourself? We invite you to take our Fair Farm Quiz and determine your Fair Food IQ.
What is a farm exactly? Is it that picturesque locale on the label of a supermarket brand of cheese or is it more like an industrial production scene, complete with conveyor belts and widgets?
Did you know? Read the full article…
Posted in Agricultural policy
,Genetically engineered food
November 3rd, 2011
By Rich Bindell
I’ve always disliked the term “natural flavors” on the occasion that I see it in the ingredients list on a food label. What does that mean exactly? I always thought it included things like lemon juice or sea salt. But natural flavors can include human hair, crushed-up beetles and, my favorite, beaver anal glands. These all sound like things that might “accidentally” make it into your food. But in the processed food industry, these items give food its distinctive taste and texture. They are purposefully added to foods and often called “natural,” according to Bruce Bradley, former corporate food executive turned blogger. (Hat tip to Grist for telling us about him.) Bradley tackles topics such as the truth behind the sugar substitute Truvia and the real meaning of the terms “natural flavors and colors” on The Blog of Bruce Bradley, which covers topics besides food, such as family, writing and animals. But the most hard-hitting entries seem to be food related, thanks to the time he spent as an executive in the food industry where he worked for companies including General Mills, Nabisco and Pillsbury. Read the full article…
October 25th, 2011
Photo by Jlastras.
By Rich Bindell
It seems unlikely that a big food corporation with a lot of money and lobbying power would need to hide to avoid taking responsibility for its own actions. But that’s exactly what Perdue Farms is doing. They are hiding behind one of their contract growing operations, as well as behind a faux grassroots website, spreading misinformation about environmental groups trying to protect the Chesapeake Bay from pollution.
Waterkeeper Alliance filed a lawsuit in March 2010, against Perdue Farms, one of the nation’s largest producers of broiler chickens, and one of their contract growing operations—owned by Alan and Kristin Hudson— to hold them responsible for run-off from the site into farm ditches that drain into the Franklin Branch before reaching the Pocomoke River and eventually the Chesapeake Bay. While the Hudsons own the farm, the chickens they raise there are owned by Perdue and the company makes almost every decision about how they are raised. But when it comes to dealing with the manure created by those chickens, the Hudsons are on their own.
In order to “defend” the Hudson Farm, Perdue anonymously created the website Savefarmfamilies.org, to spread misinformation about the lawsuit. They depict the Hudsons as victims of aggressive environmental groups who need financial help to cover their bills from the lawsuit. While Perdue doesn’t lay claim to the website, the IP address of the proxy registration belongs to Perdue.
Food & Water Watch has our own response to the claims made by Savefarmfamilies.org. Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter drafted an open letter to Perdue CEO Jim Perdue, questioning Perdue’s current PR strategy. Read the full article…