August 11th, 2011
By Sarah Borron
Today one in three American children are overweight or obese. Restricting unhealthy food marketing to youth is one important step in addressing this crisis. Corporations spend close to $1.6 billion marketing food to children each year. Kids see unhealthy food marketing on television commercials and product placements, on websites featuring “advergames” based around foods, and even in schools.
Unfortunately much of the food that’s marketed to children is terrible for their health: sugary cereals, soda and drinks loaded with sugar and corn syrup, fast food and snacks.
At the request of Congress, the federal government recently proposed best practices for food marketing to children and teenagers. The new proposed guidelines recommend that food and beverages marketed to children have low levels of added sugar, salt, and fat and that they make a “meaningful contribution” to a healthy diet. Public health advocates have praised the guidelines as a useful step in changing the food marketing landscape. Note that the guidelines are not regulations, but recommendations for voluntary action. There are no legal repercussions whatsoever should food companies chose not to follow them.
So, how do some food companies respond when the government suggests voluntary best practices? That perhaps high sugar cereals and desserts branded with children’s cartoons aren’t the best things to market to children? Read the full article…
August 4th, 2011
Massive consolidation in our food system means that a few big processors handle the majority of our widely distributed food. This makes it harder to trace back the origins of food contamination like Salmonella Heidelberg.
By Rich Bindell
Back in March, we tried to imagine through a short video what it would be like if the President got a wake-up call about his proposed food safety budget cuts and how they might affect one his favorite meals: a hamburger. On second thought, make that a turkey burger. Cargill Value Added Meats Retail, a subsidiary of Cargill Meat Solutions Corporation, just recalled 36 MILLION POUNDS of ground turkey products because of possible Salmonella contamination. This is exactly why it’s not a good idea to cut critical food and safety protections from the federal budget.
Cargill, the third largest turkey processor in the United States, is recalling the turkey products because of a strain of bacteria called Salmonella Heidelberg, which has sickened 76 consumers and caused one death. The fact that Salmonella Heidelberg is antibiotic-resistant certainly reinforces the need for ending the overuse of antibiotics in livestock production.
Tracing the contamination back to its source — no easy task when you’re talking about 36 million pounds of processed food distributed to 26 states — has been the task of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in conjunction with USDA and state health agencies. In case you’re wondering how long it takes to figure out where food contamination originated, in this case it took five months since the first reported case of food illness was reported until they linked the public health threat to Cargill’s ground turkey. Read the full article…
July 29th, 2011
By Rich Bindell
I saw that the First Lady Michelle Obama is going to unite with some of the super-mega-box stores to help bring healthy food to all socio-economic classes. At first I got really fired up about it. I was going to write about how ridiculous it seems to solve the problems in our food system by working with some of the players who are responsible for creating them. I was going to mention that, while working with Walmart, Supervalu, and Walgreens might seem like a quicker way to tackle food access, a better idea would be to work on making changes to the Farm Bill that would make prices fair for farmers and consumers, thus making a far greater contribution toward the idea of accessible, healthy food for all. But, then I thought, “Nah… I’ve already done that.”
Instead, I’d rather wish you nice weekend and remind you that our Fair Farm Bill Road Trip begins tomorrow. Keep on the lookout for our organizers!
July 22nd, 2011
By Rich Bindell
Gallup released the results of a poll about Americans’ eating habits this year compared to last, and the results aren’t so great. According to the poll, “Adults’ health habits have been worse in each of the past three months compared with the same months in 2010.” With the healthy food movement getting stronger each year, it seems surprising that we fell 1.4 points in our index score. But, the problem doesn’t lie simply in percentages of people who make healthy food choices. In his blog on Salon.com, David Sirota describes the reason our nation is food challenged. While he does a great job of breaking down a giant portion of the problem, he misses a great opportunity to suggest steps we can take toward a solution. Read the full article…
July 19th, 2011
By Rich Bindell
Summer won’t be complete until you pack a bag, jump in your car and hit the pavement for a road trip. (Oh, and grab your cow suit too!) It’s the classic American experience that hones in on the pulse of people, place and food. Since we are looking to tie these together in an effort to improve our food system, it seems appropriate to carry on our tradition of a summer road trip in support of the fair food movement. On July 30, Food & Water Watch will screech our tires as we prepare to hit 20 states in 30 days on our 2012 Farm Bill Road Trip.
What’s this tour about?
Think back to when you first started hearing phrases like, “fair food,” “farm-to-table,” “factory farms” and “sustainable agriculture.” I know that I felt like quite a rookie. How did these terms become so critical to understanding and improving our food system? When did things get so complicated that we actually had to point out to people that it’s better to have food that comes straight from a grower, without chemicals, additives and unnecessary hormones? Why are foods like apples, broccoli, almonds, tomatoes and kale more expensive and more difficult to acquire than foods like cheeseburgers, corn chips, chicken nuggets and canned chili?
While the answers to these questions are definitely not simple, all is not lost. Our food system may be broken, but it’s not impossible to repair. There’s certainly no shortage of opinions on the topic of food, but there’s only one piece of legislation that holds the key to making positive changes to the way we produce and distribute food around the country: the 2012 Farm Bill. Those of us who truly want to improve our food system need to be educated on how the rules are implemented. Read the full article…
June 22nd, 2011
By Rich Bindell
This week we focus on our campaign for fair food by calling on President Obama to enact a rule on livestock marketing that would let USDA finally use authority given to them back when Woodrow Wilson was President. The “GIPSA rule” (named for the USDA branch that governs livestock marketing) would even out the playing field in the meat industry and allow small-to-medium-sized independent farmers to fairly compete with large-scale factory farms. Of course, industry is pushing back, using delay tactics to put off implementing the rule. Which is why Sunday’s Washington Post article was so timely.
The article, “With executive pay, rich pull away from rest of America,” could be the answer to the question: when industrial food giants squeeze out farmers and small processing plants and consolidate the industry, where do their savings go? It sounds like a good deal of it may go to upper echelon executives.
The article is mostly about the abuses that result from decades of deregulation and unchecked corporate consolidation as it relates to the salaries of American business executives in the last five or six decades, but it focuses on one company in particular: Dean Foods. It describes two chief executives who led the company at different times: Kenneth J. Douglas, who held the reigns during the 1970s and Gregg L. Engels, who is the current CEO. The article claims that Engels makes the equivalent of about 10 times as much in compensation as Douglas did. If you’re familiar with the consolidation of power that exists in the food industry, this should come as no surprise. Read the full article…
June 21st, 2011
By Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter
[Original post appears at Change.org]
President Obama made a promise back when he campaigned in farm states. He needs to keep it.
The President told farmers that his administration would help fix the rules that allow the meat industry to take advantage of the people who raise the animals Americans eat. But, under pressure from Big Meat, the Obama Administration has failed to implement the fair farm rules (also known as GIPSA rules, named for the branch of the USDA that would oversee the rules, the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyard Administration).
Fair farm rules and GIPSA might sound wonky, but implementing them is crucial to leveling the playing field for farmers. As is often the case, the devil is in the details. If we want to move towards a more sustainable and regional food system, we need a fair market. We need to start fixing the nuts and bolts of what keeps farmers from being able to fairly market their products. And consolidation of the food industry is one of the major factors in why our food system is dysfunctional. Read the full article…
May 27th, 2011
By Rich Bindell
While this weekend is supposed to encourage us to pause and think about those who have served or continue to serve our nation, it’s not unlikely that you could end up grilling out at someone’s house over the next few days. Since Memorial Day weekend is the kick-off for summer for many of us, it’s the perfect time to discuss the USDA’s big change to their refrigerator magnet of recommended cooking temperatures for meat. Well, it’s not that big, actually; technically it’s more of an update for pork.
The USDA is changing the recommended cooking temperatures for all thick, whole cuts of pork (roasts, chops, from 160 degrees to 145 degrees with a resting time of three minutes. That means that the thickest part of the meat has to reach 145 degrees and then have three minutes of rest time. This will allow for safe meat consumption, which really means that it will properly kill the pathogens and be microbiologically safe. Read the full article…
May 25th, 2011
By Rich Bindell
Necessity might be the mother of some inventions, but certainly not all of them. In other words: just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Perhaps, we should leave room for difference of opinion on the definition of necessity. For some, it seems to reflect the notion that Mother Nature just isn’t quite efficient enough.
Take meat, for example. We’re used to getting meat from actual animals that are raised on farms (or hunted, depending upon where you’re from) and that are born from the wombs of their mothers. Apparently, this is no longer necessary, thanks to the work of biologist and tissue engineer Vladimir Mironov from the Medical University of South Carolina, who believes that we might soon be able to “grow” our own meat. Mironov is involved in the bioengineering of “cultured” or “in-vitro” meat or, as I am calling it, “In-meatro.” Is Mironov another scientist who humbly desires to help solve global hunger or is he blinded by the thought of becoming more efficient than nature? Read the full article…
May 23rd, 2011
By Wenonah Hauter
Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter calls out 147 Members of Congress for "shameful kowtowing" to the meat industry.
Last Wednesday, 147 Members of Congress proved once again that the meat industry can buy public policy. The trade associations for big meat, which are major campaign contributors, have been pitching a hissy fit that they won’t be able to squeeze every penny out of livestock producers. They wrote to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack asking him to conduct “a more thorough economic analysis” of the proposed fair farm rules (GIPSA) that would give livestock producers a fighting chance when they contract or sell to the consolidated meat industry. This action by the Members is nothing more than yet another obstruction to implementing a rule first proposed in the 1921 Packers and Stockyards Act because of the abusive practices of the meat industry that have continued and worsened through the decades. This rule would eliminate “undue” preference in livestock marketing to the biggest producers. Read the full article…