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Blog Posts: Farming

July 11th, 2014

Six Books Our Staff are Reading This Summer

By Elizabeth Walek

Nothing beats lounging by the pool with a really great book! Summer is a perfect time to get caught up on reading that you’ve been putting off for weeks. Plus, books are a great way to learn more about the issues Food & Water Watch handles every day. I asked around our offices to find out which socially, politically and environmentally conscious books our staff love lately. Check out our top picks, and share your own summer reading recommendations in the comments!

Read the full article…

May 1st, 2014

How Industry Steers the Conversation on Pollinator Health

By Genna Reed

Earlier this week, I attended a hearing hosted by the House of Representatives Agriculture Subcommittee on Horticulture, Research, Biotechnology and Foreign Agriculture intended “to review current research and application of management strategies to control pests and diseases of pollinators.” Between the end of 2012 and the end of 2013, U.S. beekeepers lost an average of 45 percent of their colonies, which has threatened not only their livelihoods, but the very existence of one of the world’s most vital pollinators. The decline of bee populations across the country at levels higher than ever before seen is good reason for Congress to take notice, not only for the struggling bees, but also for the health of the broader environment, since bees are considered an indicator species of ecosystem health.

Colony Collapse Disorder is the term given to the disappearing-bee situation for which a single cause has not yet been defined. Members of the subcommittee saw the disorder as a problem caused by a wide variety of things, including varroa mites, disease, diet and nutrition, genetics, loss of habitat, beekeeping management practices and last but not least, “improper use of pesticides,” which “may also play a role.” The varroa mite is indeed a serious pest that should absolutely get some credit for bee losses, but it is also serving as the perfect scapegoat for Congress and agrichemical industry forces to take attention away from the harmful pesticide cocktails widely used in agriculture. As Jeff Pettis, Research Leader of the USDA’s Bee Research Lab in Beltsville, MD, testified, “…even if the varroa mite problem were solved today, this would not by itself solve all of the problems facing honey bees and beekeepers.” The weak language regarding pesticides’ impacts on bee health and the trivialization of the scientific evidence related to the adverse effects of pesticides on bees that was repeated throughout the hearing is a glaring example of how pesticide companies have been instrumental in framing the conversation surrounding bee health. Read the full article…

April 17th, 2014

Railway Ruckus: Oil and Gas Development is Throwing American Farmers Off-Track

By Katherine Cirullo

Fracking affects our food. In fact, it affects our entire food system. The national fracking debate has remained somewhat quiet around this issue, but that’s all starting to change, and for good reason. Chefs who rely on fruits, vegetables and dairy from heavily-fracked states like California and Pennsylvania are becoming involved in campaigns to stop fracking from contaminating the water needed to grow our nation’s food. Ranchers are concerned that nearby fracking operations contaminate local water supplies, causing their livestock to fall ill. And now, farmers are publically speaking out about how the oil and gas industry is hindering them from transporting their crops and fueling America’s food supply.

In a hearing last Thursday, farmers revealed the recent oil boom in the Bakken Shale of North Dakota is pitting agriculture in the northern United States against the oil and gas industry as they compete for space on the rails. According to farmer testimonies, Big Oil and Gas seems to be winning, while some of our nation’s farmers (whose livelihoods depend on moving their commodities to buyers) are being thrown off the tracks.

At the hearing, 39 people from the agricultural industry (farmers, grain elevators, etc.) from states such as Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana complained to the federal Surface Transportation Board (STB) about rail shipping delays that have hindered the movement of crops. They claimed the railways serving the region (Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) and Canadian Pacific (CP)) are not fairly allocating railcar space between the agricultural industry and the oil and gas industry, choosing oil as the favorite. Favorite or not, the reality is that Big Oil is not fit for sharing. Read the full article…

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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 21st, 2014

Corporate Patronage at UCLA

stack of one hundred dollar billsBy Tim Schwab

The University of California school system, as of late, has been no foe to big business, taking millions of dollars from corporations to conduct industry research. So it wasn’t a huge shocker to learn that UC Los Angeles’ law school took $4 million from Big Ag to create the Resnick Program for Food Law and Policy. By Resnick, I mean Stewart and Lynda Resnick, the Beverly Hills billionaire water barons.

Stewart Resnick could be considered one of the nation’s largest corporate farmers and campaign donors, sitting atop a fruit, flower and nut empire that calls itself the “largest farming operation of tree crops in the world.” In addition to being the largest grower and processor of almonds and pistachios in the world, Resnick’s operations also have enormous citrus and pomegranate holdings, the latter of which drives one of his signature products, POM Wonderful brand juice.

Resnick’s farming operation covers 120,000 acres of land in California’s agriculturally rich – but water poor – Central Valley. While other farmers in the region often pray for rain, the Resnicks have played politics to control tens of millions of dollars in available water sources.

With this immense wealth, why do the Resnicks need UCLA on their side? From this UCLA press release, the Resnicks appear to be buying influence: “Through the publication and dissemination of policy briefs and position papers, the program will play a crucial role in shaping policy-making process.”

Our academic institutions – and especially our public schools like UCLA – play a critical role in providing the science and research used to shape policy making. What our food system looks like, to some great extent, is determined by what the experts from our public universities prescribe. And what they prescribe is increasingly a pro-industry stance, derived from the kind of corporate funding like the Resnicks recently provided.

Corporations spend hundreds of millions of dollars funding universities, paying for research, endowing professorships, naming buildings and engaging professors in lucrative consulting gigs. This largess buys friendly scientific reviews of corporate products and practices, which are used to secure favorable regulations from legislators. Favorable research from our public institutions also serves as a kind of stamp of approval that companies can peddle to their customers.

And the Resnicks clearly understand how this game works and use their financial largess to curry favor with public institutions and nonprofit groups that can help their companies. For example, the Resnicks acquired FIJI water in 2004, shipping water from the poor island nation all the way around the world to rich consumers in the West, growing FIJI into the most imported water to the United States. (If you don’t already know why bottled water is bad, read this.) In the face of controversy over this business scheme, Conservation International issued a press release talking about how great FIJI water is for the environment. No surprise, Stewart Resnick sits on the organization’s board.

This level of influence, earned through “philanthropy,” allows the Resnicks – and the Monsantos and Cargills and Tysons – to manipulate and confuse the public discourse to benefit their bottom line. At UCLA, the Resnicks most recent $4 million food policy program only adds to their influence, which also includes a seat on the executive board of UCLA Medical Sciences, the advisory board of the UCLA Anderson School of Management and the advisory board of the Lowell Milken Institute at the law school.

In our 2012 report Public Research, Private Gain, Food & Water Watch lays out the myriad ways that conflicts of interest spring from these industry partnerships and offers a few solutions. This influx of corporate money to our universities is not about philanthropy. It’s about the bottom line.

March 11th, 2014

How the FDA’s Voluntary Guidance Fails to Curb Antibiotic Misuse in Livestock

Click to enlarge.

By Sarah Borron

Last December, FDA released voluntary guidance to industry (GFI #213) that would limit certain nontherapeutic uses of what the agency deems “medically important” antibiotics in livestock and put those drugs under the guidance of a veterinarian. Currently, many antibiotics are available for livestock producers to use for nontherapeutic reasons and without veterinary oversight. FDA’s action to curb these uses is long overdue.

But that guidance comes with a catch. It only limits the use of medically important antibiotics for promoting faster growth in livestock. Giving livestock low doses of antibiotics necessary to treat human illnesses to make the animals grow faster – all the while creating antibiotic-resistant bacteria in those livestock – is a pretty terrible use of an important resource. However, the FDA guidance still permits low doses of antibiotics to be given to healthy animals as disease prevention. Whether for growth promotion or disease prevention, the result is the same: this practice is creating more bacteria resistant to antibiotics that we need to protect human health.

Food &Water Watch analyzed FDA’s list of over 400 antibiotic drug products affected by GFI #213 to find out just how much overlap exists between growth promotion uses, which are being limited, and prevention uses, which remain unchecked. Each drug has a list of “label indications,” or reasons the drug can be used in certain conditions. Using FDA’s search function and also reading each label, we identified overlapping indications that demonstrate significant loopholes in GFI #213. Read the full article…

March 6th, 2014

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…

February 18th, 2014

Justice Department Should Sink Titanic Flour Merger, Even with Rearranged Deck Chairs

By Patrick Woodall

Last week, ConAgra Foods, Inc. confessed to its shareholders that it had to delay its proposed wheat flour merger with Cargill because of the ongoing antitrust review by the U.S. Department of Justice. The proposed merger would create a dominant wheat flour milling company that would be twice the size of its next biggest rival, ADM, and more than five times bigger than the third and fourth largest flour milling firms.

The proposed merger (which would create a company called “Ardent Mills”) would have a near stranglehold on buying wheat from farmers and selling flour to bakeries and other food manufacturers. Because Ardent would be so large and have such a heavy footprint across the country, farmers would likely get paid less for their wheat while bakeries would probably pay more for flour, ultimately raising prices for consumers.

Cargill and ConAgra knew this mega-merger would raise eyebrows, so now the companies are talking about selling a few of the flour mills involved in the deal to help make it easier for the Justice Department to swallow a merger resulting in a company that is just too big. ConAgra told its shareholders that the merging companies were “prepared to divest” four flour mills (two in California and one each in Texas and Minnesota). That minor concession just puts lipstick on a pig of a market for wheat and flour that looks a lot like a monopoly in many parts of the country. Read the full article…

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January 28th, 2014

The Risky Business of Being a Monsanto Shareholder

Monsanto Super FundBy Anna Meyer

When readers of the Saint Louis Post-Dispatch opened their papers yesterday morning, they saw a full-page ad welcoming Monsanto shareholders into town and asking them to vote for full disclosure of the true costs of genetically modified foods (GMOs). The ad depicts the quintessential American farm (red barn and all), and is very similar to many of the ads that Monsanto released implying that the chemical giant has a rosy relationship with farmers. But the veneer of Monsanto’s advertising has worn thin and shareholders are questioning that very relationship and looking for honest answers as to the impacts that GMOs are having on farmers.

Monsanto is generally seen as the most nefarious and targeted corporation in the food movement. The past few years have seen multiple states fight for the right to know what is in their food, international bans on GMOs and increasingly visible negative environmental impacts. Now, even Monsanto’s own shareholders are demanding answers about their controversial products and practices. Read the full article…

December 20th, 2013

Top Five Movies to Watch this Winter Break

By Briana Kerensky, Katherine Cirullo and Miranda Carter

‘Tis the season for peppermint hot chocolate, warm fuzzy socks and of course, movie marathons. This year, forget driving to the movie theater and overspending on a two-hour flick and what is, most likely, genetically engineered popcorn. 

Below is a list of thought-provoking, socially, politically and environmentally conscious films that our staff at Food & Water Watch enjoys and thinks you will, too! Got a movie to add to our list? Share your picks in the comments below.

  1. Gasland and Gasland 2: In this Oscar-nominated documentary, Director Josh Fox takes viewers on a cross-country journey to discover the hard, shocking truths behind the fracking boom that has swept across the United States. Interested in hosting your own Gasland or Gasland 2 screening in the new year? Food & Water Watch can help!
    Read the full article…

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