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Blog Posts: Food safety

January 29th, 2014

President Obama’s Legacy to Corporations?


By Wenonah Hauter

Did you see President Obama’s State of the Union last night? While the President had an optimistic tone, again and again, I saw the same theme of giving more power to corporations at the expense of the people.

Last night, President Obama told us once again that he wants to fix income inequality in this country. He even announced a minimum wage increase for government contractors, which is one step in the right direction… but if he’s serious about better pay for ordinary Americans, he shouldn’t be pushing for trade deals that will bolster corporate profits and let corporations move jobs overseas, not to mention taking away communities’ rights to protect themselves from corporate abuses.



If he succeeds, these deals (including the Trans-Pacific Partnership) would lead to more imports of potentially unsafe foods and the export of fracked gas. It would put corporate profits ahead of people’s health and safety. Let President Obama know you’re disappointed that he’s supporting trade deals that put corporations above communities.



When it comes to fracking, President Obama’s State of the Union speech touted his “all of the above” energy plan as a success, even though his administration has repeatedly scuttled investigations into the damaging impacts of fracking, like water contamination. He also said he doesn’t want to leave our children with the impacts of climate change, but fracking hurts communities and it’s not a solution to our energy woes or the climate crisis.

 Even though President Obama said he wants to protect our pristine public lands, his administration is still considering opening them up to more oil and gas fracking. Send President Obama a clear message: it’s past time that he changed his mind on fracking.



President Obama mentioned the debate over the proper size of our government. We can’t let that debate compromise the safety of our food by cutting funding that the USDA needs to properly inspect our poultry. In the State of the Union, he spoke about his interest in streamlining the government, but he’s doing so at the expense of our health and safety when he lets the meat industry do their own safety inspections. That’s letting the fox guard the henhouse, and it’s no way to keep our food safe.

Please take a minute to let the President know that you want him to put the health and safety of American communities ahead of corporate profits. Let’s send a strong message to President Obama after his State of the Union speech.

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…

January 24th, 2014

Email Shows USDA Cowering to Industry on Poultry Safety — Again

By Wenonah Hauter

Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch

Late last week, Food & Water Watch received information that USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) was going to permit a trade association — the National Chicken Council —  to collect data in poultry plants to assess the rate of foodborne pathogens in chicken parts. The information came in the form of an e-mail from the Assistant FSIS Administrator for Field Operations Daniel Engeljohn, informing his district managers that he was aware of the effort and gave his full blessing to the project. What was troubling about the e-mail was that it told the district managers that the purpose of the data collection was for the industry to develop its own voluntary pathogen performance standards that it was going to enforce on poultry processing plants. It went on to say that FSIS inspection personnel assigned to the plants were not to interfere with the National Chicken Council data collection and that they had no right to look at the data that was collected.

In other words, the poultry industry would create the standards for pathogen levels in chicken parts, and they would only “voluntarily” stick with them. Not only would the industry be able to decide how much salmonella or campylobacter there is on your chicken, but there would be no USDA enforcement of the standard.

Welcome to the latest in privatization of chicken inspections that the industry is pushing, with the USDA’s blessing. Another example is the “Modernization of Poultry Slaughter Inspection,” the proposed plan whose “modern” twist is to turn most poultry inspection over to the very companies that produce our poultry, leaving only one government inspector per plant to inspect over 175 birds per minute — or three birds per second.

This hasn’t happened overnight. The industry has been chipping away at the USDA’s mandate to protect our food system for over a decade. Since the late 1990s, FSIS has established pathogen performance standards on the meat and poultry industry. The standards were supposed to be enforceable, but the agency lost a critical court case in 2000 when the industry successfully challenged their legality because the current meat and poultry inspection laws are silent on pathogen standards. There were a couple of attempts by Congress in the early 2000s to give FSIS authority to set enforceable pathogen performance standards, but they failed. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) recently introduced a bill, S. 1502, The Safe Meat and Poultry Act, that would give FSIS that authority, but that bill has still not received a hearing.

In the meantime, FSIS has continued to set pathogen performance standards, but they are voluntary for the industry. For salmonella, FSIS will post on its website monthly those poultry plants that fail the agency’s testing program. The agency has claimed that its sampling program has shown that the levels of salmonella in whole raw chicken carcasses have been declining in recent years. However, the Centers for Disease Control continues to report that the number of food borne illnesses attributed to salmonella remains stubbornly high.

In 2010, Consumer Reports conducted its own study of food borne pathogens found in chicken parts.  Consumers rarely buy whole chicken carcasses, but they buy chicken parts in packages at the grocery store. It found that 62% of the chicken parts they bought and analyzed tested positive for campylobacter and 14% tested positive for salmonella.  

In response to the Consumer Reports findings, FSIS – to its credit – began a study to assess the levels of pathogens in chicken parts. In 2012, it posted the results of its survey on its website, which found that 26.3% of the chicken parts were contaminated with salmonella and 21.4% were contaminated with campylobacter. Agency officials have indicated that it was their intent to set government pathogen performance standards for chicken parts. In fact, the Salmonella Action Plan released by the agency in December 2013 listed that as one of the activities for FY 2014 Now, we find out that the industry is going to set its own standards that it will enforce.

In December 2013, Consumer Reports released data on a new study on pathogen contamination in chicken parts that found 43% of the chicken breasts sampled were contaminated with campylobacter and 10.8% with salmonella.

In light of the rule proposed by FSIS in January 2012 that would turn over most inspection responsibilities over to the poultry companies to perform themselves, the Engeljohn e-mail seems to indicate that there is a dangerous deregulatory effort underfoot that would take FSIS out of the food safety business altogether. Instead of trying to enhance its ability to regulate food safety standards, this agency seems to be turning the keys over to the industry to police itself. That is not in the interest of public health and it needs to be stopped.

January 22nd, 2014

Happy Birthday, Horsemeat Scandal

By Eve Mitchell

It’s been a year since we were first told the beef we buy may actually be horsemeat, but we still don’t really know what happened, how far it spread, who is responsible, or how they will be called to account for themselves.

We’ve seen a smattering of arrests, notably the September 2013 arrests of eight managers of the French company Spanghero on charges of aggravated fraud and mislabelling of food products. French authorities say they “knowingly sold” 750 tonnes of horsemeat mislabelled as beef. Around two-thirds of this went to French firm Comigel’s Luxembourg subsidiary Tavola and found its way into some 4.5 million products that were then sold again to 28 companies operating in 13 European countries. This may be the source of the tainted Findus “beef” lasagne (100% horsemeat) found on UK supermarket shelves.

Sound complicated? It is, but if you’re going to buy heavily processed foods you need to know this stuff – unless you’re happy to just pinch your nose and swallow.

Justice is elusive. Accused of netting some €500,000 over six months of fraud (£425,000 or US$681,000), Spanghero had been stripped of its operating license in February 2013. It then closed in June, changed managers, sacked nearly 60% of its workforce, renamed itself La Lauragaise, refinanced and was trading again by the end of July – protesting its “innocence” all the way. Then came the arrests in September. The company’s new tagline “Saveurs des terroirs” (“The flavours of the land”, with heavy overtones of traditional cultural quality) feels like a bad joke.

Flagship arrests, while welcome, are not enough. Supermarkets sold us this stuff but are not feeling the heat. The UK Parliamentary inquiry into the affair quizzed supermarket bosses, pointing out to Tesco that it is “notorious” for rejecting misshapen apples but somehow managed to miss the fact that products labelled beef were actually up to 29% horse. The Tesco representative attempted to blame consumers, saying the company does what they want, but this didn’t wash with the committee, which retorted, “You obviously don’t [do what your customers want] on horse.”

The inquiry pressed that if beef is trading at a premium to horse, and with “unscrupulous people out there, as obviously there are,” surely supermarkets should watch cheaper products more closely. Tesco said each of its suppliers is scrutinised with the same ”rigour” (Tesco does one DNA test per year at each meat production site). Horsemeat was still being found in Tesco products as late as June, but as the Food Standards Agency only reports results over 1%, for all we know horsemeat is still masquerading as beef all over the place. At this stage it isn’t in anybody’s interest to say differently, and consumers have to take what they can get.

Supermarkets sell UK shoppers 80% of our food, so when they fail us, it is a big deal. Tesco pleads innocence, saying its supplier used unapproved suppliers further down the chain. The Committee’s July 2013 report concluding its inquiry said while some retailers may have been misled, the big ones “need to ‘up their game’”, and the costs should rest on companies, not consumers. The inquiry concluded, “Retailers and meat processors should have been more vigilant against the risk of deliberate adulteration,” instead of taking everything “on trust”. The Committee continued, “We are dismayed at the slow pace of investigations and would like assurance that prosecutions will be mounted where there is evidence of fraud or other illegal activity.” That was in July 2013. 

So what has the UK Government done? Testifying before the inquiry in January 2013 Minister for Agriculture and Food David Heath MP announced a wide-ranging review of the crisis, but the report was kicked into the long grass and is not due before an unnamed point in 2014, with actual action who knows when after that. Meanwhile the inquiry heard the Government is proposing to decriminalise food labelling violations amid a declining number of public analysts and labs able to carry out food testing and budget cuts to the local authorities responsible for food testing.

UK Secretary of State for Food and Farming Owen Paterson said of the horsemeat scandal: “I think we came out of it very strongly.” On addressing the scandal he said, “Firstly we are bound by the rules of the European market,” although this is a notable departure from his feelings in other areas (Paterson calls Europe’s rules on GM food “medieval” and compares them to “witchcraft”). The annual review of his department showed that fewer than a third of his staff have confidence in managerial decision making and fewer than a quarter think their management have a clear vision of the future. They are not alone.

Some say all this is proof that “Big Retail has government in an armlock”. It sure feels like they have shoppers under the other arm.

On 14 January 2014 the European Parliament passed a motion on food fraud that “deplores” that it has never been an EU enforcement priority and reiterates that “the retail sector has a special responsibility to guarantee the integrity of food products”. With supermarkets claiming innocence and the UK Government playing “hurry up and wait,” maybe the EU can force some action on our behalf.

January 2nd, 2014

Starting the Year Off Right

By Briana Kerensky

With the holiday season finally rolling to a close, it’s time to see if we can make good on our New Year’s resolutions. Getting healthy; spending more time with our families; being more productive at the office; these are all things we promise ourselves when the ball drops.

Here at Food & Water Watch, we’ve made our own resolutions. But as always, we need a little help from you to make sure we can achieve them. Here are some of the urgent priorities we’ll be focusing on early this year that will be crucial to win if we want to protect our essential resources—and our democracy. Read the full article…

December 26th, 2013

Top 13 Reasons to Raise Your Glass to 2013

By Katherine Cirullo

As the year comes to an end, Food & Water Watch has a lot of reasons to celebrate. And the truth is, we owe it all to you! Without the dedication and support of our members, activists and allies, we wouldn’t have been able to accomplish the 40-plus victories we achieved in 2013. Whether you volunteered your Saturday morning with us, signed a petition, wrote a letter to your local elected official, gave a donation, attended a rally, asked questions at a hearing or spread the word on Facebook – you contributed to reaching goals that we could never have accomplished without you. Your enthusiasm about our work – ensuring safe food, clean water and access to common resources now and for generations to come –never ceases to inspire us. We couldn’t be more grateful.


Food & Water Watch Greetings

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In 2013, together with our allies we: Read the full article…

December 23rd, 2013

A Year of Victories

 

Earlier this month, the entire Food & Water Watch staff gathered to map out our work for 2014. We planned to briefly celebrate our victories from 2013, too… but from local fracking bans to protecting our food from arsenic, it took us over an hour just to list them all! 

These victories are all thanks to you, and we made this infographic to show you all you’ve done in 2013.

 Read the full article…

December 17th, 2013

Fighting, and Winning, Against the Status Quo

By Miranda Carter

A few months ago, the FDA announce it would no longer allow most arsenic-based drugs to be used in raising chickens. For years, arsenic was used as a growth-promoting agent that supposedly made the flesh of chickens and turkeys look pinker. But that pink poultry came at a serious cost: arsenic increases the risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, neurological deficits and other health problems through chronic exposure, either in meat and poultry, or in the animal waste that is left behind in the environment. 

Now that there’s a ban, parents across the country no longer have to worry about serving arsenic to their children in their chicken dinners. I can tell you first-hand that it wouldn’t have happened without grassroots organizing.

I was the field organizer for the three-year campaign to end the use of arsenic in chicken feed in Maryland that helped pave the way for this national ban. It really shows how organizing locally is critical to creating national change. For two years, our opponents — companies like Perdue chicken and Pfizer — defeated us. They fought fiercely to maintain the status quo and keep profits as high as possible, even at the expense of public health. So we fought back by organizing. 


Organizing is hard work, but Marylanders were with us. When I told people about our campaign, they were appalled that companies were allowed to use a known poison in our food. In the end, we beat Big Ag and Big Pharma with thousands of phone calls and emails to lawmakers, and hundreds of doors knocked in a key district in Baltimore. Then the FDA issued a national ban on arsenic use. It’s a real testament to the power of grassroots organizing — it couldn’t have happened without concerned citizens taking action.
 

But our work is far from over. Big industry lobbyists are fighting in state capitols and in Washington, D.C. to keep the status quo and evade regulations that protect consumers. They may have money, but we have something they don’t: people. It’ll be a long fight against fierce opponents like Monsanto, Perdue and Cargill, but we know we can win with your support.


In 2014, we will continue working in communities across the country to take on Big Ag. We are fighting to pass more laws to require labeling of genetically engineered (GE) foods, and we will ramp up our work to end the overuse of antibiotics on factory farms, which threatens to render antibiotics ineffective for us when we need them most.

As you know, Food & Water Watch doesn’t take any corporate or government donations — this independence is what allows us to take principled positions. It is one of the reasons I’m so proud to work for this organization. We rely on concerned citizens like you in order to do the work we do — please donate to Food & Water Watch today.

Donate to help build a movement of people fighting for a just and sustainable food system.

December 11th, 2013

New Antibiotic Guidelines, but the Devil’s in the Details

By Sarah Borron


Today the FDA released voluntary guidelines for drug companies and livestock producers, in a long overdue update to the policy antibiotic use in livestock. But as always, the devil is in the details.

For background, livestock producers routinely give livestock low doses of antibiotics in feed in order to promote growth and prevent disease, a practice known as subtherapeutic use. Unfortunately, this practice promotes the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, a growing public health crisis.

FDA’s new guidance requests that pharmaceutical companies change the labels on medications used in feed. The medication label states how the medicine is legally allowed to be used, and the change FDA is requesting is that antibiotics important in human medicine no longer be labeled for growth promotion purposes. 

FDA assured stakeholders in a call today that two major pharmaceutical companies have already agreed to this label change for the drugs they produce. Once the label has been changed, the drug can only be used in feed to “treat, prevent, or control disease” and requires a veterinary prescription for those uses. Currently, most antibiotics sold in livestock feed are available over the counter without veterinary oversight. 

But FDA’s new strategy still isn’t enough. There are two main problems: Read the full article…

December 5th, 2013

ALEC’s Attack on Country of Origin Labels

By Tyler Shannon

The right wing, Koch brothers-backed American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a pro-big business organization that works to gut environmental protection, attack labor rights and pass discriminatory voter identification laws, is now lining up with meatpackers and factory farms to try to prevent consumers from knowing where their food comes from.

ALEC is a reactionary, pro-business group disguised as a nonprofit that writes and lobbies for state legislation and “model bills” that put business interests ahead of the public interest. Its members include numerous large corporations and Republican legislators. Some companies, such as Amazon and Coca Cola, have actually chosen to pull out of ALEC after learning of the sweeping range of its radical legislative agenda. ALEC has been the subject of IRS complaints for lobbying while hiding behind its nonprofit status.

This week at ALEC’s annual policy summit, it is jumping into food and farm policy on the side of giant agribusiness interests, not American farmers and consumers. ALEC will vote on a resolution supporting the elimination of Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) for meat and poultry products. U.S. farmers and consumers overwhelmingly support COOL. Consumers want to know where their food comes from and farmers are proud to sell livestock born and raised in America. Read the full article…

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