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Blog Posts: Food

March 25th, 2015

A Mega-Merger Too Far: Kraft Foods-H.J Heinz Announce Merger

By Patrick Woodall Ketchup_Kid

Do you like ketchup with your mac and cheese? H.J. Heinz and Kraft sure appear to. This morning, processed food powerhouse Kraft Foods and ketchup kingpin H.J. Heinz announced a merger that will create the world’s 5th largest food company. The post-merger company would sell $28 billion worth of food annually and control eight brands with sales over $1 billion and five more brands with sales between $500 million and $1 billion. Read the full article…

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March 24th, 2015

Rep. Slaughter Again Takes on Antibiotics in Factory Farms

By Kate Fried Antibiotics_Pill_Bottle

It’s difficult to pick up a newspaper these days without being reminded of the escalating public health threat posed by super bugs and antibiotic resistance. That’s in part due to the fact that a whopping 80 percent of antibiotics sold in the U.S. are actually used in factory farms to compensate for stressful, filthy, crowded conditions. That’s why last year Food & Water Watch launched its campaign to save antibiotics for medicine, not factory farms.

Since then, we’ve seen some great developments in the movement to keep these vital drugs working for us when we need them most. In February, the city council of Olympia, Washington became the 51st local government to pass a resolution calling for federal action to end the misuse of antibiotics on factory farms. Today, Representative Louise Slaughter (D-NY) stepped up and reintroduced the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA). Read the full article…

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March 18th, 2015

Beware of the Corporate GMO Spin Doctors

By Wenonah Hauter

This piece originally appeared on Food Tank.

BlogThumb_BillNyeYou may have heard that popular scientist Bill Nye has mysteriously revised his outlook on genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Several years ago, the children’s show host advocated for the labeling of genetically modified foods, citing concerns about what GMOs could do to ecosystems. But now his position on the controversial technology has flipped. This development is the latest in a trend spearheaded by agribusiness giants to discredit the GMO labeling movement, and it’s especially hard to disassociate his reversal from this PR blitz since it coincided with Nye’s recent trip to Monsanto’s headquarters.

We’ll never know what actually went down during Nye’s visit, as Tom Philpott at Mother Jones notes, but we do know that Monsanto has poured millions of dollars into public relation efforts to sell the public on GMOs. Because that’s what you do when you are a corporation with deep coffers and a product that the public is wisely skeptical of.

Read the full article…

March 2nd, 2015

The War on Genetically-Modified-Food Critics: Et tu, National Geographic?

By Timothy Wise

GMO_CanolaTimothy A. Wise is at the Global Development and Environment Institute (GDAE) at Tufts University. This piece originally appeared at Food Tank.

Since when is the safety of genetically modified food considered “settled science” on a par with the reality of evolution? That was the question that jumped to mind when I saw the cover of the March 2015 National Geographic and the lead article, “Why Do Many Reasonable People Doubt Science?”

The cover title: “The War on Science.” The image: a movie set of a fake moon landing. Superimposed: a list of irrational battles being waged by “science doubters” against an implied scientific consensus:

“Climate change does not exist.”

“Evolution never happened.”

“The moon landing was faked.”

“Vaccinations can lead to autism.”

“Genetically modified food is evil.” WHAT?

Genetically modified food is evil? First of all, what business does “evil” have in an article about scientific consensus? Sure, some people think GMOs are evil. But isn’t the controversy about whether genetically modified food is safe?

Read the full article…

February 20th, 2015

Food for Thought With Dr. Dennis Keeney

By Kate Fried KeeneyCoverjpg

When many of us think of farms, our minds conjure idyllic images of small operations tended by friendly farmers, animals grazing freely in dewy pastures, rolls of hay that look like giant Shredded Wheats, bright red barns with silos. But with the advent of large-scale industrial farming, that reality is starkly different.

According to Food & Water Watch board member Dr. Dennis Keeney, the first director of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University, “the farm you grew up on, at least for a couple of generations, was named after the family that lived there. It became a sense of place that we really miss, because now agriculture is large corporate farms that have no sense of place. It’s a way of life that is largely gone.” Read the full article…

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February 19th, 2015

An Apple Lover’s GMO Apple Lament

By Genna Reed 

What is it about an apple that makes it such a beloved and culturally important fruit? For some it might be its bright red color, its sweet, juicy crunch, its association with the brisk beginnings of fall or perhaps its fabled ability to ward off visits to doctors’ offices.Apples

When I was growing up, my mom packed a home-sliced apple for me every single day for lunch. Though slicing the apples took more time, my mom got into the habit when braces made biting into the skin of an apple an arduous feat. The apple slices were sometimes a bit browned by lunchtime, but it never deterred me from devouring this healthy snack. Furthermore, I never stopped before biting into the apple slices to think to myself, “Gee, if only these slices could be modified somehow to prevent browning.” Read the full article…

February 13th, 2015

Congress: Don’t Mess With Meat Labels

By Katherine Cirullo

COOL_Labeling_USDA_MeatThis week brought progress for consumers, ranchers and food safety advocates who want to know where their food is produced. The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia has dropped an anti-consumer lawsuit filed by meatpackers and industry groups against the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), that would have denied U.S. shoppers the right to know where the meat they purchase was born, raised and slaughtered. The dismissal marks a major victory in the long history of industry attacks on country of origin labeling (COOL), but the battle to this labeling law isn’t over just yet, as the rule remains vulnerable to the whims of Congress.

The lawsuit, filed in July of 2013 by the American Meat Institute (AMI) et al. (a conglomerate of domestic and international meatpacking and commodity groups) sought to strike-down COOL, a popular meat labeling law that gives consumers basic information about the origin of meat products. The court entertained three rounds of challenges by the industry groups. And those groups lost at every round.

First, in September of 2013, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia Circuit rejected the meatpackers’ request that the USDA stop using an updated version of COOL requirements that gave consumers more precise information about the origin of meat. Then, in March of 2014, a three-judge panel of the court affirmed the lower court’s ruling. And in July, the entire circuit appeals court upheld the legitimacy of USDA’s rules for the popular COOL labels – rejecting the industry’s claim that companies have a First Amendment right to not give consumers basic information about where food comes from. Read the full article…

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January 30th, 2015

Cereal Killer: Post Holdings Takeover of MOM Brands

By Patrick Woodall CerealMerger2BlogThumb_

If you’re like many people, you may like to start your day with a bowl of cereal. Unfortunately, large food corporations are limiting your choices, making it all the more challenging to find healthy, affordable breakfast foods. That’s because right now, a handful of well-known companies like Kellogg and General Mills have a stranglehold on the breakfast cereal aisle, and a new merger announced this week will give consumers even fewer choices.

Read the full article…

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January 27th, 2015

USDA Defends Weak Food Safety System

Food & Water Watch Food Senior Lobbyist Tony Corbo

Food & Water Watch Senior Lobbyist Tony Corbo

By Tony Corbo

Last week, Food & Water Watch sent a letter to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack expressing concern over an indisputable increase in recalls involving imported meat and poultry products. It seems that ever since USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) implemented its new information technology system, the Public Health Information System (PHIS), in May 2012 to track imported food, some meat and poultry imported into the U.S. has actually escaped inspection from FSIS personnel, ultimately entering our food system.

In the wee-hours of Saturday, January 17, FSIS issued press releases revealing that two different shipments of imported meat had been recalled for lack of import inspection. This agency is notorious for issuing recall announcements on late Friday nights when most people are getting ready for their weekends and turning their attention away from work. What made these recall announcements even more suspicious was that they occurred on a three-day holiday weekend. One of the recalls involved nearly 170,000 pounds of imported pork products from Denmark that had somehow escaped port-of-entry inspection – not exactly a quantity that someone could hide under a coat and slip into the country without detection, but somehow it did.

In our letter to Secretary Vilsack, we pointed out that since October 2013, there had been ten recalls involving imported meat products that had failed to receive inspection prior to being released into our food system (an eleventh was announced on the night of January 21). There were only four such recalls during the George W. Bush administration.

In the afternoon of January 21, I participated in a regularly scheduled meeting with other consumer advocacy organizations and top FSIS management officials. At these meetings, we usually receive updates on the implementation of PHIS. Right before this meeting, however, I received an e-mail indicating that the agenda had been altered to include a presentation on how PHIS tracks imported meat and poultry products that escape import inspection. “Wow,” I said to myself. “Someone has raised hell about our letter.”

During the presentation, it became apparent that there were still glitches in the system. The coordination between PHIS and the information technology system used by U.S. Customs and Border Protection was still not working, forcing FSIS to conduct manual reconciliations of what was coming into the country to determine whether it had received inspection. As we were told, the process is “labor intensive.” Sometimes, weeks can go by before anyone realizes that imported meat has entered the country without receiving inspection. So much for automating the process, eh? We were also told that the President had issued an executive order requiring that the two IT systems be completely compatible with one another by 2016 – so we can expect at least another year of these snafus.

After the presentation, I commented that this item was clearly added to the agenda because of our letter, and was gratified that it had caught someone’s attention. I also noted that when the switch was turned on for PHIS to cover imports in May 2012, we were promised that the coordination between FSIS and Customs would be improved, and that import inspections would be conducted more efficiently. It’s obvious that this has not been the case. In fact, it seemed that the process has gotten worse. The agency claims that while the facts presented in our letter were correct, our conclusions were not. According to the agency, the increase in recalls of uninspected meat is a sign of increased transparency. But if that’s the case, it raises a whole new set of questions about how this agency has conducted its business in the past.

After the meeting, I was asked by a top FSIS official to join him in his office to discuss the matter further. He admitted that glitches remained with PHIS and that they were working to improve the system. He reiterated that the agency was trying to be more transparent with import shipments that failed to receive port-of-entry inspection and that the policy had changed in 2009. But if that’s the case, why couldn’t we find any announcements of recalls for imported meat that had bypassed inspection between 2009 and 2013? Why had the recalls started after PHIS was implemented to cover imported meat products? Were there no problems between 2009 and 2013? I received no response.

I have written before of the problems domestic FSIS inspectors have encountered with the $140 million PHIS. We have raised these issues with members of Congress. The New York Times also exposed some of these problems. Now, the same shortcomings are showing up with import inspections. Until this point, FSIS’s import inspection program has been the envy of the world. One hundred percent of imported shipments are to receive at least a cursory inspection, with intensive inspection scheduled for a portion of those. Some imported meat is detained for visual contaminants; others are detained because they fail microbiological testing conducted for pathogens and chemical contaminants. Bypassing import inspection is a big deal. While we are glad the agency is issuing Class I recalls, the most serious type, there have been far too many holes in the system.

In FY 2014, we imported over 3.5 billion pounds of meat and poultry products. The Obama administration is in the midst of negotiating new trade deals with Europe and Asia. If it gets its way, these trade deals will undoubtedly lead to increased meat and poultry imports. If the import surveillance system can’t handle what is currently showing up on our shores, how can the administration assure U.S. consumers that tainted imported meat won’t reach our dinners tables with these new trade agreements? Instead of fast-tracking the ratification of these new agreements, we say slow-track them to ensure that our food safety system can handle it. At the present time, we are of the opinion that it cannot.

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January 22nd, 2015

Crashing the Pro-GMO Party

GMO_Farming_BlogThumbBy Tim Schwab

As the National Research Council (NRC) continues its ongoing investigation into GMOs, the group held a two-day workshop last week to discuss a related issue: how to successfully communicate the science of GMOs to the public. I had hoped that the two-day meeting might be instructive—at the very least to hear the perspectives of the scientists working on this issue—but I also had my doubts.

The organizers of the workshop included staff from the Cornell Alliance for Science, an industry-aligned, pro-GMO advocacy group. The invited panelists included a representative from Monsanto and several pro-biotech academics. The only journalist presenting was Tamar Haspel of the Washington Post, who has not been shy about trumpeting what she sees as the benefits of GMOs. And NRC’s organizing body overseeing the workshop included representatives from Monsanto and Dupont.

Nowhere among all of the invitees and organizers did there appear to be a scientist critical of GMOs—no one who was likely to act as a robust counterpoint or to challenge false assumptions. Though there is a lively scientific debate about GMOs, with many scientists questioning the safety and merits of the technology, the NRC seemed to have excluded these voices. And it is difficult to imagine how the NRC could not have foreseen the impact that such one-sidedness would have on the conversation.

The pro-GMO sentiment in the room was definitely palpable at times, as participants devolved into a conversation that implicitly—and sometimes explicitly—framed the problem at hand as how to convince the public to embrace GMOs or how to challenge GMO opponents. I sat and listened as presenters and panelists mischaracterized GMO opponents as vandalizing labs or threatening and harassing scientists. It was notable that these remarks, which grossly misrepresent GMO critics, including many university scientists, went totally unchallenged. Also notable, I did not hear a single mention of the various abuses of science perpetrated by biotech companies, which censor and restrict unfavorable science—and even engage in attacks on the reputations of scientists pursuing unfavorable research.  Read the full article…

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