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Blog Posts: Food

October 3rd, 2014

Making Big Ag Bigger Is Not “Climate-Smart”

By Genna Reed GMO_Farming_BlogThumb

Combatting climate change was on everyone’s radar recently when the United Nations (UN) Climate Change Summit spurred the White House, governments and food corporations to pledge to make changes to address the biggest environmental concern of our time, specifically with respect to agriculture. Led in part by corporate behemoths like Walmart and McDonald’s, a new project was born out of this summit: the UN’s Global Alliance for “Climate-Smart Agriculture” (CSA). Read the full article…

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September 26th, 2014

Notes from the “Wicked” Weed Summit

By Genna Reed weeds and tractor steering wheel

On September 10, the Weed Science Society of America held its second summit to discuss the so-called “wicked” problem of herbicide resistance in agriculture, hosted by the National Academy of Sciences. In a fitting sequel to the 2012 meeting with the same charge, many of the speakers got close to tackling the true problem at hand, our chemical-intensive paradigm in agriculture, but never quite got there. Perhaps one of the top reasons for this was the make-up of the audience members, 40 percent of which identified themselves as hailing from the agricultural chemical industry, which has an interest in selling more agrochemicals. Only about 5 percent were farmers.

Read the full article…

September 25th, 2014

The Science is Still Out on GMO Moths

By Genna Reed Soy_Field

Like many relatives, vegetables within the cabbage family share a similar trait: they’re prone to invasion from pests. Cornell University is at work to address the problem, but if its current “solution” is any indication, it scientists definitely need to go back to the drawing board. The USDA has made available for comment, the environmental assessment of the field trial of the genetically engineered diamondback moth, cooked up in a lab to supposedly protect cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and their kin from pesky invaders.

Read the full article…

September 23rd, 2014

How your Tax Dollars are Helping Distort the GMO-Labeling Debate

By Tim Schwab

GMO_Farming_BlogThumbThese days, one of the biggest debates around food concerns labeling genetically engineered foods. State-level ballot initiatives and legislative efforts to require labeling of GMOs have sprung up in more than twenty states, with Connecticut, Maine and Vermont already declaring victories for consumers by mandating labeling.

Yet our nation’s taxpayer-funded cooperative extension program, created by Congress 100 years ago with a mission to conduct education and outreach around important agricultural topics, has been largely silent in the raging public debate. If so desired, the USDA and our fifty states could marshal their army of extension officers and specialists to weigh in on GMO labeling. Perhaps wisely, extension has not taken a position.

However, individual extension employees are speaking out, and in the places where extension pops up in the GMO-labeling debate, it’s almost always taking the side of the biotechnology industry, using industry studies and talking points to make their case. Extension specialists from the University of California are speaking out about how GMO labeling will increase the cost of food or will discourage consumers from eating healthy food. Extension officers from Cornell University and the University of Connecticut call consumers uninformed or emotional, then proceed to recite industry spin about GMOs.

Such statements not only evidence a bias toward industry, they also are grossly inaccurate and highly misleading. Let’s examine the argument regarding higher costs associated with GMO labeling, the main talking point of industry-funded lobbying campaigns against labeling efforts. Such claims are undergirded not by independent science, but by industry-funded studies. This spring, the biotechnology industry funded a Cornell University professor to conduct a study that found—surprise—that GMO labeling will increase costs for consumers.

While the University of California’s extension highlights the findings of industry studies, it ignores those funded by GMO-labeling advocates or independent sources, which arrive at different conclusions.

Indeed, the GMO labeling debate sure would sound different if extension asserted itself as an impartial disseminator of information, noting that independent studies often show that labeling GMOs will not substantially increase the price of food for consumers, while those studies funded by industry groups, which have a financial interest in prohibiting labeling, show the opposite.

Or what if extension officers instead noted that sixty-four nations require GMO labeling or that many countries have banned or restricted production of GMOs? They could also mention that there is no scientific consensus on the safety of GMOs, and independent researchers have long complained that industry restricts independent research.

The law that created extension charged it with disseminating “useful and practical” information about agriculture to the public, but extension officers are only telling one side of the story on GMOs, that of industry, which is neither useful, nor practical—nor accurate. And the public debate on this controversial issue has suffered for it.

Want to learn more about the 100-year anniversary of extension? Check out the rest of the series here.

September 17th, 2014

We Knew It! Reuters Confirms Antibiotic Misuse in Poultry Farms 

By Sarah Borron Antibiotics_Pill_Bottle

Food & Water Watch has long worked to stop the nontherapeutic uses of antibiotics that are rampant in the poultry industry. Adding fuel to the fire, Reuters recently released a stunning report further detailing this disturbing phenomenon.

The reporters analyzed industry data usually kept from the public as confidential business information, detailing the drugs put in chicken feed. Just how secret is that information normally kept? Even an FDA veterinarian admitted that the agency doesn’t have “an idea first-hand of what’s going on” with antibiotics on farms, so suffice to say, the revelations in this article are incredibly important. Read the full article…

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September 16th, 2014

Pro-GMO Database: Monsanto is Most Common Funder of GMO Research

By Tim Schwab GMO_Canola

The pro-GMO advocacy group Biofortified announced in late August that the group’s much-hyped GENERA database of GMO research is now available for public review in a trial version. Though the database contains only a fraction of the GMO research available (400 of 1200 studies, according to Biofortified), this hasn’t stopped the group from drawing sweeping conclusions about what the science says. Read the full article…

September 12th, 2014

Where Corporate Agribusiness Meets Cooperative Extension

By Tim Schwab

Agriculture(2)As this series of blogs in recent weeks has shown, cooperative extension has come a long way since its founding in 1914, when county agents diligently reached out to farmers to address their needs and offer impartial advice on best practices. On its centennial anniversary, extension appears to avoid addressing some of agriculture’s most pressing needs, especially the economic challenges farmers face from intense corporate concentration. Elsewhere, cooperative extension acts as an advocate for the biotechnology industry, offering farmers and consumers biased materials and information about the so-called benefits and necessity of GMOs.

Today’s piece considers the explicit ways that extension, which is facing eroding federal support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is reaching out to industry as an active partner and funder of its activities, resulting in projects that aren’t clearly in the public interest. Some of the most egregious examples come from industry support for extension programs about consumer nutrition. Recent highlights include:

The corporate influence also extends to extension programs designed for farmers:

  • The CEO of Tyson Foods donated $3.2 million to endow a professorship at the University of Tennessee that will work on international programs through extension “to find solutions to encourage less-equipped societies to maximize available resources in an effort to provide better nutrition for all of Earth’s inhabitants.”

These examples illustrate the financial ties between industry and extension that could compromise extension’s ability to carry out its role as an impartial source of information and advice to farmers and consumers. Indeed, as this series of blogs has shown, on the most pressing topics of modern agriculture, extension is too often absent or advocating industry positions—and not standing up for farmers and consumers.

On the 100-year anniversary of extension, which follows the 150-year anniversary of our land-grant university system, it’s time that we take a good, hard look at the priorities and mission of our public agriculture infrastructure. Do these public institutions fulfill the role and mission that Congress intended? Do they still serve the public first and foremost?

September 11th, 2014

GM-Uh-Oh? Annie’s Inc. Sells Out to General Mills 

By Patrick Woodall  OrganicsOwnership_WEB

This week, General Mills announced that it will purchase the organic (and “natural”) food company Annie’s, Inc. This is just another in a long line of food company mergers, but it highlights how no matter what foods you love, corporate consolidation is taking over your grocery cart.  Read the full article…

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September 5th, 2014

FDA: Playing Chicken With Our Public Health

The USDA is under pressure — due to trade negotiations — to approve Chinese chicken imports.

By Scott Edwards

Public outcry against irresponsible use of antibiotics in the livestock industry continues to mount as the evidence about its impact on antibiotic resistance accumulates. In response, Perdue recently announced that it was reducing the use of antibiotics in its poultry operations. Perdue’s announcement comes on the heels of several recent developments in the ongoing overuse of these drugs by poultry producers, including a 2012 Food and Drug Administration ban on injecting cephalosporins into chicken eggs and the Agency’s recent announcement of its voluntary strategy to curtail the industry’s use of growth-enhancing antimicrobials.

Not only are the regulatory authorities finally making some moves to counter the abuse, but public sentiment against the use of antibiotics is also reaching a fever pitch. A Consumer Reports food label survey just issued shows that 78 percent of consumers think that reducing antibiotic use in food is “important” or “very important.”

The fact is, people are starting to demand better food choices while pointing out the dire human consequences of irresponsible industry actions, and regulators are being forced to respond; industry’s marketing people are also seeing the writing on the wall. It’s no coincidence that Perdue’s announcement comes just as the company is making a move to become the dominant player in the organic chicken market.

A Perdue spokesperson stated that the company’s voluntary reduction in the use of antibiotics shows that the industry doesn’t need to be regulated to change its ways. If only that were true. One of the big problems with industry’s use of antibiotics is that the FDA does a poor job of tracking the use of these drugs in U.S. meat producers. There are very weak reporting requirements and industry’s admissions of antibiotic use are purposefully murky and undefined. Even Perdue’s official statement leaves it unclear how antibiotics will continue to be used to “treat and control illness in sick flocks.”

Chicken Farm, PoultryBut where Perdue’s “we don’t really need to be regulated” argument really falls apart is when you look at many of the other problems associated with its industrialized meat production system. For example, Perdue’s hundreds of Delmarva factory farms continue to be a significant source of water pollution to a dying Chesapeake Bay, where agriculture remains the largest source of nitrogen and phosphorus discharges. And, while nutrient-caused dead zones continue their annual summer haunt of the Bay, Perdue has spent decades refusing to take any responsibility for the mountains of manure from their own chickens that pile up on the Eastern Shore each spring. The Bay, and the many people who rely on it, simply cannot wait until the company decides that it’s marketable to clean up after itself.

Likewise, with the antibiotic issue, voluntary simply doesn’t cut it; antibiotic abuse by industry is a current crisis and our public health and safety cannot afford to wait until there’s an industry-wide decision to do the right thing. So while we should be throwing Perdue a chicken bone for its marketing decision to reduce antibiotic use, the most important part of Perdue’s announcement is that it shows what the industry has been claiming for years – that it can’t produce meat without the abuse of antibiotics – is false. It’s past time for the FDA to do what we all know is possible, and that is to force the meat industry to eliminate its use of harmful antibiotics though protective, non-voluntary regulation.

 

 

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September 3rd, 2014

Extension: Now Advocating on Behalf of Industry?

By Tim Schwab Farm

As we’ve detailed in recent blogs, this summer marks the 100-year anniversary of Congress’s implementation of “cooperative extension,” tasked with the mission of “…diffusing among the people of the United States useful and practical information on subjects relating to agriculture and home economics…”

During World War II the extension system successfully lead 15 million families to plant victory gardens, which in 1943 produced an almost unbelievable 40 percent of our nation’s fresh vegetables. Extension offices located in every county also acted as crucial vehicles for connecting farmers to new research from our burgeoning, public land-grant-university system, an arrangement that benefited farmers and consumers for decades. Read the full article…

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