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Food | Food & Water Watch - Part 10
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Blog Posts: Food

August 19th, 2013

Pesticide Drift and Real-Life Harms

airplane spraying pesticideBy Genna Reed

Pesticide drift is a common occurrence and is the simple result of wind carrying airborne chemicals onto unintended areas, like a neighbor’s farm. The impacts of drift can be extremely profound.

 Indiana Public Media dove into the issue in a three-part report (Part I, Part II, Part III) on the risks involved with drift including financial harm from crop yield loss, health impacts associated with pesticide drift exposure and how the pipeline of genetically engineered crops able to withstand spraying with volatile herbicides (like 2,4-D and dicamba) will only worsen the drift problem. Read the full article…

August 16th, 2013

Oh you want straight bananas now do you….

Bananas wrapped in protective plastic at a banana plantation in Costa Rica. Credit: Anna Meyer

By Anna Meyer

While studying in Costa Rica for four months this past spring, I had the opportunity to tour a pineapple plantation and a Dole banana plantation. I was surprised and bemused by what I learned about these two tropical fruits that have become commonplace in American homes.

Pineapples and bananas have a long and political history in Costa Rica and most of Latin America. Much of which is a result of the United Fruit Company’s (known now as Chiquita) grab to gain control of land. They’ve even orchestrated government coups in order to be able to export more fruit north. 

Bananas are grown in massive monoculture plantations. A single planting of banana tress consists of hundreds of plants with the exact same genetic makeup; each tree is an identical twin to the one sitting next to it. Read the full article…

August 15th, 2013

Pinnacle Foods Makes a Wish to Buy Wish-Bone

By Lily Boyce

Merger-mania continues in August with a corporate marriage from the middle aisles of the supermarket. This week, Pinnacle Foods announced its plans to purchase Unilever’s Wish-Bone salad dressing business for $580 million. Unilever is shedding some of its processed food lines — they sold Skippy peanut butter to Hormel Foods earlier this year — to focus on its personal care businesses (soaps, scents and shampoos).

The merger highlights how most brands in the supermarket are owned by mega corporations that have a hand in many different types of products. Pinnacle Foods owns a raft of brands that most consumers probably thought were independent companies, like Birds Eye frozen vegetables, Duncan Hines cake mixes, Vlasic pickles, Armour Vienna sausages (Smithfield owns the hot dogs), Lender’s bagels, Celeste frozen pizzas, Van de Kamp’s and Mrs. Paul’s frozen fish and Hungry Man frozen dinners. Who knew?

Read the full article…

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August 5th, 2013

Lies, Damned Lies, and Salmonella Testing At USDA

By Tony Corbo

In the August 4 edition of the Washington Post, investigative reporter Kimberly Kindy unmasked a potential scam that has been going on at USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) regarding its salmonella testing program for poultry products. In her article, various scientists raised questions about the protocol FSIS uses to evaluate the results of the tests it conducts. In large chicken processing facilities, where the line speeds can run in excess of 175 birds per minute, chemical interventions are used to douse the birds as a way to clean off fecal and digestive content materials from the carcasses. These materials are frequently the reservoirs for food borne pathogens such as salmonella and campylobacter, and the chemicals are used to reduce the number of bacteria carried on the bird carcasses. FSIS conducts periodic government sampling and testing of chicken carcasses to evaluate how well the companies are doing in controlling the levels of salmonella and campylobacter.

As Ms. Kindy explained in her article, when FSIS collects its samples, an inspector will take birds off the slaughter line after they’ve gone through the chemical treatments, putting the birds in a plastic bag filled with a solution that collects any remaining pathogens that are on the carcasses. The birds are re-hung on the slaughter line where they are further processed and put into commerce. The plastic bags filled with the solution are sent off to an FSIS lab for analysis. Results are often reported within 24 hours of the lab receiving the sample.  Read the full article…

August 2nd, 2013

When Multinational Food Companies Play Pac-Man

By Tony Corbo

Tony Corbo, Senior Food Lobbyist

Being the old man on the staff, I can still remember when the Atari game of Pac-Man was the rage — the little yellow head being steered on a video screen with a hand control gobbling up little orange circles in a maze. The object of the game was to avoid being eaten up by competing gremlins while making a successful trip through the maze. What is happening with transnational food company acquisitions reminds me of that game as food companies are getting gobbled up and the industry is becoming more and more concentrated, leaving very few players on the field. The latest announcement by a division of Tyson Foods follows this trend and should be of concern to all consumers.

Food & Water Watch has been very critical of the proposed acquisition of Smithfield Foods by the Chinese pork processing giant Shuanghui. That merger is currently under review by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CIFUS), and we have filed extensive comments as to why that acquisition should not proceed.  CIFUS recently announced that it was extending its review of the transaction as congressional opposition has mounted and new questions have emerged about the wisdom of letting this deal proceed.

But two can play this game of cross-national acquisition. On July 31, Cobb-Vantress, a unit of Tyson Foods, announced that it was acquiring a majority stake in the Chinese chicken producer Hubei Tong Xing Agriculture Co. Ltd. Cobb-Vantress said in its news release: “Cobb has become the first primary broiler breeding company to take a majority shareholding position in China for the production and sale of parent stock….” Cobb will control 85% of the new operation in China, with an initial production target of 5 million parent chickens per year.

Tyson has been increasing its business footprint in China. It currently owns or is in joint venture with Chinese firms in three poultry processing facilities in China. The move by Cobb to acquire a breeding operation would be the next step toward further vertical integration of the Tyson operations in China, giving the company more control at every stage of producing chicken. 

In addition to watching the Pac-Man effect sweep into the Chinese market, we’re also interested because Tyson Foods was one of the agribusiness firms that lobbied the Obama Administration and the U.S. Congress in 2009 to remove a congressional ban on the importation of Chinese poultry into the U.S. We have always been fearful that Tysons and other U.S.-based poultry processors will begin off-shoring poultry production to China because of low wages paid to Chinese poultry workers, lax environmental laws, and shoddy enforcement of food safety laws and regulations.  As the numbers of players in the U.S. poultry processing industry continues to shrink due to financial troubles and mergers, it would not be surprising to see U.S. consumers eating Tyson’s chicken imported from China in the not-too-distant future.   

As the game of food company Pac-Man goes international, our elected officials need to hear from us that it’s time for the merger madness to stop.

July 30th, 2013

One Year Later: A Rocket Docket Update

Credit: NASA

By Genna Reed

The USDA really wasn’t kidding when it said it would be speeding up its regulatory process. On July 19, three crops whose petitions were just submitted to USDA within the last year have already been given preliminary determinations of non-regulated status—meaning they are one step closer to approval with only draft environmental assessments prepared.

Before 2011, the approval process for genetically engineered (GE) crops gave the public a better opportunity for review and comment and gave the USDA more time to review the petition and incoming comments at various steps in the process. Now, in just a year since their petitions were introduced, three GE crops have advanced in the new process and could be approved in a matter of months.

The crops in question, and up for comment for 30 days, are Genective’s glyphosate-tolerant corn, Monsanto’s glyphosate-tolerant canola and Monsanto’s glyphosate-tolerant corn. Just what the world needs: three more Roundup Ready crops to spur the resistance of acres and acres of superweeds. Read the full article…

July 25th, 2013

Mergers: Good for Executives, Bad for Consumers

By Tyler Shannon

Foodopoly 2013 accelerated with the second grocery chain merger in under two weeks. Last week, we reported on the Kroger-Harris Teeter merger, and on Monday, Midwestern food retailers and distributors Spartan Stores and Nash Finch announced their proposed $1.3 billion merger. The Michigan-based Spartan and Minnesota-based Nash Finch sell $7.4 billion in groceries from 177 stores and distribution hubs covering 37 states. The new combination would also become the largest food distributer to U.S. military commissaries. Executives of the two companies say that this is just the beginning of an acquisition strategy designed to create the largest food distributor in the U.S.  

Grocery stores claim these mergers lower costs and make the chains more efficient. Unfortunately, little of the purported savings are passed onto consumers through lower prices. Instead, consumers have fewer choices: the big chains push out smaller, regional favorites; consumers often have to travel further to reach the grocery store they prefer; and even the selection of foods in the supermarkets are all choices that are made by the grocery behemoths.

A mountain of academic research has shown that more consolidation increases prices that consumers pay at the checkout aisle. But consumers don’t need ivory towered academics to tell them groceries are pricier under the Foodopoly – they see it every time they go to the grocery store. Read the full article…

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July 16th, 2013

Tomato Irradiation Approval in Australia and New Zealand

By Stephanie Tate

On May 18th, Food Standards Australia New Zealand, better known as FSANZ, approved the use of irradiation on Australian tomatoes and bell peppers to deal with fruit flies. The agency said irradiation is an acceptable way to replace the method of fumigating produce with ozone-depleting chemicals. While that is a worthwhile goal, portraying this as a choice between irradiation and toxic fumigants is too simplistic – neither is acceptable. The effects of irradiated food consumption, especially over the long-term, have not been sufficiently researched, and the continued approval of irradiation for various food items, including meat and shellfish, in both the U.S. and other countries is a worrisome trend. Read the full article…

July 12th, 2013

Not-so-super Supermarket Merger

Food & Water Watch report advises local governments to seek better solutions.By Tyler Shannon

The year of the Foodopoly mega-merger churned forward this week when the second-biggest grocery retailer, Kroger, announced it was buying the Harris-Teeter supermarket chain. The $2.5 billion merger is one of the biggest supermarket super-mergers in ten years and will change the landscape for consumers – and not in a good way. Grocery consolidation limits consumer choices – of stores and of food – and often drives up food prices.

Kroger is already a gigantic grocery retailer, second only to Walmart. Kroger grew during the 1990s by snapping up regional grocery store chains and now it has more than 2,400 stores in 160 metropolitan areas. The chains it bought still fly their old corporate flags, so there are Kroger stores as well as Fred Meyer, Ralphs, Food 4 Less, Smith’s, Fry’s, King Soopers and 10 other names.  

The purchase of Harris-Teeter would grab an established upscale grocery chain with over 200 stores in the southeastern and Mid-Atlantic region. Loyal shoppers might not notice, because Kroger will maintain the Harris-Teeter name, but some hometown Harris-Teeter consumers are worried that the store quality will deteriorate.

Consolidation in the grocery industry has rapidly accelerated in the past few decades driven by mergers and the growth of Walmart. In the 1990s, the top four chains sold about one out of every five bags of groceries, but today the big four retailers control half the market selling every other bag of groceries. Kroger is the biggest supermarket retailer in 27 cities and ranks second in another 56 cities.

Read the full article…

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Victory: FDA Finally Tackles Arsenic in Apple Juice

By Darcey Rakestraw and Anna Ghosh

Image provided by Patrick Geltinger.

Some of the problems with our food system might seem intractable, but today’s news shows that when we put pressure on decision makers, we get results.

According to media reports, the FDA is proposing stricter standards for allowable arsenic levels in our apple juice. Tests commissioned by the Empire State Consumer Project in 2011 showed one juice sample had arsenic levels more than five times higher than what the Environmental Protection Agency would allow in drinking water. We publicized these results to the media and the issue resonated with consumers and health professionals—Dr. Oz even tackled the issue on his show, bringing even more pressure onto the FDA to do something to protect our littlest consumers (since apple juice is a favorite of kids).

We’ve been lobbying for two years for these stricter standards for arsenic levels in apple juice. Now, we need to make sure they are finalized and enforced.

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