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

November 8th, 2013

Not Cool, Congress

By Jo Miles

Now that this Farm Bill process has started moving again, it’s moving awfully fast.

When we asked you to take action for a better Farm Bill earlier this week, you answered the call. Thank you again for pushing your members of Congress to pass the best Farm Bill they can!

But just now, we’ve learned about a new problem in the Farm Bill. The meat industry is pressuring the Farm Bill conference committee not only to weaken Country of Origin Labeling, but to kill it altogether. And all the debate on the Farm Bill is happening behind closed doors, so there’s a real danger that they could get their way.

Concerned citizens like you fought long and hard to pass this law, guaranteeing your right to know where your food was produced. But international corporations and industry groups like the meat packers hate Country of Origin Labeling requirements, because they’d rather not tell you how far away their products come from, or in how many places their ingredients were produced.

It’s unacceptable to let these companies take away our right to know. This process is moving quickly, so we don’t have a lot of time. Please take action right away to save Country of Origin Labeling! Read the full article…

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November 4th, 2013

The Ongoing Farm Bill Saga

By Jo Miles and Anna Ghosh

Of all the spectacular ways Congress has failed lately, the current Farm Bill is one of the biggest and longest running sagas (we’ve been reporting on this particular farm bill mess since 2011). It’s also the most critical for the people who grow our food, families who struggle to keep food on the table, and of us who care about where our food comes from.

The Farm Bill is a massive law that makes the rules not only for farmers, but for almost all aspects of our food, affecting everything from the price of milk, to subsidies on factory farms, to food stamps for families in need. Congress was supposed to renew this bill back in 2012, but the House and Senate can’t agree on what the new bill should look like, so they’ve just let is expire. Twice. But this tortured process may finally be coming to a close. Like Slate, we’re hopeful that the silver lining to Congress’s dysfunction is that it’s running out of ways to fail.   

The House and Senate both managed to pass a Farm Bill this summer but their versions of the bill are light-years apart. Now a special committee is reconciling those bills but all of Congress needs to feel pressure from concerned citizens to keep the essential protections for farmers, organic standards and everyday people who need access to safe, healthy, affordable food in tact. That’s what the Farm Bill is supposed to be about. It’s supposed to level the playing field for family farmers, so they can compete with Big Agriculture and provide the fresh, local food that’s needed. It’s supposed to protect the safety of our food and the environment from abusive practices by big corporations. And it should make sure that all American families, regardless of their income level, never have to go hungry.

The biggest risk is that the new Farm Bill might gut the food stamp program that millions of low-income Americans rely on to feed their families. But lots of other areas that we care about are at stake, too. It could damage our hard-won victories like Country of Origin Labeling, weaken food safety standards, remove vital rules that protect small farmers from abusive corporations, and more. You can be sure that corporations like Monsanto are pressuring Congress to pass a Farm Bill that’s friendlier to them at the expense of folks trying to know what’s in the food they’re feeding their families. That’s why your voice is so important. Let your Members of Congress know that you want a Farm Bill that protects ordinary Americans, not big corporations.

October 31st, 2013

What’s Really Scary on Halloween

By Jo Miles

When I was a kid, I loved Halloween (okay, honestly, I still do). Like most kids, I loved it for the candy, and I always went for the chocolate: Hershey’s bars, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, and so much more.

But for me, the very best candy was from Hebert’s, the local candy shop that’s been in my hometown in Massachusetts for nearly a century. Their “store” is a big old house, which they call the Candy Mansion, and it was packed wall to wall with every sort of candy, all of it homemade. I remember it seeming like Willy Wonka’s factory when I was a kid; it was larger than life.

Sadly, I won’t find Hebert’s candies where I live now. In fact, you have to make a real effort to find any local candy at Halloween. That’s because over 99 percent of Halloween candy is made by just three mega-companies.

That’s right. For all the types of little, individually wrapped chocolates you see on the shelves at Halloween, 99.4 percent of it is made by just three companies: Hershey, Mars, and Nestlé. Those are your only choices — and that really is scary! Read the full article…

October 29th, 2013

Even the Industry Cannot Stand the Stench

By Tony Corbo

It is pretty rare when the editor of a major meat industry publication and Food & Water Watch can agree on an issue. But I am here to report that we have. After being away from the office for a week, I picked up my mail that had accumulated and started to go through it. Among the pieces in the pile was the October edition of MeatingPlace magazine, a publication that promotes the domestic meat industry. I find the publication useful since it helps me understand viewpoints from the meat industry. The articles are usually very well-written. What caught my attention this month, however, was a very critical editorial entitled, “Plague,” written by MeatingPlace editor Lisa Keefe. Read the full article…

October 25th, 2013

GE Salmon Growing in the Dark in South Dakota

By Tim Schwab         

Working to Ensure Safe and Sustainable SeafoodLast week, the Washington Post reported some unwelcoming news to AquaBounty Technologies, the producers of genetically engineered (GE) salmon: grocery stores are lining up to sign a pledge saying they won’t sell the fish if, or when, it is approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

This action by some of the nation’s largest retailers, including Meijer, HEB, Target and Trader Joe’s, reflects widespread consumer opposition to GE salmon.  But where consumers see potential health concerns, environmental problems and a lot of hype surrounding the benefits of this fish, the state of South Dakota apparently sees dollar signs.

The Post reports the governor saying the state is making “concerted efforts” to bring AquaBounty to South Dakota, and it appears that South Dakota State University (SDSU), the largest public research institution in the state, is helping out.  

The school maintains very close ties to the biotech industry. SDSU President David Chicoine is also a director at Monsanto, which pays a handsome salary, and he owns around 10,000 shares in the company, worth around $1 million. The school’s vice-president and director of research, Kevin Kephart, is an advisor to the South Dakota Biotechnology Association, the state level affiliate of BIO, a biotech lobby group whose members include AquaBounty and which spent around $8 million in 2012 lobbying on issues, including GE salmon. Read the full article…

October 11th, 2013

March Against Monsanto

March Against Monsanto in NYC

By Anna Ghosh

Last May, more than two million people in over 400 cities spanning six continents marched in opposition to the chemical and agribusiness giant Monsanto – read our recap of the event here. Tomorrow, Oct. 12, activists will once again March Against Monsanto, calling for the boycott of genetically engineered (GE) foods and other harmful agro-chemicals.

Food & Water Watch organizers are proud to support activists’ efforts in Manhattan; Hartford, CT; Princeton, NJ; Des Moines, IA; and Albuquerque, NM.  In Florida, we’re supporting marches in St. Petersburg, Tampa, Tallahassee, West Palm Beach and across the state – 19 in all.

In Ohio, we are supporting the Cincinnati march and working with our allies on a call-in day to ask Senator Sherrod Brown to co-sponsor federal GE labeling legislation. 

And a related global movement is also underway – Vandana Shiva’s Fortnight of Action for Seed Freedom. Dr. Shiva calls on people around the world to stand up against unjust seed laws through creative, peaceful actions in the spirit of Gandhi. Find out how to get involved here.

Can’t get to a march? March where you are. But whether or not you’re planning to March Against Monsanto this weekend, arm yourself with the facts. Food & Water Watch reports, fact sheets, blogs, press releases and sharable images can all be found here: http://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/food/genetically-engineered-foods/monsanto/, and more information on GE foods here: http://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/food/genetically-engineered-foods/.

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Food & Water Watch’s Local Coordinators: Warriors on the Front Lines of Washington’s Battle to Label GE Foods

By Julia DeGraw

Washington state is poised to make history by becoming the first state to label genetically engineered (GE) foods. While the opposition in this fight is well funded it only has the support of biotech and chemical companies. We – the Yes on 522 camp – have the support of tens of thousands of Washingtonians who believe they have a right to know what’s in their foods. We will not win this campaign by outspending the opposition but we can win it with people power, which is why we’re excited to introduce you to some of Food & Water Watch’s local coordinators leading the charge to get out the vote and pass the GE food labeling bill (I-522). Read the full article…

Government Shutdown Week 2: The Dysfunction Continues

Food Policy Director Patty Lovera

Food & Water Watch Assistant Director Patty Lovera

By Patty Lovera

As the Food & Water Watch blogger who seems to cover the depressing update beat, it was up to me to talk about what the federal government shutdown means for the food system. And the other food news that barely registered last week – the Farm Bill expired. Again.

First the shutdown. Obviously, the list of impacts of the federal government not being fully operational is a long one.

Food Safety: This is one is getting a lot of coverage, but it’s a mixed bag of who is at work and who isn’t, which has caused some confusion. Ron Nixon helped sort it out in yesterday’s New York Times.

USDA meat and poultry inspectors are on the job but under extremely challenging conditions – like their supervisors and other USDA employees they work with on a daily basis not being available and the stress caused by not knowing when they will get paid or whether or not they can take a sick day. The current salmonella outbreak linked to Foster Farms chicken plants in California started before the government shutdown and reflects several serious flaws in USDA management’s policies on what triggers a recall and when to crack down on plants that show food safety lapses.

Inspections for other foods regulated by the Food and Drug Administration are not happening, except for inspections of imported foods. But before you breathe that sigh of relief, remember that in a normal year, FDA only looks at less than 2 percent of imported food (including seafood).

Another piece of the food safety system that is getting some attention because of the salmonella outbreak is the system for tracking foodborne illnesses. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention works to figure out if illnesses reported to state governments are part of a bigger outbreak that has crossed state lines. CDC plays a key role in the investigations to find the source of what is making people sick. And a lot of the CDC employees who do that were not at work last week. After media coverage of the salmonella outbreak this week, some of them were called back into work, but they are still not at full force.

There are lots of other ways that the shutdown impacts the food system beyond food safety. I’m not going to try to list them all here. But even a partial list shows how many ways agriculture and the food industry rely on some type of government program, and why we need those programs to work well (or this week, at all).

  • Ranchers in South Dakota and other states that were hit with a blizzard that has killed large numbers of cattle can’t get advice or access any USDA programs that might help them, because the USDA’s local offices are closed (they also can’t access any disaster programs that used to exist for farmers because the Farm Bill has expired again, but more on that later).
  • States are calculating how long they will be able to fund the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) nutrition assistance program for low-income mothers and young children without more funding from the federal government.
  • Meat companies that have a new product to sell cannot get their labels approved by USDA (craft beer companies are having the same problem with seasonal beer labels that need to be approved by the Treasury Department).
  • The National Organic Standards Board will not hold its bi-annual meeting at the end of October to vote on what materials are allowed to be used in organic agriculture and food, including a vote that could potentially end the use of an antibiotic called streptomycin in organic apple and pear orchards.
  • Farmers can’t sign up for federal conservation programs  designed to protect environmentally sensitive farmlands.
  • USDA isn’t reporting data about crop yields and other market data used by farmers and ranchers to decide when and where to sell their crops and livestock.

The list goes on and on. And I didn’t even get to the Environmental Protection Agency, which took a huge hit with the vast majority of its employees off the job. But it boils down to the fact that there are a lot of federal programs that make the food system work that are affected by this shutdown and right now most of them are not working. The Republic majority in the House is using food safety as a piece of its negotiating strategy of trying to open the government bit by bit. We’ll see how that strategy plays out. But it’s worth remembering all of the other programs that need to run too.

And almost lost in the craziness of the shutdown was the fact that on October 1, the Farm Bill expired. If that sounds familiar, it’s because we’ve been down this road before. Because I’m a big believer in recycling, I’ll let you read what we had to say when this happened last year here. This time around, drastic things aren’t likely to happen until the end of the year when some of the rules USDA has to follow for pricing commodities like milk will change.

So Congress has some time to finally finish this tortured process. But it’s not clear if there is enough time in the world to bridge the gap between the different bills passed by the House and Senate. The biggest difference is in nutrition programs – the House bill would not only take a huge cut in the funding for SNAP ($40 billion) but would also put the program on a different legislative schedule than the Farm Bill, which is an unprecedented step that could make the program vulnerable to attacks that being part of a bigger Farm Bill package has usually prevented.

There are other differences too, ranging from commodity programs to crop insurance to how catfish are inspected. But the core issue of what kind of nutrition assistance the government provides to low-income families is a huge one that the conference committee will have to figure out.

Or there is scenario B, in which some version of the Farm Bill gets attached to the debt ceiling/re-open the federal government/budget extravaganza that will have to happen eventually. If this sounds familiar too, that’s because the last time a Farm Bill passed at the end of 2012, it was attached to the “fiscal cliff” bill that was the result of a similar showdown in Congress.

So that is probably enough news on the dysfunction in D.C. for now. We will know more about the Farm Bill in coming weeks, including who will be on the conference committee that is supposed to figure out how to finish the process. We’ll tell you then who you need to contact to make sure they make the right choices between the House and Senate versions.

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October 9th, 2013

USDA’s Failure to Stop Contaminated Chicken Goes Far Beyond the Government Shutdown

By Tony Corbo

Over the couple days, several media outlets have reported that the salmonella outbreak that has sickened nearly 300 people in 17 states has become a symbol of the government shutdown or its “worst-case scenario realized.” And while the shutdown has absolutely made things worse (I’ll get to how later), it’s important to realize that this crisis has been brewing for months and its origins go much deeper than this latest episode of House Republicans holding our economy hostage.

At 6:38 p.m. on October 7, USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) issued a “public health alert” announcing that some 278 consumers were sickened eating poultry products that were processed at three different California plants operated by Foster Farms. What makes this foodborne illness outbreak even more troubling is that 42 percent of the consumers got sick enough to be hospitalized – that’s double the normal rate. The pathogen that is causing these illnesses is Salmonella Heidelberg. In the current outbreak, some strains of Salmonella Heidelberg were found to be antibiotic resistant – that is, when physicians tried to treat their patients with antibiotics, the medication did not work. Read the full article…

October 8th, 2013

How to Enjoy a GE-Free Fall

By Briana Kerensky

Is it October already? I feel like just a few days ago I was sipping lemonade at backyard barbecues and trying to find the best way to cook dinner without heating up the kitchen. Now, eschewing iced coffee for lattes and making plans for Thanksgiving, I’ve fallen into fall!

This time of year, we see delicious fall foods replacing summer’s peaches and tomatoes: apple cider, Halloween candy and pumpkin everything, just to name a few. While it’s always fun to find tasty ways to cook and eat these foods, many brands include some extra, genetically engineered (GE) ingredients you may not know about. GE corn, soy, canola and sugar beets appear in countless fall foods, but have not been tested for long-term impacts on human health and environmental safety. What’s more, the Food and Drug Administration does no independent safety testing. Instead, they rely on biased data submitted by biotechnology companies.

And because corporations are not required to label products with GE ingredients, these items could end up in your shopping cart without you even knowing it.

But across the country, concerned citizens are fed up with shopping blind and have been fighting to make GE food labeling the law. 

Read the full article…

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