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Blog Posts: Food

March 21st, 2014

Corporate Patronage at UCLA

stack of one hundred dollar billsBy Tim Schwab

The University of California school system, as of late, has been no foe to big business, taking millions of dollars from corporations to conduct industry research. So it wasn’t a huge shocker to learn that UC Los Angeles’ law school took $4 million from Big Ag to create the Resnick Program for Food Law and Policy. By Resnick, I mean Stewart and Lynda Resnick, the Beverly Hills billionaire water barons.

Stewart Resnick could be considered one of the nation’s largest corporate farmers and campaign donors, sitting atop a fruit, flower and nut empire that calls itself the “largest farming operation of tree crops in the world.” In addition to being the largest grower and processor of almonds and pistachios in the world, Resnick’s operations also have enormous citrus and pomegranate holdings, the latter of which drives one of his signature products, POM Wonderful brand juice.

Resnick’s farming operation covers 120,000 acres of land in California’s agriculturally rich – but water poor – Central Valley. While other farmers in the region often pray for rain, the Resnicks have played politics to control tens of millions of dollars in available water sources.

With this immense wealth, why do the Resnicks need UCLA on their side? From this UCLA press release, the Resnicks appear to be buying influence: “Through the publication and dissemination of policy briefs and position papers, the program will play a crucial role in shaping policy-making process.”

Our academic institutions – and especially our public schools like UCLA – play a critical role in providing the science and research used to shape policy making. What our food system looks like, to some great extent, is determined by what the experts from our public universities prescribe. And what they prescribe is increasingly a pro-industry stance, derived from the kind of corporate funding like the Resnicks recently provided.

Corporations spend hundreds of millions of dollars funding universities, paying for research, endowing professorships, naming buildings and engaging professors in lucrative consulting gigs. This largess buys friendly scientific reviews of corporate products and practices, which are used to secure favorable regulations from legislators. Favorable research from our public institutions also serves as a kind of stamp of approval that companies can peddle to their customers.

And the Resnicks clearly understand how this game works and use their financial largess to curry favor with public institutions and nonprofit groups that can help their companies. For example, the Resnicks acquired FIJI water in 2004, shipping water from the poor island nation all the way around the world to rich consumers in the West, growing FIJI into the most imported water to the United States. (If you don’t already know why bottled water is bad, read this.) In the face of controversy over this business scheme, Conservation International issued a press release talking about how great FIJI water is for the environment. No surprise, Stewart Resnick sits on the organization’s board.

This level of influence, earned through “philanthropy,” allows the Resnicks – and the Monsantos and Cargills and Tysons – to manipulate and confuse the public discourse to benefit their bottom line. At UCLA, the Resnicks most recent $4 million food policy program only adds to their influence, which also includes a seat on the executive board of UCLA Medical Sciences, the advisory board of the UCLA Anderson School of Management and the advisory board of the Lowell Milken Institute at the law school.

In our 2012 report Public Research, Private Gain, Food & Water Watch lays out the myriad ways that conflicts of interest spring from these industry partnerships and offers a few solutions. This influx of corporate money to our universities is not about philanthropy. It’s about the bottom line.

Field Notes from the Campaign to Label GMOs: Marching Forward

On March 19, 2014, Food & Water Watch and its allies delivered a 2,500-signature petition to New Jersey Senate President Stephen Sweeney to urge him to support GMO labeling legislation. From Left to Right: Katie McCarthy, Jim Wilday, Stephanie Rossi, Jennifer Kolarsick, Steph Compton and Nicole Souza.

By Anna Ghosh

Food & Water Watch has been fighting – and winning – campaigns to defend consumers’ right to know what’s in their food since its inception in 2005. As a result of our campaign, Starbucks committed to make its stores rBGH-free in 2007, and in 2008, we successfully fought in nine states to keep rBGH-Free labels on dairy products. In 2009 we won a campaign to get the federal school lunch program to specifically allow schools to use federal dollars to choose rBGH-Free milk for their students.

Since 2010, we’ve collected more than 150,000 signatures opposing the FDA’s approval on AquaBounty’s GE salmon, and in 2011 and 2012, along with our allies Center for Environmental Health, Center for Food Safety, Sum of Us, Corporate Accountability International and CREDO Action, we collected more than half a million signatures from consumers refusing to purchase genetically engineered (GMO) sweet corn and asking Walmart not to sell the biotech corn. We’ve also been involved in collecting and submitting official comments to oppose dozens of new GMO crops that have been considered since we started in 2005.

Over the past few years, our focus has been on the fight to label GMOs. Despite the narrow defeats of Prop 37 in California in 2012 and I-522 in Washington last year, momentum around GMO labels has never been stronger. Food & Water Watch is on the ground in over 12 states, joining with national, regional, and local allies to make GMO food labels the law once and for all. Here are the latest updates from our field team: Read the full article…

March 20th, 2014

USDA: Start Telling the Truth About Inspector Shortages

By Tony Corbo

Tony Corbo, Senior Food Lobbyist

Yesterday afternoon, USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) issued a blog written Aaron Lavallee in the public affairs office, who challenged assertions made by Food & Water Watch (that were subsequently printed in the New York Times last month) that inspector shortages were leading to problems for the agency’s inspection program.

On February 10, Food & Water Watch sent a letter to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack expressing concerns that inspector shortages were causing severe strains on the inspection program, pointing out that these shortages seemed to be related to the policy that FSIS adopted in 2012 to hire “temporary Inspectors” instead of permanent inspectors in anticipation of implementing a privatized poultry inspection system that would lead to the elimination of 800 permanent inspector positions. The temporary inspector hiring program has been less than successful as the agency has not been able to attract enough applicants to take the jobs. So, with open permanent inspector positions remaining vacant and no temporary inspectors to fill them, inspector shortages have developed all across the country.

Read the full article…

March 14th, 2014

Three Big Holes in New GMO Report, and a Bigger Question

By Eve Mitchell

Today’s report trumpeting the need to force more food with GMO’s into the UK is as flawed as it is predictable. Here’s my handy guide to spotting the problems:

1. GM* researchers want more GM
Now there’s a surprise. GM cheerleaders in the front line today are Jonathan Jones (whose lab receives millions from the biotech industry), David Baulcombe (a “consultant for Syngenta”), Jim Dunwell (a founder of GM lobby group CropGen who claimed on the radio this morning to have “no stake” in the technology), and a handful of others dependent on the GM bandwagon for their livelihood, many of whom hold (or are part of outfits that own) patents on GM technologies. Shouldn’t those advising the Government be a bit more independent, or at least a little more distant from the profits? Read the full article…

March 11th, 2014

How the FDA’s Voluntary Guidance Fails to Curb Antibiotic Misuse in Livestock

Click to enlarge.

By Sarah Borron

Last December, FDA released voluntary guidance to industry (GFI #213) that would limit certain nontherapeutic uses of what the agency deems “medically important” antibiotics in livestock and put those drugs under the guidance of a veterinarian. Currently, many antibiotics are available for livestock producers to use for nontherapeutic reasons and without veterinary oversight. FDA’s action to curb these uses is long overdue.

But that guidance comes with a catch. It only limits the use of medically important antibiotics for promoting faster growth in livestock. Giving livestock low doses of antibiotics necessary to treat human illnesses to make the animals grow faster – all the while creating antibiotic-resistant bacteria in those livestock – is a pretty terrible use of an important resource. However, the FDA guidance still permits low doses of antibiotics to be given to healthy animals as disease prevention. Whether for growth promotion or disease prevention, the result is the same: this practice is creating more bacteria resistant to antibiotics that we need to protect human health.

Food &Water Watch analyzed FDA’s list of over 400 antibiotic drug products affected by GFI #213 to find out just how much overlap exists between growth promotion uses, which are being limited, and prevention uses, which remain unchecked. Each drug has a list of “label indications,” or reasons the drug can be used in certain conditions. Using FDA’s search function and also reading each label, we identified overlapping indications that demonstrate significant loopholes in GFI #213. Read the full article…

March 10th, 2014

On the Brink of Irrelevancy: Is the Honeymoon Over for FDA and AquaBounty?

By Tim Schwab

AquaBounty GE Salmon and the FDAIn 2010, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) put forward a shockingly favorable regulatory review on AquaBounty Technologies’ genetically engineered salmon, offering preliminary determinations that the fish are healthy, of little threat to the environment and safe to eat.  

The scientific community skewered the agency’s far-reaching, short-sighted determinations, while hundreds of thousands of consumers stated clearly they wouldn’t eat the slow-growing, sickly, escape-prone fish.

Here we are in 2014 and, as the world turns, it increasingly turns against AquaBounty’s GMO salmon. Many of the nation’s largest conventional grocers—including Kroger, Safety, Target, HEB, Aldi, Giant Eagle, Meijer, Marsh, and dozens of others—have said they aren’t planning on selling AquaBounty’s GMO salmon even if the FDA does approve it.   

This means that even if FDA were to approve GMO salmon today, by the time the first fillets hit the stores (AquaBounty says 2016), there very well may not be a single retail outlet willing to stock GMO salmon. And polls show again and again and again that consumers will avoid GMO fish if they can, though that depends on whether FDA requires labeling.  Read the full article…

Stop the U.S. Approval of “Agent Orange” Crops

Tell the USDA you care about your food.

What the U.S. does matters to our food. Protect what we eat from Agent Orange.

URGENT: March 11 Deadline for Comments: This is our last chance to stop the U.S. approval of “Agent Orange” crops. Act now.

You know that nasty chemical we heard about from the Vietnam War — Agent Orange? The one that caused so many health problems and birth defects?

If Dow has its way, one of the harsh chemicals in Agent Orange will be sprayed in massive amounts all over the U.S. and on crops bound for Europe.

Dow, a chemical and biotech competitor to Monsanto, has genetically engineered corn and soybeans so that the plants can withstand the application of the chemical 2,4-D, half of the notorious Agent Orange chemical cocktail.

Unfortunately, this nasty chemical is already being used in industrial agriculture, despite its proven detriment to health and the environment. Studies show that 2,4-D messes with your hormones, damages your nervous system, lowers your immunity to illnesses and causes reproductive problems. If these GMO corn and soy crops are approved, more and more agriculture operations in the U.S. will use 2,4-D. This will cause up to a 25-fold increase in the amount sprayed on fields, increasing our exposure and creating more pollution that harms people and animals.

Read the full article…

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March 7th, 2014

Supermarket Stranglehold: Albertsons Takeover Bid for Safeway

Food & Water Watch report advises local governments to seek better solutions.By Patrick Woodall

This week, the Albertsons supermarket chain announced it was buying the Safeway supermarket chain, which would be one of the largest grocery store mergers in 25 years. The combined chains would be the third largest grocery retailer (after Walmart and Kroger) with more than $58 billion in sales from more than 2,400 stores all across the United States. Albertsons operates the Acme, Jewel-Osco, Shaw’s, Starmarket, United Supermarket and Amigo stores as well as the namesake Albertsons stores. Safeway stores include Vons, Pavilions, Tom Thumb and Randalls.

The $9.4 billion merger is being financed by Albertsons’ owner, the private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management. You know the company is neighborly because it is named after the mythological three-headed dog that guards the gates of hell. The supermarkets claim the merger is needed to cope with both big box stores like Walmart as well as new grocery delivery companies, including internet grocers. The companies also claim the merger will save consumers money and improve the quality and freshness of the products the stores offer. This seems unlikely. Any cost savings from the merger are more likely to be pocketed by Cerberus than passed onto consumers in the form of lower prices.

The Federal Trade Commission should block this merger. The combined supermarket would operate in more than 100 metropolitan areas and overlap in more than 40 according to a preliminary Food & Water Watch analysis. In some places, the merger will join two of the top local supermarket chains, which means that consumers will have fewer store choices and face rising prices as the supermarket stranglehold tightens further. Read the full article…

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March 6th, 2014

3,000 Cows Living Next Door

By Eleanor Bravo

New Mexico is home to a billion-dollar dairy industry. Residents in the small town of Anthony, New Mexico, remember living there when just a few cows moved in. Now they are living next door to thousands of animals cramped in miserable quarters. The factory farm’s practice of maintaining unlined manure lagoons then spraying the mixture in the air, causes terrible distress in the neighborhood. Thousands of animals are crammed into close quarters in temperatures often at or above 100 degrees, Fahrenheit, which of course brings massive swarms of flies. The stench can be unbearable.

With huge influence over lawmakers, the dairy industry in New Mexico is protected by what is called the “Right to Farm” Act. In the recent legislative session, there was an attempt to exempt agricultural facilities from prosecution for nuisance such as flies, smell and water contamination. The proposed amendment came on the heels of a number of nuisance suits that were filed by multiple residents neighboring big dairy farms this past year.

Now why would a dairy industry come to a desert state with little water and practically no grass in the first place?  The answer: cheap labor and vast tracts of unused land. New Mexico has the highest income inequality in the nation. By 2010, the richest 20 percent of households in New Mexico made nearly ten times more than the state’s poorest 20 percent. These facilities are disproportionately located in low-income and minority areas. As you can imagine, the smell, noise and nuisances like flies that result from large factory farm dairies are terrible. Nuisance suits are virtually the only recourse New Mexicans have to protect their homes and property when a factory farm threatens quality of life. Read the full article…

March 5th, 2014

Wenonah Hauter Challenges You to Take Action on the Filthy Chicken Rule

Recognize These Folks? They Are Funny. Factory Farms Are Not

Food & Water Watch Executive Director and Foodopoly author Wenonah Hauter recently attended her third TEDxManhattan to, as she put it, “talk about one of the bummers.” Again.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is pushing the “Modernization of Poultry Slaughter Inspection” rule, more aptly called the “Filthy Chicken Rule,” and it impacts all of us, whether we eat chicken or not. If implemented, it would:

Read the full article…

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