food | Food & Water Watch - Part 3
Victory! Cleveland passes resolution against antibiotic misuse on factory farms. more wins »
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Blog Posts: Food

June 19th, 2014

Pollinator Week: Brought To You By…Bayer?

By Genna Reed 

For me, Pollinator Week should be about adding gratuitous amounts of honey to my tea, eating loads of fruits and nuts and enjoying the outdoor company of some of my favorite insects buzzing around in my backyard. For the Pollinator Partnership, an alliance that includes some companies with dubious track records when it comes to the survival of bees, and the masterminds behind this annual celebration of pollinators, the goal is a little less clear. The Pollinator Partnership includes some of the biggest players in the seed and agrichemical industry, including Bayer, Monsanto, Syngenta and trade groups like CropLife America. The organization’s industry partners seem to be using this effort to craft a façade of involvement in the fight to save pollinators while simultaneously making millions from the very insecticides that are linked to serious health problems in honeybees.

The Pollinator Partnership advocates for increasing foraging land for pollinators, educating the public about the importance of pollinators and encouraging people to grow bee-friendly plants in their backyards. Although these are important undertakings, the partnership has so far failed to promote a ban on neonicotinoids, which would significantly help prevent future bee health issues. Yet, despite all of the evidence linking neonicotinoids to declines in bee health, industry representatives from Bayer, Syngenta and CropLife remain in denial, which might have something to do with the $2.45 billion (and growing) seed treatment market of which Bayer and Syngenta share 60 percent. 

Instead of promoting symbolic acts to protect pollinators, we need a tangible effort to protect what are arguably the most important creatures in our food system: 

 The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) should follow the European Union’s lead and ban the use of neonicotinoid insecticides until there is adequate, independent research proving no direct or indirect links to adverse impacts on pollinators. 

 The EPA should reject registrations for insecticide seed treatments that are used as prophylactics and are unnecessary most of the time. 

 The EPA and USDA must work together to ensure that the labels of treated seeds and foliar insecticides adequately communicate the unnecessary pollinator risks to farmers in a clear, pronounced and convincing manner. 

 The EPA and USDA should commence a joint research and education program designed to help farmers practice bee-friendly farming methods, which would eliminate the need for neonicotinoid or other insecticide-treated seeds and would safeguard bees and other pollinators. 

 Take action today and urge your representative to support H.R. 2692, Saving America’s Pollinators Act, which would protect bees and other pollinators by banning major neonicotinoids in the United States.  

June 18th, 2014

You’ve Got Questions About Antibiotic Resistance; We’ve Got Answers

By Sydney Baldwin

Antibiotic-resistant super bugs pose one of the most threatening public health problems.You’ve heard about antibiotic-resistance: that scary scenario when someone is sick with an infection, but the medicine that’s supposed to treat it doesn’t work. Major health organizations around the world warn that antibiotics are quickly losing their effectiveness, and pharmaceutical companies aren’t acting fast enough to create new ones. What’s scary is that, according to our researchers’ analysis of Center for Disease Control and Prevention data, over 20 percent of antibiotic-resistant infections are linked to food.

Even if you don’t eat meat or live near a factory farm, you’re still susceptible. Read on to learn why we’re all at risk to contract an antibiotic-resistant infection. Then tell Congress to stand up for the public, not corporations, by introducing tighter regulations that will help stop the misuse of antibiotics on factory farms.

 1.    Exactly how do factory farms misuse antibiotics?

Factory farms give animals low doses of antibiotics to compensate for overcrowded, filthy conditions that lead to disease.  In fact, 80 percent of the antibiotics sold in the U.S. are used in agriculture, but not necessarily because the animals ingesting them are sick. Unfortunately, that’s making us sick.

This practice, called nontherapeutic use, creates the perfect stew for bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics to thrive and spread. These superbugs – antibiotic-resistant bacteria bred on factory farms – end up in food and in the environment, which puts everyone at risk, regardless of where you live or what you eat. Read the full article…

June 17th, 2014

Superbugs Get Started on Factory Farms

By Jo Miles

You’ve probably heard about the rise of antibiotic-resistant infections: bacteria that have grown increasingly resistant to medicine. It’s a serious threat… yet not many people realize that factory farms are a huge part of the problem.

Check out the comic below to see how factory farms are putting everyone’s health at risk. Then tell your lawmakers to stop the misuse of antibiotics on factory farms.

Comic: Factory Farms Make Me Sick

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June 11th, 2014

Ridiculous Cheese Rule Shows Bad Priorities at FDA

By Wenonah Hauter

Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch

Updated on June 11.

The FDA is currently turning a blind eye to the thousands of pets that have been sickened or killed thanks to pet treats imported from China. It has basically rolled over to the biotech industry in a long and drawn out process over genetically engineered salmon, which if approved, would be the first transgenic animal to enter the food supply—the effects of which have not been studied in humans. It’s done nothing to deal with the 30-year crisis concerning the misuse of antibiotics on factory farms.

But don’t worry—they are on the case when it comes to barring artisanal cheesemakers from using wood in the process of aging cheese. Rather than concentrating on the food safety crisis caused by the giant food processors, they are focusing on the cleanability of equipment used in making artisanal cheese. In the process, the FDA could end the tried and true traditional practices that have been used by cheese makers around the world for centuries.

Yes, that’s the latest head-scratcher from the federal agency led by Michael Taylor, former Monsanto executive and standard-bearer for the industrial food interests at our nation’s leading food safety authority. Cheese makers and people who want a local food economy are rightfully fighting mad. This decision is like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic: when it comes to health threats from food, the FDA has much bigger fish to fry. It could be addressing the major prevailing public health crisis posed by the misuse of antibiotics on factory farms—a public health threat that experts have cautioned against for three decades. Or, it could turn its attention to the serious food safety issues posed by food imports from countries with weak food safety standards—which will become even more problematic if trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership are put into force.

Any rule that promotes processed, industrial food (like Velveeta) over handcrafted foods is not something we should support. Take action now to tell the FDA to get their priorities straight. Their limited resources should be used to address the major food supply safety problems, not going after artisanal food producers.

UPDATE: The FDA may be rethinking their efforts to stop cheese makers from using the methods they’ve perfected over centuries, but we have to keep up the pressure because their traditional ways of making cheese are still under threat. Sign the petition here.

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June 10th, 2014

Why the Federal Government Should Block the Tyson-Hillshire Merger

By Patrick Woodall meat aisle in grocery store

After several weeks of musical merger chairs, the dust finally settled this weekend leaving Tyson Foods the winner in a bidding war for Hillshire Brands. The nation’s biggest meat and poultry company offered one billion dollars more than it offered a week and a half ago and the deal is now worth about $8.5 billion. The other bidder, Pilgrim’s Pride, withdrew its bid, and the original deal for Hillshire to buy food manufacturer Pinnacle Foods will be scrubbed to pave the way for the Tyson takeover after Hillshire pays Pinnacle a $163 million “breakup” feeRead the full article…

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June 9th, 2014

Greenwashing, Pure and Simple: Synbio Soap

By Tim Schwab

It’s not easy being a responsible consumer these days.  You want to avoid GMO foods, but the biotech industry has used its political influence to guarantee that these foods are sold without a label. You want to avoid nano-pesticides in your toilet, but you’re left to contend with the mixed messages from the PR departments of Corporate America. Read the full article…

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June 5th, 2014

100 Years Later, Mergers Still Out of Control

By Patrick Woodall

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the passage of the Clayton Act, a key statute designed to prevent corporations from swelling in size and power though mergers and takeovers. The Clayton Act was one of a series of reforms from the Progressive Era designed to curb the power of corporations over the people. It supplemented the anti-monopoly 1890 Sherman Act, which had failed to stop a merger wave that created the corporate trusts that ran roughshod over consumers, farmers and workers at the turn of the 19th century.

But a merger wave beginning with the stock market boom in the Roaring 1920s through the consolidation during World War II encouraged Congress to strengthen the Clayton Act in 1950. The Senate legislation noted that the goal was “to limit future increases in the level of economic concentration resulting from corporate mergers and acquisitions.”

It is clearly time to dust off the Clayton Act, given the wave of mergers now sweeping the American economy. Between October 2012 and September 2013, companies announced 1,326 mergers worth $815 billion—nearly four mergers worth an average of $2.2 billion a day.

But the antitrust law enforcers at the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) investigated less than four percent of those mergers and challenged less than three percent. The DoJ and FTC initiated enforcement actions against 38 of the mergers, but 29 of them were ultimately approved (with some tinkering around the edges like in the big beer merger or the woefully inadequate US Airways-American Airlines merger settlement), seven of the mergers were abandoned and one case is still pending. Only one of the proposed mergers was blocked outright.

If the antitrust cops would investigate more mergers, they would probably find more problems. In 2013, the DoJ and FTC brought some sort of enforcement action against 81 percent of the mergers they investigated. Although many of the settlements have been disappointing, these merging firms have been forced to divest at least some assets, which makes the merged company slightly smaller.

But most proposed mergers receive almost no examination. Food industry analysts estimate there were more than 300 food and grocery mergers in 2013, but almost all of these got rubber stamped by regulators. Food & Water Watch highlighted a handful of big food deals that got short shrift from the antitrust cops including the ConAgra-Ralcorp food manufacturing merger and the takeover of Smithfield Foods by Shuanghui International, China’s largest meatpacker, which appeared to get no official investigation at all.

 Just since January 1, 2014, DoJ and FTC have approved 360 mergers including at least eleven food company mergers that received no investigations, including:

The Department of Justice recently approved a huge flour mill merger without requiring significant divestitures. Other larger mergers like the Albertsons-Safeway supermarket merger and the Sysco-US Foods foodservice distribution merger are currently under review at the FTC.

A century later, it is clear that the merger-maniacs are running the show and the antitrust regulators are barely making a dent in a wave of mergers that threatens to overwhelm the food and farm sectors of the economy. Consumers, farmers and workers need to band together to prevent a small handful of companies from having complete control of the food chain from seed to supermarket.

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June 4th, 2014

Can Factory Farms Make YOU Sick?

By Briana Kerensky

It’s really easy to believe that factory farms aren’t your problem. If you don’t eat meat, limit yourself to only local and organic meat, or live in a city, it can be tough to draw a connection between yourself and a factory farm. But with the rise in antibiotic-resistant infections, they’re quickly becoming everyone’s problem.

Follow Food & Water Watch’s flowchart and find out: can factory farms make you sick? Click the image below to get started.

When you’re done, take action: Tell Congress to save antibiotics for medicine, NOT factory farms.

Click to go to the full flowchart.

 

GM Crops for Europe – The Deal Nobody Wants

By Eve Mitchell

Say No to GM Feed in EuropeFor those of you who don’t spend hours every day keeping up with the details of EU agriculture politics, I’ll start simple: Last week Europe took a big step toward GM crops. If this bothers you, you need to tell your elected representatives, and you need to do it now.

Here’s the latest: On 28 May, a preparatory meeting agreed that on 12 June the Council will vote on a proposal for so-called “opt outs” on GM crops. There’s every indication the Council will vote in favour.

This is where it gets a little more confusing. Giving countries the right to ban GM crops, as the proposal is often described, sounds like a good thing. It’s not that easy.

The proposal (a leaked version of which is available at the bottom of the page here) is motivated by the desire in some quarters to make it easier for the EU to authorise GM crops and thereby easier to grow them. In our Single Market such an authorisation applies to all 28 Member States.

Countries wishing to “opt out” of approved GM crops step into a complex and legally uncertain process under this proposal. The first (and believe it or not most straight-forward) step is that the country can ask the Commission to ask the GM company’s permission for the country to opt out of the crop in question. This is a shocking assault on democratic decision making, underpinned by a clear conflict of interest for the biotech industry, which one expects will prefer to take its chances that some farmers will go ahead and grow the stuff anyhow, which in the Single Market would be perfectly legal.

If the company declines this request to ban its own products, the next two potential ways for a country to “opt out” of a GM crop are heavily qualified, dripping with phrases like:

  • “There should be the possibility for that Member State to adopt reasoned measures restricting or prohibiting the cultivation of that GMO once authorised” (that doesn’t feel very robust. What does “reasoned” mean?)
  • “On the basis of grounds distinct from those assessed according to the harmonized set of Union rules” (so discrepancies in scientific understanding on safety aren’t allowed.)
  • “When new and objective circumstances justify an adjustment” (wonderfully vague – whose objectivity counts here? Who judges what is justified?)

It is all dreadfully unclear legally, and all options require the acquiescence of the company that has refused to permit the country from opting out in the first place. From what we can see from the leaked documents, any attempt by a country to ban an approved GM crop could wind up in court, and quite possibly a trade war via the WTO and/or other international trade agreements for the whole of the EU – a potent weapon indeed.

Last time pro-GM EU countries tried this in 2012, the Germans told the Council they objected to the breach of the Single Market, and the UK objected to both the breach of the Single Market and the lack of legal clarity, saying we “need to make the system work, not worse.” The UK, “While it is possible to draft text that looks legally sound it is difficult to envisage how a ban could be substantiated and evidenced in practice in a way that is strong enough to withstand a WTO challenge.”

How times have changed.

Complex internal wrangles following a change of Government have pushed Germany to support the proposal. Officially the UK now says, “This proposal should help unblock the dysfunctional EU process for approving GM crops for cultivation.” The new positions of these big hitters suggest the proposal will get the votes it needs to achieve a qualified majority and pass.

Not that the biotech industry is happy with this proposal either. André Goig, Chair of EuropaBio, said, “To renationalise a common policy, based on non-objective grounds, is a negative precedent and contrary to the spirit of the single market.

In a nutshell the political situation is:

So who is this deal for?

The sad irony of this situation is that Europe’s prudent precaution about GM crops appears to be threatened just as our friends in the U.S. are realising they want off the GM treadmill. They are voting for the kind of labels we already have here in the EU, and given everything we know about informed markets rejecting GM foods, those labels could really help tip the balance and ensure only those who actually choose to eat it find it on their plates. The resulting constriction of the market could help knock the GM industry down a peg or two, which would help all of us, including our colleagues in Africa who are being lined up as the next market to crack. Without the profits from unlabelled U.S. sales, the biotech companies might find it a bit harder to roll out their plans.

We’re entering dangerous waters. Whether you live in the U.S. or the EU tell your elected representatives you don’t want GM crops. Remember: If we refuse to put GM food in our kitchens (including the meat, milk and eggs from animals reared on GM feed), supermarkets won’t stock it. If supermarkets won’t stock it, farmers will think twice before planting it. Those of us who follow the details will keep pushing for the meaningful labels most of us want, but your help is indispensable.

May 30th, 2014

Hostile Takeover with a Twist

By Patrick Woodall meat aisle in grocery store

Remember those halcyon days when you could grill a Ball Park hot dog or Jimmy Dean sausage without a Wall Street bidding war breaking out? You know, at last Monday’s Memorial Day picnic? 

Because on Tuesday, Brazilian protein powerhouse JBS/Pilgrims Pride made a $6.4 billion dollar unsolicited, hostile takeover offer for Hillshire Farm, which owns the iconic processed pork brands. Then on Thursday, Tyson Foods upped the ante with a $6.8 billion bid for Hillshire. This battle aims to put a sausage link in the food chain of one of America’s top two meat companies. Both of these offers would require Hillshire to abandon its attempt to buy Pinnacle Foods. Read the full article…

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