food | Food & Water Watch - Part 4
Victory! Cleveland passes resolution against antibiotic misuse on factory farms. more wins »
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Blog Posts: Food

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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May 29th, 2014

What Happens When Your Antibiotics Don’t Work?

Thomas and Nicole

Nicole and Thomas, just after Thomas’ first birthday.

Congress can act now to save antibiotics for people who need them most!

TAKE ACTION

By Briana Kerensky

Antibiotic-resistant infections aren’t something you typically worry about, much less even think about, on a regular basis. But what happens when you get one? How does it change your life? With the growing misuse of antibiotics on factory farms, the concept of antibiotic-resistant infections is on people’s minds more than ever before.

About four years ago, an antibiotic-resistant infection changed the life of Nicole, a mom from Kensington, Maryland. Nicole leads what she jokingly calls a “pretty crunchy” lifestyle. She grows her own organic vegetable garden, sticks to local and organic meat, and limits the amount of processed foods in her pantry. Nicole was thrilled to breastfeed her new son Thomas, but when he was only three-and-a-half weeks old she developed mastitis.

“Sometimes the milk duct can get infected and it’s very painful,” Nicole said. “You’re supposed to work through it and I tried to do some homeopathic things to take care of it, but it got worse and worse. On a scale of 1 to 10, the pain became a 30.”

Nicole received antibiotics from her OB/GYN, but it quickly became apparent that they weren’t working. A team of doctors from different hospitals and offices soon discovered that she had antibiotic-resistant MRSA in her breast. The infection was spreading rapidly, and everyone was concerned that Nicole’s C-Section incision would soon become septic as well. Nicole was stunned by the whole situation. “I felt like I needed Dr. House!”

By far the scariest part of Nicole’s infection was learning that it had spread to her breast milk.

Read the full article…

May 27th, 2014

A Marriage Made in Meat Manufacturing Heaven, Consumer Hell

By Patrick Woodall 

We’ve noted before that almost every Monday brings news of another food company merger announcement, but yesterday’s was especially amazing. Brazil’s monolithic meat monopolist JBS announced it wants to buy sausage and processed pork powerhouse Hillshire Farms for more than $6 billion. Just a few weeks ago, Hillshire announced a takeover bid for Pinnacle Foods. Read the full article…

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May 19th, 2014

Factory Farms are Bad for Your Health

By Katy Kiefer

TAKE THE SURVEY

Every single day, factory farms feed their animals low doses of antibiotics to make them grow faster and prevent disease in filthy, crowded living conditions. In fact, the factory farming industry uses 80 percent of the antibiotics sold in the U.S. And now, the medical community is warning that the medicines we’ve been relying on since the 1940s may no longer work when we need them.

I started working on our grassroots efforts to protect the effectiveness of antibiotics last fall. At first, I was excited about the opportunity to fight the corporate abuse of our food system. But the more I read, and the more people I talked to, I was struck by how deeply personal and serious this issue really is. It’s not just about fixing our food system — it’s about saving lives.

Hearing stories from people like Marian really put this issue into perspective for me. 

Marian is a mother in Seattle who always eats good food, yet after a simple burn on her foot, found herself with a crippling antibiotic-resistant infection that’s made it hard for her to care for her family. The unfortunate reality is that antibiotic-resistant infections can affect anyone, no matter what you eat, where you work or how old you are. Read the full article…

May 13th, 2014

“M” is for Monday and Mega-Mergers

By Patrick Woodall 

Consumer choice at the grocery store eroded yet again yesterday with news of another food company mega-merger. Hillshire Brands (Jimmy Dean sausages, Ball Park hot dogs, Sara Lee frozen desserts and more) announced it planned to buy Pinnacle Foods (Vlasic pickles, Lender’s frozen bagels, Mrs. Paul’s frozen fish and more). It seems that almost every Monday brings new merger announcements, but few match the $6.6 billion in food sales of the proposed Hillshire-Pinnacle mash-up. Read the full article…

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May 12th, 2014

Spinning a Consensus on GMOs

By Tim Schwab 

Journalist Keith Kloor, always a busy beaver advancing the biotech industry’s agenda, linked to Food & Water Watch in a recent blog, portraying us as part of the “GMO Fear Train” that’s going off the tracks. His post centered on New York Times’ writer Mark Bittman’s recent statement that GMOs are “probably harmless,” a stance Food & Water Watch criticized last week as hollow and shortsighted. Read the full article…

May 8th, 2014

Another View on Mark Bittman’s Recent Note to Food Activists

By Wenonah Hauter

For the Presss: High Resolution Image of Wenonah Hauter

Wenonah Hauter, Food & Water Watch Executive Director

I had the pleasure of speaking on a panel Tuesday night with Mark Bittman, who mentioned that his New York Times opinion piece the following day about GMOs would be controversial. On Wednesday morning I looked and saw why: it called out the food movement for focusing too much on organics and GMOs—saying of the latter, “GMOs are probably harmless…. It’s helped accelerate industrial agriculture and its problems and strengthened the positions of unprincipled companies. But the technology itself has not been found to be harmful.” He argues that instead, the movement should focus on making agriculture sustainable and promoting healthier food in general.

But these concepts aren’t mutually exclusive—in fact, GMOs are part and parcel of the industrialization of the food system, as Bittman describes. What’s worse, disparaging the views of people who care about organics and GMOs is disempowering to the tens of thousands of food activists fighting to have a say in their democracy by working to label GMO foods—clearly an important transparency issue. Dissing those who are concerned about pesticides and GMOs distracts from the real debate about the harms of chemicals and untested technologies in our food supply—and the fact that both phenomena stem from the corporate control of our food system and our democracy.

I have great respect for Bittman, and think that for the most part, he’s helped bring about much needed attention to the myriad problems with how we grow, sell and eat food (I look forward to reading his new cookbook highlighting his “flexitarian approach.”) And much of the piece I agree with: we need to talk about sustainability more generally. We need to talk about food marketing to kids and the harms of processed foods. We need to encourage people to eat better and to stay away from processed food. But I don’t agree with setting up these examples as a way to squash debate on organics and GMOs. They are all issues that people who fight for a better food system should address. We should be talking about them all in the narrative about the dysfunctional food system and our vision for the future.

I am baffled by Bittman’s unwitting support for the agrochemical industry. The health effects from agrochemicals are well documented and while EPA sets limits on the amount of each pesticide that can be on each food item, the agency does not limit the number of different pesticides or the synergistic or accumulative effects they may have—especially in children.

What’s more, Bittman disregards the fact that there have been no long-term studies on the human health effects of genetically engineered foods. As Bittman acknowledges, giant agribusiness companies have used GMOs to take control of the production of crops, hiding behind false claims of sustainability. But he does not go on to say that the production of genetically engineered crops requires massive amounts of herbicides that create superweeds, pose risks to human health and threaten ecosystems.

Indeed, none of this seems harmless, or “probably harmless,” to me.

Honestly, while some in the food movement lauded the piece, it left me scratching my head. As someone that the movement looks up to, it’s really disappointing to see Bittman setting up GMOs and organics as things that we shouldn’t care about. We most certainly should fight against untested, unproven genetic experiments that rely on chemical inputs and give corporate food giants increasing control over our food. Debating the details of whether the science itself is imminently harmful is really a red herring—one that the industry is happy to have journalists focused on because it distracts the public from the real fight we’re engaging in for a better food system.

For that, I fear Mark Bittman’s piece is actually, probably, very harmful and I would ask that he reconsider.

Collaboration or Obfuscation?

By Tony Corbo 

Recently, USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) agreed to share information during the investigation of foodborne illness outbreaks. A laudable effort since animal diseases and pathogens that lurk in animal husbandry can often lead to human foodborne illnesses. But this recent announcement is clouded by the revelation that FSIS may have deliberately delayed the release of an audit report that revealed some serious shortcomings in the Brazilian meat safety system. Had that report been publicly released on the date that it had been transmitted to the Brazilian government, on April 16, 2014, it would have provided valuable information for a proposed APHIS rule to green light the importation of fresh beef products from Brazil. The comment period on the APHIS proposed rule ended on April 22, 2014. Apparently, the FSIS audit report was only recently posted on its website and was made public as a result of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA). Read the full article…

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