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 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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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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