September 13th, 2013
By Michele Merkel
Just in case there was any uncertainty about Maryland’s priorities, they became much clearer this week with an announcement regarding the Maryland Department of Agriculture’s plan to further relieve the chicken industry of its own waste at public’s expense. In a story from September 10, 2013, MDA Secretary “Buddy” Hance was quoted as saying that the state was taking steps to ensure that “no chicken grower will be without a home for his manure.” So despite the rising homeless crisis in Baltimore, where on a single night in 2011 there were over 4,000 men, women and children living on the streets or in City shelters, the state is now talking about implementing plans to ensure that at least chicken manure has a good home to go to.
Secretary Hance’s comments were made following the chicken industry’s uproar over a proposed emergency regulation to better control phosphorus pollution from manure spread on fields on the Eastern Shore by poultry operations. Excess phosphorus is one of the primary reasons why the Chesapeake Bay is dying and, Bay-wide, manure accounts for 37% of the loads of phosphorus to the waterway. Poultry manure makes up half that amount. In Maryland, the poultry industry contributes even a larger share of state loadings of phosphorus to the Bay. Read the full article…
September 11th, 2013
By Michele Merkel
Last week Perdue, the chicken industry giant, launched a new greenwashing effort with a release of its “We Believe in Responsible Food and Agriculture” sustainability platform. The platform covers a range of issues from employee wellness programs to workplace safety to philanthropy. The platform even includes some environmental initiatives, such as installing solar panels and planting oysters. Unfortunately, though, Perdue’s efforts fail to remedy the most unsustainable part of its operations: the hundreds of millions of pounds of untreated waste that its chickens produce on the Eastern Shore of Maryland every year.
Its no easy task putting lipstick on a chicken, since chickens don’t have lips, but Perdue doesn’t get to dress up its inherently unsustainable operation by trying to using inadequate substitutes for cleaning up their mess. It’s way past time for the big Eastern Shore chicken companies, including Perdue, to be held accountable for the environmental impacts of a meat production system from which they profit so richly.
One of the biggest threats to the Chesapeake Bay, and the fishing and recreational communities who rely on it, is phosphorus and nitrogen. These pollutants are choking the life out of the Bay at an alarming rate, with massive dead zones experienced each summer. Down on the Eastern Shore, where Perdue’s operations are concentrated, chickens excrete levels of nitrogen equal to that produced by eight million people—two million more than the entire population of Maryland. Read the full article…
September 10th, 2013
By Briana Kerensky
When I was young, my grandparents owned a bookstore in Philadelphia called “The Village Bookmark.” It was very small, and I’m pretty sure my grandparents sold more lottery tickets than books. But I was a burgeoning bookworm and The Village Bookmark was my favorite place in the world. After my grandfather passed away my mom helped out there. She would bring me along on weekends, and I remember spending entire days hiding in the back office with a pile of books I pulled off the shelves.
My favorite section in The Village Bookmark was the comic book aisle. I loved fairy tales; reading stories about characters that could fly, walk through walls, or sprout Adamantium claws just seemed like a natural extension of that. In particular, I became obsessed with the mutant characters of the X-Men. I imagined I was Storm and could manipulate the weather. I practiced throwing playing cards like Gambit. I wore sunglasses inside to prevent shooting energy beams from my eyes, like Cyclops. My mom wasn’t too happy about that one.
September marks the 50th anniversary of the X-Men, and I can’t help but think about my days in The Village Bookmark office reading those comic books. And I can’t help but think about where I am now, fighting against mutants of another sort. Genetically engineered food initially doesn’t appear as scary or dangerous as Lady Deathstrike or Dark Beast. But it’s certainly still a threat to people and the environment. Herbicide-tolerant GE crops, one of the most common applications of GE technology, are inadvertently creating superweeds, which are impervious to traditional weed killing methods and require hazardous levels of chemicals to fight off. What could possibly sound more like a villain in an X-Men comic book than superweeds? Read the full article…
September 6th, 2013
Former USDA Poultry Inspector Ken Ward.
Today’s blog post is by Ken Ward, a retired USDA poultry inspector with 30 years of experience on packing house floors.
When I was a USDA inspector, we went bird by bird to assure that plants were producing clean, wholesome products. But that won’t be the case if the USDA’s plan to privatize poultry inspection goes forward. I worked with the pilot phase of this plan to privatize the inspection of our poultry, but it could soon be approved for broader use… and it turns the “inspection” of our food into a sham. In plants where they’ve been testing this new process, line speeds have been permitted to run as fast as 200 birds per minute. That’s faster than any human could possibly inspect all those birds.
Privatizing inspection means shifting the actual hands-on inspection of the birds from highly trained, taxpayer-funded, unbiased, Federal employees to plant employees who are not required to have any training at all — and in doing so, the USDA had to change the name of these employees to “sorters” in lieu of inspectors, because what they’re doing is not inspection.
It is a sad state of affairs when our government is more concerned about saving money than it is about people’s health, but that’s what we’ve got here: a money-saving system that makes it impossible to do adequate inspection of our poultry. A properly trained inspector utilizes ALL of their senses to make a decision about the wholesomeness of the bird. I have no idea of how checking carcasses flying by at unregulated speeds of three per second, without any authority to touch the products, turn or do anything else, can be called “inspection.”
Read the full article…
By Sarah Borron
Last week, Food & Water Watch filed a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over the agency’s failure to collect basic information on concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), such as owner name, location, and number and type of animals. There are many problems with EPA’s regulation of industrial livestock facilities, and lack of information stands in the way of addressing pollution from this industry. Today, Food & Water Watch, along with Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement and Environmental Integrity Project, filed a motion to intervene in a lawsuit the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) and the National Pork Producers Council filed against EPA to keep CAFO records private. The industry groups want to prevent EPA from releasing data related to factory farms and their pollution under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
In supporting the case, AFBF president Bob Stallman proclaims, “Farm Bureau is not only standing up for farmers in this case, we are standing up for all citizens, who shouldn’t have their personal information publicly disseminated by their government.” But there’s a difference between a CAFO and a typical private home: tens or hundreds of thousands of livestock and vast quantities of manure. Most private citizens utilize wastewater treatment facilities to manage their waste, but most CAFOs store manure on-site and later apply it to farmland. In areas with many CAFOs, the amount of waste available far exceeds the local need for fertilizer. There’s simply too much waste, and it needs to be better regulated. Read the full article…
September 5th, 2013
Food & Water Watch Food Senior Lobbyist Tony Corbo
By Tony Corbo
Poor Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). Everyone seems to picking on the agency. This week’s U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) analysis is the latest of five stinging audit reports that have been written by federal government watchdog agencies about the poor management practices governing the inspection program at FSIS. Five critical reports in 6 months that cover all three of the major meat commodities that the agency regulates – beef, pork and poultry. Read the full article…
By Rich Bindell
It’s a bit of a strange holiday season coming up for American Jews. For starters, due to the unique timing of the Hebrew and Gregorian calendars, the first night of Chanukah falls right on Thanksgiving. (You’ve heard about the Menurkey, right?) But first, immediately after trying to squeeze the last bits of summer out of Labor Day weekend, and in the middle of dealing with various and sundry back-to-school traditions, we also find ourselves suddenly staring Rosh Hashanah straight in the face, as it arrived awfully early this year.
Last night at sundown, Jewish people around the world began observing the holiday with my favorite tradition—one that honors my minimum level of participation: the dipping of apples in honey. This symbolizes the wish we have for a sweet, healthy and joyous new year for everyone. But dipping my apples last night had me a bit concerned for next year…
By next year, something could be sadly amiss with our annual tradition. Our apples could be genetically engineered and our honey could be somewhat endangered.
The biotech industry has been aggressively pushing for genetically engineered everything lately, and that includes apples. In an effort to reduce the chances of getting a bruised or brown apple, biotech has introduced a GE apple, referred to as the Arctic apple. Read the full article…
August 28th, 2013
By Scott Edwards
Today Food & Water Watch, represented by Columbia University’s School of Law Environmental Law Clinic, filed a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency for abandoning a proposed rule (the 308 Rule) that would have finally given the agency some basic information about one of the nation’s largest ongoing sources of pollution: factory farms, or Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). In October 2011, EPA proposed collecting data to find out basic information about these industrial livestock facilities including where they are located, who owns and operates them, and how many animals they contain. In July 2012, EPA caved to pressure from the livestock industry and decided not to collect the data after all. EPA claims it will use “existing sources” for the data, but as Food & Water Watch’s analysis of internal EPA documents demonstrates, EPA can’t back up that claim. EPA simply can’t regulate CAFOs effectively if they don’t even know how many there are and how they operate. When it comes to factory farms, EPA embraces an “ignorance is bliss” approach that continues to bring anything but bliss to our waterways and the many communities that suffer daily from the many harmful impacts of this highly polluting industry.
EPA acknowledges in the rule itself that “[a]gricultural operations, including CAFOs, now account for a significant share of the remaining water pollution problems in the United States.” And, yet, CAFOs remain exempt from the basic standards of accountability faced by other polluting industries. The kind of information that EPA was supposed to collect with the 308 Rule is the same type of information that is readily available for every other polluting industry in the country – power plants, chemical manufacturers, wastewater treatment facilities. But for the past 40 years, the meat industry has been extremely successful in blocking all attempts to hold these facilities accountable for any of the myriad of environmental and public health harms they cause.
The factory farm industry claims that CAFOs are private residences and that public scrutiny violates operators’ “privacy.” But running any business out of a person’s home—like daycares, for instance—is no excuse for hiding from regulation, especially when it protects society and the communities in which they operate. The meat industry’s plea for farmer privacy is really just a strong-armed end-run to keep the EPA from doing its job—regulating pollution.
How pitiful is EPA’s grasp on the factory farm industry? Read the full article…
August 27th, 2013
By Tim Schwab
Over the last few weeks, the largest corporate meatpackers shocked beef markets by announcing they would no longer accept cattle treated with the widely used drug Zilmax. First Tyson, then Cargill jettisoned the growth-promoter, citing animal health concerns, including cattle arriving at slaughterhouses unable to walk. Approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2006 but banned in China and the EU based on human health concerns, Zilmax is now being voluntarily pulled from the market by its manufacturer, Merck.
But before suspending sales of Zilmax, Merck vigorously defended the drug, citing favorable research by “University experts.” Merck’s public relations campaign fails to mention that some of these experts are paid consultants, whose research projects are funded and even co-authored by makers of Zilmax. Read the full article…
By Eve Mitchell
You think you’ve heard everything. Then you get a surprise.
Back in June a story broke here in the UK that our Government sells the meat from cattle culled for testing positive for bovine tuberculosis to feed people in schools, hospitals and the military. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) does not tell buyers the meat came from TB infected animals, and it turns a tidy profit from the trade (about £10 million/US$15.5 million a year). In a world full of industrial food “yuck factor”, this is more like a “Wow. Really?” factor.
For readers unfamiliar with the emotional tinderbox this sets alight, the UK is gripped in a row over bovine TB that some argue could bring down the government. Badgers are said to spread the disease to cattle and vice versa. Farmers must test their animals regularly for TB, the law requires that all animals that react to the test must be shot, and positive test results affect a farmer’s ability to sell or move remaining cattle before a period of clear test results expires. Defra policy is to pilot two badger culls to see if this reduces TB in cattle – an extraordinary measure given badgers are a protected species. The culls began during the night of 27 August, but controversy
rages over whether it will work and not just spread frightened infectious badgers further afield, what baseline data are being used to determine success, if it is even necessary or economically efficient, why other options like vaccines are not deployed instead and why we are not also viewing this as farmed cattle infecting wild, protected badgers. Read the full article…