food | Food & Water Watch - Part 40
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Blog Posts: Food

February 18th, 2011

Why We Need Whistleblowers to Keep Our Food Safe

Great news for consumers: the Food Safety Modernization Act establishes whistleblower protections for the food industry, which can help make our entire food chain safer.

In the food safety world, sometimes it seems like there isn’t much good news, but a conference last week shined an encouraging spotlight on one thing that could avert a lot of foodborne illness before it hits consumers. On Friday, Feb. 11, Food & Water Watch’s Senior Lobbyist Tony Corbo and I participated in the Employee Rights and the Food Safety Modernization Act Conference sponsored by the Government Accountability Project’s Food Integrity Campaign and co-hosted by American University Washington College of Law.

This conference was particularly well-timed since the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) that President Obama signed into law in January establishes for the first time private sector whistleblower protections specifically for the food industry. This is great news for consumers – giving food industry whistleblowers legal protection to speak out against potential problems can help make our entire food chain safer. Read the full article…

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February 16th, 2011

Grading Obama’s Budget Proposal for Food, Water and Fish

President Obama’s 2012 budget proposal is nothing short of disappointing for food and water advocates.

As you all know, it’s budget time in Washington, D.C. As far as the issues that we work on here at Food & Water Watch, the President’s proposed budget for 2012 is nothing short of disappointing and frustrating. The Obama administration has determined that providing the nation with funds for public services that were once considered vital to our population is no longer a priority for the government. Let’s break it down…

Food Safety

The proposed 2012 budget allocates $1.02 billion for USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), $9 million less than 2011. But, according to FSIS’s own report, there will be a need for more inspectors to keep up with increases in food processing in 2012 — the total volume of meat and poultry slaughter will each increase by over 250 million pounds. Even egg production will increase from 4,066 million to 4,074 million pounds. Remember the egg recall last summer? Instead of offering increased funds to FSIS for food safety, the Obama administration decided to offer an increased risk of food contamination by not increasing the number of inspectors in egg processing facilities.

USDA is also responsible for catfish inspections, for which the proposed budget also reduces funding. In 2008, negotiations over the Farm Bill included the creation of a new catfish inspection program, a mandate given to the USDA. The FDA, which only inspects about 2 percent of all imports, was previously responsible for inspection of fish, including catfish. Last year, U.S. catfish farmers united to ask Congress to implement the regulation of catfish at the USDA and demanded tougher inspections. The implementation of this program is now 14 months overdue and, thanks to Obama’s proposed budget, the funding for it has been significantly reduced. Read the full article…

February 11th, 2011

It Takes a Tender State to Pass a Tough Ban

Two bills banning arsenic in poulty were introduced in the Maryland State Legislature.

There is a critical message that has been slowly stewing within the food movement: don’t put things in our food that are potentially dangerous. You would think this would be obvious, but to some it’s not. You would think that we shouldn’t have to fight to keep risky chemicals out of our food, but we do — every day. Thankfully, a victory occurred in Maryland’s state legislature yesterday that keeps this effort moving in the right direction for the Chesapeake Bay State, which is the seventh largest poultry producer.

Maryland State Senator Paul G. Pinsky (D-22) and State Delegate Tom Hucker (D-20) introduced bills banning the use of arsenic in poultry feed. Arsenic has been used by the poultry industry to protect chickens against intestinal disease and to promote growth — though there is little evidence that its use is necessary — but it comes with hidden costs: it threatens human health and the environment. Read the full article…

February 10th, 2011

Food Policy We Can’t Believe In

President Obama, this is food policy we can't believe in.

As the popular face of the Obama administration’s advocacy for healthy, nutritious food, Michelle Obama has conveniently side-stepped several critical consumer food issues like organics, genetically engineered food, fair markets for farmers and ranchers, and local and regional food economies. But, while Mrs. Obama has remained silent on these topics, the actions of the agencies that regulate our food under President Obama speak volumes. And progressives don’t like what they are hearing.

Last year, the FDA began paving the way for approval of genetically engineered (GE) salmon. They pressed on despite the lack of independent research to determine what the health or environmental impacts of such a product would be, and despite concerns from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service about the FDA’s process to “fast track” GE salmon’s approval. The first transgenic animal approved for human consumption, GE salmon would open the floodgates for GE cows and pigs, which biotech companies are waiting in the wings to finally commercialize after years of research and development.

But Americans don’t want it: A 2009 Consumer Reports poll revealed that the majority of consumers would not eat genetically engineered food, while a poll we conducted with Lake Research Partners last year showed that 78 percent of Americans were against the approval of a GE salmon for human consumption.

Now, the USDA has approved the unrestricted growing of GE alfalfa, which could destroy the organic dairy industry and block farmers from the export market since many countries won’t accept GE-contaminated crops. The USDA has also “partially deregulated” GE sugar beets. Soon, many candy bars in America could be produced from sugar grown with Monsanto’s dangerous Roundup Ready herbicide. Read the full article…

February 3rd, 2011

Bacteria-Killing Nanopaper: A Quick Fix with More Risks?

Imagine putting wrapping paper coated with nanotechnology around meat products to kill e-coli bacteria, thus increasing the meat’s shelf life both in the store and in your fridge at home. It may sound a little like science fiction, but this technology could be incorporated into food safety procedures in the near future. But is nanotechnology safe to use in the food industry? Is this really a silver bullet solution to widespread problems in grand-scale food production, or is it another untested, quick fix argument that the food industry will invest in to make us feel safer? Read the full article…

January 28th, 2011

The Great Muffin Escape

Where there would normally be muffins, now there was nothing... just empty counter space.

Now that we’ve had a chance to take in feedback from our readers, volunteers and activists, it’s time to share what happened last week with our Great Muffin Debate.

First off, we did not polish off all of the mini-muffins as we typically would. More than half of the container remained full, though I’m not exactly sure what happened to the remaining muffins after we left for the day. They mysteriously disappeared, never to be seen again. It’s the Great Muffin Escape.

Second, and most important: if someone is feeding you treats every week, it is not necessarily in your best interest to potentially insult them by questioning their treat choices. It would be better to gently encourage them to explore new options. Today is a Friday but, sadly, there were no treats to be found on the counter today.

Perhaps, if we hold our tongues next time and wish real hard, the giver of treats might return to our office. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on methylparabens with us!

-Rich Bindell

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USDA Secretary Chooses Favorite Son By Approving GE Alfalfa

Most alfalfa is grown to be used for feed in the form of hay bales. The use of GE alfalfa will have long-term, far reaching consequences on many aspects of agriculture, putting conventional and organic seed supplies at risk of contamination by GE alfalfa.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack did the deed yesterday — he gave the official nod to the “unrestricted commercial cultivation” of genetically modified alfalfa. Surprised? We shouldn’t be. Vilsack once attributed his seemingly centrist views of agriculture to his love for both of his “sons”: big agribusiness and small farms. “I have two sons and I love them both,” he said. Maybe so. But it’s pretty obvious which one is the golden child: Big Ag. Read the full article…

January 25th, 2011

Obama-Mart: Is the First Lady Choosing the Wrong Partner?

Michelle Obama is right to demand change, but is she asking the wrong people to lead the charge? Photo by Ben Schumin

Michelle Obama’s clarion call to fight against childhood obesity and to promote healthy, affordable food choices for children is one we can all get behind. Her alignment with Walmart, the largest grocery retailer in the U.S., could be viewed as an effort to tackle the problem directly by making positive changes to an already established system of food production and distribution. But look close enough and ask the right questions, and it’s easy to see that Walmart isn’t the solution to the problem; it’s one of the main contributors. Read the full article…

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January 21st, 2011

The Great Muffin Debate

It's amazing what Friday treats can do for your day. Would YOU eat muffins that contain methylparaben?

Perhaps some of you have a nice person in your office that brings bagels or donuts for everyone as a way of saying thanks, or just because they know people tend to love free food and treats. Here at Food & Water Watch, Fridays are treat days, and today we arrived to find containers filled with little muffins placed on the counter for the enjoyment of all — tiny bundles of blueberry and chocolate joy. Normally, that container would be gone in less than 30 minutes. But something happened today that was rather interesting to watch unfold. Read the full article…

January 20th, 2011

Is the USDA Engaged in a Chicken-for-Beef-Swap?

The USDA is under pressure — due to trade negotiations — to approve Chinese chicken imports.

Relations with China figure prominently this week as Peoples Republic of China President Hu Jintao visits the United States to meet with President Obama and members of Congress. I wonder if they’ll talk about food safety. The USDA broke its own food safety rules a while back in an attempt to quickly approve China to export chicken to the U.S. For this reason, Food & Water Watch submitted a Citizen Petition asking the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service to remove China from eligibility to export processed poultry.

This is another instance of food safety taking a back seat to trade negotiations. This particular story has some history. Back in 2003, we had a slight beef problem here in the U.S., when mad cow disease was discovered in Washington State. China reacted by banning U.S. beef imports. In the beef industry’s (and the U.S. government’s trade negotiators’) efforts to overturn this ban, a chicken-for-beef swap has been on the table. The deal: if the U.S. allows Chinese chicken imports, China may start buying U.S. beef again.

Unfortunately, in the rush to approve Chinese chicken, the USDA has made critical mistakes. In 2006, they rushed the approval of a food safety rule, skipped a few steps in the approval process, and failed to submit their work to the USDA Office of Civil Rights for review, all because they wanted to be able to tell the Chinese President that they were moving forward on approving Chinese chicken in time for his visit to the U.S. at that time.

The USDA also led the public to believe that country of origin labeling would allow consumers to avoid poultry from China. But these rules would not apply to Chinese chicken, making it difficult for consumers to identify the products.

Submitting a FOIA request to the USDA revealed these mistakes, but it took close to two years of persistence to have that request fulfilled. What if we hadn’t been diligent?

Food safety in China is suspect at best; their own officials — and even Chinese consumers — point to systemic problems that could be dangerous to American consumers. The USDA’s job is to minimize risk associated with food production and importation, but their actions demonstrate that they are willing to increase risk to accommodate good trade relations.

-Rich Bindell

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