food | Food & Water Watch - Part 5
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Blog Posts: Food

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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May 7th, 2014

What’s Beyond GMO Contamination?

By David Sánchez

Read “Organic Farmers Pay the Price for Contamination” in English or Spanish.

Felix is an organic farmer in Spain, the country that hosts 90 percent of genetically modified (GM) crops in Europe. He grows grains, alfalfa and vegetables. His organic maize was contaminated by a GM variety, and therefore he lost the organic certification for his 7.7 hectare farm. He lost €14,756 (US$20,585) as a result of the preventive measures he took to avoid contamination in addition to the direct loss of being forced to sell his harvest in the conventional markets. According to the Spanish law, he has no one to blame, so cannot claim for damages. 

Tom is an organic farmer in the U.S., a country where 90 percent of soy and 93 percent of maize area is planted with GM varieties. He grows maize and is forced to take many measures to prevent contamination: planting buffer strips, delaying planting or performing extra tests, with median annual costs up to US$8,000 (€5,735). One year his maize was contaminated by a GM variety, and the buyer rejected his load, with a median loss in that season of US$4,500 (€3,226). He has no one to blame for the damage either.

The first story was reported by Greenpeace a few years ago. It just shows the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the reality of GM cultivation in Spain. The second could be the story of any of the organic farmers surveyed by Food & Water Watch and OFARM earlier this year, just released in Europe in (available in English and in Spanish).

The stories of organic and GM-free farmers in both countries are extremely similar. They’ve been forced to abandon organic cultivation of crops where there is a GM variety, incur additional labour costs and economic damages, faced financial insecurity and experienced strained relations between neighbours—without any legal protections. Clearly, what the U.S. Government, the European Commission and the industry call “coexistence” simply mean imposing GM crops. 

Nevertheless, there is one important difference: the EU only allows the cultivation of one GM maize variety so far. But the reality of European small-scale agriculture shows that the situations in those countries that allow GM cultivation (Spain, Portugal or the Czech Republic) are already too serious to be ignored. And this is something the European Commission should keep in mind when deciding whether or not to approve a new GM crop, a maize engineered by Pioneer to kill insects and resist herbicides.

We have mounting scientific evidence on the right way to create a food system to achieve sustainability and social justice goals. And the European Commission will have to decide whom do they want to stand for. Will they stand for Felix and the organic farmers, a growing sector that creates employment and puts new energies in rural areas? Or will they stand for Pioneer, Monsanto and Syngenta, who are lobbying hard to get their GM crops approved in Europe? The answer will be coming soon.

Tell the European Food Safety Authority: If it’s dangerous you want less NOT more!

May 2nd, 2014

FSIS’s Fantasy World

By Tony Corbo

Today, officials from USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) are escorting a congressional delegation on tours of two poultry slaughter and processing facilities in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia operated by George’s Chicken. One is a plant that receives traditional inspection with a full complement of USDA inspectors and the other is a pilot plant that has been using the privatized inspection scheme called the HACCP-based Inspection Models Project (HIMP) where most of the on-line inspection is turned over to company employees called “sorters” to perform.

FSIS has conducted dozens of tours at these two plants over the past decade. Over the years, we have heard about the extraordinary preparations that the George’s HIMP plant in Edinburg, Virginia, has undertaken for these “VIP” tours. Walls have been scrubbed and even repainted; floors have been meticulously cleaned; and the speeds of the slaughter lines have been reduced. Two years ago, I told FSIS agency officials that they have conducted so many tours of that plant that the new AAA Tour Book for Virginia lists the Edinburg HIMP plant as a must-see tourist stop and to call FSIS to make reservations for the “Fantasy Tour.”

In the past, whenever congressional staff, White House staff, consumer representatives or other prospective visitors have asked to visit HIMP plants other than the George’s Edinburg facility, FSIS has balked. That is because the Edinburg plant is the so-called “showcase” plant.  It is immaculate on the inside, FSIS can easily control the tour, access to the plant workers is restricted, and no one is able to look at the plant’s production or safety records to see if there have been any past problems. Fortunately, when the Government Accountability Office (GAO) conducted its study of HIMP in 2013, the analysts were able to visit several different HIMP plants and concluded that since the data was lacking, FSIS could not make the claims that poultry slaughtered in HIMP plants was safer than the product that received traditional inspection. Read the full article…

May 1st, 2014

How Industry Steers the Conversation on Pollinator Health

By Genna Reed

Earlier this week, I attended a hearing hosted by the House of Representatives Agriculture Subcommittee on Horticulture, Research, Biotechnology and Foreign Agriculture intended “to review current research and application of management strategies to control pests and diseases of pollinators.” Between the end of 2012 and the end of 2013, U.S. beekeepers lost an average of 45 percent of their colonies, which has threatened not only their livelihoods, but the very existence of one of the world’s most vital pollinators. The decline of bee populations across the country at levels higher than ever before seen is good reason for Congress to take notice, not only for the struggling bees, but also for the health of the broader environment, since bees are considered an indicator species of ecosystem health.

Colony Collapse Disorder is the term given to the disappearing-bee situation for which a single cause has not yet been defined. Members of the subcommittee saw the disorder as a problem caused by a wide variety of things, including varroa mites, disease, diet and nutrition, genetics, loss of habitat, beekeeping management practices and last but not least, “improper use of pesticides,” which “may also play a role.” The varroa mite is indeed a serious pest that should absolutely get some credit for bee losses, but it is also serving as the perfect scapegoat for Congress and agrichemical industry forces to take attention away from the harmful pesticide cocktails widely used in agriculture. As Jeff Pettis, Research Leader of the USDA’s Bee Research Lab in Beltsville, MD, testified, “…even if the varroa mite problem were solved today, this would not by itself solve all of the problems facing honey bees and beekeepers.” The weak language regarding pesticides’ impacts on bee health and the trivialization of the scientific evidence related to the adverse effects of pesticides on bees that was repeated throughout the hearing is a glaring example of how pesticide companies have been instrumental in framing the conversation surrounding bee health. Read the full article…

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