September 6th, 2013
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…
August 26th, 2013
By Patty Lovera
Every industry has its go-to PR strategies, the ones they revisit periodically out of habit or when they hit a rough patch in the news. For the biotechnology industry, their old reliable is how genetically engineered crops are going to solve some pressing social problem, like curing disease or ending global hunger. Their favorite example is golden rice. And this weekend, the New York Times ran a piece that rehashed the same old debate, wondering how anyone could possibly be opposed to this miracle crop that will supposedly save poor people around the world from vitamin A deficiency.
Unfortunately, the piece missed the point that sustainable agriculture and peasant farmer advocates have been making for years: that unleashing an unproven, unwanted technology into the food systems of developing countries won’t solve the political issues that create hunger.
We wrote about the questions that remain about whether golden rice can actually do what its supporters claim back in March, when NPR ran a similar piece about the next generation of golden rice. That piece summed it up well:
Development agencies, foundations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and biotech companies are investing in uncertain technological solutions to a problem that needs a more practical solution. Instead, Charles [the author of the NPR piece] should have examined how providing low-income rural families with the capacity to grow crops that provide balanced nutrition is a more effective, practical approach than asking them to spend more money for seeds that may not have better yield or bear more nutritious food. But perhaps he was too mesmerized by the so-called beauty of the golden rice to see past its false promises.
To read the entire blog, click here.
August 20th, 2013
By Tony Corbo
I am supposed to be on vacation this week. I have been pulling weeds from my vegetable garden – not using Round Up or Agent Orange or Napalm. Pulling weeds can be cathartic, but an article that appeared in the August 18, 2013, New York Times entitled, “Shipping Continued After Computer Inspection System Failed at Meat Plants,” pulled me away from my peaceful gardening and prompted me to write this blog. I have known about the dysfunctional computer system featured in this article for quite some time and have held back on railing against it, but this Times article is the last straw. Now I’m going to tell you the rest of the story that the Times left out.
I have known that the Public Health Information System (PHIS) has not worked since USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) turned on the new computer system for its meat and poultry inspectors in April 2011. Billed as an upgrade to the old IT system that inspectors had been using, web-based PHIS would offer the inspectors the ability to record data in the new system even when there was no access to the internet. Read the full article…
August 19th, 2013
By Genna Reed
Pesticide drift is a common occurrence and is the simple result of wind carrying airborne chemicals onto unintended areas, like a neighbor’s farm. The impacts of drift can be extremely profound.
Indiana Public Media dove into the issue in a three-part report (Part I, Part II, Part III) on the risks involved with drift including financial harm from crop yield loss, health impacts associated with pesticide drift exposure and how the pipeline of genetically engineered crops able to withstand spraying with volatile herbicides (like 2,4-D and dicamba) will only worsen the drift problem. Read the full article…
August 16th, 2013
Bananas wrapped in protective plastic at a banana plantation in Costa Rica. Credit: Anna Meyer
By Anna Meyer
While studying in Costa Rica for four months this past spring, I had the opportunity to tour a pineapple plantation and a Dole banana plantation. I was surprised and bemused by what I learned about these two tropical fruits that have become commonplace in American homes.
Pineapples and bananas have a long and political history in Costa Rica and most of Latin America. Much of which is a result of the United Fruit Company’s (known now as Chiquita) grab to gain control of land. They’ve even orchestrated government coups in order to be able to export more fruit north.
Bananas are grown in massive monoculture plantations. A single planting of banana tress consists of hundreds of plants with the exact same genetic makeup; each tree is an identical twin to the one sitting next to it. Read the full article…