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Victory! Farm Bureau case challenging EPA’s right to share factory farm data dismissed. more wins »
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Blog Posts: Food

August 12th, 2014

A “Science-based” Look at GMOs

By Tim Schwab

As the National Research Council (NRC) sets out on an 18-month, “science-based” study into the safety, benefits and drawbacks of GMOs, it will be interesting to see which science—and which scientists—the NRC will be consulting. 

The initial indications aren’t great. While the NRC boasts that it is aiming to “provide an independent, objective assessment of what has been learned since GE crops were introduced,” several of the scientific experts it has selected to direct the new report have substantial ties to industry—and are clearly in a position to advocate on behalf of biotech companies. 

The reason this matters is because the biotech industry has long had an outsized role in shaping the science surrounding GMOs, with tactics including funding and authoring countless studies, censoring or restricting independent research and attacking unfavorable findings. The result of this influence is a body of scientific literature with substantial industry bias and major gaps—especially in safety research. Industry also uses its unparalleled financial resources to bulldoze the public debate on GMOs, including spending hundreds of millions of dollars lobbying Congress. Do biotech companies really need another platform to advocate their pro-GMO stance? Read the full article…

August 4th, 2014

Setting the Record Straight on the Obama Administration’s Privatized Poultry Inspection System

By Tony Corbo

Tony Corbo, Senior Food Lobbyist

 Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack held a press conference last week to announce the final rule for the “New Poultry Inspection System” (NPIS). I listened in, and noted that he made certain statements that were not completely accurate. Some of the written materials provided to the press did not tell the whole story either. Unfortunately, this is par for the course, regardless which party controls the executive branch. That’s because the poultry industry influences much of the policies that come out of the USDA, and the powers-that-be don’t even try to disguise this fact. 

Let’s take a closer look at what this new inspection system will actually do: 

At the present time, chicken slaughter plants that are subject to conventional FSIS inspection can run their line speeds to 140 birds per minute (bpm). Current regulations limit what each USDA inspector can inspect to 35 bpm. So, if a plant were operating its slaughter lines at 70 bpm, there would be two FSIS inspectors stationed on that line – with each inspector looking at every other bird. If a plant were running its lines at the maximum 140 bpm, there would be four FSIS inspectors stationed on each line – with each inspector inspecting every fourth bird. In a young turkey plant, the current maximum line speed is 52 bpm, with each USDA inspector looking at a maximum of 26 bpm. Read the full article…

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July 24th, 2014

Q&A With “Resistance” Filmmaker Michael Graziano

By Katy Kiefer

“Resistance” filmmaker Michael Graziano and his daughter, Tess

Michael Graziano, the filmmaker behind Resistance, a ground-breaking new film on the growing threat of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, took time to answer some of our burning questions. Like many of us, Graziano isn’t a scientist or a doctor, but decided that this was a story the public urgently needed to hear. Keep reading to learn more about his experience making the film and what you can do to help curb antibiotic resistance. 

Q: What made you decide to tackle the problem of antibiotic resistance?

A: Our previous film Lunch Line was about the history and politics of the National School Lunch Program. In the process of making and touring that film we learned a lot about public health and became acquainted with a number of agriculture and public health advocacy groups. Through that work we started hearing about MRSA (resistant staph) infections in school locker rooms, day care centers and the like. At the same time we also started hearing about the overuse of antibiotics on farms. I decided to look more into the issue and was shocked by what I learned. I thought the problem deserved a closer, and more generally accessible examination than I could find at the time.   

Q: What was the biggest or most surprising thing you learned in the process of making the film?

A: There are a few. One is that there are basically no new antibiotics in the pharmaceutical pipeline, and even if a new compound were discovered today it could easily take 10 years and $1 billion for that compound to become a clinically useful medicine. To make matters worse, the large investment in time and money required for antibiotic development, along with some other factors addressed in the film, has caused many pharma companies to shutter their antibiotic development units so there are now only a small handful of companies actually doing this critical research.   Read the full article…

July 18th, 2014

Iowa Goes Bananas for GMOs

By Genna Reed 

Iowa happens to have planted more genetically engineered corn and soybeans than any other state this year. In part because of this agricultural trend, Iowa’s land-grant university, Iowa State University, can’t help but remain loyal to the industry that sustains much of its agricultural research funding. 

If you’ve read Food & Water Watch’s “Public Research, Private Gain”, then it’s probably not a total surprise to you that there’s a very close tie between Iowa State University and the genetically engineered seed business. Iowa State University has its own Monsanto Student Services Wing; in recent years its $30 million plant sciences institute has been directed by representatives of Monsanto, Pioneer Hi-Bred and Syngenta; and between 2006 and 2010, the university’s agronomy department took $19.5 million in research grants from private-sector donors (including the Iowa Soybean Association, Dow and Monsanto), representing close to half of its grant funding.

As far as extracurricular relationships, one Iowa State University representative has been parroting industry talking points in an effort to discredit the growing GMO labeling movement. Ruth MacDonald, a food science professor, was quoted in a Des Moines Register in a recent article, along with the Iowa Farm Bureau, discussing the supposed time-tested track record of all GMOs and the complications and costs that would come with mandatory GMO labeling. The article went on to describe the results from the Iowa Farm Bureau Food & Farm Index survey, which asked consumers about various labels, including GMO labels. The survey questions displayed in the article were convoluted, touted the proclaimed benefits of GMO foods and were clearly crafted to garner the desired results for the Farm Bureau: that consumers don’t want GMO labeling.

Iowa State’s symbiotic relationship with the biotech industry might be why it has decided to take on the first-ever human feeding trials of a banana, genetically engineered to have elevated levels of vitamin A. The ultimate goal of the project, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, will be to grow these bananas in Uganda by 2020 to fight Vitamin A deficiency, much like the notorious Golden Rice project. NPR recently reported that Iowa State University’s food science department will host the feeding trial, and will pay volunteers $900 each to eat the vitamin-A-enriched, orange hued bananas. 

Much like the Golden Rice feeding trials, the results will be inconsequential because measuring Vitamin A expression in healthy, adult volunteers will not adequately reveal whether these bananas will raise vitamin levels in the target population: Ugandan children. And, as NPR reported, “for the banana to have any impact at all, governments would have to approve it, farmers would have to grow it, and ordinary people who have to be persuaded to eat orange-tinted bananas.” Once again, development agencies, foundations, and universities are investing in uncertain technological solutions to a problem that has a more practical solution: providing low-income, rural families with the capacity to grow crops that provide balanced nutrition.

Despite what Iowa State University and the Iowa Farm Bureau might think about the need for GMO labels, one thing is for sure: consumers want the right to know what’s in their food and will continue to fight for mandatory GMO labeling. Whether you’re from Iowa or anywhere else, click here to tell your representative to support mandatory GMO labels.

 

 

July 11th, 2014

Six Books Our Staff are Reading This Summer

By Elizabeth Walek

Nothing beats lounging by the pool with a really great book! Summer is a perfect time to get caught up on reading that you’ve been putting off for weeks. Plus, books are a great way to learn more about the issues Food & Water Watch handles every day. I asked around our offices to find out which socially, politically and environmentally conscious books our staff love lately. Check out our top picks, and share your own summer reading recommendations in the comments!

Read the full article…

July 3rd, 2014

FDA’s Six Month Update Shows There’s Still More to Do

By Sarah Borron 

As of this month, twelve U.S. communities have taken action to urge Congress to ban the misuse of antibiotics on factory farms. While many are urban centers that will probably never see an industrial farm, these cities and towns are standing in solidarity, shedding important new light on a growing problem — the fact that misuse of antibiotics on factory farms can make us sick. 

It was therefore extremely timely that this week, the FDA released a six-month update on the progress of its voluntary efforts to change how antibiotics are used to raise livestock. But despite the agency’s upbeat tone, not much has actually changed. 

Read the full article…

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June 27th, 2014

Cities Come Together to Save Antibiotics

 

By Katy Kiefer

Volunteers in Alexandria, VA, wear red to show their support. The resolution to protect antibiotics passed unanimously on Tuesday

A few months back, we launched our national effort to save antibiotics from factory farm abuse. Despite efforts by Big Ag and pharmaceuticals to block regulations, there’s no debate here — factory farms are irresponsibly squandering antibiotics and cities across the country are calling on Congress to act.

On Tuesday, Alexandria, Va. and Carrboro, N.C. (and on Wednesday, Chicago, Ill.) joined eight other cities in passing city council resolutions calling for federal action to ban factory farms from using antibiotics on healthy animals, bringing the national total to 11 resolutions.

Before antibiotics, simple infections could be deadly. Now, the medical community is warning that these life-saving medicines may no longer work when we need them, and this is in large part due to irresponsible use on factory farms — feeding daily, low doses of antibiotics to healthy animals to boost profits and keep animals from getting sick in filthy living conditions. That’s not the way antibiotics should be used, and the antibiotic-resistant bacteria being bred by the meat industry are making us sick. Read the full article…

June 19th, 2014

Pollinator Week: Brought To You By…Bayer?

By Genna Reed 

For me, Pollinator Week should be about adding gratuitous amounts of honey to my tea, eating loads of fruits and nuts and enjoying the outdoor company of some of my favorite insects buzzing around in my backyard. For the Pollinator Partnership, an alliance that includes some companies with dubious track records when it comes to the survival of bees, and the masterminds behind this annual celebration of pollinators, the goal is a little less clear. The Pollinator Partnership includes some of the biggest players in the seed and agrichemical industry, including Bayer, Monsanto, Syngenta and trade groups like CropLife America. The organization’s industry partners seem to be using this effort to craft a façade of involvement in the fight to save pollinators while simultaneously making millions from the very insecticides that are linked to serious health problems in honeybees.

The Pollinator Partnership advocates for increasing foraging land for pollinators, educating the public about the importance of pollinators and encouraging people to grow bee-friendly plants in their backyards. Although these are important undertakings, the partnership has so far failed to promote a ban on neonicotinoids, which would significantly help prevent future bee health issues. Yet, despite all of the evidence linking neonicotinoids to declines in bee health, industry representatives from Bayer, Syngenta and CropLife remain in denial, which might have something to do with the $2.45 billion (and growing) seed treatment market of which Bayer and Syngenta share 60 percent. 

Instead of promoting symbolic acts to protect pollinators, we need a tangible effort to protect what are arguably the most important creatures in our food system: 

 The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) should follow the European Union’s lead and ban the use of neonicotinoid insecticides until there is adequate, independent research proving no direct or indirect links to adverse impacts on pollinators. 

 The EPA should reject registrations for insecticide seed treatments that are used as prophylactics and are unnecessary most of the time. 

 The EPA and USDA must work together to ensure that the labels of treated seeds and foliar insecticides adequately communicate the unnecessary pollinator risks to farmers in a clear, pronounced and convincing manner. 

 The EPA and USDA should commence a joint research and education program designed to help farmers practice bee-friendly farming methods, which would eliminate the need for neonicotinoid or other insecticide-treated seeds and would safeguard bees and other pollinators. 

 Take action today and urge your representative to support H.R. 2692, Saving America’s Pollinators Act, which would protect bees and other pollinators by banning major neonicotinoids in the United States.  

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June 18th, 2014

You’ve Got Questions About Antibiotic Resistance; We’ve Got Answers

By Sydney Baldwin

Antibiotic-resistant super bugs pose one of the most threatening public health problems.You’ve heard about antibiotic-resistance: that scary scenario when someone is sick with an infection, but the medicine that’s supposed to treat it doesn’t work. Major health organizations around the world warn that antibiotics are quickly losing their effectiveness, and pharmaceutical companies aren’t acting fast enough to create new ones. What’s scary is that, according to our researchers’ analysis of Center for Disease Control and Prevention data, over 20 percent of antibiotic-resistant infections are linked to food.

Even if you don’t eat meat or live near a factory farm, you’re still susceptible. Read on to learn why we’re all at risk to contract an antibiotic-resistant infection. Then tell Congress to stand up for the public, not corporations, by introducing tighter regulations that will help stop the misuse of antibiotics on factory farms.

 1.    Exactly how do factory farms misuse antibiotics?

Factory farms give animals low doses of antibiotics to compensate for overcrowded, filthy conditions that lead to disease.  In fact, 80 percent of the antibiotics sold in the U.S. are used in agriculture, but not necessarily because the animals ingesting them are sick. Unfortunately, that’s making us sick.

This practice, called nontherapeutic use, creates the perfect stew for bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics to thrive and spread. These superbugs – antibiotic-resistant bacteria bred on factory farms – end up in food and in the environment, which puts everyone at risk, regardless of where you live or what you eat. Read the full article…

June 17th, 2014

Superbugs Get Started on Factory Farms

By Jo Miles

You’ve probably heard about the rise of antibiotic-resistant infections: bacteria that have grown increasingly resistant to medicine. It’s a serious threat… yet not many people realize that factory farms are a huge part of the problem.

Check out the comic below to see how factory farms are putting everyone’s health at risk. Then tell your lawmakers to stop the misuse of antibiotics on factory farms.

Comic: Factory Farms Make Me Sick

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