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Blog Posts: Food

December 5th, 2013

Attention Shoppers: Do You Really Know What’s In Your Cart?

By Katherine Cirullo

Imagine you’re in the supermarket. It’s an emporium, packed to the brim with shelves of colorful packaging. As you peruse the aisles, you’re confronted by brand on top of brand on top of a new brand that you’ve never heard of before. Cue sensory overload. There are hundreds of different bags of chips. There’s this condiment and that condiment, this yogurt and those “all natural” yogurts. A plethora of choice; or is choice just an illusion?

Take our new Foodopoly Quiz on our newly launched Foodopoly website and you’ll be shocked to find out who really controls what you put in your cart, and why it all matters.

In addition to what you’ll learn in the quiz, Food & Water Watch released a new report, Grocery Goliaths: How Food Monopolies Impact Consumers, which focuses on one aspect of the Foodoply – the grocery industry. Our researchers analyzed two years of grocery industry data (100 different types of groceries) and found that intense consolidation of the grocery industry leaves shoppers with stifled choice and increasingly expensive grocery bills. And, it’s not just consumers who are affected. Mega mergers in the grocery industry are pushing small food companies (and the viability of a sustainable food system) out of the game, all to make a profit. Read the full article…

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November 26th, 2013

Farm Bill Update: Rites of Fall and Winter Miracles

Food Policy Director Patty Lovera

Food & Water Watch Assistant Director Patty Lovera

By Patty Lovera

In what seems to be a new rite of fall, Farm Bill watchers are once again wondering how and if Congress can finish this bill before the end of the year. At the end of last week, talks between the leadership of the House and Senate Agriculture committees broke down, which means finishing the Farm Bill using the normal process in 2013 would be nothing short of a winter holiday miracle.

To recap: The 2008 Farm Bill expired on October 1, 2012. Then on New Year’s Day, a 9-month farm bill extension was included in the bill that was passed to fix the supposed “fiscal cliff.” But the extension didn’t cover everything that was in the 2008 bill, and left dozens of programs for sustainable and organic agriculture, beginning farmers and disaster assistance behind. And on October 1 of this year, that short-term extension expired too.

So once again, we are finishing the year with an expired Farm Bill, waiting to see if Congress can finish the process and pass a new bill before “permanent law” (from the 1930’s and 1940’s) kicks in and affects the price of farm commodities like milk. Read the full article…

Since When Is the EPA Beholden to Big Ag?

The EPA Has the Authority to Track and Regulate Factory Farms. So Why Do We Have to Remind Them?

By Sarah Borron

Earlier this year, F&WW released a report detailing how poorly the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) tracks and regulates concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). In fact, the situation is so bad that Food & Water Watch is suing EPA to force them to count CAFOs accurately and share that list with the public, just as it does for other polluting industries. In our review of hundreds of internal EPA documents, we found another story to tell.

Why is EPA explaining itself to the livestock industry…

When EPA backed down from an attempt to track CAFOs in the summer of 2012 (by abandoning the “CAFO Reporting Rule” it was writing), environmental advocates wanted to get to the bottom of it. Three environmental organizations filed Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests asking for all the documents relating to the proposed and withdrawn regulation. The hundreds of documents EPA gave in reply included lists of CAFO names, locations, and other basic information provided to the agency by state governments in lieu of a comprehensive CAFO Reporting Rule. Such information was largely already public and represented a portion of what needed to be collected had EPA finalized the rule.

Yet, EPA made a point to give the livestock industry a special heads up about releasing this basic information under FOIA.

An e-mail EPA sent to several livestock industry organizations notifying them about something that should have been routine: that information that was already largely in the public domain was released as part of a FOIA request as required by law. The Senior Policy Advisor explained, “I have been reaching out to you and your colleagues as soon as I became aware of this situation…” She offered to (and later did) set up special meetings and conference calls and provided copies of the FOIA records to the livestock groups, and EPA staff even provided hand-delivered CDs when links to records didn’t work. Read the full article…

November 25th, 2013

You Keep Me Going

By Wenonah Hauter

Thank you for all that you do!

This year has been a whirlwind for me. After finishing my book, Foodopoly, I’ve been spending most of my time on the road, speaking to communities all across the country about the corporate control of our food system. And let me be honest, it’s tiring work.

But whenever it seems like I’m too exhausted to make it on to the next leg, I have a conversation with one of you. You’re the reason I’m doing this work, and I can’t thank you enough for standing with us.

This time of year always gets me thinking about the things that are most important in life — the things that Food & Water Watch is fighting to protect, with your help. Today, we’re thankful for livable communities, clean water and safe, wholesome food — and we believe that these things are for everyone, not just a few. Read the full article…

November 22nd, 2013

Life after Trans Fats

By Genna Reed

Earlier this month, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that they would effectively ban the use of partially hydrogenated oils, also known as trans fats. These types of oils are used in many processed foods, including desserts, microwavable popcorn, frozen pizza and margarine, and have been linked to health risks including higher cholesterol and heart disease. In 2006, FDA required that food companies include trans fats in nutrition labels, which caused a reduction in the use of trans fats.

The American Soybean Association (ASA)— the trade group affiliated with all six of the biggest biotech companies (Monsanto, DuPont, Dow, BASF, Bayer and Syngenta)— immediately questioned FDA’s move to phase out trans fats, worrying that food companies would replace soybean oil with oils containing saturated fats like palm and coconut oil. ASA doesn’t want the FDA to move too quickly and chip away at the soybean industry’s market share before production of new varieties of genetically engineered soybeans with lower saturated fat can ramp up. It’s banking on increased production of Dupont Pioneer and Monsanto’s GE “Plenish” and “Vistive” soybeans, both engineered to be lower in saturated fat. Read the full article…

November 20th, 2013

Americans Deserve a Break (From GE Foods) Today

By Genna Reed

After nearly 20 years of mass-producing mainly herbicide-tolerant and insect-resistant crops that have not delivered on their environmental promises, the genetic engineering front has moved toward nutritional and aesthetic improvement of food. Two of these new products up for approval are Okanagan Specialty Fruits Arctic Apple and J.R. Simplot’s Innate Potato.

This week, we are asking consumers to tell USDA not to approve the genetically engineered apple, designed not to brown when exposed to oxygen. In its new Environmental Assessment, the USDA does not address many of the concerns of the nearly 73,000 comments sent in during the previous comment period. USDA is not doing itself any favors by ignoring the public opposition of this GE apple. Already, the biggest food chain in the world, McDonald’s, and one of the most popular baby food brands, Gerber, have affirmed that they have no plans to use these apples once they are commercialized. Read the full article…

November 18th, 2013

O’Malley’s Broken Promises for a Dying Bay

 

Photo CC-BY © Office of the Maryland Governor/Flickr.com

By Wenonah Hauter

Three years ago Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley drafted an email to Jim Perdue, head of the giant Eastern Shore chicken integrator, assuring him that he would never hold the chicken industry liable for its pollution of the Bay, despite the fact that agriculture – and the chicken industry – continues to be the most significant source of pollution in this dying waterway. Then, just last month, the O’Malley administration struck a deal with the environmental community on a critical chicken manure application tool, known as the Phosphorus Management Tool (PMT) in which he promised that, in lieu of an emergency enactment of the PMT in time for the 2014 planting season, the new tool would be phased in over time, with full implementation achieved by January 2015.

Then, late last Friday, the Maryland state department of agriculture announced it was withdrawing the PMT regulations.

In the face of ag industry fist pounding, O’Malley once again showed his true colors, he’s got Perdue’s back, not ours.  Read the full article…

November 14th, 2013

Popular GE Labeling Measure Defeated By Corporate Millions

By Mark Schlosberg

Let me decide, make GE food labeling the lawThere’s no better example of why the organizing we do is so important than the repeated loss of GE food labeling at the polls, this time in Washington State.

Pesticide manufacturers—like Monsanto, DuPont Pioneer, Dow AgroSciences and Bayer CropScience—and junk food peddlers like PepsiCo, Nestlé, Coca-Cola, General Mills, ConAgra—spent more than $22 million to buy Washington state’s election this week in order to prevent consumers from having basic information about their food. This infuriating outcome provides yet more substantial evidence that a small handful of mega corporations wield way too much power over our food supply and our democracy and they must be stopped.

In an off year election, while these giant corporations had to spend record sums in order to mislead consumers, the “Yes” side was supported by contributions of over 15,000 individuals and, the campaign projects, won 49 percent of the vote.

The food industry may have won this battle, but the fight to label genetically foods comes out of Washington stronger than ever. In the last year, legislation requiring labeling of GE foods passed state legislatures for the first time, in Connecticut and Maine, and other robust campaigns are under way from New York to Illinois, New Jersey to Florida and elsewhere.

In the coming year, Food & Water Watch will continue to work with allies old and new at the national, state and local level. We need to organize in key legislative districts and hold our elected officials accountable. They are elected to represent the vast majority of Americans who want to know what’s in their food, not the big chemical and junk food companies that spent record sums this year and last to mislead consumers in California and Washington.

Consumers want to know what is in their food and I am confident we will ultimately win labeling across the country. But what elections like California and Washington really highlight is our broken democracy. As we fight for important policy goals like labeling of GE foods, we also need to look towards lasting reforms including overturning Citizens United, that are needed to curtail the power of corporations in our political system.

Click here for the official campaign statement.

This Year, Have a Big-Poultry-Free Holiday Season

By Wenonah Hauter

This post originally appeared at Otherwords.org.

Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch

Chicken and turkey are among the most popular and versatile foods Americans eat, but they also bring health risks to your plate.

Most factory-farmed poultry is raised with antibiotics — which leads to antibiotic resistance in humans.

Now, the USDA wants to cut the budget for poultry inspections and allow big chicken companies to police themselves. The agency also moved recently to approve imports of processed chicken from China — a country that has had major food safety debacles.

This holiday season, will the poultry you sit down to enjoy be industrially produced, processed half a world away, and full of chemicals, antibiotics, and worse?

Since there are no guarantees, you may want to avoid buying poultry produced by the companies that dominate the industry. There are big reasons to avoid their chicken and turkey.

JBS/Pilgrim’s Pride, Tyson Foods, Perdue, and Sanderson slaughter and process more than half of the chicken consumed in the United States, while Butterball, Jennie-O Turkey Store, and Cargill dominate the turkey business. Their outsized operations give them significant market and lobbying power. These companies act as middlemen between farmers and consumers, and they eat up most of the profit in the supply chain.

Before you purchase the holiday turkey you’ll share with your loved ones in a few weeks, consider these four facts:

  1. Because there are just a handful of players in the poultry market, a handful of companies call the shots — and reap large profits. For every $19 twelve-piece chicken bucket from KFC, only 25 cents goes to the farmer that raised the poultry, while less than $5 goes to the chicken processor. (KFC gets the rest.)
  2. These large companies use unfair contracts, require expensive equipment and building upgrades, and employ other aggressive tactics to squeeze poultry farmers to produce more and more chickens and turkeys for less and less money.
  3. The big chicken and turkey companies own everything from the chicks and poults to the feed, the trucks, the slaughter facilities, and the brand. The grower assumes all the debt associated with the operation, including the mortgages on the special buildings they have to construct to get a contract. The farmer also shoulders the expenses of utilities and of removing waste and dead birds.
  4. Concentrating poultry production means concentrating the amount of waste seeping off of factory farms into nearby waterways (like the Chesapeake Bay). Perdue and other big companies leave the farmers to shoulder all the responsibility for dealing with the waste.

Do you need more reasons to avoid poultry produced by these giant companies? Consider that their market power begets enormous political power — and these companies throw their weight around to make sure they can continue producing the most birds for the most profit. Plus, factory farming hurts poultry producers, consumers, and the environment.

Nothing showcases the power Big Ag holds over our political leaders more than emails we at Food & Water Watch revealed last year between Martin O’Malley, the Democratic governor of Maryland and poultry giant Perdue.

These exchanges illustrated how Perdue’s profits from chicken sold in California and Michigan are being used to exert inappropriate power over Maryland’s governor through intense lobbying efforts on everything from poultry litter incineration to the environmental cases that a university law clinic engages in.

If you buy your chicken or turkey from the grocery store, chances are that you are buying a brand owned by one of the largest companies. Consider seeking out independent poultry farmers who sell direct to consumers instead.

November 13th, 2013

It’s Pay-to-Play Science as Usual

Money and BooksBy Tim Schwab

Last week, the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) was once again exposed as an industry front group – taking industry money and advocating pro-industry positions while claiming to be an independent, science-based organization. The magazine Mother Jones published a leaked document showing the enormous extent to which the organization is bankrolled by corporations and industry groups, confirming what many environmental and health advocates had always believed about the four-decades-old organization.   

The Council, which claims to be a scientific organization, takes tens of thousands of dollars from big oil and gas interests like Chevron and the American Petroleum Institute and publicly advocates for fracking. It also stridently speaks in favor of genetically engineered (GE) crops, which may have something to do with the money Syngenta and Bayer gives it. Read the full article…

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