Food | Food & Water Watch - Part 6
Victory! Cleveland passes resolution against antibiotic misuse on factory farms. more wins »
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Blog Posts: Food

February 19th, 2014

Third-Party Science and the Soft Lobby

Money and BooksBy Tim Schwab

The industrial producers of corn syrup have been busy the last decade defending their product’s good name against increasingly clear science showing public health problems related to obesity and diabetes.

But agribusiness corn refiners like Archer Daniel Midland and Cargill, which produce much of the ubiquitous sweetener, recognize they can’t just say their critics are wrong. They need credible allies, preferably those that look independent, to convince regulators, consumers, manufacturers and the scientific community that corn syrup is all right.

According to court documents recently released, that’s exactly what the corn refiners did. The New York Times and the Washington Post both reported last week on how “Washington-based groups and academic experts frequently become extensions of corporate lobbying campaigns,” using the debate over sweeteners as a case study. Read the full article…

February 18th, 2014

Justice Department Should Sink Titanic Flour Merger, Even with Rearranged Deck Chairs

By Patrick Woodall

Last week, ConAgra Foods, Inc. confessed to its shareholders that it had to delay its proposed wheat flour merger with Cargill because of the ongoing antitrust review by the U.S. Department of Justice. The proposed merger would create a dominant wheat flour milling company that would be twice the size of its next biggest rival, ADM, and more than five times bigger than the third and fourth largest flour milling firms.

The proposed merger (which would create a company called “Ardent Mills”) would have a near stranglehold on buying wheat from farmers and selling flour to bakeries and other food manufacturers. Because Ardent would be so large and have such a heavy footprint across the country, farmers would likely get paid less for their wheat while bakeries would probably pay more for flour, ultimately raising prices for consumers.

Cargill and ConAgra knew this mega-merger would raise eyebrows, so now the companies are talking about selling a few of the flour mills involved in the deal to help make it easier for the Justice Department to swallow a merger resulting in a company that is just too big. ConAgra told its shareholders that the merging companies were “prepared to divest” four flour mills (two in California and one each in Texas and Minnesota). That minor concession just puts lipstick on a pig of a market for wheat and flour that looks a lot like a monopoly in many parts of the country. Read the full article…

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February 14th, 2014

Place Your Bets Now: GM vs Democracy in the EU

By Eve Mitchell

“What a hot potato.”

unlabeled GE sweet corn coming to a store near you?EU Health and Consumer Commissioner Borg’s understatement opened his presentation of the cultivation application for GM Pioneer1507 maize to the European Council on Tuesday. Having been thumped to and fro like a flat football since before Christmas, we were expecting a vote on the application to answer the question once and for all. We didn’t get it.

Instead we got another round of “indicative votes” from EU Member States, and the outcome was grim. The Greeks currently hold the rotating Presidency of the Council, and being firmly anti-GM they are presumably keen not to be painted into any procedural corners that would see a new GM crop authorised on their watch. So Member States were asked to say what they would do if there was a vote. Only 5 out of 28 countries said they would vote in favour of the crop. Given the clear vote in the European Parliament on 16 January instructing the Council to reject the application, one would have thought that was that. It isn’t. Not by a long shot.

The Council operates under a qualified majority system, with each country casting a weighted number of votes – UK and France have 29 votes, Sweden 10, Malta 3, and so on. Since the UK voted in favour of the GM crop (much to the dismay of British people and against the clear opposition to GM in the Scottish and Welsh Governments), and since big-hitter Germany abstained, the indicative votes did not demonstrate a sufficient qualified majority either way. The law says that if an actual vote was cast and produced that result, the Commission would be bound to take a decision on the file. (The Commission’s last foray into this territory was with the highly controversial Amflora potato; its authorisation was recently annulled by the second highest court in the EU for failing to abide by the law. One suspects the Commission is on tenterhooks here, but it also seems prepared to press the GM point.)

Thankfully the Greeks seem reluctant to ask for such a vote.

Still with me?

A complex legal discussion in the Council chamber tried to find a way through the marsh. Many member states had urged the Commission to withdraw the application altogether to avoid undermining the credibility of the European project in the run-up to the May elections, saying they did not see how approval by politically-appointed Commissioners could be explained to the electorate after rejection by the Parliament and the clear majority of EU countries. The Greens say they will call for the resignation of the Commission with a formal motion of censure if it approves the file. A number of member states told the Council it would help an awful lot if countries would stand up for their convictions and vote “no” rather than abstaining, but clearly four couldn’t manage it. So here we are, in the marsh, waiting to see who blinks first.

Governing is a complex business, especially among 28 countries, and democracy is a hard-won and precious thing. Often the test of governing structures is how well they cope with contentious issues. Many commentators are calling this situation an example of the “absurd” nature of EU GM regulation. We need to be a bit careful here: everyone signed up to the rules of the game a long time ago, so we can’t say we didn’t know what would happen in such circumstances. It could also be a lot worse – this process means we still only grow one GM crop here. Even so this mess sure does make a citizen scratch her head in wonderment.

One way to sort this out is what I call “proper identification of the bad guy”. We need to remember that the real problem here is corporate-driven GM food, not democratic bureaucracy. When it comes to GM pollen contamination in honey, the EU (lead by a UK MEP) performs all sorts of contortions to hide it from consumers rather than ban the crop causing the problem. When it comes to deciding on new GM crops, following the law means ignoring the wishes of both the Parliament and the majority of EU member countries – so why not just ban GM crops if they really threaten the fabric of European togetherness as claimed?

Are crops no one wants to eat really worth it, particularly when the annual industry mouthpiece “assessment” of global GM uptake demonstrates a “plateau” in GM cultivation in major GM markets? It’s not even clear if Pioneer Hi-Bred will ever sell 1507 in the EU – while suing the Commission for delay in processing the 1507 maize application Pioneer Hi-Bred said, “Once cultivation approval is granted, DuPont Pioneer will evaluate the situation and the available options, and will take a strategic decision on the marketing of the product based on these considerations.” Honestly.

Many pro-GM politicians say we need to keep politics out of the GM discussion and “stick to the science” – a laughable position if you read any of the above. An adamant proponent of this position is UK Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Owen Paterson. 

So where is the Right Honourable Secretary of State while this is breaking loose?  Consulting with the Scottish and Welsh Governments to agree a democratic position for the UK on GM cultivation? Helping badgers in the flooded West Country learn to swim? No. In the run-up to the vote Paterson gave a pro-GM speech at a conference hosted by Big Biotech industry lobby group EuropaBio. (True story: the Countess of Mar felt compelled to ask a formal Parliamentary Question to clarify if Paterson was to “represent the policy of the Scottish Government and the Welsh Government, the policy of the United Kingdom Government, or his personal views” during the EuropaBio event – answer: UK. In that speech Patterson said of Pioneer1507 maize, “The UK has no current interest in planting this particular crop.” Yet the UK still voted in favour of it, mind you.). Soon the Secretary of State is off to Addis Ababa* to help the EU’s colourful Chief Scientist Anne Glover, another Brit, sell GM crops to Africans. No politics there.

GM vs Democracy? The wheel is spinning. I know where my money is.

* Update, February 17, 2014 : The trip was cancelled amid growing publicity after this piece was published.

February 13th, 2014

ALEC Goes After Your Food

stack of one hundred dollar billsBy Anna Meyer

The anti-regulation, pay-to-play group ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) is infamous for pushing “Stand Your Ground” gun laws, anti-worker and anti-voter legislation, and trying to repeal renewable energy laws. But lately ALEC’s been busy trying to help the Foodopoly maintain its stranglehold on the American food system, despite the fact that it’s making us sick.

ALEC is pushing hard to thwart attempts to rein in antibiotic abuse on factory farms with its Resolution on Animal Antibiotic Use. Their resolution supports the continued overuse of antibiotics for nontherapeutic reasons in livestock feed, a practice that is commonly used to make up for filthy and inhumane living conditions on factory farms and has been linked to antibiotic-resistant bacteria.   

Continued overuse of antibiotics has resulted in the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, or superbugs, which decrease antibiotics’ effectiveness in fighting infections (read about our campaign to end the misuse of antibiotics on factory farms here). Despite a 2013 Centers for Disease Control report linking superbugs with antibiotic misuse on factory farms and nearly 40 years of medical research including DNA analysis, the ALEC resolution tries to blame the 2 million people who become infected with resistant bacteria and the 23,000 people who die as a result of these infections every year solely on the use of antibiotics in human medicine. Doctors disagree.

The resolution to pad the meat industry’s pocketbooks by perpetuating antibiotic abuse on factory farms is not the only ridiculous resolution to come out of ALEC’s Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force. The group also promotes widespread use of chemicals with minimal regulation with the Resolution on Chemical Policy Principles and promotes a model bill to take away the right of local governments to regulate genetically engineered crops. ALEC also tried to attack Country of Origin Labels (COOL), which gives consumers more information about where their meat comes from.

Then there’s ALEC’s notorious model bill, the Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act, which has served as inspiration for the many ag-gag bills that have been circulating through state legislatures over the past few years. Ag-gag bills are extremely hazardous for multiple reasons. They shield factory farms from public scrutiny, even though they put animal welfare at risk, and increase risks to food safety and environmental damage.

ALEC’s positions on food would put everyone’s health at risk and allow big food and ag corporations to hide what they are doing. Policy makers at every level of government should be drafting legislation that protects the health and well-being of all citizens, not just the bank accounts of a few rich executives.

Help us hold big food and ag corporations accountable by supporting commonsense legislation that puts people first. Join our list to take action

 

Anna Meyer is a communications intern for Food & Water Watch.

February 12th, 2014

Stay Safe in Snow Storm Pax While You Learn, Laugh and Take Action

Constance Zimmer, Raphael Sbarge and Samantha Ressler star in our new videoBy Royelen Lee Boykie

First and foremost, everyone at Food & Water Watch is about safety during weather warnings.

Please stay warm, comfortable and most of all safe during Pax (apparently named to add “peace” to the event) and all other severe weather-related encounters.

Your well-being secured, take the time to get smart (and maybe get a laugh, too) with our best “fowl” weather information.

We hope by the time you’re finished, the weather and related news will be clear and your routine will be hassle-free.

Field Notes: Working to End Abuse of Antibiotics on Factory Farms

By Katy Kiefer

A woman in Seattle, WA, holds a sign to express her concern about resistant bacteria bred on factory farms.

For the past several years, awareness about all they ways that factory farms make animals, workers, the environment and consumer sick has been on the rise thanks to movies like Food, Inc. and Food & Water Watch’s Factory Farm Map.

But what you might not know is that 80 percent of the antibiotics used in the U.S. are used by the agriculture industry to promote growth and to compensate for filthy, crowded living conditions at these industrial livestock facilities. Nontherapeutic use of antibiotics on factory farms is making antibiotics less effective in healing infections, which is creating a public heath crisis. According to the CDC, each year in the United States, at least 2 million people become infected with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics and at least 23,000 people die as a result of these infections.

The FDA has known about this problem since the 70s and has yet to take meaningful action (read how its voluntary guidelines released in December fall short here). Despite this, consumer demand for better chicken has never been higher. This week, Chick-fil-A announced that within five years, it will join the ranks of companies such as Chipotle, Niman Ranch and Applegate Farms that already sell meat raised without nontherapeutic antibiotics. However, the burden should not be on consumers. We deserve the right to buy and eat better chicken no matter where we shop or dine. We need laws that protect against antibiotic misuse on factory farms. We can no longer sit by and wait for the FDA or Congress to act on this urgent public health issue, which is why we’ve kicked off a campaign to encourage local governments to take a stand.

This spring, Food & Water Watch is partnering with the Green Corps training program for organizers to pass resolutions in seven cities in support of banning the misuse of antibiotics on factory farms. We’ve already passed the first of these resolutions in Providence, RI, with more to come. Read more about our local efforts below. We will keep you posted as more resolutions are passed. In the meantime, tell your members of Congress to support federal legislation to save antibiotics for life-saving medicine, not animal feed on factory farms.

Read the full article…

February 11th, 2014

Intimidation and Bullying: How Industry Steamrolls the Scientific Debate

By Tim Schwab

For anyone who’s ever wondered why the “science-based” rules and regulations coming out of Washington are so consistently industry friendly, Tyrone Hayes’ story recently in the New Yorker, but told first by 100Reporters and Environmental Health News last June, is enlightening.

A biology professor at the University of California, Hayes took research funding from Syngenta to study its herbicide atrazine. When his study found environmental and health problems with the widely used herbicide in the late 1990s, Sygenta balked and stalled his findings. Hayes ended the funding relationship, feeling that his peers may eventually think that he was “part of a plan to bury important data” and that his reputation might be injured. Little did Hayes know. Read the full article…

February 7th, 2014

Factory Farmed Chicken: Not Fit to Eat

By Darcey Rakestraw

Low in cholesterol and saturated fat, chicken has been touted as a healthy alternative to red meat. You may think you’re making a good choice by choosing chicken when you go out to eat or shopping at the supermarket, but one thing’s for sure: the way we produce chicken today is something our grandparents would never recognize—and it’s even making us sick.

That’s why we’ve created this new video in partnership with Appeal To Reason Productions featuring Environmental Media Association board members Constance Zimmer, Raphael Sbarge and Samantha Ressler.

How often do you sit down at a restaurant and order the chicken? If you asked questions about how the chicken was raised and processed, you probably wouldn’t get very clear answers. Inspired by this hilarious Portlandia skit, these are the answers you’d get if your server knew the real story behind most of the chicken served in the U.S.

But unlike the diners in the video, you’d probably not be amused if your waiter told you that your chicken was raised on a factory farm controlled by one of four giant corporations. Or that it was dunked in bleach to remove visible signs of fecal matter. Or that the animals were raised in crowded conditions raised on antibiotics (which is contributing to a public health disaster—antibiotic resistance in humans.)

Now, we have a handful of days or weeks to put pressure on the USDA not to allow the privatization of poultry inspections. Given the unhealthy way that chicken is raised and processed, proper food inspections are vital. But could you inspect 175 birds a minute? We couldn’t either. That’s why the USDA’s plan to cut USDA inspectors and to put the job of inspections in the hands of the poultry companies is a bad idea. What’s worse, is it’s the first step towards deregulating our meat inspection system entirely—with beef inspections next on the list.

Share the video and take action today to pressure the USDA to stop the plan before it’s too late.

February 5th, 2014

The “Let Me Decide” Campaign is Growing Into a Movement in Florida!

By Lynna Kaucheck

Just 18 months ago we hit the ground in Florida and kicked off the “Let Me Decide” campaign to label genetically engineered (GE) food in Florida, and I am absolutely blown away by the amount of progress we’ve made in such a short time. And I couldn’t be happier to report that the Florida legislature is finally beginning to discuss the issue, our GE labeling bill is being scheduled for discussion at an upcoming Senate Agriculture Committee meeting!

This issue is an important one to me because food is such an intimate part of our lives. Preparing and sharing a meal with friends and family is one of the most basic and most treasured actions of my daily life. The thought of not having a choice over what I’m feeding my friends and family seems unjust. But if our food isn’t properly labeled, we can’t truly make informed decisions about what we’re feeding the people we love and that’s just wrong. We all deserve the right to know where are food comes from and how it is produced—I believe that is something worth fighting for.

Throughout the course of our campaign, we’ve developed a strong coalition of over 230 organizations and businesses across the state that agree that we should have the right to know if our food is genetically engineered. Some of these partners, including GMO Free Florida (http://gmofreeflorida.org/), have been instrumental in helping us achieve our goals and in building the movement for GE labeling in Florida. Read the full article…

January 30th, 2014

Two Years Later, the House Passes the 2012 Farm Bill

Patty Lovera

Food & Water Watch Assistant Director Patty Lovera

By Patty Lovera

I was starting to wonder if this day would ever come. Yesterday, the House passed their final Farm Bill. In case you missed it, the saga for this Farm Bill has been fairly epic – not because of what got accomplished, but for how dysfunctional the process became.  

So here’s how it all worked out: the nicest thing you can say about this final Farm Bill is it’s a mixed bag.

The final bill cuts the nutrition safety net for low-income families by almost $9 billion over 10 years (compared to the House version of the bill which would have cut $40 billion). Read the full article…

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