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March 27th, 2015

Obama’s Antibiotic Plan Fails to Address Overuse on Factory Farms

Statement of Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter

Washington, D.C.— “Today the White House released its ‘National Action Plan for Combating Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria,’ which is intended to protect the public from antibiotic resistant infections. Unfortunately, the plan falls short of protecting the public from this looming public health crisis in that it fails to adequately address the misuse of antibiotics on factory farms, relying on FDA’s limited efforts to change practices through voluntary guidance.

“Food & Water Watch supports the plan’s call for USDA and FDA to research and promote alternatives to antibiotic use in livestock and poultry. Such research is necessary to support a transition away from non-therapeutic uses of antibiotics. But this is not enough.

“80 percent of the antibiotics used in the United States are used on factory farms. Every year, over two million Americans suffer from antibiotic resistant infections, and 23,000 people die from them. The Food and Drug Administration has been aware of the problems associated with the misuse of these critical, life saving drugs since at least 1977, but has not required factory farms to stop misusing them.

“Despite overwhelming scientific evidence that curbing the misuse of antibiotics on factory farms would address this public health crisis and help maintain the effectiveness of these critical, life saving drugs, the meat industry continues to oppose meaningful regulation on how it uses antibiotics.

“Ultimately the National Action Plan is a missed opportunity to take more aggressive action. That is why we need federal legislation like the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act that would end the overuse of medically important antibiotics in livestock production. This is what it will take to combat this public health crisis.”

Contact: Kate Fried, Food & Water Watch, [email protected]

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March 25th, 2015

A Mega-Merger Too Far: Kraft Foods-H.J Heinz Announce Merger

By Patrick Woodall Ketchup_Kid

Do you like ketchup with your mac and cheese? H.J. Heinz and Kraft sure appear to. This morning, processed food powerhouse Kraft Foods and ketchup kingpin H.J. Heinz announced a merger that will create the world’s 5th largest food company. The post-merger company would sell $28 billion worth of food annually and control eight brands with sales over $1 billion and five more brands with sales between $500 million and $1 billion. Read more…

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March 24th, 2015

Rep. Slaughter Again Takes on Antibiotics in Factory Farms

By Kate Fried Antibiotics_Pill_Bottle

It’s difficult to pick up a newspaper these days without being reminded of the escalating public health threat posed by super bugs and antibiotic resistance. That’s in part due to the fact that a whopping 80 percent of antibiotics sold in the U.S. are actually used in factory farms to compensate for stressful, filthy, crowded conditions. That’s why last year Food & Water Watch launched its campaign to save antibiotics for medicine, not factory farms.

Since then, we’ve seen some great developments in the movement to keep these vital drugs working for us when we need them most. In February, the city council of Olympia, Washington became the 51st local government to pass a resolution calling for federal action to end the misuse of antibiotics on factory farms. Today, Representative Louise Slaughter (D-NY) stepped up and reintroduced the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA). Read more…

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March 18th, 2015

Beware of the Corporate GMO Spin Doctors

By Wenonah Hauter

This piece originally appeared on Food Tank.

BlogThumb_BillNyeYou may have heard that popular scientist Bill Nye has mysteriously revised his outlook on genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Several years ago, the children’s show host advocated for the labeling of genetically modified foods, citing concerns about what GMOs could do to ecosystems. But now his position on the controversial technology has flipped. This development is the latest in a trend spearheaded by agribusiness giants to discredit the GMO labeling movement, and it’s especially hard to disassociate his reversal from this PR blitz since it coincided with Nye’s recent trip to Monsanto’s headquarters.

We’ll never know what actually went down during Nye’s visit, as Tom Philpott at Mother Jones notes, but we do know that Monsanto has poured millions of dollars into public relation efforts to sell the public on GMOs. Because that’s what you do when you are a corporation with deep coffers and a product that the public is wisely skeptical of.

Read more…

March 12th, 2015

USGS Points to Big Ag as Cause of Eastern Shore Nutrient Pollution

Bay Tax Equity Act Hearing Tomorrow: Perfect Time for Solution to Bay Woes

Statement by Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter

Washington, D.C—“A new report released today by the United States Geological Survey ( found that concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorus on Maryland’s Eastern Shore are among the highest in the nation and attributes these pollutant loads primarily to agricultural activities. The Eastern Shore is home to giant chicken companies like Perdue who leave behind hundreds of millions of pounds of animal waste on the ground each year, while refusing to contribute to the clean up of the Bay. Instead, the USGS report also notes that historic levels of taxpayers’ dollars are being used to clean up Perdue’s and other chicken companies’ wastes. Tomorrow, the state assembly’s Environment and Transportation Committee is holding a hearing on a piece of legislation call the Bay Tax Equity Act that requires these billion dollar companies to finally contribute their fair share to the cost of Bay restoration and ease the burden on taxpayers. Now is the time to correct this injustice and hold big poultry companies accountable for their waste.”

Background and Additional Resources

U.S. Geological Survey Report: Eastern Shore Contributes Excess Nutrients to Chesapeake Bay

Food & Water Watch Report: Ending Big Chicken’s Free Ride

Food & Water Watch Report: Abusive Poultry Contracts Require Government Action


Michele Merkel – 202-683-4967, [email protected]

Scott Edwards – 202-683-4969, [email protected]

Rich Bindell – 202-683-2457, [email protected]


March 6th, 2015

Antibiotic Resistance 101: How Antibiotic Misuse on Factory Farms Can Make You Sick


Antibiotics are critical tools in human medicine. Medical authorities are warning that these life-saving drugs are losing their effectiveness, and there are few replacement drugs in the pipeline. Bacteria evolve in response to the use of antibiotics both in humans and in animals. Those bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics prosper as antibiotics kill the non-resistant bacteria. Once they emerge, antibiotic-resistant (AR) bacteria can transfer AR traits to other bacteria in animals and the environment. The development of antibiotic resistance is hastened by the use of low doses of antibiotics at industrial farms. The drugs are used routinely not to treat sick animals, but for growth promotion and disease prevention, a practice known as nontherapeutic use.

Both in the United States and worldwide, agriculture uses vastly more antibiotics than human medicine, and agriculture uses drugs from every major class of antibiotics used in human medicine. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reported in 2011 that 80 percent of antibiotics in the United States are sold for agricultural purposes.

Antibiotic-resistant (AR) bacteria can spread from farm animals to humans via food, via animal-to-human transfer on farms and in rural areas, and through contaminated waste entering the environment. The most commonly affected populations are those with under-developed or compromised immune systems: pregnant women, children, the elderly and people with certain health conditions. But increasingly, AR bacteria have the potential to affect anyone.

Antibiotic resistance has become a global problem. People get sicker from these infections, as it takes multiple rounds of increasingly stronger antibiotics to stop the infection, allowing the infection to progress further than it might otherwise. Fewer drug options can make it harder for doctors to treat patients with allergies to some antibiotics and make it more likely for patients to require stronger drugs given intravenously.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that at least 2 million Americans each year experience AR infections, leading to at least 23,000 deaths. Approximately 22 percent of those infected originate from foodborne pathogens. Multiple studies have found AR bacteria in retail meat and fish products, including the federal government’s National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System (NARMS), and AR bacteria have cause notable foodborne illness outbreaks.

The livestock industry still minimizes its role in antibiotic resistance, but the evidence is clear. Several DNA analyses of AR bacteria point to livestock as the source. The CDC, American Public Health Association, American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, Infectious Disease Society of America and World Health Organization all agree that nontherapeutic uses of antibiotics in livestock pose a threat to human health.

Despite the urgency of this growing public health threat, neither Congress nor the FDA has taken sufficient steps to restrict the nontherapeutic use of antibiotics in livestock. The FDA currently insists that voluntary guidance to industry will solve the problem, citing lack of resources as an impediment to withdrawing current drug approvals for nontherapeutic uses, despite having restricted certain uses for particular antibiotics.

Food & Water Watch recommends that:

  • Congress should pass the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA)/Prevention of Antibiotic Resistance Act (PARA), which would ban nontherapeutic uses of antibiotics in livestock, thereby avoiding the cumbersome drug-by-drug process currently required of the FDA to achieve the same goal. City Councils across the country have passed resolutions urging Congress to pass PAMTA, and more are joining their ranks.
  • Congress also should pass legislation to greatly improve available public data on antibiotic use in livestock.
  • The FDA should assess the impact of its voluntary strategy and start the regulatory process now to withdraw drug approvals for injudicious uses. The FDA also should strongly enforce the existing bans on certain uses of antibiotics.
  • The FDA should address the Government Accountability Office (GAO)’s recommendations to improve data collection on the use of antibiotics and the development of antibiotic resistance. NARMS must be broadened to allow the FDA to identify and respond rapidly to emerging resistance.
  • Government agencies should collaborate to increase research on antibiotic resistance, including the mechanisms of resistance emergence, spread and remediation as well as alternative means of preventing illness in livestock.
  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) should provide training and technical assistance to livestock producers that are transitioning away from nontherapeutic antibiotic use. The USDA should address contract stipulations that require livestock producers to use feed with antibiotics already added.
March 4th, 2015

Over 4 Million People Press Obama to Protect Bees

Congress heeds call to action and introduces legislation as pressure mounts on White House Task Force to issue meaningful recommendations

March 4, 2015 (Washington, DC)—A coalition of beekeepers, farmers, business leaders, environmental and food safety advocates rallied in front of the White House and delivered more than 4 million petition signatures today calling on the Obama administration to put forth strong protections for bees and other pollinators. This action anticipates the Pollinator Health Task Force recommendations, expected later this month. The task force, announced by the White House this past June, is charged with improving pollinator health through new agency regulations and partnerships. The assembled groups demand that the recommendations include decisive action on rampant use of neonicotinoids, a class of systemic insecticides scientists say are a driving factor in bee declines.

The rally coincided with both a D.C. metro ad campaign and Representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and John Conyers’s (D-MI) reintroduction of the Saving America’s Pollinators Act, which would suspend the use of four of the most toxic neonicotinoids until the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) conducts a full review of their safety.

Representative Blumenauer, said, “Pollinators are not only vital to a sustainable environment, but key to a stable food supply. In fact, one out of every three bites of food we eat is from a crop pollinated by bees. It is imperative that we take a step back to make sure we understand all the factors involved in bee population decline and move swiftly to protect our pollinators.”

“The EPA plans to wait until 2018 before reviewing the registration of neonicotinoids.  But America’s bees cannot wait three more years.  Neither can the thousands of farmers that rely on pollinators,” said Representative Conyers. “Our honeybees are critical to ecological sustainability and to our economy.  I am urging all of my colleagues to please protect our pollinators and support the Saving America’s Pollinators Act.”

“America’s beekeepers cannot easily survive in the toxic environment the EPA has supported,” said Roger Williams, president of the Central Maryland Beekeepers Association, and a speaker at today’s rally. “On top of many other stresses, bee-toxic pesticides, whether used to coat seeds or as sprays, are weakening and killing our bees and threatening the livelihood of the beekeepers who are so intimately tied to our nation’s food supply.”

In a letter on Monday, more than 125 conservation, beekeeping, food safety, religious, ethnic and farming advocacy groups urged President Obama and the EPA to take swift and meaningful action to address the impacts of toxic pesticides on pollinator species. The European Union passed a two-year moratorium on three of the most widely used neonicotinoids, yet the EPA has approached the issue with little urgency.

“Business leaders nationally recognize the importance of pollinators to the well-being of the economy, people, and ecosystems,” said Fran Teplitz, Co-Executive Director, Green Business Network and Bryan McGannon, Deputy Director, American Sustainable Business Council. “Businesses committed to sustainability support strong federal action to protect pollinators from pesticides linked to their decline; now is the time to act.”

While advocates remain hopeful, they also made it clear that voluntary, enforceable proposals from the task force are unacceptable. Federal agencies have hinted at continued efforts to promote more of the same — voluntary farming management practices, insignificant pesticide label changes, and weak state pollinator plans. And advocates contend that without new, meaningful protections, the Task Force may actually do more harm than good.

“Given the historic decline in the population of pollinators — bees, butterflies and birds — it is critical that the President and White House Task Force show forceful leadership in addressing all factors contributing to the crisis, with the suspension of neonicotinoid insecticides being a critically necessary action,” said Jay Feldman, executive director of Beyond Pesticides and who spoke at today’s rally.

Neonicotinoids are a class of pesticides known to have acute and chronic effects on honey bees and other pollinator species and are considered a major factor in overall population declines. A growing body of independent science links a class of pesticides called neonicotinoids to bee declines, both alone and in combination with other factors like disease and malnutrition. Twenty-nine independent scientists conducted a global review of 1,121 independent studies and found overwhelming evidence of pesticides linked to bee declines. Neonicotinoids are also slow to break down, causing them to build up in the environment and endangering a whole range of beneficial species that inhabit these ecosystems.

The 4 million signatures were collected by Avaaz, Beyond Pesticides, the Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Food Safety, CREDO, Earthjustice, Environment America, Food and Water Watch, Food Democracy Now!, Friends of the Earth U.S., Green America, MoveOn, Organic Consumers Association, Pesticide Action Network, Save Our Environment, TakePart, and Toxic Free North Carolina.

Media Contacts:
Abigail Seiler, Center for Food Safety, 202-547-9359, [email protected]
Kate Colwell, Friends of the Earth, 202-222-0744, [email protected]
Paul Towers, Pesticide Action Network, 916.588.3100, [email protected]

Expert Contacts:
Bryan McGannon, American Sustainable Business Council, 202-650-7678, [email protected],
Fran Teplitz, Green America, 202-872-5326, [email protected]
Roger Williams, Central Maryland Beekeepers Association, 802-355-9933, [email protected]
Jay Feldman, Beyond Pesticides, 202-543-5450, [email protected]

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March 2nd, 2015

The War on Genetically-Modified-Food Critics: Et tu, National Geographic?

By Timothy Wise

GMO_CanolaTimothy A. Wise is at the Global Development and Environment Institute (GDAE) at Tufts University. This piece originally appeared at Food Tank.

Since when is the safety of genetically modified food considered “settled science” on a par with the reality of evolution? That was the question that jumped to mind when I saw the cover of the March 2015 National Geographic and the lead article, “Why Do Many Reasonable People Doubt Science?”

The cover title: “The War on Science.” The image: a movie set of a fake moon landing. Superimposed: a list of irrational battles being waged by “science doubters” against an implied scientific consensus:

“Climate change does not exist.”

“Evolution never happened.”

“The moon landing was faked.”

“Vaccinations can lead to autism.”

“Genetically modified food is evil.” WHAT?

Genetically modified food is evil? First of all, what business does “evil” have in an article about scientific consensus? Sure, some people think GMOs are evil. But isn’t the controversy about whether genetically modified food is safe?

Read more…

February 26th, 2015

USDA Records Reveal Staffing Shortages Undermining Food Safety

Washington, D.C.— Today, the national advocacy organization Food & Water Watch released an analysis of USDA records documenting the impact of long-standing vacancies in the ranks of USDA meat and poultry inspectors. This release comes just hours before officials from USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) are due to discuss their budget request for FY2016 before the House Agriculture Appropriations subcommittee. These records, obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, document the number of inspection tasks that were not performed and the most common reasons why over a two-year period, revealing that for meat and poultry, inadequate staffing and turn around times were often to blame.

The documents show that half of the FSIS districts were running double-digit vacancy rates for permanent full time FSIS inspectors for most of FY 2014, and that the number of inspection procedures performed by FSIS inspectors has also declined over the past four years. According to the enforcement reports published by the agency, in FY 2010, 8,048,068 inspection verification procedures were performed. Yet in FY 2014 under the new Public Health Information System (PHIS), that had dropped to 6,795,731 inspection verification procedures – a 15.6 percent decrease. The number of non-compliance reports issued under PHIS decreased by 14 percent when comparing the same two time periods.

“Consumers are at risk thanks to the Obama’s administration’s decision to starve the FSIS inspection program, which has led to violations of the continuous inspection mandate,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. “This data confirms what we and inspectors have been saying to the USDA for several years now – long-term inspector shortages are putting consumers at risk.”

The shortages of USDA inspection personnel are tied directly to a hiring restriction policy adopted in 2012 in anticipation of a controversial rule that would radically change the manner in which poultry is inspected. The hiring policy capped the number of permanent federal inspectors. Any vacancies that have developed were to have been filled with “temporary” inspectors who could be terminated when the new rule was finalized. The “temporary” inspector-hiring program has not achieved its goals and has left most parts of the country short of USDA inspectors. Under the new rule, the role of federal inspectors in poultry plants is reduced, turning those responsibilities over to the companies to police themselves. Moreover, problems with the controversial PHIS have further exacerbated the inability of inspectors to complete their assignments.

Today’s analysis follows multiple efforts by Food & Water Watch to alert USDA to this problem. Rather than addressing the shortages, agency leadership has tried to deny the existence of shortages or downplay their impact.

“USDA’s data tells the story—inspector shortages mean that some meat and poultry products are not being adequately inspected,” said Hauter.“It is time for Congress and USDA make sure that meat and poultry inspection get the necessary resources to provide continuous government inspection of meat and poultry products.”

Read the backgrounder here.

Chart 1: Frequency of “not performed” task codes listed in PHIS by establishment number, June 2012 through July 2014. Full list of not performed tasks available on request.

Chart 2:  The top thirty plants listed for select categories of “not performed” codes, June 2012 through July 2014.

Chart 3: Summary of FSIS tables on inspector shortages for FY 2014.  Full set of tables received from FSIS available on request.

Contact: Kate Fried, Food & Water Watch, (202) 683-4905, kfried(at)fwwatch(dot)org.

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February 20th, 2015

Food for Thought With Dr. Dennis Keeney

By Kate Fried KeeneyCoverjpg

When many of us think of farms, our minds conjure idyllic images of small operations tended by friendly farmers, animals grazing freely in dewy pastures, rolls of hay that look like giant Shredded Wheats, bright red barns with silos. But with the advent of large-scale industrial farming, that reality is starkly different.

According to Food & Water Watch board member Dr. Dennis Keeney, the first director of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University, “the farm you grew up on, at least for a couple of generations, was named after the family that lived there. It became a sense of place that we really miss, because now agriculture is large corporate farms that have no sense of place. It’s a way of life that is largely gone.” Read more…

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