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June 29th, 2015

Food & Water Watch Denounces Beef Imports From Brazil, Argentina

Statement of Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter

Washington, D.C.—“Today, USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) announced that it has lifted decades old restrictions on the importation of fresh beef from Brazil and Argentina, countries with a history of the deadly disease of foot and mouth disease (FMD) in their animal herds. The U.S. has not experienced a case of FMD since 1929 and has successfully kept animals and meat from countries with a history of this disease out of its food system. Today, APHIS is abandoning that policy, putting our animal herds at risk.

“APHIS is, in effect, thumbing its nose at members of Congress who requested that the U.S. Government Accountability Office conduct a study of the two proposed rules. That study has not been completed. These two rules were considered ‘significant’ by the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB). APHIS transmitted those rules to OMB on May 22, 2015.  They were released on June 26. OMB can take up to 90 days to review ‘significant’ rules, but it rushed through the process. Food & Water Watch met with the OMB staff on June 12, arguing against the approval of the two final rules.

“Brazil and Argentina have checkered food safety records, as USDA has been forced on several occasions to suspend imports of products currently eligible to come into the U.S. for various food safety violations and for failure to meet our inspection standards.

“What is especially repugnant about the timing of this announcement is the fact that Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff is scheduled to meet with President Obama tomorrow. She is going to be handed this as a welcome present, reminiscent of the time in 2006 when the Bush administration handed Chinese President Hu Jintao the equivalency determination for the importation of processed poultry from the People’s Republic of China after a truncated review of that final rule by OMB.

The lifted restrictions on imports from Brazil and Argentina follow a disturbing trend of lowering food import standards, established by the recent attempt to gut Country of Origin Labeling, in order to pander to the interests of the corporate meatpackers lobby.”

Contact: Kate Fried, Food & Water Watch, (202) 683-2500, kfried(at)fwwatch(dot)org.

June 25th, 2015

What Makes a Poison?

By Genna Reed airplane spraying pesticide

The chemicals that we’re exposed to in our daily lives are often approved by the government under the assumption that they’re safe in small doses, even over a long period of time. For years, regulators relied on the old adage “the dose makes the poison” to try to explain their logic. While that might have appeared true for certain chemicals for many years, we now live in a world where exposure to a large variety of chemicals is unavoidable and it’s finally becoming clear that we can’t evaluate these chemicals in isolation. Read more…

Food & Water Watch Decries Voluntary Country of Origin Labeling Proposal

Statement of Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter

Washington, D.C. — “Today, the Senate Agriculture Committee held a hearing on the anti-consumer proposal to replace mandatory country of origin labels (COOL) with a voluntary labeling program for beef and pork products. This policy change would let meatpackers conceal the origin of the food Americans feed their families. Food & Water Watch vehemently opposes the elimination of mandatory COOL either by repealing the statute or by making these labels voluntary.

“Last month, the House of Representatives rashly repealed country of origin labeling for beef, pork, chicken and ground meat under the guise of responding to an international trade dispute. Canada and Mexico challenged mandatory country of origin labeling at the World Trade Organization and have threatened to apply billions of dollars in tariffs to U.S. exports if the United States does not overturn its own law requiring labeling of meat. But these penalty levels have never been approved by the WTO and the dispute process has not been completed.

“Today, Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) offered a proposal she hoped would mollify our trading partners but it will not. Canada and Mexico are demanding unconditional repeal even in advance of the final WTO arbitration. A voluntary labeling scheme that primarily allows meatpackers to choose whether or not to affix a ‘born and raised in America’ label would present nearly identical WTO problems as a mandatory label, but with few of the benefits. The United States has been embroiled in a nearly two-decade WTO dispute over the voluntary ‘dolphin-safe tuna’ labels, so making COOL labels voluntary does not automatically eliminate trade disputes.

“The long struggle to require basic information on food labels has made it clear that we can not allow the meatpacking, food processing and grocery retail industries to determine what to disclose to consumers. More Americans are demanding to know more about what is in their food and where it comes from, but Senator Stabenow’s proposal lets Big Ag decide whether or not they will tell us what we are feeding our families.

“Voluntary COOL is indistinguishable from total repeal: meatpackers won’t use it, consumers won’t see it and U.S. farmers and ranchers won’t benefit from it. We had voluntary COOL prior to 2009, and the meatpackers refused to sell beef and pork with a ‘born and raised in America’ label.

“This week the Senate approved Fast Tracking more trade deals that give foreign trade bureaucrats the authority to trump the U.S. Congress. The Senate should not cede its authority to trade tribunals by gutting COOL. Whether it is in the form of repeal, or making this mandatory labeling requirement voluntary, changing our law on labeling before the WTO process is even finished is unacceptable.”

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

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June 24th, 2015

Consumers Score Huge Victory As Federal Judge Blocks Sysco Merger

By Tyler Shannon Fork_Plate_Spoon

In a stunning victory for people, independent restaurants and public cafeterias, a federal judge struck down the proposed merger of Sysco and US Foods, the only two national food distribution companies in the United States. Food & Water Watch opposed this merger when it was announced nearly two years ago.

Sysco and US Foods are the only companies that provide national distribution networks to foodservice customers such as schools, restaurants, and hospitals. If the merger had gone through, these establishments would have had essentially only one supplier, and the merged company could have raised prices with impunity. Ultimately, you and I would have paid the price for this merger. Thankfully, the Federal Trade Commission prevailed in its suit to block the merger and there will still be some resemblance of competition in this market.

The February FTC lawsuit argued that if the proposed merger went through it would substantially increase prices for customers, and the judge agreed. The merged company would have controlled three quarters of the national food service distribution market and have a stranglehold over the entire industry. This ruling is likely to have put a complete stop to the merger, and although Sysco is looking at other options it recognizes it may have to terminate the merger agreement.

Although the court blocked the merger, those that stood up to the proposed merger may face retribution from Sysco down the road. During the court proceedings, Sysco requested and subsequently received the witness list of the people and organizations that opposed the merger, including customers, competitors and even its own employees. In a highly disappointing ruling, the judge granted the request, despite the high likelihood that Sysco would use this information to retaliate against its customers and competitors for speaking out against the merger.

The Federal Trade Commission must now monitor Sysco’s treatment of those that stepped up and provided the agency crucial information in its antitrust investigation. The federal antitrust authorities must establish an ironclad guarantee of anonymity for those that provide evidence in merger cases, especially the rumored Monsanto-Syngneta deal. Otherwise the antitrust witness list can easily become a retaliatory blacklist.

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June 23rd, 2015

Free-Trade Senate Democrats Provide Narrow Margin to Pass Fast Track

By Wenonah Hauter

1504_FBSq_NoFastTrack-C1Today, the Senate cleared a key procedural hurdle on a degraded version of the Fast Track Trade Promotion Authority by the narrowest margin in the legislative mechanism’s history, 60-37. The procedural measure required 60 votes to pass. A smaller handful of Democrats joined with Senate Republicans to pass Fast Track over the will of the American people, who have been clamoring to halt the rush to rubber stamp trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Two Senators switched their votes from yes to no, Senator Ben Cardin (D-Maryland) and Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX).

The 13 corporate trade backers included: Senators Michael Bennet (D-Colorado), Maria Cantwell (D-Washington), Thomas Carper (D-Delaware), Chris Coons (D-Delaware), Diane Feinstein (D-California), Heidi Heitkamp (D-North Dakota), Tim Kaine (D-Virginia), Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri), Patty Murray (D-Washington), Bill Nelson (D-Florida), Jeanne Shaheen (D-New Hampshire), Mark Warner (D-Virginia) and, the co-sponsor, Ron Wyden (D-Oregon). Senators Bennet, Murray and Wyden are all up for re-election in 2016, and voters will remember this Fast Track betrayal when they go to the polls.

Last month, the Senate passed a different version of Fast Track, but House Republicans eviscerated the delicate Senate policy balances, making the version the Senate passed today considerably worse. Today’s legislation does not include the worker-retraining program that many said was essential to securing their vote. Democrats that supported Fast Track today took a leap of faith that House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) can actually pass the worker retraining measures. The Senate should have forced the House to act first on the worker assistance program before walking the plank on Fast Track.

Today’s bill also weakened the Senate’s earlier provisions addressing human trafficking and currency manipulation and includes new House language that prohibits trade deals from ever addressing climate change. Corporate interests are being put on a pedestal, while the health and safety of the American people and our environment are being swept under the rug. Tomorrow, the Senate will likely vote to pass Fast Track, which only requires a simple 51-vote majority, far fewer votes than were needed today.

Fast Track will accelerate congressional consideration of the as-yet-unseen Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade pact that will undermine key consumer, public health and environmental protections. The Senate Democrats that voted for Fast Track today did so in part because of the promise that the TPP will be “the most progressive trade deal in history” according to Senator Wyden. This is a pathetically low bar, given how bad all the prior trade deals have been.

The Senate passed Fast Track on the narrowest margin in its history today because of the stalwart nationwide activism and advocacy. Food & Water Watch will continue to push for trade deals that put workers, the environment and commonsense consumer protections ahead of Big Business. We will not stand for trade deals like the TPP that undermine our food safety standards, expand fracking and privatize our municipal water systems.

Free-Trade Senate Democrats Provide Narrow Margin to Pass Fast Track

Statement of Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter

Washington, D.C. — “Today, the Senate narrowly approved a procedural motion to pass a degraded version of the Fast Track Trade Promotion Authority that passed last month. A smaller handful of Democrats joined with Senate Republicans to pass Fast Track over the will of the American people who have been clamoring to halt the rush to rubber stamp trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

“Last month, the Senate passed a different version of Fast Track, but House Republicans eviscerated the delicate Senate policy balances, making the version the Senate passed today considerably worse. Today’s legislation does not include the worker-retraining program that many said was essential to securing their vote, but House Republicans are unlikely to ensure this program survives to the President’s desk. Today’s bill also weakened the Senate’s earlier provisions addressing human trafficking and currency manipulation and includes new House language that prohibits trade deals from ever addressing climate change or immigration issues.

“Fast Track will accelerate Congressional consideration of the as-yet-unseen Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade pact that will undermine key consumer, public health and environmental protections, and other trade deals that follow. These trade deals could undermine America’s food safety standards and commonsense food labeling measures, bringing a rising tide of unsafe imported food to our grocery stores and restaurants.

“The senators who provided the margin of Fast Track victory will face angry voters in their next elections. Constituents will hold them accountable for putting the interests of transnational corporations ahead of the public.

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

June 18th, 2015

Food & Water Watch Slams House Passage of Fast Track

Statement of Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter

Washington, D.C. — “Today, the Republican leadership rammed undemocratic stand-alone Fast Track legislation, also known as Trade Promotion Authority, through the House of Representatives. This bill puts transnational corporate interests ahead of the American people. Just last week, Congress stood up for its constituents when it voted down a key portion of the Fast Track trade package and stalled the bill’s progress. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and President Obama should have accepted the will of the American people rather than resorting to parliamentary chicanery to push their corporate trade agenda.

“Less than a week ago, the House roundly rejected the worker assistance program that had been part of the Senate legislation; today, the House narrowly passed the Fast Track provision and there is no guarantee the stranded worker assistance program will ever be rejoined to the trade package. The Republican leaders who have fostered a bitterly divisive Congress are now demanding that Democrats and the American people take this commitment on good faith in order to finalize a trade agenda that imperils consumers, workers and the environment.

“Fast Track will also pave the way for Congress to rubber stamp the as-yet-unseen Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade pact that will undermine key consumer, public health and environmental protections, and other trade deals that follow. The trade deals facilitated by Fast Track could undermine America’s food safety standards and commonsense food labeling measures, bringing a rising tide of unsafe imported food to our grocery stores and restaurants. Just last week, U.S. legislators gutted country of origin meat labeling laws, a sad example of our politicians kowtowing to unelected trade bureaucrats. With Fast Track, we can expect to see more of the same.

“The legislation that barely squeaked through the House today faces a much more uncertain future in the Senate. Today’s narrow vote to approve Fast Track in the House is an ominous harbinger of the fate of Fast Track in the Senate, the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the electoral prospects for Fast Track supporters.

“Voters will remember all this and hold members of Congress accountable for siding with transnational corporations rather than their constituents.”

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

June 16th, 2015

Groups Urge WHO to Set Safety Standards for Herbicide Glyphosate it Classified as Carcinogenic

They also call for investigation into apparent conflicts of interest on a WHO panel reviewing widely used herbicide 

WASHINGTON (June 16, 2015) – A coalition of groups are urging the World Health Organization to swiftly set new safety standards for the world’s most widely used herbicide—glyphosate, often sold as
“Roundup” – after a WHO cancer-evaluating arm recently classified it as a probable human carcinogen.

In a letter to the WHO, the coalition also raised concerns about conflicts of interest on an expert advisory panel that may review the cancer classification that could cloud its review. Researching public documents, the groups found three of eight panel members with financial and professional ties to the chemical industry, including Monsanto, the largest producer of glyphosate.

As a consequence, the WHO should conduct its own investigation and remove any panelists with conflicts of interest, said the letter signed by the Natural Resources Defense Council, Friends of the Earth US, Friends of the Earth Europe, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Center for Food Safety, Pesticide Action Network of North America, Pesticide Action Network UK, Food & Water Watch and Toxic Free North Carolina.

“The WHO is highly respected for protecting public health around the world, and it should move forward immediately to safeguard people from being harmed by glyphosate,” said NRDC Health Program Director Erik Olson. “At the same time, the WHO should make absolutely sure that its expert review panel is free of conflicts of interest so it can make science-based evaluations of herbicide and pesticide residues on food and advise what levels are safe for people to be exposed to.”

Earlier this year, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a research arm of the WHO, classified the herbicides and pesticides glyphosate, malathion and diazinon as “probably carcinogenic to humans.” The next step is for that finding to be evaluated by another WHO group, the Joint FAO-WHO Meeting on Pesticide Residues.

NRDC and the other groups say that’s the group with members who have conflicts of interest. “We strongly urge WHO to ensure that the panel is free from conflicts and other biases that may unduly influence the work of the panel,” they write. In addition to Olson’s comments above, the other signers offered the following comments.

Lisa Archer, Food and Technology Program Director at Friends of the Earth US: “The WHO and EU must insure IARC’s science-based classification of glyphosate and other pesticides as probable carcinogens is upheld or risk losing credibility and public trust. Monsanto and other chemical industry interests must not be allowed to infiltrate or influence our most trusted institutions and undermine science and public health in the interest of maintaining profits.”

Magda Stoczkiewicz, Director at Friends of the Earth Europe: “Industrial agricultural in Europe is propped up by the overuse of glyphosate weedkillers. As the questions marks over its environmental and human impacts grow, safety needs to be put before profit. It is time public authorities took these warnings seriously and removed this chemical from farmers’ fields.”

Lori Ann Burd, Environmental Health Director at the Center for Biological Diversity: “Now that the World Health Organization has declared glyphosate to be a probable carcinogen, the JMPR needs to establish protective standards to ensure the safety of people and the environment. Glyphosate, often sold as Roundup, is the most widely used herbicide in the World. The JMPR’s analysis may have significant impacts to those with a financial interest in selling glyphosate-based products, thus we are very concerned that several members of the task force who may have conflicts of interest. We urge the JMPR to ensure that its analysis is free from biases that may improperly influence its conclusions, and ultimately, the health of millions of people worldwide.”

Emily Marquez, Staff Scientist at Pesticide Action Network of North America: “The IARC’s recent landmark decision on glyphosate, malathion, and diazinon poses a serious threat to Monsanto and other companies’ pesticide sales, so it is unsurprising that the decision has been called into question by industry. The JMPR’s recommendations for ‘acceptable’ levels of such pesticide residues on food must be made by a task force that is free of conflicts of interest. Several current members of the JMPR expert task force are not qualified to make recommendations due to conflicts of interest, namely close ties with glyphosate users and producers, including Monsanto.”

Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director of Food & Water Watch: “Time and time again we have seen corporate interests influence major decisions affecting the health of consumers and the environment. We will not stand by and watch WHO-IARC’s conclusion on glyphosate become watered down due to the presence of task force members tied to major biotech firms. Farmers, farmworkers and communities who live and work near farms sprayed with glyphosate are depending on a rigorous, independent review of this chemical and the WHO must provide it.”

Preston Peck, Policy Advocate, Toxic Free North Carolina: “Because of North Carolina’s $78 billion agriculture industry, glyphosate residue can be found practically all across the state affecting many, if not all, North Carolinians.  Currently, there is a conflict of interest between members of the JMPR and the WHO’s mission to provide ‘equitable and sustainable health for all’.  As long as the chemical industry, who has a vested interest in profiting from their products, continues to have a disproportionate role in the research concerning the human health effects of their products, then society can never know if the research is truly objective.  The WHO must conduct a thorough investigation of JMPR experts, remove candidates on the committee with potential conflicts of interest, and accept IARC’s research as credible, verifiable, and objective.”

The beginning text of the letter follows:

16 June 2015

Dear Dr. Chan and the Joint JMPR Secretariats,

We are writing to support the scientific review and classification of the pesticides glyphosate, malathion, and diazinon as ‘probably carcinogenic to humans’ (Group 2A) by the International Agency for Research on Cancer earlier this year, and to raise concerns about the steps that are planned to be taken by the JMPR in response to the IARC classifications. IARC is a research arm of the World Health Organization (WHO). The role of the Joint FAO-WHO Meeting on Pesticide Residues (JMPR) is to conduct scientific evaluations of pesticide residues in food and provide advice on the acceptable levels of such residues. In fulfilling its role, JMPR should accept IARC’s cancer classification as issued and proceed with the task of identifying acceptable levels based on that classification and not establish a process to second-guess the recent work of IARC.

In addition, we have examined the make-up of the expert task force through publicly available documents and have identified several members with actual or apparent conflicts of interest, including ties to glyphosate users and producers including Monsanto. Therefore we are very concerned about the ability of the expert task force as currently constituted to provide an impartial review of the risks, and make unbiased recommendations. We strongly urge WHO to ensure that the panel is free from conflicts and other biases that may unduly influence the work of the panel.

Information on the panel is here: http://www.who.int/foodsafety/areas_work/chemical-risks/jmpr/en/

List of experts is attached here: http://www.who.int/foodsafety/areas_work/chemical-risks/list_of_experts1.pdf

The full letter is here: http://docs.nrdc.org/health/files/hea_15061501a.pdf

Contact: Jake Thompson, 202-289-2387, jthompson(at)nrdc(dot)org; Elizabeth Heyd, 202-289-2424, eheyd(at)nrdc(dot)org; Kate Fried, 202-683-2500, kfried(at)fwwatch(dot)org.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 2 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world’s natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City; Washington, D.C.; Los Angeles; San Francisco; Chicago; Bozeman, Montana; and Beijing. Visit us at www.nrdc.org and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.

June 11th, 2015

Food & Water Watch Condemns COOL Capitulation by U.S. House

Statement of Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter On House of Representatives Passage of H.R. 2393

WASHINGTON, D.C. — “Wednesday’s voice vote by the House of Representatives to repeal country of origin labeling was the result of members of Congress bowing to pressure from the international meatpackers and the big business lobby. Americans overwhelmingly want to know where their food comes from and country of origin labeling (COOL) provides this commonsense information to consumers.

“For the first time in history, the House of Representatives has caved into threats from the World Trade Organization and repealed a U.S. law before the trade challenge to the law was even completed. This craven capitulation to meatpacker interests will embolden other countries to bring absurd claims to foreign trade tribunals as a way to get Congress to wipe out U.S. laws and regulations.

“The House used the excuse of the WTO dispute to gut COOL and serve the interests of the meatpackers who don’t want consumers to know what they are eating. The bill passed today in the House even repealed WTO-legal labels on ground beef and labels on chicken that were not challenged at all in the WTO case brought by Canada and Mexico.

“Canada and Mexico have threatened to impose billions of dollars in penalties over COOL, but the WTO has not authorized these penalties and that phase of the dispute has yet to begin. Members of Congress who voted to repeal COOL should be ashamed; not only have they sold out American consumers but they are encouraging foreign nations to challenge and undermine other U.S. laws at the WTO. We urge the Senate not to follow in the House’s footsteps and to stand up for U.S. consumers and farmers by defending country of origin labeling.”

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

June 10th, 2015

Artisanal Bulls**t: Antibiotic-Free Marketing

By Briana Kerensky

BlogThumb_ArtisanalBS-C1Late this spring, McDonald’s unveiled a new item on their menu: the “Artisan Grilled Chicken” sandwich. Simply seasoned with salt, garlic and parsley, the company says the grilled chicken breast contains “nothing but lovin’.”

In an effort to combat flagging sales and court more health-conscious eaters, McDonald’s recently announced plans to require its chicken suppliers to stop feeding the birds antibiotics that are used to combat human infections by March 2017. Other poultry purveyors, such as Costco and Chick-fil-A, have also publicized strategies to eventually phase out unnecessary use of some antibiotics. But once you get past the surface of these commendable plans, the truth about restaurants and other food corporations is pretty unsavory.

Let’s backtrack: why have McDonald’s and other restaurants been feeding chickens antibiotics in the first place? These companies grow and process their poultry in factory farms, which are notoriously overcrowded and filthy. In order to compensate for these deplorable conditions, many factory farms give animals low, daily doses of antibiotics.

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.

As science continues to point out the toxic relationship between factory farms and antibiotic-resistant infections, more and more people have said they’re not “lovin’ it” and taken their business from McDonald’s and other fast food giants. Using the hot term “artisan” and limiting antibiotics in its chicken is a blatant attempt by Mickey D’s to get diners back on its side and in its drive-thrus, without enacting progressive, organization-wide change. What about the nontherapeutic antibiotics they’re feeding cows and pigs? “Artisanal” chicken nuggets might be on the value menu soon, but the factory farm status quo remains for burgers and McRibs.

McDonald’s, Costco, Chick-fil-A and other corporate restaurant chains voluntarily limiting some antibiotic use in chicken is not enough to stop the overuse of antibiotics in factory farms. The problem is too big to rely on individual companies to make the right decision. Consumers deserve a baseline of good practices when it comes to antibiotic use in livestock and poultry production, and it shouldn’t be left up to consumers to try to keep track of which brand is using which practices. We need Congress to end the overuse of antibiotics on factory farms and create enforceable standards across the industry. 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.

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