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October 20th, 2014

World Trade Organization Attacks Commonsense Country of Origin Labels

Corporate Trade Agenda Threatens American Consumer’s Right to Know

Washington, D.C.—Today, the World Trade Organization (WTO) ruled that mandatory country of origin labels (COOL) rules for meat and poultry that went into effect in 2013 still ran afoul of the global trade rules. The WTO’s compliance panel decided that the goal of country of origin labels was not trade illegal, but it narrowly found that the implementation of the COOL rules discouraged livestock imports from Canada and Mexico.

“The WTO’s continued assault against commonsense food labels is just another example of how corporate-controlled trade policy undermines the basic protections that U.S. consumers deserve,” said Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter. “The United States should appeal the ruling and continue to fight for sensible consumer safeguards at the supermarket.”

The WTO has not acted expeditiously on the COOL dispute and the expected appeal will likely drag on well into 2015. The compliance panel began working on this phase of the dispute in September 2013. Although meat industry opponents of COOL and other corporate interests are demanding that Congress take action to repeal COOL, there is no need to legislatively change this labeling program.

“Congress should leave the popular COOL labels alone and not legislate in haste,” said Hauter. “The muddy WTO ruling does not warrant a blunt legislative instrument like repealing or weakening COOL.”

COOL labels were included in the 2002 and 2008 Farm Bills due to overwhelming consumer and farmer support. COOL is required for unprocessed beef, pork, poultry, lamb, goat, fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables, some nuts and seafood. Congress reaffirmed mandatory labeling in the 2014 Farm Bill by adding venison to the products covered by the COOL labels.

Canada and Mexico challenged the U.S. rules for COOL at the WTO in 2008 before the first label was ever applied to a steak or pork chop. COOL didn’t even go into effect until 2009, and those original labels were vague and confusing to consumers, especially the ‘mixed-origin’ labels that were allowed to state for example, ‘Product of USA, Canada.’ Canada and Mexico prevailed in the WTO dispute over the original 2009 rules when the WTO determined that, although the goal of providing information about the source of food to consumers was WTO-legal, the confusing labels did not justify the cost of maintaining information on the origin of livestock.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) updated the COOL rules in 2013 to address the concerns raised by the WTO decision by eliminating the misleading ‘mixed origin’ country of origin label for meat and ensuring that each cut of meat displays each stage of production (where the animal was born, raised and slaughtered) on the label. This sensible approach improved the utility of the information consumers receive from the label and allows livestock producers to distinguish their products in the marketplace.

Nonetheless, Canada and Mexico demanded that the WTO reject the new COOL rules and today the WTO recognized that although the new rules attempt to fulfill a WTO-legitimate regulatory objective and were more accurate, it found that the new labeling regime still did not appropriately balance consumer information with the regulatory costs. It suggested that the rules were not specific enough (by not clearly specifying that imported livestock fed in the United States also were fed for a portion of their lives in the country where they were born) and highlighted the preposterously unlikely scenario of consumers being mislead in the event that livestock were raised in multiple countries before being imported to the United States. These dubious limitations on consumer information provided the basis for arguing that the new COOL labels did not provide sufficiently accurate information to justify the cost of the rule. 

“People have the right to know where the food they feed their families comes from. It is nonsensical that a label that lets consumers know the origin of their food is a trade barrier,” said Hauter. “Congress and USDA must stand up to the WTO and maintain the existing requirements for country of origin labeling.”

This trade dispute also highlights how corporate special interests can use the WTO to evade democratic governance. For the last fifteen years, the U.S. meatpacking industry has tried to prevent consumers from knowing the source of their food. The industry opposed COOL in the Congress, the executive branch and the courts but COOL has survived the special interest attacks. This year, the meatpacking lobby sued to block the 2013 COOL rules and lost their legal case at the U.S. District Court, U.S. Court of Appeals and even a further en banc panel of Appellate jurists. The meatpackers also tried and failed to repeal COOL during the 2014 Farm Bill debate.

“The meatpacking lobby has lost the COOL debate from the court of public opinion to the Court of Appeals to the halls of Congress so they are taking their complaint to the faceless unelected bureaucrats in Geneva,” said Hauter. “When the meat cannot get its way here in America, it is trying to use the WTO to overturn the will of the American people.”

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October 15th, 2014

Albuquerque, Santa Fe Stand Up for Public Health

Advocates applaud resolutions urging Congress to end antibiotic abuse on factory farms

NEW MEXICO — Food & Water Watch and public health advocates applaud the City Councils of Albuquerque and Santa Fe for passing resolutions calling on Congress to protect public health by passing national legislation to stop the unnecessary use of antibiotics on factory farms. New Mexico’s two largest cities last week became the first in the state to pass such resolutions.

City Council Member Rey Garduno, who sponsored the Albuquerque resolution says, “This memorial was important because not only do we want to make a statement to our federal delegation, but to also inform and discuss the issue at the local level. We need to create awareness regarding our food production and do our best to prevent any public health threats.”

City Council Member Pattie Bushee sponsored the Sante Fe resolution. “Santa Fe stands proudly with Albuquerque and a growing number communities that want antibiotics to keep working for people,” says Bushee. “I hope communities throughout the West will join us in sending this message to Congress.”

Eighty percent of antibiotics used in the United States are administered on factory farms to animals that aren’t sick. This overuse of antibiotics creates “superbugs”—bacteria that is resistant to antibiotics.

“Twenty-three thousand people die each year in the United States from antibiotic resistant infections,” says Eleanor Bravo, Food & Water Watch Southwest organizer. “The public and elected leaders must take action to keep antibiotics working for people. I commend the Santa Fe and Albuquerque City Councils for recognizing the urgency of this situation and taking the lead in in the Southwest.”

Food & Water Watch, which works to ensure the food, water and fish we consume is safe, accessible and sustainable, has worked with more than thirty U.S. cities to pass resolutions in support of national legislation to stop the use of unnecessary antibiotics in livestock.

Specifically, the resolutions urge Congress to pass HR 11509, the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA) and S 1256, the Preventing Antibiotic Resistance Act (PARA). Emeryville and Fairfax have also passed resolutions and other California cities are expected to do so in the coming months.

“During my many years as a medical doctor I have seen increasing microbial resistance to conventional antibiotics in the general patient population,” says Michele A Moro, MD, MPh and Associate Professor at University of New Mexico. “Review of the medical literature makes clear that this human resistance is due in no small part to the over-use of antibiotics in the farm animal population.”

October 7th, 2014

After Six Years of Inaction, Consumer Organizations Urge Feds to Implement Catfish Inspection Program

Washington, D.C.— Today, a coalition of consumer and advocacy organizations including Food & Water Watch, the Center for Foodborne Illness Research & Prevention, Consumer Federation of America, National Consumers League and United Food & Commercial Workers International Union called on the Office of Management and Budget to create an inspection program for domestic and imported catfish. The 2008 Farm Bill mandated the creation of such a program, to be administered by USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), which was supposed to be implemented by December 2009.

“In 2013, Americans consumed more than 305 million pounds of catfish, 78 percent of which was imported, mostly from Vietnam,” said Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter. “Americans want to be sure that the catfish they eat and feed their families is safe, yet bowing to pressure from importers and other nations, the Obama administration continues to hold up the implementation of this important rule. Enough is enough.”

The Food and Drug Administration currently regulates catfish. Domestic catfish processors are subject to FDA inspections once every 5 to 10 years and only 2 percent of imported catfish gets inspected. The new inspection program would subject domestic catfish processors to daily USDA inspection, and imported catfish, much of which is raised in unsanitary conditions and is treated with antibiotics and other chemicals that have been deemed to be illegal in the U.S., would receive more rigorous inspection by the USDA.

There is clear scientific evidence that the residues of chemicals used in aquaculture can remain in the edible portion of the fish through harvesting, processing and consumption. The FDA has determined that the potential immediate and long-range human health consequences may include hypersensitivity reactions, toxicity-related reactions, potential carcinogenic and mutagenic effects and increasing prevalence of antibiotic-resistant microorganisms.

A 2011 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report found that the FDA imported seafood sampling program did not generally test for drugs that some countries and the European Union have approved for use in aquaculture, despite the fact that many of those drugs remain unapproved in the United States. Moreover, only a small share of imported seafood is tested. For example, GAO determined that in fiscal year 2009, FDA tested about 0.1 percent of all imported seafood products for drug residues. Specifically regarding catfish during fiscal years 2006 through 2009, GAO found that the FDA did not analyze a single catfish sample for nitrofurans, which is a class of antibacterial drug commonly used in foreign aquaculture that has been banned by the FDA because of its carcinogenic effects and potential risk to public health.

“USDA catfish inspection has the potential to significantly improve consumer safety, without negatively impacting U.S. seafood companies, international trade or the regulatory responsibilities of federal agencies. The domestic catfish industry welcomes this regulation, as do consumers. Six years is more than enough of time, let’s get this rule implemented,” urged Hauter.

Read the letter here:

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

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October 6th, 2014

Food & Water Watch Urges USDA to Protect U.S. Consumers from Australian Meat, Re-Evaluate Equivalency of Meat Inspection System

Washington, D.C. – Spurred on by reports that meat companies are abandoning the Australian Meat Inspection System (AEMIS) that USDA’s Inspection Service found to be equivalent, the national advocacy organization Food & Water Watch today asked USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack to re-evaluate the equivalency determination for AMEIS. This is the fifth time in two years that Food & Water Watch has made this request.

“Although the European Union has flagged definite problems in allowing meat companies to police their own inspection systems, the USDA has yet to speak out about this very obvious conflict of interest,” said Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter. “Yet if the result of a privatized meat inspection system in Australian is food that is unsafe to eat, the United States owes it to consumers to revoke the equivalency determination for AEMIS.”

In 2013 alone the US imported over 620 million pounds of red meat from Australia, and that figure is expected to increase by the end of 2014. Since Australia implemented AEMIS, USDA import inspectors have found serious food safety violations, including traces of fecal matter on meat shipments and even positive test results for the pathogen E.coli 0157:H7.  An audit of the system conducted by FSIS and posted last month concluded that the Australian Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) was not holding Australian meat companies accountable for the contamination that was being found on meat being exported to the U.S. Specifically, FSIS found that DAFF did not require those meat companies that shifted to AEMIS to reassess their food safety plans to ensure that they were not putting contaminated meat into commerce.

“It’s clear that Australia’s privatized meat inspection system is failing consumers, particularly as some plants are asking that the government take up this essential service. With Australia a major trading partner, we need to take every measure possible to ensure that meat from that nation is safe to eat. That can only be accomplished under a government-led inspection system,” said Hauter.

Read the letter here.

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

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October 3rd, 2014

Making Big Ag Bigger Is Not “Climate-Smart”

By Genna Reed GMO_Farming_BlogThumb

Combatting climate change was on everyone’s radar recently when the United Nations (UN) Climate Change Summit spurred the White House, governments and food corporations to pledge to make changes to address the biggest environmental concern of our time, specifically with respect to agriculture. Led in part by corporate behemoths like Walmart and McDonald’s, a new project was born out of this summit: the UN’s Global Alliance for “Climate-Smart Agriculture” (CSA). Read more…

September 26th, 2014

Notes from the “Wicked” Weed Summit

By Genna Reed weeds and tractor steering wheel

On September 10, the Weed Science Society of America held its second summit to discuss the so-called “wicked” problem of herbicide resistance in agriculture, hosted by the National Academy of Sciences. In a fitting sequel to the 2012 meeting with the same charge, many of the speakers got close to tackling the true problem at hand, our chemical-intensive paradigm in agriculture, but never quite got there. Perhaps one of the top reasons for this was the make-up of the audience members, 40 percent of which identified themselves as hailing from the agricultural chemical industry, which has an interest in selling more agrochemicals. Only about 5 percent were farmers.

Read more…

September 25th, 2014

The Science is Still Out on GMO Moths

By Genna Reed Soy_Field

Like many relatives, vegetables within the cabbage family share a similar trait: they’re prone to invasion from pests. Cornell University is at work to address the problem, but if its current “solution” is any indication, it scientists definitely need to go back to the drawing board. The USDA has made available for comment, the environmental assessment of the field trial of the genetically engineered diamondback moth, cooked up in a lab to supposedly protect cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and their kin from pesky invaders.

Read more…

September 23rd, 2014

Food & Water Watch to SEC and FDA: Stop AquaBounty’s Campaign of Misinformation on GMO Salmon

Consumer Group Asks Federal Regulators to Correct Company’s Misleading Filings

Washington, D.C. — In response to misleading information found in AquaBounty Technologies’ newest regulatory filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange (SEC), including that the company’s GMO salmon product will not require a label, Food & Water Watch called on the SEC today to make corrections to protect investors. Food & Water Watch also called on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to take action, as this represents the second time this year that AquaBounty has misleadingly asserted that GMO salmon will not require a label, if and when FDA gives regulatory approval. In reality, FDA has not made a labeling decision.

“AquaBounty’s pattern of willful distortion shows how desperate the company is to promote it’s totally unnecessary product, which consumers have said they won’t eat, grocery stores have said they won’t sell, the salmon industry has said they won’t grow, and scientists have said is too risky,” said Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director of Food & Water Watch.

AquaBounty’s initial regulatory submission to SEC in April, which was part of the company’s bid to join NASDAQ, has been followed by a succession of amended registrations forms. The amended forms seem to be an attempt by the company to respond to complaints from Food & Water Watch about misrepresentations and omissions. The omissions included the company’s failure to acknowledge its serious battle with diseased GMO salmon in its production facility and that many of the nation’s leading grocers have pledged to not sell GMO salmon in response to widespread consumer opposition. AquaBounty’s amended forms attempted to correct these problems, but also introduced new false statements, including some on labeling. Read more…

How your Tax Dollars are Helping Distort the GMO-Labeling Debate

By Tim Schwab

GMO_Farming_BlogThumbThese days, one of the biggest debates around food concerns labeling genetically engineered foods. State-level ballot initiatives and legislative efforts to require labeling of GMOs have sprung up in more than twenty states, with Connecticut, Maine and Vermont already declaring victories for consumers by mandating labeling.

Yet our nation’s taxpayer-funded cooperative extension program, created by Congress 100 years ago with a mission to conduct education and outreach around important agricultural topics, has been largely silent in the raging public debate. If so desired, the USDA and our fifty states could marshal their army of extension officers and specialists to weigh in on GMO labeling. Perhaps wisely, extension has not taken a position.

However, individual extension employees are speaking out, and in the places where extension pops up in the GMO-labeling debate, it’s almost always taking the side of the biotechnology industry, using industry studies and talking points to make their case. Extension specialists from the University of California are speaking out about how GMO labeling will increase the cost of food or will discourage consumers from eating healthy food. Extension officers from Cornell University and the University of Connecticut call consumers uninformed or emotional, then proceed to recite industry spin about GMOs.

Such statements not only evidence a bias toward industry, they also are grossly inaccurate and highly misleading. Let’s examine the argument regarding higher costs associated with GMO labeling, the main talking point of industry-funded lobbying campaigns against labeling efforts. Such claims are undergirded not by independent science, but by industry-funded studies. This spring, the biotechnology industry funded a Cornell University professor to conduct a study that found—surprise—that GMO labeling will increase costs for consumers.

While the University of California’s extension highlights the findings of industry studies, it ignores those funded by GMO-labeling advocates or independent sources, which arrive at different conclusions.

Indeed, the GMO labeling debate sure would sound different if extension asserted itself as an impartial disseminator of information, noting that independent studies often show that labeling GMOs will not substantially increase the price of food for consumers, while those studies funded by industry groups, which have a financial interest in prohibiting labeling, show the opposite.

Or what if extension officers instead noted that sixty-four nations require GMO labeling or that many countries have banned or restricted production of GMOs? They could also mention that there is no scientific consensus on the safety of GMOs, and independent researchers have long complained that industry restricts independent research.

The law that created extension charged it with disseminating “useful and practical” information about agriculture to the public, but extension officers are only telling one side of the story on GMOs, that of industry, which is neither useful, nor practical—nor accurate. And the public debate on this controversial issue has suffered for it.

Want to learn more about the 100-year anniversary of extension? Check out the rest of the series here.

September 17th, 2014

We Knew It! Reuters Confirms Antibiotic Misuse in Poultry Farms 

By Sarah Borron Antibiotics_Pill_Bottle

Food & Water Watch has long worked to stop the nontherapeutic uses of antibiotics that are rampant in the poultry industry. Adding fuel to the fire, Reuters recently released a stunning report further detailing this disturbing phenomenon.

The reporters analyzed industry data usually kept from the public as confidential business information, detailing the drugs put in chicken feed. Just how secret is that information normally kept? Even an FDA veterinarian admitted that the agency doesn’t have “an idea first-hand of what’s going on” with antibiotics on farms, so suffice to say, the revelations in this article are incredibly important. Read more…

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