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Victory! Farm Bureau case challenging EPA’s right to share factory farm data dismissed. more wins »
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January 30th, 2015

Cereal Killer: Post Holdings Takeover of MOM Brands

By Patrick Woodall CerealMerger2BlogThumb_

If you’re like many people, you may like to start your day with a bowl of cereal. Unfortunately, large food corporations are limiting your choices, making it all the more challenging to find healthy, affordable breakfast foods. That’s because right now, a handful of well-known companies like Kellogg and General Mills have a stranglehold on the breakfast cereal aisle, and a new merger announced this week will give consumers even fewer choices.

Read more…

January 28th, 2015

Farm Bureau Case Challenging EPA’s Right to Share Factory Farm Data Dismissed

“The public’s interest in clean water sources, and thus transparency related to identified pollution sources, is certain.” — U.S. Federal Judge Ann D. Montgomery

Minneapolis, MN — A federal judge dismissed a challenge brought by the American Farm Bureau Federation and National Pork Producers Council against the Environmental Protection Agency in Minneapolis late yesterday. The industry groups were seeking to block the federal agency’s ability to release public information regarding highly polluting factory farms to citizens concerned about clean water. Food & Water Watch (FWW), Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (ICCI) and The Environmental Integrity Project (EIP), represented by lawyers at the Government Accountability Project (GAP), had intervened in the case on behalf of citizens who have a right to protect their communities and their environment from polluting factory farms and to safeguard open government.

The Farm Bureau filed their case after EPA released documents relating to the location, size and ownership of thousands of industrial factory farms to environmental advocacy groups pursuant to a request made under the Freedom of Information Act back in 2013. Both EPA and several states have recognized these facilities as significant sources of pollution to many of our streams, rivers and bays across the country, yet they remain largely unregulated and relatively hidden from the members of communities in the vicinity of the operations.

“Many of our public waterways suffer from nutrient impairment and factory farms are some of the biggest nutrient polluters in the country,” said Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter. “Instead of looking for ways to avoid responsibility by filing these kinds of law suits, maybe Farm Bureau and other industry front groups should be looking for ways to clean up these facilities and make the big meat companies control their pollution.”

The court decision underscores the fact that citizens have a right to know where factory farms are located and whether or not those operations are being responsible stewards of the land and waterways. It also demonstrates that the EPA has the obligation to share this data with the public upon request.

“Iowa is overrun with these factory farms and neither EPA nor the state is doing anything to stop them from polluting; it’s left to citizens to use their right under the Clean Water Act to protect their waterways,” said ICCI Executive Director Hugh Espey. “Thankfully, industry’s effort to block citizens from the information we need to try and clean up our rivers and lakes has failed.”

“We’re grateful that the judge saw through industry’s improper attempt to keep their polluting ways in the dark,” stated Jeffery Gulley, Food and Public Health Counsel for Government Accountability Project. “Hopefully this ruling will enable the public to hold this industry accountable for the damage it continues to inflict on waterways and communities in almost every state in the country.”

Contacts:

Food & Water Watch – Rich Bindell, 202-683-2457, [email protected]

Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement – Hugh Espey, 515-282-0484, [email protected]

Government Accountability Project – Jeffrey Gulley, 706-254-5997, [email protected]

 

 

January 27th, 2015

USDA Defends Weak Food Safety System

Food & Water Watch Food Senior Lobbyist Tony Corbo

Food & Water Watch Senior Lobbyist Tony Corbo

By Tony Corbo

Last week, Food & Water Watch sent a letter to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack expressing concern over an indisputable increase in recalls involving imported meat and poultry products. It seems that ever since USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) implemented its new information technology system, the Public Health Information System (PHIS), in May 2012 to track imported food, some meat and poultry imported into the U.S. has actually escaped inspection from FSIS personnel, ultimately entering our food system.

In the wee-hours of Saturday, January 17, FSIS issued press releases revealing that two different shipments of imported meat had been recalled for lack of import inspection. This agency is notorious for issuing recall announcements on late Friday nights when most people are getting ready for their weekends and turning their attention away from work. What made these recall announcements even more suspicious was that they occurred on a three-day holiday weekend. One of the recalls involved nearly 170,000 pounds of imported pork products from Denmark that had somehow escaped port-of-entry inspection – not exactly a quantity that someone could hide under a coat and slip into the country without detection, but somehow it did.

In our letter to Secretary Vilsack, we pointed out that since October 2013, there had been ten recalls involving imported meat products that had failed to receive inspection prior to being released into our food system (an eleventh was announced on the night of January 21). There were only four such recalls during the George W. Bush administration.

In the afternoon of January 21, I participated in a regularly scheduled meeting with other consumer advocacy organizations and top FSIS management officials. At these meetings, we usually receive updates on the implementation of PHIS. Right before this meeting, however, I received an e-mail indicating that the agenda had been altered to include a presentation on how PHIS tracks imported meat and poultry products that escape import inspection. “Wow,” I said to myself. “Someone has raised hell about our letter.”

During the presentation, it became apparent that there were still glitches in the system. The coordination between PHIS and the information technology system used by U.S. Customs and Border Protection was still not working, forcing FSIS to conduct manual reconciliations of what was coming into the country to determine whether it had received inspection. As we were told, the process is “labor intensive.” Sometimes, weeks can go by before anyone realizes that imported meat has entered the country without receiving inspection. So much for automating the process, eh? We were also told that the President had issued an executive order requiring that the two IT systems be completely compatible with one another by 2016 – so we can expect at least another year of these snafus.

After the presentation, I commented that this item was clearly added to the agenda because of our letter, and was gratified that it had caught someone’s attention. I also noted that when the switch was turned on for PHIS to cover imports in May 2012, we were promised that the coordination between FSIS and Customs would be improved, and that import inspections would be conducted more efficiently. It’s obvious that this has not been the case. In fact, it seemed that the process has gotten worse. The agency claims that while the facts presented in our letter were correct, our conclusions were not. According to the agency, the increase in recalls of uninspected meat is a sign of increased transparency. But if that’s the case, it raises a whole new set of questions about how this agency has conducted its business in the past.

After the meeting, I was asked by a top FSIS official to join him in his office to discuss the matter further. He admitted that glitches remained with PHIS and that they were working to improve the system. He reiterated that the agency was trying to be more transparent with import shipments that failed to receive port-of-entry inspection and that the policy had changed in 2009. But if that’s the case, why couldn’t we find any announcements of recalls for imported meat that had bypassed inspection between 2009 and 2013? Why had the recalls started after PHIS was implemented to cover imported meat products? Were there no problems between 2009 and 2013? I received no response.

I have written before of the problems domestic FSIS inspectors have encountered with the $140 million PHIS. We have raised these issues with members of Congress. The New York Times also exposed some of these problems. Now, the same shortcomings are showing up with import inspections. Until this point, FSIS’s import inspection program has been the envy of the world. One hundred percent of imported shipments are to receive at least a cursory inspection, with intensive inspection scheduled for a portion of those. Some imported meat is detained for visual contaminants; others are detained because they fail microbiological testing conducted for pathogens and chemical contaminants. Bypassing import inspection is a big deal. While we are glad the agency is issuing Class I recalls, the most serious type, there have been far too many holes in the system.

In FY 2014, we imported over 3.5 billion pounds of meat and poultry products. The Obama administration is in the midst of negotiating new trade deals with Europe and Asia. If it gets its way, these trade deals will undoubtedly lead to increased meat and poultry imports. If the import surveillance system can’t handle what is currently showing up on our shores, how can the administration assure U.S. consumers that tainted imported meat won’t reach our dinners tables with these new trade agreements? Instead of fast-tracking the ratification of these new agreements, we say slow-track them to ensure that our food safety system can handle it. At the present time, we are of the opinion that it cannot.

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Food & Water Watch Blasts Approval of Biggest Supermarket Merger

Statement of Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter

Washington, D.C.— “The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) put the food industry ahead of consumers by refusing to block the biggest supermarket merger in history. The FTC allowed the Albertsons-Safeway merger to go through almost completely unobstructed after the chains divested a paltry number of grocery stores in a handful of cities. The merger creates the third largest grocery retailer (behind Walmart and Kroger) and leaves supermarket shoppers vulnerable to price gouging.

“The FTC approved a divestiture plan that is simply inadequate to protect consumers. It largely permits supermarkets to tighten their stranglehold on consumers at a time of rising grocery prices and stagnant wages. Albertsons and Safeway agreed to shed a modest 7 percent of their combined 2,400 stores. The FTC did not require the chains to divest a single store in twenty metropolitan areas where the merger combined local rivals. In these markets, the four largest retailers will sell two-thirds of all groceries, and 12 million consumers will face higher prices and reduced choices.

“Even in the areas where stores will be sold, the divestiture plan is unlikely to protect consumers. The merger entrenches Albertsons as the biggest grocer in 13 markets and the second biggest in six more, controlling about one-fifth of grocery sales, according to figures from Deutsche Bank.

“The FTC should have blocked this supermarket mega-merger. Unfortunately, the FTC abandoned its mission to protect consumers and allowed continued consolidation of the grocery industry, increasing the power these grocery store goliaths have over consumers and their food. By failing to decisively break up the Albertsons-Safeway merger, the FTC is only encouraging a further cascade of supermarket mergers. Unless the Obama administration stands up to this merger-mania, the supermarket monopoly will tighten its grip on consumers.”

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

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January 22nd, 2015

Crashing the Pro-GMO Party

GMO_Farming_BlogThumbBy Tim Schwab

As the National Research Council (NRC) continues its ongoing investigation into GMOs, the group held a two-day workshop last week to discuss a related issue: how to successfully communicate the science of GMOs to the public. I had hoped that the two-day meeting might be instructive—at the very least to hear the perspectives of the scientists working on this issue—but I also had my doubts.

The organizers of the workshop included staff from the Cornell Alliance for Science, an industry-aligned, pro-GMO advocacy group. The invited panelists included a representative from Monsanto and several pro-biotech academics. The only journalist presenting was Tamar Haspel of the Washington Post, who has not been shy about trumpeting what she sees as the benefits of GMOs. And NRC’s organizing body overseeing the workshop included representatives from Monsanto and Dupont.

Nowhere among all of the invitees and organizers did there appear to be a scientist critical of GMOs—no one who was likely to act as a robust counterpoint or to challenge false assumptions. Though there is a lively scientific debate about GMOs, with many scientists questioning the safety and merits of the technology, the NRC seemed to have excluded these voices. And it is difficult to imagine how the NRC could not have foreseen the impact that such one-sidedness would have on the conversation.

The pro-GMO sentiment in the room was definitely palpable at times, as participants devolved into a conversation that implicitly—and sometimes explicitly—framed the problem at hand as how to convince the public to embrace GMOs or how to challenge GMO opponents. I sat and listened as presenters and panelists mischaracterized GMO opponents as vandalizing labs or threatening and harassing scientists. It was notable that these remarks, which grossly misrepresent GMO critics, including many university scientists, went totally unchallenged. Also notable, I did not hear a single mention of the various abuses of science perpetrated by biotech companies, which censor and restrict unfavorable science—and even engage in attacks on the reputations of scientists pursuing unfavorable research.  Read more…

Rigorous Economic Study Demonstrates COOL Labels Have Not Harmed Trade Partners

Statement of Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter

Washington, D.C.—“Today, Auburn University agricultural economics professor C. Robert Taylor released a groundbreaking study that demonstrated that the U.S. Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) law has not undermined Canada and Mexico’s livestock exports to the United States. The analysis found that COOL itself did not cause the decline in livestock exports; instead COOL was implemented as the economic recession eroded consumer demand for higher-priced meats.

“Americans are more interested than ever in information about what is in the food they feed their families. A two-decade campaign by consumer and farm advocates succeeded in implementing commonsense and widely supported country of origin labels for meat, seafood, produce and other foods in 2009. But before the first steak was labeled, Canada and Mexico challenged these sensible labels as an unfair barrier to trade at the World Trade Organization.

“Canada, Mexico, the meatpacking industry and other business trade associations claim that COOL alone undermined their livestock exports. Canada has put a price tag of $2 billion annually on lost export opportunities. The meatpackers and their allies pretend that the World Trade Organization has given its blessing for $2 billion in COOL tariff penalties, but the figure is based on Canada’s deeply flawed studies that are completely debunked by Professor Taylor’s astute analysis.

“The U.S. Trade Representative has argued before the WTO that Canada’s analysis was overly simplistic, ignored key information and confused the impact of COOL with the economic effects of the recession. Professor Taylor’s more comprehensive and rigorous examination of additional factors found that COOL had minimal impact on these exports. Today’s study casts significant doubt on the likelihood of any tariff penalties, since the COOL labels did not harm Canada or Mexico’s ability to export livestock to the United States.

“Congress should ignore the propaganda about COOL that is being pushed by the multinational meatpackers and other trade associations. The simple truth is that the economic downturn, not COOL lables, eroded livestock exports to the United States. The Obama administration must defend the integrity of these labels at the WTO.

Dr. Taylor’s study is available here

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

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January 20th, 2015

Imported Pork Recall Highlights Failures of Food Import Inspections

Washington, D.C.— Following news of the USDA’s recent decision to recall nearly 170,000 pounds of imported pork products overlooked for inspection, Food & Water Watch today urged the Obama administration to reject any trade programs such as the Trans Atlantic Trade Partnership (TPP) or the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) that would expedite food imports from other nations. The national advocacy organization also called on the USDA to improve the Food Safety and Inspection Service’s (FSIS) Public Health Information System (PHIS) in order to ensure that tainted meat imports never reach the U.S. supply chain.

“FSIS has announced 10 recalls since 2013. What’s particularly disturbing is that some of the food eventually recalled had been in the U.S. food system for a year before it was discovered,” said Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter. “FSIS needs to get its act together and improve the PHIS before U.S. consumers are exposed to any more dangerous food imports.”

Implemented in May of 2012, the PHIS was advertised as providing better coordination with U.S. Customs and Border Protection so that inspections would be conducted in a more efficient manner. Instead, the exact opposite has happened.  By contrast, there were only four recalls of imported products that bypassed USDA inspection during the eight years of the Bush administration.

As the Obama administration and Congress stand poised to rush new trade deals such as the TPP and the TTIP into effect that would lead to more food imports, these latest recalls, combined with the ongoing failures of the PHIS, raise serious concerns for food safety advocates.

“If we can’t seem to handle the current load of imports on our metaphorical plates, what does that say for FSIS’s ability to handle the uptick in imports that is sure to occur through these new trade deals? The TPP and the TTIP will only exacerbate the problems in an already flawed food import inspections system,” said Hauter.

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

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January 16th, 2015

Brazilian Buyout of Chiquita Brands is Completely Bananas

Statement of Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter

Washington, D.C.— “The acquisition of Chiquita Brands International by two Brazilian firms not only increases the consolidation of our food supply, but could have devastating consequences for the state of North Carolina and its residents. The Brazilian juice giant Cutrale Group and investment firm the Safra Group have completed their acquisition of Chiquita Brands International, whose headquarters is located in Charlotte, North Carolina. This development is the latest in a cascade of food mergers that threaten to undermine farmers around the world and consumer choice as control of the food supply concentrates in the hands of a few powerful corporations.

“This latest cross-border acquisition will hit home in other ways as well — Chiquita Brands International employs 300 people at its Charlotte headquarters, most of whom are expected to lose their jobs, according to early news reports. While Charlotte and Mecklenburg County will be refunded the more than one million dollars in economic development incentives provided to the company, those employees who stand to lose their jobs may not fare quite as well.

“Over the years Chiquita Brands have become synonymous with union busting on their banana plantations and other questionable labor practices. The company’s new owners have a troubling labor track record of their own, including violating Brazilian wage and labor laws and violations of U.S. worker safety standards at their juice plants in Florida.

“Overseas ownership of yet another large food company further complicates an already complex supply chain, shielding company practices from public scrutiny and raising the stakes for consumers when food safety problems occur.

“International mergers such as this one are made easier by our failed trade policies. With President Obama and the Republican leadership in Congress moving forward with plans to fast track more bad trade deals, it is important to remember that these deals lead to lost jobs here in the United States.  We urge Congress to reject giving fast track authority to President Obama, nix bad trade deals like the Trans Pacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and to strengthen the Clayton Act in order to protect farmers and consumers from further corporate consolidation efforts.”

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

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January 15th, 2015

New Study Pokes Hole in GMO Mosquito Plan

By Genna Reed BlogThumb_GMOMostquito

Few things kill one’s experience of the great outdoors like the dreaded mosquito, and in some cases, a nibble could have serious health consequences. That’s why local governments in places like the Florida Keys are always looking for ways to control mosquito populations. But now mosquito control is colliding with biotechnology. Oxitec, the company behind GMO mosquitoes, wants to release its genetically engineered mosquitoes in the Florida Keys to combat dengue fever as soon as this spring. Read more…

USDA Says “Yes” to Pesticide Drift, Approves Dicamba-Tolerant Crops


Statement of Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter

Washington, D.C.— “Today, the U.S. Department of Agriculture approved the sale and planting of Monsanto’s genetically engineered dicamba-tolerant soybeans and cotton. This approval follows that of 2,4-D tolerant soybeans and corn, billed as the next generation of herbicide-tolerant crops to tackle glyphosate (Roundup)-resistant weeds. Dicamba-tolerant soy and cotton are simply the latest example of USDA’s allegiance to the biotechnology industry and dependence upon chemical solutions. This continues the disturbing trend of more herbicide-tolerant crop approvals taking place under President Obama’s watch.

“Once again, the USDA has neglected to look at the full range of impacts associated with these GMO herbicide-tolerant crops. Instead the agency has opted for a short-term solution to superweeds that have become resistant to herbicides because of previous approvals of GMOs, thereby perpetuating and escalating chemical use.

“The USDA’s Environmental Impact Statement predicted that dicamba use will increase 88-fold and 14-fold for soybeans and cotton, respectively, compared to current levels. Dicamba-tolerant crops will allow for wider windows of spraying throughout the season at unprecedented levels. Now that dicamba will be used in larger quantities, Monsanto has petitioned the EPA to increase the tolerance level of dicamba on cottonseed 150-fold. Higher levels of dicamba in the environment and our food pose unacceptable risks to human health and a wide variety of flora and fauna.

“The USDA has ignored pleas from organic farmers and other specialty crop growers asking the agency not to approve these crops that will increase applications of this incredibly drift-prone herbicide. Farmers of nearby non-tolerant crops will pay the price for USDA’s short-term weed management fix in the form of diminished or completely destroyed harvests caused by dicamba drift.

“There are currently at least 70 million acres in the United States afflicted with Roundup-resistant weeds. It is only a matter of time before those weeds become resistant not just to Roundup, but to a mix of other herbicides, as their associated herbicide-tolerant crops are being planted and sprayed with chemical cocktails. Instead of taking action to address the long-term superweed problem in agriculture, the USDA has chosen the status quo.

Unfortunately, the collateral damage of today’s USDA decision will be felt by organic and specialty crop farmers across the United States who have no defense against the use of this errant herbicide.”

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

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