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July 25th, 2014

Meat Plant Previously Passing USDA Audits Now Implicated in Chinese Food Safety Scandal

Advocacy organization urges USDA to stop equivalency process for Chinese poultry imports

Washington, D.C. – In light of the recent scandal in China involving Shanghai Husi Foods Company consumer advocacy organization Food & Water Watch has sent a letter to U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack asking him to stop all activities that would pave the way for China to export their poultry products to the U.S. The company, which sold expired meat and poultry products to Chinese fast food restaurants and exported some of those products to Japan, had been audited by the USDA in 2004 and 2010—in an effort to establish equivalency status with U.S. processing plants and pave the way for imports.  

“It has been nearly a decade since China made its initial request to send its poultry products to the U.S. and it still cannot get its act together,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. “Now, we have this scandal involving a subsidiary of a U.S. poultry processor that sold rotten poultry meat to fast food restaurants in China. Unless the USDA reverses course, food from this processor could land on our plates in the not too distant future.”

In 2006, USDA adopted a rule that granted China equivalency status to export processed poultry products to the U.S. provided that the raw poultry came from “approved sources.”  At that time, the only “approved sources” were the U.S. and Canada. When USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) conducted on-site visits of poultry processing facilities in China in 2004, the Shanghai Husi Foods plant was one of the plants the agency audited and found that there were no food safety issues. Those 2004 on-site audits served as the basis for the 2006 equivalency determination. In 2010, FSIS returned to that plant and gave it a clean bill of health again.

Because of congressional action that blocked the importation of poultry products from China for two years and because China never certified any plants under the 2006 regulation, no processed poultry products have been imported yet. China has been pressing the USDA to allow it to process its own poultry for export to the U.S. The agency will be sending auditors to China in September to determine whether the country has made changes to its slaughter inspection system to comply with U.S. requirements.

“The food inspection program is so weak that China’s own food safety officials concede that the system does not work. The USDA is unnecessarily putting U.S. consumers at risk by continuing to entertain China’s request to export its unsafe poultry to the U.S.,” said Hauter.

Contact: Darcey Rakestraw, 202-683-2467; [email protected]

July 24th, 2014

More Than 80 Farm, Consumer, Rural and Faith-Based Organizations Call on Justice Department to Extend Review of Proposed Tyson-Hillshire Merger

WASHINGTON (July 24, 2014) — Today, a coalition of 82 farm, ranch, consumer, rural and faith-based groups sent a letter demanding that the U.S. Department of Justice extend its review of the proposed Tyson Foods (Tyson) takeover of Hillshire Brands, Co. (Hillshire). The proposed merger would join the largest U.S. meat and poultry company, Tyson, with the 11th largest meat company, Hillshire, and would substantially undermine competition in the pork processing and hog purchasing sectors, disadvantaging farmers and consumers and undermining rural communities.

“Fewer buyers of hogs and sows result in a less competitive market for family farmers,” said Roger Johnson, president of National Farmers Union. “The rapid consolidation of market power in the hands of just a few pork processors resulted in the loss of more than 90 percent of all hog farms since 1980. Tyson’s takeover of Hillshire certainly warrants further investigation by the Department of Justice and should be stopped. It’s time for the Justice Department to enforce our anti-trust laws.” 

Tyson won a protracted and expensive bidding war to initiate the hostile takeover of Hillshire. The Justice Department reviews hostile takeovers on an accelerated 14-day timeline, rather than the typical 30-days to consider a more thorough merger review. The letter notes that the complexity of the proposed merger warrants a much more comprehensive review because of Tyson’s significant hog and sow purchasing and marketing and because the proposed merger would enable Tyson to undermine Hillshire’s sausage and lunchmeat rivals by disrupting their access to pork supplies. Tyson’s substantial and largely opaque role in private label processed pork production is another aspect of this deal that warrants further scrutiny from regulators. 

“Consumers have witnessed an onslaught of food company mergers over the past few years that reduced consumer choices and contributed to higher grocery store prices,” said Food & Water Watch executive director Wenonah Hauter. “The Justice Department should not rubber stamp a $9 billion hostile takeover by America’s biggest meat company that is not in the best interests of consumers or farmers.”

The proposed merger strengthens Tyson’s grip on all livestock producers. It would give the company broader control of the entire hog production sector by combining Tyson’s breeding operations, its hog and sow marketing business, and its slaughter capacity with Hillshire’s sow and boar packing plants, which would give it greater leverage over hog farmers to push down the prices they receive for their market hogs and cull sows and boars. The proposed merger also would improve Tyson’s ability to pit all livestock producers against one another by manipulating the supply of chicken to undermine the consumer demand for beef or pork and thus lower the prices cattle and hog producers receive. 

“Studies confirm that beef and pork are protein substitutes and when dominant meatpackers like Tyson have control over each, they can readily pit one commodity against another to maximize their shareholder profits at the expense of U.S. livestock producers,” said R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard.

The food and agribusiness sectors are already excessively consolidated, but there has been an accelerated wave of agribusiness and food mergers over the past 18 months that threatens to accelerate the tight monopolistic control over the entire food and farm sector. The letter concludes, “The proposed merger would significantly impair competition throughout the hog and processed pork marketplace, harming farmers, consumers, rival processors and rural communities. The Department of Justice must not grant an early termination of the merger review.”

#          #          #


The coalition letter to the U.S. Department of Justice is available here: 


For more information, contact:

Darcey Rakestraw, Food & Water Watch, (202) 683-2467

David Thews, National Farmers Union, (202) 554-1600

Laurel Masterson, R-CALF USA (406) 252-2516

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Q&A With “Resistance” Filmmaker Michael Graziano

By Katy Kiefer

“Resistance” filmmaker Michael Graziano and his daughter, Tess

Michael Graziano, the filmmaker behind Resistance, a ground-breaking new film on the growing threat of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, took time to answer some of our burning questions. Like many of us, Graziano isn’t a scientist or a doctor, but decided that this was a story the public urgently needed to hear. Keep reading to learn more about his experience making the film and what you can do to help curb antibiotic resistance. 

Q: What made you decide to tackle the problem of antibiotic resistance?

A: Our previous film Lunch Line was about the history and politics of the National School Lunch Program. In the process of making and touring that film we learned a lot about public health and became acquainted with a number of agriculture and public health advocacy groups. Through that work we started hearing about MRSA (resistant staph) infections in school locker rooms, day care centers and the like. At the same time we also started hearing about the overuse of antibiotics on farms. I decided to look more into the issue and was shocked by what I learned. I thought the problem deserved a closer, and more generally accessible examination than I could find at the time.   

Q: What was the biggest or most surprising thing you learned in the process of making the film?

A: There are a few. One is that there are basically no new antibiotics in the pharmaceutical pipeline, and even if a new compound were discovered today it could easily take 10 years and $1 billion for that compound to become a clinically useful medicine. To make matters worse, the large investment in time and money required for antibiotic development, along with some other factors addressed in the film, has caused many pharma companies to shutter their antibiotic development units so there are now only a small handful of companies actually doing this critical research.   Read more…

July 22nd, 2014

In Last Ditch Effort to Stop Filthy Chicken Rule, Consumer Group Representatives Meet with the Office of Management and Budget

Washington, D.C. – Today, representatives from several consumer organizations met with staff from the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to continue to voice their opposition to the USDA plan to transfer most poultry inspection from government inspectors to the companies so they can police themselves.

“We expect the White House to jam this rule through quickly,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch, the advocacy organization that asked for the meeting with OMB staff. “Given the failure of the Obama Administration to implement policies to protect farmers from big meat packers, we suspect they are preparing to give another huge gift to the meat industry—the ability to police themselves when it comes to food safety.”

The USDA estimated in the proposed rule that the industry will stand to gain $260 million annually because of increased production and fewer regulatory requirements with no guarantees of improved food safety.

The change in regulations was first proposed in January 2012, but because of strong opposition from consumer organizations, worker safety advocates and animal welfare groups, the implementation has been delayed. When the comment period closed on the proposed rule, USDA had received over 175,000 public comments – most of them opposed to the proposal. Since then, other petitions have been sent to USDA and the White House containing hundreds of thousands of signatures urging the withdrawal of the rule. There have also been several congressional letters sent to USDA urging reconsideration of the rule. The non-partisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report in August 2013 that called into question whether USDA had sufficient data to justify this radical change in poultry inspection.

On July 10, 2014, the USDA sent a final rule to the OMB for review that department officials claim contains significant revisions to the proposed rule. The consumer groups asked that the revised rule be made public now and have a new comment period with public meetings so that the revisions can be evaluated and receive public input. This idea was first proposed by Food & Water Watch nearly two weeks ago.

“I sincerely hope that the OMB staff listened to what was said today,” said Hauter. “The consumer group representatives left them with a considerable amount of documentation showing why the original ‘Filthy Chicken’ proposed rule was flawed. If USDA has substantially revised the proposed rule, then make its contents public now and have a new comment period. This is too important an issue to consumers to let USDA have the final say in how poultry is inspected especially with all of the controversy that the original reckless proposal has generated,” added Hauter.

Contact: Darcey Rakestraw, 202-683-2467; [email protected]

July 18th, 2014

Iowa Goes Bananas for GMOs

By Genna Reed 

Iowa happens to have planted more genetically engineered corn and soybeans than any other state this year. In part because of this agricultural trend, Iowa’s land-grant university, Iowa State University, can’t help but remain loyal to the industry that sustains much of its agricultural research funding. 

If you’ve read Food & Water Watch’s “Public Research, Private Gain”, then it’s probably not a total surprise to you that there’s a very close tie between Iowa State University and the genetically engineered seed business. Iowa State University has its own Monsanto Student Services Wing; in recent years its $30 million plant sciences institute has been directed by representatives of Monsanto, Pioneer Hi-Bred and Syngenta; and between 2006 and 2010, the university’s agronomy department took $19.5 million in research grants from private-sector donors (including the Iowa Soybean Association, Dow and Monsanto), representing close to half of its grant funding.

As far as extracurricular relationships, one Iowa State University representative has been parroting industry talking points in an effort to discredit the growing GMO labeling movement. Ruth MacDonald, a food science professor, was quoted in a Des Moines Register in a recent article, along with the Iowa Farm Bureau, discussing the supposed time-tested track record of all GMOs and the complications and costs that would come with mandatory GMO labeling. The article went on to describe the results from the Iowa Farm Bureau Food & Farm Index survey, which asked consumers about various labels, including GMO labels. The survey questions displayed in the article were convoluted, touted the proclaimed benefits of GMO foods and were clearly crafted to garner the desired results for the Farm Bureau: that consumers don’t want GMO labeling.

Iowa State’s symbiotic relationship with the biotech industry might be why it has decided to take on the first-ever human feeding trials of a banana, genetically engineered to have elevated levels of vitamin A. The ultimate goal of the project, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, will be to grow these bananas in Uganda by 2020 to fight Vitamin A deficiency, much like the notorious Golden Rice project. NPR recently reported that Iowa State University’s food science department will host the feeding trial, and will pay volunteers $900 each to eat the vitamin-A-enriched, orange hued bananas. 

Much like the Golden Rice feeding trials, the results will be inconsequential because measuring Vitamin A expression in healthy, adult volunteers will not adequately reveal whether these bananas will raise vitamin levels in the target population: Ugandan children. And, as NPR reported, “for the banana to have any impact at all, governments would have to approve it, farmers would have to grow it, and ordinary people who have to be persuaded to eat orange-tinted bananas.” Once again, development agencies, foundations, and universities are investing in uncertain technological solutions to a problem that has a more practical solution: providing low-income, rural families with the capacity to grow crops that provide balanced nutrition.

Despite what Iowa State University and the Iowa Farm Bureau might think about the need for GMO labels, one thing is for sure: consumers want the right to know what’s in their food and will continue to fight for mandatory GMO labeling. Whether you’re from Iowa or anywhere else, click here to tell your representative to support mandatory GMO labels.



July 14th, 2014

Food & Water Watch Exposes FSIS Mismanagement

Consumer Group Casts Light on Inadequate Inspection Practices That Put Consumers at Risk

Washington, D.C.—Today, the national consumer advocacy organization Food & Water Watch sent a letter to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack containing concrete examples of meat and poultry plants not receiving food safety inspections due to severe shortages of inspection personnel across the United States. These examples directly contradict statements made by high-ranking officials of the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), both on USDA’s website and before Congress.  

“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.  “We have lost confidence in the leadership at FSIS because it cannot be trusted to tell the truth or to manage the agency competently.  The time has come for an overhaul of the FSIS leadership and for the Obama administration to make sure that the agency has enough resources to fulfill its statutory and regulatory obligations to ensure that we have safe and wholesome meat and poultry supplies.”

The shortages of inspection personnel are tied directly to a hiring restriction policy adopted by the agency 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 over the past two years 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.  

Today’s letter follows up one that Food & Water Watch wrote to Secretary Vilsack in February 2014 that first alerted him to the problem. The department responded to that letter by posting a blog on March 19, 2014, by an FSIS Deputy Assistant Administrator, who vehemently disputed the allegations. The deputy administrator for the agency also testified before the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee on April 3, 2014, telling its members that there were no shortages of inspection personnel, and that all federal meat and poultry plants were receiving full inspections.  Today’s letter exposes the inaccuracies of those statements as it cites internal agency e-mails and documents describing how the inspection system has been broken in direct violation of federal statutes and regulations.

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

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July 11th, 2014

Six Books Our Staff are Reading This Summer

By Elizabeth Walek

Nothing beats lounging by the pool with a really great book! Summer is a perfect time to get caught up on reading that you’ve been putting off for weeks. Plus, books are a great way to learn more about the issues Food & Water Watch handles every day. I asked around our offices to find out which socially, politically and environmentally conscious books our staff love lately. Check out our top picks, and share your own summer reading recommendations in the comments!

Read more…

July 10th, 2014

USDA Moves Forward with Flawed Privatized Inspection Rule In Poultry Slaughter

National consumer group calls move a “Gift to Industry” 

Washington, D.C. — Today, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) sent to the White House Office of Management and Budget a final rule that would dramatically reduce the number of trained USDA inspectors in poultry slaughter plants and replace them with company employees. The USDA estimated in the proposed rule that the industry will stand to gain $260 million annually because of increased production and fewer regulatory requirements with no guarantees of improved food safety.

“This rule, which essentially privatizes poultry inspections, serves up the huge gift of deregulation to the meat industry,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. “If the White House acquiesces, it will be a disaster for workers and consumers who want to know that the poultry they are eating is safe.”

The rule was first proposed on January 27, 2012 and received over 175,000 public comments overwhelmingly opposed during the comment period. Earlier this year, over 100 groups sent a letter to President Obama and USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack urging them to withdraw the rule and another 220,000 consumers expressed their opposition to the proposed rule. Occupational safety and worker justice communities also overwhelmingly oppose the rule.

The proposed rule would:

  •  Permit chicken slaughter plants to increase line speeds to 175 birds per minute;
  •  Leave only one USDA inspector on the slaughter line to inspect three chicken carcasses every second;
  • Turn over most inspection responsibilities to untrained company employees who would be beholden to their employers and not USDA or to consumers;
  • Turn over to the companies the responsibility of developing their own food safety standards with no input from USDA.

The proposed rule would not set enforceable performance standards to decrease the levels of pathogens on poultry, and it would not require that company employees be trained before assuming inspection responsibilities. Food & Water Watch believes it would not provide meaningful worker protections against unsafe and unhealthy working conditions in the poultry industry and increased line speeds.

USDA officials have said that “significant” changes have been made to the proposed rule, but they will not reveal what those changes are until the final rule is published in the Federal Register.

The independent U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report in August 2013 that evaluated a pilot project that USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has been conducting in two-dozen poultry plants using this new inspection model. GAO came to the conclusion that the agency’s analyses of that pilot “raise questions about the validity of FSIS’ conclusion that an inspection system based on the pilot project would ensure equivalent, if not better, levels of food safety and quality than currently provided at plants not in the pilot program.” There is no indication that the shortcomings cited by the GAO have been resolved in the final rule.

In addition, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) conducted a study in one poultry slaughter facility in 2014 and found poultry workers experienced a high incidence of musculoskeletal disorders from working in poultry slaughter and processing facilities. The Director of NIOSH was forced to refute publicly the misinterpretation of the study results by FSIS Administrator Alfred Almanza, who claimed that increasing line speeds would not have a negative impact on worker health and safety. The final rule will probably not address the issue of worker safety adequately.

Since USDA officials have stated that the proposed rule has been significantly changed, Food & Water Watch is calling on the Obama Administration to publish the revised rule now and open it up for public comment for 120 days and hold public meetings during that comment period – something the USDA refused to do when the rule was first proposed.

“USDA can’t be allowed to rush this rule through without thorough consideration,” said Hauter. “If we allow this controversial model in poultry, beef and pork are next. We can’t roll back our meat inspection system if we want to continue to have a safe food supply, and the USDA needs to hear that from stakeholders,” said Hauter. 

For more information, visit

Contact: Kate Fried, Food & Water Watch, (202) 683.4905, kfried(at)fwwatch(dot)org. 

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July 3rd, 2014

FDA’s Six Month Update Shows There’s Still More to Do

By Sarah Borron 

As of this month, twelve U.S. communities have taken action to urge Congress to ban the misuse of antibiotics on factory farms. While many are urban centers that will probably never see an industrial farm, these cities and towns are standing in solidarity, shedding important new light on a growing problem — the fact that misuse of antibiotics on factory farms can make us sick. 

It was therefore extremely timely that this week, the FDA released a six-month update on the progress of its voluntary efforts to change how antibiotics are used to raise livestock. But despite the agency’s upbeat tone, not much has actually changed. 

Read more…

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Advocates to Sec. Kerry: Don’t Jeopardize Successful Food Security Program in El Salvador

Leading international development, environmental, trade and food sovereignty organizations join House Democrats in defending family farmers in El Salvador, highlight abiding concerns with U.S. trade policy

Washington, D.C. – Fifty organizations sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry calling on the U.S. government to maintain respect for the government of El Salvador’s procurement of seeds for a successful food security program.  

In April, the U.S. Embassy in San Salvador indicated that it would withhold the final approval of a $277 million Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) compact until the Salvadoran government addressed legislation that enabled the government to source seeds from small-scale producers, including local co-operatives. Though the U.S. Embassy recently announced its “satisfaction with the government’s expressed commitment to carry out future purchases of corn and bean seeds in a transparent competitive manner that respects both Salvadoran law and DR-CAFTA,” advocates remain concerned by the U.S.’ attempt to influence El Salvador’s domestic policy.

According to Stephanie Burgos, Senior Policy Advisor at Oxfam America, “El Salvador’s seed program is an important component of its national food security plan, enabling the government to procure better quality seeds for a lower price, which has improved farmers’ livelihoods. It is unacceptable that the U.S. government would undermine this initiative by using the MCC as a trade enforcement mechanism for CAFTA, whose provisions can undermine national development.”

The U.S. Food Sovereignty Alliance raised a similar critique, stating, “Food sovereignty and farmers’ control over their seeds are fundamental to community and national sovereignty. Development aid should be used to support, rather than undermine, real sustainable development based on local control. Agriculture should be controlled by the people and removed from CAFTA, the WTO and all trade agreements.”  

The letter echoes concerns from Salvadoran family farmer organizations that the U.S. government was leveraging the MCC compact in order promote transnational corporate interests.

“I suspect this is development policy by Monsanto. The U.S. shouldn’t put corporate profits over proven programs to alleviate hunger. We’ve already seen the influence the biotech industry wields when it comes to U.S. seed policy. Secretary Kerry must ensure that El Salvador is able to continue its successful program,” said Darcey O’Callaghan, international policy director at Food & Water Watch.

Earlier this week, Representatives Mark Pocan (D-WI) and Mike Honda (D-CA) were joined by 14 other House Democrats in sending a letter to Secretary Kerry, stating that “elimination of support for small-scale farmers to improve their livelihoods through domestic seed production has no place as a condition for signing the MCC compact with El Salvador.”

The debate has emerged at a moment when Congressional leaders, including Senator Menéndez (D-NJ) and Representative Engel (D-NY), have called on the Obama Administration to address economic development as one of the root causes of the refugee crisis in Central America.

“By supporting the development of local productive capacity, the Salvadoran government is attempting to create conditions that will allow families to stay together and live with dignity. It would be a shame for the Obama Administration to jeopardize one of El Salvador’s best tools for reducing rural poverty in order to satisfy corporate interests,” said Alexis Stoumbelis, Executive Director at the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador.


Laura Embree-Lowry, Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (202) 521-2510
Kate Fried, Food & Water Watch (202) 683-4905

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