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Posts categorized as food

October 28th, 2014

Sysco-US Foods Merger More Trick Than Treat

Fork_Plate_SpoonLast December, Sysco, the United States’ largest food distribution company, announced it wanted to buy its largest competitor, US Foods. These two firms are really the only national chains that deliver food to restaurants, cafeterias, stadiums, hotels, nursing homes and other foodservice locations. The deal would give Sysco unbelievable dominance in foodservice delivery that would ultimately drive up prices for consumers and reduce the prices farmers receive.

Food & Water Watch called on federal antitrust regulators to block the mega-merger back in January, but the Federal Trade Commission has taken nearly eleven months to decide what to do. Recently, the FTC’s wall of silence began to melt and there are now inklings that the antitrust agency will decide whether or not to block the merger by the end of the month. Will it be a Halloween with a spooky antitrust enforcement surprise?

Federal regulators are trying to see whether Sysco would sell enough warehouses and distribution centers to make sure that the post-merger Sysco cannot run roughshod over its rivals and price gouge restaurants, cafeterias and ultimately, consumers. Sysco and US Foods are already so much bigger than their regional rivals, that it would be hard for these firms to either buy many warehouses or step up to provide real competition to the new, even bigger Sysco.

Recently, the leaders of the Senate Antitrust Subcommittee, Chairwoman Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) and Ranking Member Mike Lee (R-Utah), sent a letter to the FTC that raised concerns about whether these rivals could viably compete against the behemoth, post-merger Sysco. Hopefully, the FTC will heed the Senators’ warning and file suit to block this merger, because another mega-merger would be really scary for consumers.

 

 

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GM Salmon Company Fined Heavily for Repeated Violations in Panama

October 28, 2014—Brussels and Washington, DC. Officials in Panama fined U.S. biotech company AquaBounty Technologies a near-maximum US$9,500 after ruling that the company has been operating in violation of environmental regulations during its experiments with genetically modified (GM) salmon. Food & Water Europe, Food & Water Watch, the Center for Food Safety and Friends of the Earth U.S. today called on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to terminate its ongoing safety review of GM salmon and to reject AquaBounty’s pending application to sell the company’s GM fish in the United States.

“The FDA has always assured the public that it is checking, monitoring and regulating AquaBounty’s production platform to ensure that the company can mitigate the well-documented environmental impacts of escaped GM salmon,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Europe. “We now know that AquaBounty is unwilling or unable to follow basic rules and regulations, and that the FDA is unable or unwilling to enforce them. It’s time to put an end to this dangerous experiment.”

Last week’s decision from the Panamanian National Environmental Authority came in response to a complaint filed last year by the Panamanian environmental organization Centro de Incidencia Ambiental (CIAM). Regulators found AquaBounty out of compliance with a raft of environmental safety rules and regulations, including failing to secure prior to beginning operations the legally required permits related to water use and water discharge. Regulators concluded, “We are of the opinion that it [AquaBounty] has repeatedly violated the aforementioned environmental regulations.” The US$9,500 penalty is very near the US$10,000 maximum penalty provided for in Panamanian law.

AquaBounty’s facility in Panama has long experienced serious security issues, including a storm-related accident that led to “lost” salmon in Panama. A visiting journalist described the company’s facility as a “run-down shed.”

To date, the FDA has made no regulatory decision on AquaBounty’s application to sell GM salmon, which, if approved, would be the first biotech animal to enter the food supply anywhere in the world. The FDA’s current regulatory review considers only one production scenario in which AquaBounty produces GM salmon at a remote facility in Panama, then sends fillets to U.S. retailers. Critics have long worried that AquaBounty chose its out-of-the-way production facility as a way to evade regulatory scrutiny.

“In the European Union, we are well aware that GM foods are not labeled in the U.S. One of the big reasons we are fighting the U.S. approval of GM salmon for food is the grave doubts surrounding the ability of either AquaBounty or the U.S. food system to keep these GM fish out of exports headed our way,” said Eve Mitchell, EU food policy advisor for Food & Water Europe. “If AquaBounty doesn’t even have legal permission to do what it is doing, it only adds to worries that the entire regulatory process is too full of holes to be trusted, especially on something as important as a safety assessment. We do not want GM salmon in the EU, and we don’t think anyone else does either, so it’s time for the FDA to reject the application and put this thing behind us.”

Contacts:
Eve Mitchell, Food & Water Europe (UK time), +44(0)1381 610 740, [email protected]
Rich Bindell, Food & Water Watch (Washington time), 202-683-2457, [email protected]

AquaBounty Fined for Repeated Environmental Violations on Genetically Engineered Salmon

Washington, DC. — Officials in Panama have ruled that AquaBounty Technologies has been operating in violation of environmental regulations as it experiments with genetically engineered (GE) salmon in that country. In a decision that could challenge the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) ongoing safety assessment of AquaBounty’s GE salmon, Panamanian officials fined the company $9500. Food & Water Watch, Center for Food Safety and Friends of the Earth called on the FDA today to terminate its regulatory review and deny AquaBounty’s pending regulatory application to sell the company’s GE fish in the United States.

“FDA has always assured the public that it is checking, monitoring and regulating AquaBounty’s production platform to ensure the company can mitigate the well-documented environmental impacts of escaped GE salmon,” said Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director of Food & Water Watch. “We now know that AquaBounty is unwilling or unable to follow basic rules and regulations, and FDA is unable or unwilling to enforce them. It’s time to put an end to this dangerous experiment.”

Last week’s decision from Panamanian National Environmental Authority came in response to a complaint filed last year by a Panamanian environmental organization, Centro de Incidencia Ambiental (CIAM). Regulators found AquaBounty out of compliance with a raft of environmental safety rules and regulations, including failing to secure legally required permits related to water use and water discharge prior to beginning operations. They concluded that “We are of the opinion that it [AquaBounty] has repeatedly violated the aforementioned environmental regulations.” The ruling carries a $9500 penalty, near the $10,000 maximum penalty allowable.

“AquaBounty has not been able to follow the law, because it lacks the capacity, sophistication, will, or all of the above,” said George Kimbrell, senior attorney for Center for Food Safety.  “This decision is also even further proof that FDA is dangerously out of touch with the facts on the ground, advancing AquaBounty’s application based on its promises, not reality.”

AquaBounty’s facility in Panama has long experienced serious security issues, including a storm-related accident that lead to “lost” salmon in Panama. A visiting journalist described the company’s facility as a “run-down shed.”

To date, FDA has made no regulatory decision on AquaBounty’s GE salmon, which, if approved, would be the first biotech animal to enter the food supply anywhere in the world. FDA’s current regulatory review only considers one production scenario in which AquaBounty produces GE salmon at a remote facility in Panama, then sends fillets to U.S. retailers. Critics have long-worried that AquaBounty chose its out-of-the-way production facility as a way to evade regulatory scrutiny.

“AquaBounty’s days of hiding in the highlands of Panama are over. This is even more evidence that the FDA should deny approval of AquaBounty’s application for genetically engineered salmon,” said Dana Perls, Food and Technology Campaigner at Friends of the Earth. “Once these fish escape, it is impossible to retrieve them. And it may be extremely difficult to contain the negative environmental impacts of escaped fish.”

A copy of the ruling can be found here.

 

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

 

 

 

 

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: http://documents.foodandwaterwatch.org/doc/CatfishLetter.pdf

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…

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