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Blog Posts: Food & Water Justice

October 3rd, 2014

EPA: Making Our Rivers for the Birds

Chicken Farm, PoultryBy Scott Edwards and Paige Tomaselli

The ongoing fight to stop the industrialized poultry industry from polluting the nation’s waterways suffered another significant blow after EPA announced it was no longer seeking an appeal of a bad West Virginia federal court decision, and environmentalists were forced to follow suit in withdrawing from the case.

Our modern chicken production system is comprised of mega-poultry companies—Pilgrim’s, Tyson, Perdue, Foster Farms and a small handful of others—who contract with local growers to raise hundreds of thousands of birds on unsustainable and highly polluting factory farms. These companies, who own the birds, feed and drugs and dictate growing conditions, leave the burden of waste disposal on the backs of contract growers who are unable to properly manage the many thousands of pounds of manure that are left behind with each flock removed from these facilities.

Ms. Lois Alt raises chickens in West Virginia for Pilgrim’s—a major food producer owned by the Brazilian company JBS. Alt admits she discharges pollution into the Chesapeake Bay watershed—a nutrient impaired watershed suffering from massive nutrient dead zones every summer. Generally, polluters are required to obtain a Clean Water Act permit, but in 2012, Ms. Alt sued the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) so that she could avoid filling out the permit application and continue polluting the streams and rivers near her facility with immunity. Read the full article…

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September 21st, 2014

Don’t Frack Montana’s National Treasure

Eleanor Guerin with hiking buddies in 1987 taking a break with Grinnell Glacier in the background.

Eleanor Guerin with hiking buddies in 1987 taking a break with Grinnell Glacier in the background.

By Eleanor Guerin

I first worked in Glacier National Park during the summer of 1985, while still in college and studying biology. I knew I wanted to work in the wild. Coming from the flat land of Louisiana, I had only traveled east of the Mississippi and the only mountains I knew were the Ouchitas and the Appalachians. So Montana was at first overwhelming. I had never seen mountains loom so large; they felt oppressive. But I soon grew to love the park and the West in general – so much so that after one more stint working in environmental education in New Hampshire, I never went East again. I returned to Glacier as a ranger and naturalist the next year.

Visitors from all over the world come to Glacier. As a National Park Service park ranger/naturalist, I was fortunate to meet and talk with countless people from across Europe and Asia, the Middle East, Australia — really every continent. Many Europeans visit Glacier to see what is known as the “American Alps.” Folks come either for a quick drive on the not-to-be-missed road through the park or to spend days hiking the backcountry. And Glacier truly is a backcountry park. Roads take one only so far; while there is much to behold along the hairpin turns and thousand-foot drops of the main road, it’s the trails that lead to unimagined wildness. In the backcountry of this park, I sensed both my smallness in, and oneness with, the land. I yielded to the wind, sun and snow, to lightning and thunderstorms. I felt redeemed by the waters and life and purity of it all.

Eleanor Guerin (second from right) poses with Glacier National Park hikers in 1987. The group had just finished a loop that brought them "23 feet, 2 inches away from a 'griz' near Old Man Lake," according to a note on the back of the photo.

Eleanor Guerin (second from right) poses with Glacier National Park hikers in 1987. The group had just finished a loop that brought them “23 feet, 2 inches away from a ‘griz’ near Old Man Lake,” according to a note on the back of the photo.

Two intertwined features of Glacier will always stay with me: wildlife and water. And they both are threatened by what’s happening near the park on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land in the state of Montana: fracking. I have tracked fracking issues around the country from Pennsylvania to my home state of Louisiana, to the west in Wyoming, Montana and in California where I’ve made my home for 27 years. For some living in poverty, as on the Blackfeet Reservation bordering the eastern edge of Glacier, allowing drilling and fracking may provide temporary economic relief. But it has the terrible potential to be a double-edged sword. Some argue there’s no harm. Others fight with all their heart to protect the land. With secret chemical concoctions injected deep into the earth, I gladly err on the side of protection.

Montana may not be a highly populated state, but it contains an unrivaled natural treasure worthy of government oversight and protection. BLM lands are federal lands, intended to benefit ALL the people. The potential for fracking to contaminate both ground and surface water that sustains the people of Montana through agriculture and drinking supplies, as well its wildlife, cannot be ignored. Once damaged, there’s no turning back.

I return to Montana and Glacier every couple of years. The park is an old friend; the land has held my heart ever since my first foray there. But I have watched the glaciers, for which the park is named, recede during a few short decades. I know species like the pika become more threatened by warming temperatures. And now, the very water that sustains both humans and animals could become the next casualty of economic development. We must be vigilant.

eleanorguerin.headshotEleanor Guerin is a guest blogger to Food & Water Watch. Since leaving Glacier in 1987, Eleanor has made her home in Sonoma County, California, where she makes her living as a massage therapist, health advocate and Certified Senior Advisor. She gathers data for the California Phenology Project at Pepperwood Preserve and volunteers in the Sonoma County Regional Parks system.”

March 31st, 2014

The Fight Against Fracking is a Fight For Social Justice

California fracking rally

Left to right: Food & Water Watch’s Adam Scow, social justice leader Lupe Anguiano and The Center for Biological Diversity’s Hillary Aidun at the March 15, 2014, Don’t Frack California rally in Sacramento.

By Anna Ghosh

Today, March 31, we celebrate the birthday of Cesar Chavez, the co-founder of what we know today as the United Farm Workers; now in its 52nd year. His heroic leadership of a 5-year grape strike in Delano, California, in the 60s is chronicled in the newly released film Cesar Chavez. Through aggressive but nonviolent organizing, Chavez organized thousands of poor Latino workers throughout Central California to win higher wages, better working conditions and collective bargaining rights for generations of farmworkers.

I had the honor last week of having a conversation with an amazing woman who worked alongside Chavez in the 60s and has been fighting for social justice her entire life. Lupe Anguiano is a civil rights activist known for her work on women’s rights, the rights of the poor, and the protection of the environment. In 2006, she founded the environmental nonprofit Stewards of the Earth to provide educational, social and economic services to low-income and Indigenous people in the United States, Mexico and Latin America. In 2007 she was designated a Women’s History Month Honoree by the National Women’s History Project and has an archive named after her at UCLA. Now, Anguiano’s fight for social justice has led her to fight fracking and dumping of toxic waste associated with fracking and drilling where she lives in Oxnard, California.

Here’s an excerpt from our talk:

How did you get involved working with Chavez? When the strike began I was a Catholic nun working with migrants and Latino people in Los Angeles. The grape growers didn’t adequately take care of their workers – they had no restrooms or clean water to drink – and it I felt that it was part of my mission as a nun to stand up for these workers rights. We would picket in Los Angeles where they would unload the grapes from Delano.

What led to you leaving the clergy to become a community organizer? The more I learned about the injustices being waged against Latinos, the more I got involved. I fought redlining (housing and financial discrimination), as did many religious people, but Cardinal McIntyre (who Harvard historian Lisa McGirr calls “the most extreme right-wing member of the American Catholic hierarchy), objected to Los Angeles clergy speaking out. He said we were getting too political, but we knew this was about social justice. This is what Christ did (stand up for the poor). Pope John XXIII even encouraged is, which gave me wings. But I continued to be reprimanded by the Cardinal, which led me to leave the order. I felt that I could do more as a layperson. This is when I was invited by Cesar to come to Delano. But then I was called to Washington by President Johnson to work on bilingual education.

What did you think of Washington? I was very disappointed, so I went back to Delano. Volunteers were paid $5 a week plus housing and food, but it was the most rewarding job of my life. I would get up at 3a.m. so I could ride in the truck with Cesar. He used great a great method of organizing to get the attention of workers and policy makers alike. He taught us the importance of nonviolence. I learned so much.

What is your personal connection to the land and agriculture? I am a Latina and Latinos build the agricultural industry in California. When I was a child, every summer we would pick fruit on the farm that my Uncle tended. Latino workers always protected and respected the soil, the land and the environment. Agriculture is what enriches our state. It’s what makes California so special and important. Why would we want to tarnish or risk the agricultural wealth of our state?

Why do you think Governor Brown can’t see how fracking and extreme extraction threatens California’s agricultural heritage? I’m completely disappointed by Brown. I have lived in California since I was in the third grade (Lupe is now 85), and every governor and president since I have lived here has protected our agriculture and environment. For example, Nixon initiated the Clean Air and Endangered Species Acts and when the big oil spill in Santa Barbara happened, Governor Reagan initiated CEQA (the California Environmental Quality Act). What is Governor Brown doing destroying California’s agricultural economy? Petroleum by its very nature destroys living organisms. Has he gone out of touch? I hear his wife is invested in petroleum and she’s probably influencing him. But how can a governor not understand that agriculture is so integral to our economy? Destruction of our agriculture is criminal. More than 50 percent of the nation’s fresh food comes from California and to destroy that would be it outrageously sinful.

Then there’s his rhetoric on climate change, but he continues to stand behind dirty fossil fuels. The whole thing is crazy. Can he not see the huge opportunities in renewable energy? We are leaving behind industrial era and moving into renewable technology. California is in the lead and our universities are set. The whole nation and world are moving towards more renewable sources. But Governor Brown’s lack of action to stop fracking and drilling could destroy California’s position as a leader in renewable energy.

What are you working on now? I live in Oxnard, which is the dumping ground of Ventura County. A few years ago, we fought tooth and nail to keep a liquefied natural gas terminal our or Oxnard. We won, but it’s a continuous battle. Now they’re dumping fracking waste in our strawberry fields and trying to build wells near an elementary school. They’re trying to turn Oxnard into a Bakersfield. Why aren’t they going to Thousand Oaks or Simi Valley? Because they would never allow it. We cannot allow our communities to become toxic dumping grounds. We’re not Texas, we’re not South Dakota.

What organizations do you think are doing the best work in this area? Groups that engage Latinos, like LULAC and the Latino Congreso, and groups that focus on agriculture, like Food & Water Watch, are critical. We must align ourselves. Food and water are the foundation for life. The Center for Biological Diversity and Earthjustice have good attorneys, great research and information.

How can we make the most impact?  
We must cultivate more responsible leaders. We need more independent, “decline to state” voters. We need more young people to get politically active. Afterall, this is the world that they are inheriting.

February 19th, 2014

Third-Party Science and the Soft Lobby

Money and BooksBy Tim Schwab

The industrial producers of corn syrup have been busy the last decade defending their product’s good name against increasingly clear science showing public health problems related to obesity and diabetes.

But agribusiness corn refiners like Archer Daniel Midland and Cargill, which produce much of the ubiquitous sweetener, recognize they can’t just say their critics are wrong. They need credible allies, preferably those that look independent, to convince regulators, consumers, manufacturers and the scientific community that corn syrup is all right.

According to court documents recently released, that’s exactly what the corn refiners did. The New York Times and the Washington Post both reported last week on how “Washington-based groups and academic experts frequently become extensions of corporate lobbying campaigns,” using the debate over sweeteners as a case study. Read the full article…

February 13th, 2014

ALEC Goes After Your Food

stack of one hundred dollar billsBy Anna Meyer

The anti-regulation, pay-to-play group ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) is infamous for pushing “Stand Your Ground” gun laws, anti-worker and anti-voter legislation, and trying to repeal renewable energy laws. But lately ALEC’s been busy trying to help the Foodopoly maintain its stranglehold on the American food system, despite the fact that it’s making us sick.

ALEC is pushing hard to thwart attempts to rein in antibiotic abuse on factory farms with its Resolution on Animal Antibiotic Use. Their resolution supports the continued overuse of antibiotics for nontherapeutic reasons in livestock feed, a practice that is commonly used to make up for filthy and inhumane living conditions on factory farms and has been linked to antibiotic-resistant bacteria.   

Continued overuse of antibiotics has resulted in the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, or superbugs, which decrease antibiotics’ effectiveness in fighting infections (read about our campaign to end the misuse of antibiotics on factory farms here). Despite a 2013 Centers for Disease Control report linking superbugs with antibiotic misuse on factory farms and nearly 40 years of medical research including DNA analysis, the ALEC resolution tries to blame the 2 million people who become infected with resistant bacteria and the 23,000 people who die as a result of these infections every year solely on the use of antibiotics in human medicine. Doctors disagree.

The resolution to pad the meat industry’s pocketbooks by perpetuating antibiotic abuse on factory farms is not the only ridiculous resolution to come out of ALEC’s Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force. The group also promotes widespread use of chemicals with minimal regulation with the Resolution on Chemical Policy Principles and promotes a model bill to take away the right of local governments to regulate genetically engineered crops. ALEC also tried to attack Country of Origin Labels (COOL), which gives consumers more information about where their meat comes from.

Then there’s ALEC’s notorious model bill, the Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act, which has served as inspiration for the many ag-gag bills that have been circulating through state legislatures over the past few years. Ag-gag bills are extremely hazardous for multiple reasons. They shield factory farms from public scrutiny, even though they put animal welfare at risk, and increase risks to food safety and environmental damage.

ALEC’s positions on food would put everyone’s health at risk and allow big food and ag corporations to hide what they are doing. Policy makers at every level of government should be drafting legislation that protects the health and well-being of all citizens, not just the bank accounts of a few rich executives.

Help us hold big food and ag corporations accountable by supporting commonsense legislation that puts people first. Join our list to take action

 

Anna Meyer is a communications intern for Food & Water Watch.

January 20th, 2014

Why We Serve: Stories From Food & Water Watch Volunteers

In recognition of Martin Luther King, Jr. National Day of Service, we honor the dedicated, hard working volunteers whose service with Food & Water Watch is bringing real change to their communities and the wider world. We asked a few of them to tell their stories about why they serve, and here’s what they told us: Read the full article…

December 23rd, 2013

A Year of Victories

 

Earlier this month, the entire Food & Water Watch staff gathered to map out our work for 2014. We planned to briefly celebrate our victories from 2013, too… but from local fracking bans to protecting our food from arsenic, it took us over an hour just to list them all! 

These victories are all thanks to you, and we made this infographic to show you all you’ve done in 2013.

 Read the full article…

November 25th, 2013

You Keep Me Going

By Wenonah Hauter

Thank you for all that you do!

This year has been a whirlwind for me. After finishing my book, Foodopoly, I’ve been spending most of my time on the road, speaking to communities all across the country about the corporate control of our food system. And let me be honest, it’s tiring work.

But whenever it seems like I’m too exhausted to make it on to the next leg, I have a conversation with one of you. You’re the reason I’m doing this work, and I can’t thank you enough for standing with us.

This time of year always gets me thinking about the things that are most important in life — the things that Food & Water Watch is fighting to protect, with your help. Today, we’re thankful for livable communities, clean water and safe, wholesome food — and we believe that these things are for everyone, not just a few. Read the full article…

September 16th, 2013

Got Organic Checkoff? No Thanks.

Click to expand.

By Patty Lovera

“Beef. It’s What’s for Dinner.” “Pork. The Other White Meat.” “Got Milk?” These well-known slogans are examples of advertising campaigns funded by commodity research and promotion programs, more commonly referred to as checkoff programs. The programs are overseen by USDA and run by organizations established to promote specific commodities (beef, pork, soybeans, eggs and milk) and commission research to produce and market that commodity. The funds to pay for these activities come from mandatory fees assessed on producers of the commodity. For example, every time a head of cattle is sold, $1 per head is collected for the beef checkoff program.

So does organic food need its own checkoff program? That’s a debate that’s raging right now in the organic community.

The farm bill being debated by Congress includes language that would allow USDA to create a checkoff program for organic products. The idea of creating an organic checkoff is controversial to say the least. Just like other commodity markets, every link of the organic food chain—purchasing, processing, distribution and retail—is increasingly dominated by a small number of large players. In organic, this includes conventional food companies like General Mills, Kraft and Cargill, which are now marketing organic foods.

The way checkoffs for other commodities work is that farmers pay into the fund but large food companies are largely in control of decisions on how to spend the money. So it’s understandable that many organic farmers are wary of such an arrangement where their dollars are being controlled by giant food processing companies.

Despite being created with the mission of helping improve farmers’ livelihoods and expand market opportunities, checkoff programs have failed to prevent decades of dramatic losses for family-scale farms in the U.S. For pork, the number of hog producers has dropped by close to 70 percent from 239,000 farms in the mid-1980’s to only 75,000 farms today, according to the most recent agricultural census. Two-thirds of dairy farms have disappeared since the mid-1980’s while the prices farmers received have dropped by as much as 25 percent. Since the mid-1980’s, the number of cattle slaughtered and the price of beef has flat lined, and there are nearly 15 percent fewer producers.

Many of the checkoffs were initiated in the 1980s, but by the mid-2000s close to half of all the checkoffs were facing legal challenges.

The majority of pork producers voted in a 2000 referendum to abolish the pork checkoff, though proponents were able to save the program through legal and political maneuvering. If other checkoff markets held similar referendums, they would likely also face resistance. Read the full article…

January 31st, 2013

Radioactive Metal in Our Homes — The Nuclear Family Is about to Get a Little More Radioactive

For the Presss: High Resolution Image of Wenonah HauterBy Wenonah Hauter

If I were to ask you to imagine that the frying pan you use to prepare meals was slowly dosing you and your family with radiation, what would you say? Or how about the steel water bottle you use to tote water? It’s not a far cry from reality if the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Department of Energy have their way.

This past December, the DOE released a proposal to recycle an initial 14,000 tons of radioactive metals from nuclear reactors and weapons facilities back into commercial production for consumer goods. If it gets approved, you can bet they’ll dump more of this toxic nightmare into the supply chain. 

Sadly, this is nothing new. Since the 1980s, the DOE and the NRC have been cooking up a scheme to recycle radioactive scrap metals back into consumer products. These radioactive metals, which wouldn’t be labeled as such under DOE provisions, could be used to manufacture any of a wide variety of products from metal water bottles to your children’s braces. Read the full article…

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