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Blog Posts: Milk

March 6th, 2014

3,000 Cows Living Next Door

By Eleanor Bravo

New Mexico is home to a billion-dollar dairy industry. Residents in the small town of Anthony, New Mexico, remember living there when just a few cows moved in. Now they are living next door to thousands of animals cramped in miserable quarters. The factory farm’s practice of maintaining unlined manure lagoons then spraying the mixture in the air, causes terrible distress in the neighborhood. Thousands of animals are crammed into close quarters in temperatures often at or above 100 degrees, Fahrenheit, which of course brings massive swarms of flies. The stench can be unbearable.

With huge influence over lawmakers, the dairy industry in New Mexico is protected by what is called the “Right to Farm” Act. In the recent legislative session, there was an attempt to exempt agricultural facilities from prosecution for nuisance such as flies, smell and water contamination. The proposed amendment came on the heels of a number of nuisance suits that were filed by multiple residents neighboring big dairy farms this past year.

Now why would a dairy industry come to a desert state with little water and practically no grass in the first place?  The answer: cheap labor and vast tracts of unused land. New Mexico has the highest income inequality in the nation. By 2010, the richest 20 percent of households in New Mexico made nearly ten times more than the state’s poorest 20 percent. These facilities are disproportionately located in low-income and minority areas. As you can imagine, the smell, noise and nuisances like flies that result from large factory farm dairies are terrible. Nuisance suits are virtually the only recourse New Mexicans have to protect their homes and property when a factory farm threatens quality of life. Read the full article…

June 15th, 2013

Farm Bill in Progress: What to Expect From the House

Patty Lovera

Food & Water Watch Assistant Director Patty Lovera

By Patty Lovera

Next week, the U.S. House of Representatives are expected to take up the farm bill. Although we won’t know which amendments will be voted on, the House leadership has suggested that several dozen could be considered. Based on the House Agriculture Committee debate and the House Republicans’ response to the farm bill passed by the U.S. Senate last week, we can make some educated guesses as to what topics will be covered.

The amendments will likely include: attacks on federal nutrition programs, amendments to protect the crop insurance industry from being required to comply with conservation programs, efforts to eliminate the new dairy supply management program (which is a first step in the right direction to ensure dairy farmers receive more for their milk than it costs to produce), and attempts to use the farm bill as a vehicle for broad-based deregulation of environmental rules and safeguards. We’re keeping our eyes on a handful of topics likely to come up during the House debate and will be telling members of Congress to:

  • OPPOSE any amendment to repeal or weaken country-of-origin labeling (COOL) for meat, poultry, fruits and vegetables: Representative Austin Scott (R-Georgia) is seeking to eliminate the labels that tell consumers where their food comes from. Consumers overwhelmingly support these commonsense labels and the USDA recently finalized rules that ensure consumers have access to clear and complete information on food labels.
  • OPPOSE any amendment that weakens environmental laws, pesticide oversight and promotes broad-based deregulation: Some Republicans are eager to use the farm bill to promote an aggressive deregulation agenda to roll back environmental, food safety and consumer protection safeguards. There may be amendments to weaken clean water laws, pesticide oversight and prevent food safety and agriculture regulators from addressing new and emerging public health threats.
  • OPPOSE amendments to weaken nutrition programs: Oppose all efforts to weaken the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as food stamps) by reducing the number of lower-income people eligible for SNAP, reducing the funding for the vital safety net program or shifting SNAP from a federal to a state program, where states could rapidly unravel the program.
  • SUPPORT any amendment to strip out the King commerce-clause provision: The House Agriculture Committee included an amendment from Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) that could prohibit states from adopting their own labeling, food or farming standards. State governments often lead the way in addressing controversial issues including animal welfare and other food issues and these efforts should not be discouraged.
  • SUPPORT any amendments to address the issue of contamination by genetically engineered crops. The recent discovery of unapproved GE wheat by a farmer in Oregon exposes the threat that field trials of GE crops pose to the food supply. The House should address this issue in the farm bill.
  • SUPPORT any amendments to restore to organic farming programs: When the 2008 Farm Bill expired in 2012, several programs that supported organic farming lost their dedicated funding. These programs have helped to foster organic agriculture through research, helping to offset the cost of farms and food processors getting organic certification, and collecting data on the organic sector. These programs should be restored in the House Farm Bill.

We will have more updates next week when amendments become available. Stay tuned…

June 11th, 2013

Farm Bill in Progress: What Little Difference a Year Makes

Food Policy Director Patty Lovera

Food & Water Watch Assistant Director Patty Lovera

By Patty Lovera

Last night, the Senate passed their version of the farm bill… again. Just like they did a little less than a year ago. But last year, the House didn’t vote on the bill. So this summer, they’re trying again.

A quick recap on how we got to this point: the last farm bill to use a “normal” process was passed in 2008. Several attempts to pass a new farm bill in 2012 were unsuccessful and the farm bill that is currently in effect is a short-term extension that expires in September 2013. The extension bill kept major programs (like payments for commodity crops) alive, but abandoned important programs for organic and sustainable agriculture, conservation and beginning farmers.

The bill passed last night by the Senate is disappointing. In our statement to the press, we described it as doing “little to address the stranglehold that food processing firms have over America’s unsustainable and unfair food system.” Because of disputes over whose amendments would be considered, more than 200 proposed amendments were not considered at all. Some of the amendments that did not get a vote would have dramatically improved the bill, such as those by Senators Grassley, Tester, Enzi and Rockefeller that would have injected some sensible measures to address the rising consolidation in the food industry, an amendment by Senator Tester to prioritize research funding for non-genetically engineered seeds and breeds, and Senator Boxer’s amendment to require labeling of genetically engineered foods.

On the slightly brighter side, the failure to consider lots of amendments meant that some bad changes were averted, including a measure to remove catfish inspection from the USDA, measures to delay implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act, and even deeper cuts to food assistance programs (the bill that passed the Senate does cut $4 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) over 10 years, but some amendments offered would have cut even more). One of the few amendments that did get added to the bill – by unanimous consent – would retroactively disqualify anyone who had ever been convicted of some felonies—or their children—from receiving food stamps.

You can read more about what is in the Senate bill here:

The next step for the farm bill is the House floor. Predicted by some observers to be a “bloody free for all,” the House spectacle will feature big debates over cuts to SNAP (the current draft would cut $20 billion in comparison to the $4 billion cut in the Senate bill). The House bill also has less dramatic changes to government commodity programs, with lower target prices paid to farmers for commodity crops and less reliance on crop insurance than the Senate bill. There is also going to be a big fight about dairy programs in the House. The Speaker of the House, Rep. Boehner, is on a well-known crusade to end any government programs for dairy supply management, putting him on a collision course with the Agriculture Committee’s Ranking Member, Rep. Collin Peterson, who is championing a complex modification to current policy that would pay dairy farmers when the gap between the price of their milk and the cost of animal feed hits a specified mark. Sadly, for all the debate that is likely to occur over the role of government in dairy pricing, the discussion will probably not address the real source of the problem for dairy farmers – too few buyers and milk pricing formulas that don’t include what the milk costs to produce.

The House may take up the farm bill next week. Stay tuned for news on what amendments are introduced and ways to get involved.

March 9th, 2012

Move Over Pink Slime

Move over Pink Slime

By Royelen Lee Boykie

As “pink slime” makes its way across social media — inspiring a collective heave along its slippery path — there are even more recent disgusting revelations.

This week we released our analysis from a pilot project of poultry slaughter plants and found that during an eight-month period of 2011, company employees missed 64 percent of feathers, lungs, oil glands, trachea and bile that remained on chicken carcasses and 87 percent that remained on turkey carcasses. Not only that, but 90 percent of the violations written up by USDA inspectors in these plants were for fecal contamination that company employees missed. Read the full article…

November 18th, 2011

You Don’t Know What You’ve Got ‘Til It’s Gone

Food Safety at Risk By Rich Bindell

Right now, some members of Congress are pushing hard for “regulatory reform” that would make it next to impossible for the federal government to create any new regulations. Their anti-regulatory battle plan attacks on two fronts: the REINS Act and the Regulatory Time-Out Act. While their rhetoric conveniently claims these bills would address issues of money, jobs and inefficiency in government, their main goal is to kill all regulations, even those regulations that are tantamount to public safety.

The “reforms” that some members of Congress are trying to pass could strip federal agencies of their ability to update meat and poultry inspection, safe drinking water standards and even fair competition in the marketplace among food producers —basic functions of government that shouldn’t be tied into the political dysfunction of the past several years.

Remember the Food Safety Modernization Act that became law early this year? This recalibration of the FDA’s food safety program should enable federal regulators to catch up to modern challenges in food production, including provisions that protect against pathogens like Listeria and Salmonella in produce and processed food. We’ve had recent outbreaks of both, complete with massive product recalls. The Regulatory Time-Out Act would push these critical regulations off for another year.

Imagine, for a moment, that your drinking water wasn’t monitored or that food processors were no longer properly inspected for safety. Life without these protections in place would be very different, indeed. While the public would go unprotected, the powerful corporations would get to operate as they please, with no one reigning in practices that could damage the environment or public health. No matter what folks think about the budget deficit or job creation, most would agree that there are basic functions best performed by the government – and protecting common resources like food and water are pretty high on that list.

The claims made about creating jobs and saving money by deregulating powerful industries are rhetoric, not reality. We need regulations to safeguard our food, water and natural resources. These are basic protections that ensure public health and safety, not a source for savings.

November 16th, 2011

Who will be the Biggest Loser if we don’t fix the Farm Bill?

The Biggest Loser could be the Farm BillBy Rich Bindell

You know Jillian Michaels as the now-famous inspirational trainer (and former overweight consumer) from The Biggest Loser. Did you know that the main reason she has been able to maintain her healthy body is from eating organic foods and staying FAR AWAY from processed food products? It sounds like Jillian is well aware of the problems that burden our corporate-controlled food system, run by giants like Monsanto, Cargill, Tyson and Nestlé. If only the show could focus on that part of a better health strategy, it could really teach people about the critical importance of the Farm Bill in improving our food and our health as a nation.

Wait a minute… that gives us an idea!

America has already opened its collective consciousness to the lessons of The Biggest Loser. The show’s contestants are close to our hearts for good reason: they’ve allowed us to examine ourselves and how we view our own health. But, now it’s time to welcome a new group into the fold and follow them as they head down a path toward self-improvement and healing. Only this time, the contestants aren’t playing for themselves, but for everyone who depends upon a healthy food system.

Welcome to the Biggest FARM BILL Loser. Read the full article…

November 10th, 2011

USDA Stands Up for Big Ag, Not Fair Food

Fair FoodBy Rich Bindell

The USDA has once again failed to protect independent farmers from the companies that control our broken food system. They have sent part of the much-debated GIPSA rule over to the White House for final approval – without critical parts of the proposed rule that are needed to equalize competition for independent cattle and hog producers in the livestock marketplace. While there may be some positive changes in the rule for the poultry industry (see more detail in the statement from Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter), it is clear that those companies who have solid control over the livestock market also have a lobbying arm that exerts solid control over the current administration.

In 1921, the U.S. government came to the conclusion that something needed to be done about the lack of competition in the meatpacking industry that was allowing a few companies to dominate the market. Congress passed a law called the Packers & Stockyards Act and the USDA created the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyard Administration (GIPSA) rule to address the problem. The problem is that they have never enforced the law. What good is a seatbelt if you don’t use it? Read the full article…

November 9th, 2011

What’s Your Fair Food IQ?

Fighting for a Fair Farm BillSo… you think you’re a foodie, do ya? Well, why not test yourself? We invite you to take our Fair Farm Quiz and determine your Fair Food IQ.

What is a farm exactly? Is it that picturesque locale on the label of a supermarket brand of cheese or is it more like an industrial production scene, complete with conveyor belts and widgets?

Did you know? Read the full article…

November 4th, 2011

Living rBGH-Free in Ohio

By Alex Beauchamp

Those who want to know what is (or isn’t) in their milk won a huge victory last week! After years of fighting in court, the state of Ohio has finally agreed to drop this issue and let consumers know that their milk is rBGH-Free. This is great news for all of us who don’t want artificial hormones in our milk.

With this victory, farmers who don’t use artificial hormones can label that their milk as rBGH-free. None of this happened without a lot of hard work from Food & Water Watch, and our allies and activists across the state. This win is the culmination of a long campaign that spread across the country. We’ve successfully defended farmers’ right to label and consumers’ right to know in every state the industry targeted—a lot of effort just for the opportunity to know what’s in your milk. Read the full article…

August 31st, 2011

Fair Farm Bill Tour 2011: Stories From the Road

From across the country, stories and pictures have been pouring in. Typically, the cow suits get all the attention, but our organizers are meeting fascinating people who are accomplishing amazing feats in the world of food. Their stories are truly inspiring. Find out what’s happening along the Fair Farm Bill campaign trail. These are just a sample of the conversations we’re having as we continue to cover 20 states in 34 days. Keep checking back with us, and be sure to visit our event page on Facebook and check out our gallery photos.

Read the full article…

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