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Blog Posts: Public health

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.

November 13th, 2013

It’s Pay-to-Play Science as Usual

Money and BooksBy Tim Schwab

Last week, the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) was once again exposed as an industry front group – taking industry money and advocating pro-industry positions while claiming to be an independent, science-based organization. The magazine Mother Jones published a leaked document showing the enormous extent to which the organization is bankrolled by corporations and industry groups, confirming what many environmental and health advocates had always believed about the four-decades-old organization.   

The Council, which claims to be a scientific organization, takes tens of thousands of dollars from big oil and gas interests like Chevron and the American Petroleum Institute and publicly advocates for fracking. It also stridently speaks in favor of genetically engineered (GE) crops, which may have something to do with the money Syngenta and Bayer gives it. Read the full article…

September 20th, 2013

CDC Report Affirms Urgency to Combat Antibiotic Resistance

drug take-back day

Photo by Tom Varco used with permission.

By Sarah Borron

This week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a wake-up call about the growing problem of antibiotic resistance. For the first time, the CDC provided overall data on antibiotic-resistant infections and deaths from those infections in the U.S. The results are disturbing. Over two million Americans experience an antibiotic-resistant infection each year, and at least 23,000 people die from them. The CDC states these estimates are minimum estimates based on the data available. Over 20 percent of the infections are caused by pathogens spread through contaminated foods.

Over time, bacteria evolve to survive exposure to antibiotics that used to kill them. Antibiotic-resistant infections in humans occur in a range of forms: food-borne illness, skin infections, urinary tract infections, pneumonia, and sexually transmitted diseases. Antibiotic resistance means that the disease is harder to treat, more likely to require stronger drugs with side effects, and more likely to result in hospitalization and death.

There are ways to use antibiotics to delay the development of resistance. Unfortunately, livestock agriculture uses 80 percent of antibiotics sold in the U.S., mostly in ways that hasten the development of resistance. Whole herds and flocks are given small doses of antibiotics in feed for extended periods of time to counteract the effects of being raised in crowded, unsanitary conditions. 

 The CDC reports “much of antibiotic use in animals is unnecessary and inappropriate and makes everyone less safe.” The CDC goes on to recommend, “Because of the link between antibiotic use in food-producing animals and the occurrence of antibiotic-resistant infections in humans, antibiotics should be used in food-producing animals only under veterinary oversight and only to manage and treat infectious diseases, not to promote growth.” We continue to wait for FDA to release final regulations, known as the Veterinary Feed Directive, requiring veterinary oversight on the use of antibiotics in livestock feed. 

 That’s why Congress should pass legislation (the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act in the House and the Prevention of Antibiotic Resistance Act in the Senate) banning the use of medically important antibiotics in livestock feed. Take a moment today to tell your members of Congress to sponsor this legislation and slow the spread of antibiotic resistance.

September 17th, 2012

Video: Global Frackdown, September 22, 2012

By Mark Schlosberg

The Global Frackdown will unite people on five continents in over 100 events on September 22 to call for a ban on fracking in their communities, and to advocate for the development of clean, sustainable energy solutions. Initiated by Food & Water Watch, over 150 consumer, environmental and public health organizations including CREDO Action, Environment America, Democracy for America, Friends of the Earth and 350.org are taking part in the Global Frackdown.

To find an event in your area, click here.

To endorse the Global Frackdown, click here.

Don’t forget to check out the frackdown on Facebook and Twitter.

September 5th, 2012

Memo to Governor Cuomo: We’ll Remember in 2016

By Wenonah Hauter

This ad will appear in the news section of tomorrow’s print edition of the Charlotte Observer. For the full-sized ad, click on the image above.

Dear Governor Cuomo,

True leaders help us forge solutions to difficult problems. And nowhere are new solutions needed more than in our energy sector, because we are currently using dirty fossil fuels at an unsustainable pace. Oil and gas extraction uses and abuses our precious freshwater resources, which are becoming scarcer and more polluted, thanks in large part to our reliance on fossil fuels. It’s a vicious cycle, and we need true solutions.  

But instead, Governor Cuomo, you seem poised to issue regulations that would pave the way for even more dirty energy development—the development of shale gas reserves in New York State through hydraulic fracturing (or fracking). Opening up New York to fracking won’t happen without a fight—one that might cost you the White House in 2016.

When you arrive in Charlotte tomorrow for the Democratic National Convention, you’ll see we took out a full-page ad in the Charlotte Observer to remind you that your decision on fracking will have repercussions way beyond New York, way beyond tomorrow. And we aren’t the only ones that think so. Over 100 grassroots, environmental and community groups nationwide endorsed our ad, all of them telling you that there is no safe fracking, and that the road to the White House is not lined with drilling rigs.

Governor Cuomo, Democrats in your own state have said that drilling could harm your presidential ambitions. Now, at the convention, you’re hearing from progressives around the country that this is an election issue. What will it take for you to listen to your base instead of the oil and gas industry?

People are angry that your administration shared the draft regulations with the oil and gas industry weeks before they were made public. This will remind voters of the time Dick Cheney met with energy officials in 2005, where they developed the so-called Halliburton Loophole, which exempts the oil and gas industry from key federal environmental legislation like the Safe Drinking Water Act and provisions of the Clean Air Act. Backroom deals with the oil and gas industry will not serve you in your pursuit of higher office.

Now, billionaire Michael Bloomberg has given his tacit endorsement of your rumored plan to sacrifice the Southern Tier of New York to the oil and gas industry, so long as New York City isn’t affected. His foundation also gave the Environmental Defense Fund $6 million dollars to pave the way for the development of so-called “safe” fracking, even though we know there is no such thing.

Why is Bloomberg supporting fracking? He says we need to move away from coal, and that wind and solar aren’t viable. This is a classic industry talking point, and it’s a cop-out. As Bill Maher recently said on his show, stating that wind and solar aren’t viable is like saying 100 years ago that cars aren’t going to replace horses.

It might be tempting to take cover behind prominent individuals and groups who have given in to the oil and gas industry’s tired refrain that shale gas development is inevitable. But true leaders look past the naysayers and those who have long since compromised their ideals to work within the game as defined by entrenched political interests. True leaders find real solutions.

So, Governor Cuomo, should you go forward with fracking, Wall Street billionaires and industry-funded non-profits will not provide you the political cover you’ll need to withstand the ire of committed grassroots groups who are fighting the oil and gas industry profiteers. We need leaders who can make the tough decisions that would forge the cleaner energy alternatives we need. Groups across the country are looking at New York to see whether you will provide that leadership or whether you will open New York to fracking. .

Fracking is an issue that is not only widely felt; it is deeply felt. Governor Cuomo, if you frack New York, we will remember in 2016.

July 30th, 2012

Trouble Brewing in Mexico City’s Water System

By Roxanne Darrow

Mexico City, the second largest city in the Western Hemisphere with 19.3 million inhabitants, is having major water problems. Over the past month, Mexico City’s water authority, Conagua, has been delivering water to consumers that has a foul odor and taste and activists there are questioning Conagua’s transparency in the matter.

The source of the problem is in the Valle de Bravo dam, which feeds into the Lerma-Cutzamala system that provides 30 percent of the water to Mexico City inhabitants.  

The Valle de Bravo dam has been infested with algae for several weeks, which means there is a large quantity of organic matter that provides food for bacteria, viruses and parasites to multiply and contaminate the water. Not only have citizens suffered from an unusual increase of intestinal illnesses from drinking contaminated water, they may also be at risk for liver damage if they continue to drink contaminated water over the long term.  

Conagua needs to act quickly to provide safe water to citizens while they remove algae from the dam, but Conagua argues their treatment system produces clean and safe water and that no epidemics have broken out. Bad smelling and poor tasting water is due to dirty water tanks at the municipal and consumer level, explain Conagua authorities.

However, Mexico City water activists call Conagua’s water safety into question and doubt the accuracy of water quality and treatment information available to the public. Food & Water Watch’s Claudia Campero works with the Coalition of Mexican Organizations for the Right to Water (COMDA) and consulted with a gastroenterology specialist who found an atypical increase of gastrointestinal illnesses in the part of Mexico City where most of the Valle de Bravo dam water ends up. Worse yet, Conagua’s activated carbon and chlorine treatment methods for last month’s algae infestation are similar to treatment methods that have been shown to produce carcinogenic chemicals.

Conagua needs to be transparent about their water treatment methodology and disclose the result of all their water samplings. How are they treating the water for human feces contamination and how effective has this been?

Access to clean water is a human right. Conagua is responsible for providing safe and clean water to Mexico City citizens.

COMDA calls for Mexican authorities to:

  1. Abide by their constitutional obligations.
  2. Provide continuous and accessible information about water quality.
  3. Provide free, safe water to vulnerable populations while fixing the polluted water distribution system.

Learn more about our global water justice work here.

Roxanne Darrow is a summer intern with the Food & Water Watch International Policy Program. She graduated from the University of California, Berkeley with a BA in International Development Studies.

June 28th, 2012

Crashing the USDA’s 150th Birthday Party

By Walker FoleyUSDA Demonstrates Food Safety

“On behalf of the department, we’re delighted to share our 150 years as part of this Folklife Festival. 150 years. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it’s our birthday.”

That was USDA Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan as she welcomed onlookers to the Smithsonian Folklife Festival on the Mall yesterday afternoon. I was there alongside other Food & Water Watch staff, coalition partners – the National Consumers League, the Coalition for Sensible Safeguards and the American Federation of Government Employees – and a dozen helpful interns. We had heard the USDA planned to give a food safety demonstration for the average consumer, and couldn’t help but enjoy the irony accompanying their demonstration. 

As the Food & Water Watch savvy already know, the USDA has been pursuing a pilot program for little over a decade that purports to cut meaningful food safety inspection out of the budget, and out of poultry plants all over the United States. We decided it best to inform the crowd by handing out an abridged version of a recent LA Times editorial, aptly retitled by the Arizona Daily Star, “New US approach to poultry safety isn’t safe at all.” USDA organizers did not appreciate our efforts, and didn’t hesitate to tell us – more on that in a moment.

Merrigan’s speech glossed over the USDA’s mission statement, and gave a brief history of the USDA from its inception in 1862 to the present. However, one statement struck a poor chord and, had we not flyered the entire audience, may have gone unnoticed.

“We create jobs and economic opportunity in the nation’s rural communities. We help keep America’s food safe,” she said. But her words fell short of the truth, as the USDA’s new approach to poultry inspection would do just the opposite – eliminate jobs of skilled USDA food safety inspectors (about 800 of them) and increase conveyor line speeds. With fewer inspectors and faster birds, the process begs for higher rates of contamination. 

Shortly after Merrigan’s speech USDA workers gave a food safety demonstration in a specially-zoned area of the Mall. This was a no-free-speech zone, where we were not allowed to give flyers to participants. We quickly found ourselves directed out of the enclosure (a three foot mesh fence) by USDA event organizers. But the damage was done. We had already put a flyer in the hand of every participant.

If you would like to wish the USDA a happy 150th birthday, then call the U.S. Capitol Switchboard – 202-224-3121 – to be connected with your Senators and Representative. Let them know you don’t support this unsafe approach to the nation’s poultry production. 

June 6th, 2012

What Does the Mass Slaughter of 500,000 Pigs in Chile Have to Do with the U.S. Farm Bill?

By Darcey Rakestraw

Think you can’t do anything about factory farms? Think again—and sign our petition telling your Senator to support the Packer Ban amendment to the Farm Bill.

Whether you are a die-hard carnivore or a card-carrying member of an animal welfare organization, this story will affect you. And it ties into work we’re doing to demand a fair farm bill that “busts” the meat trusts that built the factory farm system.

In Chile, a conflict erupted when local residents escalated months of protests over the smells and pollution emanating from a factory farm in their town. The conflict ended with the facility’s employees fleeing—with half a million pigs left there over five days without food or water. The plant has been shut down, and those pigs—the ones that remain—will be slaughtered en masse.

Why were half a million pigs concentrated into this factory in the first place? It’s no secret that the U.S. has exported its factory farm model around the world. And U.S. agricultural policies have helped meat processors get even bigger, consolidating meat production in the hands of these few giant players who use animals from factory farms. (Check out our Factory Farm Map to learn more about how meat production has become more consolidated in the U.S.) Read the full article…

May 25th, 2012

“Dear Governor Cuomo” Letters from Kids Ask Tough Questions on Fracking

Letters from children urge Gov. Cuomo to ban fracking in New York.

By Seth Gladstone

The groundswell of opposition to the dirty and dangerous practice of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in New York has come from all corners of the state and from all types of people. Parents have raised alarm over the prospect of fracking just feet from their children’s schools and playgrounds. Business owners have voiced concern over a loss of revenue from tourists and local patrons who could be frightened off by the drilling. Farmers wonder what will become of their pristine fields and pastures, and New Yorkers of all stripes are fearful of the potential for chemical spills, contaminated drinking water and even earthquakes - all sad symptoms of fracking in neighboring states.

But mixed in with all these concerned voices are a few that really hit home – those of children. Among the thousands of letters that Governor Cuomo has received asking him to ban fracking in New York, those from the young campers at the Eden Village Camp in Putnam Valley stand out.

“Dear Governor Cuomo,” begins one letter, handwritten, and not without the occasional spelling mistake. “I have just a moment ago learned about fracking. I just want to ask you, do you like digging holes in the ground? Are you okay with filling the ground, lakes and rivers with chemicals?” The letter concludes asking Cuomo to “bring awareness to this, and make the state, country and world a little happier and healthier.” Sometimes kids just say it the best. Read the full article…

May 4th, 2012

REVIEW: Last Call at the Oasis

By Walker Foley

Last Call at the Oasis

The artwork for Last Call at the Oasis

Drought, famine, disease and war – are these the buzz words of our nightmares, distanced from public perception by vast oceans and foreign lands? Or are they the social products of the rapidly dwindling resource vital to life on Earth?

In many areas of the U.S., the concept of water shortages may seem as foreign as excavating icebergs for potable product. Turn on your tap after all, and the water gods will make it rain. But for those not so blessed, shrinking water supplies in the American Southwest and elsewhere on the globe serve a painful lesson: the tap is running dry.

Jessica Yu’s new film, Last Call at the Oasis, sounds the alarm on dwindling global water resources, and invites Americans to bridge the distance between them and their water.

Through the opening credits water waltzes seductively, teasing the audience with a glittering, circus-spectacle. The circus must end though, and the film must tell its dark tale.

When the Lights Go Out

“Water,” Erin Brockovich begins, “is everything. The single most necessary element for any of us to sustain, and live, and thrive is water.” Speaking of water’s importance, Brockovich draws from her father’s wisdom who warned her, “… in my lifetime that we would see water become more valuable than oil, he said, because there will be so little of it.”

There’s nothing fanciful about the predictions of Brockovich’s childhood memories – the evidence is everywhere. Last Call at the Oasis begins by examining the consequences for the Southwest as climate change, water mismanagement and population growth threaten the long-term viability of the entire region. Having over-tapped the Colorado River, farms are unable to get water for irrigation, while cities struggle to find an electrical alternative to the failing Hoover Dam. Despite the slowdown in agriculture and energy, development (and population) escalates. Read the full article…

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