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Blog Posts: Questionable technologies

August 19th, 2014

News from the Front Lines of Fighting Antibiotic Resistance

By Sarah Borron Antibiotics_Pill_Bottle

I recently spent two fascinating days at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for a public meeting on the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System (NARMS). Between the technical jargon and numerous acronyms, what emerges is a story about government scientists working on the front lines to keep antibiotics working for you and me.

An FDA researcher described how “whole genome sequencing,” reading the entire DNA strand of foodborne pathogens, is allowing them to create evolutionary trees that demonstrate how bacteria and patterns of antibiotic resistance change over time. In one recent outbreak, whole genome sequences of bacteria from the people affected, the food they all ate, and the nearby plant that produced the food allowed scientists to identify the source of the outbreak, which allowed for quicker closure of the plant in order to solve the problem. Comment after comment pointed to whole genome sequencing as the “next big thing” for addressing illness outbreaks.

Read the full article…

June 19th, 2014

Pollinator Week: Brought To You By…Bayer?

By Genna Reed 

For me, Pollinator Week should be about adding gratuitous amounts of honey to my tea, eating loads of fruits and nuts and enjoying the outdoor company of some of my favorite insects buzzing around in my backyard. For the Pollinator Partnership, an alliance that includes some companies with dubious track records when it comes to the survival of bees, and the masterminds behind this annual celebration of pollinators, the goal is a little less clear. The Pollinator Partnership includes some of the biggest players in the seed and agrichemical industry, including Bayer, Monsanto, Syngenta and trade groups like CropLife America. The organization’s industry partners seem to be using this effort to craft a façade of involvement in the fight to save pollinators while simultaneously making millions from the very insecticides that are linked to serious health problems in honeybees.

The Pollinator Partnership advocates for increasing foraging land for pollinators, educating the public about the importance of pollinators and encouraging people to grow bee-friendly plants in their backyards. Although these are important undertakings, the partnership has so far failed to promote a ban on neonicotinoids, which would significantly help prevent future bee health issues. Yet, despite all of the evidence linking neonicotinoids to declines in bee health, industry representatives from Bayer, Syngenta and CropLife remain in denial, which might have something to do with the $2.45 billion (and growing) seed treatment market of which Bayer and Syngenta share 60 percent. 

Instead of promoting symbolic acts to protect pollinators, we need a tangible effort to protect what are arguably the most important creatures in our food system: 

 The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) should follow the European Union’s lead and ban the use of neonicotinoid insecticides until there is adequate, independent research proving no direct or indirect links to adverse impacts on pollinators. 

 The EPA should reject registrations for insecticide seed treatments that are used as prophylactics and are unnecessary most of the time. 

 The EPA and USDA must work together to ensure that the labels of treated seeds and foliar insecticides adequately communicate the unnecessary pollinator risks to farmers in a clear, pronounced and convincing manner. 

 The EPA and USDA should commence a joint research and education program designed to help farmers practice bee-friendly farming methods, which would eliminate the need for neonicotinoid or other insecticide-treated seeds and would safeguard bees and other pollinators. 

 Take action today and urge your representative to support H.R. 2692, Saving America’s Pollinators Act, which would protect bees and other pollinators by banning major neonicotinoids in the United States.  

June 9th, 2014

Greenwashing, Pure and Simple: Synbio Soap

By Tim Schwab

It’s not easy being a responsible consumer these days.  You want to avoid GMO foods, but the biotech industry has used its political influence to guarantee that these foods are sold without a label. You want to avoid nano-pesticides in your toilet, but you’re left to contend with the mixed messages from the PR departments of Corporate America. Read the full article…

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April 28th, 2014

If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It: FDA Weakens Public Process on GMO Animals

Working to Ensure Safe and Sustainable SeafoodBy Tim Schwab

The FDA is taking steps to limit transparency and remove independent review of genetically engineered animals by disbanding its Veterinary Medicine Advisory Committee. The committee, composed of academics who peer review FDA’s risk analysis of GMO animals, met in 2010 when FDA initiated the approval process for the world’s first biotech food animal, GMO salmon. The agency has still not approved GMO salmon, probably in part because of how critical its invited scientists were.  Though members had different opinions, a clear chorus emerged on several specific safety questions, including telling the FDA there was not sufficient science to demonstrate animal safety. 

FDA is now disbanding that entire review process, claiming it was too costly to maintain. Food & Water Watch filed a records request to find out just how costly the committee is. Turns out, it’s not. The agency spent $0 in 2013 (see here and heremaintaining the committee, including all administrative and labor costs.

Congresswoman Louis Slaughter (D-NY) recently went to bat for consumers, asking FDA to reinstate the advisory committee. FDA again claimed it was too costly. With such bankrupt responses, it’s clear that the real cost is to FDA’s industry-friendly agenda and the agency’s efforts to fast-track GMO animals into our food supply. Read the full article…

March 21st, 2014

Higher Education Brought to You By the Biotech Industry. Encore.

Money and BooksBy Tim Schwab

Journalism and agriculture students, watch out.

 Your administrators are laying out the red carpet for corporate press junkets at a campus near you.

 Again.

 Last year, I reported on HungerU and Biotech University, billed as educational opportunities but actually greenwashing campaigns to promote corporate agribusiness. This week we get news that Hunger U is hitting the college circuit again, with a new slogan: “DuPont is Helping us Feed the World.”

 Exactly. DuPont helps us feed the world by selling pesticides and herbicide and GMOs.

Hunger U last year stopped at only a handful of universities, wooing students with a $2,500 grant and embarking on a mission to “educate college students about the significance of modern agriculture.” This year the program is traveling across the country, even stopping in the nation’s capital.

Events like Hunger U and Biotech University are an unfortunate sign of the times at our nation’s public universities, where corporations pour hundreds of millions of dollars into our agricultural colleges, distorting the science and perverting the mission of higher education. Increasingly the message from our universities really is: Dupont is Helping us Feed the World.

You find the names Monsanto, Cargill and Tyson emblazoned on university buildings around the country, and corporate representatives sometimes play key roles in determining the research direction of our agricultural colleges. In its most benign form, industry rolls up on campuses with programs like Hunger U or Biotech University.

Food & Water Watch detailed the ways in which industry is buying influence at our public universities in our report Public Research, Private Gain.

Don’t biotech and pesticide companies already have too much influence over our public universities? Do we really need to greenwash our campuses by inviting Hunger U to spread the gospel of agrochemicals and GMOs?  If you attend one of these schools, call your university administrators and tell them enough is enough.

March 10th, 2014

On the Brink of Irrelevancy: Is the Honeymoon Over for FDA and AquaBounty?

By Tim Schwab

AquaBounty GE Salmon and the FDAIn 2010, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) put forward a shockingly favorable regulatory review on AquaBounty Technologies’ genetically engineered salmon, offering preliminary determinations that the fish are healthy, of little threat to the environment and safe to eat.  

The scientific community skewered the agency’s far-reaching, short-sighted determinations, while hundreds of thousands of consumers stated clearly they wouldn’t eat the slow-growing, sickly, escape-prone fish.

Here we are in 2014 and, as the world turns, it increasingly turns against AquaBounty’s GMO salmon. Many of the nation’s largest conventional grocers—including Kroger, Safety, Target, HEB, Aldi, Giant Eagle, Meijer, Marsh, and dozens of others—have said they aren’t planning on selling AquaBounty’s GMO salmon even if the FDA does approve it.   

This means that even if FDA were to approve GMO salmon today, by the time the first fillets hit the stores (AquaBounty says 2016), there very well may not be a single retail outlet willing to stock GMO salmon. And polls show again and again and again that consumers will avoid GMO fish if they can, though that depends on whether FDA requires labeling.  Read the full article…

February 11th, 2014

Intimidation and Bullying: How Industry Steamrolls the Scientific Debate

By Tim Schwab

For anyone who’s ever wondered why the “science-based” rules and regulations coming out of Washington are so consistently industry friendly, Tyrone Hayes’ story recently in the New Yorker, but told first by 100Reporters and Environmental Health News last June, is enlightening.

A biology professor at the University of California, Hayes took research funding from Syngenta to study its herbicide atrazine. When his study found environmental and health problems with the widely used herbicide in the late 1990s, Sygenta balked and stalled his findings. Hayes ended the funding relationship, feeling that his peers may eventually think that he was “part of a plan to bury important data” and that his reputation might be injured. Little did Hayes know. Read the full article…

January 6th, 2014

Syngenta Correctly Predicts Superweeds Infestation: Jolly Well Done!

weeds and tractor steering wheel

By Eve Mitchell

In 2009 Swiss biotech giant Syngenta made a bold prediction that by 2013 a quarter of U.S. cropland would be infested with glyphosate-resistant superweeds. I heartily congratulate Syngenta for its foresight, if not the response to it. By January 2013, 61.2 million acres of U.S. farmland suffered from an increasingly stubborn case of superweeds. So Syngenta was being uncharacteristically modest – around one third of the 185 million acres of U.S. land planted with corn, cotton and soy has weeds that can’t be killed by normal means, adding significantly to the cost and effort of farming.

As 2013 drew to a close, a new Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) policy brief reported that, in fact, “Almost 50 percent of surveyed farms are infested with glyphosate-resistant weeds, and the rate of these weeds’ spread has been increasing.” UCS added:

“Herbicide-resistant weeds are also symptomatic of a bigger problem: an out-dated system of farming that relies on planting huge acreages of the same crop year after year. This system, called monoculture, has provided especially good habitat for weeds and pests and accelerated the development of resistance. In response, Monsanto and its competitors are now proposing to throw more herbicides at resistant weeds, an approach that ignores the underlying biology of agricultural systems and will inevitably lead to more resistance and a further spiraling up of herbicide use.”

The rapid spike in the use of Monsanto’s best-selling weed killer glyphosate in the U.S. is closely linked to the uptake of genetically modified (GM) crops designed to be used with the brand name version of the chemical (Roundup). As widely predicted by both industry and GM skeptics, problematic weeds like Palmer amaranth quickly developed resistance to Roundup and are spreading fast as farmers struggle to kill them with combinations of chemicals in heavier concentrations, or simply resorting to hand weeding hundreds of acres of fields. The problem is so serious in the Southern U.S. that UCS reports, “92 percent of cotton and soybean fields are infested as a result of Roundup Ready crops.” Superweeds are also causing escalating problems in other countries with heavy GM crop use, including in the soy fields of Argentina and Brazil upon which the EU is so reliant to fuel its factory farms. Read the full article…

December 20th, 2013

Clones, the Commission and Ethical Contortionism

By Eve Mitchell

The European Commission’s proposed Directives on clones in the food chain fall woefully short of what citizens want and the Parliament demands.

The draft laws are not all they appear to be at first glance. One draft Directive “provisionally prohibits” cloning farm animals and the sale of farm clones or clone embryos. The other “provisionally prohibits” the sale and import of food from clones. Once enshrined in law the Directives would be reviewed to enable any “improvements” in cloning techniques that reduce animal suffering to be taken into account in future regulation.

Any prohibition of cloning is welcome, based as it is on the acknowledgement that cloning for food is unwanted and unconscionably cruel, but it‘s not enough.

The draft laws do not prohibit the sale of food from the offspring of clones, which renders them next to useless in the real world. The Commission emphasises, “[C]loning is so expensive that its use for food production is not lucrative.” This is a tacit admission that the proposed measures don’t actually tackle the real problem – food from cloned offspring. 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…

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