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Blog Posts: World

December 19th, 2014

Water for the World Act: Victory!

Water_FaucetBy Darcey O’Callaghan

Earlier this week, the Senator Paul Simon Water for the World Act unanimously passed a Senate floor vote, following passage out of the House last week. It now advances to President Obama’s desk for signature.

Since the first iteration of the bill was introduced over five years ago, Food & Water Watch lobbied to remove components of the bill that promoted public-private partnerships (P3s). We argued that U.S. foreign assistance shouldn’t be used to privatize the water systems in developing countries. Everyone at Food & Water Watch is thrilled that the final version of the bill in both the House and Senate emphasizes local ownership, rather than P3s. We believe strongly that water must remain a public good, managed transparently by communities and funded by governments.

While the majority of U.S. foreign aid goes to strategic geopolitical allies—many of which are middle-income countries—this bill takes a huge step forward by prioritizing water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) funding for countries with the greatest need. The bill also improves efficiency by designating WASH point people at USAID and the State Department, and by codifying use of a Global Water Strategy that includes clear performance indicators.

Amazingly, the average American thinks we spend 25 percent of the federal budget on foreign aid when the reality is just a fraction of that—less than one percent. And the majority of this money does not go to nations facing extreme water and sanitation needs. Kudos go to the bill’s champions, Representatives Poe and Blumenauer and Senators Corker and Durbin, for advancing a version of the bill that not only protects public water, but also prioritizes humanitarian need over geopolitics.

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November 21st, 2014

The Last Straw for Irish Citizens: The Struggle Against Water Charges

By David Sánchez

IrishRight2WaterA European country in crisis. Men in black come to the rescue. With the complicity of the national government, they impose painful measures on the population. Men in black never forget to be nice to their friends, so the measures include a provision to privatise public water services. As a reaction, massive citizen’s mobilisations take place. The story sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

We have already experienced this situation in Greece, and just a few months ago, Greek citizens won the battle, and water will remain in public hands. Now history repeats itself, and the struggle against water privatisation and commodification is at boiling point in Ireland.

The Memorandum of Understanding signed between the Irish Government and the men in black (also known as the Troika, formed by the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank) provides for the introduction of domestic water charges and the establishment of a new water utility, Irish Water, easy to be privatised in the near future. In a nod to their cronies, the men in black tapped former Irish Minister of Environment Phil Hogan, who led the implementation of these changes, as the new European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development.

Following months of protests and resistance, on November 1, more than 150,000 people mobilised across Ireland to oppose the changes. Water charges in Ireland will discriminate against those with less economic means and the unemployed, adding another regressive tax at a time when citizens have been asked to make too many sacrifices to solve an economic crisis which they did not cause. Ireland’s public water system is already paid for through general taxation, which is progressive, and charges commercial users. The Irish people have already shown that they wish it to remain that way.

Once again, European citizens should raise their voice against water privatisation and commodification. Food & Water Europe, together with our allies at the European Water Movement, want to express our solidarity with Irish citizens. Resisting water charges means fighting for access to water as a universal human right, and against the commodification of water. And it means blocking future privatisation attempts.

When will the European Commission finally get the message? Its provisions to privatise water failed in Greece, and they will fail in Ireland if citizens continue with their mobilisation. People in the streets of Dublin, Madrid or Athens; citizens voting in Thessaloniki, Rome or Berlin; nearly 2 million Europeans signing the Citizens Initiative on the Right to Water. All of them are claiming water as a public and common good. Men in black should be nice, for a change, to their citizens — not to their friends.

You can support the Irish campaign on the Right to Water here.

 

September 16th, 2014

Keep Calm and Ban Fracking: Shale Gas in the UK

By Geert Decock

A view of the South Downs in from Devil's Dyke in southern England. CC by SA©IngerAlHaosului/commons.wikipedia.org

A view of the South Downs in from Devil’s Dyke in southern England. CC by SA(c) IngerAlHaosului/commons.wikipedia.org.

OK, I admit: I had never before heard about the South Downs National Park in England. However, last week, I learned that the planning committee of the park had voted unanimously to turn down an application by shale gas explorer, Celtique Energie, to start drilling and maybe fracking at Fernhurst, a two hour drive south of London.

A couple of hours later, I can call myself a South Downs fan. Yes, I want to go on holiday there. Except maybe for blue sky and warm temperatures, the South Downs has lots to offer. Wikipedia informs me that the South Downs has “a rich heritage of historical features and archaeological remains, including defensive sites, burial mounds and field boundaries”. Within the park, there are 37 “Sites of Special Scientific Interest”, protecting the very little that remains of the old chalk grassland. Needless to say, South Downs is a “popular recreational destination, particularly for walkers, horse riders and mountain bikers”.

And by drilling and fracking in such an area of outstanding beauty, UK shale gas explorers hope to win the hearts and minds of locals and public opinion more generally? How out of touch can you be?

A recent report of the federal environment agency of Germany (covered in our previous blog post) details what is required to extract shale gas from an area of 260 square kilometers (about 16 by 16 kilometers) over a period of 10 years.

  • 144 well pads (one per every 2 square kilometers!)
  • 864-1440 wells (assuming 6-10 horizontal drills /pad)
  • 12.000-48.000 truck movements per well

Despite these facts, the CEO of Celtique has the temerity to state that his application “has been refused on subjective and unjustified grounds”. What is more likely to be the case, is that the planning committee analysed the existing pressures on their national park from agriculture, traffic and housing development and drew the common sense conclusion that adding fracking to the mix simply was not going to work.

Despite all this, the UK government’s energy strategy continues to be “going all out for shale”, stressed Prime Minister Cameron. The efforts of shale enthusiasts like David Cameron (but also other mainstream political parties) will continue to fight a losing battle, as people get better informed about shale gas and fracking.

In the latest licencing round, almost 60 percent of the UK territory was offered to shale gas explorers to start drilling for shale gas. It should not come as a surprise that new groups are popping up like mushrooms in areas singled out for shale gas drilling. Some of the most vocal groups are Residents Action on Fylde Fracking in the Blackpool area or the Frack Free Balcombe Residents Association, where exploratory drilling was halted last summer due to protests. They are not only determined to stop this terrible development, but they are well organized. Just take a look at all the resources available on the website of a grassroots campaign like Frack Off. This summer, the No Dash for Gas campaign hosted a “Reclaim the power” anti-fracking action camp. And they have the support from larger groups like Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace.

The combination of a vibrant and growing anti-fracking movement with the non-stop PR disasters committed by shale gas explorers and the UK government will mean that their shale gas strategy will slowly but surely grind to a halt.

With more than half of the UK territory now licensed for shale gas and oil exploration, anti-fracking groups in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland will be at the forefront of the campaign to ban fracking. On October 11, the Global Frackdown – an international day of action against fracking – will offer a great opportunity to express our solidarity with those communities in the UK under siege from the shale gas industry and its political supporters.

Join us on October 11 for the Global Frackdown: http://www.globalfrackdown.org/.

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June 27th, 2014

On Fracked Gas, Same Rhetoric—Different Century

By Geert Decock

Are you familiar with the British comedian Rowan Atkinson? Does Mr. Bean maybe ring a bell? Then maybe you know the sketch comedy piece where Atkinson plays a rather deluded Member of Parliament who makes a nonsensical speech, high on rhetoric, low on substance. I had to think back to Atkinson’s “Sir Marcus Browning MP”, when reading the NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s remarks last week that Russia is behind the growing anti-fracking movement in Europe, fomenting opposition to shale gas and even funding anti-fracking groups. Sir Marcus Browning finishes his speech (spoiler alert!) by insisting he doesn’t want to end up like “the blind man, in the dark room, looking for a black cat… that isn’t there”. By making his comments about Russian support for the European anti-fracking movement, Rasmussen looks exactly like “the blind man, in the dark room, looking for a black cat … that isn’t there”.

These accusations of Russia’s influence in the anti-fracking movement have repeatedly been made. And until today, without a shred of evidence. Read the full article…

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May 7th, 2014

What’s Beyond GMO Contamination?

By David Sánchez

Read “Organic Farmers Pay the Price for Contamination” in English or Spanish.

Felix is an organic farmer in Spain, the country that hosts 90 percent of genetically modified (GM) crops in Europe. He grows grains, alfalfa and vegetables. His organic maize was contaminated by a GM variety, and therefore he lost the organic certification for his 7.7 hectare farm. He lost €14,756 (US$20,585) as a result of the preventive measures he took to avoid contamination in addition to the direct loss of being forced to sell his harvest in the conventional markets. According to the Spanish law, he has no one to blame, so cannot claim for damages. 

Tom is an organic farmer in the U.S., a country where 90 percent of soy and 93 percent of maize area is planted with GM varieties. He grows maize and is forced to take many measures to prevent contamination: planting buffer strips, delaying planting or performing extra tests, with median annual costs up to US$8,000 (€5,735). One year his maize was contaminated by a GM variety, and the buyer rejected his load, with a median loss in that season of US$4,500 (€3,226). He has no one to blame for the damage either.

The first story was reported by Greenpeace a few years ago. It just shows the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the reality of GM cultivation in Spain. The second could be the story of any of the organic farmers surveyed by Food & Water Watch and OFARM earlier this year, just released in Europe in (available in English and in Spanish).

The stories of organic and GM-free farmers in both countries are extremely similar. They’ve been forced to abandon organic cultivation of crops where there is a GM variety, incur additional labour costs and economic damages, faced financial insecurity and experienced strained relations between neighbours—without any legal protections. Clearly, what the U.S. Government, the European Commission and the industry call “coexistence” simply mean imposing GM crops. 

Nevertheless, there is one important difference: the EU only allows the cultivation of one GM maize variety so far. But the reality of European small-scale agriculture shows that the situations in those countries that allow GM cultivation (Spain, Portugal or the Czech Republic) are already too serious to be ignored. And this is something the European Commission should keep in mind when deciding whether or not to approve a new GM crop, a maize engineered by Pioneer to kill insects and resist herbicides.

We have mounting scientific evidence on the right way to create a food system to achieve sustainability and social justice goals. And the European Commission will have to decide whom do they want to stand for. Will they stand for Felix and the organic farmers, a growing sector that creates employment and puts new energies in rural areas? Or will they stand for Pioneer, Monsanto and Syngenta, who are lobbying hard to get their GM crops approved in Europe? The answer will be coming soon.

Tell the European Food Safety Authority: If it’s dangerous you want less NOT more!

March 21st, 2014

How to Disappoint 1.9 Million Citizens in a Few Minutes

By David Sánchez

For one moment, imagine that you are the Vice President of the European Commission. Citizens all around Europe have collected signatures demanding you to recognize the Human Right to Water and Sanitation in the European Union. This first ever European Citizen’s Initiative to be successful gained support from 1.9 million people. You had three months to discuss with your colleagues what to do about it. You start the press conference, smile to the cameras and speak for a few minutes. You announce that you say yes to the petition but you are aware that you are offering nothing. Finally, you leave the room.

Now imagine that the multinational company that manages water in your city cut off your water supply because you can’t afford to pay the bills. Or imagine that your municipal water supply is about to be privatized. Or maybe you were even involved in the signature collection and invested a lot of your time and efforts on it.

How would you feel in each situation? March 22nd is World Water Day, a good moment to reflect about the huge gap created this week between the announcement of the European Commission and the expectancies of 1.9 million European citizens on the right to water.

But, what is a European Citizen’s Initiative?

The European Citizen’s Initiative is a new democratic tool that tries to allow EU citizens to participate directly in the development of EU policies by calling on the European Commission to make a legislative proposal. You “just” need to collect one million signatures coming from at least 7 member states, following a really complicated set of rules and procedures.

And the Right to Water Initiative did it. Nearly 1.9 million signatures were collected with three basic demands: the legal requirement by EU institutions and Member States to ensure that all inhabitants enjoy the right to water and sanitation, a commitment that water supply and management will not be privatized and a commitment to increase EU efforts to achieve universal access to water and sanitation. These were three clear demands that had nearly no echo in the Commission’s answer.

The European Commission acknowledged the importance of the Human Right to Water and Sanitation and confirmed water as a public good. Which is good, but just words. They didn’t propose any legislation to recognize this right, just a compilation of already ongoing actions plus the announcement of a public consultation on the drinking water directive whose outcomes will not be binding. On the positive side, they committed to promote universal access to water and sanitation in its development policies, including the promotion of public-public partnerships. And that’s a step in the right direction.

But citizens had asked to exclude water and sanitation from what they call “internal market rules,” that is, privatization and liberalization. And the Commission did nothing. Water was excluded temporally, due to strong public opposition, from the last internal market legislation. But the Commission didn’t explicitly exclude these services from the ongoing trade negotiations, such as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP or TAFTA) with the U.S. or the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) with Canada.

The European Water Movement, of which Food & Water Europe is part, stated it quite clearly: this decision implies a bad precedent for this new mechanism of public participation.

Water privatization is still a very concrete menace in many European countries, with the European Commission itself one of the main drivers. As part of the Troika (the tripartite committee composed by the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund), they are pushing for water privatization in Greece and Portugal, while evidence from public auditing bodies confirms that privatization is detrimental both for local authorities and ordinary citizens. And the reality on the ground shows that when families can’t afford to pay their bills, they are being deprived of access to water by private companies, as happened recently in Jerez, Spain.

Citizens are mobilizing across Europe. Millions of Italians voted against water privatization and local referendums took place in major cities like Madrid and Berlin. Right now citizens of Alcazar de San Juan, Spain, are voting on a popular referendum about the privatization of their water supply. Thessaloniki, in Greece, will vote on May 18. And other cities, like Puerto de Santa Maria, also in Spain, are now mobilized for the same reasons.

Water should be a commons, not a commodity. We must close the gap between citizen’s expectations and EU decisions. We need to keep reminding our politicians of the importance of the right to water before the elections for the European Parliament. And we need to keep it in mind also in the World Water Day.

January 22nd, 2014

Happy Birthday, Horsemeat Scandal

By Eve Mitchell

It’s been a year since we were first told the beef we buy may actually be horsemeat, but we still don’t really know what happened, how far it spread, who is responsible, or how they will be called to account for themselves.

We’ve seen a smattering of arrests, notably the September 2013 arrests of eight managers of the French company Spanghero on charges of aggravated fraud and mislabelling of food products. French authorities say they “knowingly sold” 750 tonnes of horsemeat mislabelled as beef. Around two-thirds of this went to French firm Comigel’s Luxembourg subsidiary Tavola and found its way into some 4.5 million products that were then sold again to 28 companies operating in 13 European countries. This may be the source of the tainted Findus “beef” lasagne (100% horsemeat) found on UK supermarket shelves.

Sound complicated? It is, but if you’re going to buy heavily processed foods you need to know this stuff – unless you’re happy to just pinch your nose and swallow.

Justice is elusive. Accused of netting some €500,000 over six months of fraud (£425,000 or US$681,000), Spanghero had been stripped of its operating license in February 2013. It then closed in June, changed managers, sacked nearly 60% of its workforce, renamed itself La Lauragaise, refinanced and was trading again by the end of July – protesting its “innocence” all the way. Then came the arrests in September. The company’s new tagline “Saveurs des terroirs” (“The flavours of the land”, with heavy overtones of traditional cultural quality) feels like a bad joke.

Flagship arrests, while welcome, are not enough. Supermarkets sold us this stuff but are not feeling the heat. The UK Parliamentary inquiry into the affair quizzed supermarket bosses, pointing out to Tesco that it is “notorious” for rejecting misshapen apples but somehow managed to miss the fact that products labelled beef were actually up to 29% horse. The Tesco representative attempted to blame consumers, saying the company does what they want, but this didn’t wash with the committee, which retorted, “You obviously don’t [do what your customers want] on horse.”

The inquiry pressed that if beef is trading at a premium to horse, and with “unscrupulous people out there, as obviously there are,” surely supermarkets should watch cheaper products more closely. Tesco said each of its suppliers is scrutinised with the same ”rigour” (Tesco does one DNA test per year at each meat production site). Horsemeat was still being found in Tesco products as late as June, but as the Food Standards Agency only reports results over 1%, for all we know horsemeat is still masquerading as beef all over the place. At this stage it isn’t in anybody’s interest to say differently, and consumers have to take what they can get.

Supermarkets sell UK shoppers 80% of our food, so when they fail us, it is a big deal. Tesco pleads innocence, saying its supplier used unapproved suppliers further down the chain. The Committee’s July 2013 report concluding its inquiry said while some retailers may have been misled, the big ones “need to ‘up their game’”, and the costs should rest on companies, not consumers. The inquiry concluded, “Retailers and meat processors should have been more vigilant against the risk of deliberate adulteration,” instead of taking everything “on trust”. The Committee continued, “We are dismayed at the slow pace of investigations and would like assurance that prosecutions will be mounted where there is evidence of fraud or other illegal activity.” That was in July 2013. 

So what has the UK Government done? Testifying before the inquiry in January 2013 Minister for Agriculture and Food David Heath MP announced a wide-ranging review of the crisis, but the report was kicked into the long grass and is not due before an unnamed point in 2014, with actual action who knows when after that. Meanwhile the inquiry heard the Government is proposing to decriminalise food labelling violations amid a declining number of public analysts and labs able to carry out food testing and budget cuts to the local authorities responsible for food testing.

UK Secretary of State for Food and Farming Owen Paterson said of the horsemeat scandal: “I think we came out of it very strongly.” On addressing the scandal he said, “Firstly we are bound by the rules of the European market,” although this is a notable departure from his feelings in other areas (Paterson calls Europe’s rules on GM food “medieval” and compares them to “witchcraft”). The annual review of his department showed that fewer than a third of his staff have confidence in managerial decision making and fewer than a quarter think their management have a clear vision of the future. They are not alone.

Some say all this is proof that “Big Retail has government in an armlock”. It sure feels like they have shoppers under the other arm.

On 14 January 2014 the European Parliament passed a motion on food fraud that “deplores” that it has never been an EU enforcement priority and reiterates that “the retail sector has a special responsibility to guarantee the integrity of food products”. With supermarkets claiming innocence and the UK Government playing “hurry up and wait,” maybe the EU can force some action on our behalf.

December 9th, 2013

Energy “Reform” in Mexico Will Only Pave the Road for Fracking 

By Claudia Campero 

In Mexico, as in many countries, information on amounts of recoverable shale gas reserves is uncertain. In 2011, the U.S. Energy Information Administration placed Mexico in fourth place worldwide. In 2013, we slipped to sixth place. Pemex, the Mexican state petroleum company, estimates the quantity to be even more modest. Regardless of how much gas lies beneath our feet, the consequences of the ambitious battle to frack our country is likely to be felt in many communities.

When it comes to hydrocarbon extraction, the context in Mexico is quite different from that in the U.S. In 1938, Mexican President Lázaro Cárdenas nationalized all oil and gas reserves. For the last few decades, Pemex has been responsible for all fossil fuel extraction in the country. This is central to the government’s income since it represents 32 percent of all federal income. Pemex is so important that it managed to escape the many reforms made to other sectors in Mexico when the country joined the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994. However, powerful international energy corporations have been pushing for a share of Mexico’s energy resources over the last decade, and are currently already working with Pemex through service contract arrangements.

But they want much more.

Read the full article…

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November 22nd, 2013

Sustainable Energy for All

By Briana Kerensky

Image courtesy United Nations Development Group

Over the past few years, hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has been presented by the oil and gas industry as a silver bullet to our economic woes. According to the industry, the mining of unconventional shale gas and oil deposits is supposed to flood our communities with money, jobs, and other development opportunities. But the truth is this: fracking comes with a price. This dangerous, harmful practice puts our health, our environment, and the stability of our communities on the line.

The UN is currently engaged in a multi-year process to develop Sustainable Development Goals that will chart a common global path towards merging economic development with environmental stability. How can people around the world the chance to succeed and improve their lives, without furthering damage to our planet and communities? Some states are moving ahead quickly with fracking in the hopes of achieving energy independence from imported oil and gas. Meanwhile, other states, such as France, have banned the practice, believing that it cannot be done without resulting in the risks mentioned above.

This Monday, the UN will address the role of fracking in the organization’s Sustainable Development Goals in an event called “Sustainable Energy for All: Can a Just Solution Include Hydraulic Fracturing?” Speakers at the event include Ambassador Stephan Tafrov, Permanent Representative of Bulgaria to the UN; François Gave, Permanent Mission of France to the UN; and Food & Water Watch’s own Senior Organizer for New York, Eric Weltman.

It is the goal of Food & Water Watch to work with the UN and help people understand that fracking is a short-term solution to energy consumption, with long lasting, disastrous results. Sustainable energy is a goal that we can achieve. But fracking is hardly the answer.

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October 17th, 2013

Standing in Solidarity with Canadian Activists During the Global Frackdown

By Mark Schlosberg

Activists around the globe are watching events unfold in New Brunswick, Canada today where a peaceful blockade led by the Elsipogtog First Nation, at the facility of SWN Resources Canada – a subsidiary of the U.S.-based Southwestern Energy – turned into a standoff with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). The RCMP told Canadian media that protesters are being arrested for firearms offences, threats, intimidation, mischief and violating the court-ordered injunction. What is less visible in the media reports but what we’re hearing from activists on social media: that the peaceful blockade was met by overwhelming use of force by police who had canine units and reportedly used pepper spray and rubber bullets. 

We have still just heard bits and pieces of information and at this point it is still unclear exactly how this situation escalated today. However, given the large police presence, including snipers in camouflage, and a reported aggressive posture towards this action, it is sadly not surprising that it has gone the way it has. There are too many reports of peaceful protests escalating following police use of excessive force. We stand with other movement leaders and organizations like Josh Fox and Maude Barlow of Council of Canadians in solidarity with peaceful Canadian activists standing to protect their lands and water from fracking. Still, in the end, violence – whatever the cause – cannot be part of a solution and we second Josh Fox’s sentiments shared on Twitter in “Urging restraint against aggression. No matter what the police do we cannot respond with violence.”

Read the full article…

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