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July 18th, 2014

Iowa Goes Bananas for GMOs

By Genna Reed 

Iowa happens to have planted more genetically engineered corn and soybeans than any other state this year. In part because of this agricultural trend, Iowa’s land-grant university, Iowa State University, can’t help but remain loyal to the industry that sustains much of its agricultural research funding. 

If you’ve read Food & Water Watch’s “Public Research, Private Gain”, then it’s probably not a total surprise to you that there’s a very close tie between Iowa State University and the genetically engineered seed business. Iowa State University has its own Monsanto Student Services Wing; in recent years its $30 million plant sciences institute has been directed by representatives of Monsanto, Pioneer Hi-Bred and Syngenta; and between 2006 and 2010, the university’s agronomy department took $19.5 million in research grants from private-sector donors (including the Iowa Soybean Association, Dow and Monsanto), representing close to half of its grant funding.

As far as extracurricular relationships, one Iowa State University representative has been parroting industry talking points in an effort to discredit the growing GMO labeling movement. Ruth MacDonald, a food science professor, was quoted in a Des Moines Register in a recent article, along with the Iowa Farm Bureau, discussing the supposed time-tested track record of all GMOs and the complications and costs that would come with mandatory GMO labeling. The article went on to describe the results from the Iowa Farm Bureau Food & Farm Index survey, which asked consumers about various labels, including GMO labels. The survey questions displayed in the article were convoluted, touted the proclaimed benefits of GMO foods and were clearly crafted to garner the desired results for the Farm Bureau: that consumers don’t want GMO labeling.

Iowa State’s symbiotic relationship with the biotech industry might be why it has decided to take on the first-ever human feeding trials of a banana, genetically engineered to have elevated levels of vitamin A. The ultimate goal of the project, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, will be to grow these bananas in Uganda by 2020 to fight Vitamin A deficiency, much like the notorious Golden Rice project. NPR recently reported that Iowa State University’s food science department will host the feeding trial, and will pay volunteers $900 each to eat the vitamin-A-enriched, orange hued bananas. 

Much like the Golden Rice feeding trials, the results will be inconsequential because measuring Vitamin A expression in healthy, adult volunteers will not adequately reveal whether these bananas will raise vitamin levels in the target population: Ugandan children. And, as NPR reported, “for the banana to have any impact at all, governments would have to approve it, farmers would have to grow it, and ordinary people who have to be persuaded to eat orange-tinted bananas.” Once again, development agencies, foundations, and universities are investing in uncertain technological solutions to a problem that has a more practical solution: providing low-income, rural families with the capacity to grow crops that provide balanced nutrition.

Despite what Iowa State University and the Iowa Farm Bureau might think about the need for GMO labels, one thing is for sure: consumers want the right to know what’s in their food and will continue to fight for mandatory GMO labeling. Whether you’re from Iowa or anywhere else, click here to tell your representative to support mandatory GMO labels.

 

 

Missing the Forest AND the Trees

By Ron Zucker

pollution tradingWe all know about climate change. We know that the planet is getting hotter and that, though the U.S. has about 4.5 percent of the world’s population, it produces almost 20 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions. And we know that we are well on the way to blowing past the two degrees Celsius of warming that the nations of the world agreed to.

Despite this, a new a study commissioned by the UN fails to present a plan that could really address the problem. In fact, the report buys into the failed experiments of fracking and nuclear power. It even fails to consider keeping the carbon in the ground in the first place. Yet even this failed attempt shines a light on the failure of the Obama Administrations most recent proposal, the comically insufficient market-driven “Carbon Rule.”

The report, produced by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) and the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI), challenged teams in each of the world’s 15 major economic nations to come up with a way to reduce emissions for that nation to 1.6 tons per person of carbon and carbon equivalents. The idea was to give them freedom to think through the issues and come up with a development plan.

The final product failed to hit its targets.

If we implemented every plan submitted, we’d only get down to about 2.3 tons per person. While this is a far cry from the 22.22 tons currently emitted per person in the U.S., or even the 11 tons emitted per capita in the EU, it is still about 44 percent higher than the goal. Worse, in part because we’ve offloaded so much of our industrial production to China, the team from China was unable to get down below 3.4 tons per person by midcentury, more than double the per capita goal in the world’s most populous country.

The report offers little to those hoping for real changes that might forestall climate change. The U.S. team continues to rely on the oil and gas industry to provide electricity and transportation. Indeed, even under its most optimistic projections, it thinks that fossil fuels will still be providing almost half of our “primary energy” in 2050. It is a mark of the desperation of planners to believe that the energy companies that have exploited our common resources with dangerous deep sea oil exploration and tragic fracking plans, while opposing research and development of renewable energy alternatives, will become the stewards of the earth who will clean up our planet.

The plan also depends on the unproven technology of “carbon capture and storage,” (CCS) the idea that we can capture the carbon from burning fossil fuels and artificially shove it back into the ground or ocean without it leaking or damaging the planet. While CCS has long been the dream of the fossil fuel community, as it will let them continue business as usual, it has so far been a promise rather than a reality.

The U.S. team foresees a major increase in nuclear power generation, providing at least 30 percent, and potentially up to 60 percent, of our electricity load. Remember that the plan foresees a significant increase in electricity for transportation, so this is a major uptick in nuclear energy.

All in all, the plan has significant flaws. Nonetheless, it is instructive in one important way. It underscores just how insufficient the Obama administration’s proposed power rule is.

Where this plan rejects switching dirty coal for fracked natural gas as the go-to fuel for electric generation, the EPA’s plan expressly expands the use of natural gas. This reliance on fracking consigns U.S. environmental standards to the natural gas industry and locks our future energy development into fossil fuels. Though it seems obvious to most of us, the EPA still does not understand that the way out of an environmental crisis caused by fossil fuels cannot be continued reliance on fossil fuels.

Worse, the target for the EPA’s plan is woefully inadequate. Even if completely enacted and actually successful, a proposition about which we have significant doubts, the Administration’s proposal retains levels above 1990 levels in 2030, instead of aiming for the target of 15-40 percent below 1990 carbon emissions by 2020.

Incremental change is the watchword all too often in Washington. This new U.N. report shows that incremental change isn’t nearly enough. That alarm is good, but the plan still relies too much on nuclear power and dangerous fracking. The only safe place for the carbon is in the ground. The way to achieve that is real investment in renewable energy, in alternatives to fracking and fossil fuels, and real regulation to force industry to stop polluting our air and water.

We can’t jump from the coal industry’s frying pan into the fracking fire. The new U.N. report attempts, but fails, to examine the whole forest. That puts it a step up on the Obama Administration’s plan, which doesn’t even try to save a few trees. We can do both, but it can’t be with false solutions such as fracked gas and nuclear power. Real action needs to happen, and it needs to happen now.

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July 17th, 2014

Running for President While Cashing in on Fracking? Jeb Bush’s New Venture

By Mitch Jones

In America’s constant campaign mode, where one election cycle begins before another even ends, speculation over the possible candidacies for president in 2016 has been ripe. Most of the names have been familiar, including former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, son of one former president and brother of another. But it seems presidential politics isn’t the only family business Jeb is following his father and brother into.

Both George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush worked in the oil and gas industry before getting into politics. And Bloomberg reports today that Jeb Bush has been serving as the chairman of a private equity firm. The story claims that Bush “has teamed with former Credit Suisse Group AG and Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. bankers to create an investment firm based in Coral Gables, Florida.” The firm is called Britton Hill Holdings LLC and it has been investing heavily in oil and gas.

According to the filings reported by Bloomberg, the firm received financing from a Chinese company to buy a share of a Connecticut-based shipping firm “seeking to capitalize on surging Asian demand for U.S. shale oil and gas.” In addition to its Chinese backed move into shipping, Britton Hill has invested in Inflection Energy LLC, a Denver-based company that needed capital to invest in exploiting the Marcellus Shale. In other words, Bush’s company is providing capital to fund the fracking of Pennsylvania.

In April, Britton Hill raised capital to invest in Dorian LPG Ltd., a company founded last year to ship propane overseas. One of the investors is a Chinese company, HNA Group Co., which among other things invests in air transport. Bloomberg speculates that by selling a stake to HNA Group, Dorian is hoping to secure entry into China. The company reported in filings that China is building a series of plants to manufacture propylene, a constituent in the manufacture of plastics. Those plants will use imported propane. Clearly Dorian, and by extension Britton Hill, are counting on growing exports of propane to Asia, especially China. The source of that propane will be fracked gas from the United States.

This isn’t just another example of the revolving door whereby it becomes increasingly difficult to tell the difference between our millionaire political class and our millionaire business class. Consider this: Jeb Bush is an establishment favorite to be the Republican nominee for president. He currently serves as the chairman of a firm that is investing heavily in fracking for oil and gas and that is partnering with Chinese companies to ship that gas to Asia. Were he to become president, would President Bush be able to distinguish himself from Chairman Bush? Would he serve the interests of his friends and business partners or of the rest of us?

These relationships, where politicians move between Washington and Wall Street, between government and finance and resource exploitation, is another reason why we need to get money out of politics. It’s these sorts of relationships that corrupt our system and provide the permanent political-business elite with their hold on our government.  

 

 

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July 16th, 2014

Fracking in Paradise, FL

By Vickie Machado

Organizers in Florida learned that the Dan A. Hughes Co. will cease operations at its Collier Hogan well site. While the company states that they took this action on their own, allies of Food & Water Watch have been pushing the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to revoke its permit at the Collier Hogan site and it looks like the Florida DEP will file a suit against Dan A. Hughes Co., to shut down permanently. The state will also seek $25,000 in penalties against the company. We see this as a victory, and Food & Water Watch Florida Organizer Vickie Machado tells us how it all unfolded.

I am a third generation South Floridian. Both my grandfather and my mother were born and raised in Miami, long before it’s present bustling nature of high-rises and the never-ending flow of traffic. I grew up hearing stories of how my grandfather watched Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach expand past their boarders to become the South Florida region of today.

While the expansion brought the wonder of new cultures, flavors, and styles, by the time my mother came of age, this growth also continually meant infringement upon natural areas, pushing houses, shopping centers and cars further west towards the beloved Everglades. As we continue to push the boundaries, I continue to worry about our populations’ impact on what’s left of our neighboring wetlands.

While development and construction weigh heavy on my heart, more recently my fears extend further beyond my backyard sea of grass to the western most boundaries of the Everglades. It is here, on the West coast of Florida, where something perhaps more harmful than development was threating this precious ecosystem.

The Dan A. Hughes Company was found acid fracking near Naples in Collier County, the western most region of the Everglades. The process of injecting acid under high pressures is a drilling procedure never before used in Florida. To me, this means they are using the most sensitive and important ecosystem in Florida as a lab rat for their scheme to make an easy buck. When issued a cease and desist order, the company said no and decided to pay a fine while continuing with operations.

In this situation, I realize our demand for cheap energy is also to blame, as we allow this debacle to unfold. It is our cars that are being driven, our homes being cooled and electrified and our excessive livelihoods being energized. It is also our government and lawmakers who are setting the policies that allow intensive resource extraction such as acid fracking to occur. As a Food & Water Watch Organizer on the east coat of Florida, I am grateful to the grassroots groups in Collier (namely the Stone Crab Alliance and the Conservancy of Southwest Florida) struggling for the integrity of our environment and our water on a daily basis. I am also grateful to Collier County as they requested the state to revoke the oil driller’s permit.

More recently, these efforts have led to the shut down of the Collier-Hogan well and a State driven lawsuit to permanently cease operations. This has been a huge victory in the eyes of Food & Water Watch and our grassroots coalition partners. While we celebrate this triumph, it is important to know the struggle is far from over.

While Dan A Hughes walks away, the public is forced to deal with the wastewater from the Collier-Hogan well, which is said to be on its way to Miami-Dade County for disposal in treatment facilities that were not built to deal with the chemicals from acid fracking. It is situations like these that show the problems of fracking will sooner or later make it to all of our backyards.

It is up to us to demand our lawmakers start listening to the concern people of Florida and place a ban upon extreme extraction and wastewater disposal. I want to ensure we still have a South Florida to call home with clean water and preserved wetlands. This being said, it is simply unacceptable for companies to engage in such environmentally degrading activities, only to later buy their way out of trouble and send the clean up to someone else’s home. 

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July 14th, 2014

Organizing is Not Glamorous… But It’s Powerful

By Jessica Wohlander

Jessica Wohlander (left) and Jacob Abaraoha, Food & Water Watch interns, practice canvassing in Brooklyn.

If you are an intern at Food & Water Watch in Brooklyn (like me), Eric Weltman will take you out for coffee on your first day. He will talk about the organization for a while, explain what “bird-dogging” is, and inevitably tell you that organizing work is not glamorous. You know that already, but it isn’t until you’ve spent two solid weeks trying to phone bank your way through a list of nearly 3,000 names with a gaggle of volunteers that you understand what he means. Having the same conversation or leaving the same message on answering machines 3,000 times is not glamorous work.

Yet when the day of the rally has arrived, and you’re wandering around with a clipboard asking every individual in a crowd of over 500 if they’ve signed in, one of those 500 faces might stop you. In this case, the rally was to tell Governor Cuomo to ban fracking in New York.

“You work with Food & Water Watch?” they might ask. “What’s your name? I think you’re the one who called me. I wouldn’t be here right now, if you hadn’t made that phone call. Thank you.”

And then you realize that you are a part of something much bigger, and those hours on the phone with individuals have created momentum towards real change. You chat with them for awhile, and they pick you out of the crowd at the next rally to say hello, and suddenly you are not just a volunteer making phone call after phone call in a big noisy room in Brooklyn, but a part of a very large community with a very specific purpose and a growing voice to create real social change. And when you chant the chants at that next rally, you realize that you can shout them out with a little more enthusiasm and a lot more confidence.

My experience interning at Food & Water Watch has taught me that together, through organizing, we are unstoppable. A statewide ban on fracking is possible!

Jessica Wohlander is an intern with Food & Water Watch in Brooklyn.

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July 11th, 2014

Give Detroit Real Relief: Turn the Taps Back On

By Katherine Cirullo

Right now, in the heat of midsummer, thousands of Detroiters do not have access to safe drinking water, cannot flush their toilets, bathe their children, wash their dishes or boil water to cook food to feed their families. This is what happens when we treat water like a commodity instead of a common resource and basic human right.

The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department says that more than 80,000 residential households are in arrears, in addition to many Detroit businesses, so it is cutting off service to households that cannot pay their bills. With nearly 40 percent of Detroit residents living in poverty, water bills are simply unaffordable for these households. That’s why the United Nations (UN) recently declared the shut-offs in Detroit a violation of the human right to water and has called for immediate restoration of this essential service. 

It is in this context that Nestlé Waters North America has revved up its PR machine after delivering bottled water to Detroit residents. Does Nestlé believe that this gesture will actually relieve the horrible, unsanitary and unsafe conditions of a mid-summer without running water? Or is it simply banking on the fact that its PR stunt may pay off down the road?

The decision to deliver one truckload of bottled water to Detroit is not enough to fix the city’s water woes, and it seems the real beneficiary of Nestlé’s PR stunt is Nestlé.

While we do not wish for anyone to go thirsty, and we appreciate the efforts of the groups in Detroit doing all they can to help their neighbors, Nestlé’s gesture completely misses the seriousness of the situation. A family cannot actually survive the summer’s conditions on bottled water, let alone a small, limited amount of it. Bottled water is not practical for flushing toilets. It cannot keep children clean and fed, and it cannot prevent the spread of disease. Detroiters don’t need environmentally wasteful and inconvenient water that costs thousands of times more than their tap water. They need their pipes turned back on.

Second, Nestlé’s bottled water delivery (water, mind you, that has been usurped from communities that need it) to Detroiters casts a curious shadow on the root of the issue: the privatization and commodification of our water resources.

Bottled water takes public water supplies to sell at prices that are unaffordable for many people around the world. If given the chance, the industry would create a world where rich people buy their water in expensive, environmentally damaging bottles, while our public water systems erode and deteriorate, leaving poor people without safe and clean water.

In Detroit, we’re seeing the consequences of what happens when government bureaucrats treat water like a commodity. The Detroit Water Board uses that false notion to rationalize cutting service off to people that genuinely cannot afford to pay their bills. It is unconscionable to leave poverty-stricken households, including families with small children, without water during the heat of summer.

Water is not a widget to be bought and sold. It is an essential public service and a common resource. Our elected officials have a fundamental responsibility to ensure that everyone has access to safe and affordable water service. 

In the midst of this internationally-recognized water crisis, bottled water cannot prevent this looming public health crisis, but turning the taps back on will. Take action to give Detroit real relief: restored service at an affordable rate.

Six Books Our Staff are Reading This Summer

By Elizabeth Walek

Nothing beats lounging by the pool with a really great book! Summer is a perfect time to get caught up on reading that you’ve been putting off for weeks. Plus, books are a great way to learn more about the issues Food & Water Watch handles every day. I asked around our offices to find out which socially, politically and environmentally conscious books our staff love lately. Check out our top picks, and share your own summer reading recommendations in the comments!

Read the full article…

July 10th, 2014

Taking Back Our Democracy, One Step at a Time

By Mitch Jones

On June 17 I wrote a blog about efforts in the United States Senate to move forward a Constitutional Amendment that would overturn the disastrous Citizens United ruling.

Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) introduced S.J. Res. 19, a constitutional amendment that would grant Congress and the states the power to regulate the raising and spending of money in federal and state elections, last year. This summer, the resolution is moving towards a possible vote on the floor of the Senate.

Citizens United opened the door to an obscene amount of corporate dollars flowing into political campaigns. The case had three major components that have made it nearly impossible to keep corporate money out of politics… 

  1. It found that free speech rights are about the speech, not the speaker (in other words, it doesn’t matter who’s speaking, but that speaking is taking place.)
  2. The case reconfirmed the notion of corporate personhood.
  3. Since political speech is the most important First Amendment right, constraint of free speech must meet strict scrutiny.

The way the amendment would work is that it would give the federal and state governments the clear constitutional authority to regulate how money is raised and spent in elections – just as they’ve been doing for over 100 years before Citizens United.

Already, pundits are predicting that the 2016 Presidential election will cost considerably more than the $2 billion spent in 2012. Most of that money, we know, will come from corporate interests trying to buy influence in whatever administration takes over in 2017. That’s why we need to let the politicians in Washington know we are fed up with dollars trumping votes and corporations trumping people.

It’s time to get the money out of politics and put the people back in.

On July 10, the Senate’s Judiciary Committee will consider the resolution. If it passes it will move to the full Senate for a possible vote.

Email your Senators today and ask them to support S.J. Res. 19 when it comes up for a vote.

 

July 3rd, 2014

FDA’s Six Month Update Shows There’s Still More to Do

By Sarah Borron 

As of this month, twelve U.S. communities have taken action to urge Congress to ban the misuse of antibiotics on factory farms. While many are urban centers that will probably never see an industrial farm, these cities and towns are standing in solidarity, shedding important new light on a growing problem — the fact that misuse of antibiotics on factory farms can make us sick. 

It was therefore extremely timely that this week, the FDA released a six-month update on the progress of its voluntary efforts to change how antibiotics are used to raise livestock. But despite the agency’s upbeat tone, not much has actually changed. 

Read the full article…

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July 2nd, 2014

Energy In Depth: Working Overtime to Strain Credibility

By Alison Auciello

We usually don’t engage with the fracking PR echo chamber when they make outrageous claims about our staff members or our organization. But their latest attempt to malign us is so desperate and bizarre that it’s worth correcting the record if only to show the depths of their ability to misinform and twist facts to suit their agenda.

The oil and gas industry PR front Energy in Depth recently claimed that we redacted recently-released documents regarding the Kasich administration and fracking—when in reality, the PDF documents we posted rendered oddly once they were uploaded to our file sharing program, which inadvertently hid text that had been highlighted in the original documents we had obtained from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR). (We’ve since re-uploaded those documents to our web server, which renders them correctly across most browsers as far as we can tell, and the Ecowatch story has been corrected—you can find links to all the documents here.)

The fact that Energy in Depth took an honest technical error and jumped to the conclusion (without contacting us) that we “redacted” information that actually buttresses our case—that Ohio Governor Kasich is sympathetic to industry talking points—strains credibility. (The text that didn’t render correctly included the assertion that “There has never been an instance of groundwater contamination related to the injection of oil-fuel waste.”)

We included all of these documents to demonstrate that the ODNR is using the same talking points commonly used by the oil and gas and they reflect the items that were mentioned in the state’s communications plan to promote fracking. So, why would we redact them?

Energy In Depth is an industry front organization, but with their newfound interest in transparency, we hope they will join us in pushing for real transparency, especially around industry meetings with ODNR, members of the Kasich administration and state legislators and endorse legislation requiring the full release of the contents of fracking chemicals.

We won’t hold our breath, though.

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