Blogs | Food & Water Watch - Part 10
Victory! Cleveland passes resolution against antibiotic misuse on factory farms. more wins »
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June 4th, 2014

Can Factory Farms Make YOU Sick?

By Briana Kerensky

It’s really easy to believe that factory farms aren’t your problem. If you don’t eat meat, limit yourself to only local and organic meat, or live in a city, it can be tough to draw a connection between yourself and a factory farm. But with the rise in antibiotic-resistant infections, they’re quickly becoming everyone’s problem.

Follow Food & Water Watch’s flowchart and find out: can factory farms make you sick? Click the image below to get started.

When you’re done, take action: Tell Congress to save antibiotics for medicine, NOT factory farms.

Click to go to the full flowchart.

 

GM Crops for Europe – The Deal Nobody Wants

By Eve Mitchell

Say No to GM Feed in EuropeFor those of you who don’t spend hours every day keeping up with the details of EU agriculture politics, I’ll start simple: Last week Europe took a big step toward GM crops. If this bothers you, you need to tell your elected representatives, and you need to do it now.

Here’s the latest: On 28 May, a preparatory meeting agreed that on 12 June the Council will vote on a proposal for so-called “opt outs” on GM crops. There’s every indication the Council will vote in favour.

This is where it gets a little more confusing. Giving countries the right to ban GM crops, as the proposal is often described, sounds like a good thing. It’s not that easy.

The proposal (a leaked version of which is available at the bottom of the page here) is motivated by the desire in some quarters to make it easier for the EU to authorise GM crops and thereby easier to grow them. In our Single Market such an authorisation applies to all 28 Member States.

Countries wishing to “opt out” of approved GM crops step into a complex and legally uncertain process under this proposal. The first (and believe it or not most straight-forward) step is that the country can ask the Commission to ask the GM company’s permission for the country to opt out of the crop in question. This is a shocking assault on democratic decision making, underpinned by a clear conflict of interest for the biotech industry, which one expects will prefer to take its chances that some farmers will go ahead and grow the stuff anyhow, which in the Single Market would be perfectly legal.

If the company declines this request to ban its own products, the next two potential ways for a country to “opt out” of a GM crop are heavily qualified, dripping with phrases like:

  • “There should be the possibility for that Member State to adopt reasoned measures restricting or prohibiting the cultivation of that GMO once authorised” (that doesn’t feel very robust. What does “reasoned” mean?)
  • “On the basis of grounds distinct from those assessed according to the harmonized set of Union rules” (so discrepancies in scientific understanding on safety aren’t allowed.)
  • “When new and objective circumstances justify an adjustment” (wonderfully vague – whose objectivity counts here? Who judges what is justified?)

It is all dreadfully unclear legally, and all options require the acquiescence of the company that has refused to permit the country from opting out in the first place. From what we can see from the leaked documents, any attempt by a country to ban an approved GM crop could wind up in court, and quite possibly a trade war via the WTO and/or other international trade agreements for the whole of the EU – a potent weapon indeed.

Last time pro-GM EU countries tried this in 2012, the Germans told the Council they objected to the breach of the Single Market, and the UK objected to both the breach of the Single Market and the lack of legal clarity, saying we “need to make the system work, not worse.” The UK, “While it is possible to draft text that looks legally sound it is difficult to envisage how a ban could be substantiated and evidenced in practice in a way that is strong enough to withstand a WTO challenge.”

How times have changed.

Complex internal wrangles following a change of Government have pushed Germany to support the proposal. Officially the UK now says, “This proposal should help unblock the dysfunctional EU process for approving GM crops for cultivation.” The new positions of these big hitters suggest the proposal will get the votes it needs to achieve a qualified majority and pass.

Not that the biotech industry is happy with this proposal either. André Goig, Chair of EuropaBio, said, “To renationalise a common policy, based on non-objective grounds, is a negative precedent and contrary to the spirit of the single market.

In a nutshell the political situation is:

So who is this deal for?

The sad irony of this situation is that Europe’s prudent precaution about GM crops appears to be threatened just as our friends in the U.S. are realising they want off the GM treadmill. They are voting for the kind of labels we already have here in the EU, and given everything we know about informed markets rejecting GM foods, those labels could really help tip the balance and ensure only those who actually choose to eat it find it on their plates. The resulting constriction of the market could help knock the GM industry down a peg or two, which would help all of us, including our colleagues in Africa who are being lined up as the next market to crack. Without the profits from unlabelled U.S. sales, the biotech companies might find it a bit harder to roll out their plans.

We’re entering dangerous waters. Whether you live in the U.S. or the EU tell your elected representatives you don’t want GM crops. Remember: If we refuse to put GM food in our kitchens (including the meat, milk and eggs from animals reared on GM feed), supermarkets won’t stock it. If supermarkets won’t stock it, farmers will think twice before planting it. Those of us who follow the details will keep pushing for the meaningful labels most of us want, but your help is indispensable.

June 2nd, 2014

The Tricks and Ploys of the Corporate Water Barons

By Mary Grant 

The lengths some companies will go to stop communities from gaining local control of their water systems can seem completely crazy. Tomorrow, voters in California’s Monterey Peninsula will go to the polls to decide whether to take the first step toward buying their water system from American Water’s California arm.  Read the full article…

President Obama’s Carbon Rule: Too Little, Too Late?

pollution tradingBy Mitch Jones

Today, President Obama unveiled his long awaited rule to reduce carbon emissions from existing power plants. Unfortunately, the plan isn’t bold enough to affect the change we need.

To what depths have we sunk when embracing a failed 25-year-old right wing policy is hailed as a radical move for a Democratic president?

Recently both the International Panel on Climate Change and the President’s own National Assessment on Climate Change have sounded the alarm. Anthropogenic climate change is real, it is happening, and unless we drastically reduce the amount of greenhouse gases we pump into the air, it will only get worse.

That means more extreme weather: dry areas becoming drier, leading to more droughts. Wet areas becoming wetter, leading to more floods. Our increasingly acidic oceans’ levels rising. More extreme, violent storms.

The President’s target for emissions cuts is too low. After the Supreme Court recently validated the EPA’s authority to regulate cross border air pollution, the administration had a green light to go bold. Instead they flinched. The targets don’t make the U.S. a leader in seeking emissions reduction. Because this rule applies to only one segment of our economy, existing coal-fired power plants, the reduction targets fall far short of the IPCC’s goals of economy-wide reductions of 15 to 40 percent below 1990 emission by 2020. With these targets, U.S. economy-wide emissions would still be above 1990 levels in 2030.

What’s more, even that unambitious target is undermined by the President’s decision to let states use cap and trade as a mechanism for meeting the target. The problem is that cap and trade doesn’t work; it merely lets polluters keep polluting as long as they are willing to pay for the right to do so. Cap-and-trade has a 25-year history here in the U.S., but it’s based on a false premise. As NASA scientist James Hansen said, it “perpetuates the exact pollution it is supposed to eliminate.”

Carbon reduction programs like cap-and-trade should not be a substitute for regulation. They are difficult to implement, create unneeded problems with unfair credit distribution, and threaten the stability of the marketplace. Above all, they benefit current polluters at the expense of everyone else. It’s merely a substitution of economic abstractions in place of actual regulation.

Instead of allowing states to play an emissions shell game with cap-and-trade, the President should have set an ambitious target, prohibited states from using false solutions like cap-and-trade or switching to natural gas generation, and allowed them to come up with real solutions to reduce carbon emissions.

When your target is 25 years down the road, you can’t afford incremental change. This will be the final rule for quite some time. Aiming low, allowing carbon emissions above 1990 levels, and using a mechanism that won’t get the reductions we need isn’t leadership. It’s a mistake.

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May 30th, 2014

Hostile Takeover with a Twist

By Patrick Woodall meat aisle in grocery store

Remember those halcyon days when you could grill a Ball Park hot dog or Jimmy Dean sausage without a Wall Street bidding war breaking out? You know, at last Monday’s Memorial Day picnic? 

Because on Tuesday, Brazilian protein powerhouse JBS/Pilgrims Pride made a $6.4 billion dollar unsolicited, hostile takeover offer for Hillshire Farm, which owns the iconic processed pork brands. Then on Thursday, Tyson Foods upped the ante with a $6.8 billion bid for Hillshire. This battle aims to put a sausage link in the food chain of one of America’s top two meat companies. Both of these offers would require Hillshire to abandon its attempt to buy Pinnacle Foods. Read the full article…

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May 29th, 2014

What Happens When Your Antibiotics Don’t Work?

Thomas and Nicole

Nicole and Thomas, just after Thomas’ first birthday.

Congress can act now to save antibiotics for people who need them most!

TAKE ACTION

By Briana Kerensky

Antibiotic-resistant infections aren’t something you typically worry about, much less even think about, on a regular basis. But what happens when you get one? How does it change your life? With the growing misuse of antibiotics on factory farms, the concept of antibiotic-resistant infections is on people’s minds more than ever before.

About four years ago, an antibiotic-resistant infection changed the life of Nicole, a mom from Kensington, Maryland. Nicole leads what she jokingly calls a “pretty crunchy” lifestyle. She grows her own organic vegetable garden, sticks to local and organic meat, and limits the amount of processed foods in her pantry. Nicole was thrilled to breastfeed her new son Thomas, but when he was only three-and-a-half weeks old she developed mastitis.

“Sometimes the milk duct can get infected and it’s very painful,” Nicole said. “You’re supposed to work through it and I tried to do some homeopathic things to take care of it, but it got worse and worse. On a scale of 1 to 10, the pain became a 30.”

Nicole received antibiotics from her OB/GYN, but it quickly became apparent that they weren’t working. A team of doctors from different hospitals and offices soon discovered that she had antibiotic-resistant MRSA in her breast. The infection was spreading rapidly, and everyone was concerned that Nicole’s C-Section incision would soon become septic as well. Nicole was stunned by the whole situation. “I felt like I needed Dr. House!”

By far the scariest part of Nicole’s infection was learning that it had spread to her breast milk.

Read the full article…

May 27th, 2014

A Marriage Made in Meat Manufacturing Heaven, Consumer Hell

By Patrick Woodall 

We’ve noted before that almost every Monday brings news of another food company merger announcement, but yesterday’s was especially amazing. Brazil’s monolithic meat monopolist JBS announced it wants to buy sausage and processed pork powerhouse Hillshire Farms for more than $6 billion. Just a few weeks ago, Hillshire announced a takeover bid for Pinnacle Foods. Read the full article…

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May 23rd, 2014

Chesapeake Bay: Where MD Stores Its Fertilizer and Chicken Manure

By Mitch Jones

 

Photo by Jlastras.

In a new report the University of Maryland’s Center for Environmental Science gives an overall health grade to the Chesapeake Bay of a “C” for 2013. The report claims that the Bay’s health has remained steady from 2012 to 2013, except for one major problem: there is “a continuing degradation of the Eastern Shore” due to runoff from agriculture.

 

Pollution caused by agricultural runoff is one of the reasons Food & Water Watch supported legislation in this year’s Maryland General Assembly that would have provided more funding for cover crop programs. Delegate Shane Robinson in the House and Senator Rich Madaleno in the Senate introduced the Poultry Fair Share Act that would have placed a 5-cent per head fee on the large poultry companies on the Eastern Shore. The birds owned by those companies produced about 1.5 billion pounds of manure each year. The new report notes that “it’s the fertilizer and chicken manure that’s causing the problems” for Eastern Shore waterways. Read the full article…

May 22nd, 2014

Fracking Shows Its Viral Nature

By Royelen Lee Boykie

Merriam-Webster recently added the word “fracking” to the latest edition of its dictionary. We think you’ll find Food & Water Watch’s definition is more accurate:

Read the full article…

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May 20th, 2014

Leaked Memo: Trade Agreement Would Export Fracked Gas Without Restrictions from U.S. to EU

By Wenonah Hauter

For the media: Wenonah Hauter low resolution image.

Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter

This week, negotiators from the U.S. and the EU began their fifth round of negotiations on the Transatlantic Free Trade Agreement, also known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (or TTIP). Because the negotiations are all happening behind closed doors, the public is left largely in the dark about the content of the discussions. So what, exactly, do we know?

Officially, not much. But this week, an EU negotiation position “on raw materials and energy” was leaked to the Huffington Post. The text is nothing short of a wish list of demands from Big Oil and Gas, which will lock in any of their investments in fossil fuels in general, and shale gas and fracking in particular.

Article C of the document provides that no restrictions should apply to the “exports of energy goods” between the transatlantic trade partners. Any request, for example, for an export license to ship natural gas from the U.S. to the EU would be approved “automatically,” no questions asked. It would —even if this would lead to environmental damage from widespread use of fracking, increased gas prices for U.S. consumers, increased import dependency, and so on. It would lock in our mutual dependence on unsustainable fossil fuels at the expense of our climate. While it would lock in more business and better quarterly profits for Big Oil & Gas, it is hard to see how this serves the public interest.

The EU’s ideas for free trade in energy with the U.S. would also be a frontal assault on the possibility for governments to impose a “public service obligation,” requiring utility companies to deliver natural gas at certain prices to consumers, for example. Any such public service obligation should be “clearly defined and of limited duration” and also not be “more burdensome than necessary.” With such vague wording, lawyers will have a field day to attack any price regulation in the energy sector.

This leak shows that civil society groups on both sides of the Atlantic have been right all along to be suspicious about what is being negotiated behind closed doors. The expression “No news is good news” clearly does not apply to the transatlantic free trade deal. The more we learn about the ongoing negotiations, the less we like it.

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