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December 12th, 2013

Krugman Misses the TPP Forest for the Tariff Trees

By Mitch Jones

In a new blog post Paul Krugman claims he hasn’t, “seen anything to justify the hype, positive or negative,” about the Trans Pacific Partnership, or TPP.

His argument basically boils down to this claim: “most conventional barriers to trade — tariffs, import quotas, and so on — are already quite low, so that it’s hard to get big effects out of lowering them still further.”

While this is largely true, the problem with the TPP isn’t really the tariffs and quotas, although nearly 80 tariffs lines for seafood will be reduced or eliminated by the deal. After all, of the 29 titles in the deal, only a handful are said to deal with these issues. So, while Dr. Krugman is “having a hard time figuring out why this deal is especially important,” it may be because he has been focusing on the wrong areas. Read the full article…

December 11th, 2013

New Antibiotic Guidelines, but the Devil’s in the Details

By Sarah Borron


Today the FDA released voluntary guidelines for drug companies and livestock producers, in a long overdue update to the policy antibiotic use in livestock. But as always, the devil is in the details.

For background, livestock producers routinely give livestock low doses of antibiotics in feed in order to promote growth and prevent disease, a practice known as subtherapeutic use. Unfortunately, this practice promotes the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, a growing public health crisis.

FDA’s new guidance requests that pharmaceutical companies change the labels on medications used in feed. The medication label states how the medicine is legally allowed to be used, and the change FDA is requesting is that antibiotics important in human medicine no longer be labeled for growth promotion purposes. 

FDA assured stakeholders in a call today that two major pharmaceutical companies have already agreed to this label change for the drugs they produce. Once the label has been changed, the drug can only be used in feed to “treat, prevent, or control disease” and requires a veterinary prescription for those uses. Currently, most antibiotics sold in livestock feed are available over the counter without veterinary oversight. 

But FDA’s new strategy still isn’t enough. There are two main problems: Read the full article…

Science in Crisis: How Industry Controls the Debate

By Tim Schwab

A year ago French microbiologist Gilles-Eric Séralini dared to take a critical look at the safety of genetically engineered crops. He found serious problems in the health of rats fed Monsanto’s NK603 corn, and his findings were published in a prestigious academic journal, following the normal peer-review process.

His article shook up the scientific community, for it appeared to break through the industry stranglehold over the scientific discourse related to its biotech products. As I wrote last year, journal articles written about NK603 prior to the Séralini study were funded by Monsanto and made favorable findings – and several were published in a journal issued by a Monsanto-sponsored organization. This holds true for much of the research that exists on the safety of biotech crops, which is largely performed or funded by industry. This is also true of the research that regulators review when making approval decisions.

The Séralini study, not surprisingly, was subject to an unrelenting stream of criticism from industry or those whose research careers are funded or closely tied to industry. Last week, the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology retracted the Séralini study. Read the full article…

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December 10th, 2013

Merger Mania in the Food System Continues

By Tyler Shannon

stack of one hundred dollar billsGiant food companies are once again trying to consume their competition as Foodopoly 2013 continues. On Monday, the number one food distribution company in the United States, Sysco, announced it was buying its only major competitor, US Foods, for $3.5 billion plus all of US Foods’ debt, bringing the value of the deal to $8.2 billion.

Restaurants, hospitals, schools, hotels and even the military need to get their food from somewhere, and Sysco is already the dominant player in foodservice distribution. Their distinctive chrome-sided trucks can be seen making deliveries all over the country, and if you or anyone you know works in the food service industry, you’ve probably dealt with Sysco at some point. Even high-end restaurants get at least some of their food from Sysco.

The usual excuse companies use to justify mergers is once again on display here – achieving “synergies.” Companies, including Sysco, explain that these synergies will save them lots of money, presumably because they now get to lay off a significant number of “duplicate” staff, and in this case, no longer have a major competitor to worry about. Their customers, on the other hand, won’t be getting any sort of synergy to help them out; in fact they may end up paying higher costs for their food. Just last month, a Sysco subsidiary settled a case in which it was alleged to have overcharged the military after acquiring a different company several years ago.

There are a number of small regional players all around the country, but they do not play nearly as significant of a role in foodservice distribution as do Sysco and US Foods. If this merger gets approved, the lack of competitive alternatives for institutions needing to purchase foods will drop significantly, and Sysco will essentially have a lock on the industry, potentially increasing prices that these institutions must pay.

These mergers need to stop. The Federal Trade Commission needs to start doing its job and preventing this opportunistic monopolization from taking over our food system.

Learn more about the Foodopoly we’re living in—take our quiz now to see how well you know everyday items sold by just a handful of companies under thousands of brands.

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The Foodopoly Never Sleeps

By Lily Boyce

Just days after releasing an analysis of 100 food products’ increasing consolidation, Food & Water Watch’s newest report is already due for an update. This week, WhiteWave Foods announced their agreement to buy Earthbound Farm. This acquisition consolidates two of the biggest players in the organic/natural food industry, further limiting consumer choice.

WhiteWave was spun off from Dean Foods earlier this year, and produces well-known products including Silk soymilk and Horizon Organic milk. Earthbound Farm grew rapidly as an organic bagged salad producer to become one of the largest organic produce companies today. WhiteWave plans to operate Earthbound Farm as a separate company, which means consumers likely won’t see any change on packaging or marketing for Earthbound Farm products. Many companies operate their newly acquired brands this way, which leads consumers to believe they are choosing among competitors when really the products are made by the same firm.

The Foodopoly continues to eat up consumers’ choices at an aggressive pace. We can’t just shop our way out of it – check out our Grocery Goliaths report to learn about the problems caused by rampant consolidation, and take the quiz at www.foodopoly.org to test your grocery store knowledge.

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10 Sustainable Gift Ideas for the Holidays

By Briana Kerensky & Jo Miles

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…to start freaking out about what to get your friends and family for the holidays. Does she need a coffee maker? What’s his sweater size? Has he read this book before? How much money are you supposed to spend? Are gift cards rude?

This year we’ve got you covered. Below are 10 sustainable gift ideas for the holidays. Read the full article…

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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TPP: No Wonder They Want to Keep it Secret

By Mitch Jones

The latest leaks related to the ongoing Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations show why the administration is so eager to keep them secret: on every issue the U.S. is siding with corporate interests and against the interests of our families and communities.

Perhaps the most troubling part of the latest leak is the lengths to which the U.S. is going to implement Investor State Dispute System, or ISDS. The ISDS is the part of the deal that would allow foreign corporations to sue federal, state and local governments in an international trade tribunal if the corporation thinks it’s “free trade” rights are being undermined by laws and regulations designed to protect families and communities.

In case that wasn’t clear enough, here’s another way to look at it: the U.S. is fighting hard to make sure corporations can sue your city or state if they feel your laws are hurting their profits. It’s outrageous! Read the full article…

December 5th, 2013

ALEC’s Attack on Country of Origin Labels

By Tyler Shannon

The right wing, Koch brothers-backed American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a pro-big business organization that works to gut environmental protection, attack labor rights and pass discriminatory voter identification laws, is now lining up with meatpackers and factory farms to try to prevent consumers from knowing where their food comes from.

ALEC is a reactionary, pro-business group disguised as a nonprofit that writes and lobbies for state legislation and “model bills” that put business interests ahead of the public interest. Its members include numerous large corporations and Republican legislators. Some companies, such as Amazon and Coca Cola, have actually chosen to pull out of ALEC after learning of the sweeping range of its radical legislative agenda. ALEC has been the subject of IRS complaints for lobbying while hiding behind its nonprofit status.

This week at ALEC’s annual policy summit, it is jumping into food and farm policy on the side of giant agribusiness interests, not American farmers and consumers. ALEC will vote on a resolution supporting the elimination of Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) for meat and poultry products. U.S. farmers and consumers overwhelmingly support COOL. Consumers want to know where their food comes from and farmers are proud to sell livestock born and raised in America. Read the full article…

Attention Shoppers: Do You Really Know What’s In Your Cart?

By Katherine Cirullo

Imagine you’re in the supermarket. It’s an emporium, packed to the brim with shelves of colorful packaging. As you peruse the aisles, you’re confronted by brand on top of brand on top of a new brand that you’ve never heard of before. Cue sensory overload. There are hundreds of different bags of chips. There’s this condiment and that condiment, this yogurt and those “all natural” yogurts. A plethora of choice; or is choice just an illusion?

Take our new Foodopoly Quiz on our newly launched Foodopoly website and you’ll be shocked to find out who really controls what you put in your cart, and why it all matters.

In addition to what you’ll learn in the quiz, Food & Water Watch released a new report, Grocery Goliaths: How Food Monopolies Impact Consumers, which focuses on one aspect of the Foodoply – the grocery industry. Our researchers analyzed two years of grocery industry data (100 different types of groceries) and found that intense consolidation of the grocery industry leaves shoppers with stifled choice and increasingly expensive grocery bills. And, it’s not just consumers who are affected. Mega mergers in the grocery industry are pushing small food companies (and the viability of a sustainable food system) out of the game, all to make a profit. Read the full article…

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