The FDA took a final step toward approving the first genetically engineered animal for your dinner plate. Are you okay with this decision? If not, click on this image.
In September 2010, the FDA appeared primed to approve AquaBounty’s genetically engineered (GE) salmon, the hormone-enhanced fish that, nevertheless, can’t live up to its fast-growth hype. Trumpeting unprecedented transparency, the FDA released to the public hundreds of pages of the agency’s favorable risk assessment, along with an announcement of a days-away public meeting in Rockville, Maryland. The extremely short timeline seemed designed to limit public participation and independent criticisms of the FDA’s scientific work, as few people could drop everything and rush to Maryland.
On the Friday before Christmas 2012, the agency that protects 80 percent of our food supply gave us an encore performance. On a day when few people are at work and many are making plans for extended vacations, the FDA issued its environmental assessment, a 160-page document that basically regurgitates verbatim the agency’s weak 2010 assessment. This moves AquaBounty’s GE salmon within one step of full approval.
The FDA’s risk assessments are noteworthy, not for what they do tell us, but for what they don’t. Instead of scrutinizing the flawed science, limited data, examples of bias and lingering safety concerns that independent scientists have highlighted, the FDA continues to treat its risk assessment as an exercise in churning out the Frankenstein refrain: GE salmon. Safe. Good.
Corinne Rosen, a Food & Water Watch organizer in New York, serves up corn syrup in test tubes at the Foodopoly book launch. Staff and volunteer “waiters” engaged in performance art to depict the decaying diet of Americans and broken food system addressed in the book.
The Foodopoly invaded the James Beard House yesterday, replete with spray cheese, candy antibiotics and shot glasses full of corn syrup — all served with a side of snark.
In this photo, our New York organizer Corinne Rosen suited up to offer guests test tube shot glasses filled with corn syrup. In a display of performance art, she was joined by other staff and volunteer “waiters” offering guests “trisodium phosphate cheese product on partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil crackers” and candy tetracycline (guests were asked, “Have you had your daily dose of subtherapeutic antibiotics yet today?”) There was sustainable, local food featured as well to juxtapose the offerings served up by the Foodopoly.
In the quiet days leading up to Christmas, the Federal Trade Commission released an important new report updating figures on how much money food companies spend marketing food to children and teens. While companies have made a few modest improvements in marketing less unhealthy—hard to call much of it “healthy”—foods to youth, the overall findings are disappointing. Though the numbers are new, our conclusions are the same: industry self-regulation is not accomplishing enough to protect children’s health from junk food marketing.
As a mother, I don’t trust that food companies making unhealthy foods are on my side. Food companies submitted their own in-house research demonstrating how food marketing drives children’s requests. The goal of advertising aimed at children is to make them whine, pester and beg until they get what they want—exactly the kind of behavior that leads to an unpleasant experience at the grocery store. The bottom line is, food companies want to train my kid to beg me for foods that aren’t good for him.
Let’s look at cereal, the category where most money was spent on marketing to children ages 2-11. Thanks to the food industry’s self-regulatory efforts, cereals with 13 or more grams of added sugar are for the most part no longer marketed to children. Yet, many sugary children’s cereals fall just below 13 grams of sugar per serving (Check out this list), and the food industry spent 63 percent of its cereal advertising dollars on cereals with 10 to 12 grams of sugar. Cereals with licensed characters on the packaging contained fewer whole grains than those that didn’t. That cartoon character may make a child smile, but the negative digestive effects thanks to lack of fiber sure won’t. Read the full article…
While the impending “fiscal cliff” kept Congress in the headlines long after they would normally leave town, there was one other item of unfinished business for 2012 – the Farm Bill.
In the wee hours of New Years Day, the Senate did vote on a bill that dealt with both the fiscal cliff and the Farm Bill. Kind of. As you’ve probably read by now, the Senate bill included a compromise package on taxes and put off pending federal spending limits for two months. It also included a nine month extension of parts of the expired 2008 Farm Bill (the extension would keep the bill running for the rest of Fiscal Year 2013, which ends at the end of September).
This Farm Bill extension ignores a proposal from the leadership of both the House and Senate Agriculture Committees and was the result of negotiations between Vice President Biden and Senate Minority Leader McConnell. The passage of an extension of the 2008 Farm Bill ends months of speculation about what would happen after the unprecedented decision by Congress to allow the last Farm Bill to expire in the fall. But the drama isn’t over yet.
As we discussed earlier, when the 2008 Farm Bill expired a bunch of good programs expired with it including support for beginning farmers, conservation practices and cost sharing for new organic certifications. Unfortunately, the extension included in the Senate fiscal cliff bill does not include these programs, so they will be left behind. Read the full article…
Food & Water Watch Assistant Director Patty Lovera
The breaking news on the farm bill is that there really isn’t any actual news. There are rumors (so many rumors…), theories, shifting scenarios, and an abundance of opinions, but no concrete progress or clear path forward.
To recap: the 2008 Farm Bill expired at the end of September. The full Senate passed their version of a new Farm Bill in April; the House bill made it out of the Agriculture Committee but has not been passed by the full House. We’re out of time in this Congress for the bill to pass in a normal fashion (passage by the full House and then using a conference committee to negotiate the differences between the House and Senate versions).
This Congress only has a few days left and their main priority is to deal with the supposed ‘fiscal cliff.’ There is much debate about whether a fiscal cliff bill would serve as a vehicle for attaching some farm bill package – whether that is a full farm bill or an extension of the 2008 farm bill. If that happens (and that seems to be a pretty big if), it’s not clear yet whether the language would come from the House or the Senate versions of the farm bill, or some combination.
So with that crystal-clear prediction of what’s next, here’s one more complicated nugget to chew on: what happens if nothing happens by the end of the year? Since the last farm bill expired several months ago, what is happening with all the programs that the farm bill creates? We talked about some of the important conservation and sustainable farming programs that are left behind until a new farm bill re-establishes them, but there are other delayed impacts that took a few months to come into play. Read the full article…
Move over Grinch. The FDA is doing everything in its power to give American consumers a terrible holiday gift this year. Today they took the final step toward approving genetically engineered (GE) salmon, the first GE food animal. Even after countless Americans have expressed their deep concerns about this frankenfish, the FDA has turned a deaf ear moving forward with this reckless approval. That’s why we’re asking Congress to block the approval of GE salmon.
We’ve been anticipating this move from the FDA since last year, so we’re not surprised that the FDA chose today, the Friday before Christmas, to release their draft Environmental Assessment. AquaBounty, the biotech company responsible for bringing us GE salmon, used its own data to convince the FDA that this fish is safe to eat. Of course they think it’s safe: their profits are inextricably linked to its approval. Which is why it’s so outrageous that the FDA would take AquaBounty’s word over that of dozens of legislators and scientists, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, not to mention thousands of concerned consumers. The best way we can fight the FDA’s abuse of its approval power is by asking members of Congress to keep GE salmon out of our grocery stores. Read the full article…
A range of private players in the water arena, including water service companies like American Water, are part of a relatively new corporate effort to coordinate public outreach about the “Value of Water.”
It is a fairly clever PR tactic that plays on two meanings of the word value: importance and monetary worth. The idea seems to be to convince the public to pay more for water service by tying water’s importance to its price.
The argument goes: Something of great value is worth a lot and should be priced accordingly, so if you think water is important, you should pay more for it. Although illogical, this line of thought is supposed to make people more amenable to hikes in their water bills and even to pricing water on a market.
Without a doubt, water is important. In fact, it is too important to let whims of Wall Street dictate access to it and too important to let price force families to go without it.
Image by Victor Korniyenko. Used by permission according to the rules of the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.
By Daniel Weinshenker, Former FWW Intern
Last summer I was an intern for the New Brunswick, New Jersey office of Food and Water Watch, where I got to see state-level politics and environmental negotiations at work. So when The University Centre for Development Cooperation (Universitair Centrum voor Ontwikkelingssamenwerking – UCOS) in Belgium gave me the opportunity to attend the United Nations Climate Change Conference, informally referred to as Doha 2012 or COP 18, I knew I would get to see similar work on an international level.
In the wake of Hurricane Sandy and increasingly erratic weather patterns, more Americans are accepting that global warming is real, and that we must take action both in the United States and in global agreements. Unfortunately, the U.S. did not sign the Kyoto Protocol to lower global green house gas emissions, and U.S. negotiators are widely considered to be playing a spoiler role.
At every passing round of climate negotiations, I hope that the United States will join this fold of the international community. As a global power, we should lead on this issue and set a good example. Instead we are receiving tongue-in-cheek awards like Fossil of the Day.
About a year ago, the Obama Administration and the Harper Government in Canada announced an effort entitled the “Beyond the Borders Initiative,” that was designed to reduce regulatory requirements to encourage more trade between the U.S. and Canada. One of the areas that the two countries decided to pursue was a pilot project to eliminate border inspection for meat products exported between the two countries. At the present time, there are 11 border inspection stations stretching from Washington State to New York State where USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) inspectors check incoming meat, poultry and egg products from Canada to ensure that they are safe for U.S. consumers. All shipments receive a visual inspection and check of paperwork. Occasionally, the inspectors are instructed to perform a more detailed inspection, such as opening up the containers and sampling the products for defects and microbiological and chemical contaminants. This system has worked extremely well since it was implemented in the 1980’s after the General Accounting Office (now the Government Accountability Office) found deficiencies in the manner in which USDA was inspecting imported food products from Canada.
Since the Obama Administration made its announcement last December, Food & Water Watch has expressed extreme reservations about the wisdom to the elimination of the border inspection program at USDA. While the Obama Administration has claimed that the experiment with the border inspection program will be confined to one Canadian pork plant and one Canadian beef plant, we know that “pilot projects” have a history at USDA of spreading to entire industries, especially since they will have cherry-picked the companies participating in the pilot.
We have learned that Maple Leaf Foods will be one of the participants in the pilot. We have also learned of various recent incidents involving Canadian meat products that have been rejected at the FSIS border inspection stations for a variety of reasons (e.g., meat shipments commingled with toxic chemicals, defective packaging that caused the meat to spill onto dirty truck beds, visible fecal contamination on meat products). It was the FSIS border inspection station in Sweetgrass, Montana on September 3, 2012 that discovered the E.coli contamination on beef products produced at the XL Foods in Alberta, Canada that caused the largest food recall in Canadian history.
This week The Telegraph splashed a story that the UK Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Owen Paterson, had announced the UK should grow and sell more genetically modified (GM) foods. The story was then picked up by other outlets, and a public outcry followed, including many strong comments on those papers’ websites against any such move.
Much of the media coverage was nearly identical, suggesting precious few sources were consulted, especially since some pieces repeated the same factual errors. Here are some of them:
Paterson based his stand on his belief that GM crops have “real environmental benefits” saying, “I’m very clear it would be a good thing.” The UK ran Farm Scale Trials of GM crops to determine their safety. The results, published in 2004, showed damage to farmland wildlife, so GM cultivation was shelved – a fact conveniently forgotten by the UK government. The report also found that even if GM crops did ever manage to provide better environmental outcomes than conventional farming at some point in the future, what we do to our fields and streams now is extremely damaging and cannot be used as a comparison for anything called “sustainable”. In addition, countries growing GM crops like the U.S. are now suffering serious direct complications including the development of pests and weeds the technology cannot control and dramatically increased chemical applications by farmers trying to cope. The results for food production and toxic residues in food remain to be seen.
There is a “block” or “ban” on GM cultivation in the EU. This is simply untrue. GM crops are grown in Spain and to a limited degree in a few other EU countries. The fact that more GM crops are not available for cultivation in the UK is due to the normal operation of the authorisation process and democracy. Even the pro-GM European Commission defended Europe’s right to operate it’s own approvals of GMOs when the U.S. complained to the WTO. The UK and the Commission now find the results of the democratic process inconvenient, so the Commission presses unwanted GMOs into the market, and the UK blames the EU for lack of “progress”. Read the full article…
Food & Water Watch works to ensure the food, water and fish we consume is safe, accessible and sustainable. So we can all enjoy and trust in what we eat and drink, we help people take charge of where their food comes from, keep clean, affordable, public tap water flowing freely to our homes, protect the environmental quality of oceans, force government to do its job protecting citizens, and educate about the importance of keeping shared resources under public control.