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Victory! Cleveland passes resolution against antibiotic misuse on factory farms. more wins »
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May 1st, 2014

Butte County, California Inches Closer to a Fracking Ban

By Tia Lebherz 

The Butte County Board of Supervisors in California recently surprised everyone and took a bold step to ban fracking in their community.  That day, many, including some of the top oil and gas lobbyists in California, concentrated in Sacramento as SB1132, the California fracking moratorium bill, passed its first committee hurdle.  

Meanwhile, an hour north of Sacramento, our friends at Frack-Free Butte County were testifying at their Board of Supervisors’ meeting. Originally slated to speak to the Butte County Water Board’s recommendation to regulate the practice, this amazing group of grassroots activists laid out their case for why the Board needed to take action to truly protect the community. Rightfully so, the supervisors listened, and voted 4-1 to ban fracking. In doing so, Butte County is poised to become the first county in California, and the second in the nation to ban fracking.

Frack-Free Butte County has been building this campaign from the ground up over the past year. When I moved home to California last October, they were one of the first local groups I connected with. Their spirit and determination is contagious. Following the success of our friends in Colorado who recently passed five ballot measures to stop fracking, Frack-Free Butte County, along with San Benito Rising and the Santa Barbara Water Guardians, are all in the signature-collecting phase of their campaigns.  The San Benito campaign actually reached its signature goal in the first 14 days of its campaign, so it’s safe to say that it will ultimately surpass its goal. These grassroots, citizen led groups are taking on Big Oil and Gas right in their own communities. 

The victory in Butte County is part of slew of local victories across the nation to stop fracking. Time and again, we see the federal government push off taking action against fracking to the state and local level.  I like to think that on the local level, we see how democracy is meant to work. We see elected officials actually representing their constituents, not blinded and bound by Big Oil’s financial influence.  In the case of Butte County, the Board of Supervisors deserves much praise for stepping up to protect its community. 

Here in California, the movement is growing, and we’re giving the fracking industry a one-two punch. While local communities such as Carson and Los Angeles continue to stop fracking on the front lines, we’re putting tons of pressure on Governor Jerry Brown to stop fracking across the entire state. On the heels of the largest rally to stop fracking this state has ever seen, and with the momentum of a diverse coalition of residents, farmers, chefs and scientists in on this fight, I believe that California has a bright and sustainable future, and that together, we can ban fracking. 

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How Industry Steers the Conversation on Pollinator Health

By Genna Reed

Earlier this week, I attended a hearing hosted by the House of Representatives Agriculture Subcommittee on Horticulture, Research, Biotechnology and Foreign Agriculture intended “to review current research and application of management strategies to control pests and diseases of pollinators.” Between the end of 2012 and the end of 2013, U.S. beekeepers lost an average of 45 percent of their colonies, which has threatened not only their livelihoods, but the very existence of one of the world’s most vital pollinators. The decline of bee populations across the country at levels higher than ever before seen is good reason for Congress to take notice, not only for the struggling bees, but also for the health of the broader environment, since bees are considered an indicator species of ecosystem health.

Colony Collapse Disorder is the term given to the disappearing-bee situation for which a single cause has not yet been defined. Members of the subcommittee saw the disorder as a problem caused by a wide variety of things, including varroa mites, disease, diet and nutrition, genetics, loss of habitat, beekeeping management practices and last but not least, “improper use of pesticides,” which “may also play a role.” The varroa mite is indeed a serious pest that should absolutely get some credit for bee losses, but it is also serving as the perfect scapegoat for Congress and agrichemical industry forces to take attention away from the harmful pesticide cocktails widely used in agriculture. As Jeff Pettis, Research Leader of the USDA’s Bee Research Lab in Beltsville, MD, testified, “…even if the varroa mite problem were solved today, this would not by itself solve all of the problems facing honey bees and beekeepers.” The weak language regarding pesticides’ impacts on bee health and the trivialization of the scientific evidence related to the adverse effects of pesticides on bees that was repeated throughout the hearing is a glaring example of how pesticide companies have been instrumental in framing the conversation surrounding bee health. Read the full article…

From “Pay-to-Pollute” to “Free-to-Pollute” in California

By Elizabeth Nussbaumer

On April 25, Governor Brown’s California Air Resources Board (CARB), the agency charged with reducing California’s greenhouse gas emissions, approved new amendments that weaken its cap-and-trade program — a dubious scheme that allows California’s biggest polluters to pay to keep on polluting.  E&E Newswire reports that these changes will make it “less expensive” for companies to adhere to the cap-and-trade program by giving them more free allowances.

CARB is also expanding their offsets program to accept coalmine methane capture projects as part of a new sector of auxiliary offsets (E&E Newswire, April 28). Not only are these amendments a continuation of pay-to-pollute, but also an extension of allowing big polluters to pollute for free — putting us right back where we started.

These changes mean that CARB is now going even easier on polluters, making it cheaper for them to comply and giving them yet another loophole to avoid reducing emissions. How does this help to permanently reduce emissions? It doesn’t. These changes strengthen the pay-to-pollute mentality of cap-and-trade and offset schemes, and further weaken the chance of any real pollution reductions.

Atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) levels have already gone above 400 ppm twice this year, 50 ppm higher than what scientists say is needed to have a healthy and stable climate. The climate crisis is here and Governor Brown should not be coddling the industries responsible for getting us here in the first place. Issuing more free allowances to some of the biggest offenders is backwards and completely ineffective.

E & E Newswire’s Debra Kahn reports… 

“Petroleum refiners, industrial gas manufacturers, steel and aluminum processors, food manufacturers, breweries and apparel manufacturers will receive all of the allowances they should need for free through 2017, rather than 75 percent as previously planned. From 2018 through 2020, they will receive 75 percent, up from 50 percent.”

CARB cites that giving away these allowances for free will “extend transition assistance for the industrial sector through the second compliance period (2015-2017) as businesses undertake needed investments to cut their emissions.” But these sectors don’t need assistance; they include multi-million and billion dollar industries that can afford to invest in the technologies they need to reduce their pollution now and in the near-term.

But it gets worse. The newly approved class of offsets from coalmine methane capture is one of the most backward options yet. Coal is one of the highest polluting fossil fuels around and it doesn’t just cause methane emissions. Mining and burning coal also emits carbon dioxide (CO2), sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), particulate matter, mercury and several other harmful pollutants and greenhouse gasses (GHGs).

Generating offsets from capturing methane emissions at coalmines allows a polluter in California to pay another polluter (the coalmine) for capturing its methane emissions. But what happens to the methane once it is captured? It can either be destroyed through flaring, which creates CO2 emissions as a by-product, or the coalmine can make further profits by selling the captured methane for end-use options like generating heat, electricity and other forms of fuel.

Not only will emissions continue at the source in California, but also methane would simply be exchanged for other GHGs released from flaring the methane or using it for fuel.

Instead of furthering its pay-to-pollute, or with these changes free-to-pollute, schemes, Governor Brown, who talks a big game about fighting climate change, needs to work for real emissions reductions. The only true options to reduce emissions are to stop pollution at the source without exceptions, and replace highly polluting fossil fuels with renewable energy. Governor Brown must stop putting profits over people, the environment and our future.

 

 

April 30th, 2014

Thank You Food & Water Watch Volunteers!

By Mark Schlosberg

At Food & Water Watch, we take on powerful interest groups to protect our food and water – big agribusiness and chemical companies, massive private water companies, and big oil and gas companies. We might not be able to match these corporations dollar for dollar, but due to the many wonderful volunteers who work with us, we are able to build winning campaigns.

As the Organizing Director at Food & Water Watch I have been fortunate enough to watch our volunteers truly make a difference – by helping out in our state offices, tabling at events and participating in phone banking opportunities. Many of our volunteers also end up leading campaigns and taking on larger organizing efforts – planning rallies, lobby visits and campaign strategy meetings. Leaders like these truly give us the ability to go toe-to-toe with powerful interest groups as we work to protect our essential resources 

April is Volunteer Appreciation Month, and we would like take a moment to thank all of the people who take time our of their day to help us out. Volunteers from Washington, D.C. to Los Angeles, California and all the way to Brussels, Belgium: you guys ROCK. And because words alone do not do your hard work justice, we created a special thank you message from some of our on-the-ground organizers. 

Food & Water Watch is made up of researchers, communicators, organizers and technological wizards, but an equally essential part of this organization and the work that we do are the many passionate and dedicated volunteers who, every day, build power in their communities. Whether you have petitioned, helped plan a local event, organized a rally or made calls to your state legislators – your efforts are critical to growing a movement to protect our food, water, planet and democracy. You inspire your communities and you inspire us. For all of this, we could not be more grateful! 

There is No “Right Way” to Frack

By Wenonah Hauter 

Back in 2012, I reported on the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) receiving $6 million from Bloomberg Philanthropies to advocate for fracking regulations. Therefore, yesterday’s New York Times op-ed by EDF President Fred Krupp and Michael Bloomberg, while jarring, wasn’t much of a surprise. 

Claiming there’s a safe way to frack is like claiming there’s a safe way to smoke, or a safe way to shoot whiskey before climbing behind the wheel of a car. When you consider the entire lifecycle of shale development, the notion is even laughable.  Read the full article…

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April 28th, 2014

If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It: FDA Weakens Public Process on GMO Animals

Working to Ensure Safe and Sustainable SeafoodBy Tim Schwab

The FDA is taking steps to limit transparency and remove independent review of genetically engineered animals by disbanding its Veterinary Medicine Advisory Committee. The committee, composed of academics who peer review FDA’s risk analysis of GMO animals, met in 2010 when FDA initiated the approval process for the world’s first biotech food animal, GMO salmon. The agency has still not approved GMO salmon, probably in part because of how critical its invited scientists were.  Though members had different opinions, a clear chorus emerged on several specific safety questions, including telling the FDA there was not sufficient science to demonstrate animal safety. 

FDA is now disbanding that entire review process, claiming it was too costly to maintain. Food & Water Watch filed a records request to find out just how costly the committee is. Turns out, it’s not. The agency spent $0 in 2013 (see here and heremaintaining the committee, including all administrative and labor costs.

Congresswoman Louis Slaughter (D-NY) recently went to bat for consumers, asking FDA to reinstate the advisory committee. FDA again claimed it was too costly. With such bankrupt responses, it’s clear that the real cost is to FDA’s industry-friendly agenda and the agency’s efforts to fast-track GMO animals into our food supply. Read the full article…

April 25th, 2014

California Oil and Gas Industry Promotes Itself

By Hugh MacMillan 

The Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), a trade group for oil companies, recently released a report on the economic footprint of the oil and gas industry in California. Not surprisingly, Oil and Gas in California: The Industry and its Economic Contribution in 2012, completely skews the picture on fracking, ignoring the social costs of this highly controversial process. 

The report frames a false choice – employment supported by the oil and gas industry or no employment at all. It exaggerates the economic effect of companies spending money to drill and frack, and it ignores the significant harm that fracking, acidizing, and even acid fracking impose on public health, communities, the environment and our climate, whether onshore, or just off the California coast.

Read the full article…

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3,500 Winners in Tap-a-palooza Contest

By Katy Kiefer

Tap-a-palooza winners

Students at UNLV collect pledges to choose tap over bottled water, putting their school at the top of the 2014 Tap-a-palooza contest leaderboard 

Ok, there were technically two winners of the second annual Tap-a-palooza campus contest, but all 3,500+ of those who pledged to choose tap over bottled water came out on top.

University of Nevada – Las Vegas, and Dartmouth College won this year’s contest, collecting a combined total of nearly 1,900 pledges during the one-month competition. UNLV won the top overall pledge total, and Dartmouth won the per capita title, collecting the most pledges as a percentage of their school size (14 percent).

The nearly three-dozen schools that participated schools collected pledges to choose tap water over bottled during the month between World Water Day (March 22) and Earth Day (April 22). Through regular tabling events, plastering their campuses with signs, email and social media outreach and making announcements in classes, students collected over 3,500 pledges to reduce bottled water consumption by choosing the tap. Based on an average consumption of 220 bottles per person per year, this year’s contest theoretically reduced over 770,000 bottles from the waste stream.

Students across the country are fighting back against the bottled water industry’s attempts to undermine trust in our public water resources. Bottled water harms the environment, contributing to climate change through the production and transportation of plastic bottles. And despite efforts to promote recycling, one in four plastic bottles ends up in landfills, lakes, streams and oceans. Tap water has the lowest carbon footprint of any beverage and costs thousands of times less than bottled water.

The two winning schools will receive $1,500 to install a new hydration station on their campus in order to increase access to affordable, public water. During the first-ever Tap-a-palooza competition last year, Dartmouth took home both prizes in top overall and per capita pledges collected, and along with matching funds from their administration, put the winnings to use to install four new hydration stations over the summer to help students refill their reusable bottles on campus.

Cheresa Taing, co-leader of the Take Back the Tap initiative at UNLV (à https://www.facebook.com/tbttunlv.chapter?fref=ts)had this to say about participating in the contest this year:

“UNLV’s Take Back the Tap is ecstatic to have been given the opportunity to do a great deed for our community in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Tap-a-Palooza contest provided us with an understanding that our small group can create big change. Thank you to  all our team members and supporters. This was a true collaborative effort and many organizations at UNLV really helped us win, we couldn’t have done it without everyone’s support.”

Students interested in starting a Take Back the Tap initiative at their school can learn more about the program here: http://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/water/take-back-the-tap/students/

April 24th, 2014

Protecting Public Lands for National Park Week

By Katherine Cirullo

The Maroon Bells tower over Maroon Lake, located in the
White River National Forest, Colorado.

Happy National Park Week, everyone! As a former resident of Colorado, this week reminds me of that sprightly time of year when my friends and I would lace up our hiking boots and head to a nearby national park or national forest to explore miles of peaceful trails, enjoy fresh air and just revel in our pristine surroundings. This year, I’m not celebrating Nationals Park Week by camping in the Rocky Mountains. But, I am spending it thinking of one of my favorite places in the Rockies – the White River National Forest – and how it is threatened by encroaching oil and gas development. In fact, much of the country’s public lands and recreation areas, which are managed by the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM), are eyed for fracking. No matter where you are this National Park Week, join me in standing up for our nation’s public lands by telling President Obama to keep them frack-free.

Earlier this month, I caught wind that Colorado’s White River (which runs through the White River National Forest) was recently named one of America’s most endangered rivers due to oil and gas development. My jaw dropped. How could a place so beautiful and so rich with wildlife, history and untouched rural landscapes – a place that is supposed to be conserved – be given up for fracking? Read the full article…

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April 23rd, 2014

A Shocking, Alternate Universe of “Special Interest” Science

By Tim Schwab

stack of one hundred dollar billsLast week I noticed a bizarre publication in the Journal of Animal Science, whose editors and sponsors include representatives from Merck, Pioneer and ADM: an article about the need for scientists to assert themselves in the public debate on the rules and policies surrounding animal agriculture.

The article, derived from a presentation made at a Monsanto-funded symposium, asserts that “special-interest groups” (quickly identified as “food activists” and environmental groups), routinely misrepresent science to advance a political agenda on issues like the environment, animal welfare and use of animal drugs.   

However, the authors fail to address the most obvious, most powerful “special interest” in animal science: industry. Industry funds hundreds of millions of dollars of agricultural research, including millions of dollars given to animal science departments at public land-grant universities, where several of the authors work. This money can influence the direction and outcome of research.

This omission isn’t terribly surprising, given that the authors of the new study include Dr. Jude Capper, whose research routinely helps advance the economic and political agendas of the industry groups that support her work. One Capper study, funded by an animal-health industry group, purports to demonstrate the environmental benefits of industrial beef production through use of dangerous growth-promoting drugs like Zilmax (which was later withdrawn from the market following reports of major animal health problems). Another study Capper co-authored with Monsanto determined that use of Monsanto’s rBGH, a controversial growth hormone, presents environmental benefits to dairies. Several of Capper’s industry studies are cited as evidence that sound science contradicts environmental groups’ “flawed” analyses of the environmental impact of industrial agriculture.

At every turn, the 15-page article strays deeper and deeper into an alternate universe, where the authors correctly diagnose a problem – special interest groups manipulating science to advance an agenda – but incorrectly identify the perpetrators. They appear to invent a mythical landscape where extremely powerful environmental groups and food activists bulldoze public policy and media debates with bogus science. They preach about the role of scientists as “honest brokers of truth” who must remain committed to “objectivity,” “transparency,” and challenging “conflicts of interests,” but,with no apparent sense of contradiction, present industry studies supporting industry positions as evidence that public-interest groups are distorting public policy debates with agenda-driven research.

The authors repeatedly invent non-existent debates around controversial scientific topics, parroting the corporate spin historically used to confuse the media and the public on topics like the health effects of smoking. For example, when attacking environmental groups working on the role of industrial agriculture in climate change, the authors state that there is “considerable debate” over whether climate change is caused by human activity. In reality, there is a clear, international consensus, backed by 97 percent of climate-change scientists, that climate change is real and very likely caused by human activity. (“Very likely” means greater than 90 percent probability of occurrence.)

On the subject of whether and to what extent widespread use of antibiotics as growth-promoters in animal agriculture is having an impact on public health, the authors assert that this topic is “vigorously debated.” They don’t mention that the debate is between the veterinary medicine industry and the scientific community working on public health. For decades, scientists have identified the use of antibiotics as livestock growth-promoters as a public health problem, as it creates antibiotic-resistant bacteria that make infections harder to treat. Even the CDC and FDA recently agreed on this point. But the authors cite a contrary point of view from the American Veterinary Medical Association, failing to mention that this high-power trade group has spent millions of dollars lobbying Congress, including on many industry causes like favorable legislation to allow continued, widespread antibiotic usage.

Unlike the consumer and environmental groups that the Capper article vilifies, corporations and industry groups have the power, the money and the demonstrated will to bully, intimidate, censor and attack science and scientists they don’t agree with. They also use their deep coffers to overwhelm our public universities with donations, endowed faculty positions, research funding and lucrative consulting gigs for professors. Using the stick and the carrot, industry has created a powerful system of incentives and disincentives that has long helped cultivate favorable academic research and academic shills to advance corporate agendas that mislead consumers in fields like tobacco, pharmaceutical and agricultural research

The rare scientists who dare to openly challenge industry practices or products find their personal lives and professional careers subject to aggressive attacks and public relations campaigns, their tenure challenged, their research access and funding limited or their articles retracted. In one case, dozens of scientists, fearful of retaliation from corporate agribusiness, anonymously complained to the EPA that industry restricts and limits independent research, creating a scenario where industry can potentially “launder the data.” If that’s not misuse of science, I don’t know what is. 

For more on this topic, check out Food & Water Watch’s report on the outsized role that corporate money plays in agricultural science, Public Research, Private Gain.

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