Blogs | Food & Water Watch - Part 13
Victory! Cleveland passes resolution against antibiotic misuse on factory farms. more wins »
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April 30th, 2014

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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April 22nd, 2014

Make Your Voice Heard on Earth Day!

By Katherine Cirullo

I’ve loved Earth Day ever since I was in pre-school and digging in the dirt for worms wasn’t a ticket to time-out, but rather a planned educational activity. In middle school, Earth Day meant we got to clean up trash at the town park – a proud moment for a budding activist. But, the dirt days are long over and, as I’ve learned that control over essential, common resources is slipping from the fingertips of the public to the clutches of large corporations, I’ve realized that protecting the planet is no small task.

Earth Day was established 40 years ago not simply as a calendar reminder of how beautiful and precious our planet is, but as a call to action. In order to protect our natural resources and ensure a truly sustainable, healthy and safe environment now and for future generations, our actions need to be unified, targeting elected officials who hold power to influence policy changes. If there’s one threat to the health of the planet that is particularly ominous, it’s rapidly escalating fossil fuel development. That’s why today, Food & Water Watch presents to you the People’s Platform Against Fracking – hop on. Read the full article…

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April 17th, 2014

Monsanto’s Dream Bill is a Nightmare for State GMO Labeling Efforts

By Genna Reed

Last week, Representative Mike Pompeo (R-KS) introduced the “Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2014” (HR 4432), a brainchild of the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) that would serve as a real road block to the thousands of people who have been fighting for the right to know what’s in their food. This piece of legislation would make voluntary (not mandatory) labeling for genetically engineered foods the national standard, ensure that GMOs can be ambiguously labeled as “natural,” create its own rules for non-GMO labeling and, most heinously, preempt all state efforts to require labeling of GMO foods.

We have been aware of the GMA’s plot to move into the GMO labeling policy world since Politico leaked its proposed bill language in January and then the GMA launched its “Safe and Affordable Food Coalition” in February. Unsurprisingly, the GMA found a sponsor who would support all of its original intended language in the bill, resulting in an extremely industry-friendly final version.

So, what is the GMA and why is it so powerful that congressmen do its bidding? Well, this massive trade organization represents 300 of the world’s biggest food and beverage companies as well as agribusinesses like Monsanto, Dow AgroSciences and Syngenta. The GMA and its member companies have poured over $50 million into political action committees to help block GMO labeling ballot initiatives in California and Washington state over the past two years. To illustrate the type of political power GMA is wielding with its big pockets, here’s a paragraph from Food & Water Watch’s new profile on the GMA:

“Between 2001 and 2012, the GMA political action committee donated more than $1 million to federal candidates, political parties and other campaign committees. But it is a much bigger presence roaming the halls of Congress. From 2004 to 2013, the GMA spent $38.9 million lobbying the U.S. Congress and federal officials. In 2013 alone, the GMA spent $14.3 million lobbying on food labeling, country-of-origin labeling, labeling foods with genetically engineered ingredients (commonly known as GMO labeling), food marketing to children and other regulations affecting the food and beverage industry.” 

This kind of spending activity on the GMA’s part makes the food movement’s state-level efforts that much more significant. Not only does it show that grassroots organizing is working to hold elected officials accountable on food issues, but it also shows how work in the states is truly bothering the industry and impacting national policy. It gives us even more reason to keep pressuring our lawmakers to protect consumers because they want the right to know if GMOs are in their food. What consumers definitely don’t want is a voluntary labeling policy created by the very companies who have kept that information from them for 20 years.

Now is the time to stop the GMA from getting its way and fueling its own profit-driven interests. Food & Water Watch will continue to work with the grassroots movement to fight for  GMO labeling around the country. You can take action by telling your members of Congress not to pass Monsanto’s dream bill. For more information on the GMA, you can view our industry profile, here

Railway Ruckus: Oil and Gas Development is Throwing American Farmers Off-Track

By Katherine Cirullo

Fracking affects our food. In fact, it affects our entire food system. The national fracking debate has remained somewhat quiet around this issue, but that’s all starting to change, and for good reason. Chefs who rely on fruits, vegetables and dairy from heavily-fracked states like California and Pennsylvania are becoming involved in campaigns to stop fracking from contaminating the water needed to grow our nation’s food. Ranchers are concerned that nearby fracking operations contaminate local water supplies, causing their livestock to fall ill. And now, farmers are publically speaking out about how the oil and gas industry is hindering them from transporting their crops and fueling America’s food supply.

In a hearing last Thursday, farmers revealed the recent oil boom in the Bakken Shale of North Dakota is pitting agriculture in the northern United States against the oil and gas industry as they compete for space on the rails. According to farmer testimonies, Big Oil and Gas seems to be winning, while some of our nation’s farmers (whose livelihoods depend on moving their commodities to buyers) are being thrown off the tracks.

At the hearing, 39 people from the agricultural industry (farmers, grain elevators, etc.) from states such as Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana complained to the federal Surface Transportation Board (STB) about rail shipping delays that have hindered the movement of crops. They claimed the railways serving the region (Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) and Canadian Pacific (CP)) are not fairly allocating railcar space between the agricultural industry and the oil and gas industry, choosing oil as the favorite. Favorite or not, the reality is that Big Oil is not fit for sharing. Read the full article…

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USDA Continues to Deceive on Meat Inspections

By Tony Corbo

Food & Water Watch Food Senior Lobbyist Tony Corbo

Further evidence that the USDA is dismantling the meat inspection system as we know it came in an email last night.

At 9:22 pm on April 16, 2014, I received an e-mail from the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Office at USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) containing a spreadsheet with the number of temporary inspectors the agency has hired and the locations where these temporary inspectors are currently working. The chart was a partial response to a FOIA request we filed on December 23, 2013 to learn where the temporary inspectors were being assigned in response to a job announcement that FSIS had posted, saying: “As the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) looks to transition through modernization and implementation of the New Poultry Slaughter Inspection System, the Agency is announcing temporary Food Inspector positions to facilitate the transition and to help ensure seamless implementation should the Agency decide to proceed with implementation of the new system.”

No one can remember the last time FSIS had advertised for temporary inspector positions, so we became curious as to how the agency was assigning these personnel.

Much to our surprise, the spreadsheet reveals that not only are temporary inspectors working in poultry slaughter facilities, but 35% of them are working in red meat slaughter facilities. (See column C, Establishment Number—all numbers followed by an “M” indicate a meat plant, and all numbers followed by a “P” indicate poultry.) In recent letters to both USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack and Congressman Robert Aderholt, chair of the House Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agency Appropriations, Food & Water Watch pointed out that we were hearing that the temporary inspector hiring program was not meeting its goals and in fact exacerbating an already critical inspector shortage problem across the country. The information we received last night confirms that that the policy of not filling inspector vacancies with permanent employees is causing a distortion in the hiring practices at FSIS. Today, I am finding out that the scope of the temporary hiring is broader than what the spreadsheet is showing as I have received information identifying other meat and poultry plants where temporary inspectors have been hired that were not included in what I received last night.

We already know that the FSIS staff in Washington has problems distinguishing between animal species. They have granted equivalency status to privatized inspection systems in Canada and Australia for beef slaughter based on an unevaluated privatized hog slaughter pilot project being run in five hog slaughter facilities in the U.S. that has been roundly criticized by both USDA’s own Office of the Inspector General and the U.S. Government Accountability Office. The agency’s Washington staff issued a directive last year to its inspectors assigned to horse slaughter facilities to code their inspection activities as if they were working in goat slaughter facilities. Now, we find that temporary inspectors being hired under the guise of a privatized poultry inspection rule that has not been finalized are actually being assigned to beef and hog slaughter facilities. The implication is clear: it’s not about phasing out permanent inspectors because of pending plans to implement the rule; it’s about cutting the food safety inspection budget by essentially contracting out what were previously paid, professional career positions with low-paid temps. But we can ill afford the consequences of weakened food safety inspections.

This important public health agency is out of control. Someone needs to bring order to it because the current FSIS leadership has failed.

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