Blogs | Food & Water Watch - Part 13
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May 8th, 2014

Collaboration or Obfuscation?

By Tony Corbo 

Recently, USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) agreed to share information during the investigation of foodborne illness outbreaks. A laudable effort since animal diseases and pathogens that lurk in animal husbandry can often lead to human foodborne illnesses. But this recent announcement is clouded by the revelation that FSIS may have deliberately delayed the release of an audit report that revealed some serious shortcomings in the Brazilian meat safety system. Had that report been publicly released on the date that it had been transmitted to the Brazilian government, on April 16, 2014, it would have provided valuable information for a proposed APHIS rule to green light the importation of fresh beef products from Brazil. The comment period on the APHIS proposed rule ended on April 22, 2014. Apparently, the FSIS audit report was only recently posted on its website and was made public as a result of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA). Read the full article…

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May 7th, 2014

What’s Beyond GMO Contamination?

By David Sánchez

Read “Organic Farmers Pay the Price for Contamination” in English or Spanish.

Felix is an organic farmer in Spain, the country that hosts 90 percent of genetically modified (GM) crops in Europe. He grows grains, alfalfa and vegetables. His organic maize was contaminated by a GM variety, and therefore he lost the organic certification for his 7.7 hectare farm. He lost €14,756 (US$20,585) as a result of the preventive measures he took to avoid contamination in addition to the direct loss of being forced to sell his harvest in the conventional markets. According to the Spanish law, he has no one to blame, so cannot claim for damages. 

Tom is an organic farmer in the U.S., a country where 90 percent of soy and 93 percent of maize area is planted with GM varieties. He grows maize and is forced to take many measures to prevent contamination: planting buffer strips, delaying planting or performing extra tests, with median annual costs up to US$8,000 (€5,735). One year his maize was contaminated by a GM variety, and the buyer rejected his load, with a median loss in that season of US$4,500 (€3,226). He has no one to blame for the damage either.

The first story was reported by Greenpeace a few years ago. It just shows the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the reality of GM cultivation in Spain. The second could be the story of any of the organic farmers surveyed by Food & Water Watch and OFARM earlier this year, just released in Europe in (available in English and in Spanish).

The stories of organic and GM-free farmers in both countries are extremely similar. They’ve been forced to abandon organic cultivation of crops where there is a GM variety, incur additional labour costs and economic damages, faced financial insecurity and experienced strained relations between neighbours—without any legal protections. Clearly, what the U.S. Government, the European Commission and the industry call “coexistence” simply mean imposing GM crops. 

Nevertheless, there is one important difference: the EU only allows the cultivation of one GM maize variety so far. But the reality of European small-scale agriculture shows that the situations in those countries that allow GM cultivation (Spain, Portugal or the Czech Republic) are already too serious to be ignored. And this is something the European Commission should keep in mind when deciding whether or not to approve a new GM crop, a maize engineered by Pioneer to kill insects and resist herbicides.

We have mounting scientific evidence on the right way to create a food system to achieve sustainability and social justice goals. And the European Commission will have to decide whom do they want to stand for. Will they stand for Felix and the organic farmers, a growing sector that creates employment and puts new energies in rural areas? Or will they stand for Pioneer, Monsanto and Syngenta, who are lobbying hard to get their GM crops approved in Europe? The answer will be coming soon.

Tell the European Food Safety Authority: If it’s dangerous you want less NOT more!

May 5th, 2014

A Government of the People, By the People

By Emily Wurthstack of one hundred dollar bills

It seems like every week, a new study is released highlighting the dire effects that drilling and fracking for oil and gas impose on our air, water, health and climate. Meanwhile, Congress still provides tax breaks for big corporations, subsidies for the mature fossil fuel industry and has exempted fracking from the Safe Drinking Water Act and provisions of other landmark environmental laws. So why does Congress continue to turn a blind eye to science, making decisions that move our nation’s energy policy backwards

Read the full article…

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May 2nd, 2014

Water Privatization Coming to Your Town, Thanks to the WTO?

By Mitch Jones

 

Water Privatization

Read Public Services International’s latest report, “TISA Versus Public Services”.

With your help, we at Food & Water Watch have been working with a broad alliance of organizations to push back against the pro-corporate trade agenda being negotiated in the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. While we’ve made some progress, the fight is far from over, and it could impact your local water services.

Evidence of that fact is the necessity of a new report by our friends at Public Services International: TISA Versus Public Services: The trade in services agreement and the corporate agenda.

Negotiations for TISA, the Trade in Services Agreement, began in 2012 when a group of 20 World Trade Organization (WTO) members formed the “Really Good Friends of Services” (no, I’m not making that up). These Really Good Friends decided to negotiate a new deal outside of the normal WTO framework.

Like the TPP and TTIP, the TISA would undercut domestic regulations designed to protect local workers and small businesses, as well as the environment, so that large multinational corporations could reap larger profits. Little wonder when the Really Good Friends’ really good friends –- the banks, oil and gas industry, and private water companies, among others –- have been pushing for this agreement. TISA would allow foreign corporations the same access to domestic markets at “no less favorable” conditions than domestic companies. At the same time it would block local governments’ attempts to regulate, purchase and provide services. Under TISA, privatization of local water systems would be made easier, and fights against privatization would be made harder. Oh, and it could use investor-state dispute resolution to allow foreign companies to sue our local governments if they don’t like our laws and regulations, just like the TPP and TTIP. It’s outrageous!

TISA is really just another effort by large corporations and the big banks that fund them to push an agenda that they can’t get passed through democratic means. It’s part of the same agenda being pushed in the U.S. by the Koch brothers and ALEC. And, with the Supreme Court paving the way for these same companies to pour millions upon millions of dollars into our elections, we need to fight back harder than ever.

Read the report by Public Services International. Then, email your Member of Congress and tell them you oppose fast track trade deals that will undermine our laws and harm our communities and our environment.

FSIS’s Fantasy World

By Tony Corbo

Today, officials from USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) are escorting a congressional delegation on tours of two poultry slaughter and processing facilities in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia operated by George’s Chicken. One is a plant that receives traditional inspection with a full complement of USDA inspectors and the other is a pilot plant that has been using the privatized inspection scheme called the HACCP-based Inspection Models Project (HIMP) where most of the on-line inspection is turned over to company employees called “sorters” to perform.

FSIS has conducted dozens of tours at these two plants over the past decade. Over the years, we have heard about the extraordinary preparations that the George’s HIMP plant in Edinburg, Virginia, has undertaken for these “VIP” tours. Walls have been scrubbed and even repainted; floors have been meticulously cleaned; and the speeds of the slaughter lines have been reduced. Two years ago, I told FSIS agency officials that they have conducted so many tours of that plant that the new AAA Tour Book for Virginia lists the Edinburg HIMP plant as a must-see tourist stop and to call FSIS to make reservations for the “Fantasy Tour.”

In the past, whenever congressional staff, White House staff, consumer representatives or other prospective visitors have asked to visit HIMP plants other than the George’s Edinburg facility, FSIS has balked. That is because the Edinburg plant is the so-called “showcase” plant.  It is immaculate on the inside, FSIS can easily control the tour, access to the plant workers is restricted, and no one is able to look at the plant’s production or safety records to see if there have been any past problems. Fortunately, when the Government Accountability Office (GAO) conducted its study of HIMP in 2013, the analysts were able to visit several different HIMP plants and concluded that since the data was lacking, FSIS could not make the claims that poultry slaughtered in HIMP plants was safer than the product that received traditional inspection. Read the full article…

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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