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November 11th, 2013

Field Notes from the Campaign to Label GE Foods: Illinois

Aurora, Illinois, residents hold a “GMO Free” Potluck for Senator Linda Holmes of the food labeling sub-committee that is considering the GE food labeling bill SB 1666 (Photo by Dianne L. Peterson)

By Jessica Fujan

There’s no denying that Illinois is Big Ag country – Illinois’ 76,000 farms covering more than 28 million acres grow a vast amount of our countries’ genetically engineered commodity crops, and we are surrounded by the big names in biotech like ADM, Kraft, and Monsanto.  

Despite the odds, the people of Illinois are demanding transparency from Big Ag and Food & Water Watch and its allies have made great strides to advance genetically engineered labeling in the state. We are joined by our friends at the Organic Consumers Association, Illinois Environmental Council, Illinois Right to Know GMO, and the Illinois Public Health Association in demanding transparency for the food we eat, but also the food we grow.   Read the full article…

November 9th, 2013

The Roots of Change: 11 Ideas to Support Sustainable Agriculture

(This post originally appeared on Rachel’s Network.)

When change is needed, how do you know where to start? Rachel’s Network recently asked eleven influential figures in sustainable agriculture – including scientists, authors, nonprofit leaders, and journalists – to share how they would like to see more funds directed to advance sustainable agriculture and build healthy food systems. With a diverse range of backgrounds represented, each contributor had a unique perspective on the issue. Here is what they said!

Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director of Food & Water Watch and author of Foodopoly: The Battle Over the Future of Food

“To truly recreate a sustainable food system based on good agricultural practices, systemic problems in our current system have to be addressed. In the short term, consumers can tackle some problems by promoting the labeling of genetically modified foods and joining together to urge the FDA to ban the use of antibiotics in animal agriculture unless the animal is sick. We can also join together to advocate for a competition title in future Farm Bill legislation. Focusing our energies on winning each issue can really make a difference!”

Tom Philpott, Mother Jones food and agriculture correspondent

“I would like to see more investment in community-owned food infrastructure. It is extremely hard to raise capital for these projects, such as food co-ops and commercial kitchens, but they are important components of building robust regional food economies that work for producers and consumers alike. Secondly, more independent media is essential. The agrichemical industry has a powerful, well-funded lobby as well as a burgeoning PR effort to defend its interests. Meanwhile, independent, investigative, critical media is drying up, and there are only a handful of non-profit publications that employ journalists who examine the claims of the agrichemical industry critically.”  

Danielle Nierenberg, Food Tank co-founder

“Some of the largest payoffs can come from more investment in nutrient-rich foods. For most of the last century, the biggest investments have been in calories and yields. As a result, the world has been very good at filling people up, but not actually nourishing them. With roughly 1.5 billion people who are obese, another one billion people are hungry, and at least two billion people who suffer from micronutrient deficiencies. We’re obviously not doing something right! By investing in perennial crops and in indigenous and traditional foods, we have an opportunity to not only produce more nutrient-rich foods, but we can also build up soils and protect biodiversity — it’s a win-win-win!”

Jo Robinson, author of Eating on the Wild Side

“I see a pressing need to identify more varieties of fruits and vegetables that are highly beneficial to human health, and that can be grown with little or no chemical intervention. Disease-resistance and high phytonutrient content often go hand-in-hand, and by testing disease-resistant varieties for their nutritional content, we could identify plants that would support healthy consumers, a healthy environment, and healthy farm workers.”                                                

Anya Fernald, Belcampo Meat Co. co-founder and CEO

“I would like to see funds go to support the development of data about the viability of food businesses that support social and environmental justice, high-quality artisan food, and small-farm based businesses and, in addition, information campaigns about the long-term health and environmental impact of the current agricultural paradigm.”   

Tensie Whelan, Rainforest Alliance president

“The biggest need is in training farmers in sound and sustainable management practices, which are better suited to a world of changing weather, water scarcity, labor scarcity, soil degradation, and loss of pollinators, chemical contamination, and other challenges. In addition, there needs to be more investment in assessing and communicating (to farmers!) the positive impact of these improved management practices.”

Lance Price, Ph.D., George Washington University Department of Environmental and Occupational Health

“I cannot overstate the threat of antibiotic resistance to public health. Pew Charitable Trusts, GRACE Communications Foundation, National Resources Defense Council, and other groups are investing substantial funds into political efforts. However, I’m afraid research funding is lagging behind. I would like to see more money invested in researchers at private universities, who have the freedom to ask the right questions and answer them honestly, close critical knowledge gaps, inform policymakers, do regular media outreach, and develop novel approaches for curbing the tide of new antibiotic-resistant pathogens from food-animal production.”

Jane Dever, Ph.D. Texas A&M University and National Genetic Resources Advisory Council

“More funding of public plant breeding programs would allow researchers to better utilize our existing genetic resources, especially with stronger support for the technologies that indirectly enable genetic research. Specifically, more research into perennial grains as food crops and domesticating and breeding these grains could lead to real differences regarding sustainability.  I also believe that willingness to explore how genomics and conventional breeding could be used together would be beneficial. Finally, I’d like to see better education for the public on genetics and genetic breeding to counter misconceptions about the technology.”

Rhonda Rutledge, Austin Sustainable Food Center executive director

“My priorities include broadening the possibilities for investment in sustainable agriculture and building healthy food systems. The Austin Sustainable Food Center is providing program replication training for groups around the country to develop programming around growing, sharing and preparing healthy, local food. On the national and global front, there are many groups doing on-the-ground work as well as policy advocacy that cannot be ignored. The Organic Consumers Association, Food Democracy Now, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance, Cornucopia Institute, Wholesome Wave, Heifer International, and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition are just a few! Finally, any of our elected officials who support sustainable agriculture and strong local food systems will help shape the future in this arena.”

Kathryn Kennedy, Center for Plant Conservation CEO

“New Farm Bill and EPA legislation that includes strong environmental programs such as pollution control and mediation, supporting native cover crops to prevent erosion, and integrating wildlife habitat into our agricultural landscapes would have far-ranging impacts on improving the health of the land. I also believe that an increased emphasis in USDA budgets for the National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation for research on how we can store our genetic resources would benefit long-term sustainable agricultural resources and help preserve vulnerable plant species.”

Bob Martin, Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, Food Systems Policy director

“It is easy to see the barriers to a more sustainable system, including access to markets and capital, loss of farmland to development, a lack of sustainable agriculture knowledge and practices, and our current eating habits. Developing a robust, sustainable food policy at the local, state, and regional levels is essential for overcoming these barriers. I’d also like to see more investment in developing scenarios, such as the Food System Map Project, that would enable America to change from a national production system to a more regional food system.” 

Rachel’s Network—named in honor of Rachel Carson—is a vibrant community of women at the intersection of the environment, philanthropy, and women’s leadership. This group of extraordinary women—including foundation trustees, board directors, major donors, investors, and respected community leaders—puts their values into actionSustainable agriculture forms an ongoing focus for the Network, which recently hosted a conference in Austin, Texas on “Seeding the Future of Food,” which featured presentations from each individual quoted in this article. Follow Rachel’s Network at twitter.com/rachelsnetwork.

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November 8th, 2013

Not Cool, Congress

By Jo Miles

Now that this Farm Bill process has started moving again, it’s moving awfully fast.

When we asked you to take action for a better Farm Bill earlier this week, you answered the call. Thank you again for pushing your members of Congress to pass the best Farm Bill they can!

But just now, we’ve learned about a new problem in the Farm Bill. The meat industry is pressuring the Farm Bill conference committee not only to weaken Country of Origin Labeling, but to kill it altogether. And all the debate on the Farm Bill is happening behind closed doors, so there’s a real danger that they could get their way.

Concerned citizens like you fought long and hard to pass this law, guaranteeing your right to know where your food was produced. But international corporations and industry groups like the meat packers hate Country of Origin Labeling requirements, because they’d rather not tell you how far away their products come from, or in how many places their ingredients were produced.

It’s unacceptable to let these companies take away our right to know. This process is moving quickly, so we don’t have a lot of time. Please take action right away to save Country of Origin Labeling! Read the full article…

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H.R. 2728: Congress Wants to Frack Our Federal Lands

By Katherine Cirullo

George Washington National Forest in Virginia

George Washington National Forest in Virginia

Earlier this year, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) – a federal agency congressionally mandated to act as a steward of public lands and Native American heritage sites ‑ proposed a set of regulations for fracking on public lands. In an effort to uphold historic principals of our democracy, they held a public comment period about those proposed rules. The public took that comment period by storm and made its voices heard loud and clear, showing unprecedented opposition to the expansion of fracking taking place on, and near, public lands. By the end of the comment period this past August, Americans Against Fracking, Food & Water Watch, 350.org and other groups together collected over one million public comments and signatures calling on President Obama and the Bureau of Land Management to do their job by protecting public lands from fracking. The majority (650,000) of those comments called for an outright ban on the practice, as regulations are not enough to prevent the ecological degradation, water and air contamination and public safety hazards that ensue from fracking.

The campaign was heartfelt and far-reaching. “These lands are our lands” was expressed enthusiastically from coast to coast.

Recently, House Republicans introduced a bill that undercuts these sentiments, not to mention the stewardship responsibilities of the federal government with regards to oil and gas development on federal lands. H.R. 2728, “Protecting States’ Rights to Promote American Energy Security Act” is a vaguely worded, industry backed bill that would put states in charge of managing fracking on federal lands, overruling any federal oversight. Something here doesn’t seem right.  Read the full article…

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Jack Johnson: Inspiring Activism Through Music

By Jill Pape

Back when I was in high school, I stumbled across an article about Jack Johnson, a folk singer from Hawaii whose mellow beats and thoughtful lyrics were beginning to make waves across America. I was ready for a break from the synth-heavy pop music that was otherwise available at the time, and it didn’t take long for me to become a huge fan. Jack’s songs were fun to sing to and managed to validate my concerns about the world while still giving me a sense that people were working to change it. His bottom-line message to slow down, enjoy yourself and improve your world resonated with me — and the rest of my generation — in a big way. 

It’s easy to see why ten years later, Jack’s fan following is enormous and continuing to grow. That’s why I was thrilled when I found out several weeks ago that Jack, through his All at Once campaign, had invited Food & Water Watch to table outside his show and talk to concert-goers about our issues again this year. A Jack Johnson-loving coworker, Francesca Buzzi, and I soon landed ourselves a table at his concert venue, where we excitedly listened to his sound check and poked our heads in to watch our adolescent idol singing to an empty auditorium. But the best part of the deal was that Jack’s non-profit, the Johnson Ohana Charitable Foundation, didn’t just let us table there – they also encouraged attendees to sign our petitions and matched all donations we got that night dollar for dollar. Read the full article…

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Three Reasons to Follow Food & Water Watch on Instagram

By Katherine Cirullo

Henri Cartier Bresson, Margaret Bourke-White, Gordon Parks and others—history is peppered with creative eyes that have used their cameras to document the world around them, often transforming a simple tool into an instrument of social change.

With this in mind, Food & Water Watch joined Instagram.

While a platform that allows you to view beautiful photography at your fingertips while riding the bus or waiting for coffee is all well and good, Food & Water Watch views Instagram as a wonderful tool for us to connect with our supporters. It’s a way for us to inform you about what we’re doing and what you can do to get involved. It’s also a way for you to share with us all of the inspiring ways you’re taking action to protect water, air and ensure a healthier, more sustainable a future for all.

Here are the top three reasons why you should follow us on Instagram: Read the full article…

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November 4th, 2013

The Ongoing Farm Bill Saga

By Jo Miles and Anna Ghosh

Of all the spectacular ways Congress has failed lately, the current Farm Bill is one of the biggest and longest running sagas (we’ve been reporting on this particular farm bill mess since 2011). It’s also the most critical for the people who grow our food, families who struggle to keep food on the table, and of us who care about where our food comes from.

The Farm Bill is a massive law that makes the rules not only for farmers, but for almost all aspects of our food, affecting everything from the price of milk, to subsidies on factory farms, to food stamps for families in need. Congress was supposed to renew this bill back in 2012, but the House and Senate can’t agree on what the new bill should look like, so they’ve just let is expire. Twice. But this tortured process may finally be coming to a close. Like Slate, we’re hopeful that the silver lining to Congress’s dysfunction is that it’s running out of ways to fail.   

The House and Senate both managed to pass a Farm Bill this summer but their versions of the bill are light-years apart. Now a special committee is reconciling those bills but all of Congress needs to feel pressure from concerned citizens to keep the essential protections for farmers, organic standards and everyday people who need access to safe, healthy, affordable food in tact. That’s what the Farm Bill is supposed to be about. It’s supposed to level the playing field for family farmers, so they can compete with Big Agriculture and provide the fresh, local food that’s needed. It’s supposed to protect the safety of our food and the environment from abusive practices by big corporations. And it should make sure that all American families, regardless of their income level, never have to go hungry.

The biggest risk is that the new Farm Bill might gut the food stamp program that millions of low-income Americans rely on to feed their families. But lots of other areas that we care about are at stake, too. It could damage our hard-won victories like Country of Origin Labeling, weaken food safety standards, remove vital rules that protect small farmers from abusive corporations, and more. You can be sure that corporations like Monsanto are pressuring Congress to pass a Farm Bill that’s friendlier to them at the expense of folks trying to know what’s in the food they’re feeding their families. That’s why your voice is so important. Let your Members of Congress know that you want a Farm Bill that protects ordinary Americans, not big corporations.

October 31st, 2013

What’s Really Scary on Halloween

By Jo Miles

When I was a kid, I loved Halloween (okay, honestly, I still do). Like most kids, I loved it for the candy, and I always went for the chocolate: Hershey’s bars, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, and so much more.

But for me, the very best candy was from Hebert’s, the local candy shop that’s been in my hometown in Massachusetts for nearly a century. Their “store” is a big old house, which they call the Candy Mansion, and it was packed wall to wall with every sort of candy, all of it homemade. I remember it seeming like Willy Wonka’s factory when I was a kid; it was larger than life.

Sadly, I won’t find Hebert’s candies where I live now. In fact, you have to make a real effort to find any local candy at Halloween. That’s because over 99 percent of Halloween candy is made by just three mega-companies.

That’s right. For all the types of little, individually wrapped chocolates you see on the shelves at Halloween, 99.4 percent of it is made by just three companies: Hershey, Mars, and Nestlé. Those are your only choices — and that really is scary! Read the full article…

October 30th, 2013

Majority of Top Hospitals Ban Infant Formula Marketing

By Eva Seidelman

This post originally appeared on Public Citizen’s blog. To read our original post on the issue, click here.

I love being the bearer of good news. Eliminating infant formula marketing in hospitals is decidedly a best practice employed by the vast majority of U.S. News and World Report’s top-ranked hospitals. Public Citizen’s new report, “Top Hospitals’ Formula for Success: No Marketing of Infant Formula,” co-released by the Ban the Bags campaign shows how the vast majority of the nation’s most reputable hospitals are acting ethically and thwarting pressure from formula companies to aggressively market their harmful products.

Numerous studies show that mothers breastfeed with less frequency and for shorter durations when they receive formula company-sponsored bags with formula samples in hospitals at discharge. The bags often lead moms to believe hospitals endorse formula feeding and give up more easily on breastfeeding. Healthcare professionals overwhelmingly recommend that women breastfeed exclusively for the six months after birth, given its numerous health and economic benefits.

The report makes the following findings:

- Sixty-seven percent of top hospitals in gynecology (30 out of 45) reported not distributing formula company-sponsored discharge bags, formula samples or other formula company promotional materials to mothers in their maternity units. Another 11 percent (5 of 45) reported limiting formula company-sponsored discharge bags and sample distribution to mothers who request them, or based on other criteria.

- Eighty-two percent (14 of 17) of U.S. News’ “Honor Roll” of overall best hospitals, reported having a policy or practice against distributing formula company-sponsored discharge bags or other promotional materials.

- Eleven percent of hospitals in gynecology (5 of 45) still distribute formula company-sponsored materials, and a handful of hospitals did not respond to the survey.

The report reaffirms other data showing that hospitals have been steadily trending towards ending formula promotion over the past decade. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Maternity Practices in Infant Nutrition and Care (mPINC) survey, 27.4 percent of hospitals had discontinued the formula discharge bags in 2007 and by 2011, 45.5 percent had ended the practice. The number of Baby Friendly designated hospitals, prohibiting formula marketing, is increasing. Further, all hospitals in Massachusetts and Rhode Island have voluntarily banned discharge bags, while others including Maryland, North Carolina, Oklahoma and New York are progressively moving in that direction.

The formula companies should be the first to comply with the World Health Organization’s International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes and stop co-opting hospitals into advertising their products. But with profits at stake, they’re ignoring the Code. More than 16,500 people have signed Public Citizen’s petition calling on the three major formula companies – Abbott, Mead Johnson and Nestlé—to stop marketing in healthcare facilities. Sign the petition and forward to friends before we deliver it to the companies next month. Visit http://www.citizen.org/infant-formula to learn more about Public Citizen’s campaign to end formula marketing and what you can do to make change in your community.

Eva Seidelman is a Researcher for Public Citizen’s Commercial Alert.

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October 29th, 2013

Even the Industry Cannot Stand the Stench

By Tony Corbo

It is pretty rare when the editor of a major meat industry publication and Food & Water Watch can agree on an issue. But I am here to report that we have. After being away from the office for a week, I picked up my mail that had accumulated and started to go through it. Among the pieces in the pile was the October edition of MeatingPlace magazine, a publication that promotes the domestic meat industry. I find the publication useful since it helps me understand viewpoints from the meat industry. The articles are usually very well-written. What caught my attention this month, however, was a very critical editorial entitled, “Plague,” written by MeatingPlace editor Lisa Keefe. Read the full article…

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