Blogs | Food & Water Watch - Part 21
Victory! Cleveland passes resolution against antibiotic misuse on factory farms. more wins »
X

Welcome!

You're reading Smorgasbord from Food & Water Watch.

If you'd like to send us a note about a blog entry or anything else, please use this contact form. To get involved, sign up to volunteer or follow the take action link above.

Blog Categories

Blog archives

Stay Informed

Sign up for email to learn how you can protect food and water in your community.

   Please leave this field empty

Blog Posts

January 29th, 2014

President Obama’s Legacy to Corporations?


By Wenonah Hauter

Did you see President Obama’s State of the Union last night? While the President had an optimistic tone, again and again, I saw the same theme of giving more power to corporations at the expense of the people.

Last night, President Obama told us once again that he wants to fix income inequality in this country. He even announced a minimum wage increase for government contractors, which is one step in the right direction… but if he’s serious about better pay for ordinary Americans, he shouldn’t be pushing for trade deals that will bolster corporate profits and let corporations move jobs overseas, not to mention taking away communities’ rights to protect themselves from corporate abuses.



If he succeeds, these deals (including the Trans-Pacific Partnership) would lead to more imports of potentially unsafe foods and the export of fracked gas. It would put corporate profits ahead of people’s health and safety. Let President Obama know you’re disappointed that he’s supporting trade deals that put corporations above communities.



When it comes to fracking, President Obama’s State of the Union speech touted his “all of the above” energy plan as a success, even though his administration has repeatedly scuttled investigations into the damaging impacts of fracking, like water contamination. He also said he doesn’t want to leave our children with the impacts of climate change, but fracking hurts communities and it’s not a solution to our energy woes or the climate crisis.

 Even though President Obama said he wants to protect our pristine public lands, his administration is still considering opening them up to more oil and gas fracking. Send President Obama a clear message: it’s past time that he changed his mind on fracking.



President Obama mentioned the debate over the proper size of our government. We can’t let that debate compromise the safety of our food by cutting funding that the USDA needs to properly inspect our poultry. In the State of the Union, he spoke about his interest in streamlining the government, but he’s doing so at the expense of our health and safety when he lets the meat industry do their own safety inspections. That’s letting the fox guard the henhouse, and it’s no way to keep our food safe.

Please take a minute to let the President know that you want him to put the health and safety of American communities ahead of corporate profits. Let’s send a strong message to President Obama after his State of the Union speech.

January 28th, 2014

The Risky Business of Being a Monsanto Shareholder

Monsanto Super FundBy Anna Meyer

When readers of the Saint Louis Post-Dispatch opened their papers yesterday morning, they saw a full-page ad welcoming Monsanto shareholders into town and asking them to vote for full disclosure of the true costs of genetically modified foods (GMOs). The ad depicts the quintessential American farm (red barn and all), and is very similar to many of the ads that Monsanto released implying that the chemical giant has a rosy relationship with farmers. But the veneer of Monsanto’s advertising has worn thin and shareholders are questioning that very relationship and looking for honest answers as to the impacts that GMOs are having on farmers.

Monsanto is generally seen as the most nefarious and targeted corporation in the food movement. The past few years have seen multiple states fight for the right to know what is in their food, international bans on GMOs and increasingly visible negative environmental impacts. Now, even Monsanto’s own shareholders are demanding answers about their controversial products and practices. Read the full article…

January 27th, 2014

Fair Is Fair: Why President Obama Needs to Meet With Victims of Fracking-Related Water Contamination

By Katherine Cirullo and Jill Pape

Ray Kemble of Dimock, Pennsylvania

Ray Kemble stands outside the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency with a jug of contaminated tap water from his home in Dimock, Pennsylvania.

Last fall, a group of six individuals from Texas, Pennsylvania and Wyoming came to Washington, D.C. to fight for their communities and their water. Americans Against Fracking and Stop the Frack Attack joined them in a march to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). With 250,000 public comments in hand, together they demanded the EPA re-open three investigations into the connection between fracking and contaminated drinking water that they had abandoned.

Today, years after the initial water contamination, and months after the petition delivery last fall, we continue to stand by these victims of fracking and are doing so by holding the Obama Administration accountable for its inaction.  

Years ago, these individuals discovered that their tap water was contaminated as a result of nearby drilling. Read the full article…

Posted in  |  No Comments  | 
January 24th, 2014

Email Shows USDA Cowering to Industry on Poultry Safety — Again

By Wenonah Hauter

Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch

Late last week, Food & Water Watch received information that USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) was going to permit a trade association — the National Chicken Council —  to collect data in poultry plants to assess the rate of foodborne pathogens in chicken parts. The information came in the form of an e-mail from the Assistant FSIS Administrator for Field Operations Daniel Engeljohn, informing his district managers that he was aware of the effort and gave his full blessing to the project. What was troubling about the e-mail was that it told the district managers that the purpose of the data collection was for the industry to develop its own voluntary pathogen performance standards that it was going to enforce on poultry processing plants. It went on to say that FSIS inspection personnel assigned to the plants were not to interfere with the National Chicken Council data collection and that they had no right to look at the data that was collected.

In other words, the poultry industry would create the standards for pathogen levels in chicken parts, and they would only “voluntarily” stick with them. Not only would the industry be able to decide how much salmonella or campylobacter there is on your chicken, but there would be no USDA enforcement of the standard.

Welcome to the latest in privatization of chicken inspections that the industry is pushing, with the USDA’s blessing. Another example is the “Modernization of Poultry Slaughter Inspection,” the proposed plan whose “modern” twist is to turn most poultry inspection over to the very companies that produce our poultry, leaving only one government inspector per plant to inspect over 175 birds per minute — or three birds per second.

This hasn’t happened overnight. The industry has been chipping away at the USDA’s mandate to protect our food system for over a decade. Since the late 1990s, FSIS has established pathogen performance standards on the meat and poultry industry. The standards were supposed to be enforceable, but the agency lost a critical court case in 2000 when the industry successfully challenged their legality because the current meat and poultry inspection laws are silent on pathogen standards. There were a couple of attempts by Congress in the early 2000s to give FSIS authority to set enforceable pathogen performance standards, but they failed. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) recently introduced a bill, S. 1502, The Safe Meat and Poultry Act, that would give FSIS that authority, but that bill has still not received a hearing.

In the meantime, FSIS has continued to set pathogen performance standards, but they are voluntary for the industry. For salmonella, FSIS will post on its website monthly those poultry plants that fail the agency’s testing program. The agency has claimed that its sampling program has shown that the levels of salmonella in whole raw chicken carcasses have been declining in recent years. However, the Centers for Disease Control continues to report that the number of food borne illnesses attributed to salmonella remains stubbornly high.

In 2010, Consumer Reports conducted its own study of food borne pathogens found in chicken parts.  Consumers rarely buy whole chicken carcasses, but they buy chicken parts in packages at the grocery store. It found that 62% of the chicken parts they bought and analyzed tested positive for campylobacter and 14% tested positive for salmonella.  

In response to the Consumer Reports findings, FSIS – to its credit – began a study to assess the levels of pathogens in chicken parts. In 2012, it posted the results of its survey on its website, which found that 26.3% of the chicken parts were contaminated with salmonella and 21.4% were contaminated with campylobacter. Agency officials have indicated that it was their intent to set government pathogen performance standards for chicken parts. In fact, the Salmonella Action Plan released by the agency in December 2013 listed that as one of the activities for FY 2014 Now, we find out that the industry is going to set its own standards that it will enforce.

In December 2013, Consumer Reports released data on a new study on pathogen contamination in chicken parts that found 43% of the chicken breasts sampled were contaminated with campylobacter and 10.8% with salmonella.

In light of the rule proposed by FSIS in January 2012 that would turn over most inspection responsibilities over to the poultry companies to perform themselves, the Engeljohn e-mail seems to indicate that there is a dangerous deregulatory effort underfoot that would take FSIS out of the food safety business altogether. Instead of trying to enhance its ability to regulate food safety standards, this agency seems to be turning the keys over to the industry to police itself. That is not in the interest of public health and it needs to be stopped.

January 23rd, 2014

Let’s Get Smart About Water Pollution Trading… By Making It Illegal

Pollution TradingBy Rich Bindell

Forty years ago the United States Congress, over the veto of President Richard Nixon, enacted one of the most important laws in the history of the country – the Clean Water Act. In a briefing room on Capital Hill last week, the Congressional Progressive Caucus’ Energy and Environment Task Force hosted a staff briefing focused on how this new market-based approach to pollution control is undermining the Act and endangering our communities. For those of us involved in the planning of the briefing, it was a welcome sight to see several dozen Congressional staffers occupying seats in that room. That means that Congress is listening, and that tells us that it’s time to step up our efforts to broadcast a very critical message: pollution trading schemes are bad for our waterways and bad for the country.  

The briefing featured four panelists who offered compelling reasons why water pollution trading is the wrong approach to pollution control. Panelists included former Maryland Senator Joseph D. Tydings, Director of the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, Robert Lawrence, MD, Patuxent Riverkeeper Fred Tutman and Food & Water Justice Co-Director Michele Merkel. Each speaker highlighted concerns surrounding the implementation of Water Pollution Trading (WPT), a scheme that erodes the Act’s successful permitting program while allowing some of the biggest polluters, industrial agriculture operations, to sell the “right” to pollute to other polluting industries instead of actually reducing pollution at its source.

As Food & Water Watch’s Michele Merkel put it, the briefing was to explain to staffers…

“… how WPT is illegal; how it destroys the public trust by putting our waterways into the hands of the financial sector; how it is bad for our waterways by increasing pollution that should be eliminated; and how it leads to unjust outcomes by aggregating credits from a diffuse set of pollution sources and by concentrating that pollution in lower income communities, causing adverse public health impacts.  Read the full article…

January 22nd, 2014

Happy Birthday, Horsemeat Scandal

By Eve Mitchell

It’s been a year since we were first told the beef we buy may actually be horsemeat, but we still don’t really know what happened, how far it spread, who is responsible, or how they will be called to account for themselves.

We’ve seen a smattering of arrests, notably the September 2013 arrests of eight managers of the French company Spanghero on charges of aggravated fraud and mislabelling of food products. French authorities say they “knowingly sold” 750 tonnes of horsemeat mislabelled as beef. Around two-thirds of this went to French firm Comigel’s Luxembourg subsidiary Tavola and found its way into some 4.5 million products that were then sold again to 28 companies operating in 13 European countries. This may be the source of the tainted Findus “beef” lasagne (100% horsemeat) found on UK supermarket shelves.

Sound complicated? It is, but if you’re going to buy heavily processed foods you need to know this stuff – unless you’re happy to just pinch your nose and swallow.

Justice is elusive. Accused of netting some €500,000 over six months of fraud (£425,000 or US$681,000), Spanghero had been stripped of its operating license in February 2013. It then closed in June, changed managers, sacked nearly 60% of its workforce, renamed itself La Lauragaise, refinanced and was trading again by the end of July – protesting its “innocence” all the way. Then came the arrests in September. The company’s new tagline “Saveurs des terroirs” (“The flavours of the land”, with heavy overtones of traditional cultural quality) feels like a bad joke.

Flagship arrests, while welcome, are not enough. Supermarkets sold us this stuff but are not feeling the heat. The UK Parliamentary inquiry into the affair quizzed supermarket bosses, pointing out to Tesco that it is “notorious” for rejecting misshapen apples but somehow managed to miss the fact that products labelled beef were actually up to 29% horse. The Tesco representative attempted to blame consumers, saying the company does what they want, but this didn’t wash with the committee, which retorted, “You obviously don’t [do what your customers want] on horse.”

The inquiry pressed that if beef is trading at a premium to horse, and with “unscrupulous people out there, as obviously there are,” surely supermarkets should watch cheaper products more closely. Tesco said each of its suppliers is scrutinised with the same ”rigour” (Tesco does one DNA test per year at each meat production site). Horsemeat was still being found in Tesco products as late as June, but as the Food Standards Agency only reports results over 1%, for all we know horsemeat is still masquerading as beef all over the place. At this stage it isn’t in anybody’s interest to say differently, and consumers have to take what they can get.

Supermarkets sell UK shoppers 80% of our food, so when they fail us, it is a big deal. Tesco pleads innocence, saying its supplier used unapproved suppliers further down the chain. The Committee’s July 2013 report concluding its inquiry said while some retailers may have been misled, the big ones “need to ‘up their game’”, and the costs should rest on companies, not consumers. The inquiry concluded, “Retailers and meat processors should have been more vigilant against the risk of deliberate adulteration,” instead of taking everything “on trust”. The Committee continued, “We are dismayed at the slow pace of investigations and would like assurance that prosecutions will be mounted where there is evidence of fraud or other illegal activity.” That was in July 2013. 

So what has the UK Government done? Testifying before the inquiry in January 2013 Minister for Agriculture and Food David Heath MP announced a wide-ranging review of the crisis, but the report was kicked into the long grass and is not due before an unnamed point in 2014, with actual action who knows when after that. Meanwhile the inquiry heard the Government is proposing to decriminalise food labelling violations amid a declining number of public analysts and labs able to carry out food testing and budget cuts to the local authorities responsible for food testing.

UK Secretary of State for Food and Farming Owen Paterson said of the horsemeat scandal: “I think we came out of it very strongly.” On addressing the scandal he said, “Firstly we are bound by the rules of the European market,” although this is a notable departure from his feelings in other areas (Paterson calls Europe’s rules on GM food “medieval” and compares them to “witchcraft”). The annual review of his department showed that fewer than a third of his staff have confidence in managerial decision making and fewer than a quarter think their management have a clear vision of the future. They are not alone.

Some say all this is proof that “Big Retail has government in an armlock”. It sure feels like they have shoppers under the other arm.

On 14 January 2014 the European Parliament passed a motion on food fraud that “deplores” that it has never been an EU enforcement priority and reiterates that “the retail sector has a special responsibility to guarantee the integrity of food products”. With supermarkets claiming innocence and the UK Government playing “hurry up and wait,” maybe the EU can force some action on our behalf.

January 21st, 2014

It’s Time to Get the Money Out of Politics, And Put the People Back In

By Mitch Jones

Four years ago today the Supreme Court issued its ruling in the Citizens United case. The case had three major components that, taken together, have made it nearly impossible to keep corporate money out of politics. First, it found that free speech rights are about the speech, not the speaker (in other words, it doesn’t matter who’s speaking, but that speaking is taking place.) Second, the case reconfirmed the notion of corporate personhood. Corporate personhood is a constitutional doctrine dating back to the mid 19th century, but Citizens United reconfirms the constitutionality of it. Finally, the case finds that since political speech is the most important First Amendment right, constraint of free speech must meet strict scrutiny. Citizens United basically allowed corporate financing of elections to be protected as free speech.

It was an outrageous ruling that unleashed a flood of money in our political system. Read the full article…

January 20th, 2014

Why We Serve: Stories From Food & Water Watch Volunteers

In recognition of Martin Luther King, Jr. National Day of Service, we honor the dedicated, hard working volunteers whose service with Food & Water Watch is bringing real change to their communities and the wider world. We asked a few of them to tell their stories about why they serve, and here’s what they told us: Read the full article…

January 17th, 2014

The Chesapeake Bay TMDL: Ensuring a Clean Bay… by 3014

By Scott Edwards

Three years to the month after the Environmental Protection Agency enacted the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load in December 2010, the latest in a 40-year series of unsuccessful plans to clean up the declining Bay, the Government Accountability Office has just released a report about the abysmal failure of the EPA’s TMDL program to restore impaired waterways across the country. As the report notes, given the current federal and state TMDL approach to polluted waterways, “it would take longer than 1,000 years to restore all the water bodies that are now impaired by nonpoint source pollution.” With the report’s pessimistic conclusions, we can only hope that anyone who thinks the Bay TMDL is the last chance to save the Bay is sorely mistaken.

Why the GAO’s dismal outlook? Because, as the report notes, where TMDL’s were issued to solely address point sources of pollution—those end-of-the-pipe discharges from factories, utility units and wastewater treatment plants—the required pollutant load limits to attain water quality improvement were met 83 percent of the time. But for nonpoint sources of pollution—stormwater from diffuse sources and runoff from agricultural operations—the compliance rate dropped to 20 percent, thereby condemning many waterways that are significantly impacted by nonpoint source pollution, like the Chesapeake Bay, to continuing degradation.  Read the full article…

January 15th, 2014

Dear Governor Brown: It’s Time to Get Your Head Out of the Clouds on Fracking

This post originally ran on IndyBay

By Brenna Norton

As I boarded my plane from Los Angeles to the Bay Area the other week, I did a double take when I walked by a guy that looked an awful lot like California Governor Jerry Brown. Turns out it was him, which is ironic since earlier that week I had been following the governor around Los Angeles berating him for his support of fracking.

He was only sitting a row ahead and I began to think about what I could say to our governor who recently brokered a bad bill, SB 4, to allow companies to frack our state at the expense of our health, our water, and our climate.

Before I made my way off of the airplane, I took the opportunity to have a short chat with our governor from an empty seat across the aisle.

I told him that I know and work with people who have been sickened and harmed by fracking operations in Los Angeles, and then Brown immediately put up a wall and went on the defensive: “that’s not true,” he told me. “Fracking can be done safely and has been happening here for 60 years.” And, “what do you want to do? Ship in all this oil from Saudi Arabia instead?”

I thought to myself, is that the best you’ve got Jerry?  He had just repeated the oil companies’ main talking points, usually rattled off by their lobbyists.

This from the governor who goes around saying climate change is the greatest challenge to mankind? Did he forget that fracking for oil is perhaps the worst thing for our climate, spewing out both methane and carbon dioxide through the extraction, transport, refining and burning of the oil?

I let the governor know that it’s well documented that fracking has become infinitely more extreme in the last 15 years, using more water and toxic chemicals then ever before, and getting special federal exemptions such as the Halliburton Loophole in 2005. The industry is eager to use fracking and other forms of extreme extraction (acidizing, cyclic steam, acid fracking) to tap the Monterey Shale, our infamous rock formation that stretches from L.A. to the Bay Area and is estimated to hold 9-13 billion barrels of recoverable oil. 

If I had more time with the governor, I would have told him that when Zodiac Exploration announced in February of 2012 that it had drilled a horizontal well more than 14,000 feet below Kings County, the company’s president stated, “this type of deep high-pressure and high-temperature operation is new to California,” essentially admitting that this isn’t your grandma’s oil drilling anymore.

I told the governor that I’ve sat with Los Angeles residents living near fracking operations who are seeing an alarming increase in very rare cancers, and have children getting sick with nose bleeds and sudden unexplained severe respiratory problems. A recent report based on new data from the South Coast Air Quality Management District, reveals that 12 dangerous chemicals that raise cancer risk, harm the heart and damage the lungs and eyes have been used in the L.A. Basin over 300 times in fracking and other unconventional oil production methods in just the first three months of reporting.

While I didn’t have time to address his second myth – that fracking for California’s oil would replace imports from Saudi Arabia – I’ll set that record straight now. Governor: you should know as well as anyone that oil extracted on U.S. soil goes into an international market. Recent articles in the Financial Times and New York Times illustrate that the U.S. is becoming a net exporter of oil and gas and that refineries in California are exporting more refined oil than ever before. And now President Obama’s energy secretary, a friend of fracking, is seeking to lift the ban on exports of crude oil.

And even if the industry fracked and extracted all the 9 to 13 billion barrels of oil from the Monterey Shale and didn’t export it to China, it would only be enough to supply our nation’s energy needs for two years.

As for Jerry’s question about what I would do instead of letting oil companies frack? Well, he left before I could answer, but in three simple words: ban fracking now. Use your executive power to prohibit fracking and other extreme forms of stimulation (hydraulic fracturing, acidizing, acid fracking, cyclic steam injection) in California and work to ensure that California remains a global leader in the burgeoning clean energy economy. We need to invest in clean, homegrown American energy that will create more jobs and end our addiction to fossil fuels. This is the only way to ensure energy independence and security.

The Governor, not wanting to continue our conversation, made his way quickly off the plane and told me to send the research proving the dangers of fracking to the general email address on his website. I will take him up on this offer, but it’s a shame that he probably won’t actually read what I send him.

But if all Californians who are concerned about the threats fracking poses to our air, water, food and neighborhoods continue to remind the governor that he works for us, not the oil and gas industry, he won’t be able to ignore us. We will keep hounding Jerry to grow some spine reminding him that he can’t preach about climate change and let oil companies frack and dump tons of methane and carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. Until he does the right thing, Governor Brown will be hearing from us everywhere he goes – even 30,000 feet in the air: climate leaders don’t frack!

Page 21 of 156« First...10...192021222324...304050...Last »