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June 25th, 2014

How One Woman Exercised Her Power to Take Back the Tap

By Sydney Baldwin and Katherine Cirullo


Modern superheroes don’t wear capes anymore. In fact, they’re just like you and 
me — they stand behind us in the grocery line and walk past us on their way to work. Lynn Hartung is one such superhero. She has taken it upon herself to demand change in her community and beyond, not taking “no” for an answer.  

A cognitive behavioral therapist, activist, and mom based in Michigan, Hartung has launched a campaign to eliminate plastic water bottle waste at her local gym and, eventually, at all fitness centers. Her passion for the environment stems from her mother’s constant recycling efforts and her father’s love of the outdoors. Lynn is also inspired by her daughter, an environmental organizer for The Sierra Club. So when Lynn noticed that her gym club was not taking the initiative to recycle plastic water bottles, she stepped in to correct that problem.

Read the full article…

June 20th, 2014

The Fight for San Bartolo’s Water

By Andrew Diaz

Water Service and ImmigrationAll over town, church bells were tolling, but they were not marking the top of the hour as they usually do. Upon hearing this signal, masses of townspeople came from all directions, armed with stones, pipes, even sticks—anything that was lying around was fair game that day. Off in the distance, the opposition could be seen approaching through the haze, their fifteen hundred shiny, black helmets slowly marching forward as one force behind the protection of their transparent shields and riot gear. As the dark swarm of police approached down the narrow, twisting streets, the crowd of townspeople braced themselves. They shouted commands at each other to hold their positions. Soon, the objects in their hands would become a barrage of projectiles hurled at the officers in an effort to keep them back.

This scene was the culmination of thirteen months of acrimonious debate. San Bartolo Ameyalco is an otherwise unremarkable town sitting on the hills of the Álvaro Obregón delegation, or borough, on the fringes of Mexico City. Founded in 1535, the town is one of the oldest communities in the Federal District, and is indeed one of the older settlements in the whole of Mexico. Its history probably dates even further back, as it is believed that the town was first settled by the native Tepanec people. 

What brought the early settlers to this area, and what has kept people in San Bartolo ever since? The residents of the town simply know it as el ojo de agua, or “the waterhole”— a volcanic spring that has been faithfully providing freshwater to the community from the time of its founding. In fact, Ameyalco is a Nahuatl word meaning “place from which the water flows,” which it continues to do at a rate of about 60 liters per second.

It is this water supply that is at the heart of the dispute that is taking place in one of the largest and most densely populated cities on earth. Desperate to find additional water sources to supplement a rapidly-depleting aquifer below its soil, the government of Mexico City announced in April 2013 that a part of San Bartolo’s water supply would be joining a larger system delivering water across the entire borough. The residents of the town, whose name is often referred to simply as Ameyalco, responded with a clear voice: “no.”

Miguel Ángel Mancera, the mayor of Mexico City, insists that this project would benefit at least twenty thousand people. Many of Ameyalco’s residents, however, believe that the main beneficiaries of such a project would be the rich, inhabiting hastily-built communities with profits from international business —such as the community of Santa Fe, built over a former dumping ground not far from Ameyalco — and with no prior infrastructure for delivering water. 

The government asserts it has a responsibility to deliver water to these newer communities, and that the people of Ameyalco do not have the right to selfishly appropriate this precious resource. Meanwhile, the people of San Bartolo proclaim that their water is not for sale, as water is already scarce in their community. Additionally, they say that they should not have to pay the price for the city’s poor planning. 

The floodgates of this controversy finally burst wide open on the morning of May 21, 2014, as workers of Sacmex, the Mexico City water company, arrived to lay the pipe that would connect San Bartolo’s water to the wider network. The residents were determined to guard their spring in any way possible. Once it became clear that efforts to continue the construction project would be met with resistance, the riot police were called in. There are conflicting reports, but the ensuing clash resulted in at least fifty to seventy of the townspeople injured or hospitalized, over fifty policemen injured—at least two of them seriously—and property damage around the area of the conflict, including several destroyed police vehicles.

Despite the opposition to the construction plan, the project in San Bartolo was carried out. The government has stated that Amayalco’s spring has not been affected by the plan, but instead it was the nearby water system by the name of Cutzamala that was connected to the borough-wide system. The borough of Álvaro Obregón has even released a statement guaranteeing that San Bartolo’s spring water will not be mixed with this larger system. There are many in San Bartolo who see this as just the calm before another storm, and as a result want to negotiate terms with the government. However, their demand is to have their rights respected by having a seat at the discussion table, and for the government to be transparent about its plans regarding the region’s water. 

In the meantime, Mexico City continues to literally sink under its own weight as it swiftly drains its underground water reservoir ever more quickly. As its vast and growing population continues to demand more and more resources, it is a near certainty that this complex and contentious issue is far from settled. 

Andrew Diaz is an international research and policy intern with Food & Water Watch. He currently attends the University of Maryland at College Park and majors in geographic information science and minors in international development and conflict management.

June 19th, 2014

Pollinator Week: Brought To You By…Bayer?

By Genna Reed 

For me, Pollinator Week should be about adding gratuitous amounts of honey to my tea, eating loads of fruits and nuts and enjoying the outdoor company of some of my favorite insects buzzing around in my backyard. For the Pollinator Partnership, an alliance that includes some companies with dubious track records when it comes to the survival of bees, and the masterminds behind this annual celebration of pollinators, the goal is a little less clear. The Pollinator Partnership includes some of the biggest players in the seed and agrichemical industry, including Bayer, Monsanto, Syngenta and trade groups like CropLife America. The organization’s industry partners seem to be using this effort to craft a façade of involvement in the fight to save pollinators while simultaneously making millions from the very insecticides that are linked to serious health problems in honeybees.

The Pollinator Partnership advocates for increasing foraging land for pollinators, educating the public about the importance of pollinators and encouraging people to grow bee-friendly plants in their backyards. Although these are important undertakings, the partnership has so far failed to promote a ban on neonicotinoids, which would significantly help prevent future bee health issues. Yet, despite all of the evidence linking neonicotinoids to declines in bee health, industry representatives from Bayer, Syngenta and CropLife remain in denial, which might have something to do with the $2.45 billion (and growing) seed treatment market of which Bayer and Syngenta share 60 percent. 

Instead of promoting symbolic acts to protect pollinators, we need a tangible effort to protect what are arguably the most important creatures in our food system: 

 The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) should follow the European Union’s lead and ban the use of neonicotinoid insecticides until there is adequate, independent research proving no direct or indirect links to adverse impacts on pollinators. 

 The EPA should reject registrations for insecticide seed treatments that are used as prophylactics and are unnecessary most of the time. 

 The EPA and USDA must work together to ensure that the labels of treated seeds and foliar insecticides adequately communicate the unnecessary pollinator risks to farmers in a clear, pronounced and convincing manner. 

 The EPA and USDA should commence a joint research and education program designed to help farmers practice bee-friendly farming methods, which would eliminate the need for neonicotinoid or other insecticide-treated seeds and would safeguard bees and other pollinators. 

 Take action today and urge your representative to support H.R. 2692, Saving America’s Pollinators Act, which would protect bees and other pollinators by banning major neonicotinoids in the United States.  

Big Oil and Gas Sacrifice Local Communities for Profits From LNG Exports

On July 13, Thousands Will Rally to Oppose Cove Point Plant in Maryland

Wenonah Hauter, Executive DirectorBy Wenonah Hauter

On Sunday, July 13, thousands of environmental advocates will gather in downtown Washington, D.C., to oppose Dominion Resources’ Cove Point LNG export facility, a project that is part of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC’s) aggressive push to expand fracking in the Marcellus Shale region. FERC will decide this summer whether or not to approve the proposal to build the Cove Point facility within one mile of 360 homes. On July 13, we have one more chance to urge FERC to stop putting the interests of oil and gas companies above public health and local communities.

U.S. citizens have watched the oil and gas industry lobby quickly spread their influence across the nation, from Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado in the West to Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York, North Carolina and Maryland in the East. But even as the industry promises Americans that fracking for shale gas will give consumers an affordable energy future—energy security, they call it—they have been busy carving out plans to export most of it overseas in the form of liquefied natural gas (LNG). The Obama administration has made their intentions clear: the U.S. will begin exporting LNG to nations in Asia and Europe, sacrificing the well-being of our communities to the oil and gas industry’s relentless thirst for profits.

Many of the political moves in Maryland meant to ensure fracking becomes a reality within state borders resembles the playbook we’ve seen time and again from the oil and gas industry. When the oil and gas industry discovered shale deposits in Maryland, they immediately exaggerated how much natural gas these deposits were present, promised major economic impacts, and understated how many of the state’s cities will one day have drilling rigs.  While Governor O’Malley and leaders in the state legislature have told Marylanders that fracking wouldn’t be approved until studies proved that it was safe, the governor’s own commission has already begun drafting the prelude to fracking regulations before the completion of three promised public health and economic impact studies.   Read the full article…

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June 18th, 2014

You’ve Got Questions About Antibiotic Resistance; We’ve Got Answers

By Sydney Baldwin

Antibiotic-resistant super bugs pose one of the most threatening public health problems.You’ve heard about antibiotic-resistance: that scary scenario when someone is sick with an infection, but the medicine that’s supposed to treat it doesn’t work. Major health organizations around the world warn that antibiotics are quickly losing their effectiveness, and pharmaceutical companies aren’t acting fast enough to create new ones. What’s scary is that, according to our researchers’ analysis of Center for Disease Control and Prevention data, over 20 percent of antibiotic-resistant infections are linked to food.

Even if you don’t eat meat or live near a factory farm, you’re still susceptible. Read on to learn why we’re all at risk to contract an antibiotic-resistant infection. Then tell Congress to stand up for the public, not corporations, by introducing tighter regulations that will help stop the misuse of antibiotics on factory farms.

 1.    Exactly how do factory farms misuse antibiotics?

Factory farms give animals low doses of antibiotics to compensate for overcrowded, filthy conditions that lead to disease.  In fact, 80 percent of the antibiotics sold in the U.S. are used in agriculture, but not necessarily because the animals ingesting them are sick. Unfortunately, that’s making us sick.

This practice, called nontherapeutic use, creates the perfect stew for bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics to thrive and spread. These superbugs – antibiotic-resistant bacteria bred on factory farms – end up in food and in the environment, which puts everyone at risk, regardless of where you live or what you eat. Read the full article…

June 17th, 2014

The First Step in Overturning Citizens United

By Mitch Jones

This Wednesday the Senate’s Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice will be holding a vote on a Constitutional amendment that would overturn Citizens United. 

Citizens United opened the door to an obscene amount of corporate dollars flowing into political campaigns. The case had three major components that have made it nearly impossible to keep corporate money out of politics… 

  1. 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.)
  2. The case reconfirmed the notion of corporate personhood.
  3. Since political speech is the most important First Amendment right, constraint of free speech must meet strict scrutiny.

So, Citizens United basically allowed corporate financing of elections to be protected as free speech. This is money spent by people like the Koch Brothers and Sheldon Adelson trying to buy elections to ensure they have a Congress and a President that is willing to do their bidding.

The only way to ensure that we get rid of this terrible ruling is to amend the Constitution. That’s why Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) and 43 of his Senate colleagues have introduced S.J. Res. 19, a constitutional amendment that would grant Congress and the states the power to regulate the raising and spending of money in federal and state elections. It’s a simple fix to a major problem.

Send your senators an email and ask them to support the Udall Amendment

Superbugs Get Started on Factory Farms

By Jo Miles

You’ve probably heard about the rise of antibiotic-resistant infections: bacteria that have grown increasingly resistant to medicine. It’s a serious threat… yet not many people realize that factory farms are a huge part of the problem.

Check out the comic below to see how factory farms are putting everyone’s health at risk. Then tell your lawmakers to stop the misuse of antibiotics on factory farms.

Comic: Factory Farms Make Me Sick

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June 12th, 2014

GM Crops in the EU – Game On

By Eve Mitchell

Say No to GM Feed in EuropeAs widely predicted, the European Council agreed this morning to the compromise proposal on so-called national “opt outs” for GM crops. What happens next will be interesting indeed.

Luxembourg and Belgium abstained from the vote. Every other EU Member State supported the deal, but that doesn’t give a full picture of the situation by any means.

Around half of the Member States said outright they would ban GM crops or alluded that they would. Others noted the difficulties yet to be faced in agreeing coexistence rules needed to protect non-GM agriculture from GM contamination, including across international boundaries in our relatively small countries. None dismissed the delicacy of the next stage – securing the agreement with the EU Parliament. One speaker called the emerging agreement “historic,” and given the issue was first broached in 2009, I suppose that’s true to a point. More than one country called for the revision of the ten-year-old regulations of GMOs, and others the need to update and revise how Europe conducts its risk assessments of GMOs (as unanimously called for by this same Council way back in 2008 – pdf). That’s a big can of worms indeed. Several speakers reminded the Council of the strong public opposition to GM food and crops back home. At the end of the meeting, Italy said that the agreement “demonstrates the unity of Europe”.

I heard a lot of things during this meeting, but unanimity wasn’t one of them.

So on we go to that next stage, where a brand new Parliament will have to take on a highly controversial issue that touches on food production and safety, public health, international trade, environmental protection, national sovereignty, democratic accountability and corporate control of agriculture all in one go. Good luck to them. Good luck to us. We will be relying on the countries who signalled disquiet with any number of issues in this deal (while agreeing to it anyway, in the spirit of cooperation of course), to insist those issues are clearly addressed and real answers provided. The pressure being applied will make those lines hard to hold.

If the Parliament and Council can someday wrestle an actual agreement out of all that, we’ll then have to see if the biotech industry plays ball and permits any bans to stand. If anything like half of EU countries ban GM crops in all or parts of their territories it will give the industry a pretty big headache of multilingual regulations to adhere to across what is supposed to be a Single Market. That nagging issue of coexistence will be there, as well as liability for any damage done by their products, particularly if that damage occurs across international borders into areas banning the crops in the first place. Since the chief GM lobby group EuropaBio has already put out a tetchy statement of disappointment saying, “This deal shows the lack of willingness of the EU institutions and Member States to correctly implement the current regulatory framework for GMO approvals they had decided upon themselves,” it isn’t at all clear the rules of the game will be agreed by all the players. Then again the industry has the WTO red card in its back pocket they can use to challenge any ban or start a trade war. Mere citizens have no such backstop.

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June 11th, 2014

Ridiculous Cheese Rule Shows Bad Priorities at FDA

By Wenonah Hauter

Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch

Updated on June 11.

The FDA is currently turning a blind eye to the thousands of pets that have been sickened or killed thanks to pet treats imported from China. It has basically rolled over to the biotech industry in a long and drawn out process over genetically engineered salmon, which if approved, would be the first transgenic animal to enter the food supply—the effects of which have not been studied in humans. It’s done nothing to deal with the 30-year crisis concerning the misuse of antibiotics on factory farms.

But don’t worry—they are on the case when it comes to barring artisanal cheesemakers from using wood in the process of aging cheese. Rather than concentrating on the food safety crisis caused by the giant food processors, they are focusing on the cleanability of equipment used in making artisanal cheese. In the process, the FDA could end the tried and true traditional practices that have been used by cheese makers around the world for centuries.

Yes, that’s the latest head-scratcher from the federal agency led by Michael Taylor, former Monsanto executive and standard-bearer for the industrial food interests at our nation’s leading food safety authority. Cheese makers and people who want a local food economy are rightfully fighting mad. This decision is like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic: when it comes to health threats from food, the FDA has much bigger fish to fry. It could be addressing the major prevailing public health crisis posed by the misuse of antibiotics on factory farms—a public health threat that experts have cautioned against for three decades. Or, it could turn its attention to the serious food safety issues posed by food imports from countries with weak food safety standards—which will become even more problematic if trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership are put into force.

Any rule that promotes processed, industrial food (like Velveeta) over handcrafted foods is not something we should support. Take action now to tell the FDA to get their priorities straight. Their limited resources should be used to address the major food supply safety problems, not going after artisanal food producers.

UPDATE: The FDA may be rethinking their efforts to stop cheese makers from using the methods they’ve perfected over centuries, but we have to keep up the pressure because their traditional ways of making cheese are still under threat. Sign the petition here.

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June 10th, 2014

Why the Federal Government Should Block the Tyson-Hillshire Merger

By Patrick Woodall meat aisle in grocery store

After several weeks of musical merger chairs, the dust finally settled this weekend leaving Tyson Foods the winner in a bidding war for Hillshire Brands. The nation’s biggest meat and poultry company offered one billion dollars more than it offered a week and a half ago and the deal is now worth about $8.5 billion. The other bidder, Pilgrim’s Pride, withdrew its bid, and the original deal for Hillshire to buy food manufacturer Pinnacle Foods will be scrubbed to pave the way for the Tyson takeover after Hillshire pays Pinnacle a $163 million “breakup” feeRead the full article…

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