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September 25th, 2014

The Science is Still Out on GMO Moths

By Genna Reed Soy_Field

Like many relatives, vegetables within the cabbage family share a similar trait: they’re prone to invasion from pests. Cornell University is at work to address the problem, but if its current “solution” is any indication, it scientists definitely need to go back to the drawing board. The USDA has made available for comment, the environmental assessment of the field trial of the genetically engineered diamondback moth, cooked up in a lab to supposedly protect cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and their kin from pesky invaders.

Read the full article…

September 23rd, 2014

How your Tax Dollars are Helping Distort the GMO-Labeling Debate

By Tim Schwab

GMO_Farming_BlogThumbThese days, one of the biggest debates around food concerns labeling genetically engineered foods. State-level ballot initiatives and legislative efforts to require labeling of GMOs have sprung up in more than twenty states, with Connecticut, Maine and Vermont already declaring victories for consumers by mandating labeling.

Yet our nation’s taxpayer-funded cooperative extension program, created by Congress 100 years ago with a mission to conduct education and outreach around important agricultural topics, has been largely silent in the raging public debate. If so desired, the USDA and our fifty states could marshal their army of extension officers and specialists to weigh in on GMO labeling. Perhaps wisely, extension has not taken a position.

However, individual extension employees are speaking out, and in the places where extension pops up in the GMO-labeling debate, it’s almost always taking the side of the biotechnology industry, using industry studies and talking points to make their case. Extension specialists from the University of California are speaking out about how GMO labeling will increase the cost of food or will discourage consumers from eating healthy food. Extension officers from Cornell University and the University of Connecticut call consumers uninformed or emotional, then proceed to recite industry spin about GMOs.

Such statements not only evidence a bias toward industry, they also are grossly inaccurate and highly misleading. Let’s examine the argument regarding higher costs associated with GMO labeling, the main talking point of industry-funded lobbying campaigns against labeling efforts. Such claims are undergirded not by independent science, but by industry-funded studies. This spring, the biotechnology industry funded a Cornell University professor to conduct a study that found—surprise—that GMO labeling will increase costs for consumers.

While the University of California’s extension highlights the findings of industry studies, it ignores those funded by GMO-labeling advocates or independent sources, which arrive at different conclusions.

Indeed, the GMO labeling debate sure would sound different if extension asserted itself as an impartial disseminator of information, noting that independent studies often show that labeling GMOs will not substantially increase the price of food for consumers, while those studies funded by industry groups, which have a financial interest in prohibiting labeling, show the opposite.

Or what if extension officers instead noted that sixty-four nations require GMO labeling or that many countries have banned or restricted production of GMOs? They could also mention that there is no scientific consensus on the safety of GMOs, and independent researchers have long complained that industry restricts independent research.

The law that created extension charged it with disseminating “useful and practical” information about agriculture to the public, but extension officers are only telling one side of the story on GMOs, that of industry, which is neither useful, nor practical—nor accurate. And the public debate on this controversial issue has suffered for it.

Want to learn more about the 100-year anniversary of extension? Check out the rest of the series here.

Why a Carbon Tax Won’t Save the Climate

By Mitch Jones

Factory_PollutionAs the UN meets this week to discuss our climate future, here’s one thing they probably won’t be talking about but should: how finance and regulating carbon don’t mix.

When Food & Water Watch created the Common Resources Program in April of 2011, we did so to push back against the finance industry’s desire to use nature as a new source for profits. In the international community this effort is referred to as the “financialization of nature”. The basic idea is that new commodities are being created, which then necessitates new markets for those commodities. On top of those markets, Wall Street hopes to build new financial markets and speculative financial instruments like those that brought down the global economy in 2007. The most egregious example of this may be Citibank Chief Economist Willem Buiter’s dream of a global water market that would not only rival, but also swamp the oil market in size and would have “futures markets and other derivative water-based financial instruments — puts, calls, swaps” built on top of it. Financial speculation in the housing market was bad enough, but in water? It’s unthinkable, unless you’re a Wall Street banker.

So, what’s this got to do with pricing carbon? Quite a bit actually, because the same failed economic myths that support the desire for water markets support the idea of pricing pollution. We’ve already documented the problems with pricing pollution, including carbon, through cap and trade. And while cap and trade is still being pushed at the state and regional level, nationally the push is for a carbon tax.

The problems with the carbon tax begin with its regressivity. A regressive tax is one that hits households with lower income harder than those with higher income. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that under a $28/ton carbon tax, the bottom 20 percent of income earners would pay 2.5 percent more in taxes, while the top 20 percent would pay less than 1 percent more.

The politics of passing a carbon tax will make this inequality worse. While the carbon tax is already regressive, the most likely proposals to get bipartisan and corporate support couple it with a reduction in individual and corporate taxes that make it even more so. Unfortunately, the politics that would have to come together to pass a carbon tax would likely necessitate just this sort of tax swap to get the votes to pass.

Beyond the regressive nature of any carbon tax that could get the votes to pass, we should also be clear that using “pricing” to reduce pollution is the wrong approach. Pricing relies on the idea that “market signals” are the best way to regulate pollution. Put a price on it, and businesses and households will respond by polluting less. The goal has been to replace environmental regulations with these price and market signals.

We should be clear, polluting companies want to have a set cost they can factor into their pricing of their products, that is, pass on to us, instead of having to respond to regulation that will clean up their businesses and reduce their pollution. And they want that cost to be unrealistically low.

Yvo de Boer, the former chair of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) has proposed a carbon tax he thinks can work. That carbon tax is set at €150 (or about $193) per tonne. For comparison, the current price for carbon in the EU’s trading scheme is about €6.30. Proposals for a carbon tax in the U.S call for a tax in the $20 -$30 per tonne range. Even if we accepted the questionable economics of financializing carbon, and we don’t, then these proposals are woefully inadequate when it comes to stopping climate change. But, it’s at a level acceptable to some major corporations that want to be seen as “doing something” on climate change.

Instead of a “price on carbon” we need an aggressive cap on emissions, a prohibition on allowing states to use gimmicks and false solutions to achieve the cap target (be it pricing, offsets, or switching to natural gas), a focus on efficiency, and greater investment in bringing truly renewable energy up to scale to provide the electricity we need. And these aren’t solutions we can wait for Wall Street to bring to us. We need to build power in our communities, put pressure on our decision makers, and ensure that we’re a unified voice calling for effectively regulating pollution.

The climate can bear no less.

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September 22nd, 2014

Keep the Pressure On: A Message From Bill McKibben

Join us at the Global Frackdown on October 11.

      FIND AN EVENT

Do you need proof that the movement for climate justice is growing? How about this: over 400,000 people attended yesterday’s People’s Climate March in New York City and thousands more attended affiliated actions across the world. The press is already calling it the largest climate march in history. It’s exciting to see so many people engaged and active around climate change, and it’s hopeful to see thousands of people calling upon our leaders to make more responsible decisions regarding our energy future.

We need to build on that tremendous energy and make strong demands of our elected representatives at the local, state, and national level. The October 11 Global Frackdown offers just that opportunity.

Last year, there were hundreds of actions across the world calling for a ban on fracking, and this year there are already over 200 partner organizations in the Global Frackdown. One of those partner organizations is 350.org, and environmental leader Bill McKibben—whose voice and leadership have been so critical to sounding the call for strong action on climate change and the People’s Climate March—filmed a short video encouraging people to build on the climate march and take action on October 11.

Watch the video, share it with your friends, and sign up to attend or hold an action on October 11.

Join the Global Frackdown.

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September 21st, 2014

Don’t Frack Montana’s National Treasure

Eleanor Guerin with hiking buddies in 1987 taking a break with Grinnell Glacier in the background.

Eleanor Guerin with hiking buddies in 1987 taking a break with Grinnell Glacier in the background.

By Eleanor Guerin

I first worked in Glacier National Park during the summer of 1985, while still in college and studying biology. I knew I wanted to work in the wild. Coming from the flat land of Louisiana, I had only traveled east of the Mississippi and the only mountains I knew were the Ouchitas and the Appalachians. So Montana was at first overwhelming. I had never seen mountains loom so large; they felt oppressive. But I soon grew to love the park and the West in general – so much so that after one more stint working in environmental education in New Hampshire, I never went East again. I returned to Glacier as a ranger and naturalist the next year.

Visitors from all over the world come to Glacier. As a National Park Service park ranger/naturalist, I was fortunate to meet and talk with countless people from across Europe and Asia, the Middle East, Australia — really every continent. Many Europeans visit Glacier to see what is known as the “American Alps.” Folks come either for a quick drive on the not-to-be-missed road through the park or to spend days hiking the backcountry. And Glacier truly is a backcountry park. Roads take one only so far; while there is much to behold along the hairpin turns and thousand-foot drops of the main road, it’s the trails that lead to unimagined wildness. In the backcountry of this park, I sensed both my smallness in, and oneness with, the land. I yielded to the wind, sun and snow, to lightning and thunderstorms. I felt redeemed by the waters and life and purity of it all.

Eleanor Guerin (second from right) poses with Glacier National Park hikers in 1987. The group had just finished a loop that brought them "23 feet, 2 inches away from a 'griz' near Old Man Lake," according to a note on the back of the photo.

Eleanor Guerin (second from right) poses with Glacier National Park hikers in 1987. The group had just finished a loop that brought them “23 feet, 2 inches away from a ‘griz’ near Old Man Lake,” according to a note on the back of the photo.

Two intertwined features of Glacier will always stay with me: wildlife and water. And they both are threatened by what’s happening near the park on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land in the state of Montana: fracking. I have tracked fracking issues around the country from Pennsylvania to my home state of Louisiana, to the west in Wyoming, Montana and in California where I’ve made my home for 27 years. For some living in poverty, as on the Blackfeet Reservation bordering the eastern edge of Glacier, allowing drilling and fracking may provide temporary economic relief. But it has the terrible potential to be a double-edged sword. Some argue there’s no harm. Others fight with all their heart to protect the land. With secret chemical concoctions injected deep into the earth, I gladly err on the side of protection.

Montana may not be a highly populated state, but it contains an unrivaled natural treasure worthy of government oversight and protection. BLM lands are federal lands, intended to benefit ALL the people. The potential for fracking to contaminate both ground and surface water that sustains the people of Montana through agriculture and drinking supplies, as well its wildlife, cannot be ignored. Once damaged, there’s no turning back.

I return to Montana and Glacier every couple of years. The park is an old friend; the land has held my heart ever since my first foray there. But I have watched the glaciers, for which the park is named, recede during a few short decades. I know species like the pika become more threatened by warming temperatures. And now, the very water that sustains both humans and animals could become the next casualty of economic development. We must be vigilant.

eleanorguerin.headshotEleanor Guerin is a guest blogger to Food & Water Watch. Since leaving Glacier in 1987, Eleanor has made her home in Sonoma County, California, where she makes her living as a massage therapist, health advocate and Certified Senior Advisor. She gathers data for the California Phenology Project at Pepperwood Preserve and volunteers in the Sonoma County Regional Parks system.”

September 19th, 2014

Come One, Come All: Host an Event for the Global Frackdown!

By Katherine Cirullo

frackdownEach autumn for the last several years, thousands of people across continents have participated in the Global Frackdown, a worldwide day of action to challenge the oil and gas industry and to call for a worldwide ban on fracking. This year’s Global Frackdown is shaping up to be an impressive show of solidarity. On October 11, individuals and groups in communities around the world will gather to raise their voices and tell their elected officials that they want a future lit by clean, renewable energy, not dangerous, destructive fossil fuels.

So, do you want to have a hand in this monumental global effort to protect communities from the harmful effects that fracking imposes on air, water, health and public safety? Do you want to help decrease our reliance on dirty fossil fuels and instead steer our planet towards a renewable energy future and a safe climate? Do you want to see fracking banned in your town, and in others across the globe?

Simple. Host a Global Frackdown event! We’ll give you the tools; all you need is a bit of creativity and some fire in your gut.

Global Frackdown events should be educational, and should build your local movement against fracking. They should also be fun! The more people we have as part of our movement, the more power we will have to stand up against the oil and gas industry’s global pressure to increase gas development — so let’s get to it. Here’s how you can organize a successful Global Frackdown event in your community.

Planning:

  1. First, check the map to see if there’s already an event in your area. If not, sign up to host one and we’ll get in touch with a planning toolkit and everything you need to plan a great event.
  2. Don’t go at it alone. Recruit a friend to help.
  3. Once you plan your event, add it to the map so members of your community can join. You can also get people to join your event by posting an event listing in your local newspaper, on social media or by handing out flyers.
  4. Visit our website for materials and talking points.
  5. Target your local elected officials. Their job is to listen to constituents. If you need help on who to target, contact us! E-mail katy(at)fwwatch(dot)org.

The Event:

What does a Global Frackdown action entail? That’s ultimately up to you, but we have some ideas to get you started.

  1. Collect Petitions. Set up a table at a local farmers market or school event, host a potluck at home with your friends or host a film screening (see number 3). These are all fun, simple ways to collect signatures for a ban on fracking and converse with those around you about the issue. Petition signatures are a direct way of showing local officials that your community supports the movement to ban fracking. When you have finished collecting, send them to us and we will help you deliver them to your local decision makers.
  2. Make a Human Sign. Time to get creative and be visible! What do you want to tell your local officials? Choose a public space and either spell a message with actual people or have them hold up individual letters. This is a great way to get kids involved with some poster board and markers. Decide ahead of time when and where everyone should meet. And, don’t forget to take pictures!
  3. Host a film screening. Gasland and Gasland II are compelling films about fracking that will inform your community and spark discussion after the film. To request a copy, email katy(at)fwwatch(dot)org. You can host a private screening at your home or reserve a space and invite your community. College campuses or community and arts centers are great. Tell your elected officials about it, collect petition signatures and be sure to check back with us after.
  4. Host a rally. What better way to make your concerns heard than by shouting them? Gather your community and together tell your elected officials what you are fighting for by holding a rally in a public space outside his or her office. Are you fighting for clean water? Clean air? Safe food? Safe communities? Get your friends involved by asking them to create signs and come up with a few chants. Make sure to bring petitions, take photo and video and have fun! Download our toolkit for sample chants and other materials.
  5. Don’t forget to spread the word (and the photos) on the web. Visit our social media guide for how to connect with the Global Frackdown online. Or, send your photos to katy(at)fwwatch(dot)org and we will share them. Social media is a great way for you to keep us updated on your event and to also tune in with other events around the world. Most importantly, it is a way to make our voices heard.

In recent years, communities across the United States have passed hundreds of measures against fracking. Bulgaria and France have upheld bans. The Netherlands and Czech Republic have passed moratoria. South Africa and Ireland have delayed fracking. Communities in other countries have mobilized to pass local legislation. We’re just getting started. The third Global Frackdown is just three weeks away. Join us!

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September 17th, 2014

We Knew It! Reuters Confirms Antibiotic Misuse in Poultry Farms 

By Sarah Borron Antibiotics_Pill_Bottle

Food & Water Watch has long worked to stop the nontherapeutic uses of antibiotics that are rampant in the poultry industry. Adding fuel to the fire, Reuters recently released a stunning report further detailing this disturbing phenomenon.

The reporters analyzed industry data usually kept from the public as confidential business information, detailing the drugs put in chicken feed. Just how secret is that information normally kept? Even an FDA veterinarian admitted that the agency doesn’t have “an idea first-hand of what’s going on” with antibiotics on farms, so suffice to say, the revelations in this article are incredibly important. Read the full article…

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September 16th, 2014

Pro-GMO Database: Monsanto is Most Common Funder of GMO Research

By Tim Schwab GMO_Canola

The pro-GMO advocacy group Biofortified announced in late August that the group’s much-hyped GENERA database of GMO research is now available for public review in a trial version. Though the database contains only a fraction of the GMO research available (400 of 1200 studies, according to Biofortified), this hasn’t stopped the group from drawing sweeping conclusions about what the science says. Read the full article…

Keep Calm and Ban Fracking: Shale Gas in the UK

By Geert Decock

A view of the South Downs in from Devil's Dyke in southern England. CC by SA©IngerAlHaosului/commons.wikipedia.org

A view of the South Downs in from Devil’s Dyke in southern England. CC by SA(c) IngerAlHaosului/commons.wikipedia.org.

OK, I admit: I had never before heard about the South Downs National Park in England. However, last week, I learned that the planning committee of the park had voted unanimously to turn down an application by shale gas explorer, Celtique Energie, to start drilling and maybe fracking at Fernhurst, a two hour drive south of London.

A couple of hours later, I can call myself a South Downs fan. Yes, I want to go on holiday there. Except maybe for blue sky and warm temperatures, the South Downs has lots to offer. Wikipedia informs me that the South Downs has “a rich heritage of historical features and archaeological remains, including defensive sites, burial mounds and field boundaries”. Within the park, there are 37 “Sites of Special Scientific Interest”, protecting the very little that remains of the old chalk grassland. Needless to say, South Downs is a “popular recreational destination, particularly for walkers, horse riders and mountain bikers”.

And by drilling and fracking in such an area of outstanding beauty, UK shale gas explorers hope to win the hearts and minds of locals and public opinion more generally? How out of touch can you be?

A recent report of the federal environment agency of Germany (covered in our previous blog post) details what is required to extract shale gas from an area of 260 square kilometers (about 16 by 16 kilometers) over a period of 10 years.

  • 144 well pads (one per every 2 square kilometers!)
  • 864-1440 wells (assuming 6-10 horizontal drills /pad)
  • 12.000-48.000 truck movements per well

Despite these facts, the CEO of Celtique has the temerity to state that his application “has been refused on subjective and unjustified grounds”. What is more likely to be the case, is that the planning committee analysed the existing pressures on their national park from agriculture, traffic and housing development and drew the common sense conclusion that adding fracking to the mix simply was not going to work.

Despite all this, the UK government’s energy strategy continues to be “going all out for shale”, stressed Prime Minister Cameron. The efforts of shale enthusiasts like David Cameron (but also other mainstream political parties) will continue to fight a losing battle, as people get better informed about shale gas and fracking.

In the latest licencing round, almost 60 percent of the UK territory was offered to shale gas explorers to start drilling for shale gas. It should not come as a surprise that new groups are popping up like mushrooms in areas singled out for shale gas drilling. Some of the most vocal groups are Residents Action on Fylde Fracking in the Blackpool area or the Frack Free Balcombe Residents Association, where exploratory drilling was halted last summer due to protests. They are not only determined to stop this terrible development, but they are well organized. Just take a look at all the resources available on the website of a grassroots campaign like Frack Off. This summer, the No Dash for Gas campaign hosted a “Reclaim the power” anti-fracking action camp. And they have the support from larger groups like Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace.

The combination of a vibrant and growing anti-fracking movement with the non-stop PR disasters committed by shale gas explorers and the UK government will mean that their shale gas strategy will slowly but surely grind to a halt.

With more than half of the UK territory now licensed for shale gas and oil exploration, anti-fracking groups in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland will be at the forefront of the campaign to ban fracking. On October 11, the Global Frackdown – an international day of action against fracking – will offer a great opportunity to express our solidarity with those communities in the UK under siege from the shale gas industry and its political supporters.

Join us on October 11 for the Global Frackdown: http://www.globalfrackdown.org/.

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To Save the Climate, We Need a Ban on Fracking

By Wenonah Hauter

Fracking is an issue that touches on every aspect of our lives — the water we drink, the air we breathe, the health of our communities — and it is also impacting the global climate on which we all depend.

With the upcoming People’s Climate March and United Nations Climate Summit in New York City, it is more important than ever that the climate effects of fracking are addressed. This is why today, Food & Water Watch released The Urgent Case for a Ban on Fracking. With mounting evidence about the dangerous impacts of fracking and the immediacy of the impending climate crisis, this report lays out the urgent case for a ban.

Fracking affects not only the millions living within a mile of fracking sites who experience health problems, polluted water, earthquakes, explosions and declined property values, but it also affects billions globally who are affected by climate change.

As the fracking boom began in 2009, we became alarmed about the threats fracking posed to our water resources – from tap water that could be lit on fire thanks to methane leaks from fracking wells into water sources, to spills of chemicals and fracking waste that pollute waterways. While many environmental groups were hopeful about natural gas’s ability to offset carbon emissions and act as a “bridge fuel” to a renewable energy future, we were skeptical about the trade-offs for the rest of the environment.

Over the next few years, scientific evidence mounted, showing not only that fracking won’t help moderate climate change, but that it has the potential to unleash massive amounts of methane that will worsen the climate disaster. After looking at the growing evidence of the inherent problems with fracking, and realizing how inadequately the states were regulating the oil and gas industry and enforcing those regulations, Food & Water Watch became the first national organization to call for a complete ban on fracking in 2011.

Since 2011, more than 150 additional studies have been conducted on a range of issues (from water pollution to climate change, air pollution to earthquakes) reinforcing the case that fracking is simply too unsafe to pursue. Neither federal nor state officials can effectively prevent the multitude of damages through regulation.

Fracking Methane Climate EffectsMounting evidence shows that fracking is inherently unsafe, contaminating water, polluting air, and threatening public health. Fracking damages local infrastructure, decreases property values and causes a range of social problems. And most critically for the survival of people and ecosystems, fracking exacerbates and accelerates climate change. We are facing a climate crisis that is already having devastating impacts and that is projected to escalate to catastrophic levels if we do not act now.

President Barack Obama came into office touting fracked gas as a “bridge fuel,” yet mounting evidence suggests that rather than serving as a bridge to a renewable energy future, it’s a bridge to a climate crisis.

Despite what the oil and gas industry claim, there have now been over 150 studies on fracking and its impacts that raise concerns about the risks and dangers of fracking and highlight how little we know about its long-term effects on health and our limited freshwater supplies. It’s time for President Obama and other decision makers to look at the facts. It’s a matter of our survival.

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