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November 15th, 2013

The U.S. Coast Guard is Pushing for a Fracking Disaster Waiting to Happen

By Katherine Cirullo

A Barge on the Mississippi RiverOn October 30, 2013, the U.S. Coast Guard proposed a policy that would allow oil and gas companies to ship fracking wastewater down our nation’s waterways by barge. The amount of waste that fracking produces is a bottleneck for oil and gas development, but this proposal would help remedy that problem on the industry’s behalf. The public was given only thirty days to comment. If we want to protect our natural resources and our health now and for future generations, we must voice our concerns today.

The Coast Guard’s proposed policy contradicts their own mission to “develop and enforce regulations to avert the introduction of invasive species into the maritime environment, stop unauthorized ocean dumping, and prevent oil and chemical spills.” In fact, it’s another instance of the Obama Administration’s failure to protect our nation’s precious resources by bolstering fossil fuel development instead.

If passed, major waterways, including the nation’s largest river, the Mississippi River, and its largest tributary the Ohio River, could face widespread contamination from hard to clean spills. Read the full article…

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November 14th, 2013

Popular GE Labeling Measure Defeated By Corporate Millions

By Mark Schlosberg

Let me decide, make GE food labeling the lawThere’s no better example of why the organizing we do is so important than the repeated loss of GE food labeling at the polls, this time in Washington State.

Pesticide manufacturers—like Monsanto, DuPont Pioneer, Dow AgroSciences and Bayer CropScience—and junk food peddlers like PepsiCo, Nestlé, Coca-Cola, General Mills, ConAgra—spent more than $22 million to buy Washington state’s election this week in order to prevent consumers from having basic information about their food. This infuriating outcome provides yet more substantial evidence that a small handful of mega corporations wield way too much power over our food supply and our democracy and they must be stopped.

In an off year election, while these giant corporations had to spend record sums in order to mislead consumers, the “Yes” side was supported by contributions of over 15,000 individuals and, the campaign projects, won 49 percent of the vote.

The food industry may have won this battle, but the fight to label genetically foods comes out of Washington stronger than ever. In the last year, legislation requiring labeling of GE foods passed state legislatures for the first time, in Connecticut and Maine, and other robust campaigns are under way from New York to Illinois, New Jersey to Florida and elsewhere.

In the coming year, Food & Water Watch will continue to work with allies old and new at the national, state and local level. We need to organize in key legislative districts and hold our elected officials accountable. They are elected to represent the vast majority of Americans who want to know what’s in their food, not the big chemical and junk food companies that spent record sums this year and last to mislead consumers in California and Washington.

Consumers want to know what is in their food and I am confident we will ultimately win labeling across the country. But what elections like California and Washington really highlight is our broken democracy. As we fight for important policy goals like labeling of GE foods, we also need to look towards lasting reforms including overturning Citizens United, that are needed to curtail the power of corporations in our political system.

Click here for the official campaign statement.

The Bottled Water Industry Continues to Target New Moms

By Katherine Cirullo

DS Waters of America, Inc. is a company that sells brewed coffee and tea beverages, break room supplies, equipment and services for water filtration systems and, of course, bottled water. What’s more? One of their dozen or so bottled water brands is marketed specifically for babies—and once again, their target is exhausted new moms. Just when you thought they couldn’t go any lower, the bottled water industry has hit rock bottom. DS Waters’ “Nursery” brand is another glaring example of how corporations are increasingly exploiting a public resource we cannot live without, bottling it, marketing it to a vulnerable consumer population and selling it to make a profit.

Back in 2012, Nestlé pushed two products on consumers in developing nations: infant formula and bottled water, defined by the company as “Popularly Positioned Products” that target “less affluent consumers in emerging markets.” Why? Because in selling infant formula to their target demographic of poor mothers in countries without safe drinking water, they would also sell the bottled water needed to prepare that infant formula. This is dubious marketing that, as Food & Water Watch’s executive director Wenonah Hauter stated in 2012, “undermines public health in the name of profit.”

DS Waters picked up on Nestlé’s troublesome tactics. “Nursery Water for Babies and Toddlers” is quite similar to one of Nestlé’s “Popularly Positioned Products.” Nursery’s ads are emotionally driven to sell health via bottled water to an impressionable market – new moms. Visit their website and you’ll be bombarded with idyllic images and messaging that claims Nursery water is what every Mom needs to raise a healthy child; mix it with formula, add it to juice! The company has brought all of its cards to the table in an attempt to win the minds of a population whose newest concern in life is to provide what’s best for their children. What’s actually best, DS Waters, is a world where corporations don’t commodify our essential public resources.

Bottled water is not safer than tap water. The Nursery brand boasts about its product’s nutrients and fluoride levels, but we see through their ploy. Tap water is actually subject to stricter regulation than bottled water. Moreover, tap water is much more affordable than what the industry is selling.

Even worse, bottled water is increasingly taken from tap water sources. In 2009, almost 50 percent of all bottled water came from municipal tap water supplies.

We cannot allow corporations to commodify a public, not to mention precious, resource. When companies gain access to municipal water sources, they literally take what belongs to that community and sell it elsewhere. Their extraction operations can interfere with the water source’s capacity to renew itself to sustain that community. Bottling water burdens those source communities and also threatens the environment as a whole; plastic water bottles are energy intensive to make and contribute to the planet’s growing plastic waste problem.

The goal of Nursery the brand is not to provide moms with what’s best – it’s to make  a profit. We must see past the absurd marketing ploys. We cannot allow corporations to usurp our public water supply while contributing to the destruction of the environment and the viability of a safe, affordable and sustainable future all.

This Year, Have a Big-Poultry-Free Holiday Season

By Wenonah Hauter

This post originally appeared at

Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch

Chicken and turkey are among the most popular and versatile foods Americans eat, but they also bring health risks to your plate.

Most factory-farmed poultry is raised with antibiotics — which leads to antibiotic resistance in humans.

Now, the USDA wants to cut the budget for poultry inspections and allow big chicken companies to police themselves. The agency also moved recently to approve imports of processed chicken from China — a country that has had major food safety debacles.

This holiday season, will the poultry you sit down to enjoy be industrially produced, processed half a world away, and full of chemicals, antibiotics, and worse?

Since there are no guarantees, you may want to avoid buying poultry produced by the companies that dominate the industry. There are big reasons to avoid their chicken and turkey.

JBS/Pilgrim’s Pride, Tyson Foods, Perdue, and Sanderson slaughter and process more than half of the chicken consumed in the United States, while Butterball, Jennie-O Turkey Store, and Cargill dominate the turkey business. Their outsized operations give them significant market and lobbying power. These companies act as middlemen between farmers and consumers, and they eat up most of the profit in the supply chain.

Before you purchase the holiday turkey you’ll share with your loved ones in a few weeks, consider these four facts:

  1. Because there are just a handful of players in the poultry market, a handful of companies call the shots — and reap large profits. For every $19 twelve-piece chicken bucket from KFC, only 25 cents goes to the farmer that raised the poultry, while less than $5 goes to the chicken processor. (KFC gets the rest.)
  2. These large companies use unfair contracts, require expensive equipment and building upgrades, and employ other aggressive tactics to squeeze poultry farmers to produce more and more chickens and turkeys for less and less money.
  3. The big chicken and turkey companies own everything from the chicks and poults to the feed, the trucks, the slaughter facilities, and the brand. The grower assumes all the debt associated with the operation, including the mortgages on the special buildings they have to construct to get a contract. The farmer also shoulders the expenses of utilities and of removing waste and dead birds.
  4. Concentrating poultry production means concentrating the amount of waste seeping off of factory farms into nearby waterways (like the Chesapeake Bay). Perdue and other big companies leave the farmers to shoulder all the responsibility for dealing with the waste.

Do you need more reasons to avoid poultry produced by these giant companies? Consider that their market power begets enormous political power — and these companies throw their weight around to make sure they can continue producing the most birds for the most profit. Plus, factory farming hurts poultry producers, consumers, and the environment.

Nothing showcases the power Big Ag holds over our political leaders more than emails we at Food & Water Watch revealed last year between Martin O’Malley, the Democratic governor of Maryland and poultry giant Perdue.

These exchanges illustrated how Perdue’s profits from chicken sold in California and Michigan are being used to exert inappropriate power over Maryland’s governor through intense lobbying efforts on everything from poultry litter incineration to the environmental cases that a university law clinic engages in.

If you buy your chicken or turkey from the grocery store, chances are that you are buying a brand owned by one of the largest companies. Consider seeking out independent poultry farmers who sell direct to consumers instead.

November 13th, 2013

The Bipartisan Fight Against Secret Trade Deals

By Mitch Jones

I’ve written a few times about the problems with the secret negotiations taking place to pass new trade deals that give enormous new power to corporations.

The United States is currently writing new deals with 11 other Pacific Rim countries and with the European Union. These deals will lead to more pressure to frack for shale gas, increase potentially unsafe seafood imports, privatize our municipal water systems and privatize our food safety inspection system.

The key for these deals getting approved is “Fast Track” trade promotion authority. Fast Track is a scheme under which Congress gives up its right to amend trade agreements. Instead, the administration negotiates the deals and Congress can only vote yes or no. If Congress passes Fast Track any chance of making sure new trade deals won’t harm American families, American workers or our air and water is lost.

In the past week strong bipartisan opposition to Fast Track has emerged on Capitol Hill. Four different letters were sent by Members of Congress to President Obama expressing their opposition to Fast Track—in total 185 Members of Congress have spoken up against it, including 158 Democrats and 27 Republicans.

Whether Democrats or Republicans, liberals or conservatives, what these Members realize is that past trade deals haven’t worked out for working families. Wages have been stagnant for the past 40 years, while the profits of the same corporations that will benefit from these deals have grown. Whole industries have been decimated through deals like these. Supporters of these new deals like to tell us that they will be “the gold standard” of trade deals. Well, they may be the gold standard for people sitting around the table in corporate boardrooms, but for people sitting around their kitchen tables they are fool’s gold.

We’ve made a good start in building opposition to Fast Track, but we need to keep working to make sure Congress votes no. Take action today and tell your Member of Congress to “Vote No on Fast Track”.

It’s Pay-to-Play Science as Usual

Money and BooksBy Tim Schwab

Last week, the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) was once again exposed as an industry front group – taking industry money and advocating pro-industry positions while claiming to be an independent, science-based organization. The magazine Mother Jones published a leaked document showing the enormous extent to which the organization is bankrolled by corporations and industry groups, confirming what many environmental and health advocates had always believed about the four-decades-old organization.   

The Council, which claims to be a scientific organization, takes tens of thousands of dollars from big oil and gas interests like Chevron and the American Petroleum Institute and publicly advocates for fracking. It also stridently speaks in favor of genetically engineered (GE) crops, which may have something to do with the money Syngenta and Bayer gives it. Read the full article…

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

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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, 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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