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February 22nd, 2013

Field Notes from the Campaign to Label GE Foods: Washington

This Pike’s Place Market employee makes a good point – this is why Governor Inslee and Washington state legislators need to support the People’s Right to Know Initiative.

By Julia DeGraw

Food & Water Watch is proud to work on the “Label It WA” campaign to pass a genetically engineered food labeling law (I-522) in Washington State. Citizens deserve the right to know what’s in their food and it appears that Washington could lead the way in being the first state to pass a GE food labeling law.

Our field campaign is off to a great start. With our allies including Label It Washington and Seattle Tilth, we are laying the groundwork for victory. We hosted five days of action throughout the state collecting photo petitions from locations like the iconic Pike Place Market, University of Washington Vancouver and the Main Market Coop in Spokane. GE Food Labeling volunteers are having fun as they build this historic campaign in Washington.

On January 31, Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman certified the signatures that will ensure that I-522, “The Peoples right to know Genetically Engineered Food Act” will either be voted into law by the legislature or go to the ballot for public vote this November. On Feb. 14, the state legislature held a public hearing on the initiative, which was well attended with supporters of the initiative. From the hearing, it seems most likely that the legislature will choose to let the initiative go to a popular vote.

Kids in Seattle support I-522 to make GE food labels the law.

With the help of our volunteers we are well on our way to reaching our goal of 5,000 petition signatures calling on state legislators and Governor Inslee to endorse The Peoples Right to Know Initiative. Our Washington Organizers have also garnered endorsements from several Washington businesses and groups such as Dog Mountain Farm, and Lazy R Ranch who will also help pressure the state’s leaders to support labeling GE food in Washington.  We are making great progress but our job is not done. All of our voices need to be heard. If you also agree that we have the right to know what’s in our food please ‘like’ us on our Food & Water Watch—Washington Facebook page to join our campaign to help pass I-522 this November.

100 Bottles of Beer, But Only Two Owners

By Patrick Woodall

Finally, the U.S. Justice Department took some action to slow the rampant consolidation in America’s food system. Well, maybe not food, but close: beer. In January, the Justice Department filed suit to block a merger between the global beer baron that owns Budweiser (Anheuser-Busch InBev) and the largest brewer in Mexico that owns Corona (Grupo Modelo).

But this long overdue action follows decades of Justice’s antitrust cops being asleep at the switch. In 1980, there were 48 big breweries that supplied beer to the whole country and none had more than a quarter of the national market; today there really are only two: Anheuser-Busch InBev and SABMiller.

This consolidation occurred after an eye-popping wave of mergers stretching back to the Reagan administration. The two biggest American brewers were absorbed into the two giants running the industry today during President George W. Bush’s administration.

The beer section now looks a lot like the rest of the grocery store: although there are a lot of brands, most are owned by the big two. AB InBev owns Budweiser, LaBatt, Michelob, Becks, Löwenbräu, Stella Artois, St. Pauli Girl, Bass and a host of others. SABMiller owns Coors, Miller, Blue Moon, Leinenkugel, Pilsner Urquell, Fosters, Grolsch and almost 200 others.

These two companies control 80 percent of sales in the United States, and the 2,000 independent brewers (of the craft beer brands that have not been bought by the big two) control 6 percent of sales. These firms can and have raised prices – since consumers have nowhere to turn, even if they switch brands, their beer dollar is usually still going to AB InBev or SABMiller. And because the beer barons don’t like competitors, they can effectively prevent a lot of independent beers from showing up at the local stores by exerting pressure on wholesalers and distributors.

Sound like the rest of the food system? If the Department of Justice has noticed it’s not good for the beer system, maybe it’s time for them to take a look at the rest of the grocery store.

Beer drinkers have already seen fewer choices and higher prices due to industry consolidation and more mergers will make it worse. The most vibrant part of the beer industry – the thousands of independent, local, craft brewers – are being kept out of retail shelves by monopoly control of the entire supply, distribution and retail system by the big beer barons. And the deal isn’t dead yet: AB InBev has offered to restructure the acquisition to try and make it more palatable to the DOJ, but rearranging the deck chairs on this Titanic merger still gives the company a stranglehold on the beer market. Tell the Attorney General to take a stand against relentless consolidation in the food and beverage industry, and check out our executive director’s book Foodopoly for a more in-depth look at how consolidation has harmed the food system at large.

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February 14th, 2013

EU Horsemeat Scandal: Pie and a Pint Anyone?

By Eve Mitchell

If we’ve learned anything in the past few weeks, it must be that the UK Food Standards Agency’s “If you tell us it’s there, we’ll look for it” approach is not a recipe for food safety.

As far as we can tell now the situation is that Irish authorities, almost by accident when trialling a new protocol, found a good deal of horsemeat in foods processed in Irish facilities, including for export. This led to widespread product recalls, more testing in Ireland and the UK and rapid assurances all round that everything was under control.

Further testing revealed even more adulterated meat, including products labelled beef that tested at 100% horsemeat. The wider the net is cast, the bigger the problem is revealed to be, and it is all too clear we are nowhere near understanding what we have been feeding our kids quite yet. If this is “under control,” we’re in trouble.

Today’s revelation is that horsemeat from the UK exported to France into the human food chain, quite possibly for processing and re-entry to the UK, contained the veterinary drug phenylbutazone, often called Bute, which is unsafe for human consumption. There are now two very serious issues at play: 1) criminality in labelling due to what has all the hallmarks of major international fraud, and 2) criminality in presenting unfit meat for sale. Read the full article…

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February 13th, 2013

The Senator’s Sip

Last night in the Republican Party’s response to President Obama’s State of the Union address, Senator Marco Rubio unintentionally added some dramatic flair to his speech when he paused to reach off-camera for a bottle of Poland Spring water. Now we have a response of our own to the “sip heard around the world.”


Dear Senator Rubio, 

First, what an epic sip! When thirst strikes, Senator Rubio, it strikes regardless of where you are or what you’re doing. In this case it struck a few feet too many to your left during your formal response to the State of the Union. Yikes.

While we’re sure you weren’t intentionally plugging Poland Spring, we’d like to offer a few suggestions for your next on-camera appearance: Read the full article…

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February 12th, 2013

Field Notes from the Campaign to Label GE Foods: Pennsylvania

By Sam Bernhardt

FWW and GMO-Free PA at PASA Conference

FWW’s Sam Bernhardt and members of GMO Free PA coalition at the PASA conference on Feb. 8, 2013.

People across Pennsylvania are fired up about holding big agribusiness accountable and giving consumers access to basic information about the food they are buying and eating through the labeling of genetically engineered (GE) food.

Pennsylvanians care about our farmers and labeling GE food means fighting back against the growing control of corporations like Monsanto, giving power back to farmers around the state. Agriculture is our state’s largest economy, with $5.7 billion in sales each year. And the strength of this industry isn’t just from a few behemoths: our state has over 63,000 farms, growing a wide range of produce. My personal favorite is Kennet Square, the mushroom capital of the world and home to the annual Mushroom Festival. Read the full article…

Field Notes from the Campaign to Label GE Foods: New Mexico

By Eleanor Bravo

GE food labeling rally in New Mexico

On Feb. 7, New Mexicans across the state called their legislators and held rallies to push for the mandatory labeling of GE food. Here’s a crowd of activists in Albuquerque.

After working with allies throughout the state, we were pleased when, in December 2012, New Mexico Senator Peter Wirth pre-filed a proposed amendment to the New Mexico Food Act to require the labeling of genetically engineered food and feed. In just a few weeks, Food & Water Watch and its allies, including La Montañita Co-op, Ole NM, Occupy New Mexico, Edible Santa Fe, Louie Hena of the Tesuque Puebo and Clarissa Duran, member of Seedsavers successfully drummed up grassroots support for Senate Bill 18 with more than 500 petition signatures and an event at the State Capitol Roundhouse widely covered by the press. Read the full article…

February 11th, 2013

Field Notes from the Campaign to Label GE Foods

Let me decide, make GE food labeling the lawBy Anna Ghosh

We all deserve the right to know what’s in our food and to decide for ourselves whether or not to buy and eat it. Concerned citizens have been fighting for protections to make sure their food was healthy for centuries and the fight for transparent food labels has been a major part of that effort.  

Food & Water Watch has been fighting – and winning – campaigns to defend consumers’ right to know what’s in their food since our inception in 2005. As a result of our campaign, Starbucks committed to make its stores rBGH-free in 2007, and in 2008, we successfully fought in nine states to keep rBGH-Free labels on dairy products. In 2009 we won a campaign to get the federal school lunch program to specifically allow schools to use federal dollars to choose rBGH-Free milk for their students.

Since 2010, we’ve collected more than 150,000 signatures opposing the FDA’s approval on AquaBounty’s GE salmon, and in 2011 and 2012, along with our allies Center for Environmental Health, Center for Food Safety, Sum of Us, Corporate Accountability International and CREDO Action, we collected more than half a million signatures from consumers refusing to purchase GE sweet corn and asking Walmart not to sell the biotech corn. We’ve also been involved in collecting and submitting official comments to oppose the approval of every new GE crop that has been considered since we started in 2005. Read the full article…

February 6th, 2013

The Collapse of Europe’s Carbon Market and the Future of American Policy

Common ResourcesBy Mitch Jones

Two recent news items highlight the need for policy makers concerned about climate change – which should be all of them, but sadly it isn’t – to rethink their recent approach to reducing carbon emissions.

When President Obama gave his Inaugural Address on January 21, he highlighted the need to take action on climate change. The mention of climate change, after the issues was largely ignored in the election before Sandy hit, was lauded by environmentalists as a sign that the Obama administration was going to do some to curb emissions. What that something would be was left unsaid.

Just three days after President Obama’s speech, carbon prices in Europe’s cap and trade system plummeted to an all time low, causing speculation that the trading regime stands on the verge of collapse. My colleague Geert de Cock wrote a post last week that explains how and why the carbon market in European has failed. Food & Water Europe has joined with other organizations across Europe calling for the EU trading system to be abolished.

The collapse of the EU system – basically a pay-to-pollute scheme – shows that as we move forward to combat climate change in the US we cannot return to the policies put forward as recently as 2009. In that year the US House passed a cap and trade bill that would have created a nationwide carbon market. And the initial news is that the administration is looking at actually reducing emissions, rather than hoping a system that hasn’t worked anywhere, will suddenly start working.

We need to address climate change now, but not by adopting pay-to-pollute deregulatory schemes cooked up in right wing think tanks. We need to truly reduce emissions, building on successes like the increase in fuel efficiency standards implemented by the Obama administration, and committing to ending our addiction to dirty fossil fuels.

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February 4th, 2013

Taking a Stand Against Mystery Meat

By Anna Ghosh

Food labels are a straightforward and fundamental concept but consumer advocates and concerned citizens have been fighting for honest, transparent labels about their food for centuries, and the fight rages on. Food & Water Watch and its allies are fighting hard across the country to make the labeling of genetically engineered (GE) food the law. However, there’s another important label that is law, but its fate is hanging in the balance – Country of Origin Labeling, or COOL. After more than a decade of hard work, the COOL rule was included in the 2008 Farm Bill and has had overwhelming support from both consumers and U.S. farmers, despite repeated attempts by the food industry to kill the program and delay its implementation.

Today, because of COOL, consumers know more about where their food comes from, although there are still too many loopholes and limitations. COOL  applies to fresh seafood, cuts of meat (but not processed meats like sausage), fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables, and several kinds of nuts. But even before the first COOL label was slapped on a steak or pork chop, the meatpacking industry sought to unravel COOL by challenging theses commonsense consumer labels at the World Trade Organization as an illegal barrier to international trade Read the full article…

February 1st, 2013

Monsanto’s Love Affair with Synthetic Biology: A Match Made in Agricultural Hell

By Genna Reed

This week, agribusiness giant Monsanto continued its streak of acquisitions and mergers by acquiring Agradis—a company started by Synthetic Genomics Inc. (SGI) founder, J. Craig Venter, and dedicated to cultivating microorganisms that can be used to “improve agricultural productivity.” But this marriage between the leading synthetic biology company and one of the biggest agribusinesses in the U.S. could be catastrophic, empowering two major corporations to create synthetic life in the name of advancing industrial agriculture consolidated on too few hands.

Synthetic Genomics Inc. specializes in an extreme form of genetic engineering called synthetic biology. Instead of transferring genetic material from one species to another, synthetic bioengineering places new, synthetically created genetic material into microorganisms. SGI plans on using its franken-microbes for all sorts of applications including biofuels, renewable chemicals, vaccines and coal bed methane recovery. This technology is even newer than traditional genetic engineering, so it is still unclear how it would be proven safe and regulated. Today’s transgenic crops are at least permitted and commercialized through a three-agency regulatory process, albeit flawed. But these organisms would be tossed into a quagmire of federal regulatory programs involving at least seven agencies including the USDA, FDA, EPA, DOT, NIH, CDC and even the FBI due to biosecurity risks; making it more likely to fall through the bureaucratic cracks. Read the full article…

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