Blogs | Food & Water Watch - Part 30
Victory! Cleveland passes resolution against antibiotic misuse on factory farms. more wins »


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September 5th, 2013

For the USDA, Chicken is Just Politics

By Wenonah Hauter

Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter

When you purchase chicken at the grocery store, you might have the perfectly reasonable expectation that the poultry you are buying was raised on an American farm, and that it was inspected by a government official. Well, lower your expectations: if the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) gets its way, poultry inspections will be left to the very same people that process the poultry—corporations—in a privatized poultry inspection scheme that is bad for workers and food safety. Furthermore, the agency appears to be paving the way for processed poultry imports from none other than China, the birthplace of several egregious food safety scandals.

First, the proposed “Modernization of Poultry Inspection” rule would remove most government food safety inspectors from the poultry slaughter lines and replace them with untrained company employees, allowing processing companies to police themselves. It would also permit chicken plants to increase line speeds to 175 birds-per-minute. The government has, unsurprisingly, received hundreds of thousands of comments from consumers opposed to this change. It is such a bad idea that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a scathing analysis of the pilot project that USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is using to justify its proposal to privatize poultry inspection in some 200 poultry plants across the country.

The GAO report, requested by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), chair of the Senate Agriculture Subcommittee on Livestock, Dairy, Poultry, Marketing and Agriculture Security, evaluated 20 young chicken and five young turkey plants and reveals gaping methodological flaws in the pilot project. The GAO also questioned how FSIS could use its flawed evaluation of the pilot project as the basis to propose expanding the privatized inspection model across the entire poultry industry. Read the full article…

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Why Dipping Apples in Honey for Rosh Hashanah Could Be Different Next Year

By Rich Bindell

It’s a bit of a strange holiday season coming up for American Jews. For starters, due to the unique timing of the Hebrew and Gregorian calendars, the first night of Chanukah falls right on Thanksgiving. (You’ve heard about the Menurkey, right?) But first, immediately after trying to squeeze the last bits of summer out of Labor Day weekend, and in the middle of dealing with various and sundry back-to-school traditions, we also find ourselves suddenly staring Rosh Hashanah straight in the face, as it arrived awfully early this year.

Last night at sundown, Jewish people around the world began observing the holiday with my favorite tradition—one that honors my minimum level of participation: the dipping of apples in honey. This symbolizes the wish we have for a sweet, healthy and joyous new year for everyone. But dipping my apples last night had me a bit concerned for next year…

By next year, something could be sadly amiss with our annual tradition. Our apples could be genetically engineered and our honey could be somewhat endangered.

The biotech industry has been aggressively pushing for genetically engineered everything lately, and that includes apples. In an effort to reduce the chances of getting a bruised or brown apple, biotech has introduced a GE apple, referred to as the Arctic apple. Read the full article…

August 28th, 2013

Willful Ignorance

Meet Scott Edwards of Food & Water WatchBy Scott Edwards

Today Food & Water Watch, represented by Columbia University’s School of Law Environmental Law Clinic, filed a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency for abandoning a proposed rule (the 308 Rule) that would have finally given the agency some basic information about one of the nation’s largest ongoing sources of pollution: factory farms, or Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). In October 2011, EPA proposed collecting data to find out basic information about these industrial livestock facilities including where they are located, who owns and operates them, and how many animals they contain. In July 2012, EPA caved to pressure from the livestock industry and decided not to collect the data after all. EPA claims it will use “existing sources” for the data, but as Food & Water Watch’s analysis of internal EPA documents demonstrates, EPA can’t back up that claim. EPA simply can’t regulate CAFOs effectively if they don’t even know how many there are and how they operate. When it comes to factory farms, EPA embraces an “ignorance is bliss” approach that continues to bring anything but bliss to our waterways and the many communities that suffer daily from the many harmful impacts of this highly polluting industry.

EPA acknowledges in the rule itself that “[a]gricultural operations, including CAFOs, now account for a significant share of the remaining water pollution problems in the United States.” And, yet, CAFOs remain exempt from the basic standards of accountability faced by other polluting industries. The kind of information that EPA was supposed to collect with the 308 Rule is the same type of information that is readily available for every other polluting industry in the country – power plants, chemical manufacturers, wastewater treatment facilities.  But for the past 40 years, the meat industry has been extremely successful in blocking all attempts to hold these facilities accountable for any of the myriad of environmental and public health harms they cause.

The factory farm industry claims that CAFOs are private residences and that public scrutiny violates operators’ “privacy.” But running any business out of a person’s home—like daycares, for instance—is no excuse for hiding from regulation, especially when it protects society and the communities in which they operate. The meat industry’s plea for farmer privacy is really just a strong-armed end-run to keep the EPA from doing its job—regulating pollution.

How pitiful is EPA’s grasp on the factory farm industry? Read the full article…

August 27th, 2013

Beef or Bull? What Zilmax Teaches Us About Industry Science

By Tim Schwab

Over the last few weeks, the largest corporate meatpackers shocked beef markets by announcing they would no longer accept cattle treated with the widely used drug Zilmax. First Tyson, then Cargill jettisoned the growth-promoter, citing animal health concerns, including cattle arriving at slaughterhouses unable to walk. Approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2006 but banned in China and the EU based on human health concerns, Zilmax is now being voluntarily pulled from the market by its manufacturer, Merck.

But before suspending sales of Zilmax, Merck vigorously defended the drug, citing favorable research by “University experts.”  Merck’s public relations campaign fails to mention that some of these experts are paid consultants, whose research projects are funded and even co-authored by makers of Zilmax. Read the full article…

On a Trip to Fracking Country, Hearing of Hardships Firsthand

Fracking victim Ray Kemble

By Jill Pape

On a recent road trip to Pennsylvania, I saw a sight that was both familiar and unfamiliar: fracking rigs.  Though I’d been working for the past year with Food & Water Watch and had seen countless images of fracking, it was my first time seeing the drilling process up close and personal. And out there in Pennsylvania, the sight of drilling rigs was hard to miss. Driving down the main road in Dimock, Pennsylvania, we saw well pads every few hundred feet — many just a stone’s throw away from neighborhood homes.

But beyond the familiar drilling rigs, much of what I saw in Dimock was a huge surprise. Where I’d expected to come across outraged citizens and families complaining about tainted water, what I encountered instead was chilling: silence.

Where were all the families I’d seen in Gasland, lighting their tap water on fire and speaking out about their fracking-induced migraines and mystery rashes? As we passed home after home of suspiciously quiet residents, the truth began to surface. Read the full article…

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Cows with TB Must Die (but the Government can Sell the Meat to Hospitals at a Profit?)

By Eve Mitchell

You think you’ve heard everything. Then you get a surprise.

Back in June a story broke here in the UK that our Government sells the meat from cattle culled for testing positive for bovine tuberculosis to feed people in schools, hospitals and the military. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) does not tell buyers the meat came from TB infected animals, and it turns a tidy profit from the trade (about £10 million/US$15.5 million a year). In a world full of industrial food “yuck factor”, this is more like a “Wow. Really?” factor.

For readers unfamiliar with the emotional tinderbox this sets alight, the UK is gripped in a row over bovine TB that some argue could bring down the government. Badgers are said to spread the disease to cattle and vice versa. Farmers must test their animals regularly for TB, the law requires that all animals that react to the test must be shot, and positive test results affect a farmer’s ability to sell or move remaining cattle before a period of clear test results expires. Defra policy is to pilot two badger culls to see if this reduces TB in cattle – an extraordinary measure given badgers are a protected species. The culls began during the night of 27 August, but controversy 

rages over whether it will work and not just spread frightened infectious badgers further afield, what baseline data are being used to determine success, if it is even necessary or economically efficient, why other options like vaccines are not deployed instead and why we are not also viewing this as farmed cattle infecting wild, protected badgers. Read the full article…

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August 26th, 2013

Golden Rice Still Won’t Solve the Political Problem of Hunger and Poverty

By Patty Lovera

Every industry has its go-to PR strategies, the ones they revisit periodically out of habit or when they hit a rough patch in the news. For the biotechnology industry, their old reliable is how genetically engineered crops are going to solve some pressing social problem, like curing disease or ending global hunger. Their favorite example is golden rice. And this weekend, the New York Times ran a piece that rehashed the same old debate, wondering how anyone could possibly be opposed to this miracle crop that will supposedly save poor people around the world from vitamin A deficiency.

Unfortunately, the piece missed the point that sustainable agriculture and peasant farmer advocates have been making for years: that unleashing an unproven, unwanted technology into the food systems of developing countries won’t solve the political issues that create hunger.

We wrote about the questions that remain about whether golden rice can actually do what its supporters claim back in March, when NPR ran a similar piece about the next generation of golden rice. That piece summed it up well:

Development agencies, foundations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and biotech companies are investing in uncertain technological solutions to a problem that needs a more practical solution. Instead, Charles [the author of the NPR piece] should have examined how providing low-income rural families with the capacity to grow crops that provide balanced nutrition is a more effective, practical approach than asking them to spend more money for seeds that may not have better yield or bear more nutritious food. But perhaps he was too mesmerized by the so-called beauty of the golden rice to see past its false promises.

To read the entire blog, click here.

August 20th, 2013

It’s time to clean house at FSIS

By Tony Corbo

I am supposed to be on vacation this week. I have been pulling weeds from my vegetable garden – not using Round Up or Agent Orange or Napalm. Pulling weeds can be cathartic, but an article that appeared in the August 18, 2013, New York Times entitled, “Shipping Continued After Computer Inspection System Failed at Meat Plants,” pulled me away from my peaceful gardening and prompted me to write this blog. I have known about the dysfunctional computer system featured in this article for quite some time and have held back on railing against it, but this Times article is the last straw. Now I’m going to tell you the rest of the story that the Times left out.

I have known that the Public Health Information System (PHIS) has not worked since USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) turned on the new computer system for its meat and poultry inspectors in April 2011. Billed as an upgrade to the old IT system that inspectors had been using, web-based PHIS would offer the inspectors the ability to record data in the new system even when there was no access to the internet. Read the full article…

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August 19th, 2013

The Top 7 Things You Can Do to Protect Our Nation’s Treasured Lands

By Mark Schlosberg 

If you’ve been following our blog closely over the past few weeks, you know that the Obama Administration is pursuing plans to drill and frack for oil and natural gas on federal lands. But these lands are our lands, and include many treasured national parks that would be severely affected by nearby fracking activity. Moreover, although President Obama is considering moving ahead with fracking in order to combat climate change, drilling and fracking for oil and gas will actually exacerbate that problem. 

Read the full article…

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Pesticide Drift and Real-Life Harms

airplane spraying pesticideBy Genna Reed

Pesticide drift is a common occurrence and is the simple result of wind carrying airborne chemicals onto unintended areas, like a neighbor’s farm. The impacts of drift can be extremely profound.

 Indiana Public Media dove into the issue in a three-part report (Part I, Part II, Part III) on the risks involved with drift including financial harm from crop yield loss, health impacts associated with pesticide drift exposure and how the pipeline of genetically engineered crops able to withstand spraying with volatile herbicides (like 2,4-D and dicamba) will only worsen the drift problem. Read the full article…

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