November 27th, 2013
By Rich Bindell
The Thanksgiving table connects folks with a diverse array of opinions, even—and sometimes especially—within your own family. When conversations turn to politics, sports, religion, or entertainment, even the most patient and level-headed debater can become unhinged if their views are challenged by a family member regarding a controversial topic. Before you know it, you feel like you’re twelve years old again, just trying to get some respect. I know the feeling. My family loves a good debate, and my brother-in-law works for an oil and gas company.
Since long before I began working for Food & Water Watch, I’ve participated in many a discussion where my views on the importance of protecting shared natural resources have butted against those of a friend or relative. But none of those situations were as challenging, or even as rewarding, as when my brother-in-law and I engage in a conversation about fracking in front of our family.
Read the full article…
November 26th, 2013
Food & Water Watch Assistant Director Patty Lovera
By Patty Lovera
In what seems to be a new rite of fall, Farm Bill watchers are once again wondering how and if Congress can finish this bill before the end of the year. At the end of last week, talks between the leadership of the House and Senate Agriculture committees broke down, which means finishing the Farm Bill using the normal process in 2013 would be nothing short of a winter holiday miracle.
To recap: The 2008 Farm Bill expired on October 1, 2012. Then on New Year’s Day, a 9-month farm bill extension was included in the bill that was passed to fix the supposed “fiscal cliff.” But the extension didn’t cover everything that was in the 2008 bill, and left dozens of programs for sustainable and organic agriculture, beginning farmers and disaster assistance behind. And on October 1 of this year, that short-term extension expired too.
So once again, we are finishing the year with an expired Farm Bill, waiting to see if Congress can finish the process and pass a new bill before “permanent law” (from the 1930’s and 1940’s) kicks in and affects the price of farm commodities like milk. Read the full article…
By Briana Kerensky
While Thanksgiving always falls on the last Thursday of November, Hanukkah moves around every year. For the first time since 1888, it just so happens to start the night before Thanksgiving. Since the holidays won’t collide again for another 79,000 years, my family is having a very special “Thanksgivukkah,” to commemorate the occasion.
The two holidays couldn’t be any more different. On Thanksgiving, Americans celebrate the fall harvest and give thanks for another year of health and loving family. On Hanukkah, the Jewish community commemorates the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem after it was ransacked and defiled. This is done by lighting candles or oil every night for eight nights in a menorah, or ritual candelabra. It’s also traditional to eat foods fried in oil, like potato pancakes (latkes).
The one thing Thanksgiving and Hanukkah have in common is an emphasis on the dinner table. Both holidays are steeped in delicious traditions, and this year, both are steeped in trouble from the biotech industry. Read the full article…
The EPA Has the Authority to Track and Regulate Factory Farms. So Why Do We Have to Remind Them?
By Sarah Borron
Earlier this year, F&WW released a report detailing how poorly the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) tracks and regulates concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). In fact, the situation is so bad that Food & Water Watch is suing EPA to force them to count CAFOs accurately and share that list with the public, just as it does for other polluting industries. In our review of hundreds of internal EPA documents, we found another story to tell.
Why is EPA explaining itself to the livestock industry…
When EPA backed down from an attempt to track CAFOs in the summer of 2012 (by abandoning the “CAFO Reporting Rule” it was writing), environmental advocates wanted to get to the bottom of it. Three environmental organizations filed Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests asking for all the documents relating to the proposed and withdrawn regulation. The hundreds of documents EPA gave in reply included lists of CAFO names, locations, and other basic information provided to the agency by state governments in lieu of a comprehensive CAFO Reporting Rule. Such information was largely already public and represented a portion of what needed to be collected had EPA finalized the rule.
Yet, EPA made a point to give the livestock industry a special heads up about releasing this basic information under FOIA.
An e-mail EPA sent to several livestock industry organizations notifying them about something that should have been routine: that information that was already largely in the public domain was released as part of a FOIA request as required by law. The Senior Policy Advisor explained, “I have been reaching out to you and your colleagues as soon as I became aware of this situation…” She offered to (and later did) set up special meetings and conference calls and provided copies of the FOIA records to the livestock groups, and EPA staff even provided hand-delivered CDs when links to records didn’t work. Read the full article…
By Kate Fried
A water main break in Washington, D.C.
If you drank a glass of water, brushed your teeth or made a meal for your family today, chances are that you were able to do so thanks in part to a crucial program. The Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds (SRFs) are state-administered programs that provide the primary source of federal money to communities needed to ensure the upkeep of critical drinking and wastewater systems. But funding for the SRFs has eroded in recent years, and Congress is now considering a proposal that if passed, will undermine the integrity of these important cash flow systems even more.
Tacked onto a big water infrastructure bill is an industry-backed program known as the Water Infrastructure Financing Innovation Act (WIFIA). It would give low-interest loans primarily to private water corporations to finance certain projects. If approved, WIFIA will make it harder for smaller communities to maintain and upgrade their drinking water and wastewater systems.
It may strike one as odd that a bill with the words “water” and “innovation” in its title would cripple local water systems. That’s because WIFIA is actually a wolf in sheep’s clothing. WIFIA would, in effect, compete with the SRFs for federal resources and place inappropriate pressure on local governments to privatize their drinking water and wastewater systems.
As we’ve seen time and again, private companies are not responsible stewards of our essential water systems. When profits are an entity’s main motivation, integrity of service goes down the drain. That’s why cities like St. Louis, Missouri and Fort Worth, Texas are just two of many that have recently opted to keep their water systems under public control. Read the full article…
November 25th, 2013
By Wenonah Hauter
Thank you for all that you do!
This year has been a whirlwind for me. After finishing my book, Foodopoly, I’ve been spending most of my time on the road, speaking to communities all across the country about the corporate control of our food system. And let me be honest, it’s tiring work.
But whenever it seems like I’m too exhausted to make it on to the next leg, I have a conversation with one of you. You’re the reason I’m doing this work, and I can’t thank you enough for standing with us.
This time of year always gets me thinking about the things that are most important in life — the things that Food & Water Watch is fighting to protect, with your help. Today, we’re thankful for livable communities, clean water and safe, wholesome food — and we believe that these things are for everyone, not just a few. Read the full article…
November 22nd, 2013
By Briana Kerensky
Image courtesy United Nations Development Group
Over the past few years, hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has been presented by the oil and gas industry as a silver bullet to our economic woes. According to the industry, the mining of unconventional shale gas and oil deposits is supposed to flood our communities with money, jobs, and other development opportunities. But the truth is this: fracking comes with a price. This dangerous, harmful practice puts our health, our environment, and the stability of our communities on the line.
The UN is currently engaged in a multi-year process to develop Sustainable Development Goals that will chart a common global path towards merging economic development with environmental stability. How can people around the world the chance to succeed and improve their lives, without furthering damage to our planet and communities? Some states are moving ahead quickly with fracking in the hopes of achieving energy independence from imported oil and gas. Meanwhile, other states, such as France, have banned the practice, believing that it cannot be done without resulting in the risks mentioned above.
This Monday, the UN will address the role of fracking in the organization’s Sustainable Development Goals in an event called “Sustainable Energy for All: Can a Just Solution Include Hydraulic Fracturing?” Speakers at the event include Ambassador Stephan Tafrov, Permanent Representative of Bulgaria to the UN; François Gave, Permanent Mission of France to the UN; and Food & Water Watch’s own Senior Organizer for New York, Eric Weltman.
It is the goal of Food & Water Watch to work with the UN and help people understand that fracking is a short-term solution to energy consumption, with long lasting, disastrous results. Sustainable energy is a goal that we can achieve. But fracking is hardly the answer.
By Genna Reed
Earlier this month, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that they would effectively ban the use of partially hydrogenated oils, also known as trans fats. These types of oils are used in many processed foods, including desserts, microwavable popcorn, frozen pizza and margarine, and have been linked to health risks including higher cholesterol and heart disease. In 2006, FDA required that food companies include trans fats in nutrition labels, which caused a reduction in the use of trans fats.
The American Soybean Association (ASA)— the trade group affiliated with all six of the biggest biotech companies (Monsanto, DuPont, Dow, BASF, Bayer and Syngenta)— immediately questioned FDA’s move to phase out trans fats, worrying that food companies would replace soybean oil with oils containing saturated fats like palm and coconut oil. ASA doesn’t want the FDA to move too quickly and chip away at the soybean industry’s market share before production of new varieties of genetically engineered soybeans with lower saturated fat can ramp up. It’s banking on increased production of Dupont Pioneer and Monsanto’s GE “Plenish” and “Vistive” soybeans, both engineered to be lower in saturated fat. Read the full article…
By Kate Fried
Lawmakers worked overtime this week to justify the passage of a trio of bills in the House of Representatives that if passed, would increase fracking. With public opinion on fracking shifting from “huh?” to “meh,” Congress remains clumsily out of step with the people whose interests they were elected to serve.
Of course, this isn’t so surprising, given the latest set of revelations that the oil and gas industry is bankrolling many members of Congress. According to Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), oil and gas industry contributions to Congress rose 180 percent, to $12 million, in the last election cycle.
While the bills passed in the House this week weren’t introduced by any of the top ten recipients of oil and gas industry contributions, it’s not hard to imagine that that these sponsors may have recently had visions of checks from Chevron or Chesapeake Energy dancing in their heads.
Read the full article…
November 21st, 2013
Putting a price on nature will not save it.
By Elizabeth Nussbaumer
If you lie awake at night wondering what can be done to better manage the environment, the latest and greatest economic solution for doing so — natural capital accounting — might give you nightmares.
This week in Edinburgh, Scotland, corporate and financial interests will meet for the World Forum on Natural Capital to discuss this latest green washing initiative. Featured participants include representatives from the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), Nestle, The Coca-Cola Company, KPMG, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Standard & Poor’s, Veolia Water, the World Bank Group and several other major international corporations and organizations.
The claim behind natural capital accounting goes something like this: nature is destroyed because it does not have a monetary value, and companies, countries and financial actors do not know its worth and cannot account for it in their activities. By assigning a price to nature, these actors can better see its value and then account for what gets destroyed via inputs to production or other economic processes. Thus, nature and its use can be accounted for as inputs and outputs to a country’s GDP or a company’s bottom line, and ultimately be sustainably managed. In other words, nature will be better managed by giving control of it to the very actors destroying it. Read the full article…