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February 26th, 2013

Sequestration: Cutting Off Limbs Won’t Stop the Bleeding

The Ides of March – March 15 – marks the day in 44 B.C. that Julius Caesar was stabbed to death in the Roman Senate. This year in the United States, If Congress and the President reach the First of March without a budget compromise, the state of our economy could become just as bloody and the federal agencies that protect our food and water could be crippled beyond repair.

These severe cuts being threatened are part of a process that Congress invented called “sequestration,” which comes after several years of political show-downs including a committee that was anything but super, an imaginary “fiscal cliff” and deadline after deadline being pushed back. Sequestration was supposed to be the ominous bitter pill that we would never actually need because just the sheer threat of it would force both parties to behave and do their job. But here we are – about 72 hours away from 8 percent across-the-board budget cuts in many departments of the federal government. You don’t need to look much further than the front page of your local newspaper (no matter where you live) to see how these cuts will impact all of us, but particularly the most vulnerable members of society and the middle class. Read the full article…

Ag Certainty: Making Certain that the Bay Remains Polluted

By Michele Merkel

Despite all the rhetoric about how important it is to have an unpolluted and healthy Chesapeake Bay, sometimes you just have to wonder if anyone is really taking this Bay cleanup issue seriously. We’ve known for years now that agricultural operations in the Bay states are the number one source of nutrients and sediments to the watershed, yet neither state nor federal regulators have shown any willingness to do any of the things – permitting, compliance mandates and enforcement – that have worked well with so many other polluting industries.

While power plants, paper mills, sewage treatment plants and manufacturing plants have largely been cleaned up through the implementation of regulatory “stick” approaches, the chosen method of ag pollution abatement comprises of a series of unsuccessful, voluntary “carrot” approaches, including manure transport programs and nutrient trading.

After decades of failure, we’re about to reach new depths of futility with a bill, largely written by Maryland’s own Department of Agriculture, which was introduced this legislative session in Maryland by Senator Thomas Middleton. Middleton’s “Ag Certainty” bill will not only make certain that these highly polluting operations continue to pollute with officially sanctioned immunity, but it will also openly undermine the current Bay cleanup plan – the Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL).

Ag Certainty refers to a program under which agricultural operations that certify that they meet pollution reduction goals or certain pollution-control requirements will be deemed in compliance with existing and/or future water quality regulations and standards. In short, it’s a blanket immunity program designed to offer Big Ag a continuing free ride from mandatory pollution control and enforcement. Even worse, it ties regulator’s hands when it comes to implementing more protective water quality approaches when needed. Read the full article…

February 25th, 2013

Welcome to Frackademia

By: Alison K. Grassfracking for natural gas

Recently, the public got wind of the University of Tennessee’s intentions to open up over 8,000 acres of publicly owned land in the university’s Cumberland Research Forest for a fracking research project. On January 31, 2013, the University requested a 30-day extension to the state panel responsible for approving the research proposal after concerned local residents demanded more information, time and transparency.

Read the full article…

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February 22nd, 2013

Field Notes From the Campaign to Label GE Foods: Ohio

FWW’s Alison Auciello, left, and Ariel Miller speak about the importance of GE food labels at the annual Ohio Ecological Food & Farm Association (OEFFA) conference.

By Alison Auciello

There’s been a flurry of activity in the Ohio “Let Me Decide” campaign. From Cleveland to Granville to Cincinnati, Ohioans are pushing for nationwide labeling of genetically engineered (GE) foods. 

On Feb. 15, we met with Cleveland Councilmembers Joseph Cimperman and Matt Zone, asking them to sponsor a resolution to pressure the Food and Drug Administration, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and federal legislators to mandate labeling of GE foods. The council members are excited to be working with us and are committed to bringing the resolution before the Cleveland City Council. Should Cleveland pass the resolution, they will become the second city in Ohio to call for GE labeling, following the lead of Cincinnati, which unanimously passed the resolution last November. We will continue our efforts to pass similar resolutions in Ohio and call on Senator Sherrod Brown to work toward national legislation for GE labeling.

On Feb. 16 and 17, we attended the 34th annual Ohio Ecological Food & Farm Association (OEFFA) conference; Ohio’s largest on sustainable food and farming. We were invited to present a workshop on the campaign to label genetically engineered foods in collaboration with Ariel Miller, an activist working with OEFFA to organize support for a national mandate to label GE food. Our presentation included an overview of genetically engineered foods – the health and environmental impacts of GE foods, myths perpetuated by biotech companies like Monsanto – and the campaign to label GE food.

Judging from the questions Ariel and I got, the farmers and good food advocates are not only supportive of GE labeling, they want to make sure their farms aren’t contaminated with genetic material from neighboring farms. Contamination is a big concern for farmers here in Ohio and across the country, who fear Monsanto could potentially bring lawsuits against them for the possession of their patented genetic material. OEFFA has joined in the lawsuit to protect farmers against this type of intimidation from Big Agribusiness.

Throughout the conference, workshop speakers tied in their own issues to the problems presented by GE foods to the work they are doing, from sustainable farming practices to bringing whole, healthy foods from farm to plate. Farmers, advocates, and consumers alike vowed to keep GE foods off their farms, out of their businesses, and off their plates. A Food & Water Watch partner on food issues and fracking, Mo Tressler from All Things Food in Bryan, OH, stressed in her workshop how important the connection is between the farmer and the consumer. From her perspective, not only should we know what’s in our food, we should know and support our local farmers.

Warren Taylor, of Snowville Creamery, calls for nothing short of a revolution to take on the corporate control of our food system and democracy. He says that if we want to change the policies that perpetuate corporate subversion of our democracy, we’ve all got to throw our hat in the ring! How will you get involved? Follow Food & Water Watch’s Ohio on Facebook and join us in our campaign to make GE labeling the law.

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

Assembly Members Linda Stender and David Wolfe with GE Labeling activists (FWW’s Jim Walsh back left) at the New Jersey Statehouse

By Seth Gladstone

Of the many busy days at the New Jersey Statehouse in Trenton, February 21 stood out. Legislators and hurried staffers weaved through the crowded hallways from committee hearings to caucus meetings and back. Lobbyists and reporters moved from hushed conversations to new hushed conversations. And activists devoted to causes ranging from gun control to education reform to Lou Gehrig’s Disease gathered in meeting rooms and offices to press their cases with lawmakers.

But perhaps the broadest and most diverse group of activists at the Statehouse that day were gathered for a single, united cause: the launch of a statewide campaign seeking legislation requiring the labeling of genetically engineered (GE) foods in New Jersey. Along with Food & Water Watch, a mix of activists and advocates from environmental, labor, health, student, farming, faith and business organizations were joined to tell legislators and the press, “Let me decide” when it comes to GE foods.

“Over the years, consumers have fought for labeling of calorie counts, fat content and ingredients lists so they can make smarter, healthier choices for their families,” said Jim Walsh, Food & Water Watch’s Eastern Region Director. “But as food production technology evolves, so should our food labeling. Consumers have a right to know which products on market shelves contain genetically engineered ingredients. In short, let us decide.”

Amanda Nesheiwat, a student leader with NJ Sustainable Collegiate Partners, echoed Jim’s sentiment. “Just as we label food with allergy warnings, we should label GE foods. The health risks tied to GE foods are reason enough not to give corporations the power to dictate the decisions that consumers should be able to make on their own,” she said.

 Joining the activists at the Statehouse were two state legislators representing two different political parties, both pledging their commitment to do all they could among their peers to move GE labeling legislation in the coming weeks and months. Assembly Members David Wolfe (R) and Linda Stender (D) both spoke passionately about their own personal motivations – family health, constituency health, and community health – for working hard to make a GE labeling law a reality in New Jersey.

 On a busy day at the Statehouse, optimism ran strong that New Jersey might become the first state in the union to label genetically engineered foods. The campaign marches on.

Field Notes from the Campaign to Label GE Foods: Connecticut

By Nisha Swinton

Supporters of the “Right to Know GMO CT” coalition united at the Legislative Office Building on Feb. 8 to ask the Connecticut General Assembly a candid question: Are you standing up for consumers’ rights to know whether or not the food they eat and feed their families with has been genetically engineered?
 
Food & Water Watch is excited to support the great work and grassroots power that GMO-free CT has initiated to pass groundbreaking legislation to label genetically engineered foods in Connecticut. The growing Connecticut Coalition includes GMO-Free CT, NOFA CT, Sierra Club, Food & Water Watch and many others – over 100 local, state and national organizations who are committed to ensuring Connecticut consumers know whether their foods are genetically engineered. Over the past few weeks alone, 109 businesses and organizations across the state have joined the coalition, 180 residents have attended campaign action meetings, and grassroots leaders have scheduled over 20 educational events around the state (for a full events listings visit: see www.gmofreect.org).

The vast majority of processed foods contain GE ingredients, which are largely untested, unlabeled, and potentially unsafe. Unfortunately, far too many American consumers remain clueless about whether or not their food is genetically engineered, but Connecticut residents are sharp, informed, driven and refuse to sit back in silence when it comes to demanding that GE food be labeled. Perhaps the most critical action we can take right now towards creating and sustaining an honest food system is to label GE foods. Once these foods are labeled, all consumers – regardless of where their live or how much money they make – become empowered with the knowledge to choose safety over processed chemicals.
 
“As someone who has lived in the Hartford area all of my life and worked as a reporter for several of the state’s newspapers, I am keenly aware of the sophistication and intelligence among Connecticut residents. I have faith that business owners, residents and coalition allies will not stop fighting until they know for certain that GE food labeling will become a way of life,” says Joanna Smiley, Food & Water Watch Public Relations Volunteer.
 
Rep. Phil Miller, D-Essex, and Diana Urban, D- North Stonington, in separate committees, introduced a bill to label GE foods, which is currently in the revisor’s office. Next steps and the exact timeframe is still to be determined, but we will keep building public support and awareness for the bill.

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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