Blogs | Food & Water Watch - Part 5
Victory! Farm Bureau case challenging EPA’s right to share factory farm data dismissed. more wins »
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May 26th, 2015

Fast Track Update: Senate Bill Limps Across Finish Line and on to the House

By Patrick Woodall

Fast Track, LaborThe Senate ultimately passed Fast Track after a surprisingly contentious and difficult week of trade debate late last Friday night. The big business-Republican leadership-Obama administration alliance had hoped to generate momentum for Fast Track by scoring a swift and easy victory in the Senate.

Although Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell promised a “robust” amendment process, debate over amendments was cut off and only a few amendments were even considered. The Senate defeated important amendments to increase funding for assistance to workers who lost their jobs because of trade (offered by Senator Brown, D-Ohio), to prevent other countries from manipulating their currency and artificially increasing their exports (Senators Debbie Stabenow, D-Michigan, and Rob Portman, R-Ohio) and to prevent the corporate lawsuits against consumer and environmental protections (Heidi Heitkamp, D-North Dakota, and Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts).

But the Fast Track juggernaut fizzled in the Senate as stalwart proponents of a fairer global trade system highlighted the flaws for workers, the environment and consumers in the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Fast Track limped across the Senate finish line after bitter debate between staunch opposition and shameless apologists for the corporate trade agenda.

Ultimately Fast Track passed 62-37, with fourteen Democratic Senators voting yes (Senator Ben Cardin (D-Maryland) joined the bakers dozen corporate trade backers that joined the Republican leadership to begin the debate) and five Republican Senators voting against Fast Track with the majority of Democrats (Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama) and Richard Shelby (R-Alabama)).

It was never in doubt that Fast Track would pass the Senate. The Fast Track proponents hoped an easy victory in the Senate would build a sense of inevitability as the measure moved to the House of Representatives. Instead, Fast Track garnered fewer votes than 2002 or 1991 and the anemic victory further deflated the hoped for momentum. In June, the legislation heads to the House where the Senate legislative hiccups will run headlong into stiff and bipartisan opposition that will derail Fast Track.

But only grassroots pressure can ensure our congressional representatives stand up to the pressure from corporate lobbyists and Washington insiders and vote no on Fast Track.

Contact your Representative right now and tell them to vote NO on Fast Track!

 

 

 

May 22nd, 2015

Iowa State University goes Bananas over GMOs

By Tim Schwab University_Building

When news circulated that the first people to consume a new GMO banana would be student guinea pigs at Iowa State University, the university community had questions.

A recently released, redacted copy of the initial “informed consent document” that ISU lead researcher Wendy White gave to students doesn’t appear to mention that the GMO banana has never been approved as safe to eat by any regulatory agency anywhere in the world, that there have been documented human health risks associated with some GMOs or that there is no consensus on the safety of GMOs.

After public controversy swelled around the feeding trial, ISU’s ethical review boards worked with White to revamp the informed consent document to include some additional “bulleted points” about GMOs. What appears to have resulted is a list of one-sided science, misleading citations and industry-funded research, not an honest, accurate, impartial assessment of the potential risks associated with the GMO banana.

From what we can see in these redacted documents, it’s hard to believe that cash-strapped students, tempted by the $900 stipend, have all the information they need about the risks associated with eating the GMO banana. In December of last year, Food & Water Watch joined more than 100 groups on a letter sent to Iowa State University, questioning the ethical dimensions of the university’s experiment with student subjects and highlighting fundamental scientific flaws in the research.

ISU has quietly delayed the research—but only because of quality problems with the bananas it had shipped to ISU—and refused to engage with stakeholders or answer basic questions about the research and how it fits into the mission of a public university. University administrators, who have rebuffed good-faith invitations from concerned ISU students and faculty, recently penned an oddly defiant op-ed in the local newspaper that defended the research project and extolled the virtues of the GMO banana.

What are the supposed virtues? The banana—actually a cooking banana (think plantain) that is a staple in the East African diet—is supposed to give consumers a dose of Vitamin-A. GMO supporters at ISU have made extraordinary claims about the banana’s potential to improve public health in countries like Uganda, a target destination for the banana, where many people are Vitamin-A deficient.

The GMO banana is following in the footsteps of the biotech industry’s last Vitamin-A GMO, “golden rice.” This crop has so far proven to be a colossal scientific failure, unable to deliver adequate amounts of Vitamin-A.

Syngenta and Monsanto, which helped develop Golden Rice, hoped this “humanitarian” GMO would help break down the well-founded resistance that many Asian countries have to GMOs, which has kept the biotech industry shut out of these lucrative agricultural markets. The GMO banana, like golden rice, is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, a pro-GMO group that partners with biotech companies. If the GMO banana is successfully commercialized, the primary beneficiaries will not be Vitamin-A deficient Ugandans, but rather the biotech industry.

While it may be true that many Ugandans need more vitamin-A, the solution to the problem isn’t high-tech, risky, expensive, ineffective GMOs. The solution is a balanced diet.

So why is ISU promoting a technological solution that would require a radical shift in Uganda’s agricultural policy (the introduction of GMOs)? Could it have something to do with the millions of dollars that the biotech industry is pouring into the university’s research apparatus? Or the fact that corporate agribusiness representatives sit on governing boards of the university?

As conscientious and thoughtful ISU students and faculty continue to call on the school to have a conversation about the GMO banana feeding trial, including through a recent petition (which you should sign), it’s time that the school stop its stonewalling and start engaging with the public. Founded by Congress and still largely funded by taxpayers, ISU should first and foremost be serving the public, including the farmers and consumers that depend on solid, independent science that improves the safety, security and sustainability of our food system.

May 20th, 2015

Factory Farms Make Me Sick: Times Square Edition

Factory farms produce more than the majority of the meat, milk and eggs we consume—they breed disease, misery and pollution. We’re bringing this message to Times Square this week with this advocacy ad, which will run through July.

Watch below and tweet why you oppose factory farms to the hashtag #LoadOfCrap.

 

Take action to tell the EPA to regulate factory farms:

TAKE ACTION

 

And tweet why you oppose factory farms:

Tweet: U.S. factory farms produce enough waste to fill the Empire State Building every day. What a #LoadOfCrap. Take action: http://ctt.ec/nH04p+ U.S. factory farms produce enough waste to fill the Empire State Building every day. What a #LoadOfCrap.

 

Tweet: #Factoryfarms breed disease, misery and pollution. That’s a #LoadOfCrap. Take action: http://ctt.ec/cvlRc+#Factoryfarms breed disease, misery and pollution. That’s a #LoadOfCrap.

May 18th, 2015

UPDATE: Senate Begins Trade Debate

BlogThumb_WoodallPatrickBy Patrick Woodall

Yesterday, the Senate voted 65-33 to begin debating Fast Track Trade Promotion Authority, a few days after Senate Democrats prevented Republican leadership from bringing up the controversial trade legislation. Thirteen Democrats joined the Republicans in voting to start consideration of the Fast Track legislation that will be used to accelerate the passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. No Republicans voted against it.

The bakers dozen corporate trade backers included: Senators Michael Bennet (D-Colorado), Maria Cantwell (D-Washington), Thomas Carper (D-Delaware), Chris Coons (D-Delaware), Diane Feinstein (D-California), Heidi Heitkamp (D-North Dakota), Tim Kaine (D-Virginia), Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri), Patty Murray (D-Washington), Bill Nelson (D-Florida), Jeanne Shaheen (D-New Hampshire), Mark Warner (D-Virginia) and, the co-sponsor, Ron Wyden (D-Oregon).

This vote was never really in doubt; the legislative setback earlier in the week sent a strong message that the corporate-Republican-White House trade juggernaut could not even ram Fast Track through the pro-trade Senate. Now the Senate will debate the bill and even consider some amendments, and that process will take more than a few days. Ultimately, next week or the week afterwards, the Senate will pass Fast Track. Then the legislation moves on to the House, where the considerable public opposition to the corporate trade agenda can derail Fast Track once and for all.

Contact your Representatives and Senators right now and tell them to vote NO on Fast Track!

May 15th, 2015

Why The Food Movement Must Build Power

By Wenonah Hauter

WenonahHauter.Profile

Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch

Mark Bittman’s recent op-ed on the faults of the food movement provides a great opportunity to discuss how we should be engaging politically to demand a better food system; unfortunately, it misses the mark on why we are making limited progress on food policy issues. While it‘s refreshing to hear a food luminary acknowledge the importance of organizing, as a long time organizer, it’s frustrating to me that he never addresses the fact that winning means building political power. His piece also criticizes the large segment of the movement that has begun to build that political power on labeling GMO foods. This is not a recipe for success.

First off, Bittman questions if there is a food movement. But from the large number of national, state and local organizations and tens of thousands of individuals who are interested in a range of food related issues, it’s clear there is a movement. The real challenge has been translating that movement into building political power. For the most part, food activism has been focused on cultural changes and buying habits, not on building power to hold elected officials accountable for how their votes affect food policy. The emphasis has been on using dollars to vote for better food or corporate campaigns focused on making junk food a little less bad for you.

Granted, people are so disgusted with our political system that embracing a rallying cry about “shopping our way out” of the problem seems easier in the fast-paced environment that most people operate in. But I would argue that if we just focus on making corporations behave a little better, we have missed the chance to push for the systemic change we need. A democracy is based on holding elected officials accountable so that they vote in the public interest. The root cause of the sick food system (and most other economic and social problems) is our weakened democracy.

Changing this means organizing politically at the local and state level, and eventually translating this to electoral work and holding Congress accountable. One of the weaknesses of the food movement and all non-profit issue causes is that there are thousands of groups competing for funds to work on many critical issues. But, unlike right wing forces that have taken over the political system by draping themselves in the legitimacy of religion and the flag while carrying out the political program of the Koch brothers and multinational corporations, progressive forces are fragmented. The food movement suffers from this problem and many of the funding sources for food work are bent on addressing problems in the marketplace, not building political power.

The best way to build this political power is to organize around issues that resonate with people, engage those folks, and begin to develop long term change. Some issues like GMOs and bad labor practices easily resonate with people and lend themselves to political action. These represent exciting and important parts of the food movement, and ones that will win real and meaningful changes that they can see, but also will politicize large numbers of people who will learn more about systemic problems with our food system and democracy, and engage in other issues in the future.

We have seen this happen at the state and local level already. For example, a few years ago we launched a campaign to get arsenic out of chicken feed in Maryland. It took three years and lots of hard on-the-ground work, but, with our allies, we were ultimately successful in passing legislation that was signed by the governor. Now we are building on that to take on larger systemic problems with factory farmed poultry in the state, with legislation we hope to pass and then model across the country. Eventually, after being shamed by grassroots activists for exposing the population to arsenic in food products, the Food & Drug Administration took arsenical drugs off the market nationwide.

This is all hard work that takes education, time and significant resources. Bittman cites the Sierra Club’s work to close coal plants as a model for organizing, yet this is an atypical campaign because of the amount of money they have, which has paid for dozens of organizers and many expensive tactics like advertising and videos. Since 2005, they have received $38.7 million and donors have pledged $60 million more. As insightful and influential as Bittman may be, he cannot dictate the issues that excite people or write a check for the tens of millions of dollars the Sierra Club has had to close coal plants.

Organizing in most cases is about taking an issue that people care deeply about and helping to bring large numbers of people together to give them a collective voice. If it is not an issue that people feel strongly about at the grassroots, it is difficult to move it up the ladder of priorities for people.

Bittman may not think GMO labeling is an important issue, but millions of Americans do. They believe they have a right to know what is in their food and they are skeptical of the process by which GMOs come to market. They know that labeling is a step on the path to more protective measures around GMOs. They know that the GMO companion herbicide has been proven to have a range of health effects and that it should be regulated. Rather than chiding the work being done on GMO labeling, which effectively constitutes running interference for giant corporations like Monsanto, Bittman should be celebrating and supporting their efforts. Corporate and economic consolidation, after all, is at the root of the problems with our food system and the GMO labeling movement takes on one of the strongest and most consolidated industries – seeds. Already a consolidated industry, now Monsanto is pursuing a merger with the giant Swiss agricultural chemical company Syngenta, which will mean even more corporate control of seeds and the chemicals used to grow crops. If any movement to change the food system should be supported it is the movement to take on Monsanto and GMOs.

When activists get involved in organizing around issues, and they win, they get a sense of their own power to make change. They realize that their voice can – even in our broken democracy – make a difference. People who experience wins go on to stay involved. This is how movements are built: one victory at a time. There are many aspects of the food system that must be changed, but a list of issues is not really a program for social change. We need a broader vision for how we are going to build political power.

This blog was updated on May 15 to correct a factual inaccuracy.

May 14th, 2015

Biking to Work in the Motor City

It’s National Bike to Work Week and to celebrate, Food & Water Watch decided to interview one of our very own. Meet Meredith Begin, online organizer and cyclist extraordinaire.

How does riding your bike to work relate to Food & Water Watch’s mission?

Food & Water Watch Online Organizer and avid cyclist Meredith Begin

Food & Water Watch Online Organizer and avid cyclist Meredith Begin

Food & Water Watch champions access to safe food and clean water. We stand up to corporations that put profits before people, and advocate for a democracy that improves people’s lives and protects our environment. Transportation is also a key factor in people’s lives and has a huge impact on our environment. When automobile companies strategically bought and dismantled much of public transit infrastructure in Metro Detroit, they gained control over the business of moving people. Now, most Michiganders are dependent on cars, and suffer the added expense of auto insurance and gas. But I believe people should be able to have reliable, affordable choices in how they get around. By biking to work, I’m leading by example and helping to grow the movement to demand better infrastructure and safety for all road users. We shouldn’t have to be reliant on fossil fuel, auto and insurance industries whose bottom-line is not about moving people around but making a profit.

Do you really bike to work in Detroit?

Yes! I actually live about a mile north of the city line in a quaint city called Ferndale.

My shortest bike route from home to the office is 10 miles exactly, but my favorite route is about 13 miles.

You’ve said some areas of Detroit are “pretty country.” What do you mean by that?

Well, I’ve seen some pretty wild animals — a lot of pheasants, which are quite beautiful birds!

Detroit had a population around 3 million at one point, so space-wise, it’s pretty big. Now, with a population of less than 800,000, the neighborhood roads have far less traffic than planned and there is a lot of open space, ideal for urban farms, apple orchards and even aquaculture facilities!

Why take on the Motor City by bike?

Oh, wow. I get this question a lot, especially in Metro Detroit, and could probably write a book on the topic.

It’s perhaps important to know that my bicycle was my primary mode of transportation for over 10 years when I lived in Washington, DC. It was faster than walking or taking the bus. And more often than not, it was faster than driving — maybe not for everyone, but the four years I spent as a bike messenger before joining the Food & Water Watch team (seven years ago!) gave me the skills and physical ability to bike far and fast.

I never really thought I’d be traversing the Motor City by bike but my decision to move “back home” allowed me to take on the challenge. So, when I’m asked, some of my favorite answers include “I prefer to burn calories over fossil fuels any day,” and “life is about the journey, not the destination.” But, really, the reasons are endless.

Here are my top five reasons I bike to work:

  1. I get to bike through a variety of neighborhoods and experience Detroit in a way very few do.
  2. It reduces greenhouse gas emissions and our dependence on fossil fuels.
  3. Morning exercise wakes me up.
  4. Biking makes it easier to patron local establishments
  5. The commute is just downright FUN!
May 13th, 2015

Ice Cream Listeria Scare Reveals Cracks in FDA’s Inspection System

By Tony Corbo

Over the past two months, there has been a food borne illness outbreak involving Blue Bell ice cream products, primarily concentrated in western states. Ten people have been sickened, including three senior citizens who died from eating contaminated ice cream in a Kansas hospital.

The pathogen involved in this outbreak is listeria monocytogenes a nasty bug that is especially virulent in the very young, the elderly, the immunocompromised, pregnant mothers and fetuses. It can even cause stillbirths. An infected person usually exhibits fever, sometimes preceded by diarrhea or other gastrointestinal problems. Even scarier than listeria itself? The fact that Blue Bell knew its products were tainted as far back as 2013. Read the full article…

How Fracking Could Ruin Your Vacation

By Hugh MacMillan

preview FB_1505_PubLandsNJ-FBLink-C1As the start of summer draws ever closer, Americans and international tourists will begin to flock to U.S. National Parks, Forests, and other public lands for summer vacations, recreation and appreciation of our natural heritage. But there is something threatening the future of these lands and the communities that surround our national parks. Fracking.

President Obama’s Bureau of Land Management finalized thin, new rules for regulating fracking on public lands back in March. When these rules were proposed in 2013, more than 650,000 public comments were delivered demanding an outright ban on the practice instead. By the end of 2014, oil and gas companies had leases on over 34 million acres of U.S. public land. Over 200 million more acres – about a third of all federal land – can be targeted with drilling and fracking.

Here are a few more key statistics taken from Food & Water Watch’s new fact sheet that was released today:

  • About 20 percent of U.S. oil and gas reserves and resources are beneath federal public lands;
  • In 2014, companies drilled 2,544 new onshore oil and gas wells on federal land;
  • Almost 90 percent of wells on federal lands are fracked, and regulators are inspecting less than half of the wells they identify as having high-risk of environmental impacts;
  • More than 2 billion gallons of water — about 3,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools worth — is mixed with chemicals and injected beneath public lands each year;
  • Likely about 100,000 gallons — or over 18 truckloads full, assuming 130-barrel tanks — of liquid wastes spilled onto public lands each year;
  • Production of oil, natural gas and natural gas liquids (e.g., propane, butane, etc.) in 2013 from federal public lands led to more than 292 million tons of carbon-dioxide equivalent greenhouse gas emissions, or about what 61 million cars emit in a year; and
  • Counties with larger amounts of federal lands protected from oil and gas extraction had significantly higher per capita incomes, with about $1,000 extra in each person’s pocket for every 25,000 acres protected.

The figures on public lands and fracking are alarming, but there is hope to protect these cherished places and to stop the climate pollution from such extraction from happening. On Earth Day, U.S. Reps. Mark Pocan (D-WI) and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), members of the Safe Climate Caucus, introduced the Protect Our Public Lands Act, H.R. 1902. The legislation is the strongest anti-fracking bill introduced in Congress to date and would ban fracking on federal public lands.

Tell your member of Congress to cosponsor the Protect Our Public Lands Act, and stand up for our beloved national treasures.

1504_FBHL_PubLandsBillDrop-C1[1]

 

Corporate-Republican-Obama Trade Alliance Fails to Clear First Legislative Hurdle

BlogThumb_WoodallPatrickBy Patrick Woodall

Yesterday, Senate Democrats gave a stinging rebuke to White House efforts to push its corporate trade agenda. The Senate Republicans refused to offer a comprehensive package of trade measures and nearly all the Democrats voted to prevent the Senate from even debating the Fast Track Trade Promotion Authority bill that will be used to cram the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) through Congress.

This was supposed to be the easy legislative lift because the Senate is generally more supportive of the corporate free trade agenda than the House of Representatives. The President and Senate Republicans, along with their army of corporate lobbyists, hoped to swiftly pass Fast Track in the Senate to create the illusion of legislative momentum and inevitability. Seamless passage in the Senate would be a Fast Track Jedi mind trick that would encourage the House to follow suit and pass Fast Track.

Fortunately, the corporate-trade proponents ran headlong into broad-based public opposition to their trade agenda, helped along by some suboptimal political maneuvering. The Republican leadership refused to include some bipartisan trade enforcement measures and this strong-arm tactic turned even pro-trade Democrats against the White House’s trade priorities. And President Obama did not help himself by demeaning thoughtful progressive Democrats like Senator Elizabeth Warren that are legitimately skeptical of trade deals that benefit big business but damage workers, consumer protections and the environment.

So, yesterday’s vote took the wind out of the sails of the Fast Track proponents and prevented them from celebrating illusory momentum. But they will be back to take another run at the Senate. Last night, President Obama huddled with the pro-trade Senate Democrats while Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) started talking about how to move forwards on Fast Track. The effort to force Fast Track through the Congress over the will of the American people won’t be as easy as they had hoped.

Even with yesterday’s setback, they won’t stop trying, Fast Track will return soon to the Senate. But the real battle remains in the House where we need keep up the pressure to beat back Fast Track.

Stay tuned!

 

 

 

May 7th, 2015

Five Things Monsanto Doesn’t Want You To Know About GMOs

GMOs aren't going to solve nutrition problems or feed the world - they're about corporate control and profitYou’ve heard the controversy about genetically engineered foods (GMOs) and whether they’re safe to eat (and the question of safety is nowhere near settled, despite what the companies that create GMOs would like you to think). But the rest of the story about GMOs is far more complex: for biotech companies, the real purpose of GMOs is power and control over the food supply, and ultimately it’s about profits. The undeniable fact is that GMOs are bad for our environment, our food system, and the people in it.

Here are five reasons why everyone should be concerned about genetically engineered foods:

1. GMOs increase the corporate control of our food

Increasingly, the food industry is dominated by a handful of powerful corporations that control nearly every aspect of how our food is produced. Monsanto, for example, now owns a staggering number of seed companies that were once its competitors. For people who buy groceries, it’s distressing to realize that the dozens of brands in the grocery store are mostly owned by a few parent companies. When a company has a virtual monopoly on a whole aisle of the grocery store or a set of agricultural products, they make decisions based on what’s best for their profits, not what’s best for their customers or the planet.

This consolidation of control is easy to see in the corporations that create GMOs. Biotech companies like Monsanto, Dow, Dupont and Syngenta create not only GMO seeds, but an entire system of food production. If there’s profit to be made in selling one product farmers need to buy, there’s far more profit to be made from creating a system of products designed to work together; for example, linking seeds with specific chemicals that these companies also sell, like Monsanto soybeans that are engineered to withstand Roundup, the weed killer produced by Monsanto. If a farmer plants those soybeans, they’re going to buy Roundup, too.

Nor is it easy for farmers to avoid planting GMOs. In our increasingly consolidated food industry, farmers have fewer and fewer options, and the advice they hear at every turn is “go GMO.” This happens not just in the United States, but increasingly around the world as well. Read the full article…

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