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Victory! Farm Bureau case challenging EPA’s right to share factory farm data dismissed. more wins »
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April 20th, 2015

GM Mosquitoes: Bad for Business in the Keys

By Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director of Food & Water Watch and
Barry Wray, Executive Director of Florida Keys Environmental Coalition

Aedes_albopictus_on_human_skin copyThis week, local officials in the Florida Keys will decide whether to approve the first ever release of genetically engineered (GMO) mosquitoes in the United States. Yes, you read that right: lab-engineered mosquitoes could be released in one of America’s favorite tourist destinations very soon, even though it’s unclear if any government agency has evaluated the full array of health and environmental risks associated with these new GMO insects.

Unfortunately, the Florida Keys Tourist Development Council (TDC) and the Monroe County Board of Commissioners have been conspicuously absent from the conversation about GMO mosquitoes even though this experiment could have a direct impact on business in the Keys. The proposal to release millions of these mosquitoes by British company Oxitec is instead being vetted by a small, local board called the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District. This mosquito district has touted GMO mosquitoes as a potential boon to tourism in the Keys because they could reduce dengue fever, though the Keys haven’t had a case in a half-decade.

Of course, Florida’s mosquito problem should not be trivialized. Dengue fever is a leading cause of illness and death for those in tropical and subtropical climates, according to the Centers for Disease Control. But Oxitec has not provided evidence to support that its mosquitoes will be able to effectively control dengue. On the contrary, reports from the field suggest the opposite. Malaysia’s Health Minister recently announced that after field-testing Oxitec’s mosquitos, the country will not be pursuing the program because it was not cost-effective. Additionally, one Brazilian town was still at the highest alert for dengue fever even after Oxitec’s mosquitoes were released there in 2013.

Even if these bugs did successfully wipe out the entire population of the targeted A. aegypti mosquito, the Asian tiger mosquito (also a known vector of dengue and other diseases) could easily take its place. Letting tiger mosquitoes become more commonplace would only make a new dengue fever carrier more prevalent.

Oxitec claims that its mosquitoes are engineered with a lethal gene that is supposed to break the pest’s reproductive cycle because its offspring, for the most part, die before reaching adulthood. The company claims this would theoretically reduce the mosquito population and the prevalence of dengue fever without the need for pesticides. But the Mosquito Control District has not done enough to identify insecticide alternatives. Instead of exploring a range of options, they have hastily and aggressively pursued Oxitec’s GMO mosquito program despite strong public opposition and a lack of peer-reviewed data.

Significant public opposition defeated Oxitec’s first plan to release GMO mosquitoes in Key West in 2012, but Oxitec is now poised to win approval in Key Haven, a peninsula just a few miles east of Key West. Hundreds of thousands of citizens from across the country have written local, state and federal officials to oppose this plan and last week, hundreds of people called the local tourism council to ask that the Keys be preserved as a national treasure for tourists and residents alike, not for GMO mosquito experiments.

It is puzzling that any local official would sit on the sidelines while GMO mosquitoes were allowed to potentially tarnish the reputation that most Americans have of the Florida Keys as a pristine island paradise. But that is exactly what the Florida Keys Tourist Development Council and the Monroe County Board of County Commissioners have been doing.

It’s high time that local officials took decisive steps to stop this bizarre plan now instead of inheriting the more difficult task of attracting visitors to a place where residents and tourists are the subjects of a science experiment. It’s clear now that GMO mosquitoes could not only harm public health and the environment – they may also be bad for business.

April 16th, 2015

Same Old Hatch-et Job on Trade Agenda on Fast Track

By Patrick Woodall

DSC_2957

Today, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) introduced their Fast Track trade promotion legislation (The Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities and Accountability Act of 2015, TPA-2015) to a flurry of adulation that this bill signals momentum on the Big Business-Republican leadership-Obama trade agenda. The free trade fanfare cannot overcome the broad-based public opposition to fast-tracking trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

Far from an exciting new trade initiative, this is pretty much the exact same retrograde legislation that Hatch introduced last year. Fast Track is a parliamentary mechanism that prevents Congress from providing oversight to presidential trade negotiators and relegates the Congress to rubber stamp trade deals like the TPP on a take-it-or-leave-it basis.

The Hatch-Ryan Fast Track (they like to call it “trade promotion authority”) not only sets the rules for how Congress votes on trade deals but the Fast Track fine print prioritizes business interests ahead of consumer protections, food safety rules, public health safeguards and the environment.  Read the full article…

What FDA Can’t Tell Us About Antibiotic Use in Animals

By Sarah Borron Antibiotics_Pill_Bottle

Factory farms routinely use antibiotics to compensate for filthy conditions, a practice that promotes the development of antibiotic resistant bacteria. Food & Water Watch has been fighting to change policies about how antibiotics can be used in agriculture and to demand more information from government agencies about the problem.

Last week, the FDA released a report about antibiotic use in livestock and poultry. What’s interesting is not just what the report tells us, but what it doesn’t. For over two years, we’ve waited for FDA to make some significant changes to data collection and reporting on antibiotic use in livestock and poultry.

Let’s start with what the report does tell us–how many antibiotics producers purchased to use on livestock and poultry in 2013.

  • Overall, antibiotic sales went up by 17 percent over a five-year period.
  • For antibiotics that are important for human medicine, sales for use in animals went up by 20 percent in that same time frame.
  • Medically important antibiotics accounted for nearly two-thirds of total sales of antibiotics for use in animal agriculture.
  • Nearly all the medically important antibiotics given to animals were administered in food or water, a practice that can lead to imprecise dosing and higher likelihood of antibiotic resistance.

So, what important questions remain unanswered? To be able to better understand how antibiotic use in livestock production relates to antibiotic resistance patterns, we at least need to know how antibiotic use breaks down by different types of animals and why the antibiotics are being given to the animals. It makes a difference whether the antibiotics are given to healthy animals to prevent disease or to sick animals to treat disease. It also makes a difference to know which animals are getting which types of antibiotics as we examine, for instance, how Salmonella and E. coli are resistant to different drugs in different types of meat.

Antibiotic resistance is a complicated problem. We need more detailed data to understand how antibiotics are being used and how that affects resistance patterns. FDA has waited long enough; it’s time for them to finalize their new rules on data collection so the public can get a clear picture of how the meat industry is using antibiotics. We’ll let you know when they make a proposal so you can weigh in.

In the meantime, ask your Congressperson to protect antibiotics and stop the overuse of these important drugs on factory farms!

April 14th, 2015

Glyphosate: As Safe as, Well, Poison

By Genna Reed GMO_Canola

Years ago, Monsanto began touting its crown jewel weed killer, glyphosate (Roundup), as “less toxic to rats than table salt.” It was reminiscent of their infamous “DDT is good for me-e-e!” ads showing gleeful fruits and vegetables dancing around with a woman and cow. Now, after Roundup has been on the market for 40 years, a new review of the available data on glyphosate may alter the commonly held belief that it is benign.

The World Health Organization’s cancer research arm, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) put out an evaluation of glyphosate and four other herbicides and insecticides, which determined that glyphosate should be classified as a 2A carcinogen, meaning it is probably carcinogenic to humans.” Just for a measure of comparison, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency currently rates glyphosate at an E for carcinogenicity, indicating no risk of cancer whatsoever. Read the full article…

April 13th, 2015

Somerset County Residents Fight Back Against Expanding Chicken Industry

By Michele Merkel and Claire Fitch

Chickens_Farm

Somerset County has been in the cross hairs of the poultry industry for quite a long time, with an inventory of 14.9 million broiler chickens – the largest of any county in Maryland, and the sixth largest in the United States. Big companies, including Perdue and Tyson own these birds, which are raised in large industrial facilities for their entire lives, and produce enormous quantities of waste. With nowhere to put the tens of millions of pounds of manure generated by these birds, the county is now considering poultry litter incinerators while continuing to entertain proposals to build a number of new broiler chicken operations.

Last week, public health scientists, environmental advocates, and local residents joined together for a Town Hall meeting at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore to express their concerns with the proposed expansion of factory farm chicken operations and the construction of a poultry litter incinerator in Somerset County on the lower Eastern Shore.

Speakers at the Town Hall meeting gave us a snapshot of the public health and community impacts that may result from the expansion of broiler production and the introduction of manure burning facilities.

Brent Kim from the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future spoke about the evidence of chemical contaminants and harmful bacteria, including antibiotic resistant strains, in and around broiler operations. These health hazards have been identified several miles downwind from such operations and may be carried into groundwater sources – particularly concerning for the 60 percent of Somerset County’s residents who access their household water supply from private wells. Read the full article…

The U.S. Water Alliance’s Water Prize Greenwashes Pollution Trading

By Scott Edwards

When is an award really greenwashing? When it recognizes a scheme that perpetuates pollution of our waterways as innovative.

Tonight, the U.S. Water Alliance, a Washington-based water policy organization, will hand the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) its 2015 United States Water Prize for its work promoting water pollution trading in the highly polluted Ohio River Basin.

In a press release, a former EPA official called the EPRI project impressive, noting that “…companies now have an opportunity to receive turn-key verified credits to meet their stewardship goals, address compliance needs, support farms, and protect ecosystems.”

Share this image and help us spread... the word to EPA that pollution trading just doesn't work!

Share this image and help us spread… the word to EPA that pollution trading just doesn’t work!

The problem is, water pollution trading is a market-based scheme that does none of that. But polluting industries, like coal-fired plants, and their front groups promote it as a way to avoid upgrading their facilities to protect our threatened waterways. For over 40 years, the Clean Water Act (CWA) has demanded that these industries implement increasingly advanced pollution reduction technologies towards the Act’s ultimate goal of eliminating discharges from our waterways. But companies don’t like to be regulated. So, with EPRI’s pay-to-pollute program, proven methods of regulating pollution under the CWA are being significantly eroded and our rivers, streams and bays will pay the price.

Water pollution trading is essentially a scam. The untested theory is that agriculture operations that discharge nitrogen- and phosphorus-rich manure into our nutrient-impaired waterways can cheaply reduce their discharges through the implementation of best management practices (BMPs) like grass buffers. These BMPs generate pollution “credits” that the agriculture operations sell to EPRI’s power plant Board members who want to avoid controlling their own nitrogen and phosphorus discharges. Trading proponents label this approach as a “win/win,” and they’re right. Power plants win because they get to keep on polluting and agricultural operations win because they can continue to avoid regulation while making money from the sale of the credits (and installing BMPs that are never subject to monitoring and discharge verification).

Industry wins and agriculture wins—but our rivers lose. In fact, the list of successful pilot trades EPRI and others trumpet in support of their approach are anything but.

Take, for example, the trading plan concocted for the Alpine Cheese factory in Ohio. Alpine Cheese has been a chronic violator of its CWA permit as it dumped excess amounts of nutrients into the impaired Sugar Creek. Back in 2006, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (OEPA) crafted a trading plan that allowed Alpine Cheese to fund the implementation of BMPs of local dairy operations in lieu of forcing the factory to adhere to permit limits to meet Sugar Creek’s water quality standards. That five-year plan called for biannual inspections of all the participating dairy operations to “verify” that the BMPs were installed and effective. OEPA, the Agency charged with protecting waterways in the state, wasn’t even allowed to take part in this water quality inspection and verification plan because in a 2005 letter, Ohio Representative Bob Gibbs told the Agency to stay off the farms.

We have retrieved a number of public records related to the Alpine Cheese trading scheme, as well as several records related to the Pennsylvania trading program. What we’ve found is disturbing (perhaps it’s not too late for the Alliance to ask for its award back.)

The agreement called for biannual farm inspections for Alpine Cheese over the five-year period – a total of 10 inspection reports for each operation in the program. What we found, instead, was a small smattering of inspection checklists representing a fraction of these mandated reports. There was no monitoring done to verify farm nutrient reduction, and no confirmation of actual results. At the same time, Alpine Cheese continued to regularly violate even its relaxed nutrient permit standards while OEPA stood by. And the Sugar Creek that was supposed to be the beneficiary of this “innovative” new approach to water quality? That remains on Ohio’s nutrient impaired list without any evidence that overall water quality is improving.

The Ohio River Basin is also the “beneficiary” of the ongoing Pennsylvania trading program that we are also scrutinizing. There, third party manure brokers are making money by moving tons of poultry factory farm manure out of the southeast corner of the state where it poisons the Susquehanna River and the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Transport manifests show that hundreds of tons of manure are being driven across the state to the southwest corner of Pennsylvania to be dumped. That’s the corner of the state that sits in the Ohio River Basin, where EPRI is operating its own manure-shifting program.

If innovation is moving piles of manure around the country from one impaired waterway to another, allowing a highly-polluting industrial agricultural operation to continue discharging into our waterways, and giving power plants a way out of complying with permits—and controlling their own discharges—then EPRI deserves even more awards. It’s a shame, though, that they would come at the expense of clean water and communities.

Call on the Environmental Protection Agency to PROTECT the Clean Water Act and REJECT water pollution trading schemes.

 

Protecting the Human Right to Water, One System at a Time

By Kate Fried Toast_Glasses_Water

With thousands of households in Detroit and Baltimore facing water service shutoffs, and a drought looming over California, it might not seem like there’s much good news in the world of water these days. But the recent publication of Our Public Water Future: The Global Experience of Remunicipalisation highlights the advances made in communities around the globe to take back water as a public good, and reminds us that that we can and should enjoy unfettered access to safe, clean, affordable water, as long as it’s managed as a common resource, not a commodity exploited by corporations.

What is remunicipalization, exactly? It’s when a community resumes public operation and management of its water system, often after private operation has failed customers in some way. We’ve documented at length the problems experienced by customers of privatized water systems—higher rates, poor service and lack of accountability being some of the most egregious examples. It’s no wonder then that many communities opt to reclaim control of their drinking and wastewater systems. Read the full article…

April 8th, 2015

“Science” or Spin?

By Wenonah Hauter WenonahHauter.Profile

Today we released a report on the corporate influence behind animal science research, which got me thinking about the role that science plays in public debates over controversial issues, particularly the ones we focus on here at Food & Water Watch.

When I think of science, I think of information that has been proven true from extensive research. Modern science explains the physical universe in real and concrete terms. It’s supposed to be unimpeachable. Yet over the years, corporations have co-opted the use of the term “science” to skew debates and influence public policy towards outcomes that favor their interests.

Corporations use scientific claims to sell the public on controversial products and practices such as GMOs; drugs given to food animals like Zilmax and rGBH; and fracking. They stand to profit if these technologies and drugs are allowed, so they use science as a cloak of validation, skewing public perception of these questionable practices, when in reality, we should be very skeptical.

While it might seem that the science on these practices is unbiased, corporations with a direct financial stake heavily influence much of the research that policy makers use to approve or reject them. Corporate Control in Animal Science, released this week, documents the great extent to which drug companies and corporate agribusiness shape the debate around their own products, authoring and funding journal articles at the same time that they sponsor and edit influential scientific journals.

While highly troubling, it’s not terribly surprising to learn that the animal drug industry operates like the human pharmaceutical industry. Both use immense resources to capture and control the scientific research around their products. It’s similar to the ways in which corporations influence agriculture research at universities, as we outlined in our report Public Research, Private Gain.

Take for example, the drug Zilmax, developed to build muscle in cattle, which enjoyed years of commercial success despite animal safety concerns. Zilmax was approved for cattle in 2006 based on industry science and only one animal safety study. In August 2013, the nation’s largest meatpackers announced they would no longer accept cattle treated with Zilmax because of significant animal health problems. Cattle were arriving at slaughterhouses already dead, or with missing hooves. Yes, you read that correctly. Merck, the company that manufactures Zilmax, withdrew the drug from the market to a loss of as much as $160 million a year.

There was plenty of evidence that Zilmax was unsafe, even before Merck voluntarily removed it from the market. As many as 160 foreign countries had banned the class of drugs to which Zilmax belongs. Nearly 300 reports submitted to FDA documented cattle that died or had to be destroyed after receiving the drug. Yet despite these obvious red flags, FDA continued to let favorable research from the drug’s makers Merck and Intervet guide its decision-making.

As our report shows, 78 published articles examined the effects of Zilmax on cattle, and three-quarters of those studies were authored or funded by industry groups or corporate agribusiness. Most of these studies focused on the commercial aspects of Zilmax, like how easily a diner could cut meat from an animal treated with the drug, or what the meat would look like. In our research, we didn’t find a single independent, peer-reviewed study designed to examine animal health prior to Zilmax’s removal from the marketplace. After Zilmax was taken off the market, a study published in the independent journal PLOS ONE revealed that cattle treated with the drug had dramatically increased mortality rates along with other animal health issues.

As the Zilmax example shows, when industry dominates scientific research, no useful counterpoint is offered that might expose the weaknesses or biases of that research. Because many journals have weak disclosure rules, lawmakers and regulators often don’t know that the literature they consult is paid for by industry or authored by deeply conflicted university scientists.

We can’t let executives at major agribusiness corporations be the only ones making critical decisions that affect our food system. Congress needs to tell FDA to revamp its process for approving new animal drugs, basing its decision on independent science. While they’re at it, the federal government should expand funding for animal drug safety research so reliable information is available in the first place. In the meantime, agriculture journal publishers should disclose the funding of studies they publish.

As we’ve reported with the phenomenon of food company mergers, and as I wrote in my book Foodopoly, a handful of corporations are seizing control of the food system. But we can’t let them take over science, too, or exploit the term for their own gain. Just as science needs to remain objective and unbiased, every level of our food system, including the drugs used in livestock and poultry production, should remain free from corporate influence.

April 6th, 2015

Standing Up For Philadelphia’s Sustainable Economy

By Judy Wicks

Judy Wicks

Judy Wicks is joining Food & Water Watch to fight the “Dirty Fossil Fuel Plan”.

Philadelphia’s biggest polluters are trying to bring even more dirty and dangerous fossil fuel infrastructure to our city, threatening our sustainable local economy and the health of our citizens.

In the early 1970s, my block of Victorian brownstones faced demolition to make way for a strip mall. Compelled to save our homes, my neighbors and I organized, fought the demolition plan and won. I realized then that people can exercise our true power when we work together.

It was on the first floor of my house on that block that I founded the White Dog Café in 1983, which became a pioneer in Philadelphia’s vibrant farm-to-table restaurant scene. Now, the oil and gas industry is pushing forward a plan they’re calling the Philadelphia “energy hub” that would sideline sustainable local economies like our bountiful local food system. So I’m standing with Food & Water Watch and the other organizations working to fight the “Dirty Fossil Fuel Plan.”

This is important to me, not only because a fossil fuel-based economy threatens life on Earth for future generations, but also because it poses an immediate danger. Every day, oil trains carrying highly flammable crude oil pass right through our neighborhoods, only blocks from my own home. Across the continent, these same trains have derailed, causing horrific explosions and fires that have lasted for days.

Judy Wicks oil train

Judy Wicks standing in front of an oil train, just a few blocks away from her home.

Philadelphia could be next.

Tragically, natural gas explosions have already happened in Philadelphia. In my neighborhood, where the lines are nearly 100 years old, gas leaks are a regular occurrence. Last year, a row house only four blocks from mine blew up due to a gas leak, destroying adjacent houses and damaging 10 homes. Residents escaped with their lives, but their homes were completely destroyed. Just last week, a gas explosion in New York City collapsed three buildings, killing two and injuring nearly 20 people.

Philadelphia has the opportunity to plan a safe and clean energy future and to grow our urban economy to be among America’s most sustainable cities. We can invest in our regional food and renewable energy systems and encourage the sustainable economies already thriving in our city. However, some of our city’s dirtiest fossil fuel executives have a different plan in mind. They want to turn Philadelphia into a hub for dirty energy with more oil trains, more gas pipelines and more explosive fossil fuels like liquefied natural gas. Let’s make sure that the Philadelphia City Council does not invest our tax money in this dying, dead-end and deadly industry.

Like the mall that nearly demolished my home over 30 years ago, the “Dirty Fossil Fuel Plan” entraps us in a stale vision that we need to move beyond, and precludes new and creative dreams like White Dog Café once was for me. Help us defeat these fossil fuel pipe dreams and protect a vibrant and healthy future for Philadelphia!

Click here to send a message to Philadelphia City Council urging them to steer away from this dangerous plan.

Thanks for taking action.

Judy Wicks is the founder of the White Dog Café. She also founded Sustainable Business Network of Greater Philadelphia and Fair Food Philly. 

April 3rd, 2015

Reality Checking Our Water Woes

By Darcey O’Callaghan and Kate FriedWater_Faucet

This week while promoting his new music service, Tidal, Jay Z made a well intended but nonetheless tone deaf statement, gushing about the beauty of supposedly “free” water service. While tap water may seem free to a rap mogul, those in Detroit who have been living without this essential service because they cannot afford to pay their water bills are singing a very different tune. In a seemingly unrelated development, the New York Times published an editorial that day claiming that water isn’t priced highly enough and thus isn’t properly valued. Both statements were wrong, and reflect some fundamental misconceptions about how our society views and values water. Read the full article…

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