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March 6th, 2014

3,000 Cows Living Next Door

By Eleanor Bravo

New Mexico is home to a billion-dollar dairy industry. Residents in the small town of Anthony, New Mexico, remember living there when just a few cows moved in. Now they are living next door to thousands of animals cramped in miserable quarters. The factory farm’s practice of maintaining unlined manure lagoons then spraying the mixture in the air, causes terrible distress in the neighborhood. Thousands of animals are crammed into close quarters in temperatures often at or above 100 degrees, Fahrenheit, which of course brings massive swarms of flies. The stench can be unbearable.

With huge influence over lawmakers, the dairy industry in New Mexico is protected by what is called the “Right to Farm” Act. In the recent legislative session, there was an attempt to exempt agricultural facilities from prosecution for nuisance such as flies, smell and water contamination. The proposed amendment came on the heels of a number of nuisance suits that were filed by multiple residents neighboring big dairy farms this past year.

Now why would a dairy industry come to a desert state with little water and practically no grass in the first place?  The answer: cheap labor and vast tracts of unused land. New Mexico has the highest income inequality in the nation. By 2010, the richest 20 percent of households in New Mexico made nearly ten times more than the state’s poorest 20 percent. These facilities are disproportionately located in low-income and minority areas. As you can imagine, the smell, noise and nuisances like flies that result from large factory farm dairies are terrible. Nuisance suits are virtually the only recourse New Mexicans have to protect their homes and property when a factory farm threatens quality of life. Read the full article…

March 5th, 2014

Wenonah Hauter Challenges You to Take Action on the Filthy Chicken Rule

Recognize These Folks? They Are Funny. Factory Farms Are Not

Food & Water Watch Executive Director and Foodopoly author Wenonah Hauter recently attended her third TEDxManhattan to, as she put it, “talk about one of the bummers.” Again.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is pushing the “Modernization of Poultry Slaughter Inspection” rule, more aptly called the “Filthy Chicken Rule,” and it impacts all of us, whether we eat chicken or not. If implemented, it would:

Read the full article…

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California Factory Farms are No Chicken Shangri-La

By Wenonah Hauter

For the Presss: High Resolution Image of Wenonah Hauter

Wenonah Hauter, Food & Water Watch Executive Director

I wrote my book Foodopoly to take on the handful of companies that control most of the food we eat and also profit from factory farms. Poultry, dairy and eggs are produced in an industrialized system that values profit and “economic efficiency” over food safety, animal welfare or fairness for farmers. So, it was with a critical eye that I read the recent New York Times article about how good factory farmed hens in California have it because their cages are slightly more roomy than chickens raised in factory farms in other states.

Let’s not lose sight of the fact that increasing the size of hens’ cages in giant warehouses where they never see the light of day and are forced to produce year long in their short lives is still a bad system. While the small boost in size is slightly better, we should be working hard for a different type of agriculture. We shouldn’t miss the larger point; it’s not just the size of the cage, it’s the size of the farm. Factory farms are bad, not only for animals, but for the environment, public health and consumers too. And this system of agriculture makes it impossible for smaller family run egg operations to compete. Let’s face it: California hens are still mostly raised on factory farms without access to pasture. A slightly better factory farm is still a factory farm.

Why do factory farms exist? Thanks to decades of agricultural and economic policy that helped companies swallow up other companies, a handful of huge corporations have become so big that they’re able to write all the rules (for example, just four companies process 80 percent of the beef sold in the U.S.) Their contract farmers (especially in the case of meat chickens) go into debt just to keep their farms thanks to the demands of Tysons, JBS and other mega-companies to produce more, more quickly, more cheaply. Their industry trade groups lobby congressmen so that they get what they want from Washington, for the most part. So the reasons these chickens are stuck in cages (whether they are in “economy class” ones in other states or “business class” sized-ones in California) is so that these few companies can grow their profits.

I have nothing against fair profits, but when it comes to our food system, some things are more important and it’s time for the food movement to force policymakers to regulate the industry, including the highly consolidated industry that brings us factory farms. We already know factory farms raise animals in ways that are bad for public health and the environment. Factory farms feed animals 80 percent of the antibiotics used in this country, and most of those are nontherapeutic—meaning that they are simply given to healthy animals to grow them faster or keep them from getting infections in the tightly cramped, unhygienic conditions. No wonder we now have a crisis of epic proportions when it comes to antibiotic resistance in humans. Factory farms also release obscene amounts of concentrated animal waste into nearby communities.

California law might have made things ever so slightly better for chickens, but those chickens are still raised without access to pasture, or room to roam freely and exercise natural chicken behaviors like running, foraging and perching. California factory farms are no Shangri-La for chickens. And they’re no picnic for the rest of us, either.

March 4th, 2014

Wenonah Hauter’s Foodopoly Now Available in Softcover

By Royelen Lee Boykie

Find out how to get Foodopoly

Get a softcover copy of Foodopoly from your local independent bookseller or elsewhere.

Thank you to everyone who helped make Wenonah Hauter’s book, Foodopoly: The Battle Over the Future of Food & Farming in America a HUGE success. The first leg of her tour included over 100 events in more than 80 cities.

The softcover version of Foodopoly is now available at your local bookstore and online. Get it while it’s hot!

Foodopoly is the shocking and revealing account of the business behind the meat, vegetables, grains and milk that we eat every day, including some of our favorite and most respected organic and health-conscious brands.

Wenonah will resume the Foodopoly tour at college campuses, large venues and events later this year. Interested in booking her? Learn more here.

We’re living in a Foodopoly and we can’t just shop our way out of it. Here are other ways you can get involved:

Did you love Foodopoly? Let Wenonah know, send her a tweet (@WenonahHauter) with #Foodopoly or “like” her Facebook page and leave a message. You’ll be glad to know she’s currently writing a new book – about fracking!

February 27th, 2014

You say “Potato.” Rex Tillerson says “Potahto.” 

By Kate Fried 

The movement to protect communities from fracking has closely been following the curious case of Rex Tillerson, the CEO of Exxon, who has attracted attention this week for his involvement in what appears to be an anti-fracking lawsuit. In what many are considering the height of hypocrisy, Tillerson has joined former U.S. Congressional Representative Dick Armey in an effort to block the construction of a 160-foot water tower in their neighborhood intended to supply water to fracking sites.

Read the full article…

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February 26th, 2014

Maryland’s Manure Transport Program: Welfare at its Worst

Meet Scott Edwards of Food & Water WatchBy Scott Edwards

In 2012, the federal government spent just under $50 billion dollars to help those who struggle to get by—the elderly, poor and underserved. It’s certainly a lot of money, but pales in comparison to the $92 billion the federal government spent that same year on corporate welfare programs – subsidies, grants and tax breaks for some of the most profitable big businesses in the nation. Right here in Maryland, though, there’s a state-managed corporate welfare program going on that deserves everyone’s attention: Maryland’s Manure Transport Program, or MTP.

The MTP was first enacted in 1999 to help address the excess piles of chicken manure produced on the Eastern Shore of Maryland by the big poultry industry. Today, the four companies who grow their chickens in the state produce about a billion and a half unsustainable pounds of manure each year. Since most of the farm fields in the counties where these birds are grown are saturated with phosphorus, continued land application of this waste by contract growers is resulting in significant runoff that is contributing greatly to a dying Chesapeake Bay. By some estimates, the agricultural industry accounts for 64 percent of the phosphorus loads entering the Bay. Read the full article…

February 19th, 2014

Third-Party Science and the Soft Lobby

Money and BooksBy Tim Schwab

The industrial producers of corn syrup have been busy the last decade defending their product’s good name against increasingly clear science showing public health problems related to obesity and diabetes.

But agribusiness corn refiners like Archer Daniel Midland and Cargill, which produce much of the ubiquitous sweetener, recognize they can’t just say their critics are wrong. They need credible allies, preferably those that look independent, to convince regulators, consumers, manufacturers and the scientific community that corn syrup is all right.

According to court documents recently released, that’s exactly what the corn refiners did. The New York Times and the Washington Post both reported last week on how “Washington-based groups and academic experts frequently become extensions of corporate lobbying campaigns,” using the debate over sweeteners as a case study. Read the full article…

It’s Time for Factory Farms to Pay Their Fair Share

For the Presss: High Resolution Image of Wenonah Hauter

Wenonah Hauter, Food & Water Watch Executive Director

By Wenonah Hauter

Big chicken processing companies generate 1.5 billion pounds of fowl waste annually in Delmarva (the Delaware, Maryland, Virginia tri-state area), and it’s choking the Chesapeake Bay. Each year, Marylanders pay a small tax that goes toward the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Fund (BRF); isn’t it fair to expect the poultry industry to pay too? Maryland Senator Richard Madaleno and Delegate Shane Robinson recently introduced the Poultry Fair Share Act (PFSA) because, when you have 305 million chickens on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, that’s a lot of chicken waste polluting the Bay.

In early February, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley was quick to threaten to veto the bill—which had little chance of passing into law— because he thinks he will send a strong message to Iowa ahead of the caucuses that he stands for farmers. O’Malley has long had a close relationship with the poultry industry, so it’s really big chicken companies, not farmers, that O’Malley is lobbying for. And, as the Baltimore Sun pointed out recently, his veto message raised more than just a few eyebrows while questioning why he won’t hold the industry accountable for it’s waste problem.

The Chesapeake Bay is the largest estuary in the United States and one of the largest and most biologically productive estuaries in the world—a vital economic and recreational asset in the region. Over the past several decades, as the number of factory poultry farms has increased, this historic watershed has suffered a serious decline. Large-scale poultry companies like Perdue create an enormous amount of pollution, yet the state does not require them to contribute to cleaning up the mess that they create. Read the full article…

February 18th, 2014

Justice Department Should Sink Titanic Flour Merger, Even with Rearranged Deck Chairs

By Patrick Woodall

Last week, ConAgra Foods, Inc. confessed to its shareholders that it had to delay its proposed wheat flour merger with Cargill because of the ongoing antitrust review by the U.S. Department of Justice. The proposed merger would create a dominant wheat flour milling company that would be twice the size of its next biggest rival, ADM, and more than five times bigger than the third and fourth largest flour milling firms.

The proposed merger (which would create a company called “Ardent Mills”) would have a near stranglehold on buying wheat from farmers and selling flour to bakeries and other food manufacturers. Because Ardent would be so large and have such a heavy footprint across the country, farmers would likely get paid less for their wheat while bakeries would probably pay more for flour, ultimately raising prices for consumers.

Cargill and ConAgra knew this mega-merger would raise eyebrows, so now the companies are talking about selling a few of the flour mills involved in the deal to help make it easier for the Justice Department to swallow a merger resulting in a company that is just too big. ConAgra told its shareholders that the merging companies were “prepared to divest” four flour mills (two in California and one each in Texas and Minnesota). That minor concession just puts lipstick on a pig of a market for wheat and flour that looks a lot like a monopoly in many parts of the country. Read the full article…

February 17th, 2014

President Obama: Steward of the Environment or Steward of the Oil and Gas Industry?

By Katherine Cirullo

We live in an era of heightened environmental consciousness and concern, and our world leaders are just starting to catch on. President Obama said it loud and clear during his 2014 State of the Union Address: “Climate change is a fact…When our children’s children look us in the eye and ask if we did all we could to leave them a safer, more stable world, with new sources of energy, I want us to be able to say yes, we did.” But are words enough?

On this President’s day, we should recognize those who have done well for our country and those who have done well for our planet. But we should also consider how our current president’s environmental legacy would be written. It is certain that President Obama’s legacy will be defined not only by what he did for the people, but by what he did for the environment – the air, water and land that we all depend upon. Yet, a president’s legacy is characterized by momentous feats and also failures. The question is: which side of the spectrum will he be on?  Read the full article…

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