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Victory! Cleveland passes resolution against antibiotic misuse on factory farms. more wins »
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June 11th, 2014

Ridiculous Cheese Rule Shows Bad Priorities at FDA

By Wenonah Hauter

Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch

Updated on June 11.

The FDA is currently turning a blind eye to the thousands of pets that have been sickened or killed thanks to pet treats imported from China. It has basically rolled over to the biotech industry in a long and drawn out process over genetically engineered salmon, which if approved, would be the first transgenic animal to enter the food supply—the effects of which have not been studied in humans. It’s done nothing to deal with the 30-year crisis concerning the misuse of antibiotics on factory farms.

But don’t worry—they are on the case when it comes to barring artisanal cheesemakers from using wood in the process of aging cheese. Rather than concentrating on the food safety crisis caused by the giant food processors, they are focusing on the cleanability of equipment used in making artisanal cheese. In the process, the FDA could end the tried and true traditional practices that have been used by cheese makers around the world for centuries.

Yes, that’s the latest head-scratcher from the federal agency led by Michael Taylor, former Monsanto executive and standard-bearer for the industrial food interests at our nation’s leading food safety authority. Cheese makers and people who want a local food economy are rightfully fighting mad. This decision is like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic: when it comes to health threats from food, the FDA has much bigger fish to fry. It could be addressing the major prevailing public health crisis posed by the misuse of antibiotics on factory farms—a public health threat that experts have cautioned against for three decades. Or, it could turn its attention to the serious food safety issues posed by food imports from countries with weak food safety standards—which will become even more problematic if trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership are put into force.

Any rule that promotes processed, industrial food (like Velveeta) over handcrafted foods is not something we should support. Take action now to tell the FDA to get their priorities straight. Their limited resources should be used to address the major food supply safety problems, not going after artisanal food producers.

UPDATE: The FDA may be rethinking their efforts to stop cheese makers from using the methods they’ve perfected over centuries, but we have to keep up the pressure because their traditional ways of making cheese are still under threat. Sign the petition here.

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June 10th, 2014

Why the Federal Government Should Block the Tyson-Hillshire Merger

By Patrick Woodall meat aisle in grocery store

After several weeks of musical merger chairs, the dust finally settled this weekend leaving Tyson Foods the winner in a bidding war for Hillshire Brands. The nation’s biggest meat and poultry company offered one billion dollars more than it offered a week and a half ago and the deal is now worth about $8.5 billion. The other bidder, Pilgrim’s Pride, withdrew its bid, and the original deal for Hillshire to buy food manufacturer Pinnacle Foods will be scrubbed to pave the way for the Tyson takeover after Hillshire pays Pinnacle a $163 million “breakup” feeRead the full article…

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June 9th, 2014

Getting Nowhere Fast With Offsets, Cap-and-trade and the New EPA Power Plant Rule

By: Elizabeth Nussbaumer

Food & Water Watch, along with allies like the Institute for Policy Studies, is raising the alarm: offsets, cap-and-trade and the new EPA proposed power plant rule will not achieve the emissions reductions necessary to prevent severe repercussions from climate change. If you pay attention, the warning signs have already begun.

A closer look at the EPA’s proposed rule to reduce GHG emissions from coal-fired power plants shows that it relies heavily on fuel switching to achieve reductions. It promotes natural gas as an energy alternative to coal. But this in turn supports fracking — the highly polluting and dangerous process of extracting natural gas — leaving us in no better position, if not worse off. Substituting one fossil fuel for another changes nothing. Read the full article…

Greenwashing, Pure and Simple: Synbio Soap

By Tim Schwab

It’s not easy being a responsible consumer these days.  You want to avoid GMO foods, but the biotech industry has used its political influence to guarantee that these foods are sold without a label. You want to avoid nano-pesticides in your toilet, but you’re left to contend with the mixed messages from the PR departments of Corporate America. Read the full article…

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June 6th, 2014

A Super Parent and A Super Organizer

Ohio Organizer Alison Auciello with her sons

Ohio Organizer Alison Auciello with her sons.

By Emily Carroll

Being a Food & Water Watch organizer isn’t an easy job. You need to take some really complicated issues, like the misuse of antibiotics on factory farms, and harness the energy of people passionate enough that they want to step up and make a difference. You need to be “on” at all times and ready to jump to action at a moment’s notice. Organizing is certainly fun, but not easy! And when you add two children into the mix, life becomes anything but a cakewalk.

So I wanted to take a moment to highlight the incredible work of one of our mothers on staff: Alison Auciello, our Ohio-based organizer. When Alison isn’t driving around the great state of Ohio meeting with community groups, emceeing rallies against fracking waste, or helping another city pass a ban on waste injection wells, she can be found in Cincinnati with her two sons, Jonah and Elijah. 

In the unlikely event that Alison’s passion for environmental justice, patience and kindness don’t jump out at you when you first meet her, these qualities will make themselves known the moment you meet her boys. Jonah and Elijah love to accompany Alison to marches and rallies where they help distribute flyers and they are more than happy to talk your ear off about why fracking is bad—a truly impressive feat for any five-year-old or seven-year-old (presuming, of course, neither of them feel shy that day). Read the full article…

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June 5th, 2014

100 Years Later, Mergers Still Out of Control

By Patrick Woodall

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the passage of the Clayton Act, a key statute designed to prevent corporations from swelling in size and power though mergers and takeovers. The Clayton Act was one of a series of reforms from the Progressive Era designed to curb the power of corporations over the people. It supplemented the anti-monopoly 1890 Sherman Act, which had failed to stop a merger wave that created the corporate trusts that ran roughshod over consumers, farmers and workers at the turn of the 19th century.

But a merger wave beginning with the stock market boom in the Roaring 1920s through the consolidation during World War II encouraged Congress to strengthen the Clayton Act in 1950. The Senate legislation noted that the goal was “to limit future increases in the level of economic concentration resulting from corporate mergers and acquisitions.”

It is clearly time to dust off the Clayton Act, given the wave of mergers now sweeping the American economy. Between October 2012 and September 2013, companies announced 1,326 mergers worth $815 billion—nearly four mergers worth an average of $2.2 billion a day.

But the antitrust law enforcers at the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) investigated less than four percent of those mergers and challenged less than three percent. The DoJ and FTC initiated enforcement actions against 38 of the mergers, but 29 of them were ultimately approved (with some tinkering around the edges like in the big beer merger or the woefully inadequate US Airways-American Airlines merger settlement), seven of the mergers were abandoned and one case is still pending. Only one of the proposed mergers was blocked outright.

If the antitrust cops would investigate more mergers, they would probably find more problems. In 2013, the DoJ and FTC brought some sort of enforcement action against 81 percent of the mergers they investigated. Although many of the settlements have been disappointing, these merging firms have been forced to divest at least some assets, which makes the merged company slightly smaller.

But most proposed mergers receive almost no examination. Food industry analysts estimate there were more than 300 food and grocery mergers in 2013, but almost all of these got rubber stamped by regulators. Food & Water Watch highlighted a handful of big food deals that got short shrift from the antitrust cops including the ConAgra-Ralcorp food manufacturing merger and the takeover of Smithfield Foods by Shuanghui International, China’s largest meatpacker, which appeared to get no official investigation at all.

 Just since January 1, 2014, DoJ and FTC have approved 360 mergers including at least eleven food company mergers that received no investigations, including:

The Department of Justice recently approved a huge flour mill merger without requiring significant divestitures. Other larger mergers like the Albertsons-Safeway supermarket merger and the Sysco-US Foods foodservice distribution merger are currently under review at the FTC.

A century later, it is clear that the merger-maniacs are running the show and the antitrust regulators are barely making a dent in a wave of mergers that threatens to overwhelm the food and farm sectors of the economy. Consumers, farmers and workers need to band together to prevent a small handful of companies from having complete control of the food chain from seed to supermarket.

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From North Carolina To Illinois, We Must Fight Back Against Big Oil and Gas

For the media: Wenonah Hauter low resolution image.By Wenonah Hauter

BIG oil and gas believe their industry should have no boundaries. They want to frack wherever, whenever and however they please, to build dangerous pipelines anywhere they wish. Their cynical CEOs say it’s all about energy independence, while they push to ship gas and oil across the globe to whomever can pay the highest price. They fight to prevent citizens from suing for fair compensation when deadly accidents and dangerous spills occur, while they push for the right to sue anyone who discloses the names of the chemicals used in fracking.

Does this sound extreme? This is the actual agenda big oil and gas is pushing, as revealed during legislative debates last month. And it is currently unfolding in North Carolina where the legislature just voted to allow the distribution of drilling permits with NO protections or limitations in place.

How did this happen?

Two years ago the North Carolina legislature passed a bill that legalized fracking under controversial circumstances when Republicans blocked Rep. Becky Carney (D) from correcting her obviously miscast vote. But the bill required the drafting of regulations that would be brought back to the legislature in 2015 for them to review before deciding whether fracking could proceed in the state. Despite their promise to learn more about fracking, industry-backed legislators decided it was in their best interest to rush the issuing of drilling permits before all of the dangers and problems could be brought to light.

Last week’s vote to fast track fracking was pushed through by Republican House Speaker Thom Tillis, the opponent of incumbent U.S. Senator Kay Hagan. Tillis used the normal rhetoric about energy independence, despite the fact that North Carolina has limited amounts of shale. It appears the real reason for the push is to gain North Carolina’s cooperation in hosting hundreds of miles of pipelines — the framework for LNG exports.

North Carolina’s political climate is extremely challenging in an environment where oil and gas dollars buy public policy. But groups on the ground will continue to organize, hold elected officials accountable, and work to protect communities from becoming sacrifice zones.

While North Carolina’s recent decision is clearly a setback, the progress in Illinois, Colorado, and nationally shows that when concerned citizens organize, we can make real change and beat back the onslaught of greed and political corruption.

In Illinois last week, an effort was made to ram amendments—similar to those in North Carolina—through the legislature, spurring fracking onward. The industry hopes to bypass any debate or discussion of the 35,000 comments submitted as part of the regulatory process. This language was sneakily inserted into a bill on the Friday before Memorial Day and passed out of the House Executive Committee. Only after grassroots organizations mobilized to call out this sham, did legislators—nervous about the consequences—allow it to die in the Assembly. We thank Illinois People’s Action, Shawnee Sentinels, Ban Fracking Chicago, and Southern Illinoisans Against Fracturing our Environment, who skipped their holiday plans to stop Rep. John Bradley from fracking Illinois.

Through recent grassroots organizing in Colorado, Food & Water Watch and many allies were able to kill a legislative proposal that would have allowed oil and gas companies to lay pipelines across property, even if landowners objected. Property rights seem to only be important to some legislators when they serve the interests of corporations. This hard-won victory was garnered by the work of thousands of people sending petitions and making hundreds of phone calls from groups across the state.

Industry cynically uses patriotism when it wants to remove barriers to fracking, while their real agenda is to ship their product abroad, especially to Asia where prices are two to three times higher. Many Americans would be horrified to know that the same legislators touting energy independence—a false scenario in a global market—are also pushing legislation in both house of Congress to speed up the approval process for LNG exports.

Many have said that this push on exports cannot be stopped, but if we only work on what is politically expedient today, we will not have the victories we need in the future. In response to this, Food & Water Watch, along with our allies in Americans Against Fracking, mobilized and pushed back hard by generating over 100,000 messages and thousands of phone calls to Congress. We feared that the legislation would be tacked on to a bill on the Senate floor last month, but thanks to the vigilance of thousands of grassroots activists, that did not happen.

This fight is far from over and we need to continue to ramp up pressure and grow the movement. Americans Against Fracking is holding a national conference call on Thursday, June 5 at 8 pm EST, featuring a national overview on the issue of exports and state updates from North Carolina, Illinois, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Oregon, along with a letter to the editor training centered on exports. Join hundreds of fellow fractivists as we collectively continue to fight for the future we want for our children and grandchildren.

 

 

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June 4th, 2014

Can Factory Farms Make YOU Sick?

By Briana Kerensky

It’s really easy to believe that factory farms aren’t your problem. If you don’t eat meat, limit yourself to only local and organic meat, or live in a city, it can be tough to draw a connection between yourself and a factory farm. But with the rise in antibiotic-resistant infections, they’re quickly becoming everyone’s problem.

Follow Food & Water Watch’s flowchart and find out: can factory farms make you sick? Click the image below to get started.

When you’re done, take action: Tell Congress to save antibiotics for medicine, NOT factory farms.

Click to go to the full flowchart.

 

GM Crops for Europe – The Deal Nobody Wants

By Eve Mitchell

Say No to GM Feed in EuropeFor those of you who don’t spend hours every day keeping up with the details of EU agriculture politics, I’ll start simple: Last week Europe took a big step toward GM crops. If this bothers you, you need to tell your elected representatives, and you need to do it now.

Here’s the latest: On 28 May, a preparatory meeting agreed that on 12 June the Council will vote on a proposal for so-called “opt outs” on GM crops. There’s every indication the Council will vote in favour.

This is where it gets a little more confusing. Giving countries the right to ban GM crops, as the proposal is often described, sounds like a good thing. It’s not that easy.

The proposal (a leaked version of which is available at the bottom of the page here) is motivated by the desire in some quarters to make it easier for the EU to authorise GM crops and thereby easier to grow them. In our Single Market such an authorisation applies to all 28 Member States.

Countries wishing to “opt out” of approved GM crops step into a complex and legally uncertain process under this proposal. The first (and believe it or not most straight-forward) step is that the country can ask the Commission to ask the GM company’s permission for the country to opt out of the crop in question. This is a shocking assault on democratic decision making, underpinned by a clear conflict of interest for the biotech industry, which one expects will prefer to take its chances that some farmers will go ahead and grow the stuff anyhow, which in the Single Market would be perfectly legal.

If the company declines this request to ban its own products, the next two potential ways for a country to “opt out” of a GM crop are heavily qualified, dripping with phrases like:

  • “There should be the possibility for that Member State to adopt reasoned measures restricting or prohibiting the cultivation of that GMO once authorised” (that doesn’t feel very robust. What does “reasoned” mean?)
  • “On the basis of grounds distinct from those assessed according to the harmonized set of Union rules” (so discrepancies in scientific understanding on safety aren’t allowed.)
  • “When new and objective circumstances justify an adjustment” (wonderfully vague – whose objectivity counts here? Who judges what is justified?)

It is all dreadfully unclear legally, and all options require the acquiescence of the company that has refused to permit the country from opting out in the first place. From what we can see from the leaked documents, any attempt by a country to ban an approved GM crop could wind up in court, and quite possibly a trade war via the WTO and/or other international trade agreements for the whole of the EU – a potent weapon indeed.

Last time pro-GM EU countries tried this in 2012, the Germans told the Council they objected to the breach of the Single Market, and the UK objected to both the breach of the Single Market and the lack of legal clarity, saying we “need to make the system work, not worse.” The UK, “While it is possible to draft text that looks legally sound it is difficult to envisage how a ban could be substantiated and evidenced in practice in a way that is strong enough to withstand a WTO challenge.”

How times have changed.

Complex internal wrangles following a change of Government have pushed Germany to support the proposal. Officially the UK now says, “This proposal should help unblock the dysfunctional EU process for approving GM crops for cultivation.” The new positions of these big hitters suggest the proposal will get the votes it needs to achieve a qualified majority and pass.

Not that the biotech industry is happy with this proposal either. André Goig, Chair of EuropaBio, said, “To renationalise a common policy, based on non-objective grounds, is a negative precedent and contrary to the spirit of the single market.

In a nutshell the political situation is:

So who is this deal for?

The sad irony of this situation is that Europe’s prudent precaution about GM crops appears to be threatened just as our friends in the U.S. are realising they want off the GM treadmill. They are voting for the kind of labels we already have here in the EU, and given everything we know about informed markets rejecting GM foods, those labels could really help tip the balance and ensure only those who actually choose to eat it find it on their plates. The resulting constriction of the market could help knock the GM industry down a peg or two, which would help all of us, including our colleagues in Africa who are being lined up as the next market to crack. Without the profits from unlabelled U.S. sales, the biotech companies might find it a bit harder to roll out their plans.

We’re entering dangerous waters. Whether you live in the U.S. or the EU tell your elected representatives you don’t want GM crops. Remember: If we refuse to put GM food in our kitchens (including the meat, milk and eggs from animals reared on GM feed), supermarkets won’t stock it. If supermarkets won’t stock it, farmers will think twice before planting it. Those of us who follow the details will keep pushing for the meaningful labels most of us want, but your help is indispensable.

June 2nd, 2014

The Tricks and Ploys of the Corporate Water Barons

By Mary Grant 

The lengths some companies will go to stop communities from gaining local control of their water systems can seem completely crazy. Tomorrow, voters in California’s Monterey Peninsula will go to the polls to decide whether to take the first step toward buying their water system from American Water’s California arm.  Read the full article…

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