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Victory! Cleveland passes resolution against antibiotic misuse on factory farms. more wins »
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May 13th, 2014

“M” is for Monday and Mega-Mergers

By Patrick Woodall 

Consumer choice at the grocery store eroded yet again yesterday with news of another food company mega-merger. Hillshire Brands (Jimmy Dean sausages, Ball Park hot dogs, Sara Lee frozen desserts and more) announced it planned to buy Pinnacle Foods (Vlasic pickles, Lender’s frozen bagels, Mrs. Paul’s frozen fish and more). It seems that almost every Monday brings new merger announcements, but few match the $6.6 billion in food sales of the proposed Hillshire-Pinnacle mash-up. Read the full article…

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May 12th, 2014

Spinning a Consensus on GMOs

By Tim Schwab 

Journalist Keith Kloor, always a busy beaver advancing the biotech industry’s agenda, linked to Food & Water Watch in a recent blog, portraying us as part of the “GMO Fear Train” that’s going off the tracks. His post centered on New York Times’ writer Mark Bittman’s recent statement that GMOs are “probably harmless,” a stance Food & Water Watch criticized last week as hollow and shortsighted. Read the full article…

Oil and Gas Spills and BLM Ills: It’s Time for the People’s Lobby Week!

By Katherine Cirullo

On Monday, Mike Soraghan of E&E EnergyWire revealed that in 2013, the number of oil and gas related spills increased by 18 percent, despite the fact that the rate of drilling actually began to level off. In a similar vein, the Associated Press recently reported findings from the new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report: the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has failed to inspect a large number of high-risk oil and gas wells on pubic lands. Think regulations are enough to prevent fracking from affecting the environment and the health of American communities? Just in time for the People’s Lobby Week against fracking, it is imperative that you consider the facts and think again.

On one hand, data shows a major increase in oil and gas spills in the top 15 on-shore drilling states. In 2013 there were at least 7,662 spills, averaging slightly over 20 spills per day. The combined volume of spilled oil, fracking fluid, fracking wastewater and other substances surpassed 26 million gallons — that’s 26 million gallons of toxic substances more than our waterways and our communities should be forced to tolerate.

On the other hand, there is data showing grossly inadequate government oversight of oil and gas drilling. In a review of 14 states, the GAO reports findings that for wells drilled from 2009 to 2012, the BLM failed to conduct inspections on more than 2,100 of the 3,702 wells that it had specified as “high-priority” for preventing water contamination and other environmental damage. The BLM, the very agency that is supposed to preserve and protect our public lands (and act as a dependable source of federal oversight), just isn’t pulling through. Read the full article…

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May 9th, 2014

Field Notes: California Rising Up Against Fracking

Posing for a photo after Beverly Hills becomes the first California city to ban fracking, (left to right) Councilmember John A. Mirisch, Councilmember Nancy H. Krasne, Food & Water Watch volunteer Lauren Steiner, Mayor Lili Bosse, FWW Organizer Brenna Norton, Councilmember William W. Brien M.D., Vice Mayor Julian A. Gold M.D.

By Tia Lebherz and Brenna Norton

Since Tia’s blog last week about the campaign to ban fracking in Butte County and other places across California, the movement to ban fracking in the Golden State has experienced much momentum.  

This week, Beverly Hills became the first city in California to enact a ban on fracking and related well stimulation techniques. The ordinance also prohibits these activities from any site outside city limits that would drill and extract oil and gas underneath the city. The City Council first voted unanimously for a ban on April 21st (Earth Day), and on Tuesday night, the final vote put the ban into effect. Food & Water Watch worked closely with superstar fractivist Lauren Steiner on the effort, with the support of Center for Biological Diversity and other organizations.

“This is not a ‘not in my backyard issue’ – it should not be in anyone’s back yard,” said Councilmember John Mirsch. “But this issue goes beyond that. And we also need to think long-term even if our city is not a center of drilling. Injecting millions of gallons of water and chemicals at high pressure into the earth can’t be good. Asbestos and smoking was once also considered safe. Fracking is not worth the risk.”

On the other side of L.A. County, on April 22, the City Council of Compton voted to place a moratorium on fracking to protect their community from the threat of Occidental Petroleum and other oil companies invading the community to drill for oil in the Dominguez Hill oil field. Occidental has been hinting about the possibility of drilling in Compton, since they face strong opposition in neighboring Carson to their proposal to drill over 200 new wells.

Santa Barbara County Water Guardians deliver 20,000 signatures to put a fracking ban on the county’s November ballot.

The fight to protect Carson is now in full swing. After the Carson City Council unanimously enacted a 45-day moratorium on all oil and gas development, last week the Council split on whether to extend the moratorium for another 10 months. Two councilmembers voted for the moratorium, two voted against it, and one member abstained. While the vote was disappointing, there are numerous ways to stop the project, and we will continue to work and support the community’s efforts to stopping the project and protecting their community.

Meanwhile in Los Angeles the City Attorney is now drafting a moratorium ordinance as directed by the City Council, which voted unanimously to advance the ordinance. It will return to the full L.A. City Council for a final vote to be ratified in the coming months.

In San Benito County, home of Pinnacles National Park, San Benito Rising successfully submitted over 4,000 signatures to bring a vote to ban fracking to the November ballot. And in Santa Barbara County, the Santa Barbara County Water Guardians collected an impressive 20,000 petition signatures in an all-volunteer effort in under four weeks. The Water Guardians are now waiting to see whether the County Board of Supervisors will adopt the measure or place it on the November ballot for voter approval.

Finally, our friends at Frack-Free Butte County launched an indiegogo website complete with a fantastic video documenting their campaign. Stay tuned for more exciting updates in the near future!

The Fight for Public Water Is on in Monterey

By Katherine Cirullo

In its latest effort to undermine the public interest, California American Water (Cal-Am), a subsidiary of American Water, has poured $2.2 million so far into defeating Measure O, outspending Monterey’s local public control campaign by about 45 to 1. But money can’t truly buy votes and corporate scare tactics shouldn’t fool the Monterey Peninsula community. Ratepayers in Felton, California benefitted from a public acquisition of Cal-Am water, and the Monterey community surely would as well.

On June 3, Monterey Peninsula residents will vote on Measure O, which local group, Public Water Now, collected some 8,400 signatures to place on the ballot. If passed, Measure O would set the Monterey Peninsula Water Management District on a track to purchase the water system, primarily by funding a study to determine whether a public takeover of Cal-Am is “feasible and beneficial.”

Not-so-shockingly, Cal-Am, the sole contributor to the “No on O” campaign, seems to be emptying its pockets to make sure Measure O doesn’t pass, but perhaps this is because it fears the truth: studies show that public ownership of municipal water systems benefits communities by providing lower rates and more dependable, safer water service, and many voters in Monterey know this. Read the full article…

May 8th, 2014

Another View on Mark Bittman’s Recent Note to Food Activists

By Wenonah Hauter

For the Presss: High Resolution Image of Wenonah Hauter

Wenonah Hauter, Food & Water Watch Executive Director

I had the pleasure of speaking on a panel Tuesday night with Mark Bittman, who mentioned that his New York Times opinion piece the following day about GMOs would be controversial. On Wednesday morning I looked and saw why: it called out the food movement for focusing too much on organics and GMOs—saying of the latter, “GMOs are probably harmless…. It’s helped accelerate industrial agriculture and its problems and strengthened the positions of unprincipled companies. But the technology itself has not been found to be harmful.” He argues that instead, the movement should focus on making agriculture sustainable and promoting healthier food in general.

But these concepts aren’t mutually exclusive—in fact, GMOs are part and parcel of the industrialization of the food system, as Bittman describes. What’s worse, disparaging the views of people who care about organics and GMOs is disempowering to the tens of thousands of food activists fighting to have a say in their democracy by working to label GMO foods—clearly an important transparency issue. Dissing those who are concerned about pesticides and GMOs distracts from the real debate about the harms of chemicals and untested technologies in our food supply—and the fact that both phenomena stem from the corporate control of our food system and our democracy.

I have great respect for Bittman, and think that for the most part, he’s helped bring about much needed attention to the myriad problems with how we grow, sell and eat food (I look forward to reading his new cookbook highlighting his “flexitarian approach.”) And much of the piece I agree with: we need to talk about sustainability more generally. We need to talk about food marketing to kids and the harms of processed foods. We need to encourage people to eat better and to stay away from processed food. But I don’t agree with setting up these examples as a way to squash debate on organics and GMOs. They are all issues that people who fight for a better food system should address. We should be talking about them all in the narrative about the dysfunctional food system and our vision for the future.

I am baffled by Bittman’s unwitting support for the agrochemical industry. The health effects from agrochemicals are well documented and while EPA sets limits on the amount of each pesticide that can be on each food item, the agency does not limit the number of different pesticides or the synergistic or accumulative effects they may have—especially in children.

What’s more, Bittman disregards the fact that there have been no long-term studies on the human health effects of genetically engineered foods. As Bittman acknowledges, giant agribusiness companies have used GMOs to take control of the production of crops, hiding behind false claims of sustainability. But he does not go on to say that the production of genetically engineered crops requires massive amounts of herbicides that create superweeds, pose risks to human health and threaten ecosystems.

Indeed, none of this seems harmless, or “probably harmless,” to me.

Honestly, while some in the food movement lauded the piece, it left me scratching my head. As someone that the movement looks up to, it’s really disappointing to see Bittman setting up GMOs and organics as things that we shouldn’t care about. We most certainly should fight against untested, unproven genetic experiments that rely on chemical inputs and give corporate food giants increasing control over our food. Debating the details of whether the science itself is imminently harmful is really a red herring—one that the industry is happy to have journalists focused on because it distracts the public from the real fight we’re engaging in for a better food system.

For that, I fear Mark Bittman’s piece is actually, probably, very harmful and I would ask that he reconsider.

Collaboration or Obfuscation?

By Tony Corbo 

Recently, USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) agreed to share information during the investigation of foodborne illness outbreaks. A laudable effort since animal diseases and pathogens that lurk in animal husbandry can often lead to human foodborne illnesses. But this recent announcement is clouded by the revelation that FSIS may have deliberately delayed the release of an audit report that revealed some serious shortcomings in the Brazilian meat safety system. Had that report been publicly released on the date that it had been transmitted to the Brazilian government, on April 16, 2014, it would have provided valuable information for a proposed APHIS rule to green light the importation of fresh beef products from Brazil. The comment period on the APHIS proposed rule ended on April 22, 2014. Apparently, the FSIS audit report was only recently posted on its website and was made public as a result of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA). Read the full article…

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May 7th, 2014

What’s Beyond GMO Contamination?

By David Sánchez

Read “Organic Farmers Pay the Price for Contamination” in English or Spanish.

Felix is an organic farmer in Spain, the country that hosts 90 percent of genetically modified (GM) crops in Europe. He grows grains, alfalfa and vegetables. His organic maize was contaminated by a GM variety, and therefore he lost the organic certification for his 7.7 hectare farm. He lost €14,756 (US$20,585) as a result of the preventive measures he took to avoid contamination in addition to the direct loss of being forced to sell his harvest in the conventional markets. According to the Spanish law, he has no one to blame, so cannot claim for damages. 

Tom is an organic farmer in the U.S., a country where 90 percent of soy and 93 percent of maize area is planted with GM varieties. He grows maize and is forced to take many measures to prevent contamination: planting buffer strips, delaying planting or performing extra tests, with median annual costs up to US$8,000 (€5,735). One year his maize was contaminated by a GM variety, and the buyer rejected his load, with a median loss in that season of US$4,500 (€3,226). He has no one to blame for the damage either.

The first story was reported by Greenpeace a few years ago. It just shows the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the reality of GM cultivation in Spain. The second could be the story of any of the organic farmers surveyed by Food & Water Watch and OFARM earlier this year, just released in Europe in (available in English and in Spanish).

The stories of organic and GM-free farmers in both countries are extremely similar. They’ve been forced to abandon organic cultivation of crops where there is a GM variety, incur additional labour costs and economic damages, faced financial insecurity and experienced strained relations between neighbours—without any legal protections. Clearly, what the U.S. Government, the European Commission and the industry call “coexistence” simply mean imposing GM crops. 

Nevertheless, there is one important difference: the EU only allows the cultivation of one GM maize variety so far. But the reality of European small-scale agriculture shows that the situations in those countries that allow GM cultivation (Spain, Portugal or the Czech Republic) are already too serious to be ignored. And this is something the European Commission should keep in mind when deciding whether or not to approve a new GM crop, a maize engineered by Pioneer to kill insects and resist herbicides.

We have mounting scientific evidence on the right way to create a food system to achieve sustainability and social justice goals. And the European Commission will have to decide whom do they want to stand for. Will they stand for Felix and the organic farmers, a growing sector that creates employment and puts new energies in rural areas? Or will they stand for Pioneer, Monsanto and Syngenta, who are lobbying hard to get their GM crops approved in Europe? The answer will be coming soon.

Tell the European Food Safety Authority: If it’s dangerous you want less NOT more!

May 5th, 2014

A Government of the People, By the People

By Emily Wurthstack of one hundred dollar bills

It seems like every week, a new study is released highlighting the dire effects that drilling and fracking for oil and gas impose on our air, water, health and climate. Meanwhile, Congress still provides tax breaks for big corporations, subsidies for the mature fossil fuel industry and has exempted fracking from the Safe Drinking Water Act and provisions of other landmark environmental laws. So why does Congress continue to turn a blind eye to science, making decisions that move our nation’s energy policy backwards

Read the full article…

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May 2nd, 2014

Water Privatization Coming to Your Town, Thanks to the WTO?

By Mitch Jones

 

Water Privatization

Read Public Services International’s latest report, “TISA Versus Public Services”.

With your help, we at Food & Water Watch have been working with a broad alliance of organizations to push back against the pro-corporate trade agenda being negotiated in the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. While we’ve made some progress, the fight is far from over, and it could impact your local water services.

Evidence of that fact is the necessity of a new report by our friends at Public Services International: TISA Versus Public Services: The trade in services agreement and the corporate agenda.

Negotiations for TISA, the Trade in Services Agreement, began in 2012 when a group of 20 World Trade Organization (WTO) members formed the “Really Good Friends of Services” (no, I’m not making that up). These Really Good Friends decided to negotiate a new deal outside of the normal WTO framework.

Like the TPP and TTIP, the TISA would undercut domestic regulations designed to protect local workers and small businesses, as well as the environment, so that large multinational corporations could reap larger profits. Little wonder when the Really Good Friends’ really good friends –- the banks, oil and gas industry, and private water companies, among others –- have been pushing for this agreement. TISA would allow foreign corporations the same access to domestic markets at “no less favorable” conditions than domestic companies. At the same time it would block local governments’ attempts to regulate, purchase and provide services. Under TISA, privatization of local water systems would be made easier, and fights against privatization would be made harder. Oh, and it could use investor-state dispute resolution to allow foreign companies to sue our local governments if they don’t like our laws and regulations, just like the TPP and TTIP. It’s outrageous!

TISA is really just another effort by large corporations and the big banks that fund them to push an agenda that they can’t get passed through democratic means. It’s part of the same agenda being pushed in the U.S. by the Koch brothers and ALEC. And, with the Supreme Court paving the way for these same companies to pour millions upon millions of dollars into our elections, we need to fight back harder than ever.

Read the report by Public Services International. Then, email your Member of Congress and tell them you oppose fast track trade deals that will undermine our laws and harm our communities and our environment.

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