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Victory! Cleveland passes resolution against antibiotic misuse on factory farms. more wins »
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June 5th, 2014

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…

President Obama’s Carbon Rule: Too Little, Too Late?

pollution tradingBy Mitch Jones

Today, President Obama unveiled his long awaited rule to reduce carbon emissions from existing power plants. Unfortunately, the plan isn’t bold enough to affect the change we need.

To what depths have we sunk when embracing a failed 25-year-old right wing policy is hailed as a radical move for a Democratic president?

Recently both the International Panel on Climate Change and the President’s own National Assessment on Climate Change have sounded the alarm. Anthropogenic climate change is real, it is happening, and unless we drastically reduce the amount of greenhouse gases we pump into the air, it will only get worse.

That means more extreme weather: dry areas becoming drier, leading to more droughts. Wet areas becoming wetter, leading to more floods. Our increasingly acidic oceans’ levels rising. More extreme, violent storms.

The President’s target for emissions cuts is too low. After the Supreme Court recently validated the EPA’s authority to regulate cross border air pollution, the administration had a green light to go bold. Instead they flinched. The targets don’t make the U.S. a leader in seeking emissions reduction. Because this rule applies to only one segment of our economy, existing coal-fired power plants, the reduction targets fall far short of the IPCC’s goals of economy-wide reductions of 15 to 40 percent below 1990 emission by 2020. With these targets, U.S. economy-wide emissions would still be above 1990 levels in 2030.

What’s more, even that unambitious target is undermined by the President’s decision to let states use cap and trade as a mechanism for meeting the target. The problem is that cap and trade doesn’t work; it merely lets polluters keep polluting as long as they are willing to pay for the right to do so. Cap-and-trade has a 25-year history here in the U.S., but it’s based on a false premise. As NASA scientist James Hansen said, it “perpetuates the exact pollution it is supposed to eliminate.”

Carbon reduction programs like cap-and-trade should not be a substitute for regulation. They are difficult to implement, create unneeded problems with unfair credit distribution, and threaten the stability of the marketplace. Above all, they benefit current polluters at the expense of everyone else. It’s merely a substitution of economic abstractions in place of actual regulation.

Instead of allowing states to play an emissions shell game with cap-and-trade, the President should have set an ambitious target, prohibited states from using false solutions like cap-and-trade or switching to natural gas generation, and allowed them to come up with real solutions to reduce carbon emissions.

When your target is 25 years down the road, you can’t afford incremental change. This will be the final rule for quite some time. Aiming low, allowing carbon emissions above 1990 levels, and using a mechanism that won’t get the reductions we need isn’t leadership. It’s a mistake.

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May 30th, 2014

Hostile Takeover with a Twist

By Patrick Woodall meat aisle in grocery store

Remember those halcyon days when you could grill a Ball Park hot dog or Jimmy Dean sausage without a Wall Street bidding war breaking out? You know, at last Monday’s Memorial Day picnic? 

Because on Tuesday, Brazilian protein powerhouse JBS/Pilgrims Pride made a $6.4 billion dollar unsolicited, hostile takeover offer for Hillshire Farm, which owns the iconic processed pork brands. Then on Thursday, Tyson Foods upped the ante with a $6.8 billion bid for Hillshire. This battle aims to put a sausage link in the food chain of one of America’s top two meat companies. Both of these offers would require Hillshire to abandon its attempt to buy Pinnacle Foods. Read the full article…

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May 29th, 2014

What Happens When Your Antibiotics Don’t Work?

Thomas and Nicole

Nicole and Thomas, just after Thomas’ first birthday.

Congress can act now to save antibiotics for people who need them most!

TAKE ACTION

By Briana Kerensky

Antibiotic-resistant infections aren’t something you typically worry about, much less even think about, on a regular basis. But what happens when you get one? How does it change your life? With the growing misuse of antibiotics on factory farms, the concept of antibiotic-resistant infections is on people’s minds more than ever before.

About four years ago, an antibiotic-resistant infection changed the life of Nicole, a mom from Kensington, Maryland. Nicole leads what she jokingly calls a “pretty crunchy” lifestyle. She grows her own organic vegetable garden, sticks to local and organic meat, and limits the amount of processed foods in her pantry. Nicole was thrilled to breastfeed her new son Thomas, but when he was only three-and-a-half weeks old she developed mastitis.

“Sometimes the milk duct can get infected and it’s very painful,” Nicole said. “You’re supposed to work through it and I tried to do some homeopathic things to take care of it, but it got worse and worse. On a scale of 1 to 10, the pain became a 30.”

Nicole received antibiotics from her OB/GYN, but it quickly became apparent that they weren’t working. A team of doctors from different hospitals and offices soon discovered that she had antibiotic-resistant MRSA in her breast. The infection was spreading rapidly, and everyone was concerned that Nicole’s C-Section incision would soon become septic as well. Nicole was stunned by the whole situation. “I felt like I needed Dr. House!”

By far the scariest part of Nicole’s infection was learning that it had spread to her breast milk.

Read the full article…

May 27th, 2014

A Marriage Made in Meat Manufacturing Heaven, Consumer Hell

By Patrick Woodall 

We’ve noted before that almost every Monday brings news of another food company merger announcement, but yesterday’s was especially amazing. Brazil’s monolithic meat monopolist JBS announced it wants to buy sausage and processed pork powerhouse Hillshire Farms for more than $6 billion. Just a few weeks ago, Hillshire announced a takeover bid for Pinnacle Foods. Read the full article…

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May 23rd, 2014

Chesapeake Bay: Where MD Stores Its Fertilizer and Chicken Manure

By Mitch Jones

 

Photo by Jlastras.

In a new report the University of Maryland’s Center for Environmental Science gives an overall health grade to the Chesapeake Bay of a “C” for 2013. The report claims that the Bay’s health has remained steady from 2012 to 2013, except for one major problem: there is “a continuing degradation of the Eastern Shore” due to runoff from agriculture.

 

Pollution caused by agricultural runoff is one of the reasons Food & Water Watch supported legislation in this year’s Maryland General Assembly that would have provided more funding for cover crop programs. Delegate Shane Robinson in the House and Senator Rich Madaleno in the Senate introduced the Poultry Fair Share Act that would have placed a 5-cent per head fee on the large poultry companies on the Eastern Shore. The birds owned by those companies produced about 1.5 billion pounds of manure each year. The new report notes that “it’s the fertilizer and chicken manure that’s causing the problems” for Eastern Shore waterways. Read the full article…

May 22nd, 2014

Fracking Shows Its Viral Nature

By Royelen Lee Boykie

Merriam-Webster recently added the word “fracking” to the latest edition of its dictionary. We think you’ll find Food & Water Watch’s definition is more accurate:

Read the full article…

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