Blogs | Food & Water Watch - Part 8
Victory! Cleveland passes resolution against antibiotic misuse on factory farms. more wins »
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June 17th, 2014

The First Step in Overturning Citizens United

By Mitch Jones

This Wednesday the Senate’s Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice will be holding a vote on a Constitutional amendment that would overturn Citizens United. 

Citizens United opened the door to an obscene amount of corporate dollars flowing into political campaigns. The case had three major components that have made it nearly impossible to keep corporate money out of politics… 

  1. It found that free speech rights are about the speech, not the speaker (in other words, it doesn’t matter who’s speaking, but that speaking is taking place.)
  2. The case reconfirmed the notion of corporate personhood.
  3. Since political speech is the most important First Amendment right, constraint of free speech must meet strict scrutiny.

So, Citizens United basically allowed corporate financing of elections to be protected as free speech. This is money spent by people like the Koch Brothers and Sheldon Adelson trying to buy elections to ensure they have a Congress and a President that is willing to do their bidding.

The only way to ensure that we get rid of this terrible ruling is to amend the Constitution. That’s why Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) and 43 of his Senate colleagues have introduced S.J. Res. 19, a constitutional amendment that would grant Congress and the states the power to regulate the raising and spending of money in federal and state elections. It’s a simple fix to a major problem.

Send your senators an email and ask them to support the Udall Amendment

Superbugs Get Started on Factory Farms

By Jo Miles

You’ve probably heard about the rise of antibiotic-resistant infections: bacteria that have grown increasingly resistant to medicine. It’s a serious threat… yet not many people realize that factory farms are a huge part of the problem.

Check out the comic below to see how factory farms are putting everyone’s health at risk. Then tell your lawmakers to stop the misuse of antibiotics on factory farms.

Comic: Factory Farms Make Me Sick

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June 12th, 2014

GM Crops in the EU – Game On

By Eve Mitchell

Say No to GM Feed in EuropeAs widely predicted, the European Council agreed this morning to the compromise proposal on so-called national “opt outs” for GM crops. What happens next will be interesting indeed.

Luxembourg and Belgium abstained from the vote. Every other EU Member State supported the deal, but that doesn’t give a full picture of the situation by any means.

Around half of the Member States said outright they would ban GM crops or alluded that they would. Others noted the difficulties yet to be faced in agreeing coexistence rules needed to protect non-GM agriculture from GM contamination, including across international boundaries in our relatively small countries. None dismissed the delicacy of the next stage – securing the agreement with the EU Parliament. One speaker called the emerging agreement “historic,” and given the issue was first broached in 2009, I suppose that’s true to a point. More than one country called for the revision of the ten-year-old regulations of GMOs, and others the need to update and revise how Europe conducts its risk assessments of GMOs (as unanimously called for by this same Council way back in 2008 – pdf). That’s a big can of worms indeed. Several speakers reminded the Council of the strong public opposition to GM food and crops back home. At the end of the meeting, Italy said that the agreement “demonstrates the unity of Europe”.

I heard a lot of things during this meeting, but unanimity wasn’t one of them.

So on we go to that next stage, where a brand new Parliament will have to take on a highly controversial issue that touches on food production and safety, public health, international trade, environmental protection, national sovereignty, democratic accountability and corporate control of agriculture all in one go. Good luck to them. Good luck to us. We will be relying on the countries who signalled disquiet with any number of issues in this deal (while agreeing to it anyway, in the spirit of cooperation of course), to insist those issues are clearly addressed and real answers provided. The pressure being applied will make those lines hard to hold.

If the Parliament and Council can someday wrestle an actual agreement out of all that, we’ll then have to see if the biotech industry plays ball and permits any bans to stand. If anything like half of EU countries ban GM crops in all or parts of their territories it will give the industry a pretty big headache of multilingual regulations to adhere to across what is supposed to be a Single Market. That nagging issue of coexistence will be there, as well as liability for any damage done by their products, particularly if that damage occurs across international borders into areas banning the crops in the first place. Since the chief GM lobby group EuropaBio has already put out a tetchy statement of disappointment saying, “This deal shows the lack of willingness of the EU institutions and Member States to correctly implement the current regulatory framework for GMO approvals they had decided upon themselves,” it isn’t at all clear the rules of the game will be agreed by all the players. Then again the industry has the WTO red card in its back pocket they can use to challenge any ban or start a trade war. Mere citizens have no such backstop.

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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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