January, 2012 | Food & Water Watch
Victory! Farm Bureau case challenging EPA’s right to share factory farm data dismissed. more wins »
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Blog Posts: January 2012

January 30th, 2012

Monsanto Returns to the Scene of the Crime

Scott Edwards is co-director of the Food & Water Justice project. By Scott Edwards

Whenever I hear the name Monsanto I can’t help but think about one of the greatest environmental crimes in the history of the United States. Back in 1935 Monsanto bought out a small chemical company located in Anniston, Alabama, a struggling town of about 22,000 poor and working class people. Monsanto spent the next 36 years using Anniston as its manufacturing headquarters for PCBs, an industrial coolant. Tragically, the company was also recklessly poisoning the local community, environment and its own workers with hundreds of tons of this highly toxic material.

For decades Monsanto used Snow Creek, a small local waterway that flowed past its plant, to dispose of PCBs. The company claims that they just didn’t know any better – that as soon as they became aware that PCBs were a human and environmental health problem, they took steps to stop the dumping and to protect local residents and workers. But as documents that the company was forced to turn over during a series of lawsuits that began in the late 1990’s show, their claimed ignorance of the harmful impacts of PCBs is just another in a long, ongoing list of Monsanto’s endless lies. Read the full article…

January 26th, 2012

“An America Built to Last” Needs Clean Water!

Water Program DirectorBy Emily Wurth

As I watched President Obama’s State of the Union address this week, I thought he had some good ideas about how to address some of our country’s serious problems, but I think he really got it wrong on energy policy.

In his speech, President Obama lauded natural gas from shale as a key part of his clean energy plan, but the truth is there is nothing clean about it. Fracking shale for natural gas is an intensive extractive process that has polluted the water and air of communities across the country.

Unfortunately, the energy portion of President Obama’s speech sounded like it could have been written by the oil and gas industry. He cited the industry’s deceptive claims and grossly inflated the jobs numbers, rather than actual labor statistics. President Obama needs to hear the truth about shale gas. Read the full article…

Pontiac, Michigan’s Emergency Financial Manager Undermines Residents’ Right to Water

By Kate Fried Water Privatization

Be honest–this morning when you first turned on the tap to hop into the shower, make coffee, or engage in one of the other countless everyday tasks that requires water, you probably didn’t take a moment to reflect on the fact that clean water flowed from the faucet. No, you turned on the tap and beautiful clear liquid flowed from it—just like it did countless other times, as you’ve come to expect as a resident of a developed nation. Because that’s what happens when we take a resource for granted—we cease to think about it until something goes horribly wrong.

Well, if you live in Pontiac, Michigan, that day may be lurking right around the corner. A while back, the state appointed an Emergency Financial Manager to help whip the city’s troubled finances into shape. Last year, the manager handed the city’s water and sewer systems over to United Water, which if you follow such matters, you know has a track record of raising consumer rates and providing unreliable service. It was also charged with conspiracy and felony violations of the Clean Water Act in a 26-count indictment in Gary, Indiana last year.

Its performance in Pontiac hasn’t been terribly illustrious either. So far the Emergency Financial Manager has raised the price of drinking water for consumers by five percent, and sewage service by 14 percent. Additional increases are expected in 2012.

And now, it appears that the situation may worsen. The Emergency Financial Manager authorized that effective next month United Water will deny service to anyone who fails to pay their water bill. With nearly a third of Pontiac living below the poverty line, the prospect that some won’t be able to pay their water bills is a very real one, especially if rates continue to increase. So if you’re poor and living in Pontiac, cross water off the list of basic human rights you’ll be able to enjoy.

So far few have taken note of this situation, except for some financial gurus, who expect this strategy to raise money for the city. I guess it hasn’t occurred to them that people don’t pay their water bills because they can’t afford to, so threatening service cutoffs is unlikely to bring in much money.

Luckily, there may be a happy ending for some in all this gloom. Activists in Michigan are close to getting a referendum on the November ballot that would repeal recent changes to the state’s Emergency Financial Manager law. If those changes are repealed, emergency financial managers would no longer have sweeping authority over city finances and operations, and other cities would not have to suffer the same fate as Pontiac.

For more information visit Michigan Forward.

January 25th, 2012

Presidential Primaries: All Entertainment, No Food Safety

Don't want genetically engineered food? Act to stop it.

Take action with Food & Water Watch to stop genetically engineered food.

The presidential primaries currently underway have provided vast entertainment but precious little policy substance on issues that effect people daily. Over the course of what feels like thousands of hours of debates, I don’t recall a single question about the safety of our food. There have been many questions touching on the problem of imported energy but nothing on imported food with its growing safety problems. Where are the questions about the shrinking number of farmers combined with the ballooning number of factory farms with their widespread use of antibiotics and other drugs as well as the unprecedented pollution they generate? And what about the unanswered health questions (largely because they are not being asked in public forums) surrounding the rapid rise of genetically modified foods?

Food & Water Watch is working on many fronts to tackle all of these issues, and one thing you can do is to tell your friends about the specific issue of genetically modified foods. Please help spread the word by sending this petition to people you know. The more people who are concerned and vocal, the more likely we are to check the willy-nilly spread of under-tested frankenfoods. If you want to get even more involved, you can attend or start a meeting in your community, to move us closer to a better food system.

If you think that the government agencies tasked with ensuring the safety of our food can resist industry pressure, then you should know that this past week that the USDA approved a plan to let poultry factory farms inspect themselves. One barn with up to 35,000 birds pumped with chemicals is already a recipe for filth and disease and we need more government oversight, not less. Without your voice and that of your fellow Americans, we can’t reverse the trends that are turning our everyday food supply into an unwholesome stew of chemicals, filth and genetic mystery.

Parting thoughts:

One person CAN make a difference. Ecosalon names Food & Water Watch board chair Maude Barlow one of ten women to watch. Maude says: “Do not listen to those who say there is nothing you can do to the very real and large social and environmental issues of our time.” Absolutely.

Until next week,

Lane Brooks
Chief Operating Officer
Food & Water Watch
See my recent messages
A Message from Food & Water Watch's COO Lane Brooks

Candy Catch Shares and Baby Fishermen

Fish PinataBy James Mitchell

It seems like the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) can’t get enough of belittling our nation’s fishermen. In a recent Seattle Weekly blog entitled, “New Study Sounds Rare Optimistic Note in Sustainable Seafood Conversation,” an EDF staffer compared “fishing management strategies to a parent’s handling of the situation that unfolds after a piñata’s broken at a child’s birthday party,” further adding that traditional fisheries management (focusing on rules that regulate boat size, gear type, and calendar date), “is analogous to a parent trying to slow a candy rush by insisting each child only use one hand.”

In EDF’s piñata candy analogy, our fishermen are compared to greedy candy-hungry children, and the federal government is portrayed as, not merely paternalistic, but actually the parents of these little children. This is coming from the same group whose west coast vice president famously described fishermen as “unskilled, unprofessional,” and prone to “high drug use,” at a conference to woo private investors into a scheme to privatize our fisheries (Page 7).

So what’s the purported solution to solve the crisis of the split piñata?  Just like at the investor conference: privatizing our nation’s fisheries with catch shares.  As EDF puts it, “You can each get 10 pieces of candy. You have to stay within your limit or find someone willing to give you [their] candy.  Go after sugary candy, go after chocolate candy, go after whatever you like.”

Apart from being condescending, this analogy is overly simplistic and completely inaccurate.  If these kids were under a “candy catch shares” regime, they would soon come to a rude awakening.  

First, they would discover that not every kid is given the same 10 pieces, because in the real world, not every kid is treated equally. Some kids get preference because of who their parents are, because they’re popular, etc. Next, they would discover that they are not allowed to go after whatever candy they like—they have to pick the same kind of candy every year because the quota is species – er, candy-type specific. That means if their candy type isn’t even in the piñata that year, they don’t get any candy. Finally, the “smaller” children would soon witness how the big bullies acquire the bulk of the candy by teaming up on the little ones to force them out of the room.

As the icing on the birthday cake, the parents might even ask one of the bigger children how the piñata party went, to which he would cheerfully reply in chocolate-stained teeth, “Great!  Let’s have another!”

The list of flaws with the candy analogy goes on, but one thing remains clear.  Candy catch shares don’t work, and neither do real-life catch shares on our nation’s fisheries.

January 24th, 2012

Will the State of the Union Get Fracked?

By Royelen Lee Boykie

In my mind’s eye, I see President Obama, in his address to the Congress tonight, saying, “Craig and Julie Sautner of Dimock, Pennsylvania are here. The EPA is delivering water to him and to his family because it’s been made undrinkable by fracking. We need energy alternatives that DON’T destroy our precious water resources and poison our citizens. I will ask Congress to protect our American families and institute a national ban on fracking.”

It’s a wonderful image, but it’s not likely to happen–yet. Today’s Wall Street Journal and others are reporting a big focus on harnessing domestic sources of U.S. energy, to include fracked gas. We’ll be watching what he says about the issue, but we already know that fracking will not solve our economic woes. We’ll also pay close attention to what he says about streamlining government given his recent announcement, and see if tonight’s speech gives us a preview of what his 2013 budget will have in store for food and water protections. (Hopefully better news than last week, when the USDA announced the privatization of poultry inspections.)

Watch with us tonight and let us know what you think–and if you haven’t already, sign up to protect your food and water.

Read the full article…

January 20th, 2012

EPA Will Provide Water to Victims of Water Contamination in Dimock

By Rich Bindell

When we last checked in with our friends in Dimock, Pennsylvania, some unlikely heroes were delivering a truck full of drinking water. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PA DEP) had determined that Cabot Oil and Gas was no longer responsible to provide water to families affected by contamination. In so doing, PA DEP seemed to send the message that they were protecting Cabot more than the environment or local citizens. Thankfully, the EPA stepped in to investigate, and they determined that the well water of four of the eleven families contained dangerous contaminants. Now the EPA is in the water delivery business. Welcome to Frackville.

The fact that the EPA felt obligated to provide drinking water to four Dimock families was a victory for residents who have been without safe drinking water since November 30, 2011. Since that time, the families have relied upon environmental organizations and sympathetic mayors to provide them with safe water for drinking, bathing and other household uses. A federal agency made the right call, even if the state agency in pro-fracking Pennsylvania couldn’t take responsibility for the contamination.

While Cabot Oil and Gas continues to deny that their operations are the cause of the contamination, the facts might reveal a different story in due time. Cabot has been drilling in Dimock, near to the victim’s properties, and while the contaminants found in their water are certainly not natural to the area, they are often associated with fracking.

And this certainly isn’t limited to Dimock. Some residents in Butler, Pennsylvania could be next on the EPA’s delivery route. If fracking is allowed to continue, will the EPA become a bottled water delivery service?

If the EPA hadn’t stepped in and taken the time to conduct a proper investigation, this story could have ended differently. Meanwhile, every week reveals new information about fracking’s negative impacts. We’re learning the hard way. If we had put research and study before rapid industrial expansion, fracking might not be the cause of so many harmful events.

Is Maude Barlow One of the Women Taking Over?

Maude Barlow

By Royelen Lee Boykie

Sometimes I think women are taking over.

A former boss of mine even revealed recently that when he left the advocacy business in favor of creating a themed bar, he didn’t expect that his customers would be all women. But they are. And they are having a ball.

However, the women I think about most who are taking over are the women who are making social change – many of which support Food & Water Watch through volunteering, through donating, by being energetic staff people and by being our leaders.

Everyday I am inspired by these women and when they get time in the limelight I am energized and appreciative anew. Check out our Board Chair Maude Barlow getting well-deserved attention as one of the Ten Women to Watch in Ecosalon.com’s recent article. If the rest of the women in that list are as capable and dedicated as Maude, we really do have hope for change.

In Maude’s case specifically, we have hope that the movement to make water a human right is something each and every one of us can and MUST participate in – and that we can be successful. With Maude as one of our leaders, I am hopeful change will happen in my lifetime. And, I am so honored to be part even a small part of that change.

Of Maude however, I do imagine a greater honor – perhaps such that might be foretold in a retelling of the unforgettable St. Crispin’s day speech from the play, Henry V.

Then will she strip her sleeve and show her scars,
And say, ‘These wounds I had got for water rights.
‘The Old forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But she’ll be remembered with advantages,
What feats she did for us and human rights.

Thank you, Maude – and congratulations on yet another acknowledgement.

January 18th, 2012

Tainted OJ — So Not COOL

Another juice scare

Unless you are reading the label, you may think that the “all-American” OJ you grew up with is, well, all American. But last week’s news about orange juice tainted with a fungicide in the large quantity of juice imported from Brazil may have changed that. Some American processors mix the imported juice from Brazil — which allows the offending fungicide, carbendazim, with juice from the United States, which does not. Read the full article…

McFarmwashing?

By Darcey Rakestraw

McDonald’s new ad campaign hit twitter earlier today with a promoted hashtag, #MeetTheFarmers. It’s a clever way of promoting the campaign, but some, like Andy Bellatti over at Grist, are calling the ads “farmwashing.”

One of the company’s videos addresses how a handful of producers in one area of the nation provide 80 percent of the lettuce American’s eat. But is this a good thing? It’s certainly not good for food safety, since one mishap in a large facility or farm can get spread far and wide. We’ve seen this several times over the past few years, like in 2006, with a massive recall of spinach found to contain E. coli. Salmonella-tainted peppers and peanut butter soon followed. And in 2010, over half a billion eggs from just two factory farms were recalled. At least 14 Americans died and many thousands became ill from those four major outbreaks thanks to mistakes that made it into the food supply.

It’s not good for consumers or farmers to have a system with so few players. McDonald’s ad campaign gives us a good opportunity to talk about how the farm bill affects what we eat, every day.

What do you think about McDonald’s new ad campaign?

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