June, 2013 | 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: June 2013

June 26th, 2013

President Obama: Fracked Gas is Not a Solution to Climate Change

By Mark Schlosberg 

I watched with anticipation yesterday as President Obama delivered his speech laying out his new climate action plan. Climate change is one of the most pressing issue of our time, and one on which the United States desperately needs to lead. While it was heartening to hear the President take on climate deniers and pledge to fight the problem, his full-throated advocacy for fracked natural gas and oil was more a case of two steps back than a giant step forward.

Read the full article…

Is GE Food Making Pigs Sick?

By Genna Reed

An article published in the most recent issue of Journal of Organic Systems sheds light on the effects of GE food on animals and potentially humans. The authors of this study—scientists and experts from Australia and the Midwestern United States—performed a long-term study on pigs raised in a real-life, industrial hog production facility.

This study is important because it examined pigs during their entire lifespan of 22.7 weeks and also had a large sample size of 168 pigs, 84 in the GE-fed group (fed stacked Roundup Ready and insect-resistant Bt corn and Roundup Ready soy) and 84 in the non-GE-fed group. Read the full article…

June 24th, 2013

Frackademia – Corporate Siege Endures; Science’s Integrity Crumbles

By John Wufracking for natural gas

Industry funding of studies and universities presents a significant challenge to academic integrity, and the latest opportunity for influence — fracking on campus land — can also endanger public health and the environment.

Back in February, Food & Water Watch blogged about the University of Tennessee’s intention to open up 8,600 acres of publicly owned land in their Cumberland Research Forest for fracking.

Despite opposition from those in and outside the academic community, the plan moved forward. On June 7, 2013, the institution called for proposals for the “lease of oil and gas interests” – officially seeking bidders for drilling and fracking.

The University of Tennessee betrayed the public and the environment by putting up a figurative picket sign on the Cumberland Research Forest, a forest that has nurtured over 60 years of environmental research. 

Read the full article…

And This Year’s Award Goes to… Monsanto?

By Jessica Walton

Click here to read the report, “Monsanto: A Corporate Profile”

Last week, Secretary of State John Kerry announced the 2013 World Food Prize laureates. Among the 2013 laureates are Syngenta’s Mary-Dell Chilton and Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer at Monsanto, Robert Fraley.

“Big Ag” is no stranger to the World Food Prize. This $250,000 annual award is made possible by its corporate sponsors – namely DuPont, John Deere, Monsanto, Archer Daniels Midland, Cargill, and Syngenta. Furthermore, the World Food Prize recognizes individuals that contribute to the spread of technological innovations that fuel the business model of these agribusiness giants.

Created by Norman Bourlag, father of the Green Revolution and long time promoter of the industrialization of global agriculture, it is no surprise that the World Food Prize dotes on promoters of increased production. The prize claims to highlight individuals who contribute to the “quality, quantity or availability of food in the world,” but it ignores the fact that hunger has little to do with food scarcity.

This year’s controversial award for agricultural biotechnology highlights the political nature of the issue. Genetic engineering of food crops is not a solution to global hunger; it is a way for chemical companies like Monsanto, DuPont and Dow to control the seeds farmers need and package them with mandatory chemical inputs. Robert Fraley, for example, was a key player in the production of “Roundup Ready” soy, which is bred to withstand heavy application of pesticides, not provide useful tools for farmers in the developing world.

With an undisclosed selection committee, heavy corporate funding and backing by U.S. government agencies that support the adoption of American biotechnology abroad, it’s hard to feel good about the World Food Prize. Once touted as the Nobel Prize for food and agriculture, the World Food Prize has become a publicity campaign for companies looking to paint their practices green.

People working to end poverty, rebuild local food economies and assert democratic control over the food system already knew the World Food Prize had its priorities wrong – they started giving out an alternative honor, the Food Sovereignty Prize, in 2009. The 2013 winner of the Food Sovereignty Prize will be announced soon. We’re willing to bet it isn’t Monsanto.

Jessica Walton is an intern at Food & Water Watch.

This post has been updated to correct the spelling of Norman Bourlag’s name and the date that the Food Sovereignty Prize was first awarded.

June 20th, 2013

House Farm Bill Breakdown

Patty Lovera

Food & Water Watch Assistant Director Patty Lovera

By Patty Lovera

This afternoon, the House of Representatives voted on the farm bill – and it failed 195-234. Many Democrats voted against it because of the drastic cuts to food stamps ($20 billion, compared to $4 billion cut in the Senate version) and several amendments adopted on the House floor that made the bill even worse, including allowing states to establish drug test and work requirements for food stamp recipients. More Republicans than expected voted against the bill because they object to the size of government programs for things like crop insurance, dairy support and the sugar program. You can see how your Representative voted here.

While we’ve come to expect drama and dysfunction from the farm bill process, we don’t know anyone who thought it would go this way. The House bill was terribly flawed on a number of fronts. But the failure of the House to pass a bill at all raises the chance that we have to live through another year of an extension of the last farm bill. This isn’t good either because the last extension did not renew a lot of important programs for organic, conservation and beginning farmers.

The big question at this point is whether the House will try again to pass their own version of the bill, vote on the version the Senate already passed, or just stay gridlocked until they have to pass an extension (before September 30). There really isn’t any sense making predictions with this bunch, since they seem intent on doing things that supposedly “never happen” to the farm bill.

So once again…stay tuned for updates.

GM Crops – Can We Get a Grip Now Please?

By Eve Mitchell

I don’t know about you, but I have an old, broken screwdriver in the bottom of my toolbox. I used to use it to stir paint until the handle came off. Now it’s not even any good for that. I can’t get a good grip on it anymore and keep getting my hands covered in paint, which pretty much defeats the purpose.

Still, I can’t quite bring myself to chuck the thing out. It was a surprise gift from a rich friend at a time I was strapped for cash, and some combination of nostalgia and fading hope that it might just come in handy someday (not to mention it was jolly expensive, so I’m rather cross it’s broken) just about manages to keep the bits of it hanging around in the bottom of my toolbox. 

So it is with genetically modified (GM) crops.

UK Secretary of State for Environment Food and Rural Affairs Owen Paterson gave a speech today announcing, once again, that the UK must embrace GM food and crops or be “left behind” in the “global race” (we’re a bit worried about what the prize is if you win), and that EU rules on GM must be “relaxed” to facilitate this. It was hard to miss – the speech has been trailed in the media for ages, and Paterson, the Minister for Science and even the Prime Minister himself have all made public statements in the past several days supporting a renewed UK dive into technology.

Yet the arguments underpinning the Government’s new round of GM promotion don’t really hang together. We’re told Paterson’s speech “explains” the benefits of GM and that we need to use “all the tools in the box” to feed the world. This is a well trodden path claiming GM helps the environment by requiring lower pesticide use and benefits consumers and farmers with higher yields leading to cheaper food. It would be nice if it were true. In reality this is much more about naked UK industrial ambition than feeding the world, and this speech is meant to tell consumers we need to learn to like it.

Read the full article…

The House Finally Does the Farm Bill

By Patty Lovera

Read the report

Confused about the Farm Bill? Click here to read our report, Farm Bill 101.

After never getting around to it last year, the full House of Representatives is finally working on a farm bill and they seem to be trying to make up for lost time. Yesterday they set a very quick pace, plowing through dozens of amendments and working until close to midnight (so they can keep on schedule to adjourn Thursday afternoon and make it home to their districts for the weekend.)

The version of the bill sent to the House floor by the House Agriculture Committee is very flawed (you can read more about it here). It cuts food stamps by $20 billion, fails to restore funding for almost all the organic and sustainable agriculture programs that expired last year, and includes a provision that would effectively overturn state laws that set food and agriculture standards that are higher than federal rules.

The potential for improving the House farm bill on the floor rests on what amendments are considered. On Monday afternoon, members filed over 200 amendments covering a range of issues. Some of them would have made critical improvements to the bill on restoring organic programs like certification cost share, stopping retaliation against farmers who speak out about unfair treatment by meatpackers and poultry processors, and dealing with contamination caused by field trials of genetically engineered crops and the growing threat of weed resistance. But none of these good amendments survived the Rules Committee process, which determines which amendments actually get a vote on the House floor. Late Tuesday night, the Rules Committee cut the list of over 200 to about 90 that would actually get a vote.

That list of 90 is what the House started to tackle yesterday. There were more amendments we oppose than support. Some of the good amendments have already been voted down. 

Read the full article…

June 19th, 2013

Stonewalling the Public: FDA’s Secret Approval Process over GE Salmon

By Tim Schwab

In the great debate over genetically engineered (GE) salmon, the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has locked the public out of key discussions by failing to disclose critical information related to the still-pending regulatory approval. As we wait to hear if the FDA will approve GE salmon this summer, we continue to scratch our heads at the contradictions that FDA can’t — or won’t — explain.

Since the FDA first publicized its review of GE salmon in 2010, independent sources have uncovered document after document that contradict the agency’s glowing findings that the fish is safe to eat, safe to produce, and a solution for fish farmers.

In an attempt to reconcile the striking differences between what the FDA is telling the public and what independent sources are saying, Food & Water Watch has filed numerous Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests with the FDA since 2010.

The FDA has been silent, rejecting or sitting on requests for years. Other groups filing FOIAs have been met with the same silence.

Almost exactly one year ago, Food & Water Watch asked the agency for documents related to a major biosecurity breach we discovered at AquaBounty Technologies’ proposed GE-salmon production facility. We found a corporate document from 2008 that said an “unusually severe storm” lead to “lost” GE salmon.

In an effort to understand how FDA failed to discover or disclose this major event, which presents crucial risk-assessment questions related to potential environmentally damaging escapes, we filed a FOIA request, asking the agency for all documents it had related to the “lost” salmon event. Thus far, the FDA has failed to respond.

Read the full article…

Colorado: Fracking, Fracking Everywhere, But Not a Drop to Drink?

By Katherine Cirullo

It’s officially wildfire season in Colorado; last Tuesday, a fire ignited the Black Forest area of Colorado Springs. It burned 22 square miles, destroyed 422 homes and is still raging a week later. In just half the time, it has surpassed last year’s Waldo Canyon wildfire as the worst in Colorado history. While wildfires in Colorado and throughout the west are nothing new, the magnitude of this year’s Black Forest fire serves as a haunting reminder of the worsening crisis climate change poses. Throughout all this, we can’t help but draw attention to the oil and gas industry’s use of fracking and its impact on climate change, drought and natural disaster. Residents are watching their backyards burn while the oil and gas industry is using up Colorado’s most precious resource — water.

The fire affects not just Colorado residents, who face water restrictions that accompany drought; emergency relief teams also feel the squeeze. Colorado Springs fire chief Mike Myers spoke last week of the difficulties fighting the flames: “Once the fire’s up in the trees and you’ve got a 200 foot wall of flames coming at you, there’s not much you can do with a thousand gallons of water.” Read the full article…

June 17th, 2013

Ecuador, Jakarta move to protect water for people, not for profit

By Jaime Hamre, Food & Water Watch Intern

Both Ecuador and Jakarta, Indonesia have taken big steps recently to ensure access to water for their citizens. As part of the Water Law under negotiation in the National Assembly, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa announced the establishment of a minimum water consumption per person from which water prices and subsidies can be determined. Across the globe, Jakarta has initiated moves to remunicipalize its water system, aiming to repurchase shares from a foreign private firm.

President Correa’s declaration is especially important in light of Interagua’s privatization of the water supply in Guayaquil, Ecuador’s largest city, in 2001. Interagua is a subsidiary of the American company Bechtel, the same company that fueled the infamous water war in Cochabamba, Bolivia. After Interagua procured a 30-year contract in Guayaquil, water prices increased by 180 percent. Even though key water systems, such as Guayaquil, remain privatized, in 2008, Ecuador rewrote its constitution to include rights for nature and also established the human right to water.

President Correa stated last week that when the minimum water consumption per person is determined, it will constitute a base for water pricing. President Correa is working with the National Secretariat of Water (Senagua) to analyze the cost to government of subsidizing water prices.

When water systems were privatized in Jakarta 16 years ago, water quality decreased, while tariffs rose by 258 percent. Led by governor Joko Widodo, the city is now moving to remunicipalize the system with help from groups such as the Coalition of Jakarta Residents Opposing Water Privatization (KMMSAJ), which has filed a lawsuit with the goal of annulling the 1997 contracts between the city and the private firm.

KMMSAJ is also helping with fundraising efforts in case the lawsuit is unsuccessful and the city must pay penalties for dropping the contract to take over operation. While re-municipalizing a water or wastewater treatment system can be quite costly in the short term, the long-term benefits in terms of cost savings, quality, transparency, and democracy are well worth it. Approximately 90 percent of global water systems are publically owned and operated.

In both Guayaquil and Jakarta, privatization has meant higher prices and poor water quality. The high price of water in Guayaquil, Ecuador since privatization has been linked to poor water quality and hepatitis outbreaks. In Jakarta, less than 35 percent of residents were able to receive service from the private company.

The privatization of systems often leads to price increase, as well as a decrease in quality and accessibility, whereas models such as public-public partnerships provide greater affordability and quality. For more on this issue, see our report: Water = Life: How Privatization Undermines the Human Right to Water.

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