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February, 2014 | Food & Water Watch
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Blog Posts: February 2014

February 27th, 2014

You say “Potato.” Rex Tillerson says “Potahto.” 

By Kate Fried 

The movement to protect communities from fracking has closely been following the curious case of Rex Tillerson, the CEO of Exxon, who has attracted attention this week for his involvement in what appears to be an anti-fracking lawsuit. In what many are considering the height of hypocrisy, Tillerson has joined former U.S. Congressional Representative Dick Armey in an effort to block the construction of a 160-foot water tower in their neighborhood intended to supply water to fracking sites.

Read the full article…

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February 26th, 2014

Maryland’s Manure Transport Program: Welfare at its Worst

Meet Scott Edwards of Food & Water WatchBy Scott Edwards

In 2012, the federal government spent just under $50 billion dollars to help those who struggle to get by—the elderly, poor and underserved. It’s certainly a lot of money, but pales in comparison to the $92 billion the federal government spent that same year on corporate welfare programs – subsidies, grants and tax breaks for some of the most profitable big businesses in the nation. Right here in Maryland, though, there’s a state-managed corporate welfare program going on that deserves everyone’s attention: Maryland’s Manure Transport Program, or MTP.

The MTP was first enacted in 1999 to help address the excess piles of chicken manure produced on the Eastern Shore of Maryland by the big poultry industry. Today, the four companies who grow their chickens in the state produce about a billion and a half unsustainable pounds of manure each year. Since most of the farm fields in the counties where these birds are grown are saturated with phosphorus, continued land application of this waste by contract growers is resulting in significant runoff that is contributing greatly to a dying Chesapeake Bay. By some estimates, the agricultural industry accounts for 64 percent of the phosphorus loads entering the Bay. Read the full article…

February 19th, 2014

Third-Party Science and the Soft Lobby

Money and BooksBy Tim Schwab

The industrial producers of corn syrup have been busy the last decade defending their product’s good name against increasingly clear science showing public health problems related to obesity and diabetes.

But agribusiness corn refiners like Archer Daniel Midland and Cargill, which produce much of the ubiquitous sweetener, recognize they can’t just say their critics are wrong. They need credible allies, preferably those that look independent, to convince regulators, consumers, manufacturers and the scientific community that corn syrup is all right.

According to court documents recently released, that’s exactly what the corn refiners did. The New York Times and the Washington Post both reported last week on how “Washington-based groups and academic experts frequently become extensions of corporate lobbying campaigns,” using the debate over sweeteners as a case study. Read the full article…

It’s Time for Factory Farms to Pay Their Fair Share

For the Presss: High Resolution Image of Wenonah Hauter

Wenonah Hauter, Food & Water Watch Executive Director

By Wenonah Hauter

Big chicken processing companies generate 1.5 billion pounds of fowl waste annually in Delmarva (the Delaware, Maryland, Virginia tri-state area), and it’s choking the Chesapeake Bay. Each year, Marylanders pay a small tax that goes toward the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Fund (BRF); isn’t it fair to expect the poultry industry to pay too? Maryland Senator Richard Madaleno and Delegate Shane Robinson recently introduced the Poultry Fair Share Act (PFSA) because, when you have 305 million chickens on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, that’s a lot of chicken waste polluting the Bay.

In early February, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley was quick to threaten to veto the bill—which had little chance of passing into law— because he thinks he will send a strong message to Iowa ahead of the caucuses that he stands for farmers. O’Malley has long had a close relationship with the poultry industry, so it’s really big chicken companies, not farmers, that O’Malley is lobbying for. And, as the Baltimore Sun pointed out recently, his veto message raised more than just a few eyebrows while questioning why he won’t hold the industry accountable for it’s waste problem.

The Chesapeake Bay is the largest estuary in the United States and one of the largest and most biologically productive estuaries in the world—a vital economic and recreational asset in the region. Over the past several decades, as the number of factory poultry farms has increased, this historic watershed has suffered a serious decline. Large-scale poultry companies like Perdue create an enormous amount of pollution, yet the state does not require them to contribute to cleaning up the mess that they create. Read the full article…

February 18th, 2014

Justice Department Should Sink Titanic Flour Merger, Even with Rearranged Deck Chairs

By Patrick Woodall

Last week, ConAgra Foods, Inc. confessed to its shareholders that it had to delay its proposed wheat flour merger with Cargill because of the ongoing antitrust review by the U.S. Department of Justice. The proposed merger would create a dominant wheat flour milling company that would be twice the size of its next biggest rival, ADM, and more than five times bigger than the third and fourth largest flour milling firms.

The proposed merger (which would create a company called “Ardent Mills”) would have a near stranglehold on buying wheat from farmers and selling flour to bakeries and other food manufacturers. Because Ardent would be so large and have such a heavy footprint across the country, farmers would likely get paid less for their wheat while bakeries would probably pay more for flour, ultimately raising prices for consumers.

Cargill and ConAgra knew this mega-merger would raise eyebrows, so now the companies are talking about selling a few of the flour mills involved in the deal to help make it easier for the Justice Department to swallow a merger resulting in a company that is just too big. ConAgra told its shareholders that the merging companies were “prepared to divest” four flour mills (two in California and one each in Texas and Minnesota). That minor concession just puts lipstick on a pig of a market for wheat and flour that looks a lot like a monopoly in many parts of the country. Read the full article…

February 17th, 2014

President Obama: Steward of the Environment or Steward of the Oil and Gas Industry?

By Katherine Cirullo

We live in an era of heightened environmental consciousness and concern, and our world leaders are just starting to catch on. President Obama said it loud and clear during his 2014 State of the Union Address: “Climate change is a fact…When our children’s children look us in the eye and ask if we did all we could to leave them a safer, more stable world, with new sources of energy, I want us to be able to say yes, we did.” But are words enough?

On this President’s day, we should recognize those who have done well for our country and those who have done well for our planet. But we should also consider how our current president’s environmental legacy would be written. It is certain that President Obama’s legacy will be defined not only by what he did for the people, but by what he did for the environment – the air, water and land that we all depend upon. Yet, a president’s legacy is characterized by momentous feats and also failures. The question is: which side of the spectrum will he be on?  Read the full article…

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February 14th, 2014

Maryland Senator Richard Madaleno: My Funny Valentine

Sen. Madaleno… will you be our valentine?

By Rich Bindell

Since today is Valentine’s Day—a day reserved for those we adore, we’d like to tell you all about what Senator Richard Madaleno (D-Montgomery) is doing for the people of Maryland right now that has us swooning.

Last week, after introducing the Poultry Fair Share Act in the Maryland Senate and House respectively, it became pretty clear to Madaleno and Maryland Del. Shane Robinson that many who roam the State House halls were not happy with the bill. Last week we learned that Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley told a crowd at a Taste of Maryland event that he would veto it if I make it through the legislature.

Many Maryland lawmakers oppose the bill, falsely asserting that the state’s agriculture industry is the number one industry driving economic development and that the bill would destroy agriculture in the state. But this couldn’t be further from the truth. Agriculture is not the number one industry driving Maryland’s economy. (You can look it up right here at the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development’s own website.) And far from destroying agriculture, PFSA simply makes some of the largest polluters of the Bay—the wealthy poultry companies—pay their fair share towards Bay restoration.

Even though Maryland’s agriculture is not the economic engine of the state as the bill’s opponents wrongly claim, it is a vital industry. Food & Water Watch knows that a diversified and sustainable agricultural system on the Eastern Shore would be better for everyone, both economically and environmentally. We also know that we’re better off not consuming chickens that come from the factory farm operations that now dominate the state’s landscape. So maybe its time to base public policy in Maryland on a rational discussion of how to protect the Bay and what a sustainable food system in Maryland would look like, rather than just rehashing the same old debate where a big industry threatens to leave if they don’t get their way.

The chicken industry and its political allies, including Governor O’Malley, have launched an all out assault on the bill. O’Malley’s veto threat was timed to force sponsors of the bill to pull it before any public hearing could be held in the legislature. But right now, this chivalrous PFSA sponsor is refusing to quit. Even when the state is telling him no, Madaleno is fighting for a chance to force lawmakers to bring this issue to the table for a discussion.  

For this reason, let this blog serve as a testament to our adoration of Sen. Richard Madaleno for fighting the good fight. Sen. Madaleno, this funny valentine’s for you!

 

 

 

Place Your Bets Now: GM vs Democracy in the EU

By Eve Mitchell

“What a hot potato.”

unlabeled GE sweet corn coming to a store near you?EU Health and Consumer Commissioner Borg’s understatement opened his presentation of the cultivation application for GM Pioneer1507 maize to the European Council on Tuesday. Having been thumped to and fro like a flat football since before Christmas, we were expecting a vote on the application to answer the question once and for all. We didn’t get it.

Instead we got another round of “indicative votes” from EU Member States, and the outcome was grim. The Greeks currently hold the rotating Presidency of the Council, and being firmly anti-GM they are presumably keen not to be painted into any procedural corners that would see a new GM crop authorised on their watch. So Member States were asked to say what they would do if there was a vote. Only 5 out of 28 countries said they would vote in favour of the crop. Given the clear vote in the European Parliament on 16 January instructing the Council to reject the application, one would have thought that was that. It isn’t. Not by a long shot.

The Council operates under a qualified majority system, with each country casting a weighted number of votes – UK and France have 29 votes, Sweden 10, Malta 3, and so on. Since the UK voted in favour of the GM crop (much to the dismay of British people and against the clear opposition to GM in the Scottish and Welsh Governments), and since big-hitter Germany abstained, the indicative votes did not demonstrate a sufficient qualified majority either way. The law says that if an actual vote was cast and produced that result, the Commission would be bound to take a decision on the file. (The Commission’s last foray into this territory was with the highly controversial Amflora potato; its authorisation was recently annulled by the second highest court in the EU for failing to abide by the law. One suspects the Commission is on tenterhooks here, but it also seems prepared to press the GM point.)

Thankfully the Greeks seem reluctant to ask for such a vote.

Still with me?

A complex legal discussion in the Council chamber tried to find a way through the marsh. Many member states had urged the Commission to withdraw the application altogether to avoid undermining the credibility of the European project in the run-up to the May elections, saying they did not see how approval by politically-appointed Commissioners could be explained to the electorate after rejection by the Parliament and the clear majority of EU countries. The Greens say they will call for the resignation of the Commission with a formal motion of censure if it approves the file. A number of member states told the Council it would help an awful lot if countries would stand up for their convictions and vote “no” rather than abstaining, but clearly four couldn’t manage it. So here we are, in the marsh, waiting to see who blinks first.

Governing is a complex business, especially among 28 countries, and democracy is a hard-won and precious thing. Often the test of governing structures is how well they cope with contentious issues. Many commentators are calling this situation an example of the “absurd” nature of EU GM regulation. We need to be a bit careful here: everyone signed up to the rules of the game a long time ago, so we can’t say we didn’t know what would happen in such circumstances. It could also be a lot worse – this process means we still only grow one GM crop here. Even so this mess sure does make a citizen scratch her head in wonderment.

One way to sort this out is what I call “proper identification of the bad guy”. We need to remember that the real problem here is corporate-driven GM food, not democratic bureaucracy. When it comes to GM pollen contamination in honey, the EU (lead by a UK MEP) performs all sorts of contortions to hide it from consumers rather than ban the crop causing the problem. When it comes to deciding on new GM crops, following the law means ignoring the wishes of both the Parliament and the majority of EU member countries – so why not just ban GM crops if they really threaten the fabric of European togetherness as claimed?

Are crops no one wants to eat really worth it, particularly when the annual industry mouthpiece “assessment” of global GM uptake demonstrates a “plateau” in GM cultivation in major GM markets? It’s not even clear if Pioneer Hi-Bred will ever sell 1507 in the EU – while suing the Commission for delay in processing the 1507 maize application Pioneer Hi-Bred said, “Once cultivation approval is granted, DuPont Pioneer will evaluate the situation and the available options, and will take a strategic decision on the marketing of the product based on these considerations.” Honestly.

Many pro-GM politicians say we need to keep politics out of the GM discussion and “stick to the science” – a laughable position if you read any of the above. An adamant proponent of this position is UK Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Owen Paterson. 

So where is the Right Honourable Secretary of State while this is breaking loose?  Consulting with the Scottish and Welsh Governments to agree a democratic position for the UK on GM cultivation? Helping badgers in the flooded West Country learn to swim? No. In the run-up to the vote Paterson gave a pro-GM speech at a conference hosted by Big Biotech industry lobby group EuropaBio. (True story: the Countess of Mar felt compelled to ask a formal Parliamentary Question to clarify if Paterson was to “represent the policy of the Scottish Government and the Welsh Government, the policy of the United Kingdom Government, or his personal views” during the EuropaBio event – answer: UK. In that speech Patterson said of Pioneer1507 maize, “The UK has no current interest in planting this particular crop.” Yet the UK still voted in favour of it, mind you.). Soon the Secretary of State is off to Addis Ababa* to help the EU’s colourful Chief Scientist Anne Glover, another Brit, sell GM crops to Africans. No politics there.

GM vs Democracy? The wheel is spinning. I know where my money is.

* Update, February 17, 2014 : The trip was cancelled amid growing publicity after this piece was published.

February 13th, 2014

ALEC Goes After Your Food

stack of one hundred dollar billsBy Anna Meyer

The anti-regulation, pay-to-play group ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) is infamous for pushing “Stand Your Ground” gun laws, anti-worker and anti-voter legislation, and trying to repeal renewable energy laws. But lately ALEC’s been busy trying to help the Foodopoly maintain its stranglehold on the American food system, despite the fact that it’s making us sick.

ALEC is pushing hard to thwart attempts to rein in antibiotic abuse on factory farms with its Resolution on Animal Antibiotic Use. Their resolution supports the continued overuse of antibiotics for nontherapeutic reasons in livestock feed, a practice that is commonly used to make up for filthy and inhumane living conditions on factory farms and has been linked to antibiotic-resistant bacteria.   

Continued overuse of antibiotics has resulted in the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, or superbugs, which decrease antibiotics’ effectiveness in fighting infections (read about our campaign to end the misuse of antibiotics on factory farms here). Despite a 2013 Centers for Disease Control report linking superbugs with antibiotic misuse on factory farms and nearly 40 years of medical research including DNA analysis, the ALEC resolution tries to blame the 2 million people who become infected with resistant bacteria and the 23,000 people who die as a result of these infections every year solely on the use of antibiotics in human medicine. Doctors disagree.

The resolution to pad the meat industry’s pocketbooks by perpetuating antibiotic abuse on factory farms is not the only ridiculous resolution to come out of ALEC’s Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force. The group also promotes widespread use of chemicals with minimal regulation with the Resolution on Chemical Policy Principles and promotes a model bill to take away the right of local governments to regulate genetically engineered crops. ALEC also tried to attack Country of Origin Labels (COOL), which gives consumers more information about where their meat comes from.

Then there’s ALEC’s notorious model bill, the Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act, which has served as inspiration for the many ag-gag bills that have been circulating through state legislatures over the past few years. Ag-gag bills are extremely hazardous for multiple reasons. They shield factory farms from public scrutiny, even though they put animal welfare at risk, and increase risks to food safety and environmental damage.

ALEC’s positions on food would put everyone’s health at risk and allow big food and ag corporations to hide what they are doing. Policy makers at every level of government should be drafting legislation that protects the health and well-being of all citizens, not just the bank accounts of a few rich executives.

Help us hold big food and ag corporations accountable by supporting commonsense legislation that puts people first. Join our list to take action

 

Anna Meyer is a communications intern for Food & Water Watch.

February 12th, 2014

Stay Safe in Snow Storm Pax While You Learn, Laugh and Take Action

Constance Zimmer, Raphael Sbarge and Samantha Ressler star in our new videoBy Royelen Lee Boykie

First and foremost, everyone at Food & Water Watch is about safety during weather warnings.

Please stay warm, comfortable and most of all safe during Pax (apparently named to add “peace” to the event) and all other severe weather-related encounters.

Your well-being secured, take the time to get smart (and maybe get a laugh, too) with our best “fowl” weather information.

We hope by the time you’re finished, the weather and related news will be clear and your routine will be hassle-free.

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