The World’s Biggest Carbon Capture Scam Is Coming to Iowa

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Climate and Energy

by Phoebe Galt and Emma Schmit

Overnight, Iowa has become ground zero for the world’s biggest carbon capture scam. Two corporations, Summit Carbon Solutions and Navigator Heartland Greenway LLC, have proposed carbon capture and storage (CCS) projects. Each of them will require building hundreds of miles of hazardous pipelines across the state. The science and technology behind the ventures is unproven and unsound — minor details overlooked in the name of corporate greed. Iowa’s Governor Reynolds is happily ushering the projects forward.

We’re talking about “capturing” carbon emitted from ethanol and fertilizer facilities, transporting that hazardous material via pipeline, and injecting it into ancient rock formations. The companies claim that their technology is a requisite solution to the climate crisis. They’re lying.

‘Capturing’ Carbon Won’t Stop the Climate Crisis — It’ll Dig a Deeper Hole

CCS is a false climate solution, propped up by Big Energy and Big Ag so they can continue to profit. CCS relies on fundamental falsehoods to pull the wool over the public’s eyes about their real climate impact. Here’s how it’s supposed to work: carbon capture attempts to trap greenhouse gas emissions from smokestacks (in this case from dirty ethanol plants). It then transports the hazardous gas through communities via explosive pipelines, and injects it underground. In reality, these projects fail to capture all harmful emissions. They also don’t account for the pollution that goes into creating the ethanol in the first place. The industry also keeps quiet about CCS’ role in fossil fuel extraction. The dirty truth is that most of the captured carbon is pumped into oil wells to increase oil production. 

Carbon Capture Keeps Big Ag Alive

Over 13 million acres of land in Iowa are devoted to growing corn. Of that corn, 50% is currently used to produce ethanol. But those uniform acres of corn come at a serious cost to climate and communities. Industrial monocropping traps farmers in a cycle of dependence on Big Ag giants, like Monsanto, and forces their hand. Producers are required to use destructive farming techniques like tilling and fossil fuel-derived fertilizer application to turn a profit. Big Ag has profited off the lie that corn-derived ethanol is a “low carbon” fuel. They hope we’ll ignore the mega-emissions and harmful practices required to make it, so they can keep this system going.

Iowa is also littered with more than 10,000 factory farms, leaving communities to deal with their impact. This includes harmful water pollution, slumping rural economies and negative health effects. The ethanol industry plays a direct role in the success of the factory farming model. A leftover byproduct of the ethanol process is distillers grain, a cheap feed option often used in factory farming. Indeed, the existence of cheap feed is one of the leading factors keeping factory farming profitable. CCS will only make it worse, entrenching ethanol plants and factory farms, instead of shifting to a more sustainable system.

Carbon Pipelines Keep Fossil Fuels On The Grid

CCS and the miles of pipelines required to transport hazardous gases offer a lifeline to the fossil fuel industry. Pipelines created for carbon can also be used to transport fossil fuels, extending the industry’s reach.

What’s more, CCS can be used to extract even more fossil fuels. The majority of domestic CCS projects currently in operation are small projects located close to fossil fuel extraction and power plant sites. Where the carbon is created at these sites, it’s injected underground to extract oil. Summit has left the door open to this destructive process, known as enhanced oil recovery. Their pipeline runs right to Bakken oil fields in the Dakotas. 

Iowa CCS Projects Come At Our Risk And Our Cost

Iowans are expected to take on all of the risks of these CCS proposals, while Wall Street gets the reward. And the risks are tremendous. Carbon is an invisible, odorless gas that acts as an asphyxiant in the event of a pipeline rupture. It’s happened before; an entire town was gassed in 2020, sending 49 people to the hospital. Some of them are now saddled with negative lifelong health issues.

Rural community health systems are already overburdened by the enduring pandemic. Most Iowa communities don’t have the training or timely access to emergency services to properly handle a mass gassing event. The last thing our support services need is dangerous hazardous gas moving through peoples’ backyards.

Tens of thousands of Iowans are expected to risk their lives for these projects — and we’re expected to fund it. Like Big Ag and the fossil fuel industry, Summit and Navigator can only profit by crushing real people. Despite clear proof that CCS doesn’t work, we continue to see public tax dollars wasted on this false promise. Summit’s record-keeping shows their carbon pipeline proposal will be eligible for up to $600 million in tax credits each year. This is an immoral use of our public money.

Iowans Deserve Better Than Carbon Capture Scams

Iowans’ lives are a damn sight more important than the balance of multi-millionaires’ bank accounts. If you believe in putting people before corporate profit, join us in opposing carbon pipelines.

Tell President Biden to oppose carbon capture schemes — your voice can make a difference!

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Sussex County Council Approves Up to $60 Million in Bonds to Cover Bioenergy DevCo Costs

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Climate and Energy

Georgetown, DE — Today, the Sussex County Council voted to approve up to $60 million in Private Activity Bonds to cover construction and other costs associated with Bioenergy DevCo’s recently approved biogas scheme. The vote came one week after the Council voted to approve a conditional use permit for the industrial gas production facility to be sited near Seaford in an agricultural-residential zone, despite an outpouring of public opposition.

In order to build their massive gas production and refining project, Bioenergy DevCo will need to secure numerous state pollution permits. If permitted, this Sussex County factory farm gas facility will be the company’s first in Delaware and their fourth project in the United States since joining forces with Italy-based BTS Biogas to enter the US market. A portion of the $60 million in private activity bonds will be exempt from federal income taxes, meaning taxpayers will subsidize the start-up costs of the dirty gas facility, rather than go toward projects that directly benefit County residents. The site is located in a community where a third of the residents currently live below the poverty line. 

In response, Food & Water Watch Delaware Organizer Greg Layton issued the following statement:

“Today’s vote confirms one of our worst suspicions — that taxpayers will subsidize the cost of this polluting facility, all to assure venture capitalists a ready profit. The hundreds of residents who expressed public opposition to the biogas scheme should have been considered in the decision to issue the tax exempt bonds, which are limited in supply, to fund the very project they opposed. Governor Carney must stop this project in its tracks, and direct the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control to deny Bioenergy DevCo its pollution permits.”

Florida Legislature Passes Extreme Energy Preemption Bills

Categories

Climate and Energy

Tallahassee, FL — Yesterday, the Florida State Senate voted to pass a suite of energy preemption legislation that has been making its way through the legislature. The bills, SB 1128/HB 919 and SB 856/HB 839, now head to Governor DeSantis’ desk for his signature. If signed into law, the suite of bills would preempt any local government action to restrict or prohibit sources of energy production, thus hampering local governments’ abilities to move off fossil fuels. 

Part of a nationwide push by the oil and gas industry to preempt local government initiatives to move off fossil fuels, Florida’s bills are the most stringent to move ahead in any of the fourteen states with similar legislation under consideration. Another dangerous bill making its way through the legislature is SB 896/HB 539, which would redefine Florida’s clean energy to include false solutions like “renewable natural gas,” ensuring fossil fuel industry entrenchment for years to come. The bill would also prevent communities from being able to decide if and where to site utility-scale solar installations. 

In response, Food & Water Watch Florida Senior Organizer Brooke Errett issued the following statement:

“The Florida legislature is drilling the nail into their own coffin. Instead of following the lead of our local legislators who have forged boldly ahead with clean energy resolutions that respond to constituent demands, our state legislators are carrying water for industry interests. Florida will suffer from these energy preemption bills today and in the future, as we try to fight climate change’s worst impacts only to find our toolboxes emptied. Governor DeSantis pledged to fight for Florida’s environment and ban fracking — which he has thus far failed to do. DeSantis now has the chance to rise to this historic occasion and veto these dangerous energy preemption bills, or he will be responsible for driving the final stake into the heart of Florida’s clean energy future.”

###

(Note: For additional background, read this op-ed by Food & Water Watch Senior Florida organizer Brooke Errett)

Well-Fed:

REPORT - April 2021

What You’ll Learn From This Report

  • 1: A Broken Food System
    • Deciding what and how to farm should be left to farmers, not corporations
  • 2: From Extractive To Regenerative Food Systems
    • The farmers at the forefront of this movement
  • 3: Rebuilding Regional Food Hubs
    • Rebuilding regional food hubs connects farmers and eaters, and reduces the monopoly corporate agribusiness has on the food system.
  • 4: Policy Recommendations: A Roadmap To A Just Transition
    • Here are our policy recommendations on how to pivot to this much-needed systemic change.
  • 5: Conclusion
    • We can build regenerative food systems

Part 1:

Our Food System Is Broken

Deciding what and how to farm should be left to farmers, not corporations.

Corporate monopolies control food production.

Today’s supermarkets seem like the pinnacle of choice and variety. But consumers might be surprised to learn that this choice is really a façade, and that a few companies dominate the market in each food category. Your steak? Just four companies slaughter 83 percent of all U.S. cattle (see Figure 1).1 Your flour? It likely comes from Ardent Mills or ADM Milling, which together mill half of all U.S. wheat.2 And then there are companies that profit from value-added processing of raw ingredients. The jars of Gerber, boxes of Cheerios and Lean Cuisine, and tins of Fancy Feast in your shopping cart are all Nestlé-owned brands.3 Agribusinesses make consumers feel like they have ample choices, while forcing them to buy much of their food from just a handful of corporations.

Livestock Farmers Sell into Highly Concentrated Markets

Market share of top four processing firms

Source Data: USDA AMS 20184

Even supermarkets themselves have gobbled up competitors and secured huge market shares. Four companies — Walmart, Kroger, Costco and Ahold Delhaizea — control 65 percent of the grocery market.5 This stranglehold raises food prices and wipes out local grocery stores, reducing food access in both rural and urban communities (see Figure 2).6

Supersizing the Supermarket: National Market Share

Source Data: CBRE 20197

Less competition among agribusinesses means higher prices and fewer choices for consumers. But for farmers and the rural communities they support, it is a fight to survive.

Corporate agribusinesses gut rural America.

Market consolidation has wiped out competition, giving farmers fewer choices when they buy seed and feed and when they bring products to market (see Figure 3 on page 3). As a result, they face both rising costs and stagnating income.8 In fact, today’s median farm income is negative $1,840; many farms manage to stay afloat through off-farm income.9

Ironically, while farmers have little power in our industrial food system, they often receive much of the blame for that broken system. Misguided policymakers and others deride farmers for overproduction, for receiving subsidies, or for participating in contract farming when all of these are symptoms of the underlying dysfunction in the food system.

Market Share Of Top Four Seed Firms

All Source Data: ETC Group 201810

Market Share Of Top Four Agrochemical Firms

All Source Data: ETC Group 201810

Corporate consolidation also hurts rural communities. Local slaughterhouses and flour mills have shuttered as processing facilities became fewer and larger. Revenue that once circulated in rural communities and built thriving main streets is now funneled to Wall Street and far-away corporate headquarters.11

Corporate agriculture perpetuates exploitation and racism.

Our farming system rests on stolen land, stolen labor and stolen resources, including forced removal of Indigenous peoples, the enslavement of African Americans and the sharecropping model. These systems persist today in vertically-integrated livestock systems that lock farmers into abusive contracts and high debt, the patenting of Indigenous seed varieties, the freezing-out of farmers of color from federal loans and subsidies, and the exploitation of low-wage labor in dangerous conditions in our nation’s produce fields and slaughterhouses.12

Industrial agriculture is extractive.

The industrial farming system focuses on squeezing out as much profit as possible, with little regard for long-term environmental ecological or public health impacts. Planting monocultures year-after-year can impair soil health.13 So does spraying synthetic pesticides. Intensive practices also harm bees and other pollinators and microorganisms that make up healthy ecosystems.14

Factory Hog Farm Counties Produce as Much Waste as Metropolitan Areas

Source Data: Food & Water Watch analysis of USDA 2017 Census of Agriculture15
Industrial agriculture pollutes the environment and fuels climate change.

Factory farms confine thousands of animals in inhumane, unsanitary conditions. They produce more manure waste than can be sustainably disposed and increase the risk of diseases jumping from livestock to humans (See Figure 4).16 In many parts of the country, factory farms are concentrated around communities of color and low- income communities, making them environmental justice catastrophes.17

Rural communities bear the brunt of pollution from industrial farming, from pesticide exposure to toxic emissions from factory farms.18 Yet these impacts reach far beyond the farm; nutrient runoff from manure and pesticide application pollutes waterways, contributing to fish kills and aquatic “dead zones” from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico.19 Pesticide residue is found on all food types of food, from organic produce that was never sprayed with pesticides to human breast milk.20

Agriculture is also one of the largest human sources of climate change; across the entire production chain, it contributes 19 to 29 percent of all human-sourced emissions. Overproduction of commodities and meat, food waste, growing crops for fuel, and use of synthetic fertilizers produced from fossil fuels all enlarge this footprint.21

Our food production chain is not resilient.

Decades of unchecked corporate consolidation has worn away our food system’s resilience.22 For instance, large, centralized processing facilities replaced the regional slaughterhouses and dairy processors that once dotted the rural landscape, leaving farmers with fewer options for marketing their products.23 When some of these large facilities closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, many farmers were left with no choice but to euthanize livestock or dump milk — gut-wrenching scenarios that would not have been as widespread if we still had networks of smaller facilities serving local markets.24

Our food system does a poor job of feeding people.

Even after accounting for commodities grown to feed livestock and produce energy, the U.S. still has roughly 4,000 calories of nutrients available per day per capita.25 Yet nearly one in seven children live in food-insecure households.26

Much of what goes into deciding what and how to farm is shaped by agribusiness, not farmers. Corporations set farm markets and policy.27 We need to join farmers and food chain workers to break Big Ag’s stranglehold and rebuild our food systems so they work for everyone. It can be difficult to imagine what alternatives to the industrial system might look like. We can start by learning from those at forefront of this movement, who are building healthy farmland and rural communities through regenerative agriculture.

Part 2:

From Extractive to Regenerative Food Systems

The farmers at the forefront of this movement

Regenerative agriculture is generating a lot of buzz today, with everyone from food activists to big agribusinesses floating the term. But with no unifying definition, the term “regenerative” can take on different meanings.28 So let’s start by defining what we mean by “regenerative food systems.”

Regenerative food systems are those that invest in the long-term health and fertility of farmland; build soil and prioritize soil health; and rely on natural rather than synthetic inputs. They embody these principles along each step of the food supply chain — investing in local economies; providing farmers and food chain workers with living wages and safe working conditions; and addressing racial and economic injustice. The regenerative movement shares roots with organic farming, a reaction against the environmental degradation caused by industrial farming. Today, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) oversees the National Organic Program, creating standards for the organic label and certifying compliance. Regenerative farming, on the other hand, has no federal standards or label any farmer or food company can market their products as regenerative.

Some regenerative advocates market it as a new concept that goes beyond the limits of organic agriculture.29 This is a disservice to the organic community and its decades of work in strengthening the integrity of the organic label and increasing federal funding for organic research and adoption. It also erases centuries of contributions from indigenous and other farmers of color who farmed regeneratively long before the term emerged.30

In this piece, we use the term “regenerative” as an umbrella term for sustainable farming systems. Some of the farms featured are certified organic whereas others have not sought certification. What unites them is a holistic method of farming that seeks to regenerate, rather than extract, natural resources.

Part 3:

Regional Food Hubs

Rebuilding regional food hubs connects farmers and eaters, and reduces the monopoly corporate agribusiness has on the food system.

Farms need access to open, competitive markets to thrive. However, agribusiness consolidation has all but wiped out the nation’s smaller-scale slaughterhouses, grain mills and mom-and-pop grocery stores,81 making it increasingly difficult to imagine a food system that is not dependent on highly consolidated supply chains. The truth is, agri- businesses built the industrial food system over a few decades; we can similarly rebuild this broken system to ensure justice for all farmers, food chain workers and consumers.

Building just, regenerative food systems will not happen overnight. It requires significant public investment and political will. Direct sales and farmers markets are important but insufficient; we must also connect local farms to the grocery stores and restaurants where consumers spend the majority of their food dollars.82 Regional food
hubs can play a vital role, aiding smaller farms with distribution and marketing of their products so they can reach new markets that would otherwise be difficult to enter on their own.83

Common Grain Alliance

How Food Hubs Work

The idea for Common Grain Alliance98 emerged in the winter of 2018, as a group of friends were baking bread together and discussing how difficult it is to find local grain. “If you go to the Shenandoah Valley, you see all this grain infrastructure, silos, row crops,” says founder Heather Coiner.

“The landscape suggests that grains should be growing here, so how come we can’t find any?”

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Photo: Common Grain Alliance members. Photo credit: Beth Ferguson
Common Grain Alliance

Heather, who owns Little Hat Creek Farm and bakery, started by looking for growers who produced and processed grain in the mid-Atlantic. “We feel strongly that grain is a missing part of the local food table and we want to change that in this area,” she says. In just a couple of years, Common Grain Alliance grew to include over 60 members, connecting wheat growers and millers to local restaurants, brewers and distillers.

Common Grain Alliance’s mission is to revitalize the mid-Atlantic’s grain economy. “We’re trying to tap into the historical infrastructure and skills that got pushed aside by industrial agriculture in the last half of the 20th century,” says Heather. For example, some millers have restored existing stone mills while incorporating modern equipment to take advantage of recent advances in grain milling.

Photo: Murphy & Rude Malting Co. in Charlottesville, Virginia, which is part of the Common Grain Alliance. Photo Credit: Glenn Stone
Common Grain Alliance

Common Grain Alliance has received some federal funding to grow its network, including a grant through a USDA program called SARE (Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education). But while some Farm Bill programs directly target small-scale growers, Heather says that non-commodity crops are still largely off the radar of most academics and policy experts. “Even with this support, the vibe I get is, this is a fun idea but you are not going to feed millions of people.” Heather hopes that as the Common Grain Alliance grows, so will the political will of its growers and buyers who want grain that is transparently sourced, traceable and grown without chemicals.

Photo: Murphy & Rude Malting Co. in Charlottesville, Virginia, which is part of the Common Grain Alliance. Photo Credit: Glenn Stone
Common Grain Alliance

In fact, the pandemic showed the importance of local food chains like those created by Common Grain Alliance. “One thing the pandemic laid bare is the flaws in the global food supply chain. Americans saw empty grocery store shelves — that’s not something most people have seen in their lifetimes. And your local farmers are like, we have grain, we have vegetables… Our supply chain isn’t interrupted because it’s shorter.” Heather is optimistic that for some people, the trends that led people to seek out local food and support nearby farms might endure past the pandemic. “It is worth going out of your way to invest in your local food producers, because when crisis hits, they’re the ones that are still going to have food.”

Photo: Murphy & Rude Malting Co. in Charlottesville, Virginia, which is part of the Common Grain Alliance. Photo Credit: Glenn Stone

Small farms often lack the volume and consistency of products to sell directly to a retailer or foodservice institution. Larger institutions prefer to purchase from a single entity rather than several small farms. A food hub can help bridge this divide by connecting several smaller farms with regional buyers. Some food hubs even invest in infrastructure farmers need to bring products to market, like warehouses where food is stored, packed and labeled. What distinguishes food hubs from other local distributors is that they are formed with the goal of improving the economic, social and environmental health of their communities. As such, they are committed to providing farmers with fair prices and longstanding relationships rather than undercutting them in search of the cheapest alternative.84

There are many current efforts to revitalize local food systems through the food hub model. Public investment and incentives can help create similar food hubs across the country that are unique to each region’s geography and food culture.

Part 4:

A Roadmap For a Just Transition

Here are our policy recommendations on how to pivot to this much-needed systemic change.

Regenerative and organic farming are economically viable and already working to feed people, invest in local communities and create jobs. But federal farm policy is not designed to serve “alternative” or smaller-scale farming systems. Powerful agribusinesses have spent billions of dollars influencing lawmakers and regulators to serve their economic interests.126 But we can fight back against corporate control and reshape farm policy to achieve social and economic justice.

Enact Federal Legislation

Stop the growth of factory farms.

A handful of state legislatures have introduced factory farm moratoriums in recent years; the moment is growing. But to enact systemic change, we need a national moratorium on all new and expanding factory farms.

Models for federal legislation include the Farm System Reform Act (FSRA),127 introduced by Senator Cory Booker and Representative Ro Khanna. The FSRA would immediately ban all new large factory farms and the expansion of existing ones, and would phase out existing large factory farms by 2040.

Moreover, the FSRA would invest in a “just transition” by creating a $10 billion buy-out program for factory farm operators to pay off debt (an obstacle for farmers wishing to exit contract growing) or transition to more sustainable systems, such as pasture-based livestock or specialty crops. Notably, this funding would only be available to farmers for projects on land they own which ensures that corporate giants that created the problem do not pocket the funds.

Send a note to your Congressperson asking them to support the Farm System Reform Act today!

Stop further consolidation in the food industry.

The COVID-19 pandemic makes hitting the pause button on mega-mergers all the more critical, to ensure that agribusinesses do not use the pandemic recovery to buy out struggling competitors and further entrench market power.

Federal lawmakers are targeting agribusiness consolidation. This includes Senator Cory Booker and Representative Marc Pocan’s Food and Agribusiness Merger Moratorium and Antitrust Review Act.128 The legislation would enact a moratorium on all agribusiness and grocery mega-mergers and create a commission to recommend steps to strengthen antitrust and merger rules and enforcement. The moratorium would be in place until Congress passes comprehensive legislation to address market consolidation in the agribusiness sector.

End discrimination within USDA programs and support farmers of color.

Black farmers faced disproportionately higher rates of farmland loss throughout the 20th and early 21st centuries. This was accelerated by systemic racism within federal agencies like USDA.129

Legislation like the Justice for Black Farmers Act,130 introduced by Senators Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren and Kirsten Gillibrand, seeks to end discrimination by establishing an independent civil rights board to review reports of and appeals to civil rights complaints filed against USDA. It would also create a number of initiatives to address Black farmer land loss, including creating a land trust to provide the next generation of Black farmers with land and resources to farm.

Overhaul the Federal Farm Safety Net

The current farm safety net is just a Band-Aid on a broken system. Crop insurance provides some economic relief to farmers, but does not address overproduction, a key contributor to price slumps. And farmers are not incentivized to implement sustainable practices that make land more resilient to future disasters in a changing climate.

Reinstate federal supply management for commodities.

The first Farm Bill enacted a federal supply management program, saving countless farmers from bankruptcy during the Dust Bowl.131 The program took marginal farmland out of production and provided farmers with living wages — until it was systematically dismantled by Big Ag.132

USDA used to set a price floor for grains that achieved parity, an income that both covers the cost of production while providing farmers with a living wage. USDA provided farmers loans based on this price floor, which farmers repaid after harvest. In years when market prices dropped below the price floor, USDA collected the harvest as collateral, essentially buying surplus grains from the market for the federal grain reserve. Then when drought or other disasters reduced crop yield, USDA sold grains from the federal reserve into the market,133 smoothing out market volatility and ensuring a steady supply of grain to the benefit of both farmers and consumers.

Remarkably, supply management can operate at virtually no budgetary cost to taxpayers.134 We can reinstate supply management for grain crops and extend it to dairy, if our elected officials stand up to the corporate agribusinesses greedy for artificially-cheap commodities.

Require farmers to implement organic practices in order to participate in safety net programs.

This would provide a huge incentive for farmers to shift from ecologically-depleting monocultures to ones that incorporate cover crops, crop rotation and no-till farming. Safety net programs should also promote crop and livestock systems that are appropriate and sustainable for each region. In turn, organic practices would build soil and help make farmland more resilient to future climate change events, reducing reliance on disaster insurance.

Expand coverage for more crops that directly feed people.

Feed corn, soybeans and cotton make up a huge chunk of acreage enrolled in federal crop insurance programs,135
while many fruits, vegetables and nuts are not eligible under many programs.136 Expanding safety net coverage to more specialty crops supports farmers in shifting to new production systems and diversifying their operations.

These crucial changes will encourage organic practices and stop propping up factory farms with taxpayer-subsidized feed. However, we must also correct past failures of safety net programs to include historically underserved farmers, including farmers of color, female and beginning farmers.137

Redirect Public Funding To Support Organic And Regenerative Agriculture

Big Ag has perfected the art of funneling public dollars into maintaining industrial agriculture’s status quo.
Money earmarked for conservation programs flows to factory farms, and agribusinesses court public universities to develop patented seeds.138 It is time to end public research for private gain and instead invest in building a food system that works for every farmer, food chain worker and consumer.

Increase funding for regenerative practices.

USDA spends billions of dollars each year on agricultural research, yet only a small slice of this goes into regenerative systems.139 Federally funded research should prioritize practices that reduce chemical inputs, build soil and help farmers adapt to a changing climate. Similarly, state legislatures should follow the example of states like Maryland and California and earmark funding for regenerative practices.140

Farmers must also have access to information on regenerative practices. State extension services have long played vital roles in sharing new practices with farmers. They can be important facilitators in connecting farmers with the growing body of research on climate-friendly practices.141 We should also provide financial and technical support to help farmers — especially those historically under-served — transition to USDA Organic certified operations.

Develop climate-resilient seeds and livestock breeds and make them publicly-available.

Land-grant universities have long been incubators of new farming practices and seed varieties that were once shared widely with farmers, with each public dollar invested paying out $10 in benefits.142 But when public funding lagged, federal policies increasingly encouraged private corporations to partner with universities. Today, agribusinesses develop new seeds at public universities which they then patent. This raises seed costs and prevents farmers from seed-saving.143 Corporations are more interested in developing seeds that lock farmers into costly, poisonous pesticides than those that adapt to climate change.

Federal dollars should instead fund research into non-GMO, patent-free seeds and livestock breeds through traditional breeding methods. We must increase funding for land-grant universities and discourage so-called public-private partnerships. Seeds should be developed to respond to specific geographical conditions and to be climate-resilient. State extension services can help distribute innovative seeds and breeds to farmers and encourage farmers to save seed in order to break free from buying expensive patented seeds year after year.

Reject false solutions and close “conservation” loopholes that fund factory farms.

Money from conservation programs flows to false solutions, such as anaerobic digesters, which generate factory farm gas from manure and other waste.144 Factory farm gas is a dirty, polluting energy. 145 Digesters built with taxpayer money simply prop up factory farms and entrench fossil fuel infrastructure. Instead, we should encourage farmers to shift to smaller, integrated crop-and-livestock systems where they can sustainably recycle manure as crop fertilizer.

Another false solution peddled by corporate interests are carbon pricing schemes for farmers. Carbon pricing — or “pay-to-pollute” schemes — allow polluting industries to avoid emissions reduction by purchasing “offsets” from another source, such as a farmer who sequesters carbon in her soil. But pollution trading doesn’t meaningfully reduce carbon emissions and instead allows companies to pay to pollute.146 The practice is unfair to farmers who have already been practicing climate-friendly agriculture and are unable to claim new offsets. Instead, we must leverage existing conservation programs to implement sustainable practices and tie their adoption to safety net participation, while investing in a rapid transition to a 100 percent clean energy economy.

Part 5:

Conclusion:

We Can Build Regenerative Food Systems

This is a window into what regenerative farming systems and food hubs in the United States can look like. It is meant to start a conversation, not offer a prescription, as there is no “one-size-fits-all” model for regenerative farming. We can build new farming and food systems that work for everyone if we embrace a few core principles:

Communities of color are leaders — not afterthoughts — in rebuilding food systems.

Our great-grandparents modeled many of the farming systems and practices we strive for today, with diverse farms serving local markets. But we must not romanticize the past; our farm systems have largely benefitted white male farmers with the most capital. We need to ensure that everyone has a seat at the table, and work alongside communities of color that have been in this fight for generations. There is no food justice without racial justice.

Everyone must be able to afford to participate.

Food hubs that provide farmers and food chain workers with living wages should be accessible to everyone. In the short term, we must increase Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits and extend benefits to farmers markets, co-ops and online purchasing. We must also reform labor laws to raise the minimum wage, eliminate wage theft and provide universal paid sick and family leave, so that everyone can afford healthy food.

Reform will bring choice, variety and availability.

Reforming the way we produce animal products will impact cost and availability. We can embrace a “less-is-better” approach, choosing high-quality meat, dairy and eggs produced sustainably while increasing our consumption of whole produce and grains.

Food policies must promote food sovereignty at home and abroad.

This means empowering communities to feed themselves with fresh, local, healthy food. We must also reorient our trade policies so they do not undermine the ability of farmers and rural communities in the developing world to feed themselves.147

Perhaps the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic will be this generation’s “Dust Bowl” that forces a systemic overhaul. Let’s seize the moment and pressure our leaders to enact policies and make investments in food systems that work for all farmers, food chain workers and consumers.

Send a note to your Congressperson asking them to support the Farm System Reform Act today!

Endnotes
  1. U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS). “Packers and Stockyards Division: Annual Report 2018.” August 2019 at 9.
  2. Vogel, Stefan. “The milling industry structure in key regions—Fragmented versus consolidated markets.” Rabo-bank. June 2017. Accessed July 2020. Available at https:// research.rabobank.com/far/en/sectors/grains-oilseeds/ The_Milling_Industry_Structure_in_Key_Regions.html.
  3. Nestlé. “Our brands.” Accessed July 2020. Available at https://www.nestle.com/aboutus/overview/ourbrands.
  4. USDA (2019) at 9.
  5. CBRE. “2019 U.S. Food in Demand Series: Grocery.” May 2019 at 16.
  6. Sage, Jeremy L. et al. Washington State University. “Bridging the Gap: Do Farmers’ Markets Help Alleviate Impacts of Food Deserts?” Submitted to the Research on Poverty, RIDGE Center for National Food and Nutrition Assistance Research. February 2012 at 5 to 6.
  7. CBRE (2019) at figure 4 at 16.
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  71. MacDonald, James M. et al. (2020) at iii to iv.
  72. National Family Farm Coalition (NFFC). Letter to Secretary Sonny Perdue. U.S. Department of Agriculture. April 23, 2018. On file with Food & Water Watch.
  73. FWW staff interview with Tripp, Tiffany. GRAISE Farm. June 9, 2020.
  74. Macias, Chris J. University of California — Davis. “Is the food supply strong enough to weather COVID-19?” Feeding a Growing Population. June 25, 2020.
  75. Hendrickson (2014) at 18 to 19.
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  82. FWW analysis of USDA ERS. Food Expenditure Series. “Nominal food and alcohol expenditures, with taxes and tips, for all purchasers.” Updated June 2, 2020.
  83. Barham, James et al. USDA AMS. “Regional Food Hub Resource Guide: Food Hub Impacts on Regional Food Systems, and the Resources Available to Support Their Growth and Development.” April 2012 at 1.
  84. Barham (2012) at 4 to 7.
  85. FWW staff interview with Fike, Adrionna. Mandela Grocery Cooperative. September 10, 2020.
  86. Holt-Giménez, Eric and Yi Wang. “Reform or transforma- tion? The pivotal role of food justice in the U.S. food movement.” Race/Ethnicity: Multidisciplinary Global Contexts. Vol. 5. No. 1. Autumn 2011 at endnote 1.
  87. Sage (2012) at 1, 2, 5 and 6.
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  89. Reynolds, Bruce J. USDA. Rural Business-Cooperative Service. “A History of African-American Farmer Coopera- tives, 1938-2000.” Presented at the NCR-194 Research on Cooperatives Annual Meeting. Las Vegas, Nevada. October 30-31, 2001 at 1 and 8 to 18; Taylor, Dorceta E. “Black farm- ers in the USA and Michigan: Longevity, empowerment, and food sovereignty.” Journal of African American Stud- ies. Vol. 22, No. 2. March 2018 at 51 to 55.
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  91. U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives (2015) at 1.
  92. Based on information taken from the Hmong American Farmers Association (HAFA) website, and reviewed by HAFA staff on August 18, 2020.
  93. Holpuch, Amanda. “‘I almost got killed’: The Hmong refu- gees who call the US home.” Guardian. June 28, 2019.
  94. Adler, Erin. “Farm prospers by providing land, larger markets for Hmong farmers.” Star Tribune. August 16, 2016.
  95. Hmong American Farmers Association (HAFA). “Our story.” Available at https://www.hmongfarmers.com/story/. Accessed August 2020 and on file with Food & Water Watch.
  96. Williamson, Shawn. “How much $ does it take to become a farmer? Successful Farming. June 27, 2017.
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  98. FWW staff interview with Coiner, Heather. Common Grain Alliance. June 17, 2020.
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  100. Jackson & Perrett (2018) at 2; Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project (ASAP). “Appalachian Grown™ 2019 Producer Survey Report.” June 2020 at 3.
  101. Brod, Andrew. University of North Carolina—Greensboro. “The Economic Impact of RAFI-USA’s Tobacco Communities Reinvestment Fund since 2008.” May 2011 at executive summary and 1.
  102. ASAP. “The legacy of tobacco in WNC.” February 10, 2020. Available at https://asapconnections.org/broadcasts/the- legacy-of-tobacco-farming-in-wnc/. Accessed August 2020 and on file with Food & Water Watch.
  103. Jackson & Perrett (2018) at 3.
  104. Ibid. at 2 to 3.
  105. Brod (2011) at executive summary.
  106. Jackson & Perrett (2018) at 24.
  107. Basinger Tuschak, Grace. University of North Carolina– Chapel Hill. “Food Hubs as Community Economic Development: Lessons from TRACTOR Food & Farms.” April 2018 at 6 to 7.
  108. Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture. “About.” Available at https://www.brwia.org/about.html. Accessed August 2020 and on file with Food & Water Watch; Ham, Nathan. “High Country Food Hub sees major increases in customers sales and in food supply from local farmers.” High Country Press (NC). May 13, 2020.
  109. Viertel, Josh. “Why big ag won’t feed the world.” Atlantic. January 20, 2010; Center for Consumer Freedom. “Organic agriculture cannot feed the world.” September 18, 2013; Center for Consumer Freedom. “About us.” Available at https://www.consumerfreedom.com/2012/02/convention- al-agriculture-still-feeds-the-world/. Accessed July 2020 and on file with Food & Water Watch.
  110. Schrama, M. et al. (2018) at 123, 124 and 129; Ponisio, Lau- ren C. et al. (2015) at 1, 2 and 5; USDA. Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). “Cover Crops to Improve Soil in Prevented Planting Fields.” June 2013 at 1; Aktar, Md. Wasim. et al. “Impact of pesticides use in agriculture: Their benefits and hazards.” Interdisciplinary Toxicology. Vol. 2, Iss 1. 2009 at 1.
  111. Arneth, Almut et al. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). [Summary for policymakers]. “Climate Change and Land: An IPCC Special Report on Climate Change, Desertification, Land Degradation, Sustainable Land Management, Food Security, and Greenhouse Gas Fluxes in Terrestrial Ecosystems.” August 7, 2019 at 20 to 26 and 40 to 41.
  112. Martin, Allyson. “Seed savers v. Monsanto: Farmers need a victory for wilting diversity.” DePaul Journal of Art, Technology & Intellectual Property Law. Vol. 24, Iss. 1. Fall 2013 at 96; Andrews (2012) at 2 to 5.
  113. Gonzalez, Carmen. “An environmental justice critique of comparative advantage: Indigenous peoples, trade policy, and the Mexican neoliberal economic reforms.” University of Pennsylvania Journal of International Law. Vol. 32. 2011 at 755 to 758.
  114. Holt-Giménez, Eric et al. “We already grow enough food for 10 billion people…and still can’t end hunger.” Journal of Sustainable Agriculture. Vol. 36, No. 6. July 2012 at 595; FAO. “FAO’s Work on Agroecology: A Pathway to Achieving the SDGs.” 2018 at 6.
  115. FAO (2018) at 6 and 20.
  116. Hendrickson (2014) at 20.
  117. McGreal, Chris. “How America’s food giants swallowed the family farms.” Guardian. March 9, 2019; U.S. Meat Export Federation. “U.S. pork exports soared to new value, volume records in 2019.” National Hog Farmer. February 6, 2020.
  118. Clark (ND) at 7 and 29.
  119. Şentürklü et al. (2016) at abstract.
  120. Popay, Ian and Roger Field. “Grazing animals as weed control agents.” Weed Technology. Vol. 10, No. 1. Jan.—Mar. 1996 at abstract and 219.
  121. Stanley et al. (2018) at 257; de Vries et al (2015) at 286 to 287; Hillenbrand, Mimi et al. “Impacts of holistic planned grazing with bison compared to continuous grazing with cattle in South Dakota shortgrass prairie.” Agriculture, Eco- systems and Environment. Vol. 279. July 2019 at 156 to 157.
  122. University of New Hampshire Sustainability Institute. “Field to fork farm: Resilience through diversification.” ND at 1 to 2.
  123. Egan, Franklin and Brooks Miller. “Scaling up pastured live- stock production: Benchmarks for getting the most out of feed & land.” Pasa Sustainable Agriculture. June 2020 at 6 to 7; Stampa, Ekaterina et al. “Consumer perceptions, pref- erences, and behavior regarding pasture-raised livestock products: A review.” Food Quality and Preference. Vol. 82. 2020 at abstract; Stanley et al. (2018) at 255.
  124. Neff, Roni A. et al. “Reducing meat consumption in the USA: A nationally representative survey of attitudes and behaviours.” Public Health Nutrition. Vol. 21, No. 10. March 2018 at abstract.
  125. Ranganathan, Janet et al. WRI. “Shifting Diets for a Sustain- able Food Future.” Installment 11 of “Creating a Sustainable Food Future.” April 2016 at 36 to 37.
  126. Ayazi & Elsheikh (2015) at 15; Mooney (2017) at 71 and 74 to 75.
  127. S. 3221. 116th Cong. (2019).
  128. S. 1596. 116th Cong. (2019).
  129. Gilbert, Jess et al. Land Tenure Center. “The Decline (and Revival?) of Black Farmers and Rural Landowners: A Review of the Research Literature.” Working Paper No. 44. May 2001 at 8 to 9; Reynolds, Bruce J. USDA. “Black Farmers in America, 1865-2000: The Pursuit of Independent Farming and the Role of Cooperatives.” RBS Research Report 194. October 2002 at 24.
  130. S. 4929. 116th Cong. (2019).
  131. Graddy-Lovelace, Garrett and Adam Diamond. “From supply management to agricultural subsidies – and back again? The U.S. Farm Bill & agrarian (in)viability.” Journal of Rural Studies. Vol. 50. February 2017 at 76.
  132. Graddy-Lovelace & Diamond (2017) at 76; Ayazi & Elsheikh (2015) at 23 to 24.
  133. Graddy-Lovelace & Diamond (2017) at 76.
  134. Ibid. at 76; McMinimy, Mark A. Congressional Research Ser- vice (CRS). “U.S. Sugar Program Fundamentals.” R43998. April 6, 2016 at summary.
  135. Shields, Dennis A. Congressional Research Service (CRS). “Federal Crop Insurance: Background.” R40532. August 13, 2015 at summary; Schnepf, Randy. Congressional Research Service (CRS). [Fact sheet.] “2018 Farm Bill primer: Marketing Assistance Loan program.” IF11162. April 3, 2019 at 2.
  136. Rosa, Isabel and Renée Johnson. Congressional Research Service (CRS). “Federal Crop Insurance: Specialty Crops.” R45459. Updated January 14, 2019 at 9; Smith, Trevor J. “Corn, cows, and climate change: How federal agricultural subsidies enable factory farming and exacerbate U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.” Washington Journal of Environmental Law & Policy. Vol. 9, Iss. 1. March 2019 at 43 to 44.
  137. Graddy-Lovelace & Diamond (2017) at 78.
  138. FWW analysis of EQIP payments, using data received from the Environmental Working Group; FWW. “Public Research, Private Gain: Corporate Influence over University Agricul- tural Research.” April 2012 at 1.
  139. Lehner, Peter and Nathan A. Rosenberg. “Legal pathways to carbon-neutral agriculture.” Environmental Law Reporter. Vol. 47. 2017 at 14; DeLonge, Marcia S., Albie Miles and Liz Carlisle. “Investing in the transition to sustainable agriculture.” Environmental Science & Policy. Vol. 55, Part 1. January 2016 at 267.
  140. Lehner & Rosenberg (2017) at 16.
  141. Ibid at 17.
  142. Fuglie, Keith O. and Paul W. Heisey. USDA ERS. “Economic returns to public agricultural research.” Economic Brief No.10. September 2007 at 3.
  143. FWW (2012) at 1 and 12.
  144. FWW analysis of EQIP payments, using data received from the Environmental Working Group; Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI). “Biogas: Converting Waste to Energy.” October 2017 at 1; U.S. EPA. “How does AD work?” Accessed July 2020. Available at https://www.epa.gov/ anaerobic-digestion/basic-information-about-anaerobic- digestion-ad.
  145. Kuo, Jeff. California State University, Fullerton. “Air Quality Issues Related to Using Biogas from Anaerobic Digestion of Food Waste.” Prepared for California Energy Commission. CEC-500-2015-037. March 2015 at 2, 9 and 10.
  146. FWW. “The truth about offsets.” May 2013 at 1; Ritter, Tara and Jordan Treakle. Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) and National Family Farm Coalition (NFFC). January 2020 at 1 to 2.
  147. Gonzalez (2011) at 755 to 759; Frison, Emile A. Interna- tional Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (iPES FOOD). “From Uniformity to Diversity: A Paradigm Shift from Industrial Agriculture to Diversified Agroecological Systems.” June 2016 at 24 to 26.

1. Wenonah Hauter

Wenonah Hauter

Founder & Executive Director

Wenonah Hauter is the founder and executive director of Food & Water Watch and Food & Water Action Fund. Wenonah has three decades of experience campaigning and writing on food, water, energy and environmental issues. She has trained and mentored hundreds of organizers and activists across the country and worked at the national, state and local levels to develop policy positions and legislative and field strategies to secure real wins for communities and the environment.

Wenonah holds an M.S. degree in Applied Anthropology from the University of Maryland and a Bachelor of Science in Sociology from James Madison University.

Food & Water Watch NEPA Litigation

Categories

Climate and Energy

Over the past 50 years, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) has become the cornerstone of U.S. environmental law, and nations worldwide have replicated its model.

NEPA requires federal agencies to consider the environmental impacts of their actions, including direct action by an agency or the permitting of private activity (like when an agency issues a permit for a private company to frack). The primary decision-making agency must do an environmental assessment of the project. If it imposes a significant impact, then a more in-depth environmental impacts statement is required. That next step is a collaborative process where meaningful involvement from affected communities and stakeholders is absolutely vital because they typically have the most knowledge of the local conditions and history.

Trump’s administration tried to skirt this by changing the way the White House Council for Environmental Quality (CEQ) interprets its function, and by silencing those who are meant to be participants in the process. We fought back in court but this case is paused until April 15, 2021 — we expect the Biden Administration to announce that they will be rescinding the Trump NEPA regulations due to their facial illegality. 

Make a donation to fund more crucial fights like this.

Our Right To Clean, Affordable Water

Categories

Clean Water

Corporations are seeking to control and restrict our increasingly scarce and polluted water supplies. But we must treat water like the priceless resource it is — and as a human right.

Water is essential for life, but increasingly, it is viewed as a source of windfall profits. This is unacceptable. Access to clean water should not be based on who can pay the most.

Food & Water Watch opposes the commodification and privatization of water in all forms. We support managing water supplies as a public trust, improving our public water systems, and making water service safe and affordable for all.

A monthly donation helps us scale up the fight to keep corporations out of our public water supplies.

Supporting the WATER Act

Categories

Clean Water

Making Things Happen On A National Level

Rather than letting corporations exploit our water problems for profit, we believe our federal government should provide the support our water systems need so that everyone in the United States can have access to locally managed, affordable, safe, and clean drinking water services. Our research supports this path forward

On a per capita basis, federal funding has declined 82% since its peak. In 1977, the federal government spent $76.27 per person (in 2014 dollars) on our water services, but by 2014 that support had fallen to $13.68 per person. 

That’s why we support the Water Affordability, Transparency, Equity and Reliability (WATER) Act.

This legislation will provide a long-term, comprehensive solution to bridge the current water-funding gap by taxing offshore corporate profits in the year they are generated. If passed, the WATER Act will secure a significant portion of what we need to protect our drinking water and create up to 945,000 jobs. With many systems advancing in age (some more than 100 years old), we need this funding more than ever. We must renew our commitment to public water, and make sure everyone has access to affordable water service.

We Fight Locally, Too

In addition to fighting for important federal legislation to protect our water, we also organize people in towns across the country to fight back when a corporation is plotting a takeover of municipal water services.

For instance, in a stunning win for public water, voters in Edison, New Jersey voted 84 percent to 16 percent in favor of bringing their sewer system and part of their drinking water system under public control. This makes the town the third municipality in the country to effectively ban water privatization and the first to do so through a citizen-initiated referendum.

We must manage our water as a common resource, not a profit center, and we must provide tap water as public service, not a business.

Urge your members of Congress to support the WATER Act!

Bottling Profits

Categories

Clean Water

Bottled water means massive corporate profits — and less support for our public water. Multinational corporations like Nestlé Waters, PepsiCo, and Coca-Cola sell single-use plastic bottles – waste that ends up in landfills and ultimately, litters our oceans – for thousands of times what it costs to get that water from the tap. While they market bottled water as a beverage of convenience, it’s coming at the expense of our public water infrastructure — which has provided affordable and convenient access to water for over a hundred years.

We shouldn’t have to rely on corporations like Nestlé for this life-giving resource.

Water should be locally-managed by accountable authorities, like democratically-elected local governments. We oppose needlessly expensive bottled water in favor of affordable, safe tap water service.

Support the WATER Act to redirect our public funds toward protecting safe, affordable water for all.

Factory Farms Make Us Sick

Categories

Food System

Factory farms contribute to the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Every single day, factory farms feed animals routine, low doses of antibiotics to prevent disease in filthy, crowded living conditions. In fact, 80% of the antibiotics used in the U.S. are for agricultural uses.

Overuse of antibiotics creates conditions that fuel the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. When these antibiotic-resistant bacteria spread to humans through our food supply, via animal to human transfer on farms, or through contaminated waste they can cause serious or even deadly antibiotic-resistant infections in people. Over two million Americans suffer from an antibiotic-resistant infection every year, and 23,000 people die. The FDA has known about the misuse of antibiotics since the 1970s but has not required factory farms to stop this dangerous practice.

The Farm System Reform Act will replace factory farms with more sustainable operations. Send a note to Congress to support it.

A Safe, Sustainable Food System

Categories

Food System

Factory farms pollute the environment and our drinking water, ravage rural communities, and harm the welfare of animals—while increasing corporate control over our food.

Factory farming is an unsustainable method of raising food animals that concentrates large numbers of animals into confined spaces. Factory farms are not compatible with a safe and wholesome food supply. It’s time to ban them.

The Farm System Reform Act bans factory farms and helps them transition to smaller, environmentally sustainable operations. Message your member of Congress to support it.

Waste From Factory Farms: An Environmental and Public Health Crisis

For several decades, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and state governments have failed to regulate the environmental impacts of factory farms. When factory farms operate virtually unregulated the environment and nearby rural communities pay the price. The vast quantities of manure from factory farms can — and do — make their way into the local environment where they pollute air and water. Several municipal water systems in the midwest must regularly implement costly clean up techniques to remove factory farm pollution from the water supply in order to avoid public health disasters.

Likewise, pollution from factory farms runs off into streams that feed into our major waterways like the Chesapeake Bay, Great Lakes and Gulf of Mexico — contributing to algal blooms and dead zones that impact drinking water supplies, aquatic ecosystems, recreation and people’s livelihoods.

Small, diversified farms that raise animals alongside other crops have always used manure as fertilizer without polluting water. The difference with factory farms is scale. They produce so much waste in one place that it must be applied to land in quantities that exceed the soil’s ability to absorb it as fertilizer.

We Must Push For Sustainable Food Production

Small- and medium-sized independent farms are able to meet the demand to feed the population, but that won’t remain the case if mega-corporations are allowed to keep stomping them out of existence. See our visionary report, “Well-Fed: A Roadmap To A Sustainable Food System That Works For All.”

A message to your member of Congress supporting the Farm System Reform Act can make a difference.

Workers Deserve Safe Conditions

Categories

Food System

Whether it’s pushing to increase line speeds in chicken processing facilities to dizzying speeds or trying to get a “liability shield” included in coronavirus relief bills to avoid accountability for pushing sick workers to come to work, corporations spare no expense to protect their bottom line.

Factory farms are unhealthy and stressful work environments. Workers are subjected to increased exposure to air pollutants, including particulate matter carrying mold, animal dander and pathogens. Exposure to these pollutants can lead to respiratory illness. An estimated one-quarter of hog confinement workers suffer from chronic bronchitis.

They are also astonishingly unsafe workplaces. In 2016, 6 out of every 100 workers in the animal production industry reported a work-related injury or illness. Tyson meatpacking plants reported on average one amputation per month in the first nine months of 2015. Across the county, regulations to prevent workplace injuries have not kept pace with the rapid growth of factory farms. Idaho had two deaths in 2016 caused by workers falling into dairy manure ponds. In both cases, federal regulators fined the dairies just $5,000

This is all in the name of profits, and it simply isn’t acceptable.

Food & Water Watch organizes people to fight this reckless disregard for the safety of workers in the food system. We hold corporations accountable and demand public agencies like the U.S. Department of Agriculture do the jobs they were instituted to do — protect the people.

Tell the USDA it’s not safe to increase line speeds in meat packing plants!

Stopping The Privatization Of A Public Right

Categories

Clean Water

Corporate Control of Water Systems

Water corporations, like Veolia or Suez, are seeking to profit off of managing local systems that provide our drinking water and sewer services. Wall Street investors are working with these companies to take advantage of cash-strapped local governments and entice them into selling or leasing off their water assets.

But this is a recipe for disaster. Profits should not be the priority when it comes to providing water services to people, but that’s exactly what happens when private companies take over local systems.

Using Our Tax Dollars to Support Public Water Systems

Rather than letting corporations exploit our water problems for profit, we believe our federal government should provide the support our water systems need so that everyone in the United States can have access to locally-managed, affordable, safe and clean drinking water service. 

On a per capita basis, federal funding has declined 82% since its peak. In 1977, the federal government spent $76.27 per person (in 2014 dollars) on our water services, but by 2014 that support had fallen to $13.68 per person. 

That’s why we support the Water Affordability, Transparency, Equity and Reliability (WATER) Act.

This legislation will provide a long-term, comprehensive solution to bridge the current water-funding gap by taxing offshore corporate profits in the year they are generated. If passed, the WATER Act will secure a significant portion of what we need to protect our drinking water and create up to 945,000 jobs. With many systems advancing in age (some more than 100 years old), we need this funding more than ever. We must renew our commitment to public water, and make sure everyone has access to affordable water service.

We must manage our water as a common resource, not a profit center, and we must provide tap water as public service, not a business.

The WATER Act is the key to a future where safe water is available to all of us. Sign on to show your support!

GMOs Plant Seeds For Corporate Control

Categories

Food System

Genetically modified foods — GMOs — are another tool industrial agriculture uses to control our food system. GMOs aren’t about feeding the world, they’re about corporate profits.

The majority of U.S. corn and soy are GMOs. These products mostly provide cheap fuel for factory farms and become processed junk food. They also devastate the environment, leaving vast monocultures in their wake and leaving farmers hooked on dangerous herbicides like Roundup.

Be a part of the movement to save independent farms and protect our environment.

Five Things Monsanto (Bayer) Doesn’t Want You To Know About GMOs

  • GMOs increase corporate control of our food
    Increasingly, the food industry is dominated by a handful of powerful corporations that control nearly every aspect of how our food is produced. Monsanto, for example, now owns a staggering number of seed companies that were once its competitors. For people who buy groceries, it’s distressing to realize that the dozens of brands in the grocery store are mostly owned by a few parent companies. When a company has a virtual monopoly on a whole aisle of the grocery store or a set of agricultural products, they make decisions based on what’s best for their profits, not what’s best for their customers or the planet.

    This consolidation of control is easy to see in the corporations that create GMOs. Biotech companies like Monsanto, Dow, Dupont and Syngenta create not only GMO seeds, but an entire system of food production. If there’s profit to be made in selling one product farmers need to buy, there’s far more profit to be made from creating a system of products designed to work together; for example, linking seeds with specific chemicals that these companies also sell, like Monsanto soybeans that are engineered to withstand Roundup, the weed killer produced by Monsanto. If a farmer plants those soybeans, they’re going to buy Roundup as well.

    Nor is it easy for farmers to avoid planting GMOs. In our increasingly consolidated food industry, farmers have fewer and fewer options, and the advice they hear at every turn is “go GMO.” This happens not just in the United States, but increasingly around the world as well.
  • GMOs don’t live up to the hype
    GMOs often don’t even do what they’re supposed to do. You’ve probably heard that “we need GMOs in order to feed the world,” on the presumption that only GMO crops have a high enough yield to keep up with a growing population. The trouble is, that simply isn’t true. Studies on certain GMO crops have found little to no yield improvements, and long-term studies of organic farming show that organic can match conventional agriculture’s yields.

    In other cases, biotech companies claim that their GMOs have nutritional benefits, or will solve some other pending crises. Take “golden rice,” which is supposed to cure vitamin A deficiency in the developing world. Unfortunately, it doesn’t: the beta-carotene in golden rice can’t be absorbed by the body unless combined with certain fats and oils, which is not helpful for people living in poverty with a limited diet. Plenty of non-GMO foods, like carrots and sweet potatoes, are rich in vitamin A and don’t require millions of dollars to produce and grow. Golden rice makes for good PR, but it won’t solve the world’s nutritional problems.

    Other times, GMO crops serve no practical purpose at all – at least for the people who eat them. Do we really need science to stop apples from turning brown when we cut them? Non-browning GMO apples are purely a marketing scheme, a way to make produce look fresher than it actually is and to make life easier for processors who want to sell cut-up apples to fast food chains.
  • More GMOs means more chemical use
    Many GMO crops are specifically engineered to resist certain weed killers, such as the potentially carcinogenic Roundup, so planting GMOs means that farmers end up using the associated chemicals, and using them in more ways, when they use GMO crops. Those chemicals end up in the environment and threaten the health of farmers and farmworkers, as well as the communities they live in. The system for making sure these chemicals don’t end up in our food is extremely weak.

    What’s even worse is that, because of increased chemical use, the pests are catching up. Over time, weeds and insects evolve a resistance to the chemicals we use against them. The more we use, the faster they adapt. Many common herbicides are no longer effective on our farms, which leaves biotech companies to encourage the use of harsher chemicals, which the pests will eventually adapt to… leading to an arms race of dangerous chemicals where people and the environment will inevitably be the losers.
  • GMOs and organics can’t coexist
    Trying to keep a farm GMO-free is harder than you might think. Some GMOs don’t stay put where they’re planted. It’s quite common for them to contaminate neighboring farms, or even farms many miles away when pollen from GMO crops drifts on the wind. Seed supplies can be contaminated with GMOs, too. In 2013, an Oregon farmer found GMO wheat in his field – an unapproved crop that hasn’t been field tested since 2005. This is a serious problem for organic farmers, who are not allowed to use GMOs.
  • The research on GMOs is biased
    There is a great deal of research out there about the safety and effects of GMOs – but far too much of it is conducted, funded or otherwise influenced by the biotech industry. Disturbingly, this includes research done at public universities. When GMO advocates claim that there’s a “scientific consensus” about GMOs, or that leading scientific organizations are on their side, they’re often cherry-picking points from reports that cast the debate in a more nuanced light. We need more truly independent long-term safety research into the effects of GMOs on our health and the environment.

    There are plenty of good reasons to be concerned about GMOs. But for consumers who are concerned, it’s not always clear in the marketplace where these crops end up – and biotech and food companies are fighting tooth and nail to stop new requirements that GMO foods be labeled.

Be a part of the movement to prioritize independent, sustainable farms.

We Must End Fossil Fuels

Categories

Climate and Energy

Climate chaos is the biggest threat known to humanity. But timid policymakers are afraid to take the actions they know are needed to stop it. Meanwhile, corporations push to drill every last cent of profit from their dying industry. They peddle a range of fake climate solutions meant to maximize profits while delaying real action to stop climate change.

Fracking’s Bridge to Nowhere

Fracking is promoted by Big Oil and Gas as a “bridge fuel.” In reality, fracking prolongs our dependence on fossil fuels. The huge capital investment necessary to develop wells and the infrastructure to support the industry will lock us into using natural gas for decades. And producing and distributing fracked gas releases vast amounts of methane — an even more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Fracking shills ignore the reality that clean, efficient  renewables are ready to go today — no bridge needed.

Be a part of the movement to save our planet from fossil fuels and the climate catastrophes they cause.

Fighting False Climate Solutions

Food & Water Watch fights to make sure our environmental laws are strengthened, not weakened by letting the “market” decide if we should have a clean and healthy future. Decisions on our energy future shouldn’t be left to greedy fossil fuel corporations and  Wall Street speculators. 

Rather than relying on fake climate solutions and hard to understand schemes, Food & Water Watch fights for the policies we really need. Let’s keep fossil fuels in the ground and immediately shift to clean, efficient renewables.

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Water as Human Right Enshrined in Virginia Law

Categories

Clean Water

Richmond, VA — Today, the Virginia legislature voted to pass HJ538, enshrining the human right to water for all in the Commonwealth. The resolution, championed by Delegate Lashrecse Aird in tandem with Food & Water Watch and Virginia Interfaith Power & Light, affirms the right to clean, potable and affordable water for all.

As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, water access has become a life-or-death situation for many. At the same time, clean and equitable water supplies have come under threat from storm events and rate hikes across the country. The House voted to pass HJ538 today after the bill got approval from the Senate yesterday, paving the way for commonwealth action on the threats facing public water supply across Virginia.

In response, Food & Water Watch Southern Regional Director Jorge Aguilar issued the following statement:

“Water is a human right. At a time where the right to clean, potable, and affordable water for all is under attack, we applaud the leadership of Delegate Aird and allies across the legislature in taking a stand on water justice. With the passage of HJ538, Virginia must now move swiftly via its legal and legislative tools to ensure equitable access to safe water for all.

Contact: Phoebe Galt – 207-400-1275, [email protected]

Vilsack’s Confirmation to USDA is a Warning Sign for Family Farmers and Food, Worker Safety

Categories

Food System

Washington, D.C. – Tom Vilsack will be confirmed as Agriculture secretary by the U.S. Senate this afternoon. In anticipation, Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter has issued the following statement:

“We can confidently predict what Tom Vilsack’s leadership of the Agriculture Department will look like, because he’s led it before. And the prediction is grim. In his previous stint at USDA, Vilsack backed mass corporate consolidation of our food system at the expense of struggling family farmers. Similarly, he readily advanced industry-driven initiatives allowing companies to inspect their own poultry processing plants, dismantling federal oversight of food and worker safety.

“This administration needs to drastically shift course from the Trump era by supporting sustainable, independent farming, halting the toxic expansion of polluting factory farms, and ultimately prioritizing consumer health and worker safety. We have little hope that Tom Vilsack cares to undertake this effort, so we will be pressuring him doggedly to see the light.”

Contact: Seth Gladstone – [email protected], 917.363.6615

Over 40 Groups Urge Legislators to Strengthen Utility Shutoff Moratorium

Categories

Clean Water

For immediate release

Albany, NY — In a letter issued to state legislators today, a broad coalition of organizations, including Food & Water Watch, Environmental Advocates NY, the Public Utility Law Project, NAACP, New York Communities for Change and PUSH Buffalo, applauded Governor Cuomo’s proposal, contained in his budget, to ensure that New Yorkers have access to water and other essential utilities during times of crisis. Letter signatories also offered recommendations for strengthening the proposal.

The NY State Senate plans to vote today on a bill sponsored by Senator Kevin Parker to extend New York’s current COVID-19 utility shutoff moratorium. While advocates applauded the Senate for taking action to address this urgent issue, they urged the State Legislature to adopt a more comprehensive approach to protect consumers who cannot pay their utility bills, as outlined in the letter. 

Citing research from Duke University and the National Bureau of Economic Research confirming that utility shutoff-moratoria prevent COVID-19 infections and save lives, letter signatories emphasized the need for policies to protect all New Yorkers in all states of emergency both present and future.

In response, Food & Water Watch Senior Organizer Eric Weltman issued the following statement:

“Whether taking the most basic of COVID-19 precautions and washing our hands, or safeguarding the fundamental right to water, Governor Cuomo’s proposal sends the message loud and clear: Nothing should stand in the way of our right to clean water, energy and other core utilities. Our state legislators must pick up the torch on this issue and ensure that protections are applied equitably to all New Yorkers during all emergencies. With these protections, New York can set the national standard for utility shutoff moratoria and equitable consumer protections in periods of crisis.”

Water Crisis Compounds Misery in Texas

Categories

Clean Water

For Immediate Release

The deep freeze that plunged Texas into an energy crisis has caused a wave of water shortages and infrastructure breakdowns that are all shedding light on a nationwide problem.

Millions of people in Texas, Louisiana, Tennessee and Mississippi are being advised to boil their water, while shortages are being reported across Texas, including at hospitals. 

Like the power problems plaguing Texas, the water crisis has been caused by decades of austerity with slashed federal water funding, deliberate decisions by policymakers to ignore the climate crisis, and long-term failures to invest in climate resilient infrastructure.

Nationally, the scope of our water problem is immense:

  • Every year, there are 240,000 water main breaks, wasting more than 2 trillion gallons of drinking water, while billions of gallons of untreated wastewater spill into waterways.
  • In total, our drinking water and wastewater systems need at least $744 billion over the next 20 years, or more than $35 billion a year.
  • Since peaking in 1977, federal funding for water infrastructure has been cut by 77 percent in real dollars (through 2017).
  • Investing in water infrastructure stimulates the economy. According to the Clean Water Council, every $1 billion in water infrastructure investment creates an estimated 20,003 to 26,669 jobs and can have far-reaching economic benefits, tripling in size with total demand for goods and services reaching an estimated $2.87 to $3.46 billion.

Shortly, Reps. Brenda Lawrence and Ro Khanna will reintroduce the Water Affordability, Transparency, Equity and Reliability (WATER) Act, the leading water infrastructure bill in Congress, which was co-sponsored by 87 members last year. The WATER Act would provide $35 billion a year to improve drinking water and wastewater systems, create a dedicated trust fund by rolling back some of the Trump administration’s corporate tax cuts, and create nearly one million jobs across the economy.

According to Food & Water Watch Public Water for All Campaign Director Mary Grant: 

“Decades of failure to invest in our water infrastructure and a deliberate decision to ignore climate science have left millions of people across the South without access to safe water. This intolerable situation is not the result of a natural disaster; it is the result of years of policy decisions rooted in austerity and greed. This crisis, like others we have seen with the human-made crises in Flint and Martin County, Kentucky, or the climate-fueled devastation of water supplies in Texas and Puerto Rico, shows clearly why we need massive federal investment in our public water infrastructure. Congress must pass the WATER Act to invest in communities, promote climate resilience, and ensure public water for all.”

Mary Grant is the Public Water For All Campaign Director at Food & Water Watch. Mary has authored numerous reports exposing the dangers of water privatization and the need for public investment in water infrastructure. Her original research exposed the scandal of Flint water users paying the highest rates in the country during the height of the city’s water crisis, and her research has been essential to the efforts in dozens of communities across the country to stop water privatization. 

Texas Deep Freeze Is a Fracking Failure

Categories

Climate and Energy

The climate change supercharged deep freeze covering Texas has left millions without power and water. The failure of the energy system is the direct result of corporate deregulation and an overreliance on fracked gas. While right wing media outlets and politicians make wildly false claims about the failure of wind power, the whole disaster is yet another clear sign that we need bold government action to transform our energy system.

The Texas energy system relies primarily on fracked gas — a source that greatly contributes to climate change, in addition to the litany of public health and environmental impacts linked to the fracking process. The failure of Texas’ gas-powered system due to freezing temperatures shows fracked gas to be an unreliable energy source. 

The other culprit is the structure of the Texas power system itself. The grid, primarily operated by ERCOT (Electric Reliability Council of Texas), is mostly cut off from the rest of the country. In the late 1990s, companies like Enron were pushing energy deregulation across the country, most notably in states like California and Texas. The ‘free market’ disaster in California led to wild price swings, market manipulation and widespread blackouts in 2000 and 2001. In Texas, critics of deregulation point out that the promised cost savings have never arrived, and there is little incentive for companies to invest in the kind of weatherization and maintenance that would have prevented some of the problems that have left millions without power. And in a deregulated market faced with a supply shortage, prices have skyrocketed.

In response to the current crisis, right wing media outlets and political figures have blamed it on a failure of wind power, and are warning that the Green New Deal would bring similar calamities from coast to coast. This is nonsense; the state’s wind power has overperformed gas during this time period, which makes the case for moving off of fracked gas and investing more in wind, solar, and battery storage. 

Statement from Mitch Jones, Policy Director at Food & Water Watch:  

“The power and water crisis in Texas is the result of climate change, fracking, deregulation, and poorly maintained water and power infrastructure. It’s exhibit A on why we need a Green New Deal that invests in building renewable energy with battery storage, modernizes our power systems, rebuilds our water infrastructure, and regulates these systems in the public interest. This should be a massive wakeup call that oil and gas barons shouldn’t be driving decisions around our energy needs. We need publicly-owned utilities that are operated for the benefit of the people and the planet, not corporate profits.”

Bioenergy’s Biogas Proposal Overwhelmed by Local Opposition

Categories

Climate and Energy

For Immediate Release

Dover, DE — Last night, in a hard-fought victory for the democratic process after the County initially sought to ram the project through without public engagement, environmental and community advocates showed strong opposition to Bioenergy’s proposed factory farm biogas operations in Sussex County. Bioenergy’s proposal to build a dangerous new poultry waste digestion facility near Seaford would be the first of its kind in the country, and represents a serious threat to the local environment and community efforts to dislodge Perdue’s factory farm chokehold on the region.

After successfully fighting off a back-room, closed-door approval process and gaining public hearings for this controversial proposal, environmental and community health activists celebrated the opportunity for public oversight. Advocates and Sussex County residents submitted over 130 public comments in opposition, and numerous people spoke out against the Bioenergy proposal at last night’s Planning & Zoning Commission hearing. Speakers highlighted the dangers of Bioenergy’s ever-shifting proposal including heightened traffic, pollutant emissions from carbon dioxide and smog-forming molecules, as well as the threat of explosive truck-bombs, and the impact that digestate poses to the region’s waterways.

In response to the robust local opposition, Food & Water Watch Staff Attorney Tyler Lobdell issued the following statement:

“Bioenergy’s attempt to circumvent the democratic process and rush this project through approvals without proper oversight betrays their intentions. Now that the public has regained the reins of this process, Delaware’s elected officials will have no choice but to listen to the outpouring of resistance to Bioenergy’s plan to profit off pollution. As we look ahead to the Sussex County Council hearing next month, Delaware residents are sending a clear message: Bioenergy will not test their dangerous facilities in communities where families live, work and play, and their hopes for a national buildout will be checked at all points by opposition like what we saw last night.”

Iowans Demand Legislative Action on Factory Farm Moratorium

Categories

Food System

DES MOINES, IA — This week, Representative Art Staed (D-Cedar Rapids) and Senator Pam Jochum (D-Dubuque) introduced a new house bill (HF 440) and companion senate bill (SF 282) that, if passed, would stop all new factory farms in the state. The legislation is the fourth annual attempt by state Democrats to push for a moratorium, and comes in response to mounting public support and urgent environmental hazards stemming from factory farms.

In events held alongside citizen advocates this afternoon, legislators called on their colleagues to listen to constituent demands and rise to the occasion. In a state home to over 10,000 factory farms, the industry and its unchecked expansion are wreaking havoc on drinking water, Iowa’s rural communities and independent family farms. The new legislation offers Iowans a path to a cleaner future that protects the state’s environment, communities and jobs.

Representative Art Staed said, “From the corporate control of our food system and the industry’s contribution to climate change to declining property values and the pollution of our rivers, lakes and streams — the harmful impacts of corporate agriculture are extensive. Whether you live next to a factory farm or downstream from one, this industry’s practices impact everyone in Iowa. I have heard the concerns of my constituents, and I agree. It’s time to place a moratorium on new and expanding factory farms.”

With young and independent rural Americans overwhelmingly in support of a factory farm moratorium, roadblocks to legislative passage lie with legislators not bold enough to stand up to agribusiness.

“We’ve seen support for a moratorium consistently growing everywhere but the state legislature,” said Emma Schmit, a Food & Water Watch Iowa organizer. “From Congress to communities across Iowa, more people than ever are stepping up to address our broken food and farm system. It’s time our state legislators do the same. Farmers, consumers and our environment deserve better.”

Over 100 Iowans from across the state gathered virtually to support the new moratorium legislation. Concerned citizens gave first hand testimony on the dangerous activities of factory farms whose abusive contracts and destructive environmental practices are endangering our water, rural communities and independent family farmers.

“A moratorium on factory farms is the first step to creating a more just food and farm system. Factory farms and corporate agriculture exploit our rural communities, our natural resources and the people we care about,” said Barb Kalbach, a fourth-generation farmer and CCI Action member. “We need to put people over corporate profit and build a system that works for family farmers, workers, consumers and our environment.”

Jess Mazour from Sierra Club said, “Every two years, DNR releases a report about Iowa’s water quality and every two years the report tells us the same thing — Iowa’s lakes, rivers and streams are polluted and factory farm manure is a leading cause. If we care about water quality in the state, we have to stop the pollution at the source, and factory farms are clearly a major source.”

“Factory farms pose huge threats to family farmers,” said Aaron Lehman, Iowa Farmers Union President. “Many of these operations are tied to meatpackers who distort the marketplace for independent producers trying to make an honest living. In addition, neighboring farmers see their property rights handed over to factory farms that have few ties to the community.”

As our family farmers are struggling, so are our rural communities. Over the past 30 years, the Iowa counties that sold the most hogs and had the largest farms also had declining countywide incomes, slower growth in median household income and declining numbers of local businesses compared to the statewide average.

Val Vetter of Poweshiek CARES shared the impact the factory farm industry has had on her community. “Last summer, before our community could even provide input, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources approved an application for the construction of yet another factory farm in Poweshiek County. We have little to no protections against an industry that actively harms the quality of life in our county. We need a statewide moratorium now if we want to preserve Iowa’s rural communities.”

Edith Haenel, founder of Iowa Citizens for Responsible Agriculture – Worth County said, “In rural Iowa we experience the harmful impacts of factory farms firsthand. Our experiences have shown that the expansion of the factory farm industry tears the social fabric of communities apart. From the consolidation of our agriculture markets to the destruction of our environment, corporate agriculture has devastated our way of life. We need to come together to strengthen rural America and unite against the problems that this industry has created for our climate, communities and quality of life.”

You can find a recording of today’s rally here: https://fb.watch/3yFcO3hDTc/

Contact: Phoebe Galt – [email protected]

Westchester County Unanimously Opposes Danskammer Plant Expansion

Categories

Climate and Energy

White Plains, NY — Last night, the Westchester County Board of Legislators unanimously voted in favor of a resolution opposing the massive expansion of the Danskammer fracked gas power plant in Newburgh.

With the passage of last night’s resolution, Westchester County has become the first county in New York to unanimously come out in opposition to the dirty Danskammer plant’s expansion aims. In doing so, the county has joined the chorus of municipalities across the state calling for Governor Cuomo to deny the plan its desired expansion permits.

Legislator Catherine Parker (D – Harrison, Larchmont, Mamaroneck, New Rochelle, Rye), chief sponsor of the resolution and chair of the Board’s Planning, Economic Development and Energy Committee said, “New York State’s recently passed the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act establishing programs, obligations and targets to meet zero emissions by 2050. Expanding the Danskammer plant to a full time, fossil fuel facility is exactly the wrong thing to do if we’re serious about a clean, sustainable future, and about meeting those goals.”

Legislator Ruth Walter (D – Bronxville, Yonkers), chair of the Board’s Environment and Health Committee, said, “Although this plant will not be in Westchester, pollution and climate change do not observe County lines. The plant’s expansion would add 2 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually to our atmosphere, drastically harming air quality in the region and exacerbating climate change and with gallons of diesel fuel and aqueous ammonia are proposed to be stored on-site, there’s a significant threat to the water quality for all of us downstream on the Hudson.”

Majority Leader MaryJane Shimsky (D – Ardsley, Dobbs Ferry, Edgemont, Hartsdale, Hastings-on-Hudson, Irvington) said, “The Danskammer proposal is doubly dangerous for our environment and our future by continuing to contribute to greenhouse gases and potentially continuing to contribute to demand for natural gas extracted through fracking. With a New York State ban on fracking and our CLCP goals for clean energy, outfitting a power plant of the sort contemplated for Danskammer makes no sense.”

Environmental groups applauded the county’s leadership in the fight against Danskammer’s expansion.

Food & Water Watch organizer Santosh Nandabalan said, “What happens in Newburgh will affect the rest of the state and the Hudson Valley. Air and water pollution extend far beyond the Danskammer site, and New Yorkers know this. It’s great to see Westchester County take a firm stance against the proposed Danskammer expansion. Governor Cuomo has outlined a path away from fossil fuels for New York’s energy future – a Danskammer plant expansion is not a part of that future.”

Sunrise Westchester hub coordinator Caitlyn Carpenter said, “As young people fighting for the future of our climate and the well-being of our state, we are excited to see the Westchester County Board of Legislators pass this resolution in opposition to the proposed Danskammer buildout. It is long past time for New York State to move away from dirty fossil fuels and towards renewable green technologies. This is just one step of many we must take to address the global threat of the climate crisis and the impact of fossil fuel infrastructure on frontline communities.” 

The county’s unanimous resolution is the latest in the surging momentum opposing the Danskammer expansion. Earlier this month, thirty organizations representing hundreds of thousands of members from across New York signed on to a letter urging Governor Cuomo and the Siting Board to reject Danskammer’s permit applications.

As it stands, the company’s proposal is inconsistent with New York’s climate law, and would have profoundly negative impacts on regional air quality, posing a threat to public health.

Contact: Phoebe Galt – [email protected]

Environmental, Public Health and Faith Groups Call on Governor Carney to Halt Factory Farm Biogas Scheme in Sussex County

Categories

Food System

Dover, DE — This morning, 32 groups led by Food & Water Watch issued a letter to Governor Carney calling for his intervention in Bioenergy’s scheme to build dangerous new biogas operations in Sussex County. The letter calls on the Governor to oppose Bioenergy’s proposed poultry waste digestion facility in Seaford, Delaware, and comes in advance of the Sussex County Planning & Zoning Commission hearing scheduled for Thursday, February 11.

Environmental, public health and faith groups across Delaware and the region have joined forces to issue this letter. This attempt by Bioenergy to build out a new anaerobic digestion plant in Seaford is “a greenwashed nightmare,” says the letter.

Fueled by a 20-year agreement with Perdue Farms to provide chicken manure for the digester, the Bioenergy plant would incentivize chicken factory farm buildout across the region, further entrenching factory farms and the pollution that comes with them. Groups also urge the Governor to consider the significant greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution expected from the burning of factory farm biogas, including the negative health effects Seaford residents will see.

In conjunction with the letter to Governor Carney and ahead of the local hearing, groups responded,

“This biogas project is a corporate scheme to take further advantage of Seaford while selling itself to investors as a win-win-win. The developers seek to exploit an area with more than 20% of its population living below the poverty level and suffering from water pollution problems of past industrial abuse,” Shelly Cohen, member of the Sussex Health and Environmental Network said. “This project will only further jeopardize the health and economic status of the community, already ill-prepared to take on the additional public health and environmental problems sure to result from the facility. This project would be a knockout punch to the small city.”

Richard Borrasso of the Sussex Alliance for Responsible Growth (SARG) said, “SARG is of the opinion that the positives and negatives of this project have not been clearly presented to the public for their consideration through an open and transparent process.  SARG fully endorses having Bioenergy submit a new request for a Conditional Use, requiring public hearings to fully vet the proposal, ultimately requiring a public vote by County Council, the elected representatives of the people.”

Maria Payan, local resident and consultant for the Socially Responsible Agricultural Project said, “This factory farm biogas scheme is yet another attempt to entrench poultry farms in the region. Creating a market for the waste these polluting and toxic factory farms produce will allow Perdue and Bioenergy to continue to rake in profits while local community members will be forced to deal with the fallout. Governor Carney and Sussex County elected officials have a choice to make — will they cave to the polluting factory farm industry or will they invest in building a better future for those of us who live here?”

“This week, the Sussex County Planning & Zoning Commission has a duty to recommend denial of Bioenergy’s conditional use application for this project,”  said Tyler Lobdell, staff attorney at Food & Water Watch. “This developer’s interest in rushing this project through the approval process without much review or oversight, and with no additional protections for local residents, should tell us everything we need to know about it. This project is bad for Sussex County and it’s bad for Delaware. County decisionmakers and DNREC, under the direction of Governor Carney, should use their authority to deny permits for this facility. The future of Sussex County depends on it.” 

Contact: Phoebe Galt – [email protected]

Tampa Citizens Urge Council to Stand Up to Oil and Gas Bullying, Maintain Clean Energy Resolution

Categories

Climate and Energy

Tampa, FL  Yesterday, citizen activists turned out to show widespread support for Tampa’s bold resolution that, if passed, would commit the city to 100% renewable energy by 2030. In response to extensive back-room pressure from Big Oil and Gas, Councilman Joe Citro had circulated plans to withdraw the bold climate resolution on Thursday. Over a dozen citizen activists turned out for public comment Thursday in support of the resolution, and councilmembers avoided conversation of the resolution.

Activists demanded elected officials double down against the bullying tactics of Big Oil and Gas, and stand up to the preemption bills introduced in the state legislature including Senate Bill 856 which would prohibit all local energy infrastructure regulation and stop Tampa’s climate change actions in their tracks. Speakers reminded Councilmembers that their duty is to the people of Tampa who elected them, not to industry lobbyists’ scare tactics and misinformation. Senate Bill 856 is one of ten preemption bills introduced around the country that attack local regulation of energy infrastructure.

Food & Water Watch Senior Organizer Brooke Errett issued the following statement:

“Since I last spoke to the Council in January, Big Oil and Gas have attacked our city. We were disappointed to see Councilman Citro’s memo expressing his intent to withdraw the renewable energy resolution yesterday in response to industry’s bullying tactics. Big Oil and Gas are running a misinformation campaign in our city and the state to prevent cities like Tampa from enacting bold climate policies. We call on Council and Mayor Castor to double down on your commitments, stand up to industry bullies, and do right by your constituents.”

Contact: Phoebe Galt – [email protected], 207.400.1275

Lawsuit Challenging Trump’s Dirty Swine Slaughter Rules Allowed to Proceed in Federal Court

Categories

Food System

Washington D.C. — In a ruling yesterday, a federal court allowed a lawsuit contesting the Trump administration’s rollback of food safety rules in swine slaughter plants to proceed. The court denied the government’s motion to dismiss the case, saying that the groups had the legal standing to pursue their claims. 

The plaintiffs —Food & Water Watch, Center for Food Safety and Humane Farming Association—filed their lawsuit in early 2020 challenging U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) “New Swine Inspection System” program. The organizations assert that the Trump administration’s rules will harm consumers by eliminating statutory requirements that federal government inspectors perform critical inspection responsibilities, instead handing these over to slaughter plant employees. The lawsuit also challenged the rules’ lifting of limits on plants’ slaughter-line speed. The suit is one of three that have been lodged around the country challenging the legality of the swine-slaughter rules.

The court ruled that “[a]ccepting [their] allegations as true, the Court concludes there is a credible threat that [their] members face an increased risk of illness from consuming adulterated pork products because of the [new rules], sufficiently establishing standing based on potential future harm.”

In response, the plaintiffs issued the following statements: 

“This decision clears the path for our day in court to challenge the Trump administration’s dreadful gutting of critical food safety law —laws that have been in place since the 1900s, catalyzed by The Jungle and Upton Sinclair. We hope that this sends a signal to the Biden administration that it needs to go back to the drawing board and ensure policies that will prioritize public health and safety over corporate profits,” said Zach Corrigan, senior staff attorney at Food & Water Watch

“We are pleased that the court recognized the ‘credible threat’ posed by USDA’s new swine inspection rules. Those rules are disastrous for public health by transferring inspection duties to untrained plant employees and allowing increased line speeds. This all but ensures that tainted meat will be sold to consumers, increasing the threat of foodborne illness outbreaks. With today’s decision, we are one step closer to ending this reckless policy change,” said Ryan Talbott, staff attorney at Center for Food Safety.

“Until now, slaughterhouses have been allowed to kill as many as 1,106 hogs per hour, or one hog every three seconds.  Incredibly, the new rules would open the floodgates—allowing slaughterhouses to recklessly kill hogs at whatever speeds they choose. We are relieved that the court recognizes the dangers this program poses to public health and animal welfare,”  said Humane Farming Association National Director Bradley Miller.

After Industry Disinformation Campaign, Ventura County Forced to Send Oil and Gas Regulations to Ballot in 2022

Categories

Climate and Energy

Ventura, CA — After seemingly running an extensive disinformation campaign and spending close to a million dollars on contracted canvassers, the oil and gas industry succeeded in collecting enough signatures to pause Ventura County’s newly-won oil and gas regulations, and send them to the ballot instead. The Board of Supervisors certified the signatures yesterday, signaling the start of a new battle for the county’s frontline communities and natural resources.

Some Board members echoed the public’s concern over deceitful tactics used during the signature gathering, but it will be up to the District Attorney to investigate reports of false information distributed by the hired signature gatherers of the oil and gas companies.

“Frontline communities are the people who will be hurt most by this pause in protections from oil and gas pollution,” said Food & Water Watch Senior Organizer Tomás Rebecchi in response to the ruling. “The oil and gas industry’s gross misuse of the petition process affirms its willingness to manipulate and deceive to preserve its bottom line. How much longer can we leave our most vulnerable communities to pay for the profits of the oil and gas industry?”

California already has some of the weakest regulations on oil and gas drilling in the country – behind even Texas, another major producer – though Ventura County became one of the only counties in the state to require a 2,500 foot safety buffer zone between schools and oil wells when it updated its General Plan last year. The oil industry is now suing over those updates as well and hopes to overturn them in court.

In the 2022 statewide primary election, voters will decide whether to close a loophole that allows oil and gas companies using antiquated permits to avoid public oversight and modern environmental review to drill or frack new wells. Until then, the loophole will remain open in Ventura County. 

“What the County did last year was close a loophole that allowed some oil companies to skirt modern laws that protect public health, precious water supplies, our public lands, and the environment,” said ForestWatch’s director of advocacy Rebecca August. “The update simply made all new oil development and operations subject to the same rules that other businesses in Ventura County must follow. You can see why the oil industry is fighting it.” 

Most antiquated permits have no limit on the number of wells that can be drilled, no expiration date, and do not stipulate what extraction techniques can be used. To drill or frack new wells under these permits, the oil company pays a $330 application fee and obtains an over-the-counter Zoning Clearance without public notice or environmental review — much like a marriage licence.

“The threat posed by antiquated permits is already well-documented. Oil operators on these permits are responsible for numerous health and safety violations. It was an antiquated permit that led to one of Ventura County’s biggest toxic spills. Oxnard farmers discovered diluent – a toxic additive used to thin out oil sludge – floating in their broccoli crops. The farmers reported the spill. The oil company, protected by an antiquated permit, didn’t report anything until they got caught. And that spill? It still hasn’t been cleaned up.” said Liz Beall, Executive Director of Climate First: Replacing Oil & Gas (CFROG) an environmental watchdog in Ventura County. “Voters are going to have to decide in June of 2022 – should we hold oil companies accountable for poisoning our air, land, and water? Or are we going to let their deep pockets make the rules, and tolerate more of the same?”

Contact: Jessica Gable – [email protected]

Smithfield’s Deceptive Sustainability Claims Slammed in FTC Complaint

Categories

Food System

For Immediate Release

A coalition of national and regional research, policy, and advocacy organizations filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission today arguing that Smithfield, the nation’s largest pork producer, routinely makes false and misleading claims about the sustainability of its pork products and the company’s environmental record. 

Instead of investing in sustainable production practices, the complaint demonstrates that Smithfield continues to destroy the environment while greenwashing its products by proposing massive anaerobic digesters to produce factory farm biogas, all in the pursuit of greater corporate profit.

While Smithfield relies on marketing terms like “sustainable” and “highest environmental standards,” its products actually come from extremely unsustainable, industrialized production and processing facilities with long and ongoing records of environmental degradation. 

“Smithfield’s false and misleading marketing attempts to cover up its environmentally devastating factory farm model,” said Food & Water Watch staff attorney Tyler Lobdell. “Instead of actually cleaning up its act, Smithfield is investing in slick tag lines and false solutions like factory farm anaerobic digesters to dupe consumers. This is classic corporate greenwashing, and the FTC must take action to protect the public and truly sustainable producers from this illegal conduct.”

“Smithfield’s false and misleading marketing claims deceive consumers and steal market opportunities from truly sustainable farmers and ranchers,” said Joe Maxwell, President of Family Farm Action Alliance. “Smithfield claims they are nearing an environmental goal of 100% compliance 100% of the time. But, from polluting our drinking water, to spewing toxins into minority communities, and lying to customers, it seems the only thing they are 100% committed to is deceit.”

The filing, led by Food & Water Watch, documents a litany of dubious claims made by Smithfield about the company’s environmental stewardship — claims that are thoroughly undermined by Smithfield’s lengthy record of environmental violations and disregard for the health of communities living near its facilities. In reality, Smithfield is one of the biggest industrial polluters in the United States.

Smithfield claims it has an “industry-leading sustainability program” and is close to achieving an environmental goal of “100% compliance, 100% of the time.” The company tells consumers that its facilities are “the opposite” of factory farms, and its sustainability website, as described in the complaint, “depict[s] sunny and bucolic farms that bear little resemblance to the actual facilities where the animals used in Smithfield’s products are raised.”

Indeed, the lengthy record of air and water pollution linked to Smithfield’s operations makes a mockery of the company’s “Good food. Responsibly.®” slogan. Smithfield is the third-largest water polluter in the country, and in 2019 the company was issued at least 66 notices of violations of already bare minimum environmental protection laws. Its Tar Heel, North Carolina plant has a long record of Clean Water Act violations, as well as serious air pollution violations. Smithfield’s operations in the state have been linked to massive fish kills, and as recently as January of this year North Carolina officials called out the company over massive spills of hog waste into waterways and the local environment.

The massive amount of pig manure created by the company — estimated at over 19 million tons per year– creates substantial threats to water quality and public health. Those threats are only exacerbated by Smithfield’s irresponsible practices, which include spraying pollution-laden waste on fields throughout the country.

A series of lawsuits in North Carolina documented an array of nuisances linked to Smithfield’s waste lagoons and manure spraying. The company has been hit with millions of dollars in damages. As the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals recognized, Smithfield’s production practices are characterized by “interlocking dysfunctions” that the company “willful[ly]” and “wanton[ly]” ignored to maximize profit.

“Smithfield isn’t a good neighbor – just ask the hundreds of people who filed nuisance lawsuits against the company, and the jurors in each of those lawsuits who found Smithfield guilty. Every time,” said Kemp Burdette, the Riverkeeper with Cape Fear River Watch. “They aren’t a ‘green’ company. They spray untold millions of gallons of untreated hog feces and urine onto the landscape of eastern North Carolina every year. They have not taken a single step in fulfilling the promises they made twenty years ago to put some of their billions of dollars of profits into improving waste management, and spills and violations are a regular occurrence on factory hog farms in the Cape Fear Basin.” 

By its own account, Smithfield’s water usage and wastewater discharges are rising. In 2019, the company consumed over 11.14 billion gallons of water at just a fraction of the facilities involved in producing its products, which is more water than all the domestic fresh water users combined in approximately 20 U.S. states and territories.

The FTC complaint also zeroes in on an increasingly common corporate greenwashing tactic: Promoting the use of anaerobic digesters as a ‘clean energy’ innovation. As the filing lays out, installing digesters to produce factory farm biogas cannot be considered a sustainability initiative and is not “clean” energy.

These digesters serve to entrench some of the most dangerous factory farm practices — in effect monetizing Smithfield’s waste mismanagement rather than addressing the root causes of its greenhouse gas emissions and other pollution. The waste products left over after the digestion process can be even more environmentally hazardous, and the eventual burning of factory farm biogas still releases harmful pollutants like carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, ammonia, and hydrogen sulfide.

The coalition’s complaint asks the FTC to investigate and take enforcement action against Smithfield by requiring it to remove these misleading claims, and to enjoin the company from making similar misrepresentations in the future. 

Joining Food & Water Watch in filing the complaint are Cape Fear River Watch, Dakota Rural Action, Family Farm Action Alliance, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, Missouri Rural Crisis Center, Pennsylvania Farmers Union, and Socially Responsible Agriculture Project.

Environmental Advocates Laud Cuomo Administration Move Towards Public Water

Categories

Clean Water

Albany, NY — Today, the Cuomo administration announced a step forward in the public takeover of American Water’s Long Island water systems, which the company has proposed selling to Liberty Utilities, a Canadian corporation. The Governor directed the Special Counsel for Ratepayer Protection at the New York State Department of Public Service to conduct a feasibility study about the municipalization of Long Island’s largest privately-owned water company.

Research conducted by Food & Water Watch has documented a litany of problems associated with corporate ownership of water systems compared to public systems, including:

  • Loss of control and lack of public input, transparency, and accountability
  • Higher rates and increased operating and other costs
  • Worse service, inadequate investment and deteriorating systems

In response to the governor’s move toward public water on Long Island, Food & Water Watch Senior Organizer Eric Weltman issued the following statement:

“Long Island residents have learned a bitter lesson that corporate control of our most vital resources is a dangerous and costly mistake. The pandemic is a painful reminder that the Cuomo administration has a moral obligation to ensure that everyone has access to safe, affordable water. Long Island residents deserve and need public control over the drinking water they rely upon.”

Contact: Phoebe Galt – [email protected]

Five Reasons to Reject Tom Vilsack

Categories

Food System

For Immediate Release

On Tuesday, the Senate Agriculture Committee will hold a confirmation hearing for Agriculture Secretary nominee Tom Vilsack. But Vilsack’s record as Agriculture Secretary under President Obama shows his allegiance is to big agribusiness — not farmers, workers, and consumers. 

That’s why a broad coalition of environmentalists, family farm advocates, and social justice advocates opposes his nomination.

Here are five reasons Vilsack’s nomination should be rejected: 

Consolidation and Mega Mergers

Across all the sectors, the food industry has become remarkably consolidated over the past several decades. Those trends accelerated under Vilsack’s previous tenure at USDA. On his watch, the department convened ‘listening tours’ to hear the concerns of farmers — but then failed to take any corrective action, and the USDA continued to favor the interests of corporate giants at the expense of family farmers.

Letting Big Ag Write the Safety Rules

Under the Trump administration, there was well-deserved criticism of proposed rules that would have allowed poultry plants to increase line speeds — actions that would ensure food is not properly inspected and that threaten worker safety. Yet when Vilsack was in charge at USDA, similar proposals were advanced — including rules that allowed big agribusiness to carry out inspections themselves, rather than federal government inspectors. The Trump administration proposed similar rules for the cattle and hog slaughter plants. Workers and consumers need a USDA head who will prioritize public health and worker safety — not someone who is willing to put the fox in charge of the henhouse. 

Oversaw the Growth of Factory Farms

Massive factory farms create air and water pollution in affected communities, and generate hundreds of billions of animal manure every year. During Vilsack’s time with the Obama administration, these problems got worse. Food & Water Watch research shows that between 2012 and 2017, the number of animals being raised on factory farms increased. The growth of factory farms coincided with the loss of smaller, family-run operations. Over the same five-year period, the country lost nearly 10,000 fewer dairies. For the sake of protecting small farmers and clean water, we must enact a moratorium on new factory farms.   

Vilsack’s Dairy Lobbying 

While there are always concerns about the ‘revolving door’ — when government regulators going to work for the industries they were once tasked with regulating — Tom Vilsack is a quintessential example: Upon leaving the Obama administration where he oversaw a major decline in small dairies, Vilsack went straight to working for the industry, making nearly $1 million a year at helm of US Dairy Export Council. Small dairy farmers are facing enormous hardships; how should those farmers react to the news that an advocate of the mega dairy industry is back in charge?

Promoting Bogus “Carbon Farming” as Climate Action

One way Vilsack is trying to signal that he’s changed is by promoting ‘carbon markets’ for farmers. While this being touted as a way to improve soil practices and provide revenue for farmers, it is essentially a scheme to set up markets so that fossil fuel companies can buy ‘carbon credits’ instead of reducing their own pollution. This is an elaborate shell game being sold as climate action, for the benefit of the companies that seek to keep drilling and fracking.