The Interior Department Has a Legal Duty To Protect Our Public Lands

Categories

Climate and Energy

by Adam Carlesco, Food & Water Watch Staff Attorney

On the campaign trail, Joe Biden was adamant about stopping oil and gas drilling on public lands. Now it’s time to actually make it happen.

Biden Has Laid The Groundwork To End Leasing Of Public Lands For Fossil Fuel Extraction

In the first few days of his presidency, President Biden signed two executive orders which directed the Department of Interior to temporarily halt the leasing of public lands for fossil fuel extraction. During that time, the administration pledged that it would review how to reform its lands leasing policy to best fight climate change in a scientifically informed manner.

While that new policy is still months away, the pause was a significant start. While public lands have the potential to be a major global carbon sink, federal lands currently produce nearly a quarter of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions due to decades of extensive land leasing to private oil, gas, and coal extraction corporations at bargain basement rates. As one of the largest single historical contributors to global greenhouse gas emissions, the Interior Department’s continued leasing of public lands for the extraction of fossil fuels would threaten climatological stability which, in turn, would drastically impact endangered plant and animal species, exacerbate wildfires, degrade air quality, and threaten many freshwater sources.

The Department Of Interior Can – and Should – Ban Fracking

The continued degradation of public lands and the global ecosphere is not simply unacceptable, it is contrary to the laws that govern the Department of Interior. As the largest landholder in the U.S. and the principal public land management agency, the department is tasked under the Federal Land Policy Management Act with ensuring that public lands preserve “multiple uses” which requires lands be used for “a combination of balanced and diverse resource uses that take into account the long-term needs of future generations.” It must also ensure that a sustained yield of “renewable resources” (i.e., freshwater, fish, wildlife, plants) be maintained in perpetuity. In order to see that public lands are managed accordingly, Interior is mandated to “take any action necessary to prevent unnecessary or undue degradation of the lands” it manages, and has great latitude in how it prevents such degradation.

The continued leasing of these lands for fossil fuels amidst a global climate emergency simply does not comport with Interior’s multiple use and sustained yield management requirements and, in fact, would lead to undue and unnecessary degradation of public lands.

Food & Water Watch Spelled Out The Legal Case For Ending Fossil Fuel Leasing On Public Lands

In comments filed with Interior on April 15, 2021, Food & Water Watch laid out how the agency is legally required to cease its destructive leasing practices if it is to truly comply with its statutory requirements while living up to President Biden’s directive to “to listen to the science; to improve public health and protect our environment; to ensure access to clean air and water; … to hold polluters accountable, including those who disproportionately harm communities of color and low-income communities; [and] to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

Food & Water Watch further countered common industry talking points which seek simple “reform” of Interior’s leasing program, via the false solutions of carbon taxes and implementing carbon capture and sequestration systems which do not address the gravity of the climate crisis while still allowing continued extraction and combustion of polluting fossil fuels.

This comment period was an informal method to solicit input from the concerned public, but the Interior Department will need to engage in robust public outreach and environmental review of its leasing program as it goes forward with its next steps. As the department is legally required to pursue the least-harm alternative in land management, a thorough and candid environmental review of this program can only result in one outcome – a halt to all fossil fuel extraction on public lands. As this process unfolds, Food & Water Watch will continue its work of ensuring that ordinary people, when organizing together, have their voices heard by those in power. Together we can stop fossil fuel extraction on public lands and work towards a greener future.

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New Report Outlines Country’s Food System Crisis, Calls for Major Policy Reform

Categories

Food System

For Immediate Release

Washington, D.C. – A comprehensive report released today by the national advocacy organization Food & Water Watch outlines the crisis state of the country’s food system, including detailed analysis on the severe damage levied on society by unchecked corporate monopolies dominating the system. 

The report, “Well-Fed: A Roadmap to a Sustainable Food System that Works For All,” offers a corrective policy blueprint that includes sweeping federal legislation and an overhaul of the country’s farm safety net. It also features a number of case studies from across the country featuring family farmers, ranchers and food hubs that have enacted safe, healthy, sustainable and profitable business models.

The report outlines the alarming degree of corporate consolidation in the food industry and its impact on consumers and small farms. For example: 

  • 83 percent of all beef is produced by just four processing companies;
  • 65 percent of consumer grocery market share is held by just four retailers; and 
  • 67 percent of crop seed market share is held by just four corporations. 

These and other conditions have had a devastating effect on consumer choice and costs, and small farm income and stability.

“The COVID pandemic laid bare many of the systemic crises in our food system today, all of which are exacerbated by unchecked corporate consolidation,” said Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter. “But there is a clear path forward. Small, diversified family farms are already raising healthy, sustainable food for their local communities. We need bold action from the federal government to help rebuild our regional food infrastructure — our small slaughterhouses, grain mills and grocery cooperatives — to support the growth of more independent, sustainable farms.” 

The report recommends a number of robust policy prescriptions that would help to move the country to a safer, healthier and more sustainable food future by addressing the unchecked power of mega-corporations and creating systems to adequately sustain small farms and ranches. Among these prescriptions are: 

  • Federal legislation like the Farm System Reform Act, which would ban new factory farms and the expansion of existing ones, and phase out the most egregious factory farm operations by 2040; 
  • Reinstating federal supply management programs for commodities, including price floors;
  • Enacting through legislation a moratorium on corporate mergers in the food system; and
  • Redirecting public agriculture funding to encourage and support organic and regenerative farming practices. 

Contact: Seth Gladstone – [email protected]

Food & Water Watch mobilizes people to build political power to move bold and uncompromised solutions to the most pressing food, water and climate problems of our time. We work to protect people’s health, communities and democracy from the growing destructive power of the most powerful economic interests.

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.

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

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.

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

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

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.
  8. USDA (2019) at 9; Kelloway, Claire and Sarah Miller. Open Markets Institute. “Food and Power: Addressing Monopolization in America’s Food System.” March 2019 at 2 and 6.
  9. USDA. Economic Research Service (ERS). “Highlights from the February 2020 Farm Income Forecast.” Updated February 5, 2020.
  10. Mooney, Pat. ETC Group. “Blocking the Chain: Industrial Food Chain Concentration, Big Data Platforms and Food Sovereignty Solutions.” October 2018 at 8.
  11. MacDonald, James M. et al. USDA ERS. “Consolidation in U.S. Meatpacking.” AER-785. February 2000 at iii; Williams, Gregory D. and Kurt A. Rosentrater. Tyson Foods and USDA. “Design Considerations for the Construction and Operation of Flour Milling Facilities. Part I: Planning, Structural, and Life Safety Considerations.” Paper No. 074116. Written for presentation at the 2007 American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers (ASABE) Annual International Meeting. Minneapolis, Minnesota. June 17-20, 2007 at 1; USDA (2018); Willingham, Zoe and Andy Green. Center for American Progress. “A Fair Deal for Farmers: Raising Earnings and Rebalancing Power in Rural America.” May 2019 at 20 and 22; Andrews, David and Timothy J. Kautza. “Impact of Industrial Farm Animal Production on Rural Communities.” Report of the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production. 2008 at v to vii.
  12. Manion, Jennifer T. “Cultivating farmworker injustice: The resurgence of sharecropping.” Ohio State Law Journal. Vol. 62, Iss. 5. 2001 at abstract; Drake University, USDA Farm Service Agency and National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. “Contracting in Agriculture: Making the Right Decision.” ND at 8; Andrews, Deborah. “Traditional Agriculture, Biopiracy and Indigenous Rights.” Written for the 2nd World Sustainability Forum. November 1-30 2012 at 2.
  13. Liu, X. et al. “Effects of agricultural management on soil organic matter and carbon transformation — A review.” Plant, Soil and Environment. Vol. 52, No. 12. 2006 at 537 to 538; Horwath, William R. and J. G. Boswell. University of California — Davis. “How much can soil organic matter realistically be increased with cropping management in California?” Proceedings of the CA Plant and Soil Conference, 2018. Fresno, California. February 6-7, 2018 at 32.
  14. Prashar, Pratibha and Shachi Shah. “Impact of fertilizers and pesticides on soil microflora in agriculture.” In Licht-fouse, Eric (Ed.). (2016). Sustainable Agriculture Reviews: Volume 19. Cham: Springer at 355; Deguines, Nicolas et al. “Large-scale trade-off between agricultural intensification and crop pollination services.” Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. Vol. 12, Iss. 4. May 2014 at abstract.
  15. Food & Water Watch (FWW) analysis of USDA. National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS). Quick Stats. Available at https://quickstats.nass.usda.gov. Accessed August 2019; U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). “Literature Review of Contaminants in Livestock and Poultry Manure and Implications for Water Quality.” EPA 820-R-13-002. July 2013 at 109; U.S. Census Bureau. 2013-2017 American Community Survey (ACS) 5-year estimates. Available at https://factfinder.census.gov. Accessed December 2019.
  16. Hollenbeck, James E. “Interaction of the role of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) in Emerging Infectious Diseases (EIDS). Infection, Genetics and Evolution. Vol. 38. March 2016 at 44.
  17. Wing, Steve et al. “Environmental injustice in North Carolina’s hog industry.” Environmental Health Perspectives. Volume 108, No. 3. March 2000 at 229; Harun, S.M. Rafael and Yelena Ogneva-Himmelberger. “Distribution of industrial farms in the United States and socioeconomic, health, and environmental characteristics of counties.” Geography Journal. Volume 2013. 2013 at 2 and 5; Wilson, Sacoby
    M. et al. “Environmental injustice and the Mississippi hog industry.” Environmental Health Perspectives. Vol. 110, Supplement 2. April 2002 at 199; Lenhardt, Julia and Yelena Ogneva-Himmelberger. “Environmental injustice in the spatial distribution of concentrated animal feeding operations in Ohio.” Environmental Justice. Vol. 6, No. 4. August 22, 2013 at 134 and 137.
  18. Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production. “Putting Meat on the Table: Industrial Farm Animal Production in America.” 2008 at 17; Fenske, Richard A. et al. “Strategies for assessing children’s organophosphorus pesticide exposures in agricultural communities.” Journal of Exposure Analysis and Environmental Epidemiology. Vol. 10. November-December 2000 at 662 to 663.
  19. Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production. (2008) at 23 and 25; Ribaudo, Marc O. et al. “Nitrogen sources and Gulf hypoxia: Potential for environmental credit trading.” Ecological Economics. Vol. 52, Iss. 2. January 2005 at 160; Robertson, Dale M. and David A. Saad. “Nutrient inputs to the Laurentian Great Lakes by source and watershed estimated using SPARROW watershed models.” Journal of the American Water Resources Association. Vol. 47, No. 5. October 2011 at 1025 to 1026.
  20. Baker, Brian P. et al. “Pesticide residues in conventional, IPM-grown and organic foods: Insights from three U.S. data sets.” Food Additives and Contaminants. Vol. 19, No. 5. May 2002 at discussion; Damgaard, Ida N. et al. “Persistent pesticides in human breast milk and cryptorchidism.” Environmental Health Perspectives. Vol. 114, No. 7. July 2006 at 1133.
  21. Vermeulen, Sonja J. et al. “Climate change and food systems.” Annual Review of Environment and Resources. Vol. 37. October 2012 at 198 to 199.
  22. Hendrickson, Mary. “Resilience in a concentrated and consolidated food system.” Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences. Iss. 5, No. 3. November 2014 at 3 to 4.
  23. MacDonald et al. (2000) at iii and 12; U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO). “Dairy Cooperatives: Potential Implications of Consolidation and Investments in Dairy Processing to Farmers.” GAO-19-695R. September 27, 2019 at 1, 3 and 4.
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  61. Carlson, Andrea. USDA ERS. “Investigating retail price premiums for organic foods.” May 24, 2016. Accessed July 2020. Available at https://www.ers.usda.gov/amber- waves/2016/may/investigating-retail-price-premiums-for- organic-foods/.
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  68. USDA AMS. “Estimated Fluid Milk Products Sales Report.” EFMS-1219. June 23, 2020 at 1.
  69. U.S. GAO. “Dairy Cooperatives: Potential Implications of Consolidation and Investments in Dairy Processing to Farmers.” GAO-19-695R. September 27, 2019 at 1 and 4.
  70. MacDonald, James M. et al. (2020) at 1.
  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.
  76. Waltenburg, Michelle A. et al. U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC). “Update: COVID-19 among workers in meat and poultry processing facilities—United States, April-May 2020.” Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Vol. 69, No. 27. July 10, 2020.
  77. Kelly, Heather. “Farm to parking lot to table: The pandemic is inspiring creative efforts to get locally sourced food.” Washington Post. July 9, 2020.
  78. Kelly (2020).
  79. McLane Kuster, Ann et al. U.S. House of Representatives (NH-2nd District). Letter to Secretary Sonny Perdue. USDA. August 3, 2020. On file with Food & Water Watch.
  80. Ayazi & Elsheikh (2015) at 58 to 59.
  81. MacDonald, James M. et al. (2000) at iii; Williams & Rosen- trater (2007) at 1; USDA (2018); FWW. “Consolidation and buyer power in the grocery industry.” December 2010 at 1 to 2; Mooney, Pat. ETC Group. “Too Big to Feed: Exploring the Impacts of Mega-Mergers, Consolidation and Concentration of Power in the Agri-Food Sector.” International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (iPES). October 2017 at 17.
  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.
  88. U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives. “Worker coopera- tive definition.” 2015 at 1.
  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.
  90. Moore, Kelly and Marilyn E. Swisher. “The food movement: Growing white privilege, diversity, or empowerment?” Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development. Vol. 5, Iss. 4. Summer 2015 at 116; Kolavalli, Chhaya. “Confronting whiteness in Kansas City’s local food movement: Diversity work and discourse on privilege and power.” Grastronomica: The Journal for Food Studies. Vol. 20, No. 1. Spring 2020 at 60 to 61.
  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.
  97. HAFA. Our story. Accessed August 2020. Available at https://www.hmongfarmers.com/story/.
  98. FWW staff interview with Coiner, Heather. Common Grain Alliance. June 17, 2020.
  99. Jackson, Charlie and Allison Perrett. Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project (ASAP). “The End of Tobacco and the Rise of Local Food in Western North Carolina.” March 2018 at 1 to 2.
  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.

Almost 500,000 COVID Infections May Have Been Prevented with a National Water Shutoff Moratorium

Categories

Clean Water

For Immediate Release

Almost half a million COVID infections could have been prevented last year if there had been a national moratorium on water service shutoffs, according to new research from Cornell University and the national advocacy group Food & Water Watch. 

The findings also show that during the same period, from mid-April through the end of 2020,   9,000 COVID deaths could have been prevented with a robust moratorium on water shutoffs. 

The study found that states that had instituted policies to prevent water shutoffs reduced the growth rates for COVID infections and deaths. If similar policies had been adopted across the country, the study model shows that COVID cases might have been reduced by 4 percent, and deaths by 5.5 percent, in the states without a moratorium.

“This research clearly shows us that the pain and suffering caused by COVID pandemic was exacerbated by political leaders who failed to take action to keep the water flowing for struggling families,“ said Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter. “These findings should move us to fight even harder for water justice everywhere: A full moratorium on shutoffs and a 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.”

The patchwork nature of local and statewide moratoria policies — many of which expired over the course of the year —  left millions of people vulnerable to losing service. By June, 34 states had imposed either a full or partial moratorium on water shutoffs, protecting nearly 247 million people. But by the end of the year, just 12 states had a moratorium in place. By December, 65 percent of the country — 211 million people — were not covered. This total included 75 million people of color and 2.6 million households in the lowest income quintile, which are the households most at risk of having their service shut off.

“Our model uses more than 12 thousand data points to capture the relationship between days when a state had a moratorium in place and the level of COVID-19 infection and deaths.,” said Dr. Xue Zhang, Post-Doctoral Associate in the Departments of City and Regional Planning and Global Development at Cornell. “Using modeling typical of other public health studies, we find states with moratoria had lower infection and death growth rates. We hope what we learned from the pandemic can contribute to universal access to water in the future.”

“Access to water is absolutely critical during the pandemic,” said Dr. Mildred E. Warner, Professor of City and Regional Planning and Global Development at Cornell University. “This study shows the importance of a national standard for access to water, especially for low-income households. The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed so many structural inequities in our society, and access to drinking water is one that demands our attention.”

While there is no comprehensive water shutoff data source, it is clear that the existing shutoff moratoria protected hundreds of thousands of people from disconnection. In California alone, the state estimated that one in eight households were behind on their water bills, owing a collective $1 billion as of January 2021. 

Food & Water Watch v. United States Environmental Protection Agency

Categories

Climate and Energy

Immediately after being sworn in as the President, Joe Biden signed Executive Order 13990, “Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring Science To Tackle the Climate Crisis”, that directed the EPA to review and potentially rescind Trump’s rollback of methane regulation requirements, which carved out massive regulatory exemptions for the oil and gas industry.

Given that Food & Water Watch is currently engaged in coalition litigation to fight this rule, the new Administration did not feel it was prudent to proceed with briefing this case before the court if they were planning to move ahead with a repeal of this illegal rule. As such, this case has been held in abeyance pending review of this regulation by the new administration and the new Administrator of the EPA.

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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.”

120+ Organizations Call on CDC to Issue Nationwide Water Shutoff Moratorium During Pandemic

Categories

Clean Water

Washington D.C. – Today, more than 120 organizations from across the country sent a letter to Director Robert Redfield, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, asking him to stop water shutoffs nationwide to protect people from COVID-19. The organizations are echoing the call of the House Oversight Committee, which requested similar action in an October 5 letter to Dir. Redfield. The organizations request that he use his authority under Section 361 of the Public Health Services Act to impose a nationwide moratorium on water service disconnections for nonpayment during the COVID-19 pandemic with safe service restoration for all households previously disconnected.

The request to the CDC comes as negotiations over a Covid relief bill are getting down to the wire ahead of election day. Speaker Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin are still negotiating over the next relief bill, but Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has continued to oppose aid for local and state governments. The House of Representatives has passed two relief bills, HEROES and HEROES 2, that included a national moratorium on water shutoffs with service restoration for previously disconnected homes and $1.5 billion in low-income water aid, but Sen. McConnell has opposed a similar measure in the Senate. 

In response, Food & Water Action Senior Organizer Rianna Eckel issued the following statement:

“The CDC must take urgent action to protect people right now. COVID cases are rising and hundreds of thousands of people are at risk of losing the water they need to wash their hands and protect themselves. It is clear that the CDC has the authority and power to suspend water shutoffs across the country. Water is essential for disinfecting and controlling the spread of COVID-19. This is a basic matter of public health. 

“It is a crying shame that Sen. McConnell and the White House have so far refused to pass a strong relief bill with protections for the millions of families who are struggling. No one should be denied water during a pandemic.”

Food & Water Action has been providing a live tracker of local and state water shutoff moratoria during the pandemic. Expiration dates are also listed. Available here.

Contact: Seth Gladstone – [email protected], 917.363.6615

Does Earth Day Still Matter During Coronavirus? More Than Ever.

Categories

Climate and Energy

By Angie Aker

This wasn’t how any of us imagined Earth Day going this year. Instead of marching to celebrate 50 years of this beacon holiday, many of us are in our homes, laying low to avoid a virus that’s been changing the way of life for the entire world. Many more of us are out on the front lines every day, delivering essential services, taking a risk no one would have imagined just six months ago. A frightening amount of us are fighting for our lives or our loved ones’ lives in a dire situation that only a pandemic and a broken healthcare system can create. And far too many are struggling to hold onto their homes, their cars, their water and power, and put food on the table — all because a pandemic brought the world to a screeching halt. 

So how do we honor Earth Day when we know all of these terrible things are happening? Why? Don’t we have bigger fish to fry right now?

Earth Day Is A Chance Each Year For An Internal Revolution

Any holiday is, among other things, a storytelling tool. It’s a chance to keep a shared dream alive, and grow it year after year until enough people join in to make it a reality. For some, their favorite holidays represent religious aspirations. For some, social justice. In the case of Earth Day, it’s an expression of a dream that has been held by indigenous peoples long before anyone else — that humanity could be good stewards of the planet’s resources and take care of next generations through that stewardship. 

But a tool is only as good as the hands of those that are using it. If this holiday is used only as an annual dress up day and then we go back to our systems that exploit our resources the rest of the year without fighting them, how have we gotten closer to that dream?

For many of us, Earth Day is so much more than that. It’s a time to reflect on our place in this planet, individually and as a species. It’s a chance for us to set our intentions and shore up our will to fight the corruption that pollutes our planet the other 364 days of the year. And this year more than ever — in the face of coronavirus — it’s about learning from our mistakes in the past and vowing to be smarter from this day forward.

Earth Day means finding ways to deepen our moral courage to stand up against: 

  • Oil companies fracking our beautiful lands and running dangerous pipelines all throughout our communities, endangering public health
  • Industries that use our lawmakers to shut down sustainable technology because they think their profits are more important than our futures
  • Corporations that pollute our lakes and rivers and then profit by selling us clean water — only a commodity because they poisoned it in the first place
  • Factory farms that crowd animals together in inhumane conditions, lighting the match for zoonotic disease to break out, polluting our land, air and water, and stomping out the family farms that could feed us in troubled times
  • Any corporation or politician getting in the way of efforts to reduce humanity’s carbon emissions by 2030 — getting in the way of saving ourselves. 

It’s good to do things to reduce our own individual carbon footprints, like ditching plastic and being mindful of our consumption — we should all keep doing that. But we need to go further to fight the corporations endangering us and we can. We have strategies at Food & Water Watch that are winning and we are growing the people power to fuel them.

Earth Day Is A Chance Every Year To Get Serious About Saving Ourselves

Whether it takes the form of direct action or keeping the love of our planet alive in our kids, there are many ways to make Earth Day meaningful. Here are some of the ways Food & Water Watch staff are holding this day dear. 

“On the first Earth Day, back in 1970, I celebrated with my mother in New York City’s Central Park, and she tells me that I danced and hippies painted my face. As an adult, I’m counting on the Earth to sustain my son Zach and a growing number of young cousins in my family. This Earth Day, I’m calling on my elected officials, most notably Governor Andrew Cuomo and Senator Chuck Schumer, to be bold climate leaders and move New York and the nation off fossil fuels to renewable energy.”

— Eric Weltman, New York Organizer

“I have two middle schoolers. They’re doing two things to celebrate Earth Day this year. We’re doing a neighborhood walkthrough trash pick-up – lots of masks and gloves have turned into litter. They’re also each writing their own email to our Member of Congress asking that we do more to shut down fossil fuels.”

— Michael Doerrer, Managing Director of Communications

Let’s Make A Pledge This Earth Day To Take It Even More Seriously

This year, let’s add earnest reflection to the list of activities we do today. We can pledge to double down on our efforts as individuals and as a society, and put real faith in each other. If enough of us are working at the dream of a sustainable future, and finding ways to make it more of a priority in our lives, we can make miracles happen

In a time rife with climate change effects and a pandemic, that’s a ray of hope and possibility that we all need to nurture. 

Will you chip in and power this year-round work?

USDA Is Removing Safeguards On Food While Everyone Else Is Fighting A Pandemic

Categories

Food System

During a pandemic, being able to trust our food system is crucial for our stability. So why is the USDA sneakily approving industry requests to put profit over safety for food and workers?

As the world focuses on the COVID-19 pandemic and its devastating impact on public health, the Trump Administration has been busy behind the scenes doubling down on its campaign to deregulate Big Ag. At the same time, it is not providing safeguards to food production workers and government inspectors who are being made to work on the frontlines without frontline employee protections. 

The USDA Is Playing Fast And Loose With Meat Inspection Lines During The Coronavirus Outbreak

USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is deregulating inspection in some of the largest pork processing facilities by reducing the number of inspectors assigned to the slaughter line. They turn over critical inspection tasks to untrained company employees, and remove the cap on how fast the line can run. FSIS anticipates that 40 hog slaughter facilities will convert to this method, which is being called the New Swine Inspection System (NSIS). Those 40 facilities process over 92% of all pork in the U.S. Some of the big names in pork processing are pushing for this, such as JBS, Tyson, Smithfield, Clemens, and Quality Pork Processors. In one plant that has been experimenting with the new system, FSIS inspectors have 2.6 seconds to determine whether the company employees have performed their tasks properly. As a consequence, it is not uncommon for hog carcasses to be contaminated with feces, hair, toe nails, and bile to be greenlit for processing into bacon, pork chops, hot dogs, sausage, and other pork products

Three lawsuits to challenge NSIS have been filed by unions representing the plant workers, animal welfare groups, and food safety advocates, including Food & Water Watch and the Center for Food Safety. FSIS hid critical information from the public when it first proposed the frighteningly minimal system. Food & Water Watch was forced to file separate litigation to obtain crucial, undisclosed information which revealed that NSIS would lead to more contaminated pork entering commerce and could lead to an animal disease — to ravage hog herds and/or be transmitted to humans. Plants that wanted to convert to NSIS had until March 30, 2020 to state their intentions. FSIS still refuses to disclose the names of those plants, leaving consumers in the dark.ADD YOUR NAME!Tell Congress to stop allowing USDA food safety waivers.

Meat Companies Are Being Given Almost Full Control Over Their Own Inspection Standards 

While it is struggling to keep poultry plants properly staffed with inspectors during the pandemic, FSIS has stepped up its approvals of regulatory waivers to chicken slaughter plants that want to increase their maximum line speeds from 140 birds per minute to 175 birds per minute. In the first two weeks of April, FSIS approved 11 such waivers for plants operated by Foster Farms, Tyson Foods (4 plants), and Wayne Farms (6 plants). These plants have all converted to the so-called New Poultry Inspection System (NPIS) in which the number of government inspectors assigned to the slaughter line is reduced and many of their tasks are turned over to company employees. Under traditional inspection, each FSIS inspector is assigned 35 birds per minute to inspect. Under NPIS, there is only one FSIS inspector stationed at the end of the slaughter line. When a plant is granted a line speed waiver, that sole FSIS inspector is expected to examine 3 birds every second — or 175 birds per minute. The waiver process that FSIS uses is done in secret; it is not open to public scrutiny until the FSIS reveals that it has granted the waiver. Since taking office, the Trump USDA has approved 28 new waivers under this process, mostly to the big players in the poultry industry. 

Inviting everyone to the new game, FSIS is recruiting cattle slaughter plants to deregulate inspection, too. In late March, FSIS approved a waiver through its secret process for a Tyson beef plant in Holcomb, Kansas that slaughters up to 6000 head of cattle per day. The waiver is designed to reduce the number of government inspectors assigned to its slaughter line, increasing its line speed. FSIS has not revealed how fast the line will run with this waiver or how many fewer government inspectors will be on the slaughter line, but we know it won’t result in safety for consumers.

Meat Inspection Deregulation Threatens Food Safety

All of these deregulatory moves are designed to increase production; they are not being done to improve food safety. They will contribute to expanding the industrial agriculture model by promoting the growth of factory farms. It’s even more disconcerting that it is occurring in the middle of a national crisis.

As the Trump Administration has stepped on the accelerator to deregulate in recent weeks, there are numerous examples around the country of meat and poultry plants being impacted by the spread of the COVID-19 virus. While the news has been focused on urban areas racked by the pandemic, hot spots have also emerged in rural communities in Colorado, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Iowa, South Dakota, and Nebraska where meatpacking plant workers have contracted the virus while being forced to work, forcing some plants to curtail or cease operations temporarily. 

In those instances where meatpackers have insisted on continuing with business-as-usual even when their employees have gotten sick, it has pitted public health officials against company officials and even USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue.

Plant workers and even government inspectors who work at these plants have not been given adequate personal protective equipment. It is virtually impossible to practice social distancing in these plants because plant workers and government inspectors work side-by-side in slaughter and processing facilities. When workers protested these conditions, Vice President Mike Pence had the audacity to urge the workers to continue “to show up and do [their] jobs.”

Urge Officials To Take Action Against Increased Line Speeds

Increased line speeds only create more opportunities for contamination and sickness. It’s unnecessary and it’s putting our health at risk.

Tell Congress to stop allowing USDA food safety waivers. This is no time to gamble with Americans’ health. 

Increased line speeds should be stopped.