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April 16th, 2015

Same Old Fast Track Would Unravel Consumer Protections

Trade deals will weaken consumer protections and increase imports of potentially risky food

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Today, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) introduced their Fast Track trade promotion legislation (The Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities and Accountability Act of 2015, TPA-2015) that includes provisions that would weaken consumer protections, undermine U.S. food safety standards and prevent commonsense food labeling. The legislation is nearly identical to the measure Senator Hatch introduced last year that failed to garner Congressional approval. It replicates the provisions of Fast Track bills from bygone eras (in 1991 and 2002 in the buildup to NAFTA and CAFTA) and deprives Congress of its constitutionally mandated role in setting U.S. policy in a more complex international commercial landscape.

“Congress should reject this retrograde Fast Track trade legislation that is designed to usher in the secret Trans-Pacific Partnership – a trade deal that is a raw deal for consumers,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. “The fine print in Fast Track contains an all-out attack on America’s consumer protection and food safety laws.”

The legislation dismisses the importance of food safety and consumer protection in trade negotiations, although unsafe imported foods and products have deluged consumers over the past twenty years of corporate-driven globalization. The bill specifically only allows trade negotiators to “take into account” (not “obtain” or “ensure”) the “legitimate health or safety [and] consumer interests,” relegating these safeguards to second class status behind mandatory objectives for business interests and allowing unelected trade negotiators to decide which U.S. consumer protections are “legitimate” (Sec. 2(a)(13)).

“Fast Track allows U.S. trade negotiators to trade away vital consumer safeguards to win giveaways and protections for big business in the TPP or other trade deals,” said Hauter. “The safety of American consumers is up for sale under Fast Track.”

Several provisions of the Fast Track bill would erode food safety oversight for imported food and threaten sensible food labels. Fast Track requires the United States to approve the food safety systems of exporting countries even when domestic oversight is stronger (Sec. 2(b)(3)(A)(ii)). This forced “equivalence” of foreign food safety systems can expose consumers to imported foodborne hazards and it is how the U.S. imported 2.5 million pounds of E. coli tainted ground beef from a Canadian plant that replaced most of its government safety inspectors with its own employees. Fast Track also identifies some consumer labels as “unjustified trade restrictions” that would be targeted for elimination (Sec. 2(b)(3)(I)(ii)).

“Consumers coast-to-coast are fighting for the right to know what is in the food they are feeding their families, but Fast Track would make it even harder to get commonsense food labels,” said Hauter. “This approach to trade could eliminate country of origin labeling and GMO labeling and weaken imported food inspection to satisfy the corporate interests who are writing these trade deals.”

Fast Track is being pushed to seal the TPP trade deal with 11 Pacific Rim nations, but the deregulation in Fast Track and the TPP could expose consumers to more dangerous imported foods. Surging imports under free trade deals have overwhelmed U.S. food safety inspectors at the border. For example, only about 2 percent of the 5.4 billion pounds of imported fish and seafood are inspected. Fish farmers in TPP nations Vietnam and Malaysia often use veterinary drugs and fungicides that are banned in the United States because the residues can cause cancer, allergic reactions and contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

“The TPP will bring a tidal wave of dangerous fish imports that will swamp the border inspectors that cannot keep up with the tainted aquaculture imports today,” said Hauter. “Congress must reject the Fast Track bill that is designed to seal the deal on TPP.” 

Food & Water Watch works to ensure the food, water and fish we consume is safe, accessible and sustainable. So we can all enjoy and trust in what we eat and drink, we help people take charge of where their food comes from, keep clean, affordable, public tap water flowing freely to our homes, protect the environmental quality of oceans, force government to do its job protecting citizens, and educate about the importance of keeping shared resources under public control.

Contact: Rich Bindell, Food & Water Watch, (202) 683-2457, [email protected]

 

April 13th, 2015

Somerset County Residents Fight Back Against Expanding Chicken Industry

By Michele Merkel and Claire Fitch

Chickens_Farm

Somerset County has been in the cross hairs of the poultry industry for quite a long time, with an inventory of 14.9 million broiler chickens – the largest of any county in Maryland, and the sixth largest in the United States. Big companies, including Perdue and Tyson own these birds, which are raised in large industrial facilities for their entire lives, and produce enormous quantities of waste. With nowhere to put the tens of millions of pounds of manure generated by these birds, the county is now considering poultry litter incinerators while continuing to entertain proposals to build a number of new broiler chicken operations.

Last week, public health scientists, environmental advocates, and local residents joined together for a Town Hall meeting at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore to express their concerns with the proposed expansion of factory farm chicken operations and the construction of a poultry litter incinerator in Somerset County on the lower Eastern Shore.

Speakers at the Town Hall meeting gave us a snapshot of the public health and community impacts that may result from the expansion of broiler production and the introduction of manure burning facilities.

Brent Kim from the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future spoke about the evidence of chemical contaminants and harmful bacteria, including antibiotic resistant strains, in and around broiler operations. These health hazards have been identified several miles downwind from such operations and may be carried into groundwater sources – particularly concerning for the 60 percent of Somerset County’s residents who access their household water supply from private wells. Read more…

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April 9th, 2015

Protect Your Right to Know: Stop the DARK Act

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H.R. 1599, the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act — sponsored by Mike Pompeo (R-KS) and a brainchild of the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) — would make the already inadequate approval process for genetically engineered (GMO) foods even worse. The bill would make voluntary labeling for GMO foods the national standard and strip away consumers’ right to know by blocking all state efforts to require labeling of GMO foods. That’s why many advocates for labeling GMOs refer to this bill as the “Denying Americans the Right to Know Act,” or DARK Act.

April 8th, 2015

Groups Challenge Major USDA Change to Organic Rule

Customary Public Comment Process Averted to the Chagrin of Petitioners

Organic stakeholders filed a lawsuit in federal court, maintaining that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) violated the federal rulemaking process when it changed established procedures for reviewing the potential hazards and need for synthetic chemicals in certified organic food. A coalition of 15 organic food producers and farmer, consumer, environmental, and certification groups asked the court to require USDA to reconsider its decision on the rule change and reinstitute the agency’s customary public hearing and comment process.

When it comes to organic food production, consumers and producers expect a high level of scrutiny and are willing to pay a premium with the knowledge that a third-party certifier is evaluating compliance with organic standards. The burgeoning $35+ billion organic market relies heavily on a system of public review and input regarding decisions that affect organic production systems and the organic label.  The multi-stakeholder National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), appointed to a 5-year term by the Secretary of Agriculture, holds bi-annual meetings to solicit public input and to write recommendations to the Secretary on organic policy matters, including the allowance of synthetic and non-organic agricultural materials and ingredients.

In adopting the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 (OFPA), Congress created standards for organic certification and established the NOSB to oversee the allowance of certain non-harmful and essential synthetic materials in organic for a period of five years, with a procedure for relisting if consistent with OFPA criteria. Plaintiffs in this case maintain that the USDA organic rule establishes a public process that creates public trust in the USDA organic label, which has resulted in exponential growth in organic sales over the last two decades.  The unilateral agency action taken to adopt major policy change without a public process violates one of the foundational principles and practices of OFPA —public participation in organic policy-making.

At issue in the lawsuit is a rule that implements the organic law’s “sunset provision,” which since its origins has been interpreted to require allowed synthetic materials to cycle off the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances every five years unless the NOSB votes by a two-thirds majority to relist them. In making its decision, the NOSB is charged with considering public input, new science, and new information on available alternatives.

In September, 2013, in a complete reversal of the accepted process, USDA announced a definitive change in the rule it had been operating under since the inception of the organic program, without any public input.  Now, synthetic materials can remain on the National List in perpetuity unless the NOSB takes initiative to vote it off the List.

In a joint statement, the plaintiffs, representing a broad cross-section of interests in organic, said:

We are filing this lawsuit today because we are deeply concerned that the organic decision making process is being undermined by USDA. The complaint challenges the unilateral agency action on the sunset procedure for synthetic materials review, which represents a dramatic departure from the organic community’s commitment to an open and fair decision making process, subject to public input. Legally, the agency’s decision represents a rule change and therefore must be subject to public comment. But equally important, it is a departure from the public process that we have built as a community. This process has created a unique opportunity within government for a community of stakeholders to come together, hear all points of view, and chart a course for the future of organic. It is a process that continually strengthens organic, supports its rapid growth, and builds the integrity of the USDA certified label in the marketplace.

The plaintiffs in the case, represented by counsel from Center for Food Safety, include: Beyond Pesticides, Center for Food Safety, Equal Exchange, Food and Water Watch, Frey Vineyards, La Montanita Co-op, Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, New Natives, Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance, Northeast Organic Farmers Association Massachusetts, Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, Organic Consumers Association, Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association, PCC Natural Markets, and The Cornucopia Institute.

Contact: Abigail Seiler, Center for Food Safety, 202-547-9359

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Corporate Control in Animal Science Research

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Corporate agribusinesses depend on favorable science to gain regulatory approval or market acceptance of products such as new animal drugs, and they depend on academic journals to deliver this science. To secure favorable scientific reviews, industry groups play an enormous role in the production of scientific literature, authoring journal articles, funding academic research and also serving as editors, sponsors or directors of scientific journals where much of their research is published.

Deep-pocketed corporations often have no counterpoint in the scientific literature. No group of scientists or science funders is, for example, aggressively investigating the safety or efficacy of new animal drugs, or examining alternatives. The influence that industry now wields over every aspect of the scientific discourse has allowed companies to commercialize potentially unsafe animal drugs with virtually no independent scrutiny.

Key Findings

An analysis by Food & Water Watch of several controversial drugs used in food animal production reveals:

  • When the growth-promoter Zilmax was removed from the marketplace in 2013 due to animal safety concerns, there had been virtually no independent, peer-reviewed studies into the safety of the drug for cattle. Most of the available research examined commercial dimensions of Zilmax, such as the drug’s impact on beef qualify, and more than three-quarters of the studies were authored and/or funded by industry groups, almost all of which were published in scientific journals sponsored and edited by industry groups.
  • A top destination for peer-reviewed studies authored and funded by animal science companies are the high-profile journals published by the Federation of Animal Science Societies, where corporate agribusinesses act as sponsors, directors, editors and frequent authors.
  • Many academic journals have failed to establish or enforce rules requiring scientists to publicly disclose financial conflicts of interest, which has allowed deeply conflicted research to distort the scientific discourse.

Recommendations

To address the outsized corporate influence over animal science research, Food & Water Watch recommends:

  • Congress should instruct the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to dramatically revamp its animal drug approval process to be based primarily on independent science, instead of depending entirely on research furnished by drug sponsors.
  • Congress should also instruct the FDA to issue a ban on the use of all beta-agonists, including Zilmax, given the evidence of animal welfare issues.
  • Every agricultural journal should require authors to publicly disclose all of their research funding sources and all financial ties that authors have to the industry.
  • Every agricultural journal should publish the full names and affiliations of all editors and advisors that it utilizes.
April 2nd, 2015

Food & Water Watch Calls on FDA to Declare GMO Salmon Unsafe to Eat

Washington, D.C.—Food & Water Watch filed two legal petitions today asking the FDA to evaluate AquaBounty’s (ABTX) genetically engineered salmon as a “food additive,” instead of as an animal drug, and to declare GMO salmon unsafe to eat based on the food additive review process.

“It couldn’t be more clear to consumers that GMO salmon is a food, not a drug,” said Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director of Food & Water Watch. “It’s also clear that there are serious food safety concerns with this fish and major scientific gaps in FDA’s animal drug risk assessment. It’s time for FDA to step up and protect the health and welfare of American citizens rather than the economic interests of the biotechnology industry.”

Food & Water Watch’s identical petitions filed with the FDA today — one citizen petition and one food additive petition — both argue that FDA’s current animal drug review process is insufficient to protect public health, and that the agency is required by law to review GMO salmon under what should be a more rigorous food additive review process. As a food additive, GMO salmon would be presumed unsafe unless it undergoes comprehensive toxicological studies to ensure that it is safe to consume and properly labeled.

Food & Water Watch filed a similar petition in 2012, but the FDA refused to review it. The newly filed petitions include new data showing major weaknesses with FDA’s review of hormone levels and potential allergens in GMO salmon, both of which appear highly elevated. In the allergy study that FDA examined, AquaBounty only examined six GMO salmon, which showed a 20 to 50 percent increased allergenic potency.

“The agency needs to seriously evaluate this petition, as it supports what consumers, scientists, grocery retailers and even the commercial salmon industry have been saying all along: GMO salmon is totally unnecessary and highly risky,” said Hauter.

If approved, AquaBounty’s GMO salmon would be the first biotech animal ever to enter the food supply anywhere in the world. Many scientists have noted major weaknesses in the FDA’s review of food safety concerns.

“For an agency responsible for 80 percent of the food that we eat—and which often touts its commitment to science-based regulations—the FDA is shockingly lenient with the quality of science it is requiring of AquaBounty,” Hauter said. “We can’t make science-based risk assessments based on six fish. And we can’t declare that GMO salmon is safe to eat based on a regulatory review process that treats a food product like a drug. The only appropriate course of action for FDA is to evaluate GMO salmon as a food and declare it unsafe.”

 

Background

GMO Salmon: http://fwwat.ch/1EM6ycf

Genetically Engineered Salmon: Deficient, Deformed, and Dangerous to You and the Environment: http://fwwat.ch/1ItdTv0

Contact: Rich Bindell – 202-683-2457, [email protected]

 

 

 

April 1st, 2015

End to Arsenic in Animal Drugs Long Overdue

Statement by Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director, Food & Water Watch

“The Food and Drug Administration announced today that Zoetis will suspend sales of Nitarsone, the last arsenic-based drug used in food animal production, by the fall and that the company will request that the FDA withdraw the drug’s approval by the end of the year.

“We are happy to see the end of the use of this arsenical drug in poultry production, but this action is long overdue.

“In 2011, the FDA made a similar announcement about another arsenic-based drug, roxarsone, based on research conducted by the agency that revealed higher levels of inorganic arsenic in the livers of chickens fed the drug. A Freedom of Information Act request later revealed that the announcement was heavily influenced by the pharmaceutical company Pfizer (now known as Zoetis) to downplay the results of the study.

“After the 2011 announcement that roxarsone would no longer be sold in the United States, it took the FDA until 2014 to formally withdraw the approvals for roxarsone and two other arsenic-based drugs. We urge the FDA to act as quickly as possible to withdraw the approval for Nitarsone to completely end the use of arsenic-based drugs in animal agriculture.”

Contact: Kate Fried, 202-683-4905; [email protected]

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Antibiotic Resistance: Why Senator Michael Bennet is on the Wrong Path

Jeremy.pic.ABX.blog.36

Jeremy, of Denver, is one of millions of Americans who have struggled with antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections.

by Lisa Trope

Colorado Senator Michael Bennet can help protect the health of all Americans by sponsoring the Preventing Antibiotic Resistance Act (PARA), a bill seeking to curb dangerous factory farming practices that undermine the effectiveness of the hammer in our medical toolkit – antibiotics. While Senator Bennet has recently introduced a bill to streamline the approval of new antibiotics – Promise for Antibiotics and Therapeutics for Health Act, or PATH – it doesn’t adequately address the overuse of antibiotics. Unless he changes course and sponsors PARA, stories like Jeremy’s are likely to become more common.

Jeremy, who lives in Denver, was a healthy thirty-two year-old when he found himself in the hospital unable to walk. Earlier that day, while out on his dry cleaning delivery route, he felt a sharp pain in his left knee. An hour later, he was favoring his right leg. After two hours, he was in full limp mode and his knee was red. Four hours passed and “I couldn’t walk on the leg at all,” Jeremy said. “Too much pain when I tried. It’d collapse under my weight.” Which brings us to the hospital.

“I had no cuts, no abrasions, but nonetheless some type of bacteria managed to enter through my knee,” said Jeremy. “The language got medically technical, but what I had was an extremely aggressive bacterial infection in my leg.” Doctors concluded that the bacteria entered Jeremy’s body while he was kneeling in the back of his work truck; they acted quickly, putting Jeremy on antibiotics.

It soon became clear that the antibiotics weren’t working. The infection spread. “Somewhere during the medical melee,” said Jeremy, “a professional conveyed that if they [antibiotics] couldn’t beat the infection, it could mean the loss of my leg. Meaning amputation. It was also conveyed that if it got into my blood stream, then I could die.”

Jeremy couldn’t understand how this all happened so fast. A handful of doctors began the process of mixing antibiotic cocktails that they believed would be the most effective at fighting the infection. In time, the doctors narrowed down the recipe to two antibiotics, with one crowned the eventual winner; to this day the doctors don’t know which one saved Jeremy’s life.

Jeremy is alive and well today, but stories like his have become too common. Why do two million people like Jeremy all across the country fall ill, and 23,000 die each year from infections that for decades have been treated effectively with antibiotics?

What’s the problem?
Antibiotics have long been prescribed improperly to people and livestock animals as a preventive measure. That’s not how they’re supposed to be used. This abuse is creating “superbugs” – bacteria that are not killed off by antibiotics like they once were. That’s why Jeremy’s infection got out of control.

It is shocking that 80 percent of antibiotics sold in the United States are not prescribed to people, but fed in low daily does to animals on factory farms to compensate for overcrowded and unsanitary conditions. This wrong-headed practice creates the perfect conditions for superbugs to grow, thrive and spread.

PARA is the solution
Senators have introduced a bill to address this growing public health threat. The Preventing Antibiotic Resistance Act (PARA) would allow farmers to give animals antibiotics when they’re sick, but not on a daily basis in their feed and water. It is critical for the Senate to pass PARA.

Senator Bennet is on the wrong PATH
Colorado Senator Michael Bennet seems concerned about antibiotics, but he’s taken the wrong PATH to solve the problem. Bennet has introduced the Promise for Antibiotics and Therapeutics for Health Act, or PATH. PATH helps the pharmaceutical industry create new antibiotics by speeding up their approval process. Unless we address the abuse of antibiotics on factory farms, bacteria will continue to develop antibiotic resistance. It will only be a matter of time until new antibiotics become resistant and no longer work for people; the number of people each year who contract and die from antibiotic resistant bacteria could continue to rise.

Tell Senator Bennet to Sponsor PARA
No one should have to go through the scare that Jeremy and millions of other Americans have experienced. In order to protect Coloradans like Jeremy, in order to protect all Americans, Senator Bennet must be a true public health champion and help fix the root of the problem. Take action today to ask Senator Bennet to sponsor PARA to end antibiotic abuse on factory farms.

March 27th, 2015

Obama’s Antibiotic Plan Fails to Address Overuse on Factory Farms

Statement of Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter

Washington, D.C.— “Today the White House released its ‘National Action Plan for Combating Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria,’ which is intended to protect the public from antibiotic resistant infections. Unfortunately, the plan falls short of protecting the public from this looming public health crisis in that it fails to adequately address the misuse of antibiotics on factory farms, relying on FDA’s limited efforts to change practices through voluntary guidance.

“Food & Water Watch supports the plan’s call for USDA and FDA to research and promote alternatives to antibiotic use in livestock and poultry. Such research is necessary to support a transition away from non-therapeutic uses of antibiotics. But this is not enough.

“80 percent of the antibiotics used in the United States are used on factory farms. Every year, over two million Americans suffer from antibiotic resistant infections, and 23,000 people die from them. The Food and Drug Administration has been aware of the problems associated with the misuse of these critical, life saving drugs since at least 1977, but has not required factory farms to stop misusing them.

“Despite overwhelming scientific evidence that curbing the misuse of antibiotics on factory farms would address this public health crisis and help maintain the effectiveness of these critical, life saving drugs, the meat industry continues to oppose meaningful regulation on how it uses antibiotics.

“Ultimately the National Action Plan is a missed opportunity to take more aggressive action. That is why we need federal legislation like the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act that would end the overuse of medically important antibiotics in livestock production. This is what it will take to combat this public health crisis.”

Contact: Kate Fried, Food & Water Watch, [email protected]

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March 18th, 2015

Beware of the Corporate GMO Spin Doctors

By Wenonah Hauter

This piece originally appeared on Food Tank.

BlogThumb_BillNyeYou may have heard that popular scientist Bill Nye has mysteriously revised his outlook on genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Several years ago, the children’s show host advocated for the labeling of genetically modified foods, citing concerns about what GMOs could do to ecosystems. But now his position on the controversial technology has flipped. This development is the latest in a trend spearheaded by agribusiness giants to discredit the GMO labeling movement, and it’s especially hard to disassociate his reversal from this PR blitz since it coincided with Nye’s recent trip to Monsanto’s headquarters.

We’ll never know what actually went down during Nye’s visit, as Tom Philpott at Mother Jones notes, but we do know that Monsanto has poured millions of dollars into public relation efforts to sell the public on GMOs. Because that’s what you do when you are a corporation with deep coffers and a product that the public is wisely skeptical of.

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