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May 20th, 2015

Factory Farms Make Me Sick: Times Square Edition

Factory farms produce more than the majority of the meat, milk and eggs we consume—they breed disease, misery and pollution. We’re bringing this message to Times Square this week with this advocacy ad, which will run through July.

Watch below and tweet why you oppose factory farms to the hashtag #LoadOfCrap.

 

Take action to tell the EPA to regulate factory farms:

TAKE ACTION

 

And tweet why you oppose factory farms:

Tweet: U.S. factory farms produce enough waste to fill the Empire State Building every day. What a #LoadOfCrap. Take action: http://ctt.ec/nH04p+ U.S. factory farms produce enough waste to fill the Empire State Building every day. What a #LoadOfCrap.

 

Tweet: #Factoryfarms breed disease, misery and pollution. That’s a #LoadOfCrap. Take action: http://ctt.ec/cvlRc+#Factoryfarms breed disease, misery and pollution. That’s a #LoadOfCrap.

May 19th, 2015

Pollinator Task Force Misses Chance to Protect Bees from Toxic Pesticides

Statement of Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter

Washington, D.C.—Today, the Obama administration’s Pollinator Health Task Force announced the federal government’s plan for improving pollinator health. Unfortunately, the plan fails to tackle the most urgent need for protecting bee populations—getting dangerous pesticides off the market.

“The White House must stop favoring corporate interests by protecting the pesticide industry rather than the pollinators on which our food system depends. The task force’s reliance on voluntary proposals to pollinator protections is an unacceptable concession to pesticide industry interests. We have seen these types of loose standards fail to protect human health and environmental well-being before.

“While the goals laid out in the White House Task Force’s strategy to promote pollinator health are vitally important, the approach is insufficient. Domestic bee losses have risen to an unprecedented 42.1 percent of colonies this year, which demands urgent action to drive those numbers down. The task force calls for more research and assessment of the impacts on pollinators of a pesticide class called neonicotinoids. Two years ago, the European Union passed a two-year moratorium on three of the most widely used neonicotinoids.

“Voluntary management practices, insignificant label changes and weak state pollinator plans will not do enough to reverse the decline of pollinator populations. The White House must step up and suspend the use of neonicotinoids and other systemic insecticides that are linked to bee declines, which is a serious threat to biodiversity and our food system.

“In March, Food & Water Watch was part of a coalition of beekeepers, farmers, business leaders, environmental and food safety advocates that delivered 4 million signatures to the White House, pressing President Obama to issue meaningful recommendations that would protect bees and other pollinators. Among other things, advocates have called for an expedited review of the registration process for neonicotinoids and strengthening of risk-assessment requirements, closure of loopholes that allow dangerous pesticides to be approved without adequate review, improvements in the oversight of neonicotinoids use in seed coating, upgrades to EPA’s bee- and bird-killing incident reporting system and a mandatory national pesticide use reporting system to improve data collection, and government compliance with the Endangered Species Act to protect the most vulnerable creatures from systemic pesticides.

“The European Academies Science Advisory Council recently released a paper that evaluated over 100 peer-reviewed papers published since 2013 and concluded that the widespread prophylactic use of neonicotinoids has severe impacts on non-target organisms, including pollinators and other beneficial insects important for pest control. Other recent research has shown that bees become addicted to water spiked with sugar and neonicotinoids due to its nicotine-like effect on their brains.

“While the focus on the potential for federal agencies to increase habitat for pollinators and to ramp up research on bees and other pollinators is useful, it does not make up for the fact that pollinators are being hurt by widely used pesticides the federal government allows to remain on the market. Today’s announcement shows that the federal government still has much to do to actually protect pollinators.”

Contact: Kate Fried, Food & Water Watch, (202) 683-4905, kfried(at)fwwatch(dot)org.

 

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May 18th, 2015

Corporate Trade Agenda Attacks Americans’ Right to Know

President Obama Should Stand Up for Commonsense Country of Origin Labeling

Washington, D.C.—Today, the World Trade Organization (WTO) ruled that mandatory country of origin labels (COOL) rules for meat and poultry that went into effect in the United States in 2013 are not compliant with global trade standards. The WTO continued to find that the goal of providing information to consumers was compliant with international trade rules, but it decided narrowly that the implementation of the rules for COOL labels negatively impacted livestock imports from Canada and Mexico.

“This is just the latest example of how multinational companies use the global trade system to attack basic protections for U.S. consumers,” said Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter. “The meat industry has been trying – and failing – for years to get rid of COOL through the U.S. system, so it had to use unaccountable, unelected trade officials at the WTO to do its dirty work.”

The case also highlights how international trade deals can trump the will of the American public and Congress. The Obama administration is currently pushing two new trade deals with the European Union and eleven Pacific Rim nations and has repeatedly said that these new deals won’t overturn U.S. laws. While the deals themselves may not wipe out U.S. laws, they do establish trade tribunals that can be used to do so.

“The COOL case proves that trade agreements can and do trump U.S. laws,” said Hauter. “This is a chilling reminder that our very democracy is at stake in these trade deals. Congress should reject calls to Fast Track new trade deals to maintain its legislative autonomy, rather than creating new trade tribunals that can wipe out U.S. laws.”

COOL labels were included in the 2002, 2008 and 2014 Farm Bills due to overwhelming consumer and farmer support. COOL is required for unprocessed beef, pork, poultry, lamb, goat, venison, fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables, some nuts and seafood. Canada and Mexico challenged the U.S. rules for COOL at the WTO in 2008 before the first label was ever applied to a steak or pork chop.

Canada and Mexico prevailed in the original WTO dispute and the USDA updated the COOL rules in 2013 to address the decision by eliminating the misleading ‘mixed origin’ country of origin label for meat,  ensuring that each cut of meat displays each stage of production (where the animal was born, raised and slaughtered) on the label. This sensible approach improved the utility of the information consumers receive from the label and allows livestock producers to distinguish their products in the marketplace. Nonetheless, Canada and Mexico demanded that the WTO reject the new COOL rules. 

“People have the right to know where the food they feed their families comes from. It is nonsensical that a label that lets consumers know the origin of their food would be considered a trade barrier,” said Hauter. “President Obama must stand up to the WTO and maintain the existing requirements for country of origin labeling.”

Because the U.S. did not prevail in this case, the WTO will next determine the appropriate level of tariff retaliation that Canada and Mexico might apply. For the past two years, Canada has suggested that the WTO was certain to award billions of dollars tariff penalties in the case, but the WTO has not yet approved any level of retaliation.

Canada and Mexico have asserted that their exports declined after 2008 entirely because of the application of a COOL label. But the economic recession was the driving factor behind the decline in livestock imports, not COOL. A 2015 study by Auburn University Professor C. Robert Taylor found that COOL had no impact on imports of cattle from Canada and Mexico. Currently, even with COOL in place, cattle and hog imports from Canada and Mexico are at higher levels than before COOL took effect.

Some in Congress are now pushing to repeal COOL in advance of any WTO determination of tariff penalties, which could be negligible since COOL did not cause the change in market access.

“It is absurd to think that a label had more of an impact on cattle imports than the Great Recession,” said Hauter. “The Congress should not unilaterally surrender because of Canada’s bluster. COOL had negligible impacts on imports, and the tariff penalties, if any, will likely be small.”

Contact: Kate Fried, Food & Water Watch, (202) 683-4905, kfried(at)fwwatch(dot)org.

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May 15th, 2015

Why The Food Movement Must Build Power

By Wenonah Hauter

WenonahHauter.Profile

Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch

Mark Bittman’s recent op-ed on the faults of the food movement provides a great opportunity to discuss how we should be engaging politically to demand a better food system; unfortunately, it misses the mark on why we are making limited progress on food policy issues. While it‘s refreshing to hear a food luminary acknowledge the importance of organizing, as a long time organizer, it’s frustrating to me that he never addresses the fact that winning means building political power. His piece also criticizes the large segment of the movement that has begun to build that political power on labeling GMO foods. This is not a recipe for success.

First off, Bittman questions if there is a food movement. But from the large number of national, state and local organizations and tens of thousands of individuals who are interested in a range of food related issues, it’s clear there is a movement. The real challenge has been translating that movement into building political power. For the most part, food activism has been focused on cultural changes and buying habits, not on building power to hold elected officials accountable for how their votes affect food policy. The emphasis has been on using dollars to vote for better food or corporate campaigns focused on making junk food a little less bad for you.

Granted, people are so disgusted with our political system that embracing a rallying cry about “shopping our way out” of the problem seems easier in the fast-paced environment that most people operate in. But I would argue that if we just focus on making corporations behave a little better, we have missed the chance to push for the systemic change we need. A democracy is based on holding elected officials accountable so that they vote in the public interest. The root cause of the sick food system (and most other economic and social problems) is our weakened democracy.

Changing this means organizing politically at the local and state level, and eventually translating this to electoral work and holding Congress accountable. One of the weaknesses of the food movement and all non-profit issue causes is that there are thousands of groups competing for funds to work on many critical issues. But, unlike right wing forces that have taken over the political system by draping themselves in the legitimacy of religion and the flag while carrying out the political program of the Koch brothers and multinational corporations, progressive forces are fragmented. The food movement suffers from this problem and many of the funding sources for food work are bent on addressing problems in the marketplace, not building political power.

The best way to build this political power is to organize around issues that resonate with people, engage those folks, and begin to develop long term change. Some issues like GMOs and bad labor practices easily resonate with people and lend themselves to political action. These represent exciting and important parts of the food movement, and ones that will win real and meaningful changes that they can see, but also will politicize large numbers of people who will learn more about systemic problems with our food system and democracy, and engage in other issues in the future.

We have seen this happen at the state and local level already. For example, a few years ago we launched a campaign to get arsenic out of chicken feed in Maryland. It took three years and lots of hard on-the-ground work, but, with our allies, we were ultimately successful in passing legislation that was signed by the governor. Now we are building on that to take on larger systemic problems with factory farmed poultry in the state, with legislation we hope to pass and then model across the country. Eventually, after being shamed by grassroots activists for exposing the population to arsenic in food products, the Food & Drug Administration took arsenical drugs off the market nationwide.

This is all hard work that takes education, time and significant resources. Bittman cites the Sierra Club’s work to close coal plants as a model for organizing, yet this is an atypical campaign because of the amount of money they have, which has paid for dozens of organizers and many expensive tactics like advertising and videos. Since 2005, they have received $38.7 million and donors have pledged $60 million more. As insightful and influential as Bittman may be, he cannot dictate the issues that excite people or write a check for the tens of millions of dollars the Sierra Club has had to close coal plants.

Organizing in most cases is about taking an issue that people care deeply about and helping to bring large numbers of people together to give them a collective voice. If it is not an issue that people feel strongly about at the grassroots, it is difficult to move it up the ladder of priorities for people.

Bittman may not think GMO labeling is an important issue, but millions of Americans do. They believe they have a right to know what is in their food and they are skeptical of the process by which GMOs come to market. They know that labeling is a step on the path to more protective measures around GMOs. They know that the GMO companion herbicide has been proven to have a range of health effects and that it should be regulated. Rather than chiding the work being done on GMO labeling, which effectively constitutes running interference for giant corporations like Monsanto, Bittman should be celebrating and supporting their efforts. Corporate and economic consolidation, after all, is at the root of the problems with our food system and the GMO labeling movement takes on one of the strongest and most consolidated industries – seeds. Already a consolidated industry, now Monsanto is pursuing a merger with the giant Swiss agricultural chemical company Syngenta, which will mean even more corporate control of seeds and the chemicals used to grow crops. If any movement to change the food system should be supported it is the movement to take on Monsanto and GMOs.

When activists get involved in organizing around issues, and they win, they get a sense of their own power to make change. They realize that their voice can – even in our broken democracy – make a difference. People who experience wins go on to stay involved. This is how movements are built: one victory at a time. There are many aspects of the food system that must be changed, but a list of issues is not really a program for social change. We need a broader vision for how we are going to build political power.

This blog was updated on May 15 to correct a factual inaccuracy.

May 14th, 2015

What is USDA Hiding About Its Privatized Poultry Inspection System?

Statement of Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter

Washington, D.C.—“Yesterday, Food & Water Watch received word from USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) that the agency has denied our Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for information on which poultry slaughter plants intend to adopt the New Poultry Inspection System in their establishments.

“We made this request at the suggestion of the Department of Justice after one of its attorneys remarked in a hearing on our lawsuit to block the implementation of the New Poultry Inspection System (NPIS) that consumers could find out through FOIA which establishments were using this controversial self-inspection program. The denial of our FOIA request further underscores the fact that the NPIS inspection system is a complete farce.

“The New Poultry Inspection System would turn over key food safety inspection functions to poultry companies. USDA inspectors would have limited oversight over critical food safety inspection functions. These rules essentially privatize poultry inspection and pave the way for others in the meat industry to police themselves, a move that would undermine food safety.

“Consumers will have good reason not trust the safety of products coming from plants using the NPIS system because company employees, rather than USDA inspectors, would perform key inspection tasks. These concerned consumers will have very little way of knowing which products came from these plants if the USDA does not disclose this information. In court, the government’s attorney suggested that these consumers could use FOIA to find out which establishments used NPIS. So why is USDA denying such a request?

“The NPIS self-inspection system will harm consumers and reverse 100 years of effective government regulation of the meat industry. Denying the public any information about which products will come from this system adds insult to injury.”

Read the FOIA request here.

Read FSIS’s response here.

Contact: Kate Fried, Food & Water Watch, (202) 683-4905, kfried(at)fwwatch(dot)org.

May 13th, 2015

Over 300 Groups Urge Congress to Label GMOs

Washington, D.C.—Today 328 farm, food, health, public interest and environmental organizations and businesses urged Congress to protect consumers’ right to know what they are eating by requiring mandatory labeling of genetically engineered (GMO) foods.

The letter urged members of Congress not to support H.R. 1599, a bill introduced by Rep. Pompeo (R-KS) that would block states from requiring labeling of foods containing GMOs, and instead support bills introduced by Rep. DeFazio (D-OR) and Sen. Boxer (D-CA) that would create a federal standard for GMO labeling.

Rep. Pompeo’s bill, referred to by labeling supporters as the Denying Americans the Right to Know (DARK) Act, would make voluntary labeling for genetically engineered foods the national standard and enshrine in federal law a failed policy that has kept consumers in the dark about what they are eating for two decades.

Most importantly, the DARK Act would preempt state efforts to require labeling of GMO foods. Since 2013, over 25 states have introduced legislation to label GMO foods, and these bills have passed in Connecticut, Maine and Vermont.

“The federal government has failed consumers for years when it comes to GMO labeling, so people around the United States are getting labeling laws passed at the state level,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. “It’s no surprise that Big Food and the biotechnology industry want to use Congress to block state level efforts. But it’s time for Congress to shine a light on GMOs and ensure that they’re properly labeled.”

“The biotech industry built its empire by deceiving American consumers,” said Ronnie Cummins, national director of the Organic Consumers Association. “Now that consumers realize the extent to which they’ve been deceived, and the extent to which their health has been compromised by chemical companies masquerading as food companies, they are demanding transparency. HR 1599 is a direct attack on consumers’ right to know the truth about what’s in their food. It’s also a blatant attack on states’ rights and on democracy itself.”

“The DARK Act is profoundly undemocratic as it robs citizens of their right to vote for labeling of genetically engineered food,” said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director at Center for Food Safety. “Citizens of 64 other countries have that right and Americans should as well. Congress needs to listen to the democratic will of the people, not the bottom line of Monsanto.”

Jim Goodman, an organic dairy and beef farmer in Wisconsin, added, “It seems funny to me that, despite efforts nationwide to minimize the impact of big government, the DARK Act is exactly the opposite. Does it make sense that the US House of Representatives would choose to dominate state and local laws around labeling GMOs?”

“Pesticide corporations and their allies in Congress are trying to keep Americans in the dark,” said Kristin Schafer, policy director at Pesticide Action Network. “Americans have a right to know and a right to choose whether they want to support genetically engineered crops that promote increased and widespread herbicide use.”

Instead of the DARK Act, the letter urges members of Congress to support H.R. 913, introduced by Representative DeFazio (D-OR), and S. 511, introduced by Senator Boxer (D-CA), which would balance the needs of companies for a single labeling standard with the overwhelming demand by consumers for the mandatory labeling of GMOs in food.

 “Openness and transparency are woven into the fabric of American democracy and every American has the inalienable right to know what’s in their food and how it’s produced, no matter what corporate lobbyists say in Washington, D.C.,” said Dave Murphy, founder and executive director of Food Democracy Now! “If food companies want loyal customers who trust their products, they would be wise to support mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods. Anything less will be met with widespread consumer rejection in the marketplace.”

Read the letter here.

Contact:

Kate Fried, Food & Water Watch, (202) 683-4905, kfried(at)fwwatch(dot)org.

Katherine Paul, Organic Consumers Association, (207) 653-3090, katherine(at)organicconsumers(dot)org.  

Abigail Seiler, Center for Food Safety, (202) 547-9359, aseiler(at)centerforfoodsafety(dot)org.

Katherine Ozer, National Family Farm Coalition, (202) 543-5675, kozer(at)nffc(dot)net.

Paul Towers, Pesticide Action Network, (916) 216-1082,ptowers(at)panna.org.

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May 7th, 2015

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

GMOs aren't going to solve nutrition problems or feed the world - they're about corporate control and profitYou’ve heard the controversy about genetically engineered foods (GMOs) and whether they’re safe to eat (and the question of safety is nowhere near settled, despite what the companies that create GMOs would like you to think). But the rest of the story about GMOs is far more complex: for biotech companies, the real purpose of GMOs is power and control over the food supply, and ultimately it’s about profits. The undeniable fact is that GMOs are bad for our environment, our food system, and the people in it.

Here are five reasons why everyone should be concerned about genetically engineered foods:

1. GMOs increase the corporate control of our food

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

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

Nor is it easy for farmers to avoid planting GMOs. In our increasingly consolidated food industry, farmers have fewer and fewer options, and the advice they hear at every turn is “go GMO.” This happens not just in the United States, but increasingly around the world as well. Read more…

May 5th, 2015

WHO Findings on Glyphosate’s Carcinogenicity Should Be Enough To Halt Colombia’s Controversial U.S.-Backed Coca-Spraying Program

WHO Findings on Glyphosate’s Carcinogenicity Should Be Enough To Halt Colombia’s Controversial U.S.-Backed Coca-Spraying Program

Washington, D.C.—Today, the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) and the advocacy organization Food & Water Watch called for an end to the U.S.- backed program that sprays the Monsanto herbicide glyphosate, a probable carcinogen, on coca fields in Colombia.

Funding data gathered by Food & Water Watch shows that between 2003 and 2008, U.S. government aid programs paid as much as U.S. $79 million for Monsanto herbicides used in Colombia. Much of these costs have since been transferred to Colombia, but it is safe to estimate that the two countries have spent over US $100 million since 2003 on glyphosate.

In March, an international body of independent scientists organized by the World Health Organization (WHO) determined that the herbicide glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic to humans.” Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Monsanto’s “Round-Up” and “Round-Up Ultra,” the herbicide mixture that Colombia’s government, with U.S. support, has sprayed from aircraft over more than 4 million acres over the past 20 years.

“There is now proof that the sprayings of glyphosate represent an unacceptable risk to the public. This has critical implications for a program that has been a cornerstone of U.S. drug policy in Colombia,” said Adam Isacson, senior associate for regional security policy at WOLA. “Grounding the spray planes today is the most sensible choice. We encourage Colombia’s government to take that, and the U.S. government to accede to it.”

On April 27, Colombia’s Health Ministry recommended that the country suspend the herbicide fumigation program. The Colombian government is to decide by May 15 whether to do so.

The glyphosate fumigation program began at the U.S. government’s behest in 1994 as a strategy to eradicate coca, the plant used to make cocaine. Colombia is the only coca-producing country that allows aerial herbicide spraying. As coca is often grown near homes and towns, and mixed with legal crops, fumigation planes routinely spray glyphosate on residential areas.

“It is bad enough that the U.S. government enriched Monsanto with tens of millions of taxpayer dollars,” said Darcey O’Callaghan, international policy director at Food & Water Watch. “When you consider that this money went toward aerial spraying of a probable carcinogen in populated areas, such corporate subsidies are unconscionable.”

“The past 20 years’ experience with coca eradication suggests that the best way to reduce coca cultivation is to bring development to the coca-growing areas,” says Isacson from WOLA. “Instead of spraying it from above, Colombia must govern its territory on the ground, with state representatives present to oversee the crop’s manual eradication and to integrate farmers into the legal economy through development assistance.”

This is the stated goal of an accord that Colombia’s government reached last year with the country’s largest guerrilla group, part of an ongoing peace negotiation process. That accord would ground the spray planes once a final accord is reached, reserving their use only for extreme situations in which manual coca eradicators find themselves under threat or attack.

“Most coca growers are poor, small-scale farmers,” said Isacson. “Aerial fumigation destroys their primary source of income, pushing them further into poverty and reinforcing their reliance on coca growing.”

WOLA has also prepared a series of graphics to accompany the “#NOFumigación” campaign (available here) that show the human cost of fumigation in rural areas of Colombia. All civil society groups or media following the issue are invited to share these across their digital platforms to join in calling for an end to aerial fumigation.

Contact: Kristel Mucino, WOLA, (202) 797-2171, press(at)wola.org. Kate Fried, Food & Water Watch, (202) 683-4905, kfried(at)fwwatch(dot)org.

WOLA promotes human rights, democracy, and social justice by working with partners in Latin America and the Caribbean to shape policies in the United States and abroad. WOLA envisions a future where human rights and social justice are the foundation for public policy in Latin America and the Caribbean and in the U.S. relationship with the region; where change happens when people on-the-ground connect with people who make policy, and where people work together across borders to respect human rights and democratic values.

April 29th, 2015

California Drought: Will Governor Brown Stop the Biggest Water Abusers?

By Wenonah Hauter and Adam Scow

1504_CA-Drought-BlogThumbBy now, the whole nation is aware that its fruit and vegetable basket, California, is in the fourth year of an unprecedented drought. One NASA scientist recently projected that the state may only have roughly a year’s supply of water left in its reserves. While that number is not entirely cut and dry (pardon the pun), it’s clear that California’s water crisis is real and that solutions are late in coming. For the first time in the Golden State’s history, its Governor, Jerry Brown, has placed mandatory water restrictions on residents and municipalities.

We can all agree that individual water conservation – efficient toilets and washing machines, shorter showers and smarter landscaping – should be expanded and embedded in our culture. But restrictions on households are not enough to dig us out of our water woes. Given that residential and municipal uses account for less than fifteen percent of California’s annual water use, we must ask: who is guzzling California’s water and what should Governor Brown do to rein in these users?

Below we identify some of California’s most egregious water abusers and offer some commonsense steps for Governor Brown’s consideration.

Big Agriculture

The Almond
On the desert-like west side of the San Joaquin Valley, almond orchards stretch as far as the eye can see. But this nut empire is a relative newcomer to the neighborhood: in the past five years, skyrocketing global demand for the cash crop has enabled it to double in size and become the second-biggest water consuming crop in California. The arid climate and selenium-laced soils in this region make it a kind of madness to grow this thirsty crop here, where it takes more than double the water to grow almonds than in Northern California. Agribusiness giants like Beverly Hills-based billionaire Stewart Resnick are raking in profits from these crops, about seventy percent of which are exported overseas. The Westlands Water District, where many of these orchards are based, has pumped more than one-million acre feet of groundwater in the past two years – more water than Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco combined use in a whole year – to produce these nuts, threatening the region’s water supply, and causing the ground to sink as much as a foot per year in some places. What’s more, most of this crop is exported abroad—meaning, effectively, the water is exported along with it.

Factory Farms
Industrialized animal agriculture is notoriously water-intensive. For example, Food & Water Watch estimates that it takes 150 million gallons of water a day to maintain the dairy cows on California’s mega-dairies. That calculation does not include the large quantities of water needed to raise the feed for dairy cows in California or to move manure into storage systems; it is just the water given to cows to drink and used to wash cows and buildings. A lack of available numbers tallying the meat industry’s water use in California presents a problem as the State seeks to tackle the drought crisis.

Alfalfa
Of all crops grown in California, alfalfa uses the single largest share of agricultural water, so it clearly deserves attention. Like almonds, alfalfa is exported overseas, but is also used to feed dairy cows in California. Alfalfa is grown in some of the state’s hottest and driest areas, including the Imperial Valley, and is exported to feed livestock. Interestingly, though, acreage devoted to growing alfalfa in California is expected to shrink 11 percent this year, according to Tom Philpott and Julia Lurie in this recent Mother Jones piece, as the agricultural industry increases production of cash crops like almonds and other “pricey nuts.”

Big Oil

It’s estimated that each year, the oil industry in California uses eighty-two billion gallons of water – enough to supply both San Diego and San Francisco for a year. While agriculture dwarfs the oil industry in terms of overall water use in California – where more than one million people lack access to safe drinking water – it’s well-documented that the industry’s dirty practices like fracking, acidizing and cyclic steam injection are permanently contaminating and destroying water California can’t afford to lose. What’s more, recent reports have brought to light that this industry has been illegally injecting billions of gallons of its wastewater into protected drinking water aquifers.

Bottled Water

California is home to over 100 bottled water facilities that every year bottle millions of gallons of water for private profit. In Sacramento it is estimated that each year, the notorious multinational water hog, Nestlé, pumps around fifty million gallons of local groundwater to be bottled and sold for 1,000 times the cost of tap water. Nestlé pays just shy of $1.00 per 748 gallons of water it taps from Sacramento’s municipal water supply, then resells it for thousands of times more in environmentally damaging plastic bottles. While Food & Water Watch has always opposed bottled water, during a historic drought the moral imperative for ending this practice is crystal clear.

Solutions

As he calls on California’s 38 million residents to conserve, Governor Brown must also take bold action to rein in uses by these corporate water abusers. The Governor oversees the State Water Board, which is empowered under the California constitution to manage water for the public good. To serve that imperative, Governor Brown should quickly take the following first steps:

  1. Align California agricultural production with the realities of the State’s water supply. The State routinely promises water users, including industrial agricultural users, five times more surface water than it can provide. The State must reduce demands to meet the reality of California’s water supply.
  2. Manage groundwater as a public resource to prevent depletion. The State, albeit poorly, manages surface water for the public good, but groundwater – the State’s water savings account for future generations – is largely managed privately. The State should start with immediate, sensible restrictions on groundwater pumping. In the long-term, the State should retire from production the toxic, arid lands on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley that we do not have the water to support and compensate producers fairly for their losses.
  3. Place an immediate moratorium on fracking and the bottling of California’s water for private profit.

It’s Californians’ job to exercise their democratic rights, starting with signing this petition urging the Governor to take these bold actions. While some have suggested that people boycott almonds or make other changes in their diet, the realities of the global food system are such that corporate agribusiness will continue to abuse our water and simply export the crops we wouldn’t be buying. In other words, we can’t shop our way out of the crisis.

It’s time for Jerry Brown to exercise courageous leadership that fixes the long-time mismanagement and corporate abuse of water that threatens the future of California’s economy and agriculture. There are no easy shortcuts: the governor must govern.

Wenonah Hauter is the Executive Director of Food & Water Watch, and Adam Scow is the organization’s California Director. 

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]

 

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