food | Food & Water Watch
Victory! Farm Bureau case challenging EPA’s right to share factory farm data dismissed. more wins »


You're reading Smorgasbord from Food & Water Watch.

If you'd like to send us a note about a blog entry or anything else, please use this contact form. To get involved, sign up to volunteer or follow the take action link above.

Blog Categories

Blog archives

Stay Informed

Sign up for email to learn how you can protect food and water in your community.

   Please leave this field empty

Posts categorized as food

August 4th, 2015

New Information on WTO COOL Case Demonstrates Folly of Rash Congressional Action

Statement of Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter on Recent Filing by U.S. Trade Representative’s Office on WTO COOL Dispute

Washington, D.C. — “The Obama administration filed a legal brief in the World Trade Organization (WTO) dispute over the U.S. mandatory country of origin (COOL) labeling law for beef and pork that demonstrates the folly of Congress acting to repeal or weaken COOL before the WTO dispute is complete. The new information disproves Canada and Mexico’s overhyped claims for damages in the COOL case and argues for legislative patience rather than haste.

“Last week, the U.S. Trade Representative filed a brief in the WTO case documenting that actual penalties in the WTO COOL case should only be $91 million, a tiny fraction of the $3 billion in tariff retaliation threatened by Canada and Mexico. The United States Trade Representative (USTR) deconstructs the many economic errors used to estimate the tariff damages in the COOL case and ultimately dismisses the $3 billion penalty as ‘fundamentally flawed,’ ‘inaccurately estimated’ and ‘unsupportable.’

“The WTO has never certified Canada and Mexico’s absurdly high claims for damages from the COOL case and is only now considering what level of penalties might be appropriate. The USTR filing demonstrates that the penalties could — indeed should — be a tiny fraction of the $3 billion penalty used by Congress to justify repealing or weakening COOL before the final penalty is assessed by the WTO.

“Canada and Mexico have been bullying Congress with their over-inflated claims of damages, but USTR’s latest filing proves that this trade intimidation is all bluster. The Senate is currently considering either repealing COOL or converting it into a voluntary labeling program. Congress should wait for the final WTO decision rather than rashly eliminating or unraveling a law that consumers and farmers overwhelmingly support.”

Read the USTR filing here

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

Posted in ,  |  No Comments Yet
August 3rd, 2015

You’ve Got Questions About GMO Labeling; We’ve Got Answers

By Sarah Alexander

BlogThumb_GMOkidsWe get a lot of questions about why we need labeling for GMOs, even from staff of members of Congress. Our answers are below. We hope you’ll contact your Senators today, and give them the information below, so they can vote the right way and protect your right to know what’s in your food.

1: What is a genetically engineered food or GMO?

A genetically engineered food is a plant or animal that has been changed by taking genes from one species and inserting them into the DNA of another species or altering the DNA in a way that could never happen through traditional cross-breeding or in nature.

2: Aren’t genetically engineered foods safe?

The approval process for new GMO crops in the U.S. is extremely weak and relies solely on the safety tests done by the corporations that are creating these crops. Right now, most crops are approved by federal regulators under the “generally recognized as safe” provision, which means that if a GMO corn variety looks and “acts” like the non-GMO version of corn, it is approved.

Currently, biotechnology seed companies and their advocates are oversimplifying the hundreds of factors involved in the GMO production process to broadcast the myth of a “scientific consensus” that GMO foods are safe. To the contrary, most scientific bodies weighing in on the subject openly acknowledge unaddressed safety considerations and gaps in knowledge.

3: But don’t farmers need genetically engineered foods to feed the growing world population?

Most of the GMO crops planted today are engineered to withstand strong chemical applications, or to produce their own pesticides. Often, the chemical companies like Monsanto, Dow and DuPont that create GMO crops also create the chemicals that have to be used with the crops, so the main benefit of these patented crops is for the companies and their profits. Additionally, most of these GMO crops — like corn, soybeans, canola and cotton — are not grown as food for direct human consumption, but rather for animal feed, or to create ingredients in processed foods.

4: If over 90 percent of Americans support the labeling of GMOs, why hasn’t Congress or the Food and Drug Administration done anything?

 What we eat and feed our families has a direct impact on our health and wellbeing, and we have a right to know if the food we’re eating has been altered in a way that could never happen in nature. Unfortunately, the big food industries spend millions lobbying Congress and federal agencies to keep labels off of GMO foods. The Grocery Manufacturers Association, which represents the biggest food and chemical companies, has spent over $50 million to defeat labeling initiatives in multiple states.

5: Won’t labeling GMO ingredients cost companies a lot of money and raise the price of our food?

 This is one of the biggest industry myths. Consumers Union did a study last year that shows the requirement of labeling genetically engineered food ingredients will cost consumers less than a penny per day or $2.30/person annually.

6: Why should I take action and ask my Senators to oppose this legislation?

Genetically engineered crops are in most processed foods but are unlabeled, so many people who wish to avoid foods with GMO ingredients don’t know where they are lurking. GMOs are untested, and it’s unknown how these engineered foods may be impacting our health and the environment. At the very least, shouldn’t we have a choice to avoid them if we want to? The legislation that Congress is considering will prohibit any states from labeling GMOs and will make federal labeling voluntary, which is what we have already, and not a single product is labeled as containing genetically engineered ingredients.

Ask your Senators to support labeling of genetically engineered foods and to oppose any attempt to take away states’ rights to require labels.

July 30th, 2015

The DARK Act




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 “Deny Americans the Right to Know Act,” or DARK Act. In July, the bill passed out of the House. The next step in the process is the Senate.

Farm, Consumer and Competition Groups Oppose JBS-Cargill Pork Merger

Deal Would Concentrate Buyer and Seller Power in Pork Industry

Washington, D.C. — Today, American Antitrust Institute, Food & Water Watch, Iowa Farmers Union, Missouri Rural Crisis Center and National Farmers Union demanded that the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) investigate the proposed JBS-Cargill pork packing acquisition. The proposed $1.45 billion acquisition would create the second largest pork processing company in the U.S. The groups are concerned that increased concentration in the pork packing industry would harm hog farmers and consumers.

“The wave of mega-mergers sweeping the food and agribusiness industries encourages a cascade of consolidation throughout the supply chain,” said Wenonah Hauter, Food & Water Watch executive director. “The rampant consolidation is raising consumer prices, reducing consumer choices and undermining the economic livelihood of farmers.”

Food & Water Watch, Iowa Farmers Union, Missouri Rural Crisis Center and National Farmers Union also submitted a joint white paper documenting the anticompetitive effects of the proposed JBS-Cargill acquisition. The proposed deal would significantly increase the pork packing industry’s power over hog farmers.

A combined JBS and Cargill would accelerate vertical integration and reliance on hog production contracts. It would also, the white paper concludes, concentrate the wholesale pork product market, disadvantaging grocery stores and restaurants and ultimately raise pork prices for consumers. Post-merger, the largest two pork packing firms operating in the U.S. — Smithfield and JBS — would be controlled by foreign companies.

“The JBS-Cargill merger would combine the third and fourth largest pork packing companies in the United States, further concentrating an industry that is already run by just a handful of firms,” said National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson. “The rapid consolidation of market power in the hands of just a few pork processors has resulted in the loss of more than 90 percent of all hog farms since 1980. The JBS-Cargill merger certainly warrants further investigation by the Department of Justice and should be stopped.”

If the proposed acquisition were approved, the four largest pork packers would slaughter about three-quarters of hogs, up from about two-thirds today. The white paper extensively examines how the proposed acquisition would increase the economic market power of pork packers over farmers in the Midwestern hog belt. The proposed merger would reduce the number hog buyers and marketing options for hog farmers. After the proposed acquisition, the top four pork packers would control 94.5 percent of the market in Iowa alone, 85.5 percent in Iowa and surrounding states and 82.3 percent in Illinois-Indiana and surrounding states.

“The JBS-Cargill merger would reduce the number of hog buyers in the Midwest and allow the pork packers to further depress the prices farmers receive for their hogs,” said Rhonda Perry, Program Director at Missouri Rural Crisis Center and livestock and grain farmer in Howard County, Missouri. “The pork packing monopoly has already driven almost all the independent hog farmers out of business. The Justice Department has to stand up for America’s farmers and rural communities and block this merger.”

Rapid consolidation in the food and agriculture sectors has been of rising concern to farmers, consumers and federal regulators. Since the economy began to recover from the recession, the pace of mergers has accelerated and threatens to increase concentration in the already over-consolidated food and agriculture sectors.

AAI’s President, Diana Moss, explained “This merger could also create ripple effects throughout the food chain by spurring additional mergers to push back against the greater market power of JBS and Cargill. With less and less competition, we should be gravely concerned about the safety and stability of our important food supply chain.”

The letter to the U.S. Department of Justice is available here.

The Anticompetitive Effects of the Proposed JBS-Cargill Pork Packing Acquisition white paper is available here.

For more information, contact:

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

Andrew Jerome, National Farmers Union, (202) 314-3106, ajerome(at)nfudc(dot)org

Diana Moss, President, American Antitrust Institute, (202) 536-3408, dmoss(at)antitrustinstitute(dot)org

Tim Gibbons, Missouri Rural Crisis Center, (573) 449-1336, timgibbons(at)morural(dot)org

Posted in  |  No Comments Yet
July 28th, 2015

Food & Water Watch Calls on SEC to Reject GMO Salmon Stock Filings

AquaBounty Misleads Investors in Efforts to Join NASDAQ

Washington, D.C.—Food & Water Watch called on the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) today to reject the stock registration filings of AquaBounty Technologies (ABTX), the maker of genetically engineered salmon, based on misleading and erroneous claims the company is making in its attempts to join the NASDAQ stock exchange. The letter asks SEC to compel AquaBounty to revise the document to apprise investors of new scientific evidence showing that GMO salmon cannot grow as quickly as AquaBounty claims and also experience unique disease concerns.

“It’s one thing for AquaBounty to peddle fairy tales about its magical fish at industry conferences, but when you are playing with other people’s money, there’s no room for mythology,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. “Investors need to know that GMO salmon doesn’t grow faster than conventional Atlantic salmon and that it may experience unique health issues, which raise environmental, animal health and food safety concerns.”

Food & Water Watch’s complaint letter highlights the findings of a recently released Canadian government risk assessment of GMO salmon, which noted dramatically diminished growth rates of GMO salmon in the company’s commercial facility.This finding adds to the evidence that GMO salmon cannot grow more quickly than existing commercially produced Atlantic salmon, contrary to AquaBounty’s claims.

“If investors want to put their money into GMO salmon, that’s their prerogative, but they need all the facts,” said Hauter. “Again and again, we see that AquaBounty is unwilling to provide the public a truthful, accurate accounting of limits and risks of GMO salmon.”

Today’s complaint letter follows several others that Food & Water Watch submitted to the SEC, which noted AquaBounty’s failure to alert investors about a major disease outbreak with GMO salmon and also a $9,500 fine that the company paid for environmental safety violations. After Food & Water Watch highlighted these and other omissions, misstatements and misleading information that would harm investors, AquaBounty amended its SEC filings several times.

“The reality is there is no appetite for this fish,” said Hauter. “Even if the FDA approves it, the salmon industry has stated that it won’t produce GMO salmon, and consumer polls show widespread public opposition.”

AquaBounty’s GMO salmon is currently undergoing regulatory review by the FDA and not yet in commercial production. No regulatory agency anywhere in the world has declared GMO salmon safe to eat.   

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

July 23rd, 2015

House Passage of DARK Act Hinders Public’s Right to Know

Statement of Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter

Washington, D.C.—“Today the House of Representatives passed the so-called Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act, better known as the Denying Americans the Right to Know (DARK) Act. This bill would prevent states from requiring labeling of genetically engineered (GMO) foods and must be stopped in the Senate to preserve our right to basic transparency about the foods we purchase and eat.

“We are disappointed to see that the House passed a bill that will ensure that big food processing companies and the biotechnology industry continue to profit by misleading consumers. This bill is now one step closer to codifying existing failed policies that let the industry continue to use untested, unnecessary GMO ingredients without real disclosure, while stripping away the power of the states to democratically pass legislation that protects the public’s right to know what is in their food.

“The bill that passed includes provisions that would preempt states from labeling GMOs or enforce already passed GMO labeling provisions (like Vermont’s Act 120), and would prohibit states from having any oversight of GMO crops, for example, a county-wide ban on growing GMOs or GMO-free zones in certain organic seed-producing areas. Instead, this bill would create a voluntary federal GMO labeling standard for companies, weakening already deficient regulations.

“There is nothing in this bill that would make food ‘safe’ or ‘affordable’ as promised by its title. We need a mandatory labeling regime to give individuals the opportunity to decide for themselves whether they want to eat a food that has been produced using genetic engineering.

“We urge Senators not to support this bill. The majority of Americans are interested in requiring labeling for GMOs and will hold their elected officials accountable if they vote to strip away transparency about how their food is produced.”

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

Posted in  |  No Comments Yet

Senate “Compromise” on Country of Origin Labeling Unacceptable

Statement of Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter

WASHINGTON, D.C. — “The Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) legislation introduced today by Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan) and John Hoeven (R-North Dakota) repeals an overwhelmingly popular food label, surrenders to over exaggerated threats by our trading partners and creates more international trade problems than it solves.

“The legislation is aimed at solving an ongoing World Trade Organization (WTO) dispute, but the WTO process is far from complete. The Senate has never repealed a statute that was challenged under international trade rules before the dispute was completed.

“The legislation introduced today fully repeals mandatory COOL for beef, pork, chicken and ground meat and gives the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) discretion to establish a voluntary domestic label for beef, pork or chicken. It is considerably weaker than the discussion draft circulated last month because it repeals COOL labels for ground meat, which the WTO ruled were trade legal, and COOL labels for chicken, which were not even considered in the dispute.

“The legislation is a full repeal of COOL with the window dressing of a voluntary labeling option. But before mandatory COOL labels were re-enacted in 2008, meatpackers did not use voluntary COOL labels. In practice, a voluntary COOL label is the same as no label at all. Meatpackers won’t use it, consumers won’t see it and farmers and ranchers won’t benefit from it.

“Even if voluntary COOL labels went into widespread use, a voluntary labeling program could still face a challenge under international trade deals. The voluntary “Dolphin-Safe” tuna label has been successfully challenged at the WTO. Today’s voluntary COOL label is especially subject to challenge because it only applies to domestic livestock, there are no provisions for a voluntary label on imports, which creates the presumption that unlabeled and potentially imported meat is less desirable or less safe. That distinction runs afoul of every trade agreement’s rules prohibiting discrimination against imports.

“Consumers deserve to know where their food comes but today’s proposal puts meatpacking giants back in control of what we get to know about the food we buy. The Senate should not let international trade tribunals and big meat companies run roughshod over Congress’ authority to enact American laws. We urge the Senate to reject this bill and stand up for mandatory COOL.”

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

Posted in ,  |  No Comments Yet
July 10th, 2015

Big Voices Rally To Support Beleaguered Chicken Farmers

By Patrick Woodall

John Oliver and Willie Nelson have used their platforms to speak in support of chicken farmers.

John Oliver and Willie Nelson have used their platforms to speak in support of chicken farmers.

On Wednesday, the House Appropriations Committee approved its version of the budget for fiscal year 2016 for USDA and the Food and Drug Administration, and finally, there was some progress in the long plight to seek justice for poultry farmers.

For those of you who remember John Oliver’s recent piece on how unfairly chicken farmers are treated by big chicken processing companies, this is the House committee he highlighted by flashing members’ pictures on the screen (famously hurling the epithet we won’t repeat here). So the good news is that finally, the bill passed by the House committee did not include a provision found in previous years that had blocked the USDA from implementing important measures to protect farmers from unfair and abusive practices by meatpackers and poultry processors. These rules had been stalled since 2011 by a long-standing amendment pushed by the meatpackers and poultry companies.

Although Food & Water Watch and our allied farm organizations successfully pushed to get these measures included in the 2008 Farm Bill, the meatpacker and poultry processing lobby had kept the rules from ever going into effect, often through the limitations they put in previous years’ appropriations bills.

While Reps. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) and Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) have been championing this issue for years, the dam began to break starting with John Oliver. And this week, Rep. Kaptur and Farm Aid president Willie Nelson penned a strong op-ed in the Washington Post highlighting the plight of America’s chicken farmers and urging the Appropriations Committee to let USDA get moving to protect chicken farmers.

And contract fairness for farmers wasn’t the only topic the committee dealt with on Wednesday. A few other highlights (and lowlights):

  • The bill contains a provision that would prohibit USDA from purchasing any poultry products from the People’s Republic of China for use in the nutrition programs the department administers, including the National School Lunch Program.
  • The bill contains a provision that prohibits USDA from implementing rules that permit fresh beef imports from Brazil and Argentina until a risk assessment on the presence of foot and mouth disease in those two countries is completed and a report is filed with Congress on the status of their respective meat inspection systems.
  • The bill prohibits the elimination of the USDA catfish inspection program that was established by the 2014 Farm Bill in any trade negotiations with foreign governments.
  • The bill directs FDA to report semi-annually on the status of its investigation of pet illnesses and deaths caused by pet food imported from the People’s Republic of China.
  • The final bill includes cuts in the budget for the Food Safety Inspection Service to reduce inspection workforce to implement a new privatized poultry inspection system that lets chicken companies perform inspection tasks now performed by USDA employees.
  • The bill only provides approximately 40 percent of the requested funds to implement FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act.

But this process isn’t finished. The House Committee dropped the bad pieces of the bill that would block farmer contract protections from being finalized, but they could still show up later on the House floor, in the Senate or somewhere along the long road to the president’s desk. The same holds true for the prohibition against Chinese chicken in school lunches, the reaffirmation of USDA’s catfish inspection, reporting on pet illnesses from Chinese pet treats and the prohibition against beef imports from Argentina and Brazil. And this year could see Congressional gridlock devolve into near government shutdown, as in years past, which means all the good work done this week could get swept away by last minute Congressional deal cutting.

Stay tuned and we’ll tell you when it’s time to weigh in with your members of Congress as the bill moves through the process.

July 8th, 2015

Will The White House Fix The GMO Approval Process?

By Genna Reed

GMO_Farming_BlogThumbThe White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) launched the Coordinated Framework for the Regulation of Biotechnology in 1986, which laid out how the EPA, FDA and USDA would share responsibilities for regulating GMOs to ensure their safety. But this framework has never managed to provide an adequate review of genetically engineered foods. The current system relies on analysis and data from companies seeking approval for their new GMO crops and fails to do any post-approval monitoring once these foods hit the market or even require labeling.

Just before the July 4th holiday weekend began, the White House released a memo to the EPA, FDA and USDA announcing a planned update to the coordinated framework, even though they claim that the current process “effectively protects health and the environment.” The memo says the goal of the updated process is to reduce the “costs and burdens” and delays for biotech companies trying to get products to market, increase transparency for the public and advance innovation. Besides updating the coordinated framework, the administration will also come up with a long-term plan for regulating GMO products and any other new technologies that will be introduced in the future. Additionally, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine has been called upon to complete a study looking at the “future landscape” of biotechnology products that will inform future regulatory strategies.

Though we agree that the current regulatory system for GMOs is broken, it’s not clear if this new memo is going to fix it. A major red flag about the White House memo is that the administration’s motivation appears to be less concern about the safety of new biotech products and more about helping biotech companies navigate the regulatory system in a quick and painless manner.

We do have ideas about how the EPA, FDA and the USDA should change the current regulatory system:

  • No GMO product should be approved for commercialization without the agencies themselves, not the patenting company, conducting a full review of its unique risks to agriculture and the environment;
  • Use of the precautionary principle for the evaluation of new GMO crops, animals and food;
  • Mandatory labeling of GMO foods;
  • Prioritization of independent research that studies the human health impacts associated with long-term GMO consumption, including realistic levels of herbicide residues;
  • Improve monitoring and inspections of experimental field trials to avoid contamination incidents that are continuing to occur due to a lack of oversight;
  • Require post-commercialization monitoring of GMOs to avoid contamination and to protect consumers from accidental exposure to risky experimental crops; and
  • Include contamination prevention measures in addition to compensation of parties harmed by contamination events. This burden should not be borne by the farmers who are contaminated by GMO presence through no fault of their own. Instead, patent-holding companies should create a fund that will compensate economically harmed farmers.

Hopefully the White House will not blow its chance to improve upon an inadequate regulatory system for GMOs which has allowed over 100 crops to enter the food system with little scrutiny and minimal transparency.

Food & Water Watch will be following this White House commitment closely over the next year, including three public engagement sessions that have been promised, starting with one in Washington, D.C. this fall. There will also be opportunity to comment on the process once the agencies develop a draft. Stay tuned for your opportunity to weigh in on this important process.

June 29th, 2015

Food & Water Watch Denounces Beef Imports From Brazil, Argentina

Statement of Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter

Washington, D.C.—“Today, USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) announced that it has lifted decades old restrictions on the importation of fresh beef from Brazil and Argentina, countries with a history of the deadly disease of foot and mouth disease (FMD) in their animal herds. The U.S. has not experienced a case of FMD since 1929 and has successfully kept animals and meat from countries with a history of this disease out of its food system. Today, APHIS is abandoning that policy, putting our animal herds at risk.

“APHIS is, in effect, thumbing its nose at members of Congress who requested that the U.S. Government Accountability Office conduct a study of the two proposed rules. That study has not been completed. These two rules were considered ‘significant’ by the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB). APHIS transmitted those rules to OMB on May 22, 2015.  They were released on June 26. OMB can take up to 90 days to review ‘significant’ rules, but it rushed through the process. Food & Water Watch met with the OMB staff on June 12, arguing against the approval of the two final rules.

“Brazil and Argentina have checkered food safety records, as USDA has been forced on several occasions to suspend imports of products currently eligible to come into the U.S. for various food safety violations and for failure to meet our inspection standards.

“What is especially repugnant about the timing of this announcement is the fact that Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff is scheduled to meet with President Obama tomorrow. She is going to be handed this as a welcome present, reminiscent of the time in 2006 when the Bush administration handed Chinese President Hu Jintao the equivalency determination for the importation of processed poultry from the People’s Republic of China after a truncated review of that final rule by OMB.

The lifted restrictions on imports from Brazil and Argentina follow a disturbing trend of lowering food import standards, established by the recent attempt to gut Country of Origin Labeling, in order to pander to the interests of the corporate meatpackers lobby.”

Contact: Kate Fried, Food & Water Watch, (202) 683-2500, kfried(at)fwwatch(dot)org.

Page 1 of 41123456...102030...Last »