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March 4th, 2015

McDonald’s Realizes Consumers Don’t Want Meat Raised With Antibiotics, But Voluntary Measures Aren’t Enough

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

Washington, D.C. — “We’re glad to hear McDonald’s realizes the public doesn’t want food from factory farms that overuse antibiotics. But voluntary measures are not enough. It’s past time for the FDA to force the meat industry to eliminate its use of harmful antibiotics though enforceable, non-voluntary regulation.”

Contact: Darcey Rakestraw, 202-683-2467; [email protected]

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Over 4 Million People Press Obama to Protect Bees

Congress heeds call to action and introduces legislation as pressure mounts on White House Task Force to issue meaningful recommendations

March 4, 2015 (Washington, DC)—A coalition of beekeepers, farmers, business leaders, environmental and food safety advocates rallied in front of the White House and delivered more than 4 million petition signatures today calling on the Obama administration to put forth strong protections for bees and other pollinators. This action anticipates the Pollinator Health Task Force recommendations, expected later this month. The task force, announced by the White House this past June, is charged with improving pollinator health through new agency regulations and partnerships. The assembled groups demand that the recommendations include decisive action on rampant use of neonicotinoids, a class of systemic insecticides scientists say are a driving factor in bee declines.

The rally coincided with both a D.C. metro ad campaign and Representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and John Conyers’s (D-MI) reintroduction of the Saving America’s Pollinators Act, which would suspend the use of four of the most toxic neonicotinoids until the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) conducts a full review of their safety.

Representative Blumenauer, said, “Pollinators are not only vital to a sustainable environment, but key to a stable food supply. In fact, one out of every three bites of food we eat is from a crop pollinated by bees. It is imperative that we take a step back to make sure we understand all the factors involved in bee population decline and move swiftly to protect our pollinators.”

“The EPA plans to wait until 2018 before reviewing the registration of neonicotinoids.  But America’s bees cannot wait three more years.  Neither can the thousands of farmers that rely on pollinators,” said Representative Conyers. “Our honeybees are critical to ecological sustainability and to our economy.  I am urging all of my colleagues to please protect our pollinators and support the Saving America’s Pollinators Act.”

“America’s beekeepers cannot easily survive in the toxic environment the EPA has supported,” said Roger Williams, president of the Central Maryland Beekeepers Association, and a speaker at today’s rally. “On top of many other stresses, bee-toxic pesticides, whether used to coat seeds or as sprays, are weakening and killing our bees and threatening the livelihood of the beekeepers who are so intimately tied to our nation’s food supply.”

In a letter on Monday, more than 125 conservation, beekeeping, food safety, religious, ethnic and farming advocacy groups urged President Obama and the EPA to take swift and meaningful action to address the impacts of toxic pesticides on pollinator species. The European Union passed a two-year moratorium on three of the most widely used neonicotinoids, yet the EPA has approached the issue with little urgency.

“Business leaders nationally recognize the importance of pollinators to the well-being of the economy, people, and ecosystems,” said Fran Teplitz, Co-Executive Director, Green Business Network and Bryan McGannon, Deputy Director, American Sustainable Business Council. “Businesses committed to sustainability support strong federal action to protect pollinators from pesticides linked to their decline; now is the time to act.”

While advocates remain hopeful, they also made it clear that voluntary, enforceable proposals from the task force are unacceptable. Federal agencies have hinted at continued efforts to promote more of the same — voluntary farming management practices, insignificant pesticide label changes, and weak state pollinator plans. And advocates contend that without new, meaningful protections, the Task Force may actually do more harm than good.

“Given the historic decline in the population of pollinators — bees, butterflies and birds — it is critical that the President and White House Task Force show forceful leadership in addressing all factors contributing to the crisis, with the suspension of neonicotinoid insecticides being a critically necessary action,” said Jay Feldman, executive director of Beyond Pesticides and who spoke at today’s rally.

Neonicotinoids are a class of pesticides known to have acute and chronic effects on honey bees and other pollinator species and are considered a major factor in overall population declines. A growing body of independent science links a class of pesticides called neonicotinoids to bee declines, both alone and in combination with other factors like disease and malnutrition. Twenty-nine independent scientists conducted a global review of 1,121 independent studies and found overwhelming evidence of pesticides linked to bee declines. Neonicotinoids are also slow to break down, causing them to build up in the environment and endangering a whole range of beneficial species that inhabit these ecosystems.

The 4 million signatures were collected by Avaaz, Beyond Pesticides, the Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Food Safety, CREDO, Earthjustice, Environment America, Food and Water Watch, Food Democracy Now!, Friends of the Earth U.S., Green America, MoveOn, Organic Consumers Association, Pesticide Action Network, Save Our Environment, TakePart, and Toxic Free North Carolina.

Media Contacts:
Abigail Seiler, Center for Food Safety, 202-547-9359, [email protected]
Kate Colwell, Friends of the Earth, 202-222-0744, [email protected]
Paul Towers, Pesticide Action Network, 916.588.3100, [email protected]

Expert Contacts:
Bryan McGannon, American Sustainable Business Council, 202-650-7678, [email protected],
Fran Teplitz, Green America, 202-872-5326, [email protected]
Roger Williams, Central Maryland Beekeepers Association, 802-355-9933, [email protected]
Jay Feldman, Beyond Pesticides, 202-543-5450, [email protected]

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March 2nd, 2015

The War on Genetically-Modified-Food Critics: Et tu, National Geographic?

By Timothy Wise

GMO_CanolaTimothy A. Wise is at the Global Development and Environment Institute (GDAE) at Tufts University. This piece originally appeared at Food Tank.

Since when is the safety of genetically modified food considered “settled science” on a par with the reality of evolution? That was the question that jumped to mind when I saw the cover of the March 2015 National Geographic and the lead article, “Why Do Many Reasonable People Doubt Science?”

The cover title: “The War on Science.” The image: a movie set of a fake moon landing. Superimposed: a list of irrational battles being waged by “science doubters” against an implied scientific consensus:

“Climate change does not exist.”

“Evolution never happened.”

“The moon landing was faked.”

“Vaccinations can lead to autism.”

“Genetically modified food is evil.” WHAT?

Genetically modified food is evil? First of all, what business does “evil” have in an article about scientific consensus? Sure, some people think GMOs are evil. But isn’t the controversy about whether genetically modified food is safe?

Read more…

February 13th, 2015

Congress: Don’t Mess With Meat Labels

By Katherine Cirullo

COOL_Labeling_USDA_MeatThis week brought progress for consumers, ranchers and food safety advocates who want to know where their food is produced. The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia has dropped an anti-consumer lawsuit filed by meatpackers and industry groups against the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), that would have denied U.S. shoppers the right to know where the meat they purchase was born, raised and slaughtered. The dismissal marks a major victory in the long history of industry attacks on country of origin labeling (COOL), but the battle to this labeling law isn’t over just yet, as the rule remains vulnerable to the whims of Congress.

The lawsuit, filed in July of 2013 by the American Meat Institute (AMI) et al. (a conglomerate of domestic and international meatpacking and commodity groups) sought to strike-down COOL, a popular meat labeling law that gives consumers basic information about the origin of meat products. The court entertained three rounds of challenges by the industry groups. And those groups lost at every round.

First, in September of 2013, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia Circuit rejected the meatpackers’ request that the USDA stop using an updated version of COOL requirements that gave consumers more precise information about the origin of meat. Then, in March of 2014, a three-judge panel of the court affirmed the lower court’s ruling. And in July, the entire circuit appeals court upheld the legitimacy of USDA’s rules for the popular COOL labels – rejecting the industry’s claim that companies have a First Amendment right to not give consumers basic information about where food comes from. Read more…

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USDA Approves GMO Apples Despite Opposition from Apple Industry and Consumers

Statement of Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter

Washington, D.C.— “Today, the U.S. Department of Agriculture approved the Okanagan Specialty Fruits’ genetically engineered Arctic Apples. These apples are engineered to resist browning when sliced. The USDA’s environmental review received 73,000 comments that overwhelmingly opposed the commercialization of Arctic Apples. This decision marks the first approval of an aesthetically-improved genetically engineered food and will expand the reach of GMO products into the produce aisle, which currently only offers a small number of GMO foods.

“The USDA has neglected to look at the full range of risks from these apples. In its environmental assessment, the USDA glossed over the possibility of unintentional effects associated with the technology used to engineer these apples, potential economic impacts on the U.S. and international apple market, effects of potential contamination for non-GMO and organic apple growers and the impact of the non-browning gene silencing which also can weaken plant defenses and plant health.

“This apple was produced using a relatively new method of genetic engineering, known as RNA interference. This technology uses RNA to silence a target gene, but mounting evidence has shown that meddling with the genes could have unintended effects within the plant and also on organisms that eat the plant. The particular gene targeted by this technology allows the apples to be sliced without turning brown, which could mislead consumers into thinking they are eating fresh apples when they might be eating apples on the verge of rotting. Browning is an important indicator to consumers in determining the freshness of an apple or apple slice. The silenced gene is also heavily involved in a plant’s natural defense against pests and pathogens, which could lead to trees that are less healthy than non-GMO apples and rely on more chemical treatments to ward off pests and disease.

“The domestic apple industry is opposed to the commercialization of GMO apples and some food companies have already said they would not sell Arctic Apples. The U.S. Apple Association, Washington Apple Commission and other grower groups have voiced their disapproval due to the negative impact GMO apples could have on the apple industry, and in 2013 Gerber and McDonald’s announced that they would not use GMO apples in their products.

“This GMO apple is simply unnecessary. Apple browning is a small cosmetic issue that consumers and the industry have dealt with successfully for generations. The USDA has let down U.S. apple growers and the public by wasting resources on this useless and risky food. To make matters worse, these apples will not be required to be labeled and consumers will not know that the sliced apples they pack in their children’s lunches were made through genetic engineering.”

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

Food & Water Watch Seeks Overturn of Court Decision Allowing Implementation of New Poultry Inspection System

Washington, D.C. – Today, the advocacy organization Food & Water Watch filed notice that it would ask a federal appeals court to overturn a lower court’s decision earlier in the week that ruled it lacked jurisdiction to stop the implementation of the USDA’s New Poultry Inspection System (NPIS) rules. These rules turn over key food safety inspection functions to poultry companies with limited oversight by government inspectors.

“The program allowing the poultry industry to police itself is simply not allowed under law, which is designed to protect consumers,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. “We are still hopeful that a court will review and reject this scheme, which is designed at the behest of the poultry industry and only benefits its bottom line.”

Food & Water Watch’s lawsuit, filed in federal court in September of last year on behalf of itself, its members and two individuals, charges that the new system violates the Poultry Products Inspection Act (PPIA), a 1957 law giving USDA the authority to protect consumer health and welfare. The organization asked the federal district court to immediately enjoin the program.

On Monday, the federal court took a pass on the lawsuit altogether, deciding it could not review the agency’s authority to issue the rules, dismissing the case on the grounds that the plaintiffs lacked standing to maintain their challenge. Food & Water Watch is now asking the U.S. Court of Appeals for D.C. Circuit to review the validity of this decision.

“The new USDA scheme, which reverses 100 years of effective government regulation of the meat industry, does great harm to consumers, and should be sent back to the drawing board,” said Hauter. “We hope that the court of appeals will reverse the lower court’s decision to the contrary.”

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

February 12th, 2015

Advocates Urge FDA to Halt Risky GMO Mosquito Release

Washington, D.C.— Today, the national advocacy organization Food & Water Watch urged the FDA to prevent the British biotechnology company Oxitec from releasing millions of unregulated GMO mosquitoes in the Florida Keys this spring and to require the company to submit to a formal agency review. GMO mosquitoes are not adequately regulated, either by federal or local agencies, and may pose significant risks to human health and the environment.

“GMO mosquitoes are nothing but a science experiment run amok,” said Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter. “Releasing them into the environment will not be worth the effort, expense or potential risk.”

Despite growing public concern about the mosquitoes raised by residents of the Florida Keys, there is no indication that FDA or any other federal or state agency has adequately evaluated the safety of the company’s plan to release genetically engineered insects. Nor does any agency seem to know who is actively responsible for considering it.

The Oxitec mosquitoes would be the first genetically engineered insect to be introduced in the United States with the intent to wipe out a wild population in the name of disease control. While they would purportedly be used to control dengue fever, it has not been proven that the engineered mosquito would be effective in controlling disease, and may even allow other types of disease-carrying mosquitoes to flourish, according to a study recently released in the peer-reviewed journal PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases.

The study looked at the spread of the Asian Tiger Mosquito in Panama and concluded that “GM strategies might have only short-term effects on vector population sizes.”

The public is also skeptical of GMO mosquitoes. Over 145,000 people have signed a petition opposing their release.

“The lack of regulatory oversight here is appalling, and it means that nobody is looking out for unintended consequences to human health or the environment,” noted Hauter. “If FDA does not take action on this, Oxitec will, and we cannot allow a biotech company to police itself. FDA needs to exert some authority and regulate GMO mosquitos, rather than leaving that crucial role to a corporation.”

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

February 9th, 2015

Ranchers, Consumers Applaud Dismissal of COOL Lawsuit

Washington, D.C. – In papers filed today in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, industry opponents to the U.S. country of origin labeling (COOL) law dropped their longstanding case against the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). This ends the lawsuit, American Meat Institute (AMI) et al. v. U.S. Department of Agriculture et al., originally filed in July 2013 by domestic and international meatpackers and trade groups that sought to strike-down the popular labeling law that informs consumers where the meat they purchase was born, raised and slaughtered.

“South Dakota Stockgrower members are proud of their USA born and raised cattle and we’re happy the courts have ruled that consumers can continue identifying USA beef with the COOL label,” said SDSGA President Bob Fortune.

The challengers to the COOL law (including meatpacking and allied livestock commodity groups in the United States, Canada and Mexico) lost three rounds of court decisions. The initial request for immediate injunctive relief was rejected by the U.S. District Court in September 2013; a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit affirmed that ruling in March 2014, and the entire circuit appeals court overwhelmingly upheld the legitimacy of COOL labels in July. The meatpacker plaintiffs choose not to appeal these recurring defeats to the U.S. Supreme Court and agreed to have their case dismissed.

The meatpacker challengers alleged the COOL law violated their constitutional right to free speech by requiring meat processors to affix these sensible labels. They also alleged that USDA had overreached its statutory authority by requiring retailers to affix labels specifically denoting the country where each of three production steps — born, raised and slaughtered — had occurred.

R-CALF USA, Food & Water Watch, Western Organization for Resource Councils and the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association intervened on behalf of the USDA in the lawsuit along with other farm, commodity and consumer groups. This legal intervention is only part of a longstanding nationwide campaign to enact, implement and protect COOL.

“It is about time the meatpackers abandoned this anti-consumer lawsuit,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. “Three separate court rulings rejected the industry’s absurd contention that it has a constitutional right to deceive consumers about where food is produced,” said Hauter.

The courts not only upheld USDA’s authority to issue regulations to implement COOL under the 2008 Farm Bill but also affirmed that COOL was designed to satisfy a legitimate consumer disclosure objective as well as promote food safety and public health. The court further rejected the meatpacker-plaintiffs’ contention that labeling meat products with factual and uncontroversial information about livestock production steps would violate their First Amendment free speech rights.

R-CALF USA COOL Committee Chair and Kansas cattle rancher Mike Schultz also welcomed the dismissal of the COOL challenge stating, “COOL is necessary to support marketplace competition because only it can empower consumers to act on their choice of where they want their food produced.”

Efforts by consumer and producer groups to defend COOL in the courts have paralleled efforts to defend COOL from meatpacker-backed attacks to eliminate or weaken the integrity of the COOL labels in the U.S. Congress.

“Congress must abandon its efforts to meddle with meat labels, which are overwhelmingly popular with ranchers and consumers,” said Mabel Dobbs, a rancher from Weiser, Idaho, and member of the Western Organization of Resource Councils. “Even the meatpackers have given up now on their effort to stop COOL in the courts. It’s time for Congress to leave these commonsense labels alone.”

Contact:

Bill Bullard, R-CALF: (406) 252-2516; [email protected]

Kevin Dowling, WORC: (406) 252-9672; [email protected]

Kate Fried, Food & Water Watch: (202) 683-4905; [email protected]

Silvia Christen, South Dakota Stockgrowers Association: (605) 342-0429; [email protected]

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February 6th, 2015

Abusive Poultry Contracts Require Government Action

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The poultry sector is completely dominated by a few large poultry processing companies, known as integrators, that control every step of chicken production — from chicks to cutlets. Farmers that raise chickens are known as growers; these growers do not even own the birds they raise and fatten for the processors, often under abusive contracts. Integrators deliver chicks to the growers, micromanage how the birds are raised, and frequently require the growers to build and upgrade expensive henhouses in order to keep getting contracts. Chickens reach slaughter and processing weight in about six or even weeks, but loans taken out to build henhouses can last for more than a decade, making many chicken growers entirely dependent on a series of flock-to-flock contracts to repay their debts. The poultry sector is less like a free market than abject serfdom. Growers are reluctant to defend themselves from abusive practices because integrators can retaliate by cutting off their contracts. Often there is only one processor operating in any one area, which leaves growers with no other options to sell poultry.

 

Learn more in our fact sheet, Ending Big Chickens Free Ride.

February 2nd, 2015

Food and Water Protections Weakened Under President’s 2016 Budget

Statement of Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter

Washington, D.C.—“President Obama’s proposed 2016 budget contains several provisions that would weaken long-standing public health programs that protect consumers from unsafe food, while also undermining community water systems. It is yet another example of this administration’s misplaced priorities, protecting corporate interests at the expense of the American public.

“The proposed budget for the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) would cut $4.9 million from the 2015 funding level, including cuts for USDA inspection personnel in poultry plants as a result of the department’s New Poultry Inspection System. This new program, which Food & Water Watch has challenged in federal court, turns over key food safety inspection functions to poultry companies with limited oversight by FSIS inspectors and has still not been implemented.

“The President’s proposal to consolidate the USDA and FDA’s food safety authority within the Department of Health and Human Services is also a step backward. President Nixon first proposed this idea in the 1970’s and Congress wisely rejected it then; we urge this Congress to do the same. FDA and FSIS have different inspection cultures, and trying to merge the two could weaken FSIS inspection standards that offer consumers protections they do not get in any other sector of the food supply.

“While the President has proposed nearly $110 million in additional appropriations to implement the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, the proposed budget for FDA once again proposes significant user fees, including a facility registration fee, as a way to fund implementation of the new law. The creation of $163 million of new user fees to fund food safety activities is unacceptable and Congress should reject these as it has done in previous budgets.

“President Obama has also chosen to facilitate the corporate takeover of community water systems with two key proposals. The National Infrastructure Bank would facilitate privatization through public-private partnerships. The President has allocated $7.703 billion to the Bank over the next decade. Likewise, his Build America Investment Initiative would promote public-private partnerships in water and other infrastructure by offering new tax breaks on bonds to privatized projects. Both projects will pave the way for Wall Street and foreign water corporations to take over our essential water systems.

“The State Revolving Funds (SRFs) once again received the raw end of budgetary process, cut by $54 million from last year’s estimated budget. Since FY2014, the SRFs have lost $707 million, a 23 percent reduction. The new budget also cuts $4 million in funding to USDA’s rural water program, and $17 million to the EPA’s Water Quality and Research Support Grants.

“On the bright side, the budget allocates $258 million over the next decade to creating the America Fast Forward Bond program, a new iteration of the highly successful Build America Bonds program, that will provide state and local governments with a low-cost bond option to finance necessary infrastructure projects and create good jobs.”

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

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