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December, 2011 | Food & Water Watch
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Blog Posts: December 2011

December 22nd, 2011

Five Outrageous Food Stories of 2011

By Rich Bindell

Natural flavors in foodThere’s never a shortage of interesting and incendiary stories about food issues to choose from at the end of the year. This year is no exception. As we continue to build our campaign to improve the Farm Bill in 2012, we can see examples of why this work is so important just by taking a look at some of the most outrageous food stories of 2011…

1. Attack on Food Safety Budgets

2011 started out with a bang; our food safety programs got banged up by threatened budget cuts. In addition, we witnessed a number of food recalls due to contamination that threatened public health with serious illness and, in some cases, even death. It’s not a surprise that a large and complex food system such as ours requires an aggressive approach to food safety. Unfortunately, federal and state governments’ ability to use that strategy was weakened when food safety budgets were slashed. While the meat and poultry inspection program at USDA escaped relatively unscathed, the Food and Drug Administration didn’t fare as well. FDA’s budget only allotted about half of what it needed to put the newly passed Food Safety Modernization Act into action. In 2012, Congress needs to get their food safety priorities in order. Read the full article…

December 19th, 2011

The Year In Fracking: Who Was Naughty, and Who Was Nice?

By Kate Fried

Time Magazine recently recognized Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Ingraffea and Robert Howarth, who each significantly contributed to the anti-fracking movement as “people who mattered” in 2011. As the year draws to a close, we’re making our own list and checking it twice to take stock of those who helped make some of this year’s victories in the fight against fracking possible. While many heroes emerged, there are a few grinches who deserve a big lump of coal for their efforts to defend and promote this destructive and risky means of extracting gas from deep below the earth’s surface. Read on to see who has been naughty and who has been nice.

T. Boone Pickens has been naughty...T. Boone Pickens


In 2011, the oil tycoon turned natural gas evangelist continued his call to develop U.S. shale resources, taking his show to the National Press Club to promote his Pickens Plan to get U.S. taxpayers to foot the bill for billions in government subsidies for vehicles that run on natural gas. The National Press Club event was the stage for Pickens’ stunning display of hubris when he trivialized the concerns of New Yorkers worried about the environmental and public health effects of fracking, saying in effect, that all they really need is a “leader” to set them straight. This coming from a man who amassed his fortune from pillaging our nation’s water and mineral resources, and who forked over a hefty chunk of cash to help finance the notorious 2004 Swiftboat smear campaign against then-presidential contender Sen. John Kerry.

 

Read the full article…

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December 16th, 2011

Will a Bad Week for AquaBounty and the FDA be Enough to Keep GE Salmon Off Our Plates?

Genetically Engineered SalmonBy Rich Bindell and Tim Schwab

Today marks one week to go before the holiday frenzy kicks into its highest gear. By next Friday, people will be so focused on holiday logistics that many consumers wouldn’t notice if the FDA green lighted AquaBounty Technology’s Genetically Engineered (GE) salmon, a scientific experiment they’ve been reviewing for close to two decades.

Although that will make for a nervous week around here, we are heartened by this past week’s latest round of criticism for GE salmon, as scientists lined up in the halls of Congress and on a National Public Radio debate to discredit a dodgy environmental risk-assessment of GE salmon. With so many concerns raised about its environmental impact, and given the FDA’s history of making controversial announcements right before a holiday, could this be the year the agency approves GE salmon?

When the FDA announced16 months ago that GE salmon was safe, many of us worried that regulatory approval was imminent. But in the intervening months, the agency has suffered slings and arrows from scientists and legislators alike, unhappy with the agency’s inadequate risk assessment of GE salmon, which, if approved, would be the first genetically engineered animal to enter the U.S. food supply. Read the full article…

Conservatives Try to Tie Keystone XL Pipeline Debate to Payroll Tax Cut Extension, Pipeline Safety Be Damned!

Energy and WaterBy Rich Bindell

Food and Water Watch joined 15 organizations in signing a thank you letter to President Obama for delaying any decision on the Keystone XL Pipeline (KXL), a project proposed to transport dirty tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada to refineries on the Gulf Coast. Now, in a political charade, the GOP is trying to force approval of the KXL Pipeline in exchange for the payroll tax cut extension.

The pattern is obvious. Conservatives, on behalf of the oil and gas industry, push aggressively for blind approval of dirty energy projects, and for gutting environmental protections against these projects. This is always at the expense of folks who end up having to deal with the toxic mess industry leaves behind.  The Republican ruse is to make wild proclamations about job creation to distract from the environmental and public health costs. A recent Cornell study shows that claims of tens of thousands of jobs are absurd. A realistic projection is about 2,500-4,650 temporary construction jobs.

In the case of the KXL Pipeline, Republicans are trying to override the U.S. Department of State approval process. (State has jurisdiction since the pipeline would cross the border with Canada.) Under the political radar, many other pipelines are currently being considered or constructed in regions throughout the country. Along with the rush to drill and frack for shale gas comes the need to transport the shale gas from well sites to locations where industry can process it and distribute it to be sold. But many miles of these pipelines are completely unregulated, and even the people who should know the goings on with various pipelines are out of the loop. The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), the federal agency that oversees the pipelines under that Department of Transportation, is riddled with problems.

In Pennsylvania, regulators don’t even know where some of the pipes being constructed to carry shale gas are located. And, sometimes, there is no one accessible to report to if and when independent inspectors discover problems. As one might guess, some of these pipes are rather large and there are plans to build approximately 10,000 – 25,000 miles worth of them to carry shale gas. And if it isn’t enough that they cause environmental damage while being built, they can also explode, which has already happened in Allentown, Pa., San Bruno, Ca., and Philadelphia. Can we really expect the thinly stretched PHMSA to handle the rapid expansion of pipeline projects?

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December 13th, 2011

Trading in India While Trading Away The Bay

Learn more about the Clean Water Act case against Perdue and one of its contract poultry operations.By Michele Merkel

Governor Martin O’Malley has spent an enormous amount of time talking about the successes of his trade mission to India. Meanwhile, he falters on an issue of importance to all Marylanders: the health of the Chesapeake Bay. And while he’s talking trade in India, back home he’s bartering the Bay’s future for the support of industrial agriculture. To add insult to injury, he’s maligning the environmental law students that are giving their time and expertise to help undo this calamity.

On November 14, Governor O’Malley sent out two letters just before fleeing to India. One was to his fellow governors across the country urging them to join him and his wife in taking a “Stop Bullying, Speak Up” pledge to end the bullying of students in schools throughout the nation. The second was to the Maryland School of Law in which he ignored his oath and tried to bully the students in the environmental law clinic into representing polluters instead of working to fulfill the Clinic’s mission to protect the Bay.

For a man who’s already anointed himself as the Democratic presidential candidate for 2016, the letter showed a complete lack of balanced leadership. For an attorney, it showed a total disregard for equity and the sanctity of the judicial process. For a man who prides himself on his environmental record, it showed an inexcusable ignorance of the largest threat to one of the most important waterways in the country. And for an anti-bullying crusader, it showed an inexcusable level of hypocrisy that has become all too commonplace among our political leaders.

The Chesapeake Bay is dying. Like many other waterways in the country, it’s being hammered by nutrient and sediment pollution from irresponsible industrial agriculture operations. A 2010 EPA report finds that pollution from agriculture is overwhelmingly the largest source of these pollutants to the Bay. Waste from factory farm operations account for a good portion of the nutrients poisoning the waters. Read the full article…

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The Grinches Who Frack Christmas: Photo of the Week

Rob Rogers
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Dec 5, 2011

As 2011 comes to a close and we head into the holiday season with fracking as one of the most controversial topics of the year, we thought this cartoon by Rob Rogers of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette would ease the tension with a little laugh. Meanwhile, we continue to amp up our campaign against fracking to prepare for a tumultuous 2012. Just remember, oil and gas industry… he’s gonna find out who’s naughty or nice.

 

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December 12th, 2011

Are Privatized Water Utilities in Cahoots With Shale Gas Companies?

FrackingBy Rich Bindell

On one hand, we have shale gas companies who have been rushing into various regions of the country to extract gas using a dangerous extraction process that involves toxic chemicals potentially contaminating our drinking water. On the other hand, we also have investor-owned water utilities (IOU’s) who are taking a public resource out of the hands of the public and profiting greatly from it. What happens when you put them both together? The results are revealed in the latest Food & Water Watch Report, Why the Water Industry is Promoting Shale Gas Development and they could involve the over-generalization of water quality tests, increased water rates and big profits… for the investors.

The report details big concerns about the sketchy relationship between IOU’s and gas companies, including the possibility that IOU’s would protect their investment even if it meant downplaying the risks of contamination caused by their new customers: shale gas companies.

Not only that, but water contamination in a community can lead to new customers for the private water utilities when they need to find a new source of drinking water. Look at what’s happening in Pavillion, Wyoming and Dimock, Pennsylvania, and you can see that this could be a tricky relationship to monitor. If your household relies on its own drinking water well and it suddenly becomes contaminated, you might have to deal with switching to an IOU to provide your water. They can benefit from contamination.

The report also points to IOU’s giving gas-drilling companies discounted rates for water—an average of 45 percent less than residential customers, in the case of one IOU. This sets the tone for water—a public resource —to be sold cheaply to shale gas companies, giving IOU’s a handsome profit. And this water would be used for fracking, which could potentially contaminate water sources.

Do we really want to sell our clean water up the river?

December 9th, 2011

EPA Points to Fracking in Wyoming Groundwater Contamination

http://foodandwaterwatch.org/water/fracking/fracking-action-center/

By Rich Bindell

The standard gas industry position about the potential for fracking fluid to contaminate groundwater is that it’s never happened and it never will. The EPA announcement that hydraulic fracturing likely played a role in drinking water contamination in Pavillion, Wyoming, demonstrates that the industry’s credibility with the public, and even the EPA, is diminishing.

The EPA released a portion of the draft report to Greenwire yesterday that “indicates groundwater in the aquifer contains compounds likely associated with gas production practices including hydraulic fracturing.” Testing in the EPA’s monitoring wells in Pavillion revealed high levels of methane, benzene and other chemicals commonly used in fracking.

While the EPA finding is part of a draft report that has not yet been peer reviewed, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said, “It is possible that fracking in one bearing zone may have impacted nearby areas that may contain some groundwater.” Read the full article…

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December 7th, 2011

The Nexus and Why We Should Be Worried About the Green Economy

stack of one hundred dollar billsBy Gabriella Zanzanaini

Since coming back from the Bonn Conference on the water, food and energy nexus, where I met up with fellow civil society activists, I have been trying to figure out how we can stand against the corporate machine building up towards RIO+20.

The Bonn conference organized by the German government in November 2011 aims to influence Rio+20 (United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development) outcomes while using transformation to a Green Economy as a framework. The follow-up conference will be organized by the World Economic Forum in January 2012 and its policy recommendations will also go through a “test” at a Ministerial Round Table at the 6th World Water Forum in mid-March 2012.

What stood out at Bonn was how increasingly aware of its image the corporate machine is and how it has learned to package its message in a more palatable way, while trying to get civil society “participation” to legitimize its decisions. This new, softer rhetoric means that it is harder to see what truly lies behind seemingly well-intentioned speeches. Most of the outcomes of the conference were decided beforehand, but the dominant rhetoric repeatedly placed emphasis on poverty eradication and inclusive growth – how to make resource efficiency work for the “bottom billion” (flagged up by many of us at the conference as a term that should stop being used). Yet the essence of what the Green Economy actually is – turning the financial, environmental and climate crisis into an economical gain was largely absent.

In a Green Economy world, the financialization of nature will take place through new technologies, focusing on innovations funded by public money to profit private companies in the name of resource efficiency. Among the nexus solutions are the promotion of desalination based on renewable energy, genetic engineering/breeding for food security and large dams. Read the full article…

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December 6th, 2011

Just Say “No” to Corporate Bullying

By Rich Bindell

Bullying is usually discussed in the context of kids—misguided youth who don’t have the maturity to know better. But, what about the bullying that happens in business, perpetrated by adults? We certainly know of a few companies within our food system that would qualify as bullies. Instead of fists, they use expensive attorneys, lobbying power and—in a strange twist—even anti-bullying politicians.

For years, Monsanto has usually gotten their way. Their billions of dollars buys them serious lobbying power and lots of lawyers to take advantage of farmers by suing them for accidentally acquiring Monsanto patented genetic material in their fields through contaminated seeds or drifting pollen. Many farmers that end up on the wrong end of a Monsanto lawsuit usually settle because they can’t afford to fight it, which is why the story about Percy Schmeiser is so special. He counter-sued Monsanto… and won!

Schmeiser found himself face-to-face with Monsanto when the seed company wanted him to pay $15 per acre or face enforcement for patent infringement after finding “Roundup Ready Canola” in parts of his field. The problem is that he didn’t plant the genetically engineered crop; the seed was transported to his land via the wind from another canola grower using GE seeds.

As reported by Care2 blogger Michelle Schoffro Cook, Schmeiser decided to face-off against Monsanto by charging them with “libel, trespassing, improperly obtaining seed samples from his farm, callous disregard for the environment for its introduction of genetically-modified (GM) crops without proper controls and containment, and contamination of his crops with unwanted GM plants.” Read the full article…

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