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January 22nd, 2015

Crashing the Pro-GMO Party

GMO_Farming_BlogThumbBy Tim Schwab

As the National Research Council (NRC) continues its ongoing investigation into GMOs, the group held a two-day workshop last week to discuss a related issue: how to successfully communicate the science of GMOs to the public. I had hoped that the two-day meeting might be instructive—at the very least to hear the perspectives of the scientists working on this issue—but I also had my doubts.

The organizers of the workshop included staff from the Cornell Alliance for Science, an industry-aligned, pro-GMO advocacy group. The invited panelists included a representative from Monsanto and several pro-biotech academics. The only journalist presenting was Tamar Haspel of the Washington Post, who has not been shy about trumpeting what she sees as the benefits of GMOs. And NRC’s organizing body overseeing the workshop included representatives from Monsanto and Dupont.

Nowhere among all of the invitees and organizers did there appear to be a scientist critical of GMOs—no one who was likely to act as a robust counterpoint or to challenge false assumptions. Though there is a lively scientific debate about GMOs, with many scientists questioning the safety and merits of the technology, the NRC seemed to have excluded these voices. And it is difficult to imagine how the NRC could not have foreseen the impact that such one-sidedness would have on the conversation.

The pro-GMO sentiment in the room was definitely palpable at times, as participants devolved into a conversation that implicitly—and sometimes explicitly—framed the problem at hand as how to convince the public to embrace GMOs or how to challenge GMO opponents. I sat and listened as presenters and panelists mischaracterized GMO opponents as vandalizing labs or threatening and harassing scientists. It was notable that these remarks, which grossly misrepresent GMO critics, including many university scientists, went totally unchallenged. Also notable, I did not hear a single mention of the various abuses of science perpetrated by biotech companies, which censor and restrict unfavorable science—and even engage in attacks on the reputations of scientists pursuing unfavorable research.  Read the full article…

Opportunity for Some, Favoritism to Corporate Interests

Corporate_BS_Detector

By Wenonah Hauter

Once again, dark money ruled on Election Day 2014 when a slew of die-hard reactionaries swept into office, their victories clinched by donations from a small group of selfish big money donors. These wealthy funders seem to believe they can hide behind the gates of their fancy estates and not experience the adverse effects of global climate change or the consequences of the other regressive policies they promote. So how did these radicals, who are out of touch with the values of most Americans, spend their second week of the 114th Congress? Rubbing elbows with one another and the other sycophants that feed at the trough of dirty money.

I’m talking about the Heritage Foundation and Heritage Action’s 2015 Conservative Summit, “Opportunity for All, Favoritism to None,” the perfect setting for a love fest of extremists that included a number of House and Senate members. Speaking on their frightening agenda for energy, the House budget, trade and other matters, the name of the game for the current Congress is DEFENSE. Read the full article…

January 15th, 2015

New Study Pokes Hole in GMO Mosquito Plan

By Genna Reed BlogThumb_GMOMostquito

Few things kill one’s experience of the great outdoors like the dreaded mosquito, and in some cases, a nibble could have serious health consequences. That’s why local governments in places like the Florida Keys are always looking for ways to control mosquito populations. But now mosquito control is colliding with biotechnology. Oxitec, the company behind GMO mosquitoes, wants to release its genetically engineered mosquitoes in the Florida Keys to combat dengue fever as soon as this spring. Read the full article…

Citizens United 101

By Briana Kerensky and Mitch Jones

supreme_court_blogTHUMB

Take action: Tell your members of Congress to overturn Citizens United!

Next week marks the fifth anniversary of the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Citizens United case. Since 2010, corporations have been legally able to use their deep pockets to influence politics, to a destructive degree. According to the Supreme Court, corporations have the same First Amendment right to free speech as people, and as such are allowed to give as much money to political campaigns as they want. But whereas the average Joe or Jane might donate up to a few hundred dollars, corporations have the ability and resources to put millions of dollars into a campaign and change the course of an election.

What does this terrifying concept mean for our work to protect the food you eat and the water you drink? Read on for Citizens United 101, where we break down the landmark case, how it’s changed the electoral process and what it means for the safety of your food and water.

What is Citizens United?

In a nutshell, Citizens United is a 2010 Supreme Court ruling that allows for unlimited campaign contributions in the U.S. electoral system. Corporate donations to elections are now supposed to be protected as free speech. There are three big takeaways from the ruling:

  1. Citizens United established that free speech rights are solely about speech, and not the speaker.
  2. Citizens United didn’t create corporate personhood (the idea that businesses have the same rights and protections as humans), but it claims that corporate personhood extends to the First Amendment.
  3. Since political speech is a fundamental First Amendment right, any constraint on it has to be limited. For a long time the U.S. didn’t allow corporations to spend money on political campaigns, in order to avoid political corruption. What Citizens United ruled, though, is that avoiding corruption puts a damper on free speech rights.

What does Citizens United mean for corporate control?

Citizens United opens up the ability of corporations to spend money on political campaigns. So in terms of control of our political system, it allows corporations the ability to take much more overt control of funding of campaigns and pushing through their agenda. It helps corporations make sure that legislative bodies, whether at the federal level or state level, governorships, attorney generals, and even in some instances judges, are aligned with their interests.

What does Citizens United have to do with Food & Water Watch’s work?

Citizens United allows corporations to have yet another avenue for gaming the political system. Corporations have more money to spend than the average citizen or most non-profits, making it more difficult for organizations like Food & Water Watch (which doesn’t accept donations from corporations or the government) and our allies to advocate for legislation that protects our food, that stops damaging trade deals and that bans fracking. Citizens United allows corporations to use their political influence to essentially buy themselves a government that is willing to implement their agenda.

What’s the relationship between Citizens United and the DARK Act, which would allow corporations like Monsanto to keep GMO ingredients off food labels?

The free spending on political campaigns that Citizens United allows certainly makes bills like the DARK Act harder for Food & Water Watch and our allies to defeat. “Thanks” to the 2010 ruling, there is now a large amount of money (think billions) being spent in support of political candidates who support the DARK Act, as well as other Big Ag, Big Oil and Gas, and free trade agendas. As long as Citizens United remains in place, it makes it more likely that pro-corporate candidates will get elected, then introduce and vote for legislation like the DARK Act.

What is Food & Water Watch doing about Citizens United?

Food & Water Watch is working with a group of partner organizations from the environmental community, the faith community and organized labor to push for a constitutional amendment that would grant Congress and the states the power to regulate the amount of money in federal and state elections – reversing some of the problems with Citizens United.

What can I do to help?

In the Citizens United case, the Supreme Court gave corporations massive power over our democracy, treating them just like people… except that, in the case of corporations, protecting their supposed “freedom of speech” means allowing them to make unlimited political donations and effectively buy campaigns.

That’s no way for democracy to function. Corporations shouldn’t control our food supply or our political process. Tell your members of Congress to pass a constitutional amendment to take back democracy for the people and overturn Citizens United!

January 13th, 2015

The Research Is In: Regulations Alone Won’t Save Us From Climate Disaster

By Wenonah Hauter

We are convinced that any serious attempt to address climate change means that a large portion of the natural gas, oil and coal currently locked underground must remain unexploited. Unfortunately, rather than aggressively deploying renewable energy resources, the Obama administration has opted to allow polluters to continue burning these dirty, polluting fossil fuels. Case in point: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is due to soon release rules to regulate methane leaks from natural gas production and transportation. But two new reports released this week underscore the importance of keeping fossil fuels where they belong—underground.

Read the full article…

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January 9th, 2015

Brother Dave Andrews Left a Legacy of Good Will for a Good Fight

Brother_Dave_AndrewsFrom the Food & Water Watch Staff,

For those of us here at Food & Water Watch, the arctic chill that has gripped much of the nation this week brought with it the sad news of the passing of a beloved colleague, friend, and member of our family. It is with a heavy heart that we share with you that Senior Food & Water Watch Representative Brother Dave Andrews passed away on Monday, January 5. Brother Dave was an integral part of the mission here at Food & Water Watch, having devoted much of his life’s work to ensuring that communities both at home and overseas had access to healthy food and safe, clean, affordable water. In addition to being a remarkable ambassador for the critical issues that affect billions of people around the world, he was a gentle friend and mentor to many here among our staff.

While Brother Dave retired from Food & Water Watch last August, he was still very much in touch with many of us here and we will forever be grateful for his service and friendship. We thought the best thing to do would be to reach out to some of his colleagues on the food team who worked closely with Brother Dave throughout his time with us. We asked them to share a few thoughts about Brother Dave so that you, our readers and supporters, can get just a small idea about how important he was to us and to the goals of our organization. The quotes are followed by links to some interviews and articles Brother Dave wrote that might give you an idea of just how special he was. We now say goodbye to our friend who we will miss greatly. Read the full article…

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January 6th, 2015

Fracking Breaks the CO2 Budget

By Hugh MacMillan

The Obama administration is prepared to directly regulate methane leaks from the oil and natural gas industry, and may do so soon. But as we explained in a previous blog, directly regulating methane from the industry greenwashes the climate impacts of widespread and intensive drilling and fracking for natural gas. That’s because, just looking at carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, almost all of the natural gas has to stay underground, unburned, to stay within a CO2 budget that would avoid dangerous climate changes.

Read the full article…

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January 5th, 2015

New Congress, More Problems

By Wenonah Hauter

WenonahHauter.ProfileThe swearing-in of the 114th Congress this week spells trouble for our food, water and environment, and for all those who seek to champion healthy, safe communities for our families. We may be looking at the most hostile Congress ever in terms of protecting the environment.

Here are a few examples of what we could face over the next few years:

James Inhofe (R-Okla.), a notorious climate change denier and an unabashed champion for the fossil fuel industry, will likely chair the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Expect the committee to intensify its bullying of environmentalists, especially in light of the game-changing decision by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to ban fracking.
We’ll also see attacks on the credibility of groups that do environmental work – in fact, we already have, and it will only get worse.

Last July, Inhofe released a report that targeted environmental groups and their funders in an attempt to silence groups working in the public interest. This should surprise no one, given that David Vitter (R-LA), who headed the minority staff at the time, receives a majority of his campaign cash from the oil and gas industry.

Then, in November 2014, a subcommittee released a report on fracking calling its opponents “extremists.” It’s chilling to see policymakers taking a page from industry-backed astroturf campaigns and front groups whose discredited attacks have no place in serious policy discussions.

Given the mounting evidence that fracking harms public health and the environment, we anticipate chilling attacks by the industry (via the politicians they support) on environmental advocates, academics and any other voice that raises concerns about fracking.

But we won’t be cowed by the bullying and McCarthy-like atmosphere. Environmental advocacy is not illegal.

Food & Water Watch will continue to support one good piece of legislation: the bill to ban fracking on public lands, introduced by Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wisc.) and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.). With the help of our supporters, we will continue to fight for our right to clean drinking water and safe food; for our right to know what ingredients are used in our food; for our right to preserve our health and our environment; for our right to create a better, healthier world for our children and future generations.

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December 30th, 2014

Top 10 Misguided Climate Deniers’ Quotes of 2014

Mitch_JonesBy Mitch Jones

Every year climate deniers manage to say some truly misguided things in an attempt to appease their oil and gas industry sponsors. From breathtaking avoidance of the issue to outright denial; from magic Icelandic volcanoes to refusal to believe the experts, politicians find a variety of ways to spout climate denial nonsense.

As 2014 ends and we move into a new era of Climate Deniers in charge of both houses of Congress, we thought we’d give you our Top 10 Misguided Climate Deniers’ Quotes of 2014.

1) “The emissions that are being put in the air by that volcano are a thousand years’ worth of emissions that would come from all of the vehicles, all of the manufacturing in Europe.” Senator Lisa Murkowski, (R-AK) – Incoming Chairman, Energy & Natural Resources Committee, $733,144 from oil and gas industry in her career

2) “We have 186 percent of normal snow pack. That’s global warming?” Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY), $489,933 from oil and gas industry in his career

3) “Calling CO2 a pollutant is doing a disservice the country, and I believe a disservice to the world.” Ex-Governor Rick Perry (R-TX), $977,624 from oil and gas for his 2012 Presidential Campaign

4) “Listen, I’m not qualified to debate the science over climate change,” Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), $1,463,788 from oil and gas industry in his career

4) (tie) “I’m not a scientist,” Incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), $1,783,169 from oil and gas industry in his career

6) “I do not believe that human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate the way these scientists are portraying it.” Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), $295,138 from oil and gas industry in his career

7) “Anybody who’s ever studied any geology knows that over periods of time, long periods of time, that the climate changes, mmkay? I’m not sure anybody exactly knows why.” Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), $129,305 from oil and gas industry in his career

8) “I don’t know the answer to that question. I don’t think science does, either.” Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), on whether human activity causes climate change, $508,549 from oil and gas industry in his career

9) “And the problem with climate change is there’s never been a day in the history of the world in which the climate is not changing.” Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), $932,568 from oil and gas industry in his career

10) “How long will it take for the sea level to rise two feet? I mean, think about it, if your ice cube melts in your glass it doesn’t overflow; it’s displacement. I mean, this is some of the things they’re talking about mathematically and scientifically don’t make sense.” Ex-Rep. Steve Stockman (R-TX), $118,100 from oil and gas industry in his career

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December 22nd, 2014

All Naughty, No Nice: 5 Worst Fracking Industry Moments of 2014

By Jo Miles

BlogThumb_PinkDrill

A pinkwashed fracking drill bit. Fracking company Baker Hughes claims to be fighting breast cancer, when fracking actually increases people’s risk of cancer.

There’s never much chance of fracking companies ending up on Santa’s “nice” list, considering that polluting our air and water and making people sick is a regular part of how they do business. But while the movement to ban fracking made great strides in 2014, most notably with the recent ban in New York, the oil and gas industry seemed to go the extra mile this year to get onto the “naughty” list. Even here at Food & Water Watch, we were surprised by some of the dirty tactics some fracking companies used to attempt to sway public opinion and win over lawmakers.

Here are a few of the most unbelievable fracking industry stunts that made the news in 2014:

5. Sorry about that explosion. Here, have a pizza.

When a Chevron fracking well exploded in the small town of Bobtown, Pa. this February, you can imagine how upset the residents were.  The fire from the explosion burned for days, and they couldn’t be sure whether toxins were released into their air. One 27-year-old worker was killed. But Chevron made it up to them… with coupons for a free pizza.

One pizza. That’s Chevron’s idea of fair compensation for an explosion that put homes, families and workers in danger. And what happened in Bobtown isn’t an isolated incident – just this month, 25 families in Ohio were forced to evacuate their homes due to potentially explosive methane leaking from a nearby fracking well.

4. This is not what they meant by “job creation”

Grassroots organizations like Food & Water Watch often work with concerned locals to pack hearing rooms and show decision-makers that the community opposes fracking. In September, a pro-fracking industry group called North Carolina Energy Coalition tried to do the same… but failed. Instead of bringing community members who actually supported them, it bused in a group of homeless people who knew nothing about fracking. Several of the homeless men admitted that they were paid to attend, and didn’t know why until they arrived.

It wouldn’t surprise us if the industry couldn’t find people genuinely supportive of fracking to attend a hearing, but paying people to pretend they support fracking is a cheap trick.

3. Getting cozy with Dr. Evil

Food & Water Watch and our activists must really be making the fracking industry nervous, because this year the industry partnered with Richard “Dr. Evil” Berman to attack us and other anti-fracking organizations. Berman is notorious for using underhanded tactics to make advocacy organizations look bad, going so far as to dig up information on the titles of board members’ cars. What’s next, going through activists’ trash?

2. NIMBY-ist of the year

Rex Tillerson, the CEO of Exxon and hypocrite extraordinaire, got involved in a lawsuit against fracking in his neighborhood. That’s right, he’s trying to stop fracking near his home. He still insists that people should be fine with fracking happening in their backyards – he just doesn’t want it in his backyard.

1. Fighting breast cancer… you’re doing it wrong

The world is full of feel-good pink products that do little or nothing to fight breast cancer. Fracking company Baker Hughes claimed to do their part this year by partnering with Susan G. Komen to create the most egregious piece of pinkwashing ever: pink fracking drill bits. The part that makes this disgusting instead of laughable is that fracking fluid contains carcinogens. Fracking increases people’s risk of cancer, and using pink drill bits won’t magically change that.

 

There you have it: a few of the many reasons why the fracking industry indeed deserves a big lump of coal this year. Or should we say, ahem, a big glass of fracking fluid.

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