Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Courtsey :
Thankful for Little Things and Big Things Filed Under: Water

Sometimes, you work for years and years . . .
. . . and then you win!

Earlier this month, a California judge ruled that the city of Stockton illegally privatized its water and sewer operations.

The Concerned Citizens Coalition of Stockton (CCCoS) led the fight and we congratulate their dedication, persistence, and patience. If the council now reconsiders private involvement they have to seek voter approval.

The victory in Stockton is only one of many things for which Food & Water Watch is thankful this day before Thanksgiving 2006. Read about some others here.

By the way, the effort in Stockton was profiled in the film Thirst, which is available in the Food & Water Watch’s media library. Please contact us to purchase a copy or to borrow one for a screening in your community.

Seafood Eco-Labels: Ensuring Sustainability or Profit? Filed Under: Fish
Certifying products is all the rage these days. We see it with timber, bananas, coffee and even diamonds. In most cases, these certification schemes are designed to assuage consumer concerns about the environmental or social origins of the product, and of course, to encourage them to buy.

Increasingly, Americans are concerned about where their seafood comes from, how it’s harvested and whether the fish is a safe and healthy source of protein. For this reason, new eco-labels for seafood are popping up on grocery shelves across the country.

However, there is a lot of debate about how this labeling should come to pass. The problems arise when companies with a direct stake in the sale of the product determine the labeling criteria and even decide which products receive a label - a clear conflict of interest.

So what are the alternatives? The safeguarding of our oceans and food sources should not be left to private industry. The certifier must be a third party with no stake in the sale of the product. Otherwise, it’s awfully hard to know if that label really promises a more sustainable product or simply greater profits for a clever company.

November 20, 2006Tigers Helping Cows and People Filed Under: Food

LSU Tiger and Student
© Jim Zietz/LSU Public Affairs.LSU tigers, that is.

Citing a desire to support local farmers and provide a healthier option for their students, Lousiana State University campus dining switched to hormone free milk this fall.

Marketing junior Stanford Ponson summed up the issue nicely when he said "Well, there's a lot of unanswered questions. RGBH [recombinant Bovine Growth hormone] is illegal in Europe and lots of other countries. We don't know how it affects people. We know it's not healthy for the cow though." (Find resources for getting your campus to make the switch here.)

We've discussed on the blog before about how dairy producers and retailers are responding to consumer demand. Unfortunately, five years after the worlds largest coffee retailer started "discussing" the issue, still no action.

November 17, 2006Actually, You’re Suffering from “Very Low Food Security” Pains Filed Under: Food

The U.S. Department of Agriculture will no longer identify Americans who don’t have enough to eat as “hungry” when it conducts its annual survey of access to food. Now, instead of calling people who can’t afford to put food on the table “hungry”, a term well understood by the public, the USDA will categorize them as experiencing “very low food security”. The USDA says it made this semantic change because it found “hunger” to be an unscientific term for which there is not a clear definition.

Bread for the World, an anti-hunger group, and others strongly criticized this word change, saying “We . . . cannot hide the reality of hunger among our citizens." The amount of hungry people in the U.S. has been a source of shame for the Bush Administration, as the percentage of Americans that are the hungriest has risen over the past five years. Last year, eleven million Americans reported going hungry at times, and 35 million people could not put food on the table for part of last year. Considering that in 1999 then-Governor Bush claimed the USDA’s hunger statistics (which rated Texas poorly) were fabricated, it’s no wonder that this Administration would rather change the terms, than fix the problem.

While we found government attempts to call ketchup a “vegetable” and irradiation “cold pasteurization” disturbing, calling hungry people anything other than “hungry” strikes us as deeply wrong. Whatever the scientific reasoning, this linguistic gymnastics makes it easier to ignore a problem that shouldn’t exist in a country as wealthy as the United States. [End of Sermon.]

November 14, 2006
And Don't Let the Door Hit You... Filed Under: Food

There’s a reason why in most businesses, if you get fired you pack up your things immediately and are forced to leave. The reason being, of course, that if you stay around, you might muck things up.

In Congress, however, if you lose the election, you stay around for a few more months before your successor takes over your seat. That’s when the trouble starts (or is amplified, depending on your viewpoint). Right now, we are nervously awaiting this Congress’ last moves, with many bad agricultural and food bills waiting in the wings. Unfortunately, the “Animal Enterprise and Terrorism Act” (HR 4239, S3880), which we just warned you about, sailed through Congress yesterday. In fact, it passed on a “voice vote” so you are unable to see how your Representative voted. We are worried that this legislation will limit the ability of people to work on animal protection issues. In the next several weeks, be ready for more calls to action, so that we can try to stop some of Congress’ last minute moves!

On another note, our Winter issue of the Food Alert has hit the stands! Click here to read about the spinach E.coli scare, the move towards better food on college campuses, and Starbucks’ National Call-in Day.

Crossing the Sahara to Bring Attention to Africa’s Water Needs Filed Under: Water

Another superstar is taking initiative to bring attention to the world water crisis. Matt Damon is lending his voice to a film that documents the stunning trek of three men across the Sahara desert.

Charlie Engle (USA), Ray Zahab (Canada) and Kevin Lin (Taiwan) will run 4,000 miles – the equivalent of 2 marathons a day – from Senegal to Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, ending at the Suez canal on the Red Sea. That’s longer than the distance from Los Angeles, CA to Portland, ME!

It’s never been done before, and it will be captured on film, narrated by Mr. Damon.

According to the website, the runners hope to “bring a new vision of the Sahara and its people to the world—a more accurate vision intended to increase interest and understanding of our fellow humans, an unknowable land, and what each of us is willing to do to make a difference.” They also hope to bring attention to H2o Africa, Matt Damon’s new charity, which aims to “create widespread public awareness of the water crisis in Africa and gather support for clean water programs in critical areas. Clean water lies at the crux of many challenges facing African people – from health, to education, to human rights.”

I’d guess they’ll get pretty thirsty along the way.

November 9, 2006
End of seafood? Filed Under: Fish

Will seafood take the place of wild game and cease to be a major food source for the world?

In a widely publicized study that appeared recently in the journal Science, an international team of scientists and economists warns that marine fish and seafood species could collapse by the year 2048. The authors say there is hope, but not without a drastic change in how the nations of the world manage our fisheries.

The answer we’re hearing from the United States government: privatized fisheries and industrial fish farms.

As we have seen through individual fishing quota programs, turning the sea’s fish into a private property right provides incentives to waste fish. It is also contrary to ecosystem-based management – a core recommendation of the international scientists who authored the recent study.

And fish farms? As one of the study’s authors points out, fish farming can increase pressure on wild fish because many farmed species must eat processed wild fish.

While there is no easy solution, we can safely say that privatizing the commons and industrial sea farming are not the answer.

Don’t Label Me! Filed Under: Food

Creative Commons Licensed Flickr Photo
Originally uploaded by Matt Watts.I’m not really into labels but there are a few things that you can learn from them. For instance, my extremely fashionable shirt was made in Turkey, my 20oz water bottle was made in China, and fairly-paid, disabled workers made my tote bag in Cambodia.

Country of origin labeling (COOL) is supposed to do for meat, seafood, and produce what it has done for my shirt, water bottle, and tote bag. That is to say, consumers would finally know where their food comes from -- something they just might want considering the USDA’s recent approval of processed poultry product imports from China (a country with less than stellar food safety practices and currently suffering from an avian influenza epidemic.)

When we inquired about this decision and about actually implementing COOL (which was included in the 2002 Farm Bill), the USDA replied that, under the current restrictions:

1) The People’s Republic of China (PRC) can only import fully-cooked product into the United States.

2) All products that are imported are required to be marked with the country of origin.

3) Products removed from their original packaging to be further processed do NOT have to mark the country of origin.

4) Fully-cooked product is more likely to be imported in retail packaging and therefore not processed further.

Translation: “A lot of poultry product from the PRC will be labeled. Our well-orchestrated loopholes will allow the rest to go unmarked. It’s best to just not think about it.”

November 6, 2006Fishy Border Inspections Filed Under: Fish

Creative Commons Licensed Flickr Photo
Originally uploaded by Albert Almeyda. Last year Americans consumed more than 5 billion pounds of seafood. That’s an average of more than 16.5 pounds per person per year and a record for per capita consumption.

Of this, about 80% is imported, meaning it is caught or grown outside of the United States and shipped to your local market.

Unfortunately, the Food and Drug Administration only inspects 1.2% of import shipments, which as you might imagine, means a whole lot of contaminated seafood is never caught at the border. (Compare this to Japan where 12% of imports are inspected!)

Because we like seafood just as much as you, and we like it clean and fresh and free from chemicals, we are urging Congress to provide the FDA with funds to increase their inspections. Stay tuned for more information on how you can get involved.

November 1, 2006
Creativity Counts Filed Under: Water

Creative Commons Licensed Flickr Photo
Originally uploaded by Today Is A Good Day.
Water, it's serious stuff - the stuff of life. But, explain that to a kid running through a sprinkler.

Even those of us doing the serious work of organizing to protect a human right to water and for local, public control of our essential resources like to have a bit of fun now and then. We also appreciate a good song.

"Oh we got trouble right here in Lee
With a capitol T
And that rhymes with P and that stands for Profit
But People Power
We’ll show Veolia
We can organize then we’re gonna stop it"

- from Veolia by Tom Nielson

At the height of the 2004 campaign to ensure local water control in Lee, Massachusetts, calls offering help came in from people and groups from all over. Among them was a folk singer, Tom Nielson offered to write a piece specific to the Lee issue. The song “Veolia” is on a CD “Only Outlaws Will Be Free."

People power proved effective when the town representatives voted 41-10 against granting Veolia a 20-year contract. Did the song help? We think so.

October 29, 2006
Dasani's Uncomfortable Dance Filed Under: Water

Coca Cola fielded some tough questions on bottled water from the audience and the other members of the panel Friday morning at the Society of Environmental Journalists conference (because what we eat and drink has an environmental impact and journalists should cover it, after all).

At a panel on the green efforts of corporations, Coca Cola Vice President for Environment and Water Jeff Seabright touted Coke's great record and how they've reduced water use down to 2.6 liters of water used to every 1 liter of product produced (yes, you read that right 2.6L water used:1L soda or bottled water produced). "It takes a lot of water to wash bottles and clean machinery," he said.

Food & Water Watch didn't even have to respond to that because it turned out that Coke's loudest critic this morning was sitting right next to Jeff. Environmental journalist and author Bill McKibben repeatedly lambasted Coke for the wasteful practice of bottling water. When challenged, Coke pointed out how they can provide water in an emergency. Bill didn't think that was a particularly strong argument. He wasn't impressed with the 'we produce what the consumer wants' argument either and challenged Coke to eliminate all their bottled water advertising in order to evaluate the true demand for the product. Nice.

We'll be sending Bill our next copy of Aqua Bits, our quarterly newsletter on the bottled water industry. You should sign up to get it too (choose waterforall list).

October 27, 2006
Fishy Politics, Lame Ducks & Oil Filed Under: Fish

The next frontier of food production – if you ask the National Marine Fisheries Service – is industrial fish farming in the sea. Unfortunately for NMFS, too many Americans questioned their method of sea farming (contained in Senate Bill 1195) for being too environmentally harmful. As a result, this bill has been sent back to the drawing board and will likely resurface next year.

Politics can be ironic though. Despite all of the drawing boards, hoopla, negotiation and deliberation, a little known provision in energy legislation could open federal waters to industrial fish farms through the backdoor without proper public debate. This provision, dubbed “oil rigs to fish farms,” would let oil companies escape proper decommissioning of their oil rigs if they are converted to fish farms.

As if fish farms via energy legislation weren’t bad enough, this provision could be approved by a lame duck congress in November. Please stay tuned as we shine the light on this backdoor attempt to open your seas to industrial fish farms.

No comments: