Tag Archives: Center for Food Safety

Consumer groups petition fast-food chains to reduce antibiotic use

Consumer health and food safety groups this week called on 16 fast-food restaurants to stop the unnecessary use of antibiotics in their meat and poultry supply.

Medical experts say the overuse of antibiotics in livestock poses a public health threat by increasing the spread of deadly drug-resistant bacteria.

The 16 restaurants petitioned by the organizations received “F” grades for failing to take steps to end the misuse of medical important antibiotics in the Chain Reaction scorecard, a report published by the Center for Food Safety, Consumers Union, Friends of the Earth, NRDC and Food Animals Concerns Trust.

A statement from the coalition this week says Burger King received an F and, despite an announcement in December to make certain changes regarding antibiotics in the chicken supply chain, still lags far behind McDonald’s.

McDonald’s has removed medically important antibiotics from its chicken supply chain, but Burger King has committed to removing only limited group of antibiotics classified as “critically important” to human medicine, by the end of 2017.

“The global increase in antibiotic-resistant infections is a public health disaster, and it is essential that our biggest restaurant chains do their part to address this growing problem right away,” said Cameron Harsh of the Center for Food Safety.

The petition effort is the latest in a series of campaigns intended to pressure such companies as KFC, Olive Garden, Chili’s and Starbucks to help protect public health and animal welfare by committing to meat and poultry raised without routine antibiotics.

The performance of these companies contrasts sharply with nine of the largest chains — including McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Chipotle and Panera, which received passing grades in the report.

“KFC and the other restaurants that received failing grades are making our antibiotics crisis worse,” said Jean Halloran, director of food policy initiatives at Consumers Union, the policy division of Consumer Reports. “Antibiotics should only be used to treat disease, not wasted on healthy animals or to compensate for filthy conditions on factory farms. It’s time for restaurants to help protect public health by demanding that their suppliers end the irresponsible use of these important medications.”

“When consumers eat a chicken sandwich they shouldn’t have to worry that doing so is potentially undermining antibiotics. They should just enjoy the sandwich,” said Matthew Wellington, field director of the antibiotics program for U.S. PIRG. “More major chains like KFC need to act on antibiotics. We simply cannot afford to lose the foundations of modern medicine.”

Consumer advocacy and food safety groups say that in the absence of mandatory government regulations on agricultural uses of antibiotics in the United States, restaurants should demonstrate their commitment to public health by ending the misuse of antibiotics in their meat and poultry supply chains.

Some background on the issue…

Most meat served by U.S. chain restaurants comes from animals raised in factory farms. The animals often are fed antibiotics to prevent diseases that occur in crowded, unsanitary living conditions and also to promote faster growth.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, regularly dosing animals with antibiotics contributes to rising cases of infections in humans that are resistant to important medicines.

The spread of resistant pathogens means that infections are harder to treat, require longer hospitalizations, and pose greater risk of death. World Health Organization reports that “antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest threats to global health, food security and development today.”

EPA to withdraw controversial weed killer that was approved for Wisconsin

The Environmental Protection Agency is taking steps to withdraw approval of a controversial new weed killer to be used on genetically modified corn and soybeans.

The EPA announced in a court filing that it had received new information from manufacturer Dow AgroSciences that a weed killer called Enlist Duo is probably more toxic than previously thought.

EPA had approved Enlist Duo for use in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Ohio, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Mississippi, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and North Dakota, and was likely to OK it for other states.

In a filing with the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, EPA said it “might not have issued the existing registration had it been aware” of the new information when it originally approved the product a year ago to be used with new strains of genetically modified corn and soybeans. EPA asked the court for the authority to reverse its decision while it reconsiders the herbicide in light of the new information, including whether wider buffer zones might be required to protect non-target plants.

The seeds are engineered to resist the herbicide, so farmers can spray the fields after the plants emerge and kill the weeds while leaving crops unharmed.

EPA’s move was welcomed by environmental and food safety groups that had sued to rescind approval of the potent new herbicide. But it is sure to create anxiety for the agriculture industry, since many weeds have become resistant to glyphosate, an herbicide now commonly used on genetically modified corn and soybeans. Enlist includes a combination of glyphosate and an updated version of an older herbicide named 2,4-D.

“With this action, EPA confirms the toxic nature of this lethal cocktail of chemicals, and has stepped back from the brink,” said Earthjustice Managing Attorney Paul Achitoff. “Glyphosate is a probable carcinogen and is wiping out the monarch butterfly, 2,4-D also causes serious human health effects, and the combination also threatens endangered wildlife. This must not, and will not, be how we grow our food.”

Dow AgroSciences issued a statement calling for rapid resolution of the matter, citing “the pressing needs of U.S. farmers for access to Enlist Duo to counter the rapidly increasing spread of resistant weeds” and predicting that “these new evaluations will result in a prompt resolution of all outstanding issues.”

EPA’s decision means that Enlist Duo, which is currently on the market, won’t be in wide use for plantings next spring. EPA hasn’t said whether farmers already in possession of the herbicide will be able to use it, and that could be a topic for future litigation, said Andrew Kimbrell of the Center for Food Safety.

Critics say they’re concerned the increased use of 2,4-D could endanger public health and more study on the chemical is needed. The USDA has predicted that the use of 2,4-D could increase by an estimated 200 percent to 600 percent by the year 2020.

EPA had earlier said when approving the new weed killer that agency officials had used “highly conservative and protective assumptions to evaluate human health and ecological risks.” The EPA said at the time that the herbicide met safety standards for the public, agricultural workers and endangered species.

Now, EPA says it has “has received new information from Dow AgroSciences — the registrant of Enlist Duo — that suggests two active ingredients could result in greater toxicity to non-target plants.”

2,4-D is now used on other crops, including wheat, and on pastures and home lawns. It is the world’s most popular herbicide and the third most popular in the United States, behind atrazine and glyphosate.

Groups opposed to expanded use of 2,4-D’s say they are concerned about its toxic effects and the potential for it to drift. Corn and soybeans are the nation’s largest crops, and the potential for expanded use is huge. Critics also expressed concern that weeds eventually would become resistant to the combination herbicide as they have to glyphosate, something EPA had planned to revisit.

EPA had earlier required a 30-foot buffer zone where the herbicide couldn’t be sprayed and ordered farmers to stop spraying when wind speeds exceeded 15 miles an hour.

Food safety advocates sue Agriculture Dept. for withholding records

Center for Food Safety filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service under the Freedom of Information Act. The group alleges that APHIS violated FOIA by routinely failing to respond to requests for records related to genetically engineered crops, unlawfully delaying its responses and withholding public disclosure of information.

APHIS has failed to provide a timely final response to at least 29 of CFS’s FOIA requests or appeals, according to a news release from the organization. Of these, APHIS has entirely failed to provide a final response to 10 requests and two appeals. The lawsuit asked the court to direct APHIS to promptly provide CFS with the requested information and to order APHIS to stop its practice of failing to respond to FOIA requests related to GE crops.

“APHIS has a track record of irresponsible and inadequate regulation of GE crops. In the absence of thorough government oversight, public access to information about these crops becomes all the more critical,” said Cristina Stella, staff attorney for Center for Food Safety. “This lawsuit is necessary to stop APHIS from continuing to ignore its duty to provide the public with information that affects farmers, communities, and the environment.”

CFS said GE crops are known to cause agronomic and environmental harms, such as transgenic contamination of traditional and organic crops. The vast majority of GE crops are engineered to be resistant to pesticides and as a consequence, their introduction has dramatically increased the total pesticide use in U.S. agriculture.

APHIS still oversees GE crops under regulations drafted in the 1990s and, in March, suddenly abandoned plans to update its GE crop regulations, which the agency had proposed to do since 2004.

Under the current regulations, experimental field trials of GE crops have repeatedly been found to escape containment and APHIS has refused to monitor or regulate GE crops once they are commercialized.

“The longer APHIS fails to use its full authority to regulate the environmental and agricultural harms from GE crops, such as transgenic contamination of nearby crops, pesticide drift, and endangerment of protected species, the more these harms will occur,” said Stella. “CFS has been seeking information about these harms for over ten years—and for over ten years, APHIS has continually ignored our requests. It cannot continue to do so.”

The following examples of APHIS’s failure to comply with FOIA illustrate the potential for damage:

New crops evading regulation: APHIS failed to respond to a FOIA request related to GE sorghum, a crop that has evaded review and regulation. GE developers are increasingly avoiding regulation by engineering GE crops without inserting transgenes from APHIS’s “plant pest” list. USDA has declared these types of GE crops beyond its authority to regulate, so they receive no federal oversight before potential commercialization. This loophole makes public disclosure of all information related to the unregulated GE crop, like GE sorghum, all the more crucial.

Crops escaping field trials: GE crops that escape the confines of field trials, called “unauthorized releases,” are of particular concern because these GE plants can live in the wild and cross with native plants, or contaminate related conventional or organic crops. Timely public disclosure of information related to releases from field trials is essential for mitigation of these potential harms. CFS has filed several FOIA requests regarding field trials to which APHIS failed to provide timely responses, jeopardizing local farmers and environments.

In 2004, CFS filed a FOIA request related to field trials of GE “Roundup Ready” creeping bentgrass. APHIS delayed its response for over four years; meanwhile, the state of Oregon is still trying to find and destroy escaped feral populations of the GE bentgrass. CFS made another FOIA request regarding GE bentgrass in 2010, to which APHIS took over 5 years to respond.

CFS has made three requests regarding GE wheat field trials since 2002 and APHIS has failed to provide a timely respond each time. In the first instance, CFS had to file a lawsuit to compel APHIS to respond. To date, APHIS has failed to make any response to date to CFS’s most recent request. GE wheat contaminated an Oregon wheat field in 2013, causing millions of dollars of lost revenue for wheat growers in the subsequent years as sensitive foreign markets temporally shut down.

This is the fourth time CFS has had to sue APHIS to compel compliance with FOIA, and is the most extensive challenge to APHIS’s pattern of unreasonable delays to date.

Study: GE crops threaten monarch butterflies

The Center for Food Safety this week released a detailed scientific report revealing the severe impacts of herbicide-resistant genetically engineered crops on the monarch butterfly population, which has plummeted over the past two decades.

The CFS said the report, “Monarchs in Peril: Herbicide-Resistant Crops and the Decline of Monarch Butterflies in North America,” makes it clear that two decades of Roundup Ready crops have nearly eradicated milkweed, the monarch caterpillar’s sole source of food, in cropland of the monarch’s vital Midwest breeding ground.

At the request of scientists and public interest groups, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service currently is considering listing the monarch as a threatened species under the federal Endangered Species Act.

The CFS has presented the report to Congress for a briefing on the decline of the once common butterflies.

“This report is a wake-up call. This iconic species is on the verge of extinction because of Monsanto’s Roundup Ready crop system,” said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director at Center for Food Safety. “To let the monarch butterfly die out in order to allow Monsanto to sell its signature herbicide for a few more years is simply shameful.”

Monarch population numbers have fallen by 90 percent in less than 20 years. This year’s population was the second lowest since careful surveys began two decades ago. The critical driver of monarch decline is the loss of larval host plants in their main breeding habitat, the Midwestern Corn Belt. Monarchs lay eggs exclusively on plants in the milkweed family, the only food their larvae will eat.

Monarch butterflies have long coexisted with agriculture, but the proliferation of herbicide-resistant GE crops is threatening that balance. Monsanto’s glyphosate-resistant Roundup Ready corn and soybeans have radically altered farming practices, sharply increasing the extent, frequency and intensity of glyphosate use on farm land. Glyphosate — one of the very few herbicides that kills common milkweed — was little used two decades ago, but has become by far the most heavily used herbicide in America thanks to GE Roundup Ready crops. As a result, corn and soybean fields in the Corn Belt have lost 99 percent of their milkweed since just 1999.

“The alarming decline of monarchs is driven in large part by the massive spraying of glyphosate herbicide on genetically engineered crops, which has virtually eliminated monarch habitat in the corn and soybean fields that dominates the Midwest landscape,” stated Bill Freese, Center for Food Safety science policy analyst and co-author of the report. “Glyphosate is the monarch’s enemy number one. To save this remarkable species, we must quickly boost milkweed populations and curtail the use of herbicide-resistant crop systems.” 

Milkweed grows outside of cropland, but there is too little habitat to support a viable monarch population. First, corn and soybeans dominate the Midwest landscape, leaving little area in roadsides, pastures and other land where milkweed grows. Second, monarchs produce almost four times more eggs per plant on milkweed within agricultural fields than on milkweed growing elsewhere.

“Milkweed growing in Midwest cropland is essential to the monarch’s continued survival. Without milkweed, we’ll have no monarchs,” said Dr. Martha Crouch, biologist with Center for Food Safety and co-author of the report.

As the monarch population declines other threats have greater impacts, and the butterflies are less likely to bounce back from adversity, according to the Center for Food Safety and the Center for Biological Diversity.

The groups, along with the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation and scientist Lincoln Brower, filed a legal petition with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect monarchs as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

In December 2014, the FWS announced that ESA listing may be warranted.

Wisconsin grows initiative to save seeds

An online store opened in mid-April, in time for vegetable growers to get seeds to plant for a summer or fall harvest. What makes the store unique is that it is an outlet for the Open Source Seed Initiative, a campaign affiliated with UW-Madison and established in 2011 by plant breeders, farmers, sustainable food system advocates, educators and others concerned about the decreasing availability of non-patented seeds.

Many of the big crop plants — specifically field corn and soybeans — already are restricted through patents, licenses and other forms of intellectual property protection. So are an increasing number of vegetable, fruit and small grain seeds. Those patented seeds cannot be shared, saved or even replanted by growers in the next year.

The Center for Food Safety, a watchdog and advocacy group, says the No. 1 threat to seed biodiversity is this corporate takeover of seeds.

Seed development and distribution in the United States, until the last few decades, was largely under the purview of the public sector and augmented by hundreds of small seed-breeder businesses, which acted mainly as distributors of publicly developed seed varieties. Today 10 top companies control 65 percent of proprietary seed, according to the CFS.

And companies aggressively defend their property rights. Monsanto has sued farmers in 27 states and won more than $24 million in 72 judgments from farmers, according to CFS.

“Many public breeders don’t have the freedom to operate,” said Jack Kloppenburg, the author of First the Seed and a UW-Madison professor involved in the OSSI.

The initiative distributed its first seed packets — 29 types of organic seeds are available — on April 17. The launch occurred on the International Day of Struggle in Defense of Peasants’ and Farmers’ Seeds, which was marked with a rally on the university campus, followed by a teach-in.

Participants in the events pledged to work to keep the seeds freely available to anyone who wants them.

“These vegetables are part of our common cultural heritage and our goal is to make sure these seeds remain in the public domain for people to use in the future,” said professor Irwin Goldman, a plant breeder and UW-Madison horticulture professor involved in the effort.

Goldman, Kloppenburg and others in the OSSI took a cue from the open source software movement that provided alternatives to proprietary computer software. The seed initiative was created to ensure that the genes in at least some seeds can never be owned, patented and held as intellectual property.

Goldman has described the OSSI as something like a national park for seeds. The people’s park includes “Full Pint” barley from Oregon State University, “Midnight Lightning” zucchini from High Mowing Organic Seed Co., “Siber-Frill” kale and “Emerald Fan” lettuce from Lupine Knoll Farm, “Oranje” and “Sovereign” carrot from the University of Wisconsin, plus seeds for broccoli, celery, cress, mustard, quinoa, squash and sweet peppers.

“These seed varieties and new strains arising from them can never be owned by anyone but the public, and that is important to us as a commercial seed company with a social mission at its core,” said Tom Stearns of High Mowing.

To spread the word about the effort and to put the seeds into circulation, the OSSI is mailing packets to first lady Michelle Obama, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and author Michael Pollan, who wrote in The Omnivore’s Dilemma that “the single greatest lesson the garden teaches is that our relationship to the planet need not be zero-sum, and that as long as the sun still shines and people still can plan and plant, think and do, we can, if we bother to try, find ways to provide for ourselves without diminishing the world.”

Each packet is marked with a pledge. By opening the packet, “You pledge that if you transfer these seeds or their derivatives they will also be accompanied by this pledge.”

“It creates a parallel system, a new space where breeders and farmers can share seeds,” Kloppenburg said of the initiative. “And because it applies to derivatives, it makes for an expanding pool of germplasm that any plant breeder can freely use.”

Goldman said the pledge is so short it almost reads like a haiku.

“It basically says these seeds are free to use in any way you want. They can’t be legally protected. Enjoy them.”

Seeding a movement

The pledge: “This Open Source Seed Pledge is intended to ensure your freedom to use the seed contained herein in any way you choose, and to make sure those freedoms are enjoyed by all subsequent users. By opening this packet, you pledge that you will not restrict others’ use of these seeds and their derivatives by patents, licenses or any other means. You pledge that if you transfer these seeds or their derivatives, you will acknowledge the source of these seeds and accompany your transfer with this pledge.”

The store can be found online at www.opensourceseedinitiative.org/store. The introductory package, selling for $25, includes an assortment of 15 seed packets, including “Midnight Lightning” zucchini, “Red Ursa” kale, “Gatherer’s Gold” pepper, “Joker Lettuce” and more.