Tag Archives: food supply

Greenpeace: China farmers illegally growing GMO corn

Farmers are illegally growing genetically modified corn in China’s northeast, said the environmental nonprofit Greenpeace in a report that may generate further distrust of the government’s ability to ensure a safe food supply.

Beijing has spent billions of dollars to develop GMO crops that it hopes will ensure food supplies for its 1.4 billion people but has not yet approved commercial cultivation amid deep-seated anti-GMO sentiment. The new findings seem to confirm concerns that Beijing will be unable to supervise the planting of GMO crops once commercial cultivation is permitted, leading to widespread contamination of the food chain with GM varieties.

In its report, Greenpeace said 93 percent of samples taken last year from corn fields in five counties in Liaoning province, part of China’s breadbasket, tested positive for GMO contamination.

Furthermore, almost all of the seed samples taken from grain markets and samples of corn-based foods at supermarkets in the area also tested positive.

“It is very likely that much of the illegal GE corn has already entered grain storage warehouses, wholesale and retail markets across the country, ultimately ending up in citizens’ food,” said Greenpeace in a report.

While Greenpeace said it was not clear how the GMO corn seeds got into the marketplace, it has long been alleged that GMO plants being tested in field trials have been illegally sold to farmers for commercial use.

Such reports have intensified public opposition to the technology, with some anti-GMO campaigners going as far as suing the government over the failure to disclose information about its approvals for imported GMO crops and plans to allow domestic cultivation.

Among the six corn seed strains that tested positive in the Liaoning seed market, three have not been certified by China’s agriculture ministry, while three others were certified as conventional seeds and therefore had been contaminated by GMO varieties, said the organization.

The agriculture ministry did not immediately reply to a request for comment on the Greenpeace report.

The ministry said last year it was changing regulations to increase supervision of biotech products under development.

The GMO corn strains identified in the survey belong to international companies Monsanto, Syngenta and Du Pont Pioneer, said Greenpeace. None of the companies responded to emailed requests for comment.

Greenpeace blamed an “extremely lax and disorganized” seed market management system for the production and sale of illegal seed varieties.

It said many small seed breeders are not aware of the names of seeds they are breeding on behalf of other companies nor whether the origins of the seeds are legal.

Greenpeace recommends that the government investigate all corn breeding companies and destroy illegal GMO seeds. Additionally, there should be annual inspections of crops in north China during the sowing season, and tougher supervision of GMO crop research and cultivation. It says farmers should be compensated for their losses if GMO crops are destroyed.

The new findings could make Beijing even more cautious about proceeding with commercialization of any GMO crops, frustrating international and domestic seed firms.

Proponents of biotech crops in China argue that commercializing GMO products will reduce the need for farmers to resort to unapproved varieties to boost their yields.

How does this little piggy get to market? | What producers don’t want you to know

At any given moment at Reichardt Duck Farm in Petaluma, California, about 200,000 ducks are living in tightly cramped pens, suffering disease, injury and starvation until they join the ranks of the million ducks the farm slaughters in a year for the food industry.

That’s a fact only known to the world at large thanks to the activist group Mercy for Animals, which in late October released “Ducks in Despair,” a secretly-filmed video that quickly went viral as viewers saw workers burning ducklings’ beaks and brutally breaking injured ducks’ necks. The images were captured by an undercover Mercy investigator working as a barn-cleaner on the farm, and also show birds being denied access to food, water and veterinary care.

Reichardt is no isolated incident. Other viral videos, filmed by Mercy and other undercover investigators, show animal abuses on farms providing dairy, eggs, beef, pork and poultry to consumers nationwide.

Videos show calves, being raised for veal, crammed into feces-covered boxes so small they cannot lie down. 

Videos show pigs being stowed in crates so small they can’t turn around, and being beaten with metal rods.

Videos show live chicks getting tossed into machines to be mashed into feed.

And here at home, a Mercy investigator released hidden-camera footage in early 2014 from Wiese Brothers Farms, a dairy farm in Greenleaf, Wisconsin, where workers were shown kicking, stabbing and whipping cows, even dragging downed animals around by chains attached to their legs and necks.

More recently, on Nov. 12, Mercy released an undercover video from Andrus Dairy in Birnamwood, Wisconsin, showing workers kicking and punching cows, hacking at their tails with pruning shears and dragging animals by their necks with ropes attached to tractors. The dairy was identified as a supplier to Ohio-based Great Lakes Cheese, one of the largest cheese companies in the country and a supplier to major grocery chains. 

“The handling of the dairy cows in this video is not acceptable,” Dr. Temple Grandin, animal welfare expert, said after reviewing the footage.

More than 80 undercover investigations have been conducted at U.S. factory farms in the past decade, resulting in dozens of videos that reveal animal abuse and real threats to food safety. And even as campaigns are launched to implement policies that can prevent such cruelty, counter-campaigns are trying to prevent undercover investigations in the first place. 

Earlier this year, the state of Idaho enacted an “ag-gag” law that criminalizes undercover investigations, making unauthorized recordings punishable by up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine. 

The measure is not the first of its kind, and it likely will not be the last.

Model ag-gag bills have been circulated by the right-wing, corporate-backed American Legislative Exchange Council as early as 2002. ALEC, the organization behind so-called “Stand Your Ground” legislation and anti-immigrant bills, published a draft that year misleadingly titled the Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act that would prohibit “entering an animal or research facility to take pictures by photograph, video camera or other means with the intent to commit criminal activities or defame the facility or its owner.”

Seven states have thus far passed ag-gag measures aimed at blocking whistleblowers from revealing abuse or unsafe conditions at livestock facilities. Advocates say farmers and livestock producers need the laws to guard against intrusions into their homes and businesses.

progressive pushback

But a broad progressive coalition has come out against the bills, with constitutional challenges pending against ag-gag laws in Utah and Idaho. It is a cause that intertwines animal welfare, the environment, labor rights, free speech, freedom of the press, food safety and consumer protection.

Some 70 groups have publicly stated opposition to ag-gag laws. Plaintiffs in the federal challenge to the Idaho law include the Animal Legal Defense Fund, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, American Civil Liberties Union, Center for Food Safety and Farm Sanctuary.

The law is “deeply distressing because it is aimed entirely at protecting an industry, especially in its worst practices that endanger people, at the expense of freedom of speech,” says professor Erwin Chemerinsky, a constitutional law expert and dean at the University of California, Irvine School of Law. “It would even criminalize a whistleblower who took a picture or video of wrongdoing in the workplace.”

In fact, an undercover investigator punished in Idaho faces far more severe penalties than a farmworker who abuses animals. Animal cruelty in the state can result in a mere six months in jail; people caught filming abuse face up to a year and a $5,000 fine.

Those who shoot, circulate and defend the hidden-camera videos say the films do much more than shock viewers. The videos obviously can have an immediate impact on how people shop, and what they put on the dinner table. But the videos also impact how workers, farms, factories, corporations and government regulators operate.

Seven years ago, a Humane Society of the United States investigation at a slaughterhouse in Chino, California, revealed workers using forklifts and chains to push and drag cows too sick to stand to the killing floor. Much of the meat from the slaughterhouse was for the National School Lunch Program. The undercover video pushed the U.S. Department of Agriculture to order the nation’s largest meat recall.

More recently, a Mercy for Animals investigation of an egg farm where dead chickens were rotting in cages with egg-laying hens prompted major retailers and restaurant chains to drop the supplier.

The full impact of the video from the Andrus Dairy in Wisconsin isn’t known. But quickly Great Lakes Cheese issued a statement of outrage and said it would no longer accept milk from the farm.

And Mercy’s investigation at the Wiese farm resulted in arrests and convictions of the animal abusers, as well as a corporate pledge of change. The Brown County Sheriff’s Department arrested four men for animal cruelty in connection with the Wiese video, and all four were convicted on multiple counts of animal cruelty and ordered to pay fines.

Mercy, in statements, praised the sheriff’s department and the district attorney’s office for “taking swift and decisive action in pursuing justice for these abused and exploited animals.”

The organization’s efforts in that case extended far beyond Wisconsin. At the time the footage was taken, Wiese Brothers supplied cheese to DiGiorno Pizza, owned by Nestlé. And Mercy called out the company for its association, with Mercy’s executive director Nathan Runkle saying in a news release, “No socially responsible corporation should support dairy operations that beat, kick, mutilate and neglect animals. Due to its complete lack of meaningful animal welfare standards, DiGiorno has allowed a culture of cruelty to flourish in its cheese supply chain.”

Nestlé publicly deplored the abuse and, last January, announced changes in how it scrutinizes suppliers. “We will not do business with companies that do not adhere to our strict standards, and we are always looking for ways to do better,” a company statement read.

By August, Nestlé, the world’s largest food company, had announced what Mercy called “the most comprehensive and far-reaching animal welfare policy of its kind.”

Nestlé vowed to eliminate many of the cruelest forms of institutionalized animal abuse from its supply chain, including an end to:

• Tail docking and dehorning of dairy cattle.

• Castrating piglets without painkillers.

• Confining calves in veal crates, pregnant pigs in gestation crates and egg-laying hens in battery cages.

Nestlé also vowed to phase out pharmaceutical growth promoters for poultry.

Runkle, in a statement, said, “We are heartened that Nestlé not only took notice, but also took action after egregious cruelty was exposed at one of its dairy suppliers. Nestlé’s new industry-leading policy will reduce the suffering of millions of animals each year and hopefully inspire other food providers to implement and enforce similar animal welfare requirements.”

Opponents of the ag-gag laws say Nestlé’s response to the documented abuse at a dairy farm and to the U.S. government’s response to abuse and health and safety issues at the California slaughterhouse prove the value of whistleblowers and undercover investigations.

Still, animal welfare activists expect a dozen ag-gag bills to be introduced in state legislatures in the next two years.

On the web…

http://www.gotmisery.com

Merger would hog up the meat market

In late July, a coalition of farm, consumer, rural and faith-based groups wrote the U.S. Department of Justice regarding the proposed merger of Tyson Foods, Inc., and The Hillshire Brands Co., which originated in Wisconsin. The coalition wants the department to oppose the early termination of the antitrust examination and take a second review of the merger, which the groups argue creates a monopoly, threatening small farms, reducing consumer choice, allowing for higher prices and possibly degrading the food quality.

The letter, in part, reads:

We believe that the scale and scope of this proposed merger would “substantially lessen competition, or tend to create a monopoly,” which is proscribed by Section 7 of the Clayton Act, passed 100 years ago this year. The proposed merger would harm hog farmers, consumers and other food manufacturers. 

The food and agribusiness sector is already excessively consolidated, from seed to supermarket. This proposed merger comes after a year of intense acquisition activity in the food and agriculture sector, amounting to a growing wave of substantial mergers that threaten to accelerate the food industry’s tight control of this extremely concentrated sector of the economy. The Department of Justice should vigorously examine all proposed food and agribusiness mergers to prevent any firm from exercising unfair market power over farmers, consumers or rural communities, including the proposed Tyson-Hillshire merger. 

First, the proposed merger joins the top protein manufacturer with one of the top branded and marketed processed meat companies and likely would raise consumer prices and reduce consumer choices. It would significantly reduce competition in the meat and processed meat categories, where the two companies already overlap significantly. The combined firm would be the second largest frozen food manufacturer in the country, with $3.7 billion in sales.

Second, not only would the merger strengthen Tyson’s hand with hog producers, the extra profit margin and revenues would also give the company more resources to disadvantage cattle producers and contract poultry growers as well as affect the market across all proteins. Tyson’s capacity to increase the supply of chicken can undermine the consumer demand for pork and beef, and, therefore, lower the prices cattle and hog producers receive. 

Third, the proposed merger would be a vertical merger that would undermine competition. Tyson’s slaughterhouses currently supply meat-processing firms, including Hillshire and its rivals, which rely on these inputs to manufacture their products. Tyson could charge higher prices to non-Hillshire manufacturers or limit the rivals’ access to these products altogether. Tyson’s dominant position in the pork-packing industry gives it the incentive and capacity to disadvantage Hillshire’s rivals, undermine competition and ultimately raise consumer prices. 

We believe the anticompetitive impacts of the proposed merger between Tyson and Hillshire warrant close examination. The Department of Justice must issue a second request to extend the investigation into the potential effects of the proposed merger. The proposed merger would significantly impair competition throughout the hog and processed pork marketplace, harming farmers, consumers, rival processors and rural communities.

The Department of Justice must not grant an early termination of the merger review. The department should extend the investigation and issue a second request to solicit more information from the parties necessary to fully examine the complexities of the proposed merger. The undersigned groups would appreciate the opportunity to study these issues more closely and share our findings with the Department of Justice. 

Signers include 82 organizations, among them: Family Farm Defenders in Wisconsin; Indian Mothers; Inc., Producers Pricing; American Agriculture Movement Association; Catholic Charities of Social Services; Center for Food Safety; Center for Rural Affairs; Cumberland Countians for Ecojustice; Dakota Resource Council; Ecological Farming Association; Endangered Habitats League; Fair World Project; Farm Aid; Food & Water Watch; Food Democracy Now!; Hmong National Development, Inc.; Illinois Farmers Union; Indian Nations Conservation Alliance; Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement; Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future; Label GMOs San Francisco; National Family Farm Coalition; National Farmers Organization; National Hmong American Farmers, Inc.; National Latino Farmers & Ranchers Trade Association; National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition; Organization for Competitive Markets; Roots of Change; WhyHunger and Women, Food and Agriculture Network.

Wendy’s wants only pork produced without gestation crates

Wendy’s, the world’s third-largest fast food chain with more than 6,500 locations, announced this week that it will require its suppliers to produce quarterly reports regarding their ability to provide pork produced without the use of gestation crates.

The cages used to house breeding pigs are so restrictive, the animals can’t even turn around. 

Wendy’s stated, “In 2013, Wendy’s met on multiple occasions with pork industry representatives and outside experts to continue work towards our stated goal of sourcing only from gestation stall-free pork suppliers. As a part of this commitment, we now require every raw material and finished product supplier to submit quarterly progress reports that reflect the percentage of stall-free pork supplied to Wendy’s.”

The Humane Society of the United States applauded the announcement, which follows a 2012 commitment made by Wendy’s to eliminate the controversial cages from the company’s American and Canadian supply chains.

“We appreciate that Wendy’s and other food companies are walking the walk when it comes to their commitments to eliminate a cruel system that’s simply out of step with how people think animals ought to be treated,” said Josh Balk, HSUS’ director of food policy. “There’s clearly no future for gestation crates in pork production.”

Wendy’s is one of 60 food companies  that have mandated an end to gestation crates in their supply chains.

Report: FDA allowed harmful antibiotics in farm animals

The Food and Drug Administration allowed 30 potentially harmful antibiotics, including 18 rated as “high risk,” to remain on the market as additives in farm animal feed and water, according to records obtained by the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The data, released on Jan. 28, show the use of the drugs in livestock likely exposes humans to antibiotic resistant bacteria through the food supply, the NRDC said. The FDA’s reviews of the antibiotics occurred between 2001 and 2010, yet the drugs remain approved and, in many cases, on the market for use in industrial animal agriculture operations.

“Drugmakers never proved safety. And FDA continues to knowingly allow the use of drugs in animal feed that likely pose a ‘high risk’ to human health,” said Carmen Cordova, NRDC microbiologist and lead author of the new NRDC analysis. “That’s a breach of their responsibility and the public trust.”

Cordova added, “This discovery is disturbing but not surprising given FDA’s poor track record on dealing with this issue. It’s just more overwhelming evidence that FDA — in the face of a mounting antibiotic resistance health crisis — is turning a blind eye to industry’s misuse of these miracle drugs.”

The NRDC report, “Playing Chicken with Antibiotics,” shows safety reviews of various drugs in the penicillin and tetracycline drug classes — antibiotics considered important to human medicine, which together comprise nearly half of all antibiotics used in animal agriculture in the United States.

NRDC, in the report, said FDA papers obtained through freedom of information requests, show:

• None of the 30 antibiotics would likely be approved as new additives for livestock use if submitted under current FDA guidelines, because drugmakers have not submitted sufficient information to establish their safety.

• 18 of the 30 antibiotic feed additives reviewed were deemed to pose a “high risk” of exposing humans to antibiotic resistant bacteria through the food supply and of adversely affecting human health.

• Drug manufacturers never submitted sufficient information for the remaining 12 products to establish safety, meaning there is no proof of their safety for humans when used in animal feed and the products could not be approved today.

• 29 of the reviewed additives fail to satisfy FDA’s first iteration of safety requirements from 1973.

A large body of scientific work on bacterial cross- and co-resistance has established that the misuse of one antibiotic can lead to bacterial resistance to other antibiotics.

According to the NRDC, the 30 penicillin- and tetracycline-based animal feed additives could reduce the effectiveness of a range of other medically important antibiotics that are solely used to treat people.

FDA first recognized the risks from the use of antibiotics in animal feed in 1977 when it proposed to withdraw approvals for animal feed containing penicillin and most tetracyclines. NRDC won a lawsuit against the FDA for failing to follow through and address the threat posed by the misuse of penicillin and tetracyclines in the livestock industry.

The FDA appealed, and a decision is pending in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in New York.