By Eoin Higgins
Food safety advocacy groups objected to the Trump administration's latest assault on the country's agricultural regulatory framework as the Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced Thursday it would leave oversight on GMOs to the companies producing the organisms.
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By Jake Johnson
With hunger rising at an alarming rate across the U.S.—particularly among children—as the coronavirus crisis sends unemployment to levels not seen since the Great Depression, the Trump administration this week resumed its effort to strip nutrition benefits from more than a million people by appealing a court ruling that blocked the Agriculture Department from imposing more punitive work requirements.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Tony Corbo
As the world focuses on the COVID-19 pandemic and its devastating impact on public health, the Trump Administration has been busy behind the scenes doubling down on its campaign to deregulate Big Ag. At the same time, it is not providing safeguards to food production workers and government inspectors who are being made to work on the frontlines without frontline employee protections.
The USDA Is Playing Fast and Loose With Meat Inspection Lines During the Coronavirus Outbreak<p>USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is deregulating inspection in some of the largest pork processing facilities by reducing the number of inspectors assigned to the slaughter line. They turn over critical inspection tasks to untrained company employees, and remove the cap on how fast the line can run. FSIS anticipates that 40 hog slaughter facilities will convert to this method, which is being called the New Swine Inspection System (NSIS). Those 40 facilities process over 92% of all pork in the U.S. Some of the big names in pork processing are pushing for this, such as JBS, Tyson, Smithfield, Clemens, and Quality Pork Processors. In one plant that has been experimenting with the new system, FSIS inspectors have 2.6 seconds to determine whether the company employees have performed their tasks properly. As a consequence, it is not uncommon for hog carcasses to be contaminated with feces, hair, toe nails, and bile to be greenlit for processing into bacon, pork chops, hot dogs, sausage, <a href="https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/2020-election/inspectors-warn-unsafe-pork-could-make-its-way-consumers-under-n1097676" target="_blank">and other pork products</a>.</p><p>Three lawsuits to challenge NSIS have been filed by unions representing the plant workers, animal welfare groups, and food safety advocates, including Food & Water Watch and the Center for Food Safety. FSIS hid critical information from the public when it first proposed the frighteningly minimal system. Food & Water Watch was forced to file separate litigation to obtain crucial, undisclosed information which revealed that NSIS would lead to more contaminated pork entering commerce and could lead to an animal disease — to <a href="https://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/news/new-data-shows-new-swine-inspection-system-so-dangerous-it-could-spur-another-zoonotic-pandemic" target="_blank">ravage hog herds and/or be transmitted to humans</a>. Plants that wanted to convert to NSIS had until March 30, 2020 to state their intentions. FSIS still refuses to disclose the names of those plants, leaving consumers in the dark.</p>
Meat Companies Are Being Given Almost Full Control Over Their Own Inspection Standards<p>While it is struggling to keep poultry plants properly staffed with inspectors during the pandemic, FSIS has stepped up its approvals of regulatory waivers to chicken slaughter plants that want to increase their maximum line speeds from 140 birds per minute to 175 birds per minute. In the first two weeks of April, FSIS approved 11 such waivers for plants operated by Foster Farms, Tyson Foods (4 plants), and Wayne Farms (6 plants). These plants have all converted to the so-called New Poultry Inspection System (NPIS) in which the number of government inspectors assigned to the slaughter line is reduced and many of their tasks are turned over to company employees. Under traditional inspection, each FSIS inspector is assigned 35 birds per minute to inspect. Under NPIS, there is only one FSIS inspector stationed at the end of the slaughter line. When a plant is granted a line speed waiver, that sole FSIS inspector is expected to examine 3 birds every second — or 175 birds per minute. The waiver process that FSIS uses is done in secret; it is not open to public scrutiny until the FSIS reveals that it has granted the waiver. Since taking office, the Trump USDA has approved 28 new waivers under this process, <a href="https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/wcm/connect/188bf583-45c9-4837-9205-37e0eb1ba243/waiver_table.pdf?MOD=AJPERES" target="_blank">mostly to the big players in the poultry industry.</a></p><p>Inviting everyone to the new game, FSIS is recruiting cattle slaughter plants to deregulate inspection, too. In late March, <a href="https://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/news/usda-prioritizes-privatizing-beef-slaughter-inspection-over-food-safety-during-pandemic" target="_blank">FSIS approved a waiver</a> through its secret process for a Tyson beef plant in Holcomb, Kansas that slaughters up to 6000 head of cattle per day. The waiver is designed to reduce the number of government inspectors assigned to its slaughter line, increasing its line speed. FSIS has not revealed how fast the line will run with this waiver or how many fewer government inspectors will be on the slaughter line, but we know it won't result in safety for consumers.</p>
Meat Inspection Deregulation Threatens Food Safety<p>All of these deregulatory moves are designed to increase production; they are not being done to improve food safety. They will contribute to expanding the industrial agriculture model by promoting the growth of factory farms. It's even more disconcerting that it is occurring in the middle of a national crisis.</p><p>As the Trump Administration has stepped on the accelerator to deregulate in recent weeks, there are numerous examples around the country of meat and poultry plants being impacted by the spread of the COVID-19 virus. While the news has been focused on urban areas racked by the pandemic, hot spots have also emerged in rural communities in Colorado, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Iowa, South Dakota, and Nebraska where meatpacking plant workers have contracted the virus while being forced to work, forcing some plants to curtail or cease operations temporarily. </p><p>In those instances where meatpackers have insisted on continuing with business-as-usual even when their employees have gotten sick, it has pitted public health officials against company officials and <a href="https://www.keloland.com/video/sioux-falls-mayor-tenhaken-describes-call-with-leaders-of-smithfield-as-heated-as-covid-19-case-numbers-go-up/4572959/#" target="_blank">even USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue</a>.</p><p>Plant workers and even government inspectors who work at these plants have not been given adequate personal protective equipment. It is virtually impossible to practice social distancing in these plants because plant workers and government inspectors work side-by-side in slaughter and processing facilities. When workers protested these conditions, Vice President Mike Pence had the audacity to urge the workers to continue "to show up and do [their] jobs."</p>
Urge Officials to Take Action Against Increased Line Speeds<p>Increased line speeds only create more opportunities for contamination and sickness. It's unnecessary and it's putting our health at risk.</p><p><a href="https://secure.foodandwaterwatch.org/act/demand-congress-stop-allowing-usda-food-safety-waivers?ms=fwws_wb_04162020_usda-removing-safeguards&oms=fwws_wb_04162020_usda-removing-safeguards" target="_blank">Tell Congress</a> to stop allowing USDA food safety waivers. This is no time to gamble with Americans' health.</p>
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By Melissa Kravitz Hoeffner
A major but largely glossed over report by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), an environmental and public health nonprofit based in Washington, DC, shows that thousands of untested chemicals (an estimated 2,000, to be exact) are found in conventional packaged foods purchasable in U.S. supermarkets. And yes, all of them are legal.
An extensive collection of permissible food additives includes several known or suspected carcinogens. Pixabay
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By Elliott Negin
On July 19, President Trump hosted Apollo 11 astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins and their families, along with the family of their deceased colleague Neil Armstrong, at a White House event to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first manned landing on the moon.
Sidelining Science<div id="a0046" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="KTL07A1576661585"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1164145122381950977" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">“By allowing chlorpyrifos to stay in our fruits and vegetables, Trump’s @EPA is breaking the law and neglecting the… https://t.co/DCZpzQKdi9</div> — On Capitol Hill (@On Capitol Hill)<a href="https://twitter.com/EarthjusticeDC/statuses/1164145122381950977">1566388800.0</a></blockquote></div><p>Today's EPA offers a stark example of the Trump administration's crusade to dismantle science-based agencies. Nearly 1,600 employees <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/with-a-shrinking-epa-trump-delivers-on-his-promise-to-cut-government/2018/09/08/6b058f9e-b143-11e8-a20b-5f4f84429666_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.580c7cd37b13" target="_blank">left the EPA</a> during the first year and a half of the EPA administration, while only 400 were hired, according to data obtained by The Washington Post through a Freedom of Information Act request. Of 1,600 employees <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/epa-workers-trump-administration-2603730765.html">who left</a>, at least 260 were scientists, 185 were "environmental protection specialists" and 106 were engineers. The <a href="https://www.epa.gov/planandbudget/budget" target="_blank">total number of employees</a> at the agency today — 14,172 — is the lowest in 30 years.<br></p><p>Besides chopping staff, the EPA has dramatically reduced the role of outside science advisers. Last fall, EPA Administrator <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/andrew-wheeler">Andrew Wheeler</a>, a former coal industry lobbyist, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/11/climate/epa-disbands-pollution-science-panel.html" target="_blank">disbanded</a> a 20-member scientific advisory committee on particulate matter, <a href="https://www.eenews.net/stories/1060102455" target="_blank">failed</a> to convene a similar panel on ozone, and <a href="https://www.eenews.net/stories/1060102455" target="_blank">packed</a> a seven-member advisory committee on air quality standards with industry-friendly participants.</p><p>The EPA is not the only agency pushing scientists out the door. The same day the EPA made its chlorpyrifos announcement, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/science/2019/07/18/many-usda-workers-quit-research-agencies-move-kansas-city-brain-drain-we-all-feared/?utm_term=.c549e94ec861" target="_blank">announced</a> that nearly two-thirds of 395 Washington, D.C.-based employees in its Economic Research Service, which provides analyses on a range of issues, and National Institute of Food and Agriculture, which oversees $1.7 billion in scientific funding, will quit rather than relocate to Kansas City.</p><p>The department's dubious rationale for moving the Research Service and National Institute is placing researchers closer to farmers and <a href="https://www.aaea.org/UserFiles/file/Report-MovingUSDAResearchersWillCostTaxpayers-AAEAReport2019june19final.docx.pdf" target="_blank">cutting costs</a>, but its ulterior motive is to hollow out their staffs, hindering their ability to carry out their missions. Mick Mulvaney, acting White House chief of staff, acknowledged as much during a <a href="https://www.c-span.org/video/?463060-1/mick-mulvaney-addresses-south-carolina-republican-party-gala&start=2412" target="_blank">speech</a> he gave at an Aug. 2 Republican fundraiser in South Carolina.</p><p>"You've heard about 'drain the swamp.' What you probably haven't heard is what we are actually doing," he said. "I don't know if you saw the news the other day, but the USDA just tried to move, or did move, two offices out of Washington, D.C…. Guess what happened? More than half the people quit…. What a wonderful way to sort of streamline government, and do what we haven't been able to do for a long time."</p>
Capitol Hill Science Defenders<p>Some members of Congress are fighting back. Late last month, for example, the House Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress — a temporary committee with an equal number of Democrats and Republicans — <a href="https://federalnewsnetwork.com/modernizing-congress/2019/07/house-modernization-committee-recommends-bringing-back-office-of-technology-assessment/" target="_blank">unanimously approved</a> a recommendation to resurrect the Office of Technology Assessment, a congressional watchdog agency that then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich <a href="https://ota.fas.org/2012/01/31/gingrich-said-to-decimate-congressional-expertise/" target="_blank">killed</a> in the mid-1990s.</p><p>The select committee's recommendation comes on the heels of a draft House <a href="https://appropriations.house.gov/news/press-releases/appropriations-committee-releases-fiscal-year-2020-legislative-branch-funding" target="_blank">spending bill</a> for the 2020 fiscal year that includes $6 million to jumpstart the agency, which provided Congress with <a href="https://ota.fas.org/otareports/" target="_blank">analyses</a> on a range of topics, from acid rain to <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/climate-change/">climate change</a> to <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/renewable-energy/" rel="noopener noreferrer">renewable energy</a>, from 1972 to 1995.</p><p>Meanwhile, House Democrats and Republicans alike voiced their support for protecting federal science during a recent Science, Space and Technology Committee <a href="https://eos.org/articles/hearing-garners-bipartisan-support-for-scientific-integrity" target="_blank">hearing</a> on scientific integrity. <a href="https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/administration/eop/ostp/library/scientificintegrity" target="_blank">Two dozen</a> federal agencies have adopted scientific integrity policies since 2010, but they are inconsistent and difficult to enforce, so some members of Congress want to codify protections in a law.</p><p>"Allowing political power or special interests to manipulate or suppress federal science hurts, and hurts all of us," <a href="https://eos.org/articles/hearing-garners-bipartisan-support-for-scientific-integrity" target="_blank">said</a> New York Rep. Paul Tonko at the July 17 hearing. "It leads to dirtier air, unsafe water, toxic products on our shelves, and chemicals in our homes and environment. And it has driven federal inaction in response to the growing climate crisis."</p><p>Earlier this year, Tonko introduced the <a href="https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/1709/text?q=%7B%22search%22%3A%5B%22scientific+integrity+act%22%5D%7D&r=1&s=1" target="_blank">Scientific Integrity Act</a>, which would guarantee federal scientists the right to share their findings with the public, ensure the accuracy of government science-related communications, and protect scientific research from political interference.</p><p>Federal science has taken an unprecedented beating during the Trump administration and remains a long way from its glory days half a century ago when it landed men on the moon. Tonko recognizes that protecting scientific integrity is a critical first step to rebuilding American scientific enterprise and that it deserves bipartisan support.</p><p>"Scientific integrity is a longstanding concern that transcends any one party or political administration," Tonko <a href="https://eos.org/articles/hearing-garners-bipartisan-support-for-scientific-integrity" target="_blank">said</a>. "The abuses directed by this president and his top officials have brought a new urgency to the issue, but the fact remains whether a Democrat or Republican sits in the [House] speaker's chair or the Oval Office, we need strong scientific integrity policies."</p>
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The Trump administration ratcheted up its open hostility to climate science in a move that may hide essential information from the nation's farmers.
O_Lypa / iStock / Getty Images Plus
U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors documented 60 percent fewer violations at facilities that use animals in 2018 compared to 2017. The drop, reported by the Washington Post this week and also documented by our researchers here at the Humane Society of the United States, is the latest sign that the federal agency is pulling back from its job of enforcing the Animal Welfare Act, which protects animals used by puppy mills, zoos and research labs, among others.
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- animal cruelty ›
More than 150,000 pounds of Boston Market frozen meals were recalled Saturday after customers complained about finding bits of glass and hard plastic in their frozen, not-ready-to-eat boneless pork rib patties, Newsweek reported.
This is a Class 1 recall, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), meaning it "is a health hazard situation where there is a reasonable probability that the use of the product will cause serious, adverse health consequences or death."
This month, two of the nation's largest chicken companies, Tyson and Perdue, have together pulled more than 120,000 pounds of nugget products from shelves and freezers.
By Dena Jones
Undercover investigations at federal poultry slaughter plants over the past decade have documented numerous instances of intentional abuse to animals, including throwing birds against walls, burying live birds in piles of dead birds, breaking birds' legs by violently slamming them into shackles and jabbing birds with metal hooks to remove them from their cages.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on Thursday announced its long-awaited rule on the labeling of foods containing genetically engineered, or GMO, ingredients. Just don't expect the letters GMO to appear on these products.
Under the new "National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard," such items will feature the term "bioengineered" or BE foods.