Food and Water Watch (FWW) is an environmentalist organizing group involved in campaigns against natural gas development, bottled water, and genetically modified foods, among other things. The organization is best known for its campaigns against shale gas exploration in New York and Colorado, though it also was deeply involved in efforts to mandate labels on genetically modified foods.
FWW tactics emphasize local bans on hydraulic fracturing, a method of gas drilling that has grown in usage in recent years. In campaigning for these prohibitions, FWW and its activists create front organizations to obscure the involvement of national groups (including Food and Water Watch itself)
Food and Water Watch funders include core environmentalist foundations, other major progressive foundations, and donor-advised funds that allow donors to conceal their identities. Community foundations, a form of donor-advised fund, provided over half of FWW’s total revenues in each year from 2011 through 2014. Other FWW funders also include traditional environmentalist funders like the Park Foundation, the Tides Foundation, and the Town Creek Foundation.
Food and Water Watch has been criticized for its selective use of scientific evidence to exaggerate the potential risks of natural gas drilling and the impacts of genetic improvement of food. The group has solicited voter pledges to oppose water fluoridation in Portland, Oregon.
Food and Water Watch is a well-funded environmentalist organization that leads the campaign against natural gas exploration. The group also attacks foreign trade, advocates for government control of water supplies, and protests the use of genetically engineered crops.
Food and Water Watch developed from the Ralph Nader-founded Public Citizen network. Prior to taking over FWW executive director Wenonah Hauter was director of Public Citizen’s energy policy program. The Public Citizen Foundation has contributed funds to Food and Water Watch, transferring $12,593 to Food and Water Watch shortly after the latter’s founding in 2007.
FWW has grown steadily since its founding in 2005. By 2011, FWW reported revenues of over $11 million, up from $3 million in 2006.
Food and Water Watch relies heavily on donor-advised funds for its revenues. Donor-advised funds allow contributors to avoid disclosing their identities, as the funds report grants to other 501(c)(3) groups as contributions from the fund rather than the donor. Food and Water Watch does not readily disclose its donors.
In 2012, Food and Water Watch received $10,121,200 in contributions from donor-advised funds, including the National Philanthropic Trust, the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, and the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation. In total, those three donor-advised foundations provided 84.3 percent of the group’s 2012 revenues.
Similar results hold for 2013. Food and Water Watch received contributions from the Chicago Community Trust, the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation, the Columbus Foundation, the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, and the Fidelity Investments Charitable Gift Fund, all of which operate donor-advised funds. These contributions totaled $9,835,300 or 74.4% of FWW’s revenues.
Community foundations provided a similar chunk of FWW’s 2014 revenue. Contributions from the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation, Columbus Foundation, and Silicon Valley Community Foundation provided $9,016,900 or 61.0% of Food and Water Watch yearly revenue.
In addition to the anonymous or “dark money” contributions from community foundations, FWW receives money from other identifiable organizations. The Park Foundation, a major environmentalist contributor, provided $375,000 of FWW’s 2013 revenue with a further $250,000 provided in 2014.
Anti-Natural Gas Campaigns
Food and Water Watch is probably most notable for its role leading the ground efforts in campaigns to prohibit drilling for natural gas. FWW campaigns for a total prohibition on the highly successful technique known as hydraulic fracturing, which is credited with lowering the consumer price of natural gas substantially and increasing American energy production. When the Environmental Defense Fund received support from the Bloomberg Philanthropies to work on a regulatory approach to govern gas exploration, FWW attacked EDF for “shilling.”
As part of the campaigns, Food and Water Watch manages ostensibly local-led coalitions pushing for bans on gas drilling, often disguised as “local control.” These groups are then funded by or through Food and Water Watch.
New Yorkers Against Fracking, the supposedly local pressure group that led the effort to get Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) administration to prohibit hydraulic fracturing in the state, is a clear example. The Park Foundation, Tides Foundation, and New World Foundation made contributions to Food and Water Watch specifically for the New Yorkers Against Fracking campaign.
Food and Water Watch has also funded campaigns to ban gas exploration in Colorado. After local initiatives to prohibit gas exploration were overturned by the Colorado Supreme Court, activists collected signatures for a measure to reverse the court’s decision. According to Colorado campaign finance records, Food and Water Watch (and its associated 501(c)(4), Food and Water Watch Action Fund) contributed over $115,000 in money and in-kind support to the effort.
Anti-Genetically Modified Food Campaigns
Food and Water Watch is one of the loudest campaigners against foods and crops enhanced with genetic engineering. FWW officers may stand to gain from restrictions on these foods: Executive director Wenonah Hauter co-owns an organic farm. (Organic foods may not use any ingredients produced using genetically engineered crops.)
The group routinely alleges conspiracies by scientific authorities (which have largely endorsed the safety of these foods and crops) to suppress research critical of genetic engineering. Interestingly, Food and Water Watch, like other environmentalist groups that oppose genetically engineered crops, relies on many of the same scientific authorities to justify regulations to cut carbon dioxide emissions.
Food and Water Watch reports substantial expenditure on efforts in the food space. According to FWW’s IRS Forms 990, the organization spent over $4 million per year on food policy efforts in 2013 and 2014 on top of the over $3.5 million spent annually from 2010-2012.
Some of this money makes it into campaigns to mandate labels on genetically engineered foods, a state-level regulation pushed by environmentalists and the organic food and organic products lobbies until federal law overrode them in 2016.
In Oregon, FWW provided at least $89,000 in in-kind and cash support for a 2014 labeling ballot measure
In Colorado, FWW provided $3,309 in support for a 2014 ballot measure that would have mandated labeling
In Washington, FWW contributed $15,000 for a 2013 measure that would have mandated labeling
Wenonah Hauter is the executive director of Food and Water Watch. She is the co-owner of an organic farm and previously worked for Public Citizen, Citizen Action, and the Union of Concerned Scientists. Since taking over FWW, Hauter has written two books on the organization’s issue priorities: Frackopoly, an attack book against the natural gas industry, and Foodopoly, against food producers and conventional farmers. FEC records show that Hauter contributed to the 2016 Presidential campaign of socialist United States Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) and the 2000 Presidential campaign of Public Citizen founder and Green Party candidate Ralph Nader.
The board chair of Food and Water Watch is controversial Canadian water policy and anti-trade activist Maude Barlow. Barlow is a former senior adviser on water issues to the United Nations and serves as president of the Council of Canadians, a Canadian anti-trade Naderite group. Barlow’s principal policy interest appears to be prohibiting any and all private control or ownership of water supplies, which she advocates for through the Blue Planet Project, a project of the Council. (Food and Water Watch shares this position, and has campaigned heavily against bottled water.) Barlow was criticized by the Ambassador of the European Union to Canada for stirring up opposition to trade agreements between Canada and Europe; the Ambassador referred to Barlow and the Council of Canadians as “many people who are anti-U.S., anti-globalization.”
Tony Corbo is the senior lobbyist for Food and Water Watch. He is a former public employee union organizer who previously worked for Public Citizen. In total, 11 lobbyists were listed as registered to represent Food and Water Watch in the first quarter of 2016.