October 2, 2014

Fracking vs Food: NY’s Choice

Drilling deep underground for natural gas will threaten the state’s agriculture, say two celebrity chefs
By Mario Batali and Bill Telepan, New York Daily News, May 30, 2013

As chefs and proprietors of New York City restaurants, we care a great deal about the ingredients going into the dishes we serve to our customers: where they come from, how they’re produced and any health or safety risks they might carry.

At the same time, we are committed to providing sustainable and ecologically friendly dining, which means buying seasonal ingredients, often from upstate New York. Whether it is fresh fruits and vegetables, grass-fed animals or dairy products, we love what this state has to offer.

For these reasons and many others, we are deeply concerned about the prospect of hydrofracking in New York. Fracking — a controversial method of extracting natural gas from deep underground — could do serious damage to our state’s agricultural industry and hurt businesses, like ours, that rely on safe, healthy, locally sourced foods.

New York’s agricultural economy is strong and vast, and is an important economic driver for our state. We have the second-largest number of farmers’ markets in the country and the fourth-highest number of organic farms — and are the third-largest dairy-producing state. New York is second only to California in its wine production.

As more states pump natural gas from beneath the earth, the negative effects fracking poses to agriculture are more clearly emerging — and we believe they would be devastating for New York.

Across the country, water contamination from toxic fracking chemicals has sickened and killed livestock. Accidents have ruined cropland. Gas companies are not required to disclose the chemicals used in fracking. And there are no conventional procedures for isolating livestock exposed to chemicals from the food chain.

In one case in Louisiana in 2009, 16 cows died after apparently drinking water that was contaminated with fracking chemicals. The gas company involved refused to disclose further information about the chemicals, stating the information was “proprietary.”

In another example, in Pennsylvania in 2010, 28 beef cattle were quarantined after stumbling upon fracking fluid leaking from a wastewater holding pond. Only three of the 11 calves born from those cows survived.

A Penn State Extension study found that in Pennsylvania counties with at least 10,000 dairy cows, those that had at least 150 Marcellus Shale wells experienced a 16% average decline in the number of dairy cows between 2007 and 2010, compared with a 3% increase experienced in counties without shale gas wells. The counties with the wells saw an 18.5% decrease in milk production; counties without wells experienced an increase in milk production.

Such destructive forces could not only harm our state’s agricultural businesses and tourism, but would also affect consumer confidence in our local food sources, truly creating a negative impact across the state — from upstate farms to the restaurants across the state that serve their food.

All these reasons, together with many other negative climate, environmental and health impacts associated with fracking, led more than 150 prominent New York chefs to recently send a letter to Gov. Cuomo urging him to ban the process.

The governor has delayed approval for more than two years, citing a host of concerns. Drilling interests are pressuring him to give the official okay, touting drilling-related jobs they say would be created.

Those of us who believe that the risks are not worth the much-hyped economic benefits must speak loudly, because we’ll never get back what we lose.

And this isn’t just about jobs on the one hand versus the environment on the other. There are real economic risks to fracking — because local agriculture, food and beverage production, not to mention restaurants and tourism, are vital, interdependent economic engines that rely on our state’s famously pristine water and farmland.

Throughout the state, chefs, farmers, brewers and bakers have joined all those who care about local food and water at rallies, potluck dinners, wine tastings and farmers’ markets to educate and enlighten their neighbors about the dangers fracking poses to our state’s thriving food and beverage industries, and to all of us who enjoy their fruits.

Whether we are cooking at home for our families or dining at restaurants, we all have a deep interest in the quality of what is on the table and in the health of the people producing and enjoying it.

We must protect the food sources within our state, and thus protect our own health. We need help in telling Cuomo that New York needs to serve food, not fracking.