June 16th, 2010 - Barbara Feiner
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have ramped up inspection efforts to ensure fish and seafood from areas near the BP oil spill are safe to eat.
“Closing harvest waters that could be exposed to oil protects the public from potentially contaminated seafood because it keeps the product from entering the food supply,” says NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco, PhD.
Fishery areas were first closed May 2, and closures have been adjusted based on the spill’s trajectory (to include a 5-nautical-mile buffer).
To help prevent tainted seafood from reaching the marketplace, NOAA is collecting, sampling and inspecting commercial and recreational fish and shellfish from areas the spill has yet to reach. Ongoing surveillance will determine whether contamination has occurred and new areas must be closed.
The FDA’s initial targets are oysters, crab and shrimp, which retain contaminants longer than finfish. First in line for inspection are processors who buy seafood directly from harvesters.
“We recognize that the effects of the oil spill continue to grow as oil continues to flow,” Dr. Lubchenco says. “As remediation efforts continue, it may be possible to alleviate some of the economic harm caused by the oil spill by reopening previously closed areas. NOAA will reopen areas only if assured that fish products taken from these areas meet FDA standards for public health.”
“FDA has set up a hotline for reporting seafood safety issues,” adds FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, MD. “We encourage fishermen and consumers to report potential contamination to (888) INFO-FDA.”
Photo courtesy of NOAA
Read More:Federal Agencies Assess Gulf Seafood
June 14th, 2010 - Barbara Feiner
My environmental hero of the week is Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), who actually cares about the ramifications of climate change and the quality of the air we breathe.
Before the June 10 defeat of Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s (R-Alaska) resolution to strip the Environmental Protection Agency of its power to enforce the Clean Air Act, Leahy employed an apt “punt, pass and kick” football analogy to chastise the “drill, baby, drill” crowd.
Murkowski’s resolution, he explained, “would punt away constructive action to begin addressing the many threats that each and every American faces from climate change, and the threats we face every day to our national security. It would pass on the opportunities to foster cleaner air and water for us, and for the generations that will follow us. And it would kick away the progress already negotiated by the Obama administration and key industries, such as our automobile and truck manufacturers, to usher in new products that would pollute less while creating good American jobs—jobs that cannot be sent overseas.
“Many on the other side of the aisle have been adamant in trying to wish these problems away and to forfeit the economic opportunities at our fingertips to lead the world in these new energy technologies,” Leahy added. “Powerful corporate interests are more than glad to contribute to these efforts to stalemate any progress.”
Passage of Murkowski’s resolution would have signaled that we’re “content to keep relying on the outdated, dirty and inefficient energy technologies of the past, and to let every other industrialized nation leap in front of us in developing and selling these new technologies,” Leahy said.
There’s no doubt that greenhouse gases are a “clear and present health and economic threat to the American people,” he added, noting that Murkowski’s resolution would give Congress permission to “undermine America’s ability to clean our air and our waters.”
Leahy wants the EPA to remain focused on protecting the American people, “whether it is arsenic in our drinking water, smog in the air, mercury in the fish we eat or greenhouse gases.”
He’s also calling on Congress to pass meaningful energy and climate legislation.
Read More:Vermont Senator Stands Up to Anti-Environmentalists
June 12th, 2010 - Barbara Feiner
Hmm. Where have I heard this before?
A Republican legislator from Alaska, who happens to be female, wants to restrict the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
The only surprise?
I’m not talking about Sarah Palin, who’s consistently two dogs short of a full sled.
From somewhere within the bowels of Bizarro World, Sen. Lisa Murkowski introduced a resolution Jan. 21 to tie the EPA’s hands.
“The Clean Air Act was written by Congress to regulate criteria pollutants, not greenhouse gases,” she said, apparently splitting hairs over the specific particles in our crappy air.
OK, let’s see if we can connect the dots: Murkowski, ranking Republican member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, received $433,989 from the oil and gas industry between 2002 and 2010, as well as $473,563 from the electricity industry, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Her five top contributors this year included:
- Exxon Mobil (oil company)
- Constellation Energy (natural gas/electricity provider)
- Van Ness Feldman (law firm representing energy/transportation industry)
Do I detect a pattern here?
“You betcha,” as Palin might say.
Now, for the Good News
Murkowski’s resolution was defeated Thursday by a vote of 53–47.
EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson estimated its passage would increase our dependence on oil by 455 million barrels.
But some Republican lawmakers, like Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe, will continue to fight “the Obama EPA’s job-killing, global warming agenda.”
FYI: Over the last 5 years, Inhofe has received $564,700 from the oil and gas industry, as well as $398,390 from electric utilities. His top 20 contributors over the last 5 years include Koch Industries (petroleum refining), Murray Energy, Devon Energy, OGE Energy, Anadarko Petroleum—and the far-from-green list goes on.
Read More:Senate Thwarts Effort to Weaken Clean Air Act
April 18th, 2010 - Barbara Feiner
Thursday is Earth Day!
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued a guidance designed to strengthen requirements for Appalachian mountaintop removal and other surface coal mining projects.
The agency’s stated goal is prevention of significant and irreversible damage to Appalachian watersheds at risk from mining activity.
It’s too little, too late. The practice of mountaintop removal to access eco-filthy coal must be banned altogether.
Waste & Water Quality
Even the EPA admits that a growing body of scientific literature shows significant damage to local streams that are polluted with runoff from mountaintop removal.
As the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) notes:
“Just one mountaintop removal mine can lay bare up to 10 square miles and pour hundreds of millions of tons of waste material into as many as a dozen ‘valley fills’—some of which are 1,000 feet wide and a mile long.”
This waste can significantly compromise water quality, often causing permanent damage to ecosystems and rendering streams unfit for swimming, fishing and drinking. It’s estimated that almost 2,000 miles of Appalachian headwater streams have been buried by mountaintop coal mining.
Salt Levels Kill Fish
A new EPA report establishes a scientific benchmark for unacceptable levels of conductivity (a measure of water pollution from mining practices). The EPA says its new parameters are intended to protect 95% of aquatic life and freshwater streams in central Appalachia.
And the other 5% (assuming the EPA is even close to being right)?
Runoff from dumped mining materials raises salinity level, turning fresh water into salty water. When this happens, living organisms must struggle to survive.
As with any federal guidance, EPA will solicit public comments; however, the guidance will be effective immediately on an interim basis. EPA will decide whether to modify the guidance after consideration of public comments and further technical review.
How You Can Help
Please sign the NRDC’s petition, which asks Congress to pass the Appalachia Restoration Act (S. 696). It would end mountaintop-removal mining and prevent coal companies from dumping waste into streams.
The bill is also supported by the Sierra Club and Earthjustice—and, not surprisingly, opposed by the National Mining Association.
For Your Organic Bookshelf
Big Coal: The Dirty Secret Behind America’s Energy Future
Photo: nrdc_media | Creative Commons
Read More:EPA Guidance on Mining Endangers Environment
April 7th, 2010 - Barbara Feiner
Cars, sport utility vehicles, minivans, pickup trucks used for personal transportation and passenger vehicles emit about 60% of all mobile-source greenhouse gases—the nation’s fastest-growing source of greenhouse gases, according to the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF).
That’s why EDF President Fred Krupp believes the new standards for vehicle emissions and fuel economy offer a “trifecta” of benefits:
- Less dependence on Middle Eastern oil
- Less pollution
- More savings at the gas pump
“Cleaner cars will deliver immediate results as the Senate finishes work on bipartisan climate and energy legislation,” he says.
What the Future Holds
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) expect automobile manufacturers to meet the new standards by more widespread adoption of conventional technologies already in commercial use, such as more efficient engines, transmissions, tires, aerodynamics and materials, as well as improvements in air-conditioning systems.
And while the standards can be met with such technologies, EPA and NHTSA also predict some manufacturers will pursue more advanced fuel-saving technologies, including hybrid vehicles, clean diesel engines, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles and electric vehicles.
“These historic new standards set ambitious, but achievable, fuel economy requirements for the automotive industry that will also encourage new and emerging technologies,” confirms Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood. “We will be helping American motorists save money at the pump, while putting less pollution in the air.”
The Automakers’ Perspective
Even the Association of International Automobile Manufacturers (AIAM) seems to approve.
“We have long supported a single, national program that provides clear guidance for AIAM members to meet these important program goals, and these regulations harmonize the efforts of EPA and the Department of Transportation to do just that,” says Michael J. Stanton, the organization’s president and CEO.
Dave McCurdy, president and CEO of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, agrees.
“America needs a roadmap to reduced dependence on foreign oil and greenhouse gases, and only the federal government can play this role,” he says.
“A year ago, the auto industry faced a regulatory maze resulting from multiple sets of inconsistent fuel economy/greenhouse gas standards,” he adds. “NHTSA was promulgating new fuel economy standards required by Congress under the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, while EPA was preparing greenhouse gas standards under the Clean Air Act.
“Meanwhile, California and 13 other states were planning their own state-specific greenhouse gas standards. When our engineers struggle with changing or conflicting laws, it derails efforts to introduce new technologies with long-term research and development timeframes. The national program announced [Thursday] makes sense for consumers, for government policymakers and for automakers.”
For Your Organic Bookshelf: Two Billion Cars: Driving Toward Sustainability
Read More:Even Automakers Approve of New Standards
March 31st, 2010 - Barbara Feiner
Numerous public health groups are praising the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry for unanimously approving a bipartisan bill that establishes federal nutrition standards for foods sold on school campuses.
“Nearly 24 million Americans have diabetes, and an additional 57 million—or 1 in 5 Americans—have pre-diabetes,” says Christine T. Tobin, RN, MBA, president of health care and education for the American Diabetes Association. “If current trends continue, one in three children will face a future with diabetes. Sensible nutrition policies like this one, which will provide our students with healthy food choices in their schools, will help us reverse these trends. Starting with strong nutrition standards in our nation’s schools will put us on the path to stop diabetes.”
“Obesity, which results from poor diet and physical inactivity, is a significant and growing American problem that begins in childhood,” says Molly Daniels, interim president of the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network.
“American Cancer Society research clearly shows that obesity correlates with and causes cancer,” she adds. “Adoption of national school nutrition standards will be an important tool for obesity prevention for children.”
“Each school day, parents entrust schools to care for their children all across our nation,” says National PTA President Charles J. Saylors. “Ensuring that salty, fatty junk foods and sugary drinks are no longer an option in our schools truly honors that trust and opens students up to healthier options.”
For Your Organic Bookshelf: Lunch Lessons: Changing the Way We Feed Our Children
Read More:Public Health Groups Applaud School Nutrition Guidelines
March 26th, 2010 - Barbara Feiner
The U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry has unanimously approved the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, which reauthorizes the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs, while also establishing federal nutrition standards for foods sold on campuses.
In an attempt to address epidemic levels of childhood obesity, the bill requires the Secretary of Agriculture to designate school standards consistent with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
“As a mother of two boys, it’s important to know that healthy, more nutritious foods will be more widely available throughout school campuses,” said Committee Chair Blanche Lincoln (D-AR).
“When it comes to what our kids eat at school, we need to make the healthy choice the easy choice,” added Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA). “That means ensuring that kids have the ability to choose from foods that meet science-based nutrition standards. This agreement provides a commonsense approach to healthy eating, and it starts in a place where our kids spend the majority of their day: their schools. With childhood obesity and diabetes on the rise, it couldn’t have come at a better time.”
“Current nutrition standards haven’t been updated since my children were in school in the 1970s,” said Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA). “Today, my grandchildren are in school and are faced with the same junk food choices that should have been replaced years ago. It’s long past time to bring these school food standards into the 21st century, and I am pleased that, with this agreement, we are one step closer to passing these changes into law.”
For Your Organic Bookshelf: Free for All: Fixing School Food in America
Read More:School Nutrition Guidelines Pass Senate Committee
February 21st, 2010 - Barbara Feiner
I have relatives in Virginia who have been hoping their roof doesn’t collapse from the extraordinary weight of recent snowfalls.
A short ride away, some Washington politicians, including science-challenged Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC), have been using Snowmageddon to ridicule those who seek action on climate change. DeMint tweeted: “It’s going to keep snowing in DC until Al Gore cries ‘uncle.’”
The brain freeze appears to be contagious. Sen. James Inhofe’s (R-OK) family constructed an igloo near the Capitol, with a sign reading: “Al Gore’s New Home.”
Time magazine’s Bryan Walsh correctly dismissed such juvenile antics, explaining what’s clear to most people: “Weather is what will happen next weekend; climate is what will happen over the next decades and centuries.”
If Al Gore made any mistake, it was one of nomenclature. In a recent interview with MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann, Newsweek Senior Washington Correspondent Howard Fineman said conservative skeptics would have less to mock if the former vice president had used the term “climate change” instead of “global warming.”
“I do think that labels matter,” Fineman said. “And in retrospect, simply focusing on warming was a mistake, just in terms of the politics and the salesmanship of what is undoubtedly a really, really big problem.”
Nonbelievers should heed the interests of their grandchildren and great-grandchildren, who will inherit a sickly Earth. Padding their pockets with hefty contributions from Big Oil is what will happen next weekend. The ability to survive is what will happen over the next decades and centuries.
For Your Organic Bookshelf: The Thirteen American Arguments: Enduring Debates That Define and Inspire Our Country, by Howard Fineman
Read More:Climate Change and the Big Picture
October 21st, 2009 - Laura Klein
There are two sides to every story.
I’d like to call your attention to a hot debate sparked by my blog post Corporate-Backed and Bogus: The Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement. If you haven’t done so, read it now to check out the range of opinions and responses on this important topic.
Charlotte Vallaeys, Farm and Food Policy Analyst at The Cornucopia Institute and her colleagues oppose The Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement as it stands.
Charlotte weighed in on comments from a supporter of The Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement and member of the Western Growers Association, an organization that, according to its website, provides ‘quality services and programs that benefit and enhance the competitiveness of its members in the Arizona and California fresh produce industry.’
Check out the debate for yourself:
Western Growers Association: No one is guaranteeing the safety of anything; however, the program aims t o develop scientifically defensible, regionally-based growing, handling and manufacturing practices – developed by a coalition of stakeholders including government entities, academics and the industry. These practices have NOT been developed. This proposal sets up the infrastructure by which a coalition of stakeholders can come to the table and develop those practices. Indeed, there is currently no way of guaranteeing that fresh leafy greens are 100% safe as scientists do not yet have a clear understanding of food borne pathogens on leafy greens.
Cornucopia: Our main concern is with the “coalition of stakeholders” that would oversee the development and implementation of the rules. Most members on the committee (19 of 23) will be handlers and growers, and 17 of those 19 will likely represent the large-scale, corporate leafy greens industry. The committee members that are not growers or handlers will include a retail industry representative, a food service industry representative, a member of the public and an importer.
There will be a separate committee that will assist the Administrative Committee in developing the rules, which will indeed be required to include academics and government entities, including a National Resource Conservation Service representative and a representative of the Environmental Protection Agency, which is very positive. But ultimately, it is the Administrative Committee that holds the power to make the rules (see section 970.49 of the proposal). Just to reiterate, this Committee will consist of industry representatives with no academics or government representatives.
Western Growers Association: The proposal, as is currently drafted would require that at least two “small” growers participate in the development of these practices.
Cornucopia: This is a token representation of “small” growers who will not have real power. A two-thirds majority will be needed on important votes, and with 23 members, the two “small” representatives will not be able to influence policy or the outcome of a vote.
Western Growers Association: The “seal” is to be used primarily on bills of lading. California and Arizona have had a similar program in place for multiple years now; has anyone seen a USDA-approved “seal” on any of the leafy greens in the market? No. The seal is used on bills of lading so retailers know that the product in question was handled and grown according to the practices outlined in those state’s agreements.
Cornucopia: There is currently nothing in the proposal that would prevent signatories from extending the use of this seal beyond bills of lading and manifests. There is no prohibition against using the seal on packaging visible to the consumer, and it will probably be only a matter of time before the seal is used as a marketing tool. It is, after all, a Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement.
Western Growers Association: Regarding transparency, there was an open comment period on the need for USDA to pursue a marketing agreement about a year ago. There has been a Web site – www.nlgma.com – on-line for about a year calling for stakeholders to provide comments on the proposal. Many of those comments and suggestions have been added to the proposed agreement. Furthermore, the proposed NLGMA has been prominently covered on the USDA AMS site. There was a Webinar where proponents explained the proposal and answered every question offered up by the more than 200 attendees, nationwide (the Webinar along with those questions and answers are available at www.nlgma.com). A large group of regional, state and national proponents have been communicating this process with their respective constituents for more than a year. The proponents called for, and USDA granted, a series of public hearings, across the nation, (which are ongoing) to discuss the merits of the proposal. I am not sure how this process could be more transparent.
Cornucopia: I don’t believe that lack of transparency is a concern listed in the blog post.
Western Growers Association: There are a handful of different “metrics” or standards out there, and many of them are very costly. The entire industry needs to work toward one set of practices, defensible by sound science, which can replace those “super metrics” being handed down by the buying community. The National Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement would afford stakeholders that opportunity.
Cornucopia: The problem is that the proposed Marketing Agreement would put the power to develop the metrics in the hands of 23 people, most of whom will be representatives of large-scale handlers and growers. Food safety is a serious issue, and any government regulation for food safety should be done with the citizens’ safety in mind. Industry representatives will be serving two masters—citizens’ need for safe food, and their industry’s interests. The likelihood that the resulting standards will be self-serving to their industry, disregarding the needs of other stakeholders (such as small growers) are much higher than if government agencies, staffed by public servants, were charged with developing the rules.
Western Growers Association: Lastly, this program is voluntary. If producers do not want to participate, they do not have to.
Cornucopia: It is voluntary for handlers, but not for growers. If most handlers sign up, growers will be left to choose between following the metrics or not being able to sell their crops unless they find a handler who is not a signatory.
What do you think? Let us know and let’s keep the conversation going!
Read More:Safer Foods, Great Debates and The Battle for Pure Leafy Greens
August 10th, 2009 - Laura Klein
On 7/30, the U.S. House of Representatives passed HR 2749, the Food Safety Enhancement Act, by a vote of 283 to 141. Next stop: the Senate.
‘Food Safety Enhancement’…sure sounds promising, doesn’t it?
Sadly, it’s just the opposite. This encouragingly-named, but off-the-mark bill, will adversely impact small farms and food producers. It fails to provide significant reforms for the industrial food system, like the big ‘agribusinesses’ exposed in Food, Inc.
HR 2749 takes a one-size-fits-all approach, making local producers subject to the same regulations as huge, industrial firms.
Cow Poop: Just One Reason Big Agribusiness is a Bummer
There’s so many reasons to be opposed to big, industrialized food manufacturers (and oppose HR 2749, since it indirectly supports them)!
For starters, poop in your meat. Huge agribusinesses allow cattle to eat a poor excuse for a diet in piles of cow manure. This cow poop is often infected with E. coli. Not only do cattle ingest it, but it travels…winds can carry the E. coli to neighboring farms – even organically managed ones. A literal ‘shit storm,’ if you will.
In addition, even though cows are herbivores, big producers feed them grains (which their stomachs are not engineered, biologically, to digest) as well as an unhealthy diet of animal by-products, junk food and who knows what else. It all adds up to a sick cow, that consumers wind up eating.
Eating grass-fed and certified organic meat lowers your risk of ingesting food borne illnesses… and guess who raises this premium quality meat? The same small ranchers and producers at risk from 2749’s alarming provisions.
Take action: oppose HR 2749. And stay tuned…I’ll be following HR 2749 as it heads towards the senate and keep you updated!
Organic Food and Safety
Toxins in Bottled Water
Read More:The Food Safety Enhancement Act: Only the Name Sounds Good