Wendy’s, one of the nation’s top restaurant chains, has confirmed the company does not plan to sell or use the Arctic apple. In the wake of widespread criticism of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) recent approval of the first genetically engineered apple, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently deemed the Arctic apple, owned by synthetic biology company Intrexon, safe for consumption, relying only on company data through a voluntary safety consultation. Like other genetically modified organisms (GMOs), the Arctic apple will not be required to be labeled as genetically engineered.
Wendy’s, which sells apple slices in its kids’ meals, confirmed in April via email to Friends of the Earth that it has no plans to sell Arctic apples. McDonald’s and Gerber have also stated that they have no plans to source or sell this genetically engineered apple.
“Wendy’s is wisely listening to its customers by joining other major food companies and apple growers in rejecting this unnecessary and risky genetically engineered apple,” said Lisa Archer, food and technology program director at Friends of the Earth. “It’s becoming increasingly clear that there is no demand for this new GMO.”
Despite growing public demands for transparency and GMO labeling, large chemical and food companies continue to push for a Senate bill that correlates to to HR 1599, dubbed the Deny Americans the Right to Know (DARK) Act. This bill, recently approved in the House of Representatives, would preempt state and local authority to label and regulate genetically engineered food, allow food companies to make false "natural" claims about foods containing GMOs and codify the failed system of voluntary labeling of GMOs. A Senate Agriculture Committee hearing on GMO regulation has been scheduled for Oct. 21.
Consumer outcry over the USDA and FDA’s approval led 10 environmental and consumer organizations to ask Burger King, Wendy’s Company, Subway and Dunkin’ Brands to refrain from selling the Arctic apple, which may pose numerous environmental, health and economic risks. Friends of the Earth, CREDO, Center for Food Safety, Food & Water Watch, Green America and Organic Consumers Association have gathered more than 266,000 petition signatures urging major fast food restaurants and food companies to not source GMO apples.
Major apple growing associations, including USApple and the Northwest Horticultural Council (representing Washington apple growers, who grow more than 60 percent of U.S. apples), have also opposed the GMO apple, some voicing concerns that potential cross-contamination may cause important export markets such as Europe and China to reject U.S. grown apples or require costly testing and certifications from farmers and exporter companies.
The GMO Arctic apple is genetically engineered via a new, virtually untested experimental technique called RNA interference—or RNAi—that many scientists are concerned may have negative, unintended impacts on human health and the environment. This technique was used to silence genes related to the production of enzymes that cause apples to brown when cut, a natural indicator of freshness. However, browning in apples can be prevented using lemon juice or other natural sources of vitamin C, making the genetically engineered apple unnecessary. In addition, a new certified organic, non-GMO, non-browning apple, the Opal apple, developed using traditional cross-breeding, is currently available at leading grocery retailers.
Scientists believe that the natural browning enzyme in apples may help to fight diseases and pests, meaning that farmers may have to increase their pesticide use on these new GMO apples. Conventional, non-GMO apples already carry some of the highest levels of toxic pesticide residues, many of them linked to hormone disruption, reproductive harm and ADHD. Scientists also worry that while Okanagan's RNAi process aims to silence four of the apple’s genes, the process may be dangerously imprecise: targeted gene sequences are similar to other closely related genes, so the silencing process could unintentionally impact genes that affect other functions in the plant.
Okanagan Specialty Fruits, has also announced plans to introduce genetically engineered peaches, cherries and pears in the near future.
Another new GMO is also facing increasing market rejection. Due to a campaign by Friends of the Earth and allies, more than 60 retailers, including Target, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Safeway and Kroger, representing more than 9,000 grocery stores across the country, have made commitments to not sell AquaBounty’s AquAdvantage GMO salmon, currently pending approval by the FDA.
“Wendy’s commitment further demonstrates the growing market rejection of new GMOs in the pipeline for approval, such as GMO salmon,” said Patty Lovera, associate director of Food & Water Watch.
"Consumers have spoken and Wendy's has listened," said Katherine Paul, associate director of the Organic Consumers Association. "What health-conscious consumers want are wholesome, pesticide-free, nutrient-dense apples--not cosmetically appealing apples created using a risky and untested technology and unleashed into the market without a label."
“Wendy’s has done the right thing by committing to not sell genetically engineered apples. It is risky to allow these products to enter the food supply when impacts of the basic technology are so poorly understood,” said Rebecca Spector, west coast director at Center for Food Safety. “But this one step isn’t enough. All American consumers have the right to know how their food is produced and to ensure that right, we need proper labeling on all GE products.”
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By Eric Tate and Christopher Emrich
Disasters stemming from hazards like floods, wildfires, and disease often garner attention because of their extreme conditions and heavy societal impacts. Although the nature of the damage may vary, major disasters are alike in that socially vulnerable populations often experience the worst repercussions. For example, we saw this following Hurricanes Katrina and Harvey, each of which generated widespread physical damage and outsized impacts to low-income and minority survivors.
Mapping Social Vulnerability<p>Figure 1a is a typical map of social vulnerability across the United States at the census tract level based on the Social Vulnerability Index (SoVI) algorithm of <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/1540-6237.8402002" target="_blank"><em>Cutter et al.</em></a> . Spatial representation of the index depicts high social vulnerability regionally in the Southwest, upper Great Plains, eastern Oklahoma, southern Texas, and southern Appalachia, among other places. With such a map, users can focus attention on select places and identify population characteristics associated with elevated vulnerabilities.</p>
Fig. 1. (a) Social vulnerability across the United States at the census tract scale is mapped here following the Social Vulnerability Index (SoVI). Red and pink hues indicate high social vulnerability. (b) This bivariate map depicts social vulnerability (blue hues) and annualized per capita hazard losses (pink hues) for U.S. counties from 2010 to 2019.<p>Many current indexes in the United States and abroad are direct or conceptual offshoots of SoVI, which has been widely replicated [e.g., <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s13753-016-0090-9" target="_blank"><em>de Loyola Hummell et al.</em></a>, 2016]. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) <a href="https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/placeandhealth/svi/index.html" target="_blank">has also developed</a> a commonly used social vulnerability index intended to help local officials identify communities that may need support before, during, and after disasters.</p><p>The first modeling and mapping efforts, starting around the mid-2000s, largely focused on describing spatial distributions of social vulnerability at varying geographic scales. Over time, research in this area came to emphasize spatial comparisons between social vulnerability and physical hazards [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s11069-009-9376-1" target="_blank"><em>Wood et al.</em></a>, 2010], modeling population dynamics following disasters [<a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11111-008-0072-y" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Myers et al.</em></a>, 2008], and quantifying the robustness of social vulnerability measures [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s11069-012-0152-2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Tate</em></a>, 2012].</p><p>More recent work is beginning to dissolve barriers between social vulnerability and environmental justice scholarship [<a href="https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2018.304846" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Chakraborty et al.</em></a>, 2019], which has traditionally focused on root causes of exposure to pollution hazards. Another prominent new research direction involves deeper interrogation of social vulnerability drivers in specific hazard contexts and disaster phases (e.g., before, during, after). Such work has revealed that interactions among drivers are important, but existing case studies are ill suited to guiding development of new indicators [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijdrr.2015.09.013" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Rufat et al.</em></a>, 2015].</p><p>Advances in geostatistical analyses have enabled researchers to characterize interactions more accurately among social vulnerability and hazard outcomes. Figure 1b depicts social vulnerability and annualized per capita hazard losses for U.S. counties from 2010 to 2019, facilitating visualization of the spatial coincidence of pre‑event susceptibilities and hazard impacts. Places ranked high in both dimensions may be priority locations for management interventions. Further, such analysis provides invaluable comparisons between places as well as information summarizing state and regional conditions.</p><p>In Figure 2, we take the analysis of interactions a step further, dividing counties into two categories: those experiencing annual per capita losses above or below the national average from 2010 to 2019. The differences among individual race, ethnicity, and poverty variables between the two county groups are small. But expressing race together with poverty (poverty attenuated by race) produces quite different results: Counties with high hazard losses have higher percentages of both impoverished Black populations and impoverished white populations than counties with low hazard losses. These county differences are most pronounced for impoverished Black populations.</p>
Fig. 2. Differences in population percentages between counties experiencing annual per capita losses above or below the national average from 2010 to 2019 for individual and compound social vulnerability indicators (race and poverty).<p>Our current work focuses on social vulnerability to floods using geostatistical modeling and mapping. The research directions are twofold. The first is to develop hazard-specific indicators of social vulnerability to aid in mitigation planning [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s11069-020-04470-2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Tate et al.</em></a>, 2021]. Because natural hazards differ in their innate characteristics (e.g., rate of onset, spatial extent), causal processes (e.g., urbanization, meteorology), and programmatic responses by government, manifestations of social vulnerability vary across hazards.</p><p>The second is to assess the degree to which socially vulnerable populations benefit from the leading disaster recovery programs [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1080/17477891.2019.1675578" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Emrich et al.</em></a>, 2020], such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) <a href="https://www.fema.gov/individual-disaster-assistance" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Individual Assistance</a> program and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) <a href="https://www.hudexchange.info/programs/cdbg-dr/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Disaster Recovery</a> program. Both research directions posit social vulnerability indicators as potential measures of social equity.</p>
Social Vulnerability as a Measure of Equity<p>Given their focus on social marginalization and economic barriers, social vulnerability indicators are attracting growing scientific interest as measures of inequity resulting from disasters. Indeed, social vulnerability and inequity are related concepts. Social vulnerability research explores the differential susceptibilities and capacities of disaster-affected populations, whereas social equity analyses tend to focus on population disparities in the allocation of resources for hazard mitigation and disaster recovery. Interventions with an equity focus emphasize full and equal resource access for all people with unmet disaster needs.</p><p>Yet newer studies of inequity in disaster programs have documented troubling disparities in income, race, and home ownership among those who <a href="https://eos.org/articles/equity-concerns-raised-in-federal-flood-property-buyouts" target="_blank">participate in flood buyout programs</a>, are <a href="https://www.eenews.net/stories/1063477407" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">eligible for postdisaster loans</a>, receive short-term recovery assistance [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijdrr.2020.102010" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Drakes et al.</em></a>, 2021], and have <a href="https://www.texastribune.org/2020/08/25/texas-natural-disasters--mental-health/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">access to mental health services</a>. For example, a recent analysis of federal flood buyouts found racial privilege to be infused at multiple program stages and geographic scales, resulting in resources that disproportionately benefit whiter and more urban counties and neighborhoods [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1177/2378023120905439" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Elliott et al.</em></a>, 2020].</p><p>Investments in disaster risk reduction are largely prioritized on the basis of hazard modeling, historical impacts, and economic risk. Social equity, meanwhile, has been far less integrated into the considerations of public agencies for hazard and disaster management. But this situation may be beginning to shift. Following the adage of "what gets measured gets managed," social equity metrics are increasingly being inserted into disaster management.</p><p>At the national level, FEMA has <a href="https://www.fema.gov/news-release/20200220/fema-releases-affordability-framework-national-flood-insurance-program" target="_blank">developed options</a> to increase the affordability of flood insurance [Federal Emergency Management Agency, 2018]. At the subnational scale, Puerto Rico has integrated social vulnerability into its CDBG Mitigation Action Plan, expanding its considerations of risk beyond only economic factors. At the local level, Harris County, Texas, has begun using social vulnerability indicators alongside traditional measures of flood risk to introduce equity into the prioritization of flood mitigation projects [<a href="https://www.hcfcd.org/Portals/62/Resilience/Bond-Program/Prioritization-Framework/final_prioritization-framework-report_20190827.pdf?ver=2019-09-19-092535-743" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Harris County Flood Control District</em></a>, 2019].</p><p>Unfortunately, many existing measures of disaster equity fall short. They may be unidimensional, using single indicators such as income in places where underlying vulnerability processes suggest that a multidimensional measure like racialized poverty (Figure 2) would be more valid. And criteria presumed to be objective and neutral for determining resource allocation, such as economic loss and cost-benefit ratios, prioritize asset value over social equity. For example, following the <a href="http://www.cedar-rapids.org/discover_cedar_rapids/flood_of_2008/2008_flood_facts.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2008 flooding</a> in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, cost-benefit criteria supported new flood protections for the city's central business district on the east side of the Cedar River but not for vulnerable populations and workforce housing on the west side.</p><p>Furthermore, many equity measures are aspatial or ahistorical, even though the roots of marginalization may lie in systemic and spatially explicit processes that originated long ago like redlining and urban renewal. More research is thus needed to understand which measures are most suitable for which social equity analyses.</p>
Challenges for Disaster Equity Analysis<p>Across studies that quantify, map, and analyze social vulnerability to natural hazards, modelers have faced recurrent measurement challenges, many of which also apply in measuring disaster equity (Table 1). The first is clearly establishing the purpose of an equity analysis by defining characteristics such as the end user and intended use, the type of hazard, and the disaster stage (i.e., mitigation, response, or recovery). Analyses using generalized indicators like the CDC Social Vulnerability Index may be appropriate for identifying broad areas of concern, whereas more detailed analyses are ideal for high-stakes decisions about budget allocations and project prioritization.</p>
By Jessica Corbett
Sen. Bernie Sanders on Tuesday was the lone progressive to vote against Tom Vilsack reprising his role as secretary of agriculture, citing concerns that progressive advocacy groups have been raising since even before President Joe Biden officially nominated the former Obama administration appointee.