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Some Bigelow Tea Not 'Natural' Because It Contains Glyphosate, Lawsuit Says

Health + Wellness

The Organic Consumers Association (OCA) has filed a lawsuit against R.C. Bigelow, Inc. alleging that glyphosate—the world's most widely used weedkiller—can be detected in some of the company's popular tea products.

But the consumer interest group is not suing Bigelow due to the presence of the controversial chemical in its tea products (an estimated 0.38 ppm in Bigelow Green Tea, according to the lawsuit). Rather, the complaint alleges that Bigelow deceptively labeled, marketed and sold tea products with the representation of "All Natural" and "Natural," making the products appear environmentally friendly.


The lawsuit was filed Dec. 15 in Superior Court in Washington.

"Like other companies that market their products as 'natural' and 'environmentally friendly,' Bigelow is using these terms to profit from growing consumer demand for healthier, more sustainably produced products, even though the company knows those claims are false," said Ronnie Cummins, international director of the OCA.

While the lab results cited by OCA's lawsuit showed glyphosate levels far lower than the government's threshold of 1 ppm for dried leaves, the group believes there is no safe level of glyphosate exposure for a person.

Glyphosate is the active ingredient in many herbicides, most notably in Monsanto's star product, Roundup. The chemical is applied to more than 150 food and non-food crops and used on lawns, gardens and parks. In fact, researchers from the University of California San Diego School of Medicine found that human exposure to glyphosate has increased approximately 500 percent since 1994, the year Monsanto introduced its genetically modified Roundup Ready crops in the U.S. Today, the chemical can be detected in everyday household foods such as cookies, crackers, ice cream and even our urine.

In March 2015, the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) which labeled glyphosate a "probable carcinogen." The France-based panel's ruling has since sparked debate around the world, prompted hundreds of lawsuits over allegations that glyphosate causes cancer, and resulted in the state of California adding glyphosate to its list of cancer-causing chemicals.

However, other scientific bodies and institutions—including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's draft assessment this week—have contradicted the IARC's classification. Monsanto strongly disagrees with IARC's classification and vehemently defends the safety of its products.

Bigelow is the No. 2 U.S. tea brand by retail value, according to Bloomberg Intelligence. Company execs have dismissed the lawsuit's claims as "frivolous" and "illogical."

While the company's own tests also found glyphosate levels for dried tea, they are "far below" both the federal limit and the OCA's finding, R.C. Bigelow, Inc. CEO Cynthia Bigelow, told Bloomberg.

She said there's a difference between dry tea, which is what the OCA's claim is based on, versus a cup of brewed tea with water.

When the tea is brewed the level is "absolutely zero," Bigelow said.

But Cummins countered that the company "knows that health-conscious consumers will pay a premium for 'all natural' products believing those products are free of pesticides and other contaminants."

"Likewise, Bigelow knows that consumers who care about the environment will pay more for products they believe were produced using methods that don't harm the environment," he continued. "As a consumer education and advocacy group, it's our job to expose these false claims and force corporations to either clean up their products, or clean up their labels and advertising."

OCA is asking for an "injunction to halt Bigelow's false marketing and sale of the products," the lawsuit states.

Cynthia Bigelow told Bloomberg she does not expect the OCA's claims against her company's tea to hold up in court.

But a similar suit against General Mills Nature Valley granola bars survived a motion to dismiss, and is currently progressing through the courts.

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The rallying cry to build it again and to build it better than before is inspiring after a natural disaster, but it may not be the best course of action, according to new research published in the journal Science.

"Faced with global warming, rising sea levels, and the climate-related extremes they intensify, the question is no longer whether some communities will retreat—moving people and assets out of harm's way—but why, where, when, and how they will retreat," the study begins.

The researchers suggest that it is time to rethink retreat, which is often seen as a last resort and a sign of weakness. Instead, it should be seen as the smart option and an opportunity to build new communities.

"We propose a reconceptualization of retreat as a suite of adaptation options that are both strategic and managed," the paper states. "Strategy integrates retreat into long-term development goals and identifies why retreat should occur and, in doing so, influences where and when."

The billions of dollars spent to rebuild the Jersey Shore and to create dunes to protect from future storms after Superstorm Sandy in 2012 may be a waste if sea level rise inundates the entire coastline.

"There's a definite rhetoric of, 'We're going to build it back better. We're going to win. We're going to beat this. Something technological is going to come and it's going to save us,'" said A.R. Siders, an assistant professor with the disaster research center at the University of Delaware and lead author of the paper, to the New York Times. "It's like, let's step back and think for a minute. You're in a fight with the ocean. You're fighting to hold the ocean in place. Maybe that's not the battle we want to pick."

Rethinking retreat could make it a strategic, efficient, and equitable way to adapt to the climate crisis, the study says.

Dr. Siders pointed out that it has happened before. She noted that in the 1970s, the small town of Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin moved itself out of the flood plain after one too many floods. The community found and reoriented the business district to take advantage of highway traffic and powered it entirely with solar energy, as the New York Times reported.

That's an important lesson now that rising sea levels pose a catastrophic risk around the world. Nearly 75 percent of the world's cities are along shorelines. In the U.S. alone coastline communities make up nearly 40 percent of the population— more than 123 million people, which is why Siders and her research team are so forthright about the urgency and the complexities of their findings, according to Harvard Magazine.

Some of those complexities include, coordinating moves across city, state or even international lines; cultural and social considerations like the importance of burial grounds or ancestral lands; reparations for losses or damage to historic practices; long-term social and psychological consequences; financial incentives that often contradict environmental imperatives; and the critical importance of managing retreat in a way that protects vulnerable and poor populations and that doesn't exacerbate past injustices, as Harvard Magazine reported.

If communities could practice strategic retreats, the study says, doing so would not only reduce the need for people to choose among bad options, but also improve their circumstances.

"It's a lot to think about," said Siders to Harvard Magazine. "And there are going to be hard choices. It will hurt—I mean, we have to get from here to some new future state, and that transition is going to be hard.…But the longer we put off making these decisions, the worse it will get, and the harder the decisions will become."

To help the transition, the paper recommends improved access to climate-hazard maps so communities can make informed choices about risk. And, the maps need to be improved and updated regularly, the paper said as the New York Times reported.


"It's not that everywhere should retreat," said Dr. Siders to the New York Times. "It's that retreat should be an option. It should be a real viable option on the table that some places will need to use."

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