May. 06, 2017 12:33PM EST
In a historic verdict in defense of forests and human rights, a court in Central Kalimantan has ordered the government of the Indonesian province to review the permits of palm oil companies associated with massive forest and peat land fires in 2015.
By Kari Hamerschlag and Christopher D. Cook
What do meat-centric, cheesy-rich school lunches and climate change have in common? Both pose risks for our kids' health and our planet's future. In short, too much meat and dairy in our diets contributes to both chronic health problems and climate change.
Research shows that we cannot avoid the worst impacts of climate change unless we dramatically scale back our consumption of animal foods. That's because producing meat and cheese generates large amounts of greenhouse gas emissions and guzzles huge amounts of water.
What if we could improve our kids' school lunches and reduce our impact on the climate at the same time?
One of California's largest school districts is doing just that, showing how we can reduce our impact on climate change and save money by serving less—and better—meat and dairy products. By trimming back the meat and cheese in kids' lunches and serving more plant-based nutritious meals, the Oakland Unified School District significantly reduced its carbon and water footprint, according to a new study by Friends of the Earth.
Over the past two years, Oakland's K-12 school food service cut their meals' carbon footprint by 14 percent and reduced its water use by 6 percent. Meanwhile, the district saved $42,000 by cutting costs per meal by one percent, enabling it to purchase better quality and more sustainable meat from organic, grass-fed retired dairy cows.
Consider one popular lunch food: a beef hot dog. Friends of the Earth's analysis found that one hot dog generates seven times the carbon footprint of a tofu-veggie rice stir-fry and more than three times that of a veggie bean tostada.
If every California K-12 school food service matched Oakland's carbon footprint reductions, they would reduce their footprint by 80 million kg of CO2 emissions—equivalent to Californians driving almost 200 million fewer miles per year.
We know kids can be picky eaters. So it's even more impressive that Oakland's effort actually increased student satisfaction with local, regional, fresh and tasty meals. Equally important, these plant-based meals met or exceeded the U.S. Department of Agriculture meal pattern requirements.
With such remarkable progress from just one school district over two years, imagine if all food-serving outlets served more plant-based foods and more sustainable, less resource-intensive animal foods. This would greatly benefit our climate future, help everyone eat healthier and reduce the risk of costly, diet related diseases associated with meat-centric diets. Currently, Americans eat 50 percent more meat than is recommended by U.S. Dietary Guidelines, while only 20 percent of us get the suggested amounts of fruits and vegetables.
Friends of the Earth
Fortunately, Oakland isn't alone. Across California and the nation, hundreds of school districts have adopted Meatless Mondays, generating important climate and water benefits by reducing demand for resource-intensive meat products.
Beyond schools, food service institutions in hospitals, prisons and elsewhere are saving money and improving health with plant-focused menus. A pilot program in four hospitals in the San Francisco Bay Area (Health Care Without Harm's Balanced Menus: Less Meat Better Meat) saved the equivalent of $400,000 a year during its trial period. The Maricopa County Jail saved an estimated $817,000 in one year by switching from meat to plant-based foods.
Despite the growing trend towards serving more plant-based meals, the strategy of shifting institutional food purchasing to aid climate mitigation has rarely been tapped or quantified. We hope this report inspires more public institutions to track their animal foods purchases and serve less and better meat and more plant-based foods as a cost-effective way to achieve environmental and public health goals. We also hope policymakers will begin to consider meat reduction as a key climate mitigation strategy.
The vital role of meat reduction in mitigating climate change is well-documented in numerous peer-reviewed articles and two recent studies by the World Resources Institute and Chatham House. A 2014 climate mitigation report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that "the potential to reduce GHG emissions through reduction in consumption of meat ... (is) substantially higher than that of (any other agricultural) technical mitigation measures." The 2015 Dietary Guidelines Scientific Report reiterated the environmental benefits of less meat consumption.
According to a 2016 Menus of Change report from the Culinary Institute and Harvard's School of Public Health, a diet emphasizing plant foods "is the single most important contribution the foodservice industry can make toward environmental sustainability."
Reducing demand for resource-intensive animal foods is a relatively simple, cost neutral or even cost-saving strategy. Because animal foods production is a major part of greenhouse gas emissions, other climate mitigation measures will ultimately be ineffective if we don't dramatically reduce meat and dairy consumption. That's because the increased emissions from rising meat consumption trends would quickly wipe out the climate benefits from other mitigation strategies.
Yet another added benefit from Oakland Unified School District's approach: trimming demand for grain-fed animal products and promoting more sustainable pasture-raised meat from dairy cows also helps build healthier soils to sequester carbon, another key ingredient in fighting climate change.
At a time when people are hungry for positive solutions, the Oakland school lunch story provides an inspiring model for a growing movement across California and the nation. The evidence shows we can improve our kids' health, save money and help the environment, all while increasing student satisfaction and meeting federal school meal requirements. This is a rare triple win that all parents can embrace.
Kari Hamerschlag is deputy director for food and technology at Friends of the Earth and Christopher D. Cook is the author of Diet for a Dead Planet: Big Business and the Coming Food Crisis.
More than 100 food and agriculture organizations, representing more than 10 million people across the food system, sent a letter to Capitol Hill Monday urging senators to oppose the confirmation of fast food CEO Andrew Puzder as secretary of labor.
This clarion call from the nation's farmers, food-system workers and public health advocates, led by Corporate Accountability International, Food Chain Workers Alliance, Friends of the Earth and Real Food Media, comes on the heels of growing opposition and controversy surrounding Donald Trump's pick to head the Department of Labor.
A recent Capital & Main investigation found that under Puzder's watch as CEO, CKE Restaurants faced more federal employment discrimination lawsuits than any other major fast food chain. The corporation violated workers' rights, including wage theft and failed to provide employees with overtime pay.
"Andrew Puzder is dangerous for working families and bad for our food system," said Jose Oliva, co-director of Food Chain Workers Alliance. "The country needs a labor secretary who will protect working families, not corporate interests. Puzder's track record as CEO of CKE Restaurants proves that he should be kept as far away from Washington as possible."
The letter calls the nomination of Andrew Puzder a betrayal of the president's promise to "improve the lives of working people" and urges senators to reject Puzder's nomination. It expresses grave concern with the conflicts of interest between Puzder's tenure at CKE Restaurants and the responsibilities of a labor secretary, including the fact that:
"Putting an outspoken critic of worker protections and a living wage in charge of the Department of Labor is straight out of an Orwellian nightmare," said Kari Hamerschlag, deputy director of food and technology at Friends of the Earth. "The Senate must reject the nomination of Puzder if it cares at all about the basic rights of working people."
Since Puzder's nomination, advocacy groups have documented numerous workers' rights violations under the watch of the former fast food CEO. For instance, research released by the Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) United reveals a long history of labor violations at CKE Restaurants during Puzder's tenure. Surveys from hundreds of CKE employees reveal that women working at CKE reported more than 1.5 times the rate of sexual harassment as reported for the industry overall.
"The choice of Andrew Puzder for secretary of labor is a dangerous one for this country's working families," said Sriram Madhusoodanan, Value Meal campaign director at Corporate Accountability International. "If President Trump truly wants to 'drain the swamp', why is he nominating people like Puzder, who have played an outsized role creating the swamp in the first place?"
In January, Carl's Jr. and Hardee's workers joined the Fight for $15 in opposing Puzder's nomination, taking part in actions in more than two dozen cities. Widespread opposition and questions surrounding Puzder's company's labor practices have prompted Congress to postpone the nomination hearing until February.
"Across the country, millions of people are demanding real change when it comes to our food system and the people who work in it," said Anna Lappé, founder of Real Food Media. "Our Department of Labor must reflect those people—not corporate bottom lines. It is unacceptable to nominate someone who has such a callous attitude to the struggles of working families to head the labor department."
The organizations signed onto the letter represent a broad cross-section of the food and labor movement, uniting groups like the Union of Concerned Scientists, Earthjustice, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and the Workers' Center of Central New York, among many others. The unprecedented nature of this coalition underscores the unique threat Puzder faces to people advocating for environmental protection, workers' rights and healthy food.
Puzder's senate confirmation hearing begins Feb. 7, 2017.
Vidar Helgesen, the Norwegian minister for climate and environment, announced Tuesday that the government denied permission to shoot the four wolf packs in the areas of Letjenna, Osdalen, Kynna and Slettås. The government concluded that there is no legal basis for the hunt, neither in the national nature protection laws nor in the Bern Convention, acknowledging the appeal from Friends of the Earth Norway to stop the hunt.
"This is a very important victory for the most endangered mammal in the Norwegian fauna," Silje Ask Lundberg, the leader of Friends of the Earth Norway, said.
"This is the Christmas gift of the year to those who care for nature and endangered wildlife. Big thanks to minister Helgesen who stopped the mass slaughter of Norwegian wolves. We are very happy that the government follows the nature legislation, even when the predator boards don't," Ask Lundberg said.
Three of the four wolf packs live in Norway's designated wolf area and none of them pose any threat to grazing livestock. Even so, the regional predator management authorities decided earlier this fall to allow hunting of the wolves. Now, the killing is off. According to current legislation, the cull of protected predators can only take place on the grounds of preventing loss to farmers, and only after all other measures have been tried.
"The decision is hugely important, as it states that wolves who don't catch domesticated animals cannot be hunted down freely. This shows that the predator management authorities' efforts to shoot as many wolves as possible is inconsistent with current law. They have not responded according to the law," Ask Lundberg said.
The predator management authorities' decision to cull the four wolf packs, as well as 15 wolves outside the wolf area, has been met with strong reactions, inside and outside Norway. More than 70,000 people has signed a petition against the cull. Almost 7,000 Norwegian and a large amount of international activists have contacted minister Helgesen via Friends of the Earth Norway's website.
"We want to thank everyone who has helped us to save the wolf families. Together, we put the pressure on the government that made this possible. This is the people's victory for wolf in the Norwegian nature," Ask Lundberg said.
In the midst of three pending mega-mergers between agrichemical corporations, Donald Trump's recent pick of Dow Chemical CEO Andrew Liveris to head the American Manufacturing Council signals yet more serious potential conflicts of interest in top government posts that could damage American farmers, the health of the public and the environment. The council serves as a liaison between the U.S. manufacturing industry and the federal government.
Tuesday, shareholders of agrichemical giant Monsanto approved a proposed takeover of the company by Bayer. Meanwhile, Liveris' company, Dow Chemical, is in the midst of negotiating a merger with DuPont.
"Andrew Liveris should be disqualified for the position due to his likely conflicts of interests. Serving as head of the American Manufacturing Council could allow Liveris to use a government post to benefit Dow Chemical and to line his own pockets," said Friends of the Earth Food Futures campaigner Tiffany Finck-Haynes.
The final decision on the mergers will fall to the Department of Justice, where Trump named Jeff Sessions as potential Attorney General. Sessions, who has received campaign contributions from Monsanto and Bayer, will head the agency investigating the economic impact and antitrust implications of the proposed mergers.
"Donald Trump's picks demonstrates that he is willing to allow corporate interests to control the food that's grown in our country and determine what's on our plates," said Finck-Haynes. "Despite his promise to 'drain the swamp,' his actions prove he is more concerned with advancing corporate interests than protecting the American people, workers and farmers."
The top six agrichemical and seed companies are currently negotiating mergers, which could result in just three powerful multinational corporations controlling this industry. If Monsanto and Bayer, Dow and DuPont and Syngenta and ChemChina form their proposed partnerships, they will control nearly 70 percent of the world's pesticide market, 80 percent of the U.S. corn-seed market and more than 61 percent of commercial seed sales.
The day before Trump's announcement, DuPont's Chief Executive Ed Breen, said a Trump administration won't impact the proposed Dow-DuPont merger. Edward Liveris and Breen, chief executive officers of Dow and DuPont, are expected to earn $80 million from the merger. Meanwhile, Dow already plans to eliminate 2,500 jobs and 8 percent of its Michigan workforce due to its takeover of the smaller company Dow Corning and DuPont is implementing a cost-cutting plan by planning to cut1,700 workers in Delaware, in preparation for the merger.
"Trump's appointment signals that he will rubber stamp these mega-mergers, limiting farming and food options and increasing prices for farmers and consumers," said Finck-Haynes. "The mergers would also further tilt the balance of power away from independent science and the health and safety of the American people towards the influence of chemical corporations."
Of the top food retailers, 17 received an "F" for failing to have a publicly available policy to reduce or eliminate pesticide use to protect pollinators. Only Aldi, Costco and Whole Foods received passing grades in this category.
Four of the top food retailers—Albertsons, Costco, Target and Whole Foods—have adopted a publicly available company commitment to increase offerings of certified organic food or to disclose data on the current percentage of organic offerings or organic sales.Friends of the Earth
"U.S. food retailers must take responsibility for how the products they sell are contributing to the bee crisis," said Tiffany Finck-Haynes, food futures campaigner with Friends of the Earth. "The majority of the food sold at top U.S. food retailers is produced with pollinator-toxic pesticides. We urge all major retailers to work with their suppliers to eliminate pollinator-toxic pesticides and to expand domestic organic offerings that protect pollinators, people and the planet."
Today's report, Swarming the Aisles: Rating Top Retailers on Bee-Friendly and Organic Food, comes amid mounting consumer pressure on food retailers to adopt more environmentally-friendly sourcing policies.
A coalition led by Friends of the Earth and more than 50 farmer, beekeeper, farmworker, environmental and public interest organizations sent a letter urging the food retailers to eliminate pollinator-toxic pesticides and increase the U.S. Department of Agriculture certified organic food and beverages to 15 percent of overall offerings by 2025, prioritizing domestic, regional and local producers. This effort follows a campaign by Friends of the Earth and allies that convinced more than 65 garden retailers, including Lowe's and Home Depot, to commit to eliminate bee-toxic neonicotinoid pesticides.
Bees and other pollinators are essential for one in three bites of food we eat and without them grocery stores would run short of strawberries, almonds, apples, broccoli and more. A growing body of science points to the world's most widely-used insecticides, neonicotinoids, as a leading factor in pollinator declines and glyphosate, the most widely-used herbicide worldwide, as a key culprit in monarch butterfly declines.
New data from a YouGov Poll released today by Friends of the Earth and SumOfUs found that 80 percent of Americans believe it is important to eliminate neonicotinoids from agriculture. Among Americans who grocery shop for their household, 65 percent would be more likely to shop at a grocery store that has formally committed to eliminating neonicotinoids. The poll also revealed that 59 percent of American grocery shoppers believe it is important for grocery stores to sell organic food and 43 percent would be more likely to shop at a grocery store that sells more organic food than their current grocery store. The full poll results are available on request.
"Over 750,000 SumOfUs members have spoken out advocating that U.S. Hardware stores take action to protect our pollinators. And after years of pressure, Home Depot and Lowe's have finally enacted more bee-friendly policies," said Angus Wong, lead campaign strategist at SumOfUs, a consumer watchdog with ten million members. "And the findings of this poll show that a vast majority of consumers want to eliminate neonicotinoids from their grocery stores too. This is why food retailers must commit policies that protect our bees immediately."
The report found that while consumer demand for organic and pesticide-free food continues to show double-digit growth, only four of the top food retailers—Albertsons, Costco, Target and Whole Foods—have adopted a publicly available company commitment to increase offerings of certified organic food or to disclose data on the current percentage of organic offerings or organic sales. In addition to these retailers, Aldi, Food Lion, part of the Delhaize Group and Kroger disclosed data on the current percentage of organic offerings or organic sales. None of the retailers have made a publicly available commitment to source organic from American farmers.
"To protect pollinators, we must eliminate pollinator-toxic pesticides from our farming systems and expand pollinator-friendly organic agriculture," said Dr. Kendra Klein, staff scientist at Friends of the Earth. "Organic farms support 50 percent more pollinator species than conventional farms. This is a huge opportunity for American farmers. Less than one percent of total U.S. farmland is in organic production—farmers need the support of food retailers to help them transition dramatically more acreage to organic."
Sixteen of the top 20 food retailers were predominately unresponsive to Friends of the Earth's requests for information via surveys, calls and letters. Primary sources of information for this scorecard include publicly available information, including company websites, company annual reports, U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filings, corporate social responsibility and sustainability reports, press coverage and industry analyses.
In conjunction with the Save the Sundarbans protest today at the UN's headquarters in New York City, we're revealing in this EcoWatch exclusive that Friends of the Earth U.S. obtained documents that suggest the U.S. Export-Import Bank, Ex-Im Bank, which is supported by taxpayer dollars, is considering financing the Orion-Khulna coal plant near the Sundarbans in Bangladesh.
Mangroves in the Sundarbans in Bangladesh.Mohammad Rakibul Hasan
The struggle for climate justice in Bangladesh, however, did win an important battle in July. Responding to public pressure from advocacy groups, Ex-Im Bank is no longer considering financing for a coal plant proposed to be built outside Bangladesh's capital city of Dhaka, one of the largest cities in the world. This coal plant, known as the Orion-Dhaka project, would burn coal just a few miles outside Dhaka, poisoning the air and water of 17 million people. While it remains unclear if the Orion-Dhaka project will move forward without U.S. financing, Ex-Im Bank's withdrawal represents an important victory for protecting people and the climate.
Battle Won, But Fight Continues
While activists celebrate this decision, our celebration is short-lived. We have reason to believe that Ex-Im Bank will finance another coal plant in Bangladesh. According to media reports, the Bangladeshi company Orion Group, originally claimed to have secured financing for not one, but two coal projects in Bangladesh from Ex-Im Bank.
The second coal plant, known as the Orion-Khulna project, is proposed to be built 14 kilometers from the Sundarbans, the world's largest mangrove forest and a UNESCO World Heritage site. The Sundarbans, which spans the border of India and Bangladesh, is home to endangered species like the Bengal tiger and Irrawaddy dolphin, and provides a home and livelihoods for upwards of 6 million people.
Sundarbans Tiger Reserve.Dibyendu Ash
The coal plant would greatly damage the Sundarbans' surrounding ecosystem, threaten the human rights of thousands and contribute to runaway climate change. Indeed, as a nation, Bangladesh is one of the countries most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change in the world; its people cannot afford for any more coal to be burned.
Mangroves in Sundarbans, Bangladesh.Dibyendu Ash
An Op-Ed that Ex-Im Bank Chairman Fred Hochberg wrote about his trip to Bangladesh in February of 2016 demonstrates Ex-Im Bank's interest in financing projects there. Indeed, under Hochberg's tenure, Ex-Im has supported more than $650 million in U.S. exports to Bangladesh. The status of the Orion-Khulna coal plant is currently unknown, since Ex-Im Bank has provided so little information about its involvement in the project. However, recent news indicates the Orion-Khulna project could move forward soon. Another massive coal project proposed to be built near the Sundarbans, the Rampal coal plant, just secured financing from India's Export-Import Bank. According to local Bangladeshi groups, if the Rampal project proceeds, Orion-Khulna will follow soon after.
Another reason for Americans to be concerned about this international issue is one of the largest U.S. corporations, and a serial environmental polluter and tax evader, General Electric (GE), is slated to receive U.S. Ex-Im financing for its involvement in the construction of the Orion-Khulna coal plant. GE is no stranger to controversy. GE's poor environmental track record includes polluting the Hudson River with toxic waste water from 1947 to 1977 and supplying the nuclear reactors that faltered and led to the Fukushima nuclear plant explosion in 2011. GE, one of the long-running top beneficiaries of Ex-Im—the second largest recipient of Ex-Im financing after Boeing, is contracted to supply the turbine generators for the Orion-Khulna coal plant. Since acquiring the French power company Alstom, GE has expressed a renewed interest in coal throughout the world, including in Southeast Asia.
Troubling FOIA Revelations
Now, present day, here is why the new Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) documents matter: the heavily redacted FOIA documents we obtained reveal further evidence to support the claim that U.S. Ex-Im Bank is considering financing for the Orion-Khulna project and that GE is involved.
They show that Ex-Im Bank was in talks as late as February 2016 with Bangladeshi government officials and GE about coal projects, which most likely include the Orion-Khulna coal plant. The FOIA documents show that during Ex-Im Bank Chairman Hochberg's February visit to Bangladesh, he met with high-ranking officials from Bangladesh's power ministry and energy sector, including the energy advisor and directors from GE. GE's alleged involvement in the Orion-Khulna project and expressed interest in building more coal projects in Southeast Asia suggest that Hochberg very likely discussed financing the Orion coal projects in these meetings.
In addition, a note that merely said "Adani coal project," was scribbled on a document from the meeting between Fred Hochberg and GE officials. Adani Group is an Indian conglomerate made up of various subsidiary companies, including Adani Mining, which operates in Australia, Indonesia and other coal-rich countries. This leads to troubling speculation that Australian coal from the controversial Adani-owned Carmichael coal mine and the Abbott Point coal export terminal, which poses grave threats to the Great Barrier Reef, could supply the coal for Orion's coal projects in Bangladesh.
India has indeed recently said they plan on increasing their coal exports to Bangladesh. This statement further supports the theory that the coal used for the Orion coal plants will come from Adani's problematic Australia coal projects. As it happens, Ex-Im Bank is also considering financing Adani's Carmichael coal mine project. Although pure speculation, if Adani's coal projects in Australia ended up supplying coal for the Orion projects in Bangladesh, the U.S government would be entangled in climate disaster and social and environmental destruction across multiple levels.
Undermining Obama's Climate Legacy
Given the recent actions the U.S. has taken to address climate change, it's very troubling that the U.S. government is still considering financing coal projects at all. Supporting new coal development greatly undermines President Obama's much-touted climate legacy, including his commitment under the Climate Action Plan to restrict financing coal plants overseas and the recent formal U.S. commitment to the Paris agreement, which aspires to limit global temperature rise to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius and thus rules out any question of U.S. investment in coal. This also raises questions about what other fossil fuel projects Ex-Im is considering financing.
Grassroots Pressure, Applied Globally
Despite the schemes of Big Business and bad political actors, people around the world are successfully challenging the coal equation. Ex-Im Bank's response regarding the Orion-Dhaka project came as a result of pressure from activists and civil society groups in Bangladesh and the U.S., who sent more than 156,000 petition signatures to Ex-Im Bank in late June. The petition asked Ex-Im Bank to publicly reject financing for Orion's coal projects. A strong grassroots movement in Bangladesh is fighting to protect the Sundarbans from coal development. There have been two marches over the past several years attended by hundreds of thousands of people in Bangladesh.
Bangladeshis march 155 miles to protest the construction of various coal plants near the Sundarbans, March 2016.Mowdud Rahman
Most recently, a student was arrested for posting a comment on Facebook criticizing the Bangladeshi government's support for the Rampal coal plant. The people have spoken: New coal development is toxic to our environment and human health, and we refuse to accept the status quo anymore.
The fight to protect the Sundarbans is not only gaining momentum in Bangladesh, it has become an international issue. This past year Save the Sundarbans protests have been held in Paris, Washington DC, Atlanta and New York.
Atlanta chapter of Bangladeshi environmental group holding a Save the Sundarbans protest at the Indian Consulate in Atlanta, Georgia, Sept. 2016.Mohammad Nasir Uddin
Environmental groups and South Asian-American groups deliver more than 156,000 petitions to U.S. Ex-Im Bank in Washington DC, June 2016. The Sierra Club
NY chapter of Bangladeshi environmental group holding a Save the Sundarbans protest in Queens, New York, August 2016.Mohammad Nasir Uddin
This growing movement came full circle today, when environmental groups and local Bangladeshi and Indian-American activists held a Save the Sundarbans protest in New York City while President Obama and Bangladesh's Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina attended a UN General Assembly meeting. Protesters called for the Sundarbans to be protected and for an end to harmful coal projects in Bangladesh.
To honor the U.S.'s commitment to fight climate change and preserve a livable planet for future generations and for the sake of the people and wildlife who call the Sundarbans home in Bangladesh, U.S. Ex-Im Bank must publicly reject financing for the Orion-Khulna coal plant, once and for all.