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There’s a Toxic Weedkiller on the Menu in K-12 Schools Across the U.S.
By Caroline Cox
Many parents cheered about 10 years ago when Michelle Obama took on the important task of improving school meals. Of course, every child should have a healthy lunch and breakfast. Most of us have school cafeteria stories; I still remember the feeling of failure I had decades ago when I realized my daughters never had time to eat more than their dessert before joining the stampede for recess.
Ms. Obama's work—and the work of many other concerned parents, teachers and staff—sparked significant improvements in school menus, some of which are now being undone by the current administration (allowing children to eat food with more salt and less whole grain). Schools must once again take another step forward.
If you haven't met glyphosate (Roundup) yet, allow me to introduce you. Glyphosate is the most widely used pesticide in the U.S. Its use has skyrocketed during the last 20 years because of the popularity of genetically-modified crops that are tolerant of this weedkiller. Health concerns about glyphosate have also skyrocketed since 2015, when the World Health Organization evaluated its ability to cause cancer.
The above graph was created by the Center for Environmental Health using data from the study "Trends in glyphosate herbicide use in the United States and globally" by Charles M. Benbrook.
Glyphosate's evaluation as a probable carcinogen is scary and was recently validated by a jury that awarded a school groundskeeper a multimillion-dollar judgment against Monsanto/Bayer because he had developed cancer after years of Roundup use. The decision has paved the way for thousands of other cancer patients and families to seek justice and compensation in court.
Even scarier, recent research has demonstrated that glyphosate can disrupt our body's hormones, those vital molecules that manage growth, development, behavior, sex and more.
Exposing children, with their developing bodies, to a chemical that can cause cancer and hormone dysfunction is wrong. It's especially wrong for children simply eating breakfast at school, who often are from low-income families. This fact has spurred the nonprofit Center for Environmental Health (CEH), where I serve as the senior scientist, to measure glyphosate contamination in breakfast cereals and bars served at schools. Although our study was small, the results were striking.
We found significant contamination in 70 percent of the products we tested, including big name brands like Quaker, whose glyphosate contamination was more than six times the safety threshold developed by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and Cheerios, whose glyphosate contamination was more than five times the EWG safety threshold.
Our findings corroborate a growing list of recent studies demonstrating the presence of glyphosate in children's foods, including preliminary findings by CEH in August, as well as those by the EWG, Moms Across America, Food Democracy Now and the Food and Drug Administration.
Because our study was small, and there is not much government testing of glyphosate contamination in popular grocery items, there may be other contaminated products at your school or grocery store. We just don't know. We did recently find glyphosate contamination in King Arthur bread flour. King Arthur is the fourth largest seller of flour in the country, consumed by approximately 16.61 million Americans this year. King Arthur's bread flour is used for more than just baking bread—the company also claims "it strengthens whole-grain pastries, makes cookies crispier, and when combined with all-purpose flour, creates chewier pizza crusts and more tender muffins." If we found it in commonly sold wheat flour, where else might it be?
Fortunately, there is a straightforward way to reduce the amount of glyphosate that our students consume. Certified organic foods are grown without glyphosate and the ones that we have tested are uncontaminated. Thus, we are asking schools to buy these organic cereals and bars. Some organic food is more expensive than conventionally grown food, but even a partial switch reduces the amount of this pesticide that students are eating and increases the market for organics, setting up the economies of scale that will lower prices.
Further, switching to organic cereals in the short term and advocating for stronger chemical regulation in the long term is beneficial to all eaters, especially people who are exposed to the highest levels of pesticides because of their work, such as groundskeepers and farmworkers.
What can parents do? Here are three steps to help protect you and your family:
- Buy organic cereals for your family whenever they are affordable and available for you.
- Ask your children's schools to add organic cereals to their menus. For advice about effective ways to do this, contact us at email@example.com.
- Tell the CEO of General Mills to get rid of glyphosate in Cheerios and other cereal products by switching to organic oats. Children aren't test subjects and parents deserve warning labels.
Monsanto (now Bayer) made hundreds of millions of dollars in 2017 from herbicide sales. We need to demand a change. Cancer-causing chemicals do not belong in children's meals, whether served at home, at school or a child care center.
Caroline Cox is the senior scientist at the Center for Environmental Health.
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This research should serve as a rallying cry for polluting industries to make major changes now. Yet the agriculture industry continues to lag behind.
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In a big victory for animals, Prada has announced that it's ending its use of fur! It joins Coach, Jean Paul Gaultier, Giorgio Armani, Versace, Ralph Lauren, Vivienne Westwood, Michael Kors, Donna Karan and many others PETA has pushed toward a ban.
This is a victory more than a decade in the making. PETA and our international affiliates have crashed Prada's catwalks with anti-fur signs, held eye-catching demonstrations all around the world, and sent the company loads of information about the fur industry. In 2018, actor and animal rights advocate Pamela Anderson sent a letter on PETA's behalf urging Miuccia Prada to commit to leaving fur out of all future collections, and the iconic designer has finally listened.
If people in three European countries want to fight the climate crisis, they need to chill out more.
"The rapid pace of labour-saving technology brings into focus the possibility of a shorter working week for all, if deployed properly," Autonomy Director Will Stronge said, The Guardian reported. "However, while automation shows that less work is technically possible, the urgent pressures on the environment and on our available carbon budget show that reducing the working week is in fact necessary."
The report found that if the economies of Germany, Sweden and the UK maintain their current levels of carbon intensity and productivity, they would need to switch to a six, 12 and nine hour work week respectively if they wanted keep the rise in global temperatures to the below two degrees Celsius promised by the Paris agreement, The Independent reported.
The study based its conclusions on data from the UN and the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) on greenhouse gas emissions per industry in all three countries.
The report comes as the group Momentum called on the UK's Labour Party to endorse a four-day work week.
"We welcome this attempt by Autonomy to grapple with the very real changes society will need to make in order to live within the limits of the planet," Emma Williams of the Four Day Week campaign said in a statement reported by The Independent. "In addition to improved well-being, enhanced gender equality and increased productivity, addressing climate change is another compelling reason we should all be working less."
Supporters of the idea linked it to calls in the U.S. and Europe for a Green New Deal that would decarbonize the economy while promoting equality and well-being.
"This new paper from Autonomy is a thought experiment that should give policymakers, activists and campaigners more ballast to make the case that a Green New Deal is absolutely necessary," Common Wealth think tank Director Mat Lawrence told The Independent. "The link between working time and GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions has been proved by a number of studies. Using OECD data and relating it to our carbon budget, Autonomy have taken the step to show what that link means in terms of our working weeks."
Stronge also linked his report to calls for a Green New Deal.
"Becoming a green, sustainable society will require a number of strategies – a shorter working week being just one of them," he said, according to The Guardian. "This paper and the other nascent research in the field should give us plenty of food for thought when we consider how urgent a Green New Deal is and what it should look like."
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