Michelle Obama's 'Let's Move' School Lunch Program Inadvertently Puts Children at Risk
By Michele Simon
The United Fresh Produce Association Foundation says it’s “proud to be a Founding Partner of the Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools Initiative.” I thought the First Lady should know this trade group is responsible for killing a vital produce testing program that helps keep kids safe from infection.
Dear Mrs. Obama,
I am writing out of deep concern over Let’s Move’s partnerships with the United Fresh Produce Association and the Produce Marketing Association. These two groups have lobbied to kill a vital pathogen testing program. While the Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools program is to be applauded, its association with these trade groups is not.
You may be unaware of a small produce testing program tucked away at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) called the Microbiological Data Program (MDP). At a cost of only $4.5 million a year, it’s one of the most efficient and successful uses of taxpayer dollars; and yet, it’s been zeroed out of the 2013 budget. Here is how Food Safety News recently described it:
This “tiny” program was launched in 2001 simply to collect data about fresh produce contamination, but it now regularly sparks produce recalls when participating state labs find pathogens. Perhaps more importantly, the labs upload any positive test results to the Centers for Disease Control’s PulseNet, which helps public health officials link foodborne illness cases to food products. MDP is also the only federal program that tests for non-O157 E. coli strains like the one that caused the deadly, high profile sprout outbreak in Germany last year.
While industry argues that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is better suited to the task than USDA, Food Safety News found that leaving the job up to FDA will mean an 80 percent reduction in produce testing. This translates to potential lives being lost. Again, from Food Safety News:
From 2009 to 2012, MDP found Salmonella 100 times, E. coli O157:H7 twice, and Listeria monocytogenes 8 times. Over the same time period, the program sparked 23 Salmonella recalls, 2 E. coli O157:H7 recalls, and 5 Listeria recalls. Of the pathogens the program identified during that time, 39 Salmonella isolates were matched to human illnesses — as were both E. coli O157:H7 and all 8 Listeria isolates.
Industry leaders from United Fresh Produce Association and other major trade associations have repeatedly pushed the government in recent years to get rid of the comprehensive testing program, saying it has cost growers millions in produce recalls and unfairly targeted farmers who aren’t responsible for contaminating the food.
Yes, those pesky recalls of contaminated food that can kill and ruin lives. Mrs, Obama, the produce industry is quite simply putting profits ahead of people.
The Chicago Tribune has also reported how the produce lobby wants to kill MDP. According to United Fresh representative David Gombas, over time the testing program “got twisted and it turned into a regulatory program where they were finding contamination and turning it over to the FDA and causing recalls.”
Finding contamination. Causing recalls. This must stop?
Moreover, in this document outlining the United Fresh Produce Association’s 2012 lobbying agenda, the trade group clearly states its desire to put the final nail in the MDP coffin: “Now that Congress has zeroed out funding for the Microbiological Data Program (MDP), it will be necessary to ensure that USDA sunsets the program and that protocols shift to FDA.”
If all that isn’t enough damning evidence, this disclosure form filed by a lobbying firm (The Russell Group) for United Fresh lists MDP funding in the 2012 Agriculture Appropriations Act as one of the issues the firm lobbied upon late last year. (It wasn’t to save the program.)
While it would be nice if FDA took up the slack, all signs are that it won’t, due to inadequate funding. As the Washington Post reported this week, neither President Obama nor Congress have put the program into the budget or any agriculture spending bills.
Mrs. Obama, I hope you are aware that with their still-developing immune systems, children are especially vulnerable to inflections from foodborne illness. I am sure your desire to get children to eat more fresh produce isn’t just about good nutrition. Don’t you also care that the produce children eat is free of life-threatening bacteria such as E. coli and salmonella? Of course you do. That’s why I am pleading with you to use your connections to the leaders of the fresh produce lobby to demand an explanation for why they are killing this program, and in the process, putting our kids at risk.
Many others are also calling on the federal government to save the program. For example, The New York Times editorial board called MDP “A Tiny Food Program that Matters," explaining:
There is too much at stake. Last fall, for instance, an outbreak of listeria in cantaloupe killed 30 people. Raw alfalfa sprouts, spinach, lettuce and tomatoes have sickened consumers in recent years. Keeping food safe requires consistent monitoring by the federal government. Ending this small program would harm those efforts.
Spinach, lettuce, tomatoes, sprouts, the good stuff school salad bars are made of, and all high-risk produce for potential contamination. Parents shouldn’t have to worry that the salad bars being put into their children’s schools by Let’s Move are tainted with deadly bacteria. Don’t you agree? Wouldn’t it be nice if the funders of Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools did too?
Please do whatever you can to help save this vital program. Thank you.
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Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker vetoed a sweeping climate bill on Thursday that would have put the commonwealth on a path to eliminating carbon emissions by 2050.
By Ajit Niranjan
World leaders and businesses are not putting enough money into adapting to dangerous changes in the climate and must "urgently step up action," according to a report published Thursday by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP).
Adaptation Has a Long Way to Go<p>The Adaptation Gap Report, now in its 5th year, finds "huge gaps" between what world leaders agreed to do under the 2015 <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/5-years-paris-climate-agreement/a-55901139" target="_blank">Paris Agreement</a> and what they need to do to keep their citizens safe from climate change.</p><p>A review by the Global Adaptation Mapping Initiative of almost 1,700 examples of climate adaptation found that a third were in the early stages of implementation — and only 3% had reached the point of reducing risks.</p><p>Disasters like storms and droughts have grown stronger than they should be because people have warmed the planet by burning fossil fuels and chopping down rainforests. The world has heated by more than 1.1 degrees Celsius since the Industrial Revolution and is on track to warm by about 3°C by the end of the century.</p><p>If world leaders <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/climate-change-performance-index-how-far-have-we-come/a-55846406" target="_blank">deliver on recent pledges</a> to bring emissions to <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/joe-bidens-climate-pledges-are-they-realistic/a-56173821" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">net-zero</a> by the middle of the century, they could almost limit warming to 2°C. The target of the Paris Agreement, however, is to reach a target well below that — ideally 1.5°C. </p><p>There are two ways, scientists say, to lessen the pain that warming will bring: mitigating climate change by cutting carbon pollution and adapting to the hotter, less stable world it brings.</p>
The Cost of Climate Adaptation<p>About three-quarters of the world's countries have national plans to adapt to climate change, according to the report, but most lack the regulations, incentives and funding to make them work.</p><p>More than a decade ago, rich countries most responsible for climate change pledged to mobilize $100 billion a year by 2020 in climate finance for poorer countries. UNEP says it is "impossible to answer" whether that goal has been met, while an OECD study published in November found that between 2013 and 2018, the target sum had not once been achieved. Even in 2018, which recorded the highest level of contributions, rich countries were still $20 billion short.</p><p>The yearly adaptation costs for developing countries alone are estimated at $70 billion. This figure is expected to at least double by the end of the decade as temperatures rise, and will hit $280-500 billion by 2050, according to the report.</p><p>But failing to adapt is even more expensive.</p><p>When powerful storms like cyclones Fani and Bulbul struck South Asia, early-warning systems allowed governments to move millions of people out of danger at short notice. Storms of similar strength that have hit East Africa, like <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/zimbabwe-after-cyclone-idai-building-climate-friendly-practices/a-54251885" target="_blank">cyclones Idai</a> and Kenneth, have proved more deadly because fewer people were evacuated before disaster struck.</p><p>The Global Commission on Adaptation estimated in 2019 that a $1.8 trillion investment in early warning systems, buildings, agriculture, mangroves and water resources could reap $7.1 trillion in benefits from economic activity and avoided costs when disasters strike.</p>
Exploring Nature-Based Solutions<p>The report also highlights how restoring nature can protect people from climate change while benefiting local communities and ecology.</p><p><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/climate-fires-risk-climate-change-bushfires-australia-california-extreme-weather-firefighters/a-54817927" target="_blank">Wildfires</a>, for instance, could be made less punishing by restoring grasslands and regularly burning the land in controlled settings. Indigenous communities from Australia to Canada have done this for millennia in a way that encourages plant growth while reducing the risk of uncontrolled wildfires. Reforestation, meanwhile, can stop soil erosion and flooding during heavy rainfall while trapping carbon and protecting wildlife.</p><p>In countries like Brazil and Malaysia, governments could better protect coastal homes from floods and storms by restoring <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/mudflats-mangroves-and-marshes-the-great-coastal-protectors/a-50628747" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">mangroves</a> — tangled trees that grow in tropical swamps. As well as anchoring sediments and absorbing the crash of waves, mangroves can store carbon, help fish populations grow and boost local economies through tourism. </p><p>While nature-based solutions are often cheaper than building hard infrastructure, their funding makes up a "tiny fraction" of adaptation finance, the report authors wrote. An analysis of four global climate funds that spent $94 billion on adaptation projects found that just $12 billion went to nature-based solutions and little of this was spent implementing projects on the ground.</p><p>But little is known about their long-term effectiveness. At higher temperatures, the effects of climate change may be so great that they overwhelm natural defenses like mangroves.</p><p>By 2050, <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/rising-sea-levels-should-we-let-the-ocean-in-a-50704953/a-50704953" target="_blank">coastal floods</a> that used to hit once a century will strike many cities every year, according to a 2019 report on oceans by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the gold standard on climate science. This could force dense cities on low-lying coasts to build higher sea walls, like in Indonesia and South Korea, or evacuate entire communities from sinking islands, like in Fiji.</p><p>It's not a case of replacing infrastructure, said Matthias Garschagen, a geographer at Ludwig Maximilian University in Germany and IPCC author, who was not involved in the UNEP report. "The case for nature-based solutions is often misinterpreted as a battle... but they're part of a toolkit that we've ignored for too long."</p>
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