Regeneration: Moving Beyond Gloom and Doom on USDA Organic Standards
Last week the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) rejected the pleas of organic activists, farmers and many businesses to "keep the soil in organic" by voting to allow growers of hydroponic vegetables to label their produce "organic."
The NOSB's vote did little to shore up consumer faith in the USDA Organic label, especially after well-publicized news reports earlier this year that accused a few high-profile organic brands of giving "organic" a bad name by skirting the rules. And it had some industry pioneers so angry and disheartened, that according to the Washington Post they were even "threatening to leave the program they helped create."
The Organic Consumers Association supported the "Keep the Soil in Organic" campaign. We're disappointed in the NOSB's decision, another sign of Big Organic's (negative) influence over organic standards.
But rather than mourn the demise of organic standards, or fruitlessly complain about how the USDA Organic label is being undermined by corrupt corporations, we've joined the growing number of organic advocates, both in the U.S. and abroad, who understand that the future of organic—and labels—is regenerative.
A New Food Label Is Coming Soon and It Goes 'Beyond Organic' https://t.co/UR3LZfVOCW— carey gillam (@carey gillam)1506981225.0
When finalized, the RO Certification will go "beyond USDA Organic" by establishing higher standards for soil health, land management, animal welfare and farmer and worker fairness. The RO label will appear on certified regenerative products, next to the "USDA Organic" label, alerting consumers to the fact that the RO-labeled product not only meets USDA organic standards, but exceeds them.
The NOSB's vote to allow hydroponic foods to be labeled as "USDA Organic" has proven once again that big corporations and federal bureaucrats have greater control over organic standards than organic consumers and small organic farmers. "Big Organic" is now dictating the policies of the USDA's National Organic Program.
Over the past 15 years the organic community, led by consumer watchdog groups such as the Organic Consumers Association and the Cornucopia Institute, has been forced to mobilize over and over again to defend and maintain credible organic standards. We've exposed organic imposters like Aurora, White Wave/Horizon, Driscoll's, Herbruck, Cal-Maine and Walmart for undermining the organic label by selling factory farm dairy and poultry products that are "organic" in name only.
We've helped shine the light on importers of fake "organic" grains or ingredients from overseas.
We've taken the deceptive marketers of "natural" and "GMO-free" brands to court.
Despite the proliferation of what can only be described as "Grade B" organic products, especially in the organic sections of the large grocery store chains, millions of consumers who care about personal health, the environment, global warming, animal welfare and social and economic justice are still willing to pay a premium price for food, bodycare, clothing and other products they believe are genuinely organic. This is why organics (and 100 percent grass-fed beef and dairy) now represent more than 5 percent, or $55 billion dollars in grocery store sales in the U.S. It's also why new organic and "farm-to-table" restaurants are popping up all over the country.
A critical mass of health-minded consumers, especially parents of young children, now understand that cheap, non-organic, genetically engineered industrial food is hazardous. Chemical- and energy-intensive, GMO agriculture and factory farming destabilize the climate, destroy the environment, impoverish rural communities, exploit farm workers, inflict unnecessary cruelty on farm animals and contaminate the water.
To top it off, this degenerative agriculture model produces end products that are inevitably contaminated.
Routinely contained in nearly every bite or swallow of non-organic industrial food are genetically engineered ingredients, pesticides, antibiotics and other animal drug residues, pathogens, feces, hormone-disrupting chemicals, toxic sludge, slaughterhouse waste, chemical additives, preservatives, irradiation-derived radiolytic particles and a host of other hazardous allergens and toxins.
If the poisons invisibly laced into non-organic food, clothing and bodycare products haven't yet driven you personally to the organic aisle on a regular basis, scientists warn that a public health Doomsday Clock is ticking—and not just for you, but for everyone.
The biotech bullies, animal drug companies, Big Ag and the junk food industry are already the root cause of 50 million cases of food poisoning every year in the U.S., as well as an epidemic of allergies, reproductive disorders, food-related cancers, learning disabilities, heart attacks and obesity. Within a decade, these diet- and environment-related diseases, heavily subsidized under our Big Pharma/chemical/genetically-engineered/factory farm system, will likely bankrupt Medicare and the entire $3.5 trillion (and rising) U.S. healthcare system.
Likewise, millions of green-minded consumers understand that industrial agriculture and factory farms pose a terminal threat to the environment, biodiversity and climate stability. A highly conscious and passionate segment of the population is beginning to understand that converting to non-chemical, non-genetically engineered, energy-efficient, carbon-sequestering organic farming practices—what we call regenerative agriculture—and drastically reducing food miles by re-localizing the food chain, are essential preconditions for stabilizing our out-of-control climate and preparing our families and communities for future food, health, energy and resource crises.
Millions of us—consumers, farmers, activists—now realize that increasing levels of greenhouse gas pollution in the atmosphere (44-57 percent of which come from degenerative food, farming and land-use practices) threaten to push global warming to a tipping point that will melt the polar icecaps, burn down remaining forests, kill most fish and marine life and flood the coastal cities of the world, forcing a billion people to move to higher ground.
Despite its flaws, the USDA Organic system of food and fiber production is a step in the right direction. It's far better than chemical-and energy-intensive agriculture, and can serve in many cases as a baseline or starting point for genuine regenerative food and farming. USDA Organic, unlike most non-organic "local" or so-called "natural" food, has legal definitions, a handbook of rules, permitted and prohibited substances, acceptable practices, an inspection process and labels to guide consumers.
So let's stop obsessing over the fact that the Trump administration, the Republican party and in fact most farm state Democrats, are nothing more than cheerleaders for corporate agribusiness, Big Pharma, Monsanto, Dow and the junk food and beverage cartel.
Let's swing into action and build a mass movement that can put an end to "business as usual" and "politics as usual." Let's try to unite everyone who cares about health, food, climate, justice, peace and democracy into a new movement that can regenerate the Earth and revitalize the global grassroots.
We need to educate a critical mass of consumers, especially youth, to understand that organic food is qualitatively superior to chemical and GMO food. But let's also be honest in saying that a bunch of corporate lobbyists and USDA bureaucrats do not represent the future of organic food and farming. We need to educate Americans, and indeed people all over the world, that now is the time to move to the next stage of organic: regenerative organic.
Regenerative food, farming and land use practices, in conjunction with 100 percent renewable energy, are our best and indeed perhaps our last hope to reverse global warming, environmental destruction, deteriorating public health and what can only be described as corporate fascism.
So let's move today and everyday, beyond gloom and doom. Let's vote with our consumer dollars, our voices, our communications tools, and our community and political activism for a regenerative future. The hour is late, but there is still time to turn things around.
To review or comment on the new proposed Regenerative Organic standards, click here.
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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.