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.
By Victoria Masterson
Using one of the world's problems to solve another is the philosophy behind a Norwegian start-up's mission to develop affordable housing from 100% recycled plastic.
Sustainable Homes<p>UN-Habitat says an <a href="https://unhabitat.org/un-habitat-aims-to-use-plastic-waste-to-support-housing-for-all" target="_blank">estimated 60% of people living in urban areas of Africa are in informal settlements</a>. At the same time, between 1990 and 2017, African countries imported around 230 metric tonnes of plastic, "which mostly ended up in dump sites creating a massive environmental challenge," the agency adds.</p><p>UN-Habitat deputy executive director, Victor Kisob, said the aim of the partnership with Othalo was to "promote adequate, sustainable and affordable housing for all."</p>
Artist's impression of an Othalo community, imagined by architect Julien De Smedt. Othalo<p>Othalo's process involves shredding plastic waste and mixing it with other elements, including non-flammable materials. Components are used to build up to four floors, with a home of 60 square metres using eight tons of recycled plastic. A factory with one production line can produce 2,800 housing units annually.</p><p>Following successful laboratory tests, Othalo's factory in Estonia has started producing components to build three demonstration homes for Kenya's capital, Nairobi; Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon and Dakar, the capital of Senegal.</p><p>Othalo founder Frank Cato Lahti has been developing and testing the technology since 2016 in partnership with <a href="https://www.sintef.no/en/" target="_blank">SINTEF</a>, a 70-year-old independent research organization in Trondheim, Norway, and experts at Norway's <a href="https://en.uit.no/startsida" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">University of Tromsø</a>.</p>
Othalo founder Frank Cato Lahti. Othalo<p>Almost <a href="https://www.un.org/development/desa/publications/2018-revision-of-world-urbanization-prospects.html" target="_blank">seven out of every 10 people in the world are expected to live in urban areas by 2050</a>. More than 90% of this growth will take place in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean.</p><p>"In the absence of effective urban planning, the consequences of this rapid urbanization will be dramatic," UN-Habitat warns.</p><p>Lack of proper housing and growth of slums, inadequate and outdated infrastructure, escalating poverty and unemployment, and pollution and health issues, are just some of the effects.</p><p>Mindsets, policies, and approaches towards urbanization need to change for the growth of cities and urban areas to be turned into opportunities that will leave nobody behind, UN-Habitat says.</p>
Pioneers of Change<p>Reimagining cities and communities for greater resilience and sustainability was a key topic at the<a href="https://www.weforum.org/events/pioneers-of-change-summit-2020" target="_blank"> World Economic Forum's Pioneers of Change Summit 2020</a>.</p><p>The digital event brought together innovators and stakeholders from around the world to explore solutions to the challenges facing enterprises, governments and society.</p><p>Opening the summit, <a href="https://www.weforum.org/events/pioneers-of-change-summit-2020/sessions/opening-plenary-8f731cbc65" target="_blank">Stephan Mergenthaler, the Forum's Head of Strategic Intelligence and a member of the Executive Committee</a>, said: "We need to change the way we produce, the way we live and interact in our cities to make this transition to net-zero emissions a reality…</p><p>"And as this year has illustrated so dramatically, we need to make every effort that we keep populations healthy, if we want to avoid jeopardizing all this progress."</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/11/un-africa-recycled-plastic-housing/" target="_blank">World Economic Forum</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649069252#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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By Dolf Gielen and Morgan Bazilian
John Kerry helped bring the world into the Paris climate agreement and expanded America's reputation as a climate leader. That reputation is now in tatters, and President-elect Joe Biden is asking Kerry to rebuild it again – this time as U.S. climate envoy.
Energy Is at the Center of the Climate Challenge<p>The <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/1/" target="_blank">effects of climate change</a> are already evident across the globe, from <a href="https://theconversation.com/100-degrees-in-siberia-5-ways-the-extreme-arctic-heat-wave-follows-a-disturbing-pattern-141442" target="_blank">extreme heat waves</a> to <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/12/" target="_blank">sea level rise</a>. But while the challenge is daunting, there is hope. Solar and wind power have become the <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2020/Jun/Renewable-Power-Costs-in-2019" target="_blank">cheapest forms of power generation globally</a>, and technology progress and innovation continue apace to support a transition to clean energy.</p><p>In the U.S. under a Biden administration, long-term national climate legislation will depend on who controls the Senate, and that won't be clear until after two run-off elections in Georgia in January.</p><p>But there is no shortage of <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/features/2020-biden-climate-change-advice/" target="_blank">ideas for ways Biden</a> could still take action even if his proposals are blocked in Congress. For example, he could use executive orders and direct government agencies to tighten regulations on greenhouse gas emissions; increase research and development in clean energy technologies; and empower states to exceed national standards, <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-autos-emissions-california/defying-trump-california-locks-in-vehicle-emission-deals-with-major-automakers-idUSKCN25D2CH" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">as California did in the past with auto emission standards</a>. A focus on a just and equitable transition for communities and people affected by the decline of fossil fuels will also be key to creating a sustainable transition.</p><p>The U.S. position as the world's largest oil and gas producer and consumer creates political challenges for any administration. U.S. forays into European energy security are often treated with suspicion. Recently, France blocked <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/frances-engie-backs-out-of-u-s-lng-deal-11604435609" target="_blank">a multi-billion dollar contract</a> to buy U.S. liquefied natural gas because of concerns about limited emissions regulations in Texas.</p><p>Strengthening cooperation and partnerships with like-minded countries will be critical to bring about a transition to cleaner energy as well as sustainability in agriculture, forestry, water and other sectors of the global economy.</p>
Creating a Global Sustainable Transition<p>How the world recovers from COVID-19's economic damage could help drive a lasting shift in the global energy mix.</p><p>Nearly one-third of Europe's US$2 trillion economic relief package <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-07-21/eu-approves-biggest-green-stimulus-in-history-with-572-billion-plan" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">involves investments that are also good for the climate</a>. The European Union is also strengthening its 2030 climate targets, though each country's energy and climate plans will be critical for successfully implementing them. The <a href="https://joebiden.com/clean-energy/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Biden plan</a> – including a $2 trillion commitment to developing sustainable energy and infrastructure – is aligned with a global energy transition, but its implementation is also uncertain.</p><p>Once Biden takes office, Kerry will be joining ongoing <a href="https://www.un.org/en/conferences/energy2021/about#:%7E:text=The%20overarching%20goal%20of%20the,2030%20Agenda%20for%20Sustainable%20Development.&text=Accelerate%20delivery%20of%20United%20Nations,related%20issues%20at%20all%20levels." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">high-level discussions on the energy transition</a> at the U.N. General Assembly and other gatherings of international leaders. With the U.S. no longer obstructing work on climate issues, the G-7 and G-20 have more potential for progress on energy and climate.</p><p>Lots of technical details still need to be worked out, including international trade frameworks and standards that can help countries lower greenhouse gas emissions enough to keep global warming in check. <a href="https://www.carbonpricingleadership.org/what" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Carbon pricing</a> and <a href="https://www.csis.org/analysis/how-can-europe-get-carbon-border-adjustment-right" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">carbon border adjustment taxes</a>, which create incentive for companies to reduce emissions, may be part of it. A consistent and comprehensive set of national energy transition plans will also be needed.</p><p>The global shift to <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2019/Jan/A-New-World-The-Geopolitics-of-the-Energy-Transformation" target="_blank">clean energy will also have geopolitical implications for countries and regions</a>, and this will have a profound impact on wider international relations. Kerry, with his experience as secretary of state in the Obama administration, and Biden's plan to make the climate envoy position part of the National Security Council, may help mend these relations. In doing so, the U.S. may again join the wider community of countries willing to lead.</p>
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By Maria Caffrey
As we approach the holidays I, like most people, have been reflecting on everything 2020 has given us (or taken away) while starting to look ahead to 2021.