By Leah Segedie
It seems like such a simple thing, but the act of signing and handling a receipt can increase the amount of hormone disrupting chemicals bisphenol-A (BPA) or bisphenol-S (BPS) inside your body significantly. And this is problematic if you are trying to lose weight, wanting to have calm and intelligent children one day, suffering from anxiety, depression, inflammation or food sensitivities or wanting to avoid cancers. Bisphenols (BPA & BPS) have the ability to hijack your hormonal systems at very small levels, so what are they doing in thermal receipt paper and how are they getting into our bodies? That answer is complicated but here we go!
About 9 out of 10 retail stores are using thermal receipt paper that is coated with bisphenol powder and it reacts with heat and friction to create the ink you see. This is incredibly problematic because it's in powder form and easily gets on to your hands when you are signing and handling receipts. Then within seconds it can get into your bloodstream. This wouldn't be a big deal if we were talking about something like alcohol, which is inside antibacterial gels because dose equals the poison. But bisphenols have demonstrated through studies that smaller amounts can cause damage to the hormonal system and therefore that rule doesn't work to protect the public. In fact, it's estimated that the amount of bisphenols you are exposed to when handling thermal receipt paper is up to 1000x more potent than the exposure from canned food. For this very reason, the handling of thermal receipt paper is a very relevant public health concern that retailers need to get a handle on to protect their customers and workers.
So what are they doing about it? Well, not much. Why? There isn't enough public pressure yet.
National Stores Guilty of Contaminating Customers with Bisphenols in Receipts
Earlier this year the Ecology Center took samples of thermal receipt papers at national stores and had them tested in a lab. The results were shocking. It's true that most brands had reformulated to BPA-free thermal receipt paper, but what they used instead is an equally problematic chemical called bisphenol-S (BPS), which is part of the bisphenol family. So instead of solving the problem by using green chemistry the way the consumer wants, they are switching out a similar chemical and hoping no one notices. This type of sly marketing behavior is common. Independent scientists refer to this as a "regrettable substitution" where they use a very similar sister chemical in order to give themselves a marketing benefit, but the same problem remains. If the public was expecting them to use a safer chemical, they will be disappointed because that is not what has happened. Although BPS is a younger chemical with less studies to back it's danger, the studies that have been done on it so far are pointing to it being just as bad or possibly worse than BPA. Therefore, when these brands say they are using "BPA-Free" thermal receipt paper, they are really trying to shut the conversation down by making you think they solved your problem. But they haven't. They didn't solve the problem. They sidestepped you and hoped you wouldn't notice. Sneaky, right?
Here are the results from some of the most popular national brands tested and what was inside their thermal receipt paper in powder form:
- 7 Eleven: BPA
- Aldi: BPA
- Arby's: BPS
- Baja Fresh: BPS
- Barnes & Noble: BPS
- Bed, Bath & Beyond: BPS
- Ben & Jerry's: BPA
- Best Buy: NO BISPHENOLS
- Burger King: BPS
- Chase Bank: BPS
- Chipotle: BPS
- Chuck E Cheese: BPS
- Claire's: BPS
- Coldstone Creamery: BPA
- Costco: BPS
- CVS: BPS
- Dominos: BPA
- DSW: BPS
- Family Dollar: BPS
- Great Clips: BPS
- Home Depot: BPS
- Home Goods: BPS
- Justice: BPA
- Kroger: BPS
- Little Caesars: BPS
- Lowes: BPS
- McDonald's: BPS
- Meijer: BPS
- Michael's: BPS
- Panda Express: BPS
- Panera Bread: BPS
- Petco: BPS
- Pet Smart: BPS
- PNC Bank: BPS
- Rite Aid: BPS
- Sally Beauty: BPS
- Sears: BPS
- Shell Gas Station: BPS
- Staples: BPS
- Starbucks: BPS
- Subway: BPS
- Target: BPS
- Trader Joes: BPS (Note: Trader Joes is vowing to remove bisphenols by end of 2018)
- Salvation Army: BPS
- Toys R Us: BPS
- Universal Studios: BPS
- US Post Office: BPS
- Vitamin Shoppe: BPS
- Walgreens: BPS
- Walmart: BPS
- Whole Foods Market: BPS
Alternatives to Bisphenol Free Receipt Paper For Retail Stores
There are plenty solutions to retail stores out there. Did you notice that Best Buy and Trader Joes' are the stores offering receipts without bisphenols? Best Buy is using a bisphenol-free receipt paper called Pergafast and Trader Joes' just started rolling out bisphenol-free thermal receipt paper at their stores nationwide. (However, no word on what they are made of yet.) But there ARE alternatives for retail stores to consider in order to protect their customers from bisphenol exposure and here are some of them.
1. No Receipt Option. Train their staff to ask the customer if they want a receipt before they start the transaction. Best Buy does this. This will cut down on the amount of paper they use which will also save them money.
2. Provide an Optional Digital Receipt. Offer to email receipts instead. This would be the best option for someone who has a habit of losing receipts. And there is another added benefit of this adding to their marketing list provided the customer opts in.
3. Reformulate to the Pergafast 201 Thermal Receipt. The Pergafast 201 is what they have when you walk into Best Buy! Instead of using a BPA or BPS powder coating, this alternative was released in 2011. The substance doesn't easily get into the skin. In other words, not as powdery.
4. Reformulate to the Koehler-BLUE 4EST Receipts. The "blue forest" paper seems very promising and it's even won an award, but it may be having supply issues. This paper uses a physical reaction to make the text appear instead. Heat applied to the paper activates carbon black paper underneath which results in print. Unlike the phenol thermal paper, this receipt paper causes no chemical reaction. This is the first thermal paper to be approved for direct contact with food. I hope their supply issues clear up for them so we can start seeing more of this paper soon. So this is an option, but not ready for large scale distribution yet.
5. Reformulate to the Appvion-POS Alpha Free Thermal Receipt. This paper uses a vitamin C coating, which also makes it a subtle shade of yellow. But even though this receipt is slightly yellow, it doesn't affect the visibility of the text. However, there are additional additives inside the paper independent scientists are concerned about. I wouldn't recommend this option due to the additional additives they use in the paper.
6. Reformulate to the ICONEX 2ST Thermal Receipt. Not much is known about this brand other than it allows printing on both sides of the page which can cut the need for paper. No information on what it's made of.
7. Reformulate to the Koehler KT 48PF Thermal Receipt. Not much is known about this option other than it allows receipts to last up to 50 years. Again, no information on what it's made of.
After seeing all these options, it's pretty clear that the options I believe are safest and most available would be 1. Not offering a receipt, 2. Offering a digital receipt and 3. Reformualting to the Pergafast thermal receipt paper that Best Buy uses.
What You Can Do to Avoid Bisphenol Contamination When Shopping
Let's hope all these national brands switch to bisphenol-free paper soon, but as we are building awareness and educating consumers who shop at retail stores, there are some steps you can take today to protect your family.
1. Do you really need a receipt? If not, don't take it. Just say no thank you.
2. Build awareness. Ask the cashier AND/OR manager at the store if the thermal receipt paper is covered with BPA or BPS. It's unlikely they will know but ask them anyway. Tell them you are trying to avoid this hormone-disrupting chemical and you would like for them to find out. This brings the issue to the attention of the retail manager and gets them wondering about the health of their workers. The more the cashiers hear this, the more likely they will start wearing gloves to protect themselves.
3. Ask the store if they have the ability to email you the receipt instead.
4. If there is no digital receipt option available, sign the receipt paper without touching the paper. Not easy, but I've mastered it over the years. Put something weighty on the receipt OR pull your sleeve up and place your arm on it to keep it steady without touching it with your skin. Then scribble your signature on it. Your signature will start to look a bit odd but that's okay. It will still be approved.
5. Wear gloves when paying for things at the register. Place the gloves inside a baggie that doesn't contain anything else to ensure that the bisphenols don't contaminate anything else inside your purse. If you don't carry a purse, then use a baggie and stick them in your pocket.
And if you really need receipts to track things, there are about seven really good apps you can download on your mobile phone to help you take photos of your receipts and track your expenses. Click here to view that list on Mamavation.
To Take Action Today to Make Us All Safer!
Mamavation has launched a petition with Care2 with more than 33,000 signatures encouraging Target to offer digital receipts and reformulate to bisphenol-free paper. If you would like all national stores to start offering safer receipt paper, it has to start with leaders in the retail space. We believe that Target is one of those dynamic brands based on the safer chemical policies they are already putting into place. Target is already starting to restrict hormone disrupting chemicals like fire retardants, phthalates, etc. This is an action that fits perfectly in their new direction. We want to show them that their customers DO care about this health issue and want them to lead in this direction.
Click here to sign the petition and if you want to be part of the Mamavation movement to solve this problem sign up for our newsletter here and we will keep you informed. And for more information about how to avoid chemicals that can disrupt your hormones, pick up a copy of Green Enough: Eat Better, Live Cleaner, Be Happier (All Without Driving Your Family Crazy!).
Leah Segedie is the founder of the Mamavation® community, ShiftCon Social Media Conference, food activist and social media consultant.
A new scorecard released Tuesday finds that 20 out of 25 top food retailers fail to protect bees and people from toxic pesticides. The report, Swarming the Aisles II, shows that while supermarkets have made some general commitments to sustainability and social responsibility, most have failed to take steps to reduce pesticide use in their supply chains.
The study also found that Whole Foods' commitment to reduce pesticide use, stock organics and implement a transparent policy leads all other food retailers; its parent company Amazon received an "F" in the same three categories.
"Food retailers need to phase out toxic pesticides and expand organic to distinguish themselves from the pack," said Lisa Archer, director of the Friends of the Earth Food and Agriculture team. "We urge major U.S. food retailers to work with their suppliers to eliminate pollinator-toxic pesticides and expand domestic organic offerings."
Forty percent of invertebrate pollinator species are on the brink of extinction, and a leading factor of their decline is rampant pesticide use in conventional agriculture. Organic agriculture reduces pesticide use and supports 50 percent more pollinator species than chemical-intensive industrial agriculture.
"Food retailers are failing to protect pollinators from pesticides, a leading driver of their decline," said Dr. Kendra Klein, senior staff scientist at Friends of the Earth. "One solution to the pollinator crisis is organic agriculture. Retailers must support more American famers' transition to organic, which is a triple win for our pollinators, farmers and all of us."
Organic food sales increased by 8.4 percent from 2016 to 2017, blowing past the stagnant 0.6 percent growth rate in the overall food market. But U.S. farmers are increasingly losing market share to imports. The U.S. accounts for 44 percent of the global organic sales, but just four percent of global farmland under organic production. Without a commitment to expand American grown organic and to reduce pesticide use in non-organic agriculture, our food system will continue to be soaked in toxic pesticides.
Many of the companies profiled in Friends of the Earth's report are competing to meet consumer demand for organic food, but only six have clearly stated their intent to expand organic offerings in the future: Albertsons, BJ's Wholesale Club, Costco, Target, Walgreens and Whole Foods.
Since the release of the first Swarming the Aisles report in October 2016, Friends of the Earth saw an increase in transparency and two new commitments to expand organic offerings from Walgreens and Trader Joe's.
The release of this scorecard comes amid mounting consumer pressure on food retailers to adopt more environmentally-friendly sourcing policies. Friends of the Earth, with the support of 50 farmers, beekeepers and environmental organizations, is calling on food retailers to eliminate pollinator-toxic pesticides in their supply chains and increase USDA certified organic food and beverages to 15 percent of overall offerings by 2025, prioritizing domestic producers.
Medically reviewed by Anna H. Chacon, M.D.
From eating foods for healthy skin to switching up your morning and routines, taking care of the largest organ in the body can get overwhelming. Recently, vitamin C has grown in popularity in the skincare world — but do the best vitamin C serums live up to the hype?
Vitamin C is not only an essential supplement for your immune system and overall health, but it's also a great skincare ingredient that can help limit inflammation, brighten skin, dull fine lines and wrinkles, fight free radicals, and reduce discoloration and dark spots.
Adding vitamin C to your skincare routine seems like a no-brainer, but before you start shopping for a serum, it's important to be aware that vitamin C is an unstable ingredient. Dermatologists say it's important to find legit and properly formulated vitamin C serums to capitalize on the benefits of the antioxidant. In this article, we'll help you find the right dermatologist-approved vitamin C serum to add to your routine.
Our Picks for the Best Vitamin C Serums of 2021
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. You can learn more about our review methodology here. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
- Best Overall: ZO Skin Health 10% Vitamin C Self-Activating
- Best for Sensitive Skin: Paula's Choice RESIST Super Antioxidant Concentrate Serum
- Best Budget-Friendly Serum: CeraVe Vitamin C Serum with Hyaluronic Acid
- Best Cruelty-Free Serum: Timeless Skin Care 20% Vitamin C Plus E Ferulic Acid Serum
- Best Anti-Aging Serum: SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic Combination Antioxidant Treatment
- Best Brightening Serum: The Ordinary Vitamin C Suspension 23% + HA Spheres 2%
Skincare Benefits of Vitamin C
Also known as ascorbic acid or L-ascorbic acid, vitamin C is an antioxidant that is present in the formation of collagen and that protects against aging, according to Dr. Anna Chacon, a board-certified dermatologist with MyPsoriasisTeam. A vitamin C serum may be a solid addition to your skincare routine because it has a great safety profile, and it's safe for most skin types.
"Vitamin C serum restores and neutralizes environmental stressors that accelerate signs of aging and can be used morning and evening," Dr. Chacon says. However, she warns, "it does not come with sun protection, so additional use of sunscreen is recommended."
As an antioxidant, vitamin C protects skin cells from being damaged by free radicals from things like UV exposure, vehicle exhaust and cigarette smoke. It also hampers melanin production, which can help to lighten hyperpigmentation and brown spots and even out your skin tone.
6 Best Vitamin C Serums
Based on dermatologist recommendations and our market research, the following products are the best vitamin C serums available today.
Best Overall: ZO Skin Health 10% Vitamin C Self-Activating
Our overall recommendation for the best vitamin C serum is the ZO Skin Health 10% Vitamin C Self-Activating serum. The product contains 10% vitamin C, which has anti-aging properties and minimizes the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles and sunspots by promoting collagen production. "I have this in my bathroom," Dr. Chacon says. "It is gentle and non-irritating, and it leaves your skin radiant afterward."
Customer Rating: 4.7 out of 5 stars with under 100 Amazon ratings
Why Buy: Along with L-ascorbic acid, this serum includes ingredients like Coenzyme Q10 for multi-layer antioxidant protection and plant-derived squalane for added hydration. ZO Skin Health's products are all cruelty-free.
Best for Sensitive Skin: Paula's Choice RESIST Super Antioxidant Concentrate Serum
Made with plant- and vitamin-derived antioxidants including vitamin C, vitamin E, peptides and CoQ10, Paula's Choice RESIST Super Antioxidant Concentrate Serum will help rejuvenate your skin. The formula fights dullness, enhances firmness and reduces the appearance of wrinkles.
Customer Rating: 4.6 out of 5 stars with about 300 Amazon ratings
Why Buy: This product is paraben-free, fragrance-free and cruelty-free, as it's not tested on animals. The container is 100% recyclable through TerraCycle, and it's formulated and manufactured in the U.S.
Best Budget-Friendly Serum: CeraVe Vitamin C Serum with Hyaluronic Acid
CeraVe Vitamin C Serum with Hyaluronic Acid offers high value at a reasonable price. It is a hydrating vitamin C serum that's fragrance-free, paraben-free, non-comedogenic and budget-friendly to boot. The formula uses 10% pure vitamin C to prevent free radical damage as well as soothing vitamin B5 and hyaluronic acid to make the skin look smooth and create a moisture barrier for your skin.
Customer Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars with over 20,000 Amazon ratings
Why Buy: Chacon calls CeraVe "a trusted, dermatologist-oriented brand" that comes at drugstore prices, so it's a great choice if you want to try out a budget-friendly vitamin C serum.
Best Cruelty-Free Serum: Timeless Skin Care 20% Vitamin C Plus E Ferulic Acid Serum
Timeless Skin Care's vitamin C serum promotes healthy cell turnover to help minimize the effects of hyperpigmentation and even out your skin tone. According to Dr. Chacon, "vitamin C, E and ferulic acid are all key ingredients that help to brighten skin, building up collagen and evening out tone." This product's formula is non-greasy and lightweight, so it absorbs quickly and clearly into the skin.
Customer Rating: 4.3 out of 5 stars with over 1,700 Amazon ratings
Why Buy: The Timeless Skin Care formula is paraben-free, synthetic dye-free, fragrance-free and polyethylene glycol-free. The company doesn't test on animals, and the product is made in the U.S. from natural ingredients. It's also part of the TerraCycle recycling program.
Best Anti-Aging Serum: SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic Combination Antioxidant Treatment
Using dermatologist-approved ingredients, SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic Combination Antioxidant Treatment is lightweight and helps to firm, smooth, and brighten the skin for a more youthful look. The formula utilizes 15% pure vitamin C as well as vitamin E and ferulic acid to protect against environmental damage from things like sunlight, ozone pollution and diesel engine exhaust. Plus, it helps firm the skin and reduce the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines.
Customer Rating: 4.1 out of 5 stars with over 200 Amazon ratings
Why Buy: The SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic Combination Antioxidant Treatment is one of the best vitamin C serums for anti-aging purposes. It has an oil-like formulation that goes on smoothly and works effectively without clogging pores.
Best Brightening Serum: The Ordinary Vitamin C Suspension 23% + HA Spheres 2%
The Ordinary Vitamin C Suspension 23% + HA Spheres 2% is a topical form of vitamin C that's rich in antioxidants to target aging and brighten the skin. It uses a high concentration of L-ascorbic acid as well as hyaluronic acid spheres for skin hydration. The brightening serum helps enhance skin smoothness and radiance without being too harsh. However, to test skin sensitivity, it is always recommended to perform a patch test before a full application.
Customer Rating: 4.3 out of 5 stars with over 4,500 Amazon ratings
Why Buy: This vitamin C brightening serum is cruelty-free and vegan and does not contain alcohol, phthalates, gluten, fragrance, nuts, oil, silicone, parabens or sulfates. The moisturizing serum is good for all skin types, including acne-prone skin and dry skin.
FAQ: Best Vitamin C Serums
What vitamin C serum is the most effective?
Our top recommended vitamin C serum is the ZO Skin Health 10% Vitamin C Self-Activating serum. It is a dermatologist-approved antioxidant powerhouse, yet it is gentle, non-irritating and leaves you with glowing skin.
Should you use vitamin C serum every day?
Dermatologists recommend using vitamin C serum either every day or every other day. After you cleanse and tone your face, use your vitamin c product before applying moisturizer and reef-safe sunscreen with at least SPF 30.
Does vitamin C serum really work?
According to dermatologists, the best vitamin C serums work to protect against skin aging. However, if you do not purchase a doctor-recommended product, you run the risk of wasting your money on a low-concentration serum that won't give you any benefits.
What are the drawbacks of vitamin C serums?
Many vitamin C serums on the market, especially cheaper products, have nearly immeasurable concentrations of antioxidants, which makes them ineffective. Additionally, as with any skincare product, some individuals may have reactions to vitamin C serums including itchiness and redness.
Anna H. Chacon, M.D. is a dermatologist and author originally from Miami, Florida. She has authored over a dozen peer-reviewed articles, book chapters and has been published in JAAD, Archives of Dermatology, British Journal of Dermatology, Cosmetic Dermatology and Cutis.
"...the care of the earth is our most ancient and most worthy and, after all, our most pleasing responsibility. To cherish what remains of it, and to foster its renewal, is our only legitimate hope." — Wendell Berry, The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays.
It was a soil scientist who reminded me recently of something we self-obsessed humans often forget: We don't need to worry about saving the planet. The planet will save itself.
Planet Earth will survive in one form or another, no matter what damage we humans inflict on it. The question is, will we survive with it?
Or will we destroy Earth's ability to sustain life, all life, as we know it?
We had that conversation sitting around a table in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, where about 100 people from 22 countries gathered in September for the second Regeneration International (RI) General Assembly. We were there to evaluate what the group had accomplished since our last gathering in June 2015, when we launched RI, and what we wanted—and needed—to do next.
We came from different organizations, different countries, different backgrounds. We were scientists, farmers, activists, business leaders, policy wonks, writers.
Our concerns ranged from environmental pollution, health, food safety and food sovereignty to economic and social justice, the global refugee crisis and global warming.
We had come together to renew our commitment to the one movement that we believe has the power to address all our individual and collective concerns, the movement that holds the most hope for resolving the multiple and deepening global crises of hunger, poverty, crumbling political systems and climate change.
The Regeneration Movement. The movement that begins with healing our most critical resources—soil, water, air—through better farming and land management practices. And ends with healing our local communities and global societies and restoring climate stability.
A Movement By Any Other Name
When the founders (Organic Consumers Association is a founding partner) of RI first came together to formalize the organization, we struggled with the word "regeneration." It was too long. Not memorable. No sex appeal.
In the end, we decided it was the right word. Turns out, it was also the right time.
The word—and the movement—have taken off far faster than we anticipated, and spread farther than we dared hope.
Increasing numbers of farmers, consumers, environmental and animal welfare activists, economists and scientists are talking about the potential power of regeneration.
Many aren't just talking, they're doing.
In the U.S. where industrial agriculture has dominated (and degenerated) for far too long, a growing number of farmers are reclaiming their independence by returning to their roots.
In Maine, Wolfe's Neck Farm, recently renamed Wolfe's Neck Center for Agriculture & the Environment, has not only gone regenerative, it has hired a scientist who's developing tools to measure how much carbon the farm is sequestering through its soil-management practices.
Consumers and citizen activists are directly and indirectly supporting organic, regenerative agriculture more than ever before.
Last year saw the citizens of Tonganoxie, Kansas, fed up with factory farms ruining their communities, take on Tyson, one of the largest factory farm operators (and largest polluters). They shut down Tyson's project.
An Idaho court just ruled against industrial agriculture by striking down most parts of an Idaho "ag-gag" law prohibiting undercover investigations at livestock facilities aimed at exposing animal abuse and violations of environmental laws.
At the federal level, despite the current pro-corporation administration, lawmakers are proposing new laws and programs to help more farmers transition from industrial to organic regenerative agriculture.
In an effort to fix the Farm Bill in a big way, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) has introduced the Food & Farm Act. The bill focuses on programs designed to promote healthy food and reduce industrial agriculture's impact on the environment by providing greater assistance to producers of organic and regenerative food.
Representatives Sean Duffy (R-Wis.) and Peter Welch (D-Vt.), recognizing that organic farming equals economic prosperity for struggling rural communities, recently introduced the Organic Farmers Access Act.
On the policy level, the Organic Consumers Association has always and will continue to advocate for policy reforms that shift agricultural subsidies and appropriations away from industrial monoculture commodity crop farming and industrial meat and dairy production toward support for farmers transitioning to an organic regenerative paradigm that improves public health, revives strong local economies, renews biodiversity, reduces environmental pollution and restores climate stability.
But we'll need an engaged consumer and citizen base to make this movement a success.
Consumers Will Drive the Transition to Regeneration
Concerns about chronic illness and rampant obesity have a growing number of consumers looking to change their diets.
Consumer demand is behind record sales of organic food in the U.S. and in other countries. But as consumers demand better quality and greater transparency, they're taking a more critical look at what organic means, and whether a product lives up to what has always been considered the gold standard—USDA organic.
Many organic producers do adhere to those standards. Unfortunately, some don't. Skepticism about "Big Organic" has led some consumers to look for more local suppliers, including farms they can inspect in person, in their own communities.
Distrust of big organic brands has also led to the creation of new certifications and standards for consumers who want to support regenerative producers. A collaborative effort with the Rodale Institute and other groups produced the new Regenerative Organic Standard (ROC). The Savory Institute recently announced its new Land to Market (L2M) Program. And earlier last year, the American Grassfed Association announced new standards for grass-fed dairy products.
As more consumers demand higher standards, brands will have to respond. After all, when McDonald's starts talking "regenerative" it signals a recognition—and validation—of consumers' changing preferences.
Exercising our purchasing power to move markets toward regeneration is one way consumers can propel the Regeneration Movement forward. We can also support policy change, at the local, state and federal levels, that supports the transition to regenerative agriculture.
But it will take more than that to scale up regeneration fast enough to restore Earth's health. It will take actively engaging in building the movement in our own communities—a call-to-action that both Organic Consumer Association and Regeneration International will emphasize and prioritize in 2018. (Sign up here for more information).
The future of the Regeneration Movement depends on all of us. Will we rise to the occasion?
By Katherine Paul and Alexis Baden-Mayer
The Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices (OLPP) Rule was the result of a 14-year effort by the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) to tighten up animal welfare rules for organic egg producers.
The OLPP was set to be enacted in January 2017. But under the incoming Trump administration's regulatory freeze, the rule was delayed multiple times. Now the USDA wants to throw it out completely.
If the OLPP is thrown out, "fake organic" egg producers will get to keep their production costs low. This will allow them to continue underselling smaller organic producers who follow the rules. At the same time, they capture a big share of the organic egg market by selling their eggs under the USDA Organic seal.
In other words, it's a great way to feather their nests.
These practices not only make it more difficult for smaller organic egg farmers to compete, they also cheat consumers who believe certified organic means higher animal welfare standards. Instead consumers are unknowingly buying eggs from producers who run nothing more than industrial-scale operations indistinguishable from factory farms apart from the type of feed they use. The result are eggs of inferior nutritional quality. (Studies show that authentic certified organic eggs have a deeper yoke color which translates into higher levels of Vitamin A, Omega-3 fatty acids, Vitamin E and beta carotene).
Better nutrition and better animal welfare standards aren't the only benefit for consumers who buy authentic certified organic eggs. Organic eggs produced by ethical farms where hens have real access to pasture, including organic regenerative poultry systems, have far less impact on the environment than those that come from factory farm-type egg operations that pollute with impunity.
Who are the "Big Organic" egg producers? Cal-Maine Foods and Herbruck's, which was the subject of a Washington Post exposé last year. Herbruck's sells some of its eggs under the Eggland's Best brand. But the bulk of the eggs sold by these producers end up on store shelves under private label (store brand) names.
In fact, most retail grocery chains that sell "organic" eggs under their own label (think Aldi's Simply Nature, Whole Foods 365 Organic, Trader Joe's, Kroger Simple Truth, Costco, Walmart, etc.) get their eggs from huge factory farm-type operations that routinely violate USDA National Organic Program (NOP) rules.
Lobbyists for the Cal-Maine and Herbruck's claim they'll have to get out of the organic market if the new OLPP rule is allowed to stand. Christopher Nichols, third-generation egg farmer in California told the Los Angeles Times that's bunk:
"Don't let them fool you. They knew darn well that they were building these buildings out of compliance. And they knew that when this day came, that they were going to have to face this decision. But they probably figured that they had the money and the political muscle to overrule it."
Smaller producers, Nichols told the LA Times, "just don't have that."
Is there still time to keep the USDA from scuttling the new rule? Maybe.
About 10 years ago, Monsanto's genetically engineered bovine growth hormone, rBST or rBGH, was in trouble. Leading dairy processors and major supermarket chains, such as Wal-Mart, Costco, Kroger and Safeway were banning the use of rBST in dairy production. Monsanto had big plans for rBST, which is injected into cows to increase milk production. But consumers didn't like the idea of consuming milk, one of the the most wholesome foods, with GMO hormones. As a result, dairy products labeled "rBST-free" became common.
To counter consumer opposition, a Monsanto PR firm launched a "grassroots advocacy group" with a slick website called "American Farmers for the Advancement and Conservation of Technology" (AFACT). The aim was to defend farmers' use of rBST and "educate" the public about it.
AFACT failed miserably—that's a fact. It's long gone along with its website—like it never existed. Monsanto ended up selling off rBST to Elanco, which also recently sold it, and today, "rBST-free" is a dairy industry standard.
AFACT's failure reminds me of a new campaign called "Peel Back the Label," which claims to be a campaign of "America's dairy farmers"—or is it the creation of another PR firm? PBTL, which isn't nearly as catchy an acronym as AFACT, aims to rally consumers to fight "deceptive food labeling," particularly non-GMO claims. Consumers are encouraged to take action and share their own examples of misleading non-GMO labels.
AFACT and PBTL are classic examples of the types of front groups and campaigns described in the excellent book, Trust Us We're the Experts, by John Stauber, founder of the Center for Media and Democracy and PR Watch. To get their message across more effectively, corporations or organizations will create "independent" organizations to further their agenda. The aim being to convince the public that an "expert" third-party organization says, for example, that rBST is good for dairy farmers and consumers. The tobacco industry is notorious for funding such front groups as the "Center for Consumer Freedom" to defend the rights of consumers to smoke as they pleased. In this case, PBTL's aim is to convince people that non-GMO labels are misleading and capitalizing on consumer fears.
One of PBTL's targets is Dannon and their Non-GMO Project Verified yogurts. PBTL says Dannon's decision to go non-GMO is "deceptive, fear-based marketing that is confusing to consumers and damaging to the environment."
The reality is that Dannon and other companies are selling non-GMO products because people want them. According to the Hartman Group's 2017 Health & Wellness Study, more than half of Americans are looking for non-GMO food and beverages. According to a 2017 survey by the food industry-supported International Food Information Council, more than a quarter of consumers are choosing foods because they have non-GMO labels. A more recent survey by international market research firm GfK found that nearly half of consumers, 48 percent, report that "free from GMO ingredients" along with "low sugar or sugar-free" are the important factors when deciding which food or beverage product to eat or drink.
The fact is that more and more people want "clean" labeled foods with simpler and fewer ingredients and non-GMO is part of that trend.
Peel Back the Label and whoever is behind it are fighting that trend; they want to continue keeping consumers in the dark and don't want them to know that the majority of dairy cows are fed GMO grains like corn and soybeans. They are losing, and Peel Back the Label is bound to fail as AFACT did 10 years ago.
Cali Nurseries grower Hector Santiago told Reuters that his $300,000 investment on 244 solar panels six years ago has allowed him to continue working.
Meanwhile, only 5.4 percent of citizens on the U.S. territory have electricity after the Category 4 storm destroyed the island's electricity grid, the Department of Defense said Wednesday.
"Everybody told me I was crazy because it was so expensive. Now I have power and they don't," Santiago explained.
He added to Reuters that 25 percent of the panels were damaged by flying debris but the remaining panels were enough to power the facility and water pumping from his two wells.
The nursery also did not "have to worry about trees falling on the power lines" during the Sept. 20 hurricane, he pointed out.
Santiago, who sells his flowers at places like Costco in the Caribbean, told ABC News last week that he was determined to rebuild and get back into business despite estimated losses of $1.5 million.
Officials estimate that some areas of the Puerto Rico, which is almost entirely powered by fossil fuels, will not see their electricity restored for months.
At the same time, energy experts and business leaders have discussed the potential of renewables and building microgrids to help the hurricane-ravaged Caribbean restore power in the interim and the future.
As Bloomberg reported:
"Growing demand for more resilient power supplies will spur $22.3 billion of global investment in battery-backed local energy systems over the next decade, according to Navigant Research.
Villages and homes in far-flung places will drive the expansion of microgrids, small-scale solar systems with batteries that can retain power until it's needed. Navigant expects 14.9 gigawatts to be in operation in 2026, up from 238 megawatts this year, according to a report Tuesday."
Virgin Group's Richard Branson, who faced two damaging hurricanes in a row from his home in the British Virgin Islands, has met with government representatives from Britain and the U.S. to set up a green fund to rebuild the Caribbean.
"As part of that fund we want to make sure that the Caribbean moves from dirty energy to clean energy," Branson told Thomson Reuters Foundation.
By Samantha Henry
Netflix's recent, original feature film Okja has triggered a bit of disruption amongst both those in the film industry and enthusiasts in the food movement.
The movie targets several issues concerning the current state of our food system, and could be a great watch for those curious about where our food system could soon be headed.
Okja follows the fictional Mirando Corporation, a chemical weapons company looking to rebrand itself with the presentation of an exciting new discovery: the miraculous "superpig." Mirando presents the animal as an ideal way to efficiently end world hunger.
Along with their announcement is a competition. They have bred 10 superpigs, which will be raised by 10 smallholder farmers around the world to see who can raise the best animal. With her grandfather, a young Korean girl named Mija raises the superpig Okja, only to find herself in a fight against Mirando to save her best friend.
Mija's and Okja's journeys from Korea to New York serve to reveal the dangerous intentions of Mirando Corporation, the truth behind the origins of the superpigs and a conceptual look into what truly goes on in industrial animal facilities. While Okja's characters are fictional, the underlying story that is told is not far from reality. (In fact, Mirando Corporation sounds an awful lot like many big agribusiness corporations we know.)
Here are several aspects of the film that hold true:
1. Mirando Corporation's lack of transparency
Mirando Corporation executives go to extreme measures to cover up their corrupt practices. They also mislead the public, claiming that a superpig was discovered in the wild and then bred naturally to produce only the 10 animals for the competition. In reality, we soon learn they genetically engineered the animals, created thousands, and confined them in a secret facility. Once the competition generated fanfare and interest, they could flood the market with superpig meat products.
This secrecy and corporate greed certainly takes place within the current industrial animal model, benefitting producers at the expense of animal health and consumers. The realities of the animals' conditions inside animal factory systems are kept hidden from the public. Animal factory owners have lobbied governments to pass Ag-Gag laws, which threaten anyone who reveals the cruel treatment of food animals with severe fines or jail time. These laws restrict human and animal rights and impede the recording and reporting that has played a critical role in bringing awareness to the mistreatment of animals in factory farms. A new poll conducted by Mercy for Animals demonstrates that Americans care about holding farms accountable for their conditions and practices. Perhaps, consumers would make different decisions about their meat consumption if they were aware of the practices that are common in animal factories.
2. The move toward genetically engineered food animals
In Okja, it is revealed that Mirando created the superpigs through genetic engineering. GE food animals are not science fiction. Recently, AquaBounty salmon became the first genetically engineered food animal approved for human consumption by the FDA. Mirando's executives insist that consumers do not care what they are eating as long as it is inexpensive, but public outrage towards GE salmon suggests otherwise. Before the salmon was approved, 300,000 concerned citizens signed a petition to Costco to reject the sale of GE salmon. In 2013, more than 1.8 million comments were submitted telling the FDA not to approve GE salmon.
Nevertheless, there is continued interest by industry to genetically modify other food animals. For example, there are efforts to engineer pigs to excrete less phosphorus in their waste, reducing the nutrient pollution associated with hog factories, rather than address the unsustainable levels of production that generate billions of gallons of manure every year. Such genetic alterations will continue to promote unsustainable confinement conditions that put food safety, human health, animal welfare and the environment in jeopardy.
3. The horrors of intensive industrial animal production
In her quest to save Okja, Mija witnesses the horrific conditions and torture the superpigs experience from creation to slaughter at the hand of Mirando. Animals in CAFOs live similarly inhumane lives, confined to overcrowded, filthy feedlots or pens and subject to severe abuse. Often, they have limited space to move around and cannot avoid their own waste or the carcasses of other animals. Studies have found that overcrowding can result in increased aggression, injuries and stress reactions in pregnant pigs. It also promotes the spread of virulent diseases, such as increased risk of respiratory disease in cows due to airborne dust particles, humidity and poor ventilation. Breeding animals for industrial conditions has severe health consequences, such as increased leg weakness and tail-biting in pigs selected for rapid growth.
While not featured specifically in the film, animal factory operators rely heavily on a variety of animal drugs to force animals to gain weight faster and keep diseases at bay in such disgusting conditions. Several of these drugs have not been sufficiently proven to be safe for use, and recent science suggests they may have serious impacts on human health, animal welfare, or the environment. CFS has achieved some recent victories, primarily in encouraging the phaseout of certain medically important antibiotics given the public health crisis of antibiotic-resistant bacteria causing infections in humans. Yet, there still remain larger regulatory gaps regarding antibiotics, and rampant use of non-antibiotic drugs that prop up unsanitary and unhealthy conditions in CAFOs.
What can you do?
For now, Okja is science fiction. But it's not an unreasonable stretch of the imagination. In the U.S. today, we overconsume animal proteins. This incentivizes the expansion of CAFO style production and the development of GE animals. Many people in the U.S. are recognizing the power of their dietary choices in shaping the future of our food system. In January 2016, the scientific advisory board that develops the Dietary Guidelines for Americans received backlash from industry on their decision to promote reduced consumption of animal-based foods in the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines, and encourage eating plant-based foods. The new guidelines generated an unprecedented 29,000 public comments, 75 percent of which "favored including the recommendations around less meat and supported the message of environmental health and sustainability benefits of reducing meat consumption."
To reduce the major consequences on human health, animal welfare and the environment associated with CAFOs and industrial animal production, we should all make more mindful choices and incorporate more plant-based foods. When meat does make it on the menu, look for organic, reliable certified humane, and 100 percent grassfed labels.
By Katherine Paul and Ronnie Cummins
A recent series of articles by a Washington Post reporter could have some consumers questioning the value of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) organic seal. But are a few bad eggs representative of an entire industry?
Consumers are all for cracking down on the fraudulent few who, with the help of Big Food, big retail chains and questionable certifiers give organics a bad name. But they also want stronger standards, and better enforcement—not a plan to weaken standards to accommodate "Factory Farm Organic."
The Washington Post exposed a couple of companies, certified organic, that don't strictly adhere to organic standards. The Post and others also recently reported on what one lawmaker, who serves on a key USDA committee, called "uncertainty and dysfunction" at the National Organic Standards Board.
All these reports are troubling on multiple levels, especially to consumers who rely on the USDA organic seal to help them avoid pesticides, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), synthetic ingredients, and foods produced using methods that degenerate soil health and pollute the environment. (It's important to note that none of these reports address the biggest marketing and labeling fraud of them all—products sold as "natural," "all natural" and "100% natural," a $90-billion industry that eclipses the $50-billion certified organic industry).
What can consumers do to ensure that the certified organic products they buy meet existing organic standards? And how do we, as consumers, fight back against efforts to weaken those standards?
The short answers: One, there are about 25,000 honest organic local and regional producers, vs. a handful of big brands, mostly national, who flout the rules. (Most "Factory Farm Organic" companies sell their products, and provide private-label products, for big retail chains like Costco, Walmart, Safeway, Albertson's, Kroger's and others).
Two, if consumers want stronger, not weaker organic standards, we need to demand them.
Bad Actors Hurt Consumers and Legitimate Organic Producers
Over the past several months, the Washington Post has reported the following:
- Eggland's Best eggs, marketed as certified organic by Herbruck's Poultry Ranch, come from hens that never go outside. (Even before the Post's expose, the Organic Consumers Association (OCA) had called for a boycott of Eggland's Best eggs).
- Aurora Organic Dairy, which supplies organic milk to Walmart, Costco and other major retailers, doesn't adhere to organic standards that require cows to be outdoors daily during the growing season. (OCA, Cornucopia Institute and other groups have been demanding better policing of Aurora Dairy for more than a decade).
- Some "organic" soy and corn imports aren't actually organic.
- Some "organic" foods contain a synthetic oil brewed in industrial vats of algae.
Stories like these erode consumer confidence in the organic seal. When consumers give up on organic, legitimate organic farmers and producers lose sales, too.
But that's only the part of the problem. By cutting corners on organic standards, big producers can sell at lower prices—that puts the smaller, local and regional organic producers who don't have big contracts with big retailers, and who must charge more because they actually follow organic standards to letter, at a competitive disadvantage in the market.
In some cases, it puts them out of business.
The Washington Post's Peter Whoriskey recently interviewed Amish organic dairy farmers who are struggling to compete against companies like Aurora, which the farmers say, don't deserve the organic label. The Post reported:
Over the past year, the price of wholesale organic milk sold by Kalona [Iowa] farms has dropped by more than 33 percent. Some of their milk—as much as 15 percent of it—is being sold at the same price as regular milk or just dumped onto the ground, according to a local processor. Organic milk from other small farmers across the United States is also being dumped at similar rates, according to industry figures.
After the Washington Post ran its April 30 exposé on Aurora, Liz Bawden, an organic dairy farmer in New York and president of the Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance and member of the Northeast Organic Farmers Association board wrote:
A consumer reads "Why Your Organic Milk May Not Be Organic" on the front page of their newspaper. That might be the end consumer for the milk from my farm. And that person is sitting in front of a bowl of cornflakes wondering if she has been scammed all this time. Just a little doubt that the organic seal may not mean what she thought it meant. That is real damage to my farm and family income.
Boycott the Organic Imposters
Consumers choose organic for many reasons. At the top of the list health. Consumers believe food that doesn't contain pesticides, genetically modified organisms and synthetic/artificial ingredients, all of which are largely prohibited under USDA organic standards, is better for their own health.
That said, many consumers have an expanded list of reasons for buying organic, which include concern about the environment, animal welfare, fair trade and the desire to support local farms, and farmers committed to building healthy, rich soil capable of drawing down and sequestering carbon.
It's naturally discouraging to read articles that sow doubt about whether a certified organic product meets your expectations. Fortunately, there are things you can do to minimize the chances of ending up with an organic carton of milk or eggs produced by an "organic imposter."
- Boycott large, national brands. As demand grows for organics, Big Food is scooping up smaller organic brands. In most cases, nothing good comes this for consumers, as large corporations apply the "economies of scale" theory and ultimately skimp wherever they can on quality and production. As a general rule of thumb, the big players—like Aurora Dairy and Herbruck's Farm (Eggland's Best)—don't play by the rules.
- Steer clear of private-label organics. It's easy to identify the bad actors when they market products under their own names. But when it comes to private-label organics (think Safeway's O' Organic, Costco's Kirkland, Walmart's Great Value), it's not readily apparent who is producing those products for big retail chains. We know that Aurora, which doesn't market any milk under its own name, supplies organic milk to Walmart, Costco and Safeway. But in general, lack of transparency in the organic private label arena is a "huge problem," one industry consultant told us. Most big retailers are complicit in organic fraud. The best strategy is avoidance.
- Check the codes on your milk carton. In her response to the Post's story on Aurora, Bawden told consumers how to avoid milk produced by Aurora Dairy by checking the code on the carton. If you find the number 08-29, you'll know that the milk comes from a plant that processes milk from Aurora Dairy. You can look up all the milk carton codes on the "Where is my milk from?" website.
- Do your homework. It would be great if you could rely entirely on the USDA organic seal. But given what we know about the weak links in that otherwise valuable chain, it pays to research. Googling brand names is one way to find information—but don't rely on company websites, which are often loaded with false claims. Visit the Cornucopia Institute's website, where you'll find organic dairy, eggs and other products "scored" according to various criteria.
- Pay attention to who certified your milk or eggs as organic. In addition to the USDA organic seal, certified organic products must list, on package, the name of the independent body that certified the product to organic standards. There's an argument to be made that certifiers should be held accountable for certifying products that don't adhere to organic standards. Until that happens, avoid certifiers like Quality Assurance International and the Colorado Department of Agriculture, which certify Aurora Dairy. Some of the more reliable certifiers include Oregon Tilth, Pennsylvania Certified Organic and California Certified Organic Farmers. For a complete list of organic certifiers, consult this list.
- Buy local. There's a lot to be said for getting to know, and for supporting, your local organic farmers. They are more likely to follow organic standards, partly out of dedication, and partly to protect their own reputation within their communities. Here's some advice for identifying local authentic and ethical farmers.
- Report suspected fraud. If you think a brand is violating organic standards, or falsely advertising/labeling a product "natural," "all natural" or "100% natural," email us at [email protected].
Consumers Will Have to Help Protect Organic Standards
Organic Consumers Association was founded, in 1998, when the USDA was writing the very first set of organic standards, as required under the Organic Foods Production Act. The policy writers wanted irradiation to be allowed in organic. And sewage sludge. And GMOs. We fought successfully to keep them out.
Since then we've had to go to battle with every administration since over the integrity and enforcement of organic standards. The Clinton administration tried to get GMOs into organic. The Bush administration made it easier to get synthetics into organic. The Obama administration made it harder to get synthetics out of organic.
It didn't help any that in 2005, Congress passed a law that made it a lot easier for the largest food companies to create "organic" versions of their factory farm and processed foods.
Now those companies are stepping up their game, threatening to make changes to the Organic Foods Production Act and the National Organic Standards Board. that could weaken organic standards beyond recognition. Why now? Two reasons.
One, as consumer demand for organic products grows, Big Food is buying up organic brands. This gives them a seat at the organic policymaking table, where, naturally, they are hard at work to lower standards in order to raise profit margins.
And two, they smell opportunity. The Trump administration has made its position on regulations clear: more industry involvement, more concern for corporate profits, and less concern for consumer rights, public health, the environment.
Congress needs to hear from consumers—often, and in large numbers—that we want stronger, not weaker organic standards. Standards that support small, authentic producers.
Putting it in Perspective
Organic isn't perfect. The standards aren't perfect. The enforcement process isn't perfect. And some of the players are downright crooked.
That said, consumers can by and large trust all organic produce. And if they're willing to do a little homework, they can identify the producers in the organic processed food arena who abide by the rules.
To put things in perspective, compare the $50-billion organic industry with the $90-billion "natural" industry. No standards. No ethics. And the clear intention to increase sales by falsely claiming that products that contain all manner of "unnatural" substances, including pesticides, synthetic ingredients—even drugs—are the "healthy choice."
So let's keep policing the organic industry, exposing the fraud, working for stronger standards and better enforcement of those standards.
But let's be just as vigilant about exposing the "Myth of Natural" and cracking down on what is arguably the biggest food marketing scam in the history of advertising.
Katherine Paul is associate director of the Organic Consumers Association. Ronnie Cummins is international director of the Organic Consumers Association.
Greenpeace Canada has released the fourth edition of its Canned Tuna Sustainability Ranking, revealing that despite the number of responsibly-caught tuna products quadrupling in Canada since Greenpeace's first ranking in 2011, shoppers seeking better options still struggle in some major grocery chains because unsustainable brands dominate shelf space.
"We are seeing more and more responsibly-caught tuna products on store shelves in Canada each year, which is positive for our oceans and tuna customers," said Sarah King, senior oceans strategist with Greenpeace Canada. "What we are not seeing is strong enough action by major supermarket chains to direct consumers toward those more sustainable options and remove unsustainably-caught tuna from shelves."
Seventeen companies were assessed by Greenpeace on their efforts to ensure their supply chains meet strong sustainability and social responsibility requirements. Fourteen of these companies offer at least one product caught with more sustainable fishing methods, including pole and line, troll or purse seines fishing without harmful fish aggregating devices (FADs), and five have a commitment to only offer responsibly-caught tuna.
Well-known eco brands top this year's ranking with Raincoast Trading (1st), Wild Planet Foods (2nd) and Whole Foods Market (365 Everyday brand) (3rd) placing in the green category for their commitments and dedication to only offering more sustainable and socially responsible tuna under their brands. Canada's second largest tuna company, Ocean Brands, teetered into the green category for achieving its goal to source its "light meat" tuna from more sustainable fishing methods, along with its revamped labour standards and wider plans to tackle its longline-caught albacore to reduce bycatch of non-tuna species.
"With Ocean's, a major national brand, committing to source from better fisheries for all its products, there is a real opportunity for major positive change in tuna aisles across Canada," added King. "Offering one responsibly-caught product doesn't go far enough. While change does not happen overnight, various companies have stalled too long in ensuring their supply chains aren't putting vulnerable ocean life and seafood workers, at risk."
In-store surveys conducted across the 10 ranked supermarket chains found that products labeled with a more sustainable fishing method were not easy to find across the board. Responsibly-caught products were reported to be more available and prominent in Whole Foods, Federated Co-operatives (Co-op), Overwaitea Food Group owned stores, Choices Markets and Costco than in the three biggest Canadian chains—Loblaw, Sobeys and Metro. People reported the worst experiences in Walmart and Longo's, with Longo's surveys revealing no eco options available. Surveys also revealed that Clover Leaf—a brand with no visible eco options under its flagship brand—took up more shelf space at poorly rated chains, whereas more favorably rated chains had responsibly-caught house brands or Ocean's, a brand with various responsibly-caught products, as the most prominent products featured.
Greenpeace is calling on tuna buyers in key global markets to only source responsibly-caught and traceable tuna to help protect marine biodiversity and ensure seafood worker safety. Poor supply chain transparency, weak fisheries management and problematic practices such as transshipment at sea continue to create the conditions for illegal and destructive practices.
Shoppers seeking guidance in the tuna aisle are encouraged to consult the ranking and the newly updated Tuna Guide for Healthier Oceans that rates dozens of products beyond the 17 ranked companies.
By Katherine Paul
When the colours turn grey and the lights all fade
To black again
We're in over our heads
But somehow we make it back again – lyrics from "Beautiful Mess"
Next month will mark one year since Congress obliterated Vermont's GMO labeling law and replaced it with its own faux-labeling measure. The DARK Act was an outright attack on consumer and states' rights. Still, then-President Obama refused to veto it.
We lost the right to labels on GMO foods. But we never lost our determination to expose Monsanto's corrupt manipulation of government agencies, or the truth about just how harmful Roundup herbicide is to humans and the environment.
Fast forward to today. Monsanto is facing down scores of lawsuits by people, or their families, who were diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma after being exposed to Roundup. Those lawsuits have led to revelations about possible collusion between Monsanto employees and former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials to bury evidence of Roundup's carcinogenicity.
Meanwhile the EPA, perhaps fearing consumer backlash, refuses to rule on whether to renew the license for glyphosate (the active ingredient in Roundup), even though we're now nearly two years past the deadline.
Food companies are being sued, too, when product testing reveals that brands labeled "100% Natural" contain glyphosate residues. And the Food & Drug Administration recently announced it will resume testing of consumer foods for glyphosate.
It's no wonder Monsanto can't wait to hand over the keys to Bayer. Things are getting messy. For consumers and environmentalists, it's a beautiful mess.
Here are four signs we're winning the battle against Monsanto:
1. Court battles pull back the curtain on Monsanto's corrupt activities.
The fact that more than 1,000 plaintiffs are involved in dozens of lawsuits alleging that exposure to Roundup caused them or their families to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma (a potentially deadly cancer) is compelling enough. Especially when a mainstream media outlet like CNN, often silent when it comes to challenging the corporate establishment, takes notice. That in itself is a win for consumers.
But the bigger win may be what those lawsuits are doing to shed light on Monsanto's sustained campaign to bury the truth about its deadly products.
The court documents included Monsanto's internal emails and email traffic between the company and federal regulators. The records suggested that Monsanto had ghostwritten research that was later attributed to academics and indicated that a senior official at the EPA had worked to quash a review of Roundup's main ingredient, glyphosate, that was to have been conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Reporters continue to scrutinize the MDL (multi-district lawsuits) documents unsealed so far (the judge in the case has since refused to unseal any further documents). U.S. Right to Know's Carey Gillam, who has been following the court documents closely, recently reported on a decades-old study, A Chronic Feeding Study of Glyphosate (Roundup Technical) in Mice, uncovered during litigation but until now hidden from public view, that suggests Roundup causes cancer.
The two-year study ran from 1980-1982 and involved 400 mice divided into groups of 50 males and 50 females that were administered three different doses of the weed killer or received no glyphosate at all for observation as a control group. The study was conducted for Monsanto to submit to regulators. But unfortunately for Monsanto, some mice exposed to glyphosate developed tumors at statistically significant rates, with no tumors at all in non-dosed mice.
2. EPA forced to investigate Monsanto corruption.
Thanks to the work of reporters studying court documents, the EPA has stepped in. On May 31, the agency's inspector general responded to Rep. Ted Lieu's (D-Calif.) call for an investigation into possible collusion between Monsanto and EPA officials. (Organic Consumers Association also called for an investigation. We haven't heard back.)
The EPA may just be going through the formalities to appease Lieu and his constituents. But even if that's true, it's still a sign that consumers are getting through to an agency that has historically been aggressively pro-Monsanto.
3. Consumers are fighting back through the courts, too.
Monsanto and Big Food have long been allies in the campaign to hide GMOs, and the pesticides used to grow them, from consumers. Will the Junk Food Giants reconsider their position, if they, too, get dragged through the courts?
The Organic Consumers Association, along with other groups, have been testing food products for glyphosate, and taking companies to court for falsely marketing their products as "natural" and "100% Natural." Pending cases include the one against General Mills' Nature Valley granola bars, and another against Sioux Honey. Both products contain glyphosate. (A recent study from Canada revealed glyphosate in 30 percent of the food products tested).
And lest we forget, Roundup isn't just sprayed on agricultural products—it's a best-selling consumer product, too. Labels on Roundup sold in stores like Walmart, Costco, Home Depot, and online at Amazon, claim the product is safe for humans and pets. That's not true—so we've sued Monsanto directly for false labeling.
4. FDA resumes testing food for glyphosate.
As the lawsuits flow, and more evidence comes to light about the toxic impact of glyphosate on human health (including bad outcomes for pregnant moms and their babies), the FDA has been shamed into testing foods for glyphosate residues—a project it had previously abandoned:
The FDA, the nation's chief food safety regulator, launched what it calls a "special assignment" last year to analyze certain foods for glyphosate residues after the agency was criticized by the U.S. Government Accountability Office for failing to include glyphosate in annual testing programs that look for many less-used pesticides in foods. But the agency scuttled the testing after only a few months amid disagreement and difficulties with establishing a standard methodology to use across the agency's multiple U.S. laboratories, according to FDA sources.
The testing reportedly resumed in early June. It remains to be seen if the FDA will share, much less publicize, its findings—and whether the agency will continue to claim, as it has in the past, that glyphosate residues are "safe." Stay tuned.
Katherine Paul is associate director of the Organic Consumers Association.
Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is asking big-box retailer Costco to stop its purchase and sale of salmon exported from the Faroe Islands until the Faroes bring the brutal and archaic mass slaughter of pilot whales and other cetaceans, known as the "grindadráp" or "grind," to a grinding halt.
Actors Richard Dean Anderson (MacGyver), Eric Balfour (Haven), Rutger Hauer (Blade Runner), Ross McCall (24: Live Another Day), Cliff Simon (Stargate SG-1), Clive Standen (Vikings); actresses Shannen Doherty (Charmed and Beverly Hills, 90210), Perry Reeves (Entourage) and Red Hot Chili Peppers front man Anthony Kiedis have teamed with Sea Shepherd to send a letter to Costco CEO Craig Jelinek from the organization's founder, Captain Paul Watson.
Hollywood Stars Demand @Costco Stop its Purchase and Sale of Faroe Islands’ Salmon... https://t.co/Sx8p8Fyvtd https://t.co/58nWarTYJ2— Sea Shepherd SSCS (@Sea Shepherd SSCS)1468013968.0
The letter comes on the heels of last week's news that a pod of 30-50 pilot whales was slaughtered in the first grindadráp (grind) of the year, on the island of Viðoy in the Danish Faroe Islands archipelago.
The letter to Jelinek expresses concern that chain-store giant Costco is selling salmon farmed in the Faroe Islands, an archipelago of 18 isles in the North Atlantic, where hundreds of wild, migrating cetaceans are slaughtered each year.
Describing this massacre of ocean wildlife, the letter states that "entire pods of pilot whales and dolphins are driven by hunting boats to the shallow waters along the Faroe Islands. ... Those cetaceans who are not herded far enough into the shallows will have a gaff hook stabbed into their blowholes and will be pulled ashore the rest of the way by rope. The panicked and thrashing whales or dolphins are then slowly sawed into behind their blowholes with a special Faroese hunting knife and killed by the severing of their spinal cords, as each animal is brutally slaughtered before the eyes of their family members. No member of the pod is spared, not even pregnant females or juveniles."
Though Faroese whalers claim that the grind brings a quick and humane death, some of these highly intelligent and socially complex marine mammals take as long as four minutes to die, as the steely waters of the Faroes run red with blood.
The letter to Jelinek continues, "As a large and respected member of the corporate retail community, Costco should not condone these acts of brutality by economically supporting the Faroese salmon fishery. Costco can apply economic pressure to end the atrocity known as the "grind," a whale hunt that should be deemed illegal by the anti-whaling EU but yet is supported by Denmark, a part of the EU. Mr. Jelinek, Costco and you as its CEO, now have the opportunity to show your members and the international community that you represent a company of compassionate individuals who care about the fate of intelligent and sentient whales and dolphins as well as the oceanic eco-systems upon which they—and all life on Earth—depend for survival."
The grind is an outdated practice as the Faroese people have one of the highest standards of living in all of Europe and access to the same foods found in grocery stores in Denmark. In addition, Faroese health officials have warned against consumption of the pilot whale meat, especially by children and pregnant women or women of childbearing age, because it is contaminated with neurotoxins such as mercury.
Though it is the slaughter of cetaceans by the Faroese that is opposed by Sea Shepherd, the organization is calling for a boycott of salmon exported from the Faroes until the senseless grind is permanently ended.
"These compassionate celebrities have offered their desperately needed voices to the pilot whales who were killed recently in the Faroe Islands and to those who are at risk each time they pass by Faroese shores," Watson said regarding the Hollywood industry's support. "We must make it known that the blood of intelligent and social whales and dolphins stains every package of salmon from the Faroes. This archaic massacre of cetaceans, defended by the EU-member nation of Denmark, must be sunk economically. I encourage all concerned consumers to do their part by boycotting salmon from the Faroe Islands at Costco and wherever it is sold."
The appeal to boycott Costco comes just weeks after Sea Shepherd released a 22-minute documentary short on YouTube shot by McCall, chronicling his experience in the Faroe Islands, along with a companion essay he published in the Huffington Post.
Since 1983, Sea Shepherd has sent 10 campaigns to the Faroes, saving hundreds of whales and dolphins while dealing with the arrest of Sea Shepherd volunteers and the seizure of the organization's boats.
Faroese law states it is illegal to interrupt the killing and illegal to sight a pod of whales and not report it. To further protect their beloved Grind from outside interference, this year the Faroese enacted laws that prohibit Sea Shepherd crew from entering their waters and wearing Sea Shepherd shirts on land.
This year, in response, Sea Shepherd Global announced Operation Bloody Fjords, a new operation targeting the massacre of pilot whales in the Faroe Islands.
With years of footage of this bloodshed, Operation Bloody Fjords will include culling together decades' worth of photographic and video evidence to target the Grind in legal, political, commercial and economic arenas. A full-length documentary feature will also be produced.
Despite the rapid growth of the organic food industry, U.S. production lags significantly behind consumer demand. A new report from the Environmental Working Group shows that with modest reforms to existing programs, Congress could help growers transition away from farming that relies on chemical pesticides and expand the acreage dedicated to organic agriculture.
Jane Goodall: How Can We Believe It Is a Good Idea to Grow Our Food With Poisons? https://t.co/PNhk0eKvif @OrganicConsumer @JaneGoodallInst— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1489098262.0
Between 1997 and 2015, sales in the organic sector soared from $3.7 billion to more than $43 billion. This double-digit growth nearly every year makes the organic sector one of the fastest growing segments of the food industry. Major retailers such as Costco report that they can't get enough organic food to meet customer demand.
Yet the gap between supply and demand means many American organic food companies have to rely on foreign suppliers for staples like soybeans, corn and rice—demand that could be met by domestic producers.
"Driven in large part by the multiple environmental and health benefits, Americans' appetites for organic food is seemingly insatiable," said Colin O'Neil, Environmental Working Group's agriculture policy director and author of the report. "The current organic trade deficit presents Congress with a unique chance to expand market opportunities for U.S. producers, while also benefitting consumers, food companies and the environment. With modest reforms to current programs in the next farm bill, Congress can reduce barriers to farmers who want to transition organic methods at no additional cost."
John Paneno, vice president of sourcing for Amy's Kitchen Inc. of Petaluma, California, said increasing the U.S. supply of organic food is essential.
"Amy's continues to see strong consumer growth for our organic products," said Paneno. "We need more programs that help our farmers transition into organic farming so that we can source the ingredients we need domestically and create new jobs for our rural communities."
The Environmental Working Group's report details how Congress can play a role in better positioning American farmers to meet the demand for organics, by increasing the number of organic farms and the amount of organic acreage. Congress has already begun discussing the 2018 Farm Bill, which O'Neil said should include the following modest changes:
- Reform the Conservation Stewardship Program to create bundles of conservation practices specifically to help producers who want transition to organic.
- Reform the Environmental Quality Incentives Program Organic Initiative to provide organic and transitioning producers with the same level of support as those in the general funding pool.
- Reform the Conservation Reserve Program to provide greater incentives for producers to put farmland exiting the program into organic production.
"The organic food industry is now one of the fastest growing, most dynamic parts of the food sector, creating tens of thousands of jobs and producing in-demand foods for millions of Americans" said O'Neil. "Members of Congress should take any simple steps they can to reduce barriers to transition and help expand the organic farm footprint here in the U.S."