The yearly count of monarch butterflies overwintering in Mexico, released Wednesday, shows an increase of 144 percent from last year's count and is the highest count since 2006. That's good news for a species whose numbers had fallen in recent years, but conservationists say the monarch continues to need Endangered Species Act protection.
The count of 6.05 hectares of occupied forest is up from 2.48 hectares last winter. The increase is attributable to favorable weather during the spring and summer breeding seasons and during the fall migration. Monarchs have lost an estimated 165 million acres of breeding habitat in the U.S. to herbicide spraying and development.
"This reprieve from bad news on monarchs is a thank-you from the butterflies to all the people who planted native milkweeds and switched to organic corn and soy products," said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. "But one good weather year won't save the monarch in the long run, and more protections are needed for this migratory wonder and its summer and winter habitats."
In 2014 conservationists led by the Center for Biological Diversity and the Center for Food Safety petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect the butterfly under the Endangered Species Act. The Fish and Wildlife Service's initial decision was that endangered species protection may be warranted, and a final decision will be issued by June.
"The question is whether the Trump administration wants to do Monsanto's bidding or protect monarchs for future generations," said George Kimbrell, legal director at the Center for Food Safety. "This year's count is a temporary reprieve that doesn't change what the law and science demands, which is that we protect monarchs under the Endangered Species Act before it's too late."
As recently as the mid-1990s, monarchs covered nearly 21 hectares of forest in their wintering ground, falling to less than 1 hectare in 2014. Scientists estimate that 6 hectares is the threshold to be out of the immediate danger zone of migratory collapse.
About 99 percent of all North American monarchs migrate each winter to oyamel fir forests on 12 mountaintops in central Mexico. Scientists from World Wildlife Fund Mexico estimate the population size by measuring the area of trees turned orange by the clustering butterflies.
Monarch butterflies west of the Rocky Mountains overwinter on the coast of California. Their numbers dropped to fewer than 30,000 this year, down from 1.2 million two decades ago.
A recent study found that if current trends continue, the western population has a 63 percent chance of extinction in 20 years and more than an 80 percent chance of extinction within 50 years. The western population is now at the threshold of extinction.
The caterpillars only eat milkweed, but the plant has been devastated by increased herbicide spraying in conjunction with corn and soybean crops that have been genetically engineered to tolerate direct spraying with herbicides. In addition to glyphosate, monarchs are threatened by other herbicides and by neonicotinoid insecticides that are toxic to young caterpillars.
Climate change also threatens to disrupt the monarch's migration and render its overwintering habitats unsuitable by the end of the century.
Graph by Tierra Curry, Center for Biological Diversity
5 Ways to Make a Difference in the Life of a #Monarch @HFSciencePub @jnp_mn @BetteAStevens https://t.co/ZDP5MNdneR— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1543329699.0
On Thursday the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa struck down the Iowa Ag-Gag law, holding that the ban on undercover investigations at factory farms and slaughterhouses violates the First Amendment. In 2017, a coalition of animal, environmental and community advocacy groups, including Center for Food Safety, challenged the law's constitutionality. Federal courts have similarly struck down Ag-Gag laws in Idaho and Utah as unconstitutional.
Iowa's Ag-Gag law criminalizes undercover investigations at a broad range of animal facilities including factory farms, puppy mills and slaughterhouses; preventing advocates from exposing animal cruelty, environmental harm, workers' rights infractions and food safety violations. The law achieved its goal of suppressing undercover investigations—no investigations have taken place since the law's passage in 2012.
"Ag-Gag laws unconstitutionally allow Industrial Ag to hide in the darkness, and today's decision is another important pulling back of that curtain," said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of Center for Food Safety. "This decision is a victory for all those who support humane treatment of farm animals and safe food."
For more than a century, the public has relied on undercover investigations to expose illegal and cruel practices on factory farms and slaughterhouses. No federal laws govern the conditions in which farmed animals are raised, and laws addressing slaughter and transport are laxly enforced. Undercover investigations are the primary avenue through which the public receives information about animal agriculture operations. Iowa is the biggest producer of pigs raised for meat and hens raised for eggs in the U.S., making it critically important that investigations there are not suppressed.
"Ag-Gag laws are a pernicious attempt by animal exploitation industries to hide some of the worst forms of animal abuse in the United States," said Animal Legal Defense Fund Executive Director Stephen Wells. "Today's victory makes it clear that the government cannot protect these industries at the expense of our constitutional rights."
Center for Food Safety is also co-counsel and co-plaintiff in another case successfully striking down Idaho's Ag-Gag law in 2017, and part of ongoing cases in North Carolina and Kansas.
A copy of the decision is available upon request (please email us at [email protected]).
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are the Animal Legal Defense Fund, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, Bailing Out Benji, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and Center for Food Safety. They are represented by the Animal Legal Defense Fund, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Iowa, Public Justice, the Law Office of Matthew Strugar and Center for Food Safety.
This Victorious California Ballot Measure Could Improve the Lives of Farm Animals Nationwide https://t.co/EITIAYdOCl— SSF-BERF-DEFM (@SSF-BERF-DEFM)1541775667.0
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
By Andrea Germanos
Food safety advocates are expressing sharp disappointment with the final federal GMO labeling rule, released Thursday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
While industry-friendly Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue asserted in a press statement that the new standard for foods produced using genetic engineering (GE or GMO) would boost "the transparency of our nation's food system" and ensure "clear information and labeling consistency for consumers about the ingredients in their food," groups like the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP)—and even food giants like Nestlé—say it does nothing of the sort.
"It is obvious that this rule is intended to hide, not disclose, information about genetically modified foods," said IATP senior attorney Sharon Treat.
Among the concerns being raised is that the rule, published Friday in the Federal Register and with implementation set to begin in 2020, refers not to the widely recognized phrase "genetically-modified food" but rather "bioengineered (BE) food."
To make the disclosure, food producers have four options: text, a friendly-looking symbol, an electronic or digital link, or a text message. According to Food & Water Watch executive director Wenonah Hauter, the symbol suggests "to consumers the product is natural and sustainable, when genetically engineered foods are anything but."
The option for the use of electronic codes, meanwhile, discriminates against those without access to a smartphone, tablet, or reliable internet access, and while the companies would also need to provide a telephone number for a consumer to call, that is onerous, the groups say.
Moreover, says the NonGMO Project, many products that deserve a label won't have to get one:
Highly processed ingredients, many products of new genetic engineering techniques such as CRISPR and TALEN, and many meat and dairy products will not require disclosure. Animal feed is not covered by this law; meat, eggs, and dairy from animals fed a GMO diet will not require a disclosure.
In light of such loopholes, Dana Perls, senior food and agriculture campaigner at Friends of the Earth U.S., summed up the new rules as "a disaster."
"No one should be surprised that the most anti-consumer, anti-transparency administration in modern times is denying Americans basic information about what's in their food and how it's grown," argued Scott Faber, senior vice president of government affairs for the Environmental Working Group.
"At a time when consumers are asking more and more questions about the use of genetic engineering," Faber continued, "today's rule will further undermine the technology by sowing greater confusion among Americans who simply want the right to know if their food is genetically modified—the same right held by consumers in 64 other countries."
The USDA has a new GMO label: "This rule is filled with loopholes that will allow manufacturers to use digital cod… https://t.co/NKzvzydXXl— Food & Water Watch (@Food & Water Watch)1545429962.0
Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.
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By Marie Logan
At Earthjustice, we're skeptical any time a company announces plans to convert public resources into private profits. Whether it's natural gas extraction in national parks or logging in a national forest that would displace endangered species, we're prepared to step in to protect our nation's natural resources whenever they are threatened.
Cadiz, Inc. is a public company that owns private land in a valley just east of Joshua Tree National Park and adjacent to the Sheephole Valley Wilderness, an area that's been called Joshua Tree's "untamed cousin." The company acquired land in Cadiz Valley in the 1980s, drilled a well, and began a small-scale farming operation, which helped it to establish water rights. It became clear almost immediately that Cadiz's true plan was not to farm, but rather to extract water from beneath the desert to sell to residents of southern California at a steep profit. The company's own website acknowledges that as early as 1984 it was investigating the "potential of the aquifer system" beneath its property.
Cadiz's visions of water extraction have ebbed and flowed over the years, and have now crystallized into a behemoth plan to extract 16 billion gallons of water—annually—from beneath the Mojave Desert.
This is a terrible idea for at least two reasons.
The Cadiz project would put birds like this one spotted at Bonanza Springs at risk.Bob Nohowec / Bureau of Land Management
First and foremost, such a massive extraction of water from beneath the desert will have devastating consequences for the many species that live in and rely on the Mojave Desert ecosystem. A recent study published earlier this year confirmed what has long been suspected: that the groundwater in this region is interconnected—or in scientist's terms, "hydrologically linked." As a result, the authors of the study warned that reducing groundwater in this area will result in a "potentially substantial decrease in free-flowing water" at natural springs in the area.
Natural springs in the desert, like the beautiful Bonanza Springs, are a critical source of water for a wide range of desert critters, including frogs, migrating birds, bighorn sheep and several threatened or endangered species. (Check out our client's recent declaration about the impacts the Cadiz project would have on the desert here.) Cadiz's project is likely to put many of these species at risk.
Second, the water beneath Cadiz is contaminated with hexavalent chromium, a cancer-causing chemical that was at the center of the movie "Erin Brockovich." Cadiz insists the contamination is naturally occurring, and it has promised to treat it, although it admits the water has been found to contain at least 16 parts per billion of hexavalent chromium.
The federal limit on hexavalent chromium is currently 100 parts per billion, which most environmental advocacy groups agree is woefully inadequate to protect public health. The State of California acted to protect consumers in 2014 by lowering its standard on hexavalent chromium from 50 to 10 parts per billion—which would have put Cadiz's water well above the new state limit. Unfortunately, a court overturned California's protective 10 part-per-billion limitation in late 2017. California still plans to issue a new, lowered limit on hexavalent chromium within the next two years, which means Cadiz might be subject to even more legal hurdles in 2019. In the meantime, the company's plans to pursue this ill-fated project in spite of the apparent contamination and the threats to endangered desert species make it all the more clear that its only true motivation is profit.
The Legal Fight
The Obama administration recognized the immense value of protecting this fragile desert ecosystem and its natural and scientific treasures. In 2016, President Obama designated a large swath of this public land—over 1.6 million acres—the Mojave Trails National Monument, placing the land under the protection of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
The Mojave Trails National Monument spans 1.6 million acres of federal lands. Cadiz wants to run a pipeline through it.Bureau of Land Management
To extract and ship water into the Los Angeles area, Cadiz must build a pipeline that crosses through the national monument. Its proposed pathway is along a former railroad right-of-way that runs roughly from Chambless, California, down to Rice. The Obama administration had made clear that the federal government would not approve such a pipeline, concluding in 2011 that Cadiz's pipeline bears no relation to a "railroad purpose."
Shortly after Trump took office, the administration abruptly reversed course, rescinding the Obama administration determinations and announcing that railroads can lease their land to third parties without seeking approval from the BLM to cross public lands.
Shortly thereafter, Earthjustice filed a complaint in federal court with the Center for Biological Diversity and the Center for Food Safety against the BLM. We've alleged violations of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, the Administrative Procedure Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act.
The federal government moved to dismiss our case, but we scored an early victory in June of this year when the court ruled in our favor, concluding that our clients had standing to sue, and that the government's actions are subject to judicial review.
Shortly after that ruling, Cadiz itself intervened in the case and it is now collaborating with the federal government to fight the lawsuit.
Meanwhile, Cadiz has released a spate of shiny new ads supporting the water project, along with a cheesy water counter that warns that 5.9 billion gallons of water have already been "lost" to evaporation this year. By suggesting that "Inland Empire families and businesses" ought to unite against "water waste" in the desert, Cadiz is craftily implying that the natural ecosystem is not an appropriate recipient of water, and that only human uses of water are worthwhile. By the company's own logic, every drop of water that isn't harvested from the sky or prevented from evaporation is "waste"—simply because it doesn't flow to people. But that's only true if you stand to profit from each drop of water that's sold.
The Bottom Line
I became an environmental lawyer because there are some things in this world that are too precious to be reduced to profit margins or quantified in dollars and cents. Cadiz's plan to extract billions of gallons of water from beneath a vibrant desert is a money-making scheme that will extract private profits from beneath public lands.
15 Lawmakers Plotting to Destroy and Privatize America's Public Lands https://t.co/af2o5IEKpU @World_Wildlife @greenpeaceusa— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1489797604.0
Marie Logan is an associate attorney with the California regional office of Earthjustice.
Under pressure from the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and other environmental and public health groups, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has banned seven substances used in artificial flavors that have been linked to cancer in animals.
"Chemicals that could cause cancer should never have been allowed in our food in the first place, especially not hiding behind the confusing label of 'artificial flavors,'" said Melanie Benesh, EWG's legislative attorney. "The FDA finally did the right thing by taking this important step to better protect consumers."
These food additives are most commonly used to enhance the flavor of baked goods, ice cream, candy, chewing gum and beverages. The newly banned flavors are benzophenone, ethyl acrylate, eugenyl methyl ether, myrcene, pulegone, pyridine and styrene.
"Consumers will never know which foods were made with these chemicals, since manufacturers have been allowed to hide these ingredients behind the vague term 'flavor,'" said Dawn Undurraga, EWG's nutritionist. "This is a positive step forward, but the FDA should empower consumers to make their own fully informed decisions by requiring full ingredient disclosure."
The ban on styrene was also supported by a petition from the food industry. But the FDA acted on the other six after public interest groups filed a lawsuit in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit petitioning the FDA to make a final decision whether to prohibit the seven cancer-causing artificial chemicals from use in food.
Earthjustice represented the petitioners, including Breast Cancer Prevention Partners, the Center for Environmental Health, Center for Food Safety, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Environmental Defense Fund, the Environmental Working Group, Natural Resources Defense Council, and WE ACT for Environmental Justice.
"We think this is a win for consumers. Our petition laid out the science linking these flavoring chemicals to cance… https://t.co/ijya5LiJPi— NRDC 🌎 (@NRDC 🌎)1539176431.0
To learn more about the chemicals used in processed foods, please visit EWG's Dirty Dozen Guide to Food Additives. Consumers looking for healthier options can also visit EWG's Food Scores database or download EWG's Healthy Living App, which provides ratings for more than 120,000 food and personal care products.
Last week, Center for Food Safety (CFS) sued the Trump Administration for refusing to make public documents surrounding its decision on how to label genetically engineered (GE or GMO) foods. On May 3, 2018, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released long-awaited proposed regulations for the first-ever U.S. mandatory disclosure of foods produced using genetic engineering. Earlier this year, CFS sought the public data and documents about the rulemaking under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), but the administration failed to make public any information, leading to this CFS lawsuit to force that disclosure.
This unfulfilled FOIA request can't help but bring to mind other transparency failings of the administration. From Michael Cohen's hush money payment of $130,000 to Stormy Daniels to Jared Kushner's failure to disclose his 2016 meetings in Russia to Congress, secrecy has defined Trump's time in office. "This administration has reached new lows in trying to keep information from the American public," said George Kimbrell, legal director at Center for Food Safety. "Fortunately the public has a right to these documents, just as they have a right to know what's in their food."
Earlier this month, CFS and dozens of consumer, environmental and farming organizations and companies submitted comments to USDA on the proposed rule. Of particular note is USDA's proposal to allow manufacturers to use QR codes instead of mandatory on-package text or symbol labeling of GE ingredients, which would be discriminatory and unreasonably burdensome to consumers.
Last fall, CFS successfully sued USDA to force the public disclosure of a congressionally required study by USDA to analyze whether QR code labeling would work for American consumers. USDA released the study publicly 12 days later, revealing findings that QR code labeling would leave out millions of Americans—especially rural, minority, and elderly populations—and would not adequately convey the information.
Proposed GMO Food Labeling Could Leave 100 Million Americans in the Dark https://t.co/UFWgoUi0zt @NonGMOProject @Cornucopia_Inst— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1525475707.0
Victory for Whistleblowers in North Carolina: Court Reinstates Constitutional Challenge to 'Anti-Sunshine' Law
The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled Tuesday that a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of North Carolina's anti-sunshine law can go forward, reversing the decision of the federal district court. The law was designed to deter whistleblowers and undercover investigators from publicizing information about corporate misconduct, and a coalition including animal welfare, press freedom, food safety, and government watchdog groups is challenging the law's constitutionality.
In its decision, the Fourth Circuit determined that plaintiffs' First Amendment rights were harmed if forced to "refrain[ ] from carrying out their planned investigations based on their reasonable and well-founded fear that they will be subject to significant exemplary damages." The fact that North Carolina has not yet enforced the anti-sunshine law and that the law imposes civil rather than criminal penalties does not prevent the plaintiffs from seeking to vindicate their constitutional rights. The state, the court writes, cannot pass a law that "by its terms [ ] prohibit[s] Plaintiffs' planned activities and [ ] subject[s] them to civil liability" and argue that the plaintiffs cannot sue to protect their freedom of speech.
The state legislature overrode a veto of the bill by Governor Pat McCrory in June 2015, and the law took effect in January 2016. Under the law, organizations and journalists who conduct undercover investigations, and individuals who expose improper or criminal conduct by North Carolina employers, are susceptible to suit and substantial damages if they make such evidence available to the public or the press.
The North Carolina law is part of a growing number of so-called 'ag-gag laws' passed by state legislators across the country. The bills, which are pushed by lobbyists for corporate agriculture companies, are an attempt to escape scrutiny over unsafe practices and animal abuses by threatening liability for those who expose these improper and, in many cases, illegal practices. North Carolina's version is written so broadly that it would also ban undercover investigations of all private entities, including nursing homes and daycare centers. The North Carolina law threatens to silence conscientious employees who witness and wish to report wrongdoing.
The plaintiffs in the suit, represented by Public Justice, are People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), the Center for Food Safety, Animal Legal Defense Fund, Farm Sanctuary, Food & Water Watch, the Government Accountability Project, Farm Forward, and the American Association for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).
This legal challenge is the first in the nation to make claims under both the U.S. Constitution and a state constitution.
The plaintiffs are represented in this appeal by David S. Muraskin and Leslie A. Brueckner of Public Justice in Washington, DC and Oakland, CA; Daniel K. Bryson and Jeremy Williams of Whitfield, Bryson & Mason LLP in Raleigh, NC; and in-house counsel for plaintiff organizations.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on Thursday released the long-awaited proposed regulations for the mandatory disclosure of foods produced using genetic engineering (GE or GMO), which it calls "bioengineered foods."
The regulations come out of a 2016 law signed by President Obama prohibiting existing state GE labeling laws, such as Vermont's, that required on-package GE labeling, and instead created a federal "disclosure" program, which for the first time creates a nationwide standard of required GE disclosure. There now will be a 60 day public comment period. The 2016 law requires that USDA issue the final rules by July 29, 2018.
Public comments will be particularly important because the proposal presents a range of alternatives for public comments and makes few decisions, leaving considerable unknowns about its outcome. For example, instead of requiring clear, on-package labeling in the form of text or a symbol, USDA proposes to allow manufacturers to instead choose to use "QR codes," which are encoded images on a package that must be scanned and are intended to substitute for clear, on-package labeling.
Real-time access to the information behind the QR code image requires a smartphone and a reliable broadband connection, technologies often lacking in rural areas. As a result, this labeling option would discriminate against more than 100 million Americans who do not have access to this technology. Last fall, CFS forced the public disclosure of USDA's study on the efficacy of this labeling, which showed it would not provide adequate disclosure to millions of Americans.
"USDA should not allow QR codes," stated Andrew Kimbrell, executive director at Center for Food Safety (CFS). "USDA's own study found that QR codes are inherently discriminatory against one third of Americans who do not own smartphones, and even more so against rural, low income, and elderly populations or those without access to the internet. USDA should mandate on-package text or symbol labeling as the only fair and effective means of disclosure for GE foods."
When it comes to on-package text or symbols, USDA proposes to disallow the terms "genetic engineering or GMO," and use only the term "bioengineered," or "BE," despite the fact that genetic engineering and GMO have been the terms used for 30-plus years by consumers, companies and regulators. Many food companies have long used the terms genetic engineered, GE, or GMO, and thousands of products are currently labeled as such (e.g., Non-GMO).
"USDA's exclusion of the well-established terms, GE and GMO, as options will confuse and mislead consumers, and the agency must instead allow the use of those terms," added Kimbrell.
Another big question left unanswered by the proposal is whether or not "highly refined" GE foods will be covered, such as cooking oils, candies, or sodas that have ingredients derived from GE crops, but are in processed form such that in the final product, the GE content may or may not be detectable. USDA is taking comments on whether or not to include these products, with two differing alternatives including or excluding them. The proposal also seeks comments on how to deal with newer forms of genetic engineering—which often go by different names such as synthetic biology, gene-editing, or CRISPR—and whether or not to include foods produced through them.
"Excluding highly processed GE foods would mean that consumers would be wrongly left in the dark about thousands of GE products," said Bill Freese, CFS's science policy analyst. "These products, as well as those from newer forms of genetic engineering, must be subject to mandatory labeling if this rule is to be meaningful."
Other major issues on which USDA is taking comment are what threshold to use for GE content, the timing of compliance, enforcement and record-keeping requirements.
CFS has been fighting for mandatory GE food labeling for over two decades at the federal and state levels. CFS provided legal and policy support to dozens of states that introduced GE labeling legislation, including Vermont which passed its GE labeling law in May 2014. CFS also helped successfully defend the Vermont law in court.
"This is a 'Call to Action' to all Americans who have waited for decades to finally have GE foods labeled. Now is the time to tell the Trump administration to do the right thing and meaningfully label these foods," declared Kimbrell.
20 Good Food Reads for Spring https://t.co/JopeWFa393 @lunchboxbunch @Greenpeace @ScienceNewsOrg— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1524956407.0
Tuesday Hawaii made history, as it became the first state in the U.S. to ban the pesticide chlorpyrifos, a highly toxic neurotoxin that causes significant damage to brain development in children. The pesticide's detrimental health effects led the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the Obama administration to propose banning all of its agricultural uses, but the Pruitt-led EPA under the current administration reversed this pledge. The bill, SB3095, is a significant first step in protecting public health from pesticide harms for the State of Hawaii. In addition to banning chlorpyrifos, SB3095 requires all users of Restricted Use Pesticides (RUPs) to report usage of these pesticides, and mandates minimum 100-foot no-spray zones for RUPs around schools during school hours.
Sylvia Wu, attorney for the public interest group Center for Food Safety, which has consistently championed for regulation of pesticide use in the State of Hawaii, emphasizes that the passage of this bill is a stepping stone towards even stronger legislation: "Today the Hawaii State Legislature finally heard the voice of its people. By banning the toxic pesticide, chlorpyrifos, Hawaii is taking action that Pruitt's EPA refused to take," said Wu, "and by taking the first step towards pesticide policies that will provide for more protection for children as well as more transparency, the Hawai'i State Legislature is acknowledging that it must protect its residents from the harmful effects of agricultural pesticide use." Earlier iterations of SB3095 had called for only a few pilot schools with no-spray zones, but the final bill put in place mandatory disclosure and no-spray zones around all schools, in response to the outpour of public testimony urging for better protection.
SB 3095 represents a turning point for Hawaii, and marks a new chapter for its residents, who have repeatedly demanded protection against pesticide harms. The world's largest agrichemical companies, such as Monsanto, Dow and Syngenta, experiment and develop their genetically engineered crops in Hawaii. Because the majority of these crops are engineered to resist herbicides and pesticides, testing and development of these crops result in repeated spraying of dangerous chemicals. Many of their operations are adjacent to schools and residential areas, putting children and public health at risk. Voluntarily reported pesticide use data shows that these companies apply thousands of gallons and pounds of RUPs in Hawaii each year.
"There is much to celebrate," said Gary Hooser, president of the public interest group Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action (HAPA). "This was a compromise in which everyone's voice was heard, and most importantly, the community's well-founded fears about their health were addressed. Our families have some much-needed protections against chemicals that we know are harming their health."
The bill, which goes into effect in July 2018, will ban chlorpyrifos by January 2019. Any user that wishes to continue using chlorpyrifos may do so only by applying for an exemption with the State. No exemption will be granted after 2022. The mandatory reporting and no-spray zone provisions are effectively immediately with no exemptions.
In 2015, the FDA approved genetically engineered salmon, the first ever GE animal to be approved for human consumption anywhere in the world. The Muckleshoot Indian Tribe and the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians called for sufficient consultation with Tribes to assess the environmental impact of GE salmon production, a legal requirement the FDA did not honor.
In 2016, the Quinault Nation joined 11 environmental and food safety organizations in a lawsuit against the FDA. On April 30, 2018, Center for Food Safety and Community Alliance for Global Justice premiered, "Salmon People: The Risks of Genetically Engineered Fish for the Pacific Northwest," followed by a panel discussion featuring indigenous and advocacy perspectives on the risks, labeling, and lawsuits currently surrounding GE salmon.
"Salmon is the pillar of our culture," said Valerie Segrest, cofounder of the Muckleshoot Food Sovereignty Project, featured in the film and on the panel. "For thousands of years the Coast Salish people have organized our lives around salmon. Corporate ownership of such a cultural keystone is a direct attack of our identity, and the legacy our ancestors have left us." Segrest is currently developing a curriculum to teach grades K-12 about environmental issues like the risks and impact of GE salmon on the Pacific Northwest's ecosystem. Fawn Sharp, President of the Quinault Nation, joined Segrest on the panel to discuss Northwest Tribal opposition to GE salmon at state and national levels.
Dr. Pete Knutson, a local fisherman who teaches environmental anthropology at Seattle Central College, connected the dots between aquaculture and GE salmon. "Salmon feedlots in our waters are subsidized by the degradation of the wild marine environment. Salmon farming multinationals have now joined biotechnology giants to produce synthetic salmon-like fish which presents new dangers," Knutson cautioned.
George Kimbrell, senior attorney for Center for Food Safety and co-counsel for the plaintiffs argued that the FDA didn't have the authority to approve and regulate GE salmon in the first place. The FDA claimed The 1938 Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act grants it the right to approve and regulate GE salmon, but those provisions were meant to ensure the safety of veterinary drugs given to livestock, not address entirely new GE animals that can pass along their altered genes to the next generation. "This case is about the future of food: FDA should not, and cannot, responsibly regulate this GE animal, nor any future GE animals, by treating them as drugs under a 1938 law," said Kimbrell.
Boyce Thorne-Miller, science advisor of Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance, a co-sponsor of the webinar, said: "Nothing about farming or eating GE [Atlantic] salmon makes any sense. It's bad for the wild salmon [both Pacific and Atlantic], bad for the wild fish that are caught to feed farmed salmon, bad for the ocean into which farmed salmon escape and excrete, bad for the people who rely on wild salmon for their livelihoods, and bad for those who eat salmon expecting high nutritional value. [And on top of all that, farmed Atlantic salmon don't even taste good!]"
In 2017, four U.S. Senators introduced SB 1528, the Genetically Engineered Salmon Labeling Act, including WA Senator Maria Cantwell. Labeling laws offer one necessary stop gap measure toward the prevention of biotech corporations proceeding without having made any good faith consultations with the Tribes, or without adequately addressing concerns raised by Tribes, fisheries, biologists, food system experts, environmental groups, food safety organizations and citizens. Urge your Senators to support the Genetically Engineered Salmon Labeling Act!
Alarming 'Salmon Extinction Act' Passes in U.S. House https://t.co/CU3PQ2XI6K @SalmonTroutCons @wildsalmoncntr— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1524793505.0
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Late Wednesday, a coalition of environmental organizations and farmers represented by the Center for Food Safety (CFS) and Earthjustice filed new legal papers in federal court seeking the reversal of Scott Pruitt and the Trump Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) approval of Dow Chemical's toxic pesticide, Enlist Duo. The novel pesticide is a combination of glyphosate and 2,4-D, to be sprayed over the top of corn, cotton and soybeans that are genetically engineered by Dow with resistance to both pesticides.
"Our filing reveals that EPA approved Enlist Duo despite its significant harms to health, environment, farms, water, and endangered species," said Sylvia Wu, CFS attorney and counsel for the coalition. "EPA's job is protecting the environment, human health, and farmers, not blindly do the bidding of pesticide companies. The court must stop its use."
In early 2017, EPA dramatically expanded approval of Enlist Duo use to 34 states and for use on cotton, only one year after a court sent back EPA's previous approval. The two chemicals in Enlist Duo do more damage when used together than the net damage they do when used separately.
"EPA has put human health, neighboring crops, and the survival and recovery of hundreds of endangered species at risk by recklessly putting a potent and toxic pesticide on the market without the data or expert review the law requires," said Paul Achitoff, Earthjustice attorney and counsel for the coalition. "We, and the law, demand much more from the agency created to protect our health and environment than bowing to chemical industry pressure."
Dow markets Enlist Duo and its companion Enlist crops as a quick fix for the "superweeds" epidemic created by prior genetically engineered "Roundup Ready" crops, genetically engineered to withstand what would otherwise be a toxic dose of the herbicide glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup. Repeated use of Roundup on these crops has resulted in the proliferation of glyphosate-resistant superweeds which now infest over a hundred million acres of U.S. farmland. These superweeds now require an even more toxic combination of herbicides, like Enlist Duo, to take them out, driving a dangerous spiral of increasing weed resistance and pesticide use. The U.S. Department of Agriculture conservatively estimates that use of Enlist Duo on U.S. corn and soybean will increase the use of 2,4-D by 200 to 600 percent.
Jim Goodman, an organic dairy and beef rancher from Wisconsin and board president of National Family Farm Coalition, one of the petitioners in the case, commented, "2,4-D is a possible carcinogen, an endocrine-disruptor and a herbicide that is very drift prone and persistent in the environment. The combination of 2,4-D and glyphosate in Enlist Duo is a recipe for disaster. It may control Roundup-resistant weeds, but only for a while, and at what cost to the health of farm workers, consumers and the environment?" Denise O'Brien, an Iowa farmer and board president of the Pesticide Action Network, emphasized EPA's responsibility to protect rural communities. "By continuing to cave to the pesticide industry's every wish, EPA is abandoning its duty to protect the health of our rural communities and our farmers' livelihoods from these toxic, drift-prone chemicals."
More than half a million people submitted comments to EPA urging the agency to reject Dow's plan to sell Enlist Duo. U.S. National Cancer Institute scientists highlighted 2,4-D specifically as associated with a two- to eight-fold increases in non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. The International Agency for Research on Cancer of the World Health Organization classified 2,4-D as a possible carcinogen to humans and glyphosate as a probable carcinogen to humans.
"EPA's decision to allow 2,4-D threaten farmers, farmworkers, rural communities and consumers. With this decision causing a predicted massive increase in use—as much as a seven-fold increase by 2020—the agency is violating any reasonable risk standard, given the productivity and profitability of sustainable organic practices," said Jay Feldman, executive director of Beyond Pesticides.
Spraying Enlist Duo over millions of new acres will also contaminate waterways and important wildlife habitats. Monarch butterfly populations have declined due to the loss of their milkweed host plants, which glyphosate kills. The Endangered Species Act requires federal agencies to ensure its actions to not jeopardize the existence of any endangered species. EPA admitted its approval could harm hundreds of endangered species, including the whooping crane and Indiana bat, but still failed to comply with the ESA.
"EPA's hasty approval of this dangerous pesticide cocktail will cause severe harm to human health and the environment unless we are able to stop it with this lawsuit," said Lori Ann Burd, environmental health director at the Center for Biological Diversity. "Its rush to do the bidding of pesticide companies shows that the EPA is prioritizing corporate profits over their duty protect us from harmful toxins."
The plaintiff coalition is Center for Food Safety, Center for Biological Diversity, Beyond Pesticides, Pesticide Action Network North America, National Family Farm Coalition, and Family Farm Defenders, jointly represented by legal counsel from Center for Food Safety and Earthjustice.
Monday, the Washington Department of Ecology sided with Center for Food Safety and numerous other community and conservation groups, and denied shellfish growers a permit to spray imidacloprid, a neonicotinoid, on shellfish beds on Willapa Bay and Grays Harbor, in southwest Washington. The requested permit would have allowed shellfish growers from Willapa-Grays Harbor Oyster Growers Association to spray this neurotoxic insecticide into water for the first time, in order to kill native burrowing shrimp.
"Center for Food Safety applauds the Washington Department of Ecology for making the right decision this time around and saying 'no' to the use of neonicotinoids in Washington bay waters," said Amy van Saun, staff attorney in Center for Food Safety's Pacific Northwest office."The state followed the laws requiring protection of this crucial aquatic ecosystem, the wildlife that depend on it, and the public from a dangerous plan to continue the chemical legacy of the industrial shellfish industry."
"We are pleased to see that after taking a hard look at the science that Ecology reached the inescapable conclusion that there must be a better way to find a balance within Willapa Bay that will allow oyster growers thrive while protecting this unique and fragile place," said Andrew Hawley with the Western Environmental Law Center.
After initially granting a request to spray imidacloprid, one of the oldest and most toxic neonicotinoids (the pesticides that are extremely harmful to pollinators, aquatic invertebrates and birds), the Washington Department of Ecology withdrew the permit in 2015 due to public outcry, especially from Seattle chefs. But the Growers Association again applied to spray imidacloprid, never before approved for aquatic use, onto shellfish beds to kill burrowing or ghost shrimp, a native species the growers say loosens the substrate and causes oysters and clams to sink. The Washington Department of Ecology completed a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) to evaluate the new science on imidacloprid and neonicotinoids' impact on the aquatic environment, concluding that the use of imidacloprid in Willapa Bay/Grays Harbor would have various harmful impacts, including:
- Significant, unavoidable impacts to sediment quality and benthic invertebrates.
- Negative impacts to juvenile worms and crustaceans in areas treated with imidacloprid and nearby areas covered by incoming tides.
- Negative impacts to fish and birds caused by killing sources of food and disrupting the food web.
- Concern about non-lethal impacts to invertebrates in the water column and sediment.
- A risk of impacts from imidacloprid even at low concentrations.
- Increased uncertainty about long-term, non-lethal and cumulative impacts.
Center for Food Safety, along with the Center for Biological Diversity and the Western Environmental Law Center, commented on the SEIS, urging the Washington Department of Ecology to consider all the latest science pointing to the extreme danger posed by water contamination with neonicotinoids and not to grant the permit based on both data gaps and the disturbing evidence of harm from neonicotinoids, including to aquatic species like Dungeness crabs, a commercially-valuable species.
"Dumping imidacloprid, or any other pesticide, into state waters depended on by so many plants and animals, including people, was never a good, long-term solution," said Lori Ann Burd, director of the Center for Biological Diversity's environmental health program. "It's important that we find sound, sustainable answers to the challenges Washington oyster farmers are facing that help balance, rather than poison, the environment we all share."
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