By Jaydee Hanson
In the foodie world, 2019 might as well be named The Year of the Impossible Burger. This plant-based burger that "bleeds" can now be found on the menus of Burger King, Fatburger, Cheesecake Factory, Red Robin, White Castle and many other national restaurant chains. Consumers praise the burger's meat-like texture and the product is advertised as an environmentally friendly alternative to traditional beef burgers.
In January, Impossible Foods launched the Impossible Burger 2.0. The company has stated that the new burger is "tastier, juicier and more nutritious" — featuring 40 percent less saturated fat than the old recipe, and just as much protein as 80/20 ground beef from cows. The new product is also gluten-free, replacing wheat with soy protein. Unfortunately, the Impossible Burger might just be too good to be true. At Center for Food Safety, we believe that replacing conventional animal products with ultra-processed, poorly studied, and under-regulated genetically engineered products is not the solution to our factory farm and climate crisis. Here's the science to back this up.
The Impossible Burger is manufactured from two different methods of genetically engineering soy products. This "impossible in nature" union is neither healthier nor more environmentally friendly than other kinds of non-meat burgers. While Impossible Foods, the company behind the Impossible Burger, has been trying to spin its product as both healthier and more sustainable than those of its competitors, a quick examination of the company's own data suggests otherwise.
1. The first kind of genetic engineering in the "Impossible Burger" is found in the soy used for the protein in the "burger" itself.
Rather than starting with organic soy beans, which have higher levels of protein and lower levels of Omega 6 fatty acids (the bad Omega), the company chose to use GMO soybeans, probably because they are cheaper than the organic beans. The company uses both GMO soy protein concentrate and GMO soy protein isolate for the protein in its burger. Impossible Foods does not describe how it processes the soy, but alcohol is the most common solvent used to process soy protein concentrate, as it produces products with a neutral taste. But the beneficial isoflavones in soy are removed by this method. Soy protein concentrate has the lowest level of healthful isoflavones — including daidzein, genistein and glycitein — of any form of processed soy.
Unfortunately, GMO soy is also sprayed with large amounts of the herbicide glyphosate, a product shown to cause cancer in people exposed during its application. GMO soy has been found to use significantly more herbicides than conventional soy or organic soy. At a time when juries are awarding billions of dollars in damages to those affected by exposure to glyphosate, it is startling that Impossible Foods would double down on the GMO soy that is inextricably linked to this toxic herbicide.
2. The second kind of genetic engineering of soy produces the "heme" that makes the Impossible Burger "bleed."
In order to manufacture its burgers, Impossible Foods takes DNA from the roots of soy plants, where a small amount of "heme" is produced, and inserts it into genetically engineered yeast that is then fermented to mass-produce heme. This is the first time that people have consumed this product. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is supposed to require testing in this situation to make sure that this novel protein does not cause allergic reactions in people. Unfortunately, instead of requiring Impossible Foods to file a new Food Additive Petition, FDA allowed the company to use a weak regulatory process called "Generally Recognized As Safe" (GRAS) where the company does its own research and chooses its own reviewers to self-certify that its product is safe for human consumption. Center for Food Safety has a lawsuit challenging the GRAS food additive loophole that the Impossible Burger went through, allowing it and many other novel food substances to unlawfully evade government analysis and approval before coming to market.
Even under the weak GRAS process, the first time the company submitted data on the allergenicity of its "heme," it was so inadequate that the FDA raised questions about the company's data and the company withdrew its application so that it could redo its research. Although the FDA now says that it has "no questions" about Impossible Foods' latest research on the safety of "heme," the agency itself has not affirmatively declared that "heme" produced in genetically engineered yeast is safe for human consumption. Moreover, FDA has warned Impossible Foods that it cannot claim its "heme" is a source of iron based on this review and that it must label its product as a potential allergen. The FDA also notes that the company should request a review of the "heme" as a new color additive.
Most customers of the Impossible Burger will not see labels saying that the burgers are made from GMO soy or could cause allergic reactions as Impossible Foods are currently only selling to fast food chains which do not put such labels on their menus.
Rather than buy the GMOx2 Impossible Burger, choose a non-GMO burger made in your local area. The Washington Post recently highlighted six veggie-based burgers being made by local restaurants that are not serving the Impossible Burger.
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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.
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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- 'Major Victory': Federal Court Rejects FDA Approval of 'Frankenfish' - EcoWatch ›
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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The yearly count of monarch butterflies overwintering in Mexico, released Monday, shows a decrease from last year's count and confirms the iconic orange and black butterfly is still very much at risk. The count of 2.48 hectares of occupied winter habitat is down from 2.91 hectares last winter.
Overall, monarchs have declined by more than 80 percent over the past two decades.
"Another year, another reminder: Our government must do what the law and science demands, and protect monarchs under the Endangered Species Act, before it's too late," said George Kimbrell, legal director at the Center for Food Safety. "The remaining question is whether the Trump administration wants to do Monsanto's bidding or protect monarchs for future generations."
"We could lose the monarch butterfly if we don't take immediate action to rein-in pesticide use and curb global climate change," said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity and co-author of the 2014 petition to protect monarchs under the ESA.
Roughly 99 percent of all North American monarchs migrate each winter to oyamel fir forests on 12 mountaintops in central Mexico. Scientists estimate the population size by measuring the area of trees turned orange by the clustering butterflies. That population has been dangerously low since 2008. In the mid-1990s the population was estimated at nearly one billion butterflies, but this year's population is down to approximately 93 million butterflies.
This year's drop is attributed in part to unseasonal weather last year including late spring freezes that killed milkweed and caterpillars, and an unseasonably warm fall that kept late-season monarchs from migrating.
In 2014 conservationists led by the Center for Biological Diversity and the Center for Food Safety petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to protect the butterfly under the Endangered Species Act. Monarchs are threatened by a host of sources destroying their habitat and food, but studies have shown that a main source of their catastrophic demise decline has been genetically engineered crops, engineered with resistance to Monsanto's Roundup pesticide, which has dramatically increased the pesticide use on their habitat. The Fish and Wildlife Service's initial decision was that endangered species protection may be warranted, and pursuant to a court victory the USFWS agreed to make a final decision by June 2019.
A 2016 study by the U.S. Geological Survey concluded that due to ongoing low population levels, there is between an 11 percent and 57 percent risk that the eastern monarch migration could collapse within the next 20 years. Scientists estimate the monarch population needs to reach 225 million butterflies to be out of the danger zone.
Monarchs have lost an estimated 165 million acres of breeding habitat in the U.S. to herbicide spraying and development. 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 including dicamba, Enlist Duo and by neonicotinoid insecticides that are toxic to young caterpillars.
Monarch butterflies west of the Rocky Mountains overwinter on the central coast of California. Their numbers dropped to a five-year low of only 200,000 butterflies 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.
Groundbreaking ‘Airbnb for Butterflies’ Now Open for Business, Donations https://t.co/RkuscKKzTm @NRDC @NWF @DavidSuzukiFDN @SierraClub 🦋— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1520000029.0
Reposted with permission from our media associate Center for Food Safety.
Conservation Groups, House Reps Call for EPA to Respect Science, Take Action on Pollinator-Killing Pesticides
Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D.-Ore.), alongside Representative Jim McGovern (D.-Mass.) and conservation, farmworker, farmer and consumer groups, on Wednesday reintroduced the Saving America's Pollinators Act, which aims to suspend the registration of certain neonicotinoid insecticides until the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) conducts a full scientific review.
In addition, 16 environmental and conservation groups have collected more than 100,000 public comments urging the agency to rein in the rampant overuse of neonicotinoid pesticides—a leading cause of pollinator population declines.
Thousands of scientific studies implicate neonicotinoid pesticides, or "neonics," as key contributors to declining pollinator populations. EPA's own scientists have found that neonics pose far-reaching risks to birds and aquatic invertebrates.
Last week, at the request of industry, the EPA extended its comment period on preliminary ecological and human health risk assessments for the neonicotinoids clothianidin, thiamethoxam and dinotefuran, and a preliminary ecological risk assessment for the neonicotinoid imidacloprid. The EPA's risk assessments found deadly impacts to birds from neonic-treated seeds, poisoned insect prey and contaminated grasses.
"EPA's recent assessment confirms what the science has already shown: that neonicotinoids are highly toxic not just to bees, but to aquatic species and birds," said Nichelle Harriott, science and regulatory director at Beyond Pesticides. "To protect our waterways and pollinators it is imperative that action be taken on these chemicals."
"Our nation's beekeepers continue to suffer unacceptable mortality of 40 percent annually and higher," said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of Center for Food Safety. "Water contamination by these insecticides is virtually out of control. Wild pollinators and wetland-dependent birds are in danger. EPA must recognize the vast scientific literature showing the hazards of these chemicals and act to protect bees and the environment."
University researchers have found that tiny amounts of neonics are enough to cause migrating songbirds to lose their sense of direction and become emaciated. A recent study by USGS researchers found neonics widespread in the Great Lakes at levels that may potentially harm aquatic insects—the foundation of healthy aquatic ecosystems.
"By harming pollinators like bees and butterflies, and natural pest control agents like birds and beneficial insects, neonicotinoids are sabotaging the very organisms on which farmers depend," said Cynthia Palmer, director of pesticides science and regulation at American Bird Conservancy.
These chemicals have become ubiquitous in our food supply. Testing carried out by American Bird Conservancy and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found neonicotinoids in 9 out of 10 bites of food from House and Senate dining halls, with some foods containing as many as five types of neonics.
Europe has instituted a temporary ban on neonicotinoids based on their harms to pollinators. Canada's pesticide regulatory agency has recommended banning the most widely used neonicotinoid based on harms to aquatic ecosystems.
"When presented with the science about neonics and bees, the question becomes 'In what imaginary world could this astoundingly efficient bee-killing, persistent insecticide, used countrywide in extreme overkill quantities, not be harming our pollinators?' said Dr. Luke Goembel, chemist and legislative vice chair with the Central Maryland Beekeepers Association. "The only thing that is keeping the U.S. from joining other nations in banning the use of these devastating poisons is the immense profit that fuels PR campaigns, intense lobbying efforts, and questionable studies designed to mislead us on the harm these poisons do."
Given the ongoing obstruction by EPA leadership, however, Representatives Blumenauer and McGovern are offering a legislative remedy to address the national pollinator crisis.
"Scientists at EPA are treated as irrelevant now because they are no longer part of the decision-making process," said Betsy Southerland, former director of EPA's office of Science and Technology. "All environmental decisions come out of Administrator Pruitt's private meetings with industry and agribusiness."
"The EPA has an important mission—protecting people and the environment from harm," said Genna Reed, science and policy analyst for Union of Concerned Scientists. "The EPA's leadership can't do their job unless they listen to their own scientists and make decisions that reflect the facts. At a time when EPA staff is shrinking and science advisors at the agency are underutilized, it is critical that the agency act to enforce safeguards that really protect people, informed by the evidence."
EPA: Neonicotinoid Pesticides Pose Serious Risks to Birds, Aquatic Life https://t.co/3p06Sc5VDD #neonics… https://t.co/MPr2EZL7cF— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1513613767.0
'Dangerous Drift-Prone Pesticide' Threatens Millions of Acres, Hundreds of Endangered Species: Farmers and Conservationists Sue EPA, Monsanto
On Friday, public interest organizations representing farmers and conservationists made their legal case in a federal lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Monsanto Company, challenging EPA's approval of Monsanto's new "XtendiMax" pesticide. XtendiMax is Monsanto's version of dicamba, an old and highly drift-prone weed-killer. EPA's approval permitted XtendiMax to be sprayed for the first time on growing soybeans and cotton that Monsanto has genetically engineered (GE) to be resistant to dicamba.
The 2017 crop season—the first year of XtendiMax use—was an unprecedented disaster. Just as critics warned would happen, dicamba sprayed on Monsanto's GE soybeans and cotton formed vapor clouds that drifted to damage a host of crops and wild plants. Over three million acres of soybeans as well as scores of vegetable and fruit crops, trees and shrubs throughout the country were damaged by dicamba drift. Flowering plants near cropland also suffered, with potential harms to pollinators, as well as hundreds of endangered animal and plant species. Agronomists reported they had never seen herbicide-related drift damage on anything approaching this scale before. As the 2018 season approaches, experts predict similar widespread devastation.
"The evidence shows that, rather than protecting farmers and the public interest, government officials rushed this pesticide to market without the rigorous analysis and data the law requires," said George Kimbrell, of the Center for Food Safety and counsel in the case. "There was good reason that decision had such devastating consequences last year: it was illegal."
The papers filed in court tell the story of how EPA should have known this would occur, yet instead was pressured by Monsanto into approving the pesticide without any measures to prevent vapor drift. The evidence in the case also shows that in late 2017, under pressure to take some action, EPA adopted revised instructions for use Monsanto proposed and approved—measures that agronomists believe will again be ineffective.
Denise O'Brien, Iowa farmer and Board president of Pesticide Action Network, said, "Last year, EPA ignored concerns of farmers, caving to Monsanto's pressure and rushing dicamba-resistant seeds to market. EPA has failed utterly to protect farmers from this exploding crisis."
Ben Burkett, National Family Farm Coalition board president raising soy, old growth pine trees and roughly 20 different vegetables in Mississippi commented: "I'm firmly against using dicamba. Mother Nature will win this fight anyway, but dicamba is very detrimental to the environment and will cause more harm than good to farms and farmers."
Not only did EPA fail to protect farmers, it put at risk literally hundreds of endangered species. Despite its own conclusion that the approval might harm an extraordinary number of the protected birds, mammals and insects in dozens of states, EPA refused to seek the guidance of the federal expert wildlife agencies, as the Endangered Species Act requires, and instead approved Monsanto's pesticide without any measures to protect them, and denied there would be any risk.
"EPA's disregard of both the law and the welfare of endangered whooping cranes, grey wolves, Indiana bats, and hundreds of other species at risk of extinction is unconscionable," Earthjustice attorney Paul Achitoff said. "That the EPA would indulge in this kind of recklessness and junk science to appease Monsanto is shocking."
"The EPA's foolish approval of dicamba left a deep scar across millions of acres of farms and forests," said Nathan Donley, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. "The ill-advised rush to approve this dangerous drift-prone pesticide reflects just how far the EPA has strayed from its duty to protect Americans and wildlife from harmful toxins."
The plaintiff organizations bringing the lawsuit are National Family Farm Coalition, Pesticide Action Network, Center for Food Safety and Center for Biological Diversity, represented jointly by legal counsel from Earthjustice and Center for Food Safety.
From National Parks to the EPA, Trump Administration Stiff-Arms Science Advisers https://t.co/lo3q1kCKgv… https://t.co/B2iZig1vli— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1516379125.0
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The Wonderful Company, maker of Halos mandarins and POM products, continues to give consumers misleading information about their use of oil wastewater to irrigate crops. Last October we reported on the response the company gave to consumer concerns. Fast forward over a year since we launched the campaign to tell the company to stop using oil wastewater and the company is still trying to be slick (pun intended). While the company spouts claims of "filtered" we know the waters are murky, so to speak. Pressure is mounting but The Wonderful Company is digging in its heels.
Based on the misinformation The Wonderful Company continues to water us with, we answer five frequently asked questions about oil wastewater use:
1. Is the water clean?
While The Wonderful Company claims to use "filtered" water, exactly how it is filtered we do not know, and we do not know what chemicals make it through their filters. Part of their process involves blending the water with freshwater, which is designed to reduce the concentration of chemicals, not eliminate them, so it is more than likely that their filtration process is not removing all of the chemicals. The water is tested but not for all the chemicals that we believe are possible in the wastewater. There is also no adequate state oversight of this type of irrigation to ensure the process is safe.
2. What is the difference between gray water and oil wastewater?
Oil wastewater is not gray water, at least not in the way we regard gray water as being recycled water. Gray water is wastewater generated from residential, commercial, and industrial bathroom sinks, bath tub shower drains, and clothes washing equipment drains (excluding water streams from toilets). Instead, oil wastewater is a byproduct of the oil extraction process. As such, it has a very particular exposure to toxic chemicals that would not be expected in normal gray water.
3. Is there oil residue on the fruit?
There has been extremely limited testing of crops to determine whether it contains toxic chemicals from the oil wastewater; we're working on getting more testing done, along with our campaign to have more (all) of the possible chemicals disclosed. It is hard to test for something without knowing what you are looking for. A recent report examined the chemical additives used in the oil operations that supply wastewater for crop irrigation. The result is alarming. They found that a total of 173 different chemical additives were used in oil and gas fields, of which 38 percent were not sufficiently identified for preliminary hazard evaluation. Why are so many unknown? Largely, it is because the companies are withholding information under proprietary claims.
4. How can we be sure there is no oil wastewater in my food?
Independent testing is the only way we can be sure the water is clean. Of the 173 chemicals researchers were able to analyze mentioned above, they found that 43 percent of them can be classified as "potential chemicals of concern from human health and/or environmental perspectives and require more thorough investigation." We are seeking rigorous independent testing of the water and the produce grown with the water, and until and unless that water can be proven to be pure and free of toxins associated with oil extraction, we are calling for a ban on the practice.
5. How else can using oil wastewater hurt our food system?
The presence of chemicals in the end-product is just one aspect of the problem. Even if the chemicals do not remain on the produce, they could still pose high risks to agricultural workers and the environment.
The truth is the use of oil wastewater to irrigate crops has not been proven safe for farm workers who are exposed firsthand to these chemicals or the environment, including the fish, birds and animals that may be exposed. When identification of chemical additives remains a trade secret and/or lacks toxicity and environmental profile information, it puts consumers, farmworkers and the environment at risk.
6. How can I help?
We will keep putting pressure on The Wonderful Company to stop watering our food with oil wastewater. Please join us! Take action or share it with your friends if you have already added your name!