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August 3rd, 2015

You’ve Got Questions About GMO Labeling; We’ve Got Answers

By Sarah Alexander

BlogThumb_GMOkidsWe get a lot of questions about why we need labeling for GMOs, even from staff of members of Congress. Our answers are below. We hope you’ll contact your Senators today, and give them the information below, so they can vote the right way and protect your right to know what’s in your food.

1: What is a genetically engineered food or GMO?

A genetically engineered food is a plant or animal that has been changed by taking genes from one species and inserting them into the DNA of another species or altering the DNA in a way that could never happen through traditional cross-breeding or in nature.

2: Aren’t genetically engineered foods safe?

The approval process for new GMO crops in the U.S. is extremely weak and relies solely on the safety tests done by the corporations that are creating these crops. Right now, most crops are approved by federal regulators under the “generally recognized as safe” provision, which means that if a GMO corn variety looks and “acts” like the non-GMO version of corn, it is approved.

Currently, biotechnology seed companies and their advocates are oversimplifying the hundreds of factors involved in the GMO production process to broadcast the myth of a “scientific consensus” that GMO foods are safe. To the contrary, most scientific bodies weighing in on the subject openly acknowledge unaddressed safety considerations and gaps in knowledge.

3: But don’t farmers need genetically engineered foods to feed the growing world population?

Most of the GMO crops planted today are engineered to withstand strong chemical applications, or to produce their own pesticides. Often, the chemical companies like Monsanto, Dow and DuPont that create GMO crops also create the chemicals that have to be used with the crops, so the main benefit of these patented crops is for the companies and their profits. Additionally, most of these GMO crops — like corn, soybeans, canola and cotton — are not grown as food for direct human consumption, but rather for animal feed, or to create ingredients in processed foods.

4: If over 90 percent of Americans support the labeling of GMOs, why hasn’t Congress or the Food and Drug Administration done anything?

 What we eat and feed our families has a direct impact on our health and wellbeing, and we have a right to know if the food we’re eating has been altered in a way that could never happen in nature. Unfortunately, the big food industries spend millions lobbying Congress and federal agencies to keep labels off of GMO foods. The Grocery Manufacturers Association, which represents the biggest food and chemical companies, has spent over $50 million to defeat labeling initiatives in multiple states.

5: Won’t labeling GMO ingredients cost companies a lot of money and raise the price of our food?

 This is one of the biggest industry myths. Consumers Union did a study last year that shows the requirement of labeling genetically engineered food ingredients will cost consumers less than a penny per day or $2.30/person annually.

6: Why should I take action and ask my Senators to oppose this legislation?

Genetically engineered crops are in most processed foods but are unlabeled, so many people who wish to avoid foods with GMO ingredients don’t know where they are lurking. GMOs are untested, and it’s unknown how these engineered foods may be impacting our health and the environment. At the very least, shouldn’t we have a choice to avoid them if we want to? The legislation that Congress is considering will prohibit any states from labeling GMOs and will make federal labeling voluntary, which is what we have already, and not a single product is labeled as containing genetically engineered ingredients.

Ask your Senators to support labeling of genetically engineered foods and to oppose any attempt to take away states’ rights to require labels.

July 30th, 2015

Foodborne Illness is Not Funny

By Tony Corbo

Tony Corbo, Senior Food Lobbyist

Tony Corbo, Senior Food Lobbyist

I was stunned to read an account of a recent panel discussion on the state of food safety regulation that took place at the International Association of Food Protection (IAFP) in Portland, Oregon. There, a top food safety official from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) made light of his agency’s inability to prevent food-borne illnesses caused by salmonella. It speaks to the insensitivity of some officials to the sorry state of food safety in this country, and it calls into question the competence of these officials to hold such positions of responsibility in the Obama administration.

The news account to which I am referring was posted on the website of Food Safety News entitled, “IAFP 2015: Taylor and Almanza Share the Same State in Portland.” I did not attend the IAFP conference, so I have to rely on this news account of what transpired at the panel discussion. The panel was composed of the Obama administration’s two top food safety officials—Alfred Almanza, USDA Deputy Undersecretary for Food Safety and Acting Administrator for the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) (he holds more titles than a Russian general has medals) and Michael Taylor, the Deputy FDA Commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine. Mr. Taylor was also the FSIS Administrator during the first term of the Clinton administration.

During a question and answer period with the audience, Mr. Almanza was asked that if USDA does not consider salmonella to be an adulterant in poultry (courts have ruled that because poultry is consumed fully cooked, it is the consumer’s responsibility to ensure it is safely handled), should salmonella be declared an adulterant in beef products since some consumers prefer to eat their beef rare. When a pathogen or other anomaly is considered to be an adulterant, food that contains it is not permitted to enter the food supply and if it does, it is subject to an immediate recall.

As he was trying to respond to the question, Mr. Almanza first fumbled and then tried to blame Mr. Taylor for not dealing with the issue when he was FSIS administrator during the Clinton administration. According to the Food Safety News story, the audience laughed at his so-called response.

Had I been in the audience, I would not have laughed, but I would have promptly gotten up and scolded Mr. Almanza. This is not funny, and neither Mr. Almanza, nor anyone else in the Obama administration, is even trying to correct this glaring loophole in USDA food safety regulations. Ask the 634 consumers who got sick from consuming salmonella-tainted poultry products processed by Foster Farms in 2013 and 2014 if salmonella is funny. It took Foster Farms 16 months from the time the outbreak began to recall voluntarily some of these contaminated products. Ask the 22 consumers who were made ill in 2013, or the 46 in 2012 who got sick from eating salmonella-contaminated ground beef if salmonella is funny.

The Obama administration needs to go to Congress and seek legislation to give USDA the authority to declare salmonella or any other pathogen that can cause food-borne illness an adulterant in order to prevent contaminated meat and poultry products from entering the food supply. It has chosen not to do that even when top administration officials, such as the Secretary of Agriculture, have been pressed to in Congressional hearings.

Now, there is pending legislation in Congress that would give USDA that authority, but the administration has not endorsed it.  However, it is moving ahead with plans to deregulate poultry inspection by turning over more of those responsibilities to the companies to police themselves.

This is not a laughing matter; it makes me very angry. So angry in fact, that I filed a Freedom of Information Act request in October 2013 for the all FSIS records into its investigation of the 2013-2014 Foster Farms outbreak. I am still waiting for a complete response to my request. That’s not funny either.

July 27th, 2015

Three Ways The Energy Policy Act Ushered In The Frackopoly

By Wenonah HauterBlogThumb_Wenonah2

This is a good week to reflect on Dick Cheney’s role in facilitating fracking. Early in the George W. Bush administration, he put together a task force made up of energy industry CEO’s and lobbyists, known as EPACT 2005, which rewrote energy policy.The damage this legislation did is much broader than is usually discussed.

This has become increasingly apparent to me as I researched and wrote my new book, Frackopoly: The Battle for the Future of Energy and the Environment (to be released next spring). The tremendous political power of the energy industry unleashed the tragic policy decisions in EPACT 2005. In fact, their increasing pwer over the past hundred years has locked us in to dependence on fossil fuels and other dirty energy sources. Federal funding was key in developing the technologies that are used for fracking today. Removal of federal oversight of natural gas pricing and changes in the rules around the transportation of natural gas in pipes also helped eventually drive the shale gas boom. Decisions in the 1990’s concerning the deregulation of the electric industry – how electricity is generated, sold on the wholesale market and delivered to consumers – also drove the use of natural gas-fired generation.

But one of the biggest oil and gas industry giveaways happened 10 years ago this week, when Congress passed the Energy Policy Act of 2005.

This giant energy bill had massive handouts and incentives for the fossil fuel, nuclear and ethanol industries, with minimal incentives for renewables and energy efficiency. This bill was largely written by the lobbyists of the oil and gas industry and other dirty energy interests. The long forgotten shyster Kenneth Lay, of Enron fame (or infamy) was one of the leading lobbyists for deregulation of the electric industry and the giveaways to the energy industry in EPACT 2005. Lay and other Enron officials lobbied the Clinton and Bush Administrations for significant deregulation of energy markets that paved the way for fracking—and many of the policies were signed into law by President Bush on August 8, 2005.

Here are three specific ways the Energy Policy Act promoted fracking.

  1. The Halliburton Loophole

This may be the most familiar tool the Energy Policy Act wielded in helping necessitate the fracking boom. It famously exempted fracking from chemical disclosure rules under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), so we don’t even know the full range of chemicals used in the cocktail of fluids injected underground in the process of releasing natural gas from deep beneath the earth’s surface. The Halliburton Loophole, named for the company where Dick Cheney had been CEO before becoming Vice President, not only exempted fracking companies from provisions of SDWA, but also from provisions of the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act.

The loophole clouded the otherwise clear lines of liability for companies that contaminated water. It also makes it a nightmare for health professionals treating victims of fracking-related injuries, because they can’t get the information they need to provide proper care.

  1. FERC granted power of imminent domain in siting new gas infrastructure

The Energy Policy Act gave the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) sweeping new powers to overrule local and state governments in the siting of new pipelines for gas and new transmission lines for electricity – even when there are conflicts with other federal laws. The agency was given the power of eminent domain so that it can swoop in and take property for building this intrusive and often unnecessary infrastructure.

FERC was given the authority to approve the siting, construction, expansion and operation of LNG terminals. It was also authorized to be the lead agency coordinating compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, one of the nation’s most important laws for protecting the environment.

Combined with the powers granted to FERC when it was created, and the fact that it is an independent agency unresponsive to politics, EPACT 2005 made certain that affected communities would be virtually powerless to fight against this unneeded infrastructure.

  1. Repeal of the Public Utility Holding Company Act

The Energy Policy Act repealed anti-monopoly legislation – the Public Utility Holding Company Act of 1935, or PUCHA – that safeguarded consumers from the overreach of the oil and gas industry and banks in the utility industry. As M. Elizabeth Sanders writes in The Regulation of Natural Gas: Policy and Politics, 1938-1978, UCHA restricted the size and geographic reach of gas and electric utilities. It also restricted parent companies of utilities from cheating ratepayers by charging high fees for services to their affiliate utility subsidiaries and from speculating in risky businesses with ratepayers’ money.

Among the key consumer and investor protections in PUHCA, it prohibited non-utilities (such as oil companies or investment banks) from ownership of gas or electric utilities, and empowered the SEC to oversee the business dealings of utilities to prevent the reappearance of the huge multistate utility cartels that had previously ripped off customers and ruined investors. Utilities were required to provide the SEC with detailed financial information and to have financial transactions approved—from issuing securities to reorganizing.

PUCHA’s strong regulatory authority was replaced by giving FERC the authority to review electric utility mergers and acquisitions.

And as could have been predicted, FERC did not prevent the consolidation of the electric utility industry. The repeal of PUHCA unleashed energy market speculation and created extremely large energy companies with outsized influence on our political system. According to OpenSecrets.org, since 1998 the top 10 electric utilities, listed below, have spent $581 million on lobbying the federal government. One of the little-recognized benefits of PUHCA was in preventing corporate utilities from becoming political powerhouses. Their increased size and profits have enabled them to influence policy on a much broader scale.

Today, a handful of giant companies operate subsidiaries that provide electricity and half of them are involved in trading energy on Wall Street. Deregulatory measures have incentivized them to sell as much electricity as possible, much of it generated by natural gas. They are:

  1. Exelon Corp
  2. Duke Energy
  3. Southern Company
  4. NextEra
  5. Dominion
  6. Xcel Energy
  7. PPL Corp
  8. PG&E Corp.
  9. Public Service Electric & Gas
  10. American Electric Power

The chilling effect that Enron and the other proponents of deregulation has had on sound energy policy – by letting the market make decisions about energy choices – cannot be overstated. Energy use, according to Energy Information Administration (EIA) data, is continuing to increase at a time when conservation policies and energy efficiency solutions must be prioritized. As a result of years of lobbying and campaign contributions form the oil and gas industry, policymakers instead declared natural gas, and ultimately fracking, as the best solution for addressing climate change, with bogus cost-benefit analyses.

The 10th anniversary of the Energy Policy Act is a good reminder that it is long past time for a paradigm shift. We need localized, efficient and clean energy systems now to meet our energy needs and safely power our communities.

July 21st, 2015

Give Me a Break: Renewable Energy Credits Threatened by Koch Brothers

By Mitch Jones

BlogThumb_WindTurbinesAt the end of next year government policies that have successfully aided the growth of residential and commercial solar and industrial wind are set expire. Congress can help do something about this, but powerful special interests could stand in the way. Read the full article…

July 20th, 2015

Congress’s Handout to the Bottled Water Industry

By Elizabeth Schuster

During the Congressional appropriations process it is not uncommon for members to include legislative giveaways to corporate interests such as Big Ag and the oil and gas industry. Now it’s the bottled water industry’s turn.

This year especially, the House bill to fund the Department of the Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and related agencies has received a lot of attention for being the most anti-environment, anti-government funding bill to date.

With final consideration and vote on the bill indefinitely stalled due to a controversial amendment about the Confederate flag, it’s a good time to pause and consider another hidden rider included in the House version of the appropriations bill. This one is a gift wrapped giveaway to the bottled water industry.

Representative Keith Rothfus (R-PA), put forward an amendment, passed by a voice vote, which prevents the National Park Service from implementing its 2011 policy aimed to reduce and recycle plastic bottles in national parks. Recognizing the need to reduce the parks’ environmental footprint, the policy allows the option for parks to stop selling bottled water if they complete an extensive list of requirements.

Since the policy went into effect, more and more parks have banned the sale of bottled water, opting instead for water refilling stations. Parks that have adopted this policy have reported a reduction in litter from plastic bottles. This is an important step forward in preserving the environment of our public lands and moving us away from our dependency on bottled water.

The House appropriations process is at a standstill and the amendment was already approved. But we can still stop this nonsensical amendment from becoming law. First, we can ask our representatives to vote NO on the Interior-EPA bill.  Second, we can ask our Senators to keep this language out of the Senate version of the Interior-EPA bill.

We must stop giving the bottled water industry free reign to exploit our natural resources! Take action today to tell Congress to keep bottled water out of our national parks.

July 15th, 2015

They’re Biking Hundreds of Miles – For a Good Cause

By Jo Miles

This is the Climate Ride: four to five days of cycling or hiking through some of America’s most beautiful landscapes, all to raise money to fight climate change. For the first time, Food & Water Watch is a beneficiary, which means that riders can choose us as a recipient of their fundraising to help us ban fracking and protect the climate.

Do you love to bike? We’re assembling teams right now for the Midwest Ride from Grand Rapids to Chicago, and the Northeast Ride from Bar Harbor to Boston, both in September 2015, and we’re looking for more folks to join our teams.

Below, you can meet some of the Food & Water Watch staff that are riding this fall (plus Midwest Ride team captain and veteran Climate Rider Aliya Mejias, who we interviewed last week). They’d love for you to join them! As you can see, you don’t have to be an expert cyclist or an experienced fundraiser to do the Climate Ride. All you need is a sense of passion and the desire to challenge yourself.

 

Jessica Fujan, Midwest Organizer, Chicago
Climate Ride Midwest – Grand Rapids to Chicago

Jessica Fujan with her bike in Chicago

Why did you sign up? 

Because I am in love with my job and my coworkers, and can’t do enough to promote our success. Putting my strength and effort toward crushing the oil & gas lobby makes me feel like part of something powerful. The fight for the climate seems enormous and sometimes insurmountable. Surrounding myself with like-minded riders for the climate helps me remember we can and will win.

 

Tell us about your cycling experience.

I was an avid cycler in my youth but it took me a while to get into urban cycling after moving to Chicago in 2011. I’ve certainly never ridden anywhere near 300 miles, but see it as an opportunity to hang out with cool people at about 10 miles per hour.

 

How are you training for the ride?

I’m training by cheating and pretending that the six miles I bike to work every day count. I’ve also biked to a few meetings in the suburbs, rather than driving. It feels really good to show up to a meeting with a Congress member and already have 15 miles behind you. And yes, you can bike 30 miles and still manage to look nice!

 

How’s your fundraising going? Any tips?

Fundraising is frightening but I’ve been amazed by people’s generosity. People are inspired by solutions to climate change and are ready to be part of something big.

 

What are you most excited about?

I’m most excited to bike and camp alongside so many like-minded people and, honestly, raise $15,000 [as a team] for an organization that I love. It’s crazy to think how far $15,000 goes when you’re building the power of the grassroots to take on moneyed interests.

 

 

Lily Boyce, Researcher, Food Team

Team Captain for Climate Ride Northeast – Bar Harbor to Boston

Lily Boyce with her bike in DC

 

Why did you sign up? 

I always thought it was an intriguing idea. I ride my bike to work every day but have never done an extended ride like this, and I wanted to challenge myself. I also fully believe in bringing bicycling to the forefront of our discussions about transportation infrastructure and sustainability, and of course, I want to support Food & Water Watch!

 

Tell us about your cycling experience.

I ride every day to and from work, and occasionally I ride 10-20 miles recreationally.

 

How are you training for the ride?

I JUST signed up, so I’m putting together a training plan now! But basically I think I’ll be doing two or three short rides during the workweek and one long ride on the weekend, ramping up the distance week by week. Also, I’ll incorporate plenty of yoga and cross training to keep my flexibility and strength up!

 

How’s your fundraising going? Any tips?

Fundraising is always an intimidating endeavor, but after just two weeks I’ve learned that people really are generous when it comes to a cause that matters. I’ve just passed my 25% mark, and if I can do that, anyone can! It’s also been fun thinking up creative ways to get people involved.

 

What are you most excited about?

I think this route is going to be really, really beautiful. That coupled with the idea of riding with and meeting so many people who have the same goals as I do just makes for an incredibly exciting trip!

 

 

Matt Ohloff, Midwest Organizer, Iowa

Climate Ride Midwest – Grand Rapids to Chicago

 

Why did you sign up?

I signed up because it looked like an all-around excellent experience to support the work of an excellent organization that I am fortunate to work for, and because it seems like a great challenge. I’ve wanted to do the RAGBRAI ride across Iowa the past several years, but unfortunately it hasn’t worked out. So this will be my first multiple day long ride and I’m really looking forward to it.

 

Tell us about your cycling experience.

I’m a causal rider – I bike to work and take some longer rides on weekends.

 

How are you training for the ride?

I’m biking the awesome bike trails in central Iowa throughout and around Des Moines.

 

How’s your fundraising going? Any tips?

Well, after really only seeking donations for less than two weeks, I’m almost at 25 percent of my goal.

 

What are you most excited about?

I think biking along Lake Michigan will be awesome. And I’m looking forward to meeting like-minded and dedicated activists along the ride.

 

 

Erica Papan, Organizing Intern, Chicago

Climate Ride Midwest – Grand Rapids to Chicago

 

Why did you sign up? 

I signed up because I love to bike and participate in athletic competitions of many sorts and on the first day of my summer internship it was brought up during a conference call. I immediately thought it sounded fantastic.

 

Tell us about your cycling experience.

My cycling experience is mostly recreational. I have been biking for enjoyment and exercise for years, and also use it as my primary mode of transportation.

 

How are you training for the ride?

I have been following the Climate Ride Training Guide and working on regulating my diet and monitoring the types of foods I eat. I have, also, been focusing on muscle strength, endurance, and recovery by following a workout plan incorporating weight lifting, yoga, and dedicated stretch & relax days.

 

How’s your fundraising going? Any tips?

I have not done a lot of large-scale fundraising in the past, so it is definitely a learning experience for me. At this point I have raised about 25 percent of my goal, but have also only done general, initial outreach. I anticipate doing more in the near future, so hopefully my rookie tactics are successful!

 

What are you most excited about?

I am most excited to use the physical challenge of long-distance cycling as a representation of the long-term challenges faced by the planet in regards to climate change. I hope that participating in the Climate Ride helps to raise awareness of what is being done by organizations like Food & Water Watch, and the many things that still desperately need to be done by people everywhere. I am also super stoked to have to opportunity to bond with my fellow Food & Water Watch people over a scenic ride through Great Lakes country!

 

 

Interested in joining the Climate Ride this fall? Our staff riders would love to meet you there! Check out more information and register on the Climate Ride site, or leave a comment if you have questions.

July 10th, 2015

Big Voices Rally To Support Beleaguered Chicken Farmers

By Patrick Woodall

John Oliver and Willie Nelson have used their platforms to speak in support of chicken farmers.

John Oliver and Willie Nelson have used their platforms to speak in support of chicken farmers.

On Wednesday, the House Appropriations Committee approved its version of the budget for fiscal year 2016 for USDA and the Food and Drug Administration, and finally, there was some progress in the long plight to seek justice for poultry farmers.

For those of you who remember John Oliver’s recent piece on how unfairly chicken farmers are treated by big chicken processing companies, this is the House committee he highlighted by flashing members’ pictures on the screen (famously hurling the epithet we won’t repeat here). So the good news is that finally, the bill passed by the House committee did not include a provision found in previous years that had blocked the USDA from implementing important measures to protect farmers from unfair and abusive practices by meatpackers and poultry processors. These rules had been stalled since 2011 by a long-standing amendment pushed by the meatpackers and poultry companies.

Although Food & Water Watch and our allied farm organizations successfully pushed to get these measures included in the 2008 Farm Bill, the meatpacker and poultry processing lobby had kept the rules from ever going into effect, often through the limitations they put in previous years’ appropriations bills.

While Reps. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) and Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) have been championing this issue for years, the dam began to break starting with John Oliver. And this week, Rep. Kaptur and Farm Aid president Willie Nelson penned a strong op-ed in the Washington Post highlighting the plight of America’s chicken farmers and urging the Appropriations Committee to let USDA get moving to protect chicken farmers.

And contract fairness for farmers wasn’t the only topic the committee dealt with on Wednesday. A few other highlights (and lowlights):

  • The bill contains a provision that would prohibit USDA from purchasing any poultry products from the People’s Republic of China for use in the nutrition programs the department administers, including the National School Lunch Program.
  • The bill contains a provision that prohibits USDA from implementing rules that permit fresh beef imports from Brazil and Argentina until a risk assessment on the presence of foot and mouth disease in those two countries is completed and a report is filed with Congress on the status of their respective meat inspection systems.
  • The bill prohibits the elimination of the USDA catfish inspection program that was established by the 2014 Farm Bill in any trade negotiations with foreign governments.
  • The bill directs FDA to report semi-annually on the status of its investigation of pet illnesses and deaths caused by pet food imported from the People’s Republic of China.
  • The final bill includes cuts in the budget for the Food Safety Inspection Service to reduce inspection workforce to implement a new privatized poultry inspection system that lets chicken companies perform inspection tasks now performed by USDA employees.
  • The bill only provides approximately 40 percent of the requested funds to implement FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act.

But this process isn’t finished. The House Committee dropped the bad pieces of the bill that would block farmer contract protections from being finalized, but they could still show up later on the House floor, in the Senate or somewhere along the long road to the president’s desk. The same holds true for the prohibition against Chinese chicken in school lunches, the reaffirmation of USDA’s catfish inspection, reporting on pet illnesses from Chinese pet treats and the prohibition against beef imports from Argentina and Brazil. And this year could see Congressional gridlock devolve into near government shutdown, as in years past, which means all the good work done this week could get swept away by last minute Congressional deal cutting.

Stay tuned and we’ll tell you when it’s time to weigh in with your members of Congress as the bill moves through the process.

July 9th, 2015

Climate Ride: Inspiration for You; Support for Food & Water Watch

Imagine riding a bicycle 300 miles with 150 other inspired people to raise funds for a cause that matters to you. Whether the emotions trigged by that thought fall closer to the terror end of the scale (totally normal!) or near elation, we encourage you to join our Midwest or Northeast Food & Water Watch team for our first year as a beneficiary of the Climate Ride. You don’t have to be a bike racer or own a stitch of stretchy cycling togs to join Food & Water Watch for these wonderful September rides that support solutions to climate change, like our work to ban fracking. All you need is enthusiasm, a willingness to challenge yourself and a desire to have fun making a difference. Take it from Jo, Sandra and Aliya, members of our staff who loved their experiences on Climate Ride and have great stories and tips to share.

 

Jo Miles, Digital Program Director
NYC to DC Climate Ride, May 2012

Jo Miles completes the 2012 NYC to DC Climate Ride at the U.S. Capitol

Jo Miles completes the 2012 NYC to DC Climate Ride at the U.S. Capitol

Were you an experienced cyclist before you signed up?
If I survived Climate Ride, then anyone who can ride a bike can do it. I was badly out of practice at cycling when I signed up. I knew how to ride in traffic to commute, but I don’t think I’d ever ridden more than ten miles in a day before that, and certainly no multi-day tours. I knew it would be a huge challenge for me.

What stood out to you about the ride?
The route was outstanding. I live in Maryland, but never knew how beautiful the mid-Atlantic countryside is. The ride was incredibly well organized, from training and fundraising support to taking care of riders’ needs on the road. And everything was bound together by the theme of climate. My fellow riders were fun and accomplished and passionate about the environment, so there was great company the entire time, and it was very cool to hear what everyone was working on.

What was your most inspiring moment on the ride?
It’s hard to pick just one, of course, but arriving in DC, riding through the town where I live and then down the Capital Crescent Trail (where I trained many times) and finally riding en masse down Constitution Ave. to the Capitol… that’s hard to beat!

What’s your best fundraising tip?
Ask literally everyone you know, and ask them individually. Tell them what you’re up to, and you’ll be surprised who steps up to support you.

What was your biggest challenge on or before the ride?
Definitely the training. I was pretty worried about whether I’d actually make it through. Early on I wondered if signing up was a big mistake. But Climate Ride gives you training tips, and I followed their guide and worked up to longer and longer rides in the weeks before the event. I rode to work multiple times a week and did at least one long ride every weekend; by the time the ride started, I was ready.

What is one takeaway from the ride?
I left with an incredible feeling of accomplishment and a host of new friends. It was a truly fantastic experience.

 

Sandra Lupien, Western Region Communications Manager
California Climate Ride, October 2011

Sandra Lupien at the finish of the 2011 California Climate Ride at San Francisco City Hall. PHOTO: KIP PIERSON PHOTOGRAPHY

Sandra Lupien at the finish of the 2011 California Climate Ride at San Francisco City Hall. PHOTO: KIP PIERSON PHOTOGRAPHY

Why did you sign up?
I am deeply motivated to be a part of efforts that amplify and help solve the climate crisis. When I learned about the Climate Ride, I signed up my (former) employer as a beneficiary and volunteered to be our team captain (even though I was super-intimidated by the mileage).

Describe your cycling experience before you signed up.
I’d been an avid bicycle commuter for many years, obsessed with using my bike to haul everything from groceries to lumber. But, I had never done a long recreational ride. Like Jo, I followed the Climate Ride’s great training plan to get ready.

What stood out to you about the ride?
Haha! The rain! The Climate Ride calls the 2011 California participants “The Storm Riders” because we rode and camped in uncharacteristically wet conditions for about half or our ride. It was truly awesome because everyone was in it together and the staff took great care of us. Beyond the rain, what stood out was solid organizing, terrific people from age 18 – 75, stunning scenery and plenty of good food.

What was your most inspiring moment on the ride?
On the last day, we woke up early to clear weather. The staff had rigged a tarp to cover the breakfast area. As the ride leader, Blake, started reviewing the day’s route, a torrential downpour broke. Someone started chanting, “More! More! More!” and we all joined in solidarity. By the time we reached Stinson Beach (in Marin County), the sun broke through the clouds. The support team turned the van’s radio to a disco station and we all did The Hustle in the parking lot. Then we rode over Mount Tamalpais, across the Golden Gate Bridge to San Francisco City Hall in glorious sunlight. I won’t deny that I shed a lot of happy tears. Unforgettable.

How much money did you raise?
I raised about $5,500 using email and Facebook. I asked many times and thanked people immediately and publicly for their gifts. The results on Facebook surprised me – people I hadn’t spoken with since junior high or high school supported my campaign. It was so cool!

What was your biggest challenge on or before the ride?
My mind. Both before and during the ride, I was really afraid I wouldn’t be able to make the miles or do the hills. But, I did it! Well, I did jump in the van to go over the biggest hill and I walked my bike on parts of others, but it still counts!

Best advice?
Before you start training, go to a quality bike shop and have your bike professionally fit. Trust me. Also: bike shorts. Again, trust me.

 

Aliya Mejias, Development Associate
NYC to DC Climate Ride, September 2013
2015 Midwest Ride Food & Water Watch Team Captain

Aliya Mejias, right, completes the 2013 NYC to DC Climate Ride

Aliya Mejias, right, completes the 2013 NYC to DC Climate Ride.

Why did you sign up?
My life is dedicated to protecting our environment and I felt it was time to really show how serious climate change is. I grew up in New York and now live in DC, and I thought that committing myself to raising $3,000 by biking 300 miles from one home to the other would be a great way to get people’s attention.

Describe your cycling experience before you signed up.
I finally gained the confidence to navigate the DC streets my sophomore year in college. I never did long rides, barely knew the surrounding trails and just commuted about ten miles a day as a way to avoid a reliance on fossil fuels. But Climate Ride isn’t about being the most elite biker or seeing who can get to the end first. It’s about building the movement toward a truly sustainable and healthy future.

What stood out to you about the ride?
Because the route connected my home cities, it felt personal to me. I had driven between New York and DC countless times and never imagined I could bike it while raising money and awareness for climate issues. Also, riders ending in DC got to meet with elected representatives to share their reasons for riding 300 miles – I knew I had to do it too.

Describe your favorite/best/most inspiring moment on the ride.
If I had to pick just one, I’ll say it was meeting with my representative to share my story and ask him to take a hard stance on protecting our environment and health. It was really nerve-racking since I’d never met with a representative, but Climate Ride provided us with training so we would be confident.

How much money did you raise?
I raised $3,225 — thanks to the 126 people who supported me! I was so grateful – I thanked every person as soon as I received their donation. On social media, I tagged each donor in a thank-you post and also provided updates on my fundraising and training. I found that seeing that others were giving and reading my progress updates encouraged others to donate.

What was your biggest challenge on or before the ride?
Fundraising. My development resume consisted of a Trick-or-Treat fundraiser and a smaller event earlier that year that raised $200. Thankfully, Climate Ride provided a lot of helpful resources such as email samples, tips and tricks of the trade and awesome fundraising ideas.

Why are you doing the ride again?
I’m riding again because it’s Food & Water Watch’s first year as a beneficiary! I rode away from the 2013 ride with confidence that we can and will make real change. Climate Ride also taught me to challenge myself – that’s why my personal fundraising goal is $5,000 this year. The climate movement has had some victories in the two years since my ride —a fracking ban in New York State and a moratorium on fracking in Maryland, for example. And we still have a lot of work to do. Riding for Food & Water Watch will help build the grassroots power to win lasting policy changes that promise us safe, sustainable and affordable food and water.

Sounds like fun, right? Why not join Team Food & Water Watch for the Northeast or Midwest Climate Ride this September? Aliya, along with 2015 participating staff members Jessica, Matt, Alison and Lily (watch for a blog introducing them next week) are building some great team spirit and they’d love to cheer you on along the way. Plus, our team members get a custom Food & Water Watch jersey and t-shirt, abundant appreciation and the satisfaction of knowing that they’re helping Food & Water Watch protect our food, water and climate. For more information, contact Aliya at amejias[at]@fwwatch[dot]org. Are you in for Climate Ride 2015? Register today!

July 8th, 2015

Will The White House Fix The GMO Approval Process?

By Genna Reed

GMO_Farming_BlogThumbThe White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) launched the Coordinated Framework for the Regulation of Biotechnology in 1986, which laid out how the EPA, FDA and USDA would share responsibilities for regulating GMOs to ensure their safety. But this framework has never managed to provide an adequate review of genetically engineered foods. The current system relies on analysis and data from companies seeking approval for their new GMO crops and fails to do any post-approval monitoring once these foods hit the market or even require labeling.

Just before the July 4th holiday weekend began, the White House released a memo to the EPA, FDA and USDA announcing a planned update to the coordinated framework, even though they claim that the current process “effectively protects health and the environment.” The memo says the goal of the updated process is to reduce the “costs and burdens” and delays for biotech companies trying to get products to market, increase transparency for the public and advance innovation. Besides updating the coordinated framework, the administration will also come up with a long-term plan for regulating GMO products and any other new technologies that will be introduced in the future. Additionally, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine has been called upon to complete a study looking at the “future landscape” of biotechnology products that will inform future regulatory strategies.

Though we agree that the current regulatory system for GMOs is broken, it’s not clear if this new memo is going to fix it. A major red flag about the White House memo is that the administration’s motivation appears to be less concern about the safety of new biotech products and more about helping biotech companies navigate the regulatory system in a quick and painless manner.

We do have ideas about how the EPA, FDA and the USDA should change the current regulatory system:

  • No GMO product should be approved for commercialization without the agencies themselves, not the patenting company, conducting a full review of its unique risks to agriculture and the environment;
  • Use of the precautionary principle for the evaluation of new GMO crops, animals and food;
  • Mandatory labeling of GMO foods;
  • Prioritization of independent research that studies the human health impacts associated with long-term GMO consumption, including realistic levels of herbicide residues;
  • Improve monitoring and inspections of experimental field trials to avoid contamination incidents that are continuing to occur due to a lack of oversight;
  • Require post-commercialization monitoring of GMOs to avoid contamination and to protect consumers from accidental exposure to risky experimental crops; and
  • Include contamination prevention measures in addition to compensation of parties harmed by contamination events. This burden should not be borne by the farmers who are contaminated by GMO presence through no fault of their own. Instead, patent-holding companies should create a fund that will compensate economically harmed farmers.

Hopefully the White House will not blow its chance to improve upon an inadequate regulatory system for GMOs which has allowed over 100 crops to enter the food system with little scrutiny and minimal transparency.

Food & Water Watch will be following this White House commitment closely over the next year, including three public engagement sessions that have been promised, starting with one in Washington, D.C. this fall. There will also be opportunity to comment on the process once the agencies develop a draft. Stay tuned for your opportunity to weigh in on this important process.

July 6th, 2015

Could Shark Week Cease to Exist?

By Elizabeth Nussbaumer

IMG-FBLP_1507_SharkWeek-C2
It’s Shark Week, a good opportunity to look at one of the major threats facing sharks and all sea life: ocean acidification. Here are the top three things you need to know about this dangerous consequence of burning fossil fuels:

  1. Ocean acidification is a direct result of CO2 emissions from the burning of fossil fuels into our atmosphere. As more and more CO2 absorbs into the ocean this decreases seawater pH, making the oceans more acidic. This has the greatest repercussions for calcifying organisms like shellfish and corals, but it is also setting off a chain reaction that will affect the entire ocean ecosystem and our planet. Ocean acidification endangers marine habitats, coastal regions, fisheries, livelihoods, environmental stability, food security and the carbon cycle of the entire earth. Significant changes are predicted to occur in as little as 45 years, with more severe effects to happen by 2100.
  1. Ocean acidification affects shark’s sense of smell. A recent study found that high levels of CO2 impaired shark’s sense of smell and caused them to actually avoid odor cues of prey. High concentrations of CO2 also changed the attack behavior of sharks. This could have significant implications for how sharks feed, further endangering already at-risk species. While sharks and other ocean species have been able to adapt to increased concentrations of CO2 in the past, the current changes are happening so rapidly that scientists are unsure whether timely adaptation is even possible.
  1. Ocean acidification changes the blood composition of sharks. Another recent study showed that increased concentrations of CO2 cause changes in shark’s blood chemistry. Blood also has a pH, and as waters become more acidic sharks have to take on, or accumulate, bicarbonate in order to regulate the pH of their blood.In the study, sharks subjected to the higher CO2 levels also showed changes in nocturnal swimming behavior. Again, it’s unclear whether sharks will be able to adapt to these changes.

Ocean acidification is already happening — seawater pH has decreased by 0.1 units, which equates to a 30 percent drop. Tiny shellfish called pteropods, or sea butterflies, are already showing shell dissolution in colder polar waters — ocean acidification will happen first in colder waters because CO2 absorbs more readily into colder versus warmer waters. This could have further implications for cold-water sharks such as the Blue Shark, Spiny Dogfish, Salmon Shark and several others.

Despite the incredibly severe implications of ocean acidification, most research has only occurred since 2004 and funding for this research continues to be well below what is needed. This threat is a direct result of CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels and mitigating it means significantly reducing emissions, and ultimately ceasing reliance on fossil fuels. The urgency of the situation also means that there is no time to waste on false solutions to emissions like offsets, cap-and-trade and other pollution trading schemes that fail altogether or only produce slow, minimal reductions. Ocean acidification is an irrefutable phenomenon and must be taken seriously for the health of our oceans and our planet.

For more information on ocean acidification see our report: Ocean Acidification: How CO2 Emissions and False Solutions Threaten Our Oceans.

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