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August 26th, 2013

Golden Rice Still Won’t Solve the Political Problem of Hunger and Poverty

By Patty Lovera

Every industry has its go-to PR strategies, the ones they revisit periodically out of habit or when they hit a rough patch in the news. For the biotechnology industry, their old reliable is how genetically engineered crops are going to solve some pressing social problem, like curing disease or ending global hunger. Their favorite example is golden rice. And this weekend, the New York Times ran a piece that rehashed the same old debate, wondering how anyone could possibly be opposed to this miracle crop that will supposedly save poor people around the world from vitamin A deficiency.

Unfortunately, the piece missed the point that sustainable agriculture and peasant farmer advocates have been making for years: that unleashing an unproven, unwanted technology into the food systems of developing countries won’t solve the political issues that create hunger.

We wrote about the questions that remain about whether golden rice can actually do what its supporters claim back in March, when NPR ran a similar piece about the next generation of golden rice. That piece summed it up well:

Development agencies, foundations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and biotech companies are investing in uncertain technological solutions to a problem that needs a more practical solution. Instead, Charles [the author of the NPR piece] should have examined how providing low-income rural families with the capacity to grow crops that provide balanced nutrition is a more effective, practical approach than asking them to spend more money for seeds that may not have better yield or bear more nutritious food. But perhaps he was too mesmerized by the so-called beauty of the golden rice to see past its false promises.

To read the entire blog, click here.

August 20th, 2013

It’s time to clean house at FSIS

By Tony Corbo

I am supposed to be on vacation this week. I have been pulling weeds from my vegetable garden – not using Round Up or Agent Orange or Napalm. Pulling weeds can be cathartic, but an article that appeared in the August 18, 2013, New York Times entitled, “Shipping Continued After Computer Inspection System Failed at Meat Plants,” pulled me away from my peaceful gardening and prompted me to write this blog. I have known about the dysfunctional computer system featured in this article for quite some time and have held back on railing against it, but this Times article is the last straw. Now I’m going to tell you the rest of the story that the Times left out.

I have known that the Public Health Information System (PHIS) has not worked since USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) turned on the new computer system for its meat and poultry inspectors in April 2011. Billed as an upgrade to the old IT system that inspectors had been using, web-based PHIS would offer the inspectors the ability to record data in the new system even when there was no access to the internet. Read the full article…

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August 19th, 2013

The Top 7 Things You Can Do to Protect Our Nation’s Treasured Lands

By Mark Schlosberg 

If you’ve been following our blog closely over the past few weeks, you know that the Obama Administration is pursuing plans to drill and frack for oil and natural gas on federal lands. But these lands are our lands, and include many treasured national parks that would be severely affected by nearby fracking activity. Moreover, although President Obama is considering moving ahead with fracking in order to combat climate change, drilling and fracking for oil and gas will actually exacerbate that problem. 

Read the full article…

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Pesticide Drift and Real-Life Harms

airplane spraying pesticideBy Genna Reed

Pesticide drift is a common occurrence and is the simple result of wind carrying airborne chemicals onto unintended areas, like a neighbor’s farm. The impacts of drift can be extremely profound.

 Indiana Public Media dove into the issue in a three-part report (Part I, Part II, Part III) on the risks involved with drift including financial harm from crop yield loss, health impacts associated with pesticide drift exposure and how the pipeline of genetically engineered crops able to withstand spraying with volatile herbicides (like 2,4-D and dicamba) will only worsen the drift problem. Read the full article…

Protect the Wayne, Protect our Planet: Say NO to New BLM Fracking Rules

By Heather Cantino fracking for natural gas

My heart breaks when I think of the growing assaults on our commons –– on our air, our water and our public lands. In southeast Ohio, Wayne National Forest, Ohio’s only national forest, has been abused for decades. Extensive logging takes place under false pretenses as “ecological management.” The area has been assaulted by “prescribed” burns, which are not even appropriate in eastern forests. ATV trails increasingly riddle the land. Non-native species invade wherever there is a disturbance. 

Recently, the Wayne National Forest faced an imminent gas and oil lease sale of over 3,000 acres, most of it in the Hocking River Valley. Maps of the parcels to be sold revealed all to be riddled with abandoned coalmines. Two cities in the watershed, Nelsonville and Athens, rely on the Hocking River aquifer as their sole-source drinking water supply.  The sale would threaten the drinking water of more than 70,000 people. 

Thanks to legal expertise provided by Nathan Johnson of the Buckeye Forest Council and to public alerts by community activists, dozens of formal protests, including letters from local officials and Ohio University, were submitted to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the agency in charge of the sales process, in the final week before the October 7, 2011, public comment period deadline. The sale was canceled.

Despite further legal appeals by the Buckeye Forest Council and its state and national allies and by a dozen regional and national environmental groups, as well as thousands of petition signatures, rallies attended by hundreds of people and voluminous research and visits by community members and leaders, Wayne Supervisor Anne Carey concluded that a future lease sale could be conducted without an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). This decision flew in the face of legal arguments that an EIS was necessary to evaluate risks of deep-shale drilling and high-volume horizontal fracturing. No new sale has been scheduled. 

Our region, long a sacrifice zone, was heavily affected by nineteenth and twentieth century coal mining and is just beginning to recover with an attractive university, healthy tourism and a nationally recognized farmers’ market and local food economy. The fate of this newly flourishing community now lies with the BLM and President Obama, putting it in grave danger. 

The BLM’s proposed rules for fracking on federal lands will not protect our water supplies from tens of thousands of pounds of undisclosed toxic chemicals, many of them known carcinogens or neurotoxins, used per frack. Casings inevitably leak, and acidic mine water makes well failure likely sooner rather than later. 

Furthermore, Ohio law permits unlimited water withdrawals from public waterways (each frack job uses as much as 10 million gallons of water). It also permits air emissions of volatile organic compounds, including the known carcinogens benzene and toluene, which average 23 tons per well according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). There could be thirteen well pads in the Wayne forest in the next three years, each potentially containing 10 wells. Fracking and drilling there would add six million pounds of toxic pollutants to the air, excluding truck carbon dioxide emissions and methane leakage. 

Read the full article…

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August 16th, 2013

Oh you want straight bananas now do you….

Bananas wrapped in protective plastic at a banana plantation in Costa Rica. Credit: Anna Meyer

By Anna Meyer

While studying in Costa Rica for four months this past spring, I had the opportunity to tour a pineapple plantation and a Dole banana plantation. I was surprised and bemused by what I learned about these two tropical fruits that have become commonplace in American homes.

Pineapples and bananas have a long and political history in Costa Rica and most of Latin America. Much of which is a result of the United Fruit Company’s (known now as Chiquita) grab to gain control of land. They’ve even orchestrated government coups in order to be able to export more fruit north. 

Bananas are grown in massive monoculture plantations. A single planting of banana tress consists of hundreds of plants with the exact same genetic makeup; each tree is an identical twin to the one sitting next to it. Read the full article…

Protect New Mexico’s Cultural Heritage: Ban Fracking on Federal Lands

By Eleanor Bravo

Chaco Canyon Ruins

I’ve been a New Mexican for more than 30 years now. When I first arrived, I realized I found the place of my heart, a land where whatever thrives here holds on for dear life. I also found that the soul of the land dwells in a unique place we call Chaco Canyon or Chaco Culture National Historical Park. It’s a mysterious place once home to thousands between 850 and 1250 AD. The ruins of great houses still stand, showing architectural expertise and masonry techniques unique to their time.

I have visited the park numerous times over the years, and each time, have discovered something new, have seen something different and have felt the presence of past inhabitants. Pueblo descendants say that it was a special gathering place where clans converged for ceremonial purposes. But no one really knows for sure.

What I do know is that the canyon and all of its ruins are a treasure not only for New Mexicans, but for all people on Earth. Those of us who are privileged to walk the Earth today are indebted to these unknown architects for the vision they created in this once thriving center of North American culture, a spiritual place to be honored and respected. A national park today, the canyon is one of only 20 World Heritage sites in the United States, designated in l987 by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization as an example of world cultural patrimony.

Such a remote location, you must travel about 17 miles of bumpy, dusty or muddy road to reach the entrance of the park. Sometimes during a downpour, the road is impassable. The surrounding land is a checkerboard composed of Navajo land, public lands and those managed by the Bureau of Land Management. Leases for oil and gas drilling have already been granted in the area, Several years back, grassroots organizations pressured the then land commissioner to designate a 3-mile buffer zone around Chaco and all other parks in New Mexico, but that has never been formalized. Read the full article…

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August 15th, 2013

Pinnacle Foods Makes a Wish to Buy Wish-Bone

By Lily Boyce

Merger-mania continues in August with a corporate marriage from the middle aisles of the supermarket. This week, Pinnacle Foods announced its plans to purchase Unilever’s Wish-Bone salad dressing business for $580 million. Unilever is shedding some of its processed food lines — they sold Skippy peanut butter to Hormel Foods earlier this year — to focus on its personal care businesses (soaps, scents and shampoos).

The merger highlights how most brands in the supermarket are owned by mega corporations that have a hand in many different types of products. Pinnacle Foods owns a raft of brands that most consumers probably thought were independent companies, like Birds Eye frozen vegetables, Duncan Hines cake mixes, Vlasic pickles, Armour Vienna sausages (Smithfield owns the hot dogs), Lender’s bagels, Celeste frozen pizzas, Van de Kamp’s and Mrs. Paul’s frozen fish and Hungry Man frozen dinners. Who knew?

Read the full article…

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Protect Florida from Fracking: Protect Our Ecosystems, Our Water and Our Public Lands!

A Panther in the wild.By Lynna Kaucheck

The first time I drove through the Florida Everglades was on a misty morning. The cypress trees were draped in Spanish moss, egrets and other wading birds flew above a river camouflaged in grass and the alligators’ snouts barely broke the surface of the water in the canal. The Everglades struck me as almost prehistoric, and I half expected to see a brontosaurus wandering off in the distance. I had never been any place like the Everglades in all my travels, and I immediately fell in love.

Like most people, the ocean and the warm weather are what drew me to Florida, but treasures like the Everglades, our underground springs, coral reefs and diverse flora and fauna are what make me keep exploring and falling more in love with this beautiful state.

The oil and gas industry has been drilling in South Florida for decades, and plans to expand in the very near future. Over the last year, at least four oil and gas companies have applied for permits to drill in the region. Big Cypress National Preserve, an area in the Everglades that has been drilled on in the past, is being eyed as land ripe for expansion. Companies are looking to drill old wells and build new ones. However, more oil and gas drilling on this public land threatens nearby ecosystems, precious water supplies, agricultural production and the safety of our communities. Read the full article…

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August 13th, 2013

Already Smoggy Rocky Mountain National Park Could Become Even Smoggier with Increased Fracking on Nearby Public Lands

By Molly Geppert 

Having been born and raised in Colorado, I grew up enjoying all the natural wonders this state has to offer. My favorite place by far is Rocky Mountain National Park. When I was young, my family had the tradition of going there every Father’s Day and hiking to Emerald Lake. One year in particular stands out in my memory. I must have been about five, and my two younger sisters were three-and-a-half and just under a year old.  My dad carried my youngest sister in a baby backpack; she drooled all over the back of his head and down his neck the entire hike, which he found refreshing. My other sister was old enough to manage the hike herself and insisted on bringing her plastic 101 Dalmatians backpack. I was the adventurous one in the family, and would run ahead of everyone, only to be scolded for not staying within eyesight. 

Once we reached Emerald Lake, I immediately ran out onto a log that jutted into the water and promptly fell off.  Luckily, it was pretty shallow and I only got my shoes wet. However, this did make for an uncomfortable hike back to the car. While exploring near the water’s edge, I found a dragonfly larva under a rock and was fascinated by how alien it looked and how it could possibly transform into something so delicate.  My sister had put her Dalmatian backpack down to play, and when my mom went to pick up the bag, she noticed it was very heavy for a three year old to be carrying. She opened it to find it filled with books! My little sister did not complain one word about the weight that she had carried the entire hike. My sisters and I sat down by the lake and read books while our parents took a nap.  I remember how clear the water was, how cool the air felt even though it was summer, and the beautiful scenery. Read the full article…

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