Irrigation water appears to be a major loophole in the USDA's organic food safety program.
The US Department of Agriculture's organics standards, written 15 years ago, strictly ban petroleum-derived fertilizers commonly used in conventional agriculture. But the same rules do not prohibit farmers from irrigating their crops with petroleum-laced wastewater obtained from oil and gas wells—a practice that is increasingly common in drought-stricken Southern California.
"No one expects their lettuce to contain heavy chemicals from fracking wastewater."
As I reported last month, oil companies last year supplied half the water that went to the 45,000 acres of farmland in Kern County's Cawelo Water District, farmland that is owned, in part, by Sunview, a company that sells certified organic raisins and grapes. Food watchdog groups are concerned that the state hasn't required oil companies to disclose all the chemicals they use in oil drilling and fracking operations, much less set safety limits for all those chemicals in irrigation water.
A spokesman for the USDA's National Organics Program confirmed that it has little to say on the matter. "The USDA organic regulations do not directly address the use of irrigation water on organic farms," said the spokesman, who asked to be quoted on background, "but organic operations must generally maintain or improve the natural resources of the operation, including soil and water quality."
Of course, that's easier said than done. USDA organic regulations do not require farms to perform water quality tests, and irrigation water is not evaluated as an input by the Organic Materials Review Institute, which vets products used on organic farms. Calls placed to California Certified Organic Farmers, which certifies organic farms in California, were not returned.
On Monday, California Assemblyman Mike Gatto, a Democrat from Glendale, introduced a bill that would require crops irrigated with wastewater from oil and gas operations to be labeled as such. "No one expects their lettuce to contain heavy chemicals from fracking wastewater," he explained in a press release.
That's especially true if their lettuce is labeled "organic," adds Adam Scow, the California director of the environmental group Food and Water Watch: "I think most people's logic would tell them that's not a practice consistent with organic standards."
Steve DeAngelo at a protest in Oakland, California
Steve DeAngelo is best known as a lifelong cannabis activist and the founder of Oakland's Harborside Health Center—California's largest and, by many accounts, most respected pot dispensary. In 2012, US Attorney Melinda Haag initiated civil forfeiture proceedings against Harborside, which does $25 million a year in sales, on the grounds that it had grown too big. If the case goes to trial, DeAngelo has vowed to demand a courtroom large enough for "every single one of the 220,000 patients who depend on us for health care." While maintaining an activist approach, DeAngelo has also become a leading pot entrepreneur as president of the Arcview Group investor network. His new book, the Cannabis Manifesto, will be published in September.
Mother Jones spoke with DeAngelo last week about his time as a teenage runaway, his experiences in the Yippies, and his predictions for the future of pot.
Mother Jones: When you were a teenager growing up in the DC suburbs in the early 1970s, your parents busted you for smoking pot and seized your stash. Then you ran away from home for a few weeks. How old were you?
Steve DeAngelo: Thirteen.
MJ: What would you tell your kids if they wanted to smoke pot?
SD: I don't have kids so I am not in that situation, but I think one of the best ways for kids to learn about cannabis use is to see people who are close to them using it responsibly. If cannabis is not the forbidden fruit, teenagers are generally not that interested in it until they get to be 16, 17, 18 years old. Of course, I don't advocate that anybody who is not legally qualified should use cannabis, but I do know that there are a lot of parents who share alcohol at the family table with their kids before they reach 18 or 21 years of age as a way of introducing responsible use to them. And I think that's probably the most appropriate way for young people to be introduced to cannabis use.
In the fruit and veggie cornucopia that is California, local farmers markets sell everything from brandywine tomatoes and lemon cucumbers to hedgehog mushrooms and fresh medjool dates. But no farmers market can match the selection of the one in the Mendocino County town of Laytonville, which offers, among other things, an ample supply of heirloom cannabis.
Admittedly, this is not a typical farmers market. It takes place just once a year, at a hippie enclave replete with UFO murals and Ganesh shrines, and only certified medical marijuana patients may enter (though there's a doctor on site to help with that). But it does offer the spectacle of actual farmers selling their own produce and pot side by side.
Emily Hobelmann of the Lost Coast Outpostvisited last year and was wowed by the selection:
All told, I saw squash and apples and pears and peppers and world-class cannabis flowers. I saw leeks and tomatoes, peaches and dab rigs. I saw picked beans and marijuana clones, carrots and cold water hash.
If you happen to be up that way, you can stop by between 11 a.m. and 4:20 p.m. next Saturday.
In January, Intel raised the bar in Silicon Valley by setting concrete targets for hiring women and minorities. While other major tech firms had cut big checks to groups that promote workplace diversity, Intel was the only one to commit to measurable change, pledging to make its workforce reflect the diversity of the tech talent pool by 2020. Some saw the goal as overly optimistic, but Intel's midyear diversity report, released today, shows that it is largely on track to meet its goals.
Overall, more than 43 percent of the company's new hires since January have been women or racial minorities such as African-Americans and Hispanics:
These numbers may not seem particularly high—African-Americans, after all, make up 13 percent of the American workforce but just 3.5 percent of Intel's. But they do compare favorably with the talent pipeline for technical jobs. (Just 4.5 percent of computer science degrees last year went to African-Americans). And the overall demographics in the tech sector are pretty skewed to white dudes:
Compared to those industry-wide numbers, Intel is still falling behind in hiring African-Americans. Yet a comparison of workplace demographics in December and July shows that it's making progress on several fronts:
Though these shifts aren't huge in percentage terms, they are notable for a company with tens of thousands of employees. The biggest jumps in minority representation have come within the company's leadership ranks—which still remain heavily white and male:
Rev. Jesse Jackson, whose Rainbow PUSH Coalition has played a major behind-the-scenes role in Intel's efforts to diversify, issued a press release praising the company. "Rainbow PUSH argues that companies must set measurable diversity and inclusion goals, targets, and timetables," he said. "Due to CEO Brian Krzanich's steady and visionary leadership, Intel is doing that and more."
Members of the Teamsters union blocked a Bauer's IT tech shuttle in San Francisco
A recently filed federal complaint alleges that one of San Francisco's biggest tech shuttle operators has attempted to thwart an effort to unionize its drivers. The complaint, filed by the San Francisco office of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in late June, alleges that Bauer's Intelligent Transportation has spied on pro-union employees, interfered with union organizers, and organized its own management-backed union.
With 450 employees and 225 vehicles, Bauer's has a visible presence on the streets of San Francisco. About a third of its business comes from technology companies such as Twitter, Yelp, Cisco, Salesforce, and EA Games. In the mid-'00s it drove 55 commuter buses for Google, which now operates giant white double-decker buses on its own. Last year, Bauer's played a key role in negotiating a controversial deal that allows private commuter shuttles to use public bus stops to pick up Silicon Valley workers. (One study found that areas near the tech bus stops have seen some of the highest rent increases in San Francisco, where the median rent now stands at a whopping $4,225 a month.)
Bauer's drivers have been increasingly demanding to earn a living wage and form a union. After their efforts stepped up this spring, the company responded with a number of "unfair labor practices," according to the NRLB complaint. The agency's complaint is based on an independent investigation of allegations filed in March by the Teamsters, which has been trying organize Bauer's workers. Among other allegations, the NRLB complaint states that a Bauer's supervisor solicited employees to sign a petition indicating that they wished to be represented by an in-house union known as the Professional Commuter Drivers Union. This supervisor served as the PCDU's chief union representative. A few days later, Bauer's entered into a collective bargaining agreement with the PCDU.
Bauer's, NLRB regional attorney Jill Coffman writes in the complaint, has "dominated and interfered with the formation and administration of" an outside union while "rendering unlawful assistance and support to" its own union. She alleges that such practices violate federal labor law. Bauer's did not return a call requesting comment.
The NLRB alleges that Bauer's has "dominated and interfered" with the creation of an outside union while "rendering unlawful assistance" to its own in-house union.
The seven-page NLRB complaint offers few additional details about the allegations. Yet according to the Teamsters and a Bauer's driver who shuttles Cisco employees, the supervisor who headed the PCDU asked only a few workers if they wanted to join the union, and asked others to sign a blank page. "He pretty much just pushed me a blank sheet of paper and said, 'Here, sign this and I will see if I can get you better benefits,'" recalls the driver, who asked not to be named. "The next thing you know, he's got a supposedly full-fledged union. It was odd."
The contract that the PCDU "negotiated" with Bauer's capped driver wages at $22 an hour. In comparison, a contract recently signed between the Teamsters and shuttle drivers for Facebook guarantees drivers an hourly wage of $26.50 by 2017.
"The drivers need and deserve better wages, better benefits, and more respect," says Doug Bloch, the political director for the Northern California chapter of the Teamsters, which is holding a protest in San Francisco's Mission District today to call attention to Bauer's alleged union-busting tactics. "What Bauer's did is an insult to these workers."
The NRLB complaint will be argued before a federal judge in September. If the allegations hold up, Bauer's might find it harder to do business in San Francisco. In March, the city's Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a resolution that urges the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority to consider shuttle operators' "labor harmony" when weighing their applications to use bus stops. The members of the SFMTA, who are appointed by San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, have not yet acted on the resolution. The agency did not return a call from Mother Jones.
The handling of the Bauer's dispute may also turn tricky for Lee, whom local activists say is too cozy with tech companies. In 2012, the mayor signed a $9.3 million lease granting Bauer's the use of a city-owned pier as a parking lot for its buses. In June, Lee hired Bauer's to ferry the attendees of the annual meeting of the Conference of Mayors to Uber's SoMa headquarters. Yet Bloch says Lee has generally been supportive of labor interests. "It doesn't surprise me that Bauer's IT is breaking labor law," Bloch says. "What would surprise me is if the political leadership in San Francisco tolerates it."
Protests against Bay Area tech shuttles were a nearly weekly occurrence early last year, when the buses were blockaded, barfed upon, and occasionally smashed by anti-gentrification activists. If the shuttles get a reputation for disrupting workers' efforts to organize, perhaps we'll see version 2.0 of the Google bus protests.