MoJo Author Feeds: Tom Philpott | Mother Jones http://www.motherjones.com/rss/authors/116126 http://www.motherjones.com/files/motherjonesLogo_google_206X40.png Mother Jones logo http://www.motherjones.com en Claims About Yogurt's "Good Bacteria" Might Be Overblown http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2017/02/yogurt-microbiome-gut-ed-yong <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p><em>The Atlantic's </em>Ed Yong is one of our most vivid and compelling science writers. Late last year, he came out with <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Contain-Multitudes-Microbes-Within-Grander/dp/0062368591" target="_blank"><em>I Contain Multitudes</em></a><em>, </em>the best book I've read about the microbiome&mdash;the universe of living creatures we harbor within our bodies.</p> <p>For the newest episode of Bite, the <em>Mother Jones</em> food politics podcast that I co-host (subscribe <a href="https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/bite/id1090260338?mt=2" target="_blank">here</a>), I caught up with Yong. He explains why we should thank microbes not just for maintaining our immune systems&mdash;but also for preparing Earth to habitable for more complex creatures. We also discussed why we should abandon the concept of "good" bacteria that boost our health and "bad" microbes that makes us sick&mdash;the reality is much more interesting, he says. And he explained why our bodies are really a "vast, interconnected set of habitats," including rainforest- and desert-like ecosystems.</p> <p>He also threw shade on claims made for probiotic supplements and fermented foods like yogurt as a boon for our biomes. While probiotics and yogurt do teem with microbes, he writes, they may not be "important members of the adult gut." And although these tiny critters may be robust enough to survive the trip through our digestive tracts, they don't seem to affect the composition of our biomes, he says, pointing to this <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3303609/" target="_blank">2011 study</a> tracking how yogurt consumption affected the biomes of twins. The bacteria delivered by yogurt and supplements pass through our bodies "like a breeze that blows through two open windows," he writes. And despite great claims made <a href="http://www.probioticsguide.com/best-probiotic-supplements/" target="_blank">about probiotic supplements</a>,<strong> </strong>they're "medically underwhelming"&mdash;although yogurt has shown potential to help with some forms of diarrhea, he adds.&nbsp;</p> <p>Yong also brought a something new to my knowledge about the many functions of mother's milk&mdash;among other things, it may "provide babies with a starter's pack of <a href="http://www.popsci.com/our-viral-friends" target="_blank">symbiotic viruses</a>." That's a good thing, because these viruses help set up a functioning immune system.</p> <p>Our interview begins at 8:52, after my co-host Maddie Oatman's visit with pancake-making Somali refugees.</p> <div class="art19-web-player awp-medium awp-theme-dark-orange" data-episode-id="c062b874-415b-4865-a8e8-707372ba0f86">&nbsp;</div> <script src="https://web-player.art19.com/assets/current.js" type="text/javascript"></script></body></html> Environment Food Wed, 15 Feb 2017 11:00:23 +0000 Tom Philpott 325451 at http://www.motherjones.com Text Messages Might Be the New Way Hackers Try to Steal Your Info http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2017/02/soda-tax-mexico-hacked-spyware <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Back in 2014, Mexico became the first nation to pass a sugary-drinks tax, overcoming <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/the_americas/mexicos-soda-companies-fear-junk-food-tax/2013/10/26/674f977c-3db3-11e3-b0e7-716179a2c2c7_story.html?utm_term=.0576c12be9af" target="_blank">massive</a> <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/news/2015/nov/03/obese-soda-sugar-tax-mexico" target="_blank">pushback</a> from the soda industry. Big Soda resisted the tax for good reason&mdash;Mexico <a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2015/12/which-countries-consume-the-most-sugary-drinks/" target="_blank">boasts the globe's second-highest per capita soda consumption</a> (trailing only Chile), and Coca-Cola and Pepsi together <a href="https://www.statista.com/statistics/216909/market-share-of-soft-drink-companies-in-mexico/" target="_blank">account for more than 60 percent</a> of the market.</p> <p>And now, in a strange twist, comes the revelation that several of the most prominent public-health experts who promoted the tax were targeted last summer by malicious spyware from NSO Group&mdash;"an Israeli cyberarms dealer that sells its digital spy tools exclusively to governments and that has contracts with multiple agencies inside Mexico," <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/11/technology/hack-mexico-soda-tax-advocates.html" target="_blank">reports</a> the <em>New York Times.</em></p> <p>The attacks came in the form of text messages from unknown numbers with compelling but fake appeals to click infected links: stuff like, "your daughter has been in a serious accident," with a purported link to a hospital. Once the link is clicked and the phone is hacked, the spyware can "trace a target's every phone call, text message, email, keystroke, location, sound and sight," even capturing "live footage off their cameras."</p> <p>The cyberattacks, which occurred during the summer of 2016, came just as the researchers were engaged in an ultimately failed campaign to double the tax, the<em> Times</em> notes.</p> <p>At this point, the source of the attacks is unclear.&nbsp;A spokesperson for ConM&eacute;xico, Big Soda's powerful trade group in the country, told the <em>Times</em> that the industry had no knowledge of the hacks, adding that "frankly, it scares us, too."</p> <p>NSO Group, for its part, claims it sells its spyware only to governmental law enforcement agencies, and maintains "technical safeguards that prevent clients from sharing its spy tools," the<em> Times</em> reports, adding that an NSO spokesman "reiterated those restrictions in a statement on Thursday, and said the company had no knowledge of the tracking of health researchers and advocates inside Mexico."</p> <p>While NSO Group says its spyware is designed to be used by governments to track terrorists, criminals, and drug lords, these revelations don't mark the first time these tools have been turned on other targets, according to the<em> Times</em>: "NSO spyware <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/26/technology/apple-software-vulnerability-ios-patch.html">was discovered on the phone of a human-rights activist in the United Arab Emirates and a prominent Mexican journalist in August</a>." That journalist, investigative reporter Rafael Cabrera&mdash;who has broken several embarrassing stories about President Enrique Pe&ntilde;a Nieto&mdash;was the target of an <a href="http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/national/article98201287.html" target="_blank">unsuccessful hacking attempt with NSO software</a> last year.&nbsp;</p> <p>So just as Mexico has emerged as a policy laboratory for reducing soda consumption, it is also demonstrating some pretty innovative tools for keeping tabs on anti-soda agitators. And delivering an important reminder: Think hard before you click on a link texted to you from an unknown number, no matter how compelling the story is.</p></body></html> Environment Food Tue, 14 Feb 2017 19:11:29 +0000 Tom Philpott 325606 at http://www.motherjones.com Now Trump's Going After the Bumblebees http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2017/02/trump-bumble-bees-neonics-enadangered <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>First, it was <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2017/02/usda-animal-welfare-puppy-mills-trump-humane-society" target="_blank">puppies</a>. Now Trump is going after bees.</p> <p>Just weeks before leaving office, the Obama administration's Fish and Wildlife Service placed the <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2017/01/bee-was-just-added-endangered-species-list" target="_blank">r</a>usty patched bumblebe<a href="http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2017/01/bee-was-just-added-endangered-species-list" target="_blank">e</a> on the endangered species list&mdash;the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/midwest/news/861.html" target="_blank">first bee species to gain that status in the continental United States</a>. Just weeks after taking office, the Trump administration temporarily reversed that decision. (See great pictures of this charismatic pollinator <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2017/01/bee-was-just-added-endangered-species-list" target="_blank">here.</a>)</p> <p>The official <a href="http://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2017/02/10/2017-02865/endangered-and-threatened-wildlife-and-plants-endangered-species-status-for-rusty-patched-bumble-bee" target="_blank">announcement</a> of the delay cites a <a href="http://www.cnn.com/2017/01/20/politics/reince-priebus-regulations-memo/" target="_blank">White House memo</a>, released just after Trump's inauguration, instructing federal agencies to freeze all new regulations that had been announced but not yet taken effect, for the purpose of "reviewing questions of fact, law, and policy they raise." The Fish and Wildlife Service, which oversees the endangered species list, acted just in the nick of time in delaying the bumble bee's endangered status&mdash;it was scheduled to make its debut on the list on February 10.</p> <p>Rebecca Riley, a senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, told me the move may not be a mere procedural delay. "We don't think this is just a freeze&mdash;it's an opportunity for the administration to reconsider and perhaps revoke the rule entirely," she said.</p> <p>Why would the Trump administration want to reverse Endangered Species Act protections for this pollinating insect? After all, the rusty patched bumble bee has "experienced a swift and dramatic decline since the late 1990s," with its abundance having "plummeted by 87 percent, leaving small, scattered populations in 13 states," according to a December <a href="https://www.fws.gov/midwest/news/861.html" target="_blank">Fish and Wildlife Service notice</a>. And it's not just pretty to look at&mdash;the Fish and Wildlide Services notes that like other bees, rusty patched bumblebees "pollinate many plants, including economically important crops such as tomatoes, cranberries and peppers," adding that bumblebees are "especially good pollinators; even plants that can self-pollinate produce more and bigger fruit when pollinated by bumble bees."</p> <p>The answer may lie in the Fish and Wildlife Service's blunt discussion of pesticides as a threat to this bumblebee species. Like commercial honeybees, bumblebees face a variety of threats: exposure to pesticides, disease, climate change, and loss of forage. FWS <a href="https://www.fws.gov/midwest/endangered/insects/rpbb/pdf/FAQsRPBBFinalListing5Jan2017.pdf" target="_blank">cited</a> all of those, noting that "no one single factor is likely responsible, but these threats working together have likely caused the decline." But it didn't mince any words about neonicotinoids, a class of insecticides widely used on US farm fields.</p> <p>Neonics, as they're known, are a highly contentious topic. They make up the globe's <a href="http://www.tfsp.info/systemic-pesticides/" target="_blank">most widely used insecticide class</a>, with annual global sales of <a href="http://www.rollcall.com/news/pesticide_ban_is_just_one_piece_of_honeybee_puzzle-233624-1.html" target="_blank">$2.6 billion</a>, dominated by agrichemical giants Syngenta and Bayer (which is currently in the process of merging with Monsanto). They have been substantially implicated in the declining health of <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/tom-philpott/2012/03/bayer-pesticide-bees-studies">honeybees</a> and other <a href="http://www.sciencemag.org/content/336/6079/351.abstract">pollinators</a>, <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/tom-philpott/2013/03/not-just-bees-bayers-pesticide-may-harm-birds-too">birds</a>, and <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/tom-philpott/2014/07/federal-agency-finds-neonic-pesticides-midwestern-water">waterborne animals</a>. The European Union <a href="http://www.euractiv.com/section/agriculture-food/news/neonicotinoids-face-total-eu-ban/" target="_blank">maintains</a> a moratorium on most neonic use in farming, <a href="http://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/press/news/130116" target="_blank">based on their threat to bees</a>. The US Environmental Protection Agency is currently in the middle of a <a href="https://www.epa.gov/pollinator-protection/schedule-review-neonicotinoid-pesticides" target="_blank">yearslong reassessment </a>of the risk they pose to bees and other critters.</p> <p><a href="https://www.fws.gov/midwest/endangered/insects/rpbb/FAQsFinalListing.html" target="_blank">Here</a> is what the Fish and Wildlife Service wrote about neonics in the context of the rusty patched bumblebee:</p> <blockquote> <p>Neonicotinoids have been strongly implicated as the cause of the decline of bees, in general, and for rusty patched bumble bees, specifically. The introduction of neonicotinoid use and the precipitous decline of this bumble bee occurred during the same time. Neonicotinoids are of particular concern because they are systemic chemicals, meaning that the plant takes up the chemical and incorporates it throughout, including in leaf tissue, nectar and pollen. The use of neonicotinoids rapidly increased when suppliers began selling pre-treated seeds. The chemical remains in pre-treated seeds and is taken up by the developing plants and becomes present throughout the plant. Pollinators foraging on treated plants are exposed to the chemicals directly. This type of insecticide use marked a shift to using systemic insecticides for large-scale, preemptive treatment.</p> </blockquote> <p>Note also that of the 13 states that still harbor scattered rusty patched bumblebee populations, four&mdash;Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, and Ohio&mdash;are in the US Corn Belt, where corn and soybean crops from neonic-treated seeds are common.</p> <p>The NRDC's Riley noted that as the EPA reassess neonics, it is obligated to consider the insecticides' impact on endangered species. If the rusty patched bumblebee makes it onto the list, that would place an endangered species that's clearly harmed by neonics directly into the region where the lucrative chemicals are most widely used&mdash;possibly forcing it to restrict neonic use in those areas.<strong> </strong>It's worth noting that the man Trump chose to lead the EPA transition team, Myron Ebell, works for the industry-funded<strong> </strong>Competitive Enterprise Institute, which runs a website, <a href="http://www.safechemicalpolicy.org/" target="_blank">SafeChemicalPolicy.org</a>, that exists to downplay the health and ecological impacts of chemicals. More on that <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2016/11/trump-epa-pesticides" target="_blank">here</a>.</p> <p>If science guides the Trump team, this fast-disappearing bumblebee will get its endangered status soon, Riley said. "We don't think there's any legitimate basis to roll this rule back," she said. "The original decision to protect the bee was based on comprehensive scientific analysis." The question is the degree to which science will guide the administration as it decides the fate of this once-flourishing insect.</p></body></html> Environment Food Fri, 10 Feb 2017 22:54:49 +0000 Tom Philpott 325441 at http://www.motherjones.com "Dark Forces" Are Coming for Your Organic Food http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2017/02/dark-forces-organic <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>The Freedom Caucus is a rowdy band of GOP US House members most famous for <a href="http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/12/14/a-house-divided" target="_blank">triggering government shutdowns</a>, <a href="http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/freedom-caucus-ramps-up-pressure-to-repeal-obamacare/article/2613719" target="_blank">pushing to repeal the Affordable Care Act</a>, and<a href="https://fivethirtyeight.com/datalab/the-hard-line-republicans-who-pushed-john-boehner-out/" target="_blank"> driving former GOP Speaker John Boehner from his post </a>on the theory he wasn't conservative enough. And now they're coming for your certified-organic food.&nbsp;</p> <p>Back in December, the Freedom Caucus released a <a href="http://www.politico.com/f/?id=00000159-020c-d78a-a5dd-1f9c53400001" target="_blank">"recommended list of regulations to remove."</a>&nbsp; Among its 228 targets&mdash;ranging from eliminating energy efficiency standards for washing machines to kiboshing rules on private drones&mdash;the group named the National Organic Program.</p> <p>Operated by the US Department of Agriculture, the <a href="https://www.ams.usda.gov/sites/default/files/media/NOP-2015StrategicPlan.pdf" target="_blank">NOP</a> was established by the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 to set uniform national standards for foods and agricultural products labeled "USDA Organic," replacing the patchwork of state-level standards that had held sway for decades previously. The NOP ensures that food labeled organic really is raised without synthetic pesticides and fertilizers&mdash;it also oversees USDA-accredited organic certifying agents and takes "appropriate enforcement actions if there are violations of the organic standards," <a href="https://www.ams.usda.gov/sites/default/files/media/NOP-2015StrategicPlan.pdf" target="_blank">according to</a> the USDA.</p> <p>As of 2015, <a href="https://www.ota.com/news/press-releases/19031" target="_blank">annual organic food sales</a> stood at $39.7 billion, representing nearly 5 percent of total food sales. And sales for organics are growing at an 11 percent annual clip&mdash;nearly four times the rate of overall US food sales.</p> <p>It's not clear what the Freedom Caucus meant by putting the National Organic Program on a list of regulations to "remove"; the staff of US Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), the Freedom Caucus stalwart who authored the list, has not returned my calls and emails asking for clarification. Organic food makes a strange target for deregulation, because organic regulations only apply to farms and food processors that voluntarily accept them. They prohibit, say, the spraying of synthetic pesticides only for a very certain kind of operation&mdash;ones that want to be certified organic.</p> <p>Maybe it's a budget-cutting move? The Freedom Caucus document claims the NOP's "cost" stands at $256 million, without naming how it defines cost. But the NOP's <a href="https://www.ams.usda.gov/sites/default/files/media/NOP-2015StrategicPlan.pdf" target="_blank">annual budget</a> is just $9 million. And dismantling the NOP would generate massive chaos in the food market. A federally enforced, uniform, and fairly stringent set of rules would give way to a hodgepodge, leaving consumers flummoxed about what "organic" means.</p> <p>The NOP's appearance in the Freedom Caucus' crosshairs has caused alarm in organic circles, and it's not hard to see why. The Freedom Caucus' zeal for deregulation is nothing new, but until a few week's ago, the veto pen of Barack Obama and the Democratic-controlled Senate meant that the group could obstruct legislation and make plenty of trouble, but not actively legislate. Now there's a new sheriff in town&mdash;a&nbsp; <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/09/us/politics/donald-trump-diet.html" target="_blank">fast-food-eating</a> Republican&mdash;and the GOP runs both aisles of Congress. Suddenly, the Freedom Caucus has jumped from fantasy island to a perch quite near the center of Washington power.</p> <p>Kathleen Merrigan, who served a long stint as deputy USDA secretary under Obama, has sounded the alarm. Merrigan is a canny DC operator who chooses her words carefully, and she knows the politics around organics as well as anyone. In addition to her recent USDA experience, she <a href="https://www.usda.gov/documents/OC/Merrigan_Bio.pdf" target="_blank">served as the head of the USDA agency that oversaw the NOP</a> under Bill Clinton, and she <a href="http://www.eenews.net/stories/1060023338" target="_blank">helped craft the federal act that created it</a> while working as a Senate staffer in 1990. According to a&nbsp;<em>Politico</em> <a href="http://www.politico.com/tipsheets/morning-agriculture/2017/02/the-cabinet-crawl-senate-dems-stall-trumps-nominees-218561" target="_blank">account</a> of her remarks at a food conference last week, Merrigan warned that "forces of darkness" are "coming together and saying, 'Let's sharpen our knives on organic.'"&nbsp;</p> <p>Merrigan declined to be interviewed for more detail on what she meant by her "forces of darkness" remarks. She did confirm that she had the Freedom Caucus document in mind, as well as a January 12 <a href="https://www.agri-pulse.com/articles/7914-organic-reform" target="_blank">op-ed</a> by the father-and-son lobbyists Marshall Matz and Peter Matz, of the powerhouse DC agribusiness lobbying firm Olsson, Frank &amp; Weeda. In recent years, Marshall Matz's clients have included <a href="https://www.opensecrets.org/lobby/lobbyist.php?id=Y0000028383L" target="_blank">Nestl&eacute;</a>, agrichemical-seed giant <a href="https://www.opensecrets.org/lobby/lobbyist.php?id=Y0000028383L&amp;year=2015" target="_blank">Syngenta</a>, and <a href="https://www.opensecrets.org/lobby/lobbyist.php?id=Y0000028383L&amp;year=2016" target="_blank">FMC</a>, which makes carrageenan, a seaweed-derived food thickener that has emerged as a controversial additive in processed organic products like <a href="https://thrivemarket.com/pacific-foods-organic-almond-beverage-vanilla-4-pack?utm_source=google&amp;utm_medium=pla&amp;utm_campaign=Pacific%20Foods&amp;utm_content=052603065108&amp;ccode=FSPLA&amp;ccode_force=1&amp;gclid=CjwKEAiAoOvEBRDD25uyu9Lg9ycSJAD0cnByUXWIcAd4-gcH2Fc_M73wpe5pdipnyg9cJn5CY1hIoxoC7vDw_wcB" target="_blank">almond milk</a>.</p> <p>In their op-ed, the Matzes applauded the Freedom Caucus' naming of the NOP. But rather than call for the USDA's oversight of organics to be nixed, they call for it to be "reformed." They acknowledge that organic food now represents a "significant market." And rather than focus on the NOP, the Matzes instead raised questions about another key USDA organic component, the <a href="https://www.ams.usda.gov/rules-regulations/organic/nosb" target="_blank">National Organic Standards Board</a>, a 15-member panel that, among other things, has a huge influence over what nonorganic substances can be added to organic food.</p> <p>The <a href="http://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?c=ecfr&amp;SID=9874504b6f1025eb0e6b67cadf9d3b40&amp;rgn=div6&amp;view=text&amp;node=7:3.1.1.9.32.7&amp;idno=7" target="_blank">National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances</a>, as it has been known, has long been contentious terrain, pitting Big Food companies with organic subsidiaries against watchdog groups like the <a href="https://www.cornucopia.org/" target="_blank">Cornucopia Institute</a>. Broadly speaking, the corporations want wide leeway on additives, while the <a href="https://www.cornucopia.org/USDA/OrganicWatergateWhitePaper.pdf" target="_blank">watchdog groups demand strict limits</a>. In their op-ed, the Matzes declared that the "NOSB should leave the issue of food ingredient safety to the FDA."</p> <p>In an email exchange, I asked the Matzes to clarify their position. Do they mean that food companies should be able to put any additive they want into, say, organic cookies, as long as the Food and Drug Administration deems it safe? They declined to say.</p> <p>So what Merrigan called the "forces of darkness" coming for organic are indeed pretty obscure about exactly what they want. Does the Freedom Caucus really want to nix the National Organic Program to save $9 million per year? The $39.7 billion organic-food industry, whose participants include giant companies like <a href="https://www.generalmills.com/Brands/organic-natural" target="_blank">General Mills</a> and Nestl&eacute;-owned <a href="http://www.nestle.com/brands/allbrands/gerber" target="_blank">Gerber organic baby products</a>&mdash;would likely push back pretty hard. But with lobbyists like the Matzes operating in Trump's Washington&mdash;and looking reasonable compared with Freedom Caucus deregulatory zealots&mdash;the time might be ripe for making organic standards more friendly to corporations.</p></body></html> Environment Food Thu, 09 Feb 2017 18:30:10 +0000 Tom Philpott 325121 at http://www.motherjones.com Refugees Make Your Dinner. Literally. http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2017/01/meat-industry-refugees-trump <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Of all the outrage generated by President Donald Trump's <a href="http://www.cnn.com/2017/01/29/politics/trump-travel-ban-countries/" target="_blank">ban on refugees entering the country</a>, the most surprising critic might be the US meat industry.</p> <p>Turns out, people fleeing desperate conditions in violence-ravaged countries have emerged as a key labor source for the nation's vast and <a href="http://www.gao.gov/assets/680/676796.pdf" target="_blank">dangerous</a> slaughterhouses. Because meat-packing is such a high-turnover occupation, precise numbers on the makeup of its labor pool are hard to come by. The <em>Journal</em> reports that about a third of meat-packing workers are foreign-born, and that industry has increasingly turned to refugee populations to fill jobs.&nbsp;</p> <p>The head of the industry's main trade association, the North American Meat Institute, put it delicately in a <a href="http://www.wsj.com/articles/tighter-refugee-rules-seen-squeezing-meat-companies-1485617876" target="_blank">statement</a> to T<em>he Wall Street Journal:</em> "As the administration pursues changes to the nation's refugee policies, we hope it will give careful consideration to the ramifications policy changes like these can have on our businesses and on foreign born workers who are eager to build new lives in America through the jobs our companies can offer."</p> <p>But it's unlikely that the <a href="http://grist.org/article/2009-09-22-meat-wagon-jbs-pilgrims/" target="_blank">handful of companies that dominate US meat production</a> hires refugees based mainly on altruistic motives. As Eric Schlosser noted in an excellent 2001 <em>Mother Jones</em> article, way back in the early 1960s, US meatpacking companies began to flee cities, where workers were largely unionized, for rural areas. Once they set up shop far from union strongholds, they began "recruiting immigrant workers from Mexico, introducing a new division of labor that eliminated the need for skilled butchers, and ruthlessly battling unions," Schlosser writes. Before, "meatpacking jobs were dangerous and unpleasant, but provided enough income for a solid, middle-class life;" by the 1990s, with the unions busted, meatpacking became "one of the nation's lowest-paid industrial jobs, with one of the highest turnover rates."</p> <p>Also, as Ted Genoways showed in his <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2011/06/hormel-spam-pig-brains-disease" target="_blank">searing 2011 Mother Jones expose</a> of conditions at a Hormel plant in small-town Minnesota, the jobs remained incredibly dangerous, and became highly reliant on immigrant labor, mainly from Mexico and points south.&nbsp;</p> <p>In more recent years, migration from Mexico has <a href="http://www.pewhispanic.org/2015/11/19/more-mexicans-leaving-than-coming-to-the-u-s/" target="_blank">slowed dramatically</a>. Meanwhile, the federal government <a href="http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/money/industries/food/2006-12-12-immigration-swift_x.htm" target="_blank">launched high-profile raids </a>at meatpacking plants to root out undocumented migrants, making the industry skittish about its reliance on them. <a href="http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB121271241538150613" target="_blank">Enter refugees</a>, a group just as desperate for work as undocumented migrants, but legally eligible to hold jobs.</p> <p>In an <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/sf/national/2016/05/24/for-many-somali-refugees-this-industry-offers-hope-then-takes-it-away/" target="_blank">excellent 2016 feature</a>, <em>Washington Post</em> writer Chico Harlan documented the meat industry's increasing reliance on refugees. Since the meatpacking raids of the 2000s, Harlan writes, "'Little Somalia' neighborhoods are sprouting up in dozens of towns across the Great Plains, and slaughterhouses are hiring Somali translators for the cutting floors and installing Muslim prayer rooms for employees."</p> <p>People fleeing the chaos of Somalia, of course, are two-time losers under <a href="http://www.cnn.com/2017/01/29/politics/trump-travel-ban-countries/" target="_blank">Trump's executive order</a>. Not only are all refugees now being denied entry, but Somalia is also one of the seven Muslim-majority nations whose citizens are barred from entering the United States, refugee status or not.</p> <p>Harlan's piece traces the experience of a young Somali man named Ahmed, who found gainful employment in Liberal, Kansas, at a beef slaughterhouse run by National Beef, one of the nation's big-four beefpackers:</p> <blockquote> <p>For Ahmed, the job at National Beef meant butchering parts of 3,000 cows per eight-hour shift, a supervisor standing right behind him, using the knife so furiously he would sometimes feel like his ribs were shaking loose. But the job was also a test of the limits in America for a largely destitute, unskilled and growing influx of Somali refugees, a group that was now prevailing in the competition for grueling jobs because of the very desperation they were trying to escape.</p> <p>"Go there, come back, go to sleep," Ahmed would say months later about his factory life, when he began to worry that there'd be no school, no better America to find, no reprieve from meat. "Go there, come back, go to sleep."</p> </blockquote> <p>Eventually, Amhed developed "some sharp pain in his wrist&mdash;tendonitis maybe," reports Harlan.</p> <p>And he's not alone. According to a <a href="http://www.gao.gov/assets/680/676796.pdf" target="_blank">2015 report</a> from the US Government Accountability Office, while injury and illness rates for meat-packing workers have declined in recent years, "hazardous conditions remain," including repetitive motions that trigger musculoskeletal trouble like carpal tunnel syndrome, "exposure to chemicals and pathogens, and traumatic injuries from machines and tools."</p> <p>Worse still, the GAO found, many injuries may be significantly under-reported, for a variety of reasons: Much of the labor force works for third-party contractors and their injuries aren't necessarily counted in meat-packing data; companies have an incentive to discourage trips to the doctor for workers suffering pain, instead offering "over- the-counter painkillers and ointments"; and finally, "vulnerable workers such as immigrants and noncitizens may fear for their livelihoods and feel pressured not to report injuries."</p> <p>Refugee workers fit that bill. Trump's efforts to demonize them will only make life harder for some of the world's most vulnerable people.</p> <p>For the meat industry&mdash;which supported Trump over Hillary Clinton in the presidential election, <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2016/09/which-candidate-does-big-ag-support-president" target="_blank">in terms of campaign donations</a>&mdash;Trump's crackdown marks the second disappointment in a week. The industry also <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2017/01/trump-burns-his-big-ag-supporters-trade" target="_blank">cried foul over Trump's recent moves against high-profile trade deals</a>. Just as meat companies rely on foreign workers to do their dirty work, they rely on foreign markets to maintain profit growth.</p></body></html> Environment Food Tue, 31 Jan 2017 11:00:16 +0000 Tom Philpott 324376 at http://www.motherjones.com Sanity Break: Society Exists Because of Beer http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2017/01/science-says-society-exists-because-beer <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>When hunter-gatherer tribes began to stay put and focus on growing crops, starting around 13,000 years ago, things didn't begin promisingly. The fossil record <a href="http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1186&amp;context=nebanthro" target="_blank">suggests</a> the switch to farming made us shorter and triggered widespread malnutrition and dental problems. And yet, the agricultural revolution ultimately brought forth cities, writing, and what we know as civilization. So what saved the day?</p> <div class="art19-web-player awp-medium awp-theme-dark-orange" data-episode-id="596cf935-bfe1-4038-a370-e212feda84c2">&nbsp;</div> <script src="https://d2nx6ydw3e5y5d.cloudfront.net/assets/current.js" type="text/javascript"></script><p>The answer might well be beer, which is really just what happens when you sprout a bunch of grain, thus releasing its sugars, and then grind it into a mush with water, exposing it to those ubiquitous single-cell microbes we call yeasts. Here's a fascinating <a href="http://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2017/02/alcohol-discovery-addiction-booze-human-culture/" target="_blank"><em>National Geographic</em> piece</a> on humanity's long-standing need for a stiff drink:</p> <blockquote> <p>Indirectly, we may have the nutritional benefits of beer to thank for the invention of writing, and some of the world's earliest cities&mdash;for the dawn of history, in other words. Adelheid Otto, an archaeologist at Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich who co-directs excavations at Tall Bazi [an archeological site in northern Syria], thinks the nutrients that fermenting added to early grain made Mesopotamian civilization viable, providing basic vitamins missing from what was otherwise a depressingly bad diet. "They had bread and barley porridge, plus maybe some meat at feasts. Nutrition was very bad," she says. "But as soon as you have beer, you have everything you need to develop really well. I'm convinced this is why the first high culture arose in the Near East."</p> </blockquote> <p>Fermentation&mdash;the process by which yeasts consume sugars&mdash;doesn't just generate alcohol and carbon dioxide. It also delivers "all kinds of nutrients, including such B vitamins as folic acid, niacin, thiamine, and riboflavin," the author, Andrew Curry, notes. Even the alcohol would have been useful to these early settlements, beyond the gift of a buzz&mdash;it's toxic to many microbes, helping alcohol-tolerant yeasts colonize the resulting brew and pushing out pathogens that make use sick. And that effect "explains why beer, wine, and other fermented beverages were, at least until the rise of modern sanitation, often healthier to drink than water," Curry writes.</p> <p>That doesn't mean <em>you</em> should replace your daily water intake with beer. Most&mdash;not all&mdash;Americans have access to clean water, and we have a better variety of nutritious foods available to us than those early agricultural societies seemed to. And of course, we now know that tippling excessively courts other problems, including liver disease. And besides, all of these B vitamins "would have been more present in ancient brews than in our modern filtered and pasteurized varieties."</p> <p>Still, as Curry notes, emerging research suggests that enjoying a bit of alcohol may be part of what makes us human&mdash;and it didn't just help us through the agricultural revolution:</p> <blockquote> <p>To our fruit-eating primate ancestors swinging through the trees, however, the ethanol in rotting fruit would have had three other appealing characteristics. First, it has a strong, distinctive smell that makes the fruit easy to locate. Second, it's easier to digest, allowing animals to get more of a commodity that was precious back then: calories. Third, its antiseptic qualities repel microbes that might sicken a primate. Millions of years ago one of them developed a taste for fruit that had fallen from the tree. "Our ape ancestors started eating fermented fruits on the forest floor, and that made all the difference," says Nathaniel Dominy, a biological anthropologist at Dartmouth College. "We're preadapted for consuming alcohol."</p> </blockquote> <p>So wine (fermented fruit juice) got our evolutionary predecessors down from the trees, and beer (fermented grain mush) got our early farming ancestors through an extremely rough transition. Sounds like something to ponder over a beer&mdash;preferably, an unfiltered, unpasteurized one.</p></body></html> Environment Food Bite Sat, 28 Jan 2017 11:00:14 +0000 Tom Philpott 323821 at http://www.motherjones.com This Industry Just Found Out What It's Like to Do Business in Trump's America http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2017/01/trump-burns-his-big-ag-supporters-trade <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>American farms overflow with certain foods: Our <a href="http://www.agmrc.org/commodities-products/nuts/almonds/" target="_blank">almond</a>, <a href="http://www.worldofcorn.com/#corn-usage-by-segment" target="_blank">corn</a>, <a href="https://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/crops/soybeans-oil-crops/trade.aspx" target="_blank">soybean</a>, <a href="https://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/ag-and-food-statistics-charting-the-essentials/agricultural-trade/" target="_blank">cotton, and wheat</a> farms, and <a href="http://nppc.org/pork-facts/" target="_blank">hog</a>, <a href="http://www.nationalchickencouncil.org/about-the-industry/statistics/u-s-broiler-exports-quantity-and-share-of-production/" target="_blank">chicken</a>, and <a href="https://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/animal-products/cattle-beef/statistics-information.aspx" target="_blank">beef</a> feedlots all churn out more than we can eat, wear, or burn in our cars as biofuel. That's why industrial-scale US agriculture needs robust and growing export markets. During the campaign, Donald Trump courted support from these agribusiness interests, assembling a <a href="https://www.donaldjtrump.com/press-releases/trump-campaign-announces-agricultural-advisory-committee" target="_blank">60-plus-person advisory </a><a href="http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2016/08/trumps-ag-czar-running-MLM" target="_blank">panel</a> of <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2016/08/meet-other-colorful-character-advising-donald-trump-ag-policy" target="_blank">farm-state politicians</a> and <a href="http://www.croplifeamerica.org/croplife-americas-rebeckah-adcock-receives-2016-naicc-service-to-agriculture-award/" target="_blank">industry flacks</a>, and <a href="http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/trump-warns-regulations-taxes-harming-family-farmers/" target="_blank">thundering from the stump</a> against the "radical regulation" of farms.</p> <p>But on the question of trade, Trump strayed far from his flock of agribiz supporters, lashing out against the very deals that Big Ag has been <a href="http://191hmt1pr08amfq62276etw2.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Ag-Food-Industry-Letter-to-House-Senate-Leadership-Support-TPP-in-.pdf" target="_blank">pushing</a> for a generation and <a href="http://money.cnn.com/2016/03/09/news/economy/donald-trump-china-currency-yuan/?iid=EL" target="_blank">trash-talking China</a>, a prized destination for our farm goods. In the first days of his presidency, Trump has already shown he meant business. He formally removed the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a massive deal <a href="http://191hmt1pr08amfq62276etw2.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Ag-Food-Industry-Letter-to-House-Senate-Leadership-Support-TPP-in-.pdf" target="_blank">hotly supported by Big Ag</a> that would link the United States with 11 nations on both sides of the Pacific Ocean. And he vowed to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Mexico and Canada, two of the biggest foreign buyers of our farmed goods.</p> <p>He has also initiated a fight with Mexico over his beloved border wall&mdash;one that threatened to bloom into a full trade war on Thursday afternoon when White House spokesman Sean Spicer dangled the idea of collecting funds to pay for the barrier by imposing a 20 percent tax on all imports. Spicer's statements were widely misreported: He never mentioned a tax specifically targeting Mexico, and he quickly walked back the idea anyway.</p> <p>But if we did get sucked into a US-Mexico trade war, the consequences would be massive on both sides of the border. The United States <a href="http://www.renewoureconomy.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/no-longer-home-grown.pdf" target="_blank">imports nearly a third of the fruit and vegetables we consume</a>, and Mexico accounts for <a href="https://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/RL34468.pdf" target="_blank">44 percent</a> of that foreign-grown cornucopia, much more than any other country. It's by far our biggest supplier of avocados, sending us <a href="https://www.hassavocadoboard.com/" target="_blank">more than 90 percent</a> of the Hass varietals we consume, and it also delivers loads of tomatoes and peppers&mdash;meaning that in the event of a trade war, your guacamole could become very dear, indeed.</p> <p>For Mexico, the stakes are even higher. As Greg Grandin, a professor of history at New York University, recently <a href="https://www.thenation.com/article/how-us-policies-fueled-mexicos-great-migration/" target="_blank">noted</a>, NAFTA "destroyed the Mexican farming industry, transforming what is left of it into the production of specialty crops to meet the all-season US demand for strawberries, broccoli, and tomatoes." Mexico now relies heavily on imports of US wheat, corn, and soybeans. A major disruption in supply could trigger price spikes in these commodities, leading higher prices for staples like tortillas and meat in a country <a href="https://thewire.in/100314/hike-gas-prices-protests-mexico/" target="_blank">already being roiled by protests</a> over rising gas prices.&nbsp;</p> <p>Amid the tumult, US agricultural players are <a href="http://www.agweb.com/article/farm-groups-bristle-as-trump-kills-tpp-negotiations-naa-ben-potter/" target="_blank">freaking out</a>, and for good reason. The countries that Trump most directly targeted in his trade tirades during the campaign, Mexico and China, are <a href="https://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/chart-gallery/gallery/chart-detail/?chartId=58374" target="_blank">two of the three biggest export markets for farmed products</a>. The third biggest market is Canada&mdash;the country that joins the United States and Mexico in NAFTA. <a href="https://www.uoguelph.ca/fare/institute/Docs/FARE_conferenceJosephGlauber_WEB.pdf" target="_blank">According to Joseph Glauber</a>, who served as chief economist at the US Department of Agriculture under most of Obama's presidency, US agriculture exports to China, Mexico, and Canada averaged $63 billion annually between 2013 and 2015&mdash;accounting for 44 percent of total food/ag US exports.</p> <p>For soybeans and pork, two of the most valuable US ag export products, the reliance is particularly stark. The United States is the world's largest soybean producer, and our farms <a href="https://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/crops/soybeans-oil-crops/trade.aspx" target="_blank">export nearly half of what they harvest</a>. The biggest recipients are China and Mexico, which <a href="http://www.nopa.org/resources/datafacts/top-10-destinations-for-u-s-soybean-exports/" target="_blank">together account for nearly 70 percent of US soybean exports</a>, buying a total of about $16.6 billion worth of the product. They also make up <a href="https://www.usmef.org/downloads/Pork-2006-to-2015.pdf" target="_blank">two of the top three destinations for US pork</a>.</p> <p>In an apparent attempt to ease agribiz concerns about China, Trump back in December <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2016/12/trump-just-wrapped-nice-double-gift-meat-industry" target="_blank">appointed Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad</a>, who has been <a href="http://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/money/business/2016/12/07/ambassador-branstad-could-huge-boost-iowa-china-trade/95091204/" target="_blank">promoting his states' soybeans, corn, and pork to China for decades</a>, as ambassador to that country. But Mexico and the TPP countries&mdash;which include Canada and major US pork and beef buyers Japan and South Korea&mdash;remain in his cross-hairs.</p> <p>The American Farm Bureau Federation, which <a href="https://thefern.org/2012/07/whose-side-is-the-farm-bureau-on/" target="_blank">promotes the interests of corporate agribusiness</a>, expressed <a href="http://www.fb.org/news/administration-must-do-all-possible-to-grow-new-markets-for-agriculture-afb" target="_blank">dismay</a> over Trump's rejection of the TPP, mourning it as a "positive agreement that would add $4.4 billion annually to the struggling agriculture economy" and requesting that Trump commit to<strong> "</strong>ensuring we do not lose the ground gained&mdash;whether in the Asia-Pacific, North America, Europe or other parts of the world." Around 130 companies and trade groups, representing virtually the entire US ag industry, signed a <a href="http://www.ncga.com/upload/files/documents/pdf/letters/North-America_FoodAG-Letter_Pres.Trump_170123-FINAL.pdf" target="_blank">letter</a> to Trump on January 23, informing the new president that "NAFTA has been a windfall for US farmers, ranchers, and food processors," and that food and agriculture exports to Canada and Mexico have more than quadrupled since the deal's signing in 1994.</p> <p>Of course, these groups cannot claim to have been surprised by Trump's trade moves&mdash;he made his stance on the issue crystal clear during his campaign. His rural proxies emphasized Trump's anti-regulatory zeal and his vow to end the inheritance tax, a <a href="http://www.fb.org/podcast/farm-bureau-supports-death-tax-repeal" target="_blank">big deal</a> to the American Farm Bureau but not so consequential to most farmers (the USDA estimates it <a href="https://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/farm-economy/federal-tax-issues/federal-estate-taxes.aspx" target="_blank">affects less than 1 percent of farms)</a>. On trade, they delivered a trust-us message.</p> <p>In July, when I <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/media/2016/07/meet-man-advising-donald-trump-ag-policy" target="_blank">spoke to Charles Herbster</a>, the <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2016/08/trumps-ag-czar-running-MLM" target="_blank">multi-level marketing</a> and cattle magnate who <a href="https://www.donaldjtrump.com/press-releases/trump-campaign-announces-agricultural-advisory-committee" target="_blank">chaired</a> Trump's Agricultural and Rural Advisory Committee, he gave me the campaign's spiel. Before vowing Trump would end over-regulation and the reduce the inheritance tax, Herbster tried to square the circle on trade:</p> <blockquote> <p>Herbster told me that he's been getting calls from farmers "concerned about issues of trade." Herbster said he reassures them that Trump "is not against trade in any way"&mdash;it's "just that he wants trade to be fair," and that means renegotiating trade deals. Herbster acknowledged that "trade for agriculture in the Midwest has probably been pretty good for the past few years," but that it "hasn't been good for small manufacturers in middle America and the coasts." Trump, he suggested, would make trade great again for everyone.</p> </blockquote> <p>Another prominent Trump rural proxy during the campaign, Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, took a similar line, <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2016/08/meet-other-colorful-character-advising-donald-trump-ag-policy" target="_blank">declaring in August</a> that Trump's trade stance could actually benefit US farmers because "above all, [Trump wants] to be known as the president that cuts the good deals...He's a deal maker, that's his whole mantra."</p> <p>In place of big, multi-national pacts like NAFTA and TPP, Trump has vowed to make multiple bi-lateral trade deals with individuals countries. "Believe me, we're going to have a lot of trade deals," Trump told a gathering of Republican legislators Thursday, Reuters <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trump-trade-idUSKBN15A2MP?feedType=RSS&amp;feedName=politicsNews" target="_blank">reports</a>. "If that particular country doesn't treat us fairly, we send them a 30-day termination, notice of termination."</p> <p>Ben Lilliston of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy says Trump may simply not understand that negotiating trade deals is a long and difficult process. "They want the bi-lateral deals, because it allows them to bully other countries more easily," he said. "But they seem to have a very limited understanding of the complications of negotiating deals&mdash;it's an extremely time-consuming process."</p> <p>Of course, the big agribusiness interests don't just prize trade deals because they expand markets for pork and (soy)beans. Deals like NAFTA and the TPP, Lilliston added, also "allow agribusinesses to set up wherever they want." For example, US-based pork behemoth Smithfield&mdash;now, ironically, owned by a Chinese conglomerate&mdash;didn't just use NAFTA as a lever to expand pork exports to Mexico; it <a href="https://www.thenation.com/article/how-us-policies-fueled-mexicos-great-migration/" target="_blank">also dramatically expanded its hog-rearing operations in Mexico</a> in the wake of the deal's onset in 1994, <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/05/09/AR2009050902531.html" target="_blank">sometimes over the protests of people who live near the hog operations</a>.</p> <p>US agriculture policy encourages farms to produce as much as possible, even in times of low prices. And since domestic demand rises only at the rate of population growth, these farmers rely on foreign markets to maintain profit growth, points out the former USDA economist Glauber. "Those facts explain why US agricultural interests have been such strong supporters of free trade agreements in the past," he wrote.</p> <p>Trump managed to win big in the <a href="http://ethanolrfa.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/2016-Election-Swing-Counties_Corn-and-Ethanol.pdf" target="_blank">corn and soybean counties of the Midwest</a>, in areas largely reliant on exports. But if he repeals their beloved trade deals without replacing them, these supporters might ultimately give up on Trump.</p></body></html> Politics Donald Trump Economy Elections Food Fri, 27 Jan 2017 23:31:27 +0000 Tom Philpott 324121 at http://www.motherjones.com Trump Just Ordered Government Scientists to Hide Facts From the Public http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2017/01/trump-has-already-cracked-down-epa-and-usda <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Throughout Donald Trump's campaign, he and his proxies consistently expressed hostility to government regulation, particularly of the fossil fuel and agriculture industries. Within days of taking over, the Trump administration has already put a squeeze on the two agencies that most directly regulate Big Energy and Big Ag, the Environmental Protection Agency and the US Department of Agriculture.</p> <p>At the EPA, the administration has&nbsp; ordered that "all contract and grant awards be temporarily suspended, effective immediately," <em>ProPublica</em> writers Andrew Revkin and Jesse Eisinger <a href="https://www.propublica.org/article/trump-administration-imposes-freeze-on-epa-grants-and-contracts" target="_blank">report</a>, quoting an internal EPA email they obtained. Myron Ebell, the climate change denier who led the Trump team's EPA transition and directs the Center for Energy and Environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, confirmed the suspension, Revkin and Eisenger report.</p> <p>That's potentially a massive blow to the agency's core functions, says Patty Lovera, assistant director of the environmental watchdog group Food &amp; Water Watch. "The EPA's not necessarily out there running a bulldozer to clean up a toxic site," she says. Superfund, an EPA program <a href="https://www.epa.gov/superfund" target="_blank">responsible for cleaning up the nation's most contaminated land</a>, is executed through contracts, she said. The EPA turns to contractors for "tons of water stuff, too"&mdash;from monitoring water quality downstream from polluters to helping municipalities update water infrastructure to avoid toxins.</p> <p>"It's one thing to put a pause on new contracts so they can be reviewed, but to reach back and stop existing ones is a whole other can of worms," Lovera said.</p> <p>In Flint, Michigan, where lead contamination has led to the nation's most notorious drinking-water catastrophe in years, the announcement brought uncertainty and confusion. "State officials are seeking more information on a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency freeze on grants and contracts and what it could mean to $100 million in federal funds already appropriated for the Flint water crisis," the news site MLive.com <a href="http://www.mlive.com/news/flint/index.ssf/2017/01/state_seeks_more_information_o.html?utm_source=feedburner&amp;utm_medium=feed&amp;utm_campaign=Feed%3A+michigan-news+(Michigan+News%2C+Updates%2C+Photos%2C+Videos+and+Opinions+-+MLive.com)" target="_blank">reported</a> Tuesday. In statement quoted by MLive.com, the press secretary for Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder noted that "we haven't received any guidance from the federal government" about the EPA's funding to address the Flint crisis.</p> <p>Andrew Rosenberg, who directs the Center for Science and Democracy for the Union of Concerned Scientists, adds research to the list. The agency funds crucial environmental science through contracts with outside scientists, and interruptions to their funding can be devastating, he said. He likened the situation to the government shutdown of 2013, which temporarily blocked research funding throughout the federal government, including the EPA. In a <a href="http://blog.ucsusa.org/andrew-rosenberg/science-stories-from-the-shutdown-268?" target="_blank">blog post</a> at the time, Rosenberg quoted an EPA scientist he interviewed on the effects of such interruptions:</p> <blockquote> <p>A toxicologist who works for the Environmental Protection Agency expressed great frustration that the crucial work of testing chemicals on the market for toxicity has been interrupted. This work had been slow and complex, and short of manpower. Now, things are worse, the scientist writes. "The next time you reach under the sink to pull out a cleaning product, ask yourself if you'd really like to know if it was causing cancer, or if it was safe." The shutdown, the toxicologist concludes, will keep toxic chemicals on the shelves "longer than they otherwise should have."</p> </blockquote> <p>Of course, it remains unclear exactly how far-ranging the contract suspension is&mdash;and that brings us to another move from the White House: a media blackout. The<em> Huffington Post</em>'s Kate Sheppard <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2017/01/trump-epa-gag-order" target="_blank">got hold of an internal EPA email</a> sent to staff Monday blocking all press releases, social-media messages, and blog posts. As for answering queries from journalists, "Incoming media requests will be carefully screened," the email stated. My own calls and emails to EPA spokespeople on Tuesday went unanswered.</p> <p>Meanwhile, over at the USDA, a similar media blackout is afoot, <a href="https://www.buzzfeed.com/dinograndoni/trump-usda?utm_term=.dqa7K1pjqX#.meBgJ7kXdB" target="_blank">reports</a> <em>BuzzFeed</em>'s Dino Grandoni:</p> <blockquote> <p>According to an email sent Monday morning and obtained by BuzzFeed News, the department told staff&mdash;including some 2,000 scientists&mdash;at the agency's main in-house research arm, the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), to stop communicating with the public about taxpayer-funded work.</p> <p>"Starting immediately and until further notice, ARS will not release any public-facing documents," Sharon Drumm, chief of staff for ARS, wrote in a department-wide email shared with <em>BuzzFeed News</em>.</p> <p>"This includes, but is not limited to, news releases, photos, fact sheets, news feeds, and social media content," she added.</p> </blockquote> <p>Food &amp; Water Watch's Lovera notes that the decree is somewhat ironic, because the Obama USDA itself kept its scientists on a short leash in terms of press access&mdash;especially on topics of high importance to the agrichemical industry, like pesticides and genetically modified crops. The plight of former ARS entomologist Jonathan Lundgren, who focused on those sensitive issues, illustrates her point. My profile of Lundgren is <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/tom-philpott/2015/11/usda-researcher-claims-harrassment-and-retaliation-pesticide-research" target="_blank">here</a>.</p> <p>"It's not like USDA scientists were out shouting in the public square," Lovera said. The recent gag order signals that the Trump team will put USDA research under even tighter control.</p> <p>If the funding interruptions and media blackouts continue, she said, much of what the USDA and EPA do to study and protect the public from polluting industries will be negated. And that might be the point, she said: If you can prevent public agencies from conducting vital functions, "you can say they don't do anything and justify cutting their funding."</p> <p>On a positive note, all the information that emerged Tuesday on the EPA and the USDA came from internal leaks. Trump may be determined to keep these crucial watchdog and research agencies tightly muzzled, but at least some career bureaucrats and scientists appear unwilling to keep the public in the dark.</p></body></html> Environment Food Wed, 25 Jan 2017 00:24:14 +0000 Tom Philpott 323906 at http://www.motherjones.com 5 Sketchy Facts About Trump's Pick for USDA Chief http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2017/01/some-sketchy-things-trunps-usda-pick-did-while-governor-georgia <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Amid the pomp and tumult of inauguration week, you may have missed that President (whoa) Donald Trump at last <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2017/01/sonny-perdue-usda-trump" target="_blank">made his final Cabinet pick</a>, naming former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue US Department of Agriculture secretary. At a televised candlelight dinner on the eve of the inauguration, Trump mused on his long and zigzagging USDA search that started and ended with Perdue, who emerged as a front-runner right after the election and then faded as the president-elect auditioned a succession of candidates for the post (transcript by <a href="http://www.politico.com/tipsheets/morning-agriculture/2017/01/clovis-to-take-beachhead-at-usda-today-218320" target="_blank"><em>Politico</em></a>):</p> <blockquote> <p>He came into my office two months ago. Since then, I saw 10 people that everybody liked, politically correct, and I kept thinking back to Sonny Perdue, a great, great farmer. He loves to farm; he knows everything about farming, knows everything about agriculture. He&rsquo;s been successful in farming. He knows the good stuff from the bad stuff.</p> <p>But people came into my office, and they said, 'I am really wanting the job.' I said, 'Let me ask you a question: Do you have any experience with farms or agriculture?' 'No sir, I don't.' I said, 'Have you ever seen a farm?' The one gentleman, who is a great guy, we'll find something else. But I can't make him the secretary of agriculture.</p> </blockquote> <p>The "politically correct" bit is, no doubt, a reference to the fact that Trump's 22-member cabinet and top staff is largely, like Perdue, white and male: It <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/12/05/us/politics/trump-cabinet-insiders-outsiders-millionaires.html?action=click&amp;contentCollection=Politics&amp;region=Footer&amp;module=WhatsNext&amp;version=WhatsNext&amp;contentID=WhatsNext&amp;moduleDetail=undefined&amp;pgtype=Multimedia" target="_blank">contains</a> just four women, one African American, and not a single Latino. Indeed, Trump will be the first president since Ronald Reagan to enter office without having appointed a Latino to a cabinet-level post. (Reagan appointed a Latino to his Cabinet in his second term.)</p> <p>During the USDA search, there were intermittent reports that Trump was, as <em>Politico</em> put it at <a href="http://www.politico.com/story/2016/12/trump-hispanic-cabinet-233020" target="_blank">one point</a>, "scrambling to appoint a Hispanic official to serve in his Cabinet amid criticism that his incoming administration lacks diversity at the highest levels." He publicly mulled several candidates who would have added diversity (examples: <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2016/12/trump-usda-cabinet" target="_blank">Abel Maldonado</a>, son of farm workers and, like Perdue, a farmer himself; <a href="https://aurn.com/2954-2/" target="_blank">J.C. Watts</a>; <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2016/12/trump-usda-klippenstein-heitkamp" target="_blank">Heidi Heitkamp</a>).</p> <p>In the end, Trump chose a white, southern male for the job. And not just any white southerner. Here are a few things to know about Perdue:</p> <p><strong>1. He was a big fan of the Confederacy.</strong> As I <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2017/01/sonny-perdue-usda-trump" target="_blank">reported</a> a few weeks ago, Perdue displayed a disturbing <a href="http://sonsofconfederateveterans.blogspot.com/2010/01/georgia-governor-signs-confederate.html" target="_blank">nostalgia for the Confederacy while governor (2003-2011)</a>&mdash;not a great look for the incoming head of a federal department that, in 1999, <a href="http://nationalaglawcenter.org/wp-content/uploads/assets/crs/RS20430.pdf" target="_blank">settled a landmark lawsuit</a> charging systemic USDA discrimination against black farmers between 1983 and 1997, agreeing to pay out $1.25 billion to harmed farmers.</p> <p><strong>2. He enacted severe voter ID laws. </strong>Voter fraud is <a href="http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/person-voting-fraud-rare-doesnt-affect-elections/" target="_blank">vanishingly rare</a>, and laws requiring photo identification at polling places target black voters with "almost surgical precision," a <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2016/08/supreme-court-blocks-north-carolinas-restrictive-voting-law" target="_blank">federal court ruled last year</a>. In 2005, Perdue signed into law one of the nation's first "strict" ID laws&mdash;the very<a href="http://articles.latimes.com/2005/apr/23/nation/na-voterid23" target="_blank"> first of many in former Confederate states</a>&mdash;requiring people to either present a current photo identification card or be denied the vote. Perdue vigorously defended it through several legal challenges. It remains in place.</p> <p><strong>3</strong><strong>. He championed immigration crackdowns. </strong>In 2006, then-Gov. Perdue mashed up the voter-fraud myth with another <a href="https://newrepublic.com/article/122714/immigrants-dont-drain-welfare-they-fund-it" target="_blank">racially tinged fantasy</a>, this one fervently held by Perdue's new boss, Trump: that undocumented immigrants burden taxpayers by siphoning welfare benefits. "It is simply unacceptable for people to sneak into this country illegally on Thursday, obtain a government-issued ID on Friday, head for the welfare office on Monday and cast a vote on Tuesday," he <a href="http://chronicle.augusta.com/stories/2006/09/19/met_97222.shtml#.WIKSjrYrKYU" target="_blank">declared</a>. He backed up his harsh words with a <a href="http://accesswdun.com/article/2006/9/104674" target="_blank">crackdown</a> on <a href="https://web.archive.org/web/20120119110027/http://www.georgia.gov/00/press/detail/0,2668,78006749_90413728_91429030,00.html" target="_blank">undocumented workers</a>. Coupled with the George W. Bush administration's simultaneous get-tough efforts, the Georgia law worked perhaps too well. Here's an <a href="http://www.foxnews.com/story/2006/09/15/georgia-town-abandoned-after-immigration-raid.html" target="_blank">Associated Press piece</a> from September 2006:</p> <blockquote> <p>STILLMORE, Ga. &ndash;&nbsp; Trailer parks lie abandoned. The poultry plant is scrambling to replace more than half its workforce. Business has dried up at stores where Mexican laborers once lined up to buy food, beer and cigarettes just weeks ago.</p> <p>This Georgia community of about 1,000 people has become little more than a ghost town since Sept. 1, when federal agents began rounding up illegal immigrants.</p> <p>The sweep has had the unintended effect of underscoring just how vital the illegal immigrants were to the local economy.</p> </blockquote> <p>Perdue doubled down in 2009, signing <a href="https://www.amren.com/news/2009/05/perdue_signs_im/" target="_blank">another tough immigration bill</a>. By 2010, when preparing to leave office, he had changed his tune a bit&mdash;perhaps chastened by how much Georgia's ag industry relies on migrant labor. He declined to express an opinion about the renewed immigration crackdown being promoted by his successor, but he did <a href="http://accesswdun.com/article/2010/12/234740" target="_blank">tell</a> the Associated Press that "the Republican Party needs to be very, very careful that it maintains the golden rule in its rhetoric regarding immigration policy." He added that the GOP need to make sure that "people of color and people who are not US-born'' are made to feel welcome, adding, "And I think that's the challenge of the Republican Party.''</p> <p><strong>4. He's tightly intertwined with the industry he will now regulate. </strong>Before entering politics, Perdue <a href="http://www.macon.com/news/local/article118295218.html" target="_blank">sold fertilizer</a>. As governor of Georgia, he led the nation's <a href="http://www.nationalchickencouncil.org/about-the-industry/statistics/top-broiler-producing-states/" target="_blank">number-one chicken-producing state</a>, and over his career in politics he netted <a href="http://www.followthemoney.org/entity-details?eid=12996559&amp;default=candidate" target="_blank">$328,328 in donations from agribusiness interests</a>, including <a href="http://www.followthemoney.org/entity-details?eid=12996559&amp;default=candidate" target="_blank">$21,000 from Gold Kist,</a> a large, Georgia-based chicken-processing company that was later taken over by chicken giant Pilgrim's Pride. He <a href="http://www.bloomberg.com/research/stocks/private/snapshot.asp?privcapId=134387678" target="_blank">now runs</a> a company that trades agricultural commodities globally.</p> <p><strong>5. He enjoyed the spoils of cronyism. </strong>Back in 2005, Georgia state Rep. Larry O'Neal&mdash;Perdue's <a href="http://accesswdun.com/article/2007/1/108214" target="_blank">lawyer</a>&mdash;managed to pass what the<em> Atlanta Journal-Constitution</em> <a href="http://www.myajc.com/news/state--regional-govt--politics/minutes-tax-bill-100-000-for-sonny-perdue/7tIHq7lCoiiAPHJtSREMBP/" target="_blank">called</a> a "seemingly mundane tax bill" that was "designed to allow Georgians to delay paying state taxes on land they sell in Georgia if they buy similar property in another state." The bill included a "a last-minute change, which would make the tax break retroactive to land sales made in 2004." Voila. "And just like that, Gov. Sonny Perdue saved an estimated $100,000 in state taxes," the <em>AJC</em> reported, adding this:</p> <blockquote> <p>Without the backdated tax break, the governor would have had to pay taxes on money he made in 2004 by selling property he owned in Georgia. Later that year, he used $2 million in proceeds from the sale of that Georgia land to buy 19.51 acres near Florida's Walt Disney World."</p> </blockquote> <p>Then there was the time in 2010, at the tail end of his second term as governor, when Sonny Perdue named his cousin, David Perdue, Jr., to the board of the Georgia Ports Authority. According to the<a href="http://http://www.myajc.com/news/perdue-trucking-business-overlapped-with-ports-tenure/UZo0IRPqhr40tiLXt5wRbO/" target="_blank"><em> AJC,</em></a> it was a plum post for David, who had just stepped down as chief executive of Dollar General discount stores:</p> <blockquote> <p>The board sets policy and oversees management of the quasi-state agency that rakes in some $67 billion in revenue statewide. And it&rsquo;s viewed as a prestigious panel, where powerful Georgia business and political leaders rub shoulders. The chairman while [David] Perdue served on the board was Alec Poitevint, former head of the state Republican Party who went on to manage the 2012 GOP national convention.</p> </blockquote> <p>Meanwhile, that same year, Sonny Perdue "while he was still governor, met with ports officials to discuss opportunities for his private grain and trucking businesses at the port once he left office," the <em>AJC</em> reports, citing emails it <a href="http://www.joc.com/maritime-news/georgia-governor-reported-using-gpa-private-business_20101118.html" target="_blank">obtained through the state's Open Records Act</a>. Then, in 2011, after Sonny Perdue left office, he and David Perdue launched <a href="http://www.bloomberg.com/research/stocks/private/snapshot.asp?privcapId=134387678" target="_blank">Perdue Partners</a>&mdash;"a global trading company that facilitates US commerce focusing on the export of US goods and services through trading, partnerships, consulting services, and strategic acquisitions." The paper adds:</p> <blockquote> <p>Records obtained by the <em>Atlanta Journal-Constitution</em> through an open records request paint an even more complicated portrait, showing that a trucking company purchased by both Perdues hauled cargo at the port while David was on the board making important decisions about the port&rsquo;s operation.</p> </blockquote> <p>With his stint on the port authority board on his resume, David Perdue leapt into Georgia politics&mdash;in 2014, he was elected to the US Senate.&nbsp;</p></body></html> Environment Food Mon, 23 Jan 2017 20:36:05 +0000 Tom Philpott 323706 at http://www.motherjones.com Trump Is Ready to Bless Monsanto and Bayer's Massive Merger http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2017/01/monsanto-bayer-trump-antitrust <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Not even sworn in yet, President-elect Donald Trump is <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2017/01/monsanto-and-bayer-gets-audience-donald-promote-their-merger" target="_blank">already negotiating</a> the terms for green-lighting what <em>Bloomberg News</em> <a href="http://www.agweb.com/article/bayer-monsanto-pledge-investment-jobs-after-trump-meeting-blmg/" target="_blank">calls</a> the globe's "biggest-ever" merger of agribusiness companies&mdash;a move antitrust experts say is highly irregular.</p> <p>US seed and pesticide giant Monsanto and its former German rival Bayer are in the middle of a $66 billion combination, one that immediately raised antitrust hackles because the resulting company <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2016/09/whoa-monsanto-about-get-swallowed-german-giant-bayer" target="_blank">would own</a> around 29 percent of the global seed market and 25 percent of the global pesticide market. Here in the United States, a combined Bayer-Monsanto would <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-09-14/bayer-monsanto-combination-likely-too-big-in-u-s-cottonseed" target="_blank">have nearly 60 percent of the US cottonseed market</a>.</p> <p>As I recently <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2016/12/rise-seedpesticide-giants-and-four-other-food-stories-watch-17" target="_blank">explained</a>, such market power wielded by a single agribusiness company threatens to harm farmers and ultimately consumers. The executive branch is required to vet massive combinations based on such concerns under the <a href="https://www.ftc.gov/tips-advice/competition-guidance/guide-antitrust-laws/antitrust-laws" target="_blank">Sherman Act</a>. But Trump's talks with the CEOs of Monsanto and Bayer apparently had nothing to do with the deal's impact on competition. On Tuesday, Fox Business News recently <a href="http://www.foxbusiness.com/markets/2017/01/17/monsanto-shares-up-on-bayer-trump-promise-for-billions-in-u-s-investment-jobs.html" target="_blank">delivered</a> Trump's version of how the negotiation proceeded, quoting incoming White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer from a press conference call:</p> <blockquote> <p>After [Trump's] meeting with Bayer and Monsanto CEOs, Bayer has committed to $8 billion in new U.S. research and development. Bayer will also keep 100% of Monsanto&rsquo;s 9,000 plus U.S. workforce, and add 3,000 new U.S. high-tech jobs.</p> </blockquote> <p>Bayer and Monsanto, for their part, issued a <a href="http://news.monsanto.com/news/joint-statement-monsanto-bayer-ceos-meet-new-administration" target="_blank">joint statement</a> describing their CEOs' "very productive meeting last week with President-Elect Trump and his team." They made no specific pledges on jobs but did note that the "combined company expects to spend approximately $16 billion for R&amp;D in agriculture over the next six years with at least half of this investment made in the United States," an investment that "will create several thousand new high-tech, well-paying jobs after integration is complete."</p> <p>If Trump really does bless the merger based on a jobs pledge, dismissing antitrust concerns, it would "signal a fundamental disregard for the law and for due process," Diana&nbsp;Moss, president of the American Antitrust Institute, told me. "Antitrust enforcers play the important role of referee in protecting competition and our market system," she added. "If Trump lets this deal through without any review, it would be unusual and would raise significant concerns."</p> <p>According to Barry Lynn, director of the Open Markets at the New America and author of <em>Cornered: The New Monopoly Capitalism and the Economics of Destruction, </em>a combined Bayer-Monsanto would likely "pay for those jobs by ripping off American farmers, hence American eaters," by leveraging their market power to raise prices. If the jobs deal pans out, he added, "Trump's team is selling out the long term interests of the United States."</p> <p>And then there's the whole question of what exactly Monsanto and Bayer are promising to deliver. As CNBC's Meg Tirrell <a href="http://finance.yahoo.com/news/heres-why-analysts-scratching-heads-201648006.html" target="_blank">notes</a>, the companies had already <a href="http://www.press.bayer.com/baynews/baynews.nsf/id/ADSF8F-Bayer-and-Monsanto-to-Create-a-Global-Leader-in-Agriculture" target="_blank">announced</a> plans, way back when they agreed to merge in September, to keep the combined company's Seeds &amp; Traits division, as well as its main North American headquarters, in Monsanto's hometown, St. Louis.</p> <p>In that same September announcement, the two companies noted that the combined entity would maintain an annual R&amp;D budget of 2.5 billion euros, equal to about $2.66 billion. That amounts to about $16 billion over six years&mdash;exactly what Monsanto and Bayer said to expect in its <a href="http://news.monsanto.com/news/joint-statement-monsanto-bayer-ceos-meet-new-administration" target="_blank">recent joint statement</a>.&nbsp;</p> <p>Then there's those jobs. Recall that Trump spokesman Spicer said on the press call that the combined company had committed to "keep 100 percent of Monsanto&rsquo;s 9,000-plus US. workforce and add 3,000 new US high-tech jobs." But the joint statement from Monsanto and Bayer promised no such thing, only offering a vague reference to "several thousand new high-tech, well-paying jobs after integration is complete."</p> <p>It also bears noting that in the <a href="http://www.press.bayer.com/baynews/baynews.nsf/id/ADSF8F-Bayer-and-Monsanto-to-Create-a-Global-Leader-in-Agriculture" target="_blank">joint statement</a> following the merger plan in September, Bayer and Monsanto promised their shareholders "total synergies of approximately USD 1.5 billion after year three, plus additional synergies from integrated solutions in future years." In corporate merger speak, "synergy" means cost savings from combining operations and <em>eliminating</em> overlapping jobs: one of the major motivations for merging in the first place.&nbsp;</p> <p>I asked a Monsanto spokeswoman whether the Trump team's depiction of Bayer-Monsanto's jobs commitment was accurate. She pointed me back to the joint Monsanto-Bayer statement and declined to comment further.</p></body></html> Environment Food Thu, 19 Jan 2017 11:00:10 +0000 Tom Philpott 323476 at http://www.motherjones.com