MoJo Author Feeds: Tom Philpott | Mother Jones Mother Jones logo en These Folks Loved Trump. Until Their Friend Was Taken Away. <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>In a Monday <a href=";referer=" target="_blank">piece</a>, <em>The New York Times</em> served up one of the conundrums of Trumpism on a platter, steaming like a just-seared mound of fajitas. On the one hand ....</p> <blockquote> <p>Juan Carlos Hernandez Pacheco &mdash; just Carlos to the people of West Frankfort &mdash; has been the manager of La Fiesta, a Mexican restaurant in this city of 8,000, for a decade. Yes, he always greeted people warmly at the cheerfully decorated restaurant, known for its beef and chicken fajitas. ... [O]ne night last fall, when the Fire Department was battling a two-alarm blaze, Mr. Hernandez suddenly appeared with meals for the firefighters. How he hosted a Law Enforcement Appreciation Day at the restaurant last summer as police officers were facing criticism around the country. How he took part in just about every community committee or charity effort &mdash; the Rotary Club, cancer fund-raisers, cleanup days, even scholarships for the Redbirds, the high school sports teams, which are the pride of this city.</p> </blockquote> <p>On the other:</p> <blockquote> <p>Ask residents of this coal-mining crossroads about President Trump's decision to crack down on undocumented immigrants and most offer no protest. Mr. Trump, who easily won this mostly white southern Illinois county, is doing what he promised, they say. As Terry Chambers, a barber on Main Street, put it, the president simply wants "to get rid of the bad eggs."</p> </blockquote> <p>Carlos, beloved pillar of the community, recently got picked up in an immigration raid. And now some of the upstanding citizens of West Frankfort, Ill., are flummoxed.</p> <blockquote> <p>"I think people need to do things the right way, follow the rules and obey the laws, and I firmly believe in that," said Lori Barron, the owner of Lori's Hair A'Fairs, a beauty salon. "But in the case of Carlos, I think he may have done more for the people here than this place has ever given him. I think it's absolutely terrible that he could be taken away."</p> </blockquote> <p>I can't think of a more apt snapshot of Trump's immigration policy: demonize, hound, and when possible, and detain the<a href="" target="_blank"> very people who feed us.</a> Before Trump is done, I'm guessing that a lot more Americans will be feeling the bewilderment now sweeping West Frankfort.</p></body></html> Environment Food Tue, 28 Feb 2017 00:06:57 +0000 Tom Philpott 326601 at Trump's Last Labor Secretary Nominee Went Down in Flames. Here's How His New One Stacks Up. <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Lawyer and law-school dean Alex Acosta, President Donald Trump's second choice to head the Department of Labor, doesn't carry the <a href="" target="_blank">epic</a> <a href="" target="_blank">baggage</a> of Andrew Puzder, the burger magnate who dropped out of consideration for the post amid <a href="" target="_blank">allegations of spousal abuse</a>. Unlike Puzder, Acosta has never publicly <a href="" target="_blank">thundered against raising the minimum wage</a>; nor does he run a fast-food chain with <a href="" target="_blank">disaffected former workers willing to complain to Congress</a>.</p> <p>Acosta has drawn fire for his stint during the George W. Bush's&nbsp;Justice Department as assistant attorney general at the Civil Rights Division from 2003 to 2005, when he presided over a <a href="" target="_blank">scandal</a> involving an <a href="" target="_blank">underling who hired staffers ideologically hostile to the division's mission</a>. My colleague Edwin Rios has the <a href="" target="_blank">details</a>.</p> <p>While that Civil Rights Division episode casts doubt on Acosta's ability to ensure an important federal agency fulfills its intended role, he also has experience directly relevant to the position he has been appointed to. For about eight months starting in December 2002, Acosta <a href="" target="_blank">served</a> as a Bush appointee to the National Labor Relations Board, the independent federal agency that <a href="" target="_blank">exists</a> to "safeguard employees' rights to organize" and "prevent and remedy unfair labor practices committed by private sector employers and unions."</p> <p>He took that post after working as an attorney for <a href=";itemID=685" target="_blank">Kirkland &amp; Ellis,</a> a prominent law firm that represents employers in labor disputes, where he "specialized in employment and labor issues," his <a href="" target="_blank">bio</a> states. In other words, he was a labor lawyer who represented bosses, not workers. Before that, he clerked for Samuel A. Alito, Jr., then a judge on the US Court of Appeals, now a staunch conservative on the Supreme Court.</p> <p>One federal official who's familiar with Acosta's time at the NLRB is&nbsp;Tammy McCutchen, who now <a href="" target="_blank">represents employers in wage disputes </a>and who served as in Department of Labor's wage and hour division under George W. Bush. She recently <a href="" target="_blank">told</a> <em>Bloomberg News</em> that Acosta is "intense, hardworking, but I think in contrast to Puzder, he's going to get things done more quietly," adding that, "He will be quietly efficient. I don't think you&rsquo;ll see a lot of difference in his policy positions from Puzder."</p> <p>McCutchen didn't respond to my requests for further comment. But I did talk to Wilma Liebman, whose <a href="" target="_blank">long stint</a> on the NLRB&mdash;she served from 1997 to 2011&mdash;overlapped with Acosta's short one. Liebman, a Democrat, has <a href="" target="_blank">impeccable pro-labor credentials</a>&mdash;she was chief counsel to two major unions before joining the NLRB, and serves on the board of the <a href="" target="_blank">Economic Policy Institute</a>, a think-tank founded to "include the needs of low- and middle-income workers in economic policy discussions."</p> <p>"I liked him&mdash;we worked well together, he was a very good colleague," she said. While they occasionally came down on opposite sides of cases, she added, Acosta was "independent&mdash;he sometimes voted with me and the other Democrat on the board at the time." She called him "very intelligent and open to listening to all sides." She predicted that if, as expected, he's approved as labor chief, Acosta will "make informed decisions," even if they're "not always to the liking of the labor movement." She added a caveat: "It remains to be seen how independent he'll actually be able to be from the White House."</p> <p>Her view jibes with that of the legal trade publication <em>Law360,</em> which recently <a href="" target="_blank">wrote</a> that during his time at the NLRB, Acosta "exhibited an independent and nonpartisan approach toward evaluating cases, voting alongside fellow Republicans in favor of employers in key cases while also not shying from occasionally siding with unions."</p> <p>The publication listed "6 Acosta NLRB Opinions Employers Need To See," and they are indeed a mixed bag. In one case, <em>Law360 </em>notes, Acosta and GOP colleagues beat back a Democratic dissent to side in Walmart's favor in dispute with the United Food and Commercial Workers International over claims Walmart had interfered in efforts to promote union membership.</p> <p>And in a case that might raise the eyebrow of his likely new boss, Acosta and colleagues ruled against a company "accused of illegally firing eight Somalian immigrants who walked off their assembly line to protest the company's decision to deny them a scheduled work break," <em>Law360</em> reports.</p> <p>Meanwhile, the conservative legal blogger Paul Mirengoff <a href="" target="_blank">denounced</a> Trump's pick, declaring Acosta "unfortunately ... vastly more appealing to the left" than Puzder was. Mirengoff didn't have much to say on Acosta's NLRB stint; he focused his complaints on Acosta's <a href="" target="_blank">past support of the very kind of immigration reform</a> now being demonized by Trump; and Acosta's time at the Department of Justice, where, Mirengoff insists, Acosta indulged civil rights groups at the expense of GOP political interests.</p> <p>All in all, Acosta seems like much more of a plain-vanilla Republican than Trump's flamboyant first choice to shape US labor policy.&nbsp;</p></body></html> Environment Food Mon, 27 Feb 2017 21:06:00 +0000 Tom Philpott 326361 at Is Your Favorite Restaurant Standing Up for Immigrants? <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><div class="art19-web-player awp-medium awp-theme-dark-orange" data-episode-id="616d81b5-0e14-4fa3-b552-3166f02bcd92">&nbsp;</div> <script src="" type="text/javascript"></script><p><em>On this episode of the Mother Jones food politics podcast, Bite, restaurant owners dish about what it's like to run an eatery in the age of Trump-administration immigration raids. </em></p> <p>Back on January 25, President Donald Trump issued an <a href="" target="_blank">executive order</a> vowing &nbsp;to crack down on the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States. The move confirmed that Trump meant to make good on the anti-immigrant zealotry he repeatedly spewed during his campaign&mdash;and sent shock waves through the US restaurant scene.</p> <p>That's because about 15.7 percent of US restaurant workers are undocumented immigrants, and another 5.9 percent are foreign-born US citizens, as this 2014 <a href="">study </a>from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) shows. So when Trump ramps up the pressure on undocumented US residents, he's also making life stressful for the people who cook restaurant meals, wait tables, and wash dishes.&nbsp;</p> <p>As if they didn't have enough on their plates to deal with. According to EPI, restaurant workers' median wage stands at $10 per hour, tips included&mdash;and hasn't budged, in inflation-adjusted terms, since 2000. For non-restaurant US workers, the median hourly wage is $18. That means the median restaurant worker makes 44 percent less than other workers. Benefits are also rare&mdash;just 14.4 percent of restaurant workers have employer-sponsored health insurance and 8.4 percent have pensions, vs. 48.7 percent and 41.8 percent, respectively, for other workers.</p> <p>As a result of these paltry wages, more than 40 percent of restaurant workers live below twice the poverty line&mdash;the income level necessary for a family to make ends meet. That's double the rate of non-restaurant workers. In other words, Trump is going after the most vulnerable subset of an extremely vulnerable group of workers.</p> <p>On Thursday of last week, activists organized a national Day Without Immigrants, a kind of general strike that included the closing of restaurants in Atlanta, Austin, Detroit, Philadelphia, Portland, San Francisco, Phoenix, Nashville, Albuquerque, Denton, Dallas, Fort Worth, and&mdash;most prominently&mdash; Washington, DC. My colleague Nathalie Baptiste <a href="" target="_blank">reports</a> that busy DC spots <a href="" target="_blank">Busboys and Poets</a> and <a href="" target="_blank">Bad </a><a href="" target="_blank">Saint</a> shut their doors that day, as did all of the restaurants owned by prominent chef Jose Andr&eacute;s, including Jaleo and Zaytinya.</p> <p>The gesture took place in a highly charged atmosphere, amid reports that US immigration authorities arrested hundreds of undocumented immigrants in at least a half-dozen states, including Florida, Kansas, Virginia, and my home state, Texas. Things got really tense in my hometown of Austin, where the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) set up checkpoints in low-income neighborhoods with high concentrations of immigrants.</p> <p>Meanwhile, a "Sanctuary Restaurant" movement gained momentum. Launched back in January by the Restaurant Opportunities Center, Sanctuary Restaurants pledge not to "allow any harassment of any individual based on immigrant/refugee status, race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation to occur in their restaurant" and hang a "Sanctuary Restaurant" sign on their doors. By last week, <a href="" target="_blank">more than 100</a> had signed on nationwide.</p> <p>In the midst of it all, Maddie and I hit the streets to talk to a couple of participating restaurants for the new episode of Bite.</p> <p>I talked to Johhny Livesay, the chef and co-founder of Black Star Co-op, a community-owned, worker-managed pub and brewery in Austin. In addition to signing on as a sanctuary restaurant, Black Star also has an innovative compensation policy: all the workers are paid a living wage, with benefits, and tips aren't accepted. Austin has emerged as an incubator of restaurants challenging the industry's unfair practices. L'Oca d'Oro, an Italian spot helmed by the former punk-rock musician Fiore Tedesco, also rejects the standard tipping model and has joined the sanctuary-restaurant movement.</p> <p>And Maddie spoke with Penny Baldado, the owner of a lunch joint called Cafe Gabriela in Oakland, California. Penny is an immigrant herself&mdash;she's originally from the Philippines. Give it a listen, and subscribe on iTunes if you haven't already.</p> <p>Bite<em> is </em>Mother Jones<em>' podcast for people who think hard about their food. Listen to <a href="" target="_blank">all our episodes here</a>, or subscribe in <a href="" target="_blank">iTunes</a> or <a href="" target="_blank">Stitcher</a> or via <a href="" target="_blank">RSS</a>.</em></p></body></html> Environment Podcasts Food Bite Fri, 24 Feb 2017 11:00:19 +0000 Tom Philpott 326401 at Imported Foods Sicken Lots of People. Trump Is Unlikely to Fix That. <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Overall foodborne illness outbreaks have declined in recent years. But ones that stem from imported foods have risen sharply&mdash;from an average of three per year in the late 1990s to 18 annually between 2009 and 2014. That's the conclusion of a <a href="" target="_blank">new study</a> from the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control.</p> <p><a href="" target="_blank">A new rule</a>, finalized under President Barack Obama, charges the FDA to ramp up oversight of imports, requiring that importers verify that their suppliers are meeting the same safety standards required of domestic producers, the study notes. The requirement "will help to strengthen the safety of imported foods," the FDA and CDC researchers write. But providing sufficient funds to enforce that rule now falls to a new president who is openly hostile to regulation and a Congress itching to slash funding to federal agencies like the FDA.</p> <p>Overall, imported food still has a pretty decent safety record compared to the stuff produced here. About 19.4 percent of the food we eat is imported, yet it accounts for just 5 percent of total outbreaks, the study found. But the situation appears to be getting worse. Back in the 1990s, imports <a href="" target="_blank">made up 12 percent of the food supply</a> and triggered just 1 percent of recalls. In other words, imported food as a share of what we eat have risen by 62 percent since the 1990s, while the share of outbreaks attributed to imported food has risen by a factor of five.</p> <p>The study's authors note that "changes over time should be interpreted cautiously," because the system for tying outbreaks to particular foods has improved over the past 15 years. It may not be that imports are causing an increasing share of outbreaks over time; it may just be that the authorities are better at pinpointing their causes.</p> <p>Still, the jump from six outbreaks per year in the 1990s to 18 annually in recent years is troubling. One reason for the jump is that we import lots of the very foodstuffs most likely to cause illness: seafood, of which we import a jaw-dropping 97 percent of what we consume, fresh fruit (about 50 percent imported) and fresh vegetables (about 20 percent). These foods are the culprits for the great bulk of outbreaks from imports:</p> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/16-1462-F1.jpg"><div class="caption">CDC/FDA</div> </div> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Interestingly, seafood triggers far more outbreaks, but sickens far fewer people, than fresh produce. "Outbreaks attributed to produce had a median of 40 illnesses compared with a median of 3 in outbreaks attributed to aquatic animals," the study found.</p> <p>The difference, according to the prominent food-safety lawyer Bill Marler, of the Seattle-based firm Marler Clark, is that seafood tends to be consumed cooked&mdash;which largely kills bacterial pathogens like salmonella&mdash;while we generally eat produce raw. A huge shipment of salmonella-tainted shrimp might sicken just a few people, because of our habit of cooking shrimp, while a shipment of similarly tainted lettuce could sicken hundreds or thousands of salad eaters.</p> <p>Marler added that we shouldn't think of foreign food as "inherently more risky" than domestic, which is a "jingoistic sentiment." In reality, he says, "US companies have always done a marvelous job of poisoning our own citizens." But as the import share rises&mdash;particularly of risky foods like seafood and produce&mdash;it's not surprising to see associated outbreaks rise, he says.&nbsp;</p> <p>That's why the <a href="" target="_blank">new rule</a> implemented under Obama, which was required by the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2011 but took years to implement, is so important, says Sandra Eskin, director of The Pew Charitable Trusts&rsquo; food safety project. But for the FDA to hold food producers in other countries to US standards requires "money every year, to make sure that companies are complying," she adds. "The future success of the Food Safety Modernization Act is riding on adequate resources."</p> <p>The agency is fully funded through 2017 at Obama-era levels, she says. Whether President Trump and the GOP-dominated Congress are willing to maintain it remains to be seen. The administration has yet to nominate an FDA director, but the <a href="" target="_blank">rumored short lists</a> brim with libertarian ideologues. That's not encouraging for people who support robust, properly funded regulation.</p></body></html> Environment Food Wed, 22 Feb 2017 11:00:10 +0000 Tom Philpott 326186 at Claims About Yogurt's "Good Bacteria" Might Be Overblown <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <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="" 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="" 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="" 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="" 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="" 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="" type="text/javascript"></script></body></html> Environment Food Wed, 15 Feb 2017 11:00:23 +0000 Tom Philpott 325451 at Text Messages Might Be the New Way Hackers Try to Steal Your Info <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Back in 2014, Mexico became the first nation to pass a sugary-drinks tax, overcoming <a href="" target="_blank">massive</a> <a href="" target="_blank">pushback</a> from the soda industry. Big Soda resisted the tax for good reason&mdash;Mexico <a href="" target="_blank">boasts the globe's second-highest per capita soda consumption</a> (trailing only Chile), and Coca-Cola and Pepsi together <a href="" 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="" 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="">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="" 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 Now Trump's Going After the Bumblebees <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>First, it was <a href="" 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="" target="_blank">r</a>usty patched bumblebe<a href="" target="_blank">e</a> on the endangered species list&mdash;the <a href="" 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="" target="_blank">here.</a>)</p> <p>The official <a href="" target="_blank">announcement</a> of the delay cites a <a href="" 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="" 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="" 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="" target="_blank">most widely used insecticide class</a>, with annual global sales of <a href="" 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="">honeybees</a> and other <a href="">pollinators</a>, <a href="">birds</a>, and <a href="">waterborne animals</a>. The European Union <a href="" target="_blank">maintains</a> a moratorium on most neonic use in farming, <a href="" target="_blank">based on their threat to bees</a>. The US Environmental Protection Agency is currently in the middle of a <a href="" target="_blank">yearslong reassessment </a>of the risk they pose to bees and other critters.</p> <p><a href="" 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="" target="_blank"></a>, that exists to downplay the health and ecological impacts of chemicals. More on that <a href="" 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 "Dark Forces" Are Coming for Your Organic Food <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>The Freedom Caucus is a rowdy band of GOP US House members most famous for <a href="" target="_blank">triggering government shutdowns</a>, <a href="" target="_blank">pushing to repeal the Affordable Care Act</a>, and<a href="" 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="" 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="" 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="" target="_blank">according to</a> the USDA.</p> <p>As of 2015, <a href="" 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="" 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="" 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="" target="_blank">served as the head of the USDA agency that oversaw the NOP</a> under Bill Clinton, and she <a href="" 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="" 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="" 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="" target="_blank">Nestl&eacute;</a>, agrichemical-seed giant <a href=";year=2015" target="_blank">Syngenta</a>, and <a href=";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=";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="" 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=";SID=9874504b6f1025eb0e6b67cadf9d3b40&amp;rgn=div6&amp;view=text&amp;node=7:;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="" target="_blank">Cornucopia Institute</a>. Broadly speaking, the corporations want wide leeway on additives, while the <a href="" 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="" target="_blank">General Mills</a> and Nestl&eacute;-owned <a href="" 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 Refugees Make Your Dinner. Literally. <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Of all the outrage generated by President Donald Trump's <a href="" 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="" 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="" 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="" 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="" 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="" target="_blank">slowed dramatically</a>. Meanwhile, the federal government <a href="" 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="" 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="" 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="" 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="" 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="" target="_blank">in terms of campaign donations</a>&mdash;Trump's crackdown marks the second disappointment in a week. The industry also <a href="" 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 Sanity Break: Society Exists Because of Beer <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <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=";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="" 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="" 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