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Month: April 2014

A Reflection of Earth Day 2014

Another year has passed and we can celebrate Earth Day once more. 1970 was the year that the modern environmental movement was first started. I provided some basic information regarding the origins of Earth Day in my blog from last year’s Earth Day. Keeping this year focused on new successes and events taking place since this holiday was first recognized in 1990. Rachel Carbon’s book Silent Spring published in 1962 represented a watershed moment for the modern environmental movement, opening one of many doors that has become a part of our world’s awareness to the environmental issues we face ongoing with each new day that passes.

Local events and campaigns for Earth Day take place each year including concerts, campaigns and other fun events. Even big stores like Sephora are advertising natural cosmetics in honor of Earth Day. NASA has made 2014 a big one for Earth Science. They have designed five missions used to gather critical data about our home planet to expand our awareness of the Earth’s changing climate and environment, a program launching this year. Another campaign for NASA is called Earth Right Now, the agency is asking for us to participate by going outside on April 22nd and take a picture of ourselves, wherever on Earth we are, then post to social media using hast tag #Global Selfie (sign available in 21 languages). NASA also has a Free “Earth Now” App that “immerses users in dazzling visualizations of near-real-time global data from NASA’s fleet of Earth Science satellites.”

So on Earth Day, what actually can we as individuals do to show our love for the planet? Some creative ideas include planting wild flowers, plants that attract butterflies, grow an organic vegetable garden. Making a compost in your yard or porch can be a cheap and simple way to decompose organic matter thus providing natural fertilizer for your own use. Conserving water and energy should always be a part of everyday living.

Since 2013 there have been several (actually 11) important victories for the planet . Multiple cities around the world enacted plastic bag bans or placed fees on plastic bags, New York City will join over 100 other cities with polystyrene food foam bans. Two major mining groups Anglo American and Rio Tinto pulled out of Alaska’s Pebble Mine Project a vast bio diverse area. Shell Oil Company halted artic drilling operations for 2014. President Obama expanded the California Coastal Monument, which will protect more than 1660 acres of beach, bluffs and the Garcia River estuary, according to Climate Progress. In one of my recent blogs I wrote about Solar Power, which had a tremendous boom last year, growing by 35 percent worldwide in 2013. The Federal Appeals court upheld the agency’s first emissions standards for mercury and other air pollutants. Congress approved the first wilderness bill since 2009. China surged as the wind power leader in 2013. Obama came across with a big climate speech in June 2013 at Georgetown University which environmentalists hailed. In February, Paula President Tommy Remengesau, Jr announced at the UN Oceans Conference that he was banning commercial fishing. Several states and territories have the laws that prohibit the possession of, sale, and trade of shark fins, but last year The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration upheld shark fin bans, a win for shark conservation. These are all the main improvements for 2013.

Earth Day 2014 has come and gone, with a better understanding each year of what our planet needs from us to keep it healthy and happy for our well being.

Vermont Passes GMO Labeling Bill

Written By: Lee Ann Rush

There’s some very good news to write about on this Earth Day, 2014. Vermont, home to Ben & Jerry’s ice cream which, even though corporate-owned, now uses only non-GMO ingredients in its products, has become the first state in the country to pass legislation requiring that foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) must be labeled beginning on July 1, 2016. Although a similar food-labeling bill had passed Vermont’s state House of Representatives in May of 2013, the state Senate just last week passed its own bill (H.112) by an overwhelming majority of 28-2. The Senate bill included several amendments which must be ratified by the House before Governor Peter Shumlin can sign the bill into law. Insiders predict quick agreement, and believe that the bill could well become law within the week.*

Although Connecticut and Maine have already passed food labeling bills, labeling regulations have yet to be implemented in those states because their bills were contingent upon neighboring states passing similar legislation. The Vermont bill contains no such restrictions; there are absolutely no strings attached. According to Senate President Pro Tempore John Campbell, “We are saying people have a right to know what’s in their food.” Vermont state Senator Joe Benning views the labeling of GMOs as an issue of transparency more than one of safety, comparing it to the nutritional labeling already required on packaged foods. “I know what carbohydrates can do to my body,” he stated, adding, “Some people in this room, that’s exactly how they feel about GMOs.”

Of course, most GMO opponents and food labeling advocates base their negative opinions of genetically-modified organisms on both the clear and present health risks inherent in these foods and the environmental havoc being caused by the proliferation of GMO crops. While many countries, including most of Europe, Russia and China, have banned certain GMOs and require the labeling of products containing others, the United States has bowed to the FDA’s tacit mission to protect the interests of agro-businesses and continues to disseminate falsehoods about the safety of these Frankenfood creations. Indeed, Vermont lawmakers and food-safety lobbyists fully anticipate a lawsuit from the biotech industry, food manufacturers’ groups, or both. “We expect that Monsanto will sue the state of Vermont in order to prevent enactment of H.112. We also expect that Monsanto will lose, and the law will go into effect on schedule, on July 1, 2016,” said Ronnie Cummins, national director of the Organic Consumers Association. I, for one, hope that Ronnie Cummins is right.

*On April 23, the Vermont House of Representatives passed the Senate bill by a vote of 114-30. The bill is now headed to Governor Peter Shumlin’s desk for his signature.

“Dime Bag” Takes on a Whole New Meaning

Author: Lee Ann Rush

The environmental issues caused by those ubiquitous plastic bags dispensed by grocers, drug stores and just about all other retailers are no secret. Besides being a non-stop source of litter, both on the ground and in our waterways, plastic bags are also responsible for killing and injuring countless species of wildlife. Furthermore, oil is a primary component in manufacturing these bags. It is estimated that nearly 400 billion plastic bags are dispensed each year in the United States, yet they are rarely reused and barely recyclable. Depending upon the type of plastic used to make them, scientists estimate that these bags can take from 500 to 1000 years to biodegrade.

It’s small wonder that jurisdictions across the country have passed, or are seeking to enact, legislation to curtail this costly and dangerous proliferation of plastic bags. If New York City Council members Margaret Chin and Brad Lander have their way, shoppers at grocery stores and retailers in NYC will soon join cities such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, D.C., which have laws either taxing the bags, imposing a surcharge for them, or banning them completely. Chin and Lander have recently reintroduced legislation that would charge customers ten cents for every non-reusable plastic and paper bag dispensed at grocery stores and other retail establishments in the city. Restaurants and food vendors would not be affected. Shoppers who bring their own bags would be exempt, as would food stamp recipients. There would be no charge for the plastic bags used to hold produce and meat. Interestingly, the stores would keep all money from bag surcharges under the proposed legislation. According to Chin, plastic bag usage has decreased by 90% in the cities that have adopted plastic bag laws. New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio has gone on record as supporting this legislation. The American Progressive Bag Alliance, an organization of plastic bag manufacturers, is lobbying to block it.

Personally, I strongly object to the stores being permitted to keep these bag fees, and would much prefer a system where shoppers receive a small credit for reusing their plastic bags at grocery stores. I shop at one local chain where this is done, although I’ll admit that even though I’m an avid recycler and very budget-conscious, I don’t always remember to bring the bags with me every single time I shop there, and fully appreciate that most people probably wouldn’t bother at all to save just two or three cents per bag. They might, however, take notice if they’re forced to pay a dollar or two extra each time they shop, and at the very least be motivated to reuse their plastic bags rather than throwing them away.

A Prescription for Vegetables?

Author: Lee Ann Rush

A small article in a local newspaper several months ago prompted me to do some research on a topic I find truly compelling. There is now a national program underway through which physicians can write actual prescriptions for fruits and vegetables for young low income patients at high risk for a variety of diseases related to poor diets. Known as Fruit and Vegetable Rx (FVRx), the program was created and is run by Wholesome Wave, a Connecticut-based non-profit organization established to foster strong ties between local agriculture and communities that have traditionally been underserved by grocery stores and other sources of healthy foods. FVRx, which began as a feasibility study in 2010 and has been expanded each year since, is designed to assist overweight and obese children who risk developing diet-related conditions such as type-2 diabetes and heart disease, while also providing an economic benefit to local farmers.

The brainchild of Michel Nischan, a chef who became interested in the major role diet plays in health after his sons were both diagnosed with type- 2 diabetes, FVRx enlists the participation of doctors who practice in low income areas where poor dietary practices abound. These health care providers work with partner farmers markets to enroll overweight children in the program. Patients meet monthly with their health care providers, who monitor their weight, blood pressure and insulin levels, and nutritionists who offer counseling on nutrition and suggestions for preparing healthy meals. They then receive their prescriptions, which can be traded for “Health Bucks” ($1.00 per day for each family member) redeemable for fresh locally-grown produce at participating area farmers markets. In New York City, the FVRx program was launched at both Harlem Hospital and Lincoln Medical Center during the summer of 2013. Patients of these institutions may fill their “prescriptions” at any of 140 farmers markets throughout the city.

According to Nischan, FVRx aims to improve health through diet by giving low-income patients access to healthful produce at little or no charge to them, along with cooking tips and advice on economical ways to eat a healthy diet. The results have been encouraging thus far; over 55% of participants reported increasing their consumption of fruits and vegetables, and nearly 40% lost weight and decreased their body mass index over the first two years of the program. Some children have lost more than 20 pounds through FVRx participation, and many report developing an appreciation for foods than had never even tasted before, such as pears, cantaloupes and radishes. The FVRx program is currently operating in Connecticut, New York, Massachusetts, California, Rhode Island, Maine and the District of Columbia, and has plans to expand further in the coming years. Its goals of improving community health while benefitting small local farmers are definitely worthy of everyone’s attention.

Roundup Kills a Lot More Than Weeds

By: Lee Ann Rush

Even though Roundup, the popular Monsanto-produced glyphosate-based weed killer, has been on the market for nearly 40 years, its potential harm to humans and other species of animals has been shrouded in mystery and misinformation for decades. Common sense would suggest that a chemical with the ability to exterminate any plant with which it comes into contact might very well cause harm to surrounding plants, not to mention other forms of life, yet Roundup has been commercially available since 1975 and has become an important component of GMO grains and foods (also known as Frankenfoods). Recently, a study published in the March issue of the journal Toxicology has raised serious questions about the effects of glyphosate, the active chemical in Roundup, on the health of humans, and specifically on the human brain.

While numerous prior scientific studies have demonstrated that exposure to glyphosate, a broad spectrum systemic herbicide marketed under the brand name Roundup and used by farmers across the globe, causes neurotoxicity and can result in or exacerbate neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, no bright-line causal link had been established to illustrate the mechanism by which glyphosate causes these neurological problems. Therefore, it was easy for Monsanto and its scientists to deny causation and claim that any instances of neurological impairment were merely the result of coincidence. The new study, conducted on the brains of young lab rats, shows definitively that acute exposure to Roundup (30 minutes) induces an influx of calcium into the neurons, which leads to oxidative stress and the eventual death of neural (brain) cells.

Furthermore, the study concluded that, besides overtly killing brain cells, acute exposure to Roundup also 1) produces neurotransmitters that cause excitotoxicity (the excessive stimulation of nerve cells resulting in damage to or death of those cells); 2) decreases the levels of glutathione, a vital antioxidant in both plants and animals that helps to prevent cell damage caused by free radicals; and 3) and increases a process known as lipoperoxidation or “brain rancidity,” in which the overstimulation of neurons damages or kills them. Apparently, there really is such a thing as brain rot!

Now that science has established a direct correlation between glyphosate (Roundup) exposure and neurotoxicity, it is more crucial than ever that GMO food products, many of which are actually engineered to contain glyphosate, be banned or, at the very least, clearly labeled. Monsanto and its ilk can no longer claim that GMO products and non-GMO productsare “substantially equivalent,” an assertion that once served as the reason for the FDA to permit the release of GMO products into our food supply when they lacked adequate testing for safety. Until this happens, the only safe course of action is to stick with organic foods.

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