February 14, 2014

CLF Week in Links: Valentine’s Chocolate, Sochi, Drought, and More

Robert Lawrence, MD

Robert Lawrence, MD

Director Emeritus

Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future

20140205-Toles-farm billOlympics and climate change. This USA Today story tells us about the group of Olympians, led by Americans, who are speaking out to fight climate change. Apparently, some unwelcome balmy weather has created slush in Sochi. According to the story, the athletes are “asking countries to reduce heat-trapping carbon dioxide emissions, embrace ‘clean energy’ and prepare for a global agreement at the United Nations’ climate convention in Paris next year.” The half-pipe snowboarders have been especially impacted by the poor snow conditions. Sadly, slush in Sochi and extreme weather events with heavy snow along the Atlantic seaboard here at home appear unlikely to diminish the enthusiasm of the fossil fuel industry to expand fracking and push for approval of the Keystone pipeline.

Chicken chain makes pledge. Chick-Fil-A, second-largest fast-food chicken chain in the U.S., has said that by 2019 it will serve only antibiotic-free chicken in all of its locations. This is an encouraging note, as the continued misuse of antibiotics in food animal production threatens to contribute to a public health disaster in which pathogens develop resistance to overused medicines. Now that Chick-Fil-A acknowledges the science surrounding misuse of antibiotics, it would be great for them to review their ideology-based opposition to gay marriage.

California’s drought. I wrote about this in last week’s blogpost, but I think it bears repeating that California is headed for a huge agricultural disaster this year. This Washington Post article explores what the ripple effect of the drought will be—not only on farmers but also on grocery stores, hardware stores, even schools (which will have empty seats as migrant families are forced to move). According to the article, “By some estimates, half a million acres of San Joaquin Valley farmland will lie fallow during the upcoming growing season.” And, of course, the reduction of fresh fruits, vegetables, and nuts from California will impact all of us and our pocketbooks.

Turning away from organic. This Baltimore Sun story brings the unfortunate news that the operators of Maryland Sunrise Farm, which sits on 857 acres in Anne Arundel County, are giving up their organic certification from the USDA “in order to use herbicides and synthetic fertilizer, a step they say is necessary to remain financially viable.” Understandably, the neighbors are upset. Read more to find out why this family feels they have no choice.

Tyrone Hayes versus Syngenta. This New Yorker article is a fascinating and disturbing read about Tyrone Hayes’s research on frog deformities when exposed to the pesticide known as Atrazine and the reaction from its manufacturer, Syngenta. Syngenta went to great lengths to discredit Dr. Hayes; this article sheds light on some of the corporation’s smear tactics. I had the pleasure of meeting Tyrone when he was the keynote speaker at the annual meeting of the Maryland Pesticide Network six years ago. His data on the endocrine disrupting effects of atrazine at very low concentrations were both compelling and meticulously acquired. Shame on Syngenta and shame on U.C. Berkeley for not doing more to protect the scientific reputation of one of its faculty.

Food workers’ wages. This NPR The Salt story addresses the minimum wage debate surrounding a bill that would address unfair wages for restaurant workers. “The bill would raise the overall minimum wage in stages, from the current $7.25 to $10.10 an hour. Tipped workers — a group that includes waiters, bartenders and busboys — would see their base wages rise to $7.07 an hour.” The main opponent of the bill is the National Restaurant Association.

Fair-trade chocolate. On this Valentine’s Day, I urge you to purchase fair-trade chocolate. The working conditions imposed by Big Chocolate on workers have been described as miserable, and there has been documentation that child labor fuels some of the industry. As this article suggests, “Vote with your dollars, and don’t give slave-made chocolate to your beloved this Valentine’s Day.” The article provides some guidance about what products to buy, as does this Good Housekeeping article.

Image: Tom Toles, Washington Post, 2014.

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