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EWG News Roundup (March 24): New Dust Bowl, Sonny Perdue, the Filthy Food Bill and More
With all the hullabaloo out of Washington this week, a report by EWG didn’t get the attention it deserved, but it’s one many Americans should hear (and worry) about. A failed federal agriculture policy could be leading to a new Dust Bowl in the Southern Great Plains.
The Senate could soon consider a House-passed proposal – The Regulatory Accountability Act, better described as the Filthy Food Act – that would effectively stop agencies from adopting rules to keep food – and virtually anything else consumers touch – safe.
And Trump’s pick for agriculture secretary, Sonny Perdue, finally went in the hot seat to answer questions about his ethical lapses and conflicts of interest from members of the Senate ag panel. Of course, that didn’t happen. Perdue sailed through and the Senate is expected to vote on his confirmation before Easter.
Here’s some news you can use as you begin your weekend.
The Looming Dust Bowl
“Dust bowl conditions are coming back. Drought is back. Dust storms are back. All the climate models show the weather getting worse,” said Craig Cox of the Environmental Working Group (EWG), which released the report Wednesday. “You'd think the imperative would be on adaptation, so we don't make the same mistakes we did back in the 1930s.”
“Regardless of who you voted for, no one voted for dirtier water, dirtier air, or less-safe food, and that’s exactly what we’ll be getting with the president’s budget,” said Colin O’Neil, Environmental Working Group’s director of agriculture policy.
Craig Cox, vice president of agriculture and natural resources for the Environmental Working Group, echoed Peterson’s sentiment: “USDA’s Technical Assistance Program funding has been cut and cut and cut over the years already. These are the professionals in the field, making conservation programs work.”
Trump’s budget proposal is “all but guaranteeing more American children will be drinking water contaminated with lead and other dangerous pollutants,” Ken Cook, co-founder of the Environmental Working Group, said in a statement.
The Environmental Working Group, a Washington-based think tank that keeps track of agricultural subsidy payments and advocates against them, has raised questions about his judgment. It called attention to a state tax bill he signed into law in 2005 that provided him with a $100,000 tax break involving acreage he purchased in Florida. EWG agriculture policy director Colin O’Neill said that, although Trump has promised to “drain the swamp” in Washington, Perdue “is mired in ethical lapses, self-dealing and back-room deals that raise troubling questions about his fitness to run the department.”
"It should be no surprise that the incoming Trump administration, which has proposed putting executives from Big Food and Big Oil in top cabinet positions, would pick someone like Governor Perdue – who has received taxpayer-funded farm subsidies – to lead the Department of Agriculture,” the Environmental Working Group said in a statement when Perdue was first announced as Trump’s pick mid-January. “We hope the Senate will look closely at these subsidies as well as at the political contributions Governor Perdue has received from food giants, farm chemical companies and farm lobbyists, and ask whether he will help fix or help defend a subsidy system rigged against family farmers and the environment.”
Almost 50 million Americans become sick from food every year, resulting in 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths. Meanwhile, the measure “would paralyze the federal response to emerging public health and safety threats,” wrote the organizations, which included the Environmental Working Group, Consumers Union, and Public Citizen.
Trump: Scott Pruitt and the Environmental Protection Agency
“He's writing checks he can't cash,” Scott Faber, vice president for public affairs at the Environmental Working Group, said of Pruitt in a telephone interview. The EPA and White House have not responded to messages asking for comment. But the White House budget blueprint says the budget "returns the responsibility for funding local environmental efforts and programs to state and local entities, allowing EPA to focus on its highest national priorities."
Des Moines Water Works Verdict
Even as their health is threatened and costs to treat dirty water rise, Iowans are also supposed to pay farmers to stop their activities that pollute the water. How fair is that?
(Craig Cox is senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources, based in the Ames office of the Environmental Working Group.)
The “Filthy Food Act”
The Environmental Working Group, the Consumer Federation of America and nine other organizations sent McCaskill a letter Tuesday urging her not to support a Senate version of the “Regulatory Accountability Act of 2017,” which passed the House in January. The letter said that existing "food safety rules have saved thousands of lives and prevented millions of cases of foodborne illness."
Groups like the Environmental Working Group, the Consumers Union, and others, say they are working to “raise the alarm” across social media platforms this week. The groups sent a letter to Congressional leaders this week saying, “Food safety rules help to reduce the risks posed by pathogens and pesticides.
A dozen consumer groups have called on the U.S. Senate to oppose regulation they have dubbed the “Filthy Food Act.” The letter was signed by the Center for Foodborne Illness Research & Prevention, Center for Science in the Public Interest, Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union, Earthjustice, Environmental Working Group, Food & Environment Program, Union of Concerned Scientists, Food & Water Watch, Food Policy Action, Public Citizen and US PIRG.
This opinion column was originally published by the Environmental Working Group under the headline “No Rules? No Food Safety” and reflects the views of Scott Faber, EWG’s vice president of government affairs. Below is a letter on the same topic, sent by several organizations — including EWG, the Consumers Union, the Center for Science in the Public Interest and the Center for Foodborne Illness Research & Prevention — opposing H.R. 5, also known as the Regulatory Accountability Act of 2017.
Environmental Working Group Vice President Scott Faber, described the House version of the RAA as "the fever dream of the Chamber of Commerce." It would handcuff and stall regulators in a multitude of ways. "This is the legislative embodiment of Steve Bannon’s pledge to deconstruct the administrative state," Faber said, "and will create a regulatory obstacle source that no significant rule will ever clear."
The Environmental Working Group's comprehensive database includes organic and non-organic canned or bottled salsa on their list of foods that may contain BPA. With the acidic contents of salsa (think tomatoes, onions, and peppers), even the metal jar top appears to contribute to the BPA present in the popular condiment.
Meanwhile, environmental and health advocates such as the Environmental Working Group, which studies the content and impacts of cleaning products, say there’s growing evidence that shows household cleaners can cause problems ranging from asthma to birth defects. Reprinted by the Iosco County News-Herald, Olean Times Herald, Finger Lakes Times and 8 more news outlets.
Many products we use on a daily basis are downright harmful, not only to humans and animals, but to Mother Earth. They pollute our oceans and threaten our drinking water. The nonprofit Environmental Working Group rates the safety of 2,500 products at EWG.org/guides/cleaners. Some products get A ratings, but plenty score big, fat Fs.
According to the Environmental Working Group Skin Deep site, methylisothiazolinone
is associated with allergic reactions and lab studies on brain cells of mammals suggest that it may also be neurotoxic. Methylisothiazolinone can be very irritating. For this reason, it is mostly used in rinse-off products. The concentrations in leave-on products are restricted to a minimal amount to lessen the risk of a negative reaction.
Cosmetics – Skin Deep
A survey of more than 2,300 people conducted by EWG (Environmental Working Group) and a coalition of public interest and environmental health organizations, showed that the average adult is exposed to 126 unique chemical ingredients. Some of the findings of this survey was that 12.2 million adults – one of every 13 women and one of every 23 men – are exposed to ingredients that are known or probable human carcinogens every day through their use of personal care products.
Time for bad news. Most keratin solutions, when heated, release a carcinogenic gas called formaldehyde. According to David Andrews, Ph.D., a senior scientist at Environmental Working Group, exposure (like a few times a year) puts you at minimal risk, but I understand if that scares you.
These 31 new products – completely safe for use and composed of worry-free ingredients – are also EWG VERIFIED by the Environmental Working Group, a reference standard in the field of health and well-being. The standards established by EWG help consumers make the best choices possible by opting for ingredients that pose a minimal amount of risk to health.
Mineral Fusion is made with only the purest products, Environmental Working Group verified and certifiably cruelty free. Would the quality of the products turn me from natural makeup hater to devotee?
EWG’s Cover Crop Report
Unfortunately, the average farmer doesn’t love these crops quite so much. The Environmental Working Group, a research and advocacy organization, studied satellite images of the Midwest and found that farmers in Iowa and Illinois had planted cover crops on less than three percent of their corn and soybean fields. Indiana’s farmers did slightly better, with cover crops on about seven percent of cropland.
Agriculture long has presented issues that run counter to free-market thinking, and that is what leads the federal government to provide some $25 billion in annual farm subsidies. According to EWG, an environmental research firm based in Washington, D.C., from 1995-2014, Texas farmers led the nation by receiving more than $30 billion in subsidies. In Washington state during that time, farmers received about $5 billion in subsidies to help offset the fickle nature of farm prices and keep farms in operation.
by Colin O’Neil, Agriculture Policy Director, Environmental Working Group
Despite the rapid growth of the organic food industry, U.S. production lags significantly behind consumer demand. A new report from the Environmental Working Group shows that with modest reforms to existing programs, Congress could help growers transition away from farming that relies on chemical pesticides and expand the acreage dedicated to organic agriculture.
If your only concern is reducing mercury content, the EPA and FDA guide "Eating Fish: What Pregnant Women and Parents Should Know" should suffice. For sustainability concerns, the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch guide allows you to search for options using a traffic light system, or you can look for information by the type of seafood. If you're looking for a fish that meets all three criteria, the Environmental Working Group's Consumer Guide to Seafood and the Environmental Defense Fund's Seafood Selector both provide comprehensive information.
Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce
Once again, strawberries have topped the "Dirty Dozen" list -- they are hailed as the fruit "most likely to be contaminated with pesticide residues even after they are picked, rinsed in the field and washed before eating", according to the Environmental Working Group. Other produce listed includes spinach, nectarines, apples and potatoes.
To understand more about pesticides, the Dirty Dozen and the Clean Fifteen, The Huffington Post Australia spoke to Sonya Lunder, Environmental Working Group senior analyst and lead author of the EWG Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce.
Blueberries boast an amazing blend of antioxidants, phytoflavinoids, potassium and vitamins – they’re a legitimate “superfood” and can help fight inflammation and reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease. Fresh berries are divine, but according to the Environmental Working Group, blueberries are also one of the fruits most likely to carry a high pesticide content (they were listed as #14 of 48).
The watchdog Environmental Work Group published its EWG’s Sunscreen Guide for 2015 with updated and revised sunscreen facts, figures, and recommendations and various other organizations have provided their own tips and caveats.
While the FDA claims BPA in plastics are safe, the Environmental Working Group believes the opposite. According the EWG, BPAs have been linked to everything from breast and other cancers to reproductive problems, obesity, early puberty and heart disease. According to government tests, an alarming ninety- three percent of Americans have BPA in their bodies.
Various filters utilize an array of technologies, so some filters are better at removing certain contaminants from water than others. For instance, the Environmental Working Group says that reverse osmosis filters “can remove many contaminants not removed by activated carbon, including arsenic, fluoride, hexavalent chromium, nitrates and perchlorate.”