Tag Archives: friends of the earth

Welcome to the United States of Exxon

The Senate today voted to confirm former Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson as secretary of state. This is a statement from Friends of the Earth president Erich Pica.

Welcome to the United States of Exxon, where Big Oil no longer has to buy off the government because it now actually is the government. Rex Tillerson, the country’s chief Oil Baron, is now the country’s chief diplomat.

Trump and Tillerson are cut from the same cloth — driven by greed and devoid of a moral compass. Only a morally bankrupt president would want his secretary of state to be a man who made his career and his many millions off of vast human suffering, environmental destruction, and climate denial. And only morally bankrupt senators would vote to put him there.

Sens. Collins, McCain, Rubio and Graham have made the world less safe for our children and our children’s children, and we will hold them accountable for that. Shame on Sens. Manchin, Heitkamp, Warner and King. In voting for Tillerson, they have advanced the Trump administration’s Islamophobic, racist, misogynistic and xenophobic foreign policy agenda.

We also recognize the 43 senators who did the right thing, the largest showing of disapproval for a president’s nominee for secretary of state in memory. Their vote against Tillerson is a vote against Trump’s tyranny. With them and with the billions of people in this world who refuse to kowtow to Trump’s tyranny, we will #Resist.

Survey: Major U.S. food retailers flunk out on pesticide test

Of the top U.S. food retailers, 17 have received an “F” for failing to have a publicly available policy to reduce or eliminate pesticide use to protect pollinators.

Aldi, Costco (COST) and Whole Foods (WFM) received passing grades in this category, according to a report and scorecard released this week that looks at policies and practices regarding pollinator protection, organic offerings and pesticide reduction.

“U.S. food retailers must take responsibility for how the products they sell are contributing to the bee crisis,” said Tiffany Finck-Haynes, food futures campaigner with Friends of the Earth environmental group. “The majority of the food sold at top U.S. food retailers is produced with pollinator-toxic pesticides. We urge all major retailers to work with their suppliers to eliminate pollinator-toxic pesticides and to expand domestic organic offerings that protect pollinators, people and the planet.”

The report, “Swarming the Aisles: Rating top retailers on bee-friendly and organic food,” comes amid consumer pressure on food retailers to adopt more environmentally-friendly sourcing policies.

A coalition led by Friends of the Earth and more than 50 farmer, beekeeper, farmworker, environmental and public interest organizations sent a letter urging food retailers to eliminate pollinator-toxic pesticides and increase USDA certified organic food and beverages to 15 percent of overall offerings by 2025, prioritizing domestic, regional and local producers.

This effort follows a campaign that convinced more than 65 garden retailers, including Lowe’s and Home Depot, to commit to eliminate bee-toxic neonicotinoid pesticides.

Bees and other pollinators are essential for one in three bites of food consumed in the United States. Without pollinators, grocery stores would run short of strawberries, almonds, apples, broccoli and more.

A growing body of science points to the world’s most widely-used insecticides, neonicotinoids, as a leading factor in pollinator declines, and glyphosate, the most widely-used herbicide worldwide, as a key culprit in monarch butterfly declines.

New data from a YouGov Poll released today by Friends of the Earth and SumOfUs found that 80 percent of Americans believe it is important to eliminate neonicotinoids from agriculture.

Among Americans who grocery shop for their household, 65 percent would be more likely to shop at a grocery store that has formally committed to eliminating neonicotinoids.

The poll also revealed that 59 percent of American grocery shoppers believe it is important for grocery stores to sell organic food, and 43 percent would be more likely to shop at a grocery store that sells more organic food than their current grocery store.

“Over 750,000 SumOfUs members have spoken out advocating that U.S. Hardware stores take action to protect our pollinators. And after years of pressure, Home Depot and Lowe’s have finally enacted more bee-friendly policies,” said Angus Wong, lead campaign strategist at SumOfUs, a consumer watchdog group. “And the findings of this poll show that a vast majority of consumers want to eliminate neonicotinoids from their grocery stores too. This is why food retailers must commit policies that protect our bees immediately.”

The report found that while consumer demand for organic and pesticide-free food continues to show double-digit growth only four of the top food retailers — Albertsons, Costco, Target (TGT) and Whole Foods — have adopted a publicly available company commitment to increase offerings of certified organic food  or to disclose data on the current percentage of organic offerings or organic sales.

In addition to these retailers, Aldi, Food Lion, part of the Delhaize Group (DEG) and Kroger (KR) disclosed data on the current percentage of organic offerings or organic sales.

None of the retailers have made a publicly available commitment to source organic from American farmers.

“To protect pollinators, we must eliminate pollinator-toxic pesticides from our farming systems and expand pollinator-friendly organic agriculture,” said Dr. Kendra Klein, staff scientist at Friends of the Earth. “Organic farms support 50 percent more pollinator species than conventional farms. This is a huge opportunity for American farmers. Less than one percent of total U.S. farmland is in organic production — farmers need the support of food retailers to help them transition dramatically more acreage to organic.”

Sixteen of the top 20 food retailers were predominately unresponsive to requests for information via surveys, calls and letters.

Primary sources of information for this scorecard include publicly available information, including company websites, company annual reports, SEC filings, corporate social responsibility and sustainability reports, press coverage and industry analyses.

On the Web

The reportSwarming the Aisles: Rating top retailers on bee-friendly and organic food, survey results, tips for consumers and letters to retailers can be found at www.foe.org/beeaction.

89 percent of voters back GMO labeling

By an overwhelming margin, U.S. voters say consumers should have the right to know if their food is genetically modified, with 89 percent in support of mandatory GMO labeling, according to a new national poll.

Nearly the same number of consumers would like to see the labels in an easy to read format. 

The survey by The Mellman Group confirms previous polls that found heavy support for GMO labeling. The new poll shows labeling is supported by large majorities of Democrats, Republicans and independents, as well as people with favorable or unfavorable views of GMOs. Overall, 77 percent of respondents were strongly in favor of labeling. 

The poll, commissioned by a coalition of consumer and environmental groups, comes at a timely moment. In Congress, some lawmakers want to add a provision to the omnibus spending bill that would block states from requiring GMO labels for produce and processed food, as would the so-called DARK Act passed by the House last summer. 

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration just approved the sale of genetically engineered salmon — which grows to maturity twice as fast as normal salmon and is cobbled together from the genes of different species — but the FDA will not require the salmon to be labeled. Other key findings of the poll include:

• About 88 percent would prefer a printed GMO label on the food package rather than use a smartphone app to scan a bar code.

• Just 17 percent say they have ever scanned a bar code to get information, and only 16 percent sat they have ever scanned a “QR” code.

• If bar codes were used, more than 80 percent say food companies should not be allowed to use the app to gather information about shoppers.

“Americans have yet again expressed an overwhelming desire to know what’s in their food,” said Jean Halloran, director of food policy initiatives for Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports. “Shoppers want to see clear labels on food packaging that tell them if products are made with genetically engineered ingredients without having to use confusing codes or smartphone apps. We hope lawmakers hear consumers’ call for meaningful, mandatory national GMO labeling.”

“Everyone needs information to make informed food choices, not just those who have smart phones,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. “There is no acceptable substitute for mandatory on-package labeling of GMO food.” 

“GMO labeling via QR code technology is unworkable, threatens privacy and is discriminatory since more than a third of Americans, many of which are low-income or live in rural areas with poor internet access, don’t own smartphones,” added Lisa Archer, food and technology program director at Friends of the Earth. “FDA’s approval of GMO salmon makes it all the more urgent that Congress require mandatory, universally accessible GMO labeling that any consumer can read on the package when they’re choosing what to feed their families.”

“QR code labeling discriminates against the poor, minorities, rural populations and the elderly. They are a completely unacceptable substitute for clear, concisely worded on package labeling,” said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director at Center for Food Safety. “The right to know is a right for all, not just those who can afford it.” 

“This is yet another poll that shows broad and deep support for clear GMO labeling at a time when the issue is more important than ever,” said Scott Faber, executive director of Just Label It. “Food manufacturers and lawmakers should work together to give Americans a more transparent food system by crafting a non-judgmental, mandatory GMO labeling system that is easily found on the packaging.”

Koch Brothers group, Ryan-led committee move to kill domestic wind energy

Under the leadership of Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan, the House Ways and Means committee is considering legislation to make many of the so-called “tax extenders” permanent.

The legislation excludes the production tax credit for wind, a now-expired incentive that is vital to the growing domestic wind industry, according to Friends of the Earth, a grassroots environmental group.

News of this came one day after the Koch-aligned Americans for Prosperity and other conservative groups wrote to Ryan urging the committee chairman not to extend incentives for renewable energy.

Friends of the Earth climate and energy campaigner Lukas Ross said in a statement,” When the Koch Brothers say ‘jump,’ chairman Paul Ryan asks ‘how high?’ Once again Republican leadership feels the need to publicly pledge fealty to its Big Oil backers.

“Cutting off the wind industry at the knees while ignoring Big Oil’s egregious tax giveaways is nothing short of climate denial. Avoiding the worst impacts of climate change will to require an Apollo Project-sized commitment to renewable energy. Chairman Ryan’s proposal delays the renewable energy future we so desperately need.”

See also:

Walker wants $250,000 to duplicate wind energy study because he didn’t like the findings

As Wisconsin tries to kill clean energy, Indiana announces two massive wind farms

Fight back against WE Energies’ assault on clean energy in Wisconsin

Wisconsin’s solar energy eclipse

Bee-killing pesticides found in ‘bee-friendly’ plants sold at big box stores

Many “bee-friendly” home garden plants sold at Home Depot,  Lowe’s and  Walmart have been pre-treated with pesticides shown to harm and kill bees, according to a study from the Friends of the Earth and other environmental groups.

The study, Gardeners Beware 2014, shows that 36 out of 71 (51 percent) garden plant samples purchased from the big retailers in 18 cities in the United States and Canada contained neonicotinoid (neonic) pesticides, a key contributor to bee declines. Some of the flowers contained neonic levels high enough to kill bees outright if comparable concentrations were present in the flowers’ pollen and nectar. Some 40 percent of the positive samples contained two or more neonics.

The study is a follow up to a pilot study released by Friends of the Earth last summer. The new research expanded the number of samples and number of locations where plants were purchased, and also assessed the distribution of neonic pesticides between flowers and the rest of the plant.

“The high percentage of contaminated plants and their neonicotinoid concentrations suggest that this problem continues to be widespread,” said Lisa Archer, director of the food and technology program at Friends of the Earth-U.S. “Most gardeners have no idea that their gardens may be a source of harm to bees. We’re calling on retailers to get neonicotinoid pesticides out of their plants and off their shelves as soon as possible. Until then, gardeners should buy organic plants to ensure the safety of bees.”

“Our data indicate that many plants sold in nurseries and garden stores across the U.S. and Canada are being pre-treated with systemic neonicotinoid insecticides, making them potentially toxic to pollinators,” said Timothy Brown, co-author of the report from the Pesticide Research Institute. “Unfortunately, these pesticides don’t break down quickly so these plants could be toxic to bees for years to come.”

Bees and other pollinators — essential for the two-thirds of the food crops humans eat every day — are in decline in countries around the world. The European Union has banned the three most widely used neonicotinoids based on science indicating that neonics can kill bees outright and make them more vulnerable to pests, pathogens and other stressors.

A new meta-analysis of 800 peer-reviewed studies released in June by the Task Force on Systemic Pesticides — a group of global, independent scientists — confirms neonics are a key factor in bee declines and are harming beneficial organisms essential to functional ecosystems and food production, including soil microbes, butterflies, earthworms, reptiles and birds. The task force called for immediate regulatory action to restrict neonicotinoids.

Neonicotinoid insecticides have been responsible for several high profile bee kills from high doses of the pesticides, but a strong and growing body of science shows that neonics contribute to impairment in reproduction, learning and memory, hive communications and immune response at doses far below those that cause bee kills. In this study, all of the nursery plant samples where neonics were detected have the potential to harm or even kill bees.

More than 500,000 Americans have signed petitions demanding that Lowe’s and Home Depot stop selling neonics. In the face of mounting evidence and growing consumer demand, nearly a dozen nurseries, landscaping companies and retailers are taking steps to eliminate bee harming pesticides from their garden plants and their stores. BJ’s Wholesale Club, with more than 200 locations in 15 states, has announced it will require vendors to remove neonics from plants by the end of 2014 and/or require warning labels for plants treated with neonics.

“A growing number of responsible retailers have decided to be part of the solution to the bee crisis and are taking bee-harming pesticides off their shelves,” said Archer. “We urge Home Depot, Lowe’s and other major retailers to join these leaders in making our backyards and communities safe havens for bees.”

In addition to pressuring retailers, U.S. groups are calling for the U.S. government to restrict neonics.

In 2013, U.S Reps. Earl Blumenauer, D-Oregon, and John Conyers, D-Michigan, introduced the Saving America’s Pollinators Act, which would suspend the use of neonics on bee-attractive plants until the EPA reviews all available data, including field studies. This bill has bi-partisan support and 68 cosponsors.

Also, earlier this summer, President Barack Obama announced a federal strategy to protect pollinators and called on EPA to assess the effect of pesticides, including neonicotinoids, on bees and other pollinators within 180 days.

Conyers, in a news release, said, “It is deeply troubling that retail garden centers like Home Depot and Lowe’s continue the sale of neonicotinoid pesticides and seedlings and plants pre-treated with such pesticides as supposedly ‘bee-friendly’ products. This is an unfair and deceptive practice. Many consumers are not made aware that the ‘bee-friendly’ products they purchase have been pre-treated with neonicotinoids or the damaging health effects they have on honey bees or other pollinators, as demonstrated by rigorous scientific reviews. This is disturbing, especially considering the alarming rate of honey bee decline and colony losses. Our food system and agriculture industry cannot afford for the use of these pesticides to continue.”

Report: Bee losses continue, highlight need to restrict pesticides

During the winter of 2013-14, U.S. beekeepers lost 23.2 percent of their hives on average, which is lower than average losses in recent years, but considered too high to be sustainable.

Preliminary results indicate that the number of summer bee losses — April-October — significantly increased from 12.5 percent in 2012 to 20 percent in 2013, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The numbers are based on a national survey of beekeepers through the Bee Informed Partnership.

Scientists have attributed alarming bee declines in recent years to several key factors, including exposure to the world’s most widely used class of pesticides, neonicotinoids. A recent by Harvard School of Public Health identifies neonicotinoid pesticides as “likely the main culprit” in Colony Collapse Disorder and adds to the strong body of evidence implicating these pesticides as a key contributing factor to bee declines.

“These dire honey bee numbers add to a consistent pattern of unsustainable bee losses in recent years. When combined with steep declines in wild pollinators, they point to the urgent need for action,” said Lisa Archer, director of Friends of the Earth’s Food and technology program. “Bees are the canary in the coal mine for our food system. While various factors are contributing to bee deaths, a strong and growing body of science tells us we must take action now to protect bees from neonicotinoid pesticides.”

In 2013, the European Union banned the three most widely used neonicotinoids based on the weight of scientific evidence indicating that these pesticides can kill bees outright and make them more vulnerable to pests, pathogens and other stressors.

However, these pesticides are still widely used in the United States, despite massive bee losses that threaten vital food crops, from almonds in California to apples in Washington.

A report by Friends of the Earth and author Michele Simon uncovered the tobacco industry-style public relations tactics chemical companies such as Bayer, Syngenta and Monsanto are using to manufacture doubt about their contributions to bee declines and to delay regulatory action on neonicotinoid pesticides.

“Bayer, Syngenta and Monsanto make billions from bee-killing pesticide products while masquerading as champions of bee health,” Archer said. “Are their profits more important than our food supply? Are they more important than the livelihoods of America’s farmers? Congress must act now to restrict neonicotinoid pesticides that threaten America’s farmers and our food security.”

In 2013, U.S. Reps. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., and John Conyers, D-Mich., introduced the Saving America’s Pollinators Act, which seeks to suspend the use of neonicotinoids on bee-attractive plants until EPA reviews all of the available data, including field studies.

A meta study by Oxford University researchers documents how organic agriculture supports 50 percent more pollinator and bee species compared with conventional, pesticide heavy agriculture.

“The solution to the bee crisis is to shift to sustainable agriculture systems that are not dependent on monoculture crops saturated in pesticides. It’s time to reimagine the way we farm in the United States and incentivize organic, local, sustainable agriculture practices that are better for bees and for all of us,” Archer said.

Environmental group sues over cruise ships’ sewage discharges

An environmental group is suing in federal court seeking better regulation of cruise ships and the sewage they dump into the ocean.

Friends of the Earth, represented by Earthjustice, want more effective regulation of the industry, said to dump more than a billion gallons of sewage — much of it poorly treated — into the ocean last year.

The group also is seeking better regulation of the sewage discharged from cargo ships and oil tankers.

Friends of the Earth said in a news release on May 1 that the sewage from the ships pollutes beaches, contaminates coral reefs and destroys marine ecology.

Sewage contamination also puts swimmers at elevated risk of illness and can make seafood caught by coastal fishermen unsafe to eat.

Also, discharges from ships disrupt coastal economies.

In 2012, ship sewage contributed to elevated levels of fecal coliform that led to more than 31,000 days of beach advisories and closings.

“Sewage-contaminated waters not only harm sea life, but also harm people who use these waters,” said Marcie Keever, oceans and vessels program director at Friends of the Earth. “These ship sewage discharges contribute to the risk of serious, potentially life-threatening health effects such as gastrointestinal illnesses, hepatitis, ear nose and throat illnesses, vomiting, and respiratory diseases. The EPA reported in 2000 that its ship sewage treatment standards were out of date and needed an update. After 38 years, it is time for EPA to act.”

Sewage discharge close to shore has been banned in the New England area but not in the Northwest, the Gulf of Mexico or the Southeast.

Several years ago, the Friends of the Earth petitioned the EPA and asked that it update its 1976 performance standards and pollution limits for onboard marine sanitation devices — the systems used to treat sewage on ships.

The EPA has not proposed any changes.

A report in 2013 from the group indicated that Disney, Norwegian, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Cunard and Seabourn Cruise Line have installed advanced sewage treatment systems in a majority of their ships, while Carnival, Silversea, Costa and Crystal Cruises received failing grades in the review.

Green groups take aim at Maryland liquefied natural gas project

Leaders of more than a dozen green groups are calling on President Barack Obama to revisit proposals to expand U.S. exports of fracked and liquefied natural gas, which the environmentalists say would significantly undermine his administration’s efforts to tackle the climate crisis.

A letter signed by representatives from 16 national and regional groups urges Obama to ensure a comprehensive federal environmental impact review for one of the most controversial liquefied natural gas export proposals before his administration — the Cove Point facility proposed by Dominion Resources just outside of Washington, D.C., on the Chesapeake Bay.

“President Obama, exporting LNG is simply a bad idea in almost every way. We again implore you to shift course on this disastrous push to frack, liquefy, and export this climate-wrecking fossil fuel,” the letter states.

“As a first step, tell [the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission] to drop its shameful and unacceptably weak permitting process for Cove Point in Maryland. Demand a full Environmental Impact Statement for this massive $3.8 billion project just a short drive from your house. An EIS will put more facts on the table and, we believe, will persuade you and the nation that a pell-mell rush to export gas is a pell-mell rush to global climate ruin,” the letter continues.

Groups signing the letter included 350.org, CREDO, Food & Water Watch, the Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Earth and Earthworks, all sponsors of a weekend rally in California that was the largest anti-fracking protest in the state’s history, as well as the Sierra Club, the Energy Action Coalition and Earthjustice.

National leaders Bill McKibben and Michael Brune joined a tele-press conference to release the letter.

“From Maryland to California, Americans are taking to the streets to say that climate leaders don’t frack,” said McKibben, co-founder and president of 350.org, the organization at the forefront of the campaign against the Keystone XL pipeline.

Emerging and credible analyses show that significant expansion of fracking and gas export infrastructure could cripple global efforts to solve climate change, which Secretary of State John Kerry recently called perhaps the “the world’s most fearsome weapon of mass destruction.” In fact, the lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions of the LNG export process — including drilling, piping, compressing, liquefying, shipping, re-gasifying and burning — likely make it as harmful to the climate, or worse than, burning coal overseas.

Analysis shows the $3.8 billion Cove Point plan could alone trigger more lifecycle climate change pollution than all seven of Maryland’s existing coal-fired power plants combined.

“President Obama has told us many times that failure to address the climate crisis amounts to the betrayal of our children and future generations, so it would be contradictory for the president to allow the LNG export facility at Cove Point to start operating without a full environmental review,” said Brune. “We can’t cut climate pollution and simultaneously expand the use of dirty fossil fuels, and we must fully understand the consequences of liquefying fracked natural gas for export. Building new fossil fuel infrastructure keeps America tied to the past. We should be exporting clean energy innovation, not the dirty fuels of the 19th century.”

The Cove Point project has faced particularly fierce regional and local resistance in recent months, including a record-large environmental protest in downtown Baltimore in late February and a string of three civil disobedience protests over the past three weeks resulting in arrests across Maryland.

Cove Point would be the first export facility to open fracking operations across the Marcellus Shale to Asian export markets. It also would be built in an area in southern Maryland that is by far the most densely populated human community in the vicinity of any proposed gas export facility in the nation.

Despite calls from Maryland health, environmental and community leaders as well as Maryland’s attorney general for a full Environmental Impact Statement on Cove Point, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission announced last week that it would release a more limited and less participatory Environmental Assessment on May 15 of this year.