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COMMENT: USDA Disregards Congress, Plans to Relocate Research Agencies to Kansas City


Contact: Reana Kovalcik
National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition
202-547-5754, rkovalcik@sustainableagriculture.net

USDA Disregards Congress, Plans to Relocate Research Agencies to Kansas City, MO
NSAC urges Senate to take a final stand against relocation of ERS and NIFA

Washington, DC, June 13, 2019 – Despite ongoing opposition from core stakeholders and multiple warnings from Congress not to proceed, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has chosen to act with unprecedented disregard for good governance. Today, USDA charged forward with relocation and reorganization plans for two key federal research agencies: the Economic Research Service (ERS) and National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), announcing its decision to relocate a majority of the agencies’ services and staff to Kansas City, MO. The move is being carried out with little to no oversight from lawful federal procedural rules, and has been broadly opposed by Congress Members and many key stakeholders. In response to this announcement, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) issued the following comment:

“We are shocked and dismayed that USDA has from the beginning refused to go through the proper channels – including the solicitation of public comment and adhering to the directives of Congress – for such a significant and disruptive change as relocating essential government research agencies,” said Juli Obudzinski, NSAC Interim Policy Director.

“The fact that USDA has totally ignored good governance guidelines and congressional directives in their efforts to reorganize and relocate ERS and NIFA sets a dangerous precedent for the future. No Secretary has previously or should now have the authority to unilaterally uproot federal agencies and undermine core functions of government. Despite claims that this relocation will better serve American agriculture, the truth is that USDA’s decision has led to a mass exodus of highly trained experts from both ERS and NIFA. The resulting agency brain drain will ultimately cripple both agencies’ research functions, an effect that will be further exacerbated by isolating the offices more than a thousand miles away from key partners and collaborators in the nation’s capital.

NSAC is deeply troubled by the unilateral decision to uproot these core scientific agencies, and by the significant collateral damage that is sure to result. We call on Congress to fulfill its essential role in providing the proper checks and balances on the use of Executive power and urge the Senate to follow the House’s lead by standing against this ill-conceived proposal. We urge both Chambers of Congress to use their full authority to restrict USDA from using any current or future agency funds to relocate or reorganize either ERS or NIFA.”


About the National
Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC)

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition is a grassroots alliance that
advocates for federal policy reform supporting the long-term social, economic,
and environmental sustainability of agriculture, natural resources, and rural
communities. Learn more and get involved at: http://sustainableagriculture.net

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Run in sprints – for your heart and perfect body, new research confirms it

reformation bathing suit

Want a summer body and the fastest way to lose weight? Run in sprints, according to new study

If your knees are still young and your mind willing, running is by far the best way to keep your heart and bones strong. It’s by far the easiest way to lose weight but you need to be committed. Recent studies show that swimming and cycling may have very little positive effect against osteoporosis (and can even be putting your bones at risk). And as we learn in grade school, it’s never too young to start keeping your bones strong.

I started running 2 years ago, I admit, to lose weight I had been gaining from childbirth. Not the actual birthing but after I stopped nursing. I started running on a trip to Costa Rica. Not a fan of gyms, driving or working very hard to exercise, running seemed like the least hassling option for looking better. Side benefits I now see are plenty… I eat better as I crave less fatty foods, I feel better as the positive hormones cycle through my body, and people respond to me more favorably creating lots of positive feedback loops. I had been feeling so good about myself that one year after running I started combining it with Iyengar yoga to lengthen the muscle mass I had started to build.

"jogging energy electricity"

When I started running I only took cues from my body. As I was already in my 40s yet was quite active as a teen and young adult in my 20s, I had some muscle memory and some basic skills that carried through with me. When I first started running I decided that I would run for 3 miles (about 5 kilometers) and do it every other day. My step-son told me that it’s good for the body to have a day off to burn fat.

So I started out. From the outset I decided that I would never stop running. Even if I was going slower than the walkers. I wanted to keep my hips and leg muscles engaged in the running position and I wanted to improve with every run, even if it was just a tiny bit. If I was sick and needed to take a day or two off, I would return to the run a bit slower than my last run. This way I was never discouraged.

I did two other important things: I told myself that I can’t quit. That not running 3 days a week for myself would be like not giving my kids breakfast in the morning or taking the dog out for a walk.

Somehow among all my friends with “great tips” from speed-walking yoga gurus to crossfit enthusiasts, I decided to go with my intuition. In order to advance in my running and improve my heart health and overall effect I would sprint 3 times during my 3 mile run. I normally started the sprinting sessions, about 150 yards at a time, after I had run halfway or even two thirds of the way in. I would start sprinting only at the time when I felt my heart rate was stable (I could feel it inside me, I don’t wear a monitor); and during the sprint I would run as fast as I can.

Being a little competitive I sometimes like to sprint past the people who try to run ahead of me. Lucky for me I live on the Mediterranean Sea so have a lovely wind and backdrop for my sport. Hopefully you too can find a forest or a cool path that makes you happy to run through. One of my rules: never change the route. This way my mind can’t play tricks on me to shorten the route. Also I know what to expect most of the time — although today I saw a colt taking a bath in the sea — did not expect that!

The results of my two year running combined with yoga have been exceptional and it really does boil down to what you do and what you eat. If you run and do piles of yoga but then eat meals of junk food, soda and processed food, well it might not give you the effect you want. That said I do eat whatever I want but cravings for sweets and fried foods and meat have tapered off.

reformation bathing suit pin-up model style

This is me. I eat what I want; but I am committed to exercising. I ride my bike as much as I can; and exercise about 5 days a week – 2 runs, combined with 3 sessions of yoga.

To my chagrin and not surprise a new study on running looks at the approach I have taken and it confirmed my intuition.

In a new observational study that looked at more than 70 scientific papers, the results were in line with what my body had told me. Compared to high intensity training (HIIT) like working out at the gym, taking it in stride with sprinting (SIT) is the key to losing weight.

“The data shows that sprint interval training led to a 39.95% higher reduction in body fat percentage than HIIT. Additionally, SIT participants exercised for 60.84% less time than HII.”

All Findings:

  • Sprint interval training (SIT) vs High-intensity interval training (HIIT)
  • SIT resulted in a 39.59% higher reduction in body fat percentage than HIIT.
  • SIT significantly outperformed HIIT in Body Fat Percentage (BF%) reduction while requiring 60.84% less time spent exercising than HIIT.
  • SIT participants spent 81.46% less time sprinting in comparison to time spent doing high-intensity intervals of HIIT.
  • On average, SIT conducted 10% fewer workouts per week and these workouts were 44% shorter in comparison to HIIT.
  • During these workouts, the SIT group did 4.68% fewer sprints than the HIIT participants did their high-intensity intervals.
  • These sprints were 85.64% shorter in duration than the high-intensity intervals of the HIIT group.
  • Sprint interval training vs Moderate-intensity continuous training (MICT)
  • SIT resulted in a 91.83% higher reduction in body fat percentage than MICT.
  • SIT significantly outperformed MICT in Body Fat Percentage (BF%) reduction while requiring 71.17% less time spent exercising.
  • SIT participants conducted 15.54% fewer workouts every week on average compared to MICT.
  • These workouts for SIT were 60.12% shorter than MICT workouts.

For those that want to try it know that sprint interval training requires intense bursts of energy, where you give it your all, but you have long rests in between (in my case jogging at a slow pace) so it makes it super easy to achieve the desired effects without a lot of time or effort. The key here is just committing to it. Once you have the game plan, stop wasting hours and hours at the gym. You are telling yourself lies and spending money for no reason.

Your time can be spent doing so many other things, like hanging out with your friends or making a healthy home-cooked meal at home for your kids.

Peace out and read about the whole study here.


EPA takes Monsanto’s side on glyphosate


Alternative Roundup Label

The pesticide world has been abuzz with the outcome of the third glyphosate trial. Earlier this month, Bayer (Monsanto) was found liable for Alva and Alberta Pilliod’s non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and was ordered to pay over $2 billion total in damages.

In light of the World Health Organization’s determination in 2015 that glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s flagship herbicide Roundup, is a ‘probable human carcinogen,’ more than 10,000 individuals who have been exposed to the herbicide and suffered from cancer are in the process of suing the chemical giant, recently acquired by Bayer.

You’d think this precedent-setting verdict, the third consecutive against Bayer, would put the gears in motion for EPA to withdraw glyphosate from circulation. But disturbingly, the agency plans to keep the chemical on the market.

Seriously EPA?

Internal memos show that this administration went as far as to reassure Monsanto that they “have their back” when it comes to pesticides like Roundup.

We’ve already seen this EPA getting cozy with industry executives. Consider the chlorpyrifos fiasco — former Administrator Scott Pruitt decided not to ban the neurotoxic pesticide after meeting with Dow Chemical (chlorpyrifos’ manufacturer) executives.

But this is a new low. Ignoring recommendations of the World Health Organization, and dismissing concern from members of EPA’s own Scientific Advisory Panel over the hazards of glyphosate is a blatant disregard for sound science and public health.

Glyphosate has to go

Glyphosate is used on more than 100 crops, including corn, soy, cotton, canola and sugar beets. Use as skyrocketed over the past decade as “Roundup ready” crops that are genetically engineered to tolerate application of the herbicide have become standard in industrial agriculture systems.

While dangers are highest for pesticide applicators, farmworkers and rural communities exposed during spraying, residues of the chemical have been found in numerous food and drink products as well.

The U.S. Geological Survey found glyphosate in nearly all water and air samples taken in recent testing, and a recent study found the chemical in the bodies of pregnant women. In addition to its link to cancer, studies have also linked glyphosate to birth defects, liver damage, and hormone disruption.

Given the widespread exposure to this chemical that science has shown can harm human health, EPA must revise the recommendation that glyphosate be re-registered without restrictions. It’s time to invest in effective systems of farming and weed control that don’t rely on chemicals that put our health at risk.

Sign on to PAN’s petition today, telling EPA it’s time to put public health and the environment above the interests of corporations like Monsanto (Bayer).

Photo: Global Justice Now | Flickr

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Corteva fed fungicide to dogs — but that’s not all


Last month, an undercover investigation by the Humane Society of the United States revealed that Corteva Agriscience had been force-feeding agricultural chemicals to three dozen beagles in a yearlong study on a fungicide’s toxicity.

The beagles were slated for euthanization at the completion of the study, after suffering for months. The dogs were kept in stainless steel cages and were force-fed the fungicide, Adavelt,  up to four times daily.

Corteva’s response to the release of the Humane Society’s investigation and the disturbing images and videos that came with it was swift. The corporation noted it would stop the study and “make every effort to rehome the animals.”

Not fooling anyone

It’s unsurprising that Corteva was so quick to try to distance itself from these abhorrent animal-testing practices — after all, they just spent a great amount of time, effort and, no doubt, money on rebranding . . . because Corteva is the agricultural division of DowDuPont.

When the merger between agrichemical giants Dow Chemical and DuPont was finalized — despite widespread public outcry and opposition — we saw the new mega-corporation try to wipe their corporate misdeeds from the minds of consumers by unveiling their new name, “Corteva Agrisciences.” Corteva comes from the words “heart” and “nature.” Fitting for a corporation force-feeding fungicides to beagles that they planned to euthanize after a year, no?

These are the types of practices Corteva (DowDuPont) was trying to gloss over with the rebrand, but years of disregard for human and environmental health and community well-being don’t just go away with a name change:

  • In 1965, Dow Chemical introduced chlorpyrifos. Yes, that chlorpyrifos, the neurotoxic pesticide that causes brain damage in children, that we have been working hard to ban for over 10 years.
  • For more than 50 years, Dow (along with Shell Oil) knowingly included a highly toxic waste chemical in their fumigant pesticide products, rather than paying to dispose of it properly. The chemical, 1,2,3-trichloropropane (TCP), is a known carcinogen that made its way into drinking water.
  • Dow’s controversial herbicide cocktail, Enlist Duo — a combination of 2,4-D and glyphosate — has been a key actor in the catastrophic superweed crisis plaguing farmers across the country. And not to mention, glyphosate and 2,4-D are problematic chemicals on their own, with exposure connected to cancer and birth defects.
  • DuPont isn’t innocent by any stretch of the imagination either. Its pesticide Imprelis, originally marketed as having a “low environmental impact” ended up killing hundreds and thousands of trees nationwide. In the past, it has hired a fleet of ex-police officers to patrol the farmlands of North America, ensuring that farmers weren’t trying to replant their genetically engineered seeds.

We’re watching

With a track record like that, it makes sense that Dow and DuPont would try to create a  “clean slate” for themselves following the merger. But we’re too smart to fall for it.

I’m sure Corteva (DowDuPont) panicked with the release of the investigation blowing the reputation of their new name so soon. But they aren’t doing themselves any favors. Despite promising weeks ago to rehome the dogs, they were just released to a shelter on Sunday after ongoing pressure from the media and the public.

The dogs are now in the care of the Michigan Humane Society where they are being evaluated and cared for before they will be released for adoption.

Actions speak louder than words. We’ve seen the villainy of seed and pesticide giants threatening human, animal, and environmental health and well-being in the past. And unfortunately, we’ll likely see it into the future. In this case, pressure from the public did get Corteva to act, saving the lives of dozens of beagles. We’ll continue paying attention, taking note, and highlighting the injustices of actors like Corteva whenever and wherever we can. 

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Trump Administration Waives Safety Rules Meant to Prevent Another BP Deepwater Horizon Disaster

Trump Administration Waives Safety Rules Meant to Prevent Another BP Deepwater Horizon Disaster

Waivers and planned rollback of Well Control Rule put lives at risk.

Fire boat response crews battle the blazing remnants of the offshore oil rig Deepwater Horizon.

Fire boat response crews battle the blazing remnants of the offshore oil rig Deepwater Horizon.

Photo Courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard

President Donald Trump and members of his administration who hold deep ties to the fossil fuel industry have set forth to plunder America’s offshore and onshore public lands and waters even at the cost of endangering human lives.

As Politico recently revealed, the Trump administration’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) has issued 1,700 waivers that exempt offshore oil and gas companies from the Well Control and Blowout Preventer Rule. The Bureau adopted the rule in 2016 to implement offshore safety measures that would prevent another BP Deepwater Horizon disaster — a disaster that killed 11 men and devastated the environment of the northern Gulf of Mexico. But then the Trump administration came in and decided not to require many of the safety upgrades.

In the years immediately following the Deepwater Horizon disaster, several panels of experts on offshore drilling, engineering, and oversight examined what caused the rig explosion and oil spill. They found there wasn’t just one trigger to the event, but a series of flawed drilling practices and equipment designs that resulted in oil and gas erupting from the well onto the rig and exploding. These flaws existed, the panels found, because of industry’s desire to cut costs and the government’s lax regulation of offshore drilling.

The Obama administration took a significant step to address the identified failures when it issued the Blowout Preventer Systems and Well Control Rule. The rule requires some common-sense upgrades to drilling technology and practices, such as adding back-up safety mechanisms. It also requires operators to regularly test safety equipment to make sure it will actually function in an emergency — unlike the Deepwater Horizon’s equipment, which failed and allowed the blowout. 

The rule also requires inspectors to be completely independent from the oil and gas industry. Prior to the BP disaster, oil and gas companies were left to self-report on the safety of their equipment. This led to a culture of cutting corners and blowing off obligations to ensure safety for the rig workers. It even led to examples of so-called inspectors falsifying safety tests of their equipment. Under the Well Control Rule, the inspectors are required to be free from conflicts of interest, and are therefore more likely to accurately report equipment problems and other violations.

These upgraded standards don’t eliminate the risks from offshore drilling, but they significantly reduce the risks of worker deaths and catastrophic oil spills. Even better for the oil and gas industry, BSEE calculated that the rule actually saves industry millions of dollars in long-term maintenance and operating costs.

But apparently the industry thought upgrading its equipment and drilling practices in the short-term was a waste of money, so it lobbied to have the new requirements repealed. Former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, himself rife with conflicts of interest, appointed an oil industry insider, Scott Angelle, to oversee BSEE. Angelle “led Louisiana’s push to lift the federal moratorium on Gulf Coast drilling” after the Deepwater Horizon spill and earned $1.5 million as a board member for an oil pipeline company. After he was appointed to direct BSEE, he gave industry executives his personal cell phone number to contact as a “business opportunity,” advising them to call rather than text because texts are subject to public records laws. (Note: John Oliver clip in link has some racy language). 

So it came as no surprise last April when Angelle announced a plan to repeal the most important safety provisions of the Well Control Rule. BSEE claims getting rid of the safety requirements will have no effect on risks, and also has made head-scratching claims that eliminating these environmental protection regulations will miraculously benefit the environment. The agency is undertaking all this with a “trust us” approach, but hasn’t actually conducted a legally sufficient analysis (e.g., a risk assessment) of what the rollback will mean.

With its 1,700 waivers of the Well Control Rule, BSEE is effectively telling industry, “if you don’t like the rule, you don’t have to comply.” Perhaps even more ridiculous is that BSEE is citing the waivers as evidence that the Well Control Rule is “unnecessary.” And the agency is stonewalling attempts to get more info on its secretive decisions to issue the waivers.

It’s clear that drilling practices, equipment design, and regulatory oversight were all seriously lacking when the Deepwater Horizon disaster occurred — that it was imperative to address those problems. It is equally clear that the Well Control Rule made significant safety improvements and reduced the risk of another Deepwater Horizon occurring. The oil industry’s desire to make an extra buck doesn’t somehow put it above the law or justify slashing safety requirements and putting people’s lives at risk. Scott Angelle’s efforts to gut the Well Control Rule and send us back to the pre-Deepwater Horizon days of offshore safety are setting us up for another preventable disaster that could result in oil washing up on your local beach.

Earthjustice has five active cases challenging the Trump administration’s current offshore drilling operations and the unlawful expansion of offshore oil and gas leasing and exploration, including:

  • Two active lawsuits challenging Gulf of Mexico lease sales and current Gulf drilling operations that threaten wildlife, human safety, and coastal communities
  • A challenge to Trump’s executive order attempting to jettison a permanent ban on new offshore oil and gas drilling in parts of the Arctic and Atlantic oceans.
  • A lawsuit in partnership with nearly a dozen other groups to keep the Atlantic free of seismic airgun blasting, an exploratory precursor to offshore drilling that can harm or kill marine wildlife.
  • A challenge to the Trump administration’s approval of Hilcorp Alaska’s controversial Liberty project, the first offshore oil drilling development in federal Arctic waters.

Earthjustice submitted comments with 16 other groups calling on BSEE to halt its planned Well Control Rule rollback, and is prepared to challenge that repeal if the agency unlawfully finalizes it.

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The decline of insects and what it means

Monarch butterfly insects

The news over the past few weeks has been riddled with headlines like “Plummeting insect numbers ‘threaten collapse of nature’,” “Monarch butterflies are going extinct,” and “The insect apocalypse is here.” If it sounds bad, that’s because it is.

You probably know that bees and other pollinators are in trouble for several reasons — including increased overall pathogen loads, poor nutrition, habitat loss and pesticide exposure.

But these alarm bells over the broader state of emergency that insects are facing underscore the fact that yes, bees and other pollinators are in trouble. But they aren’t the only insects crucial to keeping an ecological balance, nor are they the only insects at risk.

The decline of the monarch

While honey bees are the most commonly discussed pollinator endangered by pesticide exposure, there is a very wide range of pollinators beyond honey bees — including about 4,000 types of bees, butterflies, bats and birds — that can be impacted by agricultural chemicals.

This year, the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation reported that California’s monarch butterfly numbers are at an all-time low, declining more than 85 percent from 2017. And this massive drop comes after years of decline; 97 percent of monarch butterflies have already disappeared since the 1980s.

Scientists say the monarchs are threatened by pesticides, herbicides, and the destruction of butterflies’ milkweed habitat along their migratory route. Climate change is also a factor, with carbon dioxide from car and factory exhaust reducing a natural toxin in milkweed that feeding caterpillars use to fight parasites.

Where are the bugs?

Beyond the monarch news, another recent study has warned that insect populations are declining worldwide due to pesticide use and other factors, with a potentially catastrophic effect on the planet. The study warns that more than 40% of insect species could become extinct in the next few decades.

While insects are routinely depicted as mildly annoying at best and a downright plague at worst, they make up around 70% of all animal species and serve as the structural and functional base of many of the world’s ecosystems. Until now, the broad conversation around endangered species has largely focused on vertebrate species, but entomologist Don Sands shares that insects are “the small creatures that run the world.”

The decline of even one species of insect could have dire consequences for food and farming: “If we don’t have insects as moderators of other pest populations, we have insect populations that flare up and ruin crops and make them difficult to grow.”

Immediate action needed

Experts recommend taking radical and immediate action to prevent large scale insect extinction. These include overhauling existing agricultural methods. In particular, we need a serious reduction in pesticide use replaced with more sustainable, ecologically-based practices.

Integrated pest management is one such approach to sustainably managing insects, as it focuses on prevention rather than treatment, and uses environmentally friendly options to safeguard crops. The goal is not to eliminate insect pests entirely, but to keep their numbers at a point to which they no longer cause a problem.

Unless we change how we produce food, and move away from chemical pest management more broadly, we’ll be in big trouble. This shift in conversation around the importance of insects is an important first step.

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This study argues genetic modification could help quinoa, millet and other naturally stress-resistant plants become more productive

Translation: genetic manipulation will produce more short-term profit and please ignore that mono-crops raise the risk of total crop failures due to novel but predictable fungus, virus, or rust outbreaks. Notable_AndrewGrains_Main.jpg

Drought, extreme temperatures, salt in the soil: Because of conditions like these — which scientists call abiotic stresses — the fields that feed the planet yield just half the amount of food crops they have the potential to provide. With climate change, some of these stresses are worsening, even as rising population means more mouths to feed.

One solution to this challenge? Naturally stress-resistant plants, or NSRPs, which thrive despite difficult environments and challenging conditions. That’s the argument from a paper by a team of Chinese researchers in the academic journal Nature Plants. People already eat some NSRPs, and the paper contends that genetic modification of these crops could give them the boost they need to be produced more widely.

The researchers point to millets as one example. These edible grasses are a staple crop in parts of Africa and Asia, and they’re adapted well to one of the most formidable abiotic stresses: drought. Plus, millets can usually withstand high soil salinity and grow without much nitrogen fertilizer. An issue with millets, though, is that they often have low yields, the paper says, although scientists are working to change that.

Another NSRP suited for human consumption is quinoa, which tolerates high levels of salt in the soil and can grow in a variety of climates.

Higher yields would allow these and other NSRPs — such as amaranth, kaniwa and buckwheat — to be cultivated more broadly, the researchers argue. They say that advances in gene editing technology, such as CRISPR, can and should be used in conjunction with other techniques to keep the plants’ stress resistance and nutritional value in place while raising yields.

The paper doesn’t address potential limitations to the argument. The authors begin their plea for a turn toward NSRPs by quoting the often cited number that “food production must increase by at least 70%” by 2050, focusing on scientific and technological solutions. They don’t address political dynamics, the reality that government policies influence the distribution of existing food resources and the composition of people’s diets.

And commercialization of plants like quinoa holds the potential to funnel farmers’ resources toward a select few varieties of a given crop, at the expense of the very diversity that helps such crops withstand environmental change. Plus, some people still have concerns over genetic modification and CRISPR.

Still, as the human population climbs and climate change intensifies, the world will be looking for solutions. “For better food security and a healthier diet,” the paper’s authors write, “the world needs many more stress-resistant crops. As both researchers and global citizens, we look forward to a sustainable future with many stress-resistant, resource-efficient and nutrient-diverse grain, vegetable and fruit crops.”

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