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Organics program weakened under Bush administration changes, activists say

The Bush administration is giving Americans new reason to watch what they eat -- and it's got nothing to do with carbs. Sealed with a hiss? Over the course of 10 days in mid-April, the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued three "guidances" and one directive -- all legally binding interpretations of law -- that threaten to seriously dilute the meaning of the word organic and discredit the department's National Organic Program. And the changes -- which would allow the use of antibiotics on organic dairy cows, synthetic pesticides on organic farms, and more -- were made with zero input from …

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A safe-food crusader answers questions

What environmental organization are you affiliated with? Physicians for Social Responsibility, Oregon Chapter. What does it do? PSR is a nonprofit educational organization committed to the elimination of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction, the achievement of a healthy and sustainable environment, and the reduction of violence and its causes. PSR has programs on the health effects of war, pesticide use, global warming -- and, in Portland, a blood screening program for lead in low-income neighborhoods. The mission of my program, the Campaign for Safe Food, is to advance the establishment of an agricultural system and food supply in …

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Not all “eco-labels” are created equal

"What's in a name?" asks Shakespeare. Conscientious food consumers are beginning to realize that the answer too often is, "Not much." Eggsellent. Shoppers increasingly are willing to pay more for food produced in a way that protects human health, water, wildlife, rural communities, and farm workers. And this is not lost on marketers. Many grocery packages today include "eco-labels" that make attractive claims. Grocery shelves are bulging with food labeled "Natural," "Free-Range," and "Sustainable." But much of this labeling is just spin. "Free-Range" chicken conjures an image of birds pecking contentedly around a farmhouse. In reality, Department of Agriculture standards …

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Rotterdam It

Convention on Dangerous Chemicals Goes Into Effect The Rotterdam Convention, an international treaty meant to protect developing nations from dangerous chemicals already banned or restricted in wealthy nations, went into effect yesterday, after garnering support from 50 signatory countries, as needed to give it the force of international law. Many toxic chemicals, particularly pesticides for agriculture, that have fallen from favor in the developed world are still widely used in poor countries, posing serious health and environmental risks. The treaty attempts to build capacity in those countries to handle the chemicals safely, and states that the chemicals may not be …

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Get the word on seafood that’s safe to consume

The dish on fish. It's been a winter of bad news for seafood lovers. A joint draft fish advisory from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. EPA added tuna -- America's second-most popular seafood after shrimp -- to its list of mercury-containing fish that should be restricted in the diets of pregnant women and young children. A separate new study found unhealthy pollutants in far higher amounts in farmed salmon than in their wild kin. And, as reported in the February issue of Environmental Health Perspectives, Great Lakes' sport-caught fish contain PCBs, DDT, and PBDEs, though the …

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GM: Unsafe for Any Seed

Much of U.S. Food Supply Contaminated With Genetically Engineered DNA Most ordinary crop seeds in the U.S. are contaminated with strands of genetically modified DNA, and unless federal regulations and farm practices are tightened considerably, the entire U.S. food supply will soon contain GM elements, says a report released yesterday by the Union of Concerned Scientists. Currently, the foreign DNA come from organisms ruled safe by federal regulators and occur at low levels. However, the report warns that the trend poses several dangers. If the U.S. supply is widely perceived as thoroughly contaminated, exports to GM-hostile countries (see: most of …

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Cloud Nein

World's Cloud Forests Threatened The world's cloud forests, which strip moisture from clouds and supply millions of poor people in developing nations with fresh water, are in danger of being wiped out by climate change, claims a report released Monday by the U.N. and the World Conservation Union at the Convention on Biological Diversity in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Cloud forests are a source of water for the capital cities of Ecuador, Mexico, and Tanzania, as well as numerous other spots throughout Asia, Africa, and Latin America. They also provide a home to hundreds of species found nowhere else on the …

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Low-carb diets have a high impact on the planet

Lose That Extra Weight ... While Eating the Foods You Love!" Pleased to meat you. For decades, such headlines were fixtures of supermarket checkout lanes, to be taken no more seriously than claims of alien abduction. But times have changed. High-protein, low-carbohydrate diets have become wildly popular because they help adherents lose dozens of pounds without having to gnaw on rice cakes. It seems too good to be true, and some critics say it is. The debate over the long-term health effects of Atkins and similar weight-loss plans might grind on for years with no satisfactory conclusion. But whenever we're …

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Fish Stickers

Starting this fall, seafood sold in the U.S. will be labeled with information about where it was caught, the country where it was processed, and whether it was wild or farmed, thanks to a provision in a spending bill recently passed by Congress. Seafood will be the first food group subject to "country of origin" labeling, something the beef and pork industries have avoided through heavy lobbying. The provision was welcomed by enviro and consumer groups, who point to recent news that farmed salmon contains high levels of pesticides as one of many reasons consumers need more complete information. It …

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Smoke Signals

Activists fighting against climate change could learn much from the tactics of anti-smoking campaigners, argues Audrey Schulman in our Soapbox section. The tobacco war has been fought on many fronts, but perhaps the most important was the concerted publicity campaign that changed the images people associate with smoking. It's no longer romantic, no longer "cool." When people pick up a pack now, they're likely to think of blackened lungs and lying tobacco execs. The war against global warming must be fought in the same manner. We need to change the images associated with fossil-fuel use -- fewer rugged individualists in …