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Articles by Stephanie Ogburn

Stephanie Ogburn is an editor at the High Country News currently lives in Paonia, Colorado.

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  • USDA Seeks to fill enviro slot on Organic Board

    The United States Department of Agriculture seeks to fill an "environmentalist" slot on the National Organic Standards Board, an opening announced in an April 16th press release. Why should you care? The NOSB makes recommendations to the USDA on what is allowable under USDA Organic Standards. Cloned animals? Recombinant DNA? Sewage sludge? The Board influenced all the decisions to keep these substances out, and will make important future recommendations as well.

    Contact Katherine E. Benham, of the National Organic Program. Nominations close August 17, 2007. The position will probably be filled around January, as that's when environmentalist Andrea Caroe's term ends.

    More in the press release here. Holla, people! I know you know someone!

  • Implications of the last organic latte

    got milk

    Fair Trade producers in Mexico depend heavily on organic certification to reap price premiums for both labels, and will be hurt on more than one front by the recently released USDA rule requiring them to change certification practices, researchers say. In a recent article in Salon, later followed by a post on Gristmill, Samuel Fromartz detailed the consequences of a USDA ruling that would force a radical change in the way grower groups in the global South certify their products. The USDA ruling, Fromartz writes:

    [T]ightens organic certification requirements to such a degree that it could sharply curtail the ability of small grower co-ops to produce organic coffee -- not to mention organic bananas, cocoa, sugar and even spices.

    In his blog on the subject, Fromartz says he only hit the tip of the iceberg. So I hunted around a bit, seeking to find out more about how the ruling would impact producers in developing nations. I contacted Aimee Shreck and Christy Getz, two researchers who have published on organic and Fair Trade in developing nations. And notably, I got in touch with Tad Mutersbaugh, a professor of geography at the University of Kansas. Mutersbaugh's research focuses on international certification standards, and he's worked with organic and Fair Trade certified grower groups in Oaxaca, Mexico. He was familiar with the recent USDA ruling, and expressed his concern about the implications the ruling would have for small farmers in organic and Fair Trade grower groups.

  • Roughnecks have it really rough

    worse than just dirty

    It's harder to view oil and gas workers as disposable when their stories are told. And that's what Ray Ring does in the latest issue of High Country News. In a special report, Ring painstakingly documents the stories of oil and gas boom workers who have lost their lives and limbs in the past six years, all in the service of cheap energy. I won't quote much here, since the story simply must be read, but here's an small excerpt:

    Workers get crushed by rig collapses, they fall off the steel ledges and the maze of catwalks and ladders and walkways, they get caught in spinning chains, winches and cables. Sometimes they get strangled by their own fall-protection harnesses. On or off the rigs, they handle flammables, and sometimes they get fireballed. They succumb to poisonous hydrogen sulfide, which occurs in natural gas before it's processed; one whiff is fatal. They get slammed by valves and pipes that explode under high pressure. They get hit by lightning, freeze to death and die of heat stroke, because the work takes place outside, and it goes on 24/7, 365 days a year, pretty much no matter what.

  • Crafting a culture of change

    Yale University students, staff, and other community members crowded a university conference room yesterday to watch Erika Lesser, director of Slow Food USA, give a talk on the Slow Food movement in America. Lesser spoke pretty generally about Slow Food USA's goals, philosophy, and achievements. The talk was interesting in itself, but there were two aspects that I found particularly significant:

    • Lesser made some very interesting connections between Slow Food and American environmentalism (more on this below).

    • It was a horribly cold, rainy, awful day, the talk was located in an incredibly out-of-the-way part of campus, yet nonetheless the room was packed.