Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Strengthened Federal Worker Protection Standards Applauded & Welcomed by Groups

Washington, DC - The updated Agricultural Worker Protection Standard, released today by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), received immediate praise from dozens of farmworker, labor, public health and environmental organizations.

The new WPS establishes a minimum age of 18 for pesticide handlers; increases the frequency of worker safety training from once every five years to every year; improves the content and quality of worker safety trainings; provides new rules on decontamination and personal protective equipment; and improves the quality of information that workers receive about the pesticides that have been applied at their workplace.

The amended WPS includes new provisions to protect farmworkers and pesticide applicators from exposure to pesticides. “These changes are an important step in the right direction and will help protect the health of farmworkers and their families from pesticide overexposure,” noted Amy K. Liebman, MPA, MA, Director of Environmental and Occupational Health for Migrant Clinicians Network.

“Today we can say that most of the same rules that have protected other American workers from dangerous cancer- and birth-defect causing pesticides are finally going to protect farm workers under the new EPA regulations,” said Giev Kashkooli, vice president for United Farm Workers.  “Is it ever too late to do the right thing? It’s been a long time coming, but it has come today and we are honored to have worked with a great coalition to help make it happen.”

“The final rule includes vital improvements that we hope will result in greater awareness among farmworkers of the risks they face, stronger protections from exposure, and ultimately, fewer pesticide-related injuries, illnesses, and deaths among farmworkers and their family members,” said Virginia Ruiz, Director of Occupational and Environmental Health at Farmworker Justice.

“This standard will give farmworkers renewed hope in our democratic process and in the political will to protect the most vulnerable.  As advocates and organizers, we know that policy making in the beltway is only as valuable as its ability to be impactful for the most affected and a resource for community-based organizations,” said Andrea Delgado, Senior Legislative Representative for Earthjustice. “To ensure the new protections reach the fields and the communities where they are needed most, and in a language that workers can understand, the priority will continue to be bilingual outreach and engagement in close collaboration with our partners in the farmworker, labor, and Latino community.”

"While we celebrate these hard-won improvements in the WPS, the real win will be getting the new rules implemented in the fields," says Margaret Reeves, PhD, Senior Scientist with Pesticide Action Network. "We'll now be turning our attention to both EPA enforcement and the state agencies to be sure these stronger rules really do protect farmworkers."

Important provisions on medical monitoring were absent in the updated WPS; nonetheless, the rules represent an improvement in the protection of agricultural workers across the US,” noted Liebman. “We look forward to partnering with the EPA to assure swift implementation and strong enforcement of these new rules.”

 Farmworkers have been on the front lines of occupational exposure to pesticides for decades, and many have suffered acute and chronic symptoms from close contact with toxic pesticides in the fields. "Many times, I saw [my parents] come home light headed or with blisters on their hands from the exposure to pesticides, and it was frustrating not being able to do anything,” said Selena Zelaya, the 19-year old daughter of two farmworker parents in Central Florida. “Farmworkers bring food to our table. I am grateful that EPA has finally taken steps to protect them.  We owe it to them to protect them and have strong laws to ensure their well-being."

It has taken more than 20 years for the Worker Protection Standard to be updated and revised, but farmworkers, advocates, health providers and residents of rural communities hope that EPA’s improved rule leads to real improvements in workplace safety for agricultural workers.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Youth for Healthy Schools Statement on the Reauthorization of the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act

Youth for Healthy Schools Statement on the Reauthorization of the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act

As the future of public school nutrition standards is debated in Congress, there is one critically important stakeholder group that is consistently left out of the conversation – the 30 million students who eat food in public school every day.  We are young people of color across the country building power through organizing to improve school and community wellness.

Congress: Our Health and Our Lives are at Stake

We support maintaining and strengthening healthier standards in the reauthorization of the Healthy and Hunger Free Kids Act. All of the proposed changes to the standards that corporate lobbyists are pushing for (increasing sodium levels, reducing whole grain requirements, and eliminating the fruit and vegetable requirement) may make the lives of decision-makers easier, but they don’t make students’ lives better. We, as students, are concerned about our own health. We may be the first generation that has a lower life expectancy than our parents. Many of us live in what the USDA defines as a “food desert”, which does not give us many options to find healthy food outside of school.  We deserve to have access to healthy, fresh and nutritious foods inside our public school cafeterias. Leading healthy lives starts with getting fresh produce that is grown locally, that is culturally appropriate and that supports local economies. Being forced to eat food with high sodium and fat content, highly processed grains, and devoid of fresh fruits and vegetables ensures the survival of powerful corporations, but not the survival of students.

Media: Missing the Root of the Problem

The coverage of the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act has largely ignored the role of major food corporations in shaping what the $10 billion school lunch market looks like, the exclusion of students and parents from power in school food decisions, and real solutions to our school food crisis like increased funding for farm to school programs. When students are involved, we are only asked to react to the food that is served. The conversation that we want to have is about where our food is coming from and why we receive food that is not actually prepared or cooked but simply warmed, defrosted or unwrapped after being in transit for hundreds or thousands of miles.

Our poorest communities are already fighting an attack on the hungry and we will not stand for the nutrition standards to be on the congressional chopping block as well.  The barrier to student satisfaction is not nutrition standards, it is corporate profits as the number one priority of adults. We know this because the entire world is at the mercy of corporatized food systems that are keeping the poor hungry, malnourished and obese with highly processed junk food while destroying Earth’s environment.  We believe a way to heal is by increasing access to real, local foods in schools and for our poorest communities, re-enforcing our beliefs in land and food sovereignty (i.e. the ability to control our own food systems.), and revitalizing small farmers.

Youth: Leading with Real Solutions

We are not simply sitting back and waiting for lawmakers to take action. See below for some of the real solutions we have already created to increase the health and well-being of our schools and communities.

Case Study #1

Kids Rethink New Orleans Schools and the Food Justice Collective

The New Orleans student of color population is at risk when it comes to the nutritional standards of school meals. In Orleans Parish, an alarming 83.8% of public school students are eligible for free or reduced-priced lunch[1] compared to the national average of 48.1%[2]. Students eligible for free or reduced-priced lunch disproportionately affects students of color where 88.1%[3] of Black students are eligible compared to 28.9% of white students. Not only do many students live with families with incomes below the poverty line, they also live in neighborhoods with lack of food access.  For instance in New Orleans East (17% of the population of New Orleans), Winn Dixie was the only large grocery store in the area and took 2 years to reopen after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

As a result of malnourishing school meals, food deserts (communities where there is no food or it’s hard to access food), lack of access to own our food systems coupled with lack of access to land that allows us to have our own food system, we don’t see culturally competent food, real food, nor fresh or healthy food in our diets.

We see the attack on healthy school meals as an educational justice issue. In New Orleans we face a reality of excessive testing, a transient and inexperienced educator workforce (since all veteran teachers were fired after Katrina) that is under increased pressure to work longer hours for stagnant pay and benefits, no union, budget cuts, teacher evaluations that force teachers to teach to a test, and charter management organizations taking over our public school system that has deeply affected us as students of color. We don’t need a roll back on nutritional standards when school lunches are often the only meal we get to eat every day.

The Food Justice Collective, a collaboration between Kids Rethink New Orleans Schools and VEGGI Farmers’ Cooperative, is a multi-lingual and multi-ethnic youth of color farming cooperative that uses analysis of the food system and the practice of collectively maintaining a farm plot as a way to unearth systems of white supremacy and colonization that are at the root of why marginalized people lack access to healthy food and access to land and opportunities that would allow for food sovereignty As a collective these 13 young people have invested in their own money from stipends provided through the program and their time to maintain and operate their budget, purchase seeds, tools, and other equipment, and develop relationships and an accountability structure necessary to carry out their farm plan.

“Imagine if each neighborhood suffering from food deserts and food racism had groups of young people working with their elders, schools, and community members to turn blighted land into farms and gardens that actually fed us real and fresh food- then we would be the ones in control of our own health and wealth for our families and communities”- Juan Fortanel. “Running our own cooperative and thus owning our own food systems is important to us so we can guarantee that the money stays within the community and the quality of food is fresh and real.” – Ron Triggs

Case Study #2

InnerCity Struggle

InnerCity Struggle organizes in East Los Angeles where the majority of Latina/os do not have access to healthy food. Many consider the Eastside a food desert because of the lack of accessible and organic grocery stores in residential neighborhoods. One in 3 Latina/o children are considered obese in East Los Angeles. The Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act (2010) created an opportunity for schools to address the negative impacts that the majority of Latina/o youth face by providing healthy food in our schools. The dismantling of the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act standard would have adverse effects on youth who are dependent on schools to provide healthy school food. There are still areas within the original act which to improve upon; for example the lack of corporate accountability. Major food corporations should be held accountable in the event they are not meeting school food standards.

In 2011, InnerCity Struggle collected a total of 350 student surveys at six Eastside public high schools (Food Justice for Eastside Schools Policy Report, 2012). The focus of the surveys was on Access to Food, Food Quality and Time. About 76% reported the food being unappetizing and/or inedible. An overwhelming 33% of the food being served was considered high fat main dishes such as chicken nuggets, burritos, and hamburgers. Thus, students were not eating the food supplied by major food corporations because the main issues dishes did not meet healthy food standards.

InnerCity Struggle sought to address the issues Latina/o youth faced, in particular with access to food during the beginning of the school day. United Students’, the youth component of InnerCity Struggle, surveyed youth and reported that youth were not eating breakfast due to public transportation delays, family obligations such as dropping off younger siblings at their school and so forth. Students also reported having difficulties concentrating and focusing during class because they had not had any food intake until lunchtime.  Supported by research emphasizing the importance of health and student academic success, InnerCity Struggle led and won the Breakfast in the Classroom resolution (2011) with the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). The new district policy granted time before instruction started for teachers to distribute food in the classroom at all district schools, ensuring that all LAUSD students were given the opportunity to eat

InnerCity Struggle recognizes the health disparities that the Eastside faces. Schools are at the epicenter of communities that can serve as a hub of resources. After the passing of the Wellness Centers NOW! Resolution (2013), InnerCity Struggle has been working with the district to continue prioritizing our Eastside high schools for the construction of new school-based Wellness Centers. The construction of school based Wellness Centers would provide comprehensive medical, dental, mental and preventative care to students and community members. Wellness Centers would serve as a hub to address negative impacts of unhealthy food; obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, chronic dental care, and vision care.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

CSPI:BMJ Publishes Error-Laden Attack on Dietary Guidelines Report

Statement of CSPI Nutrition Director Bonnie Liebman

Today’s “feature” in the BMJ by journalist Nina Teicholz continues her distorted and error-laden campaign against the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee report. Earlier this year, she wrote a similar mistake-filled op-ed for the New York Times. Teicholz is author of a book urging the public to eat more red meat, cheese, butter, and eggs.

In fact, the DGAC’s advice is consistent with dietary advice from virtually every major health authority, including the American Heart Association, the American College of Cardiology, the American Diabetes Association, the American Cancer Society, World Health Organization, and the Obesity Society. Teicholz would have us believe that only she, not the dozens of experts who systematically reviewed the evidence for these health authorities, has the smarts to accurately interpret this evidence. In fact, she makes many glaring errors in her BMJ piece. Among them:

Teicholz criticizes the DGAC for ignoring “a meta-analysis and two major reviews (one systematic) that failed to confirm an association between saturated fats and heart disease.” In fact, the systematic review to which she refers concluded that “reducing saturated fat by reducing and/or modifying dietary fat reduced the risk of cardiovascular events by 14 percent.” (That figure was increased to 17 percent in a 2015 update.) The meta-analysis and second review, whose senior author has been heavily funded by the dairy industry, had serious flaws.
Teicholz notes that the Women’s Health Initiative found no drop in heart disease deaths after “nearly 49,000 women followed a diet low in fat and high in fruits, vegetables, and grains for an average of seven years.” Yet the eight-year trial was never designed to lower cardiovascular disease. As the authors note, the drop in LDL (“bad”) cholesterol measured in the women “would be predicted to produce only a small (2 percent to 4 percent) decrease in CVD risk, a value far below the power for detection in the current study.” (Note that the women averaged an increase of only one serving of fruits and vegetables and only half a serving of grains per day.)
Teicholz claims that “large government funded randomized controlled trials on saturated fats and heart disease from the 1960s and ‘70s…showed mixed outcomes for saturated fats but early critical reviews, including one by the National Academy of Sciences, which cautioned against the inconclusive state of the evidence on saturated fats and heart disease, were dismissed by the USDA when it launched the first dietary guidelines in 1980.” In fact, a meta-analysis of many of those trials concluded that replacing saturated fats with polyunsaturated fats led to a 19 percent reduction in heart disease. Furthermore, that National Academy of Sciences review was roundly criticized, in part because some of its authors had strong ties to the egg, dairy, and meat industries. The Academy was so embarrassed by those disclosures that it reorganized its Food and Nutrition Board to include fewer members with food industry ties.
Finally, Teicholz adopts the latest defense by a growing number of scientists who are heavily funded by the food or soda industries. They charge that scientists who do not take industry funding have a “white hat bias.” How convenient.

Like other health authorities, the DGAC report advised Americans to “consume dietary patterns that are rich in vegetables, fruit, whole grains, seafood, legumes, and nuts; moderate in low- and non-fat dairy products and alcohol (among adults); lower in red and processed meat; and low in sugar sweetened foods and beverages and refined grains.” Nina Teicholz’s latest salvo on behalf of saturated-fat-laden meat and dairy foods is a hodge-podge of fact and fiction and will only confuse a confused public even more.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

DeLauro: Shutdown Would Mean More Hungry Americans

WASHINGTON, DC—Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), the former chair and current senior member of the subcommittee responsible for funding the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), released the following statement today calling on Republican leadership to reverse their dangerous course and ensure a government shutdown does not happen:

“Republican cruelty to those less fortunate than them has stooped to a new low. I spoke with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack this afternoon and he very clearly said that there is not enough money in the SNAP contingency fund to prevent millions of Americans from going hungry should the government shut down on October 1. That is the fault of one group of people only: Republicans in Congress. They have long waged a war against the poor and vulnerable. With this renewed intransigence over the federal budget, congressional Republicans have shown that they are content simply to let poor people starve. To hear of this impending disaster when we are preparing to hear from His Holiness Pope Francis, who has spoken so eloquently about hunger, is nothing short of a cruel joke.

“Hunger is not an imaginary problem. I have stood with the Witnesses to Hunger and seen the pain in their faces as they describe what it is like to tell their children there is no food left. Less than a week ago, the Census Bureau revealed that poverty remains a stubborn, intractable problem in American society. One in five children under age six suffers from food insecurity—a fancy way of saying they start and end their days hungry. That is abhorrent. The current brinksmanship is a travesty and the blame for it is to be laid solely at the feet of congressional Republicans.”

USDA recently informed states that, due to Congress’s failure to pass legislation funding the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, commonly known as food stamps) for the next fiscal year, the states should not begin the process of ensuring food stamp recipients have money to buy food on October 1. In short, due to Republicans’ failure to perform the most basic responsibility of governance, the Republican plan is becoming a reality. Millions of Americans will go hungry.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

California Poised to Enact Toughest Restrictions in the U.S. on Antibiotics in Livestock

Governor Brown Expected to Sign Bill to Limit the Use of Antibiotics in Healthy Animals

SACRAMENTO, CA – Meat producers in California would be barred from routinely feeding antibiotics to healthy animals under legislation recently passed by state lawmakers that Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy division of Consumer Reports, is urging Governor Jerry Brown to sign.  The bill enacts the toughest limits in the country to date on the overuse of antibiotics in livestock, a practice which medical experts agree contributes to the spread of dangerous, drug-resistant superbugs.

“The reckless use of antibiotics for meat production threatens public health by making these medications less effective for treating disease,” said Elisa Odabashian, Director of Consumers Union’s West Coast Office.  “This bill should prevent these critical drugs from being wasted on healthy animals and help ensure they continue to work when and where they are needed most.”

Approximately 80 percent of all antibiotics sold in the U.S. are fed to mostly healthy animals like cows, pigs, and chickens to make them grow faster and to prevent disease in crowded and unsanitary industrial farms.  This practice promotes the growth of antibiotic-resistant bacteria that can spread to our communities.   As antibiotic resistance grows, the medications used to treat infections in people become less effective.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has estimated that drug-resistant infections sicken at least two million people very year and that 23,000 die as a result.

SB 27, introduced by Senator Jerry Hill, prohibits meat producers from routinely using antibiotics in livestock unless they have a prescription from a veterinarian to treat a disease or infection or to prevent disease provided the use is not routine.   It also requires the California Department of Food and Agriculture to gather information on the use of antibiotics in meat production to track how they are being used.

Consumers Union had opposed SB 27 up until the last few weeks of the legislative session because it still allowed meat producers to regularly give antibiotics to animals even though they aren’t sick.  Governor Brown vetoed a similar version of the bill last year, which Consumers Union and other groups urged him to do.  In recent weeks, Governor Brown’s administration worked with Senator Hill to amend the bill to limit the use of antibiotics for disease prevention, which prompted Consumers Union and others to support its final passage.

“Governor Brown should be applauded for working to strengthen this legislation and address this serious public health issue,” said Odabashian.  “This bill goes significantly beyond current voluntary federal guidelines and represents an important step in the push to stop the careless overuse of antibiotics in meat production.”

Monday, September 21, 2015

College Ranker Names The 40 Best College Farms In America

COLUMBUS, Ohio, Sept. 21, 2015 /PRNewswire/ -- As college sustainability and agricultural programs continue to grow, it only makes sense that universities around the country would cultivate those efforts by maintaining their own farms. Hundreds of colleges are using their farms for educational experiences for their current students, creating community-based learning opportunities, providing food for use on campus and even local farmers markets.

The full ranking can be viewed here:

These 40 college farms were selected after compiling scores and ranking college farms based on the following criteria:

* Hands-on experiences
* Student involvement
* Community outreach programs
* Workshops, classes, and lectures
* Volunteering opportunities
* Degree plan options

Elizabeth Chapman, the article's author, had this to say regarding the ranking: "We are excited to highlight these 40 farms. They are providing great resources to their students as well as the community. These schools are impacting the future of our country as they work to research and develop innovative ways to grow and provide for families around the globe."

The complete list of farms is here (In alphabetical order)

Antioch College - Yellow Springs, OH

Berea College - Berea, KY

Berry College - Mount Berry, GA

Bowdoin College - Brunswick, ME

Butte College - Oroville, CA

Cal State Chico - Chico, CA

College of the Atlantic - Bar Harbor, ME

College of the Ozarks - Point Lookout, MO

Cornell University - Ithaca, NY

Dartmouth College -Hanover, NH

Deep Springs College - Big Pine, CA

Delaware Valley College - Doylestown, PA
Earlham College - Richmond, IN

Evergreen State College - Olympia, WA

Ferrum College - Ferrum, VA

Goshen College - Goshen, IN

Green Mountain College -Poultney, VT
Hampshire College -Amherst, MA
Michigan State University - East Lansing, MI

Montana State University - Bozeman, MT

New Mexico State University - Las Cruces, NM

North Carolina State - Raleigh, NC

Oberlin College - Oberlin, OH

Ohio State University - Columbus, OH

Penn State University - State College, PA

Pomona College - Claremont, CA

Prescott College - Prescott, AZ

Sterling College - Sterling, KS

University of California: Davis - Davis, CA

University of Idaho - Moscow, Idaho

University of Maine - Orono, ME

University of Vermont - Burlington, VT

University of Virginia - Charlottesville, VA

University of Minnesota: Duluth - Duluth, MN

University of New Hampshire - Durham, NH

Warren Wilson College - Swannanoa, NC

Washington State University - Pullman, WA

Western Washington University - Bellingham, WA

Wilson College - Chambersburg, PA

Yale University - New Haven, CT

New Report Finds 23 of 25 States with Highest Rates of Obesity are in the South and Midwest

Obesity rates at or above 30 percent in 42 states for Blacks, 30 states for Latinos, 13 states for Whites

Washington, D.C., September 21, 2015 - U.S. adult obesity rates remained mostly steady---but high---this past year, increasing in Kansas, Minnesota, New Mexico, Ohio and Utah and remaining stable in the rest, according to The State of Obesity: Better Policies for a Healthier America, a report from the Trust for America's Health (TFAH) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF).

Arkansas had the highest adult obesity rate at 35.9 percent, while Colorado had the lowest at 21.3 percent. The 12th annual report found that rates of obesity now exceed 35 percent in three states (Arkansas, West Virginia and Mississippi), are at or above 30 percent in 22 states and are not below 21 percent in any. In 1980, no state had a rate above 15 percent, and in 1991, no state had a rate above 20. Now, nationally, more than 30 percent of adults, nearly 17 percent of 2 to 19 year olds and more than 8 percent of children ages 2 to 5 are obese.

Obesity puts some 78 million Americans at an increased risk for a range of health problems, including heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

"Efforts to prevent and reduce obesity over the past decade have made a difference. Stabilizing rates is an accomplishment. However, given the continued high rates, it isn't time to celebrate," said Jeffrey Levi, PhD, executive director of TFAH. "We've learned that if we invest in effective programs, we can see signs of progress. But, we still haven't invested enough to really tip the scales yet."

Other key findings from The State of Obesity include:
Obesity rates differ by region, age and race/ethnicity:
7 of the 10 states with the highest rates are in the South and 23 of the 25 states with the highest rates of obesity are in the South and Midwest.
9 of the 10 states with the highest rates of diabetes are in the South. Diabetes rates increased in eight states - Colorado, Hawaii, Kansas, Massachusetts, Missouri, Montana, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
American Indian/Alaska Natives have the highest adult obesity rate, 54 percent, of any racial or ethnic group.
Nationally, obesity rates are 38 percent higher among Blacks than Whites; and more than 26 percent higher among Latinos than Whites. (Obesity rates for Blacks: 47.8 percent; Latinos: 42.5 percent; and Whites: 32.6 percent.)
Adult obesity rates are at or above 40 percent for Blacks in 14 states.
Adult obesity rates are at or above 30 percent in: 42 states for Blacks; 30 states for Latinos; and 13 states for Whites.
Obesity rates are 26 percent higher among middle-age adults than among younger adults; rates rise from 30 percent of 20- to 39- year olds to nearly 40 percent of 40- to 59-year-olds.
More than 6 percent of adults are severely obese - more than a 125 percent increase in the past two decades. Around 5 percent of children are already severely obese by the ages of 6 to 11.
 Among children and teens (2 to 19 years old), 22.5 percent of Latinos, more than 20 percent of Blacks and 14.1 percent of Whites are obese.
Prevention among children is key. It is easier and more effective to prevent overweight and obesity in children, by helping every child maintain a healthy weight, than it is to reverse trends later. The biggest dividends are gained by starting in early childhood, promoting good nutrition and physical activity so children enter kindergarten at a healthy weight.
Healthy communities can help people lead healthy lives. Small changes that make it easier and more affordable to buy healthy foods and beverages and be physically active can lead to big differences. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, The New York Academy of Medicine, and other experts have identified a range of policies and programs (e.g., improving school nutrition, physical activity and lifestyle interventions, health screenings, walking programs) that can help create healthier communities. Lower-income communities often face higher hurdles, and need more targeted efforts.
"In order to build a national Culture of Health, we must help all children, no matter who they are or where they live, grow up at a healthy weight," said Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, president and CEO of RWJF. "We know that when we take comprehensive steps to help families be more active and eat healthier foods, we can see progress. Now we must extend those efforts and that progress to every community in the country."

The State of Obesity also reviews key programs that can help prevent and address obesity by improving nutrition in schools, child care and food assistance; increasing physical activity before, during and after school; expanding healthcare coverage for preventing and treating obesity; making healthy affordable food and safe places to be active more accessible in neighborhoods, such as through Complete Streets and healthy food financing initiatives; increasing healthy food options via public-private partnerships; and creating and sustaining policies that help all children maintain a healthy weight and adults be as healthy as possible, no matter their weight.

This is the 12th annual edition of The State of Obesity (formerly known as the F as in Fat report series)report. The full report, with state rankings in all categories and updated interactive maps, charts and graphs, is available at Follow the conversation at #StateofObesity.


Based on an analysis of new state-by-state data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey, adult obesity rates by state from highest to lowest were:

Note: 1 = Highest rate of adult obesity, 51 = lowest rate of adult obesity.

1. Arkansas (35.9); 2. West Virginia (35.7); 3. Mississippi (35.5); 4. Louisiana (34.9); 5. Alabama (33.5); 6. Oklahoma (33.0); 7. Indiana (32.7); 8. Ohio (32.6); 9. North Dakota (32.2); 10. South Carolina (32.1); 11. Texas (31.9); 12. Kentucky (31.6); 13. Kansas (31.3); 14. (tie) Tennessee (31.2) and Wisconsin (31.2); 16. Iowa (30.9); 17. (tie) Delaware (30.7) and Michigan (30.7); 19. Georgia (30.5); 20. (tie) Missouri (30.2) and Nebraska (30.2) and Pennsylvania (30.2); 23. South Dakota (29.8);
24. (tie) Alaska (29.7) and North Carolina (29.7); 26. Maryland (29.6); 27. Wyoming (29.5); 28. Illinois (29.3); 29. (tie) Arizona (28.9) and Idaho (28.9); 31. Virginia (28.5); 32. New Mexico (28.4); 33. Maine (28.2); 34. Oregon (27.9); 35. Nevada (27.7); 36. Minnesota (27.6); 37. New Hampshire (27.4); 38. Washington (27.3); 39. (tie) New York (27.0) and Rhode Island (27.0); 41. New Jersey (26.9); 42. Montana (26.4); 43. Connecticut (26.3); 44. Florida (26.2); 45. Utah (25.7); 46. Vermont (24.8); 47. California (24.7); 48. Massachusetts (23.3); 49. Hawaii (22.1); 50. District of Columbia (21.7); 51. Colorado (21.3).

Friday, September 18, 2015

Survey: Historic Gaps between Republicans, Democrats on Immigration Threat; Majority of Americans Support Citizenship

September 18, 2015 – As Republican presidential candidates continued their sharp and heated focus on immigration policy in this week’s debate, data from the newly released 2015 Chicago Council Survey show partisan gaps on the scale of the perceived threat from immigrants are at their greatest in nearly 20 years. Yet even as overall concern over immigration is rising, so too is Americans’ support of policy proposals that advance employment and citizenship for undocumented immigrants:

Slightly more than half of Americans (52 percent) say controlling and reducing illegal immigration is a very important goal, up 5 percent from 2014 and reversing a general downward trend since 2008.
More than four in ten Americans (44 percent) also say that large numbers of immigrants and refugees coming into the United States represent a critical threat, up five percentage points from 2014.
Survey Reveals Widest-Ever Partisan Gap on Immigration

Gaps between Republicans and Democrats on immigration are the widest in the 20-year history of the Council’s polling on the topic, with a 34 percentage point spread on the perceived threat of immigrants coming to the United States and a 30 point difference on the importance of controlling and reducing illegal immigration (see full report for data since 1998).
Currently, majorities of Republicans (66 percent) and Independents (55 percent) say that controlling and reducing illegal immigration should be a very important goal for U.S. foreign policy. Only one third (36 percent) of Democrats agree.
Similarly, Republicans (63 percent) are far more likely than Democrats (29 percent) or Independents (46 percent) to view large numbers of immigrants and refugees coming into the United States as a critical threat to the nation.
Despite Concerns, Americans Support Employment, Citizenship

A super-majority of Americans (69 percent) say that illegal immigrants currently working in the United States should be allowed to stay in their jobs.
A majority of Americans (56 percent) agree that illegal immigrants currently working in the United States should be able to apply for U.S. citizenship — a six-point increase over 2013 — either unconditionally (32 percent) or after paying a penalty and waiting a number of years (24 percent).
A 14-point increase in Democratic support for citizenship is driving the trend of overall support. In 2015, 77 percent of Democrats favored citizenship for illegal immigrants, up from 63 percent in 2013.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Income, Poverty and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2014


SEPT. 16, 2015 — The U.S. Census Bureau announced today that in 2014, there was no statistically significant change from 2013 in either real median household income or the official poverty rate. At the same time, the percentage of people without health insurance coverage declined. Unless otherwise noted, the following results for the nation were compiled from information collected in the 2015 Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplement.

The nation’s official poverty rate in 2014 was 14.8 percent, which means there were 46.7 million people in poverty. Neither the poverty rate nor the number of people in poverty were statistically different from 2013 estimates. This marks the fourth consecutive year in which the number of people in poverty was not statistically different from the previous year’s estimate.

Median household income in the United States in 2014 was $53,657, not statistically different in real terms from the 2013 median income. This is the third consecutive year that the annual change was not statistically significant, following two consecutive annual declines.

The percentage of people without health insurance coverage for the entire 2014 calendar year was 10.4 percent, down from 13.3 percent in 2013. The number of people without health insurance declined to 33.0 million from 41.8 million over the period.

Group alleges EPA violated pesticide law in allowing imminent threat to aquatic life

September 16, 2015 (Washington, DC)—Center for Food Safety (CFS) today released a new report, “Water Hazard: Aquatic Contamination by Neonicotinoid Insecticides in the United States,” showing widespread water contamination with neonicotinoid insecticides and threatening a range of aquatic invertebrates including crabs and insects. In particular, the report draws attention to the use of neonicotinoid seed coatings, up to 95 percent of which ends up in the environment, not the crop. Neonicotinoids are a class of insecticide known to have acute and chronic effects on honey bees and other pollinator species and are considered a major factor in overall bee population declines and poor health.

“This report shines light for the first time on the full scope of this unrecognized threat to our waters, with toxic effects that will harm entire food chains and ecosystems. It is clear that the problems with widespread use of neonicotinoids extend well beyond the impacts to pollinators.  The extensive water contamination and numerous high-level findings in this report raise the alarm that we are approaching an ecological crisis – a second Silent Spring,” said Larissa Walker, pollinator program director at Center for Food Safety.

The report examines representative case studies from Maryland, Iowa, and California, each of which is experiencing widespread neonicotinoid contamination exceeding recommended standards as determined by leading experts in aquatic species toxicology. The report also highlights contamination elsewhere, including New York, South Dakota, Texas, and Wisconsin. It describes the key roles of irrigation and field drainage and discusses the growing risks to aquifers, vulnerable wetlands and the valuable wildlife inhabiting those areas, such as migratory birds and sport fish.

“It is especially shocking that most of this contamination has come from pesticidal seeds that EPA actually exempted from registration and mandatory labeling requirements under our pesticide laws,” said Peter T. Jenkins, an attorney with the Center and one of the report authors. “Our review concludes EPA violated the law in carving out this massive exemption. Given that this is the most widespread use of any type of insecticides in the United States – ever – this unregulated situation must be stopped.”

The report makes numerous other policy recommendations to EPA to stem this approaching crisis, including:

Suspend neonicotinoid insecticide registrations due to their unreasonable adverse effects in aquatic ecosystems.
Adopt more rigorous national aquatic contamination thresholds to avoid lasting effects on aquatic invertebrates.
Stop classifying neonicotinoids as “reduced risk” pesticides and fast-tracking their registrations; also end Conditional Registrations for them.
Comply with Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act in order to protect threatened and endangered aquatic-dependent species and their habitats.
Apply the Clean Water Act to initiate remedial actions.
Take action at the State and local levels to protect affected waters.
“EPA’s benchmarks for neonicotinoid toxicity are far too low and fail to consider the long-term chronic impacts that neonicotinoids have on these ecosystems, in addition to additive and synergistic effects. With strong and growing proof of such extensive contamination of waterways, EPA must take a much closer look at the cumulative and long-term impacts of these widely used chemicals,” said Walker.

Neonicotinoid products are applied on more than 150 million acres of crop land annually, with seed coatings being the most common form of application. The runoff from these products flows, both above and below ground, far beyond the agricultural fields, gardens, trees, lawns, and other areas where they are first applied. This leads to unintended effects on non-target species across a vast array of wetlands and water bodies. Neonicotinoids are slow to break down, causing them to build up in the environment, particularly water bodies, and endanger a wide range of beneficial species. Peer-reviewed studies from Holland already show that neonicotinoid water contamination correlates significantly with bird population declines and numerous other species are thought be at risk. There is also new science suggesting that sub-lethal exposure in agricultural landscapes could be even more damaging to pollinating species, particularly wild bees, than acute exposure.

The cost-effectiveness of neonicotinoid seed coatings has been challenged in recent years, indicating that their frequent use pushed by chemical companies is unnecessary. The influential 2014 CFS report “Heavy Costs” revealed that neonicotinoid coatings typically offer little, if any, benefit to farmers as far as crop yields, and cause widespread environmental and economic damage. Other recent studies – including by EPA itself – have reinforced CFS’s report.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

PRESS RELEASE: U.S. Shipper Associations Thank FMC

September 9, 2015

See below for a letter sent today to the Federal Maritime Commission from leading associations of US exporters and importers:

Federal Maritime Commission
800 North Capitol Street, NW
Washington, D.C. 20573

Dear Chairman Cordero and Commissioners Doyle, Dye, Khouri, and Lidinsky:

On behalf of the undersigned organizations, we wish to express our appreciation for the Commission's recent actions demonstrating a commitment to stewardship of the interests of U.S. exporters and importers, including the agriculture, manufacturing, and retail sectors.

We believe that the Commission's response to the petition for amendment of OAKMTOA 201202-006 submitted by marine terminal operators at the Port of Oakland for the purpose of establishing an "OAKPASS" program at the Port of Oakland, is consistent with its mandate under the Ocean Shipping Act.

We laud the Port of Oakland for its ongoing efforts to bring the terminal operators, terminal labor, truckers, freight forwarders, and shippers together to develop a coordinated approach to enhancing terminal operations. We were thus surprised and concerned that the terminal operators proceeded to present to the Commission an OAKPASS program that had not been shared with these other parties. That the Commission has asserted the need for the terminal operators to collaborate with the cargo interests who will be actually paying the fees, is significant, appropriate and appreciated.

We stand ready, as do our members who ship through West Coast terminals, to work constructively with the terminal operators; we depend upon the Commission to require such collaboration in the case of this petition and other actions impacting terminal operations.


Agriculture Transportation Coalition
National Industrial Transportation League
National Retail Federation
Oregon Potato Commission
Pacific Coast Council of Customs Brokers and Freight Forwarders
Specialty Crop Trade Council
The Waterfront Coalition
US Forage Export Council
U.S.S.A (U.S. Shippers Association)
Wine and Spirits Shippers Association

Friday, September 4, 2015

NRA: labor shortage could be making comeback

(Washington, D.C.) Restaurants have added more than 1.8 million jobs since the end of the recession, and the expectation is for continued growth in the months ahead, the National Restaurant Association noted today. However, there are indications that job vacancies are becoming more difficult to fill, according to the NRA’s chief economist Bruce Grindy in his latest Economist’s Notebook:

“The restaurant industry closed out the summer with a solid month of job growth, according to preliminary figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).  Eating and drinking places added a net 26,000 jobs in August on a seasonally-adjusted basis, which pushes the industry’s post-recession payroll growth above the 1.8 million mark.

“Although restaurant job growth shows no signs of slowing – 2015 will mark the fourth straight year with employment gains of at least 3.5 percent – there are indications that job vacancies are becoming more difficult to fill.

“The average monthly job openings rate in the restaurants-and-accommodations sector* rose to a post-recession high during the first half of 2015, according to Job Openings and Labor Turnover (JOLTS) data from BLS.

“End-of-month job openings in the restaurants-and-accommodations sector averaged 650,000 during the first half of 2015, which represented an increase of nearly 70,000 job openings over what was reported during the first half of 2014.

“At the same time, the pace of hiring in the hospitality sector is also the rise.  Restaurants and lodging places filled an average of 773,000 positions each month during the first half of 2015, which represented the strongest pace of hiring since 2007.”

(Note: The ‘hires’ figures represent the total number of additions to the payroll during the month.  Net job growth – which for eating and drinking places is in the +30,000 to -30,000 range during a typical month – is the difference between total hires and total separations during the month.)

“Overall, both hiring and job openings trended upward during the last few years, as would be expected during an economic recovery.  However, as the chart below illustrates, the gap between monthly hires and job openings is much smaller than normal.  In fact, during the last 12 months, the average gap between the two indicators is the smallest that it has been since the JOLTS data series began in 2000.

“While these recent developments indicate that the restaurant industry’s labor market is likely tightening, the same data series suggests more significant labor challenges for other industries.  In the health care and social assistance sector, average end-of-month job openings exceeded monthly hires by 66 percent in the first half of 2015.  In the manufacturing and professional-and-business services sectors, average monthly openings were 12 percent above average hires.

“In the overall private sector, average end-of-month job openings were essentially on par with hires during the first half of 2015.  This is a divergence from the historical patterns in the JOLTS data, where hiring exceeded openings.  Although some slack still remains in the labor market, this development will likely put upward pressure on wages in the private sector.

“For their part, restaurant operators are starting to echo the reemergence of a tighter labor pool.  In both the July and August editions of the NRA’s Restaurant Industry Tracking Survey, 18 percent of restaurant operators said ‘recruiting-and-retaining employees’ is the number-one challenge currently facing their business.  Both readings were post-recession highs and ranked only behind ‘government’ as the top concern identified by operators.

“In a historical context, the proportion of operators reporting labor availability as their number-one challenge remains well below 2006-2007 levels, when the reading averaged more than 30 percent and consistently topped the list of concerns.

“However, it signals that many restaurant operators are experiencing the double-edged sword of stronger customer traffic and a shrinking labor pool that comes with an improving economy and job market.”

Read more from the Economist’s Notebook. For additional analysis of restaurant industry trends, log on to Restaurant TrendMapper at (subscription required).

*Note that the figures presented are for the broadly-defined Accommodations and Food Services sector (NAICS 72), because the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not report data for restaurants alone.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

World Population Clock Updated with New Features

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Touting Canada's seasonal ag worker program

Press release from Foreign Agricultural Resource Management Services

TORONTO, CANADA– The world’s most successful program connecting seasonal workers with agricultural employers has kicked into high gear.
Administered by Foreign Agricultural Resource Management Services (F.A.R.M.S.), the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP) links approximately 16,000 requests for seasonal workers with jobs at Ontario farms this growing season.
Not only does the 49-year-old program provide a long list of benefits to the workers and the farmers, but also it creates two Canadian jobs in the agrifood industry for every worker employed through SAWP at Ontario agricultural operations, says Ken Forth, president of F.A.R.M.S.
“Governments and agricultural organizations around the world are looking at this program as a model,” Forth says.  “For decades, this program has provided Ontario farmers a steady source of reliable labour as a supplement to local labour. At the same time it gives the seasonal workers well-paying employment, benefits and educational opportunities not available at home.”
Seasonal workers employed at Ontario farm operations through SAWP:
·        Sign contracts that guarantee them all the protections and benefits that Canadian workers receive, including WSIB, certain EI benefits and provincial health care coverage.
·        Receive an hourly wage rate set by Human Resources & Skills Development Canada. The hourly rate is not less than the provincial minimum wage rate or the local prevailing rate paid to Canadians doing the same job, whichever is greatest.
·        Earn up to five times more than they could in their own countries, which enables them to support their families, educate their children and buy and operate businesses and farms in their own countries.
Farmers have also realized great benefits from the program for more than 40 years, enabling them to hire staff that would otherwise be extremely challenging to find because of the ongoing shortage of suitable and available local Canadian workers.
“Ontario farmers pay the highest farm worker wages in North America and face intense competition from low-wage competitors,” Forth says. “Without this program, many Ontario farmers simply couldn’t continue to grow fruits and vegetables. They’d stop growing altogether or move into less labour-intensive crops.

New Food Marketing Institute Foundation Website Motivates Families to Get Back to the Table

ARLINGTON, VA – September 1, 2015 – Families across the country are committing to one more meal together each week this September in celebration of National Family Meals Month™. The value of family meals is well known: from increased self-esteem to improved grades and reduced risky behaviors to better nutrition. Helping American families achieve the goal of one more meal at home each week, the food retailer industry has developed and launched a new website with multiple resources,

"September is the perfect month to spotlight long-term benefits of family meals, and start a conversation that inspires people to share more meal occasions at home with items from the grocery store," said Cathy Polley, RPh, executive director of the Food Marketing Institute Foundation, which supports the role of food retailing and focuses on research and education in the areas of food safety, nutrition and health. "Juggling the demands of modern life—school, sports, jobs and long commutes—can sabotage the best laid plans for family meals. We want to help Americans make wholesome meals together, at home, a modern family tradition – not just in September, but all year long."

The website,, is filled with tools, tips, and meal-planning ideas to make it easier for families to have one more meal together per week. The website also includes links to more than 75 partners – primarily food retailers and manufacturers – also committed to helping consumers achieve their increased family meals goal. In short, families can find support from their favorite local supermarket and food brands.

The FMI Foundation also is encouraging Americans to join the National Family Meals Month movement by pledging to one more breakfast, lunch or dinner at home per week. Shoppers can post pledge photos, mealtime pictures, favorite recipes and shopping tips or even post a selfie wearing a favorite oven mitt with the hashtags #raiseyourmitt and #familymealsmonth.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Fact Sheet: Schools Serving, Kids Eating Healthier School Meals Thanks to Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act

For the past three years, kids have eaten healthier breakfasts, lunches and snacks at school thanks to the bipartisan Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which made the first meaningful improvements to the nutrition of foods and beverages served in cafeterias and sold in vending machines in 30 years. Thanks to the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act and other strategies, the national obesity trend is slowly reversing, and our children have more energy to learn and grow, greater opportunity to thrive, and better overall health.

As Congress turns its attention to reauthorizing the Act this year, it is important to remember that our children are battling a national obesity epidemic that costs $190.2 billion per year to treat and, according to retired U.S. generals, threatens our national security by making almost one in three young adults unfit to serve in our nation’s military. If we don’t continue to invest in our children’s health, this generation will be the first to live shorter lives than their parents.

The Act has undoubtedly improved the quality of school meals as well as the health and wellbeing of our children and for those reasons is supported by parents, teachers, doctors and kids themselves. USDA continues to work with schools, listen carefully, and provide time, flexibility, guidance, and resources to help them serve the healthier meals. Now is not the time to backpedal on a healthier future for our kids—that is why Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is encouraging Congress to act quickly to reauthorize a strong Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act and support the ongoing success of the healthier meals.

Kids are eating more healthy food and throwing less food away. Plate waste is not increasing. A study released in March 2015 by the University of Connecticut’s Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity shows that students are eating more nutritious foods and discarding less of their lunches under the healthier standards. Kids ate 13 percent more of their entrees and nearly 20 percent more of their vegetables in 2014 than in 2012, which means that less food is ending up in the trash today than before the national standards were updated.
Americans agree that healthier meals are the right thing for our kids. A poll released in mid-August by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation shows that 9 out of 10 Americans support national nutrition standards for school meals. Nearly 70% believe school meals are excellent or good, compared to just 26% in 2010, before the healthier school meals were implemented in schools.

Students like the taste of the healthier school meals. A 2015 study from the University of California, Berkeley’s School of Public Health found that nearly 90 percent of surveyed students liked at least some school meal options. And according to an August 2014 survey by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, 70 percent of elementary school leaders nationwide reported that students liked the new lunches.
Kids are eating more fruits and vegetables as a result of updated standards. A May 2014 Harvard School of Public Health study shows that, under the updated standards, kids are now eating 16 percent more vegetables and 23 percent more fruit at lunch.

Parents support the healthier school meals. A September 2014 poll released by The Pew Charitable Trusts, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the American Heart Association shows that 72 percent of parents favor strong nutrition standards for school meals and 91 percent support serving fruits or vegetables with every meal.
Support for healthier school meals is bipartisan. A September 2014 poll released by The Pew Charitable Trusts, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the American Heart Association found that 87 percent of Democrats, 70 percent of independents and more than half of registered voters with kids in public schools surveyed were supportive of the new meals.

Over 95 percent of schools report that they are successfully meeting the updated nutrition standards. Students across the country are experiencing a healthier school environment with more nutritious options. The new meals are providing children more whole grains, fruits and vegetables, lean protein and low-fat dairy, as well as less sugar, fat, and sodium.
USDA continues to work with schools as they implement the new standards. USDA recently launched an initiative called Team Up for School Nutrition Success that allows the schools who still face challenges to pair up and learn best practices from schools that are already successfully serving healthier meals. The program has provided training for more than 3,500 individuals and has been enthusiastically received by schools and school officials.

School lunch revenue is up. Despite concerns raised about the impact of new standards on participation and costs, a USDA analysis suggests that last year, schools saw a net nationwide increase in revenue from school lunches of approximately $450 million. This includes the annual reimbursement rate adjustments, as well as increased revenue from paid meals and the additional 6 cents per meal for schools meeting the new meal standards.
Participation is increasing substantially in many areas of the country. Total breakfast participation increased by 380,000 students from FY2013 to FY2014 and has increased by more than 3 million students since 2008. USDA has also received reports from many schools indicating a positive response to healthier offerings and increased participation.

The Community Eligibility Provision under the HHFKA has been successfully implemented in over 14,000 schools. As a result, schools in low-income areas are now able to offer free, nutritious school meals to more than 6.8 million kids. Schools participating in CEP report increased revenue, decreased administrative costs, reduced program errors, and substantially higher program participation – on average, a 9 percent increase in school breakfast participation and 5 percent increase in school lunch.

As more kids and schools continue to successfully make the transition to the new standards, USDA expects participation to keep growing.
Virtually all schools continue to participate. Data from states indicated very few schools (only 0.51 percent of schools nationwide) reported dropping out of the programs due to struggles over providing kids healthy food. State agencies reported that the schools no longer participating in the NSLP were mainly residential child care institutions and smaller schools with very low percentages of children eligible for free and reduced price meals.
USDA has and will continue to listen to stakeholders and provide guidance and flexibilities, as appropriate, to help schools and students adapt to the updated requirements. Early in the implementation process for school meals, when schools asked for flexibility to serve larger servings of grains and proteins within the overall calorie caps, USDA responded. In January of 2014, that flexibility was made permanent. USDA is also phasing other requirements in over the next several years. And hearing schools concerns on the lack of availability of whole grain products, USDA is allowing schools that have demonstrated difficulty in obtaining adequate whole grain items to submit a request to the States to use some traditional products for an additional two years while industry works to create better whole grain products.

FDA Takes Action on Bulk Pure Powdered Caffeine Products

September 1, 2015

Agency continues to warn consumers about the dangers of using pure powdered caffeine.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is taking action today to help prevent additional deaths from the use of pure powdered caffeine, potentially dangerous products that have already resulted in the known deaths of two teenagers.

The agency issued warning letters to five distributors of pure powdered caffeine because these products are dangerous and present a significant or unreasonable risk of illness or injury to consumers. The difference between a safe amount and a toxic dose of caffeine in these pure powdered products is very small. Furthermore, safe quantities of these products can be nearly impossible to measure accurately with common kitchen measuring tools. Volume measures, such as teaspoons, are not precise enough to calculate how many milligrams of caffeine are in the serving size. Pre-existing conditions can intensify the effects of caffeine and make the product more dangerous for these individuals.

Following the deaths of two young men in good health in 2014, the FDA issued Consumer Advice alerting consumers to the dangers of pure powdered caffeine. One teaspoon of pure powdered caffeine is equivalent to the amount of caffeine in about 28 cups of regular coffee. While consumers of caffeinated products such as coffee, tea, and soda may be aware of caffeine’s less serious effects – such as nervousness and tremors – they may not be aware that these pure powdered caffeine products are much more potent and can cause serious health effects, including rapid or dangerously erratic heartbeat, seizures and death. Vomiting, diarrhea, stupor and disorientation are also symptoms of caffeine toxicity.

The FDA will continue to aggressively monitor the marketplace for pure powdered caffeine products and take action as appropriate. If violations exist, the FDA can pursue enforcement action, such as seizure of the product or an injunction to prevent the firm from continuing to manufacture or market the product.

Climatologist Says Current El Niño Could Mean More Favorable Weather for Midwest Crops Historical weather records indicate 2025 could be extremely harsh for Midwest crops.

MANHATTAN, Kan. – Much-needed precipitation through the U.S. heartland this year has replenished soil moisture, refilled ponds and promises to boost crop yields, thanks to the weather phenomenon known as El Niño, according to Iowa State University agricultural climatologist Elwynn Taylor. And the benefits for the Midwest may continue into 2016.

El Niño is associated with a warming of Pacific Ocean water, and tends to bring warmer, drier conditions to the northwest United States and cooler, wetter conditions to the Plains.

The conditions are a far cry from the recent La Niña – the opposite of El Niño, which brought drought to the central U.S., said Taylor, who spoke at the recent Kansas State University Risk and Profit Conference. “We’ve just come out of the second strongest La Niña in recorded history, about 200 years, and that brought us a disastrous drought. That’s the drought we had in the Corn Belt in 2012. That’s the first widespread drought that we’ve had in the Corn Belt since 1988.”

He likened the El Niño-La Niña phenomenon to a pendulum that swings from one extreme direction for a 14-month period and then to the extreme in the opposite direction.

“Because of the rainfall and mild temperatures in the central U.S., an El Niño gives a 70 percent chance of an above trend line yield for corn and soybeans in the Corn Belt, if other factors don’t come into play,” he said, adding that when corn yields are high in the Midwest, wheat yields in northwest states tend to be below average, because El Niño tends to bring drought to those states.

It’s unclear how long the current El Niño will last, but in similar situations where one has followed a strong La Niña, the El Niño has lasted a full two years rather than 14 months, which is average.

“If it goes 14 months, that it gets us well into 2016. It could get us off to a good start with the crop, but it could go bad after that,” Taylor said, noting that El Niño has sometimes gone on for 24 months – even 36 months, but that’s rare. “In ancient history, they’ve gone on for four or five years, but we don’t expect to see that this time around,” he said.

“With El Niño, we tend to have closer to average conditions than extremes. That is, the summer’s not oppressively hot, the winter’s not bitterly cold, and that is good news for people with cattle outside and people with winter wheat,” he said.

Taylor said scientists who study El Niño and La Niña have a good record for knowing four or five months in advance what conditions are coming: “That’s good news, but it doesn’t get you all the way through a growing season.”

That’s why people should pay attention, he said, adding, “We don’t get a sudden change from La Niña to El Niño. That’s a gradual one over months – a gentle change. But, when a strong El Niño ends, it can suddenly go to a La Niña condition, such as the major drought we had in 1988 that began just weeks after we went into La Niña.”

That’s why risk management is so important, he said, adding that after El Niño, growers have to be ready for yields and prices to change quickly.

In an Agriculture Today radio interview during the conference, Taylor said that once an El Niño ends, there is often talk of high-pressure ridges forming that block precipitation. The weather forecasts reporting those are typically focused on urban areas, especially in the New England states.

“We need to pay attention to what’s going on in the Gulf of Alaska. If we have a high pressure system in the Gulf of Alaska, we’ve just cut off the rain in a line from Kansas City to Chicago and everything north of that. That’s a good chunk of Nebraska and Kansas,” he said.

El Niño is the friend of the Midwest farmer, as well as the Argentine farmer, and those in southern Brazil and Uruguay and adjacent areas, he added. It is not the friend of the extreme northwest United States or the adjacent Canadian farmer, or farmers in northern Brazil.

“In fact some Brazilian farmers try to cover this by owning as many acres in northern Brazil as in southern Brazil,” Taylor said. While one is suffering from El Niño, the other is benefiting from El Niño. That’s a form of risk management, by having farms in two locations.”

“Also, if the Australian farmer has an enemy, it’s El Nino,” he added.

Taylor said that based on studies going back hundreds of years, the upcoming year 2025 bears watching: “2025 isn’t necessarily the year we expect a “Dust Bowl” to peak, but it would be typical. The harshest years for weather for Midwest crops tend to be separated by 89 years. The worst year for the 1800s in Illinois and Iowa was 1847. Records were not kept that far back for Kansas and Nebraska. In the next century, the harshest weather year for crops was 1936. Tree rings indicate the 89-year tendency has existed for several centuries.”

Taylor believes this means that weather will get increasingly volatile until we hit the extremes. “Remember, volatility goes both ways,” he said. “Years with record-high yields or yields with half of that, and that’s a disaster. During the 18 years before 2010, we had consistent yields.”

“This is an advantage the farmer has, to look at what is the year’s volatility, what are the likely prices I can sell my grain at or buy my feed at this year, and what the likely low will be and the likely high,” he continued. “You’re not going to hit it exactly. Just realize this is likely to be a year that will have above trend line yields, and so we’re going to have prices that go along with a higher yield. You don’t know exactly how low they’ll go, but as long as you’re working on the correct side of the picture, you’ll make a profit. It’s hard to go bankrupt when you’re making a profit.”

Taylor said weather conditions through the 2020s may be much like the volatile years during the 1980s.

Farmers will always deal with risk, but Taylor said U.S. farmers have good government support. “The federal government does not want farmers to take such a beating one year that they’re not in business the next, as happened back during the Dust Bowl of the ‘30s. That’s why we have crop insurance. That is for most people their No. 1 risk management tool.”

Consumers Union, Ben & Jerry’s & Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility Join Together to Support Vermont’s GMO Labeling Law

Food Industry Challenges Vermont Law In Court While it Pushes Congress to Block all GMO Labeling Requirements

New York, NY -- Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, joined Ben and Jerry’s and Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility in submitting an amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) brief today to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in support of the Vermont GMO labeling law.

The Vermont law, scheduled to go into effect in July, 2016, requires the labeling of genetically engineered food sold in the state.  The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), which includes large national companies like Pepsi Cola and Coca Cola that have long opposed GMO labeling, is seeking an injunction to stop the Vermont law from going into effect.  The U.S. District Court previously rejected GMA’s request for an injunction, and now the trade association is appealing that decision.

But some companies support the law, as do a broad range of consumer and environmental groups including Consumers Union.

“Vermont’s law will help consumers make more informed decisions about the food they eat and can be implemented at little cost to manufacturers,” said Jean Halloran, Director of food policy initiatives at Consumers Union.  “The food industry should stop fighting the public’s right to know in court and start listening to what their customers want.”

Consumers Union and the other parties submitting the amicus brief argue that Vermont’s law serves a number of legitimate state interests, including advancing public health and safety, informing consumers concerned about potential environmental effects, avoiding consumer confusion, and protecting religious practices.  In addition, the brief notes that the labeling requirement does not impose significant – let alone irreparable – harm on the affected companies, as the GMA claims.

While opponents of the law claim it would raise food prices, Consumers Union and the other parties note in their brief that the costs for food companies to comply with the law would be negligible.  “It costs next to nothing to change the wording on a package,” said Halloran.  “Companies do it all the time and they have until January 2017 before Vermont starts enforcing its law.”  A report commissioned by Consumers Union and prepared by an economic consulting firm, EcoNorthwest, found that based on existing analyses, requiring GMO labels on products would cost individual consumers less than a penny a day.

“The easiest, cheapest way for companies to comply with the Vermont law would be simply to label all products nationally if they contain GMOs,” said Halloran.  “This is what consumers want.  A Consumer Reports poll in 2014 found that 92 percent of consumers support mandatory labeling of GMOs.”

In addition to challenging the Vermont law in court, GMA is supporting a bill in Congress that would nullify the measure and prohibit any other state law or the U.S. Food and Drug Administration from mandating GMO labeling.  Misleadingly named the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act, consumer groups are calling it the Deny Americans the Right to Know or DARK Act.  The bill passed the House in July but is expected to have a more difficult time in the Senate.

“Vermont’s ability to decide for itself what kind of food labels it wants for its citizens is fundamental,” said Halloran.  “We believe the courts will uphold that right, and strongly urge Congress not to interfere with states’ rights to label GMO foods.”