Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Reviewing bad ideas on a case-by-case basis

Cast your mind back to last December, when I was railing at the EPA on this very blog for their wrong-headed and potentially dangerous proposal to allow "Cause-Related Marketing" on pesticide labels.

Cause-related marketing means, for example, selling a bottle of pesticide with the Red Cross logo on it, perhaps promising to donate a portion of the product's sale to the charity. As you can imagine, many people, including many state attorneys general, pesticide administrators from across US states, Toxic Free NC and our allies, went nuts. Good people like you sent in reams of comments to the EPA decrying the proposal, and the agency was forced to extend the comment period to accommodate them all.

The EPA heard us. They heard the public saying "ARE YOU INSANE?" and decided that they never should have told us about the idea in the first place.

Today the EPA released its decision on the matter: they have decided to withdraw the proposal and to discourage cause-related marketing on pesticide containers. This is almost like disallowing the practice, except not. Here's what they had to say about the matter in a news release:
"Although EPA will review any future application it receives, EPA is now generally discouraging the submission of applications to add cause marketing claims or third-party endorsements.

"...If it receives such an application, the Agency expects to decide on a case-by-case basis both what information would be necessary to carefully evaluate the proposed claims and whether a product containing such a claim could meet the applicable statutory and regulatory standards for approval."
What does that mean, exactly? Don't send us an application to put charity logos on your pesticides because it's potentially hazardous to human health and the environment, but if you do, we'll review it on a case-by-case basis.

Come again?

This is like a mild victory for common sense, but without the sting of defeat. Plus the added bonus of secrecy. Something for everyone!

EPA says in its decision: "EPA recognizes that its resources are limited and should be targeted towards activities that will enhance protection of human health and the environment from pesticides." In other words, EPA's shouldn't waste its resources developing standards for evaluating label proposals, then sending them out for public comment again, revising them, notifying the public about pending applications, yadda yadda yadda. If they get an application, they'll just deal with it under cover of darkness - it's more efficient that way.

Is this a lesson in how to make everybody happy by sweeping the issue under the rug?

Under this decision, we won't know when EPA gets an application for cause-related marketing on a pesticide label, nor what standards they would use to evaluate it. If you should happen to find a bottle of Killz-All at the store with your local children's hospital logo on it, you'll know they approved one.

But that probably won't happen, because they're going to discourage it.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Fall eating

The crisp, cool mornings and shorter evenings are a sure sign of autumn. And so are the beautiful piles of pumpkins, sweet potatoes and winter squash that are beginning to appear in farmer's markets all across North Carolina.

In my house, cooler weather means more cooking, now that it's finally okay to turn the oven on again after a few long hot summer months of melon slices and tomato sandwiches. The garden is leafy and green again, with little chard, kale and lettuce plants soaking up the warm, sunny afternoons. And soon it will be time for boxes of shiny apples, especially my very favorite, Honey Crisp.

If you thought the end of summer meant the end of fresh fruits and veggies from the farmer's market, think again! Many markets stay open right up to Thanksgiving, and some even longer. You may not have known that there was such a thing, but some farms are now offering winter CSA shares to keep you in vegetable heaven all through the cooler months. Check the CSA listings at Growing Small Farms to find one near you.

To get you dreaming of fall culinary delights, here is a recipe for Baked Winter Squash from Toxic Free NC's farmer's market recipe archive:

Baked Winter Squash
by Susan Spalt

- Any kind of winter squash (butternut, acorn, spaghetti squash, etc)
- Butter
- Worcestershire sauce
- Brown sugar
- Grated cheddar cheese

Cut squash in half. Wrap in foil and bake at 350 until tender. Remove from foil. Carefully scoop out squash, saving the skins. Combine squash with 1/2 tsp. butter, about a tsp. Worcestershire sauce, and 1/2 tsp. brown sugar. Place back in skins. Sprinkle with grated cheddar cheese. Bake for 10 minutes or until cheese has melted.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Ag-Mart workers take the stand

On Wednesday two former Ag-Mart employees finally took the stand in the state's protracted enforcement case against the company accused of hundreds of violations in the largest pesticide case in North Carolina history.

News & Observer photo

Francisca Herrera and Abraham Candelario are the parents of Carlitos Candelario, the little boy whose birth defects stunned the state and tipped investigators off to a pattern of problems. Since the state began investigating the case in 2006, there have been dozens of court hearings, task force meetings, legislative hearings, and many other opportunities for attorneys and "experts" to debate the merits of the state's case, but until yesterday none of the affected workers had been heard. From the Raleigh News & Observer:
Herrera, 22, said she was often told to work in fields that were still wet with pesticides. She said her supervisors ignored her complaints of frequent headaches and stomach pains. "The boss would always be scolding us and telling us that we came to this country to work, not to rest," she said in Spanish. (Source: Raleigh News & Observer article)
Whatever the relative strengths and weaknesses of the state's case against the tomato giant, it was gratifying to finally hear from those whom the case actually affected. Carlitos stayed quiet for two days in the hearing room as his parents waited for their turn to testify. But as his mother took the stand, he cried at being separated from her, and his audible wails outside the hearing room underscored his presence in the hearing.

The Ag-Mart case, at its core, is not about re-entry interval violations, record-keeping requirements, or worker intimidation. It's about what can happen when we use, misuse, or misunderstand the use of toxic chemicals, whether to grow our food, change our environments, or manufacture the consumer products we use every day. With or without negligence, with or without malfeasance, toxic chemicals get into our bodies, and sometimes cause irreperable harm. Whether or not the state collects its $100,000 from Ag-Mart, we need to be looking much harder at the trade-offs we're willing to make for a cheap food supply.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Community Organizing 101: Building community, strengthening democracy, and getting things done.

It's true, most people don't know what the heck I mean when I say that I'm a community organizer. But even though the term is unfamiliar, I think most people would readily recognize "organizers" in their own communities as leaders and connectors - the proverbial "movers & shakers." Anyone who's ever put together a community event like a fundraiser, service project, strike, boycott, or protest; started a new club, organization, union, or other group; asked people to sign a petition, contact their representatives, speak at a public meeting, or vote for a certain person or proposal was probably doing some community organizing.

Community organizing encompasses a really broad range of activities and issues, and many different kinds of people do it. Some are volunteers or concerned citizens, while others do it professionally; some do it as part of a congregation or organization, while others do it independently. But there are a few common threads that I think are the most important parts:

1. Making changes & getting things done. At the most fundamental level, community organizing is a process by which people get together - "organize" - to get something done. This could be changing a rule or policy, getting someone elected, starting a new group or program, stopping something hurtful to the community, or starting something needed and helpful. Whatever it is, people come together to make a plan and then do it together.
2. Community. Communities of people are built and strengthened by the process of community organizing. When a good organizer runs a campaign or project, the community is stronger when it's over, regardless of whether they actually won or accomplished the original goal. The people involved have built relationships, skills, knowledge, and confidence that make them more active and effective participants in their community, and make future community organizing projects easier and more successful.
3. Power, Equity and Democracy. In theory, a democratic process means that people who are affected by a particular decision get a equal say in how it's made, or at least an equal say in who gets to make it (i.e. through electing representatives). But in reality, that is often not the case. The dynamics of power, privilege, and profit in our society mean that the system isn't always fair, and some people can't get what they need through normal channels. Maybe they can't get pollution out of their air or water, can't get their child's public education improved, or can't get a fair living wage. Community organizing helps to correct injustices and fix an inequitable system by bringing people together to exercise their power as a voting block or a customer base, and demand the changes they need.

In our work at Toxic Free NC, this shows up as parents who want to get their schools or childcare centers to stop using pesticides, farmworkers or farm neighbors who don't want to be sprayed, consumers who want better access to food grown without pesticides, and lots of other things too. So, we work with these groups of people to help them get what they want, and in the process we build community and correct imbalances of power that create injustice and weaken our democracy. It's pretty heady stuff, and we're proud to be doing this important work in North Carolina.

Interested in getting organized in your community, and reducing pesticide pollution? We're here to help - please contact us!

Interested in becoming an organizer? It's a pretty great job, if I do say so myself. Here are a couple of my favorite resources:
Midwest Academy
The Community Toolbox

PS: I really like this quote I just found from Mike Miller of the Organize Training Center:
Organizing does two central things to seek to rectify the problem of power imbalance - it builds a permanent base of people power so that dominant financial and institutional power can be challenged and held accountable to values of greater social, environmental and economic justice; and, it transforms individuals and communities, making them mutually respectful co-creators of public life rather than passive objects of decisions made by others.