Monday, April 29, 2013

Commissioner Troxler: How will you protect sustainable farms?

Photo by haansgruber via Flickr
by Fawn Pattison, Executive Director

Were you one of the thousands of concerned North Carolinians who read about House Bill 379 and contacted Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler recently?

House Bill 379, An Act To Clarify The Authority Of The Board Of Agriculture Over Plants would strip authority away from local governments to regulate plants. Why? Because back in 2004, three California counties passed local ordinances banning the cultivation of genetically-modified organisms (GMOs). That act set off a wave of "pre-emption" bills across the country, as the multinational corporations who sell GMO seeds to farmers sought to make sure that the movement to ban GMOs never left California.

We've been calling H 379 a zombie bill, because it returned from the dead after an unsuccessful effort to pass it back in 2005. If you emailed Commissioner Troxler, you probably got a response back recently that says:

"Some of the information you have received from Toxic Free NC about this bill is not correct. We support and promote small farms and organic growers, and there is nothing in this bill that would harm organic growers or small farms."

The good folks at the Department of Agriculture are clearly interpreting the language in this bill differently than we are. That's understandable -- it's a very short bill, with very broad language. They don't see any reason for small farmers or organic farmers to be concerned about harms. Did they ask any? 

Here's what Jamie Ager of Hickory Nut Gap Farm near Asheville had to say about the bill in a recent news story

"Stay out of the way," he [Ager] warned. "You know, we don't need more regulatory burden on creating a food system that consumers are demanding." Ager is worried that H 379 is a tool to increase the level of control that a small number of multinational corporate seed and chemical companies already exert over our food supply. We think he's exactly right. 

Troxler's email goes on to say:
"In North Carolina, farmers have chosen to plant nearly three million acres of crops produced from seed that would be considered “genetically-modified”. That includes 96 percent of all cotton, 93 percent of all soybeans, and 85 percent of all corn."
Wow. That's a lot of genetically-modified crops. Whatever your position on genetically-modified crops, it would be imprudent for local governments in North Carolina to try to prohibit farmers from growing them (which is probably why none of them ever have, to the best of our knowledge). Toxic Free NC has certainly never encouraged a local government to do so, and has no plans to try. Yet the Department of Agriculture's staff stated in legislative hearings in 2005 (when this same bill was first filed) that the bill came about because of the GMO ban in Mendocino, California, and was intended to prevent North Carolina's local governments from ever doing the same. This is a solution in search of a problem.  

Growing a strong, vibrant organic agriculture sector in North Carolina depends on protecting the organic certification of our farmers. Anything that puts that certification at risk - including contamination from GMO crops, and pesticide drift from neighboring farms, for example - is a risk that should be taken seriously. Filing a bill like H 379, and then dismissing valid criticisms, shows just how little heed the NC Department of Agriculture pays those risks - particularly when lobbyists from the likes of Monsanto show up asking for a favor. 

Meanwhile, in our state legislative efforts are also underway to eliminate the NC Sustainable Local Food Advisory Council, ensure that farmers don't necessarily have to pay fines when they violate pesticide regulations, and eliminate or slash funding from state programs that have benefited small, local farmers, such as the Golden LEAF Foundation and the NC Tobacco Trust Fund. H 379 is certainly not the only example of the NC Department of Agriculture's legislative agenda leaving sustainable and organic farmers out in the cold. It's just the one that got a lot of attention because we used a picture of a zombie in the action alert

I'm glad we got your attention, Commissioner Troxler. Now please explain to us why on earth this bill is needed, and how you plan to make sure that organic and sustainable farmers are not harmed by it?

H 379 passed the NC House on April 30, with a vote of 93-23. See how your Representative voted here. A companion bill, S 639, has already passed the Senate. We expect the two versions to be reconciled soon and sent to Governor McCrory for his signature.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The NC Toxic Free Kids Act is great news!

by Fawn Pattison, Executive Director

This week, a bi-partisan team of legislators, led by Representatives Chuck McGrady (R-Henderson) and Pricey Harrison (D-Guilford) filed the NC Toxic Free Kids Act, H.B. 848. The bill would ban three notorious contaminants from children's products, and create a Priority Chemicals List in North Carolina. 

This is awesome news!

Harmful chemicals continue to be found in children’s products, even though safer alternatives are available. Toxic chemicals known to be used in the products that children use every day include:
·      BPA in food packaging such as baby food and infant formula containers.
·      Phthalates in toys, scented lotions, shampoos and other personal care products.
·      Flame retardants in nursery furniture, nursing pillows and carseats.

Priority Chemicals are persistent in our environment and bodies. They have been found to cause health effects like cancer, reproductive harm or adverse effects on brain development. Cancer is on a slow and steady increase in American children, rising 22% from 1975 to 2004 (1).  Autism now affects 1 in 88 American children, and 1 in 54 boys (2).  Exposure to toxic chemicals is an important factor in these devastating diseases.

There is no comprehensive system in place to assure that highly hazardous chemicals are not being used in children’s products. That means many toxic chemicals are ending up in a place they shouldn’t: our children’s bodies.

What’s the Solution?
In order to reduce our children’s exposure to toxic chemicals, North Carolina needs a mechanism to begin phasing out the use of dangerous chemicals in children’s products:
Disclosure. The NC Department of Environment & Natural Resources would work together with the NC Division of Public Health to develop a list of Priority Chemicals that pose unnecessary risks to children’s health.
Phase Out. Ends the use of two cancer‐causing Tris flame retardants (TCDPP and TCEP), as well as the plastic additives Bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates in children’s products.
Safer Products. Requires makers of children’s products that contain chemicals from the Priority Chemicals List to begin identifying safer chemicals or materials for their products.

Market-Driven Approach
Thanks to innovative solutions being developed in response to consumer demand, mercury, toxic flame retardants, lead, and other persistent toxic chemicals all are being phased out of consumer products. Providing manufacturers with a Priority Chemicals List can help end the toxic treadmill of substituting one bad chemical for another, and help businesses avoid costly substitution problems.
In the last decade, 18 states have passed more than 70 laws to ban chemicals in products or create new chemical management programs at the state level (for examples see Maine’s Kid Safe Products Act; Washington’s Children's Safe Product Act; Minnesota’s Toxic Free Kids Act).

Comprehensive toxics reform is the solution that we need. But until Congress decides to act on it, the onus is on states to cope with the toxic soup to which we are all exposed. A bill focused on children, who are at highest risk, and narrowly focused on three of the worst-offender chemicals, is an excellent step towards protecting the health and the futures of North Carolina's children.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Toxic Free NC wants to be BPA-Free

by Ileana Rodriguez, Development Director

Back in February, our staff adopted a Sustainability Initiative for 2013. Each quarter, we're taking a new step to reduce our carbon footprint, our toxics exposure and/or cost efficiency.

Last quarter, we started using cloth napkins and dish towels in our restroom and kitchen. Not only are we saving money by ditching paper products, but we're also reducing the amount of trash we send to the landfill. That's a win-win situation for our budget and the environment!

For the second quarter of this year, wanted to reinstate our composting program. For almost two years,  vermicomposted at Toxic Free NC, but we recently let our worms retire to a colleague's urban farm.

We really miss having the option to compost at work. But after hearing Dr. Pete Meyers give an inspiring guest lecture at Catawba College about endocrine disruptors and their effect on our health and environment, we were motivated to shift our focus.

Too-Long Receipts
Too-Long Receipts by herzogbr on Flickr
This quarter, we're banning BPA from our office files. 

BPA, or Bisphenol-A, is an endocrine disrupting chemical that interferes with how the endocrine system controls hormones in the body. Even small exposures to endocrine disruptors can be linked to a host of health problems such as developmental defects, reproductive problems and certain types of cancer.

We're amending our accounting and reimbursement procedures to limit our exposure to the BPA-laden thermal paper found in receipts from gas pumps, restaurants, packing slips, etc.

From now on, our staff can snap a photo of a receipt instead of submitting the receipt with a paper expense report. And we can submit that documentation via email, which will drastically reduce the amount of paper we use in our record keeping.

Accepting photo receipts will limit our own individual exposure to BPA as we handle and store receipts for office expenses, and it will lessen the amount of BPA in public currency that gets transferred from receipts to the dollar bills we all carry in our wallets.

We hope that one small change in procedure will make a big difference!

If you keep financial files at home or in your place of work, do you have tips for ways that you make your record keeping more sustainable?

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

April is Organic Gardening Month!

Hooray, spring is finally here! Every April, Toxic Free NC celebrates the return of warm weather and garden fun with Organic Gardening Month. We're here to help you improve your backyard or community garden, protect pollinators, and enjoy more delicious, organic foods with your family.

All month long we'll be promoting our hands-on resources, including in-depth fact sheets on organic garden pest control for common NC pests, educational gardening videos and additional garden tips and seed giveaways throughout the month.

Pesticides can be dangerous for gardeners, children and animals, and can also kill off the "good bugs" like bees and butterflies that we all want to find in our gardens. But many gardeners think they’re a necessary evil. We’re putting out this info at the start of the season to give gardeners the tools they need to reduce their use of pesticides, or stop using them altogether.

In 2012, Toxic Free NC published ten brand new, in-depth fact sheets on organic pest control for several common pests found in gardens in NC. The fact sheets include safer pest control advice for:  aphids, cabbage loopers, cabbage worms, Colorado potato beetles, cutworms, Harlequin bugs, Japanese beetles, June bugs, slugs, snails, squash bugs, squash vine borers and tomato hornworms.

Through the month of April, Toxic Free NC will share organic gardening tips, post educational videos and give away seeds on its Facebook and YouTube pages and via Twitter here:  @Fawn_ToxicFree, @ToxicFreeNC.

Want to learn more about organic gardening strategies? Toxic Free NC is available to provide hands-on workshops for community gardens! Please contact Lynne Walter at 919-833-1123 or to schedule a workshop.