Victory! Senate Votes to Ban Slave- and Child-Labor Imports

Seafood From Slaves Shrimp Sheds
A decades-old loophole allowing US companies to legally import shrimp from Thailand and other goods caught, grown, or made using child and slave labor may finally be closed by Congress. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

For decades, American companies have legally been allowed to import goods made with child or slave labor —mainly due to a loophole in federal regulations. A bill being sent to President Obama’s desk may finally close that loophole for good.

The Tariff Act of 1930 bars imports into the US that are made with slave, indentured, or convict labor. However, it contains a loophole allowing companies to import goods—like cocoa made by child slaves in Côte d’Ivoire or shrimp caught by enslaved fishermen aboard Thai ships— without penalty, provided those goods aren’t available in the US in sufficient quantities to meet demand.

Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) authored an amendment to the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015 that would finally close this slave-labor loophole. The US Senate voted 75-20 to pass the bill, including the Wyden-Brown amendment.

A similar bill passed the House last year, and President Obama plans to sign the bill into law next week.

“My friend Senator Brown … and I believe that in 2016 and beyond, Congress cannot allow for the perpetrators of slave or child labor to have any place in the American economy,” Sen. Wyden said in a Senate floor speech just before the bill’s passage. “So the old system that leaves the door open to child or slave labor if it’s used to make a product that isn’t made here in the US—that system absolutely must end, and it will.”

Liz Jardim, Green America’s campaigns director, says that fair-labor organizations have long been working to close this “criminal” gap in import regulations. Green America and our allies submitted official comments to the US Department of Labor (DOL) asking for the closure of this loophole and for the DOL to begin requiring companies to prove that products they import were not made with forced labor.

“The Senate voting to close this loophole is very welcome news,” she says. “We are hopeful that once the President signs this bill into law, the impacts it will have on removing forced labor from global supply chains could lead to major improvements for enslaved workers all over the world.”

US retailers still need to hear from us: Sign Green America’s petitions demanding that Costco stop buying shrimp caught by slaves on Thai boats and that Godiva stop buying cocoa grown using child labor.

For the latest news from our Fair Labor campaign, sign up for Green America’s e-mail newsletter.

Can You Get Vitamin B12 from Vegan Sources?

Marjorie Simon-Meinefeld and Jasmine Simon, certified plant-based nutritionists and co-owners of Anything Vegan.
Marjorie Simon-Meinefeld and Jasmine Simon, certified plant-based nutritionists and co-owners of Anything Vegan.

This fall, Green America member Jack Ryan sent us a letter asking if one could get all the nutrients one needs through a vegan diet, particularly vitamin B12. He’d heard that diets without meat are often deficient in B12, and that the vitamin in pill form is actually obtained from animals rather than plant sources. 

We posed his questions to Anything Vegan owners Jasmine Simon and Marjorie Simon-Meinefeld, two sisters who are both certified plant-based nutritionists. While an abbreviated version of their informative response appeared in the Winter 2015 issue of our Green American magazine, we wanted to post the full version here for anyone else who might be wondering how to eat less meat and still get the nutrients you need. 

We’re going to plant some truths about vitamin B12 and pull out the weeds that have grown around it—namely the so-called Vegan B12 Deficiency myths.  People who adhere to a healthy plant-based lifestyle have reduced risks of heart attack or stroke, breast cancer, prostate cancer, obesity, and diabetes, and rarely suffer from osteoporosis, constipation, indigestion, and arthritis. But let’s take a look at some things that vegans and non-vegans alike need to be aware of when it comes to B12.

Our dear friend Dr. Greger (NutritionFacts.org) says “Vitamin B12 is made by neither animals nor plants, but by microbes. Thankfully, in our sanitized world, there are safe, cheap, convenient sources. It is imperative that those eating plant-based include B12 fortified foods in their diet or intake supplements, especially pregnant or nursing women. Eggs and dairy are not optimal sources of vitamin B12 because foods come as a package deal, and eggs and dairy may bring along as baggage saturated fat, cholesterol, and hormones. The easiest and cheapest way to get our B12 is to take at least 2,500 mcg (µg) cyanocobalamin once each week, ideally as a chewable, sublingual, or liquid supplement.” Let’s examine some truths and myths surrounding this important vitamin.

There is such thing as vitamin B12 deficiency. TRUTH. The symptoms include memory loss, confusion, upset stomach, weight loss, very pale skin, stomach issues, exhaustion, and diarrhea. Vitamin B12 Deficiency does exist, but it’s not caused by veganism. It’s not caused from a plant-based lifestyle but usually is a sign of non-related digestive problems where the body has a problem absorbing nutrients from food. Crohn’s disease, pernicious anemia, celiac disease, and other digestive disorders are the usual problems. There are over 5000 possible causes of digestive disorders—and enjoying a healthy, plant-based lifestyle isn’t one of them. Vitamin B12 is present naturally in humans, so those with digestive-related deficiencies usually can’t even be cured by simply in-taking additional vitamin B12 from any source.

People don’t have to eat meat or other animal products to survive and thrive with B12. TRUTH. Both humans and animals eat food from the soil that contain B12. However since most food animals today aren’t even fed their proper diets, farmers actually inject their livestock with B12 in order to say animal products contain B12.

Vegans need to start taking special supplements or eat nutritional yeast because the only source of vitamin B12 is through animal-based foods (meat, dairy products, etc.) MYTH … and TRUTH. Even if a person only eats plant foods, vitamin B12 actually comes from coenzymes, which are already present in bacteria found on the human body (in and around the mouth, for example). We all should take in Vitamin B12 daily, in small doses.

People need B12 supplements not because of lack of meat or animal products, but because of poor soil in much of the world today that our food is grown in. Even the animals aren’t naturally getting what is needed anymore. All people, not just vegans, should be concerned about proper vitamin B12 intake. And it does not have to come from animal sources injected with it.

There are vegan sources of vitamin B12. TRUTH. Outside of B12-injected animals, B12 fortified foods and supplements are available. According to the Vegan Society, the best thing to do is to look for plant milks, plant yoghurts, breakfast cereals, spreads, yeast extracts, and nutritional yeast products that are fortified with vitamin B12. Or try fortified yeast extract with fortified spread on whole-wheat toast, or macaroni with fortified nutritional yeast “cheezy sauce”. See www.AnythingVegan.com for O’So Cheesy, a delicious plant-based cheese alternative containing Vitamin B12 packed nutritional yeast as well as plant-based protein! You can also chew a reliable vitamin B12 supplement to enable you to absorb as much as possible.

Your doctor can check your blood homocysteine levels to see if you’re obtaining enough vitamin B12. Always seek prompt professional medical advice about the cause of any symptom. And don’t just accept the quick and easy answer from traditional schools of American medicine. Seek out the medical advisors that have gone above the medical school curriculum and learned the benefits of plant-based nutrition over pills, surgeries, and eating animals. This is not the primary focus in traditional medical schools, so you have to be as proactive with your health as you are with other areas of your life to seek the doctors that have this knowledge.

Vitamin B12 intake should be a small part of your daily decisions. Focus on being a healthy plant eater with lots of water, raw foods, whole plant-based foods, nuts, seeds, grains, fruits, and vegetables. And get outside and exercise in nature for at least 30 minutes a day to help your body operate in its most optimal state.

—Jasmine Simon and Marjorie Simon-Meinefeld

Sources for this article:

BPA Substitute May Be Toxic to the Human Brain

BPA-free labels may indicate the presence of BPS. Ask the manufacturer if you're unsure
BPA-free labels may indicate the presence of BPS. Ask the manufacturer if you’re unsure

Bisphenol-A (BPA) gained notoriety in the 1990s as scientists studies began to draw lines between its use in many types of consumer plastics and hormone disruption, which can lead to problems with brain and nervous system development, obesity, and cancer. Today, manufacturers often turn to bisphenol-S (BPS) as a substitute that’s intended to be less toxic. However, researchers at the University of Calgary have found that BPS may also be toxic to the human brain.

In a study published in January in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Calgary research scientist Dr. Deborah Kurrasch and her team found evidence that BPS “caused alterations in brain development leading to hyperactivity in zebrafish.”

“I was actually very surprised at our results. This was a very, very, very low dose, so I didn’t think using a dose this low could have any effect,” said Kurrasch in a press statement.

Kurrasch and her team exposed zebrafish embryos to the low levels of BPS found in Alberta’s Bow and Oldman Rivers.

“In the second trimester, brain cells become the specialized neurons that make up our brain. What we show is that the zebrafish exposed to BPA or BPS were getting twice as many neurons born too soon and about half as many neurons born later, so that will lead to problems in how the neurons connect and form circuits,” said Kurrasch.

Although Kurrasch and her team say that more research is needed to prove the link between BPA and BPS exposure and brain damage in humans, they advise pregnant women to limit exposure to BPA and BPS. These bisphenols can be found in #7 plastics, coatings on receipt paper, and food-can and beverage bottle linings, among other places. If an item says “BPA-free,” the researchers recommend contacting the manufacturer to ask if the item contains BPS.
Meanwhile, Green America is monitoring legislative developments to see if a bill worth supporting—one that offers meaningful protections against BPS and other toxic chemicals in consumer products—is introduced in 2015.

The Chemical Safety Improvement Act, introduced in 2014 by Senator David Vitter (R-LA) and the late Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), failed to provide the measures needed to safeguard human and environmental. Fran Teplitz, Green America’s co-executive and policy director, says that while the weak and outdated 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) desperately needs to be replaced, its replacement must be effective.

“Our eyes are on the Senate to see what progress may be possible this year to protect people and the planet from toxic chemicals,” she says. “We hope this is the year we see strong legislation that will protect our most vulnerable communities, allow states to pass their own strong laws on toxic chemicals, empower the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate chemicals as needed, as well as promote the further development of green chemistry. With troubling new research findings, like those on BPS, it is clear that toxic chemical reform must be a national priority.”

Stay informed about Green America’s work on safer chemical policy by subscribing to our e-mail newsletter.

The Poor Have It Easy? Really.

Photo from Occupy Atlanta
Photo from Occupy Atlanta

I just read an important editorial by New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow, in which he dissects a January survey from the Pew Research Center, showing how it explodes the myth of the so-called “welfare queens,” a term popularized by President Ronald Reagan to describe people, usually women, who gamed the welfare system to receive undeserved government benefits.

The survey found that this view hasn’t changed much since the Reagan era: 54 percent of the wealthiest Americans believe “poor people today have it easy because they can get government benefits without doing anything in return.”

In his op-ed, Blow doles out statistic after statistic showing that nothing could be further from the truth.

As Blow states, “‘Easy’ is a word not easily spoken among the poor. Things are hard—the times are hard, the work is hard, the way is hard. ‘Easy’ is for uninformed explanations issued by the willfully callous and the haughtily blind.

He cites a Bureau of Labor Statistics paper stating that 11 million Americans work but don’t earn enough to lift themselves out of poverty. Compounding that, he notes, the poor end up paying more in income taxes than the rich and middle class, and they spend over 40 percent of their income on transportation. Even worse, the poor are “unbanked”—the key reason Green America campaigns for breaking up with mega-banks and moving to community development banks or credit unions.

Blow quotes the St. Louis Federal Reserve to illustrate just how serious it is to be underserved by banks and credit unions: “Unbanked consumers spend approximately 2.5 to 3 percent of a government benefits check and between 4 percent and 5 percent of a payroll check just to cash them. Additional dollars are spent to purchase money orders to pay routine monthly expenses. When you consider the cost for cashing a bi-weekly payroll check and buying about six money orders each month, a household with a net income of $20,000 may pay as much as $1,200 annually for alternative service fees—substantially more than the expense of a monthly checking account.”

It’s powerful stuff. Add to that the fact that the poor are more often victimized by predatory lending schemes and denied credit and loans for mortgages or education—as Green America illustrated in the “Break Up With Your Mega-Bank” issue of our Green American magazine—and you have a lot of struggling people trying to climb out of poverty with far too many unjust burdens holding them down.

This is why it’s so vital to break up with your mega-bank and support a community development bank or credit union, which make it a key part of their mission to provide banking services and fair and affordable loans to low- and middle-income borrowers,  in addition to the educational support they need to succeed.

Visit our website, breakupwithyourmegabank.org, to find out today how you can move your accounts and credit cards to responsible banks that lift up communities that have so much stacked against them.

Honoring Dr. Theo Colborn

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Dr. Theo Colborn

Today, Green America honors the life of Dr. Theo Colborn, who passed away on December 14th.  Many of us working for environmental sustainability and social justice aim to change the world, but Dr. Colborn did just that through her groundbreaking efforts to recognize and pinpoint the effects of endocrine-disrupting chemicals.

Her seminal book, Our Stolen Future (co-authored with Dianne Dumanowski and John Peterson), earned her countless descriptors as “the Rachel Carson of the 1990s,” as both it and Carson’s Silent Spring sounded urgent alarms about the harm that the proliferation of untested or minimally tested synthetic chemicals are doing to the Earth and to animal and human health.

Colborn’s work detailed how endocrine-disrupting chemicals found in everyday products like plastics and body care items can, even in low doses, impact human development and cause biological, metabolic, and neurological abnormalities—ranging from birth defects to low IQ to low sperm counts and cancer. These chemicals, she wrote, have the ability to mimic natural hormones in the body, thereby “[fooling] the tissues that respond to natural hormones, causing irreversible changes in structure and function.”

It’s thanks to Dr. Colborn that the world has a language for these types of chemicals and the effects they have—and with that language comes the ability to pinpoint problematic chemicals and prevent more harm. Thanks to her, countless people have switched to food containers that are manufactured without bisphenol-A (BPA), or baby bottles and toys made without phthalates, two of the most studied endocrine disruptors.

Most recently, Dr. Colborn had been working on demonstrating how one of the biggest threats posed by the fossil-fuel industry, in addition to the climate crisis, is the number of endocrine disrupting chemicals the industry produces—particularly benzene and toluene.

What’s even more remarkable about Dr. Colborn is that her scientific career came about in the “second act” of her life.

“Rachel Carson’s The Sense of Wonder describes so well the innate curiosity I have always had about natural things,” Colborn told Terrain magazine in 2014. “I always asked lots of questions, and nobody ever had the answers.”

So Colborn, a pharmacist through the 1970s, went back to school in 1985 to tackle questions she’d long had about the harm humans were doing to the environment. She earned her Ph.D. in zoology (with minors in epidemiology, toxicology, and water chemistry) from the University of Wisconsin—Madison. And then she dedicated the rest of her life finding answers for the rest of us.

Her work has been instrumental in forming Green America’s approach to toxins in everyday products. We embrace the Precautionary Principle, making it a policy to always advise our members to err on the side of caution when it comes to potential toxins in their body care, food, furniture, and other products. And we screen the companies that belong to our Green Business Network™ (GBN) with precaution in mind—and with an eye to ensuring that suspected hormone disruptors are not included in GBN-member products.

We at Green America thank Dr. Colborn for asking questions that are so vital to the continued existence of humans on this planet. And we support the scientists who continue her important work to find the answers.

Green Holiday Gifts for Kids

Celebrating greener holidays can mean reducing the number of gifts you give, choosing instead to focus on relationships and the spiritual meaning attached to the holiday season. Still, many find great joy in sharing gifts with the children in their lives. Fortunately, there are many wonderful gift ideas guaranteed to bring a smile to a child’s face while supporting the giver’s commitment to a just and sustainable future at the same time. The following gift ideas are all from companies that are green, family-owned, or fair trade—or even all three!

(Live links to each of these toys are available underneath the slideshow. Use the pause and arrow buttons at the bottom of the slideshow to view at your own pace.)

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Find each of the toys in the slideshow at these links:

YOXO Dragonfly Construction Kit at Peapods Natural Toys and Baby Care

Tree Owl Shadowbox at Baby Eco-Trends

Maple Landmark’s Made by Me Truck

Dhana EcoKids’ fair trade Hope Scarf

Explorers game at Naturally Playful

Bamboosa’s Hooded Bath Towel

Artterro’s Bubble Wand Kit

Mayan fair trade doll clothing from Terra Experience

Children’s Earth Paint Kit from Natural Earth Paint

Labyrinth Wooden Balance Board from Bella Luna Toys

Mini Djembe Drum from Taraluna

Earth and Sky Playsilk from Down to Earth Toys

Global Green Pals dolls

Olive & Pickles Crinkle Bunny Ears Teether Toy from Wild Dill

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DON’T HAVE A COW: The 10-Day Local Food Challenge

My oldest daughter a few years ago at what she calls "the Pumpkin Cart of Honesty," in which a neighbor grows pumpkins and simply sets them out on a cart with a cash box and trusts that people will pay for what they take.
My oldest daughter a few years ago at what she calls “the Pumpkin Cart of Honesty,” in which a neighbor grows pumpkins and simply sets them out on a cart with a cash box and trusts that people will pay for what they take.

We now officially come to the end of our “Don’t Have a Cow” blog series. Since many of the posts have been focusing on vegetarian or vegan eating, I’m going to take a different tack….

As part of my quest to eat healthier with my family, I’ve been spending a lot of time getting to know what my local options are. I telecommute for Green America from the Midwest, and it’s pretty easy to find fresh, local food here at harvest-time among all the family farms.

But could I eat three meals a day from local sources for ten days, with only a handful of non-local foods allowed (like, oh, chocolate?)?

That’s the question behind Vicki Robin’s new 10-day Local Food Challenge. Vicki recently published a wonderful book, Blessing the Hands that Feed Us: What Eating Closer to Home Can Teach Us About Food, Community, and Our Place on Earth, which was all about what she learned by eating food for a full month that came from no further than ten miles from her home.

The challenge she’s issuing now is less stringent: You pick any ten days in October and eat only food that has come from within 100 miles or less of your home.  And you can pick ten “exotics”, or foods from afar—like coffee, chocolate, or olive oil—“to make it doable.”

The results, says Vicki, can be a life-changing exercise in connecting to your food and community. “Why do it at all? For fun, for curiosity, for integrity, for health, for the love of farmers and community, for making friends, for encouraging others to eat local food, for building an alternative to food-as-usual, for taking a stand for the food system we-the-eaters want: fresh, fair, affordable food for all,” she says.

I’d like to try it. Because the local food producers that I’ve connected with are all sources of some of the best and healthiest food I’ve ever eaten, and dedicating ten days to being mindful about finding more can only make my life richer.

There’s Jeff, the apple farmer who smiled indulgently when I asked him for a bag of Honeycrisps and then promptly sliced up some of his close-to-organic heirloom apples for me to try. I dream of those apples all year long and am overjoyed that he just opened up his orchard store again for the season.

Mrs. D. operates a small dairy ten miles away where she sells fresh milk, butter, and every flavor of ice cream we could ever want.

Alice makes homemade bread with all sorts of wonderful flavors and sells it at the local farmers market.

Bill sells organically farmed, truly free-range chicken at the same market for when my family does eat meat, which is less and less often since my animal-loving daughters prefer to eat plant-based meals—as long as their father or I don’t mess them up in the kitchen.

Lindsey and Joe operate an award-winning winery within walking distance from my house, and I’ve fallen in love with several of their sweet reds—and with the musical nights and other fun community events they throw at the winery.

I just bought a jar of the crunchiest dill pickles I’ve ever eaten at an art fair from a woman my mother’s age who cans four different types, and I’m vacationing on Lake Michigan soon, where I’ll pick up some herb-infused olive oil made only in Wisconsin.

Round it all out with mint tea and stevia syrup from my herb garden, which I swap with a friend for fresh zucchini and tomatoes (the deer got all of ours this year).

But I know I’ve only hit the proverbial tip of the iceberg when it comes to seeking out local food treasures. I can’t wait to discover more.

As Vicki says, “If we want a GMO-antibiotic-cruelty-free, nontoxic, fair to farmers and nutritious food supply, the 10-Day Local Food Challenge gives us firsthand experience of what we stand for. We know we are participating in building the world we want, bite by bite, even as we protest and boycott the food system we don’t want.”

To learn more about and join the 10-Day Local Food Challenge, visit localfoodchallenge.org. And don’t forget to ask your local growers if they farm organic or close to it, so you can avoid pesticide residues and genetically modified organisms for your health.

—Tracy Fernandez Rysavy, editor-in-chief