Posts tagged ‘Contamination’

The Aftermath Of The Oil Spill In The Gulf Of Mexico

“Fire boat response crews battle the blazing remnants of the offshore oil rig Deepwater Horizon, off Louisiana, in this handout photograph taken on April 21, 2010. REUTERS/U.S. Coast Guard/Handout” Fire boat response crews battle the blazing remnants of the offshore oil rig Deepwater …

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    Oil gushes from BP’s ruptured well in the Gulf of Mexico, in this file still image …

    • A hard hat from an oil worker lies in oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on East Grand Terre Island, Louisiana, in this June 8, 2010 file photo. REUTERS/Lee Celano/FilesEnlarge Photo

      A hard hat from an oil worker lies in oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on …

    • Oil-covered pelicans sit in a pen waiting to be cleaned at a rescue center facility set up by the International Bird Rescue Research Center in Fort Jackson, Louisiana, in this June 7, 2010 file photo. REUTERS/Sean Gardner/FilesEnlarge Photo

      Oil-covered pelicans sit in a pen waiting to be cleaned at a rescue center facility …

    VENICE, Louisiana (Reuters) – The phone at Joan Strohmeyer’s fishing lodge has been ringing steadily since 2010, but not many of the calls are from customers who want to go fishing. Mainly, they are from lawyers who want her to sue British oil company BP Plc.

                  The tidy, 62-room Lighthouse Lodge is perched near the Gulf of Mexico on Highway 23, in the marshlands between Breton Sound to the east and Bataria Bay to the west, an easy jumping off point for what used to be some of America’s most prized commercial and sport fishing waters.

                  That was before an explosion on April 20, 2010, on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, which killed 11 workers and spewed oil for 87 straight days. It soaked hundreds of miles of Gulf Coast shoreline in caramel-colored oil and sent Strohmeyer’s clients fleeing to less troubled waters.

                  Now, Strohmeyer faces a dilemma. She can sign onto a $7.8 billion settlement struck between BP and lawyers representing people who, like her, have lost money because of the worst oil spill in U.S. history. Or she can take her chances and try to strike a better deal on her own.

                  All along the Gulf Coast, in a tight-knit community that stakes its reputation on the size of the catch, business owners are wrestling with questions of compensation. Some have accepted a settlement and wonder whether they should have held out for more. Some are angling for an offer. And some, like Strohmeyer, are still pondering their options.

                  At 80 years old, she has already been through one disaster — Hurricane Katrina flattened her lodge in 2005, forcing her to rebuild it.

                  She said she has avoided filing a claim so far in part because her lodge got a boost in the weeks after the spill, when cleanup workers filled the guest rooms and slept on the couches in the lobby.

                  “I’ve never sued anybody in my life,” she said. “I hate to start now.”

                  But, since the beginning of the spill, even before she lost any money, lawyers have been urging her to file a claim.

                  “Even before the cleanup workers started coming, hell, I had lawyers from Houston calling me,” Strohmeyer said. “I have been told that I really ought to file a claim, and I’m looking at it.”

                  NOT “CHUMP CHANGE”

                  Down the road, in Venice, Louisiana, Raymond Schmitt wonders if he got short-changed.

                  Schmitt is co-owner of Saltgrass Lodge, a three-story, eight-room, antebellum-style lodge. He and his partners settled last year with the Gulf Coast Claims Facility, a $20 billion trust set aside by BP in the weeks following the spill and overseen by Washington lawyer Kenneth Feinberg.

                  “My partners wanted to settle, and so we did,” said Schmitt, a longtime charter fishing boat captain. “I don’t know if we settled for enough or not.”

                  Schmitt declined to disclose the amount of the payment, and said it covered roughly two years of lost revenue. “It was not a great amount of money but it wasn’t chump change either,” he said.

                  Feinberg’s fund paid out $6.1 billion on about 225,000 claims, an average of about $27,000 per claim.

                  Schmitt summed up the dilemma he faced like this: “Do we take this now and survive the next two years and try to keep going, or do we try to fight ‘em and go bankrupt in the meantime?”

                  Schmitt and his partners filed their claim without the help of a lawyer, to avoid potential fees. “We felt if we did get an attorney and had to fight them, it would take a year and we’d probably end up with the same amount after the lawyers got everything else,” he said.

                  Pressure to keep the business afloat helped the partners make up their minds. “We took the money and we’ve got our fingers crossed,” said Schmitt, who has been spending heavily on advertising to draw bookings for the spring fishing season.

                  A LOT OF TALKING

                  In Boothville, just north of Venice, Brooke Andry is still waiting for a deal, as her business sags.

                  “When the fishing industry bottoms out, the lodging business is gone,” said Andry, who owns the Kingfish Lodges and Venice Palms Lodge. Andry said she filed claims with Feinberg, but has seen no action.

                  “I think Feinberg and his group did a lot of talking and not a lot of action,” Andry said. When she met with Feinberg’s representatives, she was required to bring extensive documentation of her losses, but Feinberg’s team was never prepared. “They’d just put us off and say ‘We’ll see you in another 30 days,'” she said.

                  A spokeswoman for Feinberg declined to comment for this story. “I believe the GCCF has successfully fulfilled its mandate,” Feinberg said in a statement on March 2.

                  Andry said she will decide whether to sign onto the $7.8 billion settlement with BP after looking over the details with her brother, an attorney who has advised her so far. She said she hasn’t decided whether to resubmit her claim or pursue a lawsuit on her own.

                  “People come from all over the world to come fishing,” Andry said. “But if they’re only going to catch two fish instead of ten, they figure they might as well go to Destin,” a beach resort in Florida.

                  For now, Andry is stuck in limbo between the old claims processing regime run by Feinberg and a new one to be established under the settlement between BP and plaintiffs’ lawyers, which won’t be operational for several weeks.

                  The new claims facility, which still must be approved by U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier in New Orleans, will offer settlements to business owners who lost profits from the spill, as well as home owners and individuals, based on set formulas for lost revenues.

                  BP estimated the total cost of settling with plaintiffs at $7.8 billion, but the amount could rise and is not subject to a cap, plaintiffs’ lawyers say. BP and the plaintiffs’ group have declined to estimate the number of potential claimants.

                  Both the old and the new claims methods have their detractors. Feinberg has been criticized for slow-walking the claims process and applying over-rigid terms that excluded some legitimate claims.

                  Critics of the new fund, primarily lawyers who represented clients before Feinberg’s fund, warn that it could allow lawyers representing clients who haven’t settled yet to collect exorbitant fees.

                  Houston lawyer Tony Buzbee, one such lawyer, said big fees to the plaintiffs’ group, called the Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee, could eat up funds that should go to individuals and businesses.

                  For plaintiff lawyers, potential fees are enticing. If the settlement is worth $7.8 billion, as BP claims, that could yield $468 million in legal fees, calculated at 6 percent.

                  BP declined to comment on the claims process for this story.

                  DOING WITHOUT

                  Robert Wiygul, an attorney in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, who represents about 1,000 clients who had been seeking payment from Feinberg’s GCCF, said he was optimistic that the new settlement process would resolve his clients’ concerns.

                  “The amount that’s available looks like it’s going to be something that’s going to protect people adequately from the future risks of this oil spill,” said Wiygul, an environmental attorney who represents a wide range of clients from shrimpers and crabbers to other business owners.

                  Another option for victims is also on the table: opting out of the settlement and suing BP directly.

                  Opting out could yield the highest potential payout, because it could include punitive damages if Barbier rules in a coming trial that there was gross negligence on the part of BP or its well partners, said Blaine License, a law professor at Loyola University in New Orleans. BP vigorously contests any claim to gross negligence.

                  License said plaintiffs who sign onto the settlement could leave billions of dollars on the table in potential future punitive damages. Those who opt out “will have extraordinary leverage in negotiating a very generous settlement that will include anticipated punitive damages,” he said.

                  For the plaintiffs, the choice is uncertain: Accept a quick payment now, or opt out of the settlement and hope for a better deal in the future.

                  But for some, time and money are running short. At the Lighthouse Lodge, Strohmeyer said she had to give employees a raise to keep them from being lured away by shoreline cleanup contractors. She’s losing money, she said.

                  “I’ve been doing without for some time now,” she said.

                  Meanwhile, the lawyers keep calling.

                  (Writing by Chris Baltimore; Editing by Amy Stevens and Ed Tobin)


    Farm Bill 2012: Time For An Overhaul With Innovative Farming Systems



    It’s time to overhaul the Farm Bill.

    That’s the message conveyed in a recent policy paper featured in “Science” magazine. The authors of the paper, entitled “Transforming U.S. Agriculture,” argue that although U.S. farms have significantly increased their production yields in recent years, the environment and public health has been sacrificed.

    In an interview with The Huffington Post, the lead author, Washington State University professor John Reganold said, “If mainstream, conventional farming systems were sustainable, then we would not have overdrawn aquifers, eroded and degraded soils and polluted surface and ground waters.”

    “We also have concerns with farm labor working conditions and animal welfare,” Reganold added.

    With those concerns in mind, some farms have striven to innovate, cultivating practices such as organic farming, conservation agriculture and grass-fed and other alternative livestock production. Some of these practices aren’t abstract or new, of course, none are yet widespread.

    While a 2010 report by the U.S. National Research Council proposes both incremental and transformative methods to improve agriculture sustainability, the “Science” piece argues that ambitious approaches and systemic changes must be the primary focus, not just crop rotations and reduced tillage.

    The most pressing change must be achieved on the policy level. That change can be found in the 2012 Farm Bill, the federal government’s primary agricultural and food policy tool.

    “Most elements of the Farm Bill were not designed to promote sustainability,” the “Science” report read. Subsidies have made our food system too dependent on a few grain crops, such as corn and soybeans, which are ultimately used for over-processed food and animal feed. Such an industrial food system damages the environment, and it also damages human health.

    Or, as Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine’s Elizabeth Kucinich described in her HuffPost blog, “The beneficiaries of agricultural subsidies laid out in this legislation are the corporations that convert crops like corn into corn syrup and soy into feed for the cows and pigs who end up in a McDonald’s wrapper.”

    Reganold and his co-authors suggest the Farm Bill be altered with a reduction in spending on subsidy programs that hide the risks associated with conventional production systems. In other words, we need to stop paying people to damage our land and our health.

    Instead, the report’s authors suggest the funds go to farming systems that embrace sustainability by protecting the environment, farmers and communities while still providing abundant and affordable food.

    Mark Bittman voiced similar sentiments in the New York Times, arguing, “What subsidies need is not the ax, but reform that moves them forward. Imagine support designed to encourage a resurgence of small- and medium-size farms producing not corn syrup and animal-feed but food we can touch, see, buy and eat – like apples and carrots – while diminishing handouts to agribusiness and its political cronies.”

    The next Farm Bill is designated for 2012. “They’re working on it right now,” Reaganold warned. “It may be in place this time next year. There’s a lot of lobbyists that influence that bill, so if people can contact their senate and congressional leaders, I would recommend it.”

    Reganold clarified that parts of the Farm Bill are fine, but other aspects, specifically the crop subsidies, need restructuring. “We want that money reallocated to encourage innovative farming systems,” he added, “and to encourage sustainability brand products in the marketplace.”

    “Now is the time … Once we get to early 2012, it might be too late,” he said. “The decision will be already made. So this is the year. This year is the time for people to contact their representatives.”

    Not everyone believes transformative solutions can or should be achieved. Agriculture giant Cargill, Inc. emailed The Huffington Post stating that global food security “is a central challenge of our times, and conventional agriculture has to be part of the answer.” A portion of their statement read:

    We recognize there are different approaches and merits to conventional and organic agriculture. However, taking organic to the scale of commercial would require three times the amount of land to feed our rapidly growing world population, which would create its own set of environmental consequences.

    The Alliance for Food and Farming, a non-profit organization deemed by some independent media and environmental groups to be an “industry front group,” wrote in an e-mail to The Huffington Post:

    In our experience, these farmers– both those who farm conventional and organically-grown products–generally do practice sustainable farming methods. One of the problems with the word “sustainable” is there are many definitions which go beyond “certified organic” farming.

    After detailing ways their farmers engage in positive practices, the organization’s statement concluded, “All of these are tenets of sustainable farming and it is a shame that conventional farmers are not being recognized for their significant efforts in this arena.”

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    Reganold acknowledges that the biggest critics of the report will be supporters of conventional agriculture, some from the corporate agri-business and big farms. But, as Reganold explained, “It’s not that big farms are bad. Big farms can be good. We have some innovative large farms. But most large mainstream farms are mainly conventional, and those farms could be more sustainable.”

    Consumers, too, can affect change, most notably by changing their shopping habits. Markets already notice a shift in demand, as more people look for food that considers animal welfare, worker safety and local and organic practices.

    “People can vote with their dollars,” Reaganold added. “And they can eat a lot better. They can eat whole grain foods and more vegetables, basically a more plant-based diet that puts less of a strain on our agricultural system.”

    “You can make a difference,” he said. “You have an impact.”








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    Join The Protest Of Monsantos By The Organic Consumer Association On January 24, 2012

    It is inevitable that one day Monsanto will be held responsible for the enormous human health and environmental damages arising from the so-called “responsible” use of its toxic pesticides, chemicals, and mutant genetically engineered seeds. If the Biotech Bully of St. Louis were to be held liable for its 100-year legacy of corporate criminality – carcinogenic chemical food sweeteners, Agent Orange, dioxin, Bovine Growth Hormone, poisonous herbicides, seed monopolization, and genetically engineered crops, the company’s shareholders would no doubt see the value of their Monsanto stocks plummet to zero.

    Following up on two protests at Monsanto’s headquarters in 2011, OCA returns to St. Louis for the 2012 Monsanto shareholders’ meeting on January 24!

    Please join OCA, Pesticide Action Network, and Harrington Investments (a socially responsible investor’s group) in St. Louis to support a shareholder resolution to examine the financial risks associated with genetically engineered crops. While an OCA representative is speaking inside the shareholders meeting, another group of us will be outside, peacefully picketing.

    Come to St. Louis to Make Monsanto Pay! Contact Mike Durschmid (mikedvegan AT to join in, or RSVP on Facebook and share with your friends.

    And this just in: Activists in Maui, Hawaii, in solidarity with our St. Louis action, will be peacefully protesting outside Monsanto’s Hawaii HQ location on 3555 Mokulele Hwy on the same day. For more information or to RSVP, visit the Facebook event here.

    Learn more




    The California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act

    We are on the road to victory in California with coalition members, strategic allies, and key donors increasing their support all the time. We now have over 50 environmental, alternative health, and sustainable food organizations and businesses advocating for our cause. But, most importantly, we have over 1,500 dedicated CA volunteers trained and ready to hit the streets when signature gathering begins in February. You can go here to volunteer by gathering petition signatures in California.

    This November 2012 California Ballot Initiative, which will require foods sold in California retail outlets to be labeled as such, may be the most important GMO battle of all time. A win in California will mean radical changes to food labels everywhere. Producers will either have to change the way they market Frankenfoods or else stop using GMOs altogether. We think we can reverse the biotech strangle-hold on our food system in our lifetimes.

    You don’t have to live in California to donate to this historic ballot initiative.

    Consumers everywhere have a right to know what’s in the food we buy and eat and feed our children, just as we have the right to know how many calories are in the food we buy, or whether food comes from other countries like Mexico or China. In the past, we’ve successfully fought for labels telling us the country of origin of products, as well as whether foods have been irradiated. Now it’s time to stand up for our right to know which foods are laced with GMOs.

    Efforts to enact labeling laws in Congress and in other state legislatures have been blocked by big food and chemical company lobbyists. The California Ballot Initiative will take the issue directly to the people. For more information about the initiative visit California Right To Know and the Organic Consumers Fund.




    Support the OCA and the OCF

    The nationwide food fight for safe food, consumer freedom of choice, and sustainability is escalating.

    In 2012, whether we’re talking about getting antibiotics out of animal feed, labeling GMOs, or passing a climate and organic-friendly Farm Bill, OCA is fighting harder than ever. With the 2012 California ballot initiative, and GMO labeling legislation gaining momentum in Vermont, Washington, Connecticut and other states, we have a real chance to hit Monsanto with the skull and crossbones they fear so much – mandatory labels on genetically engineered food. We also plan to step up our efforts to strengthen organic standards and significantly expand the market for organic food and products, especially those produced locally and regionally.

    Please be as generous as you can during our January and February fundraising drive.

    Donate to the Organic Consumers Association

    Donate to the Organic Consumers Fund
    (non-tax-deductible, but necessary for our efforts in California)




    Millions Against Monsanto Campaign Update

    Sunday, October 16, 2011 was the biggest day of action for mandatory labels on genetically engineered food in U.S. history. Several hundred Millions Against Monsanto World Food Day events took place around the country.

    In September 2012, building on the success of World Food Day 2011, OCA member activists are going to take even bigger action! This year, we are planning a nationwide Week of Action on September 17 – 20th to demonstrate against the Monsanto-sponsored 12th International Symposium on Biosafety of Genetically Modified Organisms also in St Louis, MO. We want to organize actions at the hundreds of Monsanto locations in the US and around the world in concert with a large demonstration in St. Louis.

    OCA members have been diligently collecting signatures for our Truth-in-Labeling petition across the country for months now. New petitions are coming in almost daily and being added to our online system, but we need even more volunteers to help us gather signatures through 2012. In addition to the action in St. Louis, activists in each state will also hand deliver all of the petitions we’ve gathered to their state legislators, demanding mandatory labels for genetically engineered food and demonstrating that we truly are the Millions Against Monsanto.

    What can you do to help this historic campaign? Download a PDF version of our petition. Take this petition to your workplace, your local co-op, house parties, farmers’ markets and wherever you can find people who demand the right to know what’s in our food.

    More info on the September 2012 Week of Action will be forthcoming. Stay tuned for more details.




    Baby Food Update

    Many of you took action on our alert “Tell Organic Baby Food Brands to Stop Using GMOs!” and received a misleading letter from Happy Bellies in response, denying that HAPPYBELLIES’ baby cereals contain GMOs and claiming that the DHA they use has been approved by the National Organic Standards Board.

    While the NOSB did approve a generic form of DHA, this is not the DHA used in HAPPYBELLIES’ baby foods. This leaves HAPPYBELLIES in conflict with the national organic standards. We have been assured that this issue is under investigation by the National Organic Program, but we must keep the pressure on!

    Click here to learn why OCA believes HAPPYBELLIES’ DHA is GMO




    Little Bytes: Top Stories of the Week

    Occupy Wall Street: Why Now? What’s Next?

    Scientists Link Mass Death of British Bees to Farm Pesticides

    Why the FDA Won’t Act Against Agricultural Antibiotic Use

    Dental Patients Beware: FDA Lets Dental Mercury Amalgam Action Deadline Pass Unmet

    Dr. Don Huber: Monsanto’s Roundup Ready Herbicide is More Toxic than DDT




    Sponsored Message


    Special rates for OCA members on a green Costa Rica vacation March 17-24: 8 days and 7 nights for $999.00!

    Beatrice Blake, guidebook author and community ecotourism expert, has designed a special itinerary for OCA members that visits sustainable coffee farms near Palmichal de Acosta and organic farms in Altamira at the entrance to La Amistad International Park. These community-owned farms are members of ACTUAR, the Costa Rican Rural Tourism Association, which just won the Responsible Tourism Award at the Educational Travel Conference.

    Between village and farm experiences, you’ll hike in the cloud forest to see the Resplendent Quetzal. You’ll end the trip with a couple of days relaxing and exploring the beaches near Villas Gaia on the Pacific Coast.

    You will be accompanied by an experienced bilingual naturalist, who can help you exchange ideas with the people you visit and see birds and wildlife that you wouldn’t see on your own. Write beatrice AT to sign up.