The food and ag sector’s inequality pandemic

March 19, 2021 by  
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The food and ag sector’s inequality pandemic Jim Giles Fri, 03/19/2021 – 01:15 As we passed the one-year anniversary of lockdown in the United States, I planned to write about how the pandemic has affected sustainability in food and ag. But I kept thinking of the number of people felled by the virus — 536,000 people in the U.S. to date — and asking myself different questions: Why didn’t companies and regulators in these sectors do more to protect workers? Or at least compensate employees for the risks they took on? Perhaps the most shameful shortcomings came in the meatpacking industry. Investigative reporting by the New Yorker , the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting and others revealed numerous examples of companies failing to implement social distancing and detering unwell workers from taking time off. It’s hard to be precise about the impact of these failures, but they surely play some role in the alarmingly high rates of COVID the U.S. Department of Agriculture found in counties dependent on meatpacking jobs:   Another administration might have intervened. Instead, President Donald Trump issued an executive order in April that he claimed required meatpacking plants to stay open. ( The order did not do that , but it was effective PR anyway.) Company executives and the former president faced a choice: safeguard workers and their communities, or ensure a steady supply of chicken nuggets. They chose the nuggets. Grocery workers also found themselves on the frontline. One study, conducted at a Boston store in May, revealed the infection rate in workers to be around 20 times higher than in the local community . Early in the pandemic, it seemed these risks would be acknowledged. Billboards lauded the contribution of retail workers. Some firms awarded them “hero pay” bonuses. Grocery retailers certainly could afford to raise wages, because the closure of restaurants led to a jump in revenues. The pandemic and the profits persisted; hero pay did not. A November study from the Brookings Institution found that despite what the authors describe as “eye-popping” corporate earnings in the retail sector, the average worker at large U.S. stores had gone 133 days without receiving any hero pay .  Workers on farms were, like retailer employees, initially declared to be “essential” — only to have that status watered down. In October, a study found that one in five farmworkers in Salinas Valley, California, tested positive for COVID antibodies. Because of such high infection rates, federal vaccine guidelines state that agricultural and food retail workers should be among those second in line for vaccines, behind healthcare workers and residents of long-term healthcare facilities. But it’s up to the states to implement these guidelines. Several, including Iowa, Massachusetts and New York, have pushed either grocery or farms workers farther back in line.  All these groups — the lettuce pickers and the folks on the chicken disassembly lines and the crews in supermarket warehouses — have long suffered from another kind of pandemic: inequality. Workers in these jobs are typically poorly paid and more likely to be undocumented. They are disproportionately people of color. When it comes to coronavirus, these factors are effectively preexisting conditions. In California, for instance, excess mortality among food and agriculture workers jumped by 39 percent during 2020 , more than in any other occupation. For Latinx agricultural workers, the increase was 59 percent; for Black retail workers, 36 percent; for white workers in food and ag, 16 percent. At this point, it might feel like I’ve strayed into a problem far beyond the control of readers of this newsletter. It’s reasonable to expect food and ag companies to keep workers safe. But if economic and racial inequity are the root causes here, isn’t this a job for governments? The answer is only yes if you insist on the narrowest, profit-focused definition of what companies exist to do. Plenty of companies take a broader view by including metrics related to inequity in their definition of success. Unilever, one of the world’s largest food companies, publishes human rights data about its operations, which it uses to benchmark progress toward a commitment to paying all suppliers a living wage. The company is also committed to spending $2 billion annually with suppliers owned and managed by under-represented groups. Too many food and ag companies failed their workers during the pandemic. If your company could have done more, take a look at Unilever’s strategy. Ask your executives or board how they can implement something similar. The results would be spectacular. If Unilever hits its target, that one company alone will ensure that more than a quarter of a million people in its supply chain, many in developing nations, will receive a living wage. When a pandemic or other disaster next strikes, every one of those people will be better able to protect their families.  For more great analysis of sustainable food systems sign up for Food Weekly , our free email newsletter. Topics Human Rights COVID-19 Social Justice Food Systems Featured Column Foodstuff Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off An international team of farm workers wearing medical face masks harvesting zucchini. Image by Shutterstock/Iakov Filimonov

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The food and ag sector’s inequality pandemic

World gets F on Aichi biodiversity report card

September 18, 2020 by  
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In 2010, representatives from 194 countries met in Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture, Japan, and agreed on 20 biodiversity targets to reach in the next decade. Ten years later, the signatories have fallen far short. A new UN report details progress made on what are called the Aichi biodiversity targets. Overall, zero of the targets have been completely fulfilled. The 20 targets are further broken down into 60 elements. Of these, seven have been achieved. Thirty-eight show progress. As the U.S. in 2020 is faced with record-setting wildfires in the west and an unprecedented hurricane season in the southeast and the entire world reels from a pandemic and a year of heightened racial tension, the targets seem heartbreakingly idealistic. For example, “By 2020, ecosystems that provide essential services, including services related to water, and contribute to health, livelihoods and well-being, are restored and safeguarded, taking into account the needs of women, Indigenous and local communities, and the poor and vulnerable.” If only. Nor have we managed “ By 2020, ecosystem resilience and the contribution of biodiversity to carbon stocks has been enhanced, through conservation and restoration, including restoration of at least 15 per cent of degraded ecosystems, thereby contributing to climate change mitigation and adaptation and to combating desertification.” Related: Naturalis Biodiversity Center reopens with a sustainable, future-proof renovation Progress looks modest when faced with the 20 ambitious targets. Global deforestation rates have decreased by about one-third, but they remain high. Some regions have curbed overfishing, but overall things are worse for marine creatures. Perhaps our best accomplishment is saving 48 species from extinction. “Earth’s living systems as a whole are being compromised,” said Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, the UN’s head of biodiversity, as reported on Earth.org . “And the more humanity exploits nature in unsustainable ways and undermines its contributions to people, the more we undermine our own wellbeing, security and prosperity.” Members of the Convention on Biological Diversity are currently working on targets for the 2020s. This decade’s agenda has been delayed by COVID-19, but members expect to finalize goals in May 2021. One target under negotiation: a proposal to protect 30% of Earth. + Global Biodiversity Outlook 5 Via Earth.org Image via Wendy Cover/NOAA

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World gets F on Aichi biodiversity report card

International Day of Clean Air for Blue Skies

September 7, 2020 by  
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The biggest problem with fossil fuels is their contribution to … The post International Day of Clean Air for Blue Skies appeared first on Earth 911.

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International Day of Clean Air for Blue Skies

Scientists reveal the carbon footprint of your sandwich

January 29, 2018 by  
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Researchers at the University of Manchester have the distinguished honor of having conducted the first-ever study of the carbon footprint of sandwiches. The research team analyzed the emissions impact of 40 different kinds of sandwiches, taking into account the entire life-cycle of everyone’s favorite quick lunch. Production of ingredients, food waste , packaging, and refrigeration were all in the mix to determine the true cost. According to their analysis, the “all-day” pre-made, store-bought breakfast sandwich, loaded with emissions-intensive pork, eggs, and cheese , is the least environmentally friendly sandwich option. Scientists found that sandwiches containing pork, cheese, or prawns/shrimp had generally higher carbon footprints. However, the study also showed that a home-made ham and cheese sandwich had the lowest carbon footprint of sandwiches studied. Making your own sandwich rather ordering out was shown to have reduced that sandwich’s carbon emissions by half. The refrigeration required for store-bought sandwiches accounts for about a quarter of their emissions cost. Packaging is up to 8.5% of emissions, while transporting refrigerated ingredients and materials accounts for 4%. Related: White Castle goes vegan… for the buns on all its tiny sandwiches This University of Manchester study is of particular interest to the British people , who consume more than 11.5 billion sandwiches each year. “Given that sandwiches are a staple of the British diet as well as their significant market share in the food sector, it is important to understand the contribution from this sector to the emissions of greenhouse gases,” study co-author Adisa Azapagic told the Guardian . “For example, consuming 11.5bn sandwiches annually in the UK generates, on average, 9.5m tonnes of CO2, equivalent to the annual use of 8.6m cars.” The worst offending all-day breakfast sandwich alone generates the emissions equivalent of a car driving twelve miles. Researchers recommend that ingredients with high-carbon footprints, such as meat, cheese, lettuce, and tomato, be limited or removed when making a sandwich. A less meat-and-cheese intensive sandwich also would be a healthier choice for personal health. Via The Guardian Images via Depositphotos (1)

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Scientists reveal the carbon footprint of your sandwich

Tired of the red tape, indigenous leaders are creating their own climate fund

January 29, 2018 by  
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Local communities wrestling with the impacts of climate change on food security have also struggled to get funds to deal with those impacts. The United Nations created the Green Climate Fund in 2010 – but it can be very difficult for countries and communities to be accredited and access money, according to the Thomson Reuters Foundation . So some indigenous leaders in Mexico and Central America are taking matters into their own hands. Indigenous leader of the Bribri community Leví Sucre said his family used to grow beans at their home in Costa Rica. But he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, “That’s impossible now. When growing beans, there’s a period where they can’t receive water (and need dry conditions). Now, unexpected cold fronts and rains are spoiling them.” But he said getting money from international climate funds is “an almost impossible task.” Related: Indonesian president gives forest management back to indigenous communities Sucre and other leaders are putting together a Mesoamerican Territorial Fund through regional organization Mesoamerican Alliance of People and Forests , with the goal of offering easy, fast financing to indigenous communities for climate change mitigation and adaption projects. The leaders hope the fund might get international support. While the Central American Bank for Economic Integration would be the ones holding the money, according to Reuters, indigenous people would manage the fund without much input from outsiders. Communities would propose their own projects for financing. Sucre hopes by the middle of this year they could apply for international funds. The fund would largely go to projects working to protect food security, drawing on traditional knowledge. Sucre said, “We’re not dismissing the use of technology because we know that it must be complementary. But we want to incentivize the use of technologies that don’t erase our culture.” Money could help communities change how they farm as weather grows more unstable. A 2008 United Nations report cited by Reuters said: “indigenous peoples are among the first to face the direct consequences of climate change, owing to their dependence upon, and close relationship with the environment and its resources.” Via the Thomson Reuters Foundation Images via Depositphotos ( 1 ,  2 , 3 )

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Tired of the red tape, indigenous leaders are creating their own climate fund

Bill Gates gives away $4.6 billion worth of Microsoft shares

August 15, 2017 by  
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Time and time again, Bill Gates has proven himself to be quite the philanthropist . In his latest charitable act, Gates has donated 64 million shares of Microsoft – which is worth a total of $4.6 billion. The donation will reduce Gates’ stake in Microsoft to just 1.3 percent (compared to 24 percent in 1996). Bloomberg reports that the donation is the biggest since he gave away $16 billion worth of shares in 1999 and $5.1 billion in 2000. The news was revealed in a filing to the Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) on Monday. The filing doesn’t reveal the benefactor of Gates’ donation. Each year, Gates donates approximately 80 million Microsoft shares. The latest gift means that he has just 103 million shares left. The filing reveals that his wife, Melinda, holds nearly 425,000 Microsoft shares. If Gates continues to give away the shares, the philanthropist could reduce his stake in Microsoft to zero by 2019. To date, former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is the largest holder of Microsoft Stock, followed by Gates, then the current Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. Related: Bill Gates launches $1 billion clean energy fund to fight climate change Even though the contribution is a massive sum in monetary terms, Bill Gates still holds the title of the richest person in the world. In fact, Bloomberg values Gates at $86.1 billion (down from $90 billion). Fortunately, he and Melinda have used their wealth to further progressive initiatives . They also intend to give away 95 percent of their wealth by the time they die — and that is commendable. Via Bloomberg Images via Flickr , Pixabay

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Bill Gates gives away $4.6 billion worth of Microsoft shares

China increases wind power by 23 percent in pursuit of clean energy goals

February 17, 2015 by  
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Of all the nations on the planet, China is not the first place that comes to mind when the subject of green energy is on the table. Yet, China is trying. In 2014, wind farms created 23 percent more power than the previous year. Although China still relies heavily on coal for energy, the increase in clean energy gives some hope that the world’s most populated nation might someday be able to cap their contribution to global warming . Read the rest of China increases wind power by 23 percent in pursuit of clean energy goals Permalink | Add to del.icio.us | digg Post tags: “wind power” , china carbon emissions , china clean energy , china green energy , china wind power , China wind power capacity , global warming , wind power increases 2014

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China increases wind power by 23 percent in pursuit of clean energy goals

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