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Citing new test results that show alarming levels of lead and arsenic in vinegar products sold at national chain supermarkets, the national advocacy group Food & Water Watch and Rochester-based Empire State Consumer Project (ESCP) issued a letter to the Food & Drug Administration to take action on the issue.
ESCP tested 24 major brands of vinegars or vinegar reductions and glazes for contaminants, and found that nearly half (11) were contaminated with arsenic or lead. Seven brands tested positive for both. All but one of the samples testing positive were balsamics, and all were imported from Italy, Greece, or Spain.
The tests found high levels of arsenic and lead in brands like Great Value (Walmart) Balsamic Vinegar, Rachel Ray Balsamic Reduction, Colavita Balsamic Vinegar, Wegmans Aged Balsamic Vinegar of Modena and Alessi Balsamic Reduction. All tested products found to be contaminated are sold through retailers like Walmart, Target and Wegmans.
ESCP's tests sought to determine if levels of contaminants had changed since they were originally identified in 2002 by the Environmental Law Foundation. The original tests had led to labeling requirements in California, but no other measures were taken to protect consumers. The updated test results clearly show that lead and arsenic levels continue to be unacceptably high, highlighting the need for greater consumer protections at the federal level.
"It should go without saying that consumer rights groups should not be the ones doing testing to make sure that our food is safe to eat. This is absolutely the responsibility of government agencies, and they need to take this seriously," said Food & Water Watch staff attorney Zach Corrigan.
"We think it's time all U.S. consumers were protected with the same product and shelf labeling California requires while we wait for the FDA to set federal limits," said ESCP President Judy Braiman.
Lead and arsenic both pose distinct and serious health risks, particularly for pregnant women. Exposure to arsenic in utero is associated with DNA damage and micronuclei in newborns, and elevated levels of lead can increase the risk of miscarriage and cause premature birth. Lead exposure poses risks to a baby's brain and kidneys, and is linked to other learning and behavioral problems. Arsenic is also a cardiotoxin, making it particularly dangerous for the elderly, African Americans and many other people with a range of chronic illnesses.
In 2011, the same groups partnered with Consumer Reports to test arsenic levels in apple juice. As a result of that work, the FDA agreed to set arsenic limits for those products; those rules are still being finalized. The groups hope to spur the same response from the FDA in ensuring limits for arsenic and lead in vinegars.
Food & Water Watch mobilizes regular people to build political power to move bold and uncompromised solutions to the most pressing food, water, and climate problems of our time. We work to protect people's health, communities, and democracy from the growing destructive power of the most powerful economic interests.(202) 683-2500
"The energy sector should be looking to the future of justly sourced renewable energy, not pushing outdated technology that exploits people and the planet."
More than a dozen groups intervened in a case in Wyoming on Wednesday to defend the Biden administration's decision to postpone the sale of oil and gas leases in the state, arguing that numerous court ruling and settled laws have affirmed the U.S. Interior Department is free to determine when such sales will go forward—or whether they will at all.
The legal groups Earthjustice and the Western Environmental Law Center are representing 17 national and local groups in the case, in which the state of Wyoming and two industry trade groups sued the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in December over its postponement of sales that had been planned for 2021 and 2022.
The BLM currently has several sales scheduled for 2023, covering nearly half a million acres, but as Friends of the Earth (FOE) said in a press statement Wednesday, the groups "want the court to order the Department of the Interior (DOI) and the BLM to hold lease sales every three months across the West"—despite warnings from energy experts and scientists that fossil fuel extraction must be phased out in order to avoid the worst effects of the climate emergency.
"Today's filing demonstrates that we refuse to sit back and allow Big Oil to push for policies that perpetuate dirty energy," said Hallie Templeton, legal director for FOE. "The law is crystal clear: the federal government holds broad authority over whether, when, and how to lease public lands for oil and gas development. The energy sector should be looking to the future of justly sourced renewable energy, not pushing outdated technology that exploits people and the planet."
FOE is joined by groups including the Sierra Club, the Wilderness Society, Citizens for a Health Community, and the Western Organization of Resource Councils in defending the Biden administration's decision.
A U.S. District Court ruling in Wyoming in September 2022 affirmed that the administration can postpone the sales, and the U.S. Supreme Court has also ruled that the agencies "have broad discretion to determine the timing and scope of lease sales, including not holding them at all," FOE said in the press statement.
\u201cNEWS RELEASE: Conservation groups to defend @POTUS administration postponement of oil, gas lease sales. Again.\n\nWe won this case last year, too.\n\nhttps://t.co/pN5NO55VgM @Earthjustice @Wilderness @foe_us @CenterForBioDiv @MTEIC @PRBResCouncil @NPCA @WildernessWork @SierraClub\u201d— Western Environmental Law Center (@Western Environmental Law Center) 1675882076
Bob LeResche, a Powder River Basin Resource Council board member and chair of the Western Organization of Resource Councils, noted that the industry has already "stockpiled" more than 9,000 approved federal drilling permits.
"Forcing Interior to lease without fully weighing public impacts is industry’s attempt to continue looting public resources by accumulating excess leases at bargain basement prices," said LeResche. "The industry could continue drilling and producing as normal for decades even with no new leases."
The postponement represents a correction of BLM's longtime practice of "blindly" leasing public lands for oil and gas drilling "without actually understanding the impacts of development," said Peter Hart, an attorney with Wilderness Workshop.
"Now the agency is working to reevaluate its oil and gas management and to assess impacts, like those that new development will have on the climate," he added. "It just makes sense to pause new leasing until the program is brought into this century, and it is well within the agency’s authority."
In response to organizing efforts, "the $122 billion-dollar corporation has fought their workers every step of the way, including refusing to bargain a first contract in good faith, delay tactics, and a significant escalation in union-busting."
Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont on Tuesday invited Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz to testify about the coffee giant's "lack of compliance with federal labor laws."
All 10 Democratic members of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) joined Sanders, who chairs the panel, in inviting Schultz to a hearing scheduled for March 9.
The letter—signed by Sanders and Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.), and Ed Markey (D-Mass.)—gives Schultz until February 14 to confirm his attendance at the hearing.
"We greatly appreciate your assistance to the HELP Committee," the lawmakers told Schultz, whose wealth increased by $800 million during the pandemic to nearly $4 billion.
\u201cToday, I joined with my Democratic colleagues on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee to invite Starbucks CEO @HowardSchultz to testify at a hearing on his company's labor practices.\u201d— Bernie Sanders (@Bernie Sanders) 1675884960
Since December 2021, when baristas in Buffalo made history by forming the first unionized Starbucks in the United States, workers at nearly 280 of the coffee chain's locations nationwide have voted to unionize. Organizers have won more than 80% of their campaigns despite the company's unlawful intimidation and retaliation tactics.
In response to mounting demands for better wages, benefits, and conditions, "the $122 billion-dollar corporation has fought their workers every step of the way, including refusing to bargain a first contract in good faith, delay tactics, and a significant escalation in union-busting," Sanders' office noted in a statement.
"There have been 500 unfair labor practice cases filed against Starbucks and its affiliates," the statement continued. "The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has issued 75 complaints in response to those charges and has sought emergency preliminary injunctive relief in five cases in the federal courts."
"Sanders has sent three letters to Schultz in the last year calling on the CEO to end the egregious union-busting campaign the company has deployed against its own workers," the Vermont Independent's office added. "Schultz has not yet responded to or provided the documents requested in the most recent letter Sanders sent in January 2023."
"Now it's time for the entire rail industry, which made over $26 billion in profits last year, to provide at least seven paid sick days to every rail worker in America," said Sen. Bernie Sanders in response.
After sustained pressure from organized workers and their allies, freight rail giant CSX Transportation agreed Tuesday to provide 5,000 employees in two unions with four days of paid sick leave each year—an industry-first move progressive said should serve as an example for other companies to follow.
The agreement reached between Jacksonville, Florida-based CSX and two unions—the Brotherhood of Railway Carmen (BRC) and the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division (BMWED)—will provide four days of fully paid sick leave each year, while allowing union members to take up to three personal leave days annually. Additionally, employees can apply their unused paid sick days to their 401K retirement accounts or take payouts.
"We are extremely proud that BRC is one of the very first unions to reach this type of an agreement," said Don Grissom, president of the BRC—which represents mechanical workers—in a statement. "This agreement is a significant accomplishment and provides a very important benefit for our members working at CSXT. The other carriers should take note and come to the bargaining table in a similar manner."
\u201c\ud83d\udea8 This paid sick leave agreement with CSX is certainly welcome but long overdue. We look forward to other rail crafts reaching similar agreements with CSX and other railroads following suit. \n\n#PaidLeaveforAll\u201d— TTD | America's Transportation Unions (@TTD | America's Transportation Unions) 1675817167
"Today's agreement is a huge win for our members at CSXT," Grissom added, "and we will continue the fight to secure paid sick leave for our members working on other railroads."
Referring to the classification for railroad companies with annual revenue exceeding $250 million, BMWED president Tony D. Cardwell said in a statement that "the other Class I railroads just reported extremely healthy earnings for 2022, many of which were record-setting."
"Other than absolute greed, there is no reason why the other Class I railroads cannot enter into an identical paid sick leave agreement."
"The workers are responsible for these profits," Caldwell added. "Other than absolute greed, there is no reason why the other Class I railroads cannot enter into an identical paid sick leave agreement with BMWED, or any other rail union for that matter, especially in light of what CSX and the BMWED have done today."
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), an outspoken supporter of railroad workers, tweeted that "now it's time for the entire rail industry, which made over $26 billion in profits last year, to provide at least seven paid sick days to every rail worker in America."
\u201cLet me congratulate @BMWEDIBT and @TCUnionHQ for guaranteeing paid sick days for 5,000 rail workers at CSX. Now it's time for the entire rail industry, which made over $26 billion in profits last year, to provide at least 7 paid sick days to every rail worker in America.\u201d— Bernie Sanders (@Bernie Sanders) 1675872420
On the other hand, labor advocates have called out Republicans, many Democrats in Congress, and the Biden administration for siding with corporations and billionaires over workers.
Paid sick leave was a key issue in last year's contract negotiations between a dozen rail worker unions and railroad companies. While eight of the unions voted in favor of a tentative agreement negotiated by the Biden administration—a deal that had no paid sick days—four unions rejected the proposal.
Congress subsequently intervened to compel the four holdout unions to accept the contract, while House Democrats passed a concurrent resolution adding seven days of paid sick leave to the agreement.
On Thursday, Sanders will join with unions in a joint press conference where they will make a fresh demand for paid sick leave across the industry.