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The Rise of Superweeds—and What to Do About It

February 23, 2014 Comments off

The Rise of Superweeds—and What to Do About It
Source: Union of Concerned Scientists

It sounds like a sci-fi movie: American farmers fighting desperately to hold back an onslaught of herbicide-defying “superweeds.”

But there’s nothing imaginary—or entertaining—about this scenario. Superweeds are all too real, and they have now spread to over 60 million acres of our farmland, wreaking environmental and economic havoc wherever they go.

How did we get into this mess, and how do we fix it? A 2013 UCS briefing paper, The Rise of Superweeds—and What to Do About It, answers these questions.

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Report Finds U.S. Crop Insurance, Credit Programs Harm Fruit and Vegetable Growers; Encourage Commodities for Unhealthy Food

April 26, 2012 Comments off

Report Finds U.S. Crop Insurance, Credit Programs Harm Fruit and Vegetable Growers; Encourage Commodities for Unhealthy Food
Source: Union of Concerned Scientists

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is urging Americans to eat substantially more fruits and vegetables, but its crop insurance and credit programs handicap produce growers and instead promote commodity crops that are disproportionately used in heavily processed junk food, according to a report released today during a conference call held by the Union of Concerned Scientists.

The report, “Ensuring the Harvest: Crop Insurance and Credit for a Healthy Farm and Food Future,” recommends a number of common-sense policies that would help American farmers grow more healthy food for our communities.

Weather makes farming a risky business, so the USDA offers crop insurance, making it easier for farmers to obtain bank loans or credit early in the year to cover the cost of seeds, fertilizer and equipment for spring planting. In the event of extreme weather—from spring frosts to summer flooding—that insurance gives farmers a safety net if their crops are destroyed or their price declines. For many farmers, insurance and credit is the difference between profiting and bankruptcy.

The USDA offers this crop insurance and credit to large farms growing corn, soy and other commodity crops, and to some large fruit and vegetable farms, such as tomatoes in California , but the agency shuts out “healthy-food” farms—small- to medium-size farms growing fruits and vegetables or raising livestock sustainably.

Many healthy-food farms, which sell their products locally at farmers markets, restaurants and schools, have become a market force in recent years. Currently, their local-food sales total $5 billion annually. But if fruit and vegetable consumption increased to meet the USDA’s MyPlate dietary guidelines, driving demand for healthy, sustainable produce, local food sales could increase to as much as $14.5 billion a year and generate as many as 189,000 new jobs, according to the UCS report.

+ Full Report

NRC Needs a More Comprehensive Approach to Post-Fukushima Nuclear Safety, Report Finds

March 9, 2012 Comments off

NRC Needs a More Comprehensive Approach to Post-Fukushima Nuclear Safety, Report Finds
Source: Union of Concerned Scientists

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is jeopardizing reform by failing to heed its post-Fukushima task force’s top recommendation to clarify its “patchwork” of regulations for “beyond-design-basis” events that reactors are not intended to withstand, according to a report released today by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). The report, “U.S. Nuclear Power Safety One Year After Fukushima,” also found that the nuclear industry is moving ahead with its own post-Fukushima initiative before the NRC has had time to determine whether it will adequately protect the public.

For example, one of the other task force recommendations called on the NRC to require plant owners to implement measures enabling workers to better cope with a loss of off-site and on-site emergency backup electric power—a “station blackout.” The precedent comes from the NRC’s post-9/11 requirement that plant owners install portable diesel-fueled pumps and generators to protect their facilities from a prolonged station blackout caused by an aircraft attack. However, because the NRC defines an aircraft attack as a beyond-design-basis event, it did not require this equipment to meet high quality and reliability standards or be hardened to withstand other potential events, such as natural disasters. Indeed, post-Fukushima inspections have confirmed that at many plants some of the equipment would not survive earthquakes or floods.

Meanwhile, the nuclear industry is already making changes on the ground in response to Fukushima, the report found. Under an initiative the industry calls the Diverse and Flexible Coping Capability program, or FLEX, plant owners are beginning to supplement and relocate the post-9/11 equipment, ostensibly to better respond to severe natural disasters. Plant owners are dispersing it in numerous locations on and near reactor sites, but are not planning to harden it against natural disasters. The industry is banking on there being enough equipment available so that at least some of it would be usable in the event of a catastrophe.

+ Full Report

Three Years into Obama’s First Term, Pressure to Politicize Science Persists

February 24, 2012 Comments off
Source:  Union of Concerned Scientists
The federal government is moving closer to protecting scientists and the integrity of its science-based decisions, but more must be done to protect the policymaking process from corporate influence, according to a report released by the Union of Concerned Scientists today.
The report, Heads They Win, Tails We Lose: How Corporations Corrupt Science at the Public’s Expense, chronicles the most common ways that corporations influence how science is used to make policy, from restricting the effectiveness of federal agencies to corrupting the scientific work itself.
Released at the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s annual conference in Vancouver today, the report details the extent to which inappropriate corporate influence on science has prevented the United States from using the best available science to protect public health and the environment.
“While many believe that political interference in science went extinct when President Bush left office, the reality is that the pressure to politicize science is still with us,” said Francesca Grifo, director of UCS’s Scientific Integrity program. “Many companies are prioritizing private gain at the expense of the public good, and abuse science to achieve their goals.”
The report includes detailed examples of the tactics corporate interests use, including harassing federal scientists, ghostwriting scientific articles to undermine federal research, and undermining how science is used to form agency policy in the name of “reform.”

Full Report

Market Forces: Creating Jobs through Public Investment in Local and Regional Food Systems

August 10, 2011 Comments off

Market Forces: Creating Jobs through Public Investment in Local and Regional Food Systems
Source: Union of Concerned Scientists

As farmers market shoppers have long known, buying food directly from the people who grew it is a great way to add freshness and flavor to your table and more fruits and vegetables to your diet.

But locally grown food is not only good for your taste buds—it creates jobs, keeps money in local economies, promotes community development, and can reduce the environmental and public health costs of the food we eat.

To maximize these benefits, we need new policies aimed at helping local and regional food systems thrive and expand, according to Market Forces, a new UCS report that reviews recent research on these systems and their economic effects. The report recommends the following policy changes:

  • Increase funding for programs that support local and regional food systems.
  • Raise the level of research on the impacts of local and regional food systems.
  • Restructure the safety net and ensure credit accessibility for local food system farmers.
  • Foster local capacity to help implement local and regional food system plans.
  • Support the realization of farmers market certification standards.

+ Full Report (PDF)

Securing The Skies: Ten Steps the United States Should Take to Improve the Security and Sustainability of Space

March 21, 2011 Comments off

Securing The Skies: Ten Steps the United States Should Take to Improve the Security and Sustainability of Space (PDF)
Source: Union of Concerned Scientists
From Executive Summary (PDF):

While the issues are complex and the long-term path for addressing them may not be clear, we recommend 10 practical near-term steps that the United States should take in order to move things in the right direction—toward establishing useful processes and relationships and creating a favorable environment for progress.

The steps build on several concepts, which we discuss in greater depth throughout the full report:

  • Because of the special nature of space, its security and sustainability cannot be achieved unilaterally. Substantial international engagement, involving coordination and cooperation among its users, is essential.
  • Given its preeminence in space, the United States must provide leadership if progress is to be made.
  • While national security issues are important, U.S. space policy must better balance military, commercial, and civil interests in space.
  • Protecting satellite capabilities requires a range of strategies, including diplomatic approaches to limit threats and “smart planning” aimed at reducing the vulnerability of satellite systems to attack and disruption.

After 50 Years, Nuclear Power is Still Not Viable without Subsidies, New Report Finds

February 26, 2011 Comments off

After 50 Years, Nuclear Power is Still Not Viable without Subsidies, New Report Finds
Source: Union of Concerned Scientists

Since its inception more than 50 years ago, the U.S. nuclear power industry has been propped up by a generous array of government subsidies that have supported its development and operations. Despite that support, the industry is still not economically viable, according to a report released today by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). The report, “Nuclear Power: Still Not Viable Without Subsidies,” found that more than 30 subsidies have supported every stage of the nuclear fuel cycle, from uranium mining to long-term waste storage. Added together, these subsidies often have exceeded the average market price of the power produced.

+ Full Paper (PDF)

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