26 Jul 2011

ALEC Exposed: Warming Up to Climate Change

As the U.S. suffers through catastrophic tornadoes, heat waves, and other climate extremes – no doubt just a small taste of what the climate crisis will bring in the future – polluting industries and the politicians that serve them want to convince you that excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere

19 May 2011

Why Is The Monterey Bay Aquarium Greenwashing Sewage Sludge?

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="280" caption=""Journey Through Liquid Space - Monterey Bay Aquarium - Dec. 26, 2009 by raider3_anime, on Flickr"]Journey Through Liquid Space - Monterey Bay Aquarium - Dec. 26, 2009[/caption]


Today, the nation’s major sustainable food writers and bloggers will converge on Monterey, CA for an incredible invite-only sustainable food conference. The event, Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Cooking for Solutions, which those who attend say is spectacular, has a new sponsor this year: Kellogg Garden Products. Yes, that Kellogg Garden Products. The very same company that has contaminated “organic” school gardens in Los Angeles with sewage sludge. The company’s Chief Sustainability Officer, Kathy Kellogg Johnson, has a knack for befriending “green” organizations and using them to promote her toxic, misleadingly labeled products to unsuspecting gardeners. In this case, she’s listed as a “Silver Sponsor.” How much did her company pay to give her such a nice platform, sitting on a panel with Grist’s sustainable food writer Tom Philpott and telling an all-media audience about the sustainability of Kellogg Garden Products?

Last week, I wrote to Monterey Bay Aquarium, informing them that Kellogg Garden Products sells compost made with sewage sludge, with the slogan “Quality organics since 1925” on the label. After a few brief replies and a little prodding, here is the reply I received from Alison Barratt on Friday, May 13:

Dear Jill,

We were not actually aware of these allegations until you raised them. We met Kellogg at the EMA awards last year, and know that EMA vets all of its associates very carefully. They were independently invited to be a sponsor and speaker at the event. We do not offer a place on our panels to sponsors; we look for speakers with an interesting story to tell, and we believe this is an interesting story.

Having spoken at length with Kellogg yesterday regarding your allegations, we are perfectly comfortable with our decision to invite Kathy Kellogg Johnson to the event, and to have them as a sponsor.

Our event is about highlighting good work that companies and individuals are doing and no company will ever claim to be perfect, or totally sustainable, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have something unique to share, or valuable to our audience. This event is not about marketing companies or products, it’s about education and taking us towards solutions.

I am afraid on this issue we will have to agree to disagree and respectfully decline your request to attend.

Kind regards,


09 May 2011

And The Razzie Goes To… Norman Lear’s EMA for Exposing Kids to Sewage Sludge and Not Coming Clean

For a non-actress surrounded by movie stars, Debbie Levin, President of the Environmental Media Association (EMA) – an organization founded by Norman Lear – is putting on quite a performance of her own. Too bad it’s more likely to win her a fraud charge than an Oscar, based on her May 6, 2011 letter to her Board provided to the Food Rights Network by a source inside EMA.

Over the past month, Levin has been confronted with ample evidence that the group she runs exposed school children (not to mention the Hollywood celebrities that serve on the group’s board) to toxic sewage sludge. In 2009, EMA began a partnership with several Los Angeles schools, securing the donation of thousands of dollars in compost and soil amendment products from Kellogg Garden Products for the schools’ organic gardens soon thereafter. In a sworn affidavit, former L.A. Unified School District garden advisor Mud Baron said that he informed Levin early on and repeatedly that Kellogg uses sewage sludge in many of its products, and sewage sludge is illegal for use in organic gardens. Yet on Friday, May 6, she emailed the board a message that reads, in part:

It’s unfortunate in the midst of this great success, some can try to find controversy where none exists. The standards of the gardening program and our relationship with Kellogg Garden Products have been called into question. A San Francisco-based blogger posted a story last week claiming that Kellogg’s nonorganic materials were being used in school garden programs. Following that, an environmental blog picked up the story and expanded upon it by questioning our relationship with Kellogg since the company sells products that aren’t considered environmentally correct. Let me walk you through some of the facts:

The stories claim that nonorganic materials were used at school sites. This is not accurate. Schools only have access to Kellogg organic materials. This misconception may come from the fact that shortly after our program started two years ago, one participating school reached out directly to Kellogg and obtained mulch that is not considered organic. We regret that one school acted on its own in securing nonorganic materials…

03 May 2011

Lies, Dioxins, Sewage Sludge, Hollywood Celebs, And School Gardens

A story has been developing over the past month involving lies, toxic sludge, Hollywood celebrities, and poor, inner city school children. It centers around the Environmental Media Association (EMA), a group of environmentally conscious Hollywood celebs, and the “organic” school gardens they’ve been volunteering at for the past past couple years. Stars like Rosario Dawson, Amy Smart, Emmanuelle Chriqui, and Nicole Ritchie have generously adopted Los Angeles schools, visiting the schools and helping the children garden. What the celebs didn’t know is that their organization’s corporate donor – Kellogg Garden Products – sells both organic compost and soil amendments and ones made from sewage sludge. Seventy percent of Kellogg’s business is products made from sewage sludge. Sewage sludge is not allowed on organic farms and gardens.

In late March, the Center for Media & Democracy (CMD) wrote to EMA, alerting them that Kellogg products contain sludge, which may jeopardize the safety and the organic status of the gardens. As a result of the letter, John Stauber, founder of CMD, then met with Ed Begley, Jr., famous environmentalist and EMA board member, who was concerned about the possibility that sludge was used on the gardens.

Following that meeting, a reply came back from EMA’s President, Debbie Levin, who has been called “Hollywood’s Conscience,” asking CMD to stop communicating with Ed Begley, Jr. and to call off its public campaign against the use of Kellogg products on the LA school gardens. She asserted that her organization never claimed the gardens were organic. Then, in the next week, EMA removed the word “organic” from its webpage about its school garden program… but left it in on some pages. (See screenshots here) EMA refers to the gardens as “organic” in a fundraising form, leading donors to believe they are contributing to organic school gardens. Ironically, in 2003, EMA gave an award to King of the Hill for its episode titled “I Never Promised You an Organic Garden.” Talk about foreshadowing.

SFGate and Mother Jones each wrote articles on this story, published a few days after Levin’s initial email reply. The Mother Jones piece features a picture of Rosario Dawson gardening with children, with a bag of Kellogg’s Amend (made from sewage sludge and contaminated with dioxins and other hazardous material) behind them. The article says:

“This was one of those unfortunate weird things,” says EMA president Debbie Levin, who hadn’t known anything about Amend before the shoot. Amend, she later learned, is not approved for organic farming because it’s made from municipal sewage sludge.


So what to do if you’re a home gardener who wants compost without the sewage? Try checking the website of the Organic Materials Review Institute, which vets agricultural products used by certified organic farmers. That’s the preferred approach of Levin, who stresses that no Kellogg Amend was ever actually applied to EMA’s gardens (though one school may have inadvertently ordered a different sludge-based product). “Everything was according to what we asked for,” she says. “We use the organic stuff.”

That much is old news. According to Levin, she and EMA were unaware that Kellogg products contained sludge, but not to worry because the products in the photos were never used. (Does that mean the bags of Amend that appear in many pictures of the school gardens were brought in for use as props in photo ops and then removed? Even if that were the case, it’s unfortunate that an environmental organization is giving that sort of free publicity to an environmentally unsound product like Amend.)

01 May 2011

Food Sunday: A Nasty Surprise In The Garden

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="350" caption="garden surprise by jek in the box, on Flickr"]garden surprise[/caption]

Guess what today is? You might guess May Day and, well, you’d be right. But it’s also the first day of International Compost Awareness Week! Woohoo! And… you lucky reader of this blog you… yours truly has been hired by the Center for Media and Democracy to blog about it.

To start out our celebration, unfortunately, I have a very sad story to share. You see, yesterday I went to help out in a garden in San Diego. The garden belongs to a man who has undergone a series of surgeries in the past year and while he and his wife love the fresh, homegrown food, he’s limited physically as he recovers. So I go over there every now and again to help him out. Yesterday I brought over a bunch of tomatoes, melons, and squash seedlings to plant and, as I entered the garden, I stopped dead in my tracks.

This garden is mostly organic. It’s an attempt at biointensive gardening, as described by John Jeavons in his book How to Grow More Vegetables… But there, next to the patch where we were planting the peppers, was a half-full open bag of Kellogg’s Amend.

The man whose garden this is, he’s a smart guy. We talk a lot, and he’s pretty aware of what he’s doing in his garden. He probably read the label before purchasing Amend. What’s in it? The label says “Ingredients: Blended and screened forest products, composted rice hulls, compost, poultry manure, gypsum.” It also says “Quality Organics since 1925.” The bag tells how the product should be used in vegetable gardens, and how it is ideal for loosening up clay soil. What it doesn’t say is that it’s actually made from Los Angeles sewage sludge. You would have no way of knowing that if you read the label. And if you didn’t know to look for the term “OMRI Listed” (which means that a product is suitable for organic agriculture) you might think the product is organic.

“Oh god,” I said. I told him that Amend was made from sewage sludge. He said the nursery he got it from recommended the product, and he used half the bag on his citrus trees. He was upset that it was made from sewage sludge, and that he had no way of knowing that before buying it. He was upset that he has no way of knowing what the hell he’s put on his citrus trees. Sewage sludge can have any number of contaminants in it (and often does). Some, like heavy metals, flame retardants, nanosilver, and certain pharmaceuticals, are almost universally found in sewage sludge, even the treated stuff approved to be used in gardens and farms. Other contaminants, including dioxins, furans, pesticides, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, phthalates, endotoxins, and more, are only found some of the time… but since they aren’t regulated, a gardener has no way of knowing if a bag of Amend contains them or not. Only 10 heavy metals, salmonella, and fecal coliform are regulated in the most strictly regulated sewage sludge, which is called Class A biosolids.

08 Nov 2010

Book Review: Starved for Science

Starved for Science: How Biotechnology is Being Kept Out of Africa was one of the most riveting works of fiction I have read all year! Oh wait… non-fiction, you say? Well, then it sucked.

24 Oct 2010

Food Sunday: Indigenous Agriculture in the Andes

Bolivia is the recipient of massive amounts of U.S. agricultural aid over the past 60 years. Find out how people survive and produce food in one of the harshest environments on earth, in the high Andes.

19 Sep 2010

Food Sunday: The Creepy Science Behind Genetically Engineered “Frankenfish” About to Enter Our Food Supply Unlabeled

Today and tomorrow, the FDA is meeting to decide whether to allow the first genetically engineered animal – a fast-growing salmon – into the U.S. food supply. And the science “proving” its safety ain’t so good.

14 Sep 2010

The Sloppy Science “Proving” Frankenfish is Safe

It may not be long before you start finding genetically engineered animals on your dinner plate. But let’s at least use solid science to prove their safety before allowing them into the food supply. And, alarmingly, that is NOT what the FDA is doing right now.