The controversy explained over Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide – as far as definitions go, anyway

This week, the World Health Organization managed to inject even more confusion into an already confusing question: whether glyphosate, the common weed killer popularized as Roundup by Monsanto, causes cancer.

Glyphosate poses no cancer risk, according to a report just out from a joint United Nations and WHO meeting on herbicide residues. But just a year ago, another group in the WHO, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, concluded glyphosate is probably carcinogenic. Is anyone not confused at this point?

There is a path to clarity, but it goes through the weeds of public health policy. Here is the takeaway though: The IARC studies whether chemicals can cause cancer under any possible situation — realistic or not — while the joint meeting’s report looks at whether glyphosate can cause cancer in real-life conditions, like if you eat cereal every morning made from corn treated with glyphosate. One of these reports is, by design, much more relevant to your life than the other.

The IARC is also, by design, not supposed to make recommendations to the public. It assesses “hazard,” which in scientific jargon, means something very different than “risk.” David Eastmond, a toxicologist at the University of California, Riverside, uses sharks to illustrate the difference. If you have people gawking at sharks swimming around a tank in an aquarium, the sharks are a hazard, but they pose little risk. If you have a surfer on the beach with a shark waiting offshore, now that shark is both a hazard and a risk.

To the IARC, a shark has sharp teeth and powerful jaws, and the agency doesn’t care if you’re at the beach or at an aquarium…For the real world, regulatory agencies determine “risk” by studying whether consumers or farm workers actually encounter glyphosate at levels that cause cancer. So far, the answer has been no, with the draft summary from the joint meeting this week and the European Food Safety Authority’s reassessment of glyphosate last November…

When the IARC was set up in 1965, its monographs were supposed to be resources for scientists at regulatory agencies. Exposure to potential carcinogens like sunlight or alcohol or chemicals in food might differ from country to country, and the logic was local authorities are in a better position to make local recommendations…It should let national regulatory agencies do the research,” Paolo Boffetta, a cancer epidemiologist…told me back when the agency put out its monograph on red meat.

They went through the same viral public response last year over bacon. They revisit barbecue every now and then. The point remains the same. The IARC evaluates hazard – not risk. The difference is more than semantics.

Poor school districts receive less federal funding than rich ones – Who thinks that’s OK?

On April 4, a terse letter signed by the heads of the major education lobbying organizations in Washington — teachers unions, school boards, superintendents, principals and governors — landed on the desk of John King Jr., the secretary of education.

It had been less than three weeks since the Senate had confirmed Mr. King, a former high school teacher and education commissioner in New York. Yet as the letter showed, he had already managed to irk the entire school establishment, as well as the Republican majority in Congress. His offense? Trying to make good on a long-unkept promise to the nation’s low-income schoolchildren that they should receive as much education funding as everyone else.

A few months before this clash, Congress had finished renewing the omnibus federal education law known as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act…after years of difficult negotiation. The next move was for the Education Department to issue regulations detailing how provisions of the law were to be put in place. The department proposed a rule that would require local school districts to give schools enrolling large numbers of poor children at least as much state and local money as other schools — thus prompting the letter.

Equal funding doesn’t sound too crazy, yet many districts currently fall short. Nationwide, districts with high levels of poverty receive $1,200 less per pupil from state and local sources than districts with low levels of poverty…

But fixing such funding inequities can be expensive, as well as disruptive to longstanding arrangements of which teachers get to be in which schools. That’s why the unions, districts and state leaders wrote the letter urging Mr. King to “refrain from defining terms and aspects of the new law” — that is, to simply not regulate at all…

Revisiting the classic conflict – often stereotyped – between craft unions and industrial unions. Ethics and policy in the former may reflect a lack of concern for anyone outside the “immediate family”. In this case, the students. Especially low-income pupils.

While the particulars may seem technical, the underlying issue is large. It comes down to whether the federal government will require states and districts that voluntarily accept federal funds to use their own money fairly, a crucial question as students and teachers are held accountable for meeting exacting new educational standards like the Common Core. In late April, a coalition of civil rights organizations, including the N.A.A.C.P, the A.C.L.U., the Children’s Defense Fund and the National Council of La Raza, delivered their own letter to Mr. King, supporting the new rule.

RTFA and reflect on the united front between the teachers’ unions and the Tea Party. Their concern is the “danger” of standards being applied, e.g., requiring local districts that accept federal funds to prove they are distributing their own funding as fairly as they are required to with the federal dollar$.

Gates Foundation dumps all of its BP stock

Photo/Rich Talk

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation sold off its $187 million stake in the oil giant BP sometime between September and December of 2015, according to a recent filing to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The move came after the foundation sold off $824 million in ExxonMobil stock, as disclosed last fall.

The foundation has been under pressure from climate activists demanding that it drop all investments in fossil fuel companies. The Guardian’s “Keep It in the Ground” campaign and the Gates Divest campaign have both been particularly dogged in focusing on Gates.

But the foundation has refused to comment on its investment decisions, so the significance of these recent oil-stock sell-offs is unclear. Bill Gates, the billionaire cofounder of Microsoft, has been skeptical of the fossil-fuel divestment movement and last year called it a “false solution.”

According to public records, the Gates Foundation held about $1.4 billion of investments in coal, oil, and gas companies at the start of 2014. Now it holds only about $200 million of those stocks, according to the Guardian…

Divestment is a sensible part of any movement to boycott corporations, political entities. Anti-human, environmentally corrupt policies deserved to be punished by public investors. Voting with your dollar$ is often the only sort of democracy these creeps recognize.

New EPA rules would cut methane leaks from oil and gas operations

In a move that environmental campaigners had sought for years (as had I), the Environmental Protection Agency has issued final rules that could substantially cut emissions of heat-trapping methane, smog-forming volatile organic compounds and toxic air pollutants such as benzene from new, rebuilt or modified oil and gas wells and other infrastructure and operations.

The agency also took an overdue step to clarify how to curb emissions of methane from the hundreds of thousands of wells, compressors and other leaky parts of the nation’s sprawling oil and gas industry, issuing an “Information Collection Request” requiring companies, among other things, to describe the types of technologies that could be used to reduce emissions. Existing systems are the source of 90 percent of emissions, so getting moving on this front is essential; it’s also often profitable…

There’s an important regulatory gap, though — the lack of oversight of methane emissions from agriculture, particularly livestock, as pointed out…on Twitter by Emily Cassidy of the Environmental Working Group

On Twitter, Jeff Tollefson, a reporter for Nature who’s written on pollution from America’s shale boom, pointed to the Bakken oil fields as illustrating why tighter rules for existing industry facilities is vital: Bakken field alone leaks 275,000 tons of CH4 annually.


Thanks, @jefftollef