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Dear EarthTalk: What is the “Fair Trade Your Supermarket” campaign?
          -- Brian Howley, Washington, DC

A project of the non-profit Green America, the “Fair Trade Your Supermarket” campaign aims to empower consumers to advocate for more “Fair Trade” products on store shelves at their local supermarkets. Fair trade is a system of exchange that honors producers, communities and the environment by ensuring that farmers and artisans throughout the developing world are paid fair prices for their work and have direct involvement in the marketplace. The goal of the wider Fair Trade movement, according to Green America, is to build real and lasting relationships between producers in developing countries and businesses and consumers around the world.

EarthTalkFairTradeSupermark
Fair trade is a system of exchange which ensures that farmers,
artisans and other producers throughout the developing world
are paid fair prices for their work and have direct involvement
in the marketplace.
Credit: International Fairtrade Certification Mark

And that’s where your neighborhood grocer comes in. “While the Fair Trade movement is gaining steam nationwide, most of our supermarkets still carry few–if any–Fair Trade products on their shelves,” reports Green America. “Together, we can put Fair Trade products within reach for millions of Americans.”

And just how does Green America expect us to do this? “First, take stock of Fair Trade products in your supermarket—look for coffee, tea, chocolate, rice, sugar, honey, wine, fresh fruit, and olive oil.” Scan the relevant aisles for third-party certifier Fair Trade USA’s distinctive black-and-white “Fair Trade Certified” label, which is only attached to imported goods where the producers receive fair prices for their products and where strict socio-economic and environmental criteria are met during production. Alternatively, look for the logos of other third-party certifiers such as “Fair for Life” or “Fair Trade Federation” on product labels if you think fair trade versions may be available in a given product line.

“Then, you can encourage the store to stock more Fair Trade products by talking to the store manager as a loyal customer,” adds Green America. They suggest using comment cards, which can be key to getting a store with no Fair Trade items to start carrying them. “Every time you go grocery shopping, drop a comment card in the box asking your manager to stock Fair Trade items.” Of course, talking to a store manager in person may be even more effective, especially if you are armed with a pile of your receipts from the store from the previous month or two to show how much spending power you alone would be able to allocate toward Fair Trade versions of the items you are buying there.

Another creative way to spread the Fair Trade gospel would be by volunteering to hand out free samples of Fair Trade products that the store already sells in order to raise awareness and build consumer demand. “Stores sell more of a product when a sampling table is set out, and if you, your friends and family are working the table, the labor is free for the store too.”

But why stop with your local market? If there is a chain supermarket outlet in your area, take it to the top by writing an e-mail, letter or postcard to corporate headquarters informing them of your desire to buy Fair Trade items in all of their stores. Check out the Fair Trade Your Supermarket website (link below) for more tips on how to make your next shopping trip fairer to the planet and its people.

CONTACTS: Fair Trade Your Supermarket, www.fairtradeyoursupermarket.org; Green America, www.greenamerica.org; Fair Trade USA, www.fairtradeusa.com.

 
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Dear EarthTalk: The oil industry is planning what some call a dangerous strategy of drilling for oil on the Outer Continental Shelf in the Arctic Ocean. What’s going on? -- Vera Bailey, New Hope, PA

EarthTalkArcticDrilling
Despite U.S. Geological Survey warnings that drilling in waters north of Alaska
could have deleterious effects on ocean habitats and wildlife, the Obama ad-
ministration proceeded with a lifting of the moratorium on off-shore drilling.
Pictured: An Oiled brown pelican awaits cleaning in the wake of the BP
Deepwater Horizon disaster.Credit: Tom MacKensie, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

In November 2011 the Obama administration began lifting the moratorium on off-shore drilling that had been imposed in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced a five year plan including 15 leases for oil development on Alaska’s Outer Continental Shelf and in the Gulf of Mexico. For now the East and West coasts of the continental U.S. have been spared from drilling, but environmentalists are particularly worried about opening up the fragile Alaskan Arctic to off-shore rigs.

“This five-year program will make available for development more than three-quarters of undiscovered oil and gas resources estimated on the [Outer Continental Shelf], including frontier areas such as the Arctic, where we must proceed cautiously, safely and based on the best science available,” Salazar told reporters.

Republicans were incensed that more acreage was not being made available for off-shore drilling, but environmentalists couldn’t believe what they were hearing for different reasons: In June 2011 the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) had released a 292-page report commissioned by Interior Secretary Salazar “to identify the gaps in scientific or technical knowledge about how drilling in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas north of Alaska would affect the region,” reports Jerry Bellinson in Popular Mechanics. The report, Bellinson says, “details several areas where those gaps exist, including oil-spill cleanup technologies, basic mapping of currents and the effects of underwater noise on sea mammals.” Despite the USGS’s warnings, the Obama administration decided to proceed anyway.

“Drilling infrastructure permanently alters ocean floor habitats,” reports Defenders of Wildlife. “Drill rig footprints, undersea pipelines, dredging ship channels, and dumped drill cuttings—the rock material dug out of the oil or gas well—are often contaminated with drilling fluid used to lubricate and regulate the pressure in drilling operations.” The group adds that contaminated sediments are carried long distances by currents and can kill important small bottom-dwelling creatures at the bottom of the marine food chain.

Defenders also argues that spills, leaks and occasional BP-like catastrophes are unavoidable with off-shore oil drilling, if history is any guide. “Even with safety protocols in place, leaks and spills are inevitable—each year U.S. drilling operations send an average of 880,000 gallons of oil into the ocean.”

As for wildlife, off-shore drilling can have devastating effects even with no spills or leaks. “Seismic surveys conducted during oil and gas exploration cause temporary or permanent hearing loss, induce behavioral changes, and even physically injure marine mammals such as whales, seals and dolphins,” reports Defenders. “Construction noise from new facilities and pipelines is also likely to interfere with foraging and communication behaviors of birds and mammals. Because they are at the top of the food chain, many marine mammals will be exposed to the dangers of bioaccumulation of organic pollutants and metals.” And off-shore drilling only adds insult to injury as far as Defenders is concerned: “In the face of the climate crisis, the U.S. needs to look for ways to decrease petroleum consumption, not…increase it.”

CONTACTS: Defenders of Wildlife, www.defenders.org; Popular Mechanics, www.popularmechanics.com/science/energy/coal-oil-gas/oil-drilling-in-the-arctic-ocean-is-it-safe.

EarthTalk® is written and edited by Roddy Scheer and Doug Moss and is a registered trademark of E - The Environmental Magazine (www.emagazine.com). Send questions to: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Subscribe: www.emagazine.com/subscribe. Free Trial Issue: www.emagazine.com/trial.

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