Organic Food Advocates Call for GMO Food Labelling, Claim Health Concerns

BOSTON – Calling for the labelling of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) used in food, over 1000 organic food advocates hit out at chemical companies at the March Against Monsanto on Saturday – one of over 400 similar actions around the world.
Martin Dagoberto, co-founder of the MA Right to Know GMOs campaign, which is spearheading calls for food labelling in the Bay State, told the rally, “I got my degree in biology and biotechnology from Worcester Polytech in 2006, and it was there that I gained an appreciation for the magnitude of the risks that we’re taking with genetic engineering, there’s a lot we have yet to figure out; I’m not against science, but I don’t want to be a science experiment.
“The fact is that the currently commercialized GMO crops have not been put through the proper safety testing,” he continues, “the companies are putting profits above all else, they’re paying for their own research and actively discrediting any research that goes against their dogmatic belief.”
According to a press release issued by the event organizers, a recent statement signed by hundreds of food experts says, “there is no scientific consensus on GMO safety, and the government has never performed or required any safety testing of GMO foods.
“The industry funds its own research to prove GMOs are safe while aggressively discrediting any independent research challenging that belief,” it continues, “GMO foods have been linked to digestive disorders, infertility, immune problems and cancer, and these studies warrant further research.”
Dagoberto claimed that “there [are] a lot of revolving doors between the industry and regulators,” and pointed out that the Deputy Commissioner for Foods at the federal Food and Drug Administration, Michael Taylor, is a former vice president of Monsanto.
Though the studies linking the consumption of GMOs to a range of serious conditions are “not conclusive,” said Dagoberto, “there’s cause for concern, and while the jury is still out we want to know what we’re eating.”
A number of organic food business owners also spoke at the rally, including Jessie Banhazl, the founder of Green City Growers based in Somerville, which converts unused spaces into urban farms.
She pointed out that chemicals have been used in food cultivation for a little over 100 years, while farmers have been growing food for around 10,000 years without the assistance of these additives.
“Plants don’t need chemicals to grow,” she said, “they don’t need them to nourish, they don’t need them to thrive, plants don’t need human intervention to combat insects and disease, they grow just fine without us, but we’re not fine without them, we need to consume plants to live, and as well all know … there is a major problem with companies controlling the plants that we need to nourish ourselves.
“Monsanto may control the money, they may control Congress, they may control the farm from its source, but do you know what they can’t control, our ability to feed ourselves by growing our own food,” she continued.
According to the press statement, over half of state’s legislators have officially endorsed the food labelling bill, which is similar to a bill recently passed in Vermont, and is currently on its way for a full vote on the House floor.
Monsanto declined to address the claims made at the rally, but in a press statement said, “we conduct rigorous and comprehensive testing on each and every one of our products.
“In fact, GM [genetically modified] seeds have been tested more than any other seeds in the history of agriculture – with no evidence of harm to humans or animals,” it continues, “[r]egulatory agencies, scientific organizations and leading health associations worldwide agree that GM foods are just as safe as any other food.”
(Published on Open Media Boston)

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Activists Call on Pres. Obama to Close Guantanamo, End Torture

BOSTON/Boston Common – Marking a year since President Obama repeated his intention to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, and release prisoners held there, activists called on the president to follow through on his promise.
A small number of activists rallied on Boston Common in the event organized by Witness Against Torture on Friday, and joining demonstrations in several other cities in the US and around the world.

Susan McLucas, one of the organizers of the demonstration, said that “we are out here today, because it’s one year since the most recent time when Obama said that he would close down Guantanamo.
“He took a lofty tone,” she continued, “he talked about the hunger strikers being force-fed, and he said, ‘is this the America we want to leave to our children?’ as if he were totally incapable of doing anything about it … I believe he could’ve done a lot more in the intervening time.”
Doris Tennant, an attorney who has represented Guantanamo detainees, said she’s “very proud to be a member of the so-called Guantanamo Bar Association.’”
She explained that “only twelve prisoners have been transferred since Obama’s speech a year ago, a hundred and fifty four men remain there, and about half of those have been cleared for release,” and that “many others are still held there without trial.”
According to Tennant, “there are 56 Yemenis who are cleared for release, and they continue to be detained … and so they really do continue to endure collective punishment based on their nationality.”
Tennant spoke about 36-year-old Yemeni man Adnan Latif, held in Guantanamo for 11 years despite being cleared for release by authorities, and who was found unresponsive in his cell in 2011 and later died.
She said that there are also “44 men in Guantanamo who’ve been designated for indefinite detention, which is what we say our country does not do, but these men have been designated for indefinite detention without charge or trial by the US, and they’re deemed to be too dangerous to transfer too dangerous to trial.”
Cynthia Gabriel, an organizer with Amnesty International, said that “we work to protect the human rights of people like Shaker Ameer, who has been held at Guantanamo since January 2002; that is 12 years he’s been held in indefinite detention, he has not been tried, he has been tortured.
“Shaker Ameer has a family,” she continued, “he was living in the United Kingdom, and then he went to Afghanistan to live with his family, and he was picked up by Afghani military forces and transferred to US military forces, and then brought to Guantanamo.
She said, “the United States should not be in the business of torture, we should not be in the business of holding people under indefinite detention, that’s not the country that we are … it is a stain on who we are as a country, we’re better than that.”
Open Media Boston contacted the White House press office for a statement in response to the rally, but did not receive a response before the filing of this report.
(Published on Open Media Boston)

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News in Brief: May 26, 2014

Massachusetts Nurses Association – State House
Hundreds of nurses in the Massachusetts Nurses Association rallied at the State House on Wednesday, calling for the passage of the Patient Safety Act and the Hospital Profit Transparency and Fairness Act. The former bill, they say, will dramatically improve patient safety in Massachusetts’ hospitals by setting safe, realistic, and prudent standards on the maximum number of patients that can be safely cared for by hospital nurses at any one time. While the latter bill, they say, will guarantee the taxpayers’ right to know exactly how their healthcare dollars are spent by hospital administrators. The transparency act requires that hospitals receiving tax subsidies disclose in a timely and fully transparent manner how large their profit margins are, how much money they hold in offshore accounts and how much compensation they pay their CEOs. The union says that when hospitals like North Adams Regional Hospital are closing while others are closing pediatric, detox and psychiatric units, policymakers have the right to know if tax dollars are being spent to benefit patient safety or hospital CEOs. To ensure access to needed services by all patients, the act also provides enhanced funding options for hospitals serving poorer populations.
Boston Taxi Drivers Association – South Street
The Boston Taxi Drivers Association, an affiliate of the United Steelworkers union, held a rolling taxi rally and protest outside the headquarters of the Uber car service company on Thursday. They are calling on the Mayor of Boston and the Police Commissioner to order all Uber transportation vehicles off the streets of Boston until the city can regulate and license all its drivers and cars. The union says the Boston Police Department Hackney Unit has failed to protect both the public and the licensed taxi business from unregistered Uber vehicles, even though the police commissioner has the clear authority to do so under rules for regulating the taxi industry. They say the hackney unit has failed to protect the public from unregistered and unregulated vehicles and drivers, whereas all Boston cab drivers are vetted and licensed, their fares are regulated, and their vehicles are inspected.
(Published on Open Media Boston)

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Somerville Mayor Announces Limits on City’s Cooperation with Federal Deportation Program

Somerville, Mass. – At a press conference at city hall on Wednesday, Somerville City Mayor Joseph Curtatone announced an executive order that will limit the city’s participation in the federal Secure Communities deportation program.
Under the program enacted two years ago, federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has the ability to ask local law enforcement to hold arrested immigrants for up to 48 hours after the person has posted bail, or been ordered released by the courts.
Curtatone also recently spoke at a rally at the State House in favor of passing what’s been dubbed the Trust Act, a bill sponsored by State Senator James Eldridge (D-Acton) that would redefine the roles played by immigrant and law-enforcement authorities.

At the press conference, he said that “for two years we’ve been told that we don’t know what’s best for our community, that we don’t know how to keep our community safe,” and during that time, “the fabric of our communities, our families, have been threatened by a flawed federal program called Secure Communities.”
He said that the program “engender[s] fear in the immigrant community,” and “discourages witnesses and even victims from cooperating with police.”
The mayor said that “our officials will continue to cooperate and work with ICE, but let me make this clear, we are not going to violate the constitutional right of due process, we’re not going to waste our time and resources on people who are valuable, contributing members of our community, who’ve tried to play by the rules, only to find out that there’s no line to get into to become a citizen.”
According to a statement from the mayor’s office, “Nationwide, half of the people deported through Secure Communities nationwide have no criminal convictions,” and throughout the Bay State, “there have been more than 1,000 deportations since the program was enacted two years ago, and 61 percent of the people deported have no criminal convictions—and in some cities and towns in Massachusetts, that percentage rises to 79 percent.”
The office said that the “executive order will stipulate that unless ICE agents have a criminal warrant or Somerville officials have a legitimate law enforcement purpose unrelated to enforcement of immigration laws, ICE agents shall not be given access to individuals or allowed to use [c]ity facilities for investigative interviews or other purposes.”
Somerville Police Chief, Charles Femino, said at the press conference that when the federal program was first enacted, “it had a stated objective to remove immigrants who posed a danger to the community,” but it has since become “a tool to prolong the detention of undocumented immigrants who would otherwise be released on bail for minor crimes.”
Patricia Montes, executive director of immigrant-rights group Centro Presente, which is based in Somerville and is one of the leaders of the campaign supporting the Trust Act, thanked the mayor and the city’s legislature.
She said “the City of Somerville is sending a very positive and a strong message, not just to the rest of the Commonwealth, but to the entire country.”
According to Montes, “our current immigration system does not reflect the values of this country, [but] what Mayor Joseph Curtatone, and the City of Somerville, is doing right now does reflect the values of this country, I believe in democracy, and for us democracy is where government and civil society work together in order to improve the quality of life of all people in the community.”
The executive order will be officially signed at a ceremony at the Somerville Police Department headquarters today.
(Published on Open Media Boston)

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Demos Restaurant in Waltham Faces Allegations of Wage Violations

Waltham, Mass. – A former employee at Demos Restaurant in Waltham is suing his ex-employer alleging that he was not paid earned overtime owed to him.
Rafael Brooks (his first name also referred to as Raphael) filed the lawsuit in federal court in April, which claims that Demos violated the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and state wage laws during his employment with the company from 1996 until October last year.
The court complaint alleges that Brooks “regularly worked in excess of [50] hours per week but, in blatant disregard for state and federal law, was not paid overtime.”
It says Brooks was employed “as a cook, service employee, wait staff employee, cleaner, and general laborer” at Demos, and his job description included “taking orders, waiting tables, food preparation, cooking, and cleaning.”
It further alleges that Brooks was paid $13 an hour, “generally worked sixty hours per week,” Monday through Saturday, was “misclassified as an independent contractor,” and did not receive benefits through his employer.
The complaint also claims that “Brooks was never paid one and one half times his regular hourly rate for hours worked over forty in a week,” which is the mandatory minimum overtime rate under federal and state law.
The defense’s answer to the complaint alleges that “Brooks was a manager who was exempt from overtime laws.”
It also alleges that “Brooks was a long-tenured employee who voluntarily resigned his Restaurant employment in October, 2013,” and that he was “typically paid his salary in cash.”
The major allegations are denied by the defense, and also it’s claimed that Brooks is “completely barred from recovering certain alleged damages in this matter as he was and remains an illegal resident in the United States and therefore was and remains unable to legally work in the United States.”
The lawsuit is also being brought as part of a “collective action,” which could include approximately 10 other employees in allegedly similar circumstances to Brooks who have worked for Demos “within the three years preceding the filing of this action who were wrongfully classified by the defendant as exempt from the overtime provisions” in the federal wage law and did not received overtime pay.
It’s alleged that the “defendants have engaged in a continuing violation of the FLSA,” resulting in unpaid overtime wages “as a result of the defendant’s pay practices,” which “was intended by the defendant and was willfully done.”
It’s claimed that the defendants “policy” which sought to “take advantage of undocumented workers by failing to pay them overtime or provide other benefits of employment.” Demos is run by its parent-company Delegas Brothers Inc., owned by brothers Nicholas and George Delegas.
In a press statement, lawyer for the defense John Tocci said, “Every year in Massachusetts, there are between four and five thousand claims made against employers.
“The vast majority are groundless and we believe that this one is not just groundless, but also frivolous,” he continues.
John Bita, Brooks’ lawyer told Open Media Boston, “Besides being denied overtime, Brooks and his co-workers were also denied other basic benefits of employment, including health insurance, worker’s compensation, and unemployment benefits.
“By denying its employees such benefits, a business not only harms its employees but gains an unfair advantage over those that do. The employer has responded by claiming that an ‘illegal resident’ of the United States is barred from recovering damages but this is not the law in Massachusetts,” he continues.
According to the complaint, Brooks received a ‘right-to-sue letter’ from the fair labor division of the Massachusetts attorney general’s office.
The court is asked to order Demos to pay unpaid wages, attorney fees and costs, and damages, which are trebled under state law.
The case is being heard in federal court in Boston by US District Judge Douglas Woodlock.
(Published on Open Media Boston)

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News Briefs: May 19, 2014

Adjunct Action, Northeastern University – Fenway
Adjunct faculty at Northeastern University last week voted in favor of forming a union as part of the Adjunct Action campaign of the SEIU. The adjuncts have formed the largest part-time faculty union in Boston, and along with 2,000 adjuncts at Tufts University and Lesley University, they are now united as part of the metro organizing strategy.
Massachusetts Teachers Association – Boston
Barbara Madeloni was elected president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association in a union election on Saturday, May 10. Madeloni is critical of standardized testing in schools, and is a member of the progressive union caucus, Educators for a Democratic Union. Her campaign argued against the “destructive impact of corporate reform and hyper-accountability on students, education workers, and school character.”
Boston Teachers Union – Boston
A commemoration of the historic Brown v Board of Education Supreme Court decision, which ended segregation in public schools in the US, was held at the Salvation Army Kroc Center of Boston on Saturday. Organized by the Boston Teachers Union, the event was part of a national week of action to continue organizing for racial, educational, and economic justice.
City Soil – Mattapan
City Soil, a community-based business, which develops programs in support of sustainable agriculture in Boston and across the state, staved off an eviction at its Mattapan location last week. The site hosts a project for composting food waste, manure, and landscape organics funded through a grant from the Massachusetts Department of Agriculture and the Suffolk County Conservation District. New England Zoo, which leases the property, initially sent an eviction notice to the business, but following an online campaign, the eviction did not proceed. However, a secure resolution to the issue of the use of the property has not been reached at this point.
Boston Jobs Coalition – Downtown Crossing
The Boston Jobs Coalition continued protests at the construction site of a new building at the historic Filene’s Basement in Downtown Boston on Wednesday. As previously reported by Open Media Boston, the coalition is critical of hiring practices for people of color and women at the site. They claim that the developer, Millennium Partners, has broken city hiring laws, and hasn’t contributed mandatory affordable housing payments. The next rally will be held on Wednesday, May 28.
Youth Justice and Power Union – Boston
A flash mob was held at Boston City Hall by the Youth Justice and Power Union on Tuesday last week, calling on the mayor and the city council to increase the number of summer jobs. Demonstrators claim that the number of summer jobs for young people in the city has declined, and are demanding 14,000 positions to be funded at a cost of $8.5m. They say that last year there were only 9,000 summer jobs, which amounted to the second lowest amount in eight years.
UMass Fossil Fuel Divestment Campaign – Fenway
Students from the UMass Fossil Fuel Divestment Campaign, a campaign to divest the University of Massachusetts’ endowment from the top 200 dirtiest fossil fuel companies, met with UMass President Robert Caret and other school officials on Tuesday last week. The meeting was granted after over a year of campaigning by the student activists. According to Varshini Prakash, co-leader of the group, “While the conversation was respectful, we felt the administration failed to understand the disastrous consequences of climate change for current students and generations of students to come.”
(Publish on Open Media Boston)

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dvocates Call for End to US Deportation Program, Passing of Massachusetts Trust Act

BOSTON/State House – Immigrant rights groups continued their calls for an end to the federal Secure Communities deportation program, and for the passage of a bill dubbed the “Trust Act” in a rally at the State House on Thursday.
Members and supporters of the Massachusetts Trust Act Coalition say the program unfairly targets primarily law-abiding undocumented immigrants since it was first enforced in the state two years ago.
They say it has led to the deportation of over 1,000 Massachusetts residents, separating families, and creating a rift between law enforcement and local communities, which would be addressed by the passing of the Trust Act.

Santos Gutierrez, a member of the Just Communities of Western Massachusetts immigrant-rights group, spoke at the rally about her family’s experiences.
She said, “five months ago my husband was pulled over for a driving infraction,” and despite being cleared by a judge of any wrongdoing, he was still detained by immigration authorities under the Secure Communities program.
“My family is suffering, including my three daughters,” said Gutierrez, “my youngest daughter is very traumatized, she’s very scared of the police; when we’re on the streets she’ll she a cop, and she’ll say, ‘Mom, pull over, hide over there, the police are coming;’ it’s time for police to their job and for immigration to do their job, and have those jobs be separated.”
State Senator James Eldridge (D-Acton), who sponsored the Trust Act senate bill told the rally that “we’re commemorating a very sad occasion, the two-year anniversary of the implementation in Massachusetts of the federal Secure Communities program.
“It was a program that Governor Patrick opposed, but has been mandated upon Massachusetts and what has happened since then is over 1,000 immigrants across Massachusetts have been deported; had family members ripped apart and sent back to their native lands, and that’s had a ripple effect not just within those families but in neighborhoods and communities across Massachusetts,” he continued.
He said that the program has caused “distrust” between immigrant communities and police departments across the state, and that “it’s targeting more often than not hard-working families who came here to provide a better life for their children.”
Somerville Mayor Curtatone also spoke out against the Secure Communities program and in favor of the Trust Act as a representative of a city where, he remarked, “we speak 52 languages.”
He said, “I’m just shocked that in what we call the most progressive state in the country that this bill [referring to the Trust Act] has not moved forward, this bill needs to pass now … what kind of hope and opportunity are we giving people when they have to live in the shadows, when they have to go to bed at night fearful that someone’s going to raid their house, break up their family … in most cases people didn’t have a violent record, these are people contributing positively to the City of Somerville, to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, to the United States of America.”
Somerville Police Chief Charles Femino, who organizers of the rally said was the first senior police official to speak out publicly against the federal program, told the rally that “when the Secure Communities program was implemented back in 2008, it was meant to be a program with the objective to remove immigrants who pose serious threats to the United States.
“Over time what has happened is that this has become a tool to prolong the detention of undocumented immigrants charged with minor crimes, who would otherwise be released pending a trial, thus leading to an increase in the number of deportations of non-criminals,” he continued.
According to Femino, police departments rely on information provided to them by members of the public, but “the Secure Communities program has built a wall between police and the immigrant community, consequently undocumented [individuals] are afraid to come forward with useful information in fear of deportation,” adding that “the City of Somerville takes pride in its diversity, and I want our officers, my officers, to continue their partnerships in protecting our residents, but we want to enforce those laws in a way that’s fair to all [members of the public].”
(Published on Open Media Boston)

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