Announcing the next phase of The New England Food System Resilience Fund. Learn More


September / 2017

Federal Panel Votes to Protect Public Against Flame Retardants in Baby Products, Furniture

Huge Win for Environmental Health Advocates

On September 20, the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) granted a joint petition to ban the entire harmful chemical class of organohalogen flame retardants in children’s products, furniture, mattresses, and electronics cases.

The Chicago Tribune reported  that Commissioner Robert Adler compared industry arguments against taking action to Big Tobacco’s attempts to delay government responses to the health dangers of cigarette smoking, stating, “The more evidence accumulates, the stronger we see the case against the use of these chemicals.”

JMF grantees Earthjustice and the Learning Disabilities Association of America joined with many others to submit the petition in 2015, hoping that the CPSC would act, as they have, to protect children, firefighters, and consumers from the dangerous health impacts of flame retardants.

This ruling sets a precedent of considering entire classes of chemicals with similar properties and similar hazards, rather than considering them one chemical at a time, which can lead to regrettable substitutions. The Green Science Policy Institute is doing valuable work popularizing this class-based approach to safer chemistry. Their six-minute video on flame retardants is available here.

While the new rule is being enacted, the CPSC will publish a Guidance Document in the Federal Register advising manufacturers of children’s products, furniture, mattresses, and electronics cases to decrease the unnecessary use of organohalogen flame retardants in their products. The commission also set in motion what will likely be a contentious debate about new regulations prohibiting manufacturers from adding any halogenated flame retardants to products covered by the ban.

Overall, the CPSC’s actions should go a long way toward moving the market towards healthier products.

July / 2017

Rhode Island Releases Food Strategy

On May 17, Rhode Island released its new five-year Food Strategy Plan, which is built around five action goals:

1. alleviate food insecurity and hunger throughout the state;

2. make food production more accessible;

3. create and sustain markets for Rhode Island food products;

4. promote environmental sustainability; and

5. support an economic climate friendly to food-related businesses.

The plan has been a goal for the state since 2011, when JMF grantee the Rhode Island Food Policy Council was founded. Since then, state leaders and local innovators have developed many initiatives to support food producers and provide more opportunities for all Rhode Islanders to access healthy food.  A year ago, Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo hired Susan Anderbois as Director of Food Strategy, the first position of its kind in the country.

Rhode Island’s food sector supports over 60,000 local jobs, and generated $2 billion in sales for restaurants in 2016.  However, only 1 percent of the food consumed by state residents is harvested locally and 35 percent of waste is made up of food and compostable material. Moreover, 12 percent of Rhode Islanders are considered “food insecure.”

The Rhode Island Food Policy Council is creating a series of multimedia stories to bring the reality of what it’s like to work in, and be fed by, Rhode Island’s food system day to day.  The first story features fantastic interviews with dairy farmers in the state, who are being squeezed economically, and the second features senior citizens visited by the mobile food truck Food on the Move, which makes fresh, local produce available to those facing food insecurity.

“I feel such optimism about our state’s food strategy, [and] we need everyone’s energy and ideas,” said Janet Coit, Director of the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM). “My most treasured traditions involve food; for example, summer doesn’t start for me until I go strawberry picking with my daughter, Nina. Today, I think we will look for an outcome where every Rhode Islander will have those experiences and have an opportunity to eat healthy, local food.”

July / 2017

Toxic Industrial Chemicals Found in 10 Varieties of Macaroni and Cheese Powders

On National Macaroni and Cheese Day, National Coalition Urges Kraft Heinz to Lead the Industry by Pledging to Eliminate Any and All Sources of Phthalates

July 13, 2017—Laboratory testing of 10 varieties of macaroni and cheese products has revealed toxic industrial chemicals (known as phthalates) in the cheese powders of all of them, according to the Coalition for Safer Food Processing & Packaging, a national alliance of leading public health and food safety groups.

In recognition of National Macaroni and Cheese Day tomorrow, the coalition has issued a call to The Kraft Heinz Company—the dominant seller of boxed macaroni and cheese, with 76 percent of market share—to drive industry-wide change by eliminating any sources of phthalates that may end up in its cheese products. Detailed information and a public petition are available here.

“Serving up one of America’s favorite comfort foods shouldn’t mean exposing your children and family to harmful chemicals,” said Mike Belliveau, executive director of the Environmental Health Strategy Center, a coalition member.  Other JMF grantees, including Earthjustice, Ecology Center, Healthy Babies Bright Futures, Learning Disabilities Association of America, Safer Chemicals Healthy Families, Safer States, and Toxic-Free Future are also members.

Two million boxes of macaroni and cheese are sold every day in the United States.

July / 2017

Migrant Justice’s Milk with Dignity Campaign

“Milk with Dignity will bring about a new day for dairy workers. Ben & Jerry’s is just the beginning. Company by company, we the workers—whether parents working to provide for their children, or youth dreaming of a brighter future—will transform this industry and win our human rights.”  –Enrique Balcazar, Migrant Justice Farm Worker Member*

Migrant Justice was formed in 2009 in response to the death of a young Vermont dairy farm worker by a diverse alliance of farm workers and concerned Vermonters, with the goal of allowing farm workers the opportunity to gather, discuss community problems, and envision solutions and plans for action.

In 2014, Migrant Justice’s members conducted a survey of 200 of the estimated 1,200-1,500 immigrant farm workers in the Vermont dairy industry, and found that a variety of abuses were surprisingly common. For example, 40% were paid below Vermont minimum wage, 29% worked seven or more hours in a row without a break, and 15% had insufficient heat in their housing. Migrant Justice’s members converted these violations into solutions by creating the Milk with Dignity Code of Conduct, which defines the human rights essential to a dignified workplace and fair housing.

To place these abuses in a larger context, Migrant Justice next addressed the corporate structure of the dairy industry and traveled to Florida to meet with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) to learn about their Campaign for Fair Food. Through legally binding agreements with fourteen major fast food and supermarket corporations—including McDonald’s, Whole Foods, and Walmart—the tomato workers of the CIW require companies to buy from tomato growers that follow a farm worker-authored code of conduct and pay a bonus that reaches workers.

The five elements of Migrant Justice’s Milk with Dignity program are adapted from the Fair Food Program: the code of conduct mentioned above; farm worker education; a third party body that monitors, enforces, and audits farmer compliance; economic relief provided to both farm workers and farmers; and a legally binding agreement that defines the program as an enforceable contract under the law.

In December 2014, Migrant Justice’s leadership invited Ben & Jerry’s to become the first company to join Milk with Dignity after years of educating the company about the challenges farm workers face in their supply chain. Because Ben & Jerry’s has distinguished itself for its commitment to social justice and high standards for sourcing ingredients in its world famous ice cream, workers hoped the company would be a proactive champion of the Milk with Dignity Program.

Ben & Jerry’s is also important to Migrant Justice because it purchases 100% of its cream in the Northeast from St. Albans Cooperative farms where many (if not the majority) of Vermont’s farm workers are employed. Further, from the beginning Vermont dairy workers have recognized that, in order for Milk with Dignity to be truly viable, buyers like Ben & Jerry’s would have to pay farmers a better price for their milk in order to offset costs of compliance due to unfair and volatile conditions in the dairy industry.

Although Ben & Jerry’s signed an Agreement to Cooperate on June 19, 2015, and they have participated in ongoing negotiations with Migrant Justice since then to hash out the details, the company has yet to finalize its participation by signing a legally binding agreement. Feeling exasperated by two full years of delayed action, Migrant Justice on June 17, 2017, led a 250-person pilgrimage through Vermont’s working rural landscapes with a national call to action for human rights, walking thirteen miles from Vermont’s State House to the Ben & Jerry’s plant in Waterbury. The march placed Milk with Dignity on the national center stage and piqued media interest from coast (Boston Herald) to coast (San Francisco Chronicle).

This day of action was supported by allies across the country, such as the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly, who delivered a letter to Ben & Jerry’s CEO Jostein Solheim on behalf of the 1.4 million-member Protestant denomination calling on Ben & Jerry’s to join the Milk with Dignity Program. As Dr. Nelson states in this letter,

“I urge you, do not delay any longer. Every day is a day that farm workers continue to suffer, farms are stretched further, and your customers grow more impatient. Sign in fact what you have already agreed to in principle, so that these anticipated transformational gains in human rights and sustainability may become a reality in Vermont’s dairy industry.”

*Click here to read one of a Migrant Justice member’s personal story of his work on Vermont dairy farms and participation in creating the Milk with Dignity program.

Milk with Dignity march on June 17.

July / 2017

Environmental Health Strategy Center

For the past fifteen years, the Environmental Health Strategy Center has inspired groundbreaking state policy and innovative market-based campaigns to phase out some of the most toxic chemicals from household goods and baby products.

The Environmental Health Strategy Center (EHSC) was founded in 2002. Through its campaigns and partnerships, the center works to ensure that all people are healthy and thriving in a fair and healthy economy. EHSC Executive Director Mike Belliveau is widely recognized for his leadership in the environmental health community and received The John Merck Fund’s Frank Hatch Award for Enlightened Public Service, or “Sparkplug Award,” in 2009.

EHSC is the lead coordinator of the Alliance for a Clean and Healthy Maine, which played a key role in educating policymakers about the first comprehensive safer chemicals law in the country, the Kid Safe Products Act, which passed by the Maine legislature in 2008. The bill requires Maine to adopt a list of priority chemicals of high concern, forces manufacturers to disclose the toxic chemicals they add to products, and authorizes the state to require safer alternatives whenever they are available.

In 2014, EHSC recognized the potential that markets-based approaches could have to move the economy toward safer chemicals, and they undertook a thoughtful strategic planning process to explore which type of campaigns could have the most market impact that would also be the best fit for EHSC’s skills and expertise.

This planning process led them to focus on phthalates, hormone-disrupting chemicals that can lower testosterone and alter thyroid function. Scientists have linked exposure to some phthalates during pregnancy and early childhood to changes in the developing brain that may result in children struggling to succeed in school, work, and life.

Scientists agree that for most people, the greatest exposure to phthalates comes from food. They are not intentionally added to food, but migrate into food products during food processing, packaging, and preparation. A 2014 scientific review paper concluded that dairy products were the largest contributor of dietary exposure to the most common phthalate, DEHP, for pregnant women and children.

EHSC began working with partner organizations to research phthalate exposure, participate in federal regulatory processes concerning phthalates, and develop a campaign targeting phthalates in children’s foods. That group of organizations is now known as the Coalition for Safer Food Processing and Packaging. Their campaign to urge Kraft Heinz to eliminate phthalates from macaroni and cheese products launched in July 2017.

July / 2017

Early Check Receives $5 Million in NIH Funding

A new program offering free elective genetic testing for newborns, developed at RTI International, will become available to North Carolina parents starting in 2018, thanks to a grant from the National Institutes of Health.

The National Institutes of Health, through the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS), announced earlier this year that it will provide $1 million per year over five years to launch the Early Check program (also supported by JMF) statewide in North Carolina, offering testing for one or more genetic conditions to up to 120,000 families each year. Early Check will function as a research study, helping enable research on genetic conditions and potential treatments. This project is one of seven innovation awards funded by National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences.

“We hope to offer to every baby born in North Carolina the opportunity to participate in this study,” said Don Bailey, PhD, Distinguished Fellow at RTI and the project’s principal investigator.

Shortly after birth, most babies in the US go through a series of screenings for genetic disorders. The tests help doctors act quickly to help babies with conditions that can be treated, but that might otherwise go unnoticed and could be deadly.

The panel of conditions currently included in standard newborn screening tests leaves out some diseases, such as Fragile X syndrome, that could be detected early. In some cases, tests are available, but expensive.

“The conditions left out of standard newborn screening do not have enough evidence that early treatment changes outcomes, something necessary for a public health program that is done universally,” said Lisa Gehtland, MD, a physician and public health analyst at RTI and the Project Director. Early Check researchers will provide information about whether some of these conditions are appropriate for newborn screening.

“Early Check is an exciting and innovative project to not only improve health outcomes, but to expand our scientific knowledge about detection and new approaches to treatment,” said Alex Kemper, MD, a pediatrician who serves as the principal investigator at Duke.

Read more about Early Check in its feature on the NIH’s NCATS website here.


July / 2017

NHSEA Works Across the Aisle to Strengthen New Hampshire’s Clean Tech Industry

The New Hampshire Sustainable Energy Association is the oldest and largest member-based nonprofit dedicated to improving New Hampshire’s clean energy economy.

The John Merck Fund began supporting the New Hampshire Sustainable Energy Association (NHSEA) in 2013, when its talented board chair, Kate Epsen, took the helm as executive director. Thanks in large part to Kate’s skills at coalition building and coordination, NHSEA is now seen as a hub for innovative energy initiatives across New Hampshire and boasts a diverse membership of hundreds of businesses and individuals. Its New Hampshire Clean Tech Council represents seventeen different economic sectors, and the council’s top priorities are strengthening the clean tech industry and promoting an innovative, stable, long-term clean tech policy that attracts new jobs, young professionals, and new investment.

In 2016, NHSEA focused on educating policymakers about the benefits of raising the state’s cap on net metering. Governor Hassan signed legislation raising the cap in August 2016. NHSEA was also a major stakeholder in the development of New Hampshire’s new Energy Efficiency Resource Standard, which sets statewide efficiency targets and will go into effect in 2018. In addition to this policy work, NHSEA also hosts many events and workshops and provides technical assistance to its members, and in October will host the ninth annual Local Energy Solutions Conference.

Executive Director Kate Epsen enjoys the variability of her job and relishes the challenge of building relationships with a diverse set of stakeholders that includes representatives from both sides of the political aisle, as well as both climate skeptics and fervent believers. As she puts it, “Working on energy in New Hampshire isn’t like working on it in Vermont, California, or Massachusetts. You need to be able to communicate with colleagues who at times have strongly divergent viewpoints, and to find creative ways to collectively move forward. It’s more challenging, but it’s also inspiring that headway can be made in ways you can’t always foresee.”

July / 2017

ChemSec Creates New “Dating Site” for Safer Chemistry

The corporate drive to substitute hazardous chemicals in products and supply chains is increasing dramatically, but it it is difficult for those creating safer alternatives to find those seeking them. This May, JMF grantee ChemSec (the International Chemical Secretariat) announced the launch of their Marketplace. In the words of  Anne-Sofie Andersson, Executive Director at ChemSec, “The Marketplace provides both a unique market opportunity for producers of safer alternatives, as well as a one-stop shop for progressive companies looking to substitute hazardous chemicals in their products.”

On Marketplace, safer alternatives are offered in the form of ads created by companies.  Some of the most forward-thinking chemical producers, such as Clariant, Chemours, and Valspar, are already featuring products on the website. “ChemSec’s Marketplace is a unique digital forum for suppliers and purchasers to exchange interest in commercial products that represent technical alternatives that may meet their sustainability goals or other business needs. Valspar is honored to be one of the first companies to place an advertisement for the valPure® V70 food contact coating technology on the Marketplace. We hope that others share our commitment to transparency and innovation and will advertise their solutions as well,” says Flavio Marchi, Global Marketing Director for Packaging at Valspar.

Click here for a Marketplace FAQ.

July / 2017

McFadden and Associates Wins EPA 2017 Safer Choice Partner of the Year Award

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) presented McFadden and Associates with a 2017 Safer Choice Partner of the Year award on May 15 in an awards ceremony held at the Gaylord Convention Center near Washington, DC. The professional consulting firm specializing in green chemistry applications and sustainable business practices was recognized by EPA Safer Choice “for its efforts to proactively advance and advocate for the importance of green chemistry and sustainable business practices.”

“We are honored to receive this distinguished EPA award. The recognition from the EPA is an important validation of our commitment to assist companies to innovate and formulate safer and more sustainable products ” said Roger McFadden, Senior Scientist and President of McFadden and Associates and member of the JMF Board of Trustees.

McFadden says, “A growing number of our business clients are selecting EPA Safer Choice because of its rigorous evaluation of the environmental and health impacts of every chemical ingredient in a product as well as its high credibility among consumers.”

If you would like more information about this topic, please contact Roger McFadden (503) 915-4640 or email at

June / 2017

Over 360 Global Investors Urge G20 and G7 to Stand by Paris Agreement

Over 360 long-term institutional investors representing more than $19 trillion in assets have written to G7 heads of state urging governments to stand by their commitments to the Paris Agreement at their upcoming summit in Hamburg on July 7-8, 2017.

“Investors are sending a powerful signal today that climate change action must be an urgent priority in the G20 countries, especially the United States, whose commitment is in question,” said Mindy Lubber, CEO and President of the sustainability nonprofit and JMF grantee, Ceres, which directs the Ceres Investor Network on Climate Risk and Sustainability. “Global investors are eager to open their wallets to a low-carbon future, but it won’t happen without clear, stable policy signals from countries worldwide – in particular, the US government whose waffling on the Paris Climate Agreement is hugely troubling.”

Download the letter signed by investors and the briefing paper for G7 and G20 leaders here.