Join the Student Environmental Resource Center (SERC) in celebrating the 50th anniversary of Earth Day with Virtual Earth Week. Earth Week festivities were moved online this year, in accordance with social distancing measures for the COVID-19 pandemic.
Virtual Earth Week involves online events such as Eco-Community Coffee Chats and the Earth Optimism 2020 Digital Summit, where participants can join Berkeley students and community members to learn more about environmental health, the future of climate policy, and a variety of other topics. Registration for the events can be found on SERC’s Virtual Earth Week Calendar.Image: Date: Monday, April 20, 2020 - 12:30 Legacy: section header item: Date: Monday, April 20, 2020 - 12:30 headline_position: Top Left headline_color_style: Normal headline_width: Long caption_color_style: Normal caption_position: Bottom Left Expose in main "News river"?: yes
This article first appeared in the Guardian and later on the Berkeley News website. Seth Holmes is an associate professor and Vera L. Chang is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management.
Mike Pence called United States farm and other food workers “heroic Americans” last week for doing “vital” work amid the coronavirus pandemic and said the government would “work tirelessly” to ensure their workplace safety.
Earlier in the month, the Department of Homeland Security had classified workers pulling onions, collecting eggs, processing beef and others as “essential,” and part of the “critical infrastructure workforce” that has a “special responsibility to maintain [a] normal work schedule.”
Though their designation as essential workers is apt, relief measures recognizing their importance haven’t been offered. Congress’s $2 trillion pandemic stimulus package specifically excludes food workers, leaving them without basic safety equipment like masks and hand sanitizer, benefits like healthcare and childcare, protections like physical distancing, and hazard pay. Food workers have also been left out of state aid.
Food workers are being denied basic protections amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
Protections are urgently needed. While Americans have been instructed to maintain 6 feet from others, food workers labor shoulder-to-shoulder in the country’s mega-processing plants. Farmworkers pack into buses to and from orange groves and other harvest sites. They share cramped rooms, even beds, with strangers, and lack ventilation or access to sanitation. “The company isn’t doing anything to give workers space. We’re close to each other all the time,” a Tyson poultry worker in Arkansas stated. She’s a member of Venceremos, a group of poultry workers petitioning companies to provide sick leave.
Yet for many food workers, absence from work due to illness risks termination. And these workers have high rates of hypertension and respiratory impairments – conditions linked to severe COVID-19 disease – because of their proximity to chemicals known to be lung irritants. Essential food workers are paid minimum wages while enduring perilous conditions. They face an agonizing choice: stay home without income for rent or go to work and risk infection.
“We’re in a country where people want our labor but don’t care about our lives. Our human rights have been denied, but our work is being deemed essential. The injustice of the system is laid bare,” explained Enrique Balcazar, an organizer with Migrant Justice, a dairy worker-led organization pressing the state of Vermont to include workers’ needs in its crisis response.
As much of the country shelters in place to slow the spread of the virus, we put our lowest-paid workers at the frontlines of battle with no support. But the nation’s 2.4 million farmworkers, 148,000 processing workers and other food chain workers are imperative to our economy, collective health and basic survival. They support the national interest. Danger to food workers is a danger for us all. And some of them are starting to die while working to feed us.
“The worker community is afraid. Farmers are worried. No one is going to be able to replace us when workers get sick,” Pedro, a Vermont dairy worker and Migrant Justice member, told us this week. This raises an urgent question: When we don’t protect workers who pick, process, and pack our food, what will happen to our food supply and all of us?
Chuck Grassley, the Senate finance chairman, told Bloomberg Law: “I don’t think anybody’s going to back legislation that would say we’re going to start giving healthcare to undocumented workers.” Meanwhile, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration says it is helpless even though Congress has obligated it to keep workers safe from “grave danger.” Workers have little recourse.
We can and must do better. And we’re at a pivotal juncture, with peak harvest about to begin. As a result of the pandemic, there have been mass H-2A visa suspensions, closed borders, severe worker layoffs. Our farm and food worker labor pool could shrink to the brink of collapse. If we don’t address this looming problem, an unprecedented national hunger crisis will be imminent.
“In order to ‘flatten the curve,’ the government needs to provide resources to those who don’t have the possibility of social distancing and sheltering in place. It’s immoral to expect that we carry the burden of this contradiction,” asserted Gerardo Reyes, a leader of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a tomato picker-led organization that’s calling on the state of Florida for emergency provisions for farmworkers. The Coalition is based in Immokalee, a town of 25,000 farmworkers with no hospitals, a situation that Reyes describes as “dry tinder in the path of the wildfire that is COVID-19.”
Essential workers in U.S. fields and processing plants are experts in what is needed to safeguard their own health and safety. They should be invited to play a central role in planning our food system’s workplace emergency responses. Worker participation in the design of their protections would create a more robust, resilient food system that could weather this and future pandemics.
We call on the public, businesses, states and Congress to support workers’ appeals. The pleas made by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, Migrant Justice and Venceremos, and other farm and food worker organizations must be acted on. “This is no time to be in denial. There’s an emergency happening,” warned Magaly Licolli, a founding member of Venceremos.
We have a responsibility to act decisively. Time is running out.Image: Date: Monday, April 20, 2020 - 10:45 Byline: Seth Holmes and Vera L. Chang Legacy: section header item: Date: Monday, April 20, 2020 - 10:45 headline_position: Top Left headline_color_style: Normal headline_width: Long caption_color_style: Normal caption_position: Bottom Left News/Story tag(s): Research News Expose in main "News river"?: yes Keyword tag(s): COVID-19
Join MCB Lecturer Dr. Robin Ball on her tour of MCB lab classrooms and hear from MCB students about their journey through the MCB major.
Members of the Robert Tjian and Xavier Darzacq lab have repurposed a student teaching lab to make 120 gallons of hand sanitizer per week for distribution, through volunteers, to needy populations in the Bay Area.
Edith Smith bred a bluer and shinier Common Buckeye at her butterfly farm in Florida, but it took University of California, Berkeley, graduate student Rachel Thayer to explain the physical and genetic changes underlying the butterfly’s newly acquired iridescence.
In the process, Thayer discovered how relatively easy it is for butterflies to change their wing colors over just a few generations and found the first gene proven to influence the so-called “structural color” that underlies the iridescent purple, blue, green and golden hues of many butterflies.
Congratulations to MCB Professor of Biochemistry, Biophysics and Structural Biology Jennifer Doudna on her 2020 Guggenheim Fellowship!
Photo courtesy of Carl Boettiger.
Congratulations to environmental science, policy, and management assistant professor Carl Boettiger on being named one of the Ecological Society of America’s 2020 Early Career Fellows. The fellowship recognizes Boettiger for his contributions to the community at large through his research, teaching, and communication, as well as his leadership within stochastic dynamics in open science and population ecology.
As an Early Career Fellow, he is honored for substantially advancing ecological research within eight years of his doctoral studies, as well as for his promise in further advanced research. Boettiger will serve as a fellow for five years, during which time he will continue developing cutting-edge research at the forefront of ecological systems and processes.
Boettiger’s research focuses on ecological forecasting to support conservation and natural resource management amidst global change. His work combines ecological principles with mathematics, as well as the use of complex data to support these environmental systems. Several of his projects have used data science to rebuild global fisheries, to assess population dynamics, and to construct robust ecological models.
To learn more about the award and Boettiger’s research, visit the Ecological Society of America website.Image: Date: Thursday, April 9, 2020 - 11:30 Legacy: section header item: Date: Tuesday, April 7, 2020 - 11:30 headline_position: Top Left headline_color_style: Normal headline_width: Long caption_color_style: Normal caption_position: Bottom Left News/Story tag(s): Honors and Awards Expose in main "News river"?: yes
On April 2, the MCB Industrial Affiliates Program (IAP) hosted its annual Spring Symposium virtually via Zoom. The event brought together about 80 attendees with industry representatives from eight biotech companies.
Congratulations Sheng Luan on receiving the Fellow of American Society of Plant Biologists (ASPB) Award for his contributions to plant research, education, and outreach. Given annually, the Award recognizes members of ASPB who have been of service to the Society as both a mentor and industry professional. Luan has been an ASPB member for over a decade and is among six recipients from various universities.
Luan studies the molecular networks which allow plants to perceive and respond to environmental signals. His lab focuses on “calcium signatures,” which describes how plants’ calcium levels change in response to various environmental changes. The research illustrates the biochemistry behind plant adaptation in a changing and increasingly unpredictable climate.Wednesday, April 8, 2020 - 12:15 Byline: Anjika Pai Legacy: section header item: Date: Wednesday, April 8, 2020 - 12:15 headline_position: Top Left headline_color_style: Normal headline_width: Long caption_color_style: Normal caption_position: Bottom Left News/Story tag(s): Honors and Awards Expose in main "News river"?: yes
Giovanna Figueroa, a UC Berkeley Ph.D. student in the Department of Integrative Biology, had just arrived in the village the previous day, after a 16-hour boat trip from her base in Iquitos, the rainforest’s largest city and one that can’t be reached by roads. When the local guide she’d hired told her the latest, Figueroa was pressing herbarium specimens, preserving palm fruit pulp samples and pleased with her first day of research in Pucaurco on a two-week trip along the Nanay, a 196-mile tributary of the Amazon River.