Environmental Media Association

From SourceWatch
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Toxic sludge 80px.png

WARNING! Sewage sludge is toxic. Food should not be grown in "biosolids." Join the Food Rights Network.

The Environmental Media Association (EMA) is a non-profit organization founded by TV producer Norman Lear and led by Debbie Levin. It was founded in Hollywood, California, in 1989 by Norman Lear and his wife Lyn along with Cindy and Alan Horn. According to its website, "The Environmental Media Association believes that through television, film and music, the entertainment community has the power to influence the environmental awareness of millions of people. . . . EMA mobilizes the entertainment industry in educating people about environmental issues, which in turn, inspires them to take action."[1]

In May 2009, EMA launched a Los Angeles school garden program widely acclaimed as "organic," but in 2011 the Food Rights Network learned that products made from industrial and human sewage sludge from Los Angeles were provided to school children as part of this program by an EMA donor and recent addition to its Board of Directors. After being informed of this in March 2011, in April Levin asserted that EMA's inner-city school garden program "has never claimed to be 'organic,'" despite numerous statements by EMA's celebrity supporters and EMA itself to the contrary.

Controversy over EMA's "Organic" School Gardens Using Non-Organic Sewage Sludge-Based Products

Los Angeles Schools Notified of Being Sludged

In October 2011, in the week leading up to EMA's 21st annual Environmental Media Awards ceremony, the Center for Media and Democracy's Food Rights Network sent letters to the principals and PTA presidents of the thirteen schools whose "organic" gardens were sludged, notifying them of the contamination and urging remediation.[2]

Mud Barron Warned EMA About Kellogg Garden Products Sewage Sludge in Summer, 2009

Mud Baron, Master Gardener, was the School Garden Program Specialist for the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). In 2008 he approached Debbie Levin and Environmental Media Association about the EMA and its celebrities supporting the organic school gardens program he oversaw in Los Angeles. In 2008/2009 EMA agreed and signed on its first corporate partner. Then in the summer of 2009 EMA partnered with the Kellogg Garden Products Company, a firm primarily in the business of selling sewage sludge, unlabeled, as "compost." Mud Baron warned EMA at the time that Kellogg products contained sludge, and must be kept off the organic gardens. On May 2, 2011, he stated so in a signed affidavit. [3]

Correspondence from the EMA "Organic" School Garden Controversy

Organics Defenders Alert EMA to Use of Kellogg Sewage Sludge-Based Products in EMA's "Organic" School Gardens

The Truth about Kellogg "Organics" Amend

On March 30, 2011, EMA was notified by the Food Rights Network (FRN), a project of the Center for Media and Democracy, that the EMA School Garden Program--which EMA touted as creating "organic" gardens for school children--relied upon garden supplies that were not organic and that are made from Los Angeles sewage sludge. Since 2009, EMA has been relying on donations from Kathy Kellogg Johnson of Kellogg Garden Products for soil, fertilizer, and "compost" for these children's "organic" schoolyard gardens. (That letter is available here)

As noted in the FRN letter by John Stauber and Lisa Graves, the products donated to EMA by corporate board member Kathy Kellogg for the EMA school gardens include Kellogg Amend which contains sewage sludge, although the label calls the sludge "compost." The EMA-affiliated celebrities and the school children using these products in the EMA gardens would have no way of knowing that Amend is made from human and industrial sewage--which contains hazardous substances such as flame retardants, metals, and endocrine disruptors--because nothing on the Amend bags reveals this source. (As noted below, publicity photos from EMA's "organic" school gardens documents that Kellogg products that were used in the gardens include both OMRI-certified organic materials and the sewage sludge-based Amend produced by Kellogg.) (A message requesting a meeting with EMA's Debbie Levin is available here)

EMA's President Debbie Levin Asserts that EMA's School Garden Program "Has Never Claimed to be 'Organic'"

EMA Press Page Shows It Actively Promoted Its "EMA Organic Gardens"
EMA Press Page Shows It Actively Promoted Its "EMA Organic Gardens"

On April 21, 2011, Debbie Levin wrote a letter to Stauber and Hugh Kaufman in response to the concerns raised by FRN about the use of Kellogg Garden Products made from sewage sludge in the EMA school gardens by asserting that EMA's school garden program "has never claimed to be 'organic'"(emphasis added).

Levin said "EMA is a messaging organization" and that its schoolyard garden program "has been successful and inspirational" and is "not a certification program."

She also demanded that Kaufman stop communicating with noted environmental leader Ed Begley, Jr., a pioneer of organic gardening and member of the EMA Board.

She also asserted that Stauber and Kaufman were engaged in a "passionate" campaign "against" the Kellogg company. (That letter is available here)

EMA Solicited Donations to Support Its "Organic" School Garden Program

The same day, Hugh Kaufman responded to Levin's letter by noting that "With regards to your assertion that the 'EMA School garden program has never claimed to be 'organic,'" I think the record shows that you are mistaken: http://www.ema-online.org/contact_donate_school_gardens.php Thus, your email statement may be prima facie evidence that EMA's solicitation of funds to create 'organic gardens' is fraudulent." EMA's "School Garden Donation Page" solicits donations of $25 to $500 or more to "(s)upport the EMA School Gardens Program, which funds organically grown gardens in urban areas to educate students" (emphasis added).[4] On April 25, 2011, EMA deleted this mention of "organically grown" in describing the gardens, rather than end its partnership with sewage sludge seller and EMA donor, Kellogg.

Kaufman also stated with "regards to your false assertion that I have 'an extremely passionate campaign against Kellogg,' I have no such campaign. I don't know Kellogg from the man in the moon. I do, however, oppose growing food on sewage sludge. In fact Sony, Tristar, Michael Moore, and I were sued by companies' affiliated with the Luchese crime family on that issue almost 20 years ago. We won that suit." Kaufman also noted that he has been friends with Begley for over thirty years and would not cease communications with his friend unless Levin had power of attorney for Begley. (That message is available here)

(In the federal case referenced by Kaufman, a company hauling and dumping New York City sewage sludge on land in an impoverished Latino county in Texas sued TriStar, Kaufman, and others for an NBC report exposing the sludge. The conservative U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit threw out the case, unanimously ruling that "land application" of sewage sludge is "controversial" and that despite the claims of the sewage sludge industry "experts have yet to establish a consensus on the safety of land application of sludge." See Scalamandre & Sons, Inc. v. Kaufman, 113 F.3d 556 (5th Cir. 1997).[5] Another major federal case ruled that "the administrative record contains evidence that senior EPA officials took extraordinary steps to quash dissent, and any questioning of EPA's biosolids program"--in this case, over 300 cows died of poisoning and milk sold was also contaminated by the use of sewage sludge on a farm in Georgia. The farm family of Andy McElmurray was awarded compensation from the federal government for the destruction of their farmland and livestock by sewage sludge. See McElmurray v. Department of Agriculture, 535 F. Supp. 1318 (S.D. Ga. 2008).[6] Neither ruling was appealed or overturned.)

Leading Environmental Scientist Tells EMA Sewage Sludge Contains Flame Retardants, Metals, and "Other Toxic Stuff"

Dr. Pete Myers, who is CEO and Chief Scientist in Environmental Health Sciences at Carnegie Mellon and with EnvironmentalHealthNews.org, also responded to Levin's letter by noting that "the science of sewage sludge is that there is stuff in there that has the potential for all sorts of health problems. The problem is not the odor or the bacteria. It's what gets dumped down the drain that shouldn't be. Brominated flame retardants, especially, but also hazardous metals and a lot of other toxic stuff (technical language)." He added that he has respected EMA's efforts in the past but "If EMA is involved in promoting its use, then that is problematic. I wouldn't think it is something that EMA would want to do." (That message is available here)

The National Organic Standards Act makes it illegal to use sewage sludge on farms and gardens growing food labeled "organic." The National Organic Program (NOP) defines organic food as fruits, vegetable, and grains that "are raised without using most conventional pesticides, petroleum-based fertilizers, or sewage sludge-based fertilizers. . . . The NOP regulations prohibit the use of genetic engineering, ionizing radiation, and sewage sludge in organic production and handling." File:NationalOrganicProgram.pdf)

(For more information on tests of sewage sludge-based products for gardens that have been misleadingly promoted as "organic," check out SourceWatch's toxic sludge information center. )

Thousands Ask Norman Lear’s Environmental Media Association To Cut Ties With Sewage Sludge Company

Food Rights Network delivered a petition signed by over 12,000 Californians, asking EMA to cut its ties with Kellogg Garden Products and sludge in July 2011. Here is an excerpt from FRN's blog post describing the petition delivery:

"The Food Rights Network asked people to join in calling on the Environmental Media Association (EMA) to stop greenwashing sewage sludge, and Joan Dye Gussow, best-selling author of This Organic Life: Confessions of a Suburban Homesteader, signed her name. But it doesn't take one of the nation's most famous organic gardening experts to know that using toxic sewage sludge to grow food is a bad idea: 12,000 people signed in agreement!
"Last week, we hand-delivered the petition to EMA at their office in Los Angeles. We hope that this is the push they need to drop their relationship with Kellogg Garden Products, a company that gave yards and yards of sewage sludge products to L.A. school kids' gardens and sells its sewage sludge products in garden stores as "quality organics." We also asked EMA to clean up the school gardens that were contaminated with Kellogg's sludge."

For more, see the blog post "Thousands Ask Norman Lear’s Environmental Media Association To Cut Ties With Sewage Sludge Company."

EMA's Numerous Statements Tout Its "Organic" School Gardens

EMA Reps Describe the School Gardens as "Organic"

As noted by Hugh Kaufman, EMA has repeatedly described its school garden program as "organic." In fact, Levin herself describes the gardens as "organic" in the video to the left, as did EMA's star reps. (Levin's speech is at 1 minute 45 seconds in the video.) Levin's bio on Shades of Green also touts the "organic" gardens, noting that under her leadership EMA initiated "an organic gardens program with the Los Angeles Unified School District to support organic gardens. . . .[7]

Similarly, the first sentence of EMA's landing page for this project states "The Environmental Media Association (EMA) launched an ongoing partnership with LAUSD to support organically grown gardens and greenery in urban schools across Los Angeles" on May 12, 2009.(emphasis added)[8] On April 25, 2011, EMA deleted this mention of "organically grown" in describing the gardens, rather than end its partnership with sewage sludge seller and EMA donor, Kellogg.

EMA's website also described "why" it was launching this project: because "organically grown gardens provide the perfect opportunity to (engage students). The initial program included plans for funding ten organic schoolyard gardens and "celebrity mentoring." EMA stated, "This partnership is the beginning of an ambitious plan to sponsor and support garden programs in various school districts throughout the country."[9] Similarly, on April 25, 2011, EMA deleted this mention of "organically grown" in describing the gardens, rather than end its partnership with sewage sludge seller and EMA donor, Kellogg.

EMA Summer 2009 Newsletter, referring to gardens as "organic."

The EMA Summer 2009 Newsletter was headlined "EMA Goes Organic! in L.A. Unified School District."

Similarly, in a film featured on the EMA "school garden" photos page, actress and EMA leader Amy Smart states "I always choose to eat organic. I believe in trying to keep people as healthy as possible. We are in one of the organic gardens that we are starting to put into the L.A. Unified School District (in a voice over of the backdrop of a school garden with the words 'EMA School Garden'). We really wanted to bring kids back to nature. You know, so many of the schools are just pavement. The whole program is to educate the kids about organic gardening, about growing food from the ground up, eating it and then making healthier choices at home." (emphasis added)[10]

That film--"Organic: Protecting What We Cherish, A Short Film From Earthbound Farm"--also features Mara Lopez Nishita stating "I'm a mother and also a cancer survivor. It became very important for me to monitor everything I ate. So I made a pact to eat organic fruits and vegetables. The more people that know about the benefits of organic the better our environment will be." It also features Christopher Gavigan, the Executive Director of Healthy Child Healthy World, who states that "We're watching more parents understanding that this is my child. This is my child's one shot. Give them the happiest, healthiest, most prosperous life. . . . Every time you choose an organic over a conventional food you are making a choice . . . . You are putting your environmental protection up front." (emphasis added) It also features a school child at an EMA garden noting "We don't put pesticides in our vegetables."[11] (The children and their parents were not informed that they were putting their vegetables in Kellogg garden products made from human and industrial sewage sludge, however. Nor is there any evidence that celebrities supporting EMA's "organic" gardens were told that Kellogg garden products made from sewage sludge were being donated and used in these gardens.)

Hollywood Stars Featured in EMA's "Organic" School Garden Events

Rosario Dawson Unknowingly Posing at EMA Organic Garden Next to Kellogg's Sewage Sludge-Based Product, Amend
Rosario Dawson Unknowingly Posing at EMA Organic Garden Next to Kellogg's Sewage Sludge-Based Product, Amend.
The Summer 2010 EMA Online Newsletter has a photo of a bag of Kellogg Amend behind Kathy Kellogg at an EMA celebrity garden event
The Summer 2010 EMA Online Newsletter has a photo of a bag of Kellogg Amend behind Kathy Kellogg at an EMA celebrity garden event.
A photo from EMA's Westminster Avenue Elementary School "organic" garden includes a bag of Kellogg's sewage sludge-based Amend
A photo from EMA's Westminster Avenue Elementary School "organic" garden includes a bag of Kellogg's sewage sludge-based Amend.

Members of EMA's Young Hollywood Board, such as Amy Smart, Olivia Wilde, Rosario Dawson, and Lance Bass, pledged to participate in the program as mentors, helping the children plant and tend the gardens and speaking to the children about healthy eating.[12]

Photos from the EMA "organic" schoolyard garden events feature Dawson, Smart, and Wilde as well as Emmanuelle Chriqui, Malin Akerman, Rachelle Lefevre, Ali Larter, Emily VanCamp, and Carter Oosterhouse. [13] Other Members of EMA's Young Hollywood Board include: Anna Getty, Cassidy Horn, Cody Horn, Ben Lear, Bree Lear, Maddy Lear, Maroon 5, Nicole Richie, and Matthew Rhys.

Sewage-sludge based products donated by EMA Corporate Board member Kathy Kellogg Johnson of Kellogg Garden Products are on display in publicity shots of EMA's "organic" schoolyard gardens.[14] For example, the photo to the right shows Dawson working in an EMA garden with a bag of Amend, a Kellogg product made with sewage sludge (identified only as "compost" on the bag's label).[15] A bag of Amend is also visible in a video from that day on EMA's website.

An article in EMA's newsletter reported that: "EMA, along with our Young Hollywood Board, celebrated the successful first year of our school garden program with an organic luncheon at the amazing Learning Garden located at Venice High School. What is now an annual event, our first school gardens luncheon was enjoyed by students and teachers from each of our initially adopted 9 schools and EMA Young Hollywood Board Members Amy Smart (board chair), Emmanuelle Chriqui, Rosario Dawson, Ali Larter, Rachelle Lefevre, and Carter Oosterhouse."

The newsletter noted that "We were also honored to have Executive Board members Frances Fisher, Daryl Hannah, Rachel Kropa and Wendie Malick join us for the event. Working with partner sponsors Yes to Carrots and Kellogg Garden Products, EMA has supported organic gardens in Los Angeles with monetary grants, product donations and celebrity mentors to spotlight the need for organic gardens in urban schools." (emphasis added)

It also noted that "The Learning Garden is a model example of how school gardens can transform the lives of students and teachers and the environment of their community. . . . Chef Mary Sue Milliken incorporated fresh organic vegetables and herbs from our partner schools. As our guests enjoyed their meal, EMA President Debbie Levin and EMA Young Hollywood Board chair Amy Smart emceed a short program that focused on the importance of healthy foods in our schools."(emphasis added) [16]

That article also noted that "The day closed with the announcement of the winning school for a $5,000 grant from Yes to Carrots to support an organic school garden. Over 400 schools entered the contest and the winner was Highland Elementary School in Minnesota! As we move into fall 2010, the EMA Young Hollywood Board will be mentoring 16 gardens! We look forward to adding more gardens each year and helping to assist, motivate and encourage this important direction in education and nutrition for children of all ages."(emphasis added) [17]

Public Schools Participating in EMA's "Organic" School Gardens

  • 186th Street School,Gardena, CA; Brooklyn Early Education Center, Los Angeles, CA; Calvert Street Elementary School, Woodland Hills, CA; Carson Senior High School, Carson, CA; Carthay Center Elementary School, Los Angeles, CA; Eliot Middle School, Altadena, CA; Helen Bernstein High School, Los Angeles, CA; Marvin Avenue Elementary School, Los Angeles, CA; Nueva Esperanza Charter School, San Fernando, CA; Saturn Street Elementary School, Los Angeles, CA; University High School, Los Angeles, CA; Venice Senior High School, Los Angeles, CA; and Westminster Avenue Elementary School, Venice, CA.[18]

Kellogg Brand Featured in EMA Newsletter

EMA Corporate Board Member Kathy Kellogg at the EMA Awards
EMA Corporate Board Member Kathy Kellogg of Kellogg Garden Products at the EMA Awards, from Facebook

Kellogg products are not just featured in publicity photos and videos of EMA events. The brand has also been given exposure to all of the subscribers of the EMA newsletter via a column penned by Corporate Board member Kathy Kellogg Johnson of Kellogg Garden Products. She wrote a piece in EMA's Winter 2009/2010 Newsletter called "It's A Wonderful Life – for Compost and Mulch and Kellogg."[19] In it, she wrote:

"It occurred to me that in the 85 years that Kellogg has been rescuing organic materials from being burned or dumped. Our composting them, and transforming them for fertilizing farms and gardens, it has created a pretty Wonderful Life for the planet! . . . . What would the planet be like if no one had thought to recover and compost leaves and twigs and manures? Well there would have been a significantly larger Carbon Footprint, for one."

In the piece, Kellogg references "organic materials" and does not mention that since its founding Kellogg promoted sewage sludge-based products. The piece also does not mention that the Amend product used at the EMA "organic" school gardens is made from "sewage sludge," and it does not even use the industry's PR term for sewage sludge, "biosolids." A core ingredient in 70% of the Kellogg products sold, including the Amend product used in EMA's "organic" gardens, is sewage sludge, which the industry is now promoting using the term "compost." Kellogg does have a line of OMRI-certified organic products, but as noted above, sewage sludge-based products such as Amend were supplied to EMA's "organic" school gardens, not just its OMRI products.

Kellogg Brand Featured at EMA's Awards Ceremony and Other Publicity

Kellogg Financial Support for EMA's "Organic" Gardens Garners Prominent Brand Placement via Celeb Gift Bags at the EMA Awards
Kellogg Financial Support for EMA's "Organic" Gardens Garners Prominent Brand Placement via Celeb Gift Bags at the EMA Awards

Similarly, as noted on Facebook, the Kellogg brand was featured at the 2010 EMA Awards. Paper bags branded with the Kellogg corporate logo were the "goody bags" for the celebrities attending the event.

It is unclear what the value of the publicity is that Kellogg has gained from its recent association with EMA and its "organic" school gardens. It is also unclear how much money or in-kind contributions from Kellogg Garden Products or its leader have been given to EMA. Nor is it clear how much Kellogg Garden Products has written off its taxes through tax-deductible donations to EMA for either financial support or supplying Kellogg products to EMA's "organic" gardens. (Additionally, EMA's 990 filing showing its revenue or expenses for 2009, since the EMA "organic" school garden program started, is not publicly available.)

EMA's Winter 2009 newsletter described the publicity gained from the launch of its "organic" garden program in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD): "the launch event showcased the LAUSD program and featured the high school students planting with the celebrities. Most importantly, the event generated significant national media attention for school gardens to the tune of almost 70 million impressions." The newsletter noted that this "exciting new program to support and encourage organic gardens" was important because in "this time of school budget crises, we can't forget the impact that organic gardens can have on a school and student body." It is not clear how many web "impressions" EMA's "organic" garden program has garnered nationally or in California in the past two years or how much this publicity has helped the sales of Kellogg Garden Products.

EMA Activities, Personnel and Boards

EMA Awards

Other EMA programs include the EMA Awards, which "honor film and television personalities, productions, musicians and musical tours that convey environmental messages in the most creative and influential ways" and the "EMA Green Seal Awards", which "honor productions and corporate entertainment offices that go green ‘behind the scenes.’" Additionally, "EMA offers practical guidance on how the entertainment industry and individuals can green their day-to-day lives."[20]


Accessed January 2011: [21]

Advisory Board

Accessed January 2011: [22]

EMA Corporate Board

As of February 1, 2011:[23]

Young Hollywood Board

EMA Staff and Contact Information

Website Accessed February 11, 2011. [24]

Articles and Resources

Related Sourcewatch pages


  1. EMA Website, Accessed February 1, 2011
  2. Lisa Graves, Children Gardening in Sewage Sludge: Los Angeles Schools Alerted, PRWatch.org, October 14, 2011
  3. I Never Promised You an Organic Garden Jill Richardson, La Vida Locavor May 3, 2011
  4. EMA Website, accessed Apr. 22, 2011
  5. http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=6654412296609419509&q=Scalamadre.+Kaufman&hl=en&as_sdt=2.4
  6. http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=16820900229468098646&q=535+F.Supp.2d+1318+&hl=en&as_sdt=2.4
  7. http://www.gradesofgreen.org/biographies/debbie-levin
  8. Los Angeles Unified School District About EMA School Gardens, accessed Apr. 22, 2011
  9. EMA Website on Gardens Program Accessed Feb. 1, 2011
  10. EMA Website, accessed Apr.22, 2011
  11. EMA Website, accessed Apr. 22, 2011
  12. EMA Website on Gardens Program, accessed Feb. 1, 2011
  13. EMA Website on Celebrities Participating in the Garden Program, accessed Apr. 22, 2011
  14. Spring, 2010 newsletter, Accessed February 1, 2011.
  15. Westminster Avenue Elementary School garden, Accessed April 19, 2011.
  16. Summer 2010 EMA Online Newsletter, Accessed 4/20/11.
  17. Summer 2010 EMA Online Newsletter, Accessed 4/20/11.
  18. Environmental Media Association, EMA Website List of Schools, organizational site, accessed October 14, 2011
  19. EMA Winter 2009 Newsletter, Accessed April 20, 2011.
  20. EMA Website, Accessed April 20, 2011
  21. Board, Environmental Media Association, accessed January 16, 2011.
  22. Advisory Board, Environmental Media Association, accessed January 16, 2011.
  23. EMA Website, Accessed February 1, 2011
  24. Website Accessed Feb. 11, 2011

EMA Website Screenshots

Cached version of EMA Pages with the word "Organic," where references to organic are later removed:

EMA Pages with the word "Organic" removed:

References to "organic" gardens on EMA site, April 26, 2011.

Emmanuelle Chriqui at Carson HS posed with Kellogg sludge compost:

  • Media:Emmanuelle.jpg: Photo on EMA site of Emmanuelle Chriqui posed with an empty bag of Kellogg sludge compost (likely Gromulch). Downloaded on May 7, 2011.
  • Media:CarsonHSscreenshot.jpg: Screenshot of EMA site with photo of Emmanuelle Chriqui posed with an empty bag of Kellogg sludge compost (likely Gromulch). Screenshot taken on May 7, 2011.

External Resources

External Articles