Are Any Plastics Safe? Industry Tries to Hide Scary New Evidence on BPA-Free Containers: Interview with Mariah Blake
‘A new exposé by Mother Jones magazine may shock anyone who drinks out of plastic bottles, gives their children plastic sippy cups, eats out of plastic containers, or stores food with plastic wrap. For years, public campaigns have been waged against plastic containing bisphenol-A (BPA), a controversial plastic additive, due to concerns about adverse human health effects caused by the exposure to synthetic estrogen. But a new investigation by Mother Jones reporter Mariah Blake has revealed that chemicals used to replace BPA may be just as dangerous to your health, if not more. Plastic products being advertised as BPA-free — and sold by companies such as Evenflo, Nalgene and Tupperware — are still releasing synthetic estrogen. The Mother Jones piece also reveals how the plastics industry has used a “Big Tobacco-style campaign” to bury the disturbing scientific evidence about the products you use every day. Blake joins us to discuss her findings.’ (Democracy Now!)
Ivory Coast is re-emerging as the prime investment destination in French-speaking West Africa after a decade of political turmoil but President Alassane Ouattara must weed out corruption and promote reconciliation to keep cash flowing in. Long considered the jewel in the crown of France’s former West African territories, a 1999 coup destroyed the reputation of Ivory Coast – the world’s largest cocoa producer – as an island of stability in a troubled region. A bloody presidential election in 2000 and a rebellion two years later triggered an exodus of capital that undid decades of development, dubbed the Ivorian Miracle.
With peace finally restored, French construction firm Bouyges, oil companies such as Tullow and Lukoil, and South Africa’s Standard Bank are among those flocking to invest. ”We lost half of our companies during that time. The level of poverty increased from 10 percent to almost 50 percent,” Trade Minister Jean-Louis Billon told Reuters. “Now we want to move forward.” A brief civil war in 2011 allowed Ouattara, who won an election that sparked the fighting, to secure the presidency and reunite a nation still divided between a rebel north and government-controlled south despite years of peace overtures.
With the former International Monetary Fund official at the helm, Ivory Coast’s $40 billion economy – comprising nearly half West Africa’s six-nation CFA currency bloc – embarked on a dramatic revival. It posted growth of over 9 percent the past two years and the government is targeting double-digits in 2014 as it seeks to make up ground on neighbouring Ghana, a new oil exporter. ”Ivory Coast could become one of the motors of economic growth in Africa again,” IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde told a conference in Abidjan last week that drew 4,000 delegates and more than $800 million in investment pledges.
Large-scale infrastructure projects, shelved during a decade of political deadlock, are springing back to life. A motorway linking the port of Abidjan to the administrative capital Yamoussoukro opened late last year. Bouyges is pressing ahead with a long-delayed third bridge across Abidjan’s lagoon to unlock congestion. Heavy investment in electricity generation aims to boost output from 1,600 megawatts to 4,000 by 2020 as Ivory Coast, already a power exporter, seeks to become a regional energy hub.
Azodicarbonamide is a chemical used to make shoes, yoga mats, a variety of plastic products, and … bread? American supermarkets are crawling with the chemical, also known as ADA, according to the Environmental Working Group, which today released a report identifying almost 500 food products that use it. Most of the foods were bread-like—things like hot dog buns, bagels, pizza, tortillas—and they came from brands ranging from Wonder Bread to those marketed as healthy, like Nature’s Own and Village Health.
The World Health Organization says there’s “abundant evidence” that ADA can cause asthma and skin sensitization, according to Reuters. It also releases the carcinogen urethane when baked. In plastics, it’s used to make materials more flexible. For bakers, it bleaches flour, making dough easier to work, and bread fluffier. ADA was thrust into the public eye earlier this month when FoodBabe.com launched a petition demanding that Subway stop using it. The chain acquiesced, but said it believed the chemical was safe—and some scientific experts do agree; one tells Bloomberg that toasting bread creates far more urethane than ADA.
Agriculture was always expected to be a main sticking point in the talks to form a “Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership”, particularly since the goal is not just to reduce tariffs but also to reconcile the two different regulatory philosophies. The gap is especially wide on food safety, with the EU practising the “precautionary principle” – which has a much lower threshold for setting restrictions compared to the US, with its more lenient “risk assessment” model.
Agricultural policy and methods remain the subject of intense debate within the EU and divisive issues among its member states. In May, new European Parliament elections are expected to produce a big swing in favour of populists, many of them anti-American and from rural constituencies. Those lawmakers will ultimately have to approve TTIP so their political hue is vital.
The European Commission is expected soon to authorise the use of a new insect-resistant GM strain of corn/maize called Pioneer 1507. But that follows more than a decade of debate and six separate scientific studies. It also comes despite votes by 19 of the EU’s 28 member states to block approval thanks to the bloc’s weighted voting system. While the UK backed approval, France vehemently opposed it.
US corn and soyabean producers complain that it can take more than 4 years to approve certain genetically modified approved crops, when it should only take 18 months – and they also question the EU’s mandatory labelling of GMO products. “It is nothing less than a scare label for consumers,” says Mr Censky. Nick Giordano, vice-president and counsel for international affairs at the US National Pork Producers Council, acknowledges that these are “emotional issues” in Europe, but said Mr De Gucht’s comments were “troubling” and it was “preposterous” to question the safety of US food.
Abby Martin speaks with Dr. Roberto De Vogli, lead author of a recent report in the Bulletin of the World Health Organization that concludes that stronger government intervention is needed to slow and possibly even reverse the problem of obesity. (Breaking the Set)
Argentina’s fertile lands make it one of the world’s great food-producing nations. But farmers there are in a constant battle against insects with environmentalists worried about the side effects from the heavy use of pesticides. (Al Jazeera)
A new supermarket opened in Goldthorpe, South Yorkshire, in December last year. Nothing exciting about that, you’d think. But this is no ordinary supermarket. Instead, it’s a rather exclusive, members-only store.
The Community Shop caters specifically to people who are in receipt of benefits, such as income support, and who live in a catchment area around the store. The first of its kind in Britain, it’s known as a ‘social supermarket’ and sells surplus food drawn from major retailers, stocking many of the same items and brands you’d find in a high street supermarket, except the prices are up to 70% lower. A social enterprise, it’s been launched as a subsidiary of Company Shop, a longstanding commercial redistributor of surplus food.
The store will also offer access to other services such as CV-writing skills, debt advice and cookery classes. Goldthorpe is a former coalmining village, and still has high levels of social deprivation; with this pilot, and its additional services, Company Shop hopes that customers in the catchment area will be able to get “on the road back to becoming mainstream consumers.”
Severe flooding threatens to undermine the country’s food security, according to farmers and environmental groups, who today accuse the government of failing to address the effects of climate change on coastal and rural areas.
As gales swept southern and western parts of the UK, with already drenched counties bearing the brunt of the storms, it has emerged that parliament’s select committee on the environment warned in a report last year that “the current model for allocating flood defence funding is biased towards protecting property, which means that funding is largely allocated to urban areas. Defra’s [the Department of the Environment's] failure to protect rural areas poses a long-term risk to the security of UK food production, as a high proportion of the most valuable agricultural land is at risk of flooding.”
“We need a response from government that recognises the importance for our long-term food security of safeguarding high-quality farmland,” said Neil Sinden of the Campaign to Protect Rural England. “We need to view the countryside as more than a place for building, and value it for the food it provides.” Defra has estimated that 35,000 hectares of high-quality horticultural and arable land will be flooded at least once every three years by the 2020s. This could rise to around 130,000 hectares by the 2080s if there is no change to current flood defence provision.
One hundred feet beneath the bustling city of London, in air raid shelters used during World War II, a company is growing leafy greens. Welcome to Growing Underground. Using a hydroponics system — a method of growing plants using mineral nutrient solutions in water — and LED lighting, the company grows nine kinds of veggie and three herbs year long in the 2.5 acres underneath the London Underground’s Northern line.
As a part of the larger company Zero Carbon Food, cofounded by Richard Ballard and Steven Dring, Growing Underground prides itself on being a carbon neutral operation. The underground farm estimates that its hydroponics system uses 70 percent less water than the traditional open-field farming. Besides providing eco-friendly food, Growing Underground’s system seeks to reduce “food miles” — or the distance it takes for produce to reach your plate. Because the company grows in, around and under London for London residents, the time between harvest and sale could be as little as four hours.
Consumers are being sold food including mozzarella that is less than half real cheese, ham on pizzas that is either poultry or “meat emulsion”, and frozen prawns that are 50% water, according to tests by a public laboratory. The checks on hundreds of food samples, which were taken in West Yorkshire, revealed that more than a third were not what they claimed to be, or were mislabelled in some way. Their results have been shared with the Guardian.
Testers also discovered beef mince adulterated with pork or poultry, and even a herbal slimming tea that was neither herb nor tea but glucose powder laced with a withdrawn prescription drug for obesity at 13 times the normal dose. A third of fruit juices sampled were not what they claimed or had labelling errors. Two contained additives that are not permitted in the EU, including brominated vegetable oil, which is designed for use in flame retardants and linked to behavioural problems in rats at high doses.
Experts said they fear the alarming findings from 38% of 900 sample tests by West Yorkshire councils were representative of the picture nationally, with the public at increasing risk as budgets to detect fake or mislabelled foods plummet.
Editor’s Note: A quote from the book ‘Ethical Eating: A Complete Guide to Sustainable Food’ by Malcolm Coxall: “These days, along with the arms, oil and pharmaceutical industries, Big Food is one of the most powerful and unethical industrial monopolies on the planet. With its history in the transatlantic slave trade of the sugar and coffee plantations, the food industry maintains the same criminal attitudes to the present day. The production and distribution of food is now controlled by a tiny group of untrustworthy global transnational corporations, driven only by profit. Our food industry is riddled with scandals of food contamination and adulteration. The nutritional quality and safety of our food has been in freefall for 70 years and diet related illnesses are now at epidemic levels with obesity, heart disease, strokes and cancers all being closely linked to our worsening diet. Despite appeals for the food industry to clean up its act and stop adulterating our food with cheap unhealthy ingredients, the shelves of our supermarkets are still full of junk.”
New documents released by Anonymous reveal that the FBI has sent out a terrorism warning that a news program, which featured video footage of a lab cited for animal welfare violations, may “incite criminal activity.”
The documents were obtained by hackers calling themselves “Team Berserk,” and include intelligence bulletins from Department of Homeland Security fusion centers. The document dump included a weekly intelligence bulletin distributed by the FBI to counterterrorism units about “animal rights extremists.”
The February 6, 2012 bulletin warns of a network news broadcast about a biomedical facility that has been fined for animal welfare violations. It included “footage of actual research procedures performed there on primates.”
The case of the missing corn seeds first broke in May 2011 when a manager at a DuPont research farm in east-central Iowa noticed a man on his knees, digging up the field. When confronted, the man, Mo Hailong, who was with his colleague Wang Lei, appeared flushed. Mr. Mo told the manager that he worked for the University of Iowa and was traveling to a conference nearby. When the manager paused to answered his cellphone, the two men sped off in a car, racing through a ditch to get away, federal authorities said.
What ensued was about a year of F.B.I. surveillance of Mr. Mo and his associates, all but one of whom worked for the Beijing Dabeinong Technology Group or its subsidiary Kings Nower Seed. It resulted in the arrest of Mr. Mo last December and the indictment of five other Chinese citizens on charges of stealing trade secrets in what the authorities and agriculture experts have called an unusual and brazen scheme to undercut expensive, time-consuming research.
China has long been implicated in economic espionage efforts involving aviation technology, paint formulas and financial data. Chinese knockoffs of fashion accessories have long held a place in the mainstream. But the case of Mr. Mo — who was arraigned last week in Des Moines, pleaded not guilty and remains in custody — and a separate one in Kansas last year suggest that the agriculture sector is becoming a greater target, something that industry analysts fear could hurt the competitive advantage of farmers and big agriculture alike.
A six-year-old boy suspended for having a packet of Mini Cheddars in his lunchbox has now been expelled from school.
Riley Pearson was suspended for four days last Wednesday from Colnbrook CofE Primary School in Berkshire, after teachers found the packet of snacks in his lunchbox.
He had been due to return to school on Tuesday, but his parents say that both Riley and his four-year-old brother have now been permanently excluded because of the row over what he eats for lunch.
A group of Russian MPs have prepared a bill severely restricting imports of genetically modified agricultural produce, and completely banning its domestic production. The initiative is backed by Evgeny Fyodorov of the parliamentary majority United Russia and a group called Russian Sovereignty, which unites MPs from various parties and parliamentary factions.
The politicians want to amend the existing law On Safety and Quality of Alimentary Products with a norm set for the maximum allowed content of transgenic and genetically modified components. The powers to establish that norm go to the government and products with excessive content of GMO components should be banned for turnover and imports.
Currently there are no limitations on the turnover or production of GMO-containing foodstuffs in Russia. However, when the percentage of GMO exceeds 0.9 percent the producer must label such goods and warn consumers. Last autumn the government passed a resolution allowing the listing of genetically modified plants in the Unified State Register, but this resolution will come in force only in July this year.
In the month that West Country beef and lamb producers finally won their hard-fought battle for protected EU status, we could be forgiven for feeling pretty damn proud of British food. Farmers boasted that it’s the lush grass that makes their meat so good: indeed, to merit the coveted PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) mark, cattle must have spent at least six months of the year on pasture. You might naively believe that’s the bare minimum they could expect – grazing is just what cattle do.
Not always, as readers of the unambiguously titled Farmageddon will discover. Philip Lymbery, chief executive of the organisation Compassion in World Farming, reveals that the more modern way is to keep them “corralled into grassless pens carpeted in manure . . . on a diet of concentrated feed and antibiotics”, a practice that is commonplace in the vast plains of North and South America and starting to make inroads here.
The idea doesn’t suit everyone: soon after the book went to press, Compassion in World Farming was alerted to a US-style “feedlot” in Lincolnshire after neighbours complained of the stench created by its almost 3,000 cattle. Plans have been submitted to expand the operation and Lymbery told the press he was worried that this might set a precedent – after all, the dangers of such intensive agriculture are exactly what he rails against in this book.
We’ve had enough food-chain exposés in recent years to put even the hardiest carnivore off several decades of dinners: the likes of Jonathan Safran Foer, Michael Pollan, Felicity Lawrence and Joanna Blytheman have done the job so well, you might wonder whether Farmageddon can have much more to add. How many packed poultry sheds does one need to visit vicariously before free-range becomes the only option? Thankfully, this meaty account makes a distinctive and important contribution, eschewing the narrowly domestic focus of many of its predecessors in favour of a global investigation of how modern farming practices affect not only the animals and consumers concerned but farm workers, their local economy and the wider environment.
During a press conference at a Subway close to the White House, Obama recognized Subway’s new $41 million marketing campaign, launching Feb. 1, in helping her spread her healthy eating initiative for kids. Obama was joined by athletes Michael Phelps, Justin Tuck, gymnast Nastia Liukin and Subway spokesperson Jared Fogle.
The brand’s Partnership for a Healthier America campaign includes the slogan “Playtime Powered by Veggies,” a Healthier America logo, with signs posted at children’s eye level at Subway counters, and a video collaboration with Disney’s the Muppets.
“With these new initiatives, Subway is once again stepping up to provide even more healthy choices for our families,” said Obama. “I am thrilled that Subway is one of the first companies that answered this call.”
Subway has already made moves to offer healthy choices for kids, including apple slices in place of chips and low fat milk or water instead of soda in kids meals. All of the meals contain no trans fat and are 600 calories or less.
[...] Changing the agricultural game is what Monsanto does. The company whose name is synonymous with Big Ag has revolutionized the way we grow food—for better or worse. Activists revile it for such mustache-twirling practices as suing farmers who regrow licensed seeds or filling the world with Roundup-resistant superweeds. Then there’s Monsanto’s reputation—scorned by some, celebrated by others—as the foremost purveyor of genetically modified commodity crops like corn and soybeans with DNA edited in from elsewhere, designed to have qualities nature didn’t quite think of.
So it’s not particularly surprising that the company is introducing novel strains of familiar food crops, invented at Monsanto and endowed by their creators with powers and abilities far beyond what you usually see in the produce section. The lettuce is sweeter and crunchier than romaine and has the stay-fresh quality of iceberg. The peppers come in miniature, single-serving sizes to reduce leftovers. The broccoli has three times the usual amount of glucoraphanin, a compound that helps boost antioxidant levels. Stark’s department, the global trade division, came up with all of them.
“Grocery stores are looking in the produce aisle for something that pops, that feels different,” Avery says. “And consumers are looking for the same thing.” If the team is right, they’ll know soon enough. Frescada lettuce, BellaFina peppers, and Beneforté broccoli—cheery brand names trademarked to an all-but-anonymous Monsanto subsidiary called Seminis—are rolling out at supermarkets across the US.
But here’s the twist: The lettuce, peppers, and broccoli—plus a melon and an onion, with a watermelon soon to follow—aren’t genetically modified at all. Monsanto created all these veggies using good old-fashioned crossbreeding, the same technology that farmers have been using to optimize crops for millennia. That doesn’t mean they are low tech, exactly. Stark’s division is drawing on Monsanto’s accumulated scientific know-how to create vegetables that have all the advantages of genetically modified organisms without any of the Frankenfoods ick factor.
The UK is being accused of attempts to block EU reform to prevent food speculation. It took EU negotiators three years to agree on a regulation against speculation by banks and hedge funds which drives up food prices, aggravating the global hunger crisis.
The deal introduces new rules to limit speculation on products linked to what people eat, such as wheat, corn, soybeans or sugar. The new controls will set limits on the number of food contracts that banks and other finance institutions can hold, pushing traders to open their activity to greater public scrutiny.
Representatives of the EU’s 28 governments and EU lawmakers clinched the deal on the outlines of the Markets in Financial Instruments Directive (MiFiD) in Strasbourg late on Tuesday. The bloc’s executive arm, the European Commission, has promised that the rules on agricultural derivatives would“contribute to orderly pricing and prevent market abuse, thus curbing speculation on commodities and the disastrous impacts it can have on the world’s poorest populations.”
Organizations fighting global hunger welcomed the long-awaited regulation, vital for people across Europe “struggling to cope with high and volatile prices.”
The Onion Creates An Advert for McDonald’s: ‘And Yet, Is Not Beef Itself An Expression Of Wanton Lust?’
Nearly half the organic fresh fruits and vegetables tested across Canada in the past two years contained pesticide residue, according to a CBC News analysis of data supplied by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA).
Of the 45.8 per cent of samples that tested positive for some trace of pesticide, a smaller amount — 1.8 per cent — violated Canada’s maximum allowable limits for the presence of pesticides, the data shows.
The data released to CBC News under the federal Access to Information Act includes testing of organic fruits and vegetables sampled between September 2011 and September 2013.
More than 8 million acres of China’s farmland are too polluted with heavy metals and other chemicals to use for growing food, a Cabinet official said yesterday—that’s about 2% of China’s 337 million acres of arable land. The threat from pollution to China’s food supply has been overshadowed by public alarm at smog and water contamination but is gaining attention following scandals over tainted rice and other crops. The explosive growth of Chinese industry, overuse of farm chemicals, and lax environmental enforcement have left swathes of the countryside tainted by lead, cadmium, pesticides, and other toxins.
The government triggered complaints in February when it refused to release results of a nationwide survey of soil pollution, declaring them a state secret. But the official yesterday revealed that investigations by the Ministry of Environmental Protection have found “moderate to severe pollution” on 8.3 million acres. The official said the government is working on a long-range plan to reduce heavy metal pollution and clean up contaminated areas and expects to spend several billion dollars a year on the effort. He gave no details but scientists say one possible approach is to plant trees or other vegetation that will absorb heavy metals from the soil but will not be consumed by humans.
Imagine cows fed and milked entirely by robots. Or tomatoes that send an e-mail when they need more water. Or a farm where all the decisions about where to plant seeds, spray fertilizer and steer tractors are made by software on servers on the other side of the sea.
This is what more and more of our agriculture may come to look like in the years ahead, as farming meets Big Data. There’s no shortage of farmers and industry gurus who think this kind of “smart” farming could bring many benefits. Pushing these tools onto fields, the idea goes, will boost our ability to control this fiendishly unpredictable activity and help farmers increase yields even while using fewer resources.
The big question is who exactly will end up owning all this data, and who gets to determine how it is used. On one side stand some of the largest corporations in agriculture, who are racing to gather and put their stamp on as much of this information as they can. Opposing them are farmers’ groups and small open-source technology start-ups, which want to ensure a farm’s data stays in the farmer’s control and serves the farmer’s interests.
Who wins will determine not just who profits from the information, but who, at the end of the day, directs life and business on the farm.
One recent round in this battle took place in October, when Monsanto spent close to $1 billion to buy the Climate Corporation, a data analytics firm. Last year the chemical and seed company also bought Precision Planting, another high-tech firm, and also launched a venture capital arm geared to fund tech start-ups.
In November, John Deere and DuPont Pioneer announced plans to partner to provide farmers information and prescriptions in near-real time. Deere has pioneered “precision farming” equipment in recent years, equipping tractors and combines to automatically transmit data collected from particular farms to company databases. DuPont, meanwhile, has rolled out a service that analyzes data into “ actionable management strategies.”
Industrial agriculture could be hitting fundamental limits in its capacity to produce sufficient crops to feed an expanding global population according to new research published in Nature Communications.
The study by scientists at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln argues that there have been abrupt declines or plateaus in the rate of production of major crops which undermine optimistic projections of constantly increasing crop yields. As much as “31% of total global rice, wheat and maize production” has experienced “yield plateaus or abrupt decreases in yield gain, including rice in eastern Asia and wheat in northwest Europe.”
The declines and plateaus in production have become prevalent despite increasing investment in agriculture, which could mean that maximum potential yields under the industrial model of agribusiness have already occurred. Crop yields in “major cereal-producing regions have not increased for long periods of time following an earlier period of steady linear increase.”
The practice of feeding antibiotics to healthy farm animals to fatten them up is being phased out in the US, a move that should help quell antibiotic resistance. However, the Food and Drug Administration has been criticised for failing to make the move compulsory.
Antibiotic-resistant microbes are thought to kill 23,000 Americans each year and infect 2 million. In the US, 80 per cent of the antibiotics are given to farm animals. Since resistance develops when microbes are repeatedly exposed to antibiotics, giving them to healthy animals exacerbates the problem.
The FDA, which first proposed a ban in 1977, has told pharmaceutical companies that manufacture medically important antibiotics given to animals to voluntarily withdraw them from use as growth promoters.
The manufacturers have three years to change labels on the antibiotics and other antimicrobials to state that they can only be given to animals for veterinary reasons, and prescribed by a vet.
A very refreshing report has just come out of Britain. Eleven senior doctors have presented a strong, new mandate to Prime Minister David Cameron, insisting that it’s time for diet to be placed at the forefront of health policy. Although it was research specifically into the prevention of dementia that led to this conclusion, the doctors agree that the Mediterranean diet can go a long way toward preventing many other chronic illnesses:
“The evidence base for the Mediterranean diet in preventing all of the chronic diseases that are plaguing the Western world is overwhelming,” says Dr. Richard Hoffman, one of the lead authors of the letter to Cameron. Another signatory, Dr. Aseem Malhotra, adds this common-sense statement:
“We are not going to overcome the increasing burden of chronic diseases by prescribing more pills.”
A Mediterranean-style diet is one that’s rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts and olive oil. Fish is eaten at least twice a week, but meat and sugar only once. Moderate consumption of wine is advised.