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Monsanto has long been the “big bad wolf” of the debate over the health, safety and ethics of planting genetically modified seeds. Although the scientific debate is not yet concluded, environmentalists generally agree that genetically modified organisms, commonly referred to as GMOs, present a serious threat to agriculture and food as we know it.
The newest addition to this never-ending controversy is Walmart’s decision to stock Monsanto’s new Bt sweet corn. Monsanto’s GM sweet corn contains three genetically-engineered (GE) traits that have never been used in food eaten directly by people, and that have never been properly tested. According to campaigners at Sum of Us, the corn is engineered
“to protect the plant by rupturing the stomach of any insect that feeds on it. Monsanto claims the toxin will break down before the corn makes it to your dinner table, but rats fed with the GM corn showed organ failure, and the toxin has been detected in the bodies of pregnant women.”
Alarmingly, neither Walmart nor Monsanto has any intention of labeling the new corn as genetically modified.
So: is it safe for the shelves? The best response would be to withhold judgment, do more testing, and come to a conclusion once we have more scientific information. Or, at least label it if it’s going to be on the shelves. But, as tends to happen in our shoot-first-ask-questions-later system, the corn is headed for the stores, unlabeled — and soon.
Other food suppliers have agreed to wait. Whole Foods Market, Trader Joe’s, and General Mills have all agreed not to use the new GM corn in any of their products. But Walmart, the nation’s largest organic retailer, is likely going ahead with stocking Monsanto’s latest GMO. To pressure them to hold off, the folks at Food & Water Watch have put together an action. Learn more and read about their petition to “Stop Monsanto’s GE Sweet Corn.” : http://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/food/genetically-engineered-foods/ge-sweet-corn/act-now/
An eagle-eyed reader recently sent us to coalcares.org, which describes itself as “a brand-new initiative from Patriot Coal… to reach out to American youngsters with asthma.” The website goes on to promise free “Puff-Puff™ inhalers” to anyone living within 200 miles of a coal plant. We were shocked — finally, an admission from the coal industry of the health impacts they’re causing!
It turns out the website is an elaborate hoax. CoalCares is right to point out that those living within a few hundred miles of a coal plant have an increased risk of developing asthma. With statements like, “wind kills”, and promises to reduce “Asthma-Related Bullying”, it’s easy to see that CoalCares represents satirical comedy at its finest.
The hoax, masterminded by a prankster group called Coal is Killing Kids, came in direct response to public statements made by Peabody Energy, the world’s largest coal company. Peabody and other energy companies have opposed government-mandated cleanup fixes, and have publicly commented that there is “a correlation between electricity fueled by low-cost coal and improvement in health, longevity and quality of life.” Although the UN has linked life expectancy, educational attainment and income with per-capita electricity use, Peabody’s claims break down when you examine infant mortality levels and life expectancy levels, actually showing a negative impact on health when you look at coal versus other fuels.
The fact of the matter is that coal combustion releases fine particles, which become embedded in lung tissue, triggering inflammation. Particulate matter notwithstanding, the pollutants in coal emissions include benzene, dioxin, formaldehyde, lead, arsenic and mercury. According to a report released in September 2010 by the nonprofit Clean Air Task Force, “among all industrial sources of air pollution, none poses greater risks to human health and the environment than coal-fired power plants.”
So what can we do about it? Check out coalcares.org to read some satirical criticisms of the American coal industry. Try sharing it with you friends, or posting it on your facebook or twitter. Most of all, just get the word out there! We can’t let coal companies keep making our families sick!
By now, most of us are barely hanging onto our New Year’s Resolutions to eat healthier, and looking for a fresh way to renew that commitment. Here’s one easy way to enjoy more fresh, seasonal, locally grown produce this summer. With spring just around the corner, now is the time to sign up for a CSA.
How it Works
Beginning in the 1960s in Germany, CSAs (or Community Supported Agriculture) became increasingly popular over the last 20 years. Here’s the deal: a local farmer will offer a certain number of shares to the public. You can purchase a share (think of it like a subscription), which usually includes of a box of vegetables and/or other farm products every week. This share is delivered to you (or more often, you go pick it up from a local venue) every week throughout the farming season.
Why CSA’s are a Good Idea
A CSA provides you with super-fresh, seasonally appropriate food, some of which may be completely new to your grocery-store-influenced palate. CSAs also provide you with the opportunity to develop a relationship with the farmer, and to learn about how the food you eat every day is grown. Furthermore, choosing a CSA share provides you an alternative to buying vegetables from remote locations. This reduction in transport distance drastically reduces the amount of CO2 emitted to get your food from field to plate. Many CSA farmers are also organic, allowing you access to food that is free from pesticides and inorganic fertilizers.
What About the Cost?
Researchers at the UW-Madison Center for Integrated Agriculture Systems recently compared CSA produce prices to those at commercial grocery stores and retail outlets. Here’s what they found:
Without including extras and you-pick produce, CSAs provided a better dollar value in 6 out of 15 cases. Yet, many of the benefits incurred by using CSA do not have a monetary value. When it comes down to it, choosing to purchase a CSA share is the more environmentally conscious and healthy choice. Cost-wise, it averages to about $20 per week. And even if that’s more than you might usually spend at the grocery store, this gives you a good reason to eat more veggies!
How to Find a CSA Near You
An excellent web resource, called Local Harvest, allows you to view a US map showing where farmer’s markets, family farms, and CSA farms are located. The website even allows you to put in your zip code to find the CSA closest to you. Check it out here, and happy eating!
If you’re like me, you don’t really think about how much paper you actually use every year. It might surprise you to learn that according to the EPA, about 71 million tons of paper and paperboard are used in the United States each year. Although 63% if this paper material ended up being recycled, only about 33% of paper-making materials come from recycled paper.
One company that’s beginning to use recycled paper in their catalogs is Victoria’s Secret, which increased its use of sustainable paper (post-consumer waste and FSC-certified sources) in their catalogues from 23% in 2007 to 88% by the end of 2009. This move represents substantial progress, especially for such a large catalog distribution, and in such a short time period.
We dug a little deeper to break down this impressive 88% statistic. Because it’s impressive! According to an “Independent Assurance Report” [pdf], 88% of paper purchased for Victoria’s Secret catalogs EITHER is FSC certified, OR uses “a minimum of 10% post-consumer waste.” That’s a good step, but it still allows for buying paper made up of 90% unsustainable sources. In an industry that’s been particularly slow to respond to pressure to go green, Victoria’s Secret is making bold progress, but the job isn’t done yet.
The bigger question here is whether catalogs can even be sustainable, in business terms as well as environmental ones. With some paper companies predicting a 10-12% increase in paper prices, environmentalists are hopeful that an increased price of paper will push catalog-based companies, like Victoria’s Secret, to accelerate moving their catalog operation online — where no paper is wasted!
Ever feel daunted by recycling? You keep meaning to recycle batteries but never get around to it? The good news is that most of us today are recycling paper and plastic — and most people can recycle more, too.
Like almost everything else, batteries can be recycled. Batteries contain the toxic chemicals cadmium, lead and cobalt. If improperly disposed of, these chemicals could ultimately enter our bodies. While there is no federal law that says consumers must recycle batteries, a growing number of states do have laws banning batteries from landfills.
When a battery is thrown in the trash, it ends up in a landfill where it slowly breaks down over an unknown period of years while releasing toxic chemicals into the environment. But when a battery is recycled, it is broken down to its original elements in a safe environment and then redistributed back to the manufacturers to create new batteries. Read more…
Chipotle’s newest ad, an animated story featuring Willie Nelson’s cover of a famous Coldplay hit, aired two weeks ago at the Grammy Awards. Since then, the video has stirred up quite a controversy. For organic eaters like myself, the video represented a step in the right direction, towards sustainable and organic farming. For some American food companies, however, the video represented an attack on modern food practices, without which the world would be plunged into devastating famine. (For anyone who didn’t catch the Grammy Awards, you can watch the video below.)
How true is it? Here’s the skinny on Chipotle’s practices. Read more…