Kiera Butler

Kiera Butler

Senior Editor

A senior editor at Mother Jones, Kiera covers health, food, and the environment. She is the author of the new book Raise: What 4-H Teaches 7 Million Kids—and How Its Lessons Could Change Food and Farming Forever (University of California Press).

 

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So Long, Cap-and-Trade. So What's Next?

Ever since the slow and painful death of the climate bill in the Senate, it's been crystal clear that the climate movement desperately needs a breath of fresh air. With this in mind, the Climate Desk partners have convened a panel of experts who, over the next three days, will be brainstorming solutions to the climate crisis—with, of course, your help. The Atlantic's Alexis Madrigal is moderating. Here's his take on the project:

We're tapping half a dozen innovative thinkers to move the climate debate beyond global treaties and cap-and-trade bills and to the wide world of policy options that haven't yet gotten their due.

It's time to break new ground. In a series of essays published over the next three days, we'll try to build a set of solutions that I think will look less like a climate fix and more like a statement of what industrial policy should look like in America. Outside the magic of a price on carbon, there have to be strategies for meeting the climate challenge.

So taking into account the political realities of our time, what can be done—particularly by US policymakers—to start solving the dual problems of energy poverty in developing nations and global climate change?

Read the rest of Alexis' post here. To kick off the discussion, Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus, co-founders of the Breakthrough Institute, explain why they believe the cap-and-trade was always doomed to fail—and offer some alternative solutions. Check back tomorrow to read experts' responses. 

Can You Get E.Coli From Reusable Grocery Bags?

From the department of no good deed going unpunished, The New York Times reported Sunday that some reusable shopping bags could be contaminating your food with lead. But MoJo reader Barb wrote in with a different health concern about the eco-bags:

"I just got accosted by a man in the grocery store who insisted that my reusable bags were 'spreading E. coli'...He seemed to think that I was bringing it into the store and putting people at risk by doing so."

This piqued my curiosity: Can bags breed bacteria? And if so, how likely is it that shoppers with tainted bags are spreading the bugs around their local markets?

I called Craig Hedberg, a professor in the University of Minnesota's Division of Environmental Health Sciences. Hedberg told me that the most likely bacteria scenario for reusable bags would likely involve juices leaking from meat, which could, in theory, breed Salmonella or Listeria, or less likely, E. coli or Campylobacter, which could contaminate your veggies on your next trip to the supermarket. "But you have to look at what the likelihood of that is," says Hedberg. "Probably your meat is going to be in a container, not leaking." The risk of bacteria that originates on fruits and veggies, he says, is "very low," as is the risk of a shopper unknowingly spreading bacteria by reaching into a contaminated bag and touching food. "Theoretically this could happen, but it's not likely."

That said, you can practically eliminate the risk of bag-borne bacteria by washing your bags after each use. Always wash your produce. Keeping separate bags for meat and produce (like cutting boards) is another good idea. Washing your hands after you go to the grocery store probably wouldn't hurt, either.

Got a burning eco-quandary? Submit it to econundrums@motherjones.com. Get all your green questions answered by visiting Econundrums on Facebook here.

USDA Gave Dough to Domino's, Too

Yesterday I blogged about a USDA-funded Big Ag lobby group's efforts to discredit the EWG's list of most-pesticide-laden produce. Turns out the Ag lobbyists aren't the only industry group getting some love from the USDA: Via Civil Eats, I learned that Domino's new cheese-a-rific pizza (40 percent more artery-clogging goodness!) and attendant marketing blitz is the result of a $12 million campaign by a USDA-backed group called Dairy Management Inc.

Really, I must say, the Dairy Management Inc. site is worth a visit—it's a real window into the mammoth PR arm of the US dairy industry. Across the bottom of the homepage is a row of 14 buttons, which take you to dairy-cheerleading sites such as Fuel Up to Play 60 (about how you should eat more dairy so that you have the energy to exercise for an hour), ilovecheese.com ("the ultimate site for cheese lovers everywhere!"), and Innovate With Dairy (where the food and beverage producers can learn "new ways to use dairy ingredients in a wide range of on-trend product applications," from a scientists in lab coats, no less!).

But my very favorite little nugget of all is a site called Raise Your Hand for Chocolate Milk!, which tells parents about the nefarious nutritionists who are trying to take away children's chocolate milk:

Concerned about the added sugars in flavored milk, some schools and activists are working to ban it from school menus, despite scientific evidence supporting its nutrient contributions to children's diets and recommendations from leading health professional organizations.

A cup of chocolate 1 percent milk has about 170 calories, compared to 120 in the unflavored version. Just saying. As Civil Eats points, out, the USDA is supposed to be curbing childhood obesity. And yet it's also funding a group that wants to cram more calories into milk, in order to make it more appetizing to kids. Hmm.

Read nutrition journalist Marion Nestle's take on the Raise Your Hand for Chocolate Milk campaign here.

 

You know the Environmental Working Group's super-helpful list of the most-pesticide-laden fruits and veggies? Well, there's a Big Ag lobby group called the Alliance for Food and Farming that's trying to debunk it. And the USDA just gave the lobbyists $180,000 to aid their smear campaign, The Atlantic reports.

So exactly who's behind the Alliance for Food and Farming? According to SourceWatch, its board of directors includes honchos from the California Strawberry Commission, the California Tomato Farmers, the Produce Marketing Association, and the California Association of Pest Control Advisors, among other industry groups. The AFF's main argument: "Promotion of the 'Dirty Dozen' list actually makes the work of improving the diets of Americans more difficult because it scares consumers away from the affordable fruits and vegetables that they enjoy."

Riiiight. Considering that the EPA freely admits that pesticides can cause "birth defects, nerve damage, cancer, and other effects," it's totally boneheaded to suggest that raising consumer awareness about pesticides is making Americans less healthy. What's more, it's not like the Environmental Working Group is suggesting you give up on produce entirely and stock your fridge with Mountain Dew instead. In fact, EWG explicitly states that the list isn't meant to discourage people from eating their veggies. From the FAQ

Do all these pesticides mean I shouldn’t eat fruits and vegetables?

No, eat your fruits and vegetables! The health benefits of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables outweigh the risks of pesticide exposure. Use EWG's Shopper's Guide to reduce your exposures as much as possible, but eating conventionally grown produce is far better than not eating fruits and vegetables at all.

The bottom line: The more you know about your food, the better. Period.

Here's a refresher on the EWG's "Dirty Dozen" and "Clean 15":

Got a burning eco-quandary? Submit it to econundrums@motherjones.com. Get all your green questions answered by visiting Econundrums on Facebook here.

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