Blue Marble Feed | Mother Jones Mother Jones logo en Are Cage-Free Eggs All They're Cracked Up to Be? <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Cage-free eggs, once a niche product for ethically minded (and well-off) shoppers, are suddenly a hot commodity with an unlikely customer: Big Food. <a href="" target="_blank">Sonic</a> and <a href="" target="_blank">Burger King</a> are the latest to join a slate of<strong> </strong>companies promising to ditch eggs produced by caged hens.</p> <p>They follow an unlikely trailblazer: McDonald's, which <a href=";ion=1&amp;espv=2&amp;ie=UTF-8#q=mcdonalds%20cage%20free" target="_blank">announced in September</a> that it would go cage-free by the end of 2025. That decision unleashed a "<a href="" target="_blank">tidal wave</a> of commitments," says Paul Shapiro, vice president of farm animal protection at the Humane Society of the United States. The list now includes most major American fast-food chains, retailers including Target and Walmart, and&nbsp;food service providers, like Aramark and Sodexo.</p> <p>Although the number of cage-free birds increased 37 percent last year, they remain less than 10 percent of the nation's 277 million hens, <a href="" target="_blank">according to</a> the US Department of Agriculture. Now large egg producers are <a href="" target="_blank">scrambling</a> to catch up by investing in new cage-free facilities&mdash;a swift about-face for an industry that once vehemently fought efforts to eliminate the cramped, paper-sized&nbsp;"<a href="" target="_blank">battery cages</a>" in which the vast majority of hens spend their lives. In 2008, when California voted on <a href=",_Standards_for_Confining_Farm_Animals_%282008%29" target="_blank">Proposition 2</a>, a measure that mandated that hens should be able to fully spread their wings "without touching the side of an enclosure or other egg-laying hens," United Egg Producers, the industry's primary trade group, spent $10 million in a failed effort to defeat the initiative.<strong> </strong>But this October, UEP President Chad Gregory told <em>Politico </em>that the group <a href="" target="_blank">wouldn't put up a fight</a> in Massachusetts, where a measure modeled after California's will be on the ballot in November.</p> <div class="inline inline-right" style="display: table; width: 1%"><strike><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/Screen%20Shot%202016-02-02%20at%201.18.42%20PM.png"></strike> <div class="caption"><strong><a href="" target="_blank">What does cage-free really mean</a>? </strong></div> </div> <p>Most companies, including McDonald's, have given egg producers up to a decade to change how they house their hens. As <em>Wired</em> <a href="" target="_blank">charts</a> in detail, the industry is choosing to gradually phase out, rather than dismantle, a production system that's been designed since the 1950s to provide maximum efficiency. Today, Americans demand 6 billion to 7 billion eggs each month, and they expect every dozen to come relatively cheap.</p> <p>That means that while cage-free is often portrayed as a nostalgic return to pre-mechanized farming, the newest egg facilities are not like your grandfather's bucolic little chicken farm. At nonorganic farms, where outdoor access isn't required, large egg producers are primarily <a href="" target="_blank">building</a> multitiered aviaries&mdash;stacked arrangements in which thousands, if not tens of thousands of birds roam throughout the barn, hopping from level to level. "There are birds by your feet, your knees, your shoulders&mdash;cities of birds," explains Shapiro.</p> <p>Giving hens the simple ability to move around prevents many of the worst health problems associated with battery cages, Shapiro says, by strengthening brittle bones and allowing them to act on their natural instincts to roost and forage.</p> <p>But in these large, industrial aviaries, the birds "don't typically go outside," says Shapiro. And letting a flock of birds roam within a closed, confined aviary presents its own concerns.<strong> </strong>A three-year <a href="" target="_blank">study</a> produced by a <a href="" target="_blank">consortium</a> of egg providers, academics, and advocacy groups found that aviaries had nearly twice the death rate of caged systems. Most of the difference had to do with aggression between the birds and outbreaks of cannibalism.</p> <p>Cannibalism is a learned behavior, a nasty symptom of industrial breeding and housing, says Joy Mench, an animal behavior specialist at the University of California-Davis who co-led the study. Outbreaks are more likely to flare up in densely stocked aviaries, where hens are given unfettered access to other birds. And for that reason, aviary managers continue to rely on the standard industry practice to lessen the risks of pecking: cutting off the sharp tips of the hens' beaks.</p> <p>Reduced air quality in the closed barns is another concern for both birds and workers, who need to spend more time managing the hens in a cage-free system. In battery cage systems, birds were separated from their waste. Without that separation, ammonia buildup can occur when feces aren't removed in a timely fashion, particularly in cold climates. But the most acute problem is that a moving flock clogs the air with dust.<strong> </strong>"There were days when you could hardly stand to walk into that aviary," says Mench, referring to the Midwestern egg facility where the study was conducted. "You couldn't see 4 feet in front of your face."</p> <p>Additionally,<strong> </strong>in both caged and uncaged systems, disease spreads like wildfire.<strong> </strong>Last year's avian flu outbreak, which <a href="" target="_blank">killed millions of hens</a> and sent egg prices skyrocketing, is thought to have originated in backyard flocks but took its heaviest toll as it blazed through crowded industrial barns.</p> <p>"People are going to love that they are cage-free, but you have to look at the whole system," says Janice Swanson, a professor at Michigan State University and a co-author of the study. "It's going to be a lot of work before cage-free is environmentally sustainable and actually does what we want it to do for the hens."</p> <p>The study suggested that bigger, so-called <a href="" target="_blank">"enriched" cages</a>, with room for the multiple birds to move and exhibit more natural behaviors, may be a better bet for health and safety than aviaries. Those systems are legal under California law, which didn't ban cages but instead mandated minimum space requirements. But since they don't meet the corporate cage-free pledges, egg producers don't have an incentive to build them.</p> <p>So while cage-free systems remove many of the inherent cruelties of battery cages, the welfare of the hens inside them hinges on how these facilities,&nbsp;which can range from packed industrial aviaries to smaller farms with ample space and outdoor access,<strong> </strong>are designed and managed. That can be difficult to decipher from the labels on an egg carton.</p> <p>If you're looking to further mitigate the cruelty behind your next omelet, the Humane Society <a href="" target="_blank">recommends</a> looking past labels like "vegetarian-fed," "natural," or "farm fresh," which are stamped on cartons for marketing purposes. Pasture-raised, certified organic, or free-range are typically better bets for eggs produced by a happier, healthier hen&mdash;if you can stomach the higher cost.</p> <div class="inline inline-left" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/how-to-read-egg-label-full.jpg"></div> <p>&nbsp;</p></body></html> Blue Marble Food and Ag Regulatory Affairs Wed, 10 Feb 2016 11:00:09 +0000 Gregory Barber 295521 at The Supreme Court Just Dealt a Huge Blow to Obama's Climate Plan <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>In a setback&nbsp;for the Obama administration, the Supreme Court on Tuesday temporarily halted enforcement of Obama's signature climate initiative.</p> <p>The Clean Power Plan, issued by the Environmental Protection Agency last summer, requires states to limit coal-fired power plant emissions&mdash;the nation's largest source of greenhouse gases&mdash;by a third by 2030. The regulation was expected to revamp the energy industry in the coming decades, shutting down coal-fired plants and speeding up renewable energy production. But 29 states, together with dozens of industry groups, <a href="" target="_blank">sued the EPA</a>, claiming the rule was&nbsp;"the most far-reaching and burdensome rule the EPA has ever forced onto the states."</p> <p>In a 5-4 vote today, the Supreme Court issued an unusual, one-page&nbsp;emergency order for the EPA to put the plan on hold until the US Court of Appeals, which will hear the case this summer, comes to a decision. While the hold is temporary, <a href="" target="_blank">many</a> <a href="" target="_blank">see</a> <a href="" target="_blank">the order</a> as a sign that the Supreme Court has concerns about the policy.</p> <div class="inline inline-left" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/sup-court-stay-final.png"></div> <p>&nbsp;</p></body></html> Blue Marble Energy Wed, 10 Feb 2016 00:42:04 +0000 Julia Lurie 296436 at Obama Wants to Raise Your Gas Prices to Pay for Trains <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>In his final State of the Union address last month, President Barack Obama <a href="" target="_blank">promised to</a> "change the way we manage our oil and coal resources, so that they better reflect the costs they impose on taxpayers and our planet." A few days later, he <a href="" target="_blank">followed through on the coal aspect of that pledge</a>, with a plan to overhaul how coal mining leases are awarded on federal land. Now, he seems ready to roll out his plan for oil.</p> <p>The president's budget proposal for his last year in office, set to be released next week, will contain a provision to place a new tax on oil, White House aides told reporters. <a href="" target="_blank">According to <em>Politico</em></a>:</p> <blockquote> <p>The president will propose more than $300 billion worth of investments over the next decade in mass transit, high-speed rail, self-driving cars, and other transportation approaches designed to reduce carbon emissions and congestion. To pay for it all, Obama will call for a $10 "fee" on every barrel of oil, a surcharge that would be paid by oil companies but would presumably be passed along to consumers&hellip;The fee could add as much as 25 cents a gallon to the cost of gasoline.</p> </blockquote> <p>The proposal stands virtually no chance of being adopted by Congress. Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the renowned climate change denier who also chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, <a href="" target="_blank">said</a> in a statement, "I'm unsure why the president bothers to continue to send a budget to Congress. His proposals are not serious, and this is another one which is dead on arrival."</p> <p>Still, the idea may be helped a little by the sustained drop in oil prices, driven by a glut of supply from the Middle East and record production in the United States. Gas is already selling for less than $2 per gallon <a href="" target="_blank">in all but 11 states</a>, the lowest price point since 2009. Raising that cost would also be <a href="" target="_blank">a boon for electric vehicle sales</a>, which have stagnated because of low gas prices as sales of gas guzzlers have climbed.</p> <p>Obama's prospective Democratic successors, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, haven't weighed in on this proposal yet, although they have both been broadly supportive of his climate change agenda. But the proposal could prove to be awkward for Clinton, who has <a href="" target="_blank">promised not to raise taxes</a> on families making less than $250,000 a year.</p></body></html> Blue Marble Climate Change Climate Desk Energy Obama Fri, 05 Feb 2016 18:02:19 +0000 Tim McDonnell 296006 at This Chart Shows Why Your Conspiracy Theory Is Really Dumb <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><em><strong>Update, 2/2/2016:</strong> Chris Bauch, an editor for PLOS ONE, said in an email that the author of the study we reported on below "should have used a different model for some of the analyses" and that the author "is working on submitting errata." Bauch added, however, that he is "pretty sure the correction will not change the conclusions&rdquo; and that he does not "foresee a retraction.&rdquo; We'll update when we know more.</em></p> <p>By now, climate change has joined the moon landing and the JFK assassination in the upper echelons of fodder for conspiracy theories. Back in 2004, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) called global warming the <a href=";representation=PDF" target="_blank">"greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people."</a> A few years later, Inhofe told our own David Corn that the climate hoax was <a href="" target="_blank">most likely being perpetrated by Barbra Streisand</a>. Donald Trump, meanwhile, thinks it was <a href="" target="_blank">"created by and for the Chinese."</a> I could go on.</p> <p>There's plenty of evidence that these conspiracy theories are garbage, starting with the <a href="" target="_blank">overwhelming scientific consensus</a> about climate science and the fact that <a href="" target="_blank">2015 was the hottest year on record</a>. But in case you're still not convinced, here's another bit of proof.</p> <p>In a new peer-reviewed <a href=";representation=PDF" target="_blank">paper</a> in the journal <em>PLOS ONE</em>, an Oxford physicist devised a mathematical formula for the lifespan of conspiracy theories&mdash;that is, how long it would likely take for them to be publicly unveiled if they were in fact true. It's not long: In the case of climate change, it's about 27 years if you assume the cover-up is perpetrated by only published climate scientists&mdash;and just four years if you assume it includes the broader scientific community.</p> <p>The author, David Robert Grimes, found similar maximum life spans for a few other prominent conspiracy theories:</p> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/table.jpg"><div class="caption">Grimes, PLOS 2016</div> </div> <p>Let's pick, somewhat arbitrarily, preeminent climatologist <a href="" target="_blank">James Hansen's 1988 testimony to Congress</a> about global warming as the beginning of the great fraud. According to Grimes' formula, climate change would have been publicly outed as a hoax by 1992 if it were carried out by a broad coalition of scientific organizations. And it would have been exposed by 2015 if it were carried out only by published climate scientists. Unless I missed something, that didn't happen. (Sorry, the "Climategate" emails <a href="" target="_blank">definitely don't count</a>.)</p> <div class="inline inline-left" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="conspiracy chart" class="image" src="/files/journal.pone_.0147905.g002_630.png"><div class="caption"><strong>Here's how long it would take for four big conspiracies to fall apart: (a) moon landing hoax, (b) climate change hoax, (c) vaccination conspiracy, and (d) suppression of a cure for cancer. </strong><em>Grimes, PLOS 2016.</em></div> </div> <p>Grimes' model is based on the statistical probability that one person within the conspiracy (one climate scientist, for example) would intentionally or accidentally let slip the truth. The odds of that happening go up as the number of people involved in the conspiracy increase&mdash;hence the shorter life span for the climate fraud if it involved broad scientific organizations (whose membership Grimes totals at more than 400,000). To help in that analysis, Grimes studied a few actual conspiracies, including the National Security Agency's widespread spying on US citizens that was exposed by Edward Snowden.</p> <p>Anyway, climate change is not a hoax. And we did land on the moon. And there isn't a hidden cure for cancer. And you should go get your vaccinations, dammit.</p> <p><em>H/T: <a href="" target="_blank">The Skeptics Guide to the Universe</a></em></p></body></html> Blue Marble Charts Climate Change Climate Desk Science Top Stories Mon, 01 Feb 2016 17:48:33 +0000 Tim McDonnell 295371 at There May Soon Be More Plastic in the Oceans Than Fish <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Discarded plastic will outweigh fish in the world's oceans by 2050, according to a report from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. That is, unless overfishing moves the date up sooner.</p> <p>The <a href="" target="_blank">study</a>, a collaboration with the World Economic Forum, found that 32 percent of plastic packaging escapes waste collection systems, gets into waterways, and is eventually deposited in the oceans. That percentage is expected to increase in coming years, given that the fastest growth in plastic production is expected to occur in "high leakage" markets&mdash;developing countries where sanitation systems are often unreliable. The data used in the report comes from a review of more than 200 studies and interviews with 180 experts.</p> <p>Since 1964, global plastic production has increased 20-fold&mdash;311 million tons were produced in 2014&mdash;and production is expected to triple again by 2050. A whopping 86 percent of plastic packaging is used just once, according to the report's authors, representing $80 billion to $120 billion in lost value annually. That means not only more plastic waste, but more production-related oil consumption and carbon emissions if the industry doesn't alter its ways.</p> <div class="inline inline-left" style="display: table; width: 1%"><sub><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/Screen%20Shot%202016-01-27%20at%2011.02.03%20AM.png"></sub></div> <p>The environmental impact of plastic waste is already staggering: For a <a href="" target="_blank">paper</a> published in October, scientists considered 186 seabird species and predicted that 90 percent of the birds&mdash;whose populations have <a href="" target="_blank">declined by two-thirds</a> since 1950&mdash;consume plastic. Plastic bags, which are surprisingly degradable in warmer ocean waters, release toxins that spread through the marine food chain&mdash;and perhaps all the way to our dinner tables.</p> <p>Most of the ocean's plastic, researchers say, takes the form of microplastics&mdash;<a href="" target="_blank">trillions</a> of beads, fibers, and fragments that average about 2 millimeters in diameter. They act as a kind of oceanic smog, clouding the waters and coating the sea floor, and look a lot like food to small marine organisms.</p> <p>In December, President Barack Obama signed a law <a href="" target="_blank">banning microbeads</a>, tiny plastic exfoliaters found in toothpaste and skin products that get flushed into waterways. But the MacArthur report urges plastic producers to step up and address the problem by developing products that are reusable and easily recycled&mdash;and that are less toxic in nature&mdash;and working to make compostable plastics more affordable.</p> <p>The 2050 prediction is based on the assumption that global fisheries will remain stable over the next three decades, but a report released last week suggests that may be wishful thinking. Revisiting fishery catch rates from the last 60 years, Daniel Pauly and Dirk Zeller of the University of British Columbia found that the UN's Food and Agricultural Organization <a href="" target="_blank">drastically underestimates</a> the amount of fish we pluck from the seas. The United Nations relies on official government data, which often only captures the activities of larger fishing operations. When the British Columbia researchers accounted for smaller fisheries, subsistence harvesting, and discarded catches, they calculated catches 53 percent larger than previously thought.</p> <div class="inline inline-left" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/Screen%20Shot%202016-01-27%20at%2011.16.17%20AM.png"></div> <p>There was a glimmer of hope in the findings, though: The researchers write that fishing rates, after peaking in 1996, declined faster than previously thought&mdash;particularly among large-scale industrial fisheries. Whether that trend will hold is another story.</p></body></html> Blue Marble Climate Change Fri, 29 Jan 2016 11:00:13 +0000 Gregory Barber 294986 at There Is a New Video Of Giant Panda Tian Tian Rolling Around In the Snow <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Awwwww! Look at it roll!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <blockquote class="instagram-media" data-instgrm-captioned="" data-instgrm-version="6" style=" background:#FFF; border:0; border-radius:3px; box-shadow:0 0 1px 0 rgba(0,0,0,0.5),0 1px 10px 0 rgba(0,0,0,0.15); margin: 1px; max-width:658px; padding:0; width:99.375%; width:-webkit-calc(100% - 2px); width:calc(100% - 2px);"> <div style="padding:8px;"> <div style=" background:#F8F8F8; line-height:0; margin-top:40px; padding:50.0% 0; text-align:center; width:100%;"> <div style=" background:url(data:image/png;base64,iVBORw0KGgoAAAANSUhEUgAAACwAAAAsCAMAAAApWqozAAAAGFBMVEUiIiI9PT0eHh4gIB4hIBkcHBwcHBwcHBydr+JQAAAACHRSTlMABA4YHyQsM5jtaMwAAADfSURBVDjL7ZVBEgMhCAQBAf//42xcNbpAqakcM0ftUmFAAIBE81IqBJdS3lS6zs3bIpB9WED3YYXFPmHRfT8sgyrCP1x8uEUxLMzNWElFOYCV6mHWWwMzdPEKHlhLw7NWJqkHc4uIZphavDzA2JPzUDsBZziNae2S6owH8xPmX8G7zzgKEOPUoYHvGz1TBCxMkd3kwNVbU0gKHkx+iZILf77IofhrY1nYFnB/lQPb79drWOyJVa/DAvg9B/rLB4cC+Nqgdz/TvBbBnr6GBReqn/nRmDgaQEej7WhonozjF+Y2I/fZou/qAAAAAElFTkSuQmCC); display:block; height:44px; margin:0 auto -44px; position:relative; top:-22px; width:44px;">&nbsp;</div> </div> <p style=" margin:8px 0 0 0; padding:0 4px;"><a href="" style=" color:#000; font-family:Arial,sans-serif; font-size:14px; font-style:normal; font-weight:normal; line-height:17px; text-decoration:none; word-wrap:break-word;" target="_blank">#TianTian is still rolling in the snow, but we're still clearing it for visitors! The Zoo will be closed Jan. 26 while we continue to clear roadways and pathways for humans. #Blizzard2016</a></p> <p style=" color:#c9c8cd; font-family:Arial,sans-serif; font-size:14px; line-height:17px; margin-bottom:0; margin-top:8px; overflow:hidden; padding:8px 0 7px; text-align:center; text-overflow:ellipsis; white-space:nowrap;">A video posted by Smithsonian's National Zoo (@smithsonianzoo) on <time datetime="2016-01-25T19:29:09+00:00" style=" font-family:Arial,sans-serif; font-size:14px; line-height:17px;">Jan 25, 2016 at 11:29am PST</time></p> </div> </blockquote> <script async defer src="//"></script></body></html> Blue Marble Mon, 25 Jan 2016 19:42:59 +0000 Ben Dreyfuss 294756 at 2015 Was by Far the Hottest Year on Record <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>2015 was almost certainly the hottest year since we began keeping records, according to data released today by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. In a press release Wednesday, NASA stated that it was <a href="" target="_blank">94 percent confident</a> that last year was the warmest since 1880. Here's a chart from NOAA:</p> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/temps.jpg"><div class="caption">NOAA/NASA</div> </div> <p>"Record warmth was spread throughout the world," said Thomas Karl, director of NOAA's National Centers for Environmental Information. "Ten of 12 months were records. That's the first time we've seen that."</p> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/months.jpg"><div class="caption">NASA/NOAA</div> </div> <p>Shattered global temperature records are becoming increasingly commonplace, thanks to climate change; with today's announcement, all five of the hottest years on record have occurred in the last decade. But the amount by which 2015 shattered the previous record, in 2014, was itself a record, scientists said. That's due in part to this year's El Ni&ntilde;o, characterized by exceptionally high temperatures in the Pacific Ocean.</p> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/globe_1.jpg"><div class="caption">NASA/NOAA</div> </div> <p>But Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said the effects of El Ni&ntilde;o only really appeared in the last few months of the year, and that 2015 likely would have been a record year regardless.&nbsp;</p> <p>"2015 was warm right from the beginning; it didn't start with El Ni&ntilde;o," he said. "The reason this is such a record is because of the long-term trend, and there is no evidence that trend has slowed or paused over the last two decades."</p> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/el-nino.jpg"><div class="caption">NASA/NOAA</div> </div> <p>Schmidt added that El Ni&ntilde;o is likely to persist into 2016, which means we could be in for a record-breaking year yet again.</p></body></html> Blue Marble Climate Change Climate Desk Science Top Stories Wed, 20 Jan 2016 16:06:49 +0000 Tim McDonnell 294406 at The Feds Just Approved Offshore Fish Farming <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>If you eat seafood, you've likely swallowed some farmed fish: These days, the whale's share of shrimp, tilapia, mussels, and increasingly salmon sold at American restaurants and seafood counters comes from the hands of aquaculturists rather than local fishermen.</p> <p>Yet while fish farmers have pretty much mastered the art of raising tilapia in ponds and shellfish next to coastlines, raising marine fin fish&mdash;think all the best kinds of sushi, like tuna, yellowtail, kampachi&mdash;presents some headaches. The closed saltwater tanks needed to house these species on-land are costly and energy intensive. When they're raised in nets right by the coasts, waste can build up and damage nearby ecosystems.</p> <p>That's why many seafood entrepreneurs are applauding this week's <a href="" target="_blank">announcement</a> by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: The agency will now allow the large-scale farming of fish in cages deep in the ocean, in waters regulated by the federal government.</p> <p>The <a href="" target="_blank">new rule</a>, effective February 12, will allow American seafood farmers to apply for a permit to operate an offshore aquaculture farm in the Gulf of Mexico. According to NOAA, the move will help the US, which raises only 20 percent of its seafood in native waters, catch up with the rest of the world in terms of seafood output. Gulf offshore farms will produce up to 64 million pounds of seafood a year. "Marine aquaculture creates jobs, supports resilient working waterfronts and coastal communities, and provides international trade opportunities," NOAA stated in <a href="" target="_blank">a press release</a>.</p> <p><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="354" src="" width="630"></iframe></p> <p>But not everyone is excited about these future offshore operations.</p> <p>Gulf fishermen will have to compete with the new offshore ventures, and some worry that creatures that escape from deep underwater cages could breed or mess with their wild stocks. And while the farms will be several miles away from the coastline, some conservationists say that we still don't know the long term effect such outfits could have on marine ecosystems. According to <em>Politico</em>'s <em>Morning Agriculture</em> newsletter, several organizations, including the Center for Food Safety and Food and Water Watch, are "analyzing legal options" in regards to the new rule out of concern for the environment.</p> <p>The announcement paves the way for offshore ventures in other regions of the US to acquire permits. <a href="" target="_blank">Rose Canyon Fisheries</a> has been waiting since 2014 for approval of its project, which will raise yellowtail jack, white bass, and striped bass in a massive farm miles off the coast of San Diego. Don Kent, head of Hubbs-Seaworld Research Institute, which is co-funding Rose Canyon, envisions the project as a way to correct America's seafood imbalance&mdash;the fact that we import roughly 90 percent of the seafood we consume. "The big advantage we'll have over those other supplies is the fact that we can grow it locally," he <a href="" target="_blank">told</a> KPBS News.</p> <p>Renowned food journalist Paul Greenberg isn't convinced these ambitious aquaculture projects will solve America's seafood dilemma. Americans often eschew native fish species and import exotic varieties instead, he <a href="" target="_blank">told</a> NPR's <em>The Salt</em>. "Rather than trying to start up new and complicated ventures, first let's try to eat the fish we've already got."</p></body></html> Blue Marble Food and Ag Regulatory Affairs Science Fri, 15 Jan 2016 01:06:40 +0000 Maddie Oatman 294061 at Here's the Big Problem With Those Low Gas Prices Obama Is So Happy About <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>In his State of the Union address this week, President Barack Obama gave an approving nod to the price of oil, which is <a href="" target="_blank">now the lowest</a> it has been in more than a decade.</p> <p>"Gas under two bucks a gallon ain't bad, either," he <a href="" target="_blank">said</a>.</p> <p>For motorists, that logic is unassailable. But depending on where in the country you live, the low oil price could come back to haunt you in unexpected ways. According to <a href="" target="_blank">new federal data</a>, half a dozen states with prominent oil drilling industries have taken heavy blows to their budgets. That could prompt a sweep of spending reductions and cuts to education, poverty programs, and other social services.</p> <p>"It could be hugely problematic for some of these states," said Michael Leachman, director of state fiscal research at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.</p> <p>The data show a steep drop in revenue from severance taxes, which natural resource companies pay to states when they extract oil, coal, or natural gas. When oil prices drop, oil production drops next, followed by severance tax revenue. And for states such as Alaska, Wyoming, and North Dakota, which draw a majority of their income from severance taxes, that means the budget can quickly implode. Now, policymakers in those states are scrambling to make up the shortfall in other ways and decide which state programs could face the chopping block.</p> <p>Alaska's decline in revenue has been especially severe:</p> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/state-tax2.jpg"><div class="caption">EIA</div> </div> <p>The Energy Information Administration report notes that Alaska's severance tax income&mdash;which provides three-quarters of the state's budget&mdash;went from $5 billion in 2012 to practically zero in 2015. As the <em>New York Times</em> <a href="" target="_blank">reported</a>, that drop has the state's governor considering re-instating an income tax for the first time in 35 years. Meanwhile, legislators in North Dakota are considering cutting $100 million in spending after tax revenues came in nearly 10 percent lower than expected. Even though oil production there hasn't changed much, the EIA found that "total severance tax revenues fell from more than $3.5 billion in 2014 to $2 billion in 2015 as oil prices declined."</p> <p>A similar story is playing out in Oklahoma, where, the EIA notes, "collections from state sales taxes and individual and corporate income taxes are also significantly affected by oil and natural gas prices":</p> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/state-tax1.jpg"><div class="caption">EIA</div> </div> <p>Trying to predict oil prices far out into the future is a fool's errand, so it's hard to say how lasting the damage to these states could be. Still, there's reason to think that the oil market is <a href="" target="_blank">in for a bumpy road ahead</a>, thanks to a growing market for electric vehicles, increasing fuel efficiency standards, and high volumes of oil coming out of Saudi Arabia and other OPEC countries. <a href="" target="_blank">According to <em>Bloomberg</em></a>, oil demand in the US is flatlining even as nationwide oil production increases:</p> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/oil-demand.jpg"><div class="caption">BNEF</div> </div> <p>The current tax crisis could signal an urgent need for oil-reliant states to diversify their tax base, Leachman said.</p> <p>"There's no question it's not sustainable in Alaska," he said. Other states are at risk of following suit. "You're going to have to rethink your strategy for funding public services if you think oil and gas prices are going to stay really low levels."</p></body></html> Blue Marble Charts Climate Change Climate Desk Energy Obama Thu, 14 Jan 2016 21:07:43 +0000 Tim McDonnell 294041 at The Company Behind Keystone XL Now Wants $15 Billion From US Taxpayers <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>In November, environmentalists were ecstatic when President Barack Obama <a href="" target="_blank">decided not to grant a permit</a> for the Keystone XL pipeline. But TransCanada, the company behind the project, was not so happy. On Wednesday, it filed a <a href="" target="_blank">lawsuit</a> against the federal government seeking to overturn the permit rejection. At the same time, it gave <a href="" target="_blank">notice</a> that it plans to pursue compensation under the North American Free Trade Agreement, to the tune of $15 billion.&nbsp;</p> <p>In its NAFTA complaint, TransCanada alleges that "the politically-driven denial of Keystone's application was contrary to all precedent; inconsistent with any reasonable and expected application of the relevant rules and regulations; and arbitrary, discriminatory, and expropriatory."</p> <p>In other words, TransCanada thinks it got misled and ripped off by the Obama administration, just to satisfy a wacky cabal of tree huggers. Now, it wants the US Treasury to cough up an apology in cash.</p> <p>NAFTA is a trade agreement between the United States, Canada, and Mexico that's meant to protect trade between those countries. One provision of the agreement, Chapter 11, allows a corporation in one country to sue the government of another country if it feels that country's regulations unfairly discriminate against it. It's a provision that has always been highly controversial with environmentalists, since it provides an avenue for corporations to contest another country's environmental policies, as TransCanada is doing now.</p> <p>That strategy is unlikely to succeed, according to David Wirth, a professor of international trade law at Boston College and a leading expert on international environmental disputes. Wirth said he actually used this very question&mdash;could TransCanada win a NAFTA case against the United States?&mdash;on a recent exam, and the answer was pretty clearly no. First off, although TransCanada claims to have spent around <a href="" target="_blank">$3 billion</a> preparing to build the Keystone XL pipeline, it's not clear that this would actually count as an "investment" that was illegally taken from the Canadian company by the US administration.</p> <p>"They knew that without the permit approval the project wouldn't go forward," Wirth said. "So any money spent in advance is purely speculative."</p> <p>Second, although the complaint claims that "environmental activists&hellip;turned opposition to the Keystone XL Pipeline into a litmus test for politicians&mdash;including US President Barack Obama," it's not clear how that really constitutes a legal problem.</p> <p>"The president, in making a decision in the national interest, has to weigh a variety of factors, including arguments of environmentalists," Wirth said. "Just because there was political disagreement doesn't mean the process was defective."</p> <p>But most importantly, Wirth said, TransCanada's complaint doesn't distinguish between a bureaucratic trade decision that treated a foreign company unfairly&mdash;the kind of action NAFTA is supposed to prevent&mdash;and a decision made by the president for the benefit of public health and the environment.</p> <p>"The intent of NAFTA was not to require governments to pay every time they take an action that's in the public interest," Wirth said. "It's very troubling if every time the president makes a decision in the interest of the people, he's risking an enormous liability of this sort."</p> <p>The US has a good track record on NAFTA suits brought by foreign corporations, having lost just one of 14 since the agreement came into effect in 1994. Wirth said NAFTA tribunals have tended to set a pretty low bar for the minimum standard of treatment foreign companies should expect to receive. In other words, TransCanada would have to prove that it was treated exceptionally unjustly by the Obama administration, not just that it had a frustrating experience.</p> <p>As for TransCanada's federal lawsuit seeking to reverse Obama's ruling, the odds for that aren't great either, since US courts have previously found that cross-border pipelines really are the president's decision to make, <a href="" target="_blank">according to Reuters</a>.</p> <p>Sorry, TransCanada. Maybe try for the permit again in 2017 if a Republican wins the White House. Until then, you might be out of luck.</p></body></html> Blue Marble Climate Change Climate Desk Obama Thu, 07 Jan 2016 20:42:35 +0000 Tim McDonnell 293511 at The Obama Administration's New Dietary Guidelines Come Down Hard on One Food <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>On Thursday, the Obama administration finally announced its new <a href="" target="_blank">dietary guidelines</a>&mdash;the government's highly influential food rules that are updated every five years. The release comes after a year of heated argument over what should be included in the new rules and <a href="" target="_blank">debate over the science</a> used to create them.</p> <p>Among the major items listed in the 2015-2020 guidelines is the government's unprecedented recommendation to significantly limit the amount of added sugar to just 10 percent of one's daily caloric intake.</p> <p>Some studies estimate Americans consume up to <a href="" target="_blank">30 teaspoons </a>of sugar every day.</p> <p>As for Big Meat&mdash;which in October took a big hit with the <a href="" target="_blank">World Health Organization's bombshell study</a> that concluded processed meats such as bacon and sausage cause cancer&mdash;the new guidelines played it safe, advising Americans to opt for leaner meats, as it has advised in the past.</p> <p>Last year, as <a href="" target="_blank"><em>Mother Jones</em></a> reported, the industry panicked when an advisory committee for the dietary guidelines recommended a reduction in red meat consumption and an increase in environmentally friendly foods.</p> <p>Don't think your diet has a ton of added sugar? Here are&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">seven everyday snacks</a> that have a surprising amount of it:</p> <div class="inline inline-left" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/Sugar_630_2_1.jpg"></div> <p>&nbsp;</p></body></html> Blue Marble Food and Ag Health Thu, 07 Jan 2016 14:43:46 +0000 Inae Oh 293466 at The Feds Are Now Investigating Chipotle Over That Nasty Norovirus Outbreak <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Its plummeting stock price wasn't the only dismal year-end news for Chipotle in 2015.</p> <p>The once hugely popular burrito chain revealed on Wednesday that the company was also served with a <a href="" target="_blank">grand jury subpoena</a> last month to investigate the nasty norovirus outbreak that started at a Simi Valley, California, restaurant in August.</p> <p>That outbreak <a href="" target="_blank">caused about 100 people</a> to suffer gastrointestinal distress<strong>&mdash;</strong>with everything from diarrhea to vomiting.&nbsp;</p> <p>According to a company memo<strong> </strong>released on Wednesday, Chipotle said the US Attorney's Office for the Central District of California, along with the Federal Drug Administration's criminal investigation's office, has requested the company "produce a broad range of documents" related to the California incident. Chipotle said it intended to fully cooperate in the probe.</p> <p>News of the subpoena comes on the heels of multiple similar outbreaks all linked to restaurants in the chain around the country, including an <a href="" target="_blank">E. coli outbreak</a> that affected more than 50 people in the Midwest and another norovirus outbreak that sickened 80 people in Boston.&nbsp;</p> <p>In the same company memo, Chipotle said the company's stocks were down a staggering 30 percent in December.</p> <p>"Future sales trends may be significantly influenced by further developments," the company added.</p> <p>For more on burrito safety and how to avoid potential outbreaks, <a href="" target="_blank">check out our helpful charts here. </a></p></body></html> Blue Marble Corporations Food and Ag Wed, 06 Jan 2016 18:53:43 +0000 Inae Oh 293406 at These 19 Big-Name Toothpastes and Face Scrubs Will Be Forced to Ditch Tiny Bits of Plastic <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Just before Christmas, Congress passed a law banning microbeads&mdash;those tiny pieces of plastic that act as exfoliants in face washes, toothpastes, and other personal-care products.</p> <p>Researchers have found that the beads are too small to be caught by water treatment plants, so they end up in waterways. There, they act as sponges for toxins&mdash;such as pesticides, heavy metals, and phthalates&mdash;and are frequently mistaken by fish for food. Roughly <a href="" target="_blank">300 million tons</a> of the plastics per year end up in US waterways.</p> <p>The Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015, which requires companies to stop using plastic microbeads by June of 2017, was introduced to the House in March. The House <a href="" target="_blank">passed the bill</a> in December, and the Senate passed it a week later with unanimous consent.</p> <p>The law comes after <a href="" target="_blank">several states</a> had passed bans on the beads; in response to consumer pressure, large personal-care companies such as Johnson &amp; Johnson and Procter &amp; Gamble had already announced initiatives to phase out the microbeads.</p> <p>But several popular consumer products still contain the plastics, and these brands have some reworking to do before summer of 2017. Here are some big-name products that contain plastic microbeads&mdash;and some that don't.</p> <div class="inline inline-left" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/Microbead-products_2_1_0.gif"></div> <div class="inline inline-left" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/No-microbead-products_2_0_0.gif"></div> <p>&nbsp;</p></body></html> Blue Marble Econundrums Health Tue, 05 Jan 2016 20:39:04 +0000 Julia Lurie 293331 at The Feds Just Sued Volkswagen Over Its Emissions Scandal <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>The Justice Department <a href="" target="_blank">filed a civil lawsuit</a> on Monday against Volkswagen over charges that the company installed illegal software on more than half a million vehicles sold in the United States that allowed them to cheat on emissions tests.</p> <p>"Car manufacturers that fail to properly certify their cars and that defeat emission control systems breach the public trust, endanger public health and disadvantage competitors," Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden of the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division said in a statement.</p> <p>Back in September, the Environmental Protection Agency <a href="" target="_blank">filed a citation</a> carrying the possibility of billions of dollars in fines against Volkswagen after the agency discovered that 500,000 VW diesel-powered cars sold since 2009 were designed to deliberately emit much lower levels of harmful gases during official testing than during actual on-the-road driving. A month later, <a href="" target="_blank">the scandal widened</a> to include an additional 10,000 cars. By some estimates, the excess emissions caused by VW's cars could <a href="" target="_blank">contribute to thousands of deaths</a>.</p> <p>For VW, the fallout has been long and damning. The company's share price <a href="" target="_blank">fell off a cliff</a> immediately after the first allegations and has only recovered a little bit in the months since. The CEO has been <a href="" target="_blank">replaced</a>. The episode prompted the EPA to <a href="" target="_blank">overhaul its emissions testing procedures</a> to better catch similar evasion tactics in the future. And the company now faces lawsuits from pissed-off <a href="" target="_blank">drivers</a> and <a href="" target="_blank">car dealers</a>.</p> <p>The <a href="" target="_blank">suit</a> today represents the Obama administration's first steps to follow up on the EPA's allegations. The suit says VW could be liable for up to $6,500 in fines per vehicle&mdash;totaling to more than $3 billion&mdash;and adds that recalls or other possible remedies are still being considered. It also says criminal charges haven't yet been ruled out. In a statement, a Volkswagen spokesperson said the company "will continue to work cooperatively with the EPA on developing remedies to bring the TDI vehicles into full compliance with regulations as soon as possible," and that it "will continue to cooperate with all government agencies investigating these matters."</p> <p><em>This post has been updated.</em></p></body></html> Blue Marble Climate Change Climate Desk Corporations Crime and Justice Top Stories Mon, 04 Jan 2016 19:02:58 +0000 Tim McDonnell 293206 at These 4 Foods Will Be All the Rage in 2016 <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Packed with protein, loaded with vitamin C, or <a href="" target="_blank">boasting</a> "15 times the amount of iron in spinach," so-called superfoods continue to seduce health nuts and marketing gurus alike. You probably remember <a href="" target="_blank">the quinoa craze</a>, the hype surrounding <a href="" target="_blank">coconut oil</a>, the excitement about acai berries, or the hoopla about <a href="" target="_blank">kombucha</a>. They're not <a href="" target="_blank">necessarily better for you</a> than more familiar fruits and veggies, but their exotic names and stories convince consumers to fork over extra for these supposed elixirs.</p> <p>So which superfoods will catch on in 2016? The good news is that this year's top trends combine appealing nutritional qualities with a lighter environmental footprint than the average provision. The only problem? They don't necessarily look or taste great, so companies are currently rushing to repackage them for mass appeal.</p> <p>A roundup of the most promising (but not necessarily appetizing) new superfoods:</p> <p><strong>Crickets: </strong>They thrive in hotter climates and survive off decaying waste and very little water and space, making them seem like the perfect protein for the warming, drought-stricken landscape we humans have engineered for ourselves. Starting in 2014, edible cricket farms have sprung up in Ohio and California; San Francisco's <a href="" target="_blank">Bitty Foods</a> grinds the bugs into a baking flour, and Six Foods uses them in its "<a href="" target="_blank">chirps</a>." But Americans haven't seemed quite ready to embrace the <a href="" target="_blank">age of the edible insect</a>. Marketing research group Blueshift Ideas <a href="" target="_blank">revealed</a> in September that one in five of those surveyed were likely to buy a product with an insect-based ingredient, but that marked a 10 percent decrease in enthusiasm from six months ago. Maybe due to <a href="" target="_blank">the bugs' subtle</a> aftertaste?</p> <p><strong>Hemp: </strong>Many consider hemp a wonder plant&mdash;it's naturally resistant to many pests, it can require <a href="" target="_blank">half the water wheat does</a>, it grows in tight spaces and in many climates, and it outcompetes other weeds. But laws prohibiting marijuana cultivation in the United States have meant that production of hemp, which contains miniscule amounts of THC, has also been off limits. As pot prohibition lifts in some states, people have been stockpiling seeds to plant more acres of hemp for use in textiles, building supplies, <a href="" target="_blank">batteries,</a> and edibles (no, not that kind).</p> <p>According to <a href="" target="_blank">a study</a> in the <em>Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry</em>, hemp seed oil contains high levels of minerals, vitamins, and omega-3s. And move over, almond milk: Hemp milk offers <a href="" target="_blank">way more</a> omega-3 fatty acids, thought to <a href="" target="_blank">help prevent heart disease</a>. But online reviews of its flavor run the gamut, with some pointing out its "<a href="" target="_blank">pleasant slight maltiness</a>" and others saying "<a href="" target="_blank">it tastes like rope</a>." Bitter notes mean hemp milk might not be the best cream substitute; the blogger behind <em></em> <a href="" target="_blank">writes</a> that it made her coffee "almost undrinkable."</p> <p><strong>Moringa: </strong>I <a href="" target="_blank">wrote about this ingredient</a> after attending a San Francisco event called the Future of Food last summer:</p> <blockquote> <p>Over to the Kuli Kuli Foods table, where women in acid-green aprons peddle samples of bars made of moringa, a leafy plant that <em>Time</em> recently <a href="" target="_blank">deemed the new kale</a>. Kuli Kuli is the first US company marketing moringa. Its founder, Lisa Curtis, first learned about the plant while in Peace Corps in Niger in 2010. Feeling malnourished on the local diet, she was urged to try the nutrient-dense moringa plant, which is high in calcium, protein, amino acids, and vitamin C. The plant grows super fast and thrives in hot, dry climates. Curtis realized that locals weren't marketing the superfood because they had no international market, so she set out to create one in the US by importing the plant in powder form. Aside from fueling her own fruit and nut bar company, she tells me that local juice joints around San Francisco are picking it up for use in smoothies. (Side note: Fidel Castro is <a href="" target="_blank">a huge moringa fan</a>.)</p> <p>I want to love moringa. If the current California drought is any predictor, we're going to need plants that survive harsher conditions and provide such an impressive array of nutrients. But this one tastes rather grassy, and goes down like a shot of wheatgrass, which is to say, abruptly. So power to Kuli Kuli, but here's hoping its moringa recipes continue to evolve.</p> </blockquote> <p><strong>Seaweed: </strong><em>New Yorker </em>writer Dana Goodyear recently <a href="" target="_blank">deemed</a> seaweed one of the "world's most sustainable and nutritious crops." It requires neither fresh water nor fertilizer to thrive, and it grows at lightning speed. And rather than contributing to our carbon footprint, as many fertilizers and food sources do, seaweed cleanses the ocean of excess nitrogen and carbon dioxide. As far as its benefits on the dinner plate, certain types of the marine algae offer lots of protein and vitamin B12. That's all well and good, but remember, we're talking about a type of plant that tends to be dark green or brown, leafy, and slimy. As one of Goodyear's sources put it, seaweed is going to be "one of the toughest food types to convince Americans to eat."</p> <p>Then again, unpalatability hasn't stopped other obscure ingredients from zooming to the top of American shopping lists in short periods of time. Chia, slightly bland little seeds that puff up with moisture, gained massive momentum due largely to savvy marketing; the number of food products with chia seeds in them shot up more than 1,000 percent between 2009 and 2013, <a href="" target="_blank">reports</a> Mintel. Many people stomach turmeric, an anti-inflammatory yellow spice that can be acrid on its own, in capsule form. If all else fails, there's always the blender. Cricket seaweed banana smoothie, anyone?</p></body></html> Blue Marble Econundrums Mon, 04 Jan 2016 11:00:43 +0000 Maddie Oatman 292731 at 7 Great Environment Longreads From 2015 <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>From California's nut boom to the green guru of professional sports, it's been a great year for longreads about the environment here at <em>Mother Jones</em>. In case you missed them (or you just want to read 'em again), here are some of our favorites, in no particular order:</p> <ol><li><strong><a href="" target="_blank">"Invasion of the Hedge Fund Almonds,</a>" </strong>by Tom Philpott. In California, farmers are converting their farms to almond, pistachio, and walnut orchards at a breakneck pace&mdash;and Wall Street firms are buying them up. No wonder, since these nuts are extremely valuable right now. That's because they're the health food du jour, both here and in China. There's just one problem: Tree nuts suck up more water than practically any other crop. So how can there be a nut boom during the worst drought in California's history? Tom Philpott has the fascinating answer.<br> &nbsp;</li> <li><strong><a href="" target="_blank">"How the Government Put Tens of Thousands of People at Risk of a Deadly Disease,"</a> </strong>by David Ferry. Valley fever, a potentially fatal fungal disease, recently reached near-epidemic proportions among the Golden State&rsquo;s prisoners. The illness is endemic to California's Central Valley&mdash;which also happens to house a high concentration of state prisons. African American and Filipino people are particularly susceptible to the fungus, yet correctional officers repeatedly ignored recommendations to transfer these vulnerable prisoners away from Central Valley facilities. The results were nothing short of tragic.<br> &nbsp;</li> <li><strong><a href="" target="_blank">"Bark Beetles Are Decimating Our Forests. That Might Actually Be a Good Thing,"</a></strong> by Maddie Oatman. Ever-worsening infestations of pine beetles have killed large swaths of forests in the Western United States. As climate change intensifies, the beetle carnage is only expected to increase. The US Forest Service maintains that the only way to stop the marauding bugs is by thinning: cutting down trees to stop the beetles' progress. But entomologist Diana Six, who has devoted her career to beetle ecology, thinks the beetles may actually know more than we do about how to make forests resilient in the face of big changes ahead as the planet warms.<br> &nbsp;</li> <li><strong><a href="" target="_blank">"This May Be the Most Radical Idea in All of Professional Sports</a>,</strong>" by Ian Gordon. If you've ever been to a pro sports game, you may have noticed that most are not exactly green operations. In addition to the mountains of beer cans, Styrofoam nacho trays, and peanut shells, there's the giant energy cost of powering a stadium, and all the carbon emissions that go with it. Sports execs considered all of that an unavoidable cost of doing business&mdash;until a charismatic scientist named Allen Hershkowitz came onto the scene a decade ago. Since then, thanks to Hershkowitz and his Green Sports Alliance, at least 28 venues have started using some kind of renewable energy and 20 stadiums have been LEED certified, while the National Hockey League, the National Basketball Association, and Major League Baseball have all made major changes to reduce their environmental footprints. So how did Hershkowitz do it?<br> &nbsp;</li> <li><strong><a href="" target="_blank">"Does Air Pollution Cause Dementia?,"</a></strong> by Aaron Reuben. Scientists have long known that air pollution causes and exacerbates respiratory problems&mdash;such as asthma and infections and cancers of the lungs&mdash;and they also suspect it contributes to a diverse range of other disorders, from heart disease to obesity. But now cutting-edge research suggests these particles play a role in some of humanity's most terrifying and mysterious illnesses: degenerative brain diseases.<br> &nbsp;</li> <li><a href="" target="_blank"><strong>"This Scientist Might End Animal Cruelty&mdash;Unless GMO Hardliners Stop Him,"</strong></a> by Kat McGowan. Scientist Scott Fahrenkrug has big plans to make life for millions of farm animals a whole lot better. Through a technique called gene editing, Fahrenkrug's company has made dairy cows that can skip the painful dehorning process&mdash;because they don't grow horns in the first place. He's created male pigs that don't have to be castrated because they never go through puberty. He's tweaking the DNA of a few high-performance cattle breeds so they're more heat tolerant and can thrive in a warming world. Fahrenkrug's ultimate goal is animals with just the right mix of traits&mdash;and much less suffering. But many people see genetically modified foods as a symbol of all that's wrong with the industrial food system. Fahrenkrug will have to convince them that it offers the surest and fastest route to more ethical and sustainable farming.<br> &nbsp;</li> <li><strong><a href="" target="_blank">"Heart of Agave,"</a></strong> by Ted Genoways. In Mexico, fine tequila is serious business. That's in part because over the last 25 years, US imports of pure agave tequila have doubled&mdash;with the greatest leap coming in the super-premium division, where sales of high-end tequilas have increased five times over. The billion-dollar market has become so lucrative that George Clooney, Sean Combs, and Justin Timberlake each have their own brands. All that growth has pushed growers to plant vast monoculture fields and deploy the products of American agrichemical companies, like pesticides and synthetic fertilizer. But that could soon change: Journalist and author Ted Genoways tells the story of the rogue Mexican optometrist who has started an organic tequila revolution&mdash;and how his radical ideas are catching on.</li> </ol></body></html> Blue Marble Longreads Econundrums Food and Ag Science Sports Top Stories Mon, 28 Dec 2015 11:00:09 +0000 Kiera Butler 292786 at The Only Way to Save Your Beloved Bananas Might Be Genetic Engineering <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Bananas have reached such all-star status in the American diet that we now consume more of them than apples <a href="">every year</a>. Yet you're probably used to seeing just one type of banana at your supermarket: the relatively bland yellow Cavendish. It has high yields, ships pretty well, and ripens slowly, making it appetizing to global food distributors.</p> <p>Unfortunately, the popularity of the Cavendish might also be its downfall. A nasty and incurable fungus known as Tropical Race 4 (TR4) has spread in Cavendish-producing countries around the world, and it could be making its way straight toward banana heartland: Latin America, which produces <a href="">80 percent</a> of the world's exports.</p> <p>For <a href="">a paper</a> published in November in the journal <em>PLOS Pathogens</em>, researchers confirmed that the version of TR4 afflicting bananas in different countries around the globe&mdash;including China, the Philippines, Jordan, Oman, and Australia&mdash;appears to come from a single clone. Ever since the fungus migrated from Asia and Australia into Africa and the Middle East starting in 2013, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization has <a href="" target="_blank">urged countries</a> to step up their quarantining of sick plants. Yet the <em>Pathogens</em> paper confirms that these quarantines, seemingly the only prevention against the spread of the fungus, which can live in soil for up to 50 years, have mostly failed. "It indicates pretty strongly that we've been moving this thing around," says professor James Dale, one of the world's experts on bananas and the director of the Queensland University of Technology's Centre for Tropical Crops and Biocommodities. "It hasn't just popped up out of the blue."</p> <p>The finding seems to confirm every banana grower's worst fear: that the Cavendish will go down the same way our old favorite banana did. A century ago, Americans ate only Gros Michel bananas, said to have more complex flavor and a heartier composition than today's Cavendish variety. Then, the monoculture fell prey to the fungal disease Tropical Race 1, or "Panama disease," which wiped out the crop around the globe. There was nothing anything could do to stop it.</p> <div class="inline inline-left" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/BananaSellerCrop.jpg"><div class="caption"><strong>A farmer sells hill bananas in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. </strong>K.P. Sajith/NRCB/<a href="" target="_blank">Musarama</a></div> </div> <p>So this time around, rather than attack the fungus, scientists have shifted their efforts into building a better banana to withstand it. Dale's research team, funded in part by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, has spent 12 years working on TR4. Three years ago, it started a trial on two very promising ideas: (1) inserting a TR4-resistant gene from a different wild banana species from Malaysia and Indonesia, <em>musa acuminata malaccensis, </em>into the Cavendish to create a fungus-resistant version of the popular variety and (2) turning off a gene in the Cavendish that follows directions from the fungus to <a href="" target="_blank">kill its own cells</a>. Dale says it's too early to discuss the details of the trials, but the team is "very encouraged by the results" of the experiment with the wild <em>malaccensis</em> banana&mdash;which means the genetically engineered fruit seems to have successfully resisted TR4.</p> <p>GMO haters would not be too happy about a rejiggered&nbsp;banana plant. Dale's introduction of a different GM experiment in 2014, a vitamin-A-fortified banana meant to help deliver nutrients to impoverished Africans, was met with harsh criticism from the likes of Indian environmental activist Vandana Shiva, Friends of the Earth Africa, and Food and Water Watch. "There is no consensus that GM crops are safe for human consumption," they wrote <a href="">in a letter</a> to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.</p> <div class="inline inline-right" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/BananasChichiCrop.jpg"><div class="caption"><strong>Ruhuvia Chichi, or red bananas, grown on the Solomon Islands </strong>Gabriel Sachter-Smith/<a href="" target="_blank">Musarama</a></div> </div> <p>Regardless of where you land on GMOs, there is another option to consider: We could stop relying on Cavendish bananas. If you've ever tasted one of the dozens of small, sweet&nbsp;bananas that grow in regions like Central America and Southeast Asia, you probably aren't terribly impressed with the United States' doughy supermarket varieties. Belgium's Bioversity International estimates that there are at least 500, but possibly twice as many, banana cultivars in the world, and about 75 wild species. The Ruhuvia Chichi of the Solomon Islands is sunset red and cucumber shaped; Inabaniko bananas from the Philippines grow fused together, giving them the name "Praying Hands"; Micronesia's orange-fleshed Fe'i bananas are rich in beta-carotene. Elsewhere, you can find the Lady Finger banana, the Se&ntilde;orita, the Pink French, and the Blue Java.</p> <p>But Dale doubts the global food industry will suddenly switch to one of these tempting fruits. "To change over to another variety would be quite challenging, because the growers and shippers have really been set up to use [the Cavendish] around the world." And he points out, "Even if you did find a replacement, that's not to say that in 20 years another disease wouldn't come along and knock it over."</p></body></html> Blue Marble Food and Ag International Science Top Stories Mon, 21 Dec 2015 11:00:12 +0000 Maddie Oatman 292541 at 10 Unusual Facts About the Flu From a Nobel Prize-Winning Pandemics Expert <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>I had the pleasure, a while back, of lunching with Peter Doherty, who shared the 1996 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for research showing how the immune system recognizes virus-infected cells. He's a fascinating, charming guy who knows a heck of a lot about birds and pandemics, having written books about both. You can read the extended chat <a href="" target="_blank">here</a>, but with influenza season upon us, you'll be especially interested in these 10 highlights.</p> <div class="inline inline-right" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/droughtHayashiFumihiro_0.jpg"></div> <p><strong>1. Drought is influenza's BFF:</strong> "It brings birds together on a limited water source, so there's much more of a chance of transmission. Interestingly, with West Nile [virus], 2012 was a very bad year, and that was a drought year&mdash;all the birds were coming very close together, and the insects were there, and were breeding down in the sewers in cities. It's paradoxical: In a wild situation where you get a lot of rain and a lot mosquitos you'd expect a lot of transmission. But in an urban environment, a drought situation can give you the ideal means of transmission."</p> <div class="inline inline-right" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/chickenAdamZubin."></div> <p><strong>2. These chickens have our back:</strong> "Sentinel chickens are the domestic chickens that public health people park around the countryside in small flocks. These are there to detect viruses and the spread of viruses that are transmitted by mosquitoes. West Nile is one of them. The chicken recovers and makes antibodies, and so, by regularly bleeding these chickens, you can say that that virus is spreading in that region. It's a long-used technique."</p> <div class="inline inline-right" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/flightAnuarZhumaev.jpg"></div> <p><strong>3. That sick first-class passenger probably won't spread it to coach:</strong> "You're at risk if you're two or three rows from someone who's coughing and spluttering flu, but it doesn't go through the plane's air-handling system, so it's not dangerous in that sense. But it gets around the world very, very fast. The terrible 1918-1919 pandemic that killed 50 million to 100 million people was killing people in the trenches in 1918 but didn't get to Australia till 1919 because everyone's traveling by ship. But the 2009 swine flu was probably in Australia before it was even <em>detected</em> in the United States&mdash;and that's air travel." [Editor's note: The heading for this item has been modified.]</p> <div class="inline inline-right" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/contagionOCHAVisualInformationUnit.jpg"></div> <p><strong>4. A semi-deadly flu is scarier than a superdeadly one: </strong>"The more severe it is, in a way the less dangerous it is, because the public health people will drop on it in a big way. The really dangerous flu virus is the one that, like the 1918 virus, kills maybe 2 percent. Because it'll slip by much more readily."</p> <div class="inline inline-right" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/CatLucieParker.jpg"></div> <p><strong>5. Your cat can get the flu, but not to worry: </strong>"The H5N1 bird flu was causing a lot of disease in big cats like leopards that were fed infected chicken carcasses. It killed [zoo <a href="" target="_blank">leopards and tigers</a> in Taiwan(<a href="#correction">*</a>)], for instance, before they realized what was happening," but "there's no known case that I know of where a cat has transmitted a flu virus to a human."</p> <div class="inline inline-right" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/pigadamzubin.jpg"></div> <p><strong>6. Pigs, on the other hand...</strong> "Pigs are our main worry.&nbsp;The flu virus genetic material is organized in eight quite separate bits. So if the one cell in, say, a pig lung, gets infected with two different flu viruses, they can just repackage so you get bits of the different packages in new viruses&hellip;That's what happed with the 2009 swine flu. There was an American swine flu virus and there was a Eurasian swine flu. Somehow they got together, and that repackaged virus was <em>extremely</em> infectious for humans.&nbsp;The 1968 Hong Kong flu came about when a virus circulating in humans called H2N2 reassorted with an H3N8 virus that was in ducks. And that we think probably happened in a pig&hellip;There's a picture of a kid kissing a pig that all the flu guys show. Don't kiss your pig! Keep your distance."</p> <div class="inline inline-right" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/moneyluisprado.jpg"></div> <p><strong>7. A flu pandemic will cost us a friggin' fortune:</strong> "People would stop flying, for a start. That means the hotel industry and the airline industry would go down the tube&hellip;Anything where people gather together. That's what happened with SARS&mdash;I think the loss is calculated at around $50 billion, and that only affected a few East Asian areas and Toronto. The calculated loss of a severe flu pandemic is $300 billion, something like that."</p> <div class="inline inline-right" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/cookedchickenCreativestall.jpg"></div> <p><strong>8. If you cook a bird-flu-infected chicken, you actually can eat it (not that you would):</strong> "It doesn't take much to kill flu. It's pretty labile. But it survives well in water.&nbsp;I don't know any case where anyone caught flu by water, though. As far as we all know, flu only spreads by respiratory routes, by hand and nose. My <em>Pandemics</em> book argues that one of the best things you can do in any situation is to wash your hands and not touch your hand to your face. We all touch our hands to our face an enormous amount and we don't realize it." (Author's note: This is totally true. Watch your co-workers at the next work meeting.)</p> <div class="inline inline-right" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/pandemicMichaelThompson.jpg"></div> <p><strong>9. Recurrence of a 1918-style pandemic is pretty unlikely:</strong> "We're <em>incredibly</em> better at monitoring it and reacting quickly. There's a great global network of influenza centers, and the technology is infinitely better. A lot of people in 1918 probably died from secondary bacterial infections. We've got antibiotics to deal with bacteria, and so we'd do better there."</p> <div class="inline inline-right" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/vaccineJoeLooney.jpg"></div> <p><strong>10. Our primitive method of producing flu vaccine is on the outs:</strong> "They've got some of it working now in recombinant DNA technology, which means we can grow the proteins in bacteria&mdash;which means you can use every fermenter on the planet. At the moment we're growing them in hens' eggs. That's really limiting because there's a limited number of facilities. Our armamentarium is improving very fast. There's always a chance of some weird virus that comes in from nowhere, like the one in <em>Contagion</em>. But so far, no."</p> <p id="placeholder"><em>Correction: In an earlier version of this story, Dr. Dougherty was quoted saying flu had killed leopards in a zoo in Singapore. It was actually Taiwan. </em></p> <p><em><a href="" target="_blank">Noun Project icons</a> by: Hayashi Fumihiro (drought), Adam Zubin (chicken and pig), Anuar Zumaev (airline passenger), OCHA Visual Information Unit (contagion), Lucie Parker (cat), Luis Prado (money), Creative Stall (roasted chicken), Michael Thompson (pandemic burial), Joel Looney (vaccine)</em></p></body></html> Blue Marble Climate Change Health Science Top Stories Mon, 21 Dec 2015 11:00:09 +0000 Michael Mechanic 274071 at A Food Giant Wanted to Squash Eggless Mayo. It Just Lost. <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>In the great mayo wars of 2015, there is finally a winner.</p> <p>For those who haven't been following the scandal-filled sandwich spread controversy, a bit of background: It all began in 2013, when the egg-alternative food startup company <a href="" target="_blank">Hampton Creek</a> launched a vegan mayonnaise-like product called <a href="" target="_blank">Just Mayo,</a> which soon became Whole Foods' <a href="" target="_blank">most popular</a> mayonnaise.</p> <div class="inline inline-right" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/chicken_4.jpg"><div class="caption"><strong>Read <a href="" target="_blank">our past coverage</a> of the hackers trying to make fake eggs better. </strong>Ross MacDonald</div> </div> <p>So popular was Just Mayo, in fact, that in November 2014, Unilever, parent company of market leader Hellmann's, <a href="" target="_blank">sued</a> Hampton Creek for false advertising and unfair competition. The food giant argued that Just Mayo, because it contained no eggs, "damages the entire product category, which has strived for decades for a consistent definition of 'mayonnaise' that fits with consumer expectations." Unilever dropped the lawsuit about a month later "as consumers heaped scorn on the company for what they viewed as a frivolous lawsuit," the food industry news site Food Dive <a href="" target="_blank">reported</a>.</p> <p>Nevertheless, in August of this year the FDA <a href="" target="_blank">ruled</a> that Hampton Creek couldn't call its product mayonnaise. "The use of the term 'mayo' in the product names and the image of an egg may be misleading to consumers because it may lead them to believe that the products are the standardized food, mayonnaise," the FDA <a href="" target="_blank">said</a> in a statement.</p> <p>Then, in September, internal emails from the American Egg Board surfaced. They showed that the industry group had <a href="" target="_blank">tried</a> to stop Whole Foods from selling Just Mayo&mdash;and that Egg Board members were really worked up over Hampton Creek. From the <a href="" target="_blank"><em>Guardian</em></a>:</p> <blockquote> <p>More than one member of the AEB made joking threats of violence against Hampton Creek's founder, Josh Tetrick. "Can we pool our money and put a hit on him?" asked Mike Sencer, executive vice-president of AEB member organization Hidden Villa Ranch. Mitch Kanter, executive vice-president of the AEB, jokingly offered "to contact some of my old buddies in Brooklyn to pay Mr. Tetrick a visit."</p> </blockquote> <p>Egg Board CEO Joanne Ivy <a href="" target="_blank">retired early</a> in the wake of the episode.</p> <p>While all that was going on, Hampton Creek was working with the FDA on a compromise, and today, the company announced that it will be allowed to keep the name Just Mayo, as long as it makes its eggless-ness even clearer on the product label. The AP's Candice Choi <a href="" target="_blank">reports</a>:</p> <blockquote> <p>The changes include making the words 'egg-free' larger and adding 'Spread &amp; Dressing.' An image of an egg with a pea shoot inside will also be smaller.</p> </blockquote> <p>Now, all this hoopla over a "spread and dressing" and its picture of a pea-shoot-bearing egg might seem ridiculous, but keep in mind that this business played out against the backdrop of a devastating avian flu outbreak that <a href="" target="_blank">hobbled</a> the egg industry. What's more, in April two former egg industry executives were <a href="" target="_blank">sentenced to jail time</a> for their connection with a 2010 salmonella outbreak that is thought to have sickened as many as 56,000 people.</p> <p>All those egg woes aside, there's another reason behind egg purveyors' massive freak-out: At least according to writer Rowan Jacobsen, unlike most other eggless mayonnaise products, Just Mayo actually <a href="" target="_blank">tastes good</a>.</p></body></html> Blue Marble Corporations Food and Ag Regulatory Affairs Top Stories Thu, 17 Dec 2015 20:50:36 +0000 Kiera Butler 292366 at Shit Is About to Get Real in California, El Niño Report Predicts <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>After four years of drought, Californians are bracing for another potentially destructive weather event: El Ni&ntilde;o. Earlier this week, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, released a <a href="" target="_blank">disaster plan</a> including what to expect from the upcoming rainy season. Here are the key takeaways:</p> <ul><li><strong>This may be the strongest El Ni&ntilde;o on record. </strong>Weather reports indicate that this year will be warm and wet&mdash;perhaps even more so than the winter of 1997-1998, which is currently the strongest recorded El Ni&ntilde;o. That year, California evacuated 100,000 people.</li> <li><strong>The dry conditions mean more flooding.</strong> The lack of soil moisture has made the soil "harden and act like cement," making it, paradoxically, less likely to soak up the rain. The chance of flooding is far higher than usual, especially in the productive farm country of the Central Valley and the surrounding area&mdash;including the state's capital. "The primary risk areas are in populated areas mostly notably in Sacramento," the report reads&mdash;and because of that, "a major flood situation would have significant impact on the economic, cultural, and political life of California." Additionally, a catastrophic levee failure in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta would jeopardize a major source of water for 60 percent of California homes and for a portion of the state's agricultural industry." One in five Californians lives in a flood zone.</li> <li><strong>Wildfires in the summer mean more landslides in the winter. </strong>The wildfire season this year was <a href="" target="_blank">devastating</a> in California, scorching <a href="" target="_blank">more than 300,000 acres</a>. Mudslides are common in these scorched areas, called "burn scars," because water quickly runs off and there aren't trees to keep the soil, rocks, and other debris in place. Southern Californians got a little taste of what this might look like when rain led to severe landslides<a href="" target="_blank"> in October.</a></li> <li><strong>King Tides, El Ni&ntilde;o, and the Blob mean higher sea levels and more potential damage. </strong>Sea levels typically rise a few inches during El Ni&ntilde;o, but this winter, scientists predict that the giant swath of warm water off the West Coast&mdash;dubbed <a href="" target="_blank">the Blob</a>&mdash;will lead to a rise of between 8 and 11 inches. State officials are particularly concerned about the potential damage caused by storms toward the end of both December and January, when the highest tides of the winter, called King Tides, are expected.</li> <li><strong>The rains may ease the drought but won't solve it.&nbsp;</strong> All this water will certainly ease the drought and raise levels in the state's depleted reservoirs. But because the state is so behind on precipitation, it's very unlikely that it will make up for the state's now four-year water deficit.</li> </ul></body></html> Blue Marble Climate Change Climate Desk Econundrums Fri, 11 Dec 2015 11:00:14 +0000 Julia Lurie 291786 at The Government’s New Food Rules Will Be a Huge Deal. Bacon Lovers Are Not Going to Be Happy. <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>The Obama administration is soon expected to reveal its new dietary guidelines for Americans, with advice about which foods to pile onto your plate&mdash;and which ones to avoid&mdash;if you want to stay healthy.<strong> </strong></p> <div class="inline inline-right" style="display: table; width: 1%"><a href=""><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/MILK_edit.jpg"></a> <div class="caption"><a href="" target="_blank"><strong>Evidence suggests dairy doesn't do a body good&mdash;so why does the government still push three servings a day? </strong></a></div> </div> <p>Once illustrated by the Food Pyramid (and now by a circular graphic called <a href="" target="_blank">MyPlate</a>), the guidelines are updated every five years, and they're hugely influential, affecting everything from school lunch menus and government agricultural subsidies to aid programs for low-income families and research priorities at health agencies. They're supposed to be based on scientific studies and recommendations from nutrition experts, but given all the different theories about what makes a healthy diet&mdash;not to mention all the different stakeholders, including Big Ag&mdash;past guidelines have sparked plenty of controversy. This year's drafting process has been particularly contentious. Here's a primer:</p> <p><strong>Meat eaters, take note.</strong> The government has cautioned in the past against eating too much red meat. But this year, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee&mdash;which reviews scientific studies and gives the government advice about how to write its guidelines&mdash;has recommended that you watch your intake of <em>all </em>meats, including leaner options like chicken, as my colleague Maddie Oatman <a href="" target="_blank">reported </a>in February. Seafood will probably still be considered healthy, though, and the government will likely scrap its previous advice about limiting cholesterol&mdash;which means that you can replace your breakfast sausage and bacon with a hearty helping of eggs.</p> <p><strong>Watch that sweet tooth. </strong>The new guidelines will likely recommend that you cut down your sugar intake&mdash;big time. The Advisory Committee concluded that most people shouldn't consume more than <a href="" target="_blank">about four to nine teaspoons</a> of sugar per day, depending on your body mass index. What does that mean for your snacking? A single eight-ounce cup of low-fat strawberry yogurt has <a href="" target="_blank">six teaspoons</a> of sugar, to put things in perspective. Right now, some studies suggest we eat as many as 30 teaspoons of sugar every day. Here's a look at several <a href="" target="_blank">surprisingly high sources</a>.</p> <p><strong>Shoddy science?</strong> In September, food writer and activist Nina Teicholz <a href="" target="_blank">ruffled feathers</a> by questioning the scientific integrity of the dietary guidelines. In an <a href="" target="_blank">investigation</a> published by a major British medical journal, she claimed that the Advisory Committee had used some studies by outside professional organizations with backing from Big Food, like the American Heart Association. She also claimed that some members of the committee had received support from groups like the International Tree Nut Council, Unilever, and Lluminari, a health media company that works with General Mills and PepsiCo. The government fired back, arguing that Teicholz's claims were based on factual errors and that the Advisory Committee had conducted "a rigorous, systematic and transparent review of the current body of nutrition science." More than <a href="" target="_blank">180 scientists</a> called for a retraction of Teicholz's investigation, but <a href="" target="_blank">others </a>have agreed that the food industry plays too big a role in what the government tells us to eat. (Check out this <a href="" target="_blank"><em>Mother Jones</em> feature </a>about how Big Dairy has convinced the government to promote milk, despite evidence showing that too much of it may be harmful for adults.)</p> <p><strong>Sorry, tree huggers. </strong>This year's dietary guidelines <a href="" target="_blank">won't consider the environmental footprint</a> of foods&mdash;and that'll make Big Ag happy. Back in February, the Advisory Committee published a report urging the government to focus on sustainability as a component of healthy eating. Committee members argued that if we don't think about the planet now&mdash;by promoting diets high in fruits and vegetables and lower in meat products&mdash;we'll likely face problems later on. "Access to sufficient, nutritious, and safe food is an essential element of food security for the U.S. population," <a href="" target="_blank">they wrote</a>. "A sustainable diet is one that assures this access for both the current population and future populations." That advice didn't please Big Ag, whose backers <a href="" target="_blank">sent letters</a> to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, arguing that environmental impact was beyond the scope of the dietary guidelines. And he listened: In October, Vilsack <a href="" target="_blank">made it known</a> that the guidelines would pinpoint good foods for human health&mdash;not foods with a light impact on the planet.</p></body></html> Blue Marble Food and Ag Health Thu, 10 Dec 2015 00:48:46 +0000 Samantha Michaels 291631 at Flavored E-Cigarettes May Be Worse for You Than Nicotine <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>"An exotic fusion of pineapple and coconut with champagne infused blueberries."</p> <p>"Creamy milk chocolate and rich peanut butter flavors."</p> <p>No, these are not excerpts from the dessert menu at a fancy hotel. They're some of the latest offerings from the makers of vape pens and e-cigarettes&mdash;which are the same thing, more or less. As e-cigs gain traction (sales are expected to soar seventeenfold over the next 15 years), manufacturers are having a heyday concocting flavors that can be inhaled&mdash;an estimated 7,000 to date. Public health experts warn of the addictive nicotine in e-cigs and vaping fluids, and their potential <a href="" target="_blank">to serve as a</a> "gateway" to tobacco, especially for teens. But a new <a href="" target="_blank">Harvard study</a> instead took a hard look at those tantalizing flavors&mdash;and found that a majority, at least of the samples tested, contained chemicals linked to a dangerous lung disease.</p> <p>Researchers at Harvard's T.H. Chan School of Public Health analyzed various e-cig and vape pen liquids for the presence of three related chemicals&mdash;diacetyl, 2,3-pentanedione, and acetoin&mdash;that are also used in artificial butter flavorings. By the turn of the 21st century, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had deemed diacetyl safe to eat, but little was known about what happened when a person inhales it. Then, in the early 2000s, workers at several plants that manufacture microwave popcorn <a href="" target="_blank">came down with a nasty lung disease</a> after prolonged exposure to the fake-butter fumes. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) investigated cases of this so-called popcorn lung and later released <a href="" target="_blank">guidelines</a> for dealing with diacetyl in the workplace, along with <a href="" target="_blank">a list of foods</a> that contain the chemical. "Current evidence points to diacetyl as one agent that can cause flavorings-related lung disease," <a href="">notes</a> the CDC's National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health. NIOSH says it is uncertain whether the other two compounds pose health risks, but it points out their chemical similarities to diacetyl.</p> <p>Now the popcorn-lung chemicals are turning up in vape pens. The Harvard researchers tested 51 e-cigarette flavorings they deemed appealing to youths&mdash;think "Cupcake" and "Alien Blood"&mdash;and found diacetyl in 37 of them. At least one of the three suspect chemicals was present in 47 of the 51 samples. The researchers could not determine conclusively that using an e-cig flavored with these chemicals is harmful. But they pointed out that "the heating, vaporization, and subsequent inhalation" creates "an exposure pathway" similar to that of the microwave popcorn workers. Two of the flavors tested&mdash;"<a href="" target="_blank">menthol</a>" and "tobacco"&mdash;do not appear on the OSHA's list of flavors likely to contain diacetyl.</p> <p>Since they landed on the market in 2004, e-cigarettes and vape pens have been dogged by controversy. Fans claim they are far less toxic than <a href="" target="_blank">regular cigarettes</a> and might even help tobacco smokers quit. Public health officials counter that it's too early to know very much about e-cigs' health effects, especially on young people. (Their use among teens <a href="">tripled</a> from 2013 to 2014.) At least 43 states <a href="" target="_blank">have placed age restrictions</a> on the sale or possession of the products.</p> <p>The FDA <a href="" target="_blank">does not currently</a> regulate e-cigarettes&mdash;it has stalled for years in proceeding with <a href="">proposed rules </a>that would allow it to regulate the devices as tobacco products. But given the new findings, the agency may want to take a closer look at the sweet flavors that make the nicotine go down.</p></body></html> Blue Marble Wed, 09 Dec 2015 11:00:13 +0000 Maddie Oatman 291556 at The House Just Voted to Ban Those Tiny Pieces of Plastic in Your Toothpaste <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Yesterday, the US House of Representatives voted to phase out microbeads, the little pieces of plastic that act as exfoliants in personal-care products ranging from <a href="" target="_blank">face wash to toothpaste</a>. The bill, which was introduced last year by Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), would ban the use of synthetic microplastics in cosmetics by 2018. Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Gary Peters (D-Mich.) introduced c<a href="" target="_blank">ompanion legislation</a> in May.</p> <p>Environmental advocates have expressed concern for years over the beads, which are so small that they aren't caught in water treatment plants. There are roughly 300,000 microbeads in a single tube of face wash; by some estimates, Americans dump roughly 300 tons of the beads per year into US waterways. The microplastics, which serve as a sponge for toxins, are frequently confused by fish as food and make their way up the food chain&mdash;they've turned up in <a href="" target="_blank">tuna and swordfish</a>.</p> <p>Several states have enacted microbead bans, starting with Illinois in 2014. California <a href="" target="_blank">passed the strictest legislation</a> yet in October this year, banning both synthetic and biodegradable plastics. (<a href="" target="_blank">Many experts argue</a> that there is no such thing as plastic that can biodegrade in ocean conditions.) If it becomes law, the national legislation, which only focuses on synthetic plastics, would supersede these state bans.</p> <p>Here are a few products with and without the plastic beads. If you're curious about a product you use, look for polyethylene on the ingredient list.</p> <div class="inline inline-left" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/Microbead-products_2_1.gif"></div> <div class="inline inline-left" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/No-microbead-products_2_0.gif"></div> <p>&nbsp;</p></body></html> Blue Marble Tue, 08 Dec 2015 21:55:08 +0000 Julia Lurie 291546 at Jane Goodall Just Called Out Republicans on Climate Change <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>At the major climate summit in Paris on Monday, renowned conservationist Jane Goodall called for Republicans in Congress to back down from opposing an international agreement on climate change.</p> <p>"Success [at the Paris climate summit] would be a binding agreement to limit carbon," she said in a briefing with reporters. But "a binding agreement isn't much use unless it leads to actions and implementation. So there has to be a commitment to go back to your nation and follow through."</p> <p>Asked whether that will happen in the United States, Goodall said, "It depends on who the next president is, doesn't it?" All the leading <a href="" target="_blank">Republican presidential candidates</a>&mdash;<a href="" target="_blank">most recently (and colorfully) Chris Christie</a>&mdash;have said they would walk back President Barack Obama's climate agenda. Most of them reject mainstream climate science, as well. The Democratic candidates have all taken the opposite position, wanting to push action on climate change beyond what Obama has been able to achieve.</p> <p>This week, diplomats from nearly every nation on Earth are <a href="" target="_blank">huddled in Paris</a> to finalize a sweeping global agreement to limit greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change. Prior to the summit, Obama <a href="" target="_blank">offered a commitment</a> from the United States to reduce the nation's greenhouse gas emissions by one-third by 2025. That commitment is backed by regulations based on existing US law&mdash;the Clean Air Act&mdash;but the commitment itself is unlikely to be legally binding internationally. Last week in Paris, Obama <a href="" target="_blank">said</a> other parts of the agreement should be binding, including a requirement that countries periodically revisit and possibly strengthen their carbon reduction targets.</p> <p>But at the same time&mdash;back in Washington, DC&mdash;Republicans in Congress have <a href="" target="_blank">taken steps to sabotage</a> the Paris negotiations, passing legislation to block key parts of Obama's climate agenda. (Those resolutions will almost certainly remain symbolic, as they face a guaranteed veto from the president.)</p> <p>Obama's statements notwithstanding, the US delegation in Paris could present obstacles to achieving a strong agreement as the talks move into their second and final week. One of the <a href="" target="_blank">biggest issues</a> on the table is international finance (i.e. how wealthy, high-polluting countries such the United States should help pay for climate change adaptation and clean energy in vulnerable developing countries). As Ben Adler <a href="" target="_blank">reported last week</a> for Climate Desk partner Grist:</p> <blockquote> <p>Presumably the Obama administration would like to offer more climate finance, but it cannot without congressional authorization. Asking Republicans for foreign aid to solve a problem they claim doesn't even exist would be like asking them to pay for gay weddings. Instead, the Obama administration has to fight with Congress just to make sure the GOP doesn't <a href="">strip</a> what little climate finance the US has pledged, around $500 million per year until 2020, from the budget.</p> </blockquote> <p>To Goodall, who spent more than 50 years studying chimps in Tanzania, these lawmakers are letting short-term politics obscure the bigger picture. They need to "just sit down and forget about politics," she said. "Think about your children and revisit your belief."</p></body></html> Blue Marble Animals Climate Change Climate Desk International Top Stories Mon, 07 Dec 2015 15:09:38 +0000 Tim McDonnell 291371 at Donald Trump Just Gave the Dumbest Rebuttal to Obama's Big Paris Speech <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><blockquote class="instagram-media" data-instgrm-captioned="" data-instgrm-version="6" style=" background:#FFF; border:0; border-radius:3px; box-shadow:0 0 1px 0 rgba(0,0,0,0.5),0 1px 10px 0 rgba(0,0,0,0.15); margin: 1px; max-width:658px; padding:0; width:99.375%; width:-webkit-calc(100% - 2px); width:calc(100% - 2px);"> <div style="padding:8px;"> <div style=" background:#F8F8F8; line-height:0; margin-top:40px; padding:50.0% 0; text-align:center; width:100%;"> <div style=" background:url(data:image/png;base64,iVBORw0KGgoAAAANSUhEUgAAACwAAAAsCAMAAAApWqozAAAAGFBMVEUiIiI9PT0eHh4gIB4hIBkcHBwcHBwcHBydr+JQAAAACHRSTlMABA4YHyQsM5jtaMwAAADfSURBVDjL7ZVBEgMhCAQBAf//42xcNbpAqakcM0ftUmFAAIBE81IqBJdS3lS6zs3bIpB9WED3YYXFPmHRfT8sgyrCP1x8uEUxLMzNWElFOYCV6mHWWwMzdPEKHlhLw7NWJqkHc4uIZphavDzA2JPzUDsBZziNae2S6owH8xPmX8G7zzgKEOPUoYHvGz1TBCxMkd3kwNVbU0gKHkx+iZILf77IofhrY1nYFnB/lQPb79drWOyJVa/DAvg9B/rLB4cC+Nqgdz/TvBbBnr6GBReqn/nRmDgaQEej7WhonozjF+Y2I/fZou/qAAAAAElFTkSuQmCC); display:block; height:44px; margin:0 auto -44px; position:relative; top:-22px; width:44px;">&nbsp;</div> </div> <p style=" margin:8px 0 0 0; padding:0 4px;"><a href="" style=" color:#000; font-family:Arial,sans-serif; font-size:14px; font-style:normal; font-weight:normal; line-height:17px; text-decoration:none; word-wrap:break-word;" target="_blank">What is Obama thinking?</a></p> <p style=" color:#c9c8cd; font-family:Arial,sans-serif; font-size:14px; line-height:17px; margin-bottom:0; margin-top:8px; overflow:hidden; padding:8px 0 7px; text-align:center; text-overflow:ellipsis; white-space:nowrap;">A video posted by Donald J. Trump (@realdonaldtrump) on <time datetime="2015-12-01T16:12:10+00:00" style=" font-family:Arial,sans-serif; font-size:14px; line-height:17px;">Dec 1, 2015 at 8:12am PST</time></p> </div> </blockquote> <script async defer src="//"></script><p>On Monday, in Paris, President Barack Obama <a href="" target="_blank">pressed world leaders</a> to adopt an aggressive international agreement to curb climate change. To do so, he said, would be an "act of defiance" against the terrorists who killed 130 people in French capital on Nov. 13.</p> <p>Donald Trump, a leading presidential contender who <a href="" target="_blank">seems to relish</a> getting scientific information as wrong as possible, is not happy about this. It's a "ridiculous situation," he said in the new Instagram post above, that Obama is "worried about global warming" while "the world is in turmoil and falling apart in so many ways, especially with ISIS."</p> <p>It remains unclear how those things are contradictory. Also, Obama hasn't exactly been ignoring ISIS while in Paris, as Trump seems to suggest: He has <a href="" target="_blank">repeatedly framed his presence</a> at the climate talks as integral to the international campaign against terrorism.</p></body></html> Blue Marble Video 2016 Elections Climate Change Climate Desk Tue, 01 Dec 2015 16:58:57 +0000 Tim McDonnell 290906 at