Blue Marble

The Feds Are Now Investigating Chipotle Over That Nasty Norovirus Outbreak

| Wed Jan. 6, 2016 1:53 PM EST

Its plummeting stock price wasn't the only dismal year-end news for Chipotle in 2015.

The once hugely popular burrito chain revealed on Wednesday that the company was also served with a grand jury subpoena last month to investigate the nasty norovirus outbreak that started at a Simi Valley, California, restaurant in August.

That outbreak caused about 100 people to suffer gastrointestinal distresswith everything from diarrhea to vomiting. 

According to a company memo 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.

News of the subpoena comes on the heels of multiple similar outbreaks all linked to restaurants in the chain around the country, including an E. coli outbreak that affected more than 50 people in the Midwest and another norovirus outbreak that sickened 80 people in Boston. 

In the same company memo, Chipotle said the company's stocks were down a staggering 30 percent in December.

"Future sales trends may be significantly influenced by further developments," the company added.

For more on burrito safety and how to avoid potential outbreaks, check out our helpful charts here.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

These 19 Big-Name Toothpastes and Face Scrubs Will Be Forced to Ditch Tiny Bits of Plastic

| Tue Jan. 5, 2016 3:39 PM EST
A sample of microbeads collected in Lake Erie

Just before Christmas, Congress passed a law banning microbeads—those tiny pieces of plastic that act as exfoliants in face washes, toothpastes, and other personal-care products.

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—such as pesticides, heavy metals, and phthalates—and are frequently mistaken by fish for food. Roughly 300 million tons of the plastics per year end up in US waterways.

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 passed the bill in December, and the Senate passed it a week later with unanimous consent.

The law comes after several states had passed bans on the beads; in response to consumer pressure, large personal-care companies such as Johnson & Johnson and Procter & Gamble had already announced initiatives to phase out the microbeads.

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—and some that don't.

 

The Feds Just Sued Volkswagen Over Its Emissions Scandal

| Mon Jan. 4, 2016 2:02 PM EST

The Justice Department filed a civil lawsuit 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.

"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.

Back in September, the Environmental Protection Agency filed a citation 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, the scandal widened to include an additional 10,000 cars. By some estimates, the excess emissions caused by VW's cars could contribute to thousands of deaths.

For VW, the fallout has been long and damning. The company's share price fell off a cliff immediately after the first allegations and has only recovered a little bit in the months since. The CEO has been replaced. The episode prompted the EPA to overhaul its emissions testing procedures to better catch similar evasion tactics in the future. And the company now faces lawsuits from pissed-off drivers and car dealers.

The suit 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—totaling to more than $3 billion—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."

This post has been updated.

These 4 Foods Will Be All the Rage in 2016

| Mon Jan. 4, 2016 6:00 AM EST

Packed with protein, loaded with vitamin C, or boasting "15 times the amount of iron in spinach," so-called superfoods continue to seduce health nuts and marketing gurus alike. You probably remember the quinoa craze, the hype surrounding coconut oil, the excitement about acai berries, or the hoopla about kombucha. They're not necessarily better for you than more familiar fruits and veggies, but their exotic names and stories convince consumers to fork over extra for these supposed elixirs.

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.

A roundup of the most promising (but not necessarily appetizing) new superfoods:

Crickets: 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 Bitty Foods grinds the bugs into a baking flour, and Six Foods uses them in its "chirps." But Americans haven't seemed quite ready to embrace the age of the edible insect. Marketing research group Blueshift Ideas revealed 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 the bugs' subtle aftertaste?

Hemp: Many consider hemp a wonder plant—it's naturally resistant to many pests, it can require half the water wheat does, 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, batteries, and edibles (no, not that kind).

According to a study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, hemp seed oil contains high levels of minerals, vitamins, and omega-3s. And move over, almond milk: Hemp milk offers way more omega-3 fatty acids, thought to help prevent heart disease. But online reviews of its flavor run the gamut, with some pointing out its "pleasant slight maltiness" and others saying "it tastes like rope." Bitter notes mean hemp milk might not be the best cream substitute; the blogger behind Veganbaking.net writes that it made her coffee "almost undrinkable."

Moringa: I wrote about this ingredient after attending a San Francisco event called the Future of Food last summer:

Over to the Kuli Kuli Foods table, where women in acid-green aprons peddle samples of bars made of moringa, a leafy plant that Time recently deemed the new kale. 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 huge moringa fan.)

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.

Seaweed: New Yorker writer Dana Goodyear recently deemed 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."

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, reports 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?

7 Great Environment Longreads From 2015

| Mon Dec. 28, 2015 6:00 AM EST

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 Mother Jones. In case you missed them (or you just want to read 'em again), here are some of our favorites, in no particular order:

  1. "Invasion of the Hedge Fund Almonds," by Tom Philpott. In California, farmers are converting their farms to almond, pistachio, and walnut orchards at a breakneck pace—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.
     
  2. "How the Government Put Tens of Thousands of People at Risk of a Deadly Disease," by David Ferry. Valley fever, a potentially fatal fungal disease, recently reached near-epidemic proportions among the Golden State’s prisoners. The illness is endemic to California's Central Valley—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.
     
  3. "Bark Beetles Are Decimating Our Forests. That Might Actually Be a Good Thing," 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.
     
  4. "This May Be the Most Radical Idea in All of Professional Sports," 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—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?
     
  5. "Does Air Pollution Cause Dementia?," by Aaron Reuben. Scientists have long known that air pollution causes and exacerbates respiratory problems—such as asthma and infections and cancers of the lungs—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.
     
  6. "This Scientist Might End Animal Cruelty—Unless GMO Hardliners Stop Him," 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—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—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.
     
  7. "Heart of Agave," 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—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—and how his radical ideas are catching on.

The Only Way to Save Your Beloved Bananas Might Be Genetic Engineering

| Mon Dec. 21, 2015 6:00 AM EST

Bananas have reached such all-star status in the American diet that we now consume more of them than apples every year. 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.

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 80 percent of the world's exports.

For a paper published in November in the journal PLOS Pathogens, researchers confirmed that the version of TR4 afflicting bananas in different countries around the globe—including China, the Philippines, Jordan, Oman, and Australia—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 urged countries to step up their quarantining of sick plants. Yet the Pathogens 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."

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.

A farmer sells hill bananas in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. K.P. Sajith/NRCB/Musarama

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, musa acuminata malaccensis, 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 kill its own cells. 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 malaccensis banana—which means the genetically engineered fruit seems to have successfully resisted TR4.

GMO haters would not be too happy about a rejiggered 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 in a letter to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Ruhuvia Chichi, or red bananas, grown on the Solomon Islands Gabriel Sachter-Smith/Musarama

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 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 Señorita, the Pink French, and the Blue Java.

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."

Advertise on MotherJones.com

10 Unusual Facts About the Flu From a Nobel Prize-Winning Pandemics Expert

| Mon Dec. 21, 2015 6:00 AM EST
No, this is not the Nobel Prize-winning pandemics expert.

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 here, but with influenza season upon us, you'll be especially interested in these 10 highlights.

1. Drought is influenza's BFF: "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—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."

2. These chickens have our back: "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."

3. That sick first-class passenger probably won't spread it to coach: "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 detected in the United States—and that's air travel." [Editor's note: The heading for this item has been modified.]

4. A semi-deadly flu is scarier than a superdeadly one: "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."

5. Your cat can get the flu, but not to worry: "The H5N1 bird flu was causing a lot of disease in big cats like leopards that were fed infected chicken carcasses. It killed [zoo leopards and tigers in Taiwan(*)], 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."

6. Pigs, on the other hand... "Pigs are our main worry. 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…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 extremely infectious for humans. 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…There's a picture of a kid kissing a pig that all the flu guys show. Don't kiss your pig! Keep your distance."

7. A flu pandemic will cost us a friggin' fortune: "People would stop flying, for a start. That means the hotel industry and the airline industry would go down the tube…Anything where people gather together. That's what happened with SARS—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."

8. If you cook a bird-flu-infected chicken, you actually can eat it (not that you would): "It doesn't take much to kill flu. It's pretty labile. But it survives well in water. 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 Pandemics 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.)

9. Recurrence of a 1918-style pandemic is pretty unlikely: "We're incredibly 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."

10. Our primitive method of producing flu vaccine is on the outs: "They've got some of it working now in recombinant DNA technology, which means we can grow the proteins in bacteria—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 Contagion. But so far, no."

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.

Noun Project icons 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)

A Food Giant Wanted to Squash Eggless Mayo. It Just Lost.

| Thu Dec. 17, 2015 3:50 PM EST

In the great mayo wars of 2015, there is finally a winner.

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 Hampton Creek launched a vegan mayonnaise-like product called Just Mayo, which soon became Whole Foods' most popular mayonnaise.

Read our past coverage of the hackers trying to make fake eggs better. Ross MacDonald

So popular was Just Mayo, in fact, that in November 2014, Unilever, parent company of market leader Hellmann's, sued 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 reported.

Nevertheless, in August of this year the FDA ruled 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 said in a statement.

Then, in September, internal emails from the American Egg Board surfaced. They showed that the industry group had tried to stop Whole Foods from selling Just Mayo—and that Egg Board members were really worked up over Hampton Creek. From the Guardian:

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."

Egg Board CEO Joanne Ivy retired early in the wake of the episode.

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 reports:

The changes include making the words 'egg-free' larger and adding 'Spread & Dressing.' An image of an egg with a pea shoot inside will also be smaller.

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 hobbled the egg industry. What's more, in April two former egg industry executives were sentenced to jail time for their connection with a 2010 salmonella outbreak that is thought to have sickened as many as 56,000 people.

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 tastes good.

Shit Is About to Get Real in California, El Niño Report Predicts

| Fri Dec. 11, 2015 6:00 AM EST
El Niño storms caused California's Russian River to flood in 1998. Scientists predict that this year's rains will rival those of the 1997-98 season.

After four years of drought, Californians are bracing for another potentially destructive weather event: El Niño. Earlier this week, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, released a disaster plan including what to expect from the upcoming rainy season. Here are the key takeaways:

  • This may be the strongest El Niño on record. Weather reports indicate that this year will be warm and wet—perhaps even more so than the winter of 1997-1998, which is currently the strongest recorded El Niño. That year, California evacuated 100,000 people.
  • The dry conditions mean more flooding. 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—including the state's capital. "The primary risk areas are in populated areas mostly notably in Sacramento," the report reads—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.
  • Wildfires in the summer mean more landslides in the winter. The wildfire season this year was devastating in California, scorching more than 300,000 acres. 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 in October.
  • King Tides, El Niño, and the Blob mean higher sea levels and more potential damage. Sea levels typically rise a few inches during El Niño, but this winter, scientists predict that the giant swath of warm water off the West Coast—dubbed the Blob—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.
  • The rains may ease the drought but won't solve it.  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.

The Government’s New Food Rules Will Be a Huge Deal. Bacon Lovers Are Not Going to Be Happy.

| Wed Dec. 9, 2015 7:48 PM EST

The Obama administration is soon expected to reveal its new dietary guidelines for Americans, with advice about which foods to pile onto your plate—and which ones to avoid—if you want to stay healthy.

Once illustrated by the Food Pyramid (and now by a circular graphic called MyPlate), 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—not to mention all the different stakeholders, including Big Ag—past guidelines have sparked plenty of controversy. This year's drafting process has been particularly contentious. Here's a primer:

Meat eaters, take note. The government has cautioned in the past against eating too much red meat. But this year, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee—which reviews scientific studies and gives the government advice about how to write its guidelines—has recommended that you watch your intake of all meats, including leaner options like chicken, as my colleague Maddie Oatman reported in February. Seafood will probably still be considered healthy, though, and the government will likely scrap its previous advice about limiting cholesterol—which means that you can replace your breakfast sausage and bacon with a hearty helping of eggs.

Watch that sweet tooth. The new guidelines will likely recommend that you cut down your sugar intake—big time. The Advisory Committee concluded that most people shouldn't consume more than about four to nine teaspoons 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 six teaspoons 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 surprisingly high sources.

The government has cautioned in the past against eating too much red meat, but this year it might recommend that you watch your intake of all meats.

Shoddy science? In September, food writer and activist Nina Teicholz ruffled feathers by questioning the scientific integrity of the dietary guidelines. In an investigation 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 180 scientists called for a retraction of Teicholz's investigation, but others have agreed that the food industry plays too big a role in what the government tells us to eat. (Check out this Mother Jones feature about how Big Dairy has convinced the government to promote milk, despite evidence showing that too much of it may be harmful for adults.)

Sorry, tree huggers. This year's dietary guidelines won't consider the environmental footprint of foods—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—by promoting diets high in fruits and vegetables and lower in meat products—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," they wrote. "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 sent letters to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, arguing that environmental impact was beyond the scope of the dietary guidelines. And he listened: In October, Vilsack made it known that the guidelines would pinpoint good foods for human health—not foods with a light impact on the planet.