Blue Marble

California Nutritionists Just Voted Not To Invite McDonald's Back as a Sponsor

| Wed Mar. 18, 2015 2:08 PM EDT

Last year, I attended the annual conference of the California Dietetic Association, the state's chapter of the country's largest professional organization for nutritionists and dietitians. Its premier sponsor—and lunch caterer—was McDonald's. That won't be the case at this year's conference in April: The organization just voted not to invite the fast-food chain back.

Today a member of the California Dietetics Association shared the following letter from conference leadership on the Facebook page of Dietitians for Professional Integrity:

We would like to direct your attention to what the California Dietetic Association (CDA) has done to address our own issues surrounding sponsorship. We heard your concerns regarding CDA Annual Conference sponsorship and we have listened. We voted and McDonalds was not invited as a sponsor in 2015. This decision has impacted our finances; however, we believe it was important to respond to our member feedback. In addition, an ad hoc committee approved by the CDA executive board, reevaluated the sponsorship guidelines. The new sponsorship policy will be posted soon on Any questions regarding the new policy can be directed to Kathryn Sucher, CDA President-elect [email address redacted]
We look forward to seeing you at the CDA Annual Conference.
Your 2014-2015 CDA Executive Board

That's not to say that the conference organizers have ditched corporate funders entirely. According to the schedule (PDF), Kellogg's is sponsoring a panel called "The Evolution of Breakfast: Nutrition and Health Concerns in the Future," while Soy Connection, the communications arm of the United Soybean Board, is hosting a session titled "Busting the Myths Surrounding Genetically Engineered Foods" (and sponsoring a "light breakfast"). A few other sessions sponsored by corporations and trade groups:

  • "Why We Eat What We Eat in America and What We Can Do About It" (California Beef Council)
  • "Probiotics and the Microbiome: Key to Health and Disease Prevention" (Dairy Council of California)
  • "New Research – Understanding Optimal Levels Of Protein And Carb To Prevent Obesity, Sarcopenia, Type 2 Diabetes, And Metabolic Syndrome" (Egg Nutrition Center)
  • "New evidence of Non-Nutritive Sweeteners: Help or Hindrance for Weight and Diabetes Management" (Johnson & Johnson McNeil, Inc, LLC)
  • "Plant-based Meals from Around the Globe" (Barilla Pasta)

Still, says Andy Bellatti, a dietitian and leader of the group Dietitians for Professional Integrity, ditching McDonald's as a sponsor is a step in the right direction. "There's still a long way to go," he said. "But the McDonald's sponsorship was just so egregious. I'm glad they came to their senses and got rid of it."

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Want Some Metal With That Kraft Mac & Cheese?

| Tue Mar. 17, 2015 7:54 PM EDT

Today, Kraft Foods recalled 242,000 cases—or about 6.5 million boxes—of its signature macaroni and cheese after customers reported finding small pieces of metal in the product. Yummy!

Eight customers, like the one below, have found the metal, though no injuries have been reported.

According to a company press release, the recalled boxes are 7.25 oz, "Original Flavor" Macaroni & Cheese Dinner with expiration dates between September 18, 2015 and October 11, 2015, and they're marked with the code "C2"  below the date (referring to the box's production line). The boxes have been distributed across the United States and Puerto Rico, as well as some Caribbean and South American countries. The company's statement read, "We deeply regret this situation and apologize to any consumers we have disappointed," and added, "Consumers who purchased this product should not eat it."

Wind Energy Will Be Cheaper Than Fossil Fuels Within a Decade

| Tue Mar. 17, 2015 1:56 PM EDT

Wind energy is growing fast. While it still accounts for less than 5 percent of the United States' total electricity mix, wind is by far the biggest source of renewable energy other than hydroelectric dams, and it accounted for 23 percent of new power production capacity built last year. Some experts think wind could provide a fifth of the world's energy by 2030. But wind in the US is always in a perilous position, thanks to its heavy reliance on a federal tax credit that is routinely attacked in Congress; the subsidy was allowed to expire at the end of last year, and its ultimate fate remains unclear.

Fortunately, wind won't be subject to the whims of legislators for much longer, according to a new analysis from the Energy Department. The new report found that within a decade, wind will be cost-competitive with fossil fuels like natural gas, even without a federal tax incentive.

From Bloomberg Business:

Cost reductions and technology improvements will reduce the price of wind power to below that of fossil-fuel generation, even after a $23-per-megawatt-hour subsidy provided now to wind farm owners ends, according to a report released Thursday.

"Wind offers a power resource that's already the most competitive option in many parts of the nation," Lynn Orr, under secretary for science and energy at the Energy Department, said on a conference call with reporters. "With continued commitment, wind can be the cheapest, cleanest power option in all 50 states by 2050."

That would be a huge win for slowing climate change. The report finds that it could also lead to billions of dollars of benefits to the American public, from lower monthly electric bills to fewer air-pollution-related deaths.

Your Cellphone Might Be Making You Fat

| Tue Mar. 17, 2015 6:00 AM EDT

Like most things you love in life, your cellphone might be contributing to your growing waistline—along with your tablet, videogame console, computer, and television. Electronic devices with chips contain flame retardants to cool those chips so they don't catch fire while you are using them. Researchers at the University of Houston are now finding that these commonly used chemicals may be connected to weight gain.

The compounds in question, Tetrabromobisphoneol A (TBBPA) and tetrachlorobisphenol A (TCBPA) can leach out of the devices and often end up settling on dust particles in the air we breathe, the study found. The compounds are a form of bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical ubiquitously used in food containers and plastic water battles that has already already been linked to obesity and increases in metabolic disorders

After previous studies showed that these chemicals could activate stem cells to grow fat cells, the scientists set out to study their effect on living organisms.

Using sibling pairs of zebrafish, the researchers administered low doses of the chemicals to only one group for 11 days. Though both groups ate the same diet, after a month the zebrafish in the chemical group were heavier and showed signs of increased fat cell build up (zebrafish are transparent so scientists could see fat build up around vital organs as well as around the fish's sides).

The team was hopeful that the findings will lead to more in depth research on chemicals that can cause weight gain, said researcher Maria Bondesson in a University of Houston press release. "Our goal is to find the worst ones and then replace them with safer alternatives."

Will Obama's Ag Chief Wimpify the 2015 Dietary Guidelines to Please Big Meat?

| Sat Mar. 14, 2015 6:00 AM EDT

Should the new Dietary Guidelines—the advice the federal government issues every five years on what constitutes a healthy diet—include recommendations about what makes for a healthy planet? The meat industry sure doesn't think so.

The industry started flipping out when it saw some of the language in the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee's February report: "Consistent evidence indicates that, in general, a dietary pattern that is higher in plant-based foods...and lower in animal-based foods is more health promoting and is associated with a lesser environmental impact (GHG emissions and energy, land, and water use) than is the current average US diet."

Big Meat takes issue with two main things:

1) That the committee's scientists dared to comment on environmental sustainability issues in a nutrition report.

2) That the report said (elsewhere) that a healthy diet should be lower in red and processed meats.

The North American Meat Institute, a massive trade association, retaliated this week with a "Hands Off My Hot Dog" petition on, a flurry of tweets about saving the Ruben sandwich, and this short film, starring plastic-wrapped packages of raw beef:

The film focuses on the health merits of meat, arguing that it trumps other foods because, unlike plants, "animal proteins are considered complete proteins, or ideal proteins." Never mind that plenty of other accessible and cheap vegetarian foods, including rice and beans, or buckwheat, also provide complete proteins.

One calorie of beef requires 18 times the amount of fuel to produce as one calorie of grain.

But the video does not try to refute the notion that meat's environmental footprint is cause for concern—the UN argues, for instance, that livestock produce 14.5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. The Dietary Guidelines' committee points out that producing one calorie of beef requires 18 times as much fuel as producing one calorie of grain.

It's no coincidence that the committee chose to flag the carbon footprint of our food: The guidelines are ultimately about people's relationship with food, and the deterioration of the environment's health is a blow to our food security. "Meeting current and future food needs," the committee notes, will depend on changing the way people eat and developing agricultural and production practices "that reduce environmental impacts and conserve resources."

So will the Dietary Guidelines retain this responsible language when they are officially published this fall by the departments of Health and Human Services and Agriculture? On Wednesday, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said that he could not rule out the chance that the final version will mention sustainability, but he implied that he would steer clear of doling out environmental advice. He told the Wall Street Journal:

"Our job ultimately is to formulate dietary and nutrition guidelines. And I emphasize dietary and nutrition because that's what the law says. I think it's my responsibility to follow the law."

The law or the money? The AP has reported that meat processing and livestock industries spent $7 million on lobbying and donated $5 million to members of Congress during the last election cycle.

Antibiotics Are No Longer Making Pigs Bigger

| Tue Mar. 10, 2015 3:17 PM EDT

For decades, it's been thought that low, regular doses of antibiotics help livestock grow big—thus increasing meat producers' profits. So common is the practice of lacing farm animals' feed with the drugs that an astonishing four-fifths of all antibiotics in the United States now go to livestock.

But a new meta-analysis by two Princeton researchers shows that antibiotics aren't as effective at promoting growth as they used to be. Studies from 1950-1985 suggested that antibiotics increased weight of young pigs by an average of about 17 older pigs by 4 percent. But similar studies since 2000 found much less dramatic results: 1 percent increase for young pigs and no measurable increase for older pigs.

No one knows why the drugs have become less effective—and in fact, there's no consensus on how exactly antibiotics increased growth in animals to begin with. One theory is that the drugs fight low-level infections, which allows the animal to use its energy for growing instead of warding off germs. The authors of the new analysis theorize that as hygiene at livestock operations improve, the rate of infections might be decreasing, thus negating the need for antibiotics.

Another (scarier) possibility: Bugs that cause common animal infections are becoming resistant to the antibiotics. The consequences of antibiotic resistance, of course, go far beyond pigs' rates of growth. As my colleague Tom Philpott has reported, superbugs can jump from animals to humans. Antibiotic-resistant infections already kill 700,000 people every year worldwide. A recent UK report predicted that number will rise to 10 million by 2050.

"If the benefits of [antibiotics for animal growth] have diminished, then it becomes reasonable to be cautious and avoid the potential public health costs," write the new report's authors. "Antibiotics are not needed to promote growth, but they are essential to treat infectious diseases and maintain animal health." 

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2014 Was the Biggest Year For Solar Power Ever

| Tue Mar. 10, 2015 12:32 PM EDT

We've noted here before the many ways in which solar power is blowing up in the United States: Adding tons of jobs, driving progressive policies, and attracting millions of dollars in investment from major corporations. It's not slowing down anytime soon: New data from market analysis firm GTM Research finds that 2014 was solar's biggest year ever, with 30 percent more photovoltaic installations installed than in 2013. Check it out:


Those numbers are even more impressive when you compare them to other types of energy sources. Even though solar still accounts for a small share of US electricity generation (less than 1 percent), last year it added nearly as many new megawatts to the grid as natural gas, which is quickly catching up on coal as the country's primary energy source. (Coal, you can see, added almost nothing new in 2014.)


The report points to three chief reasons for the boom. First, costs are falling, not just for the panels themselves but for ancillary expenses like installation and financing, such that overall prices fell by 10 percent compared to 2013. Second, falling costs have allowed both large utility companies and small third-party solar installers to pursue new ways to bring solar to customers, including leasing panels and improved on-site energy storage. Third, federal incentives and regulations have been relatively stable in the last few years, while state incentives are generally improving, particularly in states like California and Nevada that have been leading the charge.

One more chart worth pointing out: Rooftop solar tends to get the most press because that's where homeowners and solar companies get into tussles with big incumbent power companies and the state regulators that often side with them. And it's true that a new home gets solar more often than a giant solar farm gets constructed. But on a sheer megawatt basis, utility-scale solar is still far and away the leading source, with a few notable projects coming online in 2014, like the Topaz Solar project in the California desert, the largest solar installation in the world.


Town Overrun by 31-Acre Sinkhole Now Overrun by Homeless Kittens

| Mon Mar. 9, 2015 6:45 PM EDT

In August of 2012, a salt cavern maintained by the mining company Texas Brine collapsed, creating a sinkhole outside the town of Bayou Corne, Louisiana, and prompting a mandatory evacuation order that has yet to be lifted. Two and a half years later, the sinkhole has grown to 31 acres, Texas Brine has reached a $48.6 million settlement with displaced homeowners, and the company is considering bulldozing much of the town and converting it into "green space."

But it's not just Bayou Corne evacuees who are looking for a new place to live—the neighborhood near the sinkhole is still home to 38 feral cats, who risk losing their suburban habitat if the properties return to nature because of the sinkhole.

The New Orleans Times Picayune has the full story on the kittens of Bayou Corne, and the efforts of one of the few remaining residents, Teleca Donachricha, to find them a home:

Some of the residents had been feeding different groups of them, but those residents are all gone now. One woman had been trying to drive the hour from Baton Rouge every other day to feed one group of the cats, but Donachricha knew that wasn't going to last long. She said if the woman could provide food, she would feed the cats for her, and she has.


Texas Brine spokesman Sonny Cranch said he couldn't say when demolition will occur. The company donated $1,000 to a nonprofit Donachricha was working with to get some of the cats spayed and neutered. All but three of the 38 cats are now spayed or neutered -- one of the remaining ones is a newer arrival that was recently dumped there, and the other two she hasn't been able to catch.

"We support her efforts," Cranch said. "Hopefully she'll be successful in finding homes for these animals."

Any takers?


Yet Another Oil Train Disaster

| Mon Mar. 9, 2015 4:17 PM EDT
Railroad oil tankers

Another day, another oil train derailment. Early Saturday morning, a Canadian National Railway train carrying Alberta crude derailed outside the tiny town of Gogama in northern Ontario. Thirty-eight cars came off the tracks, and five of them splashed into the Mattagami River system. The accident caused a massive fire and leaked oil into waterways used by locals—including a nearby indigenous community—for drinking and fishing. No one was injured, but according to CN Railway's Twitter feed, fire fighters were still suppressing fires earlier today. People in the area, including members of the Mattagami First Nation, have been complaining of respiratory issues from the smoke.

This oil train derailment was the second in three days in Canada and the fifth in three weeks in North America. An oil train derailed last week near Galena, Illinois. The oil boom in Canada and the United States has resulted in a dramatic increase in the use of these trains, and derailments now appear to be the new normal.

After the 2013 derailment and explosion of an oil train killed 47 people in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, many pointed to old, unsafe DOT-111 tanker models as a main reason for the disaster and others like it. But at least four of the five recent incidents have involved newer, and theoretically safer, CPC-1232 models.

Environmental and safety advocates say oil-by-rail needs even more stringent safety measures, but they have been slow coming. The US government reportedly balked at creating national standards to limit the amount of potentially explosive gas in tankers carrying oil from North Dakota. And the White House Office of Management and Budget has said it will need until May to finalize rules proposed by the Department of Transportation last summer that would slow down crude-by-rail deliveries and require tankers to have insulated steel shells. The CPC-1232 tankers that derailed in Galena did not have these shells. I asked the Canadian National Railway Company if the tankers involved in Saturday's derailment had these shells. The company didn't directly answer that question. In an email, it stated: "The tank cars involved were CPC 1232 tank cars. The exact specifications will be information gathered as part of the ongoing investigation."

Below are Twitter pictures of Saturday's derailment in northern Ontario.

Report: Florida Banned State Workers From Saying "Climate Change"

| Mon Mar. 9, 2015 11:17 AM EDT
The aftermath of Hurricane Wilma in 2005

This story was originally published by the Guardian and is republished here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Officials with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the agency in charge of setting conservation policy and enforcing environmental laws in the state, issued directives in 2011 barring thousands of employees from using the phrases "climate change" and "global warming," according to a bombshell report by the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting (FCIR).

The report ties the alleged policy, which is described as "unwritten," to the election of Republican governor Rick Scott and his appointment of a new department director that year. Scott, who was re-elected last November, has declined to say whether he believes in climate change caused by human activity.

"I'm not a scientist," he said in one appearance last May.

Scott's office did not comment on Sunday, when contacted by the Guardian. A spokesperson for the governor told the FCIR team: "There's no policy on this."

The FCIR report was based on statements by multiple named former employees who worked in different DEP offices around Florida. The instruction not to refer to "climate change" came from agency supervisors as well as lawyers, according to the report.

"We were told not to use the terms 'climate change', 'global warming' or 'sustainability,'" the report quotes Christopher Byrd, who was an attorney with the DEP's Office of General Counsel in Tallahassee from 2008 to 2013, as saying. "That message was communicated to me and my colleagues by our superiors in the Office of General Counsel."

"We were instructed by our regional administrator that we were no longer allowed to use the terms 'global warming' or 'climate change' or even 'sea-level rise,'" said a second former DEP employee, Kristina Trotta. "Sea-level rise was to be referred to as 'nuisance flooding.'"

According to the employees' accounts, the ban left damaging holes in everything from educational material published by the agency to training programs to annual reports on the environment that could be used to set energy and business policy.

The 2014 national climate assessment for the US found an "imminent threat of increased inland flooding" in Florida due to climate change and called the state "uniquely vulnerable to sea level rise."