Make Your Opinion Known About New Labeling For GMOs

 

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The USDA has released several options for what the labels might look like.
Department of Agriculture

If the questions and concerns surrounding GMOs are of interest to you, then in the next six weeks you have a unique window of opportunity. Until July 3 you are invited to share your opinion with the folks responsible for these label design options to the right. Thanks to our friends at the salt (National Public Radio, USA) for bringing this to our attention:

USDA Unveils Prototypes For GMO Food Labels, And They’re … Confusing

Foods that contains genetically modified ingredients will soon have a special label.

We recently got the first glimpse of what that label might look like, when the U.S. Department of Agriculture released its proposed guidelines.

This is the product of a decades-long fight between anti-GMO campaigners and Big Agriculture companies, which left neither side completely satisfied, as NPR has reported.

After Congress passed a bill in 2016 requiring labels on foods containing GMO ingredients, the USDA launched a long process to figure out the specifics. When it asked for feedback, it received 112,000 responses from consumers, farmers and manufacturers, among others.

The result? Continue reading

Nonetheless, Arabica

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PHOTO COURTESY OF PRAKASH MATADA

I have spent most of the last year expanding my coffee knowledge. One thing I was already confident about, and remain so, is that arabica is better than robusta on two scales that matter most to me: taste, and environmental impact. From 2010-2017 during our residency in the Western Ghats, we developed and opened a series of properties where both taste and environmental impact were brand signatures formed in Costa Rica.

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 Instituto del Café de Costa Rica

With regard to coffee, I knew there was more than one good reason why Costa Rica only permits arabica coffee to be grown in the country. And we sourced the highest grade arabica coffee produced in the Western Ghats as much as we could.

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A Malabar pied hornbill, one of 204 species of bird found on coffee plantations in a new study, which found that the tree cover from shade-grown coffee farms provides a welcome habitat for all kinds of animal species. Credit Shashank Dalvi

I took to India a conviction that robusta coffee was to be avoided, but a few months ago started learning otherwise. Today I have read an article that reminds me to keep rethinking.

Thanks to Jason Daley in Sierra magazine for this look at the same scientific findings as those I first read in February in the New York Times,  (as I drink an organic arabica that I am sampling from a roaster in Atlanta, and even with this news about robusta I expect to remain committed to arabica for my own consumption, as well as our commercial purposes):

Which Coffee Is Better for Biodiversity?

A new study shows sun-loving robusta coffee doesn’t have to hurt biodiversity

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Alexandrine parakeet | Photo courtesy of Manish Kumarhoto

When coffee consumers think about the most sustainable way to manage their caffeine habit, they normally think about the cup it’s in—is it recyclable? But what about the coffee itself? Some coffee plantations require clear-cutting—will drinking one type of coffee have a bigger impact on the environment than another? Continue reading

What To Say About Amazon?

Click below for the second episode of the podcast I mentioned last week. The answer to the question, whether Facebook is fixable, was a surprise. Although we use that platform, if passively, to promote entrepreneurial conservation in our businesses, I personally chose not to have an account. It was only recently that I began appreciating the value of that decision. Now, something similar with Amazon, for which I have had equal measures of awe and wariness. This episode helps me understand the details that make my instinctive wariness insufficient.

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Some time later this year, Amazon could become the first trillion-dollar company in American history. Its valuation has already doubled in the last 14 months to about $800 billion, and Jeff Bezos, its founder and CEO, is officially the richest man on the planet.

There are ways in which Amazon seems to be the greatest company in American history. It’s revolutionized the global shopping experience and expanded into media and hardware, while operating on razor-thin margins that have astonished critics. But some now consider it the modern incarnation of a railroad monopoly, a logistics behemoth using its scale to destroy competition.

So what is Amazon: brilliant, dangerous, or both?

Karen Washington, Food Activist

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‘When we say ‘food apartheid,’ the real conversation can begin.’
Illustration: Daniel Chang Christensen

Thanks to Anna Brones for bringing this article, and its subject, to our attention in the Guardian, as a reprint of an essay originally published in Guernica:

Food apartheid: the root of the problem with America’s groceries

Food justice activist Karen Washington wants us to move away from the term ‘food desert’, which doesn’t take into account the systemic racism permeating America’s food system

America’s sustainable food movement has been steadily growing, challenging consumers to truly consider where our food comes from, and inspiring people to farm, eat local, and rethink our approaches to food policy. But at the same time, the movement is predominantly white, and often neglects the needs and root problems of diverse communities. Continue reading

Zero-Waste Shopping

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Bulk food bins at Hetu, an all-bulk / zero-waste grocery store in London. (Photo credit: Celia Ristow)

Thanks to Cathy Erway and colleagues at Civil Eats for this story on where and how the boundaries of shopping waste-reduction is being pushed:

Zero-Waste Stores Ask Shoppers to Bring Their Own Everything

As record amounts of plastic waste pollutes the planet, some grocers are helping shoppers do without.

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Ekoplaza’s plastic-free aisle. (Photo credit: Ewout Huibers)

Tom and Katrin Helmick live in New York’s Hudson Valley region with their 2-year-old son. They cook and grow vegetables in their backyard during the summer months, bring reusable totes to the grocery store or farmers’ market, and never buy plastic bottled water. Although they try to avoid buying foods that come in non-recyclable packaging, their landfill waste bin still receives a hearty diet of disposable baby food pouches and “lots of thin plastic,” says Tom.

“When we do buy grocery store meat, I hate that it still comes wrapped in Styrofoam. That’s why I love going directly to the source for our meat from a farm nearby that is simply vacuumed-packed,” says Tom. “We find it ridiculous that three people can create so much waste,” adds Katrin. Continue reading

The Food Explorer, Explored

GastroTaking a cue from yesterday’s post, another recent Gastropod can be combined with a review in the New York Times of a book that fits well in our pages:

You’ve probably never heard of David Fairchild. But if you’ve savored kale, mango, peaches, dates, grapes, a Meyer lemon, or a glass of craft beer lately, you’ve tasted the fruits of his globe-trotting travels in search of the world’s best crops—and his struggles to get them back home to the United States.

This episode, we talk to Daniel Stone, author of The Food Explorer, a new book all about Fairchild’s adventures. Listen in now for tales of pirates and biopiracy, eccentric patrons and painful betrayals, as well as the successes and failures that shaped not only the way we eat, but America’s place in the world.

9781101990582Daniel Stone, an author I had not known of 24 hours ago, fits well within our pages as part of a mix of historical sleuthing and present-day food activism that have been central themes here since we started.  Thanks to his book being the subject of that podcast, as well as its review last month, allow us to recommend that if you have an hour for the both, combine the listen with the read:

In a photograph dated Christmas 1896, featured in “The Food Explorer,” Daniel Stone’s biography of the botanist and explorer David Fairchild, his subject is sitting with his patron and friend Barbour Lathrop, in what looks like an empty saloon or a lounge on a steamship. The caption informs us that they’re off the coast of Sumatra; both are dressed in white and have mustaches that border on the extravagant.

Continue reading

Meatless Monday Economics Info Session

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It is Monday, a good time to revisit the “meatless” movement, the one where you take one small step at a time to a better diet. Thanks to Bibi van der Zee and colleagues at the Guardian for arranging this guide to all the good reasons to reduce or eliminate meat from the diet:

What is the true cost of eating meat?

As concerns over the huge impact on the environment, human health and animal welfare grow, what future is there for the meat industry

What are the economics of meat?

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Cattle in the Brazilian Amazon. Photograph: Rodrigo Baleia

Food and farming is one of the biggest economic sectors in the world. We are no longer in the 14th century, when as much as 76% of the population worked in agriculture – but farming still employs more than 26% of all workers globally. And that does not include the people who work along the meat supply chain: the slaughterers, packagers, retailers and chefs.

In 2016, the world’s meat production was estimated at 317m metric tons, and that is expected to continue to grow. Figures for the value of the global meat industry vary wildly from $90bn to as much as $741bn. Continue reading

Commerce, Conscience & Conservation

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Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia, with its chief executive, Rose Marcario, in the tin shed where he once forged and hammered metal. The outdoor-clothing company has mixed commerce and activism since the early 1970s. Credit Laure Joliet for The New York Times

Since the early days of this platform we have linked to stories about this company many times, and its founder in particular is in our pantheon of role models. During these seven years we have also studiously avoided linking to stories involving politics, other than highlighting activism that holds public officials accountable. This story below borders on  too much politics, but I find the company’s position not only acceptable, but as usual about this company, aspirational. Thanks to David Gelles for this story about how Patagonia has supported grass-roots environmental activists for decades and how it is suing the president in a bid to protect Bears Ears National Monument:

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Patagonia employees at the Ventura, Calif., headquarters, where there are picnic tables in the parking lot, on-site day care and easy access to the beach.CreditLaure Joliet for The New York Times

VENTURA, Calif. — The offices of Patagonia occupy a low-slung complex of stucco buildings in this sleepy beachside town in Southern California. There are solar panels and picnic tables in the parking lot, day care with a jungle gym by the main lobby and easy access to the beach, where employees surf during lunch break. It is a corporate Eden of sorts, where idealistic Californians run a privately held company that sells about $1 billion of puffy down jackets and organic cotton jeans each year.

Screen Shot 2018-05-05 at 7.06.08 AMBut on an unseasonably hot and windy Monday morning in early December, Patagonia headquarters were transformed into something that quickly resembled a war room. There were emergency conference calls with Washington lawyers. Court filings were prepared. Web designers remade the company’s home page.

It wasn’t a business crisis that had mobilized the company, however. It was politics. Continue reading

Just When Ford Started Being Great Again, The Signals Indicated A Shift To Reverse

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Cristina Spanò

Ford1I have been based back in the Americas for fifteen months. For the previous couple years I had been driving Ford’s best-selling vehicle in India –a vehicle with the three letters Eco in its name. This was the company that built the cars I grew up in, but had long since stopped believing in. That “Eco” car got me starting to believe again.

Then the election of 2016 happened. Holding aside all its other dangers, the election result has elevated ecological danger to perhaps its greatest level in my lifetime. A government elected on the slippery Make America Great Again slogan has given cover to companies seeing profit in rollbacks of erstwhile impressive ecological commitments. And the slope down which we all are now sliding seems to be getting steeper. An op-ed by Jamie Lincoln Kitman, the New York bureau chief for Automobile Magazine, illuminates the slip and the slope:

Why Is a ‘Green’ Car Company Pivoting Back to S.U.V.s?

Ford2Two years ago, the Ford Motor Company boasted about having been named Interbrand’s Best Global Green Brand and said it was committed to working to meet stricter fuel economy standards. Last week, after lobbying with the rest of the industry to strike down those standards, Ford announced that it would largely abandon the American passenger car market in favor of building more trucks, crossovers and S.U.V.s. Continue reading

Drink The Wonk

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Soft fruit, such as oranges, root vegetables and salad are particularly prone to waste. Photograph: Eric Farrelly/Alamy

Rebecca Smithers, consumer affairs correspondent for the Guardian, has reported on a simple idea to not waste fruit just because its appearance is not standard. Wonky, as they say on the island where the English language comes from. Don’t fear the wonk, this article and this brand are saying. Was this not already happening with juice, as with other waste-reducing beverages? Can a brand be built on such an idea? Thumbs up to that:

‘Wonky’ fruit and vegetables that would have been thrown away are now being used to make a new range of juices, in one of a number of assaults on food waste.

One of the UK’s largest fresh produce growers has teamed up with a Spanish fruit supplier to create a new product, Waste Not, which will stop edible but visually ‘imperfect’ ingredients such as fresh celery, beetroot and oranges from being dug back into the soil, or used for animal feed. The new juices will go on sale in branches of Tesco.

The move is one of a growing number of innovations to reduce food waste throughout the supply chain, following criticism of supermarkets and suppliers that perfectly good food is being thrown out while UK consumers are relying increasingly on food banks. Continue reading

Lyft Is Now Carbon Neutral

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We’ve already expressed our natural preference for Lyft, although Uber is still necessary and useful in certain countries outside the US. But now there is yet another reason to support the underdog, after they announced a few days ago that their rides were from then on (i.e., now) carbon neutral, through the funding of emission mitigation and capture, reforestation projects, and renewable energy programs.

Continue reading

From Re-Wilding To Un-Wilding

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Illustrations by R. Kikuo Johnson

Yesterday our attention was riveted by heroic efforts in the Highlands to re-wild, and today it is back to the sadder topic of un-wilding. Thanks to Rachel Nuwer for this article on a topic long of interest in these pages:

That Python in the Pet Store? It May Have Been Snatched From the Wild

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R. Kikuo Johnson

JAKARTA — In the market for a new pet? Maybe something a bit exotic? For many consumers, reptiles and amphibians are just the thing: geckos, monitors, pythons, tree frogs, boas, turtles and many more species are available in seemingly endless varieties, many brilliantly colored, some exceedingly rare.

Exotic reptiles and amphibians began surging in popularity in the early 1990s, not only in the United States but also in Europe and Japan. From 2004 to 2014, the European Union imported nearly 21 million of these animals; an estimated 4.7 million households in the United States owned at least one reptile in 2016.

But popularity has spawned an enormous illegal trade, conservationists say. Many reptiles sold as pets are said to have been bred in captivity, and sales of those animals are legal. In fact, many — perhaps most, depending on the species — were illegally captured in the wild. Continue reading

Carbon Footprint Self-Analysis

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Thanks to Livia Albeck-Ripka and the New York Times for this

How to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint

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What Is a Carbon Footprint?

Climate change can be overwhelming. The science is complex, and when it comes to future impacts, there are still a lot of unknowns. While real solutions will require action on a global scale, there are choices you can make in your day-to-day life to lessen your personal impact on the environment. This guide will walk you through some of them.

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DRIVE LESS

A carbon footprint is the total amount of greenhouse gas emissions that come from the production, use and end-of-life of a product or service. It includes carbon dioxide — the gas most commonly emitted by humans — and others, including methane, nitrous oxide, and fluorinated gases, which trap gas in the atmosphere, causing global warming. Usually, the bulk of an individual’s carbon footprint will come from transportation, housing and food.

You can start the process by calculating your carbon footprint here. You will need to know the following: Continue reading

Plastic Reduction Success Story

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A UK levy of 5p per bag introduced in 2015 has already reduced single-use plastic bags by 85%. Photograph: Stuart Kelly/Alamy Stock Photo

We never tire of reporting on efforts at plastic-reduction, so thanks to Juliette Jowit and the Guardian for this update:

Drop in plastic bags littering British seas linked to introduction of 5p charge

Scientists find an estimated 30% drop in plastic bags on the seabed in the same timeframe as charges were introduced in European countries

A big drop in plastic bags found in the seas around Britain has been credited to the introduction of charges for plastic bags across Europe. Continue reading

Coffee, Starbucks & Costa Rica

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Yesterday we were compelled to link to an illustration that captured the importance of vigilance. Putting that link in context was the reminder that our primary purpose on this platform is to seek out evidence of progress related to environmental and social innovation.

kgGVpXmJ-6720-4480Today a case in point. Credit is due to Starbucks. Just a couple days ago our vigilance antennae were roused by their opening in Yosemite, one more step in a national park system compromised by commercialism. There is no doubt that Starbucks is commercial, but they can also be model corporate citizens when seen from another angle.

tMOCnNCo-5246-2623Costa Rica provides evidence in favor of Starbucks. Their recently opened facility–a combined working coffee farm, milling operation, visitor center, cafe, gift shop–called Hacienda Alsacia looks like a win-win for a country that deserves attention and investment, and a company that can provide them both of those.

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I plan to visit the property next week, so will save my commentary, focusing here on what makes me want to visit:

Starbucks Opens World Renowned Costa Rican Coffee Farm to Visitors

A 46,000-square foot visitor center immerses guests in the entire life cycle of sustainably grown, high-quality arabica coffee from seedling to picking, milling, roasting and the craft of brewing in a café

Starbucks approach to ethical sourcing and innovative coffee tree hybrid research also showcased at the visitor center, part of the company’s $100 million investment in an open-sourced farmer support program to help make coffee the world’s first sustainably sourced agriculture product Continue reading

A Question Worth Asking About Yosemite

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There is an intentional lack of exterior signage for the new Starbucks at Yosemite national park. Photograph: Courtesy of Starbucks

Thanks to Freddy Brewster, the former Yosemite trail guide who raised the question, and thanks to the Guardian for airing it:

Yosemite’s secretive Starbucks: cafe opens in park, to delight and dismay

A new Starbucks provides convenience and caffeine to visitors, but to many it represents a trend of commercialism and 25,000 people petitioned to stop it from opening

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Australian visitor Tom Collin sips a coffee from the new Starbucks at Yosemite, part of a major remodeling effort inside the 128-year-old national park. Photograph: Gabrielle Canon for the Guardian

It looks and feels just like any of the other roughly 27,000 Starbucks locations that have opened around the world. The green apron-clad barista makes tall, grande and venti coffee concoctions that are handed over in familiar mermaid-endowed cups.

But from the parking lot outside – where there is an intentional lack of Starbucks signage – the world-famous Yosemite falls can be heard through the patter of an early spring rainstorm. Continue reading

Recycling Primer, UK Edition

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Many people aren’t sure which plastics they can recycle – and which they can’t. Photograph: Alamy

Thanks to Angela Monaghan, at the Guardian, for this reminder of the basics of recycling:

Which items can’t be recycled?

Many people think items such as plastic bags and coffee cups can be recycled when they can’t. Here are the do’s and don’ts

British consumers are increasingly willing to recycle their household waste but are failing to grasp the basics, according to the latest research by the British Science Association. Failure to get it right means that a lot of recyclable waste is going to landfill, the BSA says.

The issue is further complicated by inconsistency among councils, which make their own rules and funding decisions on recycling collections.

Common mistakes include putting tissue boxes in the recycling bin without first removing the plastic insert. On the flipside, people often wrongly think that empty deodorant aerosols cannot be recycled. Continue reading

Salmon, Shrinkage & Man

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A photo taken in Astoria, Ore., circa 1910. It was stated that the chinook on the left weighed 116 pounds and the one on the right weighed 121 pounds. WikiMedia Commons

John Ryan, filed this story through Northwest Public Radio, KUOW and EarthFix, an environmental journalism collaboration led by Oregon Public Broadcasting in partnership with five other public media stations in Oregon, Washington and Idaho. Another of the many reasons we appreciate National Public Radio (USA) and its various associates:

This Is Why You Don’t See People-Size Salmon Anymore

While the orcas of Puget Sound are sliding toward extinction, orcas farther north have been expanding their numbers. Their burgeoning hunger for big fish may be causing the killer whales’ main prey, chinook salmon, to shrink up and down the West Coast.

Chinook salmon are also known as kings: the biggest of all salmon. They used to grow so enormous that it’s hard now to believe the old photos in which fishermen stand next to chinooks almost as tall as they are, sometimes weighing 100 pounds or more.

“This has been a season of unusually large fish, and many weighing from 60 to 70 pounds have been taken,” The Oregonian reported in 1895. Continue reading

Know Your Packaging

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Because of layers of material that can be difficult to separate, many containers for juices and broths have traditionally been destined for landfills. But recycling them is getting easier. KidStock/Getty Images

Natalie Jacewicz, a science writer based in New York City has this illuminating story on packaging:

In The Recycling World, Why Are Some Cartons Such A Problem?

Scoot over, cans; cartons are moving in on your shelf space. Specifically, the soft, light rectangular containers commonly associated with juice boxes — “aseptic cartons” to the carton literati.

“They’re growing in popularity,” says Jason Pelz, vice president of recycling projects for the Carton Council, an industry group. “Broth is predominantly in aseptic packaging now, and you see a lot of coconut water in it.”

Aseptic cartons pack several environmental upsides, with one big catch: Traditionally, these containers have been quite difficult to recycle. To take stock of the promises and challenges of this supermarket sensation, I talked to experts on all things carton. Continue reading

Disruption Reconsidered

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Gabrielle Lurie / Reuters

Derek Thompson, writing in the Atlantic recently, has a very readable consideration of the fashionable obsession with disruptors, a topic we give too little attention to in these pages. So, a small step forward:

Airbnb and the Unintended Consequences of ‘Disruption’

Tech analysts are prone to predicting utopia or dystopia. They’re worse at imagining the side effects of a firm’s success.

The U.S economy is in the midst of a wrenching technological transformation that is fundamentally changing the way people sleepworkeatshoploveread, and interact.

At least, that’s one interpretation. Continue reading