"Foot Dragging" is apparently what the first two letters of FDA stand for. Just before April Fool's Day, the agency rejected a petition by the NRDC urging it to ban bisphenol-A (BPA) from canned food and liquid infant formula containers.
BPA is a synthetic chemical that mimics estrogen in the body and is associated with a raft of health woes.
I've said it before, and I'll say it again: "Innocent until proven guilty" is appropriate for people, but not for chemicals that people ingest.
"The next decision the FDA should make is to remove 'responsible for protecting the public health' from its mission statement," Jane Houlihan, senior vice president for research of the Environmental Working Group, said in a statement. "It's false advertising. Allowing a chemical as toxic as BPA, and linked to so many serious health problems, to remain in food means the agency has veered dangerously off course."
Soup was always good food. The homemade kind, at least. Canned soup, not so much—largely thanks to the estrogen-mimicking chemical bisphenol-A (BPA) used in the lining of many cans.
Good news on that front: America's iconic soup maker Campbell's has finally responded to pressure from parents and advocacy groups and committed to going BPA-free. It hasn't set a specific timeline for the phase-out to be completed; however, the company says it has already started using BPA-free linings for some of its soups. I like the sound of that.
But what I really like is that thanks to the kerfuffle about BPA in linings, I have pretty much weaned myself and my family off canned food altogether. I'm using the '70s crockpot from my youth to make beans, and experimenting with all kinds of soup in big pots that offer more servings than cans.
It took the threat of an embarrassing Super Bowl ad, but Hershey is finally starting to act like it gives a damn about forced child labor being a major ingredient in its cocoa.
The company recently announced it would start buying only Rainforest Alliance-certified cocoa for its Bliss Chocolate products starting later this year. The Rainforest Alliance is a reputable nonprofit whose certification system will help ensure that the cocoa is grown sustainably, which includes the monitoring of forced and child labor.
Coincidentally, Hershey's change of heart (after a decade of foot dragging) came a week after Raise the Bar campaign partner the International Labor Rights Forum announced its intention to broadcast a JumboTron ad critical of Hershey's cocoa supply chain outside the Indianapolis stadium where the Super Bowl took place.
But hey, sometimes it takes a stick rather than a carrot. I just hope the company quickly moves to certify the cocoa for its regular bars, not to mention its other brands, like Reese's, KitKat, and Almond Joy.
In other positive Hershey news, GreenBiz.com reports that the chocolate maker has achieved zero waste at four of its Pennsylvania facilities. However, I'd be more impressed if they weren't incinerating the 10 percent of their waste that is organic. Why not go for industrial composting?
This just in from Greenpeace: Mega-grocer Safeway has done what Chicken of the Sea is too chicken to do: source its canned tuna only from fisheries that do not rely on destructive fish aggregating devices (FADs). Way to go, Safeway! [Link]
This just in (thanks, Amalia): Muir Glen's transition to BPA-free cans for tomato products is complete! Pretty exciting stuff for those interested in both convenience and not disrupting their endocrine system.
Kudos to Muir Glen—especially since finding a BPA-free option that works for tomatoes is apparently no small feat. For example, Eden Organic has been offering BPA-free cans for its bean and chili products since 1999 but earlier this year started putting its tomatoes in glass jars because of tomatoes' high acid content. I wonder if it will go back to cans now that the genie is out of the bottle—er, can.
I rarely buy Hershey's chocolate, as I prefer the really dark stuff (which Hershey's doesn't make). But a bigger-picture reason to not give the storied American brand your money is that it sources much of its cocoa from Ivory Coast, where forced child labor is rampant in that industry. Hershey's, which commands 42.5 percent of the U.S. chocolate market, isn't doing a very good job, compared with its competitors (such as Cadbury/Kraft, Mars, and Nestle), of tracing cocoa purchasing and implementing labor rights standards in its supply chain. In fact, it's doing next to nothing.
Which is why it's the target of the "Raise the Bar, Hershey!" campaign, sponsored by nonprofits Green America, Global Exchange, and the International Labor Rights Forum. I've always been a sucker for culture jamming, so I was pleased to see that a central part of the campaign was a "brand-jamming" contest.
The winners were announced a couple days ago. I rather like Jason Pearson's winning entries in the "overall brand jam" (video below) and print ad (above) categories. Enjoy! And if you'd like to send Hershey's a message yourself, you can do so here (via Change.org).
Here's one for the "Nothing Is Simple" file... My obsession with plastic alternatives continues, fueled by the blog My Plastic-Free Life and the growing presence on the world's radar of what plastic debris is doing to our oceans (e.g., the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and its cousin in the Atlantic).
So my ears prick up every time I hear news about a plant-based alternative to standard petroleum-based plastics. For example:
In March of this year, Coca-Cola subsidiary Odwalla will reportedly start using 96%-100% plant-based bottles (from molasses and sugarcane) for all its single-serving beverages.
Case Western Reserve University professor David Schiraldi is working on a biodegradable substance that uses casein (from milk) and a spongelike material called aerogel.
And bioplastic maker Cereplast is branching out into algae-based plastics to supplement its resins made from corn, potatoes, tapioca, and wheat.
Although biopolymers do well in terms of biodegradability, low toxicity, and use of renewable resources, they aren't so peachy on the production side, because the farming and refining required to make them tend to use lots of energy and put nasty chemicals into the environment.
A life-cycle assessment by the Pittsburgh team revealed that four common biopolymers are large contributors to ozone depletion. And two sugar-derived polymers — standard polylactic acid (PLA-G) and the type manufactured by Cargill subsidiary NatureWorks (PLA-NW), the most common sugar-based plastic in the United States — greatly contribute to eutrophication, the process by which water becomes unable to sustain life.
And here I was, all excited about the possibility of a future in which I might be able to buy things like yogurt, hummus, and lotion without wondering if the empty containers were destined to pollute the lungs of some Third World recycling worker or contribute to the ocean's chemical soup for hundreds of years. Still, I have to believe that these production problems are solvable. Especially since there's no hiding from the fact that, sooner or later, we're going to run out of oil.
I took a flight on Continental Airlines yesterday. Since I recently made a personal commitment to avoiding single-use plastic as much as possible, I bring my stainless-steel water bottle with me whenever I fly. After I clear security, I fill it up from a water fountain and bring it with me on the plane. (The importance of which, I realize, pales in comparison to the carbon emissions for which I'm responsible by flying. But on with the story.)
Yesterday I forgot the water-fountain bit, so when the beverage cart came around, I asked the flight attendant to pour some water directly into my bottle instead of
giving me a plastic cup. She refused, saying that the plastic water bottle might touch my steel bottle, which could spread germs.
Oh, come now, Continental! Your flight attendants are trained in numerous processes, many of which involve a fairly high level of dexterity. I have full confidence that they can pour water from one vessel into another without the twain touching. Attendants on other airlines I've flown have had no problem with it.
As I tried to lull the prickles of rage that crept up the back of my neck, I was reminded of the fact that Green America has just published a report on the sorry state of recycling in the airline industry. It states that nearly 500 million more tons of airline waste could be
recycled each year than currently is being recycled; 250 million tons of that is generated in flight.
And according to the report, no airline recycles all the main candidates (aluminum, glass, paper, plastic), and no airline reports on how it's progressing in its recycling goals. Continental ranks fifth in a list of 11 carriers, with a grade of D (the highest score was a B-, awarded to Delta).
Now, recycling is fine, but even better is reducing, so I'm pretty disappointed that Continental refuses to take this small, easy step.
Have you had similar green-stymieing experiences while flying? Leave a comment below.
Two stories recently landed at Wallet Mouth H.Q. that I wish I could say were jokes.
First, the Washington Postreports that a couple of high schoolers in New York discovered, through DNA tests, that 11 out of 66 food products they'd bought from an assortment of Manhattan markets had been fraudulently mislabeled, with "sheep's milk" cheese turning out to be from a cow and "sturgeon caviar" being revealed as Mississippi
Then, undercover Government Accountability Office (GAO) investigators succeed in getting Energy Star certification for 15 bogus products, such as an "air cleaner" consisting of a space heater with fly strips and a duster adhered to it. (Here's the link.)
The food-fraud story wasn't a complete surprise. After all, as I noted last year, a vendor at my local farmers' market clued me in to the fact that lots of supposedly 100% extra-virgin olive oil not only isn't extra-virgin but also is adulterated with other, cheaper oils. I also have friends who work for a company that provides "traceability services," helping food-industry clients ensure that their offerings are on the straight and narrow.
But until I read Sarah Lutz's story about the Energy Star kerfuffle, I didn't realize that products bearing the highly regarded blue-and-white logo are not tested before they go to market (merely "some" are scrutinized after they are on the market). The ersatz air cleaner even lacked a required disclaimer and safety-standard number... and still got certified. All GAO investigators had to do was tell the authorities in an email that the product met the standards.
This is a pretty big blow to what I had always considered a credible certification system. People can get tax credits with certain Energy Star purchases, fer cryin' out loud. I can only hope that "Energy Star-Gate" will help the system grow some teeth.
And if it doesn't, we can take heart in the fact that the growing field of smart appliances will shine light into the dark crevices of mislabeled appliances, eventually rendering energy-efficiency fraud a thing of the past.
As for the food scams, that's a tough one, seeing as how the FDA can barely keep up with contamination issues, and better funding for the agency seems unlikely in this economy. But is it really so unreasonable to hope that the FDA could integrate traceability systems like the kind offered by my friends' company into its workings?
At the very least, the feds should approve food-category-specific standards (mentioned in the Washington Post story), such as those petitioned for by honey and olive-oil groups (the latter has been waiting nearly 20 years!), so that companies would be able to sue competitors suspected of selling impure products.
Creative Commons-licensed tarot image by Flickr user Maitri.
December 2010 I haven't actually bought anything from Po-Zu yet, but I appreciate their awareness of the fact that many vegan shoes are made of petroleum products and aren't necessarily better for the environment than leather footwear. Po-Zu seems to set a high bar for itself when it comes to ingredients and supply chains.
March 2010 After running out of dish soap, I started using our good old bars of Sappo Hill out of necessity. But you know what? Our dishes are just as clean, and when I pick up the soap at our grocery store, the only packaging on the bars is the price tag. And did I mention the soap is awesome? We love the oatmeal bar.
February 2010 TMI alert: If you're a squeamish guy, read no further. I'm done with tampons! Instead, I'm using the DivaCup.
January 2010 Mr. Wallet Mouth and I both love Pact. Its underwear is made of organic cotton, and the company donates 10% of its sales to worthy environmental causes. Not only that, but the company is serious about eco-friendly packaging. Each pair of undies comes not in a plastic bag but in a little cloth pouch made from fabric remnants. I'm also impressed with how responsive Pact is over email; when I asked a packaging question, I got a nice reply from the CEO.
December 2009 After reading about Skoy Cloths, the biodegradable paper-towel alternative, on Fake Plastic Fish, I bought a bunch for stocking stuffers and my own kitchen, and I'm now a fan. They're lasting a long time, despite repeated washings in the laundry, and they arrive with minimal packaging.
October 2009 I was already of fan of Straus yogurt (see June 2007), but now I love it even more. According to Michael Straus, a son of the company's founder, Straus yogurt "is made, cooled, and set in stainless-steel vats, unlike most yogurts, which are poured while still hot into plastic cups to cool and set." As someone who's concerned about plastics and chemical safety, I'm happy to hear that!
July 2009 I'm using a lot more baking soda now that I'm making more of an effort to clean the house in a nontoxic way. But from now on I'll be buying Bob's Red Mill, since Arm & Hammer engages in animal testing.
July 2008 Started feeling extra-good about buying one of my fave meat substitutes, Tofurky, after learning that its maker, Turtle Island Foods, is an independent, family-owned company (Unlike Boca Foods, which is a subsidiary of Kraft, and Morningstar, which is owned by Kellogg).
April 2008 I'm going to start buying my canned beans from Eden Foods, for two reasons: it uses custom-made cans that don't contain bisphenol A, and it's an independent, family-operated company.
February 2008 From now on, whenever I order takeout or ask for a doggy bag, I’ll make sure to avoid #6 polystyrene containers (and, of course, Styrofoam).