Conservation, Environmental Hazards, FDA

Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Did Not Contaminate Seafood

Blue crabs
Five years after the Deep Horizon oil spill, seafood contamination is minimal.
Image: Shutterstock

A recent study of seafood animals harvested along the Gulf Coast between 2011 and 2013 shows no elevated signs of contamination from the Deepwater Horizon Spill in 2010. Following the spill, there were wide-ranging concerns about the ecological impact, including how that spill would impact seafood collected along the Gulf Coast.

Researchers at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences studied 1,000 samples of fish, shrimp, oysters, and blue crab caught between Cedar Key, Florida, and Mobile Bay, Alabama. They were looking for elevated levels of PAH, or polyaromatic hydrocarbons, which are a component of oil and which can collect in plankton. Those plankton can then be eaten by other aquatic creatures and those PAHs, down the food chain, end up ingested by humans. Scientists monitor PAH levels because they have been connected to cancer.

The study found that 74% of the samples had PAH levels that were so low they couldn’t even be measured. About 23% contained between 0.1 and 0.9 parts per billion, and a mere 3% reached 1 and 48 parts per billion, meaning that all the samples were well within what the FDA considered acceptable ranges.

The FDAs “levels of concern” are based on a variety of factors, such as how much seafood a person eats on average. Even for people who eat significantly more seafood than the average American–generally people who live along the Gulf Coast or either are or live with commercial or recreational fishers–aren’t at risk at these numbers. To put that into perspective, people falling qualifying as “high-end consumers” eat between 200 and 980 percent as much fish as the average American.

There are still numerous questions about the Deepwater Horizon spill, including the question of why these numbers are so low. But we can be relieved that seafood, and the ecosystems from which that seafood is harvested, has survived the spill quite well.

Conservation, Eco-friendly, FDA, Health, Sustainability

Dietary Guidelines Suggest Less Meat, More Plants

Basket of fruits and veggies
The latest government dietary guidelines suggest we consume more plants and less meat.
Image: Shutterstock

Previous worries about the potential dietary guidelines from the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee were realized on February 19, when the DGAC released its suggestions. They called for Americans to eat less meat, watch their sodium intake, and consider the environment when choosing foods to consume.

“The overall body of evidence examined by the 2015 DGAC identifies that a healthy dietary pattern is higher in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low- or non-fat dairy, seafood, legumes, and nuts; moderate in alcohol (among adults); lower in red and processed meat; and low in sugar-sweetened foods and drinks and refined grains,” the report said.

This marks the first time the DGAC has incorporated environmental concerns in its suggestions; in particular, looking at how food production, processing, and consumption affect the environment

Reactions from the meat industry have prompted the committee to soften their approach to suggestions regarding meat, making sure to point out that lean red meats can be part of a healthy diet.

“We’re not saying that people need to become vegans,” said Miriam Nelson, a committee member and professor at Tufts University. “But we are saying that people need to eat less meat.”

The report was made public as a 571-page document encouraging the consumption of less animal-based and more plant-based foods.

Ultimately, the US Department of Agriculture decides which suggestions to adopt and which to set aside; however, traditionally, the DGAC suggestions have had a heavy influence on food policies in major institutions and schools. The USDA’s final recommendations are only produced once every five years, and will be officially released by the end of 2015. The public is invited to view and comment on the guidelines through April 8.


Business, Eco-friendly, Environmental Hazards, FDA

Minnesota Becomes First State to Ban Triclosan

Minnesota has banned the use of triclosan in most retail consumer hygiene products, such as antibacterial soap.
Image: Shutterstock

Triclosan is an antibacterial and antifungal agent found in many soap products, deodorants, toothpaste and even some toys.

Governor Mark Dayton signed a bill last Friday making Minnesota the first state to ban the use of triclosan in most retail consumer hygiene products. However, the ban won’t be put into effect until January of 2017.

“While this is an effort to ban triclosan from one of the 50 states, I think it will have a greater impact than that,” State Senator John Marty said. He also noted that several companies are seeing that there isn’t really an advantage of keeping triclosan in its products.

Triclosan can be found in about 75% of anti-bacterial liquid soaps and body washes found in the U.S., according to the Food and Drug Administration. While it hasn’t been shown to necessarily be hazardous to people, studies have shown that it may disrupt hormones critical for reproduction and development. A University of Minnesota study from 2013 found increasing levels of triclosan in the sediments of several lakes, and that the chemical can break down in those waters into potentially harmful dioxins.

“Instead of letting federal regulators do their jobs, the legislation would take safe, effective and beneficial products off the shelves of Minnesota grocery, convenience and drug stores,” Douglas Troutman, the trade group’s vice president wrote in a letter to Dayton.

Some major manufacturers have announced plans to work triclosan out of their products over the next couple of years. Proctor & Gamble’s Crest toothpaste is now marketing itself as triclosan-free, and plans to have it out of all of their products by 2015.

Climate Change, Conservation, Environmental Hazards, FDA

Florida Citrus Crops Succumb to Greening Disease

Florida oranges and other citrus fruits have fallen victim to citrus greening disease after back-to-back hurricanes.
Image: Shutterstock

The Florida orange crop has decreased by 4 million boxes to 110 million boxes, according to the US Department of Agriculture’s monthly forecast for 2013-2014.

“We continue to feel the effects of citrus greening disease in groves across Florida,” said Michael W. Sparks, executive vice president and CEO of Florida Citrus Mutual. “The silver lining is that the tight supply will put upward pressure on grower returns. However, that is not sustainable in the long term. That’s why finding a solution to this disease is so important.”

Florida has had back-to-back powerful hurricanes, which have been devastating to several of its crops. The same citrus greening bacterial disease that is taking down oranges has also badly damaged grapefruits across the state. Nearly a decade ago, Florida produced 41 million boxes of grapefruit; this year it expects to produce only 16 million.

Back in March, Michael Sparks said in a press release, “Everybody in the industry understands fruit drop has been an issue this season with our earlier varieties, so it’s somewhat encouraging we lost less than 1 percent off the estimate this month. Maybe we’ve found some stability as we move into our Valencia harvest. Despite the challenges we face, Florida growers continue to produce the best citrus products in the world,” he said.

The Florida citrus industry creates a $9 billion annual economic impact, employing nearly 76,000 people and covering about 550,000 acres. Currently finding a cure for greening is the highest priority for grapefruit growers and orange growers alike in Florida.

Eco-friendly, Environmental Hazards, Environmentalist, FDA, Green, Health, Nature, Science

A Tale of GMOs, by Nathanael Johnson

GMO controversy
To GMO or not to GMO? That’s the question for many people around the country.
Image: Shutterstock

If you’re looking for an honest look into the issue of GMOs, consider taking a look at Nathanael Johnson’s 26-part series, “Panic-Free GMOs.” A writer for The Grist, Johnson takes what appears to be an honest journey through the controversial topic of GMOs.

“It’s easy to get information about genetically modified food,” reads the series’ introduction. “There are the dubious anti-GM horror stories that recirculate through social networks. On the other side, there’s the dismissive sighing, eye-rolling, and hand patting of pro-GM partisans. But if you just want a level-headed assessment of the evidence in plain English, that’s in pretty short supply.”

According to NPR, Johnson was hired by Grist last year as a food writer for the publication, whose readers have garnered a reputation for being adamantly opposed to the use of GMOs.

“I was born into the cult of organic,” Johnson said in one column. He was no stranger to the idea of GMOs as a horrible thing, but he also wanted to take a levelheaded approach—one not affected by emotion or bias. So, he took a risk and didn’t take a stance one way or another; instead, he challenged both sides’ beliefs.

Doing so incited many readers, who were frustrated that Johnson wasn’t being what they saw as a “reliable” source. Trying to find a balance between the two, very passionate, sides of the GMO argument has proven difficult, and Johnson didn’t expect the reactions he got.

“I was unprepared for the ugliness,” he said, referring to the many personal attacks he was confronted with. “I’d never felt anything like that before.”

Whether you’re pro- or anti- GMO—or somewhere in between—Johnson’s pieces are certainly worth a read, if for no other reason than they offer an alternative perspective that’s often hard to find amid the two major opposing opinions.

What do you think about the GMO debate and of Johnson’s miniseries?

FDA, Science

Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice

The sugar industry succeeded in seducing the public for many years.
The sugar industry succeeded in seducing the public for many years.
Image: Shutterstock

What comes to mind when you think about sugar?  Does it make you happy because sugar is so sweet and tasty?  Or, does it frighten you since you are sure it is bad for you?  The sugar industry, of course, wants you to love it!

In 1976, two executives from the Sugar Association took the stage at the Chicago ballroom to accept an award, The Silver Anvil, for excellence in “the forging of public opinion.”  Essentially, they were being thanked and applauded for convincing everyone sugar was safe.  They were a model for PR students the world over.

For almost a decade prior, sugar had been blasted as “a likely cause of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.”  The claim of sugar executives that consumption of sugar would help you lose weight was disproven and called out by the Federal Trade Commission.  The Food and Drug Administration conducted a review of whether sugar was safe at all.

So, the fact that there were smiling faces in that Chicago audience was a minor miracle.  Only a few short years before, doctors were warning patients off of it, and the general consensus was that it was fattening to eat too much sugar.  So, the sugar industry armed itself.  They poured $800,000 ($3.4 million today) at the problem. This was funded by major sugar companies such as Dixie Crystals, Domino, C&H, Great Western, and others.  They argued that sugar was a harmless product that “opportunists were trying to use to exploit the consuming public.”  They even paid off doctors, nutritionists, snack and beverage companies and others to speak on behalf of sugar.

Further, they paid for “scientific research” about the benefits of sugar and subsequently received a favorable FDA ruling.  This made it “unlikely that sugar would be subject to legislative restriction in coming years.”

No longer was sugar thought to be a “villain in disguise,” as it was called by The New York Times in 1977.  In fact, people’s consumption went way up.  They couldn’t get enough.  What happened then is no surprise.  Obesity rates doubled and diabetes rates tripled.

How did the sugar industry so effectively pull the wool over everyone’s eyes?  They used the same types of tactics as did big tobacco.  Yet, their job was easy compared to an industry which knew its products caused cancer.  Sugar executives simply had to create doubt as to the dangers of consumption.  They didn’t actually have to prove it was healthy.  They just wanted to show it wasn’t harmful.

It worked for many years.  However, recently things are shifting back toward recognition of sugar’s dangers.  It is now generally recognized that sugar is a contributor for type 2 diabetes and heart disease.  A new study from the University of California-Davis showed that LDL cholesterol levels increase after drinking sugary drinks for just two weeks.

Surely the sugar industry won’t take this lying down.  They will likely fight with all the money they can come up with to once again “prove” that sugar is safe.  Yet, perhaps it’s time to look into stock options in Stevia.

Eco-friendly, Environmentalist, FDA

Papaya Perpetrators

GMO papaya trees
More than 100 papaya trees were recently chopped down in Hawaii for being genetically modified.
Image: Shutterstock

How do you feel about genetically modified food?  With initiative 522 on the ballot for Washington State soon, the sides are taking a stand.  Yes, we should label it, or no, we shouldn’t have to.  Some people go a little further in their quest to stop genetically modified food from entering the food chain.

Recently a farm in Puna, Hawaii was hit.  Some people are calling the culprits “eco-terrorists.”  Under the cover of darkness, just after midnight, activists chopped down over 100 papaya trees costing over $3,000 in damages.  Yet, this is not the first time the farm, owned by the Bernardo family, was targeted.

In 2011, 3,000 trees were chopped down by machetes.  In 2010, 8,000 trees were cut down on a 17-acre lot.  A year before that, 800 trees were hacked down on Oahu.  The most recent bunch of trees were between three to four feet high and laden with fruit.  Most believe they were targeted because the crops were genetically modified.

Papaya farmers argue that their crops are safe and worth a lot of money in sales.  Typically, fruits with a thicker skin are safe against pesticides.  However, it is not known how safe any fruit is when genetically modified.

The county is currently in the process of deciding whether to restrict the use of GMO crops in Hawaii.  Even if they do decide to, papayas are exempt due to special status.  This may anger many hardliners who believe all GMOs are dangerous for human consumption and for the environment.

Two bills are up for debate.  One would require all papaya farms to be cut down.  Anyone caught growing GMO papayas would be subject to a fine and jail time.

Currently, most of the papayas grown in Hawaii are genetically modified.  A rash of ring spot virus that hit the papayas in Hawaii in the 1950s scared many farmers.  They believe the GMO version saved the $11 million industry.

Hawaii is only one of many places around the globe dealing with the issue of GMO crops.  In Australia, activists chopped down drought-resistant wheat crops.  In the Philippines, modified eggplants were destroyed.

“It’s hard to imagine anybody putting that much effort into doing something like that.  It means somebody has to have a passionate reason,” said Delan Perry, vice president of the Hawaii Papaya Industry Association.

What do you think about these “eco-terrorist” methods of dealing with GMOs?