Got Milk? Got Hormones?

October 21, 2010 · Filed Under Environment, Food, Guest Posts, Health, News

Who wants the unruly hormones of a teenager? How about a big dose of them in your glass of milk? For quite a few years now rbGH, or genetically modified bovine growth hormones have been slipped in your milk without even a notice. When dairy farmers found out, they tried to label their milk as “rbGH-free”. A term that Monsanto, a genetic engineering and agriculture company, almost got banned. They tried to make it unlawful for companies to put that label on their milk. Why? Because it could cost them their bloated market share of profits from rbGH milk.

What are Bovine Growth Hormones?

When companies focus on profits, not their product, their is room for error and maltreatment of not only animals but the end product. RbGH and its genetic counterparts were created to trigger the hormones in a cow that occur after they have given birth. Why? So they produce an excessive amount of milk. Simple business economics then step in. More milk from one cow means more profits, more profits mean cheaper prices, which mean a larger market share, meaning higher profits. If only the reality of that circle was accurate.

What is the risk associated with rbGH ingestion?

While still under-researched due to great efforts by Monsanto, the risks are starting to become exposed. The highest? Cancer. If you are at risk for any sort of hereditary cancer, immediately switch to milk labeled as either ” Certified Organic” or “rbGH Free”. Associations including the American Public Health Association and the American Nurses Association have publicly demoted the hormone-induced milk as a cancer risk. There are several other potential health risks associated with this milk. This is not to mention the risks of drinking milk from cows living in unhealthy conditions. Many cows who are fed hormones repeatedly are unable to stand on their own because their udders have become so swollen from the excessive milk production. Companies have designed ways to force them to stand, ways to re-strap their udders, and other less than pleasant solutions to something whose real solution is to get rid of hormones all together.

So get educated, and buy certified organic or hormone-free milk. These farmers care more for your health and the welfare of their animals than the large corporations such as Monsanto who have quantified in place of qualified their products.

Bottoms up on this wholesome treat, hormone free I hope.

Photo Credits:

Photo 1 and Photo 2

The FTC Cracks Down on Eco-Labels

October 19, 2010 · Filed Under Environment, Government, Guest Posts, News

Fall is in the air, and the FTC is back at it again. The oversaturated “green” market is getting a little bit of a kick from the FTC again after the Bamboo Scandal in February of 2010. The Federal Trade Commission has decided to regulate the terms many big brands have started to use in promoting their products as a green as can be.

Why the Crack Down?

This regulatory body’s efforts to reinforce meaning in the green marketplace has come after a sea of over 300 third-party certifications have been created and big brands can’t market anything without a little eco-twist. The FTC has said that their interest comes from their responsibility to hold companies responsible for the claims that they make on their packaging. A lesson learned by several retailers after the FTC exposed them as selling Rayon in place of Bamboo.

Is it Good or Bad for Consumers?

It is too early to say. As for now, it should be a good transformation from random claims and strategic names of “The Eco Window 2000″ which has nothing to do with being eco-friendly outside of its name. As for the 300+ third-party certifiers, this information may come a little too late. Since the United States government has failed to regulate many products and claims the same way other developed nations have over the past 20 years, third party certifiers emerged as a solution to a growing problem in the US. They provided information and security in eco-claims. Now, the new FTC guidelines may make some of these certifications irrelevant, or they may even conflict with the new guidelines.

Where are these Mysterious Guidelines?

They are listed on the FTC’s website as: Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Campaigns found here. Check them out for yourself.

So the good news is that the US government has belatedly started to regulate environmental claims, and hopefully as third party certifiers with worthy certifications come to understand the new rules, they will work together to solve the discrepancies. It looks as though this may be the first significant step they will make in stopping the greenwashing game through regulation.

Photo Credit

Say “Adios” to Slash and Burn

September 20, 2010 · Filed Under Environment, Guest Posts, News

Sash and burn farming is employed all of the World, typically in third world nations clearing land for a more profitable outcome than rainforest or bush. One of the biggest instigators for slash and burn farming is cattle. Recently the Rainforest Alliance and USAID launched a Standard for Sustainable Cattle Production Systems. It is designed to be a catalyst for more sustainable cattle practices, specifically in Latin and South America. The voluntary standard specifically focuses on solid environmental, social, and animal-welfare practices that can earn them the “Rainforest Alliance Certified” seal of approval.

What is Slash-and-Burn Farming?
Slash and burn farming has been growing like wildfire (sorry, bad pun) especially across Central and South America. As the Amazon and other previously remote, inaccessible, and forested areas become more open and accessible, the local people and foreign companies are harvesting as much as they can out of the land and the people. Slash and burn is a technique typically employed by poor individuals native to a country that are trying to find a way out of poverty. They “slash” the growing things like plants and trees, some harvest them for money, and then they “burn” the ground to clear the way for animals like cattle that can provide them a better income. The problem? First the biodiversity and habitat native to the area are completely demolished. But more importantly, this type of farming promotes increased deforestation. Since the land is burned it is only good for grazing cattle for a short period of time. It also leads to increased greenhouse gas emissions and often the animals are treated poorly. Lastly, it doesn’t provide a stable income for the individuals doing the farming, but it provides them with something.

Why Is This Important?
The Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that 26% of the Earth’s surface is used for pasture land for cattle, and that cattle account for 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions.  Slash and burn farming may not be able to be stopped completely, but if farming practices are significantly improved to become more sustainable, it should reduce the amount of land that will be lost to deforestation and contributing to ghg emissions. Also of great importance is teaching and providing a more sustainable livelihood for the native people of these countries in an ever-changing world.

What Does It Entail?
This is the first tropical sustainable cattle standard that is voluntary. It is available for cattle farms in Latin America, Africa, Asia, and Oceania. According to the Rainforest Alliance, this certification only applies to farms where cattle have access to pasture and relies on integrated management systems, sustainable pasture management, animal welfare, and carbon-footprint reduction. It works in conjunction with the Sustainable Agriculture Standard and was partially developed in Coasta Rica. The process included over 130 organizations from 34 countries as well as workshops throughout Central and South American countries. It received it’s International Standards Committee approval in July of 2010 and will be rolled out soon.

What is the US’s Role Now and into the Future?
Due to CAFTA-DR’s Environmental and Labor Excellence Program, issues like this can be addressed in a more open, voluntary, and secure way. Now CAFTA is not perfect legislation, but under this agreement it can help better secure, promote, and support more sustainable ways of treating the environment. The hope is that by obtaining the seal, these farmers will have a more secure and stable market for their cattle in the United States and possibly abroad. A security that is not typically offered for slash and burn farmers focused on making ends meet in an increasingly globalized and monetized world. Only time will tell if the farmers will accept, implement, and reap the benefits of sustainable farming practices or if it will put them at an economic disadvantage that pushes them further toward the more environmentally destructive practices.

What Can I Do?
Let’s support this international, multi-sector effort and see how it plays out. The Rainforest Alliance has been aggressively working to get their certification system in place, noticed and respected. Eco-labeling is still a bit like the Wild West, you never know who will win out in the end. But you can be assured that once this label hits the marketplace, it should gain a serious amount of credibility. This type of work is never easy, simple, or without its flaws. But that never means it’s not worthwhile.

Cheers to work being done on an international scale!

Slash and Burn Photo Credit.
Lungs of Earth Photo Credit.

Everest’s New Landscape

September 14, 2010 · Filed Under Environment, Guest Posts, News

Mount Everest, one of the most famous peaks in the World, is getting new neighbors thanks to climate change. The USGS has confirmed that the glaciers throughout the Himalayas are receding (melting) at a shockingly rapid pace. There are a few scattered ones due to unique local conditions that are advancing, but the majority are receding. This is of great concern to the Himalayan region, which depends on these glaciers for their water sources. As their melting rapidly increases, it is unknown how the water will advance, many fear flooding of villages and cities. The Himalayan region would join the increasing list of countries affected by “Climigration” or migration due to climate change.

The water supply of literally tens of millions of people is being impacted by this shift. These receding glaciers add to the growing list of concerns that climate change is happening at a far more rapid pace than originally predicted. Greenland’s ice shelves are disappearing faster than the most aggressive estimates, and regions around the world are starting to feel the impact.

Unfortunately, a recent study done on the United States found that 40% of the population does not “believe” in climate change. The contiguous United States is not at as great of a risk of some of the major threats associated with climate change other than coastal areas or deeply impoverished countries, where moving towns and ways of living to other regions can be complicated and require entirely new survival skills. What many American’s fail to recognize are the multiple signs of climate change in their daily lives.

How many have heard the saying “If global warming was real, I would be wearing shorts right now.” Or perhaps “2 degrees? Its not THAT much hotter! What is all the fuss about?” Unfortunately, since the majority of people are not earth scientists, we may have a hard time connecting the dots. As Naomi Oreskes pointed out in her and Conway’s book “Merchants of Doubt” we are often vulnerable to the status quo, or the doubt, in place of the facts.

Now ask yourself if you have heard of the Emerald Ash Borer that is ravaging City and National forests alike? Or the new invasive specie on the block, the Longhorn Japanese Beetle? How about unusual weather patterns, like an increase in the intensity of storms? Or areas that typically have snow having none, and others like Georgia suddenly getting a few inches?

Our minds are not necessarily trained to know the intricacies of climate change, but we can use common sense to deduct that these are not just isolated events. That something more significant is changing. Many individuals with access to newspapers, money, and lives of luxury relative to the 6.8 Billion human inhabitants on this Earth may not feel this difference immediately. We have built out or own ‘environment’ of buildings with controlled temperatures, created fertilizers to make things grow to the best of our knowledge, and other ‘wonders’ that we are missing these large scale cues to what is really happening.

So take a look around. You may not notice a glacier crumbling in your own backyard. You may not see your house flooded with water, and native region turned into a modern day sea. The individuals that have experienced these things already due to ‘climigration’ aren’t knocking on your door (Alaska is a long way for most of us). But see if you do notice changes. If this “hottest summer since 1922″ is combined with the “coldest winter since 1894″…we may want to start cueing into what is happening around us.

So best of luck on your own nature hunt to see what new neighbors climate change has brought you to date. Then consider what steps you can do to perhaps keep your old neighbors…trust me these new guys like the Emerald Ash Borer have no manners!

Himalayas Photo Credit.
Global Warming Predictions Photo Credit.
Air Pollution by Chris Madden Photo Credit.

Vote for a Home Renovation!

September 7, 2010 · Filed Under Contests, Environment, Guest Posts, News

Now you may heard of Habitat for Humanity, where volunteers and staff alike go in and help construct a home for someone in need. But have you heard of Rebuilding Together? This organization focuses on a similar segment of the population, but specifically does home renovations. An important part of green renovations is working within the current constraints of the home, so they are truly making a large impact.

EconoLodge and Rodeway have teamed up to help sponsor a home renovation and you get to vote to see who the most deserving participant is! The big renovation will kick off October 28th, so read the four finalists’ stories and vote to support one of their dream renovations.

You can read the official Press Release here.
Or check out the competition and learn about the rules here!

Photo Credit.

Antibiotics with your Tap Water, Madam?

September 3, 2010 · Filed Under Environment, Food, Guest Posts, Health, News

In a recent study by the University of California, antibiotics given to cows were traced throughout their waste stream. Although not the first study to be done on the extensive use of antibiotics, especially on dairy cows, this study found that most antibiotics broke down before reaching ground water. This is good news for individuals who use well-water and live near dairy operations. The study did not look into the effects on surface water, marine life, or other species and areas of the environment impacted by the antibiotics.

Filtering your water and occasionally having it tested can also help keep your tap water safe and clean. The EPA recently released a study that reviewed the safety of municipal tap water. Depending on where you live, contamination risks may differ. The EPA found that water quality (for the US) was disappointingly low and came up with a list of suggestions. So it may be worthwhile to see just what lurks in your tap water!

You can read the summary of the dairy study here.

Photo Credit.

Canadian? Watch your BPA Intake

August 30, 2010 · Filed Under Environment, Food, Green, Guest Posts, Health, News, Nutrition

In a recent study by Statistics Canada, 91% of all Canadians had BPA in their bodies. Now this is not a growing issue specific to Canada though, so consider your own Country’s products and your personal rate of BPA exposure and intake.

So just how bad is this and what can we do about it in our own locations across the globe? First, the study provides an important baseline for understanding BPA exposure. But is BPA really bad for you? And since it is so prevalent in consumer products, is this number of concern? Let’s take a quick look.

What and Where is BPA?
BPA, or Bisphenol A, is most commonly used in plastics and to coat things like shopping receipts and food cans. For the scientifically minded out there, it is most commonly used in polycarbonate plastic and epoxy resins. It is a synthetically-made chemical that does not naturally occur in nature, but due to its persistent use in consumer products, can be found in water, aquatic animals, and humans mainly. The 2002 BPA market saw 2.8 million tons produced globally, and the numbers have only increased until recently. Some of the most common products can be found in our food plastics including baby bottles.

Should I Be Concerned?
According to the American Chemistry Council and industry trade groups, No.

According to health officials worldwide including the FDA and health scientists, Yes.

Take a minute to reflect on the different sources of information.

So, Why the Controversy?
Mainly, different mindsets. The chemical industry and chemical trade groups are taking the approach that until it has not been proven to cause immediate harm to human health. Resulting with the approach that there is little need to address the situation, so business continues as usual. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) originally deemed low rates of BPA exposure as safe. The chemical industry is first to tell you that BPA is highly regulated and tested and has been studied for over 40 years.

Unfortunately, there is a growing body of evidence that is proving that BPA exposure is not safe. Its effects on the brain, diabetes, prostate gland, and in particular the reproductive system and children is of great concern. In February of this year, the FDA made a public announcement encouraging households to limit their exposure to BPA. Now the FDA has not made a formal announcement that BPA should be publicly banned, but countries like Canada have decided to review whether this should be done until we learn can be certain there is absolutely no health risk.

The real health concerns arise when BPA levels increase, and since manufacturers have no control over what their consumers eat and are exposed to in conjunction with their product, the responsibility lays with each of us to decide which approach we will take.

CBS News Video on the 2010 FDA Announcement to Limit BPA Exposure

CBS News Reviews FDA Warning on BPA

Tips for BPA-Free Living
The Mayo Clinic offers these tips for reducing your potential exposure to BPA:

  • Choose glass or BPA-free plastic baby bottles.
  • Use glass, porcelain or stainless steel containers for hot foods and liquids.
  • Avoid plastic containers with the No. 7  and No. 3 recycling label — they’re made with BPA.
  • Don’t microwave polycarbonate plastic food containers. Instead, use glass containers designed for microwaving.
  • Reduce your use of canned foods — many cans are lined with a BPA-containing resins

Please note that BPA is not required to be listed on food products or consumer goods, so it may be hard to find and eliminate all together. BPA can be flushed out of the body within 6 hours according to current research, so cleansing your body of BPA quickly is an option.

So it is up to you to decide which approach is best for your lifestyle. Either the wait and see method or the precautionary principle. Best of luck with your decision.

Sources include: Reuters, Chemical Market Associates, Inc (CMAI), Mayo Clinic, American Chemistry Council’s Plastics Division Business Group

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