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Susie Cagle's Posts


Everyone to Asia: We don’t want your stinkin’ unsustainable palm oil


There's great news this week for everyone except the people producing tons of unsustainable palm oil: Customers are jumping ship right and left, swearing off of the processed food grease that has become the top cause of deforestation in Southeast Asia.

Dunkin' Donuts has agreed to phase out the palm oil it stuffs into its sweet, fatty pastry rings. The move came under pressure from the green-minded comptroller of New York state, Tom DiNapoli, who leveraged the state's investment in Dunkin' to bring about the change, style.

From the New York Times' City Room blog:

The comptroller is best known for his role overseeing the state’s pension fund, not for pushing for breakfast-food reform. But in this case, the goals are one and the same: as of last week, the pension fund owned 51,400 shares of Dunkin’ Brands Group worth about $2 million, and Mr. DiNapoli seeks to prod companies in which the fund invests to embrace sustainable practices ...

“Consumers may not realize that many of the foods and cosmetics they eat and use contain palm oil that has been harvested in ways that are severely detrimental to the environment,” Mr. DiNapoli said in a statement. “Shareholder value is enhanced when companies take steps to address the risks associated with environmental practices that promote climate change.”

Read more: Food


Whole Foods to label frankenfoods by 2018

whole-foods.jpgOut of the pure goodness of its big corporate heart, Whole Foods wants you to know if there are any GMOs in your $8 kombucha and $30 take-out salad.

Several states are kicking around proposals to require labels on genetically modified foods, but the (w)holier-than-thou natural foods giant waits for no government! It will wait for its suppliers, though. Whole Foods announced today that, by 2018, it will require genetically modified foods be labeled as such.

"We are as excited about this announcement as we are dedicated to supporting transparency and our customers’ right to know what’s in their food," read the statement from Whole Foods co-CEO Walter Robb and COO A.C. Gallo. "By 2018, we will require our supplier partners to label products containing GMO ingredients, and we will work in collaboration with them as they transition to sourcing non-GMO ingredients or to clearly labeling products with ingredients containing GMOs."

Here's Robb reading more Whole Foods PR off a teleprompter. (Also, when I think Whole Foods offices I think earth tones, not hot pink, but that's not a judgment.)


For the price of a few dead whales, Spain gets to grow food in the desert

Sperm whales in happier times.
Sperm whales in happier times.

Recently, the city of Almeria in arid southern Spain has transformed itself into prime farmland by building more than 150 square miles of plastic-sheeting-encased greenhouses. That means there's more out-of-season, non-native foods for local Spaniards -- and more out-of-season, non-native plastic foods for local Spaniard sea creatures.

Only about 1,000 sperm whales live in the Mediterranean sea. When one recently beached itself and died on the coast, scientists determined the cause quickly. (Any guesses?)

“[I]t had a real greenhouse inside its stomach. We did not expect it, but it did not surprise us," marine biologist Renaud de Stephanis told Agence France-Presse. “It was as if it had a rock inside its intestine, nothing could get through. There was so much plastic that it finally exploded."

When it died, the whale had eaten about 37 pounds of plastic, including a lot of the plastic sheeting from those greenhouses, two flower pots, an ice cream tub, and some mattress chunks.

Read more: Food, Living


Superstorm Sandy aid dollars go to rebuilding in flood-prone areas

The Eastern Seaboard is still limping toward recovery post-Superstorm Sandy. Just as the government was really getting rolling distributing $60 billion in federal aid that was authorized in January, that amount was chopped by 5 percent thanks to sequestration.

Jenna Pope

And now comes news that some of that rebuilding money is being spent not-so-wisely. While San Francisco is trying to make a “managed retreat” from rising seas, the tri-state area seems to be more in favor of a “whatevs, fuck it” approach. ProPublica reports:

A WNYC and ProPublica analysis of federal data shows at least 10,500 home and business owners have been approved for $766 million in SBA [Small Business Administration] disaster loans to rebuild in areas that the government now says could flood again in the next big storm. The data, which shows loans approved through mid-February, was obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living


BUILD Act could make it easier to green toxic brownfields

Nearly all of America's cities contain brownfields -- contaminated, abandoned sites that can be as big as old rail yards or as small as former dry cleaners. The EPA estimates that there are more than 450,000 brownfield sites nationwide.

A Worcester, Mass. brownfield.
MA Dept. of Environmental Protection
A brownfield in Worcester, Mass.

Greening all those brownfields is no easy task, and the EPA's Brownfields Program still has a long way to go. But a new bill introduced in Congress could help.

The BUILD Act -- BUILD stands for Brownfields Utilization, Investment, and Local Development -- would make brownfields cleanup grants available to a wider variety of groups and local governments, and would generally smooth the way for communities to redevelop these properties. The bill specifically calls for extra assistance for disadvantaged and rural communities.

The legislation is sponsored by a motley bipartisan crew of senators: Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), and Tom Udall (D-N.M.). That's right: Republicans are working with Democrats to support the EPA's efforts to clean up cities. Even in these mad, sequestery times, there appears to be a bit of sanity on Capitol Hill.

Read more: Cities, Politics


California town could require solar power on every new house

drawing of solar panels on houseWith year-round high temperatures and less than two inches of rain on average a month, the desert town of Lancaster, Calif., just north of Los Angeles, seems like a great place for solar. But Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris isn't taking any chances (which is exactly what you would expect from a mayor named R. Rex Parris).

Parris, a Republican, is "hell-bent on branding his sprawling Antelope Valley community not just as the solar capital of California but as the 'solar energy capital of the world,'" according to Mother Nature Network.

The mayor is proposing a zoning change that would require houses built after Jan. 1, 2014, to include solar-power systems. Lancaster has long been a solar leader, but Parris is trying to take it to a whole 'nother level, pending the city council's vote.

From KCET:


BP officially quits the solar business

BP logoRemember when BP tried to rebrand itself as "Beyond Petroleum" and came up with a new logo designed to evoke solar power? Well, looks like the company might have to call in some new branding consultants. NPR's Morning Edition reports:

"We have thrown in the towel on solar," [BP CEO] Bob Dudley said after delivering a wide-ranging speech Wednesday.

"Not that solar energy isn't a viable energy source, but we worked at it for 35 years, and we really never made money," he added.

BP has been winding down its solar operations for a few years. The company now says it is "focusing on those sectors of the energy industry where we can profitably grow our business," which means a shift to wind and biofuels. Really though, can you blame BP for being worried about money? The company only made $11.6 billion in profits last year, and it might still have to pay billions to atone for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill. Wah!

More from NPR:

BP's exit from solar has more to do with a changing business than lack of will.


Domesticated and wild bees are both in trouble

It's tough times for bees. Over the past few years, colony collapse disorder has wiped out some entire beekeeping operations, and scientists don't understand or agree on the cause. In Europe, respected scientists and agencies are declaring some popular pesticides too dangerous for bees. Stateside, it's another story.

On Tuesday, the U.S. EPA hosted a bee summit to talk about the problem. "The EPA has been working aggressively to protect honey bees and other pollinators," the agency says. "The 2013 Pollinator Summit is part of the agency’s ongoing collaboration with beekeepers, growers, pesticide manufacturers and federal and state agencies to manage potential pesticide risks to bees."

The summit highlighted some sobering details on the scope of the problem, but it also gave a platform to Bayer, Syngenta, DuPont, and Monsanto -- companies that make the very kinds of pesticides that have been linked to bee deaths. This week, Bayer also announced a "bee care tour" and new efforts to "minimize the impact" of neonicotinoid pesticides that mess with bee brains.


Pink-slime maker’s lawsuit against ABC grows slimier


I would probably be bitter, too, if I were Beef Products, Inc. Those are the folks behind uber-gross "lean finely textured beef," aka "pink slime," the ammonia-soaked cow trimmings added as filler to ground beef. During pink slime's heyday, it ended up in more than two-thirds of American hamburgers, at a ratio of up to 15 percent slime to 85 percent burger. That slime was cheap, and so chemical-packed that it sterilized the rest of the meat. Mmm, food!

Fast-forward to today: The origins and grossness of "pink slime" are well-known, fast food restaurants have given up the stuff, and BPI is as pissed as a parent whose kid was unknowingly served pink slime in her USDA-approved school lunches.

According to TIME, only about 5 percent of ground beef contains the "lean finely textured" stuff now. Following an 11-part ABC News series that ran last March and April, BPI says its revenues have dropped from more than $650 million a year to $130 million. The company filed a lawsuit last September against ABC, anchor Diane Sawyer, and other named defendants seeking $1.2 billion in damages. ABC didn't coin "pink slime" -- a USDA scientist named Gerald Zirnstein did, in 2002 -- but ABC and its parent company Disney sure do have deep pockets.

BPI has hired "a high-powered Chicago trial lawyer," according to Reuters, which reports the case "is shaping up to be one of the most high-stakes defamation court battles in U.S. history." The company's founders say they plan to fight 'til the bitter, slimy end, regardless of the cost. "We have to do this," one told Reuters. "We have no other choice."


New Volvo tech aims to keep drivers from hitting cyclists

Those outside-the-car airbags are pretty sweet, but what if we could make cars automatically stop before they, you know, hit people?

That's what Volvo's up to, with a newly updated auto-brake system that recognizes slow-moving pedestrians and now also fast-swerving bicyclists. "When bicyclists swerve in front of an automobile heading in the same direction, the setup immediately alerts the driver and applies full brake power -- a world's first Volvo says," reports Engadget.


Volvo's promotional video of the technology in action presents the cyclist as a kind of clueless headphone-wearing dolt, while the car driver appears empathetic. Still, you can at least see how it works: