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Susie Cagle's Posts


River full of dead, diseased pigs is just another food safety nightmare for China

The Chinese are pissed, and if I were them I would be too.

One week after local residents first spotted them by a water treatment center, Chinese officials are still fishing dead pigs out of the Huangpu river. To date, they've used a dozen barges to pull 5,916 pigs out of the water. The pigs are believed to have originated from upriver farms after a series of investigations revealed illegal trade of meat harvested from diseased pigs. But don't worry, the government says: The water's fine!

Cleaning workers retrieve the carcasses of pigs from a branch of Huangpu River in Shanghai
REUTERS / Stringer China

The Guardian reports:

While the cause of the incident is still under investigation, water quality tests along the river have identified traces of porcine circovirus, a virus that can affect pigs but not humans. ...

China's toxic smog, rubbish-strewn rivers and contaminated soil have emerged as a source of widespread anger over the past few weeks, as profit-minded officials jostle with aggrieved internet users over how to balance the country's economic development with its environmental concerns.

Experts say the groundwater in half of all Chinese cities is contaminated, most of it severely, and that soil pollution could be widespread in 15 of the country's 33 provinces.

If China's trying to go green and quell community anxiety and anger over environmental pollution, it best get all those pigs out of the drink right quick.

Read more: Food, Living


Perfect swarm: Giant mosquitos invade Florida

"Huge,” “giant,” “mega,” and “aggressive” are not the words you want to hear before "mosquito." But that's how experts describe Psorophora ciliata, or the “gallinipper” mosquito. Native to the eastern U.S. and immortalized in stories and folk songs for decades, these big biters are now expanding into Florida.


Up to 20 times the size of other mosquitos, the gallinippers aren't known for spreading disease, but their bites are likened to being stabbed with a knife -- and unlike Florida's other invasive species, they don't make for an even remotely good meal (we presume). From the Huffington Post:

Doug Carlson, mosquito control director for Indian River County, told WPTV that the insects are so big, "it can feel like a small bird has landed on you." Meanwhile, Gary Goode of Palm Beach County Mosquito Control told WPBF the mosquito "practically breaks your arm" when it feeds on you.

A warmer winter and stagnant waters left over from Tropical Storm Debby (some parts of the state got 75 inches of rain in 2012) have scientists and residents nervous about the bites to come. The Gainesville Sun reports:

Whatever the mosquito type, locals could be destined for "a very rough summer," said Paul Myers, administrator for the Alachua County Health Department.

Read more: Living


The new SimCity: Green urbanist dream, gamer nightmare

First released in 1989, the computer game SimCity is "arguably the single most influential work of urban-design theory ever created," according to this gushy 2006 New Yorker piece. The game has gone through many iterations over the years, but the latest -- released last week -- appears to be the most beloved by wonks and also the most loathed by players.


New SimCity has been plagued by so many epic fails since its launch last week (DRM problems, corporate lies, no freaking undo feature) that gaming site Kotaku created a special "disaster watch" section for it and Amazon stopped selling it entirely. Yet the game has "city wonks downright giddy," according to Fast Co.Exist, which set up an urbanist tournament to find out who could build the best pretend city.

Nearly every team planned to create a city independent of finite energy resources and the help of other cities. ... Every city was solely focused on economic autonomy. There was no talk of creating mutually beneficial partnerships. In fact, teams merely saw one another as potential buyers of their wealth of goods and services. The easiest political philosophy is, apparently, Western European mercantilism.

“I would’ve expected everyone to come together and cooperate,” [said SimCity game designer Stone Librande].

While the planners didn't exactly go in for the whole sharing economy thing, they did focus on creating sustainable cities. But Librande, who built the new SimCity "over the past three and a half years with Netflix documentaries on urbanism as his only academic resource," insists that sustainability was not his focus with the game. From Popular Science:

Read more: Cities, Living


Catch shares help corporations more than fish populations

new animation out from the Center for Investigative Reporting makes sense of the wonky and wacky world of individualized transferable quotas, or catch shares, which were ostensibly meant as a solution to overfishing. "If a small group of people owned the fish, they might take better care of them," explains the animated grandpa in the video.

It's not totally clear whether the catch-share system, implemented across the U.S. in 2011, has helped fish populations rebound. But it has helped large corporate fishing operations at the expense of small fisher-people, according to an investigation by CIR.

Fishing quotas, which are based on past fishing levels, can be sold on the open market, making it easier for fat-cat corporations to scoop up as many as they can afford. The system initially only allowed fishing with trawlers in certain areas -- a type of fishing that has caused heavy environmental destruction.

From CIR:

Thousands of jobs have been lost in regions across the United States where catch-share management plans have been implemented, researchers have noted.


Mississippi poised to pass ‘Anti-Bloomberg’ bill banning healthy food regs

fast food road sign

Mississippi is just the kind of place one might expect to find a backlash against the "organic agenda." Apparently spurred on by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's (newly tossed out) pet ban on big sodas, Mississippi is currently on the verge of passing a bill that would bar every local government in the state from requiring that restaurants post calorie counts or cap portion sizes.

A far-reaching, big-government bill to counter other far-reaching, big-government bills? Uh, sure, Mississippi. NPR has the full scary deets:

"The Anti-Bloomberg Bill" garnered wide bipartisan support in both chambers of the legislature in a state where one in three adults is obese, the highest rate in the nation.

The bill is expected to be signed by Gov. Phil Bryant, a Republican. It was the subject of intense lobbying by groups including the restaurant association, the small business and beverage group, and the chicken farmers' lobby.

"The chicken farmers' lobby" could be a caption for an unfunny New Yorker cartoon, but in Mississippi it's also apparently a powerful business group -- though hardly the only one with skin in this game.

Read more: Food, Politics


Chinese forests now just chopstick factories in waiting

China's been dealing with a lot of pressure lately: dirty aira river full of dead pigs, new pledges to go green ... To cope, there's apparently been an uptick in stress-eating. The country is now producing 80 billion pairs of disposable wooden chopsticks a year, nearly 60 pairs for each person in the country, according to Bai Guangxin, chair of Jilin Forestry Industry Group. That's way up from the estimated 57 billion pairs produced annually between 2004 and 2009. At this rate, China is destroying nearly 1.5 percent of its forests each year just in the name of chopsticks.


From The Huffington Post:

The consequences of China's chopstick production -- deforestation, for one -- have prompted action from some environmental groups. ...

Bai pointed out during [a] meeting Friday that the Chinese government has also begun taking action by introducing policies limiting manufacturing of disposable chopsticks.


Smart people say food prices are falling — depends what you mean by ‘food’

Excellent infographicker Dorothy Gambrell recently broke down falling American food costs and some changing tastes for Bloomberg Businessweek.

Click to embiggen.
Bloomberg Business Week
Click to embiggen.

Beef prices and consumption are both way down, while fresh fruit prices decreased less than any other category. Overall, though, it looks like food is getting a lot cheaper! And that's true, ish, but it's not the whole picture.

Over the past century, food costs as a percentage of income have been dropping like overripe fruit that you forgot to pick off the tree. But those lower prices aren't exactly adding up for the poor. Derek Thompson at The Atlantic finds that poor families are still spending the same percentage on food that they did 30 years ago, while middle-income and richer folks are paying significantly less.

Overall, the falling burden of food costs is good news for lower- and middle-class families. It means they can devote more money to things like health care and education and energy and homes, which are getting expensive faster than their wages are rising. But we shouldn't rule out the possibility that those accelerating costs are putting pressure on poor families to spend less on food.

In other words, we can't rule out that the lowest-income households only spend one-sixth of their money on food, not only because real food prices are falling, but also because they're forced to consume less, as mortgages and gas prices eat into the budget.

Read more: Food


Big military guy more scared of climate change than enemy guns

Navy Admiral Samuel J. Locklear III, chief of U.S. Pacific Command, doesn't look like your usual proponent of climate action. Spencer Ackerman writes at Wired that Locklear "is no smelly hippie," but the guy does believe there will be terrible security threats on a warming planet, which might make him a smelly hippie in the eyes of many American military boosters.

Commander U.S. 7th Fleet

Everyone wants him to be worried about North Korean nukes and Chinese missiles, but in an interview with The Boston Globe, Locklear said that societal upheaval due to climate change “is probably the most likely thing that is going to happen ... that will cripple the security environment, probably more likely than the other scenarios we all often talk about.’’

Read more: Climate & Energy


NYC judge throws out Bloomberg’s big sugar drink ban

Good news, soda lovers and Bloomberg haters!


Reuters reports that New York State Supreme Court Justice Milton Tingling threw out New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's pet ban, calling it "arbitrary and capricious," in response to lawsuits brought by the American Beverage Association and other unapologetic sugar peddlers business groups.

Read more: Food


Smash patriarchy, save the planet

woman with globalWomen might make up more than half the Earth's human population, but we often bear the brunt of the same sorts of policies and destructive ways of thinking that are responsible for global climate change.

Do those things seem unrelated? Well, they're not, which is why International Women's Day is a perfect time to remember that the systems that degrade the planet are also the ones that oppress women.

Eve Ensler, the artist and activist behind The Vagina Monologues, connected the dots between abusing the planet and abusing women last month in this interview with Grist, where she called out the global economy's destructive "pressing rape mentality, which has to do with the powerful getting what they want at the expense of the person they’re taking it from, without an awareness of reciprocity or mutuality."

From former Prime Minister of Norway and Director-General of the World Health Organization, Gro Harlem Brundtland, writing at Fast Co.Exist:

Conflict and environmental degradation compound the problem in many contexts, leaving women even more vulnerable to violence. Soldiers and militias commonly use rape as a weapon of war. As climate change affects the availability of water, food and firewood, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, women have to travel longer distances to fetch supplies, putting them at greater risk of molestation, harassment, rape and beatings.

Read more: Living