Business & Technology

putting the lab in labyrinthine

FDA on BPA: Our hands are tied

The FDA finally released its report on Bisphenol A. The good news is that the FDA now admits that BPA — the endocrine-disrupting, heart disease–causing ingredient in plastic food packaging and can linings — isn’t entirely safe (contradicting the agency’s statement from 2008 that it was), particularly for infants and children. The bad news? There’s not much the agency can do about it. Here are the immediate, limited steps the FDA feels it can take “to reduce human exposure to BPA in the food supply”: support the industry’s actions to stop producing BPA-containing baby bottles and infant feeding cups for …

Being and nothingness

Raj Patel on Colbert

Raj Patel, author of the food-politics tome Stuffed and Starved, has a new book out on the failure of neoliberal economics. It’s called The Value of Nothing, after the immortal Oscar Wilde quote about how “nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.” A couple of nights ago (above), Raj got the Colbert treatment, and handled himself pretty well. And from the Grist artchives, here’s Patel (more than) holding his own against another wacky interviewer (me).

Choice nuggets

From dominant Monsanto to ‘innovative Med-American,’ tasty morsels from around the web

When my info-larder gets too packed, it’s time to serve up some choice nuggets from around the Web. —————- Get ‘em while they’re hot.  • NPR delivers a blunt report on Monsanto’s dominant position in the seed industry, complete with farmers complaining about monopoly pricing. With this sort of straight talk in mainstream media, one wonders if the Justice Department might really pursue an antitrust case against the monopolistic giant. • This Wall Street Journal infographic paints a devastating picture of the U.S. job market (the headline on the accompanying article says it all: “Even in a Recovery, Some Jobs …

Milking the Farmers

Can a new USDA advisory committee make the dairy industry less pathetic?

Much as I’ve long been taken with the romanticism of dairy farming and the visions of grazing cows and nurturing fresh milk it conjures up, I tune out when the talk turns to “the dairy industry.” That subject stimulates images of commodity trading, price controls, feed lots, and perhaps most onerous– a rigged system akin to slavery in which the owners of small dairies nearly always lose. They have been losing for so many years the number of farms with dairy cows fell an astounding 88 percent, from 648,000 to 75,000 between 1960 and 2006, the U.S. Department of Agriculture …

More solar gen in two thousand and ten

2010 outlook for solar in California

Felix Kramer of Calcars thinks 2010 will be the year of the plug-in car. He’s got a good case: after years of advocacy and technology development, 2010 is the year that major manufacturers will finally make plug-ins broadly available, and rapidly decreasing battery costs are helping the conversion industry reach new customers and help retrofit the existing fleet at scale. After years of work and promise, 2010 is the payoff year. I see a similar trend in solar in California, where years of policy and business development are all coming together to make 2010 an extraordinary year for solar development. …

smoking gun: found

Scientists confirm link between BPA and heart disease in humans

The FDA’s new report on the safety of endocrine-disrupting chemical bisphenol A is months overdue and there is still no sign of when or if the agency will release the report. Perhaps they are waiting for that piece of “smoking gun” evidence that BPA represents a clear and present danger to human health? Well, thanks to researchers from Peninsula College of Medicine in Britain, we just may have it. In 2008, the group looked at data from the 2003-2004 US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) which included urinary BPA levels for the first time. The results: [A] quarter …

Salt of the dearth

Food giants pile on salt to tart up flavorless dreck

Piled on my desk on either side of my computer are several packages of convenience foods and one chocolate bar. The foods range from instant macaroni and cheese and cornbread mixes to canned soup, canned tuna, canned beans, and a Styrofoam container of instant, microwaveable macaroni and cheese. Of the eight items, only two – the tuna and the chocolate bar–have sodium levels in the single digits. Of the double-digiters, only two have sodium levels less than 20 percent. I’m looking at sodium content not because I’m watching my salt intake–although that’s hardly a bad idea–but because I wanted to …

Energizing smart energy behavior

Never mind what people believe — how can we change what they do? A chat with Robert Cialdini

When it comes to energy, policymakers are often confronted with human behavior that seems irrational, unpredictable, or unmanageable. Advocates for energy efficiency in particular are plagued by the gap between what it would make sense for people to do and what they actually do. Efforts to change people’s behavior have a record that can charitably be described as mixed. (See my post, Making buildings more efficient: It helps to understand human behavior.) Many of the experiments that have cast the most light on what does (and doesn’t) drive behavioral shifts around energy have been run by Dr. Robert Cialdini, until …

Mad libs

India, Italy, Brazil can fill America’s blanks

Americans pride themselves on being ________ (fill in the blank with something like “biggest,” “best,” or “first”). Especially in California, we think we lead the world on carbon-reducing advances like ________ (fill in blank with “solar power,” “energy efficiency,” or “suntanned, body-builder, movie star, Austrian-born governors”). Given Obama’s U.N.-busting initiative in Copenhagen last month, our country may soon have more to brag about in the low carbon economy of the future, but for now, we might be smart to follow a few examples from India, Italy, and Brazil. A company in India that once made plastic bags now recycles them …

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