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Umbra on seltzer bottles

Dear Umbra, I love drinking fizzy water, especially in the summer, but I am appalled to learn that the plastic bottles use petroleum in their production. Plus, hauling them home from the supermarket burns gas. I've been looking at seltzer bottles, also known as soda siphons, the original source of carbonated water, and also much fun in Marx Brothers movies. Once I bought the siphon, the only cost would be the charging capsules, and that would be about the same cost per quart as the bottled water. But I would like to know if the charging capsules are refillable or …

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The new conservatism: Like the old totalitarianism

Whatever happened to local control is good?

From Organic Consumers: Failing to suppress grassroots control over food safety laws and labels in the last session of Congress, industry has now called on their friends in the House Subcommittee on Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry to slip a similar poison pill into an obscure section of the voluminous 2007-2012 Farm Bill. The provision would give the White House appointed Secretary of Agriculture the power to eliminate local or state food and farming laws, such as those in four California counties banning genetically engineered crops, and set an ominous precedent undermining states' rights.

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Got to Get Ourselves Back to the Pesticide-Free Garden

Pesticide exposure increases risk of Parkinson's disease, study says A new study from researchers at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland concludes that pesticide exposure increases the risk of getting Parkinson's disease, a degenerative condition affecting the nervous system. Patients from five European countries participated in the study, published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, which found that people who had been exposed to low levels of pesticides were 13 percent more likely to develop Parkinson's than those who had not, and those exposed to high levels of pesticides, such as farmers or pesticide-factory workers, faced a 41 …

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Scientists create new crop of genetically modified crops

Pesticide efficacy is decreasing

If you've ever colored Easter eggs -- I mean the old-fashioned way, with food-coloring, not with those plastic wraparounds -- then you know that when you mess up, you have two options: rinse them off with some white vinegar and start over, or forge ahead, layer even more color on top, and hope that something presentable emerges. Okay, so that metaphor's a bit of a stretch, but that's what came to mind when I read, earlier this week, that scientists at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, have engineered a new category of transgenic crops. The new plants -- which include …

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On summer memories and politically correct peanut butter

The cool, sunny mornings this time of year always remind me of setting off to work each day during the first few months that I spent living in Boston. It was the summer between my junior and senior year of college, and I was working for a feminist newspaper located in an old factory near MIT. On their way to the chopping block. Photo: maiylah via flickr When I had come for my interview I had gotten to the office with no trouble, but on my first day of actual work in June, I managed to get off the elevator …

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All so predictable, part 2

World grain supplies tanking

Once again, a prediction is panning out(PDF): The world is consistently failing to produce as much grain as it uses. Every six years, we're adding to the world the equivalent of a North American population. We're trying to feed those extra people, feed a growing livestock herd, and now, feed our cars, all from a static farmland base. No one should be surprised that food production can't keep up. The USDA projects global grain supplies will drop to their lowest levels on record. Further, it is likely that, outside of wartime, global grain supplies have not been this low in …

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Yuppy chow, food miles, and labels

Interesting juxtaposition of stories

Interesting juxtaposition of stories: First, an essay on what has become of organics, as it turns into what Fromartz calls "Organic, Inc." Then, Energy Bulletin links to a story suggesting that some Brits might deny the organic label to food flown in from abroad. And, of course, there's the post right here on Gristmill about labeling as an attempt to help consumers understand the effect of their purchases. The issue boils down to the fact that our prices don't help consumers understand anything about food; in our perverse system, the food that has traveled the furthest at the greatest energy …

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Umbra on returnable bottles

Hi Umbra, I've been wondering lately what happened to the returnable bottles that were so common up until some point in the '70s. Why did the legislation go away? Does reusing bottles use less energy? It seems like it would, but I haven't found info on advocating for bottle reuse in any of the green action plans floating around. Anne Speck Lafayette, Colo. Dearest Anne, In days of yore, portable beverages came in glass bottles, and -- reading between the lines of the articles I read on the subject -- smallish beverage manufacturers were dispersed across this fair nation. So …

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So Long, San Pellegrino

Restaurants, schools tap into local water supplies You've heard of eating locally, but the latest fad may be drinking locally. Some restaurants and schools are starting to serve filtered tap water instead of bottled water, citing the eco-impacts of packaging and shipping a product that's already available right thar in the kitchen. But it seems that pushing pints of Perrier is such a moneymaker that only some restaurants, mostly snooty ones, can afford to quit; cutting-edgers include Alice Waters' Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Calif., and Mario Batali's Del Posto in New York. "Serving tap water is a great idea that …

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Brit's Eye View: Is carbon labeling a good idea?

Can a bag of potato chips point the way to saving the planet?

Peter Madden, chief executive of Forum for the Future, writes a monthly column for Gristmill on sustainability in the U.K. and Europe. Can a bag of potato chips point the way to saving the planet? In the U.K., we have started down the path of putting "carbon labels" on products. Tesco, our biggest supermarket chain, has said they will label every product they sell. The Carbon Trust, a government agency, has already produced a prototype label and is trying it out on shampoo, a fruit juice, and a bag of potato chips. Clearly we do need to measure and manage …