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Gristmill: Fresh, whole-brain news.


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.


Could melting glaciers slow down climate change?

Chock-a-block with plankton food
Shutterstock / Anders Peter
Chockablock with plankton food.

As glaciers and ice sheets melt and flood the world, they are releasing a type of nutrient that's lapped up by tiny creatures that could help reduce global warming.

Glaciers contain surprisingly high concentrations of iron, according to the results of a study published Sunday in the journal Nature Geoscience. Iron is a nutrient that's essential for the growth of plankton, which forms the base of ocean food webs.

As plankton blooms feast on iron and grow, they also suck down large quantities of carbon dioxide. Some of that carbon is then passed up the food chain to larger animals. When plankton and animals that feed upon them die, some of the biomass sinks to the bottom of the ocean, taking all that carbon to a deepwater grave and removing it from the atmosphere.

Read more: Climate & Energy


Bahamas will soon be invaded by oil drills

The Bahamas, where unspoiled beauty soon will be spoiled
The Bahamas, where unspoiled beauty soon will be spoiled.

Catch ya later, unspoiled beaches of Bahamian paradise. It's been real.

Offshore oil drilling will soon be allowed in the heavenly West Indies archipelago of the Bahamas, which is made up of thousands of islands and cays off the Floridian coast. Initially, the drilling will be exploratory only -- an experiment that will punch a bunch of holes in the ocean floor to see what goop lies beneath.

The Bahamas environment minister said the option of allowing large-scale commercial oil drilling would be put to the nation's voters after results of the exploratory drills are known, perhaps in 2015.

Read more: Climate & Energy


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


Dozens get sick after dining at world’s best restaurant

Fancy pants restaurant made its fancy pants customers sick
Renée S
Fancy-pants restaurant made its fancy-pants customers sick.

A tasting menu at Danish restaurant Noma, consistently named among the world’s best, costs $250 a head -- not including wine.

For at least 63 people who dined there last month, a generous helping of vomiting and diarrhea was on the house.

Danish food authorities faulted the famous restaurant for failing to protect its diners after one of its workers fell ill last month, apparently spreading gastroenteritis to dozens of its big-spending customers. The initial emailed report of the illness was ignored for four days by restaurant staff.

Noma is accustomed to basking in food industry glory. It has been crowned the world's top restaurant on the San Pellegrino World's 50 Best Restaurants list three times, for example. Now it is wallowing in a new kind of spotlight. From The Guardian:

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


Insurance companies on climate change: ‘What climate change?’

Too many insurance companies aren't connecting the dots.

Insurance companies have been paying out big bucks of late, funding cleanup in the wake of wildfires, hurricanes, and other extreme weather events likely made worse by global warming. Superstorm Sandy caused an estimated $50 billion in economic losses, and it was just one of 11 American catastrophes in 2012 that wrought more than $1 billion worth of destruction.

So one would logically think that insurance companies would be among the most clued-in businesses when it comes to understanding and bracing for humanity’s horrendous effects on the weather.

Not so, according to the results of an industry-wide survey of 184 insurance companies that operate in California, New York, and Washington state.


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


N.Y. Times and Thomas Friedman call for killing Keystone

New York Times building

The New York Times editorial board and Times columnist Thomas Friedman have both come out swinging against the Keystone XL pipeline.

A strong editorial today calls on Obama to kill the project. The headline: "When to Say No."

[Obama] should say no, and for one overriding reason: A president who has repeatedly identified climate change as one of humanity’s most pressing dangers cannot in good conscience approve a project that — even by the State Department’s most cautious calculations — can only add to the problem. ...

Supporters of the pipeline have argued that this is oil from a friendly country and that Canada will sell it anyway. We hope Mr. Obama will see the flaw in this argument. Saying no to the pipeline will not stop Canada from developing the tar sands, but it will force the construction of new pipelines through Canada itself. And that will require Canadians to play a larger role in deciding whether a massive expansion of tar sands development is prudent. At the very least, saying no to the Keystone XL will slow down plans to triple tar sands production from just under two million barrels a day now to six million barrels a day by 2030. ...

In itself, the Keystone pipeline will not push the world into a climate apocalypse. But it will continue to fuel our appetite for oil and add to the carbon load in the atmosphere. There is no need to accept it.

In an op-ed published on Sunday, Friedman also calls for rejecting Keystone, but with a different spin. He thinks Obama will end up approving the pipeline, so he wants activists to make such a stink about it that Obama feels compelled to take other big steps to forestall climate change in exchange.