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Gristmill: Fresh, whole-brain news.


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


Global temperatures are at a 4,000-year high

It's getting awfully warm
Shutterstock / Andrzej Kubik
It's getting awfully warm.

The news lately has been so full of broken weather records, it's easy to just glaze over. But today we have one worth paying attention to: Mean global temperatures are warmer now than they have been at any time during the past 4,000 years.

A new study in the journal Science paints the clearest picture yet of the climate since the last ice age ended.

The researchers combined the results of 73 scientific studies that together pinpointed historical weather conditions, using analyses of sediment samples and ice cores and other methods, back 11,300 years. The result was a new hockey-stick graph, reinforcing the data in the old hockey-stick graph, as we noted yesterday.

Read more: Climate & Energy


Cluefulness on climate change is on the rise, even among Republicans

Republicans who accept climate change needn't feel so alone any more
Republicans who accept climate change needn't feel so alone any more.

Awareness of global warming among Americans is shooting up faster than the mercury in a drought-ravaged cornfield.

According to two major surveys published this week, most people in the U.S. now know that climate change is the reason the weather is being so weird. Acceptance of climate science has almost climbed back to its 2008 levels, following a depressing propaganda-powered dip that hit a low point in 2010.

Read more: Climate & Energy


Pollution spurs more Chinese protests than any other issue

The Chinese are fed up with pollution
Shutterstock / Hung Chung Chih
The Chinese are fed up with pollution.

The people of China are pissed. On the long list of injustices they endure, from internet censorship to having their homelands flooded by reservoirs, nothing is inspiring more uprisings than the abuse of their environment.

Retired Communist Party official Chen Jiping said that there were as many as 50,000 riots and protests in the country last year, and that pollution has replaced land disputes as the main cause of unrest. From Bloomberg:

“The major reason for mass incidents is the environment, and everyone cares about it now,” Chen told reporters at a meeting of the Chinese People’s Political and Consultative Conference, where he’s a member. “If you want to build a plant, and if the plant may cause cancer, how can people remain calm?”


New bill would crack down on fish fraud

fish on ice
Sharon Mollerus
This is, like, swordfish or something.

Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) is trying, once again, to take the fishy business out of the fish business.

Seafood diners and shoppers often have no idea what type of fish they're actually buying. A stomach-turning investigation unveiled last month by nonprofit Oceana found that about a third of fish tested around the U.S. were mislabeled. A separate investigation by The Boston Globe found that 76 percent of samples from restaurants and markets in Massachusetts were mislabeled -- and that was after the Globe had caught those same sellers mislabeling previously.

So Markey has taken an old bill off ice after it went nowhere last year, tightened up some of its language, and reintroduced it.

Read more: Food, Politics


Schools across the U.S. will soon start teaching real climate science

America's kids are going to learn about climate change in science class
Is that a high concentration of greenhouse gases I see up there?

Schoolkids might soon know more about climate change than you do. Millions of young Americans will finally be taught, in a methodical manner, about the science behind the biggest threat to their generation: climate change.

Inside Climate News reports that new national science standards, which will make global warming lessons a part of the public school curriculum, are expected to be adopted by the 26 states that helped craft them. Another 15 states have indicated that they may also adopt the standards. Textbook publisher McGraw-Hill thinks that number could climb even higher.

Under the Next Generation Science Standards, which are scheduled to be ready for adoption this spring, students will learn how and why fossil fuel emissions are causing the world to overheat.

Read more: Climate & Energy, 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: