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Falling into the loopholes

After recently learning that USDA approved a final rule (at least until October 21, 2014) allowing organic apple and pear growers to use antibiotics when “natural methods are insufficient to address critical issues of production”, it made me wonder what other loopholes the USDA has created for the farmers to take advantage of.  I did an analysis of the main food categories: meat, fruits and vegetables, and dairy and here is what I learned:

Meat

naturalremedyreports.net

The amount of space or time outdoor and stocking density (crowding) are not regulated for any animals.  Some producers have a small outside space added on the buildings that house tens of thousands of chickens, but only a few birds can access it.  Access to outdoors, does not require that animals actually spend time outdoors which the free-range/free-roaming label implies.  Access may be insufficient relative to the number of animals needing access.  Outdoor access and stocking density (crowding) are not regulated. Chickens may be severely crowded and still labeled as “cage-free.”

Chickens raised for meat may be kept in continuous lighting, which does not allow rest and promotes excessive eating.  This creates a sick and stressed animal that then gets labeled “organic“.  Because the USDA does not permit the use of antibiotics sick animals may not receive needed treatment because they will lose this certification and will either be slaughtered for meat in their sick state or left to die.

Grass-fed is also a fun label full of loopholes.  Cows may be confined, yet grass-fed.  The label does not equate to grazing in a pasture.  The label may include in small print “grain-finished,” indicating that the cow spent some time confined in feedlots.

In products from birds or pigs, the label “no antibiotics” is misleading as hormones are already outlawed.

At last, with the certified humane label, there is no requirement that pigs or chickens have access to the outdoors.  Chickens may be debeaked and pigs may have their tails docked (cut off without painkillers) and still be labeled certified humane.

Fruits & Vegetables

Organic standards require that produce be grown from organic seeds, which means they are not genetically modified (GM), unless the organic seeds are not commercially available, then the conventional seeds are allowed (non-GM).

National regulations require that organic produce be grown for three years without synthetic pesticides.  Blackberries, blueberries, raspberries and strawberries go through at least one rotation as non-fruiting plants, but virtually all plants — whether they will go on to produce conventional berries or organic ones — are treated with fumigants and other synthetic pesticides, including methyl bromide, a soil sterilizer and pesticide known to be depleting the ozone layer.

In 2007, the USDA released a list of 38 non-organic ingredients that could be allowed into organic packaged/processed foods and still be labeled 100% Organic.  The list includes hops, which allows Anheuser-Busch to market its Wild Hop lager as “organic,” even though the hops are grown with pesticides.

mypapercrane.com

The loopholes for fruits and vegetables are rather serious and because many people cannot buy organic all the time, the chart above will help you decide on when it is important to choose organic based on the pesticide content.

Dairy

In 2010, the USDA closed a loophole in their organic regulations, so all organic dairy cattle must now spend much of the year grazing in open pastures, as opposed to feed lots or indoor feeding pens.  There will also be an increasing the number of unannounced inspections conducted by certifiers without any prior notice.  This is probably the biggest move towards transparency in the organic market.  With all my research on the loopholes of dairy, I feel like I can honestly say that organic dairy regulation is the most transparent and trustworthy out of all other food categories.

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Reading about these issues made me realize that most, if not all, big organic producers should be denied an organic label because most of them use loopholes.  Specifically, Horizon (Dean Food’s), Cascadian Farms (General Mills), Kashi and GoLean (Kellogg’s)…

The following chart graphically focuses on the organic brands with ties to the top 30 food processors in North America and I would avoid them like the plague:

On a good note, the next two charts show major independently owned and private organic brands, respectively, which are more or less reputable:

Disreputable meat producers take advantage of the loopholes that allow inhumane practices; disreputable organic fruit and vegetable growers take advantage of the loopholes which allow for the use of pesticides; and only organic milk has become what it was supposed to be from the beginning.  In my point of view, fruits and vegetables regulations are the most disturbing because of the frankness of the law which openly allows pesticide use and will still be labeled organic.  What can we, Consumers, do?  Many things!

  1. Buy from meat, fruits and vegetables from local farms where you can check the quality of organic produce or from private and independent farmers.
  2. Support pending state laws to label Genetically Engineered Foods or tell President Obama yourself.
  3. Sign up to Cornucopia Institute‘s and Organic Consumer’s Association website where you can keep track of new developments in the organic industry, support pending laws, and check the score cards on its organic for different produce.

 

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Hello wonderful people!

This is just a quick post about an amazing mushroom festival that will be happening in Baltimore, MD in October this year.  Specifically, it is an educational two-day festival exploring the Mushroom as an organism, focusing on it’s impact on our environment, culture, art, and technology.  The art part is what really makes me curious (well, now that I think about it everything about mushrooms makes me curious, but art is pretty up there!).  They will have sculptures, paintings, films, performances, and music inspired by mushrooms with hands-on workshops and educational discussions.

Ahh, these are the type of events that really make my day!  I hope to see you there; let me know if you will be going.  I’ll try to do a little photo recap of the wonderful things that happen at the festival, so stay tuned!

What:   Mushroom City Art Festival

When:  October 6th & 7th
12-7 Saturday, Party 8-12:30
1-5 Sunday

Where:  3510 Ash Street
Baltimore, MD 21211

Why:     Because humans are more genetically related to mushrooms than they are to plants. Ha!

Also, everyone has an opportunity to submit art and although the deadline is September 1, you can still whip something up.

Finally, how can I leave without showing you a few wonderful mushroom moments..?

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Angie Scarr

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Jim Ehle

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Linda

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Svetlana Serdyukova

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carlfbagge

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Helen

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Yury Popov

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about a necklace

I’m working on a big topic now for this blog, which is taking me longer than I thought.  I recently read somewhere that great ideas and insights usually come late at night when you release your concentration and let your mind sink into total ambivalence.  The logic to this is that when you let go and reevaluate, you start looking at a problem “outside the box”.  The step essential in this process is letting go.

Sometimes it’s difficult to let go.  As humans, we instinctively prefer familiar rather than strange because the latter suggests danger, whether it’d be emotional or physical; we like to predict the future.  And this instinct for familiarity is contradictory to personal evolution – how can a person grow without taking chances and being impulsive?  I once heard a story on RadioLab about a man who had a brain tumor removed, inadvertently causing him to lose his ability to make impulsive decisions.  This condition ultimately caused him to spend hours in a supermarket trying to decide which cereal to buy.  My point is that impulsion does wonders in small doses.  Just think about it, you primarily make rational decisions in your life by eating, going to work, crossing the road on a green light, watering your plants, servicing your car, etc, etc.  But sometimes we only lack the smallest raindrop of courage that can change our whole life.  Courage is evolution.

I had a big epiphany a few months ago, when my husband and I visited a bonsai tree farm.  The owner of the farm was a quiet man in his sixties who was an enlightened artist and a bonsai lover.  He inherited many of his trees from old friends and he exulted at the ages of his favorite specimens.  Our stop at his farm was totally impromptu and we were walking around it a few minutes before Jay came out of his house and greeted us with a warm and content smile.  He patiently began touring us around his garden, showing his prized possessions.  I really wanted to buy a tree as a souvenir of our impulsive and rewarding decision to turn around into the parking lot that plainly said “Bonsai Trees”.  As we were walking around the garden, we stopped by a miniature ivy and I knew she was the one.  Her stem curled into a 7 and she had the tiniest little leaves that followed the branches like paws.  And then Jay told me something that really made me reevaluate everything that I know; he told me that the secret of a bonsai is training.  So aside from manipulating the branches to form pleasant shapes, a grower must also train the leaves.  This is done by cutting those that grow too big and leaving the tiny ones.  That way after a few years of discipline, the bonsai tree will only grow small leaves.  He concluded by saying that although some house plants love the sun, many of them die when taken out of the house for the first time after winter.  This is because their leaves are very tender from the sunless room it lived in during the winter and they need time to adapt to direct sunlight; they should be taken out gradually with shade first, direct sunlight last.  I was in awe.  I never knew that plants adapted to their surroundings, just like people.  I realized also that a person can be trained to do anything, just like the plants.  There is a Russian tradition called “zakalyanie”, which means to gradually train the body, whether it is become insensitive to germs or to function in cold temperatures.  The latter is more exciting though – people train by running naked in the snow and swimming in ice-cold water.  This helps a person not be sensitive to cold winters and remain in good health throughout the year.  So People, get out there, train yourself to do something that you thought was impossible.  It is possible.  Everything is.

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I was going to write about one idea, but ended up with a whole necklace!  Speaking of necklaces, during my “letting it go” time, I finally completed a forgotten project of mine.  I made this wonderful crocheted necklace  from two very thin strands of cotton thread and, of course, a little bit of love.

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The wonderful and the glorious Keystone XL pipeline

The Keystone XL pipeline has been the topic in many conversations at my place of work, especially at our Greener Club, where people discuss their environmental anxieties and offer therapy-like support to one another to help cope with distress caused by coworkers that don’t recycle, office policy against double-sided printing, and constant use of Styrofoam cups at employee arrival and departure events.   Like most of the controversial issues here in US, there are proponents eagerly arguing for prosperity of corporations and independence from oil and there are opponents, who desperately defend the environment and the future of green energy.  So, what have you heard about the Keystone XL pipeline?  Maybe that it is one of the ways we can reduce our dependency on foreign oil, maybe that it will provide jobs and boost our economy, maybe that it is not environmentally harmful as some say…  But before an individual can decide whether (s)he supports the Keystone XL pipeline, it is important to look at both sides of the equation.  For those of you who are not familiar with the history of this expansion project, here is a little sketch of how it all began.

TransCanada Keystone Pipeline filed an application in 2008 to build and operate the Keystone XL Project (expanding the previously approved Keystone pipeline) which would consist of a 1,700-mile crude oil pipeline and related facilities to transport crude oil from the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin in Alberta, Canada to Oklahoma and Texas.  It was estimated to cost $7 billion and could potentially transport up to 830,000 barrels per day till at least 2030.[1]  To fully fathom how much oil this is, here is a little break down.  A barrel of crude oil converts to about 41.8 US gallons.  Refineries in the USA are yielding about 49% gasoline from a barrel (about 20.5 gallons) from the mix of crudes they process (2004 data).  An average non-hybrid sedan gets around 35.7 miles per gallon (mpg) city and highway combined.[2]  Therefore, on average, a car would be able to drive 606,902,142 miles per day or 505,752 sedans driving all day at 50 miles per hour![3]  This should convince us to have our pen ready to sign, right?  Let’s look further…

Proponents of the Keystone XL pipeline argue that it will create 20,000 jobs in the US, strengthen US energy independence from sources in unstable and unfriendly regions of the world, and will not have a drastic effect on the environment.[4]  Yet, just thinking logically, after the pipeline is finally built those workers will no longer be needed, so those 20,000 jobs are temporary (the state department now estimates that the pipeline will only create 5,000 to 6,000 jobs in actual construction).[5]  Also, when TransCanada’s president was asked whether he would support a legislation that required this Canadian oil and products refined from it to only be sold in United States, he responded by a blunt “No”.[6]  To me this shows a definite plan for the company to sell the oil where profitable, not only in US; and although this is a totally plausible strategy for a corporation, it invalidates the argument that US energy independence will strengthen since there is no guarantee that we will be the buyers of that oil.  Now, to the effects on the environment.

The Keystone XL pipeline project proposes to transport extracted tar sands oil from Canada all the way down to Texas.  Tar sands extraction in Canada destroys Boreal forests and wetlands, causes high levels of greenhouse gas pollution, and leaves behind immense lakes of toxic waste.[7]   Although the Keystone XL pipeline is not proposing to extract, only to transport, it is by definition supporting this type of dirty energy and it does have the potential to pollute its route to Texas.  This is the reason the original route in Nebraska was rerouted – it crossed Nebraskan Sandhills, a large ecosystem, and one of the largest water reserves in the world.  If there is a small leak of any kind in a pipeline, it can affect the ecosystem around its route.  And the leaks can happen from outside forces like excavators and earthquakes, which are common in that area; they can happen from faulty valves; and even human errors and corrosion.  And because the pipeline carries diluted bitumen, there is a risk of a highly corrosive, acidic, and potentially unstable blend of thick raw bitumen and volatile natural gas liquid condensate spilling in communities and ecosystems.[8]  Only in May 2011, 21,000 gallons of oil leaked in North Dakota…[9]  Some researchers even argue that this pipeline will increase costs of fuel!  Let us now go into every opposing argument to understand whether any of them hold water.

Extracting oil from tar sands is a long and gruesome process.  Just to make things a little clearer, I found this great visual diagram:

Canada’s oil sands are developed using open-pit mines and processing plants that spew carbon, which lay waste to millions of acres of the Boreal forest.[10]  If Keystone XL pipeline is approved, tar sand oil extraction by open-pit mining will expand because this will be their route to export the oil from Alberta, Canada, and their incentive to extract more.  Pipeline construction itself is also vicious – cutting through indigenous communities of Canada, trenching the Bakken Shale in parts of Montana and western North Dakota, ripping through private lands in Texas.[11]  And the company is proposing to use thinner steel and pump at higher pressures than normal, which means there is even more risks of leaks![12]

Now you’re probably asking, how is it possible that this pipeline will raise the cost of fuel?  The line would create a new way to carry Canadian imports outside the Midwest and reduce an oil surplus that’s depressing prices in the central US  Canadian producers will also be able to charge more for their oil after Keystone XL is built.  So completing the entire pipeline would raise prices at the pump in the Midwest and Rocky Mountains 10 to 20 cents a gallon.[13]

Now as I step away from this heart wrenching topic, I realize something…  Wouldn’t it be better to invest in greener infrastructure and greener transportation locally and nationally?  Wouldn’t it make more sense for people to invest more in green energy?  Rather than building a pipeline, build wind farms or solar farms on those routes instead, invest in green research…  This is where our money is needed most and this is what will make US become the leader in innovation and an example for developing nations.  And if the Keystone XL pipeline is built, we will be paying for it one way or another, either in taxes or higher prices, so why not invest in something that will keep paying off into our country’s future and not until we destroy the Canadian forests and suck out all the oil possible.  Our job as US citizens is to speak out against detrimental and irreversible damage that this dirty fuel represents and speak for what makes sense.

Here is where you can speak your voice against tar sands oil extraction and the Keystone XL pipeline:

http://www.nrdc.org/energy/keystone-pipeline/tar-sands-stories/

http://www.credoaction.com/campaign/keystone_obama/index2.html

You can also call the White House and urge Pres. Obama to reject the pipeline. It’s best to call during regular business hours (M – F, 9 am – 5 pm EST). Click below for a number and a script to call:

http://act.credoaction.com/call/report/?cp_id=136&tg=743

And if you are in Washington, D.C. for a few days between August 20th – September 3rd, consider joining the historic sit-in outside the White House, and risking arrest in peaceful protest, to make sure we have President Obama’s attention. Learn more and sign up to become a part of the sit-in here:

http://www.tarsandsaction.org/credo/


[3] 830,000bbl * 41.8gal * 49% * 35.7mpg = 606,902,142mi