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KNOWING WHAT YOU EAT

Posted in News Brief on October 6th, 2010

With summer barbecue season in most parts of this country drawing to a close, this seems as good as time as any to take a few minutes and talk a little about what the labels found on commercially available meat products actually mean. For example, what exactly is organic? How does it differ from natural? Can meat really be organic or natural? And does free range really have any legal meaning, or is it just a clever term invented by marketers to separate those of us who actually care what we put in our bodies from more of our hard-earned money than we would normally be willing to spend?

As you will see from the information featured below, only three of the eight most common classifications of meat actually require USDA oversight. The rest, I guess you could say, really don’t mean all that much. So it’s anyone’s guess if the products sold under these labels are actually what they purport to be.

Now that you feel sufficiently violated, we can begin.

The first on our list, NATURAL is a particular favorite of mine as it means that the USDA has verified that the meat contains no artificial ingredients or added color and is only minimally processed. Of course, the possibility exists that after years of deregulation fever in Washington DC, there are just not enough USDA inspectors to go around and insure that this is actually taking place. So, as in all things, be forewarned and act accordingly, which in this case means purchasing all meat products, regardless of classification, from a reputable source, and by this I do not mean the friendly, local, mass-market supermarket, but rather the Whole Foods, Sprouts or other natural food markets that have sprung up in virtually every part of the country.

From here, we move onto CERTIFIED ORGANIC. In this instance, the label means that the USDA has verified that the animal was fed only pesticide and chemical fertilizer-free food, and NEVER, repeat never in its lifetime given hormones or antibiotics.

In addition, the USDA requires that meat labeled Certified Organic be processed, a benign way of saying slaughtered and butchered, in a Certified Organic facility, which should virtually insure that meat from downer cows has not made its way into the “processing” line. Note, however, the operative word in this sentence is should.

From here the line gets a little hazy with products labeled FREE RANGE. By definition, this means that the animals, during their lifetime, must have had access to the outdoors for at least part of the day. However, there is no legally binding requirement that this actually occurs, which, as I see it, can and probably does make the Free Range label highly suspect as anything more than a shameless attempt to mislead consumers into paying too damn much for pen raised meat.

Well, with HORMONE FREE, things are starting to look up again, as this is the official USDA label for beef grown without synthetic hormones, those nasty, nasty substances commonly used by the beef industry, and many professional athletes, to promote growth and fleshiness and to score proportionately more cash for each animal slaughtered.

Now here’s where things get a little bit dicey: Federal law prohibits treating pork and poultry with hormones, so any attempts by meat processors and distributors to charge more for chicken or pork labeled as being HORMONE FREE is an out and out rip off, and you should report the bastards.

In the case of NO ANTIBIOTICS ADDED, this means, or at least it’s supposed to mean, that the USDA has verified that the meat has not been treated with antibiotics, a common industry practice to prevent illness and promote rapid growth when animals are raised in crowded conditions. Once again, we can only hope that the overworked and understaffed USDA actually had a chance to get around to this verification. The alternative is downright scary.

Moving on, we find ourselves getting back into the gray area again with GRASS FED, the classification which means that the animals, during their lifetime, were fed grass and forage plants, such as hay, exclusively, and not given grain or grain byproducts.

In addition, to use the “Grass Fed” label, the animals must have had access to pasture during “the growing season”. Here too, without any real legal definition and regulatory oversight, we can only hope that this is what is taking place.

I always get a perverse kick out of the next one, GRASS FINISHED. Now what the he’ll does this mean? Some meat processors interpret it as meaning that the cattle are fed exclusively on grass, while others define it as the cattle having been raised on corn and then fed grass for the last couple of weeks prior to slaughter. Since no one really knows what to make of this one, I wouldn’t put a he’ll of a lot of trust in it, whatever it means.

Last but not least, there is always PASTURE RAISED, another legally meaningless term, which is typically interpreted by the meat industry to mean that the animal has spent most of its life feeding in an open pasture and not in a feedlot. But here too, we have to take someone else’s word for it, and they have nothing to loose by taking liberties with the truth.

In closing, more is wrong with our system of raising animals for slaughter than whether or not we feed them grain, keep them in tight spaces and pump them up with massive doses of antibiotics, a process that many scientists now believe alters the balance of fats in the meat so much so that it is contributing to the rise of health problems, including heart disease. These are the measures that meat producers are taking, after slaughter, to try and stem the rise in e-coli and salmonella poisoning, measures including irradiation, chlorination, tenderization, treating meat with ammonia and blasting meat with carbon monoxide. The fear, according to some scientists, is that these stopgap measures might be making the meat even more dangerous than it already is.

All good arguments, as I see it, to consider becoming a vegetarian.

Denis Donovan

Source of the data on the meat classifications: USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service

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OBAMA’S STIMULUS PACKAGE REWARDS LONG SUFFERING GREENS

Posted in Alternative Energy, Alternative Fuel Vehicles, Clean Energy, Eco -Chic, Global Warming, News Brief, Renewable Energy, Sustainable Energy, Sustainable Living, Will Wonders Never Cease Department on February 16th, 2009

PACKAGE CONTAINS OVER 60 BILLION IN DIRECT SPENDING ON GREEN INITIATIVES AND ANOTHER 20 BILLION EARMARKED FOR GREEN TAX INCENTIVES

The final stimulus package which President Obama is expected to sign into law today, President’s Day, contains many victories for environmentalists with over $6o billion in direct spending on green initiatives and another $20 billion earmarked for green tax incentives.

While this package is by no means a cure-all, it is a vital he first step into a new green age and is necessary to combat the ever-worsening effects of Global Warming.

That being said, here in no particular order is the breakdown:

$11 billion for the construction of an advanced Digital Smart Grid and $7.5 billion for renewable energy and transmission-line construction, which will enable the renewable energy to be moved from the rural areas that best lend themselves to wind, solar and thermal installations, to the cities where the power is needed;

$2.5 billion for energy efficiency and renewable-energy research;

$6.3 billion for local government energy-efficiency grants;

$400 million for the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Project Agency for Energy for the development of alternative energy sources;

$500 million for green jobs programs through the Workforce Investment Act;

$5 billion to weatherize old buildings;

$4.5 billion to boost the energy efficiency of federal buildings;

$2.25 billion for the HOME Investment Partners Program to fund energy-efficiency retrofits for low-income housing;

$5 billion for the Weatherization Assistance Program to fund the retrofits of 1 million modest-income homes, saving the families living there an average $350 a year;

$6.3 billion to improve federally backed and public housing projects with new insulation, windows and furnaces. For every dollar spent, such programs are expected to produce about $3 in electricity savings. The legislation also provides tax breaks for higher-income households making similar improvements;

$1.2 billion to fund the Environmental Protection Agency’s environmental cleanup programs, including the long neglected Superfund;

$510 million for energy-efficiency retrofits for Native American housing programs;

$420 million for energy-efficiency improvements at the Department of Defense;

$300 million for Department of Defense research on energy efficiency at military installations;

$6 billion for cleaning up toxins on former military sites;

$6 billion for new loan guarantees for wind and solar;

The package also extends tax credits for wind-energy production for three years where previously they had to be renewed year to year. But more importantly, the legislation allows renewable-energy developers to get cash grants in exchange for the tax credits, which is crucial in light of the current economic downturn and the fact that many companies engaged in renewable-energy haven’t had the profits against which to take a tax credit;

Over $17 billion for public transportation;

$8.4 billion for transit capital assistance programs;

$9.3 billion for high-speed rail, intercity rail and Amtrak;

$27.5 billion for highways though some of that highway money could be redirected to fund public transit, if states and municipalities decide it should;

$300 million in grants and loans for technologies that reduce highly toxic diesel emissions;

$6 billion for improvements to drinking-water systems;

A tax credit of up to $7,500 for families that buy plug-in hybrids;

The new bill also allocates $300 million for a federal fleet of hybrid vehicles.

But perhaps the best of all is what was left out of the final draft of the stimulus package: the $50 billion in federal loan guarantees to the nuclear industry, as well as all money for coal and for the farce that is clean coal.

Denis

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WIND ADVOCATE, T. BOONE PICKENS DELAYS BUILDING WORLD’S LARGEST WIND FARM

Posted in Alternative Energy, Clean Energy, News Brief, Sustainable Energy on November 12th, 2008

CITES LOWER COST FUEL ALTERNATIVES AS HIS REASON

The poster child of wind energy, Texas billionaire, T. Boone Pickens, has announced that he is delaying plans to build the world’s largest wind farm. Pickens, famous for his self financed multi-million dollar media campaign extolling the virtues of wind energy as a key part of a national strategy to break our nation’s dependence on foreign oil, cites the fall in natural gas prices as the reason for his decision. At current prices it is cheaper to generate electricity from natural gas than it is from wind power.

Apparently the carbon that this method of energy generation would produce is of little concern to Mr. Pickens. But then, correct me if I am wrong, but wasn’t he an oil man until reinventing himself as the guru of the wind turbine?

Pickens is expected to begin taking delivery on $2 billion in wind turbines, starting in 2010.

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EATING RIGHT: AMERICA’S TEN HEALTHIEST SUPERMARKET CHAINS

Posted in Health Watch, Healthy Food, News Brief, Sustainable Food on November 9th, 2008

HEALTH,COM RATES THE GROCERY STORES YOU SHOULD ADD TO YOUR SHOPPING LIST

1. Whole Foods (279 stores in 38 states and Washington, D.C.
2. Safeway (1,700-plus stores nationwide)
3. Harris Teeter (176 stores in the Southeast)
4. Trader Joe’s (300-plus stores in 23 states and Washington, D.C.)
5. Hannaford (165-plus stores in the Northeast)
6. Albertsons (529 stores in the West, owned by SuperValu)
7. Food Lion (1,300 stores in the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic)
8. Publix Super Markets (952 stores in the Southeast)
9. Pathmark (141 stores in the Mid-Atlantic)
10. SuperTarget (239 stores in 21 states, primarily Texas and Florida)

Learn why these stores are considered America’s healthiest supermarkets

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IT’S CHRISTMAS IN NOVEMBER FOR BUSH LOYALISTS

Posted in Administrative Arrogance, Eco Thugs, Global Warming, News Brief on November 5th, 2008

ON THE WAY OUT THE DOOR, THE BUSH ADMINISTRTION LAUNCHES ANOTHER BROADSIDE AGAINST THE ENVIRONMENT

Not content to shuffle gently into retirement, the Bush administration has announced that it is putting the finishing touches on a series of environmental policy changes intended to reward Corporate America for their loyalty by relaxing numerous critical environmental restrictions that Bush loyalists have identified as standing in the way of their plundering what remains of our precious natural resources.

The so-called “midnight regulations,” named for the way that they are enacted by an administration as it scurries out the door include: rolling back protections under the Endangered Species Act; allowing power plants to operate near national parks; loosening regulations for factory farm waste, and making it easier for mountaintop coal-mining operations to destroy mountains and pollute nearby lakes and streams.

What sucks about the new restrictions is that if the Bush administration passes them in a timely fashion – - and there is no indication that they will do otherwise – - it will be hard for President Obama to do anything about them without a major investment of time and political capitol.

Now you would think in light of the way things turned out on Election Day that George Bush would be too concerned about his own potential for criminal prosecution on a wide range of issues to fuck with the American people any further.

But this is not the case. Perhaps this is a suicidal wish? Or maybe the son of a bitch has such total disregard for the American people that he just doesn’t give a damn and by these actions is challenging the American people to go after his ass?

Either way the bad news is that we have not yet seen the end of George Bush.

Now if only I could blink my eyes and it be the afternoon of January 20th, 2009.

- Denis

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NATURAL RESOURCES DEFICIT THE BASIS OF NEW REPORT

Posted in Health Watch, News Brief, Sustainable Living on October 29th, 2008

FULLY THREE QUARTERS OF THE WORLD’S POPULATION LIVES IN COUNTRIES WHERE THE RESIDENTS CONSUME MORE NATURAL RESOURCES THAN THEIR NATION HAS THE CAPACITY TO PRODUCE.

From the too scary to contemplate file comes a new report from the World Wildlife Foundation, the Zoological Society of London and the Global Footprint Network, warning that fully three quarters of the world’s population lives in countries where the residents consume more natural resources than their nation has the capacity to produce.

To put it another way, what this means is that three quarters of us are only able to sustain our standard of living by drawing on the agricultural land, forests, seas and resources of other countries.

What’s more, the report tells us, the deficit has grown to such an extent that we now need 1/3 more natural resource capacity then the entire planet is capable of producing. Extrapolate these numbers twenty years in the future and it really gets frightening as by then the experts predict we will need a second planet of the size and capacity of earth just to sustain life.

The report concludes that this reckless consumption of “natural capital” is endangering the world’s future prosperity, with clear economic impacts including high costs for food, water and energy.

Just what we need, more good news.

- – Denis

This report is based on data from two indicators:

The Living Planet Index – assesses the health of the planet’s ecosystems;

Ecological Footprint – measures human demand on the natural world.

The Living Planet Index tracked the population of 1,313 vertebrate species of fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals from around the world.

It found that these species had declined by about 30% since 1970, suggesting that natural ecosystems were being degraded at an unprecedented rate.

The Ecological Footprint measured the amount of biologically productive land and water to meet the demand for food, timber, shelter, and absorb the pollution from human activity.

The report concluded that the global footprint exceeded the earth’s biocapacity by 25% in 2003, which meant that the Earth could no longer keep up with the demands being placed upon it.

Read More

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EU TO FORCE AIRLINES TO BUY EMISSIONS PERMITS

Posted in Conscious Actions, Global Warming, News Brief on October 27th, 2008

AIRLINES CRY POVERTY IN THE HOPE OF STALLING THE RULING

In one of the brighter recent strokes by a governing body, the European Union, on Friday, put in place legislation to force airlines flying into or out of member countries to join the emissions trading system. The measure, which is intended to cap the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, drew considerable criticism from airline industry executives for the timing of its passing, given the current global economic crisis. Estimates are that it will cost the airlines, which serve the European market, at least $4.4 billion per year to comply. The ruling is set to go into effect on Jan. 1, 2012.

Many airlines have fought hard to avoid inclusion in the system, including American-based carriers who are maintaining that the ruling may violate international aviation agreements.

Clearly this is one that will end up in the courts.

Read on after the jump.

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THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION, ONCE AGAIN, SAY’S NO TO SARAH PALIN

Posted in Endangered Species, Humane Treatment of Animals, News Brief on October 18th, 2008

GRANTS BELUGA WHALE ENDANGERED SPECIES PROTECTION OVER THE GOVERNOR’S OBJECTIONS

In what is a clear win for environmentalists, the Bush administration on Friday, over the objections of Alaska Governor, Sarah Palin, granted endangered species protection to the beluga whales that live in Alaska’s, Cook Inlet. This is the second time this year that the Bush administration has acted in opposition to the wishes off Governor Palin’s administration, the other time being when it granted similar protections to the Alaskan polar bear.

Governor Palin, a well-known foe of the environment, had opposed the beluga listing mainly because of its potential to restrict coastal and offshore oil and gas development.

MORE AFTER THE JUMP

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CALCULATING YOUR CARBON FOOTPRINT: PART ONE

Posted in Ethical Living, Global Warming, News Brief on October 16th, 2008

ALL PRODUCTS HAVE A CARBON FOOTPRINT. SEE HOW SOME OF LIFE’S BASICS MEASURE UP

First came organic. Then came fair trade. Now makers of everything from milk to jackets to cars are starting to tally up the carbon footprints of their products. That’s the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that get coughed into the air when the goods are made, shipped and stored, and then used by consumers.

So far, these efforts raise as many questions as they answer. Different companies are counting their products’ carbon footprints differently, making it all but impossible for shoppers to compare goods. And even if consumers come to understand the numbers, they might not like what they find out.

For instance, many products’ global-warming impact depends less on how they’re made than on how they’re used. That means the easiest way to cut carbon emissions may be to buy less of a product or use it in a way that’s less convenient.

MORE AFTER THE JUMP

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CALIFORNIAN’S STAND UP AGAINST ANIMAL CRUELTY

Posted in Conscious Actions, Corporate Greed, Humane Treatment of Animals, News Brief on October 11th, 2008

NEW BALLOT INITIATIVE WILL PROHIBIT SOME OF THE MORE INHUMANE PRACTICES OF FACTORY FARMS

Chickens in cruel battery cagesThis Election Day, November 4th, Californians will have the opportunity to vote to bring an end to some of the more inhumane and cruel practices of factory farms.

The ballot initiative, known as Proposition 2, if passed, will force California ranchers to ensure that their chickens, veal calves and breeding pigs are housed in such a way that they have ample room to stand up, turn around or stretch. This is a far cry from the current method of penning the animals so tightly together that movement is all but impossible.

While the measure is a far cry from the ideal of allowing the animals to live cage free, as about 10% of California’s egg producing chickens do, according to today’s Associated Press, it is the farthest-reaching measure dealing with farm animal treatment ever put before voters in any state.

Needless to say major egg producers are opposing the initiative and insist the current method of mass production where California’s 19 million egg-laying chickens are crammed six at a time into 2 square foot wire cages for their entire life is the most efficient way to deliver inexpensive eggs.

To prevent Proposition 2 from passing, opponents have raised nearly $7.5 million, including donations of $100,000 or more from at least 15 poultry producers. Along with the large cash donations are the threats that egg producers will move out of state or across the boarder into Mexico if voters approve Proposition 2.

The good news is that supporters of Proposition 2 have raised nearly the same amount of money with a $3.8 million contribution from the Humane Society enhancing individual donations.

Proposition 2’s restrictions would take effect in 2015. Violations carry the ridiculously low fine of $1,000, but I guess that this is a start.

- – Denis

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