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GMO

How to Feed the World Without Destroying the Planet

By Cyrus Sutton

Island Earth is the story of a young indigenous scientist's journey through both sides of the GMO battle in Hawaii. Groomed to work for Monsanto, Cliff Kapono had a lot to consider over the past few years. His ancestral ways of farming fed a similar population than what inhabits the island today with some of the most advanced biodynamic farming ever documented. Yet one of his most lucrative job options would be for a company promising to "feed the world."

Island Earth follows Kapono's journey of discovery along with a handful of Hawaiians struggling to take back their communities in the face of the current GMO occupation.

I decided to dive into this project after I learned from a few activists that more GMO crops are tested per acre in Hawaii than any other state in the U.S. I was shocked to learn that this island paradise was home to such activities. Their testing involves multiple combinations of restricted-use pesticides that both our government and the scientific community agree are toxic to the environment and our health. The testing is occurring outdoors right next to low-income communities.

What's happening in Hawaii effects the rest of the country and visa versa. These tiny Islands are a microcosm for the problems we all face but also the solutions we could embody. The vast majority of the world's seeds are owned by the same powerful chemical companies who are testing their crops in Hawaii. They are using genetic modification to alter plants so they can withstand higher doses of the pesticides they manufacture. As such, the Hawaiian people are rising up and pushing back, drafting bills and engaging with their local legislature, as well as returning to their traditional methods of farming in an effort to become self-reliant again.

The question, "How are we going to feed the world?" gets raised a lot and has been the chief marketing slogan for the these GMO companies. According to the former editor of National Geographic and author of End of Plenty, Joel Bourne Jr. states that "we are going to need to grow as much food in the next 35 years as we've grown since the beginning of human civilization."

This number sounds daunting, however this figure was determined based on our current agricultural system which measures raw yields and fails to take into account the amount of food waste and lack of distribution to the people who need it most. If calories were grown again near the areas they were consumed it would be a much different picture.

Hawaii is an island chain that used to be completely self-reliant. Today they import 80-90 percent of the food they eat. Much of it being the products of the seeds tested on their lands. The problems they face are global, and increasingly we all owe our survival to corporations who provide us food, water, shelter and power. Yet every day we learn that often these companies do not have our best interests in mind.

The little mainstream media coverage we've seen about the anti-GMO protests in Hawaii paints this issue as one of eccentric hippies getting angry about food that isn't up to their ideals, when in reality this is a grassroots movement of people from all walks of life coming together to protect the land and water that they hold sacred.

In talks with scientists, doctors, mothers, elders and activists I've come to believe many of the problems we impose upon ourselves are solvable if we can balance our current globalized approach to survival by re-establishing local community-based systems that create and distribute resources. Only with consistent effort to push back politically and to create decentralizing solutions will we make measurable change and hopefully render many of the current problems obsolete. But it's going to take patience and creativity. It's much easier to take what is handed to us and complain about it than it is to create the solutions.

Three years and multiple trips later, I've finished editing with my team and we are touring the film across the world. I just got back from a tour across Hawaii and Australia and am now heading off on a West Coast tour of the U.S. from San Diego to Canada. For a complete list of upcoming screenings, click here. Individuals can host their own screening of Island Earth at their local theatre, school or environmental organization.

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New Technology Uses Food Waste to Make Tires

By Marlene Cimons

Some day you may discover tomato peels and eggshells where the rubber meets the road.

The environment—not to mention your tires—will be better for it.

Researchers at Ohio State University have discovered that food waste, specifically tomato peels and eggshells, makes excellent filler for rubber tires, with tests showing they exceed industrial standards for performance. Filler is combined with rubber to make the rubber composite used in tires. Food waste could partially replace carbon black, the petroleum-based filler long used in tire manufacturing, which has become increasingly hard to come by.

This approach to manufacturing more environmentally-friendly materials complements ongoing efforts to develop sources of clean fuel. Using tomato peels and egg shells as tire filler could help reduce the nation's dependence on foreign oil, keep food waste out of landfills and make the production of rubber items—especially tires—more sustainable, according to Katrina Cornish, who holds an endowed chair in biomaterials at Ohio State University.

"If we hit a real shortfall in carbon black, we'll have to use something else," Cornish said. "You could use some nice eggshells. Many companies would like to have a green position and this is a good way to do that."

Pixabay

Food accounts for around one-fifth of the waste sent to landfills, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Finding ways to keep food waste out of landfills not only saves space, but also helps in the fight against climate change. Bacteria turn food and yard trimmings found in landfills into methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

When properly processed, food waste can be used to generate energy, enrich the soil as a fertilizer or serve as a food source for animals. Now, it also could prove valuable in tire manufacturing.

Cornish has long been interested in developing new sources of rubber, as well as ways to enhance rubber products. So, when she came to Ohio State in 2010, she looked to food waste as a potential tire filler.

"I wrote to every food processor in the state and said: 'if you've got waste, we'd like to look at it,'" she said. "We received 35 different types of waste: batter drippings, sauerkraut juice, milk dust powder, among them—and eggshells and tomato peels. I'd always wanted to look at tomato peels because I spent a lot of time in California and would see all those produce trucks loaded with tomatoes and knew they had to have thick, tough skins so the ones on top didn't squash the ones on the bottom."

Initially, Cornish had doubts as to how well eggshells would work. Eggshells are composed largely of calcium carbonate, which is used as an extender, rather than a reinforcer. The latter is more useful as tire filler. But Cornish discovered to her delight that her doubts were misplaced. Eggshells have a porous architecture that provides a larger surface area for contact with the rubber and proved to be reinforcing.

"We were very excited," she said. "It added considerably more value than expected." They also found that tomato peels are very stable at high temperatures and can generate material that performs well.

"Fillers generally make rubber stronger, but they also make it less flexible," said Cindy Barrera, a postdoctoral researcher in Cornish's lab. "We found that replacing carbon black with ground eggshells and tomato peels caused synergistic effects, for instance, enabling strong rubber to retain flexibility."

It also turned the rubber reddish brown—depending on the amount of eggshell or tomato in it—rather than the black appearance that results from using carbon black. About 30 percent of a typical automobile tire is made of carbon black, the cost of which varies with petroleum prices. American companies most often purchase carbon black from foreign sources, according to Cornish.

"The tire industry is growing very quickly and we don't just need more natural rubber. We need more filler too," Cornish said. "The number of tires being produced worldwide is going up all the time, so countries are using all the carbon black they can make. There's no longer a surplus…"

Particles of tomato peels and eggshells used by to make rubber composite. Katrina Cornish

Cornish and her colleagues' research on potential tire fillers has appeared in the Journal of Polymers and the Environment and elsewhere.

The U.S. produces around 80 billion eggs annually, according to the United Egg Producers. Cornish said that commercial food factories crack open half of them, then pay to send the remains to a landfill, where the mineral-loaded shells do not break down. "Nothing much happens to them in a landfill, since there are no calcium-eating animals," she said. "They are mostly rock."

The U.S. grows around 15 million tons of the ever-popular tomato, according to the Department of Agriculture. Most of that is canned or in processed products. When food companies make tomato sauce, for example, they peel and discard the skin, which is difficult to digest, she said.

Cornish is concerned about deforestation that results from planting new rubber trees and she has been researching rubber alternatives, including the rubber dandelion. While they are unmistakably dandelions, they are not the same as what many homeowners regard as annoying lawn and garden intruders.

Cornish explained that their leaves are thicker and bluer and the flowers are smaller. Most importantly, its taproot yields a milky fluid with natural rubber particles in it.

The rubber dandelion can be used to make tires. Biobased World

"The rubber dandelion comes from northwest China, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, but it can grow in snowy areas of Ohio," she said. "But it is not very sturdy, so we are trying to make it stronger and higher yielding." If successful, "it could grow as an annual crop and it could create many processing jobs," she added.

Meanwhile, Ohio State has licensed Cornish's technology for turning food waste into tire filler to her company, EnergyEne, for further development. Cornish stresses, however, that no one will start collecting "the eggshells from your breakfast," she said. "Kitchen waste is not going to go this way. So keep on with your compost piles. In fact, maybe you can use them to grow rubber dandelions."

Reposted with permission from our media associate Nexus Media.

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Are Food Expiration Date Labels Making You a Wasteful Person?

By Dana Frasz

Words such as convoluted, confusing, inconsistent, ineffective, disorienting, ambiguous and dizzying are not terms you want to hear associated with a system you believe is designed to guarantee food safety. Yet those are the adjectives that a recent report uses to describe the current date labeling regime in the U.S. Published by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic, the report, titled The Dating Game: How Confusing Food Date Labels Lead to Food Waste in America, shows that a bewildering system of date labeling is a major driver of unnecessary food waste.

Photo credit:
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Date labeling was instituted in the 1970s as a way to give shoppers assurance they were buying fresh food. But labeling hasn’t even achieved that modest goal, according to the report. “Ironically, despite the original intention of increasing consumer knowledge about their food, date labeling has become a largely incoherent signaling device for consumers,” the report says. That incoherence is costly for shoppers and retailers, bad for the planet and could even be leading to increased health risk.

Each year, an obscene amount of food is wasted in the U.S. and around the world—and confusing and inconsistent food date labels are making the matter worse. According to another NRDC report published last year, 40 percent of all the food produced in the U.S. never gets eaten. That translates to wasted natural resources, wasted money and wasted nutrition.

Here’s a quick overview:

  • Each time food is wasted, all the resources that went into producing, processing, packaging and transporting that food is wasted, too. This means huge amounts of chemicals, energy, fertilizer, land and 25 percent of all freshwater in the U.S. used to produce food are all thrown away.
  • Americans are throwing out the equivalent of $165 billion each year in food, which costs $750 million annually just for disposal.
  • Most uneaten food rots in landfills, where it accounts for almost 25 percent of U.S. methane emissions. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas that is at least 56 times more harmful to the climate than CO2 and is a significant contributor to global warming.
  • Reducing food losses by just 15 percent would be enough food to feed more than 25 million Americans at a time when one in six Americans lack a secure supply of food.

Look at all of the food wasted globally and you’ll see that mismanagement of resources is a major contributor to climate change. According to a recent FAO report, the global carbon footprint of food produced but not eaten is the equivalent of 3.3 gigatons of CO2 annually—which would make food waste the third-largest contributor to climate change, behind the U.S. and China.

Food waste happens for many complex reasons, people’s misinterpretation of date labels on foods being just one of them. But it might be one of the easiest food waste causes to fix. Dana Gunders, agriculture specialist at NRDC and one of the authors of The Dating Game, says, “Every entity around the world that has investigated food waste—the United Kingdom, the European Union, the United Nations and NRDC in last year’s report—have all highlighted reducing confusion around expiration dates as one of the key ‘low hanging fruit’ opportunities for reducing food waste. So we set off to seize that opportunity starting with this report.”

While many people place a lot of confidence in food date labels, its an ad-hoc system with no oversight and little consistency. The labels are not federally regulated and can vary from state to state. Despite what most people think, the labels don’t communicate whether a product has spoiled. “use by” and “best before” are just suggestions determined by the manufacturer to indicate when food is at its peak quality. “Sell by” is the manufacturer’s suggestion for when the grocery store should no longer sell the product. There is no uniform criteria for any of those terms.

Dr. Ted Labuza has been working on shelf life testing since the 1970s. He says 65 percent of consumers sort through items at the store to locate the “freshest” product based on the date stamp. “That is no guarantee of safety or quality,” he warns. “The newer product could have been sitting on a loading dock for 10 hours.”

According to a survey by the Food Marketing Institute, confusion about date labels leads nine out of 10 Americans to needlessly throw away food. This habit isn’t cheap: Americans annually spend between $1,365 and $2,275 per household of four on food they never eat. A study in the United Kingdom estimated that 20 percent of food wasted in British households is due to misinterpretation of date labels. The new NRDC report also warns that date labels may fuel a false sense of security when it comes to food safety. Date labels “may be encouraging consumers to ignore the more relevant risk factors affecting food safety, including the importance of time and temperature control along the distribution chain.”

The confusion also costs retailers money. A 2001 study estimated that each year, $900 million worth of inventory was removed from the supply chain due to date code expiration and identified the lack of standardization around date coding as one of the factors driving that loss. A survey of grocery store workers found that even some employees themselves do not distinguish between different kinds of dates.

The problem has trickled down to efforts to recover and redistribute food. Anti-hunger organizations around the country often make use of expired or soon-to-expire items. Yet confusion around date labels leads to food unnecessarily being tossed out instead of distributed to people in need. According to the NRDC report, experts in food recovery and food waste say there is widespread confusion among anti-hunger program administrators over the meaning of various date labels. Food safety officers working with anti-hunger organizations “must consequently spend considerable time and effort educating workers about the date labeling system and those workers must in turn educate clients and end-users when they express concerns or uncertainty about the products they are receiving.”

Each of U.S. has a role to play in reducing food waste and its horrible impacts. This involves learning how to reduce your waste, understanding date labeling and sharing this knowledge with family, colleagues and friends. According to Labuza, storage temperature is the main factor determining food safety, rather than the amount of time that has passed since the product’s creation. Labuza recommends keeping refrigerators at 40 degrees or less (he keeps his at 34) and the NRDC has put together a guide to help you understand how to more effectively use your refrigerator.

The Dating Game has a few recommendations for industry and government:

  1. Make sell-by dates invisible to consumers. These dates are meant to be for business-to-business communication and yet they are confused as safety dates.
  2. Develop reliable, standardized labeling that clearly distinguishes between safety and quality.
  3. Remove dates from non-perishables. Where safety is not a concern, this would encourage people to make judgments about freshness and quality by actively investigating the food instead of relying on an industry-provided label.
  4. Use labels as an opportunity to educate consumers on safe food handling. For example, packaging could include “freeze by” dates to help raise awareness of the benefits of freezing food to extend shelf life.
  5. Retailers can sell past-date products at a discount. This gives thrifty shoppers the option of overlooking the quality standards indicated by a date label in exchange for a reduction in price.
  6. Governments should conduct public education campaigns to educate consumers on the meaning of date labels, proper food handling and ways to determine when food is safe to eat.

Brands and retailers have an opportunity to demonstrate their concern for the environment and the health and finances of their customers by taking action to re-educate shoppers about food safety and labeling. To achieve lasting change, we need to push Congress and federal agencies to change these inconsistent and confusing rules. Congresswoman Nita Lowey (D-NY) has submitted the Food Freshness Disclosure Act to “help establish a consistent food dating system in the United States and protect American consumers.” Emily Broad Leib, one of the authors of The Dating Game, says consumers should ask their representatives to sign onto the bill and help push it through to passage.

“Creating a meaningful, standardized system is a crucial way to reduce food and resource waste, save money for consumers who are watching their wallets (particularly in these economic times) and actually improve safety for consumers,” Leib says.

Visit EcoWatch’s FOOD page for more related news on this topic.

New Grocery/Restaurant Model Could Reduce Food Waste

By 

A mountain of food goes to waste every year, discarded because (in the case of fresh fruits and vegetables) an item is deemed too ugly or because we note that the expiration date has passed. A recent report from the Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC) and the Harvard Law School describes the “current food labeling regime” as a major culprit behind the $165 billion worth of food that Americans throw out every year.

As the report details, most of that uneaten food ends up in landfills where it accounts for 25 percent of U.S. methane emissions. Given that one in six Americans do not have access to a secure supply of food, we need to do something to avoid wasting so much of what we produce, process, package and ship.

Someone has a suggestion and is putting it into practice.

Photo credit:
Shutterstock

Doug Rauch, the former president of Trader Joe’s, plans to open a new market, the Daily Table, that will use fresh produce that is slightly past its sell-by date. The Dorchester, MA business will prepare the food and then sell it at prices low enough to compete with fast-food restaurants.

As Rauch explains it to NPR, the Daily Table is meant to be a "kind of a hybrid between a grocery store and a restaurant, if you would, because primarily it’s going to take this food in, prep it, cook it [for] what I call speed-scratch cooking.”

Food banks have made it a practice to use food salvaged not only from grocery stores but also hospitals, hotels, caterers, restaurants and farms. Stores tend to cast aside bruised produce, fearing they could be sued. People often misinterpret the date labels on food and discard items that are still safe to eat, as the NRDC/Harvard Law School report says:

The labels are not federally regulated and can vary from state to state. Despite what most people think, the labels don’t communicate whether a product has spoiled. “Use by” and “best before” are just suggestions determined by the manufacturer to indicate when food is at its peak quality. “Sell by” is the manufacturer’s suggestion for when the grocery store should no longer sell the product. There is no uniform criteria for any of those terms.

Naysayers chided the Daily Table for serving “blemished” “past-its-prime” fruits and vegetables to residents of lower-income communities. Mattapan City Councilor Charles Yancey says in the Boston Globe that the use of past-its-shelf-life produce is a “PR issue” as “the last thing we want is anyone to buy things that can hurt them.”

However, as residents of lower-income communities face rising rates of obesity and diabetes in part because of  limited food options, The Daily Table could make healthy food more readily available while, at the same time, seeking to cut down on the world’s food waste.

Visit EcoWatch’s FOOD page for more related news on this topic.

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