6 Common Food Additives Legal in America But Banned Abroad
By Ari LeVaux
There is a long list of food additives that are legal in the U.S., despite being illegal in other countries. To be fair, just because something is banned in one country doesn't necessarily mean that the non-banning countries have it wrong. But for the most part, the influence that the food industry exerts on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and a confusing bureaucratic process are at the heart of the problem.
Szasz-Fabian Ilka Erika / Shuttetrstock
The FDA curates a list of food additives that are given the designation of "generally recognized as safe" or GRAS. The GRAS list is supposed to help protect the public's food safety, but it's certainly lacking.
The following are six common food additives that are desperately in need of much better regulation.
Perhaps the most fitting example of FDA constipation can be found in the story of olestra—brand name Olean—the product of a $200 million investment by Procter & Gamble (P&G) for the development of a zero-calorie, fat-like polymer that tastes like fat but isn't digested. Instead it passes through you.
Oh, does it ever pass through you.
Soon after the product came to market in 1996, problems were evident. The ensuing years brought nearly 4,000 complaints filed with the FDA, most of which were for something the agency and company already knew. Kessler's FDA was at least able to affix a label to olestra-containing products that stated: "This product contains olestra. Olestra may cause abdominal cramping and loose stools. Olestra inhibits the absorption of some vitamins and other nutrients."
This carefully crafted statement was the result of a tedious push and pull between FDA and P&G. Two key words that didn't ultimately make the cut were "anal" and "leakage."
But even as the complaints piled up confirming this warning, the agency chose to drop the labeling requirement in 2003. While still illegal in Canada, the European Union and many other parts of the world, olestra continues to be used in some products like Frito-Lay Light chips. In 2006, the Center for Science in the Public Interest threatened a lawsuit against P&G. They settled when the company agreed to relabel its olestra-containing products.
The new label came to the attention of a Reddit Wiki user with a golden pen, who goes by the handle Leadstripes. In an archived discussion, Leadstripes discusses what the label discloses:
"…in tiny print you can't read without a f--king electron microscope that the primary ingredient is something called 'olean' which I have since learned is Latin for 'Unwashable & Indestructible Ass Grease.' So today, while I'm standing in the living room debating whether laundry or dishes will get done first, I get the urge to fart. I live alone, so sweet. I let the honk loose and it's wrong. Something just sounded wrong. I know my own wind and I have never farted a sound that sounded like a fart wrapped in a pillow. I had just shat myself. But this evil olean makes shitting yourself sound almost like a regular fart and had I not been particularly attentive, it could easily have gone unnoticed."
David Kresser, the FDA commissioner who complained of having 150 bosses, declined to comment on olestra, which passed under his watch. But it's worth noting that it was finally approved a day before P&G's patent was set to expire.
That olestra remains on the GRAS list, despite its known side effects, speaks to the inertia that Kresser complained about. Unwashable & Indestructible Ass Grease remains available for your consumption in Frito Lay Light potato chips.
2. Artificial Dyes
While olestra was something of a sputtering flash in the pan, artificial dyes have been around for decades. This broad category is composed of several families of chemicals, some of which are more benign than others. But unlike olestra, even the worst of these can lurk silently in your body for years before any effects may be felt.
Azo-dyes, a large class of synthetic dyes used for coloring a wide range of consumer goods, are of particular concern. Yellow #6 and Red #40, for example, which are made from coal tar, break down in your body into aromatic amines, organic compounds that have long been known to be carcinogenic. Occupational exposure to these chemicals may be the cause of around 25 percent of bladder cancers.
If you've eaten Starburst candies purchased in the U.S., you've eaten these very same dyes. But in the EU, those bright chewy squares are tinted with natural dyes like carotenes, because azo dyes are banned. This discrepancy points to a subtle, but massive difference in how potentially dangerous ingredients are regulated in Europe compared to the U.S. Across the pond, a rule of thumb called the precautionary principle guides the approval process. It basically means if something might be dangerous, take action.
In the U.S., the approval process is guided by what could stand up in court as proof of guilt. According to former FDA Chief Kessler, most decisions at the agency are put off until a lawsuit comes around to break the logjam. The precautionary principle, in all likelihood, keeps certain things out of the food supply that probably wouldn't have harmed anyone. The U.S. litigation-driven process, meanwhile, probably allows certain unsavory elements into our food that shouldn't be there.
In the face of mounting evidence against artificial dyes, FDA still isn't forcing food processors to find less toxic alternatives. Luckily for consumers, the companies themselves are realizing just how bad some of these dyes are and are switching to natural dyes on their own.
Perhaps the American food system has transformed into a free-market utopia where benevolent companies take action proactively to make their products safer, at their own expense, out of deep concern for their customers. Or perhaps they just don't want to get sued. There is just so much evidence out there—not just for cancer but also organ damage, birth defects and hyperactivity—that companies like Nestle, Hershey's and Starburst parent company M&M/Mars are leading the charge of confection companies moving away from artificial colors to easily available natural alternatives. The writing is on the wall, even if FDA is too impotent to do anything about it.
Luke Haffenden, a flavor chemist in Montreal, doesn't have an innate fear of hard-to-pronounce ingredients. But he's well-aware of the potential issues with fake dyes and hesitates to let his own kids consume products that contain them. Many others in the industry quietly feel the same way, he told me. A dye, by its very nature, he explained, is designed to attach to things and permanently change them.
"In the food industry, in the last couple of years … you go to any of these huge conventions and a significant portion of companies are manufacturing, selling and or distributing natural color options," Haffenden explained. "Some of these companies are making lots of noise because they think that it will be a marketing advantage. And some are quietly reformulating and hoping nobody notices."
The food additive ractopamine, which has been dubbed "FDA approved pork roids," is banned in Russia and even China—but not here. The chemical, which forces animals to pack on lean muscle mass in their final weeks before slaughter, is illegal in 160 countries.
For those who swing toward the precautionary principle end of the spectrum in their personal consumption decisions, the snubs from Russia and China might be reason enough to avoid ractopamine-fed meat.
Most of the studies on which FDA has based its approval of ractopamine were done by Elanco, the drug's maker. The majority of these studies focused on its efficacy in promoting lean gains, not safety. The safety data that does exist primarily focuses on the impact ractopamine has on the animals themselves—and finds that yes, it causes major problems. Studies on the impacts of ractopamine on humans, meanwhile, are virtually nonexistent. Instead, safety concerns were apparently outsourced to Canada, as an FDA link brings us to a Health Canada web page.
Health Canada extrapolates that ractopamine-fed meat is safe for humans because it accumulates in very low levels in the animal parts that humans typically consume. The EU has chosen to err on the side of caution. But U.S. pork eaters don't have that choice.
4. Brominated Vegetable Oil
Brominated vegetable oil (BVO) is banned in the EU, Japan and elsewhere. In the U.S., BVO is often found in sugary beverages with citrusy flavors like Mountain Dew, where the chemical helps these citrus flavors stay mixed together. Originally developed as a flame retardant, BVO has been used as a food additive since 1958 and spent a decade on the Generally Recognized as Safe list, before being removed in 1970. Although removed from the GRAS list, it has nonetheless been permitted in small amounts. In 2014, PepsiCo announced it would cease adding it to Mountain Dew, but at present it remains an ingredient.
There have been documented reports of people who consume obscene amounts of BVO containing soda (2-4 liters per day) experiencing skin and nerve problems, memory loss and other issues. There is also evidence that bromine, from BVO, can accumulate in the body. But the total body of research on the effects of BVO on human health is small.
While it may be a while until more definitive information is available on the health impacts of BVO, given its typical stomping grounds in sugary beverages, it seems like a no-brainer to avoid those products. Because even if BVO turns out to be completely harmless, the drinks where it's found are not.
Bovine somatotropin (BST) is a hormone found naturally occurring in the pituitary glands of cows. The functions of this growth hormone include regulating the production of milk. The biotech company Genentech patented a process to produce large quantities of BST in the lab. This product, called rBST (the r stands for recombinant) is banned in Canada, Japan, Israel, the EU and many other places out of concerns for both human and animal health.
Cows that are on rBST (also called rBGH) do indeed produce about 10-15 percent more milk, but studies have shown they also have a 25 percent higher chance of developing mastitis, a 40 percent decrease in fertility and a 55 percent increase in the likelihood of becoming lame.
The human health impacts are less conclusive, but nonetheless concerning. Milk from rGBH-treated cows has been shown to have higher levels of IGF-1, a growth hormone in humans. The American Cancer Society has determined that more research is needed, but of course, we have no timeline as to when this research might occur. If you're not comfortable waiting an undefined period of time while researchers figure out just how toxic the stuff is to people and animals, it's relatively easy to avoid rBST/rGBH, as producers and processors who don't use it in their milk products tend to make this very clear on their labels.
6. Butylated Hydroxytoluene
Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT), as well as the closely related butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA), are often added to cosmetics and foods to prevent fats from going rancid. They are antioxidants, a buzzword that sports a heath halo these days, but in the case of these two chemicals there may be cause for concern.
Some breakdown products are suspected of being carcinogenic and the pair have also been shown to impair blood clotting. Banned in England, Europe, Japan and elsewhere, it remains on the GRAS list in the U.S.
But it's also worth noting that these compounds are also in use as health supplements, for their antioxidant activity as well as their suspected antiviral activity. Some people use BHT/BHA to treat herpes.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest has placed it on the "Caution" list, based on the health concerns and because it is so easily replaceable with other preservatives that are proven safe.
If the former FDA commissioners are to believed, until that agency is given the freedom and resources it needs to do its job, there will probably always be some wacky—and potentially dangerous—items on the list of foods that are "generally regarded as aafe." And even a functioning FDA will probably not be erring on the side of caution, like they do on the other side of the pond.
Ari LeVaux writes a syndicated weekly food column, Flash in the Pan.
This article was reposted with permission from our media associate AlterNet.
The guide, 40-year-old Charles "Carl" Mock, was attacked Thursday while fishing alone in a forested area near West Yellowstone, Montana, The AP reported. He died in the hospital two days later. Wildlife officials killed the bear on Friday when it charged while they were investigating the attack.
"They yelled and made continuous noise as they walked toward the site to haze away any bears in the area," Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks wrote in a press release. "Before they reached the site, a bear began charging the group. Despite multiple attempts by all seven people to haze away the bear, it continued its charge. Due to this immediate safety risk, the bear was shot and died about 20 yards from the group."
The AP reported the bear to be an older male that weighed at least 420 pounds. Wildlife workers later found a moose carcass about 50 yards from the site of the attack.
"This indicates the bear was defending a food source during the attack," Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks wrote.
Mock was an experienced guide who worked for Backcountry Adventure, which provides snowmobile rentals and tours in Yellowstone National Park, according to The AP. His friend Scott Riley said Mock knew the risks of working around grizzly bears.
"He was the best guide around," Riley told The AP. "He had sight like an eagle and hearing like an owl... Carl was a great guy."
Mock carried bear spray, but investigators don't know if he had a chance to use it before the attack. Grizzly attacks are relatively rare in the Yellowstone area, CNN reported.
Since 1979, the park has welcomed more than 118 million visitors and recorded only 44 bear attacks. The odds of a grizzly attack in Yellowstone are about one in 2.7 million visits. The risk is lower in more developed areas and higher for those doing backcountry hikes.
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks advises being aware of surroundings, staying on trails, traveling in groups, making noise, avoiding animal remains, following food storage instructions and carrying bear spray and knowing how to use it. Above all, it's important to back away slowly if a bear encounter occurs.
It's also important to pay attention to the time of year.
"Now is the time to remember to be conscientious in the backcountry as the bears are coming out of hibernation and looking for food sources," the sheriff's office of Gallatin County, Montana, wrote in a statement about the attack.
Historically, people pose more of a threat to grizzly bears than the reverse.
"When Lewis and Clark explored the West in the early 1800s, grizzly bears roamed across vast stretches of open and unpopulated land between the Pacific Ocean and the Great Plains," the U.S Fish and Wildlife service wrote. "But when pioneers moved in, bears were persecuted and their numbers and range declined. As European settlement expanded over the next hundred years, towns and cities sprung up, and habitat for these large omnivores — along with their numbers — shrunk drastically. Of the many grizzly populations that were present in 1922, only six remained when they were listed by the Service in 1975 as a threatened species in the lower-48 states."
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By Brett Wilkins
In the latest of a flurry of proposed Green New Deal legislation, Reps. Cori Bush and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Monday introduced the Green New Deal for Cities Act of 2021, a $1 trillion plan to "tackle the environmental injustices that are making us and our children sick, costing us our homes, and destroying our planet."
If approved, the bill would provide federal funding for state, local, tribal, and territorial governments to respond to the climate crisis, while creating hundreds of thousands of jobs in communities disproportionately affected by economic inequality.
"St. Louis and communities across the nation need the Green New Deal for Cities," Bush (D-Mo.) said in a statement introducing the bill. The St. Louis native added that Black children in her city "are 2.4 times more likely than white children to test positive for lead in their blood, and are 10 times more likely to visit the emergency room for asthma each year than white children."
"Black neighborhoods host the majority of the city's air pollution sources," Bush continued. "And there is a nuclear waste site—the West Lake Landfill, which is a catastrophe-in-progress."
"This legislation would make sure every city, town, county, and tribe can have a federally funded Green New Deal," she added. "This is a $1 trillion investment to tackle the environmental injustices that are making us and our children sick, costing us our homes, and destroying our planet."
We're introducing the Green New Deal for Cities. Here's what it means for you: ☀️ $1 trillion investment in our c… https://t.co/uJnnbM5NNx— Congresswoman Cori Bush (@Congresswoman Cori Bush)1618852007.0
Specifically, the GND4Cities would:
- Authorize $1 trillion, with a minimum of 50% of all investments going each to frontline communities and climate mitigation;
- Fund an expansive array of climate and environmental justice projects including wind power procurement, clean water infrastructure, and air quality monitoring;
- Support housing stability by conditioning funding to local governments to ensure they work with tenant and community groups to prevent displacement in communities receiving investment; and
- Support workers by including prevailing wage requirements, equitable and local hiring provisions, apprenticeship and workforce development requirements, project labor agreements, and "Buy America" provisions.
In an interview with St. Louis Public Radio, Bush explained that the Green New Deal for Cities is personal for her.
"I remember talking about lead paint as a child, hearing about it on the television and showing up at parks and people testing us for lead," she recalled. "It was like this thing when I was a kid, and it just went away."
Tune in to @STLonAir at noon to hear @RepCori discuss her and her colleagues' proposal for a Green New Deal for Cit… https://t.co/q3N0hmJndg— St. Louis Public Radio (@St. Louis Public Radio)1618845961.0
Bush said that "this whole thing is about saving lives," adding that "there are labor provisions in this bill to make sure that the workers are well-paid and well-treated for work."
"The urgency of this climate crisis and environmental racism demands that we equip our cities and our local governments with this funding," she added.
In her statement introducing the measure, Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) said that "the GND4Cities would provide local governments the funding to create good-paying, union jobs repairing their infrastructure, improving water quality, reducing air pollution, cleaning up parks, creating new green spaces, and eliminating blight."
"The desire for these investments is there," Ocasio-Cortez added. "We need to give our local communities the funding and support to act."
Although only Monday, it's already been a busy week for Ocasio-Cortez and the Green New Deal. Earlier in the day, she and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) reintroduced the Green New Deal for Public Housing, which they said would significantly improve living conditions and costs for nearly two million people who reside in public housing units, while creating more than 240,000 new jobs.
It’s Green New Deal week!👷🏽♂️🌎 This week we’re highlighting: ✅ Green New Deal reintro tomorrow w/ new Congression… https://t.co/3kEllAc40y— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez)1618878563.0
Later on Monday, Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) announced they will reintroduce their landmark 2019 Green New Deal bill on Tuesday. In a Spanish-language statement previewing the bill's introduction, Ocasio-Cortez said the measure "aims to create a national mobilization over the next 10 years that fights against economic, social, racial crises, as well as the interconnected climatic conditions affecting our country."
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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Offshore oil and gas drillers have discarded and abandoned more than 18,000 miles of pipelines on the floor of the Gulf of Mexico since the 1960s, a report from the Government Accountability Office says.
The industry has essentially recovered none of the pipelines laid in the Gulf in the last six decades; the abandoned infrastructure accounts for more than 97% of all of the decommissioned pipelines in the Gulf.
The pipelines pose a threat to the habitat around them, as maritime commerce and hurricanes and erosion can move sections of pipeline.
The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement does not conduct undersea inspections even though surface monitoring is "not always reliable for detecting ruptures," according to the GAO.
For a deeper dive:
The survey compared six environmental concerns: drinking water pollution; pollution in rivers, lakes and reservoirs; tropical rainforest loss; climate change; air pollution; and plant and animal species extinction. While most Americans showed concern for all of these threats, the majority were most worried about polluted drinking water (56 percent), followed by polluted rivers, lakes and reservoirs (53 percent), Gallup reported.
"When it comes to environmental problems, Americans remain most concerned about two that have immediate and personal potential effects," Gallup noted. "For the past 20 years, worries about water pollution – both drinking water and bodies of water — have ranked at the top of the list. The water crisis in Flint, Michigan, laid bare the dangers of contaminated drinking water and no doubt sticks in the public's minds."
According to a new study, 61.4 million people in the U.S. did not drink their tap water as of 2018, Asher Rosinger, an assistant professor of biobehavioral health, anthropology and demography at Penn State, wrote in The Conversation.
"It's important not to blame people for distrusting what comes out of their tap, because those fears are rooted in history," Rosinger explained.
Meanwhile, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency surveys found that almost 50 percent of rivers and streams and more than one-third of lakes are polluted and unfit for swimming, fishing and drinking, the Natural Resources Defense Council reported. Without action, concerns over water quality will become increasingly relevant as the demand for fresh water is expected to be one-third greater by 2050 than it is today.
Gallup researchers have tracked environmental concerns among Americans since 2000, and water quality worries have consistently ranked high, Gallup noted.
The survey also revealed an environmental partisan divide between Democrats and Republicans. For example, 68 percent of Democrats were highly concerned about global warming compared to 14 percent of Republicans.
Another recent Gallup survey found that 82 percent of Democrats believed that global warming effects had already started compared to 29 percent of Republicans. "That's a gap of 53 points; for comparison, in 2001, the gap was a mere 13 points," Grist reported.
Similarly, a 2020 Pew Research Center report revealed the widest partisan gap to date concerning whether or not climate change should be a top policy priority. Protecting air and water quality ranked as the second most divisive issue among Republicans and Democrats, The New York Times reported.
"Intense partisan polarization over these two issues in particular" has been growing for decades, Riley Dunlap, a professor emeritus at Oklahoma State University, told The New York Times last February. "Voters take cues on their policy preferences and overall positions," he added. "President Trump has, in the past, called climate change a hoax and all that. You get a similar message from many members of Congress on the Republican side. And most importantly, it's the message you get from the conservative media."
Gallup's latest figures also showed that concern about environmental threats either increased or remained the same between 2019 and 2020.
"The fluctuations in worry levels since 2019 are largely driven by Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, who became more worried, on average, about the six environmental problems in 2020 during the presidential campaign and are now less worried with Joe Biden as president," Gallup reported.
While surveys like these are "not a full-blown diagnostic rundown of the nation's psyche," they are informative tools for understanding how and what Americans are feeling and thinking, Grist reported.
Climate Change Threatens Coffee – But We’ve Found a Wild Species That Could Help Save Your Morning Brew
By Aaron P Davis
The world loves coffee. More precisely, it loves arabica coffee. From the smell of its freshly ground beans through to the very last sip, arabica is a sensory delight.
Robusta, the other mainstream coffee crop species, is almost as widely traded as arabica, but it falls short on flavor. Robusta is mainly used for instant coffee and blends, while arabica is the preserve of discerning baristas and expensive espressos.
Consumers may be happy, but climate change is making coffee farmers bitter. Diseases and pests are becoming more common and severe as temperatures rise. The fungal infection known as coffee leaf rust has devastated plantations in Central and South America. And while robusta crops tend to be more resistant, they need plenty of rain – a tall order as droughts proliferate.
The future for coffee farming looks difficult, if not bleak. But one of the more promising solutions involves developing new, more resilient coffee crops. Not only will these new coffees have to tolerate higher temperatures and less predictable rainfall, they'll also have to continue satisfying consumer expectations for taste and smell.
Finding this perfect combination of traits in a new species seemed remote. But in newly published research, my colleagues and I have revealed a little-known wild coffee species that could be the best candidate yet.
Coffee Farming in a Warming World
Coffea stenophylla was first described as a new species from Sierra Leone in 1834. It was farmed across the wetter parts of upper west Africa until the early 20th century, when it was replaced by the newly discovered and more productive robusta, and largely forgotten by the coffee industry. It continued to grow wild in the humid forests of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast, where it became threatened by deforestation.
At the end of 2018, we found stenophylla in Sierra Leone after searching for several years, but failed to find any trees in fruit until mid-2020, when a 10g sample was recovered for tasting.
Field botanists of the 19th century had long proclaimed the superior taste of stenophylla coffee, and also recorded its resistance to coffee leaf rust and drought. Those early tasters were often inexperienced though, and our expectations were low before the first tasting in the summer of 2020. That all changed once I'd sampled the first cup on a panel with five other coffee experts. Those first sips were revelatory: it was like expecting vinegar and getting champagne.
This initial tasting in London was followed by a thorough evaluation of the coffee's flavour in southern France, led by my research colleague Delpine Mieulet. Mieulet assembled 18 coffee connoisseurs for a blind taste test and they reported a complex profile for stenophylla coffee, with natural sweetness, medium-high acidity, fruitiness, and good body, as one would expect from high-quality arabica.
C. stenophylla growing in the wild, Ivory Coast. E. Couturon / IRD, Author provided
In fact, the coffee seemed very similar to arabica. At the London tasting, the Sierra Leone sample was compared to arabica from Rwanda. In the blind French tasting, most of the judges (81%) said stenophylla tasted like arabica, compared to 98% and 44% for the two arabica control samples, and 7% for a robusta sample.
The coffee tasting experts picked up on notes of peach, blackcurrant, mandarin, honey, light black tea, jasmine, chocolate, caramel and elderflower syrup. In essence, stenophylla coffee is delicious. And despite scoring highly for its similarity to arabica, the stenophylla coffee sample was identified as something entirely unique by 47% of the judges. That means there may be a new market niche for this rediscovered coffee to fill.
The taste testers approved of stenophylla's sweet and fruity flavour. CIRAD, Author provided
Breaking New Grounds
Until now, no other wild coffee species has come close to arabica for its superior taste. Scientifically, the results are compelling because we would simply not expect stenophylla to taste like arabica. These two species are not closely related, they originated on opposite sides of the African continent and the climates in which they grow are very different. They also look nothing alike: stenophylla has black fruit and more complex flowers while arabica cherries are red.
It was always assumed that high-quality coffee was the preserve of arabica – originally from the forests of Ethiopia and South Sudan – and particularly when grown at elevations above 1,500 metres, where the climate is cooler and the light is better.
Stenophylla coffee breaks these rules. Endemic to Guinea, Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast, stenophylla grows in hot conditions at low elevations. Specifically it grows at a mean annual temperature of 24.9°C – 1.9°C higher than robusta, and up to 6.8°C higher than arabica. Stenophylla also appears more tolerant of droughts, potentially capable of growing with less rainfall than arabica.
Robusta coffee can grow in similar conditions to stenophylla, but the price paid to farmers is roughly half that of arabica. Stenophylla coffee makes it possible to grow a superior tasting coffee in much warmer climates. And while stenophylla trees tend to produce less fruit than arabica, they still yield enough to be commercially viable.
The stenophylla harvest on Reunion Island. IRD / CIRAD, Author provided
To breed the coffee crop plants of the future, we need species with great flavour and high heat tolerance. Crossbreeding stenophylla with arabica or robusta could make both more resilient to climate change, and even improve their taste, particularly in the latter.
With stenophylla's rediscovery, the future of coffee just got a little brighter.
Aaron P Davis: Senior Research Leader, Plant Resources, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
Disclosure statement: Aaron P Davis receives funding from Darwin Initiative (UK).
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.