April 26, 2013

CLF Week in Links: Salmon, Poultry, Coal, and More

Robert Lawrence, MD

Robert Lawrence, MD

Director Emeritus

Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future

New poultry inspection rules will take a toll

GE salmon. Today is the last day for comments before FDA decides whether to approve genetically engineered salmon, the first-ever GE animal intended for human consumption. The comment period ends at midnight. Already, more than 2,500 grocery stores are committed to not sell GE seafood should it come to market and 260 chefs across the country have signed on to a letter by Chefs Collaborative objecting to the transgenic fish. Read more here. On Tuesday, Representatives Jared Huffman (D–CA), Don Young (R–AK) and Mike Thompson (D–CA) introduced H.R. 1667, the Prevention of Escapement of Genetically Altered Salmon in the United States (PEGASUS) Act, aimed at keeping genetically engineered (GE) fish off the nation’s dinner plates and away from our nation’s rivers and oceans. Jillian Fry captured the CLF position in this blogpost.

Poultry processing. The USDA is set to approve an increase in poultry inspection line speeds, supposedly transferring responsibility for inspections to industry. But some USDA health inspectors say processing plants are turning to disinfectant chemicals to remove contaminants that escape notice as processing line speeds have accelerated. This is bad news for the federal poultry inspectors who are increasingly exposed to the chemicals and bad news for consumers who will be at greater risk for bacterial contamination of their food. Think of Lucille Ball packing chocolates on the assembly line, but replace the chocolates with faster moving chickens being sprayed by caustic chemicals to kill the bacteria in the fecal veneer on the birds headed toward your table. The humor gets dark, doesn’t it?

Chicago floods. Over the last week, residents of the Chicago area have seen some of the most widespread flooding in its history, according to the National Weather Service. The residents are still reeling from the damage. Unfortunately, this is just one more example of the kind of extreme weather events that are becoming the new normal of global climate change.

Reducing waste in the Bay State. Massachusetts has one of the most ambitious plans to ban large businesses and institutions from discarding food waste. State environmental officials are preparing to ban hospitals, universities, hotels, large restaurants, and other big businesses and institutions in Massachusetts from discarding food waste in the trash beginning in 2014. I hope they turn to the example set by Will Allen with Growing Power in Milwaukee where over 20,000 tons of food waste each year is now turned into about 3,000 tons of compost to grow fruits and vegetables.

Pollution stealing Chinese childhoods. Levels of deadly airborne pollutants up to 40 times the recommended exposure limit in Beijing and other Chinese cities have struck fear into parents, who are confining their children to their homes. Schools are canceling outdoor activities and field trips; affluent parents are choosing schools based on air-filtration systems; and some international schools have built gigantic domes over sports fields.

Pollution by zip code. California’s EPA is rolling out “Cal Enviroscreen,” which allows California residents to look up the pollution score in their zip code and helps pinpoint communities that may be particularly vulnerable to pollution. Not surprisingly, Bakersfield, a hub of industrial agriculture, is ranked in the top ten for most polluted zip codes.

No new coal mine in West Virginia. The EPA’s decision to reject a permit for one of the largest mountaintop removal mines in West Virginia history was vindicated this week by a panel of three federal appeals court judges. This is some much needed good news—for us, for the Clean Water Act, and for the EPA. The case concerned the Spruce No. 1 Mine, which environmentalist groups have been trying to stop since 1998. It would have buried more than 10 miles of streams.

Rethinking “externalities.”  A new report by environmental consultancy Trucost on behalf of The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) program sponsored by United Nations Environmental Program has found that if top corporations around the globe paid for the damages they incur and the depletion of non-renewable natural resources they use, none of them would be profitable. The results of the study are damning. The biggest single environmental cost? Greenhouse gases from coal burning in China. Most damaging region-sectors? Again, coal production in Eastern Asia. Here’s the report (pdf). The annual withdrawal of natural capital (thinking of spending the principle we inherited from the earth) that allows these corporations to “turn a profit” is about 7 trillion dollars!

Ecofriendly source of fuel? Researchers from the University of Exeter in the UK have spliced genes from the camphor tree, soil bacteria, and blue-green algae into E. coli DNA, and then fed the bacteria glucose. They claim the enzymes they produced converted the sugar into fatty acids and then turned these into hydrocarbons that were chemically and structurally identical to those found in commercial fuel. This could be an exciting development.

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