Thursday, November 29, 2012

Organic Food Products To Be Tested For Residues Starting In 2013

by: redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports – Your Universe Online

In order to make sure that farmers are not using banned pesticides or genetically-modified organisms, organic food will be forced to undergo periodic residue testing starting in 2013, USDA officials have announced.

The agency first implemented regulations governing organic food production 10 years ago, and since then, only a select few private and accredited firms have been responsible for testing the farms that grow such produce, according to Bill Tomson of the Wall Street Journal.

The reason, he says, is that current USDA regulations offer “little guidance” regarding testing procedures — specifically, the reasons behind such examinations and the scheduling of them.
All organic food processors must undergo an initial inspection in order to become certified as organic food producers, Tomson explains, but there are regulations on the books requiring farms to be re-evaluated on a regular basis.

“The USDA said it is mandating that agents test annually a minimum of 5% of the farms or production facilities they are contracted to monitor,” the Wall Street Journal reporter wrote. “That is enough testing, the USDA said, to discourage use of prohibited substances without raising costs to the organic industry that has to pay for the testing.”

Currently, there are less than 100 accredited agents allowed to complete residue tests on the approximately 30,000 organic food producers across the globe that currently market their ware in the US, Tomson said.

The USDA will reportedly allow those agents to determine the 5% of the farms that will be tested each year, as mandating which facilities are tested would increase costs.

“The USDA said the new testing requirements will protect the integrity of the organic food industry. Periodic residue testing, it said, will discourage the mislabeling of organic food that consumers buy in supermarkets,” he wrote on Friday.

Tomson added that it was “an audit performed by the USDA’s inspector general that the USDA said prompted its decision to mandate periodic testing. Auditors interviewed four of the agents that monitor organic food producers in the U.S. and found that none of the agents were conducting periodic testing.”

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The "Green" Christmas Tree

For many families, the centerpiece of Christmas celebrations is the luminous, awe-inspiring tree decorated with care in the living room. But with all the options now available, how do you know which Christmas tree is the greenest choice for the environment?

The question for many is deciding between a real, fresh tree or a fake tree.

According to the National Christmas Tree Association (NCTA) nearly 29 million households purchase a live tree each year. Most Christmas trees are now raised on established farms, meaning deforestation isn't an issue, but they must be shipped, often over long distances. They do require pesticides and fueled vehicles to maintain and transport, and often end up taking up space in landfills.

On the other hand, most artificial Christmas trees are made in China, typically from oil-derived, pollution-releasing polyvinyl chloride (PVC). A number have been found to contain lead. Once finally disposed of, artificial trees will last for centuries in landfills. Roughly 70% of Americans choose artificial trees these days.

Advocates of "going artificial" point out that a one-time purchase of a fake tree can save gas otherwise used for annual trips to a tree farm or shopping center, not to mention for cross-country shipping of the tree to the point of sale. If your family keeps the faux fir for many years, even generations, the oil savings could certainly add up to more than what it took to make and ship the product in the first place. But that is an "if," and all too often people upgrade to a fancier model, or abandon their old one after a move or after the boughs get bent in the attic.

So, what's the "greenest" Tannenbaum? While a number of factors are to be considered, including where you live, how you celebrate and precisely what you buy, there is no one-size-fits-all answer.

Going with a real tree?
Try to choose something locally and organically grown. You'll cut down on CO2 emissions and help prevent the environmental degradation wrought by pesticides on big conventional operations. The NCTA locator site features a list of beautiful live Christmas tree providers across the country. When you are finished with your tree, be sure to convert it to mulch or compost.

Going with an artificial tree? 
Try to choose one that is made in the U.S., this greatly decreases the chances for contamination with lead or other toxins, preserves domestic manufacturing jobs and reduces shipping. If you must get rid of your artificial tree, check with local charities, shelters and churches to see if they can use it. Most recycling programs do not accept them, and they'll take many centuries to degrade in landfills.

Growing a tree? 
Buy a living, plantable "bulb" tree. Inside, the tree can wear ornaments and garland, and after Christmas it can be transplanted outdoors. You'll be adding to the planet's lungs and fighting global warming, as well as providing wildlife habitat. If you live in an apartment, or don't have room in your yard for an evergreen, see if you can donate it to a person or place within your community.

Going with creativity? 
Try to fashion your own "tree" from items around your home or even natural materials like driftwood, pine boughs or cones, branches and similar. You won't be contributing to any new resource use and will be giving your own creativity a chance to flourish.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Kaiser Permanente advises customers against GMOs

It has come to our attention that Kaiser Permanente, the largest managed healthcare organization in the United States, has advised its members against GMOs (genetically modified organisms) in food.

In its Northwest Fall 2012 newsletter, Kaiser suggested membership limit exposure to genetically modified organisms.

“GMOs have been added to our food supply since 1994, but most people don’t know it because the United States does not require labeling of GMOs,” according to the newsletter.

Sounding like a radical organic health proponent, the huge corporate Kaiser continued, “Despite what the biotech industry might say, there is little research on the long-term effects of GMOs on human health.”

Independent studies have shown GMOs to cause organ damage in rats and the inability to reproduce. Kaiser gave tips on how its members can avoid GMOs, including buying organic, looking for the “Non-GMO Project Verified” seal and to download the “ShopNoGMO” app.

 [via: Willamette Live]

Monday, November 19, 2012

"Oprah's Organics" to Hit the Shelves

It appears that the media mogul Oprah Winfrey is venturing into the organic food business. Several applications for "Oprah's Organics" were filed last month, according to the US Patent and Trademark Office.

The filings indicated toiletry items such as soaps, oils, hair products, sunscreen, as well as expanding into food products like salad dressings, frozen vegetables, soups and more. In addition, applications for "Oprah's Farm" and "Oprah's Harvest" were also submitted. According to the New York Post:
The addresses for the applicant's include the Wilshire Boulevard addresses of Winfrey's business and the Chicago address of Winfrey's Harpo Inc., offices. Winfrey, who launched her own girls' school in South Africa and has topped Forbes' list of highest-paid celebrities this year earning an estimated $165 million, already owns hundreds of acres in Maui, which include a large farm and a bed and breakfast. A rep for Winfrey told us: "The trademarks were filed for Oprah's farm on Maui to enable the farm to grow and distribute produce on Maui and throughout the Hawaiian Islands."
What sounds like a forward-thinking business venture expanding from Oprah Winfrey's empire could be more than just a publicity stunt or even "fall-back plan" as O.W.N struggles to survive on television.

As a savvy businesswoman, Oprah may have identified the organic market as a commercially viable space that she can easily dominate on store shelves. If she can get millions of viewers to read books together, she could definitely get millions of consumers to buy her organic brands. So how would this affect the industry at-large?

Some are saying this would spawn an "Oprah Effect" in organics, similar to "Dr. Oz Effect" within the natural products industry. Oprah was the catalyst that launched Dr. Oz into celebrity status, essentially building his brand and image.

It is unlikely we will see an increase in organic produce growth as her Hawaiian farm is limited to inter-island distribution. However, once her brands meet organic certification, we might see some serious competition on the mainland in organic salad dressings, beverages, packaged foods and even personal care products.
Competition is a good thing. Savvy customers reaching for Oprah's brands will instinctively compare prices with established organic brands. Customers who may have never purchased organic goods before will seek Oprah's for the sake of novelty, and perhaps continue with a new buying habit.
A line of Oprah-branded organic foods has the potential to reach more people, thus expanding access to areas where organic is not currently recognized or valued. With this in mind, along with a healthier farming environmental impact in Hawaii, we'd like to welcome Oprah to the organic scene.

[sources: NY Post, New Hope 360]

Thursday, November 15, 2012

let's not forget to be thankful for the earth

Thanksgiving is just a week away and many of us will be surrounded by friends and family enjoying an amazing home cooked meal of turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy. With delicious food on our minds, we often forget how the Thanksgiving holiday affects the environment. Of the 248 million turkeys raised each year, over two-thirds (that's 82.67 million turkeys) are consumed each Thanksgiving.. For many Americans, turkey is a must-have during the holiday feast, even with it, there are ways to have a healthier, more sustainable "Turkey Day".

buy local

As a measure to reduce carbon emission, it's best to purchase your turkey from a local, organic source which helps keep agriculture thriving in your area. Check for a comprehensive database for all things organic. Organic turkeys ensure that no pollution will enter the air or water as a result of harmful pesticides and hormones, thus making them taste better ultimately better for you. Additionally, when buying produce make sure to buy local and organic and in-season vegetables. This will reduce the carbon emissions of your Thanksgiving. If you're unsure of which vegetables are in season, click here.

limit travel

Many Americans hit the road to visit family and friends; this is one of the hidden greenhouse gas creators during the Thanksgiving holiday. When possible, make sure to carpool to your dining destination, or invite your neighbors into your home, keeping everyone close and strengthening the community while reducing the ecological impacts of the holiday. According to, if every family reduced their Thanksgiving gas usage by one gallon, we would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by one million tons each year.

reduce waste

Like many people, the meal is the favorite part about the holiday. However, Americans waste about 25% of food each year on Thanksgiving. To reduce this, plan your meals appropriately. A rule of thumb is to have a main course, four sides, and a dessert - assume each person will have about one pound of turkey and approximately one-fourth of a pound of each side. If you still end up making too much, remind your guests to bring food storage containers and send them home with a 'doggie bag' or donate them to local homeless shelters. Composting the remaining scraps is another sustainable alternative.


While a big feast can generate holiday bliss, festive decorations can also contribute. When decorating, keep in mind sustainable, homemade ways to give your home the Thanksgiving vibe. Use items from your yard - gather pine cones, twigs, and leaves to create a centerpiece. Pair candles with walnuts to create a modern tablescape.

be thankful

With cheer in the air around the holiday seasons, it's always important to thank your family and friends for an amazing year, but we should also appreciate the earth for supplying us with an amazing place to live, beauty to view, and food to eat. Do your part to have a sustainable, healthy Thanksgiving to make sure there are more beautiful holidays for generations to come.
[source: US Census]

Monday, November 12, 2012

Reclaiming Outdoor Advertising

Urban Air: Los Angeles Artist Transforms Billboards Into Floating Gardens - Liz Dwyer

Imagine sitting in traffic during your daily commute and instead of seeing the clutter of countless billboard advertisements you see gardens floating in the sky. That’s the kind of green experience Los Angeles-based artist Stephen Glassman wants us to have as we travel through our urban landscape. His Urban Air project hopes to transform the steel and wood frames that hold billboard advertising into suspended bamboo gardens.

Glassman’s been creating large-scale bamboo installations across Los Angeles since the aftermath of the 1992 Los Angeles Riots. He came up with Urban Air because—like many of us who live in congested cities—he saw a need for more fresh, green space, and a greater connection to humanity. The idea won the 2011 London International Creativity Award and proved so inspiring that Summit Media, a billboard company based in Los Angeles, actually offered to donate billboards along major streets and freeways.

As you can see in the video above, to create the garden billboards, Glassman and his team simply remove the commercial facade and modify the existing structure by installing planters, filling them with live bamboo, hooking up a water misting system and connecting them to a wifi network that monitors the environment. Then, says Glassman, “when people are stuck in traffic” on the 10 Freeway instead of seeing advertisements, they “look up and they see an open space of fresh air.”

The project’s hoping to raise $100,000 through Kickstarter to structurally retrofit the first prototype billboard, secure licenses, permits, and insurance, and pay for cranes to help install everything. They hope to spread the idea across the globe so they’re also producing “a system ‘kit’ that enables any standard billboard to be easily transformed to a green, linked, urban forest.” While it can be argued that it seems like a hefty sum for just one billboard and a toolkit, seeing a beautiful garden suspended in air sure beats having to look at another advertisement, right?

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

What To Takeaway From Prop 37's Defeat

If you haven't heard yet, California's Proposition 37 did not pass, therefore there will be no mandatory labeling of genetically modified food, well....yet.  The ballot initiative dramatically gained attention leading up to the vote as massive amounts of opposition commercials hit the airwaves. Corporations not supporting the initiative spent more than $46 million, compared to the mere $9 million raised by organic advocates, activists and the general public. And while the narrow margin of the vote - 47% for labeling, 53% opposed - still doesn't push the initiative into action, it's a lot closer than expected, but a loss is still a loss.

Here are 5 takeaways from yesterday's vote from Marc Brush of New Hope 360:

1. Consumers do prefer natural food, but they don't particularly care right now about what that means. Whether this apathy manifests in the rampant abuse of natural product claims or our dogged lack of transparency concerning GM ingredients, mainstream consumers will vote for natural in polls but not on ballots, and only at the shelf if the price is right.

2. You really can buy the vote in America, at least on the rough and tumble terrain of state politics. Whether you view the opposition's messaging as consumer education or a nefarious disinformation campaign, the fact remains that $46 million in organized advertising tabled this initiative. In this light, food reformists need concern themselves much more with campaign finance reform and the mechanisms of politics than they ever have in the past. You could even argue that there is no true food reform without political reform first.

3. Most of the leadership in natural & organic food did not step up to the plate for this initiative. For whatever reason—imprecise language, litigation exposure, economic pressure—only a small handful of companies contributed meaningful levels to this particular cause. Spotlight on Nature's Path, Dr. Bronner's and Lundberg Family Farms for giving until it hurt.

4. This is not a death blow for the non-GMO movement, but let's be honest. It's serious. California was the state to make this happen, and now it serves as a very public proxy for the country's lack of conviction around this topic. If I was in the business of agitating for GM labeling, I would now focus the lion's share of my efforts and resources on Just Label It at the national level.

5. What exactly did that $46 million buy the companies who spent it? Time, and time alone. Given the escalating awareness surrounding this issue, the global call for labeling in most developed countries, and the relentless drive for transparency across industries but especially in food, the prospect of unlabeled GM food in America is increasingly remote. Another few years of it, however, makes that $46 million money well spent.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Hidden GMOs in Packaged Food

Grab any packaged food in your pantry and read the label. The following are ingredients that may contain GMOs, unless certified organic or non-GMO.

Aspartame (also called AminoSweet®,    NutraSweet®, Equal Spoonful®, Canderel®,  BeneVia®, E951)
baking powder
canola oil (rapeseed oil)
caramel color
citric acid
cobalamin (Vitamin B12)
condensed milk
confectioners sugar
corn flour
corn masa
corn meal
corn oil
corn sugar
corn syrup
cottonseed oil
food starch
fructose (any form)
glutamic acid
glycerol monooleate
high fructose corn syrup (HFCS)
hydrogenated starch
hydrolyzed vegetable protein
inverse syrup
invert sugar
lactic acid
malt syrup
malt extract
milk powder
milo starch
modified food starch
modified starch
mono and diglycerides
monosodium glutamate (MSG)
oleic acid
phytic acid
protein isolate
soy flour
soy isolates
soy lecithin
soy milk
soy oil
soy protein
soy protein isolate
soy sauce
stearic acid
sugar (unless specified as cane sugar)
teriyaki marinades
textured vegetable protein
tocopherols (vitamin E)
vegetable fat
vegetable oil
vitamin B12
vitamin E
whey powder
xanthan gum
Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) although usually derived from corn, is probably not GM because it is not likely made in North America.

Groceries as Communities for Change

Photo: Kathy Geissler Best / SF

[via SF Gate]

One year after Occupy Oakland, we find that what seemed to have so much potential produced little to resolve our communities' social and economic problems. Yet the Occupy Wall Street movement did illuminate a very important and growing sentiment: People want to have a meaningful role in creating greater social equality and economic resiliency in their communities.

What's needed now is to connect that public sentiment with initiatives to create a long-term and sustainable plan that allows concerned citizens to take action beyond protest, and with the resources they have.

We are businessmen, but we are not Wall Street. We're grocers. Our expertise is in providing good food to people, but we do much more than just stock and sell food. The essence of our work is to build community and provide an anchor for thriving neighborhoods.

 How? We incorporate into our daily work tested models and solutions for some of the most significant problems that our communities face. And we do it in partnership with our communities, enabling customers to play an active role.

Why is a grocery the locus for change? Because the need for food, when ignored, becomes a conflagration of other concerns, starting with health problems and ending in economic instability and violence. The very fabric of communities falls apart when the dinner table doesn't anchor our families.

When Sam Mogannam took over Bi-Rite Market in the San Francisco's Mission District in 1997, the neighborhood was a haven for drug dealers and pimps. His response: He took bars off the windows. Next, he replaced the processed and junk foods on his shelves with fresh and high-quality foods. People told him he was crazy. Today, Bi-Rite is touted as a national model for how neighborhood grocery stores can help transform communities.

What Bi-Rite offered was a way for the community to rebuild itself. And people responded. When Mogannam took over, that block of 18th street had less than 40 jobs; it now has more than 400.

Ahmadi is working on a start-up grocery business, called People's Community Market, in the lower-income neighborhood of West Oakland that faces many of the same challenges seen in the Mission District 20 years ago. Although it has yet to open its doors to the public, People's Community Market is using a local solution for citizen action - a grassroots community investment campaign. The campaign enables people of all economic backgrounds - including the 99 percent - to actively participate in their local economies by becoming shareholders in this business. This is not a donation. This is real investment, creating community ownership, in a business whose primary purpose is to make a positive impact on the well-being of the community, and bring its shareholders a modest return.

The project is an outgrowth of 10 years of community work by the People's Grocery.

Our efforts offer a way for community members a way to engage, beyond protesting, in building concrete, local and sustainable solutions to social and economic problems. Annually, West Oakland residents spend $58 million on grocery purchases. Nearly 70 percent of that is spent outside the community, and thus is a lost opportunity to build strength from within.

 The time for protest has passed. It's time to roll up our sleeves and get to work. Let's build the world we want - together. Business can be part of the solution.

Brahm Ahmadi is the founder and CEO of the new West Oakland business, People's Community Market. Sam Mogannam plans to open his second market in San Francisco next year.