Category Archives: Food

Carcinogenic endocrine disruptor in most rivers

We posted a lot about triclosan [previously], a chemical capable of killing bacteria and fungi that’s a primary active ingredient in those “healthy” antibacterial hand soaps, as well as a host of other products.

Besides helping microorganisms evolve to become even more dangerous, the chemical has also been linked to liver cancer, malformation or heart and skeletal musculature, and its a powerful endocrine disruptor.

And now it’s been found in the waters of most of the streams in the United States, leaving scientists to worry about just what long-term effects the ubiquitous chemical might be having, and if it might be working its way into our food through those stream waters used to irrigate crops.

From the American Society of Agronomy:

Most U.S. homes are full of familiar household products with an ingredient that fights bacteria: triclosan. Triclosan seems to be everywhere. When we wash our hands, brush our teeth, or do our laundry, we are likely putting triclosan into our water sources.

Triclosan is in antibacterial soaps, detergents, carpets, paints, toys, and toothpaste. These products can feel comforting to germ-wary consumers. However, these products are only slightly better at removing bacteria than regular soap and water. And in antibacterial soaps, triclosan may not add any benefit to removing bacteria compared to regular soap and water.

The problem with triclosan is that it kills both good and bad bacteria. Studies also show that it contributes to medically necessary antibiotics becoming less effective. Triclosan is also toxic to algae and disrupts hormones in animals. This can hamper normal animal development. The FDA is currently investigating its impact on humans.

Most of the triclosan is removed in waste water treatment plants. However, a U.S. Geological Survey found the antibacterial in nearly 58% of freshwater streams.

“What you use has an impact even though you’re probably not thinking about it,” says Monica Mendez. Mendez is an associate professor in the Department of Biology and Chemistry at Texas A&M International University. She is interested in triclosan-contaminated streams and rivers. These streams often serve as the water source for crops.

“If a river happens to be a source of irrigation, could triclosan possibly get into our food?” Mendez wonders.

Mendez and her colleagues wanted to understand what happens to soils and plants watered with triclosan-contaminated water. They intentionally watered onions, tomatoes, and bare soils with triclosan-contaminated water in a long-term study.

There’s more, after the jump. . . Continue reading

El Nino brings a massive famine to Africa

The same temperature changes in east/west ocean currents that bring heavy rains to the Western Hemisphere bring drought to Africa and Southern Asia.

And as India swelters under record heat, Africa has been suffering from heat and drought, and with them, crop failures and livestock death on a massive scale.

The end result is famine.

From the Observer:

The scale of the crisis unfolding in 10 or more southern African countries has shocked the United Nations. Lulled into thinking that Ethiopia in 1985 was the last of the large-scale famines affecting many millions, donor countries have been slow to pledge funds or support. More than $650m and 7.9m tonnes of food are needed immediately, says the UN. By Christmas, the situation will have become severe.

Malawi, Mozambique, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Madagascar, Angola and Swaziland have already declared national emergencies or disasters, as have seven of South Africa’s nine provinces. Other countries, including Botswana and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, have also been badly hit. President Robert Mugabe has appealed for $1.5bn to buy food for Zimbabwe and Malawi is expected to declare that more than 8 million people, or half the country, will need food aid by November.

More than 31 million people in the region are said by the UN to need food now, but this number is expected to rise to at least 49 million across almost all of southern Africa by Christmas. With 12 million more hungry people in Ethiopia, 7 million in Yemen, 6 million in Southern Sudan and more in the Central African Republic and Chad, a continent-scale food crisis is unfolding.

“Food security across southern Africa will start deteriorating by July, reaching its peak between December 2016 and April 2017,” says the UN’s office for humanitarian affairs. The regional cereal deficit already stands at 7.9m tonnes and continues to put upward pressure on market prices, which are already showing unprecedented increases, diminishing purchasing power and thereby reducing food access. As food insecurity tightens and water scarcity increases due to the drought, there are early signs of acute malnutrition in Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabawe.

More from Der Spiegel:

Meteorologists believe the natural disaster is linked to a climate phenomenon that returns once every two to seven years known as El Niño, or the Christ child, a disruption of the normal sea and air currents that wreaks havoc on global weather patterns. The El Niño experienced in 2015-2016 has been particularly strong.

The German news magazine also published a map of the affected regions:

BLOG Drought

Animal agriculture, the world’s dirtiest secret

What’s responsible for half of U.S. water consumption, 91 percent of deforestation in the Amazon Basin, the production of more greenhouse gases that all modes of transportation combined, and requires 45 percent of all the world’s non-icebound land?

That would be animal agriculture, and its role in this epidemic of environmental devastation is virtually absent from the agendas of the world’s leading environmental organizations.

In this episode of Days of Revolt, Chris Hedges’ weekly series for teleSUR English, the activist journalist interviews Kip Andersen and Keegan Kuhn, the codirectors of the documentary film Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret, and what they have to say will, hopefully, outrage you.

From teleSUR English via the Real News Network:

Days of Revolt: The Assault of the Animal Agriculture Industry

From the transcript:

HEDGES: Can you talk a little bit about statistically how the animal agriculture industry contributes to greenhouse gases.

KUHN: Yeah, so according to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization, they did a study couple [inaud.] report and they said that 18% of all greenhouse gas emissions, human caused greenhouse gas, come from animal agriculture, raising animals for food. Which is more than the whole transportation industry, 13% for that. But then there’s two environmental advisers to the World Bank who did their own analysis and used the global standard for measuring greenhouse gases and they found that actually 51% of all greenhouse gases come from animal agriculture. That’s because we have to take consideration, the loss of carbon sinks. When you destroy rain forest growth to raise cattle, you’re losing the ability of that ecosystem to restore carbon. Take in to consider respiration, we’re exceeding the bio capacity of the planet by a magnitude of 7. So you have to consider things like respiration.

You have to measure methane at its proper level which is, methane gas is 86 times more powerful at trapping heat or CO2 on a 20-year time frame. We don’t have 100 years to deal with climate change, we have 10, 15, 20 years at best. So we have to be talking about the short lived potent greenhouse gases. So when you take all those things into consideration it’s 51% or more of all human caused greenhouse gas come from animal agriculture.

HEDGES: And I think, one of the things you raise is that if people switched to a vegan diet, it takes far less cultivation on the land. That you are actually reclaiming huge sections of the earth, especially in the rain forest which are kind of the lungs of the planet. If you switch to a vegan diet or if we were vegan, what would cultivation look like? Statistically you can feed yourself on a much much smaller imprint.

ANDERSEN: The equivalent between a vegan and a vegetarian is it 6 times more land?

KUHN: Yeah, so it’s 3 times more land to produce the food need. So a vegan takes about 1/6th of an acre. A vegetarian takes 3 times as much.

HEDGES: 1/6th of an acre?

KUHN: For an entire year to grow all the food you need, for 1/6th of an acre and that’s a global standard. So that takes into consideration poor soil qualities and on and on. It takes 18 times more land to feed an American omnivore. 1 acre of land you can grow a cow and produce 300lbs of meat or you can grow vegetables on that and grow 3600lbs of edible plant protein right there. So just the footprint alone. Right now we have less than an acre of farmable land per person on the planet.

It takes the average American an acre to an acre and a half to feed them every single year. So we simply don’t have enough land on the planet to feed everybody the way Americans are eating.

A Big Agra super-merger report boosts Monsanto

Bad new for the world’s farmers and GMO opponents: A  colossal corporate merger is shaping up that would fuse two super-giants from opposite sides of the Atlantic.

From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

A year after Monsanto Co. sparked a massive consolidation race in the agrochemical industry by bidding for a rival, the world’s largest seed company now finds itself in the uncomfortable role of takeover target.

Monsanto shares rallied as much as 12 percent on Thursday on new reports that Bayer AG and BASF SE were interested in the Creve Coeur-based company, highlighting the drive for more mergers in the sector.

Bloomberg News reported Bayer was exploring a bid for Monsanto, while financial news website Street Insider reported that BASF was looking at a Monsanto acquisition.

Monsanto, Bayer and BASF all declined to comment.

More from Andrea Germanos of Common Dreams:

As USA Todayreported, “A bid for Monsanto would be just the most recent in a wave of chemical and agribusiness consolidation.”

Indeed, in February China National Chemical Corp. (ChemChina) announced it would acquire Swiss pesticide company Syngenta for $43 billion, while DuPont and Dow Chemical announced their merger last year.

According to advocacy group Food & Water Watch, such consolidation has far-reaching impacts, and is bad news for farmers and communities.

“A Bayer takeover of Monsanto would only be the latest in a string of high-profile seed and agrochemical mergers that are undermining the economic viability of family farms,” said Wenonah Hauter, the organization’s executive director. “Unchecked food and agribusiness monopolies pay farmers less, charge consumers more and reduce everyone’s choices.”

With Nestle and other corporate giants already moving to consolidate control over much of the world’s potable water, a further consolidation of control of the world’s food supplies would mean that two of the basic necessities of life would be subject to pricing by corporate rentiers at a time when multinational trade agreements are elevating corporations above the control of national governments.

In what world is that a good idea?

U.S. Big Agra GMOs dealt major unexpected blow

And from an unexpected quarter.

From Reuters:

Across the U.S. Farm Belt, top grain handlers have banned genetically modified crops that are not approved in all major overseas markets, shaking up a decades-old system that used the world’s biggest exporting country as a launchpad for new seeds from companies like Monsanto Co.

Bold yellow signs from global trader Bunge Ltd are posted at U.S. grain elevators barring 19 varieties of GMO corn and soybeans that lack approval in important markets.

CHS Inc, the country’s largest farm cooperative, wants companies to keep seeds with new biotech traits off the market until they have full approval from major foreign buyers, Gary Anderson, a senior vice president for CHS, told Reuters.

“I think that would be the safest thing for the supply chain,” he said. CHS implemented a policy last year under which it will not sell seeds or buy grain that contains traits lacking approvals needed for export.

Map of the day: Farmland soil compaction

From the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization:

The effects of compaction on soil health are variable but they often result in the creation of impermeable soil layers close to the surface and local waterlogging. Compaction of the subsoil occurs under external pressure and may create impermeable layers within the soil that limit the nutrient and water cycles. The most common causes are a strong concentration of livestock particularly in drier climates around water-points, and the use of heavy machinery and inappropriate tilling practices, mostly undertaken in industrialized agriculture.

The effects of compaction on soil health are variable but they often result in the creation of impermeable soil layers close to the surface and local waterlogging. Compaction of the subsoil occurs under external pressure and may create impermeable layers within the soil that limit the nutrient and water cycles. The most common causes are a strong concentration of livestock particularly in drier climates around water-points, and the use of heavy machinery and inappropriate tilling practices, mostly undertaken in industrialized agriculture.

Oceans losing oxygen; West Coast affected early

Deoxygenation due to climate change is already detectable in some parts of the ocean. New research finds that it will likely become widespread between 2030 and 2040. Other parts of the ocean, shown in gray, will not have detectable loss of oxygen due to climate change even by 2100.

Deoxygenation due to climate change is already detectable in some parts of the ocean. New research finds that it will likely become widespread between 2030 and 2040. Other parts of the ocean, shown in gray, will not have detectable loss of oxygen due to climate change even by 2100.

The oceans are losing oxygen, and climate change is the culprit.

Areas earliest hit are the western coasts of North America and Africa and the northeastern coast of South America.

The result will be major shifts in marine life, including the development of major dead zones.

And given that much of the world depend son ocean fish for protein, the changes could portend serious human and political crises.

From the American Geophysical Union:

A drop in the amount of oxygen dissolved in the oceans due to climate change is already discernible in some parts of the world and should be evident across large parts of the ocean between 2030 and 2040, according to a new study.

Scientists know that a warming climate can be expected to gradually sap oceans of oxygen, leaving fish, crabs, squid, sea stars, and other marine life struggling to breathe. But it’s been difficult to determine whether this anticipated oxygen drain is already having a noticeable impact.

“Loss of oxygen in the ocean is one of the serious side effects of a warming atmosphere, and a major threat to marine life,” said Matthew Long, a climate scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and lead author of the study. “Since oxygen concentrations in the ocean naturally vary depending on variations in winds and temperature at the surface, it’s been challenging to attribute any deoxygenation to climate change. This new study tells us when we can expect the impact from climate change to overwhelm the natural variability.”

The study [$6 read-only, $38 to print — esnl] is published in Global Biogeochemical Cycles, a journal of the American Geophysical Union.

Cutting through the natural variability

The entire ocean—from the depths to the shallows—gets its oxygen supply from the surface, either directly from the atmosphere or from phytoplankton, which release oxygen into the water through photosynthesis.

Warming surface waters, however, absorb less oxygen. And in a double whammy, the oxygen that is absorbed has a more difficult time traveling deeper into the ocean. That’s because as water heats up, it expands, becoming lighter than the water below it and less likely to sink.

Thanks to natural warming and cooling, oxygen concentrations at the sea surface are constantly changing—and those changes can linger for years or even decades deeper in the ocean.

For example, an exceptionally cold winter in the North Pacific would allow the ocean surface to soak up a large amount of oxygen. Thanks to the natural circulation pattern, that oxygen would then be carried deeper into the ocean interior, where it might still be detectable years later as it travels along its flow path. On the flip side, unusually hot weather could lead to natural “dead zones” in the ocean, where fish and other marine life cannot survive.

To cut through this natural variability and investigate the impact of climate change, the research team relied on the NCAR-based Community Earth System Model.

The scientists used output from a project that ran the model more than two dozen times for the years 1920 to 2100. Each individual run was started with miniscule variations in air temperature. As the model runs progressed, those tiny differences grew and expanded, producing a set of climate simulations useful for studying questions about variability and change.

Using the simulations to study dissolved oxygen gave the researchers guidance on how much concentrations may have varied naturally in the past. With this information, they could determine when ocean deoxygenation due to climate change is likely to become more severe than at any point in the modeled historic range.

The research team found that deoxygenation caused by climate change could already be detected in the southern Indian Ocean and parts of the eastern tropical Pacific and Atlantic basins. They also determined that more widespread detection of deoxygenation caused by climate change would be possible between 2030 and 2040. However, in some parts of the ocean, including areas off the east coasts of Africa, Australia, and Southeast Asia, deoxygenation caused by climate change was not evident even by 2100.

Picking out a global pattern

The researchers also created a visual way to distinguish between deoxygenation caused by natural processes and deoxygenation caused by climate change.

Using the same model dataset, the scientists created maps of oxygen levels in the ocean, showing which waters were oxygen-rich at the same time that others were oxygen-poor. They found they could distinguish between oxygenation patterns caused by natural weather phenomena and the pattern caused by climate change.

The pattern caused by climate change also became evident in the model runs around 2030, adding confidence to the conclusion that widespread deoxygenation due to climate change will become detectable around that time.

The maps could also be useful resources for deciding where to place instruments to monitor ocean oxygen levels in the future to get the best picture of climate change impacts. Currently ocean oxygen measurements are relatively sparse.

“We need comprehensive and sustained observations of what’s going on in the ocean to compare with what we’re learning from our models and to understand the full impact of a changing climate,” Long said.