New York Times Best-Selling Authors
Deepak Chopra, Debbie Ford, and Marianne Williamson
Invite you to celebrate the release of their book
The Shadow Effect.
Hosted by the Omega Institute and HarperOne.
This extraordinary event is being Broadcast Live from the Manhattan Center in New York City and delivered to you via web stream in the comfort of your own home.
JOIN OUR FREE INTERACTIVE, online stream at Liiv.com on THURSDAY, MAY 13th at 8:00 PM EST.
You will have the opportunity to participate in profound transformational conversation and exercises that will help you change the way you see yourself, others and the world around you.
This dialogue will open your heart, inspire you into new levels of awareness, help you become free from negative behaviors and connect you to your authentic self – a compassionate and noble being capable of creating powerful and lasting change.
Bring to light the parts of yourself that will give you more power and emotional freedom.
Click HERE to Register* (*Advanced registration is required)
I suppose it’s simple for someone like me, who as of yet has not lost a loved one to major illness, to wax poetically about prescription-drug side effects and the risks of carcinogenic chemical exposure and cell phone radiation.
After all, I’ve never sat in the oncologists’s office wondering what went wrong. I’ve never been on the operating table when only 150 cc’s of some impossible-to-pronounce chemical compound was the only thing that could save my life.
Still, I shy away from pills for a headache, or cough syrup for a cold. I wonder whether soy or cornstarch, ingredients found in most of our food products, will be the next cigarette. I labor over where to locate the wireless router in my home and office for fear that radiation will lead to cancer.
I have high cholesterol, and I eat oatmeal instead of taking my statin medication because I don’t know whether helping my heart is worth decimating my liver. Is that more dangerous than it is healthy? I don’t know.
What I do know is there’s a cluster of cancer patients in a neighborhood not 20 miles from me, and no one knows why. So I switch to bottled water. Then I find out that water bottled in plastic might actually cause cancer, too. And with everything the Army Corps of Engineers and the South Florida Water Management District has done to decimate Florida’s natural waterflow, it’s not as if I can trot off to a nearby spring and bring home pure H2O in glass jars. So do I move to some remote mountain region? Even melted snow is contaminated in most cases.
So is it really a case of finding the least evil? And who has the answers?
I was pondering this over dinner (God only knows what chemicals keep sushi fresh long enough to charge me $35 for four bites of food!) with a few girlfriends who’re apparently a little more laid back — or blissfully ignorant — than I. Their take: When it’s your time to go, it’s your time to go.
I guess I just want a little more control over my life than that. So it will probably be stress — not cancer — that finally gets me.
Believing these “facts” won’t keep you well—and could have serious health consequences
Myth: Drinking from a plastic water bottle left in a hot car can cause cancer.
Fact: This rumor falsely claims that dioxins—a group of toxic chemicals associated with an array of health problems, including breast cancer—leach from the heated plastic into the water.
Plastics do not contain dioxins, and the sun’s rays are not strong enough to create them, says Michael Trush, PhD, deputy director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Urban Environmental Health. Most single-use beverage bottles sold in the United States are made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET), a substance tested extensively for safety. There is some evidence that heat can cause bisphenol A (BPA), a compound that’s been shown to have estrogenic effects in animal studies, to leach from plastic bottles into the water. (The “estrogenic effects” are thought to impact cancer risk.) However, most single-use water bottles sold in the United States are made from BPA-free plastic. And there’s no proven link to breast cancer in women anyway. To be safe, drink from a reusable plastic bottle labeled “BPA free,” or choose water bottles with a “1,” “2,” “4,” or “5″ in the recycling symbol on the bottom.
Myth: Birth control pills cause breast cancer.
Fact: Doctors say the evidence isn’t strong enough for them to recommend that women stop taking birth control pills to avoid breast cancer.
Some studies from the mid ’90s showed that birth control users had a slightly increased risk, but researchers caution that pill formulations have changed since then (most contain much lower doses of the hormones linked to breast cancer risk). This research also found that the risk returned to normal 10 years after women stopped taking the pills. Some research suggests that risk may depend on ethnicity or age (African-Americans and those who take pills after age 45 have a slightly increased risk), while other studies found no association between pills and cancer whatsoever. “This suggests that birth control–related breast cancer risk may not be the same for all women,” says Susan Love, MD, a breast cancer surgeon and founder of the Army of Women, “which is why we need the Army of Women to help figure out whether subgroups have different risks.”
Myth: Deodorant and antiperspirants cause breast cancer.
Fact: Skipping these toiletries won’t keep your breasts cancer free.
One email rumor claimed that antiperspirant prevents you from sweating out toxins, which can then accumulate in the lymph nodes and cause breast cancer. But in 2002, researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle conducted a study to address this rumor—and found no link between deodorant or antiperspirant and breast cancer. A second rumor speculated that certain chemicals in antiperspirants, such as aluminum and parabens, may cause breast cancer because there is a lower prevalence of the disease in developing countries where women don’t use these products. However, toxins are not usually released through sweat, and in Europe, where antiperspirants are not widely used, the rate of breast cancer is higher than it is in the United States. Finally, although a 2004 study found parabens in the tissue of breast cancer tumors, so far no studies have shown that these or any other chemicals in deodorants and antiperspirants cause breast cancer.
How We Did Our Testing
We all do it: Pop a plate of leftovers covered with plastic wrap in the microwave or warm up extra tomato sauce in a plastic container. But news reports have suggested that this may not be perfectly safe, that if there are chemicals — phthalates and BPA — in the plastic, they might migrate into our food. How likely is this? To find out, we shopped at supermarkets and mass merchandisers for leading brands of microwave-safe containers, wraps, and bags, and at a dollar store for some so-called value brands. We also tossed into our shopping cart packages of best-selling frozen dinners for both children and adults and plastic liners designed to be used in a slow cooker. In short, we gathered together a potpourri of the kind of plastic items most of us use for heating foods.
We shipped several samples of each item off to an independent lab, where they were shredded into bits, then analyzed to see if any detectable amounts of BPA and phthalates were present in the products. The good news: Twenty-seven of the products tested contained no phthalates or BPA. Three, however, did contain low levels of BPA: the containers (or bottom sections) of Rubbermaid Easy Find Lids, Rubbermaid Premier containers, and Glad Storage Zipper Bags; Glad Press’n Seal wrap had low levels of both phthalates and BPA. Next, the lab tested these four items with “food simulants” — chemicals designed to stand in for real food in a lab. (Our federal health agencies, like the FDA, allow the use of food simulants in testing.) Results: No detectable BPA or phthalates migrated from the products into the simulants.
For a real-life test, we microwaved Old World Style Ragú Traditional Smooth Pasta Sauce and Heinz Home Style Gravy Savory Beef in the two Rubbermaid containers and in a glass bowl covered with Press’n Seal. As you’re unlikely to heat up tomato sauce or gravy in a plastic bag, we eliminated the Glad Storage Zipper Bags from this part of the testing. The lab first evaluated the foods straight from the jars to ensure that there were no phthalates or BPA present in the sauces before they were transferred to the test containers. In addition to testing foods heated in brand-new containers, we used ones that we had put through 30 rounds of microwaving and cleaning in the dishwasher, to see if wear and tear made a difference.
Clearly good news: None of the samples of sauce or gravy had detectable levels of either BPA or phthalates.
Products tested that contained no phthalates or BPA:
- Tupperware CrystalWave container
- Tupperware CrystalWave lid
- Tupperware Rock ‘N Serve container
- Tupperware Rock ‘N Serve lid
- Rubbermaid EasyFind Lids lid
- Rubbermaid Premier lid
- Glad SimplyCooking Microwave Steaming Bags
- Ziploc Brand Zip ‘n Steam Microwave Steam Cooking Bags
- GladWare Containers with Interlocking Lids container
- GladWare Containers with Interlocking Lids lid
- Ziploc Brand Containers with Snap ‘N Seal Lids container
- Ziploc Brand Containers with Snap ‘N Seal Lids lid
- Webster Industries Good Sense storage container
- Webster Industries Good Sense storage container lid
- United Plastics 21 oz Bowl
- Saran Premium wrap
- Saran Cling Plus Clear Plastic Wrap
- Glad Cling Wrap Clear Plastic Wrap
- Reynolds Clear Seal-Tight Plastic Wrap
- Ziploc Brand Storage Bags with Double Zipper
- Ziploc Brand Freezer Bags with Double Zipper
- Glad Freezer Storage Bags
- Reynolds SlowCooker Liners
- Kid Cuisine All Star Chicken Breast Nuggets container
- Kid Cuisine All Star Chicken Breast Nuggets film cover
- Stouffer’s frozen Homestyle Classics Lasagna with Meat & Sauce tray
- Stouffer’s frozen Homestyle Classics Lasagna with Meat & Sauce film covering
The following items contained low levels of phthalates or PBA but the chemicals did not leach into food during microwave heating:
- Rubbermaid EasyFind Lids container
- Rubbermaid Premier container
- Glad Press’n Seal Multipurpose Sealing Wrap
- Glad Food Storage Bags*
*Tested with simulants but not food.
Cell phones emit radiation to send voice and text messages to the other caller. Health risks aren’t confirmed, but some (not all) studies of frequent cell phone users suggest increased risks for brain and mouth tumors and children’s behavior problems.
To be on the safe side, follow the tips below to reduce exposures.
1. BUY A LOW-RADIATION PHONE
Look up your phone on EWG’s buyer’s guide. (Your phone’s model number may be printed under your battery.) Consider replacing your phone with one that emits the lowest radiation possible and still meets your needs.
2. USE A HEADSET OR SPEAKER
Headsets emit much less radiation than phones. Choose either wired or wireless (experts are split on which version is safer) using our cell phone headset guide. Some wireless headsets emit continuous, low-level radiation, so take yours off your ear when you’re not on a call. Using your phone in speaker mode also reduces radiation to the head.
3. LISTEN MORE, TALK LESS
Your phone emits radiation when you talk or text, but not when you’re receiving messages. Listening more and talking less reduces your exposures.
4. HOLD PHONE AWAY FROM YOUR BODY
Hold the phone away from your torso when you’re talking (with headset or speaker), not against your ear, in a pocket, or on your belt where soft body tissues absorb radiation.
5. CHOOSE TEXTING OVER TALKING
Phones use less power (less radiation) to send text than voice. And unlike when you speak with the phone at your ear, texting keeps radiation away from your head.
6. POOR SIGNAL? STAY OFF THE PHONE
Fewer signal bars on your phone means that it emits more radiation to get the signal to the tower. Make and take calls when your phone has a strong signal.
7. LIMIT CHILDREN’S PHONE USE
Young children’s brains absorb twice the cell phone radiation as an adult’s. EWG joins health agencies in at least 6 countries in recommending limits for children’s phone use, such as for emergency situations only.
8. SKIP THE “RADIATION SHIELD”
Radiation shields such as antenna caps or keypad covers reduce the connection quality and force the phone to transmit at a higher power with higher radiation.
Of more than 80,000 chemicals used in the U.S. over the last few decades, only about 200 have been required to get tested for safety. And only one group of chemicals – PCBs – has ever been fully banned.
The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), America’s main law governing chemical safety, requires the government prove chemicals are harmful instead of requiring manufacturers to prove they’re safe. As a result, virtually every American is exposed to hundreds of toxic chemicals every day.
We recently had the opportunity to speak with two EDF scientists in this field: Richard Denison, EDF’s Senior Scientist specializing in policy, hazard and risk assessment and management for industrial chemicals and nanomaterials; and Caroline Baier-Anderson, EDF’s Health Scientist providing technical and scientific support on chemical regulatory policy, air toxics and nanotechnology.
EDF: Toxics have been an issue for a long time. Why is it finally getting attention on a larger scale?
Richard Denison: I think what’s brought it to the forefront now is a drumbeat of high-profile stories over the last few years that vividly illustrate the failing of government in ensuring the safety of chemicals. These include the widespread exposure to formaldehyde of people who were forced to live in trailers provided by FEMA after hurricane Katrina; the steady flow of imported toys and other products from China that are contaminated with lead or other heavy metals; contamination of pet food with a chemical that killed dogs and cats; and probably most recently and most visibly the inability of government to regulate a chemical — bisphenol A (or BPA) — that has been used extremely widely in food can linings, baby bottles, infant formula cans and many other products.
Caroline Baier-Anderson: These products are governed by various laws and agencies; the regulatory patchwork is complicated, but the bottom line message is simple: Chemicals and consumer products made from them are not being properly regulated by our federal government. The Toxic Substances Control Act is in most dire need of an overhaul.
RD: Part of the problem is that we have isolated different types of chemicals, or even the same chemical in different uses, across different agency jurisdictions. BPA, when it finds its way into a baby bottle or a food can, is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but that same chemical when it shows up in a cash register receipt could be regulated by EPA under TSCA. Nobody has been charged with looking at the big picture: all of the sources of exposure to a chemical. We think that EPA should have that authority under TSCA because it was envisioned as being an all-encompassing law that would help to fill the gaps in other laws and be able to consider the full life cycle of the chemical across all of its uses.
CBA: As you can imagine, if you have a chemical that is being used in dozens of different products regulated by different agencies, it is incredibly difficult to pull all the information together in one place to make rational decisions about how a chemical should be used. I think under a reformed TSCA that’s exactly the kind of authority EPA needs.
EDF: So what factors are driving the momentum for TSCA reform we see now?
RD: In the absence of action by the Federal Government, many states in the US have either banned individual uses of certain chemicals or enacted their own policy changes in order to deal with chemicals within their own borders. That always brings industry to the table at a federal level because they don’t like individual states having different laws that they argue interfere with commerce.
Much of the rest of the world is already ahead of us in dealing with this problem as well. The European Union recently enacted sweeping reform of its chemicals legislation, and that is changing the landscape because it is essentially becoming a set of global standards. Anyone who sells chemicals in Europe, which is just about every company that produces chemicals on the globe, has to comply with this new policy.
And finally, and probably most important, the downstream users of chemicals—companies that buy chemicals and put them in their products or that buy or sell products that contain chemicals—are demanding more information and more evidence of safety. That customer demand is the major factor driving chemical producers, for the first time ever, to say it’s time for us to modernize and reform TSCA.
CBA: Information about what products chemicals are being used in is not systematically collected, not by EPA, not by FDA, not by anybody, so it took a lot of years of digging and a lot of groundwork on the part of many different individuals representing non-profits and the press to explain the problems we’re now seeing. And the scientific understanding of chemical effects has advanced in recent years: We now recognize that some chemicals can have adverse impacts during early human development or at very low levels of exposure, and those findings have served to heighten the concern.
RD: We now know that all of us carry hundreds of synthetic chemicals in our bodies; indeed, even newborn infants come into the world with hundreds of synthetic chemicals in their bodies because of exposure of their mothers before or during pregnancy. That is a huge wake-up call. For example, BPA is found in 93% of Americans’ bodies—a staggering revelation that has made everybody begin to wonder, is BPA safe? And if it’s in combination with hundreds of other chemicals in my body, what about the interactions and the synergies between those chemicals?
CBA: No one would have predicted 20 years ago that we would be exposed to BPA like that. It’s really hard for a scientist, even an industry scientist, to stand up and say, “Oh, I’m sure it’s fine.” No one is going to believe that. No one is going to accept that. So, you have fetal exposures to hundreds of chemicals—there is something fundamentally wrong with a system that allows that to happen.
RD: When TSCA was first passed over 30 years ago, it may have seemed logical to assume that we weren’t going to be exposed to these chemicals, or they wouldn’t be harmful to us if we were. But once we realized that we are all being exposed, it was surprising how little information we had about the safety of these chemicals. So that’s why we are calling for a shift in the burden of proof from the presumption that most chemicals are safe and puts the onus on government—and hence the public—to have to prove harm in order to act, to a new approach that requires companies to demonstrate the safety of their products as a condition for entering or staying on the market.
EDF: You mentioned earlier that humans have hundreds of different chemicals in their bodies. Is this more of a problem in the U.S. right now, or internationally as well?
CBA: We know that Europeans are similarly exposed, although we also know that where Europe has taken precautionary action on certain chemicals, there are measurable reductions in their body burden compared to what we have in the US. This is particularly true for chemicals like flame retardants, where the exposures are still very, very high in the US and they’re actually going down in parts of Europe because they phased these chemicals out well before we began to take action on them. Beyond the U.S. and Europe, since a lot of our hazardous materials and waste gets shipped overseas, that’s an open question and an important one.
RD: Certain chemicals, especially those that are very persistent in the environment and tend to build up in the environment or people’s bodies, are being found far removed from the industrialized parts of the world. Some of the highest levels of brominated flame retardants found in any people have been found in native Alaskans, who subsist on a diet that consists of large amounts of fish and other food sources that accumulate chemicals. So, we know that these chemicals don’t stay put, they tend to migrate long distances, and populations that are not exposed to those chemicals industrially or even through product use are showing some of the highest levels. So we know we have a problem that is global in nature.
EDF: You mentioned the FEMA trailers in New Orleans earlier, and how the materials used to build them was brought in by China. But it wouldn’t be legal to sell that wood in China, is that correct?
RD: The Chinese producers of pressed wood products, including plywood, produce different grades of products for export to different countries. Because Europe and Japan, and now California, have stringent limits on formaldehyde in such products, they produce a line of products that can be sold into those markets. The rest of the U.S. has no such limit and that is how the high-formaldehyde plywood came into the U.S. and was used in making the FEMA trailers. China itself has imposed limits on the emission of formaldehyde from such products. So the products they are selling to the U.S. could not even be sold for domestic use in China.
EDF: Is there anything the average person can do to avoid toxic chemicals?
CBA: Yes, there are products like shampoo and dish soap and laundry detergent that market themselves as being made with safer chemical ingredients, and a variety of eco logos are on products that have been certified as being made with safer chemical ingredients. It becomes a little more challenging when we talk about the big-ticket items such as carpeting and furniture and mattresses and things like that—these are products that we live with for many years. Companies like IKEA, which is based in Sweden, have made an effort to remove many known chemicals of concern from their products. So safer products are out there, they are available, but they are hard to find and often it can be really confusing to the average consumer. Ultimately the solution is regulatory reform so that we have standards in place that protect all citizens.
RD: Even the most informed and motivated individual consumers are limited in what they can do to protect themselves, in part because most products are not required to disclose their ingredients. Some companies have taken voluntary efforts to label their products. But what we really need is a more uniform system that requires companies to disclose which chemicals are in their products. Ultimately though, it should not be up to individual consumers to take steps to protect themselves. We need government to provide the policies and regulations needed to ensure that chemicals in products and in widespread use are safe.
EDF: Tell us about what’s happening with the TSCA bill. Is there anything the average person can do to help put pressure on the government to reform this bill?
RD: The US Congress is for the first time in many decades seriously considering new legislation that would reform the Toxic Substances Control Act. A bill was introduced in both Houses back in 2008, and that Bill is being updated and expanded considerably. We expect it could be introduced into the House of the Senate as soon as this month. We are hopeful that bill will signal the beginning of a legislative debate that will culminate in passage of legislation that reforms TSCA in a fundamental way.
People need to get informed about what the issues and needs are for a good chemicals policy; and then weigh in with their legislators to let them know that they care about this issue, that they want strong and fundamental reform, and that they will vote accordingly and support Members of Congress that support strong reform. One source of information is the website of a broad coalition of health, environmental and labor groups that EDF is part of, called the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition: www.saferchemicals.org.
CBA: And I want to make a pitch for the consumer to seek out products that are made with safer chemicals. Even though it is hard to do and it can be confusing, it sends an important message to retailers and to manufacturers that there is a consumer interest in products made with safer chemicals. Reducing your body burden even by a little bit can make a difference, but I think the most important reason to seek out products made with safer chemicals is the incentive it provides to retailers and manufacturers. Often representatives from companies I communicate with say that they are not seeing sufficient demand for safer products at the retail level. By letting them know that we do care, we can play an important role in pressing for change.
EDF: EDF is known for taking a transformational approach to policy. What is the core transformational idea here?
RD: The cornerstone of what we are seeking in chemical policy reform is to create the conditions that allow the market to function. I would argue that we have a very dysfunctional market right now, for two reasons. One, the vast majority of chemicals have little or no information about their safety; that means that the millions of decisions that get made every day about chemicals, by everyone from individual consumers all the way up to huge companies, are ill-informed and don’t adequately account for safety because the information isn’t there. If we have a policy that drives the development and propagation of that information, the market itself will be able to make much better decisions. Second, we also need a government that is able to differentiate between a safe chemical and an unsafe chemical and has the resources and authority needed to drive the market towards safer chemicals and safer products. That’s the kind of fundamental transformation that I think we need.
EDF: Do you have a positive outlook on how this will end up?
RD: We have new leadership in the Administration and at EPA that has acknowledged the priority that this issue needs; and that’s a significant departure from the past. With the executive branch acknowledging that time has come for change, that helps the legislative process to move along in a way that often doesn’t happen if those two branches of government are at odds with each other. So I think for the first time in many years, we have stars aligning in a way that makes it quite likely we’ll get the first fundamental reform of this law in more than three decades.
What to Look For
Choosing better chocolate means that you’re keeping harmful pesticides out of waterways and you’re showing support for farming methods that encourage biodiversity. You also allow farmers to get paid more equitably for their efforts, which in turn keeps child labor off chocolate plantations.
Certified Organic: Chocolate labeled USDA “Certified Organic” has been grown without the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers on land that was free of such chemicals for at least three years prior to certification.
Fair Trade: The “Fair Trade Certified” label is a third-party certification administered in the U.S. by TransFair USA, which means that cacao beans were purchased directly from growers or their cooperatives for at least $0.10 more than the current market price, allowing farmers to invest in community developments such as education and healthcare. Currently, Fair Trade-certified farmers are paid at least $0.80 per pound, $0.89 if it’s certified organic. Certification also imposes some environmental-protection standards on growers, including a ban on the most hazardous pesticides and the use of integrated pest management techniques, such as growing cacao under shade canopies.
Rainforest Alliance: Combining aspects of the certifications above, the Rainforest Alliance (RA) focuses on how farms are managed rather than how beans are traded, and covers all aspects of production including environmental protection, worker rights and welfare and the interests of local communities. Certification requires that at least 40 percent of the cacao-growing plantation has to be covered in shade at all times in areas where the original natural vegetative cover is forest, which allows for wildlife preservation and a reduction of pesticides, but they do allow the use of some agrichemicals when pest-related damages would be greater than the farmer could cope with economically. RA-certified cacao farms must also pay workers, including minors, at least the local minimum wage, provide safe working conditions and implement measures to reduce minors’ participation in the harvest.
- Consider the source of your cocoa even when chocolate isn’t the main ingredient. Ben and Jerry’s now carries Fair Trade Certified chocolate and vanilla ice cream, and Green and Blacks offers a rich organic chocolate ice cream. For your next batch of cookies, try Sunspire’s organic and fair-trade chocolate baking chips ($4.39/9 oz.; www.worldpantry.com).
Not long ago, connoisseurs scoffed at organic wines, after early experiments produced some less than appealing results. But concerns about the environmental and health effects of synthetic fertilizers and vineyard pesticides have led many growers to go organic or biodynamic, and, not least because of methods that enrich the soil, many of these vintages have first-rate quality and taste.
Third Party Certification
Organic: Certified Organic wines are made entirely of organic ingredients and processed without synthetic agents. Organic wine producers claim that it helps produce flavorful wines: Flourishing soil microorganisms and careful attention to the health of the vines, they claim, make a great contribution to taste. Organic wines contain no added sulfites (though some may exist in the wine naturally), which make them better for those with sulfite allergies.
Wines labeled “made with organic grapes” must be made from certified organic grapes but don’t adhere to the same rigorous processing standards.
Wines from California can be certified sustainable, which takes environmental, economic, and social factors into account. The certification is designed to be broader than other certification programs and allow for regional differences in the best sustainable practices. The certification label is not allowed on bottles yet, but you can see if the wine is certified on its Web site or other promotional materials.
Biodynamic: Biodynamic agriculture is an approach to farming that emphasizes the relationships between soil, plants, animals and astrological elements (for instance, planting crops according to the lunar calendar). Like organic, biodynamic farming restricts the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers and promotes responsible farming practices, such as implementing energy saving techniques and preserving high-value conservation areas like rain forests.
“LIVE” and “Salmon Safe”: LIVE, the “Low Input Viticulture and Enology” label currently certifies vineyards in Oregon and Washington that utilize natural resources like native insects and pest-deterring plants to reduce reliance on chemical pesticides. “Salmon Safe,” another certification applied to vineyards in the Northwest, ensures that farmers use agricultural practices, such as planting trees, growing cover crops and applying natural pest control methods, that don’t harm salmon habitats.
- Support local wineries. Farmer’s markets frequently offer local vintages that showcase the unique flavor, or terroir, of a region’s soil and climate.
- On dinner outings with large groups of people, order a magnum to reduce packaging and the fossil fuels required to ship heavy wine bottles.
- Buy wine in boxes. Despite their reputation, boxed wines are lighter to ship (reducing fossil fuels), and their contents generally last longer (up to four weeks) than wine in bottles.
- Glass bottles with screw caps have a longer shelf life than those with corks.
For a product comparison and more information on environmental impact, go straight to the source.
About $200 million worth of roses sold in the U.S. are grown out of the country, mostly in Central and Latin America, where toxic pesticides are common and protective equipment for workers is scarce. But you can be just as conscientious about your flower purchases as you are about your food and wine.
Just like food, local flowers are your best alternative, provided you live in a warm climate where flowers grow year-round. If not, keep your eyes out for these independent certifications:
Administered by the independent and reliable Scientific Certification Systems, Veriflora requires farmers to use as little chemicals and as many organic farming practices as possible and to farm the land in ways that enhance biodiversity (for instance, implementing buffer zones near waterways and using native cover plants). The certification also protects against illegal child labor and requires meeting local minimum wage laws.
GG Product Pick: OrganicStyle.com is the most comprehensive resource for VeriFlora-certified bouquets. Combine Valentine’s Day and Black History Month with the “One Dozen Freedom: A Rose in Honor of Rosa Parks” bouquet, and 10 percent of the proceeds go to the Rosa and Raymond Parks Foundation for Self Development ($59.95).
Fair Trade Certified
Fair Trade certification puts more stress on worker rights, ensuring that growers are not only paid a fair wage but that ten percent of their profits are re-invested back into the community. Growers are also trained to handle agrochemicals safely and to reduce the need for hazardous chemicals with organic farming practices.
GG Product Pick: 1800Flowers.com sells a variety of Fair Trade Certified bouquets from $39.99 and up, but also check your local Sam’s Club (and www.samsclub.com). They added flowers to their Fair Trade offerings last year.
As with organic food, certified-organic flowers are grown without synthetic, petroleum-based pesticides or fertilizers. Although the certification doesn’t have any fair-wage protections, you’re more likely to find certified organic flowers grown in the U.S., which cuts down on their carbon footprint (most VeriFlora and Fair Trade Certified flowers are grown in South America).
GG Product Pick: California Organic Flowers’ Cupid’s Delight bouquet with red anemone, red and white dianthus and rosemary is a nice departure from the standard bunch of roses ($54.95; www.californiaorganicflowers.com). Also check out Diamond Organics organic seasonal-flower bouquet ($69; www.diamondorganics.com).
The FDA Changes Its Tune on Bisphenol-A
Bisphenol-A (BPA) is a chemical used to make plastics and other materials used in many food packaging applications, from can linings to baby bottles (see Joe’s last post on BPA for some background). Many working on the BPA issue for years were quite surprised on Friday to learn that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration had changed its position on the chemical, admitting for the first time that they, too, have questions about its safety. For as long as they’ve had a position on BPA, the FDA’s position has been that it’s safe and suitable for food contact. With this announcement, the FDA admits that “on the basis of results from recent studies using novel approaches to test for subtle effects, both the National Toxicology Program at the National Institutes of Health and FDA have some concern about the potential effects of BPA on the brain, behavior, and prostate gland in fetuses, infants, and young children.”
To translate: There still isn’t conclusive evidence that BPA is harmful, but there are a number of question marks that need to be resolved through research – and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) was just awarded about 30 million dollars to pursue that research. In the meantime, the FDA has announced its interim position and the steps it is taking regarding BPA:
- FDA is taking reasonable steps to reduce human exposure to BPA in the food supply. These steps include:
- supporting the industry’s actions to stop producing BPA-containing baby bottles and infant feeding cups for the U.S. market;
- facilitating the development of alternatives to BPA for the linings of infant formula cans; and
- supporting efforts to replace BPA or minimize BPA levels in other food can linings.
- FDA is supporting a shift to a more robust regulatory framework for oversight of BPA.
- FDA is seeking further public comment and external input on the science surrounding BPA.
— from FDA’s 1/10/10 report
We’re very pleased that the FDA has chosen to take this issue seriously – both by acknowledging that there are legitimate questions and by committing the resources and the money to begin to answer them. As always, we will carefully monitor the issue, provide our comments and perspective to the FDA, and keep our customers informed on any major developments.
What We’ve Been Doing About BPA
The FDA’s recommendations are consistent with the path that we at Whole Foods Market have taken over the past few years. Our position has been that there are enough questions about BPA that, when there are functional alternatives available, it makes sense to avoid the use of BPA. Back in February of 2006, we were the first major retailer in the U.S. to ban baby bottles and child cups made from BPA-containing polycarbonate plastic. More recently, we’ve been working very closely with our canned food suppliers to help them transition away from the use of BPA in food can linings. The FDA’s recent recommendations validate the steps that we’ve already taken and will continue to advance. Here’s a quick overview of what we’ve done on the issue:
- We have worked with our suppliers to strongly encourage the transition to non-BPA materials where functional alternatives exist. For example, the majority of the refillable individual water bottles in our stores were once made from polycarbonate plastic. Because of our work to encourage the transition away from BPA, nearly all of those bottles are now made from other materials, and we are working with our buyers and suppliers to finalize the transition away from polycarbonate water bottles completely.
- Our Quality Standards Team actively follows academic research and regulatory developments regarding the endocrine activity of substances present in plastics, including BPA. We work with academic experts and alternative plastic suppliers to stay on the leading edge of this issue.
- Polycarbonate plastic is still used in certain bottles and in aluminum can linings in our stores; we are currently working with manufacturers to strongly encourage the development of packaging that uses alternative materials. We have asked our major manufacturers of canned goods to present us with their plans for transitioning away from BPA-containing materials.
- Frustratingly, there are very few effective BPA-free cans available on the market. A few manufacturers have produced BPA-free cans, but the supply is very limited and they are only effective for a narrow range of foods. BPA-based epoxy lining is the industry standard for the lining of canned foods, with very few exceptions. This lining material works very effectively to protect the integrity of food. We are actively working with experts in the field to find an alternative material that works just as well without the presence of BPA or any other substances of concern.
- The manufacturing of cans in the U.S. is dominated by a small number of very large companies. Whole Foods Market represents a very tiny slice of the overall canned good market, so our leverage is limited. Despite the uphill nature of this battle, we are working with a group of like-minded companies and socially responsible investors to continue to push for alternatives. The FDA’s new focus should help us in this effort.
- To date, we have done more than any other U.S. retailer to inform our customers and take action on the issue. When appropriate, we have stopped the sale of certain products and/or provided information to our customers about the products.
Complex issues of food safety are seldom simple, and there are almost always trade-offs. BPA epoxy resin is the best lining for cans, in terms of protecting food integrity, extending shelf life, and ensuring the safety the food inside, but as we’ve learned, it may not be as safe as the industry once believed. Our goal is to continue to push for food packaging materials that protect food and keep it safe, without the leaching of BPA or any other toxic or estrogenic materials. We hope the FDA’s new direction on this issue — both in recommending the minimal use of BPA and in committing to researching the questions — will give new energy and momentum to the food industry’s transition away from BPA.
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