Category Archives: Society

‘Sustainability’ Gone Awry: China Turns Sewer Waste Into Cooking Oil

Video

“Gutter oil” industry takes street slop and animal scraps and renders it into black-market cooking oil.

Considering the rampant amount of food waste that occurs in America, the move toward thriftiness in regards to utilizing scraps and leftovers is a promising development.

For restaurants (and home cooks) who work with whole animals, from chickens to 300 pound hogs, rendering the fat from scraps of meat is one delicious way to make sure as much of the animal can be utilized as possible.

In China, however, that mentality has been taken to disgusting, dangerous ends in what’s known at the Gutter Oil Industry.

In a video posted on AlterNet, produced by Radio Free Asia, a woman is shown pulling slop out of the sewer, scooping up globs of crud into a bucket. “Her slop eventually winds up in a processing plant like this one,” says the narrator, the screen showing a bubbling vat, “where its combined with other animal fat refuse to create recycled cooking oil.”

Remember London’s “fatberg”? Gutter oil is basically a rendered, refined cooking oil based on similar such waste. Unsurprisingly, the cheap cooking oil has been found to contain carcinogens and other toxins. But in China, oil, a requisite for wok-cooking, is in high demand, and the cheap price of gutter oil draws customers despite the grease’s source. The video says that an estimated 1/10 of oil sold in China is gutter oil.

And that sizable market means this form of recycling is big (albeit illegal) business. As AlterNet’s Rod Bastanmehr notes, the government recently moved to shutdown black market production in 13 cities.

“The shutdown occurred after a five-month investigation yielded a reported 3,200 tons of gutter oil,” Bastanmehr writes, “which authorities estimated had been sold to a staggering $1.6 million profit.”

Monsanto

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Monsanto’s Dirty Dozen

When you take a moment to reflect on the history of product development at Monsanto, what do you find? Here are twelve products that Monsanto has brought to market. See if you can spot the pattern…

 

Saccharin

#1 – Saccharin

Did you know Monsanto got started because of an artificial sweetener? John Francisco Queeny founded Monsanto Chemical Works in St. Louis, Missouri with the goal of producing saccharin for Coca-Cola. In stark contrast to its sweet beginnings, studies performed during the early 1970s,* including a study by the National Cancer Institute in 1980, showed that saccharin caused cancer in test rats and mice.

After mounting pressure from consumers, the Calorie Control Council, and manufacturers of artificial sweeteners and diet sodas, along with additional studies (several conducted by the sugar and sweetener industry) that reported flaws in the 1970s studies, saccharin was delisted from the NIH’s Carcinogen List. A variety of letters from scientists advised against delisting; the official document includes the following wording to this day: “although it is impossible to absolutely conclude that it poses no threat to human health, sodium saccharin is not reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen under conditions of general usage as an artificial sweetener.” (*Read the Chemical Heritage Foundation’s History of Saccharin here.)

PCBs

#2 – PCBs

During the early 1920s, Monsanto began expanding their chemical production into polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) to produce coolant fluids for electrical transformers, capacitors, and electric motors. Fifty years later, toxicity tests began reporting serious health effects from PCBs in laboratory rats exposed to the chemical.

After another decade of studies, the truth could no longer be contained: the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published a report citing PCBs as the cause of cancer in animals, with additional evidence that they can cause cancer in humans. Additional peer-reviewed health studies showed a causal link between exposure to PCBs and non-Hodgkin Lymphoma, a frequently fatal form of cancer.

In 1979, the United States Congress recognized PCBs as a significant environmental toxin and persistent organic pollutant, and banned its production in the U.S.  By then Monsanto already had manufacturing plants abroad, so they weren’t entirely stopped until the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants banned PCBs globally in 2001.

And that’s when Monsanto’s duplicity was uncovered: internal company memos from 1956 surfaced, proving that Monsanto had known about dangers of PCBs from early on.

In 2003, Monsanto paid out over $600 million to residents of Anniston, Alabama, who experienced severe health problems including liver disease, neurological disorders and cancer after being exposed to PCBs — more than double the payoff that was awarded in the case against Pacific Gas & Electric made famous by the movie “Erin Brockovich.”

And yet the damage persists: nearly 30 years after PCBs have been banned from the U.S., they are still showing up in the blood of pregnant women, as reported in a 2011 study by the University of California San Francisco.

polystyrene-749803

#3 – Polystyrene

In 1941, Monsanto began focusing on plastics and synthetic polystyrene, which is still widely used in food packaging and ranked 5th in the EPA’s 1980s listing of chemicals whose production generates the most total hazardous waste.

#4 – Atom bomb and nuclear weapons

Shortly after acquiring Thomas and Hochwalt Laboratories, Monsanto turned this division into their Central Research Department. Between 1943 to 1945, this department coordinated key production efforts of the Manhattan Project—including plutonium purification and production and, as part of the Manhattan Project’s Dayton Project, techniques to refine chemicals used as triggers for atomic weapons (an era of U.S. history that sadly included the deadliest industrial accident).

DDT is good for me old ad

#5 – DDT

In 1944, Monsanto became one of the first manufacturers of the insecticide DDT to combat malaria-transmitting mosquitoes. Despite decades of Monsanto propaganda insisting that DDT was safe, the true effects of DDT’s toxicity were at last confirmed through outside research and in 1972, DDT was banned throughout the U.S.

Dioxin_chart

This chart illustrates how much dioxin an average American consumes per day

#6 – Dioxin

In 1945, Monsanto began promoting the use of chemical pesticides in agriculture with the manufacture of the herbicide 2,4,5-T (one of the precursors to Agent Orange), containing dioxin. Dioxins are a group of chemically-related compounds that since become known as one of the “Dirty Dozen” — persistent environmental pollutants that accumulate in the food chain, mainly in the fatty tissue of animals. In the decades since it was first developed, Monsanto has been accused of covering up or failing to report dioxin contamination in a wide range of its products.

Anh Trang Nhan Hoi Anh Orphanage #7 – Agent Orange

During the early 1960s, Monsanto was one of the two primary manufacturers of Agent Orange, an herbicide / defoliant used for chemical warfare during the Vietnam War. Except Monsanto’s formula had dioxin levels many times higher than the Agent Orange produced by Dow Chemicals, the other manufacturer (which is why Monsanto was the key defendant in the lawsuit brought by Vietnam War veterans in the United States).

(Pictured at left, Anh and Trang Nhan, with their father, when they first arrived at the Hoi An Orphanage; below are the same brothers shortly before Trang’s death. Source: Kianh Foundation Newsletter, Dec. 2011)

Agent orange boys orphanageAs a result of the use of Agent Orange, Vietnam estimates that over 400,000 people were killed or maimed, 500,000 children were born with birth defects, and up to 1 million people were disabled or suffered from health problems—not to mention the far-reaching impact it had on the health of over 3 million American troops and their offspring.

agent-orange-children-at-tudu-hospital-in-ho-chi-minh-city Internal Monsanto memos show that Monsanto knew of the problems of dioxin contamination of Agent Orange when it sold it to the U.S. government for use in Vietnam. Despite the widespread health impact, Monsanto and Dow were allowed to appeal for and receive financial protection from the U.S. government against veterans seeking compensation for their exposure to Agent Orange.

In 2012, a long 50 years after Agent Orange was deployed, the clean-up effort has finally begun. Yet the legacy of Agent Orange, and successive generations of body deformitieswill remain in orphanages throughout VietNam for decades to come.

(Think that can’t happen here? Two crops were recently genetically engineered to withstand a weedkiller made with one of the major components of Agent Orange, 2,4-D, in order to combat “super weeds” that evolved due to the excessive use of RoundUp.)

8 – Petroleum-Based Fertilizer

In 1955, Monsanto began manufacturing petroleum-based fertilizer after purchasing a major oil refinery. Petroleum-based fertilizers can kill beneficial soil micro-organisms, sterilizing the soil and creating a dependence, like an addiction, to the synthetic replacements. Not the best addiction to have, considering the rising cost and dwindling supply of oil…

roundup-ready-crops

#9 – RoundUp

During the early 1970s, Monsanto founded their Agricultural Chemicals division with a focus on herbicides, and one herbicide in particular: RoundUp (glyphosate). Because of its ability to eradicate weeds literally overnight, RoundUp was quickly adopted by farmers. Its use increased even more when Monsanto introduced “RoundUp Ready” (glyphosate-resistant) crops, enabling farmers to saturate the entire field with weedkiller without killing the crops.

While glyphosate has been approved by regulatory bodies worldwide and is widely used, concerns about its effects on humans and the environment persist. RoundUp has been found in samples of groundwater, as well as soil, and even in streams and air throughout the Midwest U.S., and increasingly in food. It has been linked to butterfly mortality, and the proliferation of superweeds. Studies in rats have shown consistently negative health impacts ranging from tumors, altered organ function, and infertility, to cancer and premature death. Reference the above “GMO Risks” page which includes countless references to support these statements.

#10 – Aspartame (NutraSweet / Equal)

An accidental discovery during research on gastrointestinal hormones resulted in a uniquely sweet chemical: aspartame. During the clinical trials conducted on 7 infant monkeys as part of aspartame’s application for FDA approval, 1 monkey died and 5 other monkeys had grand mal seizures—yet somehow aspartame was still approved by the FDA in 1974. In 1985, Monsanto acquired the company responsible for aspartame’s manufacture (G.D. Searle) and began marketing the product as NutraSweet. Twenty years later, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released a report listing 94 health issues caused by aspartame. (Watch a quick video here.)

rbgh cows

#11 – Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH)

This genetically modified hormone was developed by Monsanto to be injected into dairy cows to produce more milk. Cows subjected to rBGH suffer excruciating pain due to swollen udders and mastitis, and the pus from the resulting infection enters the milk supply requiring the use of additional antibiotics. rBGH milk has been linked to breast cancer, colon cancer, and prostate cancer in humans.

#12 – Genetically Modified Crops / GMOs

In the early 1990s, Monsanto began gene-splicing corn, cotton, soy, and canola with DNA from a foreign source to achieve one of two traits: an internally-generated pesticide, or an internal resistance to Monsanto’s weedkiller RoundUp. Despite decades of promises that genetically engineered crops would feed the world with more nutrients, drought resistance, or yield, the majority of Monsanto’s profits are from seeds that are engineered to tolerate Monsanto’s RoundUp—an ever-rising, dual income stream as weeds continue to evolve resistance to RoundUp.

Most sobering however, is that the world is once again buying into Monsanto’s “safe” claims.

Just like the early days of PCBs, DDT, Agent Orange, Monsanto has successfully fooled the general public and regulatory agencies into believing that RoundUp, and the genetically modified crops that help sell RoundUp, are “safe.”

Except Monsanto has learned a thing or two in the past 100+ years of defending its dirty products: these days, when a new study proving the negative health or environmental impacts of GMOs emerges, Monsanto attacks the study and its scientist(s) by flooding the media with counter claims from “independent” organizations, scientists, industry associations, blogs, sponsored social media, and articles by “private” public relations firms—frequently founded, funded and maintained by Monsanto.

Unfortunately, few of us take the time to trace the members, founders, and relationships of these seemingly valid sources back to their little Monsanto secret. (Read more on this page.)

Fooling the FDA required a slightly different approach: click on the below chart compiled by Millions Against Monsanto to see how many former Monsanto VPs and legal counsel are now holding positions with the FDA. And don’t forget Clarence Thomas, former Monsanto attorney who is now a Supreme Court Justice, ruling in favor of Monsanto in every case brought before him.

Monsanto FDA

A Baker’s Dozen: #13 – Terminator Seeds

In the late 1990s, Monsanto developed the technology to produce sterile grains unable to germinate. These “Terminator Seeds” would force farmers to buy new seeds from Monsanto year after year, rather than save and reuse the seeds from their harvest as they’ve been doing throughout centuries. Fortunately this technology never came to market. Instead, Monsanto chose to require farmers to sign a contract agreeing that they will not save or sell seeds from year to year, which forces them to buy new seeds and preempts the need for a “terminator gene.” Lucky for us… since the terminator seeds were capable of cross-pollination and could have contaminated local non-sterile crops.

What’s the Result of our Monsanto Legacy?

Between 75% to 80% of the processed food you consume every day has GMOs inside, and residues of Monsanto’s RoundUp herbicide outside. But it’s not just processed food—fresh fruit and vegetables are next: genetically engineered sweet corn is already being sold at your local grocer, with apples and a host of other “natural” produce currently in field trials.

How is it that Monsanto is allowed to manipulate our food after such a dark product history? How is it they are allowed to cause such detrimental impact to our environment and our health?

According to the Organic Consumers Association, “There is a direct correlation between our genetically engineered food supply and the $2 trillion the U.S. spends annually on medical care, namely an epidemic of diet-related chronic diseases.

Instead of healthy fruits, vegetables, grains, and grass-fed animal products, U.S. factory farms and food processors produce a glut of genetically engineered junk foods that generate heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer—backed by farm subsidies—while organic farmers receive no such subsidies.

Monsanto’s history reflects a consistent pattern of toxic chemicals, lawsuits, and manipulated science. Is this the kind of company we want controlling our world’s food supply?

P.S. Monsanto’s not alone. Other companies in the “Big Six” include Pioneer Hi-Bred International (a subsidiary of DuPont), Syngenta AGDow Agrosciences (a subsidiary of Dow Chemical, BASF (which is primarily a chemical company that is rapidly expanding their biotechnology division, and Bayer Cropscience (a subsidiary of Bayer). View a complete list of companies doing genetic engineering on this website.

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Extreme Political Attitudes May Stem from an Illusion of Understanding

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Extreme Political Attitudes May Stem from an Illusion of Understanding

Apr. 29, 2013 — Having to explain how a political policy works leads people to express less extreme attitudes toward the policy, according to new research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.


The research suggests that people may hold extreme policy positions because they are under an illusion of understanding — attempting to explain the nuts and bolts of how a policy works forces them to acknowledge that they don’t know as much about the policy as they initially thought.

Psychological scientist Philip Fernbach of the Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado, Boulder and his co-authors were interested in exploring some of the factors that could contribute to what they see as increasing political polarization in the United States.

“We wanted to know how it’s possible that people can maintain such strong positions on issues that are so complex — such as macroeconomics, health care, foreign relations — and yet seem to be so ill-informed about those issues,” says Fernbach.

Drawing on previous research on the illusion of understanding, Fernbach and colleagues speculated that one reason for the apparent paradox may be that voters think they understand how policies work better than they actually do.

In their first study, the researchers asked participants taking an online survey to rate how well they understood six political policies, including raising the retirement age for Social Security, instituting a national flat tax, and implementing merit-based pay for teachers. The participants were randomly assigned to explain two of the policies and then asked to re-rate how well they understood the policies.

As the researchers predicted, people reported lower understanding of all six policies after they had to explain them, and their positions on the policies were less extreme. In fact, the data showed that the more people’s understanding decreased, the more uncertain they were about the position, and the less extreme their position was in the end.

The act of explaining also affected participants’ behavior. People who initially held a strong position softened their position after having to explain it, making them less likely to donate bonus money to a related organization when they were given the opportunity to do so.

Importantly, the results affected people along the whole political spectrum, from self-identified Democrats to Republicans to Independents.

According to the researchers, these findings shed light on a psychological process that may help people to open the lines of communication in the context of a heated debate or negotiation.

“This research is important because political polarization is hard to combat,” says Fernbach. “There are many psychological processes that act to create greater extremism and polarization, but this is a rare case where asking people to attempt to explain makes them back off their extreme positions.”

In addition to Fernbach, co-authors include Todd Rogers of the Harvard Kennedy School; Craig R. Fox of the University of California, Los Angeles; and Steven A. Sloman of Brown University.

How Color Can Confuse Consumers Into Buying Junk Food

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How Color Can Confuse Consumers Into Buying Junk Food

The food industry doesn’t want you to have simplified food labels—so they’re using every trick in the book to keep you uninformed.
March 21, 2013
How Color Can Confuse Consumers Into Buying Junk Food

Is that a food label or hieroglyphics? (Photo: Getty Images). 

There’s a kind of turf war going on over the real estate that is the front of the box of your breakfast cereal. And your snack crackers. And your candy bars. Really, over what you see when you first look at pretty much any packaged food head on.
 
If (like me) you’re a get-in-and-get-out sort of supermarket shopper, you may not have even noticed the neat little labels that have started appearing on the front of lots of foods. They seem utterly benign, taking nutrition info that’s typically relegated to the back or side of the package and bringing it up front: how many calories per serving, say, how much saturated fat, sodium and sugar—maybe how much calcium, iron or fiber, too.
 
But, as they say, the devil is in the details.
 
Despite calls by public health advocates and nutrition experts for more consumer-friendly labels (in the face of an American obesity epidemic where lots of people seem to think Froot Loops constitute a serving of fruit), the Food and Drug Administration has been moving at a snail’s pace toward regulation of “front-of-package” (FOP) labels.

Both Mark Bittman and Marion Nestle (a.k.a. perpetual thorns in the side of big food makers) have called for radical new labeling, with Bittman proposing a super easy-to-read label last fall in The New York Times that would, in a glance, communicate to consumers how nutritious a product is, as well as how natural and its social/environmental impact. The label is color coded like a traffic light: red, yellow, green. (No real guessing about the meaning of those colors.)
 
And, you know, the likelihood of food makers going for Bittman’s scheme is about the same as Cap’n Crunch being named to the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
 
A couple years ago, the Institutes of Medicine recommended that the FDA allow just four items on FOP labels: calories, saturated and trans fats, sodium and sugars. Then the food industry jumped in with its own “Facts Up Front” labeling plan.
 
You still get the four, but food makers then can add whatever they think you might like to hear, too. You pause because you see a product has, say, 500 mg of sodium per serving—but then you look to the right and see it has 10 percent of the daily value of calcium, so you toss it in your cart.
 
Critics of these relatively new labels say they confuse consumers—and now, it seems, it’s not just what the labels say that might be arguably deceptive. It’s what color they are.
 
Remember Bittman’s red, yellow and green proposal. Easy to understand, right? But what if there were no red or yellow. What if everything was just good, “all-natural,” “green-means-go” green?
 
As The Atlantic reports, Cornell researcher Jonathon Schuldt put FOP labels to the test. He asked a group of almost a hundred students to imagine themselves hungry and standing in line in the grocery store, then showed them one of two pictures of a candy bar. The images were the same, except the FOP calorie label (which said the candy bar was 250 calories) was colored either red or green.
 
We like to think we’re smart enough to outwit those wily marketers, but the joke may be on us, as Schuldt’s simple test reveals. Participants in the study were more likely to think the candy bar—the same darn candy bar—with the green label was healthier than the one with the red label.
 
Schuldt devised a similar experiment online, asking participants to rate how much they took the idea of healthiness into account when deciding what food to buy, then showing them candy bars with either green or white nutrition labels. Participants who had said healthiness was important to them ranked the candy bars with white labels as less healthy—but not the green-labeled candy bars.
 
Kermit was wrong: It may be too easy being green.