Whole Foods Market

Whole Foods Market (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Whole Foods has stepped into the ring in the fight between consumers and the government over food labeling of GMOs.  The company recently announced that by 2018, “all products in U.S. and Canada stores must be labeled if they contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs)”.

This announcement to require labeling of GMOs speaks loudly to the food industry and the government on industry practices.  A clear message is being sent that people have the right to know the contents of their food they purchase and that a company which markets food as being certified organic has a duty to assure the truth of any such statements to that extent.  Without mandatory labeling, it is impossible for stores such as Whole Foods to guarantee non-GMO products to their customers; however, forging business relationships with companies who are willing to truthfully disclose the contents of food products will go a long way to identify and support worthy businesses.  This is not to say that a product cannot contain GMOs.  Rather, they will not be sold at Whole Foods.  There are some people who do not even read food labels or show concern for such issues, and there still will be places for them to shop.

Recent efforts to require GMO labeling in California was defeated, largely as a result of millions of dollars in advertising against the ballot measure by corporate proponents of GMOs, namely Monsanto and PepsiCo.  It is difficult to understand the controversy over food labeling and the government’s failure to require labeling on foods containing GMOs.  Additionally, it is puzzling that the government opts to block the consumers’ right to know what is contained in the food they purchase.  To this end, Gary Hirshberg, the CEO of Stonyfield Yogurt and chairman of the Just Label It campaign noted that “there are . . . lots of reasons to label these foods:  health and environmental concerns, ethical/religious views or just people want to know”.  Statistics on the need to know whether or not foods contain GMOs indicate that an overwhelming majority of Americans (92%) want food labeling.

The decision by Whole Foods to require labeling foods if they contain GMOs is a major step forward for the green movement and for people who insist on making informed choices on food purchases.    This decision also reinforces the commitment of stores such as Whole Foods to sell food that is organically grown.  This plan offers much-needed support to the suppliers of certified organic products.  It is a clear indication that the proponents of healthy living will not be dominated or defeated by big corporations on the issue of right to know and to choose the food they want to eat.  Hopefully, many more companies will join Whole Foods and manufacturers, such as Stonyfield, in supporting consumers’ right to know whether or not their food contains GMOs.  To do so is to live green, be green.


Source for this article:

1.  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/08/whole-foods-gmo-labeling-2018_n_2837754.html?utm_hp_ref=green.
2.  http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/about-our-products/product-faq/gmos.
3.  http://justlabelit.org/.

A debate that many once thought was done and settled has reared its head again recently, the Keystone XL oil pipeline.  Like many issues in America, it has become a partisan rallying point, with Democrats (for the most part) and Republicans setting up camp on different sides of the issue. Many, no doubt, recall the continuous news coverage over this very divisive issue during the previous two years, and they also may recall that news coverage then suddenly stopped.

The issue was brought back into the spotlight earlier this week by (R) Gov. Dave of Nebraska when he endorsed a revised pipeline going through his state.[1]  Before we go any further let us refresh our memory on the basic facts about the pipeline:

The full proposed pipeline, which would cross the U.S. border in Montana, is designed to bring between 500,000 to 700,000 barrels a day from the Canadian oil sands region to refineries on the Gulf Coast. It would shortcut to an existing pipe that goes through much of Canada before cutting into the United States in North Dakota on the way to Cushing.” [2]

The important thing to take away from this is that already there is a pipeline in place. The proposed additions would shorten the distance that the oil needs to travel, while allowing it to be shipped to Gulf refineries, instead of those in the Midwest that currently are used. Another major point to understand before we truly dive into this debate is that part of this proposal already is being put into effect. The part of the pipeline that would take the oil from Cushing, Oklahoma to oil refineries in Texas is going forward.  Since this portion of the pipeline does not cross an international border, it does not require federal approval.  Furthermore, the Obama administration was never in opposition to this segment of the pipeline, which is expected to be fully operational sometime later this year.[3] Now for many who read this blog, it is obvious on the environmental side why one would be in opposition to this pipeline. Unfortunately, many people find environmental and economic concerns to be mostly incompatible.  Consequently, I cannot stress the importance of showing why this pipeline does not only make sense from an environmental perspective, but also from a long-term economic one.

The debate over the Keystone pipeline, like many things, has been caught up in the current contentious disputes raging in America. As such, for many, the debate over the pipeline boiled down to one word– jobs. TransCanada, the company behind the pipeline, estimates that if the entirety of the proposed pipeline were to begin construction, then it would, “would create 20,000 “direct” jobs. That includes 13,000 construction jobs and 7,000 jobs producing commodities, such as pump houses and the pipe itself.  [They] also project nearly 120,000 ‘indirect’ jobs — think restaurant workers and hotel employees to support the construction”.[4] Since the Cushing-to-Texas part of the pipeline already is moving forward, we should note that TransCanada states that this segment, in particular, would create 4,000 jobs.2  

However, we must take these numbers with a grain of salt as they come from a company that desperately wants the full project to gain approval. When we put these numbers under the microscope, it becomes obvious that they do not add up:

“But TransCanada numbers count each job on a yearly basis. If the pipeline employs 10,000 people working for two years, that’s 20,000 jobs by the company’s count. The estimates also include jobs in Canada, where about a third of the $7 billion pipeline would be constructed. The U.S. State Department, which must green light the project, forecasts just 5,000 direct U.S. jobs over a two-year construction period. Even according to TransCanada, the amount of permanent jobs created would be only in the hundreds.”4

We see now that they are not necessarily lying, but presenting the truth in a misguiding way, to put it lightly. That being said, these are the numbers we should be analyzing if we are to bring jobs into this debate. While jobs are undoubtedly appreciated, we cannot keep jumping from temporary fix to temporary fix.  In this country, we do have an employment problem interwoven within our greater economic issues. However, these greater economic problems did not arise from a temporary scenario.  Our country and our world have been resting on a structurally flawed economy that needs dramatic restructuring in order to be stable and more beneficial to all. When we pour energy and resources into these temporary beneficial programs, we blind ourselves from the true debate generally and specifically from the trued argument regarding employment. No doubt there will be temporary gains in employment, but we must begin to think in the long-term, and in regards to this perspective, “one study from Cornell University said the pipeline could actually lead to a decline in jobs in the long run. One reasons given for this phenomenon  is that the pipeline would lead to higher fuel prices in the Midwest, the study said, and that would slow consumer spending and cost jobs”.4 This brings us to the other argument advocating the construction of the pipeline, gas prices. Why would we turn away this new supply of oil when gas prices are so stubbornly high?  The answer is that the argument that this oil will decrease gas prices is a logical fallacy.

The cost of gasoline in this country has risen steadily over the past decade, followed closely by the calls for less oil imports and more domestic oil production. This is a natural conclusion since the price of gas determines the price of so many other products in this country, while dependence on the price restricts or opens up our travels.  In my previous posts, I have discussed the increase of domestic oil production; however, simply concluding that increasing the amount of oil brought into the country would automatically lead to lower gas prices is an all-out rejection of the facts.  If this pipeline was about getting more oil into this country for cheaper domestic gasoline prices, then the Cushing-Texas part of the pipeline would be unnecessary. Regardless of whether or not the controversial section of the line is finished, connecting to the Gulf refineries would enable up to 700,000 barrels/day of Canadian oil to now have access to global markets.  Of those 700,000 barrels/day, Valero has signed a contract for 100,000 barrels a day until 2030. Valero is operating with the full intent of converting these barrels into diesel to export. [5] Furthermore, the lack of a connection to Gulf refineries has led to a glut of gasoline in the Midwest, reducing competition and depressing prices. Cheaper gas prices directly benefit consumer spending and have a beneficial effect all the way down the supply chain. 2

For the President to approve the construction of this pipeline, it must be proven that doing so is in the best national interest. Let us then check the facts and see this truly is the case. When we really focus on the job numbers, we find that despite grand claims by TransCanada, the stark reality is different. While there would certainly would be job creation, the majority of these positions would be temporary. The actual tally of long term jobs created numbers only in the hundreds. In all likelihood, there is a chance that in the long run it could decrease in employment due to higher gas prices throughout the Midwest. When we take these two outcomes into account, it becomes clear that the benefit to the economy and the long term energy independency of this country has been highly overstated.  Furthermore, we have not even taken into account the environmental effects of tar-sand oil. On average, emissions from tar sands are 23% higher than oil from more conventional fossil fuel sources.[6]  These already higher than average emissions are compounded by the extraction of the oil, which amplifies the environmental effect. Through the process of extracting the tar-sand oil, acres upon acres of carbon absorbing peat lands would be destroyed. Recently, Scientists from the University of Alberta found that, “10 operational oil sands mining projects would destroy enough peat lands to release 11.4 million to 47.3 million metric tons of stored carbon into the atmosphere. That release is the equivalent of seven years’ worth of emissions from the oil sands mining region”. [7]  The damage continues even beyond this initial carbon release.  What were once carbon absorbing peat lands will be replaced by dry forests which will take in significantly less carbon.

When we consider all the factors, combined with and all the facts concerning the Keystone XL pipeline, it is easy to see that it is not in the public interest. Not only the controversial international section, but the Cushing-Texas portion as well. We have a company, TransCanada, which has skewed the facts and has allowed falsehoods (i.e. the jobs and cheap gas argument) to be publicly displayed as truths. It is true, as many of the columnists of my sources have noted, that stopping this pipeline is not a silver bullet for global warming. However, the point also is continuously made that if we cannot stand up to projects such as these, then what hope do we have? To end global warming and to possess more economic security, we must begin cutting our dependency on fossil fuels altogether, both imported and domestically produced. If we do not pick a point to begin pushing back, then we never will do so. If we allow one project such as this to go forward, while recognizing the overall dangers, how can we stop others? The pushback has to begin somewhere and what better way than against a pipeline dedicated to one of the most polluting fossil fuels in the world?  Let’s work hard to push this project back now so that we may live green, be green.

By Sean P. Maguire


[1] http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/OTUS/keystone-pipeline-decision-tests-president-obama-jobs-climate/story?id=18292687

[2] http://money.cnn.com/2012/03/22/news/economy/keystone-pipeline/index.htm

[3] http://money.cnn.com/2012/02/27/news/companies/keystone_pipeline/index.htm?iid=EL

[4] http://money.cnn.com/2011/12/13/news/economy/keystone_pipeline_jobs/index.htm?iid=EL

[5] http://dirtyoilsands.org/files/OCIKeystoneXLExport-Fin.pdf

[6] http://www.europeanvoice.com/article/2011/february/tar-sands-creates-more-pollution-than-other-fossil-fuels-/70152.aspx

[7] http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=oil-sands-co2-emissions-higher-than-thought

Food and Drug Administration logo

Food and Drug Administration logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As evidenced by the frequent news reports on outbreaks of food-borne illnesses and now hospitalizations and deaths from contaminated medical products, it is apparent that there are major problems within the ranks of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Some policy analysts attribute the FDA’s deficiencies to “the haphazard manner in which it has grown”.  The agency began operations in 1852 with a single chemist working within the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and operated without regulatory duties until 1906 when news stories about horrible conditions at food-processing plants became the rage.  The public uproar from these graphic stories culminated in the passage of the Federal Food and Drug Act.  Future instances of health disasters in 1937 and again in the 1950s and 1960s heightened awareness of the need for the FDA to have greater oversight of the food supply and led to the passage of laws regarding pesticides and food and color additives.  It is important to note that the FDA still shares the responsibility for the nation’s food supply with the USDA, with the latter agency overseeing the safety of meat and poultry, and the former assuming control of the rest of the food supply.

Repeatedly in reports by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the FDA has been noted to have “systemic problems . . . that threaten the health of anyone who consumes food in the U.S.”  These problems include, but are not limited to:

  • An ineffective and confusing inspection process.
  • Poor performance in addressing overuse of antibiotics in livestock feed.
  • Lack of scientific capacity for the agency to do its job.
  • Failure to take enforcement action in more than half of its uncovered violations.

A review of articles and news stories regarding the activities of the FDA reveals that the agency’s inspection and investigation work is severely flawed.  Routine inspections are limited and audits sometimes are performed by third-party auditors who advertise work at an”unbelievable price” and give out “superior ratings”.

One major area of concern with the FDA is oversight of seafood sold in the United States.  More than 84% of our seafood is imported, with 50% of it coming from Asia.  These fish farmers produce large volumes of seafood, including shrimp, catfish and tilapia in polluted and overcrowded ponds and then use antibiotics and fungicides to sterilize the seafood to pass inspection in this country.  Amazingly, the FDA is charged with keeping these very same ‘drug-tainted fish” out of the food supply, but as the GAO reports, the agency is failing to do this and really is not even trying.   In 2009, the FDA tested only one out of every 1000 imported seafood products for 16 different chemicals.  Reports indicate that Canada tested 50 of every 1000 products for more than 40 different chemicals, and Japan tested 110 of every 1000 products for more than 57 chemicals.  In addition to posing a health threat to people who eat seafood, the actions of the FDA threaten the very existence of domestic seafood farmers, who must compete with foreign counterparts, who employ cheap labor and who get away with using chemicals that are banned for use by seafood farmers here.

The failure of the FDA to do its job puts the life of every American at stake.  For those of us trying to live a green life and eat healthy, this news is particularly unsettling.  Every citizen has the right to a safe and healthy food supply.  The federal government is obligated to perform dutifully regarding this.  We must stand together and demand effective oversight of the nation’s food supply so that we can live green, be green.

Every business in today’s world, big and small alike, is practically forced to partake in some form of information technology services in order to remain relevant and survive.  I have used some form of IT services, I have worked in related fields, and I know many people who work in IT services, some of whom I call dear friends.  What I did not know, however, was that there were ways in which these services can be delivered as eco-friendly.  Did you?

Companies like SHI International – headquartered in Somerset, NJ, with branches across Canada, the United Kingdom, France, and Hong Kong – are working hard to provide their green IT services to corporate customers, without harming the environment or their customers’ budgets.  SHI works alongside its customers, going so far as to ensure that, within appropriate territories, their customers’ sites operate under adequate conditions to be eligible for incentives from willing utility providers.

SHI even goes so far as to operate in an eco-friendly manner.  Within all their restrooms, a visitor will find green soaps and recycled paper products.  The company attempts to reuse all shipping materials, provided they can withstand the trip.  Timers operate facility lighting across their plants.  These small steps are very admirable among businesses and are too often overlooked, even with today’s understanding of their significance.  Bravo.