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Sustainable seafood: Does fresh vs. frozen make a difference?

Wednesday, December 9th, 2009

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The NY Times is running an op-ed, Catch of the Freezer, by a few ecological economists who were interested in learning whether it’s more sustainable to eat fresh or frozen  seafood.

Focusing on salmon as a case study, they suggest that it does matter.  Eat frozen when you can to reduce carbon emissions:

When it comes to salmon, the questions of organic versus conventional and wild versus farmed matter less than whether the fish is frozen or fresh. In many cases, fresh salmon has about twice the environmental impact as frozen salmon.

The reason: Most salmon consumers live far from where the fish was caught or farmed, and the majority of salmon fillets they buy are fresh and shipped by air, which is the world’s most carbon-intensive form of travel. Flying fillets from Alaska, British Columbia, Norway, Scotland or Chile so that 24 hours later they can be served “fresh” in New York adds an enormous climate burden, one that swamps the potential benefits of organic farming or sustainable fishing.

There are a lot of other important questions about sustainable seafood, including harvest rates, the industrialization and carbon intensity of the fishing process, genetic modification of farmed species, and organic pollutant loads in wild vs. farmed fish.  In terms of transportation and climate warming, this article offers a useful point of view, but I think their statement dismissing the importance of organic and wild vs. farmed is a bit parochial to a discussion of seafood sustainability writ large.  It depends on what part of sustainability—warming, human health, fish stocks, genetic alteration—matters most to you.

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Photo credit:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/adactio/ / CC BY 2.0

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Posted in energy, food and agriculture, shopping guides, sustainability, transportation | No Comments »

Good Guide—Learn what product labels don’t always tell you about the things you buy

Friday, November 20th, 2009

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There’s a new guide to shopping that looks interesting.  It’s called Good Guide, and it helps people learn more about what’s in their products that might not be healthy–to you, the environment, or society.

It’s easy to click on many different product types—from food to personal products to air fresheners to toys.   For example, ever wonder about different kinds of mac and cheese?

Here’s more information about them:

What chemicals are in your baby shampoo?
Was sweatshop labor used to make your t-shirt?
What products are the best, and what products should you avoid?

Increasingly, you want to know about the impacts of the products you buy. On your health. On the environment. On society. But unless you’ve got a Ph.D, it is almost impossible to find out the impacts of the products you buy. Until now…

GoodGuide provides the world’s largest and most reliable source of information on the health, environmental, and social impacts of the products in your home.

With GoodGuide, you can:

  • Find safe, healthy and green products that protect you and your family
  • Search or browse over 70,000 food, toys, personal care, & household products to see what’s really beneath the label
  • Use expert advice and recommendations on products to quickly learn the impacts of what you buy
  • Find better products and make purchasing decisions based on what’s important to you
  • Create a personalized favorites list with the products that are right for you and your family

Related post:  Do our daily routines put our health at risk?

Posted in behavior, environmentalism, food and agriculture, organic, shopping guides, solutions | No Comments »

“Avoiding Factory Farm Foods: An Eater’s Guide”

Wednesday, November 11th, 2009

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Nicolette Niman has a new column, Avoiding Factory Farm Foods: An Eater’s Guide, this week at Huffington Post.  This follows her NY Times column last week, Carnivore’s Dilemma, of which I was somewhat critical for the notable absence of land use concerns in the sustainable meat industry.

It’s a personal story that complements Jonathan Safran Foer’s recent thoughts on vegetarianism as a response to factory farming.  I was surprised to learn that someone known for her family’s more-sustainable livestock ranch network is actually vegetarian.

Here are her main points on avoiding factory farmed foods.  Her article provides more details on each:

(more…)

Posted in behavior, food and agriculture, organic, shopping guides, sustainability | No Comments »

Do our daily routines put our health at risk?

Wednesday, October 14th, 2009

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Every day, we are exposed to synthetic chemicals and radiation from consumer products.   If you asked me how risky these products are, my responses might range from “I don’t know” to “I don’t want to know” to “If they’re on the market, let’s hope they’re safe!”  Unfortunately, it’s difficult to know if many of the things we use every day really are safe.

Risk analysis is a four-step process by which scientists determine whether chemicals or other agents are unhealthy:

  • Step 1: Hazard screening–Does a chemical look or act like other chemicals already known to be harmful or safe?
  • Step 2: Exposure characterization–How much are we exposed to and how much accumulates in our bodies?
  • Step 3: Effects characterization–How do different doses of an agent lead to different health effects, or what we commonly refer to as “dose-response curves”? This is usually achieved using short-term lab animal tests or epidemiological data that show things like health effects of people working at industry sites or living in contaminated neighborhoods.
  • Step 4: Risk characterization–Given that we identify a chemical as being potentially dangerous (Step 1), and can measure our exposure (Step 2) and the effects that this specific exposure has on health (Step 3), what is the likelihood or risk that we will experience ill health as a result of the exposure?

As the EPA will tell you, there is often poor understanding of the long term risks of synthetic chemicals and radiation.  Much of this comes from the fact that

  • We have not screened many of the chemicals on the market for potential safety.  Here’s a quote from the EPA’s website in 1996, which was subsequently removed:

For the majority of the approximately 3,000 high production volume industrial chemicals produced in the United States in 1996, we have little or no publicly available hazard screening data. These chemicals, non-polymers produced in quantities of more than one million pounds per year, are found in the workplace and in thousands of consumer products. Even fewer data are available for the remainder of the some 70,000 chemicals on the EPA’s inventory.

  • Rigorous effects characterizations are hard to do.  Lab animal tests (rats, mice, etc.) are useful, but they are not a perfect substitute for understanding human health impacts.  Moreover, the kinds of long-term data we need rarely exist because that’s the nature of short grant funding cycles.  We know very little about the synergistic effects of multiple chemicals interacting in our bodies.  Finally, health problems analyzed in epidemiological studies can often be confounded with other lifestyle issues, such as weight, diet, exercise, and smoking.

Thus, we know we are exposed to these things, and we can even measure them in our bodies and in infants,  but we don’t know very well how this translates to long term health risk.

To some, this uncertainty might be license to ignore the issue.  To others, it necessitates better education about what’s in or emanating from our products so that we can decide for ourselves whether or not to limit exposure.

The Environmental Working Group has compiled several interesting lists of consumer products including specific ingredients that have the potential to be harmful:

So go ahead and check out your favorite vegetable, shampoo, cell phone, or toothpaste, and see what comes up.

photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/w610guy/ / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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Posted in environmental science, pollutants, risk analysis, shopping guides, toxics | 4 Comments »

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