This Week in Eco News - February 8, 2013

Happy Friday! Here is a compilation of stories we followed this week. We circulate these internally and publish synopses throughout the week as Eco News, which you can find all week long — in real time — in the column to the right. You can also sign up to receive them via email each Thursday. If you see a story you think we should include, drop us a line at [email protected]


PepsiCo Will Halt Use of Additive in Gatorade
PepsiCo has announced that they will stop using brominated vegetable oil in Gatorade. The impetus for this decision was a petition (which garnered over 200,000 signatures) started by Sarah Kavanagh, a 15-year-old from Hattiesburg, MS, who became concerned about the product after reading studies that suggested possible side effects include neurological disorders and altered thyroid hormones. [The New York Times]

No Bad Apples: Grocery Store Cuts Waste and Cost by Selling Imperfect Fruit
FoodStar and Andronico's Community Market, a small Northern California grocery chain, have come up with an innovative way to reduce food waste that also gives the farmer more money and the consumer cheaper fruit. The basis of this bold new idea is that consumers don't mind buying "imperfect" fruits. [Grist]

Why We Can't See Inside Poultry Production, and What Might Change if We Could
Reports from all over the world now cite the existence of multi-drug resistant bacteria in industrially raised chicken as a result of antibiotic use. This poses a huge threat to public health, but it hasn't been addressed. Why? No transparency in poultry production. [Wired]

GMO Labeling Campaign Promises To Be Back in 2014
Good news! The California Right to Know Campaign will be back with another ballot initiative for labeling GMOs in November 2014. Last November Prop 37 failed after a very well-funded public relations campaign by Big Food swayed the vote. [Food Safety News]

The Surprising Connection Between Food and Fracking
Many are aware that fracking can contaminate groundwater, causing toxic chemicals to enter the crops and animals we eat. However, there is another connection between fracking and our food system. US agriculture is highly reliant on synthetic nitrogen fertilizer generated by natural gas. These days, more and more of our natural gas supply comes from fracking. So if Big Ag becomes dependent on cheap fracked gas to meet its fertilizer needs, they could be a powerful ally for the fossil fuel industry as it resists fracking regulations and opponents. [Mother Jones]

Genetic Changes to Food May Get Uniform Labeling
Executives from about twenty major food companies including PepsiCo, ConAgra and Walmart met with advocacy groups that favor labeling of GMOs at a meeting in Washington convened by the Meridian Institute. The conversation has sparked hope among food advocates that the industry will turn away from marketing tactics like those used to defeat Prop 37 in California, and instead begin to collaborate to develop a federal label for GM ingredients. [New York Times]

In Revamped Cafeterias, USDA Gets a Taste of its Own Medicine
The USDA has decided to play by its own rules; revamped agency cafeterias will be put in line with their own recommendations and guidelines. All cafeterias will now be fryer-less, and stations will offer meals in accordance with the requirements of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. [Washington Post]

USDA Proposes Rules for "Competitive" Snack Foods
The USDA has released its proposed rules for nutritional content of snacks, sodas and meals sold in schools separately from federally subsidized school meals. The rules, which will apply to snacks sold in vending machines and a la carte, aim to curb unhealthy options that compete with school breakfast and lunch. [Food Politics]

Lobbying by Agri-Business Killed New Mexico GMO Labeling Bill, Claim Supporters
Last week, a New Mexico Senate bill proposing mandatory labeling for GM food and feed died on the senate floor. Supporters of the bill say that the agri-food lobby falsely convinced members of the senate that the labeling would cost a lot of money. [Food Navigator]

Study Looks at Particles Used in Food
As you may or may not be aware, many food companies use nanomaterials (substances broken down by technology into molecule-size particles) in their products and packaging. The tiny particles can get into places in the body larger particles cant, like the bloodstream after ingestion and inhalation. The FDA doesnt require labeling (the EU does) and are relying on industry to assess the dangers of nanoparticles. One way to avoid these potentially dangerous little guys: stick to real foods. [New York Times]


The Perils of Ignoring the Water-Energy Nexus
Renowned freshwater expert, Sandra Postel, writes about the links between water resources and energy production which are growing even tighter and that our global future prosperity depends on solutions that balance the sustainability of both systems. She offers GRACE's "Know the Nexus" paper as a strong background resource. [National Geographic]

Mind and Mussels Clean an Iowa Waterway
One clever way to contend with water pollution caused by nutrient-rich agricultural runoff - from excessive fertilizer and animal manure - is to stock waterways with water purifying mollusks, like mussels.  In an eastern Iowa stream called Farmers Creek, a coalition of state environmental agencies, farmers and environmentalists have introduced mussels to attempt to clean it up the natural way. [Daily Yonder]

Is the Food Industry Running on Empty When it Comes to Water?
Worldwide, agriculture and food production accounts for 70 percent of water withdrawals, with only 22 percent of withdrawals going to the power and industrial uses. That means that food production - and thus food scarcity - is incredibly sensitive to water scarcity, a major concern as the portent of increasing frequency drought and deluge becomes more probable, with meat consumption on the chopping block. [Guardian]

Interconnections Between Water and Food – Audio
Listen to this audio podcast as Kevin Noone, professor at the Stockholm Resilience Centre, explains how agricultural water use comprises 70 percent of total freshwater use globally, "with some foods requiring more water to produce than others." [Guardian]

First Global Assessment of Land and Water Grabbing
With global demands on food and energy tightening, some nations and some giant corporations are angling for food security by "land grabbing" - or buying up quality agricultural land and accompanying water resources - in "generally less wealthy countries," according to the first study on the subject. If the affected nations and don't create "institutions that can make sure that locals are involved in decisions" about resources, then trouble could follow. [Science Daily]

Pennsylvania Drilling Waste[water] Might Overwhelm Ohio Injection Wells
A new study by Duke University and Kent State University scientists have found that while a fracked well might produce less wastewater per unit of energy (e.g.,natural gas) than conventional wells, the sheer amount of fracking wastewater proliferating along with the Marcellus Shale wells "threatens to overwhelm the region's wastewater-disposal infrastructure capacity." [Akron Beacon Journal]

As Drought Persists, Many Scramble to Save Every Drop of Water
Distress is intensifying about when relief will come as the multiple-year drought in the American Plains and Midwest continues into 2013. The drying out of this agricultural heartland could have terrible consequences for crop yields, which could raise food prices and hurt livestock output. [Reuters]

Energy Drink: New York City's Newest Power Source Could Be its Sewers and Reservoirs
NYC's Department of Environmental Protection, at the behest of Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the City Council, is looking into the prospect of electricity from hydropower dams constructed on upstate drinking water reservoirs as well as electricity from methane captured in city wastewater treatment plants. [New York World]

Mississippi River Barge Crash: Barge Carrying 80,000 Gallons Of Oil Hits Railroad Bridge
The headline pretty much says it all, with the particularly dangerous section of the Mississippi River around Vicksburg still closed down two days later. [AP]

Message from Mexico: US Is Polluting Water It May Someday Need to Drink
The United States should be attentive to a Mexico City plan to pump drinking water from an aquifer one mile underground because the US currently disposes of large volumes of toxic wastewater into underground injection wells that could potentially contaminate deep groundwater supplies that might be needed in a drier future. [ProPublica]


Lack of Energy Water Roadmap Could be Disastrous to Nation's Water, Food, Economy
Daily Kos has picked up on the Department of Energy's much-delayed (since 2006!) report on the energy-water nexus. There's now even an online White House petition calling for the release of the report. [Daily Kos]

Urban Heat May Warm Faraway Places
The massive amounts of heat produced by cities may be heating up rural areas 1,000 miles away by as much as 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit, researchers report in a new study. [National Geographic]

North Dakota: Thanks to the Oil and Gas Industry, Unpaid Medical Bills are Up 30 Percent
The oil and gas industry brings nothing but great fortune, right? Nope. In yet another example of the industry harming communities, the North Dakota Hospital Association reports that unpaid bills in the states hospital have increased 30 percent over the past two years, due to oil field services employers that do not provide health insurance or only offer plans with very high deductibles. [NRDC Switchboard]

China Consumes Nearly as Much Coal as the Rest of the World Combined
Chinese electric generation has grown 200 percent since 2000, and as a result the nation now accounts for 47 percent of global coal consumption - almost as much as the entire rest of the world combined. [Today in Energy]

DOD to Quadruple Renewable Energy Installations
Those hippies in the Army, Navy and Air Force have each established targets of one gigawatt of installed renewable energy capacity by 2025, and the Defense Department has a goal for renewable energy to comprise 25 percent of all energy it produces or buys by 2025. [SmartPlanet]

Environmentalists Threaten to Sue Energy Company
Food & Water Watch, Patuxent Riverkeeper and Potomac Riverkeeper have threatened to sue the operator of three coal-fired power plants in Maryland for discharging excessive amounts of nutrient pollution into Chesapeake Bay rivers. [Baltimore Sun]

Water Demand for Energy to Double by 2035
The Energy Information Agency forecasts that by 2035 the amount of water consumed globally by the energy system will double, and that growth will be driven primarily by soaring coal-fired electricity and the ramping up of biofuel production.[National Geographic]

Private UK Group Tries to Relaunch Mammoth Tidal Power Project
Tidal power can be a great, ecologically-friendly renewable source of electricity as long as underwater turbines are used, but a somewhat shadily-funded plan for a massive tidal dam across the River Severn in Wales has angered fishermen, environmentalists and the shipping industry. [E&E News]

North Dakota Went Boom
Here's an on-the-ground look at how the oil boom in North Dakota's Bakken Shale region is impacting local communities, both the good and the bad. [New York Times]

John Kerry to Lead Review of Keystone XL Pipeline
John Kerry has been confirmed as the next Secretary of State, and his history of being an environmentally-friendly senator has many hoping that he will block the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. [Christian Science Monitor]