This Week in Eco News - December 20, 2013

With this installment, we bid 2013 farewell, as Eco News takes a brief holiday break. Look for our next edition Friday, January 3rd, 2014. In the meantime, we wish you and your families Happy New Year!

The FDA talks tough on antibiotics and antibacterial products - to what end, we'll see. This week's Eco News also includes tips to improve your gas efficiency this winter. Plus climate news and multimedia! See a story we should share? Drop us a line at [email protected]

Best of the Web Video - Food

Wendell Berry: Poet and Prophet

In a rare television interview, environmental legend, sustainable farming advocate and writer Wendell Berry leaves his Kentucky farm for an inspiring conversation.
Take Action: Learn why sustainable farming is important to our environment.


GMO Labeling Becomes Law in Connecticut
Connecticut's governor signed the first GMO labeling law into effect last week, expressing optimism that the labeling movement will succeed. The new law, however, will only take hold once at least four other states (and some combination of Northeastern neighbors) enact similar legislation, in order to defend Connecticut's economy from potential legal backlash as production giants fight mandatory labeling. [Grist]

The FDA's Not-Really-Such-Good-News
The FDA has issued new, voluntary guidelines for phasing out antibiotic usage as a growth enhancer in livestock, but Mark Bittman isn't buying it. Like other experts, Bittman says the FDA's industry approved guidelines will have no meaningful impact on antibiotic use in agriculture and that it represents yet another failure of the agency to protect the nation's health. [The New York Times]

Law Professors Voice Concerns Over Farm Bill's King Amendment
Fourteen law professors recently signed a letter expressing their concern over Rep. Steve King's (R-IA) "Protect Interstate Commerce Act" on the grounds that it would threaten public health and safety. The letter warned that were the act to pass, blocking states from holding out-of-state foods to their own higher standards, numerous state agricultural laws would be nullified. [Food Safety News]

Dairymen Reject rBST Largely on Economic Grounds
According to a recent study, more than two-thirds of dairy farmers, including many large producers, have stopped treating their herds with recombinant bovine somatotropin (rBST) simply because the hormone does little to boost profits. Many farmers have stopped using rBST due to consumer demand, but in general producers say that the harmful effects of treatment outweigh negligible results. [Capital Press]

Meatless Monday

NY Hospital Chefs Take Meatless Menus Further
In last week's vegetarian cooking class led by Richard LaMarita, chef at the Natural Gourmet Institute for Food & Health in New York, 14 chefs from nine locations of the North Shore Long Island Jewish Medical Center (NS-LIJ) created some amazing menus that could have dazzled even the most sophisticated New York vegetarian. NS-LIJ is one of the largest hospital systems in the US, with 16 hospitals in locations throughout Long Island, Manhattan, Queens and Staten Island. The chefs created four menus, each featuring plant-based entrées. [Food Management]


Organizations Find New Ways to Address Water, Energy and Food Pressures
The creator of financial futures believes that water in the 21st century will become a commodity. Maybe so, if water-trading arrangements in China (and especially Australia) are any indication. Such arrangements have compelled water users to shift from "low-value to high-value activities" and incentivized efficiency. The key: buy-in from business, NGOs and society as a whole. (You know, the usual.) [The Guardian]

FDA Seeks Tougher Rules on Antibacterial Soaps
The FDA is giving soap manufacturers one year to prove that antibacterial ingredients (triclosan chief among them) are safe and effective - otherwise the ingredients' removal will be mandatory. Antibacterial agents are overused in consumer products, are harmful as endocrine disruptors and can produce drug-resistant bacteria, which then harms ecosystems as they spread through water supplies. [AP]

Toxic 'E-waste' Dumped in Poor Nations, Says United Nations
E-waste keeps piling up and is expected to grow 33 percent by 2016, according to the UN Step Initiative. What's really bad is that many of the electronics that are allegedly taken for recycling end up dumped in developing countries' landfills, where toxic metals and chemicals leach into the soil and water. [The Guardian]


Energy Firms Push Deeper, Farther Offshore in Search of Oil
BP is looking into drilling an oil well in the Gulf of Mexico twice as deep as its Macondo well, which you might remember from the company's 2010 blowout disaster. Oh, but why dwell on the recent past - BP and other oil industry giants can manage the financial, if not ecological, risks of "ultra-deep-water" drilling! [Christian Science Monitor]

Turning a Building's Water System Into a Hydroelectric Plant
The son of a Hong Kong developer is testing out electricity-generating turbines to be spun by excess water pressure in high-rise buildings. The amount of energy generated can't come close to powering entire buildings, but they could keep the lights on in stairwells, elevator shafts and lobbies. There may be a lot of hurdles to jump for the turbines to catch on though, cost being the highest. [New York Times]

All Systems Go As We Say Goodbye to the Old Inefficient 60-Watt Bulb on Jan. 1
Six years after President George W. Bush signed a bill phasing in more efficient light bulbs, 40- and 60-watt incandescent bulbs, which represent over half the market, no longer can be manufactured or imported into the United States, a move that will eventually save as much electricity as is generated by 30 large coal-burning power plants every year. [NRDC Switchboard]

Coast Guard Plan for River Barges to Ship Fracking Wastewater to OH, TX, LA
The US Coast Guard is proposing that fracking wastewater be shipped by barges on the nation's rivers. The wastewater would come from drill sites in the Marcellus Shale region (Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio) and would be sent along iconic rivers like the Ohio and Mississippi to final disposal sites in Ohio, Texas and Louisiana. [Associated Press]

Surge Seen in US Oil Output, Lowering Gasoline Prices
The Energy Department released its annual Energy Outlook this week, and in the report projected that domestic oil production will continue to soar to record highs in coming years while prices drop, opening up the possibility for expanded oil and natural gas exports from the US. [New York Times]


How Much Do Exxon and Google Charge Themselves for Climate Pollution?
There are 29 companies that operate or are headquartered in the US that have set their own carbon price in anticipation of an eventual carbon tax. This handy chart shows how much they're adding to their balance sheets for carbon pollution, with most but not all falling below the Obama Administration's recommendation of $37 per metric ton of carbon. [Mother Jones]

The Triple Whopper Environmental Impact of Global Meat Production
While meat consumption in developed countries greatly outpaces all others, production efficiency and impact per animal is actually higher in developing countries (owing, in part, to "poor feed quality"). A new study released this week announced these findings amidst calls for changes to production methods, and emphasizes the need for reduced meat consumption. [TIME]

Lost Freshwater May Double Climate Change Effects On Agriculture
By harnessing climate, agricultural and water models, pioneering research has determined that food production could decrease by up to 40 percent more than expected by the end of the 21st century as freshwater loss from climate change lowers precipitation totals in certain agricultural areas while also decreasing water availability for irrigation. [Science Daily]

NASA's GRACE Satellites Show Colorado River Basin's Groundwater Losses
GRACE satellite data (no relation to us) indicates that the loss of groundwater storage, not shrinking reservoirs, is the biggest loser in the drought-ravaged Colorado River Basin region, ongoing since 2005. The severe depletion of regional aquifers - tantamount to 1.3 times the capacity of Lake Mead - owes to unmonitored, unregulated and unsustainable groundwater pumping for farm irrigation. [Circle of Blue]

Peak Water: What Happens When the Wells Go Dry?
The influential environmentalist, Lester Brown, warns that "peak water" is a greater threat to global stability than "peak oil" because of water's centrality to food production. Since there is no substitute for water, the world has reached a point "where water, not land, has emerged as the principal constraint on expanding food supplies;" Brown says we must learn how to live "within the earth's water limits." [World Bank]


Winter Gas Mileage Tips
Does your gas mileage usually go down in the winter? Find out winter weather driving tips that can help improve your winter mileage and efficiency. [Weather Channel]

Going Solar Can Save You Big Time
Cost of Solar, an online energy resource and national network of solar installers, estimated solar expenditures for all states as well as potential savings over a month and the long term and created a series of maps to illustrate those costs. The national average cost is $17,056 - but less than $10,000 in a handful of states. That's not counting local, state and federal incentives that might be available. [EcoWatch]

The Global Food Challenge Explained in 18 Graphics
The series of maps explains and explores strategies to sustainably feed more than 9 billion people by 2050. All pieces are based on research being conducted for the 2013-2014 World Resources Report. [WRI]

The Top 10 Biggest Wastewater Treatment Plants
Water wonks rejoice! This is a nice way to spend a few moments of relaxation, taking in photos of these impressive wastewater treatment facilities from all around the world. Chicago and Boston have the largest capacity. [ENR]

A Tale of Two Farmers: The Human Cost of Unsustainable Cocoa
Photos from sustainable supply chain adviser Solidaridad demonstrate the impact unsustainable cocoa has on farmers' lives. [Confectionary News]

Food Eco News contributed by Audrey Jenkins.