Plus: Toxic ships, seed wars and dirty produce
Extreme gas drilling fracks up ice cream ingredient
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, may cause a worldwide ice-cream headache by eating up supplies of a food additive that’s used in everything from ice cream to cosmetics, drugs and explosives, reports the Houston Chronicle. It turns out that guar gum, a magical white flour-like substance that’s added to all kinds of foods for thickening, binding and volume enhancing, is also useful for forcing pockets out of gas out of deep fissures in the earth. Currently, purchasing guar gum accounts for about one-third of fracturing costs. A typical fracking job requires about 20,000 pounds of the stuff so it's unsurprising that the U.S.'s fracking boom has put a strain on guar gum availability over the past few years, causing prices to skyrocket. That’s bad news for ice cream lovers since guar gum is one of the main ingredients in the dairy dessert. So what does the fracking industry get for ruining our water, our air and now our ice cream? According to Grist, the industry gets a tax loophole that allow gas industries like Chesapeake Energy Corp. to pay just 1 percent in income tax over the last two decades. There’s got to be a better way to get our energy.
Navy rekindles its love for dumping toxic ships into U.S. waterways
The U.S. Navy is going back to its old ship-dumping ways, reports the LA Times. After a nearly two-year moratorium spurred by both cost and environmental concerns, the Navy will soon dump three inactive warships into Hawaii’s waters as part of a series of naval exercises known as RIMPAC. In late 2011, Earthjustice sued the U.S. EPA for failing to adequately regulate the Navy’s ship sinking program, which pollutes the sea with a group of highly toxic chemicals called PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls). Though PCBs were banned by the EPA in 1979, they still linger in many of the Navy's old ships. Currently, the Navy is required to document the amount of toxic waste that’s left on the ships while removing as much as the material as possible. But, environmental groups believe that the Navy should clean up the vessels to higher standards before sinking them, especially because some of the toxics have been found to eventually work their way into the ecosystem.
Brazilian farmers sue Monsanto for unfair seed tax
Monsanto recently got a taste of its own pesticide-tainted medicine after Brazilian farmers successfully sued the biotech company for forcing farmers to pay a tax any time that their conventional soy seeds become contaminated by Monsanto’s genetically-engineered (GE) soy, reports Corpwatch. For years, the biotech company has successfully sued farmers whenever cross-contamination of the two types of seeds occur by accusing farmers of either knowingly or unknowingly mixing the two strains together, thereby violating Monsanto’s patented RoundUp Ready seeds. What the company doesn’t mention, however, is the fact that GE seeds are often spread through pollination, a natural occurrence that farmers have no way of controlling. In addition to ruling that Monsanto’s cross-pollination fees were illegal, the judge also forced Monsanto to pay back royalty fees collected since 2004, which is when the seed patent expired. When Monsanto appealed the ruling, Brazil’s Supreme Court not only upheld the lower court’s decision, but decided to apply it to the entire state of Brazil, which means that Monsanto now owes farmers billions of dollars in royalty fees. Score one for the little guys.
U.S. produce about to get a little dirtier
A government program that tests the nation’s produce for pathogens like E. coli, Salmonella and Listeria may get shut down by the end of this month, reports Food Safety News, which means that consumers may soon be on their own when it comes to determining the safety of their groceries. The USDA's Microbiological Data Program, which is on the chopping block in Obama’s 2013 budget request, is the only federal program that tests for deadly strains of E.coli. According to a review of FDA and MDP data by Food Safety News, "from 2009 to 2012, MDP found Salmonella 100 times, E. coli O157:H7 twice, and Listeria monocytogenes 8 times" as well as 30 food recalls. And just last May, the program spotted Salmonella-contaminated organic baby spinach that led to a nationwide recall. There’s no word yet on which government organization will pick up the slack if the program gets sacked, though some have suggested the Food and Drug Administration as an option. In the meantime, when it comes to produce consumers may want to wash, rinse and repeat.