Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Practical Guide to Hope

With all the buzz about "hope" in the presidential campaigns, here's my take on this little word.

Alternative Campus Report Card

Think that U.S. News & World Report's college rankings doesn't tell the complete story about a school? So do I. Check out this new sustainability report card for colleges.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

That's What I'm Talking About

It was exciting to get an e-mail from my younger brother today about this hearing on Capitol Hill about food and climate change called "Food for Thought: A Primer on the Climate Consequences of Food Choices."

I look forward to listening to the presentations, but in the meantime, I've got to say I was struck by the factoids they chose to use in the press release. Here's what I mean.

"In comparison to the impacts of automobiles, power plants, and other major contributors to global warming," the press releases says, "agriculture and food issues are only just starting to be fully understood."

Then, they share these four points:

-- A 1999 British study showed that the purchase of local apples resulted in an almost 3,000 percent reduction in energy use and 87 percent lower carbon dioxide emissions than apples imported from New Zealand.

--Produce in the U.S. travels, on average, 1,300 – 2,000 miles from farm to consumer.

--A 2006 International Solid Waste Foundation study predicted that by 2025, food waste will increase by 44% worldwide.

--When food waste rots it releases methane, a greenhouse gas that is 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide. The Environmental Protection Agency has estimated that landfills account for 34 percent of all methane emissions in the United States."

What's striking to me about these four points is that together they sidestep the significant research on the biggest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions from the food sector: livestock.

If you don't know already, that s livestock is one of the largest factors in the food system's climate change impact, with food transportation (those long-distance apples), being a relatively smaller portion of the sector's overall emissions.

When you include land use changes driven by the demand for crop- and grazing-land; the production of manmade chemicals and fertilizers for feed crops; and the methane emitted mainly from ruminants like cattle, you find that 18% of the globe's total greenhouse gas emissions can be connected back to livestock. (See, for instance, the comprehensive United Nation's report Livestock's Long Shadow or the Humane Society's excellent white paper on the subject.)

I know, I know, it's just the press release! (The hearing isn't up yet for viewing), And I should just be glad that this issue--that has been swept under the rug for so long--is getting attention. And I certainly, certainly am.

But we've certainly got a lot more work to do! Thankfully, I'm hearing from colleagues around the country that they're starting to work on projects connecting local foods/sustainable agriculture and global warming. Good stuff. More soon.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Largest Beef Recall, Ever. Now, Real Change?

Huffington Post | Posted February 21, 2008 | 03:50 PM (EST)

Maybe you're one of the more than 200,000 people who have seen this disturbing video revealing the animal cruelty caught on tape by a Humane Society investigation at a California slaughterhouse. (I, personally, couldn't stomach to watch it).

Whether you saw the video or not, you most certainly have heard the response: Prompted by public outcry, the company that processed meat from this slaughterhouse issued the largest beef recall in U.S. history even though -- oops -- much of the 143 million pounds recalled has already been eaten, including possibly by children in school lunches.

The animal cruelty was disturbing enough, what it revealed about possible threats to human health adds even more reason to be wary of the burger....[read more]

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Practical Guide to Healthier Living on MSN

The first three videos of the MSN Practical Guide to Healthier Living are up and running at Over the next several months, they'll keep posting videos of these inspiring stories about people around the country making healthy choices for themselves and their communities.

Monday, February 11, 2008

How to Buy Fair Trade Coffee

How to Find Organic Produce

How to Choose Safe Beauty and Skin Care Products

It is a Fact (Says Monsanto)

Maybe you've been following the news about legislation popping up in states across the country to ban labeling dairy products that are free of Monsanto's synthetic growth hormone (interchangeably called rBST or rBGH).

Now, call me old-fashioned, but I still believe in that quaint idea of freedom of speech and freedom of choice. We should have the right to know how our food was made and be able to choose whether we want to eat it or not.

So far, the efforts to ban hormone-free labeling have stalled. In Pennsylvania, legislation passed that would have banned hormone-free labeling, but it was rescinded after significant citizen protest. And Indiana lawmakers pulled the legislation to ban such labeling there. But there are murmurings that other states will see the introduction of similar legislation soon.

So, who's behind these efforts to ban hormone-free labeling? Would it surprise you to hear it's the company that makes the synthetic hormone, Monsanto?

In the latest public relations twist, a new outfit called American Farmers for the Advancement of Conservation of Technology supposedly voices the concern of farmers who support the bans on labeling hormone-free dairy products.

But dig a little deeper and you'll find that the organization's website was registered to Susan Williams of Osborn Barr Communications, a brand management company whose clients include Monsanto.

In other words, American Farmers for the Advancement of Conservation of Technology is a classic front group. It sounds (and looks) like a megaphone for real farmers when in fact it was created and is funded by Monsanto.

In the media, though, the organization has been identified only with a slight qualification that it is "backed by Monsanto."

Lisa Rathke, of The Associated Press, for instance, quoted Carrol Campbell, a Kansas dairy farmer who co-chairs the group: "There's no question that rBST is safe... That's what's so frustrating to us, that there are organizations out there that would indicate that it's something other than safe."

Rathke's AP article was picked up widely--from the Trentonian to Money to the Nashua Telegragh to The Guardian UK. If you were reading it, you couldn't be blamed for thinking that the organization was a legitimate expression of farmer concern and not what it is: a front group for a multinational company concerned about losing market share for one of its products.

The Center for Media and Democracy (on whose board I sit) has just partnered with the Consumers Union to help us I.D. front groups like this one. Check out their site here.

Monday, February 04, 2008

What Can You Buy for a Billion Dollars?

2007 was a landmark year for Kellogg’s global advertising: Their total dollars spent on ad outlays for the first time in history hit the billion-dollar mark. Kraft, not one to skimp, also spent a little more than $1 billion in advertising, up $10 million from the year before.

One billion dollars. What can that buy you? A lot. And, apparently, a lot of advertising.

What it certainly doesn't buy us consumers is cheaper prices.

In that same Brandweek article about the ballooning ad budgets, we learn that both Kraft and Kellogg are increasing their prices. A connection?

Well, not according to the article, which blames those higher prices on the company's "effort to offset rising materials costs."

Maybe I'm missing something here.
Kellogg's advertising outlays are 12 percent of their overall budget; for Kraft it's closer to 7 percent. Don't you think that these companies are spending a good chunk of their resources--and billions of dollars--in advertising might make boxes of our morning cereal a little more expensive?