Archive for the ‘Green health’ Category

EWG Guide on GE foods

February 20th, 2014
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Star-Advertiser file photo.

Star-Advertiser file photo.

In a recent Star Advertiser-Hawaii News Now poll, three-quarters of voters interviewed want the state Legislature to pass a law requiring that all genetically modified organisms sold in Hawaii be labeled.

Yet only a quarter of voters were very familiar with GMOs. Still, consumers feel that they have a right to know.

Here's Monsanto's stance on labeling GE Foods — basically that it opposes mandatory labeling because "it could imply incorrectly that foods containing these ingredients are somehow inferior to their conventional or organic counterparts."

If you're concerned, help is here.

The Environmental Working Group released a new shopping guide on Wednesday to help consumers figure out which supermarket foods likely contain genetically engineered ingredients.

According to the EWG, a non-profit based in Washington D.C., more than 60 other nations, including France, Germany, Japan, Russia, China and the United Kingdom require GE labeling. The U.S. government, however, does not require labeling of GE foods or ingredients.

EWG says while scientists have not determined whether GE food poses risks to human health, consumers have many good reasons to be concerned.

On its "Watch List" the EWG included:

>> Papaya. More than 75 percent of Hawaiian papaya is genetically engineered to resist the ringspot virus (Hawaiian Papaya Industry Association 2013).

>> Zucchini and yellow summer squash. A few varieties of squash are genetically engineered. Opt for organic varieties.

>> Sweet corn. Most sweet corn sold in supermarkets and farm stands is not grown from GE seeds, but a few varieties are. Buy organic sweet corn.

Four most common GE ingredients in food, according to EWG:

>> Field corn and corn-derived ingredients. Some 90 percent of corn grown in the U.S. is genetically engineered. While most of it is cultivated for animal feed, about 12 percent is processed as corn flour, high fructose corn syrup, corn starch, masa, corn meal and corn oil that end up in foods consumed by people (EPA 2013). Consumers should assume that those ingredients in processed foods are genetically engineered.

>> Soybeans and soybean-derived ingredients. The list would include soy proteins, soybean oil, soy milk, soy sauce, tofu or soy lecithin (unless certified organic or GE-free).

>> Sugar. About 55 percent of sugar produced in the U.S. comes from sugar beets, 95 percent of which have been genetically engineered (USDA 2013c). EWG says if a product label does not specify it has been made with "pure cane" sugar, chances are significant it contains GE beet sugar.

>> Vegetable oils. Consumers should assume that vegetable oil, canola oil, cottonseed, soybean and corn oils are genetically engineered.

Here are 5 Things you should know about GMOs, according to EWG. Here's a link to all of EWG's consumer guides.

The 2013 EWG sunscreen guide is out

June 12th, 2013
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The babo botanical clear zinc sport stick, SPF 30, got a No. 1 score on Environmental Working Group's 2013 sunscreen guide. Courtesy image.

The babo botanical clear zinc sport stick, SPF 30, got a No. 1 score on Environmental Working Group's 2013 sunscreen guide. Courtesy image.

Every year, the Environmental Working Group in Washington D.C. puts out a comprehensive sunscreen guide based on safety and effectiveness.

Some of the top beach & sports sunscreens meeting EWG's criteria this year include Babo Botanicals Clear Zinc Sport Stick, Badger Aloe Vera Sunscreen, California Baby Super Sensitive Broad Spectrum Sunscreen, Celadon Road Sunscreen, Coola Suncare (baby moisturizer and UV body moisturizer sunscreens), Jersey Kids All Natural All Green Sunscreen, Seventh Generation Wee Generation Baby Sunscreen, thinkSport thinkbaby Sunscreen, UV Natural Baby and UV Natural Sport Suncreens. These particular brands and products were all scored a No. 1, but even mainstream brands like Coppertone Kids Pure & Simple and CVS Baby Sun Lotion got a score of No. 2, with good UVA protection and moderate health concerns.

EWG rates a total of about 1,400 SPF-rated sunscreens based on published scientific literature to supplement incomplete data available from companies and the government. Ratings indicate the efficacy of the product and relative level of concern posed by exposure to ingredients in the product.

Generally, EWG recommends mineral-based sunscreens with titanium dioxide and zinc oxide which protect against both UVA and UVB rays. EWG does not recommend using spray sunscreens (due to inhalation risks), or sunscreens that contain oxybenzone (which acts like estrogen), retinyl palmitate or combined sunscreens and bug repellents. On sun-exposed skin, EWG has concerns that Retinyl Palmitate, a form of vitamin A, may speed development of skin tumors and lesions (even though the FDA has yet to rule on the safety of retinyl palmitate in skin care products).

Also, a higher SPF is not necessarily better and can actually be misleading. A sunscreen with a super-high SPF also may protect against sunburn but leave your skin exposed to damaging UVA rays.

Look closely at the list of ingredients in your sunscreen. Sunglasses, hats and shade still offer some of the the best protection from the sun this summer.

Summer Films at Waimea Valley

May 29th, 2013
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Introducing the "Taste of Summer Film Series," which will offer a monthly series of inspirational and educational documentaries promoting the local food movement starting in June. The film series is presented by the Kokua Hawai‘i Foundation and Waimea Valley.

One film will be screened each summer month at 7:30 p.m. following the Haleiwa Farmer's Market from 3 to 7 p.m. on Thursdays in Waimea Valley. Local food vendors from the market will be on hand serving an assortment of tasty and locally grown meals, snacks and beverages.

Admission and parking are free at Waimea Valley, 59-864 Kamehameha Highway. Films will be shown in the Pikake Pavilion.

Here's the lineup of films:

>> June 6: "Ingredients Hawaii" — Captures Hawaii's farm-to-table movement as well as the vibrant food community dedicated to human, environmental and cultural health. 32 minutes.

>> July 11: "Seeds of Hope" — Exposes the world to the individual heroes who are working to solve the  biggest issue facing Hawaii — how can Hawaii feed itself? For 1,000 years the Hawaiian people produced enough food to support an estimated population of 1 million but today, an estimated 85 percent of food is imported to the isles. 87 minutes.

>> Aug. 1: "Truck Farm" — Tells the story of a new generation of quirky urban farmers from New York City to rooftops, windows and barges. Includes musical narration by The Fisherman Three. 48 minutes.

Visit www.facebook.com/events/103016103240221 for more information.

Bringing the ‘aina to Oahu schools

January 26th, 2012
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Students and volunteers at Kainalu Elementary School celebrate a boost in funding from Kaiser Permanente for their school garden program and a summer conference. Through Aina in Schools, the students can participate in an after-school Garden Club where they learn to tend to plants and compost, and enjoy a weekly salad bar in their cafeteria. Photo courtesy of the Kokua Hawaii Foundation.

Students and volunteers at Kainalu Elementary School celebrate a boost in funding from Kaiser Permanente for their school garden program and a summer conference. Through Aina in Schools, the students can participate in an after-school Garden Club where they learn to tend to plants and compost, and enjoy a weekly salad bar in their cafeteria. Photo courtesy of the Kokua Hawaii Foundation.

Aside from the challenge of getting kids to eat their veggies, parents sometimes have to educate them about where they come from other than in a plastic bag from the supermarket. Many kids have no idea — do carrots grow on trees or peas sprout from the ground?

Making an effort to change all that is the Kokua Hawaii Foundation's ‘Aina in Schools, a farm-to-school program aiming to connect children to their land, waters and food for a healthier future.

A total of 12 public elementary schools on Oahu participate in the program, so far. Students learn how to garden as well as get a lesson in nutrition. Four schools have salad bars, and four participate in a fresh fruit and vegetable snack program.

Kaiser Permanente recently presented the Kokua Hawaii Foundation with a grant to fund two projects: A school garden food safety certification pilot program and this summer's Hawaii State Farm to School Conference.

Food safety certification for school gardens is a major hurdle for schools to get produce grown on campus into the lunch program, according to Dexter Kishida, Kokua's school food coordinator. So this is a first step towards getting some of those garden greens on to students' lunch plates.

What Capt. Moore wants you to know about plastic

January 23rd, 2012
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Capt. Charles Moore, discoverer of the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch," dons a necklace made out of plastic debris by Hawaii Island artist Noni Sanford, who combs Kamilo Beach.

Capt. Charles Moore, discoverer of the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch," dons a necklace made out of plastic debris by artist Noni Sanford, who combs Kamilo Beach on Hawaii island. Photo by Nina Wu..

Capt. Charles Moore, author of "Plastic Ocean" (Avery, $26) has dedicated his first book "to the generation, not yet born, that creates a world where plastic pollution is unthinkable."

Moore, 64, is far from retiring from his life's mission — to educate the public about the dangers of the "plastic soup" he first stumbled upon in the North Pacific Gyre in 1997. While most media have referred to him as the discoverer of the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch," he prefers to call it a "plastic soup" as a more accurate description of the broken-down bits and pieces of plastics as well as abandoned fishing nets floating below and above the surface of the ocean.

At the time, he was shocked by the amount of plastic litter in the ocean (seven successive days, over 1,000 nautical square miles) but didn't realize then that plastic was toxic, or "bio-active," with potentially harmful effects on human health.

His research vessel, the Alguita, has since returned to the Gyre numerous times to collect more data as well as to far corners of the world to document the extent of plastic dispersed in our ocean. In 2014 (the 15th anniversary of his discovery), Capt. Moore will return and spend a month to study a "plastic coral reef."

Capt. Moore carries a pouch of plastic debris collected from Kamilo Beach on Hawaii island.

Capt. Moore carries a pouch of plastic debris collected from Kamilo Beach on Hawaii island.

Moore carries a pouch of "plastic sand" — broken down bits of plastic that have been ingested by marine mammals and wash back up on Hawaii's shores – to show people what it is. The plastic debris is driven by the currents in particular towards Kamilo Beach on Hawaii island and Kahuku Beach on Oahu.

He also has some examples of bottles that have been chewed on (what looks like the remains of a shampoo bottle, top of a cleaning bottle, tube of insect repellent as well as a piece of plastic improperly incinerated and then thrown back out into the ocean). Plastic bottle caps are also very common.

"Plastic garbage does not belong in the ocean any more than sharks  belong in municipal swimming pools," says Moore in his book. "Plastic is like an invasive species. Once established, it doesn't go away..."

Moore met co-author Cassandra Phillips at a zero-waste meeting on the Big Island, where he lives part-time. He was looking for mulch, and she was looking to collect different types of recycled plastic for orchid pots. In 2006, she received grant funding from the USDA Small Business Innovation and Research program to study recycled plastics as an orchid growth medium.

While talking, they decided that Moore should write a book. Moore has written articles for scientific journals and been in several documentaries, but this is his first book.

Here is more of my conversation with Moore last week (after he spent the morning at a beach cleanup at Kahuku with the Kokua Hawaii Foundation's Plastic Free Hawaii and Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii) and before a book reading at BookEnds in Kailua.

Q: What made you decide to write this book?

A: I felt the urgency of alerting people to this danger because it is an imminent danger in a lot of different ways, not only to species in the ocean, but to us as a species.

Q: To our health?

A: Very much so. It's all around us. We wear it, we drive in it, we get our food delivered in it, we make our children's toys with it and feed them with it...We entered the Plastic Age in 1979 when plastic surpassed steel as a manufactured item... We're living in the Plastic Age, but we haven't really had the plastic conversation...It turns out plastic has properties that make it bio-active and we're just now discovering some of the effects of that...I'd been thinking I needed to get this out there (in a book)...

Q. Some may read your book, and some may not, but if there's anything you want the public to know, what would it be?

A: That we've entered the Plastic Age, kind of silently, and it's causing a lot of problems with our health and the health of the environment. And we desperately need to have a plastic conversation. We need to discuss where it belongs because it's in a lot of places it doesn't belong (like the ocean) and us...including those chemicals that are in us: BPA (Bisphenol A) and phthalates...

Q. Is your message reaching people?

A: Little by little, we're gaining traction...A Japanese translation (of the book) is coming out in August. I'll be touring Japan in August and September.

Q. So if we can't go out and vacuum plastic out of the Pacific Gyre from a practical point of view, what can we do about the plastic problem?

A: Stop putting it in...Packaging from the mainland is a large concern. Those companies that sell you things in the island do not take back the packaging. They make your municipal government handle all that waste. People wrap it in plastic to make sure it comes here in a pristine state...Imagine if an island demanded that products that came to the island had a take-back infrastucture, a container filled back up with pallets of packaging on its way back. That's what we need to do...Local consumption is the key, I believe, to stopping this plastic monster and getting it out of the ocean because you don't have to wrap taro or locally produced papayas in plastic...I'm an advocate of what I call a regional reliance inventory — that we make everything we need to rely on to live here, so people can get things locally, for energy use, food, clothing and basics.

Q: Part of this is your concern for future generatons.

A: Absolutely...It doesn't appear as if any trophic level is immune...every sized organism is eating plastic, including a whale that washed up dead on a West Seattle beach with surgical gloves, plastic bags and golf balls [in its belly]...No part of the pyramid is immune.

Broken down pieces of plastic, including a shampoo bottle, tube of insect repellent and improperly incinerated piece of plastic.

Broken down pieces of plastic, including a shampoo bottle, tube of insect repellent and improperly incinerated piece of plastic.

Capt. Moore is the founder of the Algalita Marine Research Foundation. To read more about the Foundation's work, visit www.algalita.org. To see a full schedule of Capt. Moore's book tour, click here.

A total of 274 volunteers collected more than 3,600 pounds of trash from the James Campbell National Wildlife Refuge and Kahuku Beach, where ocean currents "spit out" the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Photo courtesy of the Kokua Hawaii Foundation.

A total of 274 volunteers collected more than 3,600 pounds of trash from the James Campbell National Wildlife Refuge and Kahuku Beach, where ocean currents "spit out" the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Photo courtesy of the Kokua Hawaii Foundation.

Wash your reusable bags

November 3rd, 2011
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Warning: Your reusable bag may potentially be harboring several different kinds of bacteria.

This was the finding of a recent study by Dr. Charles Gerba at the University of Arizona published in "Food Protection Trends."

Gerba tested 87 reusable bags from random shoppers in California and Arizona in summer 2010 and found nearly all of them contained some form of bacteria, and eight percent contained E. Coli.

Yet only three percent of shoppers surveyed by Dr. Gerba said they washed theirreusablescloseup reusable bags between uses.

So the solution is simple: Wash your reusable bags.

This, according to Dr. Gerba, will remove 99.9 percent of germs. "Although it may be a nuisance, washing must be done to ensure your food is safe to eat," said Gerba. "I'd recommend washing it with hot, soapy water after each use."

He added that it was important to pay attention to meats and dairy products.

But there's no reason to panic, and no reason to stop using reusable bags. Bringing your own bag to the grocery store as well as retail stores will reduce the need for plastic bags, which don't break down for thousands of years. If you're buying something and you don't need a plastic bag, let the checkout cashier know — think twice about it.

It's also great eliminating the plastic bag monster from under your sink, believe me!

After using several different kinds of reusable bags — everything from canvas to recycled plastic to polypropylene, I think my favorite ones are the ones that you can compact down into a pouch and easily throw into the wash.

Brands include ChicoBag, Baggu and EnviroSax. They actually carry a pretty good amount once you open them up, but are easy to store away in your purse when you're not using them. And they're also easy to throw into the wash.

You can find the abstract to the study on the International Association for Food Protection's website.

Garden grants for Hawaii's schools

September 12th, 2011
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Gardens not only teach kids where their food comes from, but how to eat healthy. Photo courtesy Whole Kids Foundation.

Gardens not only teach kids where their food comes from, but how to eat healthy. Whole Foods is now accepting donations for garden grants. Photo courtesy Whole Kids Foundation.

While ringing up your goods at Whole Foods Market, you can now conveniently donate $1 or $5  to Whole Kids Foundation, which offers grants for gardens in schools.

The newly launched Whole Kids Foundation is offering $2,000 grants apiece to schools or groups that want to launch or expand garden projects from now through Dec. 31. A total of 1,000 grants are available.

The Foundation was launched in order to increase children's access to healthy foods.

Last year, for instance, Whole Foods partnered with F3 (the Food, Family, Farming Foundation) for its salad bar project, in which it helped install 57 salad bars in schools across the U.S., including Halau Ku Mana and Waikiki School (Oahu), Kanuikapono Public Charter School and Kapaa High School (Kauai) and Haleakala Waldorf School, Hana School and Kihei Charter School (Maui).

Public, private and charter schools as well as community gardening groups can submit applications at www.wholekidsfoundation.org.

On a national level, the Environmental Working Group in Washington DC is also rallying for new government guidelines for marketing unhealthy foods to children to combat childhood obesity. EWG is asking for your help in telling the CEOs of 13 major food manufacturers (including General Mills, Kellogg's, Kraft and McDonald's) to market healthier food to kids instead of junk food.

The EWG suggested food companies voluntary adopt two principles: to make a meaningful contribution to a healthful diet by containing a significant amount of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products or extra lean meat. Also, to have only "minimal quantities of nutrients that could have a negative impact on health and weight," such as sodium, saturated fat, trans fat and added sugars.

It's interesting when you look at the list of ingredients under foods packaged specifically for kids – you really have to be careful — sometimes sugar and high fructose corn syrup are second on the list, especially in boxed cereals and even in biscuits geared towards toddlers.

What's in your sunblock?

June 23rd, 2011
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sunscreens

Summer is here, and the Environmental Working Group's 2011 Sunscreen Report is out.

You probably think that a sunscreen with a higher Sun Protection Factor (SPF), say 50 or more, is better. But that's not necessarily the case, according to EWG, an advocacy group based in Washington D.C. which says those "sky-high SPF claims" give users a false sense of security, making them wait longer before reapplying.

The EWG also recommends a sunscreen that offers both UVA and UVB protection.

Many sunscreens — three of five U.S. sunscreens (including those with SPF factors 50 and higher) — wouldn't be acceptable in Europe due to inadequate UVA protection, according to EWG, where manufacturers voluntarily comply with a standard for meaningful UVA protection.

The EWG recommends avoiding potentially hormone-disrupting chemicals like oxybenzone, which is listed in many of the sunscreens on store shelves. Instead, EWG recommends sunscreens with zinc and titanium, particularly for children and people with sensitive skin seeking UVA protection.

There are environmental impacts when oxybenzone washes off into the ocean.

Nearly 90 brands, including CVS, Neutrogena, Banana Boat, Walgreens, and Aveeno now offer sunscreens with zinc and titanium. Still, you need to check the list of ingredients for each product under the brand names.

Another ingredient to watch out for is retinyl palmitate, a form of vitamin A that may heighten skin cancer risk when used on sun-exposed skin, according to recent scientific research by the federal Food and Drug Administration.

The EWG recommends avoiding sunscreens with retinyl palmitate while more definitive research is under way.

For my baby, I bought a tube of thinkbaby (SPF 30+) and was glad to find it rated No. 1. Glad to see there are other options, too, including California Baby, Badger, COOLA Baby, Maui Naturals, TruKid and Alba Botanica Sun.

Questions? See answers to this list of FAQ. If only the FDA would make life simpler for consumers by making sure harmful chemicals weren't in sunscreens — unfortunately, there are no regulations over what gets put into sunscreens or the claims printed on the label.

EWG's fifth annual Sunscreen Guide rates 292 brands and 1,700 products. Look up your sunscreen to see how it rates here.