I’m reading a Mother Jones article about a report that suggests there’s a link between meat-factory farms that give animals antibiotics, and instances of antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections in humans. The USDA commissioned a university scientist to create a summary of other research about “the growing problem of antibiotic-resistant infections and their link with factory animal farms.” The USDA published the report on its website, but after a while, the report disappeared. The article says:
… what [the report is] telling us is disturbing: In addition to mountains of cheap product, the food industry is churning out a major public-health menace. And instead of informing the public about it, the USDA seems intent to keep it on the down-low. Justin Tatham of the Union of Concerned Scientists, who has been observing the drama since it started in June, put it to me like this: “As a science-based group, we’re concerned about how the USDA is withholding this information from the public.”
By the way, you can read the original report (PDF).
I’ve always tried to eat healthy according to the USDA’s food pyramid. Aaron has tried telling me he doesn’t think the food pyramid represents the peak of a healthful diet, but I didn’t listen much. But the other day he sent me the link to a nutrition guide from Harvard’s School of Public Health. The introduction explains why Harvard chose to create the guide to replace the USDA pyramid:
Tragically, the information embodied in this pyramid didn’t point the way to healthy eating. Why not? Its blueprint was based on shaky scientific evidence, and it barely changed over the years to reflect major advances in our understanding of the connection between diet and health.
Harvard created its own, new guide creatively titled the “Healthy Eating Pyramid” (ha) which is supposed to put “into perspective, the wealth of research conducted during the last 15 years that has reshaped the definition of healthy eating.”
It seems like the Harvard folks have problems with several specific guidelines in the USDA’s pyramid: Harvard says people should not get half their grains as refined starches; people should gravitate away from red meat towards protein sources like beans, poultry and fish; and people shouldn’t have three servings of dairy per day.
There’s also an emphasis that having fats is okay, as long as they are healthy fats.
Along the same lines of my last post, here are some tips from Natural Home on getting rid of mosquitoes without using sprays with chemicals. Tip No. 5 suggests growing plants that naturally repel mosquitoes. Aaron and I do grow citronella in our backyard hangout area already, but this article suggests even more plants to help with the problem: “geranium, lemon balm, catnip, basil, lemon thyme, and lemongrass.”
Here’s another oh-so-simple solution that I’ve never thought about:
“Blow them away. Set a fan on your deck, patio, or porch. Mosquitoes don’t fly well through wind.”
This may make the area even nicer, considering the hot summers we experience in Austin. Imagine this: A cool breeze blows the scents of citronella and lemon balm by as you sit under the canopy in the backyard sipping a cool cocktail. Sigh!
Scientists studying puberty in girls have found that it’s more common now for girls as young as 7 or 8 to begin developing breasts, which is a concern because it may increase their lifelong chances of getting breast cancer.
He said it was possible that environmental chemicals were also playing a role, and added that he and his colleagues were now studying the girls’ hormone levels and lab tests measuring their exposures to various chemicals.
“It’s certainly throwing up a warning flag,” Dr. Biro said. “I think we need to think about the stuff we’re exposing our bodies to and the bodies of our kids. This is a wake-up call, and I think we need to pay attention to it.”
E-The Environmental Magazine has an article today detailing a recent study that researched the health risks posed by household cleaners for women, who do “about 70% of housework.”
The report looked at 37 scientific studies in order to determine the chemicals that pose the greatest risks. The data focuses on phthalates or synthetic musks and allergens that are common in most cleaning products. Phthalates have been linked to a number of health concerns such as allergies and reproductive malformations in baby boys. Other health risks include increased cancer risk and an increased vulnerability to other toxic chemicals.
I’ve always been a fan of Equal sweetener, which I use in my coffee, iced tea and fruit smoothies. My fiance Aaron hates it though, because he says it will cause cancer. I’d always heard Saccarhin has been linked to cancer, but I thought that Aspartame (the sweetener in Equal) was safe. However, Natural Home has an article today about food additives with a note on aspartame:
Aspartame, known as NutraSweet, Equal and Spoonful, accounts for 75 percent of adverse reactions to food additives reported to the FDA and has been linked to cancer in rats.
I have never had any adverse food reactions to Equal, which probably means I’m not allergic like the people who have reported problems to the Food and Drug Administration. Not too worried on that account. On the cancer danger — Toxicity is all about the dose a person consumes and the length of time she consumes that amount. I seriously doubt I’m consuming enough Equal to cause cancer.
However, I had a roommate in college who would put like 20 packets of equal in each cup of coffee. And she was a coffee adict, drinking the caffiene juice throughout the entire day and evening. If she keeps up that dose for 15 to 20 years, I bet she could be at risk for cancer from aspartame.
Writing for California Watch, an awesome new nonprofit journalism startup, Amy Standen catalogs an ongoing controversy between state regulators and scientists about a new chemical pesticide. The pesticide will be used on strawberries. Scientists fear it could cause brain damage and field workers are exposed at certain levels; they also fear that children who attend schools near strawberry fields could suffer neurological effects.
The Department of Pesticide Regulation has set acceptable exposure levels for methyl iodide that are 120 times higher than recommended by its own scientists and an eight-person panel the department commissioned to peer-review its work.
The decision to increase exposure levels has caused a rift within the DPR, a little-known but powerful agency that oversees a major segment of the state’s multibillion-dollar farming industry. In interviews, all eight peer-review scientists said their warnings and scientific analysis of the health risks of methyl iodide appear to have been disregarded.
Some flea medications and topical treatments can include harmful chemicals “that could poison pets and harm people, even when applied as instructed on the box,” according to the Simple Steps website by the National Resources Defense Council.
This worries me, because my dog Binx is extremely allergic to fleas. I know, it’s a terrible rap for a dog. God must be laughing at that one. Seriously, though, when Binx is bitten by fleas, the bite immediately swells so much I can see it protrude through his fur. The little guy itches it like a five-year-old child with Texas mosquito bites. He won’t stop until he’s scratched the entire thing off into a bloody, scabby mess, creating the distinct probability of secondary infections. One bite will make him break out in a rash, far away from the primary bite. You can imagine how bad this gets during Texas flea season, when the pesky bugs are just crawling all over the poor dog.
I have no choice but to control Binx’s flea problem with outright aggression. I use Advantage flea medication, which is supposed to last four weeks but typically loses its potency within three. So I have over-the-counter flea spray to deal with the remainder. Because those tiny biting assholes only die after they’ve bitten a treated dog at least once, Binx still does his itchy-scratching even during times when he’s on his flea meds. So I have a lotion with hydro-cortisone that reduces irritation, and a spray with gentocine to heal minor wounds. My other dog, Zoe, must also have flea treatments because I can’t risk her bringing the fleas around Binx.
Although I’m convinced it’s necessary to go through this regimen, I’m still concerned that the products I choose to help Binx may actually end up hurting him. There may be options out there that will do the job with lower risk than using other options. For this reason, I think the GreenPaws Flea and Tick Products Directory will be useful for me.
Check out the entry for Advantage. It gets “two paws” indicating it may be slightly toxic. The entry says the active ingredient, Imidacloprid, created signs of toxicity in rats that included “lethargy, respiratory disturbances, decreased movement, staggering gait, occasional trembling, and spasms.” The guide suggest for me to “look for lower risk products such as those using Pyriproxyfen, Nitenpyram, Spinosad, S-Methoprene, or Lufenuron as the active ingredient.” I’m not sure that comparable products on the market would actually be better for my dog than Advantage. Check out the entries for Frontline (possible carcinogen and endocrine disruptor), K9 Advantix (“likely to cause cancer”), Revolution (needs further research) … However, the entries for oral flea control tablets Sentinel and Program and give me some hope–Maybe I’ll ask my vet if it makes sense to switch.
I was using a Hartz brand flea spray, but when it ran out I opted for a bottle with “natural” ingredients: Natural Chemistry Natural Flea & Tick Spray. To my great surprise the next day, this spray dyed my two white dogs a pee-pee yellow color! However, it smells delightful, so maybe it balances out. Although the spray killed fleas on contact, and it’s supposed to last one week, I started seeing fleas on both dogs within the next one or two days. To be effective, I think you’d have to apply the spray more often than once per week.
Now for a review of the active ingredients in this product.
Sodium lauryl sulfate–I can’t find this ingredient in the GreenPaws directory. But according to Wikipedia, it’s a surfactant commonly used in household products that is meant to remove oily residues. It’s not a carcinogen, but it can irritate the skin after hours of contact.
Cinnamon oil–This ingredient gets “two paws,” indicating it should be used sparingly. The flea spray contains just 0.50% of cinnamon oil, so I’d already say it’s sparing. According to GreenPaws, cinnamon oil has been linked to allergies and it can be toxic for animals, especially cats. The directory says it would be better to have sprays with “lemongrass, cedarwood, peppermint, rosemary or thyme.”
Clove oil–This gets the same rating as cinnamon, and comes with similar advice. However, the entry says clove oil is listed on EcoWise Certified Integrated Pest Management Program Materials List. The company licenses pest control specialists and teaches them to control bugs effectively without pesticides. “Pests are denied food, water, shelter and access to your home or facility, providing lasting control,” according to EcoWise.
Cedarwood oil–This is the first ingredient I’ve seen with just “one paw:” Use only when chemical control is needed. However, the rating is followed by this disappointing comment: “little information is available on the efficacy of these oils for flea control. Peppermint and rosemary are listed on EcoWise Certified IPM Program Materials List.”
“Other ingredients”–Most of the stuff in this flea spray, nearly 98 percent, is made up of water and vanillin, an organic compound that can be extracted from the vanilla bean. But vanillan can also be produced synthetically.