Soy Report and Scorecard

[We were pleased in late May to receive the much-anticipated Cornucopia Institute Soy Score Card. The Cooperative is already featuring several of the products and brands which received complimentary ratings. We are also offering some of the lowest-rated products. Our thanks go to Cornucopia for providing more information for our owners to use in determining their food choices. As with any products in our Cooperative, we are again reminding Owners that the Cooperative is here to be of service to our owners and provide only those products they continue to purchase. If, after continuing to publish and promote this new information, we find our Owners are continuing to buy some or all of those products with low ratings, we will assume that there are other characteristics about those products that are still appealing and keep them on our shelves. As with all aspects of the Co-op, the decision is ultimately in the hands of our Owners. We hope that the rigorous standards set forth by the Cornucopia Institute raises the bar for the producers of the products with the lowest ratings. If you choose to stop buying these products, you’re not only sending us a message—you’re also telling the producer that you want a cleaner product. -Lynn Olson, Cooperative Services Manager]

The Cornucopia Institute’s Organic Soy Report and accompanying Scorecard rates companies that market organic soy foods, such as soymilk, tofu and “veggie burgers,” based on ten criteria that are important to organic consumers-showcasing companies that are truly committed to the spirit and letter of the organic law while exposing those that do not rate highly or were unwilling to share their sourcing and production practices in our survey.

The scorecard sheds light on questions such as:

  • Do the soybeans come from American organic farmers, or are they imported from China, India or South America?
  • Is the company devoted to supporting organic agriculture by sourcing only organic soybeans and marketing only organic products?
  • Does the company use loopholes in the organic standards to source cheaper non-organic ingredients even when organic ones are available?

Part I of the comprehensive report explores the reasons for asking these questions, including why organic consumers should be wary of Chinese imports, given the lax oversight by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) over organic certifiers working in China.

Part II of the report exposes the “dirty little secret” of the “natural” soy foods industry: the widespread use of hexane in processing. Hexane is strictly prohibited in organic food processing, but is used to make “natural” soy foods and even some that are “made with organic ingredients,” such as Clif Bars(r). Hexane is a neurotoxic petrochemical solvent that is listed as a hazardous air pollutant with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Both the report and scorecard highlight the good news in the organic soyfood industry: in every market and product category, there are true heroes, both national and local manufacturers, supplying ethically produced organic food that are worthy of consumer support.

To view the report and scorecard, visit the Cornucopia website at: -Cornucopia Institute

Pesticide carbofuran banned for food crops

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued a final rule in mid-May to ban the use of the pesticide carbofuran on food crops because it poses an unacceptable health risk, especially to children.

The insecticide, sold under the brand name Furadan, has been under EPA review for years. Its granular form was banned in the mid-1990s because it was blamed for killing millions of migratory birds. The agency began its effort to remove the pesticide from the market in 2006.

Furadan’s manufacturer, FMC Corp. of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, has fought the federal action. In March, the company voluntarily scaled back its uses, in hopes of heading off broader restrictions.

FMC Corp. officials could not be reached immediately for comment. The company said on its Web site that Furadan “remains a useful product, vital to the sustainability of agriculture “and that its proper use “does not create a risk to human health, wildlife or the environment.”

The EPA said it was revoking all allowable tolerance levels for carbofuran on food crops, including those imported, and in the coming months will move to ban the chemical’s use altogether, including on nonfood crops, because of risks to farm workers and to the environment.

Even though the manufacturer said it would cut back its U.S. use of carbofuran to a smaller number of crops, the EPA said the chemical still poses “an unacceptable dietary risk, especially to children, from consuming a combination of food and water with carbofuran residues.”

The ban goes into effect at the end of the year.

In a fact sheet, EPA says carbofuran “can overstimulate the nervous system, causing nausea, dizziness, confusion and, at very high exposures, respiratory paralysis and death.” -Organic Consumers Association

First-ever Statewide ban of BPA adopted in Minnesota; similar BPA bill to be considered in California

On May 8th, Minnesota’s governor, Tim Pawlenty (R) signed landmark legislation, the first statewide prohibition on the use of the toxic plastics chemical Bisphenol-A, or BPA, in baby bottles and sippy cups. The prohibition will go into effect January 1, 2010.

BPA, a toxic hormone disruptor found in bottles and sippy cups, as well as infant formula, canned foods and food packaging, is linked to a growing list of serious health problems, including cancer. Recent studies find BPA exposure during early life may permanently alter the developing brain and reproductive systems, and the National Toxicology Program within the U.S. National Institute of Health has raised concerns about the safety of children’s exposures to the chemical.

“Minnesota now leads the way in protecting American children from BPA,” said Renee Sharp, senior analyst and director of Environmental Working Group’s California office. EWG is sponsoring a similar BPA ban in California, authored by State Senator Fran Pavley (D).

California and Connecticut are poised to consider similar measures in the next week.

“California legislators will have the opportunity next week to stand on the right side of history and join their colleagues from Minnesota, the government of Canada and major retailers by protecting California’s children from future exposure to this toxic chemical,” Sharp added.

As the scientific evidence continues to mount in favor of restricting the chemical’s use, many retailers and manufacturers have responded. Within the last year, mega retailers like Wal-Mart and Toys R’ Us have announced they would stop selling baby bottles made with BPA. The water bottle manufacturer Nalgene and several of the nation’s largest baby bottle makers are phasing BPA out of their products. Even the petro-chemical giant Sunoco has promised that it would no longer allow any of the BPA it makes to be used in items designed for children 3 and under.

“Minnesota’s action should pave the way for California,” said Sharp. “BPA has been banned by everyone from Wal-Mart to Sunoco, Canada and now Minnesota. Any questions about the viability of alternatives have clearly been resolved.” -Environmental Working Group

BPA levels in adults up 70 percent after drinking from plastic bottles

Seventy-seven Harvard student volunteers experienced a nearly 70 percent increase in urinary levels of bisphenol A (BPA), a plastics component and synthetic estrogen linked to cancer, reproductive system damage and other serious conditions, after drinking cold beverages from BPA-laden polycarbonate bottles for just one week, according to researchers from Harvard University and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The groundbreaking Harvard/CDC study, led by Karin B. Michels, a Harvard professor of epidemiology, and published May 12 in the online version of the journal Environmental Health Perspectives poses serious implications for the impact of BPA exposure on infants fed with polycarbonate bottles.

“These astonishing results should be a clarion call to lawmakers and public health officials that babies are being exposed to BPA, and at levels that could likely have an impact on their development,” said Renee Sharp, Director of Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) California office. “The adults in this study were willing participants who understood the risk of exposure, but babies are unwitting victims of the silent but serious threat this hormone- disrupting chemical poses to their health.”

The Harvard/CDC study buttresses a March 2007 study by EWG that documented that BPA-based epoxy can linings had contaminated more than half the canned foods, beverages and canned liquid infant formula randomly purchased at supermarkets around the country. Since many of the foods tested, such as liquid infant formula, canned soup and SpagettiOs, are marketed for babies and toddlers, babies drinking from BPA-plastic bottles and sippy cups and eating canned food could receive significant doses of the chemical, shown in laboratory studies to cause serious damage to brain and reproductive systems of test animals. As well, the chemical has been associated with cardiovascular damage, diabetes, obesity and other chronic conditions.

In the absence of any U.S. regulation on BPA contamination of food, EWG has published an online guide to baby-safe bottles and formula.

The Harvard/CDC study comes on the heels of Minnesota’s statewide prohibition of BPA in baby bottles, sippy cups and other food containers for children 3 and under. Suffolk County, New York, has also banned BPA in such items, lawmakers in California and Connecticut are considering similar proposals, and the City Council in Chicago just voted to ban the sale of any baby bottle or sippy cup containing the chemical.

EWG supports State Senator Fran Pavley’s (D) measure to ban BPA in California.

At the federal level, U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA) have introduced legislation that would restrict the use of BPA in food and beverage containers.

“If the legislation to protect California’s youngest from further exposure to BPA is defeated, those elected officials responsible for its demise should be held to account for protecting the profits of the chemical industry instead of children’s health,” added Sharp.

In March, Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal announced that 6 major companies—Avent, Disney First Years, Gerber, Dr. Brown, Playtex and Evenflow—had volunteered to stop using BPA-based plastic in baby bottles made for the U.S. market.

Several major retailers, including Wal-Mart and Toys R’ Us, have announced they would stop selling baby bottles made with BPA. The water bottle manufacturer Nalgene and several of the nation’s largest baby bottle makers are phasing BPA out of their products. The petro-chemical giant Sunoco has promised that it would no longer allow any of the BPA it makes to be used in items designed for children 3 and under. -Environmental Working Group

U.S. organic sales grow by a whopping 17.1 percent in 2008

U.S. sales of organic products, both food and non-food, reached $24.6 billion by the end of 2008, growing an impressive 17.1 percent over 2007 sales despite tough economic times, according to the Organic Trade Association (OTA), which recently made available final results from its 2009 Organic Industry Survey.

While the overall economy has been losing ground, sales of organic products reflect very strong growth during 2008. “Organic products represent value to consumers, who have shown continued resilience in seeking out these products,” said Christine Bushway, OTA’s Executive Director.

The survey, conducted by Lieberman Research Group on behalf of OTA, measured the growth of U.S. sales of organic foods and beverages as well as non-food categories such as organic fibers, personal care products and pet foods during 2008. Results show organic food sales grew in 2008 by 15.8 percent to reach $22.9 billion, while organic non-food sales grew by an astounding 39.4 percent to reach $1.648 billion. As a result, organic food sales now account for approximately 3.5 percent of all food product sales in the United States.

“This marks another milestone for the organic food market,” said Bushway.

With tough economic times, consumers have used various strategies in continuing to buy organic products. Because most venues now offer organic products, consumers have the opportunity to shop around. Increased use of coupons, the proliferation of private label brands, and value-positioned products offered by major organic brands all have contributed to increased sales. -Organic Trade Association

National Geographic Greendex Survey: Americans rank dead last in sustainability

The United States may have ranked last in the second annual National Geographic Greendex survey, but the study also shows that Americans are increasingly becoming more aware of how their purchasing decisions impact the environment.

The Greendex survey at monitors consumer progress in ecologically sustainable consumption in 17 developed and developing nations.

The survey, with more than 17,000 global respondents, covered four broad categories, including energy use, transportation, food choices, and green versus conventional products. The Greendex Web page also includes a survey allowing consumers to rank their own sustainability.

The top-scoring consumers were found in India, Brazil and China. Americans ranked last. Canadians were next to last in the survey.

But the survey found some encouraging trends in energy use and sustainable purchasing, and a greater awareness of how purchasing decisions impact the environment.

“People are becoming more aware of the ways their food and energy decisions are related to the environment,” said Jovana Ruzicic, spokesperson for the Environmental Working Group, a Washington, D.C. nonprofit that aims to protect human health and the environment. “Hopefully, we’ll close the gap with other countries by making better environmental choices.”

The U.S. came in last in the area of housing, due to larger residences, fewer residents per household and higher energy use, compared to developing nations. The finding was not an unexpected one. Gross domestic product per capita in the U.S. is 16 times greater than India’s and eight times greater than China’s GDP.

However, American consumers improved in energy use for heating and cooling, and increased the number of second-hand household products purchased.

In the food category, Americans also ranked near the bottom, and consumed less locally grown food than any other country in the survey. But Americans also showed the highest rate of improvement in this category.

While the global economic downturn may have impacted scores, the data suggest that greater environmental awareness remains a driving force behind consumer choices.