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Month: July 2013 (page 1 of 2)

Never Ending Air Potato

New plants are introduced into our local communities regularly. We generally don’t pay much attention to the ones that are considered weeds, and cultivate the ones that produce or provide a natural enrichment to our environment. There has been local attention to a non-native invasive plant here in Florida called an air potato. This plant/weed is very different in that it grows yes, literally like a weed, in fact, it can grow 8 inches a day and produce large numbers of potatoe like growths that sprout new plants. The growths are bulbils and are considered a species of yam, they are toxic and should not be consumed. The bulbils make the plant robust and fast growing, for it is the bulbils themselves that serves as a means of dispersal. The aerial stems of this plant die back in winter, but resprouting occurs from bulbils and underground tubers. The short winters in Florida helps to make this plant thrive even better.

The main reason the air potato plant or vines is a threat is because it typically climbs to the tops of trees and can take over native plants. The plant is quite versatile and invades a variety of habitats, including pinelands and natural area hammocks. It quickly can engulf native vegetation in natural areas by climbing high into tree canopies. The struggle to remove these hardy pesty plants involves several methods, some surprisingly not bad for the environment at all.
Chemical control is still one of the most effective means of control, it doesn’t always work the first time and is very hard on the environment. Herbicide which is generally weed killer can be diluted with water and can be effective control for air potato. A dilution of triclopyr, or glyphosate which is branded as Roundup are the most common. These herbicides are systemic (move throughout plant tissue) so care must be exercised to minimize damage to off target or surrounding areas. The least amount of chemicals introduced into the soil system is always the best policy.

A very important cultural and mechanical method to control the air potato is called the air potato roundup. Each year many counties in Florida, including Duval and Hernando (many other counties participate as well), recruit volunteers to help protect and conserve Florida’s natural areas via removal of air potato. During this roundup, citizens, organizations and local businesses get together to collect vines and bulbils. In 2003, the city of Gainesville collected 13 tons of air potato and other invasive plants (Gainesville Parks and Recreation). Air potatos are weeds and they generally invade open or disturbed areas – such as areas following a burn or cleaning mowing. A healthy ecosystem with good species diversity will help deter infestation.

The latest pest fighting “bio-control agent” that has been unleashed by the Florida Dept of Agriculture is the Leaf Beetle. It is a hardy, rapidly reproducing, flame colored wing against a black body as shiny as patent leather insect. The critter possesses a prodigious appetite, consuming by USDA estimates about 30 square feet of leaf in a three-month life span. They are being released throughout Florida to take measures to control the air potato invasion. These beetles are not to be considered “silver bullets” capable of eradicating any invasive plant at that, but they do promise cheaper, more environmentally friendly alternatives to chemical herbicides. The strangling air potato was brought to Florida as an ornamental plant, with its attractive heart shaped leaves in 1905. Thus since we have spent much time, money, and energy into controlling this invasive weed.

Eight Men Out: One Man’s Poison (Part III)

By:  Lee Ann Rush

When you look at some of the chemicals that have been banned from the food supplies of many foreign countries yet are still used as additives by domestic food concerns in the United States with the blessing of the FDA, you can’t help but wonder whether the regulatory agencies of those other countries care a whole lot more about the well-being of their citizens than do our own.  The next banned substance for discussion is multisyllabic (seven, to be precise) and is called azodicarbonamide (a – zo – di – car – BO – na – mide).  This hard-to-pronounce chemical is an orange, odorless crystalline powder used in commercial baking and food manufacturing to bleach flour and preserve baked goods, but its primary application is in the manufacture of foamed plastics (you know, like the soles of running shoes or those exercise mats you roll up and carry around).  Isn’t that wonderful?  It is used not only in breads, rolls and other commercial baked goods, but also in boxed pastas and frozen foods.

Azodicarbonamide is also a known respiratory sensitizer that can induce asthma, which may actually explain some of the symptoms I’ve personally experienced as an asthmatic over the last 30 years.  It is banned as a food additive in Australia, the United Kingdom, Singapore (where using it in food carries huge fines and up to 15 years in prison) and most of the rest of Europe.  But in the good old U.S.A., it’s business as usual courtesy of the asleep-at-the-wheel FDA, which may as well stand for F*** those Darned  Americans.

According to a Chemical Assessment Document released by the World Health Organization, “Case reports and epidemiological studies in humans have produced abundant evidence that azodicarbonamide can induce asthma, other respiratory symptoms, and skin sensitization….  Adverse effects on other systems have not been studied.”  What does the FDA have to say about azodicarbonamides?  You might just want to sit down for this revelation.  The FDA’s official database, known as EAFUS (Everything Added to Food in the United States), contains a list of over 3000 food additives.  Of these, there are about 700 chemicals that have not yet been tested for toxicology; those are classified “EAF.”  Azodicarbonamide is classified as “NIL,” which, according to the FDA, means, “Although listed as added to food, there is no current reported use of the substance [emphasis added], and, therefore, although toxicology information may be available … it is not being updated.”    What???  Has the FDA actually stated their ignorance of the fact that huge corporations like Burger King, KFC, McDonald’s and Subway, to name just a few, are using azodicarbonamides in their breads?   I have no words….

Well, except for these final ones:  read the ingredient labels on everything before you buy it and stayed tuned for more reasons to distrust the FDA.

Eight Men Out: One Man’s Poison (Part II)

Written by : Lee Ann Rush

Last time, we began a review of eight food additives, ingredients and/or contaminants that, although commonly used in the United States, are banned in many foreign countries.  Several of the items on the list shocked me, including the one we’re about to discuss:  arsenic.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Arsenic, atomic number 33, defined by the dictionary as, “A highly poisonous metallic element having three allotropic forms:  yellow, black and gray, of which the brittle, crystalline gray is the most common.  Arsenic and its compounds are used in insecticides, weed killers, wood preservatives, semiconductors and various alloys.”  Oops, they must have forgotten to mention that arsenic is also widely found in, are you ready, poultry feed!

A recent article in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives reported that “slightly elevated” levels of arsenic were found in chicken meat purchased from supermarkets in 10 cities across the country.  How is this possible?  Apparently, arsenic-based drugs are approved for use in poultry farming to prevent parasites in the flocks.  Although one of these drugs, Roxarsone, was taken off the domestic market in 2011 (it is still sold in Latin America), another called Nitarsone is still being used to prevent a parasitic infection called blackhead, which strikes mainly turkeys.  The levels of poisonous inorganic arsenic detected in the chicken samples was low (2.3 parts per billion; the FDA allows for nearly five times that amount in drinking water), but it’s important to note that meat from chickens not given the arsenic-based drugs measured only .8 parts per billion of arsenic, and organic chicken meat contained no measurable traces of arsenic at all.

Quite predictably, the National Chicken Council is unhappy about reports of arsenic contamination in its products.  “Arsenic is a naturally occurring element in our environment that is widely distributed within the earth’s soil, air and water,” responded Ashley Peterson, Ph.D., vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs for the Council, in a statement dated May 11, 2013.  “Chickens … produced for meat [known as broilers] are no longer given feed additives that contain arsenicals….  Even though … such low levels of arsenic do not harm chickens or the people eating them, [the drug Roxarsone] was removed from the market in June, 2011….   No other feed additives containing arsenic are currently fed to broilers in the U.S.”  Hmmm, then why does arsenic at .8 parts per billion still register in commercially-produced chickens?  The Chicken Council can’t very well blame environmentally-acquired arsenic, because the organically-grown chickens are also raised in the “earth’s soil, air and water,” yet their meat contained no measurable arsenic levels.   Clearly, someone has their facts wrong.

It may take a tough man to raise a tender chicken, but it doesn’t take a genius to understand that consuming arsenic unnecessarily is unwise.  Yes, it costs more, but the smart money is buying organic chicken from now on.  We’ll look at more food culprits next time.

Eight Men Out: One Man’s Poison…

Author: Lee Ann Rush

When we think of food poisoning, the scenario that most often comes to mind is one where unsuspecting diners become ill from eating spoiled or otherwise tainted food either at restaurants, catered events, or purchased from a common source of contamination: a food processor, packing house or grower. Widespread cases of food poisoning bring headlines, recalls and, far too often, the deaths of many innocent victims.  In this series, we’ll look into another, far more insidious form of food poisoning.  Although it almost never makes the front pages, the fact is that there are many things we eat every day here in the United States that are either banned outright or require prominent warning labels in other countries.  What are these products?  What damage can they cause?  If we know they’re dangerous, why are they permitted in the domestic food supply chain? Keep reading; you may just decide to make some changes to your diet.

The first of the eight culprits is artificial food dye.  Artificial dyes, also known as food colorings, are found in just about all processed foods, including candy, cakes, cereals, juices and sports drinks, desserts, salad dressings, boxed macaroni and cheese, sodas, snack foods and even yogurt.  It’s estimated that over 15 million pounds of these food dyes are used in the United States annually – more than five times the amount that was used half a century ago!  Why are they dangerous?  Well, food colorings such as Red 40, Yellow 5, Yellow 6, Blue 1 and the notorious Red 3, long acknowledged by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to be a carcinogen but still not banned from the domestic food supply, are concocted from petroleum.  As everyone knows, petroleum is a crude oil product found in gasoline, diesel fuel, asphalt, and a slew of other known poisons that nobody would ever eat.  Yet, the FDA kowtows to the claims of the Food Behemoths (Kraft, General Mills, PepsiCo, etc.) that the dyes are “safe.” According to a statement from the Grocery Manufacturers Association, “All of the major safety bodies globally have reviewed the available science and … determined … no demonstrable link between artificial food colors and hyperactivity among children.”

Really?  Then why are these colorings banned in much of Europe, and why does the United Kingdom require items containing them to display warning labels? Probably because the three most commonly-used dyes, Red 40 and Yellows 5 and 6, are, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, contaminated with known carcinogens.  These three, along with Blue 1, also cause allergic reactions in certain individuals and cancers in laboratory animals, and all the dyes have been implicated in causing hyperactivity in children, the primary marketing targets of many brightly-colored food products.  Nasty stuff, right?

The FDA, unfortunately, is more interested in placating the Food Behemoths than protecting the citizens of the United States.  Artificial food dyes are ubiquitous because they are up to 20 times cheaper to use than natural food colorings, and they keep their color longer to boot.  As we’ve repeatedly noted, the American food processing industry is only interested in profits; the public be damned!   You may not be able to avoid them entirely, but limiting your family’s intake of artificial food colorings is nothing if not a bright idea.

To be continued….

Not My Grandma’s Solar Energy

By:  Lee Ann Rush
When I was growing up, there were clotheslines in every back yard.  Nobody debated the pros and cons of solar power, but just about everyone hung their wet laundry outside to dry on sunny days.  Sure, we had an electric clothes dryer, but that was only for rainy days or the occasional time when something had to be washed and dried right away.  Most people weren’t trying to conserve electricity back then, but the clothes always smelled better when they dried in the fresh air and, besides, that’s how grandma taught us.
My grandparents were also involved in politics.  They’d moved north from Georgia to Long Island as young newlyweds and settled on the East End where my grandfather started a contracting business and, later on, was elected Justice of the Peace and even ran (albeit unsuccessfully) for town Supervisor.  Grandma also took up a political cause – she was actively involved with the local Goldwater for President campaign headquarters.  Barry Goldwater, you’ll recall, was the Conservative from Arizona who ran against Lyndon Johnson in 1964 and was roundly skewered by the media for his political leanings.   Folk music was huge at the time, and the folkies didn’t like Goldwater either, as witnessed by this song: “We’re the bright young men who wanna go back to 1910, we’re Barry’s Boys. We’re the kids with a cause, yes, a government  like Grandmama’s, we’re Barry’s Boys.”
Today there’s another Barry Goldwater.  Like his father, Barry Goldwater, Jr. is a conservative politician with strong beliefs.  One of those is, perhaps surprisingly, that Arizona’s solar energy industry must be protected and expanded.  Arizona currently ranks second only to California in installed solar capacity, but Arizona Public Service (APS), the state’s largest electric utility, is trying to stifle the solar industry by changing the state’s net metering policy, whereby homes and businesses with rooftop solar capacity can sell the excess power they generate back to the grid and be paid for it.  APS claims that, while net metering isn’t affecting their bottom line yet, the policy allows those with solar capacity to avoid paying their “fair share” for maintenance of the grid, and thus should be overhauled.  If approved by state regulators, APS’ proposal would drastically reduce incentives for going solar, seriously damaging both the industry and the solar movement in Arizona.
Not, though, if Barry Goldwater, Jr., chairman of the newly-formed group Tell Utilities Solar Won’t Be Killed (TUSK), has his way.  TUSK is uniting the solar industry and other business concerns to oppose APS and save the net metering policy.  According to Goldwater, his campaign for solar energy comes from traditional conservative free market principles based on, “creating choices for the American consumer.  Choice means competition.  Competition drives prices down and … quality up.  The utilities are monopolies.  They’re not used to competition.  That’s what rooftop solar represents to them.”
So, here we have a noted Conservative putting his name behind a pro-renewable energy issue in one of the most politically-conservative states in the country. Could this be the beginning of a powerful alliance between the traditional liberal green-movement supporters and conservatives?  “Conservatives believe in individual freedom …. To be able to choose what they want to do and not have … big government telling them how to live their life,” said Goldwater, Jr.  “So it’s a very natural place for a conservative to be.  I think as time goes by you’ll see more and more Republicans vocalize this.”
This is definitely not my grandma’s Barry Goldwater, but I do think she’d approve.
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