Monday, April 12, 2010

African Farmers Reap Benefits From
Europe's Organic Food Market

African farmers are making more money producing organically grown crops for European markets, where demand for healthier food is growing.

Nearly 5,000 farmers in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ghana, Senegal, and Sierra Leone are exporting organically-grown produce to Europe, after gaining organic and fair-trade certification with help from the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

The program focuses on all stages of production from planting and harvesting to packaging and promotion, increasing the profitability of farmers who previously struggled to afford costly chemical fertilizers.

Pascal Liu is an economist with the FAO's trade and markets division.

"Organic agriculture in general is well suited to small-scale farmers because usually small-scale farmers do not have much cash to purchase external inputs, chemical inputs, pesticides, or chemical fertilizers," he noted.

Liu says the program helps West African farmers learn organic means of production using compost and natural predators.

A total of 30 small-scale pineapple farmers in Ghana saw sales grow from 26 tons to more than 115 tons after gaining their organic certification.

"The market for organic foods has been growing very rapidly," he added. "Even though there has been a slow down because of the economic crisis, but it is still growing much faster than the market for conventional foods."

Liu says the United Nations expects demand for organic foods will grow by between five and 15 percent during the next five years. And African farmers are well positioned to benefit from more people eating healthier food.

"There are opportunities for small farmers in Africa in this market for some tropical products that cannot be grown in North America or Europe, for example products like organic cocoa or organic sugar, organic fruits and vegetables," explained Liu. "And usually there is a price premium for organic products. The price is a little higher than the price for conventional foods."

Some farmers who are not in the program have begun adopting organic farming techniques in hopes of joining small organic cooperatives that are beginning to negotiate long-term contracts with European organic and fair-trade wholesalers.

(Via VOA News)

Friday, April 9, 2010

Anti Bacterial Chemical in Household Soap
Under Investigation for Associated Health Risks

The Wall Street Journal recently reported that several studies of Triclosan, a chemical used in antibacterial soaps, have sparked enough concern to warrant a safety review by the Food and Drug Administration. Bacteria may develop resistance to antibiotics as a result of its use, according to several studies. And in animals, triclosan has been shown to disrupt the endocrine system, which produces hormones. What's more, the agency says that soaps with triclosan do not seem to provide any benefit over using regular soap.

Triclosan was developed as a surgical scrub for medical professionals. But in recent years, it has been added to everything from soaps to clothing because of its antibacterial properties. Triclosan is so ubiquitous that it is found in the urine of 75 percent of the population, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The chemical has also been found in about 60 percent of U.S. streams.

Triclosan is a chlorophenol, a class of chemicals which is suspected of causing cancer in humans. While the companies that manufacture products containing triclosan claim that it is safe, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has registered it as a pesticide. The EPA gives triclosan high scores both as a human health risk and as an environmental risk.

Triclosan may be cancer-causing by itself and/or in combination with other substances. In combination with water, it can produce chloroform gas that when inhaled can cause liver problems, depression and cancer. It is suspected that sunlight can transform triclosan to dioxin naturally.

In the U.S., triclosan is regulated by the FDA, as well as the EPA and the Consumer Products Safety Commission. The FDA has been working for 38 years to establish the rules for the use of triclosan, but has yet to finish the job.

Push for Triclosan Restrictions

In April 2010, Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and the Environment, called for restrictions on triclosan after the FDA acknowledged to him that it was worried about the possible health risks of the chemical. In January, Markey had written to the FDA requesting information about the status of its ongoing review of triclosan in consumer products. He also sent a similar letter to the EPA. The responses from the agencies were less than reassuring.

In its response to Markey, the FDA acknowledged that current data "raise valid concerns" about the effects triclosan can have on humans exposed to it via repetitive daily use. The FDA also stated that it is “not aware of any evidence that antibacterial washes were superior to plain soap and water for reducing transmission of or preventing infection for consumers.”

Because of concerns raised by recent studies, the FDA said it was engaged in an ongoing safety review of triclosan. The agency said its review would take about a year. It is also writing a proposed rule that could potentially limit use of triclosan in consumer products, but couldn’t say how soon the rule would be finished.

The EPA letter released by Markey noted that a review of the substance under the Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program (EDSP) provided evidence of triclosan’s endocrine disrupting potential. However, the letter also noted that the EPA has no plans to re-evaluate its regulations surrounding the use of triclosan until 2013. Additionally, the agency acknowledged that it does not currently set drinking water standards for triclosan, and it does not consider antibiotic resistance as a factor when deciding which chemicals to monitor or regulate in drinking water.

The agencies' responses prompted Markey to urge the federal government to prohibit the use of triclosan in soap, hand wash, products designed for children and those meant to come into contact with food. The representative also said he would introduce legislation requiring the EPA to accelerate its process for testing and regulating chemicals like triclosan.

“Despite the fact that this chemical is found in everything from soaps to socks, there are many troubling questions about triclosan’s effectiveness and potentially harmful effects, especially for children,” said Markey. “There is clear evidence that many consumer products that contain it are no more effective than those that do not. However, triclosan continues to be used in products that saturate the marketplace.

Consumers—especially parents—need to know that many of these products are not only ineffective, they may also be dangerous.”

Here is a partial list of products containing triclosan ( courtesy of Beyond
Remember to always refer to product labels to determine whether triclosan is contained in your product.

Soap: Dial® Liquid Soap; Softsoap® Antibacterial Liquid Hand Soap; Tea Tree Therapy™ Liquid Soap; Provon® Soap; Clearasil® Daily Face Wash; Dermatologica® Skin Purifying Wipes; Clean & Clear Foaming Facial Cleanser; DermaKleen™ Antibacterial Lotion Soap; Naturade Aloe Vera 80® Antibacterial Soap; CVS Antibacterial Soap, pHisoderm Antibacterial Skin Cleanser, Ajax Antibacterial Dishsoap, Ultra Concentrated Dawn Antibacterial Dishsoap, PROVON medicated lotion soap, Murad Clarifying Cleanser, Rainbow Raspberry Antibacterial Soap For Kids, FNC Medical Ca-Rezz Wash, Kimcare Antibacterial Clear Soap, Bath and Body Works Antibacterial Hand Soaps, Gels and Foaming Sanitizers.

Dental Care: Colgate Total®; Breeze™ Triclosan Mouthwash; Reach® Antibacterial Toothbrush; Janina Diamond Whitening Toothpaste.

Cosmetics: Supre® CafĂ© Bronzer™; TotalSkinCare Makeup Kit; Garden Botanika® Powder Foundation; Mavala Lip Base; Jason Natural Cosmetics; Blemish Cover Stick; Movate® Skin Litening Cream HQ; Paul Mitchell Detangler Comb, Revlon ColorStay LipSHINE Lipcolor Plus Gloss, Dazzle, Babor Volume Mascara, Sothys, Phytomer, Cosmolara™, Bath and Body Works Antibacterial Moisturizing Lotions.

Deodorant: Old Spice High Endurance Stick Deodorant, Right Guard Sport Deodorant, Queen Helene® Tea Trea Oil Deodorant and Aloe Deodorant; Nature De France Le Stick Natural Stick Deodorant; DeCleor Deodorant Stick; Epoch® Deodorant with Citrisomes; X Air Maximum Strength Deodorant, LadyMitchum A/P&Deodorant.

Other Personal Care Products: Gillette® Complete Skin Care MultiGel Aerosol Shave Gel; Murad Acne Complex® Kit, ®; Diabet-x™ Cream; T.Taio™ sponges and wipes, Aveeno Therapeutic Shave Gel, Scunci Microban Hairbrush, Sportslick Pocket Slick.

First Aid: SyDERMA® Skin Protectant plus First Aid Antiseptic; Solarcaine® First Aid Medicated Spray; Nexcare™ First Aid, Skin Crack Care; First Aid/Burn Cream; HealWell® Night Splint; 11-1X1: Universal Cervical Collar with Microban, Brave Soldier Antiseptic Healing Ointment.

Kitchenware: Farberware® Microban Steakknife Set and Cutting Boards; Franklin Machine Products FMP Ice Cream Scoop SZ 20 Microban; Hobart Semi-Automatic Slicer; Chix® Food Service Wipes with Microban; Compact Web Foot® Wet Mop Heads.

Computer Equipment: Fellowes Cordless Microban Keyboard and Microban Mouse Pad.

Clothes: Merrell Shoes; Sabatier Chef's Apron; Dickies Socks; Fruit of the Loom Socks; Biofresh® socks, Argentovivo Stilfresh underwear.

Children's Toys: Playskool®: Stack 'n Scoop Whale, Rockin' Radio, Hourglass, Sounds Around Driver, Roll 'n Rattle Ball, Animal Sounds Phone, Busy Beads Pal, Pop 'n Spin Top, Lights 'n Surprise Laptop.

Other: Bionare® Cool Mist Humidifier; Microban® All Weather Reinforced Hose; Thomasville® Furniture; Deciguard AB Ear Plugs; Bauer® 5000 Helmet; Aquatic Whirlpools; Miller Paint Interior Paint; QVC® Collapsible 40-Can Cooler; Holmes Foot Buddy™ Foot Warmer, Blue Mountain Wall Coverings, California Paints®, EHC AMRail Escalator Handrails, Dupont™ Air Filters, Durelle™ Carpet Cushions, Advanta One Laminate Floors, San Luis Blankets, J Cloth® towels, JERMEX mops, select Quicke cleaning products, BioEars earplugs, Elizabeth'SPA™ bath and body products, Purely Bath™ bath and body accessories, Petmate® LeBistro feeders and waterers, Infantino cart covers and baby carriers, Oreck XL®, Bissell Healthy Home Vacuum™, NuTone® Central Vacuum systems, Rival® Seal-A-Meal® Vacuum Food Sealer, CleenFreek SportsHygiene Yoga Mat, Blueair 501 air purifier.

(Via US News and World Report,Beyond Pesticide,Reuters)

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Inside Eastern Europe's Organic Food Boom

Some Eastern European countries now have twice as much agricultural land turned over to organic farming as those in Western Europe, and experts are predicting a bright future for the industry in the former communist bloc.

Christof Arndt, project coordinator at the Dresden-based EkoConnect non- profit group promoting organic agriculture in Eastern Europe, told IPS: "The last few years have seen a huge rise in organic farming, food production and consumption in Eastern Europe, and the market is developing really quickly - despite the recession."

In Eastern Europe under communism, almost all farming was collectivised and controlled by the state. When the regimes fell, some farmers began offering organic products. These were initially seen as a curiosity by many consumers, and organic food became available in the mass market only slowly.

But in the last decade many more farms and outlets have been established, and consumption of organic foods has risen sharply.

The Czech Agriculture Ministry said last month that almost 10 percent of agricultural land in the country is now given over to organic farming - twice as much as in Germany, according to EkoConnect. The number of Czech organic farms at the end of 2009 grew to 2,700 - a 50 percent jump on 2008. Consumption of organic goods rose 40 percent year on year in 2008 to 1.8 billion Czech crowns (69 million euros).

In Bulgaria the amount of farmland used for organic farming has risen 27- fold between 2002 and 2007, according to the country's agriculture ministry. In Poland there were 14,900 organic farms registered in 2008 - up from just 300 in 1996.

According to figures from the European Union's statistical agency Eurostat, between 2007 and 2008 the second, third and fourth highest increases in the total amount of land used for organic farming in the EU were recorded in Bulgaria (+ 22 percent), Slovakia (+ 19 percent), and Hungary (+ 15 percent). In the period between 2005 and 2008, the highest increases were found in Poland (+ 94 percent), and Lithuania (+ 89 percent).

Industry monitors in individual countries have also reported large rises in organic food consumption across the Eastern European region in recent years.

In Poland, the Symbio organic food producer claimed sales of organic food rose by 300 percent in 12 months between 2007 and 2008. In the Czech Republic, organic food consumption rose by 70 percent year on year in 2007, according to EkoConnect.

Experts say that the rise in organic farm numbers and production and consumption of organic food has been driven by subsidies introduced by governments over the last decade combined with people becoming more informed about organic food and changing their diets.

Dysfunctional communist-planned food production and farming contributed to national diets in the region being based around meat-laden and fatty meals with few vegetables, and designed to be filling instead of healthy. When communism fell diets improved only slowly as eating habits changed. But with the spread of information on the benefits of healthy eating, younger generations are now keen to try organic foods.

"Consumers today are very informed about organic foods and want to make sure of what they are feeding themselves," Karolina Dytrtova, project manager at the Bio Institut organic food industry research and education institute in Olomouc in the Czech Republic, told IPS.

The organic food industry in the region as a whole remains small compared to the West, though. According to the London-based Organic Monitor industry monitoring group, in 2007, while organic food and beverage sales in the whole of Europe stood at 20 billion euros, Eastern Europe accounted for just 60 million euros of that.

Experts say the relative cost of organic foods is stifling consumption in a region with some of the lowest wages in the entire EU. In Slovakia, for instance, where the average monthly wage is 800 euros, organic chicken meat costs as much as 10 euros per kilo in shops. Non-organically farmed chicken costs around 2.50 euros.

In the Czech Republic, surveys cited in local media have reported the difference in prices of organic and non-organic foodstuffs is as much as 140 percent for some products. In Poland it is up to almost 300 percent for organic dairy products, and in Romania, where the average monthly wage is just over 350 euros, organic produce can cost consumers almost twice as much as industrially produced similar products, according to local media.

Industry experts say high prices are partly down to a lack of facilities to process finished products, meaning that many Eastern European producers end up exporting large amounts of raw materials to Western Europe for processing. Much of that is then sold in Western Europe as finished products such as packs of biscuits or dairy products, but some is sent back again to Eastern Europe for sale - a costly and, some argue, relatively environmentally unfriendly process.

The rate of growth in consumption of organic products has fallen during the global recession. In the Czech Republic, growth in organic food consumption had been 70 percent year on year in 2007, but dropped to 40 percent in 2008, and experts have estimated it will be as little as five percent in 2009.

But environmental groups maintain the tail-off is relatively small and only temporary. Vojtech Kotecky of Friends of the Earth in the Czech Republic told local media: "There will be a return to fast growth once the recession is over."

(Via IPS News)

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Teen Star Selena Gomez Shows Her "Eco-Style," Launching Eco-Fashion Line For Kmart

Teen star Selena Gomez is showing green style with her new eco-friendly collection of clothing set to hit K-Mart this coming July 15th. The collection, to be called Dream Out Loud, will be created in partnership with Generra designer Tom Melillo and fashion businesswoman Sandra Campos. It will include dresses, floral tops, jeans, skirts, jackets, and accessories like hats and scarves .Even more stunning, everything in the line will be priced at under $25!

"I want the pieces that can be easy to dress up or down, and the fabrics being eco-friendly and organic are super important," Gomez said last fall . "Also, the tags will all have some of my inspirational quotes on them. I'm just looking to send a good message."

(Via Stylecaster)

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Growth of Green Building in Tough Economic Times

While U.S. unemployment figures remained steady at 9.7% for February, the rate for construction workers rose to 27.1%, up from 24.1% a year ago, underscoring the continuing difficulties in this important sector of the economy.

Interestingly, the basket of green building stocks in Canaccord Adam's Green Building Index are up 10.1% for the year, outperforming the 2.1% rise for the S&P 500 Index and 2.5% for the NASDAQ.

Even during such harsh conditions for construction in general, green building companies are able to distinguish themselves from and out pace conventional competitors.

A "Green Jobs Study" released by the US Green Building Council estimates that greenbuilding jobs currently stand at two million, generating over $100 billion dollars in GDP and wages. By 2013, the sector will support nearly eight million jobs.

The study predicts approximately 32% average annual growth in green construction square footage from 2009-2013 - an impressive level given the continued contraction in the overall construction market. Also in that time frame, the study forecasts 75% square footage growth in LEED-certified buildings.

Based on this growth forecast, the environmental benefits should grow dramatically in the coming years as green buildings take an ever larger share of the construction market.

The greatest savings come from reduced energy costs (56% of total savings), lower operations and maintenance costs (36%), less garbage generation (6%) and water usage (2%). From 2009-2013, the report estimates green construction will save $6 billion in energy costs, $3.8 billion in operations and maintenance, $249 million in garbage costs and $645 million in water costs.

Strong growth in LEED-certified buildings will be responsible for 75% of those energy savings from 2009-2013. The newest version of the LEED rating system doubles the points in the energy & atmosphere category to optimize energy performance in newly constructed buildings.

AVID Ratings, which conducts an annual survey of home-buyer preferences, says that Americans are shifting away from the trend for very large homes to smaller homes that have green features. In this time of economic uncertainty, most home buyers are looking for "authenticity" and "cost-effective" architecture, says an article in MarketWatch.

The focus is on useful spaces rather than lots of rooms, and they want it designed green from the outset. "It's all about family togetherness -- casual living, entertaining and flexible spaces," says the article.

"Must Have" features in new homes include: large kitchens; energy efficient appliances, high efficiency insulation and windows and ceiling fans; a home office/study instead of a dining room; a main floor master suite; outdoor living spaces; oversized showers; stone and brick exteriors; and community landscapes. Buyers in large planned developments want hiking and native landscapes instead of golf courses and swimming pools (it's about time)!

(Via Sustainable Building)