Politics of the Plate

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by Barry Estabrook

Pop a Cork, Save a Forest

We had a dinner party last night for a group of friends who enjoy their wine. I’m glad to report that we more than did our bit to save the forests of Portugal, Spain, Italy, and northern Africa. The vintages we selected all came in bottles sealed with cork, which is made from the bark of a species of oak.

But with the increasing popularity of screw caps and plastic “corks,” the real cork industry is threatened, and along with it, more than four million acres of forest. In addition to providing some 100,000 jobs, cork forests combat global warming and provide habitat for wildlife. Portugal’s Montada Forest is home to hundreds of species of birds and also habitat for the Iberian lynx, one of the world’s most endangered animals. Apcor, the Portuguese Cork Association says that cork is compostable and produces 24 times less carbon than the aluminum in screw caps—if you need another reason to pop a cork and raise a glass.

Shrimp on Prozac

Those antidepressants we’ve been taken to brighten our moods eventually get excreted by our bodies and are flowing into the planet’s rivers and oceans through sewage treatment systems, which is bad news for aquatic wildlife, according to a study by British biologists.

The researchers exposed shrimp to concentrations of fluoxetine equivalent to what is commonly discharged by municipal wastewater plants. Fluoxetine is a key ingredient in Prosac and other anitdepressants. The shrimp used in the experiment are normally shy creatures, preferring dark crevasses and holes where they can avoid predators. However, the mood-elevated crustaceans headed for bright areas. “This behavior makes them much more likely to be eaten by a predator, such as a fish or bird,” study co-author Alex Ford, a biologist at U.K.’s University of Portsmouth, told reporter Kate Ravilious of National Geographic News .

Ford chose to study shrimp because they are a popular seafood item, but he noted that flouxetine exposure also has been linked to behavioral changes in fish and other aquatic animals.

But then again, given the catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf, wild shrimp might need something to deal with depression.

 There’s Oil in Them There Cereal Boxes

In June, Kellogg’s recalled 28 million boxes of Fruit Loops, Corn Pops, Honey Smacks, and Apple Jacks after consumers claimed the cereal smelled bad and, in some cases caused nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea. Despite the recall, the company claimed that the symptoms were not caused by any “harmful material found in the food.”

The company also said that there were slightly elevated levels of a food packaging substance in the cereals, which are marketed primarily to children. But it failed to say what the packaging substance was.

Last week, the culprit was identified by the Environmental Working Group (EWA). It was a compound called methylnaphthalene, a compound manufactured from crude oil or coal tar (and also present in tobacco and wood smoke) and used to make dyes and resins. According to the EWG, there has been insufficient scientific research to determine whether or not consuming the chemical causes harm. Details are lacking, but apparently the chemical leached from the package into the cereal.

Kellogg’s offered sickened customers coupons for free cereal, presumably without methylnaphthalene.

Posted in Food Politics

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