New Dietary Guidelines Advise Less Sugar, But Lack Clear Guidance On Meat

cow-looking-at-camera-in-pasture---dreamstime_xl_42387359The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans were released today, but when it comes to making choices for your family about healthy meat consumption, they do not include everything you need to know.

This report, issued every 5 years by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), is used by policy makers and many medical professionals when considering nutrition programs, such as the National School Lunch program and diet recommendations, like the food pyramid (now MyPlate). These guidelines greatly impact what Americans eat.

Much of the 2015 guidelines echo past recommendations to eat vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, though there were a few new recommendations, including:

  • Cut sugar intake: limit added sugars to 10 percent of daily calories
  • Cut sodium intake: limit sodium to no more than 2,300 milligrams per day

Notably absent from the guidelines are the recommendations that Americans eat less red and processed meat and shift towards a more plant-based diet.  Research by the World Health Organization and others has shown this is key to reducing the risk of heart disease, certain cancers, obesity and diabetes. This exclusion goes against the advice of more than 700 medical professionals, the comments submitted by over 21,000 Americans, and the actions of hundreds of U.S. mayors. Additionally, Green America and our allies submitted a petition to USDA and HHS that garnered more than 150,000 signatures in support of recommendations to reduce red meat consumption.

This exclusion also points to the power of the US meat industry, which fought hard to keep its reputation clean in this version of the dietary guidelines.

However, while the explicit recommendation to eat less red meat is missing from the final 2015 Dietary Guidelines, the recommendation to find protein from other sources, such as nuts, seeds, and fish, was included, which could help Americans trend away from meat-reliant diets. Additionally, the guidelines did point out that most American men and boys consume too much meat, and should reduce their overall intake of protein foods by consuming less meat, poultry and eggs.

Also absent from the Guidelines was the recommendation put forth by Green America and our allies to adopt environmental sustainability considerations for the guidelines, which could have had a tremendous positive impact on American’s health, the environment, and on our ability to access healthy foods in the future. According to the EPA, agriculture in the US accounts for 9% of overall greenhouse gas emissions, and livestock, especially beef, is a major culprit. Conventional, grain-fed, feedlot beef produces five times more global warming per calorie, requires 11 times more water, and uses 28 times as much land as pork or poultry, as we covered in our Green American magazine.

Regardless of these Guidelines, many Americans are already shifting towards more plant-based diets. One in ten Millennials follows a vegetarian diet, forty-seven percent of the population eats at least one meal without meat per week, up from 40 percent six years earlier, and restaurants such as Panera Bread and Taco Bell are offering more vegetarian options. This is good news for the health of people and planet!

What are you doing to reduce the impacts of your diet on the planet and your health?

The Paris Accord: A Major Step Forward for International Cooperation on Climate. Not Enough, On Its Own, to Address Climate Crisis

The Paris Accord: A Major Step Forward for International Cooperation on Climate. Not Enough, On Its Own, to Address Climate Crisis. Yet, in many ways the deal does not go far enough. The key goals of limiting temperature change are aspirational and not legally binding.

The news from Paris this weekend was huge.  Nearly 200 countries agreed to take action on climate to keep temperature increases to 2 degrees Celsius or an even more aspirational goal of 1.5 degrees.  The deal has many positive aspects. Nations will be transparent about their emissions reductions, and that transparency should help to shame laggards.  Rich countries are pledging $100 billion per year in assistance to poorer nations.

Yet, in many ways the deal does not go far enough.  The key goals of limiting temperature change are aspirational and not legally binding.  That is why climate scientist James Hansen has ridiculed the agreement for being insufficient to address the problem at the scale that’s needed. And, developing and poor nations are justifiably concerned that assistance from rich countries will not be enough and isn’t even guaranteed.

Of course, the flaws in the agreement reflect the political realities of the major polluter nations, particularly that of the United States.  The U.S. Congress is under the control of politicians who still question whether climate science is real, favor lavish subsidies for fossil fuels, and fail to adequately support renewable energy development.  As a result, the Obama Administration had to negotiate a deal that did not need Senate approval, and the Paris Accord, with all its strengths and weaknesses, fits the bill.

Since the goals of the Paris Accord are aspirational, it is up to citizens and progressive business leaders worldwide to push for strong measures in their countries to move to a clean energy economy.  This transition needs to protect human rights alongside environmental priorities. An important place to start the transition process is eliminating the vast subsidies for fossil fuels.  Worldwide subsidies for fossil fuels represent an astonishing $10 million per minute, or over $5 trillion per year.  These subsidies are distorting energy markets worldwide, making highly polluting fuels appear to be “cheap,” when they actually have huge environmental and health costs that will be borne by citizens for generations. And, compare subsidies for fossil fuels with those for clean energy – currently only $120 billion per year worldwide. Fossil fuel subsidies are an incredible 125 times greater than clean energy ones.  Despite these imbalances, clean energy is developing quickly around the world, but if there were a level playing field, it would increase even more rapidly, and at the rate we need to address climate emissions.

Here in the U.S., government incentives for clean energy are expiring and failing to be renewed, while fossil fuel subsidies that have been locked in for decades continue without any opportunity for public debate.  Green America is working to correct this issue by promoting Clean Energy Victory Bonds, legislation that would provide $50 billion in dedicated Treasury bonds that support only clean energy and energy efficiency programs in the U.S. This legislation would create over one million good paying jobs in the U.S., and help accelerate wind, solar, and energy efficiency installations across the country. As we work to pass Clean Energy Victory Bonds, Green Americans can take action with us to divest their money from climate polluters and invest in clean energy solutions instead.

It is also essential that the citizens of wealthy countries assist poor countries in adopting clean energy and addressing the impacts of climate change.  It is only fair that the countries that have benefited from over 100 years of unrestricted carbon emissions that helped generate tremendous wealth, agree to help developing countries build their economies with low-carbon technologies.  It is also in the interest of rich countries to do so for their own sake.  For example, if climate change continues on its current path, the United States could experience sea level rises of 10 feet on its East Coast, destroying the homes and businesses of millions of people.

Climate change demonstrates clearly that we are all in this together, and that there is no place for privileging one nation above others.  As the wealthiest country on earth, the U.S. has a special obligation to be a leader, creating a future for its own citizens and people worldwide.  We can all play a role, as consumers, investors, business owners, and voters to ensure that the U.S. is the leader we need it to be.

Safe, Green and Fair Holiday Gifts for Kids

Gifts.

Celebrating greener holidays can mean reducing the number of gifts you give, choosing instead to focus on relationships and the spiritual meaning attached to the holiday season. Still, many find great joy in sharing gifts with the children in their lives. Fortunately, there are many wonderful gift ideas guaranteed to bring a smile to a child’s face while supporting the giver’s commitment to a just and sustainable future at the same time. The following gift ideas are all from companies that are green, family-owned, or fair trade—or even all three!

 

Toys

Fair Indigo Stuffed Dog
Fair Indigo’s Stuffed Dog

From giraffes, to penguins to raccoons, Fair Indigo’s fair trade Stuffed Animals span the entire animal kingdom. Made by artisans in Peru. $25.90

Maple Landmark train
Maple Landmark Midget Railway Set

Maple Landmark’s Midget Railway box set includes six train cars and is made in the US from sustainably harvested pine. $41.00 Member of the Green Business Network

Upavim Craft’s Baby Cow Snuggle Blanket is fair trade and made of super soft fleece. It will surely delight any baby. $15.50

Global Mamas fair trade Kid’s Cape is perfect for games of pretend. The cape is gorgeously printed with magic stars and moons by artisan women in Ghana. $20.00

The Wooden Wilderness Animal set, available at Naturally Playful, is great for games of pretend and teaching kids about the outdoors. Made in the US. $26.00 Member of the Green Business Network

Fair Trade Winds’ Pixie Ring Rattle is an easy-to-hold crocheted baby rattle. Handmade in Bangladesh from soft cotton by rural women who work flexible hours from home. $16

bella luna wonderworld-little-tool-box-wooden-toys
Bella Luna Work Bench

Bella Luna’s Wooden Toy Work Bench will provide hours of fun for any junior carpenter. Made with sustainably harvested rubber wood and non-toxic dyes. $32.95 Member of the Green Business Network

The Wishbone 2-in-1 Balance Bike, available from Hazelnut Kids, is made from recycled materials. Rather than having to buy multiple bikes to introduce your child to cycling, this one well-made bike can be enjoyed for many years. 3-in-1 bikes also available. $199 Member of the Green Business Network

Pocket Discs are great for playing inside and out. All are fair trade with dozens of designs to choose from. $19.99 Member of the Green Business Network

Color by Nature color pencils are handmade and fair trade in Chile out of twigs. Available at Ten Thousand Villages. $18.00

One World Project’s Muchacho and Muchacha fair trade piggy banks teach kids to save. $30.

 

Haba Fantasy Blocks
Haba Fantasy Blocks

HABA’s Fantasy Blocks are ideal for creative play. Includes 26 non-toxic pieces, all made in Germany. $44.99

Build a Bouquet, from Green Toys, allows for any little gardener’s creativity to grow. All Green Toys products are made of 100% recycled materials in the US. $27.99.

Fair Trade finger puppets, from Finger Puppets Inc. offer numerous themes of finger puppets for creative play. $2.99 each.

Used Toys: Let’s face it—kids grow up too fast. Because if this, its often possible to find very gently used toys in yard sales, church sales, and on craigslist. Pleygo, a new service specializing in just Legos, makes it easy to buy used Lego sets.

Books

Global Babies includes full color portraits of babies from around the world.

Click, Clack, Moo – Cows That Type tells the story of farm animals who come together in a non-volient way and bargain collectively for better treatment. Available at Better World Books new and used.

Used Books: It’s very easy to find used books on sites like Better World Books. Choose some of your favorite books form when you were young to share with your favorite little people.

Clothing & Accessories

This festive fair trade “Hooty” bib from Upavim Crafts will have your littlest ones eating in style this holiday. $11.50

Monkey Backpack by Handcrafting Justice. This adorable, fair trade backpack is perfect for kids to carry to school or other activities. Made in Thailand, backpacks also come in elephant and owl! $28.00

Safe Sand Indoor and Outdoor sand, available in 25-pound bags, is ideal for sandbox play and molds when wet. Safe Sand is low-dust and non-toxic, with no asbestos, no lead, no crystalline silica dust. $25.00 Member of the Green Business Network

Global Mama’s fair trade sun hat is perfect from shielding new baby on sunny days. Made by artisans in Ghana. $20.00

This fair trade Felted Flower Purse is perfect for carrying any tiny person’s tiny things. Available at One World Fair Trade. $15

Final Considerations

Because so many baby products, like monitors and toys, require batteries to operate, consider a rechargeable battery set as a gift for mom and dad to reduce waste.

And lastly, no products can replace love and care. Any time you can spend playing with the kids in your life will be very well received. If you are looking for activities to do with a little person, consider picking up some art supplies to work with them on a craft project, or take them on a special outing like a nature walk or puppet show.

This post was made possible with the suggestions of many Green America members. Thanks to Carmen, Andrew, Paula, Denise, Alix, Kate, Jennifer, Leslie, Antonie and Jerry.

Find our 2014 Safe, Green Toys recommendations here. 

Can You Get Vitamin B12 from Vegan Sources?

Marjorie Simon-Meinefeld and Jasmine Simon, certified plant-based nutritionists and co-owners of Anything Vegan.
Marjorie Simon-Meinefeld and Jasmine Simon, certified plant-based nutritionists and co-owners of Anything Vegan.

This fall, Green America member Jack Ryan sent us a letter asking if one could get all the nutrients one needs through a vegan diet, particularly vitamin B12. He’d heard that diets without meat are often deficient in B12, and that the vitamin in pill form is actually obtained from animals rather than plant sources. 

We posed his questions to Anything Vegan owners Jasmine Simon and Marjorie Simon-Meinefeld, two sisters who are both certified plant-based nutritionists. While an abbreviated version of their informative response appeared in the Winter 2015 issue of our Green American magazine, we wanted to post the full version here for anyone else who might be wondering how to eat less meat and still get the nutrients you need. 

We’re going to plant some truths about vitamin B12 and pull out the weeds that have grown around it—namely the so-called Vegan B12 Deficiency myths.  People who adhere to a healthy plant-based lifestyle have reduced risks of heart attack or stroke, breast cancer, prostate cancer, obesity, and diabetes, and rarely suffer from osteoporosis, constipation, indigestion, and arthritis. But let’s take a look at some things that vegans and non-vegans alike need to be aware of when it comes to B12.

Our dear friend Dr. Greger (NutritionFacts.org) says “Vitamin B12 is made by neither animals nor plants, but by microbes. Thankfully, in our sanitized world, there are safe, cheap, convenient sources. It is imperative that those eating plant-based include B12 fortified foods in their diet or intake supplements, especially pregnant or nursing women. Eggs and dairy are not optimal sources of vitamin B12 because foods come as a package deal, and eggs and dairy may bring along as baggage saturated fat, cholesterol, and hormones. The easiest and cheapest way to get our B12 is to take at least 2,500 mcg (µg) cyanocobalamin once each week, ideally as a chewable, sublingual, or liquid supplement.” Let’s examine some truths and myths surrounding this important vitamin.

There is such thing as vitamin B12 deficiency. TRUTH. The symptoms include memory loss, confusion, upset stomach, weight loss, very pale skin, stomach issues, exhaustion, and diarrhea. Vitamin B12 Deficiency does exist, but it’s not caused by veganism. It’s not caused from a plant-based lifestyle but usually is a sign of non-related digestive problems where the body has a problem absorbing nutrients from food. Crohn’s disease, pernicious anemia, celiac disease, and other digestive disorders are the usual problems. There are over 5000 possible causes of digestive disorders—and enjoying a healthy, plant-based lifestyle isn’t one of them. Vitamin B12 is present naturally in humans, so those with digestive-related deficiencies usually can’t even be cured by simply in-taking additional vitamin B12 from any source.

People don’t have to eat meat or other animal products to survive and thrive with B12. TRUTH. Both humans and animals eat food from the soil that contain B12. However since most food animals today aren’t even fed their proper diets, farmers actually inject their livestock with B12 in order to say animal products contain B12.

Vegans need to start taking special supplements or eat nutritional yeast because the only source of vitamin B12 is through animal-based foods (meat, dairy products, etc.) MYTH … and TRUTH. Even if a person only eats plant foods, vitamin B12 actually comes from coenzymes, which are already present in bacteria found on the human body (in and around the mouth, for example). We all should take in Vitamin B12 daily, in small doses.

People need B12 supplements not because of lack of meat or animal products, but because of poor soil in much of the world today that our food is grown in. Even the animals aren’t naturally getting what is needed anymore. All people, not just vegans, should be concerned about proper vitamin B12 intake. And it does not have to come from animal sources injected with it.

There are vegan sources of vitamin B12. TRUTH. Outside of B12-injected animals, B12 fortified foods and supplements are available. According to the Vegan Society, the best thing to do is to look for plant milks, plant yoghurts, breakfast cereals, spreads, yeast extracts, and nutritional yeast products that are fortified with vitamin B12. Or try fortified yeast extract with fortified spread on whole-wheat toast, or macaroni with fortified nutritional yeast “cheezy sauce”. See www.AnythingVegan.com for O’So Cheesy, a delicious plant-based cheese alternative containing Vitamin B12 packed nutritional yeast as well as plant-based protein! You can also chew a reliable vitamin B12 supplement to enable you to absorb as much as possible.

Your doctor can check your blood homocysteine levels to see if you’re obtaining enough vitamin B12. Always seek prompt professional medical advice about the cause of any symptom. And don’t just accept the quick and easy answer from traditional schools of American medicine. Seek out the medical advisors that have gone above the medical school curriculum and learned the benefits of plant-based nutrition over pills, surgeries, and eating animals. This is not the primary focus in traditional medical schools, so you have to be as proactive with your health as you are with other areas of your life to seek the doctors that have this knowledge.

Vitamin B12 intake should be a small part of your daily decisions. Focus on being a healthy plant eater with lots of water, raw foods, whole plant-based foods, nuts, seeds, grains, fruits, and vegetables. And get outside and exercise in nature for at least 30 minutes a day to help your body operate in its most optimal state.

—Jasmine Simon and Marjorie Simon-Meinefeld

Sources for this article:

Sweet! We’re beating back GMO Sugar Beets

sugar beet

GMO sugar beets have only been on the market since 2008, but their market share grew rapidly, with over 90% of sugar beets being genetically modified by 2009.  Now, the tide is starting to turn against GMO sugar beets, with the percentage of all U.S. sugar derived from GMO sugar beets dropping from 47 percent to 41 percent in just one year.

GMO sugar beets were opposed from day one by food advocates, who pointed out that the technology was not adequately tested before launch.  The Center for Food Safety sued the USDA for approving the new technology without performing required environmental testing, and won.  However, the USDA let GMO sugar beets go forward despite the ruling.  USDA ultimately issued an environmental report, but that report ignored the broad environmental impacts of GMO sugar beets, including the likelihood that glyphosate-resistant beets would ultimately lead to superweeds that are themselves resistant to glyphosate, resulting in even more toxic pesticides being applied, as well as the spread of GMO beets to non-GMO fields.

In the intervening years, we’ve seen all the downsides of GMO beets, with growing pesticide use and contamination of non-GMO crops.  What wasn’t predicted back in 2008, was the amazing consumer backlash against GMOs that has grown in just a few short years. GMO Insiders have been a big part of that backlash, creating the pressure on companies like Unilever, Hershey, and General Mills.  GMO Insiders were the driving force in getting Hershey to shift to non-GMO sugar for it Hershey Bars and Kisses, Unilever to launch non-GMO Mayo, and General Mills to introduce non-GMO Cheerios.

We’ve proven that consumers increasingly don’t want GMOs, which in turn puts pressure on packaged goods companies to reject GMO ingredients from suppliers.  Ultimately, this means that more and more farmers will be moving away from GMOs, and in some cases, they are moving towards organics to meet growing consumer demand.

Thanks to all the GMO Insiders who are taking action with us to persuade the world’s largest food companies to move away from GMOs.  Together, we’re having a huge impact and turning the tide against GMOs.  Together, we can shift U.S. agriculture away from GMOs and toxins, and grow the market for organics.

11 Alternatives to Amazon for Online Holiday Shopping

With the holidays around the corner, you are likely starting to think about ways to appreciate friends and family by giving them a gift. Like many Americans—if you choose to purchase gifts—you are likely to buy some online. Consumer surveys indicate 46 percent of Americans plan to shop online this year. Amazon.com is the world’s largest retailer and is synonymous with online shopping. Over 40 percent of online shoppers in the U.S. turn to Amazon as their first stop.

Last year, we dug into the company’s record on environmental and social responsibility and found Amazon.com to be performing poorly across the board–from dirty energy to worker exploitation.

With Amazon’s most important time of the year for sales on the horizon, we’re taking another look at Amazon’s sustainability practices and have also updated our popular Alternatives to Amazon Guide to Online Shopping. Choosing to spend money wisely, in ways that support our value, can have a major impact. This year, if you are shopping online, consider one of these alternatives.

Amazon Alternatives Holiday Shopping Guide

Company

Products

How They’re Green

Powells Books, Audio Books, DVDs Operates a fleet of biodiesel-powered trucks, purchases wind power, and generates electricity from solar panels on their roof.
BWB Books, Audiobooks, eBooks, Textbooks, DVDs, CDs By offering previously-owned merchandise BWB has recycled and re-used over 250k tons of books and offset 44k tons of carbon emissions.Member of the Green Business Network
vivaterra Home Décor, Accessories, Artisan Goods Offers a wide range of organic, fair trade, recycled, and chemical-free products, made by artisans in more than 20 countries, including the U.S.Member of the Green Business Network
etsy Crafts, Jewelry, Art By sorting for “handmade” consumers can connect directly with artisans around the world to purchase their products.
villages Fair trade Arts and Crafts, Jewelry, Music, Food Handmade jewelry and textiles provide equitable returns to artisans in developing countries.Member of the Green Business Network
ebay Used Goods — hundreds ofcategories Largest online engine for reuse on the planet; allows people to sell items they own and are not using, reducing demand for new manufactured goods and landfill space.
terra exp  Fair Trade Arts and Crafts Supports environmental education in Mayan communities, uses post-consumer recycled paper, hybrid vehicles, and website hosted by 100% wind power.Member of the Green Business Network
worldfinds Fair Trade Gifts & Textiles All products are handmade, often locally, and are shipped using recycled paper, packaging material, and boxes.Member of the Green Business Network
indigenous Fair Trade/Eco Clothing Makes high-quality clothing from natural and organic fibers such as cotton, silk, wool, and alpaca; committed to using environmentally-friendly dyes.Member of the Green Business Network
maggies Fair Trade, Organic Clothing Uses certified organic fibers, purchased directly from growers. Fair labor practices are in place through all stages of production, and manufacturing is limited to North & South America to reduce carbon usage.Member of the Green Business Network
EE  Fair Trade Coffee, Tea, Chocolate, Gifts Sources from over 40 small farmer organizations in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the United States.Member of the Green Business Network
Member of the Green Business Network Designates a certified member of Green America’s Green Business Network®

Amazon’s 2015 Sustainability Report Card:

Environment:

Amazon uses huge amounts of electricity and most of the company’s energy comes from coal-fired power plants. In 2015, in response to mounting public pressure, including our Build A Cleaner Cloud campaign, Amazon’s hosting company, Amazon Web Services (AWS) announced it would invest in both solar and wind energy projects. As these projects come online, AWS will be able to use greater amounts of renewable energy to power its massive network of data centers, which currently run on a steady diet of mostly fossil fuels.

The company has committed to move to 100% renewable energy, however, it has yet to announce a deadline for this goal. Amazon is also still stalling in terms of transparency, refusing to report its energy usage to the Carbon Disclosure Project

Workers:

The New York Times’ explosive expose on Amazon’s white-collar workers revealed that while employees at Amazon’s Headquarters may earn a great deal, they are often subjected to a ruthless working environment. Current and former employees conveyed tales of working for four days without sleeping, developing ulcers from stress, never seeing their families, even being fired for having cancer or a miscarriage and needing time to recover.

Beyond the individuals working at Amazon’s HQ in Seattle, a massive global network of people support Amazon’s operations around the word as contractors and temporary workers. Workers in Amazon’s “Fulfillment Centers” (warehouses) have been found to work non-stop on their feet in non-air conditioned buildings. These same workers are now being forced to sign 18-month non-compete agreements, which prevent them from finding other similar work, should they be let go. The author Simon Head concluded when it comes to labor practices, “Amazon is worse than Walmart.”

Corporate Citizenship:

Like many corporate behemoths, Amazon has a history of shielding profits overseas, and for years, it fought against charging sales tax on its products.  These are just two ways that the Amazon has benefited against brick and mortar companies and small businesses.  Just last week, after years of under-cutting the prices of independent, local book stores and driving many out of business, Amazon announced its first ever brick-and-mortar bookstore in Seattle. This may seem like an odd move for an online company, but then again, as the movement for buying local is growing in the US, and as Amazon faces much less competition in the bookstore business thanks to its own success at selling books online, it’s actually a no-brainer. The Huffington Post shares more about Amazon’s ironic move and its history of undercutting other business.

Major Banks Shifting Away from Coal

The shift away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy continues. Last week Citigroup, the parent company of Citibank, committed to cut financing for coal mining. In the same week, one of Australia’s biggest banks – ANZ – pledged not to finance traditional coal mining projects and to provide at least $10bn in funding for renewable energy, reforestation and energy efficiency.

In May, Bank of America started the trend with their announcement to drop funding of coal mining, and Crédit Agricole closely followed with the same.

This shift is thanks to the work of everyone building a clean energy industry and pushing money away from destructive, polluting fuels.

You too can make the shift from fossil fuels in your investments to clean, renewable energy. Here is a list of investment products that are free from fossil fuels.

ANZ citi Crédit Agricole bank of america