in the news: action against BPA, curbing rice consumption

this first item is a couple of weeks old now, but the Canadian government appears to be preparing to take action against the use of bisphenol-a (BPA) in plastics. according to The New York Times, Canada's health department is planning to declare BPA toxic, based on research showing its effects as an endocrine disruptor, even at small amounts of exposure:

"Canada Likely to Label Plastic Ingredient 'Toxic'"

hopefully this move, besides encouraging the government to ban BPA in certain products, will also furnish further support for more careful investigation of its safety in the US, where plastics manufacturers have been avidly defending its harmlessness. for more information on BPA in household products, see my past post, "avoiding bisphenol A." the Green Guide also offers a useful overview of which plastic numbers are which resins, and what common products are made with, "Plastic Products at a Glance." of course, trying to reduce plastic consumption will both limit your exposure to toxic plasticizers and reduce non-biodegradable waste.

secondly, the San Francisco Chronicle today reported on how worldwide grain shortages are having an impact on the availability of rice in the US:

"Global rice squeeze hitting U.S. consumers"

apparently, droughts in many rice-growing countries are contributing to the shortage of long-grain rice, and these countries are responding by restricting exports to protect the price of the grain for their own domestic consumption. American wholesalers have responded by limiting sales of rice to consumers and restaurateurs per visit. the article goes on to discuss briefly Raj Patel's work on the "world food system" and the negative effects of global climate change, rising fuel and fertilizer costs, and increasing meat production. Patel describes how growing demand for meat is linked to economic development, reminding us how much more grain is required to raise a pound of meat than to feed a human being. but Westerners should be careful not to blame the developing world for food production excesses we've promoted at home for over 50 years, including factory farming and industrialized agribusiness. instead, we might think about why meat retains its status as desirable and privileged food, and how we can promote (or lobby the government to do so) a more sustainable balance of smallscale, humane meat production alongside decentralized grain and produce farming.

what's most clear, however, is how a confluence of modern food production and transportation practices are engendering an untenable set of conditions, in which increased oil consumption has contributed both to global warming through fossil fuels and poor soil quality through reliance on nitrogen fertilizers. centralized, industrialized food production has provided us both with poor nutrition and an unstable world system, which puts many people in a vulnerable position when a monoculture crop is threatened or transportation costs spike up sharply. it's unfortunate that Western countries have established such an unsustainable model for food production, and it may be that the weaknesses of the system only force us to change our ways under great duress.