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Everything from blenders to cell phones emit electromagnetic radiation (EMR), the invisible electric and magnetic energy buzzing around us everywhere. It’s difficult to wrap your head around the idea of it. And even harder to avoid.
It’s easy to make healthy choices about what you eat and drink and the beauty products you use. You can see them. They’re there on your kitchen counter, in your bathroom, or for sale on store shelves. You choose what goes in your mouth and on your skin. And, reading labels helps you avoid bad-for-you ingredients.
But how do you avoid something toxic that you can’t see?
What You Don’t Know About EMR Could Hurt You
“Just because wireless radiation is invisible, silent, tasteless, and odorless, doesn’t mean it’s not deadly,” says Lisa Beres, healthy home expert, building biologist, published author, professional speaker, and part of duo, Ron & Lisa, The Healthy Home Dream Team®. “Most people naively feel that what you can’t see, can’t hurt you.”
Here’s the thing. Some electromagnetic radiation occurs naturally, like from the sun. But much of it in today’s wireless world comes from manmade sources.
“We are exposed to electromagnetic radiation and specifically, radiofrequency (RF) radiation via our homes, offices, and commercial spaces daily,” Beres says.
It’s all part of the electromagnetic spectrum. Radiation ranges from high-frequency radiation to low-frequency radiation. And it includes both non-ionizing and ionizing sources.
Ionizing sources are what we typically think of when we see the word “radiation.” They include infrared radiation, visible light, UV radiation, X-rays, and gamma rays. When radiation has enough energy to remove an electron from an atom or molecule, it’s considered ionizing. While still radiation, cellular devices, electric appliances, microwaves, power lines, and radio waves, emit frequencies considered non-ionizing.
Ionizing or non-ionizing, we’re exposed to a lot of radiofrequency (RF) radiation, and it could be harming our health. Much of it you may not even realize.
You’re exposed to electromagnetic radiation when you’re near any wireless device, including wireless gaming devices; cell phones; Bluetooth in vehicles; and Wi-Fi at home, work, hotels, restaurants, fitness centers, coffee shops, airports, and even airplanes. Pretty much anywhere.
Here’s What Your Cell Phone Is Doing to Your Health
But the biggest culprit? It’s the device that never leaves your side: your cell phone.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies electromagnetic radiation as “possibly carcinogenic to humans.” And it based those findings on an increased risk for glioma, a malignant type of brain cancer, associated with wireless phone use.
“This isn’t a conspiracy, it’s fact and the evidence is mounting,” Beres says. “Even the manuals for most cell phones advise distance when using your phone and to keep it away from your body. Yes, it’s in the fine print.”
The safety measures for cell phones are based on Specific Absorption Rate (SAR), a measure of the rate of radiofrequency energy absorbed by the body when using cell phones. “While they tell you your cell phone is safe, that safety measure is based on SAR, not the low-frequency Information Carrying Radio Wave, or ICRW, which is the actual frequency that carries the voice data from the cell phone to the cell tower and back again,” Beres says.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) even acknowledges the limitations of the SAR standard.
“All cell phones must meet the FCC’s RF exposure standard, which is set at a level well below that at which laboratory testing indicates, and medical and biological experts generally agree, adverse health effects could occur.”
So, if they’re all around us, what do we do besides run and hide?
The Best Ways to Avoid Electromagnetic Radiation
Beres says reducing your usage and maintaining distance are key when it comes to reducing your radiation exposure. “This radiation can penetrate through walls, virtually through anything, but it does drop off with distance,” she says.
In our connected world, going off the grid is nearly impossible. “People are adding smart hubs to their home, which never turn off but emit radio frequencies all night while they sleep in addition to exposure from cordless phones and home Wi-Fi,” Beres says. “Fitbits® are another hidden area of exposure. It’s becoming almost impossible to avoid, but it’s imperative that we take steps to reduce our exposure in any—and every—way we can.”
Beres suggests these easy ways to avoid EMRs:
Don’t sleep with your cell phone on or near the head of your bed
Turn your cell phone to Airplane mode when you don’t need Internet access
Use protective cases and shield solutions on your cell phone
Use the speaker feature on your cell phone
Purchase a cell phone that emits the least radiation (as defined by SAR)
Text instead of talking on your cell phone (now you have an excuse!)
Never put your cell phone in your bra
Don’t give cell phones to children (they’re not toys)
As a certified Building Biologist, Beres knows how to create a healthy home. And she limits her own use of devices that emit electromagnetic radiation every day. For starters, she uses a protective case on her smartphone and never leaves it on at night.
“I have no Wi-Fi or cordless phones in my home or office,” she says. “I use an old-fashioned corded phone for work and a hardwired LAN, local area network, for work and personal use. I have opted out of all wireless options including gas and electric meters as well.”
You can’t deny that wireless devices have staying power. They’re not going away any time soon. But your choices every day can make a difference for your body and your health.
Beres says not to think of avoiding electromagnetic radiation as the next step in your healthy living journey, but as the first step. Now’s the time. “Too many people are waiting for science to catch up,” she says. “It has.”
It’s hard to ignore the health benefits of a regular exercise routine. From controlling weight to improving the body’s cardiovascular system to keeping the body strong and flexible, the pros are endless.
However, for people with a chronic illness, there are a few stumbling blocks between them and a consistent workout regimen that prevent them from enjoying a good sweat session. Things like fatigue, pain, and limited mobility issues all make exercising a trying experience.
“Clinically, a chronic illness is a physical or mental illness ongoing or intermittently going on for three months or more,” Audrey Christie, MSN, RN, CCMA, a holistic wellness practitioner, tells Organic Authority.
“It’s a really broad term that can encompass a variety of mental and physical health topics, such as anxiety and depression, autoimmune disorders, fatigue, and even migraines can all be considered chronic illnesses. Often chronic illnesses are often silent illnesses and can’t be perceived easily by others.”
While being physically active might be more of a challenge for those with a chronic illness, it’s definitely a possibility; in fact, it can help enhance your physical and mental health. You just need to know how to approach it in the best, and most healthy, way.
The Best Exercises to Try
“Because chronic illnesses vary so widely, I don’t believe there is a ‘best’ and ‘worst’ list that fits them all,” says Christie. “However, yoga is something that I recommend to everyone with or without chronic illness. Yoga is one of the best tools for connecting with your body so that you can be in-tune with what your body needs moment-to-moment.”
Christie also recommends yoga because it’s a non-competitive practice and can be modified for any chronic illness.
Despina Pavlou, a certified personal trainer and owner of, PCOS and Nutrition, also recommends yoga, as well as suggests weight training for building strength.
“Weight training is not just about lifting heavy weights, simply lifting lightweight or even bodyweight exercises are great for building strength,” she says.
As for what exercises to avoid, Pavlou says high intensity and cardio can be detrimental to those with a chronic illness.
“Cardio is great and important for your overall health, however, long-distance running may be too intense,” she says, adding, “While high intensity is great for fat burning, it can also be damaging to your health and hormones. Intense exercise increases cortisol and can cause your adrenals to burn out resulting in adrenal fatigue.”
Instead, Pavlou recommends varying the intensity of training to avoid burn out and suggests light cardio, such as walking.
What to Keep in Mind When Exercising
While moving your body is great, Pavlou warns against over-exercising.
“While we know exercising regularly lowers inflammation, over-exercising can increase inflammation,” she says. “Acute inflammation occurs from the stress that training puts on the body. This inflammation caused by exercise will subside in a few days once the stress is removed and your body has had time to recover. Problems arise when the acute inflammation becomes chronic, which happens when you constantly put stress on the body.”
Ensuring to rest your body is key, as is listening to what your body needs.
“Remember that exercise or movement is a celebration for what your body can do, in that moment,” says Christie. “Accept that this will be different from day-to-day and workout-to-workout.”
She adds, “Exercise doesn’t have to look or be a certain way to ‘count.’ Just moving your body in the way your body wants to be moved is the perfect workout for you.”
In addition to recommending to remember to drink plenty of water, Christie says it’s important to modify your workouts if necessary, including the environment in which you’re exercising.
“Make sure that your workout, whether it’s the place you go to work out, the people you work out with, or the workouts you choose, don’t put your mental health at risk either,” she says.
Christie, who has a chronic illness herself, says, while those with chronic illness might have to monitor their energy and hydration levels more, exercising isn’t all that different compared to those who don’t have a chronic illness.
“These are things that are true for anyone, chronic illness or not,” she says. “Being in tune with your human spirit and being present in order to not to exceed limitations is important for everyone who is embarking on a workout.”
But because each chronic illness is unique, as is one’s experience with it, Pavrou says it’s vital to remember “everyone is different and you have to find what works best for you. Therefore experiment carefully either by yourself or consult with a professional to help you design an exercise plan to suit your needs.”
Not only does copper cookware offer advantages for cooking in the kitchen, like superior heat conductivity for one, but copper also looks great. Copper cookware combines elegance and practicality and it can help to make your kitchen a warm and inviting space–making it the perfect choice for entertaining. Plus, contrary to popular belief, copper cookware doesn’t have to break the bank.
Here are some copper cookware essentials to add both form and function to your home that come in under $100.
Whether you are into pour-over coffee or are a tea enthusiast, a pour-over kettle is essential. This version from Staub is made from stainless steel and finished with high-shine copper to bring rustic charm to any kitchen. It also features a built-in thermometer to guarantee the perfect temperature for your beverage of choice. $100
Solid copper mixing bowls have long been valued by professional chefs and bakers for their special properties–copper allows you to beat more volume into egg whites, resulting in lighter cakes, fluffier meringues and more. $99.76
A sugar pot is a necessity for those who enjoy making desserts–the conductivity of copper helps avoid clumping and scorching when making sugary sauces. Made in France, this Mauviel pan can be used for preparing everything from pralines, caramels and hard candies to meringue and frosting. It can also double as a small saucepan. $100
This chef-grade pizza pan is perfect for your next homemade pizza party. This 12″, 4-in-1 pizza pan makes thin crust, regular crust and even Chicago style deep dish pizza. The air crisper screen helps add that extra crispiness to your fave pizza crust circulating heat above, around and below your pizza to achieve that crispy golden crust. You can even use this kitchen tool to air fry veg like sweet potatoes, without butter or oil. $19.99
A copper saute pan is the ultimatemust-havee for the kitchen for its versatility. Saute pans are designed for braising, sauteing, and pan frying. This pan features an aluminum core that conducts heat evenly and a copper exterior that offers up superb heat conductivity and precise temperature control. $63.96
While many might think that skillets and saute pans are the same, they are in fact different. Skillet have sloping sides which makes them ideal for stir frys, searing meats, scrambling eggs, and more. This pan set features triple-layer construction of stainless steel, aluminum and copper, which results in even heating and changes in temperature. The hammered finish is also quite luxurious. $79.96
Beyond Meat is set to become the first plant-based meat company with a public stock offering. According to an anonymous source, the company has hired investment banks J.P. Morgan, Goldman Sachs, and Credit Suisse for an IPO.
CNBC, which received the anonymous tip, reports that the valuation for the company has not yet been determined. Thus far, none of the investment banks nor Beyond Meat has given any comment to the media.
Since its launch in 2016, Beyond Meat has sold over 25 million Beyond Burgers. High-profile investors in the plant-based meat company include Bill Gates, Leonardo DiCaprio, and meat processing giant Tyson Foods.
In addition to its flagship Beyond Burger, Beyond Meat has also launched two varieties of plant-based Beyond Sausage, two varieties of Beyond Meat chicken strips, and two varieties of Beyond Meat crumbles.
Beyond Meat received the UN’s “Champion of the Earth” recognition in September for its work in creating a sustainable alternative to beef. A recent analysis found that the animal agriculture industry uses 83 percent of farmland and produces 60 percent of greenhouse gas emissions related to agriculture, despite providing just 18 percent of the calories consumed by people around the world.
Studies have shown that transitioning to a plant-based diet may be the key to feeding the ever-growing world population.
One May report in Our World in Data showed that the 11 million square kilometers used for plant agriculture worldwide, despite representing merely a quarter of the land used to feed livestock, supply more calories to the world’s population. One March study showed that replacing animal-based food items with plant-based alternatives worldwide would add enough food to our food system to feed 350 million additional people.
Last year, the plant-based meat alternative industry grew by 22 percent, according to Euromonitor. A Markets and Markets report released earlier this year indicated that the plant-based meat substitutes market was expected to reach $6.43 billion by 2023.
For the majority of human history, the sun has been the only source of blue light. At night, while we may have enjoyed the voluminous glow of a fire, we sat in relative darkness. This meant that melatonin, better known as the sleep hormone, naturally began to release after sunset until it was time to go to bed. But with the advent of artificial blue light, sourced from our phones, tablets, televisions, and any other devices we use regularly, blue light can be an all day and all night affair, and according to experts, it’s not good for us.
What is Blue Light?
Blue light, according to Max Lugavere, author of Genius Foods: Become Smarter, Happier, and More Productive While Protecting Your Brain for Life, is a form of short wavelength light that until recently was only emitted by the sun.
“It helps to regulate our circadian rhythms and dysfunction (or being exposed to blue light when we’re not supposed to be), can cause bodily disease like weight gain in studies with animal models,” Lugavere says.
Blue wavelengths keep us awake and boost our attention during the daylight hours. The daylight keeps our internal circadian rhythm, according to Harvard Health, aligned with the environment.
How Does Blue Light Impact Our Sleep?
“A lack of melatonin can disrupt your circadian rhythms and sleep.”
According to Dr. Robert Zembroski, director of the Darien Center for Functional Medicine and author of Rebuild, as mentioned above, exposure to light at night suppresses the release of the sleep hormone melatonin, a hormone which regulates sleep and wakefulness and is also a powerful antioxidant. “Research shows it [melatonin] helps modulate the immune system by acting as a natural anti-inflammatory. A lack of melatonin can disrupt your circadian rhythms and sleep. It’s also associated with the development of many chronic health issues.”
Does Blue Light Have a Negative Impact on Our Health?
It can. Research has shown that people who work the night shift and are exposed to artificial light all night are more likely to suffer from chronic health diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. But it hasn’t been shown that it’s directly caused by blue light. However, according to Lugavere, impaired sleep quality caused by exposure to blue light, can cause the production of excess reactive oxygen species (also known as free radicals), the unstable molecule which when produced in excess, can cause disease and aging.
How to Protect Yourself From Blue Light
While just about any light can suppress production of melatonin, says Dr. Zembroski, “blue light, which is emitted by electronics like televisions and smartphones, does so more powerfully.”
After dinner time at night, start to taper off your light. Use dimmers in your room and try as best you can to limit your screen time. While it’s tempting, checking your email one last time before bed really isn’t good for inducing sleep. Save it for the morning when you’re trying to wake yourself up. These steps can also help:
As mentioned above, avoid looking at any bright screens—TV, phone, computer— a couple hours before bed.
If you need some light at night, consider using dimmed red lights, as red light has the least power to suppress melatonin.
Consider getting some kind of glasses or eyewear that blocks out blue light. Lugavere recommends Swannies and uses them without fail if he’s really busy and has to work into the night.
If you read yourself to sleep at night, do it with a traditional paper book instead of on a tablet. According to Lugavere, those who read on a tablet before bed released half as much melatonin compared to those that read a traditional book. While reading is great before bed, not so much if it’s combined with blue light.
*Disclaimer: We’ve provided some affiliate links above in case you need to purchase weights, a mat, or sliders. Our site is dedicated to helping people live a healthy and conscious lifestyle and affiliate links are a way to generate revenue in support of our mission.
The food waste produced by the world’s richest nations, some $750 billion worth annually, could end world hunger — twice over — according to the United Nations World Food Programme. More than 800 million people were considered food insecure in 2017.
David Beasley, head of the Programme, released the info earlier this week on World Food Day. According to the organization, one-third of the world’s food goes uneaten every year, amounting to more than 1.3 billion tonnes of food valued at more than $1 trillion. That trend could see food waste rise to more than 2.1 billion tonnes annually by 2030.
The report noted that as much as half of all fruits and vegetables go uneaten every year. But it’s the consumption habits — or waste habits, rather — in rich countries most concerning. More than 220 million tonnes are wasted in the top economic countries — nearly as much as is produced in all of sub-Saharan Africa per year.
The UN noted that as much as 40 percent of all food waste losses occur in processing or other post-harvest practices in developing nations, but in rich countries, 40 percent is lost once at retail or post-purchase by consumers.
The report notes that Europe produces nearly 90 million tonnes of food waste per year; in the UK, it’s 15 billion pounds per year “including the equivalent of 3 million glasses of milk.”
U.S. consumers are tossing nearly one pound of food per person per day — about the same as four servings of chicken or one pint of blueberries.
Food waste doesn’t just impact our global hunger crises; it’s also a detriment to the environment. Food production requires water and land and it also releases methane when left uneaten. Methane, a greenhouse gas more damaging than CO2, is also a major byproduct of livestock production.
A majority of American consumers understand the difference between dairy and plant-based milk, according to an August survey from the International Food Information Council Foundation.
The non-profit surveyed one thousand Americans and found that between 72 and 75 percent of participants understood that plant-based milk alternatives like cashew milk or soy milk contain no cow’s milk. The IFIC Foundation characterizes this as a “low level” of consumer confusion.
Fewer than 10 percent of consumers surveyed responded that plant-based milk alternatives contain cow’s milk. Between 15 and 20 percent of consumers responded that they didn’t know.
Of the consumers surveyed, 62 percent indicated that they purchase exclusively dairy milk. Thirty-eight percent of respondents said they purchase plant-based alternatives at least some of the time.
The survey was funded in part by Danone North America.
The FDA is currently taking public comments on consumer confusion related to the term “milk,” following demands by dairy producers and legislators behind the DAIRY PRIDE Act. The Act, introduced into the Senate last year, seeks to forbid the use of words traditionally associated with animal dairy – like milk, cheese, and yogurt – with plant-based alternatives.
The FDA intends to use the feedback gleaned from this public comment period to decide whether to begin enforcing a standard of identity for milk, yogurt, and cheese. This standard of identity currently defines milk as “lacteal secretion, practically free from colostrum, obtained by the complete milking of one or more healthy cows.”
Proponents of the DAIRY PRIDE Act claim that consumers could become confused by the use of words like “milk” when used in reference to plant-based products. Specifically, they note that consumers could assume that plant-based milk alternatives contain the same nutritional makeup as dairy milk.
FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb revealed his bias on the issue at the POLITICO Pro Summit in July, stating, “An almond doesn’t lactate.”
For those not in the habit of cooking every day, coming up with a unique, delicious, healthy meal the whole family will love can seem like a major hurdle that makes takeout look like a blessing. But dinnertime doesn’t need to be overwhelming – the secret comes from capitalizing on your weekends.
By taking just a few hours of your time each Saturday or Sunday, you can create a weekday meal plan that’s easy and delicious. Here are our favorite ways to make weeknight cooking super-simple.
1. Plan Out Your Meals
Meal planning is truly your saving grace when it comes to making weeknight cooking easy. Even with a fully stocked fridge, it can be tough to find inspiration after a long day of work, so we take some time every weekend to plan out all of our meals for the week ahead.
Planning out all your meals in advance doesn’t just take the guesswork out of dinnertime; it also helps you stick to a budget. If you plan out all your meals first and grocery shop based on your menu, you’ll be less likely to succumb to tempting treats at the store. And moreover, if you’ve already bought the delicious grass-fed steak you’re planning to grill on Tuesday, come Tuesday night, it’ll be a lot harder to throw in the towel and just order delivery.
Consider the volume of the ingredients you need and the way in which they’re packaged or sold. For example, if you need to buy red cabbage to make this delicious Thai cabbage wrap, consider also making this German red cabbage so that the other half of your produce doesn’t go to waste.
If you’re only shopping once a week, put meals featuring fish on Sunday or Monday so that your wild-caught salmon or sustainable scallops aren’t stinking up the fridge.
2. Organize Your Fridge
Taking the time to organize your fridge will be immensely helpful by the time busy weeknights roll around. Group ingredients that you’ll need for individual meals together as best you can, so that when you’ve just gotten home after picking the kids up from swim practice and everyone is starving, you’ll be able to quickly and easily grab everything you need.
3. Prep and Pre-Portion Ingredients
While prepping some ingredients, like fresh berries, might only cause them to lose out in flavor and texture, prepping others can be immensely helpful. Onerous tasks like dicing butternut squash or shredding cabbage are much less annoying when you have an expanse of Sunday afternoon in which to complete them.
Some ingredients are even improved by advance prep, like meats that need marinating. Studies even point to the health benefits of pre-cooking starches like potatoes, which can then be reheated the day of with minimal fuss.
4. Prep Lunches
If you or your kids take your lunch to school or work, make these meals ahead of time. Some things, like sandwiches, may not age well, but there are tons of recipes that can be made a few days in advance and are just as good – if not better – a few days later. Consider, for example, a fresh and herbaceous tabbouleh salad or a spiced black beans and quinoa bowl.
Once you’ve prepped a big batch, distribute into eco-friendly, reusable containers, clearly labeled with the name of the person and the day of the week. Stack them so that the one you need first is on top, and it’s easy to grab them and go.
5. Pre-Cook a Big Batch of Something Delicious
While you might be able to carve out half an hour to cook most evenings, sometimes, even 30 minutes is 30 minutes too many. That’s when you can rely on weekend-you to really take care of business.
Preparing for the winter months can be loads of fun. There’s hot cocoa to be made, gifts to be wrapped, layers to be layered. But, winter winds and brutal cold snaps can leave skin – including your lips – chapped, cracked and crying out for help no matter how well-layered you may be.
It’s easy to assume that adding layer upon layer of your favorite balm or gloss will keep lips safe and moist, but exfoliating is a very important and often overlooked step! When you exfoliate you get rid of dry lip flakes, therefore, creating a clean canvas. This allows your lip balms to work more effectively.
So, what’s the best way to keep your pecker pretty and plumped? Try sloughing off dead skin with a soft toothbrush – make it a children’s toothbrush if your skin is extra sensitive. Then, follow the gentle brushing with a lip scrub. You can raid your pantry and make your own (they also make great gifts!) or bypass the kitchen altogether and pick from our list of ready-made favorites.
DIY recipe ideas:
Brown Sugar & Honey Scrub:
1 Tbsp brown sugar
1 squirt of raw honey
1 drop of vanilla
Mix all ingredients in a glass jar. Can be stored for up to one month in the fridge. To exfoliate, rub gently on to lips 1-2 times per week. Rinse when done and apply your favorite lip balm.
Mint Lip Scrub:
1/4 C sugar
1 Tsp raw honey
1 Tsp olive oil
1 drop peppermint
Mix ingredients in a bowl until paste forms. Store in glass jar in the fridge. Hold a warm cloth over lips for 3 minutes to prepare and soften. Apply scrub and let sit for 5 minutes. Rinse and apply lip balm to moisturize.
Lip Product Picks
Henne Organics Lip Exfoliator Buffs dead skin and nourishes lips with moisturizing coconut and jojoba oils. Available in three scents: Nordic Berry, Lavender Mint and Rose Diamonds. 96% organic.
Coconut Mint Lip Polish A natural SPF for the lips that conditions and exfoliates with a high dose of Vitamins A & E. Contains sugar cane, shea butter and coconut oil for maximum moisturizing effect.
Salt By Hendrix Lip Buff This organic, plant-based formula delivers essential vitamins, antioxidants and botanic minerals. Sugar grains exfoliate while shea butter and jojoba oil nourish and condition.
There’s no question that the American food system is constantly changing for the better, with recent moves to improve animal welfare, reduce consumption of sugary beverages, and label GMOs. But while these policies should certainly be applauded, our methods for affecting change deserve a closer look.
The European Union boasts bans on neonicotinoids and battery cages, not to mention strict rules governing GMOs. These regulations (and more) are all the results of government legislation. In America, however, while governance over the food system does exist, it’s achieved in a completely different way.
Two Distinct Ways of Changing the Food System
The European Union’s default policy, especially when it comes to food, is to legislate.
“We have a more reactive approach in this country,” explains Leah Garcés, President at Mercy for Animals. “The EU has more of a precautionary approach, where if there is any doubt, they protect the citizens’ interest first.”
In the U.S., meanwhile, change usually comes from the marketplace rather than the Senate floor.
“We have been more successful, in the U.S., in convincing companies to change their processes than we have in passing legislation,” explains Margo Wootan, Vice President for Nutrition at the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
This isn’t to say that legislation can’t be passed in the U.S., but rather that a two-pronged approach tends to produce superior results: instead of passing an overarching law that drives the quality of food up, a combination of national, state, and local legislation compounded with individual company policies has provided Americans with improved food quality.
The necessity to fight the battle for a better food system on all fronts is, in large part, due to the fact that in the U.S., “the industry is in the driver’s seat,” explains Wootan.
“Corporations and their owners have gotten intimately involved in electing people who are sensitive to their needs,” says Mark Kastel, co-founder of the Cornucopia Institute.
Lobbying spending is much higher in the U.S. than in Europe. In 2016, Garcés notes, $31 million was spent on food and beverage lobbying in the U.S. In 2017, the National Restaurant Association spent $1.4 million on lobbying, whereas a similar EU organization, the Branded Food and Beverage Service Chains Association, spent around $50,000 (35,000 Euros).
“As a result, corporate interests in the United States can have a greater influence on where to draw the line regarding food safety and quality of food,” explains Garcés. “The line is drawn by a person, and who and what influences the person matters.”
“Regulatory agencies like the USDA and FDA tend to be highly skewed towards favorable decisions on behalf of corporate agribusiness,” explains Kastel. “Whereas in Europe, these fights are much harder for businesses to win.”
The Case of Cage-Free Eggs
This huge discrepancy in the way in which each region manages its food system can be illustrated in a variety of ways, but one recent distinction can be found in their cage-free egg policies. While battery cages have effectively been eradicated in both regions, the journey there was very different.
Beginning in the 1970s, in northern Europe (where, in his “EU Ban on Battery Cages: History and Prospects,” Michael C. Appleby notes it is “well recognized” that concern for animal welfare is stronger than in the south) individual governments had begun funding work to develop more humane alternatives to battery cages. In 1999, the European Parliament, under influence from Germany and the UK, passed a directive to ban barren battery cages by 2012, requiring 550 square centimeters per hen by 2003 and 750 square centimeters by 2012.
In the U.S., meanwhile, the transition away from battery cages took place 15 years later – in a completely different context. While USDA organic has always meant cage-free, conventional eggs took that route beginning in 2015 when, following a slew of consumer demands, McDonald’s decided to phase out eggs from battery-raised hens, committing to selling exclusively cage-free eggs by 2015. This led to a frenzy of similar commitments from other retailers like Walmart and Costco and restaurant chains like Denny’s. Soon, battery cage-raised eggs had all but been eradicated – with very little legislation.
“The consumers have raised their voice, and now the major companies have said, OK, this type of cruel treatment is enough,” noted Josh Balk, senior food policy director of farm animal protection for the Humane Society, at the time.
Neither policy is perfect – and people are still fighting to improve both the enriched cage system in Europe and the crowded barns in the U.S. But each region improved the conditions of the hens using the tools at its disposal.
Changing the Food System, One Purchase at a Time
The structures of the United States and Europe are not wholly dissimilar, something that the United States can use to its advantage when it comes to legislation within the food system.
“The United States,” writes Appleby, “is a single country, but as a union of semi-autonomous states, it has much in common with the EU. Individual European countries were successful acting alone, and these actions finally led to communal action. Similarly, single American states could take the lead, and persuade others to follow, on hen housing as on hog factories.”
Thus far, two states – Massachusetts and California – have enacted laws requiring that all eggs sold in-state be produced without the use of cages (legislation that has led 13 states to file lawsuits challenging them). And the cage-free egg fight is not the only one where individual states can make a difference.
In 2016, Vermont introduced GMO labeling legislation that led many companies, including The Campbell Soup Company, to go back on their previous GMO labeling policies and indicate GMOs in their products. While this legislation never went into effect, it brought about change, including the establishment of a national standard for the labeling of GMOs.
The American law is not likely to be nearly as strict as the GMO legislation in the EU, widely seen to be some of the strictest GMO governance across the globe, but it’s certainly a start, especially given the “tidal wave of money” Kastel notes that lobbyists and food manufacturers threw at the problem in an attempt to stop the legislation from passing.
But American consumers also have another weapon in our arsenal: our dollars. Even as we await the implementation of this law, American consumers can still opt out of GMOs by choosing the Non-GMO Project or USDA organic labels or using resources like the Cornucopia Institute’s scorecards to make informed decisions.
“These are voluntary programs that really can’t be banned,” says Kastel. “They haven’t figured out how to crush us on that.”
Combining both legislation and consumer choice is the ideal way to motivate change in the American marketplace.
“Consumers have the power to change the practices of companies through Tweets and emails and by reaching out to their member of Congress or by voting with their food dollars,” explains Wootan.
And the more voices, the better.
“If one person Tweets at a company, that’s probably not enough,” she says. “But if we can organize thousands of people to Tweet at the company, we can probably make some big changes.”
Legislation to regulate the American food system for the better may be an uphill battle, but an individual’s ability to affect change is very powerful tool to lead us to success.