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Back in March, news outlets stirred up a storm when they reported on an unusual ingredient creeping in Starbucks’ strawberry drinks: insects.
Now, about a month later, Starbucks is announcing that it’s scrapping the bugs from its drinks, replacing the dye-producing critters with lycopene, a tomato extract, instead.
“We fell short of your expectations,” said Starbucks president Cliff Burrows in an online statement. “We are reformulating the affected products to assure the highest quality possible.”
The switch from bug-based to tomato-based dye is slated to happen by June. It was actually only January that the insects were originally added to Starbucks fare, meant as an alternative to artificial coloring.
The move comes in response to a wave of public outrage, particularly from vegan and consumer advocate groups, that rose when Starbucks admitted to using Dactylopius coccus, tiny white insects that produce a red pigment, cochineal, when ground up. The bugs have proven perfect for keeping pretty-in-pink products, such as strawberry smoothies and fraps, red velvet whoopee pies, birthday cake pop, and frosted mini-donuts, “all-natural.”
Cochineal has been used for centuries, especially in paints, makeup, and yes, food too.
Yet while Starbucks touted the insect-based dye’s status as a “safe product that poses no health risk,” the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) begged to differ, requiring goods containing cochineal to be labeled accordingly. The concern stems from the potential side effects of consuming the dye, including asthma attacks and severe allergic reactions for some.
But also playing a part in the anti-insect uproar was the lack of information given to customers, particularly vegans, who felt tricked into consuming animal products. As it turned out, a dairy-free frap wasn’t safe territory after all.
With Starbucks’ latest change, however, fury is fading into forgiveness.
“Through this move, Starbucks has shown that it cares about the opinions of its consumers,” said blogger Daelyn Fortney of ThisDishisVeg.com, who broke the bug story in the first place.
Animal rights’ organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has also praised the company’s move.
Yet other consumers are waiting until June to celebrate, and for now, hold the Starbucks scandal as a reminder that with purchased food, you can never be too careful.
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The outlook for makeup keeps getting uglier and uglier.
And now, a new report that link lipstick to increased rates of diabetes.
The connection lies in phthalates—esters of phthalic acid used to make plastic-based products more flexible, durable, and transparent. Lipstick, as well as other cosmetics, contains BPA (the phthalate Bisphenol-A), which, according to Cathryn Wellner of care2.com, tends to travel through the pores and into the bloodstream.
The recent study from Sweden’s Uppsala University tested 1,016 70-year-olds, 119 of whom had developed diabetes. After a round of blood tests, researchers discovered that seniors with higher levels of phthalates in their bodies also had higher rates of diabetes—almost twice the rates of those with lower levels.
The research confirms earlier literature on phthalates and diabetes. In 2005, Spanish and Mexican scientists found that BPA “disrupts pancreatic beta-cell function…and induces insulin resistance.” And in February of this year, researcher Angel Nadal of the Miguel Hernandez University in Spain found that BPA “triggers the release of almost double the insulin actually needed to break down food,” according to the Huffington Post.
“When you eat something with BPA, it’s like telling your organs that you are eating more than you are really eating,” said Nadal.
High insulin levels, in turn, often lead to weight gain and Type II Diabetes, two health epidemics that the United States is currently busy battling.
Even more frightening is that a little BPA can do a lot of damage health-wise.
“It takes so little of this chemical to cause harm,” says Frederick vom Saal, expert in endocrine disruptors at the University of Missouri-Columbia.
And according to WebMD researcher P. Monica Lind: “Even at relatively low levels of phthalate metabolites in the blood, the risk of getting diabetes begins to rise.”
BPA, of course, is found in more than just makeup; it’s also a common ingredient in other personal care items, as well as soda- and food-can linings. Since the chemical often goes unlabeled, consumers can ingest it unwittingly.
And BPA has also been found to contribute to more than just diabetes; various studies report it can increase risk for cancer, heart disease, and damage to the reproductive system.
Yet though the facts are stacked against BPA, regulators have done surprisingly little to limit its use. Health Canada only bans BPA in baby bottles, reports care2. And the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allows BPA in packaged food containers, deeming evidence against phthalates “inconclusive.”
Corporations: 1, Consumers: 0.
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A newly surfaced study reports that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch—a mass of debris floating in the North Pacific Gyre—is up to 2.5 times larger than previously estimated by scientists and government officials.
The analysis, lead by oceanographer Giora Proskurowski, focused on finding the amount of garbage below the ocean’s surface, a depth defined as the top twenty-five centimeters of water. What Proskurowski’s team discovered was alarming: trash was present as far down as 25 meters under the ocean’s coat.
In other words, earlier studies had deeply underestimated the size of the garbage patch and the amount of debris swirling in the Pacific.
Proskurowski first thought to delve below the problem’s surface while watching the waves during a sailing trip; he noticed scraps of debris pulling a disappearing act, sinking down into the deep when the wind picked up.
Together with Tobias Kukulka of the University of Delaware, he devised a plan to measure just how much trash was really hidden from view, using a system of nets that opened and closed only at specific depths.
“Almost every subsurface tow we took had plastic in the net,” said Proskurowski in an interview with LiveScience.
Proskurowski and Kukulka then used their data to make a mathematical model capable of calculating the average amounts of garbage at different depths, as well as how those numbers changed with varying wind velocities.
Their conclusion? Studies relying only on surface-sampling underestimated the level of trash in the water by 2.5 times, and on a windy day, a mind-bogglingly shocking 27 times.
Gathered and held together by ocean currents, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, also known as the Pacific Trash Vortex, contains high levels of an assortment of plastic debris—abandoned fishing nets, plastic bags, food wrappers—that breaks down into tiny pieces, but does not biodegrade. Because the plastic can decompose all the way to the molecular level, the garbage patch is not clearly visible.
But as we’ve learned, even though we see no evil, the evil still exists.
Plastic waste is capable of disrupting ecosystems, both on the microscopic and macroscopic level. Fish, birds, and other marine animals can ingest chemicals that cause hormone disruption and other toxic effects, and chunks of plastic that their digestive systems cannot break down. Additionally, specks of trash can house bacteria and algae, and carry them to new ecosystems where they potentially become invasive species.
In response to the study’s findings, an online petition has begun, aimed at urging the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to take greater action in battling the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Anyone interested in signing the survey may do so here: http://forcechange.com/19808/plastic-trash-in-pacific-ocean-is-greater-than-originally-anticipated/
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