Fair Trade: The Damage of Global Trading

Until recently the cost of global trade on the environment has been little known. Yet as supply chains lengthen, and demand for products from every corner of the world increases, biodiversity degradation is inevitable. A study recently published by a team of researchers from the University of Sydney highlights just how unsustainable our trading practices have become. Through the course of their five year study, this team examined more than 150,000 commodities (manufactured in at least 187 countries) and made available to consumers through more than five billion global supply chains.

Among the information expounded was overwhelming evidence of the environmental damage in poorer countries largely responsible for exporting goods to wealthier nations. As interest in certain goods increases, so too do the crippling effects of the trade. “Until now these relationships have only been poorly understood,” explained Manfred Lenzen of the University of Sydney’s Integrated Sustainability Analysis group, and lead author of the study. Through their work, they hope to change these foggy notions into certainties.

For the most part, better developed countries like Japan, the United States and Western Europe are feeding this trade as consumers seek items from the around the world more and more often. Countries like Indonesia and Madagascar are left with a crippling environment due largely in part to their exported goods (it is estimated that approximately 50 to 60 percent of the biodiversity in Madagascar, as well as Papua New Guinea, has already been lost due to this). What is more, it is believed that almost one-third of the world’s animal species are threatened due to global exchange—with at least 171 species in Papua New Guinea alone dramatically threatened.

Additionally, it is no secret that the ivory and exotic medicine market in East Asia is threatening populations of elephants and rhinos in the wild; and forests are consistently eradicated (clearing vital foliage and animal habitat) in order to make way for coffee and cocoa plantations. In the journal, Nature, the study’s authors expressed their sentiment: “There is increasing awareness that developed countries’ consumption of imported products can cause a biodiversity footprint that is larger abroad than at home.”

Malaysia’s rubber exports, overfishing in Thailand and the Philippines, Colombia’s bananas and tobacco, as well as mining for mineral in Ghana are already raising the alarm in their respective regions. And as long as consumers are still willing to pay for beef from Brazil, palm oil from Indonesia and coffee from Mexico, this will be a continuing problem.

It is time that consumers in developed countries are made aware of the ramifications of their decisions. Currently, nations with the most financial pull are so far removed from the issues that are taking place in other parts of the world—where our goods come from—and this needs to change. Authors of the report suggest providing products with sustainability labels in order to bridge this gap, as well as better management of the supply chains. As we become further entwined in the web of our global economy, consumers should not be left unaware about the impact their choices have on the rest of the world.

To bridge this information gap, merchandise being bought and sold in American markets should come equipped with sustainability labels in order to better inform the buyer of the true cost of the product they are purchasing. There is no doubt that it is going to take some radical thinking, but in this case especially, knowledge is power.

To petition for sustainability labels in America, please sign here.


Photo Credit: tradegov.files.wordpress.com/2011/12/istock_000005911832small1.jpg

FDA Reveals New Regulations on Sunscreens

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration will be requiring manufacturers to make changes on sunscreen labels in order to facilitate consumer understanding of the safety and effectiveness of different sun defense products. 

New guidelines announced on Tuesday will establish more stringent standards for over-the-counter sunscreens, particularly regarding the designation “Broad Spectrum” on labels. 

By summer 2012, all products labeled “Broad Spectrum” must be proven to protect against both UVA and UVB rays, as determined by newly established testing procedures that will measure UVA radiation protection in relation to the amount of UVB protection provided. 

Traditionally, sunscreen manufacturers have marketed a level of “sun protection factor” (SPF) to indicate the corresponding level of protection afforded to the skin specifically against UVB rays, which are the primary cause of sunburn. 

Both UVA and UVB rays, however, can cause skin cancer and premature aging of the skin.  So, misleading sunscreen labels boasting “protection from the sun’s rays” and “protection for skin against damage from the sun” may, in fact, lack adequate protection from the full range of the sun’s light. 

Per the FDA’s web site, the regulations are part of “the agency’s ongoing efforts to ensure that sunscreens meet modern-day standards for safety and effectiveness and help consumers have the information they need so they can choose the right sun protection for themselves and their families.”

Non-broad spectrum sunscreens and broad spectrum sunscreens with an SPF of 2 to 14 will only be permitted to advertise help preventing sunburn, and these products may not advertise any risk reduction of skin cancer or early skin aging with use. 

Only broad spectrum sunscreens with an SPF of 15 or higher may claim to protect against the triple threat of sunburn, skin cancer, and premature skin aging. 

Additionally, manufacturers may no longer market sunscreens as “sunblock” or claim that they are “waterproof” or “sweatproof,” as these terms overstate the effectiveness of the products. 

“There is no such thing as a waterproof or sweatproof sunscreen.  Once wet, all sunscreens begin to lose effectiveness,” explains an FDA video on the new regulations. 

Instead, products may be designated “water resistant” if applicable, but they must also indicate the length of time water resistance lasts – either 40 or 80 minutes – on the front label.  In the absence of the term, the sunscreen product should not be considered water resistant. 

“Sunblock” will be disallowed because no sunscreen can completely protect against the sun’s ultraviolet rays.  For the most complete protection from the sun’s rays, the FDA is encouraging a multi-faceted approach.

Using broad spectrum sunscreens with an SPF of at least 15 as directed, in conjunction with other safety measures such as wearing protective clothing, avoiding the sun during the peak hours of 10 AM to 2 PM, and periodically seeking shade, are the safest ways to avoid harm from the sun. 

While higher SPF levels offer more protection against sunburn-inducing UVB rays, the FDA announced that there is no evidence that SPF levels above 50 provide any additional benefits. 

A proposed FDA rule seeks to set the maximum allowable advertised level of SPF at 50.  The agency is allowing time for public comment on the regulation before finalizing it. 

Also still awaiting data and public comment are new regulations being considered regarding dosages of sunscreen products.  Because there are significant discrepancies in the manner of application of spray sunscreens versus conventional lotions, oils, and creams, a standard “safe and effective” dosage has yet to be determined. 

In the meantime, the FDA publicly assured that it will continue to monitor current and future sunscreen formulas to ensure that the products offered to consumers are safe.

Photo credit: fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm049091.htm