Sunday, July 8, 2007

Weekend Update

Time to mow the grass. But do you know how much pollution is generated by conventional, gas-powered lawn mowers and the two-stroke engine on your leaf blower?

Consider these factoids:

__A gasoline-powered lawn mower in one hour spews as much pollution as 40 late-model cars driven the same one hour.

__The emissions from a modern automobile are about 1,000 times lower than those from a typical two-stroke engine.

__The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that up to 17 million gallons of gasoline are spilled each year filling the tanks of lawn and garden equipment. That's more than all the oil spilled by the Exxon Valdez.

__Lawn and garden equipment are responsible for approximately 5 percent of all the harmful ozone pollutants generated in the United States.

This is not to say that electric lawn mowers do not generate pollution. The mowers themselves do not pollute, but they draw electricity from power plants that do. But those amounts are only a fraction of the pollution created by gas-powered lawn mowers, leaf blowers, chain saws and the like.

And for those of you who can't use a push mower, there are now cordless electric mowers. Some jurisdictions even offer deep discounts on electric mowers if you trade in your gas-powered mower.

Efforts have been in the works for years to put federal rules in place restricting the amount of pollutants from small engines. Two years ago, proposed rules were held up in the U.S. Senate by Sen. Christopher S. Bond (R-Mo.), a powerful advocate for engine manufacturer Briggs & Stratton Corp., a major employer in Missouri. Bond had worked doggedly to block state and federal officials from requiring less polluting outdoor power equipment.

Bond and engine manufacturers argued that they would be required to install catalytic converters that could overheat and pose a hazard. Now the EPA again is proposing emission control rules that would go into effect in 2011.

Manufacturers, meanwhile, are racing to develop more efficient, cleaner four-stroke engines for lawn and garden equipment. Couldn't come soon enough...


Have we piled on the Chinese enough over their horrible food exports?

Nah, not nearly enough...

Newsweek magazine has an account of a Chinese dissident and the book he has written about the many abuses inflicted internally by the nation's food producers. Some of them are too disgusting to detail here (placenta soup, anyone?) but include:

__Feeding pigs an additive that is poisonous to humans, causing dizziness, fatigue, nausea and heart palpitations. An official confronts a pig farmer, saying, "Don't you know that it harms people?” And the farmer replies, "Yes. But city people have free medical care, so it's no problem.”

__Russians who remove Chinese pork from their ovens and find droplets of mercury bouncing around their baking pans.

__Farmed fish and seafood fattened on birth control pills, which experts say have decimated the sperm counts of Chinese men.

__Kids’ snacks that are laced with hormones, leading 7-year-old girls to grow breasts and 6-year-old boys to grow beards.

__Cheap brands of soy sauce flavored with fermented—and arsenic and lead-contaminated—hair swept directly off barber shop floors.

__Seafood farmers regularly dumping bottles full of potentially cancer-causing chemicals like malachite green into their tanks to prevent fungal infections.

The Chinese author, Zhou Qing, previously spent three years in prison for his political writings. His book on tainted Chinese food, titled What Kind of God, has not received wide circulation in Zhou's home country.

“Chinese people today are fed like pigs,” Zhou told Newsweek, “so that all they’ll want to do is keep on eating.”

The reason we at The Slow Cook keep harping on the Chinese food connection is because the importation of Chinese products into this country is increasing exponentially, often in the form of insidious ingredients that consumers would never suspect or in prepared foods that require no special labeling.

Over at, it's being reported that a recent U.S. ban on five classes of seafood products is causing chaos in the industry. Here's a portion of that report:

Several national retailers are reported to be scrambling to reduce the Chinese origin seafood products in their stores. One problem is that a huge percentage of private label products, such as breaded shrimp, are now products of China, and switching an entire private label line takes months.

Urner Barry's foreign trade data reports that in April and May, approximately 425 containers of Chinese shrimp entered the U.S. China supplies a significant and growing percentage of U.S. shrimp. Through April, NMFS data show China supplied 13.05% (21,141 metric tons) making China the third largest shrimp supplier behind Thailand (31.48%) and Ecuador (13.96%).

Current hold times on Chinese seafood products are often as long as 8 weeks at West Coast ports, and 4 weeks at East Coast ports. These are the average length of time it takes to get containers cleared and released by the FDA – whether they do sampling or not. Often the FDA will hold containers while they decide whether sampling is needed.

So far, according to the FDA, they have been sampling about 5% of all Chinese seafood imports. The change to a country-wide import alert is going to put huge financial and logistical pressure on the industry....

For two years or more, many in the seafood industry have been screaming about the issue of Economic integrity – also largely the result of cost cutting and rule breaking in China. How do you tell a processor who is willing to cheat on net weight, to label a product additive free and than add chemicals, or to mislabel a species altogether that that's okay, he just can't use illegal chemicals in aquaculture.

The fact is you can't. A business culture of lawbreaking doesn't pick and choose which laws to follow, and which to ignore. This type of culture ignores any law that hurts profits, or that gives a lawbreaker a competitive advantage.

Unfortunately, too many in the industry embraced this point of view, and took the position that if the customer wanted it, it was okay. So if the customer demanded $1.50 cod when the real market price was $2.95, we gave it to them. If the customer demanded cheaper shrimp, we gave it to them – by short weights, by soaking, and now it seems by some other methods as well.

In this sense the food safety crackdown on China could in fact be good for the entire U.S. seafood industry. It is a wake up call that shortcuts have their price, and that in producing a food product, there is a bottom line of safety, wholesomeness, and value that cannot be crossed. Too many in our industry knew they were crossing the line, but felt helpless to do anything about it.

Should China be held legally liable for the consequences of contaminated food products? Some members of Congress think so, and are urging the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to make that a part of any future agreements with the Chinese.

And now comes Food for Health International, based in Orem, Utah, saying that it will begin placing "China-Free" stickers on some of its nutritional supplements for people and pets.

I don't think we've heard the last of this...


Our idea of a sustainable seafood restaurant would be one that didn't serve fish. The way the world's population is eating its way through the ocean environment one does wonder where the fish continue to come from, especially for fish-oriented cuisines such as sushi.

Here you can read a discussion with two authors who both have written books discussing the origins of sushi and sushi in its current incarnation. Turns out sushi originally was more about pickled or preserved fish, not those big slabs of fatty, raw bluefin tuna. The authors do talk about the sustainability of the fish involved and how nation's all over the globe ignore quotas and management efforts.

One of the authors involved is Trevor Corson, who wrote one of our favorite books about crustaceans, The Secret Life of Lobsters.


Norma Jean said...

I've used a push mower on our yard for over three years now. It cuts just as well as a conventional mower with the exception that it doesn't get the really tall weeds. Good thing I don't care about that! In addition to being environmentally friendly, it's a great workout. Who can't use a great workout?

Ed Bruske said...

The truth is I'm relatively new to the lawn mower debate. I've never owned a gas mower--not since I was a kid. All electric mowers. They kept breaking down. It just never occurred to me to buy a push mower. We have some pretty steep areas on our corner lot. And the electric mower sure makes it easy to collect grass clippings for the compost pile. I'm torn, but hopefully the question will be moot when we completely convert the yard to an edible landscape...

WashingtonGardener said...

Ed - I've only owned a push reeel mower and a electric weed whacker. If you do not have a level lawn - the push reel mower will definitely give you problems, unless you are built like He-Man.
For the slopes I used to have (before my groundcover roses and lavenders filled them all in) - I usedthe weed-whacker.