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You Just Threw Out a Perfectly Good Gallon of Milk Because You Think the "Sell By" Date Means Something

Mother Jones

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Admit it: When you see milk past the “sell by” date in your fridge you’re apt to skip the smell test and throw that stuff out. What you might not know is that the date is actually meant for store stockers to keep track of product rotation. It offers little indication of when the milk may actually sour. You wouldn’t be alone in tossing out perfectly good milk. Nine out of 10 Americans needlessly throw away edible, unspoiled food based on “use by,” “sell by,” and “best before” labels, according to a report released today by the Natural Resources Defense Council and Harvard Law School.

The problem of wasted food is serious and multifaceted. As Kiera Butler reported earlier this week, a whopping one-third of the global food supply is wasted. Not only that, but this discarded food is responsible for 3.3 gigatons of greenhouse gas emissions. If food waste were a country, it would be the third worst carbon-emitting country on the planet after China and the United States, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization.

Here in America, we’re even worse: Roughly 40 percent of our food goes uneaten, amounting to an economic loss of $165 billion a year, the NRDC reported in 2012. The authors of this week’s analysis found that much of that waste is due to “misinterpretation” of the date labels.

“The average household is losing up to $450 on food each year because they don’t understand the labels,” said co-author Dana Gunders, an NRDC food & agriculture staff scientist, during a press call Wednesday morning. It’s a travesty, she added, especially when one in six Americans are “food insecure.” It’s also a terrific waste of human resources—think about all the time and energy that goes into harvesting, transporting, and processing those trashed foods. Eighty percent of our water, more than half of our land area, and 10 percent of our energy are consumed by agriculture.

The authors of the NRDC study, titled “The Dating Game,” place the blame on inconsistent and irrational labeling laws, which tend to be nonbinding: “This convoluted system is not achieving what date labeling was historically designed to do—provide indicators of freshness. Rather, this creates confusion and leads many consumers to believe, mistakenly, that date labels are signals of a food’s microbial safety. This unduly downplays the importance of more pertinent food safety indicators.”

The solution? A system of clear and consistent federally mandated labels for foods. Here are the authors’ three major recommendations:

1. Sell by dates, only meant as business-to-business information, should be made invisible to consumers; only useful labels that indicate when the food will likely spoil should be stamped on packaging.

Click here to view the NRDC infographic.

2. Government should mandate a clear set of labels for consumers, with unambiguous language that clearly distinguishes between dates for safety and dates for quality. For instance a ready-to-eat sandwich should indicate the date by which it should be eaten, with a label saying something like “unsafe to eat after.” Date labels should be removed from non-perishable goods and replaced with quality-based dates with more general information about when the product peaks in taste.

3. Date labels should be come with more information about safe food handling, including time and temperature exposure indicators. Ted Labuza, a co-author and food safety expert at the University of Minnesota, has argued for labels that indicate temperature changes of the product during shipping and handling.

But the authors say consumers also have a responsibility to reduce the amount of wasted food. They offer a handy infographic for demystifying your fridge with tips such as never letting ice build up in the freezer, and keeping the fridge temperature below 40 degrees F. Labuza said he has kept milk fresh at that temperature for up to six weeks.

Learning some of the tips that our grandparents used could be helpful too. For instance, this rule of thumb for eggs: If it sinks in a bowl of water, it’s good; if it floats, toss it out.*

Obviously, you want to toss anything that looks or smells rotten. In short, trust your senses, not the labels.

*Correction: An eagle-eyed reader noted that this adage was initially in the reverse order.

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You Just Threw Out a Perfectly Good Gallon of Milk Because You Think the "Sell By" Date Means Something

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Wind power is a steal: Big deals in Midwest show wind’s affordability

Wind power is a steal: Big deals in Midwest show wind’s affordability


Doing it on the cheap.

Xcel Energy announced deals this week that will boost its use of wind power in the Upper Midwest by 33 percent, demonstrating that wind is increasingly cost-competitive with fossil fuels, even natural gas.

The Minneapolis-based utility is buying into three 200-megawatt wind farm projects, enough to power 180,000 homes, saying they will save its customers $180 million over 20 years. Xcel already has 1,800 megawatts of wind capacity up and running in the region, but it’s hungry for more. From an Xcel press release:

“Wind prices are extremely competitive right now, offering lower costs than other possible resources, like natural gas plants,” said [Xcel official Dave] Sparby. “These projects offer a great hedge against rising and often volatile fuel prices.”

At the same time, the projects will reduce carbon emissions by 1.2 million tons each year in Xcel Energy’s Upper Midwest service territory, where the company already is on track to reduce carbon emissions by 30 percent by 2020 from 2005 levels.

From the Minnesota Star Tribune:

“It’s a huge announcement,” said Joe Sullivan, a regional policy manager for Wind on the Wires, a St. Paul-based industry group. “What it shows is that when it comes to adding new [generation] resources, wind is floating up to the top. It is beating out other resources in the market.”

Xcel said it will buy power from two planned wind farms near Windom, Minn., and near Jamestown, N.D., being developed by Geronimo Energy of Edina, and take ownership of another wind farm planned by RES Americas Development near Austin, Minn.

Financial terms of the deals were not disclosed, but Geronimo said that each of its 200-megawatt wind farms will cost about $350 million. All three projects are expected to be operating in 2015 or earlier.

John Upton is a science fan and green news boffin who tweets, posts articles to Facebook, and blogs about ecology. He welcomes reader questions, tips, and incoherent rants:

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Wind power is a steal: Big deals in Midwest show wind’s affordability

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How Global Warming & Superstorms Make Us Sick

Cyn S.


Ginger is Better than Drugs for Pain, says Study

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How Global Warming & Superstorms Make Us Sick

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NSA Claims That It Has Stopped Collecting Bulk Domestic Email Records

Mother Jones

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The NSA revelations of the past few weeks have focused heavily on telephone metadata, records of telephone calls made both domestically and internationally. But under George Bush, NSA also collected records of domestic email traffic. This was supposedly a temporary program started in the wake of 9/11, but it continued for years and eventually led to the now-famous hospital room rebellion led by James Comey in 2004.

Because of the DOJ rebellion, the program was shut down for a while, but was then restarted under FISA authority. So is this metadata still being collected? According to a secret inspector general’s report obtained by Glenn Greenwald and Spencer Ackerman, it continued throughout the Bush administration and then for a couple of years into the Obama administration. But it’s since been halted:

“The internet metadata collection program authorized by the Fisa court was discontinued in 2011 for operational and resource reasons and has not been restarted,” Shawn Turner, the Obama administration’s director of communications for National Intelligence, said in a statement to the Guardian.

“The program was discontinued by the executive branch as the result of an interagency review,” Turner continued. He would not elaborate further.

Needless to say, an official denial like this should be taken with a grain of salt. Turner says here that “the program authorized by the FISA court” has been discontinued, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that internet metadata on U.S. persons is no longer being collected. Maybe it’s simply being collected via a different program. Turner was carefully noncommital about that.

And even if domestic email records aren’t being collected any longer, it would be nice to know why. “Operational and resource reasons” doesn’t tell us much. Was it really too expensive? Was it ineffective? Did the president become disturbed by it? We don’t know.

The IG report is here. Marcy Wheeler has some notes about the report here.

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NSA Claims That It Has Stopped Collecting Bulk Domestic Email Records

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Maine guv freaks out after local media report on his corrupt environment chief

Maine guv freaks out after local media report on his corrupt environment chief

Maine Department of Education

Foreground: Maine Gov. Paul R. LePage.

It’s almost surprising that Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) has never run for national office. In the realm of GOP presidential aspirants, he could give Herman Cain and Michele Bachmann a run for their money when it comes to political ineptitude and pure crazy. He’s told the NAACP to “kiss my butt,” and he recently used a violent sodomy analogy to describe a state lawmaker at a public rally.

But alas, we could be hearing less from LePage in the future: His spokesperson announced on Tuesday that the governor’s office will no longer communicate with three leading Maine newspapers, because their parent company, MaineToday Media, “made it clear that it opposed this administration.”

Evidence of this alleged opposition came in the form of a seven-month investigation of Patricia Aho, commissioner of the state’s Department of Environmental Protection and a former corporate lobbyist, the results of which were published in the Portland Press Herald, the Kennebec Journal, and the Morning Sentinel. The papers reported that Aho “has scuttled programs and fought against laws that were opposed by many of her former clients in the chemical, drug, oil, and real estate development industries.” The commissioner stalled a 2008 law to keep dangerous chemicals out of children’s products, weakened enforcement of real-estate and development laws, rolled back recycling programs, and oversaw a purge of information from the DEP’s website and a restriction of its employees’ ability to communicate with lawmakers, the public, and each other.

Aho’s performance lines up with LePage’s well-established allegiance to corporations before citizens. Elected in a low-turnout, four-way 2010 contest with only 38 percent of the vote (a whopping 216,000 people), LePage started his term off with a bang by issuing a list of environmental safeguards he hoped to weaken or destroy, including a phaseout of BPA in children’s products (“the worst case is some women may have little beards,” he declared of the chemical’s safety risk). He went on to ban the use of LEED green-building standards for state buildings to keep Maine’s timber industry happy.

Cliff Schechtman, executive editor of the Portland Press Herald, said the newspaper wouldn’t be doing anything differently as a result of the governor’s new edict (aside, I assume, from not calling LePage or his spokesperson for a quote) and offered the Associated Press a simple assessment of the situation:

This is about probing journalism that examines how powerful forces affect the lives of ordinary citizens. That makes the powerful uncomfortable. That’s what this is about.

Indeed, LePage has never had what one would call a comfortable relationship with the press. Last month, he kicked reporters out of the ceremonial signing of a unanimously supported suicide-prevention bill — after complaining that the press wouldn’t want to cover the event. Even before this week’s gag order, the governor refused comment on a myriad of issues and funneled most media requests through his spokesperson, Adrienne Bennett. This is not atypical for a governor, but as the Press Herald reports, LePage’s mistrust of the media verges on the paranoid:

LePage has had a rocky relationship with the press since the 2010 gubernatorial campaign, storming out of a news conference amid questions about his paying property taxes in Maine.

LePage also said that he would like to punch a reporter from the Maine Public Broadcasting Network, during a taped interview with the network. …

In 2012, during a presentation at Waterville Junior High School, LePage told 150 eighth-graders that reading newspapers in Maine is “like paying somebody to tell you lies.”

In February, during a reading with schoolchildren at St. John Catholic School in Winslow, LePage said: “My greatest fear in the state of Maine: newspapers. I’m not a fan of newspapers.”

Bennett pointed out that the MaineToday newspapers can still use the state’s Freedom of Access Act to obtain information about the administration. (The best way to do research on a deadline, as any reporter knows.)

How ironic that the same camp accusing a media outlet of biased reporting has decided to make balanced newsgathering impossible by refusing to offer their point of view. It’s a back-asswards stubbornness that journalists run into frustratingly often, and that sources don’t seem to realize will backfire. When does “no comment” ever make you look good? (At a public hearing on proposed coal terminals in Washington state, for example, some of the few terminal supporters in attendance only talked to me after I pointed out that their refusal to be quoted would force me to write a more one-sided story.)

From the AP:

Kelly McBride, a media ethics specialist from the Poynter Institute, a Florida-based journalism think tank, said such storms between politicians and the media tend to blow over. But in the meantime, she said, the governor’s posture will serve only to make him appear petty and to increase readership of the newspaper series.

“Publishers and editors face belligerent sources all the time. As long as they continue to be loyal to their audience, rather than their sources,” she said, “it usually works out for the journalist.”

Claire Thompson is an editorial assistant at Grist.

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Maine guv freaks out after local media report on his corrupt environment chief

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House votes to take Keystone decision out of Obama’s hands

House votes to take Keystone decision out of Obama’s hands


The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.)

Those rambunctious fossil-fuel flunkies in the U.S. House of Representatives were at it again Wednesday. They passed a bill that would allow Keystone XL to bypass environmental laws and be built without approval from President Obama.

But the vote tally showed that support for construction of the pipeline is waning among House Democrats, following years of campaigning by environmentalists.

The House voted 241-175 to do away with an ongoing environmental review for the northern leg of the tar-sands pipeline project and make it more difficult for opponents to file appeals. (The southern leg is already more than halfway built.) The vote was mostly along partisan lines: All but one Republican voted in favor, and all but 19 Democrats voted against. Reuters reports that the number of Democrats in favor of the bill was down from the 69 that voted to approve similar legislation in April 2012.

“Pure political theater” is how The Guardian described the passage of the bill:

The bill was unlikely to pass in the Senate and the White House said on Tuesday it would veto any measure that attempted to bypass the current permit process.

But the vote — the seventh time Republicans in Congress have voted to speed up or approve Keystone — keeps up the pressure on Obama to approve the project.

The vote gave GOP lawmakers an opportunity to grandstand and demonstrate their loyalty to an industry that so heavily funds their campaigns:

“Five years! Five years and still no decision. What does five years mean? Well, world war two, where we mobilised America,” Ted Poe, a Texas congressman, said from the house floor on Wednesday.

“We went off to war in less than five years. But yet we can’t get a decision out of the White House for more than five years on this project. Are you kidding me?”

The bill was introduced by Rep. Terry Lee (R-Neb.), who posted a statement on his website lauding its passage and claiming the pipeline would somehow create up to 20,000 jobs, plus another 120,000 indirect jobs. Which is weird, since the State Department’s review found that the northern leg would create 3,900 temporary construction jobs and then just 35 permanent jobs. Maybe Lee doesn’t understand how pipelines work. Maybe he thinks they are filled with child laborers passing oil-filled buckets down the line.

A bill explainer from Anthony Swift’s NRDC blog:

Terry’s bill would thwart a decades old bipartisan process for considering international pipeline applications — a process [in] which the American public is heavily invested after submitting over a million comments detailing the tar sands project’s significant environmental impacts. Moreover, in a series of unprecedented provisions, Terry’s bill would exempt the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline from the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Clean Water Act (CWA), the Endangered Species Act (ESA), permitting requirements for federal rights of way, and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

The bill would not actually approve construction of the pipeline, it would just do away with environmental considerations that some House lawmakers liken to mere paperwork. From Reuters:

“What this boils down to is breaking through bureaucratic hurdles and making this project a priority,” said Jeff Denham, a California Republican.

Yeah, it attempts to boil something down alright. Earth.

John Upton is a science fan and green news boffin who


, posts articles to


, and

blogs about ecology

. He welcomes reader questions, tips, and incoherent rants:


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House votes to take Keystone decision out of Obama’s hands

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Final Ultrawonky Stat Geek Analysis of the Oregon Medicaid Study

Mother Jones

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If you really want to understand the shortcomings of the Oregon Medicaid study, you should be reading Austin Frakt and Aaron Carroll over at The Incidental Economist. Frakt has one final post today in which he goes ultrawonky and calculates just how underpowered the study was if it wanted to get statistically significant results on the diabetes markers. It’s way over my head, so I’ll just pass along the headline result: the study was underpowered by at least a factor of 23. That is, the researchers would have needed a sample size 23 times larger than they had in order to find the results they were looking for.

The full writeup is here. Bottom line: this study was just too small. The fact that it didn’t find statistically significant results doesn’t really tell us anything at all, either good or bad, about the effect of Medicaid on health outcomes.


Final Ultrawonky Stat Geek Analysis of the Oregon Medicaid Study

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Ladies and Gentlemen, Pick Your Team

Mother Jones

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I think Paul Krugman has the right take on the fact that South Carolina voters chose a disgraced Republican to represent them in Congress vs. an honest, centrist Democrat:

Look, we have an intensely polarized political system, and in Congress, at least, party affiliation is basically all that matters. When Massachusetts voters chose Scott Brown because he seemed like a nice guy, they were being idiots.

….Maybe, just maybe, you can make a case for choosing the right person for governor, regardless of party. But when you’re sending someone to Congress, all that matters is the R or D after that person’s name. It seems that conservative voters understand that; liberals and moderates should, too.

This wasn’t always the case. Today it is. For all practical purposes, we live in a pseudo-parliamentary system of governance, and the only thing that matters in Congress is what party you belong to. If you’re a Republican, you’re obsessed with Benghazi, Solyndra, Fast & Furious, and debt ceiling hostage taking. If you’re a Democrat, you’re obsessed with more prosaic topics: passing a budget, keeping social welfare programs from being ripped apart, implementing Obamacare successfully, and asking the rich to help out a wee bit with our long-term budget balancing. Pick your team.

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Ladies and Gentlemen, Pick Your Team

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Obama’s New FCC Pick Could Help Determine the Future of the Internet

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One of the hot jobs in the US government—chairman of the Federal Communications Commission—is about to become vacant, and President Barack Obama’s pick for this position will say much about his priorities and what it takes to win a job within his administration.

The current chairman, Julius Genachowski, was a Harvard Law classmate of Obama and longtime Washington denizen with several stints in the private sector, and last week he announced he’s splitting after four years in the post. Genachowski has had a rollicking tenure at the more-important-than-ever agency. His FCC approved the controversial NBC/Comcast merger, but it killed AT&T’s $39 billion bid for T-Mobile. He developed a national broadband plan, while pushing for universal broadband access and contending with spectrum crunch. He’s had to navigate the knotty issue of net neutrality (at one point angering both Verizon and public interest advocates). His tenure has vividly demonstrated that the FCC chairman’s office is a node for cutting-edge policy issues related to economic development, technology, education, and media.

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Obama’s New FCC Pick Could Help Determine the Future of the Internet

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Friday Cat Blogging – 22 February 2013

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Blogging occasionally halts around here when I get jerked away by a high-priority interrupt. The interrupt service routine, typically written in Felix, usually involves the remote manipulation of digital sensory probes and feline auditory feedback. All other interrupts are inhibited during this activity. The photo below was taken nanoseconds before a recent instantiation of this maximum-priority ISR.


Friday Cat Blogging – 22 February 2013

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