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hot issues

Upcoming Event: Berkeley Soda Series

sodaseriesIn an effort to raise awareness about the health and environmental impacts of soda and other sugary drinks, the Berkeley Healthy Child Coalition and several other local organizations are hosting Soda: The Series from September 4th through October 9th. The series of community events will include Berkeley leaders alongside speakers such as Dr. Robert Lustig (a renowned UCSF researcher on sugar), Raj Patel (award-winning writer, activist, and academic), and Anna Lappé (author and director of Small Planet Institute) discussing the science of sugary drinks, tactics of the soda industry, and disease prevention efforts. These events take place in the run-up to the November election, when Berkeley will vote on Measure D, a tax on sugary drinks.

Visit for more information and to download the flyer!


Hot Issues: Health Care Reform Debate in the Supreme Court

Over the next three days, the Supreme Court will be hearing arguments for and against the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (commonly referred to as ACA, also called “Obamacare”). The most controversial part of ACA is the individual mandate, which would require all Americans to have health insurance starting in 2014 (with some exemptions for financial or religious reasons). Many believe the mandate is unconstitutional, but ACA could theoretically remain intact without it (although many health policy experts believe the mandate is the key to the functionality of many other pieces of the legislation). The Supreme Court will also hear arguments regarding the hundreds of other provisions included in ACA, including expansions of state Medicaid programs and tax credits for small employers.

Confused? Check out the following links to track the case.

Update: A few more resources regarding this case are listed below

*image via the Los Angeles Times

Hot Issues: Labeling of Genetically Modified Foods

Genetically modified foods are those that contain genes that have been transferred from another organism to produce a desired trait not naturally occurring. GM foods go by a number of different names – genetically modified organisms (GMOs), genetically engineered (GE), or transgenic. In the United States, most of our biggest crops – soy, corn, and cotton – are genetically modified for pest resistance or herbicide tolerance to increase crop yields. As a result, approximately 80% of processed foods in the U.S. contain one or more GMOs. However, because the FDA does not require GMOs to be labeled in our food, you wouldn’t know if something contained GMOs without doing your research first.

Some of the benefits of GMOs include increased crop yields, pest resistance, herbicide tolerance, and the potential for improving the nutrient profiles of foods. Of the approved GMOs already in our food supply, the FDA has agreed that they are safe for consumers based on scientific evidence. However, health and environmental groups are concerned about the potential for adverse effects in humans and the environment – including introduction of allergens to foods, toxin contamination, GMO contamination of nearby non-GMO crops, or, in the case of animals, crossbreeding with non-transgenic species. The long-term health effects of a lifetime of consuming GMO foods are unknown, since GMOs have only been in our food supply since 1996.

Several states have recently introduced legislation that would require GMOs to be labeled – unfortunately for consumers, none of the legislation has passed. Implementation of labeling would be difficult to require at the state level without a federal mandate. But, with more and more states considering labeling laws, the issue is definitely in the public eye. Whether or not the FDA will act is a different story.

This infographic, from the Just Label It! campaign, gives just a few reasons that consumers should have the right to know whether or not the foods they eat contain GMOs. The FDA allows voluntary labeling of GMOs – not surprisingly, the products that are currently labeled are those that are non-GMO. Although the infographic depicts GMOs somewhat negatively, the issue at hand is not whether GMOs should be allowed – but purely whether or not labels should be required so consumers can make informed choices about their food.

If you are concerned about GMOs, there are a couple ways you can avoid them in the absence of mandatory labeling. For now, the best way to avoid GMOs is to buy certified organic foods – which are not genetically engineered by default – and avoid processed foods.

What’s your take on this issue? Should GMOs be labeled?

For more on this topic, check out Marion Nestle’s recent article in The Atlantic.

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