Farmworkers Face Daunting Health Risks In California’s Wildfires

HEALDSBURG, Calif. — Farm laborers in yellow safety vests walked through neatly arranged rows of grapes Friday, harvesting the last of the deep purple bundles that hung from the vines, even as the sky behind them was dark with soot.

Over the hill just behind them, firetrucks and first responders raced back and forth from a California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection staging area, working to contain a wildfire raging through the rugged hills and canyons in northeastern Sonoma County. As of Sunday, more than 3,000 firefighters were battling the blaze, and a broad swath of the county — more than 180,000 residents from mountain to coast — was under evacuation orders as Northern California endured a historic windstorm that was fueling the flames.

For farmworkers in Sonoma County’s fabled wine country, the Kincade Fire poses a daunting set of risks. October marks not only fire season in California, but also the peak of the grape harvest. In areas not imminently threatened, some workers labored through the heat and dangerous smoke to retrieve some of the hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of grapes that had yet to be harvested. As the fire continues to spread, many now are finding that their work — and paychecks — have been suspended.

Sonoma County is familiar with fire. The Tubbs Fire tore through the area in 2017, killing 22 people and destroying more than 5,000 homes. Last year, dense smoke from Butte County’s Camp Fire — the deadliest in state history — hung in the valley for days.

As wildfires of this strength and intensity grow more frequent, so do concerns for field workers, who can face conditions that jeopardize their health, wages and housing.

Outside of the fire itself, the main health concern in wildfire conditions is smoke, which produces particulate matter, a mix of gases and microscopic pieces of solid matter. The particles can penetrate deep into the lungs, increasing the risk of respiratory diseases and asthma, as well as heart problems.

These risks lead health authorities to warn people in areas affected by wildfire to stay indoors and limit exertion. Farmworkers, an essential component of the wine country economy, can’t always take such precautions.

On Saturday, Manuel Ortiz Sanchez, 52, sat with his family outside Santa Rosa’s Veterans Hall, which overnight had been transformed into a shelter. He had been evacuated from his home in Healdsburg and was nervous about what it would mean for his family. Born in Mexico, he has worked in the region’s vineyards for more than 20 years. He already had lost a day and a half of work to the smoke. Would he be paid next week if the vineyard where he works were still shut down? “It’s up to the boss,” he said.

Inside the hall, volunteers with Corazón Healdsburg, a nonprofit that works with the local Latino community, was helping Spanish-speaking families register at the shelter. One woman wondered whether the registration bracelet would identify her as an immigrant and whether authorities would be coming to the shelter.

At another table, volunteers offered to take contact information for people who are undocumented, and therefore not eligible for most federal relief. After the 2017 fire, local organizations created a fund to help people who were undocumented and affected by the fires, and that fund is back up and running. Ninety percent of the more than 2,000 people the fund helped in 2017 did not lose homes, but they lost wages and the food in their fridge from electrical outages, said Mara Ventura, executive director of North Bay Jobs With Justice.

Advocates have been pushing for labor standards related to wildfires and smoke. Though a bill failed to pass the California legislature this year, the state adopted temporary emergency regulations in July. They require employers to check the air quality before and during a shift. When pollutants rise above a certain threshold, an air quality index of 150, workers are to be moved to a safer location if possible, and provided protective masks if not. The AQI in eastern Sonoma County has routinely topped 150 in recent days.

Even heavy-duty masks aren’t much of a solution for someone laboring outside, said Celeste Philip, the health officer for Sonoma County. When used correctly, they are uncomfortable and make it difficult to breathe, and it is hard to work in them for very long. The best way for workers to stay safe is to limit their outdoor exposure, she said.

In the days after the Kincade Fire erupted on Oct. 23, Sonoma County authorities allowed some grape growers and their workers onto vineyards within the evacuation zone to try and save their crops, said James Gore, a county supervisor. About 10% of the grapes in the county, mostly those used to produce cabernet, were still on the vine when the fire began. “Safety first, but then economy,” he said.

Though there’s no particular oversight of the process, Gore said, the local Farm Bureau and other industry groups have made sure the growers are aware of the health risks and workers’ rights. Many people, including farmworkers who often aren’t paid for time off, want to work, he said. “People can work, but it must never be under duress.”

Still, he said, “if somebody wants perfect health, they need to leave our community, because we have smoke here.”

Concerns that farmworkers, many of whom speak primarily Spanish, weren’t getting health advisories and other warnings during the 2017 fires led to an overhaul of county communications, which this time are being provided in both Spanish and English. Gore, who speaks Spanish, said he’d been to the evacuation shelter to speak with more than 100 agriculture workers about those risks, and to let them know they are not obligated to work.

Fernando Gonzalez was at a shelter in Healdsburg on Friday before it, too, was evacuated. From Mexico, Gonzalez was five or six months into his stay in the U.S., working on a temporary visa for agricultural workers, when he was awakened in the night by colleagues who had noticed the fire. His employer shuttled him and 40 to 50 other employees to the evacuation center after deciding that the house they shared on the vineyard property wasn’t safe.

Gonzalez said he had a couple of weeks left on his contract, but they were being sent home to Mexico early. He said he was paid for the week of work, including two missed days, and was glad not to be laboring in the heavy smoke.

Many other farmworkers are local residents. Another family who arrived at the shelter on the first night of the fire had lost their trailer home and all their belongings to the fire, said Leticia Romero, director of community engagement at Corazón Healdsburg.

In a room that normally hosts classes — a bright mural spanning one wall — volunteers filled bins with clothing, hygiene supplies and other essentials for that family and others. Corazón also has launched a fund to provide emergency cash assistance.

“This is our second year of fires,” Romero said. “They’re sudden. You go to bed, and you wake up to this natural disaster.” In some ways, the lingering emotional trauma is the thing she worries about most for her community.

The Article was originally published on Farmworkers Face Daunting Health Risks In California’s Wildfires

Should “made in Texas” mean 100 percent Texas grapes? Texas grape growers split on wine bill

HYE — Chris Brundrett sat in a barn surrounded by barrels of wine he helped curate and swirled a glass of water in his hand, perhaps imagining it was something else.

Brundrett, accompanied by others from the state’s wine industry, drove home his pitch: “If we can just pump out wine from California and slap a picture of the Alamo or a longhorn on it and sell it,” he said, should wineries be able to put a “made in Texas” label on it?

A co-owner and winemaker at William Chris Vineyards between Fredericksburg and Johnson City, Brundrett was explaining why he backed House Bill 1514 by state Rep. Jason Isaac, R-Dripping Springs, which would require that wines with a Texas label be made only with Texas-grown grapes.

Under federal law, wine can have an appellation of origin from a state if a minimum 75 percent of its grapes are grown in that state. The other 25 percent can come from anywhere.

“I believe having something labeled as Texas should be from Texas,” Isaac told the Tribune, adding that his bill would encourage more Texas grape production.

Last year Texas produced about 3.8 million gallons of wine, according to the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, and the state had more than 400 active permits to bottle, produce and sell wine. A separate study in 2015 found the wine industry contributed more than $2 billion to the state’s economy.

Grape growers and vineyard owners are scattered on the labeling issue. Paul Bonarrigo, co-owner of Messina Hof Winery, the state’s third-largest wine producer in 2016, said he was opposed to the measure, and the Texas Wine and Grape Growers Association said they don’t back Isaac’s bill, either.

Brian Heath, owner of Grape Creek Vineyards in Fredericksburg, said the bill could help the industry down the road, but if it passed now, he said it would limit winemakers’ options during unexpected events — like when strong Texas storms ruin grape crops. “You can’t predict what you can’t predict,” he said.

Others in the industry believe Isaac’s proposal would increase transparency and accountability and improve the authenticity of the state’s wines.

“We’re not the wine police,” said Brundrett, adding that regardless of whether HB 1514 passed, wineries would still have the right to produce and blend wine however they wished — as long as they were accurately labeled.

“But it’s an uphill battle because there are already other wineries who have come through and tried to pull wool over people’s eyes,” he said.

Back at the Capitol, Isaac said that while 100 percent Texas wine was the goal, some in the industry contend that it might be too challenging to use only Texas grapes by September when the bill would go into effect if passed.

Isaac said he would look into offering an amended version of HB 1514 that would phase in the change, with benchmarks at 80 or 90 percent before requiring 100 percent Texas grapes. Isaac also said his bill would allow the Texas Department of Agriculture to allow exceptions to the threshold if severe weather or drought damaged state grape crops.

Regardless, Brundrett said he was happy to see discussion on the issue.

“This bill is getting the conversation rolling,” he said. “It’s an idea that’s been presented, and I hope in the next couple of months we see some greater participation from the consumers, growers and winemakers.”

The Article was originally published on Should “made in Texas” mean 100 percent Texas grapes? Texas grape growers split on wine bill.

Martinez vetoes beer and wine delivery bill

Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed a Senate bill that would have allowed for home deliveries of beer and wine.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, would have allowed deliveries of two six packs of beer and two bottles of wine with certain food orders.

In an executive message announcing the veto, Martinez raised concerns that the bill would facilitate dangerous drinking by minors by allowing large quantities of beer and wine to be delivered with food orders.

She added that while the bill did have language specifying allowed hours of delivery, it did not specify whether the times are for when the orders are placed or when the deliveries are made.

A similar concern was raised by the state’s Regulation and Licensing Department in the bill’s Fiscal Impact Report.

The report added that the bill states the Alcohol and Gaming Division would be able to enact rules to clarify delivery cut-off times.

Still, Martinez said she was would not sign the bill due to what she saw as significant problems.

Ortiz y Pino told New Mexico Political Report he thought Martinez was more concerned with a Democratic sponsor and less with the bill itself.

“It was a simple thing that was going to make restaurant businesses and hotel occupants benefit and now it won’t benefit [them],” Ortiz y Pino said. “I have to believe it has to do more with her discomfort at a bill that was sponsored by a Democrat than by a bill that has some problems in it.”

Ortiz y Pino said many concerns were raised and answered during the session.

Rep. Jim Smith, R-Sandia Park, was a cosponsor of the bill.

He also said he had high hopes when he saw that other bills that make changes to alcohol sales were signed by Martinez.

“It’s just incomprehensible to me that she would veto that bill,” he said.

Martinez signed a bill, sponsored by Rep. Dona Irwin, D-Deming, that would allow for internet wine sales.

New Mexico Political Report made several attempts to contact the governor’s office, but they could not be reached for a comment.

The Article was originally published on Martinez vetoes beer and wine delivery bill.

House for hire: Lords used to wine and dine clients

Peers are using the House of Lords as a private club to wine and dine business clients despite a ban on using the facilities for commercial purposes, an investigation by the Bureau has found.

The revelations, published in the Independent, will add to concerns that Lords may be using their position to advance their own financial interests and those of their family and friends, with few checks to ensure that they stay within the rules.

After Lord Heseltine, a director of publishing firm Haymarket, used the peers’ dining room to launch a magazine in 2008, new guidance was issued forbidding peers from sponsoring promotional events in the Lords for companies in which they have a financial interest.

But the Bureau’s investigation, published in the Independent, has found that peers are still using the Palace of Westminster for corporate dinners and parties. Such events offer guests the opportunity to network in parts of the historic Palace of Westminster which are off-limits to the public.

Beautifully decorated, the function rooms in the House of Lords are among the grandest in the building, with wood panelling, high decorated ceilings and deep red carpets.

The peers include the former Metropolitan Police Commissioner Lord Stevens of Kirkwhelpington, who hosted a ‘customer event’ for 140 in the peers’ dining room for private forensics firm LGC.

Lord Stevens is a non-executive director and shareholder in the firm, which made headlines in March after a rape case collapsed because LGC had allowed evidence to be contaminated. At the function he hosted for the company in the Lords Lord Stevens gave a speech praising LGC’s ‘dedication to pushing the boundaries of forensic science’.

LGC’s website afterwards described the night as a ‘customer event’.

LGC ‘showcased its full range of cutting edge forensic services to representatives from various UK civil and military police forces, the RAF, the Forensic Regulator, Crown Prosecution Services, Coroner’s Office and the private sector,’ the website said.

An LGC newsletter later hailed the evening as a ‘great success’ and ‘a perfect opportunity …. for our existing and potential customers to realise the full range of service we provide.’

Lord Stevens was not available for comment but an LGC spokesman said: ‘This was not a promotional event. Those attending would have no responsibilities for procuring our services. The point of the event was to educate those attending about the wide range of methods and technologies within the world of forensics and to allow them to discuss the latest innovations with relevant scientists.’

Lord Sheikh launches insurance firm
The prestigious Cholomondeley Room is the most sought-after location in the House of Lords, allowing guests the chance to walk onto the terrace and view the Thames.

Conservative peer Lord Sheikh booked the room and terrace for the launch of insurance broking firm, MacMillan Sheikh, last April.

A page on the firm’s website announcing the launch – which was removed after Lord Sheikh was contacted by the Bureau – said the space was ‘filled to capacity’ with guests including insurers, brokers, loss adjusters, suppliers to the insurance industry and journalists.

Speakers included Omar Faruk, who introduced himself as the peer’s ‘chief of staff on the political side’. Another speaker, Nigel Dyer, an insurance industry consultant, said insurance underwriters could expect a ‘long term relationship’ with MacMillan Sheikh ‘provided they price the product sensibly.’

‘We are here today celebrating the arrival of a new professional insurance brokerage,’ he added.

Lord Sheikh told the Bureau the event was a social gathering which was ‘in no way intended as a source of business development in any shape or form’ and that business was not discussed. He added that he had not received payment from MacMillan Sheikh and despite being a director and chairman of the firm, did not own shares in it.

According to company accounts filed in 2011, the peer’s daughter Zarina is the majority shareholder in the firm.

Related article: Conservative Treasurer accused of breaking House of Lords rules 

Some peers have ‘flipped’ sponsorship of events. For example, every year since at least 2007 the IT services firm 2e2 has held an evening reception for several hundred people at the House of Lords. Until 2009, Lord St John, a paid adviser to the firm, sponsored the reception. But rules forbidding sponsorship of promotional events by peers with financial interests then came into force.

The following year, Lord Erroll, who shares his office in the Palace – and an interest in IT – took over the role.

However Lord St John continued to attend the events and a copy of the invitation to the September 2011 event on 2e2’s website said:

‘Hosted by Lord St John of Bletso, a sitting member of the House of Lords and strategic advisor to the 2e2 Board, this is a fantastic opportunity for invited guests to visit the Lords and enjoy canapés and drinks with 2e2’s senior executives, partners and peers on the terrace of Westminster.’

2e2 declined to say why Lord St John was listed as host on the invitation, why the event was now sponsored by Lord Erroll rather than Lord St John or whether guests at the 2011 reception included customers, clients or journalists.

‘As an IT services provider we are not best placed to comment on the way that the palaces [sic] of Westminster conduct their affairs,’ a spokeswoman said.

Lord Erroll said: ‘I share an office with Anthony St. John and knew that it needed a new host, so I offered to do it.  I find these events a useful alternative to spending a day at a conference.  The failure to change the named host on the invitation was an oversight, presumably by their PR department.’

The peer seemed uncertain of the company’s name when contacted by the Bureau, referring to it as C2E and C3E.

‘The annual event which C2E sponsor is a useful forum in which parliamentarians, civil servants and industry professionals can meet and bring each other up-to-date,’ Lord Erroll said. ‘I made the opening speech at the C3E events and welcomed the guests.  I introduced Anthony [St John] who said a few short remarks and there were some other industry speakers, but I can’t remember who.  Speeches were kept short as the purpose was to network, not to promote anything.’

Lord St John said: ‘Lord Erroll and I share an office in the House of Lords and we both have a keen interest in IT related issues. He agreed to host the event for 2e2 where he had the opportunity of hearing developments in the sector. I similarly agreed to host an event for him, sponsored by Flexeye in 2010 where Lord Erroll was on the advisory board and I had no financial interest.’

The Article was originally published on House for hire: Lords used to wine and dine clients.

Economic and social implications of regulating alcohol availability in grocery stores

Regulatory policies governing alcohol sales and distribution in the United States continue to be informed by a hodge-podge of local and state economic interests, regional customs and cultural norms, and historical legacy ideas about consumption running from the Colonial days through Prohibition and beyond. The very diversity of these policies suggests they do not uniformly rest on social science and public health research. Take for example the wide variety of state laws relating to whether grocery stores can sell alcohol: 12 states prohibit groceries from selling alcohol; six allow the sale of beer; 15 authorize the sale of beer and wine; and 17 allow sales of beer, wine and spirits. States continue to see debates over proposals to modify these laws, many focusing on the wider distribution of beer and wine.

A 2013 study published in the journal Applied Economic Perspectives and Policy“Economic and Social Implications of Regulating Alcohol Availability in Grocery Stores,” looks to extend what the researchers call the “large body of literature” on the costs of alcohol consumption for society and to examine how the practices of local stores might influence outcomes. For example, to establish correlations with crime rates and traffic fatalities, research has looked at variables such as the density of liquor stores — as well as the effects of different types of outlets — Sunday sales restrictions, and even restrictions on malt liquor. The authors of the 2013 study, Bradley J. Rickard and Teevrat Garg of Cornell and Marco Costanigro of Colorado State University, analyze a wide variety of national and state data on alcohol availability, consumption, pricing, store opening hours and more to assess how the sales of wine, in particular, might shape societal outcomes.

The study’s findings include:

  • The data show that “a higher share of wine correlates with lower rates of traffic fatalities, while the opposite is true for beer. Spirits appear to be more strongly associated with traffic fatalities than wine, but less than beer.”
  • The findings, however, are complex: “We do not find evidence that introducing wine into grocery stores — either alone or coupled with the introduction of beer — would have an impact on traffic fatalities. Introducing [wine in grocery stores] would increase total alcohol consumption, which would increase total traffic fatalities; however, [it] also increases wine’s share of consumption and decreases beer’s share of total consumption, which would decrease total traffic fatalities. The net effect on traffic fatalities from the introduction of [wine] appears to be negligible — perhaps because it includes these competing effects from changes in total alcohol consumption and from changes in the consumption of the various beverages.”
  • The timing of store hours also proves important in terms of safety: “Sale hours for alcohol impacts traffic fatality rates, and policies regarding hours of sale of alcohol at grocery stores should be considered in conjunction with legislative proposals that seek to change alcohol availability in grocery stores.”
  • The data have strong policy implications concerning the issue of drinking by minors: “Increases in total alcohol consumption and beer consumption as a share of total alcohol consumption have relatively large effects on youth traffic fatalities. Because youth fatality rates are particularly sensitive to total alcohol consumption, this result highlights the need for policies that can enforce age limits on alcohol sales.”

Related research: Two peer-reviewed metastudies provide insight into the issue of taxing alcohol and corresponding public health outcomes. A 2009 study the University of Florida published in the journal Addiction“Effects of Beverage Alcohol Price and Tax Levels on Drinking,” finds that the correlation between increased prices and taxes on alcoholic beverages and their decreased consumption is both statistically and practically significant. It suggests that public policies seeking to raise the price of alcohol may be an effective means to reduce drinking. A 2010 metastudy published in the American Journal of Public Health“Effects of Alcohol Tax and Price Policies on Morbidity and Mortality: A Systematic Review,” further examines the links between alcohol price and risky behavior. The authors state that based on the evidence, it is “beyond any reasonable doubt” that raising the price of alcohol reduces both consumption and the rate of adverse health outcomes. Doubling alcohol taxes, they conclude, would have the effect of reducing traffic crash deaths by 11%, sexually transmitted disease 6%, violence 2%, and crime 1.4%.

Also worth considering are the findings of a 2013 study, “Brand-Specific Consumption of Alcohol Among Underage Youth in the United States,” which outlines the continuing problems in this area, including on illegal purchases and consumption. A 2006 study, “Measuring Public Policy: The Case of Beer Keg Registration Laws,” sheds light on issues related to college and high school drinking, including the diversity of laws around the Unites States, the relative lack of enforcement and the weakness of penalties.

The Article was originally published on  Economic and social implications of regulating alcohol availability in grocery stores.

Mississippi entrepreneur savors sweet taste of success

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Since 2004, Vino del Sol has built a reputation as a leading importer of estate-grown, sustainably farmed and family-owned winery offerings. It all started with a Mississippi native, a passion for wine and an elevator speech.

As a United States importer with annual sales of more than 250,000 cases, Vino del Sol is recognized within the industry as “The Argentine Wine Specialist.”

Named one of 2016’s Top 40 Under 40 Tastemakers by Wine Enthusiast Magazine, Corinth native and Vino del Sol co-founder and president Matt Hedges is well known throughout the wine world. While studying abroad in Buenos Aires in 2001, he fell in love with the country and its wine. He returned home hoping to find a variety of the same wines. It turns out those offerings were scarce.

“When I came back to the U.S., I was surprised that it was hard to find; after all, Argentina was the world’s fifth largest wine producer and the Malbec grape was perfect for the American palate,” Hedges said. “It became apparent importing Argentine wine would be a great and fun opportunity. The timing was perfect where we could choose and partner with Argentina’s top wineries.”

Hedges’ love for fine wine began at an early age, in none other than small town Mississippi.

“I was lucky that my parents exposed me to a lot when I was young, such as international travel and wine,” he said.

After earning his MBA from the University of Mississippi in 2004, he won the Wake Forest Elevator Competition, a Shark Tank-style pitch delivered in an actual elevator.

The venture was Vino del Sol, which means both “wine of the sun” and “comes from the sun” in Spanish. Given that the sun is on the Argentine flag and also an important characteristic of Argentine wines (most grape-growing regions receive more than 300 days of sun throughout the year), the name seemed like a good fit.

But despite those heavy Argentine influences, Hedges said it was Mississippi that made it all possible.

“Vino del Sol wouldn’t be here without Ole Miss. Ole Miss allowed me to shape all of my MBA classes around the idea of importing Argentine wine,” he said. “The professors were extremely supportive and sent a classmate, Andrew Jones, and (me) to an international business plan competition. After we won, Ole Miss was instrumental in introducing us to investors. I am very proud that the majority of our board of directors and investors are Ole Miss alums and extremely thankful to the Ole Miss community for making my dream come true. We are currently selling well over 2 million bottles a year.”

Hedges founded Vino del Sol with Thane Prichard and Alejandro Darago. The company now has an experienced team of 16 wine professionals working with a network of more than 60 wholesalers across all 50 states.

Hedges’ Mississippi roots also have been instrumental in Vino del Sol’s focus on family farming. Wine begins in the vineyards, and Vino del Sol believes it is important for wineries to own and farm their own vines. Every winery Vino del Sol works with directly controls the majority of the vineyards used to make their wines.

All of the wineries in the Vino del Sol portfolio are sustainably farmed.

“We have become the trusted source for our customers,” Hedges said. “The wine industry is long-term and we’ve proven we can develop products that over-deliver for the consumer and are consistent year-in and year-out. We have many competitive advantages in logistics as well as winery partnerships. We focus on working with good people and being good people and partners.”

Because the wine business is a long-term one, decisions made in the vineyard today may not be reflected in the bottle for several years. This is why all of the Vino del Sol wineries are family operations with a shared multi-generational vision for a sustainable long-term business.

“The formula for success for each individual is different, but the reasons for success in Matt’s case are drive and planning,” said Thane Prichard, co-founder and national director of sales at Vino del Sol. “We’ve been able to work on building a business from the ground up with a focus on Argentina, a wonderful country with great wines. We started importing wines from Argentina very early in the growth of the company, working with the farmers and their families from around the world.”

The focus on sustainability and family farms has contributed to Vino del Sol’s success in the U.S. They currently sell in all 50 states and have many local, regional or national plays with chains, such as World Market, Whole Foods, Central Markets, Truluck’s, HEB, Seasons 52, Giant Eagle, Oceanaire and many more. Costco alone sells tens of thousands of cases of their wine annually. They’ve also developed successful private label brands and have begun building their brands in some of the world’s top placements, such as American Airlines, Air Canada, the Bellagio, Mandalay Bay, the Cosmopolitan, and Celebrity, Royal Caribbean and Disney cruise lines.

Though Hedges largely credits his Mississippi education for his successes in the world of wine, his advice to novice entrepreneurs can be summed up in three simple steps.

“Be passionate about what you want to do,” he said. “Work harder than your competitors, and be sure you have competitive advantages that cannot be duplicated easily by another.”

The Article was originally published on  Mississippi entrepreneur savors sweet taste of success.

Chicken plastic and wine leather – giving waste new life

A fashion collection made from the remains of grapes from the wine industry and plastic made from chicken feathers are two new twists on the practice of making new products from waste, and a growing demand for sustainability from consumers mean there could be a ready market for this type of innovation.

Food waste isn’t just the result of groceries that have gone off or uneaten meals. As food is processed for consumption, huge amounts of waste are generated. The European poultry industry, for example, generated about 3.1 million tons of discarded feathers in 2014. And during wine production, around 25% of the weight of grapes, such as the skins and seeds, are wasted.

These byproducts could soon be given a second life, as scientists work out how to transform them into new materials.

‘The idea of unlimited resources is not valid anymore so it is necessary to look for alternative sources of raw materials,’ said Sarah Montes, research scientist with Spanish company Cidetec. She coordinates a project called KARMA2020, which is looking at how to transform unwanted feathers into biodegradable plastics.

Chicken feather waste, which is generated almost all over the world in large amounts, is typically incinerated or ends up in landfills or as low grade animal feed. But it has the potential to be a valuable resource. Feathers are made up of about 90% keratin – the same fibrous protein that gives hair, hoofs and horns their toughness.

‘Most of the waste is a profitable material,’ said Montes. Due to its high keratin content, feathers are likely to produce plastics that are stronger and more tear-resistant compared to those using modified starch or plant proteins, for example.

However, there are challenges involved in using feathers as a raw material. First and foremost, they need to be sanitised before processing to remove any pathogens. Since feathers are very light, it can also be hard to get them to flow through machinery, says Carsten Niermann from German bioplastics company FKuR, one of the project engineers.

One-and-a-half years into the three-year project, the KARMA2020 team has so far figured out how to pre-treat feathers so that they are clean and safe to handle, and how to turn them into a raw material. They have also created samples of feather-based materials that could be used for packaging, using a process where heated material is injected into a mould to shape it.

Economic feasibility

The next challenge is to scale up their production process for industrial manufacturing and test how well feather-based raw materials work in particular end products. At the moment, the researchers are primarily looking at how to make food packaging from feathers, although they are also developing other applications such as slow-release fertilisers, composite materials and flame-retardant coatings, depending on economic and technical feasibility.

Demand for products from the circular economy – where byproducts from one industry are used as the raw materials for another – could benefit from a phenomenon known as conscious consumerism. A 2017 report from Unilever showed that a third of consumers prefer sustainable brands. And this is likely to grow, as a company’s environmental credentials are increasingly important among young people.

Italian company Vegea, is counting on this trend to help them compete with existing players in their field – leather production. Both animal and synthetic leather production are well-established, but Vegea believes that a bio-leather made from grape waste could help build up their own market niche if they demonstrate that their process is cost-effective and eco-friendly.

Through a project called WineLeather, Vegea is producing their bio-leather using grape marc – the solid parts of grapes that are waste products from wine production. The team has been focusing on the development of natural textiles to satisfy the demand for sustainable alternatives in the clothing and apparel industry.

‘After looking at several potential feedstocks, grape marc was selected because it contains both oil and lignocellulose, two components that are optimal for the creation of bio-based textiles with our technology,’ said Marco Bernardi, Vegea’s research and development manager.

To make their fabric, leftover grapes are first dried in order to preserve them so that the raw material is available year-round and not just during wine-making season. Then the feedstock is processed in different ways depending on its end use.

‘It is refined with specific treatments to obtain different grades of weight, width, elasticity, embossing and colour,’ said Bernardi. The end product is then spread to form a textile.

Fashion collection

They have already produced sample products using their material for apparel company H&M that were showcased in an exhibition last year. ‘We prepared an entire fashion collection for them, with dresses, shoes and bags made with our wine-based material,’ said Bernardi.

The WineLeather project is now scaling up their production capacity so they can move from prototype stage to a commercial venture.

Although the production method makes use of existing technologies, the team has come up with greener alternatives to the toxic and environmentally harmful chemicals that are typically used. Their production process is considered to be zero impact since they are solely using waste as their raw material, don’t use chemical reagents or additional water and don’t produce any byproducts.

Bernadi thinks their material could eventually be used as a substitute for any leather product. However, although there has been considerable interest from the automotive industry and furniture manufacturers, producing a suitable fabric for use beyond clothing is more of a challenge.

The recipe for their material and the process must be tweaked to meet the requirements of each application. ‘The specs are way more stringent than what we are used to in fashion,’ said Bernardi.

The research in this article was funded by the EU. If you liked this article, please consider sharing it on social media.

The Article was originally published on  Chicken plastic and wine leather – giving waste new life.

That Cabernet Might Not Be Good For Your Health After All

You’ve probably heard that a little booze a day is good for you. I’ve even said it at parties. “Look at the French,” I’ve said gleefully over my own cup. “Wine all the time and they still live to be not a day younger than 82.”

I’m sorry to say we’re probably wrong. The evidence that alcohol has any benefit on longevity or heart health is thin, says Dr. Timothy Naimi, a physician and epidemiologist at Boston Medical Center.

He and his colleagues published an analysis 87 of the best research studies on alcohol’s effect on death from any cause in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs on Tuesday. “[Our] findings here cast a great deal of skepticism on this long, cherished belief that moderate drinking has a survival advantage,” he says.

In these studies, the participants get sorted into categories based on how much alcohol they think they drink. Researchers typically size up occasional, moderate and heavy drinkers against non-drinkers. When you do this, the moderates, one to three drinks a day, usually come out on top. They’re less likely to die early from health problems like heart disease or cancer and injury.

But then it gets very tricky, “because moderate drinkers tend to be very socially advantaged,” Naimi says. Moderate drinkers tend to be healthier on average because they’re well-educated and more affluent, not because they’re drinking a bottle of wine a week on average. “[Their] alcohol consumption ends up looking good from a health perspective because they’re already healthy to begin with.”

To make things worse, Naimi says that some of the non-drinkers in these studies weren’t always dry. “People in poor health tend to quit drinking,” he says. In the studies, those who abstained from alcohol altogether were lumped together with those who quit later in life, bringing down the overall health of the entire group.

Naimi and his colleagues sorted the lifetime nondrinkers from the quitters, controlled for socioeconomic class and reanalyzed the data from all 87 studies. “When we accounted for these biases, moderate drinkers had no survival advantage,” Naimi says. “It became a wash either way.” Those who imbibe one or three glasses a day appeared to do no better than those who never touch alcohol.

What’s more, Naimi says the group that did the best were the people who had on average one drink every 10 days. “It’s almost homeopathic amounts of alcohol. So it’s extremely unlikely that it’s the alcohol that’s making them look good,” he says. The heavy drinkers had the shortest lives on average, which should come as no surprise.

The meta-analysis severs one arm of reasoning why alcohol might be beneficial, says Dr. Jennie Connor, a physician and researcher at the University of Otago in New Zealand who was not involved in the work. “They’ve very successfully investigated one of the many series of problems in this reasoning,” she says. “People used studies to say, ‘Hey, look there’s a benefit [to alcohol], and when we talk about harms we have to balance that against the benefit.’ That’s always been a fallacious argument, and it’s really been reduced to nothing now.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has also given the purported health benefit of alcohol a wary eye. The agency recommends people have no more than one drink a day for women and two a day for men. This refers to the amount imbibed on one day and isn’t meant to be taken as an average over several days. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggests people who don’t drink alcohol should not start for health reasons.

Naimi says the biological hypothesis for why alcohol could be good for health has also been eroding. “[Alcohol] raises your good cholesterol. That’s the main biological argument,” he says. “But the whole idea that [good cholesterol] causes heart health is going away now.” A recent study published in Science showed that people with naturally higher levels of good cholesterol had more cardiovascular diseases than those without.

But still, the notion that alcohol extends our lifespans is a persistent one. According to Connor and Traci Toomey, an alcohol policy researcher at the University of Minnesota, studies supporting the link between moderate drinking and long life have been used to argue against certain alcohol harm reduction policies. “Usually there are proposals of having [health] labels,” Toomey says. “[The industry] controls a lot of the messaging around alcohol.”

In Connor’s eyes, that messaging has kept the notion alive in spite of recent work showing moderate drinking does not provide a cardiovascular benefit. “Even if it were true,” she says, “the idea that people are going to drink only one or two drinks a day as medication for the rest of their lives is just ridiculous. We’ve been sold an idea that’s incoherent.”

The Article was originally published on That Cabernet Might Not Be Good For Your Health After All.

Sip Wine And Chat About Postponing Motherhood — At An ‘Egg Social’

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — Your grandma hosted Tupperware parties. Your mom attended Mary Kay soirees.

Now, you might be sipping cocktails at an egg-freezing fête.

Judging from a recent event at a swanky Beverly Hills hotel, female fertility could be the next big thing in direct marketing.

About 20 women — and a few men — gathered this fall in the presidential suite of the Viceroy L’Ermitage in this famously upscale city to chat, drink wine and eat hors d’oeuvres while hearing about the possibility of freezing their eggs for future conception.

This story also ran in USA Today. It can be republished for free (details).

Some of the women said they hadn’t found the perfect partner and wanted to keep their fertility options open. Others said they were focused on their careers now and didn’t want to compromise their chances of having a family later.

All were willing to put aside their inhibitions for one evening to learn about an intensely private subject in an unusual setting: a cocktail party.

Frances Hagan, 35, had heard about the “egg social” from a friend and was eager to find out how egg freezing worked. Hagan, a lawyer, said she is single and still hopes to find someone with whom she can have children the old-fashioned way. But she said it doesn’t hurt to consider freezing her eggs as a backup.

“I’d like to wait and just see what happens,” Hagan said. “But if I wait too long, maybe it won’t happen. I’m trying to be proactive.”

It is probably no coincidence that the event was held in a place like Beverly Hills, given the considerable expense of freezing eggs — and of using them later.

Egg freezing costs between $10,000 and $15,000 for the procedure and the medications. Thawing the eggs and fertilizing and transferring an embryo could cost thousands more later on. A few Silicon Valley employers, including Facebook and Apple, cover egg freezing for their workers, but most employers and insurers do not.

In the past, egg freezing was primarily for women who risked infertility because of cancer treatments. But in recent years, more women have been choosing to freeze their eggs for non-medical reasons — such as not being ready to have a baby.

As the practice becomes more widespread, so do events designed to raise awareness of it and recruit patients for clinics that perform the procedure. In recent years, cities such as Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco have been the venues of egg-freezing parties.

At the Beverly Hills hotel, physicians from the Southern California Reproductive Center, the fertility clinic that sponsored the event, projected slides on a wall and explained the history and science of egg freezing. They told the guests that it was an insurance policy for women who want children in the future.

“It’s the smartest thing any woman can do if they are not in a serious relationship that is leading to children,” said Shahin Ghadir, a fertility specialist at the practice.

Ghadir said hosting women in a casual environment makes the idea less intimidating and stigmatizing. “It lets people know it’s not a medical issue — it’s a social issue,” he said.

Besides, Ghadir said, “with a glass of wine, everything sounds better.”

The first baby created from a frozen egg was born about 30 years ago, but it wasn’t until 2012 that the American Society for Reproductive Medicine declared that egg freezing should no longer be considered experimental. That opened the door for more women to freeze their eggs, said Evelyn Mok-Lin, medical director of the UC-San Francisco Center for Reproductive Health.

UC-San Francisco started offering “elective” egg freezing soon afterward, and the number of women opting to freeze their eggs has since risen sharply, Mok-Lin said.

More than 6,200 women in the U.S. froze their eggs in 2015, up from 475 in 2009, according to the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology. And 155 births resulted from the fertilization of women’s frozen eggs in 2014, up from 28 in 2009.

Egg freezing gives women control over their reproductive health and fertility, and the medical risks are very low, said Mok-Lin. But given the high cost, not everyone can afford egg freezing, and it doesn’t always work. “It is a luxury for many people and without any guarantee in the end that the investment will pay off,” she said.

The process involves stimulating the ovaries, extracting the eggs and flash-freezing them.

Necka Taylor, a nurse who attended the Beverly Hills soiree, said her first cycle of in vitro fertilization was unsuccessful, but she’s hoping to try again. Taylor, 32, said she has several friends who have had babies, and she knows she wants children herself.

“I just don’t know when it’s going to happen,” she said. “I knew I needed to take steps to have a healthy baby.”

Her friend Dominika Martinez, 35, said she had considered egg freezing in the past but it wasn’t until she got married last year that she decided to freeze embryos with her husband.

“I am still not where I want to be in my career,” said Martinez, a social media marketer. “I feel like I need a little more time.”

Martinez said that when she and her husband are ready, they will try to conceive naturally. But if it doesn’t work, she said, “we have a backup plan.”

Ghadir, of the Southern California Reproductive Center, told the group that he had children and had not anticipated the expense, time and energy of parenting. Freezing eggs can help women have children on their own timeline, he said.

“If I was doing this at the wrong time in my life, it would have been a disaster,” he said. “Doing things at the right time, when you know you are ready … is one of the most important reasons to freeze your eggs.”

This story was produced by Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent program of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

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The Article was originally published on Sip Wine And Chat About Postponing Motherhood — At An ‘Egg Social’.