In this age of doom and gloom, we need voices like Paige Wolf, the Spit That Out! author and blogger who is campaigning to tell people why they should be optimistic about our health and environmental future…
(1) Massive Increase in Voluntary GMO Labeling
In 2014, Vermont became the first state to make GMO labeling mandatory. Large food companies realized that once the Vermont law is enacted in July 2016, it would be nearly impossible to craft new labels for each state. Companies also likely concluded that it would be cheaper and easier to simply apply the new label to all of their products, thus making little Vermont’s law the de facto national standard. Within days, General Mills made the announcement that it would begin labeling all genetically modified foods. They were following in the footprints of Campbell’s, who had made a similar announcement in January. And then the dominos began rapidly falling—Kellogg’s, Mars, ConAgra, Del Monte. Announcements of large corporations labeling GMOs began to snowball.
But in July 2016, the good news was dampened when Obama signed into a law a new GMO labeling Bill that, while mandating labeling, allowed all companies to supersede actual written words with confusing QR codes and 1-800 numbers. GMO labeling advocates were furious with the confines of this new bill, which stamps out the more stringent requirements of individual states. However, consumers don’t need smartphones to read QR Codes as a sign that the product likely contains GMOs. Brands continue to understand the benefit of proudly labeling their GMO-free products.
(2) Consumers Inciting Change Among Big Food Brand
In a testament to the greater power of the consumer, shoppers are using their dollars and their voices to create small but meaningful change. Thanks to petitions almost 400,000 strong (and possibly the fact that Kraft’s 2014 profits dropped 62 percent from the previous year), the company removed artificial food dye from its macaroni and cheese. Victories for conventional food improvements have been taking on unprecedented momentum. In the past two years alone, consumer advocacy and interest in capturing the growing health- minded market has led to General Mills eliminating artificial flavors and colors from its entire line of cereals, including classics like Lucky Charms and Trix; Taco Bell and Pizza Hut phasing out artificial pre- servatives and dyes; Panera ditching artificial flavors and preservatives; and Subway removing “yoga mat chemical” azodicarbonamide from its bread. Even McDonald’s is shifting to cage-free eggs and launching an organic burger in Germany.
(3) Growth of Organic Market
The boom in organic food has led some of the nation’s biggest food companies to acquire or take stakes in smaller organic brands. White-Wave has owned Earthbound Farm since 2013 and So Delicious since 2014. Hain Celestial acquired Ella’s Kitchen and Rudi’s Organic Bakery in recent years, adding them to its arsenal of well- known organic brands you may have thought were still “mom-and- pop-owned.” Happy Family, Van’s Natural Food, and Plum Organics are all fully or majority-owned by Big Food. Consumers and industry insiders debate whether the influence of these big companies will be detrimental to the integrity of the small brands. On one hand, it often takes the guiding hand of a large corporation to increase distribution and reduce prices, making organic more accessible to the masses. On the other hand, there may be pressure from the big guns to weaken the national organic standards and internal company values to increase profits. But, in general, the acquisitions seem to have been positive, with companies like Annie’s and Stonyfield holding true to their values, and even changing the culture of their parent companies.
(4) TSCA Reform
After 40 years of lobbying, advocacy, and debate among legislators, the final Toxic Substances Control Act reform bill was passed in June 2016. This long-fought-for TSCA reform is more limited than environmental and health advocates had hoped for, but it is still meaningful in its protection and a step in the right direction.
(5) Issues Finally Getting National Attention – and Justice
To be clear, there is not a whole lot of “good” to be taken from the water crisis in Flint, MI. But it did begin as an issue only talked about within the environmental advocacy community. As more national news outlets began writing and airing stories about the horrific corruption and devastating effects of poor water quality control, people began to take a closer look at their own water supplies. People began demanding that government be held accountable and lead in drinking water became a hot button issue. To date, eight current and former Michigan state employees are facing criminal charges.
(6) Serious Decrease in Smoking
Due to a combination of increased health awareness, smoking bans in most public places, and high taxes, smoking rates are dropping. According to the CDC, fewer than 15% of U.S. adults currently smoke. This rate is the lowest reported since this survey began in 1997, when 24.7% of U.S.adults were smokers. Health officials hope the percentage of individuals who smoke will drop to 12% or less by the year 2020.
(7) Huge Health + Wellness Movement
You can’t check your Instagram without noticing the exploding interest in health and fitness. Superfoods, kale smoothies, Crossfit, marathons, and yoga retreats have become particularly en vogue with millenials, Gen-Xers and even Baby Boomers.
(8) Affordability and Accessibility
While there is still often a premium for organic food and safer products, it’s never been more affordable or accessible to make healthier choices. As demand rises, prices have already begun to come down. Because we are voting with our dollars, you can buy a reasonably priced pound of grass-fed meat at Costco and organic coconut oil at Walmart. I’ve seen organic avocados priced down next to conventional in the supermarket. There’s still a socioeconomic discrepancy, but it doesn’t seem completely insurmountable with a careful eye, a stack of coupons, and a membership to your local discount warehouse. There are even a few forward-thinking programs to ease the socioeconomic burden, such as some farmers’ markets accepting or even doubling the value of stamps from food assistance plans like WIC, SNAP, and Medicaid.
(9) Philadelphia is First Major City to Pass Soda and Sugary Drink Tax
In June 2016, Philadelphia became the first major city to impose a tax on soda and sugary beverages, despite strong opposition from industry groups. The health issues and related health care costs of sugary beverages are indisputable. In fact, some doctors have gone as far as to say that sugar is as dangerous as tobacco. Cigarettes are not illegal, but high cigarette taxes reduce smoking, especially among children. Other large cities may take a cue from this win, and it may have some effect on the proliferation of soda as a primary beverage choice.
(10) Obama’s Clean Power Plan
In August 2015, President Obama along with the Environmental Protection Agency announce the Clean Power Plan, the nation’s most ambitious legislation to combat global warming. The Clean Power Plan would set a national limit on carbon pollution produced from power plants and strengthen the trend of clean energy by setting goals for states to cut their carbon pollution. The plan could potentially reduce the pollutants that contribute to smog and soot by 25 percent, leading to net climate and health benefits of an estimated $25 billion to $45 billion per year in 2030. Opposition from some states led to a stalemate in Supreme Court. Due to a split vote in the Court, which now holds a vacant seat, the plan will now likely remain in limbo until after the next presidential election. However, polls continue to favor the climate-friendly nominee, and it is hopeful that the Clean Power Plan, in some capacity, will see the light of day.
Paige Wolf is the author of Spit That Out! The Overly Informed Parent’s Guide to Raising Healthy Kids in the Age of Environmental Guilt and the owner of Paige Wolf Media and Public Relations, a B Corporation certified eco-friendly PR firm focused on sustainable clientele. Visit www.spitthatoutthebook.com for her blog on making green living practical, manageable, and affordable.