A series of articles and blogposts now warn that the chemical Bisphenol A–used to make hard clear plastics–is wreaking havoc on lobsters in the Long Island Sound. Here are a few such hyped headlines: “Bisphenol A: Bad for you, bad for lobsters,” “Lobsters and Us,” “Plastics, chemicals may weaken lobster’s health,” “Lobster dieoffs linked to plastic pollution, including bisphenol A.”
Problems began in 1999 when Long Island suffered a massive lobster die-off. Lobstermen blamed the pesticide spraying used to control the spread of the deadly mosquito-borne West Nile Virus. But the spraying occurred after the die-off began–it could not have caused it.
Researchers pointed more likely causes: overly warm water and parasites. Nonetheless, lobstermen sued the pesticide company involved and netted $12.5 million in a settlement in addition to receiving $3.65 million in federal disaster payments. They proved nothing, but gained quite a bit.
Now they are looking at plastics—particularly those plastics made with the chemical bisphenol A (BPA). They cite the research of one scientist who says pollution might be contributing to a disease that rots lobster shells, which is now plaguing lobsters in Long Island and Southern New England.
BPA is a convenient target since it’s been in the news quite a bit. Environmentalists say BPA-based products are dangerous to humans, despite the fact that dozens of research panels around the world have ruled them safe. States are passing bans on some BPA-based plastics and Congress is looking at the issue as well.
With BPA already in the headlines, Hans Laufer–professor Molecular and Cellular Biology at the University of Connecticut—was sure to gain attention with his claims that BPA pollution might also be affecting lobster health. He maintains that BPA, along with other chemicals, creates stresses that reduce lobster resistance to the disease.
One of 15 researchers with the New England Lobster Initiative, Laufer recently presented this research at a symposium in Rhode Island. Unfortunately, there is no public record of this meeting and Laufer’s research is not yet available. According to a representative with the initiative it will go though peer review and be published in the Journal of Shellfish Research. Until then, all we know right now is what Laufer has told the press.
While it is important to investigate all possible factors, Laufer has been playing up his “findings” with some highly questionable claims. On the University of Connecticut website he claims: “The U.S. produces about 1 million tons of BPA produced annually, 60 percent of it ends up in the ocean.” Yet he offers no evidence or source for this very provocative claim.
Perhaps a more important question is whether the levels are high enough to have any effect. A 2009 analysis published in Environmental Science and Technology reported that BPA levels are extremely low—at parts per trillion–and impact on aquatic life is also low. This is not surprising, since BPA breaks down rather quickly. There was one exception: higher levels were found in fresh water sediments in areas impacted by several waste water treatment plants depositing into the waters–a situation that does not apply here.
It may be that Laufer simply just doesn’t like plastics or BPA, which he says is “as big a threat to human health as tobacco.” Never mind that there are no documented cases of anyone dying from trace exposures to BPA, but thousands of people every year from smoking.
Other researchers involved with this initiative have produced solid research that on focuses on more likely sources of the problem, mostly pointing to Mother Nature herself.
Researchers have shown that lobsters in New York and New England suffer in large measure because relatively warm waters make it a marginal area for their survival. “[The lobster decline] is a combination of factors that are all related back to changes in water temperature,” Robert Glenn– a marine biologist with Rhode Islands’ Division of Marine Fisheries–told the Cape Cod Times.
Warm water has some of same effects that Laufer says chemicals do. It stresses the lobsters; makes them more susceptible to disease; and can even impact growth and development. Not surprisingly, lobsters are migrating away from the warmest areas and are doing much better in the cooler waters, such as in waters near Maine.
Another problem may have more to do with perception than reality. New York lobstermen are using the 1990s as a baseline to measure the yield they want to take from the waters. Yet during that decade, lobstermen pulled far more of the critters out of the water than ever before—probably more than could ever be sustainable.
In New York, lobster take peaked in 1971 then dipped in the late 1970s into the 1980s, only to balloon in the 1990s, up to a record of more than three million pounds in 1992 and then to its pinnacle of nearly 9.5 million pounds in 1996.
Before the 1990s, such high figures must have been unimaginable to New Yorkers. The average yield for all the years between 1950 and 1989 totaled less than a million pounds. In fact, 1999 ended a decade that was largely an aberration for New York. Interestingly, the take for 1999 (just over 7 million) and 2000 (nearly three million) is still higher than any year before 1990.
The University of Rhode Island’s Kathleen Castro, who chairs the New England Lobster Research Initiative executive committee, highlighted such factors in a press release related to Initiative research. She explains “In the 1970s we didn’t have many lobsters around, and in the 80s and 90s we had them coming out of everywhere. We don’t know why there used to be so many of them, and now we don’t know why there’s so many less. Fishermen got used to the high numbers, and it may be that now they are just back down to more normal levels. It may be related to water temperature, predator abundance, or shifts in the ecosystem.”
It is likely that the pollution angle will continue to be a media focus. After all, too many people have too much to gain. The greens gain more hype to push a BPA bans, activist researchers garner more headlines, and the lobstermen amass more targets to sue for “damages.”
Intolerant, hysterical and smug! How I hate the organic fanatics
By Susan Hill, writing from Britain
One net of four lemons - £1.23; one net of four ORGANIC lemons - £2.49. One pint of semi-skimmed milk - 89p; one pint of ORGANIC semi-skimmed milk - £1.20. These price differences incensed me so much the other day that I spent an hour going round the small supermarket in a town near my home in the Cotswolds filling two trolleys with identical items, one organic and 'eco-friendly', the other non-organic and what you might call 'normal'.
When I had filled my trolleys, I went into a corner of the shop and worked out the cost of each. The organic trolley was £93.72. The other £66.30.
Now, a difference of almost a third is a big difference. How can many ordinary working families afford to pay such a lot extra for their shopping trolley week in, week out?
My little experiment confirmed what I always suspected - that organics are for the rich. This doesn't apply only to food. What about organic cotton bed linen, eco-friendly floor cleaner, organic dog biscuits? All of it costs a lot more.
The rich can, of course, afford to indulge their organic fads. They are the ones who fall for the hysterical hype about organic being better, more nutritious, more likely to make you live longer and not poison you with all those awful chemical pesticides that non-organic food is supposedly soaked in. But ordinary people have got far less money and a lot more sense.
Just as rich celebrities usually fall for daft religions and alternative everything, so naturally they fall for the religion of An Organic Existence. If you embrace the organic faith, the first thing that happens is that you lose your sense of perspective and your ability to read any facts, especially scientific facts, that run contrary to your beliefs.
So with the fervent belief that organic food is more nutritious comes the blindness which prevents you from accepting properly conducted scientific investigations, like the one reported in the Daily Mail last year.
After lengthy trials, the Berlin-based consumer watchdog Stiftung Warentest concluded that organic food has no health, taste or nutritional advantages over conventionally manufactured or harvested food. But you could scream that in their ears all day - the organic religionists will not listen.
If you can't justify organic foods on nutritional grounds, surely they are less harmful because they're not stuffed full of toxic pesticides which damage health? Er, no.
The old powerful weedkillers are now banned on all farms. Meanwhile, modern versions are strictly regulated, don't harm the soil and residues in food are undetectable. It seems the EU's safety regulations aren't all bad. But again, try to explain this to the organic fanatics and it's like talking to a brick wall.
Now, that's fine. People believe what they want to believe. I am a Christian and as a result a lot of people think that I'm a nutter. But with the organic brigade, as with many converts to other religions, it doesn't always stop there. They want to convert the rest of us to their faith - forcibly if necessary. You listen to a fervent organic believer and it's like listening to someone off to the Crusades.
Now, don't jump to the conclusion that because I know that 'organic' is a con and a rip-off, I want everyone to die of pesticide poisoning, the earth to become barren and animals to suffer. I don't.
I always buy free-range eggs and meat, not because they taste better or are more nutritious - sometimes they are, sometimes they aren't. It's because of the way the animals are treated. Their welfare ought to concern everyone.
And I was pleasantly surprised when I did a price comparison on free-range eggs and chickens, and on normal versus free-range bacon. On the eggs, there was 2p difference per half-dozen; on the bacon, 6p per pack.
That's not so much and it's worth forgoing a few pence to cover the cost, once you know how battery animals are treated. The benefits of free-range may be non-existent to us, but to the hens and pigs they are everything. The benefits of organic seem to be non-existent to anyone.
I asked a neighbouring vegetable grower if he had thought of converting to organic. Yes, he'd looked into it. It takes three years to change over to organic methods and get the seal of approval from Organics HQ. It is very labour intensive, pests flourish and yields are much smaller.
Since the recession, the bottom has dropped out of the organics market. Shops once allocated long stretches of shelving to organic produce. Now, they have shrunk or even vanished - except, of course, in stores where the rich live.
The rich who buy only organic products are telling us they are morally superior, that they have tender consciences and hug the planet on a daily basis.
So why can't they widen their concern and get real? After all, we will only eliminate hunger and gradually increase the life-expectancy of the world's poorest if we produce food on a massive scale, with all the benefits of modern fertilisers and pesticides.
While many mothers struggle to feed their young families at all, the rich indulge theirs in expensive organic-only babyfoods - some of which, when tested, were found to have fewer nutrients and minerals than the non-organic sort. Devoted poorer mothers know they should provide fresh fruit and vegetables for their children - yet find it hard enough to pay for the regular sort, never mind organic. The price of five bananas in my supermarket today - (special offer) £1. Price of five organic bananas - £2.39.
Yet the propaganda about organic everything is constantly pumped out, so that parents are made to feel guilty and inadequate. They are told that because they are not giving their families organic food, their children will be allergy-prone and stunted from ingesting pesticides. And that's before they're told that they are harming/polluting/ shortening the life of Planet Earth and helping to wipe out biodiversity.
Those who can ill afford to pay an extra £2.39 for five bananas make huge efforts to do so to in order to assuage their consciences, which have been pricked by the rich organic-fanatics who cannot face scientific facts because it's against their new religion.
Yes, organic might be a matter of faith - and some doctors would say that if you believe the medicine is doing you good, it really works. By all means, eat organic because you think it tastes better; sometimes it does. Believe it is more nutritious if you must and that non-organic is junk. It's a free world.
Just don't make others who can't afford your organic faith feel bad about it.