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Most Teens Rely On Smartphones To Go Online, Study Finds

By David Pierson, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

Think teenagers are always glued to their phones? A new research report says you’re right.

A survey of more than 1,000 teens found 92 percent of them go online daily and 24 percent of them go online “almost constantly.”

The preferred method was smartphones. Ninety-one percent of teens went online at least occasionally using the handheld devices.

The findings come from a Pew Research Center report released Thursday that examines the relationship between teens, social media, and technology.

The study, which was conducted online, polled teens aged 13 to 17.

The study also looked at connectivity and usage among ethnic groups and different household incomes.

Included in the findings was that black and Latino teens report more frequent Internet use. Thirty-four percent of black teens and 32 percent of Latino teens reported going online “almost constantly.” By comparison, only 19 percent of white teens said they went online as much.

Meanwhile, 85 percent of black teens said they had access to a smartphone compared with 71 percent for Latino and white teens.

“American teens, especially African-American youth, have embraced smartphones and the 24/7 access to people and information that they offer,” said Amanda Lenhart, associate director for research at the Pew Research Center and the lead author on the report.

Facebook was the most popular social media platform among the teens polled with 71 percent of them indicating they used the service.

Second was Instagram at 52 percent, followed by Snapchat at 41 percent. Twitter and Google+ came in at 33 percent.

Teens from lower income families leaned toward Facebook while wealthier teens reported higher usage of Snapchat and Twitter.

The study also showed texting was highly popular. Ninety percent of teens with access to mobile phones said they texted. A typical teen sends and receives 30 texts daily.

Although the Pew Research Center has released similar studies in the past, it warned against comparing results too closely because they were conducted slightly differently. Previous studies looked at a different subset of teens (aged 12 to 17) and conducted the survey over the phone, rather than online.

Photo: Pabak Sakar via Flickr

FDA Plans To Revise Landmark Food Safety Law

By David Pierson, Los Angeles Times

The Food and Drug Administration said Friday that it would revise a landmark food safety law because of widespread complaints from farmers that some provisions were too burdensome.

The agency is proposing relaxing some oversight on irrigation water, allowing easier application of raw manure and exempting small farms from produce safety rules. It’s also eliminating a proposal that would have made it more difficult for brewers and distillers to give their spent grains to farmers for animal feed.

“Based on valuable input from farmers, consumers, the food industry and academic experts, the FDA is proposing to update these four proposed rules to ensure a more flexible and targeted means to ensure food safety,” said Michael R. Taylor, the FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine.

The revisions are the latest change to a national food safety overhaul that was first signed into law in 2011.

The Food Safety Modernization Act was aimed at shoring up the country’s food system with preventative measures on farms. It came in response to growing concerns about food-borne illnesses after outbreaks tied to spinach, cantaloupes and eggs sickened thousands nationwide.

Some of the biggest critics of the law were organic farmers who thought the rules overly sanitized the farm environment. Growers complained that the rules would penalize them for having wildlife on their land and for using raw manure and compost instead of chemical fertilizers.

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition welcomed the revisions and said Friday they would work closely with the FDA to fine-tune the law before it is finalized next year.

“We applaud FDA for listening to our concerns regarding the original proposed rules and for recognizing that a second draft was necessary,” said Sophia Kruszewski, a policy specialist for the coalition, a Washington D.C.-based alliance of grass-roots organizations advocating sustainable farming practices.

“These rules must not only ensure a safe food supply, but also that family farms can thrive and that consumers can access foods that are safe, healthy and sustainably produced, including fresh food from local producers,” Kruszewski said.

The group said the initial regulations contained several “highly problematic requirements that would have put many sustainable and organic farmers out of business, dampened the growth of local food systems and innovative supply chains, and undermined efforts to conserve critical natural resources.”

One of the biggest concerns was how it would burden small farms. The Food Safety Modernization Act requires an investment in new equipment and the introduction of new processes such as comprehensive record keeping.

The revised rule would exempt farms with annual produce sales of $25,000 or less. The previous requirement did not restrict sales to just produce, meaning more farms would fall under the oversight.

The FDA is also removing a requirement that farmers wait nine months between applying raw manure on fields and harvesting a crop _ a nod to growers who favor natural fertilizer.

The agency is proposing allowing higher levels of bacteria in irrigation water and reducing the number of times the water is tested.

In the final revision, the FDA is proposing that brewers and distillers be exempt from the food safety laws when providing farms with spent grains used to make alcohol.

The agency will accept public comments on the four revisions for the next 75 days.

AFP Photo/Scott Olson

Medical Marijuana Delivery Services Are On A Roll

By David Pierson, Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES — Brian Reichle couldn’t have gotten a pepperoni pizza much faster.

Needing to replenish his stash of marijuana one recent afternoon, the Burbank resident dialed Speed Weed. Within the hour, a driver arrived with a white paper bag carrying a gram of cannabis, 10 joints, and a handful of pot-infused candies and cookies.

“They come to my house, and they’re in and out,” said Reichle, 39, a comedian who spends about $100 a week on medical marijuana. “I shouldn’t have to go to a store.”

Once a small, word-of-mouth phenomenon, mobile marijuana businesses now number in the hundreds across Southern California. Nationwide, pot delivery services have nearly tripled in three years, from 877 to 2,617, according to Weedmaps, an online directory for pot businesses.

Weed on wheels offers patients convenience and owners a cheaper alternative to running a brick-and-mortar shop. Delivery services see huge potential for growth.

“I still believe 75 percent of marijuana patients don’t know delivery is a thing,” said Speed Weed owner A.J. Gentile, 42, a Bronx, N.Y., native who also works as a voice-over actor. “It’s safer to engage this way. You don’t have to go to a sketchy dispensary. That’s why we get so many female customers.”

The proliferation of delivery services is fueled in part by city efforts to reduce the number of dispensaries. About 200 have closed in L.A. since voters approved Proposition D last year, a spokesman for the city attorney’s office said.

Under the measure, dispensaries and their landlords can be prosecuted if the shops aren’t properly registered or if they do not operate a legal distance from public parks, schools, child-care centers, and other facilities.

As a result, the owners of closed stores sitting on piles of unsold inventory figure they have little choice but to start a delivery service.

“It’s the balloon theory,” said Jeff Raber, founder and president of the Werc Shop in Pasadena, a cannabis testing lab. “They think taking down all the dispensaries will make it go away. But it’s not going away. It’s going to morph into something else.”

California cities have mostly allowed the services to operate freely. State medical marijuana laws don’t mention delivery services, which, like dispensaries, require patients to join as members of a collective.

A few California cities have banned marijuana delivery. The L.A. city attorney’s office said mobile businesses are prohibited under Proposition D, but it has yet to prosecute any.

The law defines a marijuana business as including “any vehicle” used to distribute marijuana, but it is more generally aimed at using zoning regulations to limit the number of storefront dispensaries.

Mark Kleiman, a drug policy expert at the Luskin School of Public Affairs at the University of California, Los Angeles, said cities should consider supporting the business model. Delivery services, he said, help eliminate unwanted storefronts.

“Storefronts are a pain,” Kleiman said. “Do you want a weed store in your neighborhood?”

Many delivery services consist of nothing more than a lone driver carrying a tackle box filled with pot. In Southern California, traffic often restricts a day’s deliveries to about a dozen. Profits are limited, and drivers regularly battle fatigue on jammed freeways.

“It was such a grind,” said the owner of a Santa Ana dispensary who used to deliver alone several years ago before hiring a dozen drivers.

The owner, who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of concern for his family’s privacy, said many weed dealers, including himself, offered delivery long before medical marijuana became legal. “I’d always be driving to someone’s house,” he said. “People would page me on my beeper.”

After registering and showing a doctor’s recommendation, Speed Weed customers order off the company’s website or call its delivery line. The L.A.-based firm has up to 25 drivers and several offices across the region, allowing for quick deliveries.

The company was founded in 2011 after owner Gentile studied operation manuals for Domino’s Pizza, Papa John’s Pizza, and FedEx. He learned how to build a network of hubs to limit the amount of marijuana or cash that any one driver carries, a precaution against robbery.

The company’s delivery area now stretches across 6,000 square miles, including all of L.A. County and the northern half of Orange County. Its patient enrollment has swelled to 19,000. Orders are capped at 4 ounces a month.

Gentile says he pays business taxes and is operating legally under Proposition D. Speed Weed, he says, doesn’t have a storefront subject to the measure’s zoning rules.

He hopes to one day franchise the business wherever medical marijuana is allowed. Active in the growing cannabis investment community, Gentile also aims to list his company on a stock exchange in the coming years.

His wife, Jen Gentile, handles the company’s business operations. His brother Gene Gentile (the only regular marijuana user of the three) handles VIP deliveries.

AFP Photo/Desiree Martin

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USDA Sued By Advocacy Group Over Handling Of Salmonella In Meat

By David Pierson, Los Angeles Times

A Washington, D.C., health advocacy group has sued the U.S. Department of Agriculture for not doing enough to prevent the spread of antibiotic resistant strains of salmonella in meat.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest filed a lawsuit Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia asking the USDA to respond to a 3-year-old petition urging the agency to treat antibiotic resistant strains of salmonella as an adulterant.

Doing so could give the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service broader powers to issue recalls and prevent tainted meat from reaching the marketplace _ similar to how some strains of E. coli are handled.

“USDA takes action only after people start becoming ill from these life-threatening antibiotic-resistant superbugs,” said Caroline Smith DeWaal, food safety director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “It is time for USDA to declare these dangerous resistant strains as adulterants and then require industry to conduct aggressive testing to keep meat and poultry contaminated with these strains out of the food supply, as it does with products contaminated with dangerous strains of E. coli.”

The USDA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Calls to tighten rules over salmonella have increased recently because of two outbreaks involving antibiotic resistant strains of the bacteria linked to Foster Farms poultry. Over 700 people have been sickened by the two outbreaks since 2012.

Foster Farms did not issue a voluntary recall for either outbreak. Both the USDA and Foster Farms maintain the company’s poultry is safe to eat if cooked and handled properly.

Health groups say salmonella should be handled more strictly because of the rise of superbugs — potent bacteria produced by the overuse of antibiotics on farms.

Officials representing the $70 billion poultry industry dispute that antibiotics are being abused. They also point out that salmonella is widespread and cannot be completely eliminated. And despite that, producers such as Foster Farms have succeeded in significantly reducing rates of salmonella contamination in their poultry over the years.

The USDA said last December it would develop more stringent testing and sampling for salmonella in chicken plants and implement the first-ever national standards for acceptable levels of salmonella contamination on cut chicken parts. Existing standards apply only to whole chickens.

That same month, the Food and Drug Administration moved to phase out many of the antibiotics administered to animals used as food to promote faster growth, a practice blamed for increasing antibiotic resistance in people.

Photo: Roboppy via Flickr
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Oxfam Prods 10 Largest Food And Drink Firms On Climate Change

By David Pierson, Los Angeles Times

Few companies are potentially more vulnerable to climate change than the world’s biggest food and beverage brands.

Droughts are diminishing agricultural yields, and severe cold snaps like the one that crippled parts of the U.S. this year resulted in weeks of lost production.

Disruptions like that could raise the price of popular cereals like Kellogg’s Corn Flakes and General Mills’ Kix cereal as much as 30 percent in the next 15 years, said Oxfam, an international advocacy group.

The group sought to spell out the many worldwide costs of climate change in a report it released Monday calling on the globe’s 10 largest food and beverage companies to intensify their commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Failing to do so could lead to more poverty and hunger, as the world’s population is expected to grow by one-third to 9.6 billion by 2050, the group says.

“If we’re going to feed 9 billion people sustainably and avert a climate catastrophe, then these companies driving demand for billions of dollars’ worth of agricultural products have to be major actors,” said Raymond C. Offenheiser, president of Oxfam America. “There’s not only a moral reason for them, there’s also good business reasons why they should care about this.”

The report is the latest in Oxfam’s Behind the Brands campaign, which scores the 10 companies in social and environmental responsibility.

The brands included Coca-Cola, Danone, General Mills, Kellogg, Mars, Nestle, PepsiCo and Unilever.

The companies emitted 263.7 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions in 2013, Oxfam said. If the group of companies were a nation, it would be the 25th most polluting country in the world, Oxfam said.

“They have the economic power to drive the required transformation of the food system and to influence the direction of the wider global economy,” the report said. “Their vested interests coincide with the world’s need for a cleaner and more equitable global food system and a sustainable energy system.

“But they are not properly acting upon this coincidence.”

The report said the food industry is responsible for a quarter of the globe’s greenhouse gases. (That figure is 10 percent in the U.S., according to the Environmental Protection Agency.)

Agricultural emissions include the nitrous oxide released from fertilizers and methane from livestock, as well as indirect emissions caused by deforestation and the production of raw materials.

The report isn’t all bad. Oxfam lauded most of the companies for refusing to buy palm oil produced on deforested land and noted that all 10 companies had recognized some need to reduce agricultural emissions.

In most cases they also measure and report all their agricultural emissions each year to an independent third party organization called the Carbon Disclosure Project.

Two American companies do not go that far. Kellogg and General Mills don’t fully report to the Carbon Disclosure Project some Scope 3 emissions, which is pollution caused indirectly through a company’s supply chain, Oxfam said.

In an emailed statement, General Mills said it has done much to combat climate change. It set a goal of 2015 to reduce emissions in the company’s direct operations 20 percent and reduce transportation fuel usage rates 35 percent. Last month, General Mills joined Wal-Mart to promote sustainable farming through the nonprofit organization Field to Market.

“There is more to be done, of course. But General Mills is mischaracterized in this report” by Oxfam, the company said.

Kellogg said through a spokesman: “We are working on multiple fronts to further reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and waste, as well as the energy and water we use.”

Oxfam is encouraging the 10 companies to disclose the most polluting suppliers and begin setting emission reduction targets for them.

©afp.com / Mario Tama