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Pork industry joins battle to stop plant-based products from being called ‘meat’

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EVANSVILLE, Ind., Jan. 28 (UPI) — The unveiling of Impossible Foods’ latest product — “Impossible Pork” — has drawn American pork producers into a years-long battle waged by the beef industry to stop plant-based companies from calling their foods some sort of meat.

“It’s not pork,” said Dan Kovich, director of science and technology for the National Pork Producers Council. “The ironic thing is that’s impossible. You can’t get pork from plants unless you feed them to a pig.”

Beginning in 2016, companies like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat launched a series of meat alternatives made from plants. Their early products were beef burger substitutes. The companies later started to market plant-made sausage, and Impossible Pork was unveiled earlier this month at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

The companies claim their products are virtually indistinguishable from real meat — and many include the name of the meat they are mimicking in the product label.

“They’re trying to get as close as possible to beef without actually being beef,” said Danielle Beck, executive director of government affairs at the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. “But their entire marketing strategy is to disparage beef. They are trading on beef’s good name, but disparaging beef in the process.”

Organizations like the National Pork Producers Council, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and the Livestock Marketing Association are pushing the federal government to force these companies to rename their products.

Under current law, only the Food and Drug Administration has the power to stop plant-based operations from using traditional meat terms to define their products.

An FDA representative said the agency is reviewing its stance on the “standards of identity” for dairy products, and that “until we finish reviewing, we don’t have additional comment on the labeling of plant-based food product.”

The spokesman added in an email: “The FDA believes it is important to take a fresh look at existing standards of identity in light of marketing trends and the latest nutritional science.”

Meanwhile, at least 13 states have enacted laws that ban companies from calling plant-based products by terms used to define traditional meat. And lawmakers in at least 27 states have filed similar bills.

On the national level, U.S. Rep. Roger Marshall, R-Kan., introduced the Real MEAT Act in October, which defines “beef” as coming from a cow and requires companies imitating beef to include the word “imitation” in the label, among other provisions.

Its purpose is to eliminate consumer confusion and deceptive marketing, Marshall has said.

“For years now, alternative protein products have confused many consumers with misleading packaging and creative names for products,” Marshall said in a statement. “With this bill, consumers can be sure that the meat products they are buying are indeed real meat.”

The bill was referred to the Committee on Agriculture, which referred it to the House Subcommittee on Livestock and Foreign Agriculture, where it remains. The bill has 18 co-sponsors.

U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., introduced a similar bill in December. No action has been taken on that bill.

“What’s ironic about [these bills] is we bend over backwards to make it clear we are plant-based,” said Rachel Konrad, a spokeswoman for Impossible Foods. “We have a huge logo on our products that says, ‘Made from plants.’ We do not want any confusion, and we know the reason why our growth is skyrocketing is because there is no confusion.”

She added that her company is monitoring the new bills and will follow all applicable state and federal laws.

“Impossible Foods has always anticipated this kind of attack,” she said.

The Impossible company anticipated the attack, in part, because it is not targeting vegetarians — it is trying to woo meat eaters.

“Ninety-five percent of [Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods] customers are omnivores who also eat meat,” said Zak Weston, a food service analyst at the Good Food Institute, a pro-plant-based food nonprofit based in Washington, D.C. “These companies are looking at the market differently.”

The meat industry’s attack has some plant-based supporters concerned.

Though growing rapidly, the plant-based protein industry is in its infancy, said Ocean Robbins, CEO of Food Revolution Network, a pro-plant-based food group that supports “healthy, ethical and sustainable food for all.”

“In the long run, if these terms are banned, companies are going to figure out another way,” Robbins said. “But it will have an impact. The meat industry is putting a lot of money into this because they’re aware that the terms are impactful. And they’re afraid of mainstream people giving this a try.”



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Astronomers find Neptune-sized star orbiting young, nearby star

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June 24 (UPI) — After looking for more than a decade, astronomers have finally found an exoplanet in the young AU Microscopii star system.

With the help of NASA’s TESS and Spitzer space telescopes, scientists identified a Neptune-sized world circling the young star, positioned just 32 light-years from our solar system.

Researchers announced the discovery on Wednesday in the journal Nature.

In addition to being so close by, AU Mic is estimated to be just 20 to 30 million years old, making it 180 times younger than our sun — offering scientists an opportunity to study the early evolution of a planetary system.

“AU Mic is a small star, with only about 50 percent of the sun’s mass,” Jonathan Gagné, a former postdoctoral researcher at the University of Montreal who is now a scientific advisor at the Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium, said in a press release.

“These stars generally have very strong magnetic fields, which make them very active,” Gagné said. “That explains in part why it took nearly 15 years to detect the exoplanet, called AU Mic b. The numerous spots and eruptions on the surface of AU Mic hampered its detection, which was already complicated by the presence of the disc.”

For the past several years, astronomers have been using ground telescopes at NASA’s Infrared Telescope Facility to monitor the star system in infrared. The star’s fluctuating emissions are less sporadic in the infrared.

“A few years after I joined the team, we noticed a possible periodic variation in the radial velocity of AU Mic,” Gagné said. “We were thus made aware of the plausible presence of a planet around it.”

As the exoplanet completes its orbit, its gravity creates slight perturbations in the star’s radial velocity. But while the ground telescopes were able to pick up on this periodic dance of infrared light, the observations weren’t precise enough to confirm the presence of an exoplanet.

However, researchers were able to observe the Neptune-sized exoplanet using a different technique. When exoplanets pass in front of their host stars, they cause a slight dimming. Using TESS and Spitzer, astronomers measured a total of four transits of AU Mic b — two with each space observatory.

The TESS and Spitzer data confirmed the exoplanet orbits AU Mic every 8.5 days. By combining the transit data with the radial velocity data collected by NASA’s IRFT telescopes, researchers were able to estimate the exoplanet’s mass.

Finding a young planet in a young stellar system is rare, researchers say. And observing the phenomena in a stellar system so close to Earth is even more rare. The close proximity of AU Mic and AU Mic b, however, allowed astronomers to study the system using a variety of instruments — like the SPIRou spectrograph.

“This instrument, with its polarimetric capabilities, will allow us to better distinguish the effects of stellar activity, which are often confused with the signal from the planets,” said É tienne Artigau, a project scientist at University of Montréal. “This will allow us to determine the mass of AU Mic b accurately and to know if this exoplanet is more like a large Earth or a Neptune twin.”

In the future, scientists hope to use SPIRou to study the effect of AU Mic’s stellar activity on the atmosphere of AU Mic b.

Scientists also plan to compare the peculiarities the AU Mic system with nearby stellar systems, such as Beta Pictoris — one of several stars that formed at the same time and in the same place.



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Clouds make newer climate models more realistic, but also less certain

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June 24 (UPI) — Efforts to improve the precision with which climate models simulate cloud processes have yielded more realistic models. New research suggests these efforts have also introduced greater uncertainty, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances.

When the latest generation of climate models started producing results last year, researchers noticed that several models were predicting higher amounts of warming than previous models. The results of the new models inspired news headlines that suggested global warming might be worse than previously thought.

As researchers with the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project, CMIP6, soon found out, a few of the latest generation of models predicted smaller levels of warming than previous models. To identify the cause of this uncertainty, CMIP6 researchers decided some historical context was needed.

One way to measure and compare the predictions of different climate models is by calculating the equilibrium climate sensitivity, or ECS.

“It’s kind of an abstract measure, but it’s one these metrics that has been around for a long time,” Gerald Meehl, a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, told UPI.

Essentially, scientists double the CO2 in a model and let the simulation run its course until the climate stabilizes. Each model — and each new generation of models — produces a narrow range of warming, between 1.5 to 4.5 degrees Celsius, or 2.7 to 8.1 degrees Fahrenheit.

“This kind of range has been out there for some time, and with each successive generation of models has produced about the same range in terms of degrees,” Meehl said. “With the latest generation of models, the average warming has stayed roughly the same, but the range has gotten bigger than ever — at both the low and the high end.”

When Meehl and his colleagues asked members of the groups responsible for the 39 new CMIP6 models why they thought the ECS value got bigger, most of them pointed to clouds.

To improve the accuracy of the latest generation of climate models, scientists have worked hard to simulate small-scale cloud processes. But these efforts have introduced a variety of new interactions between clouds and tiny particles called aerosols — interactions that can produce contradictory results.

“For example, if you have polluted air, particularly sulfur dioxide, that can influence clouds. Sulfur dioxide is emitted from cars and factories, and it goes into the air and forms sulfate aerosols,” Meehl said. “When you see the sky and it looks orange and hazy, chances are that a lot of that is caused by an abundance of sulfate aerosols.”

According to Meehl, these aerosols operate as cloud condensation nuclei. When these aerosols seed clouds, they seed clouds with a lot more tiny droplets.

“That increased number of small droplets makes the cloud brighter, and it’s going to reflect more sunlight and have a cooling effect,” Meehl said.

But this phenomena, now rendered more precisely in climate models, can also yield the opposite effect.

“On the other hand, you’ve formed all these droplets in the sky, but the aerosols absorb some sunlight, warm the air, and evaporate some of the droplets and that reduces the amount of clouds,” Meehl said. “That allows a little more sun into the system, and now you have a warming effect.”

Cloud-aerosol interactions are just one example of new simulated intricacies that offer both greater realism and greater uncertainty. According to Meehl, there are a variety of interacting processes involving a variety of different cloud types at different altitudes.

“With more interacting processes, your level of uncertainty can go up,” he said.

But ECS isn’t the only way to test and compare climate models. Most climate modelers prefer to use transient climate response, or TCR.

“You increase CO2 at 1 percent per year, compounded, until the time you double the amount of carbon dioxide, which is usually about 70 years,” Meehl said.

TCR works on a smaller timescale and works more like actual climate change. When scientists calculated the TCR range for the newest generation of climate models, they got the same average warming value but a smaller range.

Meehl and his colleagues shared the ECS and TCR values produced by the latest CMIP6 models in the new paper.

In addition to putting the latest generation of climate models into historical context, Meehl hopes the new study will inspire cloud modeling improvements.

“We’re doing a better job of simulating the clouds themselves, but now we have these different feedbacks that give you more uncertainty,” he said.

Now that researchers have highlighted this uncertainty, Meehl hopes climate research institutions and the climate modeling community will work to address the issue by directing more funds to relevant observational and analysis programs.

“You can’t simulate what you don’t understand,” Meehl said.

And to understand how exactly clouds will effect climate and vice versa, in the future, scientists need more robust observational programs and better satellite measurements.



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SpaceX launch Friday would boost Starlink network to nearly 600

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Astronauts return to space from U.S. soil

NASA astronauts Doug Hurley (L) and Bob Behnken, who flew the Crew Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station, brief mission controllers about their experience in the new vehicle on June 1. Photo courtesy of NASA



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