Climate Change and Organic Food Production
The world’s emissions of greenhouse gases jumped 2.3 percent in 2013 to record levels. In the United States, emissions rose 2.9 percent, so we’re doing more than our fair share of polluting the atmosphere with carbon dioxide.
Where is all this carbon dioxide coming from. Well, in the U.S., 32 percent of it comes from the burning of fossil fuels—oil, coal, natural gas—to produce electricity. Transportation (petroleum for cars, trucks, buses, trains, planes, etc.) produces 28 percent. Industry’s use of fossil fuels to produce its goods causes 20 percent of the total emissions. Heating and other on-site burning of fossil fuels in commercial and residential buildings adds another 10 percent, and agriculture’s use of fossil fuels to create chemical fertilizers and run farms contributes another 10 percent.
Some activities absorb carbon dioxide. Environmentally-sound land use and forestry decreases the total emissions by 15 percent. This gives us a clue about how to get a handle on CO2 emissions and begin to reduce them.
First, cut way back on burning fossil fuels to make electricity and drive industry. Here in California thousands of square miles of houses sit under the broiling sun, day after day, without solar panels on their roofs. The push for renewable energy sources has barely begun, but there’s plenty of energy to be harvested that has no carbon component at all. Heat pumps can draw energy from the earth everywhere in the U.S., especially in areas where magma isn’t that far from the surface. My electricity is entirely created from hydrothermal power generation at a series of turbines at The Geysers in northern Sonoma County. The Geysers are volcanic holes in the ground. Water goes down, steam comes up, turbines get driven, electricity is made. It costs me a premium to make sure every kilowatt I use is from this renewable source, but to me it’s worth it, and it really isn’t that much money.
Second, sequester carbon in the earth by farming organically. Remember, a plant absorbs carbon dioxide (CO2). The plant uses that carbon atom to build plant tissue. The two oxygen atoms are breathed out into the air. Recycle that plant tissue through composting, returning the carbon to the soil to build the next generation of plants, rather than burning it or letting it rot on the soil surface, which allows the carbon to escape into the atmosphere. Better yet, turn all plant matter into biochar and bury it, which will immobilize the carbon in the earth for thousands of years while it creates rich, nutrient filled soil for crops. Ancient Indians knew this in South America, where thousands of square miles of fertile land are underlain with soil enriched with biochar. The carbon is sequestered rather than dumped into the air, and the biochar enriches the land.
Why can’t we do this? What are we waiting for? Studies show that if all agriculture were organic, we could reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide to safe levels within a few decades.
Here’s why we aren’t taking these steps.
First, the fossil fuel industry is enormously wealthy and uses its wealth to thwart any attempts to make serious moves toward renewable energy sources. We all know this. I mean, look at Saudi Arabia, the Koch brothers, BP and the Gulf oil spill. They will never let go until we pass laws making them let go. But Congress is bought and sold by the fossil fuel industries. Not only that, but these polluting fossil fuel industries have their tentacles clamped onto the portion of the public that identifies with ultra-conservative, right wing ideologies. This is a cynical and well-planned move on the part of the Energy Polluters.
For instance, and this is just one little instance, an ultra-conservative board in Texas that approves school textbooks is trying to get language into high school history books that says that manmade climate change is a disputed subject, and that human activities may very well have nothing to do with global warming. It’s simply a lie. Science indisputably backs human activity as the cause of global warming. Just ask the plants that are blooming, setting seed, and maturing fruit and seed much earlier now than in the past.
I’m sure that many of these ultra-conservative ideologues believe big business’s lies about climate change. What they don’t understand is that they’ve been sold a bill of goods, they’ve swallowed the bait, they’ve bought into the lies, they believe the propaganda. And they are standing in the way of the crucially important movements to change for the better—for the betterment of their kids and grandkids, for the creatures of the world, and for a world where global warming isn’t spiraling out of control.
WHY IS THE USDA BUYING SUBMACHINE GUNS?
Submachine guns, .40 Cal. S&W, ambidextrous safety, semi-automatic or 2 shot bur[s]t trigger group, Tritium night sights for front and rear, rails for attachment of flashlight (front under fore grip) and scope (top rear), stock-collapsib[l]e or folding, magazine – 30 rd. capacity.”
In May, the USDA’s Office of Inspector General filed a request for these weapons, Charles McFarlane writes. But why exactly do they need them?
According to a USDA press rep, the guns are necessary for self-protection.
“OIG Special Agents regularly conduct undercover operations and surveillance. The types of investigations conducted by OIG Special Agents include criminal activities such as fraud in farm programs; significant thefts of Government property or funds; bribery and extortion; smuggling; and assaults and threats of violence against USDA employees engaged in their official duties,” wrote a USDA spokesperson.
Those seem like legitimate enforcement activities, but still: submachine guns? Not everyone believes the USDA being armed to the teeth is justifiable. On Aug. 2, the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund launched a petition to support a bill that would curb the ability of agencies like the USDA to arm themselves. They see it as overkill and scare tactics, especially for smaller producers.
“What we have seen happen, with the FDA especially, is they have come onto small farms, raw milk producers, and raided the heck out of them with armed agents present,” says Liz Reitzig, co-founder of the Farm Food Freedom Coalition. “Do we really want to have our federal regulatory agencies bring submachine guns onto these family farms with children?”
If USDA investigations are perceived to be potentially violent, then the agents should do what the rest of us do, call the local sheriff.
SMALL FARMS KEY TO REVERSING CLIMATE CHANGE
Small-scale farmers must be the cornerstone of any global strategy to address climate change and hunger.
According to the United Nations, the growing global population will require an increase of 70 percent more food production by 2050. This can only be addressed by shifting current industrial agricultural practices to diversified food systems focused on food security and agroecology.
Fortifying and safeguarding small-scale farmers is the best remedy to address rural unemployment and poverty through participatory and decentralized approaches to managed resources like land and water. A combination of public policies, education efforts and market initiatives will be needed to address climate change and the challenges facing small-scale farmers and the planet.
The UN recognizes that many initiatives like fair trade have positive impacts for rural communities and natural resource management. The Latin American and Caribbean Network of Fair Trade Small Producers’ Organizations (CLAC), the largest network of fair trade farmers in Latin America, is fighting every day to defend family and small-scale agriculture in order to guarantee a more inclusive and equitable rural development.
Addressing the climate crisis requires that we confront the industrial agriculture food system and put small farmers in the driver seat. The time for swift action is now, according to CLAC and the Organic Consumers Association.
MAKE A COMPOST PILE OR LOSE A PILE OF MONEY
Under a new policy, recently passed 9-0 by the Seattle City Council, those who fail to compost “food waste and compostable paper” and throw it in their garbage will be penalized. And by composting it, the City Council means just that—making a compost pile in your backyard.
How do folks who’ve never built and maintained a compost pile do that? Seattle Tilth and the Seattle Public Utilities Commission have put access to the needed info on Seattle Tilth’s website (seattletilth.org). At the site, go to |Adult Classes, click on the list of classes, and click Composting 101.
The new program will come into effect in January, 2015, for commercial establishments and residences. It will be enforced by the Seattle Public Utilities Commission. Seattle has had a similar rule for noncompostable recyclables for nine years.
After receiving two warnings, residents and businesses will be fined $50 for dumpsters and a more modest $1 for waste at single-family homes. Previously, the utilities commission left residents and businesses a note that asked them to compost. If they did not comply, the city refused to collect the garbage.
So, why is Seattle making residents compost? The reason is that the city was not going to meet its self-imposed goal of recycling 60 percent of all waste.
“Compostables are about 30 percent of what is in the garbage and they are the largest target we have to help us reach our goals,” said Timothy Croll, solid waste director of the Utilities Commission, which asked the city council for the change. “Also, composting food waste reduces emissions of methane, which is a strong cause of climate change.” And it sequesters carbon.
Although the Utilities Commission contends inspecting garbage and issuing fines for noncompliance will have minimal costs and save money in the long run by reducing landfill usage, not everyone agrees.
“This program is not free, it costs money and nobody is looking at the real cost of this [program],” said Todd Myers, environment director for the conservative Washington Policy Center.
Myers said the program costs could be put to better use, CNN reported. “There are a lot of ways to spend this money to actually do good for the planet…Seattle is very good at doing things that feel good, but very bad at doing things that do good for the planet,” said Myers.
But Croll said the program is worth it. “Nine years ago, we prohibited recyclable paper and containers from the garbage and this created a significant rise in our recycling rate,” Croll said.
The program is modeled on a similar one instituted in San Francisco in 2009.
Last year, then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg proposed requiring New York residents to compost. New York’s city council only extended the requirement to commercial establishments.
$100 Million to Keep You in the Dark
Between 2012 and mid-2014, Monsanto and the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) successfully blocked GMO labeling legislation in over 30 states, at a price tag of more than $100 million, Dr. Joseph Mercola reports on his website.
These funds were received from the 300+ members of the GMA, which include chemical/pesticide, GE seed, and processed food industries. Together, these industries are working in a symbiotic fashion to grow, subsidize, and manufacture foods that have been clearly linked to growing obesity and chronic disease epidemics.
Keeping up this lawsuit strategy could turn into a major headache for the GMA, which is why it’s pushing a Congressional bill called “The Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2014,” (dubbed “DARK”—Denying Americans the Right to Know Act) that would simply preempt all states from passing GMO labeling laws.
The words, “Contain GMOs,” are required on labels in 64 other countries around the world. It is truthful information, and whether or not an ingredient is genetically engineered falls under truth in labeling.
If you label a product “salmon,” a buyer and seller understand what salmon is. If you splice eel genes into salmon, it is no longer plain, regular salmon. If you continue to mislabel this eel-spliced fish as salmon, the seller is committing fraud.
ORGANIC FLEA AND TICK CONTROL FOR DOGS
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USDA APPROVES 2,4-D HERBICIDE TO KILL SUPERWEEDS
CREATED BY THE USE OF ROUNDUP ON GMO CROPS
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has approved Dow Chemical’s controversial Enlist corn and soybeans, which are genetically engineered to withstand repeated spraying of the herbicide 2,4-D.
2,4-D, produced by Dow Chemical, was a component of “Agent Orange,” the toxic defoliant used in Vietnam. 2,4-D and other herbicides of its class have been independently associated with deadly immune system cancers, Parkinson’s disease, endocrine disruption and reproductive problems.
Dow Chemical developed 2,4-D resistant crops as a solution to so-called “superweeds,” glyphosate (Roundup)-resistant weeds generated by first-generation genetically engineered crops, which were engineered to tolerate higher doses of Roundup. These first-generation crops triggered a massive increase in the use of the herbicide glyphosate, followed by an epidemic of glyphosate-resistant weeds.
USDA admits that approval of 2,4-D-resistant corn and soybeans will lead to an unprecedented increase in agricultural use of 2,4-D herbicide by 2020, from 26 million to as much as 176 million pounds per year.
“The USDA’s environmentally destructive action highlights the need to pass Measure 92 to label these genetically engineered foods,” said Sandeep Kaushik, a spokesperson for Oregon Right to Know, the campaign supporting Measure 92. “The hundreds of thousands of Oregonians who care about the environment and want to live in a sustainable way have a right to know if the foods they are buying in the grocery store are engineered to encourage a huge increase in the use of a damaging herbicide that was used in Agent Orange.”
The USDA’s rubber-stamping of these engineered crops makes labeling of genetically engineered foods even more necessary. Consumers deserve the ability to speak with their pocketbooks and avoid crops that cause serious environmental damage and pose health risks.
PACKING THE NOSB WITH CORPORATE SUITS
One of the nation’s preeminent organic industry watchdogs, The Cornucopia Institute, expressed renewed criticism of the process used for the selection of four new appointees to the USDA’s National Organic Standards Board (NOSB). The NOSB is a 15-member volunteer board composed of various organic stakeholders that makes decisions regarding any synthetic materials allowed for use in organic agriculture and food production and also advises the USDA Secretary on policy.
The selection process was conducted in secrecy despite requests to cast sunlight on the decision making and solicit input from a very engaged community of organic farmers, businesses, and consumers, said Will Fantle, Cornucopia’s Codirector. “We think a more transparent process would ensure the selection of the best and brightest for the various vacancies on the board – instead of, once again, appeasing the organic corporate lobby,” Fantle said.
Cornucopia has been critical of past appointments that were more representative of the agribusiness sector than meeting requirements detailed in the federal law that created the board. As powerful food processing interests have increasingly sought to add synthetic and non-organic materials to foods, the NOSB has become a focal point of controversy over what some deem a watering down of organic integrity.
Under both the Bush and Obama administrations the USDA has violated OFPA by appointing agribusiness executives, instead of those “owning or operating” a certified organic farm, to sit in seats intended to represent farmers. Currently, two of the four “farmers” on the board were employees of large agribusinesses when appointed.
FDA PROPOSES SENSIBLE RULES FOR ORGANIC FARMERS
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced this morning the anxiously anticipated revised language for its new rules implementing the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). The revised language was released in response to the extensive feedback FDA received on key provisions of the proposed rules on produce safety and preventive controls for human food. Both proposed rules would significantly impact organic farmers and handlers across the country.
Since January 2013, the Organic Trade Association’s Food Safety Task Force has worked to raise awareness on the issue throughout the organic sector and develop comments to FDA proposing solutions to align with the organic regulations without a reduction in food safety. While OTA is still in the initial stages of reviewing the revised language, we are encouraged by our early analysis. The proposed changes clearly indicate that FDA listened to the feedback from OTA and other organic producers and handlers across the country, and responded to the unique requirements of the organic system.
The initial proposed regulations required a 9-month minimal application interval for untreated manure that contacts or potentially contacts covered produce—as opposed to National Organic Program (NOP) regulations requiring a 120- or 90-day application interval depending on whether the edible portion has direct or indirect contact with the soil. For manure treated by a composting process consistent with the NOP composting standards, a 45-day minimum application interval is required. Under the NOP regulations, 0 days are required.
This morning’s notice explains that FDA will defer the proposed requirement for untreated manure (9-month minimal interval) and conduct research to determine an appropriate science-based application interval. FDA expects this process will take at least five years. In the meantime, all operations covered under the Produce Safety Rule must follow the established NOP organic regulations for application of raw manure. For properly produced compost, FDA has again aligned with NOP regulations to allow unrestricted use of compost (i.e. 0-day application interval).
OTA is particularly pleased to see these revisions, and applauds the outstanding work of our Food Safety Task Force. Our extensive surveys of organic producers nationwide showed the importance of compost and manure in organic production. FDA’s removal of restrictions on properly made compost corroborates its importance in sustainable approaches to agriculture. We applaud FDA’s recognition that its previous proposed restrictions on unprocessed manure conflict with organic production standards. Today’s proposed acceptance of current organic standards on the use of manure for all agriculture is a step in the right direction.
My Experience with the Demise of the Middle Class
Two years before I was born, my dad bought a brand new house in a pretty development called Norgate in Manhasset, Long Island. He paid $8,000 for it. It was a modest house, about 2,200 square feet, with two and a half baths and three bedrooms on a 5,000-square foot lot—an eighth of an acre.
I enjoyed growing up on that street. The middle class families there were in their child-bearing years, so I had plenty of playmates. My mom didn’t need to work outside the home, what with me and my two siblings to care for, the house to maintain, and the meals to prepare, since my dad’s $12,000 a year salary as an art director for a New York City greeting card company covered our expenses. But since we were just 18 miles from Times Square, and the Long Island Rail Road ran through Manhasset straight into Grand Central Terminal, access to the city, its stores, its restaurants, and its shows were well within reach to keep mom happy and occupied. We had enough money to have a new car every couple of years after the war ended. We were solidly middle class and very happy to be so.
I recently checked the old neighborhood on Google Maps Street View. Everything looks shipshape. The houses are kept up, just as I remember them. It’s such a lovely neighborhood. Then I checked the real estate marketplace. The last time a house on our block sold, it was for a million dollars. Property taxes are now $12,000 a year. There are no middle class families living on that block now, I guarantee. You need to be very, very wealthy to live in the house I grew up in.
Gentrification? No. I don’t think so. It’s the same house. Still 2,200 square feet. Still the same boards and cement. When I lived there, lemme think, what did our neighbors do for a living? Well, Fred was an accountant, Elton was a chemist, Stan was a radio announcer, Jim was in charge of Canada Dry sales in the New York region. John was the captain of a schooner that took tourists on excursions on Long Island Sound. Middle class folks, all. I suspect most of them didn’t earn much more than my dad’s $12,000 a year.
What’s changed is that the percentage of folks who can afford to live in my old neighborhood has shrunk from maybe 60 percent of the population to—what would you say? What percentage of the population today can afford a million dollar house with a heavy property tax bill? Three percent? Two percent?
In other words, the middle class, with its enviable American lifestyle of the 1940s and 1950s, has been gutted, evaporated, extinguished. The money that made America the envy of the world has flowed upstairs to the filthy rich, and then offshore to tax havens in places like the Cayman Islands. Even the modest house in which I grew up is far out of reach of the average American. The average American is now piss poor.
And now here’s a story that’s absolutely true. Not long ago I attended the Napa Valley Wine Auction as a wine journalist. The very wealthy tend to go to this function, and that’s good, because the money raised at the auction goes to support medical clinics for the field workers who tend the vines, harvest the grapes, and work in the wineries.
So I was talking with this guy, and he told me that he just bought $25,000 worth of cult wines to treat a handful of his friends, who he was flying up from southern California for a party. I allowed how that was mighty nice of him, and very extravagant.
He looked at me. And this is what he said: “Look, I have several houses around the world, I have the big boat, I have my own private jet, I have the expensive cars, and every month, millions of dollars go into my bank account. Do you honestly think I give a shit about $25,000 for wine to treat my friends? Get real.”
I liked it better when we were all just nice folks living an idyllic life in the middle class suburbs of Long Island.
WHY THE REPUBLICAN PARTY IS UNAMERICAN
Anyone who thinks clearly about the problems in this country knows that the influx of millions of dollars of partisan money (can you say Koch?) into our political system is corrupting it. That one major reason why Congress is so feckless when it comes to passing environmentally-smart laws, why our regulatory agencies don’t regulate toxic agricultural chemicals, why Big Business is allowed to clank along its destructive way despite the pleas of the citizenry. Everyone knows that Congress is bought and sold by corporate America, with the buying and selling given the full support of the judicial branch of the Federal government with the Citizens United Supreme Court decision.
A move has been underway to support a Constitutional amendment that would overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which allows unlimited money into the political system.
Yet on September 11—another sad day in American history–every Republican Senator in the U.S. Congress voted against allowing the Senate to vote on that amendment, thus preventing the Constitutional amendment to get money out of politics to move forward.
I’d like to hear some journalists ask the GOP Congressional leadership what its reasoning is. So far I haven’t heard any explanations. But let me guess. The reason is that right wing partisan money flows to the conservative members of Congress, and they vote this way not to protect American democracy, but to protect the right of their sugar daddies to poison the political system in their favor.
DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE ON THE INTERNET
It used to be that the ugly side of human nature, when it was portrayed in our arts and media, was done with artfulness: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Long Day’s Journey into Night, Richard III, and so on. The art allowed us to look at the down side of human nature and achieve a catharsis. The art redeemed the ugliness.
The internet, however, throws human nature at us in all its unrelieved ugliness, its puerile and disgusting stupidity, its racism, sexism, and sheer hatefulness. You don’t have to delve very deeply into the web to stumble across the most repulsive aspects of the human psyche.
It remains to be seen what holding up a mirror to unrelieved human ugliness and human nobility—devils and angels and everything in between—will create.
Perhaps it will allow the human race to work on overcoming the worst aspects of our nature, now that they are on full display. Or maybe it will be like coming across a bad auto wreck on the highway and not being able to look away. We’ll have to wait and see. The internet is still in its infancy, but it’s a new world.
GENERAL MILLS BUYS ANNIE’S FOR $840 MILLION
A number of people have asked me what I think about General Mills’ purchase of Annie’s organic foods for $840 million. Here’s my take on it:
General Mills is obviously trying to get a piece of the $40 billion organic market by buying its way in. I think General Mills would have been better advised to spend that $840 million to develop a new line of truly organic foods that could be USDA Certified and designed to give us organic consumers exactly what we’re looking for.
What we’re looking for is NOT an Annie’s whose profits go back to General Mills, one of the biggest corporations in the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the trade organization that has spent lavishly and illegally on lying to people about the terrible consequences of labeling foods that contain GMO crops.
My bottom line: when the fox buys the henhouse, the chickens are not long for this world.
Pro-GMO Propaganda Spending Goes through the Roof
The Organic Consumers Association reports that Frankenfood lobbyists spent a record-breaking $27 million in the first half of this year—nearly triple what they spent last year—to stop state GMO labeling campaigns. And that doesn’t include the unprecedented millions Monsanto, Dow, Bayer and others have spent this year on false advertising. The following is from Ronnie Cummings of OCA:
What happens in November, in Oregon and Colorado, and early next year in Maine and other states, could make or break the anti-GMO movement in this country, and Monsanto and Big Food know it.
The Pesticide Purveyors and Junk Food Giants have already made their first million-dollar-plus “smoke-and-mirrors” ad buy in Oregon. Their massive media campaign is likely to be full of the usual lies about how labeling will raise food prices, and how GMO foods are “proven” safe.
It will look much like the campaigns they ran in California and Washington State, where they narrowly defeated labeling initiatives in 2012 and 2013.
Only worse. Because this time, the stakes are even higher.
The corporations that poison our food and planet are desperate to defeat state labeling initiatives in Oregon and Colorado—because they know if they lose either of these two state battles, they lose the state labeling laws war.
Why? Because Congress is not likely to pass the industry-sponsored DARK (Deny Americans the Right to Know) ACT, a bill to preempt state labeling laws, if Oregon and Colorado join Vermont, Maine and Connecticut in passing GMO labeling laws.
Even worse for Monsanto, once state laws mandating the labeling of GMOs in our food are the norm, and consumers get a clearer picture of just how prevalent GMOs are in our food, demand for organic foods will skyrocket. It will be the beginning of the end of Monsanto’s domination of our food supply.
The laws in Maine and Connecticut don’t yet pose a threat to Monsanto and Big Food. Trigger clauses in those laws mean that they won’t take effect unless multiple other states pass labeling requirements. So far only the Vermont law, passed in May, threatens to unravel Monsanto’s Great GMO Smoke and Mirrors Campaign. Which is why industry, led by the Grocery Manufacturers Association, has filed a lawsuit to try to overturn Vermont’s law.
But industry can’t sue every state in the nation. If voters pass GMO labeling laws in Oregon and Colorado in November, Monsanto will need more than smoke and mirrors to perpetuate its crimes against consumers, farmers and the environment.
We know, from years of fighting this battle that our government is going to protect industry profits. Not your health. This has always been a battle fought by the grassroots. It’s up to us to win it. However long it takes.
Can you help us raise $250,000 by September 15, to support Oregon, Colorado and other state labeling campaigns? Your donation will help us counter Monsanto’s massive lobbying and disinformation campaigns in Congress and the mass media. OCA is asking for donations to help spread the truth about GMOs and expose Monsanto’s lies. To make a donation, visit this URL:
ORGANIC MILK COWS MAKE EXTRA GOOD BEEF
What happens to organically-raised and fed milk cows after their milking years are over? Lisa Mattson, who does videography and PR for Jordan Winery in Healdsburg, California, provides the answer in this article, posted on Jordan’s online blog, about her recent visit to Mindul Meats. Lisa writes:
You’ve probably heard of GMO-free milk but GMO-free beef? The two share a very symbiotic relationship here in Northern California, where thousands of acres are home to dairy cows.
Mindful Meats is a progressive company that brings local, organic, non-GMO, pasture-raised meat to chefs. In 2013, the start-up became the first non-GMO Project Verified beef company in the United States. How did they do it? They partnered with organic dairies throughout Sonoma and Marin counties. Dairy farmers typically sell their cows once their milking life is over (around four years old, surprisingly).
In the past, there wasn’t an artisanal beef company willing to purchase the animals; they’d go to more commercial processors for fast-food chains or corporate groceries. Mindful Meats has changed the marketplace in just two years.
Our Executive Chef Todd Knoll discovered Mindful Meats last summer while doing menu development research for the Jordan Estate Tour & Tasting and was excited about its philosophy. “The key was whether or not the meat could be as delicious as it was local and sustainable.”
Mindful Meats delivered. It has been Chef Knoll’s source for his miso-glazed beef served on the Estate Tour & Tasting excursion since the launch last fall. “We have found that a life of good care, idyllic pastoral surroundings and organic feed yields a beef of character and flavor unmatched by the conventional lot system,” Chef Knoll says.
Mindful Meats Cofounder Claire Herminjard runs the company under the guiding principle that superior beef begins with well-cared-for animals and respect for the land. “We are providing the purest source of beef we can find,” Herminjard says. “The quality of our cows’ lives is very important to us and to our farmers.”
This summer, Chef Knoll invited me to join him for Mindful Meats first farm tour, hosted for Bay Area customers. Held at Tresch Family Dairy west of Petaluma in Sonoma County, the event gave chefs an opportunity to learn more about non-GMO testing and the benefits of converting dairy cows to beef cattle, while exploring the ranch and enjoying a lunch showcasing local cheeses, creams, fruit, vegetables and Mindful Meats brisket.
Our hosts were Herminjard and farm owner Kathy Tresch. Herminjard isn’t your typical CEO, and definitely not the garden-variety stereotype of a farmer. She’s 31 years old with an ever-present smile and rosy cheeks—a natural beauty who seems to have found her home in T-shirts, jeans and boots on dairy farms after years in the tech industry.
Tresch is an equally kind, naturally pretty woman in her fifties with a passion for Sonoma County farming and preserving local land for agriculture and conservation. She led guests on a driving tour of their more than 2,000-acre ranch where about 900 Holstein milking cows reside in the pastures surrounding the family home. (The Treschs’ three children have all joined the business in recent years.) They are deeply connected with their land and started with organic farming in 1995. The following year, their cows became the second certified organic herd in the California.
“We were already operating in a more organic protocol even when we were a conventional dairy,” Tresch said. “Having a gentle touch on the land and feeding our cows a natural diet was always important to us.”
According to the University of California at Davis Extension, there were more than 150 dairies in the Sonoma/Marin area prior to the 1980s, many of which were small, family farms, but today only about 90 are left. Why? Prices for non-organic milk are set by the California Department of Food and Agriculture, and according to Tresch, “Small dairies could barely pay the bills with the money earned from the milk.”
To help solve the economic problems family dairies were confronted with, Albert Straus, a second-generation dairy farmer, took a radical step: He converted the family farm to organic in 1994 and founded Straus Family Creamery, the first 100% certified organic creamery in the country, creating the first field-to-bottle infrastructure for organic milk. Going organic saved the remaining farms from going out of business, as organic milk commands a much higher price—and those prices are set by the creamery, not the state government. As of 2013, 71% of dairies in Marin and 63% in Sonoma are certified organic and more are making the transition.
While overlooking Tresch’s ranch from a golden hilltop, one chef on the tour asked Kathy how she felt about seeing her cows go from milk to beef cows.
“The animals are like family to us,” Tresch said, “but we can’t keep them all their entire lives. Claire looks every cow in the eye and says ‘thank you,’ and that means a lot to me.”
Mindful Meats sees its role as increasing people’s access and connection to organically, sustainably raised meat through a fair and transparent system. Their cows spend their lives grazing the floral grasses of Marin and Sonoma counties, about 45 minutes southwest of Jordan Winery. They live an average of five years on pastures as dairy cows, with more than 80 percent of their diet coming from pasture grass. (Approximately 20 percent of their diet is balanced throughout their lifetime with organic silage, alfalfa and grains.)
“We believe healthy soil, healthy grass, and a healthy herd lead to a healthy planet and to healthy food,” Herminjard said. “It’s been difficult for many chefs and consumers to find animals that were sustainably raised and respectably harvested. We are changing that.”
THE HEIRLOOM EXPO IS SEPTEMBER 9 – 11
The National Heirloom Exposition will be held September 9, 10, and 11, 2014, at
the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa, California. The Expo is a
not-for-profit event centered on the pure food movement, heirloom vegetables,
and anti-GMO activism. Last year over 18,000 people from around the country
and beyond visited the Expo. With more than 100 speakers and 300 natural food
vendors, the event was the largest gathering of its kind ever, giving it the sobriquet
of the “World’s Fair of Pure Food.”
This year’s keynote speaker is author and anti-GMO activist Jeffrey Smith, who’ll
be speaking at 7 p.m. on Wednesday the 10th in the Fairgrounds’ main hall. His
topic is, “Protecting Future Generations from GMOs—Now!” Admission is $10
for one day, $25 for all three days. Children 17 and younger are free. The Expo
will be open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. all three days.
For more information, visit www.theheirloomexpo.com.
Are We Committing Ecocide?
Nassim Nicholas Taleb is a scholar, statistician, Wall Street analyst, and professor at New York University, who predicted the Great Recession of 2008 by pointing out that commonly used risk models were wrong.
Now his analysis of our use of genetically modified organisms shows that GMOs could cause “an irreversible termination of life at some scale, which could be the planet,” according to the Alliance for Natural Health USA. Taleb and his two co-authors argue that calling the GMO approach “scientific” betrays “a very poor—indeed warped—understanding of probabilistic payoffs and risk management.”
Taleb believes GMOs fall squarely under the rule that we should always err on the side of caution if something is really dangerous. This is not just because of potential harm to the consumer, but because of systemic risk to the system, which in this case is the ecosystem that supports all life on the planet:
Top-down modifications to the system (through GMOs) are categorically and statistically different from bottom-up ones (regular farming, progressive tinkering with crops, etc.). There is no comparison between the tinkering of selective breeding and the top-down engineering of arbitrarily taking a gene from an organism and putting it into another.
The interdependence of all things in nature, Taleb points out, dramatically amplifies risks that may initially seem small when studied in isolation. Tiny genetic errors on the local scale could cause considerable—and even irreversible—environmental damage when the local is exported to the global. The lack of understanding of basic statistical principles, he says, is what leads GMO supporters astray:
“The interdependence of components [in nature] lead[s] to aggregate variations becoming much more severe than individual ones….Whether components are independent or interdependent matters a lot to systemic disasters such as pandemics or generalized crises. The interdependence increases the probability of ruin, to the point of certainty.”
The problem is that the general public, and indeed most policy analysts, are ill-equipped to understand the statistical mathematics of risk. But as Brian Stoffel explains in an article on Taleb’s research, we can assume that each genetically engineered seed carries a risk—albeit a very tiny risk—that in the intricately interdependent web of nature, the GMO seed might somehow eventually lead to a catastrophic breakdown of the ecosystem we rely on for life. Let’s call it a 0.1 percent chance, just for the sake of illustration. All by itself, that risk seems totally acceptable. But with each new seed that’s developed, the risk gets greater and greater, and over time, we could hit the ecocide barrier.
Critics say, “But risk is inherent in everything. We can’t just be paralyzed by fear and not progress!” Taleb responds that the risk of “generalized human extinction” is absolutely not “inherent in everything.” That’s because most consequences are localized, not systemic. And progress can be made using bottom-up techniques that have worked for eons.
While quite a few countries have banned GMOs because of their risk to human health and the environment, the US lags behind. Politicians complain that we don’t have the full picture on GMOs and therefore shouldn’t ban them—but that’s because of the lack of human safety studies being performed on GMOs in the US, and because biotech companies keep a lot of their data proprietary; that is, concealed from the public. Consider the implications of keeping it secret: if the research finds GMOs to be harmless, wouldn’t that be something you’d want to shout from the rooftops, if you were Monsanto?
On November 4, powerHouse publishers of Brooklyn will publish Organic, a magnificent book containing incredible photos of dozens of Hudson Valley farmers and chefs who are determinedly organic. Each spread of the book features a left-hand page written by the farmer or the chef as to how they turned organic and why, and what they’re doing with it. Each right-hand page is a searingly honest photo of the farmer or chef that looks like it’s right out of the late 19th Century.
This book will inspire more than one reader to become a farmer or work with organic produce. These are the dedicated souls who will not compromise with agribusiness. The photos show how a lifetime of farming will weather someone, but also toughen them, set their jaw, focus their principles, and make them human.
As someone who has worked as an organic gardener and organic gardening and farming communicator for 50 years, I say this is the best book I’ve seen about what organics is really all about. Giving these people a voice, their own page, to explain themselves, is a brilliant idea and they come across like the hard-working and earth-sustaining folks they are.
These are the folks with the dirt on their hands, their hands in the soil, and the spirit they invest in their farms that shows up in real, honest, clean, and nutritious food. No agribusiness bullshit here. No toxic chemicals with these guys and gals. They are the salt of the earth, and the salt has its savor intact. What a great book. Look for it.
BIG FOOD TO DIVULGE CHEMICAL SAFETY DATA
The Grocery Manufacturers Association, which represents America’s biggest food companies, has announced a major new initiative that will give the Food and Drug Administration access to a large database of safety information for chemicals used in processed foods, from Twinkies to almond milk.
Pressure has been building on FDA for years to look more closely at food chemicals, which are mostly self-approved by food companies relying on publicly available science and panels of industry-paid experts. But the agency hasn’t gotten around to it.
“It’s certainly a step forward” said Tom Neltner, a health scientists for the Natural Resources Defense Council, who was briefed on the plan. Neltner has been among the most vocal critics of the current approach to determining the safety of food ingredients, publishing several studies on the issue in the past few years.
“It’s good to see them acknowledge some of the problems with the system and take some positive steps forward,” said Neltner. “We’re glad to see them making that move.”
“We think this is a big step forward for the industry,” said Leon Bruner, executive vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs at the Grocery Manufacturers. “We’re going to communicate to the world that we’re taking the lead on this.”
NRDC said it will be watching closely to see how the effort is rolled out. “The proof will be in the pudding,” according to Neltner.
The move comes after years and years of stalling and obfuscation of safety data by food processors who have hidden behind the concept of proprietary information regarding chemicals in food. Perhaps the companies in the Grocery Manufacturers’ Association—the big companies like Coca-Cola, Nestle, and so forth—realize that the public is getting nervous about chemicals in food, and that’s why the organic food industry has grown so quickly into a $40 billion-plus industry. This could be a PR move to assure consumers that conventional food is safe and keep them from jumping ship and reaching the organic land.
Less likely is that the big food processors realize they haven’t done their due diligence on the 10,000 chemicals they use in their foods and haven’t been forthcoming about their research data, and in a come-to-Jesus moment, have suddenly realized they must clean up their products.
But not to be cynical. As Mr. Neltner of the NRDC says, “The proof will be in the pudding.” I’m betting that pudding will still be chockablock with chemicals, even if we finally get to know what they are
GUESS WHO’S JUST THRILLED WITH GMOS?
In her June 25 keynote address to the BIO International Convention in San Diego, Hillary Clinton voiced strong support for genetic engineering and genetically engineered crops, according to the Organic Consumers Association.
She earned a standing ovation that day by stating that the biotech industry suffers from a public perception problem and that it just needs “a better vocabulary” in order to persuade GMO skeptics who don’t understand “the facts” about genetic engineering.
And then Hillary proceeded to get the facts wrong.
She talked about how she went around Africa promoting drought resistant seeds, and how she had to overcome farmers’ skepticism. But the drought resistant seeds she was talking about were developed using standard crossbreeding techniques, not genetic engineering.
Hillary makes the same mistake as many other apologists for GMOs—she confuses selective breeding through sexual reproduction, where nature controls the way the plants’ genes are shuffled, with genetic engineering, which actually opens up the genetic control panel and removes genes or imports them from other creatures, such as frog genes put into potatoes, just to posit an example. Nature refuses to let frogs cross with potatoes for a very good reason. Genetic engineering presupposes that humans are smarter than nature. If only Nature had let some of those frog genes into potatoes, my oh my, wouldn’t that make for tasty spuds.
There is one drought resistant GMO seed out there, a GMO corn created by Monsanto, but it has proven to impart only very modest drought resistance. After the corn was fed to test animals and inflammations and lesions developed throughout their bodies, work on the corn stopped.
The fact is that Hillary Clinton is, and has been for quite a while, in the pocket of Monsanto and the Biotech industry. As far as I’m concerned, her position is a total deal breaker. If she favors Monsanto over human health, that tells me volumes about how corporatist transgressions against citizens, the food supply, and the health of the earth will trump common sense under a Hillary presidency.
I’d like to see a candidate tell the truth for once instead of scolding Americans for being too ignorant of science to recognize the advantages of GMOs—when she obviously doesn’t know the difference between selective breeding and genetic engineering. How ignorant is that? And how arrogant.
PEOPLE’S CLIMATE MARCH IN NYC SEPTEMBER 21
In a show of solidarity for the role organic agriculture can play in reversing climate change, Vandana Shiva will march with Organic Consumer Association’s “Cook Organic, Not the Planet” contingent in the People’s Climate March, on September 21, 2014, in New York City.
Organizers of the People’s Climate March predict this could be the biggest action on climate the world’s ever seen. That’s exciting—but too often, the climate change message focuses exclusively on reducing fossil fuel emissions. With Vandana’s help, OCA will bring our message to the march—that organic, regenerative agriculture has the potential to actually reverse global warming. And unless we acknowledge—and act—on that strategy, we will not turn the sinking global warming ship around in time.
According to a recent study by the Rodale Institute, regenerative agriculture, if practiced globally, has the potential to sequester 100 percent of current, annual carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.
Where do consumers fit into the picture? By supporting organics—for our own health and the health of our entire ecosystem.
The OCA’s “Cook Organic Not the Planet” will join up with the Food Justice contingent for the Sunday, September 21, march in New York. Contact OCA’s Alexis Baden-Mayer (firstname.lastname@example.org) for details on how you can march with OCA and Vandana Shiva.
Why Organic Food Production Is Imperative for Human Survival
When I was born, the human population of the world was 2.3 billion people. Today it’s about 7 billion, and heading for an estimated 11.5 billion by the end of this century.
Not only are our sheer numbers overloading the carrying capacity of the earth, but these burgeoning populations all want to live the way people in the developed world live: nice cars, meat for dinner, heated homes and swimming pools—the good life. And who can blame them?
But as we’ve learned—or should have learned—biodiversity is the foundation of health, whether you’re talking about the human biome or the ecologies of earth’s creatures. Yet we are reducing biodiversity today in one of the world’s great extinction events.
Because we’ve been using the atmosphere as a dump for our carbon waste since the beginning of the industrial revolution, we have caused global warming. The oceans are huge sinks of cold temperatures, and through the natural tendency of materials to even out their temperatures, have soaked up the excess heat, changing the world’s climate, destroying much of the earth’s coral reefs, and damaging the oceanic ecosystems.
Not only that, we have overharvested the oceans until today, most of the big fish are gone and one third of the world’s ocean fisheries are in collapse. On land, conventional agriculture has depleted our soils, causing soil erosion on a grand scale. Soluble chemical fertilizers run off into ground waters, lakes, and rivers, causing toxic algae blooms such as recently poisoned Toledo Ohio’s city water.
Pesticides are killing our pollinators. Herbicides are creating superweeds and interfering with the normal development of our children by disrupting their mothers’ and their endocrine systems. And in the worst insult to nature ever, our scientists are switching genes between not only species, but genera, families, and even orders.
Meanwhile, if I may be allowed to continue this jeremiad for a few more sentences, rapacious capitalism does its best to ignore the environmental and psychological damage to our life support systems and the health of our ecosystems. A corrupt political system works not for the people or the health of the earth, but for the highest bidders—the big corporations and their obscenely overpaid bosses. And so we have fracking that destroys clean water underground. Mountaintop removal to get at fossil fuel coal. Unsustainable agriculture. Confined animal feeding operations that torment our farm animals. GMOs. All blithely marching ahead into oblivion.
It has to stop. I mean, really. And the sooner the better.
It would be easy to throw up our hands and proclaim that the system is too far gone. The cats will never give up their fat. Corporations are not going to change into benevolent providers of sustainable products that help everyone. Our politicians will never legislate in the public interest—and by public, I mean not only people but the whole diversity of the biological world. But we can’t give up. We have to fight to change things. There’s not only much at stake—there’s everything at stake.
And there is hope. You are reading this blog about organic food because you believe that organic food is healthy food and organic farms are good for the environment. And you’re right; it is and they are. For just one example, if all farming on earth were organic, enough carbon would be sequestered in the soil to reduce atmospheric greenhouse gas to levels that would eventually reverse global warming.
Food is one big component of our life support systems on this world. No food, no us. Organic food production is sustainable forever, because it recycles nutrients in a safe and sane manner. It protects the soil. It doesn’t go in for wholesale slaughter of the participants in the wild ecosystems.
But it is just one of many components of our life support system. We also need clean water. An atmosphere that is not polluted. Power that is generated from renewable resources like sunlight and geothermal and hydropower. We need jobs that contribute to the welfare of the world—human and otherwise. And so we need businesses that contribute to the welfare of the world rather than destroying it. And we need wilderness, too. As Henry David Thoreau wrote, “In wildness is the preservation of the world.” (That’s the correct quote, despite his being often misquoted on this topic.) And that’s because, as he saw in 1857 in his transcendental majesty, biodiversity is the foundation of health, and wildness—a climax ecosystem, we might say—is the definition of maximum biodiversity.
So organic food choices are not just nice. They are critical. Organics represents the beginning of the way we change the world. Things are slowly changing—electric cars are here. Solar power is gaining momentum. Methods of sequestering and recycling carbon are being found. After all, carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen make hydrocarbon fuel, easily manufactured from the air from carbon dioxide and water plus sunlight as the driving force, if we have the will to do it. Plants have been doing it since just about forever. We’re smarter than plants, aren’t we?
VANDANA SHIVA’S TIMELY CRUSADE FOR AN ORGANIC WORLD
The following three paragraphs were written by Michael Specter for The New Yorker magazine. The full story can be accessed at http://readersupportednews.org/opinion2/271-38/25394-in-india-a-crusade-against-genetically-modified-crops
Early this spring, the Indian environmentalist Vandana Shiva led an unusual pilgrimage across southern Europe. Beginning in Greece, with the international Pan-Hellenic Exchange of Local Seed Varieties Festival, which celebrated the virtues of traditional agriculture, Shiva and an entourage of followers crossed the Adriatic and travelled by bus up the boot of Italy to Florence, where she spoke at the Seed, Food and Earth Democracy Festival. After a short planning meeting in Genoa, the caravan rolled on to the South of France, ending in Le Mas d’Azil, just in time to celebrate International Days of the Seed.
Shiva’s fiery opposition to globalization and to the use of genetically modified crops has made her a hero to anti-G.M.O. activists everywhere. The purpose of the trip through Europe, she had told me a few weeks earlier, was to focus attention there on “the voices of those who want their agriculture to be free of poison and G.M.O.s.” At each stop, Shiva delivered a message that she has honed for nearly three decades: by engineering, patenting, and transforming seeds into costly packets of intellectual property, multinational corporations such as Monsanto, with considerable assistance from the World Bank, the World Trade Organization, the United States government, and even philanthropies like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, are attempting to impose “food totalitarianism” on the world. She describes the fight against agricultural biotechnology as a global war against a few giant seed companies on behalf of the billions of farmers who depend on what they themselves grow to survive. Shiva contends that nothing less than the future of humanity rides on the outcome.
“There are two trends,” she told the crowd that had gathered in Piazza Santissima Annunziata, in Florence, for the seed fair. “One: a trend of diversity, democracy, freedom, joy, culture—people celebrating their lives.” She paused to let silence fill the square. “And the other: monocultures, deadness. Everyone depressed. Everyone on Prozac. More and more young people unemployed. We don’t want that world of death.” The audience, a mixture of people attending the festival and tourists on their way to the Duomo, stood transfixed. Shiva, dressed in a burgundy sari and a shawl the color of rust, was a formidable sight. “We would have no hunger in the world if the seed was in the hands of the farmers and gardeners and the land was in the hands of the farmers,” she said. “They want to take that away.”
USDA CLIPS WINGS OF MISLEADING ORGANIC MARKETERS
The USDA has announced that it intends to rein-in misleading language on organic packaging that all too often has been suspected of confusing consumers, according to The Cornucopia Institute.
Specifically, the agency addressed companies marketing food products that have the word “organic” or “organics” in their brand-name.
“Unless a food product is certified organic it cannot display, overtly, the word ‘organic’ on the front panel of the product,” said Mark A. Kastel, co-director at The Cornucopia Institute, an organic industry watchdog.
Some companies, such as Newman’s Own Organics, have been selling products that do not qualify for the use of the word organic on the front panel and are getting away with misleading messaging to consumers because they have used the word organic in their trade name.
As an example, when Cornucopia filed its original complaint, Newman’s ginger cookies and other products the company markets had labels such as “made with organic wheat and sugar,” but many of the more expensive ingredients were not in fact organic.
“When products qualify for the made with organic label, it means they have a minimum of 70 percent organic content,” stated Kastel. “Newman’s Own Organics ginger cookies didn’t even contain organic ginger when we did our initial investigation in 2010. That’s what I call misleading!”
A small percentage of products under the Newman’s Own Organics name actually are certified organic. Most are manufactured with 70 percent organic ingredients and qualify for the “made with organic” labeling category.
“Other brands of organic cookies that have to compete on store shelves with Newman’s, such as Country Choice, go to the effort and expense to procure organic ginger and all other available organic ingredients, and present a product of true integrity to the consuming public,” said Kastel.
In an e-mail to the organic industry, the USDA’s National Organic Program explained the basis of their new approach: “The policy clarification is needed to provide fairness and equity in label use throughout the organic industry and to satisfy consumer expectations for organic products.”
“We applaud the USDA for making this ruling, and instructions to organic certifiers, in tightening up the labeling requirements that will protect ethical industry participants and prevent consumers from being misled when they are cruising the grocery aisles,” Kastel added.
VOTING ANALYSIS SHOWS HOW USDA HAS COMPROMISED THE NOSB
A comprehensive voting analysis of members of the National Organic Standards Board, an expert body formed by Congress to insulate the governance of the industry from undue corporate influence, clearly illustrates how illegal appointments to the board by current and past USDA Secretaries have subverted congressional intent.
The study, produced by The Cornucopia Institute, a Wisconsin-based farm policy research group, analyzed the voting record of each individual board member over the past five years, including corporate representatives who were placed on the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), filling seats that were specifically set aside for farmers and other independent organic industry stakeholders.
“In recent years, just as with the polarized U.S. Supreme Court, many critical issues were decided by one-vote margins,” said Mark A. Kastel, Codirector and Senior Farm Policy Analyst at Cornucopia. “Almost universally, the NOSB is split along ideological lines (corporate agribusiness versus farmers and consumers) on whether to allow controversial synthetic and non-organic additives in organic food or weak animal husbandry standards utilizing the ‘factory farm’ production model of organic meat, eggs and dairy products.”
Cornucopia’s analysis comes two years after the policy group released a white paper entitled The Organic Watergate. That report documented how a number of risky and/or gimmicky synthetic or non-organic materials were approved for use in organics. It highlighted a couple of board members, appointed as “farmers,” who did not meet the intent and legal qualifications that Congress had set out for composition of the board.
“We have two members of the current board, both sitting in seats that Congress had designated for someone who must ‘own or operate an organic farming operation’ but who were actually agribusiness employees when appointed to the five-year term on the NOSB,” said Kastel.
Many organic farming pioneers would never have supported the USDA overseeing the industry they founded if Congress hadn’t agreed to create a strong NOSB as a defense against business as usual in Washington, an all-too-common cozy working relationship between agribusiness and the USDA.
Barry Flamm, immediate past chair of the NOSB, observed, “I hope the Cornucopia analysis of voting records, which will continue going forward, will forewarn NOSB members that their voting behavior will be closely scrutinized and, if they are employees of corporations or certifiers with economic interests, that some of their customers will also be judging their service on the board as well.”
Learn more at http://www.cornucopia.org/nosb-voting-scorecard/ . A scorecard that contains all of the votes, including the uncontested votes, can also be found at: http://www.cornucopia.org/NOSB-Scorecard-all-votes.pdf
WINE AFICIONADOS TAKE NOTE OF THIS NEW WINE GLASS
I was lucky enough recently to run across a wineglass that’s perfect for any kind of wine: white, red, sparkling, dessert. That’s because of its design. It has a wide bowl at the bottom that swoops up to a closed-in top that presents the wine’s aroma to the nose. The glass is very thin and the glass almost weightless—very elegant. The design is gorgeous as well as functional.
I opened a bottle of Chateauneuf du Pape to try out the glass. I was immediately struck by how the design of the glass focused the aroma of the wine on my nose. Turns out the wine was very profound, especially the nose of pipe tobacco, caramel, apple cider, black cherries, and dried herbs, aspects that became easily apparent due to the ability of the glass to focus the aroma.
I must say that this glass has now become my go-to glass whenever I’m drinking a wine special enough to deserve it. It’s hand-made in Austria. You can check it out at www.winegls.com.
USDA CLOSER TO APPROVING 2,4-D-GLYPHOSATE HERBICIDE
On August 6, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), over the objections of 50 members of Congress, and more than 500,000 citizens, scientists, farmers and health professionals, moved one step closer to approving Dow’s new “Agent Orange” brand GMO soy and corn crops, the Organic Consumers Association reports.
The crops are engineered to withstand massive doses of Enlist Duo herbicide, concocted from a combination of 2,4-D (used to make Agent Orange defoliant that sickened thousands during the Vietnam War) and glyphosate, the key ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup.
The USDA has admitted that approval of Dow’s new crops will cause the use of 2,4-D to skyrocket from 26 million pounds to 176 million pounds. Scientists predict worse.
Dow’s 2,4-D is already the seventh largest source of dioxin in the U.S. environment. It’s been linked to a host of ills, including birth defects, infertility, allergies, Parkinson’s disease, endocrine disruption and cancer. It’s unconscionable that the USDA would approve these crops. Yet the agency is less than 18 days away from doing just that unless we stop it. You can take action at http://salsa3.salsalabs.com/o/50865/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=14698
Look Out Kids–They Keep It All Hid
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is backing down from a disclosure rule that would have provided state regulators with critical information about genetically modified organisms, Tom Devaney reports in the July 17 edition of The Hill.
Last year, the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service proposed sharing information with state regulators about genetically engineered organisms that are released in their jurisdictions. But the USDA now has withdrawn the rule because it said it found “potential vulnerabilities” that would have put farmers’ businesses at risk.
“We have decided to withdraw the proposed rule to ensure that our ability to protect confidential business information from disclosure is maintained,” the USDA wrote in the Federal Register.
Farmers who want to use GMOs must register with the USDA and apply for permits. The disclosure rule would have allowed USDA to provide state regulators with this information. The information farmers provide to the USDA is supposed to remain confidential, but if the agency shares it with state regulators, that could mean the information becomes public because states and municipalities represent “the public” the info thus becomes subject to the Freedom of Information Act.
So let me get this straight. If a farmer wants to grow GMO crops or use other genetically modified organisms on his or her farm, a permit is needed. So the Federal government (the USDA) can know who’s using GMOs of the farm, but states and municipalities can’t know because if the USDA shared the information, someone from the general public might file a Freedom of Information Request and find out who in their neighborhood is growing or using GMOs. And that would then harm the farmers’ businesses and violate their right to operate their GMO farms in secret.
So this means that not only are millions of dollars being spent by the biotech giants like Monsanto to prevent the public from knowing whether or not GMOs are in their food, but the Feds are keeping knowledge of who is growing and using GMOs on the farms from the public as well. It’s all hidden. It’s all secret. After all, if you knew GMOs were in your food, you might refuse to buy that food and that might harm the business of the food processors. And if you knew your local farmer was using GMOs on his farm, you might avoid his products or perhaps march on his farm with torches and pitchforks.
By extension, if you knew the toxic effects of Roundup and other chemicals in American food products, you might eat organic. Maybe that’s why the Food and Drug Administration has tested just a handful of chemicals for toxicity out of the tens of thousands allowed in the production of American foods and other products.
You see, the Feds are keeping a careful watch on the safety of our food system—but it’s the safety of the bottom lines of Big Ag, Big Chem, and Big Biotech that is being protected. You’ll eat your daily poisons and you’ll like them, dammit. Or you would if you knew where they were found and who’s using them. And what do these corporations think about us poor rubes who are kept in the dark and are demanding better regulation and oversight of the safety of our food supply? They say we want to institute “the nanny state.”
They criticize our calls for healthy food as “the nanny state” even as they are coddling their corporate money machines. If there’s a nanny state in America, it’s not found among the masses, who are drowning in debt and whose incomes are evaporating. It’s in the obscene profits of the corporations and the bloated salaries of the one percenters.
Just when did our government go over to the dark side, anyway? Remember when you were a kid and the cops and firemen were the good guys? Maybe that was a pipe dream. It used to be that big city cops would slap people around in some back room at the stationhouse. Or in prisons where the victims couldn’t complain.
But now it’s institutionalized and militarized. You’ve seen the pictures of the killer cops in Ferguson, Missouri—in full battle gear, with sophisticated battlefield weapons, riding around in armored personnel carriers, firing tear gas and rubber bullets at the crowds of protestors. When did the cops come out of the back rooms of the stationhouse and start being the military used to suppress and oppress the people?
Seems to me that Ferguson and the GMO situation have a lot in common. Lincoln spoke of a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. I’d say that right now, it looks like we have a government of the big shots, by the military, and for the corporations.
So keep eating organic. It’s one good way to stand on the right side of history.
If Corporations Are People, Why Isn’t Monsanto on Trial for Murder?
The Supreme Court has ruled that corporations are people, that they have Constitutional rights just like flesh and blood people, and even that the religious convictions of their owners trump the laws passed by Congress guaranteeing women proper health care. It’s so cool to know that my religious convictions exempt me from the laws of our country. I guess this is what’s meant by freedom.
I was pleased to see that the Satanists have said that their religious beliefs include preventing women seeking abortions from having to endure public slut shaming by rightwing Christians, and pegging their stance to the Hobby Lobby decision. Hey, if Jesus freaks can get Supreme Court backing, why not devil worshippers? Fair is fair.
So let’s agree, for the sake of argument, that corporations are just like flesh and blood people, entitled to equal protection of the law. Aren’t they then also required to abide by the law? Or do they get a free pass? How about those financial criminals at Goldman Sachs—you know, the guys who put together all those worthless sub-prime mortgage-backed securities and sold them at top prices to rubes who believed their assertions that the securities were as good as gold? How come they don’t get prosecuted? If I sold you a deed to the Brooklyn Bridge, the law would call me a con man and I’d be in the pokey plenty quick.
And how about Monsanto? There’s a ton of evidence from all around the world that Roundup herbicide, when used in regions where the water contains lots of dissolved metals, causes severe—and often fatal—kidney damage. Farm workers applying this stuff in places like El Salvador, Argentina, and India are dying in droves.
Now if you or I were going around the world with a bag of chemicals so toxic that our employees who had to spread them were dying, and that hundreds of farmers we forced to buy our genetically engineered seeds were committing suicide because they were going bankrupt as a consequence, and that we made a product so toxic that it is poisoning millions of people around the world and causing malformations in developing babies, and…well, you get the idea. What would happen to us? Do you think we’d be invited to run the government agencies that oversee the health and safety of the American food supply?
I don’t think so. I think we’d be charged with murder. Or, if federal prosecutors believed us when we professed innocence—“Honestly, we didn’t know our product did that”—we’d at least be charged with wrongful death, negligent homicide, and manslaughter.
So how come companies like Monsanto get all the rights, but none of the responsibilities, of actual human beings?
The answer, I think—and don’t laugh—is that huge corporations like Monsanto are superhuman. They are entitled to do what they want because they can buy their way out of trouble. When was the last time you saw the head of a big corporation go to jail for running a company that murders people? Yes, Monsanto, but also General Motors, whose lawyers fudged and hedged and covered up the fact that GM cars were killing people. And many other big corporations, too, fit this profile. Oh, from time to time, the corporations get hit with monetary fines, but paying out a few million or even a few billion, is no biggie. They call it a cost of doing business and write it off as a business expense. Meanwhile, there’s a trail of dead human beings left decaying in the dirt. But that’s what it means to be superhuman. No actual human being goes to jail. No CEO does hard time. And you can’t jail a corporation, which, despite the Supreme Court, is nothing more than a legal fiction created on paper and signed by the miscreants who should be clapped in irons. What—are you going to put a file folder in a prison cell?
I’m sorry, but the Roberts Court is so far removed from reality that it’s breathtaking. And so-called Constitutional scholar Barack Obama and his top cop Eric Holder, who should be yelling bloody murder, roll over like friendly poodles begging for a belly rub.
Big corporations are not superhuman—while they occasionally do good things to polish their image, fundamentally they act subhuman, without heart or mercy, caring only for their bottom lines. That’s their nature. That’s their charter. That’s their function. Those who preside over our Federal government should call out the corporations on their crimes. Should point out their subhumanity. Should stand as bulwarks against their depredations.
What if Barack Obama stood up at a podium and said something like the following: “While corporate America is a driving wheel of our economic system, it must be subservient to the welfare of the American citizenry, not its master. We should support it when it adds to the public welfare, and check its excesses when it doesn’t. And so I’m creating a new cabinet post, one dedicated to making sure that no corporation, financial institution, or governmental regulatory body has so much power that it can ride roughshod over the Constitutional rights of the people.
“Money is power, and so when corporations acquire enough money to work their will on Congress, they will be broken up. As in times past, banks will either be depositories of the citizenry’s wealth, or lenders in the rough and tumble of the free marketplace—but not both. Elections will be paid for by the U.S. Treasury, and no private money at all will be allowed to influence the electoral process. Candidates will stand or fall on their principles, or not at all.”
What would happen?
I for one would say “Thank God.”
BONEHEADS RUN AMOK IN HALLS OF CONGRESS
House Republicans have passed an appropriations bill that blocks the EPA from limiting carbon pollution from power plants, slashes the EPA’s budget, and guts clean water protections.
BRAZIL FARMERS SAY GMO CORN NO LONGER KILLS BUGS
Brazilian farmers say their GMO corn is no longer resistant to pests, Reuters reports.
The Association of Soybean and Corn Producers of the Mato Grosso region said farmers first noticed in March that their genetically modified corn crops were less resistant to destructive caterpillars that “Bt corn” is supposed to protect against. As a result, farmers have been forced to apply extra insecticide, racking up additional environmental and financial costs.
The farmers’ association is calling on Monsanto, DuPont, Syngenta, and Dow to offer solutions as well as compensate the farmers for their losses. Association spokesman Ricardo Tomcyzk said farmers spent the equivalent of $54 per hectare to spray extra pesticides, and that the biotech companies promised something they didn’t deliver, which he called “deceptive advertising.”
But Monsanto, et al, are unlikely to accommodate the farmers. According to Reuters, “Seed companies say they warned Brazilian farmers to plant part of their corn fields with conventional seeds to prevent bugs from mutating and developing resistance to GMO seeds.” Earlier this year, a similar problem arose in the U.S., when scientists confirmed that corn-destroying rootworms had evolved to be resistant to the GMO corn engineered to kill them.
The industry response to such loss of efficacy is not to encourage biodiversity, but to further modify the organisms, the non-profit GM Watch reports. An unintended outcome is almost certainly an increased use of pesticides, as has already happened in Mato Grosso. Or maybe, knowing Monsanto and the other agricultural chemical giants, the outcome is not so unintended.
SAFEWAY SHAREHOLDERS DENOUNCE GMO LABELING
At the recent annual meeting of Safeway shareholders in Pleasanton, California, the overwhelming majority of shareholders followed the advice of the National Center for Public Policy Research (a corporatist right wing think tank) and rejected a shareholder proposal that would have forced the grocery store chain to brand products containing genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) with labels.
Like Safeway shareholders, Monsanto shareholders overwhelmingly agreed with the National Center and soundly rejected a similar proposal.
The Guardian picked up the story and gave lots of space to the National Center’s propaganda about the evils of GMO labeling (labels will cause food prices to rise and hurt the poor) and how organizations with scientific cred all think that GMOs are not only safe, but will contribute to ending world hunger.
I think that The Guardian missed the real story, which is that shareholders who understand that genetically modified foods should be labeled are infiltrating the meetings and floating motions that put Safeway and Monsanto on the defensive.
Eat Crap, Get Fat, Get Sick So Big Ag Can Get Rich
Just to show you how the profession of journalism has collapsed into putrid, pro-corporate propaganda, here’s a story from the once-respected Des Moines Register:
“The naming of an ‘environmental nutritionist’ to a top USDA nutrition post is drawing fire from the National Center for Public Policy Research’s Risk Analysis Division.
“In an op-ed published in the Des Moines Register entitled, ‘Iowan’s USDA Appointment Raises Concerns,’ National Center for Public Policy Research Risk Analysis Division Director Jeff Stier writes, ‘The appointment of Iowa’s Angela Tagtow, a controversial environmental nutritionist and local food activist, to head the United States Department of Agriculture’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion is causing more headaches for the agency, already facing criticism about politicization of federal nutrition advice and its consequences for public health.’
“Stier earlier criticized the federal Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) and its work to establish new recommendations for federal nutrition policy. Stier’s concerns have been widely echoed over recent months, given the DGAC’s mission creep towards environmental activism. The DGAC is meeting this week in Washington.”
Right—local food activism and environmental nutrition are surely dangerous developments, especially within the USDA, where Monsanto rules supreme. But then Julie Gunlock, the “Culture of Alarmism” Director of the Independent Women’s Forum joined the debate, and she too criticized the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee for advocating good food. Her reasoning? Making food good will raise prices and starve people.
So who are the National Center for Public Policy Research and the Independent Women’s Forum? Well, the editors of the Register, if they were actual journalists, could have discovered very easily that the National Center is a right wing think tank supported heavily by conservative foundations and Exxon/Mobil. Among its other activities, last April the NCPRR announced that it would launch a Voter Identification Task Force after the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) caved in to public pressures to dismantle its Public Safety and Elections Task Force. The Voter Identification Task Force was to be used to carry forward voter ID legislation. In case you’re not aware, that’s code for preventing Democrats and minorities from voting.
The Independent Women’s Forum is an anti-feminist organization predominately funded by right-wing foundations, including the Sarah Scaife Foundation, the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, and the Koch brothers’ Claude R. Lambe Foundation. It was put together originally to support the election of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court and counter the allegations of Anita Hill.
And why would the National Center and the Independent Women’s Forum be so against an environmental food activist heading up a USDA agency to promote good food guidelines?
Because they don’t want you to eat good food. They are front groups for Big Business, bought and sold by corporations like Monsanto and other Big Ag companies that want to sell you crap in a box, so that you get obese and they get fat with cash. It’s sickening on so many levels. What’s even worse is that many of our journalists—the profession that is supposed to protect us and set us free by providing us with the unvarnished truth—are derelict in their duties, as this exhibition of malfeasance by the Des Moines Register points out.
PLANT BREEDER DEVELOPING ANTI-GMO CORN VARIETY
Here’s some good news from the Organic Farming Research Center, written by Karen Adler:
“Amidst the controversy over GMO contamination of organic crops—a growing concern for organic farmers, researchers, consumers, and advocates—plant breeder Frank Kutka has been working to develop an ‘organic ready’ line of corn that will maintain its non-GMO integrity. Corn is one of the top three genetically modified crops, alongside cotton and soy. In 2014, 89 percent of the corn acreage in the U.S. is planted in ‘Roundup Ready’ GMO corn.
“Kutka has just started his fourth year of an OFRF-funded research project, entitled, ‘Developing Organic-Ready Maize Populations with Gametophytic Incompatibility.’ Corn is wind pollinated and readily crosses with other varieties. However, this breeding work uses naturally occurring genes derived from popcorn and the ancient grain teosinte that create a screen against crossing with transgenic, or genetically modified (GMO) corn.” And Kutka does it by hybridization, not genetic engineering.
USING DRONES TO OVERVIEW FACTORY FARMS
Peggy Lowe reports from National Public Radio that an independent journalist says he’s found a way around the so-called “ag-gag” laws by flying drones over large livestock operations to document animal welfare problems and pollution.
Will Potter, a Washington D.C.-based author and blogger, recently raised $75,000 on Kickstarter to buy the drones and other equipment to investigate animal agriculture in the U.S.
“I was primarily motivated by what’s happening outside of those closed doors, but is still invisible and hidden from the public spotlight,” he tells The Salt. “In particular, I was motivated by seeing aerial photos and satellite images of farm pollution, of waste lagoons, of sprawling industrial operations.”
Potter has cast the project as a way to circumvent regulations in at least seven states that outlaw footage and images gathered undercover by whistleblowers who work in concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs. Dubbed “ag-gag” by critics, the laws make it illegal for anyone to videotape or record surreptitiously on farms.
69 COUNTRIES AROUND THE WORLD LABEL GMO FOODS
In Europe, 40 of 47 countries require labeling. In Asia, 14 of 44 countries. In Oceana, two of 14 countries. In Africa, nine of 54 countries. In South America, four of 12 countries. In North America, powerful forces are working hard to prevent the U.S. from knowing what’s in our food and so far have succeeded.
USDA HAS BEEN RIGGING THE ORGANIC STANDARDS BOARD
The Cornucopia Institute has called on USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack to make public all candidates for appointment to fill the four vacancies on the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB).
The NOSB, a 15-member board of organic stakeholders representing farmer, consumer, environmental, retail, scientific, certifying and organic food processing interests, was established by Congress to advise the USDA on organic food and agriculture policies and review materials allowed for use in organic food production and processing.
Past investigations by The Cornucopia Institute, a Wisconsin-based farm policy research group, found that prior appointments, made during the Bush and Obama administrations, violated the letter of the law, and congressional intent, by appointing agribusiness executives to fill slots on the NOSB reserved for farmers and other independent stakeholders. Public interest groups have suggested that these extra agribusiness representatives on the board have voted in favor of weakening the organic standards.
“Transparency has been a hallmark of organic food and agriculture. We think that letting the organic community know who has applied for the vacant positions will allow for feedback and help the Secretary make the best possible appointments,” said Cornucopia’s Will Fantle, the organic industry watchdog organization’s co-director. “Appointments have been made in the past of individuals who do not meet the legally mandated criteria for a seat on the NOSB. Sunshine on the secretive process could have prevented such ill-advised moves,” added Fantle, very diplomatically.
SOME ORGANIC DAIRIES SUPPORTING GMO SECRECY
Some of the leading producers of organic dairy products belong to an association that is fighting tooth-and-nail to prevent you from knowing if your food contains genetically modified organisms (GMOs), according to the Organic Consumers Association.
In mid-June, four groups, including the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) and the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) filed suit against the state of Vermont in an effort to overturn Vermont’s mandatory GMO labeling law.
As it turns out, some of the leading organic dairy companies, including Stonyfield, Organic Valley, Aurora Organic, and White Wave/Horizon Organic, are members of the IDFA—which not only joined in the lawsuit against Vermont, but publicly supports a federal bill, introduced in April, that would prevent any state from passing a mandatory GMO labeling law.
The OCA called on the leading organic dairy companies to withdraw from the IDFA. They responded by stating that they would not do that, but that they had “collectively and formally protested” the IDFA’s decision to join in the lawsuit against Vermont and were in “continued discussions” with the association regarding reversing that decision.
They also stated that while they had contributed money and resources to pass Vermont’s GMO labeling law, they believe that “one national labeling standard” is preferable to “different state standards.”
OREGON TO VOTE ON GMO LABELING
It’s official. Oregon’s citizens’ initiative to label GMOs has been certified for the November ballot—despite efforts by the opposition to keep it off the ballot.
Now it’s up to the voters in Oregon to pass a statewide mandatory GMO labeling law, says the Organic Consumers Association (OCA).
But before Oregon voters head to the polls on November 4, they’ll be exposed to millions of dollars’ worth of twisted truths and flat-out lies. Bought and paid for by Monsanto and Big Food. The TV ads, junk mail, and phone calls worked in California and Washington State. Just barely. But enough to defeat voter-led GMO labeling initiatives there in 2012 and 2013. The lie that worked the best to turn voters away from the labeling law was the assertion that labeling GMOs would drastically increase the price of food. That scared people. As a recent story in The New York Times points out, the median net worth of all U.S. families from 2003 to 2013 fell by one third. Oregonians should watch out for the “more expensive food” lie. It will be floated out widely this fall. But don’t believe it. Why would printing “Contains GMOs” on a label cause food prices to rise? Big Food sells products around the world with “Contains GMOs” on the label. If they can do it in 69 countries globally, why not here?
A win in Oregon in November, on the heels of a win in Vermont in May, will be pivotal for the GMO labeling movement. If you don’t live in Oregon, you can’t vote there. But you can help. If you’d like to help, make a donation to the OCA at https://salsa3.salsalabs.com/o/50865/p/salsa/donation/common/public/?donate_page_KEY=11045
MORE PROOF OF ORGANIC SUPERIORITY
According to research published in the British Journal of Nutrition, scientists found 18 to 69 percent higher concentrations of antioxidants, many of which are linked to reduced risk of chronic diseases, in organic as opposed to conventionally grown food.
They also found that pesticide residues were four times more likely to be found in conventional crops than organic ones. And that levels of the toxic heavy metal cadmium are nearly twice as high for conventionally grown foods.
These were the conclusions of a meta study of over 350 peer-reviewed studies that compared organic and conventional food. So the next time Uncle Willy says that organic food is bunk and not worth the money, refer him to the following. Br J Nutr. 2014 Jun 26:1-18.
COURT ALLOWS MISUSE OF ANTIBIOTICS TO CONTINUE
Continued FDA inaction is allowed despite the same agency’s scientific findings, the National Resources Defense Council reports.
In a 2-1 decision, the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) isn’t required to ban the practice of regularly feeding antibiotics to animals that are not sick–despite its finding that such misuse of antibiotics threatens the effectiveness of essential human medicines.
The appeals court overturned two district court rulings in cases brought by the NRDC and other groups, which directed the FDA to stop the routine use of certain antibiotics in healthy animals unless drug manufacturers proved the safety of such use.
In his dissent, Judge Robert Katzmann said, “Today’s decision allows the FDA to openly declare that a particular animal drug is unsafe, but then refuse to withdraw approval of that drug. It also gives the agency discretion to effectively ignore a public petition asking it to withdraw approval from an unsafe drug.” Score another victory for Big Pharma.
NRDC brought the lawsuit with its partners, Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), Food Animal Concerns Trust (FACT), Public Citizen, and Union of Concerned Scientists in May of 2011.
America Has Lost Its Way
The source of health is biodiversity. The more participants in any ecosystem, the healthier it is. And this extends past organic gardens and farms to society at large. Inclusivity is healthy. Community is healthy. Compassion is healthy.
Now more than 50,000 Central American women and children have come to us for shelter when their home countries turned into gang-ruled narcostates, where mothers have been told that the gangs are coming for their teenage girls so they can be “girlfriends” for the gang members, when bullets threaten the lives of even very young children.
These people have been met with shrieking, hate-filled Americans who want them deported back to their home countries. We have truly lost our way. Who was it who said, “Suffer the little children to come unto me”? Is it really going to destroy America to give 52,000 refugees in desperate straits a safe haven? I heard some of the protestors say these poor, frightened children and their mothers are bringing lice, scabies, disease, and crime to our land. Ew—cooties! What is this? Middle school? The real crime is the callous, inhuman hearts of the protestors.
The protestors call them “illegals.” The subtext is that they have brown skins and speak Spanish. And it’s the most sickening display of heartlessness I have witnessed in this country since the days of Jim Crow. These are people, people—our brothers and sisters. We should welcome them, adjudicate their cases, deport them if there’s no danger to them if they go back, but give them refugee status if they would return into harm’s way. I mean, put yourself in their shoes.
But that’s not the only instance of how this once-proud country is showing its mean-spirited and callous heart. Over 100,000 impoverished people in Detroit have had their water turned off. And American cities have sought to eradicate homelessness not so much by giving people shelter, but by making it illegal to be homeless. Citywide bans on things that homeless people need to do to survive are on the rise, according to a new report by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty. Key findings: camping bans are up 60 percent since 2011, begging bans up 25 percent, loitering bans up 35 percent, sitting bans up 43 percent, and vehicle-sleeping bans are up 119 percent, according to The Huffington Post.
It looks like our endless wars and violence have curdled our spirit. Once we were a generous, open-hearted, optimistic people. Now we have lost our way. I remember on the night when Barack Obama was elected, he stood on a platform in Chicago and proclaimed, “Change has come to America.” How horribly sad that the change is in the wrong direction.
WHO WOULDA THUNK? ORGANIC FOOD IS PURE AND NUTRITIOUS
From The New York Times, July 12, 2014:
“Adding fuel to the debates over the merits of organic food, a comprehensive review of earlier studies found substantially higher levels of antioxidants and lower levels of pesticides in organic fruits, vegetables, and grains compared with conventionally grown produce.
“’It shows very clearly how you grow your food has an impact,’ said Carlo Leifert, a professor of ecological agriculture at Newcastle University in England, who led the research. ‘If you buy organic fruits and vegetables, you can be sure you have, on average, a higher amount of antioxidants at the same calorie level.’”
My take on this? This is news? Haven’t we known this for 60 years?
ATTENTION YOUNG FARMERS
Here are two websites you should be aware of. 1) http://agrilicious.org/
2) www.thegreenhorns.net. If you are a small-scale organic farmer or want to be one, you’ll find a lot of great info and friends galore on these sites.
CONGRESS THINKS IF YOU’RE ANTI-GMO, YOU’RE AN IGNORAMUS
Mike McAuliff, writing in The Huffington Post, makes this report:
WASHINGTON – It’s pretty rare that members of Congress and all the witnesses they’ve called will declare out loud that Americans are just too ignorant to be given a piece of information, but that was a key conclusion of a session of the House Agriculture Committee this week.
The issue was genetically modified organisms, or GMOs as they’re often known in the food industry. And members of the subcommittee on Horticulture, Research, Biotechnology, and Foreign Agriculture (which, by the way, is the subcommittee in charge of promoting organic farming), as well as four experts, agreed that the genetic engineering of food crops has been a thorough success responsible for feeding the hungry, improving nutrition, and reducing the use of pesticides. (All nonsense, by the way.)
People who oppose GMOs or want them labeled so that consumers can know what they’re eating are alarmists who thrive on fear and ignorance, the panel agreed. Labeling GMO foods would only stoke those fears, and harm a beneficial thing, so it should not be allowed, the lawmakers and witnesses agreed.
“I really worry that labeling does more harm than good, that it leads too many people away from it and it diminishes the market for GMOs that are the solution to a lot of the problems we face,” said David Just, a professor at Cornell University and co-director of the Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs. (You might want to give Professor Just your feelings on the idea that GMOs are “the solution to a lot of the problems we face.” He might enjoy hearing from some of the ignorant people who oppose GMOs. His email is email@example.com).
Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.) agreed with Just and asked him, “What is the biggest drawback? Is it the ignorance of what the product is, just from a lack of education?”
“It is ignorance of the product, and it’s a general skepticism of anything they eat that is too processed or treated in some way that they don’t quite understand,” Just said. “Even using long scientific-sounding words makes it sound like it’s been grown in a test tube, and people get scared of it,” Just added.
There are terms for Professor Just’s casual put-down of anti-GMO people as uneducated, ignorant, frightened luddites who don’t understand the value of genetic engineering and are confused by long, scientific-sounding words. I think the terms are condescension, superciliousness, arrogance, and conceit. God knows that people who are skeptical “of anything they eat that is too processed or treated in some way that they don’t quite understand” need a good education by the learned professors at Cornell. They’ll set us straight for sure. Well, I’ll say this: Professor Just wins my 2014 award for arrogant moron of the year.
Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.) agreed with another witness, Calestous Juma, an international development professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School, that political leaders had been cowed by misinformed populaces into bending on GMOs, especially in the European Union, where Juma said hundreds of millions of euros have been spent on studies that have found GMOs safe. (He didn’t mention the studies that found GMOs to be harmful.)
“It’s obvious that while the science in the EU is incontrovertible about the health and safety benefits of genetically modified hybrid crops, that because of politics, people are afraid to lead, and inform consumers,” Schrader said. (Rep. Schrader shows his own ignorance here. The science is far from incontrovertible—in fact, one meta study that looked at hundreds of studies of the effect of GMO crops on biological systems in animals concluded that Roundup, the herbicide used in conjunction with GMO corn and soybeans, “may be the most biologically disruptive chemical in our environment.”)
Also, entirely missing from the hearing was any suggestion that there are real concerns about the impact of genetically engineered food, such as the growth of pesticide-resistant “super weeds,” over-reliance on single-crop factory farming, decreased biodiversity, evidence of inflammatory disease in animals fed GMO feed, and a lack of a consistent approval process.
The issue may soon gain fresh relevance on Capitol Hill, where a bill backed by Reps. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) and G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) prevents states from requiring GMO labeling. It could get marked up as early as September. The bill also would allow genetically engineered food to be labeled “100 percent natural.”
The idea of the bill brought Ben and Jerry’s co-founder Jerry Greenfield to Capitol Hill to push back, along with Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), who backs labeling.
Greenfield told HuffPost that labeling is a simple, inexpensive matter of letting people know what’s in their food, and letting them decide what they want to support and eat.
The upshot is that the “experts” and members of Congress concluded that Americans should be denied GMO labels because they are too ignorant.
TIME FOR A NEW ‘DIRTY DOZEN – PLUS’ LIST
The Environmental Working Group’s ‘Dirty Dozen’ plus annual list of most contaminated fruits and vegetables is out. Print it out and push-pin it to your kitchen bulletin board.
CORNELL UNIVERSITY: PROPAGANDIST FOR BIG FOOD
The following information is from Bettina Elias Siegel, a former lawyer, freelance writer, and school food advocate. She now blogs about children and food policy at The Lunch Tray. She writes:
A new study by Dr. Brian Wansink, a professor of consumer behavior at Cornell University and director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab, seeks to determine why people — mothers in particular — develop so-called “food fears” about certain ingredients (such as sodium, fat, sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, MSG and lean finely textured beef otherwise known as pink slime) and what the food industry and government can do about it.
The study’s ultimate conclusion, that “food fears” can be addressed by “providing information regarding an ingredient’s history or the other products in which it is used,” is hardly controversial. But some other things about this study raise red flags, starting with the fact that what might be entirely legitimate concerns about particular ingredients are uniformly (and patronizingly) characterized as “food fears,” and that the study was funded in part by the Corn Refiners Association, the trade group representing manufacturers of the very “food fear” examined; i.e., concerns about high-fructose corn syrup.
But of greatest concern is how the study’s findings have been mischaracterized not just in the media but in Dr. Wansink’s own public statements about his data. Here’s a sampling.
From the New York Daily News
Fear of food containing controversial ingredients may be fueled by Facebook. A new study suggests that people who avoid additives like MSG, sodium benzoate, and pink slime get most of their information from what they see on social media sites and elsewhere on the Internet.
“Soy causes cancer.” “Gluten may lead to autism.” “There’s yoga mat material in your sandwich!” “Sugar feeds cancer!” Are your Facebook friends making you afraid to eat? New research in the journal Food Quality and Preference identifies who fears food the most –and it’s probably those of us most addicted to social media.
Despite a troubling lack of scientific support, Wansink seems intent on using his study to paint an unflattering portrait of those who obtain information about food ingredients online. These moms are militant “haters” of soda, candy, and chips. They’re so uninformed that they’re misled by inaccurate online sources, yet they share this false information on social media out of a need for approval.
Wansink is equally critical of the Internet itself, going so far as to say in his promotional video that “Reading about food ingredients on the Web is one of the worst things you can do if you want the facts…”
Why does Wansink seem so intent on demonizing the Internet and social media and those who rely on those outlets for food information? In the end, who benefits from these characterizations?
To the great consternation of the processed food industry, it is becoming ever more apparent that the Internet and social media are extremely powerful tools for advancing various food-related causes, from aiding grassroots activism to spreading viral videos promoting sustainable agriculture or decrying junk food, to making possible online petitions like the one I (Bettina) started in 2012, which garnered a quarter of a million signatures and within nine days led the USDA to change one of its school food policies. Indeed, since my petition victory, online petitions have become a favored tool among some food activists.
The junk food industry would no doubt prefer a return to the days when it alone controlled the narrative about food ingredients and food processing. Now, though, for better or worse, anyone with a computer can write a blog post, post a video or start an online petition about a food-related issue. If I ran a food company these days, I’m sure I would be lying awake at night, worried that the next Internet food campaign could have one of my own products in its sights.
So what better way to combat this growing threat than to delegitimize both the message (concerns about ingredients are “crazy food fears”) and the medium (seeking food information on the Internet is “the worst thing you can do”). It doesn’t hurt to also create an unflattering cartoon of the message’s recipient, the hapless, freaked out “mom.”
But unfortunately for food companies, the Internet genie is out of the bottle and there’s no turning back. So instead of commissioning studies that demonize the Internet, social media and/or “moms with food fears,” food companies should pocket that money and instead take to heart the one simple lesson to be gleaned from the many recent successes in Internet food activism: Consumers want transparency.
If a food corporation is currently engaging in any practice or using any ingredient which would not survive public opinion should it ever come to light, that company is taking a serious public relations risk in this new Internet age. And that, in my view, is the real “food fear” lurking behind Wansink’s latest study.
Now this note from Jeff Cox: Thanks to Ms. Siegel for this enlightening look at the Cornell study. What’s really troubling to me is that Cornell, a highly respected university, jeopardizes that respect when it supports so-called “science” whose obvious intent is to promote the propaganda of Big Food. People have food fears for a legitimate reason. It’s not the researcher’s job to take industry’s side against the public’s legitimate concerns. A more useful route might be to investigate the public’s food fears to see why they exist, in a fair, impartial, and transparent manner. Perhaps Mr. Wansink could have looked at the mounting evidence for the disastrous human health effects of glyphosate herbicide used in the production of GMO crops, rather than impugning the intelligence and education of the people who are reporting these studies.
PRENATAL PESTICIDE EXPOSURE LEADS TO LOWER IQ IN KIDS
Children born to a group of 265 mothers living in low-income, public housing were studied. By age seven, children born to mothers in the group most exposed to pesticides scored 5.5 percent lower on a common test of working memory and 2.7 percent lower in terms of IQ, compared to children born to mothers in the low-exposure group.
A study carried out by U.C. Berkeley scientists, in cooperation with the Center for the Health Assessment of Mothers and Children of Salinas, measured urinary metabolites of insecticides during pregnancy, and then from children at six months of age, and periodically through age five. A variety of intelligence and learning tests were used to measure the mental abilities of 329 children at age seven. Children born to the most heavily exposed mothers had an IQ deficit of seven points, or about 7 percent, compared to the low exposure quintile.
The senior author of this study, Brenda Eskenazi, told CNN.com that the impacts on intelligence found in their study were similar in magnitude to the adverse impacts associated with high lead exposures, in the 1960s and 1970s, and were comparable to a child performing six-months behind average in a school population.
If you want to know more, here are the studies:
Rauh, V., et al., “7-Year Neurodevelopmental Scores and Prenatal Exposure to Chlorpyrifos, a Common Agricultural Insecticide,” Environmental Health Perspectives, online April 21, 2011
Bouchard, M.E., et al., “Prenatal Exposure to OP Pesticides and IQ in 7-Year Old Children,”Environmental Health Perspectives, online April 21, 2011
Engel, S.M., et al., “Prenatal Exposure to OPs, Paraoxonase 1, and Cognitive Development in Children,” Environmental Health Perspectives, online April 21, 2011
BUSH TAX CUTS GUTTED AMERICANS’ INCOMES $6.6 TRILLION
The following isn’t strictly about organic food and its production, but we are all folks who have to spend money to eat, and money seems in short supply these days.
Remember when George W. Bush took office and instituted the “Bush Tax Cuts” that were supposed to promote prosperity?
According to an analysis by Pulitzer-Prize winning reporter David Cay Johnston, formerly of The New York Times, the Bush tax cuts, touted as a harbinger of prosperity by the Republican Party, actually robbed each American taxpayer of $48,000 in pre-tax personal income during the 12 years of their existence, for a total of approximately 6.6 trillion dollars.
This is more than enough to pay for every student loan, car loan, and credit card debt in the U.S, while still leaving 2.4 trillion dollars in the pockets of Americans. It is the equivalent of an extra 11 dollars a day lost to each American taxpayer over the last 12 years.
Johnston analyzed rates of long term average personal incomes as reported by American taxpayers from 2000-2012, adjusting for inflation and population growth. In 10 of the 12 years when the Bush tax cuts were in effect, the average income shown on tax returns was lower than in 2000. In the two upside years, average income rose modestly, up $504 for 2006 and $1,744 for 2007.
Total those 12 years and the net shortfall per taxpayer comes to $48,010.
He notes that after 12 years of tax cuts, average real hourly wages are now 6 percent less than they were in 1972-1973.
Less than they were 40 years ago! Where did the money go?
Of the total national increase in income in 2012 over 2009, an astonishing one third went to just 16,000 households, almost 95 cents of each dollar went to the top 1 percent, while the bottom 90 percent lost ground.
Lest we forget.