Bad Journalism or Bogus Science?
So I’m reading the latest issue of Science News—a magazine I had thought of as reliable and fair-minded—when I came across a book review of “The Modern Savage,” a book about factory farming. The review was written by Beth Mole.
In her review, Ms. Mole points out that while factory farms get bad press, this book is really about “the pitfalls of small scale and do-it-yourself meat production.” That got my interest, as I have seen small-scale meat production up close and personal, and can recall the merriment on the farm when hog-slaughtering day came around in December. Yes, merriment. If you’ve ever tasted fresh, home-made sausage made from pork that was oinking just a few hours before, you’ll know what I’m talking about.
Within her review, Ms. Mole wrote the following: “Very little data exist on the severity or prevalence of problems on small farms. (One exception: Studies have repeatedly found higher levels of germs and disease on small and organic farms than at industrial outfits.)”
Wait. What? Gosh, not another resurgence of the nonsense spewed by Big Ag a few years ago that had headline writers at newspapers around the country warning people that organic food will kill you because it’s smeared with manure and other filth. Utter nonsense of course. But Ms. Mole sounds so confident that organic farms are breeding grounds for “germs and disease.” Maybe things have changed. I decided to do some checking and share the results with Ms. Mole. Here’s just some of what I found:
1. THE GRACE REPORT
Modern industrial farms are ideal breeding grounds for germs and disease, according to a report from the Grace Communications Foundation, a non-profit that develops innovative strategies to increase public awareness of the critical environmental and public health issues created by our current food, water and energy systems.
Animals live in close confinement, often standing or laying in their own waste, and are under constant stress that inhibits their immune systems and makes them more prone to infection. When drug-resistant bacteria develop in industrial livestock facilities, they can reach the human population through food, the environment (i.e., water, soil, and air), or by direct human- animal contact.
One major way in which antibiotics and antibiotic resistant bacteria enter the environment is via animal manure. Industrial livestock operations produce an enormous amount of concentrated animal waste—over one billion tons annually—often laden with antibiotics and their residues, as well as antibiotic-resistant bacteria. It is estimated that approximately 75 percent of all antibiotics given to animals are not fully digested and eventually pass through the body and enter the environment, where they can encounter new bacteria and create additional resistant strains. With huge quantities of manure routinely sprayed onto fields surrounding CAFOs, antibiotic resistant bacteria can leech into surface and ground water, contaminating drinking wells and endangering the health of people living close to large livestock facilities.
Bacteria can also be spread by insects that come in contact with animal waste. A study conducted by researchers at Johns Hopkins University examined flies near broiler poultry operations and found that many of the flies living near these operations carried antibiotic resistant enterococci and staphylococci. If these flies travel to nearby homes, they could transport these drug resistant bacteria from the farm to neighboring communities.
2. THE DR. GREGER INTERVIEW
“After reading ‘Bird Flu,’ a book by Michael Greger, M.D.,” reports Kathy Freston in The Huffington Post, “I was stunned to realize the extent to which we have endangered our health by allowing factory farms to flourish and produce 99 percent of the meat, dairy, and eggs we eat. Not only are dangerous flu viruses mutating because of these concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO’s), but we are also being exposed to some other very serious bacteria and pathogens. It seems that things have gotten out of hand in our food production, especially in the livestock sector.”
Here’s a portion of her interview with Michael Greger, M.D., a graduate of the Cornell University School of Agriculture and the Tufts University School of Medicine, who serves as Director of Public Health and Animal Agriculture at The Humane Society of the United States. His recent scientific publications in American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Biosecurity and Bioterrorism, Critical Reviews in Microbiology, and the International Journal of Food Safety, Nutrition, and Public Health explore the public health implications of industrialized animal agriculture.
Kathy Freston: Where does E. coli come from and how does it get into food? Why is it often found on vegetables?
Michael Greger: E. coli is an intestinal pathogen. It only gets in the food if fecal matter gets in the food. Since plants don’t have intestines, all E. coli infections–in fact all food poisoning–come from animals. When’s the last time you heard of anyone getting Dutch elm disease or a really bad case of aphids? People don’t get plant diseases; they get animal diseases. Dairy cow and pig factories often dump millions of gallons of putrefying waste into massive open-air cesspits, which can leak and contaminate water used to irrigate our crops. That’s how a deadly fecal pathogen like E. coli O157:H7 can end up contaminating our spinach. So regardless of what we eat, we all need to fight against the expansion of factory farming in our communities, our nation, and around the world.
KF: It seems we only occasionally hear of the very few terrible cases where E. coli kills; is it really a widespread problem?
MG: When medical researchers at the University of Minnesota took more than 1,000 food samples from multiple retail markets, they found evidence of fecal contamination in 69 percent of the pork and beef and 92 percent of the poultry samples. Nine out of ten chicken carcasses in the store may be contaminated with fecal matter.
3. THE HARVARD WOMEN’S HEALTH WATCH REPORT
According to Stephanie Watson, Executive Editor of the Harvard Women’s Health Watch, organic chicken and pork were about a third less likely to contain antibiotic-resistant bacteria than conventionally raised chicken and pork.
This is just a quick sample of the material out there showing that organic farms and food are safer, more wholesome, and more nutritious than conventional food. There’s much, much more if you care to look. So I offered to share this information with Ms. Mole, and asked her for any citations she has to back up the claim that “studies have repeatedly found higher levels of germs and disease on small and organic farms than at industrial outfits.”
Somehow I’m not surprised that Ms. Mole has not responded.
Oh, and one last thought: think of all the stuff you don’t get when you eat organic: antibiotics, growth hormones, GMO-fed meat, glyphosate contamination, and all sorts of agricultural chemicals used on conventional farms.
THE VIEW FROM POMPEO’S HEAD
Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kansas) has introduced a bill that would prohibit state efforts to require labeling of genetically engineered foods (GMOs).
This is Monsanto’s dream bill— it would allow corporations that make and use GMOs to continue to keep quiet about them, and it would keep the rest of us in the dark (in fact, some of our allies are calling this the DARK, or the Denying Americans the Right to Know, Act), says Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director of Food & Water Watch.
States that have already passed GMO labeling laws could be prevented from implementing their laws to require labels. We know that this bill does not represent our best interests. In fact, over 90 percent of Americans support the labeling of GMOs. This is an impressive consensus, one that we don’t see on many issues in the U.S.
But if there is so much public support for GMO labeling, why does this bill exist?
The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), an industry group that represents corporations like Monsanto, Nestlé and Dow, has been working with allies in Congress to get this bill re-introduced in the current Congress (after it failed to move when introduced last year). This is just one of the many ways that these corporations have tried to keep GMO labeling from becoming the law. In every state that has worked to pass labeling laws, the industry has spent millions of dollars to manufacture doubt and keep us from knowing what’s in our food.
But it is not up to corporations to decide whether you and I get to know what is in our food. We should be able to make informed choices about what we feed ourselves and our families.
We know that the GMA, and the corporations it represents, are busy lobbying our members of Congress, so we need to make sure they’re hearing from their actual constituents to counter the anti-labeling rhetoric.
MAJOR BREACH IN THE NATIONAL ORGANIC PROGRAM
In a nutshell: The National Organic Program leaves the door open to include nanotechnology in organic food and packaging. The decision stuns the organic community and undercuts the recommendations of its appointed Advisory Board.
Against the objections by the large majority of the organic community, guidance issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Organic Program (USDA/NOP) will now allow companies to petition to use nanotechnology in organic products, rather than prohibit it as was expected.
The new guidance disregards recommendations made by the Agency’s own appointed advisors, the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), which determined that: “there is an overwhelming agreement within the organic industry to prohibit nanotechnology in organic production and processing” (Oct. 28, 2010).
“This decision by USDA defies common sense and undermines organic,” said Jaydee Hanson, senior policy analyst at Center for Food Safety and nanotechnology expert. “Fundamentally, nanomaterials are synthetic, can be toxic and are not found in nature in their manufactured form. They do not belong in organic, plain and simple.”
Nanotechnology is a platform technology for manipulating materials at the atomic and molecular level. The resultant manufactured nanomaterials are so small that they cannot be seen with an ordinary microscope. Yet “nano” means more than just tiny. Nano engineered materials have the capacity to act in fundamentally novel ways, ways that cannot be predicted of the same materials at larger scale. Their exponentially small size gives them extraordinary mobility and their unique chemical and biological properties increase the potential for biological interaction and enhanced toxicity.
The U.S. organic community has consistently agreed that, like genetic engineering, nanomaterials must be excluded from organic foods and packing. In fact, in response to public outcry, the food industry as a whole is moving away from nanotechnology in food. Just this month, Dunkin’ Donuts announced that it will no longer use nanomaterials in its donuts—specifically nano-titanium dioxide in its powdered sugar. McDonald’s and Kraft have also previously announced that they do not use nanomaterials in their products.
“It is unfathomable that while so many companies are taking nanomaterials out of their foods, that the National Organic Program has devised a gateway for ushering nanomaterials into organic foods,” said Dr. Lisa J. Bunin, organic policy director at Center for Food Safety. “This guidance needs to change.”
USDA/NOP’s approach to nanotechnology runs counter to most other nation’s organic programs. Canada, Australia, and Austria have prohibited nanoparticles smaller than 100 nanometers(nm) from organic foods. The United Kingdom prohibits nanomaterials smaller than 200nm. Instead, the NOP has established a process whereby companies can petition to allow nanomaterials into their food as a synthetic ingredient. Moreover, the new NOP guidance is silent on nanoparticles in packaging, which is an increasingly common application of the technology.
“It is surprising to see USDA taking actions that are inconsistent with our organic trading partners, especially since the U.S. has been rushing to establish equivalency agreements with other nations and economic regions,” said Dr. Bunin. “This latest action has the potential to render such agreements null and void, which is neither in the country’s best interests nor those of our nation’s own organic producers.”
GMO INDUSTRY CONTINUES TO EXPAND
One of the familiar narratives for the promotion of genetically modified crops is that they have the potential to alleviate poverty and hunger. But the real impacts of GM crops deserve closer assessment, writes Wanqing Zhou, research associate in the Food and Agriculture Program at the Worldwatch Institute, in the Institute’s latest Vital Signs Online article.
The amount of agricultural land used for GM crops has been increasing for more than two decades, reaching 400 million acres in 2014. The largest GM crop producers are the United States, Brazil, Argentina, India, and Canada.
In 2014, the global value of GM seed reached $15.7 billion. The small handful of companies that develop and market GM crops has a near monopoly. In the United States, the agri-tech multinational Monsanto holds 63 percent of the Release Permits and Release Notifications for GM crops issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the seed company DuPont Pioneer holds another 13 percent.
GMO SAFE TO EAT? NOT ENOUGH EVIDENCE
A recently published review by researchers at two universities has suggested that there is not enough evidence that GMO crops are safe to eat.
Researchers looked at published studies on rats fed GM crops containing one or more of three commonly used GM genes. Researchers examined studies that investigated the health of these rats by looking at tissues from their digestive tracts under a microscope. The digestive tract is a likely place for damage to occur from eating these crops. Researchers considered evidence obtained by looking through a microscope because it is sometimes very difficult to see if there is damage to tissues without using a microscope. These are called histopathology studies.
The researchers found 47 crop varieties with one or more of these genes that government regulators had said were safe to eat. However, no published studies could be found for 81 percent of those crop varieties.
Of the published studies, most were general health assessments of the GM crop on rat health, but 75 percent of these were done after the crop had been approved as safe to eat by government regulators, with half of the studies published at least nine years after approval.
The researchers found flaws with all of the studies reviewed. For example, studies were not consistent or transparent in their methods, investigators didn’t define what they considered to be a toxic or pathological finding, or they were not transparent in what they found. Many of the studies contained several such faults.
Dr. Judy Carman, one of the authors of the review said: “We believe that there is a lack of evidence that these GM crop varieties are safe to eat. The authors of the paper believe that guidelines should be developed as to how these studies should be done so that they can be done properly.”
The review was done as a collaboration between researchers at the University of Adelaide, Flinders University, and the Institute of Health and Environmental Research, all based in South Australia. The research was published in Environment International, an Elsevier journal ranked in the top 4 percent of environmental science journals by impact factor, rated A* by Excellence in Research for Australia.
MORE EVIDENCE OF MONSANTO’S WRONGDOING
“A few weeks ago, I spoke by phone with Cathleen Enright, executive vice president of the Biotech Industry Organization (BIO),” reports Katherine Paul, associate director of the Organic Consumers Association.
“During the course of our conversation, when we touched on the subject of the science behind the debate over whether or not GMOs are ‘safe’ (me arguing that there’s no scientific consensus), Enright said, ‘Then you must not believe in climate change, either.’
“I glossed over that accusation, though it struck me as odd. And random. Until less than a week later, on March 9 (2015), an article appeared in the Guardian under this headline: ‘The anti-GM lobby appears to be taking a page out of the Climategate playbook.’
“That’s when I realized what I should have known. Enright’s comment wasn’t random at all. It’s just a new twist on an old talking point—from an industry on the verge of crumbling under the weight of an avalanche of new credible, scientific evidence exposing not only the dangers of GMO crops and the toxic chemicals used to grow them, but the extent to which both Monsanto and U.S. government agencies like the EPA, FDA and USDA have covered up those dangers. (Side note: Turns out the authors of the Guardian piece all have ties to, surprise, the biotech industry).
“Here are just a few examples of the latest reports, articles and books exposing the dangers of GMOs, Big Ag’s toxic chemicals and evidence of a decades-long cover-up to keep consumers in the dark.”
• New study: World Health Organization declares glyphosate a human carcinogen. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) decision was reported in The Lancet Oncology, on Friday, March 20 (2015). Predictably, Monsanto went on the attack, demanding the study be retracted.
• New study: Roundup causes antibiotic resistance in bacteria. In the first study of its kind, a research lead by a team from the University Of Canterbury, New Zealand says that commonly used herbicides, including the world’s most used herbicide Roundup, can cause bacteria to become resistant to antibiotics. Cause for concern? You bet, when nearly 2 million people die annually from antibiotic-resistant infections.
• New article: “GMO Science Deniers: Monsanto and the USDA,” points out what we all learned in third-grade science (but what Monsanto and the USDA refuse to acknowledge): That plants evolve to adapt to their environment, with the stronger ones winning out. Hence the fact that over time, Monsanto’s Roundup Ready crops have bred a new generation of superweeds. Yet, incredibly, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) bought into Monsanto’s anti-science claim that the continuous use of Roundup, over time, would not produce evolving Roundup-resistant weeds. Of course, that’s exactly what’s happened.
• New book: Altered Genes, Twisted Truth: How the Venture to Genetically Engineer Our Food Has Subverted Science, Corrupted Government, and Systematically Deceived the Public, exposes how the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) disregarded the warnings of its own scientists in order to foster the biotech industry’s agenda. According to author Steven Druker, the FDA broke U.S. food safety laws when the agency made a blanket presumption that GMO foods qualified to be categorized “Generally Recognized as Safe” (GRAS). And they did it in order to push GMOs into the market with no pre-market safety testing.
• New book: Poison Spring: The Secret History of Pollution and the EPA, written by a former (1979-2004) employee of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), documents the EPA’s “corruption and misuse of science and public trust.” According to author E.G. Vallianatos, the EPA allowed our lands and waters to be poisoned with more toxic chemicals, including glyphosate, than ever, while turning a blind eye to the consequences.
• New report: “Seedy Business: What Big Food is hiding with Its Slick PR Campaign on GMOs,” exposes Big Food’s long history of manipulating the media, policymakers and public opinion with $100-million worth of sleazy public relations tactics.
“That’s just a smattering of the latest science—from scientists who have nothing to gain and everything to lose, based on Monsanto’s history of aggressively discrediting any scientist who dares to challenge GMOs—that should have every consumer in this country asking, ‘What’s going on here?’ Ms. Paul writes.
“Of course the industry response to the latest accusations concerning both its products and its desperate attempt to keep consumers in the dark, has been the same old same old: deny, deny, deny. All the while pretending to be incredulous that anyone would question its motives. This from an industry that (among other crimes) for nearly 40 years, knowingly poisoned a community in Alabama by dumping millions of pounds of PCBs into open-pit landfills, according to a 2002 article. Thousands of pages of Monsanto documents—many emblazoned with warnings such as ‘CONFIDENTIAL: Read and Destroy’—show that for decades, the corporate giant concealed what it did and what it knew.
“One final comment on the climate-denier talking point. How ironic that Enright and the biotech industry would pretend to side with the scientists sounding the alarm on global warming—when the largest contributor to global warming is industrial agriculture, with its GMO monoculture crops. Anyone serious about global warming knows that our best hope is to ditch our chemical-intensive, soil-destroying industrial agriculture and replace it with organic, regenerative farming practices that restore the soil’s ability to capture carbon.”
CONSUMER REPORTS ADVISES: EAT ORGANIC FOOD FOR HEALTH
A recent Consumer Reports survey of 1,050 people found that pesticides are a concern for 85 percent of Americans. So, are these worries justified? And should we all be buying organic food?
Experts at Consumer Reports believe that organic is always the best choice because it is better for your health, the environment, and the people who grow our food. The risk from pesticides in produce grown conventionally varies from very low to very high, depending on the type of produce and on the country where it’s grown. The differences can be dramatic. For instance, eating one serving of green beans from the U.S. is 200 times riskier than eating a serving of U.S.-grown broccoli.
“We’re exposed to a cocktail of chemicals from our food on a daily basis,” says Michael Crupain, M.D., director of Consumer Reports’ Food Safety and Sustainability Center. For instance, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that there are traces of 29 different pesticides in the average American’s body. “It’s not realistic to expect we wouldn’t have any pesticides in our bodies in this day and age, but that would be the ideal,” says Crupain. “We just don’t know enough about the health effects.”
IN CLIMATE CHANGE NEWS: APRES MOI, LE DELUGE
Humanity recently learned about the possible destabilization of the Totten Glacier of East Antarctica, which could unleash over 11 feet of sea level rise in coming centuries.
And now this week brings news of another potential mega-scale perturbation.
According to a new study just out in Nature Climate Change by Stefan Rahmstorf of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and a group of co-authors, we’re now seeing a slowdown of the great ocean circulation that, among other planetary roles, helps to partly drive the Gulf Stream off the U.S. east coast. The consequences could be dire-–including significant extra sea level rise for coastal cities like New York and Boston.
A vast, powerful, and warm current, the Gulf Stream transports more water than “all the world’s rivers combined,” according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. But it’s just one part of a larger regional ocean conveyor system-–scientists technically call it the “Atlantic meridional overturning circulation”—which, in turn, is just one part of the larger global “thermohaline circulation (“thermohaline” conjoins terms meaning “temperature” and “salty”).
For the whole system, a key driver occurs in the North Atlantic ocean. Here, the warm Gulf Stream flows northward into cooler waters and splits into what is called the North Atlantic Current. This stream flows still further toward northern latitudes — until it reaches points where colder, salty water sinks due to its greater density, and then travels back southward at depth.
This “overturning circulation” plays a major role in the climate because it brings warm water northward, thereby helping to warm Europe’s climate, and also sends cold water back towards the tropics.
The system above has a key vulnerability. What keeps everything churning in the North Atlantic is the fact that cold salt water is denser than warm water — so it sinks. However, if too much ice melts in the region — from, say Greenland — a freshening of the cold salt water could occur. If the water is less salty it will also be less dense, reducing its tendency to sink below the surface.
This could slow or even eventually shut down the circulation. In the scientifically panned 2004 blockbuster film “The Day After Tomorrow,” it is precisely such a shutdown that triggers a New Ice Age, and utter global disaster and chaos.
That’s not going to happen, say scientists. Not remotely.
Nonetheless, the new research finds that global warming does indeed seem to be slowing down the circulation. And while hardly catastrophic, that can’t be good news. Among the very real effects, notes the Potsdam Institute’s Rahmstorf, could be a possible increase in U.S. sea level if the whole circulation were to break down — which would be seriously bad news for cities like New York and Boston.
The study uses a reconstruction of sea surface temperatures in the North Atlantic to find that starting in around 1970 or 1975, the overturning circulation started to weaken —an event likely triggered by an unusual amount of sea ice traveling out of the Arctic ocean, melting, and causing freshening. The circulation then started to recover in the 1990s, but “it seems this was only a temporary recovery, and now it’s actually further weakened,” says Rahmstorf.
The hypothesized reason for further declines presented by the paper is that the massive Greenland ice sheet may now be losing enough freshwater due to melting to weaken the circulation. And indeed, it appears that a particular ocean region of the North Atlantic south of Greenland and between Canada and Britain is becoming colder — an indicator of less northward heat transport.
Rahmstorf points to a recent release by the National Climatic Data Center of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, finding that the winter of December 2014 through February 2015 was the warmest on record for the globe as a whole. However, there were several anomalies — not just a cold and very snowy winter for the eastern U.S., but also record cold temperatures in the middle of the North Atlantic.
“These new NOAA data got me quite worried because they indicate that this partial recovery that we describe in the paper was only temporary, and the circulation is on the way down again,” says Rahmstorf.
So far, the study finds, we’re looking at a circulation that’s about 15 to 20 percent weaker. That may not sound like much, but the paper suggests a weakening this strong has not happened at any time since the year 900. Moreover, this is already more weakening than scientifically expected — and could be the beginning of a further slowdown that could have great consequences.
How the GOP Is Thwarting Our Desire for Safe Food
By having become the political arm of a few oligarchs who control billions of dollars of America’s wealth and are turning capitalism into a money gusher for themselves, the Republican Party is preventing our government from doing its job to protect the environment and manage agriculture so it produces clean, harmless food.
It’s past time for Americans to wake up and find ways to shut off the money spigots for the bigots. Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman recently wrote this in The New York Times regarding the GOP’s so-called budget plan:
“The modern G.O.P.’s raw fiscal dishonesty is something new in American politics. And that’s telling us something important about what has happened to half of our political spectrum.
“It’s very important to realize that this isn’t normal political behavior. The George W. Bush administration was no slouch when it came to deceptive presentation of tax plans, but it was never this blatant. Outrageous fiscal mendacity is neither historically normal nor bipartisan. It’s a modern Republican thing. And the question we should ask is why.
“Think about what these Republican budgets would do. What you’re left with is huge transfers of income from the poor and the working class, who would see severe benefit cuts, to the rich, who would see big tax cuts. And the simplest way to understand these budgets is surely to suppose that they are intended to do what they would, in fact, actually do: make the rich richer and ordinary families poorer.
“But this is, of course, not a policy direction the public would support if it were clearly explained. So the budgets must be sold as courageous efforts to eliminate deficits and pay down debt — which means that they must include trillions in imaginary, unexplained savings.
“Does this mean that all those politicians declaiming about the evils of budget deficits and their determination to end the scourge of debt were never sincere? Yes, it does.
Look, I know that it’s hard to keep up the outrage after so many years of fiscal fraudulence. But please try. We’re looking at an enormous, destructive con job, and you should be very, very angry.”
THIS’LL TEACH ‘EM
Dr. Krugman left out one adjective that applies to modern Republicanism: mean-spirited. For example, to teach learning by doing, New Hampshire students drafted a bill to learn the process of how a bill becomes law. They proposed House Bill 373, an act establishing the Red Tail Hawk as the New Hampshire State Raptor. Even though it passed through the Environment and Agriculture committee with a majority vote, some representatives were far from receptive.
“Rep. Warren Groen, a Republican from Rochester, said, “It grasps them with its talons then uses its razor sharp beak to basically tear it apart limb by limb, and I guess the shame about making this a state bird is it would serve as a much better mascot for Planned Parenthood.”
The Republican legislature then killed the bill as the kids watched from the gallery.
W.H.O. SAYS ROUNDUP LIKELY CAUSES CANCER
The following is from Ronnie Cummins of the Organic Consumers Association:
Several days ago, an agency of the World Health Organization issued a report concluding that glyphosate, the key ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup, likely causes cancer in humans.
If you eat foods that contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs), you are consuming glyphosate—because the U.S. EPA not only allows glyphosate residue on your food, the agency actually raised the allowed limits in 2013.
How do you know you’re eating GMO foods? You don’t. Because Monsanto and the EPA, USDA and FDA made certain of that by refusing to require labels on GMO foods. Even though about 80 percent of processed foods in the U.S. contain GMO ingredients.
You may be thinking, is it worth it to keep funding these state GMO labeling campaigns, when Monsanto and Big Food come in with their hundreds of millions of dollars to snuff them out?
The answer is a resounding yes. Here’s why. First, it’s more urgent than ever for your health. The FDA just signed off on the GMO apple and the GMO potato, and will likely sign off on GMO salmon and GMO wheat. This, in addition to new GMO corn and soy varieties the USDA recently approved—crops engineered to withstand massive doses of a toxic combination of both glyphosate and 2,4-D (a form of which was used to make Agent Orange).
More and more studies are being done on the toxic effect of glyphosate on human health. But this most recent study, from the World Health Organization, may be the most incriminating of all. Yet, we have no indication from the U.S. government that it will heed this new warning and take action.
Second, Monsanto’s lobbyists are pushing Congress to pass a law that would kill states’ rights to pass GMO labeling laws. Word is that within weeks, if not sooner, Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) will reintroduce what activists have labeled the DARK ACT—Deny Americans the Right to Know. The bill is an attempt to strip states’ of their constitutional right to pass GMO labeling laws.
If we pass GMO labeling laws in Maine, Rhode Island and Massachusetts, in addition to the law already passed in Vermont, we’ll make it much more difficult for the Republican-dominated Congress to take on all four of these states. In what is a clear sign that Pompeo is about to reintroduce his bill, the House Agriculture Committee is holding a full committee hearing on the costs and impacts of GE food labeling, The Gene Giants and Big Food will pack that hearing with their lobbyists.
Third, it is absolutely essential that we not give up this fight—your fight—or we risk sending the wrong message to Monsanto, and state and federal lawmakers. We may have (very narrowly) lost several key state battles, but those battles launched a massive national public education campaign, and helped launch similar initiatives and legislative campaigns in more than 20 states.
Without the support of people like you—concerned consumers, voters, moms and dads, from every generation and every point across the political spectrum—most Americans still wouldn’t know what a GMO is or why it matters, much less that they are being denied this basic information on food packaging—information that consumers in more than 60 countries rightfully have.
Instead, thanks to you, more than 90 percent of Americans are now standing up to demand the right to know.
HOW MANY POLICE KILLINGS IN AMERICA? NOBODY KNOWS
An article in The Guardian discovers that we have no accounting of the number of people killed by police in this country. The NSA gathers information on all our communications. We keep track of how many men over 20 eat certain foods each day. We track all kinds of things. But police killings? No—that’s too difficult.
The police in this country are out of control. They kill unarmed citizens—especially black citizens–and pay no price. Hell, we don’t even know how often they do it. They are armed up with military weapons. There are bullies and murderers in their ranks. They protect each other behind the code of silence. New revelations of their emails show vicious racism and intolerance. I can vouch for that. The most virulent racism I’ve ever heard came from a couple of Irish cops in New York City. They were friends of my brother-in-law, an Irish-American guy who grew up on West 22nd Street in Manhattan. Their racism astonished and sickened me.
Now I discover that the number of people killed each year by police in America can’t be known—it’s too murky. The cops aren’t reporting. Or they’re reporting wrong. Or the FBI is covering up the numbers. Or there’s no reporting protocol. All while our government surveillance of its citizens compiles enormous amounts of precise data.
Are all cops killers? Of course not. Are some cops killers? For sure. And they routinely get away with it.
Here’s the Guardian story, reported by Tom McCarthy on March 18:
A year ago, in a bureaucratic shift that went unremarked in the somnolent days before Michael Brown was shot dead in Ferguson, the US government admitted a disturbing failure. The top crime-data experts in Washington had determined that they could not properly count how many Americans die each year at the hands of police. So they stopped counting.
The move did not make headlines. Before Brown was killed, a major government effort to count people killed by police could be mothballed without anybody noticing. The program was never fully funded, and no one involved was accustomed to their technical daily work drawing a spotlight.
But it had been a major effort. For the better part of a decade, a specialized team of statisticians within the US Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS)-– number-crunchers working several nesting dolls deep inside the Justice Department — had been collecting data on what they called arrest-related deaths. The ARD tally was more than a count of killings by police. It was meant to be the elusive key to a problem that seemed easy to understand but difficult to define. The program set out to track any death, of anyone, that happened in the presence of a local or state law enforcement officer.
A victim like Michael Brown, shot dead in the process of arrest, would make the count. A victim like Akai Gurley, shot dead in Brooklyn not in the process of arrest, would make the count. A victim like Eric Garner, choked and squeezed to death on Staten Island in the process of arrest, would make the count. A victim like Tamir Rice, shot dead in Cleveland at 12 years old with no arrest attempt made at all, would make the count, along with many other victims.
These people would make the US government’s authoritative count of people killed by police. If the count still existed. Which it does not.
With some states never participating, and major police departments such as the NYPD failing to report for some years, the Bureau of Justice (BJS) statisticians were never satisfied with their data pool. In March of last year, the bureau pulled the plug on the project, leaving the truth about the most high-profile year for police killings in US history to discarded spreadsheets, bad numbers, and acronymed taskforces with little to show.
The US government is a virtuoso counter. So why can’t it count people killed by police?
For some people, the government’s failure to track officer-involved homicides is especially painful because it seems part of the institutional racism visited on African Americans by the US criminal justice system. Of the many examples of racial disparity in criminal justice, the arrest-related deaths data points to extra risk for African Americans. Black people die in disproportionate numbers at the hands of police, they are more prone to “accidents” around police, and their deaths are more likely to manifest as holes in police records.
Finally, the question of how many people are killed by police leads to the door of the only people who really know: the police.
A New Kind of Economy
When you start looking for the reasons behind many of the problems in our society, you often find capitalism involved. It’s the economic and political system in which a country’s trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit. Without firm regulations on greed and materialism, it can produce income inequality; poverty; making and selling products because they are profitable, whether they are harmful or not; the maximization of profit for shareholders as the first priority of the business, and that means the public be damned.
But is our choice only between an economy run by private individuals for profit, and an economy run by the state? We saw how well a state-run, planned economy worked out for the Soviet Union back in the day. And yet countries that practice Western Socialism—Germany, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland—are some of the wealthiest and happiest countries on earth.
And yes, capitalism can lead to slums side by side with gated communities, extreme poverty and extreme wealth, bad conditions for the workers and excellent conditions for the fat cats. But as we saw in the years 1945-1975, when the wealthy were taxed up to 95 percent of their income, a middle class family making between $12,000 and $18,000 a year looked like this (and I know, because I grew up in such a family): Dad made the money. Mom was a homemaker. (That’s changed forever, thank goodness.) But a fine house could be built for $25,000. The family could have a new car every two or three years. There was not only a chicken in every pot, there was roast beef, lamb chops, veal cutlets, and pork roasts, too. There was enough money to send the kids to college. Tuition at my university was $1,700 a year in 1960. Now it’s $44,520 at the same school and that doesn’t include food, lodging, books, fees, or beer money. During those 30 years, capitalism worked well for most people in America.
But that ended 40 years ago. Now we’re in a pickle. Look again at the first paragraph and the social ills. How can we correct that?
If organic gardening and farming teach us anything, they teach us that we do best when we pattern our activities on nature. Nature’s ways are the ways of heaven, as Lao Tzu said. How can they not be? If you look at any healthy ecosystem, you see that health is predicated on biodiversity. So why can’t we have an economic system based on the way nature runs a climax ecosystem?
That would mean that private individuals would still own the means of production, but the profit motive would be supplanted as the prime mover and chief, unassailable goal by another motive: participation in the common good. In other words, go ahead and invent things, develop products, start businesses, but make sure they do no harm to people or the environment and the creatures that inhabit it.
Oh, who’s going to decide that, I can hear my conservative friends say. Shall we have a bureaucracy that takes away my right to produce toxic chemicals, for instance? Yes. We already have this bureaucracy in place. It’s called the Federal Government and agencies like the Food and Drug Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Institutes of Health, and many more. The problem is they’ve been coopted by Big Business, infiltrated by people bought and paid for by Big Business, and operated by the revolving-door lackeys of Big Business. In other words, they don’t do their jobs.
Our capitalist system is sick. The fox is in charge of the henhouse. The inmates run the asylum. Corporate America has infected our government with lawyers, guns, and money—lots of money. It’s sick, folks. Our job in the future is to stop the virus and focus on making our economic system healthy again.
By following nature’s lead, we might conclude that new products and substances must be tested to see if they help or harm the economic ecosystem. If a new venture or product adds something useful, it gets okayed. If not, it’s not okayed. This is why Senator Elizabeth Warren’s Consumer Protection Bureau is so important. It’s the first new government panel in years that has as its purpose an increase in social good by halting rapacious companies from gouging citizens. It hasn’t been coopted or corrupted. Yet. But there will be those who will try.
Look at the National Organic Standards Board, created by law to keep organic standards tight and wholesome. Well, over the years, many camels have gotten their noses under this tent until now, many of its members represent Big Food—and you know what that means: a loosening of the restrictions until even GMOs will be okayed as organic.
So how do we get to an economic system that operates for the common good, both human and environmental? The answer is pretty clear:
1. Overturn Citizens United and get big money out of politics.
2. Give elected officials a salary. Pay each candidate for office a stipend for election
costs. No fund raising, no lobbying money, no quid pro quos, no bribery.
3. Tax corporations and the wealthy to level the playing field.
4. Allow no regulated industry to have positions on regulatory bodies.
5. Reach consensus on what constitutes the common good.
6. Make sure regulatory agencies do their jobs properly for the common good.
7. Insure that all goods, services, foods, and jobs support natural laws.
MIGHT NOT YOU BE TALKING ABOUT ORGANIC FARMING?
It’s infuriating when a reporter writes a story that completely misses the point. Erica Goode of The New York Times recently wrote an article about how farmers are changing their methods in order to improve the soil by ending tillage, which is plowing that tears open the soil and exposes it to erosion.
That’s good, but they do it by using Roundup to keep down the weeds that will eventually grow, and planting crops that are resistant to Roundup: GMOs.
She goes into some depth about how farmers are practicing soil conservation and soil improvement. The big point she misses is that organic farmers have been doing this for decades. Note to Ms. Goode—how can you do a story on soil conservation without acknowledging that organic farmers have been practicing and perfecting soil conservation both here and around the world for decades? Not a mention. Not a peep. But plenty of mention of conventional agricultural techniques. Shjeesh. I wish I were editor. I’d toss this story back in your lap and say, “What about the organic farmers. Isn’t soil improvement at the heart of what they do? Go do some more digging.” Pun intended.
‘SCHOOL NUTRITION ASSOCIATION’ PROMOTES JUNK FOOD LUNCHES
Sopeaking of The New York Times, Mark Bittman in a recent edition pointed out that the School Nutrition Association has become an ally of what you might call the “let them eat cake” forces.
“What matters,” he writes, “is that if, like the association, you’re taking a stand against the 2010 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act — from a food perspective, among the two or three most progressive pieces of legislation of the Obama administration — you are simply on the wrong side. You’ve pitted yourself not only against better nutrition for current school kids but, even more important, against better nutrition for future students and adults. The School Nutrition Association’s position may not be the equivalent of the American Diabetes Association insisting that, say, we serve Coke at all meals, but it’s in that ballpark.
“So why would the School Nutrition Association, which represents 55,000 cafeteria professionals, betray both its heritage and its name to work against the implementation of the Hunger-Free Kids Act, roll back many of its requirements, and call these standards ‘overly prescriptive’? If you read through the Federal Register summary, you’ll see that they are not, unless you’re someone who believes that cupcakes should be served at every meal. The basic idea is to get kids to eat more fruits and vegetables and less junk. That’s hardly a radical notion.
“The not-so-surprising answer: money.
“According to Helena Bottemiller Evich, who writes about food policy for Politico, about half of the School Nutrition Association’s $10 million operating budget ‘comes from food industry members,’ and those representatives of Big Food are scared to death that more fruits, vegetables and whole grains means less pizza, fries and, well, junk. Forcing kids to eat real fruits and vegetables, or at least to consider eating them, leaves less room for tater tots.”
In other words, the public be damned, even if they are our own children. Let the profits flow!
CHEMICAL INDUSTRY GETS A FREE PASS IN VITTER-UDALL BILL
A new bill that claims to update how chemicals are regulated in the United States, introduced by Senators David Vitter (R-LA) and Tom Udall (D-NM), is a sweet deal for the chemical industry that would keep exposing Americans to harmful chemicals while exposing the nation to billions in health care costs, a coalition of community, environmental and health groups say.
The groups pointed to a new study by New York University that documents over $100 billion a year in health care costs in the European Union for diseases associated with endocrine disrupting chemicals, including IQ loss, ADHD, infertility, diabetes and other disorders that have been rising in the U.S.
The Vitter-Udall bill purports to update the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) of 1976, which was meant to protect the public from harmful chemicals, but which has allowed tens of thousands of chemicals – including chemicals that cause cancer and other serious health problems, into the marketplace with little or no health and safety testing.
“New research links toxic chemicals with a range of illnesses and billions of dollars in health care costs, yet Senators Udall and Vitter are proposing a bill that doesn’t address major problems with current policies and would give the chemical industry a free pass to keep exposing Americans to harmful chemicals for decades to come,” said Katie Huffling, RN, CNM, Director of Programs for the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments, a network of nurses across the U.S. who have been working to reform TSCA.
“The chemical industry should not be allowed to draft the very laws meant to regulate them,” said Richard Moore from Los Jardines Institute in Albuquerque, New Mexico, who is also with the Environmental Justice and Health Alliance. “We need serious chemical reform that protects the health of all people including those who are living in ‘hot spots’ or ‘sacrifice zones’ – typically communities of color — that are highly impacted by chemical factories. It seems that my own Senator, Senator Udall, has forgotten the needs of his constituents in favor of meeting the needs of his industry friends.”
The New York Times recently reported that Sen. Udall has received tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from the chemical industry.
In other words, the public be damned. Let the money roll down into politics like the waters of clear springs!
SOY NOW TOLERATES ROUNDUP AND IS DEADLY TO INSECTS
Inserting the Bacillus thuringiensis insect-toxin into soybeans has received approval (“nonregulated status”) from the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The deregulation paves the way for two Bt proteins that kill certain soybean pests to be included in soybeans through genetic engineering, and for the soybeans to be sold in the U.S.
Dow AgroSciences said the Bt toxin genes would join genetically engineered genes that make the soybeans resistant to applications of the company’s proprietary 2,4-D herbicide. Enlist soybeans are going through the USDA deregulation process at the moment.
“This integrated solution will provide much-needed insect control as well as tolerance to multiple herbicides for improved weed management, allowing crops to maximize yield in a highly efficient and sustainable manner,” Dow AgroSciences noted.
So now our soybeans will not only be double-dosed with Roundup and 2,4-D herbicides, but will also kill those insects that dare to feed on them. And what about if you feed on them? Well, you’re not allowed to know about GMOs in your food, so good luck with that.
In other words, the public be damned. Let the money flow down like oil down Aaron’s beard.
Organic Gardening Magazine Is Now Organic Life
Organic Gardening magazine had its heyday in the decade of the 1970s, during the back-to-the-land phase of the emerging environmental movement. The two magazines people kept, rather than throw out, were National Geographic and Organic Gardening. Our readers (I say “our” because I worked on the magazine for the entire decade) were an amazingly loyal bunch—so much so that the lobby of our building at Rodale Press usually had a few tourists milling about, wide-eyed at the idea they were in the place where their handbook for organic living was written.
I always had the feeling that the organic idea—that the way to organize human life in all its aspects is to follow nature’s lead—had application far beyond the farm or garden. I still think that. And now, with the urging and blessing of Maria Rodale, the current CEO of Rodale Press, the boundaries have been pushed out, the walls confining the organic idea to the farm and garden have tumbled, and good old OG has become Organic Life.
I hope the new magazine looks at how that simple organic idea of following nature rather than twisting her arm for human purposes can be applied widely in all areas of human endeavor. What would it mean, for instance, to have an economic system built on respect for nature and a humble willingness to seek out her laws and rules and follow them? Would it lead us to the kind of income inequality we have in our capitalist system today? Should our way of life be thought of as an ecology, where every job has a benign purpose and fits into the economy the way plants and animals create a healthy ecosystem?
I wish Organic Life well. Along with its articles on food that sustains our bodies, I hope it provides plenty of food for thought. The supernova-like expansion of the organic idea into every facet of human life will be a fitting testament to the genius of Jerome Irving Rodale, Maria’s grandfather, the founder of the organic movement in America, the creator of Organic Farming & Gardening magazine, and a man vilified as a crazy quack while alive, but who was truly a visionary who planted a seed that has grown into a mighty tree. That tree has now borne fruit, and the seeds in those fruits have fallen, sprouted, and are now creating a climax forest ecosystem built on nature’s plan.
SYNGENTA TELLS BALDFACED LIE ABOUT ITS ATRAZINE HERBICIDE
“Syngenta, a Swiss chemicals company, produces one of America’s most popular herbicides. It is called atrazine, and 73.7 million pounds of the chemical compound were applied in the United States in 2013. It was used on more than half of all corn crops, two-thirds of sorghum and up to 90 percent of sugar cane,” writes Danny Hakim in The New York Times..
The weed killer is banned as a pesticide in the European Union as well as in Switzerland over concerns that it is a groundwater contaminant. Syngenta, however, did not get the memo. Hakim reports that even though the EU banned atrazine over a decade ago, the company has long insisted that the pesticide is not banned. On one corporate website, Syngenta points to anti-atrazine activists who claim that “atrazine is banned in the European Union. This is patently false.”
Another Syngenta-backed site, “Saving the Oasis,” also blames “anti-atrazine activists.” And another such site, AGSense, says, “We’ve known it all along, and now you know it too: Atrazine is not banned in the European Union.” And the company has repeated its assertion to reporters. “It is not banned,” Ann Bryan, a spokeswoman for the company, told Hakim in an email. .
“The use of atrazine as an herbicide or pesticide is banned in the E.U.,” Mikko Vaananen, a spokesman for the European Chemicals Agency, stated in an email. European Union government documents, from formal filings to informal newsletters, also use the term “banned.”
Scores of chemicals that are banned or tightly restricted in the European Union are allowed in the United States. One recent analysis by the Center for International Environmental Law, a Washington-based advocacy group, found 82 instances of pesticides allowed in the United States but barred or restricted in Europe. This disparity can make selling products on one side of the Atlantic that are banned on the other uncomfortable, though few companies have tried a semantic maneuver quite like Syngenta’s.
GOODBYE NATIONAL SOVEREIGNTY
A provision of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) “trade” deal called Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) would allow Monsanto to sue any nation bound by the TPP contract (Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States, and Vietnam) for potential lost profits as a result of GMO or pesticide regulations. Have GMO labeling or cultivation bans within your borders? Get ready to go to court…Monsanto’s court, that is. With ISDS, Monsanto can take its case before an international corporate court where corporate lawyers are the judges. And its rulings can’t be challenged in the defending nation’s courts.
RHODE ISLAND GMO LABELING LAW MOVES FORWARD
Rhode Island moves forward with legislation for mandatory GMO labeling! Representatives Canario, Hull, Edwards, Bennett, and Abney have introduced H5197 that will label raw and packaged foods that have been genetically engineered.
BIG INCREASE IN INFLAMMATORY BOWEL DISEASE IN KIDS
Got GMO belly? Without GMO labeling, there is no traceability, no accountability, and no liability. In the largest study to date, researchers in Ohio found an alarming increase in children with inflammatory bowel disease during the last decade in the United States. This increasing trend was present in each age category and across all geographic regions (Northeast, Midwest, South and West). The peer reviewed study was published in the Journal of Investigative Medicine.
Interestingly, researchers studying farm animals fed GMO corn and soybeans have found a high incidence of inflamed stomachs and bowels in swine. A control group of pigs fed organic feed had no such inflammatory disease. Pigs are noted for having digestive systems remarkably like humans.
SCOTT’S SELLING ROUNDUP READY GMO GRASS
Scott’s has released Roundup Ready GMO Kentucky Bluegrass into our environment. Employees have started planting it at their homes. Like most other GMOs, this is just another way to sell more Roundup. Not only on our food but now in our yards where our children play and our pets run.
ARE BIG ORGANIC CORPORATIONS PROFITEERING?
Mark Kastel, Senior Farm Policy Analyst at the Cornucopia Institute in Wisconsin sent us the following email:
With 80 percent of organic eggs coming from giant Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), factory farms with as many as 18,000 head of cattle producing an increasing percentage of the organic milk supply, and an estimated 50 percent of organic corn and 75-90 percent of organic soybeans being imported, it seems that the public corporations involved in organics have used this dynamic to profit very handsomely at the expense of U.S. family-scale farmers.
Due to the generosity of the Jessie Smith Noyes Foundation and a couple of our major individual donors, Cornucopia owns stock in all of the public companies that are heavily involved in organics so we can monitor them and participate in their governance, with others, as activist shareholders. We have to assume that privately held corporations, and the giant agribusinesses that own so many organic brands (Kellogg’s, General Mills, Smucker’s, etc.), are profiting as well.
There’s nothing wrong with profit. But why should the profit margins for organic brands be larger than margins for conventional food? They certainly need to cover their increased costs (and organic ingredients and handling are more expensive than conventional). But extra margins appear to be profiteering at the expense of consumer goodwill.
How many more consumers could afford organic food if margins, and corporate profits, were at industry averages?
And now, these companies, in the guise of the industry’s lobby group, the Organic Trade Association (OTA), want to institute a “check-off” (tax on industry participants, including family farmers).
The OTA in the past failed at fundraising to support their own research initiative, The Organic Center. Now they want a federally mandated tax that will generate an estimated $40 million a year.
Don’t you think the corporations themselves, awash in profits, could leave the family farmers, who have overwhelmingly rejected the scheme, out of this shakedown?
The Stench of Slavery Lingers in the Contemporary GOP
How is it that despite the fact that most Americans are peace-loving, hard-working, generous, tolerant people who believe in the ideals expressed in the Constitution, we have become a nation of almost constant warfare whose Congress is currently dominated by right-wing zealots, a nation that oppresses its minorities, devalues its women and LGTB communities, declares war on science, spies on its own citizens, fails to prosecute war criminals and bank fraud, destroys its environment by practicing ruthless agriculture and exploitative energy extraction, and gives enormous wealth to a handful of people while its middle class sinks beneath a tidal wave of debt and income inequality?
The answer, I think, is that our country’s original sin of slavery still corrupts us. Slavery in the antebellum South was anything but an expression of the American ideals of fair play, equality, and justice for all. It was a brutal system of repression where a handful of people had all the money and respect, while slaves did all the work and were treated like chattel.
Although the South lost the Civil War, it’s now come to pass that the ethos of the Old South has enjoyed a recrudescence and infected our society anew. The examples are everywhere. In Wisconsin, original home of American socialism, Republican Governor Scott Walker has effectively eliminated collective bargaining. Anti-science ignorance blooms within the so-called Christian community, where children are taught that the world was created 6,000 years ago and humans and dinosaurs lived together. Like ISIS in the Middle East, whose goal is to establish a caliphate across the Muslim world and pluralism is disallowed, fundamental Christian evangelicals believe that America is a Christian nation, despite the insistence of the Founding Fathers that it not only isn’t a sectarian nation, but church and state should remain forever separate. Our police forces have morphed into paramilitary and gun down unarmed minority children. There’s a war on women’s reproductive rights that’s essentially a re-establishment of male dominance over females. Ignorance reigns in the Republican legislator in Idaho would wondered at a hearing whether a woman could swallow a camera to facilitate a gynecological exam; in the Republican legislator who wanted to jail women who wear yoga pants; in the intolerance of those who would uproot families and deport them instead of offering them a way to citizenship. I could go on.
And how is all this attributable to slavery? I will now quote extensively from “How a Brutal Strain of American Aristocrats Have Come to Rule America,” written by Sara Robinson on AlterNet about three years ago. It is as trenchant a piece of political and historical analysis into our current predicament as can be imagined. Here it is:
“It’s been said that the rich are different than you and me. What most Americans don’t know is that they’re also quite different from each other, and that which faction is currently running the show ultimately makes a vast difference in the kind of country we are.
“Right now, a lot of our problems stem directly from the fact that the wrong sort has finally gotten the upper hand; a particularly brutal and anti-democratic strain of American aristocrat that the other elites have mostly managed to keep away from the levers of power since the Revolution. Worse: this bunch has set a very ugly tone that’s corrupted how people with power and money behave in every corner of our culture. Here’s what happened, and how it happened, and what it means for America now.
“Much of American history has been characterized by a struggle between two historical factions among the American elite — and that the election of George W. Bush was a definitive sign that the wrong side is winning.
“For most of our history, American economics, culture and politics have been dominated by a New England-based Yankee aristocracy that was rooted in Puritan communitarian values, educated at the Ivies and marinated in an ethic of noblesse oblige (the conviction that those who possess wealth and power are morally bound to use it for the betterment of society). While they’ve done their share of damage to the notion of democracy in the name of profit (as all financial elites inevitably do), this group has, for the most part, tempered its predatory instincts with a code that valued mass education and human rights; held up public service as both a duty and an honor; and imbued them with the belief that once you made your nut, you had a moral duty to do something positive with it for the betterment of mankind. Your own legacy depended on this. Among the presidents, this strain gave us both Roosevelts, Woodrow Wilson, John F. Kennedy, and Poppy Bush — nerdy, wonky intellectuals who, for all their faults, at least took the business of good government seriously. The core impulse to improve the world is a good one — and one that’s been conspicuously absent in other aristocratic cultures.
“Which brings us to that other great historical American nobility — the plantation aristocracy of the lowland South, which has been notable throughout its 400-year history for its utter lack of civic interest, its hostility to the very ideas of democracy and human rights, its love of hierarchy, its fear of technology and progress, its reliance on brutality and violence to maintain ‘order,’ and its outright celebration of inequality as an order divinely ordained by God.
“The elites of the Deep South are descended mainly from the owners of sugar, rum and cotton plantations from Barbados — the younger sons of the British nobility who’d farmed up the Caribbean islands, and then came ashore to the southern coasts seeking more land. The culture they created in the crescent stretching from Charleston, SC, around to New Orleans was a near-carbon copy of the West Indian slave state these Barbadians had left behind, a place notorious even then for its inhumanity. From the outset, Deep Southern culture was based on radical disparities in wealth and power, with a tiny elite commanding total obedience and enforcing it with state-sponsored terror. Its expansionist ambitions would put it on a collision course with its Yankee rivals, triggering military, social, and political conflicts that continue to plague the United States to this day.
“These elites have always feared and opposed universal literacy, public schools and libraries, and a free press. They have historically been profoundly anti-technology as well, far preferring solutions that involve finding more serfs and throwing them at a problem whenever possible. Why buy a bulldozer when 150 convicts on a chain gang can grade your road instead? Unlike the Puritan elites, who wore their wealth modestly and dedicated themselves to the common good, Southern elites sank their money into ostentatious homes and clothing and the pursuit of pleasure — including lavish parties, games of fortune, predatory sexual conquests, and blood sports involving ritualized animal abuse spectacles.
“But perhaps the most destructive piece of the Southern elites’ worldview is the extremely anti-democratic way it defined the very idea of liberty. In Yankee Puritan culture, both liberty and authority resided mostly with the community, and not so much with individuals. Individuals were expected to make sacrifices for the betterment of everyone. In return, the community had an inescapable moral duty to care for its sick, educate its young and provide for its needy — the kind of support that maximizes each person’s liberty to live in dignity and achieve his or her potential. A Yankee community that failed to provide such support brought shame upon itself. To this day, our progressive politics are deeply informed by this Puritan view of ordered liberty.
“In the old South, on the other hand, nobody had the authority to tell a Southern gentleman what to do with resources under his control. In this model, that’s what liberty is. If you don’t have the freedom to rape, beat, torture, kill, enslave, or exploit your underlings (including your wife and children) with impunity — or abuse the land, or enforce rules on others that you will never have to answer to yourself — then you can’t really call yourself a free man.
“When a Southern conservative talks about ‘losing his liberty,’ the loss of this absolute domination over the people and property under his control — and, worse, the loss of status and the resulting risk of being held accountable for laws that he was once exempt from — is what he’s really talking about. In this view, freedom is a zero-sum game. Anything that gives more freedom and rights to lower-status people can’t help but put serious limits on the freedom of the upper classes to use those people as they please. It cannot be any other way. So they find Yankee-style rights expansions absolutely intolerable, to the point where they’re willing to fight and die to preserve their divine right to rule.
“Once we understand the two different definitions of ‘liberty’ at work here, a lot of other things suddenly make much more sense. We can understand the traditional Southern antipathy to education, progress, public investment, unionization, equal opportunity, and civil rights. The fervent belief among these elites that they should completely escape any legal or social accountability for any harm they cause. Their obsessive attention to where they fall in the status hierarchies. And, most of all — the unremitting and unapologetic brutality with which they’ve defended these ‘liberties’ across the length of their history.
“The current conservative culture war is the Civil War still being re-fought by other means. After the Civil War, the rise of Northern industrialists and the dominance of Northern universities and media ensured that subsequent generations of the American power elite continued to subscribe to the Northern worldview — even when the individual leaders came from other parts of the country.
“Ironically, it was that old Yankee commitment to national betterment that ultimately gave the Southern aristocracy its big chance to break out and go national. It was easy for the Northeast to hold onto cultural, political and economic power as long as all the country’s major banks, businesses, universities, and industries were headquartered there. But the New Deal — and, especially, the post-war interstate highways, dams, power grids, and other infrastructure investments that gave rise to the Sun Belt — fatally loosened the Yankees’ stranglehold on national power. The gleaming new cities of the South and West shifted the American population centers, unleashing new political and economic forces with real power to challenge the Yankee consensus. And because a vast number of westward migrants came out of the South, the elites that rose along with these cities tended to hew to the old Southern code, and either tacitly or openly resist the moral imperatives of the Yankee canon. The soaring postwar fortunes of cities like Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Houston, Dallas, and Atlanta fed that ancient Barbadian slaveholder model of power with plenty of room and resources to launch a fresh and unexpected 20th-century revival.
“These post-WWII Southerners and Westerners drew their power from the new wealth provided by the defense, energy, real estate, and other economic booms in their regions. They also had a profound evangelical conviction, brought with them out of the South, that God wanted them to take America back from the Yankee liberals — a conviction that expressed itself simultaneously in both the formation of the vast post-war evangelical churches (which were major disseminators of Southern culture around the country); and in their takeover of the GOP, starting with Barry Goldwater’s campaign in 1964 and culminating with Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980.
“They countered Yankee hegemony by building their own universities, grooming their own leaders and creating their own media. By the 1990s, they were staging the RINO hunts that drove the last Republican moderates (almost all of them Yankees, by either geography or cultural background) and the meritocratic order they represented to total extinction within the GOP. A decade later, the Tea Party became the voice of the unleashed id of the old Southern order, bringing it forward into the 21st century with its full measure of selfishness, racism, superstition, and brutality intact.
“From its origins in the fever swamps of the lowland south, the worldview of the old Southern aristocracy can now be found nationwide. Buttressed by the arguments of Ayn Rand — who updated the ancient slaveholder ethic for the modern age — it has been exported to every corner of the culture, infected most of our other elite communities and killed off all but the very last vestiges of noblesse oblige.
“It’s not an overstatement to say that we’re now living in Plantation America.
“To the horror of his Yankee father, George W. Bush proceeded to run the country exactly like a Barbadian slavelord. And Barack Obama has done almost nothing to roll this victory back. We’re now living in an America where rampant inequality is accepted, and even celebrated.
“Torture and extrajudicial killing have been reinstated, with no due process required.
The wealthy and powerful are free to abuse employees, break laws, destroy the commons, and crash the economy — without ever being held to account.
The rich flaunt their ostentatious wealth without even the pretense of humility, modesty, generosity, or gratitude.
“The military — always a Southern-dominated institution — sucks down 60 percent of our federal discretionary spending, and is undergoing a rapid evangelical takeover as well.
“Our police are being given paramilitary training and powers that are completely out of line with their duty to serve and protect, but much more in keeping with a mission to subdue and suppress. Even liberal cities like Seattle are now home to the kind of local justice that used to be the hallmark of small-town Alabama sheriffs.
“Segregation is increasing everywhere. The rights of women and people of color are under assault. Violence against leaders who agitate for progressive change is up. Racist organizations are undergoing a renaissance nationwide.
“We are withdrawing government investments in public education, libraries, infrastructure, health care, and technological innovation — in many areas, to the point where we are falling behind the standards that prevail in every other developed country.
“Elites who dare to argue for increased investment in the common good, and believe that we should lay the groundwork for a better future, are regarded as not just silly and soft-headed, but also inviting underclass revolt. The Yankees thought that government’s job was to better the lot of the lower classes. The Southern aristocrats know that its real purpose is to deprive them of all possible means of rising up against their betters.
“The rich are different now because the elites who spent four centuries sucking the South dry and turning it into an economic and political backwater have now vanquished the more forward-thinking, democratic Northern elites. Their attitudes towards freedom, authority, community, government, and the social contract aren’t just confined to the country clubs of the Gulf Coast; they can now be found on the ground from Hollywood and Silicon Valley to Wall Street. And because of that quiet coup, the entire US is now turning into the global equivalent of a Deep South state.
“As long as America runs according to the rules of Southern politics, economics and culture, we’re no longer free citizens exercising our rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as we’ve always understood them. Instead, we’re being treated like serfs on Massa’s plantation — and increasingly, we’re being granted our liberties only at Massa’s pleasure.
“Welcome to Plantation America.”
I agree with Sara Robinson’s analysis, but remember we’re talking about elites and those Christian evangelical conservatives and Tea Party zealots who are married to the plantation worldview, not every person in the Sun Belt. I see much hope in the establishment of organic farms and gardens across this region. It’s hard to turn from protecting biodiversity and cherishing life on your organic farm or in your garden and then start de-valuing the lives of minorities, throwing up roadblocks to voting, and stripping women of their reproductive rights.
KRUGMAN ON CONQUERING INCOME INEQUALITY
Sara Robinson’s Plantation America piece does help illuminate current events. See how it throws light on what Paul Krugman wrote about income inequality in The New York Times on February 23, 2015: “As for wages and salaries, never mind college degrees — all the big gains are going to a tiny group of individuals holding strategic positions in corporate suites or astride the crossroads of finance. Rising inequality isn’t about who has the knowledge; it’s about who has the power.
“Now, there’s a lot we could do to redress this inequality of power. We could levy higher taxes on corporations and the wealthy, and invest the proceeds in programs that help working families. We could raise the minimum wage and make it easier for workers to organize. It’s not hard to imagine a truly serious effort to make America less unequal.”
Right—if the old Yankee values mean anything to you. But fat chance the right wing ideologues who run Congress will pass the laws that Krugman suggests.
CONSERVATIVE SCIENCE IS NOT REALLY SCIENCE AT ALL
For years, Republican politicians wanting to block legislation on climate change have bolstered their arguments by pointing to the work of a handful of scientists who claim that greenhouse gases pose little risk to humanity.
One of the names they invoke most often is Wei-Hock Soon, known as Willie, a scientist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics who claims that variations in the sun’s energy can largely explain recent global warming. He has often appeared on conservative news programs, testified before Congress and in state capitals, and starred at conferences of people who deny the risks of global warming.
But newly released documents show the extent to which Dr. Soon’s work has been tied to funding he received from corporate interests.
He has accepted more than $1.2 million in money from the fossil-fuel industry over the last decade while failing to disclose that conflict of interest in most of his scientific papers. At least 11 papers he has published since 2008 omitted such a disclosure, and in at least eight of those cases, he appears to have violated ethical guidelines of the journals that published his work.
Now, The New York Times reports, Democratic lawmakers in Washington are demanding information about funding for other scientists who publicly dispute widely held views on the causes and risks of climate change.
Prominent members of the United States House of Representatives and the Senate have sent letters to universities, companies and trade groups asking for information about funding to the scientists.
In letters sent to seven universities, Representative Raúl M. Grijalva, an Arizona Democrat who is the ranking member of the House committee on natural resources, sent detailed requests focused on funding sources to the academic employers of scientists who had testified before Congress about climate change.
In the letters, Representative Grijalva wrote, “My colleagues and I cannot perform our duties if research or testimony provided to us is influenced by undisclosed financial relationships.” He asked for each university’s policies on financial disclosure and the amount and sources of outside funding for each scholar, “communications regarding the funding” and “all drafts” of testimony.
Three Democratic members of the Senate sent 100 letters to fossil fuel companies, trade groups and other organizations asking about their funding of climate research and advocacy. The letters were signed by Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts, Barbara Boxer of California and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island. The senators asked for responses by April 3.
“Corporate special interests shouldn’t be able to secretly peddle the best junk science money can buy,” Senator Markey said, denouncing what he called “denial-for-hire operations.”
Buying junk science to support corporate chicanery is not confined to the issue of climate change. This is exactly how Big Ag, Big Chem, Big Biotech “prove” that conventional agriculture is harmless. Funding for those scientists who produce studies supporting the safety of pesticides and herbicides should also be examined. If the research is legitimate, and the findings are accurate—even if they support the safety of these chemicals—then all right. Nobody’s suggesting witch hunts. But if the funding comes from the companies like Monsanto that benefit from the sale of these chemicals, then there is obviously a conflict of interest. Academic freedom does not mean the right to game the pursuit of scientific truth in order to obtain funding for your research.
THE NETHERLANDS BANS SALE OF ROUNDUP
It’s official, the Netherlands beat Monsanto in a long-debated motion to ban the sale of glyphosate-based herbicides. The Dutch Parliament passed the law prohibiting private parties from buying Monsanto’s toxic herbicide, Roundup, and is expected to go into effect in late 2015. While the Dutch Lower House had initiated the law to ban glyphosate from non-agricultural use years ago, it seems Monsanto’s grip on the government was firm until just recently, when the evidence of the harm that Roundup causes became overwhelming.
HOUSE BILL PREVENTS EPA FROM GETTING EXPERT ADVICE
The GOP-dominated House has passed a bill that effectively prevents scientists who are peer-reviewed experts in their field from providing advice — directly or indirectly — to the EPA, while at the same time allowing industry representatives with financial interests in fossil fuels to have their say. Perversely, all this is being done in the name of “transparency.”
H.R. 1422, also known as the Science Advisory Board Reform Act, passed 229-191. It was sponsored by Representative Chris Stewart (R-UT). The bill changes the rules for appointing members to the Science Advisory Board (SAB), which provides scientific advice to the EPA Administrator. Among many other things, it states: “Board members may not participate in advisory activities that directly or indirectly involve review or evaluation of their own work.” This means that a scientist who had published a peer-reviewed paper on a particular topic would not be able to advise the EPA on the findings contained within that paper. That is, the very scientists who know the subject matter best would not be able to discuss it.
In response, the White House has issued a statement indicating it would veto the bill if it passed, noting: “H.R. 1422 would negatively affect the appointment of experts and would weaken the scientific independence and integrity of the SAB.” Representative Jim McGovern (D-MA) was blunter, telling House Republicans on Tuesday: “I get it, you don’t like science. And you don’t like science that interferes with the interests of your corporate clients. But we need science to protect public health and the environment.”
Director of the Union of Concerned Scientists Andrew A. Rosenberg wrote a letter to House Representatives stating: “This [bill] effectively turns the idea of conflict of interest on its head, with the bizarre presumption that corporate experts with direct financial interests are not conflicted while academics who work on these issues are. Of course, a scientist with expertise on topics the Science Advisory Board addresses likely will have done peer-reviewed studies on that topic. That makes the scientist’s evaluation more valuable, not less.”
Two more bills relating to the EPA are set to go for a vote, bills that opponents argue are part of an unrelenting partisan attack on the EPA and that demonstrate more support for industrial polluters than the public health concerns of the American people.
PEACEFUL BELLY FARM PLANT SALE VIDEO GOES VIRAL
Oh, them organic hippies! God bless ‘em:
The Propagandizing of America
“The War on Science” screams the 72-point headline on the cover of the March, 2015, issue of National Geographic, accompanied by the following lines defining the war:
Climate change does not exist.
Evolution never happened.
The Moon Landing was fake.
Vaccinations can lead to autism.
Genetically Modified Food is evil.
What?!?! Good old National Geo lumps opposition to GMOs in with climate change deniers and moon landing truthers? If you think GMOs are an environmental threat, you are a foot soldier in the war on science? How is this possible, for a respected magazine to fall prey to agribusiness propaganda?
It’s possible because the editors at National Geo have swallowed the biotech industry’s lies. This propaganda masquerades as journalism, but it isn’t journalism at all. It is a mask behind which is an agenda so incredibly cynical that it truly is evil. And that agenda is the complete corporate control of agriculture—from the patented GMO seeds that farmers are not allowed to save and plant next growing season, to the profits from the sale of agricultural chemicals. The thrust of the propaganda is that not only are GMOs safe and entirely equivalent to regular crops, but that they are key to feeding the world’s burgeoning population in the future.
This propaganda is spread so widely and so often that it swamps fair and objective real journalism. Big Ag in all its forms is willing to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to cover up the truth. The truth can’t get out. Silence reigns while the lies are broadcast through bullhorns. And those bullhorns are the media, including the National Geographic. And of course Fox “News,” but also the Washington Post and The New York Times, among many other outlets.
And now the propaganda comes through the internet and digital social media on smart phones. For example, a couple of days ago, I got an email from The Coalition for Safe Affordable Food. It encouraged me to “choose science over hysteria” when it comes to making food choices. Translated, this means stopping my hysterical worrying about GMOs and start chowing down on them instead, because the scientists have everything firmly in hand and they have your health and best interests at heart.
Let me quote from the website of the Coalition for Safe Affordable Food:
“American food and beverage companies have led the world in safe, quality food production for generations. Over the last two decades, the food industry has used genetically modified (GM) technology to produce these same products. Today, foods that have been genetically modified make up 70-80% of the foods we eat. Ingredients grown using GM technology are not only safe, but they also have a number of important benefits. GM crops are more plentiful, better for the environment and keep production costs down for farmers, ultimately lowering costs for consumers across the country.
We will continue to advocate for the continued safe and effective use of agricultural biotechnology to increase the food supply while lowering cost. And we will continue to engage in an informative dialogue with policy makers so that they understand the safety, prevalence and benefits of GM technology.”
And who is paying “to engage in an informative dialogue with policy makers” (read lobbying)? Here’s who:
The American Association of Cereal Chemists
Agricultural Retailers Association
American Bakers Association
American Beverage Association
American Farm Bureau Federation
American Feed Industry Association
American Frozen Food Institute
American Fruit and Vegetable Processors and Growers Coalition
American Seed Trade Association
American Soybean Association
American Sugarbeet Growers Association
Biotechnology Industry Organization
Corn Refiners Association
Council for Responsible Nutrition
Flavor & Extract Manufacturers Association
Global Cold Chain Alliance
Grocery Manufacturers Association
Independent Bakers Association
International Dairy Foods Association
International Franchise Association
National Alfalfa & Forage Alliance
National Association of Manufacturers
National Association of Wheat Growers
National Confectioners Association
National Corn Growers Association
National Council of Farmer Cooperatives
National Grain & Feed Association
National Fisheries Institute
National Milk Producers Federation
National Oilseed Processors Association
National Potato Council
National Restaurant Association
National Turkey Federation
North American Millers Association
Pet Food Institute
Snack Food Association
U.S. Beet Sugar Association
U.S. Canola Association
Do you see any scientific organizations in this list? I see agribusiness trade associations, lobbying groups, and propaganda machines. Let’s look more closely at one organization that just might have a foot in science. Let’s examine the Council for Responsible Nutrition, number 16 on this list.
According to Sourcewatch, a non-profit that exposes the powers behind propaganda outlets, “the Council for Responsible Nutrition is a Washington-based trade association/lobby group. In 2009, it spent $470,000 on lobbying. Its members include ingredient suppliers and manufacturers in the dietary supplement industry, and other entities such as Archer Daniels Midlands Company, Bayer Corporation, Cargill Health & Food Technologies, Cadbury Schweppes, Novartis and Covance Laboratories, Inc., a toxicity testing lab that is controversial for performing tests on animals. CRN advocates self-regulation of the supplement industry.”
Of course, the propagandist-in-chief is Monsanto, which has been flooding TV, the internet, and digital media with click-throughs asking folks to “join the conversation.”
If you click through, a friendly-looking website comes up with pictures of ordinary folks asking Monsanto tough questions about the safety of GMOs and agricultural chemicals like Roundup herbicide. In other words, Monsanto is recognizing that people are becoming aware of the problems with GMOs and Big Ag. So here’s an example of “The Conversation,” taken from Monsanto’s online site:
Karen O. asks, “Is it safe to feed my kids GMOs?”
Monsanto’s answer is “Absolutely Karen! Many of us here at Monsanto are parents – we’ve spent a lot of time thinking about and studying GMOs, and we feel confident feeding them to our kids. A big part of that confidence comes from knowing about all the independent experts who’ve looked at GMOs and concluded that they’re as safe as other foods. That includes groups like the American Medical Association and the World Health Organization, as well as government agencies like the FDA.”
Well, isn’t that special. Monsanto lets the public express their fears so that it can feed them deliberate lies about the safety of GMOs. It’s called propaganda. But is it fair to call Monsanto’s response to Karen O. “deliberate lies?”
Well, Monsanto’s reply to Karen included this: “…all the independent experts who’ve looked at GMOs and concluded that they’re as safe as other foods.”
So let’s look at an article recently sent out by the Center for Food Safety. But first, we need to check on the Center for Food Safety. I mean, who can you trust these days? Here’s what Sourcewatch says about this organization: “The Center for Food Safety, founded in 1997 by the International Center for Technology Assessment, describes itself as a U.S. non-profit organization ‘that works to protect human health and the environment by curbing the use of harmful food production technologies and by promoting organic foods and other forms of sustainable agriculture. Among the issues the organization works on are: genetically modified foods, organic food standards, aquaculture, animal cloning, food irradiation, synthetic hormones (such as rBGH), and mad cow disease.’ The organization received a four-star (‘exceptional’) rating from the charitable oversight organization Charity Navigator.” If any group is legit, it’s the Center for Food Safety.
Here’s the article, the gist of which directly refutes Monsanto’s claim about all the experts who’ve concluded that GMOs are as safe as any other food:
WASHINGTON, D.C. – On the heels of USDA deregulation of the Arctic® apple — the first genetically engineered apple — leading consumer, food safety and environmental groups issued a response to widespread media reports wrongly characterizing the science on GMOs as settled.
The groups, including Consumers Union, Center for Food Safety, Friends of the Earth and Pesticide Action Network, pointed to a January 24 report in the journal Environmental Sciences Europe — signed by 300 scientists, physicians and scholars — that asserts there is no scientific consensus on the safety of GMOs.
The claim of scientific consensus on GMOs frequently repeated in the media is “an artificial construct that has been falsely perpetuated,” the peer-reviewed statement said.
“Preeminent science bodies like the National Research Council have recognized that some engineered foods could pose considerable risk. It is widely recognized by scientists that those risks depend on the particular engineered gene and crop. It is unfortunate that self-appointed advocates for the technology have selectively cited the literature and organizations to suggest that GE crops, generally, present no risks that warrant concern,” said Doug Gurian-Sherman, PhD, senior scientist and director of sustainable agriculture at the Center for Food Safety.
“Not one independent, public safety study has been carried out on the Arctic® apple, and yet some media stories have reported it is ‘safe,’” said Michael Hansen, PhD, senior scientist at Consumers Union. “We call on the press to accurately report on the science of GMOs, particularly the health and environmental concerns raised by scientists and the lack of required safety studies that leave questions about the safety of genetically engineered foods.”
The journal statement cites a concerted effort by GMO seed developers and some scientists, commentators and journalists to construct the claim that there is a “scientific consensus” on GMO safety, and that debate on the topic is “over.”
That claim “…is misleading and misrepresents or outright ignores the currently available scientific evidence and the broad diversity of scientific opinions among scientists on this issue,” according to the statement.
The statement raises the following points in objection to the consensus of safety claim:
There is no consensus in the science. A comprehensive review of peer-reviewed animal feeding studies of GMOs found roughly an equal number of research groups raising concerns about genetically engineered foods and those suggesting GMOs were as safe and nutritious as conventional foods. The review also found that most studies finding GMO foods the same as conventional foods were performed by biotechnology companies or their associates.
There are no epidemiological studies investigating potential health effects of GMO food on human health. With no epidemiological studies, claims that “trillions of GMO meals” have been eaten with no ill effects have no scientific basis. Epidemiology is the study of human populations to determine whether something is harmful or beneficial, and is the scientifically accepted means of determining impact on human health. Without such studies, which have been used to determine the effects of factors from fats to smoking, it is not possible to know whether GMOs are causing harm such as increases in known diseases, especially over the long term.
GMO studies are frequently mischaracterized as showing safety. For example, the EU Research Project, which has been internationally cited as providing evidence of GMO safety, was not designed to test safety and provides no reliable evidence of safety. Another example is the false claim that “hundreds of studies” listed on the biotechnology website Biofortified demonstrate GMO safety; in fact, many of the studies on that list do not address safety concerns at all, and several of the studies raise serious concerns.
International agreements show widespread recognition of risks posed by GMO foods and crops. The Cartegena Protocol on Biosafety and UN’s Codex Alimentarius share a precautionary approach to GMO crops and foods, in that they agree that genetic engineering differs from conventional breeding and that safety assessments should be required before GMOs are used in food or released into the environment.
Claims that government and scientific organizations endorse safety are exaggerated or inaccurate. Reports by the Royal Society of Canada and British Medical Association have noted that some GMOs could be of considerable harm. The positions of some prominent scientific organizations have been misrepresented or opposed by members, further highlighting the lack of consensus among scientists.
There is no consensus on environmental impacts of GMOs, and many concerns have been raised about increased herbicide use, potential health impacts and the rapid spread of herbicide-resistant weeds.
The joint statement concludes, “…the totality of scientific research outcomes in the field of GM crop safety is nuanced; complex; often contradictory or inconclusive; confounded by researchers’ choices, assumptions, and funding sources; and, in general, has raised more questions than it has currently answered.”
Decisions on whether to continue and expand GMO crops should “…be supported by strong scientific evidence…obtained in a manner that is honest, ethical, rigorous, independent, transparent, and sufficiently diversified to compensate for bias,” rather than based on “misleading and misrepresentative claims by an internal circle of likeminded stakeholders that a ‘scientific consensus’ exists on GMO safety.”
So, yes. Deliberate lies. That’s what propagandists do—tell lies for a living. Note that in this article, it’s stated that “most studies finding GMO foods the same as conventional foods were performed by biotechnology companies or their associates.”
Monsanto is luring the public into its propaganda machine by inviting people to “join the conversation.” The information given by Monsanto to the public when they enter “The Conversation” is a set-up, a sucker punch, quoting bogus science performed by their own bought-and-paid-for “scientists” and salting this disinformation with outright lies.
The propaganda is being disseminated and repeated by the media. But National Geo has one thing right. There is a war on science going on. It’s being waged against real, rigorous science not just by tinfoil hat evolution deniers, but also by once respected sources like National Geographic.
OUTRAGE OVER USDA GMO APPLE APPROVAL
Documents released by the Agriculture Department suggest a secret decision to approve a genetically modified apple (the Arctic®) was essentially made almost a year ago. The genetic modification disables an enzyme that causes apple browning.
The Okanagan company that developed the apple said it thought political factors had kept the approval from being announced until just recently. The announcement caused a firestorm of outrage among food safety and environmental groups.
The Okanagan company, which had initially requested approval in 2010, finally became so frustrated that it wrote a pointed letter to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack last month. A spokesman for the Agriculture Department said it took time to analyze the issues and all the comments received. There were two public comment periods that together drew more than 175,000 comments, the overwhelming majority opposed to approval.
Consumer and environmental groups, who say that genetically modified crops in general are not thoroughly tested for safety, were highly critical of the decision.
“This G.M.O. apple is simply unnecessary,” Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food and Water Watch, said. “Apple browning is a small cosmetic issue that consumers and the industry have dealt with successfully for generations.”
An Okanagan spokesperson said the apples would be labeled as Arctic, not as GMO, but with links to the company’s website so consumers could figure out that the fruit was GMO. (Yeah—fat chance.) He added that labeling the fruit as genetically modified would only be “demonizing” it.
DOES OLIVE OIL DEFEND AGAINST ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE?
Dr. Gary Beauchamp is speaking these days about his discovery of the oleocanthal molecule that he found in olive oil about 10 years ago, according to our friends at Apollo Olive Oil.
The discovery, like many great discoveries, was an accident. As a sensory chemist he was searching for a way to improve the taste of ibuprofen when he experienced an olive oil tasting. To his surprise he tasted something in the olive oil that had similarities to the taste of ibuprofen. Further research revealed he had discovered the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory molecule, oleocanthal.
This molecule in olive oil does not have the side effects of ibuprofen. Beauchamp also found that oleocanthal can help remove proteins that are the main component of amyloid plaques found in Alzheimer patients.
CELLS: They Are Who We Are
All life is cells.
Some cells, like microbes, are singles, living unattached to others. They may act in consort—like billions of yeast cells in grape juice, all doing the same task of turning the sugar to alcohol, but they are still single cells.
Even viruses—if they are alive at all–require cells to live. Without cells to invade and conquer, viruses would not exist.
The cells of multi-cellular organisms, plant and animal, cooperate to make complex life forms. In so doing, they take on unique roles. All these cells start out as stem cells that can develop into the structures of the organism’s tissues. One cell becomes the squamous cell in the lining of the mouth, another becomes an eyelid, and so on. They are instructed as to their destinies by hormones produced by the endocrine system, one of the body’s most important systems. Once they become the cells they are destined to be, they play a role in the organization and functioning of the body that produced them.
Thus any multi-cellular organism can be thought of as an ecosystem of cells, each type of cell different, with a specific job to do, requiring cooperation to create the living organism. Any natural ecosystem, comprised of the plants and animals designed by nature, reaches full health and sustainability in its climax state. This means all the players are present and functioning, from top of the line predators down to the tiniest bacterium.
It’s the same with the “ecosystem” of the conglomeration of cells in an organism. When each cell that the organism’s DNA is programmed to produce is present and functioning, health is the result. When certain cells are either missing or malfunctioning, however, illness is the result.
We know that agricultural chemicals like pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides have deleterious effects on cells in all sorts of organisms, not only on the cells themselves, but on the body’s systems that direct their creation and functioning. Chemicals like glyphosate, found in Roundup herbicide, deactivate enzymes that allow for the production of critical proteins. Glyphosate is also an endocrine disruptor, scrambling the message that the hormones are trying to get to the stem cells. We see the results in humans and in the ecosystems of our environment: ill health, destruction, and death.
Now think about what the biotech industry is doing by splicing foreign DNA into the foods we eat, creating genetically modified organisms (GMOs). These creations are something novel in the ecosystem. Their cells have never existed before. Their functions are uncharted and unpredictable. Their effects on the world’s organisms and ecosystems are almost completely unknown. The GMOs are not sanctioned by nature and disregard nature’s systems for establishing health.
This is why organic agriculture and horticulture is so important. They, along with Biodynamic farming, stand against mankind’s hubris in creating heretofore unknown organisms and flooding our environment with untested and known toxins. They are the only sustainable forms of agriculture.
The organic method considers the health of all life on earth, from microbe to mankind. No disruptive chemicals. No deactivated systems. Proper nutrition. Health from cells to whole creatures. That’s why it’s so important to not only eat organic, but also to support organic farmers and the unbiased scientific research that helps us toward a fuller understanding of nature’s ways.
MARK BITTMAN ASKS AND ANSWERS THE RIGHT QUESTION
Writing in The New York Times for February 11, 2015, food writer and columnist Mark Bittman wrote, “Is contemporary American agriculture a system for nourishing people and providing a livelihood for farmers? Or is it one for denuding the nation’s topsoil while poisoning land, water, workers and consumers and enriching corporations? Our collective actions would indicate that our principles favor the latter; that has to change.”
His point is that our food goals are all about protecting corporations rather than protecting the health of the environment and all the creatures in it. He’s exactly right, of course, and I’m sure he’s aware that organic farmers and gardeners, and the people who support them by buying and eating their produce, have been doing just that for decades.
As if to underscore Bittman’s point, here’s a quote by Phil Angell, Monsanto’s director of corporate communications, made about 15 years ago: “Monsanto should not have to vouchsafe the safety of biotech food, our interest is in selling as much of it as possible.”
CONSUMERS UNION BACKS GMO RIGHT-TO-KNOW ACT
Consumers Union, the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, has announced its support for the Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act, a bill in Congress that would create a federal standard for the labeling of genetically engineered (GE) foods.
The legislation was introduced by U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer of California, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio of Oregon.
Jean Halloran, director of food policy initiatives at Consumers Union, said, “We applaud Senators Boxer and Blumenthal and Representative DeFazio for introducing the GE Food Right-to-Know Act today. Genetically engineered crops, created by altering crop DNA in the laboratory, are different than traditional crops, and consumers have a right to know if they are eating them. Just like food that is frozen, from concentrate, homogenized or irradiated, genetically engineered food should be required to be labeled.”
Consumers Union said the bill would help consumers make informed decisions about the food they buy and feed their families. It would also help prevent consumer confusion by prohibiting the term “natural” to be used on food packaging containing GE ingredients, because its use is misleading.
A national survey by Consumer Reports in 2014 found 92 percent of respondents wanted labeling of genetically engineered food.
A report commissioned by Consumer Union found the cost of labeling genetically engineered food would be negligible– the median cost in this analysis is $2.30 per person per year, or less than a penny a day.
A 12-POINT AGENDA FOR DRIVING GMOS OUT OF THE MARKET
Ronnie Cummins, the international director of the Organic Consumers Association, offers this agenda for getting rid of GMOs:
1. Stop Congress from passing the Pompeo bill (HR #4432) in 2015, which would take away states’ rights to pass mandatory GMO food labeling bills, and make it legal for unscrupulous food and beverage companies to continue mislabeling GMO-tainted foods as “natural” or “all natural.”
2. Stop Congress from “fast-tracking” and passing secretly negotiated “Free Trade” agreements (the TPP-Trans-Pacific Partnership, and TTIP-Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) that would weaken consumer and states’ rights to label and safety test GMO and factory-farmed foods.
3. Pass more state laws requiring mandatory labels on GMOs.
4. Pass more bans on GMOs, neonicotinoids and pesticides at the township, city, and county levels.
5. Support Vermont, Maui (Hawaii), Jackson and Josephine counties (Oregon) in their federal and state legal battles to uphold their laws requiring labels and/or bans on GMOs.
6. Educate the public on the dangers and cruelty of GMO-fed, factory-farmed meat, dairy and egg products, and organize a “Great Boycott” of all factory-farmed foods.
7. Support mandatory state legislation to label dairy products and chain restaurant food coming from factory farms or CAFOs (Confined Animal Feeding Operations).
8. Pressure retail natural food stores and coops to follow the lead of Whole Foods Market and the Natural Grocer to label and/or ban all GMO-derived foods, including meat and animal products and deli foods, from their stores.
9. Pressure restaurants to follow the lead of organic/grass fed restaurants and ban, or at least label, all GMO ingredients.
10. Support consumer efforts to test for Roundup/glyphosate contamination in drinking water, human urine, breast milk, and in non-GMO food products such as wheat, potatoes, oats, peas, lentils and dry beans that are currently sprayed with Roundup before harvest.
11. Educate the public on the positive health, environmental, ethical and climate-friendly (greenhouse gas sequestering) attributes of organic, grass-fed, and pasture-raised food and farming.
12. Boycott the “Traitor Brand” products of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, International Dairy Foods Association, and the Snack Food Association.
MIDDLE EASTERN COOKING OF ORGANIC INGREDIENTS: HEALTHY FOOD
In 1968, I went to work in New York City for a man of Lebanese descent who lived with his wife Ginny and two sons across the Hudson in Cliffside Park, New Jersey. After working there for a few weeks, he invited me to his house for dinner. I had never eaten Lebanese food, and was delighted to discover that I loved it.
Over the next two years, Ginny introduced me to hummus and tabouleh, kibbeh, meghli, and many other dishes. After finishing with my job in New York, I moved on to work at Organic Gardening magazine, and discovered that the healthful foods we were describing in the magazine were the very ingredients Ginny had made into her distinctive Lebanese cuisine: olive oil, fresh vegetables of all kinds, fruits, citrus, rice, bulgur, fish, lamb, beef.
I’ve just run across a wonderful Lebanese cookbook—Taste of Beirut: Over 175 Delicious Lebanese Recipes from Classics to Contemporary to Mezze and More—everything I knew from Ginny and plenty more besides. It’s written by Joumana Accad, a woman born in Lebanon and now living in Texas, and published by HCI Books. I highly recommend it.
Why Do GMO Labeling Measures Keep Losing?
According to The New York Times, “In poll after poll, consumers have overwhelmingly said they want labels on foods that contain genetically modified ingredients. Most recently, 66 percent of respondents to an Associated Press-GfK poll last month said they wanted foods containing genetically modified ingredients to be labeled. Only 7 percent did not want such labeling.”
So how is it that when labeling laws are put on state ballots, they are narrowly defeated, as they were in California, Washington, and Oregon, even when pre-balloting polls showed that a big majority of the citizenry of those states want labeling? Are these polls representative of the voting public, or are they self-selected for anti-GMO people? Is someone cheating? If nine out of 10 people really want GMO labeling, as the Associated Press-GfK poll suggests, how come the ballot initiatives keep losing?
Chris Mooney, writing in the Washington Post, found these answers for a story published last October:
“Americans don’t actually know a lot about genetically modified foods, and so polls suggesting they support their labeling should be taken with a major grain of salt,” Mooney wrote. He quotes a 2013 survey conducted by researchers at Rutgers University that found that 54 percent of Americans say they know ‘very little or nothing at all’ about genetically modified foods, and 25 percent have never even heard of them. Only 26 percent of Americans, meanwhile, were actually aware that GMO labeling is not currently required.
“’It’s really clear that people don’t know very much about the subject,’ says Rutgers’ William Hallman, lead researcher on the poll. ‘And when people don’t know much about a subject, how you ask them a question about it largely determines the answer you get back.’
“Indeed, Hallman’s survey also found that when you ask people in the abstract, ‘What information would you like to see on food labels that is not already there?’, most say they don’t want any more information on the label — and only seven percent voluntarily come up with GMOs as an answer. So while over 90 percent of Americans may say GMO labeling is a good thing when you actually ask them directly about it, the vast majority of people are not going around thinking that idea independently of being prompted.
“So then what happens when on GMO ballot initiative is actually up for a decision in a given state? First of all, explains John Gastil, a professor at Penn State who studies ballot initiatives, these initiatives generally do worse than initial polls suggest they’ll do. ‘The reason is that fortunately, we have an instinct which tells us, if we don’t understand something, perhaps we should vote against it,’ says Gastil.
“And what happens when voters actually get to know the GMO labeling issue, inside out? We actually have intriguing evidence on that.
“Oregon has actually created a process in which a random sample of 20 citizens hear from both sides of an initiative (and outside experts), and then come up with a report laying out the pro and con case that is then included in the state’s voter guide. Such a review was conducted for Measure 92. Pro arguments included ‘more control and transparency over our food purchasing decisions’ and that the initiative ‘could benefit Oregon family farmers that grow traditional crops by increasing public demand for crops that are not genetically engineered.’ Con arguments, meanwhile, included the assertion that ‘Existing food labels already give consumers a more reliable way to choose foods without GE ingredients if that is what they prefer, including organic and non-GMO labels. Measure 92 conflicts with these national labeling standards.’ In this case, the panel’s ultimate assessment of Measure 92 split very evenly, with nine panelists in favor of it and 11 against.
“’Even after several days of study, you had voters kind of torn in these matters,’ observes Gastil. Which is still more evidence that general polls don’t reflect how people really think about the issue of genetically modified food labeling — when they actually think about it.”
Mooney’s research should be an indication to anti-GMO balloteers on how to educate voters so they understand that the problem goes well beyond GMOs to include the biotech, agricultural chemical, and food processing industries. In a nutshell, GMOs exist to sell herbicides and pesticides that are destroying our health and the health of our environment.
This is apparent to David Schubert is professor at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies. CNN recently reported his thoughts on the EPA’s performance in protecting Americans’ health.
“One would expect that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has the best interests of the public in mind, but its recent decisions have cast serious doubt upon this assumption,” Schubert wrote.
“One decision in particular could have a dramatic impact on the safety of the U.S. food supply: It is the mandate of the EPA to regulate the use of agricultural chemicals like insecticides and herbicides, as well as to determine their allowable limits in food and drinking water.
“To accommodate the fact that weeds are becoming glyphosate resistant, thereby requiring more herbicide use, the EPA has steadily increased its allowable concentration limit in food, and has essentially ignored our exposure to the other chemicals that are in its commercial formulation. As a result, the amount of glyphosate-based herbicide introduced into our foods has increased enormously since the introduction of GM crops in the mid-1990s. Multiple studies have shown that glyphosate-based herbicides are toxic and likely public health hazards.
“Of equal importance in terms of health is the fact that herbicides are now being used to rapidly kill non-GM grain crops at the end of their growing season in order to speed up harvesting. So, a product can be labeled GM-free but still contain high levels of herbicide.”
I repeat—GMOs are a symptom of the real problem, and that is the real but unstated goal of genetic engineering and biotech in general is to sell more toxic agricultural chemicals.
USDA SECRETLY APPROVES GM LOBLOLLY PINE
Outrage is growing over secret USDA approval of genetically engineered loblolly pine trees. The USDA has made an unprecedented decision to allow ArborGen unregulated commercial cultivation of these transgenic trees. Loblolly pines are native across 14 states throughout the US Southeast, and are grown in plantations around the world. Their pollen is known to travel for hundreds of miles. Something else to know about loblolly pines: their DNA contains more nucleotides—22 billion–than any other form of life on earth. A human being’s DNA, by contrast, contains just three billion. What’s the implication? USDA isn’t telling.
USDA AIDS SALES OF TOXIC HERBICIDES
The Institute for Responsible Technology reports that USDA has given final approval for the commercial release of two new herbicide tolerant varieties of soybeans and cotton from Monsanto.
Non-regulated status was granted for Roundup Ready 2 Xtend soybeans, the industry’s first biotech-stacked trait with both dicamba and glyphosate herbicide tolerance, and Bollgard II XtendFlex cotton which will allow farmers to apply multiple combinations of three herbicides: dicamba, glyphosate, and glufosinate. Dicamba is noted for a tendency to drift.
Food & Water Watch Executive Director, Wenonah Hauter, calls this “simply the latest example of USDA’s allegiance to the biotechnology industry and dependence upon chemical solutions.”
Biotech seed and agrochemical companies like Monsanto and Dow, who received approval for its new Enlist Duo 2,4-D+glyphosate resistant corn and soy last fall, have developed these new generations of GMO seeds and their companion herbicides to “combat” the spread of the glyphosate-resistant Superweeds that are now estimated to infest over 70 million acres of American farm land.
That’s not the reason they developed these new herbicide resistant seeds. I repeat: the real goal is to sell more toxic herbicide, and the USDA is aiding them hand in glove.
GOOD NEWS ABOUT ORGANIC FOOD
From Maria Rodale and her staff comes these headlines about the benefits of organic food:
1. “Higher antioxidant and lower cadmium concentrations and lower incidence of pesticide residues in organically grown crops.”
British Journal of Nutrition, 2014. Link to text: ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4141693/
2. “Eating Mostly Organic Eliminates Most Pesticide Exposure.”
Environmental Research, 2014
Link to abstract: sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S001393511400067X
3. “Fruit Flies Eating Organic Diets Are More Fertile, Live Longer.”
PLoS ONE, 2013
Link to full text: plosone.org/article/info:doi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0052988
A GOVERNMENT THAT GETS IT—WHAT A CONCEPT
The Danish government has announced a plan to double its organic farmland by 2020 and to increase demand for organic food. Read the full article at http://www.foodnavigator.com/Policy/Denmark-launches-most-ambitious-organic-plan
The Nature of Health
We’ve all heard it a thousand times: “Your health is the most important thing. Lose your health and you’ve lost everything.”
But what is health, exactly? Some might say that it’s freedom from disease, but that’s not the right focus. As we proceed through life, we get sick from time to time. It’s how our bodies develop antibodies as defenses against diseases, so that we don’t keep getting the same disease over and over again.
Well, then maybe it’s freedom from chronic conditions like diabetes or emphysema. One can be free from chronic disease yet still be unhealthy, due to a poor diet or lack of exercise, or bad habits like smoking or doing drugs. So lack of disease is not necessarily an indication of good health. Lack of disease is just the baseline and starting point from which true health develops.
Health is something more fundamental. It’s beyond any symptoms or lack thereof. It is the birthright of every living system—whether individual creature, ecological association of creatures, or even the global web of all life—and it emerges to the degree that these systems are operating at full potential.
Too much of the way we live and do things today interferes with our ability to operate at full potential, and thus impedes our health rather than supporting it. Despite the propaganda of corporate agriculture, it’s obvious that our chemical-drenched and overly-processed food is harming us. Change is desperately needed, and not just in the matter of our food, but in just about every area of life.
Many of the needed changes are already afoot, although in early stages. More and more food is being grown organically. The problem of income inequality is getting more attention. Climate change is at least being addressed.
So, what do these systems and many others that affect global health have in common? Where is the template for change on this meta level? Let’s see if we can find it, starting with the life sciences.
Every creature is an interconnected web of life processes. Scientists over the centuries have worked to disentangle this web and study its parts and their functions. Any scientist who has studied anatomy, physiology, microbiology, cell biology, and similar fields will tell you that the interconnections are myriad, that living systems are mind-bogglingly complex.
But what if we went in the opposite direction? Instead of pulling life apart to see how it works, what if we discovered insights so deep that the welter of information about the life sciences pulls together, and what heretofore seemed to be unconnected facts are now seen as varied expressions of overarching principles? As Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “Our globe…is a transparent law, not a mass of facts. The law dissolves the fact and holds it fluid.”
There may have been a time when one human mind could hold all the available knowledge of the life sciences, but that time isn’t now. Ask a scientist if he or she can keep up with the tsunami of information in their field that comes at them every day, and chances are they will say, “No way.” It is time to think about synthesizing rather than simply explicating our knowledge. In this way we’ll find clues to true health.
Every individual life has a job within the context of an ecology. The wolves cull the browsers. The browsers keep down the woody plants, allowing meadows to grow. The meadows offer food and habitat for plant-eating insects. Plant-eating insects cull the weak meadow plants. All are different forms of life, but all are following nature’s ecological rule: “The interaction of predator and prey promotes the health of the whole system.”
And what is mankind’s ecological role? Genesis 2, verse 15 says, “And the Lord put the man into the Garden of Eden to dress it and keep it.” If we read this metaphorically, the world is the Garden of Eden and our job is to dress and keep it—to protect it, in other words. Not a job we’ve been doing too well of late.
Another of nature’s organizing principles might be called, “Whatever doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.” We see this in microbes that develop resistance to antibiotics, in the super weeds that are plaguing farmers who douse their fields with herbicides, and in insects that evolve resistance to pesticides. Setting out to kill whole populations of any organism puts evolutionary pressure on that organism to learn to live with the deadly agent. If a farmer spreads pesticide on 10,000 acres of cotton, it’s a guarantee that there will be a few mutant boll weevils that are immune to the pesticide’s killing power. They breed and you soon have a field full of boll weevils that can ignore the pesticide.
A sad corollary to this principle is that thoughtless human activity is driving many species to extinction, not by applying toxic agents, but simply through habitat loss due to human occupation and our lack of concern for a healthy environment. We might call this natural imperative to protect nature, “Think holistically and think long-term.” By thinking holistically, we take all of nature into account when we act, and by thinking long-term, we assess the consequences of our actions into the future.
There’s another natural principle that could be called, “Possession is nine-tenths of the law.” In farmland fertilized organically with bacteria-laden and nutrient-rich compost, disease-causing microorganisms have a difficult time gaining a toehold. The good guys overwhelm the bad guys. The same principle holds true in the human gut. When the gut is thoroughly colonized by probiotic cultures, such as found in kefir and sauerkraut, disease-causing bacteria are muscled out by the healthful microbes. So it behooves us to make sure we are farming in ways that support a strong, biodiverse ecology of life-giving organisms.
All living things transmit the instructions for reproduction through DNA, yet all DNA is made from just four building blocks. It’s a language with just four letters, but they are enough to make everything from a yeast cell to an elephant. All living things also use four major elements to construct their tissues: hydrogen, oxygen, carbon, and nitrogen.
One more principle could be called, “Waste not, want not.” Nature recycles those four major elements and a raft of trace elements in smaller amounts, and recycles them over and over. A bit of your body may once have been a dinosaur, a fish in the ocean, and a saber-tooth tiger before it got to you. The recycling starts with the modest microorganisms and soil creatures, and builds its way in increasing complexity towards the champion example of living complexity. No, not human beings, but rather the loblolly pine with 22 billion combinations of those four letters in its strands of DNA. By comparison, a human being is built from just three billion of the four letters.
From the life in the soil all other life springs. As Shakespeare wrote in Romeo and Juliet, “That which is nature’s mother is her tomb. What is her burying grave, that is her womb.” In the climax ecosystem of a virgin forest, all the nutrients are recycled. In a tropical forest where it’s always hot, almost all the nutrients are up in the trees, in the parasitic plants that grow on the trees, in the arboreal animals, birds, insects, and so on. If a leaf falls, it’s quickly decomposed by bacteria into its constituent nutrients that are hauled back up into the forest canopy to build new tissue. As life approaches the colder climates, where winter slows and then halts the recycling process, more and more of the organic matter is stored in the duff of the forest floor. Enter a forest in the Mid-Atlantic States and the duff may be less than a foot thick and the topsoil below it a couple of feet thick. But enter a Canadian forest and the duff and topsoil may be many feet thick. The environmental conditions may change, but the recycling principles are the same.
A healthy soil is one where the life in the soil has what it needs to function as it should and grow healthy plants. Healthy plants are those that have the nutrients they need to carry out their personal and ecological functions. The animals that eat those plants similarly get the nutrients they need to assume the roles nature has fitted them for. Thus health is something that comes up from the soil through the web of life to form fully functional climax ecosystems. At death, microbes return the nutrients in the once-living tissue to the soil, where they are food for the next generation of beings.
The soil, therefore, is the source and destiny of life, and the engine that churns the elements as they become an endless succession of living creatures.
Nature’s laws, then, are variations on a theme of cooperation and competition. And cooperation and competition in turn are two sides of the same coin. Cooperation promotes health, but so does competition. Symbiotic relationships in nature–such as the colonization of plant roots by fungus that scavenges phosphorus and feeds it back to the plant and the sticky sweet sap that the plant exudes to feed the fungus–is an example of cooperation promoting health. In rutting season, bucks vie with one another and the winner impregnates the does, passing his genes on to posterity—an example of competition promoting the health of the herd.
Ideally, this is how it works, and how it has worked through the vast stretches of time leading up to the Anthropocene—that is, the age of the dominance of mankind. Yet look around today and you see lots of illness and obesity, but precious little climax ecosystem. There is no question that we, an aggressive species of primate, are not only overpopulating the planet but are also on a killing spree that’s causing wholesale species extinction.
Change toward a healthier way to conduct our social, economic, political, and personal lives depends on recognizing the fundamental laws of nature, then reconstituting our ways of living to follow those principles. Nature’s basic rule that conflates all the others is pretty simple. We need cooperation and we need competition, in equal measure, for they are the yin and yang of life, the unity that transcends duality. Our current society, at least in America, puts the emphasis on competition, which throws everything out of whack.
But wait, someone might say, don’t employees cooperate at work to produce a product or a service? I’d venture to say that there is just as much competition and jockeying for position and favor among a corporation’s hourly employees as among the salaried workers. And look at our Congress: very little cooperation, overwhelming competition, a broken system. The proper balance is achieved in team sports, where the competition between teams and even between teammates for a spot on the starting line-up is fierce, but no team will be a winning team if its players don’t cooperate.
Both cooperation and competition need a goal. It may even be the same goal. But the end—the goal—doesn’t justify the means. Reaching the goal at all costs and by any means necessary is out-of-control competition. Cooperation keeps rampant competition in check, and competition whets the appetite for cooperation.
So what do we get when we set up our systems—from supplying food to building innovative technologies—to imitate nature’s imperative for cooperation and competition allied to reach a goal? We get a confluence of unforeseen benefits. The country of Denmark has come a long way in showing us how this works. Not only do the Danes reach their goals, they do so as the happiest people on earth, many studies show. Freedom from worry because of a strong, cooperative social safety net reduces stress and promotes mental and physical health. Health and happiness go hand in hand.
Just recycling nutrients on the organic farm through the agency of compost produces a huge confluence of unexpected benefits. More spongy organic matter in the soil means the soil holds more water and, as shown in recent droughts, makes the soil more drought resistant. The compost favors the growth of fungal mycelia in the soil, allowing plants to communicate with one another through a kind of living internet under the ground. And so when insects attack one plant, it signals others to start producing insect-repelling substances in their leaves, lessening the damage and thwarting the attack. Suffice it to say that by following nature’s rules, you are playing nature’s game, and that game is benign, holistic, and long-term.
A moment’s reflection will reveal that playing by any other set of rules, such as making the bottom line the most important product of any business, gives you a confluence of unexpected detriments. By using poisons to kill weeds, you encourage the development of weeds that defeat the purpose of the poisons. Did the makers of Roundup foresee that?
When how we act reflects how all of nature’s rules come together in the unity of cooperation and competition in balance, there will be enormous repercussions in all the areas of life. For instance, in any personal relationship, there’s competition for each partner’s time, there are competing demands, differences of opinion, problems that need solving, competition with yourself to prioritize needs and wants. A loving relationship will mean that cooperation is the salve that heals the wounds and the glue that holds the partners together when forces are working to pull them apart. Love is cooperation and is found at one pole of life; competition is selfishness at the other pole of life. They reside together within all of us. Strangely, they complement each other. A hill presupposes a valley.
Only by keeping this balance in mind will we reach the place where our biological and spiritual systems operate at full capacity, where these systems are whole and sound, and where true health—and happiness–are found.
Agribusiness’ Big Lie Exposed
In last week’s Organic Food Guy, I posted an astonishingly good piece of reporting by Jonathan Latham, PhD, executive director and co-founder of the Bioscience Resource Project, based in Ithaca, New York, that originally appeared in the Independent Science News.
In his article (you can read it by visiting organicfoodguy.com and in the upper right corner where it says “Recent Posts,” click on How the Food War Can Be Won), Latham reveals that we in America have been fed a Big Lie by agribusiness. The lie is that the burgeoning human race will outrun the world food supply within a few decades and only agribusiness and large-scale, corporate conventional agriculture can possibly feed all the people that will overrun the planet by then.
Latham points out that far from running out of food, the world is awash with food and will continue to be for as far into the future as we can see. He provides the details for this assertion in his article.
Of course it’s in the interest of agribusiness firms to scare everyone into thinking that we face imminent starvation and that they are our salvation.
As a journalist, it’s my job—and my duty—to be skeptical. Is Latham’s Big Lie true? Is there really an agribiz PR strategy to convince the country that only Big Ag can save us from the impending days of famine? I thought I’d check, so I googled “World Food Crisis,” and sure enough, within the first few items to come up was a website from Monsanto. Very slick, very friendly, and very much the scare tactic that Latham exposed.
Here are the first few paragraphs on the site:
“Our world’s food system is a balance of farmers, grocers and companies who work together to provide fresh foods year round. In the next 50 years, our society will have to produce more food than it did in the past 10,000 years combined in order to meet the needs of nearly 2 billion more people.
“It’s one of the greatest challenges facing humankind, and it’s one we’re committed to help addressing by directly working with others to help solve.
“We’re one of many organizations working towards creating a more food-secure world. Thinkers from the Global Harvest Initiative, World Economic Forum and World Food Prize Foundation agree–addressing the food challenges of tomorrow requires innovative, thoughtful action today. From Africa to Asia, and here in our own backyard, we’re putting our heads together to make this vision a reality.”
Wow—we’re going to have to produce more food in the next 50 years than all the food produced since the dawn of agriculture 10,000 years ago. Sounds like we need a miracle. Maybe the miracle will come from the institutions the Monsanto website mentions, like the Global Harvest Initiative.
According to SourceWatch, a website that parts the curtains of corporate and political front groups to see who’s really behind them, “the Global Harvest Initiative is a campaign to encourage a second Green Revolution based on a baseless claim that the world must double food production by 2050 to feed a growing population.”
The organizations that make up GHI as of 2013 include DuPont, Elanco, IBM, John Deere, and Monsanto, all agribusiness giants promoting large scale conventional agriculture and GMO seeds.
The World Economic Forum includes 1,000 of the largest corporations in the world.
The World Food Prize Foundation is an outgrowth of the Green Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s when an agronomist named Normal Borlaug tried to end world hunger by bringing chemical agriculture to replace the indigenous agriculture of native peoples worldwide. Borlaug was lionized as the man who saved a million lives, but this is a phony narrative. He was really the man who replaced sustainable native agriculture with conventional chemical agriculture.
University of Indiana historian Nick Cullather wrote a book called “The Hungry World” about all this in 2010. Mother Jones’ book reviewer Tom Philpott, in his review of the book, wrote, “As for Borlaug, a future Nobel laureate and putative savior of India’s famine-stalked masses who died in 1999, he learned in Mexico to see modernization as a transition from lower to higher levels of soil nutrients; i.e., energy-intensive, soil-degrading synthetic fertilizers.
“By the end of the Mexico chapter, Cullather has already shattered the Green Revolution myth and exposed it as something like a lunge, and a not very well thought-out one, to replace other societies’ farming systems with our own highly problematic one. The Mexico effort’s one unambiguous success was in creating an attractive development model: Take hybridized (or now, GMO) seeds, douse them with imported fertilizers, add water and pesticides, and get more food.”
The annual meeting of the World Food Prize Foundation was held in Iowa at the end of 2014, and dubbed “The Year of Norman Borlaug.” Speakers included Dr. Marco Ferroni of Syngenta, Dr. Catherine Feuillet of Bayer CropScience, Dr. Robert Fraley and Kerry Preete of Monsanto, Dan Glickman and Tom Vilsack, the former and current U.S. Secretaries of Agriculture respectively, Dr. Claudia Garcia of Elanco, Paul Schickler of DuPont, Tom Leech of Walmart, John May of John Deere, Esin Mete of the International Fertilizer Industry Association, and Dr. Margaret Zeigler, executive director of Global Harvest Initiative.
The speakers focused on what they called, “The Greatest Challenge in Human History:
Can we sustainably feed the 9 billion people who will be on our planet by the year 2050?”
Notice that they used the word sustainable. Anyone who knows conventional agriculture knows that it is not sustainable. Sustainable means that farms can be run efficiently forever by recycling nutrients, rather than importing chemicals that over time poison the farm environment. So what are these agribiz giants doing talking about sustainability?
Well, a quick look at Monsanto’s corporate website (Monsanto.com) reveals in its first sentence that “Monsanto is a sustainable agriculture company,” and invites visitors to click through to a three-minute propaganda film entitled, “Monsanto’s Commitment to Sustainable Agriculture.”
Of course, there are farmers and institutions that either practice or promote true sustainability: organic and Biodynamic farmers, others who may not identify with those terms but farm without using conventional methods, and then there are institutions like the International Organization of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM), the British Soil Society, the Permaculture people, the Organic Consumers Association, the Rodale Institute, and many more that are working tirelessly to advance the cause of real sustainability. Note that none of them appear in the ranks of the agribusiness PR people, lobbyists, and high tech farm groups that run with Monsanto. In fact, if you examine the farming methods that are truly sustainable, you realize that organic agriculture can easily feed the world in perpetuity while improving the soil, protecting the environment, and providing livelihood to millions of folks. But none of this is in the purview of Big Ag because it is not really interested in feeding the world sustainably, it is interested in selling product and reaping profit.
Bottom line: Latham is exactly right. The notion that famine is in our future and only agribusiness can save us is a Big Lie promoted to convince people that corporate agriculture is in the best interests of the human race.
BEWARE OF BARRON’S ‘QUICK CHECK GUIDE TO ORGANIC FOODS’
Ninety-five percent of the book is simply a listing of calories, fat, cholesterol, sodium, protein, and total carbohydrates for the panoply of organic foods. The problem chapters come at the beginning of the book, where the author, Barbara Wexler, a graduate of the Yale University College of Medicine, presents the value of genetically modified foods without mention of the many studies that have shown the problems, such as direct ill effects of GMOs on the digestive system, and especially the effect of the herbicide glyphosate (Roundup) used in abundance on GMO crops, which de-activates an enzyme crucial to the production of proteins in both plants and animals. She gives organic foods a general pat on the back for the cleanliness without any mention of the many studies that show their nutritional superiority and health-building consequences. All in all, the book, which purports to be a reference for those wanting to eat organic foods, seems more like an apology for conventional foods than an investigation of the health value of organic food and the benevolent agriculture that produces it.
PARCHMENT BAG COOKING FROM SIMPLY ORGANIC
Simply Organic is selling kits for quick and easy meals when time is short and the body exhausted after a day of work. The kit is called Steam Gourmet and consists of a parchment bag and a packet of seasonings. You buy (organic) skinless, boneless chicken breasts on the way home, sprinkle them with the seasonings on both sides, place them in the parchment bag and fold it to seal, place the bag in the oven and bake according to the instructions on the kit. The bag seals in moisture and flavors, and the breasts emerge perfectly cooked and seasoned. Add organic salad and whole grain bread and the entire meal is ready. Clean-up is simple and everything is organic.
A NEW WAY TO PREVENT GMO CONTAMINATION IN THE WILD
Could genetically modified bacteria escape from a laboratory or fermentation tank and cause disease or ecological destruction? New York Times’ science writer Andrew Pollack asks this all-important question in the January 21, 2015, newspaper.
This is not known to have occurred, he says, perhaps forgetting that several rogue genes have escaped into open fields around America, contaminating wheat crops, corn crops, wild weeds, and threatening species that rely on those plants with extinction (cue the photo of the monarch butterfly). But, he writes, two groups of scientists reported on Wednesday that they had developed a complex technique to prevent it from happening.
The scientists have given a common type of bacterium a unique genetic code that makes it dependent for survival on unnatural amino acids that must be fed to it. If such organisms escaped into the wild, where those amino acids are not available, they would die. First of all, Pollack doesn’t mention that the “common type of bacterium” is E. coli, an inhabitant of the human gut that can cause violent illness and, under certain circumstances, death.
Second, organisms tend to find their way around man-made attempts to thwart them. The more aggressively you assault an organism, the more evolutionary pressure you put upon it to find a way around the assault. How long before E. coli or other organisms that need that “unnatural amino acid” to survive learn to manufacture that amino acid or commandeer some other organism to manufacture it for them?
“It really addresses a longstanding problem in biotechnology,” said Farren Isaacs, an assistant professor of molecular, cell, and developmental biology at Yale, who led one of the research groups. He called it a “really compelling solution to engineering biocontainment, or biological barriers that limit the spread and survival of organisms in natural environments.”
Scientists are so cocksure that they have solved the GMO containment problem that they may be unpleasantly surprised at life’s ability to tenaciously evolve ways to stay alive. I certainly am not anti-science. I am anti-hubris among scientists who plunge ahead in the firm belief that they know better than nature.
SABRA HUMMUS CONTAINS GMO SOYBEAN OIL
Green America’s GMO Inside campaign has announced a major new push to get Sabra, the world’s largest manufacturer of hummus, to drop genetically modified organisms (GMOs) from its popular hummus dip.
GMO Inside and allies will mobilize public pressure on Sabra with a call-in day of action, a petition, social media outreach and other steps. The campaign comes just one week before Super Bowl XLIX, which will prominently feature Sabra as the official hummus of the NFL.
Green America’s GMO Inside campaign is also demanding that Sabra’s parent company, PepsiCo, end its multi-million dollar funding of anti-GMO labeling campaigns around the country. Most recently, PepsiCo. spent $4 million to fight GMO labeling initiatives in Oregon and Colorado, and over $8 million in total fighting labeling.
To date, over 13,000 consumers have signed GMO Inside’s petition urging Sabra and PepsiCo to go non-GMO and for PepsiCo to certify Sabra products through a third party non-GMO-verification. Information about Green America’s GMO Inside campaign is available online at http://gmoinside.org/sabra/.
“Consumer demand for organic and non-GMO foods is growing,” said John W. Roulac, GMO Inside co-chair. “Sabra has already moved some of its products to non-GMO; doing the same for its signature dip will allow the firm to meet growing customer demand.”
“Consumers are upset that Sabra’s parent company PepsiCo has spent a total of $8.6 million to deny them their right to know about GMOs,” stated Nicole McCann, campaign director of Green America’s GMO Inside. “As awareness grows about the risks of GMOs, consumers are shifting their support away from companies and brands contributing to anti-labeling efforts, as well as products containing GMO ingredients.”
“By continuing to use genetically engineered soybean oil, produced with toxic pesticides that put humans, pollinators, and the planet at risk, Sabra is supporting an unsustainable food system that largely benefits big chemical and agribusiness corporations,” said Lisa Archer, food and technology program director at Friends of the Earth.
WHEN A CEREAL BOX TELLS A BIG FAT LIE
General Mills’ Vanilla, Chocolate and Cinnamon Chex boxes all proudly display a label that should make many health-conscious consumers happy: “no high fructose corn syrup.”
The only problem: it’s not true, according to Credo Action.
These General Mills products all contain a super-concentrated sweetener that is made from high fructose corn syrup, and within the Big Ag industry is literally called “HFCS-90” or high fructose corn syrup-90.
But then the Corn Refiners Association changed the name to “fructose.” And now General Mills is not only disingenuously hiding their corn syrup behind this innocuous alias–the company is bragging that it’s products don’t contain any!
The “fructose” label is especially nefarious, since fructose is a naturally occurring fruit sugar, and HFCS-90 is a highly concentrated, highly processed product that is molecularly different from the fructose you would eat in your apple. The corn industry waves away HFCS-90 as a minor ingredient, stating “HFCS-90, is sometimes used when very little is needed to provide sweetness.” But that’s clearly not the case. According to the label, there is actually more HFCS-90 in Cinnamon Chex than there is actual cinnamon.
Clearly, General Mills is eager to make these claims as many consumers are increasingly avoiding high fructose corn syrup over health concerns. The drastic increase of this cheap sugar replacement in the past 40 years has coincided with skyrocketing rates of obesity, diabetes and other metabolic diseases. And while the science is still emerging, a number of studies – including one just released from the University of Utah – have found evidence that high fructose corn syrup is more toxic than sucrose, or traditional sugar.
Of course, both sugar and high fructose corn syrup are unhealthy in large amounts. But making healthy choices starts with understanding what we are eating. And as long as companies like General Mills are not only changing the names of ingredients, but also flat-out lying on the front of the box, informed choices are that much harder.
JUST HOW BAD ARE MONSANTO AND FRIENDS?
Here’s the executive summary of a 60-plus pager report written by Gary Ruskin for the non-profit U.S. Right to Know, entitled, “Seedy Business.” If you’d like to read the whole report, you can find it at https://www.organicconsumers.org/sites/default/files/seedybusiness.pdf.
For anyone reading this who thinks that anti-GMO folks are hysterical anti-science nut jobs, let me just say that I’ve had my finger on this pulse since 1970, and what Ruskin writes is the absolute truth. The Big Ag companies are as bad as he says, and in my opinion, worse, because they know the death and destruction they cause, but can’t stop themselves due to the extremely lucrative results of their work. What do you call someone (or some business) that causes death and destruction for self-aggrandizing profit? Whatever your term for that kind of sociopathy, it applies here. So—here’s the summary:
Since 2012, the agrichemical and food industries have mounted a complex, multifaceted public relations, advertising, lobbying and political campaign in the United States, costing more than $100 million, to defend genetically engineered food and crops and the pesticides that accompany them. The purpose of this campaign is to deceive the
public, to deflect efforts to win the right to know what is in our food via labeling that is
already required in 64 countries, and ultimately, to extend their profit stream for as long as possible.
This campaign has greatly influenced how U.S. media covers GMOs. The industry’s PR
firm, Ketchum, even boasted that “positive media coverage has doubled” on GMOs.
Due to this influence over the media, the public hears mostly what the industries claim: GMOs are safe, and anyone who disagrees or raises questions is not trustworthy. This report will show how the industries have manipulated the media, public opinion and
politics with sleazy tactics, bought science and PR spin. It will describe fifteen things that Big Food is hiding with its slick PR campaign on GMOs.
#1: The agrichemical companies have a history of concealing health risks from the public. Time and again, the companies that produce GMOs have hidden from consumers and workers the truth about the dangers of their products and operations. So how can we trust them to tell us the truth about their GMOs?
#2: The FDA does not test whether GMOs are safe. It merely reviews information submitted by the agrichemical companies.
#3: Our nation’s lax policy on GMOs is the work of former Vice President Dan Quayle’s
anti-regulatory crusade. It was designed and delivered as a political favor to Monsanto.
#4: What the agrichemical and tobacco industries have in common: PR firms,
operatives, tactics. The agrichemical industry’s recent PR campaign is similar in some ways to the most infamous industry PR campaign ever – the tobacco industry’s effort to evade responsibility for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans each year.
#5: Russia’s PR firm runs the agrichemical industry’s big PR salvo on GMOs. We don’t
trust the PR firm Ketchum when it spins for Russia and President Putin. Why should we trust its spin on GMOs?
#6: The agrichemical industry’s key front groups and shills aren’t trustworthy. Many of
the industry’s leading advocates have records of defending the indefensible, or other scandals and conduct that inspire no confidence.
#7: The agrichemical companies have employed repugnant PR tactics. These tactics
include attacks on scientists and journalists, and brainwashing children.
#8: The agrichemical companies have a potent, sleazy political machine. They have
allies in high places, and employ their power vigorously – and sometimes corruptly — to protect and expand their markets and their profits from GMOs.
#9: Half of the Big Six agrichemical firms can’t even grow their GMOs in their own
home countries. Because of the health and environmental risks of GMOs, citizens of
Germany and Switzerland won’t allow farming of BASF, Bayer and Syngenta’s GMO seeds.
#10: Monsanto supported GMO labeling in the UK but opposes it in the USA. Although
Monsanto is based in St. Louis, Missouri, Monsanto believes that British citizens deserve stronger consumer rights than Americans do.
#11: The pesticide treadmill breeds profits, so it will likely intensify. It is in the financial
interest of the agrichemical companies to promote the evolution and spread of the most pestilential superweeds and superpests, because these will spur the sale of the greatest
quantities of the most expensive pesticides.
#12: GMO science is for sale. Science can be swayed, bought or biased by the agrichemical industry in many ways, such as suppressing adverse findings, harming the careers of scientists who produce such findings, controlling the funding that shapes what research is conducted, the lack of independent U.S.-based testing of health and environmental risks of GMOs, and tainting scientific reviews of GMOs by conflicts of interest.
#13: There are nearly no consumer benefits of GMOs. The GMOs that Americans eat are
not healthier, safer or more nutritious than conventional foods. They do not look better,
nor do they taste better. By any measure that consumers actually care about, they are not in any way an improvement. Profits from GMOs accrue to the agrichemical companies, while health risks are borne by consumers.
#14: The FDA and food companies have been wrong before: they have assured us of the
safety of products that were not safe. Many drugs and food additives that the FDA allowed on the market have subsequently been banned because they were toxic or dangerous.
#15: A few other things the agrichemical industry doesn’t want you to know about
them: crimes, scandals and other wrongdoing. The agrichemical industry’s six major firms — Monsanto, Syngenta, Dow, DuPont, Bayer and BASF — have been involved in so many reprehensible activities that documenting them would require at least an entire book.