Do unto Others as You Would Have Them Do unto You
If I said that cruelty to animals is a blot on our humanity, then someone might counter by saying that what we do to each other is just as bad or worse than what we do to animals. And they’d be right.
But pointing out that the reservoir of human cruelty is plenty big enough to cover animals, other humans, and even nature herself is no reason to dismiss it as inevitable.
If the organic method teaches us anything, it’s that all of Mother Nature’s creatures—plants and animals—need to be treated with respect. And that biodiversity is healthier than limited diversity and species extinction. And that the more diverse any ecology is, whether wild or on the farm or in the garden or just in our backyards or even in our intestinal flora, the healthier it is.
The founders of the American political system knew that in the real world, especially the political world, there will be good guys and bad guys, and that the best way to insure an orderly politics is to set up a system of checks and balances, where if one branch of government steps out of line, the other branches will haul it back into line. It’s the same in nature: checks and balances are maximized in biodiverse ecosystems. The good guys eat the bad guys. The bad guys eat the weak plants. The strong plants support the good guys and the bad guys.
The point is that all creatures need to be treated with respect. As Shakespeare wrote 400 years ago, “For nought so vile that on the earth doth live, but to the earth some special good doth give.” In regards to farm animals—chickens, turkeys, ducks, fish, pigs, beef cattle, sheep, and so on—it must be recognized that each animal has a nature and an ecological purpose that needs to be respected.
What does it mean to put a chicken in a cage so tiny it can hardly turn around for its entire life? It means the same as doing that to you. It demeans us as human beings to treat animals with no regard to their ecological purpose, their meaning, or their needs.
That’s yet another reason why organic farming and culture is so benign. No antibiotics to force quick growth. No hormones to force milk production. No GMOs in the feed. And—it’s to be hoped some day—no fattening cattle on grain for the last few months of their lives. Cattle, after all, are grazing ruminants whose natural food is grass.
It would be nice to have all our food produced on family farms where all the animals are allowed to play their natural roles, like the movie “Babe.” Granted that’s not feasible. But cattle should graze, chickens should scratch, pigs should root. The organic farm should show the way forward for American farming, away from the cruelties perpetrated on our farm animals today, and toward an integrated system of farming that animals can enjoy until the time comes for us to enjoy them.
HOW’S THIS FOR BAD GOVERNMENT?
The California Department of Food and Agriculture has published a draft of an environmental plan giving the agency authority to spray toxic pesticides anywhere in California, at any time into the indefinite future, even on organic farmland and crops. The blanket approval would allow no opportunity for affected communities or farmers to stop the spraying.
According to the plan, the state’s agency would have the right to approve new pesticides and other expansions of the spray program with no public review, notice, or analysis of the health and environmental impacts on specific locations to be sprayed.
The plan, described in the Statewide Plant Pest Prevention and Management Programmatic Environmental Impact Report (PEIR), relies on a list of 79 pesticides and other chemicals, including substances linked to cancer, birth defects, miscarriages, and reproductive system impacts. Many of the pesticides are also lethal to bees and other pollinators, fish and other aquatic life, birds, and mammals. Among the PEIR pesticides are several neonicotinoids, which many scientists believe are directly linked to the collapse of honeybee populations.
The environmental review’s cursory analysis of the health and ecological impacts of these chemicals fails to answer many essential questions, such as the effects of pesticide exposure on infants, pregnant women, and other sensitive populations;
children whose schools could be sprayed under the plan; rivers, streams, and drinking water wells.
The plan directly threatens organic farming—one of California’s fastest-growing industries—because organic farmers could be forced to spray non-organic pesticides as part of state treatment programs. Although the state’s review admits that “treated products would not command the typical premium prices demanded for organic produce in the marketplace,” it dismisses the impact of spraying on organic farmers by asserting that they could simply switch to conventional farming.
Tell CA Dept of Food & Ag you “absolutely oppose the Statewide Pest PEIR (Problematic Environmental Impact Report). Here’s where you can contact them: http://www.cdfa.ca.gov/plant/peir/#comment
The deadline for public comments is Oct 31.
ORGANIC TRADE ASSOCIATION—CONTROLLED BY BIG FOOD?
Over the past few years, the Organic Trade Association has received increasing criticism for lobbying efforts that have allegedly helped water down the federal standards governing organic farming and food production, according to The Cornucopia Institute, an organic watchdog group based in Wisconsin.
The latest dustup in Washington surrounding OTA activities concerns their attempt to sell Congress, and the organic farming community, on a scheme that will tax farmers and other industry participants to do research and promotional work.
“Trying to recruit farmers is an attempt by the OTA to redeem their damaged credibility and sell their agenda on Capitol Hill,” said Mark A. Kastel, Codirector at The Cornucopia Institute. “The agribusiness lobby is also attempting to dilute the influence of nonprofit groups and cooperatives that legitimately represent the interests of family-scale farmers — and frequently differ with the OTA on regulatory policy.”
Over the past two years the OTA has run into a buzzsaw of opposition from farmers, and the groups that represent them, after proposing a commodity checkoff that would create an estimated $40 million per year. “Farmers are understandably skeptical about being forced to pay into such a fund because of a long history of corruption, mismanagement and lack of effectiveness in existing checkoff programs showcasing milk mustaches, ‘incredible edible eggs,’ and ‘the other white meat’ (pork),” Kastel said.
The OTA is held in low esteem by many farmers and organic food advocates because of its past history and alleged duplicity in dealing with other interests in the organic food movement. “This move is consistent with a long pattern of agribusiness executives treating family farmers as ignorant and naïve,” said Richard Parrott, a Buhl, Idaho, organic beef and crop producer who has been certified since 1992. “Why should farmers trust corporations that buy organic commodities from factory farms, and have pitted U.S. farmers, like me, against Chinese exports, when they tell us they are looking out for our interests?” One of the crops Parrott produces is dried beans, an organic commodity that has been dominated by imports for a number of years.
The trade-lobby group is also looked at as a major political force behind recent highly controversial moves at the USDA that significantly water down the independent power of the National Organic Standards Board, an expert advisory panel Congress set up to protect organic rulemaking from undue corporate influence.
When the OTA started out, during the 1980s as the Organic Foods Production Association of North America (OFPANA), the organization was widely recognized as an umbrella group with many farmers, organic certifiers, nonprofits and processors (all of which, at the time, were independently owned). Since then, the OTA has morphed into what The Cornucopia Institute calls “just another powerful, trade-lobby group funded and controlled by multibillion-dollar, multinational food corporations.”
The OTA is now controlled and funded by large corporate agribusinesses such as Smucker’s, General Mills, Hershey, and Kellogg’s. Unlike the majority of organic farmers, many of the most active and influential members of the OTA earn the majority of their revenue selling non-organic food.
In recent years, there have been virtually no working farmers as OTA members (other than a few that are affiliated with the corporate participants), and a large percentage of the nonprofits were given, unsolicited, free memberships.
“When they doubled their dues a few years ago they lost most of their farmers and other individual members,” added Kastel. OTA membership now costs between hundreds of dollars a year to $35,000 per year, on a sliding scale (and many corporate members make additional contributions in the tens of thousands of dollars).
The OTA just created a new class of membership, with $50 a year dues, for small farmers with gross annual revenue of under $250,000. The farmers also have to be members of one of the organizations represented on the OTA’s Farmer Advisory Council.
Smaller farmers as OTA members would be in stark contrast to existing members such as Aurora Organic Dairy, a giant vertically-integrated operation with a number of facilities in Texas and Colorado milking thousands of cows each. Aurora was found by USDA investigators to have been “willfully” violating organic standards, one of the largest scandals in the industry’s history, but they continued as OTA members and Aurora executives even subsequently served as spokespersons for the group.
Cornucopia, a 10,000-member, nonprofit, farm policy research group characterized the lobby group’s recent public relations push as “a not-so-veiled attempt by the OTA to greenwash their corporate approach to organics.”
GMO SOY USED TO MAKE INFANT FORMULA
The Center for Food Safety recently announced that GMO soy engineered by Monsanto for heavy pesticide exposure has been found in infant formula purchased in Portland, Oregon.
Finding soy in infant formula that has been genetically engineered by Monsanto specifically to survive high levels of toxic pesticides is exceptionally troubling– and it makes a powerful case for the GMO labeling that would happen under Oregon’s Measure 92, which seeks to have GMO foods labeled as such.
FUKUSHIMA RADIATION REACHING NORTH AMERICA
The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution reported that an August sample of ocean water taken off the coast of Vancouver, British Columbia, tested positive for cesium-134, one of the radioactive elements released as a result of the Fukushima disaster. This same group also found traces of Fukushima radiation as far down the Pacific coastline as California.
In the almost four years since the Fukushima meltdown and disaster, the ruined nuclear plant has been releasing 300 tons of highly radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean every day.
Is it time to think about avoiding Pacific seafood harvested from Alaska to Mexico? We have this report from the non-governmental organization, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute on Cape Cod, but have you heard anything from the Federal agencies tasked to protect our food supply? FDA? Nothing. EPA? Nada. USDA? Bupkis.
The Least We Can Do Is the Best We Can Do
Yes, it’s infuriating to know that the biotech and pesticide industries are out there spreading lies, poisoning the food supply, killing the bees, polluting the soil and water, and on and on and on.
We can rage against the machine—and I often do in this blog—but there’s something else we can do, something positive. We really have no control over Big Ag and its tentacles, so what do we have control over? Where do we call the shots?
At home, in our personal lives. It’s here, in our real world, where what we do has real consequences. Tonight I mentioned to Susanna that on a visit to my son and daughter-in-law, I tasted a cup of Keurig coffee—you know, the machine where you put a pre-measured plastic cup of ground coffee beans in the machine and it brews a cup for you on the spot. I allowed that it was actually a pretty good cup of coffee.
“I wouldn’t want that machine,” she said. “All those plastic cups going into the trash.” Right. When you brew a cup in your stainless coffee pot, nothing gets thrown away but the coffee grounds—and they don’t actually get thrown away, either. They are an excellent ingredient in the compost. Or, in our case, in the bucket of vegetable kitchen slops that I feed to our three worm beds.
The grody kitchen slops—only vegetable waste, no animal products, no onion family members, no hot chili peppers—go into the bins, and within a week or two, our indefatigable red wiggler worms turn it into the most sweet-smelling, nutrition-packed worm castings ready to nourish something in our garden that will nourish us.
On our acre and a half, we grow prune plums, ‘Santa Rosa’ plums, red peaches, three kinds of cherries, ‘Hachiya’ persimmons, ‘Snow Queen’ nectarines, black ‘Mission’ figs, ‘Wonderful’ pomegranates, Asian pears, ‘Bartlett’ pears, ‘Golden Delicious’ apples, ‘Gravenstein’ apples, ‘Rome Beauty’ apples, almonds, grapes, ‘Meyer’ lemons, ‘Bearss’ limes, ‘Marsh’ grapefruit, and a slew of ornamentals too numerous to mention.
Our eight raised beds this summer grew ‘Sparkle’ strawberries, spinach, ‘Little Gem’ lettuces, ‘Crane’ melons, butternut squash, okra, cowpeas, English peas, tat soi, lacinato kale, curly leafed kale, borage, cucumbers, two kinds of zucchini, crookneck summer squash, ‘Detroit Dark Red’ beets, ‘Danvers Half-Long’ carrots, ‘Early Girl’ and ‘San Marzano’ tomatoes, eggplant, bell peppers, and jalapeno peppers.
The fruit became jams and preserves, peaches became sliced peaches frozen in honey-lemon syrup, wild-picked blackberries became blackberry jam, tomatoes became canned tomato puree, the beets became pickled beets, the cucumbers became pickles, all to be consumed when the cold weather shuts down the trees and gardens. And all organic and packed iin re-useable Mason jars and plastic Zip-Loc freezer bags.
Since we do everything organically, and eat only organic food, the wildlife that visits our property is safe. The birds are safe, the insects thrive, the soil is improved with compost as it yields its bountiful crops, the deer need not worry (although they are not given access to the gardens), the wild turkeys and the quail and mice and occasional country rat and the foxes, bobcats, and mountain lions do their dance of life and death. The gophers are troublesome, but what would paradise be without trouble? Still, we cohabit this property with the little buggers. We see red-tail and red-shouldered hawks, barn owls, great horned owls, kites, the occasional golden eagle, pileated woodpeckers, phoebes, and other marvelous birds—and we know all of them are welcome and safe here.
As for ourselves and our pets—Mishka the dog, Tiki the cat, and Petunia the chinchilla—we all eat only organic food and so are not poisoning ourselves and the earth with the toxic products of the ugly conventional food system.
When we do shop at Whole Foods and our local organic farmers markets, we buy grass-fed, organic beef, local organic lamb, local organic cage-free chicken and turkey, and our eggs are from an egg lady whose hens run among the goats and peck out fly eggs to enrich their yolks.
In other words, we take care that what we do supports nature and does the least harm possible. It’s the least we can do. If everyone did it, that would be the best we could do.
EPA APPROVES DOW’S TWICE-AS-TOXIC HERBICIDE
On October 15 the Environmental Protection Agency approved Enlist Duo, a toxic herbicide made from Agent Orange ingredient 2,4-D and Monsanto’s Roundup. This noxious mix of chemicals will now be used on Dow’s new herbicide-resistant GMO corn and soy seeds, which have already been approved by the USDA.
Dow now has permission to unleash up to 176 million more pounds (according to the USDA, though scientists predict much more) of 2,4-D into the environment, according to the Organic Consumers Association.
And that will mean about another $1 billion in sales for the Gene Giant.
It’s enough to make you sick. Literally. But it’s also reason to keep up the fight. The National Resources Defense Council immediately sued the EPA, and other groups have suggested they’ll do the same.
PROTECT THE GMOS AND TO HELL WITH THE CHILDREN
Children living on the Hawaiian island of Kaua‘i are being threatened by exposure to chlorpyrifos, a synthetic insecticide that is heavily sprayed on fields located near their homes and schools.
For decades, researchers have been publishing reports about children who died or were maimed after exposure to chlorpyrifos, either in the womb or after birth. While chlorpyrifos can no longer legally be used around the house or in the garden, it is still legal to use on the farm. But researchers are finding that children aren’t safe when the insecticide is applied to nearby fields.
In 1995, the EPA found that Dow had violated federal law by covering up its knowledge of these health problems for years. In 2004, then-New York Attorney General Elliot Spitzer found that Dow had been lying about the known dangers of the pesticide in its advertising for nearly as long. Together, the EPA and the State of New York have levied fines against the company approaching $3 million.
On Kaua‘i, subsidiaries of four transnational chemical companies—Dow Chemical, DuPont, Syngenta, and BASF—spray chlorpyrifos and several other potent pesticides to protect their experimental genetically engineered crops (GMOs) against a wide variety of bugs and weeds. Because of the heavy pesticide use, Kaua‘i’s GMO testing fields are among the most toxic chemical environments in all of American agriculture.
Dr. Joseph Mercola recently posted these functions of curcumin—the bioactive compound in turmeric. Curcumin is available through Dr. Mercola’s website (http://shop.mercola.com) or elsewhere online and at organic supermarkets like Whole Foods and Wegman’s. It will pay to shop around.
Curcumin, a bioactive ingredient in the curry spice turmeric, exhibits over 150 potentially therapeutic activities.
Curcumin is capable of crossing the blood-brain barrier, which is one reason why it holds promise as a neuroprotective agent.
Recent animal research suggests another bioactive compound in turmeric called aromatic-turmerone can increase neural stem cell growth in the brain by as much as 80 percent at certain concentrations.
The findings suggest aromatic-turmerone may help in the recovery of brain function in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and stroke.
Previous research has also shown that curcumin may help inhibit the accumulation of destructive beta-amyloids in the brain of Alzheimer’s patients, as well as break up existing plaques.
Curcumin also has the most evidence-based literature supporting its use against cancer of any other nutrient studied, including vitamin D.
‘LOCAL’ FOOD MAY STILL BE CONVENTIONAL AND GMO,
AND ‘NATURAL’ MEANS NOTHING AT ALL
The following is by Ronnie Cummins and Katherine Paul of the Organic Consumers Association:
In 2011, we wrote an article exposing the then-popular trend in food marketing—promoting local foods as sustainable, healthy, or natural, even when they weren’t.
As we wrote at the time, “local” often means nothing more than food that has been sourced from within a prescribed geographic area. (According to Walmart and Big Food, “local” refers to anything produced within a 400-mile radius). But because a growing number of conscientious consumers actively seek out the “local” label—and are willing to pay a premium for it—corporations routinely co-opt the term so they can sell more product, at higher prices, in order to increase profit margins by promising (but not actually delivering) added value.
Fast forward a couple of years, and we see that sales of “local” food are still on the rise, as are sales of “natural” and more recently, “Non-GMO” foods. And today, just as they were a few years ago, consumers are still being duped by corporations that use these labels to pass off products as something they aren’t.
The fact is, none of these labels—local, natural or non-GMO—on its own provide a guarantee that the food behind the label is either healthy, sustainable, or natural.
There is only one food label that provides that guarantee: USDA Organic. And because organic food sourced locally is not only healthy, sustainable, and natural, but also supports small farmers and contributes to strong communities, today’s Gold Standard for the health-conscious and environmentally and socially concerned consumer is USDA organic and local.
HARVARD STUDY IMPLICATES HFCS IN OBESITY EPIDEMIC
Fructose, a sugar widely consumed in the form of high-fructose corn syrup, may promote obesity and diabetes by overstimulating a hormone that helps to regulate fat accumulation, reports New York Times writer Anahad O’Connor.
The study, carried out at Harvard Medical School, marks the first time that scientists have identified a hormone that rises sharply and consistently in response to eating fructose. The finding suggests that people may vary in their sensitivity to the sugar, and that eventually it may be possible to test an individual for susceptibility to illnesses linked to weight gain.
When ingested—and it’s not only found in sweet drinks but in products as diverse as English muffins and chocolate pudding–the vast majority of fructose goes to the liver, where it stimulates the production of triglycerides, some of which are packaged into lipoproteins with cholesterol and secreted into the bloodstream.
WEALTH OF THE LAND AND POWER OF THE PEOPLE
The following was written by Willie Nelson for Reader Supported News:
“Last month at Farm Aid 2014, I was lucky to meet Phillip Barker, a Black farmer who, like many minority farmers, lost much of his farmland as a result of discriminatory lending practices by banks and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Today, Phillip and his wife Dorathy farm the 20 acres they were able to hold on to in Oxford, North Carolina. Their farm is one of two Black dairy farming operations in the state of North Carolina. They also operate a nonprofit organization, Operation Spring Plant, which provides resources and training to minority and limited resource farmers, including a program that introduces young people to farming and provides youth leadership training. Phillip said one of his goals is to provide tools for the next generation and to help young people ‘come back to the farm to understand the wealth of the land.’
“Wealth of the land.” That’s a powerful phrase.
“Phillip believes the next generation must see a sustainable livelihood from the land, but the wealth he refers to can’t be measured only in dollars. It is measured in the experience of working on the land, tending the soil, and caring for the animals and crops that grow from it. It’s measured in the ability to be independent, to feed himself and his family. It’s measured in the way he and Dorathy sustain and strengthen their community. It’s measured in being rooted to a place and passing something valuable to the next generation.
“It seems to me that understanding the real wealth in the land is key to a sustainable future for all of us.
“Our greatest challenge is in re-visioning how the majority see “wealth.” The wealth of the land cannot be boiled down to the investors’ return on investment. It cannot be gauged by the commodities it returns to us — in gallons of oil and bushels of corn.
“The drive to extract as much value from the land as possible — to maximize production without regard to whether we’re exhausting the soil, to give over our farmland to Wall Street investors, to seize land held by families for generations for corporate profit — bankrupts the land, our food, our nation and our future.
“We need to redefine wealth as the ability to make a decent living from the land and sustain it for the next generation. To grow crops for food and fuel while simultaneously enriching the soil upon which future crops depend. To support a family and a community. To work in partnership with nature to protect our health and the health of our planet. As caretakers of our soil and water, this has been and always should be the essential role of the family farmer.
“Today, fewer than two percent of us live on farms. Clearly, we can’t all be family farmers, but we can all shift our priorities to ensure we’re doing our best to support them and encourage new farmers to get started on the land. Playing music to bring awareness is how I started Farm Aid in 1985, and it’s how I continue to support the people who best know how to care for the land: our family farmers. Each and every one of us has the power to do what we can to support and sustain family farmers. Our common wealth depends on it.”
I would only add this to Willie’s wise statements here: it’s our organic family farmers, certified or not, who “work in partnership with nature to protect our health and the health of our planet.”
U.S. Foreign Policy and the Gordian Knot
If you’re wondering what discussion of U.S. foreign policy has to do with organic food, just bear with me.
The Gordian Knot—a legend from antiquity–was a knot in a rope that tied an oxcart to a post, a knot so intricate that no one could untie it because they could not find its ends. That is, until Alexander the Great came along and, presented with the challenge of untying the knot, drew his sword and with one stroke cut the knot in two, after which it became easy to untie.
There’s the warrior for you: decisive, thinking outside the box, goal-oriented.
Cut to today where President Obama is faced with his version of the Gordian Knot: the U.S. needs to fight and defeat the Islamic State (ISIS), which right now is in a pitched battle with Syrian and Iraqi Kurds. To defeat ISIS, he needs to help the Kurds with troops, but he has pledged not to send American “boots on the ground.” Turkey is right there with a mighty military that, if it joined forces with the Kurds, could defeat ISIS, but Turkey has been fighting Kurdish separatists for four decades. The sight of Kurds and Islamic jihadists slaughtering each other is much to Turkey’s liking, so the Turks are so far sitting this one out, which is alienating its American allies, who are desperate for it to join the fight. Meanwhile, America is trying to assist “moderate” Syrian rebels who are trying to oust the Syrian government of President Bashir Assad. But it was the rebel movement that spawned ISIS and Al Qaeda-affiliated groups, along with more moderate rebel groups. Al Qaeda and Isis are our sworn enemies. Meanwhile, Iraq is slowly being devoured by ISIS. Iraq’s military, despite a trillion dollars of our support, is feckless. Meanwhile, Iran is allied with Assad’s government, and so is Hezbollah in Lebanon—and this troika is bombing the moderate rebels as well as the civilian population of Syria. And it’s these rebels we need to fight ISIS. Turkey, meanwhile, would love to see Assad gone and many in that country are urging it to join with the Kurds and rebels to defeat the Assad regime, so far without success. And so we are in the middle of the shifting sands of Middle Eastern politics, blood feuds, religious sectarianism, ancient animosities, tribal hatreds, and murderous barbarians. It’s indeed a Gordian Knot.
Alexander would have waded into this hot mess and killed them all. Not an option for Obama. How does Obama cut this Gordian Knot? Turkey has suggested establishing a neutral zone along its border with Syria and Iraq with a no-fly zone overhead. But so far we’ve rejected it. However, we could begin to cut that knot if we accepted Turkey’s proposal. We have put together a coalition of Arab and European states to fight ISIS. The coalition could also establish that zone and stock it with enough troops to prevent ISIS’s incursions. There’s reason for Palestinians and Israelis to join that humanitarian effort, too. All refugees—those fleeing ISIS, Syrians, Iraqis, Kurds, all the polyglot religious adherents of the region—welcome and cared for. Many countries could provide food, medicine, shelter, and educational services for the children. And IFOAM—the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements—in addition to being an advocacy organization—could organize organic food aid for the dispossessed. Just look at the slaughter going on: Assad has killed 200,000 of his own citizens. Iraq has lost hundreds of thousands. ISIS seems intent on pursuing religious and ethnic genocide. Certainly a safe haven is needed. Certainly the organic community could make a big difference with food aid.
Am I a dreamer here? Well, I’m not the only one.
EPA APPROVES HERBICIDE THAT COMBINES ROUNDUP WITH 2,4-D
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, ignoring more than 60 members of Congress and a half a million citizens, has approved a deadly new herbicide, Dow’s Enlist Duo, made from a combination of Monsanto’s Roundup and Dow’s “Agent Orange” 2,4-D, the Organic Consumers Association reports.
The new herbicide will be used on Dow’s newly approved corn and soy crops, engineered to withstand massive doses of the new “Deadly Duo” herbicide.
And why are these genetically re-engineered corn and soybeans needed? To withstand the new Enlist Duo herbicide from Monsanto and Dow. And why is Enlist Duo herbicide needed? Because Roundup alone has caused the emergence of super-weeds that have developed resistance to it. So in the twisted logic of Monsanto, Dow, and the EPA, the way to defeat herbicide-resistant weeds, whose development was caused by the use of herbicide to begin with, is to come up with even more toxic herbicide. It’s really less about weed control and more about having product to sell to farmers, isn’t it?
Where will the vast percentage of these new crops go? To feed animals on factory farms.
With the approval of Dow’s Enlist crops and Deadly Duo herbicide, the EPA, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which also signed off on the crops, have signaled that they have no intention of ending the rampant escalation of the use of increasingly toxic poisons by industrial agriculture.
The only way to stop them is by shutting down demand for GMO crops. That will take millions of consumers switching to organic, non-GMO food at the supermarket—and that means boycotting meat, eggs and dairy from factory farms. It also means labeling GMO foods so we can boycott them.
The profits to be gained for Monsanto and Dow from sales of the new seeds and double-dose herbicide does reveal why Big Ag, Biotech, and the pesticide industry has ponied up $100 million to defeat GMO labeling laws in Oregon and Colorado next month.
FARM USE OF ANTIBIOTICS KEEPS GROWING
Remember how the federal government recently decided to finally take on the major threat that antibiotic resistance poses to human health, yet somehow failed to address the meat and poultry industries’ routine overuse of antibiotics—despite acknowledging that said overuse is definitely contributing to the problem? Well, new data out from the FDA shows just how big of an oversight this is. The gist: more antibiotics are being fed to livestock than ever. And you can bet that humans are going to pay the price. So writes Lindsay Abrams in Salon.
Between 2009 and 2012, the FDA report finds, the amount of antibiotics deemed medically important for humans that were given to farm animals increased 16 percent. More than two-thirds of those were tetracyclines, which humans depend on to treat everything from acne to Lyme disease to chlamydia, and which are already becoming less useful as resistance takes hold. Also increasing in use, The New York Times notes, are cephalosporins (used for pneumonia, strep throat and skin and urinary infections, they’re “particularly popular among pediatricians”), despite the fact that the FDA moved to restrict their use in 2012.
The antibiotic industry’s go-to excuse—that they’re mostly using the drugs for disease prevention—continues to ring false. In 2012, the FDA data shows that “antibiotics with a proven use for growth-promotion outsold antibiotics with only a therapeutic use by a ratio of 2.2:1.”
“We know that the overuse of antibiotics on the farm is leading to more antibiotic resistant pathogens that threaten humans–-and FDA’s own figures show that the agency’s inaction is making the problem worse,” said New York Congresswoman Louise Slaughter in a statement. “Until the FDA enacts a mandatory regulation that puts human health before industry profits, Americans will continue to live under an increased threat of untreatable infection.”
And who are the major players in this industry? They include Archer-Daniels-Midlands, Bayer, Elanco, Novartis, and 22 others—many of them also manufacturers of agricultural pesticides.
GMO CONTAMINATION PUTS MONTANA FARMERS AT RISK
Experimental genetically engineered (GMO) wheat was discovered in July, 2014, at a Montana research facility that has not legally grown the variety since 2003, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has revealed.
“Once again, USDA and the biotech industry have put farmers and the food supply at risk,” said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director for Center for Food Safety. “Coexistence between GMO and non-GMO crops is a failed policy that fundamentally cannot work. Genetic contamination is a serious threat to farmers across the country.”
In the same announcement, USDA closed its investigation into a May, 2013, GMO wheat contamination episode in Oregon without any explanation for the incident. That contamination episode led to closures of vital export markets and a class action lawsuit against Monsanto by wheat farmers.
“Just as USDA closes one fruitless investigation, it tries to bury the story of yet another contamination. USDA cannot keep treating these as isolated incidents; contamination is the inevitable outcome of GMO crop technology,” said Kimbrell. “It’s time for Congress to take definitive action.”
Monsanto is currently in the process of settling a class action lawsuit brought by wheat farmers impacted by the Oregon contamination episode, which forced exports to several Asian and European markets to be suspended and cost farmers millions of dollars. USDA records reveal that Monsanto has conducted 279 field tests of herbicide-resistant wheat on over 4,000 acres in 17 states since 1994. Monsanto has received at least 35 notices of noncompliance from 2010 through 2013, more than any other company.
“Farmers, not the biotech industry, are on the hook for these contamination episodes. There must be accountability for Monsanto,” said Kimbrell. “USDA should, at a minimum, immediately place a moratorium on open-air field testing of genetically engineered crops.”
After a decade of field trials, Monsanto dropped efforts to introduce Roundup Ready GMO wheat in 2004 in the face of intense international opposition from consumers, farmers, wheat millers, and food companies. However, after a six-year hiatus, Monsanto once again began extensive field-testing of GMO wheat in 2011.
Opponents of GMO wheat have long argued that it would contaminate conventional wheat, making it unsellable to many markets that reject GMO products. The U.S. is the world’s biggest exporter of wheat, an $8 billion business. A 2005 study estimated that the wheat industry could lose $94 to $272 million if GMO wheat were introduced. Past transgenic contamination episodes involving GMO corn and rice have triggered over $1 billion in losses and economic hardship to farmers.
In late 2005, the USDA’s own Inspector General issued a scathing report detailing numerous violations of agency rules in regulating genetically engineered crop field trials. USDA officials did not know the locations of many field trials it was charged with regulating, and did not conduct required inspections of others. In 2002, the National Academy of Sciences also criticized serious deficiencies in USDA’s regulation of genetically engineered crops.
In 2013, Center for Food Safety joined over 150 organizations and businesses in a letter to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack calling on the agency to protect the wheat industry by implementing necessary protections from GMO contamination.
ROUNDUP LINKED TO CANCER–AGAIN
There is a disturbing parallel between the exponential growth of biotech agriculture and the spread of a cancer in the human body, writes Jeff Ritterman, M.D. in Truth-Out.
Cancers are cells that reproduce rapidly and haphazardly with no regard for the greater good of the organism. Cancer cells consume valuable energy, starving out normal cells. They grow so wildly and so quickly that they crowd out their neighbors. They send off emissaries to start new cancer colonies. They make harmful substances that damage healthy cells. They spread relentlessly. In the final sad irony, when the cancer cells reach their growth peak, they kill their host and die in the process.
Like a cancer, biotech agriculture has crowded out its neighbors and is spreading relentlessly. Also like a cancer, it makes harmful substances. Roundup is one of them. As more acreage comes under GM cultivation, we can expect Roundup use to continue to increase. Roundup kills plants, causes birth defects in vertebrates, and is linked to cancer. Can a living planet withstand the continuous assault from this poison any more than the human body can withstand the attack from an aggressive cancer?
Read the whole article at http://truth-out.org
Jeff Ritterman, M.D. is vice president of the board of directors of the SF Bay Chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility. He is the retired chief of cardiology at Kaiser Richmond and a former Richmond, California, city councilman.
FRACKING WASTE BEING DUMPED INTO DRINKING WATER
Almost 3 billion gallons of oil industry wastewater have been illegally dumped into central California aquifers that supply drinking water and farming irrigation, according to state documents obtained by the Center for Biological Diversity.
The wastewater entered the aquifers through at least nine injection disposal wells used by the oil industry to dispose of waste contaminated with fracking fluids and other pollutants.
The documents also reveal that Central Valley Water Board testing found high levels of arsenic, thallium, and nitrates—contaminants sometimes found in oil industry wastewater—in water-supply wells near these waste-disposal operations.
“Clean water is one of California’s most crucial resources, and these documents make it clear that state regulators have utterly failed to protect our water from oil industry pollution,” said Hollin Kretzmann, a Center attorney. “Much more testing is needed to gauge the full extent of water pollution and the threat to public health. But Governor Brown should move quickly to halt fracking to ward off a surge in oil industry wastewater that California simply isn’t prepared to dispose of safely.”
The state’s Water Board confirmed beyond doubt that at least nine wastewater disposal wells have been injecting waste into aquifers that contain high-quality water that is supposed to be protected under federal and state law.
The Inherent Morality of the Organic Ideal
Most people, if not all, are inculcated with a sense of morality as they grow up. It begins with “Don’t hit your sister,” (or brother), and the learning curve takes the child through the socializing steps that lead to an ethical, moral adult.
Well, now the Supreme Court, in its recent decision of Citizens United, tells us that corporations are people. But corporations act like selfish, unscrupulous, sociopathic criminals. Their motivation is to create wealth for themselves. They trash the world, frack the earth, poison the people and animals who depend on them for food, tear open nature’s precious genomes and create monsters, destroy the environment, pay their employees pittances and their executives obscenely large salaries. If real people acted the way corporations do, they’d be in jail, or in mental institutions.
So why should corporations be allowed to act like criminals, if they are indeed people. How come they don’t have to behave ethically and morally, but we actual people do?
The answer, of course, is that they aren’t people. Their behavior is only restrained by laws, but these days, they own the lawmakers, and so they’ve been deregulated. The restraints are off. They do what they want. And so they proceed to plunder and pillage, and if they were sexual beings, they’d rape.
I’m sorry, but the Roberts Supreme Court—that legacy handed to us by George W. Bush—is the worst excuse for a Supreme Court since Roger Taney’s Court handed down the Dred Scott decision in 1857. Google it, if you’re interested.
There can be no progress on controlling corporate excess and turning back the march toward extinction represented by global climate change until our economic system is seen as a way of doing business by the corporations, of the corporations, and for the corporations. There is little morality at all to it, if one defines morality as creating conditions that benefit everyone equally. It is inherently not only amoral, but immoral. People starve, are homeless, die in the streets, while Exxon and the Koch brothers see millions of dollars pour into their bank accounts day by day by day.
What would a moral way of doing business look like? It would look a lot like the way a single, moral human being would act. Here are some bullet points:
• It would be kind. There would be work for everyone, meaning work wouldn’t be shipped overseas to factories staffed by impoverished workers who would accept starvation wages simply to survive. Workers would be paid a fair wage. Men and women would be paid the same for the same work. Workers would be treated with respect, and treated fairly. Kindness is a virtue. Companies would act virtuously.
• It would respect the beauty of the earth and the earth’s natural systems. Instead of mountaintop removal to get at dirty coal, it would turn its muscle toward renewable energy sources—solar, wind, hydroelectric, heat pumps, and many other non-extractive and gentle methods of generating power. It would pattern agriculture on nature’s systems, rather than on toxic chemicals to kill and pollute nature’s systems.
• It would be transparent and true. The lies, subterfuges, coverups, lobbying, under-the-table money, propaganda, and all the rest of the dirty dealing would stop. Truth would be counted at a premium, just as it is with human beings.
There’s lots more to this, but the idea is simple. Once you know what organics is all about, you understand that it is a moral system of developing our life-support systems for food and livelihood. As we would be ourselves, as persons, that’s how our economic system should be—and all our systems, really.
What Citizens United says is that the anti-social, rapacious, selfish system of our economy is what humanity is all about. It’s a horrible perversion of the truth. In my opinion, Roberts, Scalia, Thomas, Alito, and Kennedy should all be recalled, for they are a danger to us all and to the American way of life.
IT’S SMALL, BUT IT’S A START
The United States Department of Agriculture has announced that it will spend $52 million to support local and regional food systems like farmers’ markets and food hubs and to spur research on organic farming, according to The New York Times.
The local food movement has been one of the fastest growing segments of
the business, as consumers seek to know more about where, how and by
whom their food is grown. But local farmers still struggle to market their food. Distribution systems are intended to accommodate the needs of large-scale commercial farms and growers. Grocery stores and restaurants largely rely on big distribution centers and are only beginning to figure out how to incorporate small batches of produce into their overall merchandise mixes.
Farmers’ markets are proliferating around the country, increasing 76 percent
to 8,268 since 2008, according to the Agriculture Department.
The $52 million will be the first outlay to local and organic enterprises of
the farm bill signed into law by President Obama in February, which tripled
the amount of money aimed at that sector to $291 million. The organic
business, which has long complained that the Agriculture Department does
not support it financially, will get $125 million over the next five years for
research and $50 million for conservation programs.
ORGANIC FOOD REDUCES RISK OF HEAVY METAL POISONING
Scientists have long recognized the dangers of cadmium (Cd) exposure to the human body. This heavy metal is emerging as a major cause of vascular disorders, common cancers, osteoporosis, and kidney disease, and can also cause damage to the body’s reproductive and neurological systems. While tobacco smoke can be a significant source of exposure for smokers, the primary source of cadmium exposure for nonsmokers is through consumption of plant-based foods contaminated with Cd from pesticides.
A survey of all previous pertinent research (meta-analysis), appearing recently in the British Journal of Nutrition, concluded that organically grown foods are on average 48 percent lower in Cd than conventionally grown foods. Now, in an invited commentary appearing in the same journal, Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute cardiovascular research scientist James J. DiNicolantonio, Pharm.D., and Mark F. McCarty, B.A., place this finding in the context of the growing epidemiology linking Cd exposure to adverse health outcomes, and conclude that consistent consumption of organic foods over a lifetime could be expected to favorably influence health and mortality risk.
“For years, nutritionists and consumers have struggled with the question, ‘is organic really better?’” said Dr. DiNicolantonio. “What analysis of this research reveals is that, due to the serious health impacts of cadmium exposure and the markedly lower levels of Cd in organically grown foods, the long-term consumption of such foods is likely to be notably protective with respect to a wide range of common pathologies.”
CONSUMERS UNION SAYS ‘NO ON 92’ IS A CON
Consumers Union is disputing claims made in ads opposing Measure 92, the Oregon ballot initiative that would require GMO foods to be so labeled, that labeling will force farmers and food producers to spend “millions” and increase food costs for consumers.
The group also takes issue with the assumptions made by industry-funded studies that it says have overestimated the cost of similar GMO labeling proposals in California, Washington and New York.
“Industry cost estimates incorporate unrealistic assumptions about how GMO labeling requirements will drive food producers to switch to all organic ingredients, which would be much more expensive. However, there is no factual basis for this assumption and we believe producers will continue to sell GMO foods once they are labeled, and many consumers will continue to buy them, with no discernible price impact,” asserted CU. “Measure 92 simply requires foods that contain genetically engineered ingredients to be labeled so that consumers can make an informed choice.”
Genetically engineered foods are already required to be labeled in 64 foreign countries, including many where American food producers sell their wares. Labeling has not increased food prices in those countries, according to Consumers Union.
“Producers are required to label foods that are frozen, from concentrate, homogenized, or irradiated, as well as a food’s country of origin. Poll after poll has found that more than 90 percent of consumers want foods that are genetically engineered to be labeled,” CU noted.
In addition to the Oregon initiative, a GMO labeling requirement is on the ballot in Colorado in November. Vermont has already passed legislation requiring GMO labeling, and legislatures in dozens of other states are considering similar labeling bills.
NEONICOTINOID RESIDUES FOUND IN COMMON FOODSTUFFS
According to a study conducted by scientists from Harvard University and published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, neonicotinoid residues are often found in many of the most commonly consumed fruits and vegetables.
Neonicotinoids are the most common class of insecticide used in conventional agriculture, and are applied directly to the plant or the soil where they can be taken up by roots and stored in plant tissues. Results from the study suggest that exposure to neonicotinoid insecticides in produce sold for human consumption may be more common than previously thought.
“All fruit and vegetable samples, with the exception of nectarine and tomato, tested positive for at least one neonicotinoid,” and most fruits and almost half of all vegetables tested had residues of at least two different neonicotinoids, the study found. Neonicotinoids have been implicated as a cause for honeybee die-offs, and recent studies suggest they may also have negative health effects on mammals. The authors have called for an assessment of dietary neonicotinoid intakes and the potential effects they may have on human health.
IFOAM PRESIDENT EXPLODES THE MYTHS OF SAFE PESTICIDES
Andre Leu is a longtime organic farmer in Australia and current President of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM). He has written a book entitled “The Myths of Safe Pesticides,” and it’s one that should wake people up to the fact that our pesticide-drenched conventional food supply is poisoning the environment, farm workers, and the public. Here are the myths he explodes:
The “Rigorously Tested” Myth. Are pesticides tested for safety before going on the market?
The “Very Small Amount” Myth. Can even a small amount of chemical residue be harmful?
The “Breakdown” Myth. Do pesticides rapidly biodegrade, and are the breakdown products truly harmless?
The “Reliable Regulatory Authority” Myth. Do the regulatory authorities review unbiased evidence before declaring a product safe?
The “Pesticides Are Essential to Farming” Myth. Are pesticides the only thing keeping our planet from starvation?
Leu shows in detail how they are all myths, without much basis in reality. It’s an important book, has a foreword by Vandana Shiva, amd is published by Acres USA. Buy a few copies to give to folks who tell you that you are being alarmist to eat organic food, and that the food supply is perfectly safe. If they read this book, they will change their minds.
Climate Change and Organic Food Production
The world’s emissions of greenhouse gases jumped 2.3 percent in 2013 to record levels. In the United States, emissions rose 2.9 percent, so we’re doing more than our fair share of polluting the atmosphere with carbon dioxide.
Where is all this carbon dioxide coming from. Well, in the U.S., 32 percent of it comes from the burning of fossil fuels—oil, coal, natural gas—to produce electricity. Transportation (petroleum for cars, trucks, buses, trains, planes, etc.) produces 28 percent. Industry’s use of fossil fuels to produce its goods causes 20 percent of the total emissions. Heating and other on-site burning of fossil fuels in commercial and residential buildings adds another 10 percent, and agriculture’s use of fossil fuels to create chemical fertilizers and run farms contributes another 10 percent.
Some activities absorb carbon dioxide. Environmentally-sound land use and forestry decreases the total emissions by 15 percent. This gives us a clue about how to get a handle on CO2 emissions and begin to reduce them.
First, cut way back on burning fossil fuels to make electricity and drive industry. Here in California thousands of square miles of houses sit under the broiling sun, day after day, without solar panels on their roofs. The push for renewable energy sources has barely begun, but there’s plenty of energy to be harvested that has no carbon component at all. Heat pumps can draw energy from the earth everywhere in the U.S., especially in areas where magma isn’t that far from the surface. My electricity is entirely created from hydrothermal power generation at a series of turbines at The Geysers in northern Sonoma County. The Geysers are volcanic holes in the ground. Water goes down, steam comes up, turbines get driven, electricity is made. It costs me a premium to make sure every kilowatt I use is from this renewable source, but to me it’s worth it, and it really isn’t that much money.
Second, sequester carbon in the earth by farming organically. Remember, a plant absorbs carbon dioxide (CO2). The plant uses that carbon atom to build plant tissue. The two oxygen atoms are breathed out into the air. Recycle that plant tissue through composting, returning the carbon to the soil to build the next generation of plants, rather than burning it or letting it rot on the soil surface, which allows the carbon to escape into the atmosphere. Better yet, turn all plant matter into biochar and bury it, which will immobilize the carbon in the earth for thousands of years while it creates rich, nutrient filled soil for crops. Ancient Indians knew this in South America, where thousands of square miles of fertile land are underlain with soil enriched with biochar. The carbon is sequestered rather than dumped into the air, and the biochar enriches the land.
Why can’t we do this? What are we waiting for? Studies show that if all agriculture were organic, we could reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide to safe levels within a few decades.
Here’s why we aren’t taking these steps.
First, the fossil fuel industry is enormously wealthy and uses its wealth to thwart any attempts to make serious moves toward renewable energy sources. We all know this. I mean, look at Saudi Arabia, the Koch brothers, BP and the Gulf oil spill. They will never let go until we pass laws making them let go. But Congress is bought and sold by the fossil fuel industries. Not only that, but these polluting fossil fuel industries have their tentacles clamped onto the portion of the public that identifies with ultra-conservative, right wing ideologies. This is a cynical and well-planned move on the part of the Energy Polluters.
For instance, and this is just one little instance, an ultra-conservative board in Texas that approves school textbooks is trying to get language into high school history books that says that manmade climate change is a disputed subject, and that human activities may very well have nothing to do with global warming. It’s simply a lie. Science indisputably backs human activity as the cause of global warming. Just ask the plants that are blooming, setting seed, and maturing fruit and seed much earlier now than in the past.
I’m sure that many of these ultra-conservative ideologues believe big business’s lies about climate change. What they don’t understand is that they’ve been sold a bill of goods, they’ve swallowed the bait, they’ve bought into the lies, they believe the propaganda. And they are standing in the way of the crucially important movements to change for the better—for the betterment of their kids and grandkids, for the creatures of the world, and for a world where global warming isn’t spiraling out of control.
WHY IS THE USDA BUYING SUBMACHINE GUNS?
Submachine guns, .40 Cal. S&W, ambidextrous safety, semi-automatic or 2 shot bur[s]t trigger group, Tritium night sights for front and rear, rails for attachment of flashlight (front under fore grip) and scope (top rear), stock-collapsib[l]e or folding, magazine – 30 rd. capacity.”
In May, the USDA’s Office of Inspector General filed a request for these weapons, Charles McFarlane writes. But why exactly do they need them?
According to a USDA press rep, the guns are necessary for self-protection.
“OIG Special Agents regularly conduct undercover operations and surveillance. The types of investigations conducted by OIG Special Agents include criminal activities such as fraud in farm programs; significant thefts of Government property or funds; bribery and extortion; smuggling; and assaults and threats of violence against USDA employees engaged in their official duties,” wrote a USDA spokesperson.
Those seem like legitimate enforcement activities, but still: submachine guns? Not everyone believes the USDA being armed to the teeth is justifiable. On Aug. 2, the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund launched a petition to support a bill that would curb the ability of agencies like the USDA to arm themselves. They see it as overkill and scare tactics, especially for smaller producers.
“What we have seen happen, with the FDA especially, is they have come onto small farms, raw milk producers, and raided the heck out of them with armed agents present,” says Liz Reitzig, co-founder of the Farm Food Freedom Coalition. “Do we really want to have our federal regulatory agencies bring submachine guns onto these family farms with children?”
If USDA investigations are perceived to be potentially violent, then the agents should do what the rest of us do, call the local sheriff.
SMALL FARMS KEY TO REVERSING CLIMATE CHANGE
Small-scale farmers must be the cornerstone of any global strategy to address climate change and hunger.
According to the United Nations, the growing global population will require an increase of 70 percent more food production by 2050. This can only be addressed by shifting current industrial agricultural practices to diversified food systems focused on food security and agroecology.
Fortifying and safeguarding small-scale farmers is the best remedy to address rural unemployment and poverty through participatory and decentralized approaches to managed resources like land and water. A combination of public policies, education efforts and market initiatives will be needed to address climate change and the challenges facing small-scale farmers and the planet.
The UN recognizes that many initiatives like fair trade have positive impacts for rural communities and natural resource management. The Latin American and Caribbean Network of Fair Trade Small Producers’ Organizations (CLAC), the largest network of fair trade farmers in Latin America, is fighting every day to defend family and small-scale agriculture in order to guarantee a more inclusive and equitable rural development.
Addressing the climate crisis requires that we confront the industrial agriculture food system and put small farmers in the driver seat. The time for swift action is now, according to CLAC and the Organic Consumers Association.
MAKE A COMPOST PILE OR LOSE A PILE OF MONEY
Under a new policy, recently passed 9-0 by the Seattle City Council, those who fail to compost “food waste and compostable paper” and throw it in their garbage will be penalized. And by composting it, the City Council means just that—making a compost pile in your backyard.
How do folks who’ve never built and maintained a compost pile do that? Seattle Tilth and the Seattle Public Utilities Commission have put access to the needed info on Seattle Tilth’s website (seattletilth.org). At the site, go to |Adult Classes, click on the list of classes, and click Composting 101.
The new program will come into effect in January, 2015, for commercial establishments and residences. It will be enforced by the Seattle Public Utilities Commission. Seattle has had a similar rule for noncompostable recyclables for nine years.
After receiving two warnings, residents and businesses will be fined $50 for dumpsters and a more modest $1 for waste at single-family homes. Previously, the utilities commission left residents and businesses a note that asked them to compost. If they did not comply, the city refused to collect the garbage.
So, why is Seattle making residents compost? The reason is that the city was not going to meet its self-imposed goal of recycling 60 percent of all waste.
“Compostables are about 30 percent of what is in the garbage and they are the largest target we have to help us reach our goals,” said Timothy Croll, solid waste director of the Utilities Commission, which asked the city council for the change. “Also, composting food waste reduces emissions of methane, which is a strong cause of climate change.” And it sequesters carbon.
Although the Utilities Commission contends inspecting garbage and issuing fines for noncompliance will have minimal costs and save money in the long run by reducing landfill usage, not everyone agrees.
“This program is not free, it costs money and nobody is looking at the real cost of this [program],” said Todd Myers, environment director for the conservative Washington Policy Center.
Myers said the program costs could be put to better use, CNN reported. “There are a lot of ways to spend this money to actually do good for the planet…Seattle is very good at doing things that feel good, but very bad at doing things that do good for the planet,” said Myers.
But Croll said the program is worth it. “Nine years ago, we prohibited recyclable paper and containers from the garbage and this created a significant rise in our recycling rate,” Croll said.
The program is modeled on a similar one instituted in San Francisco in 2009.
Last year, then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg proposed requiring New York residents to compost. New York’s city council only extended the requirement to commercial establishments.
$100 Million to Keep You in the Dark
Between 2012 and mid-2014, Monsanto and the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) successfully blocked GMO labeling legislation in over 30 states, at a price tag of more than $100 million, Dr. Joseph Mercola reports on his website.
These funds were received from the 300+ members of the GMA, which include chemical/pesticide, GE seed, and processed food industries. Together, these industries are working in a symbiotic fashion to grow, subsidize, and manufacture foods that have been clearly linked to growing obesity and chronic disease epidemics.
Keeping up this lawsuit strategy could turn into a major headache for the GMA, which is why it’s pushing a Congressional bill called “The Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2014,” (dubbed “DARK”—Denying Americans the Right to Know Act) that would simply preempt all states from passing GMO labeling laws.
The words, “Contain GMOs,” are required on labels in 64 other countries around the world. It is truthful information, and whether or not an ingredient is genetically engineered falls under truth in labeling.
If you label a product “salmon,” a buyer and seller understand what salmon is. If you splice eel genes into salmon, it is no longer plain, regular salmon. If you continue to mislabel this eel-spliced fish as salmon, the seller is committing fraud.
ORGANIC FLEA AND TICK CONTROL FOR DOGS
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USDA APPROVES 2,4-D HERBICIDE TO KILL SUPERWEEDS
CREATED BY THE USE OF ROUNDUP ON GMO CROPS
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has approved Dow Chemical’s controversial Enlist corn and soybeans, which are genetically engineered to withstand repeated spraying of the herbicide 2,4-D.
2,4-D, produced by Dow Chemical, was a component of “Agent Orange,” the toxic defoliant used in Vietnam. 2,4-D and other herbicides of its class have been independently associated with deadly immune system cancers, Parkinson’s disease, endocrine disruption and reproductive problems.
Dow Chemical developed 2,4-D resistant crops as a solution to so-called “superweeds,” glyphosate (Roundup)-resistant weeds generated by first-generation genetically engineered crops, which were engineered to tolerate higher doses of Roundup. These first-generation crops triggered a massive increase in the use of the herbicide glyphosate, followed by an epidemic of glyphosate-resistant weeds.
USDA admits that approval of 2,4-D-resistant corn and soybeans will lead to an unprecedented increase in agricultural use of 2,4-D herbicide by 2020, from 26 million to as much as 176 million pounds per year.
“The USDA’s environmentally destructive action highlights the need to pass Measure 92 to label these genetically engineered foods,” said Sandeep Kaushik, a spokesperson for Oregon Right to Know, the campaign supporting Measure 92. “The hundreds of thousands of Oregonians who care about the environment and want to live in a sustainable way have a right to know if the foods they are buying in the grocery store are engineered to encourage a huge increase in the use of a damaging herbicide that was used in Agent Orange.”
The USDA’s rubber-stamping of these engineered crops makes labeling of genetically engineered foods even more necessary. Consumers deserve the ability to speak with their pocketbooks and avoid crops that cause serious environmental damage and pose health risks.
PACKING THE NOSB WITH CORPORATE SUITS
One of the nation’s preeminent organic industry watchdogs, The Cornucopia Institute, expressed renewed criticism of the process used for the selection of four new appointees to the USDA’s National Organic Standards Board (NOSB). The NOSB is a 15-member volunteer board composed of various organic stakeholders that makes decisions regarding any synthetic materials allowed for use in organic agriculture and food production and also advises the USDA Secretary on policy.
The selection process was conducted in secrecy despite requests to cast sunlight on the decision making and solicit input from a very engaged community of organic farmers, businesses, and consumers, said Will Fantle, Cornucopia’s Codirector. “We think a more transparent process would ensure the selection of the best and brightest for the various vacancies on the board – instead of, once again, appeasing the organic corporate lobby,” Fantle said.
Cornucopia has been critical of past appointments that were more representative of the agribusiness sector than meeting requirements detailed in the federal law that created the board. As powerful food processing interests have increasingly sought to add synthetic and non-organic materials to foods, the NOSB has become a focal point of controversy over what some deem a watering down of organic integrity.
Under both the Bush and Obama administrations the USDA has violated OFPA by appointing agribusiness executives, instead of those “owning or operating” a certified organic farm, to sit in seats intended to represent farmers. Currently, two of the four “farmers” on the board were employees of large agribusinesses when appointed.
FDA PROPOSES SENSIBLE RULES FOR ORGANIC FARMERS
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced this morning the anxiously anticipated revised language for its new rules implementing the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). The revised language was released in response to the extensive feedback FDA received on key provisions of the proposed rules on produce safety and preventive controls for human food. Both proposed rules would significantly impact organic farmers and handlers across the country.
Since January 2013, the Organic Trade Association’s Food Safety Task Force has worked to raise awareness on the issue throughout the organic sector and develop comments to FDA proposing solutions to align with the organic regulations without a reduction in food safety. While OTA is still in the initial stages of reviewing the revised language, we are encouraged by our early analysis. The proposed changes clearly indicate that FDA listened to the feedback from OTA and other organic producers and handlers across the country, and responded to the unique requirements of the organic system.
The initial proposed regulations required a 9-month minimal application interval for untreated manure that contacts or potentially contacts covered produce—as opposed to National Organic Program (NOP) regulations requiring a 120- or 90-day application interval depending on whether the edible portion has direct or indirect contact with the soil. For manure treated by a composting process consistent with the NOP composting standards, a 45-day minimum application interval is required. Under the NOP regulations, 0 days are required.
This morning’s notice explains that FDA will defer the proposed requirement for untreated manure (9-month minimal interval) and conduct research to determine an appropriate science-based application interval. FDA expects this process will take at least five years. In the meantime, all operations covered under the Produce Safety Rule must follow the established NOP organic regulations for application of raw manure. For properly produced compost, FDA has again aligned with NOP regulations to allow unrestricted use of compost (i.e. 0-day application interval).
OTA is particularly pleased to see these revisions, and applauds the outstanding work of our Food Safety Task Force. Our extensive surveys of organic producers nationwide showed the importance of compost and manure in organic production. FDA’s removal of restrictions on properly made compost corroborates its importance in sustainable approaches to agriculture. We applaud FDA’s recognition that its previous proposed restrictions on unprocessed manure conflict with organic production standards. Today’s proposed acceptance of current organic standards on the use of manure for all agriculture is a step in the right direction.
My Experience with the Demise of the Middle Class
Two years before I was born, my dad bought a brand new house in a pretty development called Norgate in Manhasset, Long Island. He paid $8,000 for it. It was a modest house, about 2,200 square feet, with two and a half baths and three bedrooms on a 5,000-square foot lot—an eighth of an acre.
I enjoyed growing up on that street. The middle class families there were in their child-bearing years, so I had plenty of playmates. My mom didn’t need to work outside the home, what with me and my two siblings to care for, the house to maintain, and the meals to prepare, since my dad’s $12,000 a year salary as an art director for a New York City greeting card company covered our expenses. But since we were just 18 miles from Times Square, and the Long Island Rail Road ran through Manhasset straight into Grand Central Terminal, access to the city, its stores, its restaurants, and its shows were well within reach to keep mom happy and occupied. We had enough money to have a new car every couple of years after the war ended. We were solidly middle class and very happy to be so.
I recently checked the old neighborhood on Google Maps Street View. Everything looks shipshape. The houses are kept up, just as I remember them. It’s such a lovely neighborhood. Then I checked the real estate marketplace. The last time a house on our block sold, it was for a million dollars. Property taxes are now $12,000 a year. There are no middle class families living on that block now, I guarantee. You need to be very, very wealthy to live in the house I grew up in.
Gentrification? No. I don’t think so. It’s the same house. Still 2,200 square feet. Still the same boards and cement. When I lived there, lemme think, what did our neighbors do for a living? Well, Fred was an accountant, Elton was a chemist, Stan was a radio announcer, Jim was in charge of Canada Dry sales in the New York region. John was the captain of a schooner that took tourists on excursions on Long Island Sound. Middle class folks, all. I suspect most of them didn’t earn much more than my dad’s $12,000 a year.
What’s changed is that the percentage of folks who can afford to live in my old neighborhood has shrunk from maybe 60 percent of the population to—what would you say? What percentage of the population today can afford a million dollar house with a heavy property tax bill? Three percent? Two percent?
In other words, the middle class, with its enviable American lifestyle of the 1940s and 1950s, has been gutted, evaporated, extinguished. The money that made America the envy of the world has flowed upstairs to the filthy rich, and then offshore to tax havens in places like the Cayman Islands. Even the modest house in which I grew up is far out of reach of the average American. The average American is now piss poor.
And now here’s a story that’s absolutely true. Not long ago I attended the Napa Valley Wine Auction as a wine journalist. The very wealthy tend to go to this function, and that’s good, because the money raised at the auction goes to support medical clinics for the field workers who tend the vines, harvest the grapes, and work in the wineries.
So I was talking with this guy, and he told me that he just bought $25,000 worth of cult wines to treat a handful of his friends, who he was flying up from southern California for a party. I allowed how that was mighty nice of him, and very extravagant.
He looked at me. And this is what he said: “Look, I have several houses around the world, I have the big boat, I have my own private jet, I have the expensive cars, and every month, millions of dollars go into my bank account. Do you honestly think I give a shit about $25,000 for wine to treat my friends? Get real.”
I liked it better when we were all just nice folks living an idyllic life in the middle class suburbs of Long Island.
WHY THE REPUBLICAN PARTY IS UNAMERICAN
Anyone who thinks clearly about the problems in this country knows that the influx of millions of dollars of partisan money (can you say Koch?) into our political system is corrupting it. That one major reason why Congress is so feckless when it comes to passing environmentally-smart laws, why our regulatory agencies don’t regulate toxic agricultural chemicals, why Big Business is allowed to clank along its destructive way despite the pleas of the citizenry. Everyone knows that Congress is bought and sold by corporate America, with the buying and selling given the full support of the judicial branch of the Federal government with the Citizens United Supreme Court decision.
A move has been underway to support a Constitutional amendment that would overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which allows unlimited money into the political system.
Yet on September 11—another sad day in American history–every Republican Senator in the U.S. Congress voted against allowing the Senate to vote on that amendment, thus preventing the Constitutional amendment to get money out of politics to move forward.
I’d like to hear some journalists ask the GOP Congressional leadership what its reasoning is. So far I haven’t heard any explanations. But let me guess. The reason is that right wing partisan money flows to the conservative members of Congress, and they vote this way not to protect American democracy, but to protect the right of their sugar daddies to poison the political system in their favor.
DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE ON THE INTERNET
It used to be that the ugly side of human nature, when it was portrayed in our arts and media, was done with artfulness: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Long Day’s Journey into Night, Richard III, and so on. The art allowed us to look at the down side of human nature and achieve a catharsis. The art redeemed the ugliness.
The internet, however, throws human nature at us in all its unrelieved ugliness, its puerile and disgusting stupidity, its racism, sexism, and sheer hatefulness. You don’t have to delve very deeply into the web to stumble across the most repulsive aspects of the human psyche.
It remains to be seen what holding up a mirror to unrelieved human ugliness and human nobility—devils and angels and everything in between—will create.
Perhaps it will allow the human race to work on overcoming the worst aspects of our nature, now that they are on full display. Or maybe it will be like coming across a bad auto wreck on the highway and not being able to look away. We’ll have to wait and see. The internet is still in its infancy, but it’s a new world.
GENERAL MILLS BUYS ANNIE’S FOR $840 MILLION
A number of people have asked me what I think about General Mills’ purchase of Annie’s organic foods for $840 million. Here’s my take on it:
General Mills is obviously trying to get a piece of the $40 billion organic market by buying its way in. I think General Mills would have been better advised to spend that $840 million to develop a new line of truly organic foods that could be USDA Certified and designed to give us organic consumers exactly what we’re looking for.
What we’re looking for is NOT an Annie’s whose profits go back to General Mills, one of the biggest corporations in the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the trade organization that has spent lavishly and illegally on lying to people about the terrible consequences of labeling foods that contain GMO crops.
My bottom line: when the fox buys the henhouse, the chickens are not long for this world.
Pro-GMO Propaganda Spending Goes through the Roof
The Organic Consumers Association reports that Frankenfood lobbyists spent a record-breaking $27 million in the first half of this year—nearly triple what they spent last year—to stop state GMO labeling campaigns. And that doesn’t include the unprecedented millions Monsanto, Dow, Bayer and others have spent this year on false advertising. The following is from Ronnie Cummings of OCA:
What happens in November, in Oregon and Colorado, and early next year in Maine and other states, could make or break the anti-GMO movement in this country, and Monsanto and Big Food know it.
The Pesticide Purveyors and Junk Food Giants have already made their first million-dollar-plus “smoke-and-mirrors” ad buy in Oregon. Their massive media campaign is likely to be full of the usual lies about how labeling will raise food prices, and how GMO foods are “proven” safe.
It will look much like the campaigns they ran in California and Washington State, where they narrowly defeated labeling initiatives in 2012 and 2013.
Only worse. Because this time, the stakes are even higher.
The corporations that poison our food and planet are desperate to defeat state labeling initiatives in Oregon and Colorado—because they know if they lose either of these two state battles, they lose the state labeling laws war.
Why? Because Congress is not likely to pass the industry-sponsored DARK (Deny Americans the Right to Know) ACT, a bill to preempt state labeling laws, if Oregon and Colorado join Vermont, Maine and Connecticut in passing GMO labeling laws.
Even worse for Monsanto, once state laws mandating the labeling of GMOs in our food are the norm, and consumers get a clearer picture of just how prevalent GMOs are in our food, demand for organic foods will skyrocket. It will be the beginning of the end of Monsanto’s domination of our food supply.
The laws in Maine and Connecticut don’t yet pose a threat to Monsanto and Big Food. Trigger clauses in those laws mean that they won’t take effect unless multiple other states pass labeling requirements. So far only the Vermont law, passed in May, threatens to unravel Monsanto’s Great GMO Smoke and Mirrors Campaign. Which is why industry, led by the Grocery Manufacturers Association, has filed a lawsuit to try to overturn Vermont’s law.
But industry can’t sue every state in the nation. If voters pass GMO labeling laws in Oregon and Colorado in November, Monsanto will need more than smoke and mirrors to perpetuate its crimes against consumers, farmers and the environment.
We know, from years of fighting this battle that our government is going to protect industry profits. Not your health. This has always been a battle fought by the grassroots. It’s up to us to win it. However long it takes.
Can you help us raise $250,000 by September 15, to support Oregon, Colorado and other state labeling campaigns? Your donation will help us counter Monsanto’s massive lobbying and disinformation campaigns in Congress and the mass media. OCA is asking for donations to help spread the truth about GMOs and expose Monsanto’s lies. To make a donation, visit this URL:
ORGANIC MILK COWS MAKE EXTRA GOOD BEEF
What happens to organically-raised and fed milk cows after their milking years are over? Lisa Mattson, who does videography and PR for Jordan Winery in Healdsburg, California, provides the answer in this article, posted on Jordan’s online blog, about her recent visit to Mindul Meats. Lisa writes:
You’ve probably heard of GMO-free milk but GMO-free beef? The two share a very symbiotic relationship here in Northern California, where thousands of acres are home to dairy cows.
Mindful Meats is a progressive company that brings local, organic, non-GMO, pasture-raised meat to chefs. In 2013, the start-up became the first non-GMO Project Verified beef company in the United States. How did they do it? They partnered with organic dairies throughout Sonoma and Marin counties. Dairy farmers typically sell their cows once their milking life is over (around four years old, surprisingly).
In the past, there wasn’t an artisanal beef company willing to purchase the animals; they’d go to more commercial processors for fast-food chains or corporate groceries. Mindful Meats has changed the marketplace in just two years.
Our Executive Chef Todd Knoll discovered Mindful Meats last summer while doing menu development research for the Jordan Estate Tour & Tasting and was excited about its philosophy. “The key was whether or not the meat could be as delicious as it was local and sustainable.”
Mindful Meats delivered. It has been Chef Knoll’s source for his miso-glazed beef served on the Estate Tour & Tasting excursion since the launch last fall. “We have found that a life of good care, idyllic pastoral surroundings and organic feed yields a beef of character and flavor unmatched by the conventional lot system,” Chef Knoll says.
Mindful Meats Cofounder Claire Herminjard runs the company under the guiding principle that superior beef begins with well-cared-for animals and respect for the land. “We are providing the purest source of beef we can find,” Herminjard says. “The quality of our cows’ lives is very important to us and to our farmers.”
This summer, Chef Knoll invited me to join him for Mindful Meats first farm tour, hosted for Bay Area customers. Held at Tresch Family Dairy west of Petaluma in Sonoma County, the event gave chefs an opportunity to learn more about non-GMO testing and the benefits of converting dairy cows to beef cattle, while exploring the ranch and enjoying a lunch showcasing local cheeses, creams, fruit, vegetables and Mindful Meats brisket.
Our hosts were Herminjard and farm owner Kathy Tresch. Herminjard isn’t your typical CEO, and definitely not the garden-variety stereotype of a farmer. She’s 31 years old with an ever-present smile and rosy cheeks—a natural beauty who seems to have found her home in T-shirts, jeans and boots on dairy farms after years in the tech industry.
Tresch is an equally kind, naturally pretty woman in her fifties with a passion for Sonoma County farming and preserving local land for agriculture and conservation. She led guests on a driving tour of their more than 2,000-acre ranch where about 900 Holstein milking cows reside in the pastures surrounding the family home. (The Treschs’ three children have all joined the business in recent years.) They are deeply connected with their land and started with organic farming in 1995. The following year, their cows became the second certified organic herd in the California.
“We were already operating in a more organic protocol even when we were a conventional dairy,” Tresch said. “Having a gentle touch on the land and feeding our cows a natural diet was always important to us.”
According to the University of California at Davis Extension, there were more than 150 dairies in the Sonoma/Marin area prior to the 1980s, many of which were small, family farms, but today only about 90 are left. Why? Prices for non-organic milk are set by the California Department of Food and Agriculture, and according to Tresch, “Small dairies could barely pay the bills with the money earned from the milk.”
To help solve the economic problems family dairies were confronted with, Albert Straus, a second-generation dairy farmer, took a radical step: He converted the family farm to organic in 1994 and founded Straus Family Creamery, the first 100% certified organic creamery in the country, creating the first field-to-bottle infrastructure for organic milk. Going organic saved the remaining farms from going out of business, as organic milk commands a much higher price—and those prices are set by the creamery, not the state government. As of 2013, 71% of dairies in Marin and 63% in Sonoma are certified organic and more are making the transition.
While overlooking Tresch’s ranch from a golden hilltop, one chef on the tour asked Kathy how she felt about seeing her cows go from milk to beef cows.
“The animals are like family to us,” Tresch said, “but we can’t keep them all their entire lives. Claire looks every cow in the eye and says ‘thank you,’ and that means a lot to me.”
Mindful Meats sees its role as increasing people’s access and connection to organically, sustainably raised meat through a fair and transparent system. Their cows spend their lives grazing the floral grasses of Marin and Sonoma counties, about 45 minutes southwest of Jordan Winery. They live an average of five years on pastures as dairy cows, with more than 80 percent of their diet coming from pasture grass. (Approximately 20 percent of their diet is balanced throughout their lifetime with organic silage, alfalfa and grains.)
“We believe healthy soil, healthy grass, and a healthy herd lead to a healthy planet and to healthy food,” Herminjard said. “It’s been difficult for many chefs and consumers to find animals that were sustainably raised and respectably harvested. We are changing that.”
THE HEIRLOOM EXPO IS SEPTEMBER 9 – 11
The National Heirloom Exposition will be held September 9, 10, and 11, 2014, at
the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa, California. The Expo is a
not-for-profit event centered on the pure food movement, heirloom vegetables,
and anti-GMO activism. Last year over 18,000 people from around the country
and beyond visited the Expo. With more than 100 speakers and 300 natural food
vendors, the event was the largest gathering of its kind ever, giving it the sobriquet
of the “World’s Fair of Pure Food.”
This year’s keynote speaker is author and anti-GMO activist Jeffrey Smith, who’ll
be speaking at 7 p.m. on Wednesday the 10th in the Fairgrounds’ main hall. His
topic is, “Protecting Future Generations from GMOs—Now!” Admission is $10
for one day, $25 for all three days. Children 17 and younger are free. The Expo
will be open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. all three days.
For more information, visit www.theheirloomexpo.com.
Are We Committing Ecocide?
Nassim Nicholas Taleb is a scholar, statistician, Wall Street analyst, and professor at New York University, who predicted the Great Recession of 2008 by pointing out that commonly used risk models were wrong.
Now his analysis of our use of genetically modified organisms shows that GMOs could cause “an irreversible termination of life at some scale, which could be the planet,” according to the Alliance for Natural Health USA. Taleb and his two co-authors argue that calling the GMO approach “scientific” betrays “a very poor—indeed warped—understanding of probabilistic payoffs and risk management.”
Taleb believes GMOs fall squarely under the rule that we should always err on the side of caution if something is really dangerous. This is not just because of potential harm to the consumer, but because of systemic risk to the system, which in this case is the ecosystem that supports all life on the planet:
Top-down modifications to the system (through GMOs) are categorically and statistically different from bottom-up ones (regular farming, progressive tinkering with crops, etc.). There is no comparison between the tinkering of selective breeding and the top-down engineering of arbitrarily taking a gene from an organism and putting it into another.
The interdependence of all things in nature, Taleb points out, dramatically amplifies risks that may initially seem small when studied in isolation. Tiny genetic errors on the local scale could cause considerable—and even irreversible—environmental damage when the local is exported to the global. The lack of understanding of basic statistical principles, he says, is what leads GMO supporters astray:
“The interdependence of components [in nature] lead[s] to aggregate variations becoming much more severe than individual ones….Whether components are independent or interdependent matters a lot to systemic disasters such as pandemics or generalized crises. The interdependence increases the probability of ruin, to the point of certainty.”
The problem is that the general public, and indeed most policy analysts, are ill-equipped to understand the statistical mathematics of risk. But as Brian Stoffel explains in an article on Taleb’s research, we can assume that each genetically engineered seed carries a risk—albeit a very tiny risk—that in the intricately interdependent web of nature, the GMO seed might somehow eventually lead to a catastrophic breakdown of the ecosystem we rely on for life. Let’s call it a 0.1 percent chance, just for the sake of illustration. All by itself, that risk seems totally acceptable. But with each new seed that’s developed, the risk gets greater and greater, and over time, we could hit the ecocide barrier.
Critics say, “But risk is inherent in everything. We can’t just be paralyzed by fear and not progress!” Taleb responds that the risk of “generalized human extinction” is absolutely not “inherent in everything.” That’s because most consequences are localized, not systemic. And progress can be made using bottom-up techniques that have worked for eons.
While quite a few countries have banned GMOs because of their risk to human health and the environment, the US lags behind. Politicians complain that we don’t have the full picture on GMOs and therefore shouldn’t ban them—but that’s because of the lack of human safety studies being performed on GMOs in the US, and because biotech companies keep a lot of their data proprietary; that is, concealed from the public. Consider the implications of keeping it secret: if the research finds GMOs to be harmless, wouldn’t that be something you’d want to shout from the rooftops, if you were Monsanto?
On November 4, powerHouse publishers of Brooklyn will publish Organic, a magnificent book containing incredible photos of dozens of Hudson Valley farmers and chefs who are determinedly organic. Each spread of the book features a left-hand page written by the farmer or the chef as to how they turned organic and why, and what they’re doing with it. Each right-hand page is a searingly honest photo of the farmer or chef that looks like it’s right out of the late 19th Century.
This book will inspire more than one reader to become a farmer or work with organic produce. These are the dedicated souls who will not compromise with agribusiness. The photos show how a lifetime of farming will weather someone, but also toughen them, set their jaw, focus their principles, and make them human.
As someone who has worked as an organic gardener and organic gardening and farming communicator for 50 years, I say this is the best book I’ve seen about what organics is really all about. Giving these people a voice, their own page, to explain themselves, is a brilliant idea and they come across like the hard-working and earth-sustaining folks they are.
These are the folks with the dirt on their hands, their hands in the soil, and the spirit they invest in their farms that shows up in real, honest, clean, and nutritious food. No agribusiness bullshit here. No toxic chemicals with these guys and gals. They are the salt of the earth, and the salt has its savor intact. What a great book. Look for it.
BIG FOOD TO DIVULGE CHEMICAL SAFETY DATA
The Grocery Manufacturers Association, which represents America’s biggest food companies, has announced a major new initiative that will give the Food and Drug Administration access to a large database of safety information for chemicals used in processed foods, from Twinkies to almond milk.
Pressure has been building on FDA for years to look more closely at food chemicals, which are mostly self-approved by food companies relying on publicly available science and panels of industry-paid experts. But the agency hasn’t gotten around to it.
“It’s certainly a step forward” said Tom Neltner, a health scientists for the Natural Resources Defense Council, who was briefed on the plan. Neltner has been among the most vocal critics of the current approach to determining the safety of food ingredients, publishing several studies on the issue in the past few years.
“It’s good to see them acknowledge some of the problems with the system and take some positive steps forward,” said Neltner. “We’re glad to see them making that move.”
“We think this is a big step forward for the industry,” said Leon Bruner, executive vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs at the Grocery Manufacturers. “We’re going to communicate to the world that we’re taking the lead on this.”
NRDC said it will be watching closely to see how the effort is rolled out. “The proof will be in the pudding,” according to Neltner.
The move comes after years and years of stalling and obfuscation of safety data by food processors who have hidden behind the concept of proprietary information regarding chemicals in food. Perhaps the companies in the Grocery Manufacturers’ Association—the big companies like Coca-Cola, Nestle, and so forth—realize that the public is getting nervous about chemicals in food, and that’s why the organic food industry has grown so quickly into a $40 billion-plus industry. This could be a PR move to assure consumers that conventional food is safe and keep them from jumping ship and reaching the organic land.
Less likely is that the big food processors realize they haven’t done their due diligence on the 10,000 chemicals they use in their foods and haven’t been forthcoming about their research data, and in a come-to-Jesus moment, have suddenly realized they must clean up their products.
But not to be cynical. As Mr. Neltner of the NRDC says, “The proof will be in the pudding.” I’m betting that pudding will still be chockablock with chemicals, even if we finally get to know what they are
GUESS WHO’S JUST THRILLED WITH GMOS?
In her June 25 keynote address to the BIO International Convention in San Diego, Hillary Clinton voiced strong support for genetic engineering and genetically engineered crops, according to the Organic Consumers Association.
She earned a standing ovation that day by stating that the biotech industry suffers from a public perception problem and that it just needs “a better vocabulary” in order to persuade GMO skeptics who don’t understand “the facts” about genetic engineering.
And then Hillary proceeded to get the facts wrong.
She talked about how she went around Africa promoting drought resistant seeds, and how she had to overcome farmers’ skepticism. But the drought resistant seeds she was talking about were developed using standard crossbreeding techniques, not genetic engineering.
Hillary makes the same mistake as many other apologists for GMOs—she confuses selective breeding through sexual reproduction, where nature controls the way the plants’ genes are shuffled, with genetic engineering, which actually opens up the genetic control panel and removes genes or imports them from other creatures, such as frog genes put into potatoes, just to posit an example. Nature refuses to let frogs cross with potatoes for a very good reason. Genetic engineering presupposes that humans are smarter than nature. If only Nature had let some of those frog genes into potatoes, my oh my, wouldn’t that make for tasty spuds.
There is one drought resistant GMO seed out there, a GMO corn created by Monsanto, but it has proven to impart only very modest drought resistance. After the corn was fed to test animals and inflammations and lesions developed throughout their bodies, work on the corn stopped.
The fact is that Hillary Clinton is, and has been for quite a while, in the pocket of Monsanto and the Biotech industry. As far as I’m concerned, her position is a total deal breaker. If she favors Monsanto over human health, that tells me volumes about how corporatist transgressions against citizens, the food supply, and the health of the earth will trump common sense under a Hillary presidency.
I’d like to see a candidate tell the truth for once instead of scolding Americans for being too ignorant of science to recognize the advantages of GMOs—when she obviously doesn’t know the difference between selective breeding and genetic engineering. How ignorant is that? And how arrogant.
PEOPLE’S CLIMATE MARCH IN NYC SEPTEMBER 21
In a show of solidarity for the role organic agriculture can play in reversing climate change, Vandana Shiva will march with Organic Consumer Association’s “Cook Organic, Not the Planet” contingent in the People’s Climate March, on September 21, 2014, in New York City.
Organizers of the People’s Climate March predict this could be the biggest action on climate the world’s ever seen. That’s exciting—but too often, the climate change message focuses exclusively on reducing fossil fuel emissions. With Vandana’s help, OCA will bring our message to the march—that organic, regenerative agriculture has the potential to actually reverse global warming. And unless we acknowledge—and act—on that strategy, we will not turn the sinking global warming ship around in time.
According to a recent study by the Rodale Institute, regenerative agriculture, if practiced globally, has the potential to sequester 100 percent of current, annual carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.
Where do consumers fit into the picture? By supporting organics—for our own health and the health of our entire ecosystem.
The OCA’s “Cook Organic Not the Planet” will join up with the Food Justice contingent for the Sunday, September 21, march in New York. Contact OCA’s Alexis Baden-Mayer (email@example.com) for details on how you can march with OCA and Vandana Shiva.
Why Organic Food Production Is Imperative for Human Survival
When I was born, the human population of the world was 2.3 billion people. Today it’s about 7 billion, and heading for an estimated 11.5 billion by the end of this century.
Not only are our sheer numbers overloading the carrying capacity of the earth, but these burgeoning populations all want to live the way people in the developed world live: nice cars, meat for dinner, heated homes and swimming pools—the good life. And who can blame them?
But as we’ve learned—or should have learned—biodiversity is the foundation of health, whether you’re talking about the human biome or the ecologies of earth’s creatures. Yet we are reducing biodiversity today in one of the world’s great extinction events.
Because we’ve been using the atmosphere as a dump for our carbon waste since the beginning of the industrial revolution, we have caused global warming. The oceans are huge sinks of cold temperatures, and through the natural tendency of materials to even out their temperatures, have soaked up the excess heat, changing the world’s climate, destroying much of the earth’s coral reefs, and damaging the oceanic ecosystems.
Not only that, we have overharvested the oceans until today, most of the big fish are gone and one third of the world’s ocean fisheries are in collapse. On land, conventional agriculture has depleted our soils, causing soil erosion on a grand scale. Soluble chemical fertilizers run off into ground waters, lakes, and rivers, causing toxic algae blooms such as recently poisoned Toledo Ohio’s city water.
Pesticides are killing our pollinators. Herbicides are creating superweeds and interfering with the normal development of our children by disrupting their mothers’ and their endocrine systems. And in the worst insult to nature ever, our scientists are switching genes between not only species, but genera, families, and even orders.
Meanwhile, if I may be allowed to continue this jeremiad for a few more sentences, rapacious capitalism does its best to ignore the environmental and psychological damage to our life support systems and the health of our ecosystems. A corrupt political system works not for the people or the health of the earth, but for the highest bidders—the big corporations and their obscenely overpaid bosses. And so we have fracking that destroys clean water underground. Mountaintop removal to get at fossil fuel coal. Unsustainable agriculture. Confined animal feeding operations that torment our farm animals. GMOs. All blithely marching ahead into oblivion.
It has to stop. I mean, really. And the sooner the better.
It would be easy to throw up our hands and proclaim that the system is too far gone. The cats will never give up their fat. Corporations are not going to change into benevolent providers of sustainable products that help everyone. Our politicians will never legislate in the public interest—and by public, I mean not only people but the whole diversity of the biological world. But we can’t give up. We have to fight to change things. There’s not only much at stake—there’s everything at stake.
And there is hope. You are reading this blog about organic food because you believe that organic food is healthy food and organic farms are good for the environment. And you’re right; it is and they are. For just one example, if all farming on earth were organic, enough carbon would be sequestered in the soil to reduce atmospheric greenhouse gas to levels that would eventually reverse global warming.
Food is one big component of our life support systems on this world. No food, no us. Organic food production is sustainable forever, because it recycles nutrients in a safe and sane manner. It protects the soil. It doesn’t go in for wholesale slaughter of the participants in the wild ecosystems.
But it is just one of many components of our life support system. We also need clean water. An atmosphere that is not polluted. Power that is generated from renewable resources like sunlight and geothermal and hydropower. We need jobs that contribute to the welfare of the world—human and otherwise. And so we need businesses that contribute to the welfare of the world rather than destroying it. And we need wilderness, too. As Henry David Thoreau wrote, “In wildness is the preservation of the world.” (That’s the correct quote, despite his being often misquoted on this topic.) And that’s because, as he saw in 1857 in his transcendental majesty, biodiversity is the foundation of health, and wildness—a climax ecosystem, we might say—is the definition of maximum biodiversity.
So organic food choices are not just nice. They are critical. Organics represents the beginning of the way we change the world. Things are slowly changing—electric cars are here. Solar power is gaining momentum. Methods of sequestering and recycling carbon are being found. After all, carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen make hydrocarbon fuel, easily manufactured from the air from carbon dioxide and water plus sunlight as the driving force, if we have the will to do it. Plants have been doing it since just about forever. We’re smarter than plants, aren’t we?
VANDANA SHIVA’S TIMELY CRUSADE FOR AN ORGANIC WORLD
The following three paragraphs were written by Michael Specter for The New Yorker magazine. The full story can be accessed at http://readersupportednews.org/opinion2/271-38/25394-in-india-a-crusade-against-genetically-modified-crops
Early this spring, the Indian environmentalist Vandana Shiva led an unusual pilgrimage across southern Europe. Beginning in Greece, with the international Pan-Hellenic Exchange of Local Seed Varieties Festival, which celebrated the virtues of traditional agriculture, Shiva and an entourage of followers crossed the Adriatic and travelled by bus up the boot of Italy to Florence, where she spoke at the Seed, Food and Earth Democracy Festival. After a short planning meeting in Genoa, the caravan rolled on to the South of France, ending in Le Mas d’Azil, just in time to celebrate International Days of the Seed.
Shiva’s fiery opposition to globalization and to the use of genetically modified crops has made her a hero to anti-G.M.O. activists everywhere. The purpose of the trip through Europe, she had told me a few weeks earlier, was to focus attention there on “the voices of those who want their agriculture to be free of poison and G.M.O.s.” At each stop, Shiva delivered a message that she has honed for nearly three decades: by engineering, patenting, and transforming seeds into costly packets of intellectual property, multinational corporations such as Monsanto, with considerable assistance from the World Bank, the World Trade Organization, the United States government, and even philanthropies like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, are attempting to impose “food totalitarianism” on the world. She describes the fight against agricultural biotechnology as a global war against a few giant seed companies on behalf of the billions of farmers who depend on what they themselves grow to survive. Shiva contends that nothing less than the future of humanity rides on the outcome.
“There are two trends,” she told the crowd that had gathered in Piazza Santissima Annunziata, in Florence, for the seed fair. “One: a trend of diversity, democracy, freedom, joy, culture—people celebrating their lives.” She paused to let silence fill the square. “And the other: monocultures, deadness. Everyone depressed. Everyone on Prozac. More and more young people unemployed. We don’t want that world of death.” The audience, a mixture of people attending the festival and tourists on their way to the Duomo, stood transfixed. Shiva, dressed in a burgundy sari and a shawl the color of rust, was a formidable sight. “We would have no hunger in the world if the seed was in the hands of the farmers and gardeners and the land was in the hands of the farmers,” she said. “They want to take that away.”
USDA CLIPS WINGS OF MISLEADING ORGANIC MARKETERS
The USDA has announced that it intends to rein-in misleading language on organic packaging that all too often has been suspected of confusing consumers, according to The Cornucopia Institute.
Specifically, the agency addressed companies marketing food products that have the word “organic” or “organics” in their brand-name.
“Unless a food product is certified organic it cannot display, overtly, the word ‘organic’ on the front panel of the product,” said Mark A. Kastel, co-director at The Cornucopia Institute, an organic industry watchdog.
Some companies, such as Newman’s Own Organics, have been selling products that do not qualify for the use of the word organic on the front panel and are getting away with misleading messaging to consumers because they have used the word organic in their trade name.
As an example, when Cornucopia filed its original complaint, Newman’s ginger cookies and other products the company markets had labels such as “made with organic wheat and sugar,” but many of the more expensive ingredients were not in fact organic.
“When products qualify for the made with organic label, it means they have a minimum of 70 percent organic content,” stated Kastel. “Newman’s Own Organics ginger cookies didn’t even contain organic ginger when we did our initial investigation in 2010. That’s what I call misleading!”
A small percentage of products under the Newman’s Own Organics name actually are certified organic. Most are manufactured with 70 percent organic ingredients and qualify for the “made with organic” labeling category.
“Other brands of organic cookies that have to compete on store shelves with Newman’s, such as Country Choice, go to the effort and expense to procure organic ginger and all other available organic ingredients, and present a product of true integrity to the consuming public,” said Kastel.
In an e-mail to the organic industry, the USDA’s National Organic Program explained the basis of their new approach: “The policy clarification is needed to provide fairness and equity in label use throughout the organic industry and to satisfy consumer expectations for organic products.”
“We applaud the USDA for making this ruling, and instructions to organic certifiers, in tightening up the labeling requirements that will protect ethical industry participants and prevent consumers from being misled when they are cruising the grocery aisles,” Kastel added.
VOTING ANALYSIS SHOWS HOW USDA HAS COMPROMISED THE NOSB
A comprehensive voting analysis of members of the National Organic Standards Board, an expert body formed by Congress to insulate the governance of the industry from undue corporate influence, clearly illustrates how illegal appointments to the board by current and past USDA Secretaries have subverted congressional intent.
The study, produced by The Cornucopia Institute, a Wisconsin-based farm policy research group, analyzed the voting record of each individual board member over the past five years, including corporate representatives who were placed on the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), filling seats that were specifically set aside for farmers and other independent organic industry stakeholders.
“In recent years, just as with the polarized U.S. Supreme Court, many critical issues were decided by one-vote margins,” said Mark A. Kastel, Codirector and Senior Farm Policy Analyst at Cornucopia. “Almost universally, the NOSB is split along ideological lines (corporate agribusiness versus farmers and consumers) on whether to allow controversial synthetic and non-organic additives in organic food or weak animal husbandry standards utilizing the ‘factory farm’ production model of organic meat, eggs and dairy products.”
Cornucopia’s analysis comes two years after the policy group released a white paper entitled The Organic Watergate. That report documented how a number of risky and/or gimmicky synthetic or non-organic materials were approved for use in organics. It highlighted a couple of board members, appointed as “farmers,” who did not meet the intent and legal qualifications that Congress had set out for composition of the board.
“We have two members of the current board, both sitting in seats that Congress had designated for someone who must ‘own or operate an organic farming operation’ but who were actually agribusiness employees when appointed to the five-year term on the NOSB,” said Kastel.
Many organic farming pioneers would never have supported the USDA overseeing the industry they founded if Congress hadn’t agreed to create a strong NOSB as a defense against business as usual in Washington, an all-too-common cozy working relationship between agribusiness and the USDA.
Barry Flamm, immediate past chair of the NOSB, observed, “I hope the Cornucopia analysis of voting records, which will continue going forward, will forewarn NOSB members that their voting behavior will be closely scrutinized and, if they are employees of corporations or certifiers with economic interests, that some of their customers will also be judging their service on the board as well.”
Learn more at http://www.cornucopia.org/nosb-voting-scorecard/ . A scorecard that contains all of the votes, including the uncontested votes, can also be found at: http://www.cornucopia.org/NOSB-Scorecard-all-votes.pdf
WINE AFICIONADOS TAKE NOTE OF THIS NEW WINE GLASS
I was lucky enough recently to run across a wineglass that’s perfect for any kind of wine: white, red, sparkling, dessert. That’s because of its design. It has a wide bowl at the bottom that swoops up to a closed-in top that presents the wine’s aroma to the nose. The glass is very thin and the glass almost weightless—very elegant. The design is gorgeous as well as functional.
I opened a bottle of Chateauneuf du Pape to try out the glass. I was immediately struck by how the design of the glass focused the aroma of the wine on my nose. Turns out the wine was very profound, especially the nose of pipe tobacco, caramel, apple cider, black cherries, and dried herbs, aspects that became easily apparent due to the ability of the glass to focus the aroma.
I must say that this glass has now become my go-to glass whenever I’m drinking a wine special enough to deserve it. It’s hand-made in Austria. You can check it out at www.winegls.com.
USDA CLOSER TO APPROVING 2,4-D-GLYPHOSATE HERBICIDE
On August 6, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), over the objections of 50 members of Congress, and more than 500,000 citizens, scientists, farmers and health professionals, moved one step closer to approving Dow’s new “Agent Orange” brand GMO soy and corn crops, the Organic Consumers Association reports.
The crops are engineered to withstand massive doses of Enlist Duo herbicide, concocted from a combination of 2,4-D (used to make Agent Orange defoliant that sickened thousands during the Vietnam War) and glyphosate, the key ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup.
The USDA has admitted that approval of Dow’s new crops will cause the use of 2,4-D to skyrocket from 26 million pounds to 176 million pounds. Scientists predict worse.
Dow’s 2,4-D is already the seventh largest source of dioxin in the U.S. environment. It’s been linked to a host of ills, including birth defects, infertility, allergies, Parkinson’s disease, endocrine disruption and cancer. It’s unconscionable that the USDA would approve these crops. Yet the agency is less than 18 days away from doing just that unless we stop it. You can take action at http://salsa3.salsalabs.com/o/50865/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=14698