Why Organic Food Production Is Imperative for Human Survival
When I was born, the human population of the world was 2.3 billion people. Today it’s about 7 billion, and heading for an estimated 11.5 billion by the end of this century.
Not only are our sheer numbers overloading the carrying capacity of the earth, but these burgeoning populations all want to live the way people in the developed world live: nice cars, meat for dinner, heated homes and swimming pools—the good life. And who can blame them?
But as we’ve learned—or should have learned—biodiversity is the foundation of health, whether you’re talking about the human biome or the ecologies of earth’s creatures. Yet we are reducing biodiversity today in one of the world’s great extinction events.
Because we’ve been using the atmosphere as a dump for our carbon waste since the beginning of the industrial revolution, we have caused global warming. The oceans are huge sinks of cold temperatures, and through the natural tendency of materials to even out their temperatures, have soaked up the excess heat, changing the world’s climate, destroying much of the earth’s coral reefs, and damaging the oceanic ecosystems.
Not only that, we have overharvested the oceans until today, most of the big fish are gone and one third of the world’s ocean fisheries are in collapse. On land, conventional agriculture has depleted our soils, causing soil erosion on a grand scale. Soluble chemical fertilizers run off into ground waters, lakes, and rivers, causing toxic algae blooms such as recently poisoned Toledo Ohio’s city water.
Pesticides are killing our pollinators. Herbicides are creating superweeds and interfering with the normal development of our children by disrupting their mothers’ and their endocrine systems. And in the worst insult to nature ever, our scientists are switching genes between not only species, but genera, families, and even orders.
Meanwhile, if I may be allowed to continue this jeremiad for a few more sentences, rapacious capitalism does its best to ignore the environmental and psychological damage to our life support systems and the health of our ecosystems. A corrupt political system works not for the people or the health of the earth, but for the highest bidders—the big corporations and their obscenely overpaid bosses. And so we have fracking that destroys clean water underground. Mountaintop removal to get at fossil fuel coal. Unsustainable agriculture. Confined animal feeding operations that torment our farm animals. GMOs. All blithely marching ahead into oblivion.
It has to stop. I mean, really. And the sooner the better.
It would be easy to throw up our hands and proclaim that the system is too far gone. The cats will never give up their fat. Corporations are not going to change into benevolent providers of sustainable products that help everyone. Our politicians will never legislate in the public interest—and by public, I mean not only people but the whole diversity of the biological world. But we can’t give up. We have to fight to change things. There’s not only much at stake—there’s everything at stake.
And there is hope. You are reading this blog about organic food because you believe that organic food is healthy food and organic farms are good for the environment. And you’re right; it is and they are. For just one example, if all farming on earth were organic, enough carbon would be sequestered in the soil to reduce atmospheric greenhouse gas to levels that would eventually reverse global warming.
Food is one big component of our life support systems on this world. No food, no us. Organic food production is sustainable forever, because it recycles nutrients in a safe and sane manner. It protects the soil. It doesn’t go in for wholesale slaughter of the participants in the wild ecosystems.
But it is just one of many components of our life support system. We also need clean water. An atmosphere that is not polluted. Power that is generated from renewable resources like sunlight and geothermal and hydropower. We need jobs that contribute to the welfare of the world—human and otherwise. And so we need businesses that contribute to the welfare of the world rather than destroying it. And we need wilderness, too. As Henry David Thoreau wrote, “In wildness is the preservation of the world.” (That’s the correct quote, despite his being often misquoted on this topic.) And that’s because, as he saw in 1857 in his transcendental majesty, biodiversity is the foundation of health, and wildness—a climax ecosystem, we might say—is the definition of maximum biodiversity.
So organic food choices are not just nice. They are critical. Organics represents the beginning of the way we change the world. Things are slowly changing—electric cars are here. Solar power is gaining momentum. Methods of sequestering and recycling carbon are being found. After all, carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen make hydrocarbon fuel, easily manufactured from the air from carbon dioxide and water plus sunlight as the driving force, if we have the will to do it. Plants have been doing it since just about forever. We’re smarter than plants, aren’t we?
VANDANA SHIVA’S TIMELY CRUSADE FOR AN ORGANIC WORLD
The following three paragraphs were written by Michael Specter for The New Yorker magazine. The full story can be accessed at http://readersupportednews.org/opinion2/271-38/25394-in-india-a-crusade-against-genetically-modified-crops
Early this spring, the Indian environmentalist Vandana Shiva led an unusual pilgrimage across southern Europe. Beginning in Greece, with the international Pan-Hellenic Exchange of Local Seed Varieties Festival, which celebrated the virtues of traditional agriculture, Shiva and an entourage of followers crossed the Adriatic and travelled by bus up the boot of Italy to Florence, where she spoke at the Seed, Food and Earth Democracy Festival. After a short planning meeting in Genoa, the caravan rolled on to the South of France, ending in Le Mas d’Azil, just in time to celebrate International Days of the Seed.
Shiva’s fiery opposition to globalization and to the use of genetically modified crops has made her a hero to anti-G.M.O. activists everywhere. The purpose of the trip through Europe, she had told me a few weeks earlier, was to focus attention there on “the voices of those who want their agriculture to be free of poison and G.M.O.s.” At each stop, Shiva delivered a message that she has honed for nearly three decades: by engineering, patenting, and transforming seeds into costly packets of intellectual property, multinational corporations such as Monsanto, with considerable assistance from the World Bank, the World Trade Organization, the United States government, and even philanthropies like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, are attempting to impose “food totalitarianism” on the world. She describes the fight against agricultural biotechnology as a global war against a few giant seed companies on behalf of the billions of farmers who depend on what they themselves grow to survive. Shiva contends that nothing less than the future of humanity rides on the outcome.
“There are two trends,” she told the crowd that had gathered in Piazza Santissima Annunziata, in Florence, for the seed fair. “One: a trend of diversity, democracy, freedom, joy, culture—people celebrating their lives.” She paused to let silence fill the square. “And the other: monocultures, deadness. Everyone depressed. Everyone on Prozac. More and more young people unemployed. We don’t want that world of death.” The audience, a mixture of people attending the festival and tourists on their way to the Duomo, stood transfixed. Shiva, dressed in a burgundy sari and a shawl the color of rust, was a formidable sight. “We would have no hunger in the world if the seed was in the hands of the farmers and gardeners and the land was in the hands of the farmers,” she said. “They want to take that away.”
USDA CLIPS WINGS OF MISLEADING ORGANIC MARKETERS
The USDA has announced that it intends to rein-in misleading language on organic packaging that all too often has been suspected of confusing consumers, according to The Cornucopia Institute.
Specifically, the agency addressed companies marketing food products that have the word “organic” or “organics” in their brand-name.
“Unless a food product is certified organic it cannot display, overtly, the word ‘organic’ on the front panel of the product,” said Mark A. Kastel, co-director at The Cornucopia Institute, an organic industry watchdog.
Some companies, such as Newman’s Own Organics, have been selling products that do not qualify for the use of the word organic on the front panel and are getting away with misleading messaging to consumers because they have used the word organic in their trade name.
As an example, when Cornucopia filed its original complaint, Newman’s ginger cookies and other products the company markets had labels such as “made with organic wheat and sugar,” but many of the more expensive ingredients were not in fact organic.
“When products qualify for the made with organic label, it means they have a minimum of 70 percent organic content,” stated Kastel. “Newman’s Own Organics ginger cookies didn’t even contain organic ginger when we did our initial investigation in 2010. That’s what I call misleading!”
A small percentage of products under the Newman’s Own Organics name actually are certified organic. Most are manufactured with 70 percent organic ingredients and qualify for the “made with organic” labeling category.
“Other brands of organic cookies that have to compete on store shelves with Newman’s, such as Country Choice, go to the effort and expense to procure organic ginger and all other available organic ingredients, and present a product of true integrity to the consuming public,” said Kastel.
In an e-mail to the organic industry, the USDA’s National Organic Program explained the basis of their new approach: “The policy clarification is needed to provide fairness and equity in label use throughout the organic industry and to satisfy consumer expectations for organic products.”
“We applaud the USDA for making this ruling, and instructions to organic certifiers, in tightening up the labeling requirements that will protect ethical industry participants and prevent consumers from being misled when they are cruising the grocery aisles,” Kastel added.
VOTING ANALYSIS SHOWS HOW USDA HAS COMPROMISED THE NOSB
A comprehensive voting analysis of members of the National Organic Standards Board, an expert body formed by Congress to insulate the governance of the industry from undue corporate influence, clearly illustrates how illegal appointments to the board by current and past USDA Secretaries have subverted congressional intent.
The study, produced by The Cornucopia Institute, a Wisconsin-based farm policy research group, analyzed the voting record of each individual board member over the past five years, including corporate representatives who were placed on the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), filling seats that were specifically set aside for farmers and other independent organic industry stakeholders.
“In recent years, just as with the polarized U.S. Supreme Court, many critical issues were decided by one-vote margins,” said Mark A. Kastel, Codirector and Senior Farm Policy Analyst at Cornucopia. “Almost universally, the NOSB is split along ideological lines (corporate agribusiness versus farmers and consumers) on whether to allow controversial synthetic and non-organic additives in organic food or weak animal husbandry standards utilizing the ‘factory farm’ production model of organic meat, eggs and dairy products.”
Cornucopia’s analysis comes two years after the policy group released a white paper entitled The Organic Watergate. That report documented how a number of risky and/or gimmicky synthetic or non-organic materials were approved for use in organics. It highlighted a couple of board members, appointed as “farmers,” who did not meet the intent and legal qualifications that Congress had set out for composition of the board.
“We have two members of the current board, both sitting in seats that Congress had designated for someone who must ‘own or operate an organic farming operation’ but who were actually agribusiness employees when appointed to the five-year term on the NOSB,” said Kastel.
Many organic farming pioneers would never have supported the USDA overseeing the industry they founded if Congress hadn’t agreed to create a strong NOSB as a defense against business as usual in Washington, an all-too-common cozy working relationship between agribusiness and the USDA.
Barry Flamm, immediate past chair of the NOSB, observed, “I hope the Cornucopia analysis of voting records, which will continue going forward, will forewarn NOSB members that their voting behavior will be closely scrutinized and, if they are employees of corporations or certifiers with economic interests, that some of their customers will also be judging their service on the board as well.”
Learn more at http://www.cornucopia.org/nosb-voting-scorecard/ . A scorecard that contains all of the votes, including the uncontested votes, can also be found at: http://www.cornucopia.org/NOSB-Scorecard-all-votes.pdf
WINE AFICIONADOS TAKE NOTE OF THIS NEW WINE GLASS
I was lucky enough recently to run across a wineglass that’s perfect for any kind of wine: white, red, sparkling, dessert. That’s because of its design. It has a wide bowl at the bottom that swoops up to a closed-in top that presents the wine’s aroma to the nose. The glass is very thin and the glass almost weightless—very elegant. The design is gorgeous as well as functional.
I opened a bottle of Chateauneuf du Pape to try out the glass. I was immediately struck by how the design of the glass focused the aroma of the wine on my nose. Turns out the wine was very profound, especially the nose of pipe tobacco, caramel, apple cider, black cherries, and dried herbs, aspects that became easily apparent due to the ability of the glass to focus the aroma.
I must say that this glass has now become my go-to glass whenever I’m drinking a wine special enough to deserve it. It’s hand-made in Austria. You can check it out at www.winegls.com.
USDA CLOSER TO APPROVING 2,4-D-GLYPHOSATE HERBICIDE
On August 6, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), over the objections of 50 members of Congress, and more than 500,000 citizens, scientists, farmers and health professionals, moved one step closer to approving Dow’s new “Agent Orange” brand GMO soy and corn crops, the Organic Consumers Association reports.
The crops are engineered to withstand massive doses of Enlist Duo herbicide, concocted from a combination of 2,4-D (used to make Agent Orange defoliant that sickened thousands during the Vietnam War) and glyphosate, the key ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup.
The USDA has admitted that approval of Dow’s new crops will cause the use of 2,4-D to skyrocket from 26 million pounds to 176 million pounds. Scientists predict worse.
Dow’s 2,4-D is already the seventh largest source of dioxin in the U.S. environment. It’s been linked to a host of ills, including birth defects, infertility, allergies, Parkinson’s disease, endocrine disruption and cancer. It’s unconscionable that the USDA would approve these crops. Yet the agency is less than 18 days away from doing just that unless we stop it. You can take action at http://salsa3.salsalabs.com/o/50865/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=14698
Look Out Kids–They Keep It All Hid
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is backing down from a disclosure rule that would have provided state regulators with critical information about genetically modified organisms, Tom Devaney reports in the July 17 edition of The Hill.
Last year, the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service proposed sharing information with state regulators about genetically engineered organisms that are released in their jurisdictions. But the USDA now has withdrawn the rule because it said it found “potential vulnerabilities” that would have put farmers’ businesses at risk.
“We have decided to withdraw the proposed rule to ensure that our ability to protect confidential business information from disclosure is maintained,” the USDA wrote in the Federal Register.
Farmers who want to use GMOs must register with the USDA and apply for permits. The disclosure rule would have allowed USDA to provide state regulators with this information. The information farmers provide to the USDA is supposed to remain confidential, but if the agency shares it with state regulators, that could mean the information becomes public because states and municipalities represent “the public” the info thus becomes subject to the Freedom of Information Act.
So let me get this straight. If a farmer wants to grow GMO crops or use other genetically modified organisms on his or her farm, a permit is needed. So the Federal government (the USDA) can know who’s using GMOs of the farm, but states and municipalities can’t know because if the USDA shared the information, someone from the general public might file a Freedom of Information Request and find out who in their neighborhood is growing or using GMOs. And that would then harm the farmers’ businesses and violate their right to operate their GMO farms in secret.
So this means that not only are millions of dollars being spent by the biotech giants like Monsanto to prevent the public from knowing whether or not GMOs are in their food, but the Feds are keeping knowledge of who is growing and using GMOs on the farms from the public as well. It’s all hidden. It’s all secret. After all, if you knew GMOs were in your food, you might refuse to buy that food and that might harm the business of the food processors. And if you knew your local farmer was using GMOs on his farm, you might avoid his products or perhaps march on his farm with torches and pitchforks.
By extension, if you knew the toxic effects of Roundup and other chemicals in American food products, you might eat organic. Maybe that’s why the Food and Drug Administration has tested just a handful of chemicals for toxicity out of the tens of thousands allowed in the production of American foods and other products.
You see, the Feds are keeping a careful watch on the safety of our food system—but it’s the safety of the bottom lines of Big Ag, Big Chem, and Big Biotech that is being protected. You’ll eat your daily poisons and you’ll like them, dammit. Or you would if you knew where they were found and who’s using them. And what do these corporations think about us poor rubes who are kept in the dark and are demanding better regulation and oversight of the safety of our food supply? They say we want to institute “the nanny state.”
They criticize our calls for healthy food as “the nanny state” even as they are coddling their corporate money machines. If there’s a nanny state in America, it’s not found among the masses, who are drowning in debt and whose incomes are evaporating. It’s in the obscene profits of the corporations and the bloated salaries of the one percenters.
Just when did our government go over to the dark side, anyway? Remember when you were a kid and the cops and firemen were the good guys? Maybe that was a pipe dream. It used to be that big city cops would slap people around in some back room at the stationhouse. Or in prisons where the victims couldn’t complain.
But now it’s institutionalized and militarized. You’ve seen the pictures of the killer cops in Ferguson, Missouri—in full battle gear, with sophisticated battlefield weapons, riding around in armored personnel carriers, firing tear gas and rubber bullets at the crowds of protestors. When did the cops come out of the back rooms of the stationhouse and start being the military used to suppress and oppress the people?
Seems to me that Ferguson and the GMO situation have a lot in common. Lincoln spoke of a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. I’d say that right now, it looks like we have a government of the big shots, by the military, and for the corporations.
So keep eating organic. It’s one good way to stand on the right side of history.
If Corporations Are People, Why Isn’t Monsanto on Trial for Murder?
The Supreme Court has ruled that corporations are people, that they have Constitutional rights just like flesh and blood people, and even that the religious convictions of their owners trump the laws passed by Congress guaranteeing women proper health care. It’s so cool to know that my religious convictions exempt me from the laws of our country. I guess this is what’s meant by freedom.
I was pleased to see that the Satanists have said that their religious beliefs include preventing women seeking abortions from having to endure public slut shaming by rightwing Christians, and pegging their stance to the Hobby Lobby decision. Hey, if Jesus freaks can get Supreme Court backing, why not devil worshippers? Fair is fair.
So let’s agree, for the sake of argument, that corporations are just like flesh and blood people, entitled to equal protection of the law. Aren’t they then also required to abide by the law? Or do they get a free pass? How about those financial criminals at Goldman Sachs—you know, the guys who put together all those worthless sub-prime mortgage-backed securities and sold them at top prices to rubes who believed their assertions that the securities were as good as gold? How come they don’t get prosecuted? If I sold you a deed to the Brooklyn Bridge, the law would call me a con man and I’d be in the pokey plenty quick.
And how about Monsanto? There’s a ton of evidence from all around the world that Roundup herbicide, when used in regions where the water contains lots of dissolved metals, causes severe—and often fatal—kidney damage. Farm workers applying this stuff in places like El Salvador, Argentina, and India are dying in droves.
Now if you or I were going around the world with a bag of chemicals so toxic that our employees who had to spread them were dying, and that hundreds of farmers we forced to buy our genetically engineered seeds were committing suicide because they were going bankrupt as a consequence, and that we made a product so toxic that it is poisoning millions of people around the world and causing malformations in developing babies, and…well, you get the idea. What would happen to us? Do you think we’d be invited to run the government agencies that oversee the health and safety of the American food supply?
I don’t think so. I think we’d be charged with murder. Or, if federal prosecutors believed us when we professed innocence—“Honestly, we didn’t know our product did that”—we’d at least be charged with wrongful death, negligent homicide, and manslaughter.
So how come companies like Monsanto get all the rights, but none of the responsibilities, of actual human beings?
The answer, I think—and don’t laugh—is that huge corporations like Monsanto are superhuman. They are entitled to do what they want because they can buy their way out of trouble. When was the last time you saw the head of a big corporation go to jail for running a company that murders people? Yes, Monsanto, but also General Motors, whose lawyers fudged and hedged and covered up the fact that GM cars were killing people. And many other big corporations, too, fit this profile. Oh, from time to time, the corporations get hit with monetary fines, but paying out a few million or even a few billion, is no biggie. They call it a cost of doing business and write it off as a business expense. Meanwhile, there’s a trail of dead human beings left decaying in the dirt. But that’s what it means to be superhuman. No actual human being goes to jail. No CEO does hard time. And you can’t jail a corporation, which, despite the Supreme Court, is nothing more than a legal fiction created on paper and signed by the miscreants who should be clapped in irons. What—are you going to put a file folder in a prison cell?
I’m sorry, but the Roberts Court is so far removed from reality that it’s breathtaking. And so-called Constitutional scholar Barack Obama and his top cop Eric Holder, who should be yelling bloody murder, roll over like friendly poodles begging for a belly rub.
Big corporations are not superhuman—while they occasionally do good things to polish their image, fundamentally they act subhuman, without heart or mercy, caring only for their bottom lines. That’s their nature. That’s their charter. That’s their function. Those who preside over our Federal government should call out the corporations on their crimes. Should point out their subhumanity. Should stand as bulwarks against their depredations.
What if Barack Obama stood up at a podium and said something like the following: “While corporate America is a driving wheel of our economic system, it must be subservient to the welfare of the American citizenry, not its master. We should support it when it adds to the public welfare, and check its excesses when it doesn’t. And so I’m creating a new cabinet post, one dedicated to making sure that no corporation, financial institution, or governmental regulatory body has so much power that it can ride roughshod over the Constitutional rights of the people.
“Money is power, and so when corporations acquire enough money to work their will on Congress, they will be broken up. As in times past, banks will either be depositories of the citizenry’s wealth, or lenders in the rough and tumble of the free marketplace—but not both. Elections will be paid for by the U.S. Treasury, and no private money at all will be allowed to influence the electoral process. Candidates will stand or fall on their principles, or not at all.”
What would happen?
I for one would say “Thank God.”
BONEHEADS RUN AMOK IN HALLS OF CONGRESS
House Republicans have passed an appropriations bill that blocks the EPA from limiting carbon pollution from power plants, slashes the EPA’s budget, and guts clean water protections.
BRAZIL FARMERS SAY GMO CORN NO LONGER KILLS BUGS
Brazilian farmers say their GMO corn is no longer resistant to pests, Reuters reports.
The Association of Soybean and Corn Producers of the Mato Grosso region said farmers first noticed in March that their genetically modified corn crops were less resistant to destructive caterpillars that “Bt corn” is supposed to protect against. As a result, farmers have been forced to apply extra insecticide, racking up additional environmental and financial costs.
The farmers’ association is calling on Monsanto, DuPont, Syngenta, and Dow to offer solutions as well as compensate the farmers for their losses. Association spokesman Ricardo Tomcyzk said farmers spent the equivalent of $54 per hectare to spray extra pesticides, and that the biotech companies promised something they didn’t deliver, which he called “deceptive advertising.”
But Monsanto, et al, are unlikely to accommodate the farmers. According to Reuters, “Seed companies say they warned Brazilian farmers to plant part of their corn fields with conventional seeds to prevent bugs from mutating and developing resistance to GMO seeds.” Earlier this year, a similar problem arose in the U.S., when scientists confirmed that corn-destroying rootworms had evolved to be resistant to the GMO corn engineered to kill them.
The industry response to such loss of efficacy is not to encourage biodiversity, but to further modify the organisms, the non-profit GM Watch reports. An unintended outcome is almost certainly an increased use of pesticides, as has already happened in Mato Grosso. Or maybe, knowing Monsanto and the other agricultural chemical giants, the outcome is not so unintended.
SAFEWAY SHAREHOLDERS DENOUNCE GMO LABELING
At the recent annual meeting of Safeway shareholders in Pleasanton, California, the overwhelming majority of shareholders followed the advice of the National Center for Public Policy Research (a corporatist right wing think tank) and rejected a shareholder proposal that would have forced the grocery store chain to brand products containing genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) with labels.
Like Safeway shareholders, Monsanto shareholders overwhelmingly agreed with the National Center and soundly rejected a similar proposal.
The Guardian picked up the story and gave lots of space to the National Center’s propaganda about the evils of GMO labeling (labels will cause food prices to rise and hurt the poor) and how organizations with scientific cred all think that GMOs are not only safe, but will contribute to ending world hunger.
I think that The Guardian missed the real story, which is that shareholders who understand that genetically modified foods should be labeled are infiltrating the meetings and floating motions that put Safeway and Monsanto on the defensive.
Eat Crap, Get Fat, Get Sick So Big Ag Can Get Rich
Just to show you how the profession of journalism has collapsed into putrid, pro-corporate propaganda, here’s a story from the once-respected Des Moines Register:
“The naming of an ‘environmental nutritionist’ to a top USDA nutrition post is drawing fire from the National Center for Public Policy Research’s Risk Analysis Division.
“In an op-ed published in the Des Moines Register entitled, ‘Iowan’s USDA Appointment Raises Concerns,’ National Center for Public Policy Research Risk Analysis Division Director Jeff Stier writes, ‘The appointment of Iowa’s Angela Tagtow, a controversial environmental nutritionist and local food activist, to head the United States Department of Agriculture’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion is causing more headaches for the agency, already facing criticism about politicization of federal nutrition advice and its consequences for public health.’
“Stier earlier criticized the federal Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) and its work to establish new recommendations for federal nutrition policy. Stier’s concerns have been widely echoed over recent months, given the DGAC’s mission creep towards environmental activism. The DGAC is meeting this week in Washington.”
Right—local food activism and environmental nutrition are surely dangerous developments, especially within the USDA, where Monsanto rules supreme. But then Julie Gunlock, the “Culture of Alarmism” Director of the Independent Women’s Forum joined the debate, and she too criticized the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee for advocating good food. Her reasoning? Making food good will raise prices and starve people.
So who are the National Center for Public Policy Research and the Independent Women’s Forum? Well, the editors of the Register, if they were actual journalists, could have discovered very easily that the National Center is a right wing think tank supported heavily by conservative foundations and Exxon/Mobil. Among its other activities, last April the NCPRR announced that it would launch a Voter Identification Task Force after the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) caved in to public pressures to dismantle its Public Safety and Elections Task Force. The Voter Identification Task Force was to be used to carry forward voter ID legislation. In case you’re not aware, that’s code for preventing Democrats and minorities from voting.
The Independent Women’s Forum is an anti-feminist organization predominately funded by right-wing foundations, including the Sarah Scaife Foundation, the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, and the Koch brothers’ Claude R. Lambe Foundation. It was put together originally to support the election of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court and counter the allegations of Anita Hill.
And why would the National Center and the Independent Women’s Forum be so against an environmental food activist heading up a USDA agency to promote good food guidelines?
Because they don’t want you to eat good food. They are front groups for Big Business, bought and sold by corporations like Monsanto and other Big Ag companies that want to sell you crap in a box, so that you get obese and they get fat with cash. It’s sickening on so many levels. What’s even worse is that many of our journalists—the profession that is supposed to protect us and set us free by providing us with the unvarnished truth—are derelict in their duties, as this exhibition of malfeasance by the Des Moines Register points out.
PLANT BREEDER DEVELOPING ANTI-GMO CORN VARIETY
Here’s some good news from the Organic Farming Research Center, written by Karen Adler:
“Amidst the controversy over GMO contamination of organic crops—a growing concern for organic farmers, researchers, consumers, and advocates—plant breeder Frank Kutka has been working to develop an ‘organic ready’ line of corn that will maintain its non-GMO integrity. Corn is one of the top three genetically modified crops, alongside cotton and soy. In 2014, 89 percent of the corn acreage in the U.S. is planted in ‘Roundup Ready’ GMO corn.
“Kutka has just started his fourth year of an OFRF-funded research project, entitled, ‘Developing Organic-Ready Maize Populations with Gametophytic Incompatibility.’ Corn is wind pollinated and readily crosses with other varieties. However, this breeding work uses naturally occurring genes derived from popcorn and the ancient grain teosinte that create a screen against crossing with transgenic, or genetically modified (GMO) corn.” And Kutka does it by hybridization, not genetic engineering.
USING DRONES TO OVERVIEW FACTORY FARMS
Peggy Lowe reports from National Public Radio that an independent journalist says he’s found a way around the so-called “ag-gag” laws by flying drones over large livestock operations to document animal welfare problems and pollution.
Will Potter, a Washington D.C.-based author and blogger, recently raised $75,000 on Kickstarter to buy the drones and other equipment to investigate animal agriculture in the U.S.
“I was primarily motivated by what’s happening outside of those closed doors, but is still invisible and hidden from the public spotlight,” he tells The Salt. “In particular, I was motivated by seeing aerial photos and satellite images of farm pollution, of waste lagoons, of sprawling industrial operations.”
Potter has cast the project as a way to circumvent regulations in at least seven states that outlaw footage and images gathered undercover by whistleblowers who work in concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs. Dubbed “ag-gag” by critics, the laws make it illegal for anyone to videotape or record surreptitiously on farms.
69 COUNTRIES AROUND THE WORLD LABEL GMO FOODS
In Europe, 40 of 47 countries require labeling. In Asia, 14 of 44 countries. In Oceana, two of 14 countries. In Africa, nine of 54 countries. In South America, four of 12 countries. In North America, powerful forces are working hard to prevent the U.S. from knowing what’s in our food and so far have succeeded.
USDA HAS BEEN RIGGING THE ORGANIC STANDARDS BOARD
The Cornucopia Institute has called on USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack to make public all candidates for appointment to fill the four vacancies on the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB).
The NOSB, a 15-member board of organic stakeholders representing farmer, consumer, environmental, retail, scientific, certifying and organic food processing interests, was established by Congress to advise the USDA on organic food and agriculture policies and review materials allowed for use in organic food production and processing.
Past investigations by The Cornucopia Institute, a Wisconsin-based farm policy research group, found that prior appointments, made during the Bush and Obama administrations, violated the letter of the law, and congressional intent, by appointing agribusiness executives to fill slots on the NOSB reserved for farmers and other independent stakeholders. Public interest groups have suggested that these extra agribusiness representatives on the board have voted in favor of weakening the organic standards.
“Transparency has been a hallmark of organic food and agriculture. We think that letting the organic community know who has applied for the vacant positions will allow for feedback and help the Secretary make the best possible appointments,” said Cornucopia’s Will Fantle, the organic industry watchdog organization’s co-director. “Appointments have been made in the past of individuals who do not meet the legally mandated criteria for a seat on the NOSB. Sunshine on the secretive process could have prevented such ill-advised moves,” added Fantle, very diplomatically.
SOME ORGANIC DAIRIES SUPPORTING GMO SECRECY
Some of the leading producers of organic dairy products belong to an association that is fighting tooth-and-nail to prevent you from knowing if your food contains genetically modified organisms (GMOs), according to the Organic Consumers Association.
In mid-June, four groups, including the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) and the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) filed suit against the state of Vermont in an effort to overturn Vermont’s mandatory GMO labeling law.
As it turns out, some of the leading organic dairy companies, including Stonyfield, Organic Valley, Aurora Organic, and White Wave/Horizon Organic, are members of the IDFA—which not only joined in the lawsuit against Vermont, but publicly supports a federal bill, introduced in April, that would prevent any state from passing a mandatory GMO labeling law.
The OCA called on the leading organic dairy companies to withdraw from the IDFA. They responded by stating that they would not do that, but that they had “collectively and formally protested” the IDFA’s decision to join in the lawsuit against Vermont and were in “continued discussions” with the association regarding reversing that decision.
They also stated that while they had contributed money and resources to pass Vermont’s GMO labeling law, they believe that “one national labeling standard” is preferable to “different state standards.”
OREGON TO VOTE ON GMO LABELING
It’s official. Oregon’s citizens’ initiative to label GMOs has been certified for the November ballot—despite efforts by the opposition to keep it off the ballot.
Now it’s up to the voters in Oregon to pass a statewide mandatory GMO labeling law, says the Organic Consumers Association (OCA).
But before Oregon voters head to the polls on November 4, they’ll be exposed to millions of dollars’ worth of twisted truths and flat-out lies. Bought and paid for by Monsanto and Big Food. The TV ads, junk mail, and phone calls worked in California and Washington State. Just barely. But enough to defeat voter-led GMO labeling initiatives there in 2012 and 2013. The lie that worked the best to turn voters away from the labeling law was the assertion that labeling GMOs would drastically increase the price of food. That scared people. As a recent story in The New York Times points out, the median net worth of all U.S. families from 2003 to 2013 fell by one third. Oregonians should watch out for the “more expensive food” lie. It will be floated out widely this fall. But don’t believe it. Why would printing “Contains GMOs” on a label cause food prices to rise? Big Food sells products around the world with “Contains GMOs” on the label. If they can do it in 69 countries globally, why not here?
A win in Oregon in November, on the heels of a win in Vermont in May, will be pivotal for the GMO labeling movement. If you don’t live in Oregon, you can’t vote there. But you can help. If you’d like to help, make a donation to the OCA at https://salsa3.salsalabs.com/o/50865/p/salsa/donation/common/public/?donate_page_KEY=11045
MORE PROOF OF ORGANIC SUPERIORITY
According to research published in the British Journal of Nutrition, scientists found 18 to 69 percent higher concentrations of antioxidants, many of which are linked to reduced risk of chronic diseases, in organic as opposed to conventionally grown food.
They also found that pesticide residues were four times more likely to be found in conventional crops than organic ones. And that levels of the toxic heavy metal cadmium are nearly twice as high for conventionally grown foods.
These were the conclusions of a meta study of over 350 peer-reviewed studies that compared organic and conventional food. So the next time Uncle Willy says that organic food is bunk and not worth the money, refer him to the following. Br J Nutr. 2014 Jun 26:1-18.
COURT ALLOWS MISUSE OF ANTIBIOTICS TO CONTINUE
Continued FDA inaction is allowed despite the same agency’s scientific findings, the National Resources Defense Council reports.
In a 2-1 decision, the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) isn’t required to ban the practice of regularly feeding antibiotics to animals that are not sick–despite its finding that such misuse of antibiotics threatens the effectiveness of essential human medicines.
The appeals court overturned two district court rulings in cases brought by the NRDC and other groups, which directed the FDA to stop the routine use of certain antibiotics in healthy animals unless drug manufacturers proved the safety of such use.
In his dissent, Judge Robert Katzmann said, “Today’s decision allows the FDA to openly declare that a particular animal drug is unsafe, but then refuse to withdraw approval of that drug. It also gives the agency discretion to effectively ignore a public petition asking it to withdraw approval from an unsafe drug.” Score another victory for Big Pharma.
NRDC brought the lawsuit with its partners, Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), Food Animal Concerns Trust (FACT), Public Citizen, and Union of Concerned Scientists in May of 2011.
America Has Lost Its Way
The source of health is biodiversity. The more participants in any ecosystem, the healthier it is. And this extends past organic gardens and farms to society at large. Inclusivity is healthy. Community is healthy. Compassion is healthy.
Now more than 50,000 Central American women and children have come to us for shelter when their home countries turned into gang-ruled narcostates, where mothers have been told that the gangs are coming for their teenage girls so they can be “girlfriends” for the gang members, when bullets threaten the lives of even very young children.
These people have been met with shrieking, hate-filled Americans who want them deported back to their home countries. We have truly lost our way. Who was it who said, “Suffer the little children to come unto me”? Is it really going to destroy America to give 52,000 refugees in desperate straits a safe haven? I heard some of the protestors say these poor, frightened children and their mothers are bringing lice, scabies, disease, and crime to our land. Ew—cooties! What is this? Middle school? The real crime is the callous, inhuman hearts of the protestors.
The protestors call them “illegals.” The subtext is that they have brown skins and speak Spanish. And it’s the most sickening display of heartlessness I have witnessed in this country since the days of Jim Crow. These are people, people—our brothers and sisters. We should welcome them, adjudicate their cases, deport them if there’s no danger to them if they go back, but give them refugee status if they would return into harm’s way. I mean, put yourself in their shoes.
But that’s not the only instance of how this once-proud country is showing its mean-spirited and callous heart. Over 100,000 impoverished people in Detroit have had their water turned off. And American cities have sought to eradicate homelessness not so much by giving people shelter, but by making it illegal to be homeless. Citywide bans on things that homeless people need to do to survive are on the rise, according to a new report by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty. Key findings: camping bans are up 60 percent since 2011, begging bans up 25 percent, loitering bans up 35 percent, sitting bans up 43 percent, and vehicle-sleeping bans are up 119 percent, according to The Huffington Post.
It looks like our endless wars and violence have curdled our spirit. Once we were a generous, open-hearted, optimistic people. Now we have lost our way. I remember on the night when Barack Obama was elected, he stood on a platform in Chicago and proclaimed, “Change has come to America.” How horribly sad that the change is in the wrong direction.
WHO WOULDA THUNK? ORGANIC FOOD IS PURE AND NUTRITIOUS
From The New York Times, July 12, 2014:
“Adding fuel to the debates over the merits of organic food, a comprehensive review of earlier studies found substantially higher levels of antioxidants and lower levels of pesticides in organic fruits, vegetables, and grains compared with conventionally grown produce.
“’It shows very clearly how you grow your food has an impact,’ said Carlo Leifert, a professor of ecological agriculture at Newcastle University in England, who led the research. ‘If you buy organic fruits and vegetables, you can be sure you have, on average, a higher amount of antioxidants at the same calorie level.’”
My take on this? This is news? Haven’t we known this for 60 years?
ATTENTION YOUNG FARMERS
Here are two websites you should be aware of. 1) http://agrilicious.org/
2) www.thegreenhorns.net. If you are a small-scale organic farmer or want to be one, you’ll find a lot of great info and friends galore on these sites.
CONGRESS THINKS IF YOU’RE ANTI-GMO, YOU’RE AN IGNORAMUS
Mike McAuliff, writing in The Huffington Post, makes this report:
WASHINGTON – It’s pretty rare that members of Congress and all the witnesses they’ve called will declare out loud that Americans are just too ignorant to be given a piece of information, but that was a key conclusion of a session of the House Agriculture Committee this week.
The issue was genetically modified organisms, or GMOs as they’re often known in the food industry. And members of the subcommittee on Horticulture, Research, Biotechnology, and Foreign Agriculture (which, by the way, is the subcommittee in charge of promoting organic farming), as well as four experts, agreed that the genetic engineering of food crops has been a thorough success responsible for feeding the hungry, improving nutrition, and reducing the use of pesticides. (All nonsense, by the way.)
People who oppose GMOs or want them labeled so that consumers can know what they’re eating are alarmists who thrive on fear and ignorance, the panel agreed. Labeling GMO foods would only stoke those fears, and harm a beneficial thing, so it should not be allowed, the lawmakers and witnesses agreed.
“I really worry that labeling does more harm than good, that it leads too many people away from it and it diminishes the market for GMOs that are the solution to a lot of the problems we face,” said David Just, a professor at Cornell University and co-director of the Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs. (You might want to give Professor Just your feelings on the idea that GMOs are “the solution to a lot of the problems we face.” He might enjoy hearing from some of the ignorant people who oppose GMOs. His email is email@example.com).
Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.) agreed with Just and asked him, “What is the biggest drawback? Is it the ignorance of what the product is, just from a lack of education?”
“It is ignorance of the product, and it’s a general skepticism of anything they eat that is too processed or treated in some way that they don’t quite understand,” Just said. “Even using long scientific-sounding words makes it sound like it’s been grown in a test tube, and people get scared of it,” Just added.
There are terms for Professor Just’s casual put-down of anti-GMO people as uneducated, ignorant, frightened luddites who don’t understand the value of genetic engineering and are confused by long, scientific-sounding words. I think the terms are condescension, superciliousness, arrogance, and conceit. God knows that people who are skeptical “of anything they eat that is too processed or treated in some way that they don’t quite understand” need a good education by the learned professors at Cornell. They’ll set us straight for sure. Well, I’ll say this: Professor Just wins my 2014 award for arrogant moron of the year.
Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.) agreed with another witness, Calestous Juma, an international development professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School, that political leaders had been cowed by misinformed populaces into bending on GMOs, especially in the European Union, where Juma said hundreds of millions of euros have been spent on studies that have found GMOs safe. (He didn’t mention the studies that found GMOs to be harmful.)
“It’s obvious that while the science in the EU is incontrovertible about the health and safety benefits of genetically modified hybrid crops, that because of politics, people are afraid to lead, and inform consumers,” Schrader said. (Rep. Schrader shows his own ignorance here. The science is far from incontrovertible—in fact, one meta study that looked at hundreds of studies of the effect of GMO crops on biological systems in animals concluded that Roundup, the herbicide used in conjunction with GMO corn and soybeans, “may be the most biologically disruptive chemical in our environment.”)
Also, entirely missing from the hearing was any suggestion that there are real concerns about the impact of genetically engineered food, such as the growth of pesticide-resistant “super weeds,” over-reliance on single-crop factory farming, decreased biodiversity, evidence of inflammatory disease in animals fed GMO feed, and a lack of a consistent approval process.
The issue may soon gain fresh relevance on Capitol Hill, where a bill backed by Reps. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) and G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) prevents states from requiring GMO labeling. It could get marked up as early as September. The bill also would allow genetically engineered food to be labeled “100 percent natural.”
The idea of the bill brought Ben and Jerry’s co-founder Jerry Greenfield to Capitol Hill to push back, along with Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), who backs labeling.
Greenfield told HuffPost that labeling is a simple, inexpensive matter of letting people know what’s in their food, and letting them decide what they want to support and eat.
The upshot is that the “experts” and members of Congress concluded that Americans should be denied GMO labels because they are too ignorant.
TIME FOR A NEW ‘DIRTY DOZEN – PLUS’ LIST
The Environmental Working Group’s ‘Dirty Dozen’ plus annual list of most contaminated fruits and vegetables is out. Print it out and push-pin it to your kitchen bulletin board.
CORNELL UNIVERSITY: PROPAGANDIST FOR BIG FOOD
The following information is from Bettina Elias Siegel, a former lawyer, freelance writer, and school food advocate. She now blogs about children and food policy at The Lunch Tray. She writes:
A new study by Dr. Brian Wansink, a professor of consumer behavior at Cornell University and director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab, seeks to determine why people — mothers in particular — develop so-called “food fears” about certain ingredients (such as sodium, fat, sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, MSG and lean finely textured beef otherwise known as pink slime) and what the food industry and government can do about it.
The study’s ultimate conclusion, that “food fears” can be addressed by “providing information regarding an ingredient’s history or the other products in which it is used,” is hardly controversial. But some other things about this study raise red flags, starting with the fact that what might be entirely legitimate concerns about particular ingredients are uniformly (and patronizingly) characterized as “food fears,” and that the study was funded in part by the Corn Refiners Association, the trade group representing manufacturers of the very “food fear” examined; i.e., concerns about high-fructose corn syrup.
But of greatest concern is how the study’s findings have been mischaracterized not just in the media but in Dr. Wansink’s own public statements about his data. Here’s a sampling.
From the New York Daily News
Fear of food containing controversial ingredients may be fueled by Facebook. A new study suggests that people who avoid additives like MSG, sodium benzoate, and pink slime get most of their information from what they see on social media sites and elsewhere on the Internet.
“Soy causes cancer.” “Gluten may lead to autism.” “There’s yoga mat material in your sandwich!” “Sugar feeds cancer!” Are your Facebook friends making you afraid to eat? New research in the journal Food Quality and Preference identifies who fears food the most –and it’s probably those of us most addicted to social media.
Despite a troubling lack of scientific support, Wansink seems intent on using his study to paint an unflattering portrait of those who obtain information about food ingredients online. These moms are militant “haters” of soda, candy, and chips. They’re so uninformed that they’re misled by inaccurate online sources, yet they share this false information on social media out of a need for approval.
Wansink is equally critical of the Internet itself, going so far as to say in his promotional video that “Reading about food ingredients on the Web is one of the worst things you can do if you want the facts…”
Why does Wansink seem so intent on demonizing the Internet and social media and those who rely on those outlets for food information? In the end, who benefits from these characterizations?
To the great consternation of the processed food industry, it is becoming ever more apparent that the Internet and social media are extremely powerful tools for advancing various food-related causes, from aiding grassroots activism to spreading viral videos promoting sustainable agriculture or decrying junk food, to making possible online petitions like the one I (Bettina) started in 2012, which garnered a quarter of a million signatures and within nine days led the USDA to change one of its school food policies. Indeed, since my petition victory, online petitions have become a favored tool among some food activists.
The junk food industry would no doubt prefer a return to the days when it alone controlled the narrative about food ingredients and food processing. Now, though, for better or worse, anyone with a computer can write a blog post, post a video or start an online petition about a food-related issue. If I ran a food company these days, I’m sure I would be lying awake at night, worried that the next Internet food campaign could have one of my own products in its sights.
So what better way to combat this growing threat than to delegitimize both the message (concerns about ingredients are “crazy food fears”) and the medium (seeking food information on the Internet is “the worst thing you can do”). It doesn’t hurt to also create an unflattering cartoon of the message’s recipient, the hapless, freaked out “mom.”
But unfortunately for food companies, the Internet genie is out of the bottle and there’s no turning back. So instead of commissioning studies that demonize the Internet, social media and/or “moms with food fears,” food companies should pocket that money and instead take to heart the one simple lesson to be gleaned from the many recent successes in Internet food activism: Consumers want transparency.
If a food corporation is currently engaging in any practice or using any ingredient which would not survive public opinion should it ever come to light, that company is taking a serious public relations risk in this new Internet age. And that, in my view, is the real “food fear” lurking behind Wansink’s latest study.
Now this note from Jeff Cox: Thanks to Ms. Siegel for this enlightening look at the Cornell study. What’s really troubling to me is that Cornell, a highly respected university, jeopardizes that respect when it supports so-called “science” whose obvious intent is to promote the propaganda of Big Food. People have food fears for a legitimate reason. It’s not the researcher’s job to take industry’s side against the public’s legitimate concerns. A more useful route might be to investigate the public’s food fears to see why they exist, in a fair, impartial, and transparent manner. Perhaps Mr. Wansink could have looked at the mounting evidence for the disastrous human health effects of glyphosate herbicide used in the production of GMO crops, rather than impugning the intelligence and education of the people who are reporting these studies.
PRENATAL PESTICIDE EXPOSURE LEADS TO LOWER IQ IN KIDS
Children born to a group of 265 mothers living in low-income, public housing were studied. By age seven, children born to mothers in the group most exposed to pesticides scored 5.5 percent lower on a common test of working memory and 2.7 percent lower in terms of IQ, compared to children born to mothers in the low-exposure group.
A study carried out by U.C. Berkeley scientists, in cooperation with the Center for the Health Assessment of Mothers and Children of Salinas, measured urinary metabolites of insecticides during pregnancy, and then from children at six months of age, and periodically through age five. A variety of intelligence and learning tests were used to measure the mental abilities of 329 children at age seven. Children born to the most heavily exposed mothers had an IQ deficit of seven points, or about 7 percent, compared to the low exposure quintile.
The senior author of this study, Brenda Eskenazi, told CNN.com that the impacts on intelligence found in their study were similar in magnitude to the adverse impacts associated with high lead exposures, in the 1960s and 1970s, and were comparable to a child performing six-months behind average in a school population.
If you want to know more, here are the studies:
Rauh, V., et al., “7-Year Neurodevelopmental Scores and Prenatal Exposure to Chlorpyrifos, a Common Agricultural Insecticide,” Environmental Health Perspectives, online April 21, 2011
Bouchard, M.E., et al., “Prenatal Exposure to OP Pesticides and IQ in 7-Year Old Children,”Environmental Health Perspectives, online April 21, 2011
Engel, S.M., et al., “Prenatal Exposure to OPs, Paraoxonase 1, and Cognitive Development in Children,” Environmental Health Perspectives, online April 21, 2011
BUSH TAX CUTS GUTTED AMERICANS’ INCOMES $6.6 TRILLION
The following isn’t strictly about organic food and its production, but we are all folks who have to spend money to eat, and money seems in short supply these days.
Remember when George W. Bush took office and instituted the “Bush Tax Cuts” that were supposed to promote prosperity?
According to an analysis by Pulitzer-Prize winning reporter David Cay Johnston, formerly of The New York Times, the Bush tax cuts, touted as a harbinger of prosperity by the Republican Party, actually robbed each American taxpayer of $48,000 in pre-tax personal income during the 12 years of their existence, for a total of approximately 6.6 trillion dollars.
This is more than enough to pay for every student loan, car loan, and credit card debt in the U.S, while still leaving 2.4 trillion dollars in the pockets of Americans. It is the equivalent of an extra 11 dollars a day lost to each American taxpayer over the last 12 years.
Johnston analyzed rates of long term average personal incomes as reported by American taxpayers from 2000-2012, adjusting for inflation and population growth. In 10 of the 12 years when the Bush tax cuts were in effect, the average income shown on tax returns was lower than in 2000. In the two upside years, average income rose modestly, up $504 for 2006 and $1,744 for 2007.
Total those 12 years and the net shortfall per taxpayer comes to $48,010.
He notes that after 12 years of tax cuts, average real hourly wages are now 6 percent less than they were in 1972-1973.
Less than they were 40 years ago! Where did the money go?
Of the total national increase in income in 2012 over 2009, an astonishing one third went to just 16,000 households, almost 95 cents of each dollar went to the top 1 percent, while the bottom 90 percent lost ground.
Lest we forget.
CNN: a Mouthpiece for Big Ag and Big Food Lies
On July 3, 2014, CNN’s website featured a news story about organic food, calling organics “a scam.” The story included the usual talking points from Big Agriculture, the chemical manufacturers, and the big food processors—organic agriculture will mean starvation, there’s no benefit in organic food, organic claims are unproven—talking points that they’ve been using for many decades.
The article’s source was a report by Academics Review, which calls itself “an independent 501©(3) nonprofit organization.” Smelling a familiar rat, I looked up Academics Review and discovered that it is affiliated with the American Council on Science and Health.
Consumer advocate Ralph Nader once said of the American Council on Science and Health, “ACSH is a consumer front organization for its business backers. It has seized the language and style of the existing consumer organizations, but its real purpose, you might say, is to glove the hand that feeds it.”
And who feeds it? According to Mother Jones magazine, “ACSH donors in the second half of 2012 alone included Chevron ($18,500), Coca-Cola ($50,000), the Bristol Myers Squibb Foundation ($15,000), Dr. Pepper/Snapple ($5,000), Bayer Cropscience ($30,000), Procter and Gamble ($6,000), agribusiness giant Syngenta ($22,500), 3M ($30,000), McDonald’s ($30,000), and tobacco conglomerate Altria ($25,000). Among the corporations and foundations that ACSH has pursued for financial support since July, 2012, are Pepsi, Monsanto, British American Tobacco, DowAgro, ExxonMobil Foundation, Phillip Morris International, Reynolds American, the Koch family-controlled Claude R. Lambe Foundation, the Dow-linked Gerstacker Foundation, the Bradley Foundation, and the Searle Freedom Trust.” Oh, and Mother Jones didn’t mention the Koch Foundation, but it has contributed generously in the past.
It’s not surprising that these corporations and foundations would produce propaganda against organics. They’ve been doing it for nearly half a century. They perceive organic farming and food as a threat to their bottom line—and they’re right in perceiving that threat.
What’s frustrating and infuriating is that CNN, which many people think of as an honest and trusted news organization, would put out this industry propaganda and release it to the public as news. It took me about 10 minutes at the computer to find out all about Academics Review and who’s behind it. Does CNN even have editors? What do they do—just correct spelling and punctuation? With a performance like this, CNN should be ashamed of itself. It is not practicing journalism. It is simply being a mouthpiece for Big Business’s lies.
A few years ago, the American Council on Science and Health issued a report stating that organic farming was dangerous to human health because of the use of raw manure to fertilize farm fields. This was picked up and reported in newspapers around the country with headlines like, “Organic Food Can Kill You.”
No newspaper editor, to my knowledge, bothered to check the USDA’s National Organic Program rules for using raw animal manures as fertilizer. Organic farmers not only don’t use it, but have strict rules against it. Even as far back as 1945, J.I. Rodale, the founder of the organic movement in America, in his book, “Pay Dirt,” wrote the following:
“Manure should never be used raw. If you cannot compost it, let it rot under conditions that will preserve most of the nutrients. But for superior crops, make compost of it.”
If so-called news organizations simply print boiler plate propaganda by Big Ag’s PR firms as if it is fact, it’s no wonder people are confused about the value of organic food. I wish I could look every American in the eye and say this simple sentence to them: “Organic farming is just nature’s way of doing things, given a helping hand by people who understand her.”
LET’S ALL PLAY “WHO’S THE MOLE?”
This recent story in The New York Times is attracting a lot of attention, and many in government are “shocked — shocked…”
“WASHINGTON — Just weeks before Blackwater guards fatally shot (murdered) 17 civilians at Baghdad’s Nisour Square in 2007, the State Department began investigating the security contractor’s operations in Iraq. But the inquiry was abandoned after Blackwater’s top manager there issued a threat: ‘that he could kill’ the government’s chief investigator and ‘no one could or would do anything about it’ because they were in Iraq, according to department reports.
“An internal State Department memo, filed in August, 2007, by Jean Richter, a special agent for diplomatic security, described the hands off manner in which government officials who nominally supervised Blackwater actually deferred to it and approved invoices without question.
“Blackwater—renamed Xe and then Academi, with offshoot businesses like Total Intelligence and Terrorism Research Center–has been branching out into the field of political and social intelligence and attempting to infiltrate activist groups and trying to sell those services to Monsanto, among others.”
Hmmm. “…attempting to infiltrate activist groups and trying to sell those services to Monsanto…” Now that’s interesting. Then I read this in The Nation:
“Over the past several years, entities closely linked to the private security firm Blackwater have provided intelligence, training and security services to U.S. and foreign governments as well as several multinational corporations, including Monsanto…according to documents obtained by The Nation. One of the most incendiary details in the documents is that Blackwater, through Total Intelligence, sought to become the ‘intel arm’ of Monsanto, offering to provide operatives to infiltrate activist groups organizing against the multinational biotech firm.
“According to internal Total Intelligence communications, biotech giant Monsanto—the world’s largest supplier of genetically modified seeds—hired the firm in 2008–09. The relationship between the two companies appears to have been solidified in January, 2008, when Total Intelligence chair Cofer Black traveled to Zurich to meet with Kevin Wilson, Monsanto’s security manager for global issues.”
And Monsanto wonders why it has a bad reputation when it allies itself with murdering thugs. You’d think that Monsanto doesn’t care about the public’s safety. Oh wait…
GIVE US THIS DAY OUR DAILY BREAD TO DIE FOR
New York City’s Upper East Side has given America many wonderful things—including the Marx Brothers and Orwasher’s Bakery, established 100 years ago on East 78th Street just east of Second Avenue in the heart of what was once a thriving German, Czech, and Hungarian enclave. And if you have been to any or all of those countries, you know that their breads are beyond delicious. In fact, a bread called Landbrot (country bread) that I had in Berlin continues to be my personal standard for how good bread can be.
Orwasher’s, now owned by bread aficionado Keith Cohen, is that kind of bakery. He makes his breads by hand, without compromise, and uses organic ingredients. One whiff of the heavenly bakery’s fresh products will convince you that Orwasher’s bread is worth the trip to the bakery.
But what if East 78th Street is far from where you live? How can you enjoy its bread? The answer is to get a copy of a truly great book, “Artisan Bread—100 Years of Techniques and Recipes,” by Keith Cohen himself. Century-old recipes from Orwasher’s like kosher rye and challahs, but also crusty loaves of all kinds, are adapted specifically to facilitate home baking. There are techniques for making bread from artisan starters, like wine and beer yeasts and indigenous starters. This means you can bake Orwasher’s-type breads at home. The book is filled with photos showing you exactly what to do and photos of what the process looks like at every stage.
It’s available on Amazon, of course, but if you’d like to support your local bookstore, , the ISBN # is 978-1-93799-442-6. It costs $30.
SCIENTISTS ORDERED TO RENOUNCE THEIR SCIENTIFIC CONCLUSIONS
As those who read this blog know, I’m a firm believer that biodiversity is the nature of good health. The more species in the ecosystem, the healthier it is. Especially when the top predators are protected and encouraged. There is no predator more “top” than the wolverine—or any animal much smarter. So the following article from the Center for Biological Diversity at Ecowatch is deeply disturbing.
“According to a leaked memo obtained by the Center for Biological Diversity, scientists with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have been ordered to reverse their own conclusions and withdraw last year’s proposal to protect American wolverines under the Endangered Species Act.
“Fewer than 300 wolverines remain in the lower 48 states, and global warming over the next 75 years is predicted to wipe out 63 percent of the snowy habitat they need to survive, government scientists have said. In fact changes due to climate warming are ‘threatening the species with extinction,’ the Fish and Wildlife Service said in last year’s announcement of its protection proposal.
“Now the memo—signed by Noreen Walsh, director of the Rocky Mountain Region of the Fish and Wildlife Service—tells federal scientists to set aside those conclusions, even though there has been no new science casting doubt on those findings.
“’The Obama Administration’s own scientists have said for years that global warming is pushing wolverines toward extinction, and now those conclusions are being cast aside for political convenience,’ said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “This is a bizarre and disturbing turn, especially for an administration that’s vowed to let science rule the day when it comes to decisions about the survival of our most endangered wildlife.
“Fish and Wildlife Service scientists proposed Endangered Species Act protection for the wolverine in February, 2013. Subsequently state officials in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming raised questions about the degree to which wolverines are dependent on persistent snow and about the degree to which warming will impact their habitat. In response, Fish and Wildlife convened a panel of scientists to review the science behind the proposal, resulting in a report in which ‘nine out of nine panelists expressed pessimism for the long-term (roughly end-of-century) future of wolverines in the contiguous U.S. because of the effects of climate change on habitat.’
“Based on the conclusions of the panel, scientists from the Montana field office of the Fish and Wildlife Service recommended that protection be finalized, but, as shown in the leaked memo, were overruled by agency bureaucrats.
“’The decision to overrule agency scientists and deny protection to the wolverine is deeply disappointing and shows that political interference in what should be a scientific decision continues to be a problem under the Obama Administration, just as it was under George W. Bush,’ said Greenwald. ‘Wolverines and the winter habitats they depend on are severely threatened by our warming world. Only serious action to reduce fossil fuels can save the wolverine, tens of thousands of other species, and our very way of life.’”
TAKING SEEDS OUT OF THE HANDS OF MONSANTO
The social and environmental activist organization Avaaz reports that just 10 agro-chemical firms own 73 percent of the commercial seed market, and 93 percent of seed varieties are no longer widely planted, if at all. In the U.S. alone, 85 percent of apple varieties have disappeared.
“Farmers are resisting,” Avaaz says, “by saving seeds in banks across the world. Now they have devised a revolutionary project–the first ever, nonprofit ‘eBay of seed’ where any farmer, anywhere, can source a wide variety of seeds cheaper than from the chemical companies. This global online store could re-flood the market with all kinds of seeds and slowly break the monopoly that is putting our food future at risk!
“For thousands of years, agriculture was driven by farmers selecting, replanting, and breeding seed varieties. Then the agro-chemical companies persuaded our governments to promote a corporate system of single crop farms. Companies promise farmers higher yields and bigger earnings, and lure them into multi-year contracts with expensive GMO seeds and pesticides. Then they use patent laws to strong-arm farmers to abandon their traditional practices of seed saving and innovation.
“There isn’t clear evidence this has improved farmers incomes, but it has driven small independent farmers out of business and into becoming corporate seed slaves.
“And the dire consequences go way beyond the farmers. According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, more than three-quarters of the genetic diversity of our crops has been lost due to seed consolidation and industrial practices. This matters because when we cover large swaths of land with just one variety, it is wholly vulnerable to a disease of that variety; a field of diverse varieties would not be totally devastated by that disease. Without seed diversity to confront changing environmental conditions our global food security is at risk.
“But this crisis isn’t insurmountable. The takeover is only decades old, farmers have saved seed everywhere, and if supported widely, this online seed market could help. Here’s how:
“By directly supporting seed-saving initiatives in Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas.
“By creating a world class website for the online store that connects farming communities everywhere, allowing them to legally sell seeds and share best practices globally.
“By helping fund legal defense of this non-profit seed market from legal attacks by Monsanto and others.
“By marketing and advertising the exchange so that farmers all over the world join up.”
Contact Avaaz at the following URL if you’d like to contribute or help.
HILLARY CLINTON’S TIES TO MONSANTO
According to the Organic Consumers Association, Hillary Clinton spoke at a recent Biotech conference where she said that the GMO industry simply needs to put a positive spin on the science behind genetic engineering to relieve the public’s anxieties about the practice. Then that pesky public will stop clamoring for GMOs in food to be labeled. Polls show that 93 percent of the public wants GMOs to be labeled. I don’t know about you, but her support for Monsanto where she had once sold her lawyerly skills, for the Biotech industry, and for GMOs, is a deal breaker. She just lost my vote.
Oh Elizabeth? Elizabeth Warren? Where are you?
SPEAKING OF MONSANTO…
It has come to light that the U.S. government is withholding $277 million in aid money from El Salvador in order to pressure it to accept Monsanto’s GM seeds, according to Sustainable Pulse, a worldwide anti-GMO organization, which published the following:
The President of the El Salvadoran Center for Appropriate Technologies (CESTA), Ricardo Navarro, has demanded that the U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador, Mari Carmen Aponte, stop pressuring the government of El Salvador to buy Monsanto’s GM seeds rather than non-GMO seeds from domestic suppliers.
“I would like to tell the U.S. Ambassador to stop pressuring the Government (of El Salvador) to buy ‘improved’ GM seeds,” said Navarro, which is only of benefit to U.S. multinationals and is to the detriment of local seed production, Verdad Digital recently reported.
The U.S. has been pushing the El Salvadoran Government to sign the second Millennium Challenge Compact. One of the main conditions on the agreement is allegedly for the purchasing of GM seeds from Monsanto.
At the end of 2013 it was announced that without ‘specific’ economic and environmental policy reforms, the U.S. government would not provide El Salvador with $277 million in aid money through the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC).
It is now clear that by ‘specific reforms’ the MCC means reforms that allow GM crops and their associated pesticides to be forced on El Salvador’s Government and citizens.
Is it a coincidence that the MCC delayed its initial agreed aid payments following the announcement by the El Salvador Government that they were banning the use of Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide and 52 other dangerous chemicals in September, 2013?
Sales of glyphosate, the active killing agent in Roundup, are the main money earner for the Biotech industry worldwide and the chemical is also the base of the whole system that allows GM Crops to be grown. It is also a potent endocrine disruptor that causes havoc with the hormonal system that instructs the human embryo and fetus how to grow.
The El Salvadoran government’s decision came amidst a mysterious kidney disease that is killing thousands of the region’s agricultural laborers. Central America’s health ministries signed a declaration in March, 2013, citing the ailment as a top public health priority and committing to a series of steps to combat its reach, the Center of Public Integrity has revealed.
Over the last two years, the Center for Public Integrity has examined how a rare type of chronic kidney disease (CKDu) is killing thousands of agricultural workers along Central America’s Pacific Coast, as well as in Sri Lanka and India. Scientists have yet to definitively uncover the cause of the malady, although emerging evidence points to toxic heavy metals contained in hard water or pesticides as a potential culprit.
Sri Lankan scientist, Dr. Jayasumana, recently released a study in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health that proposes a link between Roundup and CKDu. Here’s the link to the story:
“There is a harmful corporation on the planet called Monsanto…it is truly disturbing that the U.S. is trying to promote them…” concluded Navarro, who hopes that the El Salvadoran Legislative Assembly does not accept any manipulation by the U.S.
Monsanto reminds me of Bogart’s private eye in The Maltese Falcon who tells Peter Lorre, as Bogey is slapping the crap out of him, “You’ll take it and you’ll like it.”
Why It’s So Important to Eat and Grow Organic Food
Many people think it’s important to eat organic food for their personal health. The food is clean, produced without chemicals. It’s more nutritious in many cases. It tastes better. All those reasons are valid.
But the chief reason is much broader than that.
Look around the world. We’re wrecking the place. Species are going extinct at a rate that’s not been seen for 65 million years, when a huge asteroid killed off the dinosaurs and huge numbers of other species. Farmland around the world is being drenched with life-destroying chemicals. Our pollinators, like the honeybees on which our food supply depends, are dying. Our blood contains well over 100 toxic chemicals. Pesticides are causing autism and birth defects. Farms are places where only a single crop may grow—everything else, animal and vegetable, must die. We’re mucking about in the control panel of life, creating organisms never before seen in nature, creating superweeds and superbugs. Our antibiotics are causing the evolution of hard-to-treat diseases. Animals are raised in cruel conditions and treated with sex hormones that are delaying puberty in boys and advancing it in girls. The list goes on and on.
The problem is simply stated: we think we know better than nature how to grow our food. But we’re part of nature, not her overlord. Can the part be greater (or smarter) than the whole?
Believe it or not, natural methods of farming and growing food not only work, but they work best. Organic farming and gardening teaches that we should simply learn nature’s methods and follow them. She doesn’t destroy life. She encourages it. Have you ever seen pristine wilderness, like up in Alaska? You can’t imagine a healthier or more beneficent landscape. The streams jump with fish. The meadows are loaded with ripe berries. The hills are trod by sheep, moose, elk, and bear. The birds are so thick they darken the sky. This is nature in her climax ecosystemic fullness. Our farms and gardens could be as fecund as wilderness—nature’s farm and garden–if we follow her laws, tendencies, suggestions, and methods.
So why aren’t we following her?
Greed, primarily. You can’t sell nature like you can Roundup. You can make a profit selling chemical fertilizers, but not to farmers who recycle farm wastes into compost and use it to stimulate the life in the soil. The rapacious desire for money, and power, and control of nature: that’s one big reason we don’t follow nature’s rules on our conventional farms.
And don’t forget fear—fear of insects, fungus, plant diseases, weeds; loss of money, influence, and power; hunger and starvation. “You can’t feed the world with organic farms,” goes the Big Lie. “Which 50 percent of humanity do you want to see starve if we go organic?” This is sheer rubbish. Many studies, including a 30-year study at the Rodale Institute’s 300-acre organic farm in Maxatawny, Pennsylvania, have shown that organic yields are close to, equal to, and in many cases surpass conventional yields of major crops—cleanly and with improvement to the soil and the farm ecosystem as an added benefit.
Another negative aspect of fear is that it drives people away from their humanity. As fear builds in people, so do atrocities. A fearful populace is always under the control of a police state. The Iraq War after 9/11 was sold to the American people on the basis of fear. Weapons of mass destruction! Mushroom clouds on the horizon! It was America’s huge misfortune that the administration in Washington at the time was controlled by neocon sociopaths. They read history. They knew how to gin up fear. And look what followed: nearly 5,000 American dead and 100,000 Iraqis. Torture at Abu Ghraib and black sites around the world. Blackwater running amok. Mass surveillance in total secrecy by the NSA. The militarization of America’s hometown police forces. And most disheartening of all, the destruction of America’s reputation for being fair and decent people who root for the underdog.
The destructive methods of conventional farming are set up to maximize profit for large corporations, using fear as the tactic for strategic control of the world’s food supply, and therefore its people.
As Hermann Goering, second in command to Adolph Hitler, famously remarked, and I’m paraphrasing, “It’s easy to control people. Just tell them they are under attack and you will protect them. They’ll do anything you want.” Remember the technique that Big Food used to defeat GMO labeling laws in California and Washington State? “Labeling GMOs will cause food prices to rise.” Like the Big Lie about organic farms, this is nonsense. What it is, is scary talk. Famine! Hunger! Death!
But we are fast approaching our environmental and ecological limits. Climate change has us at a tipping point. Sea temperatures are rising. Feedback loops threaten human life. Oceans are rising. Intense weather of all kinds is predicted to be on the way—and we’ve seen a lot of it already.
It looks like human beings are going to have to rediscover nature and her laws. Reconnect. Clean up our act and stop fouling the planet. And how do we do that when we live in a downtown duplex and work all day to make the money to buy crap that we don’t need? How do we find nature when we eat the contaminated food produced by Big Ag and Big Biotech and spend our few hours of leisure watching HBO? Where is nature in this American life?
She’s right where she’s always been—in the garden. That might be a little patch in your backyard. Or, if you don’t have a backyard, in a community garden. Or, if there’s no community garden, there may be a local arboretum or botanical garden or even a municipal park that could use a volunteer—especially an organic-minded volunteer.
Gardening organically is about nurturing things, not killing things. This is good for the soul. This is about giving yourself away to small, innocent plants that need you to help them grow big and strong so that they can nurture you. Take off your shoes and socks and feel the earth on your feet and in your hands. Feed the soil and watch it turn from worn out dust into dark, crumbly, sweet-smelling, humusy loam. Say hi to the earthworms that will come back. Watch that robin tugging a worm out of the rich garden soil. Eat a ripe tomato that you planted and helped into fruitful life. Now your cogs and wheels are turning with nature’s wheels. It doesn’t have to be on a grand scale. The whole is present in each of its parts.
The point is that nothing else is going to save us from environmental disaster except a universal consciousness of our connection to nature—and that doesn’t even mean going into the wilderness to commune with nature. It can also mean going within ourselves to see that nature’s laws are operative there, too. How could they not be? We are built by nature. We embody nature and all her rules. Not only that, but there is within us a fundamental consciousness from which nature arises. It is the dispassionate, unchanging, eternal, silent, uncritical witness of our lives. We all have a superficial consciousness focused on and bound up with the circumstances of our daily existence. It changes as we age, maybe it grows in wisdom, maybe it figures out how to enjoy life. But deeper than that is our true self that has been with us since we were born, that witnesses and observes our lives as they progress. When the surface consciousness that’s enthralled with the world reconnects to this true self, it puts solid ground under our feet. Our true self is divine and it sees the divine in everything we encounter, especially other living creatures. When we make this reconnection, it is that crucial moment in any life when a person suddenly knows who they are.
That’s the great internal gift that makes us human: when we know who we truly are, we feel the impulse toward compassion, kindness, and devotion to our fellow creatures. Anyone who has loved and cared for a dog or cat knows they will return that love a thousand-fold. Yes, it’s important to connect with the natural world outside of our bodies, but inside, in our hearts and souls, we can also find the freedom of the wilderness, the natural warmth of love, the tender inclusiveness for those who are different from us and the steadfast caring that characterizes the best part of our human nature. Our true nature is what we must connect with. When that connection is made, we can see how precious our mother, nature, is, and how devoted we should be to her welfare. Then we’ll know to put away the pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, antibiotics, chemical fertilizers produced from and by fossil fuels. We’ll stop swapping genes willy nilly among different classes of plants and animals and leave evolution to the natural rules that have brought us here.
Can you imagine if all farming was organic, what that would mean for all life on earth? It would mean fields safe for all life to enter, waterways without poisons, babies developing in a clean environment, the return of all organic waste to the soil as life-giving compost, and the humane treatment of farm animals so we can regain our humanity. We can reorganize our societies in a more natural way, not only in farming, but in all aspects of our lives.
Will this mean that the oligarchs, the one percenters, the banksters, and the captains of industry will be left behind? I think these people will disappear through natural attrition, although their money will continue to wreak havoc as it passes down through the succeeding generations. But they are the dinosaurs, and the great extinction we are passing through now will carry them off eventually.
THE GMO-CCD CONNECTION
The following is a transcription of the radio program Living On Earth for June 28, 2014. Host Steve Curwood interviews Professor Alex Lu of the Harvard School of Public Health about Colony Collapse Disorder of beehives.
CURWOOD: Well, pesticide exposure isn’t just a problem for humans. Many scientists think that their widespread use could be contributing to the collapse of honeybee populations around the globe. Professor Alex Lu of the Harvard School of Public Health recently published a paper in the Bulletin of Insectology probing the connection between pesticides called neonicotinoids and honeybee die off. He noticed that the first signs of Colony Collapse Disorder corresponded perfectly with the rise in 2005 of these new pesticides, the neonicotinoids.
They can save money for farmers, as there is no need to spray. Instead the chemicals can be used to coat seeds or added to irrigation water, making these insecticides systemic in plants and residual in plant products.
LU: The link is high fructose corn syrup. GMO corn (whose seed is treated with neonicotinoids) is used to make high fructose corn syrup, and the pesticide residues show up in high fructose corn syrup that those beekeepers use to feed their hive–and that led to CCD.
CURWOOD: Colony Collapse Disorder?
LU: Colony Collapse Disorder. Yes. So we used this observation in the field to formulate our hypothesis, and then we designed a scientific study to see whether we can replicate CCD in our experimental site.
CURWOOD: So what you did was that you took sugar-water and in some cases you added neonicotinoid to that and in others you didn’t.
LU: That’s correct.
CURWOOD: And what did you find?
LU: So we found for those hives that we didn’t give neonicotinoids, they survived. They survived over the winter. One hive actually died, but died from disease, like mites or nosema parasites. Wheres in our first year study, fifteen out of sixteen colonies that we treated wth neonicotinoids died. And the post-mortem observations are consistent with CCD, which is the abandonment of the hive by the adult bees.
CURWOOD: So what happens? The bees just leave the hive in the middle of the winter?
LU: This is a very interesting scientific question because the pesticide fundamentally changed their neurological behavior. By the time winter arrives, bees don’t go outside. The cold temperature actually kills the bees right away, so they form a cluster inside the hive so they survive through heat generation by each individual bee. Somehow the neonicotinoids change this aspect of the biology of honeybees, so by the time the beekeeper finds out their hive is empty, it’s too late.
CURWOOD: So it changed the behavior of the bees.
LU: Exactly. At least, that’s the hypothesis so far.
CURWOOD: Now, Professor Lu, you mentioned that you came to the Harvard School of Public Health to study human health and exposure to pesticides. What does this research about neonicotinoids tell us about possible risks to humans from this?
LU: Well, I think the direct impact to human health is the shortage of food, if we keep losing those bees. One-third of the agricultural production relies on honeybee pollination. And those foods are the foods that we all like, and very important to our health because of nutrition. So not having enough bees to pollinate definitely will affect the price of food and eventually will harm people’s health. The second effect to human health, which is unknown at this moment, is the impact of those residues in the environment over a longer period of time. Neonicotinoids are almost identical to DDT that we had in the 60’s and 70’s. So we now know that 20 to 30 years later, DDT affected reproductive systems. And whether neonicotinoids have other health affects to human beings we don’t know, because they are still relatively new. But I’m sure down the road, we will find out exactly how human health could be impacted by a little bit of residue in the environment—in the water, in the food and so on.
CURWOOD: President Obama recently announced that he’s going to start a pollinator task force—take a whole bunch of federal agencies and departments to come together to deal with the pollinator crisis. What’s your understanding of what the task force would do?
LU: Well, I think they’re going to set up a habitat or gardens in the Midwest states, so the bees can get their food from those clean gardens or habitats so they can survive. The other aspect of the initiative, as you said, is to gather experts across the agencies to have independent review within the next six months to see whether neonicotinoids do actually cause CCD. But I have to say, though, the initiative might be ill-advised.
LU: Because if you think about it, why would you only set up those habitats in the Midwest states? Why not in California? Why not in Florida? So already we can see there’s a problem with the Midwest states. What do we grow in those Midwest states—nothing but GMOs. So obviously the government knew that the relationship between the GMOs and the use of neonicotinoids in those GMO seeds has something to do with the Colony Collapse Disorder. But they don’t want to say that. Instead they say, “We’re going to set up those gardens or habitats in the Midwest states.” They are not really looking at the fundamental question that caused the CCD.
CURWOOD: So, what do we need to do then to save bees?
LU: We need to take these pesticides away from where bees go. Bees don’t know which plant or flower has been treated with neonicotinoids. They go after nectar; they go after pollen. So, if neonicotinoids have been used in those areas, then those bees will be exposed. So the only way to prevent bees from being exposed to those pesticides, is not to use those pesticides. Throughout my career, I never called for a ban of any pesticides because I do value pesticides in public health. But for neonicotinoids, I think we are looking at the situation we faced with DDT right now. I mean, the way we dealt with DDT was to ban it. I think neonicotinoids fall into the same category.
A recent study found that “bee-friendly” plants sold at major garden centers in the U.S. were contaminated with neonicotinoid pesticides.
NO MORE NATIONAL ORGANIC STANDARDS BOARD?
The Organic Consumers Association reports:
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack is at it again, chipping away at the integrity of organic standards. This time, it looks as if he may be setting the stage to get rid of the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB).
Twenty organizations, including Beyond Pesticides, the Organic Consumers Association, and the Cornucopia Institute, are trying to stop him. They’ve filed a legal petition asking that Vilsack reverse changes made May 8, 2014, by the USDA, to the NOSB charter—changes that undermine the authority of the NOSB and suggest that the USDA may dismantle it altogether.
The NOSB was created by Congress under the Organic Foods Production Act and enacted under Title 21 of the 1990 Farm Bill. The 15-member advisory panel is made up of independent farmers, environmentalists, consumer/public interest advocates, food handlers, one retailer and one scientist. The board meets twice a year to vote on recommendations to the Secretary of Agriculture (that would be Vilsack) regarding the USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP).
But apparently, Vilsack thinks he doesn’t need any advice. So little by little, he’s undermining the NOSB’s authority. Last month, the USDA made a change in the organic law that makes it more difficult to get synthetics off the list of materials allowed in organic production. It’s all part of a power grab that threatens organics. And it’s just plain illegal.
NEWS FROM THE ORGANIC CENTER IN WASHINGTON, DC:
The American Medical Association (AMA) adopted a resolution in June calling for the ban of antibiotics used in animal farming for growth promotion. This large-scale, inappropriate use of antibiotics has led to the development and spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which are quickly becoming a devastating epidemic. “Use drives resistance, and overuse drives resistance even faster,” said David Wallinga, a physician on the Keep Antibiotics Working steering committee, adding, “As much as 70 percent of the use in agriculture is unnecessary or overuse.” Last year the Center for Disease Control released a report showing that antibiotic resistance was responsible for over 2 million illnesses and 23 thousand deaths, and the World Health Organization (WHO) recently declared that antibiotic resistant superbugs have reached global epidemic proportions. Currently, the only way to ensure that the animal products you consume were not raised with antibiotics is by choosing organic!
Organic agriculture is better for the birds
A new article published in the journal Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment shows that organic farming could be beneficial for songbirds. Many bird species have been experiencing population declines due to intensive conventional farming practices. One of the reasons linked to these declines is the lack of food for young songbirds unable to leave their nests, or “nestling food.” Researchers found that because organic farming does not use synthetic pesticides and has longer, more diverse crop rotations, organic farms result in higher availability of nestling food than conventional farms. This publication adds to the body or research showing that organic agriculture plays an important role in the maintenance of biodiversity, and may be key in preventing populations of farmland birds from continuing to decline.
Nutritional benefits of organic tomatoes reaffirmed
Tomatoes are well known for being a vegetable with high antioxidant capacity. They contain carotenoid pigments including lycopene, associated with such health benefits as bone health, reduced risk of prostate cancer, and decreasing sun damage by UV radiation. Several studies have shown higher antioxidant levels in organic tomatoes when compared to conventional tomatoes. A new study published in the IOSR Journal of Agriculture and Veterinary Science supports these previous findings by showing that organic tomatoes have significantly higher antioxidant ability than conventional tomatoes.
Herbicide exposure linked to non-Hodgkins lymphoma
Researchers at the International Agency for Research on Cancer recently published a study in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health documenting three decades’ worth of epidemiological research on the relationship between occupational exposure to pesticides and non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Examining 44 studies from high-income countries covering 80 active ingredients in 21 pesticide groups, the scientists found several strong links between pesticide exposure and development of non-Hodgkins lymphoma. For example, phenoxy herbicides, carbamate insecticides, organophosphorus insecticides and lindane (an organochlorine insecticide) were all associated with non-Hodgkins lymphoma. The organophosphorus herbicide glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup herbicide, was associated with the non-Hodgkins lymphoma subtype called B cell lymphoma, as were phenoxy herbicides. These findings are especially worrisome because the use levels of several of these pesticides have dramatically increased over the past decade, and may continue to increase with expanded planting of herbicide-resistant genetically modified crops. Make sure to limit your exposure by choosing organic!
DO YOU KNOW ABOUT THE ‘DARK’ ACT?
The Center for Food Safety reports:
We alerted you back in April when the Grocery Manufacturers Association, along with allies like Monsanto and Dow, teamed up with Koch-backed Congressman Mike Pompeo of Kansas to introduce a federal bill that would deny your right to know what is in your food.
This bill, (HR 4432), which has been called the “Denying Americans the Right-to-Know Act” (DARK Act), is on the march and has just gained 20 new Republican co-sponsors, bringing the total up to 25. That’s 25 members of Congress who stand with industry in an effort to keep consumers in the dark.
This backwards bill would prevent states from adopting their own GE labeling laws, block any attempt by states to make it illegal for food companies to put a “natural” label on products that contain GE ingredients, and prevent the Food and Drug Administration from requiring companies to label GE ingredients and instead continue a failed “voluntary” labeling policy.
GE labeling is important to Americans, with over 90 percent of those polled consistently supporting transparency in the marketplace through mandatory GE labeling. In 2013 and 2014 there were over 70 GE labeling bills and ballot initiatives introduced across 30 states, with laws being passed in Maine, Connecticut and Vermont. The DARK Act would shut down these efforts and replace them with an undemocratic, hollow “voluntary” labeling scheme. In the 13 years that FDA has allowed companies to voluntarily label GE foods, a total of zero companies have done so. This is not the solution consumers have been demanding.
Even though Americans overwhelmingly support labeling, there is a disastrous momentum behind the DARK Act. Instead of joining the 64 countries across the world that require GE labeling, these 25 co-sponsors are actually promoting consumer confusion. While countries like South Korea, Japan, China, Brazil, South Africa and the entire European Union care about their citizens’ right to know what is in their food, some in Congress are instead working on keeping Americans in the dark.
Here are the sponsors and cosponsors of this bill. See if you are represented by one of them. If so, as voters, don’t you think it’s time to give these people the heave-ho?
Rep. Butterfield, G. K. [D-NC-1]
Rep. Matheson, Jim [D-UT-4]
Rep. Blackburn, Marsha [R-TN-7]
Rep. Whitfield, Ed [R-KY-1]
Rep. Stutzman, Marlin A. [R-IN-3]
Rep. Campbell, John [R-CA-45]
Rep. Cramer, Kevin [R-ND-At Large]
Rep. Schock, Aaron [R-IL-18]
Rep. Long, Billy [R-MO-7]
Rep. Latham, Tom [R-IA-3]
Rep. Cook, Paul [R-CA-8]
Rep. Luetkemeyer, Blaine [R-MO-3]
Rep. Ellmers, Renee L. [R-NC-2]
Rep. Rogers, Mike D. [R-AL-3]
Rep. Byrne, Bradley [R-AL-1]
Rep. Terry, Lee [R-NE-2]
Rep. Rokita, Todd [R-IN-4]
Rep. Barr, Andy [R-KY-6]
Rep. Ross, Dennis A. [R-FL-15]
Rep. Nunes, Devin [R-CA-22]
Rep. Shuster, Bill [R-PA-9]
Rep. Valadao, David G. [R-CA-21]
Rep. LaMalfa, Doug [R-CA-1]
Rep. Crawford, Eric A. “Rick” [R-AR-1]
Rep. Simpson, Michael K. [R-ID-2]
Lie and Get Time on National TV; Tell the Truth and Go to Jail
As Iraq began unravelling last week, did you notice who got serious national air time in the mainstream media?
There was Dick Cheney and his daughter telling America just how badly President Obama has mucked up the Iraq situation. There Cheney sits, in his comfy home, while George Bush paints at his cushy ranch (he’s about as good an artist as he was a President), and Don Rumsfeld—well, I don’t know where he is, but I’d guess he’s poolside in this hot weather with a mojito near at hand.
So the architects of America’s illegal and immoral invasion of a sovereign country are all okay and doing fine.
And what about the people who alerted our country to their illegal actions? I’m thinking of Chelsea Manning. She’s serving a 35-year sentence in Federal prison. And Edward Snowden? He’s in exile in Russia because if he came back to this country, he’d join Ms. Manning in a lengthy sentence in the pokey. And Julian Assange, the director of Wikileaks? Hiding out in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, unable to leave; a nice prison, but a prison nevertheless.
These were the people who told the truth about America’s unjustified invasion of Iraq and many other instances of our country’s crimes—like torture, indefinite detention without trial, mass surveillance of everyone, etc.
So the criminals get air time on TV and the folks who blew the whistle on them get sent to prison. But I suppose this shouldn’t be too surprising, since the banksters who almost destroyed our economy with toxic financial instruments they created to fleece the public are still walking free and many are still collecting obscene salaries. And the jerks at Cliven Bundy’s ranch in Nevada who pointed loaded weapons at Federal agents still walk free, except for the few who went on to murder police officers. Oh, and Bundy, who refuses to pay the government a million bucks in grazing fees he chalked up is still at his ranch.
Eric Holder, where are you?
FOOD SAFETY IS INSEPARABLE FROM ORGANIC FARMING
The following is excerpted from a recent post by Ralph Nader in Reader Supported News.
Across the country, consumers are demanding the right to know what is in their food, and [demanding the] labeling of genetically engineered food. It’s a vibrant and diverse coalition: mothers and grandmothers, health libertarians, progressives, foodies, environmentalists, main street conservatives and supporters of free-market economics. Last year, a New York Times poll found that a near-unanimous 93 percent of Americans support such labeling.
This is no surprise. Genetically engineered food has yet to be proven safe. In 1998, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) admitted in court that it had reached “”no dispositive scientific findings” about the risks of genetically engineered foods.
There is no scientific consensus about the risks of eating genetically engineered food, according to a statement last year signed by nearly 300 scientists. The scientists agree that “Concerns about risks are well-founded and that a substantial number of animal feeding studies and reviews of such studies…found toxic effects and signs of toxicity in animals fed genetically engineered food, compared with controls. Some of the studies give serious cause for concern,” the scientists write.
For example, a review of nineteen studies on mammals, published in Environmental Sciences Europe, found that the “data appear to indicate liver and kidney problems” arising from diets of genetically engineered food.
According to Consumers Union senior scientist Michael Hansen PhD, the ability of genetically engineered crops to induce allergic reactions is “a major food safety concern.”
When it comes to genetically engineered food, there are questions about risks, but no convincing answers. There is no mandatory pre-market safety testing for genetically engineered food.
These questions of risks and safety have festered for years because the big agrichemical companies use their intellectual property rights to deny independent scientists the ability to test genetically engineered crops, or to report their results. Scientific American called these restrictions on free inquiry “dangerous.” In a number of cases, the magazine reports, “experiments that had the implicit go-ahead from the seed company were later blocked from publication because the results were not flattering.”
When scientists do publish studies adverse to the interests of the big agrichemical companies, they are met with vicious attacks on their credibility, their science and even their personal lives.
Sixty-four nations have already required labeling of genetically engineered food, including the members of the European Union, Australia, Brazil, Turkey, South Africa, even Russia and China.
The food industry is feeling the pressure. Paul Bulcke, CEO of Nestle, the world’s largest food and beverage company, said that “It is not business as usual anymore. Pressure is mounting from all sides and angles.”
Despite the overwhelming popularity of labeling, Congress refused to act, so citizens took up the cause in their own states.
Under heavy corporate lobbying and deceptive TV ads, ballot initiatives for labeling of genetically engineered food were narrowly defeated by 51 percent to 49 percent in both California and Washington State. In May, legislation in the California Senate led 19-16, but failed without the 21 vote majority needed for passage.
Finally, on May 8, in a major victory, Vermont approved the first unconditional statewide labeling law for genetically engineered food. “Vermonters take our food and how it is produced seriously, and we believe we have a right to know what’s in the food we buy,” said Gov. Peter Shumlin.
Since then, the food and agrichemical industries have escalated to a full panic.
On June 13, the Grocery Manufacturers Association and three other trade associations — the heart of the junk food industry — filed a lawsuit in federal court to block the new Vermont labeling law. The good news is that people are rushing to Vermont’s defense, including Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, which will re-name one of its flavors “Food Fight! Fudge Brownie” to help fund a vigorous legal defense of Vermont’s new labeling law.
Elsewhere, industry is spending lavishly against the food movement. In New York State, the Daily News reported that “Trade organizations, farm groups and corporate giants such as Coca-Cola and Kraft have spent millions of dollars on lobbyists and campaign contributions to defeat” labeling of genetically engineered food.
The food industry is quick to scare consumers with the canard that labeling of genetically engineered food will raise food prices. But manufacturers change their labels often, so their claim doesn’t make sense. It has been debunked in an study by Joanna Shepherd Bailey, a professor at Emory University School of Law, who found that “consumers will likely see no increases in prices” as a result of labeling genetically engineered food.
In Congress, U.S. Rep Mike Pompeo (R-KS) introduced a bill at the behest of the Grocery Manufacturers Association–dubbed by its consumer opponents “the Deny Americans the Right-to-Know (DARK) Act”–to block any federal or state action for labeling of genetically engineered food. Sometimes, politics is drearily predictable: Can you guess Rep. Pompeo’s largest campaign contributor? You got it: Koch Industries.
But the shame is fully bipartisan: sleazy Democratic lobbyists like former US Senator Blanche Lincoln and Steve Elmendorf are plying their trade for Monsanto and the Grocery Manufacturers Association to keep you from knowing what’s in your food.
Meanwhile, the food disclosure movement is going full speed ahead with ballot initiatives for GMO labeling in Oregon and Colorado, as well as legislative efforts in many other states.
Perhaps most alarming is the corporate control of agriculture in the hands of the world’s largest agrichemical companies — Monsanto, DuPont, Syngenta, Dow, Bayer, and BASF. “The Big 6 chemical and seed companies are working diligently to monopolize the food system at the expense of consumers, farmers and smaller seed companies,” said Philip H. Howard, an associate professor at Michigan State University.
These companies may be meeting their match in the mothers and grandmothers who have powered the movement for labeling of genetically engineered food. Like Pamm Larry, the pioneering grandmother who came up with idea reflected by the California ballot initiative for labeling.
Mothers know that food is love. Certainly, my mother did. She taught me early and often about how important it is to eat healthy food. She even wrote about these values in the book, It Happened in the Kitchen.
I’d like to think that she’d feel right at home with the mothers and grandmothers of today’s food movement. I sure do. In some ways, that’s the point: a movement that makes you feel at home: no wonder it’s so popular.
OBAMA SETS UP TASK FORCE TO PROTECT POLLINATORS
Beyond Pesticides is reporting that during the close of National Pollinator Week, the White House issued a Presidential Memorandum on pollinator health to the heads of federal agencies requiring action to “reverse pollinator losses and help restore populations to healthy levels.” The President is directing agencies to establish a Pollinator Health Task Force, and to develop a National Pollinator Health Strategy, including a Pollinator Research Action Plan. Beyond Pesticides applauds this announcement and action that recognizes and elevates the plight of pollinators in the U.S.
The memorandum recognizes severe losses in the populations of the nation’s pollinators, including honey bees, wild bees, monarch butterflies and others. In accordance with these losses and acknowledging the importance pollinators have to the agricultural economy, the memorandum directs federal agencies to establish a Pollinator Health Task Force, to be chaired by U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), develop a pollinator health strategy within 180 days, and support and create pollinator habitat. This federal strategy will include a pollinator research action plan, with a focus on preventing and recovering from pollinator losses, including studying how various stressors, like pesticides, pathogens and management practices contribute to pollinator losses.
Federal agencies like the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and USDA have been slow to respond to pollinator losses and must take immediate action, especially on pesticides known to be toxic to bees and other pollinators.
The President highlights many factors that contribute to pollinator decline; however it is the neonicotinoid class of pesticides that have been receiving the most scrutiny from beekeepers and scientists. These pesticides are not only highly toxic to bees, but studies find that even at low levels neonicotinoids impair foraging ability, navigation, learning behavior and suppress the immune system, making bees more susceptible to pathogens and disease.
While EPA announced that it has released two tools in an effort to protect pollinators–its new Pollinator Risk Assessment Guidance, and new Residual Time to 25 Precent Bee Mortality (RT25 Data)–the agency still falls short of restricting the harmful systemic pesticides that are linked to bee decline, Beyond Pesticides reports.
Though the science very clearly points to neonicotinoids as a main culprit behind bee-deaths, and while successful organically managed systems prove that these pesticides are not necessary, the EPA has yet to take meaningful action to reduce exposure to these harmful chemicals. According to advocates, bee deaths in Oregon last week from the use of a neonicotinoid and mounting scientific evidence require an urgent response that necessitates removing these chemicals from the market. With continued incidents like these, beekeepers and many other concerned groups and citizens continue to urge the EPA to suspend the use of neonicotinoids.
As the EPA continues to stall, Beyond Pesticides, along with other groups are working to BEE Protective. Last year, Beyond Pesticides, Center for Food Safety, and others filed a lawsuit against the EPA on its continued registration of these chemicals. The groups are also working to pressure on lawmakers in Congress to take action to protect pollinators. H.R. 2692, the Saving America’s Pollinators Act (SAPA), introduced last year by Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) and Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D- OR), would suspend the use of neonicotinoid pesticides until a full review of scientific evidence and a field study demonstrates no harmful impacts to pollinators. Three new co-sponsors signed on Friday, including Rep. Anna G. Eshoo (D-CA), Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA) and Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-CA), bringing the total number of cosponsors to 68. With one in three bites of food reliant on pollinators, it is imperative that solutions be found quickly to protect bees and other pollinators.
STUDY LINKS AUTISM AND ORGANOPHOSPHATE PESTICIDES
The following report is by Lindsey Konkel, writing in Environmental Health News.
Babies whose moms lived within a mile of crops treated with widely used pesticides were more likely to develop autism, according to new research.
The study of 970 children, born in farm-rich areas of Northern California, is part of the largest project to date that is exploring links between autism and environmental exposures.
The University of California, Davis research – which used women’s addresses to determine their proximity to insecticide-treated fields – is the third project to link prenatal insecticide exposures to autism and related disorders.
“The weight of evidence is beginning to suggest that mothers’ exposures during pregnancy may play a role in the development of autism spectrum disorders,” said Kim Harley, associate director of University of California, Berkeley’s Center for Environmental Research and Children’s Health. She was not involved in the new study.
One in every 68 U.S. children has been identified with an autism spectrum disorder – a group of neurodevelopmental disorders characterized by difficulties with social interactions, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“This study does not show that pesticides are likely to cause autism, though it suggests that exposure to farming chemicals during pregnancy is probably not a good thing,” said Dr. Bennett Leventhal, a child psychiatrist at University of California, San Francisco who studies autistic children. He did not participate in the study.
The biggest known contributor to autism risk is having a family member with it. Siblings of a child with autism are 35 times more likely to develop it than those without an autistic brother or sister, according to the National Institutes of Health.
By comparison, in the new study, children with mothers who lived less than one mile from fields treated with organophosphate pesticides during pregnancy were about 60 percent more likely to have autism than children whose mothers did not live close to treated fields. Most of the women lived in the Sacramento Valley. This class of pesticide was developed by the Nazis in the 1940s.
When women in the second trimester lived near fields treated with chlorpyrifos – the most commonly applied organophosphate pesticide – their children were 3.3 times more likely to have autism, according to the study, published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.
Chlorpyrifos, once widely used to kill insects in homes and gardens, was banned for residential use in 2001 after it was linked to neurological effects in children. It is still widely used on crops, including nut trees, alfalfa, vegetables and fruits.
“The study also is the first to report a link between pyrethroids and autism. Application of pyrethroids just prior to conception meant an increased risk of 82 percent, and during the third trimester, the risk was 87 percent higher.
That finding is particularly concerning because “pyrethroids were supposed to be better, safer alternatives to organophosphates,” said the study’s senior author, Irva Hertz-Picciotto, an epidemiologist who leads the UC-Davis project to investigate environmental and genetic links to autism.
Use of pyrethroids has increased in recent years, both on farms and in the home, due to bans of other insecticides. Some studies now suggest pyrethroids may carry risks for developing fetuses.
The autism risk that could be attributed to an individual pesticide is likely slight, said Alycia Halladay, senior director for environmental and clinical sciences at the nonprofit Autism Speaks. “We need to understand how multiple exposures interact with each other and with genetics to understand all that is involved in the causes of autism,” she said.
But while the risks reported in the study pale in comparison to some hereditary factors, Hertz-Picciotto said they are comparable to other risks for autism, such as advanced parental age or not taking prenatal vitamins.
“In any child who develops autism, a combination of genetic and environmental factors are at work. There’s an accumulation of insults to the system. What we’re seeing is that pesticides may be one more factor that for some kids may push them over the edge,” she said.
For the study, researchers obtained the women’s addresses and compared them to a state database that provides details about where, when and how often specific commercial pesticides were used. About one-third of the women lived within approximately one mile of pesticide-treated fields.
In 2012, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency required buffers around fields near homes and schools to help reduce exposure to chlorpyrifos.
“Provided that pesticides are applied responsibly and according to federally mandated label instructions, people, including expectant mothers, should not be concerned about exposure to agricultural pesticides,” said Clare Thorpe, senior director of human health policy for CropLife America, which represents pesticide manufacturers.
More than 1.1 million tons of chlorpyrifos were applied to 22,000 California farms in 2012, down from 2 million pounds on 40,000 farms in 2005, according to the database from the state Department of Pesticide Regulation.
Most of the mothers lived near fields treated with several different pesticides over their pregnancies, so it’s difficult to tease apart the potential risk of individual chemicals, said epidemiologist Janie Shelton, the lead study author. Shelton is now a consulting scientist to the United Nations.
The study also reported an increased risk of developmental delays, but not autism, in kids whose moms lived near fields where carbamates, including methomyl and Sevin, were applied.
The researchers said that pesticides could impair brain development and signaling in a way that affects social interactions, learning and behavior.
Previous studies have also linked pesticide use in California to autism spectrum disorders. In 2007, Harley and colleagues found a two-fold increase in pervasive developmental disorders (the larger group to which autism belongs) among 531 children in California’s Salinas Valley whose mothers’ urine had higher levels of organophosphate pesticides. Another study from 2007 found that mothers who lived near fields with the highest applications of two now-banned pesticides – endosulfan and dicofol – were six times more likely to have kids with autism spectrum disorders.
In recent years, rates of autism have been on the rise in the United States. Between 2012 and 2014 alone, rates jumped 30 percent. The increase has largely been attributed to changes in diagnostic criteria for autism.
“Many children that we used to call intellectually disabled and many more with social deficits are now recognized as being on the autism spectrum,” said Kathy Katz, a pediatric psychologist at Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, DC.
But some experts suggest that environmental exposures may also be contributing to the climbing rates. In California alone, autism diagnoses were up 600 percent between 1990 and 2001. Yet researchers found that only about one-third of the rise could be explained by changing diagnoses or kids being diagnosed at increasingly younger ages.
Earlier this year, scientists examining more than two million births in Sweden reported that inherited genes make up about 50 percent of a child’s autism risk, while environmental factors make up the other half.
It’s tempting to tie the increase in prevalence to environmental factors, said Halladay, but it’s hard to know for sure what’s going on, since some environmental risks have increased over the past few decades while others have decreased.
“Use of pesticides has gone up, so has autism. But air quality has also improved, and we know that air pollution plays a role in autism spectrum disorder risk,” she said.
Some studies are starting to look how environmental exposures may act differently in people whose genetics make them more susceptible. Earlier this year, researchers showed that people with a gene variant associated with autism and high exposure to air pollution had an increased risk of autism over people with the same gene variant but lower exposure to air pollution.
Next, Shelton hopes to look for autism risk from pesticide exposure among mothers with certain genetic variations.
“We need to know if some moms are at higher risk than others and what that risk is. Knowing who is most vulnerable is key to understanding how to better protect them,” she said.
STUDY LINKING GMO CORN AND CANCER REPUBLISHED
French scientists who in 2012 wrote a contested study linking pesticide-treated, genetically-modified corn with cancer in lab rats returned to the attack on Tuesday, republishing their work online, The Guardian reports.
Denying accusations of bad science, the team said the work, which was withdrawn by the journal that first printed it, had been republished in Environmental Sciences Europe, owned by Germany’s Springer group. The raw data has also been placed in the public domain for others to scrutinize, the researchers said.
“Censorship of research into the risks of a technology so intertwined with global food safety undermines the value and credibility of science,” the team said in a statement.
The research kicked up a hornet’s nest when it was first published in September 2012. Its authors, led by Gilles-Eric Seralini, a professor at the University of Caen in Normandy, said rats fed NK603 corn and Roundup herbicide developed liver and kidney disease and mammary tumors. NK603, made by Monsanto, has been genetically engineered to be immune to Roundup. As a result, farmers can spray their fields to kill weeds without harming their crops.
The authors stood by their original research and lashed out at the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology for withdrawing it–a great humiliation in the scientific world. The authors allege that the retraction derives from the journal’s editorial appointment of biologist Richard Goodman, who previously worked for Monsanto for seven years. (The timeline is that the study was published, then the journal brought the Monsanto employee on board, and then the paper was retracted.)
“Roundup formulations and Roundup-tolerant GMOs should be considered as (hormonal) disruptors and their present assessments on health are drastically deficient,” they wrote. Open publication in the Springer journal provides a forum “so that science can reclaim its rights against the pressures of the industry seeking to suppress whistle-blowers,” they said.
Why ‘Open Carry’ Is an Abomination
If you read The Federalist Papers—an account of how our forebears reasoned out the Constitution of the United States—you’ll find that they were deeply concerned about the establishment of a standing Army overseen by the Commander-in-Chief. This was, most of them thought, a prescription for trouble down the road in the form of foreign entanglements and general military truculence. Rather, they thought that we simply had to guard our land and people by organizing civilian militias, very much the way Switzerland has done. In Switzerland, each male citizen is required to own, but not necessarily use, a rifle. Just in case those crazies in Germany, France, or Austria came barrelling over the border with the lust for conquest in their eyes.
That was the idea in 18th Century America, and why the Second Amendment of the Bill of Rights states, “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” In other words, if we’re not to have a standing Army, then we need the people to organize themselves into militias to defend ourselves.
In those days, “arms” were single-shot muskets that required wadding, ball, flint, tinder, gunpowder, and a ramrod. It was pretty much a rifle that could fire a shot and take another couple of minutes to reload. The framers of the Constitution could not have envisioned clips of many rounds, semi-automatic and automatic weapons, hollow-point bullets designed to tear up flesh and shatter bone, and all the rest of our sophisticated weaponry in long rifle and short handgun form.
These weapons that can fire off dozens of rounds in a few seconds are easily capable of cutting a human being in half—as was proven at Sandy Hook. School shootings have now become as common as postal shootings were in the 1990s. Remember “going postal?” Now parents are outfitting their kids with bullet-proof backpacks. And Joe the Plumber, bless his benighted soul, delivered the line that should be engraved over the entrance to the National Rifle Association: “Your dead kids don’t trump my Constitutional rights.”
I remember sitting on a quiet beach in Tobago about 30 years ago, hanging out with my good friend Osbert Mander, a local guy who took pity on me having to eat the greasy food served at my beach-side resort and invited me to his modest shack for fish stew: fish, potatoes, an onion, and some local herbs for flavor. There was no market in the tiny village of Black Rock where he lived, and I asked him where he got the fish. Here’s what he said:
“Every morning some of the village men go down to the beach and swim out to the boats anchored offshore. We have purse seines on those boats, and they pull them out across the mouth of the bay. They stay open all day until about five o’clock, when the men come back to the beach and swim out to the boats and draw up the purse seines, catching whatever swam in there during the day, hauling them to shore and dumping them on the beach.
“If someone in Black Rock is sick, we look through the catch for a shark and if there’s a shark, we cut out its liver and give it to the sick person. That will help. And then everyone in our village comes down to the beach to buy a fish for dinner, just for a few pennies, to keep up the nets. They cut the fish open and dump the guts on the beach. Then the men swim the nets back out to the boats, fold them up, and store them for the night.
“The dogs and cats and wild birds know of this ritual, and after everyone has taken their fish home, the animals come to the beach to eat the guts and waste—hundreds of birds, all the village dogs and cats. It’s very pretty to see and peaceful, and within 15 minutes after the people have left, the beach is perfectly clean.”
Osbert’s fish soup was delicious. But as we ate, he told me something. “I’d like to come to America—to Los Angeles—but I’m afraid. People are always getting shot and killed there,” he said.
Now I think of my friend Osbert and the gentle society of Black Rock in Tobago, where if you’re sick you get the shark liver, and where all the life there partakes of the daily catch in the purse seine. And I think, this is the way human life should be, and society should be organized.
And then I think of the men carrying loaded assault rifles into Target stores and restaurants, in an era where children are mowed down by the very same assault rifles and automatic weapons. And these men have the attitude, “You’ll take it and you’ll like it. Don’t mess with me. Your dead kids don’t trump my Constitutional rights.” And I realize what a sick sick sick sick sick society we have become.
MONSANTO SUES VERMONT OVER ITS GMO LABELING LAW
Tiny Vermont this month boldly went where no US state had gone before, enacting a law to require food producers who use genetically modified organisms (GMOs) to let consumers know of it on the packaging, according to a report by Gram Slattery of The Christian Science Monitor.
Now the state is going, perhaps just as boldly, to court.
A lawsuit filed recently challenges Vermont’s GMO-labeling law on grounds that it usurps federal regulatory authority and negatively affects interstate commerce. The new law, argues the coalition of industry groups that brought the federal suit, including the Snack Food Association (SFA) and the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), is arbitrary given the dearth of scientific evidence that GMOs have negative health effects. (Actually, there’s plenty of evidence that GMOs have frightening health effects. The SFA and GMA are really just fronting for Monsanto and the biotech industry.)
The labeling measures could pose a definite burden for industry: About 75 percent of processed foods available on supermarket shelves in the US contain GMOs, as well as 85 percent of unprocessed corn and 91 percent of unprocessed soybeans.
DEALING WITH INSURGENCIES—ALWAYS A MESSY BUSINESS
Bob Garcia writes:
If King George III had Obama’s mindset, he would have labeled the Colonists as terrorists and would have killed Washington, Jefferson, Adams, and Revere with drones — seizing Franklin in Europe to torture indefinitely.
I think King George had that mindset. He sent his Army here to put down the rebellion and would have hung the lot of the founders if he could have caught them. Remember Franklin’s saying, “Gentlemen, we must hang together or surely we will hang separately.”
IF FISH IS BRAIN FOOD, THEN FISH ARE BRAINY
According to a new paper scheduled for publication in the forthcoming issue of the esteemed journal Animal Cognition, “fish perception and cognitive abilities often match or exceed other vertebrates.” In fact, “fish have a high degree of behavioral plasticity and compare favorably to humans and other terrestrial vertebrates across a range of intelligence tests.”
The author of the paper, Dr. Culum Brown, is a professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia. Dr. Brown’s article, which is the first to distill for journal publication the voluminous research that exists into fish behavior and cognition, reviews the full range of ethological aptitudes, detailing dozens of studies and extrapolating from those results to determine what we do and do not know about fish. The areas considered include: evolution and biological complexity; sensory perception; cerebral lateralization; pain; and cognition (including learning and memory, social learning, social intelligence, tool use, and numerical competency).
With intriguing examples and reviewing all of the scientific literature to date, Dr. Brown concludes that “fish compare well to the rest of the vertebrates in most tasks,” differing little in cognitive and behavioral complexity from primates. For example, they:
• can “perform multiple complex tasks simultaneously” due to cerebral lateralization, a trait that was until recently thought to be uniquely human;
• can recall the location of objects using feature cues, a capacity developed by humans at approximately the age of six;
• “have excellent long-term memories” (including time-place, spatial, social, and aversive experiences);
• “live in complex social communities where they keep track of individuals and can learn from one another, a process that leads to the development of stable cultural traditions … similar to some of those seen in birds and primates”;
• “cooperate with one another and show signs of Machiavellian intelligence such as cooperation and reconciliation”;
• can use tools, another “in a long list of skills that was supposed to be unique to humans”;
• “use the same methods for keeping track of quantities as we do” (numerosity is another of the capacities that scientists once thought unique to human beings).
Unsurprisingly, considering their wide array of complex capacities, Dr. Brown also notes that of course fish feel pain, since “it would be impossible for fish to survive as the cognitively and behaviorally complex animals they are without a capacity to feel pain.” In the paper, he points out that pain perception is essential to animal survival, and that it has deep evolutionary origins across all vertebrate species.
This is the first paper produced with grant money from The Someone Project, an endeavor aimed at raising the public’s understanding of farm animal cognition and behavior.
DECIMATION IN THE PIG POPULATION
Did you know that over the past year, nearly 10 percent of the entire swine population in the US has been wiped out by a highly lethal virus? The virus, called Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus (PEDv), has been—at least in part—traced back to pig’s blood used in piglet feed, according to Dr. Joseph Mercola’s website.
Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has announced that a federal order has been issued, requiring swine farmers to notify the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) if they suspect PEDv on their farm. The USDA is also allocating $4 million for research, and the development of a vaccine against the disease.
Dried blood plasma is a relatively new pig feed ingredient, described as a “unique protein source for early-weaned pigs” in a paper on swine nutrition by Professor Gary Cromwell.
In recent years, it’s been employed as an immune booster, and to enhance the growth rate and feed intake during the postweaning phase. In his paper, Professor Cromwell explains the process as follows:
“Most of the dried plasma is produced by American Protein Corporation, whose headquarters are in Ames, Iowa. This company collects and processes blood from a number of large hog slaughter plants throughout the country. At these plants, blood is collected in chilled vats and transported by insulated trucks to processing plants where the plasma is separated from the red blood cells. The plasma is then carefully spray dried. It is then shipped to ingredient suppliers and feed manufacturers throughout the feed industry for use in pig starter feeds. The red blood cells are also dried and shipped to ingredient suppliers and feed manufacturers.”
Okay—here’s the deal. Whenever you take body material from a large group of animals, you are very likely to be taking some disease from a few sick individuals with it. By then feeding it back to large groups of those same animals, what you are doing is spreading the disease as widely as possible. This is how mad cow disease was spread. It was the basis of the “Bug Juice” method of insect control I wrote about in the 1970s on Organic Gardening magazine, where a Florida entomologist said the way to control any pest is to collect a large number of them, whiz them up in a blender, strain out the juice, dilute it, and spray it on your crops. A few sick individuals then infect the whole population. It worked then, it works now, and it’s no different with blood-borne sickness with pigs.
STANDING UP FOR THE INTEGRITY OF THE ORGANIC MOVEMENT
Twenty organic farm and consumer groups have filed a legal petition with U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to protect the authority and permanence of the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB). The petitioners object to recent changes to the NOSB charter, renewed on May 8, 2014, that undermine the mandatory and continuing duties of the Board as established by Congress under the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990.
USDA mistakenly—or maybe not so mistakenly–re-categorized the NOSB as a time-limited Advisory Board subject to USDA’s discretion and a narrowing of responsibilities.
“These changes to the NOSB Charter are significant and directly controvert the specific mandates of Congress that NOSB is a permanent, non-discretionary committee that must fulfill a long list of statutorily mandated duties integral to the organic program,” said Aimee Simpson, policy director and staff attorney for Beyond Pesticides.
The NOSB, appointed by the Secretary of Agriculture, is comprised of a wide swath of organic interests, including farmers, consumers, environmentalists, processors, a retailer, and a certifier. It is charged with a number of specific duties, including establishing and renewing the list of synthetic and non-organic materials allowed to be used in organic production, known as the National List.
“Congress created the Board so that a balance of organic interests, from consumer to industry, would have an irrevocable seat at the table in defining, maintaining and enhancing organic standards. That independent voice is now seriously jeopardized,” noted Paige Tomaselli, senior attorney at the Center for Food Safety.
In response to one of several recent moves by USDA to reclassify the NOSB’s role as a purely advisory and discretionary committee, petitioners urge USDA to reverse what they consider missteps. The petition finds that to comply with organic law, USDA must immediately revise the most recent NOSB Charter to accurately reflect the mandatory non-discretionary duties and ongoing status of the NOSB.
“The independence of the NOSB is the backbone of the system of organic governance that Congress set up to prevent the industry from being corrupted by undue agribusiness lobbying influence, a dynamic all too common in Washington,” stated Will Fantle, Research Director at The Cornucopia Institute. “It is questionable whether the law being debated in the 1990s would have received overwhelming organic community support if the powerful NOSB buffer, to prevent future corruption by moneyed interests, was not established.”
The groups signing the petition include: Beyond Pesticides, Center for Food Safety, Cornucopia Institute, Food & Water Watch, Equal Exchange, La Montanita Co-op (New Mexico), Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service, Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance, Northwest Organic Farming Association (NOFA) Interstate Council, NOFA Connecticut, NOFA Massachusetts, NOFA New Hampshire, NOFA New Jersey, NOFA New York, NOFA Vermont, Organic Consumers Association, Organically Grown Company, Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association, and PCC Natural Markets.
As a lifelong Rodale employee, I ask why isn’t Rodale and the Rodale Institute in that group? C’mon people!
Public interest groups overwhelmingly condemn the “power grab” by the USDA, and contend that there is little doubt that the regulatory agency is now blatantly violating the will of Congress in regards to undermining the statutory power vested in the National Organic Standards Board.
In a letter to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Representative Peter DeFazio of Oregon strongly criticized the USDA actions and asked for their reversal.
“One of the most unique things about organic is that consumers can get involved in setting the standards behind the label. For that to remain true, we need to have a strong National Organic Standards Board process,” said Patty Lovera of Food & Water Watch.
Good Ideas Are a Dime a Dozen
The President of a company where I once worked gave me a piece of wisdom that stuck with me.
“Good ideas are a dime a dozen,” he said. “What’s rare is someone who can take a good idea and realize it—make it into something worthwhile in the real world.”
Yeah. Good ideas are just “talk,” but doing something with them is “do.” In other words, you can talk the talk, but what counts is when you walk the walk.
That’s why I like Severine von Tscharner Fleming so much. Yes, she talks the talk about the need for young farmers, but then she walks the walk by being one herself. And a vigorous, energetic one at that.
She’s the director of The Greenhorns, a group of organic-minded young farmers and communicators in the Hudson Valley. Here’s how the organization defines its mission:
“The Greenhorns is a non-traditional grassroots non-profit organization made up of young farmers and a diversity of collaborators. Our mission is to recruit, promote and support the new generation of young farmers. We do this by producing avant-garde programming, video, audio, web content, publications, events, and art projects that increase the odds for success and enhance the profile and social lives of America’s young farmers.
“The news is in from urban, suburban and rural districts alike: America needs more young farmers and more young farmers want a piece of America. It will take millions of rough and ready protagonists of place to care for our ecosystems and serve our country healthy food in the years to come. The Greenhorns enable this critical meeting of minds, bodies, and land by helping young and aspiring farmers to navigate career paths, build skills, and connect with each other. Our multifaceted approach includes on-the-ground organizing of events and workshops, media production, and online coalition building.”
You can find out more by visiting www.thegreenhorns.net.
DROP A PILL INTO A GLASS OF WATER
TO SEE IF YOU’RE DRINKING PESTICIDES
It’s no secret that unwanted chemicals lurk in our food and drinks. But what if a little pill could warn us before we gulp down pesticide-laced water? Kristina Bravo of TakePart.com explains:
Researchers have been experimenting with an unlikely drugstore buy: dissolvable minty breath strips. A team from McMaster University in Canada discovered that pullulan, the same slimy fungus used to make the breath freshener strips, could also be used to make pills that contain pesticide-detecting enzymes. Just drop the pill in a glass of water, let it dissolve, and watch for any color changes.
“If the water doesn’t have any pesticides, [the water] actually forms a very strong blue. If it’s transparent at the end, it’s very contaminated,” said Carlos Felipe, the chemical engineering professor who led the study.
He said that testing water this way is a much cheaper alternative than other contamination screening processes. According to Felipe, producing 1,000 pills in one day would only cost a dollar. Countries such as India, where a large pesticide market compromises the water supply, could benefit from this quick and affordable technology.
Sana Jahanshahi-Anbuhi, the student who came up with the breath strip idea, will start a field test in Kerala, India, by the end of this year. The researchers are now looking into more applications. They said the pills could possibly contain vaccines, which otherwise need refrigeration, and E. coli–detecting molecules as well.
“We are currently working on detection of other contaminants [metals and E. coli] and starting on vaccine stabilization and delivery, which would have a tremendous impact for society,” Jahanshahi-Anbuhi said..
WHY IS THE FDA SO IGNORANT?
Perhaps you’ve heard that the FDA wants to ban wooden shelves for ripening cheese. Here’s a link to the story.
And now for comment by our Frencyh correspondent: “There is nothing new in cheese production – some years ago a European directive instructed the producers of Reblochon to abandon their traditional pine shelves and move to plastic, which was perceived as being easier to sterilize.
Disastro! The cheese did not ripen; moreover, it spoiled. Back to the lab-–the bacteria in pine resin are antiseptic and prevent the wrong bacteria developing in the cheese. Now pines shelves are solidly reinstated.”
That’s in France. Here in America, the FDA has, in an ignorant fit of trying to be helpful, attacked a fundamental technique of cheesemaking. I’m betting the wooden boards will be kept, because “Blessed are the cheesemakers.”
CALIFORNIA’S COTTAGE FOOD ACT GETS IT RIGHT
As opposed to the FDA getting it exactly wrong on cheese boards, California gets it exactly right on allowing people to make food for sale from their home kitchens.
On September 21, 2012, Governor Jerry Brown signed the California Homemade Food Act into law. This law amends the California Health and Safety Code to create a new category of food facility operation, which unlike other food facilities, can be operated out of a home kitchen.
This new category, known as a Cottage Food Operation (CFO), will allow home kitchens to make and sell non-potentially hazardous foods. Non-potentially hazardous foods are foods that are unlikely to grow harmful bacteria or other toxic microorganisms at room temperature.
The California Department of Public Health has established a list of current approved foods that meet the definition as non-potentially hazardous. Additional foods may be added and removed through a 30-day process. The list of current approved foods includes the following:
• Baked goods without cream, custard or meat fillings
• Candy, including chocolate covered nuts and dried fruit
• Dried fruit and pasta
• Dry baking mixes, granolas, cereals, and trail mixes
• Fruit pies, fruit empanadas, and fruit tamales
• Honey, jams, jellies and fruit butters
• Nut mixes, nut butters and popcorn
• Vinegar and mustards
• Roasted coffee and dried tea
• Waffle cones and pizelles
CFOs are required to obtain an annual registration or annual permit to operate through Sonoma County Environmental Health and Safety. CFOs may sell directly and indirectly to the public, depending on their class of operation.
Class A CFOs may sell cottage foods directly from their homes, certified farmers’ markets, bake sales, and community events. Class A operations will be required to complete a self-certification process and obtain an annual registration from Sonoma County Environmental Health and Safety.
Class B CFOs will be required to obtain an annual permit from Sonoma County Environmental Health and Safety and will be inspected annually. In addition to direct sales from home, they are also permitted to sell cottage foods indirectly from local shops, restaurants and other third party sales.
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