Brits Say Americans Ignorant about GMOs
A British publication called FoodBev Media Ltd., recently spread this headline across the top of its front page: “Majority of US Consumers ‘Lack Understanding’ of GMOs.”
The article begins: “Almost 60 percent of American consumers have ‘a fair or poor understanding’ of GMO foods, despite generally supporting a recently approved bill to introduce mandatory labeling of GMOs in the US.”
I’d like to unpack this article to show you the “man behind the curtain” whose subtle and blatantly egregious lies impugn American intelligence. Let’s start with the next paragraph:
“That is the finding of a new piece of research, which has also shown that a majority of Americans are unaware of the scientific consensus that genetically modified foods are safe to consume. The study was conducted by researchers from the Department of Life Sciences Communication at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania.”
Maybe the majority of Americans are unaware of the scientific consensus because it doesn’t exist. Big food, biotech, and agriculture keep claiming that there’s a consensus, but, as last week’s issue of organicfoodguy showed, it’s bogus. Scientists around the world warn of the dangers of GMOs. Farmers as well as governmental agencies through Europe and Russia, and now Africa, South America, Central America, and Asia are fighting back against Monsanto’s patented GMO seeds. But back to the article:
“The vast majority of Americans-–88 percent-–said they support the mandatory labeling of foods containing GMOs, and 91 percent agreed that people have the right to know when they buy or eat products that contain genetically modified ingredients.”
That is true, but if the majority of American consumers lack understanding of GMOs, how come they overwhelmingly want to know which foods contain them? In order to select them to take home for the kids? To make sure the family gets its daily dose of GMOs? No. They want GMO food labeled so they can avoid it. And let’s go back and look at this article’s lead paragraph again. It says, “60 percent of American consumers have ‘a fair or poor understanding’ of GMO foods, despite generally supporting a recently approved bill to introduce mandatory labelling of GMOs in the US.” That bill sits on President Obama’s desk as I write this. Big food, biotech, and chemical ag have sold that bill as pro-labeling legislation, but it’s anything but. It is known as the Monsanto Dream Act because it gives Monsanto everything it dreams about, and it’s also called the DARK Act because DARK stands for “Deny Americans the Right to Know.” It does not require mandatory labeling. That’s a lie. It’s entirely voluntary. And instead of requiring that the food be labeled, it allows food manufacturers to hide the presence of GMOs behind QR codes, so that to find out if a food contains GMOs, you have to scan the code with your smartphone, then paw through a website to see if it contains GMOs—and again, it’s up to the manufacturer to decide whether it wants to put that info on the website. This scheme does everything except shout at consumers, “Shut the F*** Up!” But back to the article:
“Fewer than one in five respondents out of a total of more than 1,000 were aware of research that said there was ‘no substantiated evidence of a difference in risks to human health between currently commercialized genetically engineered crops and conventionally bred crops.’”
There is such research, but it’s a pack of lies produced by scientists paid by Monsanto and other like-minded corporations to reach that conclusion. Look, if I take a cat and insert fish genes into its DNA, it is not substantially equivalent to a plain cat. And there is no research, which I pointed out in last week’s blog, that has assessed the risk of ingesting GMOs on human health, because to do such research would violate international treaty against experimenting on human beings. There have been a lot of animal studies, however, and they are so horrifying that the World Health Organization has warned the world that Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide that is used in conjunction with its GMO seeds, is very likely cancer-causing. And again, see last week’s blog that compared pigs fed GMO feed with pigs fed organic food, and note the inflamed and swollen internal organs researchers found in the GMO pigs. So the one-in-five respondents who said they were aware of research showing no risk from GMO foods are just telling the questioners what they think the questioners want to hear. Such research has never been done.
“Nearly half—48 percent–went so far as to say they disagreed that genetically modified foods posed no risk to human health. Only 39 percent of people agreed that GMO crops were safe to eat, while 27 percent disagreed.”
Wait. What? So 48 percent “went so far” as to disagree with the claim that GMOs are safe to eat; 39 percent agreed they were safe to eat; 27 percent disagreed with the claim that GMO are safe to eat. Why those numbers total 114 percent. Why, those ignorant Americans can’t even add up to 100 percent, and which is it—48 or 27 percent who disagreed with the claim that GMOs are safe?
“The labeling bill, approved by Congress earlier this month, calls for the use of on-pack text, a symbol designed by the US Department of Agriculture, or a digital QR code to designate foods containing GMOs.”
Again, this article doesn’t mention that these options are all voluntary. Food manufacturers don’t have to put any information of the wrapper or on a website to signal the inclusion of GMOs. Unless they want to. But as a Monsanto exec once said, “Putting a GMO label on a food would be like putting a skull and crossbones on it.” How many food manufacturers are going to say, “Step right up and getcha GMOs?” But back to the article:
“William Hallman, a visiting scholar at the Annenberg Public Policy Center and professor of human ecology at Rutgers University, said that the bill could help consumers to improve their understanding of genetically modified foods. ‘One potential advantage of using a QR code is that consumers could be linked to much more information about genetically modified ingredients, and how they are produced and regulated, than could ever be printed on a product label,’ he said.”
Really, Professor Hallman? Those consumers fortunate enough to have a smartphone, and with enough time on their hands to scan the QR codes of every item in their shopping cart, will then spend time boning up on industry propaganda about how wonderful and safe GMOs are? Do you really believe that?
The only boning going on around here is the one given to the American public by Big Food, Big Biotech, Big Chem, and Big Ag.
63 Senators Who Need to Get the Heave-Ho
The votes of 63 Senators who on July 7 passed the DARK (Deny Americans the Right to Know) Act effectively prevent the public from knowing whether our food contains genetically modified ingredients.
In other words, these Senators don’t represent the 92 percent of Americans who say they want foods made with GMOs to be labeled, they represent Monsanto, the Grocery Manufacturers of America, Big Biotech, Big Ag, and the agricultural chemical industry. Bernie Sanders, who opposed the DARK Act, estimates that lobbyists spent $400 million to get this bill passed.
Since these Senators don’t really represent the people who voted them into office, let me suggest that the people vote them out of office and replace them with Senators who will actually represent the will of the people. That’s how our system is supposed to work. But as we see all too plainly, that’s not how it works.
The Roberts-Stabenow bill will now go back to the U.S. House, which in July, 2015, passed its own version of the DARK Act. If the House and Senate reach an agreement on the final wording, which is almost certain, Congress will vote on legislation to keep you in the dark. That bill will then land on President Obama’s desk. I just spent the better part of an hour online, trying to find out which Senators voted for the DARK Act so I could give you a URL so you could see how your Senators voted. Guess what? I came up empty-handed. Senate votes are routinely listed on line. But not this one. What does that tell you? As Dylan said, “Look out kids, they keep it all hid.”
You might want to encourage the President to veto it, although news reports say he will sign it. And that after his campaign promises to label GMOs. Remember them? His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
WHAT MORE CAN YOU DO?
Well, it’s pretty much game over for labeling GMOs unless Obama casts a veto, but there is something all of us can do: make sure the food we purchase is GMO- free.
Genetic modifications are prohibited in organic food, so if a food is organically grown, you can be assured it has no GMOs. Unless someone is cheating. In this era of mistrust, mistrust is warranted. Whole Foods Market, Stonyfield Farms, Organic Valley—even Senator Al Franken—backed the Roberts-Stabenow DARK Act. All the more reason to buy your organic products from regional or local producers. They have to live with their customers and are less likely to cheat. The big guys like Whole Foods, Stonyfield, and Organic Valley are huge companies owned by corporate behemoths who don’t have to live with their customers and do make products with GMO ingredients. Stay within your foodshed and eat organic.
CDC EXEC RESIGNS OVER AID TO COCA-COLA ADVOCATE
Email evidence shows a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) executive aided a Coca-Cola representative in efforts to influence World Health Organization (WHO) officials to relax sugar limits.
Last year, WHO announced soda is a key contributor to child obesity, suggesting restrictions on sugary beverages.
Two days after Barbara Bowman, Ph.D., director of the CDC’s Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention (DHDSP), was exposed for offering guidance to a leading Coca-Cola advocate, Bowman resigned from her post. Buh-bye Barbara.
USDA ORGANIC FARM ANIMAL WELFARE RULES CALLED A ‘GIVE-AWAY’
Organic industry watchdog The Cornucopia Institute, marking the July 14 close of a 90-day public comment period on proposed USDA rules for animal welfare on organic farms, criticized the USDA rules as a “giveaway” to factory farm interests masquerading as organic. The Institute advised consumers to reaffirm their support for authentic organic family-scale farmers by “taking the law into their own hands” and seeking out truly organic eggs, produced humanely.
To that end, Cornucopia relaunched its Scrambled Eggs report and organic egg brand scorecard. Based on six years of research, it rates various organic brands on how their eggs are produced in accordance with federal organic standards and consumer expectations. It profiles exemplary management practices employed by many family-scale organic farmers engaged in egg production, while spotlighting abuses at so-called “factory farms,” some of which confine hundreds of thousands of chickens in industrial buildings and market these eggs to consumers as “organic.”
The proposed USDA animal welfare rule has been one of the biggest controversies in the history of the organic movement, prompting comments from over 5,000 citizens, lobbyists, and organic stakeholders.
The USDA allows up to two million “organic” birds to be confined on giant concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). Advocates say federal law clearly requires “access to the outdoors.” But analysis by Cornucopia finds the options presented in the USDA’s draft rule would confine birds to as little as one square foot indoors and only require farms to provide two square feet of “pasture” outdoors, half of which could be covered with concrete.
“At best, the USDA proposal delays enforcement for five to seven years allowing continued factory farm confinement production,” states Mark Kastel, Senior Farm Policy Analyst for The Cornucopia Institute. “Families with growing children to feed can’t wait that long for nutritionally superior food, and more and more are seeking the guidance provided in our Scrambled Eggs report and scorecard, separating phony industrial production from truly exemplary organic eggs.”
The report, organic egg scorecard, and full version of this release are posted on www.cornucopia.org.
Antonio: He sow’d it with nettle seed. The Tempest, Act 1, sc. 2.
My four-year-old son was just trying to be helpful by picking up his naked, two-year-old sister and carrying her across a patch of stinging nettles on our isolated property in Pennsylvania. He stumbled and dropped her. She started to cry. I ran to her and carried her out of the nettles and down toward the springhouse where the jewelweed grew. I crushed the jewelweed’s stems to get the juice to run, and smeared it over that child’s body. The crying stopped. Old-time lore has it that the best remedies for hurts such as stinging nettles, bee stings, and mosquito bites can usually be found close to the source of the trouble. Old-time lore says that jewelweed is the remedy for stinging nettles, and the old lore is correct.
Shakespeare knew the stinging nettle, and his references to the plant (and hundreds more) are gathered in a wonderful old book entitled, “The Plant-Lore and Garden-Craft of Shakespeare,” by Rev. Henry N. Ellacombe, M.A., of Oxford College, published by Satchell & Co., London, in 1884. Google it and you can find it in its entirety online.
Ellacombe writes: “Stinging nettles are much used in the neighborhood of London to pack plums and other fruit with bloom on them, so that in some market gardens (nettles) are not only not destroyed, but encouraged and even cultivated. And this is an old practice; Lawson’s advice in 1683 was—‘For the gathering of all other stone fruit, as nectarines, apricocks, peaches, Pear-plums, Damsons, Bullis, and such like,…in the bottom of your large sieves where you put them, you shall lay nettles, and likewise in the top, for that will ripen those that are most unready. (“New Orchard,” p. 96)’”
PASTA FOR THAT SLIMMING DIET
Pasta, say Italian scientists, isn’t “fattening.” In fact, says a study published in the journal Nutrition & Diabetes, pasta actually makes you thinner and less prone to obesity.
The study was carried out as a part of Italy’s Moli-Sani project, a long-term, large-scale study of 25,000 people in the Molise region of south-central Italy. The Moli-Sani project studies health as affected by both genetics and environment (the Molise region was chosen because it has a mix of diets, lifestyles, and terrains, from sea to mountain). Participants are contacted every three years to track their progress. Another source was the Italian Nurses’ Health Study.
“We have seen that consumption of pasta, contrary to what many think, is not associated with an increase in body weight, rather the opposite,” lead author George Pounis said in a press release.
The study consisted of 14,402 participants who recorded their own diets and a were given a series of telephone interviews to train the participants. Their reported diets were transformed into actual weights of various foods and raw ingredients, and then pasta consumption was calculated in grams per day.
Participants’ weight, height, waist, and hip circumference were also measured, or self-reported, and their level of physical activity assessed. The results showed that as a part of the traditional Mediterranean diet, eating pasta isn’t all that bad: “Our data show that enjoying pasta according to individuals’ needs contributes to a healthy body mass index, lower waist circumference and better waist-hip ratio.”
MONSANTO, BAYER, AND THE PUSH FOR CORPORATE CANNABIS
The following is by Ellen Brown, originally published on The Web of Debt Blog on
July 11, 2016. It’s a brilliant piece of investigative journalism. As our communities and social networks push for the legalization of cannabis for medicinal and recreational uses, and as money begins to flow through the cannabis business, the big corporations are taking notice, Brown writes, and developing strategies for taking over the industry, as they have done with conventional food-producing agriculture worldwide. The organic community has gathered strength and is pushing back on Big Ag, Big Biotech, and Big Pharma. Our community needs to be aware of the situation with cannabis and push back there, also.
She warns voters in California not to be fooled by the “Adult Use of Marijuana Act” that will appear on the ballot, presumably in November. Here’s her article in its entirety:
California’s “Adult Use of Marijuana Act” (AUMA) is a voter initiative characterized as legalizing marijuana use. But critics warn that it will actually make access more difficult and expensive, squeeze home growers and small farmers out of the market, heighten criminal sanctions for violations, and open the door to patented, genetically modified (GMO) versions that must be purchased year after year.
The health benefits of cannabis are now well established. It is a cheap, natural alternative effective for a broad range of conditions, and the non-psychoactive form known as hemp has thousands of industrial uses. At one time, cannabis was one of the world’s most important crops. There have been no recorded deaths from cannabis overdose in the US, compared to about 30,000 deaths annually from alcohol abuse (not counting auto accidents), and 100,000 deaths annually from prescription drugs taken as directed. Yet cannabis remains a Schedule I controlled substance (“a deadly dangerous drug with no medical use and high potential for abuse”), illegal to be sold or grown in the US.
Powerful corporate interests no doubt had a hand in keeping cannabis off the market. The question now is why they have suddenly gotten on the bandwagon for its legalization. According to an April 2014 article in The Washington Times, the big money behind the recent push for legalization has come, not from a grassroots movement, but from a few very wealthy individuals with links to Big Ag and Big Pharma.
Leading the charge is George Soros, a major shareholder in Monsanto, the world’s largest seed company and producer of genetically modified seeds. Monsanto is the biotech giant that brought you Agent Orange, DDT, PCBs, dioxin-based pesticides, aspartame, rBGH (genetically engineered bovine growth hormone), RoundUp (glyphosate) herbicides, and RoundUp Ready crops (seeds genetically engineered to withstand glyphosate).
Monsanto now appears to be developing genetically modified (GMO) forms of cannabis, with the intent of cornering the market with patented GMO seeds just as it did with GMO corn and GMO soybeans. For that, the plant would need to be legalized but still tightly enough controlled that it could be captured by big corporate interests. Competition could be suppressed by limiting access to homegrown marijuana; bringing production, sale and use within monitored and regulated industry guidelines; and legislating a definition of industrial hemp as a plant having such low psychoactivity that only GMO versions qualify. Those are the sorts of conditions that critics have found buried in the fine print of the latest initiatives for cannabis legalization.
Patients who use the cannabis plant in large quantities to heal serious diseases (e.g. by juicing it) find that the natural plant grown organically in sunlight is far more effective than hothouse plants or pharmaceutical cannabis derivatives. Letitia Pepper is a California attorney and activist who uses medical marijuana to control multiple sclerosis. As she puts it, if you don’t have an irrevocable right to grow a natural, therapeutic herb in your backyard that a corporation able to afford high license fees can grow and sell to you at premium prices, isn’t that still a war on people who use marijuana?
Monsanto has denied that it is working on GMO strains. But William Engdahl, author of Seeds of Destruction: The Hidden Agenda of Genetic Manipulation, presents compelling circumstantial evidence to the contrary. In a March 2014 article titled “The Connection Between the Legalization of Marijuana in Uruguay, Monsanto and George Soros”, Engdahl observes that in 2014, Uruguay became the first country to legalize the cultivation, sale and consumption of marijuana. Soros is a major player in Uruguay and was instrumental in getting the law passed. He sits on the board of the New York-based Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), the world’s most influential organization for cannabis legalization. The DPA is active not only in the US but in Uruguay and other Latin American countries. Engdahl writes:
Studies show that Monsanto without much fanfare conducts research projects on the active ingredient in marijuana, namely THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), in order to genetically manipulate the plant. David Watson of the Dutch company Hortapharm has since 1990 created the world’s largest collection of Cannabis seed varieties. In 1998, the British firm GW Pharmaceuticals signed an agreement with Hortapharm that gives GW Pharma the rights to use the Hortapharm cannabis for their research.
In 2003 the German Bayer AG then signed an agreement with GW Pharmaceuticals for joint research on a cannabis-based extract. In 2007, Bayer AG agreed to an exchange of technology with . . . Monsanto . . . . Thus Monsanto has discreet access to the work of the cannabis plant and its genetic modification. In 2009 GW Pharmaceuticals announced that it had succeeded in genetically altering a cannabis plant and patented a new breed of cannabis.
Monsanto could have even greater access to the Bayer/GW research soon. In March 2016, Monsanto approached the giant German chemical and pharmaceutical company Bayer AG with a joint venture proposal concerning its crop science unit. In May, Bayer then made an unsolicited takeover bid for Monsanto. On May 24th, the $62 billion bid was rejected as too low; but negotiations are continuing.
The prospective merger would create the world’s largest supplier of seeds and chemicals. Environmentalists worry that the entire farming industry could soon be looking at sterile crops soaked in dangerous pesticides. Monsanto has sued hundreds of farmers for simply saving seeds from year to year, something they have done for millennia. Organic farmers are finding it increasingly difficult to prevent contamination of their crops by Monsanto’s GMOs.
In Seeds of Destruction, Engdahl quotes Henry Kissinger, Richard Nixon’s Secretary of State. Kissinger notoriously said, “Control oil and you control nations; control food and you control the people.” Engdahl asserts that the “Green Revolution” was part of the Rockefeller agenda to destroy seed diversity and push oil- and gas-based agricultural products in which Rockefeller had a major interest. Destruction of seed diversity and dependence on proprietary hybrids was the first step in food control. About 75% of the foodstuffs at the grocery store are now genetically manipulated, in what has been called the world’s largest biological experiment on humans.
Genetic engineering is now moving from foodstuffs to plant-based drugs and plant-based industrial fibers. Engdahl writes of Monsanto’s work in Uruguay:
Since the cultivation of cannabis plants in Uruguay is allowed, one can easily imagine that Monsanto sees a huge new market that the Group is able to control just with patented cannabis seeds such as today is happening on the market for soybeans. Uruguay’s President Mujica has made it clear he wants a unique genetic code for cannabis in his country in order to “keep the black market under control.”
Genetically modified cannabis seeds from Monsanto would grant such control. For decades Monsanto has been growing gene-soybean and GM maize in Uruguay too. George Soros is co-owner of agribusinesses Adecoagro, which planted genetically modified soybeans and sunflowers for biofuel.
Other commentators express similar concerns. Natural health writer Mike Adams warns:
[W]ith the cannabis industry predicted to generate over $13 billion by 2020, becoming one of the largest agricultural markets in the nation, there should be little doubt that companies like Monsanto are simply waiting for Uncle Sam to remove the herb from its current Schedule I classification before getting into the business.
In a 2010 article concerning Proposition 19, an earlier legalization initiative that was defeated by California voters, Conrad Justice Kiczenski noted that criminalization of cannabis as both industrial hemp and medical marijuana has served a multitude of industries, including the prison and military industry, the petroleum, timber, cotton, and pharmaceutical industries, and the banking industry. With the decriminalization of cannabis, he warned:
The next stage in continuing this control is in the regulation, licensing and taxation of Cannabis cultivation and use through the only practical means available to the corporate system, which is through genetic engineering and patenting of the Cannabis genome.
AUMA: Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing?
Suspicions like these are helping to fuel opposition to the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA), a 2016 initiative that would rewrite the medical marijuana laws in California. While AUMA purports to legalize marijuana for recreational use, the bill comes with so many restrictions that it actually makes acquisition more difficult and expensive than under existing law, and makes it a criminal offense for anyone under 21. Critics contend that the Act will simply throw access to this medicinal wonder plant into the waiting arms of the Monsanto/Bayer/petrochemical/pharmaceutical complex. They say AUMA is a covert attempt to preempt California’s Compassionate Use Act, Proposition 215, which was passed in 1996 by voter initiative.
Prop 215 did not legalize the sale of marijuana, but it did give ill or disabled people of any age the right to grow and share the plant and its derivatives on a not-for-profit basis. They could see a doctor of their choice, who could approve medical marijuana for a vast panoply of conditions; and they were assured of safe and affordable access to the plant at a nearby cooperative not-for-profit dispensary, or in their own backyards. As clarified by the 2008 Attorney General’s Guidelines, Prop 215 allowed reimbursement for the labor, costs and skill necessary to grow and distribute medical marijuana; and it allowed distribution through a “storefront dispensing collective.” However, the sale of marijuana for corporate profit remained illegal. Big Pharma and affiliates were thus blocked from entering the field.
At the end of 2015 (effective 2016), the California state legislature over-rode Prop 215 with MMRSA – the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act of 2015/16 – which effectively rewrites the Health Code pertaining to medical marijuana. Opponents contend that MMRSA is unconstitutional, since a voter initiative cannot be changed by legislative action unless it so provides. And that is why its backers need AUMA, a voter initiative that validates MMRSA in its fine print. In combination with stricter California Medical Association rules for enforcement, MMRSA effectively moves medical marijuana therapy from the wholistic plant to a pharmaceutical derivative, one that must follow an AUMA or American Pharmaceutical Association mode of delivery. MMRSA turns the right to cultivate into a revocable privilege to grow, contingent on local rules. The right to choose one’s own doctor is also eliminated.
Critics note that of the hundreds of millions in tax revenues that AUMA is expected to generate from marijuana and marijuana-related products, not a penny will go to the California general fund. That means no money for California’s public schools, colleges, universities, hospitals, roads and other infrastructure. Instead, it will go into a giant slush fund controlled by AUMA’s “Marijuana Control Board,” to be spent first for its own administration, then for its own law enforcement, then for penal and judicial program expenditures.
Law enforcement and penalties will continue to be big business, since AUMA legalizes marijuana use only for people over 21 and makes access so difficult and expensive that even adults could be tempted to turn to the black market. “Legalization” through AUMA will chiefly serve a petrochemical/pharmaceutical complex bent on controlling all farming and plant life globally.
109 Nobel Prize Winners Are a Bunch of Ninnies
Genetically modified organisms and foods are a safe way to meet the demands of a ballooning global population, 109 Nobel laureates wrote in a letter posted online and officially unveiled at a news conference on June 30 in Washington, D.C.
Opponents, they say, are standing in the way of getting nutritious food to those who need it.
“Scientific and regulatory agencies around the world have repeatedly and consistently found crops and foods improved through biotechnology to be as safe as, if not safer than those derived from any other method of production,” the group of laureates wrote. “There has never been a single confirmed case of a negative health outcome for humans or animals from their consumption. Their environmental impacts have been shown repeatedly to be less damaging to the environment, and a boon to global biodiversity.”
Gee—a hundred and nine laureates coincidentally came out with this piece of propaganda just before the Senate was getting ready to vote on GMO labeling. Not only that, but these statements prove you can win a Nobel Prize and still be a dummy. Anyone who’s halfway familiar with Big Biotech and its genetically modified seeds knows that the above statements are nonsense.
Let’s look at the statements sentence by sentence.
#1: “Scientific and regulatory agencies around the world have repeatedly and consistently found crops and foods improved through biotechnology to be as safe as, if not safer than, those derived from any other method of production.”
If this statement were true, it would mean that scientific experiments have been conducted to test the safety of genetically modified foods on human beings. But not one such test has ever been conducted, because doing so would violate the Nuremberg Code, set up after World War II when Nazi doctors who experimented on prisoners were prosecuted. Here’s the Code:
o Required is the voluntary, well-informed, understanding consent of the human subject in a full legal capacity.
o The experiment should aim at positive results for society that cannot be procured in some other way.
o It should be based on previous knowledge (like, an expectation derived from animal experiments) that justifies the experiment.
o The experiment should be set up in a way that avoids unnecessary physical and mental suffering and injuries.
o It should not be conducted when there is any reason to believe that it implies a risk of death or disabling injury.
o The risks of the experiment should be in proportion to (that is, not exceed) the expected humanitarian benefits.
o Preparations and facilities must be provided that adequately protect the subjects against the experiment’s risks.
o The staff who conduct or take part in the experiment must be fully trained and scientifically qualified.
o The human subjects must be free to immediately quit the experiment at any point when they feel physically or mentally unable to go on.
o Likewise, the medical staff must stop the experiment at any point when they observe that continuation would be dangerous.
That’s right—there are no scientific studies showing GMO foods are “safe, or safer than” those derived from any other method of production. The statement is false and those 109 laureates should hang their heads in shame.
#2: “There has never been a single confirmed case of a negative health outcome for humans or animals from their consumption.”
As we’ve just seen, there have been no scientific studies of negative health outcomes on humans who have eaten GMO foods—but there is a ton of anecdotal evidence. As for animals, here’s a summary of a scientific study done by Dr. Judy Carman, an Australian researcher, on two groups of pigs (chosen because their digestive systems are similar to humans), one group fed non-GMO feed, and the other fed GMO feed. She writes:
“We found that, on average, the weight of the uterus of pigs fed the GM diet, as a proportion of the weight of the pig, was 25 percent higher than the control pigs. We found that this biologically significant finding was also statistically significant. We list some of the pathologies that could be occurring in these uteri in the paper.
“Some of the investigators had also previously seen higher rates of intestinal problems in pigs fed a GM diet, including inflammation of the stomach and small intestine, stomach ulcers, a thinning of intestinal walls and an increase in haemorrhagic bowel disease, where a pig can rapidly ‘bleed-out’ from their bowel and die.
“We weren’t able to look inside the intestines, due to the amount of food in them, but we were able to look inside the stomach. We found that the level of severe inflammation in stomachs was markedly higher in pigs fed the GM diet. Pigs on the GM diet were 2.6 times more likely to get severe stomach inflammation than control pigs. Males were more strongly affected. While female pigs were 2.2 times more likely to get severe
stomach inflammation when on the GM diet, males were 4 times more likely. These findings are both biologically significant and statistically significant.
“We found that these key findings were not reflected in the standard biochemistry tests that are done in GM feeding studies, probably because standard biochemistry tests provide a poor measure of inflammation and matters associated with uterus size.”
Additionally, there is a book entitled, “Genetic Roulette,” that details other studies on the health effects of GMO feed on animals. A summary in the book states, “Several animal studies indicate serious health risks associated with genetically modified (GM) food, including infertility, immune problems, accelerated aging, faulty insulin regulation, and changes in major organs and the gastrointestinal system.”
So statement #2 from the Nobel laureates is just another lie.
#3: “Their environmental impacts (of GMOs) have been shown repeatedly to be less damaging to the environment, and a boon to global biodiversity.”
Where to begin with this one? How about we go back to why genetic engineering was applied to human food crops to begin with. The initial research and development came from Monsanto, when the company found herbicide-resistant microbes on its property living in a toxic wastewater pond contaminated with glyphosate herbicide, the chief ingredient in Roundup. Genetic tinkering was in its infancy, but Monsanto managed to get the gene for herbicide resistance into corn seed—and GMOs were on their way. Why? Because now fields of corn could be flooded with Roundup without harming the corn crop and Monsanto could sell much, much more of its profitable herbicide than before.
Today, Newsweek magazine reports, “the world is awash in glyphosate. It has now become the most heavily-used agricultural chemical in the history of the world, and many argue that’s a problem, since the substance comes with concerning albeit incompletely-determined health effects.
“A study published in the journal Environmental Sciences Europe reveals that Americans have applied 1.8 million tons of glyphosate since its introduction in 1974. Worldwide, 9.4 million tons of the chemical have been sprayed onto fields. That’s enough to spray nearly half a pound of Roundup on every cultivated acre of land in the world.
“It’s troubling, considering that in March 2015 the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer unanimously determined that glyphosate is ‘probably carcinogenic to humans.’”
So the laureates’ statement is laughable. “Less damaging to the environment” than what? An organic farm field? Really?
“A boon to global biodiversity?” What are these 109 laureates talking about? Herbicides do not contribute to biodiversity. By their very nature, they contribute to the opposite—they kill weeds, and weeds are part of the biological diversity of the world. They also provide beneficial insects with food, nectar, and habitat. So not only do herbicides kill off weeds, they reduce the number of beneficial insects. Roundup is being banned in European countries now because of its negative effects on the environment. So statement #3 is just another lie—and a whopper at that.
Most of the laureates got the Nobel Prizes in chemistry and physics—not biology. They have been sold a bill of goods and they truly don’t know what they’re talking about. Not only should they hang their heads in shame, they should do some independent research and apologize to the world for their ignorance.
A CALL FOR ACTION ON TOXIC CHEMICALS
Every day, children and adults are exposed to a variety of chemicals found in common household items. Now a growing body of research suggests that many of these chemicals — which are used to make plastic more flexible, to protect fruits and vegetables from insect damage, and upholstery less flammable — may also pose a threat to the developing brain, according to Roni Caryn Rabin, writing in The New York Times on July 1.
“While the link between early chemical exposure and neurodevelopment disorders in children remains a matter of scientific debate,” she writes, “a unique coalition of top doctors, scientists and health advocates is calling for more aggressive regulation. The goal is to protect expectant mothers, infants and children from neurotoxic chemicals by stepping up efforts to curb air pollution, remediate old lead pipes, phase out certain pesticides, ban endocrine-disrupting chemicals used in food packaging and plastics, and come up with a plan for getting rid of furniture laden with fire retardants.
“Most chemicals in use today were not adequately tested for safety before being allowed on the market, said Dr. Jeanne Conry, an obstetrician-gynecologist and a past president of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which is part of the coalition.
“’Before we can prescribe medicine, we have to prove it’s safe,’ she said. ‘So how come with the chemical industry, we assume everything is safe and have to prove there’s harm?’
“The coalition recently endorsed a first-of-its-kind consensus statement called Project Tendr, which stands for Targeting Environmental NeuroDevelopmental Risks. The statement was published in the scientific journal Environmental Health Perspectives, and related articles are being published over the next few months in endocrinology, nursing, pediatrics and epidemiology journals.
“’We as a society should be able to take protective action when scientific evidence indicates a chemical is of concern, and not wait for unequivocal proof that a chemical is causing harm to our children,’ the statement says.”
You can read the entire statement on the Environmental Health Perspectives site by visiting: http://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/ehp358/
ORGANIC FAST FOOD WITH EVERYTHING UNDER $5
Kimbal Musk, entrepreneur and younger brother of tech guru Elon Musk, has revealed that he will be opening a healthy fast food restaurant where everything will cost less than $5.
The restaurant, called The Kitchenette, will open in Memphis, Tennessee, in August, 2016, at Shelby Farms Park, a 4,500-acre urban park and conservancy.
Musk made millions with his brother in Silicon Valley before going to culinary school. He currently helps run two other restaurant chains, The Kitchen and Next Door. Musk plans to work with local organic farmers to keep the costs low. He plans to serve sandwiches, soups, and salads that are ready to go.
“People are overweight and starving at the same time. It’s a tragedy for both the individual and society,” Musk told Tech Insider. Musk joins a growing number of restaurateurs that are focused on delivering a healthy product for cheap.
Big Organic Food Firms Back Monsanto Dream Act
You’ll never guess who’s selling out your right to mandatory GMO labeling.
According to Food Democracy Now! we’re being betrayed in Washington D.C. by a group of donation-hungry Senators and a handful of corrupt organic corporations that have just brokered an outrageous deal behind our backs in an effort to kill mandatory GMO labeling and make sure that Vermont’s first-in-the-nation GMO labeling bill never takes effect this Friday.
Monsanto and Whole Foods’ new fake labeling bill (sometimes called the Monsanto Dream Act or the DARK Act) would not only preempt Vermont’s bill from taking effect this week, but all provisions of the bill are optional. The language is so poorly written that it would not include 85 percent of the current GMOs on the market. Additionally, the deal brokered by Senators Stabenow (D-MI) and Roberts (R-KS) would not provide any penalties for non-compliance, so cannot even be inforced if these companies refuse to label!
Besides Monsanto and Whole Foods, other companies behind the bill include DuPont, Stonyfield Farms, General Mills, Organic Valley, and Smucker’s.
In the past week, the American GMO labeling movement has been rocked by the most outrageous betrayal imaginable. While you and your friends have been fighting for mandatory GMO labeling, the giant corporate organic companies that are owned by parent conventional food companies have climbed into bed with Monsanto. According to a Politico story that came out last week, Whole Foods CEO Walter Robb joined his friends at Stonyfield, Smucker’s, and Organic Valley in selling out the American food movement.
Robb says it’s an “incredible thing” that senators came together and compromised during a dysfunctional time. He said he hopes that lawmakers can soon move on to other things. Incredulously, he went on to claim that “we need to…talk about much bigger issues.”
Stonyfield Yogurt chairman Gary Hirshberg and founder of the bogus corporate organic front group Just Label It, who’s been working behind the scenes with USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, former biotech Governor of the year, is now telling the press:
“We are pleased this proposal will finally create a national, mandatory GMO disclosure system, protect organic labels, and will cover more food than Vermont’s groundbreaking GMO labeling law.”
In reality, it’s easy to recognize that this deal brokered last week in DC is a “non-labeling” bill and does nothing to secure your right to know, as we’ve fought so hard for over many years. Sadly, a handful of corporate organic lobbyists at the Organic Trade Association (OTA) helped broker this deal and are now peddling the lie that it represents what our national GMO labeling movement actually wants your Senators to vote for. Over 90 percent of the American public wants mandatory and positive GMO labeling. In other words, labeling that flat out says, “Contains Genetically Modified Ingredients.” Only then will shoppers know exactly which foods to avoid.
Maybe it’s time to avoid shopping at Whole Foods and letting them know why.
AN OPEN LETTER TO PRESIDENT OBAMA
Dear President Obama—If Congress passes the Monsanto Dream Act, which is the Stabenow-Roberts compromise bill that gives Monsanto control over GMO labeling in this country, please don’t sign it.
We the People
MORE ABOUT THE STABENOW-ROBERTS BILL
Leaders in the U.S. Senate have announced that they’ve “reached a deal” on a federal GMO labeling bill. No matter how they spin it—and they will spin it—this “compromise” is nothing more than a handout to Monsanto, an industry-brokered deal intended to legally sanction the right of corporations to deceive you, the consumer.
The bill, if passed and signed, will overturn Vermont’s mandatory GMO labeling law, and replace it with an anti-consumer bill that allows food corporations to hide GMOs behind QR codes and toll-free phone numbers—and gives them another two years before they even have to pretend they are labeling.
What does this news mean for Vermont’s mandatory labeling law? Vermont’s law will still take effect on July 1, because Congress has run out of time to get the bill passed by both the House and Senate, and plop it down on President Obama’s desk.
But once Congress returns after the July 4 recess, you can bet your life that Monsanto’s minions in Congress will make it their highest priority to seal the deal on an industry-friendly, anti-consumer, anti-states’ rights federal law that will overturn Vermont’s law and leave U.S. consumers in the dark.
With your help, we will once again throw ourselves into the battle to save Vermont’s law. To demand the right to truth and transparency in labeling. To remind our members of Congress that they were elected to serve us, not their corporate masters.
We will work to keep the Senate from getting the 60 votes it needs to pass the bill. We will recruit pro-labeling Senators to filibuster, if we have to. We will take our—your—fight to the oval office, and if necessary, we will launch a massive boycott of any food product that isn’t labeled organic, grass-fed, or non-GMO.
AND NOW FOR A TRUE JOURNALIST’S PERSPECTIVE
Phillip Brasher, writing in Agri-Pulse, writes a non-partisan, dispassionate news story about the Stabenow-Roberts compromise, and by Jove, he gets it right:
“A landmark Senate agreement on national disclosure standards for genetically engineered foods would allow companies to disclose GMO ingredients through digital codes rather than on-package language or symbols.
“The agreement, reached between Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., and ranking Democrat Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, also would use a narrow definition of genetic engineering that would exempt the newest biotech methods such as gene editing from the national disclosure standards.
“Both the definition and the option for digital codes rather than on-package labeling represent major victories for farm interests, biotech developers, and food companies that have long resisted mandatory GMO labeling out of fear that it would stigmatize the technology.
“The legislation, which will need 60 votes to pass the Senate, would nullify Vermont’s first-in-the-nation GMO labeling law, which takes effect July 1, and would bar any other state from enacting labeling requirements that differ from the federal standards.”
THREE HAWAII COUNTIES TRY TO PROTECT CITIZENS FROM AGRICHEMICALS. CAN THEY?
Here’s a condensation of testimony before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in Hawaii. Monsanto and others argue that they have no right to protect their citizens. See what you think. https://vimeo.com/172170031
3 U.S. SMALL BUSINESSES IN NY, MA, AND OH RECOGNIZED FOR ORGANIC PRODUCTS AND SERVICES
Three small businesses in New York, Massachusetts and Ohio offering organic products were announced today as the winners of Green America’s quarterly “People & Planet Award.” The three winners of the $5,000 prizes are: Fruition Seeds of Canandaigua, NY; Neptune’s Harvest of Gloucester, MA; and Village Bakery & Café of Athens, OH. The three winners were selected by the public during a month-long online voting period.
The quarterly People & Planet Award recognizes innovative U.S. small businesses that integrate environmental and social considerations into their strategies and operations.
Fran Teplitz, Green America’s executive co-director, said: “Organic small businesses play an increasingly important role as more and more consumers seek food and other products that have not been spoiled by GMOs and pesticides. Organic companies keep real consumer choice alive and often play a central role in the supporting their local communities. The companies that won the awards really exemplify what the spirit of ‘Green America’ is all about.”
The winning companies are:
* Fruition Seeds, Canandaigua, NY. http://www.greenamerica.org/green-business-people-and-planet-award/Spring2016/Fruition.cfm. Fruition Seeds grows more than 300 varieties of certified organic, non-GMO seeds regionally adapted to thrive in short Northeast U.S. seasons. Fruition has also been invited to adapt their model of collaboration for a seed-saving project in the Dominican Republic. They will be using part of the People & Planet Award prize money to expand their library of how-to videos for seed savers in the U.S. and the Dominican Republic.
* Neptune’s Harvest, Gloucester, MA. http://www.greenamerica.org/green-business-people-and-planet-award/Spring2016/Neptune.cfm. Neptune’s Harvest produces 100 percent organic fertilizer from the “waste” of its parent company, Ocean Crest Seafood. With part of the People & Planet winnings, Neptune’s Harvest will be enhancing their raised beds project at their home office, where they test their organic products and share the resulting produce with the community.
* Village Bakery & Cafe, Athens, OH. http://www.greenamerica.org/green-business-people-and-planet-award/Spring2016/Village.cfm. Village Bakery & Cafe supports farms in the foothills of Appalachian Ohio by nourishing its neighbors and inspiring a culture of interdependence. Its progress is measured by how much they can “invest” purchasing power in organic, fair trade, and renewable systems, and how little they can contribute to destructive systems.
SCIENTIST EXPLAINS AUTISM-GLYPHOSATE LINK
Autism is one of humanity’s most mysterious afflictions. The disorder, which can hinder communication, empathy and other social skills on a spectrum ranging from mild to severe, now affects as many as 1 in 68 children born in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control, up from 1 in 150 at the turn of the century. No one knows exactly what has caused the increase, but one researcher is pointing her finger at a chemical called glyphosate, more widely known as the active ingredient in the ubiquitous weed killer Roundup.
Agribusiness giant Monsanto introduced Roundup Ready soybeans to the United States in 1994, which are genetically modified to resist glyphosate so farmers can spray their fields with the weed killer without damaging their crops. Today, some 90 percent of soy and corn grown in the country are Roundup Ready.
Now Dr. Stephanie Seneff, senior research scientist at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, is sounding the alarm bell. Seneff claims that as many as half of all children born in the United States by 2025 will be on the autism spectrum, and Roundup is the reason why.
“The way glyphosate works is that it interrupts the shikimate pathway, a metabolic function in plants that allows them to create essential amino acids,” Seneff explained at a recent Autism conference. “When this path is interrupted, the plants die. Human cells don’t have a shikimate pathway so scientists and researchers believed that exposure to glyphosate would be harmless.”
However, she claims that the chemical still effects humans even if it doesn’t act on our bodies directly.
“The problem is that bacteria DO have a shikimate pathway and we have millions of good bacteria in our guts — our ‘gut flora,’” Seneff continued. “These bacteria are essential to our health. Our gut isn’t just responsible for digestion, but also for our immune system. When glyphosate gets in our systems, it wrecks our gut and as a result our immune system.”
Seneff also says that her research has shown that glyphosate can inhibit liver function, which could be an explanation for high rates of vitamin D deficiency. She further claims that the chemical could be implicated in diminished kidney function, celiac disease and other gastrointestinal problems.
“[The autism rate] has come up from 1 in 10,000 in 1970 — so that is already an incredibly alarming change,” Seneff said to Next News Network. “I got worried eight years ago when I was seeing it rising, and people were saying, ‘Oh, it’s just more reporting, more diagnosis’ — that’s a way to hide the evidence.”
That’s not the only alarming data that has come to light recently about Roundup. Earlier this spring, the World Health Organization came to a consensus that glyphosate is probably carcinogenic to humans after an extensive review of the evidence and scientific record. Other studies suggest that pesticide exposure in pregnant women can put children at risk of birth defects leading to learning and behavioral impairments.
While some industry-touted studies claim that Roundup is safe for humans, Seneff says that there simply hasn’t been enough research. “The glyphosate is being soaked up by the plants and getting into the food system,” she said, “and the U.S. government is doing very little monitoring to even see if that’s true.”
PESTICIDE CONTAMINATION PROHIBITED FROM ORGANIC PRODUCTION
Synthetic pesticides are once again prohibited in compost used for organic production, thanks to a federal court in the Northern District of California.
The court issued a decision in litigation brought by several nonprofits challenging the United States Department of Agriculture’s allowance of pesticide contamination in compost used in organic food production, whether the contamination is accidental or occurs because compostables are conventionally grown and already contaminated before the composting process..
Center for Food Safety, Center for Environmental Health, and Beyond Pesticides filed the case in April, 2015, arguing that USDA had unlawfully changed organic regulations to create a new pesticide loophole without first undertaking a formal rulemaking and allowing the public to participate in any such decision.
Judge Corley of the U.S. Federal Court for the Northern District of California has just agreed, ruling that USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP) violated the law when it issued what it called a “guidance” that weakened the long-standing prohibition on synthetic pesticides in organic compost, and striking it down.
“The court’s decision upholds the integrity of the organic standard and is an incredible victory for organic consumers, organic farmers and the environment. On the flipside, the decision is a resounding defeat of industrial food actors trying to sell out organic integrity to pad their own pocketbooks,” said senior CFS attorney George Kimbrell, counsel for the plaintiffs.
“Organic consumers expect the products they buy to be safe and not harmful to the earth. Citizens brought this suit to force the government to abide by the laws designed to ensure the integrity of our nation’s organic production and certification system,” said Ralph Bloemers, staff attorney for the Crag Law Center and counsel for the plaintiffs.
“We applaud the Court’s decision to protect the integrity of the organic program. We will continue to watchdog the USDA to ensure that the program meets consumers’ expectations for meaningful organic standards,” said Caroline Cox, Research Director of Center for Environmental Health.
“The court decision upholds an organic industry that has been built on a foundation of consumer and farmer investment in ecologically sound practices, principles and values to protect health and the environment. USDA has violated a basic requirement of public accountability in the standard setting process, which is fundamental to public trust in the organic label and continued growth in organic production,” said Jay Feldman, executive director of Beyond Pesticides.
New Organic Rules for Treating Farm Animals Humanely
Organic farmers, consumer protection activists, and animal welfare advocates have been working to get stricter regulations on how organic farmers treat the animals in their care.
The requirements got big support from the Obama administration a month ago when it proposed new requirements for how animals are to be treated when their meat is sold with the certified organic label.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture rule clarifies how organic producers and handlers must treat livestock and poultry throughout the animals’ lives, including when they are transported and slaughtered.
The rules set maximum indoor and outdoor living space requirements. Barns, pens, coops and other shelters, for example, have to be big enough for the animals to lie down, stand up and fully stretch their limbs without touching other animals or the sides of the shelter. They must also be designed to allow the animals to express normal patterns of behavior.
One of the Obama administration’s new requirements was less vague parameters about what constitutes “cage-free farming” and “organic farming.”
Big Agriculture noticed long ago that a lot of money could be made with the organic label and dived right in. What makes organic eggs any different than, say, “cage-free”? Right now, because of vague regulations, the only real difference is generally that organic hens are raised with USDA-certified feed and no antibiotics. While current laws require that these hens have access to the outdoors, and consumers often believe that they do, many never step foot outside. That’s because some organic egg producers provide access only to a screened-in porch, often on pavement, a practice taken up by large-scale industrial farming operations producing a disproportionate amount of the organic eggs on the market.
BAYER WANTS TO BUY MONSANTO FOR $62 BILLION
In a move resembling the marriage of Satan and Beelzebub, the German firm of Bayer AG is offering $62 billion to merge with Monsanto. Bayer is the world’s largest maker of insecticides, including the neonicotinoids that are implicated in the die-off of bees around the world, while Monsanto exercises tight control over seeds, GMOs, and herbicides.
Bayer’s market capitalization is about $90 billion while Monsanto’s is $42 billion. The merger would make the combined company an agricultural behemoth and would put world agriculture in a chemical headlock.
The merger is far from a done deal, however, as it will face a number of hurdles, including American anti-trust laws. But it brings a lot of firepower (money and influence) to the table.
PEOPLE ACROSS AMERICA CONTAMINATED BY GLYPHOSATE
Glyphosate, the most used herbicide in the World, has been found in the urine of 93 percent of the American public during a unique testing project at the University of California San Francisco that started in 2015.
Glyphosate, labeled a ‘probable human carcinogen’ by the World Health Organization’s cancer agency IARC in 2015, has now been revealed to be ubiquitous in the first ever comprehensive and validated testing project to be carried out across America.
The European Union is currently in the process of putting restrictions on the use of glyphosate due to health concerns, with member countries so far unable to agree on the re-approval of the chemical beyond June, 2016.
Glyphosate-containing herbicides are sold under trademarks such as Monsanto’s ‘Roundup’.
Ninety three percent of the urine tested by the UCSF lab tested positive for glyphosate residues. No glyphosate was found in the tap water samples. These results are only from a small percentage of the total samples collected-–more data will be released later in 2016.
The results of this bio-survey come from the first in-lab validated testing method used for glyphosate testing of the general public in America.
Glyphosate has never been studied by regulators or the chemical industry at levels that the human population in the U.S. is being exposed to (under 3 mg/kg body weight/day). This is a huge hole in the global risk assessment of glyphosate, as there is evidence suggesting that low levels of the chemical may hack hormones even more than at mid and high levels, according to independent science – a higher dose does not necessarily make a more toxic, hormone disruptive effect.
The urine and water testing was organized by The Detox Project and commissioned by the Organic Consumers Association.
The unique project, which has already provided more urine samples for testing than any other glyphosate bio-monitoring urine study ever in America, was supported by members of the public, who themselves paid for their urine and water samples to be analyzed for glyphosate residues by the UCSF lab.
The data released in a presentation by the UCSF lab only covers the first 131 people tested. Further data from this public bio-monitoring study, which is now completed, will be released later in 2016.
The Detox Project will be working alongside a new larger lab later this year to enable the public to once again test their urine for glyphosate residues.
The regions with the highest levels were the West and the Midwest with an average of 3.053 PPB and 3.050 PPB respectively.
Glyphosate residues were not observed in any tap water samples during the early phase of the project, most likely due to phosphorus removal during water treatment.
The results from the UCSF urine testing in America showed a much higher frequency and average glyphosate level than those observed in urine samples in the European Union in 2013. The average level in Europe was around 1 PPB with a frequency of detection of 43.9 percent.
JURY AWARDS PLAINTIFFS $46.5 MILLION IN PCB SUIT
A St. Louis jury has awarded three plaintiffs a total of $46.5 million in damages in a lawsuit alleging that Monsanto and three other companies were negligent in its handling of polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, a highly toxic and carcinogenic group of chemicals.
The trial involved only three of nearly 100 plaintiffs claiming that exposure to polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, caused non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
The 10-2 verdict in St. Louis Circuit Court awarded $17.5 million in damages to the three plaintiffs and assessed an additional $29 million in punitive damages against Monsanto, Solutia, Pharmacia and Pfizer, the St. Louis Dispatch reported.
PCBs were used to insulate electronics decades ago. Before switching operations to agriculture, Monsanto was the sole manufacturer of the compound from 1935 until 1977. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned PCBs in 1979, due to its link to birth defects and cancer in laboratory animals. PCBs can also have adverse skin and liver effects in humans. PCBs linger in the environment for many decades.
The lawsuit claims that Monsanto continued to sell the compounds even after it learned about its dangers and falsely told the public they were safe. Indeed, internal documents have surfaced showing that Monsanto knew about the health risks of PCBs long before they were banned. A document, dated Sept. 20, 1955, stated: “We know Aroclors [PCBs] are toxic but the actual limit has not been precisely defined.”
The verdict is the first such victory in the city of St. Louis and a seemingly rare win overall. Monsanto has historically prevailed in similar lawsuits filed against the company over deaths and illnesses related to PCBs.
“This is the future,” plaintiffs’ lawyer Steven Kherkher of Houston told EcoWatch. “The only reason why this victory is rare is because no one has had the money to fight
SAVINO SYSTEM KEEPS YOUR WINE FROM OXIDIZING
The Savino wine saving system is a true advance in keeping wine fresh. As you may know, air oxidizes wine, giving it a sour flavor. An opened bottle of wine—especially an older wine—won’t last more than a day or two before it goes off. The Savino system is simple: you pour the leftover wine into a tube and a float puts a barrier between the wine and the air. I tried it and a bottle of six-year-old red wine was as fresh and sweet-tasting six days later as it was the night I opened it. Check it out at http://www.savinowine.com/
TRY THREE LITTLE PIGS FOR FINE CHARCUTERIE
As long as we’re talking products, check out the charcuterie made by Trois Petit Cochons, a Greenwich Village operation just down the street from my old West Village apartment. It produces wild boar pate, truffled mousse, terrines, duck confit, chicken sausage, and much more of the first quality online or at many markets. Visit them online at http://3pigs.com/ where you’ll find a “Where to Buy” button, or simply order online. You won’t be disappointed.
GMO Study Compromised by Industry Ties
The final push is on by Monsanto and the biotech industry to get the DARK Act passed before Vermont’s GMO labeling law goes into effect. One major tactic is to trot out biotech supporters in the sciences and industry shills to say how harmless GMOs are. To wit, here’s Wenonah Hauter’s report, written for EcoWatch and published on May 19:
Food & Water Watch has released an issue brief detailing the far-reaching conflicts of interest at the National Research Council and its parent organization, the National Academy of Sciences. The NRC has just released a brief claiming that GMOs are perfectly safe.
The National Research Council accepts millions of dollars in donations from biotech companies like Monsanto, enlists one-sided panels of scientists to carry out its GMO studies, and pushes the revolving door of NRC staff directors who shuffle in and out of agriculture and biotech industry groups. The NRC routinely arrives at watered-down scientific conclusions on agricultural issues based on industry science.
While companies like Monsanto and its academic partners are heavily involved in the NRC’s work on GMOs, critics have long been marginalized. Many groups have called on the NRC many times to reduce industry influence, noting how conflicts of interest clearly diminish its independence and scientific integrity.
More than half of the invited authors of the new NRC study are involved in GMO development or promotion or have ties to the biotechnology industry—some have consulted for or have received research funding from biotech companies. NRC has not publicly disclosed these conflicts.
In response to the industry influence at the NRC, Food & Water Watch calls for the following changes:
•Congress should expand and enforce the Federal Advisory Committee Act to ensure that the scientific advice the NRC produces for the government is free of conflicts of interest and bias.
•Congress should immediately halt all taxpayer funding for agricultural projects at the NRC until meaningful conflicts-of-interest policies are enforced.
•The NRC should no longer engage funders, directors, authors or reviewers that have a financial interest in the outcome of any of the NRC’s work.
•The NRC should prohibit the citation of science funded or authored by industry, given the obvious potential for bias.
PRENATAL PESTICIDE EXPOSURE MAY CONTRIBUTE TO OBESITY
A recent study published in Environmental Research has found that pre-birth exposure to organophosphate pesticides and persistent organic pollutants may be linked to the development of obesity and metabolic disorders, particularly in girls. The study results provide a link between early prenatal exposure to organophosphate pesticides via the mother and observable changes at birth that may alter how the body breaks down sugars, potentially contributing to obesity later in life.
USDA GIVES GO-AHEAD TO GMO MUSHROOM
The U.S. Department of Agriculture just gave the green light to a genetically modified mushroom that … stays whiter? This is a foolish use of GMO technology and yet another example of how high-minded GMO rhetoric falls flat in light of more common vanity applications.
Now the product is headed to the FDA for review. As the agency dedicated to protecting citizens from potentially unhealthy or even dangerous products, the FDA has a responsibility to fully test these mushrooms before they go to market.
JESSICA ALBA’S ‘ORGANIC’ INFANT FORMULA QUESTIONED
The Organic Consumers Association is suing Jessica Alba’s The Honest Company, claiming 11 of the listed 40 ingredients in its organic infant formula are synthetic substances that are not permitted in organic products
ESSAY OF THE WEEK FROM ORGANIC CONSUMERS ASSOCIATION
Humans have been “processing” food through traditional methods for thousands of years. But there’s a vast difference between the processing of old—for instance, the ancient Egyptian practice of using salt to extend the shelf life of food—and the modern version of “ultra processing.”
Close to 5,000 additives are now allowed to be used in food products. Factor in the additives found in the packaging (which can also leach into your food), and the number rises to 10,000.
Most of these food additives have not undergone any safety testing. Few have been tested according to the way that they are ingested-–meaning in combination with other additives.
Many are downright dangerous, including, for starters, Diacetyl and 2,3-pentanedione (PD), both of which are added to microwave popcorn to give it a buttery aroma, and both of which are linked to brain health, Alzheimer’s disease and respiratory toxicity.
Processed and “ultra-processed” foods have been marketed to consumers as “convenience” foods. But there’s nothing convenient about the hazards they pose to your health.
THE PLOT TO PASS THE DARK ACT
Politico reports that Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) is working on “new language” for a federal GMO labeling bill to keep Vermont’s mandatory GMO labeling law from taking effect July 1. And that Sen Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), architect of the Senate version of the DARK Act, a voluntary federal labeling bill intended to preempt Vermont, is waiting to see that language before the two engage in another round of negotiations.
Stabenow and Roberts both have dug in their heels. Under relentless pressure from constituents, Stabenow is calling for a compromise of some sort that would include mandatory QR codes or toll-free numbers or some such technological fix. Roberts wants nothing short of a voluntary scheme.
Both Senators are determined to preempt Vermont, no doubt thanks to the lavish spending by biotech and food industry lobbyists. One of those lobbyists, Randy Russell, president and CEO of The Russell Group, told Bloomberg: “As we get closer to July 1, the reality and chaos in the marketplace looms, and I think it’s going to drive people to the table to get a deal.”
“Reality and chaos” in the market? If Russell and his fellow lobbyists succeed in knocking down Vermont’s law, consumers will unleash our own brand of “chaos” in the market—and it won’t be pretty.
We’ve all had our sights set on July 1, thinking if that date comes and goes, we’ve won. But let’s not forget that while the law takes effect July 1, Vermont’s attorney general has given food companies until January 1, 2017, before the law will actually be enforced.
That could mean another six months of battling the preemptors in Washington D.C.
It is absolutely critical that we all continue to call, email and visit our Representatives and Senators. The minute we slow down, the minute things get quiet on our end, the more opportunity for Roberts, Stabenow and others to ram a bill through Congress during the lull.
When the owners of a farm in South Africa’s Bela Bela region found their farm was too small and their land was too degraded to raise cattle, they turned to a new model: raising pigs and chickens together.
Turns out, pigs and chickens are quite happy together. And, when raised using holistic, regenerative practices, they not only provide a good economic model for farmers, they also regenerate the soil and restore biodiversity.
Precious Phiri, Regeneration International’s Africa coordinator, based in Zimbabwe, visited the farm in Bela Bela and reported back on how the project has been a success for the farmers, but also for the entire community and beyond.
Regeneration International is an arm of the Organic Consumers Association.
KIDS ON THE FRONTLINE
If you’re a parent—even if you don’t live in a rural area—you’ll want to read the report from Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA). Visit http://www.panna.org/ and click on Kids on the Frontline.
According to the report, each year, more than 680 million pounds of pesticides are applied to agricultural fields across the country. This 2007 figure—the most recent government estimates available—climbs to more than a billion when common non-agricultural pesticide uses are included.
That’s a lot of poison. And in rural agricultural communities, kids are right on the frontline of exposure. Which means that these kids are bombarded not only with all the pesticides kids normally are exposed to—from residue on foods, and pesticides sprayed in parks, and on school playgrounds, but they’re getting more than their fair share. All because our industrial agriculture system insists on supporting companies like Monsanto, Bayer, Dow and DuPont.
From the report: Scientists have understood for decades that children are particularly vulnerable to the harms of pesticide exposure. Quickly growing bodies take in more of everything; they eat, breathe and drink more, pound for pound, than adults. As physiological systems undergo rapid changes from the womb through adolescence, interference from pesticides and industrial chemicals—even at very low levels—can derail the process in ways that lead to significant health harms. For children, the timing of these exposures is often particularly important. At critical moments of development, even very low levels of pesticide exposure can derail biological processes in ways that have harmful, potentially lifelong effects.
PESTICIDES MAY INCREASE RISK OF A.L.S.
Exposure to pesticides may increase the risk for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, a new study has found, writes Nicolas Bakalar in The New York Times.
The study, in JAMA Neurology, included 156 patients with A.L.S. and 128 controls. All participants completed questionnaires providing information on age, sex, ethnicity, education, marital status, residential history, occupational history, smoking, and military service. The researchers used the information on residence and occupation to estimate long-term exposure to pesticides, and then took blood samples to determine serum levels of 122 persistent environmental pollutants.
The scientists divided exposure into four time periods: ever exposed, exposed in the last 10 years, exposed 10 to 30 years ago, and exposed more than 30 years ago.
Exposure to pesticides at any time was associated with a fivefold increased relative risk for A.L.S. compared to no exposure. Even exposure more than 30 years ago tripled the risk. Military service was associated with double the risk, confirming findings of previous studies.
“This is an association, not causality,” cautioned the senior author, Dr. Eva L. Feldman, a professor of neurology at the University of Michigan. “We found that people with A.L.S. were five times more likely to have been exposed to pesticides, but we don’t want people to conclude that pesticides cause A.L.S.”
Frozen Food Recall Affects 42 Brands
Do you have frozen fruits or vegetables—either organic or conventional–in your freezer? Take note: CRF Frozen Foods of Pasco, Washington, is expanding a voluntary recall of frozen organic and conventional fruits and vegetables in cooperation with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) because these products have the potential to be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.
This organism can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Although healthy individuals may suffer only short-term symptoms such as high fever, severe headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain, and diarrhea, Listeria infection can cause miscarriages and stillbirths among pregnant women.
Since both conventional and organic frozen foods are potentially contaminated, that suggests the contamination happened not on the farms, but in the processing, packaging, and freezing operations post-harvest. There also has been little illness so far, which means that the FDA and CDC were doing their jobs properly and caught the listeria contamination before a wholesale wave of illness occurred.
This expanded recall of frozen vegetables includes all of the frozen organic and traditional fruit and vegetable products manufactured or processed in CRF Frozen Foods’ Pasco facility since May 1, 2014. All affected products have the best by dates or sell by dates between April 26, 2016 and April 26, 2018. These include approximately 358 consumer products sold under 42 separate brands.
To see all the products and brands, and to see if any are in your freezer, follow this link:
Products include organic and non-organic broccoli, butternut squash, carrots, cauliflower, corn, edamame, green beans, Italian beans, kale, leeks, lima beans, onions, peas, pepper strips, potatoes, potato medley, root medley, spinach, sweet potatoes, various vegetable medleys, blends, and stir fry packages, blueberries, cherries, cranberries, peaches, raspberries, and strawberries.
CRF issued the recall to alert consumers not to eat these products. Consumers who purchased these products may return them to the store where they were purchased for a refund, or simply discard them. Consumers with questions may call CRF’s consumer hotline at (844) 483-3866, Monday through Friday, 8:00 am to 8:00 pm Eastern.
CALIFORNIA’S EPA TO LIST ROUNDUP AS CARCINOGENIC
California just dealt Monsanto a blow as the state’s Environmental Protection Agency will now list glyphosate—the toxic main ingredient in the U.S.’s best-selling weedkiller, Roundup—as a known cause of cancer.
Under the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986 — usually referred to as Proposition 65, its original name — chemicals that cause cancer, birth defects, or other reproductive harm are required to be listed and published by the state. Chemicals also end up on the list if found to be carcinogenic by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) — a branch of the World Health Organization.
In March, the IARC released a report that found glyphosate to be a “probable carcinogen.”
Besides the “convincing evidence” the herbicide can cause cancer in lab animals, the report also found:
“Case-control studies of occupational exposure in the U.S.A., Canada, and Sweden reported increased risk for non-Hodgkin lymphoma that persisted after adjustments to other pesticides.”
California’s decision to place glyphosate on the toxic chemicals list is the first of its kind in the U.S. As Dr. Nathan Donley of the Center for Biological Diversity said in an email to Ecowatch, “As far as I’m aware, this is the first regulatory agency within the U.S. to determine that glyphosate is a carcinogen. So this is a very big deal.”
Now that California EPA’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) has filed its “notice of intent to list” glyphosate as a known cancer agent, the public will have until October 5th to comment. There are no restrictions on sale or use associated with the listing.
Monsanto was seemingly baffled by the decision to place cancer-causing glyphosate on the state’s list of nearly 800 toxic chemicals. Spokesperson for the massive company, Charla Lord, told Agri-Pulse that “glyphosate is an effective and valuable tool for farmers and other users, including many in the state of California. During the upcoming comment period, we will provide detailed scientific information to OEHHA about the safety of glyphosate and work to ensure that any potential listing will not affect glyphosate use or sales in California.”
Roundup is sprayed on crops around the world, particularly on Monsanto’s Roundup-Ready varieties which are genetically engineered to tolerate large doses of the herbicide to facilitate blanket application without harming crops. Controversy has surrounded this practice for years, especially since it was found GMO crops increase farmers’ use of Roundup, rather than lessen it, as Monsanto had claimed.
Less than a week after the WHO issued its report naming glyphosate carcinogenic, Monsanto called for a retraction — and still maintains that Roundup is safe when used as directed.
On Thursday, an appeals court in Lyon, France, upheld a 2012 ruling in favor of farmer Paul Francois, who claimed he had been chemically poisoned and suffered neurological damage after inhaling Monsanto’s weedkiller, Lasso. Not surprisingly, the agrichemical giant plans to take its appeal to the highest court in France.
It’s still too early to tell whether other states will follow California’s lead.
GARDENING WITH BIOCHAR FOR BETTER YIELDS, CARBON SEQUESTRATION
Along with potting soil, azalea and gardenia mix, and bags of compost for growing vegetables and fruits, you soon may be seeing bags of biochar for sale at your local plant nursery.
To explain what biochar is, we need to return to the Amazon basin circa 450 CE. Indigenous people didn’t practice slash and burn farming as they do now. They practiced a slash and char agriculture, where wood and leafy greens were roasted in smothered fires to make biochar instead of burned to make fire, smoke, ash, and heat. This biochar was buried in fields where crops were grown.
But then, with the arrival of Europeans and their diseases, pestilence struck and the Amazon civilizations, some with cities of over 100,000 people, disappeared. Slash and char agriculture was forgotten. The fields of buried biochar were forgotten. But they weren’t gone. In the 20th Century, huge expanses of black soil were rediscovered, although no one had a good idea at first about what they were.
Then, in the 1990s, scientists determined that these soils were man-made. They were dubbed “terra preta” (dark earth). And they were enormously extensive. Some estimates put the total acreage covered by the charcoal-enriched soil at twice the size of the land mass of Great Britain.
Most amazingly, they extended up to six feet deep in many places. That’s when scientists realized that the dark soils had grown to great depths since they were first made. They were self-propagating.
The biochar, acting a lot like humus, had been colonized by myriad microbes, fungi, earthworms, and other creatures that produced carbon-based molecules that stuck to the charcoal. Instead of the carbon in decomposing surface plants escaping into the air as greenhouse gas, it was sequestered by the biologically-active char in the soil (hence “biochar”).
But that was just the beginning of the benefits of this strange soil. It appears that the carbon will be sequestered for a thousand—possibly thousands—of years. Every kilogram of biochar is capable of sequestering 3.5 kilograms of carbon. The more of these soils there are in the world, the more greenhouse gases will be stored, unable to contribute to global warming.
Biochar also stimulates mycorrhizal fungi—those fungal symbionts that live on a sweet, sticky substance exuded by plant roots, and in return produce widespread mats of slender, threadlike structures called hyphae that scour surrounding soil for hard-to-find phosphorus and other minerals, as well as scarce water, and deliver them back to their host plants. The mycorrhizal fungi are so efficient at doing this that 90 percent of the soil nutrients and water absorbed by the plants roots are delivered to them not by their own action in the soil, but by delivery from the fungus.
According to scientists studying the soils, microbial growth of all kinds is substantially improved. And so is the soil’s cation exchange capacity, an organically-rich soil’s ability to hold nutrients tightly until plants need them, then dole them out to plants at the optimum rate for plant health—as opposed to soluble chemical fertilizers that quickly and easily wash out of ordinary soil during rains.
Scientists planted rice and cowpeas on unfertilized terra preta soils and on poor soil fertilized with chemical fertilizers. The total biomass of rice and cowpeas was up to 45 percent greater on the biochar soil than the fertilized soil. They also found that the absorption of phosphorus, potassium, calcium, zinc, and copper by the plants increased as the amount of biochar in the soil increased, making the plants more nutritious.
Investigating why biochar soils self-propagate and grow over time, they found that bacteria, fungi, and a host of other critters live and die within the pores of the biochar. Since the wood and plant matter is not burnt up but rather roasted into char, the original pores of the plant matter—the phloem and xylem tubes—persist and provide place for the beneficial soil microorganisms to live and hide from predators that prowl the soil, looking to eat them.
It’s also probable, they found, that the biochar was originally laid down in thin layers, and that earthworms chewed through the layers and mixed them deeply into the soil. Scientists theorized that pieces of the biochar were ground finely in the guts of the earthworms and expelled mixed with their castings, making an even richer soil.
Research on biochar is underway at universities and agricultural research institutions around the world. Conventional agriculture will probably want to make biochar by cutting down forests and planting field crops, the way corn is planted to make ethanol today—and that requires lots of agricultural chemicals like fungicides, herbicides, pesticides, and ammonia fertilizers.
From the organic perspective, however, there are millions of tons of organic waste that now go into landfills to pollute groundwater and release carbon dioxide into the air. Yet it would be perfect raw material for making biochar. I know at my local landfill, there is a mountain of wood waste at one end of the dumping yard at least 40 feet tall and 100 feet in diameter. And think of the wood chips produced in abundance across the nation by tree service companies and energy companies keeping power lines free from interference by trees and shrubs. All that “waste” could be made into life-giving, carbon-sequestering biochar.
Biochar is destined to become an integral part of good organic practice, both on farms and in our gardens. For more information on this topic, visit
www.biochar-international.org/, an organization of academic, commercial, banking, NGO, and government representatives aiming to further the use of biochar in sustainable agriculture.
Parents Prioritize Organic Food for Their Kids
Buying organic is a top priority for many Americans, especially parents when it comes to the food they feed their children, according to new research form the Organic Trade Association, Elizabeth Crawford reports in OTA’s newsletter.
The trade group’s 2016 U.S. Families Organic Attitudes and Beliefs study revealed that 35 percent of American families “make a great deal of effort” to choose organic foods and products-–a figure that jumps to 74 percent when families who make at least a minor effort are added.
In addition, one-third of parents say buying organic is among their top three priorities when buying food. This is notably less than the 57 percent of parents who listed price, 52 percent who listed taste, and 43 percent who said buying healthy and nutritious products was a top priority.
But still, it edged out convenience factors, such as availability at my preferred store, and having an easy to understand ingredient list, both of which were a top priority for 18 percent of parents, said Angela Jagiello, associate director of conference and product development for OTA.
HOUSE VOTES $3 MILLION TO FUND PRO-GMO PROPAGANDA
It’s not enough that many of our Congress members are fighting alongside Monsanto to keep GMO labels off of food products. Now some of our federal lawmakers want to use your tax dollars—$3 million of it—on propaganda to promote Monsanto under the guise of “educating” consumers about the “benefits” of GMOs.
In mid-April, the House Appropriations Committee decided that Monsanto needs some of your hard-earned money.
The committee passed an agriculture spending bill that includes $3 million “to promote understanding and acceptance of agricultural biotechnology and biotechnology-derived food products and animal feed.”
This new “Monsanto Promotion Act” was championed by Subcommittee Chairman Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.) who said, “We need to avoid consumer confusion.”
Not everyone agreed. House Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) said, “The jury is still out on genetically modified organisms. Some may be safe. Some may be of concern. It’s not the responsibility of FDA to mount a government-controlled propaganda campaign, particularly when the science is far from certain.”
Unfortunately, her amendment to strike the Monsanto Promotion Act from the agriculture spending bill failed 29 to 20.
IS A GMO LABELING LAW IMMINENT?
Oh, to be a fly on the wall inside the offices of the top lobbyists for the Grocery Manufacturers Association, write Katherine Paul and Ronnie Cummins of the Organic Consumers Association.
It’s getting so close to the July 1 deadline for complying with Vermont’s GMO labeling law, and still no court ruling to overturn Vermont’s law. Still no federal legislation to preempt Vermont’s law.
Hundreds of millions of dollars spent to keep labels off GMO ingredients. Lawsuits, dirty tricks, shady schemes—all, so far, for naught. Meanwhile, food corporations are labeling, or announcing plans to label, and preparing to implement those plans. Others, including Dannon, will remove GMO ingredients from their products.
Is victory really within our grasp this time?
The closer we get to July 1, the closer we are to winning the battle of all labeling battles. Which is all the more reason to keep up the pressure, on all fronts.
Can U.S. Senate put together a deal before July 1?
So far, efforts by Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) to pass a federal law which would preempt Vermont’s mandatory labeling law have failed.
But we haven’t heard the end of the DARK—Deny Americans the Right to Know—Act. At least not yet.
Politico reports that Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) on April 26, told a gathering of the North American Agricultural Journalists, “There could be a deal” before July 1. According to Politico, Stabenow said: “We’ve offered some very specific language and there is a lot of support for it.”
Stabenow didn’t divulge what that “very specific language” was, or who among those who have so far voted against the DARK Act might go for this new language. But our sources tell us Stabenow is pushing for the same old QR code and/or 1-800 telephone numbers that USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack has proposed—but with one difference. Stabenow wants those QR codes to be mandatory, not voluntary.
Will Roberts, who so far has adamantly opposed any option that actually requires labels, cave? If Stabenow’s version also includes a plan that would delay implementation of Vermont’s law?
Stabenow is in a tight spot. Nine out of 10 of her constituents want labels on GMOs, and they’ve been relentlessly vocal about that. But she’s under tremendous pressure from industry—including Michigan’s GMO sugar beet growers who fear food companies will switch to sugar cane rather than label—to stop Vermont’s law in its tracks.
The clock is ticking. But it hasn’t run out. The worst thing we can do now is be silent. It’s more critical than ever that we keep the pressure on.
What happens in Vermont doesn’t stay in Vermont.
Meanwhile, back in Vermont, things heated up last week as the food industry looked for ways to stall and weaken Vermont’s Act 120.
In a nutshell, here’s what happened, as explained by Nancy Remsen in this April 25 report. The Vermont Retail & Grocers Association wanted to tweak the Vermont law, to the advantage of food companies (not consumers, of course). Specifically, the industry group wanted: 1) to prevent consumers from suing if they find non-labeled products on store shelves during the 18 months immediately after the law takes effect on July 1; and 2) to exempt food prepared in stores (think potato salad, sandwiches and baked goods).
How did industry plan to make changes to a law passed two years ago, and set to take effect in two months? By attaching them to the state’s budget bill—a bill lawmakers want wrapped up and passed by May 6, when the legislative session is due to end.
OCA and other groups called on our networks to let Vermont lawmakers know we expect them to stand strong against any attempts to weaken or delay Vermont’s law. We generated more than 500 calls to the Vermont State House because the future of the GMO labeling movement now comes down to upholding Vermont’s Act 120—a bill the national movement fought for and helped pass.
In the end, the Vermont Senate’s appropriations bill included a provision to delay the possibility of consumer lawsuits, by one year (January 1, 2018) instead of the 18 months industry requested. (The state’s attorney general retains the power to enforce the law beginning January 1, 2017, as specified in Act 120, and has said he will do so). Because the House version of the budget didn’t include the provision delaying consumer lawsuits, the final decision will have to be made when the House and Senate meet to negotiate a final bill.
While Big Food has been trying to tinker with the Vermont law, the state’s attorney general has been trying to pry incriminating evidence out of the hands of Monsanto and other biotech and food corporations. And that move may just work to the benefit of consumers who want labels.
According to Food Dive, Attorney General William Sorrell wants “major seed and food companies” to hand over internal research on GMO crops. The request comes as part of the GMA’s lawsuit, filed nearly two years ago. Food Dive reports that requested research includes that related to “potential health or environmental impacts” of GMO crops and the pesticides used on them (from Monsanto, DuPont, and Syngenta). It also includes “consumer survey research” from the past decade about GMO foods and the use of the term “natural” on their product labels (from ConAgra, Kellogg, and Frito-Lay North America).
We think it’s a safe bet that the GMA and Monsanto probably realize that they are better off labeling their products in compliance with Vermont’s law, than risking the public release of their own potentially incriminating research on the health impacts of GMO crops and the pesticides used to grow them.
It’s one thing for the World Health Organization to come out with the determination that glyphosate and Monsanto’s Roundup are probably carcinogenic. It’s quite another if word gets out that Monsanto has known this all along—but kept the information to itself. The latter is clear grounds for legal action.
Katherine Paul is associate director of the Organic Consumers Association and
Ronnie Cummins is international director of the Organic Consumers Association.
USDA Sued for Hijacking Organic Standards Board
The Cornucopia Institute has filed a lawsuit challenging the USDA’s appointment of non-farmers to positions reserved by Congress for organic farmers on the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB).
The NOSB is a 15-member citizens’ board established by Congress to determine what materials are safe and appropriate for use in organic food and agriculture, and to provide advice to the USDA Secretary of Agriculture on organic policy.
Congress, in passing the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA), reserved four positions on the NOSB for individuals who “own or operate” an organic farm. Other stakeholder interests, such as consumer, environmentalist, and food processor, are also represented on the board. Cornucopia’s lawsuit alleges that two of the board’s four farmer positions are occupied by full-time agribusiness executives, rather than farmers.
The Institute for Public Representation at Georgetown University Law Center has filed the lawsuit on Cornucopia’s behalf. Two certified organic farmers joined Cornucopia in the lawsuit as plaintiffs. Both farmers applied for NOSB appointments and were passed over by the USDA in favor of the agribusiness executives.
As the organic industry has grown into an almost $40 billion a year market, major agribusinesses such as Smuckers, Kellogg’s, General Mills, and Dean Foods (WhiteWave) have purchased many of the leading national organic brands and, through their trade-lobby group, the Organic Trade Association, are wielding, according to Cornucopia, undue influence at the USDA.
“This type of appointment is part of a pattern of actions taken by the USDA to make the NOSB and the National Organic Program friendlier to the needs of big business interests,” said Will Fantle, Cornucopia’s Codirector. “Not only are farmers being denied their voice and right to participate in organic decision-making, but statistics illustrate the corporate representatives sitting in farmer seats have been decisively more willing to vote for the use of questionable and controversial materials in organics, weakening the organic standards.”
ENERGY INDUSTRY KNEW ABOUT GLOBAL WARMING 60 YEARS AGO
Just as the agricultural chemical industry has been lying and devising underhanded methods to deny the harm it causes, the energy industry has been doing since then, too, according to The New York Times.
Pressure on Exxon Mobil and the energy industry has increased with the release of a new cache of decades-old industry documents about climate change, even as Exxon pushed back against efforts to investigate the company over its climate claims through the years.
The new documents were released by an activist research organization, the Center for International Environmental Law, which published the project on its website.
The documents, according to the environmental law center’s director, Carroll Muffett, suggest that the industry had the underlying knowledge of climate change even 60 years ago.
“From 1957 onward, there is no doubt that Humble Oil, which is now Exxon, was clearly on notice” about rising CO2 in the atmosphere and the prospect that it was likely to cause global warming, he said.
What’s more, he said, the documents show the industry was beginning to organize against regulation of air pollution. The American Petroleum Institute, energy companies, and other organizations had created a group, the Smoke and Fumes Committee, to monitor and conduct pollution research, and to “use science and public skepticism to prevent environmental regulations they deemed hasty, costly and unnecessary,” according to the center’s description of the documents on its website.
Those actions, Mr. Muffett suggested, would be echoed in later efforts to undermine climate science.
Alan Jeffers, a spokesman for Exxon Mobil, called the new allegations absurd.
ACREAGE OF GMO CROPS DECLINES FOR THE FIRST TIME
The world’s farmers have increased their use of genetically modified crops steadily and sharply since the technology became broadly commercialized in 1996. Not anymore, The New York Times reports.
In 2015, for the first time, the acreage used for GMO crops declined, according to a nonprofit that tracks the plantings of biotech seeds.
The organization said the main cause for the decline, which measured 1 percent below 2014 levels, was low commodity prices, which led farmers to plant less corn, soybeans and canola of all types, both genetically engineered and nonengineered.
Figures for the last few years show that the existing market for the crops has nearly been saturated.
Only three countries — the United States, Brazil and Argentina — account for more than three-quarters of the total global acreage. And only four crops — corn, soybeans, cotton and canola — account for the majority of biotechnology use in agriculture. In many cases, more than 90 percent of those four crops grown in those three countries, and in other large growers like Canada, India and China, is already genetically modified, leaving little room for expansion.
FAST FOOD RAISES LEVELS OF PHTHALATES IN THE BODY
People who reported eating fast food in the last 24 hours had elevated levels of some industrial chemicals in their bodies, according to a new analysis of data from federal nutrition surveys, the Bloomberg News Service reports.
The study is the first broad look at how fast food may expose the public to certain chemicals, called phthalates, that are used to make plastics more flexible and durable. The chemicals, which don’t occur in nature, are common in cosmetics, soap, food packaging, flooring, window blinds, and other consumer products. The Centers for Disease Control says “phthalate exposure is widespread in the U.S. population.”
Though the health consequences of encountering these substances aren’t fully known, scientists have increasingly focused on their effects on health and development, particularly for pregnant women and children. Research in rats has shown that they can disrupt the male reproductive system, and there’s evidence for similar effects in humans.
The latest research suggests that fast food is a significant source of the chemicals, which may leach into food from machinery used in processing or packaging, or from gloves worn by workers.
FOOD INDUSTRY HID INFO ON CARCINOGEN IN ITS PRODUCTS
A just-issued report by The Cornucopia Institute summarizes research on the common food additive carrageenan, exposing the food industry’s hidden data demonstrating that all food-grade carrageenan contains a carcinogenic contaminant—low molecular weight poligeenan.
Carrageenan, harvested from specific species of red seaweed, is a highly effective thickener/stabilizer found in processed foods including infant formula, plant-based beverages, deli meats, and some dairy products, including cream. The controversy over carrageenan has existed between food industry representatives and public health researchers for years, but it is now flaring up again over its use in organic food.
Cornucopia’s report, “Carrageenan: New Studies Reinforce Link to Inflammation, Cancer, and Diabetes,” will be formally released in Washington, on April 25, at the upcoming meeting of the USDA’s National Organic Standards Board. The board will be debating whether to remove carrageenan from its list of approved materials for use in organic food.
GLYPHOSATE FOUND IN POPULAR BREAKFAST FOODS
The Alliance for Natural Health-USA has released the results of food safety testing conducted on an assortment of popular breakfast foods. Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) testing revealed the presence of glyphosate—the most widely used agricultural herbicide—in 10 of the 24 food samples tested.
Glyphosate is an herbicide developed in 1970 by Monsanto, who began developing genetically modified (GMO) crops designed to withstand high doses of Roundup. Today, these seeds account for 94 percent of all soybeans and 89 percent of all corn being produced. The prevalence of these crops means that hundreds of millions of pounds of glyphosate are dumped onto the land every year.
“We decided to do this testing to see just how ubiquitous this toxin has become in our environment,” explained Gretchen DuBeau, executive and legal director of the Alliance for Natural Health-USA. “We expected that trace amounts would show up in foods containing large amounts of corn and soy. However, we were unprepared for just how invasive this poison has been to our entire food chain.”
Analysis revealed the presence of glyphosate in oatmeal, bagels, eggs (including the organic variety, probably from GMO corn fed to the chickens), potatoes, and even non-GMO soy coffee creamer. Glyphosate was recently named a probable carcinogen by the World Health Organization (WHO).
“Glyphosate has been linked to increases in levels of breast, thyroid, kidney, pancreatic, liver and bladder cancers and is being served for breakfast, lunch, and dinner around the world,” said DuBeau. “The fact that it is showing up in foods like eggs and coffee creamer, which don’t directly contact the herbicide, shows that it’s being passed on by animals who ingest it in their feed. This is contrary to everything that regulators and industry scientists have been telling the public.”
The presence of glyphosate in eggs and dairy supports the fear that the chemical is accumulating in the tissue of these animals and therefore presumably also in human tissue, in a process called bioaccumulation.
Furthermore, testing for glyphosate alone does not even give us the full picture. The amounts detected by the ELISA test for glyphosate do not include any analogs of glyphosate, such as N-Acetylglyphosate, which is used by DuPont in its GMO formulations. These analogs may also be present in food and would add to the amount of glyphosate accumulated in human tissue. Glyphosate and its analogs are known endocrine disruptors for humans.
GRASSFED DAIRY GROUP WORKING UP NEW, BETTER STANDARDS
The American Grassfed Association (AGA) is working on a new industry-wide grass-fed dairy standard that the certifier hopes to roll out soon.
AGA is working with producers and with others in the industry, including the Organic Consumers Association, Mercola.com, and the Savory Institute, to develop a label that takes into account animal health and nutrition, transparency of practices and claims, holistic land and soil management, support and validation for producers, and building a certified organic standard while providing a bridge with non-organic grass-fed claims.
IS THE DARK ACT GOING TO MAKE A COME-BACK?
In March, the Senate voted down the DARK Act, the bill that would Deny Americans our Right to Know about GMOs.
Since then, Monsanto and its front groups, the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) and the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO), have been using their power, influence, and, most of all, money to ram some version of the DARK Act through Congress before Vermont’s first-in-the-nation GMO labeling law takes effect on July 1.
Reliable sources say that the DARK Act will soon be up for another vote.
Last time, Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) didn’t have the votes to pass his bill to take away states’ rights to label GMOs. Many of those who voted against the bill were pro-GMO Senators who take campaign contributions (and their talking points) from companies like Monsanto. But realizing they would take a lot of heat from their constituents, they voted no in the hope that a more palatable “compromise” bill might come along.
The Senators who voted against the DARK Act last time could easily flip their votes to support a “compromise” (capitulation) to block Vermont’s law and replace it with a weak federal standard, because of—what else?—pressure from the big corporations who profit from toxic pesticides and GMO foods.
Dial 888-897-0174 to tell your Senators to vote against any compromise that would block or delay Vermont’s bill from taking effect. You can help protect Vermont’s GMO labeling law
CHOOSING ORGANIC FOOD IS A RADICALLY BENEFICIAL ACT
Friday, April 22, marked the 46th consecutive year that the world celebrated Earth Day. Is the Earth any better off than it was 46 years ago? Are we making a difference? Are we having a positive impact on the world around us? So asks the Organic Consumers Association in a recent email. Here’s what they wrote:
“We have to believe that the choices we make—the food we purchase, the farmers we support, the clothes we buy—can truly make a difference. Or we wouldn’t go on trying.
The struggle to overcome corporate power, which let’s face it, is at the root of the damage humans inflict on our own ecosystem, isn’t an easy one, or even a linear one. We win some, we lose some.
“But we had to smile this week when we read this comment (in Politico) from Pamela Bailey, president of the Grocery Manufacturers Association. She was, as per usual, railing against Vermont’s mandatory GMO labeling law, arguing that Congress must act to prevent the law from taking effect. Otherwise, farmers will lose access to biotechnology.
“’We face a paradigm shift in the very nature of American agriculture,’ Bailey said.
Yes, we do. Thank goodness.
“Monsanto’s sales are down. Acres of GMO crops being planted are down. European countries are banning GMOs and the toxic chemicals used to grow them.
“The shift to a regenerative food and farming system that heals the Earth and everything on it is happening because of you.”
FARMERS SPEAK OUT ON ORGANIC BENEFITS IN TWO VIDEOS
What havoc is global warming wreaking on organic farmers around the world? What kind of future do farmers envision?
Three farmers—from Uganda, Zambia, and Chile—speak out about the role of agriculture in reversing climate change in an Earth Day video produced by IFOAM (International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements) Organics International.
In another video produced by Regeneration International, a project of the Organic Consumers Association, a farmer from the Asian Farmers Association shares his dream of a “farming culture.” He explains why organic agriculture matters, and how regenerative farming practices can help us not only survive global warming, but reverse it.
Truth vs. Opinion about Our Food
Truth is built upon facts. Opinion is built upon interpretation, which in turn is often influenced by personal prejudices. People can hold differing—even diametrically opposed—opinions about the meaning and relative importance of fact-based truths, but people can’t have their own facts.
For instance, Monsanto may claim that glyphosate in its Roundup weed killer doesn’t cause cancer in lab animals when used according to the label directions. Researchers in France may say that it can cause cancer in lab animals when used according to the label directions. Both can’t be true.
This is why we have the scientific method. Scientists treat Monsanto’s statement and the French researchers’ statement as hypotheses, and they test each one. They get results. They do the tests again. The result that repeats over and over and over again through many trials of the test is true. Unless the other hypothesis also yields consistent results, it is false.
What if half of the time, the glyphosate doesn’t cause cancer and half of the time it does? Does that mean that both hypotheses are true? No, because if a substance causes cancer in half of its trials, then the statement that it can cause cancer is true.
But it all turns on semantics. “Doesn’t” cause cancer is an absolute. It means that glyphosate will never cause cancer. “Can” cause cancer is qualified. It means it may or may not cause cancer. It’s not the same as saying that glyphosate “must always” cause cancer.
If the two hypotheses were stated as absolutes (glyphosate doesn’t cause cancer/ glyphosate always causes cancer), then scientific testing might likely show that both hypotheses are wrong. But while both absolute statements can be wrong, they both can’t be true.
The truth is that glyphosate may sometimes cause cancer. And that’s exactly what the World Health Organization said about glyphosate, over the vigorous protest of Monsanto.
In other words, WHO spoke the truth. Monsanto offered its opinion.
It’s no wonder that many people are confused about the long, contentious debates about our food supply’s nutrition and safety. Not only are the issues thorny, but many folks simply don’t have access to the truth, or the truth is being twisted into opinion to support somebody’s agenda. What’s a person to do, especially a parent who wants to feed his or her family safely, with properly nutritious food, in a way that protects the environment and is sustainable?
The answer is that there are facts out there that you should know about in order to make wise and healthy food choices. In this post, I’m going to give you the facts, not my personal opinions. You look at the facts and then make up your own mind. I promise this will be as concise and to the point as I can make it. I’ve been researching the areas of food and health for close to half a century, and doing it by following scientific research published in reputable, peer-reviewed journals.
Here’s what I’ve found to be true:
Biodynamic Gardening and Farming
Let’s start with Biodynamics because it was the first of the organic methods of growing food, derived in the 1920s from a series of lectures given by Rudolf Steiner in Germany. Steiner was an anthroposophist. Anthroposophy is a spiritual movement, founded early in the 20th Century that attempted to bridge the gap between our material world and the world of motivating spirit. As Steiner said, “Anthroposophy is a way of knowledge—a cognitive path that leads the spiritual in the human being to spiritual in the universe.”
He made this journey into his own consciousness and on his return, founded Biodynamics, Waldorf education, anthroposophical medicine, the Camphill Movement, Eurythmy, and other disciplines. He also was the architect of the Goetheanum, one of the masterpieces of European architecture.
As agriculture was heading into the chemical age with mineral fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and so on, Steiner promoted an agriculture that was holistic, conceiving in a blaze of “as-above-so-below” thinking that the farm is a living being, just as the whole earth is a living being (Gaia), and as a single plant or animal is a living being.
As such, the farm (or garden) must be sustainable, containing within itself everything it needs to operate in good health in perpetuity. This means recycling back to the soil all plant and animal wastes through composting, limiting outside inputs to the farm, and taking into account not only the soil and living components of the farm, but the sun and the moon and the stars as mechanisms for timing plantings and applications of Biodynamic preparations. The preparations, Steiner taught, put the farm in touch with forms of energy in the earth, air, and sky that are beyond the ken of ordinary thinking, thus linking Biodynamics with German mystical traditions.
The Upside: The point of Biodynamics is to grow the healthiest food possible in as earth-friendly a way as possible. And Biodynamic practitioners swear it works just fine. By founding a toxin-free agriculture, Biodynamics opened the door to what today we know as organic agriculture.
The Downside: Critics call Biodynamics magical thinking, quackery, and pseudoscience. But it has grown greatly in popularity in recent years, and it is essentially a careful way to harmlessly treat the life of the farm.
Organic Gardening and Farming
Take away Steiner’s metaphysical approach to food production and what’s left is essentially the organic method.
Many people think that organics is simply growing and processing food without the use of toxic agricultural chemicals or anything artificial, like food coloring or man-made flavor compounds. That’s true as far as it goes, but there is a more over-arching concept that’s at the core of the organic method: biodiversity is the key to health, and health can be transferred through the food chain, from the soil to the human being.
So the organic method stresses the need to first increase the health of the soil. By “increase the health of the soil” is meant stimulating the biodiversity of all the creatures that live in the soil—the microbes, especially, but all the other plants and animals that dwell in the soil. The more different kinds of creatures, the healthier the soil. And how are these creatures to be made healthy? By feeding them organic matter like composts, plant wastes, cover crops turned under, composted manure, fall leaves, and farm and garden wastes; that is, anything that was once living tissue. As the organic matter decays through the action of the soil’s creatures, plant nutrients are released into the soil solution, as soil moisture is called. They are released in the forms that plants like best and in the quantities needed depending on the time of year. Fully decayed organic matter is a substance called humus that further regulates the release of nutrients in a timely way for the optimal health of the plants growing in the soil.
Healthy plants are eaten by farm animals that, in the organic method, are raised humanely and with consideration of the animals’ natures. They are not subjected to antibiotics that are, in effect, like pesticides against microbes. Organics is about supporting biodiversity. The more creatures that live on the farm or in the garden, the healthier the whole system is.
Antibiotics are used in agriculture primarily to prevent disease that would spread rapidly in the kind of crowded conditions in which conventional animals are raised. But any killing agent—pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics—puts pressure on the target organism to evolve defenses. And so pesticides create pressure for the evolution of pesticide-resistant insects, herbicides push plants to evolve herbicide resistance, and antibiotics cause disease organisms to develop resistance to them, which is just what we see today when doctors and researchers are confronted with antibiotic resistance across a wide spectrum of diseases. Similarly, growth hormones that force the production of excessive amounts of meat and milk from farm animals harm the health of those animals.
In organic food production, healthy soil means healthy plants and healthy animals who eat those plants. And so we come to the human beings who, if they choose to eat organic food, eat both the healthy plants and the healthy animals. Thus health is transferred from the soil to the human being.
There’s much more to be said about the organic method, but it all comes down to biodiversity—supporting all the forms of life on the farm and in the garden. And that means pests have their place. First of all, pest insects are food for beneficial pest-eating insects. No pests and you have no beneficials. Since health is the objective, diseases are controlled naturally, as the definition of health is the absence of debilitating disease. Do individual plants and animals and even humans get sick on the organic farm? Sure. An organic farmer may need to use antibiotics to save a sick cow, but for the duration of the treatment, the cow cannot be called organic. Antibiotics are never used routinely as a preventive. One course of antibiotics for a sick cow is not going to force evolutionary changes in the disease organisms. Routine use of antibiotics will.
Because organic plants and animals are grown or raised with their health in mind, they are given all the nutrients they need to maximize the flavors and nutrition created in their tissues as they grow.
There’s another corollary to the organic method: nature knows best. The job of the organic grower is to understand nature well enough to follow her rules, to work to enhance her objectives, and to move food production decisions toward the ultimate objective of nature: a climax ecosystem in which every source of food is utilized by one or another of nature’s creatures, where the web of life is so strong and drawn tight that no pest or disease can break out and cause the system to crash. That’s biodiversity, and biodiversity is the key to health.
The Upside: Organic food production augments health through the whole system. Toxic chemicals are eliminated. The nutrient content of foodstuffs is maximized.
The Downside: Because organics threatens the business of agriculture—that is, the sale of agricultural products like seeds, toxic chemicals, and processed foods—large food companies spend huge amounts of money fabricating false science and spreading disinformation about organics, as well as proclaiming the safety of the chemicals used in conventional farming. When you hear that more people get sick from organic food than conventional food, or when you hear that half the world will starve if agriculture goes organic, or when you hear that there’s no difference between the nutrition in organic and conventional food, or when you hear that the chemicals used in agriculture are safe, don’t believe it. The truth is quite different. And that’s not my opinion.
Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)
The most common ways that new cultivated varieties of plants are discovered is through selection. Luther Burbank was probably the world champion at this technique. He’d scatter thousands of seeds and select for the tastiest or showiest or most interesting or strongest of the resultant seedlings. Farmers have been doing this since the dawn of agriculture 10,000 years ago.
There’s a reason that nature has created plants and animals as species within their genus. That’s so evolutionary lines are kept consistent through time. So today’s wild tulip species is the same one that popped up each spring 2,000 years ago. There may have been mutations during that time. The advantageous ones gave the plants a reproductive advantage and so they thrived. Other mutations may have died out.
Occasionally, when two species have the same number of chromosomes, they can interbreed and produce hybrids of the two species. If each species has the number of chromosomes that don’t match another species, even within their genus, they can’t successfully reproduce, or offspring are sterile. Most of the sweet corn you eat every summer is a hybrid between two corn types that have genes for sweetness.
Very rarely, when chromosomal numbers line up, there can be an intergeneric hybrid, where two genera (the plural of genus) interbreed and hybridize. An example is the intergeneric hybrid between the perennial flower Coral Bells (genus Heuchera) with the pretty Eastern Foamflower (Tiarella) to create the hybrid x Heucherella, with the x denoting that it’s an intergeneric hybrid.
All of these hybridizations are sexual, with each partner donating half the genes. Each gene contains a code that instructs the body to produce certain proteins that then are used to create the creature, be it plant or animal. The result is often vigorous and shows traits from each parent. The genes in the strands of DNA that make up the chromosomes are not modified in any way. As with any organism, each parent donates half the genes. If nature allows the parents to cross, it’s a safe bet that the result will be part of nature’s ongoing plan of evolution.
If nature doesn’t allow the cross, no offspring are produced. If offspring are produced, but are weak or prone to evolutionary disorders, the offspring either are sterile or die off. All of this is nature’s way of protecting us from the “unintended consequences” of unwise monkeying around with reproductive processes.
So what is genetic modification and what are GMOs?
Unlike selection or sexual hybridization, genetic modification is another thing altogether. It involves determining the function of individual genes, which are certain stretches of molecules along strands of DNA that determine the physical structure and characteristics of any organism. When a gene is found that codes for the production of a certain protein or trait desired by the genetic engineer working on creating a novel life form, that gene is snipped out of the DNA of one organism and inserted into the DNA of another—often unrelated—organism.
So, for instance, the gene in the bacterium called Bacillus thuringiensis that allows the bacterium to make a toxin that kills caterpillars has been inserted into the DNA of corn plants, among other crops. Every cell of the plant now produces a caterpillar toxin. But would a bacterium and a corn plant sexually reproduce in nature? Highly unlikely. Similarly, the gene that causes certain sea plankton to phosphoresce has been inserted into the DNA of cats, and there are now cats that glow in the dark.
One of the most environmentally impactful bits of genetic engineering has placed a gene for resistance to the herbicide glyphosate—the active ingredient in Roundup—into the DNA of corn, allowing farmers to spray their cornfields to kill weeds without affecting the corn plants.
There are three possible consequences of this kind of genetic engineering. The first is that some good will come from it. It may be that in humans with a genetic bias in favor of a disease like multiple sclerosis, that insertion of a certain gene could protect the person from developing the disease.
The second is that the genetic modification creates neither anything good nor anything bad. It simply makes the cats glow, or whatever.
The third possibility is that something could possibly go wrong, and that unintended consequences kick in, and that something harmful could be unleashed upon the world, something impossible to stop, and that that genie can’t be put back into the bottle. Like Frankenstein’s monster. And that’s why genetically modified food is often called Frankenfood.
Actually, there’s mounting evidence that the third possibility is actually happening. Whenever a natural organism is threatened, it adapts. And so more and more insects are adapting to the presence of the once-useful Bacillus thuringiensis toxin and are becoming immune to it. Similarly, weeds are adapting to Roundup-resistant crops, and the herbicide is losing its potency.
Furthermore, evidence is increasing that eating GMOs (genetically modified organisms) damages the internal organs of the animals that eat it. Not only that, but there is evidence that the Bacillus thuringiensis toxin gene lodges in the human gut and becomes part of our own DNA—thus permanently turning our guts into pesticide factories.
Besides the story of Frankenstein’s monster, there’s another cautionary “fairy tale” that’s applicable here: The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Nature has been at this evolution game from the dawn of time, and she has developed a system of checks and balances to keep things running fairly smoothly and protecting her children from nasty surprises. Along come humans with our tools for genetic modifications, and we say, “Move aside, mom. We know better than you what we need. We’ll take evolution from here and direct it as we see fit, not as you see fit. We are smarter and wiser than you.”
But are we? Isn’t this the sin the ancient Greeks warned about: hubris? Since we are just a part of nature, shouldn’t our attitude be that Nature knows best and that we should follow her, rather than lead her into the unknown? The organic farmers and gardeners from the beginning have said that the way to raise food and other crops is naturally, following nature. And if you look at the result, you see that organic farming and gardening is healthy and efficient, with a host of unintended benefits—all because the crops are grown and the animals raised by relying on nature’s wisdom.
Nature’s wisdom is the wisdom that creates the climax ecosystem, where biodiversity is maximized, all trophic niches are filled, a plethora of creatures abound, all interacting in ways that allow them to make a living in a safe and healthy manner.
Bottom line: Genetic modification is a technique to be used with the utmost—I mean utmost—care, because we can’t see the unintended consequences.
Now here’s a timeline about GMOs.
1994 – GMOs Hit Grocery Stores
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approves the Flavr Savr tomato for sale on grocery store shelves. The delayed-ripening tomato has a longer shelf life than conventional tomatoes.
1996 – GMO-Resistant Weeds
Weeds resistant to glyphosate, the herbicide used with many GMO crops, are detected in Australia. Research shows that the super weeds are seven to 11 times more resistant to glyphosate than the standard susceptible population.
1997 – Mandatory Labels
The European Union rules in favor of mandatory labeling on all GMO food products, including animal feed.
1999 – GMO Food Crops Dominate
Over 100 million acres worldwide are planted with genetically engineered seeds. The marketplace begins embracing GMO technology at an alarming rate.
2003 – GMO-Resistant Pests
In 2003, a Bacillus thuringiensis-toxin-resistant caterpillar-cum-moth, Helicoverpa zea, is found feasting on GMO Bt cotton crops in the southern United States. In less than a decade, the bugs have adapted to the genetically engineered toxin produced by the modified plants.
2011 – Bt Toxin in Humans
Research in eastern Quebec finds Bt toxins in the blood of pregnant women and shows evidence that the toxin is passed to fetuses.
2012 – Farmer Wins Court Battle
French farmer Paul Francois sues Monsanto for chemical poisoning he claims was caused by its pesticide Lasso, part of the Roundup Ready line of products. Francois wins and sets a new precedent for future cases.
2014 – GMO Patent Expires
Monsanto’s patent on the Roundup Ready line of genetically engineered seeds will end in two years. In 2009, Monsanto introduced Roundup 2 with a new patent set to make the first-generation seed obsolete.
And if you’re interested, here’s a more complete description of the microbiology of DNA.
DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, is the hereditary material in humans and almost all other organisms. Nearly every cell in a person’s body has the same DNA. Most DNA is located in the cell nucleus (where it is called nuclear DNA), but a small amount of DNA can also be found in the cells’ energy factories, organelles called mitochondria (where it is called mitochondrial DNA or mtDNA), that are passed down from the mother exclusively.
The information in DNA is stored as a code made up of four chemical bases: adenine (A), guanine (G), cytosine (C), and thymine (T). Human DNA consists of about 3 billion bases, and more than 99 percent of those bases are the same in all people. The order, or sequence, of these bases determines the information available for building and maintaining an organism, similar to the way in which letters of the alphabet appear in a certain order to form words and sentences.
DNA bases pair up with each other, A with T and C with G, to form units called base pairs. Each base is also attached to a sugar molecule and a phosphate molecule. Together, a base, sugar, and phosphate are called a nucleotide. Nucleotides are arranged in two long strands that spiral around one another, called a double helix. The structure of the double helix is somewhat like a ladder, with the base pairs forming the ladder’s rungs and the sugar and phosphate molecules forming the vertical sidepieces of the ladder.
An important property of DNA is that it can replicate, or make copies of itself. Each strand of DNA in the double helix can serve as a pattern for duplicating the sequence of bases. This is critical when cells divide because each new cell needs to have an exact copy of the DNA present in the old cell.
A gene is the basic physical and functional unit of heredity. Genes, which are sections of DNA, act as instructions to make molecules called proteins. Think of a strand of DNA as a rope. This foot and a half of rope means you’ll have blue eyes. This next section means that you will have a prominent nose. And so on throughout your body. In humans, genes vary in size from a few hundred DNA bases to more than 2 million bases. The Human Genome Project has estimated that humans have between 20,000 and 25,000 genes.
Every person has two copies of each gene, one inherited from each parent. Most genes are the same in all people, but a small number of genes (less than 1 percent of the total) are slightly different between people. Alleles are forms of the same gene with small differences in their sequence of DNA bases. These small differences contribute to each person’s unique physical features.
In the nucleus of each cell, the DNA molecule is packaged into thread-like structures called chromosomes. Each chromosome is made up of DNA tightly coiled many times around proteins called histones that support its structure.
Chromosomes are not visible in the cell’s nucleus—not even under a microscope—when the cell is not dividing. However, the DNA that makes up chromosomes becomes more tightly packed during cell division and is then visible under a microscope. Most of what researchers know about chromosomes was learned by observing chromosomes during cell division.
Each chromosome has a constriction point called the centromere, which divides the chromosome into two sections, or “arms.” The short arm of the chromosome is labeled the “p arm.” The long arm of the chromosome is labeled the “q arm.” The location of the centromere on each chromosome gives the chromosome its characteristic shape, and can be used to help describe the location of specific genes.
In humans, each cell normally contains 23 pairs of chromosomes, for a total of 46. Twenty-two of these pairs, called autosomes, look the same in both males and females. The 23rd pair, the sex chromosomes, differ between males and females. Females have two copies of the X chromosome, while males have one X and one Y chromosome.
How Do Genes Work?
Genes are often called the blueprint for life, because they tell each of your cells what to do and when to do it: be a muscle, make bone, carry nerve signals, and so on. And how do genes orchestrate all this? They make proteins. In fact, each gene is really just a recipe for a making a certain protein.
And why are proteins important? Well, for starters, you are made of proteins. Fifty percent of the dry weight of a cell is protein of one form or another. Meanwhile, proteins also do all of the heavy lifting in your body: digestion, circulation, immunity, communication between cells, motion–all are made possible by one or more of the estimated 100,000 different proteins that your body makes.
But the genes in your DNA don’t make protein directly. Instead, special proteins called enzymes read and copy (or “transcribe”) the DNA code. The segment of DNA to be transcribed gets “unzipped” by an enzyme, which uses the DNA as a template to build a single-stranded molecule of RNA. Like DNA, RNA is a long strand of nucleotides.
This transcribed RNA is called messenger RNA, or mRNA for short, because it leaves the nucleus and travels out into the cytoplasm of the cell. There, protein factories called ribosomes translate the mRNA code and use it to make the protein specified in the DNA recipe.
If all this sounds confusing, just remember: DNA is used to make RNA, then RNA is used to make proteins–and proteins run the show.
All the proteins in your body are made from protein building blocks called amino acids. There are twenty different amino acids used to make proteins, but there are only four different nucleotides in DNA and RNA. How can a four-letter code specify 20 different amino acids?
Actually, the DNA code is designed to be read as triplets. Each “word” in the code, called a codon, is three letters long. There are also special “start” and “stop” codons that mark the beginning and end of a gene. As you can see, the code is redundant, that is, most of the amino acids have at least two different codons.
Just about every living thing uses this exact code to make proteins from DNA.
Scientists first studying DNA sequences were surprised to find that less than two percent of human DNA codes for proteins. If 98 percent of our genetic information (or “genome”) isn’t coding for protein, what is it for?
At first it wasn’t clear, and some termed this non-coding DNA “junk DNA.” But as more research is done, we are beginning to learn more about the DNA between the genes—stretches known as intergenic DNA.
Intergenic DNA seems to play a key role in regulation, that is, controlling which genes are turned “on” or “off” at any given time.
For example, some intergenic sequences code for RNA that directly causes and controls reactions in a cell, a job that scientists originally thought only proteins could do.
Intergenic DNA is also thought to be responsible for “alternative splicing,” a kind of mix-and-match process whereby several different proteins can be made from one gene.
In short, it now seems that much of the interest and complexity in the human genome lies in the stuff between the genes… so don’t call it junk.
To sum up: When someone tells you that GMOs have been around since the time of Luther Burbank, politely ask if they would like you to give them a tutorial on the truth. If someone claims that GMOs are perfectly safe, remind them that unintended consequences are part of the picture.
GMOs represent an enormous gamble that human beings know better than nature about how to drive evolution into the future. That sounds like my opinion, but it is really a fact.