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.
Almost All Endangered Species Threatened by 3 Pesticides
Lorraine Chow, writing in EcoWatch, reports that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released its first-ever analysis on the effects of three common pesticides—chlorpyrifos, diazinon, and malathion—on endangered and threatened species and designated critical habitat nationwide. The resounding conclusion? Pesticides are terrible for them.
According to the report, malathion and chlorpyrifos harm an astounding 97 percent of the 1,782 animals and plants protected under the Endangered Species Act. Diazinon harms 79 percent.
Malathion is often used on fruit, vegetables and plants for pests, as well tick removal on pets. Chlorpyrifos is used to exterminate termites, mosquitoes and roundworms. Diazinon is used against cockroaches and ants.
The three chemicals species are “likely to adversely affect” these species, the EPA found.
“For the first time in history, we finally have data showing just how catastrophically bad these pesticides are for endangered species—from birds and frogs to fish and plants,” Lori Ann Burd, environmental health director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement. “These dangerous pesticides have been used without proper analysis for decades, and now’s the time to take this new information and create common-sense measures to protect plants, animals and people from these chemicals.”
“The EPA has allowed chemical companies to register more than 16,000 pesticides without properly considering their impacts. That has to stop,” Burd said. “These evaluations are a huge step forward for the EPA. Now that we know the magnitude of danger these pesticides pose, it’s clear we need to take action. The EPA must move forward with analyses for other dangerous pesticides and also quickly implement on-the-ground efforts to prevent the extinction of rare and unique wildlife from these pesticides.”
CENTER FOR FOOD SAFETY SUES FDA OVER GMO SALMON APPROVAL
Late last year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ignored millions of consumers and more than 40 members of Congress and approved AquaBounty’s genetically engineered (GE) salmon-–the first-ever GE animal approved for human consumption.
For the past 15 years, the Center for Food Safety has successfully fought to stop GE fish from entering our waters and grocery stores. Now the Center has taken the next big step forward in the fight: it’s filed a lawsuit in federal court to stop GE salmon.
“Without legal action, we may have no way to avoid these GE fish,” the Center says. “This case is also hugely important as these GE salmon are the first ever GE animal designed for the food supply: if FDA gets away with this one, it won’t be the last GE animal we see.”
A world where GE salmon take over waterways and wipe out native salmon is simply unthinkable. Fishing communities would be devastated, and the environmental consequences of GE salmon could be extreme. These GE salmon could drive native wild salmon to extinction.
If you want to join this fight or donate, contact CFS at email@example.com or at National Headquarters CFS, 660 Pennsylvania Ave, SE, #302, Washington, DC 20003
Phone (202) 547-9359 | Fax (202) 547-9429. www.centerforfoodsafety.org.
CHILDREN HARMED BY PESTICIDE EXPOSURE
According to The Organic Center, a recent article published in the scientific journal Environment International has found that pesticide exposure can lead to neurodevelopmental impairment in children. Researchers found that children with higher levels of pesticide metabolites in their urine tended to test lower for intelligence and comprehension, and that children living closer to agricultural cropland after birth were more likely to score lower on neurodevelopmental tests.
In other news, The Organic Center reports that even a short break from using makeup, shampoos, and lotions that contain endocrine-disrupting chemicals, which are not allowed in organic personal care products, can reduce levels of hormone-disrupting chemicals in teens. The results, published in Environmental Health Perspectives, came from a study of 100 Latina teenagers participating in the Health and Environmental Research on Makeup of Salinas Adolescents (HERMOSA) study.
MAJOR UK STORE WILL NO LONGER SELL ROUNDUP
One voice may often not change much, but 90,000 voices make a difference. They were apparently enough to force the UK supermarket Waitrose to remove all of Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide bottles from their shelves.
A Care2 petition allowed thousands of people to express their concern over a major chain continuing to sell a glyphosate-based herbicide after the World Health Organization declared the chemical ‘probably carcinogenic’ to humans. It is equally deadly to honey bees, according to Dr. Lucila H. Herbert in a study published in the Journal of Experimental Biology.
After the petition was sent to Waitrose, a representative from their customer service department responded:
“I’m pleased to confirm that the last time we sold Roundup was in January this year. We’re committed to protecting our pollinators and after careful consideration decided to remove this product from our business.”
Other businesses in the UK, like German retailer Toom Baumarkt, have also removed glyphosate-based products from their stores. The retailer made this decision in 2013. Dominique Rotondi, General Purchasing Manager for the chain, stated:
“As a responsible company, it is important to regularly review our entire range and seek to protect the environment and nature with alternative and more sustainable options. Toom Baumarkt is constantly and consistently developing a more sustainable portfolio of products.”
The French Environment and Energy Minister Ségolène Royal has also asked stores to stop selling Roundup. Even Sri Lanka’s newly elected president, Maithripala Sirisena, has announced that the import of Roundup will no longer be allowed in the country.
But what about U.S. retailers?
Three guesses and the first two don’t count.
HARMLESS HARVEST PIONEERS NON-PASTEURIZED COCONUT WATER
Harmless Harvest is announcing a proprietary new multi-step micro-filtration process that achieves the highest levels of product safety and quality, while preserving optimal flavor, fragrance and nutrients of its critically acclaimed coconut water, which complies with FDA standards and requirements.
This groundbreaking process builds upon Harmless Harvest’s history as an industry pioneer in the low-acid beverage category, and enables the company to introduce a new, more environmentally conscious bottle with an average of a quarter less plastic than previous bottles.
Currently, the primary industry method of ensuring the safety of low-acid juice beverages is pasteurization. Pasteurization heats the product as a way to regulate safety, but it can leave a modified, burnt-like taste when used on coconut water.
According to the CEO of Harmless Harvest, Giannella Alvarez, the introduction of the Multi-Step Micro-Filtration process is a significant advancement for the industry.
Harmless Harvest is an ecosystem-based business that believes in bringing consumers the best organic ingredients through a business model that centers on the welfare of all people in the supply chain-–from plant to shelf-–and makes the sourcing environment a core beneficiary of its commercial success.
CIA FUNDS SKIN CARE PRODUCTS THAT COLLECT YOUR DNA
Skincential Sciences , a company with an innovative line of cosmetic products marketed as a way to erase blemishes and soften skin, has caught the attention of beauty bloggers on YouTube, Oprah’s lifestyle magazine, and celebrity skin care professionals.
Documents obtained by The Intercept reveal that the firm has also attracted interest and funding from In-Q-Tel, the venture capital arm of the Central Intelligence Agency, according to The Intercept’s reporter Lee Fang.
The previously undisclosed relationship with the CIA might come as some surprise to a visitor to the website of Clearista, the main product line of Skincential Sciences, which boasts of a “formula so you can feel confident and beautiful in your skin’s most natural state.”
Though the public-facing side of the company touts a range of skin care products, Skincential Sciences developed a patented technology that removes a thin outer layer of the skin, revealing unique biomarkers that can be used for a variety of diagnostic tests, including DNA collection.
In-Q-Tel, founded in 1999 by then-CIA Director George Tenet, identifies cutting-edge technology to support the mission of the CIA and other intelligence agencies, and provides venture funding to help grow tech firms to develop those solutions.
THE ENVIRONMENTAL DAMAGE CAUSED BY CHEMICAL FERTILIZERS
There’s plenty of press coverage and consumer awareness when it comes to genetically engineered food and crops, and the environmental hazards of pesticides and animal drugs. But the fertilizer industry? Not so much—even though it’s the largest segment of corporate agribusiness ($175 billion in annual sales), and a major destructive force in polluting the environment, disrupting the climate, and damaging public health.
Learning the facts about chemical fertilizers and the companies who produce them will give you yet another reason to boycott chemical/GMO/factory farmed foods and choose organic and grassfed animal products instead. Remember, organic standards established by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) prohibit the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, GMOs, or animal drugs.
In the following essay, Martha Rosenberg, a contributing writer to the Organic Consumers Association, and Ronnie Cummins, international director of the Organic Consumers Association, lay out the facts about chemical fertilizers. Here’s their list of underreported facts that raise disturbing environmental and regulatory questions about Monsanto’s Evil Twin—the chemical fertilizer industry.
1) Chemical Fertilizer is the Largest Industry in Global Agribusiness
According to the ETC group, a watchdog organization that researches the socioeconomic and ecological impacts of industrial agriculture and GMOs, the world’s seven dominant pesticide, GM, and seed companies (including Monsanto, DuPont, Dow, Bayer, and Syngenta) represent a $93 billion market. The global, energy-intensive chemical fertilizer industry is almost twice as large, at $175 billion.
Like most of the other multinational players in Big Food Inc., the fertilizer industry has secretive, vertical or “cartel” like qualities that obscure operations and make regulation difficult. Increasingly, seed and GMO companies, farm equipment producers, pesticide/herbicide makers and crop and soil data producers work in each others’ interest seamlessly and behind the scenes, according to ETC.
As ETC points out: “With combined annual revenue of over $385 billion, these companies call the shots. Who will dominate the industrial food chain? And what does it mean for farmers, food sovereignty and climate chaos?”
Industrially mined phosphorus and potash, along with synthetic nitrogen, are major components of the fertilizer industry. Up to 85 percent of the world’s known phosphate rock reserves are located in Morocco. About 70 percent of potash comes from former Soviet states and Canada.
2) Fracking Has Made U.S. a Huge Nitrogen Fertilizer Producer
In recent years, U.S. production of nitrogen fertilizer has boomed thanks to the falling price of natural gas used in its production. The reason for the cheap gas of course is fracking—the process of extracting gas from rock formations by bombarding them with pressurized water spiked with toxic chemicals. Unfortunately, fracking releases large amounts of climate disrupting methane and toxic chemical laden fracking liquids which can permanently pollute underground aquifers.
That’s bad for the environment—but good for fertilizer companies. Thanks to low natural gas prices, after decades of importing nitrogen fertilizer from the Middle East, the number of U.S. nitrogen fertilizer plants is growing. The three leading domestic producers—Koch Industries, Orascom Construction Industries and CF Industries—are reaping the benefits.
Who’s driving demand for all this nitrogen fertilizer? Monsanto.
Between 2005 and 2010, U.S. growers of genetically engineered corn, largely for GMO animal feed and ethanol, increased their nitrogen fertilizer use by one billion pounds. New nitrogen fertilizer plants are being situated close to the corn and soybean growers to feed demand more efficiently. “It is a highly concentrated and oligopolistic-type industry,” says Glen Buckley, a fertilizer industry consultant who spent 30 years working at CF Industries, based in Deerfield, Ill.
3) Koch Industries Is a Fertilizer Leader
In 2010, Koch Industries was named “the world’s third-largest maker and marketer of nitrogen fertilizer,” according to the Wichita Eagle. Koch, which along with Monsanto is one of the most hated corporations in the U.S., is infamous for its support of extreme right-wing politicians and climate deniers. Koch Industries is part of a large system “of buying, leasing, upgrading and expanding fertilizer manufacturing, trading and distribution facilities worldwide.” It controls over 65 terminals “where it wholesales nitrogen fertilizer to co-ops and grain elevators for sale to farmers, as well as selling to the chemical industry,” reported the Eagle.
Not surprisingly, Koch’s fertilizer unit, called Koch Agronomics, has drawn the ire of environmentalists. Pollution is “strictly monitored and legally permitted by federal, state and local governments,” Steve Packebush, president of Koch Fertilizer and vice president for nitrogen for Koch Industries told the Eagle. But how strict are those guidelines, really?
4) Chemical Fertilizer “Enforcement” Is Often Self-Monitoring
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) acknowledges the severe harm nitrogen fertilizer does to waterways, including to marine life and humans. Yet the agency’s “enforcement” of harmful excessive farm runoff sounds a lot like an honor system.
Asked how National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits, which allow farming operations to discharge nitrogen, are “enforced,” the EPA says, “The permit will require the facility to sample its discharges and notify EPA and the state regulatory agency of these results. In addition, the permit will require the facility to notify EPA and the state regulatory agency when the facility determines it is not in compliance with the requirements of a permit. EPA and state regulatory agencies also will send inspectors to companies in order to determine if they are in compliance with the conditions imposed under their permits.”
Self-monitoring by private industry is of course a government trend across the board. In the late 1990’s the government rolled out the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) program which took away the majority of those “pesky” federal meat inspectors’ duties and allowed Big Meat to self-police its own slaughterhouses. Sometimes U.S. meat inspectors were openly defied and laughed at. HACCP was quickly dubbed Have a Cup of Coffee and Pray. Meat inspectors identified greater amounts of feces and contamination in meat soon after the program was instituted. Since then, self-policing by food producers has only been expanded.
5) Nitrogen Fertilizer Pollutes the Environment and Drinking Water
As most people know, nitrogen runoff from non-organic farms and feedlots into waterways causes hypoxic conditions—lack of oxygen—which regularly kill fish in shocking quantities.
Two-thirds of the U.S. drinking water supply is contaminated at high levels with carcinogenic nitrates or nitrites, almost all from excessive use of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer. Some public wells have nitrogen at such a high level that it is dangerous and even deadly for children to drink the tap water.
Nitrogen fertilizer is also the greatest contributor to the infamous “dead zones” in the Gulf of Mexico, the Chesapeake Bay, the coasts of California and Oregon, and 400 other spots around the world. Since very little synthetic nitrogen fertilizer was used before 1950, all of the damage we see today occurred in the last 60 years.
Excessive nitrates in drinking water, common in the corn-growing areas of the U.S, are known to cause deadly “blue baby” syndrome in infants, and have been linked to cancer in adults. In combination with herbicide residues such as Syngenta’s atrazine, nitrates become even more toxic, potentially causing brain damage and hormone disruption.
In some rural areas, fertilizer pollution levels are 10 times beyond so-called “allowable levels,” although golf courses and homeowner fertilizer and pesticide use in urban areas also contribute to the problem. Last fall, the Des Moines Water Works sued three neighboring farming counties over their nitrate discharges but, reported the Associated Press, “the litigation has provoked intense criticism from Iowa’s powerful agricultural industry, which argues that farmers are already taking voluntary measures to control them.”
6) Nitrogen Fertilizers Harm Workers and Communities
Anhydrous ammonia, a nitrogen compound compressed into a clear, colorless liquid for easy application, is extremely dangerous to workers and neighboring communities. It poses explosion and fire hazards as well as respiratory risks.
“It [Anhydrous ammonia] must be stored and handled under high pressure, requiring specially designed and well-maintained equipment,” says the University of Minnesota’s extension site. “In addition, to ensure their safety, workers must be adequately educated about the procedures and personal protective equipment required to safely handle this product.”
In 2013, an anhydrous ammonia explosion and fire at the West Fertilizer Company storage near Waco, Texas, killed 15 and injured 160, and caused 150 buildings to be razed. (At the time, Governor Rick Perry was in Chicago recruiting businesses to relocate in Texas, where safety regulations were more lax and would not cut into their profits.)
In 2006, railroads asked to be relieved of their common carrier obligation to haul fertilizer products like anhydrous ammonia or to be protected by a liability cap. Accidents like last year’s in South Carolina, where people within a 1.5- mile radius of a derailed train carrying ammonium nitrate and anhydrous ammonium were evacuated, occur regularly.
Yet the Fertilizer Institute trade group says “The historically high safety record of anhydrous ammonia transport by rail has been achieved over the years by the fertilizer industry, the railroads and tank car manufacturing and leasing companies working in a close cooperative effort.”
7) Chemical Fertilizers Destroy the Soils’ Natural Ability to Sequester Excess Atmospheric CO2
According to GMO no-till advocates, adding nitrogen fertilizer to soil, is supposedly “climate friendly” because it allegedly helps crops draw CO2 from the atmosphere and sequester it in the soil as organic carbon. But University of Illinois soil scientists disputed this view in “The Myth of Nitrogen Fertilization for Soil Carbon Sequestration,” a research paper published in the Journal of Environmental Quality:
“…excessive [fertilizer] application rates cut profits and are bad for soils and the environment. The loss of soil carbon has many adverse consequences for productivity, one of which is to decrease water storage. There are also adverse implications for air and water quality, since carbon dioxide will be released into the air, while excessive nitrogen contributes to the nitrate pollution problem.”
Not surprisingly, much of the organic carbon decline the researchers identified occurred in the fertilized soil found in corn belts.
The ETC group agrees with the University of Illinois researchers.
There is growing recognition that synthetic fertilizers are a major contributor to climate-destroying greenhouse gases (GHG). The estimated cost of environmental damage from reactive nitrogen emissions is between $70 billion and $320 billion in the European Union alone.”
8) Nitrous Oxide Emissions from Chemical Fertilizers Are a Major and Persistent Greenhouse Gas Pollutant
Nitrous oxide (N2O) is responsible for approximate 5 percent of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from human activities. Nitrous oxide is naturally present in the atmosphere as part of the Earth’s nitrogen cycle, and has a variety of natural sources. However, human activities such as agriculture, fossil fuel combustion, wastewater management, and industrial processes are increasing the amount of N2O in the atmosphere.
The primary cause of N2O contamination of the atmosphere are the nitrogen fertilizers used in industrial (non-organic) agriculture.
Nitrous oxide molecules, in comparison to other greenhouse gases such as CO2 and methane, stay in the atmosphere for a very long time, an average of 114 years. NO2 also has much more potent heat-trapping characteristics. The impact of one pound of N2O on warming the atmosphere is 300 times that of one pound of carbon dioxide.
Although transportation, industry and energy producers are significant and well-recognized GHG polluters, few people understand that the worst U.S. greenhouse gas emitter is “Food Incorporated,” industrial food and farming. Industrial food and farming accounts for a huge portion of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. EPA’s ridiculously low estimates range from 7 percent to 12 percent, but some climate scientists believe the figure could be as high as 50 percent or more. Industrial food and farming also destroys the natural capacity of plants and oils to sequester atmospheric carbon.
Many climate scientists now admit that they have previously drastically underestimated the dangers of the non-CO2 GHGs, including nitrous oxide, which are responsible (along with methane) for at least 20 percent of global warming.
Nearly all nitrous oxide pollution comes from dumping billions of pounds of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer and sewage sludge on farmland (chemical fertilizers and sludge are banned on organic farms and ranches), mainly to grow animal feed or produce ethanol. Given that about 80 percent of U.S. agriculture is devoted to producing factory-farmed meat, dairy and animal feed, reducing agriculture GHGs means eliminating the over-production and over-consumption of factory-farmed meat and animal products.
The most climate-damaging greenhouse gas poison used by industrial farmers is synthetic nitrogen fertilizer. Pesticide manufacture and use are also serious problems, which generate their own large share of GHGs during manufacture and use (more than 25 billion pounds per year). But, about six times more chemical fertilizer is used than toxic pesticides on U.S. farms.
German chemical corporations developed the industrial processes for the two most widely used forms of synthetic nitrogen in the early 1900s. But until World War II, U.S. use of synthetic nitrogen as a fertilizer was limited to about 5 percent of the total nitrogen applied. Up until that time most nitrogen inputs came from animal manures, composts and fertilizer (cover) crops, just as it does on organic farms today.
During the Second World War, all of the European powers and the U.S. greatly expanded their facilities for producing nitrogen for bombs, ammunition and fertilizer for the war effort. Since then, both the use of nitrogen fertilizer and bomb-making capacity have soared. By the 1990s, more than 90 percent of nitrogen fertilizer used in the U.S. was synthetic.
According to the USDA, the average U.S. nitrogen fertilizer use per year from 1998 to 2007 was 24 billion 661 million pounds. To produce that nitrogen, the manufacturers released at least 6.7 pounds of GHG for every pound produced. That’s 165 billion, 228 million pounds of GHGs spewed into the atmosphere every year, just for the manufacture of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer. Most of those emissions are nitrous oxide, the most damaging emissions of U.S. agriculture.
The currently catastrophic, but largely unrecognized, greenhouse gas damage from chemical farms and industrial food production and distribution must be reversed. This will require wholesale changes in farming practices, government subsidies, food processing and handling. It will require the conversion of millions of chemical farms, feedlots and CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations) to organic production. It will require the establishment of millions of urban backyard and community gardens.
If we carried out a full environmental impact statement on industrial and factory farming synthetic nitrogen fertilizer use, we would never give these practices a permit for agricultural use. Ironically, although factory farming is responsible for more GHGs than any other U.S. industry, it will not be regulated under proposed EPA regulations designed to limit GHGs, unless citizens demand it. We must demand that methane pollution from factory farms and synthetic nitrogen fertilizer pollution on chemical farms be highly taxed and regulated in the short term, and phased out, as soon as possible. We must substitute instead cover crops, compost and compost tea, as currently utilized in organic farming and ranching.
In the meantime, consumers should boycott all foods and products emanating from Monsanto and its Evil Twin: the chemical fertilizer industry.
Glyphosate Found in California Wines
Shortly after the release of a report showing 14 beers testing positive for glyphosate in Germany, a concerned supporter of Moms Across America approached me at a convention with disturbing news, Zen Honeycutt reports in EcoWatch.
He said he had test results from Microbe Inotech Lab of St.Louis showing that 10 different wines, from large and small vineyards, contained the chemical glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer, including wine made with organic grapes.
The contamination of conventional wine was 28 times higher than the organic wine, with levels ranging from 0.659 parts per billion in organic wine to 18.74 ppb in conventional wine.
The wines tested came from Napa Valley, Sonoma, and Mendocino counties in California. The brand names of the wines were not revealed, and frankly, the brands are not the issue. The real issue is the widespread contamination of glyphosate based herbicides in consumer products.
Here are my five reasons why Roundup/glyphosate should never be sprayed on any crops, including vineyards:
1. According to farmers, glyphosate based herbicides are likely present in manure/fertilizer from animals fed genetically modified grains because GMOs are sprayed with excessive amounts of Roundup. In fact, the genetic modifications are made so the plants can withstand Roundup. Glyphosate residues have been detected in many foods, beers and wines.
2. Wine growers of conventional farms report that their family businesses used to be able to harvest from their vines for 100 years. Today, with chemical farming, vines are lasting 10-12 years. Glyphosate is a chelator, which makes the vital nutrients and minerals of any living thing it touches unavailable. Taking the risk of depleting the vitality of important crops is not a good long term decision for farmers of any kind. Instead, Regenerative agriculture enriches the soil, supports longevity of the farm and does not use toxic chemicals.
3. Glyphosate has been deemed a probable carcinogen by the World Health Organization. Even the small amount of 0.1 ppt of glyphosate has been shown to stimulate the growth of breast cancer cells. According to the California Department of Health, breast cancer rates in the Sonoma, Napa, and Mendocino counties are 10 to 20 percent higher than the national average. There are many pending lawsuits against Monsanto for the connection between non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and Roundup.
4. The pig study by Pedersen and Krueger showed a repeated 30 percent increase of birth defects and stillborns with the introduction of glyphosate-sprayed grains. The infertility and sterility in America is exactly correlated to the pig study results, at 30 percent, the highest in recorded U.S. history.
5. French scientist Gilles-Éric Seralini and his team have discovered that the co-formulants of Roundup are 1,000 times more toxic than glyphosate and are hormone disruptors, which can lead to breast cancer, miscarriages, birth defects and many other health issues.
CAN ORGANIC FARMS REALLY FEED THE WORLD? LOOK AT CUBA!
Is organic farming merely a niche model of agriculture that is not capable of feeding the global population? Or does it have a major role to play? Colin Todhunter, writing in CounterPunch, posed these questions and then set out to answer them. Here, in part, is what he wrote:
If we want to really appreciate what happens when a major widespread shift to organic farming occurs, we need look no further than Cuba.
Cuba is the one country in the world that has made the biggest changes in the shortest time in moving from industrial chemical-intensive agriculture to organic farming.
Miguel Altieri notes that, due to the difficulties Cuba experienced as a result of the fall of the USSR, it moved towards organic and agroecological techniques in the 1990s. Thousands of oxen replaced tractors that could not function due to lack of petroleum and spare parts. Farmers substituted green manures for chemical fertilizers and artisanally produced biopesticides for insecticides.
Altieri states that from 1996 to 2005, per capita food production in Cuba increased by 4.2 percent yearly during a period when production was stagnant across the wider region. In the mid-2000s, the Ministry of Agriculture endorsed the creation of 2,600 new small urban and suburban farms and allowed farming on some three million hectares of unused state lands.
Today Cuba has 383,000 urban farms, covering 50,000 hectares of otherwise unused land and producing more than 1.5 million tons of vegetables. The most productive urban farms yield up to 20 kg of food per square meter, the highest rate in the world, using no synthetic chemicals. Urban farms supply 50 to 70 percent or more of all the fresh vegetables consumed in cities such as Havana and Villa Clara.
Altieri and his colleague have calculated that if all peasant farms and cooperatives adopted diversified agroecological designs, Cuba would be able to produce enough to feed its population, supply food to the tourist industry and even export some food to help generate foreign currency.
What Cuba has done is a major achievement, as Garry Leech argues:
“The shift to a more ecologically sustainable agricultural production has resulted in healthy organic food being the most convenient and inexpensive food available to Cubans. Because of the US blockade, processed foods are more expensive and not readily available. This reality stands in stark contrast to that in wealthy capitalist nations such as the United States and Canada where heavily-subsidized agri-businesses flood the market with cheap, unhealthy processed foods while organic alternatives are expensive and more difficult to obtain. The consequence in the United States is high levels of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.”
Cuba shows what can be done (see how it was done and the dangers it now faces) when the political will exists and what should be done if we are to move away from an unsustainable model of agriculture that creates food insecurity, environmental degradation, bad food and ill health.
Contrast this with what NAFTA did to Mexico. Driven by an industrial chemical-intensive US model of food processing, retail and agriculture, the outcome has been bad health, the undermining of food security and the devastation of small farmers and businesses.
Processed junk food ridden with toxins and a propped up agribusiness sector with subsidies has become a feature of the US chemical-intensive model of agriculture, which has led to all kinds of health and environmental problems in the US, as highlighted here.
For Olivier De Schutter, a programme that deals effectively with hunger and malnutrition has to focus on Mexico’s small farmers and peasants. They constitute a substantial percentage of the country’s poor and are the ones that can best supply both rural and urban populations with nutritious foods.
And the writing is on the wall for places like India too as the neoliberal invasion and transnational agribusiness armed with its chemicals (and GMOs) increases its hold over food and agriculture. It is turning out to be disastrous for Indian farmers, the environment and the health of the public.
In the meantime, supporters of the unhealthy, unsustainable, industrialized petro-chemical model of agriculture wish to continue to rip up indigenous agriculture and recast it accordingly. And they attempt to justify this by stating there is no alternative and that organic-based approaches, including a genuine democratic-participatory movement like agroecology, cannot deliver.
From NAFTA and trade agreements like the Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture (India), TTIP, and TPP to the ongoing infiltration of Africa by Bill Gates and ‘corporate America,’ they require business as usual: to offer governments strings-attached loans and ensure that export cash-crop monocropping takes hold, to make farmers reliant on external inputs, to get them onto a highly profitable but unsustainable GMO/chemical treadmill and to incorporate them into an system of globalization centered on rigged trade, debt traps and the manipulated international ‘free’ market.
And all for what? To capture the entire supply chain from seed to plate, to serve the commercial interests of transnational agritech/agribusiness and food retail corporations and to use agriculture as a political tool to create dependency. All of this at the expense of self-sufficiency, sustainable indigenous agriculture, and the livelihoods of those involved in traditional food production, processing and retail. And all of this too at the expense of regional food security, the environment and a nutritious, healthy, and diverse diet.
FDA SUED TO FORCE IT TO RESPOND TO NRDC PETITION
The Natural Resources Defense Council and Center for Food Safety, on behalf of four other public health and environmental organizations, have sued the Food and Drug Administration to force it to act on a petition to ban perchlorate in food packaging. The groups filed the petition in December, 2014, but the FDA ignored it and missed a June, 2015, deadline to respond to the petition. Hence the lawsuit.
Co-petitioners include Breast Cancer Fund, Center for Environmental Health, Center for Science in the Public Interest, and the Environmental Working Group. Perchlorate impairs hormone production critical to brain development and poses a health threat, particularly to fetuses, infants, and children. FDA has approved it for certain specific uses, including as an anti-static agent in plastic packaging for dry foods such as beans, rice and flour.
“This is a toxic chemical, and it’s all over our food supply,” said Erik Olson, director of the Health Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “There’s enough evidence of harm for the FDA to ban it, and there is no excuse for the agency’s inaction.”
“Perchlorate is primarily used in rocket fuel. There is no reason FDA should allow a chemical like this in or on food products,” said Andrew Kimbrell, Executive Director of Center for Food Safety. “It is irresponsible, illegal, and indefensible for FDA to continue withholding a response to our petition when human health is at stake.”
“From increased risk of breast cancer, to interfering with the development of babies’ brains, hormone-disrupting chemicals are harming public health,” said Nancy Buermeyer, Senior Policy Strategist at the Breast Cancer Fund. “We wouldn’t think of practicing medicine the way we did in the 1950s; nor should the FDA consider science through a decades-old lens. The FDA should act immediately to ban perchlorate to protect our children and future generations.”
“There’s no reason for the food industry to use a rocket fuel ingredient that can contaminate our food,” said Caroline Cox, Research Director for the Center for Environmental Health. “FDA needs to act immediately to end this food safety threat to our children and families.”
“Banning perchlorate should be a no-brainer when you consider its threat to human health, particularly to fetal development,” said Ken Cook, co-founder and president of the Environmental Working Group. “We hope this lawsuit spurs FDA to give a new look at the science, instead of relying on its original, flawed reasoning, and to move swiftly to protect consumers from exposure to this toxic chemical.”
“There’s just no practical way for consumers to protect their families from perchlorate, because it’s not labeled and is allowed in packaging and production of so many foods,” said Laura MacCleery, Director of Regulatory Affairs for the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “But protecting consumers is clearly FDA’s job, and the agency should ban perchlorate right away.”
The petition for a writ of mandamus, filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, is here: https://www.nrdc.org/sites/default/files/20160331-mandamus-petition.pdf
Last month, NRDC also sued the Environmental Protection Agency to force it to limit
perchlorate in drinking water.
FDA is currently under court orders to comply with other deadlines mandated by the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act and Food Safety Modernization Act, as a result of two lawsuits filed by CFS in 2014 and 2012, respectively.
MONSANTO ANTS CAN REPLACE HONEYBEES, SPOKESPERSON SAYS
According to a recent Greenpeace study, 70 out of the top 100 human food crops are pollinated by bees. US National Agriculture Statistics show a honey bee decline from about 3.2 million hives in 1947 to 2.4 million hives in 2008. Also, beekepers in Western countries have been reporting slow declines of stocks due to impaired protein production, changes in agricultural practice, or unpredictable weather. On 2007, abnormally high die-offs (30–70 percent of hives) of European honey bee colonies occurred in North America, which was later called “colony collapse disorder.”
This lead the team of Researchers at Monsanto to develop alternative strategies to bridge the gap of an eventual honey bee extinction. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) granted the researchers at Monsanto a $3 million dollar research fund to be able to develop a modified way to save the world’s food supply.
The team of researchers, led by biochemist John Leere, developed a genetically modified ant that has a striking similar feature with the common honeybee but 50 times stronger immunity to certain types of pesticides.
“Through genetic manipulations, we could eventually create a species that would have both the common honey bee’s pollinating characteristics, as well as possess the pesticide immunization properties of certain ant species, a perfect match that would take thousands of years to develop on its own in nature,” Leere explains.
Just think: our food crops crawling with Monsanto’s pesticide-resistant ants, and honey just a substance written about in the history books. That’s Monsanto—always thinking several steps ahead.
We Won the Labeling Fight–or Did We?
Four major food companies – ConAgra Foods, Kellogg’s, General Mills and Mars, Inc. – announced they will label food products that contain genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. These companies join Campbell’s Soup, which declared its intent to do likewise back in January.
The news comes less than a week after GMO labeling supporters in the Senate defeated the latest attempt at a bill that opponents have dubbed the Deny Americans the Right to Know Act, or DARK Act. That legislation would have prohibited states from requiring GMO labeling. Vermont has already passed a mandatory labeling law, scheduled to go into effect July 1.
But before we rejoice, might there be more to the story? Ronnie Cummins and Katherine Paul of the Organic Consumers Association certainly think there might be. Here’s their thinking on the topic:
Have consumers won the GMO labeling battle? Have these food companies that so fiercely fought to keep labels off their products really split with the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), the multi-billion-dollar lobbying group that is still trying to overturn Vermont’s law in the courts, and preempt it in Congress?
Four out of the five companies announced plans to label after a Senate bill to preempt Vermont’s labeling law failed, but before the Senate has a chance to come back with an amended version of the bill after Congress returns on April 4 from Easter recess.
It’s worth noting that all of the companies that have revealed plans to label adamantly defend the “safety” of GMOs—without once mentioning the fact that the vast majority of GMO crops, from which GMO food ingredients are derived, are sprayed with glyphosate, classified last year by the World Health Organization as “a probable human carcinogen.” Clearly, we have a long way to go before food corporations acknowledge the devastating consequences of the GMO monoculture model on the environment, human health and global warming.
General Mills, Mars and Kellogg’s all revealed their labeling plans after the Senate failed to pass S. 2609, a bill intended to preempt Vermont. It’s possible that their announcements signal that these food giants have conceded defeat, especially as they all noted the need to comply with the Vermont July 1 deadline.
That’s the optimistic view. But the timing of these announcements, made before the Senate returns to try again to try to pass a preemption bill, could also be part of a calculated strategy to win over more Senators to a compromise bill, one that will delay or outright preempt enactment of Vermont’s Act 120.
Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), sponsor of the Monsanto- and GMA-funded S. 2609 (the DARK Act) is unwavering in his rejection of any legislation that requires labels on GMO ingredients. Though he is adamant about a “federal solution,” Roberts outright, and illogically, rejects the idea of a uniform mandatory federal solution.
Roberts’ rigid position on mandatory vs. voluntary cost him the support of Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Ranking Member of the Senate Agriculture Committee and a key player in the GMO labeling drama. Stabenow says she would support a mandatory federal labeling law, though whether that support would include on-package labels, or some sort of QR barcode scheme or toll-free phone numbers, both of which have been floated as alternatives to on-package labels, remains unclear.
Still, Stabenow and other Senators representing Big Ag states are under tremendous pressure (by corporations, not voters) to keep Vermont’s law from taking effect. The Big Food corporations know this. So is it possible that companies, by announcing, in quick succession that they will label voluntarily, hope to send the message that there’s no need to pass a mandatory labeling law, because they’ve already volunteered? And could those big companies, or at least some of them, pull the plug on their labeling plans if federal legislation preempts Vermont? (Again, Campbell’s and Mars have said they will proceed regardless of what happens in Congress—we know that’s not the case for General Mills; Kellogg’s and ConAgra haven’t confirmed one way or the other).
That’s one possibility. Here’s another. General Mills told Politco’s Jenny Hopkinson that while the company won’t pass on the cost of labeling to consumers, the Minnesota-based cereal giant will have to spend “millions of dollars” to comply with Vermont’s law. Could this “woe is me” message win enough sympathy votes from Senators who may still be on the fence (and who are being hounded by their corporate donors), that they’ll be persuaded to betray consumers in order to stave off what General Mills or other companies allege is a “huge” financial burden?
It’s also possible that this is just a public relations ploy by corporations that are banking on the fact that a federal law will pass before they have to label, and that that law will include restrictions that prohibit them from printing “produced with genetic engineering,” or similar wording, on their packages. That scenario would allow them to say, gee, we tried to give consumers what they want, but Congress wouldn’t allow it.
Whatever the new-and-improved version of the Senate bill morphs into, assuming the Senate passes a bill, it will have to go back to the U.S. House. There, members of a Republican-controlled Joint Standing Conference Committee will try to “reconcile” the Senate bill with the House version, H.R. 1599, which passed the House in July by a vote of 275 – 150. Guaranteed, the House won’t sign off on anything with the words “mandatory” or “on-package.” In fact, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (R-Texas), according to Politico, “declared just this week that he won’t support on-package labeling, which he has said stigmatizes the technology.” Whatever ends up coming out of the committee will have to go back to the House and Senate for a full vote.
That leaves consumers no choice but to continue to hammer our Senators with this message: No compromise. Let Vermont’s law take effect. And if you really can’t tolerate supporting states’ rights to pass labeling laws, then pass a federal labeling law that meets, or preferably exceeds, the standards set by Vermont’s law.
GLYPHOSATE FOUND IN WINE AND JUST ABOUT EVERYTHING ELSE
Concerned with the widespread contamination of glyphosate/Roundup and other
glyphosate based herbicides from GMO chemical farming, Moms Across America has
initiated the testing of glyphosate in water, urine, breast milk, Pediasure feeding tube
liquid given to pediatric patients with cancer, baby formula, and beverages. Since then,
several groups have since reported finding glyphosate in cereal, bread, honey, cow’s
milk, soy sauce, pet food, beer and more.
In this recent project, an individual and Moms Across America supporter sent ten wines, including organic and biodynamic, to be tested for glyphosate based herbicides
On March 16th, 2016, Moms Across America received results from testing done by Microbe Inotech Lab of St. Louis, Missouri, that showed all 10 wines sampled by the lab tested positive for the chemical glyphosate, the declared “active” ingredient in Roundup weedkiller.
The highest level of glyphosate detected was in a 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon from a conventional, chemically farmed vineyard. It was 28.4 times higher than the other wines at an average 18.74 parts per billion. The lowest level was from a biodynamic and organic vineyard, 2013 Syrah, which has never been sprayed according to the owner, with a level of 0.659 ppb. An organic wine from 2012 made from mixed red wine grapes, had 0.913 ppb of glyphosate.
It is important to note that the detection of glyphosate is an indicator of the
presence of many other coformulants in glyphosatebased herbicides which
have recently been shown by French scientist Seralini’s team to be endocrine
hormone disruptors and to be 1000x more toxic than glyphosate alone. Therefore, the type or amount of the coformulant chemicals in the wines are untested
and the consequences on our health are unknown.
Monsanto’s Roundup recently earned the ominous title of the most heavily-used agricultural chemical of all time, according to Dr. Joseph Mercola. In fact, an analysis showed that farmers sprayed enough glyphosate in 2014 to apply 0.8 pounds of the chemical to every acre of cultivated cropland in the U.S., and nearly 0.5 a pound of glyphosate to all cropland worldwide.
As you might suspect, when you use this much of a chemical, it doesn’t simply stay on the fields. The lab testing reported by Moms Across America reveals that glyphosate is now showing up virtually everywhere.
The analysis referred to by Dr. Mercola revealed glyphosate in levels of 76 micrograms per liter (μg/l) to 166 μg/l in women’s breast milk. As reported by The Detox Project, this is 760 to 1,600 times higher than the EU-permitted level in drinking water (although it’s lower than the U.S. maximum contaminant level for glyphosate, which is 700 μg/l).
This dose of glyphosate in breastfed babies’ every meal is only the beginning. An in vitro study designed to simulate human exposures also found that glyphosate crosses the placental barrier. In the study, 15 percent of the administered glyphosate reached the fetal compartment (as doctors sometimes call the pregnant uterus).
Angelika Hilbeck, Ph.D., senior scientist at the Institute of Integrative Biology in Zurich, told The Detox Project: “If confirmed in a full investigation, it seems that glyphosate has become a ubiquitous chemical in terms of presence and persistence. This data also offers a first indication of potential accumulation in the human body, giving newborns a substantial dose of synthetic chemicals as a ‘gift’ for their start into life, with unknown consequences. This is reckless and irresponsible conduct in a democratic society, which still has a living memory of previous reckless chemical contaminations, such as DDT.”
The analysis revealed glyphosate in additional samples as well, including the blood of non-pregnant Canadian women. Their average level was 73.6 μg/l, which is similar to the concentration found to have endocrine-disrupting effects in vitro.
Further, glyphosate was also detected in urine samples, and U.S. women had maximum glyphosate levels that were more than eight times higher than levels found in urine of Europeans.
Where is the glyphosate exposure coming from? It’s likely coming from food (although it could be in water as well). We don’t know exactly how much glyphosate may be in your food because the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) does not test for it.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) just announced in February that it would begin testing foods for glyphosate, however, which will help to quantify just how much glyphosate Americans are consuming.
For now, the analysis suggests that eating non-organic, genetically engineered foods (the prime candidates for Roundup spraying) is associated with higher glyphosate levels in your body. The Detox Project explained: “Glyphosate levels have been found to be significantly higher in urine of humans who ate non-organic food, compared with those who ate mostly organic food. Chronically ill people showed significantly higher glyphosate residues in their urine than healthy people. In a separate detailed analysis, glyphosate was found in the urine of cows, humans, and rabbits. Cows kept in a GMO-free area had significantly lower glyphosate concentrations in urine than cows in conventional livestock systems.”
Glyphosate and its degradation product, aminomethylphosphonic acid (AMPA), were detected in more than 75 percent of air and rain samples collected during the 2007 growing season in the Mississippi Delta agricultural region.
This could be even higher now, as since 1996 the use of glyphosate has risen nearly 15-fold. The testing commissioned by Moms Across America also found glyphosate in 13 of 21 U.S. drinking water samples tested.7
They contained glyphosate levels between 0.085 ug/l and 0.33 ug/l, which is only slightly below the EU maximum allowed level for glyphosate in drinking water of 0.1 ug/l.
Further, a 2012 analysis used a magnetic particle immunoassay to test for the presence of glyphosate in roughly 140 samples of groundwater from Catalonia, Spain. The analysis found that glyphosate was present above the limit of quantification in 41 percent of the samples.
This suggests the chemical does not break down rapidly in the environment, as its manufacturer claims, and instead it might be accumulating (both in the environment and in people).
In northern, colder regions, farmers of wheat and barley must wait for their crops to dry out prior to harvest.
Rather than wait an additional two weeks or so for this to happen naturally, farmers realized they could spray the plants with glyphosate, killing the crop and accelerating their drying (a process known as desiccating).
Desiccating wheat with glyphosate is particularly common in years with wet weather and has been increasing in North Dakota and Upper Midwestern states in the U.S., as well as in areas of Canada and Scotland (where the process first began). One Canadian farmer told EcoWatch: “I think every non-organic farmer in Saskatchewan uses glyphosate on most of their wheat acres every year … I think farmers need to realize that all of the chemicals we use are ‘bad’ to some extent … Monsanto has done such an effective job marketing glyphosate as ‘safe’ and ‘biodegradable’ that farmers here still believe this even though such claims are false.”
What this means is that even non-GMO foods are likely to be contaminated with glyphosate, and possibly even more so because they’re being sprayed just weeks prior to being made into your cereal, bread, cookies and the like.
Along with wheat and barley, other crops that are commonly desiccated with glyphosate include oats; legumes like lentils, peas, and non-GMO soybeans; corn; flax; rye; buckwheat; triticale; canola; millet; sugar beets; potatoes, and sunflowers.
No one is keeping track of how many crops are being desiccated with glyphosate; those in the industry have described it as a “don’t ask, don’t tell policy.”
Others have described spraying crops with glyphosate just days before harvest “barbaric.” Charles Benbrook, Ph.D., a researcher involved in the recent study showing glyphosate use is increasing, told EcoWatch: “I don’t understand why Monsanto and the food industry don’t voluntarily end this practice. They know it contributes to high dietary exposure (of glyphosate).”
Uh, Dr. Benbrook, I think you know the reason. Monsanto is in the business of selling glyphosate, not protecting people and the environment from glyphosate.
HORMONE DISRUPTORS LINKED TO FIBROID DEVELOPMENT
Hormone-disrupting chemicals are everywhere — in plastics, pesticides, and makeup — and two of them, phthalates and DDE, have been particularly strongly linked with common female reproductive conditions, such as fibroids, according to CNN.
In a new study, researchers estimate that the problems caused by these two chemicals alone could cost the European Union at least 1.41 billion euros a year, the U.S. equivalent of about $1.58 billion.
or the current study, the researchers turned their attention toward fibroids and endometriosis, two common conditions that affect an estimated 70 percent of women and are leading causes of female infertility
The researchers looked at studies of many different endocrine-disrupting chemicals and determined that the strongest evidence, albeit still from only a handful of studies, implicated a role for DDE, or diphenyldichloroethene, and phthalates in fibroids and endometriosis, respectively.
“There are substantial human and toxicological studies (in mice and other lab animals) that suggest that exposure to these endocrine-disrupting chemicals, many of which are increasing in use, are contributing to female reproductive conditions,” said Dr. Leonardo Trasande, associate professor of pediatrics at New York University School of Medicine.
Trasande carried out the earlier study on the economic impact of these chemicals and is the lead author of the new study, published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.
DDE is a breakdown product of the insecticide DDT that, although banned in the United States in 1972 and in Europe starting in the 1970s, still lingers in the environment and enters our body through food. The main exposure to phthalates is through eating food and drink stored in plastic containers.
Trasande and his colleagues determined that 56,700 cases of fibroids among women in Europe were probably due to DDE exposure, and 145,000 cases of endometriosis were probably caused by phthalates. The researchers arrived at these estimates through studies that looked at typical DDE exposures in women of reproductive age in Europe and the association between DDE levels in the blood and fibroid diagnoses.
In a similar way, they relied on a study that linked higher phthalate levels in women who had been diagnosed with endometriosis compared to healthy women.
The researchers noted that the costs generated by these chemicals would be even greater if they had factored in infertility associated with fibroids and endometriosis, and the other health problems those conditions can lead to. For example, endometriosis can increase the risk of cancer and autoimmune disorders.
“In so far as Europe is actively considering criteria for endocrine-disrupting chemicals and they are about to pursue action to limit exposure to chemicals in that category, this work is likely to be extremely important in shaping European policy,” Trasande said.
The European Union and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration have already banned the use of certain endocrine disruptors, such as BPA, in baby bottles, though research suggests alternatives to BPA also might not be safe.
Although the United States is not as far along in considering restrictions on these chemicals, it could get a jumpstart from European legislation.
“Potentially some of the progress in European activity could actually bring the key stakeholders, such as environmental public health groups and industry, to the table in considering U.S. legislation,” Trasande said.
The health burden — and healthcare costs — of endocrine-disrupting chemicals could far exceed what the current study captured by looking at only two chemical groups. As Trasande and his colleagues point out in the study, several other chemicals, such as PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, have been linked with female reproductive health problems.
Some of these chemicals, including PCBs and dioxins, have already been restricted through a treaty called the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, which went into effect in 2004, said Linda S. Birnbaum, director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the National Toxicology Program.
The current study is important because it focused on chemicals that have not been restricted, and in the case of DDE — which persists in the environment — are not able to be restricted, Birnbaum said. However, she said she was surprised the researchers did not include an analysis of chemicals such as BPA, which has also been linked to endometriosis risk.
DARK Act Defeated in Senate–for Now
As you may have heard on the news, the U.S. Senate last week defeated the DARK Act—otherwise known as the Monsanto Protection bill or SB 2609—by one vote, 49-48. The close vote means that there will be another try by Monsanto and big biotech to get the bill passed, once the Senate has been swarmed with lobbyists carrying fistfuls of money seeking that one Senator who’ll change his or her vote.
The DARK Act would have made it illegal for states to pass common sense GMO labeling laws like the Connecticut, Vermont and Maine legislatures did in 2013 and 2014. This atrocious piece of legislation not only protects Monsanto’s toxic products from real scientific investigations by the federal government, but also forces the USDA to promote GMOs around the country to try to create widespread “Consumer Acceptance” (this is the actual phrase from the bill).
The bill would not only have protected Monsanto and Big Food from common sense GMO labeling, but would have also used taxpayer money to promote Monsanto, DuPont, Dow Chemical and Syngenta’s GMOs to the very same taxpayers whose tax dollars would be used to do the promotion!
To get political for a minute—since the Senate is a hotbed of politicians—is it really possible that 48 Senators, almost all of them Republicans, think that this bad bill was enough of a good idea for them to vote “Yea” on it? Well, the Rabid Right thinks so. Here’s what the conservative think tank Heartland Institute sent out in an email PR release a few days before the Senate vote:
“Mandatory GMO labeling is intended to scare folks from one of the greatest developments in human nutrition in our history. The movement is cleverly financed by the organic food industry and the usual culprits who do not want to advance civilization. Opponents of GMOs ignore the proof of the efficacy of genetic modification, as well as the fact it has not caused a single human illness. Meanwhile, tainted organic food has created numerous illnesses-–such as the situation in Chipotle, and many other cases in recent decades. The public has enough real threats to be concerned about. It is time to take GMOs off that list.”
The email was signed by Jay Lehr, Science Director at The Heartland Institute.
If you care to let him know what you think of this poorly written paragraph, you can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
So I looked up Jay Lehr on SourceWatch, a website that reveals who is behind front groups like The Heartland Institute, and found out that Lehr is science director and senior fellow at the Institute, “a Chicago-based free market think tank that attacks the scientific evidence for human-caused climate change. The Heartland Institute has received over $791,000 from oil-giant ExxonMobil since 1998.
The tobacco industry has also been a regular funder to the Heartland Institute, with at least $190,000 coming from Philip Morris since 1993. The Heartland Institute maintains a smoker’s rights section on its website called “The Smoker’s Lounge.”
Isn’t it great that the Rabid Right thinks that “the organic food industry and the usual culprits” are in a conspiracy to scuttle “one of the greatest developments in human nutrition?” And who might “the usual culprits” be? Could they be the 92 percent of U.S. citizens, according to Consumer reports, who believe that GMO foods should be labeled accordingly?
USDA ASKS MIRACLE-GRO TO KEEP EYE ON ESCAPED GMO IN OREGON
During a contentious meeting on March 1, farmers and irrigation district officials challenged USDA’s recent agreement with Scotts Miracle-Gro to manage a genetically engineered creeping bentgrass that escaped from field trials in 2003.
The grass has taken root in Malheur and Jefferson counties in Oregon and Canyon County in Idaho.
Farmers and others expressed concern about the 10-year plan between Scotts and USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.
“They created the problem. They let it escape. Now you’re dumping (the problem) on Malheur and Canyon counties,” seed grower Jerry Erstrom told Sid Abel, assistant deputy director of USDA’s Biotechnology Regulatory Services.
Scotts, in conjunction with Monsanto Corp., was developing a genetically modified creeping bentgrass for use mainly in the golf course industry.
Since the grass escaped from grower field trials near Parma in Idaho and Madras in Jefferson County in 2003, it has taken root in those areas.
Erstrom, chairman of the Malheur County Weed Board, and others said that because the grass is genetically engineered to resist Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer, it is hard to eradicate and is causing problems in waterways.
Erstrom said the grass has also invaded pastures, which is a problem for anyone raising organic livestock, and if it gets into a shipment of hay or grain, the shipment can be rejected for overseas markets that don’t tolerate traces of genetically modified organisms.
USDA’s agreement with Scotts, approved in September, requires the company to continue to survey for the grass in the affected counties in 2016 and try to eradicate it where possible.
In years 2 and 3, the company will provide technical assistance to affected farmers and irrigation districts and provide incentives for the adoption of best management practices to control the grass.
Scotts will also conduct outreach and education programs.
In years 4 through 10, the company will still continue to analyze the situation, educate growers and provide technical assistance, Abel said.
Scotts will also continue working with Oregon State University researchers to try to identify herbicides that can effectively manage the grass.
Oregon Department of Agriculture Director Katy Coba expressed concern about the plan in a Feb. 17 letter to USDA that prompted the Ontario meeting.
In her letter, Coba said the plan “passes the burden for management of (the grass) onto affected stakeholders.”
The letter says that ODA “is concerned that Oregon ranchers, growers and irrigation districts will have limited tools and resources available to … manage this herbicide-resistant grass effectively.”
Clint Shock, director of OSU’s Malheur County experiment station, told Abel that Scotts approached him about conducting GMO bentgrass trials there and he refused the project because he didn’t believe the plant could be contained and should never leave the laboratory.
“What you’re proposing is to (take) all the burden and loss off of Scotts … and (put it) on to the (organic) community,” he said. “That’s really what it amounts to.”
Erstrom said the agreement is “nothing more than a plan for Scotts to get off the economic hook of fixing what they broke.”
That prompted Bob Harriman, Scotts’ vice president of biotechnology, to stand up and defend the company.
“We have a history of being an honorable company,” he said. “Judge us on the actions we’re taking (and) the progress we’re making. We want to do the right thing.”
Abel rejected accusations that USDA and Scotts were walking away from the situation and said the plan can be changed if necessary.
“No, USDA is not walking away, nor is Scotts,” he said. “We are in this for the long haul. I ask you to give us a chance. Let this plan evolve and work and we will change it if necessary.”
They should have listened to Clint Shock.
The Climax Economy
From the day I started work at Organic Gardening and Farming magazine in early 1970, I felt that there was something intrinsically “right” about the organic idea. At first I didn’t quite know what it was, but I felt that something about its philosophical thrust was applicable to far more than the garden or farm.
Over the years, I’ve learned what that feeling is about. In 1970, we as a society were still hooked to the reductionist way of learning and doing—that is, if we just pick things apart enough, we can find the secrets of what makes it tick. Organics, on the other hand, went in the opposite direction. It was holistic. If we just see how something is linked to everything else, then we can understand what it is and what it does ever more deeply. It was the insight of ecology—that everything is linked to everything else. That you can’t stir a flower without troubling a star.
This holistic idea has been around for many hundreds of years, even if ecology is still a fairly new science. The Unicorn Tapestries in The Cloisters in New York depict a medieval allegory of a group of men hunting a unicorn in order to capture and tame it and own its power. The unicorn represents free nature. To capture it they have to kill it, which destroys what was valuable about the unicorn to begin with. The fable is a warning about reductionism. The key to understanding isn’t tearing something down to its most minute parts, but rather finding out how it fits into the grand scheme of things.
But 1970 was a long time ago: 46 years to be precise. At that time, we—the staff of the magazine—felt that our audience was “a little old lady in tennis shoes,” as the saying went around the office. That little old lady was then being joined by an army of young ladies and men who called themselves the hippies and reacted positively to the magazine’s advice that nature knows best, and to trust nature’s laws as being wise, and of promoting environmentalism. Then Earth Day happened, and organic gardening and farming—the agricultural and horticultural practices, not just the magazine—took off.
Organic gardening ceased being the backyard hobby of progressive and bohemian types and began to be taken seriously. The result, all these years later, astounds me. Just the other day, walking through Costco here in Santa Rosa, California, and seeing many islands of products and foodstuffs color coded as organic, with large banners proclaiming their organic provenance, I turned to Susanna, my wife, and said, “My God—we won!”
Trying to jump start organic growing techniques and organic (holistic) thinking in general was always a struggle. J.I. Rodale, who founded Rodale Press, the publisher of OG&F, was called a quack, a charlatan, a fraud, and worse. The government tried to destroy him. He was humiliated, dismissed, and reviled. But if you read his first book, “Pay Dirt,” it’s a well-researched and well-reasoned foundational book about soil science from an ecological perspective. I worked for J.I., knew him well, and although I thought he was a little wacky (I was the wacky one, because his advanced thinking on this topic was beyond me), I understood in my gut that he was right. His son Bob continued J.I.’s success and grew the business along with the importance of the organic idea. Now his granddaughter Maria runs the company and continues the work. I say hats off to the Rodales, for without them, we’d still be eating DDT.
So when I said, “We won,” it was the culmination of all those years of struggle that so many people participated in. We haven’t really won yet, as 95 percent of our food supply is still grown or raised conventionally, but the idea behind organics has won. The old guard that laid the framework for the idea is fading and beginning to slip into history. Generation X (ages 40-50), Millennials (in their 20s and 30s), and the iGeneration (people just now turning 21) understand the importance of sustainability, organics, environmentalism, and the role of social networking in promoting these values. The overwhelming majority of them “feel the Bern.”
Bernie Sanders is one of the old guard who helped lay the groundwork for the new framework that’s now second nature to the younger generations. He’s been saying the right thing for decades, fighting the fight when most people laughed at him. His shoulder was at the wheel when the wheel was just starting to get unstuck from the mud of conventional corporatist thinking. Hats off to Bernie, too.
But kudos to people who got us this far is important, but it isn’t the point of this blog today. I’d like to talk about the economy. And I’d like to talk about how the holistic, inclusive idea that lies behind your purchase or creation of organic food can be applied to economic thinking. So here goes:
Economic health has been predicated on economic growth. Successful companies grow. The GDP grows. Profits grow.
But is constant growth sustainable? Doesn’t constant growth define cancer? Can a company just keep growing forever, until—what? It takes over the world? And doesn’t constant growth imply growth by any means possible, fair or foul? And perpetual competition?
Well, nature should be our model in all things. We are part of nature and subject to her laws and forces, her tendencies and directions. And what does nature teach us about growth?
Organisms, like companies, grow, but then they die. Through their generations, they also diversify. In fact, the greater the biological diversity in any ecosystem, the healthier it is. The most biodiverse ecosystems aren’t ones in which individual creatures or kinds of creatures keep growing, but ones that have reached a climax ecology.
The encyclopedic definition of a climax ecology expresses a biological community of plants, animals, and fungi which, through the process of ecological succession in an area over time, reaches a steady state. This equilibrium is thought to occur because the climax community is composed of species best adapted to average conditions in that area, and which fill all the niches of ecological need for the health of the community.
Instead of being forced into ever-increasing growth, wouldn’t our economy be healthier if it could reach a steady state that supplies the various needs of all creatures in a way that’s sustainable for perpetuity?
What would such an economy look like? Looking again at nature, we see competition balanced with cooperation. We see interlocking beneficial relationships. We see peace between phenotypical players in a steady-state system, though there be winners and losers on the individual level.
In our current system, capital is the lifeblood of our economy. Accumulating capital is the objective. But in a climax economy, the wisest use of capital would be the objective. The benefit is not solely for any one business, but for the whole interconnected world of business, to produce goods and services that benefit the most creatures most efficiently.
It stands to reason that only the most efficient economy can be the most sustainable. We can already see what a climax economy looks like, see some examples of it emerging, and how we get there from here.
A climax ecosystem in nature sustains itself in perpetuity. All its trophic and functional niches are filled. It is stable. All its participants have what they need for their health and welfare. An economy is a similarly interconnected whole of suppliers and consumers. It too can reach a climax state. Businesses thrive as long as they are useful, then sink away and disappear when they are not. Just as in an organic garden predators and prey are in balance, heavy feeding crops are in balance with light feeders, and the lifeblood of the garden is the compost that’s recycled back into the soil, so in a climax economy businesses rise and fall according to their usefulness for the health of the whole, monetary resources are apportioned according to this balance, and profits are not heaped upon the fortunate few at the top of the economic food chain but are recycled back into the economy as a whole to strengthen and support it.
That’s a climax economy, and that’s where we should be going.
A ROUND OF APPLAUSE FOR MONSANTO’S FAILING FORTUNES
Reuters reports that Monsanto expects its sales to remain flat for the rest of 2016 and possibly into the future. As a result, Monsanto’s shares fell more than seven percent and are now down almost 30 percent over that past 12 months as a result of steep decline in sales of Monsanto’s GMO seeds and toxic herbicide Roundup, which has been linked to cancer by the World Health Organization.
And the Wall Street investment bank Goldman Sachs has downgraded Monsanto to a sell, encouraging investors to dump Monsanto across the board.
This terrible news for Monsanto comes on top of the fact that Monsanto slashed its workforce by 16 percent, cutting more than 3,600 employees since late 2015.
Is it too soon to yell, “Yay!”