The GMO Fight Heats Up
The Obama administration really blew it when it approved unrestricted production and use of Monsanto’s “Round-Up Ready” alfalfa and soybean seeds. These seeds are genetically engineered to resist the fatal effects on plants of Monsanto’s Round-Up herbicide. The effects of the administration’s decision are insidious in several ways.
First, despite pleas from the organic community, the USDA made no requirement that Monsanto—or DuPont or Syngenta, the other big players in the field of genetically modified organisms (GMO)—label foods made from GMO plants so that consumers can avoid them if they wish. And no wonder–many polls show that if consumers knew that their foods contained GMOs, they would refuse to buy them. And yet, nearly half the seeds sold in the United States contain genetically modified material. And 87 percent of GMO foodstuffs is grown from Monsanto’s seeds. And some estimates are that 70 percent of our food supply contains GMOs.
Second, because Round-Up Ready crops don’t succumb to glyphosate, the herbicidal ingredient in Round-Up, farmers are encouraged to control weeds by spraying more acreage more often with the herbicide. And is Monsanto’s weed killer safe? Well, Round-Up is 41 percent glyphosate and 15 percent “inert ingredient” identified as polyoxyethylene amine (POEA) that acts like a detergent to allow the glyphosate to penetrate the waxy surfaces of leaves more easily, plus other undisclosed ingredients. Japanese physicians investigating 56 cases of Round-Up poisoning found that POEA is three times more lethal than glyphosate, which in itself is a poisonous chemical, according to the British medical journal Lancet.
Third, any pollen that drifts from GMO corn, soybean, or alfalfa fields onto adjacent or nearby organic farms can pollinate the same organic crops. As you know, GMOs are not allowed in organic food, and so the contaminated organic acreage would lose its certification and put the organic farmers out of the business of selling organic food. GMO alfalfa, grown in fields liberally doused with Round-Up, is cattle food—meat and milk. Now organic farmers have no way to keep the contaminants away from their crops.
Fourth, Monsanto and the others carry patents on their GMO crops. Any farmer who saves patented seeds to plant next season infringes on the corporate patents. Monsanto alone pays a staff of 75 people to spend millions of dollars to investigate and prosecute farmers—close to 3,000 in 20 states—for patent infringement. From the beginning of agriculture 10,000 years ago, farmers have saved crop seeds and selected strains with sought-after qualities. That’s how progress in agriculture is made. Well, you can kiss all that goodbye if Monsanto owns the patent on your seeds.
Fifth, the concentration of control over our food supply is rapidly moving into the hands of some of the most rapacious and environmentally unfriendly corporate behemoths in the world. According to some recently misguided—or intentionally contrived—Supreme Court decisions (see Citizens United), corporations are now considered persons. Big biz loves to point out its personhood when it serves its ends. But if an actual person—a human being—grabbed oligarchic or monopoly control of the nation’s food supply, poisoned its fields and people, and tinkered with the control panel of life so it could sell more poison, that person would be prosecuted. So if Monsanto claims the rights of personhood, it should also be held accountable for the responsibilities of personhood. Hello Justice Department?
There are even more reasons why the Obama administration’s decision to allow Monsanto free rein in America’s farm fields was wrong. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and President Obama himself should be ashamed of this sell-out position. Meanwhile, Michelle Obama is trying to grow an organic garden on the White House property and working to improve the diets of America’s kids. Looks like the Obamas are working at cross purposes here.
Why Organic Chicken Tastes So Good
The world’s standard of quality for chickens is for birds raised in Bresse, France. Bresse chickens—the name both of the town in the Alps-Rhone Department where they are grown and the name of the breed of chicken—have been given their own appellation–a particular place where they must come from. And they must be of the Bresse breed. They get to eat the best chicken feed and mash and they must have room enough to walk around the countryside. All this is regulated by French law.
Bresse chickens are highly valued for their deep flavor and tender meat. About 1.2 million are raised annually, but such is the demand inside France that few birds make it out of the country. Poulet de Bresse currently sells for 17 euros ($23.36) for each kilo of weight.
An American variety, the Blue Foot or Poulet Bleu, was developed from French stock in the 1980s in Canada and is raised along similar lines in California. It has become equally highly prized—and highly priced. It’s not the same breed as a Bresse, but some experts consider it just as good, or almost as good. These chickens, like their French counterparts, have red combs, white feathers, and blue feet, the colors of the French flag and the stars and stripes as well.
In addition, most growers raise blue foot chickens organically—all organic feed; access to free range, sunlight, and fresh water; no antibiotics, no growth hormones, no cages, no chemicals of any sort. Because the feed is organic and contains all the nutrients that feed is capable of containing, these chickens get optimum nutrition. This translates into optimum flavor in healthy birds.
Because the birds are not raised in cramped conditions, where they are often at the mercy of aggressive cage partners and fed with growth hormones inflating them to harvest size in six weeks, their meat doesn’t contain the stress metabolites that make for soft, boggy, badly-flavored meat. These are chickens allowed to operate as chickens, not factory outputs.
American Blue Foot chickens, like Bresse birds, are allowed to grow bigger than factory birds, usually slaughtered at 14 weeks, yielding birds between 3.5 and 4.0 pounds. At slaughter, they are not dipped into a communal ice water bath, a practice that can spread disease from one infected carcass to all dipped in the water. Rather, they are air-chilled with a blast of clean, cold air.
Most organic chickens sold in the U.S. are not blue foots—and that’s okay. They may be smaller with somewhat less flavor, but they are still a far cut above what’s available from factory chicken farms. If you are interested in the blue foot bird, google Blue Foot Chickens for Sale and you’ll find a list of online suppliers.
Giving Bees a Helping Hand
Our honeybees have had a tough time of it lately. First it was an outbreak of mites that attack and kill honeybees, causing immense damage to hives nationwide. Then Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) started showing up. Bees would fly off to work the flowering fields and never return.
It was hard to pinpoint the cause of CCD. Some thought that it was caused by a pesticide marketed by Bayer, the German chemical company. But just recently scientists have found that it is almost certainly caused by a combination of two non-lethal funguses that, when they get together, can be fatal to honeybees.
So, is the answer pesticides that kill the mites and fungicides that kill the funguses? No, says The Oregon Garden, an 80-acre botanical showcase and teaching facility in Silverton, Oregon, 45 miles south of Portland. The answer is to make life easier for the bees.
In the summer, certain worker bees are detailed to the hive entrances to beat their wings so that hot air build-up inside the hives is exhausted. But workers at The Oregon Garden attached little solar devices that operate fans that cool its four new hives when temperatures go above a pre-set limit. And this has made all the difference. The worker bees that used to stay at home to cool the hives are now free to go off and collect nectar and pollen. Hives only a year old are notoriously poor honey producers, but the four year-old solar-cooled hives at The Oregon Garden yielded 300 pounds of honey in their first year.
The cooler hives suppress hive mites and the fresh, circulating air keeps down any fungus that might contribute to CCD. The solution to several problems was a simple one: augment nature’s own system, rather than trying to defeat it. This is always the organic way. And when it works, it tends to solve a number of problems at once without creating new ones.
Have you seen those ads on TV featuring a woman shopping and complaining about “food taxes, even on bottled water”? The ad is placed by Americans Against Food Taxes, and claims that the government is trying to manipulate your food choices by using its power to tax. The group’s website says that it’s a “coalition of concerned citizens, responsible individuals, financially strapped families, and small and large businesses in communities across the country.”
Uh, have you ever heard anyone complain about food taxes, especially on soda, juice drinks, and flavored milks? No, neither have I. So I checked in with SourceWatch (www.sourcewatch.org), an organization that takes the lid off advocacy campaigns, to see who is behind Americans Against Food Taxes. It sure smelled like an Astroturf organization to me (a group claiming to represent a groundswell movement of citizens, but is really a front for big corporations trying to twist public opinion in its desired direction).
Here’s SourceWatch: “Its extensive membership consists mainly of lobbying groups for packaged food and soda companies, chain restaurant corporations, and the world’s large food and soft drink manufacturers and distributors, including the Coca-Cola Company, Dr. Pepper-Royal Crown Bottling Co., PepsiCo, Canada Dry Bottling Company of New York, the Can Manufacturers Institute, 7-Eleven Convenience Stores, and…” Well, you get the idea.
Goddard Claussen Public Relations in Washington, D.C., mounted the campaign for the beverage industry. Its website boasts that “Fortune magazine branded us as ‘the go-to guys in issue advocacy.’” So the next time you see that woman complaining about the government using taxes to help reduce the consumption of obesity-causing soft drinks, know that you’re watching a cleverly hidden campaign by the beverage corporations to protect themselves from paying taxes and insuring that Americans keep downing those sugary soft drinks.
The go-to guys call it issue advocacy, but it’s really propaganda for a destructive hidden agenda.