Big Ag’s Propaganda Machine
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We Americans don’t realize what suckers we’re being played for. A huge amount of what we believe is propaganda shoveled to us by corporate America hiding behind pretty false fronts. If that sounds Orwellian, it is Orwellian.
For instance, take the American Dietetic Association’s recent press release, distributed through its eatright.org mouthpiece, entitled, “Advising Consumers about Organic Foods and Healthful Eating.” Notice that people are not people, patients, clients, individuals, or anything else. They (we) are “consumers.” You would think that the American Dietetic Association would have the interests of Americans and their health at heart, wouldn’t you? After all, they are the people who certify dietitians, who are the people who plan meals for hospital patients, among others. Have you ever tasted hospital food? Exactly.
Let’s take a close look at that press release. It notes that while “organic” food (organic in quotes, as if implying something fishy is going on) is produced under the rules of the USDA’s National Organic Program, “NOP certification does not claim nutritional or food safety benefits for organic products.” It adds that “many conventional farms use environmentally and agriculturally sustainable practices commonly associated with organic practices.” This not-so-subtly implies that there may be no difference between conventional farms and organic farms.
A few sentences later, they tell us that “organic…foods are not necessarily healthy or sustainable, yet healthy food should be synonymous with both nutritious and sustainable.” Thanks, ADA, for pointing that out. We almost might have fallen for the organic industry’s tricks and deceits.
Further on, the release tells us that “reports of contamination by E. coli show higher levels in organic produce. Other studies have documented that using animal manure fertilizer in organic production…increases the risk of contamination of fresh produce with E. coli, Salmonella, and other enteric pathogens.” No mention of the fact that the National Organic Program expressly prohibits the use of fresh animal manure on cropland. And that all animal manures must be composted to kill all pathogenic organisms. And that study after study shows no statistically significant contamination on organic produce when the rules are followed.
To drive the point home that organic food is dangerous as hell, the release goes on: “It is important to note that many ingredients and methods (such as antimicrobial agents, preservatives, and irradiation) with demonstrated food safety benefit are not allowed in organic food production.” It adds, “both conventional and organic foods have been targets of food-borne illness outbreaks and recalls.”
But organic food IS more nutritious, right? This site has reported lots of studies showing organic superiority in the nutrition department. The dietitians will certainly recognize that, right? Here’s the press release: “Systematic reviews recently completed in the U.K. and France show few differences in nutrient content between organic and conventional produce. The small differences reported were not across all products and result from variations in mineral uptake from soils and fertilizers applied to soils.” Ah, and conventional farmers apply mineral fertilizers. Now I get it.
Well, how about milk—the most popular of all organic products? The release: “A study of milk quality among conventional and organic varieties showed no biologically significant differences in quality, nutrients, and hormones, although conventional milk had significantly lower bacterial counts.” Whoa, Nelly. Must change back to ordinary milk with its doses of recombinant Bovine Somatotropin (that’s also known as rBGH, a GMO hormone to stimulate cows into producing huge amounts of milk), which damages the cows, but what the heck—it’s not affecting humans, right? As it turns out, breast development at age 7 or 8 in girls isn’t so unusual these days. A new study, recently published in the journal Pediatrics, shows that American girls are maturing earlier and earlier. One possible reason is the presence of rBGH residues in milk. Its metabolites are dangerous, too, such as insulin-like growth factor #1 (IGF-1) implicated in breast cancer development.
Any other reasons to avoid organic milk? The release: “Organic milk production relies on greater farm acreage and less pesticide use than conventional production and inherently increases methane emission.” Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, like carbon dioxide on steroids. So global warming is increased by organic farming. I never would have guessed that, since organic farming sequesters tons and tons of carbon dioxide in the soil, rather than releasing it to the atmosphere. And why would methane emissions be greater from organic cows than conventional cows? Organic cows don’t eat no beans.
The bottom line, according to the press release? “The best method to differentiate (conventional and organic) products is the food label.”
How’s that for propaganda? People actually believe this stuff, but most of it is lies and half-truths. What got me interested in this press release is that I thought the American Dietetic Association was a legitimate organization, but then I followed a link to one of the ADA’s front organizations, where the financial backers of the ADA were listed. Who was there?
Coca Cola, Pepsi-Cola, Campbell’s Soup, Hershey’s Chocolates, ConAgra (the huge multinational Big Ag company), and so on down the list. Then I checked the ADA’s board of directors, and there was someone from Dannon Yogurt, and someone from ConAgra. So just today I went back to that link of financial backers to check my facts, and this is what I found: “Page no longer found.” They’d taken down the page. I’d be ashamed of my revenue sources, too, if my job was to promote healthy food and my backers were the junk food makers.
Just remember: you are being propagandized, not just by the ADA, but by smooth-talking, smiling, seemingly friendly and helpful front organizations across the corporate spectrum. As Bob Dylan wrote, “Look out, kids, they keep it all hid.”
Are Wild, Foraged Foods Organic?
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The short answer is no. There are rules for what makes a product organic—a lot of rules. Just the links to information about what constitutes organic run to several pages and can be found at http://www.nal.usda.gov/afsic/pubs/ofp/ofp.shtml. It makes for dense reading, but sampling a bit of the law that establishes organic as an agricultural category will show you just how much thought has gone into it.
Wild food, although great fun to forage for, is not grown to organic standards. In fact, it grows itself in whatever ways it chooses at whatever sites it likes. That could b e on top of a toxic waste dump.
Foraging wild food is having a revival right now. It’s been 35 or so years since Euell Gibbons wrote his entertaining and enthusiastic series of books about stalking the wild asparagus and other wild comestibles, so I guess it’s about time for a revival. Euell himself killed the last vogue when he made a TV ad showing him eating Grape Nuts and claiming that they “taste like wild hickory nuts.” Anyone who’s ever tasted a hickory nut knew right away that was nonsense and Euell lost his legitimacy then and there.
We, being organic-minded folks, may indulge in the wild food fad. I know I do, and have brought home everything from black trumpet mushrooms to rose hips for making tea. As concerned environmentalists, however, there are a few things to keep in mind when foraging.
First, think about our own health and the health of those who may eat our foraged foods. Only harvest food that you know is wholesome and safe to eat. My personal rule is, I’d feed it to my kids.
Don’t harvest in fields that may have been sprayed with toxic agricultural chemicals. Old abandoned fields, hedge rows, woods’ edges, and the like are probably going to be okay.
Don’t harvest plants that are endangered or close to being wiped out by overharvesting in your area.
If you find a stand of a wild food you’d like to harvest, just take what you need for that day’s use and use all you take. In other words, don’t harvest wholesale and destroy a viable stand of wild food.
For all the millions of years leading up to the dawn of agriculture about 10,000 years ago, our hominid ancestors foraged for wild food. A liking for it and a knack for finding it are undoubtedly hard-wired into our genetic code, for foraging ability was a key to survival. Enjoy it as a pastime because it combines diet and exercise in a particularly healthy way.
Regular readers of this blog will know that the lid has been blown off Monsanto’s Round-Up herbicide. Turns out that Monsanto has known for 30 years that glyphosate, the herbicidal ingredient in Round-Up, causes birth defects, according to a group of scientists who have studied it. Trouble is, the information was never made public. Monsanto, over that time, has used genetic engineering techniques to produce “Round-Up Ready” crops—meaning they are resistant to the herbicidal effects of glyphosate, so farmers can use all the Round-Up they want. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has to approve GMOs (genetically modified organisms) before they can be used, and recently approved Round-Up Ready GMO alfalfa and sugar beets.
Now Monsanto has come up with Round-Up Ready GMO Kentucky Bluegrass. Bluegrass is not only a forage crop for horses. It’s also a common lawn turf grass, used around homes, homes that may have children, homes that may have young families with pregnant mothers. Surely the USDA wouldn’t allow this glyphosate-resistant GMO grass to be used around homes, would it? Aren’t Tom Vilsack, the Secretary of Agriculture, and his boss, Barack Obama, supposed to be environmentalists? Doesn’t Michelle Obama have an organic garden on the White House lawn?
Well, oopsie! On July 1, the USDA “added Kentucky Bluegrass, a grass that is genetically engineered to tolerate applications of glyphosate, to the list (of allowed GMO plants),” according to the Organic Trade Association. So if glyphosate causes birth defects and Monsanto and the USDA are doing what they can to encourage its use in residential areas where people are conceiving and raising children, what would you call that?
Eating Organic Is Just Common Sense
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Let’s start by listing some reasons why you would want to buy conventionally grown foods.
One, you trust that conventional farmers wouldn’t sell produce that’s contaminated with poisons. But the bulk of commodity foods sold in this country are grown or raised using a slew of toxic chemicals. Huge corporate farms operate hand-in-hand with huge agricultural chemical companies that supply the toxics. The headlines recently have been full of the revelation that Monsanto has known for over 30 years that Round-Up herbicide causes birth defects and failed to tell the public. So it makes no sense to trust these corporate behemoths with your health. In fact, you already know what they care about the most: healthy profits for their shareholders and their own bottom lines.
Two, conventional food is cheaper. That idea is penny wise and pound foolish. You may pay less at the check-out counter, but you pay more personally in damage to your own health and socially in the depletion of natural resources (soil erosion) and damage to the environment (toxic chemicals in the ground water, disruption of ecosystems, development of antibiotic resistant bacteria due to routine use of antibiotics in meat and milk animals, disruptive hormones in those same animals, GMO crops that insert rogue genes into the environment, plus lots more).
Three, it’s convenient. Conventional food is found in abundance at your local supermarket. But for the sake of that convenience, are the costs to you and the environment really worth it?
Fourth, you just don’t care. That attitude is not only short-sighted, it’s stupid. Not caring will not only have no effect solving the problems of conventional agriculture, it will have negative effects on you and those you care about.
Now let’s look at some reasons why you would choose to buy organic food.
One, you are supporting farmers who are farming in a sustainable way; that is, organic farming improves the soil as it grows crops, so the land can be farmed in perpetuity without damage.
Two, you are supporting—in many instances—local farmers who are improving the environment for everyone living in the area by not spreading toxic chemicals. Toxin-free farms allow for protection of wild species and a stronger and more diverse natural ecosystem.
Three, you are protecting your health and the health of those you are responsible for feeding, as well as the health of farmers and farm workers.
Four, you are not spending your food dollars on produce from farmers who are fighting nature, but on produce from those who are working with nature, taking advantage of nature’s processes, lessening energy use from fossil fuels, recycling waste, and helping to green your community.
Five, you like the simple and natural approach to food production that organic farming represents.
Six, you are not supporting destructive, corporate Big Agriculture and all the depredations it causes.
Seven, the food tastes better and is often more nutritious.
Eating organic food is just common sense.
Summer Fruits Are Here!
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Isn’t this just the best time of the year? For so long, market fruits have been limited to apples from controlled atmosphere warehouses in Washington, bananas from Central and South America, and citrus from Florida, Texas, or California. Anything else had to cross the equator—too long a haul, too expensive, and unreliably organic. But now:
Locally grown blueberries, apricots, peaches, nectarines, raspberries, blackberries, pluots, cherries, plums, and of course, strawberries.
As Sir Isaac Walton observed about strawberries, “Doubtless God could have made a better berry, but doubtless He never did.”
This bounty of summer fruits is only with us for a short time, so eat up. And if you have a freezer, freeze some for when the winter winds blow and the rain turns to snow. Don’t forget to make the best jam in the world, now that apricots are in the stores. Here’s the recipe:
Wait until the height of the apricot season, around the end of July, and when you find the most delicious apricots, make these preserves. It’s an out-of-this-world confection that’s perfect to spread on muffins, to glaze a ham, to use in a fruit tart, or to add a sweet tang to pork tenderloin.
4 lbs. fresh apricots
5 cups sugar
Juice of two lemons, strained
8 8-ounce canning jars with tops and bands
Pit the apricots and slice them into coarse pieces. Mix them with sugar in a bowl and let the mixture stand for an hour or overnight on the counter. This allows the juice to run and dissolve the sugar. Place a dinner plate in the fridge. Transfer the mixture to a large saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Stir it frequently to prevent sticking. Be careful not to let it foam up and over the sides. Skim the light foamy material that will rise. Reduce heat to medium and cook until it looks like preserves. Boil the jars, lids, and bands in water to cover them. Take the plate from the fridge and spoon a bit onto the plate to test consistency. When the consistency seems right, remove from heat, stir in the strained lemon juice, spoon the preserves into the jars, leaving ½-inch headroom, put on lids and bands and process according to the jar manufacturer’s instructions. This makes eight jars.
Okay—that’s the fun part of this blog. Now comes the REALLY fun part. It concerns strawberries. Nine scientists led by J.P. Reganold at Washington State Unjiversity, recently published an open source article on PLoS ONE, an open access journal, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. So let me do that now. I’ve already credited Prof. Reganold. Here’s the citation:
Reganold, J.P., et al (2010) Fruit and Soil Quality of Organic and Conventional Strawberry Agrosystems. PLoS ONE 5(9): e12346. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0012346.
Just paste that citation into your search engine and the study will come up. Lest anyone accuse these scientists of bias, their study was funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, The National Science Foundation, and the Department of Energy, among others. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript. To contact the scientists, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Strawberries are high on the list of “dirty dozen” foods most contaminated by toxic chemicals when they are grown conventionally. So this study is well worth reading. Here’s a verbatim synopsis from the study:
People often buy organic food because they believe organic farms produce more nutritious and better tasting food from healthier soils. Here we tested if there are significant differences in fruit and soil quality from 13 pairs of commercial and conventional strawberry agrosystems (farms) in California.
At multiple sampling times for two years, we evaluated three varieties of strawberries for mineral elements, shelf life, phytochemical (naturally occurring chemicals produced by plants) composition, and organoleptic (taste) properties. We also analyzed traditional soil properties and soil DNA using microarray technology.
We found that the organic farms had strawberries with longer shelf life, greater dry matter (meaning they had more substance), and higher antioxidant activity and concentrations of ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and phenolic compounds (antioxidants that protect the body against cancer), but lower concentrations of phosphorus and potassium.
In one variety, sensory panels judged organic strawberries to be sweeter and have better flavor, overall acceptance, and appearance than their conventional counterparts. We also found the organically farmed soils to have more total carbon and nitrogen, greater microbial biomass and activity, and higher concentrations of micronutrients. Organically farmed soils also exhibited greater numbers of endemic genes and greater functional gene abundance and diversity for several biogeochemical processes, such as nitrogen fixation and pesticide degradation.
Our findings show that the organic strawberry farms produced higher quality fruit and that their higher quality soils might have greater microbial functional capability and resilience to stress.
Despite the propaganda from corporate agriculture, organic food really is more nutritious, tastes better, is far less likely to be contaminated with agricultural poisons, and builds the health of the earth where it’s farmed. These strawberry studies are one sweet example of that.
Must We Kill to Live?
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The short answer is: it depends. It depends on what you mean by “kill.” If you mean all life—plants and animals—then yes, we must kill to live. If you mean must we kill animals to live, then the answer is no, there are the vegan and ovo-lacto vegetarian options.
However, let’s get real. Like it or not, we are omnivorous. Most people aren’t going to stop eating meat. But in the future, they may stop eating so much meat. Meat production consumes an extraordinary amount of agricultural resources per pound of food consumed. Not only that, but the way we mass produce meat today is creating serious health problems. The routine use of antibiotics to prevent illness in cattle confined to filthy feed lots has created superbugs—bacteria resistant to antibiotics used for humans. The feeding of grain to cattle to fatten them up for slaughter has created deadly strains of E. coli, which we witnessed killing people recently in Germany when sprouts were contaminated by water that in turn was contaminated by runoff from cattle feeding pens. The digestive systems of cattle are made for grass, not grain. Grain may produce fat in the animals, but it also breeds bad bacteria in the last of the four chambers of their digestive systems.
But those are problems associated with conventional farming. Animals are a valuable part of an organic farm. Just as in nature’s wild ecosystems, where there is a mix of plants and animals, so there should be a mix of plants and animals in the organic agricultural ecosystem, whether on a farm, or even in a home garden. Fish in the ponds, lakes, and streams; chickens in the hen house; rabbits in their hutches; domesticated hogs, sheep, cattle, and goats—they all have a part to play on the organic farm. Their manure is recycled through the compost piles that provide the fertilizer for the fields. Unlike our pets, which we allow to live out their lives until they die and we bury them, we harvest the farm animals while they are most useful. When the egg production drops off, the hen becomes a fine chicken stew.
It’s important on an organic farm or in an organic garden that our animals are treated well when they are alive. That means they have a chance to live as nature intended, doing their jobs, fulfilling their ecological roles, and increasing the health of the whole system. Chickens can scratch up wireworms and Japanese beetle grubs from the soil, hogs can root out the nutsedge that’s invading the cornfield, cows can graze sweet grass and give sweet milk, goats can browse on the poison ivy and keep down the greenbriar. And when it comes time to harvest the domesticated animals, it must be done as humanely as possible.
The amount of edible meat produced on an organic farm will be less than a factory farm but may be an indication of how much meat should be in our diet. Less meat, but organically raised, clean and wholesome, and slaughtered by people trained to do it properly, is part of a very healthy diet.