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Why Won’t They Buy Our Farm Products?

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Did you know that Australia, Japan, and the European Union ban the import of U.S. milk and milk products because so much of it contains rBST (also known as rBGH), a genetically engineered hormone that forces a cow to produce excessive amounts of milk?

Are you aware that the European Union also bans the importation of many American farm products other than milk because they have been genetically altered?

What do the European nations know that we don’t know?

Strike that. It’s more accurate to say, “What do European nations know that we can’t know?” We can’t know what they know because the U.S. Department of Agriculture fails to require the labeling of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in American food products.

That seems strange, doesn’t it? Monsanto claims that their GMO seeds and the foods produced from them, and the milk from rBST-treated cows, are all perfectly safe. You’d think they’d be proud to display a statement on food that reads, “Contains GMOs.” Why not? They’re safe, right?

Well, common sense tells you why they don’t want you to know that food contains GMOs. Because if it’s so labeled, you won’t buy it.

Of course, you can avoid the problems with GMOs by buying and eating organic food. Frankenfoods, as genetically modified foods are often called, aren’t allowed in organic culture. Big Ag companies like Monsanto, Dow Chemical, Cargill, Archer-Daniels-Midland and others have been fighting organic farming for many years. It stands to reason why. These companies have lots of agricultural products to sell, and many schemes for selling them. Organic farmers don’t buy their products, by and large. They don’t buy pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, chemical fertilizer, antibiotics, growth hormones, GMO seeds, and so on.

As an organic-minded consumer of quality food, you can keep yourself up to date about GMO products through several sources. First, take a look at this YouTube clip about rBST: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3SXVpvgXo9Q.

You’ll find some other interesting clips at that site, too, including one about how Fox News covers up problems with Monsanto’s cow hormone.

A non-profit organization called the Non-GMO Project tests and verifies foods that contain no GMOs and provides manufacturers with a label that says, “Non GMO Project VERIFIED.” Visit them at www.nongmoproject.org and look for their label.

The Institute for Responsible Technology publishes a very useful Non-GMO Shopping Guide, listing companies and products guaranteed to contain no GMOs, as well as a full page of products in which GMOs occur but are not labeled. You can access the guide through www.ResponsibleTechnology.org.

Since the 1990s, the American people have been asking the FDA, USDA, legislators, and the courts to label foods containing GMOs. So far, they haven’t. So in California, people are taking this demand into their own hands via a 2012 Ballot Initiative Campaign to put the measure on the California ballot next year. They need volunteers to gather signatures. You can do your part and get involved by visiting www.labelgmos.org/pledge.

If you are an organic farmer or retailer and want to be completely up-to-date on all aspects of the GMO situation, visit http://www.non-gmoreport.com/, where you can subscribe to “The Organic and Non-GMO Report,” which provides comprehensive information to insure a safe, healthy, and sustainable food supply. They also publish “The 2011 Non-GMO Sourcebook,” containing hundreds of companies, products, services, and organizations from around the world that are fighting the creeping (and creepy) entry of GMOs into the world’s food supply. It’s a 108-page book listing just about everyone involved in fighting for non-GMO foods.

On a personal note, a few years back I received a phone call from an editor of Popular Science magazine. He asked me what I thought would be the big science story in 100 years. I said, “The enormous effort needed to root out genetic modifications in living organisms that will have caused huge problems by then.” In sum, Monsanto’s bottom line is not the most important thing in the world. A safe, clean, organic food supply is.

Peach Melba: Heaven in a Bowl

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Is it just me, or does everyone think peach melba is heaven in a bowl? I don’t exactly remember where I first had this luscious dessert, but I think it might have been a small French restaurant called Le Cheval Blanc in midtown Manhattan in 1958. Peach melba, of course, was invented by Escoffier himself to honor Dame Nellie Melba, a popular Australian opera singer of the late 19th Century. If Escoffier had invented nothing else, he would rank among the great chefs of all time, because, done right, this dessert is incomparably delicious.

You will want only organic ingredients, because otherwise, the dessert will be fouled by additives, hormones, antibiotics, and god knows what else.

Get the best organic peaches you can find. Have on hand a pint of organic vanilla ice cream. Find a pint and a half of organic red raspberries. The recipe calls for red currant jelly. If you can find it in its organic glory, all the better.

Here’s the recipe. If you have never had peach melba, prepare yourself for a treat you will never forget.

First, make the melba sauce:

1 ½ pints organic ripe red raspberries

½ cup red currant jelly

½ cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon cornstarch

1/8 teaspoon salt

1.  Puree the raspberries in a blender, then put the puree into a fine-mesh sieve above a bowl. Scrape back forth until the mashed pulp and juice is all collected in the bowl and the seeds remain in the sieve.

2. Place the pulp in a heavy saucepan with the jelly and bring to a simmer, then add the sugar, cornstarch, and salt.

3.  Simmer about 10 minutes until the surface is glassy and the foam has died down. Set aside and allow to cool, then chill in the fridge before using on the dessert.

Now, process the peaches:

2 ripe, organic peaches

½ cup sugar

Vanilla ice cream

1.  Plunge the peaches into boiling water for a minute, then run under cold water to cool. Peel and cut into halves, removing the stones.

2. Poach the peach halves in a saucepan with the sugar and enough water to cover, just a few minutes. Remove peaches to a bowl and allow them to cool, then chill them in the fridge.

3. When you’re ready to serve the dessert, place two scoops of vanilla ice cream in two chilled bowls, then cover each scoop with a peach half, hollow side down. Drizzle half the melba sauce over the peaches and ice cream in each bowl. Serve immediately. Serves 2.


Yes, that’s right, President Obama has appointed Monsanto executive Michael Taylor—the man who brought the bovine growth hormone into our food supply—to be in charge of America’s food safety. The results have been immediately. The Senate Appropriations Committee has urged the FDA to finalize rules on the use of antibiotics in factory farming that poses a serious health threat. According to Food Democracy Now, “You’ll never guess on whose desk those urgent rules are gathering dust. That’s right, Michael Taylor.” Food Democracy Now is sponsoring a campaign to have the Obama administration give this Monsanto flack the heave-ho, and over 43,000 people have already done so. If you want to add your voice, visit:


Toxicity in Beans? You Bet!

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Most people think of beans as a benign part of the diet—and that they are, but not when they’re raw. Even when they’re organic.A word of warning right up front: don’t nibble raw shell beans (Phaseolus vulgaris) while you’re shelling them out of their pods or otherwise preparing them for cooking. They contain glycosides that can produce hydrocyanic acid in the human digestive system, and there are cases of children dying from eating raw beans. . Just 10 minutes of cooking detoxifies them. Raw soybeans and favas don’t contain the glycosides, but have their share of other toxins. One more word of warning: it’s rare, but some people, mostly of Mediterranean descent, lack an enzyme to break down fava beans, and can have a serious reaction to them. If that’s your heritage, nibble a little fava before you launch into a plateful or have your doctor give you the test for favism.

To be on the safe side, boil shell beans for 10 minutes, then pour out the water and add fresh water. Return to a boil to finish cooking. And while sprouting makes beans’ starch and protein more digestible, raw sprouted beans—except mung beans–contain a substance that inhibits trypsin, a digestive enzyme. So sprouted seeds of green beans should be cooked, such as in a stir fry. A good general rule is to cook beans and avoid them raw.

The toxic compound, phytohaemagglutinin, is present in many varieties of common shell beans but is especially concentrated in red kidney beans. As its name suggests, it encourages the clumping of red blood cells together—otherwise known as blood clots. Clots can cause heart attacks and strokes, among other vessel-blocking problems. Phytohaemagglutinin can be deactivated by boiling beans for 10 minutes. However, for dry beans, the FDA recommends an initial soak of at least five hours in water; the soaking water should be discarded. The 10 minutes required to degrade the toxin is much shorter than the hours required to fully cook the beans themselves. However, lower cooking temperatures may have the paradoxical effect of potentiating the toxic effect of haemagglutinin. Beans cooked at 80 °C (176 °F) are reported to be up five times as toxic as raw beans. Outbreaks of poisoning have been associated with the use of slow cookers, whose low cooking temperatures may be unable to degrade the toxin. The primary symptoms of phytohaemagglutinin poisoning are nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Onset is from 1 to 3 hours after consumption of improperly prepared beans, and symptoms typically resolve within a few hours. Consumption of as few as four or five raw kidney beans may be sufficient to trigger symptoms. Beans are also high in purines, which are metabolized to uric acid. Uric acid is not itself considered a toxin, but it may promote the development of gout. For this reason, persons with gout are often advised to limit their consumption of beans.

The bottom line: don’t eat raw beans, period.

Organic Food and the Culture Wars

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America is more polarized now than at any time in my lifetime, at least—probably since the reform movement between 1890 and 1910 and possibly since the Civil War.

The culture clash comes down to this:

On one hand stand the oligarchs, those richest 400 people you keep hearing about who own more than the next 150 million of us combined. Arrayed on the side of the oligarchs are big corporations, lobbyists, the Republican Party and many blue dog Democrats, conservatives of many stripes including the Tea Party, and all the henchmen and henchwomen paid to protect the ever-increasing wealth of the richest few, their power, their influence, and their perks.

On the other hand stand the humanists: those who believe that the job of government is to improve the health and welfare of all citizens under its jurisdiction, protect the environment, regulate business, increase equality, and promote beneficial and sustainable methods of production, such as organic farming.

Make no mistake—choosing to buy organic food is not only healthy and smart, it’s a political act. The culture wars here in America are real. Let’s look at a few aspects.

According to Jeffrey Smith, a consumer advocate and anti-GMO campaigner, Monsanto’s vice president and chief lobbyist has just been appointed by President Obama to become the senior advisor to the Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration. “He (Michael Taylor) is now America’s food safety czar,” Smith writes. “What have we done?”

He points out that when Taylor was at the FDA in the early 1990s, he oversaw the policy that allowed Monsanto’s genetically engineered bovine growth hormone (rBGH/rBST) onto the market. Injected cows do produce more milk, but the milk, among other problems, contains more IGF-1, or insulin-like growth factor. “IGF-1 is a huge risk factor for many cancers,” he writes, “and a former Monsanto scientist told me that when three of his Monsanto colleagues evaluated rBGH safety and discovered the elevated levels of IGF-1, even they refused to drink any more milk unless it was organic and therefore untreated.”

Monsanto not only foisted rBGH on the public, but has tried to keep milk producers from stating that their milk contains no rBGH. Monsanto was pleased when Pennsylvania Secretary of Agriculture Dennis Wolff declared that labeling milk as rBGH-free was illegal and that all such labels should be removed from the state’s shelves. Outraged consumers stepped in to force Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell to reverse Wolff’s decision.

And where is Dennis Wolff now? The word is that President Obama is considering him for the top food safety post at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

And what was the bottom line for Monsanto in all this? Through Michael Taylor, the company got milk producers who state that their milk is rBGH free on the cartons to also state the disclaimer that according to the FDA, there is no difference between milk from rBGH free cows and injected cows. That fact that this is a lie and nonsensical (there are a lot of studies pointing to health problems from rBGH milk, which, incidentally, is banned in most of the developed world) doesn’t seem to matter. The fox is in charge of the hen house now. And we dumb clucks better watch out. How? By insisting on buying organic food, which is firmly planted on this side of the front line in the culture war. Why do you think that Big Agriculture has been fighting organics so hard and for so long? Why should Monsanto, Cargill, Dow Chemical, Archer-Daniels-Midland, and other giant ag conglomerates care whether some farmers and gardeners want to grow crops the natural, earth-friendly way?

It’s because we represent the enemy.

And the fight isn’t just in the United States. In India, the government made plans to set up the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) that would give approval for GMO foodstuffs to enter Indian agriculture. Under proposed legislation, the new BRAI would be based within the Ministry of Science and Technology—the body that has a mandate to promote GMO crops. Not only that, but the BRAI bill gives the new authority sweeping powers to override the Right to Information Act of 2005—a law akin to our Freedom of Information Act, which guarantees open, transparent government activity. Thus the questions of safety of GMO crops would all be decided out of public view. More foxes guarding more hen houses.

But the Indian government didn’t reckon with the people of India. Crowds of protestors unfurled a banner in front of Parliament reading, “Don’t Corrupt Our Food. Stop BRAI Bill.”

Neha Saigal is a female Greenpeace activist who was dragged away from Parliament by police when she helped unfurl the banner. In a statement, she said that “BRAI is a plot by the government to circumvent the massive opposition seen against GMO crops in the country. Our government wants to give backdoor entry to potentially dangerous GMO crops…and the sad part is that the proposed system even fails to do independent safety assessments before approving GM crops.”

This time, the war isn’t being fought with guns, but with butter.