What You Won’t Read about California’s Prop 37–Except Here
There’s a scene in “The Maltese Falcon” where Humphrey Bogart slaps Peter Lorre’s face as Lorre cringes and whines. Bogie looks at him with disgust, slaps him again, and says, “You’ll take it and you’ll like it.” Kind of like Monsanto and friends are doing to the American public by feeding us its genetically modified frankenfood while claiming that it’s safe and good for you and that labeling it will cause the sky to fall.
Well, just hope the good citizens of California vote Yes on Prop 37 this November, because it’s high time we—the people—fight back.
California’s Proposition 37 requires that foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) be so labeled. In one sense, they already are. If you check the price look-up code—a five-digit number on the package—you’ll find that numbers beginning with four are conventionally grown, those starting with nine are organic, and those starting with eight are genetically modified. But hardly anyone knows that, so it’s not really much of a help to the consumer.
But why not put a label on GMO foods? If it’s so good for us and so safe, why are Monsanto and friends so afraid of saying so on the label? Currently, the U.S. is the only industrialized country in the world that insists its citizens be kept in the dark about whether their foods contain GMOs. Poll after poll shows that more than 90 percent of Americans want to know which foods contain GMOs. So what’s the hang-up?
The Council for Biotechnology Information and the Grocery Manufacturers Association are two big hang-ups. The Council has six major members: BASF, Bayer, Dow, DuPont, Monsanto, and Syngenta. The Grocery Manufacturers has 300 members, among them BASF Nutrition & Health, Bayer CropSciences, Dow AgroSciences, Monsanto, and Syngenta, plus agribusiness giants Cargill Inc., ConAgra Foods, General Mills, and just for good measure, Georgia Correctional Industries and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. And you know about criminal justice in Texas.
The Council on Biotechnology Information is in the business of disinformation, creating propaganda to assuage the fears of adults about GMO food, and also aiming at propagandizing children. The Biotechnology Basic Activity Book, produced by the Council, is for elementary school kids and teenagers. It can be examined on the Council’s website. Judge for yourself which of these claims they make for genetic modification are true:
It helps us grow more food.
It helps the environment.
It grows more nutritious food that improves our health.
In the book, kids are given puzzles to “learn more about biotechnology and all of the wonderful ways it can help people live better lives in a healthier world.”
These corporations and lobbying groups are throwing millions of dollars into the fight to defeat Prop 37, as you would expect them to, because when the GMO label appears on processed foods, it might as well be a skull and crossbones, and there goes Monsanto and friends’ plan for world food domination down the drain.
The coalition backing No on 37 is a long list of biotech, big ag, and drug and chemical manufacturers, including the American Council on Science and Health, whose president is Elizabeth Whelan, who describes herself as a lifelong conservative “more libertarian than Republican.” The ACSH supporters include Dow, DuPont, Exxon, General Mills, David H. Koch Charitable Foundation, and of course Monsanto. And Coke and Pepsi if you need an artificially sweetened beverage.
In fact, the first volley of propaganda has been fired in California. A mailing has been sent out by a group called, “No on 37: Coalition Against the Deceptive Food Labelling Scheme,” whose major funding comes from—you guessed it—the Council on Biotechnology Information and Grocery Manufacturers Association. The mailing is a flier that proclaims, in all-caps, 60 point type: “DEMOCRATS OPPOSE PROP 37.”
The three Democrats include two Central Valley members of the California Assembly, Henry Perea and Manuel Perez, and the vice chairperson of the California Democratic Party, Alexandra Rooker.
I sent emails to all three, asking them to explain their opposition to Prop 37 and additionally, whether they had received any campaign contributions from the Council on Biotechnology Information, the Grocery Manufacturers Association, or from BASF, Bayer, Dow, DuPont, Monsanto, or Syngenta. Perea’s office said he was away on family business and that was all I heard from him. Rooker never responded, nor did the Northern California Carpenters Union, which opposes the measure and whom I contacted. Perez’s office passed my request for elaboration to Kathy Fairbanks of Bicker, Castillo, and Fairbanks, a Sacramento lobbying firm. Here’s what Perez had to say in the flier:
“This initiative was rushed to the ballot and contains flaws that will lead to unintended consequences. Prop 37 is an unfunded mandate filled with confusing loopholes, contradictory exemptions, and extreme restrictions that will cost the state millions of dollars to administer.” Some of his wording is identical to wording in an accompanying “fact sheet.”
And Ms. Fairbanks responded to all his complaints, but summed up the thrust of the opposition at the end of her email by saying that Prop 37 will have a “detrimental impact on California’s economy. It will increase state costs at a time when the state has a severe budget deficit. It will raise grocery bills when families are still struggling.”
Regarding the campaign donations, Josh Pulliam of Assembly member Perez’s office called in response. He said that he remembered the Bayer corporation giving a couple of thousand dollars, but that was before the Prop 37 issue came up, and that none of the other companies or institutes had given any donations, “to my knowledge,” which is really a claim to having no knowledge of the actual facts.
So there you have it. Opponents of the measure have so far raised about $23,600,000 (see accompanying box on opposition donations) to proponents’ $2,300,000. They will use this money to flood the state with alarm about how Yes on 37 means you will pay more for food. It just may work, since nearly everyone in the state will hear about rising costs due to Prop 37, but relatively few will see the ads saying you have a right to know what Big Ag is feeding you.
Who Are the Big Donors to No on 37
Company Subsidiaries Amount Donated So Far
Pepsico Izze, Naked Juice 1,716,000
Coca Cola Honest Tea, Odwalla 1,164,000
Conagra French Meadow, Alexia,
Kellogg Kashi, Morning Star Farms,
Gardenburger, Bear Naked 632,500
General Mills Cascadian Farms, Muir Glen 520,000
Smuckers R.W. Knudsen,
Santa Cruz Organic 380,000
Dean Foods Horizon Organics, Silk 253,000
Source: Cornucopia Institute
Along with the three prominent Democrats opposing Prop 37 comes a page of “Facts.”
Here’s one: “Prop 37 will result in increased production costs and higher food costs.” It will surely cost the state something to insure compliance with the law so Big Ag and Biotech don’t cheat. But it’s hard to see how adding a statement to a label will raise production costs to manufacturers and food costs to consumers.
Here’s another: “The higher costs that farmers, food companies, and grocers would face because of this proposition would be passed on to California consumers through higher food prices.” Labeling GMO foods would cost farmers money? Would cost grocers money? No it won’t. But it may cost Monsanto and friends money because people will in all likelihood avoid their frankenfoods like the plague.
Here’s another: “Prop 37 is bad for factory and warehouse workers, truckers, port workers, longshoremen, farmworkers, carpenters, electricians, plumbers, plant engineers, checkers and grocery clerks, and many other employees.” This is simply ludicrous. Why not add bank tellers, cookbook authors, gunnery sergeants, and football coaches while you’re at it? But notice that carpenters are included. Maybe that’s why Bob Alvarado, executive secretary-treasurer of the Northern California Carpenters union is included on the mailing’s Fact Sheet. Here’s his quote:
“Prop 37 will put California union jobs at risk by driving food production to other states.”
First of all, there is no other state with California’s ability to produce year-around food on the scale it does. Second, why would it drive food production out of California, even if there were somewhere else to drive it to? So what Alvarado is saying is that by labeling GMO foods, farmers will have to move to Kansas to grow crops? Why would that be? Because Californians, seeing the GMO label on their foods, will stop eating and therefore California farmers will have to move to Kansas because their local customers will all be dead of starvation? It makes no sense.
Also on the Fact Sheet is this quote from the “America Medical Association” (sic): “There is no scientific justification for special labeling of bioengineering foods.” Despite the questionable grammar, the quote is accompanied by the AMA’s logo.
AMA board member Dr. Patrice Harris clarified: “The science-based labeling policies of the FDA do not support special product labeling without evidence of material differences between bioengineered foods and their traditional counterparts. The AMA adopted a policy supporting this science-based approach, recognizing that there currently is no evidence that there are material differences or safety concerns in available bioengineered foods.”
Award-winning food and nutrition writer Marion Nestle has a blog called foodpolitics.com where she parsed this claim by the AMA. She writes, “Science-based. Translation: if the food is safe, it is acceptable. GM foods are presumed safe; therefore, they are acceptable and any criticism of them is irrational.”
But the AMA’s statement, and Dr. Harris’s, too, are moot. We now have mounting scientific evidence, much of it published in peer reviewed journals, that GMO foods are indeed different than regular food. And how could it not be? Insect genes in corn, fish genes in tomatoes, human genes in rice? This isn’t exaggeration. This is happening. And one scientist quit Monsanto in disgust, saying that the whole GMO rationale is a fraud—that the genes inserted into a plant’s DNA don’t just express the gene’s single function, they cause the cell to do all kinds of wacky and dangerous things. That may be what’s behind the new peer-reviewed study. Scientists in Norway have released results from experimental feeding studies carried out over a 10-year period, and the verdict is in: if you want to avoid obesity, then avoid eating genetically engineered corn, corn-based products, and animals that are fed a diet of GMO grain. The studies also looked at the effects on organ changes, and researchers found significant changes that affected weight gain, eating behaviors, and immune function.
The results show a positive link between GMO corn and obesity. Animals fed a GMO corn diet got fatter quicker and retained the weight compared to animals fed a non-GMO grain diet. The studies were performed on rats, mice, pigs and salmon, achieving the same results.
Researchers found distinct changes to the intestines of animals fed GMOs compared to those fed non-GMOs. This confirms other studies done by US researchers. Significant changes occurred in the digestive systems of the test animals’ major organs including the liver, kidneys, pancreas, genitals and more.
So now we do have proof of pathology with many more studies underway. And yet the Council for Biotechnology Information, with the help of the AMA, continues to spew disinformation in its mailings.
Finally, the mailing shows the logo of the U.S. Food & Drug Administration and this: “U.S. Food & Drug Administration says such labeling policy would be inherently misleading.” That is, it would be misleading to allow consumers to know what’s in their food. As Scooby-Do would say, “Huh?!” Now why in the world would the governmental body tasked with making sure our food supply is safe and wholesome come out with such an Alice-in-Wonderland, world on its head, Orwellian statement like that?
Perhaps because the senior advisor to the FDA commissioner is an apparatchik called Michael Taylor, formerly a Monsanto executive and the company’s chief lobbyist. He’s one of the people responsible for getting Monsanto’s genetically modified milk-stimulating hormone (rBST or rBGH) into our milk supply, where it causes cows to gush out super amounts of milk contaminated with the hormone and often (ick) with pus formed in the cows’ overworked and diseased udders.
One of Taylor’s tasks is to plan implementation of new food safety legislation. He’s been in the revolving door between Big Food and the government for decades—obviously doing a good job for Monsanto and friends but maybe not so good a job for you and me.
I encourage you to send a link to this article to everyone you can in California. Monsanto and friends think they have this thing nailed down and there will be many more lies, half-truths, and disinformation to come as we approach November. The virulence of their response and the huge amount of money they are spending to defeat it only proves their fear of Prop 37.
Let’s make them take it and like it.
Some years ago, scientists exploring the deep recesses of the Amazon basin discovered something strange. Under the surface layer of decayed leaves and wood on the jungle floor was a deep layer of black earth they called Terra Preta. It was the remnants of an agriculture practiced by pre-Columbian Amazonians who had roasted wood in an almost airless fire, smoldering until the wood turned not into normal charcoal, but into a roasted black earth that they buried to help fertilize their fields.
Soils in the Amazon basin are notoriously poor, but the addition of the charcoal, now called biochar, rendered them marvelously fertile. By the time the first Spanish conquistadores arrived, their scouts reported the existence of great walled cities housing many thousands of people. These reports were regarded as fiction until the first decade of the 21st Century, when scientists discovered the remains of those cities and their agriculture. Those ancient people grew their food on huge swaths of soil improved with biochar, from 4,800 to 500 years ago.
Now biochar is getting a second look for several reasons. First, the carbon in wood and plant wastes, turned into biochar, is sequestered in the soil for up to thousands of years, preventing its escape into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, a potent greenhouse gas that’s promoting climate change worldwide.
In the last few weeks, hundreds of people from countries around the world converged on Sonoma State University in California to attend the first U.S. Biochar Conference, hosted by the Sonoma Biochar Initiative and the Sonoma Ecology Center.
There’s a good synopsis of the many values of biochar in this YouTube clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iKP_Dju9UK4&feature=related.
When wood is roasted in a relatively air-free environment, it gives off volatile gases that can be burned to fuel the roasting process itself, so the making of biochar uses very little fossil fuel—just enough to get the process started. Roasters are available that are portable, so the roaster can be brought to the wood waste rather than the need to transport the wood long distances to a roaster.
After the volatiles are roasted off, the tiny cells in the wood, including long tubes that carried sap up and down the trunks and limbs, are emptied. When this roasted wood is buried in the soil, microbes such as beneficial actinomycetes, fungi, and bacteria take refuge in these empty cells and tubes, giving them a safe place away from grazing predators such as nematodes that prowl the soil for microbes to eat.
Additionally, the biochar’s surfaces are negatively charged, so they attract and hold positively charged ions of plant nutrients, releasing them as needed in what soil scientists call the cation exchange capacity. And biochar has a huge surface area. Just one gram of biochar, if unfolded and flattened, would cover an area the size of two tennis courts.
Additionally still, those empty cells and tubes suck up and hold water, making the soils they are buried in resistant to drought.
Furthermore, as mentioned above, the carbon in biochar—and there’s a lot of it—is sequestered in the soil rather than dumped into the air as carbon dioxide. Nitrous oxide is also released when wood is roasted, and it’s a greenhouse gas 300 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. When it is recycled within the charring kiln, it is burnt to products that don’t affect the climate.
Trials in the field show that plant growth is much stronger in soils amended with biochar, yields are higher, and the plants are healthier–in large part because of the refuge biochar offers to beneficial soil inhabitants that support plant health.
There is a significant business opportunity in biochar. To learn more, visit Craig Sams’ website. He’s an American ex-pat living in England. He founded Whole Earth Foods, Ceres Bakery, and Green & Black’s chocolate. He’s former chairman of the British Soil Association—the UK’s organic institution—and now chairs the Soil Association Certification Ltd., which certifies organic farms and land use, and authenticates carbon sequestration. You can visit his growing businesses and products concerning biochar at www.carbongold.com.
What’s Your Trophic Niche?
Organic practitioners call conventional farms “factory farms” as a put-down, but far too many organic farms and even gardens are run like factories. The focus is on the output: how many eggs did the hens lay today? How many quarts of spaghetti sauce did I put up this year? How many pounds of sausage did that pig make? How many bushels of corn did I grow per acre?
Maybe there’s a better way to look at a farm. Organic practitioners are always claiming they garden and farm in concordance with nature’s rules, so let’s look at nature’s farm, better known as the wilderness.
What is the output of wild nature? There really isn’t any, per se. Nuts may form on trees and drop to the forest floor, but nobody’s counting. There may be 16 squirrels per square mile of mixed eastern hardwood and pine forest, but nobody cares. The figures don’t count in wild nature. Trophic niches do.
A trophic niche is an exploitable food source. From the lowliest blue-green algae to the largest whale in the sea, all plants and animals have their exploitable food sources or they wouldn’t exist. Nature in her entirety can be considered a collection of food sources. For some, like the plants, the foods may be manufactured in their leaves by the action of sunlight in consort with water and carbon dioxide and minerals in the soil. The plants in turn are food sources for other plants, molds, microbes, and animals. All of these creatures in turn are food sources for fellow creatures. Life begets life as life ingests life. Every living creature and many non-living entities are food sources—trophic niches—for whoever can exploit them.
Nature has devised her many creatures to take advantage of the wide variety of trophic niches. If you have tomato plants, then you have tomato hornworms that eat those leaves. First came the grass, then horses evolved to eat that grass. If you have mosquitoes, you then have purple martins to pluck them out of the air.
But nature is too subtle to just provide trophic niches and the plants and animals to exploit them. She then dovetails all the feeding creatures into a complex web of life where each provides a number of benefits to the inhabitants of the overall web, and it’s one for all and all for one. Ecologists call it an ecosystem. When all the trophic levels are filled and functioning, the ecosystem is healthy. So, back to our original question, the product of wilderness is not bushels of anything, it is health.
Is this a pattern for running a farm? If organic practitioners are serious about following nature’s rules, then yes, it is. But, many will say, a farm isn’t just a miniature wilderness—it’s a business that has to support a human family. Farm products have to be sold, money has to change hands. In a wilderness, nothing has to be sold. Every atom is recycled throughout millions of years and millions of creatures. Nothing leaves the wilderness. It’s a self-sustaining and healthy ecosystem.
Organic folks are keen to talk about sustainability as a characteristic of an organic farm or garden, but as long as there’s output from the farm, such as products sold, then there has to be an equal input from outside or the system will eventually become depleted, right?
You would think so, but organic—and biodynamic—farmers have found ways to minimize the depletion. Recycling all crop waste and organic matter through composting, for instance, yields a compost much richer in plant nutrients than the original ingredients due to the proliferation of microbes in the compost piles. Scattering a few handfuls of tiny alfalfa seeds can yield a barn loft full of alfalfa hay that’s rich in nutrients for dairy cows that yield milk that can be sold, as well as manure to drive the compost pile.
Where there are dairy cows, there are flies—and lots of them. Chickens love fly larvae and make wonderful eggs out of them. Chickens yield eggs and meat that can be sold and high-nitrogen manure that helps heat up the compost.
An organic farm can’t be just a miniature wilderness, but the farmer can follow nature by identifying the farm’s many trophic niches and filling them with plants and animals that form an ecosystem that does yield products for sale as it protects itself and its inhabitants from the destruction caused by real factory farming.
If this happens, then the farm will be self-sustaining, it will have products to sell, and its chief by-product will be—just like in wild nature—health for all concerned.
What You Don’t Get with Organic Food
Eating organic food gives you some profound plusses, one of which is what you don’t get.
There is a specialty, taught at major universities, called Food Science. The food scientists have been hard at work, bringing you the wonders of processed foods, genetically modified food, and food that turns out not to be food at all. And they usually call it “natural.” Not that that word is required by law to have any meaning.
For actual meaning as set by law, you need to see the word “organic.” There’s a whole rule book that says precisely what that word means, from how the dairy cows must be fed to how the farmer is allowed to control weeds. Very, very little of what the food scientists do passes organic muster. Let’s look at a few for instances.
Let’s take orange juice. The package may say pure and natural, and not from concentrate, and may show an orange with a straw stuck in it. Gotta be juice straight from the orange, right?
Not so fast.
Here’s how it really goes: when the oranges come from the groves to the processing plant, they’re squeezed and the fresh juice is heated to near boiling to pasteurize it. The juice is filtered and the resulting liquid is kept in aseptic storage, which involves stripping the juice of dissolved oxygen (which also strips the juice of all flavor). It’s kept in million-gallon tanks for a year or two.
Meanwhile, the orange peels, rinds, and the scrapings from the filter pads are mixed with scientifically measured amounts of orange flavorings and aroma chemicals—the same kind used in perfumes, bath products, chewing gums, and candies—and formed into “flavor packs.” When the food processors, such as Tropicana, Minute Maid, and others, are ready to sell, flavor packs are added back to the flavorless liquid in amounts determined by the company’s scientists to result in the house style—consistent from place to place and year to year. Tropicana will taste the same in New York as it does in Seattle, and will taste the same in 2012 as it did in 2002. Same thing with any other “pure and natural” juice that’s “not from concentrate.”
Tropicana is now being sued for false advertising. The lawsuit alleges that one of the chemicals found in flavor packs in the United States is ethyl butyrate, which it says further reveals “that [the juice] is not pure and natural.”
If these shenanigans are going on with a product like orange juice, what else are food processors doing to hoodwink consumers?
Processed foods often promise the purchaser one thing but deliver something else altogether.
One clue that a food is heavily processed and not what it claims to be is the use of the word “product” after the name of the food. Let’s stroll down the frozen food aisle. Here are some frozen dinners, ready for heating and—gulp!—eating. Take, as a for instance, “Stouffer’s Lean Cuisine, Café Classics, Beef Pot Roast with Whipped Potatoes.” It’s a dinner fallen pretty far down the slippery slope of modern food science.
Mmmm. Beef pot roast. What could they do to that? Well, if you read the ingredients, you don’t get beef, you get “beef product.” It consists of beef, water, dextrose, soybean oil, modified cornstarch, potassium chloride, salt, potassium and sodium phosphates, caramel color, and natural flavors. Remember “pink slime” that the USDA was feeding to schoolkids? Same kind of processed stuff. By the way, “caramel color” sounds natural. You make caramel simply by heating sugar, right? Well, you don’t know American food processing. It’s actually made with sugar, ammonia, and sulfites and contains 2-methylimidizole and 4-methylimidizole—both recognized carcinogens.
Among the delicious ingredients is modified cornstarch. How bad could that be? It’s just the starchy part of corn, one assumes. But on closer investigation, it turns out that it’s not only used in hundreds of processed foods as a thickener, emulsifier, and stabilizer, but as a binder in coated paper, and as wallpaper paste, as textile printing ink thickener, and as a sizing agent in paper production.
How do you get modified starch from regular cornstarch? Well, you can treat it with hydrochloric acid, with lye, with hydrogen peroxide, with sodium hypochlorite (better known as bleach), with propylene oxide or ethylene oxide, or a host of other chemicals. If you degrade corn starch with amylase enzyme, you make a sweetener better known as high fructose corn syrup, a substance so loathed by the public that the food industry is trying to change its name to “corn sugar.” Oh—if the starch is from genetically altered corn (and 90 percent of the corn grown in the United States these days is GMO), it might make novel modified carbohydrates never found before in nature. I wonder what novel effects it’ll have as it enters the food chain?
Finally, the “gravy” for your faux pot roast includes “rendered beef fat.” I know why this is called lean cuisine—one bite and you’ve had enough.
It’s important for parents to understand what they’re feeding their kids when they buy things like “Kid Cuisine Corn Dog with Apples and Blue Watermelon Flavored Sauce, Corn, French Fries, and a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup.” This is a kid’s meal from the folks at agribusiness conglomerate ConAgra. Read the ingredients before serving it to children, and hope the sodium nitrite, calcium stearate, sodium erythorbate, disodium dihydrogen pyrophosphate, polyglycerol polyricinoleate, and such will calm junior’s jitters.
“Michelina’s Signature Chicken Marsala with Garlic Mashed Potatoes” ostensibly contains just a few ingredients (chicken, marsala wine, potatoes, garlic, and gravy), but the box lists 139 ingredients. Yes, 139. And among the chemicals you’ll actually find some food.
Any trip down the supermarket aisles will be revelatory because food processors are required to list their ingredients. In order to soften the blow, they often resort to euphemism, like calling high fructose corn syrup “corn sugar,” or listing bouillon but not revealing that it’s made by boiling vegetables or meat in acid, skimming off the scum that rises to the top, drying the scum, and turning it into a powder that’s added to food. And they don’t mention that this innocent-sounding bouillon powder is an excitotoxin that causes the nervous system to go haywire.
Modern food science is tricky and complicated stuff, but easily understandable when you pull back the curtain to reveal the great and terrible Oz turning the cranks. If you need proof of the effect of these unnatural foods on the human organism, just look around you at your fellow citizens.
The way to avoid all this junk food is to eat organically-grown fresh fruits, vegetables, and animal products. They’re not allowed to contain any of this nonsense—by law.