The Organic Imperative: How Holistic Thinking Points Us to a Better, Healthier Future
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The tenets of organic agriculture and horticulture have been proven valid since they were first promulgated over 70 years ago. We now know that organic culture improves the soil as it grows food without the use of toxic chemicals. The food is often more nutritious than food grown on factory farms, and it often tastes better. Antibiotics, hormone injections, genetic modifications, and cruel methods of animal husbandry are not allowed. Farmers, farm workers, food handlers, and consumers are protected from toxic substances. The farm and its surrounding environment are clean, strong, and healthy. Diversity of life forms is encouraged in organic culture. And organic food supports the health of our bodies.
But the essence of these tenets is not confined to the farm or garden. What if we applied them to our governance and the way we organize business? What would an organic democracy and an organic marketplace look like?
Let’s start answering that question by seeing what it wouldn’t look like. The opposite of democracy is fascism, and one definition of fascism is corporate control of government, or conversely, government control of business. Where do we stand regarding that in America today?
Well, let’s start with the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United that gave the rights of free speech and personhood to corporations. You can see the mischief that decision causes by looking at the 2012 elections with its secret donors giving enormous sums of money to the candidates they think will do them the most good. But what does “good” mean for corporations? It means profit, pure and simple. While corporations got the rights of citizens, they didn’t get the responsibilities. A corporation’s only responsibility is its fiduciary responsibility to maximize profit for its shareholders—the wealthy class. It has no responsibility to the public, even to the people who buy or use its products. Monsanto proves that every day.
But isn’t Monsanto forced to protect the health of its customers by the Food & Drug Administration? Consider: Michael Taylor is the current Deputy Commissioner of the FDA and was appointed by President Obama. Taylor’s career has been a revolving door between Monsanto and the FDA. But when Taylor returned to work for the government after a decade with the biochemical corporation, where he was a vice president and chief lobbyist, he oversaw the end of the regulation of genetically altered seeds—GMOs that Monsanto is using to corner the world market on seeds of the Big Ag crops like corn, soybeans, alfalfa, sugar beets, and more. Whose welfare do you think he is supporting?
Or consider the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a monumental trade agreement spanning the Pacific Ocean and corporations in the countries of Asia and North and South America. At least, we think that’s what it covers. That’s really just a guess, because it’s all secret. Neither Congress nor the public is allowed to see the details. While Congress, the press, and the public have had to make do with leaks from the negotiations, 600 corporate lobbyists were granted access to the negotiated text, according to Democracy in Action. As one commentator wrote, “American democracy is in a sorry state when corporations are granted more access to the text of sweeping government agreements than the public and its elected officials. Although corporate influence on U.S. trade policy is hardly a new phenomenon, the simultaneous waning of congressional oversight is all the more unsettling.”
Secrecy. Diminishing public influence. Corporate control over the lives of billions of people worldwide. A culture of death, with drones carrying missiles to wipe out whoever our President decides are bad guys. Indefinite detention of Americans without due process on the President’s say-so. Our police forces looking (and acting) more and more like military units. The military-industrial complex that President Eisenhower warned us about more than 50 years ago. You know what it all smells like to me? Like a factory farm, where there’s a culture of death: pesticides for the insects, herbicides for the weeds, fungicides for the fungus, antibiotics for the microbes, and GMOs for you and me.
California votes on Proposition 37 this November, which would require foods containing GMOs to be so labelled. Monsanto, Dupont, Dow Chemical, Bayer, BASF, Syngenta, and all those companies that make the junk food that’s bloating and killing our citizens have ponied up $32 million dollars to mount a campaign to tell you that Prop 37 will cause food prices to go up, and you’ll be paying more for no good reason, because junk food is just as good for you as organic food.
As a culture, we are drowning in corporate lies, spin, half-truths, manipulations, and secrecy. And you know who fits right in with this corporate fascism? The haters. Keep out the Mexicans! Bomb the mosques! Kill the Jews! No gay marriage! In fact, pray the gay away! Down with the liberals! Take us back to the “real America” where black people were slaves and rich white slave owners drank juleps on the veranda.
So what would an organic democracy look like? It would be healthy, like an organic farm. Diversity of cultures, religions, race, and sexual orientation would be cherished for the richness they give to the fabric of life. The government would be of the people, by the people, and for the people. We would hold as self-evident that all people are created equal. Tax rates for the very wealthy would be at least 90 percent, as they were under Eisenhower, when the middle class was strong and vibrant and one pay check was enough to support a family and put a new car in the driveway every few years. Corporate tax rates would be similarly steep. The money could be used to repair the country’s infrastructure, so badly needed right now. Education could be funded at rates that guarantee a good education from K through bachelor’s degree, and it would be free, as it is in Germany right now, except in Germany it’s free through your doctorate. Health care would be free for everyone, as it is in Canada and much of Europe.
It does sound utopian, doesn’t it? But in effect, it’s where we were 50-odd years ago, when the G.I. Bill made education through college free for everyone who served in WWII and that was a big chunk of the population. Not only that, we started the Marshall Plan to give a helping hand to our former enemies in Europe. That was what America was about: fighting fascism and helping out, not dabbling in it. Public schools were strong and capable then and we graduated more people from college than any other country in the world. Today we’re something like 24th out of 27 industrialized countries in the number of college grads per 1,000 people. Health care was cheap. Doctors made house calls and charged $8 a visit. There was no homelessness unless it was self-chosen because there were houses for the poor. You may remember people saying, “You’ll put us in the poor house.” No poor houses any more, unless you mean under the bridge. Ronald Reagan saw to that.
And business and finance? Regulations were put in place during the Great Depression to create diversity in these realms. Banks could either be depositories and lending institutions or create financial instruments based on trading—but not both. If people didn’t have jobs, the government gave them jobs through agencies like the Works Progress Administration. A safety net for citizens fallen on hard times was erected, and it worked and was added to in the mid-1960s when Medicare began.
Cherish diversity, put away the weapons of death, educate the young, care for the sick and the destitute, help one another, strengthen the links among people, eat good wholesome food, work hard at what you do, stay cheerful, live to love and love to live. Those are the rules for organic culture, and for culture period.
Your Inner Organic Garden
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Conventional food growing is all about killing things and reducing the amount of life in the farm or garden.
If there are insects, apply pesticides. If there are weeds, apply herbicides. If there are fungi or molds, apply fungicides. To fertilize plants, use inert minerals manufactured in factories. The only life in the ideal conventional farm or garden would be the crop that is sown, and then it would be genetically modified.
Yet science and common sense tell us that life is a complex web of interconnected species and that the more species linked into this web, the healthier the overall ecological system becomes.
That’s the star that organic gardening and farming steers by. Soil fertility is achieved by composting all available organic matter and returning it to the land. It’s simple recycling: when plants die, they become food for the next crop of plants.
This job is accomplished by the life in the soil. That includes beneficial funguses, worms, insects, and especially, microbes. Trillions of microbes thrive in every handful of compost and handful of compost-enriched soil. A good organic soil is literally alive. The microbes tear apart the old organic matter in the compost and release its nutrients for the new crop of living plants. They feed the plants exactly what the plants need to be healthy, in just the right amounts that are needed, and at exactly the right time of the growing season. It’s nature’s way, and it’s been going on for many millions of years in the wild forests and grasslands.
Nature’s rule is: the more diversity in the system, the more stable and sustainable the system is—that is, the healthier it is. So don’t kill the insects, let them thrive in the garden. Will you lose some crop? Of course. That’s okay–the plant-eating insects need something to eat. And the plant-eating insects are food for the predatory insects that will keep them in check. Let the system develop and it will become stable and sustainable without poisons. The more the merrier, yes; but also, the more the healthier.
How does that universal rule apply to human health?
Well, in the human system, organic matter passes through the digestive system. Nine out of 10 cells in our bodies are the bacteria that inhabit our intestines and do the same job that similar bacteria do in the composting system. They disassemble the organic matter into its nutrient components and literally feed it to us.
As with good organic soil, the more diverse the species of microbes in our intestines, the more stable and healthier the system—and therefore the healthier we are.
Sometimes if we are being assaulted by a bacterial infection, antibiotics are necessary. But they wipe out all the beneficial bacteria in our intestinal flora. So it’s important to reestablish our intestinal flora while we’re taking antibiotics and for a good while afterwards. In fact, it’s a healthy practice to eat or drink some foods rich in these living microbes every day.
Which foods are rich in a diversity of these beneficial microbes?
Kefir is primary, but also yogurt, kombucha, sauerkraut, kim chi, artisanal cheese, and any fermented food that hasn’t been pasteurized.
My book on this subject will be published by Avery Books next spring. It’s called, “The Essential Book of Fermentation.” It’s a very complete and serious look at this subject, and will be loaded with recipes for making your own probiotic foods at home.
If Corporations Are People, Monsanto is Charlie Manson
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According to an article in The Nation, Geneva-based Covalence ranked Monsanto dead last of 581 multinationals in its 2010 reputation and ethics index, which is distributed by Reuters and Bloomberg.
This is one of the most powerful corporations in the world, producers of some of the most environmentally harmful products in the world, and it ranks LAST among 581 multinationals for reputation and ethics.
And you know who The Nation’s article details as one of the people responsible for the development of the modern, rapacious, environmentally damaging corporation? Mitt Romney. If you want to read this well-researched article, go to http://www.thenation.com/article/169885/mitt-romney-monsanto-man
Well, as Mitt has told us, “Corporations are people, my friends.” If we are to take him at his word, that means Monsanto must be held to the same legal standards as any individual person, right?
Let’s just think for a moment what would happen to an individual if he or she:
• Invented a defoliant and spread it across a whole country, the way Agent Orange was spread across Vietnam, causing illness and death to untold numbers of people, both Vietnamese and Americans.
• Invented toxic herbicides and spread them around the world.
• Poisoned the environment and people with its dioxin-contaminated products.
• Invented hormones to inject into cows to make them pump out ungodly amounts of milk that damage the cows and the people who drink the milk, especially the children.
• Created genetically modified crops that poison the environment, cause the creation of poison-resistant weeds and insects, and damage the internal organs of people who eat the crops.
• Patent its genetically modified seeds so that farmers can no longer save seed from year to year, and send its banks of lawyers after any farmers who try.
• Try to corner the world market on major crops like corn, soybeans, alfalfa, sugar beets, and cotton.
And there’s more. Monsanto doesn’t play nice. It’s not out for your welfare. It’s a greedy behemoth and a machine of death. And Mitt Romney, through Bain Capital, is one of its enablers.
Monsanto’s Tricky Plan to Defeat Prop 37
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MONSANTO’S TRICKY PLAN TO DEFEAT GMO LABELING REVEALED
OK—let’s not miss the point about the Stanford “study” on organic food, the one released in early September that concludes that the scientific literature “lacks strong evidence that organic foods are significantly more nutritious than conventional foods.”
Every reaction I’ve seen in the press grants that maybe organic food isn’t more nutritious, but it’s healthier in many other ways. There are many studies that show that organic food is indeed more nutritious, and, to be fair, many studies that show little or no difference in nutritional content between organic and conventional foods. To really understand those studies, you’d have to know who paid for them. If Monsanto or Cargill is paying a researcher at a land grant university to look into the nutritional value of foods, there’s a temptation there to work the data in favor of the company paying the bills.
So who’s paying for the Stanford study? The Stanford doctor who was the principal author, Crystal Smith-Spangler, MD, writes that there was no funding for the study, which appeared in the Annals of Internal Medicine (2012; 157:348-366)—this despite the listing of 11 co-authors including physicians and health specialists along with Dr. Smith-Spangler. Since no funding is listed, we can’t know whether Dr. Smith-Spangler and cohorts did the rather exhaustive study out of the goodness of their hearts or if someone took them to lunch, so to speak. But even that isn’t the point.
The real question is why do you think this Stanford study came out now? The title of the study raises a red flag as it asks, “Are Organic Foods Safer or Healthier than Conventional Alternatives?” Its conclusion states, “The published literature lacks strong evidence that organic foods are significantly more nutritious than conventional foods. Consumption of organic foods may reduce exposure to pesticide residues and antibiotic-resistant bacteria.” So it casts doubt on the value of organic food, even as it admits organic food has fewer toxic residues and pathogenic microbes. I’m aware of several strong studies supporting the nutritional superiority of organic food*, and I looked through all 298 studies cited in the Stanford overview of the scientific literature, but they were nowhere to be found. But even that’s not the point.
Remember: this November Californians will be asked to vote on Proposition 37, which will require foods containing genetically modified ingredients to be so labeled. Remember too that organic food is not allowed by law to have any genetically modified ingredients.
Now think about Monsanto, Dow, DuPont, Syngenta, and other corporations turning out genetically modified farm seed. Why do you think they’re doing that? They say it’s to improve agriculture, to feed the world, to solve farming’s pro0blems—but there’s another reason they seldom mention. When they make a genetically modified (GMO) seed, they patent it. Conventional farmers like the genetically altered corn, for instance, because it’s Round-Up Ready, meaning that the glyphosate herbicide won’t damage the corn. And patented corn seed has been genetically altered to manufacture its own pesticide within its cells—a function borrowed from Bacillus thuringiensis and inserted into the corn’s genes, meaning you don’t have to spray for corn earworm or corn rootworm; this is killer corn, ready for any caterpillar that comes along. Farmers, who used to be able to save seed from year to year, now must buy seed from Monsanto and their pals to get these “advances” in agricultural technology. Once patented, the seeds of the world’s major crops like corn, soybeans, and alfalfa represent a cornered market. You think that’s hyperbole? Worldwide, 395 million acres of farmland were planted in biotech crops, according to figures in the 2011 International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications. The United States leads the world in GMO plantings, with 170 million acres in 2012, which produce 95 percent of the nation’s sugar beets, 94 percent of its soybeans, 90percent of the cotton and 88 percent of the feed corn.
And woe betide any farmer who saves those seeds, or whose seeds have cross-pollinated with the GMO crops, because they will be—and have been—sued.
But there are always those pesky organic farmers and consumers. So here comes Prop 37, and Monsanto and its pals realize that if it passes in California, and food containing GMOs must be labeled as such, that will cut deeply into the market for those foods—and the profitable seeds farmers plant to grow those foods. To stop Prop 37, they have already started a disinformation campaign with a $25 million war chest, even using Democrats to claim that Prop 37 will drive food prices through the roof.
The coalition backing No on 37 is a long list of biotech, big ag, and drug and chemical manufacturers, including front groups like 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.
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 Monsanto, Dow, DuPont, and Syngenta, among others on 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. Perez’s office passed my request for elaboration to Kathy Fairbanks of Bicker, Castillo, and Fairbanks, a Sacramento lobbying firm hired by the anti-Prop 37 forces. Here’s what Perez saidin 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.”
Higher food prices! Whoa! That’ll get the public’s attention. But, people may say, it could be worth paying more if the food is organic. After all, a four-year British study showed that organic fruits and vegetables contained up to 40 percent more antioxidants and on average 12 percent higher levels of nutrients than conventional varieties, according to Professor Carlo Leifert at Newcastle University, where scientist Kirsten Brandt led the EU-funded study. Even larger differences were found in milk, with organic varieties containing more than 60 percent more antioxidants and healthy fatty acids, Leifert reported.
So here comes Stanford University’s impeccable reputation and a group of its doctors and health personnel to go over 298 studies from the 1970s to the 2000s, looking to see how organic and conventional foods stack up nutritionally. But where is the Kirsten Brandt study? Not there. I’ve selected just a few of the studies that show organic foods’ nutritional superiority and listed them as footnotes at the end of this article. None appear among the 298 studies perused by the Stanford team. Are they ignoring the many studies that show otherwise on purpose? Looks that way. And they conclude there really is no difference in nutrition between organic and conventional. In reaction, Frances Moore Lappe, writing an opinion piece in Reader Supported News, calls the study “reprehensible.”
So Monsanto and its pals can now say that science (pointing at the Stanford study) shows that not only will you pay much more for your food, but it will be for no good reason. Here’s my prediction: California voters will soon feel like suckers by paying high prices for food that has no nutritional benefit.
This Stanford study, no matter how or why it came about, certainly drops an armload of ammunition in Monsanto and pals’ laps. How fortunate for the Council on Biotechnology Information and the Grocery Manufacturers Association that this study comes along just in time for the big campaign against Proposition 37! What luck.
Wake up, people. Of course organic food can be and often is more nutritious. And it has fewer toxic chemicals, antibiotics, and pathogenic microbes. And it keeps farm workers and farm families safe from toxic chemicals. And it protects the environment and the ecosystems around the farms. And, as a 30-year study conducted at the Rodale Institute’s Maxatawny, Pennsylvania, farm has shown, organic farms can out-yield their conventional counterparts in terms of bushels of corn produced per acre.
Shame on Stanford, a respected university, to find itself utilized in a blatant disinformation campaign mounted by Monsanto and its pals. Isn’t anyone awake there in Palo Alto?
* Just some of the well-known studies citing the nutritional superiority of organic over conventional food that were not listed in the Stanford group’s article:
1. Reganold JP, Andrews PK, Reeve JR, Carpenter-Boggs L, Schadt CW, et al (2010) Fruit and Soil Quality of Organic and Conventional Strawberry Agroecosystems, PLoS ONE 5(9): e12346. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0012346
2. Brandt K, Melgaard, JP (2001) Organic agriculture: does it enhance or
reduce the nutritional value of plant foods? Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, vol. 81, issue 9, 924-931.
3. Paddock, C, (2007) Organic food is more nutritious say EU researchers
Medical News Today:
4. Rist L, et al (2007) Source: Influence of organic diet on the amount of
conjugated linoleic acids in breast milk of lactating women in the
Netherlands, British Journal of Nutrition, April 2007.
5. Benbrook C, et al (2008) New Evidence Supports the Nutritional
Superiority of Organic Plant-based Foods, The Organic Center State of
Science Review, March 2008.
6. Benbrook C, (2005) Elevating Antioxidant Levels in Food through Organic
Farming and Food Processing, The Organic Center State of Science
Review, January, 2005.
7. ___ (2002) Research Shows More vitamin C in Organic Oranges than
PAY NO ATTENTION TO THAT MAN IN THE CORNER OFFICE
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The citizens of California—not the big corporations—have a chance to strike a ground-breaking blow for sanity in November when they get to vote on Proposition 37, which would require food containing genetically modified ingredients (GMOs) to be labelled as such.
The big chemical agriculture companies like Monsanto, Dow, DuPont, Syngenta, and their pals in the processed food industry have put together a huge ($25 million-plus) war chest to scare the people of California by claiming that labelling food containing GMOs will cause food prices to skyrocket. They claim that GMO food is perfectly safe. They don’t want it labelled. (If it’s so safe, what’s the problem with labelling it?)
There is a gut reaction in most people against genetically modifying food. Many people want it labelled so they can avoid it. Despite the disinformation being spread by the big chemical companies, who not-so-coincidentally are the companies most involved in developing GMO foods, I think the public’s revulsion is a proper reaction. People may not know the ins and outs of cellular microbiology, but they sense there’s something terribly amiss about GMO foods and that they shouldn’t eat them.
Why would this be?
Well, first of all, it’s genetic modification. This is not anything like hybridization in plants or sexual reproduction in animals. In those cases, the DNA—the master blueprint for the creation of a new plant or animal—comes through the reproductive process intact. It may be that the mother provides half the new offspring’s DNA while the father donates the other half, but both donations are of genetic material that hasn’t been tampered with.
The DNA of any plant or animal, in fact, has been created by nature over eons of time. Her modifications have survived the test of time, as Darwin saw. Those adaptations that chanced to happen in the DNA were preserved if they were of evolutionary value to the organism and passed on to future generations. There are long stretches of our human DNA that scientists can’t figure out what they are for. My guess is that they are the remnants of adaptations that long ago were useful but have since become supplanted by other adaptations. But they’re there because they may be needed in the future as they once were in the past.
When scientists create GMOs, they insert genes that code for a specific function in one organism into the DNA of another organism. Thus fish genes in corn, bird genes in soybeans, insect genes in cats. They are trying, in fact, to improve nature’s organisms for human benefit. GMOs are, in fact, new organisms never seen before on the face of the earth.
But then, what of nature’s unaltered DNA that makes a cat a cat, and a whale a whale, and a sunflower a sunflower? Aren’t these unaltered DNAs somehow too precious to be torn apart and reassembled as if Monsanto knows better than Mother Nature how to build a corn plant?
They are precious because despite the incredible variations in life on earth, nature has provided for the co-evolution of all forms of life in the very interconnected and interdependent web of life. We don’t evolve in isolation. We are just now beginning to discover how the microbes that live on us, around us, and in us, share our destiny and in many cases, cause our destiny to manifest itself.
But where is the place in nature’s delicate balance for a corn plant that manufactures pesticide in each of its cells? Or soybeans that can stand up to a drenching with the herbicide 2,4-D? Or for a cat with genes from phosphorescent plankton that make the cat glow in the dark?
The answer is that there is no place for these strange creatures that are now being created and served up to us as our food by rapacious industries hell-bent on profit at any cost.
And that gets to the nub of what’s really going on: Monsanto and other GMO-producing corporations are patenting their new creations. Somewhere in the corner offices of these companies is someone who foresees a day when all food will be produced by agribusiness, and all agribusiness will have to come to them for the seeds of their GMO crops, and they will be able to corner the market on these seeds, and that will add greatly to their bottom line, and to the corner officeholder’s bank account.
This is not idle speculation. This is already happening. But someone is planning to toss a monkey wrench into the works. And that someone is you if you live in California. And that monkey wrench is called Proposition 37. If it passes, all food containing GMOs will have to be labelled, just like it is in every other industrialized country in the world.
And then the demand for labelling will spread to other states and finally the entire United States. And the studies of the serious illnesses and pathogenic potential of these frankenfoods will continue to come out. And people will refuse to eat GMO food. And Monsanto’s twisted seeds will become worthless. And the guy in the corner office will be fired.
And if this doesn’t happen, Mother Nature may finally get fed up with her human children’s destructiveness and fire us all.