What Is Consciousness?
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Those of us who choose to eat organic food make a conscious decision based on what we have learned about the poor quality and dangers of conventional food and the positive and healthy aspects of organic food. That conscious decision brings up a more fundamental question—one that is well worth thinking about. And that is: what exactly is consciousness?
It may seem strange in this age when science has answers for most of the fundamental ways in which the world works, but science still has no answer for the question, “What is consciousness?” All of us experience it almost constantly, every day, and yet it slips the grasp of scientific inquiry because it’s an existential and ontological reality, rather than a physical one that science can test.
For instance, my body is a mostly-harmonious collection of physical cells. How is it possible that a collection of cells is able to be aware of the physical world and encompass the vastness of the universe that reveals itself at night, let alone do the math required for theoretical physics.
It’s the mind, you might say. What is the mind? Well, you might say the brain is the organ of the conscious mind, the way the eyes are the organs of seeing, the ears are the organs of hearing, the olfactory nerves are the organs of smell, the taste buds are the organs of taste, and nerve endings are the organs of touch. And you could say that this brain takes the inputs from the five senses and integrates them into a consciousness of the whole that we call the mind.
But what is mind? Is it the physical brain? Or does mind arise from the brain the way that our visual perceptions arise from the effect of light on our retinas? Is the brain like the retina, the cochlea, the olfactory nerves, the taste buds, and the skin sensors—the actual organs that create our sense impressions? We’re actually back at square one, because the brain is made of cells—neurons and other brain tissues. How does consciousness, or mind if you want, arise from a collection of these cells? We can say that our visual perceptions arise from photons of light hitting our retinas, which send signals to our brains, which turn those signals into images on our mind’s visual screen, but that doesn’t tell us anything about how those images prompt feelings, understandings, insights, and quizzical awareness in our minds.
It’s quite mysterious—and science still doesn’t have a clue about how our cells can somehow produce a conscious being who can look at, hear, smell, taste, touch the world, and then find meanings and values that touch off emotions of fear, love, hope, appreciation, revulsion, and many other reactions, and then most mysteriously of all, open original insights into the meanings and values of the world both personal and universal.
I’ve been wondering about this for years and in recent years, had the gut feeling that clues to the answer lie in the realm of quantum behavior—the physics that governs tiny particles that make up the atoms that make up the molecules that make up the cells that make up our bodies.
For instance, when scientists started to investigate this quantum realm, they found all kinds of weirdness. In the famous “double slit experiment” that has now been replicated thousands of times, always with the same result, they found that electrons and photons fired at an impervious plate with two slits in it don’t act like the minute particles they are supposed to be, they act like waves. Waves pass through both slits at once—think about it–and interfere with one another, producing an interference pattern on the back wall where, if they were truly particles, they would have marked the back wall with images of the two slits through which they passed.
What’s even weirder, when they fired one electron or photon at a time at the plate with the slits, the so-called particles went through both slits at once, just like waves, producing the interference pattern on the back wall.
So the scientists decided to set up an observation device focused on the slits, to see which slit the particles actually went through. And they found that when they looked, the particles went through only one or another of the slits as particles and the interference pattern characteristic of waves disappeared.
It was as though the particles left the gun as waves and remained waves as long as no one was watching the slits. As soon as someone was observing the slits, they changed from waves into particles. It was as if the electrons or photons knew someone was watching them, and changed their state of being.
Whoa, Nellie. Now that’s quantum weirdness at its weirdest. But it’s absolutely true and has been replicated scientifically thousands of times. When you ask quantum physicists how this can be, many will shrug and say they don’t know. Others may say that by observing particles’ behavior, we “collapse the wave function.” This means that physical reality in the quantum world is just waves of probability until we look at it, whereupon the probabilities turn into the particles that make up what we call reality. In other words, we can’t pinpoint reality until we look at it, after which it becomes physical. In other words, we create reality by looking at it.
Some physicists theorize that the entire universe is a hologram, activated by a universal consciousness that shines through a field—like a laser shining through a holographic plate where all the information is in every part of the plate—thus producing a reality that can only be seen by creatures within the hologram who perceive the holographic reality. That’s us. And the foxes, and birds, and amoebas, and every other creature that shares our world. Although we may perceive the same scenery as a fox, we don’t attach the same meanings and values to that scenery as a fox. The aspect of consciousness that creates us as individual humans is different than the aspect of consciousness that creates the fox. If the universe is truly a hologram, then consciousness is the laser light, and the holographic field is a fluid, amorphous soup of infinite potentials and possibilities waiting for finite creatures like you or me or the fox to look at it and collapse its wave function into physical reality.
Okay—all of this has been a set-up so you can understand my recent epiphany. I was standing on my neighbor’s deck, looking out at an oak tree about 30 feet away, and wondering how it is that somehow, the reality of that oak tree is in my mind—in my head?—well, somehow within me. I remembered my philosophy course in college where we learned about Bishop George Berkeley, who lived in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. Berkeley denied the existence of material substance and instead contended that familiar objects like tables and chairs are only ideas in the minds of perceivers, and as a result cannot exist without being perceived. I think Berkeley intuited the truth, although scientific proof lay over 200 years in the future. Today, theoretical physicists and their “string theory” posit a universe of at least five dimensions, from which comes the explanation for quantum weirdness. Fascinating, but let’s not go there, lest we become entangled in all those strings and never get back to my epiphany.
As I contemplated the tree and me, and struggled with the idea of consciousness and reality, it occurred to me that not only did I perceive the tree, but the tree somehow perceived me. Not that the tree has a brain like mine, but that it possessed consciousness of some sort. And that my act of perceiving and the tree I perceived were tied closely together on some level. It was a very strong feeling—a gut feeling that it was right. It made me think about quantum entanglement.
Quantum entanglement is when two particles are connected in a mysterious way. No matter how far apart they are, when something happens to one, the same thing also happens to the other. When Albert Einstein found out that there was quantum entanglement, he threw this explanation into the hat: it’s not mysterious at all, he said. Take, for instance, a pair of gloves. One of the gloves is put into one box, the other glove into a second box, and the boxes are moved so that one is in San Francisco and the other is in New York. You don’t know whether the right-handed glove is in New York or San Francisco. It’s indeterminate—a matter of probability. But if you open the box in New York and see a right-hand glove, then you are not only certain about which glove is in New York, but you are also certain a left-hand glove is in San Francisco. The uncertainty about which glove is where instantly vanishes for both gloves, though you only looked at one.
So scientists tested this, and it turns out Einstein was wrong. It wasn’t like the gloves at all. Somehow, the particles are exactly equivalent, and even at great distances, remain entangled, and if something happens to one, then the same thing instantaneously and for no apparent reason happens to the other. More quantum weirdness.
So, was I entangled with the tree? I was thinking about that when the possible holographic nature of the universe flooded back into my mind. Of course! The infinite consciousness that creates the holographic tree also creates the holographic me! It’s all consciousness. I’d been looking at the question backwards. Consciousness doesn’t arise from us; we arise from consciousness. The whole universe is infinitely conscious, and from this unity of an infinite consciousness of infinite possibilities emerges the manifold things of our finite world. In this process infinite possibilities are collapsed into just one possibility, which is our reality.
A synonym for consciousness is awareness of information. When you are unconscious—knocked out by a general anesthetic, for instance—you have no information. Even when you’re asleep and dreaming, there’s information there. But not when you’re given a general anesthetic. That experience is: you fall asleep without knowing it and suddenly you’re in the recovery room. Time ceased to be. Nothing happened. The time under the anesthetic is simply missing.
To be conscious means you are processing information. Computers process information. And scientists are working hard right now to create artificial intelligence; that is, computers that not only process information using rules that we program into them, but computers whose programs allow them to creatively process information to discover new things. This will take enormous amounts of computing power if and when AI is achieved. That’s why many scientists are hard to work right now looking to invent the quantum computer. If achieved, computers so small they can hardly be detected with the naked eye will have more computing power than all the world’s computers today put together.
It seems that as we delve deeper into the quantum world and the nature of consciousness, what we are doing is the finite equivalent of what the infinite consciousness does in creating this holographic universe. Creating that tree and me on the deck wondering about my relationship to it? Piece of cake for an infinite consciousness with infinite information.
Here’s the kicker. Some physicists theorize that our holographic universe may be a creation of the almost limitless computing power of quantum computers run by our descendents in the far distant future. If so, our world and us within it may simply be a simulation run by our descendents who have infinite consciousness at their fingertips.
THE MONSANTO PROTECTION ACT IS GONE!
Following outrage and activism from food safety advocates, the so-called “Monsanto Protection Act” was removed from the new spending bill designed to avert a government shutdown.
The biotech rider – which protected biotech giants like Monsanto and its genetically modified seeds from litigation in the face of possible health risks– was sneaked into the temporary budget bill that six months ago was rushed through to again avoid a shutdown. Most Congress members who voted through the spending bill had not even read the controversial earmark.
According to a statement from the office of Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), “This is a victory for all those who think special interests shouldn’t get special deals. This secret rider, which was slipped into a must-pass spending bill earlier this year, instructed the Secretary of Agriculture to allow GMO crops to be cultivated and sold even when our courts had found they posed a potential risk to farmers of nearby crops, the environment, and human health. I applaud the hundreds of thousands of Americans who have worked hard to end this diabolical provision.”
ANOTHER REASON TO EAT ORGANIC MEAT
Police in Xi’an province in China reported that they had found and seized more than 22 tons of fake beef at a local factory. Get this: the “beef” was actually made from pork (which is considerably cheaper than beef) that had been treated with chemicals including paraffin wax and industrial salts to make it look like it came from a cow.
The Shanghaiist newsletter reports that the factory sold more than 1,500 kilos (3,300 pounds) of the fake beef to local Chinese markets at around 25 to 33 yuan ($4 or $5) per kilo. Six workshops that were producing the fake beef have been discovered and shut down.
This isn’t the first instance of fake meat being sold in China. In May of this year, Medical Daily reported that 904 people were arrested in China for “meat-related offenses” over three months at the beginning of 2013. Included in these arrests was one gang of meat crooks who made over 10 million yuan ($1.6 million) by selling rat, fox, and mink meat at markets.
BIG AG WANTS AN END TO PASTURE-RAISED FARM ANIMALS
Under pressure from Big Ag, the Obama administration is moving forward with plans that could put key segments of the organic industry out of business, according to Robert Gammon, who wrote the following article for the Cornucopia Institute (www.cornucopia.org), a Wisconsin-based environmental and consumer group that advocates for organic and pastured farming throughout the country:
Over the past half-decade the pastured-food industry has grown rapidly in Northern California. Eco-conscious farmers and consumers have increasingly realized that allowing livestock—including cattle, sheep, and chickens—to graze on grasses and eat other foods found naturally in the environment is even better for the planet, and more humane, than most organic practices.
In fact, some foodies and environmentalists call pastured food “beyond organic.” Yet the Obama administration, facing intense pressure from Big Agriculture, is moving forward with new federal rules that could put some members of the pastured-food industry out of business.
Federal regulators are pushing the proposed new rules, contending that they will limit outbreaks of food-borne illnesses. But critics say the new regulations miss the mark, because there have been no widespread outbreaks linked to pastured food in the United States. They also fail to address the real culprit behind food-borne illnesses: factory farms, in which animals are forced to live in close confinement amid filthy and dangerous conditions that produce deadly pathogens, such as salmonella and E.coli 0157:H7.
The new rules also could decimate many mid-sized farms that produce organic fruit and vegetables. The rules call for a one-size-size-fits-all approach that applies the same sterilization standards for processing vegetables—such as bagged lettuce and spinach, which have been repeatedly linked to human illness —to growing organic vegetables, which has not been associated with outbreaks.
And the rules will be expensive for organic vegetable farmers to adopt and thus could force them out of business, too. “These rules will not improve food safety,” said Tom Willey, owner of T&D Willey Farms, an organic farm in Madera, California, that supplies vegetables to Berkeley Bowl and Monterey Market.
The proposed regulations stem from the Food Safety Modernization Act, which was signed into law by President Obama in early 2011 following years of news stories about contaminated foods sickening thousands of people nationwide. The law designated the US Food and Drug Administration with establishing protocols to ensure public health and safety. But the proposed rules fail to adequately address factory farming and instead target organic and pastured foods.
Organic pastured-chicken-egg farming appears to face the most serious threat. In recent years, the pastured-egg industry has expanded throughout the Bay Area. Berkeley Bowl and Whole Foods, for example, now regularly stock pastured-egg brands such as Alexandre Kids, Marin Sun Farms, and Vital Farms.
The eggs come from chickens that spend most of their lives outdoors on pastureland, pecking on grasses and consuming bugs and other foods that chickens eat naturally. They’re true “free-range” birds. Unfortunately, the term free-range has been corrupted in the US agriculture industry to include chickens whose only access to the outdoors is screened-in porches. And the new rules would effectively force pastured chickens indoors, too, and put an end to pastured-egg farming.
The FDA views contact between wild animals and egg-producing chickens as a threat to public health — even though the evidence of such a threat is scant. As a result, the agency is planning to require pastured-chicken farmers to build giant netting around and over their pastureland or erect huge walls surrounding their property to keep wild animals at bay. “It’s silly,” said Blake Alexandre, co-owner of Alexandre Kids organic pastured eggs, which is based in Crescent City, near the Oregon border. “When our chickens are outdoors grazing, they’re exposed to everything.”
At Alexandre Kids, the chickens graze on pastureland, sleep in a movable henhouse, and are protected from predators by sheep dogs. The Alexandres also rotate their chickens through their property during the year, so building giant netting or big walls would be unworkable.
“It would be impossible to adhere to any of these guidelines in a pastured-chicken environment,”said Mark Kastel of the Cornucopia Institute, which is also helping lead a nationwide campaign to stop the proposed new rules from going into effect. The group and other environmental organizations acknowledge, however, that they face an uphill battle, considering the influence that major agribusinesses wield in Washington. Many of those large corporations view organic and pastured food as threats to their bottom line.
If adopted, the new rules for pastured-chicken farms would apply to those with more than 3,000 egg-laying hens. Alexandre said his farm has about 2,500 hens and is approaching 3,000 because of consumer demand. And environmentalists say that small farms with fewer than 3,000 birds are not really exempt from the new rules either. FDA site inspectors could still shut down a small farm — without an appeals process — if they did not think it was taking adequate steps to keep pastured chickens separate from wild birds, Kastel said.
In lieu of netting or walls, pastured-chicken farmers also could meet the FDA guidelines by using sound cannons, which supposedly would scare away wild birds. But the sound cannons also would likely scare their chickens, too. “They’re not going to be laying eggs if they’re scared,” Kastel noted. “It’s a harebrained scheme based on no research at all.”
The new rules also would create a major advantage for large organic producers who have come under heavy fire from environmentalists. Under federal law, broiler and egg-laying hens are not supposed to be called organic unless they have true access to the outdoors. But the US Department of Agriculture has allowed some large farms to use the organic label, including Judy’s Family Farms — which is owned and operated by Petaluma Farms of Petaluma — even though their chickens live in cramped conditions, only have access to screened-in porches, and cannot really go outside. The Cornucopia Institute and other environmental groups have repeatedly complained about Judy’s Family Farms, and have threatened to sue the USDA over the past year. But the FDA’s proposed rules would apparently side with large producers like Judy’s, whose screened-in porches keep its chickens separated from wild animals. In fact, under the proposed rules, Judy’s practices — not pastured farming — could be codified as the desired way to raise organic chickens.
In many ways, the FDA’s proposed regulations mark a resurgence of 20th-century farming practices and a rebuke to artisanal, farm-to-table eating that has become so popular in Northern California in the 21st century. In the FDA’s view, nature is a threat to human health, and the best way to keep consumers safe is through sterilization and antibiotics — even though these types of factory-farming protocols have increasingly been linked to human illness and death, and the proliferation of so-called super bugs that are immune to antibiotics and kill 23,000 people each year.
But many environmentalists increasingly contend that true organic, pastured-food practices that embrace nature — rather than attempt to sterilize it — represent the better path to food safety. “Healthy, diverse ecology helps exclude pathogens,” Willey argued, pointing to the Cornucopia Institute’s recent white paper on the FDA’s proposed rules, “Food Safety Theater,” which includes references to research on food safety in organic farming and critiques on factory farms and food sterilization. “[The FDA’s] emphasis on sterility just cripples diverse environments and makes them more susceptible to pathogens.”
The Cornucopia Institute is urging those who wish to speak out against the FDA’s proposed rules to sign a proxy letter that the group will then send to Washington, DC. The letter can be found at Cornucopia.org.
SEWAGE SLUDGE OK, COMPOST NOT OK SAYS FDA
Violating the explicit language of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FMSA), the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Proposed Produce Rule gives a complete pass to imported vegetables grown with sewage sludge, contaminated to various degrees with heavy metals, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, volatiles, flame retardants, pharmaceuticals, steroids, hormones, radiologicals, and undescribed contaminants. At the same time, the Proposed Rule makes it more difficult for U.S. organic farmers to use compost.
It’s amazing, writes Daniel B. Cohern in Food Safety News (www.foodsafetynews.com). Read more at the News’s website.
The Crisis at Fukushima’s Unit 4 Demands a Global Takeover
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All our efforts to be organic will be for naught if what Harvey Wasserman describes in this article comes to pass. When Three Mile Island was threatening to melt down in Pennsylvania, I was living downwind. I had the car packed and the kids and my wife and I were ready to depart for our friends’ house in New Hampshire. Fukushima makes Three Mile Island look like a birthday party.
Nuclear power was always the dumbest possible way to produce energy because of one simple fact—it creates intensely toxic waste that will persist for millennia. And there really is no safe place to store it.
As people who want clean, organic food, we have to recognize that no clean food will come from a radioactive landscape. Is Wasserman being hysterical here? I don’t think so. If he’s describing worst case scenarios, it’s because such scenarios are well within the realm of possibility. Here’s Wasserman’s article:
By Harvey Wasserman, The Free Press
We are now within two months of what may be humankind’s most dangerous moment since the Cuban Missile Crisis.
There is no excuse for not acting. All the resources our species can muster must be focused on the fuel pool at Fukushima Unit 4.
Fukushima’s owner, Tokyo Electric (Tepco), says that within as few as 60 days it may begin trying to remove more than 1300 spent fuel rods from a badly damaged pool perched 100 feet in the air. The pool rests on a badly damaged building that is tilting, sinking and could easily come down in the next earthquake, if not on its own.
Some 400 tons of fuel in that pool could spew out more than 15,000 times as much radiation as was released at Hiroshima.
The one thing certain about this crisis is that Tepco does not have the scientific, engineering, or financial resources to handle it. Nor does the Japanese government. The situation demands a coordinated worldwide effort of the best scientists and engineers our species can muster.
Why is this so serious?
We already know that thousands of tons of heavily contaminated water are pouring through the Fukushima site, carrying a devil’s brew of long-lived poisonous isotopes into the Pacific. Tuna irradiated with fallout traceable to Fukushima have already been caught off the coast of California. We can expect far worse.
Tepco continues to pour more water onto the proximate site of three melted reactor cores it must somehow keep cool. Steam plumes indicate fission may still be going on somewhere underground. But nobody knows exactly where those cores actually are.
Much of that irradiated water now sits in roughly a thousand huge but fragile tanks that have been quickly assembled and strewn around the site. Many are already leaking. All could shatter in the next earthquake, releasing thousands of tons of permanent poisons into the Pacific.
The water flowing through the site is also undermining the remnant structures at Fukushima, including the one supporting the fuel pool at Unit Four.
More than 6,000 fuel assemblies now sit in a common pool just 50 meters from Unit Four. Some contain plutonium. The pool has no containment over it. It’s vulnerable to loss of coolant, the collapse of a nearby building, another earthquake, another tsunami and more.
Overall, more than 11,000 fuel assemblies are scattered around the Fukushima site. According to long-time expert and former Department of Energy official Robert Alvarez, there is more than 85 times as much lethal cesium on site as was released at Chernobyl.
Radioactive hot spots continue to be found around Japan. There are indications of heightened rates of thyroid damage among local children.
The immediate bottom line is that those fuel rods must somehow come safely out of the Unit Four fuel pool as soon as possible.
Just prior to the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that shattered the Fukushima site, the core of Unit Four was removed for routine maintenance and refueling. Like some two dozen reactors in the US and too many more around the world, the General Electric-designed pool in which that core now sits is 100 feet in the air.
Spent fuel must somehow be kept under water. It’s clad in zirconium alloy which will spontaneously ignite when exposed to air. Long used in flash bulbs for cameras, zirconium burns with an extremely bright hot flame.
Each uncovered rod emits enough radiation to kill someone standing nearby in a matter of minutes. A conflagration could force all personnel to flee the site and render electronic machinery unworkable.
According to Arnie Gundersen, a nuclear engineer with forty years in an industry for which he once manufactured fuel rods, the ones in the Unit 4 core are bent, damaged and embrittled to the point of crumbling. Cameras have shown troubling quantities of debris in the fuel pool, which itself is damaged.
The engineering and scientific barriers to emptying the Unit Four fuel pool are unique and daunting, says Gundersen. But it must be done to 100 percent perfection.
Should the attempt fail, the rods could be exposed to air and catch fire, releasing horrific quantities of radiation into the atmosphere. The pool could come crashing to the ground, dumping the rods together into a pile that could fission and possibly explode. The resulting radioactive cloud would threaten the health and safety of all us.
Chernobyl’s first 1986 fallout reached California within ten days. Fukushima’s in 2011 arrived in less than a week. A new fuel fire at Unit 4 would pour out a continuous stream of lethal radioactive poisons for centuries.
Former Japanese Ambassador Mitsuhei Murata says full-scale releases from Fukushima “would destroy the world environment and our civilization. This is not rocket science, nor does it connect to the pugilistic debate over nuclear power plants. This is an issue of human survival.”
Neither Tokyo Electric nor the government of Japan can go this alone. There is no excuse for deploying anything less than a coordinated team of the planet’s best scientists and engineers.
We have two months or less to act.
For now, we are petitioning the United Nations and President Obama to mobilize the global scientific and engineering community to take charge at Fukushima and the job of moving these fuel rods to safety.
If you have a better idea, please follow it. But do something and do it now. The clock is ticking. The hand of global nuclear disaster is painfully close to midnight.
SCIENTIST FINDS VIRTUES IN UNSPRAYED FRUIT
In the following article, scientist Jon Fisher finds unsprayed fruit more interesting than the perfect apples at conventional markets. Well, yes, and didn’t Joni Mitchell sing, “…give me spots on the apples but leave me the birds and the bees…” about 45 years ago? I applaud Fisher for his belated discovery, but would remind him that an abandoned apple tree doesn’t produce organic fruit. The organic method is a certain way to farm in which the absence of toxic agricultural chemicals is just one aspect.
By Jon Fisher, spatial scientist, for The Nature Conservancy
On a recent trip to the farmers’ market, I bought everything I needed, and was just eyeing the remaining stands to see if anything caught my eye.
I spotted some really cool looking apples from Waterpenny Farm that I’d never seen before, and was surprised to realize that they were interesting looking simply because they had not been sprayed at all (no fungicide or insecticide, not even “organic” pesticides).
That got me thinking: while unsprayed produce tends to be funny looking, funny looking food is “in” these days!
Could we make fruit with blemishes cool?
With the various food channels, and all the great food writers, foodies are always on the prowl for novelty at the market. From purple carrots, to watermelon radishes (red flesh with green skin), to all types of tomatoes (red/yellow stripes, green stripes, purple, black, yellow…), food with a different appearance can be fun, as well as a sign of its origin (usually from a small farmer).
I even recently bit into an apple my wife bought because it was squat and a weird yellow hue on the outside, only to discover pink flesh on the inside!
Not only is “new food” trendy these days, so is healthy and unprocessed food. As Calvin (of Calvin & Hobbes) famously noted, apples are often dyed and waxed, so that “it’s like eating a candle.”
The idea of a totally “natural” apple with no pesticide, no wax or dye, no anything should be appealing to consumers as well. While organic produce does emphasize a holistic approach to controlling pests, most consumers are unaware that they do still use pesticides with a natural origin, including copper-based fungicides and pyrethrum.
Finally, many people put a premium on the environmental footprint of their food. One reason farmer’s markets are so popular in big cities is the emphasis on locally grown food (usually because it is perceived as being better for the environment) as well as organic options.
Since unsprayed produce should reduce problems with soil degradation and water quality caused by pesticide use, that could be an appealing way to market it. I don’t know how many crops can practically be produced without pesticides (without low yields or food waste), but it’s at least worth a full analysis of the environmental costs and benefits.
Note to Mr. Fisher: Organic agriculture’s environmental costs and benefits have been compared to conventional agriculture, including a 30-year study done at The Rodale Institute’s 300-plus acre farm in Maxatawny, Pennsylvania. I urge you to read about this study and survey its results by visiting http://rodaleinstitute.org/our-work/farming-systems-trial/
MONSANTO TAKES CREDIT FOR GMO LABELING IN UK
Monsanto seems to be fine with supporting GMO labeling when there’s no other choice. A Monsanto ad from the UK lets British consumers know how much the company supports the mandatory labeling of their goods—even urging Britons to seek such labels out—because Monsanto believes “You should be aware of all the facts before making a decision.” What’s the difference between British shoppers and American shoppers? Why does Monsanto support one nation’s right to know but not another?
NOTHING SAYS ‘I LOVE YOU’ LIKE JUNK FOOD
GourmetGiftBaskets is offering a “Junk Food Care Package” that you can send to your college kids. College kids today would much rather be eating a kale and seaweed salad than the following contents of the gift basket, although those “Smarties” might help get the GPA above 2.0:
Honey Mustard and Onion Pretzel Bites by Snyder’s.
TGI Friday’s Cheddar & Bacon Potato Skins.
Buttery Toffee Crunch ‘n Munch by Conagra Foods.
Ranch Corn Nuts by Kraft Foods.
Cup of Noodles by Nissan.
Strawberry Twizzlers® by Hershey®.
Mike and Ike Originals by Just Born.
Pepperoni Pizza Combos by Mars.
Chips Ahoy Chocolate Chip Cookies by Nabisco.
Rice Krispies Treats by Kellogg’s.
Andy Capp’s Cheddar Fries by Conagra Foods.
Charms Blo Pops.
Now and Laters.
Super Bubble Gum.
Tootsie Roll Midgies.
Bursting Berry Blow Pop by Charms.
TED TALKS FALLS FOR BIOTECH’S LIES
Natural News reports that the group that organizes TED Talks has been thoroughly hijacked by corporate junk science and now openly rejects any talks about GMOs, food as medicine, or even the subject of how food can help prevent behavioral disorders in children. All these areas of discussion are now red-flagged from being presented on any TED stage.
TED says that people who talk about GMOs are engaged in pseudoscience. Those who discuss the healing potential of foods are spreading health hoaxes.
The TED organization, incredibly, believes that food cannot be medicine and does not contain medicine. Perhaps someone should educate TED about resveratrol, curcumin, phytocyanins, polyphenols and thousands of other chemicals created by plants that have medicinal functions in the human body. To deny this equivalent to admitting you believe the Earth is flat and that the sun and stars revolve around our planet. It is a very simple and readily evident idea that the human body evolved in an environment full of plants with beneficial physiological effects, including many medicinal effects.
Maybe someone should remind TED that nearly 25 percent of all prescription medicines are in some way derived from plants, including statin drugs. Drug companies expend enormous resources searching the world’s botanical treasures for amazing molecules that they can pirate from nature and alter in some way to make them patentable as a drug.
The Consent of the Governed
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The news that Monsanto has just thrown over $4 million into a campaign to defeat Washington State’s Initiative 522—which would require foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) to be labeled—is really about much more than simply putting a label on food.
Our country, which seems to be slipping away from “We the people” at a rapid pace these days, was founded on the idea that the government, as Lincoln so beautifully put it, is one that’s “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” Let’s think about his words for a moment.
A government of the people means that the citizens grant the government the powers of governing, with the trust that such powers will be used for the public good. That’s the quid pro quo. We the people give you the powers of governance, while you in turn govern, as the Constitution states, “in order to form a more perfect union.” Is that what’s happening these days? Does the Monsanto Protection Act help the people when it allows Monsanto to sell GMO seeds before they are evaluated for safety, even when a judge prohibits their sale? Is the government “of the people” when the Environmental Protection Agency allows health-destroying glyphosate herbicide to be applied at much higher rates than previously? I’d characterize today’s Federal Government as “of the corporations,” especially Monsanto and its ilk.
A government by the people means that ordinary citizens shuffle into positions in government and out again into their private lives, giving public service while they’re in office, and private service when they are back home. It doesn’t mean career politicians and people who work the revolving door between political office and corporate executive jobs, accumulating vast wealth in the process. And yet any honest look at Washington shows that the revolving door is stuffed with fat cats taking us all for a revolving ride. “From 2009 to 2012, average real income per family grew modestly by 6.0 percent,” writes economist Emmanuel Saez. “Most of the gains happened in the last year when average incomes grew by 4.6 percent from 2011 to 2012. However, the gains were very uneven. The top one percent of incomes grew by 31.4 percent while the bottom 99 percent of incomes grew only by 0.4 percent from 2009 to 2012. Hence, the top one percent captured 95 percent of the income gains in the first three years of the recovery.” Not only that, but the top one tenth of one percent takes home 60 percent of the income in this country. Sigh. I’m afraid that we do not have a government by the people, but rather by an oligarchy of fat cats who game the system in their favor.
A government for the people means a government that makes sure everyone is given an equal opportunity for success. Tell that to the majority of women workers who earn 30 percent less pay for their labor than men who do the same jobs. Tell that to the men and women who once joined together in unions to fight exploitation by the fat cats, but now are the victims of politicians like Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin and so-called “right to work” laws that are really union-busting laws. Tell that to the millions who can’t find good paying jobs, to the young people who can’t find jobs at all, to the hungry—most of them children—who are now being denied food stamps. Tell that to those minorities that are being denied the right to vote because they are forced to jump through hoops that they don’t have the means to jump through. Tell that to the women who are struggling to manage their health and the health and of their families but are being denied access to family planning and health services, or, if they find these services, are required to submit to demeaning and humiliating vaginal probing. No—I’m sorry, but our government is no longer “for the people.” It is now for the fat cats and the corporations that, because of the corporate-friendly Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” decision, are allowed to spend unlimited amounts of secret money to propagandize the public into voting against the public interest.
The sad part is that if you ask most Americans whether they believe we have a government of, by, and for the people, they will proudly say, “You betcha.” Even sadder, they believe the government operates by the consent of the governed. Maybe once upon a time, all that was true. But not now.
Which brings us back to Initiative 522 in Washington State, which the people there will vote on this November. When polled, most Washingtonians, like most Californians when Proposition 37 was on the ballot, and most Americans across the country, want to see GMOs labeled. But in California and Washington State, there was no such legislation coming from the state capitals. In both cases, the proposed legislation had to come from the people through the initiative function. Where were the states’ legislators? They were busy living the good life in the back pocket of corporate America—you know, the pocket where the cash is found.
So Monsanto, DuPont, the Grocery Manufacturers Association, and a few other huge corporations have dropped $11 million so far in Washington State to lie to the people about GMOs, just like Big Ag, Big Biotech, and Big Food Processors spent $46 million in total to defeat Prop 37 in California last year. The lies worked in California. But will they work in Washington? We’ll find out in November. All that money is being spent on disinformation, fear tactics, and outright lies about labeling, so that the consent of the governed is uninformed consent, twisted away from reality by clever manipulators of the truth at PR agencies and lobbying firms. But here’s a message for Monsanto and its pals: the ice is breaking. Vermont and Connecticut, with good Yankee horse sense, have both passed laws requiring GMOs to be labeled.
The saddest thing of all is that these many millions of dollars are being spent to prevent us, the people, from knowing what’s in our food, while, if that money were spent on food stamp assistance for the poor, we could wipe out hunger in America.
EAT YOUR BROCCOLI—AS SPROUTS
According to the website of Dr. Joseph Mercola, broccoli has been repeatedly shown to be one of nature’s most valuable health-promoting foods, capable of preventing a number of health issues, including but not limited to hypertension, allergies, diabetes, osteoarthritis and cancer.
If you want to add broccoli sprouts to your diet, make sure the seeds are organic and free from fungicides, which are often used to coat seeds to protect them from soil-borne fungi. You can get organic broccoli seeds from http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=organic+broccoli+seeds
Recent tests on cells, tissues, and mice show that a broccoli compound, sulforaphane, blocks a key destructive enzyme that damages cartilage. Sulforaphane, a sulfur compound, has also been shown to kill cancer stem cells, thereby slowing tumor growth. It also normalizes DNA methylation, which is important in regulating gene expression. Specifically, it appears that broccoli contains the necessary ingredients to switch ON genes that prevent cancer development, and switch OFF other ones that help it spread.
Research has shown that fresh broccoli sprouts are far more potent, allowing you to eat much less in terms of quantity. Sprouts consistently contain 20 to 50 times the amount of chemoprotective compounds found in mature broccoli heads
A GOOD WINE FIND
I was lucky to have recently tasted wines from the Holman Ranch Vineyard and Winery in Carmel, California. The vineyards are grown without pesticides or herbicides at an elevation around 1,000 feet above the nearby Pacific Ocean. Very much like the climate of the Sonoma County coast, but a little warmer, the Carmel Valley’s cool ocean air and fog at night and bright warm daytimes are a rare combination that produces some of the world’s finest wines.
The 2010 Holman Ranch ‘Hunter’s Cuvee’ Pinot Noir is an outstanding example of this luscious varietal, with bright and zesty fruit but with enough dark fruit nuances to fill out the flavor profile. If you live close enough to the winery to stop in, you’ll be impressed by the beauty of the area in the foothills of the Santa Lucia Mountains. If you live in a state that allows wine to be shipped, you can order Holman Ranch wines at www.holmanranch.com.
NOT TO WORRY: THE FOX IS ON HENHOUSE PATROL
From Laura Clawson, writing in Daily Kos:
Put down your ham sandwich before you read this one, folks. The US Department of Agriculture is hoping to expand a pilot program replacing half the USDA inspectors in meat plants with inspectors employed by the companies themselves, while speeding up production lines. The pilot program has been in place in five hog plants since the late 1990s and the results aren’t comforting.
Three of these plants were among the 10 worst offenders in the country for health and safety violations, with serious lapses that included failing to remove fecal matter from meat, according to a report this spring by the USDA inspector general. The plant with the worst record by far was one of the five in the pilot program.
In these cases, the contaminated meat did not leave the plants because it was caught by government inspectors once it reached the end of the processing line. But federal officials consider this too late in the process and repeatedly cited the plants for serious safety failures.
There are 608 such plants in the country, so for three out of five members of the pilot program to rank in the 10 worst facilities is really saying something. And that something is “this pilot program should be abandoned, not expanded, USDA dumbasses.”
The USDA has allowed other countries to use similar inspection procedures on meat being sent to America, with multiple Australian shipments being stopped at the border “because of contamination, which included fecal matter and partly digested food, records show.”A Canadian company using this type of inspection, meanwhile, had to recall millions of pounds of beef contaminated with E. coli, 2.5 million pounds of which had gone to the United States.
Some of the few government inspectors working in the pilot program plants said company and government workers are yelled at, threatened, and shunned if they try to slow down or stop the accelerated processing lines or complain too aggressively about inadequate safety checks. They also warned that the reduction in the ranks of government inspectors in the plants has compromised the safety of the meat.
If what you want is to get the government out of your food safety (and fecal matter into it), this program is for you! It’s not just that there’s less inspection, but increasing the speed of production can make it harder for workers to keep up with safety and sanitation precautions—in addition to making injuries to workers more likely as well. So it’s a win-win, corporate-style. But for the rest of us, it’s a lose-lose, and maybe USDA under President Obama should be putting the brakes on, not expanding, the program.
What can you do? Eat organic meat that has been humanely raised and properly handled at slaughter.
ROUNDUP ENHANCES GROWTH OF CANCER-CAUSING FUNGUS
A new study reveals that Roundup herbicide enhances the growth of aflatoxin-producing fungi, lending an explanation for the alarming increase in fungal toxins recently discovered in U.S corn, and revealing another way in which GM farming is seriously undermining food quality.
The study, led by Argentinean researchers and published in the Journal of Environmental Science and Health, adds to an increasing body of research indicating that glyphosate, the primary herbicide used in Monsanto’s GM agriculture, is seriously undermining the quality of our global food supply, and may help to explain recent observations that major GM corn markets, such as the U.S., have a significant aflatoxin problem.
Researchers from the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, National University of Rio Cuarto, Cordoba, Argentina, set out to evaluate the effect of glyphosate (Roundup) on the growth of aﬂatoxin B1 production by strains of Aspergillus fungus. Known to be one of the most carcinogenic substances in existence, aflatoxin B1 is classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as “Group 1: Carcinogenic to Humans,” with an oral rat LD50 (the dose that acutely kills 50 percent of a test group) of 5 mg per kg of body weight–compare that to a 6.4 mg/kg LD50 for potassium cyanide, which is used in lethal injection.
The discovery that glyphosate enhances fungal growth in corn contradicts several previous studies, including a 2007 study performed by US Department of Agriculture researchers, which did not find that glyphosate raised levels of aflatoxin in food crops. Maybe that’s why the EPA just raised the allowable level of glyphosate in oilseed crops like soybeans, flaxseed, and canola from 20 to 40 ppm, and in food crops from 200 to 6,000 ppm (you read that right)—an increase of 3,000 percent!
Monsanto wins again!
What can you do to protect yourself. Eat organic food, grown without glyphosate or other toxic agricultural chemicals.
HOUSE REPUBLICANS PUSH MONSANTO PROTECTION ACT IN NEW BILL
House Republicans will include an extension of the so-called Monsanto Protection Act in the spending bill designed to avert a government shutdown, according to text of the legislation released Wednesday by House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky).
The Monsanto measure was originally enacted into law in March by being slipped into the previous spending resolution, which is now set to expire.
Since its quiet passage, the Monsanto Protection Act has become a target of intense opposition. The law effectively prevents judges from placing injunctions on genetically modified seeds even if they are deemed unsafe. Monsanto has argued that it is unfair to single out the company in the nickname for the law, which is officially known as the Farmer Assurance Provision, when other major agribusiness players also support it.
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) has waged a campaign against the measure and plans to fight its reenactment.
“The proposed House continuing resolution includes an extension of the Monsanto Protection Act, a secret rider slipped into a must-pass spending bill earlier this year,” Merkley said. “I will fight the House’s efforts to extend this special interest loophole that nullifies court orders that are protecting farmers, the environment, and public health.”
Colin O’Neil, a lobbyist for the Center for Food Safety, said in a statement, “It is extremely disappointing to see the damaging Monsanto Protection Act policy rider extended in the House spending bill. Hundreds of thousands of Americans called their elected officials to voice their frustration and disappointment over the inclusion of the Monsanto Protection Act (in the omnibus Farm Bill) this past spring. Its inclusion is a slap in the face to the American public and our justice system.”
But Jennifer Hing, a spokeswoman for the House Appropriations Committee, said the panel doesn’t expect the Senate to balk at the inclusion of the Monsanto provision. “We have received no indication that this is a concern,” she said. “It’s a very traditional [continuing resolution] in every sense of the word. It simply continues existing law. Anything that was enacted in FY13 continues to be enacted.”
Monsanto wins again!
What can you do? Find out who your representative in Washington is, and if he or she is a Republican, keep that in mind when you go to vote.
The Chemical War at Home
Organic Lifestyle Comments Off on The Chemical War at Home
The following is an excerpt from an open letter to President Obama from Maria Rodale, CEO of Rodale, Inc., a publishing house that has been in the forefront of spreading the organic word for well over half a century. Like her grandfather, J.I. Rodale, and her father, Robert Rodale, Maria has her family’s supremely sensitive perception of what conventional agriculture has done to the environment and the creatures that live in it—including us. So—I gratefully turn over the opening item in this week’s post to Ms. Rodale.
To President Obama,
I do not consider myself a Christian, but I would like to quote Jesus and ask, “Who among you has not sinned?” Yes, Syria has undoubtedly used chemical weapons on its own people. Maybe it was the government; maybe it was the opposition; maybe you know for sure. But here’s what I know for sure: We are no better. We have been using chemical weapons on our own children—and ourselves—for decades, the chemical weapons we use in agriculture to win the war on pests, weeds, and the false need for ever greater yields.
While the effects of these “legal” chemical weapons might not be immediate and direct, they are no less deadly. And you, Mr. President, have had an unprecedented opportunity to stop it, but you haven’t. You haven’t. In fact, you have encouraged it. And I am supremely disappointed in that.
We’ve been trying to tell you for years that chemical companies like Monsanto, Syngenta, Dow, DuPont, Bayer Crops Sciences, and others are poisoning our children and our environment with your support and even, it seems, your encouragement. Just because their bodies aren’t lined up wrapped in sheets on the front pages of the newspapers around the world doesn’t mean it’s not true. Perhaps you’re surrounded by advisors who are keeping the truth from you. But I know many people who have spoken to you about this directly, and you seem not to understand or listen.
Is it about the money? Because if so, war will cost you more. Is it about food security? Because if so, you are destroying it. Is it about needing enough corn to make gasoline to reduce our dependence on foreign oil? Because if so, you are destroying our water, our soil, and our children’s future in the process. Is it about your lack of knowledge? Because if so, I’d be happy to come and explain it to you in a way that you can understand. As the CEO of the world’s leading health-and-wellness publisher and the granddaughter of the founder of the organic movement in America, I am uniquely qualified to explain it to you. And if I haven’t understood your reluctance to protect our children, then I truly do want to hear from you and listen to your perspective.
You are a smart man. You are not up for reelection. This is your big chance to make the right choice and take the right road, the road less traveled. This is your once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to leave a lasting legacy of peace and healing rather than more destruction. Syria and its refugees definitely need our help, though I am certain that a violent military strike will not provide the results you are looking for. Both our children and Syria’s deserve the chance to grow up free from chemical contamination and warfare. But that hope takes a different sort of action and courage, one that does not come with missiles and guns, drones, and destruction.
Our mutual hero Bruce Springsteen sings, “We Take Care of Our Own.” I believe we can take care of our own, as well as restore the world’s faith in American democracy, by acting with peace, compassion, and nonviolence—both at home and around the world.
I so want to continue to believe in you. I do. But I need you to do the hardest thing a man in your position can do: turn away from aggression and war and toward love and healing, turn away from foreign complicated and false “heroics” and take care of your own children at home. Then, you can also redefine what it means to be a real hero and a truly great president.
Most sincerely and with respect, Maria Rodale.
BEWARE THE CHANGING FACE OF GENETIC MODIFICATION
Dr. Eva Sirinathsinghji, writing in Farm Wars, warns us of a new wrinkle in genetic modification that regulators are overlooking because they say it isn’t genetic modification in the usual way. Instead of scientists opening up the DNA of plants and inserting genes from other creatures, this new technique involves flooding plants with mutagenic chemicals or ionizing radiation from radioactive substances that force the plants to mutate. By sorting through the mutations, scientists may find some that are valuable. That’s the theory, anyway.
This is like playing a slot machine instead of sitting down to a hand of poker. It takes some skill to play poker well, or to pick and choose among genes to create new types of DNA and thus new types of plants and animals. Mutagenesis with chemicals or radiation is like leaving skill out of it and depending on pure luck to come up with a jackpot—like with a slot machine. It takes no skill to pull the handle.
The problem, says Dr. Sirinathsinghji, is that these mutated crops “are being sold to the public as ‘all-natural,’ developed through the process of mutagenesis, a technique exempt from GM legislation.” Like ordinary GMO crops, these genetic mutations are about as natural as the jackalopes you see on the funny postcards.
WILL THE USA FOLLOW EUROPE’S BAN ON BEE-KILLING PESTICIDES?
The decline in worldwide bee populations has motivated recent action by governments and activists, writes Katrina Rabeler in Yes magazine.
On April 29, 2013, the European Union announced a two-year suspension of three neonicotinoid insecticides, or “neonics,”” that pose high acute risk to bees. The ban was demanded in a large campaign by Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, and other environmental groups, along with more than 2.5 million people who signed a petition in support. On July 16, the EU added fipronil, another pesticide linked to bee kills, to the list of restricted chemicals.
In the United States, the Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency released a report in May on honeybee health, the result of collaboration among officials, researchers, beekeepers, and food producers. According to entomologist and beekeeper Dennis van Engelsdorp, the report is more comprehensive than previous versions and recommends a shift from reactive to proactive policy.
Ongoing scientific research identifies various causes behind the decline of bees, so the problem will require a variety of solutions, says van Engelsdorp. Knowing the effects of chemicals on bees is complicated, he says, because multiple chemicals interact in the hive.
Van Engelsdorp says individuals can do a lot to help. Growing flowering plants instead of grass is one easy step. Limiting pesticide use is another. “The people who use the most pesticides per acre are people who live in the city and backyard gardeners,” he said. The province of Ontario has recently banned some pesticides. Oregon temporarily banned dinotefuran, a neonic, after 50,000 bumblebees died when ornamental trees were sprayed with the chemical. And corporate accountability group SumofUs is raising funds to send beekeepers to a conference for garden-store owners. They’ll ask the store owners not to stock pesticides that kill bees.
Other bee protectors are using the legal system. Four beekeepers, along with the Center for Food Safety, Beyond Pesticides, Pesticide Action Network, the Sierra Club, and the Center for Environmental Health, filed a lawsuit on March 21.
They’re charging the EPA with failing to protect honeybees from clothianidin and thiamethoxam, two of the neonics included in the EU ban.
“America’s beekeepers cannot survive for long with the toxic environment EPA has supported,” said Steve Ellis, one of the beekeepers bringing the lawsuit. “It’s time for the EPA to recognize the value of bees to our food system and agricultural economy.”
FDA’S WAR ON RAW MILK AND ORGANIC FARMING
Ben Swann recently wrote an article about a disturbing trend at FDA. Here are some excerpts:
Stories of FDA crackdowns on raw milk dairies, distributors, and clubs have emerged across the country. Some people have bought shares in cows to get around regulations, because the government does not prevent people from drinking the milk produced by their own cows.
This battle is only a small part of a far bigger battle over agricultural freedom which involves everything from commercial drivers’ licenses to the estate tax – which will destroy the family farm – to Senate Bill 510, which makes it illegal to produce food valued over $5000 without submitting it for FDA testing.
Raw milk and agricultural freedom is an issue which goes beyond citizens’ right to decide what they put in their own bodies. The ability to grow one’s own food allows for independence and self-sufficiency, and the destruction of the family farm will make people dependent on centralized food supplies. The fight over raw milk and agricultural freedom is a fundamentally important one to the U.S.
GARDEN CENTER PLANTS COULD HARM BEES
A first-of-its-kind pilot study reveals that more than half of garden plants attractive to bees sold at Home Depot and Lowe’s have been pre-treated with pesticides that could in fact be lethal to the bees, according to Dr. Joseph Mercola’s website.
50,000 bumblebees were recently found dead in a parking lot in Portland, Oregon. A neonicotinoid pesticide was found to have been applied to nearby trees.
Last winter, beekeepers across the U.S. reported losing anywhere from 40 percent to 90 percent of their hives, and many of the 6,000 almond orchard owners in California could not find enough bees to pollinate their almond trees this year.
There are about 100 crop species that provide 90 percent of food globally and, of these, 71 are pollinated by bees. In the U.S. alone, a full one-third of the food supply depends on pollination from bees.