George Orwell’s Words to Live By
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“It’s a mistake to think you are an activist, championing some movement. That’s the path to mental stagnation. The job is just to try to understand what’s going on.” –George Orwell
Right! Being an activist for a movement may have merit, but it presupposes that the movement is cut and dried, and any deviation from the movement’s principles is heresy. Trying to understand what’s going on means getting past this rigid understanding to the heart of the matter. It means considering new ideas and concepts and being able to change your opinion as necessary. It means focusing on what you think is the truth. And the truth is never set in stone, but is fluid, ever-changing lightning that can’t be put in a bottle.
Seeing the truth reveals the meaning of things. And when you understand meanings, you can see the value of those things in proper perspective. Once you know the real value of things, you can prioritize your energy and activism for maximum efficiency. Simply championing someone else’s movement is just thumping a Bible. Think critically. Understanding results in developing your own version of the movement. If there’s an organic movement to change the way we grow food, your part in it will be much more effective if you aren’t blindly following a rulebook but are creatively working on some aspect that has risen in your priorities because of your deep understanding of the problem.
So the first step is seeing the truth, and that means having accurate information. You’d think there would be trusted sources of accurate information, but they are not to be found on national TV. I usually watch CNN when I eat lunch, and lately there’s been an advertisement by the American Petroleum Institute celebrating the fact that the USA has become the world’s leader in the production of natural gas and—with any luck—soon we will lead the world in the production of oil. “So let’s all,” the ad proclaims, “Republicans, Democrats, and Independents,” get behind the production of gas and oil. Of course it doesn’t mention that the natural gas is produced by poisoning the earth with toxic, cancer-causing chemicals that fracture deep rock layers, or that the extra oil is going to come from environmentally irresponsible drilling in the arctic, or from oil shale deposits in the lower 48 that have been over-estimated by as much as 96 percent according to the latest figures, and from Alberta’s dirty tar sands petroleum shipped here through the Keystone XL pipeline. Or that much of these fuels will be sold overseas to enrich the coffers of the Petroleum Institute’s members and pour millions into the bloated bank accounts of the Koch brothers and the top 0.1%. The ad—and much else on TV—is pure propaganda. The most credible truth-teller on TV is a comedian: Jon Stewart.
Providing information so readers can see the truth is what this blog attempts to do. Yes, it champions the organic food movement, but it also strives to understand what’s really going on. Is the organic movement just about clean food?
The answer is, “of course not.” It’s really about protecting the world’s biodiversity, on which the health of nature depends, because biodiversity is the nature of health. The more biodiverse the ecosystem, the healthier it is. The healthier it is, the better it functions in the ways nature intends. And the better world it presents for us to live in. Increasing biodiversity produces an unforeseen confluence of benefits. If setting up a bat house on your property brings in a family of bats, they can reduce the number of mosquitoes and lessen the chance that you’ll contract the West Nile Virus. Allowing a patch of diverse weeds to grow near the garden provides nectar for adult green lacewings—beneficial insects whose larvae will keep the aphids off your roses.
Ecosystems are systems of interconnected trophic niches; that is, a trophic niche is a food source that may support one or more plants or animals, or both. Some call it the web of life, and that’s accurate. The internet is a digital version of the natural web of life—the world-wide web. The more websites in the system, the more powerful and useful the system. That’s why net neutrality is so important. The FCC’s current proposal to destroy net neutrality by allowing internet service providers to create a fast lane for Big Media is exactly akin to the destruction of natural ecosystems in order to create a fast lane for Big Ag, Big Chem, and Biotech to control the food supply. You can see the hideous results on any big conventional farm that plants GMO crops, and in the aisles of your local supermarket.
My college degree is in Journalism—a profession I take seriously. The essence of my education was that skepticism is healthy. You can’t see the truth if you’re blinded by your own preconceptions or by someone’s ideology that you’ve swallowed whole. After I’d graduated and was working on a large daily newspaper, this lesson was driven home to me in a particularly brutal way.
Nobody was covering the county courthouse in a systematic way, so I self-assigned the courthouse as my beat. I knew it would be good to have an insider as a source, and I reasoned that the county treasurer, who handled the funds for all the county’s offices, would be the best source, so I made it my business to visit him three times a week to see what I could find about misappropriations of funds. I struck gold. He began steering me toward county offices that were raking off small sums of money from their activities. One week he told me about how the office of animal control was skimming money off its income from the sale of dog licenses. Another week, it was that a contractor was substituting cheaper building materials for more expensive ones mandated by the building code and pocketing the difference. I wrote one of these stories every week for a couple of months and the editors thought I was a genius. I thought so, too. But then I had a falling out with the editor-in-chief over his refusal to print a story I wanted to write about racism at the local country club, and I quit.
About six months later, they had evidently hired a much better reporter than I was, because the main headline on the front page one day read, “County Treasurer Indicted for Embezzling $10 Million.” The treasurer had played me like a violin. By steering me toward the small-change operators, he was really steering me away from himself. As Orwell says, “The job is just to try to understand what’s going on.”
The lesson was learned. And this blog strives to present information that I think is reliable enough for you to try to make sense of what’s going on with food and farming, biodiversity and environmentalism, and the machinations of the corporate oligarchy that has replaced the precious system of Constitutional checks and balances that was once the pride of America.
SEE WHAT FAMILY FARMERS CAN DO
You’re undoubtedly aware that two counties in Oregon recently passed ordinances banning the planting of GMO crops within their borders. One of those counties is Jackson County. Here is a short video—very heartwarming—of family farmers in action a few days before the successful vote.
GUESS WHICH OIL IS BEING USED IN CHINESE RESTAURANTS?
A reader of this blog has done a little freelance investigation about the cooking oil used in Chinese restaurants in his neighborhood and shared the results with me.
He says he asks a waiter which oil is used for cooking and the waiters invariably come back and say “vegetable oil.” So he asks, “What kind of vegetable oil?” And the waiter comes back and says, “cottonseed oil.”
This is extremely valuable information because we don’t want to be eating cottonseed oil. From now on, I will ask that same question of every Chinese restaurant I visit and if the answer is cottonseed oil, I’ll thank them and walk out.
Almost all the cotton grown in America is genetically modified to withstand heavy applications of Roundup. It is also one of the crops most heavily sprayed with pesticides. So it’s the trifecta of garbage: its genes have been altered, which increasingly is shown to have negative health effects; its cells, seeds, and oil are contaminated with disease-causing Roundup (glyphosate), and it is likely to contain pesticide residues.
Cottonseed oil is used for salad oil, mayonnaise, salad dressing, and similar products, as well as bread, pastries, and cookies. Crisco is cottonseed oil—hydrogenated to boot, which makes it a trans-fatty acid. It’s used because it’s cheaper than canola or other oils. That’s probably why it’s used in cost-conscious Chinese restaurants.
HOW MUCH MONEY DOES A KOCH BROTHER MAKE?
Please sit down before you read this. According to news sources, Charles and David Koch EACH make $1.8 million AN HOUR. ‘Nuff said.
BOYCOTT THESE “TRAITOR BRANDS”
What are traitor brands? They are brands of food that Ronnie Cummins of the Organic Consumers Association has identified as being owned by members of the Grocery Manufacturers Association—the processed food industry’s political and propaganda arm that spends many millions of dollars, contributed by you when you buy these brands, to prevent you from knowing whether your food contains genetically modified ingredients.
Although these brands purport to be organic—and may actually be organic—they have been gobbled up by big food corporations that use their profits to keep you in the dark. Boycott them!
Natural/Organic Traitor Brand Owned By/Parent company
Naked Juice PepsiCo
Simply Frito-Lay PepsiCo
Starbucks Frappuccino PepsiCo
Honest Tea Coca-Cola
Gerber Organic Nestle
Sweet Leaf tea Nestle
Boca Burgers Kraft/Mondelez
Green and Black’s Kraft/Mondelez
Cascadian Farm General Mills
Larabar General Mills
Muir Glen General Mills
Pam organic cooking sprays ConAgra
Bear Naked Kelloggs
Morningstar Farms Kelloggs
Plum Organics Campbells
Wolfgang Puck organic soups Campbells
RW Knudsen Smuckers
Santa Cruz Organic Smuckers
Smuckers Organic Smuckers
Earthgrain bread Bimbo Bakeries
Simply Asia McCormick
Thai Kitchen McCormick
HOW FOOD SYSTEMS AFFECT BIODIVERSITY
Kumi Naidoo, writing on EcoWatch, has the following, very enlightened, ideas to share:
On today’s United Nations biodiversity day, we are being asked to focus on small islands and their unique ecology and fragility in times of globally pervasive threats such as climate change.
But, the whole planet is a small island in the vast sea of space, capable of producing food for all as a consequence of rich biodiversity. That diversity is under threat; our actions can strengthen it or weaken it. Our agriculture systems can help mitigate climate change and feed us, or they can accelerate the change and contribute to hunger.
The food system we choose has a direct impact on which type of world we will have. It’s the difference between a field that hums and is robust with life, or one which is dusty, dry and dead. It’s the difference between a place where ecological farming has been used or where a cocktail of industrial chemicals has soaked into the soil where the same crop is grown, decade after decade.
Our current food and farming system is creating more and more of these dry, dead ends. It is agriculture characterised by three things: the industrial-sized growing of a single plant, or “monoculture,” genetically engineered (GE) crops, and repeated toxic chemical infusions of pesticides and the application of synthetic fertilisers. All of these harm people and the farming ecosystems they depend on.
Just one example of the consequences of the current flawed agricultural system is the current catastrophic bee decline. Bees are being decimated in Europe and North America by the intensive use of chemical pesticides. In recent winters bee mortality in Europe has averaged at about 20 percent. A third of the food that we eat every day depends on bees and other insect pollinators.
This dead-end road sees large multinational corporations persuading farmers to buy GE seeds based on the premise that they will increase yields, despite studies suggesting otherwise. Instead, they only increase farmers’ indebtedness by failing to deliver the promised return on investment–turning them into slaves to a pesticide treadmill as superweeds develop. This is the ugly story behind the majority of the food we consume.
This cycle increases our dependency on fossil fuels and contributes to climate change, as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) study recently reported. In fact, climate change affects this broken food system. Among other impacts, climate shocks cause food prices to rise, with deadly consequences in developing countries.
Climate change is estimated to have increased the amount spent on food worldwide by $50 billion a year. Climate change is also making food less nutritious according to a study published in Nature, with important staple crops such as wheat and maize containing fewer essential nutrients like zinc and iron. Projections show that up to 21 percent more children globally will be at risk of hunger by 2050.
Industrial agriculture does not rely on diversification but on the standardisation and homogenisation of biological processes, technologies and products. It promotes off-the-shelf, one-size-fits-all solutions to food and farming around the world and in so doing undermines local and natural diversity, which are essential for resilience to climate change.
Ecological farming increases resilience to climate shocks. It is based on the diversity of nature to produce healthy food for all: diversity of seeds and plants; diversity of many different crops grown in the same field; diversity of insects that pollinate (like bees) or eliminate pests; and diversity of farming systems that mix crops with livestock.
Scientists from Wageningen University in the Netherlands, for example, recently found that certain beans greatly improve poor soils, increase productivity of maize when grown together, and respond well to drought. They can be used for food, animal feed, and soil fertility. Researchers found that growing maize and beans at the same time increased farmers’ income by 67 percent without the use of any chemical fertilisers.
Ecological farming also relies on the innovations of farmers that enable adaptation to local conditions. It’s the redeployment of traditional knowledge to counteract the impacts of climate change. In northeast Thailand, jasmine rice farmers have been adapting to increased drought by finding creative ways to use water resources—stock ponds for storage and simple wind-powered pumps made with locally available materials—which have been shown to increase yields and provide a safety net when drought strikes.
Ecological farming effectively contributes to climate change mitigation. Industrial farming is a massive greenhouse gas (GHG) emitter. Agriculture, in fact, accounts for between 17 percent and 32 percent of all the emissions caused by humans, according to research for Greenpeace. Stopping chemical nitrogen fertiliser overuse and shifting to organic fertilisers (to increase soil fertility), improving water management in paddy rice production and increasing agro-biodiversity through agroforestry are just a few examples of how ecological farming practices and diversity could directly contribute to GHG reduction and help agriculture reduce the effects of climate change.
Agriculture is now at a crossroads: we can pursue the dystopian dead-end road of industrial chemical-intensive farming or choose diverse and resilient ecological farming.
Governments, donors, philanthropists and the private sector must start shifting funds towards research to generate new knowledge on biodiversity-rich ecological farming and services to disseminate diversified practices that are locally relevant. We must reject the dead-end trap of industrial agriculture and choose instead a food system that celebrates biodiversity and is healthy for people and the planet.
GLOBAL MARCHES AGAINST MONSANTO DRAW HUGE CROWDS
Hundreds of thousands people have united across the world to voice concern over the spread of GMO foods and crops and to raise awareness over the biotech giant Monsanto’s growing grip on the global food supply chain. Activists on five continents around the globe, comprising 52 nations, joined the fight under the March against Monsanto umbrella.
It was not only the fear of genetically modified organisms in foods that knows no boundaries. Organized worldwide, peaceful family protests spoke out for the need to protect food supply, health, local farms and environment. Activists also sought to promote organic solutions to food production, while “exposing cronyism between big business and the government.”
With anti-GMO rallies having taken place in around 400 cities across the globe it’s still hard to estimate how many people participated in the event. Last year over 2 million people in 436 cities in 52 countries worldwide marched against the largest producer of genetically engineered seeds.
EPA SHINES ON MOMS ACROSS AMERICA
The following is from Moms Across America, a group that’s been working hard to expose the dangers of glyphosate herbicide to families of child-bearing age.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine sitting down with the EPA in Washington DC with a team of esteemed PH.D scientists, lawyers and moms just as passionate as I am, about a chemical called glyphosate, which is sprayed on GMOs and our food crops.
“But there we were. Because of your support, your generous donations, your phone calls, your posts about and emails to the EPA to recall Roundup, they took us seriously. 9 members of the pesticide Re-Review board listened to 11 of us for 2 hours instead of 1. They listened to your testimonials and the statistics of our health crisis in America. It was intense.
“Their eyes displayed dismay, understanding and even searched for more. I saw that we have EPA members on our side. They may not be able to act now, but they want to. They want us to push on and give them the reason to make a bold change. They want their children to be safe as much as you and I.
In other eyes, I saw denial, refusal and resistance. Their resignation weighed heavily in the air. I heard reasons, explanations and infuriating avoidance. I saw fear of change.
“Some of the board members refused to see just how urgent this is. They refused to see that we are breastfeeding our babies RIGHT NOW, today and we need for them to be safe. NOW.
“Despite our compelling binder of studies and undeniable evidence through testimonials of mothers of risk of harm, they did not agree to our request to recall Roundup, or revoke the license of glyphosate. They did not agree to issue a simple statement advising mothers to eat organic.
“They did agree however, to continue working with us, to give us the protocol for the upcoming scientific study of glyphosate in breast milk which was funded as a result of our preliminary testing, supported by Sustainable Pulse. They did agree to ask Monsanto for their breast milk testing that we have word they are conducting. They did agree to include include that study in their review of glyphosate, which happens only once every 15 years. I hope you understand how profound your support is in turning their decision from one that supports the profits of corporations to one that protects the health of our children.”
I’m sorry, Moms Across America, but I think EPA politely shined you on. The EPA said they’d ask Monsanto for its breast milk study and include it in their once-every-15-years review of glyphosate? Guess what the outcome of that study will be.
A NEW WRINKLE FROM THE BIOTECH INDUSTRY
Dana Perls of Friends of the Earth sent out this report:
Two Mondays ago, I sat in a room of some of the most powerful agribusiness, food and synthetic biology companies in the world. The goal of this industry meeting was to discuss how to get the public to accept synthetic biology, a new and unregulated set of genetic engineering methods, as the “foundation for the future of sustainable food.” It was meant to be a closed door and off-the-record industry meeting, in contrast to the open public forum on synthetic biology in our food which I helped organize the week before. But after some of the companies caught wind that Friends of the Earth was going to expose the leaked meeting information, we were cordially urged to attend by the meeting organizers.
Although there is no agreed upon definition of synthetic biology, it is a term that encompasses a variety of new, and many would say, “extreme” genetic engineering approaches, including computer generated DNA, directed evolution, and site specific mutagenesis. It’s faster and uses more powerful methods to engineer new genetic sequences than “traditional” genetic engineering. Engineers can even create entirely new DNA and organisms that do not exist in nature.
The meeting was under Chatham House rules – which means I can’t disclose who said what. However, I can say that the meeting was an alarming insight into the synthetic biology industry’s process of creating a sugar-coated media narrative to confuse the public, ignore the risks, and claim the mantle of “sustainability” for potentially profitable new synthetic biology products.
Over the course of the day, primarily CEOs, directors and PR people from powerful chemical and synthetic biology companies, bounced around tales of promise, discussed how to position synthetic biology as a “solution” to world hunger, and made blithe claims of safety that were not backed up by any actual data.
One problem, explained a participant, is that investors are Googling synthetic biology and finding activist blogs instead of media stories about how synthetic biology would help “feed starving people in poor nations” — how can they change the narrative? That seemed to be the point of the meeting.
Topics not discussed included risks to the environment; potential impacts on hundreds of thousands of small, low-income farmers; the lack of independent, transparent health and environmental assessments; and the lack of federal and international regulations. When I brought up these glaring omissions, my concerns were generally dismissed.
We were asked to brainstorm stories that paint biotech applications to food in a positive light. When I asked how biotech companies will protect small farmers who are producing the truly natural products, I was met with a hard cold stare, silence and a non-answer about needing to meet “consumer demand.”
Another person boiled it down that the industry’s most important task is to reassure the public and potential investors that these synthetic biology ingredients are regulated, safe, “natural,” and not new.
They Warned Us the USDA Would Wreck the Organic Movement
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Mark Kastel at The Cornucopia Institute writes, “In a move truly deserving of the comment ‘You can’t make this stuff up,’ illustrating the widening divide in the organic community, the USDA’s National Organic Program announced this week that they would require public interest groups, educators, and the public to get their blessing before using the USDA organic logo in media coverage.
“After months of pointed criticism, and press coverage, of a series of allegedly illegal power grabs by the USDA, stripping authority Congress vested in the the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), the USDA has figured out a way to resolve the dispute.
“Its quarterly newsletter recapped the recent NOSB meeting in San Antonio, Texas. It was one of the most contentious meetings in the history of the organic movement. It included a protest that initially shut down the proceedings and a parliamentary challenge to the illegal power grab by NOP staff director Miles McEvoy.
“The protest ended after police came in for an arrest and the challenge, under Roberts Rules of Order, endorsed by a number of board members, only ended after a long adjournment where Mr. McEvoy conferred with his staff (and superiors and lawyers in Washington by phone) and subsequently threatened to shut the entire meeting down and send everyone home if the parliamentary motion challenging his authority wasn’t withdrawn.
“But if you read the USDA’s Organic Integrity Quarterly you might question the accuracy of their story. There’s not a word of any dispute at the meeting even though, besides the protests, numerous citizens and public interest groups, in formal written and oral testimony, condemned the USDA’s actions. And this meeting came on the heels of a letter written to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack by the two primary authors of the Organic Foods Production Act, the law that gave the USDA the authority to establish the NOP in the first place. Senator Patrick Leahy and Representative Peter DeFazio clearly stated that the USDA moves were a violation of congressional intent and requested their immediate reversal.
Not a word about any of this in the USDA’s quarterly organic newsletter.
“But now the USDA wants to read anything The Cornucopia Institute, a corporate and governmental watchdog in the organic arena, or any other public interest group intends to publish if we want to use the USDA organic logo. This logo is owned by the citizens of the United States of America.
“Now don’t get me wrong. Their advice to commercial interests, to have their certifiers review labels where they might use the USDA seal, for compliance with the law, is sound. But stifling constitutionally protected free speech? No, that’s a gross overstep of power.
“Cornucopia’s Board President, a third-generation certified organic farmer from Durand, Wisconsin, Helen Kees, after reading this newsletter instructed Cornucopia staff to ‘Give ’em hell’ and included a referral to an experienced constitutional lawyer. We doubt it that will be necessary. Someone at the USDA will be wise enough to not kick that hornet’s nest.”
My take? Don’t count on it.
AND NOW FOR THE POSITIVE NEWS
Fighting Big Ag and Biotech is one thing, but the other side of the coin is about those who are working on truly sustainable farming methods by getting out from behind the computer and actually farming in an eco-friendly, life-supporting, and positive way.
Such a group is the Hudson Valley Greenhorns, led by a charismatic young woman. Here’s an article about the group. Here is the future of American farming, albeit in embryonic form.
GROCERY MANUFACTURERS AIM TO BLOCK
ANY ATTEMPT TO LABEL GMO FOODS
Ronnie Cummins, that indefatigable food warrior at the Organic Consumers Association, reports that “Vermont isn’t the only state up against the multi-billion dollar lobbying group (called the Grocery Manufacturers of America). The GMA, whose 300-plus members include Monsanto and Dow, Coca-Cola, and General Mills, is pushing a bill in Congress that would preempt all states from passing GMO labeling laws.
“It’s time for consumers in every state to band together to defeat the GMA’s full-on assault, not only on Vermont, not only on consumers’ right to know what’s in our food, but on states’ rights and on our basic freedoms to protect our health and our communities.
“Here’s how we do it. We boycott every product, including the natural and organic brands, owned by members of the GMA. We flood their Facebook pages, tarnish their brand names. We pressure financial institutions, pension funds and mutual funds to divest from Monsanto and the other GMA companies.
“Our motto for Monsanto and GMA products must become: Don’t buy them. Don’t sell them. Don’t grow them. And don’t let your financial institution, university, church, labor union or pension fund invest in them.
“As soon as the GMA files a lawsuit against Vermont, the Organic Consumers Association, joined by a growing coalition of public interest groups, will launch a boycott and divestment campaign directed against all of the 300 GMA companies and their thousands of brand name products—including foods, beverages, seeds, home and garden supplies, pet food, herbicides and pesticides.
“Monsanto and the GMA have until now successfully blocked popular GMO labeling legislation in over 30 states. They’ve defeated, by a razor-thin margin, two high-profile ballot initiatives, in California (2012) and Washington (2013). And they’ve intimidated Connecticut and Maine into including trigger clauses in those states’ GMO labeling laws, successfully delaying their implementation.
“Funding for this anti-consumer, anti-right-to-know lobbying and advertising effort topped $100 million in 2012-2014, including $12 million in illegally laundered donations to I-522, the Washington State GMO labeling ballot initiative of 2013. All of that money has come from the 300 chemical, seed, supermarket, grain, pharmaceutical and food corporations, including Monsanto and the other Gene Giants, who make up the GMA.
“Until now the GMA colossus has ruled, not only in Washington D.C., but in all 50 states. But now that Vermont has passed a trigger-free GMO labeling law, and Oregon is poised to do the same in November, the balance of power has shifted.
“Monsanto, the GMA and their allies are in panic mode. Because they know that when companies are forced to label or remove GMOs, and also are forced to drop the fraudulent practice of labeling GE-tainted foods as ‘natural’ or ‘all natural,’ in one state, they will have to do it in every state. Just as they’ve been forced to do in Europe, where mandatory GMO labeling has been in effect since 1997.
“GMA members and corporate agribusiness hate labeling, because it forces them to reveal all of the hazardous GMOs, chemicals and drug residues lurking in the billions of dollars of foods, beverages, seeds, grains and pesticides they sell. It’s no wonder that Monsanto and GMA’s bill in Congress–a bill they’ve named the Orwellian ‘Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2014’—has been renamed the ‘DARK’ (Denying Americans the Right to Know) Act.
“We absolutely must defeat the impending GMA lawsuit against Vermont. This will require us to raise money and provide legal help to the state.
“Equally important, we need to intensify our mass education, grassroots lobbying and marketplace pressure so we can defeat Monsanto and the GMA Big Food/Chemical lobby in the court of public opinion, too. But there are other ways we can use our dollars to defeat the GMA. We can refuse to invest, even indirectly through retirement and mutual funds, in those companies. We can pressure institutional investors like Fidelity, Vanguard and State Street to dump their stock in these companies.
“And we can boycott all of the 300 GMA companies and their more than 6,000 brand name products—including foods, beverages, seeds, home and garden supplies, pet food, herbicides, and pesticides
“Where to start? As part of this Great Boycott, pro-organic consumer groups will put a special emphasis on boycotting the ‘Traitor Brands,’ those organic and so-called ‘natural’ brands owned and marketed by GMA members.
“Health-conscious and green-minded consumers often inadvertently support the GMA when they buy brands like Honest Tea, Kashi, Odwalla and others whose parent companies, all members of the GMA, have donated millions to defeat GMO labeling initiatives in California (Prop 37) and Washington State (I-522).
“These Traitor Brands include, among others:
• PepsiCo ($4.8M donated to defeat GMO labeling) – IZZE, Naked Juice, Simply Frito-Lay, Starbucks Frappucino
• Coca-Cola ($3.2M) – Honest Tea, Odwalla
• Nestle ($3M) – Gerber Organic, Sweet Leaf tea
• Kraft/Mondelez ($2.4M) – Boca Burgers, Green and Black’s
• General Mills ($2.1M) – Cascadian Farm, Larabar, Muir Glen
• ConAgra Foods ($2M) – Alexia, Pam organic cooking sprays
• Kelloggs ($1.1M) – Bear Naked, Gardenburger, Kashi, Morningstar Farms
• Campbells ($980k) – Plum Organics, Wolfgang Puck organic soups
• Smuckers ($900k) – R.W. Knudsen, Santa Cruz organic, Smuckers Organic
• Hershey’s ($880k) – Dagoba
• Bimbo Bakeries ($560k) – Earthgrains bread
• McCormick ($400k) – Simply Asia, Thai Kitchen
“Let’s be clear. Junk Food and beverage companies who are members of the GMA are gobbling up organic and ‘natural’ brands because they recognize the huge profit potential in the fast-growing organic and natural markets. They want our business. If we stop buying their brands, they know there’s a good chance we’ll find alternative brands. And we might never look back.
“There are about 50 popular organic and natural ‘Traitor Brands’ (owned by GMA members). It’s easy for most of us to boycott those brands. But how do we boycott the entire 6,000-product inventory of GMA member-owned brands, especially those of us who don’t shop for those brands in supermarkets?
“Here are seven ways to fight back against Monsanto and all the Corporate Bullies of the Grocery Manufacturers Association.
1. Stop buying all non-organic processed foods. Even if they are certified organic, don’t buy any Traitor Brand processed foods or beverages. Ninety percent of the foods Americans buy or consume are heavily processed, deliberately laced with sugar, salt and unhealthy fats, contaminated with dyes, preservatives, pesticides, GMOs, and drug residues. If you want to be healthy, if you want to avoid cancer, heart attacks, or obesity, build your diet around whole foods, especially raw fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, (coconut oil, avocadoes, pastured meat, dairy, and eggs, nuts, and whole grains) and nuts.
2. Patronize grocers, coops and community restaurants that serve organic, cooked-from-scratch, local food. Many restaurants, especially chain restaurants (Chipotlé is a rare exception), sell many of the brands owned by GMA members.
3. Cook at home with healthy organic ingredients.
4. Buy only heirloom, open-pollinated, and/or organic seeds.
5. Boycott all lawn and garden inputs (chemicals, fertilizers, etc.) unless they are “OMRI Approved,” which means they are allowed in organic production.
6. Read the labels on everything you buy. If a GMA member company owns the product, don’t buy it. Given the greed and reckless disregard for public health and the environment typical of GMA corporations, chances are these products aren’t good for you and the environment anyway.
7. Download the Buycott app for your smartphone and join OCA’s new campaign, ‘Buy Organic Brands that Support Your Right to Know’ so you can scan products before you buy them.
“In this age of the Internet and social media, consumer boycotts, divestment campaigns and other forms of marketplace pressure are more powerful than ever. Please join and support the Organic Consumers Association’s ‘Great Boycott’ of Monsanto and the Grocery Manufacturer’s Association today. Let’s show Monsanto and the GMA we mean business.
TWO OREGON COUNTIES BAN PLANTING OF GMO CROPS
Two Oregon counties—Jackson and Josephine—soundly defeated the biotech industry on May 20. Voters there, led in Jackson County by a grassroots group called Our Family Farms Coalition, passed countywide bans on growing GMOs.
The wins send a clear signal to the biotech industry that their GMO crops are not wanted. And an equally clear signal to politicians that communities will take a stand to protect their democratic right to local home rule.
The Organic Consumers Association noted that this time, Monsanto’s money and lies didn’t work. Monsanto and the rest of biotech industry spent a cool $1 million—a new record for a county ballot measure in Oregon—in Jackson County alone.
This time, ordinary citizens and community rights prevailed over corporate and political corruption. This time, we’re celebrating. This week’s victories are all the more sweet, coming just weeks after Vermont signed into law this country’s first stand-alone bill requiring mandatory labeling of GMOs.
The grassroots anti-GMO movement, always a force to be reckoned with, is now a bigger-than-ever threat to corporations that have poisoned and polluted with impunity, for decades.
However, we need to defend Josephine County’s initiative, at risk because of a controversial law passed last year in Oregon preempting county GMO bans. (Jackson County got on the ballot before Oregon SB 863 passed). And we have to defend Vermont’s new labeling law, because the Grocery Manufacturers Association is suing in federal court to overturn it.
ROUNDUP READY BLUEGRASS IS READY FOR YOUR LAWN
Genetically engineered grass could soon be coming to a lawn, or a park or a golf course or an office complex—or an organic pasture—near you.
In July, 2011, Scotts Company and Monsanto convinced the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to give the companies a free pass to market their genetically engineered Roundup-Ready Kentucky Bluegrass. No testing required.
Now, employees of the Marysville, Ohio-based company are set to begin testing new GMO grass on their lawns. The company says it plans to sell the product commercially in 2015. Sales to consumers will start in 2016. Where would you rather your kids play? On a lawn with a little crabgrass and some dandelions? Or a lawn drenched in Monsanto’s toxic Roundup?
Toward an Organic Sexuality
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Of all the citizens of countries in the industrialized world, studies show that the Danes are the happiest. Among the reasons offered is that in Denmark, you will not be allowed to starve, health care is on the government, everyone who wants to work can, and there’s plenty of vacation time.
Not often mentioned is that among the sexually liberated Scandinavian countries, the Danes are also the most liberated. An example is the government’s decision to encourage people to vote by creating an animated film called Voteman—a send-up of a superhero that begins with Voteman in his lair being pleasured by a bevy of naked women. When voting nears, Voteman gets out there and kicks some butt, tossing slacker-voters at voting machines as though the slackers were hay bales.
It makes one think of the bonobo chimps that substitute sex for aggressive behavior—although a thousand years ago the Danes were ferocious. Just ask any Englishman.
Maybe one big reason that Danes are so together, peaceful, and happy is that they get to fully express their sexuality without hang-ups or shame.
Consider puritanical America, though, where women are shamed for breast-feeding their babies. The most war-like segments of our society–conservatives, fundamentalists, right-wing Republicans, and Tea Partiers—are also the most sexually repressed. It’s always the most homophobic fundamentalists who are revealed to be having gay sex with their coke dealers.
This repressive streak runs through American history. We now know that Tom Jefferson, that beacon of enlightenment, not only had slaves, he had his sexual way with at least one of them. What would we say today about someone who held a minority woman in captivity and used her for sex?
Maybe America’s crazy and ugly gun culture and violent video games, movies, and TV shows are a natural reaction to repressed sexuality, which causes anxiety, which causes aggressive acting out. In the realm of “entertainment,” however, we’re sex-obsessed. And, truth be told, so is everybody who doesn’t get enough.
A FEDERAL DEPARTMENT OF FOOD
Chef Tom Collicio said something very interesting recently. He said that the USDA focuses on farmers and that was fine when most people in the United States were farmers. But today most people are eaters, and there’s a food revolution going on. We need a Department of Food, not within USDA, but firmly outside of it, as a cabinet position, and a place for sound environmental policies to begin.
I’m sure just about everyone recoils in horror at the idea of creating another huge Federal bureaucracy, but look at the situation at USDA.
Secretary Tom Vilsack and the whole gang at USDA are in the pocket of Big Ag and Biotech. Monsanto reigns supreme. The agency just made a power grab at the National Organics Standards Board in order to allow noxious chemicals into organic food. USDA is getting ready to approve 2,4-D-ready GMO crops. It and FDA have hiked the amount of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup herbicide, allowed in our food supply. Under USDA policies, superbugs, antibiotic resistant germs, superweeds, and widespread illness has occurred. USDA hands out billions to Big Farm in subsidies, but cuts food stamps for the poor.
A Department of Food could have as its mission statement the establishment of sustainable farming, whether that’s organic, Biodynamic, or otherwise eco-friendly farm techniques. It could protect the organic rules. It could make sure the food supply is safe and free of toxins. It could support local and artisanal farmers. It could make sure that no one in this country has to go hungry. It could be the generator of a whole new way of utilizing our farmland—a way that would protect and build the topsoil and ground water as it produced crops. We know how to do this—we’ve known it for more than a century. Americans want clean food. They want GMO labeling. They want an end to hunger. They want an end to the corruption that is Monsanto, Dow Chemical, Syngenta, DuPont, and all the other poisoners who farm by killing and kill by farming.
Collichio is right with his proposal of a new and benign Department of Food. Nearly 40 percent of the jobs in America involve food. Obesity, food-borne illness, auto-immune diseases, and many other problems need to be solved, but USDA, FDA, and the feckless EPA aren’t getting the job done. In fact, they are making things worse.
BEES ABANDONED HIVES IN THE DEAD OF WINTER
In a new study published in the Bulletin of Insectology, Harvard School of Public Health researchers set up 24 beehives. Twelve were handled normally, while another 12 were given sub-lethal doses of neonicotinoid pesticides for two months. Both kind of hives appeared healthy entering the winter months. The next spring, only one of the normal hives had died out, due to a fungus-like infection. But in the hives exposed to neonics, half of the colonies had abandoned their hives in the middle of winter. Bees survive winters by staying in their hives, creating warmth, replacing bees that die with healthy young, and living off their stores of honey. For whole colonies to fly off into winter weather is suicidal—an indication of how toxic the pesticides are to bee health. The neonic hives resembled Colony Collapse Disorder, an affliction where bees fly off in the summer months, but do not return to the hives.
Bayer, the chemical company that makes the neonicotinoid pesticides, attacked the Harvard study, saying that the lead author, Dr. Chensheng Lu of the Harvard School of Public Health, “greatly misdiagnosed colony collapse disorder” in the colonies he studied. Yeah, right.
WHEN PREDATORS VANISH, SO DOES THE ECOSYSTEM
Carl Zimmer, writing in The New York Times, reports that scientists studying salt marsh die-offs in bays around Rhode Island and Massachusetts attribute their decline to plant-eating marsh crabs. These crabs are proliferating because their predators, like striped bass and blue crabs, are being fished out. The scientists conclude that loss of top level predators in an ecosystem throws that system out of whack.
Duh. Organic gardeners and farmers have known for decades that when predatory insects are killed by pesticides aimed at farm and garden pests, insect problems only get worse. Without predators, the pests proliferate.
That’s why organic farmers and gardeners like to have some pests in their growing beds. They are food for the predators. Left alone, nature will eventually bring in a wide diversity of insects that creates a healthy ecosystem that is self-regulating.
BIG FOOD SUES VERMONT OVER GMO LABELING LAW
From the Organic Consumers Association:
Defying repeated threats of a lawsuit from Monsanto and the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), on May 8, Peter Shumlin, Governor of Vermont, signed a historic bill requiring food manufacturers to label genetically engineered (GMO) foods, and to drop the practice of labeling GMO foods as “natural” or “all natural.”
On May 9, true to its word, the GMA confirmed that it will sue Vermont in federal court to overturn H. 112.
Vermont is prepared to fight back. The state has already established a “food fight” legal defense fund. Legal analysts say Vermont will likely win.
But Vermont isn’t the only state up against the multi-billion dollar lobbying group. The GMA, whose 300-plus members include Monsanto and Dow, Coca-Cola and General Mills, is pushing a bill in Congress that would preempt all states from passing GMO labeling laws.
It’s time for consumers in every state to band together to defeat the GMA’s full-on assault, not only on Vermont, not only on consumers’ right to know what’s in our food, but on states’ rights and on our basic freedoms to protect our health and our communities.
THE ORGANIC MOVEMENT AND AUTHENTICITY
Mark Bittman, a writer I respect who writes about food for The New York Times, recently wrote about our food system and said, and I’m paraphrasing, that world agriculture as organic “is just not going to happen!”
So I wrote a letter to the editor saying, in part, “Why not?” The Times chose not to print my letter, but they should have. In the letter, I pointed out that the techniques of organic farming and gardening simply follow nature’s rules, and that if you look at wild nature, she seems to be very adequately clothing the world in a rich mixture of flora and fauna whose diversity creates health.
So why should our agriculture be devoted to poisons and killing things, diminishing biodiversity, and causing ill health on the farm, in the crops, and in the people who eat those crops?
If anything is authentic, nature is authentic. Her rules are authentic. We ignore them at our peril. That’s the lesson that organic agriculture teaches us. But while we think of the word “organic” as limited to agriculture or horticulture, it really can extend into the wide world. Our quest for authenticity is a quest for goodness and reality.
Take music, for instance. There’s a lot of inauthentic music out there: music created to make money, to ape the popular. But is there really authentic music, based in reality? The answer is: sure. Lots of it. It is the best music. The real stuff. The good stuff. Here are three fun examples—one blues song, one classical, and one popular. I’d call them all organic. And there are so many more.
The Return of 2,4-D in the Food Supply
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According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), about 94 percent of all cotton grown in the U.S. is genetically engineered. Not all of that cotton ends up in clothes. Cottonseed oil is used in a long list of foods, including mayonnaise, salad dressings, cereals, breads and snack foods.
Cotton is already the world’s “dirtiest” crop, due to its heavy use of pesticides. Now Dow wants to make cotton even more toxic, by unleashing a new genetically engineered cotton that resists the deadly 2, 4-D herbicide.
Dow’s 2,4-D is one of two toxins—the other was 2,4,5-T–used to make Agent Orange, the chemical sprayed as a defoliant during the Vietnam War and known to be responsible for a host of severe illnesses and birth defects.
If the USDA approves Dow’s new 2,4-D-resistant cotton, farmers will start spraying massive amounts of 2,4-D herbicide on a crop that already accounts for more than its fair share of the global use of pesticides and herbicides.
MORE BAD NEWS ABOUT 2,4-D
The Center for Food Safety reports that the Environmental Protection Agency has just opened a public comment period on the approval of the use of toxic 2,4-D specifically for Dow’s GE corn and soybeans. EPA is timing their approval process with that of USDA, with both agencies proposing approval of the Dow Agent Orange, GE crop system.
Dow Chemical, the same company that brought us Dursban, Napalm, and Agent Orange, is now in the food business and is pushing for an unprecedented government approval: genetically engineered (GE) versions of corn, soybeans and cotton that are designed to survive repeated dousing with 2,4-D, half of the highly toxic chemical mixture Agent Orange.
Wide scale use of Roundup with Roundup Ready GE crops has already led to an epidemic of resistant weeds, and the next step in the chemical arms race is 2,4-D — a chemical linked to major health problems including cancer, Parkinson’s disease, endocrine disruption, and reproductive problems. Industry tests show that 2,4-D is contaminated with dioxins—often referred to as the most toxic substances known to science.
EPA has reported that 2,4-D is the seventh largest source of dioxins in the U.S. Dioxin contamination in the rivers and soil around Dow Chemical’s headquarters in Midland, Michigan, has led to the highest dioxin levels ever found by the EPA in fish, and has been linked to increased breast cancer rates in the contaminated areas.
EPA’s approval would lead to a massive increase in the use of this toxic, dioxin-contaminated herbicide on our farms!
If approved, Dow’s Agent Orange crops will trigger a large increase in 2,4-D use –and our exposure to this toxic herbicide—yet the government has completely failed to investigate the harm such increased use would cause. This is part of a growing problem, an escalating chemical arms race going on across America’s heartland.
Dow Chemical is hyping GE 2,4-D corn, soy and cotton as the “solution” to Roundup-resistant weeds caused by GE Roundup Ready crops. But by driving up 2,4-D use, Dow’s crops will generate even more intractable weeds resistant to 2,4-D and other herbicides. This GE crop system ensures a toxic spiral of ever-increasing chemical use on our land and food, which benefits no one but Dow.
MARCHING AGAINST MONSANTO
On Saturday, May 24, millions of people around the world will March against Monsanto, according to the Organic Consumers Association. And this year, there’s plenty to celebrate, including the GMO labeling law in Vermont. But there’s still got a long way to go before we, the food revolutionaries, bring down Monsanto.
This year, the OCA is asking activists who march on May 24 to spread the word about the damage Monsanto and the rest of the pesticide-makers are doing to the honeybee and monarch populations, not to mention our food, our health and our planet.
VERMONT LAW NOW REQUIRES GMO LABELING
On May 8, Gov. Pete Shumlin signed into law the nation’s first stand-alone GMO labeling law.
Earlier in the day, the apologists for the conventional food industry were out in full force, complaining that Vermont’s H.112 is “irresponsible,” and will misinform consumers and “raise food prices.” The Grocery Manufacturers Association is pushing a bill in Congress to preempt H.112.
Meanwhile, the Oregon Supreme Court cleared the way for activists to begin gathering signatures for a November, 2014, ballot initiative for mandatory labeling of GMOs.
FIVE SUBSTANCES PUMPED INTO CONVENTIONAL MEAT
Martha Rosenberg, writing in AlterNet, reports that in the war against meat pathogens in commercial U.S. meat production, the pathogens are winning. The logical result of the tons of antibiotics Big Meat gives livestock (not because they are sick, but to fatten them up) is clear: antibiotics that no longer work against antibiotic-resistant diseases like staph (MRSA), enterococci (VRE) and C. difficile. Antibiotic-resistant infections, once limited to hospitals and nursing homes, can now be acquired in the community, on public beaches, and on the highway behind a poultry truck.
Big Meat has found some novel ways to retard the growth of salmonella, E.coli and listeria on commercially grown meat, but it does not necessarily want people to know about them and these substances are conspicuously absent from labels.
1. Chlorine Baths: Why do U.S. poultry processors use chlorine? It “kills bacteria, controls slime and algae, increases product shelf life [and] eliminates costly hand-cleaning labor and materials in addition to disinfecting wash down and chilling water.
2. Ammonia : It has only been two years since the nation’s stomach churned when it saw photos of “pink slime” oozing out of processing tubes and bound for U.S. dinner tables and the National School Lunch Program. Looking like human intestines, “lean, finely textured beef” (LFTB) was made from unwanted beef “trim” and treated with puffs of ammonia gas to retard the growth of E. coli.
3. Carbon Monoxide: Eight years ago there was an uproar about Big Meat using gases like carbon monoxide to color meat an unnatural red even as it was aging on the shelf. The brown color meat assumes after a few hours is as harmless as a sliced apple turning brown, says the American Meat Institute. But like mercury in tuna or ractopamine in beef, pork and turkey, Big Food didn’t blink or make any changes because it knew the contretemps would blow over—and it did.
4. Other “Safe and Suitable” Ingredients You Don’t Know You’re Eating: How about, “aqueous solution of sodium octanoate, potassium octanoate, or octanoic acid and either glycerin and/or propylene glycol and/or a Polysorbate surface active agent,” to kill germs?
And, does anyone want to eat “hen, cock, mature turkey, mature duck, mature goose, and mature guinea” into whose raw meat protease produced from the mold Aspergillus has been injected for tenderness?
Another unrecognizable chemical is sodium tripolyphosphate, used as an “anti-coagulant for use in recovered livestock blood which is subsequently used in food products.” Seafood like scallops, shrimp, hake, sole or imitation crab meat may be soaked in sodium tripolyphosphate to make it appear firmer, smoother and glossier. Sodium tripolyphosphate is “a suspected neurotoxin, as well as a registered pesticide and known air contaminant in the state of California,” says Food and Water Watch.
5. Bacteriophages: An underreported way in which Big Food is seeking to kill meat pathogens, especially antibiotic-resistant pathogens, is with bacteriophages. Phages are viruses that infect and kill bacteria, essentially turning the bacterial cell into a phage production factory until the bacteria cell bursts, releasing hundreds of copies of new phages, which go on to infect and kill more bacteria.
ORGANIC CONSUMERS ASSOCIATION DISRUPTS USDA MEETING
The Organic Consumers Association (OCA) recently disrupted the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) meeting to protest a power grab by the USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP) that makes it more difficult for the NOSB to phase out synthetic and non-organic materials from organic food.
Who was behind the NOP’s latest move to weaken organic standards? Is this another sneak attack, similar to one that occurred in 2005? Engineered by the likes of Kraft, Dean Foods and Smucker’s?
Looks like it. Kraft’s, Dean Foods’ and Smucker’s fingerprints are all over this.
We (the OCA) weren’t able (yet) to overturn the NOP’s decision to change its “sunset” policy. But thanks to the help of our million-plus network, and some of our pro-organic allies, we did persuade the NOSB to enforce its Oct. 21, 2014, deadline for ending the use of streptomycin on organic apples and pears.