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Are We Committing Ecocide?

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Nassim Nicholas Taleb is a scholar, statistician, Wall Street analyst, and professor at New York University, who predicted the Great Recession of 2008 by pointing out that commonly used risk models were wrong.

Now his analysis of our use of genetically modified organisms shows that GMOs could cause “an irreversible termination of life at some scale, which could be the planet,” according to the Alliance for Natural Health USA. Taleb and his two co-authors argue that calling the GMO approach “scientific” betrays “a very poor—indeed warped—understanding of probabilistic payoffs and risk management.”

Taleb believes GMOs fall squarely under the rule that we should always err on the side of caution if something is really dangerous. This is not just because of potential harm to the consumer, but because of systemic risk to the system, which in this case is the ecosystem that supports all life on the planet:

Top-down modifications to the system (through GMOs) are categorically and statistically different from bottom-up ones (regular farming, progressive tinkering with crops, etc.). There is no comparison between the tinkering of selective breeding and the top-down engineering of arbitrarily taking a gene from an organism and putting it into another.

The interdependence of all things in nature, Taleb points out, dramatically amplifies risks that may initially seem small when studied in isolation. Tiny genetic errors on the local scale could cause considerable—and even irreversible—environmental damage when the local is exported to the global. The lack of understanding of basic statistical principles, he says, is what leads GMO supporters astray:

“The interdependence of components [in nature] lead[s] to aggregate variations becoming much more severe than individual ones….Whether components are independent or interdependent matters a lot to systemic disasters such as pandemics or generalized crises. The interdependence increases the probability of ruin, to the point of certainty.”

The problem is that the general public, and indeed most policy analysts, are ill-equipped to understand the statistical mathematics of risk. But as Brian Stoffel explains in an article on Taleb’s research, we can assume that each genetically engineered seed carries a risk—albeit a very tiny risk—that in the intricately interdependent web of nature, the GMO seed might somehow eventually lead to a catastrophic breakdown of the ecosystem we rely on for life. Let’s call it a 0.1 percent chance, just for the sake of illustration. All by itself, that risk seems totally acceptable. But with each new seed that’s developed, the risk gets greater and greater, and over time, we could hit the ecocide barrier.

Critics say, “But risk is inherent in everything. We can’t just be paralyzed by fear and not progress!” Taleb responds that the risk of “generalized human extinction” is absolutely not “inherent in everything.” That’s because most consequences are localized, not systemic. And progress can be made using bottom-up techniques that have worked for eons.

While quite a few countries have banned GMOs because of their risk to human health and the environment, the US lags behind. Politicians complain that we don’t have the full picture on GMOs and therefore shouldn’t ban them—but that’s because of the lack of human safety studies being performed on GMOs in the US, and because biotech companies keep a lot of their data proprietary; that is, concealed from the public. Consider the implications of keeping it secret: if the research finds GMOs to be harmless, wouldn’t that be something you’d want to shout from the rooftops, if you were Monsanto?



On November 4, powerHouse publishers of Brooklyn will publish Organic, a magnificent book containing incredible photos of dozens of Hudson Valley farmers and chefs who are determinedly organic. Each spread of the book features a left-hand page written by the farmer or the chef as to how they turned organic and why, and what they’re doing with it. Each right-hand page is a searingly honest photo of the farmer or chef that looks like it’s right out of the late 19th Century.

This book will inspire more than one reader to become a farmer or work with organic produce. These are the dedicated souls who will not compromise with agribusiness. The photos show how a lifetime of farming will weather someone, but also toughen them, set their jaw, focus their principles, and make them human.

As someone who has worked as an organic gardener and organic gardening and farming communicator for 50 years, I say this is the best book I’ve seen about what organics is really all about. Giving these people a voice, their own page, to explain themselves, is a brilliant idea and they come across like the hard-working and earth-sustaining folks they are.

These are the folks with the dirt on their hands, their hands in the soil, and the spirit they invest in their farms that shows up in real, honest, clean, and nutritious food. No agribusiness bullshit here. No toxic chemicals with these guys and gals. They are the salt of the earth, and the salt has its savor intact. What a great book. Look for it.



The Grocery Manufacturers Association, which represents America’s biggest food companies, has announced a major new initiative that will give the Food and Drug Administration access to a large database of safety information for chemicals used in processed foods, from Twinkies to almond milk.

Pressure has been building on FDA for years to look more closely at food chemicals, which are mostly self-approved by food companies relying on publicly available science and panels of industry-paid experts. But the agency hasn’t gotten around to it.

“It’s certainly a step forward” said Tom Neltner, a health scientists for the Natural Resources Defense Council, who was briefed on the plan. Neltner has been among the most vocal critics of the current approach to determining the safety of food ingredients, publishing several studies on the issue in the past few years.

“It’s good to see them acknowledge some of the problems with the system and take some positive steps forward,” said Neltner. “We’re glad to see them making that move.”

“We think this is a big step forward for the industry,” said Leon Bruner, executive vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs at the Grocery Manufacturers. “We’re going to communicate to the world that we’re taking the lead on this.”

NRDC said it will be watching closely to see how the effort is rolled out. “The proof will be in the pudding,” according to Neltner.

The move comes after years and years of stalling and obfuscation of safety data by food processors who have hidden behind the concept of proprietary information regarding chemicals in food. Perhaps the companies in the Grocery Manufacturers’ Association—the big companies like Coca-Cola, Nestle, and so forth—realize that the public is getting nervous about chemicals in food, and that’s why the organic food industry has grown so quickly into a $40 billion-plus industry. This could be a PR move to assure consumers that conventional food is safe and keep them from jumping ship and reaching the organic land.

Less likely is that the big food processors realize they haven’t done their due diligence on the 10,000 chemicals they use in their foods and haven’t been forthcoming about their research data, and in a come-to-Jesus moment, have suddenly realized they must clean up their products.

But not to be cynical. As Mr. Neltner of the NRDC says, “The proof will be in the pudding.” I’m betting that pudding will still be chockablock with chemicals, even if we finally get to know what they are



In her June 25 keynote address to the BIO International Convention in San Diego, Hillary Clinton voiced strong support for genetic engineering and genetically engineered crops, according to the Organic Consumers Association.

She earned a standing ovation that day by stating that the biotech industry suffers from a public perception problem and that it just needs “a better vocabulary” in order to persuade GMO skeptics who don’t understand “the facts” about genetic engineering.

And then Hillary proceeded to get the facts wrong.

She talked about how she went around Africa promoting drought resistant seeds, and how she had to overcome farmers’ skepticism. But the drought resistant seeds she was talking about were developed using standard crossbreeding techniques, not genetic engineering.

Hillary makes the same mistake as many other apologists for GMOs—she confuses selective breeding through sexual reproduction, where nature controls the way the plants’ genes are shuffled, with genetic engineering, which actually opens up the genetic control panel and removes genes or imports them from other creatures, such as frog genes put into potatoes, just to posit an example. Nature refuses to let frogs cross with potatoes for a very good reason. Genetic engineering presupposes that humans are smarter than nature. If only Nature had let some of those frog genes into potatoes, my oh my, wouldn’t that make for tasty spuds.

There is one drought resistant GMO seed out there, a GMO corn created by Monsanto, but it has proven to impart only very modest drought resistance. After the corn was fed to test animals and inflammations and lesions developed throughout their bodies, work on the corn stopped.

The fact is that Hillary Clinton is, and has been for quite a while, in the pocket of Monsanto and the Biotech industry. As far as I’m concerned, her position is a total deal breaker. If she favors Monsanto over human health, that tells me volumes about how corporatist transgressions against citizens, the food supply, and the health of the earth will trump common sense under a Hillary presidency.

I’d like to see a candidate tell the truth for once instead of scolding Americans for being too ignorant of science to recognize the advantages of GMOs—when she obviously doesn’t know the difference between selective breeding and genetic engineering. How ignorant is that? And how arrogant.



In a show of solidarity for the role organic agriculture can play in reversing climate change, Vandana Shiva will march with Organic Consumer Association’s “Cook Organic, Not the Planet” contingent in the People’s Climate March, on September 21, 2014, in New York City.

Organizers of the People’s Climate March predict this could be the biggest action on climate the world’s ever seen. That’s exciting—but too often, the climate change message focuses exclusively on reducing fossil fuel emissions. With Vandana’s help, OCA will bring our message to the march—that organic, regenerative agriculture has the potential to actually reverse global warming. And unless we acknowledge—and act—on that strategy, we will not turn the sinking global warming ship around in time.

According to a recent study by the Rodale Institute, regenerative agriculture, if practiced globally, has the potential to sequester 100 percent of current, annual carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

Where do consumers fit into the picture? By supporting organics—for our own health and the health of our entire ecosystem.

The OCA’s “Cook Organic Not the Planet” will join up with the Food Justice contingent for the Sunday, September 21, march in New York. Contact OCA’s Alexis Baden-Mayer (alexis@organicconsumers.org) for details on how you can march with OCA and Vandana Shiva.


Why Organic Food Production Is Imperative for Human Survival

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When I was born, the human population of the world was 2.3 billion people. Today it’s about 7 billion, and heading for an estimated 11.5 billion by the end of this century.

Not only are our sheer numbers overloading the carrying capacity of the earth, but these burgeoning populations all want to live the way people in the developed world live: nice cars, meat for dinner, heated homes and swimming pools—the good life. And who can blame them?

But as we’ve learned—or should have learned—biodiversity is the foundation of health, whether you’re talking about the human biome or the ecologies of earth’s creatures. Yet we are reducing biodiversity today in one of the world’s great extinction events.

Because we’ve been using the atmosphere as a dump for our carbon waste since the beginning of the industrial revolution, we have caused global warming. The oceans are huge sinks of cold temperatures, and through the natural tendency of materials to even out their temperatures, have soaked up the excess heat, changing the world’s climate, destroying much of the earth’s coral reefs, and damaging the oceanic ecosystems.

Not only that, we have overharvested the oceans until today, most of the big fish are gone and one third of the world’s ocean fisheries are in collapse. On land, conventional agriculture has depleted our soils, causing soil erosion on a grand scale. Soluble chemical fertilizers run off into ground waters, lakes, and rivers, causing toxic algae blooms such as recently poisoned Toledo Ohio’s city water.

Pesticides are killing our pollinators. Herbicides are creating superweeds and interfering with the normal development of our children by disrupting their mothers’ and their endocrine systems. And in the worst insult to nature ever, our scientists are switching genes between not only species, but genera, families, and even orders.

Meanwhile, if I may be allowed to continue this jeremiad for a few more sentences, rapacious capitalism does its best to ignore the environmental and psychological damage to our life support systems and the health of our ecosystems. A corrupt political system works not for the people or the health of the earth, but for the highest bidders—the big corporations and their obscenely overpaid bosses. And so we have fracking that destroys clean water underground. Mountaintop removal to get at fossil fuel coal. Unsustainable agriculture. Confined animal feeding operations that torment our farm animals. GMOs. All blithely marching ahead into oblivion.

It has to stop. I mean, really. And the sooner the better.

It would be easy to throw up our hands and proclaim that the system is too far gone. The cats will never give up their fat. Corporations are not going to change into benevolent providers of sustainable products that help everyone. Our politicians will never legislate in the public interest—and by public, I mean not only people but the whole diversity of the biological world. But we can’t give up. We have to fight to change things. There’s not only much at stake—there’s everything at stake.

And there is hope. You are reading this blog about organic food because you believe that organic food is healthy food and organic farms are good for the environment. And you’re right; it is and they are. For just one example, if all farming on earth were organic, enough carbon would be sequestered in the soil to reduce atmospheric greenhouse gas to levels that would eventually reverse global warming.

Food is one big component of our life support systems on this world. No food, no us. Organic food production is sustainable forever, because it recycles nutrients in a safe and sane manner. It protects the soil. It doesn’t go in for wholesale slaughter of the participants in the wild ecosystems.

But it is just one of many components of our life support system. We also need clean water. An atmosphere that is not polluted. Power that is generated from renewable resources like sunlight and geothermal and hydropower. We need jobs that contribute to the welfare of the world—human and otherwise. And so we need businesses that contribute to the welfare of the world rather than destroying it. And we need wilderness, too. As Henry David Thoreau wrote, “In wildness is the preservation of the world.” (That’s the correct quote, despite his being often misquoted on this topic.) And that’s because, as he saw in 1857 in his transcendental majesty, biodiversity is the foundation of health, and wildness—a climax ecosystem, we might say—is the definition of maximum biodiversity.

So organic food choices are not just nice. They are critical. Organics represents the beginning of the way we change the world. Things are slowly changing—electric cars are here. Solar power is gaining momentum. Methods of sequestering and recycling carbon are being found. After all, carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen make hydrocarbon fuel, easily manufactured from the air from carbon dioxide and water plus sunlight as the driving force, if we have the will to do it. Plants have been doing it since just about forever. We’re smarter than plants, aren’t we?

Aren’t we?



The following three paragraphs were written by Michael Specter for The New Yorker magazine. The full story can be accessed at http://readersupportednews.org/opinion2/271-38/25394-in-india-a-crusade-against-genetically-modified-crops
Early this spring, the Indian environmentalist Vandana Shiva led an unusual pilgrimage across southern Europe. Beginning in Greece, with the international Pan-Hellenic Exchange of Local Seed Varieties Festival, which celebrated the virtues of traditional agriculture, Shiva and an entourage of followers crossed the Adriatic and travelled by bus up the boot of Italy to Florence, where she spoke at the Seed, Food and Earth Democracy Festival. After a short planning meeting in Genoa, the caravan rolled on to the South of France, ending in Le Mas d’Azil, just in time to celebrate International Days of the Seed.
Shiva’s fiery opposition to globalization and to the use of genetically modified crops has made her a hero to anti-G.M.O. activists everywhere. The purpose of the trip through Europe, she had told me a few weeks earlier, was to focus attention there on “the voices of those who want their agriculture to be free of poison and G.M.O.s.” At each stop, Shiva delivered a message that she has honed for nearly three decades: by engineering, patenting, and transforming seeds into costly packets of intellectual property, multinational corporations such as Monsanto, with considerable assistance from the World Bank, the World Trade Organization, the United States government, and even philanthropies like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, are attempting to impose “food totalitarianism” on the world. She describes the fight against agricultural biotechnology as a global war against a few giant seed companies on behalf of the billions of farmers who depend on what they themselves grow to survive. Shiva contends that nothing less than the future of humanity rides on the outcome.
“There are two trends,” she told the crowd that had gathered in Piazza Santissima Annunziata, in Florence, for the seed fair. “One: a trend of diversity, democracy, freedom, joy, culture—people celebrating their lives.” She paused to let silence fill the square. “And the other: monocultures, deadness. Everyone depressed. Everyone on Prozac. More and more young people unemployed. We don’t want that world of death.” The audience, a mixture of people attending the festival and tourists on their way to the Duomo, stood transfixed. Shiva, dressed in a burgundy sari and a shawl the color of rust, was a formidable sight. “We would have no hunger in the world if the seed was in the hands of the farmers and gardeners and the land was in the hands of the farmers,” she said. “They want to take that away.”


The USDA has announced that it intends to rein-in misleading language on organic packaging that all too often has been suspected of confusing consumers, according to The Cornucopia Institute.

Specifically, the agency addressed companies marketing food products that have the word “organic” or “organics” in their brand-name.

“Unless a food product is certified organic it cannot display, overtly, the word ‘organic’ on the front panel of the product,” said Mark A. Kastel, co-director at The Cornucopia Institute, an organic industry watchdog.

Some companies, such as Newman’s Own Organics, have been selling products that do not qualify for the use of the word organic on the front panel and are getting away with misleading messaging to consumers because they have used the word organic in their trade name.

As an example, when Cornucopia filed its original complaint, Newman’s ginger cookies and other products the company markets had labels such as “made with organic wheat and sugar,” but many of the more expensive ingredients were not in fact organic.

“When products qualify for the made with organic label, it means they have a minimum of 70 percent organic content,” stated Kastel. “Newman’s Own Organics ginger cookies didn’t even contain organic ginger when we did our initial investigation in 2010. That’s what I call misleading!”

A small percentage of products under the Newman’s Own Organics name actually are certified organic. Most are manufactured with 70 percent organic ingredients and qualify for the “made with organic” labeling category.

“Other brands of organic cookies that have to compete on store shelves with Newman’s, such as Country Choice, go to the effort and expense to procure organic ginger and all other available organic ingredients, and present a product of true integrity to the consuming public,” said Kastel.

In an e-mail to the organic industry, the USDA’s National Organic Program explained the basis of their new approach: “The policy clarification is needed to provide fairness and equity in label use throughout the organic industry and to satisfy consumer expectations for organic products.”

“We applaud the USDA for making this ruling, and instructions to organic certifiers, in tightening up the labeling requirements that will protect ethical industry participants and prevent consumers from being misled when they are cruising the grocery aisles,” Kastel added.



A comprehensive voting analysis of members of the National Organic Standards Board, an expert body formed by Congress to insulate the governance of the industry from undue corporate influence, clearly illustrates how illegal appointments to the board by current and past USDA Secretaries have subverted congressional intent.

The study, produced by The Cornucopia Institute, a Wisconsin-based farm policy research group, analyzed the voting record of each individual board member over the past five years, including corporate representatives who were placed on the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), filling seats that were specifically set aside for farmers and other independent organic industry stakeholders.

“In recent years, just as with the polarized U.S. Supreme Court, many critical issues were decided by one-vote margins,” said Mark A. Kastel, Codirector and Senior Farm Policy Analyst at Cornucopia. “Almost universally, the NOSB is split along ideological lines (corporate agribusiness versus farmers and consumers) on whether to allow controversial synthetic and non-organic additives in organic food or weak animal husbandry standards utilizing the ‘factory farm’ production model of organic meat, eggs and dairy products.”

Cornucopia’s analysis comes two years after the policy group released a white paper entitled The Organic Watergate. That report documented how a number of risky and/or gimmicky synthetic or non-organic materials were approved for use in organics. It highlighted a couple of board members, appointed as “farmers,” who did not meet the intent and legal qualifications that Congress had set out for composition of the board.

“We have two members of the current board, both sitting in seats that Congress had designated for someone who must ‘own or operate an organic farming operation’ but who were actually agribusiness employees when appointed to the five-year term on the NOSB,” said Kastel.

Many organic farming pioneers would never have supported the USDA overseeing the industry they founded if Congress hadn’t agreed to create a strong NOSB as a defense against business as usual in Washington, an all-too-common cozy working relationship between agribusiness and the USDA.

Barry Flamm, immediate past chair of the NOSB, observed, “I hope the Cornucopia analysis of voting records, which will continue going forward, will forewarn NOSB members that their voting behavior will be closely scrutinized and, if they are employees of corporations or certifiers with economic interests, that some of their customers will also be judging their service on the board as well.”

Learn more at http://www.cornucopia.org/nosb-voting-scorecard/ . A scorecard that contains all of the votes, including the uncontested votes, can also be found at: http://www.cornucopia.org/NOSB-Scorecard-all-votes.pdf



I was lucky enough recently to run across a wineglass that’s perfect for any kind of wine: white, red, sparkling, dessert. That’s because of its design. It has a wide bowl at the bottom that swoops up to a closed-in top that presents the wine’s aroma to the nose. The glass is very thin and the glass almost weightless—very elegant. The design is gorgeous as well as functional.

I opened a bottle of Chateauneuf du Pape to try out the glass. I was immediately struck by how the design of the glass focused the aroma of the wine on my nose. Turns out the wine was very profound, especially the nose of pipe tobacco, caramel, apple cider, black cherries, and dried herbs, aspects that became easily apparent due to the ability of the glass to focus the aroma.

I must say that this glass has now become my go-to glass whenever I’m drinking a wine special enough to deserve it. It’s hand-made in Austria. You can check it out at www.winegls.com.



On August 6, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), over the objections of 50 members of Congress, and more than 500,000 citizens, scientists, farmers and health professionals, moved one step closer to approving Dow’s new “Agent Orange” brand GMO soy and corn crops, the Organic Consumers Association reports.

The crops are engineered to withstand massive doses of Enlist Duo herbicide, concocted from a combination of 2,4-D (used to make Agent Orange defoliant that sickened thousands during the Vietnam War) and glyphosate, the key ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup.

The USDA has admitted that approval of Dow’s new crops will cause the use of 2,4-D to skyrocket from 26 million pounds to 176 million pounds. Scientists predict worse.

Dow’s 2,4-D is already the seventh largest source of dioxin in the U.S. environment. It’s been linked to a host of ills, including birth defects, infertility, allergies, Parkinson’s disease, endocrine disruption and cancer. It’s unconscionable that the USDA would approve these crops. Yet the agency is less than 18 days away from doing just that unless we stop it. You can take action at http://salsa3.salsalabs.com/o/50865/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=14698


Look Out Kids–They Keep It All Hid

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The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is backing down from a disclosure rule that would have provided state regulators with critical information about genetically modified organisms, Tom Devaney reports in the July 17 edition of The Hill.

Last year, the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service proposed sharing information with state regulators about genetically engineered organisms that are released in their jurisdictions. But the USDA now has withdrawn the rule because it said it found “potential vulnerabilities” that would have put farmers’ businesses at risk.

“We have decided to withdraw the proposed rule to ensure that our ability to protect confidential business information from disclosure is maintained,” the USDA wrote in the Federal Register.

Farmers who want to use GMOs must register with the USDA and apply for permits. The disclosure rule would have allowed USDA to provide state regulators with this information. The information farmers provide to the USDA is supposed to remain confidential, but if the agency shares it with state regulators, that could mean the information becomes public because states and municipalities represent “the public” the info thus becomes subject to the Freedom of Information Act.

So let me get this straight. If a farmer wants to grow GMO crops or use other genetically modified organisms on his or her farm, a permit is needed. So the Federal government (the USDA) can know who’s using GMOs of the farm, but states and municipalities can’t know because if the USDA shared the information, someone from the general public might file a Freedom of Information Request and find out who in their neighborhood is growing or using GMOs. And that would then harm the farmers’ businesses and violate their right to operate their GMO farms in secret.

So this means that not only are millions of dollars being spent by the biotech giants like Monsanto to prevent the public from knowing whether or not GMOs are in their food, but the Feds are keeping knowledge of who is growing and using GMOs on the farms from the public as well. It’s all hidden. It’s all secret. After all, if you knew GMOs were in your food, you might refuse to buy that food and that might harm the business of the food processors. And if you knew your local farmer was using GMOs on his farm, you might avoid his products or perhaps march on his farm with torches and pitchforks.

By extension, if you knew the toxic effects of Roundup and other chemicals in American food products, you might eat organic. Maybe that’s why the Food and Drug Administration has tested just a handful of chemicals for toxicity out of the tens of thousands allowed in the production of American foods and other products.

You see, the Feds are keeping a careful watch on the safety of our food system—but it’s the safety of the bottom lines of Big Ag, Big Chem, and Big Biotech that is being protected. You’ll eat your daily poisons and you’ll like them, dammit. Or you would if you knew where they were found and who’s using them. And what do these corporations think about us poor rubes who are kept in the dark and are demanding better regulation and oversight of the safety of our food supply? They say we want to institute “the nanny state.”

They criticize our calls for healthy food as “the nanny state” even as they are coddling their corporate money machines. If there’s a nanny state in America, it’s not found among the masses, who are drowning in debt and whose incomes are evaporating. It’s in the obscene profits of the corporations and the bloated salaries of the one percenters.

Just when did our government go over to the dark side, anyway? Remember when you were a kid and the cops and firemen were the good guys? Maybe that was a pipe dream. It used to be that big city cops would slap people around in some back room at the stationhouse. Or in prisons where the victims couldn’t complain.

But now it’s institutionalized and militarized. You’ve seen the pictures of the killer cops in Ferguson, Missouri—in full battle gear, with sophisticated battlefield weapons, riding around in armored personnel carriers, firing tear gas and rubber bullets at the crowds of protestors. When did the cops come out of the back rooms of the stationhouse and start being the military used to suppress and oppress the people?

Seems to me that Ferguson and the GMO situation have a lot in common. Lincoln spoke of a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. I’d say that right now, it looks like we have a government of the big shots, by the military, and for the corporations.

So keep eating organic. It’s one good way to stand on the right side of history.


If Corporations Are People, Why Isn’t Monsanto on Trial for Murder?

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The Supreme Court has ruled that corporations are people, that they have Constitutional rights just like flesh and blood people, and even that the religious convictions of their owners trump the laws passed by Congress guaranteeing women proper health care. It’s so cool to know that my religious convictions exempt me from the laws of our country. I guess this is what’s meant by freedom.

I was pleased to see that the Satanists have said that their religious beliefs include preventing women seeking abortions from having to endure public slut shaming by rightwing Christians, and pegging their stance to the Hobby Lobby decision. Hey, if Jesus freaks can get Supreme Court backing, why not devil worshippers? Fair is fair.

So let’s agree, for the sake of argument, that corporations are just like flesh and blood people, entitled to equal protection of the law. Aren’t they then also required to abide by the law? Or do they get a free pass? How about those financial criminals at Goldman Sachs—you know, the guys who put together all those worthless sub-prime mortgage-backed securities and sold them at top prices to rubes who believed their assertions that the securities were as good as gold? How come they don’t get prosecuted? If I sold you a deed to the Brooklyn Bridge, the law would call me a con man and I’d be in the pokey plenty quick.

And how about Monsanto? There’s a ton of evidence from all around the world that Roundup herbicide, when used in regions where the water contains lots of dissolved metals, causes severe—and often fatal—kidney damage. Farm workers applying this stuff in places like El Salvador, Argentina, and India are dying in droves.

Now if you or I were going around the world with a bag of chemicals so toxic that our employees who had to spread them were dying, and that hundreds of farmers we forced to buy our genetically engineered seeds were committing suicide because they were going bankrupt as a consequence, and that we made a product so toxic that it is poisoning millions of people around the world and causing malformations in developing babies, and…well, you get the idea. What would happen to us? Do you think we’d be invited to run the government agencies that oversee the health and safety of the American food supply?

I don’t think so. I think we’d be charged with murder. Or, if federal prosecutors believed us when we professed innocence—“Honestly, we didn’t know our product did that”—we’d at least be charged with wrongful death, negligent homicide, and manslaughter.

So how come companies like Monsanto get all the rights, but none of the responsibilities, of actual human beings?

The answer, I think—and don’t laugh—is that huge corporations like Monsanto are superhuman. They are entitled to do what they want because they can buy their way out of trouble. When was the last time you saw the head of a big corporation go to jail for running a company that murders people? Yes, Monsanto, but also General Motors, whose lawyers fudged and hedged and covered up the fact that GM cars were killing people. And many other big corporations, too, fit this profile. Oh, from time to time, the corporations get hit with monetary fines, but paying out a few million or even a few billion, is no biggie. They call it a cost of doing business and write it off as a business expense. Meanwhile, there’s a trail of dead human beings left decaying in the dirt. But that’s what it means to be superhuman. No actual human being goes to jail. No CEO does hard time. And you can’t jail a corporation, which, despite the Supreme Court, is nothing more than a legal fiction created on paper and signed by the miscreants who should be clapped in irons. What—are you going to put a file folder in a prison cell?

I’m sorry, but the Roberts Court is so far removed from reality that it’s breathtaking. And so-called Constitutional scholar Barack Obama and his top cop Eric Holder, who should be yelling bloody murder, roll over like friendly poodles begging for a belly rub.

Big corporations are not superhuman—while they occasionally do good things to polish their image, fundamentally they act subhuman, without heart or mercy, caring only for their bottom lines. That’s their nature. That’s their charter. That’s their function. Those who preside over our Federal government should call out the corporations on their crimes. Should point out their subhumanity. Should stand as bulwarks against their depredations.

What if Barack Obama stood up at a podium and said something like the following: “While corporate America is a driving wheel of our economic system, it must be subservient to the welfare of the American citizenry, not its master. We should support it when it adds to the public welfare, and check its excesses when it doesn’t. And so I’m creating a new cabinet post, one dedicated to making sure that no corporation, financial institution, or governmental regulatory body has so much power that it can ride roughshod over the Constitutional rights of the people.

“Money is power, and so when corporations acquire enough money to work their will on Congress, they will be broken up. As in times past, banks will either be depositories of the citizenry’s wealth, or lenders in the rough and tumble of the free marketplace—but not both. Elections will be paid for by the U.S. Treasury, and no private money at all will be allowed to influence the electoral process. Candidates will stand or fall on their principles, or not at all.”

What would happen?

I for one would say “Thank God.”



House Republicans have passed an appropriations bill that blocks the EPA from limiting carbon pollution from power plants, slashes the EPA’s budget, and guts clean water protections.



Brazilian farmers say their GMO corn is no longer resistant to pests, Reuters reports.

The Association of Soybean and Corn Producers of the Mato Grosso region said farmers first noticed in March that their genetically modified corn crops were less resistant to destructive caterpillars that “Bt corn” is supposed to protect against. As a result, farmers have been forced to apply extra insecticide, racking up additional environmental and financial costs.

The farmers’ association is calling on Monsanto, DuPont, Syngenta, and Dow to offer solutions as well as compensate the farmers for their losses. Association spokesman Ricardo Tomcyzk said farmers spent the equivalent of $54 per hectare to spray extra pesticides, and that the biotech companies promised something they didn’t deliver, which he called “deceptive advertising.”

But Monsanto, et al, are unlikely to accommodate the farmers. According to Reuters, “Seed companies say they warned Brazilian farmers to plant part of their corn fields with conventional seeds to prevent bugs from mutating and developing resistance to GMO seeds.” Earlier this year, a similar problem arose in the U.S., when scientists confirmed that corn-destroying rootworms had evolved to be resistant to the GMO corn engineered to kill them.

The industry response to such loss of efficacy is not to encourage biodiversity, but to further modify the organisms, the non-profit GM Watch reports. An unintended outcome is almost certainly an increased use of pesticides, as has already happened in Mato Grosso. Or maybe, knowing Monsanto and the other agricultural chemical giants, the outcome is not so unintended.



At the recent annual meeting of Safeway shareholders in Pleasanton, California, the overwhelming majority of shareholders followed the advice of the National Center for Public Policy Research (a corporatist right wing think tank) and rejected a shareholder proposal that would have forced the grocery store chain to brand products containing genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) with labels.

Like Safeway shareholders, Monsanto shareholders overwhelmingly agreed with the National Center and soundly rejected a similar proposal.

The Guardian picked up the story and gave lots of space to the National Center’s propaganda about the evils of GMO labeling (labels will cause food prices to rise and hurt the poor) and how organizations with scientific cred all think that GMOs are not only safe, but will contribute to ending world hunger.

I think that The Guardian missed the real story, which is that shareholders who understand that genetically modified foods should be labeled are infiltrating the meetings and floating motions that put Safeway and Monsanto on the defensive.