Bad Journalism or Bogus Science?
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So I’m reading the latest issue of Science News—a magazine I had thought of as reliable and fair-minded—when I came across a book review of “The Modern Savage,” a book about factory farming. The review was written by Beth Mole.
In her review, Ms. Mole points out that while factory farms get bad press, this book is really about “the pitfalls of small scale and do-it-yourself meat production.” That got my interest, as I have seen small-scale meat production up close and personal, and can recall the merriment on the farm when hog-slaughtering day came around in December. Yes, merriment. If you’ve ever tasted fresh, home-made sausage made from pork that was oinking just a few hours before, you’ll know what I’m talking about.
Within her review, Ms. Mole wrote the following: “Very little data exist on the severity or prevalence of problems on small farms. (One exception: Studies have repeatedly found higher levels of germs and disease on small and organic farms than at industrial outfits.)”
Wait. What? Gosh, not another resurgence of the nonsense spewed by Big Ag a few years ago that had headline writers at newspapers around the country warning people that organic food will kill you because it’s smeared with manure and other filth. Utter nonsense of course. But Ms. Mole sounds so confident that organic farms are breeding grounds for “germs and disease.” Maybe things have changed. I decided to do some checking and share the results with Ms. Mole. Here’s just some of what I found:
1. THE GRACE REPORT
Modern industrial farms are ideal breeding grounds for germs and disease, according to a report from the Grace Communications Foundation, a non-profit that develops innovative strategies to increase public awareness of the critical environmental and public health issues created by our current food, water and energy systems.
Animals live in close confinement, often standing or laying in their own waste, and are under constant stress that inhibits their immune systems and makes them more prone to infection. When drug-resistant bacteria develop in industrial livestock facilities, they can reach the human population through food, the environment (i.e., water, soil, and air), or by direct human- animal contact.
One major way in which antibiotics and antibiotic resistant bacteria enter the environment is via animal manure. Industrial livestock operations produce an enormous amount of concentrated animal waste—over one billion tons annually—often laden with antibiotics and their residues, as well as antibiotic-resistant bacteria. It is estimated that approximately 75 percent of all antibiotics given to animals are not fully digested and eventually pass through the body and enter the environment, where they can encounter new bacteria and create additional resistant strains. With huge quantities of manure routinely sprayed onto fields surrounding CAFOs, antibiotic resistant bacteria can leech into surface and ground water, contaminating drinking wells and endangering the health of people living close to large livestock facilities.
Bacteria can also be spread by insects that come in contact with animal waste. A study conducted by researchers at Johns Hopkins University examined flies near broiler poultry operations and found that many of the flies living near these operations carried antibiotic resistant enterococci and staphylococci. If these flies travel to nearby homes, they could transport these drug resistant bacteria from the farm to neighboring communities.
2. THE DR. GREGER INTERVIEW
“After reading ‘Bird Flu,’ a book by Michael Greger, M.D.,” reports Kathy Freston in The Huffington Post, “I was stunned to realize the extent to which we have endangered our health by allowing factory farms to flourish and produce 99 percent of the meat, dairy, and eggs we eat. Not only are dangerous flu viruses mutating because of these concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO’s), but we are also being exposed to some other very serious bacteria and pathogens. It seems that things have gotten out of hand in our food production, especially in the livestock sector.”
Here’s a portion of her interview with Michael Greger, M.D., a graduate of the Cornell University School of Agriculture and the Tufts University School of Medicine, who serves as Director of Public Health and Animal Agriculture at The Humane Society of the United States. His recent scientific publications in American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Biosecurity and Bioterrorism, Critical Reviews in Microbiology, and the International Journal of Food Safety, Nutrition, and Public Health explore the public health implications of industrialized animal agriculture.
Kathy Freston: Where does E. coli come from and how does it get into food? Why is it often found on vegetables?
Michael Greger: E. coli is an intestinal pathogen. It only gets in the food if fecal matter gets in the food. Since plants don’t have intestines, all E. coli infections–in fact all food poisoning–come from animals. When’s the last time you heard of anyone getting Dutch elm disease or a really bad case of aphids? People don’t get plant diseases; they get animal diseases. Dairy cow and pig factories often dump millions of gallons of putrefying waste into massive open-air cesspits, which can leak and contaminate water used to irrigate our crops. That’s how a deadly fecal pathogen like E. coli O157:H7 can end up contaminating our spinach. So regardless of what we eat, we all need to fight against the expansion of factory farming in our communities, our nation, and around the world.
KF: It seems we only occasionally hear of the very few terrible cases where E. coli kills; is it really a widespread problem?
MG: When medical researchers at the University of Minnesota took more than 1,000 food samples from multiple retail markets, they found evidence of fecal contamination in 69 percent of the pork and beef and 92 percent of the poultry samples. Nine out of ten chicken carcasses in the store may be contaminated with fecal matter.
3. THE HARVARD WOMEN’S HEALTH WATCH REPORT
According to Stephanie Watson, Executive Editor of the Harvard Women’s Health Watch, organic chicken and pork were about a third less likely to contain antibiotic-resistant bacteria than conventionally raised chicken and pork.
This is just a quick sample of the material out there showing that organic farms and food are safer, more wholesome, and more nutritious than conventional food. There’s much, much more if you care to look. So I offered to share this information with Ms. Mole, and asked her for any citations she has to back up the claim that “studies have repeatedly found higher levels of germs and disease on small and organic farms than at industrial outfits.”
Somehow I’m not surprised that Ms. Mole has not responded.
Oh, and one last thought: think of all the stuff you don’t get when you eat organic: antibiotics, growth hormones, GMO-fed meat, glyphosate contamination, and all sorts of agricultural chemicals used on conventional farms.
THE VIEW FROM POMPEO’S HEAD
Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kansas) has introduced a bill that would prohibit state efforts to require labeling of genetically engineered foods (GMOs).
This is Monsanto’s dream bill— it would allow corporations that make and use GMOs to continue to keep quiet about them, and it would keep the rest of us in the dark (in fact, some of our allies are calling this the DARK, or the Denying Americans the Right to Know, Act), says Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director of Food & Water Watch.
States that have already passed GMO labeling laws could be prevented from implementing their laws to require labels. We know that this bill does not represent our best interests. In fact, over 90 percent of Americans support the labeling of GMOs. This is an impressive consensus, one that we don’t see on many issues in the U.S.
But if there is so much public support for GMO labeling, why does this bill exist?
The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), an industry group that represents corporations like Monsanto, Nestlé and Dow, has been working with allies in Congress to get this bill re-introduced in the current Congress (after it failed to move when introduced last year). This is just one of the many ways that these corporations have tried to keep GMO labeling from becoming the law. In every state that has worked to pass labeling laws, the industry has spent millions of dollars to manufacture doubt and keep us from knowing what’s in our food.
But it is not up to corporations to decide whether you and I get to know what is in our food. We should be able to make informed choices about what we feed ourselves and our families.
We know that the GMA, and the corporations it represents, are busy lobbying our members of Congress, so we need to make sure they’re hearing from their actual constituents to counter the anti-labeling rhetoric.
MAJOR BREACH IN THE NATIONAL ORGANIC PROGRAM
In a nutshell: The National Organic Program leaves the door open to include nanotechnology in organic food and packaging. The decision stuns the organic community and undercuts the recommendations of its appointed Advisory Board.
Against the objections by the large majority of the organic community, guidance issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Organic Program (USDA/NOP) will now allow companies to petition to use nanotechnology in organic products, rather than prohibit it as was expected.
The new guidance disregards recommendations made by the Agency’s own appointed advisors, the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), which determined that: “there is an overwhelming agreement within the organic industry to prohibit nanotechnology in organic production and processing” (Oct. 28, 2010).
“This decision by USDA defies common sense and undermines organic,” said Jaydee Hanson, senior policy analyst at Center for Food Safety and nanotechnology expert. “Fundamentally, nanomaterials are synthetic, can be toxic and are not found in nature in their manufactured form. They do not belong in organic, plain and simple.”
Nanotechnology is a platform technology for manipulating materials at the atomic and molecular level. The resultant manufactured nanomaterials are so small that they cannot be seen with an ordinary microscope. Yet “nano” means more than just tiny. Nano engineered materials have the capacity to act in fundamentally novel ways, ways that cannot be predicted of the same materials at larger scale. Their exponentially small size gives them extraordinary mobility and their unique chemical and biological properties increase the potential for biological interaction and enhanced toxicity.
The U.S. organic community has consistently agreed that, like genetic engineering, nanomaterials must be excluded from organic foods and packing. In fact, in response to public outcry, the food industry as a whole is moving away from nanotechnology in food. Just this month, Dunkin’ Donuts announced that it will no longer use nanomaterials in its donuts—specifically nano-titanium dioxide in its powdered sugar. McDonald’s and Kraft have also previously announced that they do not use nanomaterials in their products.
“It is unfathomable that while so many companies are taking nanomaterials out of their foods, that the National Organic Program has devised a gateway for ushering nanomaterials into organic foods,” said Dr. Lisa J. Bunin, organic policy director at Center for Food Safety. “This guidance needs to change.”
USDA/NOP’s approach to nanotechnology runs counter to most other nation’s organic programs. Canada, Australia, and Austria have prohibited nanoparticles smaller than 100 nanometers(nm) from organic foods. The United Kingdom prohibits nanomaterials smaller than 200nm. Instead, the NOP has established a process whereby companies can petition to allow nanomaterials into their food as a synthetic ingredient. Moreover, the new NOP guidance is silent on nanoparticles in packaging, which is an increasingly common application of the technology.
“It is surprising to see USDA taking actions that are inconsistent with our organic trading partners, especially since the U.S. has been rushing to establish equivalency agreements with other nations and economic regions,” said Dr. Bunin. “This latest action has the potential to render such agreements null and void, which is neither in the country’s best interests nor those of our nation’s own organic producers.”
GMO INDUSTRY CONTINUES TO EXPAND
One of the familiar narratives for the promotion of genetically modified crops is that they have the potential to alleviate poverty and hunger. But the real impacts of GM crops deserve closer assessment, writes Wanqing Zhou, research associate in the Food and Agriculture Program at the Worldwatch Institute, in the Institute’s latest Vital Signs Online article.
The amount of agricultural land used for GM crops has been increasing for more than two decades, reaching 400 million acres in 2014. The largest GM crop producers are the United States, Brazil, Argentina, India, and Canada.
In 2014, the global value of GM seed reached $15.7 billion. The small handful of companies that develop and market GM crops has a near monopoly. In the United States, the agri-tech multinational Monsanto holds 63 percent of the Release Permits and Release Notifications for GM crops issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the seed company DuPont Pioneer holds another 13 percent.
GMO SAFE TO EAT? NOT ENOUGH EVIDENCE
A recently published review by researchers at two universities has suggested that there is not enough evidence that GMO crops are safe to eat.
Researchers looked at published studies on rats fed GM crops containing one or more of three commonly used GM genes. Researchers examined studies that investigated the health of these rats by looking at tissues from their digestive tracts under a microscope. The digestive tract is a likely place for damage to occur from eating these crops. Researchers considered evidence obtained by looking through a microscope because it is sometimes very difficult to see if there is damage to tissues without using a microscope. These are called histopathology studies.
The researchers found 47 crop varieties with one or more of these genes that government regulators had said were safe to eat. However, no published studies could be found for 81 percent of those crop varieties.
Of the published studies, most were general health assessments of the GM crop on rat health, but 75 percent of these were done after the crop had been approved as safe to eat by government regulators, with half of the studies published at least nine years after approval.
The researchers found flaws with all of the studies reviewed. For example, studies were not consistent or transparent in their methods, investigators didn’t define what they considered to be a toxic or pathological finding, or they were not transparent in what they found. Many of the studies contained several such faults.
Dr. Judy Carman, one of the authors of the review said: “We believe that there is a lack of evidence that these GM crop varieties are safe to eat. The authors of the paper believe that guidelines should be developed as to how these studies should be done so that they can be done properly.”
The review was done as a collaboration between researchers at the University of Adelaide, Flinders University, and the Institute of Health and Environmental Research, all based in South Australia. The research was published in Environment International, an Elsevier journal ranked in the top 4 percent of environmental science journals by impact factor, rated A* by Excellence in Research for Australia.
MORE EVIDENCE OF MONSANTO’S WRONGDOING
“A few weeks ago, I spoke by phone with Cathleen Enright, executive vice president of the Biotech Industry Organization (BIO),” reports Katherine Paul, associate director of the Organic Consumers Association.
“During the course of our conversation, when we touched on the subject of the science behind the debate over whether or not GMOs are ‘safe’ (me arguing that there’s no scientific consensus), Enright said, ‘Then you must not believe in climate change, either.’
“I glossed over that accusation, though it struck me as odd. And random. Until less than a week later, on March 9 (2015), an article appeared in the Guardian under this headline: ‘The anti-GM lobby appears to be taking a page out of the Climategate playbook.’
“That’s when I realized what I should have known. Enright’s comment wasn’t random at all. It’s just a new twist on an old talking point—from an industry on the verge of crumbling under the weight of an avalanche of new credible, scientific evidence exposing not only the dangers of GMO crops and the toxic chemicals used to grow them, but the extent to which both Monsanto and U.S. government agencies like the EPA, FDA and USDA have covered up those dangers. (Side note: Turns out the authors of the Guardian piece all have ties to, surprise, the biotech industry).
“Here are just a few examples of the latest reports, articles and books exposing the dangers of GMOs, Big Ag’s toxic chemicals and evidence of a decades-long cover-up to keep consumers in the dark.”
• New study: World Health Organization declares glyphosate a human carcinogen. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) decision was reported in The Lancet Oncology, on Friday, March 20 (2015). Predictably, Monsanto went on the attack, demanding the study be retracted.
• New study: Roundup causes antibiotic resistance in bacteria. In the first study of its kind, a research lead by a team from the University Of Canterbury, New Zealand says that commonly used herbicides, including the world’s most used herbicide Roundup, can cause bacteria to become resistant to antibiotics. Cause for concern? You bet, when nearly 2 million people die annually from antibiotic-resistant infections.
• New article: “GMO Science Deniers: Monsanto and the USDA,” points out what we all learned in third-grade science (but what Monsanto and the USDA refuse to acknowledge): That plants evolve to adapt to their environment, with the stronger ones winning out. Hence the fact that over time, Monsanto’s Roundup Ready crops have bred a new generation of superweeds. Yet, incredibly, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) bought into Monsanto’s anti-science claim that the continuous use of Roundup, over time, would not produce evolving Roundup-resistant weeds. Of course, that’s exactly what’s happened.
• New book: Altered Genes, Twisted Truth: How the Venture to Genetically Engineer Our Food Has Subverted Science, Corrupted Government, and Systematically Deceived the Public, exposes how the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) disregarded the warnings of its own scientists in order to foster the biotech industry’s agenda. According to author Steven Druker, the FDA broke U.S. food safety laws when the agency made a blanket presumption that GMO foods qualified to be categorized “Generally Recognized as Safe” (GRAS). And they did it in order to push GMOs into the market with no pre-market safety testing.
• New book: Poison Spring: The Secret History of Pollution and the EPA, written by a former (1979-2004) employee of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), documents the EPA’s “corruption and misuse of science and public trust.” According to author E.G. Vallianatos, the EPA allowed our lands and waters to be poisoned with more toxic chemicals, including glyphosate, than ever, while turning a blind eye to the consequences.
• New report: “Seedy Business: What Big Food is hiding with Its Slick PR Campaign on GMOs,” exposes Big Food’s long history of manipulating the media, policymakers and public opinion with $100-million worth of sleazy public relations tactics.
“That’s just a smattering of the latest science—from scientists who have nothing to gain and everything to lose, based on Monsanto’s history of aggressively discrediting any scientist who dares to challenge GMOs—that should have every consumer in this country asking, ‘What’s going on here?’ Ms. Paul writes.
“Of course the industry response to the latest accusations concerning both its products and its desperate attempt to keep consumers in the dark, has been the same old same old: deny, deny, deny. All the while pretending to be incredulous that anyone would question its motives. This from an industry that (among other crimes) for nearly 40 years, knowingly poisoned a community in Alabama by dumping millions of pounds of PCBs into open-pit landfills, according to a 2002 article. Thousands of pages of Monsanto documents—many emblazoned with warnings such as ‘CONFIDENTIAL: Read and Destroy’—show that for decades, the corporate giant concealed what it did and what it knew.
“One final comment on the climate-denier talking point. How ironic that Enright and the biotech industry would pretend to side with the scientists sounding the alarm on global warming—when the largest contributor to global warming is industrial agriculture, with its GMO monoculture crops. Anyone serious about global warming knows that our best hope is to ditch our chemical-intensive, soil-destroying industrial agriculture and replace it with organic, regenerative farming practices that restore the soil’s ability to capture carbon.”
CONSUMER REPORTS ADVISES: EAT ORGANIC FOOD FOR HEALTH
A recent Consumer Reports survey of 1,050 people found that pesticides are a concern for 85 percent of Americans. So, are these worries justified? And should we all be buying organic food?
Experts at Consumer Reports believe that organic is always the best choice because it is better for your health, the environment, and the people who grow our food. The risk from pesticides in produce grown conventionally varies from very low to very high, depending on the type of produce and on the country where it’s grown. The differences can be dramatic. For instance, eating one serving of green beans from the U.S. is 200 times riskier than eating a serving of U.S.-grown broccoli.
“We’re exposed to a cocktail of chemicals from our food on a daily basis,” says Michael Crupain, M.D., director of Consumer Reports’ Food Safety and Sustainability Center. For instance, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that there are traces of 29 different pesticides in the average American’s body. “It’s not realistic to expect we wouldn’t have any pesticides in our bodies in this day and age, but that would be the ideal,” says Crupain. “We just don’t know enough about the health effects.”
IN CLIMATE CHANGE NEWS: APRES MOI, LE DELUGE
Humanity recently learned about the possible destabilization of the Totten Glacier of East Antarctica, which could unleash over 11 feet of sea level rise in coming centuries.
And now this week brings news of another potential mega-scale perturbation.
According to a new study just out in Nature Climate Change by Stefan Rahmstorf of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and a group of co-authors, we’re now seeing a slowdown of the great ocean circulation that, among other planetary roles, helps to partly drive the Gulf Stream off the U.S. east coast. The consequences could be dire-–including significant extra sea level rise for coastal cities like New York and Boston.
A vast, powerful, and warm current, the Gulf Stream transports more water than “all the world’s rivers combined,” according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. But it’s just one part of a larger regional ocean conveyor system-–scientists technically call it the “Atlantic meridional overturning circulation”—which, in turn, is just one part of the larger global “thermohaline circulation (“thermohaline” conjoins terms meaning “temperature” and “salty”).
For the whole system, a key driver occurs in the North Atlantic ocean. Here, the warm Gulf Stream flows northward into cooler waters and splits into what is called the North Atlantic Current. This stream flows still further toward northern latitudes — until it reaches points where colder, salty water sinks due to its greater density, and then travels back southward at depth.
This “overturning circulation” plays a major role in the climate because it brings warm water northward, thereby helping to warm Europe’s climate, and also sends cold water back towards the tropics.
The system above has a key vulnerability. What keeps everything churning in the North Atlantic is the fact that cold salt water is denser than warm water — so it sinks. However, if too much ice melts in the region — from, say Greenland — a freshening of the cold salt water could occur. If the water is less salty it will also be less dense, reducing its tendency to sink below the surface.
This could slow or even eventually shut down the circulation. In the scientifically panned 2004 blockbuster film “The Day After Tomorrow,” it is precisely such a shutdown that triggers a New Ice Age, and utter global disaster and chaos.
That’s not going to happen, say scientists. Not remotely.
Nonetheless, the new research finds that global warming does indeed seem to be slowing down the circulation. And while hardly catastrophic, that can’t be good news. Among the very real effects, notes the Potsdam Institute’s Rahmstorf, could be a possible increase in U.S. sea level if the whole circulation were to break down — which would be seriously bad news for cities like New York and Boston.
The study uses a reconstruction of sea surface temperatures in the North Atlantic to find that starting in around 1970 or 1975, the overturning circulation started to weaken —an event likely triggered by an unusual amount of sea ice traveling out of the Arctic ocean, melting, and causing freshening. The circulation then started to recover in the 1990s, but “it seems this was only a temporary recovery, and now it’s actually further weakened,” says Rahmstorf.
The hypothesized reason for further declines presented by the paper is that the massive Greenland ice sheet may now be losing enough freshwater due to melting to weaken the circulation. And indeed, it appears that a particular ocean region of the North Atlantic south of Greenland and between Canada and Britain is becoming colder — an indicator of less northward heat transport.
Rahmstorf points to a recent release by the National Climatic Data Center of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, finding that the winter of December 2014 through February 2015 was the warmest on record for the globe as a whole. However, there were several anomalies — not just a cold and very snowy winter for the eastern U.S., but also record cold temperatures in the middle of the North Atlantic.
“These new NOAA data got me quite worried because they indicate that this partial recovery that we describe in the paper was only temporary, and the circulation is on the way down again,” says Rahmstorf.
So far, the study finds, we’re looking at a circulation that’s about 15 to 20 percent weaker. That may not sound like much, but the paper suggests a weakening this strong has not happened at any time since the year 900. Moreover, this is already more weakening than scientifically expected — and could be the beginning of a further slowdown that could have great consequences.
How the GOP Is Thwarting Our Desire for Safe Food
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By having become the political arm of a few oligarchs who control billions of dollars of America’s wealth and are turning capitalism into a money gusher for themselves, the Republican Party is preventing our government from doing its job to protect the environment and manage agriculture so it produces clean, harmless food.
It’s past time for Americans to wake up and find ways to shut off the money spigots for the bigots. Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman recently wrote this in The New York Times regarding the GOP’s so-called budget plan:
“The modern G.O.P.’s raw fiscal dishonesty is something new in American politics. And that’s telling us something important about what has happened to half of our political spectrum.
“It’s very important to realize that this isn’t normal political behavior. The George W. Bush administration was no slouch when it came to deceptive presentation of tax plans, but it was never this blatant. Outrageous fiscal mendacity is neither historically normal nor bipartisan. It’s a modern Republican thing. And the question we should ask is why.
“Think about what these Republican budgets would do. What you’re left with is huge transfers of income from the poor and the working class, who would see severe benefit cuts, to the rich, who would see big tax cuts. And the simplest way to understand these budgets is surely to suppose that they are intended to do what they would, in fact, actually do: make the rich richer and ordinary families poorer.
“But this is, of course, not a policy direction the public would support if it were clearly explained. So the budgets must be sold as courageous efforts to eliminate deficits and pay down debt — which means that they must include trillions in imaginary, unexplained savings.
“Does this mean that all those politicians declaiming about the evils of budget deficits and their determination to end the scourge of debt were never sincere? Yes, it does.
Look, I know that it’s hard to keep up the outrage after so many years of fiscal fraudulence. But please try. We’re looking at an enormous, destructive con job, and you should be very, very angry.”
THIS’LL TEACH ‘EM
Dr. Krugman left out one adjective that applies to modern Republicanism: mean-spirited. For example, to teach learning by doing, New Hampshire students drafted a bill to learn the process of how a bill becomes law. They proposed House Bill 373, an act establishing the Red Tail Hawk as the New Hampshire State Raptor. Even though it passed through the Environment and Agriculture committee with a majority vote, some representatives were far from receptive.
“Rep. Warren Groen, a Republican from Rochester, said, “It grasps them with its talons then uses its razor sharp beak to basically tear it apart limb by limb, and I guess the shame about making this a state bird is it would serve as a much better mascot for Planned Parenthood.”
The Republican legislature then killed the bill as the kids watched from the gallery.
W.H.O. SAYS ROUNDUP LIKELY CAUSES CANCER
The following is from Ronnie Cummins of the Organic Consumers Association:
Several days ago, an agency of the World Health Organization issued a report concluding that glyphosate, the key ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup, likely causes cancer in humans.
If you eat foods that contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs), you are consuming glyphosate—because the U.S. EPA not only allows glyphosate residue on your food, the agency actually raised the allowed limits in 2013.
How do you know you’re eating GMO foods? You don’t. Because Monsanto and the EPA, USDA and FDA made certain of that by refusing to require labels on GMO foods. Even though about 80 percent of processed foods in the U.S. contain GMO ingredients.
You may be thinking, is it worth it to keep funding these state GMO labeling campaigns, when Monsanto and Big Food come in with their hundreds of millions of dollars to snuff them out?
The answer is a resounding yes. Here’s why. First, it’s more urgent than ever for your health. The FDA just signed off on the GMO apple and the GMO potato, and will likely sign off on GMO salmon and GMO wheat. This, in addition to new GMO corn and soy varieties the USDA recently approved—crops engineered to withstand massive doses of a toxic combination of both glyphosate and 2,4-D (a form of which was used to make Agent Orange).
More and more studies are being done on the toxic effect of glyphosate on human health. But this most recent study, from the World Health Organization, may be the most incriminating of all. Yet, we have no indication from the U.S. government that it will heed this new warning and take action.
Second, Monsanto’s lobbyists are pushing Congress to pass a law that would kill states’ rights to pass GMO labeling laws. Word is that within weeks, if not sooner, Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) will reintroduce what activists have labeled the DARK ACT—Deny Americans the Right to Know. The bill is an attempt to strip states’ of their constitutional right to pass GMO labeling laws.
If we pass GMO labeling laws in Maine, Rhode Island and Massachusetts, in addition to the law already passed in Vermont, we’ll make it much more difficult for the Republican-dominated Congress to take on all four of these states. In what is a clear sign that Pompeo is about to reintroduce his bill, the House Agriculture Committee is holding a full committee hearing on the costs and impacts of GE food labeling, The Gene Giants and Big Food will pack that hearing with their lobbyists.
Third, it is absolutely essential that we not give up this fight—your fight—or we risk sending the wrong message to Monsanto, and state and federal lawmakers. We may have (very narrowly) lost several key state battles, but those battles launched a massive national public education campaign, and helped launch similar initiatives and legislative campaigns in more than 20 states.
Without the support of people like you—concerned consumers, voters, moms and dads, from every generation and every point across the political spectrum—most Americans still wouldn’t know what a GMO is or why it matters, much less that they are being denied this basic information on food packaging—information that consumers in more than 60 countries rightfully have.
Instead, thanks to you, more than 90 percent of Americans are now standing up to demand the right to know.
HOW MANY POLICE KILLINGS IN AMERICA? NOBODY KNOWS
An article in The Guardian discovers that we have no accounting of the number of people killed by police in this country. The NSA gathers information on all our communications. We keep track of how many men over 20 eat certain foods each day. We track all kinds of things. But police killings? No—that’s too difficult.
The police in this country are out of control. They kill unarmed citizens—especially black citizens–and pay no price. Hell, we don’t even know how often they do it. They are armed up with military weapons. There are bullies and murderers in their ranks. They protect each other behind the code of silence. New revelations of their emails show vicious racism and intolerance. I can vouch for that. The most virulent racism I’ve ever heard came from a couple of Irish cops in New York City. They were friends of my brother-in-law, an Irish-American guy who grew up on West 22nd Street in Manhattan. Their racism astonished and sickened me.
Now I discover that the number of people killed each year by police in America can’t be known—it’s too murky. The cops aren’t reporting. Or they’re reporting wrong. Or the FBI is covering up the numbers. Or there’s no reporting protocol. All while our government surveillance of its citizens compiles enormous amounts of precise data.
Are all cops killers? Of course not. Are some cops killers? For sure. And they routinely get away with it.
Here’s the Guardian story, reported by Tom McCarthy on March 18:
A year ago, in a bureaucratic shift that went unremarked in the somnolent days before Michael Brown was shot dead in Ferguson, the US government admitted a disturbing failure. The top crime-data experts in Washington had determined that they could not properly count how many Americans die each year at the hands of police. So they stopped counting.
The move did not make headlines. Before Brown was killed, a major government effort to count people killed by police could be mothballed without anybody noticing. The program was never fully funded, and no one involved was accustomed to their technical daily work drawing a spotlight.
But it had been a major effort. For the better part of a decade, a specialized team of statisticians within the US Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS)-– number-crunchers working several nesting dolls deep inside the Justice Department — had been collecting data on what they called arrest-related deaths. The ARD tally was more than a count of killings by police. It was meant to be the elusive key to a problem that seemed easy to understand but difficult to define. The program set out to track any death, of anyone, that happened in the presence of a local or state law enforcement officer.
A victim like Michael Brown, shot dead in the process of arrest, would make the count. A victim like Akai Gurley, shot dead in Brooklyn not in the process of arrest, would make the count. A victim like Eric Garner, choked and squeezed to death on Staten Island in the process of arrest, would make the count. A victim like Tamir Rice, shot dead in Cleveland at 12 years old with no arrest attempt made at all, would make the count, along with many other victims.
These people would make the US government’s authoritative count of people killed by police. If the count still existed. Which it does not.
With some states never participating, and major police departments such as the NYPD failing to report for some years, the Bureau of Justice (BJS) statisticians were never satisfied with their data pool. In March of last year, the bureau pulled the plug on the project, leaving the truth about the most high-profile year for police killings in US history to discarded spreadsheets, bad numbers, and acronymed taskforces with little to show.
The US government is a virtuoso counter. So why can’t it count people killed by police?
For some people, the government’s failure to track officer-involved homicides is especially painful because it seems part of the institutional racism visited on African Americans by the US criminal justice system. Of the many examples of racial disparity in criminal justice, the arrest-related deaths data points to extra risk for African Americans. Black people die in disproportionate numbers at the hands of police, they are more prone to “accidents” around police, and their deaths are more likely to manifest as holes in police records.
Finally, the question of how many people are killed by police leads to the door of the only people who really know: the police.
A New Kind of Economy
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When you start looking for the reasons behind many of the problems in our society, you often find capitalism involved. It’s the economic and political system in which a country’s trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit. Without firm regulations on greed and materialism, it can produce income inequality; poverty; making and selling products because they are profitable, whether they are harmful or not; the maximization of profit for shareholders as the first priority of the business, and that means the public be damned.
But is our choice only between an economy run by private individuals for profit, and an economy run by the state? We saw how well a state-run, planned economy worked out for the Soviet Union back in the day. And yet countries that practice Western Socialism—Germany, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland—are some of the wealthiest and happiest countries on earth.
And yes, capitalism can lead to slums side by side with gated communities, extreme poverty and extreme wealth, bad conditions for the workers and excellent conditions for the fat cats. But as we saw in the years 1945-1975, when the wealthy were taxed up to 95 percent of their income, a middle class family making between $12,000 and $18,000 a year looked like this (and I know, because I grew up in such a family): Dad made the money. Mom was a homemaker. (That’s changed forever, thank goodness.) But a fine house could be built for $25,000. The family could have a new car every two or three years. There was not only a chicken in every pot, there was roast beef, lamb chops, veal cutlets, and pork roasts, too. There was enough money to send the kids to college. Tuition at my university was $1,700 a year in 1960. Now it’s $44,520 at the same school and that doesn’t include food, lodging, books, fees, or beer money. During those 30 years, capitalism worked well for most people in America.
But that ended 40 years ago. Now we’re in a pickle. Look again at the first paragraph and the social ills. How can we correct that?
If organic gardening and farming teach us anything, they teach us that we do best when we pattern our activities on nature. Nature’s ways are the ways of heaven, as Lao Tzu said. How can they not be? If you look at any healthy ecosystem, you see that health is predicated on biodiversity. So why can’t we have an economic system based on the way nature runs a climax ecosystem?
That would mean that private individuals would still own the means of production, but the profit motive would be supplanted as the prime mover and chief, unassailable goal by another motive: participation in the common good. In other words, go ahead and invent things, develop products, start businesses, but make sure they do no harm to people or the environment and the creatures that inhabit it.
Oh, who’s going to decide that, I can hear my conservative friends say. Shall we have a bureaucracy that takes away my right to produce toxic chemicals, for instance? Yes. We already have this bureaucracy in place. It’s called the Federal Government and agencies like the Food and Drug Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Institutes of Health, and many more. The problem is they’ve been coopted by Big Business, infiltrated by people bought and paid for by Big Business, and operated by the revolving-door lackeys of Big Business. In other words, they don’t do their jobs.
Our capitalist system is sick. The fox is in charge of the henhouse. The inmates run the asylum. Corporate America has infected our government with lawyers, guns, and money—lots of money. It’s sick, folks. Our job in the future is to stop the virus and focus on making our economic system healthy again.
By following nature’s lead, we might conclude that new products and substances must be tested to see if they help or harm the economic ecosystem. If a new venture or product adds something useful, it gets okayed. If not, it’s not okayed. This is why Senator Elizabeth Warren’s Consumer Protection Bureau is so important. It’s the first new government panel in years that has as its purpose an increase in social good by halting rapacious companies from gouging citizens. It hasn’t been coopted or corrupted. Yet. But there will be those who will try.
Look at the National Organic Standards Board, created by law to keep organic standards tight and wholesome. Well, over the years, many camels have gotten their noses under this tent until now, many of its members represent Big Food—and you know what that means: a loosening of the restrictions until even GMOs will be okayed as organic.
So how do we get to an economic system that operates for the common good, both human and environmental? The answer is pretty clear:
1. Overturn Citizens United and get big money out of politics.
2. Give elected officials a salary. Pay each candidate for office a stipend for election
costs. No fund raising, no lobbying money, no quid pro quos, no bribery.
3. Tax corporations and the wealthy to level the playing field.
4. Allow no regulated industry to have positions on regulatory bodies.
5. Reach consensus on what constitutes the common good.
6. Make sure regulatory agencies do their jobs properly for the common good.
7. Insure that all goods, services, foods, and jobs support natural laws.
MIGHT NOT YOU BE TALKING ABOUT ORGANIC FARMING?
It’s infuriating when a reporter writes a story that completely misses the point. Erica Goode of The New York Times recently wrote an article about how farmers are changing their methods in order to improve the soil by ending tillage, which is plowing that tears open the soil and exposes it to erosion.
That’s good, but they do it by using Roundup to keep down the weeds that will eventually grow, and planting crops that are resistant to Roundup: GMOs.
She goes into some depth about how farmers are practicing soil conservation and soil improvement. The big point she misses is that organic farmers have been doing this for decades. Note to Ms. Goode—how can you do a story on soil conservation without acknowledging that organic farmers have been practicing and perfecting soil conservation both here and around the world for decades? Not a mention. Not a peep. But plenty of mention of conventional agricultural techniques. Shjeesh. I wish I were editor. I’d toss this story back in your lap and say, “What about the organic farmers. Isn’t soil improvement at the heart of what they do? Go do some more digging.” Pun intended.
‘SCHOOL NUTRITION ASSOCIATION’ PROMOTES JUNK FOOD LUNCHES
Sopeaking of The New York Times, Mark Bittman in a recent edition pointed out that the School Nutrition Association has become an ally of what you might call the “let them eat cake” forces.
“What matters,” he writes, “is that if, like the association, you’re taking a stand against the 2010 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act — from a food perspective, among the two or three most progressive pieces of legislation of the Obama administration — you are simply on the wrong side. You’ve pitted yourself not only against better nutrition for current school kids but, even more important, against better nutrition for future students and adults. The School Nutrition Association’s position may not be the equivalent of the American Diabetes Association insisting that, say, we serve Coke at all meals, but it’s in that ballpark.
“So why would the School Nutrition Association, which represents 55,000 cafeteria professionals, betray both its heritage and its name to work against the implementation of the Hunger-Free Kids Act, roll back many of its requirements, and call these standards ‘overly prescriptive’? If you read through the Federal Register summary, you’ll see that they are not, unless you’re someone who believes that cupcakes should be served at every meal. The basic idea is to get kids to eat more fruits and vegetables and less junk. That’s hardly a radical notion.
“The not-so-surprising answer: money.
“According to Helena Bottemiller Evich, who writes about food policy for Politico, about half of the School Nutrition Association’s $10 million operating budget ‘comes from food industry members,’ and those representatives of Big Food are scared to death that more fruits, vegetables and whole grains means less pizza, fries and, well, junk. Forcing kids to eat real fruits and vegetables, or at least to consider eating them, leaves less room for tater tots.”
In other words, the public be damned, even if they are our own children. Let the profits flow!
CHEMICAL INDUSTRY GETS A FREE PASS IN VITTER-UDALL BILL
A new bill that claims to update how chemicals are regulated in the United States, introduced by Senators David Vitter (R-LA) and Tom Udall (D-NM), is a sweet deal for the chemical industry that would keep exposing Americans to harmful chemicals while exposing the nation to billions in health care costs, a coalition of community, environmental and health groups say.
The groups pointed to a new study by New York University that documents over $100 billion a year in health care costs in the European Union for diseases associated with endocrine disrupting chemicals, including IQ loss, ADHD, infertility, diabetes and other disorders that have been rising in the U.S.
The Vitter-Udall bill purports to update the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) of 1976, which was meant to protect the public from harmful chemicals, but which has allowed tens of thousands of chemicals – including chemicals that cause cancer and other serious health problems, into the marketplace with little or no health and safety testing.
“New research links toxic chemicals with a range of illnesses and billions of dollars in health care costs, yet Senators Udall and Vitter are proposing a bill that doesn’t address major problems with current policies and would give the chemical industry a free pass to keep exposing Americans to harmful chemicals for decades to come,” said Katie Huffling, RN, CNM, Director of Programs for the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments, a network of nurses across the U.S. who have been working to reform TSCA.
“The chemical industry should not be allowed to draft the very laws meant to regulate them,” said Richard Moore from Los Jardines Institute in Albuquerque, New Mexico, who is also with the Environmental Justice and Health Alliance. “We need serious chemical reform that protects the health of all people including those who are living in ‘hot spots’ or ‘sacrifice zones’ – typically communities of color — that are highly impacted by chemical factories. It seems that my own Senator, Senator Udall, has forgotten the needs of his constituents in favor of meeting the needs of his industry friends.”
The New York Times recently reported that Sen. Udall has received tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from the chemical industry.
In other words, the public be damned. Let the money roll down into politics like the waters of clear springs!
SOY NOW TOLERATES ROUNDUP AND IS DEADLY TO INSECTS
Inserting the Bacillus thuringiensis insect-toxin into soybeans has received approval (“nonregulated status”) from the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The deregulation paves the way for two Bt proteins that kill certain soybean pests to be included in soybeans through genetic engineering, and for the soybeans to be sold in the U.S.
Dow AgroSciences said the Bt toxin genes would join genetically engineered genes that make the soybeans resistant to applications of the company’s proprietary 2,4-D herbicide. Enlist soybeans are going through the USDA deregulation process at the moment.
“This integrated solution will provide much-needed insect control as well as tolerance to multiple herbicides for improved weed management, allowing crops to maximize yield in a highly efficient and sustainable manner,” Dow AgroSciences noted.
So now our soybeans will not only be double-dosed with Roundup and 2,4-D herbicides, but will also kill those insects that dare to feed on them. And what about if you feed on them? Well, you’re not allowed to know about GMOs in your food, so good luck with that.
In other words, the public be damned. Let the money flow down like oil down Aaron’s beard.
Organic Gardening Magazine Is Now Organic Life
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Organic Gardening magazine had its heyday in the decade of the 1970s, during the back-to-the-land phase of the emerging environmental movement. The two magazines people kept, rather than throw out, were National Geographic and Organic Gardening. Our readers (I say “our” because I worked on the magazine for the entire decade) were an amazingly loyal bunch—so much so that the lobby of our building at Rodale Press usually had a few tourists milling about, wide-eyed at the idea they were in the place where their handbook for organic living was written.
I always had the feeling that the organic idea—that the way to organize human life in all its aspects is to follow nature’s lead—had application far beyond the farm or garden. I still think that. And now, with the urging and blessing of Maria Rodale, the current CEO of Rodale Press, the boundaries have been pushed out, the walls confining the organic idea to the farm and garden have tumbled, and good old OG has become Organic Life.
I hope the new magazine looks at how that simple organic idea of following nature rather than twisting her arm for human purposes can be applied widely in all areas of human endeavor. What would it mean, for instance, to have an economic system built on respect for nature and a humble willingness to seek out her laws and rules and follow them? Would it lead us to the kind of income inequality we have in our capitalist system today? Should our way of life be thought of as an ecology, where every job has a benign purpose and fits into the economy the way plants and animals create a healthy ecosystem?
I wish Organic Life well. Along with its articles on food that sustains our bodies, I hope it provides plenty of food for thought. The supernova-like expansion of the organic idea into every facet of human life will be a fitting testament to the genius of Jerome Irving Rodale, Maria’s grandfather, the founder of the organic movement in America, the creator of Organic Farming & Gardening magazine, and a man vilified as a crazy quack while alive, but who was truly a visionary who planted a seed that has grown into a mighty tree. That tree has now borne fruit, and the seeds in those fruits have fallen, sprouted, and are now creating a climax forest ecosystem built on nature’s plan.
SYNGENTA TELLS BALDFACED LIE ABOUT ITS ATRAZINE HERBICIDE
“Syngenta, a Swiss chemicals company, produces one of America’s most popular herbicides. It is called atrazine, and 73.7 million pounds of the chemical compound were applied in the United States in 2013. It was used on more than half of all corn crops, two-thirds of sorghum and up to 90 percent of sugar cane,” writes Danny Hakim in The New York Times..
The weed killer is banned as a pesticide in the European Union as well as in Switzerland over concerns that it is a groundwater contaminant. Syngenta, however, did not get the memo. Hakim reports that even though the EU banned atrazine over a decade ago, the company has long insisted that the pesticide is not banned. On one corporate website, Syngenta points to anti-atrazine activists who claim that “atrazine is banned in the European Union. This is patently false.”
Another Syngenta-backed site, “Saving the Oasis,” also blames “anti-atrazine activists.” And another such site, AGSense, says, “We’ve known it all along, and now you know it too: Atrazine is not banned in the European Union.” And the company has repeated its assertion to reporters. “It is not banned,” Ann Bryan, a spokeswoman for the company, told Hakim in an email. .
“The use of atrazine as an herbicide or pesticide is banned in the E.U.,” Mikko Vaananen, a spokesman for the European Chemicals Agency, stated in an email. European Union government documents, from formal filings to informal newsletters, also use the term “banned.”
Scores of chemicals that are banned or tightly restricted in the European Union are allowed in the United States. One recent analysis by the Center for International Environmental Law, a Washington-based advocacy group, found 82 instances of pesticides allowed in the United States but barred or restricted in Europe. This disparity can make selling products on one side of the Atlantic that are banned on the other uncomfortable, though few companies have tried a semantic maneuver quite like Syngenta’s.
GOODBYE NATIONAL SOVEREIGNTY
A provision of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) “trade” deal called Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) would allow Monsanto to sue any nation bound by the TPP contract (Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States, and Vietnam) for potential lost profits as a result of GMO or pesticide regulations. Have GMO labeling or cultivation bans within your borders? Get ready to go to court…Monsanto’s court, that is. With ISDS, Monsanto can take its case before an international corporate court where corporate lawyers are the judges. And its rulings can’t be challenged in the defending nation’s courts.
RHODE ISLAND GMO LABELING LAW MOVES FORWARD
Rhode Island moves forward with legislation for mandatory GMO labeling! Representatives Canario, Hull, Edwards, Bennett, and Abney have introduced H5197 that will label raw and packaged foods that have been genetically engineered.
BIG INCREASE IN INFLAMMATORY BOWEL DISEASE IN KIDS
Got GMO belly? Without GMO labeling, there is no traceability, no accountability, and no liability. In the largest study to date, researchers in Ohio found an alarming increase in children with inflammatory bowel disease during the last decade in the United States. This increasing trend was present in each age category and across all geographic regions (Northeast, Midwest, South and West). The peer reviewed study was published in the Journal of Investigative Medicine.
Interestingly, researchers studying farm animals fed GMO corn and soybeans have found a high incidence of inflamed stomachs and bowels in swine. A control group of pigs fed organic feed had no such inflammatory disease. Pigs are noted for having digestive systems remarkably like humans.
SCOTT’S SELLING ROUNDUP READY GMO GRASS
Scott’s has released Roundup Ready GMO Kentucky Bluegrass into our environment. Employees have started planting it at their homes. Like most other GMOs, this is just another way to sell more Roundup. Not only on our food but now in our yards where our children play and our pets run.
ARE BIG ORGANIC CORPORATIONS PROFITEERING?
Mark Kastel, Senior Farm Policy Analyst at the Cornucopia Institute in Wisconsin sent us the following email:
With 80 percent of organic eggs coming from giant Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), factory farms with as many as 18,000 head of cattle producing an increasing percentage of the organic milk supply, and an estimated 50 percent of organic corn and 75-90 percent of organic soybeans being imported, it seems that the public corporations involved in organics have used this dynamic to profit very handsomely at the expense of U.S. family-scale farmers.
Due to the generosity of the Jessie Smith Noyes Foundation and a couple of our major individual donors, Cornucopia owns stock in all of the public companies that are heavily involved in organics so we can monitor them and participate in their governance, with others, as activist shareholders. We have to assume that privately held corporations, and the giant agribusinesses that own so many organic brands (Kellogg’s, General Mills, Smucker’s, etc.), are profiting as well.
There’s nothing wrong with profit. But why should the profit margins for organic brands be larger than margins for conventional food? They certainly need to cover their increased costs (and organic ingredients and handling are more expensive than conventional). But extra margins appear to be profiteering at the expense of consumer goodwill.
How many more consumers could afford organic food if margins, and corporate profits, were at industry averages?
And now, these companies, in the guise of the industry’s lobby group, the Organic Trade Association (OTA), want to institute a “check-off” (tax on industry participants, including family farmers).
The OTA in the past failed at fundraising to support their own research initiative, The Organic Center. Now they want a federally mandated tax that will generate an estimated $40 million a year.
Don’t you think the corporations themselves, awash in profits, could leave the family farmers, who have overwhelmingly rejected the scheme, out of this shakedown?