We Won the Labeling Fight–or Did We?
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Four major food companies – ConAgra Foods, Kellogg’s, General Mills and Mars, Inc. – announced they will label food products that contain genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. These companies join Campbell’s Soup, which declared its intent to do likewise back in January.
The news comes less than a week after GMO labeling supporters in the Senate defeated the latest attempt at a bill that opponents have dubbed the Deny Americans the Right to Know Act, or DARK Act. That legislation would have prohibited states from requiring GMO labeling. Vermont has already passed a mandatory labeling law, scheduled to go into effect July 1.
But before we rejoice, might there be more to the story? Ronnie Cummins and Katherine Paul of the Organic Consumers Association certainly think there might be. Here’s their thinking on the topic:
Have consumers won the GMO labeling battle? Have these food companies that so fiercely fought to keep labels off their products really split with the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), the multi-billion-dollar lobbying group that is still trying to overturn Vermont’s law in the courts, and preempt it in Congress?
Four out of the five companies announced plans to label after a Senate bill to preempt Vermont’s labeling law failed, but before the Senate has a chance to come back with an amended version of the bill after Congress returns on April 4 from Easter recess.
It’s worth noting that all of the companies that have revealed plans to label adamantly defend the “safety” of GMOs—without once mentioning the fact that the vast majority of GMO crops, from which GMO food ingredients are derived, are sprayed with glyphosate, classified last year by the World Health Organization as “a probable human carcinogen.” Clearly, we have a long way to go before food corporations acknowledge the devastating consequences of the GMO monoculture model on the environment, human health and global warming.
General Mills, Mars and Kellogg’s all revealed their labeling plans after the Senate failed to pass S. 2609, a bill intended to preempt Vermont. It’s possible that their announcements signal that these food giants have conceded defeat, especially as they all noted the need to comply with the Vermont July 1 deadline.
That’s the optimistic view. But the timing of these announcements, made before the Senate returns to try again to try to pass a preemption bill, could also be part of a calculated strategy to win over more Senators to a compromise bill, one that will delay or outright preempt enactment of Vermont’s Act 120.
Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), sponsor of the Monsanto- and GMA-funded S. 2609 (the DARK Act) is unwavering in his rejection of any legislation that requires labels on GMO ingredients. Though he is adamant about a “federal solution,” Roberts outright, and illogically, rejects the idea of a uniform mandatory federal solution.
Roberts’ rigid position on mandatory vs. voluntary cost him the support of Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Ranking Member of the Senate Agriculture Committee and a key player in the GMO labeling drama. Stabenow says she would support a mandatory federal labeling law, though whether that support would include on-package labels, or some sort of QR barcode scheme or toll-free phone numbers, both of which have been floated as alternatives to on-package labels, remains unclear.
Still, Stabenow and other Senators representing Big Ag states are under tremendous pressure (by corporations, not voters) to keep Vermont’s law from taking effect. The Big Food corporations know this. So is it possible that companies, by announcing, in quick succession that they will label voluntarily, hope to send the message that there’s no need to pass a mandatory labeling law, because they’ve already volunteered? And could those big companies, or at least some of them, pull the plug on their labeling plans if federal legislation preempts Vermont? (Again, Campbell’s and Mars have said they will proceed regardless of what happens in Congress—we know that’s not the case for General Mills; Kellogg’s and ConAgra haven’t confirmed one way or the other).
That’s one possibility. Here’s another. General Mills told Politco’s Jenny Hopkinson that while the company won’t pass on the cost of labeling to consumers, the Minnesota-based cereal giant will have to spend “millions of dollars” to comply with Vermont’s law. Could this “woe is me” message win enough sympathy votes from Senators who may still be on the fence (and who are being hounded by their corporate donors), that they’ll be persuaded to betray consumers in order to stave off what General Mills or other companies allege is a “huge” financial burden?
It’s also possible that this is just a public relations ploy by corporations that are banking on the fact that a federal law will pass before they have to label, and that that law will include restrictions that prohibit them from printing “produced with genetic engineering,” or similar wording, on their packages. That scenario would allow them to say, gee, we tried to give consumers what they want, but Congress wouldn’t allow it.
Whatever the new-and-improved version of the Senate bill morphs into, assuming the Senate passes a bill, it will have to go back to the U.S. House. There, members of a Republican-controlled Joint Standing Conference Committee will try to “reconcile” the Senate bill with the House version, H.R. 1599, which passed the House in July by a vote of 275 – 150. Guaranteed, the House won’t sign off on anything with the words “mandatory” or “on-package.” In fact, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (R-Texas), according to Politico, “declared just this week that he won’t support on-package labeling, which he has said stigmatizes the technology.” Whatever ends up coming out of the committee will have to go back to the House and Senate for a full vote.
That leaves consumers no choice but to continue to hammer our Senators with this message: No compromise. Let Vermont’s law take effect. And if you really can’t tolerate supporting states’ rights to pass labeling laws, then pass a federal labeling law that meets, or preferably exceeds, the standards set by Vermont’s law.
GLYPHOSATE FOUND IN WINE AND JUST ABOUT EVERYTHING ELSE
Concerned with the widespread contamination of glyphosate/Roundup and other
glyphosate based herbicides from GMO chemical farming, Moms Across America has
initiated the testing of glyphosate in water, urine, breast milk, Pediasure feeding tube
liquid given to pediatric patients with cancer, baby formula, and beverages. Since then,
several groups have since reported finding glyphosate in cereal, bread, honey, cow’s
milk, soy sauce, pet food, beer and more.
In this recent project, an individual and Moms Across America supporter sent ten wines, including organic and biodynamic, to be tested for glyphosate based herbicides
On March 16th, 2016, Moms Across America received results from testing done by Microbe Inotech Lab of St. Louis, Missouri, that showed all 10 wines sampled by the lab tested positive for the chemical glyphosate, the declared “active” ingredient in Roundup weedkiller.
The highest level of glyphosate detected was in a 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon from a conventional, chemically farmed vineyard. It was 28.4 times higher than the other wines at an average 18.74 parts per billion. The lowest level was from a biodynamic and organic vineyard, 2013 Syrah, which has never been sprayed according to the owner, with a level of 0.659 ppb. An organic wine from 2012 made from mixed red wine grapes, had 0.913 ppb of glyphosate.
It is important to note that the detection of glyphosate is an indicator of the
presence of many other coformulants in glyphosatebased herbicides which
have recently been shown by French scientist Seralini’s team to be endocrine
hormone disruptors and to be 1000x more toxic than glyphosate alone. Therefore, the type or amount of the coformulant chemicals in the wines are untested
and the consequences on our health are unknown.
Monsanto’s Roundup recently earned the ominous title of the most heavily-used agricultural chemical of all time, according to Dr. Joseph Mercola. In fact, an analysis showed that farmers sprayed enough glyphosate in 2014 to apply 0.8 pounds of the chemical to every acre of cultivated cropland in the U.S., and nearly 0.5 a pound of glyphosate to all cropland worldwide.
As you might suspect, when you use this much of a chemical, it doesn’t simply stay on the fields. The lab testing reported by Moms Across America reveals that glyphosate is now showing up virtually everywhere.
The analysis referred to by Dr. Mercola revealed glyphosate in levels of 76 micrograms per liter (μg/l) to 166 μg/l in women’s breast milk. As reported by The Detox Project, this is 760 to 1,600 times higher than the EU-permitted level in drinking water (although it’s lower than the U.S. maximum contaminant level for glyphosate, which is 700 μg/l).
This dose of glyphosate in breastfed babies’ every meal is only the beginning. An in vitro study designed to simulate human exposures also found that glyphosate crosses the placental barrier. In the study, 15 percent of the administered glyphosate reached the fetal compartment (as doctors sometimes call the pregnant uterus).
Angelika Hilbeck, Ph.D., senior scientist at the Institute of Integrative Biology in Zurich, told The Detox Project: “If confirmed in a full investigation, it seems that glyphosate has become a ubiquitous chemical in terms of presence and persistence. This data also offers a first indication of potential accumulation in the human body, giving newborns a substantial dose of synthetic chemicals as a ‘gift’ for their start into life, with unknown consequences. This is reckless and irresponsible conduct in a democratic society, which still has a living memory of previous reckless chemical contaminations, such as DDT.”
The analysis revealed glyphosate in additional samples as well, including the blood of non-pregnant Canadian women. Their average level was 73.6 μg/l, which is similar to the concentration found to have endocrine-disrupting effects in vitro.
Further, glyphosate was also detected in urine samples, and U.S. women had maximum glyphosate levels that were more than eight times higher than levels found in urine of Europeans.
Where is the glyphosate exposure coming from? It’s likely coming from food (although it could be in water as well). We don’t know exactly how much glyphosate may be in your food because the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) does not test for it.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) just announced in February that it would begin testing foods for glyphosate, however, which will help to quantify just how much glyphosate Americans are consuming.
For now, the analysis suggests that eating non-organic, genetically engineered foods (the prime candidates for Roundup spraying) is associated with higher glyphosate levels in your body. The Detox Project explained: “Glyphosate levels have been found to be significantly higher in urine of humans who ate non-organic food, compared with those who ate mostly organic food. Chronically ill people showed significantly higher glyphosate residues in their urine than healthy people. In a separate detailed analysis, glyphosate was found in the urine of cows, humans, and rabbits. Cows kept in a GMO-free area had significantly lower glyphosate concentrations in urine than cows in conventional livestock systems.”
Glyphosate and its degradation product, aminomethylphosphonic acid (AMPA), were detected in more than 75 percent of air and rain samples collected during the 2007 growing season in the Mississippi Delta agricultural region.
This could be even higher now, as since 1996 the use of glyphosate has risen nearly 15-fold. The testing commissioned by Moms Across America also found glyphosate in 13 of 21 U.S. drinking water samples tested.7
They contained glyphosate levels between 0.085 ug/l and 0.33 ug/l, which is only slightly below the EU maximum allowed level for glyphosate in drinking water of 0.1 ug/l.
Further, a 2012 analysis used a magnetic particle immunoassay to test for the presence of glyphosate in roughly 140 samples of groundwater from Catalonia, Spain. The analysis found that glyphosate was present above the limit of quantification in 41 percent of the samples.
This suggests the chemical does not break down rapidly in the environment, as its manufacturer claims, and instead it might be accumulating (both in the environment and in people).
In northern, colder regions, farmers of wheat and barley must wait for their crops to dry out prior to harvest.
Rather than wait an additional two weeks or so for this to happen naturally, farmers realized they could spray the plants with glyphosate, killing the crop and accelerating their drying (a process known as desiccating).
Desiccating wheat with glyphosate is particularly common in years with wet weather and has been increasing in North Dakota and Upper Midwestern states in the U.S., as well as in areas of Canada and Scotland (where the process first began). One Canadian farmer told EcoWatch: “I think every non-organic farmer in Saskatchewan uses glyphosate on most of their wheat acres every year … I think farmers need to realize that all of the chemicals we use are ‘bad’ to some extent … Monsanto has done such an effective job marketing glyphosate as ‘safe’ and ‘biodegradable’ that farmers here still believe this even though such claims are false.”
What this means is that even non-GMO foods are likely to be contaminated with glyphosate, and possibly even more so because they’re being sprayed just weeks prior to being made into your cereal, bread, cookies and the like.
Along with wheat and barley, other crops that are commonly desiccated with glyphosate include oats; legumes like lentils, peas, and non-GMO soybeans; corn; flax; rye; buckwheat; triticale; canola; millet; sugar beets; potatoes, and sunflowers.
No one is keeping track of how many crops are being desiccated with glyphosate; those in the industry have described it as a “don’t ask, don’t tell policy.”
Others have described spraying crops with glyphosate just days before harvest “barbaric.” Charles Benbrook, Ph.D., a researcher involved in the recent study showing glyphosate use is increasing, told EcoWatch: “I don’t understand why Monsanto and the food industry don’t voluntarily end this practice. They know it contributes to high dietary exposure (of glyphosate).”
Uh, Dr. Benbrook, I think you know the reason. Monsanto is in the business of selling glyphosate, not protecting people and the environment from glyphosate.
HORMONE DISRUPTORS LINKED TO FIBROID DEVELOPMENT
Hormone-disrupting chemicals are everywhere — in plastics, pesticides, and makeup — and two of them, phthalates and DDE, have been particularly strongly linked with common female reproductive conditions, such as fibroids, according to CNN.
In a new study, researchers estimate that the problems caused by these two chemicals alone could cost the European Union at least 1.41 billion euros a year, the U.S. equivalent of about $1.58 billion.
or the current study, the researchers turned their attention toward fibroids and endometriosis, two common conditions that affect an estimated 70 percent of women and are leading causes of female infertility
The researchers looked at studies of many different endocrine-disrupting chemicals and determined that the strongest evidence, albeit still from only a handful of studies, implicated a role for DDE, or diphenyldichloroethene, and phthalates in fibroids and endometriosis, respectively.
“There are substantial human and toxicological studies (in mice and other lab animals) that suggest that exposure to these endocrine-disrupting chemicals, many of which are increasing in use, are contributing to female reproductive conditions,” said Dr. Leonardo Trasande, associate professor of pediatrics at New York University School of Medicine.
Trasande carried out the earlier study on the economic impact of these chemicals and is the lead author of the new study, published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.
DDE is a breakdown product of the insecticide DDT that, although banned in the United States in 1972 and in Europe starting in the 1970s, still lingers in the environment and enters our body through food. The main exposure to phthalates is through eating food and drink stored in plastic containers.
Trasande and his colleagues determined that 56,700 cases of fibroids among women in Europe were probably due to DDE exposure, and 145,000 cases of endometriosis were probably caused by phthalates. The researchers arrived at these estimates through studies that looked at typical DDE exposures in women of reproductive age in Europe and the association between DDE levels in the blood and fibroid diagnoses.
In a similar way, they relied on a study that linked higher phthalate levels in women who had been diagnosed with endometriosis compared to healthy women.
The researchers noted that the costs generated by these chemicals would be even greater if they had factored in infertility associated with fibroids and endometriosis, and the other health problems those conditions can lead to. For example, endometriosis can increase the risk of cancer and autoimmune disorders.
“In so far as Europe is actively considering criteria for endocrine-disrupting chemicals and they are about to pursue action to limit exposure to chemicals in that category, this work is likely to be extremely important in shaping European policy,” Trasande said.
The European Union and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration have already banned the use of certain endocrine disruptors, such as BPA, in baby bottles, though research suggests alternatives to BPA also might not be safe.
Although the United States is not as far along in considering restrictions on these chemicals, it could get a jumpstart from European legislation.
“Potentially some of the progress in European activity could actually bring the key stakeholders, such as environmental public health groups and industry, to the table in considering U.S. legislation,” Trasande said.
The health burden — and healthcare costs — of endocrine-disrupting chemicals could far exceed what the current study captured by looking at only two chemical groups. As Trasande and his colleagues point out in the study, several other chemicals, such as PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, have been linked with female reproductive health problems.
Some of these chemicals, including PCBs and dioxins, have already been restricted through a treaty called the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, which went into effect in 2004, said Linda S. Birnbaum, director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the National Toxicology Program.
The current study is important because it focused on chemicals that have not been restricted, and in the case of DDE — which persists in the environment — are not able to be restricted, Birnbaum said. However, she said she was surprised the researchers did not include an analysis of chemicals such as BPA, which has also been linked to endometriosis risk.
DARK Act Defeated in Senate–for Now
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As you may have heard on the news, the U.S. Senate last week defeated the DARK Act—otherwise known as the Monsanto Protection bill or SB 2609—by one vote, 49-48. The close vote means that there will be another try by Monsanto and big biotech to get the bill passed, once the Senate has been swarmed with lobbyists carrying fistfuls of money seeking that one Senator who’ll change his or her vote.
The DARK Act would have made it illegal for states to pass common sense GMO labeling laws like the Connecticut, Vermont and Maine legislatures did in 2013 and 2014. This atrocious piece of legislation not only protects Monsanto’s toxic products from real scientific investigations by the federal government, but also forces the USDA to promote GMOs around the country to try to create widespread “Consumer Acceptance” (this is the actual phrase from the bill).
The bill would not only have protected Monsanto and Big Food from common sense GMO labeling, but would have also used taxpayer money to promote Monsanto, DuPont, Dow Chemical and Syngenta’s GMOs to the very same taxpayers whose tax dollars would be used to do the promotion!
To get political for a minute—since the Senate is a hotbed of politicians—is it really possible that 48 Senators, almost all of them Republicans, think that this bad bill was enough of a good idea for them to vote “Yea” on it? Well, the Rabid Right thinks so. Here’s what the conservative think tank Heartland Institute sent out in an email PR release a few days before the Senate vote:
“Mandatory GMO labeling is intended to scare folks from one of the greatest developments in human nutrition in our history. The movement is cleverly financed by the organic food industry and the usual culprits who do not want to advance civilization. Opponents of GMOs ignore the proof of the efficacy of genetic modification, as well as the fact it has not caused a single human illness. Meanwhile, tainted organic food has created numerous illnesses-–such as the situation in Chipotle, and many other cases in recent decades. The public has enough real threats to be concerned about. It is time to take GMOs off that list.”
The email was signed by Jay Lehr, Science Director at The Heartland Institute.
If you care to let him know what you think of this poorly written paragraph, you can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
So I looked up Jay Lehr on SourceWatch, a website that reveals who is behind front groups like The Heartland Institute, and found out that Lehr is science director and senior fellow at the Institute, “a Chicago-based free market think tank that attacks the scientific evidence for human-caused climate change. The Heartland Institute has received over $791,000 from oil-giant ExxonMobil since 1998.
The tobacco industry has also been a regular funder to the Heartland Institute, with at least $190,000 coming from Philip Morris since 1993. The Heartland Institute maintains a smoker’s rights section on its website called “The Smoker’s Lounge.”
Isn’t it great that the Rabid Right thinks that “the organic food industry and the usual culprits” are in a conspiracy to scuttle “one of the greatest developments in human nutrition?” And who might “the usual culprits” be? Could they be the 92 percent of U.S. citizens, according to Consumer reports, who believe that GMO foods should be labeled accordingly?
USDA ASKS MIRACLE-GRO TO KEEP EYE ON ESCAPED GMO IN OREGON
During a contentious meeting on March 1, farmers and irrigation district officials challenged USDA’s recent agreement with Scotts Miracle-Gro to manage a genetically engineered creeping bentgrass that escaped from field trials in 2003.
The grass has taken root in Malheur and Jefferson counties in Oregon and Canyon County in Idaho.
Farmers and others expressed concern about the 10-year plan between Scotts and USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.
“They created the problem. They let it escape. Now you’re dumping (the problem) on Malheur and Canyon counties,” seed grower Jerry Erstrom told Sid Abel, assistant deputy director of USDA’s Biotechnology Regulatory Services.
Scotts, in conjunction with Monsanto Corp., was developing a genetically modified creeping bentgrass for use mainly in the golf course industry.
Since the grass escaped from grower field trials near Parma in Idaho and Madras in Jefferson County in 2003, it has taken root in those areas.
Erstrom, chairman of the Malheur County Weed Board, and others said that because the grass is genetically engineered to resist Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer, it is hard to eradicate and is causing problems in waterways.
Erstrom said the grass has also invaded pastures, which is a problem for anyone raising organic livestock, and if it gets into a shipment of hay or grain, the shipment can be rejected for overseas markets that don’t tolerate traces of genetically modified organisms.
USDA’s agreement with Scotts, approved in September, requires the company to continue to survey for the grass in the affected counties in 2016 and try to eradicate it where possible.
In years 2 and 3, the company will provide technical assistance to affected farmers and irrigation districts and provide incentives for the adoption of best management practices to control the grass.
Scotts will also conduct outreach and education programs.
In years 4 through 10, the company will still continue to analyze the situation, educate growers and provide technical assistance, Abel said.
Scotts will also continue working with Oregon State University researchers to try to identify herbicides that can effectively manage the grass.
Oregon Department of Agriculture Director Katy Coba expressed concern about the plan in a Feb. 17 letter to USDA that prompted the Ontario meeting.
In her letter, Coba said the plan “passes the burden for management of (the grass) onto affected stakeholders.”
The letter says that ODA “is concerned that Oregon ranchers, growers and irrigation districts will have limited tools and resources available to … manage this herbicide-resistant grass effectively.”
Clint Shock, director of OSU’s Malheur County experiment station, told Abel that Scotts approached him about conducting GMO bentgrass trials there and he refused the project because he didn’t believe the plant could be contained and should never leave the laboratory.
“What you’re proposing is to (take) all the burden and loss off of Scotts … and (put it) on to the (organic) community,” he said. “That’s really what it amounts to.”
Erstrom said the agreement is “nothing more than a plan for Scotts to get off the economic hook of fixing what they broke.”
That prompted Bob Harriman, Scotts’ vice president of biotechnology, to stand up and defend the company.
“We have a history of being an honorable company,” he said. “Judge us on the actions we’re taking (and) the progress we’re making. We want to do the right thing.”
Abel rejected accusations that USDA and Scotts were walking away from the situation and said the plan can be changed if necessary.
“No, USDA is not walking away, nor is Scotts,” he said. “We are in this for the long haul. I ask you to give us a chance. Let this plan evolve and work and we will change it if necessary.”
They should have listened to Clint Shock.
The Climax Economy
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From the day I started work at Organic Gardening and Farming magazine in early 1970, I felt that there was something intrinsically “right” about the organic idea. At first I didn’t quite know what it was, but I felt that something about its philosophical thrust was applicable to far more than the garden or farm.
Over the years, I’ve learned what that feeling is about. In 1970, we as a society were still hooked to the reductionist way of learning and doing—that is, if we just pick things apart enough, we can find the secrets of what makes it tick. Organics, on the other hand, went in the opposite direction. It was holistic. If we just see how something is linked to everything else, then we can understand what it is and what it does ever more deeply. It was the insight of ecology—that everything is linked to everything else. That you can’t stir a flower without troubling a star.
This holistic idea has been around for many hundreds of years, even if ecology is still a fairly new science. The Unicorn Tapestries in The Cloisters in New York depict a medieval allegory of a group of men hunting a unicorn in order to capture and tame it and own its power. The unicorn represents free nature. To capture it they have to kill it, which destroys what was valuable about the unicorn to begin with. The fable is a warning about reductionism. The key to understanding isn’t tearing something down to its most minute parts, but rather finding out how it fits into the grand scheme of things.
But 1970 was a long time ago: 46 years to be precise. At that time, we—the staff of the magazine—felt that our audience was “a little old lady in tennis shoes,” as the saying went around the office. That little old lady was then being joined by an army of young ladies and men who called themselves the hippies and reacted positively to the magazine’s advice that nature knows best, and to trust nature’s laws as being wise, and of promoting environmentalism. Then Earth Day happened, and organic gardening and farming—the agricultural and horticultural practices, not just the magazine—took off.
Organic gardening ceased being the backyard hobby of progressive and bohemian types and began to be taken seriously. The result, all these years later, astounds me. Just the other day, walking through Costco here in Santa Rosa, California, and seeing many islands of products and foodstuffs color coded as organic, with large banners proclaiming their organic provenance, I turned to Susanna, my wife, and said, “My God—we won!”
Trying to jump start organic growing techniques and organic (holistic) thinking in general was always a struggle. J.I. Rodale, who founded Rodale Press, the publisher of OG&F, was called a quack, a charlatan, a fraud, and worse. The government tried to destroy him. He was humiliated, dismissed, and reviled. But if you read his first book, “Pay Dirt,” it’s a well-researched and well-reasoned foundational book about soil science from an ecological perspective. I worked for J.I., knew him well, and although I thought he was a little wacky (I was the wacky one, because his advanced thinking on this topic was beyond me), I understood in my gut that he was right. His son Bob continued J.I.’s success and grew the business along with the importance of the organic idea. Now his granddaughter Maria runs the company and continues the work. I say hats off to the Rodales, for without them, we’d still be eating DDT.
So when I said, “We won,” it was the culmination of all those years of struggle that so many people participated in. We haven’t really won yet, as 95 percent of our food supply is still grown or raised conventionally, but the idea behind organics has won. The old guard that laid the framework for the idea is fading and beginning to slip into history. Generation X (ages 40-50), Millennials (in their 20s and 30s), and the iGeneration (people just now turning 21) understand the importance of sustainability, organics, environmentalism, and the role of social networking in promoting these values. The overwhelming majority of them “feel the Bern.”
Bernie Sanders is one of the old guard who helped lay the groundwork for the new framework that’s now second nature to the younger generations. He’s been saying the right thing for decades, fighting the fight when most people laughed at him. His shoulder was at the wheel when the wheel was just starting to get unstuck from the mud of conventional corporatist thinking. Hats off to Bernie, too.
But kudos to people who got us this far is important, but it isn’t the point of this blog today. I’d like to talk about the economy. And I’d like to talk about how the holistic, inclusive idea that lies behind your purchase or creation of organic food can be applied to economic thinking. So here goes:
Economic health has been predicated on economic growth. Successful companies grow. The GDP grows. Profits grow.
But is constant growth sustainable? Doesn’t constant growth define cancer? Can a company just keep growing forever, until—what? It takes over the world? And doesn’t constant growth imply growth by any means possible, fair or foul? And perpetual competition?
Well, nature should be our model in all things. We are part of nature and subject to her laws and forces, her tendencies and directions. And what does nature teach us about growth?
Organisms, like companies, grow, but then they die. Through their generations, they also diversify. In fact, the greater the biological diversity in any ecosystem, the healthier it is. The most biodiverse ecosystems aren’t ones in which individual creatures or kinds of creatures keep growing, but ones that have reached a climax ecology.
The encyclopedic definition of a climax ecology expresses a biological community of plants, animals, and fungi which, through the process of ecological succession in an area over time, reaches a steady state. This equilibrium is thought to occur because the climax community is composed of species best adapted to average conditions in that area, and which fill all the niches of ecological need for the health of the community.
Instead of being forced into ever-increasing growth, wouldn’t our economy be healthier if it could reach a steady state that supplies the various needs of all creatures in a way that’s sustainable for perpetuity?
What would such an economy look like? Looking again at nature, we see competition balanced with cooperation. We see interlocking beneficial relationships. We see peace between phenotypical players in a steady-state system, though there be winners and losers on the individual level.
In our current system, capital is the lifeblood of our economy. Accumulating capital is the objective. But in a climax economy, the wisest use of capital would be the objective. The benefit is not solely for any one business, but for the whole interconnected world of business, to produce goods and services that benefit the most creatures most efficiently.
It stands to reason that only the most efficient economy can be the most sustainable. We can already see what a climax economy looks like, see some examples of it emerging, and how we get there from here.
A climax ecosystem in nature sustains itself in perpetuity. All its trophic and functional niches are filled. It is stable. All its participants have what they need for their health and welfare. An economy is a similarly interconnected whole of suppliers and consumers. It too can reach a climax state. Businesses thrive as long as they are useful, then sink away and disappear when they are not. Just as in an organic garden predators and prey are in balance, heavy feeding crops are in balance with light feeders, and the lifeblood of the garden is the compost that’s recycled back into the soil, so in a climax economy businesses rise and fall according to their usefulness for the health of the whole, monetary resources are apportioned according to this balance, and profits are not heaped upon the fortunate few at the top of the economic food chain but are recycled back into the economy as a whole to strengthen and support it.
That’s a climax economy, and that’s where we should be going.
A ROUND OF APPLAUSE FOR MONSANTO’S FAILING FORTUNES
Reuters reports that Monsanto expects its sales to remain flat for the rest of 2016 and possibly into the future. As a result, Monsanto’s shares fell more than seven percent and are now down almost 30 percent over that past 12 months as a result of steep decline in sales of Monsanto’s GMO seeds and toxic herbicide Roundup, which has been linked to cancer by the World Health Organization.
And the Wall Street investment bank Goldman Sachs has downgraded Monsanto to a sell, encouraging investors to dump Monsanto across the board.
This terrible news for Monsanto comes on top of the fact that Monsanto slashed its workforce by 16 percent, cutting more than 3,600 employees since late 2015.
Is it too soon to yell, “Yay!”
Here’s How We Reverse Climate Change
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It’s said that the average American today is confronted with more data in one day than a person in the 15th Century confronted in his or her whole lifetime. And it’s true—we are experiencing the beginnings of the information age and we are overwhelmed with data.
The emergence of the internet created a platform into which huge amounts of data can be plugged. Our data-gathering technologies, both on a personal level and on social and even world levels, are becoming more powerful and sophisticated by the day. If you think of the internet as an ocean of information, rivers of data are torrents flowing into that ocean. Our electronic devices capture data on us constantly. Your smart phone tracks your every move. Security cameras watch you at work, at play, when traveling, when shopping, and when simply moving about. It’s happening to just about everyone all around the world, to institutions, to governments, to manufacturing, to everything.
Now something new is happening. Computer programs—algorithms—built to detect hitherto unseen patterns are being applied to the ocean of data. Once these heretofore unrecognized patterns are confirmed, they have enormous predictive ability. If your profile fits one of these patterns, it’s more than likely you will behave in certain predictable ways. And in that predictability, businesses can cater to you with products and services.
Obviously this power can be used for good. If you fit a pattern that predicts who will develop a certain disease, then you can seek treatment before the disease disables you. And it can be used to create mischief by invading your privacy and revealing things about you that you might not want known. Predictive algorithms combing through the oceans of data that are rapidly accumulating in the cloud are morally and ethically neutral. It’s the human purposes that drive them that can be good or bad.
Let’s consider how data mining and algorithmic prediction can be used to help solve the problem of climate change. This phenomenon poses a grave threat to life on earth through extinctions, ecosystem damage, rising sea levels, warming oceans, furious storms, the spread of diseases once confined to small areas into much larger areas, and much more.
The beginning of wisdom will be to recognize and admit human participation in creating the problem of global warming and the necessity of changing the way we do things. Here’s where the powerful predictive ability of pattern-recognition software comes in.
We should be taking data on how we farm, how we eat, how and what we buy and consume, how we move, how we use energy, and the carbon footprints and environmental impacts of all these things. And then look for patterns that reveal the most efficient, least costly, and most nature-friendly way to accomplish them. It’s entirely possible right now to monitor carbon sequestration in organic farm soils, in forest establishment, and discover how we might do this necessary task better. Most of the patterns that will lead to the establishment of new and smarter strategies haven’t even been discovered yet. But the ocean of data is filling. We should start looking.
Conventional farming with its reliance on toxic chemicals is short-sighted and environmentally destructive, to say nothing of energy intensive. Sustainable, organic, Biodynamic farming—whatever you want to call a system of growing food that works with nature’s laws instead of against them—is a start toward solving climate change.
Let’s monitor our soil systems, our farms, our wholesale and retail markets, and our buying public, and look for patterns that contribute to the problem and patterns that can be used to solve the problem. What can we bolster? What can we change? What can we eliminate? Pattern-discerning algorithms applied to the datasphere in the cloud is like a superbrain with the ability to see things that we as individuals aren’t built to discern, especially the smartest ways to do things. But there’s one more crucial thing we need.
What’s needed first and foremost is wise and prescient leadership. Such leadership will recognize the opportunities we have to make the world a more benign and eco-friendly place. Here in America it looks like the next leader of this country will be either bully and narcissist Donald Trump, corporatist and otherwise smart woman Hillary Clinton, or Bernie Sanders, a man who has worked for the betterment of our citizenry for his whole professional life.
It’s up to us, the people, to choose and I only hope we choose the candidate who will be prescient enough to use these new tools wisely.
SPOTLIGHT REMINDS US THAT JOURNALISM IS A PROFESSION
The fact that Spotlight won Best Picture at the Academy Awards was gratifying to me. It should remind people that amateurs, bloggers, and people who call themselves journalists aren’t necessarily any more professional journalists than a person with a meat cleaver is a surgeon.
To get a degree in journalism takes four years at a college or university with an accredited course. I know. I have that degree earned from Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. That’s the same school where Marty Baron, the editor-in-chief at the Boston Globe who oversaw the Spotlight group within the paper’s staff that is depicted in the movie, earned his degree in journalism just a few years after I did. He’s now editor-in-chief at the Washington Post. He was mentored by Professor Joseph B. McFadden (Mac to his friends) who imbued us all with the spirit of dogged professionalism that Spotlight reveals.
When I see writers, especially online, who bill themselves as journalists but have no credentials, it reminds me that journalism is a profession—just like doctors and lawyers—with a strict code of ethics, only instead of taking care of the health and well- being of individuals, we take care of the health of our democracy and society. Without real journalists, we wouldn’t have discovered the crimes of Richard Nixon or the sexual predators within the Catholic Church, among many other problems.
We owe our journalists a great debt as they protect our democracy. They aren’t often rewarded or acknowledged for what they do, but they do it because it’s necessary and right. Spotlight throws a spotlight on that. Congratulations to that movie and the people who made it.
UPDATE OF TOXICS BILL EXEMPTS MONSANTO FROM LIABILITY
The U.S. House of Representatives last year passed a bill to update the 40-year-old Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA), which leaves millions of Americans vulnerable every day to more than 1,000 hazardous chemicals still for sale across the country, Food Democracy Now reports.
In the process of writing this bill, an unknown member of the House of Representatives slipped a one-paragraph provision in the TSCA bill that exempts Monsanto from all financial liability from lawsuits and financial settlements sought for PCB contamination and cleanup sites.
This Trojan Horse bill is essentially a Get-out-of-Jail-Free card for Monsanto, exempting it from billions of dollars of legal liability from lawsuits for damages which have been filed in several major cities, including Seattle and San Diego and a lawsuit filed last year from individuals seeking damages for diagnoses of a form of cancer known as non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
The St. Louis-based chemical and biotech seed giant is now claiming they “had nothing to do” with this new “Monsanto Clause”, even though Monsanto was the only company that made this toxic chemical and the only company exempted from liability.
According to the New York Times, “The provision does not mention the company by name, but between the early 1930s and 1977, Monsanto manufactured almost all of the 1.25 billion pounds of PCBs sold in the United States.”
That’s right, a member of Congress intentionally slipped in a provision to protect Monsanto from individuals with cancer and major U.S. cities seeking millions in legal fees for cleaning up the cancer-causing PCBs, which are now pervasive in the environment.
SOMETHING’S FISHY IN THE OREGON SENATE
Just recently, Oregon Right to Know, a pro-labeling group there, received the great news that HR 4122, a bill to require mandatory labeling on GMO fish in Oregon, had passed the state House.
And now we have the votes to pass it in the state Senate too.
So what’s the problem? Senate President Peter Courtney (D-Salem) is killing the bill.
The will of the people is clear: A majority of Oregonians and a majority of Oregon legislators support mandatory labeling for GMO salmon. But Sen. Courtney won’t even let the bill come up for a vote. Sen. Courtney’s office phone number is (503) 986-1600 if you’d like to let him know you want HR 4122 to come up for a vote in the Senate
SENATE AG COMMITTEE SENDS DARK ACT TO FULL SENATE
Last week, 14 of the 20 members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture confirmed that they work for Monsanto, not you, the people who voted for them.
These 14 bought-and-paid-for-by-Monsanto politicians voted to send a bill to the Senate floor that, if passed, will wipe out Vermont’s hard-won and rightfully passed GMO labeling law and permanently preserve Monsanto’s “right” to deceive consumers, according to Ronnie Cummins of the Organic Consumers Association.
The bill is known by its opponents as the Deny Americans the Right to Know, or DARK, Act. It blocks states from enacting GMO labeling laws and makes it harder for companies to voluntarily label foods made with genetically engineered ingredients, as well as much morew difficult for consumers to find out if GMOs are in the food they’re buying.
Before heading into the meeting where the vote was taken, Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) told the media: “We know that we have to stop the wrecking ball.” Roberts was referring to Vermont’s labeling law, which will require food companies to label GMO ingredients on products sold in Vermont, beginning July 1.
But Vermont’s law was passed with majority support from voters and lawmakers, and the courts have declared it constitutional.
Vermont’s law doesn’t require anything that isn’t already required in 64 other countries.
Vermont’s GMO labeling law isn’t any different than the more than 100 other individual state laws governing labeling and food safety—except that Monsanto doesn’t care about those other laws, just this one.
The only “wrecking ball” about to hit is the one being swung by Monsanto. And it’s aimed at you.
WHAT GOES AROUND COMES AROUND
After 35 years of growing horror watching the Republican Party’s descent into criminality, the Party is finally reaping what it has sown.
Invasion of other countries, war profiteering, mass slaughter, fostering income inequality, gerrymandering, cheating, lying, stealing, trying to dismantle the safety net for the poor and middle class, outright racism, pandering to gun nuts, supporting corporate wrongdoing and corporate welfare, dismantling the voting rights act, teaching the world what real hypocrisy is all about, fostering the takeover of our politics by big money, doing everything in its power to obstruct a popular President because he is black, creating tax breaks for the rich, fighting against raising the minimum wage, fighting health care for the poor, siding with the powerful over minorities…I mean, the list goes on and on.
This week, Republicans were reaping the whirlwind they’ve kicked up. Mitt Romney, in a speech in Salt Lake City, unsparingly eviscerated Donald Trump, who appears ready to take the Party’s nomination for President, as unstable, immoral and cruel. “Donald Trump is a phony, a fraud,” Romney said. “His promises are as worthless as a degree from Trump University. He’s playing members of the American public for suckers.” Romney lamented that Trump has called for bringing back torture and for punishing the innocent families of terrorists. And he expressed concern that, if elected, Trump would erode the foundations of American democracy.
But wait—isn’t this just what the Republican Party has been doing since Ronald Reagan came to power?
So now it looks to me like the Party will run one of its own for President—a narcissistic, xenophobic, self-obsessed, racist real estate developer with no governmental experience. Paul Krugman in The New York Times averred that the real reason why establishment Republicans are calling Trump a con man, is that he’s exposing the many and varied cons of establishment Republicans.
This gang of political criminals is getting exactly what it has promulgated. It has attracted exactly those people who respond to the criminality it’s espoused. It is getting exactly what it deserves. If it causes the modern Republican Party to crash and burn and go away forever, the United States will be stronger for it.
GOOD NEWS FROM UN CLIMATE SUMMIT IN PARIS
Editor’s note: The following article was written for Regeneration International, a project of the Organic Consumers Association, by Courtney White. It explains how the latest soil science supports France’s “4 per 1000 Initiative: Soils for Food Security and Climate.”
“Dec 1, 2015, will be one of the most important days in human history. It will be seen as the tipping point when the world was saved from catastrophic climate change,” says André Leu, President of the IFOAM (the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements).
He’s referring to one of the most significant events at the recent UN climate summit in Paris. It went largely unnoticed.
We know the headlines: In an effort to slow dangerous climate change, representatives from 197 nations concluded a two-week marathon of negotiations by signing a breakthrough agreement that commits governments to targeted reductions in greenhouse gas emissions starting in 2020.
This was justifiably big news. After 20 years of failed attempts to craft an international consensus on climate action, most spectacularly in Copenhagen in 2009, the world simply had to get its act together. It did so, to well-earned applause, on December 12, 2015.
So what happened on December 1?
That’s the day the French government launched the 4 per 1000 Initiative: Soils for Food Security and Climate, a plan to fight climate change by sequestering carbon in the soil. The initiative’s goal is this: to increase global soil carbon stocks by 0.4 percent per year by drawing down atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) via the increased photosynthesis of regenerative farming and land use.
On the surface, that may not sound like a lot of carbon, (it amounts to 10 billion tons of carbon per year sequestered in global soils), but French scientists say it’s enough to halt human-induced annual increases in CO2 globally.
That sounds like a front page headline to me!
How will the initiative succeed? The key is regenerative agriculture, of which organic agriculture is one example. France, for example, intends to hit its 4/1000 target by employing agro-ecological practices on 50 percent of its farms by 2020.
Agro-ecological practices restore damaged land and build biologically healthy soil through the use of cover crops, perennial plants, no-till farming, and livestock grazing patterns that mimic nature. If managed properly, these nature-based practices not only increase carbon stocks in soil, they also can dramatically reduce the amount of greenhouse gases produced by the use of fossil fuel in industrial agriculture, one of the biggest polluters on the planet.
Agro-ecological practices also increase resilience to climate change. In an op-ed published days after the French announcement in Paris, Michael Pollan and Deborah Barker wrote:
“Regenerative farming would also increase the fertility of the land, making it more productive and better able to absorb and hold water, a critical function especially in times of climate-related floods and droughts. Carbon-rich fields require less synthetic nitrogen fertilizer and generate more productive crops, cutting farmer expenses.”
Here’s the best news: Regenerative agriculture is a shovel-ready solution to climate change.
Agro-ecological practices are practical, profitable and have been ground-tested by farmers and ranchers around the world for decades. In fact, shovel-readiness is a big reason why more than 100 nations, international NGOs and farmers’ organizations signed onto the 4/1000 Initiative–and why many more have signed on since then.
After years of neglect, soil carbon is now viewed as key to how the world manages climate change. “[It] has become a global initiative,” said French Agriculture Minister Stéphane Le Foll. “We need to mobilize even more stakeholders in a transition to achieve both food security and climate mitigation thanks to agriculture.”
“The time for talking is finished,” said IFOAM’s André Leu. “Now is the time for doing. The technology is available to everyone. It is up to us to mobilize in time. Let’s start working to get this done and give our world a better future.”
And now a word from Jeff about Courtney’s article: Interestingly, Bob Rodale promulgated the idea of regeneration as a key component of organic farming in the late 1970s and early 1980s. I attended a conference at the Mohonk Mountain House in the Catskills where Rodale Press staff fleshed out the idea. This was before climate change and global warming became prominent, but Bob was on to something big. He knew it and we knew it. The core idea was that nature has a strong power to regenerate damaged ecosystems and that organic practices are a good way to harness this power to solve environmental problems. With the emergence of climate change as our biggest problem, this French initiative does exactly what Bob foresaw. You can read more about the initiative at http://4p1000.org/understand.
USDA SCIENTIST LINKS BEE DEATHS TO PESTICIDES, IS SUSPENDED
An award-winning bee scientist was suspended from the USDA for research linking bee and butterfly die-offs to neonicotinoid pesticides, SumofUs reports.
After Jonathan Lundgren was fired, he filed a whistleblower complaint calling his suspension a retaliation against research that infuriated the agrochemical industry.
Unfortunately, Lundgren’s story isn’t unique. There’s a pattern of harassment, intimidation, and punishment within the USDA for research that has “inconvenient implications.”
Groups like Friends of the Earth are calling for change at the top of the USDA. That includes the resignation of the person ultimately responsible for creating a climate of suppression of science and censorship, Dr. Catherine Woteki, USDA Undersecretary for Research, Education, and Economics.
You can read more about this issue in “Is the USDA Silencing Scientists?” in The Atlantic for November 3, 2015.
SCIENTIST SUSPENDED, BUT WHAT ABOUT PESTICIDE MAKERS?
The CEOs of pesticide producers Dow and DuPont will get a combined $80 million in “golden parachute” payments due to their companies’ merger.
“Golden parachute” payments are contracts that give a top executive substantial benefits if the company is taken over and their employment is terminated as a result.
Dow CEO Andrew Liveris will get $52.8 million in cash, stock and other payments, and DuPont’s Edward Breen, who was named CEO just last October, will get $27.2 million.