Parents Prioritize Organic Food for Their Kids
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Buying organic is a top priority for many Americans, especially parents when it comes to the food they feed their children, according to new research form the Organic Trade Association, Elizabeth Crawford reports in OTA’s newsletter.
The trade group’s 2016 U.S. Families Organic Attitudes and Beliefs study revealed that 35 percent of American families “make a great deal of effort” to choose organic foods and products-–a figure that jumps to 74 percent when families who make at least a minor effort are added.
In addition, one-third of parents say buying organic is among their top three priorities when buying food. This is notably less than the 57 percent of parents who listed price, 52 percent who listed taste, and 43 percent who said buying healthy and nutritious products was a top priority.
But still, it edged out convenience factors, such as availability at my preferred store, and having an easy to understand ingredient list, both of which were a top priority for 18 percent of parents, said Angela Jagiello, associate director of conference and product development for OTA.
HOUSE VOTES $3 MILLION TO FUND PRO-GMO PROPAGANDA
It’s not enough that many of our Congress members are fighting alongside Monsanto to keep GMO labels off of food products. Now some of our federal lawmakers want to use your tax dollars—$3 million of it—on propaganda to promote Monsanto under the guise of “educating” consumers about the “benefits” of GMOs.
In mid-April, the House Appropriations Committee decided that Monsanto needs some of your hard-earned money.
The committee passed an agriculture spending bill that includes $3 million “to promote understanding and acceptance of agricultural biotechnology and biotechnology-derived food products and animal feed.”
This new “Monsanto Promotion Act” was championed by Subcommittee Chairman Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.) who said, “We need to avoid consumer confusion.”
Not everyone agreed. House Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) said, “The jury is still out on genetically modified organisms. Some may be safe. Some may be of concern. It’s not the responsibility of FDA to mount a government-controlled propaganda campaign, particularly when the science is far from certain.”
Unfortunately, her amendment to strike the Monsanto Promotion Act from the agriculture spending bill failed 29 to 20.
IS A GMO LABELING LAW IMMINENT?
Oh, to be a fly on the wall inside the offices of the top lobbyists for the Grocery Manufacturers Association, write Katherine Paul and Ronnie Cummins of the Organic Consumers Association.
It’s getting so close to the July 1 deadline for complying with Vermont’s GMO labeling law, and still no court ruling to overturn Vermont’s law. Still no federal legislation to preempt Vermont’s law.
Hundreds of millions of dollars spent to keep labels off GMO ingredients. Lawsuits, dirty tricks, shady schemes—all, so far, for naught. Meanwhile, food corporations are labeling, or announcing plans to label, and preparing to implement those plans. Others, including Dannon, will remove GMO ingredients from their products.
Is victory really within our grasp this time?
The closer we get to July 1, the closer we are to winning the battle of all labeling battles. Which is all the more reason to keep up the pressure, on all fronts.
Can U.S. Senate put together a deal before July 1?
So far, efforts by Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) to pass a federal law which would preempt Vermont’s mandatory labeling law have failed.
But we haven’t heard the end of the DARK—Deny Americans the Right to Know—Act. At least not yet.
Politico reports that Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) on April 26, told a gathering of the North American Agricultural Journalists, “There could be a deal” before July 1. According to Politico, Stabenow said: “We’ve offered some very specific language and there is a lot of support for it.”
Stabenow didn’t divulge what that “very specific language” was, or who among those who have so far voted against the DARK Act might go for this new language. But our sources tell us Stabenow is pushing for the same old QR code and/or 1-800 telephone numbers that USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack has proposed—but with one difference. Stabenow wants those QR codes to be mandatory, not voluntary.
Will Roberts, who so far has adamantly opposed any option that actually requires labels, cave? If Stabenow’s version also includes a plan that would delay implementation of Vermont’s law?
Stabenow is in a tight spot. Nine out of 10 of her constituents want labels on GMOs, and they’ve been relentlessly vocal about that. But she’s under tremendous pressure from industry—including Michigan’s GMO sugar beet growers who fear food companies will switch to sugar cane rather than label—to stop Vermont’s law in its tracks.
The clock is ticking. But it hasn’t run out. The worst thing we can do now is be silent. It’s more critical than ever that we keep the pressure on.
What happens in Vermont doesn’t stay in Vermont.
Meanwhile, back in Vermont, things heated up last week as the food industry looked for ways to stall and weaken Vermont’s Act 120.
In a nutshell, here’s what happened, as explained by Nancy Remsen in this April 25 report. The Vermont Retail & Grocers Association wanted to tweak the Vermont law, to the advantage of food companies (not consumers, of course). Specifically, the industry group wanted: 1) to prevent consumers from suing if they find non-labeled products on store shelves during the 18 months immediately after the law takes effect on July 1; and 2) to exempt food prepared in stores (think potato salad, sandwiches and baked goods).
How did industry plan to make changes to a law passed two years ago, and set to take effect in two months? By attaching them to the state’s budget bill—a bill lawmakers want wrapped up and passed by May 6, when the legislative session is due to end.
OCA and other groups called on our networks to let Vermont lawmakers know we expect them to stand strong against any attempts to weaken or delay Vermont’s law. We generated more than 500 calls to the Vermont State House because the future of the GMO labeling movement now comes down to upholding Vermont’s Act 120—a bill the national movement fought for and helped pass.
In the end, the Vermont Senate’s appropriations bill included a provision to delay the possibility of consumer lawsuits, by one year (January 1, 2018) instead of the 18 months industry requested. (The state’s attorney general retains the power to enforce the law beginning January 1, 2017, as specified in Act 120, and has said he will do so). Because the House version of the budget didn’t include the provision delaying consumer lawsuits, the final decision will have to be made when the House and Senate meet to negotiate a final bill.
While Big Food has been trying to tinker with the Vermont law, the state’s attorney general has been trying to pry incriminating evidence out of the hands of Monsanto and other biotech and food corporations. And that move may just work to the benefit of consumers who want labels.
According to Food Dive, Attorney General William Sorrell wants “major seed and food companies” to hand over internal research on GMO crops. The request comes as part of the GMA’s lawsuit, filed nearly two years ago. Food Dive reports that requested research includes that related to “potential health or environmental impacts” of GMO crops and the pesticides used on them (from Monsanto, DuPont, and Syngenta). It also includes “consumer survey research” from the past decade about GMO foods and the use of the term “natural” on their product labels (from ConAgra, Kellogg, and Frito-Lay North America).
We think it’s a safe bet that the GMA and Monsanto probably realize that they are better off labeling their products in compliance with Vermont’s law, than risking the public release of their own potentially incriminating research on the health impacts of GMO crops and the pesticides used to grow them.
It’s one thing for the World Health Organization to come out with the determination that glyphosate and Monsanto’s Roundup are probably carcinogenic. It’s quite another if word gets out that Monsanto has known this all along—but kept the information to itself. The latter is clear grounds for legal action.
Katherine Paul is associate director of the Organic Consumers Association and
Ronnie Cummins is international director of the Organic Consumers Association.
USDA Sued for Hijacking Organic Standards Board
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The Cornucopia Institute has filed a lawsuit challenging the USDA’s appointment of non-farmers to positions reserved by Congress for organic farmers on the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB).
The NOSB is a 15-member citizens’ board established by Congress to determine what materials are safe and appropriate for use in organic food and agriculture, and to provide advice to the USDA Secretary of Agriculture on organic policy.
Congress, in passing the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA), reserved four positions on the NOSB for individuals who “own or operate” an organic farm. Other stakeholder interests, such as consumer, environmentalist, and food processor, are also represented on the board. Cornucopia’s lawsuit alleges that two of the board’s four farmer positions are occupied by full-time agribusiness executives, rather than farmers.
The Institute for Public Representation at Georgetown University Law Center has filed the lawsuit on Cornucopia’s behalf. Two certified organic farmers joined Cornucopia in the lawsuit as plaintiffs. Both farmers applied for NOSB appointments and were passed over by the USDA in favor of the agribusiness executives.
As the organic industry has grown into an almost $40 billion a year market, major agribusinesses such as Smuckers, Kellogg’s, General Mills, and Dean Foods (WhiteWave) have purchased many of the leading national organic brands and, through their trade-lobby group, the Organic Trade Association, are wielding, according to Cornucopia, undue influence at the USDA.
“This type of appointment is part of a pattern of actions taken by the USDA to make the NOSB and the National Organic Program friendlier to the needs of big business interests,” said Will Fantle, Cornucopia’s Codirector. “Not only are farmers being denied their voice and right to participate in organic decision-making, but statistics illustrate the corporate representatives sitting in farmer seats have been decisively more willing to vote for the use of questionable and controversial materials in organics, weakening the organic standards.”
ENERGY INDUSTRY KNEW ABOUT GLOBAL WARMING 60 YEARS AGO
Just as the agricultural chemical industry has been lying and devising underhanded methods to deny the harm it causes, the energy industry has been doing since then, too, according to The New York Times.
Pressure on Exxon Mobil and the energy industry has increased with the release of a new cache of decades-old industry documents about climate change, even as Exxon pushed back against efforts to investigate the company over its climate claims through the years.
The new documents were released by an activist research organization, the Center for International Environmental Law, which published the project on its website.
The documents, according to the environmental law center’s director, Carroll Muffett, suggest that the industry had the underlying knowledge of climate change even 60 years ago.
“From 1957 onward, there is no doubt that Humble Oil, which is now Exxon, was clearly on notice” about rising CO2 in the atmosphere and the prospect that it was likely to cause global warming, he said.
What’s more, he said, the documents show the industry was beginning to organize against regulation of air pollution. The American Petroleum Institute, energy companies, and other organizations had created a group, the Smoke and Fumes Committee, to monitor and conduct pollution research, and to “use science and public skepticism to prevent environmental regulations they deemed hasty, costly and unnecessary,” according to the center’s description of the documents on its website.
Those actions, Mr. Muffett suggested, would be echoed in later efforts to undermine climate science.
Alan Jeffers, a spokesman for Exxon Mobil, called the new allegations absurd.
ACREAGE OF GMO CROPS DECLINES FOR THE FIRST TIME
The world’s farmers have increased their use of genetically modified crops steadily and sharply since the technology became broadly commercialized in 1996. Not anymore, The New York Times reports.
In 2015, for the first time, the acreage used for GMO crops declined, according to a nonprofit that tracks the plantings of biotech seeds.
The organization said the main cause for the decline, which measured 1 percent below 2014 levels, was low commodity prices, which led farmers to plant less corn, soybeans and canola of all types, both genetically engineered and nonengineered.
Figures for the last few years show that the existing market for the crops has nearly been saturated.
Only three countries — the United States, Brazil and Argentina — account for more than three-quarters of the total global acreage. And only four crops — corn, soybeans, cotton and canola — account for the majority of biotechnology use in agriculture. In many cases, more than 90 percent of those four crops grown in those three countries, and in other large growers like Canada, India and China, is already genetically modified, leaving little room for expansion.
FAST FOOD RAISES LEVELS OF PHTHALATES IN THE BODY
People who reported eating fast food in the last 24 hours had elevated levels of some industrial chemicals in their bodies, according to a new analysis of data from federal nutrition surveys, the Bloomberg News Service reports.
The study is the first broad look at how fast food may expose the public to certain chemicals, called phthalates, that are used to make plastics more flexible and durable. The chemicals, which don’t occur in nature, are common in cosmetics, soap, food packaging, flooring, window blinds, and other consumer products. The Centers for Disease Control says “phthalate exposure is widespread in the U.S. population.”
Though the health consequences of encountering these substances aren’t fully known, scientists have increasingly focused on their effects on health and development, particularly for pregnant women and children. Research in rats has shown that they can disrupt the male reproductive system, and there’s evidence for similar effects in humans.
The latest research suggests that fast food is a significant source of the chemicals, which may leach into food from machinery used in processing or packaging, or from gloves worn by workers.
FOOD INDUSTRY HID INFO ON CARCINOGEN IN ITS PRODUCTS
A just-issued report by The Cornucopia Institute summarizes research on the common food additive carrageenan, exposing the food industry’s hidden data demonstrating that all food-grade carrageenan contains a carcinogenic contaminant—low molecular weight poligeenan.
Carrageenan, harvested from specific species of red seaweed, is a highly effective thickener/stabilizer found in processed foods including infant formula, plant-based beverages, deli meats, and some dairy products, including cream. The controversy over carrageenan has existed between food industry representatives and public health researchers for years, but it is now flaring up again over its use in organic food.
Cornucopia’s report, “Carrageenan: New Studies Reinforce Link to Inflammation, Cancer, and Diabetes,” will be formally released in Washington, on April 25, at the upcoming meeting of the USDA’s National Organic Standards Board. The board will be debating whether to remove carrageenan from its list of approved materials for use in organic food.
GLYPHOSATE FOUND IN POPULAR BREAKFAST FOODS
The Alliance for Natural Health-USA has released the results of food safety testing conducted on an assortment of popular breakfast foods. Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) testing revealed the presence of glyphosate—the most widely used agricultural herbicide—in 10 of the 24 food samples tested.
Glyphosate is an herbicide developed in 1970 by Monsanto, who began developing genetically modified (GMO) crops designed to withstand high doses of Roundup. Today, these seeds account for 94 percent of all soybeans and 89 percent of all corn being produced. The prevalence of these crops means that hundreds of millions of pounds of glyphosate are dumped onto the land every year.
“We decided to do this testing to see just how ubiquitous this toxin has become in our environment,” explained Gretchen DuBeau, executive and legal director of the Alliance for Natural Health-USA. “We expected that trace amounts would show up in foods containing large amounts of corn and soy. However, we were unprepared for just how invasive this poison has been to our entire food chain.”
Analysis revealed the presence of glyphosate in oatmeal, bagels, eggs (including the organic variety, probably from GMO corn fed to the chickens), potatoes, and even non-GMO soy coffee creamer. Glyphosate was recently named a probable carcinogen by the World Health Organization (WHO).
“Glyphosate has been linked to increases in levels of breast, thyroid, kidney, pancreatic, liver and bladder cancers and is being served for breakfast, lunch, and dinner around the world,” said DuBeau. “The fact that it is showing up in foods like eggs and coffee creamer, which don’t directly contact the herbicide, shows that it’s being passed on by animals who ingest it in their feed. This is contrary to everything that regulators and industry scientists have been telling the public.”
The presence of glyphosate in eggs and dairy supports the fear that the chemical is accumulating in the tissue of these animals and therefore presumably also in human tissue, in a process called bioaccumulation.
Furthermore, testing for glyphosate alone does not even give us the full picture. The amounts detected by the ELISA test for glyphosate do not include any analogs of glyphosate, such as N-Acetylglyphosate, which is used by DuPont in its GMO formulations. These analogs may also be present in food and would add to the amount of glyphosate accumulated in human tissue. Glyphosate and its analogs are known endocrine disruptors for humans.
GRASSFED DAIRY GROUP WORKING UP NEW, BETTER STANDARDS
The American Grassfed Association (AGA) is working on a new industry-wide grass-fed dairy standard that the certifier hopes to roll out soon.
AGA is working with producers and with others in the industry, including the Organic Consumers Association, Mercola.com, and the Savory Institute, to develop a label that takes into account animal health and nutrition, transparency of practices and claims, holistic land and soil management, support and validation for producers, and building a certified organic standard while providing a bridge with non-organic grass-fed claims.
IS THE DARK ACT GOING TO MAKE A COME-BACK?
In March, the Senate voted down the DARK Act, the bill that would Deny Americans our Right to Know about GMOs.
Since then, Monsanto and its front groups, the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) and the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO), have been using their power, influence, and, most of all, money to ram some version of the DARK Act through Congress before Vermont’s first-in-the-nation GMO labeling law takes effect on July 1.
Reliable sources say that the DARK Act will soon be up for another vote.
Last time, Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) didn’t have the votes to pass his bill to take away states’ rights to label GMOs. Many of those who voted against the bill were pro-GMO Senators who take campaign contributions (and their talking points) from companies like Monsanto. But realizing they would take a lot of heat from their constituents, they voted no in the hope that a more palatable “compromise” bill might come along.
The Senators who voted against the DARK Act last time could easily flip their votes to support a “compromise” (capitulation) to block Vermont’s law and replace it with a weak federal standard, because of—what else?—pressure from the big corporations who profit from toxic pesticides and GMO foods.
Dial 888-897-0174 to tell your Senators to vote against any compromise that would block or delay Vermont’s bill from taking effect. You can help protect Vermont’s GMO labeling law
CHOOSING ORGANIC FOOD IS A RADICALLY BENEFICIAL ACT
Friday, April 22, marked the 46th consecutive year that the world celebrated Earth Day. Is the Earth any better off than it was 46 years ago? Are we making a difference? Are we having a positive impact on the world around us? So asks the Organic Consumers Association in a recent email. Here’s what they wrote:
“We have to believe that the choices we make—the food we purchase, the farmers we support, the clothes we buy—can truly make a difference. Or we wouldn’t go on trying.
The struggle to overcome corporate power, which let’s face it, is at the root of the damage humans inflict on our own ecosystem, isn’t an easy one, or even a linear one. We win some, we lose some.
“But we had to smile this week when we read this comment (in Politico) from Pamela Bailey, president of the Grocery Manufacturers Association. She was, as per usual, railing against Vermont’s mandatory GMO labeling law, arguing that Congress must act to prevent the law from taking effect. Otherwise, farmers will lose access to biotechnology.
“’We face a paradigm shift in the very nature of American agriculture,’ Bailey said.
Yes, we do. Thank goodness.
“Monsanto’s sales are down. Acres of GMO crops being planted are down. European countries are banning GMOs and the toxic chemicals used to grow them.
“The shift to a regenerative food and farming system that heals the Earth and everything on it is happening because of you.”
FARMERS SPEAK OUT ON ORGANIC BENEFITS IN TWO VIDEOS
What havoc is global warming wreaking on organic farmers around the world? What kind of future do farmers envision?
Three farmers—from Uganda, Zambia, and Chile—speak out about the role of agriculture in reversing climate change in an Earth Day video produced by IFOAM (International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements) Organics International.
In another video produced by Regeneration International, a project of the Organic Consumers Association, a farmer from the Asian Farmers Association shares his dream of a “farming culture.” He explains why organic agriculture matters, and how regenerative farming practices can help us not only survive global warming, but reverse it.
Truth vs. Opinion about Our Food
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Truth is built upon facts. Opinion is built upon interpretation, which in turn is often influenced by personal prejudices. People can hold differing—even diametrically opposed—opinions about the meaning and relative importance of fact-based truths, but people can’t have their own facts.
For instance, Monsanto may claim that glyphosate in its Roundup weed killer doesn’t cause cancer in lab animals when used according to the label directions. Researchers in France may say that it can cause cancer in lab animals when used according to the label directions. Both can’t be true.
This is why we have the scientific method. Scientists treat Monsanto’s statement and the French researchers’ statement as hypotheses, and they test each one. They get results. They do the tests again. The result that repeats over and over and over again through many trials of the test is true. Unless the other hypothesis also yields consistent results, it is false.
What if half of the time, the glyphosate doesn’t cause cancer and half of the time it does? Does that mean that both hypotheses are true? No, because if a substance causes cancer in half of its trials, then the statement that it can cause cancer is true.
But it all turns on semantics. “Doesn’t” cause cancer is an absolute. It means that glyphosate will never cause cancer. “Can” cause cancer is qualified. It means it may or may not cause cancer. It’s not the same as saying that glyphosate “must always” cause cancer.
If the two hypotheses were stated as absolutes (glyphosate doesn’t cause cancer/ glyphosate always causes cancer), then scientific testing might likely show that both hypotheses are wrong. But while both absolute statements can be wrong, they both can’t be true.
The truth is that glyphosate may sometimes cause cancer. And that’s exactly what the World Health Organization said about glyphosate, over the vigorous protest of Monsanto.
In other words, WHO spoke the truth. Monsanto offered its opinion.
It’s no wonder that many people are confused about the long, contentious debates about our food supply’s nutrition and safety. Not only are the issues thorny, but many folks simply don’t have access to the truth, or the truth is being twisted into opinion to support somebody’s agenda. What’s a person to do, especially a parent who wants to feed his or her family safely, with properly nutritious food, in a way that protects the environment and is sustainable?
The answer is that there are facts out there that you should know about in order to make wise and healthy food choices. In this post, I’m going to give you the facts, not my personal opinions. You look at the facts and then make up your own mind. I promise this will be as concise and to the point as I can make it. I’ve been researching the areas of food and health for close to half a century, and doing it by following scientific research published in reputable, peer-reviewed journals.
Here’s what I’ve found to be true:
Biodynamic Gardening and Farming
Let’s start with Biodynamics because it was the first of the organic methods of growing food, derived in the 1920s from a series of lectures given by Rudolf Steiner in Germany. Steiner was an anthroposophist. Anthroposophy is a spiritual movement, founded early in the 20th Century that attempted to bridge the gap between our material world and the world of motivating spirit. As Steiner said, “Anthroposophy is a way of knowledge—a cognitive path that leads the spiritual in the human being to spiritual in the universe.”
He made this journey into his own consciousness and on his return, founded Biodynamics, Waldorf education, anthroposophical medicine, the Camphill Movement, Eurythmy, and other disciplines. He also was the architect of the Goetheanum, one of the masterpieces of European architecture.
As agriculture was heading into the chemical age with mineral fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and so on, Steiner promoted an agriculture that was holistic, conceiving in a blaze of “as-above-so-below” thinking that the farm is a living being, just as the whole earth is a living being (Gaia), and as a single plant or animal is a living being.
As such, the farm (or garden) must be sustainable, containing within itself everything it needs to operate in good health in perpetuity. This means recycling back to the soil all plant and animal wastes through composting, limiting outside inputs to the farm, and taking into account not only the soil and living components of the farm, but the sun and the moon and the stars as mechanisms for timing plantings and applications of Biodynamic preparations. The preparations, Steiner taught, put the farm in touch with forms of energy in the earth, air, and sky that are beyond the ken of ordinary thinking, thus linking Biodynamics with German mystical traditions.
The Upside: The point of Biodynamics is to grow the healthiest food possible in as earth-friendly a way as possible. And Biodynamic practitioners swear it works just fine. By founding a toxin-free agriculture, Biodynamics opened the door to what today we know as organic agriculture.
The Downside: Critics call Biodynamics magical thinking, quackery, and pseudoscience. But it has grown greatly in popularity in recent years, and it is essentially a careful way to harmlessly treat the life of the farm.
Organic Gardening and Farming
Take away Steiner’s metaphysical approach to food production and what’s left is essentially the organic method.
Many people think that organics is simply growing and processing food without the use of toxic agricultural chemicals or anything artificial, like food coloring or man-made flavor compounds. That’s true as far as it goes, but there is a more over-arching concept that’s at the core of the organic method: biodiversity is the key to health, and health can be transferred through the food chain, from the soil to the human being.
So the organic method stresses the need to first increase the health of the soil. By “increase the health of the soil” is meant stimulating the biodiversity of all the creatures that live in the soil—the microbes, especially, but all the other plants and animals that dwell in the soil. The more different kinds of creatures, the healthier the soil. And how are these creatures to be made healthy? By feeding them organic matter like composts, plant wastes, cover crops turned under, composted manure, fall leaves, and farm and garden wastes; that is, anything that was once living tissue. As the organic matter decays through the action of the soil’s creatures, plant nutrients are released into the soil solution, as soil moisture is called. They are released in the forms that plants like best and in the quantities needed depending on the time of year. Fully decayed organic matter is a substance called humus that further regulates the release of nutrients in a timely way for the optimal health of the plants growing in the soil.
Healthy plants are eaten by farm animals that, in the organic method, are raised humanely and with consideration of the animals’ natures. They are not subjected to antibiotics that are, in effect, like pesticides against microbes. Organics is about supporting biodiversity. The more creatures that live on the farm or in the garden, the healthier the whole system is.
Antibiotics are used in agriculture primarily to prevent disease that would spread rapidly in the kind of crowded conditions in which conventional animals are raised. But any killing agent—pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics—puts pressure on the target organism to evolve defenses. And so pesticides create pressure for the evolution of pesticide-resistant insects, herbicides push plants to evolve herbicide resistance, and antibiotics cause disease organisms to develop resistance to them, which is just what we see today when doctors and researchers are confronted with antibiotic resistance across a wide spectrum of diseases. Similarly, growth hormones that force the production of excessive amounts of meat and milk from farm animals harm the health of those animals.
In organic food production, healthy soil means healthy plants and healthy animals who eat those plants. And so we come to the human beings who, if they choose to eat organic food, eat both the healthy plants and the healthy animals. Thus health is transferred from the soil to the human being.
There’s much more to be said about the organic method, but it all comes down to biodiversity—supporting all the forms of life on the farm and in the garden. And that means pests have their place. First of all, pest insects are food for beneficial pest-eating insects. No pests and you have no beneficials. Since health is the objective, diseases are controlled naturally, as the definition of health is the absence of debilitating disease. Do individual plants and animals and even humans get sick on the organic farm? Sure. An organic farmer may need to use antibiotics to save a sick cow, but for the duration of the treatment, the cow cannot be called organic. Antibiotics are never used routinely as a preventive. One course of antibiotics for a sick cow is not going to force evolutionary changes in the disease organisms. Routine use of antibiotics will.
Because organic plants and animals are grown or raised with their health in mind, they are given all the nutrients they need to maximize the flavors and nutrition created in their tissues as they grow.
There’s another corollary to the organic method: nature knows best. The job of the organic grower is to understand nature well enough to follow her rules, to work to enhance her objectives, and to move food production decisions toward the ultimate objective of nature: a climax ecosystem in which every source of food is utilized by one or another of nature’s creatures, where the web of life is so strong and drawn tight that no pest or disease can break out and cause the system to crash. That’s biodiversity, and biodiversity is the key to health.
The Upside: Organic food production augments health through the whole system. Toxic chemicals are eliminated. The nutrient content of foodstuffs is maximized.
The Downside: Because organics threatens the business of agriculture—that is, the sale of agricultural products like seeds, toxic chemicals, and processed foods—large food companies spend huge amounts of money fabricating false science and spreading disinformation about organics, as well as proclaiming the safety of the chemicals used in conventional farming. When you hear that more people get sick from organic food than conventional food, or when you hear that half the world will starve if agriculture goes organic, or when you hear that there’s no difference between the nutrition in organic and conventional food, or when you hear that the chemicals used in agriculture are safe, don’t believe it. The truth is quite different. And that’s not my opinion.
Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)
The most common ways that new cultivated varieties of plants are discovered is through selection. Luther Burbank was probably the world champion at this technique. He’d scatter thousands of seeds and select for the tastiest or showiest or most interesting or strongest of the resultant seedlings. Farmers have been doing this since the dawn of agriculture 10,000 years ago.
There’s a reason that nature has created plants and animals as species within their genus. That’s so evolutionary lines are kept consistent through time. So today’s wild tulip species is the same one that popped up each spring 2,000 years ago. There may have been mutations during that time. The advantageous ones gave the plants a reproductive advantage and so they thrived. Other mutations may have died out.
Occasionally, when two species have the same number of chromosomes, they can interbreed and produce hybrids of the two species. If each species has the number of chromosomes that don’t match another species, even within their genus, they can’t successfully reproduce, or offspring are sterile. Most of the sweet corn you eat every summer is a hybrid between two corn types that have genes for sweetness.
Very rarely, when chromosomal numbers line up, there can be an intergeneric hybrid, where two genera (the plural of genus) interbreed and hybridize. An example is the intergeneric hybrid between the perennial flower Coral Bells (genus Heuchera) with the pretty Eastern Foamflower (Tiarella) to create the hybrid x Heucherella, with the x denoting that it’s an intergeneric hybrid.
All of these hybridizations are sexual, with each partner donating half the genes. Each gene contains a code that instructs the body to produce certain proteins that then are used to create the creature, be it plant or animal. The result is often vigorous and shows traits from each parent. The genes in the strands of DNA that make up the chromosomes are not modified in any way. As with any organism, each parent donates half the genes. If nature allows the parents to cross, it’s a safe bet that the result will be part of nature’s ongoing plan of evolution.
If nature doesn’t allow the cross, no offspring are produced. If offspring are produced, but are weak or prone to evolutionary disorders, the offspring either are sterile or die off. All of this is nature’s way of protecting us from the “unintended consequences” of unwise monkeying around with reproductive processes.
So what is genetic modification and what are GMOs?
Unlike selection or sexual hybridization, genetic modification is another thing altogether. It involves determining the function of individual genes, which are certain stretches of molecules along strands of DNA that determine the physical structure and characteristics of any organism. When a gene is found that codes for the production of a certain protein or trait desired by the genetic engineer working on creating a novel life form, that gene is snipped out of the DNA of one organism and inserted into the DNA of another—often unrelated—organism.
So, for instance, the gene in the bacterium called Bacillus thuringiensis that allows the bacterium to make a toxin that kills caterpillars has been inserted into the DNA of corn plants, among other crops. Every cell of the plant now produces a caterpillar toxin. But would a bacterium and a corn plant sexually reproduce in nature? Highly unlikely. Similarly, the gene that causes certain sea plankton to phosphoresce has been inserted into the DNA of cats, and there are now cats that glow in the dark.
One of the most environmentally impactful bits of genetic engineering has placed a gene for resistance to the herbicide glyphosate—the active ingredient in Roundup—into the DNA of corn, allowing farmers to spray their cornfields to kill weeds without affecting the corn plants.
There are three possible consequences of this kind of genetic engineering. The first is that some good will come from it. It may be that in humans with a genetic bias in favor of a disease like multiple sclerosis, that insertion of a certain gene could protect the person from developing the disease.
The second is that the genetic modification creates neither anything good nor anything bad. It simply makes the cats glow, or whatever.
The third possibility is that something could possibly go wrong, and that unintended consequences kick in, and that something harmful could be unleashed upon the world, something impossible to stop, and that that genie can’t be put back into the bottle. Like Frankenstein’s monster. And that’s why genetically modified food is often called Frankenfood.
Actually, there’s mounting evidence that the third possibility is actually happening. Whenever a natural organism is threatened, it adapts. And so more and more insects are adapting to the presence of the once-useful Bacillus thuringiensis toxin and are becoming immune to it. Similarly, weeds are adapting to Roundup-resistant crops, and the herbicide is losing its potency.
Furthermore, evidence is increasing that eating GMOs (genetically modified organisms) damages the internal organs of the animals that eat it. Not only that, but there is evidence that the Bacillus thuringiensis toxin gene lodges in the human gut and becomes part of our own DNA—thus permanently turning our guts into pesticide factories.
Besides the story of Frankenstein’s monster, there’s another cautionary “fairy tale” that’s applicable here: The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Nature has been at this evolution game from the dawn of time, and she has developed a system of checks and balances to keep things running fairly smoothly and protecting her children from nasty surprises. Along come humans with our tools for genetic modifications, and we say, “Move aside, mom. We know better than you what we need. We’ll take evolution from here and direct it as we see fit, not as you see fit. We are smarter and wiser than you.”
But are we? Isn’t this the sin the ancient Greeks warned about: hubris? Since we are just a part of nature, shouldn’t our attitude be that Nature knows best and that we should follow her, rather than lead her into the unknown? The organic farmers and gardeners from the beginning have said that the way to raise food and other crops is naturally, following nature. And if you look at the result, you see that organic farming and gardening is healthy and efficient, with a host of unintended benefits—all because the crops are grown and the animals raised by relying on nature’s wisdom.
Nature’s wisdom is the wisdom that creates the climax ecosystem, where biodiversity is maximized, all trophic niches are filled, a plethora of creatures abound, all interacting in ways that allow them to make a living in a safe and healthy manner.
Bottom line: Genetic modification is a technique to be used with the utmost—I mean utmost—care, because we can’t see the unintended consequences.
Now here’s a timeline about GMOs.
1994 – GMOs Hit Grocery Stores
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approves the Flavr Savr tomato for sale on grocery store shelves. The delayed-ripening tomato has a longer shelf life than conventional tomatoes.
1996 – GMO-Resistant Weeds
Weeds resistant to glyphosate, the herbicide used with many GMO crops, are detected in Australia. Research shows that the super weeds are seven to 11 times more resistant to glyphosate than the standard susceptible population.
1997 – Mandatory Labels
The European Union rules in favor of mandatory labeling on all GMO food products, including animal feed.
1999 – GMO Food Crops Dominate
Over 100 million acres worldwide are planted with genetically engineered seeds. The marketplace begins embracing GMO technology at an alarming rate.
2003 – GMO-Resistant Pests
In 2003, a Bacillus thuringiensis-toxin-resistant caterpillar-cum-moth, Helicoverpa zea, is found feasting on GMO Bt cotton crops in the southern United States. In less than a decade, the bugs have adapted to the genetically engineered toxin produced by the modified plants.
2011 – Bt Toxin in Humans
Research in eastern Quebec finds Bt toxins in the blood of pregnant women and shows evidence that the toxin is passed to fetuses.
2012 – Farmer Wins Court Battle
French farmer Paul Francois sues Monsanto for chemical poisoning he claims was caused by its pesticide Lasso, part of the Roundup Ready line of products. Francois wins and sets a new precedent for future cases.
2014 – GMO Patent Expires
Monsanto’s patent on the Roundup Ready line of genetically engineered seeds will end in two years. In 2009, Monsanto introduced Roundup 2 with a new patent set to make the first-generation seed obsolete.
And if you’re interested, here’s a more complete description of the microbiology of DNA.
DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, is the hereditary material in humans and almost all other organisms. Nearly every cell in a person’s body has the same DNA. Most DNA is located in the cell nucleus (where it is called nuclear DNA), but a small amount of DNA can also be found in the cells’ energy factories, organelles called mitochondria (where it is called mitochondrial DNA or mtDNA), that are passed down from the mother exclusively.
The information in DNA is stored as a code made up of four chemical bases: adenine (A), guanine (G), cytosine (C), and thymine (T). Human DNA consists of about 3 billion bases, and more than 99 percent of those bases are the same in all people. The order, or sequence, of these bases determines the information available for building and maintaining an organism, similar to the way in which letters of the alphabet appear in a certain order to form words and sentences.
DNA bases pair up with each other, A with T and C with G, to form units called base pairs. Each base is also attached to a sugar molecule and a phosphate molecule. Together, a base, sugar, and phosphate are called a nucleotide. Nucleotides are arranged in two long strands that spiral around one another, called a double helix. The structure of the double helix is somewhat like a ladder, with the base pairs forming the ladder’s rungs and the sugar and phosphate molecules forming the vertical sidepieces of the ladder.
An important property of DNA is that it can replicate, or make copies of itself. Each strand of DNA in the double helix can serve as a pattern for duplicating the sequence of bases. This is critical when cells divide because each new cell needs to have an exact copy of the DNA present in the old cell.
A gene is the basic physical and functional unit of heredity. Genes, which are sections of DNA, act as instructions to make molecules called proteins. Think of a strand of DNA as a rope. This foot and a half of rope means you’ll have blue eyes. This next section means that you will have a prominent nose. And so on throughout your body. In humans, genes vary in size from a few hundred DNA bases to more than 2 million bases. The Human Genome Project has estimated that humans have between 20,000 and 25,000 genes.
Every person has two copies of each gene, one inherited from each parent. Most genes are the same in all people, but a small number of genes (less than 1 percent of the total) are slightly different between people. Alleles are forms of the same gene with small differences in their sequence of DNA bases. These small differences contribute to each person’s unique physical features.
In the nucleus of each cell, the DNA molecule is packaged into thread-like structures called chromosomes. Each chromosome is made up of DNA tightly coiled many times around proteins called histones that support its structure.
Chromosomes are not visible in the cell’s nucleus—not even under a microscope—when the cell is not dividing. However, the DNA that makes up chromosomes becomes more tightly packed during cell division and is then visible under a microscope. Most of what researchers know about chromosomes was learned by observing chromosomes during cell division.
Each chromosome has a constriction point called the centromere, which divides the chromosome into two sections, or “arms.” The short arm of the chromosome is labeled the “p arm.” The long arm of the chromosome is labeled the “q arm.” The location of the centromere on each chromosome gives the chromosome its characteristic shape, and can be used to help describe the location of specific genes.
In humans, each cell normally contains 23 pairs of chromosomes, for a total of 46. Twenty-two of these pairs, called autosomes, look the same in both males and females. The 23rd pair, the sex chromosomes, differ between males and females. Females have two copies of the X chromosome, while males have one X and one Y chromosome.
How Do Genes Work?
Genes are often called the blueprint for life, because they tell each of your cells what to do and when to do it: be a muscle, make bone, carry nerve signals, and so on. And how do genes orchestrate all this? They make proteins. In fact, each gene is really just a recipe for a making a certain protein.
And why are proteins important? Well, for starters, you are made of proteins. Fifty percent of the dry weight of a cell is protein of one form or another. Meanwhile, proteins also do all of the heavy lifting in your body: digestion, circulation, immunity, communication between cells, motion–all are made possible by one or more of the estimated 100,000 different proteins that your body makes.
But the genes in your DNA don’t make protein directly. Instead, special proteins called enzymes read and copy (or “transcribe”) the DNA code. The segment of DNA to be transcribed gets “unzipped” by an enzyme, which uses the DNA as a template to build a single-stranded molecule of RNA. Like DNA, RNA is a long strand of nucleotides.
This transcribed RNA is called messenger RNA, or mRNA for short, because it leaves the nucleus and travels out into the cytoplasm of the cell. There, protein factories called ribosomes translate the mRNA code and use it to make the protein specified in the DNA recipe.
If all this sounds confusing, just remember: DNA is used to make RNA, then RNA is used to make proteins–and proteins run the show.
All the proteins in your body are made from protein building blocks called amino acids. There are twenty different amino acids used to make proteins, but there are only four different nucleotides in DNA and RNA. How can a four-letter code specify 20 different amino acids?
Actually, the DNA code is designed to be read as triplets. Each “word” in the code, called a codon, is three letters long. There are also special “start” and “stop” codons that mark the beginning and end of a gene. As you can see, the code is redundant, that is, most of the amino acids have at least two different codons.
Just about every living thing uses this exact code to make proteins from DNA.
Scientists first studying DNA sequences were surprised to find that less than two percent of human DNA codes for proteins. If 98 percent of our genetic information (or “genome”) isn’t coding for protein, what is it for?
At first it wasn’t clear, and some termed this non-coding DNA “junk DNA.” But as more research is done, we are beginning to learn more about the DNA between the genes—stretches known as intergenic DNA.
Intergenic DNA seems to play a key role in regulation, that is, controlling which genes are turned “on” or “off” at any given time.
For example, some intergenic sequences code for RNA that directly causes and controls reactions in a cell, a job that scientists originally thought only proteins could do.
Intergenic DNA is also thought to be responsible for “alternative splicing,” a kind of mix-and-match process whereby several different proteins can be made from one gene.
In short, it now seems that much of the interest and complexity in the human genome lies in the stuff between the genes… so don’t call it junk.
To sum up: When someone tells you that GMOs have been around since the time of Luther Burbank, politely ask if they would like you to give them a tutorial on the truth. If someone claims that GMOs are perfectly safe, remind them that unintended consequences are part of the picture.
GMOs represent an enormous gamble that human beings know better than nature about how to drive evolution into the future. That sounds like my opinion, but it is really a fact.
Almost All Endangered Species Threatened by 3 Pesticides
Organic Lifestyle Comments Off on Almost All Endangered Species Threatened by 3 Pesticides
Lorraine Chow, writing in EcoWatch, reports that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released its first-ever analysis on the effects of three common pesticides—chlorpyrifos, diazinon, and malathion—on endangered and threatened species and designated critical habitat nationwide. The resounding conclusion? Pesticides are terrible for them.
According to the report, malathion and chlorpyrifos harm an astounding 97 percent of the 1,782 animals and plants protected under the Endangered Species Act. Diazinon harms 79 percent.
Malathion is often used on fruit, vegetables and plants for pests, as well tick removal on pets. Chlorpyrifos is used to exterminate termites, mosquitoes and roundworms. Diazinon is used against cockroaches and ants.
The three chemicals species are “likely to adversely affect” these species, the EPA found.
“For the first time in history, we finally have data showing just how catastrophically bad these pesticides are for endangered species—from birds and frogs to fish and plants,” Lori Ann Burd, environmental health director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement. “These dangerous pesticides have been used without proper analysis for decades, and now’s the time to take this new information and create common-sense measures to protect plants, animals and people from these chemicals.”
“The EPA has allowed chemical companies to register more than 16,000 pesticides without properly considering their impacts. That has to stop,” Burd said. “These evaluations are a huge step forward for the EPA. Now that we know the magnitude of danger these pesticides pose, it’s clear we need to take action. The EPA must move forward with analyses for other dangerous pesticides and also quickly implement on-the-ground efforts to prevent the extinction of rare and unique wildlife from these pesticides.”
CENTER FOR FOOD SAFETY SUES FDA OVER GMO SALMON APPROVAL
Late last year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ignored millions of consumers and more than 40 members of Congress and approved AquaBounty’s genetically engineered (GE) salmon-–the first-ever GE animal approved for human consumption.
For the past 15 years, the Center for Food Safety has successfully fought to stop GE fish from entering our waters and grocery stores. Now the Center has taken the next big step forward in the fight: it’s filed a lawsuit in federal court to stop GE salmon.
“Without legal action, we may have no way to avoid these GE fish,” the Center says. “This case is also hugely important as these GE salmon are the first ever GE animal designed for the food supply: if FDA gets away with this one, it won’t be the last GE animal we see.”
A world where GE salmon take over waterways and wipe out native salmon is simply unthinkable. Fishing communities would be devastated, and the environmental consequences of GE salmon could be extreme. These GE salmon could drive native wild salmon to extinction.
If you want to join this fight or donate, contact CFS at email@example.com or at National Headquarters CFS, 660 Pennsylvania Ave, SE, #302, Washington, DC 20003
Phone (202) 547-9359 | Fax (202) 547-9429. www.centerforfoodsafety.org.
CHILDREN HARMED BY PESTICIDE EXPOSURE
According to The Organic Center, a recent article published in the scientific journal Environment International has found that pesticide exposure can lead to neurodevelopmental impairment in children. Researchers found that children with higher levels of pesticide metabolites in their urine tended to test lower for intelligence and comprehension, and that children living closer to agricultural cropland after birth were more likely to score lower on neurodevelopmental tests.
In other news, The Organic Center reports that even a short break from using makeup, shampoos, and lotions that contain endocrine-disrupting chemicals, which are not allowed in organic personal care products, can reduce levels of hormone-disrupting chemicals in teens. The results, published in Environmental Health Perspectives, came from a study of 100 Latina teenagers participating in the Health and Environmental Research on Makeup of Salinas Adolescents (HERMOSA) study.
MAJOR UK STORE WILL NO LONGER SELL ROUNDUP
One voice may often not change much, but 90,000 voices make a difference. They were apparently enough to force the UK supermarket Waitrose to remove all of Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide bottles from their shelves.
A Care2 petition allowed thousands of people to express their concern over a major chain continuing to sell a glyphosate-based herbicide after the World Health Organization declared the chemical ‘probably carcinogenic’ to humans. It is equally deadly to honey bees, according to Dr. Lucila H. Herbert in a study published in the Journal of Experimental Biology.
After the petition was sent to Waitrose, a representative from their customer service department responded:
“I’m pleased to confirm that the last time we sold Roundup was in January this year. We’re committed to protecting our pollinators and after careful consideration decided to remove this product from our business.”
Other businesses in the UK, like German retailer Toom Baumarkt, have also removed glyphosate-based products from their stores. The retailer made this decision in 2013. Dominique Rotondi, General Purchasing Manager for the chain, stated:
“As a responsible company, it is important to regularly review our entire range and seek to protect the environment and nature with alternative and more sustainable options. Toom Baumarkt is constantly and consistently developing a more sustainable portfolio of products.”
The French Environment and Energy Minister Ségolène Royal has also asked stores to stop selling Roundup. Even Sri Lanka’s newly elected president, Maithripala Sirisena, has announced that the import of Roundup will no longer be allowed in the country.
But what about U.S. retailers?
Three guesses and the first two don’t count.
HARMLESS HARVEST PIONEERS NON-PASTEURIZED COCONUT WATER
Harmless Harvest is announcing a proprietary new multi-step micro-filtration process that achieves the highest levels of product safety and quality, while preserving optimal flavor, fragrance and nutrients of its critically acclaimed coconut water, which complies with FDA standards and requirements.
This groundbreaking process builds upon Harmless Harvest’s history as an industry pioneer in the low-acid beverage category, and enables the company to introduce a new, more environmentally conscious bottle with an average of a quarter less plastic than previous bottles.
Currently, the primary industry method of ensuring the safety of low-acid juice beverages is pasteurization. Pasteurization heats the product as a way to regulate safety, but it can leave a modified, burnt-like taste when used on coconut water.
According to the CEO of Harmless Harvest, Giannella Alvarez, the introduction of the Multi-Step Micro-Filtration process is a significant advancement for the industry.
Harmless Harvest is an ecosystem-based business that believes in bringing consumers the best organic ingredients through a business model that centers on the welfare of all people in the supply chain-–from plant to shelf-–and makes the sourcing environment a core beneficiary of its commercial success.
CIA FUNDS SKIN CARE PRODUCTS THAT COLLECT YOUR DNA
Skincential Sciences , a company with an innovative line of cosmetic products marketed as a way to erase blemishes and soften skin, has caught the attention of beauty bloggers on YouTube, Oprah’s lifestyle magazine, and celebrity skin care professionals.
Documents obtained by The Intercept reveal that the firm has also attracted interest and funding from In-Q-Tel, the venture capital arm of the Central Intelligence Agency, according to The Intercept’s reporter Lee Fang.
The previously undisclosed relationship with the CIA might come as some surprise to a visitor to the website of Clearista, the main product line of Skincential Sciences, which boasts of a “formula so you can feel confident and beautiful in your skin’s most natural state.”
Though the public-facing side of the company touts a range of skin care products, Skincential Sciences developed a patented technology that removes a thin outer layer of the skin, revealing unique biomarkers that can be used for a variety of diagnostic tests, including DNA collection.
In-Q-Tel, founded in 1999 by then-CIA Director George Tenet, identifies cutting-edge technology to support the mission of the CIA and other intelligence agencies, and provides venture funding to help grow tech firms to develop those solutions.
THE ENVIRONMENTAL DAMAGE CAUSED BY CHEMICAL FERTILIZERS
There’s plenty of press coverage and consumer awareness when it comes to genetically engineered food and crops, and the environmental hazards of pesticides and animal drugs. But the fertilizer industry? Not so much—even though it’s the largest segment of corporate agribusiness ($175 billion in annual sales), and a major destructive force in polluting the environment, disrupting the climate, and damaging public health.
Learning the facts about chemical fertilizers and the companies who produce them will give you yet another reason to boycott chemical/GMO/factory farmed foods and choose organic and grassfed animal products instead. Remember, organic standards established by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) prohibit the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, GMOs, or animal drugs.
In the following essay, Martha Rosenberg, a contributing writer to the Organic Consumers Association, and Ronnie Cummins, international director of the Organic Consumers Association, lay out the facts about chemical fertilizers. Here’s their list of underreported facts that raise disturbing environmental and regulatory questions about Monsanto’s Evil Twin—the chemical fertilizer industry.
1) Chemical Fertilizer is the Largest Industry in Global Agribusiness
According to the ETC group, a watchdog organization that researches the socioeconomic and ecological impacts of industrial agriculture and GMOs, the world’s seven dominant pesticide, GM, and seed companies (including Monsanto, DuPont, Dow, Bayer, and Syngenta) represent a $93 billion market. The global, energy-intensive chemical fertilizer industry is almost twice as large, at $175 billion.
Like most of the other multinational players in Big Food Inc., the fertilizer industry has secretive, vertical or “cartel” like qualities that obscure operations and make regulation difficult. Increasingly, seed and GMO companies, farm equipment producers, pesticide/herbicide makers and crop and soil data producers work in each others’ interest seamlessly and behind the scenes, according to ETC.
As ETC points out: “With combined annual revenue of over $385 billion, these companies call the shots. Who will dominate the industrial food chain? And what does it mean for farmers, food sovereignty and climate chaos?”
Industrially mined phosphorus and potash, along with synthetic nitrogen, are major components of the fertilizer industry. Up to 85 percent of the world’s known phosphate rock reserves are located in Morocco. About 70 percent of potash comes from former Soviet states and Canada.
2) Fracking Has Made U.S. a Huge Nitrogen Fertilizer Producer
In recent years, U.S. production of nitrogen fertilizer has boomed thanks to the falling price of natural gas used in its production. The reason for the cheap gas of course is fracking—the process of extracting gas from rock formations by bombarding them with pressurized water spiked with toxic chemicals. Unfortunately, fracking releases large amounts of climate disrupting methane and toxic chemical laden fracking liquids which can permanently pollute underground aquifers.
That’s bad for the environment—but good for fertilizer companies. Thanks to low natural gas prices, after decades of importing nitrogen fertilizer from the Middle East, the number of U.S. nitrogen fertilizer plants is growing. The three leading domestic producers—Koch Industries, Orascom Construction Industries and CF Industries—are reaping the benefits.
Who’s driving demand for all this nitrogen fertilizer? Monsanto.
Between 2005 and 2010, U.S. growers of genetically engineered corn, largely for GMO animal feed and ethanol, increased their nitrogen fertilizer use by one billion pounds. New nitrogen fertilizer plants are being situated close to the corn and soybean growers to feed demand more efficiently. “It is a highly concentrated and oligopolistic-type industry,” says Glen Buckley, a fertilizer industry consultant who spent 30 years working at CF Industries, based in Deerfield, Ill.
3) Koch Industries Is a Fertilizer Leader
In 2010, Koch Industries was named “the world’s third-largest maker and marketer of nitrogen fertilizer,” according to the Wichita Eagle. Koch, which along with Monsanto is one of the most hated corporations in the U.S., is infamous for its support of extreme right-wing politicians and climate deniers. Koch Industries is part of a large system “of buying, leasing, upgrading and expanding fertilizer manufacturing, trading and distribution facilities worldwide.” It controls over 65 terminals “where it wholesales nitrogen fertilizer to co-ops and grain elevators for sale to farmers, as well as selling to the chemical industry,” reported the Eagle.
Not surprisingly, Koch’s fertilizer unit, called Koch Agronomics, has drawn the ire of environmentalists. Pollution is “strictly monitored and legally permitted by federal, state and local governments,” Steve Packebush, president of Koch Fertilizer and vice president for nitrogen for Koch Industries told the Eagle. But how strict are those guidelines, really?
4) Chemical Fertilizer “Enforcement” Is Often Self-Monitoring
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) acknowledges the severe harm nitrogen fertilizer does to waterways, including to marine life and humans. Yet the agency’s “enforcement” of harmful excessive farm runoff sounds a lot like an honor system.
Asked how National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits, which allow farming operations to discharge nitrogen, are “enforced,” the EPA says, “The permit will require the facility to sample its discharges and notify EPA and the state regulatory agency of these results. In addition, the permit will require the facility to notify EPA and the state regulatory agency when the facility determines it is not in compliance with the requirements of a permit. EPA and state regulatory agencies also will send inspectors to companies in order to determine if they are in compliance with the conditions imposed under their permits.”
Self-monitoring by private industry is of course a government trend across the board. In the late 1990’s the government rolled out the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) program which took away the majority of those “pesky” federal meat inspectors’ duties and allowed Big Meat to self-police its own slaughterhouses. Sometimes U.S. meat inspectors were openly defied and laughed at. HACCP was quickly dubbed Have a Cup of Coffee and Pray. Meat inspectors identified greater amounts of feces and contamination in meat soon after the program was instituted. Since then, self-policing by food producers has only been expanded.
5) Nitrogen Fertilizer Pollutes the Environment and Drinking Water
As most people know, nitrogen runoff from non-organic farms and feedlots into waterways causes hypoxic conditions—lack of oxygen—which regularly kill fish in shocking quantities.
Two-thirds of the U.S. drinking water supply is contaminated at high levels with carcinogenic nitrates or nitrites, almost all from excessive use of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer. Some public wells have nitrogen at such a high level that it is dangerous and even deadly for children to drink the tap water.
Nitrogen fertilizer is also the greatest contributor to the infamous “dead zones” in the Gulf of Mexico, the Chesapeake Bay, the coasts of California and Oregon, and 400 other spots around the world. Since very little synthetic nitrogen fertilizer was used before 1950, all of the damage we see today occurred in the last 60 years.
Excessive nitrates in drinking water, common in the corn-growing areas of the U.S, are known to cause deadly “blue baby” syndrome in infants, and have been linked to cancer in adults. In combination with herbicide residues such as Syngenta’s atrazine, nitrates become even more toxic, potentially causing brain damage and hormone disruption.
In some rural areas, fertilizer pollution levels are 10 times beyond so-called “allowable levels,” although golf courses and homeowner fertilizer and pesticide use in urban areas also contribute to the problem. Last fall, the Des Moines Water Works sued three neighboring farming counties over their nitrate discharges but, reported the Associated Press, “the litigation has provoked intense criticism from Iowa’s powerful agricultural industry, which argues that farmers are already taking voluntary measures to control them.”
6) Nitrogen Fertilizers Harm Workers and Communities
Anhydrous ammonia, a nitrogen compound compressed into a clear, colorless liquid for easy application, is extremely dangerous to workers and neighboring communities. It poses explosion and fire hazards as well as respiratory risks.
“It [Anhydrous ammonia] must be stored and handled under high pressure, requiring specially designed and well-maintained equipment,” says the University of Minnesota’s extension site. “In addition, to ensure their safety, workers must be adequately educated about the procedures and personal protective equipment required to safely handle this product.”
In 2013, an anhydrous ammonia explosion and fire at the West Fertilizer Company storage near Waco, Texas, killed 15 and injured 160, and caused 150 buildings to be razed. (At the time, Governor Rick Perry was in Chicago recruiting businesses to relocate in Texas, where safety regulations were more lax and would not cut into their profits.)
In 2006, railroads asked to be relieved of their common carrier obligation to haul fertilizer products like anhydrous ammonia or to be protected by a liability cap. Accidents like last year’s in South Carolina, where people within a 1.5- mile radius of a derailed train carrying ammonium nitrate and anhydrous ammonium were evacuated, occur regularly.
Yet the Fertilizer Institute trade group says “The historically high safety record of anhydrous ammonia transport by rail has been achieved over the years by the fertilizer industry, the railroads and tank car manufacturing and leasing companies working in a close cooperative effort.”
7) Chemical Fertilizers Destroy the Soils’ Natural Ability to Sequester Excess Atmospheric CO2
According to GMO no-till advocates, adding nitrogen fertilizer to soil, is supposedly “climate friendly” because it allegedly helps crops draw CO2 from the atmosphere and sequester it in the soil as organic carbon. But University of Illinois soil scientists disputed this view in “The Myth of Nitrogen Fertilization for Soil Carbon Sequestration,” a research paper published in the Journal of Environmental Quality:
“…excessive [fertilizer] application rates cut profits and are bad for soils and the environment. The loss of soil carbon has many adverse consequences for productivity, one of which is to decrease water storage. There are also adverse implications for air and water quality, since carbon dioxide will be released into the air, while excessive nitrogen contributes to the nitrate pollution problem.”
Not surprisingly, much of the organic carbon decline the researchers identified occurred in the fertilized soil found in corn belts.
The ETC group agrees with the University of Illinois researchers.
There is growing recognition that synthetic fertilizers are a major contributor to climate-destroying greenhouse gases (GHG). The estimated cost of environmental damage from reactive nitrogen emissions is between $70 billion and $320 billion in the European Union alone.”
8) Nitrous Oxide Emissions from Chemical Fertilizers Are a Major and Persistent Greenhouse Gas Pollutant
Nitrous oxide (N2O) is responsible for approximate 5 percent of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from human activities. Nitrous oxide is naturally present in the atmosphere as part of the Earth’s nitrogen cycle, and has a variety of natural sources. However, human activities such as agriculture, fossil fuel combustion, wastewater management, and industrial processes are increasing the amount of N2O in the atmosphere.
The primary cause of N2O contamination of the atmosphere are the nitrogen fertilizers used in industrial (non-organic) agriculture.
Nitrous oxide molecules, in comparison to other greenhouse gases such as CO2 and methane, stay in the atmosphere for a very long time, an average of 114 years. NO2 also has much more potent heat-trapping characteristics. The impact of one pound of N2O on warming the atmosphere is 300 times that of one pound of carbon dioxide.
Although transportation, industry and energy producers are significant and well-recognized GHG polluters, few people understand that the worst U.S. greenhouse gas emitter is “Food Incorporated,” industrial food and farming. Industrial food and farming accounts for a huge portion of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. EPA’s ridiculously low estimates range from 7 percent to 12 percent, but some climate scientists believe the figure could be as high as 50 percent or more. Industrial food and farming also destroys the natural capacity of plants and oils to sequester atmospheric carbon.
Many climate scientists now admit that they have previously drastically underestimated the dangers of the non-CO2 GHGs, including nitrous oxide, which are responsible (along with methane) for at least 20 percent of global warming.
Nearly all nitrous oxide pollution comes from dumping billions of pounds of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer and sewage sludge on farmland (chemical fertilizers and sludge are banned on organic farms and ranches), mainly to grow animal feed or produce ethanol. Given that about 80 percent of U.S. agriculture is devoted to producing factory-farmed meat, dairy and animal feed, reducing agriculture GHGs means eliminating the over-production and over-consumption of factory-farmed meat and animal products.
The most climate-damaging greenhouse gas poison used by industrial farmers is synthetic nitrogen fertilizer. Pesticide manufacture and use are also serious problems, which generate their own large share of GHGs during manufacture and use (more than 25 billion pounds per year). But, about six times more chemical fertilizer is used than toxic pesticides on U.S. farms.
German chemical corporations developed the industrial processes for the two most widely used forms of synthetic nitrogen in the early 1900s. But until World War II, U.S. use of synthetic nitrogen as a fertilizer was limited to about 5 percent of the total nitrogen applied. Up until that time most nitrogen inputs came from animal manures, composts and fertilizer (cover) crops, just as it does on organic farms today.
During the Second World War, all of the European powers and the U.S. greatly expanded their facilities for producing nitrogen for bombs, ammunition and fertilizer for the war effort. Since then, both the use of nitrogen fertilizer and bomb-making capacity have soared. By the 1990s, more than 90 percent of nitrogen fertilizer used in the U.S. was synthetic.
According to the USDA, the average U.S. nitrogen fertilizer use per year from 1998 to 2007 was 24 billion 661 million pounds. To produce that nitrogen, the manufacturers released at least 6.7 pounds of GHG for every pound produced. That’s 165 billion, 228 million pounds of GHGs spewed into the atmosphere every year, just for the manufacture of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer. Most of those emissions are nitrous oxide, the most damaging emissions of U.S. agriculture.
The currently catastrophic, but largely unrecognized, greenhouse gas damage from chemical farms and industrial food production and distribution must be reversed. This will require wholesale changes in farming practices, government subsidies, food processing and handling. It will require the conversion of millions of chemical farms, feedlots and CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations) to organic production. It will require the establishment of millions of urban backyard and community gardens.
If we carried out a full environmental impact statement on industrial and factory farming synthetic nitrogen fertilizer use, we would never give these practices a permit for agricultural use. Ironically, although factory farming is responsible for more GHGs than any other U.S. industry, it will not be regulated under proposed EPA regulations designed to limit GHGs, unless citizens demand it. We must demand that methane pollution from factory farms and synthetic nitrogen fertilizer pollution on chemical farms be highly taxed and regulated in the short term, and phased out, as soon as possible. We must substitute instead cover crops, compost and compost tea, as currently utilized in organic farming and ranching.
In the meantime, consumers should boycott all foods and products emanating from Monsanto and its Evil Twin: the chemical fertilizer industry.
Glyphosate Found in California Wines
Organic Lifestyle Comments Off on Glyphosate Found in California Wines
Shortly after the release of a report showing 14 beers testing positive for glyphosate in Germany, a concerned supporter of Moms Across America approached me at a convention with disturbing news, Zen Honeycutt reports in EcoWatch.
He said he had test results from Microbe Inotech Lab of St.Louis showing that 10 different wines, from large and small vineyards, contained the chemical glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer, including wine made with organic grapes.
The contamination of conventional wine was 28 times higher than the organic wine, with levels ranging from 0.659 parts per billion in organic wine to 18.74 ppb in conventional wine.
The wines tested came from Napa Valley, Sonoma, and Mendocino counties in California. The brand names of the wines were not revealed, and frankly, the brands are not the issue. The real issue is the widespread contamination of glyphosate based herbicides in consumer products.
Here are my five reasons why Roundup/glyphosate should never be sprayed on any crops, including vineyards:
1. According to farmers, glyphosate based herbicides are likely present in manure/fertilizer from animals fed genetically modified grains because GMOs are sprayed with excessive amounts of Roundup. In fact, the genetic modifications are made so the plants can withstand Roundup. Glyphosate residues have been detected in many foods, beers and wines.
2. Wine growers of conventional farms report that their family businesses used to be able to harvest from their vines for 100 years. Today, with chemical farming, vines are lasting 10-12 years. Glyphosate is a chelator, which makes the vital nutrients and minerals of any living thing it touches unavailable. Taking the risk of depleting the vitality of important crops is not a good long term decision for farmers of any kind. Instead, Regenerative agriculture enriches the soil, supports longevity of the farm and does not use toxic chemicals.
3. Glyphosate has been deemed a probable carcinogen by the World Health Organization. Even the small amount of 0.1 ppt of glyphosate has been shown to stimulate the growth of breast cancer cells. According to the California Department of Health, breast cancer rates in the Sonoma, Napa, and Mendocino counties are 10 to 20 percent higher than the national average. There are many pending lawsuits against Monsanto for the connection between non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and Roundup.
4. The pig study by Pedersen and Krueger showed a repeated 30 percent increase of birth defects and stillborns with the introduction of glyphosate-sprayed grains. The infertility and sterility in America is exactly correlated to the pig study results, at 30 percent, the highest in recorded U.S. history.
5. French scientist Gilles-Éric Seralini and his team have discovered that the co-formulants of Roundup are 1,000 times more toxic than glyphosate and are hormone disruptors, which can lead to breast cancer, miscarriages, birth defects and many other health issues.
CAN ORGANIC FARMS REALLY FEED THE WORLD? LOOK AT CUBA!
Is organic farming merely a niche model of agriculture that is not capable of feeding the global population? Or does it have a major role to play? Colin Todhunter, writing in CounterPunch, posed these questions and then set out to answer them. Here, in part, is what he wrote:
If we want to really appreciate what happens when a major widespread shift to organic farming occurs, we need look no further than Cuba.
Cuba is the one country in the world that has made the biggest changes in the shortest time in moving from industrial chemical-intensive agriculture to organic farming.
Miguel Altieri notes that, due to the difficulties Cuba experienced as a result of the fall of the USSR, it moved towards organic and agroecological techniques in the 1990s. Thousands of oxen replaced tractors that could not function due to lack of petroleum and spare parts. Farmers substituted green manures for chemical fertilizers and artisanally produced biopesticides for insecticides.
Altieri states that from 1996 to 2005, per capita food production in Cuba increased by 4.2 percent yearly during a period when production was stagnant across the wider region. In the mid-2000s, the Ministry of Agriculture endorsed the creation of 2,600 new small urban and suburban farms and allowed farming on some three million hectares of unused state lands.
Today Cuba has 383,000 urban farms, covering 50,000 hectares of otherwise unused land and producing more than 1.5 million tons of vegetables. The most productive urban farms yield up to 20 kg of food per square meter, the highest rate in the world, using no synthetic chemicals. Urban farms supply 50 to 70 percent or more of all the fresh vegetables consumed in cities such as Havana and Villa Clara.
Altieri and his colleague have calculated that if all peasant farms and cooperatives adopted diversified agroecological designs, Cuba would be able to produce enough to feed its population, supply food to the tourist industry and even export some food to help generate foreign currency.
What Cuba has done is a major achievement, as Garry Leech argues:
“The shift to a more ecologically sustainable agricultural production has resulted in healthy organic food being the most convenient and inexpensive food available to Cubans. Because of the US blockade, processed foods are more expensive and not readily available. This reality stands in stark contrast to that in wealthy capitalist nations such as the United States and Canada where heavily-subsidized agri-businesses flood the market with cheap, unhealthy processed foods while organic alternatives are expensive and more difficult to obtain. The consequence in the United States is high levels of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.”
Cuba shows what can be done (see how it was done and the dangers it now faces) when the political will exists and what should be done if we are to move away from an unsustainable model of agriculture that creates food insecurity, environmental degradation, bad food and ill health.
Contrast this with what NAFTA did to Mexico. Driven by an industrial chemical-intensive US model of food processing, retail and agriculture, the outcome has been bad health, the undermining of food security and the devastation of small farmers and businesses.
Processed junk food ridden with toxins and a propped up agribusiness sector with subsidies has become a feature of the US chemical-intensive model of agriculture, which has led to all kinds of health and environmental problems in the US, as highlighted here.
For Olivier De Schutter, a programme that deals effectively with hunger and malnutrition has to focus on Mexico’s small farmers and peasants. They constitute a substantial percentage of the country’s poor and are the ones that can best supply both rural and urban populations with nutritious foods.
And the writing is on the wall for places like India too as the neoliberal invasion and transnational agribusiness armed with its chemicals (and GMOs) increases its hold over food and agriculture. It is turning out to be disastrous for Indian farmers, the environment and the health of the public.
In the meantime, supporters of the unhealthy, unsustainable, industrialized petro-chemical model of agriculture wish to continue to rip up indigenous agriculture and recast it accordingly. And they attempt to justify this by stating there is no alternative and that organic-based approaches, including a genuine democratic-participatory movement like agroecology, cannot deliver.
From NAFTA and trade agreements like the Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture (India), TTIP, and TPP to the ongoing infiltration of Africa by Bill Gates and ‘corporate America,’ they require business as usual: to offer governments strings-attached loans and ensure that export cash-crop monocropping takes hold, to make farmers reliant on external inputs, to get them onto a highly profitable but unsustainable GMO/chemical treadmill and to incorporate them into an system of globalization centered on rigged trade, debt traps and the manipulated international ‘free’ market.
And all for what? To capture the entire supply chain from seed to plate, to serve the commercial interests of transnational agritech/agribusiness and food retail corporations and to use agriculture as a political tool to create dependency. All of this at the expense of self-sufficiency, sustainable indigenous agriculture, and the livelihoods of those involved in traditional food production, processing and retail. And all of this too at the expense of regional food security, the environment and a nutritious, healthy, and diverse diet.
FDA SUED TO FORCE IT TO RESPOND TO NRDC PETITION
The Natural Resources Defense Council and Center for Food Safety, on behalf of four other public health and environmental organizations, have sued the Food and Drug Administration to force it to act on a petition to ban perchlorate in food packaging. The groups filed the petition in December, 2014, but the FDA ignored it and missed a June, 2015, deadline to respond to the petition. Hence the lawsuit.
Co-petitioners include Breast Cancer Fund, Center for Environmental Health, Center for Science in the Public Interest, and the Environmental Working Group. Perchlorate impairs hormone production critical to brain development and poses a health threat, particularly to fetuses, infants, and children. FDA has approved it for certain specific uses, including as an anti-static agent in plastic packaging for dry foods such as beans, rice and flour.
“This is a toxic chemical, and it’s all over our food supply,” said Erik Olson, director of the Health Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “There’s enough evidence of harm for the FDA to ban it, and there is no excuse for the agency’s inaction.”
“Perchlorate is primarily used in rocket fuel. There is no reason FDA should allow a chemical like this in or on food products,” said Andrew Kimbrell, Executive Director of Center for Food Safety. “It is irresponsible, illegal, and indefensible for FDA to continue withholding a response to our petition when human health is at stake.”
“From increased risk of breast cancer, to interfering with the development of babies’ brains, hormone-disrupting chemicals are harming public health,” said Nancy Buermeyer, Senior Policy Strategist at the Breast Cancer Fund. “We wouldn’t think of practicing medicine the way we did in the 1950s; nor should the FDA consider science through a decades-old lens. The FDA should act immediately to ban perchlorate to protect our children and future generations.”
“There’s no reason for the food industry to use a rocket fuel ingredient that can contaminate our food,” said Caroline Cox, Research Director for the Center for Environmental Health. “FDA needs to act immediately to end this food safety threat to our children and families.”
“Banning perchlorate should be a no-brainer when you consider its threat to human health, particularly to fetal development,” said Ken Cook, co-founder and president of the Environmental Working Group. “We hope this lawsuit spurs FDA to give a new look at the science, instead of relying on its original, flawed reasoning, and to move swiftly to protect consumers from exposure to this toxic chemical.”
“There’s just no practical way for consumers to protect their families from perchlorate, because it’s not labeled and is allowed in packaging and production of so many foods,” said Laura MacCleery, Director of Regulatory Affairs for the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “But protecting consumers is clearly FDA’s job, and the agency should ban perchlorate right away.”
The petition for a writ of mandamus, filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, is here: https://www.nrdc.org/sites/default/files/20160331-mandamus-petition.pdf
Last month, NRDC also sued the Environmental Protection Agency to force it to limit
perchlorate in drinking water.
FDA is currently under court orders to comply with other deadlines mandated by the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act and Food Safety Modernization Act, as a result of two lawsuits filed by CFS in 2014 and 2012, respectively.
MONSANTO ANTS CAN REPLACE HONEYBEES, SPOKESPERSON SAYS
According to a recent Greenpeace study, 70 out of the top 100 human food crops are pollinated by bees. US National Agriculture Statistics show a honey bee decline from about 3.2 million hives in 1947 to 2.4 million hives in 2008. Also, beekepers in Western countries have been reporting slow declines of stocks due to impaired protein production, changes in agricultural practice, or unpredictable weather. On 2007, abnormally high die-offs (30–70 percent of hives) of European honey bee colonies occurred in North America, which was later called “colony collapse disorder.”
This lead the team of Researchers at Monsanto to develop alternative strategies to bridge the gap of an eventual honey bee extinction. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) granted the researchers at Monsanto a $3 million dollar research fund to be able to develop a modified way to save the world’s food supply.
The team of researchers, led by biochemist John Leere, developed a genetically modified ant that has a striking similar feature with the common honeybee but 50 times stronger immunity to certain types of pesticides.
“Through genetic manipulations, we could eventually create a species that would have both the common honey bee’s pollinating characteristics, as well as possess the pesticide immunization properties of certain ant species, a perfect match that would take thousands of years to develop on its own in nature,” Leere explains.
Just think: our food crops crawling with Monsanto’s pesticide-resistant ants, and honey just a substance written about in the history books. That’s Monsanto—always thinking several steps ahead.