GMO Study Compromised by Industry Ties
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The final push is on by Monsanto and the biotech industry to get the DARK Act passed before Vermont’s GMO labeling law goes into effect. One major tactic is to trot out biotech supporters in the sciences and industry shills to say how harmless GMOs are. To wit, here’s Wenonah Hauter’s report, written for EcoWatch and published on May 19:
Food & Water Watch has released an issue brief detailing the far-reaching conflicts of interest at the National Research Council and its parent organization, the National Academy of Sciences. The NRC has just released a brief claiming that GMOs are perfectly safe.
The National Research Council accepts millions of dollars in donations from biotech companies like Monsanto, enlists one-sided panels of scientists to carry out its GMO studies, and pushes the revolving door of NRC staff directors who shuffle in and out of agriculture and biotech industry groups. The NRC routinely arrives at watered-down scientific conclusions on agricultural issues based on industry science.
While companies like Monsanto and its academic partners are heavily involved in the NRC’s work on GMOs, critics have long been marginalized. Many groups have called on the NRC many times to reduce industry influence, noting how conflicts of interest clearly diminish its independence and scientific integrity.
More than half of the invited authors of the new NRC study are involved in GMO development or promotion or have ties to the biotechnology industry—some have consulted for or have received research funding from biotech companies. NRC has not publicly disclosed these conflicts.
In response to the industry influence at the NRC, Food & Water Watch calls for the following changes:
•Congress should expand and enforce the Federal Advisory Committee Act to ensure that the scientific advice the NRC produces for the government is free of conflicts of interest and bias.
•Congress should immediately halt all taxpayer funding for agricultural projects at the NRC until meaningful conflicts-of-interest policies are enforced.
•The NRC should no longer engage funders, directors, authors or reviewers that have a financial interest in the outcome of any of the NRC’s work.
•The NRC should prohibit the citation of science funded or authored by industry, given the obvious potential for bias.
PRENATAL PESTICIDE EXPOSURE MAY CONTRIBUTE TO OBESITY
A recent study published in Environmental Research has found that pre-birth exposure to organophosphate pesticides and persistent organic pollutants may be linked to the development of obesity and metabolic disorders, particularly in girls. The study results provide a link between early prenatal exposure to organophosphate pesticides via the mother and observable changes at birth that may alter how the body breaks down sugars, potentially contributing to obesity later in life.
USDA GIVES GO-AHEAD TO GMO MUSHROOM
The U.S. Department of Agriculture just gave the green light to a genetically modified mushroom that … stays whiter? This is a foolish use of GMO technology and yet another example of how high-minded GMO rhetoric falls flat in light of more common vanity applications.
Now the product is headed to the FDA for review. As the agency dedicated to protecting citizens from potentially unhealthy or even dangerous products, the FDA has a responsibility to fully test these mushrooms before they go to market.
JESSICA ALBA’S ‘ORGANIC’ INFANT FORMULA QUESTIONED
The Organic Consumers Association is suing Jessica Alba’s The Honest Company, claiming 11 of the listed 40 ingredients in its organic infant formula are synthetic substances that are not permitted in organic products
ESSAY OF THE WEEK FROM ORGANIC CONSUMERS ASSOCIATION
Humans have been “processing” food through traditional methods for thousands of years. But there’s a vast difference between the processing of old—for instance, the ancient Egyptian practice of using salt to extend the shelf life of food—and the modern version of “ultra processing.”
Close to 5,000 additives are now allowed to be used in food products. Factor in the additives found in the packaging (which can also leach into your food), and the number rises to 10,000.
Most of these food additives have not undergone any safety testing. Few have been tested according to the way that they are ingested-–meaning in combination with other additives.
Many are downright dangerous, including, for starters, Diacetyl and 2,3-pentanedione (PD), both of which are added to microwave popcorn to give it a buttery aroma, and both of which are linked to brain health, Alzheimer’s disease and respiratory toxicity.
Processed and “ultra-processed” foods have been marketed to consumers as “convenience” foods. But there’s nothing convenient about the hazards they pose to your health.
THE PLOT TO PASS THE DARK ACT
Politico reports that Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) is working on “new language” for a federal GMO labeling bill to keep Vermont’s mandatory GMO labeling law from taking effect July 1. And that Sen Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), architect of the Senate version of the DARK Act, a voluntary federal labeling bill intended to preempt Vermont, is waiting to see that language before the two engage in another round of negotiations.
Stabenow and Roberts both have dug in their heels. Under relentless pressure from constituents, Stabenow is calling for a compromise of some sort that would include mandatory QR codes or toll-free numbers or some such technological fix. Roberts wants nothing short of a voluntary scheme.
Both Senators are determined to preempt Vermont, no doubt thanks to the lavish spending by biotech and food industry lobbyists. One of those lobbyists, Randy Russell, president and CEO of The Russell Group, told Bloomberg: “As we get closer to July 1, the reality and chaos in the marketplace looms, and I think it’s going to drive people to the table to get a deal.”
“Reality and chaos” in the market? If Russell and his fellow lobbyists succeed in knocking down Vermont’s law, consumers will unleash our own brand of “chaos” in the market—and it won’t be pretty.
We’ve all had our sights set on July 1, thinking if that date comes and goes, we’ve won. But let’s not forget that while the law takes effect July 1, Vermont’s attorney general has given food companies until January 1, 2017, before the law will actually be enforced.
That could mean another six months of battling the preemptors in Washington D.C.
It is absolutely critical that we all continue to call, email and visit our Representatives and Senators. The minute we slow down, the minute things get quiet on our end, the more opportunity for Roberts, Stabenow and others to ram a bill through Congress during the lull.
When the owners of a farm in South Africa’s Bela Bela region found their farm was too small and their land was too degraded to raise cattle, they turned to a new model: raising pigs and chickens together.
Turns out, pigs and chickens are quite happy together. And, when raised using holistic, regenerative practices, they not only provide a good economic model for farmers, they also regenerate the soil and restore biodiversity.
Precious Phiri, Regeneration International’s Africa coordinator, based in Zimbabwe, visited the farm in Bela Bela and reported back on how the project has been a success for the farmers, but also for the entire community and beyond.
Regeneration International is an arm of the Organic Consumers Association.
KIDS ON THE FRONTLINE
If you’re a parent—even if you don’t live in a rural area—you’ll want to read the report from Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA). Visit http://www.panna.org/ and click on Kids on the Frontline.
According to the report, each year, more than 680 million pounds of pesticides are applied to agricultural fields across the country. This 2007 figure—the most recent government estimates available—climbs to more than a billion when common non-agricultural pesticide uses are included.
That’s a lot of poison. And in rural agricultural communities, kids are right on the frontline of exposure. Which means that these kids are bombarded not only with all the pesticides kids normally are exposed to—from residue on foods, and pesticides sprayed in parks, and on school playgrounds, but they’re getting more than their fair share. All because our industrial agriculture system insists on supporting companies like Monsanto, Bayer, Dow and DuPont.
From the report: Scientists have understood for decades that children are particularly vulnerable to the harms of pesticide exposure. Quickly growing bodies take in more of everything; they eat, breathe and drink more, pound for pound, than adults. As physiological systems undergo rapid changes from the womb through adolescence, interference from pesticides and industrial chemicals—even at very low levels—can derail the process in ways that lead to significant health harms. For children, the timing of these exposures is often particularly important. At critical moments of development, even very low levels of pesticide exposure can derail biological processes in ways that have harmful, potentially lifelong effects.
PESTICIDES MAY INCREASE RISK OF A.L.S.
Exposure to pesticides may increase the risk for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, a new study has found, writes Nicolas Bakalar in The New York Times.
The study, in JAMA Neurology, included 156 patients with A.L.S. and 128 controls. All participants completed questionnaires providing information on age, sex, ethnicity, education, marital status, residential history, occupational history, smoking, and military service. The researchers used the information on residence and occupation to estimate long-term exposure to pesticides, and then took blood samples to determine serum levels of 122 persistent environmental pollutants.
The scientists divided exposure into four time periods: ever exposed, exposed in the last 10 years, exposed 10 to 30 years ago, and exposed more than 30 years ago.
Exposure to pesticides at any time was associated with a fivefold increased relative risk for A.L.S. compared to no exposure. Even exposure more than 30 years ago tripled the risk. Military service was associated with double the risk, confirming findings of previous studies.
“This is an association, not causality,” cautioned the senior author, Dr. Eva L. Feldman, a professor of neurology at the University of Michigan. “We found that people with A.L.S. were five times more likely to have been exposed to pesticides, but we don’t want people to conclude that pesticides cause A.L.S.”
Frozen Food Recall Affects 42 Brands
Organic Lifestyle Comments Off on Frozen Food Recall Affects 42 Brands
Do you have frozen fruits or vegetables—either organic or conventional–in your freezer? Take note: CRF Frozen Foods of Pasco, Washington, is expanding a voluntary recall of frozen organic and conventional fruits and vegetables in cooperation with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) because these products have the potential to be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.
This organism can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Although healthy individuals may suffer only short-term symptoms such as high fever, severe headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain, and diarrhea, Listeria infection can cause miscarriages and stillbirths among pregnant women.
Since both conventional and organic frozen foods are potentially contaminated, that suggests the contamination happened not on the farms, but in the processing, packaging, and freezing operations post-harvest. There also has been little illness so far, which means that the FDA and CDC were doing their jobs properly and caught the listeria contamination before a wholesale wave of illness occurred.
This expanded recall of frozen vegetables includes all of the frozen organic and traditional fruit and vegetable products manufactured or processed in CRF Frozen Foods’ Pasco facility since May 1, 2014. All affected products have the best by dates or sell by dates between April 26, 2016 and April 26, 2018. These include approximately 358 consumer products sold under 42 separate brands.
To see all the products and brands, and to see if any are in your freezer, follow this link:
Products include organic and non-organic broccoli, butternut squash, carrots, cauliflower, corn, edamame, green beans, Italian beans, kale, leeks, lima beans, onions, peas, pepper strips, potatoes, potato medley, root medley, spinach, sweet potatoes, various vegetable medleys, blends, and stir fry packages, blueberries, cherries, cranberries, peaches, raspberries, and strawberries.
CRF issued the recall to alert consumers not to eat these products. Consumers who purchased these products may return them to the store where they were purchased for a refund, or simply discard them. Consumers with questions may call CRF’s consumer hotline at (844) 483-3866, Monday through Friday, 8:00 am to 8:00 pm Eastern.
CALIFORNIA’S EPA TO LIST ROUNDUP AS CARCINOGENIC
California just dealt Monsanto a blow as the state’s Environmental Protection Agency will now list glyphosate—the toxic main ingredient in the U.S.’s best-selling weedkiller, Roundup—as a known cause of cancer.
Under the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986 — usually referred to as Proposition 65, its original name — chemicals that cause cancer, birth defects, or other reproductive harm are required to be listed and published by the state. Chemicals also end up on the list if found to be carcinogenic by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) — a branch of the World Health Organization.
In March, the IARC released a report that found glyphosate to be a “probable carcinogen.”
Besides the “convincing evidence” the herbicide can cause cancer in lab animals, the report also found:
“Case-control studies of occupational exposure in the U.S.A., Canada, and Sweden reported increased risk for non-Hodgkin lymphoma that persisted after adjustments to other pesticides.”
California’s decision to place glyphosate on the toxic chemicals list is the first of its kind in the U.S. As Dr. Nathan Donley of the Center for Biological Diversity said in an email to Ecowatch, “As far as I’m aware, this is the first regulatory agency within the U.S. to determine that glyphosate is a carcinogen. So this is a very big deal.”
Now that California EPA’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) has filed its “notice of intent to list” glyphosate as a known cancer agent, the public will have until October 5th to comment. There are no restrictions on sale or use associated with the listing.
Monsanto was seemingly baffled by the decision to place cancer-causing glyphosate on the state’s list of nearly 800 toxic chemicals. Spokesperson for the massive company, Charla Lord, told Agri-Pulse that “glyphosate is an effective and valuable tool for farmers and other users, including many in the state of California. During the upcoming comment period, we will provide detailed scientific information to OEHHA about the safety of glyphosate and work to ensure that any potential listing will not affect glyphosate use or sales in California.”
Roundup is sprayed on crops around the world, particularly on Monsanto’s Roundup-Ready varieties which are genetically engineered to tolerate large doses of the herbicide to facilitate blanket application without harming crops. Controversy has surrounded this practice for years, especially since it was found GMO crops increase farmers’ use of Roundup, rather than lessen it, as Monsanto had claimed.
Less than a week after the WHO issued its report naming glyphosate carcinogenic, Monsanto called for a retraction — and still maintains that Roundup is safe when used as directed.
On Thursday, an appeals court in Lyon, France, upheld a 2012 ruling in favor of farmer Paul Francois, who claimed he had been chemically poisoned and suffered neurological damage after inhaling Monsanto’s weedkiller, Lasso. Not surprisingly, the agrichemical giant plans to take its appeal to the highest court in France.
It’s still too early to tell whether other states will follow California’s lead.
GARDENING WITH BIOCHAR FOR BETTER YIELDS, CARBON SEQUESTRATION
Along with potting soil, azalea and gardenia mix, and bags of compost for growing vegetables and fruits, you soon may be seeing bags of biochar for sale at your local plant nursery.
To explain what biochar is, we need to return to the Amazon basin circa 450 CE. Indigenous people didn’t practice slash and burn farming as they do now. They practiced a slash and char agriculture, where wood and leafy greens were roasted in smothered fires to make biochar instead of burned to make fire, smoke, ash, and heat. This biochar was buried in fields where crops were grown.
But then, with the arrival of Europeans and their diseases, pestilence struck and the Amazon civilizations, some with cities of over 100,000 people, disappeared. Slash and char agriculture was forgotten. The fields of buried biochar were forgotten. But they weren’t gone. In the 20th Century, huge expanses of black soil were rediscovered, although no one had a good idea at first about what they were.
Then, in the 1990s, scientists determined that these soils were man-made. They were dubbed “terra preta” (dark earth). And they were enormously extensive. Some estimates put the total acreage covered by the charcoal-enriched soil at twice the size of the land mass of Great Britain.
Most amazingly, they extended up to six feet deep in many places. That’s when scientists realized that the dark soils had grown to great depths since they were first made. They were self-propagating.
The biochar, acting a lot like humus, had been colonized by myriad microbes, fungi, earthworms, and other creatures that produced carbon-based molecules that stuck to the charcoal. Instead of the carbon in decomposing surface plants escaping into the air as greenhouse gas, it was sequestered by the biologically-active char in the soil (hence “biochar”).
But that was just the beginning of the benefits of this strange soil. It appears that the carbon will be sequestered for a thousand—possibly thousands—of years. Every kilogram of biochar is capable of sequestering 3.5 kilograms of carbon. The more of these soils there are in the world, the more greenhouse gases will be stored, unable to contribute to global warming.
Biochar also stimulates mycorrhizal fungi—those fungal symbionts that live on a sweet, sticky substance exuded by plant roots, and in return produce widespread mats of slender, threadlike structures called hyphae that scour surrounding soil for hard-to-find phosphorus and other minerals, as well as scarce water, and deliver them back to their host plants. The mycorrhizal fungi are so efficient at doing this that 90 percent of the soil nutrients and water absorbed by the plants roots are delivered to them not by their own action in the soil, but by delivery from the fungus.
According to scientists studying the soils, microbial growth of all kinds is substantially improved. And so is the soil’s cation exchange capacity, an organically-rich soil’s ability to hold nutrients tightly until plants need them, then dole them out to plants at the optimum rate for plant health—as opposed to soluble chemical fertilizers that quickly and easily wash out of ordinary soil during rains.
Scientists planted rice and cowpeas on unfertilized terra preta soils and on poor soil fertilized with chemical fertilizers. The total biomass of rice and cowpeas was up to 45 percent greater on the biochar soil than the fertilized soil. They also found that the absorption of phosphorus, potassium, calcium, zinc, and copper by the plants increased as the amount of biochar in the soil increased, making the plants more nutritious.
Investigating why biochar soils self-propagate and grow over time, they found that bacteria, fungi, and a host of other critters live and die within the pores of the biochar. Since the wood and plant matter is not burnt up but rather roasted into char, the original pores of the plant matter—the phloem and xylem tubes—persist and provide place for the beneficial soil microorganisms to live and hide from predators that prowl the soil, looking to eat them.
It’s also probable, they found, that the biochar was originally laid down in thin layers, and that earthworms chewed through the layers and mixed them deeply into the soil. Scientists theorized that pieces of the biochar were ground finely in the guts of the earthworms and expelled mixed with their castings, making an even richer soil.
Research on biochar is underway at universities and agricultural research institutions around the world. Conventional agriculture will probably want to make biochar by cutting down forests and planting field crops, the way corn is planted to make ethanol today—and that requires lots of agricultural chemicals like fungicides, herbicides, pesticides, and ammonia fertilizers.
From the organic perspective, however, there are millions of tons of organic waste that now go into landfills to pollute groundwater and release carbon dioxide into the air. Yet it would be perfect raw material for making biochar. I know at my local landfill, there is a mountain of wood waste at one end of the dumping yard at least 40 feet tall and 100 feet in diameter. And think of the wood chips produced in abundance across the nation by tree service companies and energy companies keeping power lines free from interference by trees and shrubs. All that “waste” could be made into life-giving, carbon-sequestering biochar.
Biochar is destined to become an integral part of good organic practice, both on farms and in our gardens. For more information on this topic, visit
www.biochar-international.org/, an organization of academic, commercial, banking, NGO, and government representatives aiming to further the use of biochar in sustainable agriculture.