Toward an Organic Twinkie
Have you noticed that more and more products at the organic markets are simply the same kind of processed foods you can buy at the conventional supermarkets, only made from organic ingredients? Mmm—organic pizzas, frozen dinners, snack crackers and chips; heavy on the organic fats, organic sugars, and organic sea salt. How long before we find organic Hot Pockets, donuts, and Twinkies?
Granted that processed foods made with organic ingredients don’t carry the typical load of agricultural chemicals, or any of the hundreds of chemicals used to flavorize, texturize, emulsify, preserve, and color the conventional products. But they are still processed foods, drained of their life force, less than whole, mere mouth fun instead of delicious-and-nutritious, and usually with a lot of fat, sugar, and salt.
Now, I’m all for occasional mouth fun. One of my local organic supermarkets offers a scoop of ice cream in any flavor of your choice, served in an eat-all cone, for $1. Maybe once every month or so, I’ll indulge. Everything in moderation, right? Including moderation. But that kind of thing doesn’t replace good whole foods like fruits, vegetables, and even a decent sandwich. When was the last time you had an apple and a carrot, with maybe a bit of good cheese, for lunch? They’re whole, they’re filling, and they are good for you.
One of the reasons we eat organic is to enhance our health. Heavily processed foods, even if they are organic, don’t help in that department.
The environmental press reports that in addition to continued reports of Colony Collapse Disorder — a still mysterious phenomenon in which entire bee colonies disappear, leaving not even their dead bodies behind — bee populations are suffering poor health in general, and experiencing shorter life spans and diminished vitality. And while parasites, pathogens, and habitat loss can deal blows to bee health, research increasingly points to pesticides as the primary culprit.
Of particular concern is a group of pesticides, chemically similar to nicotine, called neonicotinoids (neonics for short), and one in particular called clothianidin. Instead of being sprayed, neonics are used to treat seeds, so that they’re absorbed by the plant’s vascular system, and then end up attacking the central nervous systems of bees that come to collect pollen. Virtually all of today’s genetically engineered Bt corn is treated with neonics. The chemical industry alleges that bees don’t like to collect corn pollen, but new research shows that not only do bees indeed forage in corn, but they also have multiple other routes of exposure to neonics.
A Purdue University study, published in the journal PLoS ONE, found high levels of clothianidin in planter exhaust spewed during the spring sowing of treated corn seed. It also found neonics in the soil of unplanted fields near those planted with Bt corn, on dandelions growing near those fields, in dead bees found near hive entrances, and in pollen stored in the hives.
Bees, of course, pollinate many of our most important food crops, such as apples and other fruit trees, squashes, as well as annuals that support beneficial insects in the rural ecosystem. Without them we are in trouble.
Speaking of Bt corn—corn into which a gene from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, which produces a caterpillar toxin, has been spliced using genetic modification techniques—people around the world are beginning to catch on to Monsanto’s plan to corner the world market on seeds.
According to an article published this month in the journal Nature Biotechnology, Monsanto is facing biopiracy charges in India. In an unprecedented decision, India’s National Biodiversity Authority (NBA), a government agency, declared legal action against Monsanto (and its collaborators) for using local eggplant varieties to develop a genetically engineered version of eggplant that carries the Bt gene–but without prior approval of the competent authorities, which is considered an act of biopiracy in that country. Let’s see how far the government of India can get against Monsanto.
In the United States, Monsanto has been challenged by many environmental and family farm organizations for introducing Bt corn and other GMO seeds into the environment, contaminating nearby organic crops. According to the Public Patent Foundation, Monsanto has one of the most aggressive patent assertion agendas in history. Between 1997 and 2010, Monsanto admits to filing 144 lawsuits against America’s family farmers, while settling another 700 out of court for undisclosed amounts. The farmers’ violation? They let their crops be contaminated with Monsanto’s GMO frankengenes, and that’s a patent violation. It’s like a guy walking up to you on your own property, punching you in the nose, then suing you for getting your blood on his suit.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s response has been to approve genetically modified alfalfa and soybeans as well as corn, and to name a Monsanto executive to head up our nation’s food safety program.
Good luck, India.
As long as we’re talking about Monsanto and its frankenseeds, Anthony Gucciardi reports in L’Osservatore Romano that on January 5, 2012, a prominent member of the Vatican spoke out against genetically modified crops. Cardinal Peter Turkson said that genetically modified crops are a “new form of slavery,” and went on to discuss the impact that they have on both the environment and the economy. Farmers have risen up against Monsanto and genetically modified seeds, with Monsanto’s control of seed sales forcing thousands of farmers into debt worldwide. In India, Monsanto has ruined the lives of so many farmers that the prevalence of their suicides has led a large farming area to be called the “suicide belt of India,” the article states.
Meanwhile, back in the U.S.A., our Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration still won’t require big corporate food producers to disclose on their labels whether their any of their ingredients are genetically modified. Such disclosures are required in Canada, Europe, and Australia—but not in “the greatest country in the world.”