Archive for the Health, Food, Energy and Ecology Category

The World Seed Conference

Posted in Health, Food, Energy and Ecology on September 16, 2009 by CjH

Good For Farmers?

By Robin Willoughby, Share the World’s Resources

Last week marked a little-known and under-reported symposium held in Rome under the auspices of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation – the World Seed Conference. Although the subject may appear obscure, the conference theme and the issues discussed, including plant variety protection and seed improvement techniques, could not be more important to millions of farmers in the developing world.

Between the heavy acronyms and technical terms used by the UN figures, government officials and industry representatives, the conference illustrated two clear themes; firstly, the desire of Northern-based business to continue a process of enclosure of key farming inputs such as seeds by way of technology. Secondly, a push by these same companies (supported by the US and EU countries) for an extension and tightening of intellectual property rights on plant genetic resources into the national law of poorer countries.
Under the guise of innovation and progress, breeding companies suggest that seed varieties developed in laboratories in the North and then sold to poorer farmers in the South can raise yields in crops, increase nutritional values, reduce pesticide and fossil fuels use as well as conserve biodiversity. In the words of one participant at the conference, his company utilised ‘the art and science of changing the genetics of plants for the benefit of humankind.’

Advocates from industry argue that to safeguard their investment in these manipulated ‘seed innovations’ governments should use a form of legal construction (intellectual property rights) to prevent farmers from re-using and changing seeds that are a ‘product’ of agribusiness. Industry lobbyists also suggest that such monopoly rights should extend to developed plants varieties that business cannot easily control by technology – for example due to natural reproduction.

However, the patenting of seeds, extension of plant variety protection and rollout of a global regime of intellectual property rights for agricultural inputs could have serious consequences for small-scale farmers in the developing world.

Techno-Fixes and Monopoly Control

Firstly, the intellectual property regime that many participants in the Conference wish to tighten and extend to poorer countries (what one participant called ‘the development of a new industry competitiveness on foreign markets’), legally prevents farmers from sharing and saving seeds for later harvests or for future generations.

Under a key intellectual property treaty first signed in the 1960s and last amended in 1991, called UPOV, and the later WTO TRIPS, governments agreed to prevent farmers from saving or sharing seeds with only a few limited exceptions. In countries that have accepted these intellectual property regimes, small-scale farmers have moved increasingly towards the use of imported seeds, suffering from a number of adverse effects including increased debt levels, displacement and worsening food security. Making the situation worse, under intellectual property laws, some governments refuse to subsidise or even prohibit the use of seeds that do not make an ‘official list’ – most often those that were previously shared and exchanged between communities.

Secondly, a strengthening of the UPOV regime, or a further rollout of TRIPS or the TRIPS-plus agreement would also represent a large net power transfer from poorer farmers to richer corporations based in industrialised countries, especially in the US and the EU. Intellectual property rights already tighten the grip of a small number of businesses across the entire agricultural system, from basic inputs through marketing and distribution. According to analysts at the ETC Group, 10 companies currently control more than two thirds of global seed sales. Of this total, just three industry giants – Monsanto, Dupont and Syngenta – command 47 percent of the market. Research organisation GRAIN estimates that tightening and extending IP laws through UPOV could result in poor farmers paying US$7 billion a year to these ‘seed giants.’

Thirdly, the type of seeds that are promoted and sold to poor farmers by the global seed companies (and protected by IP rights) are often ‘hybrid’ in form, meaning that they have been bred in a lab from two parent lines. Because of their complex molecular structure, such seeds will not reproduce cleanly in the next planting season, resulting in a system of agricultural inputs that farmers must purchase on a seasonal basis. This business innovation has resulted in the commodification of a number of plant lines that previously reproduced naturally, tying poor farmers to companies in the North – a dangerous situation in the light of fluctuating commodity prices and potential monopoly pricing by dominant actors.

Importantly, such ‘hybrids’ also require a high level of synthetic inputs such as fertilisers to achieve high yields. Perhaps unsurprisingly these artificial inputs are often purchased from the same clique of agribusiness companies that also sell the seeds in the first place. Despite the perceived success of hybrid seeds in raising crop yields in experiments such as the Green Revolution in Asia, experts express severe doubts over the environmental sustainability of such seeds. By using large numbers of synthetic inputs, crop yields have increased in some countries but to the detriment of soil quality, biodiversity and future livelihood from the land.

Contrary to the claims of the seed business, analysts also suggest that plant variety protection and a strong IP regime encourages investment in only a few commercially valuable crop species, such as wheat and soya bean, and ‘ornamentals’ such as flowers. Companies will invest heavily in research for ‘designer’ crops that could gain high market value in richer countries. Evidence shows that a high percentage of the plant variety protection applications put forward by developing countries remain for export goods such as ‘cut flowers’ and other luxury items for export. Although these commodities have export market value and can gain foreign exchange, little indication exists of their value in alleviating food insecurity or promoting biodiversity.

An Alternative Paradigm

In order to protect biodiversity, adapt to climate change and promote food security, policy-makers must allow farmers to freely save, use, exchange and sell farm-saved seeds in developing countries. Unfortunately, the current direction of international policy, as evidenced by the calls of many participants at the World Seed Conference and other fora such as the World Trade Organisation, appears to be a push towards techno-fixes in agriculture and the enclosure of common resources by legal means.

Rather than centrally controlled technological innovation by corporations in the North, local agrifood systems and community-led agricultural research and conservation encourages farmers to utilise on-farm innovation, choose the most appropriate crops for harvest and support biodiversity. Sharing and saving seeds allows farmers with knowledge of local conditions to breed seeds ‘in situ’ (on the farm) and develop plant varieties to evolve to the changing climate conditions. Food system analysts and civil society groups also note that small-scale, locally based food systems could be the most effective method in lifting millions out of hunger and poverty.

Fortunately, there are alternatives to technologically controlled agriculture and an ever-increasing intellectual property stranglehold that could increase corporate concentration in agricultural markets, displace poor farmers and worsen biodiversity. On the international stage, progressive treaties promoted by resource-rich but economically-poor countries such as the Convention on Biological Diversity and the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture attempt to protect farmers’ rights, encourage genuine biodiversity and share the benefits of commercialising agricultural inputs and plants.

On the ground, examples such as the Navdanya project in India illustrate the benefits of both storing and sharing seeds as well as the benefits in food security and genetic diversity by allowing open-access to plant genetic resources. Organisations in the global farmers’ movement La Via Campesina also point the way to an alternative agricultural paradigm based on cooperation and reciprocity. In the UK, the Millennium Seed Bank Project at Kew Gardens further illustrates the importance and possibility of the collection, research and development of seeds for the public good. Countries such as Venezuela are also establishing cross-border collaboration and sharing of knowledge on the breeding of plants based on cooperation and for mutual benefit.

However, these examples represent only a few isolated instances that ‘go against the grain’ of an international policy paradigm that promotes market-concentration and the potential monopolisation of plant genetic resources. With converging trends of a worsening food crisis, climate change shocks and rising population levels, policymakers in developed and developing countries should now look to alternative examples to illustrate that another way is possible to achieve global food security and sustainable biodiversity.

A starting point for a new paradigm in agricultural development should be to devise a set of international rules that prevents the enclosure of common resources for profit, helps poor farmers, and promotes cooperation, sharing and the free-exchange of seeds.

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Health Care vs. Warfare

Posted in Health, Food, Energy and Ecology, Welcome to The Machine on September 8, 2009 by CjH

By Jeff Leys, Voices for Creative Nonviolence

On Wednesday, President Obama will address a joint session of Congress on health care. Later this year he will decide whether to deploy additional troops to the war in Afghanistan, on top of the 69,000 troops already deployed. The struggle for health care and the struggle to end warfare are inextricably linked. The cost for substantive (though imperfect) health care reform as envisioned in the House of Representatives approach (with the public option) is projected to average $100 billion per year for the next 10 years. The cost to continue the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are projected to cost anywhere from $55 to $100 billion a year. With a few modest reductions to the baseline military budget and the difference is paid.

The choice is clear: health care or warfare; the Common Good or Common Destruction.

Two key developments in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars will likely take place this month. Congress will more than likely pass the Defense Appropriations Bill for Fiscal Year 2010 (which begins on October 1) and General McChrystal will likely request that additional troops be deployed to Afghanistan. The Defense Appropriations Bill contains about $130 billion to wage the wars and occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan through September 30, 2010. General McChrystal is expected to request that 15,000 to 45,000 additional U.S. troops be deployed to Afghanistan—bringing overall U.S. troops levels in Afghanistan to 84,000 to 114,000.

Meanwhile, behind the scenes and out of the public eye, the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force are preparing their respective budget requests for FY 2011 (which begins October 1, 2010 and runs through September 30, 2011).

The publication “Inside the Pentagon” reports:

“Now, as the Pentagon weighs the FY-11 base budget and OCO requests submitted by the services on August 14, it is finding the services’ FY-11 OCO requests are larger than expected. Instead of a ‘substantial’ decrease tied to the draw down in Iraq, the OCO total is ‘roughly flat’ compared with FY-10, a Pentagon official said, noting it is only a bit under the FY-10 level.”

In other words, the military services seem to be seeking $120 to $130 billion in war funds for 2011, during a time period when ostensibly the U.S. will be reducing troop levels in Iraq and at a time when much is made about the $100 billion per year projected cost for providing substantive (though not perfect) health care reform. “OCO” is the new term of art for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the abbreviation for Overseas Contingency Operations.

These initial requests likely will be modified to some extent as they wind their way through the Department of Defense and the White House. However, the size of these requests indicate the importance of current organizing efforts to end funding for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and occupations.

Regrettably, though, it gets worse, as the U.S. will, without substantive troop reductions, likely continue to expend anywhere from $70 billion to $100 billion per year to continue on-going military operations in Afghanistan in 2012 and beyond.

The decidedly non-partisan Congressional Research Service (CRS) issued a report in August that projects average monthly troop levels in Iraq and Afghanistan through FY 2012 (i.e., through September 30, 2012). It then draws upon the work of the Congressional Budget Office to project future war costs. What emerges is a never ending war with never ending costs unless pressure can be brought to bear upon President Obama and Congress to reverse course in Afghanistan and to maintain the course of troop withdrawal in Iraq.

The Congressional Research Service bases its analysis upon average monthly troop levels over the course of a year rather than numbers of troops on the ground in any given month. For example, if 100,000 troops are deployed to a country for the first 6 months of 2010 but then are reduced to 50,000 troops for the final 6 months of 2010, the average monthly troop level in 2010 is 75,000 troops. Using the monthly average over the course of a year evens out the increases and decreases in troop levels as troops are deployed into and redeployed out of a country.

The CRS projects average monthly troop strength in Iraq with the implementation of President Obama’s troop drawdown. In 2010 it projects average monthly troop strength at 88,300, with the number of troops deployed to Iraq falling to 45,000 troops by August 30, 2010 (reflecting the withdrawal of U.S. combat forces–and, for the moment, leaves aside the question of whether combat forces are truly removed from Iraq or are simply renamed and “retasked”). In 2011 monthly average troop strength falls to 42,750 troops (reaching complete withdrawal of all but a small residual force of about 4000 troops by December 31, 2011).

While arguably the troop withdrawals should occur on a more rapid timetable, pressure must be maintained upon Obama to ensure that he does not allow any slippage to occur in his own proposed timetable. The U.S. could, possibly, maintain a high level of troops in Iraq even after a supposed “withdrawal” of combat troops if remaining troops were to be retasked to other missions and redesignated. Also, a new agreement could be reached with Iraq to maintain a larger U.S. military presence in Iraq beyond the end of 2011.

Second, pressure must be exerted to prevent any expansion of the U.S. military force in Afghanistan and then to reverse troop levels in that country. Approximately 69,000 troops are currently deployed to Afghanistan. McChrystal will likely seek an additional 15,000 to 45,000 troops. President Obama will most likely decide about troop levels in Afghanistan by the end of this year.

And this is where the wave of substantive (though imperfect) health care reform comes crashing upon the shoals of warfare. Keep $100 billion in mind—the projected cost for each year of health care reform—as you read the following based upon reports from the Congressional Research Service and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).

In January 2009, the CBO projected the costs of maintaining troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. It updated these projections in August 2009. Caution is in order about drawing too firm a conclusion of war costs based upon these projections. However, the projections do give a very strong indicator of the likely lower end costs of continuing these wars.

The CBO projects that the cost to maintain 112,500 troops in Iraq and Afghanistan in FY 2012 will be $95 billion. The CBO in January projected that it will cost $70 billion to maintain 75,000 troops in Iraq and / or Afghanistan from FY 2013 onward (though it lowered this projection to $55 billion for FY 2014 onward in its August 2009 report, without an explanation for the lower figure). Now use these cost projections of CBO with the troop projections of the Congressional Research Service and you get the following prescription for never ending warfare.

The CRS projects that average monthly troop levels in FY 2011 will be 106,200. Looking at the $95 billion cost projection of the CBO (for 112,500 troops), one would think that the war costs in FY 2011 will be in the range of $90 to $100 billion. Yet, as indicated at the start of this article the military services are apparently seeking funding somewhere in the range of $130 billion for FY 2011 (or slightly lower). Either way—whether it’s in the range of the $95 billion or so projected by CBO or the perhaps nearly $130 billion in the military services’ initial budget requests—that’s more than adequate funding to pay for substantive health care reform in 2011.

The financial hemorrhaging will continue for as long as the U.S. maintains military troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Let’s assume the CRS projections are correct and the U.S. withdraws all but 4000 troops from Iraq by December 31, 2011 and that the U.S. maintains troop levels in Afghanistan at their current level, without any increase of the sort that General McChrystal may propose.

The long term cost of the Afghanistan war will then likely be in the range of $55 to $70 billion per year (with average monthly troop levels of 4000 in Iraq and 67,500 in Afghanistan according to the CRS projections). This is based upon the CBO projection that maintaining a deployment of 75,000 troops will cost somewhere between $55 billion and $70 billion per year from 2013 onward (on a slightly more optimistic note, the CBO projects that it will cost somewhere in the range of $25 billion to $32 billion per year if U.S. troops levels are reduced to 30,000).

All of this leaves out any discussion of reframing the size of the U.S. military following a decade of great expansion. In June 2001, the U.S. maintained about 26,000 troops in the region. In December 2008 the Department of Defense’s Defense Manpower Data Center’s “Location Report” stated that 294,000 troops were stationed in the region and assigned to the military operations in either Iraq or Afghanistan. Of these, 181,000 troops were deployed inside either Iraq or Afghanistan (according to the DoD’s “Boots on the Ground Report” for December 2008) President Obama has yet to address his plans for the redeployment of the 100,000 plus troops stationed in the region as the troop drawdown in Iraq commences.

At this moment of critical decision-making we should utilize all legal and extralegal (i.e., nonviolent civil disobedience) methods and techniques to send the strongest possible message to President Obama and Congress that it is time to completely end the U.S. military misadventures in Iraq and Afghanistan.

On October 5, nonviolent civil disobedience / civil resistance will take place at the White House. Organized by such groups as the National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance, Witness Against Torture, War Resisters League and Atlantic Life Community, this effort is an opening salvo in a renewed and revitalized effort to completely end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as to bring the U.S. into full compliance with international law as regards torture and mistreatment of those being held by the U.S. in the erstwhile “war on terrorism”. The National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance website is http://nogoodwar.org with additional information available on the website of the War Resisters League.

The longer term Peaceable Assembly Campaign is an umbrella effort being coordinated by Voices for Creative Nonviolence in an effort to draw the connections between the continuing pursuit by the U.S. and its allies of on-going Common Destruction in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Occupied Palestinian Territories on the one hand and the lack of funding for the Common Good—schools, health care, full employment and living wage policies, the public infrastructure, refugee services—on the other hand. The Peaceable Assembly Campaign seeks as well to draw the connections between the ongoing militarization of the United States and the critical necessity to commit our country to a new environmentalism that, amongst other things, makes the strong commitment to a renewable energy policy that is safe for the environment.

The Peaceable Assembly Campaign begins, this fall, with the development of local campaign committees to advance campaign objectives and to lobby Congress regarding these objectives.

In January 2009, the PAC will focus upon President Obama. From January 19 to February 2 we will maintain a daily vigil—which will include daily acts of civil disobedience–at the White House seeking an end to funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. This time period is critical for a final attempt to influence President Obama before he submits his budget request for 2011 to Congress. January 19 marks the start of President Obama’s second year in office with February 2 being the date by which he is supposed to submit his 2011 budget to Congress, a budget that will include funding for the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

After February 2, the Peaceable Assembly Campaign will once again emphasize legal and extralegal lobbying work to achieve its objectives. The extralegal lobbying work will consist of nonviolent civil disobedience at the offices of Representatives and Senators who do not agree with the objectives of the campaign—and especially who do not commit to cutting off funding for warfare with a concomitant redirection of funds to serve the Common Good. This phase of the campaign is timed to the legislative calendar during which Congress will be developing and enacting the Defense Appropriations Bill for 2011—a bill which will likely include funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. More than likely the House and Senate will act upon the Defense Appropriations Bill for 2011 by the end of July 2010. The Peaceable Assembly Campaign can be reached by email (pac@vcnv.org), by phone (773-878-3815) or on the web.

These next several weeks and months are critical in redirecting our country away from Common Destruction and towards the Common Good. Decisions will be made by President Obama and Congress which could send hopes for health care, education, living wage jobs, a new environmental policy crashing upon the shoals of never ending war in Iraq and Afghanistan. We must insert ourselves into this decision-making process. We cannot afford to not utilize legal and extralegal (civil disobedience) lobbying, tactics and strategies to bring about an end to the Common Destruction being waged globally in our name.

Pfizer Agrees to Pay Largest Healthcare Fraud Penalty in History

Posted in Health, Food, Energy and Ecology, Private Plunder on September 3, 2009 by CjH

Source: BBC

US drugmaker Pfizer has agreed to pay $2.3bn (£1.4bn) in the largest healthcare fraud settlement in the history of the Department of Justice.

A subsidiary pleaded guilty to misbranding drugs “with the intent to defraud or mislead”.

Pfizer illegally promoted four drugs and caused false claims to be submitted to government healthcare programmes for uses that were not medically accepted.

US officials said Pfizer would have to enter a corporate integrity agreement.

It will be subject to additional public scrutiny by requiring it to make “detailed disclosures” on its website.

Pfizer’s general counsel said: “We regret certain actions taken in the past, but are proud of the action we’ve taken to strengthen our internal controls.”

“The size and seriousness of this resolution, including the huge criminal fine, reflect the seriousness and scope of Pfizer’s crimes,” said Mike Loucks, acting US attorney for the District of Massachusetts.

The company faces a criminal fine of $1.195bn and a subsidiary company of Pfizer – Pharmacia & Upjohn – will forfeit $105m, totalling a criminal resolution of $1.3bn.

The remaining $1bn fine was levied to resolve the allegations under the civil False Claims Act.

Four drugs

The civil settlement also relates to allegations that Pfizer paid bribes to healthcare providers to induce them to prescribe four named drugs. These are Bextra, an anti-inflammatory drug, Geodon, an anti-psychotic drug, Zyvox, an antibiotic and Lyrica, an epilepsy treatment.

The investigation was trigged by allegations made by six whistleblowers. They will receive $102m of the civil fines paid by Pfizer.

“Although these types of investigations are often long and complicated and require many resources to achieve positive results, the FBI will not be deterred from continuing to ensure that pharmaceutical companies conduct business in a lawful manner,” said Kevin Perkins, FBI assistant director, Criminal Investigative Division.

The pharmaceutical firm said earlier this year that it would pay the fine “to put issues that diminish trust behind us”.

Pfizer reported a 90% drop in profit to $268m in the fourth quarter of 2008, because of the $2.3bn legal settlement, indicating that the company was aware they would be paying this sum before the terms of the deal with the Department of Justice were announced.

The Organic Monopoly and the Myth of “Natural” Foods: How Industry Giants Are Undermining the Organic Movement

Posted in Health, Food, Energy and Ecology on July 9, 2009 by CjH

By Ronnie Cummins, Organic Consumers Association

After four decades of hard work, the organic community has built up a $25 billion “certified organic” food, farming, and green products sector. This consumer-driven movement, under steady attack by the biotech and Big Food lobby, with little or no help from government, has managed to create a healthy and sustainable alternative to America’s disastrous, chemical and energy-intensive system of industrial agriculture. Conscious of the health hazards of Big Food Inc., and the mortal threat of climate change and Peak Oil, a critical mass of organic consumers are now demanding food and other products that are certified organic, as well as locally or regionally produced, minimally processed, and packaged.

The Organic Alternative, in turn, is bolstered by an additional $50 billion in annual spending by consumers on products marketed as “natural,” or “sustainable.”  This rapidly expanding organic/green products sector–organic (4% of total retail sales) and natural (8%)–now constitutes more than 12% of total retail grocery sales, with an annual growth rate of 10-15%.  Even taking into account what appears to be a permanent economic recession and a lower rate of growth than that seen over the past 20 years, the organic and natural market will likely constitute 31-56% of grocery sales in 2020.  If the Organic Alternative continues to grow, and if consumers demand that all so-called “natural” products move in a genuine, third party-certified “transition to organic” direction, the U.S. will be well on its way to solving three of the nation’s most pressing problems: climate change, deteriorating public health, and Peak Oil.

Sales statistics and polls underline the positive fact that a vast army of organic consumers, more than 75 million Americans, despite an economic recession, are willing to pay a premium price for organic and green products. These consumers are willing to pay a premium because they firmly believe that organic and natural products are healthier, climate stabilizing, environmentally sustainable, humane for animals, and well as more equitable for family farmers, farmworkers, and workers throughout the supply chain.

Many of the most committed organic consumers are conscious of the fact that organic food and other products are actually “cheaper” in real terms than conventional food and other items-since industrial agriculture’s so-called “cheap” products carry hidden costs, including billions of dollars in annual tax subsidies, and hundreds of billions of dollars in damage to our health, the environment, and climate. Strengthening the argument for organic food and farming, scientists now tell us that it will take a massive conversion to organic agriculture (as well as renewable energy, sustainable housing and transportation) to drastically reduce climate-destabilizing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere to 350 parts per million and to cope with the advent of “Peak Oil,” the impending decline in petroleum and natural gas supplies.

Organic food and a healthy diet and lifestyle are obviously key factors in preventing chronic disease, restoring public health, and reducing out-of-control health care costs. While in 1970, U.S. health care spending appeared somewhat sustainable, totaling $75 billion, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services project that by 2016, health care spending will soar to over $4.1 trillion, or $12,782 per resident.

Millions of health-minded Americans, especially parents of young children, now understand that cheap, non-organic, industrial food is hazardous. Not only does chemical and energy-intensive factory farming destroy the environment, impoverish rural communities, exploit farm workers, inflict unnecessary cruelty on farm animals, and contaminate the water supply; but the end product itself is inevitably contaminated. Routinely contained in nearly every bite or swallow of non-organic industrial food are pesticides, antibiotics and other animal drug residues, pathogens, feces, hormone disrupting chemicals, toxic sludge, slaughterhouse waste, genetically modified organisms, chemical additives and preservatives, irradiation-derived radiolytic chemical by-products, and a host of other hazardous allergens and toxins. Eighty million cases of food poisoning every year in the US, an impending swine/bird flu pandemic (directly attributable to factory farms), and an epidemic of food-related cancers, heart attacks, and obesity make for a compelling case for the Organic Alternative.

Likewise millions of green-minded consumers understand that industrial agriculture poses a terminal threat to the environment and climate stability. A highly conscious and passionate segment of the population are beginning to understand that converting to non-chemical, energy-efficient, carbon-sequestering organic farming practices, and drastically reducing food miles by relocalizing the food chain, are essential preconditions for stabilizing our out-of-control climate and preparing our families and communities for Peak Oil and future energy shortages.

Decades of research confirm that organic agriculture produces crop yields that are comparable (under normal weather conditions) or even 50-70% superior (during droughts or excessive rain) to chemical farming. Nutritional studies show that organic crops are qualitatively higher in vitamin content and trace minerals, and that fresh unprocessed organic foods boost the immune system and reduce cancer risks. And, of course climate scientists emphasize that organic agriculture substantially reduces greenhouse pollution. Organic farms use, on the average, 50% or less petroleum inputs than chemical farms, while generating drastically less greenhouse gases such as methane and nitrous oxide. Moreover diverse, multi-crop organic farms sequester enormous amounts of CO2 in the soil. Agronomists point out that a return to traditional organic farming practices across the globe could reduce greenhouse gas pollution by 40%. In other words, America and the world desperately need an Organic Revolution in food and farming, not only to salvage public health and improve nutrition, but also in order to literally survive in the onrushing era of Peak Oil and climate change.

Scientists, as well as common sense, warn us that a public health Doomsday Clock is ticking. Within a decade, diet and environment-related diseases, including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer-heavily subsidized under our Big Pharma/chemical/genetically engineered/factory farm system-will likely bankrupt Medicare and the entire U.S. health care system.

Likewise, climate chaos and oil shortages, unless we act quickly, will soon severely disrupt industrial agriculture and long-distance food transportation, leading to massive crop failures, food shortages, famine, war, and pestilence. Even more alarming, accelerating levels of greenhouse gases (especially from cars, coal, cattle, and related rainforest and wetlands destruction) will soon push global warming to a tipping point that will melt the polar icecaps and unleash a cataclysmic discharge of climate-destabilizing methane, fragilely sequestered in the frozen arctic tundra.

If we care about our children and the future generations, we obviously must reverse global warming, stabilize the climate, and prepare for petroleum shortages and vastly higher oil prices. The only way to do this is to reduce greenhouse gas pollution by 90% by 2050, by shifting away from petroleum and coal-based energy to radical energy conservation and making a transition to renewable solar and wind power-not only in transportation, housing, and industry, but in farming, food processing, and food distribution as well.

In the food sector, we cannot continue to hand over 88% of our consumer dollars to out-of-control, chemical-intensive, energy-intensive, greenhouse gas polluting corporations and “profit at any cost” retail chains such as Wal-Mart. The growth of the Organic Alternative is literally a matter of survival. The question then becomes how (and how quickly) can we move healthy, organic, and “natural” products from a 12% market share, to becoming the dominant force in American food and farming. This is a major undertaking, one that will require a major transformation in public consciousness and policy, but it is doable, and absolutely necessary.

But before we overthrow Monsanto, Wal-Mart, and Food Inc., we need to put our own house in order. Before we set our sights on making organic and “transition to organic” the norm, rather than the alternative, we need to take a closer, more critical look at the $50 billion annual natural food and products industry. How natural is the so-called natural food in our local Whole Foods Market, coop, or grocery store? Is the “natural” sector moving our nation toward an organic future, or has it degenerated into a “green washed” marketing tool, disguising unhealthy and unsustainable food and farming practices as alternatives. Is “natural” just a marketing ploy to sell conventional-unhealthy, energy-intensive, and non-sustainable food and products at a premium price?

The Myth of Natural Food, Farming, and Products

Walk down the aisles of any Whole Foods Market (WFM) or browse the wholesale catalogue of industry giant United Natural Foods (UNFI) and look closely. What do you see? Row after row of attractively displayed, but mostly non-organic “natural” (i.e. conventional) foods and products. By marketing sleight of hand, these conventional foods, vitamins, private label “365” items, and personal care products become “natural” or “almost organic” (and overpriced) in the Whole Foods setting. The overwhelming majority of WFM products, even their best-selling private label, “365” house brand, are not organic, but rather the products of chemical-intensive and energy-intensive farm and food production factories. Test these so-called natural products in a lab and what will you find: pesticide residues, Genetically Modified Organisms, and a long list of problematic and/or carcinogenic synthetic chemicals and additives. Trace these products back to the farm or factory and what will you find: climate destabilizing chemical fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, and sewage sludge-not to mention exploited farm workers and workers in the food processing industry. Of course there are many products in WFM (and in UNFI’s catalogue} that bear the label “USDA Organic.” But the overwhelming majority of their products, even their best selling private label, “365,” are not.

What does certified organic or “USDA Organic” mean? This means these products are certified 95-100% organic. Certified organic means the farmer or producer has undergone a regular inspection of its farm, facilities, ingredients, and practices by an independent Third Party certifier, accredited by the USDA National Organic Program (NOP). The producer has followed strict NOP regulations and maintained detailed records. Synthetic pesticides, animal drugs, sewage sludge, GMOs, irradiation, and chemical fertilizers are prohibited. Farm animals, soil, and crops have been managed organically; food can only be processed with certain methods; only allowed ingredients can be used.

On the other hand, what does “natural” really mean, in terms of farming practices, ingredients, and its impact on the environment and climate?

To put it bluntly, “natural,” in the overwhelming majority of cases is meaningless, even though most consumers do not fully understand this. Natural, in other words, means conventional, with a green veneer. Natural products are routinely produced using pesticides, chemical fertilizer, hormones, genetic engineering, and sewage sludge. Natural or conventional products-whether produce, dairy, or canned or frozen goods are typically produced on large industrial farms or in processing plants that are highly polluting, chemical-intensive and energy-intensive. “Natural,” “all-natural,” and “sustainable,” products in most cases are neither backed up by rules and regulations, nor a Third Party certifier. Natural and sustainable are typically label claims that are neither policed nor monitored. (For an evaluation of eco-labels see the Consumers Union website http://www.eco-labels.org). The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service provides loose, non-enforced guidelines for the use of the term “natural” on meat–basically the products cannot contain artificial flavors, coloring, or preservatives and cannot be more than minimally processed.

On non-meat products, the term natural is typically pure propaganda. Companies (like Whole Foods Market or UNFI) are simply telling us what we want to hear, so that we pay an organic or premium price for a conventional product. Perhaps this wouldn’t matter that much if we were living in normal times, with a relatively healthy population, environment, and climate. Conventional products sold as natural or “nearly organic” would be a simple matter of chicanery or consumer fraud. But we are not living in normal times. Pressuring natural and conventional products and producers to make the transition to organic is a matter of life or death. And standing in the way of making this great transition are not only Fortune 500 food and beverage corporations, Monsanto, and corporate agribusiness, as we would expect, but the wholesale and retail giants in the organic and natural products sector, UNFI (United Natural Foods) and Whole Foods Market (WFM).

UNFI & Whole Foods: Profits at Any Cost

UNFI and Whole Foods Market are the acknowledged market and wholesale distribution leaders in the $70 billion organic and natural foods and products sector. Companies or brands that want to distribute their products on more than just a local or regional basis must deal with the near-monopoly wholesaler, UNFI, and giant retailer WFM. Meanwhile retailers in markets dominated by Whole Foods have little choice but to emulate the business practices of WFM-i.e. sell as many conventional foods, green washed as “natural,” as possible. Unfortunately neither UNFI and Whole Foods are putting out the essential message to their millions of customers that expanding organics is literally a matter of life or death for public health, climate, and the environment. Neither are leading the charge to double or triple organic food and farming sales by exposing the myth of natural foods, giving preference to organic producers and products, and pressuring natural brands and companies to make the transition to organic. Neither are the industry giants lobbying the government to stop nickel and dime-ing organics and get serious about making a societal transition to organic food and farming. The reason for this is simple: it is far easier and profitable for UNFI and WFM to sell conventional or so-called natural foods at a premium price, than it is to pay a premium price for organics and educate consumers as to why “cheap” conventional/natural food is really more expensive than organic, given the astronomical hidden costs (health, pollution, climate destabilization) of conventional agriculture and food processing.

UNFI has cemented this “WFM/Conventional as Natural” paradigm by emulating conventional grocery store practices: giving WFM preferential prices over smaller stores and coops-many of whom are trying their best to sell as many certified organic and local organic products as possible. Compounding this undermining of organics is the increasing practice among large organic companies of dropping organic ingredients in favor of conventional ingredients, while maintaining their preferential shelf space in WFM or UNFI-supplied stores. In other words the most ethical and organic (often smaller) grocers and producers are being discriminated against. WFM also demands, and in most cases receives, a large quantity of free products from producers in exchange for being distributed in WFM markets.

The unfortunate consequence of all this is that it’s very difficult for an independently-owned grocer or a coop trying to sell mostly organic products to compete with, or even survive in the same market as WFM, given the natural products “Sweetheart Deal” between UNFI and WFM. As a consequence more and more independently owned “natural” grocery stores and coops are emulating the WFM model, while a number of brand name, formerly organic, companies are moving away from organic ingredients (Silk soy milk, Horizon, Hain, and Peace Cereal for example) or organic practices (the infamous intensive confinement dairy feedlots of Horizon and Aurora) altogether, while maintaining a misleading green profile in the UNFI/WFM marketplace. Other companies, in the multi-billion dollar body care sector for example, are simply labeling their conventional/natural products as “organic” or trade-marking the word “organic” or “organics” as part of their brand name.

The bottom line is that we must put our money and our principles where our values lie. Buy Certified Organic, not so-called natural products, today and everyday. And tell your retail grocer or coop how you feel.

Meet the Retreads

Posted in Health, Food, Energy and Ecology on June 26, 2009 by CjH

Obama’s Used Green Team

By Jeffrey St. Clair, CounterPunch

Of all of Barack Obama’s airy platitudes about change none were more vaporous than his platitudes about , the environment and within that category Obama has had little at all to say about matters concerning public lands and endangered species. He is, it seems, letting his bureaucratic appointments do his talking for him.  So now, five months into his administration, Obama’s policy on natural resources is beginning to take shape. It is a disturbingly familiar shape, almost sinister.

It all started with the man in the hat, Ken Salazar, Obama’s odd pick to head the Department of Interior. Odd because Salazar was largely detested in his own state, Colorado, by environmentalists for his repellent coziness with oil barons, the big ranchers and the water hogs. Odd because Salazar was close friends with the disgraced Alberto Gonzalez, the torturer’s consigliere. Odd because Salazar backed many of the Bush administration’s most rapacious assaults on the environment and environmental laws. Odder still because Salazar, in his new position as guardian of endangered species, had as a senator repeatedly advocated the weakening of the Endangered Species Act.

Salazar never hid his noxious positions behind a green mantle. Obama certainly knew what he was buying. And the president could have made a much different and refreshing choice by picking Rep. Raul Grijalva, the Arizona Democrat, a Hispanic, a westerner and a true environmentalist who had helped to expose the cauldron of corruption inside the Bush Interior Department. Yes, Obama could have picked a western environmentalist; instead he tapped a prototypical western politician with deep ties to the water, oil, timber, ranching and mining industries. So the choice was deliberate and it presaged the deflating policies that are now beginning to stream out of his office, from siding with Sarah Palin against the polar bear to greenlighting dozens of Bush-era mountaintop removal mining operations across Appalachia. (As CounterPunch pointed out last fall, Obama and Palin have long since established symbiotic harmony on God’s Pipeline, the proposed $30 billion natural gas pipeline that, if constructed, will slice across the tundra and boreal forests from Prudhoe Bay through Canada to Chicago.)

Salazar wasted no time in turning the Interior Department office into a hive of his homeboys. This group of lawyers and former colleagues have already earned the nickname the Colorado Mafia, Version Three. It’s Version Three because Colorado Mafia Version One belonged to James Watt and his Loot-the-West zealots from the Mountain States Legal Fund. The Version Two update came in the form of Gale Norton and her own band of fanatics, some of whom remain embedded in the Department’s HQ, just down the hall from Salazar’s office.

Beyond a perverse obsession with Stetson hats, Salazar and Watt share some eerie resemblances. For starters, they look alike. There’s a certain fleshy smugness to their facial features. Who knows if Salazar shares Watt’s apocalyptic eschatology (Why save nature, Watt once quipped, when the end of the world is nigh.), but both men are arrogant, my-way-or-the-highway types. Watt’s insolent demeanor put him to the right even of his patron Ronald Reagan and ultimately proved his downfall. Salazar may well meet the same fate—if Obama, knock-on-wood, doesn’t nominate him for the next Supreme Court vacancy first. Most troubling, however, is the fact that both Watt and Salazar hold similar views on the purpose of the public estate, treating the national forests and Bureau of Land Management lands not as ecosystems but as living warehouses for the manufacture of stuff: lumber, paper, wedding rings, meat, energy.

With this stark profile in mind, it probably comes as no big shock that the man Salazar nominated to head the Fish and Wildlife Service, the agency charged with protecting native wildlife and enforcing the Endangered Species Act, has viewed those responsibilities with indifference if not hostility. For the past twelve years, Sam Hamilton, whose nomination to head the agency is now pending before congress, has run the Southeast Region of the Fish and Wildlife Service, a swath of the country that has the dubious distinction of driving more species of wildlife to the brink of extinction than any other.

From Florida to Louisiana, the encroaching threats on native wildlife are manifest and relentless: chemical pollution, oil drilling, coastal development, clearcutting, wetland destruction and a political animus toward environmental laws (and environmentalists). And Sam Hamilton was not one to stand up against this grim state of affairs.

A detailed examination of Hamilton’s tenure by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility reveals his bleak record. During the period from 2004 through 2006, Hamilton’s office performed 5,974 consultations on development projects (clearcuts, oil wells, golf courses, roads, housing developments and the like) in endangered species habitat. But Hamilton gave the green light to all of these projects, except one. By contrast, during the same period the Rocky Mountain Office of the Fish and Wildlife Service officially consulted on 586 planned projects and issued 100 objections or so-called jeopardy opinions. Hamilton has by far the weakest record of any of his colleagues on endangered species protection.

There’s plenty of evidence to show that Hamilton routinely placed political considerations ahead of enforcing the wildlife protection laws. For example, in the agency’s Vero Beach, Florida office Fish and Wildlife Service biologists wrote a joint letter in 2005 complaining that their supervisors had ordered them not to object to any project in endangered species habitat—no matter how ruinous.

Take the case of the highly endangered Florida panther. One of Hamilton’s top lieutenants in Florida has been quoted as telling his subordinates that the big cat was a “zoo species” doomed to extinction and that to halt any developments projects in the panther’s habitat would be a waste of time and political capital.

“Under Sam Hamilton, the Endangered Species Act has become a dead letter,” says PEER’s Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that the White House announcement on Hamilton touted his “innovative conservation” work. “Apparently, the word ‘no’ is not part of ‘innovative’ in Mr. Hamilton’s lexicon. To end the cycle of Endangered Species Act lawsuits, the Fish and Wildlife Service needs a director who is willing to follow the law and actually implement the Act. Hamilton’s record suggests that he will extend the policies of Bush era rather than bring needed change.”

Now this man has the fate of the jaguar, grizzly and northern spotted owl in his compromised hands. Feel the chill?

Over at the Agriculture Department Obama made a similarly cynical pick when he chose former Iowa governor Tom Vilsak to head the agency that oversees the national forests. Vilsak resides to the right of Salazar and not just in the sitting arrangement at Cabinet meetings. He is a post-Harken Iowa Democrat, which means he’s essentially a Republican who believes in evolution six days a week. (He leaves such Midwestern heresies at the door on Sundays.) Think Earl Butz—minus the racist sense of humor (as far as we know).

Vilsak is a creature of industrial agriculture, a brusque advocate for the corporate titans that have laid waste the farmbelt: Monsanto, Archer Daniels Midland and Cargill. As administrations come and go, these companies only tighten their stranglehold, poisoning the prairies, spreading their clones and frankencrops, sucking up the Oglalla aquifer, scalping topsoil and driving the small farmers under. It could have been different. Obama might have opted for change by selecting Wes Jackson of the Land Institute, food historian Michael Pollan or Roger Johnson, president of the National Farmers Union. Instead he opted for the old guard, a man with a test tube in one hand and Stihl chainsaw in the other.

Through a quirk of bureaucratic categorization, the Department of Agriculture is also in charge of the national forests. At 190 million acres, the national forests constitute the largest block of public lands and serve as the principal reservoir of biotic diversity and wilderness on the continent. They have also been under a near constant state of siege since the Reagan era: from clearcuts, mining operations, ORV morons, ski resorts and cattle and sheep grazing.

Since 1910, when public outrage erupted after President William Taft fired Gifford Pinchot for speaking out against the corrupt policies of Interior Secretary Richard Ballinger, the chief of the Forest Service had been treated as a civil service employee and, much like the director of the FBI and CIA, was considered immune from changes in presidential administrations.  This all changed when Bill Clinton imperiously dismissed Dale Robertson as chief in 1994 and replaced him with Jack Ward Thomas, the former wildlife biologist who drafted Clinton’s plan to resume logging in the ancient forests of the Pacific Northwest. Thomas’ tenure at the agency proved disastrous for the environment. In eight years of Clinton time, the Forest Service cut six times as much timber as the agency did under the Reagan and Bush I administrations combined. The pace of logging set by Thomas continued unabated during the Bush the Younger’s administration.

So now Vilsak has given the boot to Gail Kimbell, Bush’s compliant chief, and replaced her with a 32-year veteran of the agency named Tom Tidwell. Those were 32 of the darkest years in the Forest Service’s long history, years darkened by a perpetual blizzard of sawdust. You will search Google in vain for any evidence that during the forest-banging years of the Bush administration, when Tidwell served as Regional Forester for the Northern Rockies, this man ever once stood up to Kimbell or her puppetmaster Mark Rey, who went from being the timber industry’s top lobbyist to Bush’s Undersecretary of Agriculture in charge of the national forests. (Point of interest: Rey, once known as the Skeletor of the Timber Industry for the hundreds of thousands of acres of clearcuts on his rapsheet, has now been retained as a fixer by WildLaw, an environmental law firm in Alabama — retained without ever having issued a single mea culpa for his career as a top rank ecocider. You just can’t make this stuff up, anymore.) No, Tidwell was no whistleblower. He was, in fact, a facilitator of forest destruction, eagerly implementing the Kimbell-Rey agenda to push clearcuts, mines, oil wells and roads into the heart of the big wild of Montana and Idaho.

Despite this dismal resumé, Tidwell’s appointment received near unanimous plaudits, from timber companies, ORV user groups, mining firms and, yes, the Wilderness Society. Here’s the assessment of Cliff Roady director the Montana Forest Products Association, a timber industry lobby outfit: “His appointment keeps things on a fairly steady course. He reported to Gail Kimbell, and they worked together really well. He’s somebody we’d look forward to working with.”

And here, singing harmony, are the tweets of Bob Eckey, a spokesman for the Wilderness Society, which some seasoned observers of environmental politics consider to be yet another timber industry lobby group: “Tidwell understands the American public’s vision for a national forest has been changing.”

During his tenure in Montana, Tidwell specialized in the art of coercive collaboration, a social manipulation technique that involves getting environmental groups to endorse destructive projects they would normally litigate to stop. Yet, when copiously lubricated with the magic words “collaboration” or “climate change” most environmentalists can be enticed to swallow even the most ghastly of clearcuts in the most ecologically sensitive sites, such as in grizzly habitat on the Middle Fork of the Flathead River near Glacier Park or in the fast-dwindling ponderosa pine forests of eastern Oregon.

One of Tidwell’s highest priorities will, it seems, be turn the national forests into industrial biomass farms, all in the name of green energy. Under this destructive scheme, forests, young and old alike, will be clearcut, not for lumber, but as fuel to be burned in biomass power generators. Already officials in the big timber states of Oregon and Washington are crowing that they will soon be able to become the “Saudi Arabia” of biomass production. Did they run this past Smokey the Bear?

Of course, Smokey, that global icon of wildfire suppression, and Tidwell will, no doubt, find common ground on another ecological dubious project: thinning and post-fire salvage logging. We’ve reached the point where old-fashioned timber sales are a thing of the past. Now every logging operation will an ecological justification — specious though they all certainly turn out to be.

The Alliance for the Wild Rockies, one of the few green outfits to consistently stand up against Democratic Party-sponsored depredations on the environment, sued Tidwell at least 20 times during his time as regional forester in Missoula. There’s no record of Tidwell being sued even once by Boise-Cascade, Plum Creek Timber or the Noranda Gold Mining Company.

Yet by and large, the mainstream environmental movement has muzzled itself while the Obama administration stocks the Interior Department with corporate lawyers, extraction-minded bureaucrats and Clinton-era retreads. This strategy of a self-imposed gag order will only serve to enable Salazar and Vilsak to pursue even more rapacious schemes without any fear of accountability.

The pattern of political conditioning has been honed to perfection. Every few weeks the Obama administration will drop a few meaningless crumbs–such as the reinstitution of the Clinton Roadless Area rule—toward the enviro establishment, which will greedily gobble them up one after the other until, like Hansel and Gretel with groupthink, they find themselves hopelessly lost in a vast maze of Obama-sanctioned clearcuts. After that, they won’t even get a crumb.

On the environment, the transition between Bush and Obama has been disturbingly smooth when it should have been decisively abrupt.

Where will the administration meet its first roadblock? Who will erect it?

Doctors Warn: Avoid Genetically Modified Food

Posted in Health, Food, Energy and Ecology on June 11, 2009 by CjH

By Jeffrey M. Smith, SeedsofDeception.com

On May 19th, the American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) called on “Physicians to educate their patients, the medical community, and the public to avoid GM (genetically modified) foods when possible and provide educational materials concerning GM foods and health risks.”[1] They called for a moratorium on GM foods, long-term independent studies, and labeling. AAEM’s position paper stated, “Several animal studies indicate serious health risks associated with GM food,” including infertility, immune problems, accelerated aging, insulin regulation, and changes in major organs and the gastrointestinal system. They conclude, “There is more than a casual association between GM foods and adverse health effects. There is causation,” as defined by recognized scientific criteria. “The strength of association and consistency between GM foods and disease is confirmed in several animal studies.”

More and more doctors are already prescribing GM-free diets. Dr. Amy Dean, a Michigan internal medicine specialist, and board member of AAEM says, “I strongly recommend patients eat strictly non-genetically modified foods.” Ohio allergist Dr. John Boyles says “I used to test for soy allergies all the time, but now that soy is genetically engineered, it is so dangerous that I tell people never to eat it.”

Dr. Jennifer Armstrong, President of AAEM, says, “Physicians are probably seeing the effects in their patients, but need to know how to ask the right questions.” World renowned biologist Pushpa M. Bhargava goes one step further. After reviewing more than 600 scientific journals, he concludes that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are a major contributor to the sharply deteriorating health of Americans.

Pregnant women and babies at great risk

Among the population, biologist David Schubert of the Salk Institute warns that “children are the most likely to be adversely effected by toxins and other dietary problems” related to GM foods. He says without adequate studies, the children become “the experimental animals.”[2]

The experience of actual GM-fed experimental animals is scary. When GM soy was fed to female rats, most of their babies died within three weeks—compared to a 10% death rate among the control group fed natural soy.[3] The GM-fed babies were also smaller, and later had problems getting pregnant.[4]

When male rats were fed GM soy, their testicles actually changed color—from the normal pink to dark blue.[5] Mice fed GM soy had altered young sperm.[6] Even the embryos of GM fed parent mice had significant changes in their DNA.[7] Mice fed GM corn in an Austrian government study had fewer babies, which were also smaller than normal.[8]

Reproductive problems also plague livestock. Investigations in the state of Haryana, India revealed that most buffalo that ate GM cottonseed had complications such as premature deliveries, abortions, infertility, and prolapsed uteruses. Many calves died. In the US, about two dozen farmers reported thousands of pigs became sterile after consuming certain GM corn varieties. Some had false pregnancies; others gave birth to bags of water. Cows and bulls also became infertile when fed the same corn.[9]

In the US population, the incidence of low birth weight babies, infertility, and infant mortality are all escalating.

Food designed to produce toxin

GM corn and cotton are engineered to produce their own built-in pesticide in every cell. When bugs bite the plant, the poison splits open their stomach and kills them. Biotech companies claim that the pesticide, called Bt—produced from soil bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis—has a history of safe use, since organic farmers and others use Bt bacteria spray for natural insect control. Genetic engineers insert Bt genes into corn and cotton, so the plants do the killing.

The Bt-toxin produced in GM plants, however, is thousands of times more concentrated than natural Bt spray, is designed to be more toxic,[10] has properties of an allergen, and unlike the spray, cannot be washed off the plant. Moreover, studies confirm that even the less toxic natural bacterial spray is harmful. When dispersed by plane to kill gypsy moths in the Pacific Northwest, about 500 people reported allergy or flu-like symptoms. Some had to go to the emergency room.[11], [12] The exact same symptoms are now being reported by farm workers throughout India, from handling Bt cotton.[13] In 2008, based on medical records, the Sunday India reported, “Victims of itching have increased massively this year . . . related to BT cotton farming.”[14]

GMOs provoke immune reactions

AAEM states, “Multiple animal studies show significant immune dysregulation,” including increase in cytokines, which are “associated with asthma, allergy, and inflammation”—all on the rise in the US.

According to GM food safety expert Dr. Arpad Pusztai, changes in the immune status of GM animals are “a consistent feature of all the studies.”[15] Even Monsanto’s own research showed significant immune system changes in rats fed Bt corn.[16] A November 2008 by the Italian government also found that mice have an immune reaction to Bt corn.[17]

GM soy and corn each contain two new proteins with allergenic properties,[18] GM soy has up to seven times more trypsin inhibitor—a known soy allergen,[19] and skin prick tests show some people react to GM, but not to non-GM soy.[20] Soon after GM soy was introduced to the UK, soy allergies skyrocketed by 50%. Perhaps the US epidemic of food allergies and asthma is a casualty of genetic manipulation.

Animals dying in large numbers

In India, animals graze on cotton plants after harvest. But when shepherds let sheep graze on Bt cotton plants, thousands died. Post mortems showed severe irritation and black patches in both intestines and liver (as well as enlarged bile ducts). Investigators said preliminary evidence “strongly suggests that the sheep mortality was due to a toxin. . . . most probably Bt-toxin.”[21] In a small follow-up feeding study by the Deccan Development Society, all sheep fed Bt cotton plants died within 30 days; those that grazed on natural cotton plants remained healthy.

In a small village in Andhra Pradesh, buffalo grazed on cotton plants for eight years without incident. On January 3rd, 2008, the buffalo grazed on Bt cotton plants for the first time. All 13 were sick the next day; all died within 3 days.[22] Bt corn was also implicated in the deaths of cows in Germany, and horses, water buffaloes, and chickens in The Philippines.[23]

In lab studies, twice the number of chickens fed Liberty Link corn died; 7 of 20 rats fed a GM tomato developed bleeding stomachs; another 7 of 40 died within two weeks.[24] Monsanto’s own study showed evidence of poisoning in major organs of rats fed Bt corn, according to top French toxicologist G. E. Seralini.[25]

Worst finding of all—GMOs remain inside of us

The only published human feeding study revealed what may be the most dangerous problem from GM foods. The gene inserted into GM soy transfers into the DNA of bacteria living inside our intestines and continues to function.[26] This means that long after we stop eating GMOs, we may still have potentially harmful GM proteins produced continuously inside of us. Put more plainly, eating a corn chip produced from Bt corn might transform our intestinal bacteria into living pesticide factories, possibly for the rest of our lives.

When evidence of gene transfer is reported at medical conferences around the US, doctors often respond by citing the huge increase of gastrointestinal problems among their patients over the last decade. GM foods might be colonizing the gut flora of North Americans.

Warnings by government scientists ignored and denied

Scientists at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had warned about all these problems even in the early 1990s. According to documents released from a lawsuit, the scientific consensus at the agency was that GM foods were inherently dangerous, and might create hard-to-detect allergies, poisons, gene transfer to gut bacteria, new diseases, and nutritional problems. They urged their superiors to require rigorous long-term tests.[27] But the White House had ordered the agency to promote biotechnology and the FDA responded by recruiting Michael Taylor, Monsanto’s former attorney, to head up the formation of GMO policy. That policy, which is in effect today, denies knowledge of scientists’ concerns and declares that no safety studies on GMOs are required. It is up to Monsanto and the other biotech companies to determine if their foods are safe. Mr. Taylor later became Monsanto’s vice president.

Dangerously few studies, untraceable diseases

AAEM states, “GM foods have not been properly tested” and “pose a serious health risk.” Not a single human clinical trial on GMOs has been published. A 2007 review of published scientific literature on the “potential toxic effects/health risks of GM plants” revealed “that experimental data are very scarce.” The author concludes his review by asking, “Where is the scientific evidence showing that GM plants/food are toxicologically safe, as assumed by the biotechnology companies?”[28]

Famed Canadian geneticist David Suzuki answers, “The experiments simply haven’t been done and we now have become the guinea pigs.” He adds, “Anyone that says, ‘Oh, we know that this is perfectly safe,’ I say is either unbelievably stupid or deliberately lying.”[29]

Dr. Schubert points out, “If there are problems, we will probably never know because the cause will not be traceable and many diseases take a very long time to develop.” If GMOs happen to cause immediate and acute symptoms with a unique signature, perhaps then we might have a chance to trace the cause.

This is precisely what happened during a US epidemic in the late 1980s. The disease was fast acting, deadly, and caused a unique measurable change in the blood—but it still took more than four years to identify that an epidemic was even occurring. By then it had killed about 100 Americans and caused 5,000-10,000 people to fall sick or become permanently disabled. It was caused by a genetically engineered brand of a food supplement called L-tryptophan.

If other GM foods are contributing to the rise of autism, obesity, diabetes, asthma, cancer, heart disease, allergies, reproductive problems, or any other common health problem now plaguing Americans, we may never know. In fact, since animals fed GMOs had such a wide variety of problems, susceptible people may react to GM food with multiple symptoms. It is therefore telling that in the first nine years after the large scale introduction of GM crops in 1996, the incidence of people with three or more chronic diseases nearly doubled, from 7% to 13%.[30]

To help identify if GMOs are causing harm, the AAEM asks their “members, the medical community, and the independent scientific community to gather case studies potentially related to GM food consumption and health effects, begin epidemiological research to investigate the role of GM foods on human health, and conduct safe methods of determining the effect of GM foods on human health.”

Citizens need not wait for the results before taking the doctors advice to avoid GM foods. People can stay away from anything with soy or corn derivatives, cottonseed and canola oil, and sugar from GM sugar beets—unless it says organic or “non-GMO.” There is a pocket Non-GMO Shopping Guide, co-produced by the Institute for Responsible Technology and the Center for Food Safety, which is available as a download, as well as in natural food stores and in many doctors’ offices.

If even a small percentage of people choose non-GMO brands, the food industry will likely respond as they did in Europe—by removing all GM ingredients. Thus, AAEM’s non-GMO prescription may be a watershed for the US food supply.

The 8 Green Steps to Solartopia

Posted in Health, Food, Energy and Ecology on June 1, 2009 by CjH

Diverse, Sustainable and Socially Just

By Harvey Wasserman, Solartopia.org

The noble vision of a Solartopian green-powered Earth is at last upon us.

Our eco-future is defined by the four Great Green Truths: we have a global crisis, it has a solution, the solution is winnable, and winning requires a “middle path” of action that is both non-violent and non-stop.

There are technological solutions to the crisis, but they demand political action. Together they comprise the Eight Green Steps to a sustainable world:

1.BAN WASTE AND WAR: Nothing may be produced that cannot be fully recycled or that will not completely bio-degrade. This includes weapons whose sole purpose is death and destruction, and whose manufacture and use must be ended by a global community that knows war to be the ultimate act of ecological suicide.

2.MAXIMIZE EFFICIENCY & CONSERVATION: From energy to building materials, food to fiber, water to paper, our resources must be preserved. Our unsustainable consumption and wasteful industries must be made appropriate and efficient, starting with a reborn mass transit system and complete preservation of all remaining virgin land and waters.

3.TRANSCEND FOSSIL/NUKE: King CONG (Coal, Oil, Nukes & Gas) must take its place in the compost heap of history. Our addiction to filthy, finite fossil/nuclear fuels has led us to the brink of economic and ecological collapse. In the new green millennium, we either kick the habit, or it kills us.

4. CONVERT TO RENEWABLES: Solar, wind, tidal, geothermal, ocean thermal, wave, current, sustainable bio-fuels and their green siblings are proven, profitable and have time on their side. Each has its imperfections, and no single source will dominate. But union-made renewables sing in economic and ecological harmony, and are the ultimate job-creators.

5. GO ORGANIC: Factory farming, genetically modified crops and chemical pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers are unsustainable. Diverse, community-scaled, reliably organic agriculture is the key to a future fed by food that’s fit to eat.

6. TRANSFORM THE CORPORATION: Our most powerful—and destructive—institution claims human rights without human responsibilities. Corporate charters must require social service, ecological accountability and establish a barrier between capitalism and cannibalism. “Green” corporations whose legal mandate still remains limited to accumulating profits will make a mess of the planet as surely as all those that have come before.

7. ASSURE SOCIAL DEMOCRACY: Universal hand-counted (recycled) paper ballots and curbs on the power of money to sway elections are the essence of global democracy, as is the demand for social justice. Until all humans are assured the basics of life—food, shelter, clothing, health care, education—democracy and freedom are shallow illusions.

8. EMPOWER WOMEN / CONTROL POPULATION: Where enfranchised, educated, fairly paid and in control of their own bodies, the natural union of women with Mother Earth brings us the children She wishes to support. On a healthy planet, birth rates find their natural level when all children are loved and wanted, which is where Solartopia starts.

This list follows the form of Buddhism’s Four Noble Truths and Eight-Fold Path to Enlightenment. But all religions at their core call for universal harmony between people and the planet.

Solartopia is diverse, sustainable, and socially just, the necessary, possible vision of a civilization in which we can all survive and thrive.

See you there!