Category Archives: GMOs

The Monsanto Protection Act

We’re Not Done Fighting.

The Farmer Assurance Provision, as it’s titled in the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, was passed by the Senate in March 2013, and remains in effect for 6 months. That means it’s set to expire this month (September 2013). Do you think Monsanto is going to let it expire? Do you think they want another public outcry against their provision? I’m guessing no, and no. It’s rational to expect that they’ll try to sneak in another provision somewhere without too many people finding out about it.

Guess what: they already have!

Good thing we have the Center for Food Safety to inform us, but even they only found out after the fact. On September 10th, the House passed a 3-month appropriations bill which included an extension of the Monsanto Protection Act. Shame on the Senate Appropriations Committee. The good news is, it’s only for 3 months, and we can continue to voice dissent and try to ensure that this doesn’t continue.

As the CFS website puts it, “the rider represents an unprecedented attack on U.S. judicial review, which is an essential element of U.S. law and provides a critical check on government decisions that may negatively impact human health, the environment or livelihoods.” This provision essentially grants immunity to Monsanto, regardless of decisions by the judicial system that would otherwise impair the company’s ‘right to profit.’

You can read about the 5 Terrifying Things to Know about the Monsanto Protection Act, and get involved. Join the March Against Monsanto that will be taking place on October 12th, call your state representatives, and inform others about this vitally important issue! Click on the image below to learn more.

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The Rising Danger of Genetically Modified Trees

“Since trade ignores national boundaries and the manufacturer insists on having the world as a market, the flag of his nation must follow him and the doors of the nations which are closed against him must be battered down, even if the sovereignty of unwilling nations be outraged in the process. No useful corner of the world may be overlooked or left unused.” ~ Woodrow Wilson

GM TreesAn outrageous notion, perhaps, but one which Monsanto certainly abides by as it works tirelessly to batter down the doors not only of new markets, but of new products which they know will do further damage to the environment and encounter increasing opposition from citizens around the world.

There are genetically engineered trees that have been designed for two purposes – fruit trees for food and trees for the paper industry. There are currently test fields, around the globe, of genetically modified trees. Most of the test plots in the US are in the southeast, and the areas around them have already seen adverse effects from being contaminated by the pollen from GE trees whose ‘terminator gene’ wasn’t effective.

These trees are engineered, like all the other GMO crops, so that they kill insects by producing the BT toxin, and to be Round-up ready, as well as being supposedly sterile. The trees being designed for the paper industry are also engineered to be low in lignin because it’s difficult and expensive for the industry to remove. There are so many dangers, huge issues, about which we need to engage in public discussion. More people need to be aware of these threats, and more people need to join in the fight against this mad science experiment. Here’s why:

GM trees

Sterility

We’re looking at massive disruption of our vital forest ecosystems through contamination. The inventors of the terminator gene have explicitly stated that it will not be effective 100% of the time. So, Monsanto and others who are creating these GMOs know full well that anytime GMOs are grown, there will almost certainly be contamination of nearby organisms. The threat of this is greatly increased with trees, as they have the ability to spread their pollen over huge areas, up to hundreds of miles. They don’t care because they only stand to gain by it. Monsanto has been given the right to claim ownership of contaminated crops. If they contaminate forests on public lands, we have to ask what the result of that will be. Monsanto has not shown itself to be capable of any kind of self-restraint whatsoever and it’s completely rational to believe that they will have no qualms about cutting everything down. Even if the sterility gene isn’t effective in a particular plant, it can still pass that gene on. So, if our forests become contaminated, it’s also likely that a larger number of trees in native forests will be sterile.

BT toxin

desert-1196987_640We’ve already begun to see the drastic effects that the BT toxin, produced by GE plants to kill insects, has on the surrounding environment. It kills good insects as well as bad, insects that we depend on to pollinate our natural crops and make them viable. Also, if you kill all the insects that other animals, like birds, depend on for food, one thing leads to another and you’ve soon destroyed the entire ecosystem.

Another problem with the BT toxin is that it isn’t limited to the plant itself. It’s also produced in the root of the plant, which means it gets into the ground. This leads to two very damaging environmental effects. First, the toxin leaches into the groundwater, contaminating nearby streams and rivers – sources of drinking water for humans and animals alike. Second, the soil is full of insects which are a necessary part of the ability of natural soil to renew itself. They add nutrients that plants need to grow, through both life and decomposition after death. GE crops also grow faster, requiring more water and nutrients, so while they take more out, they simultaneously make it impossible for the soil to renew itself. Follow this to its natural conclusion and we find that, every few years, more native forests would have to be cleared to make way for the GE trees because the previous plot is now an arid wasteland that can’t support life. Seems like a bad plan, right?

Round-up

Monsanto’s herbicide Round-up has sundry severely damaging effects on human beings, and it’s been found in blood and urine samples, at high levels, of huge numbers of people across the globe. It’s being banned in city after city and country after country as more information continues to come to light about the damage that it does. Read this article about the 10 most important things to know about glyphosate, the active ingredient in Round-up. It’s in our drinking water for the same reason BT toxin is, and it gets absorbed by crops during their growth because they constantly doused with the stuff, so it’s also in a lot of the food that we eat in trace amounts – and that’s all it takes. Weeds become resistant to it over time, so more and more is used, and a new round of GMOs are being designed to withstand 2,4-D, one of the chemicals in Agent Orange that was responsible for making it so dangerous.

Make it stop.

“What the hell is the rush to apply these ideas?…The rush to apply these ideas is absolutely dangerous because we don’t have a clue what the long-term impact of our manipulations is going to be.” ~ Dr. David Suzuki, geneticist

If you’re not fighting Monsanto, with your knowledge, your time, and your wallet, now is the time to start! Buy from small farmers who use sustainable practices, buy organic, have conversations with people who don’t know the truth.

Free Trade Agreements & GMOs

Globally, nobody really wants GMOs. American lobbyists and politicians call it a “technical barrier for trade.” Another way to say that might be ‘the will of the people getting in the way of corporate imperialism.’

There’s a new trade agreement in the works between the US and the EU, called TTIP – Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. It will be the largest trade agreement in the world. Trade between the EU and the US is already at some $2 billion per day, but regulations in the EU prevent some imports from the US and operations of certain US companies because they don’t abide by the relatively strict non-GMO and other food safety standards that the EU has adopted because of overwhelming public opinion, and because they prefer the ‘better safe than sorry’ approach when it comes to public health. I think most of us have figured out by now that most of the actions taken by our federal government at this point in time are designed to benefit corporations, not people, so it’s important to take a look at things like TTIP through that lens.

One of the tasks TTIP seeks to accomplish is a convergence of the differences in technical regulations, standards and certifications. It would be nice to assume that this convergence would take place at the highest standards, but I’m afraid we can’t make that assumption. I’ve read articles about this changing of standards being scary for Americans because, if this convergence follows the lowest common denominator, as it’s supposed that it will, we won’t be able to trust imported food. Very funny! It’s the rest of the world that’s scared, because allowing GMOs and a list of some 3000 additives in our food supply makes our products the ones that can’t be trusted in terms of safety. Look at how unhealthy we are as a nation. Other people are not exactly clamoring to have what we’re having.

The truly concerning part of this is, in fact, already an aspect of other trade agreements, like NAFTA, and would be a matter of course for TTIP – that is the ability of corporations to sue governments if they judge that the policies, regulations, or actions of that government result in a loss of their “right” to profit. An interesting concept, that – right to profit.

For example, three US-based companies – Corn Products International, ADM/Tate & Lyle, and Cargill – sued the Mexican government for refusing to import high-fructose corn syrup under NAFTA. They won the lawsuit and Mexico had to pay the three companies a total of over $169 million. Monsanto has already shown that it’s more than adept at getting what it wants via the legal system. If they can use this tactic in Europe, it will force open a back door to GMOs in the EU. That’s only one concern; there’s a long list of food additives that are approved in the US, but banned in Europe and elsewhere because of serious doubts about their safety, even in limited quantities. Artificial colors are on that list because they’re made from some of the same chemicals you find in gasoline, tar and asphalt.

Guess who gets a seat at the negotiating table. Corporations. It’s expected that they’ll give themselves the ability (as they already have done in the TPP – Trans-Pacific Partnership) to challenge countries’ laws, regulations, even court decisions. This would effectively elevate corporations above the level of nation-states in terms of power and should never be allowed. It probably wouldn’t be if the public in any member country had a say, which is why the talks for both the TPP and TTIP are being kept largely secret. The information we do have is from leaked papers, and it bodes ill for the futures of the people who will be affected by the general lowering of standards. By taking away the ability of a country to regulate its own food supply, these agreements will be taking away any level of food sovereignty from individuals as well, because it erases their ability to effect any kind of change even by voting.

Which brings us back to this idea of the “right” of corporations to profit. A truly screwy concept. Corporations do not have some fundamental right to profit. They have the goal of offering products and services that people want. That is how they profit. If they offer something no one wants they should fail. That’s really the basic ideal of capitalism, albeit very simply put, and there’s really nothing wrong with that, but what we’re working with now isn’t this basic capitalism; it’s crony capitalism and corporate imperialism at their ugliest. That’s really what’s responsible for companies like Monsanto, which are permitted to steamroll everything that stands in the way of any potential profit, regardless of the cost to human and environmental health and safety. This is really the importance of government regulations – if you’re permissive enough in the beginning, pretty soon you’ve created a monster that you have no control over.

And now a quote from Noam Chomsky circa 2003:

“The most powerful state in world history has proclaimed, loud and clear, that it intends to rule the world by force…The empire has also declared, explicitly and precisely, that it will tolerate no competitors, now or in the future. Its leaders believe that the means of violence in their hands are so extraordinary that they can dismiss with contempt anyone that stands in their way.” ~ Noam Chomsky

Learn more about these issues:

Corporate Europe Observatory

Eco-Watch

Noam Chomsky’s talk at the World Social Forum in Brasil.

Why GMOs Don’t & Won’t Help the Hungry

Let’s ask a question that no one asks. Why are we looking for a technological fix to the problem of hunger and nutrition deficiency?

Is it because it’s the best way to solve the problem, or is it because it’s the best way for companies that engage in genetic engineering to make money off rich and poor alike?

Dangers

click to enlarge

I know what you’ve been told, but it’s simply not true. It’s propaganda. GE crops aren’t really meant to save the world from hunger. They’re meant to make money for Monsanto, DuPont, Syngenta, et al. The seeds have to be purchased anew each year – a ridiculous thing to ask of a small rural farmer in a poor country (or any other farmer, for that matter), so that’s making life harder for them, not better. They have to increase the amount of pesticides they use on the crop, which is both more expensive and leads to exposure to toxic chemicals, causing health problems of all sorts, including lymphatic cancers and leukemia, not to mention the environmental damage caused by the same chemicals. And let’s not forget that GMOs also attack from the inside out, causing intestinal and digestive problems, neurological disorders in children who ingest them or whose mothers ingest them while pregnant, DNA damage and cancers, and the list goes on.

GMO crops often need more water than their non-GMO counterparts, largely because they’re meant to be high-yield, leading to wasteful water usage which contributes to the severity of droughts and pollutes more water. Since they’re high-yield, they also rapidly deplete the nutrients in the ground, and there’s no crop rotation to let the soil renew itself – you can’t plant anything else in the same spot because of the herbicides that are now in the soil. Malnutrition is, in fact, increased by using GE crops because of the way it causes massive declines in biodiversity, which is important not just for nature, but for our own diets and health.

Take the example of ‘Golden Rice,’ which was genetically modified to include more vitamin A, as well as to be high-yield and pesticide resistant. They said it was going to be the savior of southeast Asia, where there’s high incidence of blindness due to a common lack of vitamin A in the diets of many of the region’s poor, who eat a lot of rice because, well, that’s what they grow a lot of since it’s so cheap. There are a few problems with that plan. For starters, all the problems described in the previous paragraph apply, and there’s an important health risk to consider: if you eat a lot of rice, and not enough of other things, vitamin A isn’t the only thing you’re deficient in, so your problem isn’t really solved. Also, eating large quantities of vitamin A over a long period of time has been shown to lead to vitamin A toxicity.

Now step back and ask yourself how this is saving the world form hunger. Right. It’s not. It’s just not a great solution, to go from eating lots of regular rice to eating lots of vitamin A-fortified, pesticide-laden, environmentally destructive rice.

Alternatives

How about educating communities about nutrition and getting farmers to set aside more land for growing things other than rice, such as dark green leafy vegetables, carrots, pumpkin, mango – these all contain beta-carotene which the body processes into vitamin A, and contain other nutrients as well. Now we can have crop rotation, far less water usage, a balanced diet, more fertile soil, no negative effects on health, and it’s not costing the farmers anything because they don’t need all the toxic chemicals and they can save their seeds, use them for the next growing season, and share them with other farmers. There’s just one major problem with this plan – Monsanto, DuPont and Syngenta won’t make any money.

The “Natural Flavors” Obfuscation

Did you know that MSG and aspartame can be labeled as “natural flavors”? Did you know that they are also the leading causes of central nervous system damage in the United States? They are both neurological toxins called excitotoxins, which essentially cause an extreme level of activity in certain brain cells, causing the cells to become exhausted and then die. The hypothalamus and the temporal lobes are specifically targeted. They control behavior, sleep cycle, emotion, immunity, and onset of puberty, among other things. They are essentially drugs, and damage your brain as such. Really look at the image to the right. This is what happens to brain cells within 2 hours of consumption of MSG.

brain-954821_640The reason they’re in a massive percentage of our food supply is because our food production system, very simply put, makes food that tastes of cardboard without a lot of help from additives like MSG and aspartame. They also ‘excite’ your taste buds along with your brain cells, and are addictive. The more of them you eat, the more you crave them. That’s another reason why they’re in so much processed food. The companies making these products want you to want them. Despite what it sounds like, this isn’t some sort of conspiracy theory. This is run-away laissez-faire capitalism gone mad (with the dubious exception of subsidization, of course).

mmm…gelatin

“Natural flavors” create two more problems for people who want to be more healthy and/or take a sociopolitical stand by taking control of their diet. One is that many of these “natural flavors” are manufactured using a process that begins with soy protein, sugar, glucose, starch, or a fatty acid. These are often derived from genetically modified crops, such as soy, corn, rapeseed, potatoes and sugar beets. The other problem is for vegetarians and vegans – there are many additives that are allowed in supposedly vegetarian and vegan food, which are derived from animals and insects. I like to take garlic supplements, but I recently discovered that the ones I’ve been taking use pig-derived gelatin. So, I’m back to raw organic garlic until I can find an alternative. It’s a veritable minefield out there. But knowledge is power, and as we gain knowledge, we can make changes one at a time.

All those years, I thought spices looked like this. Silly me!

All those years, I thought spices looked like this. Silly me!

The most important thing for you to know is how to recognize these dangerous ingredients, so that you can avoid buying products that contain them. MSG goes by many names. This is an incomplete list:

Glutamic acid, glutamate, monopotassium glutamate, calcium glutamate, calcium caseinate, sodium caseinate, gelatin, anything “hydrolyzed,” soy protein, soy protein concentrate, soy protein isolate, textured protein, whey protein, whey protein concentrate, whey protein isolate, yeast extract, yeast food, yeast nutrient, autolyzed yeast, caramelized yeast, vegetable extract, plant protein extract, oat flour, malt extract, malt flavoring, bouillon, broth, stock, natural flavoring, natural beef or chicken flavoring, seasoning, spices, carrageenan, enzymes.

For a long time I thought that the term “spices” in ingredients lists was to protect trade secrets, so the company doesn’t have to give away it’s special mixture of dried/dehydrated chives, oregano and parsley. As it turns out, it’s so they don’t have to write MSG on the label, since it’s gotten so much well-deserved bad press.

Aspartame may be a little easier to recognize, as it has fewer names. They include Equal, NutraSweet, NatraTaste, Canderel, Spoonful, and Equal-Measure. Similar artificial sweeteners that should also be avoided are acesulfame K, cyclamate, isomalt, saccharin, sucralose (brand name Splenda), alitame, neohesperidine, salt of aspartame-acesulfame, maltitol, lactitol, sorbitol, mannitol and glycerol.

greens-266560_640Here’s the thing. It’s really a lot easier to think about this in a positive way. In other words, don’t think about what to avoid. Think about what to include. For example, organic honey, actual real maple syrup, and organic raw sugar are fine in moderate quantities. Cook at home using fresh ingredients, and add flavor to your food with real herbs and spices. It’s that simple.

Guerrilla Gardening

Meet Ron Finley – resident of South Central L.A. and guerrilla gardener. Even if you’ve never been near the place, you probably have at least a vague notion that South Central is not really where you want to find yourself. But for the residents, it’s home, and many people couldn’t move if they wanted to (and they probably want to). So, instead of jumping ship, this man decided to do something about it; to try to make a difference that everyone in his community could appreciate and anyone could participate in if they wanted.

Food Deserts

South Central L.A. is considered a food desert. That means that the residents don’t have access to healthy foods within a relatively convenient distance, though they often have plenty of access to fast food, and convenience and liquor stores. Food deserts exist all over the U.S., predominantly effecting lower-income areas, where there are, on average, 3 times fewer grocery stores than in wealthier neighborhoods. This is entirely related to the off-balance obesity rates and incidents of type-2 diabetes in these communities.

Why you should get involved

The purposes of guerrilla gardening are to both beautify and provide healthy food for local communities, no matter what their socio-economic status. As the gap between wealth and poverty widens and the middle class shrinks, it’s not just the food deserts that need help. In suburban neighborhoods, many people are struggling more to make ends meet and, as Ron Finley says, “growing your own food is like printing your own money,” and he tells us that about $1 worth of green beans can generate as much as $75 worth of produce.

The effects are much more far-reaching than that, though. These gardens offer incredible educational opportunities for both children and adults, to learn how to be more self-sufficient and to understand and appreciate the importance of fresh vegetables, for health, yes, but for well-being in general. Kids that are out in the garden aren’t out getting into trouble, or sitting in front of a television. They’re learning how to improve themselves and their communities instead of watching fast food advertisements. Another great benefit is that you can control where your seeds come from and how they’re grown. You can buy non-GMO seeds, and choose not to use pesticides. You generate less waste from trips to the grocery store and all the paper and plastic you come away with in addition to your food. This is something worth getting involved with in some capacity, even if you’re just chucking sunflower seeds down a grate or creating graffiti art with moss (link to instructions below). Make whatever difference you can!

Watch Ron Finley’s TED talk. It’s only about 10 minutes long and worth your time!

Learn more about food deserts at the Food Empowerment Project.

Advice and tips on how to get started

Community pages on guerrillagardening.org and a Facebook page – try to find other guerrilla gardeners in your area to team up with

How to make moss graffiti

One Unsustainable Habit

Change just one unsustainable habit today. I hate to say it, but for a very long time I was one of those people who left the water running while brushing my teeth. I cringe when I think about all the fresh, potable water that I wasted with utter disregard. If you do it too, today’s the day to start turning off that water.

Here are some more unsustainable habits to think about changing:

String_bagPaper or plastic? Neither. Bring your own shopping bags. Added bonus – reusable bags are very inexpensive and you can find pretty ones that suit your style. You can also get reusable produce bags for the grocery store, so you can stop wasting all those little plastic bags. Those things are the bane of my existence. I hate them. You can even up-cycle t-shirts to make your own bags. Here’s a tutorial.

Buy local – You’ll save all kinds of resources by buying local. Farmers who sell their fruits and veggies at farmer’s markets typically use more sustainable practices, and don’t unnecessarily package their produce. If you have a local spice and/or tea merchant you might be able to buy from them and use containers you already have. Local merchants are more willing to work with you to help you be more sustainable, something national grocery chains don’t do.

Appliances & electronics – Even turned off, most electronics and appliances still draw power. Unplug them when you’re done using them, or use a power strip that you can simply switch off. Many large appliances can’t really be unplugged without a huge hassle, but things like toasters and toaster ovens can.

plastic-631625_640Bottled water – I’m not a fan of tap water, but I’m also not keen on all the waste generated by bottled water. The solution – a filter. There are several different kinds you can use in your kitchen to filter your own tap water. Many bottled waters are also owned by major corporations like Pepsi, Coke and Nestle that you may not want to support because of their involvement in the anti GMO-labeling campaign.

Make, don’t buy – There are probably several things that you buy on a regular basis which you can very easily make, reducing the amount of packaging waste that you personally generate. For example, salad dressings are fast & easy. They are also a product that often contain fillers and GMOs and gunk that you can avoid by making them yourself.

Towels – Use cloth instead of paper towels in the kitchen. Like many of these other suggestions, it may require a small initial investment but will save you money over time in addition to being a more sustainable practice.

Go Dutch – By which I mean, of course, ride your bicycle. Do you drive to the corner store that’s half a mile away? At a leisurely pace, that only takes 10 minutes to walk. Go by bicycle to get there in just a few minutes. Most trips that Americans take are less than 3 miles. A 3-mile bicycle ride takes around 10-15 minutes, depending on how fast you go.

Take it step-by-step. If you try to change your whole life at once, you’ll just get frustrated and then nothing will change. To really make a difference, you have to really make a change, so set realistic goals for improving your personal sustainability accountability and meet them one at a time. And don’t be surprised if it takes a few weeks to stop making that return-trip from the supermarket to your car to retrieve your forgotten grocery bags from the back seat. It’s all part of the process.

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