Tag 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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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

An Unsustainable Food Supply

Fur trappers and traders who came to North America in the 1600s and 1700s had to eat what they could forage and catch. Rabbits were plentiful in many regions at that time, and so they formed the bulk of some trappers’ diets. Those trappers who relied too heavily on rabbit meat often died of malnutrition. Rabbit meat takes more calories to procure than you get back from eating it. That balance is unsustainable, and yet it is exactly how the U.S. food system works.

A little bit of math

It takes approximately 10 calories worth of fossil fuels to produce and transport 1 calorie of food. That means, for a family of four with a 2,000 calorie-per-day diet, 930 gallons of gas per year will be required to produce and transport their food, not including that family driving to and from the grocery store. Since the average household in the U.S. consumes somewhere around 1,000 gallons of gas per year, the way we manage our food supply nearly doubles the already ridiculous amount of fuel each person is responsible for consuming. That kind of imbalance on a personal level will eventually kill you, and what we’re seeing on a national level is no different.

Approximately 15% of the energy supply in the United States goes into crop production, livestock production, food processing, and packaging. A Cornell University professor of ecology and agricultural science did the math for what that means for the big picture: if all of humanity were to go about food production the way the U.S. does, we would exhaust all known fossil fuel reserves in seven years. Wow, that’s wasteful!

Agricultural practices contribute greatly to global warming. Because of the complexity of the problem and the multitude of factors, it’s difficult to arrive at an accurate number, but it’s thought that approximately 33% of contributions to climate change are a direct result of the food supply system. Some of the factors are farm machinery, petroleum-based chemicals used in synthetic fertilizers, the manufacturing processes for agro-chemicals and fertilizers, the processing of major crops like corn and soy into a vast array of derived products, and the distribution over long distances of everything, including the final output. Animal agriculture itself accounts for more greenhouse gas emissions (18%) than all transportation in the globe (14%). (Others argue that the figure of 18% allows a large number of unallocated emissions that are really due to animal agriculture, bringing the figure up to 51% – read more here.)

Let’s take school lunches as an example, if only because a) they need to change anyway as they’re incredibly unhealthy for our children, and b) I can quote directly from an article by Tom Starrs, VP and COO of the Bonneville Environmental Foundation:

“According to 2005 USDA National School Lunch Program participation figures, 29.6 million American school children were served nearly five billion meals at school last year. Typically these meals are highly processed, filled with conditioners, preservatives, dyes, salts, artificial flavors, and sweeteners. Usually they’re individually portioned and packaged, and travel thousands of miles to the school cafeteria.

School meals are commonly delivered frozen, wrapped and sealed in energy-consumptive packaging, and in need of some interval in a warming oven to thaw before being served to students. Studies of packaging and plate waste in school cafeterias indicate that, every day, as much as half, by weight, of these hasty, unappetizing, low-nutrient, highly processed and packaged meals is tossed by students — unopened, un”appreciated”, untasted, unrecycled and uncomposted. The energy needed to collect and transport the waste generated by school lunch must also be added to the net energy embedded in the meal.”

This is no different from food in the grocery store, which travels hundreds if not thousands of miles to get there, and is wastefully packaged to boot.

It’s the Monsanto monster again

A huge amount of agriculture and food supply mismanagement can be traced back to Monsanto & friends. The federal government has been convinced by lobbyists and money to subsidize over-production of monoculture crops such as corn and soy. They are genetically modified crops, grown in petroleum-based synthetic fertilizer, drenched in herbicides and insecticides, then either fed to cattle who can’t digest them or highly processed before going into your own food. Monsanto & friends get extremely-well paid, while you and I foot the bill, twice – once in our tax dollars funding their subsidies and once for increasingly expensive health care to treat our inevitable diet-related illnesses.

Farmers growing fruits and vegetables that are fit for human consumption don’t receive subsidies. It’s really an upside-down system. We should be able to offer farmers subsidies to protect them from a year of drought, blight, etc., but not for purposeful overproduction of nutritionally useless and environmentally damaging crops that serve no purpose but to line the pockets of those in charge of unethical corporations.

Tipping point

With a rising global population, increases in droughts and flooding, and a beautiful planet that can’t take much more of what we’re throwing at her, we absolutely have to make our system more sustainable and energy-efficient if we’re going to survive. None of us can implement that change alone, but we can each make choices in our daily lives that will contribute, and we can urge others to do the same. If enough of us care and get involved, we can and will reach a tipping point where the system will have to change. It’s a top-down problem that we need to try to solve from the bottom-up. We all have to get involved. Buy local as much as possible. Go to farmer’s markets. Grow your own vegetables at home. Start to think about the net energy that goes into your food and the waste that results. Start or get involved in a local community garden, farm-to-school program, or food forest project. Above all, teach your children!

Alternatives to Big Pharma

I started writing this post a few days ago. Too bad I didn’t finish it. The timing would have been perfect. Yesterday, I read an article entitled NYC Allows Doctors to Prescribe Fruits and Veggies Instead of Pills, which ended like this,

“The largest city in the nation (and global leader itself) is taking a stand for natural health and true wellness. Here’s hoping they are only the first in many more to come.”

Heard! It’s wonderful to see strides forward in this area. Now, on to my post –

I don’t know many people who don’t keep a shelf or a plastic tub full of pharmaceuticals. Maybe you’ll get a headache and need a pain-killer, or maybe you or your child will get a cold and need to take some cold medicine. Most people assume that these things are perfectly safe since they’re approved by the FDA and sold over the counter, and most people don’t experience any extreme side effects from them. They simply help you and your family feel better, right? Maybe we should question the conventional wisdom here.

Sometimes, no matter what we do, we’re subject to viruses, bacteria, microbes, broken bones, and other things. However, a huge number of people have illnesses that are diet and lifestyle related. I’ve done a lot of research and learned a lot of things about nutrition & pharmaceuticals, and I want to share some of them.

The best medicine is prevention, and the best prevention is a healthy diet that enables the body’s natural self-defenses, rather than causing imbalances and weakness. (*Let me be clear: 1. I’m not a doctor; 2. I’m not against medical intervention; and  3. early childhood vaccinations are an important part of prevention!)

Pharmaceuticals, by and large, do not treat the causes, only the symptoms. It’s perfect if you’re a major corporation whose main interest is making a profit. If you’re a human being whose interest is general health and longevity, there are other things to consider.

Staying healthy

sugar-973899_640Stay away from sugar as much as possible. It suppresses the immune system significantly with as little as 1 tablespoon. It contributes to digestive problems by making the digestive tract acidic. It contributes to arthritis, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, tooth decay, obesity, premature aging, macular degeneration, asthma, gallstones, kidney stones, heart disease, yeast infections, appendicitis, high cholesterol, headaches. I’m going to stop there, because there are roughly 146 things to put on this list. A literature review found that “8,000 scientific papers link refined white sugar to chronic disease. “There are two more, though, that are worth mentioning separately. The sugar intake of a pregnant woman is related to the likelihood of the child developing allergies. High sugar intake can lead to depression and even schizophrenia.

Cook at home. Though we all enjoy a nice restaurant now and again, what’s problematic is eating take-out, fast food and prepared foods that you buy at the grocery store on a regular basis. If you start from scratch with fresh ingredients, you’ll avoid a host of chemicals, fillers and additives.

supermarket-949912_640Don’t be fooled by flavor and smell, either. In many processed and prepared foods, the flavor and smell aren’t natural. MSG – you likely know that MSG is bad for you, but you probably mainly associate it with Chinese restaurants, at least, if you’re in the U.S., but it’s in so many more foods. They just changed the name to disguise it. It’s often listed as “natural flavor” or “hydrolyzed yeast extract”, or it’s cheaper cousin “autolyzed yeast extract.” Did you know it’s a common ingredient in McDonald’s food?

But here’s the real problem with all these ‘extras’ in our food – it’s not individual items that are dangerous. It’s that Americans are spending a steadily increasing percentage of their food budgets on food that’s prepared in a factory, ingesting more and more of all these different chemicals and additives, and it’s causing health problems. Here is a list of the 10 worst additives to watch out for.

Foods that heal

Unless you invest your time and energy in researching these things, you might never know because no one will tell you, including your doctor. I started researching this topic years ago, and have made some surprising discoveries.

Did you know that garlic is a powerful antiviral and antibacterial? You can buy odorless garlic supplements, so you don’t have to smell bad to take advantage of it. To give just one example: cold sores, shingles, chicken pox…there are many different forms of herpes, some common and some rare, together affecting a large portion of the population. Herpes is a virus. Garlic is a very effective preventative for symptoms of this virus for those with forms that can manifest from time to time, like cold sores. This is information that could drastically improve the quality of life for a huge number of people, but what doctor tells you to take 12 garlic supplements immediately at the first sign of an outbreak, and then 6 more every few hours?

flax_chiaOmega-3 fatty acids are also powerful for prevention and healing. They’re a natural way to combat depression and anxiety, as well as clearing out bad cholesterol, lubricating joints, reducing inflammation (a key ingredient in asthma), and boosting cognitive function in people with deficits, like ADHD and Alzheimer’s sufferers. Flax and chia seeds are both sources of omega-3s.

herb-spice-906140_640Herbs and spices are more than just added flavor, though even in that respect they have an important health benefit, allowing you to use less salt, sugar and saturated fats as flavor enhancers. The 15 strongest are basil, cayenne pepper, cinnamon, clove, dill, fennel, garlic, ginger, mint, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage, thyme and turmeric. Read more about them here.

The point is, you can take control of your health, but you have to do your research. I highly recommend watching as many of Dr. Greger’s videos as possible. If you have an hour on your hands, start with Uprooting the leading causes of death.

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