Friday, December 31, 2010

2010: the year of food politics

   From High Country News, an article by Ari LeVaux.

   Being from Oregon, the last two paragraphs really caught my attention...

2010 was quite a year in food, among other things. Some will honor it as the year homemade sausage finally came of age, or the year the school-garden movement exploded. Others will remember 2010 as the year KFC's Double Down sandwich made its glorious debut. Given the variety of food preferences in the country, you can hardly make an end-of-year food list to please everyone, so let's start with what a cross section of America thinks -- and eats.

A market research firm called Wakefield surveyed 1,000 Americans on what they felt was "the most significant food story of 2010." The top three stories all involved threats to food safety: the impact of the BP oil spill on seafood, the nationwide recall of eggs, and another recall of 35,000 pounds of beef after E. coli was detected at a Southern California distributor. This public perception made a food-safety bill especially timely, and after some procedural delays, Congress finally passed the bill Dec. 21. Its passage came on the heels of the landmark Child Nutrition Act, which had suffered no snags on its way to President Obama's desk.

Another important policy change occurred last February, when the U.S. Department of Agriculture modified its organic standards for beef and dairy. The new "Access to Pasture" rule, named after an infamous longstanding loophole in the organic standards, finally specified a minimum number of days per year that organic cattle must spend outdoors to qualify as organic. The requirement raises the bar most dramatically for the largest producers, forcing them to more truly live up to organic principles. For small milk and meat producers, and the consumers who are willing to pay a little extra for their product, this clarity is welcome.

In other bovine-product related developments, the USDA has apparently gotten serious about investigating the many ways that unregulated pharmaceuticals are getting into our meat and dairy. An April report by the USDA's Office of the Inspector General called out its own agency for its near total lack of oversight in recent, um, decades, and made recommendations for reform.

The Food and Drug Administration also finally released estimates in December -- for the first time ever -- of total antibiotic use in the nation's livestock industry. In 2009, that figure was 29 million pounds, most of it for non-therapeutic use such as spurring weight gain in animals. This is partly why there's an epidemic of antibiotic-resistant staph, or MRSA, in feedlots. The report expresses FDA's newfound intention to curb antibiotic use in agriculture.

Amid this climate of agency self-examination, my pick for the sleeper story of the year was broken by Colorado beekeeper Tom Theobald. Concerned about an abnormal 40 percent annual loss in his colonies, he began to suspect an agricultural chemical called clothianidin that was used in area cornfields. The Bayer-patented neurotoxin has been used in seed coatings since 2003, though Bayer's permission to market it was granted conditionally, dependent on the submission of evidence that it was safe for bees.

Theobald tracked down a lengthy correspondence between Bayer and the Environmental Protection Agency, in which Bayer repeatedly stalled and the EPA granted numerous extensions until Bayer finally conducted a study. That study was never released, and lay buried for years until Theobald, who was just trying to figure out what happened to his bees, finally found it online. The study, it turns out, was done in Canada (against agency rules) and was conducted so poorly that the results could not be considered conclusive, or even indicative, that clothianidin used on corn is safe for local bees.

Theobald wrote about this saga in Bee Culture in July of this year, and soon afterward received a phone call from the EPA saying his article had led to an internal investigation. That inquiry lead to a Nov. 2 memo in which the agency acknowledged the tragedy of errors that led to the permitted use of clothianidin, and admitted that scientists inside the EPA expressed concerns regarding bees as early as 2003,  partly because a similar pesticide had recently caused bee die-offs in Europe.

Perhaps beekeepers could borrow from the playbook of the Center for Food Safety, which has used the National Environmental Policy Act to stop the planting of genetically modified crops in places where they endanger the livelihoods of local farmers. In one case, Monsanto appealed its way to the Supreme Court, each time losing to the argument that selling its experimental genetically modified alfalfa before the completion of an environmental impact study would endanger the rights of farmers to grow non-genetically modified alfalfa. In June, the Supreme Court demanded more USDA oversight and said that an environmental impact statement would have to be completed before the alfalfa could be commercialized.

Then this December, a federal judge ordered Monsanto's sugar beet division to destroy 258 acres of genetically modified sugar beets that were intended to produce seeds for 2012. Currently, 95 percent of the nation's sugar beets are grown from Monsanto's Roundup Ready seeds, popular because they save farmers the expense and hassle of spraying chemicals on the crop. Monsanto produces its sugar beet seeds on several properties in Oregon's Willamette valley, where the risk of wind-borne gene contamination is great. In his decision, Judge Jeffrey White ruled that Monsanto was endangering neighboring farmers who grow non-genetically modified seed.

On Dec. 21, however, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ordered another hearing to decide whether the genetically modified seeds should be destroyed. All victories, it seems, may be temporary.


Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Wall Street's Ten Biggest Lies for 2010

   I just couldn't resist sharing this article by Les Leopold.

   Here are the ten main points:

1."Honest, we didn't do it!"

2."The overall costs will be incredibly small in comparison to almost any experience we can look at in the United States or around the world."

3. "It's a war. It's like when Hitler invaded Poland in 1939."

4. "The hard truth is that getting this deficit under control is going to require some broad sacrifice, and that sacrifice must be shared by employees of the federal government."

5. "25 hedge fund managers are worth 658,000 teachers."

6. "To bolster the economy we need .... an improvement in the relationship between business and government (the current antagonism, even if not the primary explanation for slow hiring and sluggish investment, does seem to be affecting hiring and other business behavior)."

7. "Lengthened availability of jobless benefits has raised the unemployment rate by 1.5 percentage points."

8. "Private employers, led by our revitalized financial sector, will create the jobs we need -- that is, if the government would just stay out of the way."

9. "Tim Geithner extolled 'the benefits of financial innovation' to the American economy." (Wall Street Journal, August 4, 2010)

10. "I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here."

   CLICK HERE to read the whole article.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Hershey's brings non-GMO confections to Europe, but not to US

Hershey's brings non-GMO confections to Europe, but not to US

(NaturalNews) The Hershey Company is expanding its confectionery market to Europe. And the company plans to reformulate its Europe-destined products to be free of genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) in order to meet demand and to comply with the non-GMO requirements of Asda, the U.K. subsidiary of Wal-Mart that will be Hershey's exclusive retailer in the U.K. However, Hershey's has no intentions of changing any of its U.S. formulas, all of which are tainted with GM ingredients, say reports.

According to an email obtained by GMWatch, an independent watchdog group fighting pro-GMO propaganda, Hershey's agreed to reformulate 21 varieties of its chocolate products, including Reese's brand chocolates, to meet Asda's requirements. And a report in Confectionery News confirms this as well, noting that the reformulations are strictly for the European market and not for the U.S. market.

"The key ingredients which have been re-formulated from non-GM sources include changing the sugar source from beet to cane sugar and using IP (Identity Preservation) soy lecithin," explained Julian Walker-Palin, Head of Corporate Sustainability at Asda, in an email to Peter Melchett, head of the U.K. Soil Association. "In addition to this the transportation and storage have been confirmed also as GM-free or cleaned before use with these products."

According to reports, Asda does not carry any products that contain GM ingredients, so Hershey's had to agree to work with the company to create appropriate new formulas.

In the past, many large U.S. food producers have argued that reformulating their products to exclude GMOs is not cost effective. But why it was worthwhile for Hershey's to change its product formulas for the European market, but not for the U.S. market, so far remains a question without an answer.

Read The Article

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Salad Dressing

   In Resolutions and Condiments I forgot to mention salad dressing -- a key element for me to "eating food, not too much, mostly plants".

   I found a recipe online for a mix of dry ingredients that can be stored and then added to oil and vinegar to make the dressing. Most of the herbs I have available from the garden and it takes less time to make than a trip to the store. I double the recipe for the mix and keep it in the pantry. When I need dressing I make up one and a half times the prepared amount which almost fills a 16 ounce dressing bottle. The best part, as in all things homemade, is that I can tweak the recipe to my own taste and preference (I use less salt and sugar).

   So, here's the recipe. Enjoy.

What is genetic modification, really? By Steven Hussey

   I replied to this question with what I believed were some good points.

   I am posting it here because of the conversation it stirred up. Read the article, but then read the responses. This is a hotly debated topic of "What Do We Do With Ignorance?"

   Read it. See what you think...


Resolutions and Condiments

   The winter solstice has passed and it is time to take stock and look at where we are, where we've been, and where we're going. This time of year about a decade and a half ago I recall telling a co-worker who seemed to mourn the passing of another year, "I just think, 'am I happier now than I was last year?' and, I am." There have been a few times since when I did not feel that way, but in the past 15 years or so I have found it true this time of year more often than not. As long as I have a purpose and a goal, I find that I am usually moving in a positive direction. This has resulted in my using resolutions to set goals for myself and, in an effort to be as unoriginal as possible, I tend to do this near the beginning of the year.

   So, how did I do this year? Let's start by looking at what the resolutions were...

1) this blog.
2) finish the AFI's top ten and start in on some of the top twenty-five.
3) eat food, not too much, mostly plants.
4) learn to reload.
5.0) add another raised bed for the garden.
5.5) pay closer attention to planting-harvesting-replanting.
5.6) do more canning and freezing.
6.0) do some hike-in camping.
6.5) do at least one big hiking trip like last fall’s Mt. Ellinor hike.
7) actually fill a deer or elk tag.
8) get more exercise.
9) make it to the wedding in NC in October.
10) try cheese making and homemade pectin.
11) harvest some of my own firewood this year.
12) do more with my son.

   As I covered in Resolutions Revisited back in July, numbers 1, 3, 4, 5.0, 6.0, 6.5 8, 9, and 11 were either done or on track. Most of the rest has been covered in this blog, but here it is in a nut:

   I did finish watching the American Film Institute's top ten films, but did not actually delve into the others in the top 25.

   The garden was a challenge this year as the weather was poor. As a result we only froze some pumpkin, but we did do a good bit of canning using what we could from the garden and quite a bit from the local produce stand.

   Hiking, camping, and backpacking across the Olympic National Forest all happened and were wonderful. I expect there will be much more backpacking to report next year!

   I did not fill a deer or elk tag. I did talk about it some here in Elk, Mayo, and Potato Salad and November Bane. I feel like I'm making progress and better understanding the area, but I have yet to put wild harvested meat in the freezer.

   I did get more exercise (though that's been less true the past month or so), we made it to the wedding in North Carolina and spent ten days visiting good friends, made and canned pectin, and harvested some of my own firewood. I now have two chainsaws that need repair, though, and ended up buying as much wood as I harvested. I'll need to work harder on that next year.

   I always need to do more with my son and while I have a difficult time sitting with him to play Legos, we have found some old TV shows and movies we enjoy watching together. Currently we are watching the first season of Airwolf and I have to say while it's not a great show, it held up better than I expected.

   Besides the deer and elk tags, the biggest failure on the list is cheese making. I knew when I set the goal that it was a longshot and, all in all, I actually achieved more than I expected. As I talked about in Elk, Mayo, and Potato Salad, though, I did start getting into making condiments. Being challenged by some friends in Alabama who are now making just about everything from scratch, I began to look closer at what is on our shopping lists and wonder if we could make it ourselves.

   We had already made relish from green tomatoes and red cabbage which came out great. It's purple and has a tangy flavor. The dilled green tomatoes turned out tasty, but because of the texture I anticipate using them primarily for relish as well. (We won't be buying relish anytime soon!) I have made a couple batches of mayonnaise now. The recipes I've referred to all say to use lemon juice or vinegar and we have found we much prefer vinegar. I made a couple half-pints of prepared horseradish when we ran out which turned out pretty mild, but wholly wonderful.

   Two weeks ago I bought out the produce stand's supply of California tomatoes and spent a full day making and canning tomato ketchup. If I can learn how to make steak sauce, mustard, and cayenne pepper sauce I'll be set!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

GMOs in the News

   From Greenpeace International:

Documents exposed recently by Wikileaks reveal that the US has been putting pressure on European countries to accept genetically engineered  (GE) crops. Although US government support for biotech companies in this way is nothing new - the cables released by Wikileaks reveal some interesting details on Spain’s role as a key US ally for pushing GE crops.

A story broke in EL Pais on Sunday December 19th, revealing that the Spain has been working hand in hand with the US to protect the interests of the biotech industry against those EU countries that hold national bans on GE crops. Spain, cultivates the most GE maize (Monsanto MON810) in Europe and is obviously very worried by the rise of the anti-GE movement in Spanish society. The French are also mostly against GE crops and Germany has been introducing GE crop bans - allying with countries such as Austria, Luxembourg and Italy. Spain doesn't want to be outnumbered in Europe on this issue and has been looking for support elsewhere.

The Spanish Secretary of State for Rural Affairs and Water, Joseph Puxeu, has even been asking the US government to work closely with Spain in applying pressure on the EU Commission for the encouragement of GE crops cultivation.

The documents explain why the Spanish government has been tolerating GE crops for years while failing to implement strict rules on the labelling and traceability of GE food. And they have not been transparent on the location of GE fields despite a number of contamination incidents and socio-economic impacts on farmers and the society.

The story in Spain is a scandal that has shocked environmental, consumers and farmers organisations. They are calling on the Minister of Environment, Rose Aguilar, to take immediate measures, and hold those accountable who have been working against Spanish society, the environment and public health. They are asking her to stop listening to the big biotech companies and ban Monsanto’s GE maize.

On the cable 07PARIS4723 dated 14 December 2007, Craig Stapleton, US Ambassador in Paris, addressed  the issue of GE crops and the World Trade Organisation in Europe. He stated that the EU is moving backwards on this issue and that France is playing a major role in this movement. He concludes by saying the only way to deal with France is to take retaliation measures. 'Retaliation' like this could be something like a boycott of French products or start anti-marketing campaigns.

In another cable 09MADRID482, sent from the US Embassy in Madrid, from May 2009 this time, we learn that Monsanto representatives are confident that the adoption of a safeguard clause in France, banning Monsanto’s maize, is the result of bargaining between environmentalists and Nicolas Sarkozy. They claim that Sarkozy gave in to introducing the ban by asking environmental organisations, Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, to stop campaigning against his nuclear policy. It is almost impossible to imagine such a deal! The pro-GE lobby, so blinded by their ideology, are apparently unable to believe that the leaders of a country like France have introduced a ban based on serious scientific uncertainties around GE crops, as well as the opposition by the majority French citizens. And Greenpeace would never agree to such a deal. Our anti-nuclear campaign in France continues.

It is evident that the US and the biotech companies follow the EU debate on GE crops very closely. They seem to think that the rest of the EU will follow if Spain bans Monsanto’s GE maize (MON810). The controversial maize is under reassessment and the EU Commission will put forward a proposal for its reauthorisation, which EU Members States will need to vote on.

Will the EU Commission and the EU Member States take in to account the increasing scientific evidence highlighting the environmental impacts of GE crops? Will they consider the possible impacts on our health? Will they take into account the unanimous demand from EU Environment Ministers for strengthening of the European authorisation system for GE crops?

Will they listen to the majority of the EU public who oppose GE crops and most recently the one million EU citizens who demanded a moratorium on them in the EU?

Or will they give in to the pressure of the pro-GE lobby and the US? 

   And from Truthout:

The former United States ambassador to France suggested "moving to retaliation" against France and the European Union (EU) in late 2007 to fight a French ban on Monsanto's genetically modified (GM) corn and changes in European policy toward biotech crops, according to a cable  released by WikiLeaks on Sunday.

Former Ambassador Craig Stapleton was concerned about France's decision to suspend cultivation of Monsanto's MON-810 corn and warned that a new French environmental review standard could spread anti-biotech policy across the EU.

"Country team Paris recommends that we calibrate a target retaliation list that causes some pain across the EU since this is a collective responsibility, but that also focuses in part on the worst culprits," Stapleton wrote to diplomatic colleagues.

President George W. Bush appointed Stapleton as ambassador to France in 2005, and in 2009, Stapleton left the office and became an owner of the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team. Bush and Stapleton co-owned the Texas Rangers during the 1990s.

Monsanto is based in St. Louis.

The Science of Healing

   This is the first five or so minutes of a Public Broadcasting special from about a year ago. The program explores the medical science behind how what happens in our brain when we see, hear, and smell different things and how that affects health and healing.

   What struck me the most was, not only did the program touch on food as having healing properties, but no where in the program were pharmaceuticals talked about for healing.

   An hour called The Science of Healing presented by Chief of the Section on Neuroendocrine Immunology and Behavior at the National Institute of Mental Health, Director of the Integrative Neural Immune Program, NIMH/NIH and Co-Chair of the NIH Intramural Program on Research in Women's Health and not a single talk of a pill?!? Crazy.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Food Matters Official Trailer

Pilot faked his way as a prestigious doctor for 20 years, duping AMA and receiving millions in medical grants

Pilot faked his way as a prestigious doctor for 20 years, duping AMA and receiving millions in medical grants

For two decades, William Hamman had been conning his way into the medical system, and he fooled all thehealthauthorities. Apparently, if you walk like a doctor and quack like a doctor, people don't ask very many questions.

But here's the really fascinating part of this story. TheAmerican Medical Associationhad scheduled a seminar featuring "Doctor" William Hamman as an instructor. Whenthe AMAfound out they had been duped, did they cancel thetraining? Nope. They simply altered the course materials, removing the word "Doctor" in front of his name and replacing it with the word "Captain!"

William Hamman is a pilot, you see, and the AMA apparently didn't care whether a doctor or a pilot was giving a medical seminar as long as they could slap some kind of authoritative-sounding word in front of his name.

Pilot faked his way as a prestigious doctor for 20 years, duping AMA and receiving millions in medical grants

Feed The World

   The United States imports about 20% of it's food (by volume, according to the USDA in 2008). In 2007, the U.S. exported over $11 billion in corn alone. With figures like that in mind, Timothy W. Jones' 2004 study should be pretty clear evidence that, if seed-patenting and genetically modified food corporations are truly interested in feeding the world, they need new management.

   The problem is not that there is not enough food. The problem is that we don't want to share unless there's a profit margin.

   From UA News:

Timothy W. Jones, an anthropologist at the UA Bureau of Applied Research in Anthropology, has spent the last 10 years measuring food loss, including the last eight under a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Jones started in the farms and orchards, went on through the warehouses, retail outlets and dining rooms, and to landfills.

What he found was that not only is edible food discarded that could feed people who need it, but the rate of loss, even partially corrected, could save U.S. consumers and corporations tens of billions of dollars each year. Jones says these losses also can be framed in terms of environmental degradation and national security.

Jones' research evolved from and builds on earlier work done at the University of Arizona. Archaeologists there began measuring garbage in the 1970s to see what was being thrown away and discovered that people were not fully aware of what they were using and discarding. Those earlier studies evolved into more sophisticated research using contemporary archaeology and ethnography to understand not only the path food travels from farms and orchards to landfills, but also the culture and psychology behind the process.

A certain amount of waste in the food stream simply can't be helped. Little can be done, for instance, about weather and crop deterioration. The apple industry, for instance, loses on average about 12 percent of its crop on the way to market.

Apples in the U.S. are harvested over a two-month period and then stored and sold year-round. People in the apple business use aggressive methods to maintain their crop, with fresh apples hitting the supermarkets on a regular basis and marginal ones sent to be made into applesauce and other products.

The goal of apple growers is to provide a nutritious product, all year long, at fairly constant prices. Jones says they've adopted a conservative business plan that forgoes the boom-and-bust cycles that other fruit and vegetable growers aim for and opts instead for a steady income stream.
Fresh fruit and vegetable growers, in contrast, often behave like riverboat gamblers. They will roam their fields while on their cell phones to the commodity markets in Chicago, play the odds and even dance a jig or flip a coin if they think it will help them make a financial killing. A bad bet often means an entire crop is left in the field to be plowed under.
Jones' research also shows that by measuring how much food is actually being brought into households, a clearer picture of that end of the food stream is beginning to emerge.

On average, households waste 14 percent of their food purchases. Fifteen percent of that includes products still within their expiration date but never opened. Jones estimates an average family of four currently tosses out $590 per year, just in meat, fruits, vegetables and grain products.
Jones says there are three simple ways most people can significantly reduce their own food waste. One is careful purchase planning: devise menus and make up grocery lists accordingly.

Another is knowing what lurks in the refrigerator and pantry that needs to be used while it is still useable.

And understand that many kinds of food can be refrigerated or frozen and eaten later.

Nationwide, he says, household food waste alone adds up to $43 billion, making it a serious economic problem. (In addition to farms and households, Jones also is currently researching retail food waste, again a sector where annual losses run in the tens of billions of dollars.)

Cutting food waste would also go a long way toward reducing serious environmental problems. Jones estimates that reducing food waste by half could reduce adverse environmental impacts by 25 percent through reduced landfill use, soil depletion and applications of fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides.

Go to UA News.

Monday, December 20, 2010

US gas demand should fall for good after '06 peak - Business Wire - The Olympian - Olympia, Washington

US gas demand should fall for good after '06 peak - Business Wire - The Olympian - Olympia, Washington

After seven decades of mostly uninterrupted growth, U.S. gasoline demand is at the start of a long-term decline. By 2030, Americans will burn at least 20 percent less gasoline than today, experts say, even as millions of more cars clog the roads.

The country's thirst for gasoline is shrinking as cars and trucks become more fuel-efficient, the government mandates the use of more ethanol and people drive less.

"A combination of demographic change and policy change means the heady days of gasoline growing in the U.S. are over," says Daniel Yergin, chairman of IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates and author of a Pulitzer Prize-winning history of the oil industry.

Arguments Against Genetically Modified Foods

From The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations:

 The main arguments that have been put forward against the use of GMOs in agriculture include:

Potential negative effects on the environment

      Genes can end up in unexpected places: Through "gene escape" they can pass on to other members of the same species and perhaps other species. Genes introduced in GMOs are no exception, and interactions might occur at gene, cell, plant and ecosystem level. Problems could result if, for example, herbicide-resistance genes got into weeds. So far, research on this is inconclusive, with scientists divided - often bitterly. But there is scientific consensus that once widely released, recalling transgenes or foreign DNA sequences, whose safety is still subject to scientific debate, will not be feasible.

      Genes can mutate with harmful effect: It is not yet known whether artificial insertion of genes could destabilize an organism, encouraging mutations, or whether the inserted gene itself will keep stable in the plant over generations. There is no conclusive data on this issue.

      "Sleeper" genes could be accidentally switched on and active genes could become "silent": Organisms contain genes that are activated under certain conditions -- for example, under attack from pathogens or severe weather. When a new gene is inserted, a "promoter" gene is also inserted to switch it on. This could activate a "sleeper" gene in inappropriate circumstances. This is especially relevant in long-lived organisms - such as trees. Sometimes the expression of genes is even "silenced" as a result of unknown interactions with the inserted gene.

      Interaction with wild and native populations: GMOs could compete or breed with wild species. Farmed fish, in particular, may do this. GM crops could pose a threat to crop biodiversity, especially if grown in areas that are centres of origin of that crop. In addition, GM crops could compete with and substitute traditional farmers' varieties and wild relatives that have been bred, or evolved, to cope with local stresses. For example, local varieties in Latin America permitted the recovery from the catastrophic potato blight in Ireland in the 1840s. Today such plants often help improve climate tolerance and disease resistance. If genetically modified crop varieties substitute them, they could be lost, but the same applies to improved varieties developed by conventional breeding methods.

      Impact on birds, insects and soil biota: Potential risks to non-target species, such as birds, pollinators and micro-organisms, is another important issue. Nobody quite knows the impact of horizontal flow of GM pollen to bees' gut or of novel gene sequences in plants to fungi and soil and rumen bacteria. Besides, it is feared that widespread use of GM crops could lead to the development of resistance in insect populations exposed to the GM crops. Planting "refuge" areas with insect-susceptible varieties is advised to reduce the risk of insect populations evolving resistance due to the widespread growing of GMO Bt-crops.

Potential negative effects on human health

      Transfer of allergenic genes: These could be accidentally transferred to other species, causing dangerous reactions in people with allergies. For example, an allergenic Brazil-nut gene was transferred into a transgenic soybean variety. Its presence was discovered during the testing phase, however, and the soybean was not released.

      Mixing of GM products in the food chain: Unauthorized GM products have appeared in the food chain. For example, the GM maize variety Starlink, intended only for animal feed, was accidentally used in products for human consumption. Although there was no evidence that Starlink maize was dangerous to humans, strict processing controls may be required to avoid similar cases in the future.

      Transfer of antibiotic resistance: Genes that confer antibiotic resistance are inserted into GMOs as "markers" to indicate that the process of gene transfer has succeeded. Concerns have been expressed about the possibility that these "marker genes" could confer resistance to antibiotics. This approach is now being replaced with the use of marker genes that avoid medical or environmental hazards.

Potential socio-economic effects

      Loss of farmers' access to plant material: Biotechnology research is carried out predominantly by the private sector and there are concerns about market dominance in the agricultural sector by a few powerful companies. This could have a negative impact on small-scale farmers all over the world. Farmers fear that they might even have to pay for crop varieties bred from genetic material that originally came from their own fields when they buy seeds from companies holding patents on specific genetic modification "events". Some argue that the World Trade Organization's agreement on Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) encourages this, but there are options to protect farmers' traditional practices within that agreement. Also, the new International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture recognizes the contributions of farmers to the conservation and use of plant genetic resources over time and for future generations. It provides for an international framework to regulate access to plant genetic resources and establishes a mechanism to share the benefits derived from their use.

      Intellectual property rights could slow research: The proprietary nature of biotechnology products and processes may prevent their access for public-sector research. This might have a stronger negative impact in developing countries where no private research initiatives are in place. In addition, most developing countries still do not provide patent protection to biotechnological products and technologies. Because patents have a national scope, the entry of products developed through proprietary biotechnologies could be prevented in those external markets where patent protection exists.

      Impact of "terminator" technologies: Although these are still under development and have not yet been commercialized, they would, if applied, prevent a crop from being grown the following year from its own seed. This means that farmers could not save seeds for planting the next season. Some believe that this technology, also known as the Technology Protection System, could have the advantage of preventing out-crossing of GM seeds.

Go to The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations' website.

CBC News - Prince Edward Island - Genetically modified fish lawsuit threatened

CBC News - Prince Edward Island - Genetically modified fish lawsuit threatened

The U.S. chapter of Trout Unlimited is considering legal action if the Food and Drug Administration approves production of a genetically-modified salmon in P.E.I. and Panama for food.

AquaBounty is nearing the end of a years-long process to approve the fish for sale. It has a facility in eastern P.E.I. for hatching the fish, which would be shipped to Panama for rearing. The salmon is genetically-modified to grow at twice the rate of normal fish.

Trout Unlimited's U.S. president, Chris Wood, told CBC News Friday his group believes the FDA is not the right group to approve the fish.

"We have a deep and abiding concern that the FDA, an agency that to our knowledge doesn't have a single fisheries scientist on it or in it is the inappropriate agency to be determining whether or not there are environmental risks associated with releasing a genetically-modified salmon, or allowing for the production of genetically-modified salmon," said Wood.

Trout Unlimited would like to see a more thorough review of the environmental risks before the federal government decides whether to approve it. If that doesn't happen, Wood said it will consider suing under one of the laws designed to make sure the U.S. government doesn't allow projects that pose a risk to the environment.

Aqua Bounty said precautions have been taken so that even if the genetically-modified fish escape from the on-land tanks they'll be raised in, they would be unlikely to be able to breed.

The FDA ruled in September that the genetically-modified AquaBounty salmon is safe to eat.

CBC News - Prince Edward Island - Genetically modified fish lawsuit threatened

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Where The Rubber Meets The Road

   For some time now I have been hearing and reading about this issue of alternative cars and gas taxes. In a nut, the issue is that gas taxes go to pay for road maintenance and cars that are more fuel efficient don't pay their fair share for road use. While I appreciate the concern, America really does not need one more argument against reducing fossil fuel consumption.

   The most common answer I have heard as a solution to this problem is to charge a mileage fee, or VMT (Vehicle Miles Traveled) tax. This would simply involve outfitting the 250 million or so vehicles on the road with some kind of mileage counter that would then be read at some undetermined interval (at the pump, quarterly, annually) by another unit that would need to be manufactured, installed in a couple hundred thousand locations, and maintained. One fear about this program is that Big Brother will record exactly where we go and us this to keep tabs on us. Personally I think the bigger fear is, who is going to pay for all of this new infrastructure required to keep track of, read, and calculate tax for 250 million vehicles? Another issue is, how do you calculate the tax rate, exactly? To be fair, a Hummer or F-350 creates a lot more wear and tear on our public roads than a Prius or a Fit, not to mention large industrial vehicles like semi-trucks, earth movers, garbage trucks, etc. For that matter, your average SUV driver actually does less damage to the road per mile than someone using their vehicle to carry heavy loads on a regular basis. Do we make mileage counters that also calculate the weight of the vehicle per mile? There are reasons the VMT idea has not been implemented on any large scale. While the gas tax is not perfect, until the advent electric and hybrid cars it was a surprisingly equitable system. 

   So, how can we better deal with the issue of needing to pay for road maintenance while simultaneously needing to cut back on fossil fuels? I have an idea. What do we already use on every vehicle that, like gasoline, must be replenished from time to time in direct correlation to the use of the vehicle? Tires. Tax tires according to their size and use and use that tax money to pay for road maintenance. It may even be a more equitable system than the gas tax. 

   Here's the beauty of this idea: when vehicles create wear and tear on the road, they also create wear and tear on the tires. It's pretty simple. There is a direct correlation of wear and tear where the rubber meets the road. Tax rates could be assigned based on tire ratings for various vehicles -- truck tires, small passenger car tires, etc. -- and vehicles that are on the road more will pay that tax each time they replace a tire. Some exemptions could even be made for off-road, farm use, or other applications where the tire is not actually going to be on the road. The best part of this idea is it would cost almost nothing to implement -- calculation of appropriate tax rates and state and federal passing of the tax. Done. 

   Is it the end-all, be-all solution to the problem? Probably not, but it's something we can do today, right now, that could be a step in the right direction. 

   Just a thought. 

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Wal-Mart in the News

   Apparently folks in New York aren't too happy about Wal-Mart building a new store there. One report says, "East New York Walmart Foes Look to Albany For Help" while another says, "Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (NYSE:WMT) has angered workers with 'slave wages.'”.

   Council member Charles Barron is quoted in both stories: “Any retailer can give us jobs and lower prices. And we’re not getting lower prices so that you can bring in a plantation and give us slave wages.”

   Go Charles. Good luck -- history shows you're going to need it.

   In related news, Bloomberg just ran this article: "Wal-Mart Raising Toy Prices, Squeezing More Out of Holidays".

"Wal-Mart managers in the U.S. received instructions to mark up an average of 1,800 types of toys per store, according to a company e-mail dated Nov. 30 obtained by Bloomberg News. The e- mail didn’t disclose specific increases. The prices were changed 'to better enable your store and the company to have a successful financial month,' according to the e-mail."

   Not great press for a retail giant whose "Always Low Prices" slogan is now "Save money. Live better." Perhaps they should consider, "Average prices. Slave wages."

   Just a thought.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

30 Years

Today marks 30 years since we lost John Lennon. At the time I did not fully appreciate the loss.

I once heard a story that The Beatles shared a limo with Bob Dylan to a gig. John, Paul, George, and Ringo were all somewhat excited to have the chance to chat with Dylan until he said something to the effect of, "you guys are great, but you don't really have anything to say" (paraphrase).

The next album The Beatles released was Rubber Soul.

Some Lennon quotes for the day:

"Well I tell them there's no problems, only solutions."

"War is over, if you want it."

"Say the word and you'll be free
Say the word and be like me
Say the word I'm thinking of
Have you heard the word is love?
It's so fine, It's sunshine
It's the word, love"

"Possession isn't nine-tenths of the law. It's nine-tenths of the problem. "

"There's nothing you can know that isn't known."

"The thing the sixties did was to show us the possibilities and the responsibility that we all had. It wasn't the answer. It just gave us a glimpse of the possibility."

And, of course,

"All you need is love."

It's been 30 years.

Nobody told me there'd be days like these.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Congress Approves Child Nutrition Bill!

   From The New York Times:


WASHINGTON — Congress gave final approval on Thursday to a child nutrition bill that expands the school lunch program and sets new standards to improve the quality of school meals with more fruits and vegetables.

Michelle Obama lobbied for the bill as a way to combat both obesity and hunger. About half the $4.5 billion cost of the bill over 10 years is to be paid for by a cut in food stamp benefits starting in several years.

The House passed the bill by a vote of 264 to 157. It was approved in the Senate in August by unanimous consent. It now goes to President Obama, who intends to sign it.

In September, some liberal House Democrats and advocates for the poor railed against the bill, saying it was wrong to pay for the expansion of child nutrition programs by cutting money for food stamps, now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

But the Democrats put aside their disagreements on Thursday, after concluding that it was better to take what they could get than to gamble on their chances of passing a modified bill in the next Congress. Republicans will control the House after Jan. 1, and the agenda is likely to be dominated by efforts to reduce the federal budget deficit.

Mr. Obama tamped down concerns by telling Democrats he would work with them to find other ways to pay for the bill before the cuts in food stamps take effect.

“The president will do everything he can do to restore these unconscionable cuts,” said Representative Barbara Lee, Democrat of California and chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Democrats and a few Republicans praised Mrs. Obama. “She has been an incredible champion for our children, particularly in the areas of nutrition and obesity,” said Representative Jim McGovern, Democrat of Massachusetts.

Mr. McGovern, who is co-chairman of the House Hunger Caucus, said: “Hunger and obesity are two sides of the same coin. Highly processed empty-calorie foods are less expensive than fresh, nutritious foods.”

School meal programs have a major impact on the nation’s health, and supporters of the bill said it could reduce the prevalence of obesity among children. The school lunch program feeds more than 31 million children a day.

Representative Rosa DeLauro, Democrat of Connecticut, said, “The bill sets national nutrition standards that will finally get all of the junk food infiltrating our classrooms and our cafeterias out the door.”

Republicans complained that the bill would increase federal spending. Moreover, said Representative Lincoln Diaz-Balart, Republican of Florida, “it is paid for with funds that are borrowed by the federal government.”

Representative Paul Broun, Republican of Georgia and a physician, said: “This bill is not about child nutrition. It’s not about healthy kids. It’s about an expansion of the federal government, more and more control from Washington, borrowing more money and putting our children in greater debt. The federal government has no business setting nutritional standards and telling families what they should and should not eat.”

The bill gives the secretary of agriculture authority to establish nutrition standards for foods sold in schools during the school day, including items in vending machines. The standards would require schools to serve more fruits and vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy products.

In addition, for the first time in more than three decades, the bill would increase federal reimbursement for school lunches beyond adjustments for inflation — to help cover the cost of higher-quality meals. It would also allow more than 100,000 children on Medicaid to qualify automatically for free school meals, without filing paper applications.

One of the most contentious provisions of the bill regulates prices charged for lunches served to children with family incomes that exceed the poverty level by more than 85 percent, a threshold that works out to $40,793 for a family of four.

“This provision would require some schools to raise their lunch prices,” the Congressional Budget Office said.

Representative John Kline, Republican of Minnesota, said that the price provision was tantamount to a tax increase on middle-class families. The National Governors Association and local school officials objected to it as a new federal mandate.

But Margo G. Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a research and advocacy group, said: “The price of paid lunches needs to go up. Schools are not charging enough to cover the cost. As a result, money intended to provide healthy food to low-income kids is being diverted to subsidize food for higher-income children.”

School districts that comply with the new standards can receive an additional federal payment of 6 cents for each lunch served. The National School Boards Association, representing local board members, said “the actual increased cost of compliance” was at least twice that amount.

The bill was written mainly by Senator Blanche Lincoln, Democrat of Arkansas and chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, who lost her bid for re-election.

Passage of the bill followed years of studies by the National Academy of Sciences and negotiations by advocates for children and the food industry. It was supported by health, education and religious groups, labor unions and the food, beverage, dairy and supermarket industries.

The bill rounds out the tenure of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California. When she took the gavel in January 2007, she was surrounded by the children of House members, and she called the House to order in the name of “all America’s children.” On Thursday, though she left the supervision of preliminary votes in the House to others, Ms. Pelosi took back the gavel to personally declare the bill passed.

Ms. Pelosi said the child nutrition bill, besides being “important for moral reasons,” would increase the nation’s economic competitiveness and military readiness. Millions of young adults are unable to serve in the armed forces because they are overweight, she said. 

Good news!


Friday, November 26, 2010

61 Hours Off The Grid

Sunday we had some snow, but nothing that really stuck. Monday we got about two inches and it froze solid as soon as the sun went down, but that wasn't what shut us down. As the cold and evening commute turned the roads into well-packed ice rinks, the wind kicked up and brought down limbs, trees, and power polls. Our power went out shortly after 4pm.

Tuesday morning our family took a stroll around the neighborhood and found three places where the lines were down just in our immediate vicinity. Even if there weren't trees in the road, the ice would have made getting out of the neighborhood difficult at best. There is no way out without navigating at least one hill steep enough to be dangerous when covered by ice. Reports said that about 50,000 people in our county were without power. We settled in for an extended stay at home.

We knew the snow was coming and we knew from experience that road plows and repair crews have many priorities before our neighborhood, so we were mostly prepared. I made a point of getting lamp oil -- the one item of which we had no backup supply -- when the snow started. Monday night as the temperature dropped to a rare low, we lit oil lamps and candles, set up a camping stove, and started up the generator to keep the refrigerator and freezer running and to run a heat lamp for the chickens. We kept the woodstove burning and had a comfortable evening playing family board games while an unbelievable number of people spent an unbelievable number of hours getting to their cold, dark homes. I know of one person who took 5 hours to travel what normally takes 30 minutes and another person whose hour-long round trip took 11 hours.

Tuesday we only ventured out for a walk and some sledding. The high that day was 18 degrees fahrenheit (the average high for November is 50; the average low is 39). I spoke that day with a colleague from Utah who could not believe two inches of snow had virtually shut down the entire Puget Sound. I asked him how many resources we should maintain to deal with this weather when it happens once every 700 days and is done after 2-3 days? Personally, I think people need to settle down, be prepared, and enjoy the change of pace. Some people don't deal well with the "unexpected". That night the temperature dropped to a record 10 degrees fahrenheit.

We braved the roads Wednesday to get the wife to work for a half-day. Our neighborhood streets were still icy, but everywhere else the roads were clear and dry. I picked up a few things from the grocery store and got gas for the generator. None of the businesses near our home were open due to the power outage. The family all got home just as the sun was going down. We had dinner, played games, listened to the radio, and made contingency plans for Thanksgiving dinner. The only things we could not cook with our camping gear would be the turkey and the pumpkin pie. We agreed that we could cook the turkey in the outdoor smoker/cooker and would just have to wait for pie. That third night without power, the family agreed to plug the DVD/TV into the generator and watch a movie. While the rest of the family slept, the temperature hovered in the mid-20s and I stayed up and made candles.

The power came back on around 6am Thursday, Thanksgiving Day. We didn't have internet back until later that afternoon. We listened to Arlo Guthrie and had a Thanksgiving dinner that couldn't be beat.

All in all, I feel we did well. I will make a point to keep more lamp oil on hand as well as more gasoline for the generator. I was also reminded how much fun candle-making is and plan to pick up more wax as I am almost out of recovered candle wax. I was very surprised at how long the water heater provided warm water -- after 48 hours we were still drawing warm water. Our generator is underpowered, but it keeps our food from spoiling in an emergency with some maintenance (the refrigerator and freezer cannot run simultaneously off the current generator). I'm thinking a second generator would be useful.

It may not officially be winter yet, but Mother Nature can be a heartless bitch. Don't let her get the best of you.

Friday, November 19, 2010

November Bane


   Elk season is over and my freezer has a void for another year. The first freeze is coming and the garden needs to be prepped. What should have been a simple project at work has turned into a full-blown pressure cooker. What's really bugging me, though, is reaction to the most recent election...

   For starters, Obama actually said that he believes the election went as it did because we the people don't feel like the economy is recovering fast enough. SERIOUSLY? Has Obama completely forgotten that he was elected by people who believed that he was going to change things? People who voted for Obama were tired of politics-as-usual. Everyone -- EVERYONE -- knows he has only two years to make a mark. After that, even if the mid-terms go strangely well, the campaign for 2012 is going really influence and affect year three on. And what happened? Politics as usual, bailouts, and a health care bill that should have been put on the back burner in favor of real progress. It's not the economy, Mr. President; people expected more from you and now they've lashed out in frustration that they have been fooled yet again.

   On the other side, this chest-beating crap by the recently elected saying that the administration is going to have to bow down or there's going to be gridlock has got to stop. These politicians don't get it -- IT'S NOT ABOUT YOU OR EVEN YOUR PARTY, DUMBASS! IT'S ABOUT WE THE PEOPLE! And we the people are tired of the petty crap keeping real, positive change from happening. How about everyone take a step back, realize that you were elected because we want government to work better, swallow your stupid pride, and try to actually make things better?!?

   Just a thought.

   For myself, I have a solid game plan for next elk season. There's still the late season for bowhunting deer. The chickens seem to bee adapting to the cold and are laying more regularly again. There's wood for the stove and a supply of canned goods in the pantry. This week is going to be rough, but the job should get back to something resembling normal after that.

   It will be interesting to see how things happen from here...

Friday, November 12, 2010

Elk, Mayo, and Potato Salad

   Elk season opened this past Saturday. One person in our party spotted several cows over the course of the weekend. I saw a buck Sunday and with a quick call I was able to give him to pause and present me with a perfect target; too bad it wasn't deer season. On Monday we did not see or hear anything but other hunters and logging in the distance. Tuesday morning I decided to try a new area and heard a cow calling repeatedly. I adjusted my position just in time to see a herd of elk parade into the trees. I followed their trail for about a mile into the woods, but never saw them again. Still, I know where I'm going this weekend.

   In lieu of packing the freezer with elk, today I decided to make potato salad. I was inspired recently during our visit to the east coast by tales of a friend in Alabama who has taken to making everything from scratch. I did can some relish this season, but the idea of making almost everything from scratch captured my imagination and I started looking into canning recipes for things like mustard and catsup. What I discovered is that homemade mayonnaise cannot be preserved -- it can only be made fresh and refrigerated for use over a few days. Seriously makes me wonder what's in commercial mayo that can sit on a grocery store shelf.

   Anyway, this afternoon I made potato salad with local potatoes, eggs from the chickens, last season's pickles, and homemade mayo. It took me a while to get the proportions worked out with the mayo, so I ended up with more than I intended.

   I guess I'll have plenty for sandwiches while I'm out trying to get one of those elk!

Monday, November 1, 2010 - News : How ballot order helps candidates - News : How ballot order helps candidates

How ballot order helps candidates

Some candidates on Tuesday may get a boost — from the ballot itself.

Appearing first on a ballot can be worth as much as 2.3 percentage points more votes, enough to swing a close race.

That number comes from research by Jonathan Koppell and Jennifer Steen, political science professors at Yale University and Arizona State University, respectively.

They looked at the 1998 Democratic primary in New York to test their hypothesis that ballot order mattered.

Because New York rotates the order in which candidates are listed in every precinct, Koppell and Steen were able to test how well the candidates did who were listed first. They found the advantage was from 1.6 to 2.3 percentage points.

"People economize," Steen told "Political scientists have borrowed this concept from economists and political psychologists. The theory is that one time- or labor-saving device is to make an easy decision, and when you're presented with a list of choices in a written format, you'll pick the first one that is acceptable to you."

She said that the effect is most likely in "low-information elections," in which people are not familiar with the candidates, such as local or nonpartisan offices. She does not think it has as much effect on high-profile races for Congress, except in some tight races. - News : How ballot order helps candidates

Friday, October 29, 2010

Chuck Palazzo

   I dig this cat.

   From Veterans Today:

   Chuck Palazzo: "Marine Combat Veteran, served with 1st and 3rd FORCERECON. RVN 1970-1971. Currently living, writing and working in Da Nang, Vietnam. Agent Orange and Unexploded Ordinance activist and researcher."

   Chuck is paying attention to the chemical industries and is trying to get the word out.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Most Difficult Time Of The Year

   I imagine seasons go by for some folks as little more than a change in the weather. Some have yard work, some have professional challenges that change with the season. When I lived on the SE coast, fall was the beginning of the end of tourist season and the start of college season, meaning a significant shift in material as an entertainer. In the NW, it means the end of the outdoor season and more business for entertainment.

   Trying to eat locally and live sustainably, it's a whole new world. This is the time of year when the ant and the grasshopper begin to haunt a person. This year's growing season was not great and optimists like myself were caught off-guard as September passed. Fortunately we had access to local produce. We were able to use our garden to supplement canning projects as we had no real excess of our own. We also made a point to stock up on basics like beans, rice, flour, pasta, sugar, and salt for a few bucks.

   Still, there is much to be done. I harvested a couple cords of hardwood for the woodstove, but we still need more -- preferably some seasoned fir or other softwood for kindling. Onions and carrots in the garden need to be harvested for beef stew to be canned. Egg production has dropped off dramatically with the hens as the days grow shorter and darker. The maple tree will continue to dump leaves for the compost pile for a while. The freezer needs re-stocked either from the butcher shop (and the cushion fund was spent on vacation earlier this month) or by elk or late deer season. The latter, of course, just requires a serious time commitment (and a bit of luck). At this moment, I don't really care about Halloween, Thanksgiving, or Christmas. I just want to stock the pantry.

   Of course, by January it will all be out of my hands. We'll take stock of what we have and live accordingly because there's really nothing else we an do until spring.

   That is when I'll be able to relax.

Friday, October 15, 2010

CDN judges rule against Wal-Mart in two separate union cases

From Money:

A judge in Saskatchewan ruled Walmart employees have the right to union representation Thursday, just days after a Quebec judge ruled the retail giant acted illegally when it closed a unionized store in that province, United Food & Commercial Workers Canada said.

A Saskatchewan Court of Appeal judge upheld a lower court ruling Thursday allowing a UFCW Local 1400 bargaining unit at the Weyburn, Sask. Walmart store.

“This is a victory for workers rights and the principle that no company is above the law,” said Norm Neault, the president of UFCW Canada Local 1400.

UFCW accuses Walmart of doing everything in its power to prevent workers from getting a collective agreement.

“But the time for stalling is over. Let’s get back to the bargaining table and start talking,” Neault said.

Local 1400 first applied to represent Weyburn Walmart workers in 2004.

Earlier this week, a Quebec Supreme Court judge ruled Walmart had acted illegally when it shut a store in Jonquiere, Que. shortly after workers there formed a union.

Some Walmart workers in other parts of the country are working with a union agreement already, including those in Gatineau and Saint-Hyacinthe, Que.


Despite problems with superweeds, Obama and USDA firmly support GMOs

From Food Integrity Now by Matt Spaeth on October 11, 2010:

Superweeds, a side-effect of growing Roundup-Ready genetically modified (GM) crops, are a growing problem. Roundup-Ready crops, engineered to tolerate weedkiller, are the most popular variety of GM crop today. However, many native weeds have evolved their own defense to weedkiller and now occupy 10 million acres of US farmland. Despite this issue being a direct result of growing GM crops, the Obama administration and USDA recently made it clear, they firmly stand beside biotechnology.

Ann Wright, a deputy undersecretary at the USDA, told a House oversight subcommittee last week:

This administration and USDA see biotechnology as being a very important tool for farmers to use in addressing some very important issues, globally and domestically. All the options we look at have to be supportive of that.

Yes, you read that right. In finding a solution, the Obama administration and USDA will only consider options supporting the same technology that created the problem.

Wright also stated the USDA did not have authority to regulate weedkiller-tolerant crops leading to superweeds.

Congressman Dennis Kucinich, Ohio democrat and former presidential candidate, corrected her by stating the department can impose restrictions on weedkiller-tolerant crops under its authority to control noxious weeds. Kucinich advocates creating a moratorium on genetically modified organisms and is holding a series of hearings on the superweed issue.

The USDA statement came amidst reports that Monsanto’s shares are down 42% and on the eve of the first official Non-GMO month.

Monsanto, the creators of Roundup (a weedkiller also known as glyphosate), is the world’s largest supplier of genetically modified seeds. They alter the DNA of crops to resist weedkiller, then sell both the seed and weedkiller to the farmer. It is supposed to make a farmer’s life easier, as it allows an entire field to be blanketed with weedkiller. The GM crops survive, and the weeds die. It was touted to be more environmentally friendly than the old method of tilling weeds under. But as the years went on, the weeds around the crops grew resistant to weedkiller as well, erasing the benefits of the GM crop.

This news reinforces President Obama’s appearance as a politician determined to facilitate biotech world domination. Since winning the presidency, he has made it his mission to fill his administration with a team of biotech all-stars:

December 17, 2008, then-President-elect Barack Obama nominated Tom Vilsack, a politician well-known for his preference of large industrial farms and genetically modified crops, as US Secretary of Agriculture. Vilsack originated legislation prohibiting local communities from regulating where GM crops could be grown. He was also the founder and former chair of the Governor’s Biotechnology Partnership, and was named Governor of the Year by the Biotechnology Industry Organization.

July 7, 2009, President Obama appointed Michael Taylor, Monsanto-man and poster boy for revolving door politics, as “senior advisor” to the FDA Commissioner. Taylor began his career as staff attorney for the FDA before moving to a law firm representing Monsanto. He later returned to the FDA as Deputy Commissioner for Policy, where he lead the approval for using Monsanto’s rBGH growth hormone in dairy cows without labeling. From there he moved to the USDA as Administrator of the Food Safety & Inspection Service, before becoming Monsanto’s Vice President for Public Policy.

September 24, 2009, President Obama appointed Roger Beachy, “the father of GM foods”, as Director of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). Beachy was the founding president of the Danforth Plant and Science Center, a non-profit arm of Monsanto, where he is still a trustee and member of its scientific advisory board. A part of the USDA, NIFA was developed as a result of a task force chaired by William H. Danforth and appointed by then Secretary of Agriculture, Ann Veneman. Veneman herself has a history in biotech, having served on the board of directors for Calgene Inc, a biotech company later purchased by Monsanto.

November 10, 2009, President Obama nominated Rajiv Shah, GMO and vaccine proponent, as Administrator of the US Agency for International Development (USAID). Before this, Shah was Chief Scientist at the USDA (also appointed by Obama), where he worked on launching NIFA. Shah used his USDA position to promote genetic engineering to Congress and direct millions towards GMO research. Prior to his involvement in government, Shah was the agricultural programs director for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, along with the Danforth Plant and Science Center, is one of Monsanto’s key non-profit partners.

January 13, 2010, President Obama re-appoints Michael Taylor, this time to Deputy Commissioner of Foods for the FDA.

April 2, 2010, President Obama appointed Islam A. Siddiqui, a registered biotech lobbyist, as Chief Agricultural Negotiator in the Office of the United States Trade Representative. Siddiqui is a former VP for Science and Regulatory Affairs at CropLife America, a biotechnology industry consortium. His credentials include lobbying against mandatory labeling of GMO foods in Japan and criticizing the European Union’s precautionary rejection of importing GMOs. Siddiqui is the former Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs at the USDA, where he oversaw the National Organic Program’s standards. These standards initially allowed both irradiated and GM foods to be labeled as organic, but were later revised due to public opposition.

It’s no wonder 86% of US farmland is planted with GM crops, a good ‘ol boys network is writing our nation’s agricultural policy!

Meanwhile, on the opposite end of the agricultural spectrum, the First Lady created an organic garden where she grows produce for the White House kitchen as well as local charities and soup kitchens. She also uses the garden to educate local elementary school children about organic gardening. In addition, the First Lady hosted diplomat spouses of world leaders at the UN General Assembly to a luncheon tour of a local NY farm specializing in seed diversity, local farming and sustainability.

You may be baffled, so am I. Is Michelle Obama just a front? Does the President really believe he is helping the world? Or, is he a puppet in the hands of wealthy campaign financiers?

Clearly, the government has ignored the growing number of studies which indicate GM food is unsafe for human or animal consumption. A paper released by The American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) shows more than a causal association between GMOs and adverse health effects.

According to the AAEM,

…several animal studies indicate serious health risks associated with GM food consumption including infertility, immune dysregulation, accelerated aging, dysregulation of genes associated with cholesterol synthesis, insulin regulation, cell signaling, and protein formation, and changes in the liver, kidney, spleen and gastrointestinal system.

Another study, lead by Professor Andrés Carrasco of the Laboratory of Molecular Embryology at the University of Buenos Aires Medical School, demonstrated that glyphosate (Roundup) causes birth defects at far lower doses than those used in agricultural spraying and well below maximum residue levels in products approved by the European Union. The study was initiated because of widespread reports of human malformations in Argentina beginning in 2002. This was two years after farmers began widespread aerial spraying of Roundup on their GM soy crops.

Even the President’s own Cancer Panel suggests reducing your risk of cancer by “giving preference to food grown without pesticides, chemical fertilizers and growth hormones.” In other words, eat organic.

We are faced with a mountain of problems linked to genetically modified organisms and they continue to build: South African farmers were devastated in 2009 when genetically modified maize from Monsanto failed to produce kernels; GM soy has been linked sterility and infant mortality in hamsters; and insecticide-producing GM corn is polluting streams, lakes and rivers. What will be next?

The biotech lobbyists have succeeded in preventing GM foods from being labeled thus far, but many are seeking for that to change. This Washington Post public poll clearly shows the public wants to know if they are eating GMOs. But, the biotech industry knows they would have no industry if that was the case. Watch for this issue this coming election and ask your candidates where they stand on GMO Food Labels.

Congressman Kucinich seems to be one of the only people in Washington taking a stand for integrity and common sense. Let’s hope he still has a job come November.

Negotiators agree on international accord on damage from GM crops

From The Mainichi Daily News:

NAGOYA (Kyodo) -- Negotiators at biological diversity talks in the central Japan city of Nagoya have agreed on a supplement to the biosafety protocol that would address compensation for damage caused to ecosystems by genetically modified crops, officials involved in the talks said Tuesday.

A group of experts is currently working out a final draft for adoption by member countries on Friday, the final day of the fifth meeting on the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, which began Monday as the official start of three weeks of international talks on the Convention on Biological Diversity.

The "Nagoya-Kuala Lumpur Supplementary Protocol on Liability and Redress" would set new rules for allowing importing countries to call on business operators who brought in genetically modified organisms that caused damage to implement necessary restorative measures or pay for the costs of such measures.

At a working group meeting on Tuesday, participants discussed various issues faced by developing countries in ensuring biosafety, including capacity-building by countries with little know-how on the handling of living modified organisms and without relevant domestic laws.

They also discussed the importance of creating common standards to assess the environmental impact of such organisms.

Talks on compensatory measures for damage caused to ecosystems by genetically modified crops began in 2004 as the potential damage to biological diversity was unknown.

(Mainichi Japan) October 13, 2010 -- READ THE ORIGINAL ARTICLE

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Ten Days on the East Coast

   Today I find myself back home across the Sound from Seattle after ten days on the coast of North Carolina. From sunny, humid mid-80's to overcast, drizzly mid-50's -- a stark reminder that I do not yet have enough firewood for the winter. The storm windows have been closed over the screens for winter and the woodstove has been slowly bringing the house back up to a comfortable 68 degrees. Someone stole several pumpkins from the garden while we were away, leaving us with only one small pumpkin. I believe we are missing some squash as well. As I've said before, it's been a disappointing year in the garden, but we were still able to harvest carrots, cabbage, and onions for tonight's dinner. The chickens seem to be doing fine, though they were very happy to be moved out from behind the shed and back onto the now overgrown lawn. I am perfectly fine letting them handle the mowing for the time being. The neighbor's maple tree has started to blanket the side yard with leaves that will become the foundation of next year's compost pile while this year's pile continues to break down for use as winter mulch and later for spring planting. It seems the summer -- such as it was -- is conclusively over. Despite all efforts to prepare before leaving home, I find that I have returned to a backlog of projects.

   It's been two years since I've been back to coastal Carolina. While I have several good friends there and it is great to be able to spend time with them once again, my trip reminds me of the reasons I jumped at the opportunity to return to the Pacific Northwest. During our ten-day visit just about everyone commented on how lucky we were to be there after the summer heat had finally let up. I was still uncomfortable any time I had to be outside except for the afternoon we spent at the beach, swimming in the ocean. It's just hot there and I have never been comfortable in the heat.

   Besides the heat and humidity, I find it very difficult to eat responsibly in the south eastern United States. It took a while living in North Carolina for me to understand that part of this is because of pigs. Pork production, processing, and packing make up a huge chunk of North Carolina's industry. In fact, North Carolina is the largest pork producer in the U.S. (according to the EPA). As a result, big business has had big influence on state agriculture and, ultimately, on consumer options.

   Just a quick comparison of Washington State and North Carolina: in 2008, Washington had 697 certified organic operations totaling 96,166 acres. NC had 156 certified organic operations totaling 5,243 acres. Washington had 39,500 farms while NC had 52,500. Washington's total agricultural area in 2007 was approximately 42,540,079 acres while North Carolina's was 31,113,828 acres. Possibly the most staggering figure is that of those total agricultural acres, 4,775,287 were pastureland in Washington while only 941,609 were pastureland in NC. Read those numbers again and then realize that chickens and hogs are North Carolina's top commodities and second only to tobacco in exports while Washington's top commodity is apples. Meat ranks fifth in the state's exports behind fruits, vegetables, "other" (most likely hops), and wheat. In general, Washington and North Carolina go about producing food very differently. (All of these stats come from the USDA)

   When we lived in North Carolina, we were members of a local food co-op where we shopped regularly. We were also lucky to have a farmer's market where we could get fresh, local food. When one is traveling it is not as easy to avail one's self of these options. Traveling on a budget presents another hurdle as the worst food is almost always the cheapest and easiest. We were fortunate to have hosts with which to stay during most of our trip and thereby have the capacity for food storage and prep, but we were also dependent one the good will of said hosts to get around the sprawl of town. Since the co-op was on the far side of town and we were not in town on Saturday during the farmer's market, we had to make due with what we could find in the grocery stores. I soon I found I just had to let it go, make the best of it, and be thankful to the good friends we have for putting us up, driving us around, and opening their homes and kitchens to us. We tried to spend what little money we had in a direction to support healthy and responsible food systems.

   Today I am glad to be home with the chickens, the garden, the produce markets, and the local butcher. I do miss my friends back east. I hope they can come visit soon.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Industrial Agriculture and Human Survival: The Road Beyond 10/10/10

This is an excellent article by Ronnie Cummins about why we must change the system. It was originally published by Organic Consumers Association, October 7, 2010. :

Despite decades of deception and mystification, a critical mass at the grassroots is waking up. A new generation of food and climate activists understands that greenhouse gas-belching fossil fuels, industrial food and farming, and our entire global economy pose a mortal threat, not just to our present health and well being, but also to human survival. Given the severity of the Crisis, we have little choice but to step up our efforts. As 35,000 climate activists at the historic global climate summit in April of 2010 in Cochabamba, Bolivia shouted, “We must change the System, not the climate.”

“Changing the System,” means defending our selves, the future generations, and the biological carrying capacity of the planet from the ravages of “profit at any cost” capitalism. “Changing the System,” means safeguarding our delicately balanced climate, soils, oceans, and atmosphere from the fatal consequences of fossil fuel-induced climate change. “Changing the System” means exposing, dismantling, and replacing, not just individual out-of-control corporations like Monsanto, Halliburton, and British Petroleum, and out-of-control technologies like gene-altered crops and mountaintop removal; but our entire chemical and energy-intensive industrial economy, starting, at least for many of us, with Food Inc.’s destructive system of industrial food and farming. “Changing the system,” means going on the offensive and dismantling the most controversial and vulnerable flanks of our suicide economy: coal plants, gas guzzlers, the military-industrial complex, and industrial agriculture’s Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) and factory farms.

Frankenfoods and Industrial Agriculture

Highly subsidized GM crops - comprising 40% of U.S. cropland, and 10% of global crops - and the junk food and unhealthy processed foods and beverages derived from them, are the most profitable and strategically important components of industrial agriculture. Taxpayer subsidized GMOs and factory farms allow Food Inc. (corporate agribusiness) to poison the public and pollute the atmosphere and environment. Subsidized GM and monoculture crops - along with cheap soy, corn, and chemical additives - allow the McDonald’s, Cargills and Wal-Marts of the world to sell junk food, meat, and beverages at much lower prices than healthy, non-chemical foods. GMO crops and their companion pesticides and chemical fertilizers are the cash cows and vanguard of a global farming and food distribution system that consumes prodigious amounts of fossil fuels and emits tremendous amount of climate-destabilizing greenhouse gases. GMOs provide the ideological and technological foundation for the factory farms and mono-crop plantations that are destroying the climate, the soils, and the planet. Either we bring them down, or they will bring us down.

According to Monsanto and the global war on bugs,war on biodiversity, chemical farming lobby, patented GMO seeds, crops, biofuels, animals, and trees can miraculously kill pests, reduce pesticide use, boost yields, alleviate world hunger, reduce petroleum use, and help farmers adapt to drought, pestilence, and global warming. As a growing "Millions Against Monsanto" corps understand, the Biotech Bullies are dangerous liars. Industrial agriculture, GMOs, and so-called cheap food have destroyed public health and wrecked the environment. Genetically Modified (GM) crops have neither reduced pesticide use, nor chemical fertilizer use. They kill pests, but they also give rise to superweeds and superpests. GM crops, like all industrial monoculture crops, use vast amounts of fossil fuel and water. GMO and their companion chemicals (pesticides and chemical fertilizers) destroy the greenhouse gas sequestering capacity of living soils and kill off non-patented plants, trees, and animals. Most GM crops, 90% of which are derived from Monsanto’s patented seeds, are genetically engineered to boost the sales of toxic pesticides such as Roundup, and thereby increase toxic pesticide residues in foods. GM crops do not produce higher yields, nor provide more nutritious foods. GM soybeans, the most important industrial agriculture crop, along with corn, consistently have lower yields, while chemical-intensive GM food crops contain far fewer vitamins and essential trace minerals than organic foods. Nor has gene-splicing (unlike organic farming) produced plant or tree varieties that can adapt to global warming. Nonetheless GM crops remain Food Inc.’s propaganda “poster child.”

The unfortunate bottom line is that 65 years of chemical and GM agriculture, a literal World War Three on public health, rural communities, and the environment, have nearly killed us. Humans and our living environment have been poisoned, not only by pesticides, nitrate fertilizers, greenhouse gas pollution, and contaminated factory-farmed food, but also by the mutant organisms and patented chemical residues that accompany these genetically modified foods and crops. Either we make the Great Transition to a relocalized economy whose foundation is renewable energy and solar-based (as opposed to GMO and petroleum-based) organic food and fiber production, or else we are destined to burn up the planet and destroy ourselves.

Despite mass media brainwashing (“Better living through chemistry… Monsanto can feed the world… GMO crops and trees can reduce fossil fuel use and climate-destabilizing greenhouse gases…”), consumers and farmers are seeing through the lies. Defying the efforts of the powerful industrial agriculture/biotech lobby, a growing number of activists and concerned citizens are connecting the dots and taking action. As a consequence Monsanto has become one of the most hated corporations on earth.

A critical mass of research reveals that genetically engineered crops, now covering almost 40% of U.S. cropland (173 million acres of GM crops) and 10% of global farm acreage (321 million acres), pollute the environment, kill essential soil micro-organisms, generate superweeds and pests, decrease biodiversity, aid and abet seed monopolization, encourage massive use of toxic pesticides and chemical fertilizer, spew out massive amounts of climate-destabilizing greenhouse gases, and seriously damage animal and human health.

Injecting genetically engineered hormones into dairy cows to force them to give more milk is reckless and dangerous. Monsanto’s genetically engineered Bovine Growth Hormone rBGH, now marketed by Eli Lilly, increases the risks of breast, prostate, and colon cancer for those who consume the milk. It also severely damages the health of the cows. Residue levels of Monsanto’s toxic herbicide, Roundup, found routinely in non-organic foods, destroy animal and human reproductive systems.

Haphazardly ramming indeterminate amounts of patented foreign DNA, bacteria, and antibiotic-resistant genes into the genomes of already non-sustainable energy and pesticide-intensive crops and foods (corn, soy, cotton, canola, sugar beets, alfalfa) in order to increase the sales of Monsanto or Bayer's GMO companion herbicides or to facilitate monopoly control over seeds by the Gene Giants is not only non-sustainable, but criminal.

Rejection of this out-of-control GM technology is a major driving force in the rapid growth of organic food and farming, as well as the growing demand for mandatory safety testing and labeling of GMOs. In the EU, where GM-tainted foods must be labeled, GMO crops are almost non-existent (although large quantities of GM animal feed are still being imported into the EU from the U.S., Canada, Brazil, and Argentina).

Local and organic food production is now growing faster than GMO/industrial food and farming; improving public health and nutrition, reducing fossil fuel use and greenhouse gas pollution, sequestering billions of tons of CO2 in the soil (up to seven tons of CO2 per acre per year), and providing economic survival for a growing number of the world’s 2.8 billion small farmers and rural villagers. The growth of organic agriculture and relocalized food and farming systems are encouraging, but obviously organics are still the alternative, rather than the norm.

As we enter into the Brave New World of global warming and climate chaos, many organic advocates are starting to realize that we need to put more emphasis, not just on the health and pollution hazards of GMOs; but rather we need to broaden our efforts and mobilize to abolish the entire system of industrial food and farming. As we are now learning, industrial agriculture and factory farming are in fact a primary (if not the primary) cause of global warming and deforestation. Even if were able to rip up all of Monsanto’s GMO crops tomorrow, business as usual, chemical-intensive, energy-intensive industrial agriculture is enough to kill us all. On the other hand, if we’re going to take down industrial agriculture, one of the best ways to leverage our efforts is to target the most hated corporation in the world, Monsanto.

Besides contaminating our food, destroying the environment and moving, by any means necessary, to gain monopoly control over seeds and biodiversity, Monsanto and their Food Inc. collaborators are guilty of major “climate crimes.” These crimes include: confusing the public about the real causes of (and solutions to) global warming; killing the soil’s ability to sequester greenhouse gases; releasing massive amounts of greenhouse gases (CO2, methane and nitrous oxide) into the atmosphere; promoting bogus industrial corn and soy-derived biofuels (which use just as many fossil fuel, and release just as many greenhouse gases as conventional fuels); monopolizing seed stocks and taking climate-friendly varieties off the market; promoting genetically engineered trees; and last but not least, advocating dangerous geoengineering schemes such as massive GM plantations of trees or plants than reflect sunlight.

The negotiators and heads of state at the December 2009 Copenhagen Climate negotiations abandoned the summit with literally no binding agreement on meaningful greenhouse gas (carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, methane, and black carbon) reduction, and little or no acknowledgement of the major role that industrial food and farming practices play in global warming. Lulled by the world’s leaders vague promises to reduce global warming, and still believing that new technological breakthroughs can save us, the average citizen has no idea how serious the present climate crisis actually is. A close look at present (non-legally binding) pledges by the Obama Administration and other governments to reduce GHG pollution shows that their proposed, slightly modified “business as usual” practices will still result in a disastrous global average temperature increase of 3.5 to 3.9 C by 2100, according to recent studies. This will not only burn up the Amazon, the lungs of the planet, but also transform the Arctic into a region that is 10 to 16 degrees C warmer, releasing most of the region’s permafrost carbon and methane and unknown quantities of methane hydrates, in the process basically putting an end to human beings’ ability to live on the planet.

We are literally staring disaster in the face. In the follow up to the Copenhagen Climate Summit this year, which is to be held in Cancun, Mexico (Nov. 29-Dec. 10) we, as members of global civil society, must raise our voices loud and clear. We must make it clear that we are years, not decades away, from detonating runaway feedback mechanisms (heating up and burning up the Amazon and melting the Arctic permafrost) that can doom us all.

Industrial Food and Farming: A Deadly Root of Global Warming

Although transportation, industry, and energy producers are obviously major fossil fuel users and greenhouse gas polluters, not enough people understand that the worst U.S. and global greenhouse gas emitter is “Food Incorporated,” transnational industrial food and farming, of which Monsanto and GMOs constitute a major part. Industrial farming, including 173 million acres of GE soybeans, corn, cotton, canola, and sugar beets, accounts for at least 35% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions (EPA’s ridiculously low estimates range from 7% to 12%, while some climate scientists feel the figure could be as high as 50% or more).

Industrial agriculture, biofuels, and non-sustainable cattle grazing - including cutting down the last remaining tropical rainforests in Latin America and Asia for GMO and chemical-intensive animal feed and biofuels - are also the main driving forces in global deforestation and wetlands destruction, which generate an additional 20% of all climate destabilizing GHGs.

In other words the direct (food, fiber, and biofuels production, food processing, food distribution) and indirect damage (deforestation and destruction of wetlands) of industrial agriculture, GMOs, and the food industry are the major cause of global warming. Unless we take down Monsanto and Food Inc. and make the Great Transition to a relocalized system of organic food and farming, we and our children are doomed to reside in Climate Hell.

Overall 78% of climate destabilizing greenhouse gases come from CO2, while the remainder come from methane, nitrous oxide, and black carbon or soot. To stabilize the climate we will need to drastically reduce all of these greenhouse gas emissions, not just CO2, and sequester twice as much carbon matter in the soil (through organic farming and ranching, and forest and wetlands restoration) as we are doing presently.

Currently GMO and industrial/factory farms (energy and chemical-intensive) farms emit at least 25% of the carbon dioxide (mostly from tractors, trucks, combines, transportation, cooling, freezing, and heating); 40% of the methane (mostly from massive herds of animals belching and farting, and manure ponds); and 96% of nitrous oxide (mostly from synthetic fertilizer manufacture and use, the millions of tons of animal manure from factory-farmed cattle herds, pig and poultry flocks, and millions of tons of sewage sludge spread on farms). Black carbon or soot comes primarily from older diesel engines, slash and burn agriculture, and wood cook stoves.

Per ton, methane is 21 times more damaging, and nitrous oxide 310 times more damaging, as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, when measured over a one hundred year period. Damage is even worse if you look at the impact on global warming over the next crucial 20-year period. Many climate scientists admit that they have previously drastically underestimated the dangers of the non-CO2 GHGs, including methane, soot, and nitrous oxide, which are responsible for at least 22% of global warming.

Almost all U.S. food and farm-derived methane comes from factory farms, huge herds of confined cows, hogs, and poultry operations, in turn made possible by heavily subsidized ($15 billion per year) GMO soybeans, corn, cottonseed, and canola; as well as rotting food waste thrown into landfills instead of being separated out of the solid waste stream and properly composted. To drastically reduce C02, methane, and nitrous oxide releases we need an immediate consumer boycott, followed by a government ban on factory farms, dairies, and feedlots. To reduce black carbon or soot emissions we will need to upgrade old diesel engines, and provide farmers and rural villagers in the developing world with alternatives to slash and burn agriculture (compost, compost tea, biochar) and non-polluting cook stoves and home heating.

We also need to implement mandatory separation and recycling of food wastes and “green garbage” (yard waste, tree branches, etc.) at the municipal level, so that that we can reduce methane emissions from landfills. Mandatory composting will also enable us to produce large quantities of high quality organic compost to replace the billions of pounds of chemical fertilizer and sewage sludge, which are releasing GHGs, destroying soil fertility, polluting our waters, and undermining public health.

Nearly all nitrous oxide pollution comes from dumping billions of pounds of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer and sewage sludge on farmland (chemical fertilizers and sludge are banned on organic farms and ranches), mainly to grow GMO crops and animal feed. Since about 80% of U.S. agriculture is devoted to producing non-organic, non-grass fed meat, dairy, and animal products, reducing agriculture GHGs means eliminating the overproduction and over-consumption of GMO crops, factory-farmed meat, and animal products. It also means creating massive consumer demand for organic foods, including pasture-raised, grass-fed animal products.

The fact that climate change is now metastasizing into climate chaos is indisputable: massive flooding in Pakistan, unprecedented forest fires in Russia and the Amazon, melting of the glaciers that supply water for crops and drinking water of a billion people in Asia and South America, crop failures in regions all over the globe, record heat waves in the U.S. and Europe, methane leaking from the Arctic tundra and coastlines, killer hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico and Central America, and steadily spreading pestilence, crop failures, and disease. The realization that every time we eat non-organic processed food, we are ingesting unlabeled, hazardous GMO foods and pesticides is indeed alarming. But the impending threat of industrial food and farming detonating runaway climate change (i.e. moving from our current .8 degree Centigrade average global rise in temperature to 2-6 degrees) is terrifying. Either we rein in industrial food and farming and GMOs, out-of-control politicians and corporations, and make the transition to an organic and green economy or we will perish.

The hour is late. Leading climate scientists such as Dr. James Hansen of NASA and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have delivered the final warning. “Business as usual” equals unimaginable disaster.

Leading greenhouse gas polluters (namely the US, Canada, Europe, Japan, Russia, India, and China) must slash CO2, methane, soot, and nitrous oxide emissions by 20-40% as soon as possible, 50% by 2010, and 80-90% by the year 2050. Continued business as usual, especially in the strategic GM and industrial food and farming sector, means we will inevitably burn up the Amazon and remaining tropical forests; acidify and kill the oceans; generate mega-drought, violent floods, crop failures, endless resource wars, melt the polar icecaps, precipitate a disastrous rise in ocean levels, and finally bring about the coup de grace that will kill us all, releasing massive amount of methane from the frozen tundra and shallow ocean floors of the Arctic.

Of course dismantling industrial agriculture and transitioning our food and farming system to one which is local and organic is not the only thing global civil society must do (since this will only take care of 50% of global greenhouse gas pollution), but it is the most crucial and effective measure we can take as food consumers and farmers. While we retool industrial food and farming, the global grassroots must also step-up our struggles in the other energy and greenhouse gas (GHG) sectors: stopping the construction of coal plants; stopping the deforestation in the Amazon, Indonesia, and Malaysia; changing the electrical grid from being powered predominately by coal to solar, wind, and geothermal; drastically reducing oil consumption in the transportation and housing sectors; and last but not least, dismantling the trillion dollar military-industrial complex. Let me repeat this last point. Until the U.S. and EU get out of Iraq and Afghanistan, and drastically slash U.S. and world military spending, we will never be able to free up sufficient resources to build an organic and green economy.

Either we radically reduce CO2, as well as methane, nitrous oxide, and soot pollution (the so-called C02e--carbon dioxide equivalents) to 350 ppm (currently at 390 parts per million and rising 2 ppm per year) or there is no future. As scientists warned at the Copenhagen Climate Summit, “business as usual” and a corresponding 2-6 degree Celsius rise in global temperatures means that the carrying capacity of the Earth in 2100 will collapse to one billion people. Under these conditions, billions will die of thirst, cold, heat, disease, war, and starvation. Those who don’t die may wish that they had.

Organic Farming and Ranching Can Reverse Global Warming

The currently catastrophic, but largely unrecognized, GHG damage from GMO crops and industrial food production and distribution must be reversed. This will involve wholesale changes in farming practices, government subsidies, food processing and handling. In the U.S. it will require the conversion of a million chemical farms and ranches to organic production. It will require the establishment of millions of urban backyard and community gardens, and the restoration of prairielands, forests, and wetlands.

If consumer rebellion and grassroots mobilization cannot force U.S. factory farmers to change the way they farm, process, and ship their products it will be almost impossible to deal with catastrophic U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.

On a very hopeful note, however, if farmers do change, stop planting GMOs, and make the transition to organic farming, farm and ranch land can become a significant sink or sequestration pool for greenhouse gasses, literally sucking excess greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere and the ozone layer and sequestering them safely in the soil, where they belong. The overly saturated global atmosphere now contains 800 billion tons of carbon. (For climate stability purposes it should only contain 700 billion tons or less or carbon). This is why the weather is changing. This is why we are experiencing a climate crisis. If we are to survive, we not only need to keep the remaining 3.2 trillion tons of carbon in the soil, where it is now (instead of allowing it to be released into the atmosphere as collateral damage from industrial agriculture), but we must also capture and sequester (through organic soil and land management) at least 100 billions tons of excess carbon that are currently over-saturating the atmosphere.

Before the onslaught of industrial agriculture in the 1940s, U.S. farm and forest soils contained and sequestered twice as much climate-destabilizing carbon organic matter as they do today. Instead of the one or two percent organic carbon matter of industrial agriculture’s farmland or rangeland today, traditional farm and ranch lands often had two to four percent or more. With organically managed farms and ranches, a green urban landscape, and nationwide reforestation we can literally suck excess greenhouse gas pollution out of the sky and put it back where it belongs, in the living soil.

Planet Earth has five pools or repositories where greenhouse gases are absorbed and stored: the oceans (which contain 40 trillion tons of carbon), the atmosphere (800 billion tons), the soils (3.2 trillion tons), plants and forests (650 billion tons), and hydrocarbon/fossil fuel deposits (4 trillion tons). Obviously we are doomed if we burn up the remaining fossil fuels on the Earth and release the prodigious amounts of greenhouse gases currently stored in the soil, oceans, plants, and forests.

Because U.S farm and forest soils are so degraded from chemical-intensive, mono-crop farming practices and over-logging they are only able to absorb and store half (or less) of the carbon matter than they would be capable of if they were organically managed. As a result of this reckless mismanagement, the atmosphere and the oceans are absorbing the bulk of the greenhouse gases that normally would be absorbed by farmland, rangeland, and forests. This has led to a catastrophic excess of GHGs in both the oceans and the atmosphere. This excess has caused changes in climate and extreme fluctuations in weather; including droughts and torrential flooding. It also causes oceanic acidification, oceanic dead zones, and dramatic declines in fish and crustacean populations.

Unfortunately, when they evaluate agricultural pollutants, pro-industrial farming, pro-biotech government bureaucrats in the EPA and USDA do not include many of the greenhouse gas emissions. They do not take into account the transportation, cooling, freezing, and heating of farm products as agricultural GHG emissions, even though our food travels an average of 1500-2000 miles to our tables and is routinely frozen and cooled to ensure its deliverability. They don’t count the CO2 and “black carbon” particle emissions from trucks, tractors, combines, and other equipment used on farms. They don’t count the emissions from fertilizer manufacture or use, wasteful packaging, sewage sludge spread on farm and range land, or the methane emitted from factory farms and the billions of tons of rotting, non-composted food in our landfills and garbage dumps. Instead, they lump--and thereby conceal--all these farm and food related GHG emissions under the categories of industrial manufacture, transportation, or electrical use. As a result, the public spotlight never shines on mounting agricultural, food, garbage, and sludge pollution.

Because government officials deliberately fail to evaluate the real farm and food-derived greenhouse gas emissions, they are free to act as if the emissions coming from GMO crops and industrial food and farming are not significant compared to the U.S. total, even though they represent more than one-third of the total pollutants. Consequently, most lawmakers and the public don’t realize how urgent it is to regulate and drastically curtail factory farm and Food Inc.’s emissions.

But for those of us who do understand all this, it’s time to move beyond polite discussion and say it out loud: we must take down and dismantle Monsanto and Food Inc. We must get political and get organized. We must declare our independence from the Food-Biotech-Industrial Complex and build a new, relocalized, organic, and sustainable society.