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!