Sunday, April 12, 2009

World War One and Michelle Obama

by Brian Tokar

... Most of the chemical "tools" taken for granted by modern agribusiness are products of warfare. Is this merely an indirect consequence of the tragic history of the 20th century, or does it suggest that the currently dismal state of our soils, fresh water supplies and rural economies is an outgrowth of agribusiness' emergence from wartime in some important ways? ...

During World War I, two German scientists ... discovered an efficient means for the large-scale chemical synthesis of ammonia and its various nitrate derivatives. The BASF company ... and their products played a central role in the orgy of mass destruction ...  Huge excesses of nitrogenous compounds that accumulated during World War I provided the basis for the beginnings of the mass production of synthetic nitrate fertilizers. ... Monsanto increased its profits 100 fold during the World War ... supplying the chemical precursors for high explosives such as TNT.

After World War II, DDT became the most widely applied chemical in human history, and its commercial success led ... to a dramatic shift in the chemical industry's ... attitude that still plagues us today, and was in many ways a direct outgrowth of its wartime origins. DDT truly was seen as an ultimate weapon, the "atom bomb of insecticides," capable of permanently eliminating various pest species.

During the 1960s, Monsanto was a leading manufacturer of the herbicide "Agent Orange," ... used by U.S. military forces to obliterate the dense jungles of Vietnam. Today Monsanto's Roundup-family herbicides play a central role in the U.S. "drug war" via its widespread use to eradicate coca and poppy plants ... Colombian agronomists have uncovered the use of a new additive that increases herbicide exposures to more than 100 times Monsanto's recommended dosage for more typical agricultural applications.

[G]enetically engineered food crops ... emerged from a period when the future of chemical agriculture appeared very much in doubt.  With the rapid expansion of the agrochemical industry during the post-World War II era, these companies and their European counterparts had established a profound degree of control over agricultural practices. But as public pressure and the weight of scientific evidence curtailed the use of DDT and many other chlorinated pesticides in the 1970s, executives and corporate scientists saw the potential for limitless advances -- and ever-expanding marketing potential -- in the incorporation of technological advances into the genetics of seeds. During the 1990s, Monsanto alone spent nearly $8 billion acquiring leading commercial seed suppliers in the United States and internationally ...

Read the entire article 

Genetic Engineering and Pesticides 

A PAN International Position Paper - Working Group 2  


Genetically engineered organisms, also called "transgenic", are lab-created new organisms, which characteristics have been altered by the artificial introduction of DNA from a different species. These GMOs could not have appeared naturally and it cannot be predicted how they will interact with the present eco-systems or what will be their consequences in time.  


Instead of correcting and avoiding the mistakes of the past, the same trans-national corporations (TNC) that benefited from the Green Revolution (GR), are now promoting the "Genetic Revolution" of agriculture, based on the use of "transgenic" crops patented by those same companies. With the help of genetic engineering, crops have been created capable of tolerating herbicides also produced by the same companies, thus promoting the increased use of herbicides. Also, "pesticide-crops" have been created, capable of producing pesticide toxins within the same plant, increasing thus the presence of pesticides in agriculture and the environment.  [Emphasis, yupfarming.]


Additionally, scientific studies and field trials demonstrate that GM crops do not have a higher yield than natural crops, that they are more polluting and that they introduce new risks to human health and the environment. 


This GM agriculture is a recipe to: 

 • Consolidate even further the corporate control over the agricultural systems, and undermine food sovereignty 
• Increase the environmental crisis  
• Increase the genetic erosion 
• Introduce new risks to human health and the environment  
• Transfer income from the producers to the corporations  


Genetic contamination of traditional crops is irreversible, impossible to control and means that all their descendants (seeds) will become genetically modified, losing forever traditional GM-free crops and the option and right to partake of GM-free foods. The industrial mono-crop model of GM agriculture is non-sustainable and expel workers and mid and small-size producers from 

their lands.   

Read the full report 

Pestide Organizing Project 

Pesticides are used both in agriculture and in parks, schools, homes, gardens, along right-of-ways, and in other public settings.

... Different pesticides affect people in different ways. Some cause cancer and are listed as "known", "probable" or "possible" carcinogens as identified by the US EPA or the State. Some are nerve toxins, that affect the enzyme responsible for the basic operation of the brain and nervous system. Many originate from W.W. II research on chemical weapons. These include organophosphate and carbamate insecticides such as chlorphrifos and diazinon. Acute (immediate) poisoning symptoms are flu-like - nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness. These pesticides may also impair memory, learning ability, ability to focus, and even behavior. Reproductive and developmental toxins are those that impact the development of children. Exposure to these chemicals may jeopardize a child's mental or physical development. Pregnant women exposed to these chemicals may face increased risk of birth defects in their unborn child. Hormone Mimicking Toxins also known as Endocrine Disrupters can disrupt delicate hormonal processes in wildlife and humans. Hormones act as chemical messengers in the human body, triggering a wide array of biological processes. They can impact height and weight, gender differentiation, the development of reproductive organs, energy levels and others. Because hormones function at very low levels, these pesticides can have dramatic effects at low levels of exposure.

Read the full report 

by Leigh Dayton and Matthew Denholm 

WHEN fisheries veterinarian Matthew Landos got his first look at the double-headed fish embryos in a Queensland hatchery, he had no idea he would soon team up with a Tasmanian doctor worried that the widespread use of agricultural and forestry chemicals was making her patients sick.

"In hindsight it makes perfect sense. If exposure to agricultural chemicals could cause deformed and dying fish, as the evidence suggests, of course the chemicals had the potential to trigger serious health problems with other animals, including people," says Landos, who runs a consulting practice called Future Fisheries Veterinary Services and is a research associate and honorary lecturer with the University of Sydney. ...

Late last year hatchery owner Gwen Gilson hired Landos to find out why - after years of healthy hatchings - embryos and fish fry were dying in huge numbers, while others showed bizarre physical or behavioural abnormalities. His investigation suggested the problem was the result of a cocktail of chemicals sprayed on a nearby macadamia plantation.

Pathology reports on Gilson's fish, written by Roger Chong of Queensland's Biosecurity Sciences Laboratory, backed Landos's conclusion. It revealed the deaths, deformities and behavioural abnormalities of fish and fish fry were consistent with exposure to the types of agrichemicals used to treat macadamia trees.  ...

In Australia, the APVMA has no plans to review atrazine. But the Tasmanian Government has requested a formal review of triazines due their persistence in waterways potentially sourced for drinking.

As to organophosphates, they too are approved for specific uses by the APVMA. And carbendazim? It's been under review by the AVPMA since 2007.

According to Hayes, they too should be banned, along with another group of insecticides, the pyrethroids.

"They're so toxic I don't study them because the harm they cause to animals is so early in development it's too early to study their endocrine systems," he says.

Read the full article



by Nora Benachour and Gilles-Eric Seralini 

For the first time, the toxicity mechanisms of four different Roundup formulations were studied in human cells. ... The various components of these major herbicides were tested because they are among the most common in the world. Their residues are among the major pollutants ...

As a matter of fact, Roundup formulations are the most common herbicides used with cultivated GMOs. Roundup Ready soya, the main GMO imported in Europe for food and feed, contains Roundup residues. In this research, the formulations were diluted at minimal doses (up to 100 000 times or more) and they programmed cell death in a few hours in a cumulative manner.

We also noted membrane and DNA damages, ...  the formulations inhibit cell respiration[,] the mixture of ... Roundup adjuvants amplified the action of ... glyphosate [, and] one of its metabolites may be even more toxic. These effects are greatly underestimated by the legislation, which ... simply sets arbitrary contaminant thresholds in food or feed. The rules apply to glyphosate whatever its formulation may be, this is wrong.

The authorizations for using these Roundup herbicides must now clearly be revised, since their toxic effects depend on, and are multiplied by, other compounds used in the mixtures ... and glyphosate is only one of them. ...[O]ur research points to undesirable effects which are currently masked or hidden from scientific scrutiny

Birth defects more likely for babies conceived in spring, summer. Are pesticides the cause? 

Risk of birth defects linked to month of conception

Babies conceived in the spring and summer are more likely than others to be born with a range of birth defects, according to new research. A possible reason: The levels of pesticides and other agrichemicals in surface water happen to peak at the same time.

The U.S. study, published in this month's issue of the medical journal Acta Pædiatrica, relies on data from the U.S. Geological Survey, the Environmental Protection Agency and the birth certificates of 30.1 million babies born in the United States from 1996 to 2002.

... Paul Winchester, a professor of clinical pediatrics ... found a strong association between the increased number of birth defects in children of women whose last menstrual period occurred in April, May, June or July and elevated levels of nitrates, atrazine and other pesticides in surface water (streams and rivers) during the same period.

This correlation was statistically significant for half of the 22 categories of birth defects reported in a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention database from 1996 to 2002, including spina bifida, cleft lip, clubfoot and Down syndrome. ...

In addition to babies born with severe medical problems, birth defects are the leading cause of infant death in the United States, accounting for about 20 per cent of all deaths. ...

[T]he effects appear not to be limited to farming communities. "Everyone wants to believe 'it's not going to affect my life over here in the suburbs,' " he says. ...

There is a growing body of research raising concerns about agrichemicals. A study found that women exposed to pesticides through gardening or proximity to agricultural crops have an increased risk of giving birth to offspring with neural-tube defects and limb anomalies.

One current limitation of research in this area is a lack of consistent data - ... many states ... do not routinely collect information on the levels of agrichemicals in drinking water.  ...

Preliminary evidence suggests that pesticides may function in the same way as the controversial chemical bisphenol A, a plastic-making compound able to act like a female hormone. Not only can it disrupt the hormonal systems of living organisms, but it does so at very low doses.

And similar to BPA, pesticides' harmful effects may not be immediately apparent.

... [B]aby rats exposed to atrazine, an herbicide that is banned in European countries, were born with no birth defects. But they developed problems including infertility, kidney and prostate problems, cancer and shortened lifespans as adults - and passed them on to their offspring.

That means agrichemicals could have effects for generations to come ...

For the whole article

First lady's organic garden concerns chemical firms 
By Jim Snyder

Michelle Obama planted an organic garden to promote fruits and vegetables as part of a healthy diet, but some chemical companies are worried it may plant a seed of doubt in consumers' minds about conventionally grown crops. 

"Fresh foods grown conventionally are wholesome and flavorful yet more economical," the Mid America CropLife Association (MACA) wrote the first lady last month a few days after she and fifth-graders from a local elementary school planted the White House Kitchen Garden.  ...

But MACA, which represents agribusinesses like Monsanto, Dow AgroSciences and DuPont Crop Protection, is rather less thrilled about the fact that no chemicals will be used to grow the crops. The group is worried that the decision may give consumers the wrong impression about conventionally grown food.     

"We live in a very different world than that of our grandparents. Americans are juggling jobs with the needs of children and aging parents," the letter states. "The time needed to tend a garden is not there for the majority of our citizens, certainly not a garden of sufficient productivity to supply much of a family's year-round food needs."   

Although pesticides or chemical fertilizers won't be used on the White House garden, ... Mrs. Obama wanted to plant the garden to promote the eating of fruits and vegetables as part of a healthy diet.    

MACA ...:  "As you go about planning and planting the White House garden, we respectfully encourage you to recognize the role conventional agriculture plays in the U.S. in feeding the ever-increasing population, contributing to the U.S. economy and providing a safe and economical food supply."   

The Full List of 47 Fruits & Veggies  

Environmental Working Group lists fruits and vegetable from "conventional" agriculture, beginning with the highest pesticide load (peaches), to the least (onions)  


1 (worst )       Peach                       100 (highest pesticide load) 

2                   Apple                         93  

3                   Sweet Bell Pepper        83  

4                   Celery                        82  

5                   Nectarine                    81  

6                   Strawberries               80  

7                   Cherries                     73  

8                   Kale                          69   

9                   Lettuce                      67 

10                 Grapes - Imported      66   

11                 Carrot                       63  

12                 Pear                         63 

13                 Collard Greens           60   

14                 Spinach                    58  

15                 Potato                      56  

16                 Green Beans             53 

17                 Summer Squash        53 

18                 Pepper                     51  

19                 Cucumber                 50  

20                 Raspberries               46 

21                 Grapes - Domestic      44  

22                 Plum                        44 

23                 Orange                     44  

24                Cauliflower                 39  

25                Tangerine                   37  

26                Mushrooms                 36  

27                Banana                      34 

28               Winter Squash              34  

29               Cantalope                    33  

30               Cranberries                  33  

31               Honeydew Melon           30  

32               Grapefruit                    29 

33               Sweet Potato                29  

34               Tomato                        29  

35               Broccoli                        28 

36               Watermelon                  26 

37               Papaya                         20  

38               Eggplant                       20  

39               Cabbage                       17 

40               Kiwi                              13  

41               Sweet Peas - Frozen        10 

42               Asparagus                      10  

43               Mango                             9  

44               Pineapple                         7  

45                Sweet Corn - Frozen         2  

46                Avocado                          1 

47 (best)       Onion                              1 (lowest pesticide load)

Note: We ranked a total of 47 different fruits and vegetables but grapes are listed twice because we looked at both domestic and imported samples.

Flying blind 

by Dr. Chuck Benbrook 

What pesticides are used on what food crops? What residues remain when the crops go to market and how risky are those residues? And what about the vulnerable amongst us — are we fully protecting pregnant women, infants and children, and the elderly?  Worrisome evidence that even minute levels of pesticides in food can impair human development has driven demand for organic foods — produced without synthetic insecticides, herbicides or fungicides. 

Since the beginning of the organic movement, consumers increasingly have made it clear they want toxic pesticides out of their food and off their plates. 

Yet a recent decision by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to stop measuring the use of pesticides on American farms could make it much harder to track pesticide use and risk trends. 

Read the full article 

Forced Feeding: New Legal Issues in the Biotechnology Policy Debate  

by Neil D. Hamilton 

...  Farmers and consumers face numerous obstacles in their voluntary effort to label foods as being produced without GMO ingredients. A food marketer's ability to label a food product in this manner is subject to the FDA's "voluntary guidance" relating to such labels.30 While the guidance appears to provide the basis for making such claims, the actual provisions make it next to impossible for food marketers to do so, short of complying with existing standards for organic food labeling, which is a separate, more costly and cumbersome system. While the details of that guidance are beyond this paper, suffice it to say that the FDA has ruled it is misleading to use the terms "GM" or "GMO free" in such labels and has placed the burden of proof on those who label their foods as being free of the products of bioengineering.31 The guidance further warns that even a "statement that a food was not bioengineered or does not contain bioengineered ingredients may be misleading if it implies that the labeled food is superior to foods that 

are not so labeled."32 The effect of the guidance and the goal of the food industry officials who requested it is not to promote voluntary labeling of 

GMO products, a label that while allowed is not found in the marketplace; instead, the purpose is to prevent the development of a GMO-free food sector.33 By forcing those who want to market or purchase GMO-free foods to buy certified organic food, the food industry is able to prevent the proliferation of foods marketed as GMO-free and limit development of consumer awareness or curiosity about the presence of GMO ingredients. This approach to labeling is a marked contrast to the true "consumer right to know" approach such as that used in Europe.34 

Read more 

Monsanto's Victory in Maine rBGH Lawsuit A setback for Consumers 
by Tom Bradley
For Christmas, Maine's dairy farmers and consumers learned that Oakhurst Dairy settled Monsanto Co.'s lawsuit challenging the labeling on Oakhurst milk.

Oakhurst is adding to its label a statement that says the Food and Drug 
Administration finds no significant difference in milk produced with or 
without artificial growth hormones.

... Oakhurst's concession ended the case and its legal costs, and the case became just one more battle in Monsanto's strategy to push engineered food upon resistant consumers. ...

Truthful commercial speech is protected by the First Amendment.  Monsanto based its claim on a federal law that protects consumers against false or misleading advertising. Monsanto argued that Oakhurst's label, although truthful, misled consumers by implicitly disparaging the milk of other dairies. ...

If the label truly misled, the FDA had authority to act. It's not Monsanto's 
role to act for the FDA in regulating milk labeling, and the court was 
unlikely to want to take on that role either.

It's a shame that we won't get to see someone put Monsanto in its place. 

Read the full article 

Monsanto Planting Seeds in the White House? 
by Asher Miller

Apparently, President Obama is considering appointing Michael Taylor to head the new Food Safety Working Group. ...

Mr. Taylor is a lawyer who began his revolving door adventures as counsel to FDA. He then moved to King & Spalding, a private-sector law firm representing Monsanto, a leading agricultural biotechnology company. ...[H]e was part of the team that issued the agency's decidedly industry-friendly policy on food biotechnology and that approved the use of Monsanto's genetically engineered growth hormone in dairy cows. ... In 1994, Mr. Taylor moved to USDA to become administrator of its Food Safety and Inspection Service... After another stint in private legal practice with King & Spalding, Mr. Taylor again joined Monsanto as Vice President for Public Policy in 1998.  ...

So what's the big deal? (I'm not going to opine on Monsanto here, other than to say that I know quite a few people who think Monsanto is the most evil corporation in the world, and that's even after this AIG debacle.) Well, two things:

The first is that I find it puzzling, to put it lightly, that Obama would choose this guy to help ensure food safety. Here's what Taylor recently said:  ... "We need to complete the transformation of FSIS as a food safety agency, away from inspection to a science-based public health agency."

Yes, because it's been proven just how effective is lack of rigorous monitoring and regulation on the part of the government.  We need more of less. Taylor was also responsible for writing the rBGH labeling guidelines for the FDA. The guidelines specifically prohibited dairies from stating that their products contained or were free of rBGH. Sounds safe to me.

Second, the appointment of Michael Taylor to the Food Safety Working Group would really belie Obama's pledge not to appoint lobbyists to positions within his administration.

1 comment:

  1. Love your recent stories on the politics of food. We've been excerpting some of them over on "the Bovine":