"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

Posts Tagged ‘FDA’

The Real Cause Of The Global Obesity Epidemic: Are Toxic Chemicals Making Us Fat?

In Uncategorized on March 31, 2012 at 2:57 pm

 

Oldspeak:“Studies conducted jointly by researchers at Imperial College London and Harvard University, published in the medical journal The Lancet, show that obesity worldwide almost doubled in the decades between 1980 and 2008. The prevalence of obesity in infants under 6 months had risen 73 percent since 1980. “This epidemic  poses a problem for conventional explanations of the fattening of America. Since they’re eating only formula or breast milk, and never exactly got a lot of exercise, the obvious explanations for obesity don’t work for babies, You have to look beyond the obvious.” Robert Lustig , Endocrinologist, UC San Francisco Ain’t ‘progress’ grand? In our insatiable lust for ‘more’ convenience, faster, easier, lighter, smaller, ‘safer’, our wondrous technological innovation has led to us poisoning ourselves and our environment in a myriad of yet unknown ways. We’re made to believe it’s all our fault. It’s our poor food choices, our lack of exercise, our lack of discipline and while that may be true in some instances, the problem is much more insidious and variegated than we can imagine. We’ve through genetic modification and chemical manipulation turned our food, our naturally perfect and nutritional sustenance against us. There can be no sadder commentary on the sign of our times than the fact that we wrap our food in petrochemical derived plastics. We literally wrap our food in the derivations of the fossilized remains of ancient dead plants and animals, and have convinced ourselves that it’s safe. “Ignorance Is Strength”

By Washington’s Blog:

World Wide Obesity Epidemic

Some 68% of all Americans are overweight, and obesity has almost doubled in the last couple of decades worldwide. As International Business Tribune reports:

Studies conducted jointly by researchers at Imperial College London and Harvard University, published in the medical journal The Lancet, show that obesity worldwide almost doubled in the decades between 1980 and 2008.

***

68 per cent of Americans were found to be overweight while close to 34 percent were obese.

Sure, people are eating too much and exercising too little (this post is not meant as an excuse for lack of discipline and poor choices). The processed foods and refined flours and sugars don’t help. And additives like high fructose corn syrup – which are added to many processed foods – are stuffing us with empty calories.

But given that there is an epidemic of obesity even in 6 month old infants (see below), there is clearly something else going on as well.

Are Toxic Chemicals Making Us Fat?

The toxins all around us might be making us fat.

As the Washington Post reported in 2007:

Several recent animal studies suggest that environmental exposure to widely used chemicals may also help make people fat.

The evidence is preliminary, but a number of researchers are pursuing indications that the chemicals, which have been shown to cause abnormal changes in animals’ sexual development, can also trigger fat-cell activity — a process scientists call adipogenesis.

The chemicals under scrutiny are used in products from marine paints and pesticides to food and beverage containers. A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found one chemical, bisphenol A, in 95 percent of the people tested, at levels at or above those that affected development in animals.

These findings were presented at last month’s annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. A spokesman for the chemical industry later dismissed the concerns, but Jerry Heindel, a top official of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), who chaired the AAAS session, said the suspected link between obesity and exposure to “endocrine disrupters,” as the chemicals are called because of their hormone-like effects, is “plausible and possible.”

Bruce Blumberg, a developmental and cell biologist at the University of California at Irvine, one of those presenting research at the meeting, called them “obesogens” — chemicals that promote obesity.

***

Exposed mice became obese adults and remained obese even on reduced calorie and increased exercise regimes. Like tributyltin, DES [which for decades was added to animal feed and routinely given to pregnant women] appeared to permanently disrupt the hormonal mechanisms regulating body weight.

“Once these genetic changes happen in utero, they are irreversible and with the individual for life,” Newbold said.

***

“Exposure to bisphenol A is continuous,” said Frederick vom Saal, professor of biological sciences at the University of Missouri at Columbia. Bisphenol A is an ingredient in polycarbonate plastics used in many products, including refillable water containers and baby bottles, and in epoxy resins that line the inside of food cans and are used as dental sealants. [It is also added to store receipts.] In 2003, U.S. industry consumed about 2 billion pounds of bisphenol A.

Researchers have studied bisphenol A’s effects on estrogen function for more than a decade. Vom Saal’s research indicates that developmental exposure to low doses of bisphenol A activates genetic mechanisms that promote fat-cell activity. “These in-utero effects are lifetime effects, and they occur at phenomenally small levels” of exposure, vom Saal said.

***

Research into the impact of endocrine-disrupting chemicals on obesity has been done only in laboratory animals, but the genetic receptors that control fat cell activity are functionally identical across species. “They work virtually the same way in fish as they do in rodents and humans,” Blumberg said. “Fat cells are an endocrine organ.”

Ongoing studies are monitoring human levels of bisphenol A, but none have been done of tributyltin, which has been used since the 1960s and is persistent in the marine food web. “Tributyltin is the only endocrine disrupting chemical that has been shown without substantial argument to have an effect at levels at which it’s found in the environment,” Blumberg said.

Concern over tributyltin’s reproductive effects on marine animals has resulted in an international agreement discontinuing its use in anti-fouling paints used on ships. The EPA has said it plans next year to assess its other applications, including as an antimicrobial agent in livestock operations, fish hatcheries and hospitals.

Bisphenol A is approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use in consumer products, and the agency says the amount of bisphenol A or tributyltin that might leach from products is too low to be of concern. But the National Toxicology Program, part of the National Institutes of Health, is reviewing bisphenol A, and concerns about its estrogenic effects prompted California legislators to propose banning it from certain products sold in-state, a move industry has fought vigorously.

Similarly, the Daily Beast noted in 2010:

[Bad habits] cannot explain the ballooning of one particular segment of the population, a segment that doesn’t go to movies, can’t chew, and was never that much into exercise: babies. In 2006 scientists at the Harvard School of Public Health reported that the prevalence of obesity in infants under 6 months had risen 73 percent since 1980. “This epidemic of obese 6-month-olds,” as endocrinologist Robert Lustig of the University of California, San Francisco, calls it, poses a problem for conventional explanations of the fattening of America. “Since they’re eating only formula or breast milk, and never exactly got a lot of exercise, the obvious explanations for obesity don’t work for babies,” he points out. “You have to look beyond the obvious.”

The search for the non-obvious has led to a familiar villain: early-life exposure to traces of chemicals in the environment. Evidence has been steadily accumulating that certain hormone-mimicking pollutants, ubiquitous in the food chain, have two previously unsuspected effects. They act on genes in the developing fetus and newborn to turn more precursor cells into fat cells, which stay with you for life. And they may alter metabolic rate, so that the body hoards calories rather than burning them, like a physiological Scrooge. “The evidence now emerging says that being overweight is not just the result of personal choices about what you eat, combined with inactivity,” says Retha Newbold of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) in North Carolina, part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). “Exposure to environmental chemicals during development may be contributing to the obesity epidemic.” They are not the cause of extra pounds in every person who is overweight—for older adults, who were less likely to be exposed to so many of the compounds before birth, the standard explanations of genetics and lifestyle probably suffice—but environmental chemicals may well account for a good part of the current epidemic, especially in those under 50. And at the individual level, exposure to the compounds during a critical period of development may explain one of the most frustrating aspects of weight gain: you eat no more than your slim friends, and exercise no less, yet are still unable to shed pounds.

***

Newbold gave low doses (equivalent to what people are exposed to in the environment) of hormone-mimicking compounds to newborn mice. In six months, the mice were 20 percent heavier and had 36 percent more body fat than unexposed mice. Strangely, these results seemed to contradict the first law of thermodynamics, which implies that weight gain equals calories consumed minus calories burned. “What was so odd was that the overweight mice were not eating more or moving less than the normal mice,” Newbold says. “We measured that very carefully, and there was no statistical difference.”

***

`Programming the fetus to make more fat cells leaves an enduring physiological legacy. “The more [fat cells], the fatter you are,” says UCSF’s Lustig. But [fat cells] are more than passive storage sites. They also fine-tune appetite, producing hormones that act on the brain to make us feel hungry or sated. With more [fat cells], an animal is doubly cursed: it is hungrier more often, and the extra food it eats has more places to go—and remain.

***

In 2005 scientists in Spain reported that the more pesticides children were exposed to as fetuses, the greater their risk of being overweight as toddlers. And last January scientists in Belgium found that children exposed to higher levels of PCBs and DDE (the breakdown product of the pesticide DDT) before birth were fatter than those exposed to lower levels. Neither study proves causation, but they “support the findings in experimental animals,” says Newbold. They “show a link between exposure to environmental chemicals … and the development of obesity.” [See this for more information on the potential link between pesticides and obesity.]

***

This fall, scientists from NIH, the Food and Drug Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, and academia will discuss obesogens at the largest-ever government-sponsored meeting on the topic. “The main message is that obesogens are a factor that we hadn’t thought about at all before this,” says Blumberg. But they’re one that could clear up at least some of the mystery of why so many of us put on pounds that refuse to come off.

Consumption of the widely used food additive monosodium glutamate (MSG) has been linked to obesity.

Pthalates – commonly used in many plastics – have been linked to obesity. See this and this.  So has a chemical used to make Teflon, stain-resistant carpets and other products.

Most of the meat we eat these days contains estrogen, antibiotics and  powerful chemicals which change hormone levels. Modern corn-fed beef also contains much higher levels of saturated fat than grass-fed beef. So the meat we are eating is also making us fat.

Arsenic may also be linked with obesity, via it’s effect on the thyroid gland. Arsenic is often fed to chickens and pigs to fatten them up, and we end up ingesting it on our dinner plate. It’s ending up in other foods as well.

A lot of endocrine-disrupting pharmaceuticals and medications are also ending up in tap water.

Moreover, the National Research Council has found:

The effects of fluoride on various aspects of endocrine function should be examined further, particularly with respect to a possible role in the development of several diseases or mental states in the United States.

Some hypothesize that too much fluoride affects the thyroid gland, which may in turn lead to weight gain.

Antibiotics also used to be handed out like candy by doctors.  However, ingesting too many antibiotics has also been linked to obesity, as it kills helpful intestinal bacteria. See this and this.

Moreover, many crops in the U.S. are now genetically modified.  For example, 93 percent of soybeans grown in the US are genetically engineered, as are:

Some allege that Roundup kills healthy gut bacteria, and that genetically modified crops cause other health problems.

And Cornell University’s newspaper – the Cornell Sun – reports that our  intestinal bacteria also substantially affect our ability to eliminate toxins instead of letting them make us fat:

Cornell scientists researching the effects of environmental toxins to the onset of obesity and Type II Diabetes, discovered that—unlike other factors such as eating too many unhealthy foods—the extent of damage caused by pollutants depends not on what a person puts into her mouth, but on what is already living within her gut.

Prof. Suzanne Snedeker, food science, and Prof. Anthony Hay, microbiology, researched the contribution that microorganisms in the gut and environmental toxins known as “obesogens” have on ever rising obesity levels. Their work, which was published last October in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, reported a link between composition of gut microbiota, exposure to environmental chemicals and the development of obesity and diabetes. The review, “Do Interactions Between Gut Ecology and Environmental Chemicals Contribute to Obesity and Diabetes?”  combined three main ideas: predisposed gut microbe composition can increase an individual’s risk of obesity and Type II Diabetes, gut microbe activity can determine an individual’s metabolic reaction to persistent pollutants such as DDT and PCB and certain pharmaceuticals can also be metabolized differently depending on the community of microbes in the gut.

The microbe community influences many metabolic pathways within the gut, Snedeker said.  Our bodies metabolize chemicals, but how they are metabolized, and how much fat is stored, depends on gut ecology. Microbes are responsible not only for collecting usable energy from digested food, but also for monitoring insulin levels, storage of fat and appetite. Gut microbes also play an integral role in dealing with any chemicals that enter the body. According to Snedeker, differences in gut microbiota can cause drugs like acetaminophen to act as a toxin in some people while providing no problems for others.  While pharmaceutical and microbe interactions are well understood, there is little information in the area of microbe response to environmental toxins.

She said, there are more than three dozen chemicals called obesogenic compounds, that can cause weight gain by altering the body’s normal metabolic responses and lipid production.

“It seems probable that gut microbes are affecting how our bodies handle these environmental chemicals,” Snedeker said. According to Snedeker, enzymes that are influenced by interactions of gut microbes break down approximately two-thirds of the known environmental toxins. Therefore, differences in the gut microbe community strongly affect our bodies’ ability to get rid of environmental pollutants. Obesogens can alter normal metabolic behavior by changing the levels of fat that our bodies store. Snedeker and Hay suggested that the microbes in the gut of humans determine the way in which these chemicals are metabolized and thus could contribute to obesity.

Snedeker and Hay concluded that although high levels of obesogenic chemicals are bound to cause some kind of disruption in the gut microbe community responsible for breaking these chemicals down, the degree of the disturbance is dependent upon gut microbial composition. In other words, the amount of weight an individual is likely to gain when exposed to environmental toxins, or her risk of acquiring Type II Diabetes, could depend on the microorganism community in their gut.

No, Everything Won‘t Kill You

In response to information about toxic chemicals in our food, water and air, many people change the subject by saying “well, everything will kill you”. In other words, they try to change the topic by assuming that we would have to go back to the stone age to avoid exposure to toxic chemicals.

But this is missing the point entirely. In fact, companies add nasty chemicals to their products and use fattening food-producing strategies to cut corners and make more money.

In the same way that the financial crisis, BP oil spill and Fukushima nuclear disaster were caused by fraud and greed, we are daily exposed to obesity-causing chemicals because companies make an extra buck by lying about what is in their product, cutting every corner in the book, and escaping any consequences for their health-damaging actions.

In fattening their bottom line, the fat cats are creating an epidemic of obesity for the little guy.

What Can We Do To Fight Back?

Eating grass-fed meat instead of industrially-produced corn fed beef will reduce your exposure to obesity-causing chemicals.

Use glass instead of plastic whenever you can, to reduce exposure to pthalates and other hormone-altering plastics.

Try to avoid canned food, or at least look for cans that are free of bisphenol A.  (For example, the Eden company sells food in bpa-free cans.)  Buy and store food in glass jars whenever possible.   And wash your hands after handling store receipts (they still contain bpa).

Eat yogurt or other food containing good bacteria to help restore your healthy intestinal flora.   If you don’t like yogurt, you can take “probiotic” (i.e. good bacteria) supplements from your local health food store.

And don’t forget to tell your grocery store that you demand real food that doesn’t contain bpa, pthalates, hormones, antibiotics or other junk.  If we vote with our pocketbooks, the big food companies will get the message.

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Stop Buying Tainted “Food” That Makes You Sick From Billion Dollar Transnational Corporations. Buy Local!

In Uncategorized on December 7, 2011 at 2:06 pm

Oldspeak:“It’s all connected. ‘Our trillion dollar food and farming System has been corrupted and manipulated by Wall Street, Corporate Agribusiness, and Big Food Inc. into what can only be described as a weapon of mass destruction, severely damaging public health, the environment, and the climate; torturing animals in filthy, disease-ridden factory farms; exploiting immigrant farm workers and food industry workers; and destroying the livelihoods of small farmers and rural communities.’ – Robbie Cummins ‘I have not spoken to one farmer who doesn’t understand the message of Occupy Wall Street, the message that so many people keep saying is nebulous. It’s very clear. Because of business and corporate participation in agriculture, local farmers are losing their livelihoods. And if it goes on like this, all we’re going to have to eat in this country is unregulated, imported, genetically modified produce. That’s not a healthy food system.”  Jim Gerritsen, a Maine organic farmer. We’ve seen that boycotts work. If we as a people took it upon ourselves to educate ourselves about what we’re putting into our bodies and refuse to eat what’s been shown to make us sick, Agribusiness corporations would have no choice but to stop producing nutrient-deficient food and start producing nutrient-rich food. It’s worth a try at least. Better than being slowly poisoned and starved to death with the shit that passes as ‘food’ these days. Sadly, billions are mindlessly and ravenously consuming frankenfood, that makes them sick. “Americans fear only one thing: inconvenience” What will it take for folks to awaken to the reality of their self/ecological multilation?

Related Story

A Maine Farmer Speaks

Related Video

Fresh

By Robbie Cummins @ Common Dreams:

“I have not spoken to one farmer who doesn’t understand the message of Occupy Wall Street, the message that so many people keep saying is nebulous. It’s very clear. Because of business and corporate participation in agriculture, farmers are losing their livelihoods…  And if it goes on like this, all we’re going to have to eat in this country is unregulated, imported, genetically modified produce. That’s not a healthy food system.”  Jim Gerritsen, a Maine organic farmer.

“A Farmer Speaks to Wall Street,” The New York Times, December 5, 2011

For the first time since the late-1960s, the American elite and their indentured politicians are losing legitimacy, part of a deepening global crisis that is simultaneously political, economic, and ecological. In the powerful wake of the 2011 Arab Spring, the European Summer of the Indignados (the indignant ones), and the Occupy Wall Street movement, rebellion is in the air. As protestors in New York put it “The one thing we all have in common is that we are the 99% that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%.”

Across the U.S. and planet, the corporate elite is under attack. An emerging army of indignados are starting to act on the premise that minor policy adjustments in corporate boardrooms, or a cosmetic reshuffling of faces in Washington, are not enough. What the Earth and the 99% underclass need, including consumers and farmers, is a grassroots revolution—a fundamental transfer of power from the corporatocracy to the people. What is required in the face of economic meltdown, deteriorating public health, and climate disaster is a full-scale mutiny on the USA Titanic, a radical change of course before the 21st Century suicide economy of Wall Street and Corporate America puts an end to the human species and life on Earth.

Perhaps the first order of business on the USA Titanic is to stop stuffing money in the pockets of the greedy 1% who are steering us toward disaster. This is why a million consumers, and thousands of community organizations, unions, and churches, have started to strike back against the “banksters,” staging sit-ins and protests and moving billions of dollars out of Wall Street and the big banks into community credit unions and local banks. As the internet campaign http://moveyourmoneyproject.org proclaims, it’s time to “invest in Main Street, not Wall Street, and to lend a hand to local businesses.”

Following a similar trajectory a debtors’ campaign is gathering steam among students and ex-students to stop paying their onerous student loans, which now total one trillion dollars, and demand the implementation of a federal program of free college tuition and jobs for youth and the unemployed. Approximately 11% of student loans in the U.S. are already in arrears. Similarly millions of Americans are turning away from Big Pharma’s drug pushers and embracing holistic, preventive medicine.

The time has come for America’s 300 million food consumers to join the mutiny. Our trillion dollar food and farming System has been corrupted and manipulated by Wall Street, Corporate Agribusiness, and Big Food Inc. into what can only be described as a weapon of mass destruction, severely damaging public health, the environment, and the climate; torturing animals in filthy, disease-ridden factory farms; exploiting immigrant farm workers and food industry workers; and destroying the livelihoods of small farmers and rural communities.

As the first official Declaration of Occupy Wall Street explained on September 29: “They have poisoned the food supply through negligence, and undermined the farming system through monopolization…”

Food Democracy or Corporatocracy?

Did you ever vote to allow corporate agribusiness to spray a billion pounds of toxic pesticides, and dump 24 billion pounds of climate-destabilizing chemical fertilizers on U.S. crops and farmlands every year? Did you give the OK for factory farms, so-called Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), to feed billions of hapless creatures massive amounts of genetically engineered grain, antibiotics, hormones, steroids, blood, manure, and slaughterhouse waste? Did you give Monsanto, Dow, and Dupont permission to “modify” so-called “conventional” supermarket, school cafeteria, and restaurant food with genetically engineered bacteria, viruses, foreign DNA, and antibiotic-resistant genes? Did you sign a permission slip for the USDA or your local school system to feed students, including your children, greasy, fatty, unhealthy, chemical food in the cafeteria?

If we intend to break the stranglehold of the corporatocracy over the economy, including what and how American farmers grow and what most people eat, it’s time to stand up. If we believe that a healthy, organic, and equitable system of food and farming are essential to our health and the health of the planet, we need to think twice before we pull out our wallets at the supermarket or sit down for a meal in a restaurant or a fast food joint. Do you want to be supersized by Monsanto, Wal-Mart, or McDonald’s, and allow biotechnocrats, factory farms, and chemical food manufacturers to dictate your food choices?

It’s time to vote with our food dollars at the grocery check-out aisle. It’s time to rein in elected public officials who take money from corporate agribusiness and Monsanto in the voting booth. It’s time for the Great Boycott of Big Food Inc., and a culinary strike against all of their chemical, genetically engineered, sugar, and fat-laden processed foods and beverages. It’s time to put the fat cats on a diet, shrink the profits of Wall Street, and drastically reduce the collateral damage of chemical agribusiness, Big Box food stores, and billion dollar junk food restaurants. It’s time to Occupy our food chains, kitchens, lunchrooms, and school cafeterias, and transform our $30 billion local and organic food and farming system from being the niche alternative to being the norm in the nation’s trillion dollar food economy.

The good news is that most people already know that chemical food is bad for them, bad for their children, and bad for the environment. No one wants to eat Big Ag or Big Biotech’s pesticide residues, antibiotics, hormones, or feces-tainted meat. No one is enthusiastic about food that has been irradiated, genetically engineered, or grown with municipal sewage sludge. A recent national poll found that 54% of Americans prefer organic food, especially locally-produced organic food. Millions say they’d buy more organic products if only they had a decent paying job, or less mortgage, medical, or school loan debt. That’s partly why millions of us are becoming backyard organic gardeners, or small “market farmers” growing our own. That’s why a new generation of food lovers and health addicts are swearing off corporate food and marching to the kitchen, cooking from scratch and celebrating the joys of home-cooked fare with our friends and our families.

Millions of us are starting to break the chains of corporate control in our lives, by supporting organic, fair made, and locally produced products and businesses.

Tired of the quality and range of our daily essentials being dictated and degraded by a powerful network of Brand Name Bullies and Big Box chains? Tired of profit-at-any cost, Wall Street-traded corporations “outsourcing” from sweatshops in the factories and fields, cutting corners on public health and the environment, and sucking up billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies? “Basta,” enough already.

So make your pledge today to put the fat cats on a diet. Buy organic and fair made/fair trade products, preferably locally produced. Boycott factory farmed meat and animal products. Eat more raw food, dairy, and vegetables. And if you can, start growing some of your own, even if for now, your “garden” on consists of potted herbs or tomatoes on your window sill or a sprout-making machine in your kitchen. And finally keep in mind that where you buy a healthy, sustainable product has a very large impact on the economy, the environment, and climate stability. Do you really want to buy your organic food or your fair trade coffee from a multi-billion dollar corporation like Wal-Mart, Safeway, Starbucks, or even Whole Foods Market and Trader Joes?

Biotech Corporations Are Patenting & Profiting From Human Genes And Tissues — Here’s Why That’s Terrifying

In Uncategorized on December 5, 2011 at 2:21 pm

Oldspeak:” Whether you like it or not, under current law a vital part of who you are actually belongs to someone else. Medical corporations are buying the property rights to the very essence of human life. Gene patents for a 1 third of the  human genome — or more than 10,000 genes — have been created, despite court precedent that says no one can own the “products of nature.”  If you’re hurt, medical research can be conducted on you without your permission. They’re putting human health second to their profit & they’re using your tax dollars and poor people’s tissues (without compensating them for using them) to do it, unscrupulously perversting the tenet of “informed consent” in their insatiable quest for more profit via patents and product monopolies. Using barely informed illiterate subjects for their medical research, their products contribute to unreported subject deaths, which help them glean the data they need to get their products approved by FDA they bought and paid for via campaign contributions to corrupt politicians who strip the FDA of any ability to regulate and populate the agency with medical industry cronies who do their bidding. Then don’t even provide access to the drugs produced to the poor people with unmet medical needs used to produce the drugs! This is the essence of  the Medical-Industrial Complex. A repeating loop profit machine, where human health is secondary, humans are guinea pigs and public dollars are used to fund private profits. Pumping out ‘medicines’ that sometimes cause more harm than good. All so a few very wealthy men can get more wealthy making drugs for people who can afford exorbitant costs for them, and not making the drugs available to the vast majority of people who need them. “Profit Is Paramount”

Related Stories:

Breast Cancer Court Case Pits Patients’ Genes vs. Gene Patents

Should Biotech Firms Be Able to Own Your Genes?

WHY GENES MUST REMAIN ELIGIBLE FOR PATENTING 

By Brad Jacobson @ AlterNet:

Do you think that granting corporations the rights of people in the Citizens United case is disturbing? Then contemplate the fact that corporations have been patenting human genes and tissues at alarming rates — in the last 30 years, more than 40,000 patents have been granted on genes alone.

As the Occupy movement fights against the unmitigated influence of corporations on our lives, author and medical ethicist Harriet Washington’s new book, Deadly Monopolies: The Shocking Corporate Takeover of Life Itself–And the Consequences for Your Health and Our Medical Future, is a timely wakeup call to protect the very essence of human life from the medical-industrial complex.

In a recent phone interview with AlterNet, Washington discussed the dark implications of corporate medical patents, how we find ourselves in this nightmarish scenario and what needs to be done to stop medical research profits from trumping human health. Washington is also the author of Medical Apartheid, which received the National Book Critics Circle Award. She has been a fellow in medical ethics at Harvard Medical School, a senior research scholar at the National Center for Bioethics at Tuskegee University and a fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health.

Brad Jacobson: The main piece of legislation that opened the door for corporations to begin patenting human life was the Bayh-Dole Act of 1980. Can you tell us how this law was sold to the American people?

Harriet Washington: Just to recap what the Bayh-Dole Act is, basically it was a law that permitted for the first time universities to legally transfer their patents to private corporations, to sell them, license them. That had been virtually prohibited in the past because most of these new inventions had been developed with tax dollars. And the thinking had been, “If you develop things with our tax dollars, then we shouldn’t allow them to go to private corporations who can establish a monopoly with their patents.”

It was sold to the American public primarily by [former Indiana Sen.] Birch Bayh, who of course partnered with [former Kansas Sen.] Bob Dole. But it was Birch Bayh who made the argument that we have all these patents lying around, no one’s doing anything with them. If we let corporations get them, then they’ll develop them into needed medications. So people were told this is the root to get the medications and treatments that we need.

However, what’s really interesting, though — I went behind the scenes and of course I saw that, rather than being any kind of groundswell of popular support, the law actually passed on the last hour of the last day of the last congressional session because of some good ol’ boy networking.

BJ: Also in 1980, the legal counterpart for this corporate opening came with the court decision Diamond v. Chakrabarty, in which a scientist’s patenting of an oil-eating bacteria was contested. But how is this different than what had been patentable in the past?

HW: It’s certainly a good question because living things have been patented in the past. That’s a misconception people have. Louis Pasteur had patented a yeast. Takamine [Hideo] had patented adrenaline. Numerous living things had been patented before. However, there were often legal challenges by people who would say, “This patent is not really valid because you can’t patent a product of nature.”

So in 1980, when Ananda Chakrabarty, a researcher at General Electric, decided to try to patent some bacteria that he had intensively engineered to be able to “eat crude oil,” the U.S.] patent office said, “We’ll patent the process you use, but we’re not going to patent these bacteria. They’re living things and only inventions can be patented. We can’t patent products of nature.”

So Chakrabarty and General Electric sued and the patent office decided to defer to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court decided that, yes, living things can be patented, which is interesting because Chakrabarty insisted he was shocked by the ruling. He said that he fully expected he had made his case, but he was surprised they decided to more broadly permit the patenting of living things.

But now it’s being applied to things where the contribution of the researcher is nowhere near so extensive. So, of course, genetic sequences found in our body are being patented. Medically important animals — like Harvard’s OncoMouse which is guaranteed to get cancer — are being patented. And so these products of nature, including products of our bodies, being patented has created huge problems for us.

BJ: In 1951, Henrietta Lacks, an African-American woman, was being treated for cervical cancer without success at John Hopkins University. Without Henrietta’s or her family’s knowledge, John Hopkins University researcher Dr. George Gey obtained a sample of her tumor from her doctors, which eventually led to his creation of an immortalized cell line used in the development of the polio vaccine as well as drugs for numerous other diseases. It also generated millions of dollars in profits around the world, yet the Lacks family was never compensated, nor did they even have health insurance at the time. How was this case a harbinger for what would follow in the context of patient rights in regard to medical patents?

HW: I actually met with the Lacks family in the mid-1990s. I wrote about her case and I think there are some things that have been promulgated that are not exactly true. It’s true the family didn’t have any health insurance and weren’t compensated. But they never evinced concern about being paid. I think that was a focus that had been imposed later by people who I think had the best intentions in the world. Some of the people who wrote about them were very concerned they weren’t paid.

But the Lacks family expressed consistently that their mother had been a medical benefactor and no one knew this. Her name had been changed in the accounts so that nobody knew who she was. They were very upset about the autonomy.

And they didn’t like having been lied to of course.

BJ: You mention in the book the paternalistic nature that Dr. Gey had taken. The excuse he’d used was that he changed her name to protect her, but they didn’t really accept that.

HW: Her husband thought they didn’t want the world to know that this is a black lady helping science. And that seemed to be the prevailing attitude in the family. They resented that.

BJ: What’s the positive impact, however, of this cell line having never been patented?

HW: So what happened to Henrietta Lacks was an abuse of her and her family. But the dissemination of her cells very cheaply, not free but very cheaply, made a lot of medical advances possible. The reason they weren’t patented was this was before 1980 and it wasn’t legally possible. It also wasn’t part of the medical culture then. Medicine was being practiced by people in university settings. They had different motivations, not money.

Now it’s impossible to speculate about exactly what would’ve happened. But had her cells been patentable, had this happened after 1980, there’s a good chance that certainly recognizing their value, Dr. Gey or John Hopkins or some other researcher would’ve taken a patent out on it and then they would’ve, as is usual, only licensed them to the researchers and universities that would have paid them a hefty fee. Or perhaps not licensed them at all.

Which means the polio vaccine probably would still be developed, but it might’ve cost a lot more money than it did. It might not have been available to everybody as it was. So those are the differences.

BJ: John Moore, a leukemia patient in the 1980s, first had his spleen removed in 1976. Unbeknownst to him, it would lead to the creation of a cell line estimated to be worth $3 million by the pharmaceutical company Sandoz. Moore sued his doctor who had removed the spleen after he discovered the doctor had filed for a patent on his cells and proteins that led to this lucrative cell line. Can you talk about the difference between what happened in the case and its impact?

HW: When John Moore was initially treated, the Chakrabarty law had not been decided yet. Bayh-Dole hadn’t been passed. So, as living things, his cells weren’t eligible for patenting either. However, once these rulings were passed, his doctor, Dr. David Golde, and the University of California, immediately responded by taking out a patent on his cells.

His doctor recognized that his spleen and his cells were medically important. He knew that, but it was before he could take a patent out on them. I’m sure at that point he never dreamed that in a few years he would be able to take this collection and sample of his cells and tissues — that he had assiduously kept alive and was researching — and take out a patent on them and control the profits from them.

So when the law was passed, Dr. Golde had already established a laboratory to do research on it. He and another researcher and the university owned the patent. Now they went to Sandoz and established a contract for $3 million — $3 million 1980 dollars. Then [Sandoz] could plan to acquire huge profits. Before that, Dr. Golde had been interested for the usual reasons. He would be able to hopefully develop some medically useful compounds and, more to the point, become famous and get some publications. Now, there was a great deal of money to be made.

BJ: You write that today, however, as opposed to the case of Henrietta Lacks and John Moore, it is normal tissues in large quantities that provides a lot of wealth for people who hold patents. So are you saying that everyone is now vulnerable to the same kind of appropriation as what happened to Lacks and Moore?

HW: Yes. Lacks and Moore’s vulnerability was a bit different, but it was the same principle. And today, we’re all vulnerable to that. We’re vulnerable because if we undergo surgery in certain hospitals, such as the Harvard University hospitals or Duke and a number of others, we are given a consent form to sign, which will give a private corporation, in many cases Ardais [Corp.], the rights to any tissues or cells taken from our body, often described in the consent form as “discarded and worthless.” But they’re not worthless or the corporation wouldn’t have bought them.

Also, in many cities in this country — in fact, in more than half the states — have something called medical examiners laws, or presumed consent law. These laws dictate that a medical examiner or coroner in these cities, when someone dies, can take any tissues from your body that could have some medical value. Then they’re transferred to a broker or two, who then eventually transfers them to surgeons or hospitals. At each step, there is a hefty fee paid. And then the institution pays a fee. So although it’s against the law technically to sell an organ or sell these tissues, from my point of view they are actually being sold.

And then of course medical research conducted by private corporations or in which private corporations pay medical institutions to conduct research according to the corporations’ dictate, which means they control it. So one thing they have begun doing is exploiting a 1996 law that governs medical research, which says that if you are in the United States and you’re the victim of a trauma — shot in the chest, a heart attack, hit by a car — medical research can be conducted on you without your permission.

I have spoken to research subjects who had no idea that they were used in medical research until a member of their family told them. We all expect that we’re going to be offered informed consent. In medical research, this is an exception.

BJ: Is there any legislation you know of today that is being introduced to address these issues?

HW: I know of no legislation that is being promoted or that even has been suggested. I think it’s because so few members of the public even know it’s going on. You can’t fight something if you don’t know it exists. And I find it really interesting that, although a few medical journals have called me and interviewed me about this, it’s not being published someplace where a great many people will read it.

I wrote an article for a magazine — and I’ll be prudent and I won’t name it — a popular magazine with a very large circulation. They said they loved the article, they’d love to publish it, right up to the moment where I got a phone call saying they were killing it and then they paid me for it anyway.

BJ: And what about the “consensual” situation, when a patient is made to sign a consent form right before going into surgery? That might be legal, but it’s also very misleading, no?

HW: That’s consensual. But the legality of doing this is actually kind of shadowy. I don’t think it’s been well established whether it’s legal or not to take somebody’s tissues in surgery without asking their permission first. So what happened is researchers and corporations had decided to cover themselves by getting people in this scenario to sign a consent form and the difficulty, as you suggested, is whether people really understand what they’re signing.

But the piece of paper, the consent form, is not informed consent. If you have a signed consent form in a file and you go to court, that’s not proof of informed consent. That’s only one piece of evidence to support your claim that you informed the person. Actual informed consent is an ongoing process between the researcher and the subject. You have to not only tell them all the information about the study, about what’s known about the consequences, but also if new information emerges you have to keep the person apprised of that. That’s informed consent.

What they’re doing is they’re having signed a consent form to try to prove that they’ve given these people informed consent. But the truth is, you know, if you’re a hospital patient and it’s six o’clock in the morning, and you’re still groggy from your sleeping medication from the night before, you’re woken, handed a sheet of forms to sign for surgery you presumably need and there are staff people standing around you…that’s not conducive to informed consent.

Most patients don’t read it, but that’s kind of logical. You know, you need this surgery. The last thing you want to do the second before you go under the knife is antagonize the people who are doing your surgery.

BJ: How do these medical patent laws actually impede innovation?

HW: A really good example of this, because the court case is about to go to the Supreme Court soon, are the gene patents on the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes that predispose women to breast cancer. They’re very important genes and there are nine patents held on them by Myriad Genetics. And Myriad Genetics has behaved like a very smart capitalist. For a long time, it has minimized the number of people whom it will license access to the genes. Researchers who have been working with the genes, trying to find better treatments for breast cancer, have received cease and desist letters from lawyers at Myriad’s behest, saying, “We control this gene, we hold the patent, you can’t work on it without our permission,” which they often decline to give.

So that’s a problem right now. Then look at the pricing of the test for women who want to characterize their risk for breast cancer. And most women of course don’t need this test but the direct-to-consumer advertising by Myriad confuses women and really makes it look like more women do, which will of course increase their profits. It will also unnecessarily scare a lot of women and induce many more women than should to pay Myriad’s $3,000 to $4,000 fee.

A recent development is especially nasty because now you can pay the $3,000 to $4,000 fee, but there’s also an additional test, a relatively new test, based again on the genes. And if you want that, you have to pay an additional $600. Obviously if you’re a woman at risk, you’re not going to consider that $600 optional. So that’s a huge amount of money.

BJ: What happens if within the legal framework of today’s medical patent process a researcher seeks a more altruistic route, similar to what Jonas Salk did with the polio vaccine? Is that even possible today or is that individual crushed by the system?

HW: It is possible today and that’s a great question because one of the really exciting positive things that has happened is that, you know, certainly not just me and people like me who are criticizing them — a lot of medical researchers, as I said before, are seeing how damaging this paradigm is and they’re coming up with viable alternatives.

The Gates Foundation is probably the best-known example. Bill Gates has worked with a longstanding initiative to bring vaccines to the developing world — its acronym is GAVI. He’s also worked with the governments in the developing world and come up with a model called Advanced Market Directives. Basically, what they’re doing is they’re coming up with funds and pooling their funds and saying to pharmaceutical companies, “If you will develop, for example, a malaria vaccine that’s cheap and works well for the developing world, we will pay you, we will make sure you earn a profit.” And they were successful. They came up with a vaccine — quite a few actually — but one in particular costs $70 in the United States. It only cost 50 cents in Nigeria because of their model.

Now, I hasten to say, we’re not out of the woods yet because all of the pharmaceutical companies that did it — which I think is wonderful that they’re going along with the model and giving it a try — but they counted this as something beneficial that they were doing. Which is not exactly the case.

They’re doing this because they’re paid and it’s being guaranteed by others. And GAVI, the group that helped guarantee the payment is already $3 billion in debt because of it. So that means that even though this has worked in a couple of cases, I’m worried that it may not be a viable long-term model.

We’ve seen this before when pharmaceutical companies, for example, provided sleeping sickness medication, Eflornithine. They provided it only on a short-term basis, for about five years, and then they left. Now the people who are at risk, and I think that’s like 60 million people in sub-Saharan Africa, don’t have access to that drug. So to me that’s a cautionary tale because we need long-term solutions.

And there are other groups of researchers around the world who are also embracing a different non-corporate model. A man named Alan Edwards in Toronto put together a coalition of a lot of researchers. His strategy is one that has worked before for the government. He does not want their discoveries patented. So what they do is every day — whatever they’ve been working on that day, whatever solution they come up with, whatever they’ve identified or characterized that could be medically important – they put it on the Internet. They make it public knowledge, which means it can’t be patented.

So there are strategies that are now being embraced to work around corporate control of medical research.

BJ: How has the medical patent gold rush affected the accessibility of life-saving vaccines for widespread diseases?

HW: Well, simply because maximizing the profit on the patent is the focus, not curing the maximum number of people. Michael Kremer, a Harvard economist, put it best. He pointed out that during the period between 1975 and 1997, of the 1,233 new drugs the pharmaceutical industry devised, only four of them were drugs designed for people in the developing world.

The bottom line is that, although it’s possible to devise vaccines that will save the lives of people in the developing world, it’s not done because people there cannot pay the inflated prices a corporation charges. So they ignored these people in the developing world.

And as I point out in the case of African sleeping sickness, where Eflornithine was found affective against it, people in areas affected by African sleeping sickness cannot afford to pay high prices for drugs. So after that couple of years where they provided it for free, they stopped making it for African sleeping sickness and the exact same molecule, this Eflornithine, is now the active component in Vaniqa, which is used in the West to help women rid their faces of unwanted hair. So women pay $50 a month for Vaniqa, but people in the developing world can’t pay that $50 a month to keep themselves alive, to protect themselves against sleeping sickness.

BJ: In your book, you cite a 2009 study from the New England Journal of Medicine, which found that one-third of U.S. clinical trials are conducted abroad, mostly in developing countries, where drugs can be tested more cheaply. Can you discuss the inequity of the fact that most of the test subjects partaking in these trials — on which corporations are saving millions to perform there — will either never be able to afford, or have a need for, the drugs being tested on them?

HW: Usually both. But even in the cases where it’s a drug, as you say, that could help them, it’s not going to help them because they’re going to be charged the same high prices as people in the West. And knowing they can’t afford it, they don’t even provide it to people in that country.

What I find fascinating is that if you think about it, these people in the developing world are providing opportunity to conduct clinical trials that are a lot cheaper and a lot faster for these corporations. Corporations would have to pay a lot more money if they conducted those trials in the developed world. And so actually we’re the ones in their debt.

We have a new cancer medication, for example, that has been devised by testing it on people in the developing world so that you and I can take it without fear that we’re going to drop dead, hopefully. We owe the people in the developing world that. The corporations save so much money by using those people for their tests. Speed is very important because it maximizes the amount of patent time so they can make more profit from their patent. Also the FDA requires that studies be completed within two and a half years, which is sometimes difficult to do.

So providing them with drugs that they have made possible would seem to be the very least we could do. Yet there’s constant reluctance to provide medications for people in the developing world.

BJ: Clinical trials in developing countries can also involve testing subjects in dangerous circumstances that wouldn’t even be legal in this country. You point to the example of Pfizer’s clinical trials for an antibiotic in Kano, Nigeria in the 1990s. What went wrong?

HW: They tested Trovan in Kano and they waited until — this is quite typical, actually — they waited until there was a meningitis epidemic to test their meningitis drug. First of all, these are people who typically go their whole life without getting any medical care. They can’t go to the doctor, can’t buy medicines. When they’re sick they just hope and do the best they can to treat each other.

So there’s an epidemic. You’ve got people, especially children, dying wholesale. And Doctors Without Borders had flown in and were working feverishly around the clock trying to save as many children as they could. Doctors Without Borders had a huge tent there for a clinic. Pfizer flew its people in and set up shop right next to them. The people of Kano could not discern the difference between the Pfizer tent and the Doctors Without Borders tent. All they knew was that there were doctors and medicines in both tents. If they couldn’t get into one, they went into the other one.

Now I don’t believe they received informed consent. First of all, the records were lost. Pfizer [said it] lost the records that would’ve proved informed consent. Then Pfizer produced some letters from local doctors and local medical boards saying there was informed consent, but they were clearly forged. One doctor admitted that they were forged. Another doctor pointed out that the medical institution that supposedly approved this trial had not even been set up until a year or two after the trial had ended. So all the evidence points to the probability that these people did not receive informed consent.

But then I also ask myself, even if they had gotten informed consent, did they have a real choice? They wanted their children to get any kind of medicine. So it was inherently a coercive environment.

And Pfizer would give this medication and it did not follow prescribed methods of conducting research in this country. Although some of the things they did were permissible in their country. For example, the young girl whose fate I chronicled — she was given Trovan, didn’t get any better, in fact she got worse. And had she been in, say, Connecticut or New York, if she had gotten worse, then they would’ve switched her from experimental therapy to one that was known to work. They didn’t do that there. And she died, other children died, other children went deaf, other children had all kinds of neurological problems. In fact, there were so many deaths and so many permanent serious problems resulting from it, the FDA would not approve the drug.

In the aftermath, there were these lawsuits and finally Pfizer had to pay out a fine. But the fine they were asked to pay was just dwarfed by their amount of profits every year. It’s just the cost of doing business to them. Certainly in a case like this, considering the final cost to them, you could argue it was worth it to them.

BJ: Do you see U.S. Occupy protests as a direct outgrowth of this kind of corporate encroachment on our lives?

HW: That is a parallel that’s made very often. And I’m just going to plead ignorance here. As much as I read and as much as I think about that, I think that there’s the same frustration with the degree of control corporations have over things that should not be controlled by monetary interests. And yet that’s our habitual practice of medicine today. So as far as the Occupy Wall Street protests echo that sentiment, then I agree with them. There are other elements of course in which I think there is not a parallel between them and the people I talk about.

I began this book being really concerned about poor people, people in the developing world, people who I thought and I still think are impacted most heavily by this. But I quickly came to realize that it affects all of us. I mean it’s also middle-class people. Because the drug prices are so high and because the corporate control of medical research is so extensive and our health policy so extensively protects them, middle-class people are not really faring any better. Middle-class people are caught in the same bind.

So I guess that’s sort of a qualified yes [laughs].

BJ: Since the Citizens United court ruling, we’re living in a time where, in effect, corporations are considered people, while simultaneously corporations are buying the property rights to the very essence of human life. You’ve eerily described them as our “biological landlords.” This already has a nightmarish quality today. In regard to the future of medical patents, do you see the pendulum swinging back or the situation growing worse?

HW: Unfortunately, if history’s taught us anything, it’s that things can always get worse. But I don’t think it will. The pendulum can swing back, but it’s going to need a big push from us. It’s not going to swing back on its own. Because the most powerful people in this country are being well served by this. The very wealthy people don’t have the worries that most of us have. And corporations certainly don’t have the worries we have. They’re not disturbed by their high prices. They’re constantly defending them. They’re not disturbed by the lack of care for people in the developing world. They have no problem claiming that, “Hey, don’t blame us — it’s not our patent, it’s their poverty.”

It can be done, but we’re going to have to push it. And the way to push it is to repeal Bayh-Dole and find those lawmakers. There are lawmakers out there who are trying to repeal parts of this problem, patents on genes, for example. And researchers also are beginning to see that his system is dysfunctional and starting to come up with different models.

So it’s going to be up to us to push the pendulum in the other way.

Brad Jacobson is a Brooklyn-based freelance journalist and contributing reporter for AlterNet. You can follow him on Twitter@bradpjacobson

ConAgra Sued Over GMO ‘100% Natural’ Cooking Oils

In Uncategorized on August 24, 2011 at 3:41 pm


Oldspeak:
According to the Center for Food Safety: “upwards of 70 percent of processed foods on supermarket shelves — from soda to soup, crackers to condiments — contain genetically-engineered ingredients.” While it’s unclear how many of these products also claim to be natural, given all the greenwashing going on these days, it’s likely to number in the thousands.  Specifically, up to 85 percent of U.S. corn is genetically engineered as are 91 percent of soybeans, both extremely common ingredients in processed foods. Numerous groups including the Center for Food Safety have been calling attention to the potential hazards of GMOs for years. From their websiteA number of studies over the past decade have revealed that genetically engineered foods can pose serious risks to humans, domesticated animals, wildlife and the environment. Human health effects can include higher risks of toxicity, allergenicity, antibiotic resistance, immune-suppression and cancer.” –Michelle Simon. Fully 91% of the U.S. food supply is contaminated with artificially created substances known to cause rises in food allergies, diabetes, obesity, autism,  immune system dysfunction, asthma, cancer and heart disease, low birth-weight babies , and infant mortality. And it’s knowingly being passed off as “natural”. Why the need to hide its presence? Why object to truth in labeling efforts? The goal is to get you to believe that the frankenfood your eating is real. That it’s good for you. That it’s not making you sick. People have to begin rejecting it en masse for changes, like those that have taken place in other countries, to happen here. Spread the word about its dangers, to everyone you know an encourage them to limit their consumption of it. Knowledge is Power.”

By Michelle Simon @ Food Safety News: 

If you use Wesson brand cooking oils, you may be able to join a class action against food giant ConAgra for deceptively marketing the products as natural.
These days it’s hard to walk down a supermarket aisle without bumping into a food product that claims to be “all-natural.” If you’ve ever wondered how even some junk food products can claim this moniker (witness: Cheetos Natural Puff White Cheddar Cheese Flavored Snacks – doesn’t that sound like it came straight from your garden?) the answer is simple if illogical: the Food and Drug Administration has not defined the term natural.

So food marketers, knowing that many shoppers are increasingly concerned about healthful eating, figured: why not just slap the natural label on anything we can get away with? That wishful thinking may soon be coming to an end if a few clever consumer lawyers have anything to say about it.

While various lawsuits have been filed in recent years claiming that food companies using the term natural are engaging in deceptive marketing, a suit filed in June in California against ConAgra could make the entire industrial food complex shake in its boots.

The plaintiff claims he relied on Wesson oils “100% natural” label, when the products are actually made from genetically modified organisms.

GMOs Not Exactly Natural, So Says Monsanto

Ironically, the complaint cites a definition of GMOs by none other than Monsanto, the company most notorious for its promotion of the technology. According to Monsanto, GMOs are: “Plants or animals that have had their genetic makeup altered to exhibit traits that are not naturally theirs.”

The complaint also quotes a GMO definition from the World Health Organization: “Organisms in which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally.”
Four Wesson varieties are implicated in the case: Canola Oil, Vegetable Oil, Corn Oil, and Best Blend. And it’s not just on the label that ConAgra is using the natural claim, but also online and in print advertisements. (Additional silly health claims on the website include “cholesterol free”–vegetable oils couldn’t possibly contain cholesterol anyway.)

The complaint describes the extent of ConAgra’s deception, alleging the “labels are intended to evoke a natural, wholesome product.” And further:

The “100% Natural” statement is, like much of the label on Wesson Oils, displayed in vibrant green. The “Wesson” name is haloed by the image of the sun, and the Canola Oil features a picture of a green heart.

A green heart — you just can’t get any healthier than that. However, as registered dietitian Andy Bellatti told me: “These oils are high in omega 6 fatty acids, which in excessive amounts are actually bad for your heart.” Guess they left that part out of the green heart icon.

Supermarkets Chock-full of GMOs

But what makes this lawsuit especially intriguing is its potentially far-ranging impact. According to the Center for Food Safety: “upwards of 70 percent of processed foods on supermarket shelves — from soda to soup, crackers to condiments — contain genetically-engineered ingredients.” While it’s unclear how many of these products also claim to be natural, given all the greenwashing going on these days, it’s likely to number in the thousands.

Specifically, up to 85 percent of U.S. corn is genetically engineered as are 91 percent of soybeans, both extremely common ingredients in processed foods. Numerous groups including the Center for Food Safety have been calling attention to the potential hazards of GMOs for years. From their website:

A number of studies over the past decade have revealed that genetically engineered foods can pose serious risks to humans, domesticated animals, wildlife and the environment. Human health effects can include higher risks of toxicity, allergenicity, antibiotic resistance, immune-suppression and cancer.

Not exactly the stuff that green hearts are made of. The legal complaint also notes that on its corporate website (“but not on the Wesson site that consumers are more likely to visit”), ConAgra implies that its oils are genetically engineered. The company concludes: “Ultimately, consumers will decide what is acceptable in the marketplace based on the best science and public information available.”

But by being told the oils are “100% natural,” consumers can no longer make an informed decision as they are being misled.

Which reminds me of a great quote from Fast Food Nation author Eric Schlosser: “If they have to put the word ‘natural’ on a box to convince you, it probably isn’t.”

————————-

Michele Simon is a public health lawyer specializing in industry marketing and lobbying tactics. She is the author of Appetite for Profit: How the Food Industry Undermines Our Health and How to Fight Back, and research and policy director at Marin Institute, an alcohol industry watchdog group.

Apples Top Most Pesticide Contaminated List; Onions Are Least Contaminated.

In Uncategorized on June 13, 2011 at 4:17 pm

Oldspeak:“In this age of preservative/pesticide – laden industrialized food production, an apple a day could give you cancer. A recent Environmental Working Group report found that 92% of apples contained two or more pesticides. Even after washing and peeling apples are found to have a high amount of pesticide residue. ‘Pesticides are known to be toxic to the nervous system, cause cancer, disrupt hormones and cause brain damage in children. Pregnant women are advised to avoid foods containing pesticides’ –Janice Lloyd. Yet another vast uncontrolled experiment being conducted on hundreds of millions of unwitting and unconsenting subjects… Unfortunate that very few resources are being devoted to determining the long term effects of these poisons in the human body. But hey, at least Big Pharma and the HMOs will be happy with all the new their new revenue streams- err… patients… to “care” for. 😐

By Janice Lloyd @ USA Today:

Apples are at the top of the list of produce most contaminated with pesticides in a report published today by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a public health advocacy group.

Its seventh annual report analyzed government data on 53 fruits and vegetables, identifying which have the most and least pesticides after washing and peeling. For produce found to be highest in pesticides, the group recommends buying organic.

Apples moved up three spots from last year, replacing celery at the top of the most-contaminated list; 92% of apples contained two or more pesticides.

“We think what’s happening to apples is more pesticides and fungicides are being applied after the harvest so the fruit can have a longer shelf life,” says EWG analyst Sonya Lunder. “Pesticides might be in small amounts, but we don’t know what the subtle, long-term effects of many of these pesticides are yet.”

The worst offenders also include strawberries (No. 3) and imported grapes (No. 7). Onions top the “clean” list, found to be lowest in pesticides.

By choosing five servings of fruit and vegetables a day from the clean list, most people can lower the volume of pesticides they consume daily by 92%, the report says.

The Dirty Dozen

1. Apples
2. Celery
3. Strawberries
4. Peaches
5. Spinach
6. Nectarines (imported)
7. Grapes (imported)
8. Sweet bell peppers
9. Potatoes
10. Blueberries
11. Lettuce
12. Kale/collard greens

“Consumers don’t want pesticides on their foods,” says EWG president Ken Cook. “We eat plenty of apples in our house, but we buy organic when we can.”

Rankings reflect the amounts of chemicals present on food when it is eaten. Most samples were washed and peeled before testing. Washing with a “produce wash” is unlikely to help remove pesticides because they’re taken up by the entire plant and reside on more than just the skin, the report says.

For shoppers who cannot afford organic food, which often is more expensive, Cook says the lists offer alternatives. Can’t find organic apples? Buy pineapples, the top fruit on the clean list, or avocados or mangoes.

Fewer than 10% of pineapple, mango and avocado samples showed pesticides. For vegetables, asparagus, corn and onions had no detectable residue on 90% or more of samples.

The Clean 15

1. Onions
2. Corn
3. Pineapples
4. Avocado
5. Asparagus
6. Sweet peas
7. Mangoes
8. Eggplant
9. Cantaloupe (domestic)
10. Kiwi
11. Cabbage
12. Watermelon
13. Sweet potatoes
14. Grapefruit
15. Mushrooms

Pesticides are known to be toxic to the nervous system, cause cancer, disrupt hormones and cause brain damage in children. Pregnant women are advised to avoid foods containing pesticides.

A study by Harvard School of Public Health found children exposed to pesticides had a higher risk of developing attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Lunder says pesticides were measured in six different ways to calculate overall scores:

•percentage of samples tested with detectable pesticides.

•percentage of samples with two or more pesticides.

•Average number of pesticides found on a single sample.

•Average amount (level in parts per million) of all pesticides found.

•Maximum number of pesticides found on a single sample.

•Total number of pesticides found on the commodity.

Eating five servings of fruits and vegetables from the “dirty dozen” list would mean you’d get an average of 14 different pesticides. By choosing five from the clean list, you’d consumer fewer than two pesticides.

“With the increased emphasis on eating more fruits and vegetables, we need to be vigilant about the food we’re producing and serving,” Lunder says.

When Food Kills

In Uncategorized on June 12, 2011 at 4:45 pm

Oldspeak: “Behold! The Fruits of Corporatization of Food… Food-born illness kills more people than AIDS.  But thanks to Big Ag’s Legion of Lobbyists and the Supreme Court’s Citizens United Decision, very little is being done to ensure the safety of our food supply.” Every year in the United States, 325,000 people are hospitalized because of food-borne illnesses and 5,000 die, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s right: food kills one person every two hours.Yet while the terrorist attacks of 2001 led us to transform the way we approach national security, the deaths of almost twice as many people annually have still not generated basic food-safety initiatives. We have an industrial farming system that is a marvel for producing cheap food, but its lobbyists block initiatives to make food safer.’ -Nicolas D. Kristoff

By Nicolas D. Kristoff @ The New York Times:

The deaths of 31 people in Europe from a little-known strain of E. coli have raised alarms worldwide, but we shouldn’t be surprised. Our food often betrays us.

Just a few days ago, a 2-year-old girl in Dryden, Va., died in a hospital after suffering bloody diarrhea linked to another strain of E. coli. Her brother was also hospitalized but survived.

Every year in the United States, 325,000 people are hospitalized because of food-borne illnesses and 5,000 die, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s right: food kills one person every two hours.

Yet while the terrorist attacks of 2001 led us to transform the way we approach national security, the deaths of almost twice as many people annually have still not generated basic food-safety initiatives. We have an industrial farming system that is a marvel for producing cheap food, but its lobbyists block initiatives to make food safer.

Perhaps the most disgraceful aspect of our agricultural system — I say this as an Oregon farmboy who once raised sheep, cattle and hogs — is the way antibiotics are recklessly stuffed into healthy animals to make them grow faster.

The Food and Drug Administration reported recently that 80 percent of antibiotics in the United States go to livestock, not humans. And 90 percent of the livestock antibiotics are administered in their food or water, typically to healthy animals to keep them from getting sick when they are confined in squalid and crowded conditions.

The single state of North Carolina uses more antibiotics for livestock than the entire United States uses for humans.

This cavalier use of low-level antibiotics creates a perfect breeding ground for antibiotic-resistant pathogens. The upshot is that ailments can become pretty much untreatable.

The Infectious Diseases Society of America, a professional organization of doctors, cites the case of Josh Nahum, a 27-year-old skydiving instructor in Colorado. He developed a fever from bacteria that would not respond to medication. The infection spread and caused tremendous pressure in his skull.

Some of his brain was pushed into his spinal column, paralyzing him. He became a quadriplegic depending on a ventilator to breathe. Then, a couple of weeks later, he died.

There’s no reason to link Nahum’s case specifically to agricultural overuse, for antibiotic resistance has multiple causes that are difficult to unravel. Doctors overprescribe them. Patients misuse them. But looking at numbers, by far the biggest element of overuse is agriculture.

We would never think of trying to keep our children healthy by adding antibiotics to school water fountains, because we know this would breed antibiotic-resistant bacteria. It’s unconscionable that Big Ag does something similar for livestock.

Louise Slaughter, the only microbiologist in the United States House of Representatives, has been fighting a lonely battle to curb this practice — but industrial agricultural interests have always blocked her legislation.

“These statistics tell the tale of an industry that is rampantly misusing antibiotics in an attempt to cover up filthy, unsanitary living conditions among animals,” Slaughter said. “As they feed antibiotics to animals to keep them healthy, they are making our families sicker by spreading these deadly strains of bacteria.”

Vegetarians may think that they’re immune, but they’re not. E. coli originates in animals but can spill into water used to irrigate vegetables, contaminating them. The European E. coli outbreak apparently arose from bean sprouts grown on an organic farm in Germany.

One of the most common antibiotic-resistant pathogens is MRSA, which now kills more Americans annually than AIDS and adds hugely to America’s medical costs. MRSA has many variants, and one of the more benign forms now is widespread in hog barns and among people who deal with hogs. An article this year in a journal called Applied and Environmental Microbiology reported that MRSA was found in 70 percent of hogs on one farm.

Another scholarly journal reported that MRSA was found in 45 percent of employees working at hog farms. And the Centers for Disease Control reported this April that this strain of bacteria has now been found in a worker at a day care center in Iowa.

Other countries are moving to ban the feeding of antibiotics to livestock. But in the United States, the agribusiness lobby still has a hold on Congress.

The European outbreak should shake people up. “It points to the whole broken system,” notes Robert Martin of the Pew Environment Group.

We need more comprehensive inspections in the food system, more testing for additional strains of E. coli, and more public education (always wash your hands after touching raw meat, and don’t use the same cutting board for meat and vegetables). A great place to start reforms would be by banning the feeding of antibiotics to healthy livestock.

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