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

Posts Tagged ‘Food Sovereignty’

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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SOPA & PIPA Shelved But Is ACTA Unstoppable? Little Known International Censorship Treaty Crafted In Secret Without Public Debate

In Uncategorized on January 24, 2012 at 11:13 am

Oldspeak:ACTA IS A THREAT TO FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS AND OPEN ACCESS TO KNOWLEDGE.  It contains global IP provisions as restrictive or worse than anything contained in SOPA and PIPA. It goes much further than the internet, cracking down on generic drugs and making food patents even more radical than they are by enforcing a global standard on seed patents that threatens local farmers and food independence across the developed world. The treaty has been secretly negotiated behind the scenes, with unelected bureaucrats working closely with entertainment industry lobbyists to craft the provisions in the treaty. We’ve already signed on to the treaty. All it needs now is Senate ratification.” –E.D. Cain “…after the successes of the Internet in enabling revolutions to start and proceed, there is a raw political desire to curb the power of the web. This isn’t based on money, but on fear.” –Sue Gee The technotronic era involves the gradual appearance of a more controlled society. Such a society would be dominated by an elite, unrestrained by traditional values. Soon it will be possible to assert almost continuous surveillance over every citizen and maintain up-to-date complete files containing even the most personal information about the citizen. These files will be subject to instantaneous retrieval by the authorities.” Zbigniew Brzezinski, U.S. Secretary Of State (1977-1981) The scientific elite are relentlessly working to assert more and more control over access and dissemination of information. A free and open internet must be closed and restricted to achieve those ends. The people will need to stay informed and vigilant against these dire threats to our freedoms.

By E.D. Cain @ Forbes Magazine:

When sites like Wikipedia and Reddit banded together for a major blackout January 18th, the impact was felt all the way to Washington D.C. The blackout had lawmakers running from the controversial anti-piracy legislation, SOPA and PIPA, which critics said threatened freedom of speech online.

Unfortunately for free-speech advocates, censorship is still a serious threat.

Few people have heard of ACTA, or the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, but the provisions in the agreement are just as pernicious as anything we saw in SOPA. Worse, the agreement spans virtually all of the countries in the developed world, including all of the EU, the United States, Switzerland and Japan.

Many of these countries have already signed or ratified it, and the cogs are still turning. The treaty has been secretly negotiated behind the scenes, with unelected bureaucrats working closely with entertainment industry lobbyists to craft the provisions in the treaty. The Bush administration started the process, but the Obama administration has aggressively pursued it.

Indeed, we’ve already signed on to the treaty. All it needs now is Senate ratification. The time to stop the treaty is now, and we may need a second global internet blackout to call attention to it.

Here’s a quick video primer:

ACTA bypasses the sovereign laws of participating nations, forcing ISP’s across the globe to adopt these draconian measures.

Worse, it goes much further than the internet, cracking down on generic drugs and making food patents even more radical than they are by enforcing a global standard on seed patents that threatens local farmers and food independence across the developed world.

Despite ACTA’s secrecy, criticism of the agreement has been widespread. Countries like India and Brazil have been vocal opponents of the agreement, claiming that it will do a great deal of harm to emerging economies.

I’ll have more on the agreement as it emerges. But to briefly sum up, ACTA contains global IP provisions as restrictive or worse than anything contained in SOPA and PIPA.

  • ACTA spans virtually all of the developed world, threatening the freedom of the internet as well as access to medication and food. The threat is every bit as real for those countries not involved in the process as the signatories themselves.
  • ACTA has already been signed by many countries including the US, but requires ratification in the EU parliament and the US Senate.
  • The entire monstrosity has been negotiated behind closed doors and kept secret from the public. Technocrats, beholden to the deep pockets of the entertainment lobby, have masked the agreement behind the misnomer of “anti-counterfeiting” when in fact it goes much, much further.

If you thought SOPA would break the internet, ACTA is much worse. And it could become law across the global economy without so much as a murmur of opposition.

Worse still, it’s not alone. Even more restrictive provisions exist in another trade agreement currently being hammered out by various nations.

According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, there are “other plurilateral agreements, such as the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP), which contains a chapter on IP enforcement that would have state signatories adopt even more restrictive copyright measures than ACTA. Similarly, negotiations over TPP are also held in secret and with little oversight by the public or civil society. These initiatives, negotiated without participation from civil society or the public, are an affront to a democratic world order. EFF will remain vigilant against these international initiatives that threaten to choke off creativity, innovation, and free speech, and will stand with EDRi, FFII, La Quadrature du Net and our other EU fellow traveller organizations in their campaign to defeat ACTA in the European Parliament in January.”

The global economy needs to be seen as separate from those nations which comprise the global community of states. Civil society and a free global economy are not the same thing as the bogeyman so often referred to simply as “globalism.”

The free flow of goods and information is as much threatened by the global state apparatus as it is assisted by it, and industries with a vested interested in maintaining the status quo through draconian protectionist measures are now threatening the last frontier of the truly free economy.

By threatening the internet and free speech, the entertainment industry threatens its own existence. But with only short-term profits in mind, this will not deter them.

Yes, our lawmakers fled from SOPA and PIPA when push came to shove, but they have ACTA to fall back on. Notably, few of them are speaking out against this even more dangerous treaty. Not surprisingly one of the lone voices of dissent is Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) who has spoken out against the treaty.

“It may be possible for the U.S. to implement ACTA or any other trade agreement, once validly entered, without legislation if the agreement requires no change in U.S. law,” he wrote. “But regardless of whether the agreement requires changes in U.S. law … the executive branch lacks constitutional authority to enter a binding international agreement covering issues delegated by the Constitution to Congress’ authority, absent congressional approval.”

Even absent US participation, however, we should all be worried about the implications of this and other trade agreements on the global economy, the ripple effects of which would reach all of us regardless of geographical location.

Remember, when one of these bills or trade agreements falls, another rises up to take its place. ACTA has been in the works for several years. SOPA almost passed into law unopposed. The threat to civil society isn’t going away.

If you care about freedom of speech, or if you have participated in SOPA protests, please help spread the word about ACTA. You can sign a petition to stop it here.

By Sue Gee @ I-Programmer

Last Wednesday’s blackout by Wikipedia, Reddit and other sites raised awareness of PIPA and SOPA but there’s another threat to the open Internet, ACTA and has already been signed in US and elsewhere.

There has been jubilation about the fact that both the PIPA and SOPA bills that were being debated by the US Congress have stopped being an immediate menace.

Yes the action taken by Wikipedia had the desired effect, as did the signatures of the citizens who petitioned President Obama. However, in reality we should view the outcome as a temporary setback for the supporters of this legislation.

They will no doubt try again and we just have to hope that the next proposed legislation is less draconian.

The lasting achievement of the Internet Strike was that it alerted ordinary Internet users to the idea that there are freedoms we currently take for granted that could be blocked with widespread adverse affects.

But while many more people now know about SOPA and PIPA, how many have heard of ACTA – which by having the status of an international trade agreement rather than one country’s law has been introduced without the level of debate accorded to proposed legislation?

According to La Quadrature du Net, a French advocacy group that promotes the rights and freedoms of citizens on the Internet:

ACTA is one more offensive against the sharing of culture on the Internet. ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement) is an agreement secretly negotiated by a small “club” of like-minded countries (39 countries, including the 27 of the European Union, the United States, Japan, etc). Negotiated instead of being democratically debated, ACTA bypasses parliaments and international organizations to dictate a repressive logic dictated by the entertainment industries.

La Quadrature says ACTA aims at imposing new criminal sanctions and online censorship in the name of copyright.

The US, Canada and many other countries have already signed the ACTA agreement and it was recently adopted by the European Union but it has yet to be debated by the European Parliament and so there is still a short window for protest against ACTA to prevent it being enacted.

Watch the video below to discover why we need to say No to ACTA and refer to La Quadrature’s Wiki to discover how to take action against it.

At this time the Internet is under more threat from sources that are alien to it, or worse fear it, than at any other. However, we are not good at spotting legislative controls that could harm what we do. Partly because it is a different technology and we don’t know the jargon, but mainly because stealth works in the favor of any party trying to pass restrictive legislature.

In the past most of the attempts to control the Internet have come from commercial interests, and piracy was its main target. Now, after the successes of the Internet in enabling revolutions to start and proceed, there is a raw political desire to curb the power of the web. This isn’t based on money, but on fear.

The big problem is that, even when we do notice, the ethos of the web works against us. The web should be open, information should be free and, even when Wikipediawent dark to protest against a bill that would clearly damage the Internet, manyWikipedians thought it was a bad thing for the most noble enterprise, an encyclopedia, to get embroiled in politics.

We desperately need a less idealistic view of the web, one that can defend its freedoms while minimizing the evil within.

 

For more information please visit:

EFF’s International Issue Page on ACTA: https://www.eff.org/issues/acta

European Digital Rights’ (EDRi) coverage here: www.edri.org/stopacta

La Quadrature du Net’s coverage here: http://www.laquadrature.net/en/acta

Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure’s (FFII) blog on ACTA http://acta.ffii.org/

Twitter hash tags: #ACTA

Twitter accounts:

@StopActaNow

@ffii

@EDRi_org

@laquadrature

Under Industry Pressure USDA Works To Speed Approval Of Monsanto’s Genetically Engineered Crops & Allow “Self-Regulation”

In Uncategorized on December 21, 2011 at 5:23 pm

Oldspeak:” ‘Under a new two-year pilot program at the USDA, regulators are training the world’s biggest biotech firms, including Monsanto, BASF and Syngenta, to conduct environmental reviews of their own transgenic seed products as part of the government’s deregulation process.’ –Mike Ludwig. It’s the equivalent of letting BP do their own Environmental Assessment of a new rig’ –Bill Freese, Center for Food Safety I don’t know what part of demostratably dangerous effects on humans, animals and the environment these people don’t understand. In one of the Bastions of GMO, Brazil a 2 headed baby was just born. I guess when this starts happening more regularly, people will start paying attention to the poison in their food, that has been shown to cause among many things birth defects. o_O “Ignorance Is Strength”

By Mike Ludwig @ Truthout

For years, biotech agriculture opponents have accused regulators of working too closely with big biotech firms when deregulating genetically engineered (GE) crops. Now, their worst fears could be coming true: under a new two-year pilot program at the USDA, regulators are training the world’s biggest biotech firms, including Monsanto, BASF and Syngenta, to conduct environmental reviews of their own transgenic seed products as part of the government’s deregulation process.

This would eliminate a critical level of oversight for the production of GE crops. Regulators are also testing new cost-sharing agreements that allow biotech firms to help pay private contractors to prepare mandatory environmental statements on GE plants the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is considering deregulating.

The USDA launched the pilot project in April and, in November, the USDA announced vague plans to “streamline” the deregulation petition process for GE organisms. A USDA spokesperson said the streamlining effort is not part of the pilot project, but both efforts appear to address a backlog of pending GE crop deregulation petitions that has angered big biotech firms seeking to rollout new products.

Documents obtained by Truthout under a Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) request reveal that biotech companies, lawmakers and industry groups have put mounting pressure on the USDA in recent years to speed up the petition process, limit environmental impact assessments and approve more GE crops. One group went as far as sending USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack a timeline of GE soybean development that reads like a deregulation wish list. [Clickhere and here to download and read some of the documents released to Truthout.]

The pilot program is named the NEPA Pilot Project, after the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which mandates that agencies prepare statements on the potential environmental impacts of proposed actions by the federal government, such as deregulating transgenic plants. On July 14, USDA officials held a training workshop to help representatives from biotech firms (see a full list here) to understand the NEPA process and prepare Environmental Reports on biotech products they have petitioned the USDA to deregulate.

Regulators can now independently review the Environmental Reports and can use them to prepare their own legally mandated reviews, instead of simply reviewing the company’s petitions for deregulation. The pilot project aims to speed up the deregulation process by allowing petitioning companies to do some of the legwork and help pay contractors to prepare regulatory documents and, for its part, the USDA has kept the pilot fairly transparent. Alist of 22 biotech seeds that could be reviewed under the pilot program includes Monsanto drought-tolerant corn, a “non-browning” apple, freeze tolerant eucalyptus trees and several crops engineered to tolerate the controversial herbicides glyphosate and 2,4 D.

Activists say biotech firms like Monsanto are concerned only with profit and routinely supply regulators with one-sided information on the risks their GE seeds – and the pesticides sprayed on and produced by them – pose to consumers, animals and the agricultural environment. (The Natural Society recently declared Monsanto the worst company of 2011.) Bill Freese, a policy expert with the Center for Food Safety (CFS), told Truthout that the NEPA pilot gives already powerful biotech companies too much influence over the review process.

“It’s the equivalent of letting BP do their own Environmental Assessment of a new rig,” Freese said.

Monsanto Goes to Court

Freese and the Center for Food Safety have been on the frontlines of the battle to reform the USDA’s regulatory approval process for GE crops. The group was a plaintiff in recent lawsuits challenging the deregulation – which basically means approval for planting without oversight – of Monsanto’s patented alfalfa and sugar beets that are genetically engineered to tolerate glyphosate-based Roundup herbicide. Farmers can spray entire fields of Monsanto’s “Roundup Ready” crops with Roundup to kill unwanted weeds while sparing the GE crops, but in recent years, some weeds have developed a tolerance to glyphosate, Roundup’s active ingredient. The cases kept the crops out of America’s fields for years and prompted biotech companies to put heavy pressure on top USDA officials to streamline and speed up the deregulation process, practically setting the stage for the NEPA pilot underway today.

Under NEPA, agencies like the USDA must prepare an Environmental Assessment (EA) to determine if the proposed action, such as deregulating a transgenic organism, would have an impact on the environment. If some type of significant impact is likely, the agency must then prepare a more in-depth Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to explore potential impacts and alternative actions. NEPA requires an EIS for actions “significantly affecting the quality of the human environment.” Preparing a full impact statement for a biotech plant implies the government does not think GE crops are safe and the biotech industry has routinely butted heads with environmentalists while attempting to convince regulators and consumers otherwise. In the Monsanto beets and alfalfa cases, the CFS and other plaintiffs argued that the USDA should have prepared an EIS, not just a simple EA, before deregulating both Monsanto crops.

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In the alfalfa case, the CFS and its co-plaintiffs claimed the crop could have significant impacts by crossbreeding and contaminating conventional and organic alfalfa with transgenes. They also argued the crop would increase the use of herbicides and promote the spread of herbicide-tolerant weeds known as “super weeds.” A federal district court agreed and vacated the USDA’s original approval, halting plantings across the country. Monsanto challenged the decision and the alfalfa case landed in the Supreme Court in 2010.  The high court overturned an injunction preventing farmers from planting the alfalfa, but also ordered the USDA to prepare an EIS and issue another deregulation decision. The sugar beet case ended in similar fashion and the USDA recently released a draft EIS on the crop, which is expected to be deregulated in early 2012.

Monsanto won the right to sell its GE alfalfa seed in February 2011, but the lengthy and expensive legal battle captured the attention of food lovers and agriculturalists across the country. Americans debated the potential dangers of GE crops and the merits of the regulatory system that is supposed to protect farmers and consumers. As documents unearthed by a Truthout FOIA request reveal, the biotech industry did not sit idly by as activists challenged the regulatory status quo.

Mounting Pressure

The Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) is a powerful group that represents dozens of biotech companies such as Monsanto, BASF and Bayer, and has spent more than $67 million lobbying Congress since 2000. In April 2010, BIO sent a letter to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack as the Monsanto alfalfa case made its way through the courts. BIO warned Vilsack that the American biotech agriculture industry could be crippled if the legal precedents required the USDA to prepare an EIS for every GE crop up for deregulation:

With 19 deregulation petitions pending with more on the way, requiring an EIS for each product would amount to a de facto moratorium on commercialization and would send an unprecedented message that USDA believes that these products do have an environmental impact, when in fact most do not. Any suggestion by USDA that biotechnology plants as a category are likely to cause significant adverse effects on the quality of the human environment (i.e., require an EIS) would make approvals by other trading partners virtually impossible …

BIO claimed that such a policy would be an “over-reaction to the current judicial decisions” and would threaten America’s economic dominance in the agricultural biotechnology market. Such a policy, BIO representatives stated, would send a message to European countries that American regulators believe GE crops impact the environment, making approvals of GE crops by the European Union “virtually impossible” and allowing “Brazil and China to surpass the United States as world leaders in biotechnology.” BIO also claimed that more rigorous assessments would “undercut” positions consistently take by the Obama and Bush administrations on the safety of biotech agriculture.

Vilsack received similar letters requesting the USDA continue relying on EAs instead of EISs to deregulate GE crops from the Americas Soybean Association and the American Seed Trade Association. Both groups worried that an increase in oversight – precipitated by the more in-depth impact evaluation – could back up approvals for years. The soybean association included in its letter a pipeline chart of 25 GE soybean varieties it “expected” to be approved for commercialization within a decade.

A policy requiring an EIS for every GE seed is exactly what critics of Monsanto and the rest of the industry have spent years fighting for. Unlike the industry, they believe the herbicides that blanket GE crops and the potential for transgenic contamination are potential threats to the agricultural environment and human health.

Vilsack wrote a steady-handed reply to each trade group, reassuring them that the NEPA policy would not change and the USDA would continue preparing an EA for new GE seeds and an EIS only when necessary. Vilsack also wrote that he was “pleased” to recently meet with biotech industry representatives and “discuss improving the efficiency of the biotechnology regulatory process.” Such improvements, he wrote, are “directly related” to the USDA’s “objective of ensuring the United State leads the world in sustainable crop production and biotech crop exports.” He took the opportunity to announce that the USDA would reorganize the Biotechnology Regulatory Services agency and create a new NEPA team “dedicated to creating high quality and defensible documents to better inform our regulatory decisions.” This new NEPA team would go on to develop the NEPA Pilot Project and begin streamlining the approval process.

To Freese, it appears that Vilsack used to the word “defensible” in reference to legal challenges like the ones his group made to Monsanto alfalfa and sugar beets. “Their whole focus is on ‘defensible’ Environmental Assessments,” Freese said after reading the letters. “From our perspective, that’s the wrong goal … it presumes the crop is going to be approved.”

Freese said the correspondence between Vilsack and the industry groups highlights the need for a culture change at the USDA. Regulators should be concerned about the safety of new GE products, not ensuring American exports compete with Brazil and China.

“It should be all about doing good assessments and making sure the crops that are approved are safe,” Freese said.

A USDA spokesperson declined to comment when asked if the agency would like to respond to criticisms of the NEPA Pilot Project and said updates on the project will be made available online.

Watchdogs like Freese know that regulators already work closely with the industry and the NEPA Pilot Project could simply make their work more efficient. Regulators already rely heavily on data provided by private contractors and by biotech companies to prepare EAs. During the Monsanto alfalfa case, internal emails between regulators and Monsanto officials surfaced and revealed the company worked closely with regulators to edit its original petition to deregulate the alfalfa. One regulator even accepted Monsanto’s help in conducting the USDA’s original EA of the GE alfalfa before it was initially approved in 2005.

Genetically engineered and modified crops continue to cause controversy across the globe, but in America they are a fact of life. The Obama and Bush administrations have actively promoted biotech agriculture both at home and abroad. Countries like China, Argentina and Brazil have also embraced biotech agriculture. Regulators in European countries – including crucial trade partners like France and Spain – have been much more cautious and, in some cases, even hostile toward the industry. GE crops are banned in Hungary and Peru, and earlier this year officials in Hungary destroyed 1,000 acres of corn containing Monsanto transgenes. The US, however, continues to allow big biotech companies to cultivate considerable power and influence and, as the letters uncovered by FOIA reveal, top regulators are ready to meet their demands.

“The USDA regards its own regulatory system as a rubber stamp,” Freese said after reading the letters. “At least at the upper levels, there’s always been this presumption that [GE crops] must be approved.”

Why Is The U.S. State Department Using Public Money To Pimp For Monsanto?

In Uncategorized on November 4, 2011 at 3:15 pm

 Oldspeak:Yet another Bush Era policy carried through to the Obama Era. Why is U.S. Gov’t  still using front groups and “philanthropic” foundations to “push foreign governments to approve  genetically engineered (GE) crops and promote the worldwide interests of agribusiness giants like Monsanto and DuPont”, even though GE crops have been shown to cause “infertility and have significant impact on the health of plants, animals and humans; a whole host of deleterious effects like toxic pesticides that remain present in the blood of mothers and babies,  rises in food allergies, diabetes, obesity, autism,  immune system dysfunction, asthma, cancer and heart disease, low birth-weight babies, and infant mortality? Why is this government pressuring other governments to approve consumption of “food” they know is not good for them on behalf of private corporations, who with their products have cost the U.S. hundreds of billions in potential food export revenues. Simple really. The Corporatocracy is in control. And they want to control the population of this planet. Why else would you knowingly push for the widespread use of products known to sterilize and kill people?  Public health and well being is always secondary to profit.” My comments from the related story below, reposted. Nothing has changed since august. The U.S. Government has been funding and promoting the development of GMO’s since 1990, I don’t imagine it will change anytime soon, as far too few people are aware, or even care about the demonstrably dangerous and toxic chemicals causing long term damage in the environment, animals and humans. “Ignorance Is Strength”

Related Story:

New WikiLeaks Cables Show US Diplomats Continue To Promote Genetically Engineered Crops Worldwide

By Jill Richardson @ Alter Net:

People in India are up in arms about eggplant. Not just any eggplant — the fight, which is also raging in the Philippines, is over Monsanto’s Bt eggplant. Even as increasing scientific evidence concludes that biotechnology and its arsenal of genetically modified crops may be doing more harm than good, companies like Monsanto are still pushing them hard and they are getting help from the U.S.

The State Department is using taxpayer money to help push the agenda of Monsanto and its friends all across the world. Here’s a recent example: Assistant Secretary of State Jose W. Fernandez, addressing an event of high-level government officials from around the world, agribusiness CEOs, leaders from international organizations, and anti-hunger groups said, “Without agricultural biotechnology, our world would look vastly different. One of our challenges is how to grow more crops on the same land. This is where biotechnology plays a role.”

Many scientists would disagree with these statements, which are more controversial than Fernandez let on. The Union of Concerned Scientists found that biotech crops did not lead to reliable yield increases compared to conventional, non-GMO crops and that biotech crops actually required more pesticides than conventional crops. These conclusions are reiterated by the scientists who authored the “International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science, and Technology for Development” (IAASTD) report, a 2008 study written by 400 scientists from around the world concluding that agroecology was the best way to feed the world. And a recent 30-year study by the Rodale Institute found that organic methods provided excellent drought protection, whereas drought-tolerant GMOs are mostly still an idea of the future.

So why is Fernandez making speeches that sound like Monsanto talking points? His background prior to working at the State Department was as a lawyer specializing in international finance and mergers and acquisitions, particularly in Latin America. Now he heads up the State Department’s Bureau of Economic, Energy, and Business Affairs (EEB), which works “to promote economic security and prosperity at home and abroad.” And part of such prosperity, according to EEB, includes promoting GMOs around the world.

Within EEB lies the Office of Agriculture, Biotechnology, and Textile Trade Affairs(ABT), which has worked to promote biotechnology for nearly a decade, at least. The word “biotechnology” was added to the office’s name in 2003. ABT seeks to address “barriers and opening markets for American farm products, contributing to the development of effective food aid policies, promoting rural development and increasing agricultural productivity through biotechnology.”

Among other things, ABT is responsible for doling out half a million dollars per year in Biotechnology Outreach Funds. This amounts to pennies compared to the overall federal budget, but it goes a long way, as grants are often around $20,000 apiece, especially considering the cumulative impact of their use in promoting biotechnology around the world each year since 2003. Biotech Outreach Fund requests for 2010 included:

  • request from the U.S. embassy in Ecuador for $22,900 to fly five Ecuadorian journalists to the United States “to participate in a one-week biotech tour” to influence public opinion of biotechnology.
  • request from the U.S. embassies in Brazil and Mozambique for $64,590 to hold a trilateral three-day seminar on biotechnology in Maputo, Mozambique.
  • request from the U.S. embassy in Ethiopia for $5,500 to bring biotechnology experts from South Africa, Egypt, Kenya, and possibly the U.S. to a workshop on biotechnology held by the Ethiopian government.

The requests above were revealed in secret cables leaked by WikiLeaks. While the cables did not divulge which requests were accepted, they do tell the story of State Department employees whose jobs consist of promoting biotechnology around the world. Between 2005 and 2006, then senior adviser for agricultural biotechnologyMadelyn E. Spirnak traveled to Guatemala, Egypt, Slovenia, Taiwan, Turkey, South Africa, Ghana, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Poland to promote biotechnology.

In South Africa, Spirnak spent a week meeting with “government officials, researchers, private sector representatives and officials from the New Economic Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) to discuss agricultural biotechnology and biosafety issues.” The private sector representatives referred to include Monsanto and Cargill. According to a leaked State Department memo, Spirnak learned that the government of South Africa was planning to hire several new people to work on GMOs. The memo reads: “Note: we informed both Pioneer [DuPont] and Monsanto the following day about the two new positions and they immediately saw the benefits from encouraging qualified applicants to apply.”

The State Department promotion of biotechnology comes from the top. Both Hillary Clinton and Condoleeza Rice before her sent out annual memos to all U.S. embassies outlining State Department policy on biotechnology. In December 2009, Clinton wrote, “Our biotech outreach objectives for 2010 are to increase access to, and markets for, biotech as a means to help address the underlying causes of the food crisis, and to promote agricultural technology’s role in mitigating climate change and increasing biofuel production.”

ABT’s work dovetails with that of another State Department agency, the U.S. Agency for International Development. USAID’s work on biotechnology has focused on two main goals: developing GMOs for introduction in the Global South and pushing nations in Asia and Africa to write biosafety laws. Biosafety laws, a common theme in leaked State Department memos discussing biotechnology, basically mean “laws that keep Monsanto’s intellectual property rights on genetically engineered crops safe.”

USAID’s work funding the development of GMOs began in 1990, when it funded the Agricultural Biotechnology Support Project (now known as ABSP I), a project based at Michigan State University’s Institute for International Agriculture that ran until 2003 but was continued in a successor project (predictably called ABSP II) that continues today.

Like its predecessor, ABSP II is funded by USAID. However, unlike ABSP I, it is led by Cornell University. ABSP II, which is ongoing, includes among its partners a number of U.S. universities, research organizations in partner countries, NGOs, foundations, and several corporations — including Monsanto. ABSP II projects include the development and commercialization of GM crops like a disease-resistant potato in India, Bangladesh and Indonesia; Roundup-Ready Bt cotton in Uganda (similar to the GM cotton already grown in the United States); and perhaps the most controversial, Bt eggplant, intended for India, Bangladesh and the Philippines.

Using Monsanto’s technology, Bt eggplant includes a gene from the bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis in its DNA. Like the bacteria, the eggplant will produce a toxin that kills insects that prey on it. Bt is a commonly used organic insecticide. When the bacteria is applied by organic farmers, it lasts for a short time in the environment, killing the insects but ultimately having little impact on the agroecosystem, and giving the insects no real opportunity to evolve resistance to the toxin. When the gene is engineered into a crop, the crop produces the Bt toxin in every cell during the entire duration of its life. As of 2011, there are now reports of insects evolving resistance to Bt in genetically engineered crops in the United States.

MAHYCO (Maharashta Hybrid Seed Company), which is 26 percent owned by Monsanto, applied to grow Bt eggplant commercially in India, but the application was denied after massive public outcry. India is the center of origin for eggplant, the country where the crop was first domesticated, and home to incredible biodiversity in eggplant. Adoption of Bt eggplant threatened both the loss of biodiversity as farmers traded their traditional seeds for new GM ones, as well as the genetic contamination of traditional seeds and perhaps even wild eggplant relatives.

Now, Bt eggplant is facing opposition in the Philippines, where anti-GMO activists have destroyed Bt eggplant in protest. The Filipino NGO SEARICE (Southeast Asia Regional Initiatives for Community Empowerment), which works on the conservation of traditional varieties and on expanding farmers’ rights, also opposes the introduction of Bt eggplant. (And, back in India, the government of India has now gone on the offensive, filing a biopiracy suit against Monsanto over the Bt eggplant.)

Given the two decades of State Department support for GMOs — and its bullying behavior toward countries that don’t wish to grow them or eat them — the question isn’t why a senior state department official is making a major speech extolling biotechnology, but rather, why the State Department isn’t listening to experts, including U.S. citizens, who provide evidence countering the usefulness and safety of biotechnology and supporting alternative methods of agricultural development. For a government department that frequently calls for “science-based” policy, ignoring the totality of evidence on biotechnology is not very science-based.

Jill Richardson is the founder of the blog La Vida Locavore and a member of the Organic Consumers Association policy advisory board. She is the author of Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It..

Corporate Crimes In the Cereal Aisle: How Companies Are Fooling You Into Thinking Their Products Are Good For You

In Uncategorized on October 28, 2011 at 4:44 pm

Oldspeak:Generally “natural” is thought to imply the absence of pesticides and genetically engineered organisms, but a closer look at the crunchy goodness inside the boxes reveals the content of both. Tests showed as high as 100 percent genetically engineered (GE) contaminated ingredients in popular products like Kashi GoLean, Mother’s Bumpers, Nutritious Living Hi-Lo, and General Mills Kix. Even the brands explicitly claiming to be “non-GMO” failed the test, some of them containing more that 50 percent GE corn. Organic products, such as Nature’s Path certified organic corn flakes, were GMO and GE free when tested. Why does it matter? Because these companies exploit consumers’ desire for conscious consumption and make us feed the system we think we are taking a stance against: Industrial agriculture.” –Ida Hartmann The Transnational Corporate Network is hard at work trying to make you pay more for “food” you think is better for you, but in fact makes you sick. Still more evidence that the “profit-motive” is by far the most destructive force created by humans. It supersedes ethical behaviour, morality, concern for others and the environment. “Profit Is Paramount”.

Related Story:

Kashi, Burt’s Bees, Tom’s of Maine, Naked Juice: Your Favorite Good, Natural, Socially Conscious Brands? Owned By The Corporatocracy

Landmark Study Finds 93 Percent Of Unborn Babies Contaminated With Monsanto’s Genetically Modified ‘Food’ BT Toxin

Why You Can Now Kiss Organic Beef, Dairy And Many Vegetables Goodbye Courtesy Of Monsanto

USDA Approved Monsanto Alfalfa Despite Warnings Of New Infertility Causing Pathogen Discovered In Genetically Engineered Crops

By Ida Hartmann @ Alter Net:

A trip to the supermarket is an adventure into a tempting and treacherous jungle. The insatiable hunger for a ready-made breakfast that nourishes our bodies and our social conscience has made our morning bowls of cereal a hiding place for corporate charlatans. A new report, Cereal Crimes, by the Cornucopia Institute discloses the toxic truth about “natural” products and unmasks corporate faces like Kellogg’s hiding behind supposedly “family-run” businesses such as Kashi.

When these breakfast barons forage for profit, we eaters are the prey. But what are the laws of this jungle? And how do we avoid being ripped off by products that are hazardous for our health and our environment? Let’s have a look at some of these corporations’ sneaky strategies.

First, there is intentional confusion. With so many different kinds of cereal lining the shelves, figuring out which is the best requires detective work. Many make claims about health, boasting “no trans fats,” “gluten-free,” and “a boost of omega three.” Others play to environmental concerns declaring “earthy harmony,” “nature in balance,” and “sustainable soils.” With the legion of labels, separating wheat from chaff seems impossible, but the report offers one rule of thumb: Don’t confuse organic with “natural.”

Organics, certified and recognizable by the green USDA label, are required by federal law to be produced without toxic inputs and genetically engineered ingredients. “Natural,” on the other hand, is defined by the producers themselves to mislead shoppers and protect shareholders. Cornucopia’s report found that, “When determining their ‘natural’ standards, companies will consider their profitability. Environmental concerns are unlikely to weigh heavily, if at all, in this profitability equation.”

Too bad we’ve been falling for it. The report cites a 2009 poll showing 33 percent of the public trusts the “natural” label while 45 percent trust the organic label.

Generally “natural” is thought to imply the absence of pesticides and genetically engineered organisms, but a closer look at the crunchy goodness inside the boxes reveals the content of both. Tests run by the institute showed as high as 100 percent genetically engineered (GE) contaminated ingredients in popular products like Kashi GoLean, Mother’s Bumpers, Nutritious Living Hi-Lo, and General Mills Kix. Even the brands explicitly claiming to be “non-GMO” failed the test, some of them containing more that 50 percent GE corn. Organic products, such as Nature’s Path certified organic corn flakes, were GMO and GE free when tested.

Moreover, conventional ingredients, which “natural” products contain, have been found to hold traces of pesticides. The USDA found detectable neurotoxins in popular breakfast ingredients like oats, wheat, soybeans, corn, almonds, raisins, blueberries, honey and cranberries. New studies are constantly finding new health risks associated with exposure to pesticides. One such found that exposure during pregnancy increased the risk of a pervasive developmental disorder and delays of mental development at 2 to 3 years of age, while another found postnatal exposure to be associated with behavioral problems, poorer short-term memory and motor skills, and longer reaction times among children. Adding to the picture, a recent study by University of Montreal and Harvard University found association between organophosphate in children and ADHD.

It is time for us to reconsider what we associate with the term “natural.” In his book, In Defense of Food, Michael Pollan sends out a warning against health claims on food: “As a general rule it’s a whole lot easier to slap a health claim on a box of sugary cereal than on a raw potato or a carrot, with the perverse result that the most healthful foods in the supermarket sit there quietly in the produce section, silent as stroke victims, while a few aisles over in the Cereal the Cocoa Puffs and Lucky Charms are screaming their new found ‘whole-grain goodness’ to the rafters.”

The same applies to “natural.” Labeling broccoli “natural” would offend common sense. This is the irony of marketing: On a spectrum between whole foods and processed products, the loudest “natural” claims sound from the latter end.

So why do we eaters swallow these cereal scams? The report exposes how breakfast barons intentionally blur the line between organic and natural.

The “natural” products are predominantly camouflaged in brown and green boxes, mimicking the colors of nature, creating an association between “natural” and sustainable agriculture. Packaging images such as rolling fields, grazing cows or smiling farmers give us the impression that by throwing these products in our basket we take a stance against industrial agriculture.

And the producers market themselves as family-run, small-scale business. The Kashi Web site reads: “We are a small (after 25 years, still fewer than 70 of us) band of passionate people who believe right down to our bones that everyone has the power to make positive changes in their lives.” Conveniently absent from packages and Web site is the fact that Kellogg, the largest cereal manufacturer in the country, acquired Kashi back in 2000. Kellogg also owns Bear Naked. General Mills, the second largest breakfast company in the country owns Cascadian Farm, and Back to Nature is run by Kraft Foods, a company with almost $50 million revenue in 2010.

Why does it matter? Because these companies exploit consumers’ desire for conscious consumption and make us feed the system we think we are taking a stance against: Industrial agriculture.

But this is only the beginning of the scam.

The report reveals another strategy: Bait-and-switch. Peace Cereal eloquently performed the maneuver. The brand started out organic, but in 2008 switched to cheaper conventional ingredients and adopted the “natural” label, without changing packaging, pricing or barcode. Many shoppers and retailers did not notice that the USDA label quietly disappeared from the bottom right-hand corner.

Similarly a number of brands market their names as organic by loudly promoting the few certified products on the shelf, ignoring the fact that most of their products are mere conventional ones labeled as “natural.” Annie’s Homegrown, for example, was featured in a 12-page advertisement section in the Washington Post, paid for by the Organic Trade Organization and aimed at educating consumers on the benefits of organics. Nowhere did it mention that only one of five cereal products made by Annie’s Homegrown is organic. That takes an investigation of the fine print on the box many of us don’t perform as we race through the aisle in the short minutes we often have to shop.

But if these natural cereals are nothing but cheap conventional ones in fancy dresses, one would at least expect them to be cheaper than organic products. The report, however, shows just the opposite, and suggests that, “some companies are taking advantage of consumer confusion regarding the difference between the meaningless natural label and certified organic claims.”

So next time you find yourself with a box of organic cereal in your right hand, and a box of natural cereal in your left, remember to read the fine print. Don’t be fooled by labels that are meant to sell products, not look after your health or the environment.

 

New WikiLeaks Cables Show US Diplomats Continue To Promote Genetically Engineered Crops Worldwide

In Uncategorized on August 30, 2011 at 11:04 am

Oldspeak:”Yet another Bush Era policy carried through to the Obama Era. Why is U.S. Gov’t  still using front groups and “philanthropic” foundations to “push foreign governments to approve  genetically engineered (GE) crops and promote the worldwide interests of agribusiness giants like Monsanto and DuPont”, even though GE crops have been shown to cause “infertility and have significant impact on the health of plants, animals and humans; a whole host of deleterious effects like toxic pesticides that remain present in the blood of mothers and babies,  rises in food allergies, diabetes, obesity, autism,  immune system dysfunction, asthma, cancer and heart disease, low birth-weight babies, and infant mortality? Why is this government pressuring other governments to approve consumption of “food” they know is not good for them on behalf of private corporations, who with their products have cost the U.S. hundreds of billions in potential food export revenues. Simple really. The Corporatocracy is in control. And they want to control the population of this planet. Why else would you knowingly push for the widespread use of products known to sterilize and kill people?  Public health and well being is always secondary to profit.

By Mike Ludwig @ Truthout:

Dozens of United States diplomatic cables released in the latest WikiLeaks dump on Wednesday reveal new details of the US effort to push foreign governments to approve  genetically engineered (GE) crops and promote the worldwide interests of agribusiness giants like Monsanto and DuPont.

The cables further confirm previous Truthout reports on the diplomatic pressure the US has put on Spain and France, two countries with powerful anti-GE crop movements, to speed up their biotech approval process and quell anti-GE sentiment within the European Union (EU).

Several cables describe “biotechnology outreach programs” in countries across the globe, including African, Asian and South American countries where Western biotech agriculture had yet to gain a foothold. In some cables (such as this 2010 cable from Morocco) US diplomats ask the State Department for funds to send US biotech experts and trade industry representatives to target countries for discussions with high-profile politicians and agricultural officials.

Truthout recently reported on front groups supported by the US government, philanthropic foundations and companies like Monsanto that are working to introduce pro-biotechnology policy initiatives and GE crops in developing African countries, and several cables released this week confirm that American diplomats have promoted biotech agriculture to countries like TunisiaSouth Africa and Mozambique.

Cables detail US efforts to influence the biotech policies of developed countries such as Egypt and Turkey, but France continues to stand out as a high-profile target.

In a 2007 cable, the US embassy in Paris reported on a meeting among US diplomats and representatives from Monsanto, DuPont and Dow-Agro-sciences. The companies were concerned about a movement of French farmers, who were vandalizing GE crop farms at the time, and suggested diplomatic angles for speeding up EU approvals of GE Crops.

In 2008 cable describing a “rancorous” debate within the French Parliament over proposed biotech legislation, Craig Stapleton, the former US ambassador to France under the Bush administration, included an update on MON-810, a Monsanto corn variety banned in France.

Stapleton wrote that French officials “expect retaliation via the World Trade Organization” for upholding the ban on MON-810 and stalling the French GE crop approval process. “There is nothing to be gained in France from delaying retaliation,” Stapleton wrote.

Tough regulations and bans on GE crops can deal hefty blows to US exports. About 94 percent of soybeans, 72 percent of corn and 73 percent of the cotton grown in the US now use GE-tolerate herbicides like Monsanto’s Roundup, according to theUS Agriculture Department. 

2007 cable, for example, reports that the French ban on MON-810 could cost the US $30 million to $50 million in exports.

In a 2007 cable obtained by Truthout in January, Stapleton threatened “moving to retaliate” against France for banning MON-810. Several other European countries, including Germany, Austria, Hungary and Bulgaria, have also placed bans on MON-810 in recent years. MON-810 is engineered to excrete the Bt toxin, which kills some insect pests.

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.”

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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.

Horn Of Africa Famine: Millions At Risk In Deadly Cocktail Of War, Climate Change, Neoliberalism

In Uncategorized on July 24, 2011 at 5:55 pm

Two-year-old Aden Salaad looks up toward his mother as she bathes him in a tub at a Doctors Without Borders hospital, where Aden is receiving treatment for malnutrition, in Dagahaley Camp, outside Dadaab, Kenya Picture: AP/Rebecca Blackwell

Oldspeak:”Militarism, globalization, resource extraction/exploitation, rampant unregulated financial speculation on food, historical & current pollution by the global north, support for ruthless dictators who serve foreign interests instead of native ones, obstructionist stances to climate and environmental policies that will help the global south adapt technologically and socially to climate change though not necessarily benefit financially the global north have spawned the epic disaster we see unfolding in the Motherland. And the disaster capitalist in agribusiness are licking their chops. This tragedy provides them with the perfect opportunity to foist their genetically modified frankenfood on weakened and desperate people, ostensibly benevolent, offering its seeds for ‘free’. At the same time legally absolving themselves of all liability for their products’ less desirable effects. The same script was drawn up in Haiti after their most recent disaster, but they rejected it, choosing instead to retain what little sovereignty they have left over their food supply. Hopefully North African farmers will do the same by echoing this sentiment: “We reject Monsanto and their GMOs. GMOs would be the extermination of our people.” –Doudou Pierre, national coordinating committee member of the National Haitian Network for Food Sovereignty and Food Security (RENHASSA),

By Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez @ Democracy Now:

Guests:

Kiki Gbeho, country head in Somalia for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. She is based in Nairobi and returned from Somalia last week.
Christian Parenti, is contributing editor at The Nation magazine and an award-winning author of several books, most recently Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence. He visited the Horn of Africa for research on the book.

JUAN GONZALEZ: The United Nations has called an emergency meeting to discuss the Horn of Africa drought, which it says has already claimed tens of thousands of lives. Famine was declared in two regions of Somalia on Wednesday, where 3.7 million people are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance. Another eight million people need food assistance in neighboring countries, including Kenya and Ethiopia.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon calls the situation a “catastrophic combination of conflict, high food prices and drought” and has appealed for immediate aid. Writing in the Los Angeles Times today, he said, quote, “To save the lives of the people at risk—the vast majority of them women and children—we need about $1.6 billion in aid. So far, international donors have given only half that amount. To turn the tide, to offer hope in the name of our common humanity, we must mobilize worldwide.”

The World Food Programme’s director spoke about the conditions in southern Somalia and also called for urgent assistance.

JOSETTE SHEERAN: I’ve met here today people from all over southern Somalia. And there’s no food where they are. And what we’ve heard from them—I just heard from one woman who’s lost three of her children. And so, we’re calling on the world to really back operations to scale up very quickly to reach those in the epicenter, in the famine conditions in southern Somalia. It’s very dangerous and risky, but we have to reach people. They’re not making it all the way here to Mogadishu. These are the ones lucky enough to make it here. And even these feeding centers are overrun.

JUAN GONZALEZ: That’s World Food Programme director Josette Sheeran.

Meanwhile, the U.N. says that pastoralist communities in Kenya and Somalia have also lost millions of their livestock. Carcasses lie all over Kenya’s North Eastern Province as the worst drought in decades continues to ravage the region.

MOHAMED HADJI: [translated] To say the truth, for the past six to seven years, we have not had any rain here. The population was around 6,000 to 7,000. But since the drought became serious, the population has drastically reduced, and it is just a few of us remaining. The others have left and have gone to look for water in pastures elsewhere.

AMY GOODMAN: To discuss the situation in the Horn of Africa, we’re joined on the phone from Nairobi by Kiki Gbeho, the country head for Somalia of the U.N.’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. She has just returned from Somalia.

We’re also joined in our New York studio by Christian Parenti, author of Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence. He visited the Horn of Africa as he researched his book.

Kiki, let’s go to you first in Nairobi. Explain the scope of the problem.

Kiki Gbeho—

KIKI GBEHO: [inaudible] recently in Somalia in two locations—Mogadishu, the capital, and a location called Dolo. In both places, we met people who had walked for weeks in search of food. Some people say that they buried children along the way. And what was most disturbing about what I saw and what I heard was that the people I met said they were the better off. They had a limited amount of resources left, and so were able to move. They said they fear for those who they had left behind. The situation is dire.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you feel needs to be done?

KIKI GBEHO: Well, we need to scale up to respond to the need immediately. At the moment, even though we have received some funding from donors, it is insufficient to meet the needs. When famine was announced on Wednesday, we said we needed $300 million in the next two months to scale up response. So, one of the key issues for us right now is resources to be able to respond.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And why do you think that Somalia has been so particularly hard hit in the Horn of Africa?

KIKI GBEHO: Well, it’s a deadly cocktail. We have the ongoing conflict. We’ve had several consecutive seasons of drought. And then we’ve had severe price hikes. Prices have risen in the last year by almost 300 percent. So, even though there is some food available on the market, it is simply out of the reach of the common person on the ground. So when you mix these factors together, you get what we have in Somalia at the moment. We have been talking about this since last year, so we can’t say that we are surprised. But we need to do—we need to take urgent action now, because tens of thousands of people have already died, but it is possible to save lives if we act now.

AMY GOODMAN: How did it get to this point, Kiki Gbeho? The warnings had been coming out for quite some time.

KIKI GBEHO: As I said, I think it is a deadly cocktail. It’s an ongoing conflict. We have challenges with access, so we don’t have, as you would see in other aid operations, large numbers of international agencies working on the ground. And then the global crisis, we see price hikes all over the world. The whole Horn is affected by the drought. And you end up where we are now.

I think that the good news in all of this is that we still do have the possibility to save lives. When we talk to the technical people on the ground who assess for us, they tell us, if we act now, if we take advantage of the upcoming raining seasons and plant, if we manage to get food into the country, if we manage to put cash in the hands of people, and if we manage to scale up our health interventions, we could prevent the situation from deteriorating further. At the moment, only two regions have been declared as being in drought, but if we don’t do something, we can see the remainder of the regions in the south quickly roll into the same situation.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Now, Christian Parenti, you’ve been to the Horn of Africa, and in your recent book you dealt with the effects of climate change and the situation that’s occurring in countries like Somalia. Talk about your sense of what’s happening.

CHRISTIAN PARENTI: Well, yeah, this was predicted long ago by people on the ground. We could see it coming. And the other guest is correct: it’s a combination of war, climate change and very bad policy, particularly an embrace of free market—radical free market policies by regional governments that mean the withdrawal of support for pastoralists, the type of people you saw with their dead cattle. There are no programs from the government of Kenya, for example, to help them drill new wells, to help them with veterinary services for their ill animals, to help introduce new forms of livestock such as camels.

And then, on a broader international stage, there’s the tolerance for really rank speculation by firms like Glencore and Cargill, which have a lot to answer for in terms of this famine. One of the key events that has driven up food prices was climate change last year—worst drought in a hundred years in the Black Sea region of Russia, major flooding in U.S. and Canada. That helped drive up grain prices by almost 100 percent. But it wasn’t just that, because Russia then imposed an export ban. Glencore actually publicly lobbied for Russia to ban exports, much of which went to the World Food Programme. For example, 95 percent of the World Food Programme’s wheat comes from these Russian contracts. So, these speculators, Glencore, encouraged the Russians to impose this ban. They do that. Prices go up. Glencore then has a $60 billion IPO. So there are these—even far from the field, there are these factors that help exacerbate this emergency situation.

Then there’s the deeper structural thing of undermining state capacity and also military support, historically and presently, for wars that have helped produce failed states like Somalia. I mean, Somalia failed in part because the U.S. supported it in a decade-long war against Ethiopia, which led to its collapse.

AMY GOODMAN: We just read in headlines, Kiki Gbeho, about the al-Shabab announcing that the ban on foreign aid groups remains in effect in their area. How does that affect the United Nations and all of the aid groups coming in?

KIKI GBEHO: Well, aid agencies have worked throughout. We say the situation is difficult, but not impossible. How they operate is they work with local communities, district by district. And in dialogue with these communities, they agree on targeting communities and providing assistance. Our only interest in Somalia at this moment is to save lives, nothing else. We welcome the previous statement by al-Shabab, welcoming humanitarian agencies to resume operations in areas under their control. And I think we will continue to reiterate that the need is to increase assistance to populations in acute distress. Our only interest in Somalia at this moment is to save lives, nothing else.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And Kiki, what about this issue, as you mentioned, the 300 percent increase in food prices, and Christian was mentioning? Has there been any approach made to the suppliers of these grains about bringing their prices down, especially in these countries that are so hard hit?

KIKI GBEHO: Well, I think that it’s difficult. Partly, the previous speaker mentioned the fact that there is a failed state in Somalia. We do not have a government that controls the whole country and can therefore regulate. We believe that if we were able to get food into the country, and if we were able to put cash in the hands of individuals, it could work with—we could influence the market. But the price—the high prices are not something that’s seen only in Somalia. I believe it’s in the the whole Horn. And in fact, it is global. There are global factors at play here.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to bring in what happened this week at the U.N. Security Council, discussing the effect of climate change on peace and security. Security Council members debated whether the most powerful U.N. body should address climate change as a security matter. Speaking at the meeting, U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Susan Rice, insisted it should.

SUSAN RICE: We have dozens of countries in this body and in this very room whose very existence is threatened. They have asked this Council to demonstrate our understanding that their security is profoundly threatened. Instead, because of the refusal of a few to accept our responsibility, this Council is saying, by its silence, in effect, tough luck. This is more than disappointing. It’s pathetic, it’s short-sighted, and frankly, it’s a dereliction of duty.

AMY GOODMAN: Christian Parenti, is this a shift in policy for the U.S.? What’s the significance of what Susan Rice said at the U.N. Security Council? We don’t usually think of the United States taking proactive stances on climate change. They were quite obstructionist, for example, at the Copenhagen climate change conference.

CHRISTIAN PARENTI: It’s not really a shift. I mean, it’s tricky when you first look at it. But really what’s going on is the Security Council, dominated by the U.S., France, and the U.K., with Russia and China as other permanent members, and then rotating members, is essentially making a move to impose itself and sort of, some would say, hijack the discussion around climate change within the U.N. process. Now remember, there’s also another U.N. process in which the U.S. is not demanding that there be action, but is stalling, and that is theUNFCCC negotiations for a successor agreement to Kyoto, and the U.S. has played a very destructive role in that.

And so, many countries in the General Assembly were saying, “Hey, you know, we’re already dealing with climate change. Yes, it is a security problem, but that doesn’t mean it should have a primarily military response, because that doesn’t work, ultimately. In the short term, maybe it works; in the long term, it leads to failed states. What we need is to deal with creating an international fund, which is part of these negotiations, which can transfer capital and technology to the Global South. It needs to be done within the context of the General Assembly.” And there are these ongoing negotiations that the U.S. has essentially almost sabotaged. And now the U.S. wants to appear proactive and use the discourse and methods that it dominates, which are military methods and control this through the Security Council.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And is that why Russia and China sought to block this effort? Or were there other reasons—

CHRISTIAN PARENTI: Yes.

JUAN GONZALEZ: —some of the stuff you were mentioning about Russia before in terms of food supply?

CHRISTIAN PARENTI: Yeah, yes and no. I think that there’s an element of those two countries, as emerging economies, wanting to push back against the OECD countries on the Security Council, but then there’s also the fact that, I mean, the Security Council is made up of historical polluters and current polluters. I mean, Russia is a major oil exporter. China is a major consumer of fossil fuels. So I think there were those issues, as well, that they’re hesitant to be brought to account on those issues.

AMY GOODMAN: And then you have the Republican-led House Foreign Affairs Committee that voted yesterday to ban funding in next year’s budget for Obama’s initiative to support poor nations in adapting to climate change or pursuing clean energy. That doesn’t mean it has passed through the Senate, but it was voted.

CHRISTIAN PARENTI: Yeah, and that’s one of—that’s a sort of domestic analog to one of the key issues in these international debates, which is setting up $100 million—or $100 billion fund to help with adaptation and mitigation in the Global South. So, I mean, in the Horn of Africa, there is no state capacity, there is no money, for helping people to adapt to this extreme climate—i.e. bringing in new livestock, developing water-harvesting techniques, because it does rain in the Horn of Africa, but it usually comes down, due to climate change these days, as sudden deluges. So there needs to be technological and social adaptation to that.

This fund that will be part of the successor agreement to Kyoto is essential in that, and so the Republicans are signaling that they won’t have anything of it. And we should recall that, of course, the preceding agreement, the Kyoto Protocol, was signed by Clinton but not ratified by the Senate, so it never became force of law here in the U.S. And it had, as a result, very minimal impact internationally in terms of reducing carbon emissions.

AMY GOODMAN: Money that goes into the military versus into this kind of aid?

CHRISTIAN PARENTI: At first, it looks very proactive and necessary. There’s all this instability. But if you look historically at the role of U.S. military aid, it undermines stability. I mean, look at the U.S. role in Somalia. It supported Siad Barre until he collapsed, and there hasn’t been a military state—

AMY GOODMAN: The long-reigning dictator there.

CHRISTIAN PARENTI: Yeah, who started a war in ’77 against Ethiopia. Look at Pakistan—not the same region, but one of the most water-stressed countries in the country, just suffered a major drought. The U.S. has poured $20 billion in military aid into that country. It becomes less and less stable every year, and I would argue, as a result of flooding it with cheap weapons, developing these asymmetrical assets, and, you know, neglecting land reform and social justice. And that’s a country that is prime for, you know, relative state failure, state failure in some parts.

AMY GOODMAN: Christian Parenti, we want to thank you for being with us, contributing editor at Nation magazine, author of a number of books, including his most recent, just out, Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence_. His violence”>first chapter is on our website at democracynow.org. And thanks so much to our guest in Nairobi, to Kiki Gbeho, head of the Somalia Office of U.N. Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Thanks so much for being with us.

Kashi, Burt’s Bees, Tom’s of Maine, Naked Juice: Your Favorite Good, Natural, Socially Conscious Brands? Owned By The Corporatocracy.

In Uncategorized on June 18, 2011 at 3:39 pm

Oldspeak: “Burt’s Bees; owned by Clorox. Tom’s of Maine; Owned by Colgate-Palmolive. Kashi Cereals; Owned by Kellogg’s. Naked Juice; owned by PepsiCo. The Body Shop; owned by L’oreal/Nestle. Most all “Naturally Produced Spring Water”  is actually corporate owned tap water. Deliberately deceptive ‘Marketing strategies have been fooling us to trust that the niche brands continue to be small, environmentally conscious businesses that combine ecologically sound practices with a political agenda to put products out on the market under a business model of “the Greater Good.” In fact, they are frequently cogs in the giant corporate wheel.‘ –  Andrea Whitfill Most all socially conscious, environmentally friendly brands are now nothing more than revenue streams for profit-hungry Megaconglomorates. The commons, social, environmental, political, media, have been commodified and corporatized. Is there no way to escape giving our hard-earned dollars to the decidedly anti-social, anti-environmentally friendly entities that are destroying and exploiting our planet and peoples alike? But I guess the fundamental Catch 22 question as discussed in the article is this: “If you want to change what people consume on a grand scale, you have to penetrate mass markets. ‘And you can’t do that if you’re a small, specialist brand stuck in the organic or whole-food niche, even if that means you are on supermarket shelves. It is a familiar dilemma: stay pure and have a big impact on a small scale, or compromise and have a small impact on a grand scale.’ –Roger Cowe

By Andrea Whitfill @ Alter Net:

My first introduction to natural, organic and eco-friendly products stems back to the early ’90s, when I stumbled upon Burt’s Bees lip balm at an independently owned health food store in the heart of Westport, Kansas City, Mo.

Before the eyesore invasion of ’98, when Starbucks frothed its way into the neighborhood, leading to its ultimate demise, Westport was the kind of  ‘hood I still yearn for. It was saturated with historically preserved, hip and funky, mom-and-pop-type establishments, delivering their goods people to people.

I was surprised more recently when I saw Burt’s Bees products everywhere — in grocery stores, drug stores, corner bodegas and big-box stores like Target and Wal-Mart. I thought to myself, fantastic; the marketplace is working, and good for Burt. He has made his mark, and the demand for his products is on the rise.

Needless to say, I was shocked when I recently found out that Burt’s Bees is now owned by Clorox, a massive corporate company that has historically cared very little about the environment, but whose main industry is directly associated with harmful chemicals, some of which require warning labels for legal sale.

Clorox; yes, that’s right — the bleach company with an estimated revenue of $ 4.8 billion that employs nearly 7,600 workers (now bees) and sells products like Liquid-Plumr, Pine-Sol and Armor All, a far cry from the origins of Burt.

I now understood. The reason Burt’s Bees products were everywhere was precisely because they now had a powerful corporation in the driver’s seat, with big marketing budgets and existing distribution systems.

The story of Burt is a charming one gone bad. Burt Shavitz, a beekeeper in Dexter, Maine, lived an extremely humble life selling honey in pickle jars from the back of his pickup truck and resided in the wilderness inside a turkey coop without running water or electricity.

In the summer of 1984, Shavitz was driving down the road and spotted a hitchhiker who needed a lift to the post office. He pulled over and picked up Roxanne Quimby, a 34-year-old woman who eventually became Shavitz’s lover and business partner. Quimby started helping him tend to the beehives, and that eventually led to the all natural-inspired health care products made with Shavitz’s honey and the birth of Burt’s Bees products.

Burt’s story and very powerful narrative gave Burt’s Bees products their legitimacy in my book. Creative entrepreneurs and knowledgeable consumers together working their magic; not the results of a corporate behemoth out to dominate the marketplace.

However, Quimby and Shavitz’s relationship became ‘sticky’ in the late ’90s for reasons unclear, yet probably having little to do with honey. Their romantic break up carried over to the split of their business partnership as well. In 1999, Quimby bought out Shavitz’s shares of the company for a small six-figure sum. Quimby then continued, becoming phenomenally successfully and growing sales to $43.5 million by 2002.

In 2003, a private equity firm, AEA investors, purchased 80 percent of Burt’s Bees from Quimby, with her retaining a 20 percent share and a seat on the board. In 2006, John Replogle, the former general manager of Unilever’s skin-care division became CEO and president of Burt’s Bees. The company was sold to Clorox in late October 2007 for $925 million.

Quimby was paid more than $300 million for her stake in Burt’s Bees. At the time of that deal, Shavitz reportedly demanded more money, and Quimby agreed to pay him $4 million. Quimby now refurbishes fancy, swank homes in Florida, travels the world and buys massive chunks of land in her free time. Our bearded man Shavitz, on the other hand, now 73 and unchanged, continues to reside amidst nature in his now-expanded turkey coop, which still remains absent of electricity or running water.

The Burt’s Bees story is disconcerting. I vaguely remembered long ago that one of my favorite ice cream products, Ben & Jerry’s, sold out. Unilever (which also owns Breyers), the giant conglomerate with an estimated market cap of $50 billion and close to 174,000 employees, bought Ben & Jerry’s in 2000 for $326 million.

I began to wonder about the other products I liked, trusted and respected for their independence and their social responsibility. How many were really owned by big corporations, who were going out of their way to hide the link between the big corporate company with the small, socially responsible brand? It didn’t take long for my list of disappointments to grow and grow.

Upon first meeting someone, I can usually tell a quite a lot about them by the contents of their bathroom. The brand I see most often behind medicine cabinets of people I consider to be environmentally conscious is Tom’s of Maine. What Tom’s says to me about the person is that they are willing to spend a little bit of extra cash in order to take proactive steps to help green the Earth.

Well, no more. My bathroom assessments will never be the same. Tom’s of Maine is owned by Colgate-Palmolive, a massive, tank-like company with an estimated 36,000 employees and revenue of approximately $11.4 billion. Its big products include: Ajax, Anbesol and Speedstick.

I am only left to wonder, is Trader Joe’s, popularly known to showcase Tom’s of Maine in its hygiene department, just as much in the dark about all of this as I have been? Or is Joe’s simply another conduit for big corporate products?

As my curiosity grew, I took a little field trip to the grocery store with one of my friends to be a “brand anthropologist.” “Let’s get to the bottom of this,” I said, aiming to check out all of the brands that I and countless other good consumers were buying in our efforts to support grassroots business and not corporate behemoths. Little did I know how deep the hole was going to be, and in some cases, how hard to find out who owns what.

Thinking Dairy

In the dairy section sit many flavors of Stoneyfield Farm Yogurt. I knew its socially conscious CEO, Gary Hirshberg, had created major organic brand recognition to become the No. 1 seller of organic yogurt in the United States, but since then Danone, the French conglomerate (which also owns Brown Cow), acquired a majority holding in Stoneyfield. This is the same Danone that had to recall large quantities of its yogurt in 2007 after it was found to contain unsafe levels of dioxins. (In an interesting twist, the still-active Hirshberg sits on the board of Dannon U.S.A. Unlike most of the early entrepreneurs, who took the dough and left the scene, Hirshberg is still involved. )

Meanwhile, I learned that Horizon Organic milk was bought out by the largest dairy company in the U.S., Dean Foods Co., in 2005.

Thirsty? Juices and Water

Next I ventured to the juice section. Drinking Odwalla juices was an expensive habit I had justified for years because of its healthy California brand. The ubiquitous refrigerators in thousands of stores should have given it away that Odwalla wasn’t the small company it once was. It is now owned by Coca-Cola. Almost as soon as Coca-Cola bought the company, back in 2001 for $181 million, it stopped selling the fresh-squeezed OJ that had made Odwalla famous and popular among the healthy set. With its massive distribution system, fresh squeezed wouldn’t last the days and weeks the juices are in transit or on the shelf.

Not to be outdone (although it took it a while), Pepsi bought Naked Juice in 2006 for $450 million, in order to compete with Odwalla. Smuckers, the brand we are told is the “brand we can trust”, grabbed several juice mainstays from the health food store shelves: After the fall — R.W. Knudsen and Santa Cruz Organic.

Turns out that Coca-Cola also owns Glaceau, the company once known for its “fresh new approach to bottled water that is inspired by nature and enhanced by science.” Glaceau is the maker of Vitamin Water, Fruit Water, Smart Water and Vitamin Energy — all bottled waters that are adorably marketed and loaded with sugar. It’s no wonder Coca-Cola was slapped with a lawsuit in 2006 for making deceptive and unsubstantiated health claims in its Vitamin Water marketing strategies; they are selling glorified sugar water.

As for bottled water, egads! That’s a whole article in and of itself. The scourge of bottled water, of course, is an environmental disaster on many levels, as corporations have moved in to take control of water local supplies, while some of the same companies and their mega advertising budgets have created a giant market for bottled water, with enormous waste from plastic bottles and giant carbon foot prints as water is shipped over many thousands of miles from Fiji for example, or Italy, when pretty much no bottled water is needed. Frequently, tap water is of higher quality and more closely tested than bottled water.

And as Michael Blanding notes on AlterNet, “In fact, many times bottled water is tap water. Contrary to the image of water flowing from pristine mountain springs, more than a quarter of bottled water actually comes from municipal water supplies. The industry is dominated by three companies, who together control more than half the market: Coca-Cola, which produces Dasani; Pepsi, which produces Aquafina; and Nestle, which produces several “local” brands, including Poland Spring, Arrowhead, Deer Park, Ozarka and Calistoga. Both Coke and Pepsi exclusively use tap water for their sources, while Nestle uses tap water in some brands.

The Breakfast Nook

Over in the breakfast aisle, my friend was a bit apoplectic when we learned that the “super healthy” Kashi cereals, the favorites of millions of healthy breakfast eaters, was bought in July 2000 for an “undisclosed sum” by Kellogg’s, the 12th-largest company in North American food sales, according to Food Processing. I picked up a box of Kashi’s “Go Lean Crunch” and searched every word; not one mention of the fact that Kellogg’s owns them. That change was rally below the radar. In 2004, Kraft Foods, known for processed cheeses and Kool-Aid, bought the natural cereal maker Back to Nature. Kraft is a subsidiary of Altria, which also owns Philip Morris USA, one of the world’s largest producers of cigarettes.

According to the New York Times, “Many of the alternative cereal brands are owned by larger companies, including Kellogg and General Mills.”

“Cereals, like milk, are one of the primary entrance points for use of organics,” said Lara Christenson of Spins, a market research group for the natural products industry, “which is pretty closely tied to children — health concerns, keeping pesticides, especially antibiotics, out of the diets of children. These large firms wanted to get a foothold in the natural and organic marketplace. Because of the mind-set of consumers, branding of these products has to be very different than traditional cereals.”

These corporate connections are often kept quiet. “There is frequently a backlash when a big cereal package-goods company buys a natural or organic company,” Christenson said. “I don’t want to say it’s manipulative, but consumers are led to believe these brands are pure, natural or organic brands. It’s very purposely done.”

A little more digging shows that General Mills owns Cascadian Farm; Barbara’s Bakery is owned by Weetabix, the leading British cereal company, which is owned by a private investment firm in England; Mother’s makes it clear that it is owned by Quaker Oats (which is owned by PepsiCo); Health Valley and Arrowhead Mills are owned by Hain Celestial Group, a natural food company traded on the NASDAQ, with H.J. Heinz owning 16 percent of that company.

The Sweet Tooth

After the Kashi news, I wondered what was next? I didn’t have to go any further than the organic chocolate aisle of my favorite deli to find Green and Black’s organic chocolate was taken over in 2005 by Schweppes, the 10th-largest company in North American packaged-food sales. And even more surprising to chocolate lovers is that Dagoba Chocolate, which had a little cult chocolate following for a while, is surprise, surprise, owned by Hershey Foods.

There seems to be an apt analogy between the huge growth in the “naturalization” of packaged goods in grocery stores and supermarket aisles and the massive transformation of organic fresh foods. Organic farming began as a grassroots movement to produce food that was healthier and better for the land. But it is now a huge, $20 billion industry, increasingly dominated by large agribusiness companies. Furthermore, when the government certifies food as “organic,” it has nothing to do with the original values of locally grown produce, workers being treated fairly, etc.

So it may cheer some to know that on the East Coast, McDonald’s has served fair-trade-certified Newman’s Own organic coffee in stores, while others may cringe at the words of Lee Scott, former CEO of WalMart, when he said, “We are particularly excited about organic food, the fastest-growing category in all of food.”

“What’s important to keep in mind is that these big corporations are getting into organics not because they have doubts about their prior business practices or doubts about chemical, industrial agriculture,” said Ronnie Cummins, national director of the Organic Consumers Association. “They’re getting in because they want to make a lot of money — they want to make it fast.” He said the companies couldn’t care less about “family farmers making the transition to organic farms.”

What does this all mean? One conclusion it is easy to come to is that big food companies and the stores and supermarkets that deliver their goods have stretched and abused descriptions of food until they are sometimes almost meaningless, and consumers believe that they are getting more benefits than they actually are. Consumers “walk down the aisle in the grocery stores’ health and beauty area, and they’re confronted with ‘natural’ at every turn,” says Daniel Fabricant, vice president for scientific and regulatory affairs at the Natural Products Association. “We just don’t want to see the term misused any longer.”

On the other hand, Roger Cowe, a financial commentator states: “If you want to change what people consume on a grand scale, you have to penetrate mass markets. And you can’t do that if you’re a small, specialist brand stuck in the organic or whole-food niche, even if that means you are on supermarket shelves. It is a familiar dilemma: stay pure and have a big impact on a small scale, or compromise and have a small impact on a grand scale.”

Some think that socially responsible business sellers don’t lose it all when selling out. Both Craig Sams from Green and Black chocolate and the late Anita Roddick from the Body Shop ( sold to L’Oreal/Nestle — one of the most vilified of multinational companies) have said that they believe that an acquired ethical company can influence its new parent to improve its corporate behavior.

Others are not so positive about this turn of events. Judy Wickes from the Social Venture Network describes corporate takeovers of socially responsible businesses as “a threat to democracy when wealth and power are concentrated into a few hands.” And David Korten, in his book,When Corporations Rule the World, explained how sustainable business “should be human scale — not necessarily tiny firms, but preferably not more than 500 people — always with a bias to smaller is better.”

It is clear that so-called organic brands are a rapidly growing portion of the consumer dollar, and that every major food corporation has invested deeply in buying these already-established brands.

Marketing strategies have been fooling us to trust that the niche brands continue to be small, environmentally conscious businesses that combine ecologically sound practices with a political agenda to put products out on the market under a business model of “the Greater Good.”

In fact, they are frequently cogs in the giant corporate wheel. I like to refer to this “other” business model as “We’ve Been Had.” It is time for we, the consumer, to question how much the ownership and neglectful marketing of these “pseudo” responsible brands warrant crossing them off our shopping list.

And it is time to find products more in tune with our values, which include thinking small. At least until they, too, get bought out by some large conglomerate.


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.