Tag Archives: pesticides

feedtheworld.info

“The more we pour the big machines, the fuel, the pesticides, the herbicides, the fertilizer and chemicals into farming, the more we knock out the mechanism that made it all work in the first place.”
– David Brower, environmentalist

A few weeks ago, the World Health Organization named glyphosate a ‘probable carcinogen”. In fact, it was originally classified as such in the 1980s (but mysteriously that was overturned). The makers of glyphosate claim that it is safe for humans since it doesn’t kill human cells. But it does kill our symbiotic gut bacteria and we humanoids have 10 bacteria cells for each human cell. Various studies have shown glyphosate to be in our bodies, in our breast milk, in our placentas and even the blood of our unborn babies. This begs the question:

“Do I have glyphosate in my body too?”

If so, how can I find out?

Henry Rowlands and Ed Brown have just launched an amazing initiative –http://feedtheworld.info/ – to bring the glyphosate conversation into the homes of America.  This is the first of its kind, an attempt for the people of America to send in urine, breast milk and home tap water samples to see how exposed they are to glyphosate.

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For more information on how to get tested and to see a hard-hitting short film, please check out http://feedtheworld.info/

Most of us here in North America only have a vague idea about how ‘conventional’ food is grown. Some people do realize that perhaps their food is sprayed with pesticides, herbicides and fungicides. But don’t really think about it. Who wants to focus on the negative? Most people think that the government wouldn’t allow anything ‘really bad’ to be in and on our food. In some countries, people are given the power to choose. For example, in France, there’s a law that food sprayed with toxins needs to be labelled “produit traite”.  I’ve seen it with my own eyes.

In North America we are facing the opposite situation.  Unless you either grow your own food, or know your local farmer – or unless your food is “certified organic”, there is no guarantee that you aren’t being subjected to a vast variety of known toxins. In 2014, the government allowed 2,4-D (the active ingredient in the notorious herbicide agent orange) to be sprayed on crops in North America. Since the 1990s, glyphosate (commonly known as Round Up) has been sprayed to the tune of millions of pounds a year. Glyphosate was first used as an industrial cleaner since it binds to heavy metals. Then it was used as weed killer, killing plants and bacteria via the shikimate pathway. It is sprayed on lawns, on playgrounds and even in national parks. Most recently in 2010, glyphosate was patented as an antibiotic.

Resistance to glyphosate has been spliced into most of the GMOs grown in North America. And up until recently, most people have considered it safe. This ‘safe’ designation has permitted ‘conventional’ farmers to put even more of this toxin on our crops, where it ends up contaminating the soil, air and water. It kills habitat for wildlife such as milkweed necessary for the monarch butterflies. It kills bacteria in the soil. It disrupts earthworms. Glyphosate is the most commonly used herbicide in the world. Resistance to glyphosate is genetically spliced into corn, soy, canola, cotton and sugar. That means ‘conventional’ farmers can indiscriminately spray glyphosate on fields to destroy weeds. For more information on glypohsate and to order your test kit, please check out http://feedtheworld.info/

I look forward to testing myself – will keep you posted.

Information can lead to Knowledge.

Knowledge is power.

Power will lead the change.

Let’s empower ourselves and make the world a safer, healthier, more beautiful place!

 

 

GMOs summarized

Before we can change behaviours, we need to change thoughts.  In order to change thoughts and subsequently actions, we need to separate hard, uncomfortable truths from rosy lies.

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Dear readers of the Deeper Side Blog.

As I was finishing my first book “Wood Storms, Wild Canvas” in the summer of 2014, I started to write a very different book called “This Earth Is Ours”. (Yes – 2014 was a busy year!)  This title of “This Earth Is Ours” is based on a song by my song-writing, organic farming grandfather Rupert who said, “He who knowingly steps on an earthworm, is not a man”. Here he is in the 30s (or 40s?) at the Stephens’ Mountain Valley Farm in Glenora, Vancouver Island:

Mtn Valley Farm & Dad

When I think of all the pesticides and herbicides that go into growing GMOs, I cannot help but think of all the insects including myriad pollinators that are being decimated.  I would think that the word ‘ecocide’ applies. Sad little earthworm below – I think he wants to be in red rich earth, not on gravel:Worm unedited

I was compelled to summarize the real tangible problems with GMOs in the forth-coming book. Several experts read it and provided feedback. I skirted the elephant issue of whether it is ethical to make new species. I will just sum up that conundrum with Vandana Shiva’s quote, “You cannot insert a gene you took from a bacteria and call it life. You haven’t created life, instead you have polluted it.”  Below is a favourite 3 arm-holed “GMO” t-shirt which says, “GMO SHIRTS ARE EASY TO SPOT. GMO FOODS AREN’T”:

Diya GMO 3 hole shirt

If you still are confused about GMOs, or know people who think that GMOs currently grown are doing good for people or planet…. Or if you don’t know why everyone is seeking out non-GMO foods…. Or, if you believe in the promise of GMOs, but are still unaware of the sobering realities, I hope this extract from “This Earth Is Ours” will scatter some seeds that will sprout a new understanding.

To put you in the mood of nature and food, here is a photo I took at the restored prairie at the Morton Arboretum near Chicago:

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Extract from “This Earth Is Ours”, forthcoming March 4, 2015

Appendix

GMOs

I would like to thank Dr. John Fagan, Dr. Thierry Vrain, Ken Roseboro, Lucy Sharatt and Dag Falck for their valued input into this section.

When I was getting my honors bachelor’s degree in biology and my masters degree in biopsychology at the University of Chicago from 1991 to 1996, the field of biology was buzzing about genetic engineering. Biologists were promising to eliminate pesticide use and create superfoods with this new technology. They would solve world hunger through their cleverness and technology.

I thought it fascinating that under the guise of improving food, scientists were basically unleashing brand new species onto the planet. Many people, including my father, were dead opposed. Initially, I was trying to figure out why. Biologists and shills for the biotech industry made it all sound so rosy. Over the years, I’ve tried hard to understand the pros and cons of this technology. I’ve discovered that, despite the hype and initial promise, there are very few pros. Below, I discuss the major cons — six big problems with the use of genetically modified organisms in our food supply.

Organic farming is a way of incorporating the entire ecology, the ecosystem of a “farm,” promoting pollinators, enriching the soil and looking at the whole system. The premise behind GMOs is to grow unicrops, taking one factor, the gene, and altering the genome, without considering the whole. Biologists were attempting to fix something when nothing was broken to begin with. There is no shortage of food, but rather of distribution.

The first major problem is that GMOs cannot be grown side by side with organic crops. They are not only the furthest thing from natural (think fish DNA in a tomato) but, because they are living and capable of reproducing, they cannot be contained. Pollen from engineered crops is carried everywhere by the wind and by pollinators, including into organic fields, which are then contaminated with genetically engineered genes. My father Arran said in 1996 “there are no walls high enough to keep out GMOs.” You cannot have a field of organic crops right next to a field of GMO crops because the wind and pollinators will spread the GMO pollen to the non-GMO organic plants. Most people have heard about the huge number of lawsuits launched by the big biotech companies against farmers. According to one account, over the last 15 years an average of one lawsuit a week has been launched against a farmer for patent infringement. How can we patent nature?

Farmers affected by GMO crop contamination did not want the GMOs, did not grow them on purpose and didn’t even know of the contamination until they were sued. If someone sprayed toxic paint that disrupted my farm, the sprayer would have to desist and provide restitution. However, in this twisted world of big biotech business, it is the persecuted who lose out.

Secondly, GMOs use a lot of pesticides, which are incompatible with the organic system of agriculture. Most people are shocked to learn that GMOs have not decreased pesticide use despite biotech claims that they do so. In fact, 1.5 million tons of pesticides and herbicides were sprayed on US crops in the mid-1990s. The amount is increasing exponentially. A study by Charles Benbrook, PhD, research professor at the Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources at Washington State University, found that pesticide use has increased by 404million pounds since GM crops were first planted in 1996.

The sad fact is that over 90 percent of North American GMO crops are designed to be resistant to the herbicide glyphosate (which is also patented as an antibiotic and kills the bacteria that are so important to soil fertility). In private correspondence with me, Dr. Thierry Vrain explained that glyphosate was originally patented as an industrial pipe cleaner. This chemical was discovered to kill bacteria, plants and fungi, and in 1974 it was purchased and patented into the widely used, best-selling herbicide which will not be named. At this time, explains Dr. Vrain, “it was assumed to be completely safe to humans because of its mode of action to kill plants.” But, as Dr. Vrain said in a recent lecture, “imagine a chemical contaminant that would destroy all vitamins in the food. Vitamins are all co-factors of enzyme proteins. Glyphosate does not affect vitamins at all, but it does deplete the food of minerals. Minerals in our food are also cofactors of enzyme proteins.” Glyphosate is now also patented as an antibiotic, which apparently doesn’t attack our “human cells,” but certainly attacks our gut bacteria via the shikimate pathway. We walk about with over 10 times more symbiotic bacterial cells than human cells. The first glyphosate-resistant crops were released in 1996 and, because these crops are sprayed, the resulting foods we consume contain “much higher residues,” says Dr. Vrain. Most GMOs are genetically modified to resist glyphosate or to express a pesticide, such as Bt corn. Genetic engineers from the world’s largest chemical companies have developed strategies in the laboratory to “stack” several traits in one seed so that a single crop will be herbicide resistant in addition to expressing a pesticide. This is extreme agriculture, as far removed from organic or traditional breeding methods as one could conceive.

In recent years, with overuse of pesticides and herbicides (across 395 million acres of GMO production), superweeds and superpests have proliferated to such an alarming extent that, in 2014, the US and Canada permitted resistance to 2,4-D to be genetically engineered into seeds. 2,4-D is a highly toxic component of the infamous herbicide Agent Orange, used as a biowarfare agent during the Vietnam War. According to US Department of Agriculture estimates, the use of 2,4-D could triple by 2020. GMOs have exacerbated the problems of pesticide use, not diminished them.

The third major problem with GMOs is that safety testing is inadequate to protect the health of those who might eat them. The GMO crops grown today were all approved for commercial production without any independent or long-term animal, human or environmental toxicity studies. In Canada and the US, GMO versions of crops are considered to be “substantially equivalent to conventional crops.” If this is true, then why is herbicide-resistant GMO Bt corn registered with the Environmental Protection Agency as a pesticide? And, if they are considered equivalent, why are they patented? By its very definition, a patent is awarded when something is “substantially” different. Every short-term study used to “prove” their safety to regulators has been done by the very same companies selling the GMO seeds and chemicals. Every scientific study that questions or sheds doubt upon the safety of GMOs is immediately subjected to discrediting by scientists who have direct or indirect financial ties to the biotech industry. There is no scientific consensus on the safety of GMOs.

Related to this third issue is North America’s failure to question biotech’s data and ban GMOs, while other countries have called the same data into question and rejected GMOs. As John Fagan, PhD, writes, “shockingly, no country has done its own research to date. All buy in to the biotech companies’ own data.” In North America, legislators have not questioned the data nor done independent studies on GMOs. As a consequence, we are being force-fed GMOs, without knowledge or consent, based upon studies done by the very companies that are profiting from patenting this technology, selling the seeds and countless tons of pesticides and herbicides. Consistently, over 90 percent of North Americans polled want GMOs labeled. However, lawmakers are not listening. Sixty-four countries around the world either have mandatory labeling of GMOs or ban them altogether.

When I was in my twenties and living in Europe, I was invited to the UK houses of parliament in the 1990s for backroom debates on GMOs. I wasn’t at all impressed with the biotech research they presented. At the time, I had a particularly keen eye for data, having conducted laboratory research myself. Fortunately for the Europeans, they were not impressed with pro-GMO research either. They limited GMO crop trials and instituted mandatory labelling of GMOs. To date in Europe, Spain is the only country where GMO seeds are used to any significant extent, and at least six EU countries forbid any cultivation of GMOs. Other countries have taken a strong stand against GMOs, even when in the midst of a national emergency. Following the Haitian earthquake, a large biotech company provided “aid” in the form of seeds, and instead of planting them, the Haitian people wisely burned those seeds, saying they were “poison.”

Recently, influential countries have taken a critical position regarding GMOs. Russia has banned them, and high-level military officers in the Chinese army have pointed to imported GMO grains as a threat to national security, saying they weaken the local agricultural production capacity. In 2014, China rejected corn exports from the US worth more than $1 billion due to the presence of a GM corn variety that has not been approved in China. With the rest of the world already alerted to the failing GMO crop experiment, only now are North Americans becoming aware of this issue and taking action to implement labeling laws. Today, Canada and the United States are the only two developed nations that do not give their citizens transparency regarding what they are eating, but with the newly enlivened attention to the GMO issue, this blind spot will soon be eliminated.

The fourth major problem is that people are under the misguided impression that GMOs increase yields and consequently are “feeding the world.” In fact, of the major commercially grown GMO crops (corn, soy, canola, sugar, cotton), there have been no intentional genetic modifications for increased yields. In other words, no yield-increasing traits have been inserted through genetic engineering.

A fifth major problem is that of the ethical question of patenting “life,” coupled with the problem of whether gene-splicing technology is inherently safe. I’m going to avoid this discussion for this book. It is such a vast and technical discussion and can be easily researched for those who are interested. What is more concerning on a practical level is that most of the millions of acres of GMOs grown are made by only a small handful of extremely large chemical and seed corporations. These huge multinationals own the GMO seeds, the patents, the technology and the herbicides and pesticides that have to be grown concurrently with the GMOs. These corporations are able to buy and sway public opinion, directly or indirectly fund much of the science driving GMO research and actively lobby the government. In addition, the amount of subsidies given to “conventional” food production is staggering in size compared to organics, where farmers have to pay to be certified. It boils down to a few companies patenting life and nature . . . and it’s all for profit. GMOs were allowed because of the promises of “feeding the world,” reducing pesticide/herbicide use, increasing yield and making “superfoods,” none of which have come to pass.

This brings us to the last major problem with GMOs: they didn’t do what they set out to do. GMOs haven’t alleviated world hunger, they haven’t decreased toxic herbicide and pesticide use, they haven’t improved crop yield and they haven’t produced super-nutritious foods. Owning patents on life is not the same as providing food for the hungry. The problem of hunger is not a question of quantity but of distribution. As United Nations studies consistently report, small scale, sustainable farming is capable of solving the ‘food shortage’ and promoting biodiversity at the same time. In the long run, GMOs are out-performed by organics, especially for smaller farms and during drought conditions.

Let us collectively take the knowledge we have gained over the millennia of crop-breeding. Let’s wisely incorporate modern technologies, like marker-assisted selection, that protect the integrity of nature. By keeping seed biodiversity and trusting in Nature, we can heal the Earth, feed the hungry and breed wonderful new varieties of foods, at the pace of the seasons.

I’ll sign off with xo’s and another photo I took at the restored prairie at the Morton Arboretum:DSC_0346

 

Dag Falck, the Expert, Replies

As the saying goes, let other people advise but never let them decide for you.

Yesterday, while gathering signatures for the GE FREE BC Petition, I met a working scientist with 3 biology degrees including a PhD, who only bought organic local food and was carrying his precious sleeping baby in a baby bjorn.  Guess what?  He was reluctant to sign the petition.  He knows the data about fertilizers creating a dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, the data about glyphosate toxins in fetal blood, the poisoning of water by atrazine, the death of bees by GMOs since the seeds are coated in neonictinoid pesticides.  He knows that and accepts that but was still unwilling to sign.  The GMOs we accept and grow right now in N. America – not the theory of them, not the hope of them, not the promise of them – are terribly catastrophically wrong for our planet, bees, health and society.    This scientist holding his baby said that he was holding out for the possibility that GE technology was in theory helpful (for Africans, Asians, for a remote possibility that they would solve future problems).  Again, we said that GMOS that are grown right now were not solving anything especially given that over the long-run organic yields are higher that GMOs!  He hummed and hawed.

But Victory!  After a 10 minute debate – we convinced him to sign.  It was the hardest-earned signature from yesterday!

I wanted to formally address Amy’s reply from yesterday.  Not only Amy brought this up but several others too – Amy is a political scientist.  She asked important questions that were also asked by thinkers and scholars, University Professors who are using their powerful logic and splendid gifts of deduction to understand GMOs (as they are currently grown in N.America for N. Americans).  I asked Dag Falk, Organic programs manager at Nature’s Path if he would respond to questions several of you asked me following the film screening about Organic.  He has spent his entire life advocating for organic methods. He answers Amy’s questions point by point.

Dag Falck, Organic Programs Manager, Nature's Path Foods

Dag Falck, Organic Programs Manager, Nature’s Path Foods

do you know for sure that certified organic does not include GMO? What about GMOs in grain that found its way into the food chain — feed that is given to cows/pigs/chickens?

What we know for sure is that Organic does not contain any GMO that was knowingly allowed to enter the product either through growing or handling.  Unfortunately we live in a polluted world where these pollutants in the last 17 years have started to include GMOs.  Imagine whale fat containing DDT which was banned in most developed countries decades ago?  So there is no safe place, there is no way to build a wall tall enough, As Arran Stephens said many years ago, “there is no wall tall enough to keep out GMO”.  We are all very sad that this is the case, and after we grieve for this most terrible and unforgivable fact, we need to shake our heads and take a hard look around and ask ourselves, what is the best protection I can give myself and my family from GMOs?  And the answer is that certified organic food, and food with credible standards and oversight like the Non GMO Project, are the best ways to do that.  Is it perfect? — no, but it’s the best there is, and let me tell you exactly how much better it is than conventional non organic food, or food where no effort has gone into protecting it.  Organic food production has strict rules about not using prohibited materials like pesticides, herbicides GMOs etc. ect.  Buffers are required towards any neighboring crop that uses any of these.  Harvesting equipment, silos, trucks etc used to handle crops must be either used exclusively for organic, or it must be cleaned and documented according to a very high standard.

Can contamination still happen?  Yes it can, and there is pesticides in millions of public wells in America, groundwater is polluted many places, rainwater contains industrial particles that fall out in rain.  It just simply cannot be avoided 100%, even if we really really want to.  But what organic does do is two things: A) it does not add any more to the pollution, because its forbidden to use any of the materials that pollute like pesticides, herbicides, GMO’s etc.  B) the contamination of organic products is miniscule compared to conventional crops.  Consider potatoes, sprayed routinely 12 times between planting and harvest, consider GMO corn or soy that is “stacked” and contain both BT toxin (a pesticide) in each cell of the plant including the corn and soy we eat, and Round Up Ready®, which means that every cell of the plant including what we eat is impervious to the pesticide Round Up ® or Glyphosate.  And it’s not just a little bit, it’s 100% present in entire fields- as a matter of fact it’s in 100% of over 80% of all cotton, corn, soy, canola and sugarbeet that is grown in North America.

If you’re not paying attention, it’s a foregone conclusion that each and every meal you eat contains large portions of 100% GMO ingredients.  The EU, and the Non GMO Project agrees on a threshold of 0.9% GMO contamination.  Anything above that is not allowed.  Organic foods don’t have the threshold, but attain a similar level through all the practices mentioned above.  It’s actually pretty good that we can limit our exposure by 99.1% just by choosing organic.

But I agree, it’s a crime and a terribly sad world to live in where there is no way to escape even this.  That’s why (besides eating organic) that I’m doing everything I can to set this straight,.

On a practical point, organic standards prohibit feeding animals anything that is GMO, so the only thing that could get into an animal feed would be unwanted contamination at the low levels mentioned.

 How can organic farmers be sure the food scraps they feed their chickens and the like are GMO free? 

Organic standards do not allow food scraps or anything else to be fed to certified organic animals unless it can be demonstrated and documented that the feed is not GMO.  So for instance a bakery could not have their waste used by an organic farmer as feed if the bakery used non certified organic corn soy or Canola oil at all.

How about GMO contaminated soil (from household composing) in which otherwise perfectly organic tomatoes would be grown in peoples backyards?

Organic standards do not allow composting of GMO substrates, and neither should any backyard gardener who is concerned about organic and non GMO.

It’s difficult to fight back, and to do everything to protect ourselves from GMO and pesticide pollution, but it is possible to make a huge difference, and one of the easiest ways is to support organic agriculture, the only system with a strict standard, an annual third party inspection, and a serious fine for fraud (people are in jail right now for breaking the organic rules).  Also this is a repeatable system than anyone can learn, and it leaves the soil more fertile after use than before.

Sometimes it’s tempting to complain about that which we love the most, because we are so disappointed that it’s not perfect.  Think of how much we often expect of our spouses, or children.  They already are the most beautiful creatures to us, but when they slip up (in our eyes) even a little bit, we can’t help but notice, and heaven forbid we sometimes open our mouth and say something….  (don’t try this at home…)

It’s precisely because we love them, and we want them to be perfect to help us feel like we are protected by them also, that we hold them to such a high standard.  A stranger walking down the street, we don’t have very high standards for at all.

Let’s curb our tongues with our loved ones when we get disappointed or scared when we feel that they fall an ¼ inch below our standard, and lets curb our tongues when we want to cry that even organic isn’t able to protect us 100.0%.  We all know what the right thing to do is; support your loved ones, share your love for them, with them, and they will become more of what you love.  Support organic, it will do more to save  the world than any other single thing you could possibly do.  And love an organic farmer!

Organically,

Dag Falck