Ordinary Operations

A reasonable question arises from people who are either on the fence about their position on genetically modified foods or are outright in favor of them.  The question revolves around the problem of how we will be able to feed an estimated 9 billion people by 2050.  Big Ag has capitalized on this question and claim they have the answer.  The chemical industry, obviously in the quest for more profit, also invokes the argument that only through chemically dependent genetically engineered food can we solve this conundrum.  As it stands, just under a billion people, world wide, are hungry, and this despite the fact that we produce enough food to feed everyone.  I would propose, as have many others, that production of GMOs fosters hunger rather than alleviating it, particularly in developing countries, and as noted by The World Hunger Education Service, “the principal underlying cause of poverty and hunger is the ordinary operation of the economic and political systems in the world.  Essentially control over resources and income…based on military, political and economic power that typically ends up in the hands of the minority, who live well, while those at the bottom barely survive, if they do.”

Monsanto’s website states that “the world’s population is growing [and] to keep up with production farmers will have to produce more food in the next 50 years than in the last 10,000 years combined.”  Syngenta’s website claims that “we develop new, higher yielding seeds and better ways to protect crops from insects, weeds and disease.”  The global seed and pesticide companies also insist that organic farms constitute an inefficient, fringe method of farming.  Among other studies, however, one started by the Rodel Institute in 1981, called the Fair System Trial, has produced findings that discredit this belief.  “The first FST research found that crop yields from organic and synthetic/chemical farms are similar in years of average precipitation.  It also found that organic farm yields are higher than those of chemical farms during droughts and floods, due to stronger root systems in organic plants, and better moisture retention in the soil, which prevents run-off and erosion.  The most surprising finding of all has been that organically farmed soil stores a lot of carbon – so much, in fact, that if all the cultivated land in the world were farmed organically it would immediately reduce our climate crisis significantly.”

A 2008 report released by the International Assessment of Agriculture Science and Technology for Development, a multinational effort fronted by the World Bank, concluded that modern agriculture would have to shift rapidly away from industrialized systems and toward sustainable, small-scale, diversified farming systems in order to meet the challenges of population growth, hunger, environmental degradation and climate change.  Diversified farming precludes monoculture crops and CAFOs.  Essentially, crops are planted and livestock raised concomitantly, which results in ways that replenish rather than deplete natural ecosystems.  Diversified farming involves growing different crops together, planting cover crops, and planting trees and shrubs with crops and livestock.  The result of these practices are pest and disease control, water purification and erosion control.

As far as encouraging diversified farming in developing countries, Olivier De Schutter, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, has pointed to evidence that diversified  farming methods outperform chemical fertilizers in producing greater yields for subsistence farmers.  “We won’t solve hunger and stop climate change with industrial farming on large plantations, Dr. De Schutter says.  “The solution lies in supporting small-scale farmers’ knowledge and experimentation, and in raising incomes of smallholders so as to contribute to rural development.”  Moreover, much of the available farm land world wide is increasingly devoted to feed and fuel crops.  As reported by Jonathan Foley in his article, “The New Food Revolution” for National Geographic, 45% of global crop calories are used for feed and fuel.  North America, most of Latin America and Europe devote well over 50% of their farmland to feed and fuel crops.  And much of genetic engineering research in food is devoted to meeting the commercial needs of food processors rather than the needs of poor consumers.  Add to that, as has been pointed out repeatedly, technologies foisted upon third world farmers are not affordable.  Legislation supported by Monsanto and others forces farmers to purchase seeds, denies them the right to save and exchange seeds, and also requires the purchase of chemical herbicides and fertilizers.  By threatening the livelihoods of poor farmers, GMOs can only increase food insecurity.

That political will is essentially what’s behind the inequitable distribution of food is an ancient problem, and the key force contributing to hunger.  According to Business Week, “the issue isn’t so much that we can’t grow enough.  Rather, existing food supplies are so poorly distributed that those hundreds of millions have too little for their own health, while 2 billion have too much.”  The USDA recently reported that the U.S. throws out 31% (133 billion pounds) of consumable food, much of that meat, poultry and fish.  Rather than rely on GMOs to feed the world, which they can’t, a better concentration of our energy should focus on reduction of waste, more efficient distribution and governmental subsidies for sustainable agriculture.  And instead of simply abetting the demand for more meat in economically emerging countries such as India and China, better nutritional education in schools should also be government supported.  Increasing support and encouragement of industrial farming, which inevitably involves the use of greater amounts of toxic chemicals and an unsustainable use of water, will only exacerbate food insecurity world wide.

As a footnote, 15% of Oregon households in 2014 are food insecure, and as a nation, 17.5 million families, or one in seven, were food insecure last year.  The march to continue increasing industrial farming is evident as Big Ag strives to quash GMO labeling campaigns.  In Oregon, so far, Monsanto has spent $1.5 million against measure 92, Pepsi $1.4 million, and Kraft Foods $870,000.  If these companies were truly interested in working to feed the hungry, perhaps they would have considered  more productive ways to invest their money.

Recipe of the Week

I had a craving for garbonzo beans, and developed this simple stew.  It’s important to buy locally grown lamb.

Garbonzos, Lamb and Rosemary

1 lb lamb leg steak

1 onion, chopped

6 large cloves garlic, minced

2 tbls fresh rosemary, minced

1 28 oz. can organic whole tomatoes, pureed

5 cups homemade chicken stock

2 cans organic garbonzo beans, rinsed

1 cup red wine

2 tbls olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a large soup pot.  Add the onion and cook until translucent.  Add the lamb and cook until slightly brown.  Add the rosemary and garlic and stir in for about 1 minute.  Add all the wine, lower the heat to medium high, and simmer until the wine has almost evaporated.  Season with salt and pepper.  Add the garbonzo beans, tomatoes and stock and simmer on medium until the meat is tender, about 1.5 hours.

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A Clear and Present Danger

With the advent of another attempt to pass a GMO labeling law in Oregon, it’s evermore frustrating to hear and read all the misinformation and outright lies touted by the industry in order to protect their bottom line.  But it’s what is emerging now in otherwise respected print publications and pronouncements from admired individuals that prompts me to once again discuss the clear and present dangers of GMO crops.  These particular publications and people, in scholarly fashion, are committing the sin of omission.

Michael Specter, a staff writer for the New Yorker, recently wrote two articles for the magazine, “The Problem with G.M.O. Labels” and “Seeds of Doubt.”  Another article, written by David H. Freedman, “The Truth About Genetically Modified Food,” appeared in Scientific American last year.  And perhaps most famously, America’s new darling astrophysicist, Neil deGrasse Tyson, debunks concerns about GMOs, the result, he claims, of an overall “fear factor” of any new technology.  All of these propositions tend to dismiss concerns about GMOs on the basis of what Marion Nestle, author of “Safe Food:  The Politics of Food Safety,” calls “The science-based position:  [that] if GMOs are safe (which they demonstrably are), there can be no rational reason to oppose them.”

In “The Problem with G.M.O. Labels,” Specter claims that “the world needs crops that demand less from the environment and provide more nutrition, using less water, on the same amount of land.”  He also puts forth the same argument used by deGrasse Tyson, which is that it’s foolish to be afraid of genetically modified food, as “all the food we eat has been modified in some way – either by nature or by humans.”  Freedman, in his article, promotes the same notion about the safety of GMOs by quoting David Zilberman, a U.C. Berkeley agricultural and environmental economist (who is considered to be credible by agricultural chemical companies).  Zilberman insists that the use of GM crops “has increased farmer safety by allowing them to use less pesticide.”  The opposing argument about GMOs, according to Nestle, is “the societal value-based position:  [that] even if GMOs are safe (and this is debatable), there are still plenty of other reasons to oppose them.”  I think the two positions can merge:  that if GMOs are safe there are still plenty of reasons to oppose them.

As was recently pointed out by David Bronner for EcoWatch, in his article “GMO Crops Accelerate Herbicide and Insecticide Use While Mainstream Media Gets it Wrong,” “rather than reduce pesticide inputs, GMOs are causing them to skyrocket in amount and toxicity.”  Bronner cites a paper by Ramon J. Seidler, Ph.D., “Pesticide Use on Genetically Engineered Crops,” written in September 2014.  Seidler specifically counters the prevailing belief that GMOs “require significantly less pesticides to control weed and insect pests.”  He cites “Seeds of Doubt,” among other articles, and presents evidence that “these accounts are inaccurate and rely on annual pesticide application rates and volumes reported prior to 2010, when widespread resistance began to emerge in ‘superweeds’ and ‘superinsects’.”  He points out that “many of us are unaware that in addition to the ever-increasing spraying of glyphosate and the presence of genetically engineered insecticidal Bt toxin in every cell of every GE crop plant, massive amounts of other pesticides (herbicides, insecticides, fungicides) are applied to genetically engineered food crops.  The continuing massive overuse of pesticides…[has] resulted in the selection of pesticide-resistant weeds and insects, leading to ever more pesticide applications.”  Seidler goes on to say that “the USDA has shown that since 1996, glyphosate use has increased some 12-fold during the GE crop era, with overall herbicide usage increasing by more than 500 million pounds.”

This overuse of chemicals on GMO crops is being compared to the overuse of antibiotics in factory farms.  Dr. Seidler states that “pesticide overuse in agriculture is analogous to the overuse of antibiotics in intensive commercial livestock production systems, which has given rise to new germs that can withstand multiple antibiotics, requiring even more antibiotics at higher concentrations.  These ‘supergerms’ are like the ‘superweeds’ and now ‘superinsects’ that resist standard treatment options.  Scientists warn that without non-chemical management procedures, weed and insect resistances will grow and require still higher concentrations of more toxic chemicals in our food production system.”  Indeed, the EPA is on the cusp of approving Dow Chemical’s new “Enlist Duo” herbicide, a mixture of glyphosate and 2,4-D.  2,4-D has been linked to, among other health problems, cancer, Parkinson’s, endocrine disruption, and reproductive problems.  Approval would allow as much as 176 million more pounds (as calculated by the USDA) to be used on our lands.

Why such information is omitted in discussions of GMO crops in mainstream media is pertinent.  David Williams, a cellular biologist at U.C. Los Angeles, says that only a very small minority of biologists are raising questions about the safety of GM crops.  He says “this is only because the field of plant molecular biology is protecting its interests.  Funding, much of it from the companies that sell GM seeds, heavily favors researchers who are exploring ways to further the use of genetic modification in agriculture.”  He reminds us of the fact that “biologists who point out health or other concerns associated with GMO crops – who merely report or defend experimental findings that imply there may be risks – find themselves the focus of vicious attacks on their credibility, which leads scientists who see problems with GM foods to keep quiet.”

Every time I or someone else writes about the dangers of GMOs, people always counter with the statement that there’s no proof that GMOs cause harm.  As the industry keeps tight control over what information is shared with scientists, and threatens anyone who dares suggest possible dangers, it’s quite obvious why such evidence is lacking.  The evidence pertaining to the dangers of the overuse of toxins, however, is clear and mounting.  There are still plenty of reasons to oppose GMOs, especially the degradation of farm land and health risks associated with pesticides.


Recipe of the Week

As I have been unable to find good quality, organic flour tortillas, I decided to make my own.  They were surprisingly easy, excellent in quality and taste, and it took me under an hour, from start to finish, to make 16 tortillas.  And they freeze well.

Homemade Organic Flour Tortillas

3 cups organic white flour

1 tsp sea salt

1 tsp baking powder

1/3rd cup sunflower oil

1 cup warm water

Mix the dry ingredients well.   You can use a food processor, which I did, with the soft blade, or a mixer or by hand.  Add the liquids to the flour mixture and process for about a minute in the mixer or processor.  By hand, just knead until a soft dough forms.  Once you have a ball of dough, cut it into sixteen pieces, roll them in your hands and flatten just a little.  Put on a lightly floured surface and let rest for 15 minutes.  Heat a large cast iron pan on medium high heat.  Roll out one tortilla on a floured surface until it’s about 6 or 7 inches around.  Place the tortilla in the heated pan.  Almost immediately, you’ll see bubbles forming.  When this happens, flip the tortilla and heat a little more on the other side.  You should see some minor brown spots.  As soon as you put the one tortilla in the pan, roll out another and proceed until all are done.  They can be stacked and served immediately or at room temperature.

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Flying GMOs

Scientists generally are people who tend to explore the natural world in a quest to gain knowledge and expanded understanding.  Engineers simply apply gained knowledge to solve perceived and real problems, often with an eye towards optimizing cost and efficiency, but without thoroughly examining the consequences of their actions.  People distinguish between the two undertakings, but it seems we’ve entered a time where scientists are behaving more and more like engineers.

I mused on this new breed of scientists as I came across a warning about genetically modified moths.  I was actually shocked, a state of mind not diminished the more I read.  Deliberately or no, a group of U.S. scientists conducted the first confined field test of a genetically modified moth shortly after 9/11.  The nation was traumatized and certainly preoccupied, and so the test went largely unnoticed.  Cautious, still, about a possible threat from rabid environmentalists, the field cages were fenced off and placed under guard.  It was a confined test, but now the USDA wants to conduct an open-air, three  year field test hosted by Cornell University.

The initial experiment intended to test the breeding ability of genetically modified pink bollworms, an invasive species from Asia that reached the U.S. in the 1920’s.  This moth is a major pest in cotton fields.  “Pink bollworm is the most important cotton pest in the world,” entomologist Thomas J. Henneberry declares.  “It’s found in almost every cotton-producing country and has caused millions of dollars of damage and lost acreage in the last 35 years in the United States.”  According to the National Cotton Council (NCC) Pink Bollworm Action Committee, total costs to cotton producers are more than $21 million annually in prevention, controls and lost yields.  Infestation has traditionally been controlled by insecticide use, after-harvest plowing, and heavy irrigation intended to drown any remaining larvae.

But in 2002, the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), the USDA’s chief scientific research agency, released four eradication approaches that were to be tested in coming years.  The first wanted to shorten the growing season, making it harder for the larvae to survive to the next season.  Then they wanted to switch exclusively to Bt cotton, a transgenic pest resistant cotton.  (Bollworms, as one would expect, developed a resistance to the Bt cotton, acknowledged by Monsanto in 2009.)  The third technique was to somehow disrupt mating, and the last approach involved releasing sterile moths into cotton fields.  In this regard, scientists hoped to insert a lethal gene from a bacterium into the moth which would kill the larvae.  The hope was/is that the genetically modified moths would compete successfully with fertile moths and eventually decimate the population.  Cornell University, in conjunction with the USDA, is also working to genetically modify the diamondback moth, a food crop pest.

Releasing genetically modified insects into the open air has been done before.  Oxitec, a British biotech company, has already tested genetically modified insects in Malaysia, Brazil and the Cayman Islands.  Now it wants permission to release GM mosquitos in Florida to fight dengue fever, despite the fact that dengue has not been seen in Florida since 1934, and continued methods employed by the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District have been effective thus far in controlling the mosquito population.  These genetically modified insects, in theory, reproduce and pass on the lethal gene that kills their offspring.  Oxitec’s down data, however, reveals a three to four percent survival rate of mosquito offspring and no environmental impact studies have been conducted.

The USDA is solely authorized to approve field tests on these super bugs, leaving the EPA and the FDA out of the loop when it comes to the study of environmental and human health impacts.  The USDA has not considered or assessed the potential impact of animal and/or human consumption of these GM insects.  They also have not looked into the effects of long distance dispersal of the insects on organic farms, which are not allowed to use GM organisms.  And there is no possible plan in place to destroy released GM insects should they prove harmful.  The Center for Food Safety, along with American Lands, Pesticide Action Network of North America, Department of Planet Earth and the International Center for Technology Assessment, are all opposed.  An attorney for CFS, back in 2001, released a statement saying that, “It is shocking to see USDA treat this proposal so unprofessionally.  USDA is supposed to look at the impacts and alternatives objectively, but it is incapable of that for the pink bollworm project because the agency is also the GE insects developer.  The agency’s failure to do even the most basic environmental analysis demonstrates that the USDA review is completely biased.”

It is the inherent unsafety of these projects that is shocking.  The USDA has already demonstrated its inability to track and address unintended results of GM plants; how will they ably track GM productions that can fly?  It is worth listening to Dr. John Fagan, who is, albeit, a controversial anti-GM activist.  He has a Ph.D. in molecular biology and biochemistry and is the author of Genetic Engineering:  The Dangers.  He states that “of all the technologies now in use, genetic engineering is especially dangerous because of the threat of unexpected, harmful side effects that cannot be reversed or corrected, but will afflict all future generations.  The side effects caused by genetic manipulations are not just long-term.  The are permanent.”

Recipe of the Week

The darker and cooler evenings lead one to think of stews and soups for dinner.  This lentil stew takes a little time, but is easy.  You can omit the sausage, but if you do, season the stew with a little dijon and balsamic vinegar.

Lentil Sausage Stew

1.5 cups lentils

6 cups homemade chicken stock

1.5 cups whole organic canned tomatoes, pureed

6 cloves garlic, minced

one onion, chopped

1 lb locally sourced bulk mild Italian sausage

3 tbls. olive oil

Heat the olive oil in a large stew pot.  Add the sausage, breaking it up into pieces.  Add the onion and cook until the sausage is cooked and the onions translucent.  Add the garlic, tomatoes and stock.  Bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer until done.  I cooked this for about two hours to reduce the sauce and bring out the flavors.

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Food Fight

The two biggest producers of apples in the world are the U.S. and China.  The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations ranked apple production per country in 2011, which showed China producing close to 36 million tons of apples, and the U.S. producing a little over 4 million tons.  Currently, China exports the bulk of its apples to Russia, while America’s biggest customer is Mexico.  Given these market shares, it’s difficult to understand the latest brouhaha over the decision of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to ban the import of apples treated with diphenylamine, or DPA.  EFSA banned DPA in Europe in 2012, and this year they plan to implement restrictions on how many parts per million of DPA can appear on each apple, designated at 0.1.

The basic facts concerning the safety of DPA are as follows.  Obviously, apples are harvested once a year, and so need to be stored throughout the year.  Coating the apples with DPA prevents the skins from developing brown or black patches known as “storage scald.”  Eighty percent of American apples, as determined by the USDA, have DPA on them, with the average concentration of 0.43 parts per million.  The World Health Organization and the EPA have repeatedly concluded that DPA use “poses no unacceptable risk to people or the environment.”  The problem, according to the EFSA, is the possible presence on DPA treated apples of nitrosamines, which are potent carcinogens that cause cancer in laboratory animals.  The nitrosamines can be generated if the stored or processed apples come into contact with nitrogen, the chief component of air.

The EPA did a review of DPA in 1998 (rules dictate testing should be done every 15 years), and did find a small quantity of nitrosamines on apples.  The EFSA wanted more information on what happens when DPA breaks down, and the apple industry responded with a study that “detected three unknown chemicals on DPA treated apples that were greater than 50 parts per billion, but couldn’t determine if these chemicals were nitrosamines.”  Given that no more information was available, the EFSA reacted by stating that a conclusion that DPA is not harmful is “based on incomplete and inadequate safety data compiled by the produce industry.”

Industry data informs that U.S. consumers use about 42.5 lbs of apple products per person per year.  Given the ubiquity of apple consumption, Ken Cook of the Environmental Working Group (EWG), sent a letter to Steven Bradbury, head of EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs.  In this letter, Cook implored the agency to “demand that the pesticide’s manufacturers collect and disclose rigorous data that can determine whether nitrosamines or other potentially toxic chemicals form when raw fruits are coated with DPA and stored over long periods or are processed into juices or sauces.”  The letter concluded that, “The American public deserves the same level of protection as Europeans from pesticide risks.  We urge EPA to halt the use of DPA on U.S. fruit until a rigorous analysis by EPA of the chemical can prove it poses a reasonable certainty of no harm to consumers.”

Again, the EFSA, while acting in the capacity of food safety monitor for Europe, has alerted the rest of the world concerning a potential threat to our health.  Senior Scientist of EWG, Sonya Lunder, says, “Given how often people are eating apples, this is a practice that is not safe…Right now, there’s not data available to prove that DPA is safe.  The European approach of getting the product off the market until it’s proven that it’s safe seems like a reasonable approach to us.”

Considering, again, that American exports few of its apples to European countries, I’m not sure why there’s any push back at all on Europe’s continued ban of DPA.  Moreover, in 2007, Edna Pesis, a postharvest physiologist at the Israeli government’s Volcani Center, and several of her colleagues , came up with a cheap and easy way to store apples with little scald development.  Their method involved a low oxygen environment for one week before putting them in regular cold storage.  What’s the problem?

Eat Organic.


Recipe of the Week

Grilled Lamb Burgers

This is an easy recipe that takes very little time and the patties can be eaten throughout the week as sandwiches with pita, greens and a yogurt, cucumber garlic sauce.

2 lbs ground lamb

2 Tbls. ground cumin

2 Tbls. ground coriander

2 tsps. salt

Mix everything together and form into whatever size patty you want.  I made 9 out of the two pounds.  Grill for about 3 minutes on one side and 2 minutes after turning.

Garlic, Yogurt, Cucumber Sauce

2 cups yogurt (I use non-fat and it’s just fine)

1 small cucumber, diced

6 cloves garlic, or less or more as your taste dictates, minced.

Mix everything together.

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Better Safe Than Sorry

It was a source of great satisfaction to me to be able to wander into any food market in Italy, knowing the government, or the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), is, according to its motto, “committed to ensuring that Europe’s food is safe.”  Simply put, in Europe, any substance put in food must first be proven safe, while in the U.S., any substance can be  put in food until someone can prove it is not safe.

The EFSA was established in 2002 in Parma, Italy, making it a relatively young governing body, considering the plethora of threats to the global food supply that arisen in the last three decades.   The EFSA is “designed to serve as an objective, independent scientific reference point and to provide scientific advice and scientific  and technical support for the EU legislation and policies in all fields which have a direct or indirect impact on food and feed safety.”

For example, the EFSA recently called for new restrictions on two pesticides from the neoicotiniod  family of pesticides, acetamidprid and imidaclorprid, both of which are suspected of affecting the developing human nervous system.  The differences between the EFSA and the USDA are evident in this decision, in that established scientific evidence isn’t essential in the EU, only that a substance may cause damage to human health.  Unless it is absolutely ruled out that these pesticides can harm development of children, they will be restricted or banned.  The USDA, on the other hand, recently found, after testing, that residues of both these pesticides were found on conventional fruits and vegetables.  Ken Cook, President of Environmental Working Group, states that “American parents should be outraged.  For years, children in the U.S. have been eating foods contaminated with these two pesticides even though there was little or no research to prove they wouldn’t harm children’s health.”  He goes on to point out, and this is critical, that “many…chemicals that were once thought to be safe turn out later to present a potential risk to people, particularly kids.”

Another example highlighting the differences between the EFSA and the USDA is the use of antibiotics on animal farms.  In the U.S., 80% of all antibiotic use occurs on animal farms, which has raised significant concerns about antibiotic-resistant bacteria.  The Union of Concerned Scientists, among many others, point out the salient dangers to our health should we not be able, in future, to fight bacterial infections.  The EU has banned all antibiotics used in human medicine on farms, and no antibiotics can be used at all for growth promotion.  The U.S., however,  has stated that regulation of the industry in this regard should be voluntary.  And the list goes on.

Because money speaks so forcefully in the U.S., we are all guinea pigs at the service of Big Ag.  Our government does not protect us from corporate practices and experiments put into place only to enhance profit.  To eat conventional and processed food is irresponsible and dangerous.  Buy organic.

I made some very simple meals in Italy that simply cannot be reproduced here as the ingredients are not available.  However, this simple pasta can be considered a main meal or as an accompaniment to grilled meat.

Recipe of the Week

Pasta with anchovies

1 lb of the pasta of your choice

10 cloves garlic, minced

1 tin anchovies, minced

1 cup grated pecorino or parmesan


1 cup extra virgin olive oil

Cook the pasta in boiling, salted water until al dente.  Drain but do not rinse.  Heat the oil in a large cast iron frying pan  with the anchovies.  When the anchovies sizzle, add the garlic, cook for one minute, then add the pasta and parsley.  Save a little of the pasta water to add to the pasta mixture for moisture.  Turn off the heat and toss in the cheese.

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Resistance Is, Perhaps, Not Futile

The oil and gas industry spent $878,120 on city specific campaigns to oppose anti-fracking measures in Colorado this year, while proponents raised $26,000.  From 2009 through 2013, Chevron, BP and the Western States Petroleum Association spent more than $56 million lobbying the California legislature to resist anti-fracking legislation.  And lucrative royalty payments were offered to residents in Mora County, New Mexico if they allowed fracking on their property.  Although industry money persuaded the California Senate to prevent SB1132, a bill that would have imposed a moratorium on hydrofracking, a poll conducted this year found that “two-thirds (68%) of voters [in California] would support a fracking moratorium, support that cuts across all gender, age, ethnic, partisan, ideological and geographic subsets of the electorate.”  Despite the money, people are beginning to realize that fracking embodies a huge threat to our water supplies and public health.

Back in 2010, the Pittsburgh City Council unanimously adopted a first-in-the-nation ordinance against fracking within city limits, this in response to an energy company holding a lease that would have allowed them to drill under a city cemetery.  The ordinance, drafted by the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, also sought to limit the claim of personhood by corporations and to champion the rights of property owners above corporate interests.  In Mora County, New Mexico, 5,000 residents of a low-income ranching area supported a county wide ban on fracking, citing water safety concerns.  County Commissioner Chairman John Olivas, said the ban “is all about the water,” and estimated that 95% of the county’s residents supported it.

And then last November, three cities in Colorado, Fort Collins, Boulder and Lafayette, all approved measures that would either ban or institute a moratorium on fracking.  Gary Wockner of Clean Water Action, said that “Fort Collins’ vote [was] especially revealing [because it was] a decisive 10 point win in a swing county while being outspent 40 to 1.  The oil and gas industry poured in almost $900,000 to try and force citizens to be exposed to their cancer-causing fracking chemicals.  Their money back-fired.”  The Fort Collins initiative halts fracking and the disposal of related waste for five years.  Seventy-seven percent of voters in Boulder extended an expiring one year moratorium on oil and gas extraction.  In Lafayette, close to 60% of voters banned the practice outright.

Despite having lost some battles in Colorado, the Colorado Oil and Gas Association is fighting back.  A month after the elections, they filed a lawsuit against the city of Lafayette to overturn the newly passed Community Bill of Rights.  The residents, however, are continuing with their fight and have in turn filed a class action suit.  “This class action lawsuit is merely the first of many by people across the United States whose constitutional rights to govern their own communities are routinely violated by state governments working in concert with the corporations that they ostensibly regulate,” said Thomas Linzey, executive director of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund.  The Colorado Oil and Gas Association calls residents who assert their right to local self governance “extremists.”

There are, apparently, many such extremists among us.  Canadaigua, New York passed a permanent ban on fracking in June.  Kirkland, New York banned fracking last January.  Santa Cruz became the first county in California to ban fracking last May.  Los Angeles passed a moratorium last February.  Washington, D.C. passed a resolution banning fracking in the George Washington National Forest, which contains the headwaters of the Potomac River.  Dallas, Texas (!) banned fracking last year.  And the list goes on.  Food and Water Watch said that as of June, 2014, the list of actions passed against fracking in the U.S. has risen to 418.

If there’s any doubt about the evils of fracking, one needs only to consider the source.  The 2005 Energy Act, which exempted the oil and gas industry from adhering to practically every foundational health and environmental law on the books, was written by the industry in then Vice President Dick Cheney’s office.  Cheney, as you may remember, was the former head of Halliburton Industries, one of the major providers of fracking fluids.  The 2005 Energy Act contained a provision that has come to be called the “Halliburton Loophole,” which is an exemption for gas drilling and extraction from requirements in the underground injection control program of the Safe Drinking Water Act.  Other exemptions are contained in the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act.  Fracking, and its collusion with federal energy policy, is not about clean energy, but a continuing grab for profit by the oil and gas industry.

For those of you who read my blog weekly, I’ll be spending the next two weeks in Tuscany, where I’m sure to come up with some excellent recipes.

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Business as Usual

According to a 2012 study conducted by the Consultative Group on International Agriculture Research (CGIAR), the global food system is responsible for up to one-third of all human caused greenhouse gas emissions.  This study examined, for the first time, the carbon emissions resulting from all stages of the food system, including the release of nitrous oxide from soils due to farming techniques such as tilling.  The researchers also examined the contributions to climate change made by fertilizer manufacture and refrigeration.  The study was international in scope, showing for example, that in high-income countries like the United Kingdom, post-production (storage and transportation) contributes to the largest portion of the food system’s greenhouse gas emissions, whereas in China, fertilizer manufacture plays the largest role.  The study focuses on what crops we grow, why we grow them and how we grow them.

According to a report by the Union of Concerned Scientists, “only about 2 percent of U.S. cropland is used to grow fruits and vegetables, while 59% is devoted to commodity crops, such as corn and soy beans, which are used primarily to produce three things:  meat, processed foods such as high fructose corn syrup, and biofuels such as ethanol.”  The report also examines current farm policy, which provides subsidies for commodity crop farmers.  The farmers who receive these subsidies are then prohibited from growing fruits and vegetables.  Moreover, federal crop insurance programs focus on commodity crop farmers, which makes it more difficult for fruit and vegetable farmers to obtain insurance and credit.

The CGIAR study examines how climate change affects the yields of the dominant crops.  Another study conducted by researchers at Columbia University and North Carolina State University shows that the yields of three of America’s biggest cash crops, corn, soybeans and cotton, will decrease by as much as 80% of 2100.  Dr. Michael Roberts, one of the authors of the study, said “while crop yields depend on a variety of factors, extreme heat is the best predictor of yields.”  The report suggests that if nothing is done, the impact of climate change on global food security would be disastrous.

Farming techniques also play a role in the continuing unsustainability  of our food system, as well as animal husbandry.  Rattan Lal of Ohio State University, has pointed out “that nothing in nature repeatedly and regularly turns over soil to the specified depth of 15 to 20 centimeters.  Therefore, neither plants nor soil organisms have evolved or adapted to this drastic pertabation.  Modern mechanized farming makes the problem even worse:  the heavy machinery compacts the soil further, requiring deeper plowing to loosen the soil.  As greater volumes of soil are churned up and exposed to air, the soil carbon – which has been lying in place under the soil line for hundreds or thousands of  years – meets oxygen, combines with it to form CO2, and departs for the upper atmosphere.”  Lal also points out that by concentrating herds of animals in contained areas and allowing them to reduce grassland to bare ground, which prevents photosynthesis, also contributes to climate change.  “No other natural process steadily removes such vast amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as photosynthesis.”  Lal estimates that, overall, the world’s soils have lost up to 80 billion tons of carbon due to misguided farming practices.

Michael Pollan, the author of, among other books, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, suggests that no-till farming would go a long way in reducing the effects of climate change on our planet.  Instead of plowing, a tractor would insert seeds into the ground with a small drill, leaving the earth essentially undisturbed.  This practice has in fact been gaining ground in the U.S. since the 1970’s, which has contributed to a 40% drop in soil erosion. A 2008 report in Scientific American details the effects plowing has had on the health of soil.  The U.N. Environment Program (UNEP) argues that governments need to encourage the practice of no-till farming.  If the trend catches on, there would be effective climate benefits.  The UNEP estimates that no-till operations in the U.S. have helped avoid 241 million metric tons of carbon dioxide since the 1970’s, which is equivalent to the annual emissions of 50 million cars.

The dangers to our food system from climate change seem to be insurmountable, especially when you consider the control multinational food companies have over our economy and political will.  Oxfam, an advocacy group, estimates that the world’s “Big 10″ food companies emit more greenhouse gas emissions “than Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Norway combined.”  Because of an Oxfam petition, and another petition put forth by a Missouri farmer, which called on Kellogg’s and General Mills to contribute to policies that lessen the effects of climate change, those two companies have indeed publicly pledged to reduce their carbon pollution.  Both Kellogg’s and General Mills have set reduction targets for their entire supply networks by 2015.  Many things need to happen if we are to survive climate change.  If the big food companies actually move to reduce carbon emissions, perhaps our government will follow their lead.

Recipe of the Week

I was recently asked to make Muffuletta, something I haven’t done in a long time.  It really is delicious, just very high in fat, but a treat now and again doesn’t hurt.  The key is in the olive mixture, and high quality ingredients are a must.

1.5 cups of a mix of black and green olives, chopped

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 red bell pepper, roasted, skinned and chopped

2 large cloves of garlic, minced

juice from 1/2 a lemon

2 tsps. fresh oregano, chopped

a few sprinkles of red wine vinegar

Combine all of the above.

Buy a good quality loaf of French bread, about 9 inches long.  Cut in half length-wise and hollow out much of the bread on both sides.

Add the olive mix and

.25 lbs. of ham

.25 lbs. of salami

.25 lbs. of provolone, sliced

Wrap the loaf in plastic wrap and place on a plate.  Put in the refrigerator and weigh down with a heavy cast iron pan, or something of equivalent heft.  Leave for a minimum of 6 hours before slicing and eating.

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Dirty Little Secrets

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, an international group of countries established in 1961, exists in order to promote economic growth, mostly through encouragement of free trade.  It was this body, encouraged and abetted by Reagan’s presidency, that introduced, in 1993, the “substantial equivalency” concept, which states that if a new food (GMO) is found to be mostly equal to an already existing food it can be treated the same way as the existing product in respect to safety.  The U.S., Canada and Japan all base their GMO safety regulations on substantial equivalence.  In essence, the biotechnology companies wanted government regulators to help persuade consumers that their new genetically modified products were safe.

Monsanto had not, at this time, received clearance from the USDA for its GMO technology, but Ronald Reagan helped speed up the deregulation process.  Vice President Bush publicly toured a Monsanto biotechnology facility in 1987 as part of the process to keep GMOs unregulated.  And it was during G.H.W. Bush’s presidency that V.P Dan Quale first announced the substantial equivalence policy in a speech.  The policy itself was crafted by Michael Taylor, the infamous former Monsanto lawyer who was then hired by the Bush FDA to become the deputy commissioner of policy.

Having introduced GMOs to the market, the biotech industry wanted to streamline their acceptance.  It was argued at the time that one obvious solution would have been to treat GMOs in the same way as pharmaceuticals, pesticides and food additives, which would have required the industry to conduct toxicological tests.  These tests would then have provided evidence from which “acceptable daily intakes” could be set.  The industry reacted against this solution as it would delay marketplace access and cost, by some estimates, $25 million per product.  Reagan, Monsanto and Bush made sure that the biotech industry could sell their products immediately and with no testing or labeling.  Substantial equivalence thus became the standard, with the industry continually referring to it as though it provides scientific proof that GMOs are safe.

Substantial equivalence, however, is vague and nowhere precisely defined.  Erik Millstone, Eric Brunner and Sue Mayer, all of whom have studied the differences between GMOs and conventional crops, stated in a paper that “it is exactly this vagueness that makes the concept useful to industry but unacceptable to the consumer.  Moreover, the reliance by policymakers on the concept of substantial equivalence acts as a barrier to further research into the possible risks of eating GM foods.”  The Institute of Science in Society published a study which concluded that “the principle [of substantial equivalence] is intentionally vague and ill-defined to be as flexible, malleable, and open to interpretation as possible.”  The paper also states that “comparisons are designed to conceal significant changes resulting from genetic modifications.”

Another study, done in 2013 by Professor El-Sayed, found significant toxicity levels in Monsanto’s 810 Corn.  And Thomas Bohn conducted a study that evaluated pesticide and herbicide residues in genetically modified soybeans, from which he concluded that the overall chemical composition of the plants were altered.  The Permaculture Research Institute states “that [the] new studies, independent of the biotech industry, are showing glaring differences between GMOs and their non-GMO counterparts.”  They go on to say that “this makes a mockery of the regulatory principle of ‘Substantial Equivalence’ which has facilitated approvals of GMOs with practically no protection for public health and the environment.”  Indeed, a study published in the Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology demonstrated dangers to non-target organisms (in this case, aquatic organisms.)  The Bt toxins inserted into plants to make them insect resistant are leaching into nearby rivers and streams and affecting the health of essential insects.

The precept of substantial equivalence was designed specifically to facilitate the rapid commercialization of GMOs.  The effect has been to allow GMOs on the market with no testing or labeling, which continues to put our health at risk.  Tests are now being conducted outside the biotech industry, and immediate findings are, at the minimum, that substantial differences exist between GMOs and conventionally grown crops.  The concept of substantial equivalence has been debunked.  There are major differences between GMOs and conventional crops, including the amount of herbicides and pesticides used, and some of these differences are disrupting our environment and endangering our health.  The government is slow in recognizing these dangers and that the continuation of GMO promotion is also detrimental to our economy.  You can’t destroy the infrastructure and expect growth and prosperity.

Recipe of the Week

Greek Garbonzo Bean Salad

This is a great meal for a hot summer evening, and can be served alone or mixed with organic greens.

1 1/4 cups dried garbanzo beans, soaked overnight (or you can use two 15 oz. cans of organic beans, drained and rinsed.

1/2 large cucumber, peeled and chopped

1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives, chopped

1 large tomato, chopped

4 cloves garlic, minced

3 ounces or more to taste of goat cheese or feta

1 lemon, juiced

1/4 of a large, sweet onion, minced

salt and pepper

1/4 cup olive oil

a few sprinkles of red wine vinegar

Cook the beans until done, about two hours.  Drain and pick out as many of the peels as possible as this will affect the texture.

Mix with all ingredients and taste for salt, oil and vinegar.

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A Nail in the Coffin

Contrary to the prevailing belief at the onset of GMO production, that these crops would reduce herbicide use, and that claim is still being purported by the industry, it is now proven that these “herbicide-resistant weed management systems [have] brought about substantial increases in the number and volume of herbicides applied.” In addition to herbicides, GMO crops are also using more pesticides which have been increasingly linked to Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) affecting honeybees and other pollinators.  And considering the impact bees have on our agricultural system (a Cornell University study done in 2000 estimated “the value attributable to honey bees alone …is $14.6 billion), increased usage is a problem.

Also contrary to past responses of the federal government in ignoring the effects increased herbicide use has on not only pollinators but human beings, the announcement by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to ban GMOs and neonicotinoid insecticides is a profound step in the right direction.  This would be the first U.S. government agency to ban GMOs.  Their decision did not come without a fight.  The Center for Biological Diversity, Beyond Pesticides and the Sierra Club have all been involved in lawsuits, legal petitions, etc., for almost a decade to stop the FWS from using GMOs and neonicotinoid pesticides in national refuge farming programs.

The FWS has allowed farming on national wildlife refuges for decades, but recently many farmers have switched to genetically modified crops.  The environmental groups that sued the federal government have done so on a case by case basis.  The Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and the Center for Food Safety managed to stop the FWS from allowing GMO farming at refuges in twelve Northeastern states and at twenty five refuges in eight Southwestern states.  Now, of course, all refuges in all states will be protected, by 2016, against the dangers, real and potential, that GMO farming brings.  “GE crops and toxic pesticides violate the basic purposes of our protected national lands,” says Andrew Kimbrell, Executive Director of the Center for Food Safety.  “We applaud the Fish and Wildlife Service for recognizing what our legal challenges have repeatedly held:  that they must stop permitting these harmful agricultural practices.”

Continuing studies are documenting the risks posed to bees and the environment, such as the Worldwide Integrated Assessment.  “This report should be the final wake-up call for American regulators who have been slow to respond to the science,” said Emily Marquez, PhD., staff scientist at Pesticide Action Network North America.  “The weight of the evidence showing harm to bees and other pollinators should move the EPA to restrict neonicotinoids sooner than later.  And the same regulatory loopholes that allowed these pesticides to be brought to the market in the first place – and remain on the shelf – need to be closed.”

Another study, this one conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey, found what they said were “alarming contamination levels in regional waterways exceeding known chronic and, in some cases, acute toxicity levels for aquatic insects and other animal life critical to healthy ecosystems.”  Dr. Doug Gurian-Sherman, a senior scientist at the Center for Food Safety, said that “these findings reinforce what scientists around the world have been suspecting for several years now.  As the body of evidence against neonicotinoids continues to grow, our government has fewer and fewer excuses for their inaction.  If meaningful action is not taken, we may be headed toward a second Silent Spring.”

The fight to ban genetically modified crops from wildlife refuges, although significant, is not complete.  Many environmental groups are continuing litigation to close an FWS loophole that would still allow genetically modified crops for “habitat restoration,” and these groups seek also to put the ban in effect immediately rather than by 2016.  Nevertheless, this first, small step by the federal government to at least recognize the dangers of GMOs is encouraging.

Recipe of the Week

I love raw oysters, but the following recipe is the best way I’ve found to cook them.  This is excellent party food, particularly in the grilling season.

The Sauce

1 stick unsalted butter, very soft

1 pinch sea salt

1 tsp freshly ground pepper

1 Tbsp minced garlic

1 pinch cayenne

1 spritz lemon juice

Whisk together all ingredients.

Shuck 12 oysters, removing the top shell and keeping the oyster in the bottom shell with its juice.  Grate about a cup of fresh, good quality parmesan.

Heat a charcoal or gas grill.   Place the oysters on the grill and quickly spoon the sauce over each one, and sprinkle with the cheese.  Cover the grill and cook until the sauce starts to bubble and the edges get brown.  If you want them pretty, sprinkle with fresh parsley.

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Stan Dorn, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute, a public policy research center in Washington, D.C., has stated succinctly that “some companies are making huge profits off obesity.”  There are people who wish to fight obesity by incorporating tactics used against the tobacco industry.  What ultimately proved to be effective in reducing tobacco use was to hold cigarette manufacturers accountable for harmful products.

Kelly Brownell, author of Food Fight, a book published in 2004 which criticizes a “toxic food environment” in American culture, has also this year co-authored a paper titled “The Perils of Ignoring History:  Big Tobacco Played Dirty and Millions Died.  How similar is Big Food?”  The comparison he makes between the tobacco industry and Big Food shows the same tactics being used to fight off criticism.   According to Brownell, “the common strategies include dismissing as ‘junk science’ peer-reviewed studies showing a link between their products and disease; paying scientists to produce pro-industry studies; sowing doubt in the public’s mind about the harm caused by their products; intensive marketing to children and adolescents; frequently trotting out  supposedly ‘safer’ products; denying the addictive nature of their products; and lobbying with massive resources to thwart regulatory action.”

One side will argue that consuming unhealthy food is a choice, and that most people are fully aware that eating food loaded with fat, sugar and salt is unhealthy.  That position was also used by the tobacco industry, which denied the addictive nature of tobacco.  A Scripps Research Study done in 2010 showed that “the same molecular mechanisms that drive people into drug addiction are behind the compulsion to overheat, pushing people into obesity.”  This study and others have had little effect on Big Food.  The annual revenues of the fast food industry have continued to rise, while the number of ads aimed at children have also increased.  The result, as we all know, is that the obesity rate among children and adults continues to rise.  A full 35% of American adults are obese, while obesity rates for children have doubled in the last 30 years and quadrupled in adolescents.

The costs of obesity to our society are great.  Kaiser Health News estimates that obesity accounts for $147 billion to $190 billion  in yearly expenditures, while the health costs of tobacco continue to drop and are now estimated at $96 billion annually.  The report states that “after decades of lawsuits, damning reports about industry practices, and stop-smoking campaigns, smoking rates have plummeted, from a high of 42% of adults in 1965…to just over 19% today.  Meanwhile, obesity has been soaring since the 1980’s…Currently, 45 million American adults are smokers, while 78 million adults and almost 13 million youngsters are counted as obese.”

The first fight against tobacco involved emphasis on personal responsibility and voluntary self-regulation.  It didn’t work.  Only when anti-tobacco advocates switched their emphasis from changing individual behavior to holding cigarette manufacturers accountable for harmful products, did Americans heed the message that their health was being compromised for profit.

Interestingly, while most of the lawsuits aimed at Big Food have failed in America, a Russian consumer protection agency has filed a lawsuit against McDonald’s, as was reported by the New York Times on July 26.  The suit calls for a ban on certain products.  The claim accuses “the restaurant chain of violating government nutritional and safety codes in a number of its burger and ice cream products.”  The case will be heard on August 13.  While a lawsuit in Russian against an American company is probably a political game, at least it focuses on the detrimental affects of eating Big Food.

The fight against tobacco took decades, and despite the fact that it isn’t eliminated, it was largely an effective battle.  As more studies will emerge concerning the dangers of Big Food to our health, and as the public becomes more aware of just how much fat, salt and sugar there is in these “foods”, I believe we can reduce our dependence on unhealthy food.

Recipe of the Week

Many people will  continue to justify eating fast food because they don’t have time to cook.  Unfortunately, this is true for most families, but the way to provide home-cooked food is to plan menus and create them on the weekend.  The following is not so much a recipe as a demonstration of a “kit” that is partly purchased and partly cooked, and one that will provide a couple of different meal options throughout the week.

Lamb Kabobs

2 pounds of lamb leg steak, trimmed of fat and cut into 1″ pieces

1/3 cup olive oil

1/2 tsp salt

10 grindings of fresh pepper

Place the lamb pieces in a large container, coat with oil and salt and pepper

Marinate in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 hours.

Prepare a grill, put the lamb on spits and grill for three minutes per side.

Yogurt Sauce with Garlic, Cucumber and Mint

5 cloves of garlic, minced

1/2 cucumber, peeled and finely chopped

2 sprigs of fresh mint, chopped (optional)

1 1/2 cups non-fat plain yogurt

Mix all of the above.

I then purchased mixed greens, Greek olives, goat cheese, hummus and pita.  I now have ingredients for pita sandwiches with lamb, yogurt sauce, hummus and lettuce.  I also have ingredients for a Greek salad for another meal.  You can substitute feta for the goat cheese in the salad, and add any other vegetables you wish.


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