Poisoning the Well – Part Two

At least since the late 90’s scientists have been aware that the widely used herbicide, atrazine, has detrimental effects on wild life and humans.  Most notably, Dr. Tyrone Hayes spent years studying its effects on frogs.  He concluded that atrazine functions as an endocrine disruptor.  Rachel Aviv chronicled his research and the subsequent campaign by Syngenta to discredit him and his work in a 2014 New Yorker article.  I wrote a post concerning the article in 2014 and pointed out that Ms. Aviv avoided condemning atrazine use.

Now Dr. Hayes and others have been vindicated by a recent EPA report discussing “the ecological risks posed by…atrazine.”  The report concludes that there exists a “chronic risk to fish, amphibians and aquatic invertebrates,” as well as “chronic risk…for mammals, birds, reptiles and plants.”  Overall, the EPA study found that “mammals are exposed to 198 times more atrazine than the level of concern for chronic risk and fish are exposed to 62 times that level.”  Their conclusions were based on the hundreds of studies done over the years involving the effects of atrazine on plants and animals.

Monsanto recognized the toxicity of atrazine, but in a classic instance of “out of the frying pan and into the fire,” introduced glyphosate, claiming it would replace atrazine.  Atrazine use did decline slightly at first, but has since rebounded.  And glyphosate, whose use has increased by 3000% since 1992, has been declared a “probable human carcinogen” by the World Health Organization, but that’s another topic.

Even though the EPA classified atrazine as a Restricted Use Pesticide in 1992, it is used, annually, on 75% of all corn, 58.5% of all sorghum and 76% of sugar cane.  It’s also used to treat lawns and golf courses.  Atrazine, then, by virtue of ubiquitous use, has been widely detected in surface and drinking water.  The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) analyzed surface and drinking water in 2009 and found that 75% of stream water and 40% of all groundwater samples contained atrazine.

The EPA has long been aware of problems associated with atrazine use, but has up until now refused to issue a ban.  In 2003, the EPA even allowed Syngenta, the atrazine manufacturer, to be responsible for testing U.S. waterways for contamination.  This deal was developed by the EPA, the USDA, Syngenta and grower groups.  Environmental organizations were barred from the negotiations.

Ms. Aviv discussed the role the EPA played in her New Yorker article.  She pointed out that “since the mid-seventies, the EPA has issued regulations restricting the use of only five industrial chemicals out of more than eighty thousand in the environment.  Industries have a greater role in the American regulatory process.”  She also pointed out a more disturbing facet involved in the industrial regulatory process – that “cost-effect-benefit analyzes  are integral to decisions:  a monetary value is assigned to disease, impairments and shorted lives and weighs against the benefits of keeping a chemical in use.”

One would think then, that the EPA’s recent report outlining the dangers of atrazine would evolve into a ban on its use as was done in the EU in 2004.  Any potential decisions made by the EPA, however, are being delayed until some time in 2017.  Given the overwhelming evidence accumulated by scientists over the decades, this delay seems unconscionable.  Moreover, a report published this year by Texas A&M and Iowa State University focused on the relationship between atrazine and elevated birth defects.  Specifically, “elevated atrazine levels in surface water were significantly associated with cleft lip, polydactyly [excess fingers and toes] and Down syndrome.”  And in considering again any delay of a potential ban on atrazine, it must be noted as well that the EPA had, in 2011, published a report suggesting that atrazine use was closely associated with various cancers found in humans.  Specifically those of prostate, lung, breast, colorectal, pancreatic, melanoma and Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

Atrazine can be absorbed orally, dermally and by inhalation.  As I noted in my posting in 2014, the negative consequences of exposure to atrazine were chronicled extensively in 1996 by a consortium of universities.  They concluded that symptoms of atrazine poisoning included structural and chemical changes in the brain, heart, liver, lungs, kidney, ovaries and endocrine organs.

The NRDC points out, correctly, that “the toxicity associated with atrazine has been documented extensively.”  As Dr. Hayes concludes, “the science has been settled for a long time.  Now it’s politics and economics.”  While waiting for a ban that may never materialize, and considering that atrazine is only one of thousands of chemicals released regularly into the environment, I again suggest buying a water filter.

Recipe of the Day

I believe today is International No-Meat Day, although I doubt too many people know that.  But I’ll honor it by presenting a vegetarian dish that I make frequently, with variations.

Chard and Goat Cheese Pie

2 bunches chard, stems removed and chopped

1 onion, chopped

5 cloves garlic, minced

1 tsp. fresh oregano, minced

1 cup goat cheese

1/2 cup grated parmesan

olive oil

Cook the chard in a little water until soft, about two minutes.  Drain.  Heat oil in a large pan.  Add onion and cook until translucent.  Add garlic and cook for about 1 minute.  Add the chard and the oregano and stir in.  Turn off the heat and incorporate the cheeses into the mix.  Let cool.

For the crust, mix 1 stick cold butter with 1.5 cups of flour.  Using your fingers, mix the butter until the pieces are no bigger than peas.  Add ice cold water, one tablespoon at a time, mixing with a fork.  Continue to add water until the mixture can be formed into a ball.  It usually takes 6 to 8 tablespoons of water.  At this point, try to handle the dough as little as possible.  Form it into a ball then roll it out to fit your pie pan.  Put the chard mix into the pan pie and cover with the crust. Crimp the edges.  Poke the top with a fork.  Place in a 400 degree oven until done – about 40 minutes.

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Hood River County Defeats Nestle

Since 2008 Nestle has waged a battle in Cascade Locks, Oregon for control over the rights to the water of Oxbow Springs.  As I had reported first in 2013 and then in February of 2015 and September of the same year, the Department of Fish and Wildlife, three governors and most of the Cascade Locks City Council members have either full on supported selling off the water to Nestle or ignored their machinations altogether.  It was only because of the actions of various political and environmental groups (Food and Water Watch, Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility, the Sierra Club, et. al) that the battle went on as long as it did.

Also last year, four Indian tribes added their names to Keeping Nestle Out of the Gorge by claiming treaty rights over Oxbow Springs and issuing concerns about the health of future salmon populations.  And with the help of Food and Water Watch, local citizens crafted a citizen ballot measure that would ban commercial water operations in the county.  That measure appeared on the May 17th ballot and was overwhelmingly passed with approximately 70% of the vote.  Nestle had promised 50 jobs at $10 an hour (with no benefits) as well as other vague promises of financial salvation, which has been the traditional lure used by the company to capture the water resources of small towns nationwide.  Nestle spent $105,000 fighting the measure and issued a statement decrying the election results.  Although Nestle claims that “we respect the democratic process,” Food and Water Watch fully expects Nestle to sue over the issue.

But now a precedent has been set.  “This is absolutely the first time a county has passed this kind of ballot measure prohibiting commercial water bottles,”  said Julia DeGraw, Northwest organizer for Food and Water Watch.  She goes on to say that “it really defines what is possible for communities who are serious about protecting their water.”  The residents of Hood River County stopped Nestle from opening a $50 million bottling plant that would have captured 100 million gallons a year from Oxbow Springs at very little cost.  In fact, under the deal, residents would have paid more for their water than Nestle.  “This is really a resounding victory for everyone who cares about protecting not only our water supply, but water supplies around the world,” said Aurora del Val with Local Water Alliance, which filed the ballot measure petition.

However, while the measure passed overwhelmingly in all other of Hood River County’s precincts, it failed in Cascade Locks (precinct 12) with 58% of the votes going against Measure 14-55.  None of the news reports mentioned this salient piece of information.  Apparently, Nestle was able to convince the town’s city council and residents with bribes of trips to California, picnics and splashy campaign literature that a few low-end jobs with no benefits and 200 trucks a day rambling on their roads was a good thing.  But with unemployment at 19% it was perhaps an act of desperation.  Again, this is what Nestle counts on.  They target economically depressed areas “take water for cheap, bottle and sell it – for billions of dollars in profit – and then dump the environmental and other costs onto society.”  Nestle has no affinity for the communities it targets.  It has disregarded the drought in California, has no provisions for infrastructure repair and completely ignores the environmental perils of plastic contamination.

While the residents of Cascade Locks may bemoan the passage of Measure 14-55, other residents in the same county were able to dispassionately calculate the future damages resulting from a loss of control of their water supply.  And all so one can purchase a cheap bottle of water and then toss the plastic into a landfill.

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The DARK Act, Part Two

The DARK Act (the Deny Americans the Right to Know or, officially and duplicitously known as The Safe and Affordable Food Labeling Act of 2015) is back.  It’s an industry backed bill, of course, one which I wrote about in August 2015.  The basics of it are that no state would have the right to enact a bill that would force companies to label their products if they contain GMOs, and would also allow them to claim their product was “all natural” even if is made up of genetically altered ingredients. It has now crawled out of the mud that is the Senate Agriculture Committee and will soon be up for a vote in the Senate.  The Ag Committee members, in a 14-6 vote, appear to have fallen victim to either the vast amount of money spent by the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) to lobby against mandatory labels at the state and federal level or the lies told by the GMA and the Corn Refiners Association concerning the negative impact that such labeling would have on consumers.

The GMA argues that such a law would “increase food costs for families across the nation by an average of $1,050 a year.”  In fact, corporations have built into their budgets funds for just such front-of-package labeling because they make changes all the time for various reasons.  And in Brazil, where foods containing GMOs have been branded with a “transgenic” symbol since 2001, no rise in prices has occurred.  The other 63 countries around the world who label GMO foods have also not seen an increase in prices.  Indeed, a USDA study, which is blocked by a paywall, conducted in 2011 found that “labeling has negligible effects on consumer choice or on GM differentiation costs.”

The GMA nevertheless continues to dredge up the same arguments they used 30 years ago when fighting the now familiar Nutrition Facts Panel found on the backs of all processed foods.  They claimed then that changing labels would increase food prices.  A recent statement issued by Denise Morrison, Campbell’s chief executive, however, contradicted that claim by saying that the Nutrition Facts Panel did not increase the cost of food.  Campbell’s incidentally, has also become the first major food company to disclose the presence of genetically engineered ingredients in its products.  Denise Morrison has also issued statements calling for a federally mandated labeling system of GMO foods.

All of this, of course, is in response to consumer demand.  The majority of Americans want to know what’s in their food even if they continue to purchase foods containing GMOs.  The USDA 2011 study, aside from concluding that food prices would not increase because of GMO labeling provisions, also found that the mere presence of a GMO label did not necessarily increase consumer concern.  The study found that “most consumers make hasty decisions in the grocery store and look only for one or two attributes – like price or calories.”

Another argument that has been made by the Corn Refiners Association is that any reformulations of foods to replace GM ingredients would increase food costs.  When General Mills altered the ingredients in Cheerios in order to eliminate any genetically modified organisms, no increase in cost occurred.  The Corn Refiners also warned that banning trans fat from foods would be costly, when in fact, for better or worse, most companies made the shift to using palm oil at no added cost.

If Campbell’s believes that GMO labeling is a sound and cost-effective business decision, the question arises as to why the major lobbying groups for the industry vehemently continue to oppose mandatory labeling laws.  I suspect it has quite a lot to do with the fact that Big Ag has control over the federal government and simply doesn’t want any interference.  And with money from corporations increasingly determining the outcome of elections, it’s difficult to see consequences beneficial to the health and well being of American citizens.  In August of 2015, I concluded the DARK Act was not a danger.  The Senate would be unlikely to pass it and even if they did Obama would veto the bill.  Now, however, the political climate is so entirely unpredictable my concern has increased.  The almost inevitable possibility that Donald Trump will be the Republican candidate for the President of the United States throws a huge wrench into conventional thinking.  Ironically, Trump is the only Republican candidate who has not come out in favor of a federal mandate concerning GMO labeling.  Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton both support a states right to enact laws as they see fit.

Eventually, most if not all major food companies will bow to consumer demand and either label products that contain GMOs or eliminate them altogether.  Carl’s Jr. now has three burgers that are GMO free.  Campbell’s, as stated, has begun the process of labeling their products.  Kroger and Safeway are quietly pushing for mandatory labeling laws, and Whole Foods doesn’t allow any product in their stores without a GMO label.  General Mills altered their iconic Cheerios recipe to satisfy consumer demand, and the list of companies moving in that direction is growing.  Even should the industry prevail with passage of the DARK Act, consumer demand will ultimately force transparency and continue to shape corporate decisions.

I’ve been writing this blog for almost five years on a weekly basis, missing one or two here and there.  I’ve learned so much and have enjoyed writing.  I’m taking a break because of a new job and will try to resume in the near future.

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How to Change to a Healthier Diet For $1.50 a Day

Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, states simply that “eating is a political act.”  He, along with Marion Nestle, the author of Food Politics, believes that Wall Street controls the food industry.  In order to maximize profits, “edible foodlike substances,” or those products that rely almost exclusively on cheap raw ingredients that have been processed (corn and soy), must be made attractive to the consumer.  As Ms. Nestle states, “many of the nutritional problems of Americans – not least of them obesity – can be traced to the food industry’s imperative to encourage people to eat more in order to generate sales and increase income.”

In addition to creating cheap foodlike substances, Wall Street ensures their business model will be perpetuated by heavily lobbying Congress to keep those in power from enacting regulations or reversing decades-long subsidies to the industry.  A report issued in 2013 by U.S. PIRG (the federation of state Public Interest Research Groups) revealed that since 1995 the U.S. government has spent $292.5 billion on agricultural subsidies.  The bulk of these subsidies have gone to just 3.8% of farmers, or those farmers who are in the business of growing corn which is then used to produce cornstarch and sweeteners.

The government also caved in to industry demands when formulating the 2016 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.  As originally drafted the Guidelines discussed sustainable agriculture, advocating that Americans spend their food dollars on fruits, vegetables and meat from local farms.  This provision was struck down by industry proponents.  Originally, too, there existed statements urging consumers to cut back on the amount of meat they purchased.  The Guidelines still mention that there should be limited consumption of “proteins” and “saturated fat.”  A panel of nutrition experts convened by the government, however, had called for Americans to lower consumption and this in the face of the World Health Organization declaring that processed meats are carcinogenic and red meat a suspected carcinogen.

Providing critical nutritional information to Americans is just the beginning of a sea change that would encourage people to switch from a diet consisting mainly of cheap processed foods to one with healthier options.  This conscious switch, however, involves greater personal expenditures and a change of emphasis by the federal government from subsidizing corporate mega farms to protecting and aiding small farms as the subsidies were intended to do when enacted in the 1930s.  As it stands, not only do corporations receive the lion’s share of governmental aid, but the system works to have a negative impact on family farms.

Kevin Smith, a farmer from Sycamore Farms in New York, explains how our current system of agricultural subsidies works against smaller operations.  He states that “when the government subsidizes corn and grain in the Midwest, a farmer can afford to grow 10,000 acres of corn, no matter the demand.  All of the corn is pre-contracted and supplemented on the back-end.  It would make no sense for a small farmer to try to grow that much corn because you can’t sell that much at market.  There is only a fixed amount of materials…in the market.  As subsidized farms buy and buy materials (which they can because of the subsidies), resources get scarce and prices go up.  The scarcity drives up the cost of materials, but it doesn’t drive up market prices of produce.”  The solution here, albeit a seemingly impossible one given the current political environment, is for our government to stop subsidizing corporations altogether.

As for the increased amount of household expenditures that would result if consumers opted for healthier, non-corporate food, a report issued in 2013 suggests that the increase, at least for lower and middle class families, would be nominal.  The BMJ, a weekly peer-reviewed medical journal, published a study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health that concerned itself with the actual costs of switching to a healthier diet.  As they stated, “This systematic review and meta-analysis represents, to our knowledge, the most comprehensive examination of the evidence on prices of more versus less healthy foods and diet patterns.”

The study concluded that opting for fresher and more nutritious foods added up to about $1.50 more per day.  And while even that amount could present difficulties for many families, “this price difference is very small in comparison to the economic costs of diet-related chronic diseases, which would be dramatically reduced by healthy diets,” said Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, the study’s senior author.

The only way we as individuals can reject the Wall Street vision of more profit vs. public health is by voting and by turning our food purchases into a political act.  Refuse to buy processed foods and let  your representatives know that they must stop catering only to the needs of corporations.

Recipe of the Week

I thought up this recipe as an appetizer, but it can easily serve as a dinner with salad and bread.

Stuffed Mussels

30 mussels, scrubbed and de-bearded

1 cup Parmesan cheese

1 cup dried bread crumbs

6 tablespoons melted butter

2 tablespoons fresh thyme, minced

1/4 cup white wine

1/4 cup olive oil

Remove one shell from mussels and place in a baking pan.  Sprinkle olive oil and wine over the mussels.  Mix bread crumbs, butter, thyme and cheese.  Put a small amount of stuffing on top of each mussel.  Place under a broiler until stuffing is golden brown, about three or four minutes.  The juices from the mussels will release into the pan making a wonderful sauce for bread dipping.

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The Long Arm of the Biotech Industry

On May 20, 2014, Jackson County Oregon voters approved a ban on genetically engineered organisms.  A similar ban was approved in nearby Josephine County.  Both measures were counter to a previous state law, Senate Bill 863, which was enacted in 2013 and prohibited Oregon counties from regulating or banning GMOs.  Jackson and Josephine Counties were exempted from SB 863 as their petitions had already been approved to appear on the ballot.

A new measure, HB 4122, or the Transgenic Contamination Prevention Bill, sponsored by Representative Paul Holvey of Eugene and Representative Peter Buckley of Ashland, would repeal SB 863 and would allow local governments the power to ban the “production or use of seed or seed products for purpose of protecting seed or products that are not genetically engineered seed or products.”  House Speaker Tina Kotek sent the proposed measure to the House Consumer Protection Committee where its fate is to be decided.

The biotech industry would prefer not to have individual fights with counties, particularly after having conquered the state as a whole.  After all, in the Jackson County fight, Monsanto spent $183,294 to defeat the ban, DuPont $129,647, Syngenta $75,000, Dow AgroSciences $22,353, and many other contributions poured in from other agribusiness interests amounting to about $1 million.  Pro-ban activists were outspent by more than two to one.  All of the donations from the biotech industry were funneled through two lobbying groups in Oregon.

Oregonians for Food and Shelter (OFS) proclaim that they “proudly feature board members from Monsanto and Syngenta,” and the Oregon Farm Bureau (OFB) also receives funding from biotech companies.  Scott Dahlman, a previous executive director of OFS openly stated that the group defends “the right to…use pesticides and biotechnology.” A previous version of its website stated that it was initially founded in order to “do battle with activists seeking an initiative to ban aerial application of forest herbicides.”   Anne Marie Moss, Communications Director at the OFB, states that their mission, in part, is to fight regulation.  She said that there is “already a lot of regulation so, as a whole, we try to push back.”  Monsanto and Syngenta together donate close to 30% of the Oregon Farm Bureau’s annual budget.

Both groups, which function essentially as lobbying arms for the biotech industry, are actively involved in preventing the passage of HB 4122.  They wish to maintain the fundamentals of SB 863, or the “Monsanto Protection Act” as it was dubbed by critics, and which was clearly chemical company driven legislation.  SB 863 was enacted when the governor at the time, John Kitzhaber, wanted to ensure other aspects of his legislative program and so capitulated to the biotech industry.  Kitzhaber said at the time that the GMO preemption bill had “nothing to do with the purposes for which I originally called the session,” and that there was no “rational reason for it to be in the bill package.”  He said he supported it because “it was the reality of the negotiating process.”  He promised at the time to find a legislative solution, but then he became embroiled in a political scandal that drove him out of office.  HB 4122 grew out of a lack of solutions inherent in SB 863.

Basically, HB 4122 comes down on the side of farmers who need to be protected against contamination from nearly genetically engineered crops.  “We lose money when we have a GMO contamination event, which I’ve had happen twice,” said Don Tipping, an organic seed grower.  “We lost money directly, as have other growers.”  There cannot be any form of coexistence between conventional and organic farmers with GMO farmers as there is no way to control wind blown GMO pollen from contaminating other fields.  “This bill puts the decision-making back to the local government,” said Elise Higley, a Jackson County farmer.

HB 4122 is simply a remedy to keep money from outside corporations from convincing local politicians to abandon a democratic process.  Oregon needs to distance itself from legislative initiatives proposed by the likes of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) which has actively promoted its “Preemption of Local Agricultural Laws Act.”  That Act, as well as SB 863, contain this passage:  “A local government may not enact or enforce a measure, including but not limited to an ordinance, regulation, control area or quarantine, to inhibit or prevent the production or use of agricultural seed.”

OFS officially took credit for drafting SB 863 in 2013 and most certainly, on the behalf of the biotech industry, will fight hard against the passage of HB 4122.  No one guarantees that passage of this bill will automatically result in outright bans of GMOs.  What it will do is return control of our farmland to local governments and allow the farmers who live and work on the land to make decisions that affect them and the communities in which they live.

Recipe of the Week

Black-Eyed Peas

1/2 lb black-eyed peas, preferably soaked in water the night before

1 onion, chopped

6 large cloves garlic, minced

3 or 4 celery stalks, chopped

1 small carrot, chopped

1 tbls. dried oregano

4 pieces of bacon, chopped (optional)

Pour the peas and their liquid into a soup pot.  Add all other ingredients except the bacon. Cover with water (about 3 inches over the top and you may have to add more as it cooks down).  Cook for about 2 hours or until beans are done.  While beans are cooking, saute the bacon until crisp and then chop.  Add to the finished beans.  Taste for salt and pepper.  You can eat them plain or serve them over rice with hot sauce.

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Hillary Clinton and Monsanto

The Iowa caucuses revealed more than who the front runners might be in the upcoming presidential race.  In a meeting of Iowa’s Tri-County Democrats, there existed a rather large block of women who had expressed strong and vocal support for Hillary Clinton.  When these women discovered, however, that Mrs. Clinton is a visible supporter of genetically modified organisms and the biotech industry that’s pushing for their introduction across the globe they immediately switched their allegiance to  Bernie Sanders.  Iowa is the biggest producer of corn in the country and much of that is genetically modified.  Perhaps these Iowan women know first hand the effects the massive amounts of pesticides necessary to grow GMOs have on the health of their families and the land itself.

Brandon Turbeville, the author of “The Difference it Makes:  36 Reasons Hillary Clinton Should Never Be President,” outlines her ties to Big Ag.  It starts with her work at The Rose Law Firm in the 1980s when Monsanto was a client.  Her association with Monsanto may have led to an increasing co-mingling of former biotech employees with the federal government.  Many were hired and appointed to the FDA and the USDA during the Clinton administration in the 1990s.  He also points out that 10% of WikiLeaks cables released in 2010 revealed that “the U.S. State Department was essentially a marketing wing for biotech companies and ‘biotech’ products across the world.”

These particular cables were largely ignored until Food and Water Watch analysed  them and released a report in 2013.  Food and Water Watch say their study of the cables revealed “a concerted strategy to promote agricultural biotechnology overseas, compel countries to import biotech crops and foods they do not want, and lobby foreign governments – especially in the developing world – to adopt policies to pave the way to cultivate biotech crops.”  Hillary Clinton apparently has never wavered in her belief that GMOs are a solution to just about everything as she continued to push for their expansion while serving as Secretary of State from 2009 to 2013.  As Secretary, Hillary promoted the USAID-funded “Feed the Future,” a program that promotes the use of Round-up Ready products.

Not only has Mrs. Clinton served as an adjunct lobbyist for the biotech industry.  In 2014 she spoke to a Monsanto lobbying group, Biotechnology International Organization (BIO), for which she received a $325,000 speaking fee.  For her speech, in which she coached the lobbyists on how to develop “a better vocabulary” to change negative perceptions of GMOs, she was labeled the “Bride of Frankenfood” by Iowan progressives.  Hillary dodges the question of whether she supports what 90% of Americans want, which is that products containing GMOs be labeled, but given her stance on GMOs it’s unlikely.

Moreover, Mrs. Clinton hired a Monsanto lobbyist, Jerry Crawford, to run her campaign.  Crawford has worked with both Democrats and Republicans, but aligns himself only with those who support Monsanto’s goals.  As Jerry Crawford served Monsanto he used his skills and connections to fight against small farmers who claimed that the main ingredient in Round-up, glyphosate, caused their cancers.  The World Health Organization, as you are aware, recently proclaimed glyphosate to be a “probable human carcinogen.”

Even though GM corn still dominates the market, and this in part because of subsidies provided by our government, farmers are beginning to question the efficacy of GM corn as well as the profits derived from such crops.  GM seeds are expensive and must be purchased every year.  Farmers are also becoming tired of dealing with “superweeds” and the money they must expend to defeat them.  Add to that the concerns of consumers and their increasing demand for “sustainable” agriculture.   And as the price of corn has been falling, farmers are realizing they can demand a higher price for non-GMO corn.

The changes are incremental, to be sure, but consumer driven, which proves the point that Americans want food that is grown in a less harmful manner.  And they want GMO labeling.  If Hillary is elected it will be even more difficult for environmentalists to check the excesses of Big Ag.  Some even believe that if she is elected it would lead to the Monsanto agenda being pushed as national policy and that there would be a nationwide federal ban on GMO labeling.  And as Monsanto right now is suing California’s ban on glyphosate, there could also be a corporate-government ban on all efforts to ban glyphosate and other harmful pesticides.

And, no, President Obama never acted on his promise in 2007 in Iowa to make sure GMO products would be labeled.  His cooperation with Big Ag has been disheartening, but he’s nowhere near as devoted to the promotion of GMOs as is Hillary Clinton.  As always, Clinton would be preferred over the likes of Trump, Cruz or Rubio, but the differences between most of the candidates is becoming blurred.

Listen to the women of Iowa and vote for Bernie.

Recipe of the Week

Not much this week as I’m on a forced diet of liquids.  But I made a good smoothie.

Breakfast Smoothie

1 banana

1 cup roasted hazelnuts

1 cup fresh blueberries

milk and/or yogurt

Put the nuts in a food processor and process until smooth.  Add the banana and berries and pulse until smooth.  Add enough milk and yogurt to make the smoothie drinkable.  It fills you up and tastes fine.

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Combating an Obesogenic Environment

The World Health Organization (WHO) released a report last week that found that 41 million children around the world “under the age of five were either overweight or obese.”  The report also found that obesity is no longer restricted to the wealthiest countries.  Half of those overweight or obese children live in Africa and one quarter in Asia.  Peter Gluckman, one author of the WHO report, called childhood obesity “an exploding nightmare in the developing world.”

An obesogenic environment, put simply, is one in which people are encouraged to eat an unhealthy diet and not do enough exercise.   Clearly, children under the age of five are not in control of what foods they consume, and other than toddling around the park, they don’t require an exercise regimen.  The problem is centered, then, on the global food and drink companies that purposefully maintain an obesogenic environment, one where processed and nutrient poor foods are peddled for profit regardless of the consequences.

And the consequences are becoming more dire.  It has been established that obese children generally remain obese as adults and the subsequent diseases resulting directly from obesity are becoming a more expensive problem.  Chronic illness not only costs more money but also drains from the health and prosperity of any given country.  The obesity epidemic has been roundly discussed over the years with little effect and many scientists are once again arguing for governments to step up programs to reduce the problem.

One recommendation put forth by the WHO, the Lancet and Cancer Research UK, among others, is an imposition of a tax on all sweetened drinks and junk food.  Taxing products that have little or no nutritional value has proved to be effective where enacted.  In Mexico, a soda tax of 10% and a tax on junk food of 8% has been successful.  There has been a 12% drop in overall consumption of soda, and this in a country with poor water quality and a culture devoted to sweet beverages.  It is obvious that this tax affects the poor more than middle or upper income populations, but any such protests can be drowned out by the fact that the poor are also less able to manage the diseases resulting from obesity.

Another wonderfully extreme proposition put forth by Cancer Research UK is an outright ban on the advertising of junk food and soda on television from 6 am to 9 pm.  Their report notes that over the last few decades the food conglomerates have hijacked our food system.  They state that “food is now more readily available, more heavily marketed, promoted and advertised and, in real terms, is much cheaper than ever before.  [And] all of these nudge us towards overconsumption.”

It’s clear that in order to combat obesity governments must be involved.  Although the Mexican government fought an uphill battle against the soda industry, it was able to prevail with the 10% tax on soda, even as they initially campaigned for a 20% tax.  It’s exceedingly difficult to counter the political influence of the food and drink industry but it must be done.  Industry has responded to a degree because of consumer demand for healthier food, but that still leaves us with pop tarts, even though they may be reduced sugar pop tarts.

The Lancet has labeled obesity “a form of serious malnutrition.”  They cited The Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee as showing that the “US population has a shortfall of vital nutrients, such as vitamins A, D, and C, folate, calcium, magnesium, fibre, potassium, and iron.”  It is easy to see how this could occur when the average diet consists of fast and/or processed food and sugary drinks.  All of the organizations mentioned above call for governments and health organizations to pay much more serious attention to the health of its citizens.

Education programs for children in schools must be developed and implemented.  Along with that nutritional information, federal and local governments must ensure that fresh, locally grown food is provided for school lunches and after school snacks.  Offering up deep fried factory chicken most certainly sets them up for a lifetime of struggles with their weight and subsequent health issues.

Obesity among children, especially those younger than five, is not a matter of self control or personal responsibility.  It is rather the result of poor nutritional education, wholesale and unregulated advertising practices and a lack of government oversight.  Screaming about the “food police” only lines the pockets of multinational food companies and does nothing to reduce the global epidemic of obesity.


Recipe of the Week

Pasta is not necessarily a good choice for a meal, but once in a while it’s fine and this recipe is simple, vegetarian and I found it to be tasty.

Pasta with Lentils and Tomatoes

1/2 cup lentils

6 cloves garlic or more to taste, minced

1 can Muir Glen Fire Roasted whole tomatoes, pureed

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 onion, chopped small

1/2 lb of pasta, your choice

About 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

Parmesan cheese

Cook the lentils in plenty of water until completely cooked, anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes.  Drain.  Pour oil into a large cast iron frying pan.  Heat to medium high and add onions.  Lower heat and cook until onions are very soft and just beginning to brown.  Add the garlic, stir it in and add the tomatoes.  Cook the sauce on low for about 1/2 hour.  Add the lentils and heat through.  Turn off the heat and add the balsamic vinegar.  Taste.  Add the cooked pasta that has not been rinsed and serve with Parmesan cheese.

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Just Say No to Farmed Salmon

I have long eschewed eating farmed salmon, most of which is Atlantic salmon, for a variety of health reasons.  Among them are that farmed salmon have seven times the levels of PCB’s as wild salmon, 30 times the number of sea lice, are given chemicals to make the fish red, are given antibiotics at levels higher than any other livestock, and contain half the amount of omega-3’s, which lower the risk of heart disease, dementia and arthritis, among other things.  And farming salmon necessitates the over fishing of wild sardines, anchovies, mackerel and herring for feed.  Atlantic salmon are the fish of choice for farms because they are less aggressive than Pacific salmon and grow faster.  As Pacific salmon are apparently more prone to disease, production costs would also be affected.

There are certain environmental dangers associated with salmon farms as well.  University of British Columbia professor Daniel Pauly calls fish farms “floating pig farms,” as the amount of fish excrement accumulates on the sea floor, which provides a breeding ground for bacteria that negatively impact other marine species.  Another concern is that as farmed salmon regularly and in large numbers escape from holes in the nets they are out competing wild fish for food (they’re bigger).  And these escaped fish breed with wild fish which dilutes the gene pool.

And now another risk associated with salmon farms has spread to the northern Pacific Ocean.  Infectious salmon anaemia virus (ISAV) is a pathogen that until recently was restricted to Europe and the Atlantic farmed salmon on the east coast of Canada.  It is widely considered to be “the most feared viral disease of the marine farmed salmon industry,” as it is, essentially, according to Alexandra Morton, a co-author of a study published this month in Virology Journal, “a member of the influenza family, and it mutates easily and rapidly.”

Outbreaks of ISAV have occurred at regular intervals since 1984 and the majority of outbreaks have involved Atlantic farmed salmon.  The study also revealed that salmon escapees are infecting wild salmon at higher rates than previously recorded.  Unfortunately, the economic consequences of this virus, for which there is no cure, can be devastating to the industry.  ISAV was detected in Chile in 1999 and no attempt was make to contain it.  Chilean salmon farmers allowed the virus to reproduce and mutate which caused a new form of the disease to occur in 2007 resulting in a $2 billion loss.

The B.C. Salmon Farmers Association is responding to the study by lashing out at its veracity as well as denying access to their farms by researchers.  Not surprising considering that the combined wild and farmed salmon industry is worth approximately $1 billion a year in British Columbia.  According to Ms. Morton, “ISAV is a notifiable  disease meaning that if the finding is confirmed Canada would be obliged to report it to the International Organization for Animal Health.  This notification would permit other countries to block imports without fear of incurring trade penalties.”  This confirmation would obviously devastate the industry.

Aside from economic devastation, any outbreak of an ISAV strain can cause death rates of 30% on any given farm.  Since ISAV can be transmitted by sea lice, and salmon farms are infested with sea lice because of the large numbers of fish crammed into small areas, ISAV is more likely to occur.  This is a great cause of concern for the continued health of wild salmon populations as “sea lice from salmon farms are one of the most significant threats facing wild salmon.”  Since many salmon farms are, for reasons beyond my understanding, “located along salmon migration routes,” it should be obvious that wild salmon will be more exposed to the disease than they would otherwise be in the wild.

There are no obvious fixes for the potential of ISAV to at least diminish or even destroy whole populations of wild salmon.  Add that to the over fishing of smaller species of fish to provide feed for farmed Atlantic salmon and we have a recipe for a marine disaster.  The only thing we can do is to be aware of the situation and stop eating farmed fish altogether.  While farmed salmon is certainly a cheaper, albeit less healthy, alternative to wild salmon, consuming it only contributes to the problem.

Recipe of the Week

Since sardines are an excellent source of omega-3’s, this pasta recipe is easy to make and cheap.

12 canned sardines

2 tablespoons toasted  pine nuts

1/2 cup chopped parsley

1 cup good quality pitted nicoise olives

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1/2 pound pasta of your choice

1 cup toasted and seasoned breadcrumbs (seasoned with just olive oil, salt and pepper)

While the pasta is cooking, heat the olive oil in a frying pan, add the sardines and all other ingredients and heat through until warm.  Stir in the undrained pasta and top with the toasted bread crumbs.

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175 More Reasons to Avoid Processed Food

Most of us are aware of the dangers of Bisphenol A (BPA), which is found in most food wrappers and tin cans.  The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has stated that BPA can cause “altered development of the brain,  causing behavioral abnormalities and earlier onset puberty, [and] reproductive abnormalities such as lower sperm counts, hormonal changes [and] enlarged prostate glands.”  These conclusions are based on animal studies, but the NRDC says that “more than 90 percent of the general population has BPA in their bodies, at levels close to those which have been shown to cause harm in animals.”  A recent study by the Food Packaging Forum, which is blocked by a paywall, shows that an additional 175 hazardous chemicals are routinely used in food packaging.

Food packaging that is in contact with food continuously release these chemicals into food which are then consumed.  The fact that these chemicals are known to be carcinogenic, mutagenic or toxic to reproductive procedures apparently doesn’t stop industry from using them or cause our government, at least, from banning them.  The study, “Food contact substances and chemicals of concern:  A comparison of inventories,” reveals that the list of chemicals have been long linked to health concerns – hence the term “chemicals of concern”) – and include formaldehyde, benzene, propylparaben, ammonia, carbon monoxide and asbestos.  Companies are legally allowed to use these chemicals in their packaging and there is no law demanding that these substances be labeled.

In Europe, for instance, all chemicals with toxic properties must be approved for use in toys, paints, textiles and medical equipment, but the rules don’t include food packaging.  This relatively new study may prod the same kind of scientific consensus that previously led to BPA being banned in certain reusable food containers, such as sippy cups, but an overall ban is far into the future.  At this point, the best effort is to educate people to avoid products containing BPA, which is a far cry from protecting people from something they may know little about.

Who among us knows anything about Phthalates?  They are apparently everywhere, but are also used to keep plastic wrap soft.  They are one of the 175 and have been identified with obesity and “reduced masculinisation in new-born boys.”  A 2012 Food Standards Agency report found that “31 per cent of everyday foods tested contained phthalates above the legal level, with the highest level in bread.”

Benzene is also used in food packaging.  It is classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as a “Group 1 human carcinogen.”  And although most benzene in the body is inhaled, its use in food packaging, particularly in microwave products, causes it to leach into the food.  It is known to cause bone marrow abnormalities and leukemia.  And when in combination with propylparaben it has been shown to alter hormone signaling and gene expression.  And it is ubiquitous.

The Food Packaging Forum study clearly states that nearly all processed food packaging (cans, foil, paper and plastics) release synthetic chemicals into foods for as long as they are in contact.  “Among the 175 chemicals of concern are substances causing cancer or inflicting changes on the genes.  Others affect an organism’s ability to reproduce, or they act as endocrine disruptors interfering with hormone signaling.  In addition, the list contains chemicals that accumulate in the environment or the human body.”

Given that it takes time for certain cancers to develop, the industry and government have been able thus far to distance themselves from any action that would remove these toxins from contact with food.  Indeed, the FDA, just this month, banned three grease-resistant chemical substances linked to cancer and birth defects.  All three were PFCs and are still used as water repellents on clothing.  And it’s taken the FDA ten years to make even this very small decision.  They were under pressure from various environmental groups to ban these specific chemicals while at the same time approving other PFC chemicals for use in food packaging with no safety assessments being conducted.

Although it is impossible to avoid contact with these chemicals in our environment, at least we can lessen the toxic effects by severely restricting consumption of processed food.  We can also use glass and steel containers for leftovers and re-educate ourselves about “safe plastic numbers” and uses.  Aside from the other obvious dangers of processed foods, such as elevated levels of salt, fat and sugar, knowledge of the dangers of hidden chemicals should definitely propel us to cook exclusively from scratch.

Recipe of the Week

Lentils with Pasta

3/4 lb green lentils

1 onion, chopped

2 or 3 stalks celery including the leaves, chopped

1 small carrot, chopped

6 cloves garlic, minced

1 cup pureed organic canned tomatoes (processed food!)

2 quarts homemade chicken or turkey stock

1/2 cup red wine

1/2 cup dried pasta of your choice

extra virgin olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

garnish with Parmesan

Heat a thin coating of olive oil on the bottom of a large soup pot.  Turn the heat to medium high and saute the onions, celery and carrots until the onions are translucent.  Add the garlic and stir in for no more than a minute.  Add the wine and cook until it evaporates.  Add the tomatoes, stock and lentils.  Bring to a simmer and cook until the lentils are thoroughly done, about 45 minutes.  Add the pasta and cook until al dente.  Taste for salt and pepper and serve with plenty of Parmesan.

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Be A Climatarian!

I asked a co-worker what she and her boyfriend had planned for Christmas Day.  As we work in a store that makes hundreds of connections with local farmers and ranchers while also providing organic meats, fruits and vegetables, I was a little irritated when she told me it was their tradition to eat breakfast at McDonald’s.  Very few people eat a perfect diet and many of us still consume some meat.  Having said that, however, I would at least like to see people have a greater understanding of how the foods they choose to eat have an impact on their health and the environment.

One simple way of gaining an understanding of what the corporate food lobby is doing in order to make a profit is to read the nutrition labels on the backs of all processed food.  Even buying a can of organic beans requires a peek at the back as the levels of sodium can be dramatically different.  One brand can have 30 mg while another 300 mg.  While rinsing the beans can reduce sodium amounts considerably, I don’t see any reason to buy the brand with more sodium.  Similarly, many people are under the impression that drinks such as those made by Odwalla, a brand owned by Coca-Cola are healthy.  These drinks, however, do contain roughly 40 grams of sugar for every 12 ounce bottle. The World Health Organization has stated that no one should consume more than 25 grams of sugar a day.  The good news is that roughly 60% of Americans do in fact read the nutrition labels.  The bad news being, of course, that nearly half do not.

And eating meat is considered by many to be one of the worst contributors to a host of human ailments as well as having the greatest negative environmental impacts.  Even a fanciful disappearance of factory farms would do little to change the fact that beef and lamb constantly release substantial amounts of methane, and methane is a greenhouse gas that’s 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide.   The New York Times’ definition of a Climatarian is one who chooses “a diet whose primary goal is to reduce climate change.”

The definition specifically suggests that one refrain from eating beef and lamb but allows pork and poultry as those animals do not emit methane.  People who continue to eat beef and lamb, however, can at least buy meat from well-managed local farms where less energy is required.  Eating meat from fast food companies promotes excessive use of pesticides and fertilizers, much of which ends up as runoff that pollutes rivers, groundwater and oceans.  Eating factory meat means promoting the production of 500 million tons of manure with no place to go but to our waterways.

Eating food that’s locally produced is also beneficial for everyone.  The oddly named group, “Strolling of the Heifers,” a Vermont based local food advocacy group, has released a list of reasons to eat local food.  Among other things, buying local supports family farms, boosts the local economy, generates fewer greenhouse gases by eliminating travel, promotes better soil management and builds more connected communities.

The good news here as well is that local food sales are increasing.  The USDA reported to Congress early this year (January 2015) that local food sales in the U.S. continue to rise.  Part of the reason for these increases is that many states have passed laws that provide support for local food systems.

Aside from a few window dressing positions taken by the federal government to promote local foods – the 2014 Farm Bill establishes increased access to “locally and regionally marked food” – the primary agricultural focus remains on the promotion of Big Ag.  Subsidies are still being handed out to companies growing GM corn and soy, foods that are mostly used to produce the processed foods high in sodium, sugar and fat.

No one has to forgo the occasional treat in order to live a healthy life.  Being mindful of what you eat, however, is essential to both personal health and the health of the planet.  I ask that people educate themselves about the foods they eat and choose well.  Eating locally is by far the best option and puts fewer pennies into the hands of corporations that certainly do more damage than good.

Recipe of the Week

Years ago I found this recipe for spinach pie and made it more than once.  I stopped making it as I found it had too much meat.  I made it recently and it was still very good even as I eliminated much of the meat.

Spinach Pie

2.5 cups organic white flour

3 tbls butter

2 lbs fresh spinach, washed and trimmed

1 large onion, chopped

1/2 lb pancetta or bacon,, chopped

1 cup Parmesan cheese

Put the flour in a food processor with the butter and pulse until mixed.  Add enough tepid water until a soft dough is formed.  Knead for a few moments then wrap in plastic and set aside.

Put the spinach in a large pot, turn the heat to high and stir until wilted.  Drain, let cool, squeeze out the excess moisture and chop.

Put a little olive oil in a frying pan and cook the pancetta or bacon until the onions are golden.  Add the spinach and stir in well.  Allow to cool somewhat and add the cheese.

Roll out 2/3rd of the pastry and line a pie tin.  Add the spinach mixture and cover with the rest of the rolled out pastry.  Prick the pastry and smooth it with a little cold water.

Cook in a 350 degree oven for 45 minutes to an hour, or when pie is bubbly and crust is browned.


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