Jun 062011
 

Some tempered good news: The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled last month that the USDA must produce an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for genetically modified sugar beets, prior to granting them permanent approval for commercial use. A full press release is posted at the Center for Food Safety website.

However, GM sugar beets planted last winter are still in the ground. Moreover, the USDA on April 7 announced a pilot program that could allow agribusiness firms to directly influence the content of Environmental Impact Statements. The Federal Register notice states:

“The pilot project will explore two voluntary mechanisms: (1) A petitioner-submitted environmental report based upon which APHIS would develop an EA or an EIS; and (2) an EA or EIS prepared by a contractor, funded by a cooperative services agreement between the petitioner and APHIS.”

(Note: The “petitioner” is the firm seeking approval for a product.)

So, although the court ruling mandating an EIS seems like progress, the independence of the EIS itself does not seem assured.

In the meantime, until full, independent, objective safety studies are available that counter the limited animal studies showing negative outcomes such as liver and kidney damage, I strongly believe that the best defense against GM foods is to avoid them whenever possible. Buying organic is one way to avoid GM foods, but if that’s not possible, avoidance of processed foods or careful label-reading can help.

No, GM foods are not specifically labeled as such. But the main GM components of the food supply — what I like to call the Four Horsemen of GMOs — are:

  • Corn
  • Soy
  • Cottonseed
  • Canola

That damns a lot of processed foods right there, because they may contain all sorts of derivative products: high-fructose corn syrup, cornstarch, soy lecithin, soybean oil, canola oil, and cottonseed oil are among the most common. If a food package lists any of these ingredients and doesn’t say non-GMO, chances are that it contains GM ingredients.

Other GM products may include papayas, alfalfa sprouts, and, yes, sugar beets. It’s a jungle out there. But there are ways to make a difference.

Apr 122011
 

Worthwhile reading today on page 1 of USA Today. The cover story is titled ‘Girls hit puberty earlier than ever, and doctors aren’t sure why.’

Here’s a brief excerpt with the grim stats:

About 15% of American girls now begin puberty by age 7, according to a study of 1,239 girls published last year in Pediatrics. One in 10 white girls begin developing breasts by that age — twice the rate seen in a 1997 study. Among black girls, such as Laila, 23% hit puberty by age 7.

“Over the last 30 years, we’ve shortened the childhood of girls by about a year and a half,” says Sandra Steingraber, author of a 2007 report on early puberty for the Breast Cancer Fund, an advocacy group. “That’s not good.”

I give this article credit for hinting at the reasons why puberty is starting earlier. It addresses rising rates of childhood obesity; endocrine disruptors such as pesticides, phthalates in water bottles, and BPA in cans; and reduction of melatonin levels triggered by overexposure to computer and TV screens. It also mentions stress and premature birth rates (up 18% since 1990, according to the article) as possible causes. What it doesn’t mention — and what I rarely see in articles of this type — is an acknowledgment that many of the problems and diseases of modern life are interlinked, so early puberty cannot really be viewed in isolation.

One indication that the problem is modern life and not genetics is mentioned in the article:

Studies consistently show that black girls in the USA go into puberty earlier than whites, suggesting a possible genetic difference. Yet Steingraber notes that, 100 years ago, black girls actually matured later than whites. And she notes that black girls in Africa enter puberty much later than those in the USA, even when their nutrition and family incomes are comparable.

Since we can’t turn back the clock to the year 1900, how can we fight back against the onslaught of contaminated food, water, and environmental surroundings? I discuss some ideas in the 10 Changes section in relation to general health, but this is what I would do if I had a daughter:

1. Choose organic dairy. Conventional dairy products may contain recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) and/or recombinant bovine somatotropin (rBST). These hormones stimulate increased milk production by cows, but that milk also contains higher than normal levels of insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1). What is IGF-1? A trigger of puberty in mice, according to recent research from Johns Hopkins. 1 I look forward to the human studies — in the meantime, organic milk is unlikely to contain such high levels of IGF-1. Plus, it is free of antibiotic residues, and the cows cannot be fed genetically modified corn. Honestly, I might go easy on dairy in general, since most mammals in nature don’t consume it after they’re weaned.

2. Banish high-fructose corn syrup. Since obesity is a possible contributor to early puberty, I would seek out products unlikely to promote obesity. That means real, unrefined food — organic fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, lean meats and eggs, beans, and whole grains, ideally speaking. If that were not entirely possible, I would at least avoid likely contributors to the obesity epidemic, such as HFCS. 2

3. Dump the plastic water bottles and canned foods. I would use stainless steel water bottles (less breakable than glass) and fill them with filtered tap water, using a high-quality reverse osmosis or combination filtration system (such as Aquasana). And I would seek out food packaged in BPA-free cans, glass jars, or bags.

4. Encourage outdoors time. I would make sure the day included some active time outside in real sunlight. Humans aren’t built to live indoors 24/7.

5. Enforce screen-off time. I would install Flux on all computers. I would set the computer to shut down automatically about an hour before bedtime. I would turn off the television about an hour before bedtime. I would encourage the reading of old-fashioned paper books — not on-screen books — in that last hour before sleep.

Mar 172011
 

I was happy to see the recent UN report titled “Agroecology and the Right to Food,” mainly because it debunks a common argument of industrial farming promoters. That argument posits that without industrial farming, we could not feed Earth’s population. It would be interesting to conduct a review of published statistics to determine if that is in fact true, because this report implies the opposite.

The report states that in areas of Africa where small-scale sustainable “ecological agriculture” was implemented, average crop yields more than doubled within 10 years. Moreover, it states that sustainable small-scale farming creates jobs and increases crop diversity, promoting better nutrition.

In theory, this sounds like a slam-dunk — but I expect large agribusiness firms will fight it tooth and nail.

Here is the press release as well.

Mar 082011
 

Headlines in January covered the USDA’s unrestricted approval of GM alfalfa.

Dr. Joseph Mercola now has a scathing analysis on his site about potential long-term implications of the decision. He interviewed representatives from the Institute for Responsible Technology, Organic Valley, Whole Foods and the Organic Consumers Association — and then made some good points. The key highlight: Most alfalfa is not sprayed with pesticides now, so why would any need arise for a Roundup-resistant version?

Mercola (via his sources’ interviews) analyzes a possible ulterior motive as follows:

“‘The interesting thing about the way alfalfa has been grown up until now is that, according to Michael Pollan and other experts, 93 percent of the alfalfa grown in the United States right now is not sprayed with herbicides… alfalfa is pretty much an herbicide free crop!’ Cummins says.

“‘Now, what’s going to happen is that Monsanto is going to sell their alfalfa seeds all over the country which make this alfalfa roundup resistant. This means they’re going to spray the heck out of these 23 million acres of alfalfa fields.’

“How can anyone justify the planting of Roundup-resistant alfalfa when there’s apparently no need for it, and when emerging evidence shows that weeds are rapidly becoming increasingly resistant to Roundup as well, creating superweeds that are near impossible to get rid of?

“That seemingly nonsensical decision becomes clearer if you look at alfalfa’s role on a much grander scale, and helps explain why Monsanto appears to have pulled out all the stops to get it approved, despite the fervent opposition of the organic industry and hundreds of thousands of vocal consumers.

Alfalfa is the Perfect Choice if You Want to Contaminate a Wide Variety of Organic Foods!

“Alfalfa is a perennial crop, meaning it comes back year after year. In the case of alfalfa, farmers only need to re-seed about every seventh year. And as stated earlier, it’s a powerful pollinator.

“‘Basically, any organic alfalfa or non-genetically engineered alfalfa within a five mile radius will immediately get contaminated,’ Cummins says.

“‘Given the fact that alfalfa is a major food source for dairy cows across the United States, and organic alfalfa is a major food source for organic dairy cows, we’re going to see widespread contamination getting worse every year… by this GM alfalfa.

“‘So this is outrageous. It totally flies in the face of campaign promises that Obama made in 2008 when he was running for president. It totally flies in the face of what Hillary Clinton, who was also running for president at the time, made, which was that they would support mandatory labeling and safety testing of GMOs. They have gone back on their word…'”

What now? I highlighted this article mainly because Mercola outlines several ways to take action at the end of it. If you really care about this issue, take a few minutes to sign up to help stop GM food’s pervasive spread. This is one of those battles that can be won, because it’s not too late. Time is growing short, though.