As if we needed any more evidence that pesticides are bad for human health, three independent scientific papers have provided some of the strongest evidence yet of the link between exposure to organophosphate (OP) pesticides and lower IQ levels among children. Published in the latest Environmental Health Perspectives journal, the results suggest that prenatal exposure to OPs can have a lasting and damaging effect on our children. Researchers from the University of California, Columbia University, and Mount Sinai School of Medicine all found that children exposed to higher levels of OP while in the womb were likely to have significantly lower intelligence scores by age seven than children who were not exposed.
A recent press release from the American Humane Association (AHA) on a “historic piece of legislation that will significantly improve animal welfare in commercial egg-laying chicken operations” has clearly captured the attention of hacks looking for a quick and easy story. The AHA news release, which has now appeared ad verbatim across several news sites, trumpets the “ground-breaking vote” by the Washington state House of Representatives to introduce new legislation which will bring about “dramatic” animal welfare improvements. The AHA news release claims that this new legislation will “phase out the use of battery cage housing for egg-laying hens and instead mandate use of an approved American Humane Association housing system, requiring more space and the use of what is known as the enriched colony model.” Sounds like a giant step forward for chicken welfare and good news for ethical consumers, right? Wrong. While the legislation may phase out the use of standard battery cages for egg laying hens in the state of Washington, it does not ban cages—and you’d be sadly mistaken if you thought that the birds in these systems will now run free in a high-welfare farming system. The reality is that AHA’s “enriched colony model” actually embraces the use of enriched cages. No amount of clever wording or media spin will change the fact that an enriched cage is still a cage.
When you buy organic meat and dairy products, you probably have certain expectations about how they were produced and how the animals were raised. You may expect that animals on organic farms would be raised with the highest welfare in mind, with lots of space and free access to pasture. You may expect that all organic farmers would be caring and conscientious enough to allow organic animals to exhibit their natural behaviors. You may expect that organic farms would be far superior to industrial farms and concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). Sorry to dash your hopes, but all organic farmers do not necessarily raise their animals with even Big Ag’s welfare standards as a base. It might surprise you to know that the United States National Organic Program (NOP) – the federal regulatory framework that governs organic food and farming in the U.S. – has no specific rules on the amount of space that organic farmers are required to give their animals whenever they are housed indoors. This obviously raises questions about animal welfare.
News is breaking that Chinese scientists have created genetically modified (GM) cattle using human genes to produce "human-like" milk in a bid to make cow's milk more nutritious. The intention is to produce it on an industrial scale to replace formula milk and breast milk, when normal breast feeding is either not possible or undesirable. The Telegraph newspaper reports that scientists at the State Key Laboratories for AgroBiotechnology at the China Agricultural University have successfully introduced human genes into 300 dairy cows to produce what they call "human-like" cow milk. It is well known that human breast milk contains key nutrients that can help to boost the immune system of babies and reduce the risk of infections. The scientists wanted to find a way to produce an alternative to human breast milk and formula milk on an industrial scale, with the eventual aim of getting this GM "human-like" cow's milk on supermarket shelves.
Earlier this week the Public Patent Foundation filed a law suit against biotech giant Monsanto on behalf of more than 270,000 plaintiffs – including thousands of certified organic family farmers, seed-saving organizations and farmer advocacy groups. The aim of this preemptive law suit is to prevent Monsanto from suing organic farmers and seed growers if their organic crops and seeds are ever contaminated by Monsanto’s GM crops. Sounds an unlikely scenario? Well, when it comes to GM contamination I’m afraid that the “Polluter Pays Principle” flies out of the window. Monsanto has already taken aggressive legal action against hundreds of farmers across the U.S. (and beyond) for alleged patent infringements, in which the farmers are sued for allegedly obtaining GM seed illegally and planting it without paying Monsanto for the privilege. Intellectual property rights law means that Monsanto owns the genes it has inserted into its GM crops. So if Monsanto’s GM police (oh yes, they really do exist) subsequently find those genes in plants on a farmer’s field – and he or she has not legally purchased GM seed – then Monsanto can sue.
Did you know that a number of U.S. states have introduced a draconian law that effectively bans photography at certain designated sites? And that two other states are apparently proposing to introduce it? You might wonder what state secret or national asset these new laws are designed to protect, or which high-powered individuals will be shielded from prying eyes? The truth is that this legislation is nothing more than a prohibition of unapproved photography of farms. Yes, believe it or not, farms! Big Ag is protecting its interests again, stealthily promoting legislation that effectively makes it illegal to take unapproved photographs of industrial farm animal production. This is the same Big Ag which has lied to us all for years--trying to persuade us that GM is safe, that pesticides are not polluting our watercourses, that feedlots do not add to greenhouse gas, and that all industrial farm animal production is both safe and humane.
Two starkly different reports have come out recently on the future of farming. A recent series in the Economist touts industrialized farming as the only way to feed the world as our population swells beyond nine billion people by 2050. But a new report from the United Nations says farmers can meet growing demand using ecologically sound agricultural methods. The world body has released a study that calls for a fundamental shift towards what it calls agroecology as a way to boost production. “To feed nine billion people in 2050, we urgently need to adopt the most efficient farming techniques available,” says Olivier De Schutter, U.N. Special Rapporteur on the right to food and author of the report. “Today’s scientific evidence demonstrates that agroecological methods outperform the use of chemical fertilizers in boosting food production where the hungry live --especially in unfavorable environments.” De Schutter is right. Farming that relies on inputs that destroy the atmosphere, pollute our drinking water, make our antibiotics ineffective and treat workers, communities and animals as garbage, is not a viable option for the future.
When news broke last week that a leading U.S. scientist had written to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to warn of a potential new threat linked to Roundup Ready GM crops, it didn’t take long for Monsanto’s PR machine to kick into gear. Dr. Don Huber – Professor Emeritus of Plant Pathology at Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN, with more than 40 years experience as a plant pathologist – wrote to the USDA in January to call for a delay in the approval of Monsanto’s Roundup Ready Alfalfa. He was concerned about preliminary evidence that he had seen of a new “microscopic pathogen that appears to significantly impact the health of plants, animals, and probably human beings” that could be linked to GM agriculture – and particularly the use of glyphosate herbicide (the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup).
Many people are unaware that 80% of all antimicrobial drugs are administered to animals. Unfortunately, this fact shouldn’t come as much of a surprise; the Union of Concerned Scientists provided the same stat ten years ago in the 2001 report, Hogging It: Estimates of Antimicrobial Use in Livestock. Of course, industry has since ignored and/or rejected this figure every chance they’ve had. But despite the best efforts of Agribiz, as this week’s press release from Congresswoman Louise Slaughter reports, the FDA has officially confirmed the 80% figure; check it out. I should note that our friend Ralph Loglisci of the Johns Hopkins University Center for a Livable Future contacted the FDA back in December and was given the same numbers (he wrote an excellent post about this, which is absolutely worth reading). Nonetheless, it seems significant that the antibiotics stats have been released to and publicized by a congressperson. Very official, we think – and hopefully capable of capturing the nation’s attention.
Just when you thought the scandal surrounding genetically modified (GM) crops couldn't get any worse, breaking news of a novel pathogenic microorganism that might be linked to GM agriculture is spreading like wildfire across the internet. While you couldn't write a better sci-fi script if you tried, this research is potentially of grave concern. A senior U.S. soil scientist has written to the federal government about a novel microorganism apparently linked to GM crops that may have the potential to cause infertility and spontaneous abortion in farm animals, raising significant concerns about human health. The letter was written to the USDA in light of the then pending decision to approve Monsanto's Roundup Ready Alfalfa, which has been genetically modified to be resistant to Monsanto's Roundup herbicide. Yet it appears that no official action was taken to investigate the research before the green light was given for commercial planting.
Reprinted by permission from the Organic Consumers Association In the wake of a 12-year battle to keep Monsanto's Genetically Engineered (GE) crops from contaminating the nation's 25,000 organic farms and ranches, America's organic consumers and producers are facing betrayal. A self-appointed cabal of the Organic Elite, spearheaded by Whole Foods Market, Organic Valley, and Stonyfield Farm, has decided it's time to surrender to Monsanto. Top executives from these companies have publicly admitted that they no longer oppose the mass commercialization of GE crops, such as Monsanto's controversial Roundup Ready alfalfa, and are prepared to sit down and cut a deal for "coexistence" with Monsanto and USDA biotech cheerleader Tom Vilsack. In a cleverly worded, but profoundly misleading email sent to its customers last week, Whole Foods Market, while proclaiming their support for organics and "seed purity," gave the green light to USDA bureaucrats to approve the "conditional deregulation" of Monsanto's genetically engineered, herbicide-resistant alfalfa. Beyond the regulatory euphemism of "conditional deregulation," this means that WFM and their colleagues are willing to go along with the massive planting of a chemical and energy-intensive GE perennial crop, alfalfa; guaranteed to spread its mutant genes and seeds across the nation; guaranteed to contaminate the alfalfa fed to organic animals; guaranteed to lead to massive poisoning of farm workers and destruction of the essential soil food web by the toxic herbicide, Roundup; and guaranteed to produce Roundup-resistant superweeds that will require even more deadly herbicides such as 2,4 D to be sprayed on millions of acres of alfalfa across the U.S.
The news that scientists think it is possible to genetically modify a chicken to make it resistant to avian influenza--also known as “bird flu”-- had me spitting feathers. Talk about treating the symptoms and not the cause! A BBC news piece on January 13 highlights the gallant efforts of scientists to cure the scourge of bird flu using GM technology. Researchers from a joint project between Edinburgh and Cambridge Universities have inserted an artificial gene into chicken cells that would make a chicken resistant to bird flu. The scientists go on to say that they think the potential to protect any farm animal from any viral disease is now only a test tube away. Professor Helen Sang said, “This is really exciting because bird flu is a real challenge to poultry production and if it were introduced to poultry breeding it would protect our large scale production flocks from avian influenza.”