Archive | August, 2011

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Too Sentient for Their Own Good

Posted on 05 August 2011 by Jerry

June 16, 2011. San Francisco, Animal Life Experience

At least four animals besides humans possess self recognition; great apes (excluding gorillas), bottlenose dolphins, Asian elephants and the corvid bird family including crows, ravens and magpies.  These animals recognize they are looking at themselves when they see their own image in a mirror according to results from “mirror and mark test” experiments. In addition, excluding the corvid bird family, these animals are known to have a more highly developed right prefrontal cortex and to exhibit empathy when interacting with others. In human beings this part of the brain is believed to contribute to enhanced problem solving and a broader range of emotions. Unfortunately for these non human sentient creatures we do not always respect their awareness of their own existence and the other capabilities that go along with it

Two recent articles about chimpanzees used for invasive medical research and dolphins in captivity ask if these animals are too smart for this type of treatment.  They suggest our behavior amounts to animal cruelty. A Nature article published on June 16, 2011 entitled Chimpanzee Research on Trial, by Meredith Wadman, reports on the increasing public pressure for the United States to end its use of chimpanzees in biomedical  research.  The National Institutes of Health (NIH) have asked the Institute of Medicine (the medical branch of the National Academy of Sciences) to render an opinion about whether the government should continue its practice of supporting biomedical research on chimpanzees – human kind’s closest living relative.  The formal opinion is scheduled to be released at the end of 2011.  The NIH bowed to public pressure and outrage when the public reacted to the NIH plans to move 186 semi-retired chimps back into active medical research

The author reports that the United States is unique in that no other country in the world other than Gabon carries out invasive experiments on chimpanzees. Many countries have outlawed chimp research completely including the United Kingdom, Australia, Sweden, New Zealand, the Netherlands and the European Union in 2010.  Controversy has grown since an airing on ABC’s Nightline of a Humane Society undercover expose´ of treatment of chimps at Louisiana’s New Iberia Research Center.  The animal terror and abuse revealed on the documentary prompted strong reactions from the public, the Humane Society, and Jane Goodall.

We do not have a good history of medical research practices having freely used unsuspecting people in the past; soldiers, oppressed minorities, developing country populations, convicts and medically institutionalized patients.  We are out of step with the rest of the civilized world which has discovered that ever-more sophisticated in vitro methods make chimps unnecessary.

A second article, by David Grimm in the April 29, 2011 issue of Science magazine asks Are Dolphins Too Smart for Captivity? A pioneering 1950’s brain researcher named John Lilly became convinced that dolphins were highly intelligent and had a complex vocabulary.  In the 1970’s Lou Herman, the founder of a research-only dolphin facility in Honolulu, Hawaii showed that dolphins understood two artificial languages – one based on electronic sounds and another on a trainer’s hand gestures.  He reported that they grasped grammar and syntax and could comprehend human pointing, a capability that eludes chimpanzees.

Biopsychologist Lori Marino of Emory University in Atlanta is reported to have observed that dolphin tanks are chemically treated, bereft of other marine life, and just a tiny fraction of the hundred-square-kilometer ranges these animals are used to.  Further she says it’s no wonder that intelligent social dolphins swim in circles and jump out of their pools, and that these stresses contribute to their premature deaths from gastroenteritis, fungal infections and other ailments.  “You can’t replicate the natural settings for these animals.”  A joint 2009 Humane Society and World Society for the Protection of Animals report concluded “The totality of the captive experience for marine mammals is so contrary to their natural experience that it should be rejected outright.”

Background: In Beyond Animal, Ego and Time, in Chapter 6: Human Uniqueness there is considerable discussion about self recognition in animals and the implications of the highly developed right prefrontal cortex in some mammals, including Homo sapiens.  Chapter 9: A Positive Life Experience Imperative and Chapter 15: Enhancing the Life Experience elaborate on the need for us to focus our efforts on improving the collective world life experience and in ending animal cruelty in all its forms.  Finally Chapter 16: Transcending Egocentricity states in part that “As much as we can benefit from a new thought, we can be handicapped by holding on too long to an old one….It is time to recognize evolutionary development of a new level of consciousness that extends beyond self serving behavior.”  We need to let these animals have opportunities for positive life experiences.  We need to end experimentation on chimpanzees and return marine mammals to the wild.

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Ozone Depletion Sets Record at the North Pole

Posted on 05 August 2011 by Jerry

The original ozone hole occurs over the South Pole, Antarctica.  This is because temperatures in the stratosphere are colder there, at minus 80° Fahrenheit, for longer in the year than at the North Pole.  This year ozone depletion over the North Pole set a new record at 40% surpassing the old record of 30% due to a longer, very cold, Arctic winter stretching farther into March and April than normal.

Researchers note the greater variability of temperatures in the North Pole which cause larger fluctuations of ozone depletion from year to year.  Although ozone depletion was larger than normal it was not unexpected.  The U.N.’s World Meteorological Organization acknowledged that even though this Arctic winter was warmer than average at ground level, it was colder than normal in the stratosphere.

Scientists remain optimistic that the world’s ozone layer outside of the polar regions will return to pre1980 levels around 2030-40 and that both poles will fully recover by 2045-60.  This is according to scientists at the WMO who continue to have faith in the continued enforcement of the Montreal Protocol that progressively banned the worst offending chemicals over a number of years.

Confusion about whether the ozone is recovering continues however as an April article titled “First Detection of Ozone Hole Recovery Claimed” appeared in Science magazine’s April 8, 2011 edition.  The article quoted researchers at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia as saying their study showed that “virtually all” of the of the year-to-year changes in springtime Antarctic ozone can be accounted for with two kinds of atmospheric circulation.  “Subtracting their estimate of the natural changes in ozone from actual changes, the group finds ‘a clear upward trend since the late 1990’s’ in the hole’s ozone that represents a ‘systematic rebound’.   Over the past decade the rebound has amounted to about 15%, they estimate.” This report was controversial among atmospheric researchers who said the report’s data was insufficient and could produce different conclusions if uncertain parameters were varied in a new analysis.

June 2, 2011, San Francisco, Ozone Hole

Background: In Beyond Animal, Ego and Time, in Chapter 10: Protect Life Imperative – Ozone Hole, on page 115, there is discussion of the exception made in the Montreal Protocol for developing countries that allows their continued use of ozone destructive chemicals and the rapid growth of use of air conditioners in China and India.  The concern is that this exception will limit or reverse progress gained in restoring the ozone of the planet.

Use the following links to access the WMO press release and Science magazine article:

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Speed/Slow/Stop…or LABEL Genetically Modified Foods

Posted on 05 August 2011 by Jerry

genetically modified foods

In the early 1990’s advances in genetic engineering changed the nature of the chemical business at firms such as Monsanto, DuPont, Dow Chemical, and Bayer.  They went from manufacturing chemical substances such as herbicides like Roundup, to patenting genetically modified seeds for crops such as corn, rice, soybeans and wheat.  These seeds were genetically engineered to have many different characteristics.  In some cases they added genes to crops that made them impervious to herbicides such as Roundup.  These crops were branded as “Roundup Ready” in that a farmer could use Roundup in his fields to kill weeds with no fear the herbicide would damage their crop.  In other cases they added genes that were from other species of plants that produced natural pesticides. These made the resulting crops impervious to various insect pests.  With active support from the United States government and the deep pockets of these multinational chemical companies, there was a concerted push to have these seeds approved for use and planted throughout the world.

The chemical companies insisted there was little environmental or heath risk from these genetically modified crops.  They said that human or animal consumption involved taking these crops into the digestive tract and that any potentially harmful toxins or chemicals were destroyed in the digestive process.  Opponents claimed there was insufficient research to determine possible effects.  Since these seeds were patented products of their respective companies, information about them was withheld as proprietary and access to them for research was not granted.  Recent research indicates their toxins are not destroyed in the digestive process but instead can be found in the human blood stream, see the related story “Where there’s toxins, there’s….what?” June 1, 2011.

Some governments reacted aggressively, e.g. the United States, while others reacted cautiously, e.g. the European Union.  Different groups of farmers accepted the crops, others rejected them citing consumer concerns about genetically modified foods.  With little regulation and much governmental support, the industry has been very successful in the United States at replacing natural crops with genetically modified crops.  The following chart was published by the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) in 2011.  It shows various modified crops achieving between 65% – 94% of planted acreage in the United States.  This leads to very high reliance on genetically modified ingredients in the American food supply.  A recent estimate is that 80% of the products purchased at an average grocery store in the US contain some ingredient that is from a genetically modified source.

Designations before the crop type refer to the type of genetic modification that has been made:
HT = herbicide-tolerant varieties   Bt = insect resistant varieties

The chemical industry, assisted by the U. S. Government, has actively fought labeling of genetically modified food with every tactic at their disposal.  This has included using provisions in the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT) to block any country from requiring mandatory labeling of genetically modified foods.  They have asserted the labeling would amount to adoption of “technical regulations” that erect “unnecessary obstacles to trade” or are more “trade restrictive than necessary” under the Technical Barriers Trade (TBT) Agreement or the Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Agreement of the GATT.   On this basis they have blocked labeling of genetically modified foods as violations of the GATT and threatened legal challenges through the World Trade Organization (WTO).

In addition, they have derailed progress by the Codex Alimentarious Commission in Geneva which was established jointly by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO).  As a part of its mission to establish internationally recognized standards for food safety, the Codex has sought an agreement to allow countries to have a valid argument for requiring genetically modified labeling domestically under Article XX of the GATT.

In a surprise move at the July 5, 2011 Codex meeting, the United States, the lone holdout to an agreement on genetically modified food labeling, abruptly reversed its two decades old position and endorsed a labeling guidance document.  While the Codex cannot order labeling, its guidance document gives countries the international permission to require genetically modified labeling of food consumed in their country. Over a hundred countries signed the guidance document and a substantial number will now begin their process to initiate mandatory labeling.

There is little agreement however, on what labeling standards should be followed.  Two major camps have emerged over the years with some arguing for “product” labeling with others endorsing a “process” labeling.  Under the product option, which is the minimalist approach, genetically modified foods would require labeling only when the products are not substantially equivalent to their unmodified cousins in composition, nutritional value or intended use. In addition, labels would be required if the modified food contained allergens or ingredients from certain fats not found in their natural counterparts.  The process option would call for labeling of all genetically modified foods and food ingredients regardless of whether they were substantially equivalent to their natural counterparts or not.  This process option has been adopted and implemented by the European Union (EU), Japan, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea and to some extent China.

It is very doubtful that the chemical industry or the U.S. government will change their long held position against labeling of genetically modified foods.  They adhere to the argument there is no substantial difference between genetically modified foods and their natural counterparts.  This acceleration of labeling internationally can serve as the opportunity for American citizens who favor mandatory labeling of genetically modified foods to renew and redouble their lobbying efforts to secure labeling at home.  In addition, we must encourage organizations which will push for labeling nationally to embrace this as a priority effort.  This is the opportunity to reverse the tide and make progress in this area.

Organizations who are leaders on this issue and who could use support and further encouragement are as follows:

Greenpeace International:

Organic Seed Alliance:

The Center for Food Safety

Letters to elected officials are also a required part of lobbying for labeling.  The following link provides access to a data base with which to indentify your elected representative and their address.  You are encouraged to take a stand and demand full “process” labeling of genetically modified foods in the United States.

Congressional Representatives:

Background:  In Beyond Animal, Ego and Time, in Chapter 13: Protect Life Imperative – Synthetic Biology, there is a description of the history of genetic engineering and synthetic biology and the risks associated with both.  The book calls for “mandatory and detailed” labeling of all genetically or synthetically engineered plant or animal food.  It takes the position “Only an informed citizenry should decide to consume genetically engineered food.”


Use the following links for more information:


GM Foods in the Supermarket:

Adoption of Genetically Engineered Crops in the U.S.:


Country Adoption of GM Crops – a recent sampling:

South Africa:  and

Peru: Peru’s Congress bans GM crops



European Union:

Approval of GM Food Labeling:  See session 39 Codex Committee on Food Labeling, click English pdf, scroll to REP 11/FL Appendix III.

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A Broken Record

Posted on 03 August 2011 by Jerry

June 2011, San Francisco, Climate Change

I am so tired of hearing it…another climate change record.  This time the world’s mountain glaciers lost more mass in 2010 than any other year on record.  Of course the truth is that 2010 was not really a “winning” year if you consider the air temperature above land around the world was only the second warmest on record.  2010 only took third place if you consider the average sea surface temperature of all the oceans of the world was only the third warmest on record or the third place taken in Arctic sea ice which took up only the third smallest surface area on record.  A boon to navigation since the area of ice was so small in September of 2010 that for the first time in modern history, both the Northwest Passage and the Northern Sea Route were open for navigation.  Given these facts 2010 was really only an “also ran” year.

Of course even these statistics are suspect given the report was issued by that bogus climate agency, the American Meteorology Society, in their Annual Bulletin, Vol. 92 and Issue 6 Supplement.  I mean how accurate can it be with so many science contributors from around the world…there can’t be much quality control with so many contributors!   This poor showing of 2010 in the “I can top that” sweepstakes must be the reason that for yet another year no major climate change legislation was passed by the Congress of the United States.  Also this probably was why there were no major international agreements on how to begin to address climate change.  We’re obviously waiting for a year that makes “firsts” in all categories.  Only then will we know something is really serious!

Background:  In Beyond Animal, Ego and Time in Chapter 11: Protect Life Imperative – Climate Change there is considerable discussion of global climate change as one of the four looming threats to life on our planet.

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