Archive | October, 2012

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Vote Yes on California Prop 37

Posted on 30 October 2012 by Jerry

Several readers have asked if IAmAGuardian.com has taken a position on California Proposition 37 which requires labeling of genetically engineered foods.  Yes, below are two articles which have been posted in support of Proposition 37.

As previously identified, chemical and agricultural conglomerates opposing Prop 37 are grossly outspending supporters of the proposition (funds raised exceed $40 million at this point, still a 10 to 1 advantage).  Opponents have cited very large additional costs to the food industry from the labeling, increased costs to consumers as if prices will be forced up, and the supposed inconsistency of application of the labeling requirement to various products.

All products in California require labels.  There is no requirement to re-label products made before the law’s passage.  There is virtually no cost to redraft future product labels which have to be produced on packaging anyway.  There should be no change in pricing of products to consumers other than hypothesized price reductions to sell newly labeled genetically engineered products that consumers refuse to buy. 

The logic of what is included to be labeled as genetically engineered and what is not, is a function of what farms may be incidentally contaminated by plants from neighboring farms whose crops are genetically engineered.  This is because there is nothing to prevent GE crops from cross pollinating adjacent non GE crops. In addition, labeling a GE product is determined by whether it is eaten directly by a human being.  Meat from animals that have been fed GE products is exempt because the animal itself has not been genetically engineered.  In cases where the animal itself is genetically engineered, for example the proposed genetically modified salmon, there would be a requirement for GE labeling before human consumption.

Those of us who have read the proposed legislation and have studied genetic engineering find the arguments against this simple labeling requirement to be complete fabrications.  This type of product labeling already exists in over 60 countries around the world. These vociferous and wealthy opponents of Prop 37 are only concerned about their profits and being completely unregulated when they genetically engineer their products.  They want to remain completely unfettered by a simple labeling requirement that informs consumers who might care about what they feed themselves and their family.

A U.S. Domino for Genetically Engineered Foods

September 16, 2012 – San Francisco

California may be the last chance for mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods in the U.S. or the first U.S. governmental entity to require labeling. Unfortunately there has been no progress in the U.S. with a number of labeling bills defeated around the country.  As the birth place of genetic engineering, the U.S. and Canada have the largest adoption of genetically modified foods in the world.

When the U.S. reversed its decades long opposition to allowing other nations to require labels on genetically engineered food (see iamaguardian.com August 2011 posting of “Speed/Slow/Stop….or Label Genetically Modified Foods”) it was clear it would cause labeling dominoes to fall around the world.  We have seen movement in a number of countries including lately the European Union and most recently a committee of the Indian Parliament and separately the Turkish Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Livestock. 

The reality is that when consumers get information, they read it and they act on it.  This is why the opposition to California’s Proposition 37 (Genetically Engineered Foods, Mandatory Labeling Initiative Statute) has put up over $25 million to defeat the proposition. This does not compare favorably to the $2.5 million raised in support of the measure.

If you are judged by the company you keep as a measure of how you should be viewed, the roles of the two sides of the debate are clear.  The proponents number many and have a long history of standing on the side of consumers and their health (see http://www.carighttoknow.org/endorsements/ ).  The antagonists include the largest chemical and food companies.  If you look at this list of opponents what is striking is that many producers on the list are either genetically modifying foods themselves, are the nation’s largest buyers of GE crops or produce products that are only sugar foods which contain nothing but empty calories and pander to the worst eating habits in our nation (http://www.noprop37.com/donors/ ).

Who do you believe has your best health interests at heart, Monsanto, Bayer Crop Science, Cargill, Clorox, and Dow Agro Sciences?  Maybe others have more credibility with you, like Coca-Cola, PepsiCo Inc., Hershey Company, Nestle USA, H.J Heinz, Sara Lee, and the J.M. Smucker Company.   These are the company’s paying the most to defeat a simple labeling requirement.

You should decide for yourself but not be swayed by the avalanche of negative ads that are about to launch in California.  This is simply a labeling requirement, not anything more.  When the antagonists say it is a conspiracy to have a deceptive labeling scheme or a plot to help organic businesses or will cost too much to change labels or will cause a rise in food prices or will be a windfall for trial lawyers or has loopholes for special interests, you should reject these claims. Some of us have read the legislation, are familiar with the genetic engineering of foods in the U.S. and have seen these scare tactics before.  We are only talking about your right to see a label that shows you what is in the food you intend to eat and feed to your family.

Use the following links to obtain more information:

http://www.nature.com/news/companies-set-to-fight-food-label-plan-1.11240

http://www.carighttoknow.org/endorsements/

http://www.noprop37.com/donors/

http://blogs.nature.com/news/2012/08/indian-parliamentary-panel-slams-gm-crops.html

http://www,todayszaman.com/newsDetail_openPrintPage.action?newsld=289724/

 

CA Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act

March 27, 2012 – San Francisco

Since the July 5, 2011 reversal of the U.S. position opposing labeling of genetically modified foods internationally (see August 5, 2011 post “Speed/Slow/Stop…or LABEL Genetically Modified Foods), pressure for mandatory labeling of GM foods in the U.S. has been building.

While there are efforts nationally to produce petitions (see www.justlabelit.org ) and to pass laws to require mandatory labeling, many are not optimistic these efforts will be successful in the near term.  The situation in the State of California may be dramatically different however (see www.carighttoknow.org ).

As you probably know California has a history of leading and pioneering in forward looking health and safety issues.  California also has a well developed voter initiative process in which citizens groups can qualify proposed laws for inclusion on the state election ballot once a specific number of voter signatures have been secured.  In the November elections of 2012 California voters will have a unique opportunity to pass ground breaking legislation that requires mandatory labeling of genetically modified foods offered for sale in California.

Called the “California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act” the proposed legislation requires mandatory labeling when a food is:

  • “any genetically engineered raw agricultural commodity”
  • a “processed food that is made with or derived from any genetically engineered ingredient” or
  • any “processed food that is made with or is derived from any ingredient that may be genetically engineered” shall include a conspicuous statement which says “MAY CONTAIN GENETICALLY ENGINEERED INGREDIENT(S)”

While this legislation has elements which do not go far enough, it does represent a landmark step.  An example of an area that could be strengthened is its failure to call for labeling of food from any animal that has not itself been genetically engineered but has been fed or injected with genetically engineered food or any drug that has been produced though means of genetic engineering.  The proposed law also excludes labeling of food solely because it includes one or more genetically engineered processing aids or enzymes.

In any case, this is a ballot initiative you should support with your contributions and votes. Quoting Beyond Animal, Ego and Time, “Successful activists take the progress that is offered and demand more.”  Let us pass this law as written as a beachhead for the rest of the nation.  For voters from other states, use this draft as a template for your own local initiatives.

Remember, this legislation does not change the food choices you are given in your local store.  It also does not limit the genetic engineering the industry performs.  It merely gives you more information about what you may consume yourself or serve to your family.  It only equips you to make a more informed choice.

Use the following links to review the actual wording of the voter initiative and visit the websites of organizations driving this issue:

http://carighttoknow.org (Select “About”, then select “The Initiative”)

http://carighttoknow.org

http://justlabelit.org

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‘Nutz’ to Malnutrition

Posted on 25 October 2012 by Jerry

Can you do something good for humanity, make money doing it and still be recognized as a humanitarian?  Well, yes and no.  How about developing a small packet of peanut based goo that tastes good, is rich in vitamins, minerals, protein and fat, has a two year shelf life and can be eaten at home requiring no water, preparation, or refrigeration?  What if it replaced a hospital stay with a thirty year old procedure of feeding a watery mixture through a tube which still failed to prevent the deaths of 20-60% of patients to whom it was administered?  This is the story of Plumpy’Nut which is widely hailed as the new principal weapon to renourish starving children suffering from malnutrition in the developing world.

Conceived by a crusading pediatrician in the 1990’s, André Briend, co-developed with a businessman, Michel Lescanne, and tested by Mark Manary, a pediatrician and professor at a hospital in Malawi, Plumpy’Nut was first used on Dr. Manary’s patients who were sent home from the hospital and treated with Plumpy’Nut instead.  Ninety-five percent of Manary’s patients receiving Plumpy’Nut made a full recovery from malnutrition.  Based on this success, Doctors Without Borders in 2005 distributed Plumpy’Nut to 60,000 children with severe acute malnutrition due to a famine in Niger. Results were astounding with 90% complete recovery and less than a 4% death rate.

The controversy came when André Briend allowed co-developer Michel Lescanne’s private company, Nutriset, to patent Plumpy’Nut and produce it worldwide at a profit. Michel Lescanne, a food processing engineer, is credited with engineering the taste, texture, packaging and shelf life of the product.  Lescanne is no stranger to trying to help with the world’s starvation.  His for-profit company, Nutriset, was established in 1986, when Lescanne was 32 years old.  The company’s mission statement committed the company “to invent, produce and make accessible solutions for the treatment and prevention of malnutrition.”  This was why Briend sought Lescanne’s help in the first place. 

The fact that his company, Nutriset, is profit making is what has created controversy.  Completely discounting the difficulty the product would have had without the efforts of Michel Lescanne and Nutriset, detractors suggest the there is something immoral about anyone earning a profit on this product.   

To provide context for the product, a two month home treatment for malnutrition with Plumpy’Nut costs about $60 per child.  According to a report in 2009, UNICEF, the world’s primary buyer of Plumpy’Nut, purchased 90% of its supply from Nutriset’s facility in France.  In 2009 Nutriset had sales of $66 million for the 14,000 metric tons of Plumpy’Nut and related products it produced.  This is reportedly a tenfold increase over its sales five years earlier in 2004.  Nutriset’s patent expires in 2017 and they will surely have many competitors at the moment of expiration.

Several elements of this story are remarkable and speak to the real human altruism represented by the production of Plumpy’Nut. First is the creativity and dedication of the product’s inventor who was clearly only concerned about solving the problem of the developing world’s malnutrition. Next is the willingness of the international health establishment to experiment with this solution and change its historic practices to introduce a new product which ended decades of ineffective hospital care and expense. Third is the involvement of an altruistically motivated for-profit company that saw how to perfect and commercialize a successful product and at the same time accomplish its objective of helping to eliminate malnutrition.  Finally, there is the effectiveness of the product and the potential millions of lives it will save.

Solving the many challenges the world is facing will require the creativity and dedication of many more people than André Briend and Michel Lescanne.  I, for one, would be more than willing to have all of them come from for-profit companies if that was what was required to motivate their effort and focus on the rest of the world’s problems.

Use the following links to obtain more information:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/05/magazine/05Plumpy-t.html

http://www.nutriset.fr/en/about-nutriset/history-and-values.html

http://www.nutriset.fr/en/about-nutriset/nutriset-timeline.html

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GM Corn Shortens Lives of Study Rats

Posted on 10 October 2012 by Jerry

[Update: Two French scientific organizations have criticized this study as reported in the October 26, 2012 issue of Science magazine.  The French High Council of Biotechnology and the Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety have both labelled the study referenced in this post as “inconclusive due to methodological, statistical, and interpretative limitations.”  The French government has nevertheless has said it will suggest new European procedures for evaluation, approval, and control of GM organisms.  The government stated this decision was independent of the study findings.]

As could be expected, a new study linking higher numbers of cancers, bigger tumors and earlier deaths of research rats fed Monsanto’s genetically modified corn (NK603) for most of their lives, has created considerable controversy.  The corn, NK603, is widely sold for human and animal consumption in the United States and Canada. A research study published in the peer reviewed journal of Food and Toxicology is the first study to look at the effects of longer term consumption of corn modified to resist the effects of Monsanto’s Roundup, the herbicide glyphosate.

The study rats were fed the GM corn for two years or almost their entire lifetimes.  All earlier studies were no longer than the 90 days required by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and other regulatory bodies.  Once again we see the money and power of the chemical industry as it marshals its resources and the research community it supports to immediately attack the validity of the research findings. We also see the embarrassment of regulatory bodies seeking to defend their earlier superficial studies.

Giles-Eric Séralini, a molecular biologist at University of Caen, France and Joël Spiroux de Vendômois, president of CRIIGEN, co-authors of the study were reportedly “Surprised by the ‘violence’ and immediacy of scientists’ criticisms.  They argue that most of the critics are not toxicologists, and suggest that some may have competing interests, including working to develop transgenic crops.” José Domingo stated the study passed the peer review and raised no red flags at the journal of Food and Toxicology.  Dr Domingo is a toxicologist at Rovira I Vigili University in Reus, Spain, and managing editor of the journal.

Giles-Eric Séralini has been subjected to much criticism from the genetic engineering and chemical communities.  In 2011, in response to public insults, Seralini sued Marc Fellows, president of the French Association of Plant Biotechnology, for defamation and won.  He continues to be quite controversial because of his open stand against genetically modified foods.  Detractors argue it is he that has ulterior motives for releasing this study.

Even with all the immediate criticism of the study, its results cannot be ignored.  Fortunately for the French, their Prime Minister Jean-Mark Ayrault, said that, if the results are confirmed, the government will press for a Europe-wide ban on the genetically modified crop.  U. S. citizens should not look for the U.S. government to call for additional, longer term studies of the negative effects of this GM corn.  

As reported earlier in this blog, see the June 13, 2012 article “Genetic Engineering Influence Peddling and Profit”, support for genetic engineering is explicitly sponsored by the U.S. government. The post states, “Among the many WikiLeaks disclosed cables from within the State Department are a number of cables that reveal the full and explicit U.S. government support for the U.S. chemical and agriculture business’ genetically modified foods.  It is particularly instructive to learn that the strategic policy of the United States is to support and promulgate genetically modified foods.

It is no coincidence that there is significant resistance to genetically modified foods in the French government.  The French government was under assault at many levels by the U.S. government and chemical companies attempting to force them to change their negative position on GM crops.  As shown by WikiLeaks cables reported on in the Atlantic Monthly (see last link below), the U.S. government threatened a “trade war” in retaliation if France didn’t reverse its anti-GM stance.

See additional blog posts, the April 27, 2012 article “Roundup (Glyphosate) and Infertility” and the October 27, 2011 article “Where there’s toxins, there’s….WHAT?” Each article documents different studies pointing to the potential negative effects of human and animal consumption of Monsanto’s genetically modified, Roundup Ready crops (including the GM corn referenced above).

The question posed is when will citizens of the world say enough is enough?  The war over genetically modified, Roundup Ready, crops is reminiscent of the “stonewall” techniques of the tobacco industry in the U.S.  Just consider the decades of debate and hidden studies and documents in the tobacco company’s files that only became public in the last decade, and still cigarettes are sold around the world and in the U.S.  Let us hope that at least a small step of mandatory labeling of genetically modified foods is passed in California in the upcoming election.  This may be the last, best chance the U.S. citizen has to make progress on this issue.

Use the following links to obtain more information:

http://www.nature.com/news/rat-study-sparks-gm-furore-1.11471

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=hyped-genetically-modified-maize-study-faces-growing-scrutiny

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/sep/28/study-gm-maize-cancer

http://inforrm.wordpress.com/2011/01/23/libel-science-and-gmos-a-french-criminal-case/  

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/print/2011/01/us-presses-europe-to-worship-genetically-modified-foods/69633/

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Searching for Antarctic Methane

Posted on 10 October 2012 by Jerry

Responding to recent rapid shrinkage of ice masses at the poles and the threat of released methane accelerating climate change, researchers have released a study concluding significant volumes of methane likely exist under the ice cover of the Antarctic. Looking at similar ice fields around the world scientists discovered microbes converting organic matter to methane.  The fear is that as the ice sheets melt we may see acceleration of global warming and creation of a self-reinforcing spiral of deterioration.

Published on August 30, 2012 in Nature, researchers state “We calculate that the sub-Antarctic hydrate inventory could be of the same order of magnitude as that of recent estimates made for Arctic permafrost.” Methane hydrate is a solid compound trapping a large amount of methane in a crystal structure of water in a solid similar to ice.

Scientists continued, “The predicted shallow depth of these reserves also makes them more susceptible to climate forcing than some other global hydrate reserves.  If substantial methane hydrate and gas were present beneath the WAIS, hydrate destabilization during episodes of ice-sheet collapse could act as a positive feedback on global climate change.” WAIS refers to the West Antarctic Ice Sheet and “climate forcing” refers to phenomena which force changes in the climate.

See our September 1, 2012 post “Significant Changes in the Arctic and Greenland” in which we explain how scientists define a self-reinforcing sequence of events.  The concern in this study is similar in that as ice at the poles melts there could be a major release of methane into the atmosphere.  Methane is the most likely greenhouse gas to cause catastrophic climate change.  It is 21 times more destructive to the atmosphere than carbon dioxide.  As ice melts methane enters the atmosphere accelerating global warming which heats the poles such that more ice melts releasing more methane that further raises the Earth’s temperature, and so on in a self-reinforcing spiral of deterioration.

Use the following link to see more information on this topic:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-19410444

http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v488/n7413/full/nature11374.html

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Crows/Jays Equal Children in Tests of Aesop Fable

Posted on 06 October 2012 by Jerry

Studies of the Corvid Family of birds (crows, ravens, jays, etc.) further demonstrate their higher intellectual capabilities.  In a study entitled “How Do Children Solve Aesop’s Fable” published in the July 25, 2012 issue of PLoS ONE, crows and jays demonstrated problem solving ability equal to children between four years to seven years of age.  As described in an Aesop Fable, a thirsty crow comes upon a half filled jug of water.  Unable to reach the water to drink, the crow drops pebbles into the jug until it raises the water level high enough to take a drink. Confronting tests which exhibited similar problem solving situations crows and jays performed at a level comparable to children between ages four and seven.

Experimenters demonstrated that corvids are not only capable of mastering this behavior but showed an ability to understand that larger stones raised the water level faster than smaller pebbles. The study showed that developmentally at age eight children improve their intuitive problem solving and surpass what corvids can achieve.  The report states, “Children between 4 and 10 years of age were tested on the same tasks as the birds.  Overall the performance of the children between 5-7 years was similar to that of the birds, where children from 8 years were able to succeed in all tasks from the first trial.”

In a different study published this year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers looked at the behavior of wild crows and suggested crows can “reason” about causality.  Researchers stated, “In the first set of events, the crows observed a human enter a hide, a stick move, and the human then leave the hide. In the second, the stick moved without a human entering or exiting the hide. The crows inspected the hide and abandoned probing with a tool for food more often after the second, unexplained series of events. This difference shows that the crows can reason about a hidden causal agent.”

Finally in a third study published this year in the Journal Animal Behavior written by Teresa Iglesias and colleagues at the University of California, Davis, researchers observed scrub jays sounding an alarm when coming upon the body of a dead jay.  More jays would come and screech over the body of the dead jay for up to a half an hour from surrounding trees and fences. What is unusual is that Jays establish breeding pairs that are territorial and not friendly with other jays.  Behavior that involves a large number of jays from multiple pairs is not common.

Researchers stated “The anecdotal report states that other animals, including elephants, chimpanzees and birds in the crow family, react to dead of their species….While reactions of animals to their dead are sometimes called “funerals,” that does not imply that there is an emotional or ritual element to the behavior.  We simply don’t know enough about the emotional life of animals to understand that.  I think there’s a huge possibility that there is much more to learn about the social and emotional lives of birds.”

Background: In Beyond Animal, Ego and Time, Chapter 6 – Human Uniqueness, there is considerable discussion about animals that have passed the mirror and mark tests exhibiting self awareness.  Self aware animals include human beings, great apes (chimpanzees, bonobos, but not gorillas), bottlenose dolphins, Asian elephants, and the corvid bird family that includes crows, ravens, magpies, jays, etc.  It is only through further research that we are discovering the heightened intellect represented by these animals in comparison to the human species.

Use the following links for more information:

http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0040574

http://www.pnas.org/content/109/40/16389.full?sid=2863ef68-cb62-4629-ab02-8c6a623c258b

http://www.scienceworldreport.com/articles/3859/20120912/western-scrub-jays-hold-funerals-dead.htm

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