Food Choices for Healthy People and a Healthy Planet

All posts in Toxins and Pesticides

Recently, 2 million people in 436 cities in 52 countries (according to organizers)  marched in public protests to show their opposition to the global seed and pesticide corporation Monsanto and everything it stands for. That would include: its development of GMO (genetically modified organisms) food crops, its intimidation of farmers who won’t go along, its history as developer or producer of things like DDT, agent orange, bovine growth hormone, aspartame, nuclear weapons, PCBs, its participation in the “revolving door” in Washington, where industry leaders become regulators or elected officials are given cushy industry jobs after they leave office. Not surprisingly, Monsanto is hugely profitable. According to its 2012 annual report, in the most recent year its net sales amounted to over $13 billion, with a B, 14% more than the previous year..

With the profits goes power. Industry has defeated almost every effort to require labeling of GMO foods (including last year’s Proposition 37 in California). The times may be changing. Connecticut this week actually passed a law requiring GMO labeling, though it’s a conditional one.

Some people don’t agree that there’s a problem. A heated debate recently occurred in the website Motley Fool, which is a commercial financial advice site. The original article, aptly titled “Why is Monsanto the Most Hated Company in the World?”, questioned the validity of claims on both sides, but concluded by saying,

“It seems that GMOs will inevitably become a larger part of our food supply, because the corporate motivator in the United States has proved to be stronger than the citizen motivator in recent years. A few protests won’t change that. It will take concerted, long-running national efforts to change diets and attitudes before Monsanto and its peers are forced to loosen their grip on American farmlands.”

The comments are as revealing as the article – check them out.

Related links:
Ocean Robbins — Call to Action for a Food Revolution
Monsanto gives up fight for GM plants in Europe
Monsanto’s Latest Sneaky Endeavor: Patent Common European Crops


What’s the opposite of panacea? (That word means a wonderful cure for everything, usually mythical). Panapathea? Could a single substance actually cause many diseases? According to a scary new scientific report, the herbicide Roundup (the most commonly used herbicide in the world) is plausibly linked to the following: inflammatory bowel disease, obesity, depression, ADHD, autism, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, ALS, multiple sclerosis, cancer, cachexia [general poor health], infertility, and developmental malformations.” (pages 1444-1445 of the report).

The authors of this report, which you can find in a pdf listed here explain exactly how the key ingredient in R

oundup, glyphosate, causes all these horrible chronic illnesses.

The authors conclude: “It is imperative for more independent research to take place to validate the ideas presented here, and to take immediate action, if they are verified, to drastically curtail the use of glyphosate in agriculture.” In other words: “If we’re right, we must all fight back against Roundup.” They emphasize “independent” research because the biotech companies tightly control what outside scientists are allowed to study, and control what their in-house scientists are permitted to publish.

Take-home message: Pesticide corporations are not on our side. You and I can start protecting ourselves right now, by purchasing as much organic food as we can, not using Roundup in our gardens, and demanding that schools do the same.

You can read a good journalistic summary of the article here


Time-lapse photography is a wonderful device, letting us humans escape our own time-bound world to perceive life as experienced by slow-moving creatures, and to marvel at the stars wheeling above us.  I’ve found some remarkable videos of mushrooms going through their growth period. Click here, here, and here, and enjoy!

Paul Stamets is a world-renowned mushroom expert (or mycologist, to use the scientific term). He has spent decades researching ways mushrooms can (in his term) “save the world.” Sound like an exaggeration? He works in numerous areas that should interest all of us, First, medicinal mushrooms that create antibiotics and fight flu viruses. Second, bioremediation (using living organisms to clean up our chemical and radiation messes). In six weeks, a mushroom-inoculated pile of diesel and petroleum waste turned into hundreds of pounds of oyster mushrooms. Third, repelling pests such as termites. There’s even more, and you can see it here.

The most memorable thing he says in this talk is this: “The Earth invented the computer Internet for its own benefit.” (That is, to make it possible for people to communicate to save the earth. As you and I are doing right now!). Isn’t it mind-blowingly fun to look at ourselves not as the top creatures, but as partners?

I’m no mushroom expert, and I started this article to show you the magical videos. But if even part of what Stamets has found about the power of mushrooms is true, maybe there’s hope for people and planet.

Not since kindergarten, when some of us ate the library paste, has a more yucky food ingredient been brought to our attention, with the obvious exception of pink slime. (You’ll recall that pink slime is made of the sweepings from the slaughterhouse floor, washed in ammonia, and mixed with ground meat). This newly revealed substance is called “meat glue” and has been around for a while. A powder made of transglutaminase (an enzyme) and beef fibrin can be used to stick together odd bits of meat to form them into apparently whole prime cuts.

It may surprise you to learn that I don’t totally condemn this practice – in concept, anyway. Waste is a terrible thing to do to food, and anything that can reduce food waste is worth considering. On the other hand, meat itself is a huge waste (of grain, water, land, etc.), not to mention the cruelty involved, and if the concept of meat glue turns you off eating meat, that is a good thing!

Of course, when meat glue is used deceptively, to falsely upgrade less desirable parts of the carcass, that is dishonest and should be stopped. There’s another problem: bacteria from the surface of different pieces of animal flesh are now in the middle of the final product and less likely to be killed during cooking, possibly causing food poisoning.

What do you think?

You’ve probably heard that bees are our friends, pollinating many crops that we depend on for food – and for our state’s economy. To name just one, almonds, pollinated by bees, comprise a $1 billion California crop.  You’ve probably also heard that bees are in trouble, dying off in mysterious collapses of entire colonies over the last decade.

Many causes for these die-offs have been proposed, such as pesticides, mites, monoculture, pollution, viruses, and the stress of being shipped from one place to another to pollinate farms and orchards whose own bees have died. Frankly, I have always suspected that the confluence of all these factors has simply made life too difficult for our bee allies. A report in last month’s issue of Ground Truth, a publication of the Pesticide Action network, states, “The current consensus, however, is that the die-offs are likely driven by a causal complex in which pesticides, pathogens and nutrition each play a role.”

The weirdest thing I just learned about this (via the same report) is that bees near corn fields get the pesticide clothianidin not only from dust, soil, and pollen, but also from a process called, amazingly, “planter exhaust.” This occurs as follows: “Corn seeds are sown using an automated planting system that relies on air/vacuum mechanisms to space the seeds; in order to keep seeds treated with pesticides from sticking to one another, talc is used. This talc becomes contaminated and is then exhausted during planting, either down with the seed or into the air.”

Now what?  Well, we can tackle the human-caused threats one by one, starting with pesticides. We consumers can play a key role by shifting our food dollars to foods produced with minimal chemical assistance (aka organic).

A “dead zone” is an area of ocean that is so depleted of oxygen that no fish, marine mammals, or in some cases life of any kind, can live there. Dead zones exist all around the world, especially where major rivers dump industrial and agricultural runoff that may come from hundreds of miles away. Here in the US, the Mississippi River drains about a third of the country, so the pesticides, antibiotics, fertilizers, and manures produced by thousands of farms and ranches in many states end up in the Gulf of Mexico.

That was true even before last year’s catastrophic BP oil hemorrhage.  So the waters of the gulf are not fit for a self-respecting fish to live in. The photo below shows the extent of this low-oxygen dead zone, with red areas being lowest.

Lindsey Blomberg reports in E Magazine that recovery from dead zone status is possible, stating:”Such a turnaround has been seen in the Black Sea, which contained the largest dead zone in the world during the 1980s. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, fertilizers became too costly to use. Phosphorus applications were cut by 60% and nitrogen use was halved. By 1996, the dead zone was absent for the first time in 23 years.”

What can you do? Choose more organically produced foods of all kinds. This causes less harm to human health air, land, and water – including oceans. Eat less beef (better yet – none), because producing it creates tons of runoff that poisons oceans.

Dead Zone in Gulf of Mexico

Oh by the way, if you do think you’d like to eat seafood, would you really want it to come from an area of ocean that is, frankly, our nation’s sewer system?