Tag Archives: CAFOs

Beware of GMOs, arsenic in food

Oct. 7, 2011
Be wary of genetically modified organisms, arsenic in foodWeird food additives worrying you? Readers offer their views:
Reader response: “Why do we need a warning against genetically modified food? (as urged in a previous column)… I know Europe has been concerned about ‘Frankenfood,’ but I have read nothing to indicate that these fears are empirically based.”
That’s because the United States has it backwards! We’re being driven by profit, not science, or public safety.
Genetically modified organisms with food is under the FDA in the United States and the law is written so that such transgenic (across species) food is considered similar to what’s offered on the market, so it’s considered safe even if there’s no empirical evidence to prove it.
The studies done are industry-sponsored; the companies contend it is proprietary information. So, it’s not “proven” safe. It’s “assumed” safe, and vigorously asserted as safe by those selling it. The U.S. government has bought this line of reasoning and is pushing it internationally as a matter of global commerce, even as other nations resist.
Additionally, GMO seeds are bred to be aggressive breeders. When planted next to open pollinated crops, they soon take over; that prevents those farmers from selling their crops as “organic” while also exposing them to lawsuits by the seed manufacturers for using their seed stocks without paying for it. Such companies have been very aggressive about protecting their patents, to the extent of entering farmers’ fields, testing their crops and suing them!
Beyond that, there’s also the issue of genetically engineered plants affecting the ecosystem (taking over niches filled by other plants; this is occurring now with GMOs growing wild on U.S. roadsides).
Plus, in my view, just from a gut level, I object to and question the validity of using animal genes in plant species; it’s just wrong.
If not banning GMO, food containing GMOs ought to be clearly labeled so consumers can choose what they eat.
Note: GMO is prohibited under certified organic rules.
For more:
•See books and articles by Jeffrey Smith, executive director of the Institute for Responsible Technology.
•See Michael Pollan’s Sunday article in The New York Times Magazine: How Can You Tell if Food is Genetically Engineered?,http://nyti.ms/nOltMK
•Sign the Environmental Working Group’s online petition asking the FDA to label GMO food: http://bit.ly/o0JTHi
•See the Reuters story: Some 200 groups support labeling drive:http://reut.rs/qUsuvy
Reader response: “You said (in an earlier column) that poultry litter is not recommended as manure for organic gardens because, and I quote, ‘it contains arsenic from feed.’ Is this true?
Chicken feed in confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) commonly includes roxarsone, a food additive containing arsenic that is a growth enhancer that gives the meat a pink color.
According to Food and Water Watch, chronic exposure to arsenic is associated with increased risk for several kinds of cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes, as well as neurological problems in children.
Some CAFOs have stopped using roxarsone; the leading manufacturer of it has “voluntarily” pulled it from the market, and it’s banned in Europe. But it’s still allowed by the FDA, though it has been found to be fouling water tables and detected in chickens sold in groceries.
Note: It’s a banned substance for organic growers.
An excellent article on the subject by Tom Philpott is in Mother Jones magazine: http://bit.ly/nDSWI9.
More on organic mosquito repellents: You can also try: Bt israelensis (Bt-i)-Bacillus thuringiensis var israelensis. It is reported to be safe as an organic application for irrigation and roadside ditches, pastures, marshes and ponds, water gardens, flower pots, bird baths and rain gutters. It’s OMRI approved for certified organic operations and is safe for humans and animals; however, sellers point out “BTI is not meant to be used in water used for human consumption.”
Another natural method that may be employed is use of the mosquitofish, Gambusia affinis. They appear in ditches, but work anywhere that mosquito larvae might be found; including rain barrels.

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.

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Plant Dynamism

April 8, 2011

It’s official: Spring has sprung with flowering of ‘invasives’

Outside my study window, the pecan tree is leafing. The old folks say that when that happens, the cold weather is gone.

The great cold front that passed through last weekend – with a skirmish line of thunderstorms from New Orleans to the Canada border – seems to have ushered in a cold snap that has everything turning green.

It, thankfully, washed away the yellow clouds of pine pollen, and now buttercups (yes, another “invasive,” but a beautiful one!) are covering the fields.

We’re preparing to plant our tomatoes, peppers, melons and other warm weather plants in the next couple of weeks.

•Plant dynamism: In a previous column, I noted that many of the common “weeds” in our gardens (e.g., dandelions, henbit, et al.) are not “natural” in that they are “invasives,” or immigrants from Europe and Asia. A wonderful article in The New York Times, however, points out that this is a pejorative – even elitist! – view (which many fellow organic growers also reject).

In “Mother Nature’s Melting Pot,” Hugh Raffles (April 3: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/03/opinion/03Raffles.html?src=recg) writes: “Designating some as native and others as alien denies this ecological and genetic dynamism. It draws an arbitrary historical line based as much on aesthetics, morality and politics as on science, a line that creates a mythic time of purity before places were polluted by interlopers.”

It’s true that many of the immigrants are much desired, such as honeybees and apple trees, just as many are nuisances, such as tumbleweeds and nut grass. And, as I noted in the article, some insects prefer to munch on the imports over our cultivated plants, thus providing a welcome diversion in the organic grower’s garden to help beneficial insects defeat, outwit or overwhelm the undesirables.

So, like others, I suppose I should adopt a less pejorative term – “opportunistic” plants, perhaps. Long live diversity in the garden!

Reader Response: I would advise against using raw or even composted chicken litter in your garden. While using this poultry litter as a soil amendment is not prohibited by the National Organic Program (with some restrictions), there is growing concern about heavy metals – particularly arsenic – that are present from such concentrated animal feeding operations.

According to the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service, arsenic from poultry litter can potentially leach into lakes or streams. It can build up in the soils with repeated applications; and rather than breaking down, composting concentrates it. (See: http://bit.ly/dSlx45.)

Food origins: Ever wonder where your grocery’s food comes from? A new organization is working to document all fruit and vegetable shipments, stating what, where, how and if any food alerts are issued. For more, see: http://www.harvestmark.com.

Only those growers who contract with harvestmark are included. But consumers can also read the little stickers on the food at the grocery to winnow some information.

If the number on the label begins with a 4, it is conventional produce and most likely has been sprayed with pesticides.

Genetically modified “food” will start with the number 8. Organic produce will begin with the number 9.

For the sake of food safety, stronger labeling should be required to protect consumers.

A New Ag: Agriculture is on the verge of a new age that, if successful, will leave all of the “modern” and “conventional” methods of relying on fossil fuels for production – insecticides, herbicides, fertilizers, diesel and gasoline – obsolete.

As Wes Jackson, founder of The Land Institute in Salina, Kan., has pointed out, it was a mere accident that agriculture began with annual plants 10,000 years ago in Mesopotamia.

As the Ice Age ended, pockets of fertility such as the Tigras and Euphrates Valley, emerged. The first foodstuffs readily available were cereal grains which sprouted as annuals (that is, must be planted ever year). Those seeds were readily available, abundant and were thus able to be transported to far-off regions.

But just as easily, our ancestors could have chosen perennials. Had they done so, the nature of agriculture would be far different, and easier on the environment.

That’s what The Land Institute is in the process of developing: natural seeds for perennial foodstuffs.

Imagine fields of grain that are not cut down, but picked; fruits that bear year after year from the same stalks; no more tilling the soil or spraying poisons, but planting “companion” plants that provide shade or nutrients to the soil that complement each other’s needs.

This is the future of agriculture: sustainability. Not chemicals that kill and poison, but life that complements, nurtures and produces. I hope I live to see it.

Jim PathFinder Ewing is a journalist, author, writer, editor, organic farmer and blogger. His latest book titled Conscious Food: Sustainable Growing, Spiritual Eating (Findhorn Press) is in bookstores now. Find Jim on Facebook: http://bit.ly/cuxUdc or follow him @edibleprayers or @organicwriter or visit blueskywaters.com.