Natural Solutions Foundation
The Dangers of Estrogen Mimicking Compounds in Certain Plastics
Bis Phenol A (BPA) is bad for you, especially if you have not been born yet. Moms who are exposed to BPA during their pregnancies (or before it) give birth to male babies whose sex organs and anatomy have been feminized. That is just one of the dangers of xeno-estrogens (which mimic the effect of estrogen on the body) like BPA. There is no known way to reverse these changes.
Breast and prostate cancer, of course, are other known hazards. Why is it permitted in our food chain both by the US and by Codex Alimentarius (the “World Food Code”). Well, as the Narrator says in Cabaret, “Money makes the world go ’round, the world go ’round, the world go ’round!”
Money certainly makes the FDA go ’round and the FDA makes Codex go ’round. But, when you read the notes of the meeting held recently by the industry interests which want to keep BPA going ’round because it brings them SO much money, prepared to be horrified at the way the “real world” works. Watch for their definition of the “Holy Grail” spokesperson on the wonderful benefits [sic!] of BPA and be prepared to change your buying habits to real, whole, uncontaminated foods – exclusively, and water in glass bottles – exclusively.
BPA has long been known to be both dangerous and ubiquitous in prepared foods. Leeching from the lining of cans and plastic bottles, the US Government has chosen not to set upper limits of any kind for it.
Treehugger.com points out:
“17% of the American diet comes out of cans, and many of those have an epoxy liner made with Bisphenol A, a chemical which can mimic human estrogen and which is linked to breast cancer and early puberty in women. While the leaching of BPA from Nalgene water bottles and other polycarbonate bottles is a concern, the danger from canned food may be greater. The Environmental Working Group tested canned food bought across America and found BPA in more than half of them, at levels they call “200 times the government’s traditional safe level of exposure for industrial chemicals.” There are no standards for BPA; it is allowed to be put in anything, and billions of pounds are produced each year.”
The Environmental Working Group found, in a study of canned food,
“Of all foods tested, chicken soup, infant formula, and ravioli had BPA levels of highest concern. Just one to three servings of foods with these concentrations could expose a woman or child to BPA at levels that caused serious adverse effects in animal tests.”
Their results are staggering: 33% of all infant food is seriously contaminated with BPA while 1/10 of all canned food is, too.
While the Chemical Industry, in the guise of the American Chemical Council, continues to opine, in the absence of any meaningful substantiation, “”Human exposure to BPA from can coatings is minimal and poses no known risk to human health.”, the facts are quite different. There are literally hundreds of peer reviewed studies which show the biological and reproductive hazards associated with BPA exposure at low levels.
BPA is an approximately $6 Billion per year business. Recognizing its bad behaviors as an additive or as a substance that the public is ingesting would be very bad for that business, indeed. So recently the main actors in the BPA scenario met together to figure out has to make this problem – the rejection of BPA by the public – go away.
Following, you find the purported notes of that meeting. I say “purported” because I have no certain knowledge that this meeting took place, that these notes were, in fact the output of that meeting or that this document represents a slice of reality. I believe, however, based on the internal consistency and content, that they were taken at that meeting and that the contents of this document bear careful examination. The contents should induce anger and extreme caution in you.
Anger because of the blatant assumption that you are so easily led and mislead and that your well-being is of no consequence in the dollar game (it is not of consequence to anyone in this meeting, apparently) and caution because if you are eating or drinking anything out of plastic or cans, you might want to stop doing so NOW.
I know that General Bert and I have.
The use of the phrase “prolong the life of BPA” in the notes suggests that these people know that the truth about BPA will eventually be recognized and that it will be forced off the market. Very much like the tobacco-death industry during recent decades, these people are willing to endanger public health to extend their profits a few more years. They expect that you will do nothing about their disinformation plans to fool you… but we know the power of pushback. Now that you know, what will you do?
PS: A quick note about baby food: when my son, now 34 years old, was a baby, I took the food that we ate at the table (all of it organic, free of added sugar or salt, artificial colors or flavors, additives and other contaminants, of course) and put it into a “Happy Baby Food Mill” which I carried with us wherever we went.
It was basically a fine grinder, easily cleaned, which put out a puree of whatever I put into it. Voila! Instant fresh baby food at any moment I wanted it. I knew EXACTLY what went into it, whether there were additives (I would have had to have put them there myself if there were any) and my baby was eating fresh, wholesome food exactly as I was. A quick rinse under a water faucet and the mill was ready to slip into a plastic bag until it was needed again on our excursion or until I got it home to a sink of hot soapy water. I see no reason why ANYONE needs commercial baby food, based on my happy experience with the Happy Baby Food Mill!
Did I mention? No BPA’s! REL
These alleged minutes follow an invitation from a major food trade association to its
members requesting their attendance at a communications strategy meeting on
Thursday, May 28, 2009 in Washington, DC.
Obtained by the Environmental Working Group
North American Metal Packaging Alliance, Inc.
May 28, 2009 – 10:00 a.m. – 3:10 p.m. EDT
RE: BPA Joint Trade Association Meeting on Communications Strategy
Meeting Goal: Develop potential communication/media strategies around BPA
Discussion Topics: Consideration of available web-based communication
options, including targeted geographies, as well as mainstream media response
Attending Companies: Coca-Cola, Alcoa, Crown, North American Metal
Packaging Alliance, Inc., Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), American
Chemistry Council, Del Monte
Summary: Attendees discussed the need to be more proactive in
communications to media, legislators, and the general public to protect industries
that use BPA, prolong the life of BPA, put risks from chemicals in proper
prospective, and transcend the media and the blogosphere. Attendees believe a
balance of legislative and grassroots outreach (to young mothers ages 21-35 and
students) is imperative to the stability of their industry; however, the association
members continue to struggle to initiate research and develop a clear-cut plan to
defend their industry. The committee will spend approximately $500,000 to
develop a survey on consumer BPA perceptions and messaging and eventually
content and outreach materials. Overall, the committee seemed disorganized,
and its members frustrated. Lack of direction from the committee and these
associations could continue to allow other associations and environmental
groups to push BPA out.
Other Points: Attendees suggested using fear tactics (e.g. “Do you want to have
access to baby food anymore?”) as well as giving control back to consumers
(e.g. you have a choice between the more expensive product that is frozen or
fresh or foods packaged in cans) as ways to dissuade people from choosing
BPA-free packaging. Attendees noted, in the past, the different associations
have had a reactive strategy with the media, with very limited proactive outreach
in reaching out to journalists. The committee agrees they need to promote new,
relevant content to get the BPA perspective into the media mix. The committee
believes industry studies are tainted from the public perspective.
The committee doubts social media outlets, such as Facebook or Twitter, will
work for positive BPA outreach. The committee wants to focus on quality instead
of quantity in disseminating messages (e.g. a young kid or pregnant mother
providing a positive quote about BPA, a testimonial from an outside expert,
providing positive video, advice from third party experts, and relevant messaging
on the GMA website). Members noted traditional media outreach has become
too expensive (they have already spent hundreds of thousands of dollars) and
the media is starting to ignore their side. The committee doubts obtaining a
scientific spokesperson is attainable. Their “holy grail” spokesperson would be a
“pregnant young mother who would be willing to speak around the country about
the benefits of BPA.”
Eventually, the committee concluded before deciding on the tactics to spread
their messages, they need to develop the messages. The committees plan to
fund a joint survey and message testing—what new messages they need to
sell—before implementing a website and creating materials. Another task group
will be implemented to finalize how to develop messages and aggressively use
electronic media to deliver those messages.
Members noted the industry needs research on how perceptions of BPA are
translating into consumer behavior—Is it translating into most moms not buying
canned products or just a minority of moms? They hope to form messages
relevant to how people live their lives—What does not having BPA mean to your
daily lifestyle? Focusing on the impact of BPA bans on minorities (Hispanic and
African American) and poor is also important. The members want to put the
danger of BPA into perspective.
Legislatively, the committee is focusing on Connecticut and California.
Committee members are meeting with as many representatives on the Health
Committee as possible. The members are focusing on more legislative battles
and befriending people that are able to manipulate the legislative process. They
believe a grassroots and legislative approach is favorable because the legislators
worry about how the moms will react. If the Connecticut bill goes through, the
committee believes it will be a good opportunity to talk about the negative impact
that ban will have on businesses and employment—How will it affect the union
workers? The committee wants to put a proposal together for the right way to
deal with legislative issues in each state.
The committee discussed Prop 65 in California—requiring the Governor to
publish, at least annually, a list of chemicals known to the state to cause cancer
or reproductive toxicity. The committee will form a coalition to write a submission
about the benefits of using BPA by the deadline for submissions on June 30,
2009. Members will also build up their contact base in Sacramento. The
committee does not want to win at the legislative level and then not have anyone
to buy the product.
The committee questioned whether or not trade associations should challenge
what is being said about BPA. Other trade associations for plastics have begun
writing letters in response to “lies” being told about BPA. The committee
proposed to be involved in the dialog and comment electronically and directly
back to reporters. Attendees noted it does not matter what the next material is,
there will be issues with it, and the committee wants to work to make people feel
more comfortable with BPA and “BPA2” or whatever chemical comes next.
The committee suggested dividing the costs of the work and research equally by
the members. The members are guesstimating it will cost at least $200,000 for
the message testing and the survey and $500,000 for the entire project. The
committee is also looking for new members to help with costs and outreach.
What Do the FrankenFood/FrankenCrop/FrankenAnimal Defenders Have to Say for Themselves?
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Reason Magazine may be a voice of libertarian politics and economics, but, at least on the issue of Genetically Modified Crops, it has made a serious mistake. Kerry Howley, a Senior Editor at Reason, http://www.reason.com/news/show/125722.html, has somehow forgotten a critical element when writing an ringing apologia full of industry propaganda for the apotheosis, the pinnacle in the triumph of free market over sense or, indeed, reason (and perhaps survival) itself. What he has forgotten is science. Fact, the handmaiden of science, lies trampled in the dust as well. And so does health, yours, mine and the planet’s.
In fact, although unbridled free market economics is the central chord of the libertarian song, the chorus is “As long as your freedom does not hurt me”. And therein lies the rub: Genetically Modified ANYTHING hurts me, and you, and every sufferer of Morgellon’s Disease and every biological function of the earth. But, at least until recently, it certainly has been good business!
But since when is damaging the biosphere not hurting me?
Since when is modifying bacteria which take up residence in our soil and in my gut with potentially lethal long and short term consequences, not harming me?
Since when is creating corn which ensures permanent male sterility and mixing it, unlabeled, into my food, not harming me?
Since when is altering crops to produce so much of a natural pesticide that farmers and their families die from the allergic reaction they experience to breathing the crop’s pollen not harming me?
Since when is introducing “food” into my body, without my consent, which increases allergic reactions, including deadly ones, by 50% not harming me?
Since when is modifying fish so that they are larger, more aggressive and breed earlier in their life cycle so that they will replace native, unmodified fish in the wild, leaving me no choice to eat non GM FrankenFish (because they have been made extinct) not harming me?
Since when is inserting unstable genes into my food which then, undigested by a gut not prepared by long acquaintance to digest them, wander around my body and insert themselves in unpredictable locations in my genes and those of a baby I am carrying if I am pregnant not harming me?
Since when is creating materials which infect and infest me with pseudo life forms bringing a new plague upon the earth, the horrifying and disfiguring Morgellon’s Disease, not harming me?
Since when is creating foods whose wandering genes turn on, or off, my own genes in a totally unpredictable way leading to disruption of the orderly process of genetic control in my body not harming me?
Since when is introducing genetic material which, in the random context of where it happens to land this time in this or that cell, produces proteins never before made inside of any living body (or, perhaps, outside of one, either) without my explicit permission not harming me?
Since when is lowering fetal survival rates though the food the pregnant woman eats during pregnancy, or ate during her own child hood, perhaps, not harming me?
Since when is introducing food into my children’s diet which, in laboratory studies, has been shown to cause damage to the gut, the kidneys, the immune system and the survivability of the young not harming me?
Since when is creating super weeds through genetic drift not harming me?
Since when is creating bugs which, in response to super pesticide production in genetically modified crops, have become resistant to pesticides and capable of new crop devastation without available control not harming me?
Since when is invading farms where non GM crops are growing and destroying their millennia-old genetic material (which I have the enzymatic capacity to digest) not harming me?
Since when is providing food which contains enzymes which confer tolerance for deadly pesticides to a genetically modified plant, but which, in my gut, may transform to produce the same deadly pesticide (a known cause of cancer, infertility and other highly dangerous conditions) they were altered to tolerate not harming me?
Who asked my permission to introduce these things into my body and my world. I would remind Mr. Howley that it is, indeed my world, as well as the world of his commerical free market buddies.
I do not recall signing an informed consent to be a trial subject for the greatest (and possibly most deadly) experiment in human history. Interestingly, I also do not recall signing a contract to allow the degradation and dangerous contamination of 75-80% of every bit of food that I eat with Genetically Modified ingredients. Do you recall signing those documents? So the libertarian chorus, “As long as it does not harm me” seems a little flat in this particular song. Dead flat.
When then-President George H. W. Bush declared that GMOs were equivalent to non GM food and determined public policy, do you recall any safety testing used to guide that decision? Neither do I. When the FDA permits GM foods on the market – that means in your body and mine – without ANY safety testing or a review of the internal safety assessment of the companies that have patented these foods, do they ask us to concur with their decision to allow GMOs in our food which are either under moratorium or banned in a large part of the world, developed or not? But here, in what is alleged to be the most developed nation in the world (with little to back that up in the health and food safety areas!), we are subjected to “foods” and crops and animals which are simultaneously declared to be exactly the same as unmodified foods yet sufficiently unique to patent. And those products of innovation and free market success are, according to the FDA’s website, to be judged in their safety and product liability through the sorting out process of the Court system.
Of course, without traceability there can be no liability. Without labeling there can be no traceability. Thanks for nothing.
So where is the free market, libertarian ethic here? What it comes down to in Mr. Howley’s underlying, structural view is that if you can get away with selling it, not only must that be a good thing to do (“free market”), but hey, “caveat emptor”, let the buyer beware – if they can get away with selling the stuff, they sell it, so it must be good. Of course, the ever-industry-friendly FDA and USDA tie the buyer’s hands and blindfold their eyes by making sure that the consumer has no knowledge whatsoever of what foods do and do not contain GM ingredients. They actually specifically prohibit such labeling because they know full well that consumers will shun the contaminated, altered and potentially very dangerous products which their industry friends have created if they know what they are eating or buying.
Full Free Market Speed ahead and Damn the Facts
GM food crops which have been modified for pesticide tolerance lead to more, not less, pesticide use. Since they are proffered by the maker of the very pesticide they tolerate so well, farmers are encouraged to use more and the free market gets another boost while the food supply, both the consumer’s and the farmer’s health and the environment all take substantial hits.
I attended a meeting in Africa at which Sylvia Matsebo, then Minister of Health of Zambia, was present and we had a chance to talk. I do not know when I have met a more clear sighted and dedicated woman in public life, unless it was the Minister of Health of Kenya, also present at that meeting. When President Levy Mwanawasa of Zambia rejected GM food for his people, as referenced by the article below, I cannot but believe that Ms. Matsebo was at the head of his advisers, telling him what was good for his people, not for his pockets. Would that our advisers and our leaders had the courage and wisdom on this issue of President Mwanawasa!
In 2004, author Robert Paarlberg noted, “Roughly 90 percent of the cotton and soybeans produced in the US are genetically modified. Fifty or 70 percent of the corn is genetically modified. If you look at the products on a retail store shelf, probably 70 percent of them contain some ingredients from genetically modified crops. Mostly corn or soybeans.” Today the situation is worse with more products and more percentages of crops grown in the US and elsewhere modified to the point that the supply of GM ingredients to manufacture organic foods is not in jeopardy. For Natural Solutions Foundation concerns, see above.
Reason rests its comfort level with this technology on the assertion that Mr. Paarlberg makes that there are no studies showing the danger of GM foods. That is as patently false as the statement made to me, personally, in a meeting on June 9, 2005, by Dr. Edward Scarborough, the US Codex Contact Point, that there is simply no literature showing the impact of nutrients on health. I sent him, in response, a bibliography containing references to 10s of thousands of peer reviewed articles and books showing the impact of nutrients on health, a good part of them sponsored by grants, or conducted directly by, the US Government. He never responded, of course. My letter, and that bibliography, were published through our website, www.HealthFreedomUSA.org and the bibliography was referenced in our Citizens Petition to the FDA to compel them to cease their illegal “HARMonization” of US dietary supplements to Codex standards. You can join this legal challenge to US Supplement Codex policy here (http://drrimatruthreports.com/index.php?page_id=184).
Mr. Paarlberg exudes joy over the fact that plants modified to make their own pesticides do so at levels up to 10,000 time the amount made by the organism that manufactures it in nature. It is quite effective at the lower level in nature but at these enormous concentrations not only do insects, both crop pests and beneficial ones, die, but the impact on our bodies when we eat the food from the crops – or wear the clothing made from these fibers – modified in this way, is completely unknown. What is know is that the pollen can cause pneumonia and kill people exposed to it as happened in the Phillipines during cotton pollination time.
What is also missing from this enthusiastic recounting of the wonders of this technology is the 22,000 farmers who have killed themselves in the State of Gujerat (India) in their final grim protest against what this crop has done to them – driven them off the land because they cannot afford to pay the intellectual property tax added to the cost of the seed after they were given the seed free for the first year, destroyed their cultures and devastated their families. Somehow that does not count in the economium of free market thinking.
Happily publishing Mr. Paalberg’s unsubstantiated (and inaccurate) assessment that there is no damage to the environment, in the face of well-documented information to the contrary, and blithly accepting the premise that “gene flow”, aka “contamination” is no different from natural crop cross pollination (which does not require the payment of taxes to the “owner” of the natural gene), and the prohibitions against saving seed because of intellectual property rights which accrue to the owner of the patented genes), Reason has lost its reason.
On the issue of organic farming, things get even weirder. Instead of using vermicluture (adding worms to soil) and returning nutrients and soil organisms (or adding them for the first time) through natural means such as composting (every village produces waste: using it properly returns nutrients to the soil – see the Songhai videos here (http://www.youtube.com/naturalsolutions) – the answer of this industrial agriculturalist and Reason seems to be using synthetic fertilizers which deplete the soil more and more with each growing cycle, leading to green, but non nutritive plants. Both Mr. Howley and Mr. Paarlberg seem to have forgotten, or have never known, that organic agriculture replenishes and enriches the soil as a basic technique of food production, rather than wresting contaminated and demineralized plants from an increasingly devitalized soil. Their intentions may be good, but their information, and hence their conclusions, make no biological sense whatsoever. True, they make free market sense. That’s the problem, as I see it.
However, despite his frustration with the lack of penetration of GMOs in Africa, Mr. Paalberg genially recounts that he sees hope on the horizon “Just last week in Nairobi the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and African Agricultural Technology Foundation announced that they would be going forward with the [GMO] drought-tolerant maize project.” Mr. Paalberg may find hope in that. I find it depressing and frightening in light of the aptly named “Doomsday Vault” in which native seeds are being stored by the hundreds of millions in the frozen wastes of Norway above the arctic circle in the bowels of a hollowed-out mountain. The Doomsday Vault was sponsored, in part, by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the same people who brought nearly universal vaccination to the children of Africa.
If you are a believer in the wonders of vaccination, that is a generous and humanitarian project. If you are familiar, however, with the literature, not just the propaganda, on vaccination and the impact it has on human populations (autism, cancer, immune collapse, heavy metal poisoning, auto immune disease, etc.), then this “generosity” becomes a cause for concern. The concern is, in my mind, equal to the concern on learning that Mr. and Mrs. Gates have chosen yet another way to forward the biological nightmare of genetically modified foods in yet another vulnerable population.
The Natural Solutions Foundation will attend the 2008 Codex Committee on Food Labeling (April, Ottawa) where the African nations will deal, once again, with the US attempt to push unlabeled GM foods on them through both product and seeds. We will be actively engaged in supporting their leadership to prevent this effort from succeeding. In February, at a meeting on this issue in Accra, the African nations created a de facto coalition which elicited the support of Norway, Russia, Japan, the EU and Switzerland. They, unlike the free market folks, understand that governments have a role to play in protecting the health of their people from corporate desires to expand markets.
How fear of life-saving technology swept through Africa
Kerry Howley | March 28, 2008
In May 2002, in the midst of a severe food shortage in sub-Saharan Africa, the government of Zimbabwe turned away 10,000 tons of corn from the World Food Program (WFP). The WFP then diverted the food to other countries, including Zambia, where 2.5 million people were in need. The Zambian government locked away the corn, banned its distribution, and stopped another shipment on its way to the country. â€œSimply because my people are hungry,â€ President Levy Mwanawasa later said, â€œis no justification to give them poison.â€
The corn came from farms in the United States, where most corn producedâ€”and consumedâ€”comes from seeds that have been engineered to resist some pests, and thus qualifies as genetically modified. Throughout the 90s, genetically modified foods were seen as holding promise for the farmers of Africa, so long as multinationals would invest in developing superior African crops rather than extend the technology only to the rich. When Zambia and Zimbabwe turned away food aid, simmering controversy over the crops themselves brimmed over and seeped into almost every African state. Cast as toxic to humans, destructive to the environment, and part of a corporate plot to immiserate the poor, cutting edge farming technology is most feared where it is most needed. As Robert Paarlberg notes in his new book, Starved for Science: How Biotechnology is Being Kept Out of Africa (Harvard University Press), in 2004 the Sudanese government â€œtook time out from its genocidal suppression of a rebellion in Darfur to issue a memorandum requiring that all food aid brought into the country should be certified as free of any GM ingredients.â€
Starved for Science includes forwards by both Jimmy Carter and Norman Borlaug, the architect of Asiaâ€™s Green Revolution and the man credited with saving more human lives than anyone else in history. Paarlberg, a Professor of Political Science at Wellesley and a specialist in agricultural policy, wants the West to help small African farmers obtain promising technologies just as it helped Asia discover biological breakthroughs in the 60s and 70s. Instead, he says, a coalition of European governments and African elites are promoting a Western vision of rustic, low-productivity labor.
reason: Was there a particular experience with African farmers that led you to write this book?
Robert Paarlberg: Partly it was the strong impression made on me by my own visits to rural Africa, working with African organizations, working with USAID, working with International Food Policy Research Institute. I started visiting small farms in Africa 15 years ago. Iâ€™d seen a lot of poor farmers in Asia and Latin America but absolutely nothing like this. There was simply no uptake of any modern productivity-enhancing technologies at all in some cases. And I wondered why I hadnâ€™t been aware of this. And then, when I saw more and more narrative in the NGO community and the donor community that was frankly hostile to science, I thought â€œI have to put this down and write a book for younger people in the donor community who may not remember the importance of technology uptake in Asian agriculture 40 years ago.â€
reason: You suggest that your understanding of modern ideas about food production arises from interactions with your students. What is it that they want?
Paarlberg: My students know just what kind of food system they want: a food system that isnâ€™t based on industrial scale monoculture. They want instead small farms built around nature imitating polycultures. They donâ€™t want chemical use; they certainly donâ€™t want genetic engineering. They want slow food instead of fast food. Theyâ€™ve got this image of what would be better than what we have now. And what they probably donâ€™t realize is that Africa is an extreme version of that fantasy. If we were producing our own food that way, 60 percent of us would still be farming and would be earning a dollar a day, and a third of us would be malnourished. Iâ€™m trying to find some way to honor the rejection that my students have for some aspects of modern farming, but I donâ€™t want them to fantasize about the exact opposite.
reason: Can you give an example of a genetically modified seed or organism, something in use today?
Paarlberg: Bt crops have been engineered to contain a gene from a naturally occurring soil bacterium that expresses a certain protein that cannot be digested by caterpillars. Mammals can digest the protein with absolutely no problem, but caterpillars cannot. When the caterpillars eat the plant, they die.
Whatâ€™s wonderful about this is that itâ€™s so precisely targeted at the insects eating the plant. The other insects in the field arenâ€™t affected. Using conventional corn instead of Bt corn, you have to spray the whole field and you end up killing a lot of non-targeted species. With this variety, you donâ€™t have to spray.
reason: That sounds less scary than â€œGenetically Modified Organism.â€
Paarlberg: The book makes the argument that the overregulation of this technology in Europe and the anxieties felt about it in the United States are not so much a reflection of risks, because there arenâ€™t any documented risks from any GM crops on the market. I explain that reaction through the absence of direct benefit. The technology is directly beneficial to only a tiny number of citizens in rich countriesâ€”soybean farmers, corn farmers, a few seed companies, patent holders. Consumers donâ€™t get a direct benefit at all, so it doesnâ€™t cost them anything to drive it off the market with regulations. The problem comes when the regulatory systems created in rich countries are then exported to regions like Africa, where two thirds of the people are farmers, and where they would be the direct beneficiaries.
reason: How pervasive are genetically modified foods in the U.S.?
Paarlberg: Roughly 90 percent of the cotton and soybeans produced in the US are genetically modified. Fifty or 70 percent of the corn is genetically modified. If you look at the products on a retail store shelf, probably 70 percent of them contain some ingredients from genetically modified crops. Mostly corn or soybeans.
reason: Are there documented safety risks that merit caution?
Paarlberg: There arenâ€™t any. Itâ€™s like the first ten years of aviation without a plane crash.
reason: What about environmental risks? Donâ€™t GM crops affect surrounding plantlife?
Paarlberg: The only impacts they have different from conventional crops are beneficial to the environment. They allow you to control weeds and insects with fewer sprayings of toxic chemicals. And they donâ€™t require as many trips through the field with your diesel tractor, so you burn less fossil fuel. And there is more carbon sequestered because youâ€™re not tilling the soil the way you otherwise would.
There are environmental impacts; there is gene flow. The pollen from a genetically modified maize plant will flow into a neighboring field and will fertilize the crops in that neighboring field. Some of the seeds, as a consequence, will contain the transgene, but thatâ€™s no different from pollen from a conventional maize plant flowing into the next field. Itâ€™s only if you decide arbitrarily to define gene flow from genetically modified crops as â€œcontaminationâ€ and flow from all other crops as natural. Only then does it start to become describable as an adverse effect.
The worst environmental damage ever done by American agricultural was the dustbowl of the 1930s, when we plowed up the southern plains to grow wheat, and all the topsoil blew away. The way we increased production back then was to expand crop area, which was environmentally disastrous. It was a calamity. That was the way we tried to increase production before we had high yielding crops, before we had high yielding wheat varieties, before we had hybrid maize, before we learned to increase the productivity of the land already under cultivation.
reason: Can you give us a sense of what an average African farmer in, say, Zambia, is currently working with?
Paarlberg: It would be a woman and her children primarily, and they would plant not a hybrid maize, but a traditional openly pollinated variety, and they would time the preparation of the soil and planting as best they could for when they thought the rains would come. But the rains might not come in time, or they might be too heavy and wash the seeds out of the ground. Itâ€™s a risky endeavor. They canâ€™t afford fertilizer, and itâ€™s too risky to use fertilizer because in a drought the maize would shrivel up and the fertilizer would be wasted. They donâ€™t have any irrigation. As a consequence, even in a good year their yields per hectare will be only about one third as high as in Asian countries, 1/10 as high as in the United States.
reason: Just as it used to be in Asia.
reason: Right, everywhere. But Asia has moved on in recent memory. The Green Revolution introduced new biological breakthroughs to Asian agriculture to the point where no one today thinks of South Korea as a rural backwater. Why was Africa not a part of this?
Paarlberg: One reason is that Africa is not easily irrigated. The big irrigated crops like rice arenâ€™t to be found in Africa and the big investments in the Green Revolution went into improving Asian crops like rice. The crops Africans grow werenâ€™t the crops that were being improved during the green revolution.
But I donâ€™t blame it all on the Asia-focus of the original green revolution; we have had plenty of time to invest in scientific research for Africaâ€™s crops, and to make investments in rural public goods like roads or power to make it affordable for African farmers to purchase fertilizer. But African governments have not done that job. In my book I show that typically African governments will spend less than 5 percent of their budget on agriculture even though thatâ€™s where two thirds of their citizens work. And if you donâ€™t have larger public sector investments than that, there is just not going to be any uptake in the countryside. But then I go around and show that you canâ€™t blame African governments, entirely, because prosperous donor countries are no longer supporting agriculture in Africa.
reason: No African government other than South Africaâ€™s has made it legal to plant GMOs. You call this â€œout of characterâ€ for the same governments.
Paarlberg: They have not yet enacted the law, set up the biosafety committee, and granted approval, which is the laborious process that [the United Nations Environmental Program] and the European governments have coached them into adopting.
Itâ€™s interesting. In no other area are governments in Africa particularly concerned about hypothetical environmental risks. They know better than to invoke the precautionary principle when it comes to unsafe food in open air markets. They know that they need to first get rid of actual food shortages and raise income; then and only then can they afford to impose the same extremely high standards of food safety on open air markets that are imposed on supermarkets in Europe. Yet curiously when it comes to GMOs they adopt the highly precautionary European standard, which makes it impossible to put these products on the market at all. I take that as evidence that this is not an authentic African response, itâ€™s a response imported from Europe.
reason: So the romanticization of bucolic farm landscapes unmarred by scientific advance has an American and European pedigree.
Paarlberg: Itâ€™s not what we do at homeâ€”only two percent of agricultural products in the US are organically grown. And many of those that are organically grown are grown on industrial scale organic farms in California that donâ€™t bear any resemblance to small bucolic farms. But itâ€™s the image we promote in our new cultural narrative. Itâ€™s something that affects the way we give foreign assistance.
reason: Many of the anti-agricultural science gurus you mention in your book have a spiritual dimension. Can you talk a bit about Sylvester Graham?
Paarlberg: Sylvester Graham, the father of the modern graham cracker, was opposed to the modern flour milling industry. He didnâ€™t like the industrialization of bread production, and he wanted women to go back to grinding flour. He was a religious man, a minister, and he had all of the narrow minded prejudices we might associate with a New England clergyman from the 19th century. He thought that women should stay in the home, he believed people should be vegetarians because that would keep their sexual appetite back. We sometimes forget what goes along with the food purist zealotry. Itâ€™s often zealotry about more than just a certain kind of food to eat.
In Zambia today there are expatriate Jesuits from the United States who have come to believe genetic engineering is against Godâ€™s teaching, though this is not a belief that is embraced by the Vatican. They believe that all living things, including plants, have a right not to have their genetic makeup modified. Of course we have been modifying the genetic makeup of plants ever since we domesticated them 10,000 years ago, but these particular fathers are focused only on genetic engineering.
reason: Isnâ€™t it paternalistic to blame Europeans for the decisions of African governments? Is this something African elites are at least as complicit in?
Paarlberg: Itâ€™s a codependency. The African elites depend upon Europe for financial assistance, they depend upon European export markets, they depend on NGOs for technical assistance, itâ€™s just easier for them to follow the European lead than to go against that lead. And to some extent the European governments depend upon having dependents in Africa that will, despite the difficult experience of colonization, continue to imitate and validate and honor European culture and taste.
reason: What exactly have European NGOs done to discourage productivity in farming? You quote Doug Parr, a chemist at Greenpeace, arguing that the de facto organic status of farms in Africa is an opportunity to lock in organic farming, since African farmers have yet to advance beyond that.
Paarlberg: Some of it is well intentioned. The organic farming movement believes this is an appropriate corrective to the chemical intensive farming that they see in Europe. In Europe, where prosperous consumers are willing to pay a premium for organic products, it sometimes makes sense to use a more costly production process. So they think, â€œWell itâ€™s the wave of the future here in Europe, so it should be the future in Africa as well.â€
So they tell Africans who donâ€™t use enough fertilizer that instead of using more they should go to zero and certify themselves as organic. Thatâ€™s probably the most damaging influence â€” discouraging Africans from using enough fertilizer to restore the nutrients they mine out of their soil. They classify African farmers as either certified organic, or de facto organic. Indeed, many are de facto organic. And their goal is not to increase the productivity of the organic farmers, but to certify them as organic.
I just find that to be lacking in moral clarity.
reason: But there are functioning organic farms. If I decide to buy only organic food from Africa, what will I be buying?
Paarlberg: It wouldnâ€™t be grown by small fair-trade-type poor farmers. It would be grown through a vertically integrated, probably European, company that would bring in the machinery, bring in the seeds, bring in the fertilizers, set up a production system that would more nearly resemble a colonial-era plantation than a small independent African farm.
reason: Weâ€™ve seen similar resistance to GMOs in India and Brazil, both of which now have legalized the use of genetically modified crops. What happened?
Paarlberg: Farmers were planting them illicitly before the final approvalâ€”thatâ€™s one reason they were forced into the approval. The technology worked so well that farmers were planting them on their own and you couldnâ€™t criminalize all Brazilian soybean growers so you had to approve them. Similarly in India, Bt cotton spread on its own and performed so well that the government was eventually shamed into approving it.
reason: You arenâ€™t just calling for people to get out of the way. You want increased aid for agricultural research. But why would any of this require aid? If itâ€™s going to prove profitable, shouldnâ€™t the incentive for private investment be there?
Paarlberg: The farmers who need the technology in Africa donâ€™t have enough purchasing power to be of interest to private companies. Or theyâ€™re growing crops that arenâ€™t a part of a commercial seed market that would interest private seed companies. The only way to reach them, really, is to consider the crops that they grow, for example tropical white maize or cassava. Itâ€™s a little bit like the orphan disease problem. Itâ€™s really something that has to be done as a public good by the public sector.
Thatâ€™s how the green revolution proceeded in India in the 1960s. It was a wonderful success, and it wasnâ€™t really driven by the private sector. It was driven by philanthropic foundations and public investment. Also you need not just seed improvement, but more rural farm-to-market roads, electrification, and things that really governments and only governments are incentivized and capable of doing.
There was a time, before scare stories about technology spread, when the concern was a much more legitimate one: that weâ€™ve handed this technology over to private companies to develop, and they wonâ€™t have any incentive to get it to Africa. And to some extent thatâ€™s still a legitimate concern. There was never any fear that Brazilian farmers or Canadian farmers wouldnâ€™t be able to get the technology, because theyâ€™re big commercial growers. The concern was originally that Africans would want the technology but wouldnâ€™t be able to get it because they didnâ€™t have the purchasing power or the investment climate that could attract private companies.
reason: The book is 200 pages of frustration. Are there any glimmers of hope ahead?
Paarlberg: Just last week in Nairobi the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and African Agricultural Technology Foundation announced that they would be going forward with the drought-tolerant maize project that I describe in chapter 5 of my book. Iâ€™m very pleased that the Gates Foundation has seen the opportunity that this new technology provides. It would be too bad if drought tolerant corn were being grown in Iowa in 2010 and not available to the farmer who really needed it in Africa.
Drought in Africa pushes small farmers back into poverty whenever it strikes. They have to sell off all their household possessions to buy the food their families need until the next season. It blocks the escape from poverty that they might otherwise achieve. Anything that puts a safety net under crop yields is going to protect small African farmers from that periodic decapitalization and let them start accumulating assets for a change.