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8 Steps Obama Could Take to Save Food

November 19, 2009 •  no comments.

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The landscape of health has changed. No longer are our families guaranteed a healthy livelihood, not in the face of the current rates of cancer, diabetes, obesity, Alzheimers and allergies. In the words of Elizabeth Warren, Harvard University law professor who is head of the Congressional Oversight Panel, “We need a new model,” and we need a new food system. It’s our health on the line.

8 Steps Obama Could Take to Save Food

1. Evenly distribute government moneys to all farmers: The current system allocates the lion share of our tax dollars (approximately $60 billion) to farmers growing crops whose seeds have been engineered to produce their own insecticides and tolerate increasing doses of weed killing herbicides. As a result, these crops, with a large chemical footprint, are cheaper to produce, while farmers growing organic produce are charged fees to prove that their crops are safe and then charged additional fees to label these crops as free of synthetic chemicals and “organic”. If organic farmers received an equal distribution of taxpayer funded handouts from the government, the cost of producing crops free from synthetic chemicals would be cheaper, making these crops more affordable to more people, in turn increasing demand for these products which would further drive down costs. If we were to reallocate our national budget and evenly distribute our tax dollars to all farmers, clean food would be affordable to everyone and not just those in certain zip codes.

2. Reinstitute the USDA pesticide reporting standard that was waived under the Bush administration. In 2008, the USDA waived pesticide reporting requirements (a procedure that has been in place since the early 1990s) so that farmers and consumers would know the level of chemicals being applied to food crops. Given a report just released that reveals a 383 million pound increase in the use of weed killing herbicides since the introduction of herbicide tolerant crops in 1996 and the potential impact that this glyphosate containing compound is having on both the environment and on our health, perhaps the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy assumed under the previous administration should be reversed.

3. Reinstate the pre-Bush administration dollar value that the EPA places on the life of every American: in May 2008, the Bush administration lowered the value placed on the life of every American by almost $1 million, benefiting corporations who use this figure in their cost benefit analyses, marking down our lives from $7.8 million to $6.9 million the same way a car dealer might markdown a “96 Camaro with bad brakes. The EPA figure is used to assess corporate liability when a company’s actions put a life at risk. While this figure benefits the corporations conducting the cost benefit analysis when assessing the health impact of their chemicals, the costs of these chemicals are being externalized onto the public in the form of health care costs.

4. Allow public debate over the nomination of pesticide lobbyist, Islam Siddiqui for Chief Agriculture Negotiator at the office of the United States Trade Representative. As addressed in a letter sent to Chairman Max Baucus and Ranking Member Charles Grassley of the Senate Finance Committee, Islam Siddiqui, nominated for Chief Agriculture Negotiator at the office of the United States Trade Representative, was formerly employed by CropLife America, whose firm challenged Michelle Obama’s organic garden, has consistently lobbied the U.S government to weaken international treaties governing the use and export of toxic chemicals such as PCBs, DDT and dioxins, and blocked international attempts to help regulate pesticides that increasingly linked to chronic skin and respiratory problems, birth defects and cancer in our community. Given that a growing body of scientific evidence supports the theory that chemicals in our food are contributing to the rise in health problems, particularly in children, the appointment of an industry lobbyist to export our challenged food system to the rest of the world may be in the best interest of agrichemical corporations but consideration should also be given to the health implications that these novel chemicals, proteins and allergens may have.

5. Encourage climate change advocates like Al Gore to discuss Pesticide Use by Big Ag and its Chemical Footprint: While speaking openly about the petroleum industry’s impact on global warming, leading environmental advocates like Al Gore have been quiet about the chemical contribution that the recent introduction of crops genetically engineered with pesticidal toxins play on global warming despite scientific evidence from the Royal Society of Chemistry highlighting their impact. Since the Clinton Administration’s introduction of biotech crops designed and engineered to both withstand increasing doses of weed killing chemicals and produce their own insecticides, new reports based on USDA data, show a 383 million pound increase in the chemicals being applied to these crops since their introduction in 1996. According to the Royal Society of Chemistry, “growing biofuels is probably of no benefit and in fact is actually making the climate issue worse” given that glyphosate, being applied in increasing doses to these crops, breaks down into nitrogen.

6. Update the Consumer Protection and Food Allergen Labeling Act to inform consumers of these newly engineered corn allergens: The recent engineering of novel food proteins and toxins into the US food supply has enhanced profitability for the food industry by allowing commodities like corn to produce their own insecticides. As a result, corn is now considered an insecticide and regulated by the EPA . For this same reason, this corn has been either banned or labeled in products in other developed countries because the new toxins and novel allergens that it contains have not yet been proven safe. Despite the lack of evidence, this corn is in the American food supply. The increase in the rate of food allergies as demonstrated in the December issue of Pediatrics and the growing number of people with this condition- whose bodies recognize food as “foreign” and launch inflammatory reaction in an effort to drive out these “foreign” food invaders, speaks to the need to update and amend the food allergen labeling act to label these newly engineered genetically enhanced proteins and allergens as governments around the world do.

7. Ask the SEC to join the Department of Justice in its investigation into trade practices in agrichemical industry. As the Department of Justice begins its investigation into the impact that Monsanto’s monopoly is having on farmers, their financial situation and the food supply, research out of the USDA highlights that the biotech industry is not delivering on what some are calling their “hype-to-reality ratio”. As farmers are charged premiums for seeds that have been engineered to produce greater yields, research out of the USDA, Kansas State University shows that these products are not delivering as promised, directly impacting the cost structures of farmers in a razor to razorblade scenario. As farmers purchase genetically modified seeds in the hopes that they will increase yields and drive down cost structure and their dependency on weed killers, studies now suggest that since the introduction of the “razor”, these biotech crops introduced 13 years ago, farmers are actually spending more on the “razorblade”, the herbicides and weed killers required to manage them, driving farmers debt to asset ratios to record levels. Given that Monsanto’s CFO, Treasurer, Controller are all leaving the company by year end, the Securities and Exchange Commission could interview these three exiting executives and learn more about the financial predicaments of Big Ag’s customers, the farmers, and the greater ramifications that this monopoly will have on food prices.

8. Appoint a Children’s Health Advisor to serve on the USDA’s National School Lunch Program: The landscape of children’s health has changed. No longer are the American children guaranteed a healthy childhood, not in the face of the current rates of obesity, diabetes and allergies. Perhaps it is time that we follow the lead of governments in other developed countries and create a Cheif Advisor for Child and Youth Health whose responsibilities might include, but not be limited to, serving in an advisory capacity to the USDA on the National School Lunch Program. Under the USDA’s current budget for the National School Lunch Program of approximately $8.5 billion (in comparison the Pentagon’s 2009 budget $600 billion), less than a dollar is available per meal for the purchase of healthy food once overhead costs are taken out. Given that 1 in 3 American children now has allergies, ADHD, autism of asthma and according to an October 2008 study from the Centers for Disease Control, 1 in 3 Fourth graders is expected to be insulin dependent by the time they reach adulthood. As a result, dietary concerns are becoming increasingly prevalent for the estimated 30.9 million children and approximately 102,000 schools and child care institutions that participate in the National School Lunch Program. Given that increasing scientific evidence points to the roles that environmental insults like synthetic growth hormones in milk and trans fats in processed foods are having on our health, investing in a children’s health advisor may provide long term benefits to the future of our health care system .

It’s our food system on the line. And if our children are any indicator, our health and the economic burden that it presents are on the line, too.

Profitting off of Pesticides?

November 18, 2009 •  no comments.

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We are honored to highlight this article by Paula Crossfield, editor of Civil Eats.

A new report out today, Impacts of Genetically Engineered Crops on Pesticide Use in the United States: The First Thirteen Years [pdf] authored by Dr. Charles Benbrook, chief scientist at The Organic Center, reveals that the use of genetically modified (GM) corn, soy and cotton crops has increased the amount of pesticides used in the past 13 years by 318 million pounds.

This information comes to light as the industry struggles to position itself as providing environmental benefit through use of bt technology — insecticide producing seeds — savings from which are diminished in light of a six times greater herbicide usage.

Farmers have become increasingly critical of both GM seed as it goes up in price, and herbicides like Roundup, also known as glyphosate, as ‘superweeds‘ become prevalent in treated fields. The growth of pigweed, which can quickly reach widths of 6 inches at the stalk, and other invasive, glyphosate-resistant species increases farmers reliance on more high-risk herbicides, including 2,4-D, dicamba and paraquat, and has resulted in a return to hand harvesting and even abandoning of fields.

Dr. Benbrook used the USDA’s National Agriculture Statistics Service data and publicly available Monsanto information to ascertain these findings. The report states that it became increasingly difficult to get such information from the USDA as it ceased collecting thorough data on pesticide usage in the US in recent years. Furthermore, the USDA has never conducted research on the relationship between GM crops and increased pesticide use, resulting in a lack of in-depth information to inform regulators. (I wrote about the need for more such research here, where Dr. Benbrook also chimed in.)

The report challenges researchers and regulators to consider the following:

Herbicides and insecticides are potent environmental toxins. Where GE crops cannot deliver meaningful reductions in reliance on pesticides, policy makers need to look elsewhere. In addition to toxic pollution, agriculture faces the twin challenges of climate change and burgeoning world populations. The biotechnology industry’s current advertising campaigns promise to solve those problems, just as the industry once promised to reduce the chemical footprint of agriculture. Before we embrace GE crops as solution to these new challenges, we need a sober, data-driven appraisal of its track record on earlier pledges.

With glyphosate producer Monsanto encouraging farmers to diversify their herbicide use to control superweeds, this research shows that we could be at a turning point for Roundup Ready technology. As farmers realize the cost effectiveness of conventional seeds which deliver similar yields and allow seeds to be saved for reuse in future seasons, GM crops could prove a technological experiment gone wrong as we move toward creating a more durable and diverse food system.

This article first appeared on Civil Eats.

A Fairy Tale in the Lunchroom

November 17, 2009 •  2 comments.

 •  Blog, Uncategorized

Not long ago or far away, there was a great and mighty kingdom that was the envy of all other kingdoms in the world. The kingdom was home to two groups of people, the Big People and the Little People. The Big People had many jobs and responsibilities, but foremost among these was their unalterable duty to care for the wellbeing of the Little People above all else. The Little People had only one responsibility, to follow the advice of the Big People so that they, too, could grow up to be Big.

For many, many years, the Big People diligently watched over the Little People and looked out for their interests, while the Little People followed their examples and grew strong. The kingdom thrived and prospered.

Alas, as time passed, more and more Big People seemed to have forgotten their duty to the Little People. The Big Corn People began to grow so much royally-subsidized GMO corn that they turned it into millions of gallons of high fructose corn syrup. The Big Cereal People began telling Little People that their highly processed breakfast products were “smart choices” for their health and would help boost their immunity. The Big Meat People started injecting their livestock with antibiotics that compromised the immune systems of the Little People who ate the meat. The Big Beverage People ominously warned that Little People would die if they didn’t consume the electrolytes in their calorie-filled sports drinks. And the Big Milk People menacingly insisted that Little People would suffer grave calcium deficiencies unless served sugar-laden chocolate milk at every school meal.

Long gone were the days in which the Big People encouraged the Little People to eat appropriate sized portions of fresh, whole, sustainably-raised cooked-from-scratch real foods. Instead, the Big People invented “Little People Foods,” and loaded them with hormones, antibiotics, chemical preservatives, artificial colors and flavors, and added sugars. They formed the Little People Foods into fun shapes, put them in convenient packages, and decorated them with colorful cartoon characters. Then the Big People ran multi-billion dollar advertising campaigns telling the Little People that they were “lovin’ it” and to “raise their hands” for more.

In an Orwellian contortion of reality, saboteurs portrayed themselves as stewards, and napalm masqueraded as nourishment.

Before long, all the added sugars and chemicals in the Little People’s food began to take a dire toll. Little People who had once been fit and healthy became overweight and sick. They could no longer focus in their classrooms because of all the added sugar in their diets, and they fell further and further behind in their studies. One in three of the Little People developed Type 2 Diabetes, a deadly disease previously suffered only by the oldest of the Big People. They even began to develop signs of cardiovascular disease before reaching middle school. And, worst of all, the Little People began to die at younger and younger ages because of diet-related illnesses, and no longer outlived the Big People.

The kingdom itself fared no better. Increasingly populated by overweight and sick Little People, its royal treasury was rapidly depleted to cover calamitous healthcare expenses. Without enough healthy Little People to grow into healthy Big People, the kingdom could no longer raise an army strong enough to defend itself against invaders. And with a food supply that was so reliant on industrial agriculture and processing, the kingdom became more and more dependent on foreign oil, its once beautiful valleys became landfills for discarded food packaging, and its skies became toxic with emissions from long distribution chains and factory-farmed animals.

Although the warning signs portended the kingdom’s ultimate destruction, the Most Powerful Big People used their wealth to persuade the legislature to pass laws allowing them to exploit the kingdom’s progeny in unbridled pursuit of hallowed profits. The Less Powerful Big People exhibited an air of complacency, either too ashamed to admit to their own complicity or too ignorant to recognize it.

And the Little People, helpless and innocent victims of the rapacious greed of so many Big People, lived their shortened and sickened lives unhappily ever after.

The End?


AllergyKids is grateful to Guest Bloggers, Ann Cooper and Kate Adamick, for this article.

Ann Cooper serves as Interim Nutrition Director of the Boulder Valley School District; is founder of the Food Family Farming Foundation’s Lunch Box Project; and is author of Lunch Lessons: Changing the Way We Feed Our Children.

Kate Adamick is a New York-based food-systems consultant specializing in school-food reform and the director of The Orfalea Fund’s Cool Food Initiative in Santa Barbara, Calif.

Food's Wake-Up Call to EPA: "The regulatory system is not working"

November 6, 2009 •  2 comments.

 •  Blog, Uncategorized

Corn genetically engineered to resist pests and tolerate herbicides made up 85% of the U.S. corn crop in 2009, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

At the same time that we use this new technology to engineer insecticidal toxins into our food supply, the USDA has waived pesticide reporting requirements, making it almost impossible for farmers and consumers to know the levels of chemicals being applied to food crops.

About 65% of genetically engineered (GE) corn contains a gene from a common soil bacteria, Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt, which produces a chemical that kills either corn rootworms or corn borers, but farmers have become increasingly non-compliant with federally-mandated planting requirements designed to keep the popular chemical technology useful.

According to the New York Times, this information “should be a wake-up call to E.P.A. that the regulatory system is not working.”

Perhaps our children have been trying to warn us of this failed regulatory system since the introduction of these crops in the 1990s. In the last 15 years, we have seen jaw-dropping increases in the rates of allergies and digestive condition, with the Centers for Disease Control reporting a 265% increase in the rate of hospitalizations related to food allergic reactions.

Given the growing number of Americans with food allergies, whose bodies increasingly launch inflammatory responses to food proteins in an effort to flush out those food proteins which the body views as “foreign”, perhaps it is time that we stop and address the foreign proteins and toxins that have recently been engineered into the American food supply.

Because, as stated in the New York Times, “the regulatory system is not working.”

Given the state of the health of our children, isn’t that obvious?

Potential Allergen in H1N1 Swine Flu Vaccine May Put Children at Risk

November 5, 2009 •  one comment.

 •  Blog, Uncategorized

Potential Allergen in H1N1 Swine Flu Vaccine May Put Children at Risk- New Test Reveals Both Presence and Severity of the Allergy

The World Health Organization recently declared H1N1 swine flu a global pandemic, resulting in the creation of rigorous vaccination programs worldwide and anxiety among parents of children with food allergies.

Most H1N1 swine flu vaccines are prepared from virus grown in chicken’s eggs, resulting in a vaccine that contains remnants of egg proteins. Egg allergy is one of the most common food allergies in infants and young children. The allergy can be mild or severe but oftentimes the severity level remains unidentified. Whether a child will be at low or high risk for a clinical reaction as a consequence of receiving this vaccine depends upon the severity of their allergy. As the number of swine flu vaccinations increases, the likelihood of clinical reactions occurring in children with an undetected severe egg allergy intensifies.

Following exposure to egg, children with this allergy may suffer from clinical reactions including rash, gastrointestinal and respiratory infections and even anaphylaxis. In a press release issued last month, the US Food and Drug Administration recommended against H1N1 influenza vaccination for people with severe or life-threatening allergies to chicken eggs. Determining the severity of egg allergy is essential to knowing whether or not a child can safely receive the H1N1 swine flu vaccine.

A new test is available to determine the severity of a child’s egg allergy. A Swedish corporation, Phadia, offers lab testing to accurately diagnose and identify severity level of egg allergy. ImmunoCAP, Phadia’s precise, reliable allergy test that measures IgE antibodies, indicates clinical reaction to both egg white (f1) and ovomucoid (f233). The f1 test will help the physician to confirm or rule out an allergy to egg white. If an allergy to egg white is confirmed, the f233 follow-up test can be conducted to identify the severity of egg allergy and whether the child is at low or high risk for clinical reaction. Phadia is the only company to offer this important follow-up test.

Phadia’s ImmunoCAP allergy test system facilitates diagnosis in children with suspected egg allergy, and, upon diagnosis, determines the level of allergy severity. These tests allow physicians to provide timely advice to parents and caregivers anxious to know whether or not their child should receive the H1N1 swine flu vaccine.

For more information, please contact: Phadia Inc.: Magnus Borres, M.D., Medical Director contact@phadia.com