Archive for April, 2009

An Interview with Jon Wood

One thing we’ve done over years, as part of adding healthy nourishing food to our diet is to have a garden.  It’s been a wonderful thing to share with my kids and we’ve grown everything from tomatoes to pumpkins, sweet peas to cooking herbs.  There is nothing more delicious then eating a fresh picked tomato.

I’ve been a member of a wonderful Yahoo group for the past few years called Organic Homesteading and Gardening.  It was started in 2002 by Jon and now has over 7000 members.  If you are looking to learn about anything related to homesteading or gardening, one or more of the member of the group will know the answer. And Jon, who started the group has a wealth of knowledge that he always kindly shares with the group.  For me personally, I learned how to make my own pasta, brew kombucha tea and many other tips that have helped me to have a more prosperous garden and become more self-sufficient. There’s so much more I am learning everyday, thanks to Jon and OHG.

Jon kindly agreed to this interview. Thank you Jon!

When and why did you start the Organic Homesteading & Gardening Group?

When: April 16th, 2002

Why is too complicated to answer typing a paragraph or two. (so folks can learn how to garden organically to feed their family healthier).

Can you tell us a little about the group?

We have members from every state and principality of the USA, and from 90 countries around the globe. That I know of. All hungry to find the best and most sensible, way to homestead or farm.

What’s your experience homesteading and gardening?

Survival gardening in my youth during the first depression in the 30/s. I have had an organic garden since I was 5 which was 70 plus years ago. I’ve had one ever since. Plus a self-sustaining farm in my early adulthood. I also wrote about all aspects of farming, gardening, and everything pertaining to it.

What are your suggestions for people just starting out learning about Organic gardening and homesteading (other then joining your wonderful group?)

To find an elder willing to teach them the easiest way to become self-reliant. Not only in food production, but also in fruits, honey production, medicine making and preventative eating to avoid many of the sicknesses todays people must suffer through.

If you lived closer, we could sit and chat about it most of a week and never cover every aspect of becoming more self reliant and looking to the land to provide most of our foods, fruits, sweets, milk, cheese, eggs, and any other thing we’d normally purchase with worthless cash.

Everything I type about, I have done. I raise anything I talk about, or I HAVE raised it in the past. I have honeybees, fruit trees, grape vines, berry brambles, fruit trees, peaches, apples, pears, figs, apricots, nectarines, plums, and no less than 50 herbs grown in the gardens, and over 300 wild sown and wildcrafted. I’ve raised most every farm animal used on todays farms, and many that aren’t. We’ve home raised and killed our own meat from scratch, and processed it by hand on the farm in the good ol days. We’ve also made soap from scratch, molasses, and tapped trees just to see how much fun / work it was. And we fish. Now and in times past.

And I write about it in fact as well as in fiction: factoids. Childrens stories, Cherokee storytelling, and church related activities as well as a teacher of sorts.

I was born into a Methodist Ministers home in November of `30’s’. Mom was a professional teacher in the state of Georgia, my dad was ordained a Methodist minister when he was 15, and had his medical license by the time he was 20. I grew up hearing about medicines from both aspects; mom being tribal Cherokee medicine expert, and my father in home grown medicines shipped worldwide. Plus being a circuit rider for the church. Mom and dad had many children and some of us made it to adulthood, others died along the back trail. I am an elder in the Native American culture and am still learning tribal medicines, and teaching them at the same time to folks who listen. History is also important to me.

Jabber jabber jabber: I enjoy talking. Even with my fingers on a keyboard.

Jon-known by many names

Thank you Jon.  I can’t tell how much I appreciate your wonderful group and all you share with us.

If you’d like to join the Organic Homesteading & Gardening group, the homepage is here:


Indian Lentil Stew

This is one of our favorite recipes. The stock can be homemade or store bought. Saffron can be expensive but you only use a pinch. If you have a Trader Joe’s near you they have it at a great price.

Indian Lentil Stew (or Soup)

I found this recipe a few years ago in a vegetarian soup cookbook and we changed it a bit to make it our own. What I love about this recipe, is that you can make it with a little less liquid and have a wonderful rice main or side dish. Or, you can add a little more broth and have a wonderful soup.

Serve it with a warm crusty bread or some Naan (Indian flat bread) and enjoy!

1 tbsp. organic olive oil

1 cup finely chopped organic onion

1 tsp. saffron threads, crushed

1 tbsp. hot water

2 tsp. curry powder

1 tsp. ground cumin

2 tsp. minced fresh rosemary, or 1 tsp. dried rosemary, crushed

1 tsp. fennel seeds

6 cups organic vegetable stock, heated

One 15-oz. can organic garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed

3/4 cup dried organic red lentils

3/4 cup organic brown basmati rice.

1 organic tomato, cut into 1/2-inch dice

1/3 cup coarsely chopped fresh organic cilantro, plus sprigs of fresh cilantro for garnish

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion; cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent, about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, mix the saffron with the hot water; set aside.

Add the curry powder, cumin, rosemary, and fennel seeds to the Dutch oven; stir for about 30 seconds. Stir in the saffron mixture and the vegetable stock (If you don’t have homemade (the best!) you can use pre-packaged vegetable stock or six cups of a good vegetarian or chicken powdered broth) beans, lentils, and rice. Increase the heat to high and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat; cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the lentils and rice are tender, about 45 minutes to an hour. Stir in the tomato and chopped cilantro. Season to taste.

Garnish with sprigs of cilantro.

Read more wonderful, Pennywise Platter posts here:



Monsanto’s Harvest of Fear

Monsanto already dominates America’s food chain with its genetically modified seeds. Now it has targeted milk production. Just as frightening as the corporation’s tactics–ruthless legal battles against small farmers–is its decades-long history of toxic contamination.

by Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele May 2008

Gary Rinehart clearly remembers the summer day in 2002 when the stranger walked in and issued his threat. Rinehart was behind the counter of the Square Deal, his “old-time country store,” as he calls it, on the fading town square of Eagleville, Missouri, a tiny farm community 100 miles north of Kansas City.

The Square Deal is a fixture in Eagleville, a place where farmers and townspeople can go for lightbulbs, greeting cards, hunting gear, ice cream, aspirin, and dozens of other small items without having to drive to a big-box store in Bethany, the county seat, 15 miles down Interstate 35.

Everyone knows Rinehart, who was born and raised in the area and runs one of Eagleville’s few surviving businesses. The stranger came up to the counter and asked for him by name.

“Well, that’s me,” said Rinehart.

As Rinehart would recall, the man began verbally attacking him, saying he had proof that Rinehart had planted Monsanto’s genetically modified (G.M.) soybeans in violation of the company’s patent. Better come clean and settle with Monsanto, Rinehart says the man told him—or face the consequences.

Rinehart was incredulous, listening to the words as puzzled customers and employees looked on. Like many others in rural America, Rinehart knew of Monsanto’s fierce reputation for enforcing its patents and suing anyone who allegedly violated them. But Rinehart wasn’t a farmer. He wasn’t a seed dealer. He hadn’t planted any seeds or sold any seeds. He owned a small—a really small—country store in a town of 350 people. He was angry that somebody could just barge into the store and embarrass him in front of everyone. “It made me and my business look bad,” he says. Rinehart says he told the intruder, “You got the wrong guy.”

When the stranger persisted, Rinehart showed him the door. On the way out the man kept making threats. Rinehart says he can’t remember the exact words, but they were to the effect of: “Monsanto is big. You can’t win. We will get you. You will pay.”

Scenes like this are playing out in many parts of rural America these days as Monsanto goes after farmers, farmers’ co-ops, seed dealers—anyone it suspects may have infringed its patents of genetically modified seeds. As interviews and reams of court documents reveal, Monsanto relies on a shadowy army of private investigators and agents in the American heartland to strike fear into farm country. They fan out into fields and farm towns, where they secretly videotape and photograph farmers, store owners, and co-ops; infiltrate community meetings; and gather information from informants about farming activities. Farmers say that some Monsanto agents pretend to be surveyors. Others confront farmers on their land and try to pressure them to sign papers giving Monsanto access to their private records. Farmers call them the “seed police” and use words such as “Gestapo” and “Mafia” to describe their tactics.

When asked about these practices, Monsanto declined to comment specifically, other than to say that the company is simply protecting its patents. “Monsanto spends more than $2 million a day in research to identify, test, develop and bring to market innovative new seeds and technologies that benefit farmers,” Monsanto spokesman Darren Wallis wrote in an e-mailed letter to Vanity Fair. “One tool in protecting this investment is patenting our discoveries and, if necessary, legally defending those patents against those who might choose to infringe upon them.” Wallis said that, while the vast majority of farmers and seed dealers follow the licensing agreements, “a tiny fraction” do not, and that Monsanto is obligated to those who do abide by its rules to enforce its patent rights on those who “reap the benefits of the technology without paying for its use.” He said only a small number of cases ever go to trial.

Some compare Monsanto’s hard-line approach to Microsoft’s zealous efforts to protect its software from pirates. At least with Microsoft the buyer of a program can use it over and over again. But farmers who buy Monsanto’s seeds can’t even do that.

The Control of Nature

For centuries—millennia—farmers have saved seeds from season to season: they planted in the spring, harvested in the fall, then reclaimed and cleaned the seeds over the winter for re-planting the next spring. Monsanto has turned this ancient practice on its head.

Monsanto developed G.M. seeds that would resist its own herbicide, Roundup, offering farmers a convenient way to spray fields with weed killer without affecting crops. Monsanto then patented the seeds. For nearly all of its history the United States Patent and Trademark Office had refused to grant patents on seeds, viewing them as life-forms with too many variables to be patented. “It’s not like describing a widget,” says Joseph Mendelson III, the legal director of the Center for Food Safety, which has tracked Monsanto’s activities in rural America for years.

Indeed not. But in 1980 the U.S. Supreme Court, in a five-to-four decision, turned seeds into widgets, laying the groundwork for a handful of corporations to begin taking control of the world’s food supply. In its decision, the court extended patent law to cover “a live human-made microorganism.” In this case, the organism wasn’t even a seed. Rather, it was a Pseudomonas bacterium developed by a General Electric scientist to clean up oil spills. But the precedent was set, and Monsanto took advantage of it. Since the 1980s, Monsanto has become the world leader in genetic modification of seeds and has won 674 biotechnology patents, more than any other company, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data.

Farmers who buy Monsanto’s patented Roundup Ready seeds are required to sign an agreement promising not to save the seed produced after each harvest for re-planting, or to sell the seed to other farmers. This means that farmers must buy new seed every year. Those increased sales, coupled with ballooning sales of its Roundup weed killer, have been a bonanza for Monsanto.

This radical departure from age-old practice has created turmoil in farm country. Some farmers don’t fully understand that they aren’t supposed to save Monsanto’s seeds for next year’s planting. Others do, but ignore the stipulation rather than throw away a perfectly usable product. Still others say that they don’t use Monsanto’s genetically modified seeds, but seeds have been blown into their fields by wind or deposited by birds. It’s certainly easy for G.M. seeds to get mixed in with traditional varieties when seeds are cleaned by commercial dealers for re-planting. The seeds look identical; only a laboratory analysis can show the difference. Even if a farmer doesn’t buy G.M. seeds and doesn’t want them on his land, it’s a safe bet he’ll get a visit from Monsanto’s seed police if crops grown from G.M. seeds are discovered in his fields.

Most Americans know Monsanto because of what it sells to put on our lawns— the ubiquitous weed killer Roundup. What they may not know is that the company now profoundly influences—and one day may virtually control—what we put on our tables. For most of its history Monsanto was a chemical giant, producing some of the most toxic substances ever created, residues from which have left us with some of the most polluted sites on earth. Yet in a little more than a decade, the company has sought to shed its polluted past and morph into something much different and more far-reaching—an “agricultural company” dedicated to making the world “a better place for future generations.” Still, more than one Web log claims to see similarities between Monsanto and the fictional company “U-North” in the movie Michael Clayton, an agribusiness giant accused in a multibillion-dollar lawsuit of selling an herbicide that causes cancer.

Monsanto’s genetically modified seeds have transformed the company and are radically altering global agriculture. So far, the company has produced G.M. seeds for soybeans, corn, canola, and cotton. Many more products have been developed or are in the pipeline, including seeds for sugar beets and alfalfa. The company is also seeking to extend its reach into milk production by marketing an artificial growth hormone for cows that increases their output, and it is taking aggressive steps to put those who don’t want to use growth hormone at a commercial disadvantage.

Even as the company is pushing its G.M. agenda, Monsanto is buying up conventional-seed companies. In 2005, Monsanto paid $1.4 billion for Seminis, which controlled 40 percent of the U.S. market for lettuce, tomatoes, and other vegetable and fruit seeds. Two weeks later it announced the acquisition of the country’s third-largest cottonseed company, Emergent Genetics, for $300 million. It’s estimated that Monsanto seeds now account for 90 percent of the U.S. production of soybeans, which are used in food products beyond counting. Monsanto’s acquisitions have fueled explosive growth, transforming the St. Louis–based corporation into the largest seed company in the world.

In Iraq, the groundwork has been laid to protect the patents of Monsanto and other G.M.-seed companies. One of L. Paul Bremer’s last acts as head of the Coalition Provisional Authority was an order stipulating that “farmers shall be prohibited from re-using seeds of protected varieties.” Monsanto has said that it has no interest in doing business in Iraq, but should the company change its mind, the American-style law is in place.

To be sure, more and more agricultural corporations and individual farmers are using Monsanto’s G.M. seeds. As recently as 1980, no genetically modified crops were grown in the U.S. In 2007, the total was 142 million acres planted. Worldwide, the figure was 282 million acres. Many farmers believe that G.M. seeds increase crop yields and save money. Another reason for their attraction is convenience. By using Roundup Ready soybean seeds, a farmer can spend less time tending to his fields. With Monsanto seeds, a farmer plants his crop, then treats it later with Roundup to kill weeds. That takes the place of labor-intensive weed control and plowing.

Monsanto portrays its move into G.M. seeds as a giant leap for mankind. But out in the American countryside, Monsanto’s no-holds-barred tactics have made it feared and loathed. Like it or not, farmers say, they have fewer and fewer choices in buying seeds.

And controlling the seeds is not some abstraction. Whoever provides the world’s seeds controls the world’s food supply.

Under Surveillance

After Monsanto’s investigator confronted Gary Rinehart, Monsanto filed a federal lawsuit alleging that Rinehart “knowingly, intentionally, and willfully” planted seeds “in violation of Monsanto’s patent rights.” The company’s complaint made it sound as if Monsanto had Rinehart dead to rights:

During the 2002 growing season, Investigator Jeffery Moore, through surveillance of Mr. Rinehart’s farm facility and farming operations, observed Defendant planting brown bag soybean seed. Mr. Moore observed the Defendant take the brown bag soybeans to a field, which was subsequently loaded into a grain drill and planted. Mr. Moore located two empty bags in the ditch in the public road right-of-way beside one of the fields planted by Rinehart, which contained some soybeans. Mr. Moore collected a small amount of soybeans left in the bags which Defendant had tossed into the public right-of way. These samples tested positive for Monsanto’s Roundup Ready technology.

Faced with a federal lawsuit, Rinehart had to hire a lawyer. Monsanto eventually realized that “Investigator Jeffery Moore” had targeted the wrong man, and dropped the suit. Rinehart later learned that the company had been secretly investigating farmers in his area. Rinehart never heard from Monsanto again: no letter of apology, no public concession that the company had made a terrible mistake, no offer to pay his attorney’s fees. “I don’t know how they get away with it,” he says. “If I tried to do something like that it would be bad news. I felt like I was in another country.”

Gary Rinehart is actually one of Monsanto’s luckier targets. Ever since commercial introduction of its G.M. seeds, in 1996, Monsanto has launched thousands of investigations and filed lawsuits against hundreds of farmers and seed dealers. In a 2007 report, the Center for Food Safety, in Washington, D.C., documented 112 such lawsuits, in 27 states.

Even more significant, in the Center’s opinion, are the numbers of farmers who settle because they don’t have the money or the time to fight Monsanto. “The number of cases filed is only the tip of the iceberg,” says Bill Freese, the Center’s science-policy analyst. Freese says he has been told of many cases in which Monsanto investigators showed up at a farmer’s house or confronted him in his fields, claiming he had violated the technology agreement and demanding to see his records. According to Freese, investigators will say, “Monsanto knows that you are saving Roundup Ready seeds, and if you don’t sign these information-release forms, Monsanto is going to come after you and take your farm or take you for all you’re worth.” Investigators will sometimes show a farmer a photo of himself coming out of a store, to let him know he is being followed.

Lawyers who have represented farmers sued by Monsanto say that intimidating actions like these are commonplace. Most give in and pay Monsanto some amount in damages; those who resist face the full force of Monsanto’s legal wrath.

Scorched-Earth Tactics

Pilot Grove, Missouri, population 750, sits in rolling farmland 150 miles west of St. Louis. The town has a grocery store, a bank, a bar, a nursing home, a funeral parlor, and a few other small businesses. There are no stoplights, but the town doesn’t need any. The little traffic it has comes from trucks on their way to and from the grain elevator on the edge of town. The elevator is owned by a local co-op, the Pilot Grove Cooperative Elevator, which buys soybeans and corn from farmers in the fall, then ships out the grain over the winter. The co-op has seven full-time employees and four computers.

In the fall of 2006, Monsanto trained its legal guns on Pilot Grove; ever since, its farmers have been drawn into a costly, disruptive legal battle against an opponent with limitless resources. Neither Pilot Grove nor Monsanto will discuss the case, but it is possible to piece together much of the story from documents filed as part of the litigation.

Monsanto began investigating soybean farmers in and around Pilot Grove several years ago. There is no indication as to what sparked the probe, but Monsanto periodically investigates farmers in soybean-growing regions such as this one in central Missouri. The company has a staff devoted to enforcing patents and litigating against farmers. To gather leads, the company maintains an 800 number and encourages farmers to inform on other farmers they think may be engaging in “seed piracy.”

Once Pilot Grove had been targeted, Monsanto sent private investigators into the area. Over a period of months, Monsanto’s investigators surreptitiously followed the co-op’s employees and customers and videotaped them in fields and going about other activities. At least 17 such surveillance videos were made, according to court records. The investigative work was outsourced to a St. Louis agency, McDowell & Associates. It was a McDowell investigator who erroneously fingered Gary Rinehart. In Pilot Grove, at least 11 McDowell investigators have worked the case, and Monsanto makes no bones about the extent of this effort: “Surveillance was conducted throughout the year by various investigators in the field,” according to court records. McDowell, like Monsanto, will not comment on the case.

Not long after investigators showed up in Pilot Grove, Monsanto subpoenaed the co-op’s records concerning seed and herbicide purchases and seed-cleaning operations. The co-op provided more than 800 pages of documents pertaining to dozens of farmers. Monsanto sued two farmers and negotiated settlements with more than 25 others it accused of seed piracy. But Monsanto’s legal assault had only begun. Although the co-op had provided voluminous records, Monsanto then sued it in federal court for patent infringement. Monsanto contended that by cleaning seeds—a service which it had provided for decades—the co-op was inducing farmers to violate Monsanto’s patents. In effect, Monsanto wanted the co-op to police its own customers.

In the majority of cases where Monsanto sues, or threatens to sue, farmers settle before going to trial. The cost and stress of litigating against a global corporation are just too great. But Pilot Grove wouldn’t cave—and ever since, Monsanto has been turning up the heat. The more the co-op has resisted, the more legal firepower Monsanto has aimed at it. Pilot Grove’s lawyer, Steven H. Schwartz, described Monsanto in a court filing as pursuing a “scorched earth tactic,” intent on “trying to drive the co-op into the ground.”

Even after Pilot Grove turned over thousands more pages of sales records going back five years, and covering virtually every one of its farmer customers, Monsanto wanted more—the right to inspect the co-op’s hard drives. When the co-op offered to provide an electronic version of any record, Monsanto demanded hands-on access to Pilot Grove’s in-house computers.

Monsanto next petitioned to make potential damages punitive—tripling the amount that Pilot Grove might have to pay if found guilty. After a judge denied that request, Monsanto expanded the scope of the pre-trial investigation by seeking to quadruple the number of depositions. “Monsanto is doing its best to make this case so expensive to defend that the Co-op will have no choice but to relent,” Pilot Grove’s lawyer said in a court filing.

With Pilot Grove still holding out for a trial, Monsanto now subpoenaed the records of more than 100 of the co-op’s customers. In a “You are Commanded … ” notice, the farmers were ordered to gather up five years of invoices, receipts, and all other papers relating to their soybean and herbicide purchases, and to have the documents delivered to a law office in St. Louis. Monsanto gave them two weeks to comply.

Whether Pilot Grove can continue to wage its legal battle remains to be seen. Whatever the outcome, the case shows why Monsanto is so detested in farm country, even by those who buy its products. “I don’t know of a company that chooses to sue its own customer base,” says Joseph Mendelson, of the Center for Food Safety. “It’s a very bizarre business strategy.” But it’s one that Monsanto manages to get away with, because increasingly it’s the dominant vendor in town.

Chemicals? What Chemicals?

The Monsanto Company has never been one of America’s friendliest corporate citizens. Given Monsanto’s current dominance in the field of bioengineering, it’s worth looking at the company’s own DNA. The future of the company may lie in seeds, but the seeds of the company lie in chemicals. Communities around the world are still reaping the environmental consequences of Monsanto’s origins.

Monsanto was founded in 1901 by John Francis Queeny, a tough, cigar-smoking Irishman with a sixth-grade education. A buyer for a wholesale drug company, Queeny had an idea. But like a lot of employees with ideas, he found that his boss wouldn’t listen to him. So he went into business for himself on the side. Queeny was convinced there was money to be made manufacturing a substance called saccharin, an artificial sweetener then imported from Germany. He took $1,500 of his savings, borrowed another $3,500, and set up shop in a dingy warehouse near the St. Louis waterfront. With borrowed equipment and secondhand machines, he began producing saccharin for the U.S. market. He called the company the Monsanto Chemical Works, Monsanto being his wife’s maiden name.

The German cartel that controlled the market for saccharin wasn’t pleased, and cut the price from $4.50 to $1 a pound to try to force Queeny out of business. The young company faced other challenges. Questions arose about the safety of saccharin, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture even tried to ban it. Fortunately for Queeny, he wasn’t up against opponents as aggressive and litigious as the Monsanto of today. His persistence and the loyalty of one steady customer kept the company afloat. That steady customer was a new company in Georgia named Coca-Cola.

Monsanto added more and more products—vanillin, caffeine, and drugs used as sedatives and laxatives. In 1917, Monsanto began making aspirin, and soon became the largest maker worldwide. During World War I, cut off from imported European chemicals, Monsanto was forced to manufacture its own, and its position as a leading force in the chemical industry was assured.

After Queeny was diagnosed with cancer, in the late 1920s, his only son, Edgar, became president. Where the father had been a classic entrepreneur, Edgar Monsanto Queeny was an empire builder with a grand vision. It was Edgar—shrewd, daring, and intuitive (“He can see around the next corner,” his secretary once said)—who built Monsanto into a global powerhouse. Under Edgar Queeny and his successors, Monsanto extended its reach into a phenomenal number of products: plastics, resins, rubber goods, fuel additives, artificial caffeine, industrial fluids, vinyl siding, dishwasher detergent, anti-freeze, fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides. Its safety glass protects the U.S. Constitution and the Mona Lisa. Its synthetic fibers are the basis of Astroturf.

During the 1970s, the company shifted more and more resources into biotechnology. In 1981 it created a molecular-biology group for research in plant genetics. The next year, Monsanto scientists hit gold: they became the first to genetically modify a plant cell. “It will now be possible to introduce virtually any gene into plant cells with the ultimate goal of improving crop productivity,” said Ernest Jaworski, director of Monsanto’s Biological Sciences Program.

Over the next few years, scientists working mainly in the company’s vast new Life Sciences Research Center, 25 miles west of St. Louis, developed one genetically modified product after another—cotton, soybeans, corn, canola. From the start, G.M. seeds were controversial with the public as well as with some farmers and European consumers. Monsanto has sought to portray G.M. seeds as a panacea, a way to alleviate poverty and feed the hungry. Robert Shapiro, Monsanto’s president during the 1990s, once called G.M. seeds “the single most successful introduction of technology in the history of agriculture, including the plow.”

By the late 1990s, Monsanto, having rebranded itself into a “life sciences” company, had spun off its chemical and fibers operations into a new company called Solutia. After an additional reorganization, Monsanto re-incorporated in 2002 and officially declared itself an “agricultural company.”

In its company literature, Monsanto now refers to itself disingenuously as a “relatively new company” whose primary goal is helping “farmers around the world in their mission to feed, clothe, and fuel” a growing planet. In its list of corporate milestones, all but a handful are from the recent era. As for the company’s early history, the decades when it grew into an industrial powerhouse now held potentially responsible for more than 50 Environmental Protection Agency Superfund sites—none of that is mentioned. It’s as though the original Monsanto, the company that long had the word “chemical” as part of its name, never existed. One of the benefits of doing this, as the company does not point out, was to channel the bulk of the growing backlog of chemical lawsuits and liabilities onto Solutia, keeping the Monsanto brand pure.

But Monsanto’s past, especially its environmental legacy, is very much with us. For many years Monsanto produced two of the most toxic substances ever known— polychlorinated biphenyls, better known as PCBs, and dioxin. Monsanto no longer produces either, but the places where it did are still struggling with the aftermath, and probably always will be.

“Systemic Intoxication”

Twelve miles downriver from Charleston, West Virginia, is the town of Nitro, where Monsanto operated a chemical plant from 1929 to 1995. In 1948 the plant began to make a powerful herbicide known as 2,4,5-T, called “weed bug” by the workers. A by-product of the process was the creation of a chemical that would later be known as dioxin.

The name dioxin refers to a group of highly toxic chemicals that have been linked to heart disease, liver disease, human reproductive disorders, and developmental problems. Even in small amounts, dioxin persists in the environment and accumulates in the body. In 1997 the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a branch of the World Health Organization, classified the most powerful form of dioxin as a substance that causes cancer in humans. In 2001 the U.S. government listed the chemical as a “known human carcinogen.”

On March 8, 1949, a massive explosion rocked Monsanto’s Nitro plant when a pressure valve blew on a container cooking up a batch of herbicide. The noise from the release was a scream so loud that it drowned out the emergency steam whistle for five minutes. A plume of vapor and white smoke drifted across the plant and out over town.Residue from the explosion coated the interior of the building and those inside with what workers described as “a fine black powder.” Many felt their skin prickle and were told to scrub down.

Within days, workers experienced skin eruptions. Many were soon diagnosed with chloracne, a condition similar to common acne but more severe, longer lasting, and potentially disfiguring. Others felt intense pains in their legs, chest, and trunk. A confidential medical report at the time said the explosion “caused a systemic intoxication in the workers involving most major organ systems.” Doctors who examined four of the most seriously injured men detected a strong odor coming from them when they were all together in a closed room. “We believe these men are excreting a foreign chemical through their skins,” the confidential report to Monsanto noted. Court records indicate that 226 plant workers became ill.

According to court documents that have surfaced in a West Virginia court case, Monsanto downplayed the impact, stating that the contaminant affecting workers was “fairly slow acting” and caused “only an irritation of the skin.”

In the meantime, the Nitro plant continued to produce herbicides, rubber products, and other chemicals. In the 1960s, the factory manufactured Agent Orange, the powerful herbicide which the U.S. military used to defoliate jungles during the Vietnam War, and which later was the focus of lawsuits by veterans contending that they had been harmed by exposure. As with Monsanto’s older herbicides, the manufacturing of Agent Orange created dioxin as a by-product.

As for the Nitro plant’s waste, some was burned in incinerators, some dumped in landfills or storm drains, some allowed to run into streams. As Stuart Calwell, a lawyer who has represented both workers and residents in Nitro, put it, “Dioxin went wherever the product went, down the sewer, shipped in bags, and when the waste was burned, out in the air.”

In 1981 several former Nitro employees filed lawsuits in federal court, charging that Monsanto had knowingly exposed them to chemicals that caused long-term health problems, including cancer and heart disease. They alleged that Monsanto knew that many chemicals used at Nitro were potentially harmful, but had kept that information from them. On the eve of a trial, in 1988, Monsanto agreed to settle most of the cases by making a single lump payment of $1.5 million. Monsanto also agreed to drop its claim to collect $305,000 in court costs from six retired Monsanto workers who had unsuccessfully charged in another lawsuit that Monsanto had recklessly exposed them to dioxin. Monsanto had attached liens to the retirees’ homes to guarantee collection of the debt.

Monsanto stopped producing dioxin in Nitro in 1969, but the toxic chemical can still be found well beyond the Nitro plant site. Repeated studies have found elevated levels of dioxin in nearby rivers, streams, and fish. Residents have sued to seek damages from Monsanto and Solutia. Earlier this year, a West Virginia judge merged those lawsuits into a class-action suit. A Monsanto spokesman said, “We believe the allegations are without merit and we’ll defend ourselves vigorously.” The suit will no doubt take years to play out. Time is one thing that Monsanto always has, and that the plaintiffs usually don’t.

Poisoned Lawns

Five hundred miles to the south, the people of Anniston, Alabama, know all about what the people of Nitro are going through. They’ve been there. In fact, you could say, they’re still there.

From 1929 to 1971, Monsanto’s Anniston works produced PCBs as industrial coolants and insulating fluids for transformers and other electrical equipment. One of the wonder chemicals of the 20th century, PCBs were exceptionally versatile and fire-resistant, and became central to many American industries as lubricants, hydraulic fluids, and sealants. But PCBs are toxic. A member of a family of chemicals that mimic hormones, PCBs have been linked to damage in the liver and in the neurological, immune, endocrine, and reproductive systems. The Environmental Protection Agency (E.P.A.) and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, part of the Department of Health and Human Services, now classify PCBs as “probable carcinogens.”

Today, 37 years after PCB production ceased in Anniston, and after tons of contaminated soil have been removed to try to reclaim the site, the area around the old Monsanto plant remains one of the most polluted spots in the U.S.

People in Anniston find themselves in this fix today largely because of the way Monsanto disposed of PCB waste for decades. Excess PCBs were dumped in a nearby open-pit landfill or allowed to flow off the property with storm water. Some waste was poured directly into Snow Creek, which runs alongside the plant and empties into a larger stream, Choccolocco Creek. PCBs also turned up in private lawns after the company invited Anniston residents to use soil from the plant for their lawns, according to The Anniston Star.

So for decades the people of Anniston breathed air, planted gardens, drank from wells, fished in rivers, and swam in creeks contaminated with PCBs—without knowing anything about the danger. It wasn’t until the 1990s—20 years after Monsanto stopped making PCBs in Anniston—that widespread public awareness of the problem there took hold.

Studies by health authorities consistently found elevated levels of PCBs in houses, yards, streams, fields, fish, and other wildlife—and in people. In 2003, Monsanto and Solutia entered into a consent decree with the E.P.A. to clean up Anniston. Scores of houses and small businesses were to be razed, tons of contaminated soil dug up and carted off, and streambeds scooped of toxic residue. The cleanup is under way, and it will take years, but some doubt it will ever be completed—the job is massive. To settle residents’ claims, Monsanto has also paid $550 million to 21,000 Anniston residents exposed to PCBs, but many of them continue to live with PCBs in their bodies. Once PCB is absorbed into human tissue, there it forever remains.

Monsanto shut down PCB production in Anniston in 1971, and the company ended all its American PCB operations in 1977. Also in 1977, Monsanto closed a PCB plant in Wales. In recent years, residents near the village of Groesfaen, in southern Wales, have noticed vile odors emanating from an old quarry outside the village. As it turns out, Monsanto had dumped thousands of tons of waste from its nearby PCB plant into the quarry. British authorities are struggling to decide what to do with what they have now identified as among the most contaminated places in Britain.

“No Cause for Public Alarm”

What had Monsanto known—or what should it have known—about the potential dangers of the chemicals it was manufacturing? There’s considerable documentation lurking in court records from many lawsuits indicating that Monsanto knew quite a lot. Let’s look just at the example of PCBs.

The evidence that Monsanto refused to face questions about their toxicity is quite clear. In 1956 the company tried to sell the navy a hydraulic fluid for its submarines called Pydraul 150, which contained PCBs. Monsanto supplied the navy with test results for the product. But the navy decided to run its own tests. Afterward, navy officials informed Monsanto that they wouldn’t be buying the product. “Applications of Pydraul 150 caused death in all of the rabbits tested” and indicated “definite liver damage,” navy officials told Monsanto, according to an internal Monsanto memo divulged in the course of a court proceeding. “No matter how we discussed the situation,” complained Monsanto’s medical director, R. Emmet Kelly, “it was impossible to change their thinking that Pydraul 150 is just too toxic for use in submarines.”

Ten years later, a biologist conducting studies for Monsanto in streams near the Anniston plant got quick results when he submerged his test fish. As he reported to Monsanto, according to The Washington Post, “All 25 fish lost equilibrium and turned on their sides in 10 seconds and all were dead in 3½ minutes.”

When the Food and Drug Administration (F.D.A.) turned up high levels of PCBs in fish near the Anniston plant in 1970, the company swung into action to limit the P.R. damage. An internal memo entitled “confidential—f.y.i. and destroy” from Monsanto official Paul B. Hodges reviewed steps under way to limit disclosure of the information. One element of the strategy was to get public officials to fight Monsanto’s battle: “Joe Crockett, Secretary of the Alabama Water Improvement Commission, will try to handle the problem quietly without release of the information to the public at this time,” according to the memo.

Despite Monsanto’s efforts, the information did get out, but the company was able to blunt its impact. Monsanto’s Anniston plant manager “convinced” a reporter for The Anniston Star that there was really nothing to worry about, and an internal memo from Monsanto’s headquarters in St. Louis summarized the story that subsequently appeared in the newspaper: “Quoting both plant management and the Alabama Water Improvement Commission, the feature emphasized the PCB problem was relatively new, was being solved by Monsanto and, at this point, was no cause for public alarm.”

In truth, there was enormous cause for public alarm. But that harm was done by the “Original Monsanto Company,” not “Today’s Monsanto Company” (the words and the distinction are Monsanto’s). The Monsanto of today says that it can be trusted—that its biotech crops are “as wholesome, nutritious and safe as conventional crops,” and that milk from cows injected with its artificial growth hormone is the same as, and as safe as, milk from any other cow.

The Milk Wars

Jeff Kleinpeter takes very good care of his dairy cows. In the winter he turns on heaters to warm their barns. In the summer, fans blow gentle breezes to cool them, and on especially hot days, a fine mist floats down to take the edge off Louisiana’s heat. The dairy has gone “to the ultimate end of the earth for cow comfort,” says Kleinpeter, a fourth-generation dairy farmer in Baton Rouge. He says visitors marvel at what he does: “I’ve had many of them say, ‘When I die, I want to come back as a Kleinpeter cow.’ ”

Monsanto would like to change the way Jeff Kleinpeter and his family do business. Specifically, Monsanto doesn’t like the label on Kleinpeter Dairy’s milk cartons: “From Cows Not Treated with rBGH.” To consumers, that means the milk comes from cows that were not given artificial bovine growth hormone, a supplement developed by Monsanto that can be injected into dairy cows to increase their milk output.

No one knows what effect, if any, the hormone has on milk or the people who drink it. Studies have not detected any difference in the quality of milk produced by cows that receive rBGH, or rBST, a term by which it is also known. But Jeff Kleinpeter—like millions of consumers—wants no part of rBGH. Whatever its effect on humans, if any, Kleinpeter feels certain it’s harmful to cows because it speeds up their metabolism and increases the chances that they’ll contract a painful illness that can shorten their lives. “It’s like putting a Volkswagen car in with the Indianapolis 500 racers,” he says. “You gotta keep the pedal to the metal the whole way through, and pretty soon that poor little Volkswagen engine’s going to burn up.”

Kleinpeter Dairy has never used Monsanto’s artificial hormone, and the dairy requires other dairy farmers from whom it buys milk to attest that they don’t use it, either. At the suggestion of a marketing consultant, the dairy began advertising its milk as coming from rBGH-free cows in 2005, and the label began appearing on Kleinpeter milk cartons and in company literature, including a new Web site of Kleinpeter products that proclaims, “We treat our cows with love … not rBGH.”

The dairy’s sales soared. For Kleinpeter, it was simply a matter of giving consumers more information about their product.

But giving consumers that information has stirred the ire of Monsanto. The company contends that advertising by Kleinpeter and other dairies touting their “no rBGH” milk reflects adversely on Monsanto’s product. In a letter to the Federal Trade Commission in February 2007, Monsanto said that, notwithstanding the overwhelming evidence that there is no difference in the milk from cows treated with its product, “milk processors persist in claiming on their labels and in advertisements that the use of rBST is somehow harmful, either to cows or to the people who consume milk from rBST-supplemented cows.”

Monsanto called on the commission to investigate what it called the “deceptive advertising and labeling practices” of milk processors such as Kleinpeter, accusing them of misleading consumers “by falsely claiming that there are health and safety risks associated with milk from rBST-supplemented cows.” As noted, Kleinpeter does not make any such claims—he simply states that his milk comes from cows not injected with rBGH.

Monsanto’s attempt to get the F.T.C. to force dairies to change their advertising was just one more step in the corporation’s efforts to extend its reach into agriculture. After years of scientific debate and public controversy, the F.D.A. in 1993 approved commercial use of rBST, basing its decision in part on studies submitted by Monsanto. That decision allowed the company to market the artificial hormone. The effect of the hormone is to increase milk production, not exactly something the nation needed then—or needs now. The U.S. was actually awash in milk, with the government buying up the surplus to prevent a collapse in prices.

Monsanto began selling the supplement in 1994 under the name Posilac. Monsanto acknowledges that the possible side effects of rBST for cows include lameness, disorders of the uterus, increased body temperature, digestive problems, and birthing difficulties. Veterinary drug reports note that “cows injected with Posilac are at an increased risk for mastitis,” an udder infection in which bacteria and pus may be pumped out with the milk. What’s the effect on humans? The F.D.A. has consistently said that the milk produced by cows that receive rBGH is the same as milk from cows that aren’t injected: “The public can be confident that milk and meat from BST-treated cows is safe to consume.” Nevertheless, some scientists are concerned by the lack of long-term studies to test the additive’s impact, especially on children. A Wisconsin geneticist, William von Meyer, observed that when rBGH was approved the longest study on which the F.D.A.’s approval was based covered only a 90-day laboratory test with small animals. “But people drink milk for a lifetime,” he noted. Canada and the European Union have never approved the commercial sale of the artificial hormone. Today, nearly 15 years after the F.D.A. approved rBGH, there have still been no long-term studies “to determine the safety of milk from cows that receive artificial growth hormone,” says Michael Hansen, senior staff scientist for Consumers Union. Not only have there been no studies, he adds, but the data that does exist all comes from Monsanto. “There is no scientific consensus about the safety,” he says.

However F.D.A. approval came about, Monsanto has long been wired into Washington. Michael R. Taylor was a staff attorney and executive assistant to the F.D.A. commissioner before joining a law firm in Washington in 1981, where he worked to secure F.D.A. approval of Monsanto’s artificial growth hormone before returning to the F.D.A. as deputy commissioner in 1991. Dr. Michael A. Friedman, formerly the F.D.A.’s deputy commissioner for operations, joined Monsanto in 1999 as a senior vice president. Linda J. Fisher was an assistant administrator at the E.P.A. when she left the agency in 1993. She became a vice president of Monsanto, from 1995 to 2000, only to return to the E.P.A. as deputy administrator the next year. William D. Ruckelshaus, former E.P.A. administrator, and Mickey Kantor, former U.S. trade representative, each served on Monsanto’s board after leaving government. Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas was an attorney in Monsanto’s corporate-law department in the 1970s. He wrote the Supreme Court opinion in a crucial G.M.-seed patent-rights case in 2001 that benefited Monsanto and all G.M.-seed companies. Donald Rumsfeld never served on the board or held any office at Monsanto, but Monsanto must occupy a soft spot in the heart of the former defense secretary. Rumsfeld was chairman and C.E.O. of the pharmaceutical maker G. D. Searle & Co. when Monsanto acquired Searle in 1985, after Searle had experienced difficulty in finding a buyer. Rumsfeld’s stock and options in Searle were valued at $12 million at the time of the sale.

From the beginning some consumers have consistently been hesitant to drink milk from cows treated with artificial hormones. This is one reason Monsanto has waged so many battles with dairies and regulators over the wording of labels on milk cartons. It has sued at least two dairies and one co-op over labeling.

Critics of the artificial hormone have pushed for mandatory labeling on all milk products, but the F.D.A. has resisted and even taken action against some dairies that labeled their milk “BST-free.” Since BST is a natural hormone found in all cows, including those not injected with Monsanto’s artificial version, the F.D.A. argued that no dairy could claim that its milk is BST-free. The F.D.A. later issued guidelines allowing dairies to use labels saying their milk comes from “non-supplemented cows,” as long as the carton has a disclaimer saying that the artificial supplement does not in any way change the milk. So the milk cartons from Kleinpeter Dairy, for example, carry a label on the front stating that the milk is from cows not treated with rBGH, and the rear panel says, “Government studies have shown no significant difference between milk derived from rBGH-treated and non-rBGH-treated cows.” That’s not good enough for Monsanto.

The Next Battleground

As more and more dairies have chosen to advertise their milk as “No rBGH,” Monsanto has gone on the offensive. Its attempt to force the F.T.C. to look into what Monsanto called “deceptive practices” by dairies trying to distance themselves from the company’s artificial hormone was the most recent national salvo. But after reviewing Monsanto’s claims, the F.T.C.’s Division of Advertising Practices decided in August 2007 that a “formal investigation and enforcement action is not warranted at this time.” The agency found some instances where dairies had made “unfounded health and safety claims,” but these were mostly on Web sites, not on milk cartons. And the F.T.C. determined that the dairies Monsanto had singled out all carried disclaimers that the F.D.A. had found no significant differences in milk from cows treated with the artificial hormone.

Blocked at the federal level, Monsanto is pushing for action by the states. In the fall of 2007, Pennsylvania’s agriculture secretary, Dennis Wolff, issued an edict prohibiting dairies from stamping milk containers with labels stating their products were made without the use of the artificial hormone. Wolff said such a label implies that competitors’ milk is not safe, and noted that non-supplemented milk comes at an unjustified higher price, arguments that Monsanto has frequently made. The ban was to take effect February 1, 2008.

Wolff’s action created a firestorm in Pennsylvania (and beyond) from angry consumers. So intense was the outpouring of e-mails, letters, and calls that Pennsylvania governor Edward Rendell stepped in and reversed his agriculture secretary, saying, “The public has a right to complete information about how the milk they buy is produced.”

On this issue, the tide may be shifting against Monsanto. Organic dairy products, which don’t involve rBGH, are soaring in popularity. Supermarket chains such as Kroger, Publix, and Safeway are embracing them. Some other companies have turned away from rBGH products, including Starbucks, which has banned all milk products from cows treated with rBGH. Although Monsanto once claimed that an estimated 30 percent of the nation’s dairy cows were injected with rBST, it’s widely believed that today the number is much lower.

But don’t count Monsanto out. Efforts similar to the one in Pennsylvania have been launched in other states, including New Jersey, Ohio, Indiana, Kansas, Utah, and Missouri. A Monsanto-backed group called afact—American Farmers for the Advancement and Conservation of Technology—has been spearheading efforts in many of these states. afact describes itself as a “producer organization” that decries “questionable labeling tactics and activism” by marketers who have convinced some consumers to “shy away from foods using new technology.” afact reportedly uses the same St. Louis public-relations firm, Osborn & Barr, employed by Monsanto. An Osborn & Barr spokesman told The Kansas City Star that the company was doing work for afact on a pro bono basis.

Even if Monsanto’s efforts to secure across-the-board labeling changes should fall short, there’s nothing to stop state agriculture departments from restricting labeling on a dairy-by-dairy basis. Beyond that, Monsanto also has allies whose foot soldiers will almost certainly keep up the pressure on dairies that don’t use Monsanto’s artificial hormone. Jeff Kleinpeter knows about them, too.

He got a call one day from the man who prints the labels for his milk cartons, asking if he had seen the attack on Kleinpeter Dairy that had been posted on the Internet. Kleinpeter went online to a site called StopLabelingLies, which claims to “help consumers by publicizing examples of false and misleading food and other product labels.” There, sure enough, Kleinpeter and other dairies that didn’t use Monsanto’s product were being accused of making misleading claims to sell their milk.

There was no address or phone number on the Web site, only a list of groups that apparently contribute to the site and whose issues range from disparaging organic farming to downplaying the impact of global warming. “They were criticizing people like me for doing what we had a right to do, had gone through a government agency to do,” says Kleinpeter. “We never could get to the bottom of that Web site to get that corrected.”

As it turns out, the Web site counts among its contributors Steven Milloy, the “junk science” commentator for and operator of, which claims to debunk “faulty scientific data and analysis.” It may come as no surprise that earlier in his career, Milloy, who calls himself the “junkman,” was a registered lobbyist for Monsanto.

Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele are Vanity Fair contributing editors.


Who Owns Life, Not Monsanto?

ISIS Report April 09

Who Owns Life, Not Monsanto?

Percy Schmeiser is a real life hero who played David to Monsanto´s Goliath, and like David, he won.

Sam Burcher

Governments approve Monsanto´s GM crops

Percy Schmeiser and his wife Louise are third generation farmers from the prairies of Western Canada in the province of Saskatchewan near the city of Saskatoon. They feel really blessed not only that his grandparents moved there, but by the fact that in Central Saskatchewan so many types of grain crops can be grown; pulses, oil seeds, in what the locals call God´s


The Schmeisers, like hundreds of thousands of farmers all over the world, were using their canola (oilseed rape) seed from year to year and developing new varieties suitable for climatic soil conditions on the prairies. Percy had also been the Mayor of his town for over thirty years, a member of the provincial Parliament and an active member of agricultural committees representing his province on new agricultural policy, law and regulations for the benefit of farmers.

In 1996, the Canadian Federal Government and the US Government gave regulatory approval to four genetically modified (GM) crops: soya, corn or maize, cotton and canola. At the time not all GM crops in Canada were herbicide tolerant except for Monsanto´s Roundup Ready canola and soya, both resistant to the company´s herbicide Roundup. The US Government had also approved Bt cotton and Bt corn that has the added GM toxin from Bacillus thuringenisis (Bt). The Canadian government were fully complicit in allowing Monsanto to develop GM crops on Government test plots and research stations in return for a royalty on every bushel of GM crops sold.

Monsanto versus farmer

In 1998, two years after the introduction of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in Canada, the Schmeisers received a lawsuit notice from Monsanto which said that they were growing Roundup Ready canola without a licence from Monsanto and that this was a patent infringement. Monsanto had a patent on a gene to make GM canola resistant to the glyphosate herbicide in its formulation Roundup. This came as a complete surprise to the Schmeisers who immediately realised that all their research and development on canola over the past fifty years had been contaminated by Monsanto´s GMOs. They felt that they had a case against Monsanto for liability and the damages possibly caused to them, and that was the beginning of [1] Schmeiser’s Battle for the Seed (SiS 19). And 10 years on, the Schmeisers have been invited to London to tell their full story [2].

The Schmeisers stood up to Monsanto´s claims of patent infringement in the Federal Court with just one judge and no jury. The pre-trial took two years to go to court in which Monsanto claimed that despite having no knowledge of Percy Schmeiser ever having obtained any GM seed, he must have used their seed on his 1,030 acres of land because ninety-eight percent of the land was GM contaminated. And, because the Schmeisers had contaminated their own seed supply with Monsanto seed, ownership of the Schmeisers seed supply reverted to Monsanto under patent law.

Monsanto owns all crops or seeds contaminated, the court ruled

The Court ruled after a two-and-half-week trial that it was the first patent infringement case on a higher life form in the world. The Judge´s ruling and Percy Schmeiser´s name became famous overnight: – It does not matter how a farmer, a forester, or a gardener´s seed or plants become contaminated with GMOs; whether through cross pollination,

pollen blowing in the wind, by bees, direct seed movement or seed transportation, the growers no longer own their seeds or plants under patent law, they becomes Monsanto´s property. – The rate of GM contamination does not matter; whether

it´s 1 percent, 2 percent, 10 percent, or more, the seeds and plants still belong to Monsanto. – It´s immaterial how the GM contamination occurs, or where it comes from.

The Schmeisers tracked down the source of the contamination. It was their neighbour who had planted GM crops in 1996 with no fence or buffer between them. Nevertheless, the Schmeisers´ seeds and plants reverted to Monsanto, and they were not allowed to use their own seeds and plants again, nor keep any profit from their canola crop in 1998.

The Schmeisers appealed against the ruling, and after another two years, it was upheld by the Federal Court of Appeal judges even though they did not agree with all the trial judge´s statements. The Schmeisers believe that the case should have been thrown out of Court and not upheld. After having lost the two trials costing them $300 000 of their own money, Percy took the case to the Supreme Court of Canada. He was warned that there was only a very small chance that the case would be heard; but was granted a second leave of Appeal by the Supreme Court of Canada.

Schmeiser raised important questions during the Supreme Court Appeal

The Appeal was good news for the Schmeisers, but in the meantime Monsanto had brought another lawsuit against them for $1 million in legal costs, fines, and punitive damages. Monsanto said that the Schmeisers were recalcitrant and that they wanted a million dollars from them. For good measure, Monsanto brought a third lawsuit against the Schmeisers to seize their farmland, farm equipment and house, in an effort to stop them mortgaging their assets to pay their legal bill.

Percy Schmeiser effectively raised several important questions at the Supreme Court Appeal:

1. Can living organisms, seeds, plants, genes, and human organs be owned and protected by corporate patents on intellectual property?

2. Can genetically modified traits invade and become noxious weeds that then become resistant to weed killers and become superweeds? (The answer was obviously yes, as these are now all over Western Canada and almost the rest

of Canada, see below.)

3. Can the farmers´ rights to grow conventional or organic crops be protected, especially organic crops?

4. Can farmers keep their ancient right to save their own seeds and develop them further if they so desire?

5. Who owns life? Has anyone, either an individual or a corporation, the right to put a patent on a higher life form?

On the important issue of “Who owns life?” the Supreme Court ruled in 2004 that “Monsanto´s patent on a gene is valid and wherever that gene arrives in any higher life form they own or control that higher life form.” That was considered to be a major victory for Monsanto at the time, but is a decision that has come home to roost in the form of corporate liability for

GMOs. Percy explained that if a corporation own and control a higher life form and they put it into the environment where everyone knows it cannot be controlled or contained and co-existence is impossible then the corporation should be liable for the damages done to an organic farmer or a conventional farmer, as well as for the negative impacts on biodiversity.

Despite strong recommendations by the Supreme Court for the Parliament of Canada to bring in new laws and regulations on patents on life and the rights of farmers to use their seed from year to year these issues have yet to be addressed to date. In the US, Monsanto has filed lawsuits against at least ninety farmers. (see [3] Monsanto versus Farmers, SiS 26).


Monsanto´s contamination no benefit to farmers, the Supreme Court ruled

In 2004, the Supreme Court ruled that in the case of patent infringement the Schmeisers owed no money to Monsanto because they did not benefit by being contaminated by the GM genes. Furthermore, they had not used Monsanto´s patent because they had not sprayed the Roundup herbicide on their canola crops. However, both parties had to pay their own legal bills. The Schmeisers legal bill was over $400 000 and Monsanto´s was over $2 million.

In essence, Monsanto had used Percy Schmeiser as a test case to see how far they could exercise intellectual property rights (IPR) over farmers´rights. “At one point, Monsanto had nineteen lawyers in court, I had one. Talk about intimidation,” Percy said.

No longer able to grow canola in their fields for fear of infringing Monsanto´s patent, The Schmeisers began research into yellow mustard and started cultivating 50 acres of land in preparation for planting. In the autumn of 2005, they noticed canola plants growing despite not having been seeded in those fields for many years. They brought in witnesses and tested the plants by spraying Monsanto´s Roundup herbicide on the plants. Monsanto claim that any green plant that is sprayed with Roundup that does not die must contain their patented gene. When the Schmeisers plants did not die they realised that Monsanto´s canola was in their fields again.

The Schmeisers contacted Monsanto and asked them to remove the canola plants from their property. Monsanto took samples of the plants that confirmed they were their patented variety and two days later Louise Schmeiser received a fax from Monsanto containing a signed release statement which was blackened out in parts. Louise refused to sign it and insisted that Monsanto send her the unexpurgated document. Monsanto sent what was essentially a gagging order on the Schmeisers from ever telling anyone, neighbours, and the press about the terms of settlement, or ever taking Monsanto to court again for the rest of their lives no matter how much Monsanto contaminated their fifty acre parcel of land with GM canola.

Victory for Schmeisers and farmers at last

There was no way that the Schmeisers were ever going to sign a statement like that, and give up their freedom to a corporation. Monsanto said that if they refused to sign then they would not remove the plants. The argument raged backed and forth; the Schmeisers said they will remove the plants themselves and Monsanto wrote back saying we wish to remind you that the plants that are on your field are our property and you are not allowed to do with those plants what you want. The Schmeisers said get your property off our property, you´re trespassing! Monsanto said only if you sign the release


The Schmeisers wanted the plants off their land before the pods ripened and the seeds were dispersed into the field. They hired the neighbours to help remove the plants and notified Monsanto about what had been done and Monsanto sent another fax saying that you can´t do what you want with those plants. A bill was eventually sent to Monsanto by the Schmeisers for $640 to pay for the neighbours help to clear the field. Monsanto refused to pay the bill unless Percy signed the release statement. This went on for about a year so the Schmeisers made a decision to go back to Court amid media

reports about the new dispute. The judge in the small claims Court agreed with the Schmeisers and sent Monsanto a summons. Percy said, “We then had a billion dollar Corporation in Court on a $640 bill and you can imagine the publicity that got in Canada.”

In March 2008, the case went to trial and when the judge came into the Court room Monsanto got up with a cheque in hand to pay the $640 plus $20 costs. “I´ll never forget that $20 costs!” Percy laughed. “It was a great victory, not only for ourselves, but for farmers all over the world because it has set a precedent where a corporation has accepted liability for

contamination and clean up costs”, he said. Percy Schmeiser had become the first farmer in history to successfully counter-sue Monsanto for liability over damages done to his seeds and crops by Monsanto´s GM crops

GM in Canada – lessons learnt

Thirteen years ago when GM soya and rapeseed was introduced in Canada (and in the US) the Corporations and Government told farmers that GM would increase yields, be more nutritious, use less chemicals, and feed a hungry

world. Now we will always have a sustainable agriculture, they claimed. The Canadian Department of Agriculture figures states canola yields have decreased at least ten percent and soya at least fifteen percent [4], but worst of

all, farmers are using three to five times more chemicals because of the GM superweeds that have developed. The reality is that the nutritional content of all crops are down fifty percent of what they were before GMOs were introduced and now we have less yields and more chemicals used, exactly the opposite of what Monsanto promised.

Percy Schmeiser said, “Once you introduce GMOs, believe me the days of organic farmers are over, the days of the conventional farmer are over, it all becomes GMOs in a matter of a few years.” In addition, he said, there is no such thing as containment, you cannot contain pollen flow. It doesn´t matter if contamination is by seeds blowing in the wind, or by bees, or by farmers transporting their seeds to market, or so on. Ultimately, farmers, growers and consumers will no longer have a choice because despite Monsanto´s promise that farmers will have choice, they won´t because it´s absolutely impossible for organic and conventional farming to co-exist with GM crops.

Mountains of contaminated produce that cannot be exported

Canadian organic farmers can no longer grow canola and soya crops organically. The seed stocks of those two crops are now totally contaminated by GMOs, which cross- pollinate into other market garden crops from the brassica family. Percy describes the devastating effect GMOs have had on Canada´s markets, as a nation reliant on exporting eighty percent of what it produces. The markets for rapeseed have shrunk to primarily exporting to Mexico, the US and Japan, Canada is now sitting on a mountain of canola, not one bushel can be exported to the EU. Furthermore, Canada´s honey markets

throughout the world have been lost because of GM contamination.

Schmeiser is also concerned about a new wave of GM crops in Canada called “pharma-plants”. There are six major types of drugs now being produced by GM plants, including prescription vaccines, industrial enzymes, blood thinners, blood clotting proteins, growth hormones and contraceptives, all known to be much more dangerous than conventional drugs (see [5] Biologicals´, Wonder Drugs with Problems.


What if somebody has had major surgery and then eats food contaminated with genes from a plant manufactured to be a blood thinner? Or what about a pregnant woman who eats food contaminated by genes from a plant that is manufactured as a contraceptive? These are just some of the worrying implications of pharma-plants, along with containment and co-existence.

Superweeds now ubiquitous in Canada, requiring supertoxic herbicides

Superweeds have evolved from conventional canola plants that have taken on the genes from three or four companies selling GM canola that has cross-pollinated and ended up in one plant. It had become established in Canada by 1996 (so quickly that horizontal gene transfer was suspected as having been involved, see [6] What Lurks Behind Triple Herbicide-Tolerant Oilseed Rape? ( , ISIS Report).

Percy warns that superweeds are ubiquitous throughout Canada in wheat fields, barley fields, cemeteries, university grounds, towns, and golf courses. He said that all these people that never even grew GM canola have this new expense of trying to control it, and this is responsible for the massive increase in the use of chemicals to control the superweeds.

One third of Canada´s insecticides, herbicides and pesticides are used in Saskatchewan, which has the highest rate of breast cancer and prostate cancer in Canada. “We´re killing ourselves with the chemicals we are using and the chemicals are more powerful and more toxic than ever before,” Percy says. He warns that Roundup herbicide is now four times stronger than it

was in 1996. Roundup is bad enough as new research reveals (see [7] Death by Multiple Poisoning, Glyphosate and Roundup  ( ,SiS 42); the new type “24D”, contains 70 percent Agent Orange, and is being used on the prairies to combat superweeds. The adverse health effect of

Agent Orange in Vietnam is common knowledge and could explain the major health problems, environment damage and loss of biodiversity in Canada.

Monsanto´s culture of fear

Monsanto is perpetrating a culture of fear and intimidation in Canada in

an effort to gain control of the seed supply, and ultimately the food

supply. It was not easy to stand up to Monsanto. Percy said, “They tried

everything to break us down mentally and financially.” His main fear was the harm that they would do to his wife and family. Monsanto employees would sit in the road in their vehicles watching us all day long when we were working in

our field, he said. They would sit in the driveway for hours at a time watching Louise Schmeiser when she was working in the garden and then phone her

and say “You better watch it; we´re going to get you.” Monsanto would then phone their neighbours and say if you support Percy and Louise Schmeiser

we´re going to come after you and do the same to you as we´re doing to

them. Monsanto offered $20,000 worth of chemicals to the Schmeisers´

neighbours if they would say something negative about them in Court.

Percy warns farmers about Monsanto´s “Inform on your neighbour” policy

for a free gift such as a leather jacket or chemicals. He said when the “gene

police” arrive on contaminated farm land threatening the farmer and his

wife with a court case, what do you think goes through a farmers´ mind? You

have a suspicion about your neighbours; it breaks down the social fabric of

rural society, farmers´ relationships, farmers not trusting one another, farmers scared to talk to each other about what they are seeding. We don´t know how many thousands of farmers they have done that to. But by 2004 at least 30,000 farmers were paying royalties to Monsanto in Canada [8]. As a former politician, Percy thinks this is the worst thing that has happened with the introduction of GM crops, a whole new culture of fear that Monsanto has been able to establish on the prairies of North America and Canada.

If Monsanto can´t find the farmer at home they go to the municipality

office and get the farmers address and extortion letters follow. Percy has

collected a lot of letters that farmers have given to him that say: “We have

reason to believe that you might be growing Monsanto´s GM rapeseed without

a licence. We estimate that you have so many acres. In lieu of us not sending you to court send us $100,000 dollars or $200,000 dollars in two weeks time and we may or may not send you to court.” Can you imagine the fear of a farm family when they receive this letter from a billion dollar Corporation? The letter ends, “You´re not allowed to show this letter to anyone or we will fine you.” One farmer´s wife sent Percy a letter from Monsanto because she was at her wits end. Her husband had four heart attacks and she pleaded with them to put her in jail. Monsanto replied, “We don´t want to put you in jail lady, sell your farm and we´ll let you go for half the money.” This behaviour is ruthless and if Monsanto can victimise farmers in First World countries such as Canada and America, it is a given that they will do this in many countries all over the world.

No new GM crops for Canada

But the Schmeisers´ struggles have brought a ray of hope.

In Canada food is not labelled, and campaigners have protested to find out what´s in their food by demanding labelling. The National Farmers Union has warned farmers not to buy Monsanto´s GM seeds because of their aggressive attitude. The Government has been unsuccessful in introducing any new GM crops such as wheat, rice, flax, and alfalfa because there was such an uproar by the people who have seen the damage and don´t want any more GM crops. Schmeiser said, “If we´re trying to stop them in the US and especially Canada, why would you want to introduce them in the UK and Europe?” He believes that now the Corporations have lost the ability to introduce any more GMOs in Canada they have turned their attention to other countries in the world. He compared this dominant strategy with the sale of agricultural

pesticides and chemicals that have been exported wholesale to Africa and Asia once the North American markets were saturated.

Percy said we do not know if you can ever recall out of the environment a life form that you put into it. And in relation to GMOs, what are we leaving for the future? We are at a fork in the road. If you go the GM way, this is what will happen; if you go down the other fork, you will maintain good food, safe food, and your environment. “I don´t think any of us want to leave to the future generations our environment, our soil, our water, our food, and our air full of poisons, none of us want to leave that,” he concluded. Percy has five children, fifteen grandchildren and two great grandchildren and that is why the Schmeisers have taken such a strong stand because they want to leave a legacy of safe food, water, air and soil.

He leaves us with a final question: “What will happen if you introduce GM crops in the UK?” We still have the chance to make the right decision.

You can visit Percy’s site here:

Tracked: The NAIS Controversy

By Maria Magaldi

Introduction: My name is Maria Magaldi. I’m a junior in high school from Connecticut. This year my U.S. history teacher gave my class a chance to pick a topic for our research papers as long as we used primary sources. I keep a small farm of Nigerian Dwarf goats and I was curious about a program another goat keeper said she was “forced into” called NAIS. I decided to research it and educate myself as it could potentially affect me and my goats in the future. As I researched and discovered more and more about the National Animal Identification System, I became furious and decided, after I wrote my paper, that I wanted to share what I found with the world.

It is the 21st century and the U.S. is one of the major world powers. Having used Roosevelt’s “big stick” to control Cuba, the Philippines and the surrounding U.S. territories, the government is now turning to its own citizens to wield a new stick—a microchip smaller than a penny. With the approval of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), these microchips—marketed mainly by the Digital Angel Company—are being injected into animals across America. The purpose is to further implement the USDA’s brainchild, the National Animal Identification System (NAIS). This program is being promoted as a way to enable the government to track the movements of animals in order to more quickly eradicate a disease. Although NAIS could potentially help officials contain a widespread livestock epidemic, it is nevertheless unconstitutional as its operation infringes on animal owners’ constitutional rights and its possible mandatory establishment would be medically and ethically harmful.

According to the USDA’s NAIS website, NAIS will “help us [USDA] protect U.S. livestock and poultry from disease and spread, maintain consumer confidence in our food supply, and retain access to domestic and foreign markets.” Animals included in the plan are: cattle, bison, poultry, swine, sheep, goats, cervids (e.g., deer and elk), equines (horses), and camelids (e.g., camels, dromedaries, llamas, alpacas). There are three steps to NAIS: (1) Registering premises and obtaining a premise ID number, (2) Identifying animals; (3) Tracking/tracing the animals on a database. Registering a premise requires filling out a form provided by the USDA including one’s address, phone number(s), and operation type. In return, one receives a small card with a Premise Identification Number (PIN), a unique seven digit code containing both letters and numbers. So far 459,859 out of an estimated total of 1,438,280 premises have been registered with the USDA—that’s 32%. Step two: identifying animals is when each individual animal is registered with the USDA and given a 15 digit Animal Identification Number (AIN). The animal’s background is recorded onto a database. USDA states that officials can access this information in “the case of an animal health event.” Step three: tracking animals on a database is the final step of NAIS. A person can choose if they want information on the movement of their animals—recorded on a tracking database—to be available to the state or privately owned industry groups. All three steps will allow the government to have control in the case of a disease outbreak. (NAIS)

Companies and associations have aligned themselves with the USDA and the NAIS program. In particular, meat tycoons Tyson, Purdue, and Cargill are readily agreeing to the USDA’s plans. All three are on the USDA’s 2008 list of approved plants to receive slaughtered animals. On the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) Business Plan to Advance NAIS, management from U.S. official plants met with the USDA to discuss premise ID and to receive other information about NAIS. In addition, Digital Angel, the company responsible for producing the microchips used in the animals is directly aligned with NAIS. Digital Angel is listed in the 2007 FDA Listing of Acceptable U.S. Industries along with its sister company, VeriChip which provides microchips for human use. The Digital Angel site states that the company has “manufactured RFID microchips for millions of pets throughout the world, providing them with unalterable and permanent identification should they become lost or stolen… [and] pioneered RFID solutions to help farmers, ranchers, sale barns and other livestock producers to identify and track animals in efforts to ensure the health and safety of the world’s food supply” (Digital Angel). RFID is radio frequency identification technology—a microchip or a device containing a microchip. With the support of mass companies such as these and a standard microchipping device, the USDA can more easily implement the NAIS plan.

However, the majority of farms and animal owners in the U.S. do not support the NAIS. These people are the small farmers, the 4-Hers, the FFA members; the backyard animal owners who only have small herds of animals. And yet, these people are feeling the majority of the pressure of NAIS and the government. Hundreds of anti-NAIS websites and newsletters bear headlines demanding rights for the small farmer. In Bonnie Jameson’s article published in the May/ June 2007 edition of the Dairy Goat Journal, she wrote how her daughter received an Oklahoma NAIS Premise ID card when she registered for a local FFA livestock show. Zealous farmer, Lynn Miller wrote a passionate article for the Small Farmer’s Journal describing the potential problems that farmers will encounter when the NAIS program becomes mandatory. He believes that the numbers of small farmers will decline and be driven out by government red tape and fines until all farming and food production is left up to the major industries. Essentially, it is not NAIS’ goal of eradicating disease that is sparking controversy within farming communities, but the actions one needs to take while complying with the program and the possible consequences of the actions that are the roots of the debate.

Animal owners are wary of the fact that the government will store their personal information including their address, full name, phone number, and type of farm on a national database if they fill out the NAIS premise form. The USDA says that it will need this information in an emergency. In a report to the Congressional Requesters of the GAO (Government Accountability Office) on homeland security and agroterrorism attacks, the USDA testifies that in the case of a disease outbreak that has been confirmed by USDA technicians, “the affected herd and all cattle, sheep, goats, swine, and susceptible wildlife—infected or not—within a minimum 10 kilometer zone around the affected farm would be killed…slaughtered and disposed of by incineration, burial, or rendering,” (Homeland Security 31). So if the USDA had access to premise information during a disease outbreak and knew that a farmer lived within the 10 kilometers, the farmer’s livestock would be wiped out even if the herd was operating on a closed basis. Later, the government could find out by a second test that the medical result was false positive and that there never was a disease rampant in the area.

There is also the unconvincing claim made by the USDA that NAIS is a voluntary operation. Nevertheless, states have the power to decide if they want NAIS to be mandatory. The NAIS official User Guide states “Under our current authorities, USDA could make the NAIS mandatory, but we are choosing not to do so…participation in every component of NAIS is voluntary at the federal level” (NAIS User Guide). However, farmers and rural landowners have been receiving yearly envelops from the Agriculture Identification Survey (AIS) which clearly state on the front that “your response is required by law”. It also states that by neglecting to fill out the information, one will be fined $100. In Mary Zanoni’s article in the 2006 March/April edition of Dairy Goat Journal, she states that although the AIS denied that they were connected to NAIS, the USDA claims that the AIS envelopes and information were “done through a contract with the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service” (Zanoni 2006 Agricultural Identification System 10). Then there is the term dubbed “critical mass” by the USDA. Critical mass is NAIS’ benchmark, when the USDA will evaluate the progress of NAIS and decide whether there is enough participation. It is NAIS’ hope to have 70% livestock participation by the year 2009 (NAIS). It is implied that if the critical mass is not reached, the program will become either mandatory or at least more strongly enforced. “U.S. Department of Agriculture materials say that the goal is full, mandatory participation by 2009” (Boyer ¶1). Forced participation and an added cost burden is enough to make American farmers cringe.

On the NAIS national website, the USDA alleges that registering for a premise is free. However, the USDA confesses that individual states “may choose to keep premises registration free or not” (NAIS User Guide 20). The other two steps of NAIS and their included costs should be considered. The second NAIS step “animal identification” requires a form of identification such as a tag or microchip with the AID code on it. According to the NAIS User Guide, a simple tag is usually $1 per animal, radio frequency tags are between $2-3 and implantation of a microchip (for a horse) is between $15-20. This price does not include the veterinary visit. Typically veterinary visits range from $50-200 depending on the number of animals and the hours. Just say that a farmer has a herd of 100 cattle. He decides to pay for the microchip in order to participate in the NAIS tracking program. If his vet bills him $150 for the visit and $20 per microchip implantation, he will spend $2,150 which is more than most small farmers can afford. This price does not include the price of upkeep. Compliance with the last step of animal tracing has a hefty price tag. In several of the animal tracking database sites, one must be a member to be able to log in and view the prices of the systems available. The USDA says that costs will vary depending on the services. They too do not give a direct price but instead hope that “competitive forces in the free market will keep costs down” (NAIS User Guide 9). Not only is the price dissuading farmers, but the consistent reporting of animal movements once registered in the tracking database is outraging them as well. NAIS’ goal is that farmers report within a 24 hour timeframe any movements of animals according to the relative level of importance of the movement. A fair, sale, market, or auction are all considered high levels; while trail rides and local events are of low level exposure to disease. (NAIS User Guide)

Many believe that NAIS is a violation of the Constitution—in particular the First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. The Amish feel threatened by NAIS and believe that their right of “freedom of religion” given by the First Amendment is being taken away from them and they fear that the program will force them to choose between obeying their religion and complying with government laws. Many are selling their livestock in order to avoid microchipping their animals. The Amish say that a passage in the book of Revelation in the Bible alludes to “the mark of the beast” which they believe is the microchip and the implementation of a mandatory microchipping program. “He causes all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hand or on their foreheads, and that no one may buy or sell except one who has the mark or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.” Revelation 13:16-17.

The Fourth Amendment secures privacy and protects citizens from unwanted and unwarranted searches. If the government did make NAIS mandatory, people owning unregistered livestock could be either fined or the animals could be instantly killed if the government deemed it necessary or if they felt that the animals’ health was suspicious. The Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution states “nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property.” Animals are a person’s property just the same as, say, a house or land. Making a person give up this privilege or forcing a person to disobey their religion is a complete disregard of the Constitutional amendments.

Not only are there circulating concerns on a moral basis, but physical health concerns as well. VeriChip, the human RFID (radio frequency identification device) is similar if not identical to the RFID Digital Angel used in livestock. VeriChip’s founder was in fact Digital Angel. In a letter from the FDA to the VeriChip Company, the FDA responds to VeriChip’s request to use its microchip in hospitals as identification. The FDA also lists the potential health risks related to the transponder “adverse tissue reaction; migration of implanted transponder; compromised information security; failure of implanted transponder; failure of inserter; failure of electronic scanner; electromagnetic interference; electrical hazards; magnetic resonance imaging incompatibility; and needle stick.” (Evaluation¶8). These are the same issues that the livestock RFID would have. Electromagnetic interference and MRI incompatibility has been further researched by the FDA. During an MRI, a radio frequency field (such as one emitted by the RFID) could potentially cause burns on the patient as it generates electromagnetic currents resulting in the heating of the device. In addition, exposed to an MRI the electromagnetic fields conflicting with each other could cause malfunctions in the RFID. (A Primer on Medical Device Interaction) In the “Adverse Event Report” section of the FDA website there are two publications. In both, the women had VeriChip implants. The first woman found the microchip caused her extreme discomfort and she had to have a fluoroscopy to find the microchip before she could have it surgically removed. The second woman was volunteering in a government study to test the effects of radiation (magnetic and microwave) on the device. In the report, the woman’s hypertension worsened and she began to have serious cardiac problems. She wrote “The government states that this is nonlethal but I beg to differ. I would like…full investigation and stop to this study until further data can be gathered to support the harmful effects…” (Adverse Event Report VeriChip).

A study based in France using the results of three different studies found that microchip-associated tumors from livestock RFIDs were “4.1% with 52 animals bearing a microchip associated tumour out of 1260”. (Subcutaneous Microchip Associated Tumours) In a report published by the VeriChip Corporation “Eighteen of 117 mice (10%) were diagnosed with an undifferentiated histologically malignant sarcoma arising at the transponders site, the earliest at 15 weeks after implantation”(Tissue Reactions 2). This number is extravagant and oncology experts are agreeing. Director of the Center for Sarcoma and Bone Oncology at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, Dr. Demetri felt that the numbers of sarcomas developing in mice from the microchips posed high risks if the same microchips were injected in humans and other animals. (Lewan ¶27)

There is a video advertisement on the Digital Angel website that shows a woman and her dog reunited because of a microchip that was implanted in the dog. However there is another story, similar to this one but lacking the happy ever after ending that Digital Angel seems to promise. In the summer of 2004, Lisa Massey of Virginia lost her eight month old pit bull terrier, Hadden, but she felt assured because she knew that her dog had a microchip. A shelter in Stafford County found Hadden and scanned him for a microchip, but the scanner was unable to find a microchip. After waiting 10 days without hearing from an owner, Hadden was euthanized. Thirty minutes later, Massey called the shelter and asked if her dog was there. Hadden was scanned again and a message popped up on the scanner screen. The message read “Microchip found.”

This devastating experience was due to the incompatibility of the scanner and the lack of radio frequency waves emitted by the microchip. Often scanners do not work with all types of microchips as there is no universal microchip or scanner. The USDA does not have the power to enforce a universal microchip system where the microchip matches the scanner. (Nolen 2) This could pose a serious problem if NAIS was made mandatory. If an animal did have a microchip, but the scanner could not read the chip number, the owner could still be fined for defying government regulations.

Due to the “success” of livestock microchip implantations, microchips are starting to be used in humans. They are being injected into bar attendees such as the visitors who go to the Baja Bar in Barcelona, Spain. There the microchip records tabs and money owed. Microchips are being used to track hospital patients and people who have Alzheimer’s and other mentally degenerative disorders. Even average citizens are volunteering to get microchips implanted under their skin. But the problems still remain.

Ten years from now the farming industry could be entirely dominated by the government acting through the USDA and mass corporations. If Orwell’s 1984 becomes a reality, NAIS will be remembered as a national shame. After all, even the Secretary of Agriculture, Ed Schafer referred to the USDA as “Big Brother” (Transcript 8). So please, sign petitions and call and write to government officials. Today the first step in the plan and with this secrecy…who knows what tomorrow will be?


“Advancing Animal Disease Traceability.” USDA. Nov. 2007. 27 Apr. 2008.

“Adverse Event Report.” Center for Devices and Radiological Health. 20 Apr. 2007. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. 27 Apr. 2008.

“Adverse Event Report: VeriChip Corporation Verimed Patient Identificator VeriChip Implant.” Center For Devices and Radiological Health. 10 Dec. 2007. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. 27 Apr. 2008.

Allan, Carrie. “Navigating the Microchip Maze.” Nov.-Dec. 2003. U.S. Humane Society. 20 Apr. 2008.

“AMS Business Plan to Advance NAIS.” Agricultural Marketing Service. 14 Apr. 2008. USDA. 27 Apr. 2008.

Appell, David. “Getting Under Your Skin.” Scientific American. Jan. 2003. National Association of Science Writers. 11 Apr. 2008.

“A Primer on Medical Device Interactions with Magnetic Resonance Systems.” FDA. 7 Feb. 1997. 27 Apr. 2008.

Boyer, Brian. “State Feels the Heat, Drops ID Requirements for Livestock Exhibitors—for Now.” Medill Reports, Chicago. 15 Apr. 2008. 20 Apr. 2008.

“Class II Special Controls Guidance Document: Implantable Radiofrequency Transponder System for Patient Identification and Health Information.” FDA. 10 Dec. 2004. 27 Apr. 2008.

Curnow, Robyn. “The Price to Pay for VIP Status.” CNN. 6 Oct. 2004. 27 Apr. 2008.

Eating a GMO free diet

As I heard more about GE (genetically engineered, or GMO, genetically modified organism) food, over the past 5 – 10 years and got more furious about it as well – (these people have some nerve feeding us and our children frankenfood that is not safe.  It’s not been tested here and in Europe where is has been tested it’s been shown to cause many health problems) – I have tried to figure out how our family can cut out all foods with GE ingredients.

We started by joining a CSA.  A CSA is a community supported agriculture program.  This mean that you are buying, in advance, a share of a local organic farms crops.  We love our CSA and get a wonderful box every week of local, organic and seasonal fruits and veggies.  It’s introduced us to many new vegetables, and to my surprise, even our teens are eating new vegetables like swiss chard and kale. If you’d like to find a CSA near you visit Local Harvest,

Our next step was to look at the meat we were eating.  We try to have our meat, chicken & fish as a condiment to our meals, making sure we have lots of veggies and grains as the base.  As most all the factory-farmed meat is fed GE soy we needed to find an alternate source of meat.  We found a few.  The first was our local health food store.  They have organic grass fed beef, organic free-range chicken and fresh fish.  They are more expensive but as far as I’m concerned, my family is worth is and I’d rather have us eat smaller portions of safer meats.  We also found a wonderful source of bison and have added that to our diets also.  Bison is a free range and very low fat meat that’s high in omega 3’s.  The taste is very similar to beef and even our pickiest eater liked it.

Next up, was grains and beans; actual whole grains and beans were easy.  Many health food stores, have bins full of organic rice, millet, couscous, and more and a wide variety of beans and lentils.  It got trickier when we started looking at processed foods.  I try to cook as much as I can from scratch (which is not as hard as you might think, if you’ve never done it before ;), but there are times we like processed items.  Things like chips, cookies, or the occasional loaf of bread led me to really start reading labels.  The first thing you want to make sure is not in anything you’re buying is high fructose corn syrup, or non-organic soy, and lately even sugar is suspect as many companies are using GE sugar beets.  This is another reason is so important we all call and let them know we will not buy their products until they’re GE free (see What we can do,!.html ).

After having done all this, I thought we were doing pretty well.  Until I looked at condiments!  Canola oil is GE unless it’s organic.  And as most mayonnaise is made with canola oil unless it’s organic, same problem.  Little by little, we’re making all the small changes too.  I’m using organic safflower, or sunflower oil instead of canola, and we switched to a safflower mayo made by Hain. We’re not 100% GE free yet but we’re getting there, item by item.  If the ‘Frankenfood Fifteen’ (!.html) want our business, they’ll need to make sure their products are GE free.  That will be a day to celebrate, for our health, our farmers health and the environments too.

Here’s a link for a terrific, free Non-GMO shopping guide:

Seed Monopolies, Genetic engineering and Farmer suicides

by Vandana Shiva

An epidemic of farmers’ suicides has spread across four states of India over the last decade. According to official data, more than 160,000 farmers have committed suicide in India since 1997.

These four states are Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Punjab. The suicides are most frequent where farmers grow cotton and have been a direct result of the creation of seed monopolies. According to official data, more than 160,000 farmers have committed suicide in India since 1997.

Increasingly, the supply of cotton seeds has slipped out of the hands of the farmers and the public system, into the hands of global seed corporations like Monsanto. The entry of seed MNCs was part of the globalization process.

Corporate seed supply implies a number of shifts simultaneously. Firstly, giant corporations start to control local seed companies through buyouts, joint ventures and licensing arrangements, leading to a seed monopoly.

Secondly, seed is transformed from being a common good, to being the “intellectual property” of Monsanto, for which the corporation can claim limitless profits through royalty payments. For the farmer this means deeper debt.

Thirdly, seed is transformed from a renewable regenerative, multiplicative resource into a non-renewable resource and commodity. Seed scarcity and seed farmers are a consequence of seed monopolies, which are based on renewability of seed, beginning with hybrids, moving to genetically engineered seed like Btcotton, with the ultimate aim of the “terminator” seed which is engineered for sterility. Each of these technologies of non-renewability is guided by one factor alone – forcing farmers to buy seed every planning season. For farmers this means higher costs. For seed corporations it translates into higher profits.

Fourthly, the creation of seed monopolies is based on the simultaneous deregulation of seed corporations, including biosafety and seed deregulation, and super-regulation of farmers seeds and varieties. Globalization allowed seed companies to sell self-certified seeds, and in the case of genetically engineered seed, they are seeking self-regulation for biosafety. This is the main aim of the recently proposed National Biotechnology Regulatory Authority, which is in effect a Biosafety ‘Deregulation Authority. The proposed Seed Bill 2004, which has been blocked by a massive nationwide Gandhian Seed Satyagraha by farmers, aims at forcing every farmer to register the varieties they have evolved over millennia. This compulsory registration and licensing system robs farmers of their fundamental freedoms.

State regulation extinguishes biodiversity, and pushes all farmers into dependency on patented, corporate seed. Such compulsory licensing has been the main vehicle of destruction of biodiversity and farmers rights in U.S. and Europe.

Fifthly, corporate seeds impose monocultures on farmers. Mixed croppings of cotton with cereals, legumes, oilseeds, vegetables is replaced with a monoculture of Bt-cotton hybrids. The creation of seed monopolies and with it the creation of unpayable debt to a new species of money lender, the agents of the seed and chemical companies, has led to hundreds of thousands of Indian farmers killing themselves since 1997.

The suicides first started in the district of Warangal in Andhra Pradesh. Peasants in Warangal used to grow millets, pulses, oilseeds. Overnight, Warangal was converted to a cotton growing district based on non-renewable hybrids which need irrigation and are prone to pest attacks. Small peasants without capital were trapped in a vicious cycle of debt. Some ended up committing suicide.

This was the period when Monsanto and its Indian partner Mahyco were also carrying out illegal field experiments with genetically engineered Bt- cotton. All imports and field trials of genetically engineered organisms in India are governed by a law under the Environment Protection Act called the “Rules for the Manufacture Use, Import, Export and Storage” of Hazardous Microorganisms, Genetically Engineered Organisms or Cells 1989.”

We at the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology used these laws to stop Monsanto’s commercialization of Bt- cotton in 1999, which is why approval was not granted for commercial sales until 2002.

The Government of Andhra Pradesh filed a case in the Monopoly and Restrictive Trade Practices Act (MRTP), India’s Anti Trust Law, arguing that Monsanto’s seed monopolies were the primary cause of farmers’ suicides in Andhra Pradesh.

Monsanto was forced to reduce its prices of Bt- cotton seeds. The high costs of seeds and other inputs were combined with falling prices of cotton due to $4billion U.S. subsidy and the dumping of this subsidized cotton on India by using the W.T.O. to force India to remove Quantitative Restrictions on agricultural imports. Rising costs of production and falling prices of the product is a recipe for indebtedness, and debtedness is the main cause of farmers’ suicides. This is why farmers’ suicides are most prevalent in the cotton belt on which seed industries own claim is rapidly becoming a Bt-cotton belt. Bt-cotton is thus heavily implicated in farmers’ suicides.

The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) has recently released a discussion paper “Bt-cotton and Farmers’ Suicides in India: Reviewing the Evidence”. The report is manipulative of the truth about farmers suicides and every level.

Firstly, it states that “Farmers suicides is a long-term phenomena”, and the “long term” is 1997-2007. Ten years is not a long term in a 10,000 year old farming tradition. And 1997 is precisely when the suicides take on an epidemic oportion due to seed monopolies, initially through hybrids and from 2002 through Bt. Hybrids.

Secondly, the chronology of Bt-cotton introduction is false. The story begins with Monsanto’s illegal Bt trials, not with commercialisation in 2002. Secondly, the report states that “In specific regions and years, where Bt-cotton may have indirectly contributed to farmer indebtedness (via crop failure) leading to suicides, its failure was mainly the result of the context or environment in which it was introduced or planted; Bt-cotton as a technology is not to blame”.

This is an interesting argument. A technology is always developed in the context of local socio-economic and ecological conditions. A technology that is a misfit in a context is a failed technology for that context. You cannot blame the context to save a failed technology.

The technology of engineering Bt-genes into cotton was aimed primarily at controlling pests. However, new pests have emerged in Bt-cotton, leading to higher use of pesticides. In Vidharbha region of Maharashtra, which has the highest suicides, the area under Bt-cotton has increased from 0.200 million ha in  2004 to 2.880 million ha in 2007. Costs of pesticides for farmers has increased from Rs. 921 million to Rs. 13,264 billion in the same period, which is a 13 fold increase. A pest control technology that fails to control pests might be good for seed corporations which are also agrichemical corporations. For farmers it translates into suicide. The IFPRI study uses industry data to falsely claim reduction of presticide use in Bt-cotton when the empirical data and ground reality shows pesticide use increase.

There are alternatives to Bt-cotton and toxic pesticides. Through Navdanya we have promoted ‘Organic Farming and Seeds of Hope’, to help farmers move away from Monsanto’s “Seeds of Suicide”.

Organic farmers in Vidharbha are earning Rs. 6287 per acre on average, compared to Bt-cotton farmers who are earning Rs. 714 per acre on average. Many Bt-cotton farmers have a negative income, hence the suicides. The field data of Bt-cotton is also manipulated when cotton yields are shown as low in the pre-Bt-cotton years, it is not mentioned that cotton has traditionally not been grown as a monoculture but as a mixed crop converting biodiversity to monocultures of course leads to increase in “yield” of the monoculture, but this is accompanied by a decline in production at the biodiversity level. The IFPRI paper has attempted to play with figures, just like the investment bankers and hedge fund managers played with figures and caused the collapse of Wall Street. Manipulation of reality with numbers does not make for truth. In the case of seeds, it is threatening farmers’ lives. Technologies are tools. When the tool fails it needs replacing. Bt-cotton technology has failed to control pests or secure farmers lives and livelihoods. It is time to replace GM technology with ecological farming. It is time to stop farmers’ suicides.

See a wonderful talk by Vandana Shiva on The Future of Food and Seed at google video here:

And visit her website here:

The Hidden Link Between Factory Farms and Human Illness

By Laura Sayre

You may be familiar with many of the problems associated with concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs. These “factory farm” operations are often criticized for the smell and water pollution caused by all that concentrated manure; the unnatural, grain-heavy diets the animals consume; and the stressful, unhealthy conditions in which the animals live. You may not be aware, however, of the threat such facilities hold for you and your family’s health — even if you never buy any of the meat produced in this manner.

Factory farms are breeding grounds for virulent disease, which can then spread to the wider community via many routes — not just in food, but also in water, the air, and the bodies of farmers, farm workers and their families. Once those microbes become widespread in the environment, it’s very difficult to get rid of them.

A 2008 report from the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production, a joint project of the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, underscores those risks. The 111-page report, two years in the making, outlines the public health, environmental, animal welfare and rural livelihood consequences of what they call “industrial farm animal production.” Its conclusions couldn’t be clearer. Factory farm production is intensifying worldwide, and rates of new infectious diseases are rising. Of particular concern is the rapid rise of antibiotic-resistant microbes, an inevitable consequence of the widespread use of antibiotics as feed additives in industrial livestock operations.

Scientists, medical personnel and public health officials have been sounding the alarm on these issues for some time. The World Health Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) have recommended restrictions on agricultural uses of antibiotics; the American Public Health Association (APHA) proposed a moratorium on CAFOs back in 2003. All told, more than 350 professional organizations — including the APHA, American Medical Association, the Infectious Diseases Society of America, and the American Academy of Pediatrics — have called for greater regulation of antibiotic use in livestock. The Infectious Diseases Society of America has declared antibiotic-resistant infections an epidemic in the United States. The FAO recently warned that global industrial meat production poses a serious threat to human health.

The situation is akin to that surrounding global climate change four or five years ago: near-universal scientific consensus matched by government inaction and media inattention. Although the specter of pandemic flu — in which a virulent strain of the influenza virus recombines with a highly contagious strain to create a bug rivaling that responsible for the 1918 flu pandemic, thought to have killed as many as 50 million people — is the most dire scenario, antibiotic resistance is a clear and present danger, already killing thousands of people in the United States each year.

People, Animals and Microbes

From one perspective, picking up bugs from our domesticated animals is nothing new. Approximately two-thirds of the 1,400 known human pathogens are thought to have originated in animals: Scientists think tuberculosis and the common cold probably came to us from cattle; pertussis from pigs or sheep; leprosy from water buffalo; influenza from ducks.

Most of these ailments probably appeared relatively early in the 10,000-year-old history of animal domestication. Over time, some human populations developed immunity to these diseases; others were eventually controlled with vaccines.

Some continued to kill humans until the mid-20th century discovery of penicillin, a miracle drug that rendered formerly life-threatening infections relatively harmless. Other antibiotics followed, until by the 1960s leading researchers and public health officials were declaring that the war on infectious diseases had been won.

Beginning in the mid 1970s, however, the numbers of deaths from infectious diseases in the United States started to go back up. Some were from old nemeses, such as tuberculosis, newly resistant to standard antibiotic treatments; others were wholly novel.

“In recent decades,” writes Dr. Michael Greger, director of public health and animal agriculture for the Humane Society of the United States and author of Bird Flu: A Virus of Our Own Hatching, “previously unknown diseases have surfaced at a pace unheard of in the recorded annals of medicine: more than 30 newly identified human pathogens in 30 years, most of them newly discovered zoonotic viruses.” (Zoonotic viruses are those that can be passed from animals to humans.)

Why is this happening? There are many reasons, including the increased pace of international travel and human incursions into wild animals’ habitats. But one factor stands out: the rise of industrial farm animal production. “Factory farms represent the most significant change in the lives of animals in 10,000 years,” Greger writes. “This is not how animals were supposed to live.”

Chicken and pig production are particularly bad. In 1965, the total U.S. hog population numbered 53 million, spread over more than 1 million pig farms in the United States — most of them small family operations. Today, we have 65 million hogs on just 65,640 farms nationwide. Many of these “farms” — 2,538, to be exact — have upwards of 5,000 hogs on the premises at any given time. Broiler chicken production rose from 366 million in 1945 to 8,400 million in 2001, most of them in facilities housing tens of thousands of birds.

On a global scale, the situation is even worse. Fifty-five billion chickens are now reared each year worldwide. The global pig inventory is approaching 1 billion, an estimated half of which are raised in confinement. In China and Malaysia, it’s not unheard of for hog facilities to house 20,000 or even 50,000 animals.

The Mechanics of Resistance

“Concentrated animal feeding operations are comparable to poorly run hospitals, where everyone is given antibiotics, patients lie in unchanged beds, hygiene is nonexistent, infections and re-infections are rife, waste is thrown out the window, and visitors enter and leave at will,” write Johns Hopkins researchers Ellen Silbergeld, Jay Graham and Lance Price in the 2008 Annual Review of Public Health. By concentrating large numbers of animals together, factory farms are terrific incubators for disease. The stress of factory farm conditions weakens animals’ immune systems; ammonia from accumulated waste burns lungs and makes them more susceptible to infection; the lack of sunlight and fresh air — as well as the genetic uniformity of industrial farm animal populations — facilitates the spread of pathogens.

The addition of steady doses of antibiotics to this picture tips the balance from appalling to catastrophic. Poultry producers discovered by accident in the 1940s that feeding tetracycline fermentation byproducts accelerated chickens’ growth. Since then, the use of antibiotics as feed additives has become standard practice across much of the industry. The Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that non-therapeutic animal agriculture use (drugs given to animals even when they are not sick) accounts for 70 percent of total antibiotic consumption in the United States.

The medical community has been cautioning for years against irresponsible antibiotic use among people, but in terms of sheer numbers, livestock use is far more significant. It’s a simple scientific fact that the more antibiotics are used — especially prolonged use at low doses as in factory farms — the more antibiotic-resistant microbes will become. Bacteria and viruses are also notoriously promiscuous, swapping genes across species and even across genera, creating what the Johns Hopkins researchers call “reservoirs of resistance.” “In some pathogens, selection for resistance also results in increased virulence,” they note. In other cases, otherwise harmless microbes can transfer resistance genes to pathogenic species.

There also are indications that factory farm conditions make animals more likely to excrete pathogenic microbes — suggesting another mechanism by which conversion to more humane farming methods would offer greater protection for human health.

Routes of Transmission

Most so-called bio-containment procedures for confinement livestock operations are more concerned with protecting the crowded animals from disease outbreaks than from preventing human pathogens from escaping into the wider environment. As the report from the Pew Commission points out, every step in the industrial farm animal production system holds the potential for disease transmission, from transportation and manure handling, to meat processing and animal rendering.

The increasingly globalized nature of the farm animal production system means that live animals, as well as fresh and frozen meat, are constantly crossing international borders, ensuring that diseases present in one location will soon spread elsewhere. But the biggest transmission route is waste: Confined livestock operations in the United States produce three times as much waste each year as our country’s entire human population — and yet all that manure is much more loosely regulated and handled than human waste. Antibiotic-resistant microbes, as well as the antibiotics themselves, are now widely present as environmental contaminants, with unknown consequences for everything from soil microorganisms to people. Canada’s largest waterborne disease outbreak, which infected 1,346 people and killed six, was traced to runoff from livestock farms into a town’s water supply. The U.S. Geological Survey found antimicrobial residues in 48 percent of 139 streams tested nationwide from 1999 to 2000. Other studies have detected resistant bacteria in the air up to 30 meters upwind and 150 meters downwind of industrial hog facilities.

A wealth of evidence links industrial meat and poultry directly with foodborne illness. When dioxin-contaminated chicken feed led to the removal from the market of all chicken and eggs in Belgium for several weeks in June of 1999, doctors there noted a 40 percent decline in the number of human Campylobacter infections. Repeated studies have concluded that as much as 80 percent of retail supermarket chicken in the United States is contaminated with Campylobacter. Similarly, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that Salmonella-contaminated eggs caused 180,000 cases of sickness in the United States in 2000. E. coli O157:H7 is blamed for 73,000 illnesses in this country each year, including about 2,000 hospitalizations and 60 deaths.

Although thorough cooking and careful handling can minimize your risks, antibiotic resistance raises the stakes when someone gets ill: “One in two human cases of Campylobacter, and one in five cases of Salmonella are now antibiotic-resistant,” says Steve Roach, public health program director for the Food Animal Concerns Trust and a member of the executive committee for the Keep Antibiotics Working coalition. “And when you have antibiotic resistance, you have more complications, more blood infections, more mortality.”

In fact, public health experts are beginning to suspect that a whole host of infections not previously thought of as food-related may ultimately be linked to the overuse of antibiotics in animal agriculture. Researchers at the University of California-Berkeley, for example, traced a multi-state outbreak of urinary tract infections among women in 1999 and 2000 to contamination with a single strain of drug-resistant E. coli found in cows. Dr. Lee Riley, lead author of a paper on the findings published in Clinical Infectious Diseases, cautioned that the findings indicated that “the problem of foodborne disease is much greater in scope than we had ever previously thought.”

And then there’s methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA. Previously confined largely to hospitals, MRSA is now killing more people in the United States each year than HIV/AIDS. A series of recent studies in Europe have demonstrated a strong causal link between MRSA and intensive pig farming in the Netherlands, Germany and France. Little or no data are available on MRSA in animals in the United States, but the bacterium is widely present on pig farms in Canada, which sells millions of live pigs to the United States annually, so it seems pretty likely it’s in U.S. pig factories, too.

All in all, the CDC reports that 2 million people in the United States now contract an infection each year while in the hospital. Of those, a staggering 90,000 die — a toll higher than that from diabetes. Numbers such as that are prompting some medical investigators to suggest that we may be entering a “post-antibiotic era,” one in which (as a paper published in Environmental Health Perspectives in 2007 put it) “there would be no effective antibiotics available for treating many life-threatening infections in humans.”

Connections such as these aren’t always easy to prove, however, especially for drugs that have already been in widespread use for decades, which is one reason why regulations to reign in the non-therapeutic use of antimicrobials have so far been largely lacking in the United States. The pending approval of an antibiotic called cefquinome to treat respiratory diseases in cattle offered a recent test case. Cefquinome is similar to cefepime, a last-resort antibiotic used to treat serious infections in people. (Both are fourth-generation cephalosporins, one of the small number of new antibiotics developed in recent years.) The FDA’s Veterinary Medicine Advisory Committee, along with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Medical Association, recommended against approval, warning that using cefquinome for animals would almost certainly render cefepime less effective for humans. But the FDA has apparently caved to industry pressure, claiming it lacks the authority to deny the drug companies’ request.

The Way Forward

Fortunately, there is a better way. No one wants high-quality food to be unaffordable, but increasingly it appears that as a human species we need to strike a better balance between cheap food and safe food. Sweden and Denmark have led the way over the past two decades in the development of commercial farming methods that minimize antibiotic use. Alternative management strategies include improving animals’ diets, changing weaning practices for pigs, cleaning facilities thoroughly in between groups and being more careful about mixing animals coming from different locations.

Scandinavian producers weren’t necessarily happy when their countries’ ban on non-therapeutic uses of antibiotics was put in place, but they’ve come to realize that they can still run profitable operations without them. Researchers in this country have shown that the same is true here: In 2006, a team at Johns Hopkins used data from poultry giant Perdue to show that the small advantage in weight gain associated with non-therapeutic antibiotic use was canceled out by the cost of the drugs. Organic farmers in many parts of the world have also shown that livestock can be raised profitably and humanely without the use of antibiotics.

“This is not a necessary problem,” says Lance Price, scientific advisor for Johns Hopkins’ Center for a Livable Future. “If you look at all the stakeholders in this equation — you and me, the doctors and hospitals, the producers — everyone but the drug companies can entertain alternatives. The only group that stands to lose from a more responsible use of antibiotics is the drug companies.”

A bill introduced in Congress in 2007, the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act, was one attempt to address these issues. Sponsored by Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., the only microbiologist in Congress, and Senate Health Committee Chairman Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., the bill would have withdrawn approvals for feed-additive use of seven classes of antibiotics of value to human medicine and required producers of agricultural antibiotics to provide data to public health officials on the usage of the drugs they sell.

The costs associated with continuing industrial farm animal production are enormous. If it’s allowed to continue, industrial production as currently practiced could eventually eliminate a lot of other farming options (in addition to making a lot of us sick). As one Midwestern organic farmer explained to me, it’s simply not possible to raise pigs organically if you live too close to a confinement facility: The pathogen pressure is too intense. “Iowa has become a sink for pig diseases,” he said. They’re just in the air, and you can’t avoid them.

5 Nasty Microbes Linked to Factory Farming

Campylobacter: This is the most common cause of foodborne diarrheal illness in the United States, causing an estimated 2 million cases each year. Most don’t require medical treatment, but a small number (approximately 50 per year) end in death. Chicken and turkey are the usual sources: Studies have shown that most conventional chicken is contaminated when it leaves the processing plant. Rising numbers of Campylobacter infections resistant to a class of antibiotics called fluoroquinolones led the FDA, in 2000, to seek to ban fluoroquinolone use in U.S. poultry production. The ban was held up in court by drug maker Bayer, but was finally put in place in 2005.

MRSA: Staphylococcus aureus is a bacteria widely present in our environment and usually harmless, but in susceptible individuals it can cause life-threatening infections. Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA (pronounced “mir-sah”), used to be primarily a problem in hospitals, but these days, cases of MRSA are increasingly likely to be “community-acquired,” and evidence suggests that factory farms are a source. MRSA can be spread by human or animal carriers with no signs of illness; a recent study found that nearly half of Dutch pig farmers, and 39 percent of pigs in Dutch slaughterhouses, were carriers of MRSA.

Salmonella: This is another bacteria causing frequent and sometimes serious foodborne illness, with an estimated 1.4 million U.S. cases each year, including 18,000 hospitalizations and 600 deaths. Salmonella can contaminate beef, poultry, eggs and even vegetables. Antibiotic-resistant Salmonella is on the rise: One strain, known as DT104, is resistant to five major antibiotics used in humans.

E. coli O157:H7: Most Escherichia coli bacteria are harmless, but a few strains, including the notorious O157:H7, can be deadly. Ground beef is the most common contaminated food source for people, but as the spinach scare of 2006 showed, other foods can also be affected. The toxic strains are linked to conditions in beef feedlots.

Enterococcus: Enterococci are a widespread group of intestinal bacteria that can cause serious infections in other parts of the body. Antibiotic resistance is a major concern with Enterococcus faecium, the strain most commonly associated with illness in people. In Europe, vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus (VRE) is a widespread environmental contaminant, where its emergence has been linked to agricultural use of avoparcin, an antibiotic closely related to vancomycin. In the United States, VRE is more often found in hospitals, and doctors are running out of treatment options: About 4 percent of VRE patients no longer respond to the antibiotic Synercid, a last-defense drug which is unfortunately related to virginiamycin, widely used in U.S. animal agriculture.

What You Can Do

Reduce the amount of meat in your diet. Industrial farm animal production is driven by rising global demand for meat. Healthy protein alternatives include whole grains, beans, nuts and dairy products. Think of meat more as a seasoning (as in soups and stews), not an essential, three-meals-a-day main course.

When you do eat meat, buy from local farmers practicing humane, sustainable methods. Seek out meat and dairy products labeled as “raised without antibiotics,” and tell your local market manager you’d like to see more such products on store shelves.

Contact your Congressional delegation and ask them to support legislation to limit antibiotics in livestock feed, such as the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act, introduced to Congress in 2007.

Joel Salatin on Safe Food

Sound Science is Killing Us

By Joel Salatin

At a recent House committee hearing in Richmond, Virginia, the state Commissioner of Agriculture, Carlton Courter–seated next to me at the polished oval table that only government buildings

contain–proclaimed that “raw milk is just as dangerous as moonshine.”

That statement, of course, was based on “sound science.” Seated behind him were credentialed experts, the representatives of sound science. From industry personnel to Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services bureaucrats to Federal Food and Drug Administration academically credentialed professionals, all trumpeted forth sound science as the Holy Grail. With one voice, all of these cultural elites extolled the virtues of rBGH, irradiation, genetic engineering and pasteurization as representing sound science.

Those of us at the committee hearing who would dare to ask for consumer choice were called “borderline criminal” in our intent, because sound science has proven that consumers are incapable of informed, responsible, rational decision-making. These experts have done their consumer surveys, and they know that sound science proves that food choice is tantamount to Russian roulette on a plate. Only government food is safe food. Sound science dictates what is safe. No other standard will do. Only T-bone steaks wrapped in million-dollar, agriculturally prohibited, quintuple-permitted, government-sanctioned processing facilities are fit for human consumption. I can’t buy a pound cake from a neighbor girl who

whipped it up and baked it in the family kitchen. That’s not safe. Sound science has thus decreed.

But Coca-Cola is safe. McDonald’s Happy Meals are safe. So is irradiated food. Genetic engineering is the darling of sound science. And until just a couple of months ago, sound science decreed that

feeding brains and spinal cords to herbivores was state-of-the-art technology. Now the denizens of the ivory towers are debating whether or not to eliminate the feeding of chicken manure and dead chicken

carcasses to herbivores. Rest assured, when the edict comes down from the powers that be, it will be based on sound science.

Things are getting crazy. I’ve decided we all need some relief from sound science before it kills us. Please, relieve us from sound science. If all this is sound science, I want no part of it. And yet it is worshipped daily on the news by a fawning media too preconditioned to question pontifications from credentialed


It’s time those of us in the alternative community shout a new truth from the housetops: “Science is not objective!” I’ve tried out this statement at several conferences this winter, and the result is a hushed, incredulous, shocked audience. Our Greco-Roman, Western, compartmentalized, disconnected, fragmented, linear, reductionist culture is steeped in the notion that we, more than any other people

in history, are scientific. We wear the mantra of science as if it bestows everlasting life.

At the risk of being labeled a Luddite, I would suggest that equally powerful is what is not readily observed. Matters of the heart. Belief systems. Soul. This is a decidedly Eastern approach: holistic,

connected, we’re all relatives, community, we. Science without soul is just as imbalanced and whacky as soul without science.

In his classic book Paradigms: The Business of Discovering the Future, Joel Arthur Barker notes, “The essence of the pioneering decision is: Those who choose to change their paradigms early do it

not as an act of the head but as an act of the heart.”

Eco-agriculture, to use the preferred Acres U.S.A. moniker, was developed by paradigm-challenging pioneers. From J.I. Rodale and Louis Bromfield to Charles Walters and Phil Callahan, these framers

of a new paradigm approached agriculture with a heartfelt, intuitive sense that all was not right down in the halls of the USDA. While farmers were dusting their children and cows with tons of DDT, these

pioneering thinkers did not yet know about the legless frogs and sterile salamanders that would be part of its toxic heritage.

But their morality, their ethics–their souls–demanded an alternative view. Daily I am assaulted by the cultural elite as being “unscientific.” What could be more unscientific than putting chickens out on pasture? Here in our neck of the woods, where the vertically integrated poultry industry got its start, I am known as a bioterrorist, because red-winged blackbirds, starlings and sparrows can touch our chickens–and thus, the reasoning goes, transport their diseases as they do to the immuno-deficient sound-science birds compressed in inhumane, fecal-factory, concentration-camp mausoleum


Pigs out on pasture is a backward notion relegated to a bygone era–while sound science gave us first the confinement hog house, which necessitated the docked tail due to stressed pigs biting each other, and today is driving government-funded research to find and eliminate the stress gene so these inhumanely compressed pigs won’t try to eat each other. The ultimate goal of sound science is to make pigs satisfied with their grotesque anti-pig quarters.

While I appreciate some of the scientific discoveries of our day, I also appreciate their limitations. I kind of like electric lights, four-wheel-drive tractors with front-end loaders and the low-impedence electric fence, to name just a few improvements. But when scientific discovery is used to destroy heritage wisdom contained in the DNA and the innate pigness of a pig or chickenness of a chicken, then it ceases to be an instrument of good and becomes instead an instrument of evil.

A diesel tractor can either pull an anhydrous-ammonia-fertilizer injector, or it can pull a manure spreader full of compost. It is the heart, the soul, the belief system that determines how technology

will be used. Electricity can be used to power feed augers and ventilation fans, medication timers and artificial lights in a confinement poultry house, or it can power an energizer hooked to high-tech, information-dense, polyethylene-stainless-steel-threaded poultry netting in a pasture setting. The belief system defines the use.

Many of us who have been in this eco- farm movement for a long time remember the early sound science experiments on land-grant research plots. In one infamous example, two plots that had been used for

countless toxic studies for decades were designated the organic plots, while two others were designated the conventional plots. Master’s degree students dutifully planted corn in each plot, The organic ones received no amendments. The conventional ones received the regular dose: fertilizer, herbicide, pesticide.

At the end of the season the two crops were measured, and the organic was woefully lacking. Plugging the results into a computer proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that half the world would starve under

organic farming. That finding of sound science became the backbone of the industrial warning against large-scale organic farming. Of course, anyone whose heart is in the right place understands that

organic by neglect is far different from organic by design.

Witness the current research regarding genetically engineered food. Corporate giants have carefully selected mature rats in their feeding trials to avoid ill effects. In Scotland, when pre-pubescent rats

were used under the same feeding regimen, all sorts of maladies occurred–poor organ development and behavioral changes. The agenda defines the discovery, and the heart defines the agenda.

Wall Street science will only find what satisfies Wall Street. The fact that it is championed as sound science makes it no more sound or truthful than a cult leader on an ego trip. Anything trumpeted as

“science” needs to be filtered through the heart. And if it is touted as sound science, you’d better filter it twice. It’s almost like the adjective “sound,” when linked with “science,” is a dead giveaway for: “We’re really making this one up, so we’d better dress it in more profound verbiage.”

The problem with sound science is that it changes every day. Look at the many instances of what has been commonly accepted as sound scientific practice, but has later been proven disastrous.

Here are a couple of examples:

  1. *Spreading manure on dormant ground. Now it’s illegal in many areas because this material is winding                                            up in city water supplies. Intuitively, I know that nature does not apply soil amendments in the

winter because the living soil cannot metabolize nutrients when it is hibernating. I don’t need a bunch                             of scientists to tell me that.

  1. *Feeding brains and spinal cords to herbivores. Duh! Herbivores in nature never eat carrion, or grain- based diets, or fermented forage, for that matter. I don’t need scientists to tell me that feeding herbivores dead animals may not be a good idea.
  1. *Dusting everything with DDT. Not too long ago, this was the universal elixir, the key to the Green Revolution. Intuitively, I can’t figure out why I should use a bunch of stuff with the suffix -ide (Latin for death) to grow my food. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out.
  1. *Cleaning out and sanitizing poultry houses. Now most farmers are aerating the bedding between batches to stimulate decomposition and encourage nature to grow the good bugs. We’ve been doing this for decades on our farm because virulent decomposition is nature’s sanitation model. No scientist needs to tell me that.

What are the new darlings of sound science? Irradiation, genetic engineering, more concentration, less domestic production, and a Wal-Mart on every corner stocked to the hilt with Archer Daniels

Midland, amalgamated, extruded, reconstituted, chlorinated, adulterated, manipulated, constipated pseudo- food. The only problem with this scenario is that the 3 trillion critters inhabiting my intestines–and yours–were not designed for these Wall Street concoctions. These critters don’t know anything about the liberal left or the religious right. They don’t even know who is running for president. They certainly aren’t familiar with the term “sound science.”

Nevertheless, if we do not respect and honor them, they will fail to function as the Creator planned–and if they fail, no miracle from sound science can reenergize them. I’m betting on heritage wisdom.

I’m betting on moral and ethical parameters that make sense to my heart. Everything else must fit that template. In eco-agriculture, we must boldly and humbly hold fast to our heart. It is what anchors us.

It is what moors us to truth when our culture vacillates every Monday morning with the latest discovery from sound science–not. Enjoy science, but only when it reinforces the spiritual, the heart. This reduces confusion and liberates the soul.

About the Author

Joel Salatin is a third generation clean food farmer who has refined

techniques for production of pastured animals that improve the

quality of the land, provide healthy food for consumers and bring a

fair return for farmers He is the author of four books on innovative

farming and has been interviewed for numerous radio and television

programs. His Shenandoah Valley farm was featured in National

Geographic and Smithsonian Magazine. His books , including You Can

Farm, Salad Bar Beef, Pastured Poultry Profits and Family Friendly

Farming, can be obtained from AcresUSA at (800) 355-5313.