Archive for May, 2009

Millions of People Working on the Behalf of Strangers…

Paul Hawken’s Commencement Address to the Class of 2009 University of Portland, May 3rd, 2009

When I was invited to give this speech, I was asked if I could give a simple short talk that was “direct, naked, taut, honest, passionate, lean, shivering, startling, and graceful.” Boy, no pressure there.

But let’s begin with the startling part. Hey, Class of 2009: you are going to have to figure out what it means to be a human being on earth at a time when every living system is declining, and the rate of decline is accelerating. Kind of a mind-boggling situation – but not one peer-reviewed paper published in the last thirty years can refute that statement.

Basically, the earth needs a new operating system, you are the programmers, and we need it within a few decades.

This planet came with a set of operating instructions, but we seem to have misplaced them. Important rules like don’t poison the water, soil, or air, and don’t let the earth get overcrowded, and don’t touch the thermostat have been broken. Buckminster Fuller said that spaceship earth was so ingeniously designed that no one has a clue that we are on one, flying through the universe at a million miles per hour, with no need for seatbelts, lots of room in coach, and really good food – but all that is changing.

There is invisible writing on the back of the diploma you will receive, and in case you didn’t bring lemon juice to decode it, I can tell you what it says: YOU ARE BRILLIANT, AND THE EARTH IS HIRING. The earth couldn’t afford to send any recruiters or limos to your school. It sent you rain, sunsets, ripe cherries, night blooming jasmine, and that unbelievably cute person you are dating. Take the hint. And here’s the deal: Forget that this task of planet-saving is not possible in the time required. Don’t be put off by people who know what is not possible. Do what needs to be done, and check to see if it was impossible only after you are done.

When asked if I am pessimistic or optimistic about the future, my answer is always the same: If you look at the science about what is happening on earth and aren’t pessimistic, you don’t understand data.

But if you meet the people who are working to restore this earth and the lives of the poor, and you aren’t optimistic, you haven’t got a pulse. What I see everywhere in the world are ordinary people willing to confront despair, power, and incalculable odds in order to restore some semblance of grace, justice, and beauty to this world. The poet Adrienne Rich wrote, “So much has been destroyed I have cast my lot with those who, age after age, perversely, with no extraordinary power, reconstitute the world.” There could be no better description.

Humanity is coalescing. It is reconstituting the world, and the action is taking place in schoolrooms, farms, jungles, villages, campuses, companies, refugee camps, deserts, fisheries, and slums.

You join a multitude of caring people. No one knows how many groups and organizations are working on the most salient issues of our day: climate change, poverty, deforestation, peace, water, hunger, conservation, human rights, and more. This is the largest movement the world has ever seen.

Rather than control, it seeks connection. Rather than dominance, it strives to disperse concentrations of power. Like Mercy Corps, it works behind the scenes and gets the job done. Large as it is, no one knows the true size of this movement. It provides hope, support, and meaning to billions of people in the world. Its clout resides in idea, not in force. It is made up of teachers, children, peasants, businesspeople, rappers, organic farmers, nuns, artists, government workers, fisherfolk, engineers, students, incorrigible writers, weeping Muslims, concerned mothers, poets, doctors without borders, grieving Christians, street musicians, the President of the United States of America, and as the writer David James Duncan would say, the Creator, the One who loves us all in such a huge way.

There is a rabbinical teaching that says if the world is ending and the Messiah arrives, first plant a tree, and then see if the story is true. Inspiration is not garnered from the litanies of what may befall us; it resides in humanity’s willingness to restore, redress, reform, rebuild, recover, re-imagine, and reconsider. “One day you finally knew what you had to do, and began, though the voices around you kept shouting their bad advice,” is Mary Oliver’s description of moving away from the profane toward a deep sense of connectedness to the living world.

Millions of people are working on behalf of strangers, even if the evening news is usually about the death of strangers. This kindness of strangers has religious, even mythic origins, and very specific eighteenth-century roots. Abolitionists were the first people to create a national and global movement to defend the rights of those they did not know. Until that time, no group had filed a grievance except on behalf of itself. The founders of this movement were largely unknown – Granville Clark, Thomas Clarkson, Josiah Wedgwood – and their goal was ridiculous on the face of it: at that time three out of four people in the world were enslaved. Enslaving each other was what human beings had done for ages. And the abolitionist movement was greeted with incredulity. Conservative spokesmen ridiculed the abolitionists as liberals, progressives, do-gooders, meddlers, and activists. They were told they would ruin the economy and drive England into poverty. But for the first time in history a group of people organized themselves to help people they would never know, from whom they would never receive direct or indirect benefit.

And today tens of millions of people do this every day. It is called the world of non-profits, civil society, schools, social entrepreneurship, and non-governmental organizations, of companies who place social and environmental justice at the top of their strategic goals. The scope and scale of this effort is unparalleled in history.

The living world is not “out there” somewhere, but in your heart. What do we know about life? In the words of biologist Janine Benyus, life creates the conditions that are conducive to life. I can think of no better motto for a future economy. We have tens of thousands of abandoned homes without people and tens of thousands of abandoned people without homes. We have failed bankers advising failed regulators on how to save failed assets. Think about this: we are the only species on this planet without full employment. Brilliant. We have an economy that tells us that it is cheaper to destroy earth in real time than to renew, restore, and sustain it. You can print money to bail out a bank but you can’t print life to bail out a planet. At present we are stealing the future, selling it in the present, and calling it gross domestic product. We can just as easily have an economy that is based on healing the future instead of stealing it. We can either create assets for the future or take the assets of the future. One is called restoration and the other exploitation. And whenever we exploit the earth we exploit people and cause untold suffering. Working for the earth is not a way to get rich, it is a way to be rich.

The first living cell came into being nearly 40 million centuries ago, and its direct descendants are in all of our bloodstreams. Literally you are breathing molecules this very second that were inhaled by Moses, Mother Teresa, and Bono. We are vastly interconnected. Our fates are inseparable. We are here because the dream of every cell is to become two cells. In each of you are one quadrillion cells, 90 percent of which are not human cells. Your body is a community, and without those other microorganisms you would perish in hours. Each human cell has 400 billion molecules conducting millions of processes between trillions of atoms. The total cellular activity in one human body is staggering: one septillion actions at any one moment, a one with twenty-four zeros after it. In a millisecond, our body has undergone ten times more processes than there are stars in the universe – exactly what Charles Darwin foretold when he said science would discover that each living creature was a “little universe, formed of a host of self-propagating organisms, inconceivably minute and as numerous as the stars of heaven.”

So I have two questions for you all: First, can you feel your body? Stop for a moment. Feel your body. One septillion activities going on simultaneously, and your body does this so well you are free to ignore it, and wonder instead when this speech will end. Second question: who is in charge of your body? Who is managing those molecules? Hopefully not a political party. Life is creating the conditions that are conducive to life inside you, just as in all of nature. What I want you to imagine is that collectively humanity is evincing a deep innate wisdom in coming together to heal the wounds and insults of the past.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once asked what we would do if the stars only came out once every thousand years. No one would sleep that night, of course. The world would become religious overnight. We would be ecstatic, delirious, made rapturous by the glory of God. Instead the stars come out every night, and we watch television.

This extraordinary time when we are globally aware of each other and the multiple dangers that threaten civilization has never happened, not in a thousand years, not in ten thousand years. Each of us is as complex and beautiful as all the stars in the universe. We have done great things and we have gone way off course in terms of honoring creation. You are graduating to the most amazing, challenging, stupefying challenge ever bequested to any generation. The generations before you failed. They didn’t stay up all night. They got distracted and lost sight of the fact that life is a miracle every moment of your existence. Nature beckons you to be on her side.You couldn’t ask for a better boss. The most unrealistic person in the world is the cynic, not the dreamer. Hopefulness only makes sense when it doesn’t make sense to be hopeful. This is your century. Take it and run as if your life depends on it.

Paul Hawken is a renowned entrepreneur, visionary environmental activist, and author of many books, most recently Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming. He was presented with an honorary doctorate of humane letters by University president Father Bill Beauchamp, C.S.C., when he delivered this speech.

Read more great, Fight Back Friday posts here,


All in This Tea – Movie Review

We saw a terrific movie this weekend. It’s about tea, the power of one person to help make real change and worms.

All in This Tea is about tea importer, David Lee Hoffman. He spent a decade during his twenties traveling around Asia and developed a love of good tea. The documentary follows his travels in China as he tries to encourage the farmers to give up their recent addition of chemical farming and go back to the traditional and organic methods of growing tea. Those methods were lost once the Cultural Revolution arrived, as the farmers started growing for quantity over quality.  As is happening on our farms here — after the initial boost in crops you get from chemical fertilizers, crop production lessens, and soil quality depletes.

As he tries to describe more natural fertilizers to the Chinese officials, David discusses earthworms, and worm castings (droppings), which are one the most wonderful fertilizers available today. We use them in our garden and whenever we put fresh castings on, everything has a wonderful growth spurt. I was happy to see worms and organic methods discussed as we are trying to encourage our farmers here in the U.S. to move away from chemical fertilizer too.

As he winds his way through China’s tea bureaucracy, he found that the companies don’t want to deal directly with the farmers, including those craftsmen who produce the finest teas.  Mr. Hoffman decides to travel through the country finding exactly the teas he prefers, buying them directly from the farmers and then he had to deal with the red tape of getting them shipped to the U.S. There’s also small segments with different people teaching classes about tea and it’s history, that’s very interesting.

David succeeded on his mission of encouraging more organic tea farming, and buying directly from farmers. It was inspiring to see how much change could be brought; by one determined man.

This is a wonderful, almost meditative movie. Watching the beautiful countryside where tea is grown, seeing how the different teas are made and tasted. I think the movie should come with tea!  We couldn’t wait to make a special cup of green tea right after we watched.

To read other great blogs about saying No to GMO’s click here,


Curried fried cauliflower

We rarely eat fried food, but for the rare occasion we do, this is our first choice.

It’s spicy, crunchy and delicious. It’s a terrific combination of Indian spices and Japanese tempura batter. The original recipe (which we’ve changed a bit) is from Jamie Oliver and his wonderful book, Jamie at Home.

Serves 6


• One Cauliflower

• Flour, for dusting

• Coconut oil for frying

• Small bunch of fresh flat-leaf parsley, leaves picked

• Sea salt

• One Lemon

For the batter

• 1 tsp. cumin seeds

• 2 tsp. black mustard seeds

• 2–3 small dried red chilies

• 1 tsp. black peppercorns

• 1/2 teaspoon turmeric

• 2 cups unbleached flour

• 1 tsp. baking power

• 1 tsp. baking soda

• ½ tsp. salt

• 12 oz cold beer

First make the batter. Crush the cumin, mustard seeds, chilies and peppercorns in a mortar and pestle or grinder until they’re blended into a fragrant powder. Put the flour into a mixing bowl and stir in the ground spices and the turmeric.

Pour in most of the beer and whisk gently. Check the consistency – you want it to be the thickness of cream, if it’s too thick, whisk in the rest of the beer. Don’t worry too much about having little lumps in the batter, as they’ll just become nice crunchy bits when you start frying. Season with sea salt and put to one side.

Trim the bottom off the stalk and break the cauliflower into bite-sized florets. Wash the cauliflower, drain it and pat dry with kitchen paper Slice up the stalk and florets into small even pieces – this way it will all cook at the same rate.

Place the cauliflower pieces in a bowl. Add the finely chopped parsley and dust the mixture with a little flour. Pour the coconut oil into a deep saucepan – you want it to be about 3-4 inches deep – and heat it to 350°F.

Shake any excess flour off the cauliflower. One by one, dip the pieces into the beer batter, then carefully place them in the hot oil, moving them away from you as you do so. Make sure you stand back so you don’t get splashed. It’s best to fry them in batches so you don’t overcrowd the pan (but serve them as soon as each batch is ready).

Fry the pieces gently, turning them a couple of times with a slotted spoon. When they’re crispy and browned, lift them out of the oil, allowing any excess to drip back into the pan, and drain. I used a baking sheet with paper towel and put a cooling rack on top, it worked great.

Dust with sea salt and squeeze over a little lemon juice.  Enjoy!

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Tainted Sugar

If it wasn’t bad enough having all our soy, canola, corn, the oils made from them and the high fructose corn syrup tainted by being sourced by GMOs, now they’re messing with sugar.  It’s time to speak up and let all your representatives know – Say NO to GMOs!

Here’s an article on GMO sugar beets from The Center for Food Safety, their link is below.

Agricultural experts attribute the growing epidemic of super weeds in the U.S. to a dramatic upsurge in Roundup use on soybeans, cotton and corn.

SUGAR IN THE FOODS WE EAT may soon come from genetically engineered (GE) sugar beets unless we act now. Western farmers in the U.S. are poised to plant their first season of Monsanto’s Roundup Ready®

(RR), herbicide-tolerant, GE sugar beets. Over half the sugar in processed foods comes from sugar beets and the rest comes from sugar cane. Both sugars are often combined in products and not listed separately on labels. Once food producers start using GE beet sugar in cereals, breads, baby foods, candies, and other products, we will not know if we are eating GE sugar because GE ingredients are not labeled. The only way to avoid eating GE beet sugar will be to buy organic foods and foods containing 100% cane sugar or evaporated cane juice.

In January 2008, Center for Food Safety (CFS) and Earthjustice filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of the Organic Seed Alliance, Sierra Club, and High Mowing Organic Seeds, challenging the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) decision to deregulate RR, GE sugar beets. The lawsuit seeks to reverse the approval of GE sugar beets and to force USDA to conduct an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), as required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The EIS process mandates a thorough environmental, health, and economic assessment of the impacts of planting GE sugar beets, with full public participation. Our lawsuit seeks to prohibit any planting, sale or dissemination of RR sugar beets, pending USDA compliance with applicable laws. Unless the judge in this case orders farmers to stop planting RR sugar beets, foods containing sugar from GE beets could reach supermarkets as early as 2009.


In sharp contrast to traditional, selective breeding methods, genetic engineering creates new life forms in the laboratory that never would be created in nature. GE technology synthesizes novel organisms by inserting the genetic material (DNA) of bacteria, viruses, and other organisms from one species into the living cells of another often completely unrelated species. The end result is the expression of a new trait, most often herbicide tolerance. This unprecedented breach in the species boundary can cause unpredictable, subtle, unknown, and potentially irreversible human and environmental effects. Monsanto’s RR sugar beet has been engineered to withstand large doses of the herbicide, Roundup, and its active ingredient, glyphosate.


Sugar beets (Beta vulgaris L.) flourish in temperate climates. Minnesota, Idaho, North Dakota, Michigan, and California are the five top sugar beet growing states. Sugar beets are also grown in Colorado, Montana,

Nebraska, Ohio, Oregon, Texas, Washington and Wyoming.4 More than seventy percent of all sugar beet seeds are grown in Oregon’s Willamette Valley.5 The Valley serves as the prime seed producing region for other Beta-related species, including several varieties of chard and table beets, and it is home to many organic seed producers.

{note – here’s a link about a Oregon Organic farmer that’s suing to stop the GMO sugar beets as he’s concerned, and rightly so, that they’ll cross-contaminate with his crops. ]


Allowable herbicide residues on sugar beets have substantially increased

In December 1998, the USDA approved Monsanto’s first GE sugar beet for commercial planting and sale. Several months later, at Monsanto’s request, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) increased the maximum allowable residues of the herbicide, glyphosate, on sugar beet roots from just 0.2 parts per million (ppm) to 10 ppm.6 Sugar beet roots contain the sucrose extracted, refined, and processed into sugar. EPA’s policy change represents a staggering 5,000% increase in allowable toxic weed killer residues, some of which could end up in sugar. The Agency has also increased allowable glyphosate residues on dried sugar beet pulp, a by-product of sugar processing, from 0.2ppm to 25 ppm.  Dried sugar beet pulp is fed to dairy and beef cattle, particularly in Europe, Japan, and Korea, and it is also fed to racehorses in the U.S.

GE crops are NOT proven safe for consumption

Market approval of GE crops is based upon research conducted by the biotech industry alone. No long-term health studies on the effects of eating GE foods have ever been conducted by any government agency. Furthermore, new GE crops do not require approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) before they are introduced into the food supply. A GE plant is considered “substantially equivalent,” and allowed to be planted, if superficial company research shows that no glaring differences exist between the GE plant and its conventionally-bred counterpart. This weak standard does not include testing for the presence of potential toxins, mutagens, carcinogens, immune system suppressants or new allergens created during the GE production process.

GE crops increase herbicide use

Herbicide-tolerant crops comprise a remarkable 81% of the GE crops planted globally,11 nearly all of which are Monsanto’s RR variety. Since 1995, the year before the introduction of the first RR crop, farmers have vastly increased their use of glyphosate on three major RR crops—soybeans, corn, and cotton. In fact, glyphosate use on those crops rose dramatically from 7.9 million pounds in 1994 to 119.1 million pounds in 2005. More recently, USDA data has shown an increase in the application of more toxic and persistent herbicides such as 2,4-D on soybeans and atrazine on corn, in part to combat increasing glyphosate weed resistance. Contrary to claims by the biotech industry that GE crops reduce herbicide use, USDA’s own data shows the emergence of a trend towards more toxic and more frequent herbicide applications.

GE plants contaminate conventional and organic seeds and crops

Sugar beets are wind pollinated and their pollen can travel long distances. As such, GE sugar beets have the potential to cross pollinate with related Beta species such as chard and table beets, placing both conventional and organic farmers at risk of contamination. For farmers who sell to markets that restrict GE foods, contamination could result in substantial economic losses. Moreover, GE sugar beet pollen has the potential to contaminate entire conventional and organic seed lines of Beta crops, and within a relatively short period of time. This could result in the permanent loss of non-GE seeds and foods and put increasing control over our agricultural food production systems into the hands of a few multinational corporations, such as Monsanto.

RR crops promote glyphosate-resistant weeds

GE sugar beets represent the fifth major RR crop approved by the USDA. Although the USDA initially approved RR alfalfa, the courts withdrew its deregulated status in 2007, due to a successful CFS lawsuit. Just as overuse of antibiotics eventually eventually breeds antibiotic-resistant bacteria, overuse of the Roundup weed killer rapidly breeds Roundup-resistant super weeds. Agricultural experts attribute the growing epidemic of super weeds in the U.S. to a dramatic upsurge in Roundup use on the three major RR crops—soybeans, cotton and corn. Since sugar beets are often rotated with soybeans and corn, planting RR sugar beets will likely intensify glyphosate usage, weed resistance, and the spread of super weeds. U.S. scientists have documented 9 species of glyphosate resistant weeds in 19 states, including 4 that grow sugar beets.

RR crops serve as a gateway for the more toxic herbicide use

As RR crop acreage and associated glyphosate use swells, so does the spread of glyphosate-resistant weeds. The biotech industry’s “solution” to combating super weeds is to genetically engineer a new generation of plants to resist even more toxic and persistent weed killers such as 2,4-D (Dow),16 dicamba (Monsanto) or a mix of noxious herbicides. This short-sighted “solution” will undoubtedly perpetuate the pesticide treadmill

as weed resistance emerges and greater quantities of herbicides end up in our food and waterways.

GE sugar beets threaten domestic and overseas markets

Genetically engineered crops cannot be contained. This was demonstrated by two recent GE contamination episodes involving StarLink GE corn and LibertyLink GE rice. In both cases, food not approved for human consumption was mixed with conventional varieties and released into the U.S. food supply. Massive food recalls resulted, severely disrupting domestic and export markets and costing farmers and the food industry hundreds of millions of dollars. If commercialization of GE sugar beets occurs, a contamination episode would taint the entire U.S. sugar industry. Moreover, the unlabeled release of GE beet sugar into the market would make it increasingly difficult for producers of baby food, and the natural and organic food industries, to source non-GE sugar. Consumers would also find it hard to avoid eating products that contain GE beet sugar.

Help CFS support the rights of people everywhere to obtain food free from GE contamination and the rights of farmers to grow GE-free crops. Join the CFS True Food Network to get involved:

To read other great blogs about saying No to GMO’s click here,


Chickens in your backyard

How do you know you’re eating safe eggs.  Raise chickens!  More and more people are starting to have their own backyard flock. I recently found out we are allowed chickens in our suburban area, so we at MomsForSafeFood are getting our chickens in a few weeks and can’t wait. 🙂

Envisioning the End of ‘Don’t Cluck, Don’t Tell’



In the modest backyard of Rosemarie Morgan’s 1890-era house, about a half-mile from Yale University, there is a small Buddha, azalea and forsythia, Japanese cherry and plum trees, and an Amish-made chicken coop with five residents — four who lay eggs and Gloria, who is barren but one heck of a watchdog.

The fowl are technically illegal under New Haven’s zoning code, which prohibited raising hens and other livestock when it was updated during the 1950s. But these days, many dozens of backyard hens are generally tolerated under the city’s informal enforcement program — call it “don’t cluck, don’t tell” — that mostly looks the other way. With urban fowl increasingly common, Alderman Roland Lemar has introduced legislation that would allow residents to raise up to six hens.

Ms. Morgan, a Victorianist at Yale who specializes in Thomas Hardy and grew up with assorted animals in England and Scotland, may not be the face of modern agriculture. But she’s a perfect representative of a tiny sliver of it — the vogue for urban farming that has cities around the country updating and tweaking zoning codes.

To Ms. Morgan — whose other Rhode Island reds and hybrids are named Brunnhilde, Tosca, Carmen and Mimi — the zoning fight is a little baffling.

“It seems extraordinary to me that you could have a cat or a dog or a caged bird, but you can’t have a chicken,” she said the other day, sprinkling corn in the yard for her little brood. “Slightly barbaric really.”

Of course, not many New Haven residents or Yale professors were raising chickens a few years ago. But some combination of the locavore craze, the growth of immigrant communities with traditions of raising hens and the recession making the idea of free eggs or milk in the backyard attractive, cities and suburbs around the country are reviewing all manner of critter ordinances.

Seattle recently allowed residents to have up to three goats. Minneapolis just legalized beekeeping.

At the center of the Brave New World of urban ag is the humble hen, whose care and keeping is the subject of Web sites like,,, or Just Food’s City Chicken Meetup NYC, which has 101 hen-friendly members in New York.

Ms. Morgan, whose East Rock neighborhood was once known as Goatville, took up raising hens when she lived in the Berkshires and, along with some friends, resumed it when she moved back to New Haven seven years ago. She likes the fresh eggs and the link to our vanished natural past. She’s very fond of her feathered friends, who eat bugs and mosquitoes and don’t make much noise other than a triumphant squawk when laying.

“The eggs are fabulous,” she said. “And it’s very emotionally fulfilling. They’re not exactly pets — they still have a wild way about them, but they’re very smart and easy to have around. And noise? They’re not as loud as blue jays, no worse than a cat’s meow, certainly quieter than a barking dog.”

Most municipalities are much less hospitable to roosters (consider that next door every dawn) than hens. But the clear trend is toward being more permissive. Jennifer Blecha, who did a doctoral dissertation on people’s attitudes about urban livestock, surveyed the zoning codes of American cities and found 53 allow hens, 16 prohibit them and 9 make no mention. In general, Ms. Blecha said, cities are much more tolerant of domestic livestock than suburbs.

“People like the idea of I take care of them, and they take care of me,” she said, explaining that the personal agrisystem of feeding food scraps to chickens that, in turn, produce breakfast, has enormous appeal.

Of course, not everyone is happy. New Haven’s head of code enforcement does not like the idea of adding chicken coop inspection to his portfolio. On the New Haven Advocate’s Web site, one resident lamented the presence of “these foul, filthy, half flying, eat anything rats in the East Rock nabe.” And any health scare involving animals — see: swine flu — can lead to a pushback, though advocates say the real threat is from factory farming, not small urban populations.

Owen Taylor of Just Food, which promotes local agriculture in New York, said the key is for people to explain their plans to their neighbors, so they know what to expect. He praised New York’s codes, which deal with potential bad behavior (smell, noise, rodents) rather than the existence of the hens, for allowing responsible fowl behavior and punishing those who create a nuisance. Citing New York street wisdom, he added, “You deal with it on a coop by coop basis.”

Read more great, Fight Back Friday posts here,


Food freedom

by Brian Keeter

“If there must be trouble, let it be in my day, that my child may have peace.” – Thomas Paine

That quote echoed through my mind during my nine-month deployment in Iraq with the United States Marines back in 2004. I came home, thinking I had done some good not only for my country but for my family. At the time I thought my baby boy was going to grow up without the threat of terrorism and the Iraqi people were now free to choose their own destiny. However, those nine months had taken a heavy toll. I stared daily in the mirror, looking into the eyes of a cold and tired soul with more gray hair than any twenty-three year old deserved. Adjusting to civilian life was hard, and my family was suffering. I was in need of healing, and I found it back on the farm I grew up on.

There was something deeply satisfying about the cool Ozark air blowing across the fields of waist-high fescue grass. The cows stood chewing contentedly while their young calves frolicked about seeing who could kick their back legs the highest. My father had spent his entire adult life working, saving and accumulating over one thousand acres of productive grassland in northwestern Arkansas. Besides the peace it brought me, the thought of being self-sufficient and self-employed in a profession as noble and humble as farming drew me in further. Would I continue his path of the conventional beef market? Would I certify organic, or find overseas markets? No, my path was a more local one.

In the following years the local food movement heated up. New words like nutritional density, biodynamics and sustainability filled my vocabulary. I toured successful farms and sought the advice of their entrepreneurial owners. They said raw (unpasteurized) dairy was at the forefront of the local, nutrient dense food movement and they were gaining market share every year. That settled it – a raw dairy herd would be the centerpiece of our diversified farm as well as meats and vegetables of every kind. We’d have an on-farm store stocked with raw milk and cheeses and frozen meats and fresh, seasonal veggies! It would be glorious!

Except – it’s illegal to sell raw dairy products in Arkansas and twenty-one other states. It’s also illegal to sell any meat that hasn’t been processed in a USDA or state inspected facility. In Arkansas, it’s illegal to have a flock of more than 200 laying hens unless I pay for the equipment and facilities to qualify for Grade A certification. It may soon be illegal to own livestock of any kind without belonging to a government database called the National Animal Identification System (NAIS) and having each animal tagged with an RFID chip. A carbon tax for animal flatulence is also in the works to stave off the “imminent threat” of global warming.

Excuse me? Is this the land of the free or what? What exactly did I get rocketed, mortared and road-side bombed for nine months in Iraq if not to have the freedom to do as I please as long as I wasn’t hurting anybody? Let me get this straight – I can pour toxic chemicals on my crops, process hundreds of animals an hour over feces-covered conveyors, or sell genetically alter foods with documented health risks as long as it’s approved or supervised by inept government trolls? The government had, over the last one hundred years or so, positioned itself squarely between myself and my personal and economic happiness. I was angry. I had been used and thrown away, and now found myself in the belly of the leviathan I had once sworn to protect.

Every time the market is suppressed, it goes underground – and real food is no different. People sell raw milk as pet food, or offer shares of their farm’s production in exchange for labor and feed costs. Others just ignore the laws outright, and offer their superior products despite the legal risks. Some pay the price – overzealous regulators issue crippling fines, and some are jailed. Some have even been attacked by armed state thugs with their families held at gunpoint while search warrants are executed. They take everything, all with the approval from their Federal masters at the USDA.

Thomas Paine’s quote floats around in my head once more as I ponder the future. I was so wrong those four years ago. The battle for freedom is not over, not by a long shot and the biggest threat to it is certainly not from Islamic terrorism. Food freedom will become an important front in this battle as the government-subsidized methods of food production collapse in the wake of economic reality. It will be important to everyone in the coming years to have many reliable, local sources of healthy, wholesome food.

Once again I have no choice but to fight. This time it is different – our weapon is the awesome power of voluntary interaction in the private marketplace with the goal being nothing short of total liberty for all. I’ll drink some raw milk to that.

May 7, 2009

Brian Keeter [send him mail] is a computer programmer, ex-Marine, and third-generation farmer living in the hills of northwestern Arkansas. See his blog.

Copyright © 2009 by Permission to reprint in whole or in part is gladly granted, provided full credit is given.


How Natural is your HF store Natural beef?


As part of our commitment here at Moms to eat GMO free, we’ve been looking into the quality of our food even beyond what’s on the label.

One example of this has been our research into what most health food stores call Natural Beef.  We don’t eat a lot of beef and for the last few years when we do, it’s been grass fed. Grass fed beef usually has less than 10% of its fat as saturated, and it has an ideal Omega 6:3 ratio, which is good us. The first time we tried it I wasn’t sure how it would taste, but our whole family loves it.

But, I’ve been curious about the other beef they sell, Vintage Natural Beef.  I started by asking the meat manager of our health food store if the VNB is GMO free.  He actually got angry and stated “It’s natural and vegetarian fed, just like the sign says”.  Then I emailed the company directly and never got a reply, which really got me wondering,.

So, I went to the store manager and asked, he didn’t know either and directed me to the store’s district manager, who also didn’t know! I have to admit that this alone surprised me, as our local health food chain is adamant about only carrying quality and healthy products. A few years back they announced their pledge to eliminate the sale of eggs laid by chickens confined in battery cages and stopped carrying the brands that didn’t comply.

The district manager initially repeated the VNB sales info: “Vintage beef is raised solely on a 100% vegetarian diet; cattle are never fed animal by-products of any kind. The Vintage beef program has taken this premise to a stringent level and also regularly test the feed for pesticides with a zero tolerance policy. The Feed is a diet consisting of corn and whole grains. They’re also raised without antibiotics”.

There are some things that VNB does that is better then your ordinary supermarket meat. First off, they’re not fed animal by-products (aka unappealing scraps of meat from other cows, sheep, etc). Animal by-product feeding has been blamed for the creation of Mad Cow disease. It’s also not good that they’re not using antibiotics and testing for pesticides, although unless cows are sprayed like fruits and vegetables, I’m not sure why they’d have high pesticide levels.

The problem with Natural beefs is two-fold.  First off Cows are herbivores and are supposed to eat grass.  When they eat grain it makes them sick and then they’ll need antibiotics (and who wants to eat a sick cow- and you could be if you eat grain fed beef.) Secondly, and this was my next question, “Are the grains they’re being fed GMOs  (genetically modified).  Again the regional store manager didn’t know the answer, so he asked his meat purveyor. It took a week for him to get an answer.

When he finally replied it was to tell me, “Our Natural beef program is NOT GMO free.” And he was told, “it would be too expensive” as they’d have to feed the beef organic grain… (How about grass!).

I’ve been eating healthy for many years and I am amazed at how much more I have to learn, mostly to keep up with corporate propaganda. I have to say I’m very impressed that our store was honest about this but I am also concerned that they’ve been selling GMO meat and calling it Natural. Since they weren’t even aware of this hopefully they’ll work on getting a more Natural, natural beef provider.

If you want to make sure the beef  you’re eating is really natural, go for grass and/or organically fed beef. It’s delicious and GMO free!


Hands off our rice!

The GMO crops that are already commercial are horrible enough, commercializing GMO rice would be a disaster.

By GreenPeace

Hands off our rice! Keeping rice GE-free is not just about consumer choice or the environment – it’s a lot bigger than that. It’s a matter of global food security, human rights and survival.

It’s time to take action!

The big issue

Rice is the world’s most important staple food – with more than half of the global population eating it every day. It has been grown around the world for over 10,000 years and is cultivated in 113 countries. Rice is also a key ingredient in a wide variety of processed foods ranging from baby food to the more obvious rice noodles. But all this is under threat as genetic engineering (GE) continues to creep up on our most valuable food.

Today, GE rice only exists in field trials. But all that could change tomorrow as agri-chemical companies and some governments around the globe are trying to commercialise it. Ecological farming is the safest solution to the food crisis and looming climate change disasters. Keeping rice GE-free is not just about consumer choice or the environment – it’s a lot bigger than that. It’s a matter of global food security, human rights and survival.

Stand up for your rice!

The iconic Philippine rice Terraces, a UNESCO Living Cultural Heritage site has been declared a genetically-modified organism (GMO) free zone

Risky business

The German chemical giant Bayer is trying to sell a herbicide resistant variety of GE rice to countries – for commercial planting.Conventional and organic rice is at great risk from being contaminated by GE strains and controlled by multinational corporations and governments.

The rice made by Bayer (called LL62) has been genetically engineered to withstand high doses of glufosinate, a herbicide sprayed on rice fields to control a wide range of weeds. It’s no surprise that Bayer also makes the glufosinate. Any use of the GE rice will boost their chemical sales as a consequence. While this is a nice set up for Bayer shareholders it places farmers, consumers and the environment at risk.

Glufosinate is considered to be so dangerous to humans and the environment that it will soon be banned in Europe in accordance with recently-adopted EU legislation.

The Bayer GE rice has been shown to have a different nutritional composition than its natural counterpart. It also has a high risk of producing superweeds by transferring its new gene to weedy relatives. Rice traders and producers worldwide reject the GE rice, because of high economic risks. The global rice industry lost some 1.2 billion dollars in 2006, when another GE rice variety from Bayer contaminated global food supplies.

We are campaigning to keep rice GE-free for the following reasons:

    * Genetic engineering is a threat to food security, especially in a changing climate. GE crops repeatedly failed under extreme weather conditions, and some GE plants yield consistently less than their natural counterparts. Earlier this year, GE farmers in South Africa, for example, lost more than 80,000 hectares of corn for unknown reasons. The best insurance policy against climate change and erratic weather conditions is diversity.

    * The introduction of GE organisms by choice or by accident grossly undermines sustainable agriculture and in so doing, severely limits the choice of food we can eat.

    * There have been over 140 documented cases of GE contamination in the past 10 years. Once GE organisms are released into the environment, GE crops are out of control. If anything goes wrong, if crops fail, human health risks are identified or the environment is harmed, they are impossible to recall.

    * GE contamination threatens biodiversity. Biological diversity must be protected and respected as the global heritage of humankind, and one of our world’s fundamental keys to survival.

    * Find out what’s wrong with GE crops in more detail (facts and references).

    * Find out how sustainable global rice production can be achieved without genetic engineering.

Life is not an industrial commodity.  Go to the link below to take action:

Failure to Yield

Evaluating the Performance of Genetically Engineered Crops

We already know that GMO’s are bad for the environment and not adequately tested as safe for us to eat, now a report by the Union of Concerned Scientist that show that GE crops do not produce more then regular or organic crops. “If we are going to make headway in combating hunger due to overpopulation and climate change, we will need to increase crop yields,” Gurian-Sherman says. “Traditional breeding outperforms genetic engineering hands down.”

Here’s the summary and the link to the complete study:

Doug Gurian-Sherman

Union of Concerned Scientists

April 2009

The Union of Concerned Scientists is the leading science-based nonprofit organization working for a healthy environment and a safer world.

Founded in 1969, UCS is headquartered in Cambridge, Mass., and has offices in Berkeley, Calif., Chicago and Washington, D.C.

Driven by economic and political forces, food prices soared to record highs in 2007 and 2008, causing hardships around the world. Although a global food shortage was not a factor then or now—worldwide food production continues to exceed demand—those recent price spikes and localized scarcity, together with rising populations in many countries and individuals’ rising aspirations, have brought renewed attention to the need to increase food production in the coming decades. Many commentators and stakeholders have pointed to the alleged promise of genetic engineering (GE)—in which the crop DNA is changed using the gene-insertion techniques of molecular biology—for dramatically improving the yields of staple food crops. But a hard-nosed assessment of this expensive technology’s achievements to date gives little confidence that it will play a major role in helping the world feed itself in the foreseeable future.

This report is the first to evaluate in detail the overall, or aggregate, yield effect of GE after more than 20 years of research and 13 years of commercialization in the United States. Based on that record, we conclude that GE has done little to increase overall crop yields.

How Else Can Farmers Increase Production?

Among the many current approaches are crop breeding; chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides; crop rotation; and organic methods, which ensure the health of the soil. Nevertheless, GE crops have received by far the most attention since they were commercially introduced in the mid-1990s. Ever since, the biotech industry and others have trumpeted them as key to feeding the world’s future population.

Executive Summary

The two primary GE food and feed crops are corn and soybeans. GE soybeans are now grown on over 90 percent of soybean acres, and GE corn makes up about 63 percent of the U.S. corn crop. Within these categories, the three most common GE crops are: (1) corn containing transgenes (genes transferred from another organism using genetic engineering) from Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) bacteria that confer resistance to several kinds of insects; (2) corn containing transgenes for herbicide tolerance; and (3) soybeans that contain a transgene for herbicide tolerance. Now that these transgenic crops have been grown in the United States for more than a decade, there is a wealth of data on yield under real-world conditions. Thus a close examination of numerous studies of corn and soybean crop yields since the early 1990s gives us a good gauge of how well GE crops are living up to their promise for increasing those yields.

Bottom line: They are largely failing to do so. GE soybeans have not increased yields, and GE corn has increased yield only marginally on a crop-wide basis. Overall, corn and soybean yields have risen substantially over the last 15 years, but largely not as result of the GE traits. Most of the gains are due to traditional breeding or improvement of other agricultural practices.

While the need to increase food production is expected to become more urgent, awareness of the complex interactions between agriculture and the environment is also on the rise. Many of the predicted negative effects of global warming—including greater incidence and severity of drought, flooding, and sea-level rise (which may swamp coastal farmland)—are likely to make food production more challenging. At the same time, it is becoming clear that the twentieth century’s industrial methods of agriculture have imposed tremendous costs on our environment. Agriculture contributes more heat-trapping gases than does transportation, and it is a major source of pollution that has led to large and spreading “dead zones” devoid of fish and shellfish (themselves important food sources) in the Gulf of Mexico and other waterways. As we strive to produce more food, we must seek to do it in an efficient and sustainable manner—that is, in ways that do not undermine the foundation of natural resources on which future generations will depend.

Defining Yield(s)

It is crucial to distinguish between two kinds of yield—intrinsic yield and operational yield—when evaluating transgenic crops. Intrinsic yield, the highest that can be achieved, is obtained when crops are grown under ideal conditions; it may also be thought of as potential yield. By contrast, operational yield is obtained under field conditions, when environmental factors such as pests and stress result in yields that are considerably less than ideal. Genes that improve operational yield reduce losses from such factors.

But while operational yield is important, better protecting crops from pests and stress without increasing potential yield will not do enough to meet the future food needs of an expanded population. Food-crop breeders must deliver improvements both in intrinsic yield and operational yield to keep up with growing demand.

In this report, the record of commercialized GE crops in producing increases both in intrinsic and operational yield is assessed. We rely heavily on experiments conducted by academic scientists, using adequate experimental controls, and published in peer-reviewed journals. These studies, many of them recent, evaluate GE traits against other conventional farming practices. In some cases, the results of earlier widely cited reports are superseded by these more recent data.

The success of GE technology in producing new yield traits is also evaluated by examining specific transgenes associated with yield that have been tested in experimental field trials over the past two decades. This focus also provides a measure of the effort by the biotechnology industry and others to increase crop yield through GE means.

The Findings

1. Genetic engineering has not increased intrinsic yield.

No currently available transgenic varieties enhance the intrinsic yield of any crops. The intrinsic yields of corn and soybeans did rise during the twentieth century, but not as a result of GE traits. Rather, they were due to successes in traditional breeding.

2. Genetic engineering has delivered only minimal gains in operational yield.

Herbicide-Tolerant Soybeans and Corn. Although not extensive enough to develop precise yield estimates, the best data (which were not included in previous widely cited reviews on yield) show that transgenic herbicide-tolerant soybeans and corn have not increased operational yields, whether on a per-acre or national basis, compared to conventional methods that rely on other available herbicides. The fact that the herbicide-tolerant soybeans have been so widely adopted suggests that factors such as lower energy costs and convenience of GE soybeans also influence farmer choices.

Bt Corn to Control Insect Pests. Bt corn contains one or more transgenes primarily intended to control either the European corn borer (this corn was first commercialized in 1996) or corn rootworm species (commercialized in 2004). Based on available data, it is likely that Bt corn provides an operational yield advantage of 7–12 percent compared to typical conventional practices, including insecticide use, when European corn borer infestations are high. Bt corn offers little or no advantage when infestations of European corn borer are low to moderate, even when compared to conventional corn not treated with insecticides.

Evaluating operational yield on a crop-wide basis, at either a national or global scale, is needed to determine overall food availability. Given that about a third of the corn crop in the United States is devoted to European corn borer Bt varieties, using the yield data summarized above we estimate that the range of yield gain averaged across the entire corn crop is about 0.8–4.0 percent, with a 2.3 percent gain as a reasonable intermediate value.

Similar calculations can be made for Bt rootworm corn. One of the few estimates from the literature suggests that Bt rootworm corn provides about a 1.5–4.5 percent increase in operational yield compared to conventional corn treated with insecticides. Extensive field experiments in Iowa, mostly with heavy rootworm infestations, show a range of values not inconsistent with these estimates. Given that Bt rootworm corn is probably planted on up to a third of corn acres, the aggregate operational yield advantage for these varieties averaged over all corn acres is roughly 0.5–1.5 percent.

Combining the values for Bt European corn borer corn and Bt rootworm corn gives an estimated operational yield increase from the Bt traits of 1.3–5.5 percent. An increase of about 3.3 percent, or a range of 3–4 percent, is a reasonable intermediate. Averaged over the 13 years since Bt corn was first commercialized in 1996, this equates roughly to a 0.2–0.3 percent yield increase per year.

3. Most yield gains are attributable to non-genetic engineering approaches.

In the past several decades, overall corn yields in the United States have increased an average of about 1 percent per year, or considerably more in total than the amount of yield increase provided by Bt corn varieties. More specifically, U.S. Department of Agriculture data indicate that the average corn production per acre nationwide over the past five years (2004–2008) was about 28 percent higher than for the five-year period 1991–1995, an interval that preceded the introduction of Bt varieties.1 But our analysis of specific yield studies concludes that only 3–4 percent of that increase is attributable to Bt, meaning an increase of about 24–25 percent must be due to other factors such as conventional breeding.

Yields have also continued to increase in other major crops, including soybeans (which have not experienced increases in either intrinsic or operational yield from GE) and wheat (for which there are no commercial transgenic varieties). Comparing yield in the latter period with that of the former, the increases were about 16 percent for soybeans and 13 percent for wheat. Overall, as shown above, GE crops have contributed modestly, at best, to yield increases in U.S. agriculture.

Organic and low-external-input methods (which use reduced amounts of fertilizer and pesticides compared to typical industrial crop production) generally produce yields comparable to those of conventional methods for growing corn or soybeans. For example, non-transgenic soybeans in recent low-external-input experiments produced yields 13 percent higher than for GE soybeans, although other low-external-input research and methods have produced lower yield.

Meanwhile, conventional breeding methods, especially those using modern genomic approaches (often called marker-assisted selection and distinct from GE), have the potential to increase both intrinsic and operational yield. Also, more extensive crop rotations, using a larger number of crops and longer rotations than current ecologically unsound corn-soybean rotations, can reduce losses from insects and other pests.

4. Experimental high-yield genetically engineered crops have not succeeded.

Several thousand experimental GE-crop field trials have been conducted since 1987. Although it is not possible to determine the precise number of genes for yield enhancement in these trials, given the confidential-business-information concerns among commercial developers, it is clear that many transgenes for yield have been tested over the years.

Among these field trials, at least 3,022 applications were approved for traits such as disease resistance or tolerance to abiotic stress (e.g., drought, frost, floods, saline soils). These traits are often associated with yield.2 At least 652 of the trials named yield as the particular target trait. Only the Bt and herbicide-tolerance transgenes and five transgenes for pathogen resistance have been commercialized, however, and only Bt has had an appreciable impact on aggregate yields.3

Some of these transgenes may simply not be ready for prime time. It typically takes several years of field trials and safety testing before a transgenic crop is approved and ready to be grown by farmers. However, 1,108 of these field trials were approved prior to 2000, not including those for insect resistance or herbicide tolerance. Most of these earlier transgenic crops should have been ready for commercialization by the time of this report.

To summarize, the only transgenic food/feed crops that have been showing significantly improved yield are varieties of Bt corn, and they have contributed gains in operational yield that were considerably less over their 13 years than other means of increasing yield. In other words, of several thousand field trials, many of which have been intended to raise operational and intrinsic yield, only Bt has succeeded. This modest record of success should suggest caution concerning the prospects for future yield increases from GE.

What Are Genetic Engineering’s Prospects for Increasing Yield?

Genetic engineers are continuing to identify new genes that might raise intrinsic and operational yields. How likely is it that these genes will in fact produce commercially viable new crop varieties?

Research on theoretical limitations of plant physiology and morphology (form)—regarding the conversion of sunlight, nutrients, carbon dioxide, and water into food or feed—indicates how much intrinsic yield may be increased. While opinions differ about the possibility of achieving dramatically increased yields through improvements in plant form and the processes listed above, optimistic estimates suggest that yield gains of up to about 50 percent over the next several decades may be achievable and that GE technology may play a prominent role.

These dramatic projections do not consider a fundamental reason why they may not be easy to achieve, especially regarding GE. Most of the transgenes being considered for the future, unlike the ones in currently commercialized transgenic crops, influence many other genes, thereby resulting in more complex genetic effects. Such genes typically have multiple effects on a crop, and early research is confirming that some of these effects can be detrimental, maybe even preventing the crops’ commercialization altogether. Because such effects will not always be identified by testing under current regulations, improved regulations will be needed to ensure that harmful side effects are discovered and prevented.

In other words, even where these genes work as expected, they may still cause significant environmental or human health impacts, or have reduced agricultural value in some environments. And many of these genes will not address the negative impact of current industrial agriculture, and may even exacerbate these harmful effects if higher yield requires more fertilizer or pesticide use.

Given the variety of transgenes tested and the large amounts of research funding devoted to them, it would not be unexpected that some of them may eventually be successful in increasing yield. But in light of the complexity of their biochemical and physiological interactions, and their unpredictable side effects, it is questionable how many will become commercially viable.

Summary and Recommendations

The burgeoning human population challenges agriculture to come up with new tools to increase crop productivity. At the same time, we must not simply produce more food at the expense of clean air, water, soil, and a stable climate, which future generations will also require. In order to invest wisely in the future, we must evaluate agricultural tools to see which ones hold the most promise for increasing intrinsic and operational yields and providing other resource benefits.

It is also important to keep in mind where increased food production is most needed—in developing countries, especially in Africa, rather than in the developed world. Several recent studies have shown that low-external-input methods such as organic can improve yield by over 100 percent in these countries, along with other benefits. Such methods have the advantage of being based largely on knowledge rather than on costly inputs, and as a result they are often more accessible to poor farmers than the more expensive technologies (which often have not helped in the past).

So far, the record of GE crops in contributing to increased yield is modest, despite considerable effort. There are no transgenic crops with increased intrinsic yield, and only Bt corn exhibits somewhat higher operational yield. Herbicide-tolerant soybeans, the most widely utilized GE crop by far, do not increase either operational or intrinsic yield.

Genetic engineers are working on new genes that may raise both intrinsic and operational yield in the future, but their past track record for bringing new traits to market suggests caution in relying too heavily on their success.

It is time to look more seriously at the other tools in the agricultural toolkit. While GE has received most of the attention and investment, traditional breeding has been delivering the goods in the all-important arena of increasing intrinsic yield. Newer and sophisticated breeding methods using increasing genomic knowledge—but not GE—also show promise for increasing yield.

The large investment in the private sector ensures that research on GE versions of major crops will continue, while organic and other agro-ecological methods are not likely to attract a similar investment.

But given the modest yield increases from transgenic crops so far, putting too many of our crop-development eggs in the GE basket could lead to lost opportunities. Thus it is very important to compare the potential contributions of GE with those of other approaches, such as organic methods, low-input methods, and enhanced conventional-breeding methods. Where these alternatives look more promising, we should provide sufficient public funding to ensure that they will be available. Such prioritization is especially appropriate for research aimed at developing countries, where yield increases are most needed.

To ensure that adequate intrinsic and operational yields are realized from major crops in the coming years, the Union of Concerned Scientists makes the following recommendations:

• The U.S. Department of Agriculture, state and local agricultural agencies, and public and private universities should redirect substantial funding, research, and incentives toward approaches that are proven and show more promise than genetic engineering for improving crop yields, especially intrinsic crop yields, and for providing other societal benefits. These approaches include modern methods of conventional plant breeding as well as organic and other sophisticated low-input farming practices.

  1. •Food-aid organizations should work with farmers in developing countries, where increasing local levels of food production is an urgent priority, to make these more promising and affordable methods available.

• Relevant regulatory agencies should develop and implement techniques to better identify and evaluate potentially harmful side effects of the newer and more complex genetically engineered crops. These effects are likely to become more prevalent, and current regulations are too weak to detect them reliably and prevent them from occurring.

You can download the complete 51 page pdf file here: