Monsanto’s Government Ties

Who does the government protect when food safety and nutrition are an issue? (Note: Monsanto wants everyone to depend on their genetically engineered crops for food.)

Link: Millions Against Monsanto Campaign – Organic Consumers Association

A Monsanto official told the New York Times that the corporation should not have to take responsibility for the safety of its food products. "Monsanto should not have to vouchsafe the safety of biotech food," said Phil Angell, Monsanto’s director of corporate communications. "Our interest is in selling as much of it as possible. Assuring its safety is the FDA’s job."

It would be nice to think the FDA can be trusted with these matters, but think again. Monsanto has succeeded in insuring that government regulatory agencies let Monsanto do as it wishes. Take a look:

Clarence Thomas

Prior to being the Supreme Court Judge who put GW Bush in office, Clarence Thomas was Monsanto’s lawyer.

Anne Veneman

Former US Secretary of Agriculture Anne Veneman was on the Board of Directors of Monsanto’s Calgene Corporation.

Donald Rumsfeld

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was on the Board of Directors of Monsanto’s Searle pharmaceuticals.

Tommy Thompson

Former US Secretary of Health, Tommy Thompson, received $50,000 in donations from Monsanto during his winning campaign for Wisconsin’s governor.

John AshcroftSenate candidate

More Ties

In order for the FDA to determine if Monsanto’s growth hormones were safe or not, Monsanto was required to submit a scientific report on that topic. Margaret Miller, one of Monsanto’s researchers put the report together. Shortly before the report submission, Miller left Monsanto and was hired by the FDA. Her first job for the FDA was to determine whether or not to approve the report she wrote for Monsanto. In short, Monsanto approved its own report. Assisting Miller was another former Monsanto researcher, Susan Sechen. Deciding whether or not rBGH-derived milk should be labeled fell under the jurisdiction of another FDA official, Michael Taylor, who previously worked as a lawyer for Monsanto.

The two congressmen receiving the most donations from Monsanto during the 2000 election were Larry Combest (Former Chairman of the House Agricultural Committee) and Missouri John Ashcroft

(later to be named Attorney General). (Source: Dairy Education Board)

More posts about Monsanto:

Are you eating Monsanto’s genetically modified crops?

Monsanto Backs Off Bio-Wheat

Shining a Light on Agribusiness and It’s Poster Child Monsanto

Monsanto Files Patent for the Pig

Scott Adams on Global Warming

Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert, has been reviewing the evidence about global warming and reaches some conclusions. Excerpts below.

Link: The Dilbert Blog: Global Warming – Part 4

1. The earth is getting warmer, and human activity is an important part of it. I base this conclusion on the lack of credible peer reviewed work to the contrary and the mountain of work that confirms human-induced warming. While individual studies might be wrong, it’s extremely unlikely the entire field has been so thoroughly duped.

2. There is plenty of bullshit on both sides of the issue. The people arguing that humans are not causing relatively rapid rises in temperatures are under-informed, misinformed, or suffering from bad thinking and bad analogies.

3. The people who are well-informed about global warming are overstating the case by conflating the well-studied fact of human-created warming with the less-than-certain predictions of what happens because of the extra warming. And there’s a tendency to leave out the “why I might be wrong” parts of the argument. I call that bullshit.

4. The people who say global warming is irrelevant because we should all be recycling and using less fossil fuel for other reasons anyway don’t understand the size of the problem. Ordinary conservation in the industrialized nations won’t put a dent in it.

Instituto Thomas Jefferson

Atanu Dey visited the Mexico City campus of Instituto Thomas Jefferson recently (excerpts below). He was impressed. I am impressed with what he found. From what Atanu writes and my exposure at the University of Virginia to Jefferson’s thoughts on education, I think Mr. Jefferson would be pleased with this institution.

Link: Atanu Dey on India’s Development » Instituto Thomas Jefferson

What sets ITJ apart is not the fine 18th century hacienda in which the Mexico City campus is housed. What distinguishes ITJ is one word: values. The values of the founders form the foundation upon which the school is built and it is no surprise to learn that the school has been recently judged to be the best school in Latin America.

The school’s attitude of dynamism reflects the essential aspect of the world we live in, a world of growth, of advancement, of constant striving towards goals and ideals.

Here is just an aspect of that attitude. There is a department in the school which focuses on attempting to predict what the world is going to be like 15 years hence. It is what I call a “look ahead” – try to discern what is the world going to be like by the time the kids entering the school today graduate. By doing so, you can better prepare the students to meet the challenges of the world to be.

The “look ahead” program is called “Vision 2020”. ITJ uses in-house staff as well as experts around the world to make educated guesses about the skills that will be valuable in the future. Thus, for instance, the kids learn how to effectively use video conferencing; or the use of the best technology tools. They learn not just the subject matter but also the use of the most effective tools. Heard of “mental maps”? They use it at ITJ at the elementary level.

…they teach values. And how to be a good, effective, thinking person. They have a program which teaches how to effectively express your emotions. Subject matter is well and good but you need to teach kids interpersonal skills. They teach the kids to “STOP, THINK, and DO.”

The atmosphere in the school was one of happiness. Whenever I entered a classroom, I was greeted by eager faces. They were confident and did not shrink from expressing themselves. They posed for the pictures and told me excitedly about what they were doing in class.

Creativity matters to ITJ. They have a strong theatre program and every year they stage a Broadway play. I saw some pictures of the plays they have staged. Professional quality.

They do things in style. For example, in KG, while learning about, say, marsupials, the kids will then take a virtual tour of a zoo in NY or in Australia through video conferencing and interact with people in remote locations.

[School founder] Ricardo Carvajal was especially proud of their science curriculum. The school has taken the top three places in the National Contest for Chemistry. It has featured in the top 10 in the last nine years. They have video conferencing with NASA astronauts. ITJ is definitely the sort of place (unlike some school districts in the US) where evolution is taught. ITJ seeks out the best. It has relationships with Harvard University, and joint ventures with universities in Florida and California.

Is Nuclear Energy Viable?

Albert Bates articulates why nuclear energy is a bad solution for our energy needs.

Source: Transition Culture ? Lovelock’s Folly – A Book Review by Albert Bates.

Economists would point to the serious lack of financial justification for nuclear energy, with subsidies today running to $42 per barrel oil equivalent, and huge, largely externalized costs to be borne essentially forever. Physicists point to the brittle engineering and human fallibility of operators. Security experts know that nuclear power and nuclear weapons are not separable, and that every reactor, every shipment, every waste repository, is a terrorist target.

In the natural environment, our species has always been enveloped in radiation: from our sun and moon; from distant stars and cosmic winds; and from elements distributed in the soil, rocks, and oceans of the Earth. All human populations pass through life exposed to some part of this radioactive environment. It is now estimated that up to half of all new cancers are caused by this “background” radiation, which had previously been thought harmless, or even beneficial. The small dose that we receive from natural background radiation, typically in combination with free radicals of oxygen, is a significant factor in the normal aging process, the process of the bodies of living organisms whereby abnormal cells gradually replace normal cells until a vital function is sufficiently impaired to result in death.

Radioactive bombardment endows biological molecules with such unstable properties that they can produce all kinds of energetic chemical reactions that would never have been possible before the exposure, multiplying the genetic damage in many invisible and enduring ways.

When a mutated gene is responsible for regulating normal cell growth, an uncontrolled proliferation of damaged cells, or cancer, can develop. When mutation occurs in the procreative cells or in the developing embryo, birth defects can result. When mutation occurs in the blood-forming tissue, impairment of the immune response system can result, and this can increase susceptibility to an entire spectrum of human disease as well as lowering resistance to a host of environmental insults.

Early studies of genetic mutation demonstrated that only one percent of the latent damage of exposure to radiation may appear in each generation. We will have to wait 100 generations of human population to experience the full genetic effects of the late 20th century’s nuclear dalliance, including Hiroshima, Nagasaki, the atmospheric tests, Chelyabinsk, Windscale, Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and whatever comes next. In the past 50 years our species has doubled the planet’s natural background radiation.

Obstacles to Greener Living – Big Oil

On June 26, 2005, in this blog, I wrote:

I’m old enough to remember the tobacco industry campaigning that smoking does not cause cancer. And, sadly enough, they found plenty of scientists who would support that position….

Does the debate on global warming seem familar?

Now, Sustainablog reports that … an article in the new issue of Vanity Fair by investigative journalist Mark Hertsgaard

…[details] how Dr. Frederick Seitz, a former president of the National Academy of Sciences and one of the most often-quoted skeptics on global warming, was paid over half a million dollars by the tobacco industry to obfuscate the connection between smoking and cancer. Seitz went on to spearhead a campaign to cast scientific doubt about global warming.

In addition to an audio file of the press conference (which included Hertsgaard, Dr. James Hansen of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Science, Phil Schiliro, Minority Chief of Staff, House Government Reform Committee, and Philip Clapp, President of the National Environmental Trust), NET has also released

…an industry media plan to oppose global warming [PDF] — an April 3, 1998 American Petroleum Institute strategy memo on its public relations campaign to plant doubts about global warming science.

I must ask:

  • How much power does Big Oil have at the White House?
  • How much influence do the cooperative oil producing countries have on Big Oil?
  • How long can they continue to mis-lead us?

The Tragedy of the Commons

Atanu reminds us that problems must be identified before they can be solved.

When I read The Tragedy of the Commons several decades ago I didn’t fully understand the implications of the message. On our recent vacation in Yellowstone National Park we witnessed the effects: overuse and degradation of a public resource. In simple terms, too many people.

Perhaps the entrance fee should be significantly higher….

Source: Atanu Dey on India’s Development – Living Within Limits.

Garrett Hardin’s 1968 Science paper The Tragedy of the Commons introduced many to the problem implicit in open access to common-pool resources. I believe that every thinking person must understand the tragedy of the commons because living in a world which is getting congested, we have to know the causes of our problems if we have to have a chance at solving them.

Here is Hardin within in his book Living within Limits:

… Professional publicists know there is always a good living to be made by catering to the public’s craving for optimistic reports. Such behaviour finds no justification in the attitude of the Buddha, expressed five centuries before Christ: “I teach only two things: the cause of human sorrow and the way to become free of it.” The present
work, though written by a non-Buddhist, proceeds along the Buddhist path—first to reveal the causes of human sorrow in population matters and then to uncover promising ways to free ourselves of the sorrow.

Hearing the Buddha’s statement today many people think, “How depressing! Why accept such a pessimistic outlook on life?” But they are wrong: it is not a pessimistic view if we reword it in terms that are more familiar to our science-based society. Reworded: “Here is something that isn’t working right. I want to fix it, but before I can do that I have to know exactly why it doesn’t work right.” One who looks for causes before seeking remedies should not be condemned as a pessimist. In general, a great deal of looking for causes must precede the finding of remedies.

Denial of Global Warming

I’m old enough to remember the tobacco industry campaigning that smoking does not cause cancer. And, sadly enough, they found plenty of scientists who would support that position.

Later a group of heavy industries disavowed any connection between air pollution and acid rain. Now we know that air pollution in the Midwest changed the chemistry of many pristine mountain lakes in the East, so that no fish could live in them.

Does the debate on global warming seem familar?

The great lie in the climate debate is that there is still a debate worth having. Opponents of change insist that the human factors in global warming are not proven and that we must wait until we have hard evidence before taking drastic action, which is as about as silly as saying there are two equally valid views on the issue of whether pedophilia damages children.

What is so destructive about this stance is that it claims equal weight and equal airtime. The ‘balance’ in newspaper reports, especially in the United States, is, in fact, a bias against the truth and weakens the case for immediate action against emissions of C02. And while we hum and haw, trying to persuade reluctant skeptics, the permafrost of the Arctic melts, sea levels inch up and the pH levels of oceans gradually drop because of the carbon that is absorbed from the atmosphere.

The following quote comes from an article in the Daily Telegraph editorial pages last month. It captures perfectly the knuckle-headed entrenchment of the last century: ‘Climate change is an important, perhaps vital, debate, but it remains just that. Warning of disaster has become a global industry, and the livelihoods of thousands of scientists depend on our being sufficiently spooked to keep funding their research. The worry is that many of these researchers have stopped being scientists and become campaigners instead.’

The author pretends to even-handedness, but his real message is that climate change is a scam to keep scientists in work. Yet it is not scientists who are distorting the evidence, but the US oil lobby and a co-operative White House. Last week, Philip Cooney, a White House staffer, was exposed by the New York Times for revising reports on global warming so that they cast doubt on the link between greenhouse gases and rising temperatures. Mr Cooney, who has no scientific training whatsoever, resigned and took a job with Exxon Mobil, which is, incidentally, the company that produces twice the CO<->2 emissions of Norway and is currently facing a consumer boycott in Europe.

Cooney no doubt contributed to the White House’s successful efforts to sandbag Tony Blair’s plan of action to tackle climate change at the G8 summit next month. You have to hand it to the Prime Minister that he accepts the advice of his scientific advisers and has done all he can in Britain’s presidency of the G8 to focus world leaders’ attention on the problem.

Link: Fiddling as the Planet Burns

Golf course wetlands clean water and may control neighborhood flood problems

Link: Wetlands clean water and may control neighborhood flood problems.

Constructed wetlands in planned communities can aid in surface water cleanup and flood prevention, according to Purdue University scientists who completed a five-year study on the management system. The research, begun in 1998 on three constructed ponds, or wetland cells, on a newly renovated golf course on the university campus, showed that 11 of 17 measurable chemicals in surface water were reduced after running through the system, said Ron Turco, soil microbiologist and senior author of the report. Study results are published in the February issue of the journal Ecological Engineering.

"Golf courses are a perfect place for constructed wetlands used as part of a water management system because wetlands can filter chemicals out of surface water, and they can also store excess water during storms," Turco said.

In addition, constructed wetlands act as a holding area that can provide recycled water for irrigation, a system the scientists used on the golf course, he said.

"Constructed wetlands on golf courses and in planned communities are a very good water management system," Turco said. "When you build houses, roads and driveways, lots of hard surface is added, leaving no place for water to go. Building dikes and levees just moves the water problem somewhere else, causing flooding elsewhere."

Because golf courses are mostly open surfaces, as opposed to all the hard surfaces in subdivisions and shopping malls, water can soak into the soil and flow into a constructed wetland, he said. As surface water flows from adjacent roads and parking lots onto a golf course and into the constructed wetlands, nutrients, suspended solids, organic metals, trace elements, pesticides and pathogens are removed or even eradicated.

"Wetlands actually add a positive aspect to the water balance of a given region because they are basically infiltration sites," Turco said.

The most vital function of constructed wetlands is preventing flooding and environmental contamination, he said.

"Use of constructed wetlands can be significant in water management and water quality just by their use on the approximately 16,000 U.S. golf courses the National Golf Foundation lists," Turco said. "In addition, many new home developments are planned around golf courses, and these developments need ways of containing, cleaning and directing water runoff, especially during storms."

The wetlands also are of aesthetic value on golf courses and residential areas, and they create homes for wildlife and flora, he said. Using the recycled water for irrigation ensures that the wetlands remain wet and the recycled surface water is less expensive than pumping ground water.

via Science Blog

Sesame: Consider the Source

I received a comment from John Grey about my post on Eat More Sesame. Based on the link he provided, I’ll be eating less tahini and more freshly ground sesame seeds. The information below is from RawVeg.info.

Tahini is a refined food, don’t use it. It’s made from ground peeled sesame seeds, the bran is missing. Sesame butter is made from ground whole brown sesame seeds. It’s a whole food, but not freshly made. Make your own sesame spread, fresh, by blending whole raw sesame seeds with water. If you do use sesame butter, be sure not to get the toasted kind. Sesame oil is a refined food, don’t use it. Beneficial substances are lost when oil is made: fiber, minerals, IP-6, etc. Chinese sesame oil is a refined food made from toasted sesame seeds, don’t use it. Use uncooked fresh whole foods.

Buying sesame seeds.
There are three types of sesame seeds: Brown, black and white.

White sesame seed is a refined food, similar to white rice. It starts out as whole brown sesame, then the outer
bran layer is removed. Don’t use it.
Brown sesame seed has a milder flavor and less antioxidants than the black seeds.
Black sesame seed has more antioxidants and a richer flavor. Black sesame has a reputation in both the Ayurveda and Chinese traditions as an anti-aging food.

Find a natural food store or co-op that sells black or brown sesame seeds in bulk. Buying from the bulk bins saves you money, and reduces consumption of throwaway plastic packaging. The black seeds are best, brown is next best.

Using sesame seeds.

Grind the seeds fresh shortly before using them. You can dry grind them in a blender, on the ‘Pulse’ setting. It only takes a few seconds. If you hold the ‘Pulse’ button down for too long, the ground seeds will cake together. If you put too many seeds in at once, they may cake together.
You can use a coffee grinder (but not one that’s been used for coffee, the taste will get in the food).
Hand-operated spice grinders are similar to a pepper grinder, but with a small glass jar on top.
Mortar and pestle is a traditional low-tech tool for grinding and blending.
Sprinkle the ground seeds over cereals, vegetable dishes, or fruit.

Why Not Nuclear Energy?

WorldChanging observes

There’s been an effort, of late, most notably in Wired to convince Americans (and others) that the answer to climate change is nuclear power. Clean energy advocates argue nuclear power presents the wrong answer for a bunch of reasons: it spews out radioactive waste which will be with us for a longer time than human beings have been farming; with the need to mine uranium, build the plants themselves and build storage facilities, there are questions as to both how much nuclear power can be brought online how quickly and how much CO2 will actually be saved; nuclear is actually already more expensive that windpower, when subsidies are removed; the nuclear industry is, based on its record, one of the least trustworthy business groups around; and nuclear power — as we’re seeing with concerns in Iran — is tied at the hip to nuclear weapons.

I see other issues:

A nuclear power plant produces energy for millions of consumers from a single location. Centralized systems are vulnerable to outages which affect all the users that are dependent on those systems. Decentralized systems, like solar cells on the roofs of buildings/homes, are much more resiliant and dependable.

Terrorism makes nuclear power plants a huge liability. A melt-down of a single nuclear power plant would kill thousands of people, cause cascading power outages, and demoralize our country. Terrorists know this and will be targeting these kinds of vulnerabilities in the future.