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Despite Censorship By Beef Magnate, Michael Pollan Spreads Message About the Real Price of Cheap Food

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michael pollan

Pollan took on Big Ag and cheap food in a panel discussion, after the protests of a meat industry chairman led to his speech at a University being canceled.

Award-winning food journalist Michael Pollan was invited to speak on October 15 at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo but after pressure from a university donor who is chairman of the Harris Ranch Beef Co., the university changed his speech to a panel discussion.

Pollan, whose works include The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals and In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto is the Knight Professor of Environmental Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley. He’s also no stranger to attacks from Big Ag.

Pollan used the forum to continue to challenge people to think about the ways in which we are growing food in our current fossil-fuel dependent system of agriculture. “We’re producing ourselves into a hole,” he warned the audience.

Joining him on the panel was Gary Smith, the Monford Endowed Chair of meat science at the University of Colorado and Myra Goodman, the co-founder of Earthbound Farm.

What follows is a transcript of the discussion, edited by the AlterNet staff for length and clarity.

Moderator: What is sustainability?

Michael Pollan: I would be remiss if I didn’t address a little bit the circumstances surrounding this event, which I don’t think we can let pass in silence. But one of the reasons we’re doing the panel and not a conventional speech is that there was a real challenge to the university posed by the government, and what is potentially a real threat to academic freedom. And as much as agriculture is what we want to talk about today, academic freedom under girds the ability to have the kind of conversation about agriculture we want to have.

Let me tie this back to sustainability. One of the things we understand from the science of ecology is that the best way to achieve resilience, in any system, is by diversity: biodiversity and intellectual diversity. And that having a diversity of views on this campus — you know, because universities are the place where these conversations should take place, without any kind of bullying, without any kind of threats. It’s critical to trying to figure out how to deal with the challenges that we have.

You could have a monoculture of a university — one that only tolerated one kind of thinking – and when the world changes, as it inevitably does, you would find yourself in serious trouble. But when you have a lot of different ideas, and they’re all nurtured, and they’re all brought into contact with one another as we hope to do today, that is where you get the resources to withstand shocks to the system. And god knows those shocks are coming.

80+ Groups and 38,000+ Individuals Unite Against Siddiqui Nomination

Groups Call for Change to Failed Free Trade Agenda That Has Deepened Global Food, Environmental and Health Crises


San Francisco, CA, Apopka, FL, Washington D.C. (November 2, 2009) – In an unprecedented effort to block a USTR agriculture nominee, over 80 groups sent a letter today to Chairman Max Baucus and Ranking Member Charles Grassley of the Senate Finance Committee urging the rejection of Islam Siddiqui as Chief Agriculture Negotiator at the office of the United States Trade Representative. In part to counter a supportive letter previously issued by over 40 agribusiness industry groups, the NGO letter protests Siddiqui’s clear affiliation with the agricultural input industry and its “free” trade agenda. Siddiqui is a former pesticide/biotech lobbyist for and current vice president of regulatory affairs at CropLife America. His nomination will be taken up by the Committee on November 4.

The NGO groups — representing environmental, consumer, anti-hunger, family farm, farmworker, fishing, sustainable agriculture, public health and other advocacy organizations — oppose Siddiqui on the grounds of controversial positions taken while he was at USDA and employed as a CropLife America lobbyist. Over the weekend, a parallel groundswell of over 38,000 concerned individuals have also signed a petition to President Obama, urging him to reconsider recent industry-friendly appointments to key government agriculture posts, including Siddiqui.

In addition to opposing Siddiqui’s nomination on the basis that it appears to be a textbook case of the “revolving door” between industry and government, both the NGO letter and the citizen petition cite Siddiqui’s record and CropLife America’s behavior as cause for concern.

Siddiqui’s statements demonstrate a disturbing disregard for allowing countries to exercise the “precautionary principle” in regulating genetically modified crops.

While at USDA, Siddiqui oversaw the controversial release of the first proposed organic standards that would have allowed toxic sludge, genetically modified and irradiated food to be labeled “organic.”

CropLife America has consistently lobbied the U.S government to weaken and thwart international treaties governing the use and export of toxic chemicals such as PCBs, DDT and dioxins. CropLife America’s regional partner notoriously “shuddered” at Michelle Obama’s organic White House garden, and launched a letter-writing campaign urging the First Lady to use chemical pesticides.

Dena Hoff, a Montana farmer and vice-president of the National Family Farm Coalition, said, “We have a food crisis, water crisis, climate crisis, all of which have been exacerbated by our trade agreements and the World Trade Organization continuing to push failed chemical-intensive and biotech solutions. We believe the United States can do better than nominating a former pesticide lobbyist to this key position. While I have been heartened by Michelle Obama’s campaign to recognize the importance of local, sustainable and healthy food, the White House has severely undermined their credibility with this nomination.” Hoff noted that U.S. family farmers failed to benefit from GMOs, commenting, “CropLife America’s members, including Monsanto, DuPont, Dow and Syngenta, force farmers to rely on expensive inputs and go into deeper debt. They also threaten the biodiversity needed to sustain our planet with their monoculture industrial model.”

Hold the MSG: Food Triggers for Epilepsy and Other Neurological Illnesses

By Alison Rose Levy via The Integrative Health Outlook

no msg

Last week, 60 Minutes reported on David and Susan Axelrod’s search for a cure for epilepsy prompted by their two decade plus experience of the ailment, which their adult daughter has suffered since infancy. But while Katie Couric admiringly covered the researchers seeking to find “the Cure,” ie. new anti-convulsive drugs, once again proactive, preventive health care strategies that might help to reduce incidence of epileptic attacks were overlooked.

How ironic it is that in the midst of the health care reform debate, Axelrod, a key Obama aide, is so poorly informed about integrative strategies that could help his own daughter.

For neurological illnesses, including Parkinson’s Disease, epilepsy, and others, a body of scientific research demonstrates that certain food additives, singly and in combination with each other, contribute to excessive nerve cell firing; and thus, may be a possible trigger for epileptic attacks and other neurological incidents. In keeping with that, limiting or altogether avoiding these ingredients is a strategy that some integrative physicians recommend, though many who could benefit are unaware of the dangers these common food additives pose.

Because of their activity–stimulating nerve cells to rapidly fire and burn out, ultimately resulting in nerve cell death, the food additives are considered to be “excitotoxins.” While some naturally occur in the body, people who consume processed foods are exposed to a much greater amount than ever before since industrial food scientists regularly add them to processed foods to enhance the food’s flavor. The most widely used food ingredients that have excitotoxic activity are monosodium glutamate, aspartame, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, and other additives that stimulate the taste buds and mask the flavor of many processed foods, Fresh, natural foods don’t require this form of flavor enhancement. The artificial sweetener, aspartame, marketed as NutraSweet, Equal, and under several other brand names, is one of most widely consumed of the food additives with excitotoxic activity.

Nearly all food items sold in convenience stores are full of them, as are many processed, or packaged foods. If you read labels, you will discover that they are listed under many different names; and flavorings such as those in soups, soup mixes, and even many spices will often contain them as well.

With the increase in incidence of neurological illness, including Alzheimer’s Disease, a basic proactive health strategy, that many integrative practitioners recommend, is to limit intake of these food ingredients. More information on excitotoxins can be found in Russell Blaylock MD’s book, Excitotoxins: The Taste That Kills. Food Additives: A Shopper’s Guide To What’s Safe & What’s Not by Christine Farlow is a shopper’s guide to ingredient names.

For health information, science, and action, get the free ezine, the Health Outlook at

Sugar Cereals Are ‘Smart Choices’? FDA Not So Sure

smart choices

Ever wondered how that “Smart Choices” sticker wound up on the front of Froot Loops or Cocoa Puffs?

Well, federal health officials are having similar thoughts, and they’re warning food manufacturers.

The Food and Drug Administration said Tuesday that nutritional logos from food manufacturers may be misleading consumers about the actual health benefits of cereal, crackers and other processed foods. The agency sent a letter to companies saying it will begin cracking down on inaccurate food labeling. The FDA did not name specific products or give a timeline for enforcement.

U.S. manufacturers, including Kellogg, Kraft Foods and General Mills, rolled out their so-called Smart Choices program last year, amid growing concern about obesity rates. The green labels appear on the front of foods that meet certain standards for calories per serving and fat content.

But consumer advocates complain about lax standards for the program, with logos appearing on everything from frozen sweets to sugary cereals.

“There are products that have gotten the Smart Choices check mark that are almost 50 percent sugar,” FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said during a call with reporters.

The agency is developing proposed nutritional standards that would have to be met before manufacturers place such claims on their packages, Hamburg said. She added that she hoped industry would cooperate with the FDA to develop standardized “labeling that all Americans can trust and use to build better diets.”

Mike Hughes, chair of the Smart Choices Program, said in a statement that Smart Choices is based on the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

“We believe in the science behind the Smart Choices Program,” he said. “We also look forward to the opportunity to participate in FDA’s initiatives on front-of-package labeling.”

Target Accused Of Organic Food Fraud

By Lila Shapiro


Ever wonder if the organic-labeled milk you’re drinking is really organic? If you purchased it at Target, it might not be. The Cornucopia Institute, a food and agriculture watchdog group, announced Tuesday that it has filed formal complaints with USDA’s organic program accusing Target Corporation of organic food fraud. And in the midst of HuffPost’s No Impact Week no less! From the group’s press release:

The complaints are the latest salvo into a growing controversy whereas corporate agribusiness and major retailers have been accused of blurring the line between “natural” products and food that has been grown, processed and properly certified organic under tight federal standards.

“Major food processors have recognized the meteoric rise of the organic industry, and profit potential, and want to create what is in essence ‘organic light,’ taking advantage of the market cachet but not being willing to do the heavy lifting required to earn the valuable USDA organic seal,” said Mark A. Kastel, Senior Farm Policy Analyst at Cornucopia.

The Wisconsin-based farm policy research group discovered Target nationally advertised Silk soymilk in newspapers with the term “organic” pictured on the carton’s label, when in fact the manufacturer, Dean Foods, had quietly shifted their products away from organics.

This is not the first time Target has been tainted by such accusations. In September 2007, the USDA threatened to revoke the organic status of Aurora Organic Dairy, a Colorado farm that supplies Target, and other stores, with milk.

This has been a big season for organic outrage — after Whole Foods CEO John Mackey declared his store sells “a bunch of junk,” he penned a Wall Street Journal Op-Ed attacking Obama’s health care plan which resulted in activist outrage and a series of boycotts.


Impact Of Swimming In Chlorinated Water


original link: Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics

By Alfred Bernard, PhD, Marc Nickmilder, PhD, Catherine Voisin, MSc and Antonia Sardella, MD, Department of Public Health, Catholic University of Louvain, Brussels, Belgium

Objective: The goal was to estimate the burden of allergic diseases associated with chlorinated pool exposure among adolescents.

Methods: We examined 847 students, 13 to 18 years of age, who had attended outdoor or indoor chlorinated pools at various rates. Of them, 114 had attended mainly a copper-silver pool and served as a reference group. We measured total and aeroallergen-specific immunoglobulin E (IgE) levels in serum and screened for exercise-induced bronchoconstriction. Outcomes were respiratory symptoms, hay fever, allergic rhinitis, and asthma that had been diagnosed at any time (ever asthma) or was being treated with medication and/or was associated with exercise-induced bronchoconstriction (current asthma).

Results: Among adolescents with atopy with serum IgE levels of >30 kIU/L or aeroallergen-specific IgE, the odds ratios (ORs) for asthma symptoms and for ever or current asthma increased with the lifetime number of hours spent in chlorinated pools, reaching values of 7.1 to 14.9 when chlorinated pool attendance exceeded 1000 hours. Adolescents with atopy with chlorinated pool attendance of >100 hours had greater risk of hay fever (OR: 3.3–6.6), and those with attendance of >1000 hours had greater risk of allergic rhinitis (OR: 2.2–3.5). Such associations were not found among adolescents without atopy or with copper-silver pool attendance. The population attributable risks for chlorinated pool-related ever-diagnosed asthma, hay fever, and allergic rhinitis were 63.4%, 62.1%, and 35.0%, respectively.

Conclusion: Chlorinated pool exposure exerts an adjuvant effect on atopy that seems to contribute significantly to the burden of asthma and respiratory allergies among adolescents.

Food Is Power and the Powerful Are Poisoning Us


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By Chris Hedges

Our most potent political weapon is food. If we take back our agriculture, if we buy and raise produce locally, we can begin to break the grip of corporations that control a food system as fragile, unsafe and destined for collapse as our financial system. If we continue to allow corporations to determine what we eat, as well as how food is harvested and distributed, then we will become captive to rising prices and shortages and increasingly dependent on cheap, mass-produced food filled with sugar and fat. Food, along with energy, will be the most pressing issue of our age. And if we do not build alternative food networks soon, the social and political ramifications of shortages and hunger will be devastating.

The effects of climate change, especially with widespread droughts in Australia, Africa, California and the Midwest, coupled with the rising cost of fossil fuels, have already blighted the environments of millions. The poor can often no longer afford a balanced diet. Global food prices increased an average of 43 percent since 2007, according to the International Monetary Fund. These increases have been horrific for the approximately 1 billion people—one-sixth of the world’s population—who subsist on less than $1 per day. And 162 million of these people survive on less than 50 cents per day. The global poor spend as much as 60 percent of their income on food, according to the International Food Policy Research Institute.

There have been food riots in many parts of the world, including Austria, Hungary, Mexico, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Morocco, Yemen, Mauritania, Senegal and Uzbekistan. Russia and Pakistan have introduced food rationing. Pakistani troops guard imported wheat. India has banned the export of rice, except for high-end basmati. And the shortages and price increases are being felt in the industrialized world as we continue to shed hundreds of thousands of jobs and food prices climb. There are 33.2 million Americans, or one in nine, who depend on food stamps. And in 20 states as many as one in eight are on the food stamp program, according to the Food Research Center. The average monthly benefit was $113.87 per person, leaving many, even with government assistance, without adequate food. The USDA says 36.2 million Americans, or 11 percent of households, struggle to get enough food, and one-third of them have to sometimes skip or cut back on meals. Congress allocated some $54 billion for food stamps this fiscal year, up from $39 billion last year. In the new fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, costs will be $60 billion, according to estimates.

Amazing Resource for Food & Produce Safety Info

Pew Initiative on Food & Biotechnology

The Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology was established in 2001 to be an independent and objective source of credible information on agricultural biotechnology for the public, media and policymakers. Funded through a grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts to the University of Richmond, the Initiative advocates neither for, nor against, agricultural biotechnology. Instead, the Initiative is committed to providing information and encouraging debate and dialogue so that consumers and policymakers can make their own informed decisions about the technology.

The debate over agricultural biotechnology and genetically modified foods continues to mount as voices both for and against the technology get louder. As the debate is increasingly characterized in the media by the extremes, it has become more and more difficult for uninformed Americans to gather objective and credible information about this rapidly changing technology. The Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology was established with this in mind and through its programs, reports, polls and research, it seeks to provide a “safe haven” of credible information to help consumers and policymakers make informed decisions about this transformative technology. The Pew Initiative receives no funding from private industry, consumer or environmental groups.

While debate continues about the benefits and risks of agricultural biotechnology and genetically modified foods, it is clear that the use of this technology is growing. The Pew Initiative strives to provide a fact-based neutral platform to provide information from all sides of the debate, distill that credible information gleaned from experts and researchers and convey it to the many stakeholders in the debate. The Initiative’s web site provides free access to original reports, issue briefs, poll data, and other pertinent research in an easily accessible format for download and discussion.

In early 2001 the Initiative began a consensus project, called “The Stakeholder Forum”, for a small group of representatives from industry, public institutions, academia, consumer and environmental groups, and several other interested parties. For two years, this group worked to develop a consensus about recommendations that would enhance the regulatory review process for agricultural biotechnology. Although the group was not able to reach consensus, all participants agreed the process formed lasting relationships that would positively enhance the debate about agricultural biotechnology.

In late 2003, the Initiative hosted a conference in Mexico City, Mexico specifically examining the many scientific, cultural, ethical, economic and environmental questions surrounding the genetic diversity of maize, a species native to Mexico, as well as the introduction of genetically modified plants to centers of origin.

Pew Initiative reports have been acknowledged by members of industry, consumer groups, and agencies of the government as contributing to the debate over agricultural biotechnology and illuminating some of the key issues surrounding the regulation of GM foods as well as the benefits and potential risks to the environment and/or public health.

The Initiative has a staff of media experts who have been featured on radio and television, both domestically and internationally and have been quoted and sourced in hundreds of publications world-wide.

Since its inception, the Pew Initiative has helped to shape the debate about agricultural biotechnology by providing a foundation of information for policymakers, regulators and members of the media to push the dialogue into the public eye and openly discuss a regulatory framework that will protect public health, the foods we eat and examine the potential risks to the environment. Through these efforts, the Initiative aims to help move the discussion about this technology beyond conflict and toward a sustained process of constructive engagement about the regulation and use of this important tool.

Click here to visit