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The Bonvie Blog: A Toxic Topic’s Return

A Lesson from the Past Reminds Us How the Facts Are What Really Matter

By LINDA and BILL BONVIE

It was a bit like a case of déjà vu, only with a new dimension.

I’m referring to our reaction upon hearing the news that a Terminix employee had been indicted for illegally applying the highly toxic fumigation gas methyl bromide inside various residences in the U.S. Virgin Islands, including the St. John condominium resort complex where a Delaware family of four nearly died as a result back in March 2015.

As it happens, the use of methyl bromide in residential, structural and agricultural pest control, and its often deadly consequences, was the topic on which we began our writing collaboration (culminating last year in the publication of our book, Badditives!).

Only back when we first broached this particular subject in print, all those uses were still quite legal – and there being no Internet at the time, much of our information came from trade publications and old-fashioned journalistic leg-work.

(At one point, one of us had occasion to meet the late farmworkers-rights crusader Cesar Chavez asking him what he could tell us about methyl bromide, which was being used to fumigate soil. He replied, “What can you tell us about methyl bromide?”)

We subsequently wrote a number of magazine articles on the widespread application of this invisible and odorless killer, which in the early ‘90s had begun to gain notoriety not so much for its lethality but as an ozone depleter. And, yes, they included horror stories, some even worse than the one in the Virgin Islands, such as the case of the little girl who died following a “tent fumigation” of her Savannah, Georgia home, after some of the gas got trapped in her mattress.

But the piece we wrote 25 years ago was the one that proved most memorable — and all on account of its post-script, which can be taken as a kind of object lesson in today’s fractured political climate.

It was done for a slick, glossy, 440-page monthly publication called The World & I, which described itself as “A chronicle of our changing era” — one that was quite comprehensive in its range of subject matter, as well as highly informative. It was also put out by The Washington Times, a paper with a distinctly conservative political slant owned by the Unification Church and founded by its head, the Rev. Sun Myung Moon.

That’s right — a magazine published by the “Moonies.”

That fact, however, had no bearing whatsoever on the content of our article, “Fallout from a Pending Phaseout,” which was based on some rather time-consuming and scrupulous research.

And one aspect of it had to do with the way methyl bromide was being used in certain large food-storage facilities, including (at the time) the Hershey chocolate plant, which in 1990 alone vented more than 40,000 pounds into the immediate environment, much of it on weekends during the summer when crowds of visitors were enjoying the attractions at nearby Hershey Park.

So were we sure that these were accurate claims, and did we have any proof? Yes, and yes. The figures and dates we cited came directly from the Environmental Protection Agency’s own “toxic release inventory,” and had been provided to the EPA by the industries themselves — statistics that could easily be obtained by a reporter or anyone else who knew of their existence.

But after the article appeared in The World & I (along with a photo of the Hershey plant), it struck us that this was the sort of information that should be of considerable interest to print and broadcast media in the Harrisburg, PA vicinity, where the Hershey Corporation and its famous amusement park are situated. And we got to wondering whether they might pick up on our “scoop.”

That was when Linda got the idea of calling them while posing as a concerned parent about to take her family to Hershey Park and inquiring if they planned to do anything with the story.

And the reactions were somewhat surprising in their skepticism. One of the editors we contacted, for example, asked, “If this is such a big issue, why don’t we already know about it?”

But the really mind-blowing response came from the head of a TV news operation, who asked, “And just where did you read this, ma’am?”

“In a magazine called The World & I.”

“I see. And can you tell me who puts out this magazine?”

“It says it’s a publication of The Washington Times.”

“Oh, really? And do you know who it is that owns The Washington Times?”

When asked who that was, he responded, “Never mind. Just take your kids to Hershey Park and have a good time, and don’t worry about it.”

So, our extra-curricular discovery — that the veracity of a totally accurate article could be automatically dismissed, even by people in the news business who should have known better, due to distrust of the motives of the proprietor of the publication where it appeared — is one that continues to resonate a quarter-century later, perhaps more so than ever.

What our little experiment revealed was an apparent assumption back then that any disclosure contained in a journal whose owner had conservative leanings (and was the founder of a foreign religious cult, no less) was highly suspect, and probably deliberate disinformation. Today, what we keep hearing from a resurgent right, with encouragement from the current occupant of the Oval Office, is a mirror-image message: that the reporting you might read in papers like The Washington Post and The New York Times is not only biased, but actual “fake news” reflecting the supposed political agendas of their owners.

But the truth is that professional journalists, with few exceptions, are simply trying to do their jobs — which means doing their best to uncover facts, not twist them or engage in misleading fabrications in order to further an employer’s perspective.

By that, of course, we mean the kinds of skilled hunter-gatherers of genuine information that reputable news operations usually depend on to stay in business, no matter who owns them.

In our current internet era, however, many people have a regrettable tendency assume that legitimate media whose political leanings they don’t like are trafficking in trickery and deliberate deception, even while they give credibility to websites that make outlandish claims and promote preposterous conspiracy theories for example, school massacres were staged by people trying to turn the public against gun ownership.

And that’s where the business of being able to discern between real and fake news becomes especially tricky. Because often, the ones that are engaging in such unfounded and ridiculous rumor-mongering — an example being Alex Jones’s lunatic-fringe Infowars — will make assertions that are perfectly valid; e.g., mandatory vaccinations and fluoridation may be hazardous to your health.  And when they do so, they tend to actually give ammunition to people whose aim is to shoot down any legitimate doubts about the safety or advisability of such policies.

The point is that, no matter what your political persuasion, when you automatically assume that anything that appears to come from the opposing camp — even if it’s based on totally independent and nonpartisan research — is simply intended to fool you, you could well end up depriving yourself of essential information.

You could even be missing out on a revelation that might potentially spare you from exposure to a life-threatening poison gas on your next vacation.


Linda and Bill Bonvie, freelance writers based in Little Egg Harbor, NJ, are regular bloggers for Citizens for Health and the co-authors of Badditives: The 13 Most Harmful Food Additives in Your Diet – and How to Avoid Them.

Dangers of HFCS: “Is high fructose corn syrup helping to bring on an agricultural apocalypse?”

Originally posted by

on FoodIdentityTheft.com, January 18, 2013

A sunny day this February in California’s Central Valley will predict the future for the state’s almond crop – and, in turn, perhaps the future of American agriculture. That’s the day when almond growers will know if the honeybees will be returning to their hives.

The bees don’t end up buzzing among the California almond blossoms by chance; they are trucked there from all around the country. Starting in the next few weeks, over 49 billion honeybees in their 1.7 million-plus hives will be transported by beekeepers to California so the bees can “make” the nuts that make up this $3-billion-a-year industry.

Honeybee pollination is responsible for over one-third of the food crops grown in the United States, including citrus, blueberries, cherries, broccoli, and is totally indispensable to California almond growers.

If the bees that provide nature’s necessary touch in producing this year’s almond crop don’t fare well, it could be the “breaking point” for both almond growers and beekeepers, who since 2006 have had to deal with super-declining numbers of honeybees due to what’s known as colony collapse disorder (CCD), which causes bees to leave their queen and fly off from the hive, never to return.

In short, we’re talking about a possible agricultural apocalypse – a catastrophe to which high fructose corn syrup could well be a contributing factor, according to the latest research.

Pennsylvanian beekeeper David Hackenberg, co-chairman of the National Honey Bee Advisory Board and the go-to person for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Agriculture and scientists and universities trying to crack the mystery of CCD, says that starting last fall, indications have been on the rise that this is “probably going to be the worst year ever” for the ongoing decline in honeybee populations. “Bees are basically collapsing, whether it’s (from) CCD or a different kind of collapse or both,” Hackenberg said.

Hackenberg describes colony collapse disorder, which he has the dubious distinction of being the first to have discovered, as “when you have a good hive of bees and in a matter of days or weeks you have a sudden loss; you still have a queen, but only a handful of bees. And pretty soon you don’t have those.”

Experts trying to solve the mystery of CCD have come up with numerous and varied theories. But Hackenberg has been following the trail of a new class of systemic pesticides called neonicotinoids, containing synthetic nicotine, that’s widely used to treat crop seeds, especially corn.

“The old organophosphate pesticides, (they) killed bees dead. It knocked the colony out in the summertime,” Hackenberg said. “The scientists are more and more pointing to the fact that if a beehive picks up a systemic pesticide, it doesn’t kill the hive (immediately)…(the bees) bring it back to the hive and it starts the clock. That colony of bees is doomed.”

Systemic pesticides, such as neonicotinoids, move up through a plant, producing contaminated pollen and nectar. And after the first frost, when outside food is no longer available, the bee colony is affected by any contaminates in the food they stored from the summer, he explained. Honeybees are also fed by beekeepers, some of whom use sugar. These days, however, many large operations routinely feed bees with high fructose corn syrup (HFCS).


 

 Sign Our Petition to the FDA to Label HFCS Accurately

Our petition requests that the FDA take action to protect the public from the illegal, mislabeled use of high fructose corn syrup.

Sign the Petition

 

 


The birds and the bees – and high fructose corn syrup

A recent study, published last June in the Bulletin of Insectology by Chensheng Lu, an associate professor at Harvard School of Public Health, gives further support to Hackenberg’s suspicions of the neonicotinoids. And Lu’s study brings up another way for bees to consume the pesticides — through the HFCS fed to them by beekeepers.

In Lu’s study, colonies were fed HFCS treated with one of the nicotine pesticides, imidacloprid, which resulted in the collapse of almost every test hive, all showing the same pattern consistent with the CCD seen by beekeepers. Corn seed, which is still widely treated with the neonictinoids, received extra high doses of the chemical several years ago, just around the time CCD was first being recognized.

The Corn Refiners Association, comprised of all the big manufacturers of HFCS, posted several rebuttals to Dr. Lu’s study, claiming that HFCS “has NOT been shown to be causing Colony Collapse Disorder,” and that the chemical was not found in the HFCS that was not treated.

But research professor Dr. Charles Benbrook at Washington State University told me in an e-mail that “it is difficult to detect pesticides in HFCS because of the nature of the matrix. HFCS tends to gum up the machines designed to detect pesticides in food.” He added that “…research points to the need to detect nicotinyls in HFCS well below 1 part per billion — lower than most limits of detection in routine pesticide-food testing.”

“Questions persist regarding the impact of very-low levels of pesticides in HFCS because HFCS often becomes the primary feed source for honeybees at the end of the season,” said Dr. Benbrook, who noted that this is “a period when both bee health and hive health is strained.”

Dr. Benbrook also has concern over other possible pesticides in HFCS, “…it is likely that there are Bt toxins, and/or their breakdown products, in HFCS. These are technically classified as pesticides by the EPA, but have never been tested for in HFCS to my knowledge.”

And, of course, one can’t help but wonder if all this HFCS the honeybees are consuming is contributing to other colony health issues. “HFCS is nutritionally inferior to honey as a source of nutrients for bees,” said Dr. Benbrook, adding, “…concerns persist over the adverse impacts of HFCS on bee health from a nutritional perspective.”

Hackenberg also has issues with using HFCS as a food for bees. “HFCS will put weight on bees,” just as it does on people, “whereas sugar won’t,” he pointed out.

All those honeybees brought in from around the country to the Central Valley almond groves will have a lot riding on them, and a lot of folks watching what unfolds. “We put them on trucks, send them to California and unload them,” Hackenberg said.  “And the first day the sun comes out and they fly, that day is going to tell the tale. If they fly out and don’t come back, we’ve got a problem.

“We know the birds are in trouble, but the honeybees are the barometer of the environment. If the honeybees are going down, so are the rest of us.”


Why We Must Vote Yes on Prop 37

By author, activist, and concerned mother, Shiva Rose, via the Huffington Post

This month here in California, we will have a chance to know what is in our food supply. Prop 37 will require companies to label foods so we as consumers can know for certain if a product is organic or not. As a mother attempting to feed my children in the healthiest way, this seems like a no brainer. Why would it even be an issue to want to know if something is genetically modified or not?

Read the whole post here.

 

 

What Is Proposition 37? The Top 5 Reasons You Should Care!

From Maria Rodale, via The Huffington Post Blog

You have probably seen something about “Proposition 37” or “Prop. 37”–whether it’s been on Facebook or Twitter or in The New York Times. Or perhaps you haven’t seen anything about it and, like me, you glaze over anytime there is some political something or other that seems too hard to figure out. Well, this one is easy…or let’s put it this way, I’m going to make it easy for you to understand.

Read the whole post here.

Some Valley Growers Back Prop 37

By Robert Rodriguez – The Fresno Bee
 

Supporters like Fresno County organic dairy operator Mark McAfee said opponents [of Prop 37] are using scare tactics to frighten consumers.

“The truth is that this is pro-farmer and pro-consumer,” McAfee said. “And while it may be a little anti-Monsanto and anti-processor, that is OK because they don’t feed the world, we do.”

California’s Vote on Prop 37 Will Send a Message to the FDA: Can We Trust Our Food System?

From Natural Resources Defense Council Staff Blogger, Peter Lehner
 

Consumers have a right to know what’s in their food. And in much of the world, they do, because of government labeling laws. For example, China, Russia, and India are among the 50-odd nations that require labeling of genetically modified foods, or GMOs. Here in America, however, we can’t get information on GMO foods. That’s because chemical companies and food manufacturers have a stranglehold on the system of government oversight that is supposed to ensure the safety of our food supply.

Read more here.

Proposition 37, GMO Labeling Mandate, Wins Support Of 100 Celebrity Chefs

From the Huffington Post Food Blog, 10/22/12

California’s GMO labeling ballot initiative Proposition 37 has already attracted lots of emphatic support and dissent from a host of voices, from Michael Pollan to Danny DeVito. But on Monday, a large contingent of people with a lot of credibility on food issues threw their weight behind the proposal: celebrity chefs.

Read more here.

Coachella Valley California Women for Agriculture Host Public Forum: GMOs and Prop 37

The Coachella Valley Chapter of California Women for Agriculture will present an educational forum at 6PM tonight, October 18, at the Heritage Palms Clubhouse, 44-291 Heritage Palms Drive South.

This forum about California’s Proposition 37 and the mandatory labeling of genetically modified food is free-to-the-public and will provide valuable information about the initiative so you can make a well-informed decision at the ballot box. The expert panel will discuss GMOs and Proposition 37, for which the official ballot title is “Genetically Engineered Foods. Labeling. Initiative Statute.”.

The scheduled speakers are Alan McHughen, a plant biotechnologist at UC  Riverside, Blythe farmer Grant Chaffin, and Nancy Madson, co-owner of Seawright  Custom Precast in Coachella.

Check out the Facebook page for the event here, and RSVP to rrios@agloans.com.

Volunteer: Your Right To Know and Labeling of GMOs

October 17, 2012

CallFor37.png

On November 6, Californians will vote on Proposition 37, which will require all genetically modified foods to be clearly labeled. This is an historic campaign – it will mean that for the first time in the United States, consumers will have the right to know what’s in the food they eat and feed to their families.

Nearly one million Californians put Prop 37 on the ballot, and over 90% of Americans say they support labeling GMOs.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that a host of pesticide and junk food companies, led by Monsanto, DuPont and Dow Chemical, have committed nearly $40 million to defeating our efforts.

That’s why we need your help.

Can you sign up for the national phone bank to help reach one million more Californians before Election Day, November 6?

Proposition 37 is a common sense ballot measure that will require food sold in California to be labeled if it contains genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Unfortunately, opponents in the pesticide and junk food industry aren’t going to let this pass without a fight, and they’re spending a million dollars a day to confuse voters. They’d rather spend millions than let consumers make an informed decision about what they eat. Even more disturbing, no long term studies have ever proven genetically engineered foods safe – not for you, not for your family, not for anyone.

Across the country, passionate volunteers and supporters are joining together to make sure that Proposition 37 becomes law.

Please join the effort and sign up to volunteer for your Right to Know today!

This is the best chance that we have ever had to label genetically engineered food in the United States. For decades, companies like Monsanto and Dow have stopped efforts to inform consumers about what they eat. It’s time for the US to join more than 50 other countries that already require labeling, but it won’t happen without you.

Please volunteer today. Victory is within reach – with your help.