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Before the Flood Needs a Sequel

earthrisekillingmemeI just watched Before the Flood on National Geographic, hoping that the filmmakers dug deep enough to get to the root of the problem. Although the film is a strong call to action, I was disappointed that it didn’t follow the story far enough to locate and identify the source of political inaction in America.  The sad truth is that corruption is so extensive, and the political institutions so compromised that voting will not fix this problem unless and until anti-corruption ballot initiatives are passed in every state and eventually in Washington to get fossil fuel money out of the political process.

One of the saddest moments of the film was scientists blaming themselves for failing to inform the public, but that failure cannot be laid at their feet. The fourth estate – the news media – has failed spectacularly, an there is little hope for improvement now that corporate ownership is more concentrated than ever. The mainstream media frames issues and shapes public opinion. Algorithms on social media and Google are manipulated to promote the same narrow view of what is possible. Noam Chomsky’s “Manufacturing Consent” exposed the Propaganda Model but having accused the media of complicity, that understanding of power was  never allowed to bubble to the surface of public consciousness in America. It is time to wake up and connect the dots between political corruption, corporate malfeasance, and media complicity. We need to lay the blame where it properly belongs. As Utah Phillips said:

The earth is not dying, it is being killed, and the people killing it have names and addresses.

This is no time for blind optimism, but fear of the future won’t help either. The time has come to get angry at the crimes fossil fuel companies commit, especially in North Dakota. We need to recognize that what is ‘legal‘ and what is ‘right’ may be very different, in a world where corporations have been allowed to write laws that members of congress often don’t even read.

Before the Flood is a great documentary, but like the Paris Accords, it doesn’t go nearly far enough. I strongly recommend that in his next film, DiCaprio focus on the obstructionist fossil fuel corporations, even if they threaten to sue. If we’re too afraid to step on the toes of the oil giants, we cannot hope to stop them from destroying the biosphere. They have too much power and they are not going to give it up voluntarily. The world would be a better place if the biggest multinationals were broken up into smaller units.

The next film I want to see will focus on the current DOJ investigation of the horrifying fact that EXXON KNEW about man-made climate change in 1981 and spent decades hiding the truth and lying about it. A crime of that magnitude should result in prison for perpetrators and the company should be liquidated.  Ecocide should be recognized as an International Crime Against Humanity under the Rome Statute and people of all nations should demand that their governments ratify the treaty. We need to fight to take back control of our governments and hold the fossil fuel giants to account. We can all begin by standing with Standing Rock against the Dakota Access pipeline.

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The GMO Lobby Loves Lazy Journalists

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I found a facebook post today claiming that a “Study of 100 Billion Animals Finds GMOs Safe.

First of all, I consider the source.  Here’s what the “I fucking love science” page says about itself:

We’re here for the science – the funny side of science. Quotes, jokes, memes and anything your admin finds awesome and strange.  If you take yourself seriously, you’re on the wrong page.

That tells me I need to dig deeper, so I go read the article and click on the source that the writer cited, which purported to be an academic study, but instead I found an article in Forbes, which used to be a credible business magazine for the one percent.  The headline confidently proclaimed  “The Debate About GMOs Safety is Over, Thanks to a New Trillion-Meal Study” but nothing could be further from the truth.  The article was written by Jon Entine, whose bio says:

I’m executive director of the Genetic Literacy Project (www.GeneticLiteracyProject.org), an independent NGO, and Senior Fellow at the World Food Center’s Institute for Food and Agricultural Literacy at the University of California-Davis.

That sounds harmless enough, but a quick look at his wiki says he’s also the author of “Crop Chemophobia: Will Precaution Kill the Green Revolution?” and is connected to the American Enterprise Institute – a right wing think-tank.  Alright, so I’m sensing there might be a wee bit of bias here, but lets give him the benefit of the doubt by looking at his evidence for the alleged safety of GMOs.  Here’s a quote:

Writing in the Journal of Animal Science, in the most comprehensive study of GMOs and food ever conducted, University of California-Davis Department of Animal Science geneticist Alison Van Eenennaam and research assistant Amy E. Young reviewed 29 years of livestock productivity and health data from both before and after the introduction of genetically engineered animal feed. [NOTE: article is behind a paywall until October 1.]

That bit about the paywall would discourage people from seeking it out, but when I read the abstract, it looked very similar to another article published last year by the lead author in the new article.  You can read the entire earlier article here.

The study Entine refers to is a review article in a scholarly journal, not original peer-reviewed research.  For those of you unfamiliar with academic jargon, that means instead of solid evidence, we’re looking at someone’s interpretation/opinion of other scientists’ work. Entine gives some quotes clearly cherry-picked to support his opinion that GMOs are safe, but for the sake of balance, here are some other direct quotations from Van Eenennaam’s 2013 article:

From the Abstract:

Requiring long-term and target animal feeding studies would sharply increase regulatory compliance costs and prolong the regulatory process associated with the commercialization of GE crops.

From the conclusion:

Regulatory frameworks should formally evaluate the reasonable and unique risks and benefits associated with the use of both GE plants and animals in agricultural systems, and weigh them against those associated with existing systems, and the opportunity costs associated with regulatory inaction.

From the Acknowledgements:

Preparation of this manuscript was supported by funds from the W.K. Kellogg endowment to the UC Davis Department of Animal Science.

Yes, folks, the same Kelloggs who donated an undisclosed amount to fight against the implementation of  labelling laws that would allow people to know whether they’re eating and feeding their children a product that has never been proven safe for human consumption.

Here’s the entire text of the Abstract (summary) of the new article:

Globally, food-producing animals consume 70 to 90% of genetically engineered (GE) crop biomass. This review briefly summarizes the scientific literature on performance and health of animals consuming feed containing GE ingredients and composition of products derived from them. It also discusses the field experience of feeding GE feed sources to commercial livestock populations and summarizes the suppliers of GE and non-GE animal feed in global trade. Numerous experimental studies have consistently revealed that the performance and health of GE-fed animals are comparable with those fed isogenic non-GE crop lines. United States animal agriculture produces over 9 billion food-producing animals annually, and more than 95% of these animals consume feed containing GE ingredients. Data on livestock productivity and health were collated from publicly available sources from 1983, before the introduction of GE crops in 1996, and subsequently through 2011, a period with high levels of predominately GE animal feed. These field data sets representing over 100 billion animals following the introduction of GE crops did not reveal unfavorable or perturbed trends in livestock health and productivity. No study has revealed any differences in the nutritional profile of animal products derived from GE-fed animals. Because DNA and protein are normal components of the diet that are digested, there are no detectable or reliably quantifiable traces of GE components in milk, meat, and eggs following consumption of GE feed. Globally, countries that are cultivating GE corn and soy are the major livestock feed exporters. Asynchronous regulatory approvals (i.e., cultivation approvals of GE varieties in exporting countries occurring before food and feed approvals in importing countries) have resulted in trade disruptions. This is likely to be increasingly problematic in the future as there are a large number of “second generation” GE crops with altered output traits for improved livestock feed in the development and regulatory pipeline. Additionally, advanced techniques to affect targeted genome modifications are emerging, and it is not clear whether these will be encompassed by the current GE process-based trigger for regulatory oversight. There is a pressing need for international harmonization of both regulatory frameworks for GE crops and governance of advanced breeding techniques to prevent widespread disruptions in international trade of livestock feedstuffs in the future.

Let me translate to plain English and summarize what those journal articles actually said to me. “Let’s not bother to do a proper assessment of risk to human health because it’s just so darn expensive.”

Forbes says GMOs are safe.

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Here’s the problem. Feedlot cattle are fed grain and other concentrates for usually 90-120 days. There are many reasons that feedlot beef isn’t the healthiest or most ethical choice, but that’s not the issue. After 90-120 days, feedlot cattle are sent to the slaughterhouse. How likely is it that they would manifest illness that soon as a result of genetically engineered feed?  It may be impossible to determine whether eating GMO-fed beef has a negative impact on human health but, again, that’s not the question that concerns me.

Genetically modified corn is already in foods that are produced for direct human consumption and we don’t send our children to the slaughterhouse after three months. They keep eating these products year after year.  There are no long-term feeding studies on human health. The producers are not doing them and the government isn’t telling them to. We cannot choose between GMO and non-GMO foods unless they are labelled. The Grocery Manufacturers Association is fighting tooth and nail to prevent citizen-driven initiatives to label GMO products.  I have the right to know what I’m feeding my child.  My child’s right to safe food trumps Kelloggs’ right to huge profits.  A billion cows sent to the slaughterhouse after three months of GMO feed have absolutely nothing to tell us about how genetically modified corn and soy products affect the health of humans who have been eating them, unwittingly, for years.

But wait, there’s more!  I looked up the author of the article, Alison Louise Van Eenennaam and found biographical data and a C.V. submitted to the FDA that indicate she was hired by Monsanto in 1998.  This isn’t the first time scientists have been called out for hidden connections to corporate interests.

Others have written extensively on how huge corporations use their money to influence not just politicians, through lobbyists and political donations, but also to corrupt the practice of scholarly research and scientific inquiry. Whenever you read some mainstream media article telling you not to worry about some issue that you’re hearing other people voice concerns about, consider the following questions:

Who is the author? What else has s/he written? Who pays him/her? What do this person’s professional connections tell you about his/her point of view?

Who is the publisher? What corporation owns the publication and what are their other corporate affiliations?  Who are the major advertisers?

What about scholarly articles? Can you access it directly online?  Does the source material cited really say what is stated in the article? What does the sections on conflicts and acknowledgements say about sources of funding or professional affiliations?  Can you find a C.V. that tells you about the author’s previous employers?

Read critically. Seek the truth. Don’t take any so-called expert’s word for it. Lets use the internet to expose the Matrix of lies that surrounds us before greedy corporations destroy the biosphere.

Finally, if you want to gain a better understanding of how the “Matrix” of lies is constructed, I recommend reading the following books:

Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media (1988), by Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky, and

Understanding Power: The Indespensible Chomsky

 

References;

Alison L Van Eenennaam. (2014). GMOs in animal agriculture: time to consider both costs and benefits in regulatory evaluations. Journal of Animal Science and Biotechnology, 2013, 4:37 http://www.jasbsci.com/content/4/1/37