Seedy Business: New Report Digs Beneath Agrichemical Industry’s High-Cost PR Machine

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‘The tremendous amount of money spent speaks to depth of public unease about GMOs,’ says lead author

"Since 2012, the agrichemical and food industries have mounted a complex, multifaceted public relations, advertising, lobbying and political campaign in the United States, costing more than $100 million, to defend genetically engineered food and crops and the pesticides that accompany them," states the report. (Photo courtesy of report)

“Since 2012, the agrichemical and food industries have mounted a complex, multifaceted public relations, advertising, lobbying and political campaign in the United States, costing more than $100 million, to defend genetically engineered food and crops and the pesticides that accompany them,” states the report. (Photo courtesy of report)

What exactly is the agrichemical industry hiding with its high-cost public relations and lobbying efforts to convince the U.S. public that genetically modified organisms and pesticides are safe?

According to a just-released study by the newly-formed nonprofit organization U.S. Right to Know, the answer is: A great deal.

Entitled Seedy Business: What Big Food is hiding with its slick PR campaign on GMOs, and authored by Gary Ruskin, the study aims to expose the “sleazy tactics” of corporations like Monsanto and Dow Chemical.

“Since 2012, the agrichemical and food industries have mounted a complex, multifaceted public relations, advertising, lobbying and political campaign in the United States, costing more than $100 million, to defend genetically engineered food and crops and the pesticides that accompany them,” states the report. “The purpose of this campaign is to deceive the public, to deflect efforts to win the right to know what is in our food via labeling that is already required in 64 countries, and ultimately, to extend their profit stream for as long as possible.”

In fact, according to Ruskin’s calculations, the industry spent more than $103 million since 2012 on defeating state initiatives to mandate GMO labeling in California, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington, with Monsanto alone spending over $22 million.

“The tremendous amount of money spent speaks to depth of public unease about GMOs,” Ruskin told Common Dreams.

The biotechnology industry—whose tactics include attacking scientists and journalists—switches its message depending on the regulatory environment, notes the report. For example, St. Louis-based Monsanto backs GMO labeling in the UK, where such labeling is mandatory, but strongly opposes it in the U.S. “Half of the Big Six agrichemical firms can’t even grow their GMOs in their own home countries,” states the report, due to health and environmental concerns in European countries.

Industry PR firms such as Ketchum—whose clients include tobacco corporations and the Russian government—have had considerable success in manipulating public opinion about GMOs. However, beneath the spin are a number of red flags about the environmental and human health impacts of agrichemical products.

According to the report, “big agrichemical companies have a well-documented record of hiding the truth about the health risks of their products and operations,” from the cancer-causing danger of polychlorinated biphenyls produced by Monsanto to the tragic human impacts of the chemical weapon Agent Orange, which was primarily manufactured by Dow Chemical and Monsanto.

Despite this track record, U.S. oversight of the industry is inadequate, according to the study, thanks largely to the anti-regulatory structures put in place by former Vice President Dan Quayle. The Food and Drug Administration, in fact, does not directly test whether GMOs are safe.

“This report presents a new argument for why the FDA regulatory process doesn’t work,” Ruskin told Common Dreams. “The FDA trusts agrichemical companies and the science they pay for, but the industry has repeatedly hidden health risks from the public so there is no reason to trust them.”

According to Ruskin, this is analogous to the pharmaceutical industry, where positive results get published over negative ones. “What we know is that agrichemical companies have repeatedly hidden health risks, repeatedly suppressed scientific results adverse to the industry,” Ruskin continued. “There is no registry of studies, no way to know. There are are no epidemiological studies on the health impacts of GMOs.”

OKT’s executive director to be guest on Blogtalkradio this evening

Click on this BlogTalkRadio link Thursday Jan. 22 at 8:30 p.m.images

Producer and host of BlogTalkRadio program In Life Now, Toresa M. Blakely, “Coach TMB,” is featuring Lisa Oliver-King on her program 8:30 p.m. tonight. Oliver-King is the founder and executive director of Our Kitchen Table.  Over the past three and a half years, the program has hosted  many local and national guests. In Life Now Radio has a global audience and its listening audience is growing weekly.
The program is live. Blakely invits listeners to call in to join the dialogue. “We will talking about all things OKT tomorrow with Lisa and I know it is going to be a power packed show. People can listen to from their desktops, laptops, ipads, tablets, iphones or tablets,” Blakely notes. “Once we go off the air, this show will be available 24/7 as a podcast via iTunes, Blogtalkradio, and Stitcher Radio.”
Listeners can call in to the show with questions or comments by dialing 619-768-7239

Toresa M. Blakely, CPLC

Bowing to Monsanto, USDA Approves New GMO Soy and Cotton Crops

Reposted from Common Dreamsby Sarah Lazare, staff writer

“This continues the disturbing trend of more herbicide-tolerant crop approvals taking place under President Obama’s watch.” — Wenonah Hauter, Food & Water Watch

The United States Department of Agriculture on Thursday approved Monsanto’s controversial herbicide-resistant genetically modified strains of soybean and cotton, in a move that critics say is a bow to the powerful biotechnology industry, at the expense of human and environmental health.

The green-light is “simply the latest example of USDA’s allegiance to the biotechnology industry and dependence upon chemical solutions,” Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter declared in a press statement. “This continues the disturbing trend of more herbicide-tolerant crop approvals taking place under President Obama’s watch.”

Dr. Marcia Ishii-Eiteman of the Pesticide Action Network echoed Hauter’s concerns, calling the new genetically modified crops “the latest in a slew of bad ideas” and a sign of the USDA’s “allegiance to the largest pesticide corporations.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) on Thursday granted “nonregulated status for Monsanto Company’s (Monsanto) soybeans and cotton that are resistant to certain herbicides, including one known as dicamba.” The biotechnology giant still awaits the Environmental Protection Agency’s approval of the new herbicide, which contains both dicamba and glyphosate, designed to accompany the resistant strain.

But food and environmental safety advocates warn that the corresponding increase in herbicide use is dangerous to the ecosystem. As the Center for Food Safety points out, dicamba has been linked in epidemiology studies to “increased rates of cancer in farmers and birth defects in their male offspring.” First approved in 1967, dicamba seeps through the environment, causing damage to crops and flowering plants and polluting waterways.

Furthermore, herbicides give rise to resistant weeds, leading the development of new herbicides, accompanied by resistant genetically engineered crop strains. Critics charge that, rather that embark on an endless cycle of pumping chemicals and genetically modified crops into the environment, fostering a “pesticide treadmill,” regulators should take the long-term well-being of the ecosystem into account and change the status quo.

The USDA’s green-light follows the Environmental Protection Agency’s approval in October of Dow AgroSciences’ herbicide Enlist Duo, which farmers and scientists warn threatens human and environmental health.

“Monsanto’s genetically-engineered dicamba-resistant crops are yet another example of how pesticide firms are taking agriculture back to the dark days of heavy, indiscriminate use of hazardous pesticides, seriously endangering human health and the environment,” said Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of Center for Food Safety.

Trayvon Martin’s mom to speak at West Michigan colleges to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy

fultonSybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin, holds up a card with a photo of her son when she spoke at the National Urban League’s annual conference on July 26, 2013 in Philadelphia. Sybrina Fulton will speak at Grand Valley’s Fieldhouse Arena on January 19, the federal holiday commemorating the life of slain civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. She will also speak that evening at Grand Rapids Community College, and on January 20 at Davenport University.Matt Rourke/ AP

GRAND RAPIDS, MI – Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin – whose fatal shooting in 2012 sparked a nationwide debate and protests over racial profiling – will speak in January at programs celebrating the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at Grand Valley State University, Grand Rapids Community College and Davenport University.

Fulton has become an activist since her 17-year-old son’s shooting in Florida that provoked widespread discussion about “stand your ground” laws.

Martin was killed by an armed volunteer neighborhood watchman, George Zimmerman, who was later acquitted of second-degree murder charges. Fulton established the Trayvon Martin Foundation to raise awareness of how violent crime impacts families of victims, and to support and advocate for those families.

Fulton will speak first at Grand Valley’s Fieldhouse Arena at 1:30 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 19, the federal holiday honoring the slain civil rights leader. She will join GRCC for its 29th year anniversary celebrating King’s life at 6:30 p.m. in the GRCC Gerald R. Ford Fieldhouse, speaking on the theme “Empowering Our Youth.”

On Tuesday, Jan. 20, she will speak at 10 a.m. at Davenport University at the Sneden Center on the W.A. Lettinga Campus in Grand Rapids.

The colleges collaborate annually on the keynote speaker for the holiday. All King events on the campuses are free and open to the public.

Tracy Martin, left, and Sybrina Fulton, parents of slain teen Trayvon Martin, arrive in court for the first day of the trial of George Zimmerman, accused in the fatal shooting of their son. The photo was taken June 10, 2013 in Seminole Circuit Court in Sanford, Fla.Joe Burbank/ The Orlando Sentinel

Fulton earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Florida Memorial University and worked for the Miami-Dade County Housing Development Agency for more than two decades.

Grand Valley’s commemoration of King’s life and legacy will run January 19-24. A second speaker, Marc Lamont Hill, CNN contributor, author and activist, will speak at the Kirkhof Center on Wednesday, January 21. The time is still being determined. For more information about GVSU activities that week, visit the website.

Monica Scott is the Grand Rapids K-12 education writer. Email her atmscott2@mlive.com and follow her on Twitter @MScottGR or Facebook

Survey Finds Doctors Concerned About Impacts Of Climate Change On Patient Health

Reposted from Huffington Post

WASHINGTON -– American medical professionals specializing in respiratory conditions and critical care are concerned about what climate change may mean for patient health, a new survey finds.

A survey of members of the American Thoracic Society, which represents 15,000 physicians and other medical professionals who work in the fields of respiratory disease, critical care and sleep disorder, finds that the majority of respondents said they were already seeing health effects in their patients that they believe are linked to climate change. Seventy-seven percent said they have seen an increase in chronic diseases related to air pollution, and 58 percent said they’d seen increased allergic reactions from plants or mold. Fifty-seven percent of participants said they’d also seen injuries related to severe weather.

An overwhelming majority — 89 percent — agreed that climate change is happening, and 65 percent said they thought climate change was relevant to direct patient care. Forty-four percent said they thought climate change was already affecting the health of their patients a “great deal” or a “moderate amount.” Strong majorities of respondents also said that heat, vector-borne infections, air pollution and allergies would likely affect patients in the next 10 to 20 years.

Numerous scientific studies have found links between climate change and a variety of health problems.

The survey was conducted by the Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University and will be published in the February edition of the journal Annals of the American Thoracic Society. The center has previously surveyed members of the National Medical Association, a society of African-American physicians, and also plans to survey members of the American Academy of Family Physicians; the American Academy of Pediatrics; and the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.

Dr. Mona Sarfaty, the director of the program on climate and health at the Center for Climate Change Communication and lead author of the paper, said in an interview with The Huffington Post that she was surprised by some of the anecdotes her team heard from physicians who responded to the survey. These included reports of seeing patients whose asthma has gotten worse due to ozone or other pollutant exposure, longer and more severe allergy seasons, and more cases of both acute and chronic lung conditions. Others cited lung problems related to exposure to smoke from wildfires and changes in precipitation and weather patterns that seemed to be affecting patients.

Having doctors engaged and concerned about climate change could help drive public opinion as well, Sarfaty said. “Not too many people personally know a climate scientist,” she pointed out. “But they do know physicians, and physicians are well thought of.”

“Doctors who are treating patients for a living believe they are seeing health effects in patients they are treating today. That brings home the message,” said Gary Ewart, director of government relations at the American Thoracic Society. “Instead of a drowning polar bear issue, it turns into a kitchen-table issue, with real patient care starting to drive the discussion.”

Ewart said the group undertook the survey to see whether members were interested in climate change and what they were seeing in their practices. Seventy-four percent of the survey respondents said they agreed or strongly agreed with the statement that “physicians should have a significant advocacy role in relation to climate change and health,” while 75 percent agreed that medical societies should play an advocacy role.

Sarfaty said that the survey also shows that there is interest among doctors to know more about climate change and how it might impact their work. It “amounts to a call … to provide more information to meet the needs of the doctors,” she said. She noted that many medical organizations are not currently providing information on climate to their members.

Ewart said his group is hoping to change that. “There are a growing [number] of members in my society, and I suspect other societies, that are trying to elevate this as an issue.”

OKT Responds to Urban Food Growing Debate in Muskegon

The Muskegon City Commission on has discussed the sales of produce from urban gardens. This garden is in the McLaughlin Neighborhood. (MLive/Dave Alexander)

The Muskegon City Commission on has discussed the sales of produce from urban gardens. This garden is in the McLaughlin Neighborhood. (MLive/Dave Alexander)

Recently, MLive reported that Muskegon city commissioners are discussing regulating urban food growers. Here is our response.

The City of Muskegon has been debating the issue of what restrictions should be placed on urban growers who want to sell what they grow at local farmers markets. This debate, which is happening nationally, is an important debate, since it could have long term implications for food production and food justice.

On the surface, it seems reasonable for people living in urban spaces to grow food to sell, at either local farmers’ markets or food locations in their communities. Within the current economic framework, selling urban produce makes complete sense and is often one of the only options people have to make a living or supplement their income.

However, important distinctions must be made when talking about this issue. First, it is important to recognize that local communities are being confronted by the power of the Agribusiness sector, especially through their use of the State’s Right to Farm Act. (http://www.michigan.gov/mdard/0,4610,7-125-1599_1605—,00.html) The Right to Farm Act was established in the 1980s and driven by the Agribusiness sector. Thus, there is no surprise that this state law benefits those who are part of the current Agribusiness sector, which is reflected in the endorsement of groups like the Michigan Farm Bureau. (https://www.michfb.com/MI/Farm_Business_Resources/Natural_Resources_and_Environment/Right_to_Farm_Act/)

The second important factor in this discussion, especially from a Food Justice perspective (https://oktable.files.wordpress.com/2014/08/what-is-food-justice-o.pdf), is that within this discussion it is critical for us to ask larger questions about who access to food and who has access to food production, which means who has access to land.

The economic and racial indicators for Muskegon are consistent with what we see in Grand Rapids, albeit with the numbers of those experiencing poverty slightly higher. According to data from Kids Count Michigan, the number of children experiencing poverty in Muskegon County is just above 28%. However, when looking at child poverty through a racial lens, the numbers of African American and Latino children experiencing poverty are both over 30%.

Further data shows that infant mortality among Latino and African American children is also higher, which is another indication that communities of color experience higher levels of poverty than do their White counterparts. Those experiencing poverty will have less access to healthy foods, both because of proximity to healthy food options and because of limited income. Those disproportionately higher levels of poverty in communities of color ultimately mean that health indicators are worse in those communities from a variety of factors, especially food access and diet.

For Our Kitchen Table, it is important that the City of Muskegon is discussing the issue of urban food growing. However, what we think needs to be included in the discussion and action that is taken, are important if food justice is to occur.

Urban food production should primarily benefit those most marginalized in the current Agribusiness food model. This translates into allowing people experiencing poverty access to public land for food production to improve their health. If more people have the opportunity to use public land to grow food, it will not only translate into better health for those experiencing poverty, it will also foster greater awareness about food justice and even challenge the current Agribusiness model, since those involved in urban food growing will see how they have been subjected to a form of food apartheid in Muskegon. What do we mean by food apartheid? The lack of access to healthy and affordable food and the proliferation of processed and fast-food establishments is the result of economic and race-based systems of oppression, which have historically imposed a bad food system on communities of color.

We understand why people who grow in urban settings want the opportunity to sell their produce, but we believe it is more important to make larger structural changes to allow people who are the most marginalized in the current food system the opportunity to benefit from a more just food system that they actually would have a say in.