Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Happy Holidays!!!

Updated on 10 December 2010

I feel as if I’m being drawn into a worm hole wondering if there is light at the end of the tunnel or whether it is just the eye of a storm.

In preparation for my retreat as described below, I updated and reviewed all my blog articles. So, if there was an article that you liked in particular, please check to see if it has been updated.

Because I won’t be using the computer, I also unsubscribed from all unwanted and non-essential emails. I was amazed at how many there were. A New Year’s resolution is to keep the junk mail out of my inbox!

I also went to the local library and borrowed a few simple books to assist with my project as follows:

2. Anam Cara, John O’Donohue

3. The Dhammapada, Anne Bancroft (ed.)

4. The challenge of the mind, Okawa Ryuha

As for my vow of silence, I came across this on the Internet: one of John O’Donohue’s great influences, the German mystic Meister Eckhart, believed that nothing resembles God like silence and O'Donohue suggested that the highly strung character of western life was explained by the absence of silence. "When you acknowledge the integrity of your solitude, and settle into its mystery, your relationships with others take on a new warmth, adventure and wonder." (from the Guardian Obituary for John O'Donohue, author of Anam Cara as mentioned above).

Also, I received an email recently in which it was stated that originally the Festive season was not about being merry and jolly but more about being spiritual/contemplative. So I’m really looking forward to this experience!  But I'm also looking forward to bringing in the New Year with some traditional noise!  Best wishes to all!

Above photo credit - Astonomy Expert on What are Wormholes?

I'm writing to let my readers know that I’ll be going on a 21-day retreat starting on 11 December 2010 and ending on 1 January 2011. So I won’t be reading about agri-food law and policy and related matters or writing on my blog for awhile. I started a winding down process on 30 November to get ready.

This retreat is sort of like hibernating, except I won’t be staying indoors the whole time. The purpose is to take time out to reflect on the year that is ending, contemplate the spiritual relevance of the season, and meditate on positive visions for the future.

During the retreat, I will not be using the computer at all or any phone. I’ll not be shopping or spending money (except what comes out of my account by direct debit!). I will practice yoga and meditation every day, especially with relaxation exercises and breathing techniques. I’ll also take walks in nature and visit my allotment.

Finally, I am taking a vow of silence (already started to practice). This vow is taken in a spiritual sense as an aid to the practice of good, to prevent evil, and even as a wholesome penance. To further keep in the silent mode, I won’t listen to the radio or music and will continue to abstain from TV.

Like a squirrel, I’m stocking up on my organic, whole foods. Unlike the squirrel though, the supply will only be to last for three weeks!! If there's a snow storm here in Peterborough, UK, at least I’ll be prepared for it!

Many thanks for the thousands of pageviews from all over the world since I started in July.  Thanks also for the kind comments.  New comments will be welcome again starting in January.  My blog has been a steep learning curve for me, yet I've enjoyed it very much. I plan to provide more informative, no-nonsense, but hopefully amusing nonetheless posts right through 2011. I’m sure it will be an exciting year for the B'org Food Chain and hope that many will continue to visit my blog often.

Best Wishes for the Joyous Season!!!

Lots of Love X

Photo credit – Nasa, A star cluster in the Small Magellanic Cloud

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Biodiversity and Environmental Philosophy, An Introduction

Biodiversity and Environmental Philosophy, An Introduction (2005)
by Sahotra Sarkar, Cambridge University Press, 258 pp including Index  (Cambridge Studies in Philosophy and Biology)

In this book, Sarkar presents a mostly interesting and analytical way of approaching biodiversity conservation. It is technical though and he often uses algebraic formulas to support his philosophical debate. He emphasizes “that biodiversity conservation is as much a socio-political issue as a scientific one.” But his book seems more geared for the scientist.

As mentioned in my Positive Visions for Biodiversity article, Sarkar discusses the conundrum of whether capturing certain human values can be thought of in demand terms. I can now confirm that he defends the position that biodiversity is similar to human freedom, or love, in the sense that it is far too important to be treated in the marketplace, or in other words, given intrinsic value. On the other hand, he proposes an anthropocentric position based on the concept of transformative value which incorporates the potential experiences species provide for us and their scientific interest.

The most important consideration for incorporation into conservation biology of the future, Sarkar claims, is uncertainty quantitatively. I have to admit that this makes no sense to me, anymore than his algebraic formulas. Also, I think that his transformative valuation is as unsatisfactory as an intrinsic valuation in the market place. But, I would hasten to add, that if one is involved in making the determination of where to site reserves for biological conservation, Sarkar gives a logical mode for tackling this problem.  He also admirably sets the framework for further intellectual development in this area.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Cloning Craze

Updated on 8 December 2010

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) published the news on its website on 7 December 2010, that it will be advising ministers that applications for food from cloned animals should be processed under the novel foods regulation.  It will also be suggesting that food from the descendents of cloned animals does not need any special consideration, including labelling to inform the consumer of how these animals were produced.  What information, if any, to be released to the public, is to be discussed with Defra.

I wrote the poem below, which some may not understand, but it expresses my sentiments about this situation to a tee and I explain it now.  The purpose of cloned animals is to make more money.  Animals that are reared to fit a particular form and size facilitate food production and the putting of it in on the market.  That may be all very well as many would argue.  It may even be the case that the food is safe, at least as far as we can tell for now.  The overriding problem, as I see it, is that by reproducing farm animals in this manner, their genetic diversity will be lessened.  Genetic diversity is how organisms survive, especially those at the higher level of the evolutionary ladder.

This is the first step down the road to making animals like our vegetables, fruit and grains, the diversity of which we have already significantly decreased.  The more we make our food the same, the more likely it will be that it will be wiped out by disease or climate change.  It is indeed sad to read that the Food Standards Agency is bent on moving in this direction.  The one small glimmer of hope comes from the statement that the Advisory Committee on Novel Foods at least will be looking into the effect of different environments on the food from cloned animals.  But it is such a small glimmer of hope.

I shudder to think of scientists tinkering with these animals and the suffering caused because of it.  Are the scientists mad?  Whether they are or not, they are being encouraged by politicians, farmers and everyone who supports this type of innovation.  Without information, it will be difficult, if not impossible, for the consumer to have a say in the matter.  I hope that the organic certification continues to ban food from cloned animals, but the forecast is still gloomy.

To put cloning in context
We need to drop all pretext
Or soon be candidates for Bedlam
Where life is nothing but a flimflam.

Clones are similar in every detail
Making it easier to sell by retail.
Is our reason under a cloud?
This calamity makes me shout out loud!

To better describe the schism
Between delusion of profit and realism,
Cloned animals are part of monofarming
With long-term risks that are alarming.

Cloning is extreme inbreeding
Diminishing diversity without heeding
Conjured up by cloddish boffins
Leading to nowhere but our coffins.

We are in a cloning craze
Moving at furious speed in a daze.
Climate change and lack of rain
May explain this calenture of brain.

Mad scientists are surely to blame
But money is culpable for our aim.
Mind you, mine is not a crank call
But on deaf ears it seems to fall.

Photo Credit - Warp Speed Kills

PS  This poem was inspired by my attendance at the novel foods committee meeting at the Food Standards Agency on 25 November 2010 and the subsequent news that was published about cloned animals in the food chain.

Friday, 26 November 2010

The ACNFP is Unbiased – Hypothetically Speaking

Updated on 11 November 2010 regarding the ACNFP Meeting and on  1 December 2010 with new concluding paragraph

The title to this article is a take-off on the Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes (ACNFP) news flash on 25 November 2010 following the Open Committee Meeting in the morning at the Food Standards Agency (FSA) in London. The news was that Cloned Meat Is Safe – Hypothetically Speaking. I was at the Workshop in the afternoon and raised the point that cloned animals and their progeny do not fall under the current Novel Foods regulation as stated on the Europa website, but this was waved off as a difference of opinion! (For more information, please see my posts with links: FSA Makes Law on Cloned Animals, Beware of Cloned Animals and Letter to my MP regarding Cloned Animals.)

On 30 November 2010, I received an email from the ACNFP clarifying that the hypothetical application mentioned in the Workshop was discussed in the Open Committee Meeting which I am told was attended by Andrew Wadge, the FSA Chief Scientist, as well as, a number of public observers.  I was previously unaware of the morning Meeting even though I was signed up for the Workshop as it was not well publicised.

Later in the day on 30 November 2010 in a separate email from the ACNFP, I was advised that the papers for the morning Meeting are available on the ACNFP website: ACNFP Agenda and Papers: 25 November 2010. If I had known this beforehand, I would have read them before the Workshop and been better prepared.  At any rate, I invite the reader to refer to them if interested.

The ACNFP seems to have time on its hands in order to be able to consider a hypothetical application along with its usual workload. Since the government is keen to make cutbacks, I would suggest that the FSA and its committees be reconsidered for further savings.  But it also seems that the government is keen to explore this market and no such cutbacks will be forthcoming.

With exercises such as this hypothetical application assessment, the moratorium on cloned animals also seems to be hypothetical because if a moratorium was in the works, the FSA would not be disseminating this sort of information.   I expressed my concerns in a poem called Cloning Craze.

But back to the Workshop, the cloning issue was saved for the last just before the open question time. The Workshop had a good start though. A few speakers explained the work carried out by the ACNFP, and it was all interesting. However, one comment I noted was that many consumers are perceived as mixed up, basically uninformed buffoons that are unable to departmentalise information and come to right-minded opinions about science and technology in the food industry. But of course, it is the scientists, politicians and big business people that are the ones prone to fuzzy logic, not the average consumers who tend to be a tad less high tech.

In attendance were 33 business people, 7 from universities, 3 unaffiliated (including me), two from other government departments and one other. The business people included researchers, various health services representatives, and employees from Pfizer and the British Soft Drinks Association. This was evidence in action of the audience the ACNFP must cater to - business people wanting to use novel food and novel food ingredients in their products.

After the presentations, we split up into three groups for round table discussions:

Group A – The addition of biologically active substances to food
Group B – The contribution of novel foods to food security and sustainability
Group C – Public attitudes to innovation and risk

I chose Group C as I thought it might be the least controversial of the three, especially because I have very strong opinions about the first two issues and was not seeking to press them on anyone. Unfortunately, my group seemed bent on discussing nanotechnology, which was raised and kept in play throughout the session, especially by the British Soft Drinks Association representative. She was so vocal (despite declaring something wrong with her voice – possibly just overuse) that I thought she was a member of the ACNFP at first!

Nanotechnology, it was claimed was based on natural processes and nothing to take exception to. I asked for this to be explained and was told that nanomaterials are natural and engineering them is not seen as unnatural. The message was that consumers need to get with it!! I’d rather they kept out of my life with their nano manipulations, because as super as Seven of Nine was with her nanoprobes in Star Trek, I prefer being 100% human to being part Borg any day, thanks very much. But, scientists will continue to meddle with our food in the name of progress and the government is continuing to facilitate this activity.

Another point that came up was that everyone in the room was a consumer. But some consumers are more easily persuaded than others.  To show what I have in mind, I will briefly explain the difference in consumer status between people from a few employment affiliations.

For a start, take the military where a person is a soldier first and citizen second. This is one of the most drastic examples. Basic human rights may be denied for the sake of the battle, such as the right to life. Other rights are often set aside as well, such as the right to bear children. Do as you’re told and no questioning authority are drummed into recruits.  This type of consumer is prone to following advertisements and not questioning anything that has an authoritative ring about it.

Using a slightly different scenario, scientists involved in the novel food business are employees first and individuals second. If what’s best for the organisation is not best for the employee personally, the employee will comply or face the consequences.  It would seem logical that these employees would support the consumption of novel foods, regardless of any personal reservations.

The management of big companies are also prone to supporting innovative products and ever increasing consumption because they have more money and MBAs from top upstanding learning institutions where it is taught to promote anything that makes a profit and externalise everything else. In addition, this is why many business people cannot be trusted and need lots of laws and lawyers.  The issue of externalisation came up at the end of the Workshop with the comment that businesses dealing in novel foods should not be penalised by sustainability issues that are not legal requirements.  Seeing as it had not filtered down to this neck of the woods yet, I brought the TEEB report (The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity) for business to everyone's attention.

And finally, who leads the army? The government, of course. And they obviously lead business too. This is why, for the most part, we cannot trust the government either. If you can't trust them, how can you believe them? So the One Straw Revolution, which is about living a simple life in a natural, harmonious and peaceful manner, appeals to me once again.

What with the Government being partners in business as concluded in the book EU Policy, engaged in the Responsibility Deal as recently explained in the House of Lords and being advised by the likes of the FSA (with the ACNFP and other scientists), I hope that more consumers (whether in a big organisation or not) wake up soon to the fact that they are being sucked in, assimilated and used up in order to feed the Borg-like economic machine.

With a lot of business pressure and little to none from unaffiliated consumers or consumer groups, the ACNFP is hardly a buffer, despite the innate desire of members to be unbiased and fair. Along with the FSA, they are easily pressed into the position of being facilitators and promoters of business in novel foods and food ingredients, the vast majority of which are highly processed creations of over fertile minds.

My conclusion is that the ACNFP cannot adequately serve consumers because they are geared to serve certain businesses whose products are primarily to make a profit, not to promote human welfare.  It's in the nature of the business (commercial activity involving the exchange of money for novel foods), but not in the business of nature (the food chain activity which is not clearly described or defined).

Photo 1 credit - chickow clone that produces eggs and milk all in one go! --
                            hypothetically speaking!

Photo 2 credit - Seven of Nine drone

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Food Wars - Book Review

Food Wars, the Global Battle for Mouths, Minds and Markets
by Tim Lang and Michael Heasman (2004) 365 pages including Index

“There is hardly anything in the world which some man cannot make a little worse and sell a little cheaper, and the people who buy on price only are this man’s lawful prey.”
John Ruskin (1819 – 1900)

Very statistics laden presentation starting with a declaration that food and beverage product choices have risen globally to 25,000 products in the average supermarket with more than 20,000 new packaged foods and beverages in 2002 alone (p 11). This is indeed a significant number compared to my most recent one from the book EU Policy of 10,000 in 1995 in a typical retail store up from 550 in 1954 as compiled by the European Commission in 2007!  But statistics, being what they are, may or may not add validity to the arguments. Nonetheless, many valid points are made throughout the book and the statistics provide clear defining strokes to the overall picture giving it dimension. There are also many charts and graphs to assist the reader.

On the other hand, some of what the authors discuss is self-evident to me, but maybe not for everyone. For instance, food policy is obviously contested when divergent interests are at stake. And obviously, we are where we are because of policy choices made in the past including funding, setting research priorities, education, trade rules, and the legal framework adopted. But setting out the obvious may be helpful as a reminder that what we do today is shaping our future and we can use the past as an indicator of what direction we are going in.

The authors take an interesting frame for their analysis using three paradigms (see Chapter One):

(1) the Productionist paradigm – current one which is based on quantity to achieve profit at all costs;

(2) the Life Sciences Integrated paradigm – uses biological sciences for advancements (e.g., see my article Nestlé Proposes Band-Aid) and dominated by transnational corporations such as Pharmacia (Monsanto), DuPont, Syngenta, Bayer and Dow (p 179); and

(3) the Ecologically Integrated paradigm – in which public health is based on prevention rather than cure on an environmental, not just societal basis (p 103).

If implemented, the Ecologically Integrated paradigm would block the Productionist paradigm. For example, the alternative to preventing illness is to cure it which is another part of the Productionist paradigm as a source of employment and profit. The two stand against one another and it is only because the Productionist paradigm is proving to be so inadequate that other paradigms are being considered. As mentioned by the authors, the Life Sciences Integrated paradigm has some potential of following in the footsteps of the Productionist paradigm, but the authors explain the nuances that separate them (although I remain to be convinced).

Some points were interesting because of the connection that can be made with today’s policy. Corporate powers are indeed shaping food policy agendas as much as public policy (p 126). This is particularly important due to the continued growth of corporate power due to acquisitions, mergers, joint ventures, partnerships, contracts and other types of agreements (p 144). As I discussed in my blog article Debate in the House of Lords on Obesity Comes to Fat End, the government is now busy implementing the Responsibility Deal (government working in partnership with corporations). Also pointed out by the authors, a call for consumer responsibility is still a favourite for government shedding its own responsibility. In addition, the authors claim that “only about one-fifth of the world’s 6 billion people are able to participate in the cash or consumer credit economy that modern food capitalism thrives on,” but that corporations work in clusters to overcome this. The expansion of capitalism would also serve corporate interests though.

Another such point was about the Food Standards Agency (FSA). Since I did not live in England at the time, I was very amused to read that just after its creation in 2000, the FSA launched a public attack on organic food!! I have several entries about the more recent FSA attack on this blog: FSA Chief Executive's letter on organic food, Letter to Tim Smith, Chief Executive, Food Standards Agency, Report for the Food Standards Agency, Organic Food Is More Nutritious Say EU Researchers, and Full Circle with the FSA on Nutritional Viability of Organic Food.

The authors do not mention Nestlé as being at the forefront of changing in response to health and social demands, but rather, Coca-Cola and Unilever. However, as far as I can tell, they are all up to the same thing using various methods of exploitation and manipulation including psychology, advertising and emotional appeal (p 159). Another side of this coin of twisting things about is acknowledgement that some business practices are against the public interest, but found to be still ‘securing a good deal’ for the consumer (p 165).

Nestlé is mentioned though with reference to the organic market. The authors make the statement that in 2003 the organic market was valued at less than half of the total sales of Nestlé. Although Nestlé is the biggest food company in the world, it is still only one company among many and that puts the size of the organic sector in real perspective (p 175)!  Hardly worth the FSA's attention I would have thought!

The authors state that “... there is good evidence that the vegetarian diet can be entirely satisfactory for health” (p.248) and an article by TAB Sanders (1999) is used as justification. I checked this reference and would take this opportunity to add a caution because it is such an important point. First of all, Sanders begins on the premise that because of the mess that our food supply is in, we should simply avoid eating certain foods, such as meat because it is pumped full of chemicals and reared unethically and fish because of over fishing. It would make more sense for our health to correct the food production system than to change diet for these failures of the market. Secondly, for brevity’s sake, I will only mention one nutrient that is important to human health and only found in meat and fish, i.e., Vitamin B12. The solution to this problem offered by Sanders is to eat foods that are fortified with vitamin B12, such as Marmite and breakfast cereals. All I will say here is that this solution entails dependence on man to artificially supplement the diet instead of getting the required nutrients from nature as nature intended. It is another example of humans thinking they can do better than nature, or even live without nature, instead of living within natural parameters.

Also, in conclusion, I was not overly impressed by the policy options offered for the future:

• do nothing and allow ‘market forces’ to run their course;

• look to corporate solutions;

• frame market conditions; and

• empower civil society to demand and consume differently (p 304).

New alliances with greater choices and business opportunities? The do nothing option is undesireable because corporate power is out of control.  See my book review on Corporate Power in Global Agrifood Governance for signs of this.  'Market forces' are destroying the planet.  So looking to the corporations for solutions is an unlikely place to find them. Frame the market conditions is another form of the Responsibility Deal, or Corporate Finagling.  And empowering civil society? The only way that can be done really is to give everyone a big bag of money (re-distribute wealth) so that we all have equal voting power in the market.  But the last option is the best, even if it is a big challenge.

Meanwhile, as the wars continue to rage, our food, health, biodiversity and the environment continue to be the casualties! The authors do call for peace in the end by stating that “the goal of food and health policy surely must be for humanity to be at one with nature” (p 307). Policy that reflected reality, the reality that we are one with nature, would be a nice change!!

Saturday, 20 November 2010

A Not So Sweet Holiday Treat

Updated on 4 December 2010

GMO Sugar Beet Seeds Must Be Destroyed was reported in the United States Agriculture & Food Law and Policy Blog on 2 December 2010.  It seems a sweet holiday treat is in store after all, sweet in the sense that the law will be upheld.

USDA Proposing Interim Planting of Illegal, Genetically Engineered Sugar Beets: Tell USDA To Say No! This is the news and there is a petition attached to the link. Although it is in the US, I think anyone can sign it, as I did. I think it is important to sign this petition because it is an attempt to halt the further erosion of democracy. Not only are transnational corporations (TNCs) such as Monsanto influencing government policy, with this as an example, they are usurping the law as well. This affects everyone. Our rights are at stake here whether we are pro-GM or not, and whether we simply want more research and scientific evidence or not. For the sake of upholding democracy which stands for human dignity, it is important to support efforts to stop this commercial planting of GM sugar beets in the US until proper compliance of legal requirements have been fulfilled.

To help the reader understand the seriousness of the opposition to the USDA acting according to the law, I would point out that TNCs are on a par with regiments in an army. They will sacrifice life in order to win the battle. Everyone in the world is needed to stand strong to protect life, freedom and the democratic way from destructive corporate advances.

America, the land of the free, is under attack once again.

See also:  Court critical of USDA planting push for GMO beets

and Judge Revokes Approval of Modified Sugar Beets

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Positive Visions for Biodiversity

Well, I didn’t win the comics contest, no surprise there, but at least some of the proposed significant changes that I voted for came through in the top 20 list as I will briefly explain below. Also, many of these proposed changes reflected the messages I had incorporated in my comic.

Packed with activities and good food that we were assured was mostly local and organic, the two day meeting for Positive Visions for Biodiversity was a success. And of course, there were boxes of Belgian chocolates to keep us going! Over 200 participants from 43 countries and varied professions gathered in Brussels to brain storm and share ideas for reversing the steady downward slope for loss of the diversity of life on the planet since 1970.

The program was well organised and supported by many volunteers as well as excellent technology. It ran smoothly. The dinner at the Royal Belgian Institute on the first day was a real treat. We were able to sample many varieties of foods while at the same time admiring some of the now extinct species that have been part of our planet’s ever changing biodiversity.

One of my favourite quotes that came out of the first day after we had spent some quiet time “dreaming a new future” was this:

"FOOD: look into the eyes of what we eat and confront the existence of death. This is what attaches us to nature."

The Preliminary Report is a brief compilation of the results from the two-day meeting. It includes some of the ideas from the participants and pictures too. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, I’m not in any of the photos! But my table from the second day is on page seven which shows us getting our goals and steps to achieve sustainable food production, using minimum energy and resources onto the flip chart for the vote later in the day. We were limited to two sub-themes: (1) food production as it applies to the ecosystem approach, which was to guarantee the maintenance of landscapes that function to conserve biodiversity and (2) full consumer awareness of how food is produced and what effect its production has on the environment/biodiversity (the ecological footprint) – and they select food based on these factors rather than on price alone.

One perceived shortcoming of the event was that I was not able to stick to a theme on both days but was given one theme the first day and then allowed to select the theme of my choice the second day. I say this was a shortcoming because on the first day, I was working on the issue of overpopulation with one group of people and then on the second day, I was working on my choice of the food issues theme, but it was put together by others and I was working with a new group. I did not find the food theme inspiring, but limiting, even after clarification that we did not have to constrict ourselves to the strict meaning of the terms.

The end result was not too disappointing though in that at least one of the two food themes I supported was voted tops. Even if it may seem unrealistic, it is definitely a positive vision for food and quite possible:

"In 20 years, all agriculture and aquaculture will be sustainable (organic, permaculture, integrated agriculture, etc)."

As in the other winning food theme, I was not impressed by the incorporation of environmental costs to products in order to ensure sustainability because I have difficulty with putting a value on nature. In Biodiversity and Environmental Philosophy, Sahotra Sarkar discusses the conundrum of whether capturing certain human values can be thought of in demand terms. (Book review now available here.)

And as for the messages from my comic, education was a very popular idea as was growing food plants in gardens, as well as, window boxes and on flat roofs in cities! With the determination to do away with monoculture and conventional farming, Monsanto will either have to find new products or go into liquidation as envisioned in my comic. And finally, less cars, more underground transportation and less moving about in general means that clear roads, even roads planted with vegetation, will spring up as I partly suggested as well.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Nature Rules, Not Monsanto

This is my comic that I submitted to the Comics Contest as part of the Positive Visions for Biodiversity (16-19 November 2010) in Brussels, Belgium. It’s a little hard to see here, but a better view can be had by clicking it.  I would like to take this opportunity to fill in the details of my comic.

Because of the complexity of the tree-top that is full of sequences of letters and numbers, I will come back to it at the end.

The first box shows a boy and girl sitting on a sofa in the living room watching the global news broadcast where they learn that “following the recent trend, Monsanto has gone into liquidation today...” There is also a ladybird at the side of the sofa watching as well. The sequences in the tree-top all have to do with Monsanto’s products except for one, which I explain below.

In the next box, we see the boy and girl standing in the hallway about to go out. The boy says “I learned that Monsanto was very bad for biodiversity in my ‘Keep it Natural Science Class.” A spider is crawling up his web on the ceiling at the right to a bug that is caught at the top. The boy’s statement shows that his school is independent and able to teach him about a negative side of the market and not just ignoring it or promoting corporate activities. And finally, his science class is concerned with nature.

Moving down to the third box, the children are walking down the street. There are no cars in sight, only someone on a bicycle. And there are lots of trees and plants all around. The boy then says “And I’ve got to grow 5 food plants in the garden this summer”. One of my positive visions for the future is for every child to have the opportunity to grow plants that can be eaten, whether in a garden at home, school or in the community. If I had another box, I would have added that he had to cook a dish with the plants for a cookery class because I believe every child should learn to cook at school too.

In the final box, the two children have reached their destination, a nearby park. The girl says “That’s easy, I’ve got to draw 5 different types of bee for my art class”. This education will not only teach her about creative expression, but focus attention on the detail and differences between life forms even of the same species. She says that the boy’s task is easy compared to hers because she may struggle to find 5 different types of bee living in her neighbourhood, but also because of the challenge to show the small differences between the bees in a drawing. There’s a bee in the bottom of this box winking.

So now to the tree with the smiling worm under it ...

The tree represents the tree of life. The one thing in the tree that does not relate to Monsanto’s products is OWL with the eyes above, which represents an owl! The owl is a symbolic creature which among other things means wisdom, although since I originally wrote this article, I have learned that the owl is more often the symbol of such things as death, destruction, bad omens, and dark powers.  Very fitting even if I wasn't aware of it at the time (strange coincidence).  But anyway, what of the rest? Here’s the scoop:

Monsanto was established in 1901 in St Louis, Missouri where it still has its headquarters. It began with the manufacture of saccharin and then vanillin and caffeine, which it supplied to Coca-Cola. Monsanto next became the largest American producer of aspirin up until the 1980s. With its first acquisition in 1918, it took on a company that made sulfuric acid, a strong mineral acid with the molecular formula H2SO4 which was the start of a shift to industrial products.

According to its website, it is now located in 82 countries, has approximately 22,000 regular employees and sells seeds, traits developed through biotechnology, and crop protection chemicals “to support farmers.” The company appears to have grown quite a bit over the last three years because the 2007 statistics from The World According to Monsanto by Marie-Monique Robin (2010) show 17,500 employees in 46 countries (p. 3). By looking at the Company’s history on its website, one can see how it has grown through recent acquisitions.

Perhaps the most noteworthy part of its history is its merger in 2000 with Pharmacia & Upjohn Inc., creating a company that, for the moment had a market cap of more than $50 billion.

Despite its growth and size, Monsanto has seen its stocks dip recently from the high in mid-2008 of $140 per share to $47 in October 2010. But whether or not this is a sign that my positive vision of the company going into liquidation will come true, only time will tell.

Monsanto is a controversial company for many reasons. Besides its relentless growth strategy, controversial products and hard-nosed business tactics, perhaps the most noteworthy fact is that the company owns 90 percent of all patented seeds.

The company’s slogan is “Food, Health, and Hope.” Regardless of its slogan, profit is its raison d’être and some of its nefarious products (or means of making profit), past and present are described below with reference to the symbols and acronyms in my comic’s tree top.


PCBs, C12H10-xClx, CAS number 1336-36-3, polychlorinated biphenyls are a class of organic compounds with 1 to 10 chlorine atoms attached to biphenyl, which is a molecule composed of two benzene rings. “[T]hey were used as coolants in electric transformers, in industrial hydraulic machines but also as lubricants in applications as varied as plastics, paint, ink, and paper” (Robin, p.11).

Robin relates the story of how Monsanto knew that PCBs presented a serious health risk as early as 1937, but continued to manufacture and market PCBs until the ban in 1977 (Chapter 1). A Swedish scientist, Soren Jensen did research in 1966 which showed that PCBs "bioaccumulate along the food chain." PCBs were said to be equally poisonous to DDT, which was also manufactured by Monsanto on a large scale (and should be in the tree top too).

TCDD, C12H4Cl4O2. or 2,3,7,8- is, according to Green Facts “one of the most potent toxic dioxins and used as a reference for all other dioxins. 1,2,3,7,8-Pentachlorodibenzodioxin is of a similar potency, while the other members of the subset are 10–10,000 times less toxic.” This molecule is a pure product of industrial activity which has been synthetically reproduced and used to produce insecticides such as 2,4,5-trichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4,5-T) and 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D).

Monsanto began manufacturing 2,4,5-T in 1948 in Nitro, West Virginia (Robin, p.36). Monsanto also manufactured Agent Orange, the most toxic chemical weapon used in the Vietnam War by the United States. It was introduced in 1965 and made of half 2,4,5-T and 2,4-D (Robin, p.41).

C3H3NO5P is the chemical formulation for glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s herbicide called Roundup. It destroys all forms of vegetation. The plants absorb the chemical through the leaves which is carried by the sap to the roots and rhizomes where it inhibits an enzyme essential for the synthesizing of aromatic amino acids. This leads to a decrease in the activity of chlorophyll as well as of certain enzymes, which causes the necrosis of tissue and leads to the death of the plant (Robin, p. 70).

C4-C12 – petrol, also known as gasoline, consists of hydrocarbons with between 4 and 12 carbon atoms per molecule – hence, C4-C12. Many of the hydrocarbons consist of hazardous chemicals. Of course, petrol is produced from oil and we all know that oil is becoming harder and harder to come by.

Petrol is used in the machines which are needed to spray Monsanto’s herbicides and pesticides. It is used in the tractors to plough the vast fields of monoculture GMOs produced with Monsanto’s seeds and other machinery around an industrial farm.

MMT, methylcyclopentadienyl manganese tricarbonyl (MMT or MCMT) is an organomanganese compound with the formula (CH3C5H4)Mn(CO)3. MMT is manufactured by the global corporation Afton Chemical which produces petroleum additives that enhance the performance of lubricating oils and fuels to enhance their performance in machinery, vehicles, and other equipment. According to Afton Chemical, over 150 refiners in 45 countries in Europe, Africa, Asia, Central and South America, as well as the United States and Canada, currently use mmt® to produce high quality gasoline.

With copper corrosion inhibitor, gear oil additive package, and antiwear agents sold under the name of HiTec from Afton Chemical and another component called a foam inhibitor or acrylic defoamer material, PC-2244 from Monsanto, farmers can have their JCB tractors, Caterpillar harvesters, herbicide/pesticide sprayer trailers, and for the really big operations herbicide/pesticide sprayer planes, maintained in top operating order.


GMOs, I have written an article about the terminology of genetically modified organisms which can be accessed here.

In 2005, Monsanto’s GM crops accounted for more than 90 percent of the estimated 222 million acres grown around the world (Corporate Power in Global Agrifood Governance, Clapp, 2010, p.229). In 2007, despite all the ‘troubles’ discussed in Clapp (2010) Chapter 8, such as anti-GM campaigning, GM crops spread to a further 28 million acres, again with 90 percent of the total 250 million acres having genetic traits patented by Monsanto (Robin, 2010, p.4). The rest of the abbreviations in the tree top branch out from GMOs.

DNA, that is, deoxyribonucleic acid, is a nucleic acid that contains the genetic instructions used in the development and functioning of all known living organisms with the exception of some viruses. The DNA is comprised of segments in a double helix including gene sequences which carry the information needed to construct other components of cells, such as proteins and RNA molecules.

Biotechnology corporations such as Monsanto seek to patent gene sequences and even fragments of gene sequences. If it can be shown that a process is new, involves an inventive step and is capable of an industrial application, a patent is likely to be granted (Genetics, Molecular Biology and the Law, p.165).

rDNA, Recombinant DNA is artificially created by microbiologists taking gene sequences from one organism and forcing them into another.

As an example of an rDNA product, I give Monsanto’s Roundup Ready soybean that was officially launched in 1993. The Roundup tolerant soybean gene cassette took “700,000 hours and an $80 million investment” to attain this genetic construct including the gene of interest (CP4 EPSPS – could have put this in the tree top too), the promoter 35S from the cauliflower mosaic virus and two other fragments of DNA derived from the petunia intended to control the production of the protein (as quoted in Robin, p.140).

RNA, Ribonucleic acid is essential for all forms of life. It comprises a long chain of components similar to DNA except RNA is mostly single-stranded. RNA molecules adopt very complex three-dimensional structures. Also, all organisms use messenger RNA (mRNA) to carry the genetic information that directs the synthesis of proteins.

Monsanto is using RNA technology and explains how it continues to investigate the use of RNA interference (RNAi) to improve plants used for food and feed on its website. Monsanto also tells us that “RNAi gene-specific studies on selected, agronomically important organisms may be necessary to address effects on non-target species such as nematodes or insects which are not inherently resistant to RNAi mediated by exogenous RNA.”

SNPs are single nucleotide polymorphisms (pronounced “snips”), and the most common type of genetic variation among people. “Each SNP represents a difference in a single DNA building block, called a nucleotide ... and may help scientists locate genes that are associated with disease.” SNPs can also be used as a novel genetic marker in plants.

Monsanto Company and Genaissance teamed up with the USDA to map the soybean genome with the aim of improving soybeans in 2005. The project's intent was to map the SNPs along with pre-existing SSR (simple sequence repeat) markers. The research was made available to U.S. soy breeders and geneticists.

Monsanto also used SNP technology in 2004 to improve pork. In addition, Monsanto and USDA scientists published an article titled an SNP haplotype associated with a gene resistant to Xanthomonas axonopodis pv. malvacearum in upland cotton in 2009.

ESTs or expressed sequence tags are “a short sub-sequence of a transcribed complimentary DNA (cDNA) sequence. They may be used to identify gene transcripts, and are instrumental in gene discovery and gene sequence determination. The identification of ESTs has proceeded rapidly, with approximately 65.9 million ESTs now available in public databases (e.g., GenBank 18/6/2010, all species).”

“EST collections have been derived from plants subjected to appropriate abiotic stresses” as was reported in a 2005 story about genomic bioprospecting in indigenous and exotic plants through EST discovery. The Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit heard arguments from Monsanto Corporation on the patentability of ESTs. (In re Fisher, Fed. Cir., No. 04-1465; May 3, 2005.)

According to the New Internationalist magazine in 1991, Monsanto was looking for up to a 1,000 medicinal plants used by the Jivaro peoples on the Brazilian-Peruvian border and the knowledge of the people who discovered them. Monsanto also used a plant known as “tiki uba” with anti-coagulant properties and then sought to patent the genetic make-up of the plant (Biodiversity, p. 67).

GURT is short for Genetic Use Restriction Technology, otherwise known as terminator technology. As the name suggests, it is a technique used in genetically modified plants to render the seeds from the plants sterile so that corporate interests can be protected.

V-GURT is where the plant variety produces sterile seeds so that farmers need to purchase seeds for future planting.

T-GURT is a second type of restriction at trait level. A crop is modified so that the genetic enhancement engineered into the crop does not function until the crop plant is treated with a chemical that is sold by the biotechnology company. Farmers can save seeds for use each year. However, they do not get to use the enhanced trait in the crop unless they purchase the activator compound.

GURT may be taken a step further with the so also called Zombie technology or reversible transgenic sterility. These genetically modified plants would require a chemical application to trigger seed fertility every year.

Monsanto made a pledge back in 1999 not to use terminator technology. Today, Monsanto’s pledge is that it will not commercialize sterile seed technology in food crops. However, in 2007, Monsanto acquired Delta and Pine Land which owned jointly with the US a patent titled, Control of Plant Gene _Expression - Patent No. 5,723,765 granted by the US Patent Office in March 1998. This patent is for cotton, a non-food crop and whether or not Monsanto used it in the 2009 Deltapine Class of 10 with six new cotton varieties is not evident, but seems likely. But at any rate, as long as Monsanto is in business, the terminator technology is looming which doesn’t bode at all well for biodiversity.

Friday, 12 November 2010

UK Department of Health on Regulating Nutrition

Updated on 5 December 2010

I received a reply to my further email to the Department of Health which I have appended to this post. In my email (which is also set out below), I suggested that the government make healthy foods cheaper than junk food as a method of improving the nation's health.  I used three types of yogurt to discuss the fact that even a so-called healthy option can range from healthy to junk.

The reply focuses on the law in relation to labelling foods and I have added a link to this legislation for ease of reference.  It is apparent that at this time the government does not intend to analysise foods on the market to determine which are the real healthy option and ensure that the price of same is lower than foods that should officially be classified as junk.

I do not place much faith in labels.  I partly explain this in my article about labelling fast food in the US.  But besides the limited amount of information provided in small print, different sized portions and even different nutrients are used between products making them hard to compare.

If we are to gain any momentum in restoring the health of the nation, the government needs to crack down on the junk foods that are continuing to proliferate in the market.  I've written a strong article about Nestlé, the largest food company in the world, expressing my dismay at this company moving into disease prevention in its new products.

The problem stems from corporate law.  Rather than going into partnership with corporations to improve public health with the Responsibility Deal, the government needs to put them in their place.  But maybe the government needs to be put in its place too?  As indicated in my article on the House of Lords discussion on these issues, there is much concern being expressed, especially about the obesity pandemic, but it is not filtering into effective action.

Thursday, 11 November, 2010 14:14
From: ""
To: J. Wilson
Message contains attachments: 2 Files (10KB)
Our ref: DE00000558448

Thank you for your email of 25 October about the debate in the House of Lords on 7 October on the role of regulation and guidance in improving nutritional outcomes for adults and children. I have been asked to reply.

I was interested in reading your blog on the debate, the details of which I have forwarded to policy officials so that they are aware of your views.

The Government is concerned about the rise is obesity levels and will be publishing a Public Health White Paper towards the end of the year. The Department wants people to know that they can change their lifestyle and make a difference to their health. To improve public health, the Department needs to find new ways of supporting people to change their behaviour.

The Secretary of State for Health has said that he wants the Government, businesses, charities, non-government organisations and local government to work together to improve the long-term health of the public by addressing the challenges to the nation’s health caused by poor diet and lack of exercise.

As you are aware, the Department is working with food companies as part of the Public Health Responsibility Deal. It wants to encourage industry to take action which will support and enable the public to make informed, balanced, healthy choices.

Yours sincerely,

Edward Corbett
Customer Service Centre
Department of Health
If you would like to view our performance against our quarterly service targets, please visit our website:-

Dear Mr Corbett

Thank you for your reply email letter. And thank you for forwarding my blog article to policy officials. With reference to your email, I would reply as follows.

I spoke to a young woman yesterday (11/11/10) who was working in the Peterborough City Library. She seemed like a reasonably educated person, relatively young and appeared to be in good health. I asked her if she was aware of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) because I had some leaflets that I wanted to leave in the library for reference but was told by the manager that I could not do this. She said no that she had not heard about GMOs and she did not want a leaflet even though I had not offered her one. I then asked was she not interested in what was in her food. She said that if she knew, she might not want to eat it. She also said that her wage was low and she could not afford to be choosy.

I also spoke to my neighbours last week and found out that they shop in Asda because they can easily save £10 to £20 a shop compared to Tesco. They are a young couple, just married with a child on the way and both appear to be in good health. They both have good jobs. But not only do they shop for the cheapest food prices generally, they buy plain label store brand items to save further.

You say that the Department of Health wants to find new ways of supporting people to change their behaviour and I would say the answer to that one is simple. The Government should make healthy options cheaper and unhealthy options more expensive.

Besides the financing issue, the tricky part is deciding what a healthy option is, but much of it really isn’t rocket science. I would like to take this opportunity to compare 3 types of yogurt because it is generally perceived to be a healthy option. However, one is high in fat which to some means that it is unhealthy (although not to others such as me). The second option has high sugar content. And the third product, sold in Australia (and hopefully not coming to the UK) is not even real food but reconstituted bits of food with all kinds of additives and sugars.

1. Yeo Valley Organic Greek Style Natural Probiotic Yogurt contains only organic whole milk.

2. Nestlé’s Ski Apricot yogurt contains Low Fat Yogurt, Apricot 10%, Sugar, Rice Starch, Lemon Juice Concentrate, Natural Flavouring, Thickener: Guar Gum, Lactic Cultures.

3. Nestle’s Peach Mango Diet Yogurt contains Skim Milk, water, Milk Solids, fruit 7%(Peach [4.5%], mango puree[2.5%]), gelatine, Fructose, Vegetable Gums (440,415,412), Flavours, Acidity Regulators(296,331), Sweeteners(950,951), Preservative(202), Mineral Salt(509), Natural Colour(160b), Enzyme (Lactase), Live Yogurt Cultures.

Because of the different recommended serving sizes for each, I provide the nutritional information for 100g for comparison purposes.

It is a popular theory that fat and calories are the most important things to reduce for a healthy diet, or indeed, to lose weight. But it is only a theory. Another theory is that certain fats are important nutrients. Also for some, protein and calcium are more important considerations for overall health than reducing fat. Nestlé’s Ski yogurt label does not even mention calcium.

Sugar is perhaps the clincher with this comparison study though. Sugar has no nutritional value and too much can quickly cause damage to health.

The whole milk yogurt serving (150g) has 11% sugars of the adult’s daily amount (100% from the natural lactose in the milk).

Nestlé’s Ski yogurt serving (120g pot) has 18% sugars of the adult’s daily amount (from lactose, fructose and added sugar).

And Nestlé’s diet yogurt serving (200g) pot has approximately 19.2% sugars of the adult’s daily amount (according to the online label) about half from added sugar).

Although Nestlé’s diet yogurt does not appear to be sold in the UK at the moment, it may in the future or something similar may be sold or is already being sold here and a further comment is therefore valid. On Nestlé’s website, the following is advertised:

NESTLÉ DIET yogurts are not only delicious, but good for you, being low in calories and having no fat. Deliciously smooth and creamy, NESTLÉ DIET yogurts have less than 1% added sugar and no more than 80 calories per 200g serve. They are also low GI, a great source of calcium...
Please note that Nestlé claims less than 1% added sugar but, as shown above, the label says otherwise.  Even if the label is a mistake, artificial sweeteners are possibly even more controversial than sugar for health.  It is also claimed that this yogurt is a great source of calcium, but meanwhile it has nearly two-thirds less calcium than whole milk yogurt.  This sort of advertising is unhelpful at best.

Analysing food the way I have done here is time consuming and tedious. Not everyone has the time to do it. But when the Department is engaging in work with food companies as part of the Public Health Responsibility Deal, on behalf of the girl in the library and my neighbours, to name only a few, I hope that the Department is considering such details. From my research and experience, the organic whole milk yogurt is much healthier, even for an obese person, than the diet yogurt because it is better for overall health.

Since food companies may be causing the problem, it may be logical to look to them to fix it, but encouragement may not be sufficient. After analyzing the food products supplied by each company, the Department may wish to bring in the figures related to medical care, drugs and other costs such as loss of employability involved with obesity and other major illnesses which are at least partly caused by poor nutrition. Then weigh up these costs against the money and jobs being generated from the companies producing and promoting poor quality, unhealthy products. If the Department finds that the medical costs, etc outweigh the financial benefits from the company continuing business as usual, then it will be easy for the Department to make a move to regulate and sanction them. I believe you will find that the medical costs, etc already outweigh any perceived benefits provided by some food companies and retailers' products. Reducing medical costs, etc is what I would call looking after the golden goose. And a side effect is that the nation will be happier and more productive because it will be healthier. How good is that?

Yours sincerely

J. Wilson

PS Because of the public nature of this subject matter, I have taken this opportunity, for which I thank you, to create another blog article with your email and my reply.

Response to your Query : - Ref:DE00000565011 - Food regulation
Thursday, 2 December, 2010 15:04
From: "" Add sender to Contacts
To: J. Wilson

Thank you for your further email of 12 November about food regulation.

I was interested to read your comments on the nutritional information provided on different yogurts.

Legislation regarding nutrition labelling, including the manner in which it is presented, is harmonised across European Union Member States. Currently there is no requirement for mandatory nutrition labelling, unless a nutrition or health claim is made or vitamins or minerals have been voluntarily added to a food. However, the European Commission has made a proposal to strengthen legislation on food labelling and make nutritional information on most pre-packed foods mandatory, which the UK supports.

Nutrition and health claims can be made about foods as long as they are not false or misleading and there is compliance with the European Regulation (EC) No. 1924/2006 on nutrition and health claims made on foods. The Annex of this Regulation contains a list of permitted nutrition claims and provides specific conditions of use that a food must meet in order to bear such claims.

I will ensure that policy officials are made aware of your comments.

Yours sincerely,

Edward Corbett
Customer Service Centre
Department of Health