Bowl of BioPhotons or Crock of Corporate Life Forms?

April 20, 2013

cherrykirilian

What would you like for breakfast: a bowl of fresh, clean organic food naturally radiating the golden goodness of the Sun (aka biophotons), or a crock bulging with lab-engineered, genetically-modified, profit-patented, corporately-owned, food product (aka “novel life forms”)?

Unbidden, this queer question came to the forefront for me last week when two stories arrived all but simultaneously in my email in-box. One story was about novel genetically engineered life forms, and the other was about biophotons. I found the distinctions starkly dismaying.

First I read news from The Cornucopia Institute that Monsanto and DSM Nutritional Products are soon likely to be constructing even more “novel life forms” such as genetically engineered algae, processed with synthetic petrochemical-based solvents, then incorporating these substances, more or less surreptitiously, into “food products.”

If they follow what has so far been their standard corporate operating procedure, these concocted substances will be disseminated without labels or any other way for people to understand what they are ingesting.

In this unsettling, unknowable manner is the industrial food chain being relentlessly infiltrated with “novel life forms” generated in laboratories away from the light of the sun, and owned not by nature, but by corporations. For this I have no appetite.

Then I read about biophotons. Turns out that’s a word for describing the smallest known units of light. Biophotons are sparks of life within biological systems, and best explained by quantum mechanics: subatomic phenomena that exhibit properties of both waves and particles.

Biophotons are used by and stored in all organisms, including the food we eat, the water we drink, and our bodies. When our food is vibrant with high-quality life energy (biophotons), that energy – not just the material substance of vitamins and minerals — is absorbed into our bodies.

The existence and the importance of this basic life force has been known for centuries in China where it is spoken of as chi, in Japan where it is known as ki, in India where the ancient Sanskrit term is prana, and by various terms among many of the native peoples of the Americas.

In recent decades, the reality of the animating life force has been increasingly recognized in Western science. Physicist Fritz-Albert Popp, Ph.D., of Marburg University, researched and named this phenomenon as biophotons – particles of light that infuse life.

Dr. Popp was among the first Western investigators to indicate that this light must come, at least in part, from the foods we eat. The more light a food is able to store, the more nutritious it is.

plant-kirilianNaturally grown fresh fruits and vegetables, for example, are rich in biophotons. It’s obvious. You need not be a mystic who can see auras to understand. The reality of light waves, or biophoton energy, is obvious to any receptive and discerning eye.

Biophotons elevate the organism – such as your physical body – to a higher oscillation. As I read that, basically, if you eat fresh, clean food grown on healthy natural land, you support your body at a higher, healthier vibe.

Our bodies are made up not just of organs, tissue, and blood vessels, but are also composed of light. Biophotons enliven, order and regulate living organisms.

The greater your supply of light force from fresh, clean foods, the greater the vitality of your overall electromagnetic field (aura), and consequently the more energy available for maintaining optimal health. In matters biophotonic, quality as much as quantity is key.

Physicist Popp theorizes that the biophoton light emissions of healthy people follow biological rhythms, and that those rhythms are connected to the measureable biorhythms of the earth. There is a direct correlation and an active resonance amidst land, food, and people.

Clean, healthy land tended organically or Biodynamically gives rise to clean healthy food rich in biophotons (chi, ki, prana, life energy). It’s that simple. Starkly simple.


Organic Justice: An Update for the Common Good

November 25, 2012

The Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington, D.C., has announced that on January 10, 2013 it will hear the appeal in a landmark legal case of critical importance to all who eat organic food: Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association (OSGATA) et al v. Monsanto.

This case is also, notably, of direct relevance to Evrett Lunquist, who was the subject of my November 14 report – America’s Organic Inspectors Chilled by Libel Case. In addition to that precedent-seting libel case, Lunquist and wife Ruth Chantry of Common Good Farm in Raymond, Nebraska are also among the coalition of organic farms and organizations which have banded together to press the class-action lawsuit against Monsanto.

The Organic Seed Grower’s lawsuit challenges the validity of Monsanto’s transgenic seed patents, and seeks preemptive court protection for farmers when Monsanto’s genetically engineered seed trespasses onto their farms and contaminates their natural, organic crops.

The plaintiff community of organic farmers asserts that this case is not just an academic dispute of patent law. Rather it is a critical issue affecting family farmers across the USA, with implications of global significance.

With the defeat of the GMO labeling proposition in California earlier this month, the OSGATA suit against Monsanto takes center stage in the national debate about genetically engineered food.

While the GMO invasion matter is being contested in court, this November the final report of the USDA’s Advisory Committee on Biotechnology & 21st Century Agriculture threw another hatchet at the roots of organic farming and food. The committee formally recommended that organic farmers be obliged to pay money to self-insure themselves against unwanted GMO contamination. The National Organic Coalition immediately issued a statement of opposition to this measure.

If the USDA implements such a requirement, it would be tantamount to  a mob “protection plan” — forcing farmers to pay protection money to insure that they are not ruined financially by the full-scale onslaught of the GMO Industrial Complex, Inc.

No amount of insurance, however, will protect the land, the farmers themselves, or the food they produce, from GMO contamination.

Rather than protecting clean land and farms, this recommended policy would place full cost and full responsibility for contamination not on the perpetrators, but instead on the farmers whose land and crops have been transgressed. It would, in effect, turn the common-sense understanding of justice on its head. In no way would such a policy serve the common good.


Rivulets of Revelation Flow from Tales of Two Farm & Food Conferences

May 17, 2011

© 2011 by Steven McFadden

White Shell Woman, sculpture by Oreland C. Joe, Sr.

Eight years ago I was among a band of pilgrims privileged to set out on the annual Journey of the Waters, traveling the ancient route north from pool to pool along the spine of the Rocky Mountains. In this manner I learned something of the teachings of White Shell Woman and the sweet waters she is said to nurture.

As with the teachings of classical Greece and Rome, so in North America and in most traditions around the world, the elementals of water have predominantly been personified in feminine-yin form: Sirens, Jengus, Melusine, Yami, Morgens, Nereids and Naiads, the Lady of the Lake, Swan Maidens, and White Shell Woman, to name a few.

Whether dwelling in still pools, rushy streams, ornate fountains or plastic bottles for drinking, fresh water spirits around the world have most frequently been appreciated as feminine. Everywhere the Undines, water elementals possessing voices of lilting beauty, may be heard over the sound of water, sages have long maintained, if one takes care to listen.

Thus, early in May upon entering the global Water for Food conference hosted by the University of Nebraska at Lincoln (UNL) — a conference “generously supported” by Monsanto and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation — I was immediately struck by the overwhelming male-yang dominance of the proceedings. By approximate measure, 75-80% of the conferees were men; likewise by my reckoning, the program listed 48 men presenters, just six women.

Conference talk flowed around themes of what people — and the nations and corporations they organize themselves into — either want or need to do with water, as if our relationship with this essential resource were one way. In traditional teachings of North America it’s understood fundamentally that the elements and forces of the earth should be considered: listening to the call of the water, so to speak, as basic tenet of living in right relation.

Dance of the Undines. Beadwork by Margie Deeb and Frieda Bates

After three days at the Water for Food gathering, yin drops of consideration finally condensed and rose to the surface during the closing panel discussion. Robert Meany, Senior VP at Valmont Industries, a maker of irrigation equipment, remarked, “hydrology and the humanities need to come together.”

Moments later, in response to a question from the audience, Dr. Simi Kamal, CEO of the Hisaar Foundation in Pakistan made an emphatic point. She said agricultural policies must not overlook the human dimension. She said policies — and I took it she meant corporate policy as well as political policy — “must empower and engage the dispossessed, the marginalized, the landless, including unpaid and underpaid women laborers in the developing world.”

“The challenges for women in developing countries represent a huge issue,” Kamal said. “We need to hear from them. Let’s bring women out of the niche they have been placed in, and also begin to see agriculture as part of the larger ecosystem…Next year this Water for Food conference needs to dedicate a day to the issues of gender, water and food.”

Slamming into the Ceiling

The same week, some 1,200 miles away from the Water for Food conference in Nebraska, another conference was unfolding a different vision. The Future of Food gathering sponsored by The Washington Post featured spokespeople not from corporations or universities, but rather advocates for organic, sustainable agriculture. The program included Marion Nestle, Will Allen, Deborah Koons-Garcia, Eric Schlosser, Vandana Shiva, Senator Jon Tester, England’s Prince Charles, and agrarian patriarch Wendell Berry.

Thanks to a bicycle I could attend the Nebraska conference, and thanks to the Internet I could also see and hear parts of the Washington conference. Both gatherings of high power food and farm leaders held potential for impacting policy, and shaping real activity around critical matters of water, land, and food. They embodied the yin and yang character in the parallel universes of agrarianism and industrial agriculture: the Tao of the Land 2011. These matters are in vivid relief this spring with over a billion hungry people on the planet. As the United Nations Environment Program once again made screamingly blunt this season with yet another report: humanity is slamming into the environmental ceiling. “Global resource consumption is exploding,” their report said. “It’s not a trend that is in any way sustainable.”

This year in Nebraska, for the third consecutive year, the global Water for Food conference grappled in its way with the immediate challenges of growing more food with less water. Many a speaker uttered the by-now familiar refrain: Earth’s population will rise to nine billion people by 2050; how will we double food production by then with increasingly diminished natural resources?

Feeding a growing world population with less water is “one of the greatest challenges of this century,” said Jeff Raikes as the conference opened. Raikes is a Nebraska native and now the CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The foundation is a major supporter of and investor in Monsanto and their promotion of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) as the response of industrial agriculture to global crop challenges.

Raikes said that the Gates Foundation aims to reduce poverty by helping farmers produce more efficiently and to move beyond producing only enough food for their own families. He noted that of the 1.3 billion or so of the world’s population who live in extreme poverty, about 75 percent depend on subsistence agriculture.

Agrarians actively question the corporate model of extensive high-tech farming and GMO crops as inappropriate for most of the developing world. They argue that it should not be pushed on the poorest farmers in the name of feeding the world, and that these schemes enrich only the corporations, not the people on the land.

The general thrust of discussion at the Nebraska conference, however, was that large-scale approaches and techniques such as hybrid GMO crops with fertilizers and pesticides could produce more food more quickly and with less water, including small-scale farms in developing countries. The Monsanto representative, VP for Global Strategy Kerry Preete, mentioned efforts to increase plant density, such that they could put 40,000 corn plants on one acre of land. In 2012-13 Monsanto will introduce a new GM corn variety that, despite reports showing this is dubious, he claimed would use less water. How could small-scale farmers in developing nations pay for such technology? Poor farmers can’t, Preete said, but rich farmers can and as they adopt technology, the cost comes down.

In Washington meanwhile critics vigorously questioned the claimed yields and pointed to recent studies stating that sustainable, organic farming methods use less water and could provide more food and better livelihoods for farmers in the developing world.  They cited research done by the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science, and Technology for Development (IAASTD) which established that small-scale systems of agro-ecology are capable of producing enough food for the developing world while helping to preserve and replenish natural resources. A report published earlier this year by United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food came to similar conclusions, arguing that more sustainable systems could double food production in certain regions.

UNL President James B. Milliken said at the conference that the university’s new Water for Food Institute aims are “fully compatible” with the aims of the Gates Foundation. “The challenges are so numerous that we can’t expect to solve them all,” he said, advocating that a “network of knowledge around the world,” as represented at the conference, is essential. He expressed UNL’s intention that the Water for Food Institute evolve to become an international pivot point for disseminating such knowledge.

UNL is just now making a momentous switch in the Land Grant universe by joining the Big Ten Conference. The key importance of the new institute and the issue of water for food — globally as well in America’s agricultural heartland — was apparent in the ongoing conference involvement of top university officials: President  Milliken, Chancellor Harvey Perlman, and Vice Chancellor Prem Paul. All participated actively in the conference, and welcomed the formal agreement UNL signed with the UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education. The agreement sets out the arrangements for cooperative research and education on matters of water and food. They said they intend a multidisciplinary institute mobilized to meet urgently impending matters.

In committing itself robustly to the means and ends of industrial agriculture, UNL has drawn criticism from both inside and outside the university. Critics have charged UNL with catering primarily to corporate agriculture, thereby giving only secondary support to  family-sized farms, mid-sized farms, and the far-flung rural communities of the Cornhusker state. With this emphasis, critics say, UNL is stinting in its obligation to carry out the fundamental land-grant mission — creating and applying “knowledge with a public purpose.”

New Realities: Signs All Over

András Szöllösi-Nagy, rector of the UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education in The Netherlands, told the Nebraska conference that food is closely linked with social and political issues. As food prices go up, he said, those issues come to the forefront. There is growing vulnerability in this, he said, because humans are driving dramatic change in global water systems and food production with population growth, trade, subsidies, political upheaval, technological implementation, and the reality of climate changes.

“Is climate change accelerating?” Szöllösi-Nagy asked rhetorically. “The hypothesis is yes it is accelerating, but we have no hard proof yet. What we do know is that global mean temperatures are clearly increasing…There is lots of uncertainty, and the Precautionary Principle should hold.

“Still,” he added, “something is changing. The signs are all over: more floods, more droughts, more extreme weather events. We have new realities we need to reckon with, he said, explaining that the whole concept of a 100-year flood is outdated. We must throw out the tools we use to characterize such extreme events, he said, because “so-called 100-year floods and storms are happening all the time and becoming routine.”

The very week of the two conferences in early May, those new realities again smashed into the news: Texas and much of America’s Southwest because of an exceptional drought, the Mississippi River for impending flooding of farmland and suburbs on a scale “never seen before,” and the Arctic Circle because of newly accelerated melting due to global warming.

Meanwhile in Washington at the Future of Food, England’s Prince Charles (textvideo) was setting out a case that our current use of the land, and our systems of food production do not address these problems but rather aggravate them. He said if we are going to address the challenges of climate change, water shortages, general resource depletion, and all the other things, then the current industrial model of agriculture and food systems is unsustainable. It requires radical transformation.

The Irrigation News

The Water for Food conference in Nebraska was brimming with intellectual acuity, technological sophistication, organizational aptitude, and sincere determination to overcome the global challenges. The event, fueled by a recent $50 million gift to UNL from the late Robert B. Daugherty, attracted more than 400 participants from 24 nations.

Daugherty, a Nebraskan who died last November, made his fortune developing and marketing center pivot irrigation systems through the Omaha-based company now known as Valmont Industries, Inc. UNL used his bequest to establish the new Robert B. Daugherty Water for Food Institute as an information distribution center in partnership with national and international agencies, including UNESCO.

The current CEO of Valmont, Mogens Bay, told the Nebraska conference that despite problems irrigation is not going away. Without it, many farms around the world would dry up and blow into the far distance. Bay said center-pivot technology — which has made vast stretches of formerly unfarmable land productive — is adapting to become more efficient. His company’s newest center-pivot rigs use a variety of sensors linked to a central computer. The computer divides a quarter section farm field (160 acres) into 5,000 zones, with specific zone control for the rate of applying water, fertilizer or insecticide.

Circles of farmland with center pivot irrigation, a familiar scene for airplane passengers above America's Heartland.

Likewise, Anil Jain, managing director of Jain Irrigation Systems, Ltd. in India, told the conference about the “transformational impact” of drip irrigation. He said more than a billion people on the planet are small holders, tending 1-5 acres. Many of them must irrigate the land to produce a crop, he said, and drip irrigation can do the job efficiently and conserve water.

Jain spoke enthusiastically about “fertigation” — applying water and fertilizer in liquid form through the systems. Fertigation, he said, is a catalyst for high-tech agriculture hand-in-hand with biotechnology because the systems deliver fertilizers and pesticides directly to plants. He said solar-powered water pumps, rain-harvesting systems, and small-scale drip irrigation could be installed for $1,000 an acre. He said that smallholder farmers could pay that investment back fast with increased crop productivity — not the first time an enthusiastic farm-profit forecast was declared in the agricultural pivot of Lincoln, Nebraska.

Industry Leader Guys: Get Bigger

Kerry Preete, Monsanto’s VP for Global Strategy, appeared on the Industry Leader panel in Nebraska. He began by posing his variation on the standard rhetorical question: “How do we double the world’s food supply on the same footprint?” The world needs to produce 1.5 billion more tons of grain by 2050. The obvious industrial implication of his question was through transgenic crops, Monsanto’s profit pony.

As with many of the other speakers in Nebraska, Preete articulated the case for agriculture to become bigger and more efficient to meet global needs. A student participating in the conference asked the panel whether transgenic (GMO) crops are a safe way to meet this projected need? As if served a slow softball over the center of home plate, Monsanto’s Preete cheerily answered “Yes. After 20 years of wide use we are confident, as are all of the regulating agencies, that our seeds and crops are safe.”

Not everyone shares that confidence. Certainly not soil scientist Don Huber, who has warned of potential catastrophe, and certainly not the authors of a new literature review into the safety studies on GM food. The review documents the reality that most studies claiming that GM foods are as nutritional and as safe as those obtained by conventional breeding, have been performed by biotechnology companies or associates. The authors concluded “the controversial debate on GMOs…remains completely open at all levels.”

Meanwhile, in Washington, Jon Tester (D-Montana), the only farmer in the US Senate, was telling the Future of Food conference, “The rise of GMOs and who controls the seed, is one that’s particularly disturbing to me as a farmer. With GMOs, farmers don’t control the seed, multinational agribusiness does…You and I have heard over and over that our only hope to feed the planet as our population grows is GMOs,” Tester said. “Well, I’m here to tell you that I don’t buy it. What it has done and what it continues to do is take away options for family farmers. And it takes away options for consumers. If we keep moving down this path, farmers won’t be able to control their seed, something they have done since the beginning of time. And no longer will you truly know what you’re eating.”

Back in Nebraska, listening to Monsanto’s Preete, I could not help but think of Earl Butz, the Republican Secretary of Agriculture (1971-76), whose infamous mantra to farmers was to “get big or get out.” Butz’s challenging remarks immediately preceded the epic farm crisis of the 1980s that drove thousands of American families off of their farms, consolidating and concentrating good farm lands in far fewer hands, a process that continues pell mell not just in the US but globally.

This harsh reality of farm consolidation was cited in Washington where Will Allen, founder and chief executive of Growing Power, told the Future of Food conference: “We need more people growing food in their back yard, side yard, community farm. We need to support those existing farmers that are struggling. Our rural farmers are struggling, and they have been the backbone of our food system for so many years. In 1960, they told us farmers to grow soybeans and corn, fencerow to fencerow; we were going to feed the world. And we have what? A million less farmers. That system hasn’t worked.”

What does it profit a land?

In Nebraska, CEO Jeff Raikes said the Gates Foundation believes that an increase in technology leads to an increase in wealth, “We need to see farmers as customers,” he observed. “We need more affordable solutions, and we need to shift the mindset of farmers toward prosperity, somehow enabling them to see farming as a business…One of the greatest challenges of the century is getting more crop per drop.”

Raikes said that countries that have been able to move out beyond extreme poverty have done so, historically, by improving their agricultural productivity. “What ultimately happens is that improvement in agricultural productivity creates greater wealth in the economy, and that opens up new opportunities.”

This point of view was widely supported by presenters at the Nebraska gathering. Kebede Ayele, country director of International Development Enterprises in Ethiopia, said that while better technology is important, it has to be accompanied by education. “We have to convince them (farmers) and make them believe they can be profitable in agriculture.” Mick Mwala, Dean, School of Natural Resources, University of Zambia, also argued that farming is a business, urging that more and more farmers need to embrace this conception.

These messages struck my ears bluntly. They are distinct from the agrarian motivations and pathways I see as leading forward for generations to come. Farming as a business to make profit and feed people, or farming as a way of life in harmony with nature and health, and serving as a clean healthy foundation to support the high-tech digital culture evolving so swiftly in this new millennium?

In Washington, agrarian elder Wendell Berry delivered the agrarian gospel with no holds barred at the Future of Food conference: “We must abandon the homeopathic delusion that the damages done by industrialization can be corrected by more industrialization,” he said. “Our fundamental problem is world destruction caused by an irreconcilable contradiction between the natural world and the engineered world of industrialism.”

“…There is no use in saying that if we can invent the nuclear bomb and fly to the moon, we can solve hunger and related problems of land use,” Berry said. “Epic feats of engineering require only a few brilliant technicians and a lot of money. But feeding a world of people year to year for a long time requires cultures of husbandry fitted to the nature of millions of unique small places — precisely the kind of cultures that industrialism has purposely disvalued, uprooted and destroyed.”

- END -



Latter-Day Luther Nails Troubling Thesis to GM Farm & Food Cathedrals

March 29, 2011

© 2011 – by Steven McFadden

Don M. Huber, Ph.D.

After trucking across the high plains for five hours, and casting my eyes over perhaps 100,000 acres or more of winter’s still deathly gray industrial farmland, I came face to face with the newly famous Dr. Don M. Huber in the cave-dark meeting room of the Black Horse Inn just outside the American Heartland village of Creighton, Nebraska.

On the morning of March 24, along with about 80 farmers and Extension agents, I listened as Huber discoursed with erudition and eloquence upon industrial farming practices that may be impacting nearly every morsel of food produced on the planet, and that subsequently may also be having staggeringly serious health consequences for plants, animals, and human beings.

Huber is emeritus soil scientist of Purdue University, and a retired U.S. Army Colonel who served as an intelligence analyst, for 41 years, active and reserves. In Nebraska, he stood ramrod straight for three hours with no notes and spoke with an astonishing depth and range of knowledge on crucial, controversial matters of soil science, genetic engineering, and the profound impact of the widely used herbicide glyphosate upon soil and plants, and ultimately upon the health of animals and human beings.

Dressed in a conservative dark suit and tie, Huber set the stage for his presentation by observing that he has been married for 52 years, and has 11 children, 36 grandchildren, and a great-grandchild on the way. He then began his formal talk framed by a PowerPoint slide bearing a Biblical quote: “All flesh is grass.” – Isaiah 4:6. With this he emphasized the foundational reality that the biotech grains we eat, as well as the biotech grains eaten by cows, hogs, and chickens, are grown in vast herbicide-treated fields.

Martin Luther nails his theses to the church door.

For the domineering giants of industrial agriculture — multinational corporations, universities, and governments — Huber’s assertions about the impact of glyphosate, and the mounting scientific questions about GMO crops, may be as significant and disrupting as Martin Luther’s “heretical” act in 1517. That’s when Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany to challenge the systemic problems in the almighty institutions of his era.

Luther disputed the claim that spiritual forgiveness from sins could be legitimately sold for money. Huber and other researchers say they are accumulating evidence that — along with the 2010 report of the U.S. President’s Cancer panel which bluntly blames chemicals for the staggering prevalence of cancers — raises profoundly challenging questions about the chemical and genetic-engineering practices of industrial agriculture. The challenge, if it holds up, has implications not just for agricultural institutions, but also for the primary food chain serving the Earth’s population.

Not an altogether new controversy, the complex matters of industrial agriculture, genetic engineering and the far-flung use of herbicides have been exponentially accentuated in the last year by virtue of its ominous context: last summer’s epic oil catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico, the nation-ripping 9.0 earthquake in Japan earlier this month, with its subsequent tsunami and nuclear meltdown which is contaminating the nation’s water and food chain, in combination with the statistical reality that on our planet of nearly seven billion people, over a billion human beings — one of every six of us — is hungry.

All of this was brought into prominent public focus — both sharp and fuzzy — in January of this year by the unlikely matter of alfalfa.

Challenges to the Web of Life

The seminar with Dr. Huber, sponsored by Knox County Extension and the Center for Rural Affairs, commenced on a somber note. The moderator announced that Terry Gompert, 66, a veteran Extension educator and respected advocate for sustainable agriculture, and a man who had played a key role in organizing the conference, had just suffered a massive heart attack.  A moment of silence followed before Dr. Huber began his presentation. Mr. Gompert died on March 25, the day after the conference.

Dr. Huber discusses food and safety concerns at the Black Horse Inn, Creighton, Nebraska. (Photo by S. McFadden)

At the conference, Huber’s talk was highly technical, yet he had easy command of voluminous detail. For many in the audience, it must have sounded like an alien language as he spun out the esoteric terms: zwitterion, desorbtion, translocation, rhizosphere, meristemic, speudomanads, microbiocidae, bradyrhizobium, shikimate, and more.

Huber spoke about a range of key factors involved in plant growth, including sunlight, water, temperature, genetics, and nutrients taken up from the soil. “Any change in any of these factors impacts all the factors,” he said. “No one element acts alone, but all are part of a system.”

“When you change one thing,” he said, “everything else in the web of life changes in relationship.”

That brought him to the subject of glyphosate, the most widely used herbicide around the world, and a chemical most commonly recognized in the product named Roundup®. Because it is so widely used, Huber said, it is having a profound impact upon mega millions of farm acres around the world. More than 155 million acres of cropland were treated with glyphosate during the 2008 growing season, and even more by now. Subsequently, Huber said, this chemical is having a sweeping impact on the food chain.

He asserted that glyphosate compromises plant defense mechanisms and thereby increases their susceptibility to disease. He said that it reduces the availability and uptake of essential nutrients, and that it increases the virulence of pathogens that attack plants. Ultimately, Huber said, all of these factors reduce crop vigor and yield  (Yield Drag).

Most dramatically, Huber reported on what he described as a newly discovered pathogen. While the pathogen is not new to the environment, Huber said, it is new to science. This  pathogen apparently increases in soil treated with glyphosate, he said, and is then taken up by plants, later transmitted to animals via their feed, and onward to human beings by the plants and meat they consume. The pathogen is extraordinarily small. It can be observed only via an electron microscope operating at 38,000 power of magnification. The pathogen has yet to be phenotyped (descrubed)  or named, though that work is almost complete, Huber said. He specified that all the research and data would be published in a matter of weeks.

Huber warned that ignoring these emerging realities may have dire consequences for agriculture such as rendering soils infertile, crops non-productive, and plants less nutritious.  He said it could also, and apparently already is, compromising the health and well-being of animals and humans.

The Stratosphere of Controversy

Alfalafa

What propelled Huber, glyphosate and biotech crops into the stratosphere of public attention earlier this year was a pending decision on alfalfa (hay) by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). The “queen of forages,” alfalfa is the principal feedstock for the dairy industry. The USDA was being asked to approve unrestricted use of genetically engineered alfalfa seeds, which could result in as many as 20 million more acres of land being sprayed with up to 23 million more pounds of toxic herbicides each year.

Because alfalfa is pollinated by bees that fly and cross-pollinate between fields many miles apart, the biotech crop will inevitably contaminate natural and organic alfalfa varieties.

Dr. Huber wrote a letter to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack asking for a delay in making the decision, and for the resources to do further research. In his letter, Huber raised questions about the safety of glyphosate. Huber’s letter also warned of the new pathogen, apparently related to the use of glyphosate, which appears to significantly impact the health of plants, animals, and probably human beings. He said laboratory tests have confirmed the presence of the organism in pigs, cattle and other livestock fed these crops, and that they have experienced sterility, spontaneous abortions, and infertility.

“I believe the threat we are facing from this pathogen is unique and of a high-risk status,” Huber wrote. “In layman’s terms, it should be treated as an emergency.” Vilsack set Huber’s letter aside for later consideration, and on January 27 he authorized the unrestricted commercial cultivation of genetically modified alfalfa. Immediately thereafter, the Center for Food Safety and Earthjustice filed a lawsuit against the USDA, charging that the agency’s approval of genetically engineered alfalfa was unlawful.

While Huber’s letter of warning was not intended for public consumption, it was leaked and immediately went viral on the Internet. In a matter of days Huber became a lightning rod, attracting intense attention from both the scientific community, and the general public, which is  understandably concerned about the genetically engineered food it has never wanted and — since GM food is unlabeled — never been able to identify. The prospect of a new and virulent pathogen sweeping through the food chain was profoundly unsettling

Meanwhile, researchers were deeply upset that they were not first notified by Huber of the new pathogen — as is customary — before the matter became public knowledge. They felt they had been blindsided. Huber says that his letter to USDA Secretary Vilsack was leaked, and thus its publication was not his doing.

Huber became the focus of tremendous pushback. His message of urgent concern and the need for delay until more research was completed was unwelcome in many corporate and university citadels, and was deemed heresy by some vested in the multi-billion dollar industry of GMO crops.

The biggest beef researchers have with Huber — who is well known in his field as a member of the American Phytopathological Society and as part of the USDA National Plant Disease Recovery System —  is that he has not yet made data available for scientific scrutiny. Many researchers, including some at Purdue, say Huber’s data and hypotheses, when studied, are not likely to hold up to peer review, and that in general his allegations are exaggerated.

When contacted for comment on Huber’s concerns, Monsanto, maker of Roundup ® (glyphosate) and producer of Roundup Ready® seeds, had their press office send me a link to a web page with a compilation of  criticisms of Huber’s work. Monsanto also sent along a copy of their official corporate statement: “Independent field studies and lab tests by multiple U.S. universities and by Monsanto prior to, and in response to, these allegations,” the statement reads in part, “do not corroborate his claims.”

Consequences

Glyphosate is a particularly strong broad-spectrum toxin with the power to kill many kinds of plants that have been designated as weeds. As a chelator, or binder, glyphosate changes the physiology and thereby makes plants susceptible to plant pathogens. Roundup Ready® plants are tolerant of glyphosate because technology inserts a new gene. While the RR plants do not die after the toxic herbicide is sprayed over farm fields, the plants do suffer a reduced efficiency in some crucial regards, according to some researchers, changing the nutrient balance in plants. When that change occurs, all subsequent relationships — including the diet of livestock and humans — is changed.

The extensive use of glyphosate and the rapid, widespread use of GM crops resistant to it, have intensified the deficiencies of essential micronutrients, and some macronutrients. This is leading, Huber argues, to weaker and more disease-prone plants, animals, and people. In his presentation, he offered a list of about 40 diseases that, he says, tend to increase in farm fields where glyphosate is used. Those plant diseases include Sun Scald, Leaf Chlorosis, Tomato Wilt, Apple Canker, Barley Root Rot, Bean Root Rot, Wheat Take All, Wheat Head Scab, Wheat Glume, and Grape Black Goo.

Subsequently, he hypothesized, the decrease in nutrients and the increase in the new pathogen in food lead to empty calories, which likely explains increases in allergies, and chronic diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

The list of diseases that Huber suspects may be affected by glyphosate and the new pathogen is, he said, increasing as growers and pathologists recognize the cause-effect relationship:

  • Increase in cancers of the liver, thyroid, kidneys, tests, and skin melanomas.
  • Increase in allergic reactions in general, and an increase of up to 50% in soybean allergies in the USA in the last three years.
  • Increase on an epidemic-scale in the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease, perhaps as much as 9,000% over the last 30 years. Specialists say they expect the incidence of Alzhiemer’s to spike far higher over the next four years.
  • Increase in the incidence of Parkinson’s disease, which researchers say, is being provoked in part by the factor of chemical pesticides.

What Has Changed?

As if it were a mantra, during his three-hour talk Dr. Huber often raised a rhetorical question: What has changed?  If all of these troubling conditions are on the rise for plants, animals and humans in recent years, then what has changed to bring it about?

The most apparent change, he answered, is that glyphosate and genetically engineered plants are out widely in the world. According to Huber, farm animals, including cattle, pigs, horses and chickens that are fed GM crops grown on glyphosate-treated fields have shown an alarming increase in sterility, spontaneous abortions, and stillbirths. By way of anecdotal evidence, he said he gets two to three communications a week from farmers and veterinarians about this troubling phenomenon. “We can no longer ignore the increase in livestock infertility, stillbirths, and spontaneous abortions over the last three to four years,” he said.

GMO feed grown on glyphosate treated fields tends to irritate the stomach of livestock, such that many farm animals are fed daily rations of bicarbonate of soda in an attempt to sooth their stomach lining. Huber showed a slide bearing images of dissected hog stomachs; one from a hog fed GMO feed and the other conventional feed. The GMO hog had a rudely inflamed mass of stomach and intestinal tissue.

A handout from Dr. Huber that was made available at the Nebraska seminar cited 117 peer-reviewed scientific studies that raise serious questions about the impact of glyphosate. These studies have reached critical mass, Huber said, and they could no longer be discounted or ignored. Yet, there are also a substantial number of studies stating that glyphosate and GMO crops are safe and ought to be the cause of no concern.

What Is this Stuff?

Glyphosate is the most used herbicide in the USA. Every year, 5 to 8 million pounds are used on lawns and yards, and another 85 to 90 million pounds are used in agriculture. It is a broad-spectrum systemic herbicide used to kill weeds, especially weeds known to compete with crops grown widely across the Midwest. Initially sold by Monsanto in the 1970s under the trade name Roundup®, its U.S. patent expired in 2000, and thus glyphosate is now marketed in the U.S. and worldwide in different solution strengths under various trade names. Because these products may contain other ingredients, they may have different effects.

Glyphosate inhibits a key enzyme that is involved in the synthesis of amino acids in the plant.  Many fungi and bacteria also have this same pathway. Aromatic amino acids in plants are the building blocks for many of their defense compounds.

Some crops have been genetically engineered to be resistant to it (i.e., Roundup Ready®). Such crops allow farmers to use glyphosate as a post-emergence herbicide against both broadleaf and cereal weeds, but the development of similar resistance in some weed species is emerging as a costly problem.

Glyphosate kills plants by interfering with the synthesis of the amino acids which are used by the plant as building blocks in for growth and for defense against disease and insects. Plants that are genetically engineered to tolerate the glyphosate contain a gene that provides an alternative pathway for nutrients that is not blocked by the glyphosate herbicide. But this duplicate pathway requires energy from the plant that could be used for yield, thus many GMO crops experience Yield Drag – a reduction in yield.

Huber had several recommendations for growers, especially a much more judicious use of glyphosate, as small a dose as possible. He said farmers also need to provide supplementary nutrients to counteract its effects and thereby to restore plant resistance to toxins and diseases.

He mentioned that there are other herbicide products on the market, but they are more specific to particular weeds and degrade more swiftly, whereas glyphosate is broad spectrum and thus kills many types of weeds, and also endures for a longer span of time in the soil and plants.

“Slow down,” Huber said. “It takes time to restore soil biota if a field has been treated with glyphosate. We have 30 years of accumulated damage, so it may take some time to remediate all of this.”

“There are a lot of serious questions about the impacts of glyphosate that we need answers for in order to continue using this technology,” he continued. “I don’t believe we can ignore these questions any more if we want to ensure a safe, sustainable food supply and abundant crop production.”

Primary Realities

In his presentation at the Black Horse Inn Huber was convincing in his demeanor, encyclopedic in his knowledge, precise and eloquent in his delivery.  Late in the morning as he spoke of the fertility and yield issues, the complications for farmers, and the increased prevalence of disease, his eyes momentarily welled up with tears. Then as he concluded his talk he received a standing ovation from the assembly of about 80 Nebraska farmers and Extension staff.

Still, Huber’s personal integrity and his positive reception, at least at the Black Horse Inn, may be of small consequence in the face of a tsunami of criticism arising from the citadels of corporations and universities. None of that will be resolved until the data he and others have gathered passes peer review.

The primary realities in the GM and glyphosate debates are corporate avidity, scientific uncertainty, and overwhelming public disapproval. Many peer-reviewed articles suggest that biotech crops and foods are harmless; many suggest otherwise. The jury is still out. However, as Huber was arguing, the number of published articles showing that glyphosate and the biotech crops grown in its chemical soup cause harm to livestock is rising rapidly.

Studies showing the public has little taste for genetically engineered foods, and especially not for unlabeled  and thus unidentifiable genetically engineered foods,  remain convincing. According to reports from Food & Water Watch, 90% of Americans want GM foods labeled, and 91% say the FDA should not allow genetically modified pigs, chicken and cattle into the food supply. To date, the main parties keen about promoting unlabeled GM foods, and their herbicidal aides, are multinational corporations and their investors.

“Before we jump off the cliff,”  Huber said, “we need to have more research done. It takes a lot to reverse the problems.” Many observers would argue, convincingly, that we have already jumped off the cliff.

Huber sought just $25,000 to do sequencing to establish the phenotype of the newly identified pathogen, and then to name it. But no government, university, or corporation would provide that relatively paltry amount of money. Finally, a private individual came forward and made the money available. Then the lab that was originally keen to do the phenotyping backed out. The issue had become a hot potato and they did not want the controversy.  Still, Huber persevered, and he said they should have the phenotype established, and then be able to name the pathogen, in a matter of weeks.

“Let me emphasize that all of this is not a calamity,” Huber said, surprisingly, near the end of his talk. “Agriculture is the most critical infrastructure for any society. American agriculture has undergone a revolution and it will continue to progress.

“Still, I saw no reason to rush into the critical alfalfa decision and to thereby cause so many more acres to be treated with glyphosate,” he said. “Why take a chance until we get the answers? Research needs to be done…There is lots of new data that needs to be considered, lots of new studies that cannot be ignored.”

(Addendum – May 6, 2011 – Don Huber has written a second letter to the USDA with even further detail.


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