Friday, 26 October 2012

Genetically Modified Animal Feeds Used in New Zealand

Although New Zealand presents itself to the world as basically GM-Free (see my earlier post Genetic Modification (GM) in NewZealand), and progressive enough to label the GM content of foods, unidentified genetically modified foods continue to subversively infiltrate into our food chain. 

Sandra Finnie’s recent article in Straight Furrow highlights the use of imported GM feed in supplements used by dairy farmers to encourage peak milk production. Although Federated Farmers chairman Willy Leferink refused to comment on how much stock feed is actually imported, citing that information as “commercially sensitive”, recent large shipments of GM cottonseed meal and soybean meal—at least 100,000 tonnes of the latter annually, according to the article—suggest this is a common and significant practice.

In a response to that article, genetics professor Jack Heinemann of Canterbury University points out that when it came to the public attention that GM feeds were used for chicken production by New Zealand’s Ingham foods in 2009, the Commerce Commission ruled that animals feed on a GM diet are different from those raise on non-GM feed. In the UK and much of Europe, only non-GM feed can be used for animals (meat, fish) and animal products (milk, cheese, eggs) destined and identified  for retail sale as non-GM. New Zealand, it seems to me, risks alienating key overseas markets if our animal and animal product foods cannot be truly claimed as GM-free.

Regarding the Ingham chicken story, it seems the Commerce Commission wasn’t concerned about the use of GM-soy and corn in the chicken feed, just about the labelling of these chickens in the marketplace as GM-free. If you buy your chicken at a local NZ supermarket today, you’re likely to see labels claiming it is “hormone free” and “no artificial colours, flavours, or preservatives” and sometimes  “no antibiotics” and even “free range,” but you have to go to “organic” chicken to find chicken that you can be pretty sure has not been fed ANY GM-corn or soy.

Given that GM-feeds are used in New Zealand’s dairy industry and poultry industry, I got to wondering about New Zealand salmon industry. On the NZ Ministry for Primary Industries aquaculture website, we are told that NZ farmed salmon are fed “an artificial diet, high in protein and fat...with vitamins and minerals added”. They go on to say that NZ salmon are not given “antibiotics, vaccines steroids, or other growth enhancers.” They do not say exactly what they DO feed salmon (animal, vegetable, or mineral?) or anything about GM feeds, and I’d consider that omission ominously significant.

I recently posted an article on the GM/Roundup study done in France which found aggressive and abnormal tumour growth in rats fed even a small portion of GM corn, GM corn that had been sprayed with Roundup (which is why it is genetically modified in the first place, so they can spray the crop and kill the weeds without killing the food plant), or were given low to moderate levels of Roundup in their drinking water. Most chickens and dairy cows aren’t allowed to live out a normal lifespan, so disease caused by a partial GM diet might not be so evident, but that doesn’t mean the animals aren’t sick. 

We know that milk reflects not only the food consumed by the person or animal producing it (see my article on toxic breast milk) but also its environment. I don’t know if anyone has done a study on the GM-safety of milk produced by cows that consume GM feed, and I doubt any agri-chemical or agricultural company wants to fund one any time soon, but I’d be surprised if GM-fed dairy cows produce a truly “safe” product. And I don’t really fancy eating chicken or fish that’s been fed GM foods either.

New Zealand certainly isn’t GM-free, it’s just that we don’t produce GM field crops. On a final note on a GM and farming-in-New Zealand theme, I surely must mention Daisy the calf, born earlier this year in New Zealand. She has raised a bit of a storm because she is genetically modified (and cloned) to produce milk without the BLG protein that causes allergic reactions in some people. She also—inexplicably—doesn’t have a tail.

[Added October, 2014: Please see my latest post Cows, Swedes and Dodgy Seeds.) 

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Smart Meters may not be so Smart

Last week my local electric company, Contact, came and installed a smart meter to replace the old traditional electricity meter that hung on the outside of my house. At a glance, it doesn’t look all that different, just an electronic digital readout instead of the old turning wheel and mechanical digital numbers.

About that same time, I started to experience the same fizzy, fuzzy discomfort and stuffy-ear feeling that I experienced when I [briefly!] installed a wireless modem. (For that story, see here—my wireless-internet-at-home experience didn’t last but a day because I couldn’t stand it!) At first I wondered if there was something playing up with my wired internet connection. And then this morning I realised that my discomfort began about the same time we got the smart meter. And I wondered what was going on. So I hit the net.

A smart meter allows your electric company to monitor your electric usage without visiting your house, which saves them money and ensures your readings are always accurate. To do this, a wifi message is broadcast to the company about your electricity usage from your meter at regular intervals during the day. The way I understand it, your smart meter is basically acting like a wifi transmitter that is on all the time.

While industry may be excited about this new technology and trying hard to put a positive spin on it for consumers, home owners should be worried. Yes, we live in an increasingly wireless world. No, you are not holding your smart meter to your ear like you do your cell phone, and you’re probably not sitting next to it either, but it is yet another device in our homes that is broadcasting electromagnetic energy into our bodies.

A Swedish study mentioned in the following you tube lecture by engineer Bob States found that some 3% of the population is severely affected by electromagnetic radiation (electro-hyper-sensitive) and another estimated 30% shows some sensitivity. In this video, States gives a presentation to the Tesla Foundation in San Francisco, and although the video makes for fairly “dry” viewing, even if you don’t watch it all, States’ explanation and discussion of the slide that he puts up at 13:35 (minutes) and continuing on into the next slide in the video is sobering and worth watching.

The roll out of smart meters seems to be a fait accompli in many parts of the world, including here in Lower Hutt. Supporting the industry in New Zealand, Canterbury University have declared smart meters “safe”, with spokesperson Bill Heffernan saying “It is much more likely that we would spend an hour a day talking on the mobile phone or working within one meter of our wireless router,”[i] suggesting, I guess, either that those are also “safe” but controversial activities, or that doing more of the same won’t have a cumulative effect.  On the other hand, California radiation expert Daniel Hirsch informs us that “one smart meter can provide up to the full body radiation exposure of 160 cell phones”. Read his report here and check out his chart of comparative devices below.

The impact on those of us who are sensitive to electromagnetic radiation is distressing. I can choose to not have a wifi modem in my house, and I can choose to only use my mobile phone occasionally and briefly (the old-fashioned phone on my desk has a cord and attaches to the wall), but I suspect I cannot choose to not have a smart meter, even if it bothers me. I have just emailed Contact and will report their response in the comments box when it comes.

As Joseph Heller once said, “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.” Food for thought.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Why Genetically Modified (GM) Foods are Big News Right Now

Genetically modified (GM) foods stories keep popping up in the news, raising public awareness of significant GM issues. This post examines two of the big GM stories currently in the press.

Results of a French study published in September[i] revealed a disturbing increase in the development of tumours and damage to the livers and kidneys of rats fed a diet containing GM-corn (with and without the herbicide Roundup sprayed on the crop[ii]), rats fed non-GM corn but administered Roundup in their drinking water at levels equal to the [“acceptable” level of] contamination in some drinking water, and rats given water with Roundup levels comparable to that found in sprayed-on GM food crops but not fed GM food. In the study, the health of all these rats was compared to rats fed a non-GM, non-Roundup diet. 50-80% of the female rats in all treatment groups developed tumours within two years (mostly mammary), compared to 30% of the control group rats, and those tumours were on average two or three times larger than tumours that  developed in the control group rats. Treated male rats developed massive kidney, liver and skin tumours and had unusually high mortality rates. Previous GM food trials with rats only lasted 90 days and did not show significant health risks associated with consumption of GM corn. The study is considered controversial (Monsanto, the makers of Roundup, are “dismissive”)[iii] but alarm bells are ringing.

Although anti-GM activists have been quick to talk about the study as if it is just about GM foods, the real story here, I think, is that it didn’t matter very much which of the “treated” groups the rats were in: GM food, GM food treated with Roundup, or just Roundup, nor did it seem to matter very much if they just got a little or a lot, all of the treated groups showed abnormal numbers and aggressive growth of tumours and high mortality. Since GM corn is specifically modified by Monsanto to be Roundup-resistant, this suggests that even if the rats weren’t exposed to Roundup directly, if they were fed GM corn then they were fed a product that is genetically linked to the herbicide Roundup. Furthermore, it suggests that even limited (i.e. “acceptable”) exposure to Roundup or GM foods has a deleterious effect.

According to the US Department of Agriculture, an estimated 88% of the US corn crop is genetically modified, and over 90% of the soybean crop[iv], and one must presuppose that those crops are being sprayed with Roundup. Most of this production is used in animal feeds, cooking oils, margarine, and corn syrup (a common sweetener). Many other food crops are genetically modified as well, and one source estimates some 30,000 products on American supermarket shelves contain GM ingredients[v]. Its estimated that the average American eats some 193 pounds (87.5 kg) of GM foods per year, broken down roughly as 68 pounds of beet sugar, 58 pounds of corn syrup, 38 pounds of soybean oil, and 29 pounds of corn-based products[vi]—more than his/her bodyweight!

The other big GM story at the moment is Proposition 37, a proposed statue (law) in the State of California that reads, in its short form:

Requires labelling of food sold to consumers made from plants or animals with genetic material changed in specified ways. Prohibits marketing such food, or other processed food, as “natural”. Provides exemptions.

The statue is up for a vote on November 6. At the moment, GM foods and food ingredients need not be identified as such in the U.S.[vii], so California is breaking new ground with this proposal. It’s not surprising that “the right to know what is in our food” campaign is being fought against vigorously by a hoard of agri-science chemical companies with Monsanto leading the way (over $7 million spent to campaign against the bill), followed by Dupont (almost $5 million), Dow ($2 million), and Beyer ($2 million). Other big-time contributors to the “vote no” campaign include Pepsico, Coca-Cola, Nestles, General Mills, and Kelloggs[viii]. They claim the new law would add government bureaucracy to food production, increase food prices, and invite law suits.

There are no major industrial supporters for the “vote yes” side of the campaign, only a handful of committed individuals coughing what they can. It seems a highly lop-sided fight. One of the most ardent “vote yes” supporters is Dr Joseph Mercola, who has fronted over $1 million to support the bill; he sums it up: “Your health care, your food supply, everything you need to live a healthy life is now being taken away and controlled by a massive industrial complex and corrupt government.”[ix]

There is a growing awareness among ordinary consumers that GM is not the saviour for modern farming and food production that agri-chemical companies like Monsanto have tried to make us believe, and there is a growing distrust of the “it’s all perfectly safe and good for you” message that big food and chemical corporations keep feeding us about GM foods. I suspect that even if Proposition 37 fails this time around, it will be back in another form somewhere else, very soon.  And I’ll be expecting more rat studies...

For more on the GM/Monsanto story, see my earlier post The Inextricable Links Between GeneticallyModified Foods and Agri-chemical Companies.

[ii] GM-corn was developed to be resistant to Monsanto’s herbicide Roundup, enabling farmers to spray and kill weeds in their crops with Roundup without killing the desired plants. See my earlier post The Inextricable Links Between GeneticallyModified Foods and Agri-chemical Companies.
[vii] Labelling is required in New Zealand, but I’m personally sceptical that all of those products on our supermarket shelves that say “made with local and imported ingredients” are always 100% GM free, or that food items imported from the US that contains corn- or soy-based ingredients would have special NZ labels put on them, given American producers are not required to indicate any GMO ingredients.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

The Living Matrix: A Review

The other night I watched the 2009 documentary The Living Matrix borrowed from a dvd rental place in Wainuiomata, New Zealand. Having talked about books by energy healer Eric Pearl and biologist Bruce Lipton in previous posts (click on their names for the links), and being familiar with the work of biologist Rupert Sheldrake, I suspected I was already on the same page as these folks, and if you’re reading this, you might be too. (I’d also heard of scientist/journalist Lynne McTaggart and have since ordered her book The Field from the book depository in the UK[i].)

Here’s the doco trailer:

The premise of the film is that a lot of disease (and wellness) comes from the play of energy fields and thought patterns rather than genetic and/or biological and/or chemical malfunctions, and that we are often capable of self-healing without standard medical/biological interventions such as surgery or drugs. This idea, of course, flies in the face of modern allopathic medicine and what most of us have grown up believing. And because such ideas seem rather airy-fairy, it’s easy to dismiss them. The scientific, rational minds of our modern world want proof and reliable, repeatable results, not isolated cases of miraculous, inexplicable healings and the unwelcome news that we might simply be responding to a placebo effect. That’s when we think the drugs/surgery will work and so it does, even with no active intervention. I mean, who’s happy about getting well when it becomes clear the wellness (and thus the illness) may have been simply a product of one’s thoughts or belief system?

Yet I suspect the likes of McTaggart, Lipton, Sheldrake and Pearl are the forefront brigade for an emerging paradigm in our understanding of health, much of it coming from quantum physics. The ideas that biology is controlled by the flow of information in fields, some of which exist outside of the physical, visible body; that genes can be switched on and off by these information fields—they are “potentials” not “determiners”; that thoughts affect well-being; that energy can heal—these ideas challenge conventional medicine. They create uncomfortable territory for individuals, and shaky ground for those who make a living from conventional treatments (e.g., pharmaceutical companies, who have a vested interest in discrediting these emerging ideas).

Human beings are complex creatures. Illness—even the same illness—varies from one person to another in how it manifests itself, and each individual responds to a disruption of the physical body in different ways. So it’s not surprising that where one person may experience a miraculous healing, another may not. Although, that said, we’ve all experienced miraculous healings: cut your finger, and it heals, and we take that one for granted. Science can’t really explain why that happens.

I’ve always found it interesting to look at what happens at the extremes of human experience rather than concentrate on the “predictable normal” because I think we can learn a lot that way. At the beginning of this documentary, we meet young Demitrios, saddled with such severe cerebral palsy that he cannot walk, cannot unclench his fist, cannot hug his parents. After a short while with energy healer Dr Eric Pearl, he’s able to walk and run and hug and play. We don’t see this happen on screen, but are told by his mother that it has happened. Demitrios still limps a bit, and his hand is still not fully functional, but his quality of life has improved immeasurably, we are told, in spite of conventional medicine having thrown Demitrios’ condition into the “incurable” basket. If this is true, then I reckon researchers need to be trying to figure out what’s going on here and how to make these results more accessible to all, rather than shrugging their shoulders and saying, “Can’t explain it,” and then moving on to the next patient with a problem they can treat conventionally.

I think it’s exciting that a few brave souls are challenging conventional medical paradigms, and that these challenges are being documented in books and documentaries like this one. The fact that a doco like this shows up for hire in a video shop in little ol’ Wainui is a testament to the power of modern information transition and spread, and—I suspect—a general raising of human consciousness.

Last thoughts: On a star rating, I’d give this one 3 out of 5. I’m interested in this stuff, and enjoyed hearing/seeing some of the “big names” in what I’d call applied “alternative health” and “alternative biology”. It prompted me to order a book. But I suspect that many viewers would find the documentary jumps around a lot, doesn’t seem to have a core/cohesive theme, doesn’t build to a conclusion, and challenges too many conventional beliefs of rational science with one-off examples and unproven theories. That doesn’t mean these folks aren’t right, but they are breaking new ground and the soil is still hard and might not be very fertile. Yet.

[i] A great place to buy books with reasonable prices, free shipping worldwide, and surprisingly prompt delivery—just a couple of weeks to New Zealand. I don’t know how they can afford to do this and still make a profit...