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Mainely Tipping Points

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Turkey Tracks: Blueberry Buckle

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Turkey Tracks:  July 24, 2011

Blueberry Buckle

We’re still making desserts this summer from recipes in RUSTIC FRUIT DESSERTS, Julie Richardson and Cory Schreiber:  http://www.amazon.com/Rustic-Fruit-Desserts-Crumbles-Pandowdies/dp/1580089763.   (A book suggested by Tara Derr.)  We freeze about 20 pounds of ORGANIC wild Maine blueberries every August, which our wonderful CSA, Hope’s Edge, makes available to us.  I don’t know if you’ve ever had wild Maine blueberries.  They are much smaller than the big round ones most people can get in supermarkets.  And, they’re chock full of flavor.  Once you’ve had these little guys, the big blueberries seem utterly tasteless.  So, be warned!

Now, the “wild” Maine blueberries are anything but wild.  Yes, there are some wild blueberries at the edges of our woods.  But, commercial wild blueberries are a wild myth!  They’re heavily cultivated, actually.  And in the harvest year, which is every other year, the commercial (as in NOT organic) are heavily sprayed with all sorts of heinous and poisonous pesticides and herbicides that get into the watershed (atrazine compounds)–in Maine we have a LOT of watershed–just take a look at a map of  Maine–and that stay in the ground for up to 175 days, like the organophosphates often used as pesticides.  Organophosphates attack an insect’s nervous system.  And it remains a mystery to me why people think a compound that attacks nervous systems is NOT going to affect THEIR nervous systems–especially when it hangs around for 175 days on the ground, gets tracked into homes on shoes and clothes, and when it, often, gets INTO the plants and berries themselves and CANNOT be washed out.

Many of these chemicals kill bees and any other insect that gets in the spray, which, in turn, affects the bird population.  But, since commercial bees (poor things) are trucked in from across the country to pollinate the crop BEFORE it is sprayed, it’s our LOCAL bees and hives that are at risk.  (How dumb is that?)    And, many of these chemicals affect a human’s endocrine system (read reproductive ability), cause birth defects, cancer, and so on.  (How doubly dumb is that?)  The EPA is going to render a new verdict on atrazine in the near future, and it’s already been banned in Europe.

So, if you want to try a “wild” Maine blueberry–for heaven’s sake–buy organic ones.  Or come up here and pick some yourself!

Anyway, since I usually make blueberry cobblers, making a blueberry buckle was an experiment.  So, far, it’s been voted the favorite dessert and has been repeated once more.  (It’s GREAT for breakfast too.)  It’s a rich cake, studded with blueberries and lemon, topped with a crunchy crumb topping, and drizzled with an intense lemon glaze when it’s still warm.  Here’s a picture:

Here’s a better one!

Mainely Tipping Points 26: Strawberries in Winter

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Mainely Tipping Points 26:  Strawberries in Winter

STRAWBERRIES IN WINTER

 It’s February, and in Maine, it’s bitter cold more often than not. We seek out heat and the warmth of the fiery color red.  Not surprisingly, along comes St. Valentine’s Day on the 14th—a day set by Pope Gelasius I in 496 AD to honor the martyred Roman Valentine, killed in 269 AD.  This once-Christian holiday was likely overlaid onto a Roman mid-February pagan fertility celebration marking the beginning of spring and of the year’s agricultural calendar.  The associative color red possibly derived from the use of sacrificial blood during the festivities.   

Many of us are longing for spring, and in these mid-February days, along come red, luscious looking strawberries.  These early heralds of “come spring” fruit are shipped to us here in the frozen north mostly from California, which grows “roughly 90 percent of all strawberries sold in the United States” (“Death by Strawberries,” change.org weekly, Nov. 29-December 6, 2010, http://www.askdepkewellness.com/2010/12/death-by-strawberries.html). 

The idea of chocolate-covered strawberries makes your mouth water, doesn’t it?  They’re the ultimate dessert for lovers in February.  But, before you eat them or feed them to your loved ones, consider some cautions.

First, industrially raised strawberries come to you drenched with toxic chemical residues.  Second, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) notes in its “dirty dozen” handout that rinsing “reduces but does not eliminate pesticides” (http://static.foodnews.org/pdf/EWG-shoppers-guide.pdf).  And, third, the 2008-2009 Annual Report of the ,President’s Cancer Panel links exposure to pesticides (including insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides) and fertilizers with the formation of cancer in humans.  The report notes that parental exposure to pesticides can impact children prior to conception, in utero, and during childhood (43). 

Strawberries are ranked third on the EWG’s 2010 Dirty Dozen list, which is formed after residue testing is completed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  EWG’s rankings reflect at least six factors, including the total amount of pesticide residues found  and the total amount of different pesticides used. 

Will Allen, in THE WAR ON BUGS (2008), notes that between 2000 and 2005, 97.3 percent of nectarines had pesticide residues, followed by 96.6 percent of peaches and 93.6 percent of apples.  Strawberries ranked fourth.  Peaches and apples, writes Allen, had up to 9 pesticides on a single fruit, and strawberries had up to 8 pesticides on single berries.  Apples had the most residues of all with up to 50 pesticides found on samples.  Strawberries had up to 38 pesticides (242). 

Allen also cautions that very few states have mandatory pesticide use reporting, so there is massive underreporting of the amount of pesticides on our food.  Because California does have a reporting requirement, Allen was able to determine that in 2004, California strawberry growers used just over 11 million pounds of pesticides on an estimated 33,200 acres, or 335.40 pounds per acre (243-244).

In 2004, notes Allen, strawberry growers in California used 184 different pesticides.  But, 80.6 percent of these pesticides were confined to six chemicals.  Four of these six chemicals accounted for 74.1 percent of use and are fumigants “designed to kill all soil life and are among the most dangerous pesticides.”  These four fumigants amounted to about 249 pounds per acre of use. 

Among these four fumigants is methyl bromide, or bromomethane, which was banned in 1987 by the Montreal Protocol because it depletes the ozone layer around earth.  In total, 196 states have ratified this international treaty; President Reagan signed it in 1987.

Yet, twenty-four years later, our government is still allowing strawberry growers, principally in California and Florida, to use methyl bromide under “critical use” exemptions.   According to Wikipedia, in 2004, over 7 million pounds of bromomethane were applied in California on tomatoes and strawberries, in ornamental shrub nurseries, and for the fumigation of ham/pork products” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bromomethane).  The EPA is now accepting 2011 applications for 15 crops, to include “tomatoes, strawberries, peppers, cucurbits, orchard replants, and post-harvest uses (http://www.epa.gov/ozone/mbr/2010_nomination.html). 

According to the EPA, methyl bromide is “highly toxic,” especially for application workers.  Further, the EPA acknowledges that breathing it damages the lungs.  And, once inside the body, it can have a devastating neurological impact and can impact the thyroid and the male testes, which affects reproduction.  And guess what?  Though methyl bromide has been used agriculturally since the 1930s and though it has always been recognized as being highly toxic, the EPA doesn’t know whether or not it causes cancer (http://www.epa.gov/ttnatw01/hlthef/methylbr.html). 

Indeed, the President’s Cancer Panel notes that “approximately 40 chemicals classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as known, probably, or possible human carcinogens, are used in EPA-registered pesticides now on the market” (45). 

Allen notes the following:  “Methyl bromide…causes mutations, tumors, and monstrous birth defects.  It is incredibly lethal in very small doses:  consequently very few of its victims survive.  Unlike the case for many other chemicals, pest resistance to methyl bromide has been low, with only a dozen or so organisms that have shown any tolerance to it after almost seventy years of continuous exposure.  This lack of resistance is clearly due to the fact that the chemical kills almost all of the members of a population and leaves few if any resistant survivors” (234). 

Allen demonstrates in THE WAR ON BUGS how the chemical industry replaces a discredited chemical with a new, largely untested chemical.  The EPA approved the fumigant methyl iodide, or iodomethane, in 2007 at 193 parts per billion (ppb).  At the time, fifty-four academic scientists and physicians, among them six Nobel laureates, wrote the EPA and asked for the chemical to be banned ((Jill U. Adams, “A Closer Look:  Pesticides in strawberry fields,” June 28, 2010, The Los Angeles Times, http://articles.latimes.com/2010/jun/28/health/la-he-closer-strawberries-pesticide-20100628; and “Death by Strawberries”).    

On December 20, 2010, the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) approved methyl iodide for use in strawberry fields, despite the fact that the eight-person independent scientific review panel the DPR appointed to review the chemical declared that it is highly toxic, that its use would expose large numbers of the public, and that it would be difficult to control” (Pesticide Action Network Action Alert, “Because PR can’t trump science, if you speak up,”   http://groups.yahoo.com/group/DeathofCommonSense/message/1351).  Additionally, methyl iodide is listed under California’s Proposition 65 as a carcinogen ((Julie Cart, “Farmworkers challenge approval of methyl iodide on strawberry fields,” The Los Angeles Times, January 3, 2011, http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/greenspace/2010/11/methyl-iodide-pesticide-cancer-california.html?cid=6a00d8341c630a53ef013489abc225970c).  The panel noted that methyl iodide can alter DNA and can contaminate groundwater.  And, the panel cautioned that the lack of research on the chemical should give the DPR pause and that tests on animals link methyl iodide to miscarriages, cognitive impairment and thyroid toxicity (Cart).   

The California DPR mandated 96 ppb, which is more than either the risk assessment scientists within the DPR or the panel recommended.  The DPR scientists settled on 0.8 ppb, and panel member Edward Loechler, a molecular biologist at Brandeis University in Boston, said “we all thought, if anything, it should be lower.”  Panel member Dr. Paul Blanc, head of the occupational and environmental medicine division at UC San Francisco said, “that’s not policy—that’s meddling with the science” (Adams). 

Adams noted that Susan Kegley, who consults for The Pesticide Action Network (PAN), pointed to a study released in June about the air in Sisquoc, California.  Levels of chloropicrine, a soil fumigant, were higher than either the EPA or the California DPR consider safe.  (Treated fields are covered immediately with tarps.) Kegley noted that the same thing could happen with methyl iodide. 

Shortly after the California DPR’s ruling, a group of environmental and community health organizations, representing agricultural workers, challenged the ruling in court on the grounds that it violates, among other laws, the California Environmental Quality Act, the California Birth Defects Prevention Act, and the Pesticide Contamination Prevention Act (Cart).

Strawberries, like all industrial monocrop cultures, are grown in sterile, toxic soil; are lacking nutrients; and will continue to require increasingly heavier toxic chemical loads. It is becoming abundantly clear that commerce has corrupted science and our regulatory mechanisms so that permitted chemical levels are harming humans—which is why the President’s Cancer Panel Report recommends reducing exposure to pesticides by choosing “food grown without pesticides or chemical fertilizers.”

Our own, local, organic strawberries, available in June and for most of the summer, seem more than worth the wait.

Tipping Points 11: The Chemical Madness Maze

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Tipping Points 11

The Chemical Madness Maze

  

Three events in the past few weeks are swirling around in my mind. 

First, blueberries made the “dirty dozen” produce list.  At position 5, blueberries join apples (4) and potatoes (11)—all major crops for Maine farmers.  Being on the “dirty dozen” list is not good for business. 

Second, The President’s Cancer Panel (PCP) released its 2008-2009 report entitled “Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk:  What We Can Do Now.”  Consumers, especially parents, are urged by the Cancer Panel to “buy food that has not been sprayed or grown with chemical fertilizers,” a message that is increasing in frequency and volume these days. 

Nicholas D. Kristof called the President’s Cancer Panel “the Mount Everest of the medical mainstream.”  And, former President George W. Bush appointed the Cancer Panel’s current members:  an oncologist and professor of surgery at Howard University and an immunologist at the M. D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.  The Cancer Panel’s report is available on-line:  http://pcp.cancer.gov .  I urge you, especially if you are a parent or are involved in chemical applications, to read it. 

Third, Maine’s Pesticide Control Board (PCB) has scheduled a series of public meetings (May 14, June 24 and 25, and July 23) to discuss the public’s right-to-know about chemical spraying.  Existing law concerning the pesticide registry, where people could register to be notified of spraying, was seriously weakened last year. 

The seven members of the PCB are appointed by the Governor and approved by the Legislature.  Because the constitution of this board obviously was designed for political and perceived economic reasons, board members are expected to defend their particular turfs, which includes chemical farming and forestry and chemical spraying businesses. 

The Cancer Panel report states that our regulatory system for chemicals is deeply broken; that we are putting ourselves and, more importantly, our children at great risk; and that we must adopt precautionary measures rather than using reactionary measures (waiting until sufficient maiming and killing has occurred) with regard to the more than 80,000 improperly tested chemicals we are allowing to be dispersed with impunity. 

 In 2009, the Cancer Panel report discloses, 1.5  million people were diagnosed with cancer and 562,000 people died of cancer.   Today, some 41 percent of Americans will be diagnosed with cancer in their life times.  From 1975–2006, cancer incidence in U.S. children under 20 years of age has increased. 

The Cancer Panel directly connects cancer and environmental toxins:  “a growing body of research documents myriad established and suspected environmental factors linked to genetic, immune, and endocrine dysfunction that can lead to cancer and other diseases.”  The Cancer Panel is “particularly concerned to find that the true burden of environmentally induced cancer has been grossly underestimated” and that human “exposure to potential environmental carcinogens is widespread.” 

The Cancer Panel sums up current problems with our regulatory systems.  Included among the problems are “undue industry influence,” “weak laws and regulations,” and “inadequate funding and insufficient staffing.”  What results is “agency dysfunction and a lack of will to identify and remove hazards.”

For instance, the Cancer Panel determines that the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 (TSCA) “may be the most egregious example of ineffective regulation of environmental contaminants.”  TSCA “grandfathered in approximately 62,000 chemicals; today, more than 80,000 chemicals are in use, and 1,000–2,000 new chemicals are created and introduced into the environment each year.”   Yet, writes the Panel, “TSCA does not include a true proof-of-safety provision”—which means “neither industry nor government confirm the safety of existing or new chemicals prior to their sale and use.”

TSCA allows chemical companies, reveals the Cancer Panel, to avoid discovering worrisome product information, which must be reported, by simply not conducting toxicity tests.  And, as the “EPA can only require testing if it can verify that the chemical poses a health risk to the public,” the “EPA has required testing of less than 1 percent of the chemicals in commerce and has issued regulations to control only five existing chemicals.”  Additionally, “chemical manufacturers have successfully claimed that much of the requested submissions are confidential, proprietary information.”  So, “it is almost impossible for scientists and environmentalists to challenge the release of new chemicals.”  

In addition, the Cancer Panel notes that the U.S. “does not use most of the international measures, standards, or classification structures for environmental toxins that have broad acceptance in most other countries,” which makes meaningful comparisons difficult.  Further, U.S. standards are “less stringent than international equivalents.” 

In the chapter on agricultural chemicals, the Cancer Panel reports that “the entire U.S. population is exposed on a daily basis to numerous agricultural chemicals, some of which also are used in residential and commercial landscaping.  Many of these chemicals have known or suspected carcinogenic or endocrine-disrupting properties.”  For instance,” pesticides (insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides)” approved for use by the EPA “contain nearly 900 active ingredients, many of which are toxic.  Many of the solvents, fillers, and other chemicals listed as inert ingredients on pesticide labels also are toxic, but are not required to be tested for their potential to cause chronic diseases such as cancer.”

The Cancer Panel states that agricultural chemicals do not stay put.  Sprayed chemicals migrate on the air and into the water, creating toxic trespass into other peoples’ lives.  Indeed, Dr. Sandra Steingraber, who is quoted in the report, writes in her book LIVING DOWNSTREAM, that “in general, less that 0.1 percent of pesticides applied for pest control actually reach their target pests, leaving 99.9 percent to move into the general environment.” 

Farmers, their families, their workers, and chemical sprayers (including crop dusters) bear the highest health risks, according to the Cancer Panel.   Farm children, especially those living near pesticide use, have consistently elevated leukemia rates.  Exposure to the nearly 1,400 EPA-registered pesticides “has been linked to brain/central nervous system (CNS), breast, colon, lung, ovarian (female spouses), pancreatic, kidney, testicular, and stomach cancers, as well as Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin lymphoma, multiple myeloma, and soft tissue sarcoma.”  

It is very clear that we cannot continue using untested chemicals.  It is very clear that we are massively harming our children.  It is very clear that we must develop a political will for change and that we must devise ways to help the people caught in the chemical madness maze to escape it without undue financial penalty.       

Therefore, it follows that we must all understand that the problem at hand is not how to organize a chemical spraying registry.  It follows that we must all understand that the problem for individual PCB members is no longer how to protect present chemical practices.  The problem that we must all now face is how to stop the use of untested, toxic, dangerous chemicals. 

Statements to the PCB can be sent to the Director, Henry Jennings, henry.jennings@maine.gov.        

Write the PCB members and tell them that you recognize that they now have an incredibly difficult task.  Tell them that they must understand now that their primary responsibility must be to protect us and to protect themselves and their loved ones.  Tell them that this duty must supercede all other considerations.

Tipping Points 4: The Emperor Has No Clothes

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(You may want to read my essays in order.)

Tipping Points 4

April 7, 2010

The Emperor Has No Clothes

 Will Allen was the keynote speaker at the MOFGA (Maine Organic Farmers and Growers Association) Common Ground Fair in September 2009.  I would have gone to hear him rain or shine.  His 2008 book THE WAR ON BUGS is a history of agricultural and home-use chemicals in the United States.  Allen tells this ugly story to spotlight the Emperor’s nakedness:  our society does not have a mechanism to protect people from the excesses of the market.  Corporations, acting rationally in their own best interests, are making irrational decisions that adversely affect everyone.   

The historical process Allen describes is present in the development of most American industries, but if we look at just the agricultural and home-use chemical industry, we can see clearly how irrationality has replaced rationality, how we are all, including those making decisions within this industry, being massively poisoned.  Allen exposes how the modern web of players—corporate industry, scientists in academia, media, politicians, and the government organizations whose charters are to protect citizens—cooperate to relentlessly and, so far, successfully push the products of this industry. 

Allen tells how the loss of nourishing soil fertility begins in Europe alongside the birth of the capitalistic paradigm.  The landgrab enclosure movement of 1400-1500 halts the use of the common lands; forces large numbers of peasants to relocate to cities, which makes their labor available for industry; and allows, for a few individuals at the top of the society, the acquisition of both land and cheap labor.  The stage–designed by those with the cultural power to change the laws and to control the policing mechanisms–is set now for agricultural profit taking and the accumulation of capital.  Productivity, however, declines (3-4). 

This process of careless large-scale monocrop farming is duplicated in America, except for a small group of mostly small, northern, self-sufficient yeoman farmers (3-15).  Rich men exhausted land fertility and moved to new land–which was, often, given to land companies for free or for a few cents an acre by the government in charge (21-22).  For instance, in 1749 a land grant from King George II helped organize The Ohio Company.  By 1792, after the Revolution, this land company controlled 6,700,000 acres of land along the Ohio River, making George Washington, one of this land company’s leaders, one of the richest men in America (6).        

By the early 1800s, soil fertility on large-scale farms was devastated (13).  But, the first chemical quick fix was discovered.  Peruvian bird guano, mined by slaves and prisoners, was imported in the late 1820s–until supplies were exhausted in the late 1850s (25-26).  Next, fertilizer merchants created, manufactured, and sold, with relentless, repetitive advertising campaigns, attempted copies of the natural guano (30-31). 

So, writes Allen, the stage is now set for the seemingly benign and cheap chemical fix for ruined land, for pest control on monocrops, and for the promise of the reduction of labor costs.  But, the actual price was and is the continued degradation of the land and of the food since, while these farmers produced cheaper food, this food was of poorer quality and contained poisons (139). 

Also, the developing commercial fertilizer industry allowed the continued acquisition of land by large-scale commercial farms since the process whereby small farmers who could not compete lost their land accelerated (46).  Additionally, large-scale farmers had political power.  They could and did control access to the developing transportation systems bringing food to markets that were becoming increasingly centralized in cities (66-67). 

The next set of fertilizers, continues Allen, are the waste products of industry:  sodium nitrate from salt mining; arsenic and lead pesticides from iron and copper smelting, fabric dyeing, and paint manufacturing; cyanide gas from ammonium-cyanide production; natural gas and hydrogen used to make nitrogen for fertilizers, from gasoline or coke manufacturing; and fluorine from uranium mining.  So, as time passed, our food, more and more, was grown with industrial wastes (xxv-xxvi). 

But, what Allen is able to show by looking so closely at the history of this industry is the pattern that evolves for American industry formation.  What evolves alongside the markets for these waste products—and which still exists–is a top-down imposition of junk science.  Industry endows academic “research” departments and laboratories to support the use of industrial waste products.  Academia ignores actual data from the field that does not support the new message.  Industry organizes relentless advertising campaigns and heavily invests in the media, like farm journals, which promote the claims of the junk science that sells the waste product.  Industry controls politically the government mechanisms that should be protecting citizens.  And, anyone who protests or offers actual scientific proof that the junk science is flawed is ridiculed and/or run out of the arena (35-39, 68-73, 77-79, 82-91).          

This industry knows exactly how dangerous these chemicals are to human health because most of these chemicals (fluorines, carbonates, organophosphates, bromines, pyrethrum powder, and rotenone) were extensively tested during the war years.  The U.S. Army, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the USDA, and the “dominant chemical companies on the American side” tested thousands of old and new chemicals for their toxic potential during the war years” (131).  And, the Nazis and the cartel of companies known as I. G. Farben “experimented with all the known chemicals on concentration-camp victims throughout World War II” (129).  Yet the legal process to ban chemicals in America is limited to fights to ban a single chemical, rather than classes of chemicals, and this industry wages all out war to prevent any chemical, no matter how dangerous, from being banned 235).    

The ugly truth is that these chemicals either do not get regulated or, when regulated, are not policed adequately.  Arsenic, a heavy metal that is acutely toxic, is still in agricultural use today and will have a continued presence in agricultural soils for up to 100 years (124).  Arsenic causes cancer, lung and stomach damage, and serious debilitation to people or animals exposed to application drift (233). 

Methyl bromide has been scheduled for banning for ten years, but politically powerful large-scale strawberry, grape, and fruit farmers in California and Florida successfully obtained special-exemption uses in 2007 and 2008.  This chemical has already caused serious environmental degradation from aquifer to ozone.  In humans it causes “mutations, tumors, and monstrous birth defects” and is “incredibly lethal in very small doses so that pest resistance does not develop” (233-234, 244).   

Many banned chemicals, like DDT, suspended in 1972, creep back into patented chemical formulas (Kelthane) as part of the secret “inerts” ingredients.  This company was not fined by the government (175). 

Bigger and bigger farms—which grow through the logic of unregulated capitalism–means more and more chemicals are dumped into the environment and onto our food.  Surely we can recognize, thanks to Allen’s work, that the Emperor is naked, that there is a terrible flaw in our society.  Surely we can understand the history Allen charts between these abusive, needless practices and the growth of our own illnesses and deaths.  Surely the tipping point of change must be nearing where we all support our regional networks of small farmers who produce such glorious, healthy, life-sustaining food.