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Mainely Tipping Points

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Mainely Tipping Points 27: Sprouting Awareness, Growing Change

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Mainely Tipping Points 27

SPROUTING AWARENESS:  GROWING CHANGE

 Up on Howe Hill, the paths around our house are banked by shoulder high snow.  Nevertheless, spring is coming.  Daylight is growing longer day by day and will bring an end to the quiet stillness of winter.  Sprouts will soon appear and will grow into a new covering for the earth and into new food for us to eat.  Babies will be born who will replace their parents eventually.  These seasonal cycles nourish the earth and its creatures endlessly. 

Sometimes, ideas that organize society, or paradigms, recede, like green life in winter. Now, the unsustainable market economy paradigm is breaking apart even as its proponents try to intensify their grip on it.  This paradigm is extractive, and we are running out of what can be extracted.  There are limits to what the earth can provide, and we have reached them.  There are only so many mountaintops that can be removed and dumped into valleys, only so many nutrients in the soil to be used before nature-dictated replenishment must occur, only so much oil and water to be pumped.

This exploitive paradigm is harming the earth and its creatures.  For instance, Greenpeace is circulating a petition claiming that this year one American will die every minute from cancer created by the known toxic chemicals allowed in so many of the products and foods we use or eat every day  (https://secure3.convio.net/gpeace/site/Advocacy?cmd=display&page=UserAction&id=787&s_src=taf&JServSessionIdr004=i4hx4u4rh1.app331a).  The President’s Cancer Panel released in April 2010 said 41 percent of people would be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetimes, that children are especially at risk, and that our degraded environment is a key factor (http://deainfo.nci.nih.gov/advisory/pcp/annualReports/index.htm).  Wiki answers says 50 percent of us will get cancer in our lifetime (http://wiki.answers.com/Q/How_many_people_get_cancer_in_their_lifetime).  And, Sandra Steingraber, in LIVING DOWNSTREAM, published in 1997, or 14 years ago, explained that the incidence of cancer in the United States rose 49.3 percent between 1950 and 1991 and that cancer was the leading cause of death for Americans aged thirty-five to sixty-four (40).  Cancer striking between 40 and 50 percent of the population can only be called an epidemic. 

But, what new paradigm could emerge?  We could take part in the sprouting of something wonderfully sustainable, if we, first, sprout awareness of this moment, and, then, act positively out of that awareness.  We could, as a community, become part of growing an Associative Economy paradigm based on 21st Century agrarian values that build and sustain healthy land, healthy community, a healthy economy, and healthy people.  Cooperation, not competition, is a hallmark of this new paradigm. 

Steven McFadden’s THE CALL OF THE LAND:  An Agrarian Primer for the 21st Century is a “sourcebook exploring positive pathways for food security, economic stability, environmental repair, and cultural renewal.”  McFadden lists and describes many of the individuals, organizations, and communities who are implementing models of how to live sustainably.  It’s comforting to realize that there are so many people “out there” who are working hard to make this new paradigm fully emerge.      

People are becoming Locavores, who buy food grown close to their homes; are turning their grass into vegetable gardens; are forming neighborhood cooperatives to share garden produce; are saving seeds; and are forming organizations to create change.  Communities across America are working to build regionally based, self-reliant food economies that include urban gardens, both public and private; Community Shared Agriculture (CSA) programs, including those which “share” products from multiple producers; food cooperatives, some of which are organized by farmers; school gardens and wholesome school lunch programs; land trusts that put willing young people on farms; and community commercial kitchens.  Counties across the country are creating self-reliant food systems within their borders; many of these are all organic.  In Maine, our regional coops and our small stores carrying local, often organic foods are, already, important hubs for this new paradigm as they are generating a local associative economy where farmers and consumers can meet daily on a common terrain.

McFadden, like Will Allen in THE WAR ON BUGS, addresses the justification myth created within the post World War II liaison of academia and agricultural and chemical corporations in order to foster industrial farming methods.  Termed the “green revolution,” this myth promised that it could feed the world and argued that small organic farms could not.  McFadden writes:  “But that argument has been proven wrong.  Nearly half the world’s food already comes from low-input farms of about one hectare (2.5 acres).  That scale can be worked efficiently and wisely, then progressively networked with modern technology.  Acre for acre, small, organic farms use less energy, create less pollution, offer more satisfying work, and produce more clean food from the land” (72).  McFadden notes that Iowa State University has established the nation’s first tenured organic agriculture faculty position and that some of the land grant schools are establishing sustainable agriculture programs (88).   

Paradigm change can begin with the choices we each make about what we eat.  Each choice we make is a vote.  We can vote for members of our own community, for access to clean food filled with nutrients, and for building community resilience that will support us in the, likely, difficult future we face.  Or, we can vote so that our dollars leave our community and enrich a few, already deep pockets.  We can vote for industrial food that is lacking nutrients, is grown with toxic chemicals, and that is tired and old from the polluting practice of being shipped across the country or across the world.  We are voting, then, for a splintered community where individuals have not built fully realized relationships with each other. 

Shannon Hayes, in RADICAL HOMEMAKERS, charts the historical progression that moved households from being centers of production standing alongside other such centers to being isolated units of consumption.  She discusses her family’s decision to not only question received cultural knowledge about how “to be” in the extractive economy, but to make changes that freed her family and gave it a more fully lived life—one with values strongly rooted in the health of the land.  She writes:  “What is our economy for?  Isn’t it supposed to serve everyone?  Are our families truly served by an economy where employees are overworked, where families do not have time to eat meals together, an economy that relentlessly gnaws at our dwindling ecological resources?  In David Korten’s words, a true, living economy `should be about making a living for everyone, rather than making a killing for a few lucky winners’“ (37).  (David Korten published AGENDA FOR A NEW ECONOMY in 2010 which is in my “to read” pile.) 

Shannon addresses the myth of local, organic food being unaffordable for any but the rich:  “…a farmers’ market meal made of roasted local pasture-raised chicken, baked potatoes and steamed broccoli cost less than four meals at Burger King, even when two of the meals came off the kiddie menu.  The Burger King meal had negligible nutritional value and was damaging to our health and planet.  The farmers’ market menu cost less, healed the earth, helped the local economy, was a source of bountiful nutrients for a family of four, and would leave ample leftovers for both a chicken salad and a rich chicken stock, which could then be the base for a wonderful soup.” (12).

McFadden, too, addresses this myth by quoting the legendary Vandana Shiva, physicist, environmental activist, and author:  “`The most important issue is to break the myth that safe, ecological, local, is a luxury only the rich can afford.  The planet cannot afford the additional burden of more carbon dioxide, more nitrogen oxide, more toxins in our food.  Our farmers cannot afford the economic burden of these useless toxic chemicals.  And our bodies cannot afford the bombardment of these chemicals anymore.’” (74)

Shannon makes a strong plea for restoring our lost democracy:  “When women and men choose to center their lives on their homes, creating strong family units and living in a way that honors our natural resources and local communities, they are doing more than dismantling the extractive economy and taking power away from the corporate plutocrats.  They are laying the foundation to re-democratize our society and heal our planet.  They are rebuilding the life-serving economy” (58). 

If you want to help build a sustainable, life-giving paradigm rooted in your local area, start with food.  First, insist on and buy local, organic food.  Consider joining a local CSA; shop at a local farmers’ market and at local stores carrying local food.  Second, begin asking for what you don’t find.  For me, it’s more local winter greens, please.  And, more winter farmers’ markets.  Third, buy foods in their seasons and learn to cook and to preserve some of them for the coming winter.  (Few things are as delicious in winter as tomato sauce spiked with garlic and basil, all taken from the garden on a hot August afternoon and cooked down in a bit of olive oil and frozen.)  Finally, every day, sit down and, together, eat the tasty, nourishing, clean food you have prepared.

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 7: Betrayal of Our Trust

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

April 26, 2010

Tipping Points 7

Betrayal of Our Trust

  

“You could get undulant fever,” my mother said when I told her a few years ago that I was drinking raw milk, that we could buy it in our local markets in Maine.  “You could get tuberculosis,” said my younger sister who struggles with a severe case of Parkinson’s.  Typhoid fever, scarlet fever, and diphtheria lurk in our national perception of raw milk. 

Ron Schmid in The Untold Story of Milk (2009) describes how at the end of World War II, when “thousands of small farms throughout the country still sold raw milk directly to consumers and through local distribution channels,” a massive campaign to demonize raw milk began.  As Will Allen describes with the chemical industry in The War on Bugs (2008), the campaign was waged in part in popular magazines.  The first salvo of the war against raw milk began in The Ladies Home Journal in 1944 with an article called “Undulant Fever.”  The article claimed—without any documentation—that “tens of thousands of people in the U.S. suffered from fever and illness because of exposure to raw milk.”  In 1945, Coronet published “Raw Milk Can Kill You,” by Harold J. Harris, MD.  Articles in The Progressive and Reader’s Digest followed in 1946 (150). 

Schmid shows that Harris, in his Coronet article, fabricated a town and an epidemic.  Harris located Crossroads, USA, in  “ `one of those states in the Midwest area called the bread basket and milk bowl of America.’ “  Harris claimed  “ `what happened to Crossroads might happen to your town—to your city—might happen almost anywhere in America.’ “  Harris claimed undulant fever struck one out of four people in Crossroads and, “ `despite the efforts of two doctors and the State health department, one out of every four patients died.’ “  Harris later not only admitted his malicious fabrication, but, Schmid writes, other statements he made demonstrated that “he knew such a thing could not possibly happen” (150). 

Undulant fever, or brucellosis, is, Schmid says, an “infectious disease that occurs in cattle and other animals and is transmitted to humans primarily through physical contact.”  Brucellosis is an “occupational hazard for meatpackers, veterinarians, farmers and livestock producers and handlers.”  Milk drinkers risk exposure only if a “grossly infected” animal sheds the organism into the milk.  Actually, nationwide statistics from the U.S. Public Health Service from 1923 to 1944, or for the 21 years preceding Harris’s article, show there were 256 cases of undulent fever, with 3 deaths (151).  But, because of this industry campaign, my mother, who grew up drinking raw milk, stopped drinking it.   

Some, like Jean Bullitt Darlington, who in 1947 wrote a three-part series entitled “Why Milk Pasteurization?” in the Rural New Yorker, tried to combat industry-produced lies.  Her articles “Sowing the Seeds of Fear,” “Plowing Under the Truth,” and “The Harvest is a Barren One,” obviously, had no impact on the milk industry’s juggernaut (151).  But, I doubt my mother, who lived in rural Georgia, ever read these articles.  Demonstrably, the milk industry’s juggernaut succeeded.

We’ve known, Schmid writes, since 1882, with the work of Robert Koch, that “the human and the bovine tubercle” are “neither identical nor transmissible, and that humans had nothing to fear from bovine bacillus.”  Schmid writes that “the only way the bovine tubercle may pass directly into the milk is if the disease in the animal has become generalized and tubercular lesions have formed on the udders.”  Another indirect route is fecal contamination (35-36). 

The human tubercle may contaminate the milk if a tubercular milker coughs into or otherwise mishandles the milk.”  (35-36)  But, the closed-system automatic milking machine, invented in 1920, prevents the contamination of raw milk by human milkers.  And, today, “most states no longer test for bovine TB because it is nearly unknown in America…though most states that license the retail sale of raw milk do require testing the cows used for milk production” (71-74). 

 Applied Dairy Microbiology (2001) is a comprehensive reference text for dairy microbiology.  In it, Schmid says, Elliot T. Ryser, PhD, of Michigan State University, discusses the safety and quality of milk and, without references for what is “incorrect information,” claims that bacterial infections like diphtheria, scarlet fever, tuberculosis, and typhoid fever were linked to raw milk before World War II (232-234).  Meanwhile, Schmid notes, Ryser does not discuss the 1927 Montreal pasteurized milk-borne outbreak of typhoid which affected nearly 5,000 people and killed 450 people.  Further, Schmid writes, Ryser claims, without references, that the 1986 banning of all interstate shipment of all raw milk products reduced raw-milk related outbreaks of milk-derived illness except in farm families (308-310). 

Schmid notes that Ryser does call aflatoxins, which derive from mold in grains, “ `a major public health concern based on the potential impact of chronic exposure.’ “  Schmid agrees with Ryser that aflatoxins are “potent liver carcinogens for both animals and humans.”  Aflatoxins, Ryser writes, are “ `relatively unaffected by pasteurization, sterilization, fermentation, cold storage, freezing, concentrating or drying….’ “  Yet, Schmid notes, Ryser does not discuss “the desirability of grass feeding,” or “the possibility of utilizing pasture-based systems,” or “the importance of using less grain in feeding” (232-234).  

Schmid, after his exhaustive search through the archives of milk-related data, concludes that the dangers of drinking raw milk from healthy cows and from clean milking systems have been grossly exaggerated by public health officials,  by medical literature, and by, therefore, doctors.  This banning, Schmid argues, has been based on junk science, outright distortions of data, and invented stories:  raw milk is a nutrient dense whole food with a long history of supporting human health.  In the past 40 years, there have been no milk-borne cases of typhoid fever, scarlet fever, or diphtheria despite the fact that raw milk is legally sold in some 35 states and that “millions of farm families” have consumed raw milk (310-311).

So, Schmid charges, warnings about raw milk derive from another motive than the protection of human health (310-311).  And the banning of raw milk by our private and public institutions is a betrayal of our trust (149).     

 Schmid critiques the USDA’s “Official Statement on Raw Milk.”  He argues, with the weight of his research behind him, that “honest investigators have demonstrated that the risk from raw milk is very low”; that “raw milk from healthy cows raised on fresh pasture, produced under sanitary conditions, simply does not contain pathogenic bacteria”; that raw milk can be and is routinely tested for bacteria; that the system of unhealthy cows in confinement dairies produces dangerous pathogens that pasteurization does not kill; that the “cases” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) uses to support the banning of raw milk are biased and flawed; that our government is operating a double food standard as many other industrial, processed foods are much more lethal than raw milk; that the scientific evidence supporting the nutritional benefits of raw milk are being ignored willfully; and that government rulings have nothing to do with the safety of raw milk and everything to do with benefiting the commercial dairy industry (433-442).  I would add that this situation is an effect of the power of corporatism.   

Most importantly, Schmid charges that mandatory pasteurization is a fascist tactic that cannot be said to be supported by our constitution which embodies concepts of freedom of choice.  He asks whether “our constitutional government…[has] the right to make laws outlawing a food that has sustained much of humanity throughout recorded history” (264). 

It’s a good question.

Tipping Points 6: The Untold Story of Milk

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

April 26, 2010

Tipping Points 6

The Untold Story of Milk

 Ron Schmid, in his recently updated book THE UNTOLD STORY OF MILK (2009), explores the history of the commercial milk industry.  The pattern Schmid describes is the same pattern described by Will Allen in THE WAR ON BUGS (2008), discussed in Tipping Points 4.  Both men show that industry demonizes competitive practices (organic farming, raw milk), creates and uses junk science, purchases massive amounts of advertising, and acquires government support to legalize industry practices and to police industry domination of the desired market. 

Schmid shows how little freedom of choice we actually have with regard to milk.  Most Americans have lost the ability to purchase nutrient dense raw milk, and too many dairy farmers have been driven from their farms due to relentless industry pressures to produce large quantities of milk cheaply. 

Schmid demonstrates that all commercial dairy cows, including organic cows, are production units in an industrial system.  The cowness of these cows is being violated.  Commercial cows are neither grazed on pasture nor milked for a reasonable amount of milk.  Thus, the commercial milk system is a garbage in/garbage out system. The milk from these factory cows is not the same as the nutrient dense milk from a pasture-fed cow.  And, industry-processed milk is highly processed.   

Today’s commercial milk industry, as Schmid’s research shows, has not changed philosophically and, in many ways, physically since the early 1800s at the dawn of this industry.  Then, cows were located next to and fed with the swill from whiskey distilleries.  In the late 1830s, Schmid relates, Robert Hartley wrote graphically about the conditions in these dairies.  These cows stood constantly in filth and foul air (55).  They produced cheap slop milk that was so thin and blue that dealers added “starch, sugar, flour, plaster of Paris, and chalk” to give it substance and color (36).  Hartley believed slop milk to be dangerous because when he drank it unknowingly while traveling, it made him sick (33-38).  Unbelievably, the last distillery dairy did not close until 1930. 

Today, Schmid writes, many industrial cows are fed such things as pellets made from the chemically tainted sludge from ethanol plants; chicken manure, which is a known source of salmonella; grain, which increases milk production but causes acidosis and which permits the cow’s stomach to harbor acid-resistant E. coli pathogens; soybeans; bakery waste (bread, cakes, pastries, and candy bars); and “citrus peel cake loaded with pesticides” (39, 223, 358, 298, 324).  Today, most commercial cows are kept in environmentally controlled dairy barns where they stand constantly on concrete floors, which causes painful, laming infections of their feet (210-211).  Normally, cows spend about 50 percent of their time lying down (212). 

Schmid shows that commercial cows are either sickening or sick.  The average life span of a commercial dairy cow is only 3½ years, rather than the normal 12 to 15 years (206).  The national Mastitis Council estimates that some 40 percent of “all dairy cows have some form of mastitis,” an infection of the udder—which means that a lot of commercial milk is coming from sick cows who are being given antibiotics and other drugs.  Medicating sick cows, in turn, “kills off beneficial bacteria in the cows’ intestinal tracts and allows pathogens to proliferate.” 

Thus, Schmidt concludes, both the industry and our industry-corrupted government accept “a substantial amount of disease in confinement cows as part and parcel of the operation” (215).  And, Schmidt adds that “for over fifty years, the federal government has done everything in its power to encourage the production of large quantities of cheap milk and cheap food in general—at the expense of quality and at the price of driving millions of small, quality-conscious farmers off the land” (164).

Cooking milk, or pasteurization, supposedly kills pathogens (210-214).  But commercial milk contains pathogens that even ultrapasteurization cannot kill:  Johne’s disease bacteria, known as Mycobacterium avium paratuberculosis and thought to cause Crohn’s disease; Listeria monocytogenes; and E. coli O157:H7, a deadly strain of this particular E. coli strain (437, 358-359, 238-239).  [Schmid cautions, however, that many forms of E.coli do not cause human illness and, in fact, “play a beneficial role in the digestive track.”  Even with E. coli O157:H7, “Schmid writes, “only a few…strains are pathogenic” (311).]  Additionally, cows eating moldy grain can excrete into their milk aflatoxins, which are liver carcinogens and which pasteurization does not kill.  And, commercial pasteurized milk has harbored antimicrobial-resistant Salmonella strains that have caused widespread illness and, even, death (231).

Many pathogens today have recently emerged.  The industrialized, centralized food system is producing these new pathogens.  They are the blowback from the breakdown of holistic farming practices that respect the cowness of cows and the levels of use the soil can support.  Using technological solutions, such as moving from pasteurization to ultrapasteurization to irradiation, is only creating further problems for humans as these solutions are altering food components. 

Schmid writes that Robert Tauxe, from the Center for Disease Control (CDC), reported in 2002 that 13 recently emerged pathogens annually cause the 76 million individual cases of food-borne illnesses, 300,000 hospitalizations, and 5,000 deaths.  Tauxe estimated that one in four Americans experience a food-borne illness every year.  Additionally, Schmid argues, it is becoming clearer that much human illness is being caused by the “reduced human immunity due to poor nutrition” caused by consuming products from the centralized food system (274-277). 

Nevertheless, Schmid writes, “milk in general—both pasteurized and raw—is a particularly safe food” when compared to the amount of food-borne illnesses created by the food industry.  In 1997, “milk and milk products accounted for only two tenths of one percent of all reported cases of food-borne illness.”  But, when an outbreak occurs, Schmid cautions, it “usually involves many individuals” (274). 

The more important question—and the subject of Tipping Points 8—is not whether commercial milk is safe, but whether, as processed as it is, it supports human health.  Schmid argues that commercial milk is, from the beginning, a compromised product that can and does produce allergic reactions and chronic illness.  In my terms, commercial milk is a fake food since the cows are not fed what cows eat, which is grass; are not treated properly, which means they are diseased and pumped full of drugs; and as the milk is heavily processed and adulterated with additives—some of which, like the addition of dried nonfat milk to skim milk, are not listed on the label as they are deemed to be industry standard practices.  

We can help our remaining dairy farmers to survive by helping them to escape the commercial system.  Unless you’ve been on chemotherapy, you can help develop a regional milk market by buying local real milk, cream, and value-added milk products, like butter, cheese, kefir, and yogurt.  The web site, Real Milk is one place that lists where to find local milk:  www.realmilk.com.  And, The Weston A. Price Foundation web site is another place where the benefits of real milk are discussed:  www.westonapricefoundation.org.  Real milk may cost a bit more, but as it is a whole, nutrient dense food, you’ll benefit more.  And, likely, you’ll spend less on treating illness.

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.