Friday, January 28, 2011

The Organic Elite Surrenders to Monsanto: What Now?

The Organic Elite Surrenders to Monsanto: What Now?:
By Ronnie Cummins
Organic Consumers Association, Jan 27, 2011
"The policy set for GE alfalfa will most likely guide policies for other GE crops as well. True coexistence is a must." - Whole Foods Market, Jan. 21, 2011

In the wake of a 12-year battle to keep Monsanto's Genetically Engineered (GE) crops from contaminating the nation's 25,000 organic farms and ranches, America's organic consumers and producers are facing betrayal. A self-appointed cabal of the Organic Elite, spearheaded by Whole Foods Market, Organic Valley, and Stonyfield Farm, has decided it's time to surrender to Monsanto. Top executives from these companies have publicly admitted that they no longer oppose the mass commercialization of GE crops, such as Monsanto's controversial Roundup Ready alfalfa, and are prepared to sit down and cut a deal for "coexistence" with Monsanto and USDA biotech cheerleader Tom Vilsack.

In a cleverly worded, but profoundly misleading email sent to its customers last week, Whole Foods Market, while proclaiming their support for organics and "seed purity," gave the green light to USDA bureaucrats to approve the "conditional deregulation" of Monsanto's genetically engineered, herbicide-resistant alfalfa. Beyond the regulatory euphemism of "conditional deregulation," this means that WFM and their colleagues are willing to go along with the massive planting of a chemical and energy-intensive GE perennial crop, alfalfa; guaranteed to spread its mutant genes and seeds across the nation; guaranteed to contaminate the alfalfa fed to organic animals; guaranteed to lead to massive poisoning of farm workers and destruction of the essential soil food web by the toxic herbicide, Roundup; and guaranteed to produce Roundup-resistant superweeds that will require even more deadly herbicides such as 2,4 D to be sprayed on millions of acres of alfalfa across the U.S.

In exchange for allowing Monsanto's premeditated pollution of the alfalfa gene pool, WFM wants "compensation." In exchange for a new assault on farmworkers and rural communities (a recent large-scale Swedish study found that spraying Roundup doubles farm workers' and rural residents' risk of getting cancer), WFM expects the pro-biotech USDA to begin to regulate rather than cheerlead for Monsanto. In payment for a new broad spectrum attack on the soil's crucial ability to provide nutrition for food crops and to sequester dangerous greenhouse gases (recent studies show that Roundup devastates essential soil microorganisms that provide plant nutrition and sequester climate-destabilizing greenhouse gases), WFM wants the Biotech Bully of St. Louis to agree to pay "compensation" (i.e. hush money) to farmers "for any losses related to the contamination of his crop."

In its email of Jan. 21, 2011 WFM calls for "public oversight by the USDA rather than reliance on the biotechnology industry," even though WFM knows full well that federal regulations on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) do not require pre-market safety testing, nor labeling; and that even federal judges have repeatedly ruled that so-called government "oversight" of Frankencrops such as Monsanto's sugar beets and alfalfa is basically a farce. At the end of its email, WFM admits that its surrender to Monsanto is permanent: "The policy set for GE alfalfa will most likely guide policies for other GE crops as well True coexistence is a must."

Why Is Organic Inc. Surrendering?

According to informed sources, the CEOs of WFM and Stonyfield are personal friends of former Iowa governor, now USDA Secretary, Tom Vilsack, and in fact made financial contributions to Vilsack's previous electoral campaigns. Vilsack was hailed as "Governor of the Year" in 2001 by the Biotechnology Industry Organization, and traveled in a Monsanto corporate jet on the campaign trail. Perhaps even more fundamental to Organic Inc.'s abject surrender is the fact that the organic elite has become more and more isolated from the concerns and passions of organic consumers and locavores. The Organic Inc. CEOs are tired of activist pressure, boycotts, and petitions. Several of them have told me this to my face. They apparently believe that the battle against GMOs has been lost, and that it's time to reach for the consolation prize. The consolation prize they seek is a so-called "coexistence" between the biotech Behemoth and the organic community that will lull the public to sleep and greenwash the unpleasant fact that Monsanto's unlabeled and unregulated genetically engineered crops are now spreading their toxic genes on 1/3 of U.S. (and 1/10 of global) crop land.

WFM and most of the largest organic companies have deliberately separated themselves from anti-GMO efforts and cut off all funding to campaigns working to label or ban GMOs. The so-called Non-GMO Project, funded by Whole Foods and giant wholesaler United Natural Foods (UNFI) is basically a greenwashing effort (although the 100% organic companies involved in this project seem to be operating in good faith) to show that certified organic foods are basically free from GMOs (we already know this since GMOs are banned in organic production), while failing to focus on so-called "natural" foods, which constitute most of WFM and UNFI's sales and are routinely contaminated with GMOs.

From their "business as usual" perspective, successful lawsuits against GMOs filed by public interest groups such as the Center for Food Safety; or noisy attacks on Monsanto by groups like the Organic Consumers Association, create bad publicity, rattle their big customers such as Wal-Mart, Target, Kroger, Costco, Supervalu, Publix and Safeway; and remind consumers that organic crops and foods such as corn, soybeans, and canola are slowly but surely becoming contaminated by Monsanto's GMOs.

Whole Food's Dirty Little Secret: Most of the So-Called "Natural" Processed Foods and Animal Products They Sell Are Contaminated with GMOs

The main reason, however, why Whole Foods is pleading for coexistence with Monsanto, Dow, Bayer, Syngenta, BASF and the rest of the biotech bullies, is that they desperately want the controversy surrounding genetically engineered foods and crops to go away. Why? Because they know, just as we do, that 2/3 of WFM's $9 billion annual sales is derived from so-called "natural" processed foods and animal products that are contaminated with GMOs. We and our allies have tested their so-called "natural" products (no doubt WFM's lab has too) containing non-organic corn and soy, and guess what: they're all contaminated with GMOs, in contrast to their certified organic products, which are basically free of GMOs, or else contain barely detectable trace amounts.

Approximately 2/3 of the products sold by Whole Foods Market and their main distributor, United Natural Foods (UNFI) are not certified organic, but rather are conventional (chemical-intensive and GMO-tainted) foods and products disguised as "natural."

Unprecedented wholesale and retail control of the organic marketplace by UNFI and Whole Foods, employing a business model of selling twice as much so-called "natural" food as certified organic food, coupled with the takeover of many organic companies by multinational food corporations such as Dean Foods, threatens the growth of the organic movement.

Covering Up GMO Contamination: Perpetrating "Natural" Fraud

Many well-meaning consumers are confused about the difference between conventional products marketed as "natural," and those nutritionally/environmentally superior and climate-friendly products that are "certified organic."

Retail stores like WFM and wholesale distributors like UNFI have failed to educate their customers about the qualitative difference between natural and certified organic, conveniently glossing over the fact that nearly all of the processed "natural" foods and products they sell contain GMOs, or else come from a "natural" supply chain where animals are force-fed GMO grains in factory farms or Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs).

A troubling trend in organics today is the calculated shift on the part of certain large formerly organic brands from certified organic ingredients and products to so-called "natural" ingredients. With the exception of the "grass-fed and grass-finished" meat sector, most "natural" meat, dairy, and eggs are coming from animals reared on GMO grains and drugs, and confined, entirely, or for a good portion of their lives, in CAFOs.

Whole Foods and UNFI are maximizing their profits by selling quasi-natural products at premium organic prices. Organic consumers are increasingly left without certified organic choices while genuine organic farmers and ranchers continue to lose market share to "natural" imposters. It's no wonder that less than 1% of American farmland is certified organic, while well-intentioned but misled consumers have boosted organic and "natural" purchases to $80 billion annually-approximately 12% of all grocery store sales.

The Solution: Truth-in-Labeling Will Enable Consumers to Drive So-Called "Natural" GMO and CAFO-Tainted Foods Off the Market

There can be no such thing as "coexistence" with a reckless industry that undermines public health, destroys biodiversity, damages the environment, tortures and poisons animals, destabilizes the climate, and economically devastates the world's 1.5 billion seed-saving small farmers. There is no such thing as coexistence between GMOs and organics in the European Union. Why? Because in the EU there are almost no GMO crops under cultivation, nor GM consumer food products on supermarket shelves. And why is this? Because under EU law, all foods containing GMOs or GMO ingredients must be labeled. Consumers have the freedom to choose or not to choose GMOs; while farmers, food processors, and retailers have (at least legally) the right to lace foods with GMOs, as long as they are safety-tested and labeled. Of course the EU food industry understands that consumers, for the most part, do not want to purchase or consume GE foods. European farmers and food companies, even junk food purveyors like McDonald's and Wal-Mart, understand quite well the concept expressed by a Monsanto executive when GMOs first came on the market: "If you put a label on genetically engineered food you might as well put a skull and crossbones on it."

The biotech industry and Organic Inc. are supremely conscious of the fact that North American consumers, like their European counterparts, are wary and suspicious of GMO foods. Even without a PhD, consumers understand you don't want your food safety or environmental sustainability decisions to be made by out-of-control chemical companies like Monsanto, Dow, or Dupont - the same people who brought you toxic pesticides, Agent Orange, PCBs, and now global warming. Industry leaders are acutely aware of the fact that every single industry or government poll over the last 16 years has shown that 85-95% of American consumers want mandatory labels on GMO foods. Why? So that we can avoid buying them. GMO foods have absolutely no benefits for consumers or the environment, only hazards. This is why Monsanto and their friends in the Bush, Clinton, and Obama administrations have prevented consumer GMO truth-in-labeling laws from getting a public discussion in Congress.

Although Congressman Dennis Kucinich (Democrat, Ohio) recently introduced a bill in Congress calling for mandatory labeling and safety testing for GMOs, don't hold your breath for Congress to take a stand for truth-in-labeling and consumers' right to know what's in their food. Especially since the 2010 Supreme Court decision in the so-called "Citizens United" case gave big corporations and billionaires the right to spend unlimited amounts of money (and remain anonymous, as they do so) to buy media coverage and elections, our chances of passing federal GMO labeling laws against the wishes of Monsanto and Food Inc. are all but non-existent. Perfectly dramatizing the "Revolving Door" between Monsanto and the Federal Government, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, formerly chief counsel for Monsanto, delivered one of the decisive votes in the Citizens United case, in effect giving Monsanto and other biotech bullies the right to buy the votes it needs in the U.S. Congress.

With big money controlling Congress and the media, we have little choice but to shift our focus and go local. We've got to concentrate our forces where our leverage and power lie, in the marketplace, at the retail level; pressuring retail food stores to voluntarily label their products; while on the legislative front we must organize a broad coalition to pass mandatory GMO (and CAFO) labeling laws, at the city, county, and state levels.

The Organic Consumers Association, joined by our consumer, farmer, environmental, and labor allies, has just launched a nationwide Truth-in-Labeling campaign to stop Monsanto and the Biotech Bullies from force-feeding unlabeled GMOs to animals and humans.

Utilizing scientific data, legal precedent, and consumer power the OCA and our local coalitions will educate and mobilize at the grassroots level to pressure giant supermarket chains (Wal-Mart, Kroger, Costco, Safeway, Supervalu, and Publix) and natural food retailers such as Whole Foods and Trader Joe's to voluntarily implement "truth-in-labeling" practices for GMOs and CAFO products; while simultaneously organizing a critical mass to pass mandatory local and state truth-in-labeling ordinances - similar to labeling laws already in effect for country of origin, irradiated food, allergens, and carcinogens. If local and state government bodies refuse to take action, wherever possible we must attempt to gather sufficient petition signatures and place these truth-in-labeling initiatives directly on the ballot in 2011 or 2012. If you're interesting in helping organize or coordinate a Millions Against Monsanto and Factory Farms Truth-in-Labeling campaign in your local community, sign up here:

To pressure Whole Foods Market and the nation's largest supermarket chains to voluntarily adopt truth-in-labeling practices sign here, and circulate this petition widely:

And please stay tuned to Organic Bytes for the latest developments in our campaigns.

Power to the People! Not the Corporations!

Ronnie Cummins
Organic Consumers Association

Thursday, January 27, 2011

More troops lost to suicide than deaths in battle. - News : More troops lost to suicide: "More troops lost to suicide
By John Donnelly

For the second year in a row, the U.S. military has lost more troops to suicide than it has to combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.


The reasons are complicated and the accounting uncertain — for instance, should returning soldiers who take their own lives after being mustered out be included?

But the suicide rate is a further indication of the stress that military personnel live under after nearly a decade of war.

Figures released by the armed services last week showed an alarming increase in suicides in 2010, but those figures leave out some categories.

Overall, the services reported 434 suicides by personnel on active duty, significantly more than the 381 suicides by active-duty personnel reported in 2009. The 2010 total is below the 462 deaths in combat, excluding accidents and illness. In 2009, active-duty suicides exceeded deaths in battle.

Last week’s figures, though, understate the problem of military suicides because the services do not report the statistics uniformly. Several do so only reluctantly.

Figures reported by each of the services last week, for instance, include suicides by members of the Guard and Reserve who were on active duty at the time. The Army and the Navy also add up statistics for certain reservists who kill themselves when they are not on active duty.

But the Air Force and Marine Corps do not include any non-mobilized reservists in their posted numbers. What’s more, none of the services count suicides that occur among a class of reservists known as the Individual Ready Reserve, the more than 123,000 people who are not assigned to particular units.

Suicides by veterans who have left the service entirely after serving in Iraq and Afghanistan also are not counted by the Defense Department. The Department of Veterans Affairs keeps track of such suicides only if the person was enrolled in the VA health care system — which three-quarters of veterans are not.

But even if such veterans and members of the Individual Ready Reserve are excluded from the suicide statistics, just taking into account the deaths of reservists who were not included in last week’s figures pushes the number of suicides last year to at least 468.

That total includes some Air Force and Marine Corps reservists who took their own lives while not on active duty, and it exceeds the 462 military personnel killed in battle.

The problem of reservists’ suicides, in particular, has been a major concern to some lawmakers. A Pentagon study this year confirmed that reservists lack the support structure that active-duty troops have.

Some types of reservists are more cut off than others. Rep. Rush D. Holt, a New Jersey Democrat, says that members of the Individual Ready Reserve and other categories of citizen-soldiers do not receive a thorough screening for mental health issues when they return from deployments.

One of those soldiers, a constituent of Holt’s named Coleman S. Bean, was an Army sergeant and Iraq War veteran who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder but could not find treatment. He took his own life in 2008.

Moved by Bean’s story, Holt wrote a bill requiring phone contacts with these reservists every 90 days after they come home from war. The House adopted Holt’s provision as part of its defense authorization bills for both fiscal 2010 and fiscal 2011. But conferees writing the final version of the bills took it out both years.

Holt said in December that Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain was responsible for that decision in the most recent bill. A spokeswoman for McCain, Brooke Buchanan, would not state his position on the provision. Instead, she said House members had removed it.

A House Armed Services Committee spokeswoman, Jennifer Kohl, said the House reluctantly pulled the provision from the bill because of the opposition of senators, whom she did not name.

Holt said a fuller reckoning of the number of suicides among military personnel and veterans is needed not so much to tell lawmakers and the public that there is a problem — that, he says, they know. Rather, it is needed to more accurately gauge the extent to which programs to help troubled troops are having an effect.

"In order to know whether the steps we’ve taken work," Holt said, "we’re going to have to have more detailed knowledge of who’s out there."

Thursday, January 20, 2011

the-eight-states-running-out-of-homebuyers: Personal Finance News from Yahoo! Finance

the-eight-states-running-out-of-homebuyers: Personal Finance News from Yahoo! Finance:

The Eight States Running Out of Homebuyers

by Douglas A. McIntyre, Michael B. Sauter and Charles B. Stockdale
Tuesday, January 18, 2011

provided by

The single biggest problem in the U.S. real estate market is simple: There are very few homebuyers.

That seems obvious, but the "buyers' strike" has caused house prices to drop, along with an epidemic of foreclosures. What's worse, the long depression in real estate is probably not over. S&P has forecast that home prices will drop by 7% to 10% this year. The S&P Case-Shiller Index has dropped for most of the 20 largest real estate markets over the last several months. RealtyTrac recently reported that more than 1 million homes were foreclosed upon in 2010.

Many economists argue that the housing market may take four or five years to recover. Even if that's proven to be true, the all-time highs of 2006 may never be reached again.

More from 24/7 Wall St.:

Companies That Rely on Aging Products

OPEC's Funny Math for Oil Demand

Americans Expect Home Prices to Fall

The devastation in some regions will never be repaired. Parts of Oregon, Georgia and Arizona have become progressively more deserted. Since jobless rates may never recover, there is little reason to hope that the populations in these areas will ever rebound. Some homes will be torn down in these pockets of high foreclosures in the hopes that reducing supplies will boost prices. Whether that idea will work in hard-hit areas such as Flint, Mich., and Yuma, Ariz., remains to be seen.

[Click here to check home loan rates in your area.]

24/7 Wall St. looked at a number of the standard measures to find the housing markets facing the biggest problems attracting buyers. After a detailed examination, six metrics were chosen: (1) vacancy rates for 2010; (2) foreclosure rates for 2010; (3) November 2010 unemployment rates; (4) change in building permits from 2006 to 2010; (5) change in population from 2005 to 2010; and (6) price reduction by major cities for 2010. Taken together, they create a strong statistical base to describe markets which buyers have largely abandoned.

Several states nearly made it onto the list, such as Colorado and South Carolina, but did not get poor enough marks across all of our measurements. Each was among the 10 worst for declines in building permits. Colorado had one of the worst foreclosure rates, and South Carolina one of the worst vacancy rates. However, the populations in both states have rebounded enough to make a strong case that their housing markets may recover moderately over time.

The review of the data raises several public policy issues. The most important of these is whether the federal focus on reviving the housing market should be concentrated in the hardest hit regions. The counter to that point of view is that some cities, such as Flint, or states like Nevada are in such bad shape that they are beyond assistance. Unemployment rates are too high in these areas, and perhaps the number of homes on the market is too large.

One thing is certain. The housing recovery will be wildly uneven. A city like New York, which has a dense population and large numbers of middle class and upper class buyers who will wait until they believe prices hit bottom, will have a rapid recovery soon. Building permits granted in New York City over the last four years have been very low. The supply of apartments is also low. Those forces taken together with an even modest economic recovery will help push real estate prices higher in New York and regions with similar characteristics.

The real estate crisis has gone on for four years. In the states 24/7 Wall St. has chosen here, the crisis will go on much longer.

1. Michigan

Vacancy Rate: 15.98% (9th Worst)
Unemployment: 12.4% (Tied for 2nd Worst)
Population Change 2005-2010: -2.05% (Worst)

Michigan is one of only two states whose population has decreased in the last five years. The state has lost more than 2% of its population since 2005. Most of this population loss was undoubtedly due to the depression in the car industry that led to the bankruptcies of GM and Chrysler. Flint, once one of the largest car manufacturing cities in America, has lost more than 10% of its population in the past 10 years. The state has the second-worst unemployment rate in the country at 12.4%. Michigan has a home vacancy rate of 15.98%, the ninth-worst in the U.S. There are large neighborhoods in Detroit that are vacant.

2. Nevada

2010 Foreclosures: 9.42% (Worst)
Unemployment: 14.3% (Worst)
Decrease in Building Permits 2006-2010: -84.39% (Worst)

In 2010, an incredible 9.42% of all housing units in Nevada were foreclosed upon. This is by far the highest foreclosure rate in the U.S., and is nearly twice that of the next-worst state. Nevada also has the highest unemployment rate in the United States, at 14.3%.The recession undermined profits in the gaming industry. Between 2006 and 2010, the state had an 84.3% decrease in building permit requests, the largest drop in the country. This has resulted in the loss of tens of thousands of construction jobs.

3. Arizona

Vacancy Rate: 17.3% (5th Worst)
2010 Foreclosures: 5.73% (2nd Worst)
Decrease in Building Permits 2006-2010: -81.36% (4th Worst)

Arizona is among a handful of states most deeply wounded by the real estate collapse. Some 5.73% of properties in the state have been foreclosed upon, the second highest rate in the country, and 17.3% of homes are vacant, the fifth greatest rate in the country. Also, Mesa, Phoenix and Tucson, the state's three largest cities, are all among the top five American cities with the greatest percentage of price reductions for homes in 2010, along with Minneapolis and Baltimore. As of December 2010, these cities had 43%, 42% and 38% of their listings with price reductions, respectively.

4. California

2010 Foreclosures: 4.08% (4th Worst)
Unemployment: 12.4% (Tied for 2nd Worst)
Decrease in Building Permits 2006-2010: -74.7% (6th Worst)

California's impact on the housing market is huge. The state is the largest among the 50 in total GDP and housing units. California's unemployment rate of 12.4% is now tied for second place with Michigan, once the jobless capital of the nation. In 2010, the state had one of the highest foreclosure rates in the country, at just over 4%. New construction has dropped off dramatically as well, with a 74 % decrease in new building permits between 2006 and 2010.

5. Illinois

2010 Foreclosures: 2.87% (9th Worst)
Decrease in Building Permits 2006-2010: -81.32% (5th Worst)
Population Change 2005-2010: 1.23% (8th Worst)

Although Illinois has a relatively low residential vacancy rate, finding people to buy homes can be difficult. The state's population only grew 1.23% between 2005 and 2010. This is the eighth worst growth rate in the country. Furthermore, the number of building permits issued since 2006 decreased 81.32%, the fifth greatest drop in the nation. The collapse of the state's industrial base has been so great that its economy will not recover anytime soon.

6. Georgia

2010 Foreclosures: 3.25% (6th Worst)
Unemployment: 10% (9th Worst)
Decrease in Building Permits 2006-2010: -82.29% (2nd Worst)

The number of building permits issued in 2006 in Georgia was 92,541. In 2010 that number dropped to 16,391. This is the second greatest decrease in the nation during that time. The state's unemployment rate, at 10%, is above the national average of 9.4%. Also in 2010, there were 130,966 foreclosures in Georgia, 3.25% of the state's properties. This is an increase of 53.62% since 2008.

7. Oregon

Unemployment: 10.6% (Tied for 5th Worst)
Decrease in Building Permits 2006-2010: -74.08% (7th Worst)
Number of Listings With Price Reductions (Portland): 35% (Tied for 8th Worst Among 50 Largest U.S. Cities)

Oregon's real estate market has suffered the double blow of a sharp drop in both building permits and price reductions on existing homes. Unemployment is 10.6%, the fifth worst rate in the country. The number of new building permits decreased by 74% from 2006 to 2010. In December 2010, 35% of listings in Portland, the state's largest city, had price reductions.

8. Florida

Vacancy Rate: 21.03% (2nd Worst)
2010 Foreclosures: 5.51% (3rd Worst)
Decrease in Building Permits 2006-2010: -81.37% (3rd Worst)

Unemployment in Florida is 12%, the fourth worst in the country. Approximately 1.1 million residents are out of work. Statistics show that 21.03% of the state's housing units are vacant. Furthermore, 5.51% of homes have been foreclosed upon. Florida was among five states that had the largest real estate booms from 2000 to 2006. Residential prices in some waterfront areas like Miami and Palm Beach rose by much more than double during that period. New home and condominium construction soared. Many of those residences have never been occupied and are still part of the inventory of homes for sale.


1) Vacancy rates for 2010 -- American Community Survey (Census Bureau)
2) Foreclosure rates for 2010 -- RealtyTrac
3) November 2010 unemployment rates -- Bureau of Labor Statistics
4) Change in building permits from 2006 to 2010 -- Census Bureau
5) Change in population from 2005 to 2010 -- Census Bureau
6) Price reduction by cities for 2010 -- Trulia

What Are the U.S.'s Real Motives for Launching a Drug War in Mexico? | | AlterNet

What Are the U.S.'s Real Motives for Launching a Drug War in Mexico? | | AlterNet: "They enrich (mainly U.S.) bankers through secret arrangements to launder drug money, while recycling phenomenal amounts of dirty money into many sectors of the legitimate economy. They also keep up huge profits in the international drug market for the exporting countries and their governments, a large part of which is recycled into the international arms market for the benefit of arms manufacturers. The United States sells more weapons than all the other arms-producing countries put together. It is the world’s arsenal of death.

- Sent using Google Toolbar"

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

USDA Certified Organic's Dirty Little Secret: Neotame | Farm Wars

USDA Certified Organic's Dirty Little Secret: Neotame | Farm Wars: "USDA Certified Organic’s Dirty Little Secret: Neotame

By Barbara H. Peterson
Farm Wars
Just when we thought that buying “Organic” was safe, we run headlong into the deliberate poisoning of our organic food supply by the FDA in collusion with none other than the folks who brought us Aspartame. NutraSweet, a former Monsanto asset, has developed a new and improved version of this neurotoxin called Neotame.
Neotame has similar structure to aspartame — except that, from it’s structure, appears to be even more toxic than aspartame. This potential increase in toxicity will make up for the fact that less will be used in diet drinks. Like aspartame, some of the concerns include gradual neurotoxic and immunotoxic damage from the combination of the formaldehyde metabolite (which is toxic at extremely low doses) and the excitotoxic amino acid. (
But surely, this product would be labeled! NOT SO!!! For this little gem, no labeling required. And it is even included in USDA Certified Organic food.
The food labeling requirements required for aspartame have now been dropped for Neotame, and no one is clear why this was allowed to happen. Neotame has been ruled acceptable, and without being included on the list of ingredients, for:
  • USDA Certified Organic food items.
  • Certified Kosher products with the official letter k inside the circle on labels. (Janet Hull)
Let me make this perfectly clear. Neotame does not have to be included in ANY list of ingredients! So, if you buy processed food, whether USDA Certified Organic or not, that food most likely will contain Neotame because it is cost-effective, and since no one knows it is there, there is no public backlash similar to what is happening with Aspartame. A win/win situation!
But that’s not all. Just love chowing down on that delicious steak? Well, that cow most likely will have been fed with feed containing… guessed it…..Neotame! A product called “Sweetos,” which is actually composed of Neotame, is being substituted for molasses in animal feed.
“Sweetos is an economical substitute for molasses. Sweetos guarantees the masking of unpleasant tastes and odor and improves the palatability of feed. This product will be economical for farmers and manufacturers of cattle feed. It can also be used in mineral mixture,” said Craig Petray, CEO, The NutraSweet Company, a division of Searle, which is a part of Monsanto. (Bungalow Bill)
Why would we feed animals food that is so distasteful that we would have to mask the unpleasantness with an artificial sweetener? Most animals will not eat spoiled, rancid feed. They know by the smell that it is not good. Enter Sweetos (Neotame). Just cover up the unpleasant tastes and odors, and you can feed them anything you want to, courtesy of the oh, so considerate folks at Monsanto and company.
But of course, Monsanto is no longer associated with NutraSweet. In the time-honored tradition of covering its assets, Monsanto has a proven track record of spinning off controversial portions of its company that generate too much scrutiny, such as it did with the Solutia solution.
Says the Farm Industry News, “Monsanto, which has long resided in the crosshairs of public scorn and scrutiny, appears to have dodged at least one bullet by spinning off its industrial chemical business into a separate entity called Solutia a couple of years ago. Solutia has since been hammered by lawsuits regarding PCB contamination from what were once called Monsanto chemical plants in Alabama and other states” (Source Watch)
So what is the solution to this problem? Buy local organic food, know your local farmer, and don’t buy processed foods whether they are labeled “Organic” or not. This requires a drastic change in lifestyle that most will not want to make. For those who choose to ride the wheel of chance by succumbing to this genocidal adulteration of our food supply by those who stand to profit from our sickness and early demise, my only comment is….it is your choice. But for those of us who have decided to fight this battle one bite at a time by hitting these sociopaths in the pocketbook where it hurts……viva la revolucion!
(C) 2010 Barbara H. Peterson
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Monday, January 17, 2011

Vandana Shiva, Monocultures, myths and the masculinisation of agriculture

Vandana Shiva, Monocultures, myths and the masculinisation of agriculture: "Monocultures, myths and the masculinisation of agriculture

Monocultures, myths and the masculinisation of agriculture

Statement by Dr. Vandana Shiva

Director Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology at The Workshop on “Women's Knowledge, Biotechnology and International Trade — Fostering a New Dialogue into the Millennium” during The International Conference on “Women in Agriculture” Washington June 28—2 July 1998

I am writing this statement from beautiful Doon Valley in the Himalaya where the monsoons have arrived, and our Navdanya (Nine Seeds—Our National Movement on Conservation of Biodiversity) team is busy with transplanting of over 300 rice varieties which we are conserving along with the rich diversity of other agricultural crops. Our farm does not use any chemicals or external inputs. It is a self-regenerative system which preserves biodiversity while meeting human needs and needs of farm animals. Our 2 bullocks are the alternative to chemical fertilisers which pollute soil and water as well as to tractors and fossil fuels which pollute the atmosphere and destabilise the climate.[1]

One of the rice varieties we conserve and grow is basmati, the aromatic rice for which Dehra Dun is famous.

The basmati rice which farmers in my valley have been growing for centuries is today being claimed as “an instant invention of a novel rice line” by a U.S. Corporation called RiceTec (no. 5,663,454).[2] The “neem” which our mothers and grandmothers have used for centuries as a pesticide and fungicide has been patented for these uses by W.R. Grace, another U.S. Corporation.[3] We have challenged Grace's patent with the Greens in European Parliament in the European Patent Office.

This phenomena of biopiracy through which western corporations are stealing centuries of collective knowledge and innovation carried out by Third World women is now reaching epidemic proportions. Such “biopiracy” is now being justified as a new “partnership” between agribusiness and Third World women. For us, theft cannot be the basis of partnership. Partnership implies equality and mutual respect. This would imply that there is no room for biopiracy and that those who have engaged in such piracy apologise to those they have stolen from and whose intellectual and natural creativity they want to undermine through IPR monopolies. Partnership with Third World women necessitates changes in the WTO/TRIPs agreement which protects the pirates and punishes the original innovators as in the case of the U.S./India TRIPs dispute.[4] It also requires changes in the U.S. Patent Act which allows rampant piracy of our biodiversity related knowledge. These changes are essential to ensure that our collective knowledge and innovation is protected and women are recognised and respected as knowers and biodiversity experts.[5]

Women farmers have been the seed keepers and seed breeders over millennia. The basmati is just one among 100,000 varieties of rice evolved by Indian farmers. Diversity and perenniality is our culture of the seed. In Central India, which is the Vavilov Centre of rice diversity, at the beginning of the agricultural season, farmers gather at the village deity, offer their rice varieties and then share the seeds. This annual festival of “Akti” rejuvenates the duty of saving and sharing seed among farming communities. It establishes partnership among farmers and with the earth.

IPRs on seeds are however criminalising this duty to the earth and to each other by making seed saving and seed exchange illegal. The attempt to prevent farmers from saving seed is not just being made through new IPR laws, it is also being made through the new genetic engineering technologies. Delta and Pine Land (now owned by Monsanto) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) have established new partnership through a jointly held patent ( No.5723785) to seed which has been genetically engineered to ensure that it does not germinate on harvest thus forcing farmers to buy seed at each planting season. Termination of germination is a means for capital accumulation and market expansion. However, abundance in nature and for farmers shrinks as markets grow for Monsanto. When we sow seed, we pray, “May this seed be exhaustless”. Monsanto and the USDA on the other hand are stating, “Let this seed be terminated so that our profits and monopoly is exhaustless”.

There can be no partnership between the terminator logic which destroys nature's renewability and regeneration and the commitment to continuity of life held by women farmers of the Third World. The two worldviews do not merely clash—they are mutually exclusive. There can be no partnership between a logic of death on which Monsanto bases its expanding empire and the logic of life on which women farmers in the Third World base their partnership with the earth to provide food security to their families and communities.

There are other dimensions of the mutually exclusive interests and perspectives of women farmers of the Third World and biotechnology corporations such as Monsanto.

The most widespread application of genetic engineering in agriculture is herbicide resistance i.e. the breeding of crops to be resistant to herbicides. Monsanto's Round up Ready Soya and Cotton are examples of this application. When introduced to Third World farming systems, this will lead to increased use of agri-chemicals thus increasing environmental problems. It will also destroy the biodiversity that is the sustenance and livelihood base of rural women. What are weeds for Monsanto are food, fodder and medicine for Third World Women.

In Indian agriculture women use 150 different species of plants for vegetables, fodder and health care. In West Bengal 124 “weed” species collected from rice fields have economic importance for farmers.[6] In the Expana region of Veracruz, Mexico, peasants utilise about 435 wild plant and animal species of which 229 are eaten.[7]

The spread of Round Up Ready crops would destroy this diversity and the value it provides to farmers. It would also undermine the soil conservation functions of cover crops and crop mixtures, thus leading to accelerated soil erosion. Contrary to Monsanto myths, Round Up Ready crops are a recipe for soil erosion, not a method for soil conservation.[8]

Instead of falsely labelling the patriarchal projects of intellectual property rights on seed and genetic engineering in agriculture which are destroying biodiversity and the small farmers of the Third World as “partnership” with Third World women, it would be more fruitful to redirect agricultural policy towards women-centred systems which promote biodiversity-based small farm agriculture.

A common myth used by Monsanto and the Biotechnology industry is that without genetic engineering, the world cannot be fed. However, while biotechnology is projected as increasing food production four times, small ecological farms have productivity hundreds of time higher than large industrial farms based on conventional farms.[9]

Women farmers in the Third World are predominantly small farmers.[10] They provide the basis of food security, and they provide food security in partnership with other species. The partnership between women and biodiversity has kept the world fed through history, at present, and will feed the world in the future. It is this partnership that needs to be preserved and promoted to ensure food security.

Agriculture based on diversity, decentralisation and improving small farm productivity through ecological methods is a women-centred, nature-friendly agriculture. In this women-centred agriculture, knowledge is shared, other species and plants are kin, not “property”, and sustainability is based on renewal of the earth's fertility and renewal and regeneration of biodiversity and species richness on farms to provide internal inputs. In our paradigms, there is no place for monocultures of genetically engineered crops and IPR monopolies on seeds.

Monocultures and monopolies symbolise a masculinsation of agriculture. The war mentality underlying military-industrial agriculture is evident from the names given to herbicides which destroy the economic basis of the survival of the poorest women in the rural areas of the Third World. Monsanto's herbicides are called “Round up”, “Machete”, “Lasso” American Home Products which has merged with Monsanto calls its herbicides ‘Pentagon’, ‘Prowl’, ‘Scepter’, ‘#8216Squadron’, ‘Cadre’, ‘Lightening’, ‘Assert’, ‘Avenge’. This is the language of war, not sustainability. Sustainability is based on peace with the earth.

The violence intrinsic to methods and metaphors used by the global agribusiness and biotechnology corporations is a violence against nature's biodiversity and women's expertise and productivity. The violence intrinsic to destruction of diversity through monocultures and the destruction of the freedom to save and exchange seeds through IPR monopolies is inconsistent with women's diverse non-violent ways of knowing nature and providing food security. This diversity of knowledge systems and production systems is the way forward for ensuring that Third World women continue to play a central role as knowers, producers and providers of food.[11]

Genetic Engineering and IPRs will rob Third World women and their creativity, innvoation and decision-making power in agriculture. In place of women deciding what is grown in fields and served in kitchens, agriculture based on globalisation, genetic engineering and corporate monopolies on seeds will establish a food system and worldview in which men controlling global corporations control what is grown in our fields and what we eat. Corporate men investing financial capital in theft and biopiracy will present themselves as creators and owners of life.

We do not want a partnership in this violent usurpation of the creativity of creation and Third World women by global biotechnology corporations who call themselves the “Life Sciences Industry” even while they push millions of species and millions of small farmers to extinction.

References and contact information

1. a) “Cultivating Diversity: Biodiversity Conservation and the Politics of the Seed”, Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Natural Resource Policy (RFSTNRP), New Delhi, 1993

b) “Sustaining Diversity: Renewing Diversity and Balance Through Conservation”, RFSTNRP, New Delhi, 1994

c) “The Seed Keepers”, RFSTNRP, New Delhi, 1995

2. Vandana Shiva, “ Biodiversity and IPRs: Lessons from Basmati Biopiracy” and “The Basmati Patent: What it Implies? How Should India Respond?” Briefing Papers prepared for the Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity held in Bratislava, May 1998

3. Vandana Shiva, K.Vijayalakshmi, K.S. Radha, “Neem: A User's Manual” RFSTNRP, New Delhi and CIKS, Madras, 1995

4. Vandana Shiva, “W.T.O,. Rules Against Democracy and Justice in the U.S. - India TRIPs Dispute”, Briefing paper prepared for the Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, Bratislava May 1998)

5. Vandana Shiva, Afsar H.Jafri, Gitanjali Bedi, Radha Holla-Bhar, “The Enclosure and Recovery of the Commons”, Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology (RFSTE), New Delhi, 1997

6. Hope Shand, “Harvesting Diversity”, RAFI, 1997.

7. UNDP, Agroecology: Creating the Synerginism for a Sustainable Agriculture, 1995

8. Speech delivered by Hendrik Verfaillie, President, Monsanto at the Forum on Nature and Human Society, National Academy of Sciences, Washington D.C.— October 30, 1997

9. Vandana Shiva, “Betting on Biodiversity: Why Genetic Engineering Will Not Feed the Hungry”, RFSTE, New Delhi, 1998

10. a) Vandana Shiva, “Betting on Biodiversity: Why Genetic Engineering Will Not Feed the Hungry”, RFSTE, New Delhi, 1998

b) Vandana Shiva, “Globalisation of Agriculture, Food Security and Sustainability, RFSTE, New Delhi, 1998

11. Vandana Shiva, “Most Farmers in India are Women”, FAO, 1991

12. a) Vandana Shiva, “The Violence of Green Revolution: Third World Agriculture, Ecology and Politics”, TWN, Malaysia, 1991 and the Other India Book Store, Goa, 1993

b) Vandana Shiva, “Monocultures of the Mind: Biodiversity, Biotechnology and the Third World”, TWN, Malaysia, 1993

Sunday, January 16, 2011

US Government In Bed With Biotech and GMO Giant Monsanto

US Government In Bed With Biotech and GMO Giant Monsanto: "US Government In Bed With Biotech and GMO Giant Monsanto
By Alice Wessendorf on 01/16/2011

US diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks reveal the Bush administration drew up ways to retaliate against Europe for refusing to use genetically modified seeds.

In 2007, then-US ambassador to France Craig Stapleton was concerned about France's decision to ban cultivation of genetically modified corn produced by biotech giant Monsanto. He also warned that a new French environmental review standard could spread anti-biotech policy across Europe. We speak with Jeffrey Smith of the Institute for Responsible Technology.

For a transcript of this video visit the Democracy Now site by clicking here.

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Friday, January 14, 2011

Conflicting Interests at FDA

Conflicting Interests at FDA: "Conflicting Interests at FDA
August 8, 2008

On Monday, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) formally announced new policies intended to increase transparency and public disclosure for its advisory committees. Although a number of new policies were announced, the one creating the most buzz is the policy barring an advisor from participating in a meeting if the FDA determines that he or she has a financial interest of more than $50,000. If the financial interest is less than $50,000, a waiver may be granted, but only if FDA officials "determine that there is an essential need for the advisor's particular expertise."

According to the FDA's press release, a financial interest would include "grants, stock holdings and contracts with a company that would be affected by the committee's recommendations." A more detailed description can be found in the final guidance document.

The new policies are almost surely a result of the increased scrutiny of FDA advisory committees by the public and Congress. The public outcry has been fueled by recent scandals in which members of FDA advisory committees vote to recommend drugs that they have a financial interest in, even when those drugs are likely to be harmful.

According to the Washington Post, "advisory committees play a central role in regulating drugs, medical devices and diagnostic tests. Their decisions largely determine what drugs and medical products can be marketed to Americans--because the agency nearly always follows the panels' guidance." If the advisory committees are as influential as the Post claims they are, the new policies may go a long way towards alleviating some of the influence that industry has on the FDA approval process. But I'm not overly optimistic.

A 2006 report on FDA advisory committees by the National Research Center for Women & Families analyzed "the voting patterns and committee discussions of a random sample of 6 of 16 drug advisory committees and 5 of 18 medical device advisory panels" between 1998 and 2005. The findings of the report seem to corroborate the tight link between advisory recommendations and FDA approval decisions. Within the report's sample, all of the drugs and 94% of the devices recommended by advisory committees were subsequently approved by the FDA.

However, the report's findings also suggest that the influence of advisory committees may be overstated. 45% of drugs and 43% of devices that were not recommended by the advisory committees were approved by the FDA anyway. If the advisory committees are susceptible to industry influence and the FDA is approving drugs and devices that even the "corrupt" advisory committees won't recommend, what does that say about the FDA?

This is not to say that advisory committees do not have a strong influence on the FDA approval process. The new financial conflict of interest disclosure policies are certainly a step in the right direction. But while it's easy to use the committee advisors as scapegoats, they are but one piece of an agency that is overly dependent on and sympathetic to the industry it is supposed to regulate.

Founded in 1981, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is a nonpartisan independent watchdog that champions good government reforms. POGO's investigations into corruption, misconduct, and conflicts of interest achieve a more effective, accountable, open, and ethical federal government.

Rules to Watch for in 2011 | OMB Watch

Rules to Watch for in 2011: "Rules to Watch for in 2011
Posted on January 11, 2011

Federal agencies have released their rulemaking agendas for 2011, providing the public with a roadmap of the health, safety, and environmental safeguards it can anticipate in the new year.

Each spring and fall, the executive branch publishes the Unified Agenda of Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions, commonly called the Unified Agenda. The agenda includes the individual rulemaking agendas for all executive branch agencies, including independent commissions. Agencies post online brief descriptions of their rules and projected timetables for milestones and completion.

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Reports | OMB Watch

Reports | OMB Watch:

Dismantling the Public's Right to Know

TRI Under the Bush administration, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is slowly dismantling its flagship environmental information tool--the Toxic Release Inventory (TRI). The program has been protected and improved for over the last 15 years, serving as a constant example of the vital role information plays in a democracy. Unfortunately, the program's success has made it a target for those that seek to reduce corporate oversight and accountability.


Will the Obama administration be the first to seriously regulate genetically modified food? | Grist

Will the Obama administration be the first to seriously regulate genetically modified food? | Grist: "U.S. farmers planted the first commercial GMO crops in 1996. Today, upwards of 90 percent of U.S. soy, and 60 percent of U.S. corn, come from GMO seeds. Those crops suffuse our food supply -- they provide the bulk of our cooking oil and sweetener, and feed the animals that feed us. By 2003, as much as 75 percent of processed food available in the United States contained GMO ingredients, according to an estimate cited by the USDA. GM corn and soy acreage have only expanded since then.

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Rainwater Scribd

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Monday, January 10, 2011

Another Kind of Energy

Another Kind of Energy: "PERMACULTURE HAS ITS GENESIS in the visionary work of J. Russell Smith, J. Sholto Douglas, Robert Hart, and others less well known, who, two generations ago and more, realized the urgency of transforming the basis of agricul­ture through the use of trees and other perennial crops. They saw the progressive devastation of land that followed the plow and knew that only by integrating forestry and farming could man’s impact on the Earth be tempered and hope for humanity’s future be secured into the next century.

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Gardening - Why Mulch?

by Craig Elevitch and Kim Wilkinson
Permanent Agriculture Resources
PO Box 428, Holualoa, Hawaii 96725 USA © 1998

Why Mulch?

Agriculture with mulch in the tropics promotes plant health and vigor. Mulching improves nutrient and water retention in the soil, encourages favorable soil microbial activity and worms, and suppresses weed growth. When properly executed, mulching can significantly improve the well-being of plants and reduce maintenance as compared to bare soil culture. Mulched plants have better vigor and, consequently have improved resistance to pests and diseases.

"Mulch" is a layer of decaying organic matter on the ground. Mulch occurs naturally in all forests; it is a nutrient rich, moisture absorbent bed of decaying forest leaves, twigs and branches, teeming with fungal, microbial and insect life. Natural mulch serves as a "nutrient bank," storing the nutrients contained in organic matter and slowly making these nutrients available to plants. All forms of plant life from the ground layer to shrubs and trees thrive, grow, shed organic matter, die and decay, in a complicated cycle of nutrients.

Mulch forms a necessary link in nutrient cycling vital for our soils. When mulch is absent for whatever reason, the living soil is robbed of its natural nutrient stores, becomes leached and often desiccates. Natural environments without a litter layer are usually deserts. Non-desert plants grown in bare soil require constant fertilization, nutrient amendment and water, not to mention the work required to keep the soil bare.

Sheet mulching as described here is a suggested method for controlling weeds and improving soil and plant health with mulch. The process mimics the litter layer of a forest floor.
Basic Techniques of Sheet Mulching

Once you get the hang of it, sheet mulching can be used anywhere plants are grown in the ground. Sheet mulching may be used either in establishing a new garden or tree planting, or to enrich existing plantings. In both cases, mulch is applied to bare soil or on top of weeds. New plantings are planted through the mulch, and a small area is left open to accommodate established plants and trees.

The benefits of mulching justify putting the energy into doing the job right, using ample materials. Collect all of the materials (as outlined below), and complete the mulching process in a day. A reduction in maintenance and increase in plant vigor will reward the initial effort.

Sheet mulch is put down in layers to mimic natural forest mulch: well decayed compost, weed barrier, partly decayed compost and raw organic matter.

How to sheet mulch
Step 1: The Concentrated Compost Layer

To prepare the site, knock down tall weeds and woody plants with a brush cutter, scythe, or simply by trampling the area. Then proceed to lay down the sheet mulch.

Whether you are mulching bare soil or weeds, the first step is to "jump start" microbial activity by adding enriched compost, poultry or stock manure, worm castings or the like at the rate of about 50 lbs/100 square feet. This high nitrogen matter stimulates soil life and gets things going. If the soil is acid, which it likely is if the area has been disturbed recently and treated with conventional fertilizers, add a layer of lime or crushed coral. A soil analysis will indicate the need for adjustment of pH or mineral amendments. This is the appropriate time to add the recommended doses of amendments such as rock phosphate and K mag.

Soak the area well with water when the amendments are dispersed.

Step 2: The Weed Barrier

Most cultivated areas today harbor untold numbers of weed seeds. There are also weed seeds carried around by wind, animals and people. Soil borne seeds are lying dormant and waiting for the right conditions to sprout. Simply pulling or killing growing weeds will not erase the weed problem: more seeds will sprout almost as soon as the soil is exposed to moisture and light. Therefore the next step in mulching is to put down an organic weed barrier. This barrier prevents the germination and eventual emergence of weeds through your mulch.

Underneath this weed barrier grasses and weeds die and quickly become food for earthworms. From now on, the worms turn and aerate the soil, as they do naturally when in the right environment.

Of the four sheet mulch layers, the weed barrier has no natural counterpart on the forest floor. In the forest, weeds do not sprout because there is "no room for them," which simply means a lack of space above and below the ground, and a lack of light. By planting an area properly, there will eventually be no room for weeds. The weed barrier is needed only for establishment of the mulch, and disappears with time. If your area is planted appropriately, weeds will not emerge after the decomposition of the weed barrier.

Materials for the weed barrier that work well are: 4-6 sheets of newspaper, cardboard, burlap bags, old rugs of natural fiber, worn-out jeans, gypsum board, or whatever you can find around. Banana, ape and ti leaves also work if laid down in several layers. Overlap the pieces of the material so as to completely cover the ground without any breaks, except where there are plants you want to save. Around these leave a generous opening for air circulation around the root crown. Care in laying down the weed barrier will save you the headache of emerging weeds later on.

Step 3: The Compost Layer

This layer is on top of the weed barrier - it must be weed seed free. Well conditioned compost, grass clippings, seaweed and leaves are ideal materials to spread over the weed barrier. Any weed-free material mixture at the right moisture level for a good compost will do. This should form a fairly dense layer about 3 inches thick.

Step 4: The Top Layer

The top dressing mimics the newly fallen organic matter of the forest. It also must be weed-free. Good materials for this include leaves, twigs and small branches, fern or palm fronds, straw, coffee chaff, macadamia nut shells, wood chips, sawdust, bark, etc.. The top layer will slowly decompose into lower layers, and therefore must be replaced periodically; it represents reserves of compost. This layer should be about 3-5 inches deep. Many materials suitable for the top layer often have a pleasant cosmetic appearance. What luck! For this reason, there should be no hesitation in using sheet mulch in all cultivation from landscaping to gardening to permanent orchard crops. In fact, as you use mulch, bare soil will begin to seem ugly and undesirable.

When the soil is amended and sheet mulch applied properly, there will never be a need to turn the soil. Earthworms do the tilling. The only task left will be to keep the soil covered by replenishing the mulch.

Warning: Feral pigs love good, moist soil, and will grub in sheet mulch if they have access to it. Do not use sheet mulch if pigs have access to the area; they will be attracted to it and will destroy both your work and your plantings.
Mulching Around Trees

1) Plant tree.

2) Amend soil around tree in a wide ring shape from a few centimeters from trunk out to 1 meter (3 feet) with a light layer of nitrogen fertilizer, such as chicken manure, and other amendments if necessary. Rake or water in.

3) Spread a layer of permeable weed barrier around the tree in a ring shape, leaving about 15 cm (6 inches) diameter around the trunk of the tree for it to "breathe." Make certain there are no gaps in the ring shape through which weeds can emerge. Water the weed barrier layer thoroughly before the next step.

4) Spread compost and/or mulch about 15 cm (6 inches) thick over the weed barrier, again making sure it is several centimeters away from the trunk of the plant.
The Ongoing Process

To make mulching as efficient and easy as possible, use mulch materials which are readily available. With good planning, mulching of gardens and orchards can become a regular part of maintenance-just mulch with handy materials such as grass clippings, plant prunings (chipped or roughly chopped), animal bedding, etc.. Eventually, other tasks such as watering, fertilization and weeding will be reduced. The overall maintenance burden in mulched conditions, when properly executed, is far less than in conventional systems.

Once a plant is properly mulched, its own leaf drop will constantly add to that mulch. But is natural leaf drop enough to maintain the mulch? The answer to this depends on the plant species and also how the plant is growing in relation to other plants. Certain trees produce tremendous amounts of leaf matter which decomposes rather slowly; examples are: avocado, macadamia, lychee, as well as many others. These trees can be expected to generate sufficient mulch for themselves once vigorous growth is attained. Unfortunately, under most conditions many trees do not create enough long lasting mulch for maintenance of their needs. To explain this apparent deficiency, look once again at the forest. Here, plants are "stacked" in the vertical direction in ground-level, middle, and tall vegetation. This means that the ground under each plant receives organic matter from several plants.

There are many ways to produce sufficient mulch at your site. Grass clippings, for example, represent nutrient rich mulch material. Deep rooted, vigorous growing plants that readily come back from hard pruning or coppicing will also work. There are several nitrogen fixing trees which produce copious amounts of green matter. Each should be evaluated for the specific site before planting. Other plants that work well are kukui, hau, desmodium,, various bunch grasses (such as Guinea grass), lemon grass, comfrey, etc.. Also, many water plants such as water hyacinth are good mulch materials. Since plants that produce heavy amounts of organic matter are by their nature nearly irrepressible, extreme caution should be taken not to let these plants escape your management and become weedy.

Sheet mulching should not be confused with composting, artificial weed barriers, or green manuring. Sheet mulching as described here is quite different from these in that it seeks to recreate the organic mulch layer of the forest with a minimum of effort from people. Properly planned, a backyard or orchard system will produce its own raw mulch in sufficient amounts and people are involved only in putting this material back onto the ground where it belongs.

References and further reading:

Molly Curry's article, "Sheet Mulch Now!" in The Permaculture Activist, issue No. 34-A, August 1996. Order from The Permaculture Activist, P.O. Box 1209, Black Mountain, NC, 28711, USA.

Bill Mollison's excellent Permaculture: A Practical Guide for a Sustainable Future, published by Ten Speed Press and available from bookstores.


Ruth Stout's No Work Gardening Book, published by Rodale Press, is an excellent reference but out-of-print and hard to find.

Agroforestry Net, Inc.
PO Box 428
Holualoa, Hawaii 96725 USA
Contact us:

Saturday, January 08, 2011


Facebook: "from Terry Kok"

Please take a few minutes to wade through the following 9 paragraphs and see if you can come out the other side with a better understanding of how we could be living here on Earth, even with a collapsing biosphere.

Have we run out of room on... this planet? There are those who believe we have reached the overpopulation point. There is plenty of hard evidence that we may have done so: crammed cities, rampant poverty in rural as well as urban areas, malnourished people spread all over the less developed parts of the world, the whole situation complicated by any number of extreme weather events: drought, flood, wind storms, earthquakes, etc. and human caused environmental degradation, soil depletion, and more. It is becoming increasingly hard to provide the masses of humanity with clean water, nutritious food, waste treatment, and, in high pollution zones, fresh air to breathe.

The true picture is not pretty, especially if one looks at the poorest places on the planet. Climate change is going to complicate matters even further with an increase in unpredictable and extreme weather events including a steady rise in worldwide sea levels and the submergence of highly populated lowlands. Inland aquifers are being sucked dry after being poisoned by agricultural chemicals and industrial toxins. Deserts are expanding. Wars are proliferating. Oil is becoming more rare and expensive. We’re running out of power. Given the current data, prospects for a peaceful and abundant future do not look too good unless you are one of the few wealthy elite with the means to pay any price to purchase the remaining resources.

It doesn’t have to be this way. The future does not have to be grim. We do not have to scramble for scraps if we create a practical and affordable solution for dealing with the very real problems we actually face. Most thinking people know how bad it already is and can imagine how bad it might become if we do not change course and quickly. What is this course change? That’s the real question. Does it have something to do with massive population reduction and a return to some sort of primitive existence? Should we attempt a mass migration to Mars? The answer is much simpler than that. We need to recycle everything.

There is plenty of matter available on Earth to make life support miracles happen. The trick is in how we manipulate and shape it and for what purpose. Guns will not keep anyone alive if there is nothing left to hunt. I wouldn’t make more of those. Cell phones can be great communication devices yet I wouldn’t try eating one. I’d much rather step into a high intensity food production greenhouse and chomp down on a carrot than attempt to feed on sawdust and old shoe leather. Get my point? We need to make something new which can get us out of this mess.

The greenhouse is good. It’s part of the solution. Tweek it up a bit and that greenhouse can do more than provide food. It can turn dirty water clean, eliminate organic wastes, and provide fresh oxygen-rich air. Wouldn’t that be nice? Rich people might not care because they already have those things in abundance. Poor people are in dire need and the dwindling middle class is close on their heals. Whatever the economic case, remember this word: CELSS (Closed Ecological Life Support System). It is a NASA-derived term for a biological based machine which could keep a colony alive on Mars. I think CELSS has direct application here on Earth as well. We have a lot of people in dire need of sustainable life support.

I actually believe there is more than enough room on this planet for the current population, even an increase, if we employ CELSS to process our stale air, wash water, and organic wastes, using these “natural resources” in conjunction with nature and natural processes to provide us with the essentials of life. In fact, if we have a mind to, we can build life-supporting CELSS out of recycled materials, or mass manufacture them in every style from the developing world economy model to the middle class add-on edition. Custom jobs could be done for the rich and famous.

There is a nice side effect from employing CELSS. Once people start using them on a regular basis, they stop polluting and otherwise disrupting the surrounding environment which then regenerates! Yes, nature has a few tricks up her sleeve. She can perform them if we aid her in the process. The first thing we need to do to help the situation is to stop using Mother Earth like she was our personal milk mom. Aren’t we’re supposed to be adults here? The mark of a mature person is their ability to care for their needs without having to run home to mommy‘s breasts. If I was an ambassador from the Intergalactic Federation sent to Earth to determine whether or not humankind had an advanced enough civilization to merit official entrance into the Federation, I would have to say, “Not yet. They still haven’t learned how to grow up and care for themselves”. We could do so.

“We will transform the Earth from the garbage pit of civilization into its rightful place as the breadbasket of the solar system, plant propagator, green machine, exporter of fine food to the Moon, Mars, and world’s beyond.” - the Alchemist

The task before us is to design and construct small scale “closed loop” ecosystems which are capable of supplying all our basic life support needs on Earth. Advanced versions can be sent to the Moon or Mars once we’ve field tested and perfected CELSS. For now, I would be happy to have one in my yard. Just think of the food, water, and sanitation bills I wouldn’t have to pay! Now, don’t get me wrong. If you love to garden outdoors, by all means continue to do so. Mother Earth loves to be cared for. I’m not talking about having to live sealed in a bubble. Yet, wouldn’t it be nice if your home was outputting oxygen, food, and clean water while you were outside taking it all in? Instead of sucking it all up we could be putting back more than we consume. That is a mark of a highly advanced civilization worthy of Federation membership.

Can you help? We’re not asking for money. Most of all, we need your accumulated knowledge and research capabilities. There are many questions on the particulars of CELSS operations. I’ve built a couple of human scale CELSS-tech “test beds” to see for myself what works and does not. I’ve studied the literature, read the science papers, discussed the details with other researchers, lectured on the topic, presented my own papers, and am now asking if you would like to be involved in the process of perfecting CELSS. There is a whole planet in need of upgrading. It helps if we are working together cooperatively.

More information can be found in this group: where people interested in sustainable systems and communities gather to cooperatively “think tank” viable solutions. We hope you can join us there.

CELSS (Closed Ecological Life Support System) is a “living machine” which, ideally, provides it’s inhabitant(s) with 100% of their life support (organic food, fresh oxygen-rich air, clean water) by recycling the waste p...roducts generated by the inhabitant(s) and by the CELSS itself. We call that “closing the loop”. As it has been said, “the devil is in the details”. CELSS is relatively new in the world. Now, of course, the planet-wide life supporting biosphere it a large scale CELSS. By studying what nature does to recycle we may apply these principles on a much smaller personalized scale. It helps to design for the worst possible scenario in the harshest environments (like Mars) and then it becomes easier and simpler to build robust systems for kinder climates. So, to start, imagine we have landed on a barren planet with no air, water, or food to eat except what we brought with us. Here’s what we have to work with (this can get gross):


1) HUMAN BODY: feces, urine, farts, belches, vomit, snot, spit/saliva, phlegm, sweat, tears, earwax, milk, sperm/semen, smegma, menstrual blood, blood, pus, nail clippings, hair, dead skin, water vapor, CO2, trace gasses, heat, medicine residues, and (if someone dies) dead bodies and body parts

2) PLANTS: unused biomass, garbage, plant oils, O2, CO2, ethylene and other trace gasses, water vapor

3) ANIMALS: much the same as what humans output

4) MATERIALS & PROCESSES: oils, soaps, worn out clothing (composed of natural fibers/dyes only), laundry & wash (gray) water, out-gassings (solvents/trace gasses from materials used in the CELSS shell construction and other items inside the CELSS).

That’s what we have to work with in the “hermetically sealed version“. Of course, on Earth or anywhere there are some useful outside resources, our task would be easier. Yet, if we design the hermetically sealed version, I‘m sure, on the way to the final design, we will cover just about any condition or environment we can imagine. While we are brainstorming this “ultimate CELSS” we need to be aware of the amount of energy required to make the whole thing work. The less energy required the better. Also, technologically complex systems tend to break down faster than simple systems. We adhere to the engineering principle of KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid). We don’t want to design anything which requires a lot of repairs, maintenance, or spare parts. The number of human hours spent per day keeping the system fully operational should also be considered. We’re not into this to work ourselves to death. We shouldn’t have to spend more than a hour or so a day doing our chores in an optimal system. Remember, we’re on a planet’s surface so we have gravity on our side. In space we would have to spin the whole thing to simulate gravity. For now, let’s stay grounded and focused on the transformations.

The MATERIAL INPUTS listed above must be transformed into the following:

1) nutrient rich water and soil for plants, fungi, and symbiotic micro-organisms
2) CO2 and trace gas-rich air for the plants, fungi, and symbiotic micro-organisms
3) clean water for humans and animals
4) oxygen rich air with few trace gasses (ethylene, methane, carbon monoxide, and other exotics) for humans and animals
5) continuously and regularly producing organic food supply for humans and animals

Get the picture? What goes around comes around. There is a dynamic relationship between humans, animals, plants, fungi, and symbiotic micro-organisms. What we are trying to do is optimize this relationship by building containment vessels which provide optimal conditions for each of the above. We want to make everyone and everything involved very comfortable and in a state of being nurtured at all times. We also want to do this in a way which prevents pathogens from thriving. We’re aiming for a high oxygen level (aerobic) conditions throughout the CELSS. Anaerobic conditions (such as found in septic systems) are to be avoided because they breed disease and poisonous gasses like hydrogen sulfide (rotten egg odor) and methane. Plants out-gas ethylene which is, at certain concentrations, a growth inhibitor for the plants. It too needs to be converted or a hermetically sealed system will die.

How large should a fully operational CELSS be? As small as possible and small is possible. Here are some optimistic figures from the CELSS life support research community:

(may be stacked into multiple levels for more efficient operation)

14 m2 - Gitalson
56 m2 - Bios3
20-30 m2 - Cullingford & Schwatekopf
13-50 m2 - Bugsbee & Salisbury
56.9 m2 - Oleson & Olson
8-20 m2 - MacElroy & Averner
15-20 m2 - Eckhart
24 m2 - Hoff
15 m2 - Vasilyew

As you can see, the above figures are tiny compared to the amount of space the average human being requires for life support in both hunter/gatherer and agriculture-based civilizations. Since the Earth’s “carrying capacity” is already exceeded because of the rapidly expanding human population, anything we do to reduce an individual’s “footprint” (space/resource required to keep a person alive) is a step in the correct direction. Lab work (NASA Ames) has already proven that all the air, water, and food for one person can be grown in a 16’ x 16’ space under optimal conditions with controlled atmosphere, temperature, lighting, and nutrients. Of course this was a highly engineered “hydroponics” style system which required considerable electricity for the lighting, pumps, and climate control plus an outside source of plant nutrients. So, it cannot really be called a CELSS but it sure is an encouraging experiment. I bet we can do pretty good together too!

That’s enough for the moment. Read through the above a few times and start dreaming of how you might turn each of the MATERIAL INPUTS into what we need to get in return. If you have any ideals fleshed ot in some detail, please share them with the group. My job here is to facilitate the “think tanking” and keep us on course to building a functioning CELSS. I’m going to be poking and prodding so don’t take it personally when I question you input or put a new twist into the puzzle. Doing so is part of my job facilitating this group. One thing I’m going to be stressing is INTEGRATING FUNCTIONS. If one piece of hardware can do 3 things simultaneously, I’m probably going to suggest it.