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Local seeds and produce (Image by Drona Chetri from Navdanya)

The End of Meat and GMOs or the End of Us: Part 2

This article will be released as a three-part series on the effects of GMOs and the meat industry on our environment. Go back to read Part 1 or move on to Part 3!

Dr. Vandana Shiva argues that the World Bank pushed the privatization of seeds in India in 1991, introducing a very distorted model of agriculture.  It created refugees out of Indian farmers who moved to the cities, became today’s migrant labor, and are now refugees from the cities because of the Corona crisis.  With the pandemic and sudden lockdown, the livelihood of half of India just evaporated.  This India that works for its bread also suddenly added to the ranks of the hungry.  Before the pandemic, nearly one million children under five were dying of hunger annually, and there were 190 million hungry people already.  COVID added many more millions.  The farmers who went the World Bank way to grow cash crops were unable to sell when all the long-distance supply chains collapsed due to COVID.  

“We were always told that industrial food is cheap and is feeding the world.  So I started to do full cost accounting and found that there are trillions and trillions of dollars of shadow in environmental destruction, biodiversity destruction, destruction of farmers, and destruction of our health.  When we add all that together, we will realize that we could not afford industrial food pushed by the old Poison Cartel and Big Oil,” Dr. Shiva explains.  She gives an example of biofuel–which is made to look very efficient–and big government subsidies to divert food to biofuel.  But, it takes more fossil fuel to produce biofuel than its substitutes.  “We measure nutrition per acre, we measure health per care, and our work with real farmers and true cost accounting is showing that small farms with biodiversity, without chemicals, can feed two times Indian population…They take pride in feeding 1.3 billion.  I can tell you the U.S. model can’t feed 1.3 billion.” 

Defending the world’s largest protests by farmers in India against the new agricultural laws that would allow private corporations to buy directly from farmers–which would leave them at the mercy of buyers–Dr. Shiva says that in the globalized system of monopolistic buying, the original farmer gets as little as 0.5 to 5%.  Global corporations break national boundaries, they break national sovereignty, and Indian farmers are fighting for food sovereignty.  She says that in spite of the global powers wanting to grab the land and turn India into a large farm desert like the midwest of the U.S., the small farmers are fighting because of their love for Mother Earth. 

John Robbins says that livestock provides just 18% of calories but takes up more than 80% of farmland.  “Right now, 81% of the world’s agricultural land is used to provide meat, eggs, and dairy products.  That’s an astounding amount of land on planet Earth.  But, plant foods, on the other hand, require far less land and far fewer resources, and can actually help sequester the carbon in the soil.  We could feed the entire world’s population, and free up so much land that could be used to grow more food for future generations…The scientific consensus is very clear that industrial meat production is responsible for a major portion of all our greenhouse emissions.”  Elaborating on the findings of Oxford Martin School researchers, he says that a global switch to diets that rely less on meat and more on fruits, vegetables, and whole grains could save up to 8 million lives by 2050 and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by two-thirds.

A calf straining against a chain from his veal crate. (Image by Jo-Anne McArthur from We Animals)
A calf straining against a chain from his veal crate. (Image by Jo-Anne McArthur from We Animals)

When Amazon rainforests were burning, French president Emanuel Macron wrote that the lungs which produce 20% oxygen for the planet were burning.  According to TIME, in 2018, Brazil exported some $6 billion worth of beef, more than any other country in history.  In Brazil, cattle account for 80% of deforested land.  Why are Brazilians cutting down their forests?  To make quick money by trying to meet an increasing demand for beef around the world. 

There are many doctors who have been shouting out loud, along with Dr. Michael Greger, that there is no human nutritional need for any animal protein.  In fact, according to the Harvard University School of Medicine, the healthiest sources of protein are “beans, nuts, grains and other vegetable sources of protein.”  One reason India was not considered a high-risk area for novel influenza strains is because a large portion of the population is vegetarian.  But, over the past 25 years, India’s diet has changed.  The middle classes of India have been pushed into admiring junk foods, taking pride in flocking for meat at McDonald’s and KFCs, and urban populations consider a Coke-and-Pepsi-diet a declaration of being progressive.  So, India is now the capital of diabetes in the world.  The risks from COVID escalate multifold with any chronic disease, including diabetes. 

Social psychologist Melanie Joy’s book, Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows, offers an absorbing look at what she calls carnism, the belief system that conditions us to eat certain animals when we would never dream of eating others.  Dr. Joy says that eating animals without thinking about it makes this behavior invisible.  She calls this invisible belief system “carnism”.  There are Three Ns of justification–Dr. Joy argues–that consuming meat is normal, natural, and necessary.  She explains that “the belief that eating meat is necessary makes the system seem inevitable–if we cannot exist without meat, then abolishing carnism is akin to suicide.”  This myth of necessity has been promoted by the meat industry despite widespread and substantial evidence to the contrary.  She discusses many ways our system has made eating animals acceptable: Objectification, viewing animals as things rather than living, breathing, feeling beings;  Deindividualization, looking at animals as a group or a species rather than individuals with their own personalities and preferences;  Dichotomization, categorizing animals into edible or inedible, so that we can eat our steak while we pet our dog.

Lamb (Image by Paulomi Shah and Unsplash)
Lamb (Image by Paulomi Shah and Unsplash)

Renowned, multi-disciplinary Dr. Zach Bush proclaims that we are in the middle of the sixth great extinction on the planet and humanity is one of the countless species headed for extinction.  In 2019, Dr. Bush correctly predicted that Hubei, China would be the center of a pandemic due to its high levels of air pollution combined with the pollution from large factory farms.  “Animals around the world are largely being held in captivity, in extremely toxic and inhumane conditions.  If we see viruses coming out of that, that’s the microbiome’s check on the reality that we live in.  There are checks and balances in biology, certainly, that work better than the checks and balances in our government,”  Dr. Bush comments.

One molecule in our food and water system called glyphosatethe active ingredient in Roundup – is causing huge endocrine disruption in our bodies and poisoning our environment.  It poisons our genome and blocks the ability to make glutathione, which is our main antioxidant.  Dr. Bush says that by using antimicrobials like glyphosate, which act as an antibiotic for the earth, we have been destroying our soil and depleting nutrients from our food.  Glyphosate is only one of 260 chemicals in our food system.  “Glyphosate is at over 5 billion pounds of consumption worldwide and it is, unfortunately, a water-soluble toxin.  A water-soluble toxin is a bad idea on a planet that is 70% water not just by surface area, but for the air we breathe, for the clouds that rain it down upon us, for the plants that grow within that soil, and for the bodies that live off of those plants.” 

Our staple superfoods are contaminated because of the farming practices using so much glyphosate, and our foods are making us sick.  The third-largest crop we grow in the U.S., right behind corn and soybean, is our neighborhood lawns and it extends to our playing fields and golf courses sprayed with Roundup.  Glyphosate is destroying not just the proteins for human life but also for bacterial life.  It functions as a potent antibiotic, kills life in the soil, and also kills life in the gut.  So when we are eating, drinking, and breathing Roundup, we are destroying our gut microbiome which determines our health.  Simply put, when you harm the gut, you are harming the human.  As a result, we are experiencing an extinction of the diversity of microbes within our gut, which parallels the extinction that is gripping the planet.

Dr. Bush, who has devoted his time to soil science and regenerative agriculture, has been educating farmers on the dangers of chemical farming, making them aware that they are facing the highest levels of chronic disease in the world.  He speaks of the last 90 miles of the Mississippi river that collects about 80% of the Roundup in our environment and is now cancer alleys. 

“If you look at the graph of the growth of GMOs, the growth of application of glyphosate and autism, it’s literally a one-to-one correspondence.  You could make that graph for kidney failure, you could make that graph for diabetes, you could make that graph even for Alzheimer’s…Monoculture farms and monoculture factory farms become hotbeds of disease,” comments Dr. Shiva, on the harm caused by this Bayer-Monsanto herbicide that is commonly used with GMO crops.

Dr. Bush explains that with every introduction of glyphosate starting with its debut in 1976, spraying of wheat starting in 1992, and the Roundup Ready GMO crops in 1996, there has been an uptick in chronic and autoimmune diseases, inflammatory and neurologic degenerative conditions.  Glyphosate was originally used as an industrial pipe cleaner as it would leach out heavy metal buildup in older pipes.  Millions of acres of U.S. farmland are now covered with glyphosate-resistant superweeds. 

Bayer, a German company, cleverly got the GMO approval for LibertyLink a year before they bought Monsanto.  They are happy to pay billions of dollars in lawsuit settlements as they very slowly phase out glyphosate while the court systems slog along, sweeping in as a savior with their jackpot LibertyLink.  LibertyLink is another GMO approved by the E.U., the U.S., and Canada.  Instead of disrupting the glycine amino acid pathway which glyphosate does, LibertyLink crops–genetically modified to handle spraying of a chemical called glufosinate–disrupt amino acids that are critical for human reproduction.  LibertyLink, unfortunately, is already growing throughout the whole midwest.  “The sperm counts in all Western countries have dropped by 52-57% over the last few decades, and we are now seeing one in three males with a sperm count at infertility level and one in four women is struggling with infertility.  We are losing the capacity to procreate, we are losing the capacity for human life.  We are failing as a biological species because of the collapse of biology beneath our feet, beneath our gut, beneath the soils that dwell around us.” 

Talking about the “victory gardens” in World War II that provided some 40 percent of all produce consumed in the U.S., Dr. Bush says: “We stopped growing food in the United States.  If you think we have a serious crisis in our hospitals now, wait till our food system is disrupted…Our supply chains are tenuous…Kansas–our most agricultural state in the U.S. where 90% of the acreage is agriculturally managed– imports 90% of their food as a state and one in four children is going hungry in Kansas for lack of calories today.”  He laments the dramatic increase in chronic diseases we have seen so far, and notes how our children are aging fast, developing the diseases that we used to see in geriatrics. 

Dr. Bush predicts that if we just look forward to 16 years–four more American presidents–we will hit autism for one in three children, and adults with about 75% cancer rates.  “Our food system is 1.2 trillion dollars a year, our medical system is 3.7 trillion dollars a year.  We are three times outspending our food with just the cost of chronic disease care…We have a completely unsustainable model for agriculture and disease care in the U.S. which is going to drive us bankrupt as a nation…The farmer and the physician have been trained by the same chemical companies and so we have been indoctrinated into the same pharmaceutical codependence and world view, whether we be a farmer or a physician.”  

Discussing his work with his non-profit Farmer’s Footprint, he remarks: “My greatest hope is for this third generation of Roundup children.  Let’s reverse out of that epigenetic doom that we have set for them.  Let them find a pathway into a new epigenetic hope through their reconnection to real food, through a really healthy soil and water ecosystem.” 

Go back to read Part 1 or move on to Part 3!


Paulomi Shah hopes to live in a world where not a single animal would be killed for food – so that there would be an abundance of healthy foods – and hopes for a world where all foods would be grown organically.


 

The End of Meat and GMOs or the End of Us: Part 1

This article will be released as a three-part series on the effects of GMOs and the meat industry on our environment. Read Part 2 and Part 3!

“My dream in 1987 was that I will not let the Monsantos have a monopoly over the seed.  They cannot pretend they invented the seed, they cannot pretend it’s a machine that they put in place.  This illusion is too much of an abuse against the creativity and creation of the earth.  I decided to protect the seed because I didn’t accept it being in the hands of a few people just for profit and monopoly.  I could not accept the untruth of the seed being patented.  For me, saving seeds and exchanging seeds is maintaining the continuity of cycles of life in farming, in nature, and in society,” says environmental activist, author, and food sovereignty advocate Dr. Vandana Shiva, explaining her life’s work.

Dr. Shiva continues: “Monsanto and Bayer have a long history.  They made explosives and lethally poisonous gases using shared technologies and sold them to both sides in the two world wars…Industrial agriculture is nothing else but a subsidy to the continuation of the war that started in Hitler’s concentration camps.  And in the process, we have destroyed the land, destroyed biodiversity, destroyed insects, butterflies, pollinators, and we have destroyed the farmers.”  She comments that it’s not going to work to have “the whole world declare a war on a little virus because humans have lost every war against microbes.  They turn out to be so much smarter…The garden is going to be our savior in the time of artificial intelligence.”

A virus that has locked down the world and robbed the livelihoods of millions for over a year now has a message for humanity, if only we could pay attention to it – we are just the tip of biology on this earth.  The pandemic is not a natural disaster, but a human-caused disaster.  If we do not respect the rights of other species or our fellow human beings, our planet will continue to evolve, even without us.

“It was a bad day for viruses,” Moderna’s chair Noubar Afeyan says about the day when he got the first word of his company’s clinical trial results.  “We may never have a pandemic again.”

As tempting as it is to believe, I find it more realistic to go with the thesis of Dr. Michael Greger’s book, How to Survive a Pandemic“When I was growing up, there was no such thing as HIV/AIDS.  Where did this virus come from?” he asks in the preface of this book.  The current coronavirus pandemic may just be a dress rehearsal for the coming plague.  We are heading toward a much deadlier pandemic–a hundred times worse than COVID-19–which would threaten our civilization, he argues.

As he delves into tracing the roots of many pandemics to industrialized animal agriculture, he also mourns the loss of more than half of the Earth’s tropical forests that have been cleared due to the expanding livestock production.  This “hamburgerization” of the rainforests has set the stage for disease emergence and transmission in many ways.  As the rainforests of Africa were destroyed for logging operations, gorillas and chimpanzees were shot and sold as food.  Tracing the roots of HIV to bushmeat, he writes: “Someone butchered a chimp a few decades ago and now thirty million people are dead.”  Human outbreaks of Ebola have been traced to exposure to the dead bodies of infected great apes hunted for food.  

“Increasing consumer demand for animal products worldwide over the past few decades has led to a global explosion in massive animal agriculture operations which have come to play a key role in the Third Age of emerging human disease,” says Dr. Greger.  His details on factory farming practices are eye-opening for meat consumers: “The stress associated with the routine mutilations farm animals are subjected to without anesthesia–including castration, branding, dehorning, detoeing, teeth clipping, beak trimming, and tail docking–coupled with the metabolic demands of intensive production, such as artificially augmented reproduction, lactation, early weaning, and accelerated growth rates, leave animals extremely prone to disease.”  

Dr. Greger also lays out the environmental impact of factory farms throughout this book.  He cites Robert F. Kennedy Jr. describing North Carolina’s hog farms: “Below, aluminum culverts collect and channel their putrefying waste into 10-acre, open-air pits three stories deep from which miasmal vapors choke surrounding communities and tens of millions of gallons of hog feces ooze into North Carolina’s rivers.”   What about Salmonella and E. coli outbreaks in alfalfa sprouts and greens?  The bacteria from chicken and cattle manure get onto sprouts as the level of infection in animal feces has risen with the intensification of factory farming.

“There is shit in the meat,” says Eric Schlosser, in his book Fast Food Nation.  Writing about the processing of chickens at factory farms in her book Spoiled, author Nicols Fox says that the “final product is no different than if you stuck it in the toilet and ate it.”  As he narrates the filthy conditions at factory farms, Dr. Greger argues that it is easier to blame practices that may be culturally foreign, such as wet markets and bushmeat, than it is to look at our own plates in the mirror.  The first hybrid swine flu virus was discovered in North America.  “With massive concentrations of farm animals within whom to mutate, these new swine flu viruses in North America seem to be on an evolutionary fast track, jumping and reassorting between species at an unprecedented rate.”

In a gut-wrenching account of the abuse of animals, Dr. Greger writes: “A hen needs 291 square inches of space to flap her wings, 197 square inches to turn around, and 72 square inches just to stand freely.  U.S. commercial battery facilities typically allow each bird an average of 64 square inches.  Laying hen warehouses can average more than a hundred thousand chickens per shed.”  According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), a single gram of manure from an infected chicken can contain “enough virus to infect 1 million birds.”

These animals are bred to be sick.  In the 1950s, the industry could raise a five-pound chicken in less than three months.  This now takes an average of forty-five days. Broilers with a faster growth rate are under physiological and immunological stress that makes them more sensitive to infectious diseases.  Dr. Greger says that H5N1 ought to have been the wake-up call to industry breeders that myopic breeding schemes prioritizing growth over health concerns threaten the continued viability of their industry.  Unfortunately, “the message does not seem to have gotten through.”  

A dead hen at an industrial egg farm in Taiwan. (Image by Jo-Anne McArthur at We Animals)

COVID-19 is not the only pandemic we have had, Dr. Greger points out:  “Bird flu viruses have been detected every year in the U.S. since the mid-1960s.  In just the last five years, the United States has suffered more than two hundred outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza viruses, including H5N1, H5N8, H7N8, and H7H9, resulting in the deaths of more than fifty million chickens and turkeys.”  He explains that by adapting to chickens, bird flu viruses hit an evolutionary jackpot.  And, by adapting to chickens, the viruses may be adapting to the human race–another multibillion-host bonanza for the viruses. 

Dr. Greger also reports the meat industry’s efforts to cover up the information on disease outbreaks over the decades.  The industry’s attempts at poultry vaccinations have led to viral mutations and vaccine-resistant strains.  He quotes industry insiders who admit that truly informed consumers are the last thing they need: “If most urban meat-eaters were to visit an industrial broiler house, to see how the birds are raised, and could see the birds being “harvested” and then being “processed”….some, perhaps many of them, would swear off eating chicken and perhaps all meat.” His book presents many stories of outbreaks in factory farms from New Jersey to Oklahoma as well as of the cover-ups by corporate producers and veterinarians.

Considering the role of funding for the meat industry, Dr. Greger mentions that the World Bank, which has funded large-scale livestock projects in developing nations, has acknowledged that there is “a significant danger that the poor are being crowded out, the environment eroded, and global food safety and security are threatened” with large factory farms.  While production profitability has been the sole consideration, critics have argued that human and animal health and welfare, soil health, biodiversity, climate change, social justice, equity, good governance, and environmental stewardship have been completely ignored. 

In painstaking details throughout his book, Dr. Greger explains that reckless animal agriculture practices have given rise to endless diseases caused by humans.  The root causes behind the Third Age of human disease are “anthropogenic,” meaning human-caused.  “As climate changes and ecosystems are destroyed, pathogens will become ubiquitous, constantly mixing and mutating to find new animal hosts and new avenues of infection.”  Referring to pandemic influenza, Nobel Prize winner scientist Joshua Lederberg said: “Some people think I am being hysterical, but there are catastrophes ahead.  We live in evolutionary competition with microbes–bacteria and viruses.  There is no guarantee that we will be the survivors.”

Is it possible to prevent future pandemics?  “As hard as it is to imagine a virus more ominous than H5N1, intensive poultry production on a global scale is a relatively new phenomenon.  As poultry consumption continues to soar in the developing world, there is no biological reason that bird flu could not evolve and mutate into an even deadlier niche…Even if H5N1 never developed the capacity to go pandemic, it may only be a matter of time before the new poultry factories of the world breed the deadliest of combinations,” claims Dr. Greger.  He offers a moratorium on factory farms as one of the solutions: “If the development of animal agriculture marked the “start of the era of zoonosis,” then the scaling back of animal agricultural production may hasten its end.” 

“We may be one bushmeat meal away from the next HIV, one pangolin plate away from the next killer coronavirus, and one factory farm away from the next deadly flu…Tragically, it may take a pandemic with a virus like H5N1 or H7N9 before the world realizes the true cost of cheap chicken,” Dr. Greger declares as he concludes his remarkable book.

In an interview with Senator Cory Booker–who has unveiled a bill to reform the farm system–food revolutionist and author John Robbins says that 80% of the antibiotics that are used in the U.S. for all purposes aren’t used as medicines to treat bacterial infections in human beings, which is the rightful use, but they are used as feed-additives in factory farms and in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs).  If this continues, we are heading into superbugs when no antibiotic will work on human infections.  Senator Booker says that his bill is a “real leverage point to look at our food systems in America, and to take steps to correct this injustice” where 90% of our agriculture subsidies using taxpayer money is going into four monocrops.  “A significant amount goes to feeding livestock…and the rest of it goes to things that make us sicker, like corn syrup.  That’s why my kids in Newark can find a Twinkie product cheaper than an apple…We have a savagely broken food system; these powerful interests protect it, and this is not for the small, independent family farmer.  This is for the big multinational corporations who get billions of dollars because of our subsidies.”  As someone who believes that change can start with a single person, Senator Booker quotes an old saying that change doesn’t come from Washington, it comes to Washington.  He calls on citizens to double down on their activism and find ways to demand a change by working with local legislators, house members, and senators on these issues.

Preventing farmer suicide protests. (Image by Navdanya)

As for Dr. Shiva, she took the inspiration from Gandhi’s spinning wheel–which was against the Satanic mills of England that had colonized the world and created slavery–and started saving seeds to fight American agrochemical company Monsanto’s tyrannical control of seeds, and has since worked tirelessly with small farmers.  Her organization, Navdanya, has built 150 community seed banks in different parts of India.  Navdanya means “nine seeds” (symbolizing protection of biological and cultural diversity) and also the “new gift” (for seed as commons, based on the right to save and share seeds.)   “Whenever a farmer has a seed, they are not in debt.  Because it is the seeds bred for chemicals or genetically engineered seeds that need chemicals that get farmers into debt, for seed, and for chemicals.  That’s the primary reason for about 70% of the debt…First they said without chemicals you can’t grow food.  Then they said without GMOs you can’t grow food.  And now they are saying that without digital agriculture you can’t grow food…The Corona crisis is forcing humanity to shake the myth of certainty and predictability.  The entire mechanistic industrial ideal which assumes total control, total prediction, and has got us in this mess, assumes separation that we are not part of nature and we are masters.” Dr. Shiva proclaims that uncertainty and non-separation from nature is the way the world is woven.

 Continue on to read the rest of the series: Part 2 and Part 3!


Paulomi Shah hopes to live in a world where not a single animal would be killed for food – so that there would be an abundance of healthy foods – and hopes for a world where all foods would be grown organically.