Wednesday, November 10, 2010


Activists Mobilize to Ban Arsenic in Maryland Poultry Production

New Food & Water Watch Report Warns of Public Health and Environmental Risks of Chemical

WASHINGTON - November 9, 2010 - As part of a movement to ban the use of arsenic in poultry production in Maryland, the consumer advocacy group Food & Water Watch today partnered with community leaders throughout the state to educate the public about the environmental and public health problems associated with the chemical.

A known poison, arsenic is often added to chicken feed in the form of the compound roxarsone to control the common intestinal disease coccidiosis, to promote growth and as a cosmetic additive. Chronic exposure to arsenic has also been shown to increase the risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, neurological deficits and other health problems.

“The FDA approved this drug in 1944 when FDR was president. Since then, science has shown it’s a dangerous, unnecessary contaminant in our food supply,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. “Maryland has an opportunity to demonstrate true leadership on this issue by banning the use of arsenic in its poultry facilities.”

The seventh largest broiler-producing state in the U.S., according the 2007 U.S. Census of Agriculture, Maryland sold nearly 300 million broiler chickens that year. On the Delmarva Peninsula alone, 1,700 chicken operations raise 11 million chickens per week. Researchers estimate that between 20 and 50 metric tons of roxarsone are applied to crops there every year via poultry waste. Groundwater tests on both sides of the Chesapeake Bay’s Coastal Plains found arsenic in some household wells reaching up to 13 times the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) tolerance limit. Arsenic in chicken litter can convert to more dangerous forms of arsenic than those originally used in feed. This is why a bill to ban arsenic in chicken feed was introduced earlier this year in the Maryland House of Delegates.

“A week ago today, Maryland’s conservation-minded voters turned out in force to send a message that protecting the health of our air, land, water, and residents is an important priority,” said Jen Brock-Cancellieri, deputy director of the Maryland League of Conservation Voters. “We hope that after reading this report, Maryland’s legislators will continue to speak up for their constituents and support legislation to ban the unnecessary use of arsenic by the poultry industry.”

These concerns are reinforced by a new report on the poultry industry’s use of arsenic also released today by Food & Water Watch. Poison-Free Poultry: Why Arsenic Doesn’t Belong in Chicken Feed exposes the dangerous, widespread use of arsenic in the poultry industry and calls on Congress and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to take action to update antiquated rules and protect consumers.

“We should be able to eat chicken without consuming harmful additives, but Marylanders are inadvertently exposing themselves and their loved ones to a known carcinogen hidden in a seemingly nutritious meal,” said Jenny Levin, an advocate for Maryland PIRG. “As a proud poultry production state, Maryland should ban the use of arsenic in chicken feed immediately, thereby protecting a valuable industry and the health and trust of its citizens.”

Dr. Keeve Nachman, director of farming for the Future Program at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future notes that “approval of roxarsone for use in poultry and swine production is based on sorely outdated science that ignores both our present-day understanding of arsenic’s toxicity and the potential for arsenic to contaminate soils, water and crops where animal waste is spread.”

Although approved for use in the chicken industry by the FDA over six decades ago, the average American’s annual chicken consumption has since tripled from less than 20 pounds in the 1940s to nearly 60 pounds in 2008. Yet the FDA hasn’t revised its allowed levels for arsenic residues in poultry since 1951.

Additionally, new studies show that arsenic residues may be higher in chicken meat than previously known. USDA data suggests that the typical American is eating between 2.13 and 8.07 micrograms of total arsenic per day through consumption of chicken meat.

“The science shows the use of arsenic in chicken feed is dangerous and that viable alternatives to arsenic exist,“ said Hauter. “The FDA needs to stand up to the big chicken companies and make public health its priority.”

The report outlines the shared responsibility by the FDA, USDA and EPA for fixing a fragmented, antiquated system to regulate arsenic. It concludes with recommendations to these agencies to mitigate the damage already caused by arsenic in livestock feed and calls for a ban on future use of arsenic for livestock production.

“One of the main reasons why we have found such strong demand for the chickens grown on our pasture is that we don’t use arsenic to raise them,” said Ted Wycall, owner of Greenbranch Farm, located on the Eastern Shore. “Consumers are smart; they don’t want to eat food containing arsenic. Pasture-raised poultry is in big demand locally and nationally. Farmers should consider this a tremendous business opportunity; we need more of us doing this.”

The full report can be downloaded here.
Food & Water Watch is a nonprofit consumer organization that works to ensure clean water and safe food. We challenge the corporate control and abuse of our food and water resources by empowering people to take action and by transforming the public consciousness about what we eat and drink.
CONTACT: Food & Water Watch Erin Greenfield at (202) 683-2457
or news[at]fwwatch[dot]org

Sunday, November 7, 2010


Monsanto's ongoing humiliation proceeds apace. No, I'm not referring to the company's triumph in our recent "Villains of Food" poll. Instead, I'm talking about a Tuesday item from the Des Moines Register's Philip Brasher, reporting that Monsanto has been forced into the unenviable position of having to pay farmers to spray the herbicides of rival companies.

If you tend large plantings of Monsanto's "Roundup Ready" soy or cotton, genetically engineered to withstand application of the company's Roundup herbicide (which will kill the weeds -- supposedly -- but not the crops), Monsanto will cut you a $6 check for every acre on which you apply at least two other herbicides. One imagines farmers counting their cash as literally millions of acres across the South and Midwest get doused with Monsanto-subsidized poison cocktails.

The move is the latest step in the abject reversal of Monsanto's longtime claim: that Roundup Ready technology solved the age-old problem of weeds in an ecologically benign way. The company had developed a novel trait that would allow crops to survive unlimited lashings of glyphosate, Monsanto's then-patent-protected, broad-spectrum herbicide. It was kind of a miracle technology. Farmers would no longer have to think about weeds; glyphosate, which killed everything but the trait-endowed crop, would do all the work. Moreover, Monsanto promised, Roundup was less toxic to humans and wildlife than the herbicides then in use; and it allowed farmers to decrease erosion by dramatically reducing tillage -- a common method of weed control.

There was just one problem, which the Union of Concerned Scientists pointed out as early as 1993, New York University nutritionist and food-politics author Marion Nestle recently reminded us. When farmers douse the same field year after year with the same herbicide, certain weeds will develop resistance. When they do, it will take ever-larger doses of that herbicide to kill them -- making the survivors even hardier. Eventually, it will be time to bring in in the older, harsher herbicides to do the trick, UCS predicted.

At the time and for years after, Monsanto dismissed the concerns as "hypothetical," Nestle reports. Today, Roundup Ready seeds have conquered prime U.S. farmland from the deep South to the northern prairies -- 90 percent of soybean acres and 70 percent of corn and cotton acres are planted in Roundup Ready seeds. Monsanto successfully conquered a fourth crop, sugar beets, gaining a stunning 95 percent market share after the USDA approved Roundup Ready beet seeds in 2008. But recently, as I reported here, a federal judge halted future plantings of Roundup Ready beets until the USDA completes an environmental impact study of their effects.

Given what happened to other Roundup Ready crops, it's hard to imagine that the USDA can come up with an environmental impact study that will exonerate Monsanto's sugar beet seeds. Today, there are no fewer than 10 weed species resistant to Roundup, thriving "in at least 22 states infesting millions of acres," The New York Times recently reported. And the ways farmers are responding to them are hardly ecologically sound: jacked-up application rates of Roundup, supplemented by other, harsher poisons.

And as Monsanto's once-celebrated Roundup Ready traits come under fire, there's another Roundup problem no one's talking about: Roundup itself, once hailed as a an ecologically benign herbicide, is looking increasingly problematic. A study by France's University of Caen last year found that the herbicide's allegedly "inert" ingredients magnify glyphosate's toxic effects. According to the study, "the proprietary mixtures available on the market could cause cell damage and even death" at levels commonly used on farm fields.

Moreover, the annual cascade of Roundup on vast swaths of prime farmland also appears to be undermining soil health and productivity, as this startling recent report shows.

Meanwhile, the endlessly repeated claim that Roundup Ready technology saves "millions of tons" of soil from erosion, by allowing farmers to avoid tilling to kill weeds, appears to be wildly trumped up. According to Environmental Working Group's reading of the USDA's 2007 National Resource Inventory, "there has been no progress in reducing soil erosion in the Corn Belt since 1997." (The Corn Belt is the section of the Midwest where the great bulk of Roundup Ready corn and soy are planted.) "The NRI shows that an average-sized Iowa farm loses five tons of high quality topsoil per acre each year," EWG writes.

In short, Monsanto's Roundup Ready technology is emerging as an environmental disaster. The question isn't why a judge demanded an environmental impact study of Roundup Ready sugar beets in 2010; it's that no one did so in 1996 before the technology was rolled out. After all, the Union of Concerned Scientists was already quite, well, concerned back then.

As I wrote in June, rather than spark a reassessment of the wisdom of relying on toxic chemicals, the failure of Roundup Ready has the U.S. agricultural establishment scrambling to intensify chemical use. Companies like Dow Agriscience are dusting off old, highly toxic poisons like 2, 4-D and promoting them as the "answer" to Roundup's problems.

In a better world, farmers would be looking to non-chemical methods for controlling weeds: crop rotations, mulching, cover crops, etc. Instead, they're being paid by Monsanto to ramp up application of poisons. Perhaps the USDA's main research arm, the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, will rise to the occasion by funding research in non-chemical weed-control methods? Not likely, since the Obama administration tapped a staunch Monsanto man to lead that crucial agency.

But instead of true innovation, we have the spectacle of Monsanto paying farmers to dump vast chemical cocktails onto land that not only feeds us, but also drains into our streams and rivers.


Time to End War Against the Earth

by Vandana Shiva
Published on Sunday, November 7, 2010 by The Age (Australia)

When we think of wars in our times, our minds turn to Iraq and Afghanistan. But the bigger war is the war against the planet. This war has its roots in an economy that fails to respect ecological and ethical limits - limits to inequality, limits to injustice, limits to greed and economic concentration.

A handful of corporations and of powerful countries seeks to control the earth's resources and transform the planet into a supermarket in which everything is for sale. They want to sell our water, genes, cells, organs, knowledge, cultures and future.

Vandana Shiva The continuing wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and onwards are not only about "blood for oil". As they unfold, we will see that they are about blood for food, blood for genes and biodiversity and blood for water.

The war mentality underlying military-industrial agriculture is evident from the names of Monsanto's herbicides - ''Round-Up'', ''Machete'', ''Lasso''. American Home Products, which has merged with Monsanto, gives its herbicides similarly aggressive names, including ''Pentagon'' and ''Squadron''.This is the language of war. Sustainability is based on peace with the earth.

The war against the earth begins in the mind. Violent thoughts shape violent actions. Violent categories construct violent tools. And nowhere is this more vivid than in the metaphors and methods on which industrial, agricultural and food production is based. Factories that produced poisons and explosives to kill people during wars were transformed into factories producing agri-chemicals after the wars.

The year 1984 woke me up to the fact that something was terribly wrong with the way food was produced. With the violence in Punjab and the disaster in Bhopal, agriculture looked like war. That is when I wrote The Violence of the Green Revolution and why I started Navdanya as a movement for an agriculture free of poisons and toxics.

Pesticides, which started as war chemicals, have failed to control pests. Genetic engineering was supposed to provide an alternative to toxic chemicals. Instead, it has led to increased use of pesticides and herbicides and unleashed a war against farmers.

The high-cost feeds and high-cost chemicals are trapping farmers in debt - and the debt trap is pushing farmers to suicide. According to official data, more than 200,000 Indian farmers have committed suicide in India since 1997.

Making peace with the earth was always an ethical and ecological imperative. It has now become a survival imperative for our species.

Violence to the soil, to biodiversity, to water, to atmosphere, to farms and farmers produces a warlike food system that is unable to feed people. One billion people are hungry. Two billion suffer food-related diseases - obesity, diabetes, hypertension and cancers.

There are three levels of violence involved in non-sustainable development. The first is the violence against the earth, which is expressed as the ecological crisis. The second is the violence against people, which is expressed as poverty, destitution and displacement. The third is the violence of war and conflict, as the powerful reach for the resources that lie in other communities and countries for their limitless appetites.

When every aspect of life is commercialized, living becomes more costly, and people are poor, even if they earn more than a dollar a day. On the other hand, people can be affluent in material terms, even without the money economy, if they have access to land, their soils are fertile, their rivers flow clean, their cultures are rich and carry traditions of producing beautiful homes and clothing and delicious food, and there is social cohesion, solidarity and spirit of community.

The elevation of the domain of the market, and money as man-made capital, to the position of the highest organizing principle for societies and the only measure of our well-being has led to the undermining of the processes that maintain and sustain life in nature and society.

The richer we get, the poorer we become ecologically and culturally. The growth of affluence, measured in money, is leading to a growth in poverty at the material, cultural, ecological and spiritual levels.

The real currency of life is life itself and this view raises questions: how do we look at ourselves in this world? What are humans for? And are we merely a money-making and resource-guzzling machine? Or do we have a higher purpose, a higher end?

I believe that ''earth democracy'' enables us to envision and create living democracies based on the intrinsic worth of all species, all peoples, all cultures - a just and equal sharing of this earth's vital resources, and sharing the decisions about the use of the earth's resources.

Earth democracy protects the ecological processes that maintain life and the fundamental human rights that are the basis of the right to life, including the right to water, food, health, education, jobs and livelihoods.

We have to make a choice. Will we obey the market laws of corporate greed or Gaia's laws for maintenance of the earth's ecosystems and the diversity of its beings?

People's need for food and water can be met only if nature's capacity to provide food and water is protected. Dead soils and dead rivers cannot give food and water.

Defending the rights of Mother Earth is therefore the most important human rights and social justice struggle. It is the broadest peace movement of our times.

This is an edited version of Dr Vandana Shiva's speech at the Sydney Opera House last night.
© 2010 The Age

Vandana Shiva is an Indian feminist and environmental activist. She is the founder/director of Navdanya Research Foundation for Science, Technology, and Ecology.