Wednesday, June 29, 2011


Obesity/Diabetes Epidemic: Rise of the Obesogens 
The global obesity/diabetes epidemic is receiving wide spread attention like the June 26, article in the Washington Post by David Brown.  One fourth of our national health care bill of $2.3 trillion is linked to the treatment of diabetes and its complications.  Average American life expectancy is now dropping because of this disease complex.  Even children are being recommended for gastric bypass.  
Fingers everywhere are pointing at the usual suspects: too much junk food and lack of exercise.  But there is much more to the story than a recent, contagious lack of discipline among the masses.  Standing next to us in the room, some very large corporate elephants are being ignored.
A growing body of evidence in animals and humans suggests that many man-made chemicals contaminating our environment mimic some of the body’s own hormones like testosterone and estrogen. Researchers have called these chemicals endocrine disruptors because they wreak havoc with endocrine organs like the thyroid, pancreas, testes and ovaries that depend on hormones to develop and function properly.  But a new, more relevant term for these chemicals has emerged.  They are now also called obesogens.
Exposure to tiny amounts of obesogens during embryonic development has startling effects on animals, resulting in obesity, infertility, feminization of male species, ambiguous sexual characteristics and high death rates.  
Wishful thinking by the EPA and FDA and outright propaganda from chemical manufacturers have upheld the notion that the doses of human exposure to such chemicals have been too small to matter. Medical science now clearly repudiates such a position and environmental contamination is emerging as a significant contributor to the obesity/diabetes epidemic.
In a remarkable study of 2,000 Americans those people with the highest blood levels of PCBs, dioxins and pesticides had a rate of diabetes 38 times higher than those with the lowest levels. Just as startling, in the group with the lowest levels of chemical pollutants there was no correlation between diabetes and obesity.
The air, water and soil of even the most wild and remote places on earth are now contaminated with obesogens from agribusiness food production, growth hormones, pesticides, residues from pharmaceuticals and personal care products and the rest of the 83,000 chemicals manufactured and emitted by modern industrial society that have penetrated every ecosystem on the planet.
In another study newborn babies’ blood was analyzed for HCB (hexachlorobenzene), a ubiquitous contaminant byproduct of chemical manufacturing processes that use chlorine. Six years later, those same children with the highest blood levels of HCB had a rate of obesity two to three times higher than other children.
Even though DDT hasn’t been used in this country for 35 years, one of its metabolites, DDE, is still measurable in virtually all of us. People who have higher blood levels of DDE have higher rates of diabetes.
Recently the lead article in the Journal of the American Medical Association demonstrated increased rates of heart disease and diabetes in people with higher levels of the additive in plastic drinking bottles and food can lining, Bisphenol A (BPA). But these studies merely confirm hundreds of previous studies regarding the far-reaching health impacts of endocrine-disrupting/obesogen chemicals at blood levels most of us and our children live with right now.   Many obesogens appear to increase levels of cholesterol and trigger cancer as well.  For the first time in 200 years, children now have a shorter life expectancy than their parents, primarily due to obesity and diabetes.
Perhaps most startling of all, it's not just people that are getting fatter. A statistical analysis of more than 20,000 animals, from eight different species suggests that the obesity epidemic involves family pets, wild animals living in close proximity to humans, and animals housed in research centres.  Last time I wandered the forest I did not see wild animals sitting around watching NASCAR, eating Cheetos and drinking Mountain Dew.  
But like humans they live in an environment contaminated with endocrine disrupting/obesogen chemicals.  The air, water and soil of even the most wild and remote places on earth are now contaminated with obesogens from agribusiness food production, growth hormones, pesticides, residues from pharmaceuticals and personal care products and the rest of the 83,000 chemicals manufactured and emitted by modern industrial society that have penetrated every ecosystem on the planet.  In the second half of the twentieth century synthetic chemical production has doubled every 7 to 8 years with a 100 fold increase over the last 2 generations.  Every year the world produces six billion pounds of BPA alone and it is detectable in 93% of Americans.  
Our regulatory agencies and even the courts are still playing by a rule book written by the tobacco industry which states that we must always wait for unequivocal proof of damage before we can regulate. Of course there is never unequivocal proof, more study is always needed.  But that is not an excuse to not act on the evidence that we already have.
Take a look in the mirror and at your glucometer.  If you don't like what you see, you may want to reconsider whether you support the anti-regulation/personal accountability fever sweeping over the country with the new Congress.  Whether you can ever be thin again or get over your diabetes may be more a matter of what happens in Congress than what happens in your gym.
Brian Moench
Dr. Brian Moench is President of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment and a member of the Union of Concerned Scientists. He can be reached at:


‘Food Terrorism’ Next Door to the Magic Kingdom

Think of “food terrorism” and what do you see? Diabolical plots to taint items on grocery-store shelves? If you are Buddy Dyer, the mayor of Orlando, Fla., you might be thinking of a group feeding the homeless and hungry in one of your city parks. That is what Dyer is widely quoted as calling the activists with the Orlando chapter of Food Not Bombs—“food terrorists.” In the past few weeks, no less than 21 people have been arrested in Orlando, the home of Disney World, for handing out free food in a park.  "Sharing food should not be a crime." photo: Ikayama (CC-BY-SA)
Food Not Bombs is an international, grass-roots organization that fights hunger. As the name implies, it is against war. Its website home page reads: “Food Not Bombs shares free vegan and vegetarian meals with the hungry in over 1,000 cities around the world to protest war, poverty and the destruction of the environment. With over a billion people going hungry each day how can we spend another dollar on war?” The Orlando chapter sets up a meal distribution table every Monday morning and Wednesday evening in the city’s Lake Eola Park.
Lately, the Orlando police have been arresting those who serve food there, like Benjamin Markeson. He was perplexed, telling me: “We think that it’s terrorism to arrest people for trying to share food with poor and hungry people in the community to meet a community need. And all we do is we come to the park and we share food with poor and hungry people. I don’t know how that qualifies as terrorism.”
Attorney Shayan Elahi doesn’t know, either. He is representing Orlando Food Not Bombs in court. He has filed for an injunction against the city in the 9th Judicial Circuit Court of Florida, which is presided over by Chief Judge Belvin Perry Jr., who is in the news as the no-nonsense judge in the Casey Anthony murder trial, happening now in Orlando. While the judge’s courtroom receives blanket coverage on cable networks, Elahi hopes Perry will have time to personally rule on his filing.
At issue is a city law, the “Large Group Feeding” ordinance, that requires groups to obtain a permit to serve food, even for free, to groups of 25 or more. Such permits are granted to any group only twice per year. Orlando Food Not Bombs has already used both of its allowed permits this year.
The Florida Civil Rights Association has called on Mayor Dyer to apologize for his designation of the Food Not Bombs group as terrorists. The crime should not be feeding more than 25 people, but that more than 25 people need food.
Attorney Elahi links the crackdown to the planned gentrification of downtown Orlando: “The mayor started the development board for downtown Orlando, and his whole goal was basically to push everybody who ... didn’t fit their idea of who should be in downtown. And we’re trying to point out to the mayor that times have changed, that now everybody is hurting, and a lot more people who come to Food Not Bombs food sharing are working poor.”
The core message of Food Not Bombs is embodied in a resolution passed just last week by the U.S. Conference of Mayors calling on Washington to end the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as soon as strategically possible and redirect funding to meet vital human needs here at home.
Central Florida has been hit very hard by the recession and is among the top locations for foreclosures and bankruptcies. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization is warning that global food prices are expected to remain high for the rest of the year and beyond. Earlier this year, food prices hit levels seen during the 2007-08 food crisis that sparked unrest in poor nations worldwide. Mass protests and a general strike in Greece against planned austerity measures are shutting down Athens.
One of the most famous songs at Disney World, not far from Lake Eola Park, is called “It’s a Small World.” Its refrain: “There’s so much that we share/ that it’s time we’re aware/ it’s a small world after all.” Let’s turn fantasy into reality. Sharing food should not be a crime.
Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.
Amy Goodman
Amy Goodman is the host of "Democracy Now!," a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on 900 stations in North America. She was awarded the 2008 Right Livelihood Award, dubbed the “Alternative Nobel” prize, and received the award in the Swedish Parliament in December.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

90 per cent of many fish, large and small, have been extracted. Some face extinction owing to the ocean's most voracious predator – us.

If the Sea Is in Trouble, We Are All in Trouble 

The report that the ocean is in trouble is no surprise. What is shocking is that it has taken so long for us to make the connection between the state of the ocean and everything we care about – the economy, health, security – and the existence of life itself.
If the ocean is in trouble – and it is – we are in trouble. Charles Clover pointed this out in The End of the Line, and Callum Roberts provided detailed documentation of the collapse of ocean wildlife – and the consequences – in The Unnatural History of the Sea.
Since the middle of the 20th century, more has been learned about the ocean than during all preceding human history; at the same time, more has been lost. Some 90 per cent of many fish, large and small, have been extracted. Some face extinction owing to the ocean's most voracious predator – us.
We are now appearing to wage war on life in the sea with sonars, spotter aircraft, advanced communications, factory trawlers, thousands of miles of long lines, and global marketing of creatures no one had heard of until recent years. Nothing has prepared sharks, squid, krill and other sea creatures for industrial-scale extraction that destroys entire ecosystems while targeting a few species.
The concept of "peak oil" has penetrated the hearts and minds of people concerned about energy for the future. "Peak fish" occurred around the end of the 1980s. As near-shore areas have been depleted of easy catches, fishing operations have gone deeper, further offshore, using increasingly sophisticated – and environmentally costly – methods of capture.
The concern is not loss of fish for people to eat. Rather, the greatest concern about destructive fishing activities of the past century, especially the past several decades, is the dismemberment of the fine-tuned ocean ecosystems that are, in effect, our life-support system.
Photosynthetic organisms in the sea yield most of the oxygen in the atmosphere, take up and store vast amounts of carbon dioxide, shape planetary chemistry, and hold the planet steady.
The ocean is a living system that makes our lives possible. Even if you never see the ocean, your life depends on its existence. With every breath you take, every drop of water you drink, you are connected to the sea.
I support this report and its calls to stop exploitative fishing – especially in the high seas – map and reduce pollution and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But I would add three other actions.
First, only 5 per cent of the ocean has been seen, let alone mapped or explored. We know how to exploit the sea. Should we not first go see what is there?
Second, it is critically important to protect large areas of the ocean that remain in good condition – and guard them as if our lives depend on them, because they do. Large marine-protected areas would provide an insurance policy – and data bank – against the large-scale changes now under way, and provide hope for a world that will continue to be hospitable for humankind.
Third, take this report seriously. It should lift people from complacency to positive action – itself cause for hope.
Sylvia Earle
Sylvia Earle is 'National Geographic' explorer in residence, the author of 'The World is Blue: How Our Fate and the Oceans Are One', and the former chief scientist for the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration