Friday, August 7, 2015


California Drought: A Surprising Cause?
It's time to consider the possibility that industrial farming with its focus on chemicals such as glyphosate and glufosinate have played an important role in creating drought and other severe weather patterns.

The term microbiome can be misleading because it conjures images of things so small and insignificant that, in relation to macroscopic phenomena, they are literally invisible. These ubiquitously distributed bacteria collectively constitute together something of a globe-spanning organism, and their collective power to affect changes in the planet's climate may be far more profound than any of us imagined.

For instance, it is now known that the atmospheric microbiome actually regulates rain and snow formation and precipitation. In fact, Earth is surrounded by microbes and the products of microbes flying from land to sky and back to land. A recent article explains how "Over land outside the tropics, only 1 percent of rain events involve ice-free clouds, according to the new study." And what is the most significant rain-making bacteria identified to date but an ice-nucleating bacteria called Pseudomonas syringae?  Perhaps it would be more accurate to speak of these bacteria in the atmosphere in toto not as a microbiome but an "atmospheric macrobiome."

Chances are you've never heard of rainmaking bacteria even though the concept has been around since the 1970s. You may not have known about microbes living in the atmosphere or about bioprecipitation. And you probably thought Native American and African rain dancing isn't real. But gather a large group of people to kick up enough dust and this ancient ritual begins to make sense. An interesting modern example of this phenomena comes from a tea plantation in Western Kenya, notorious for its incredible volume of hailstorms. In 1982, Russell Schnell, a University of Colorado student, discovered that tea pickers kicked-up particles carrying P. syringae leading to 132 days of hailstorms in just one year.
Now that we know about our rainmaking friends, it appears we should protect them instead of inhibiting their crucial work watering the planet. This may be the best reason to buy organic produce and promote natural farming methods. It's time to consider the possibility that factory farming with its focus on chemicals such as glyphosate and glufosinate have played an important role in creating drought and other severe weather patterns. Meanwhile, crews are battling wildfires in California and Montana due to drought.
Few people realize that, just as there are bacteria in the soil and in the gut, there are also bacteria in the clouds. Bacteria are able to collect water vapor which could seed cloud formation. It's possible that they play an important role in moderating the world's weather. Since glyphosate is known to disrupt soil bacteria and gut bacteria, it's logical to assume it could disrupt cloud bacteria as well. This might even be an important factor in the recent California drought. These ideas are speculative, but they are well deserving of deeper research."
Stephanie Seneff
Senior Research Scientist
MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory
Many kinds of microbes play a role in bioprecipitation where most rain begins with formation of ice in clouds. The organism best known for its role in ice production both on land and in clouds is the bacterium Pseudomonas syringae. These microbes are known as ice nucleators, found in rain, snow and hail everywhere on Earth. The bacteria use their membrane ice-nucleation proteins (INPs) to form ice at relatively warm temperatures:
"Depending on the nucleating material a bacterium can cause ice formation even at -1°C but normally the pure water freezes approximately at -36°C"
The rain making bacteria are viewed as pathogens by the modern farming industry because of their ability to cause frost damage to crops. They do this in order to gain access to plants as their food supply. Our challenge is to identify acceptable farming methods, protecting both rainmakers and crops.
The herbicide glufosinate used on almond farms in California is known to significantly reduce rainmaking bacteria. Bayer's glufosinate is used in tandem with and as an alternative to Monsanto's glyphosate (Roundup) for weed control. Resistance to glyphosate is creating a larger market for glufosinate.
Glyphosate is persistent in the environment, commonly found in airrain, groundwater and rivers. Exactly how glyphosate affects the function of rainmaking bacteria appears unknown and overlooked. One paper found growth of P. syringae completely inhibited by glyphosate under certain conditions.

Questions come to mind such as: which kinds of crops do rainmaking bacteria like best? And is air pollution including CO2 and sulfur dioxide (antimicrobial and used for growth; also causing acid rain) leading to dysbiosis of the atmospheric microbiome? Are we lowering counts of rainmaking bacteria via a process of competitive exclusion where other microbes outcompete rainmakers?
The problem is similar to that of gut dysbiosis on the rise where pollution, poor diet and medical choices including antibiotic abuse skew intestinal microbial balance leading to metabolic syndrome and neurodegenerative disease. Indeed, air pollution is now strongly associated with type 2 diabetes, possibly due to particulates and microbes traveling from lungs to intestines.
So, what will be the fate of the rainmaking bacteria as its natural habitat is altered or destroyed and agrochemicals increasingly target it as a "pathogen"?
A recent article published in the International Research Journal of Biological Sciences expands on this question:
The occurrence of rain and snow has become more extreme and locations are becoming more and more polarized, although it still rains and snows more or less. There is over heavy rainfall where physical conditions allow it and drought where they don't. This could be partly due to reduced habitat for rain-making bacteria such as P.syringae. In the past there is nothing to control the growth and reproduction of  P.syringae. So it grows and reproduce as it likes and makes rain in its presence. But now the ability still exists, but probability of it is much lower, as the host plants are disappeared or protected with pesticides. The use of pesticides for industrial agriculture's all over the world with the aim to destroy P.syringae, industrial is reaching in different parts of the world which destroyed grasslands even the acres of Amazonian jungle which hosts bacterial colonies."
The article also revealed that in 1977, Dr. Steven E. Lindow discovered a mutant strain of P. syringae whose ice-making gene was deleted (i.e. "ice minus" P. syringae), and which he also later recreated using recombinant technology. Despite GM technology being highly controversial at the time, these GMOs were released into the environment. While the GMO ice-negative strains were incapable of causing frost damage in plants, they were also incapable of stimulating rain. They naturally compete with the wild-type P. syringae, and have a competitive advantage insofar as they do not depend on native species of plants for their survival which are increasingly being destroyed in favor of hybridized and/or GMO crops that are resistant to agrochemicals that also kill and inhibit P. syringae. This tips the scales in favor of the non-rainmaking strains overtaking those which do make rain.

Now that we know 99% of rain is generated in ice clouds and that bacteria are responsible for ice production, how can we justify reducing their numbers with agricultural chemicals? The general health of Earth and all its species is dependent on microbial balance. Whether or not it rains and snows appears to be hanging in the balance.
For additional information about the phenomena of anthropogenic alterations in weather patterns read the following article, "Artificial Weather Revealed by Post 9-11 Flight Groundings," or learn about Artificial Clouds.




On July 29, 2015 a branch of the World Health Organization (WHO) released a monograph of the herbicide glyphosate on which it had based its earlier decision that this chemical is a probable carcinogen for humans. With this action, glyphosate officially joins the list of highly hazardous pesticides (HHPs).
Pesticide Action Network International welcomes the confirmation of the decision of the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) regarding glyphosate’s carcinogenicity, which is long overdue. However, PAN International thinks that the IARC has underestimated the threats from this chemical. PAN International’s regional centers jointly issued the following statement:
“PAN International calls on governments and policymakers to take immediate measures to curtail and stop the use of herbicide formulations containing glyphosate applied to genetically engineered seeds, other crops, in urban areas and home gardens. The network reiterates its call to governments to develop an action plan to address the concerns highlighted in scientific studies and the IARC’s evaluation of glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen. Glyphosate also now joins the growing list of highly hazardous pesticides that should be phased out and banned immediately.”
PAN International raised specific concerns with the IARC’s analysis. While IARC rightly concluded that dermal and ingestion exposure are major routes for human exposure, it downplayed inhalation. Glyphosate inhalation during use and as a result of drift is also an important route of exposure, especially where there is spraying over vast areas, for example in the United States, Brazil and Argentina, where it is used on genetically engineered crops.
“The conclusion of the IARC on glyphosate as a probable carcinogen is not a surprise to the thousands of people in Argentina and countries in the region who are suffering the health impacts from continuous exposure to glyphosate, especially in the areas where massive glyphosate spraying takes place,” says Javier Souza, chair of PAN International. “Glyphosate-related illnesses and serious diseases are common among people in the rural areas around soybean farms.”
People all over the world are exposed to this herbicide, through residues in food and water, through skin contact as identified by the IARC, and also through inhalation.
“IARC’s report mentions glyphosate residues found in food as well as in surface and groundwater, posing a threat to human health. However, it is also present in rainfall, which increases the risk for human exposure,” says Carina Weber, coordinator of PAN Germany.
The IARC report mentions that there is little information on occupational or community exposure to glyphosate. “Glyphosate is extensively used around the globe on glyphosate resistant crops as well as on other crops, and in urban areas. This creates a considerable risk of exposure to agricultural workers, farmers, and rural and urban communities,” says Judy Hatcher, regional coordinator of PAN North America. She adds “that there has been so little monitoring of glyphosate exposure is really unacceptable.”
IARC’s classification of glyphosate is the result of a yearlong evaluation by worldwide independent experts who reviewed the publicly available scientific literature on the carcinogenicity of glyphosate.
Keith Tyrell, coordinator of PAN UK, says, “It has taken 40 years and thousands of injured people, whose health has been seriously undermined by exposure to glyphosate, to finally have WHO recognition about at least one of the hazards of this pesticide.”
“How much more do farmers, agricultural workers, and rural communities have to endure for the world to take action and eliminate highly hazardous pesticides from the planet?” asks Abou Thiam, regional coordinator of PAN Africa.
Sarojeni Rengam, regional coordinator of PAN Asia Pacific, observes, “IARC’s pronouncement on glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen sends a wake-up call on the dangers posed by highly hazardous pesticides. It is time that governments and decision-makers implement policies to phase out HHPs and advance sustainable agriculture that protects human health and the environment.”
For more about PAN International and over 300 organizations that have joined the global call to ban highly hazardous pesticides and replace them with agroecological alternatives, visit
Pesticide Action Network (PAN) is a network of over 600 participating nongovernmental organizations, institutions and individuals in over 90 countries working to replace the use of hazardous pesticides with ecologically sound and socially just alternatives.

Javier Souza, Chair of PAN International & regional coordinator of PAN Latin America:, +54 11 36171782
Paul Towers, organizing and media director, PAN North, cell: +1 916 216 1082
Sarojeni Rengam, regional coordinator, PAN Asia, +6 04 657 0271
Abou Thiam, regional coordinator, PAN Africa:, +221 338254914
Keith Tyrell, coordinator, PAN UK:, +44 7588 706224
Susan Haffmans, PAN Germany:, +49 40 3991910 25

Thursday, August 6, 2015


You have a Constitutional Right to Record and Report Illegal Activity at Factory Farms

Published on
While much of the discussion around ag-gag laws focuses on animal welfare, the laws also seriously threaten our food safety by seeking to stop investigative activities that could keep contaminated food off the market. (Photo: file)
Ag-gag laws have become an increasingly prevalent way for factory farms and slaughterhouses to hide unsafe, inhumane animal treatment practices. But yesterday, a federal judge declared that Idaho’s ag-gag law is unconstitutional because it violates the First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution by suppressing speech that criticizes factory farms. The legal challenge was brought by a broad-based public interest coalition of national and local nonprofits, including Center for Food Safety (CFS), the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF), People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Idaho.

Idaho’s ag-gag law criminalized whistle-blowing activities at agricultural facilities, such as factory farms and slaughterhouses, including audio and video recordings of dangerous food safety and appalling animal welfare violations. Anyone convicted of this conduct could face up to a year in prison or a $5,000 fine. Ag-gag laws are, unsurprisingly, notoriously unpopular with the public. Nationwide thirty-two similar ag-gag measures have failed to pass. But seven other states have ag-gag laws on the books and more states, under pressure from the livestock and poultry industries, continue to try. This makes yesterday’s court decision all the more important.
In his ruling, Judge B. Lynn Winmill explained that “Although the State may not agree with the message certain groups seek to convey about Idaho’s agricultural production facilities, such as releasing secretly recorded videos of animal abuse to the Internet and calling for boycotts, it cannot deny such groups equal protection of the laws in their exercise of their right to free speech.” In other words, the government can’t criminalize Constitutionally-protected speech and silence whistleblowers just because it wants to protect a profitable industry for the state.

The undercover video and photography that ag-gag laws attempt to block have exposed numerous and shocking “industry standards.” These pervasive, systematic procedures include routine mutilation such as debeaking birds with electrically-heated blades and castrating male animals by slicing open their scrotum and ripping their testicles out without pain relief or anesthesia. These animals are then kept in intensive confinement, unable to turn around for months on end. Exposés have also detailed the sickening farming conditions that result in contaminated meat products that pose serious health risks to the public, as well as life threatening conditions for farm workers.

While much of the discussion around ag-gag laws focuses on animal welfare, the laws also seriously threaten our food safety by seeking to stop investigative activities that could keep contaminated food off the market. Three thousand consumers are killed and 48.7 million are sickened each year from ingesting foodborne pathogens. Beef, poultry, and eggs are some of the worst offenders. In 2009 and 2010, eggs tainted with Salmonella were responsible for the most food-related illnesses, and beef and poultry were ranked as the first and fourth commodities most often associated with pathogen outbreaks.

In 2007, an investigator for the Humane Society of the United States documented “egregious” violations of federal regulations at the Hallmark/Westland cattle slaughtering plant in California.  The investigator filmed downer cows being pushed with heavy machinery, electrically shocked, and finally dragged to slaughter. As a result of this investigation, officials from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s Food Safety and Inspection Service admitted they often took shortcuts when inspecting cattle before slaughter. This led to one of the largest beef recalls in U.S. history. In 2009, a hidden camera in a veal slaughtering plant documented a USDA inspector’s failure to shut down the plant after witnessing a worker attempt to skin a live calf that had somehow ended up with the slaughtered calves.

These investigations, and the subsequent media coverage, have led to food safety recalls, citations for environmental and labor violations, evidence of health code violations, plant closures, criminal convictions, and civil litigation. If ag-gag laws are allowed to stand, all of this crucial information would be shielded from the public eye, allowing the industry to continue to violate the law with little to no scrutiny.

As Judge Winmill astutely noted in his ruling, “[A]s the story of Upton Sinclair illustrates, an agricultural facility’s operations that affect food and worker safety are not exclusively a private matter. Food and worker safety are matters of public concern.” He goes on to say, “Protecting the private interests of a powerful industry, which produces the public’s food supply, against public scrutiny is not a legitimate government interest.”

Without the ability to witness, expose, and critique some of the nation’s most powerful industries, we are all vulnerable. This latest ruling affirms our right to call out abuse and change this system from the inside. The court’s decision is an invaluable tool that will directly save lives.
Paige M. Tomaselli is a senior attorney at Center for Food Safety, a national non-profit public interest and environmental advocacy organization working to protect human health and the environment by curbing the use of harmful food production technologies.


Wednesday, August 5, 2015


Monsanto Hit With Another Lawsuit Alleging Environmental Pollution

Monsanto is facing another lawsuit alleging that it knowingly sold harmful chemicals that polluted the environment.

The city of Spokane, Washington, is suing the agrochemical giant, the Spokesman-Review reports. The lawsuit doesn’t state a specific amount for monetary damages. It alleges that Monsanto is responsible for the high levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in the Spokane River.

The Spokane lawsuit follows a similar lawsuit filed by the city of San Jose, California, that alleges Monsanto knowingly polluted the San Francisco Bay with PCBs and says Monsanto should pay to clean up the contamination.

A city spokesperson says Spokane will pay $300 million to keep PCBs and other pollutants from entering the river in coming years.

Charla Lord, a spokeswoman with Monsanto, said in a statement that the company is “reviewing the [Spokane] lawsuit and its allegations. However, Monsanto is not responsible for the costs alleged in this matter.”

Last month the Guardian reported that Monsanto, BP and Veolia will pay to clean up toxic waste — including Agent Orange derivatives, dioxins and PCBs — at a former quarry in South Wales.

Monday, August 3, 2015


A powerful new technique for generating “supercharged” genetically modified organisms that can spread rapidly in the wild has caused alarm among scientists who fear that it may be misused, accidentally or deliberately, and cause a health emergency or environmental disaster.
The development of so-called “gene drive” technology promises to revolutionise medicine and agriculture because it can in theory stop the spread of mosquito-borne illnesses, such as malaria and yellow fever, as well as eliminate crop pests and invasive species such as rats and cane toads.
However, scientists at the forefront of the development believe that in the wrong hands gene-drive technology poses a serious threat to the environment and human health if accidentally or deliberately released from a laboratory without adequate safeguards. Some believe it could even be used as a terrorist bio-weapon directed against people or livestock because gene drives – which enable GM genes to spread rapidly like a viral infection within a population – will eventually be easy and cheap to generate.
“Just as gene drives can make mosquitoes unfit for hosting and spreading the malaria parasite, they could conceivably be designed with gene drives carrying cargo for delivering lethal bacterial toxins to humans,” said David Gurwitz, a geneticist at Tel Aviv University in Israel.
A group of senior geneticists have called for international safeguards to apply to researchers who want to develop gene drives, with strict security measures placed on laboratories to prevent the accidental escape of “supercharged” GM organisms that are able to spread rapidly in the wild.
“They have tremendous potential to address global problems in health, agriculture and conservation but their capacity to alter wild populations outside the laboratory demands caution,” the scientists say.
The researchers have drawn up a minimum set of safety rules to protect against laboratory escapes and have called for a public debate on the potential benefits as well as risks of a technology that allows geneticists to rapidly accelerate the inheritance of GM traits throughout an animal population within just a few generations.
Researchers have likened gene-drive technology to a nuclear chain reaction because it allows GM genes to be amplified within a breeding population of insects or other animals without any further intervention once the trait has been initially introduced. This is the case even if the trait is non-beneficial to the organism.
Laboratory experiments on fruit flies have shown that a modified gene introduced into one individual fly can take just a few generations to “infect” practically every other fly in the breeding population, in defiance of the normal rules of genetics which dictate a far slower spread.


Kevin Esfeldt, a gene-drive expert at the Wyss Institute at Harvard Medical School in Boston, said the technology was developed theoretically about 10 years ago but it has only been made possible in the lab in the past two years with the discovery of the sophisticated gene-editing tool Crispr/Cas9.
Dr Esfeldt explained that gene drives relied on a “cassette” of genetic elements that allowed a genetically modified gene to jump from one chromosome to another within the same individual so that eventually all of the sperm or eggs of the animal carried the GM trait, rather than half. This means that virtually none of the offspring is eventually free of an introduced GM trait.
Gene drives could benefit human health by altering insect populations that spread human diseases, such as mosquitoes that transmit malaria, dengue, chikungunya and Lyme disease, so that they were no longer a threat, he said.

Debate still rages over genetically modified food after nearly 20 years (Getty)
They could also be used to reverse the mutations that make crop pests resistant to agricultural pesticides, or they might be used to spread genetic traits within a population of an invasive species to help kill it off, such as making the skin of cane toads introduced into Australia non-toxic to indigenous predators.
“If we’re right about this, it’s a powerful advance that could make the world a much better place, but only if we use it wisely,” Dr Esfeldt said.
However, some scientists fear that the ease with which gene drives can be generated will make them a target for any malign individual or organisation with access to modern laboratory equipment.
Dr Gurwitz said the precise instructions for making gene drives should be classified, just like the technology for making nuclear weapons. However, Dr Esfeldt and the other 26 scientists who have written to Science disagreed, arguing that complete openness and transparency was the best defence against the use of gene drives as a bio-weapon because classifying the information would be technically ineffective and politically counterproductive.