Chronicles of Less Urban Living, Fresh from In the Night Farm

Monsanto Project

Where has Lent Gone?

I am not Catholic.  I am pissed off.  I am giving up Monsanto for Lent.

This is Day…oh, I can’t remember.

Sorry, everyone.  Did you think Monsanto had me assassinated?  Too many weeks have passed since I posted in this series, not because I’m being pursued (erm, as far as I’m aware…) but just because my real job has taken up too much time and energy for all the research that such posts require.

I have, however, maintained my Lenten sacrifice, if that’s a fair word for doing my health a favor, of avoiding supporting Monsanto.  I wasn’t perfect; I did partake of questionable food a couple times while at a horsemanship clinic, and it’s possible that the winter riding boots I ordered on winter closeout contain some GMO-influenced fibers.    But, by and large, I think I’ve done well.

The thing is, it’s not that hard.  Eating Monsanto-free is (for now, but look out!) pretty darned similar to standard paleo.  You can even throw in grassfed dairy, if you wish…until that GMO alfalfa sneaks into the fields…and the pesticides from non-organic farms leach and waft into your “safe” garden…and genetically modified animals become commonplace…

The non-food goods, though (cotton and ethanol for a start) are tough, if not impossible, to avoid.  You can’t escape the fact that just about anything we purchase supports Monsanto in some way, if only through the GMO-corn-based ethanol that was burned to manufacture and transport it.

So, what are you going to do about it?

Start by keeping tabs on the situation.  “Like” Millions Against Monsanto on Facebook to get a steady (but not overwhelming) stream of updates on GMO products and politics.

BUT…don’t fall into the popular trap of believing you’re changing something simply by spending more time thinking about it.  As one savvy commenter noted in response to this controversial post, “raising awareness” is the means by which people make themselves believe they’re accomplishing something when they aren’t.

You have to actually DO something.  What’ll it be?


So Sue Me

I am not Catholic.  I am pissed off.  I am giving up Monsanto for Lent.

This is Day 22.

Check this out:  The Public Patent Foundation, on behalf of 60 organic farming families, is suing Monsanto in the hope of protecting them from being sued BY Monsanto for patent infringement, in the event that GM seed gets onto their land without their knowledge, desire, or intent.  Yes, it has happened before.  So. EFFING. Backwards.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, my Monsanto Project is going strong, though life has trumped blogging since the weekend.  (Sorry.)  I’m in the middle of a project at work that’s absorbing all my research and writing energy.  Sometimes you gotta focus on the job that pays.

I’ll be back as soon as I can to talk about health effects of GM crops, Monsanto’s terminator technology, and the ever-popular topic of alcohol.  (You know its made from grain…GM grain…?)

Rainforest Roundup

I am not Catholic.  I am pissed off.  I am giving up Monsanto for Lent.

This is Day 18.

Yesterday’s Monsanto Project post explained the importance of choosing organic, shade-grown coffee.  I hinted that fair-trade matters, too.  Here’s the interesting thing:  It doesn’t just matter for purposes of social justice.  It matters even if all you want to do is avoid supporting Monsanto.   

It seems the coffee farmers in Colombia, the world’s third-largest coffee producer, began to suffer substantial losses in the “coffee crisis” of the early 2000’s.  Competition from international growers increased while Colombian labor regulations limited farmers’ ability to lower production costs.  Unemployment skyrocketed, young people joined the Marxist guerillas or paramilitary forces in an escalating civil war, the World Bank and U.S. oil interests got tangled up in the affair, and coffee farmers became desperate.

So desperate that many of them turned to growing illegal plots of poppy and coca to supplement their incomes.  You know, in order to afford the basics.

The farmers’ survival tactic didn’t go unnoticed by the U.S. and its War on Drugs.  Nor did it go unnoticed by Monsanto.

Almost 70,000 gallons of Roundup were sprayed in Colombia in the first months of 2001. In 2000, roughly 145,750 gallons were sprayed over 53,000 hectares (205 square miles). With a retail price between $33 to $45 per gallon (Monsanto refused to confirm the wholesale price for such volumes), this represents a cost of around $4.8 to $6.6 million – paid to Monsanto by US taxpayers. ( J. Bigwood, Earth Island Journal, 2001-2001)

This spraying is not done from the ground.  It is done from airplanes.  Sure, the drug plants die and the government pats itself on the back…but that isn’t all that happens.

The Colombian rainforest is not Roundup Ready.  The glyphosate (and additives that appear to make Roundup and Roundup Ultra even more toxic than glyphosate alone) coats much more than its intended targets.  It destroys entire ecosystems, from natural foliage to food crops like bananas and manioc to native fish.  Hunger threatens the indigenous peoples as a result.  In 2009, Ecuadorians filed a class action suit for harm caused by pesticide drift across the Colombian border. 

“The US State Department believes the spraying of herbicide in Colombia is not harmful to the environment or to humans,” said its spokeswoman Susan Pittman.  Contrary to government officials’ and manufacturers’ claims of non-toxicity, at least five inquiries have found that Roundup causes serious human health problems. (T. Williams, The Public Record, 2009.)

And yes, some of that Roundup does wind up on the coffee.

Extra Credit (sorry, WP is having hyperlink issues again!)

Colombian Coffee Crisis:

Fair Trade Coffee in Colombia (pdf):

Coffee, A Dark History by Antony Wild (book)

Read all posts in the Monsanto Project Series:

Cream? Sugar? Glyphosate?

I am not Catholic.  I am pissed off.  I am giving up Monsanto for Lent.

This is Day 17.

The coffee I’m sipping is organic.  When I bought it, I wasn’t sure that was important, but a little reading has assured me that it is.

It seems that glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup, is a favorite herbicide for use on coffee plantations.  Glyphosate has the unfortunate effect of significantly reducing microbial populations in the soil, leading to poor soil quality, defenseless trees, and the need for even more chemical herbicides and fertilizers.

It also has the even more unfortunate effect of endangering human and animal health.

Furthermore, coffee trees grown in full sun are deprived of natural predators for their pests, which means they require even MORE chemical application for continued production.

Looks like I’d better make sure my next pound of coffee is not just organic, but shade-grown.

…and fair-trade.  Tomorrow’s post explains why.

Bonus note:  I usually drink my coffee black, but if you add anything to yours, bear in mind…

  • Flavored and non-dairy coffee additives nearly always contain GM HFCS and/or soy.
  • Non-organic cream is usually laced with rBGH.
  • Half of the sugar sold in the U.S. is from sugarbeets, 90% of which are GM.  If you must use sugar, choose organic cane.


Catch up on any Monsanto Project Series posts you’ve missed.

Liver Pills

I am not Catholic.  I am pissed off.  I am giving up Monsanto for Lent.

This is Day 16.

One of the pleasant side effects of this Monsanto Project is that it has refocused my energy on finding new sources of safe, affordable, nourishing food.  This has led me to experiment with raw dairy, fermentation, and my most recent interest:  organ meat.

I started with a 2.34 pound hunk of local, grass-fed beef liver.  Slicing the shuddering, bloodred, gelatinous mass was entertaining, and the dogs enjoyed lapping up the raw milk I used to marinate the meat.  Ugly as it had been in its raw form, the liver looked pretty decent fried it up in plenty of bacon grease with caramelized onions and garlic.  It was crispy on the outside and tender to the knife.

Ironman and I really wanted to like it…but we didn’t.  The flavor was tolerable, but that “creamy” texture?  Eww.  I’m pretty sure meat should not be creamy. 

Or as Ironman called it, “glipey.”

Fortunately, I’d been listening to Chris Kresser podcasts and borrowed his plan for ingesting the 1.89 pounds of liver we didn’t care to choke down.  (Sure, I could “hide” liver bits in meatballs and marinara, but why bother?  I want to enjoy my food, not simply bear it.)  I chopped the cooked organ into tiny pieces and froze them in a single layer on waxed paper.

Now, all we have to do is swallow them whole.  Voila!  All the nutrition and none of the pain.  Liver pills!

…not to be confused with Carter’s Little Liver Pills, a form of the laxative stimulant bisacodyl that was popular up through the mid-1960’s.  Want a giggle?  Check out their radio ad from the ’40’s.

Growing Threat

I am not Catholic.  I am pissed off.  I am giving up Monsanto for Lent.

This is Day 15.

You’ve heard that Monsanto’s Roundup Ready alfalfa was approved in January 2011, right?  This worries me even more than GM corn, papaya, or cotton.  I can avoid consuming those.  It’s not easy, but it can be done.

But as this article states, GM alfalfa threatens the pinnacle of paleo eating — grassfed meat:

“Alfalfa is an insect-pollinated crop.  There is no way to prevent cross-contamination from fields planted with Monsanto’s GMO alfalfa to other fields. These genes will contaminate the rest of America’s alfalfa crops within a few years.”

Grassfed cattle are often overwintered on alfalfa.  So are my endurance horses.

I am Not. Pleased.

Read more from Grist, and note the breaking news that California is fighting back.

Gallows Humor

I am not Catholic.  I am pissed off.  I am giving up Monsanto for Lent.

This is Day 14.

A Monsanto exec, a politician, and an organic farmer walk into a bar.

The  Monsanto exec says, “I can make billions selling GMO seed.”

The politician says, “If you share your billions, I can convince the public your GMOs are safe.”

The organic farmer says, “Wanna Bt?”


I guess it’s not that funny:

House of Cards

 I am not Catholic.  I am pissed off.  I am giving up Monsanto for Lent.

This is Day 13.

You’ve heard the argument:  Earth’s human population will grow to 9 billion by 2050.  GM crops are necessary to feed the world.

Fear not.  Monsanto is here to save the day.

According to their website“Monsanto is one of the world’s leading companies focused on sustainable agriculture. We discover and deliver innovative products that support the farmers who feed, fuel and clothe our world.”


If GM crops are so wonderful, why was U.S. fertilizer use five times higher in 2007 than in 1960 (look at the “rate per fertilized acre” data), while crop yields increased by only 50%?

If GM crops are so wonderful, why did Monsanto recently admit that its Bt cotton resulted not in improved yield, but in resistant bollworms in India?  (Click that link!  I especially enjoyed the part about how Monsanto blamed the failure on the farmers, then proceeded to direct them to deal with the problem by applying more pesticides.)

I hope the farmers can afford those pesticides.  Small farmers in many developing countries certainly can’t.

Just as in the so-called Green Revolution of the 1940’s through the 1960’s, attempts to force Big Ag-style monocultures on poor farmers results in overplowing and higher irrigation requirements, leading to loss of topsoil, leading to the need for more chemical fertilizers to keep crops growing in the absence of naturally rich soil, leading to a damaged ecosystem more susceptable to pests, leading to the need for more chemical pesticides to keep crops growing, leading to farmers who can no longer afford to farm, leading to even more overcrowded and underfed third-world cities.

And don’t forget that Monsanto won’t let farmers save their own seed.  They have to buy it every year.

Who are we feeding now?  The World…or Monsanto?

Furthermore, Big Ag-style monocropping is hardly what you’d call “environmentally friendly.”  According to the U.N. Environment Program:

“Convententional/industrial agriculture is energy- and input-intensive. Its high productivity relies on the extensive use of petrochemical fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, fuel, water, and continuous new investment (e.g. in advanced seed varieties and machinery).” ~ Agriculture: Investing in Natural Capital, March 2011

Fortunately, organic polyculture is demonstrably capable of increasing yields — without destroying the environment, creating resistant weeds and pests, or forcing third-world farmers out of business.

In fact, as Mark Bittman recently pointed out in the Times, “Agro-ecology and related methods are going to require resources too, but they’re more in the form of labor, both intellecutal…and physical:  the world will need more farmers, and quite possibly less mechanization.”

A 2008 paper from the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development and the U.N. Environment Program put it this way:

“Organic agriculture can increase agricultural productivity and can raise incomes with low-cost, locally available and appropriate technologies, without causing environmental damage. Furthermore, evidence shows that organic agriculture can build up natural resources, strengthen communities and improve human capacity, thus improving food security by addressing many different causal factors simultaneously … Organic and near-organic agricultural methods and technologies are ideally suited for many poor, marginalized smallholder farmers in Africa, as they require minimal or no external inputs, use locally and naturally available materials to produce high-quality products, and encourage a whole systemic approach to farming that is more diverse and resistant to stress.”

It boils down to this:

 A food system built on dwindling natural resources, even if it “feeds the world” for now, will eventually starve us all. 

A food system that replaces the natural resilience of biodiversity with monocropping, even if it “feeds the world” for now, will eventually starve us all.

A food system that takes the next generation of seed out of farmers’ hands, and fills those hands instead with unaffordable chemicals, can’t “feed the world” now, let alone later.  It will starve us all.

Extra Credit: 

Debunking the Stubborn Myth that Only Industrial Ag Can ‘Feed the World,’ Tom Philpott, Grist, March 2011

Agro-ecology and the Right to Food, U.N. report, March 2011

Botonist Sue Edwards’ conclusions from her work in Ethiopia.


Read all posts in the Monsanto Project Series.

Meat Monsanto

I am not Catholic.  I am pissed off.  I am giving up Monsanto for Lent.

This is Day 11.

One of the reassuring things about eating paleo is that you’re automatically exempt from Monsanto’s grip on the masses.

Those cheap, convenient, just-add-water poison packs comprised of GM soy, GM corn sugar, and GM seed oils simply aren’t on your radar.  No more are wannabe health foods like diet sodas, “lite” microwavable meals, or designer produce perfected by pesticides.

Grains are out.  Meat is in.  That organically-raised steak in your freezer should be safe, right?

Not so fast.

I hate to break it to you, but the latest and greatest in cattle feed is… (drumroll!)…aspartame.

Actually, neotame,which is worse.  It’s aspertame on steroids.

Back in 1998, Monsanto applied for FDA approval of a new molecule “based on the aspartame formula.”  What was different?  Only the addition of 3-dimethylbutyl…a chemical the EPA includes on its “most hazardous” list. 

But who cares!  Neotame is up to 13,000 times sweeter than sugar, and industry studies show it is safe for human consumption.  Never mind that independent studies almost univerally demonstrate otherwise.  And never mind that aspartame is produced using GM bacteria.

Traditionally drenched in molasses to overcome its undesirable flavor, cattle feed — already comprised of GM plant matter — may now be sweetened with “Sweetnos.”  Neotame-sweetened feed is 20% cheaper and, like aspertame, it may encourage eating beyond satiety. 

Here’s the worst of it:  Neotame needn’t be included on the ingredient label — even in certified organic feed.

Oh, wait.  It does get worse:  December 2010 saw approval of the use of neotame in USDA-certified organic foods — yes, human foods — and it doesn’t have to be mentioned on the label.

Repeat after me:  Grassfed.  Unprocessed.  Food.


More about neotame and aspartame:

Read all posts in the Monsanto Project Series: 

(Sorry, WordPress isn’t cooperating on the hyperlink front today.)

The Bastards and the Bees

I am not Catholic.  I am pissed off.  I am giving up Monsanto for Lent.

This is Day 10.

“If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe, then man would only have four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man.” ~ Albert Einstein

I don’t know about Einstein’s 4-year estimate, but he wasn’t far off the mark.  Bees are necessary for the pollination of 30-60% of the human food supply (depending on source).  At least 85 different commerical crops, including peppers, tomatoes, and strawberries, rely upon bees to ensure the next generation of produce.

And yet, the world’s bee population is experiencing dramatic decline.  At first, only honeybees seemed to succumb to the mysterious “Colony Collapse Disorder” (CCD), but by 2009, it became apparent that bumblebees are affected as well.

CCD is characterized by massive die-offs of bees while away from their hives, apparently because the bees’ central nervous systems are affected such that they lose their ability to navigate.  In short, the workers leave their hives and don’t come back.  New workers are sent out.  They also vanish.  The hive is ultimately abandoned and, contrary to what we usually see in nature, the hive site remains devoid of other insect life.  The bodies of bees found to have died as the result of CCD are commonly infected with multiple fungi, bacteria, and viruses.

CCD has been observed in much of the U.S. and Europe, accounting for a 50-90% decline in bee populations in certain areas.  At first, it seemed that a fungus, bacteria, or virus might be responsible, but additional study has revealed an even more worrisome theory:  Monsanto is behind the death of our bees.

There seem to be two ways in which Monsanto and its Big-Ag buddies are impacting the bee population.  Both are related to pest control in major crops — one via insecticide, the other via genetic modification.

Root worm is the bane of corn farmers, which naturally made it a target for pesticide producers.  Enter clothianidin, an insect neurotixin produced by Bayer and applied to seed using an adhesive manufactured by Monsanto.  This toxin, which was supposed to be buried with the seed and therefore harmless to beneficial bugs, actually is absorbed into the roots and is incorporated into all the plants’ cells.  It contaminates not only the bees that touch it directly, but also bees that pollinate other plants on which the affected bees subsequently alight.

When clothianidin was applied to the German corn crop in 2008, 330 million bees died.  The chemical is not banned in the U.S., and is regularly applied to corn, sugarbeet, and sorghum.  In fact, “seed treatments,” among which clothianidin is common, come standard with all corn seed; untreated seed must be obtained by special order.

Soy seed, too, is commonly treated with clothianidin or its ugly cousin, imidacloprid.  Imidacloprid is another Bayer neonicotinoid.  Banned in France and Germany for the sake of the bees, it is widely used in the U.S.

What are the symptoms of bees poisoned with small doses of neonicotinoids?  Not immediate death, but confusion and inability to navigate.

Sound familiar?

It gets worse.  Not only has Big Ag seen fit to contaminate seeds, soil, and potentially surface and groundwater with known neurotoxins, but Monsanto took it upon itself to turn plants into insecticides.  In 2002, the company received approval (based on Monsanto’s on “research”) to market Bacill Thuringiensis (Bt) corn.  Bt is a bacterial toxin which, when genetically inserted into Monsanto’s Bt corn, turns the plant matter into poison.

Bt’s toxic proteins pierce the gut membranes of insects that ingest the GM plants or crops treated externally with Bt, which is sold to home gardeners as Dipel and does not preclude labeling as organic.  It affects not only the targeted corn borer caterpillars, but beneficial organisms like monarch caterpillars, New England silk moths, and bees as well.

Monsanto’s studies deemed Bt corn — as well as Bt potatoes, cotton, and soybeans — safe for bees because it doesn’t kill them directly.  Never mind the sub-lethal effects, characterized by compromised immune system response leading to death due to fungi, bacteria, and viruses that the bees could ordinarily combat.

Sound familiar?

Am I the only one wondering how the myraid food products made with Bt corn might affect the human immune system?

And get this:  Due to years of cross-contamination, it is unlikely that Bt corn can ever be eliminated from our environment.  Too bad the same isn’t true of Monsanto executives and the agencies who supposedly regulate them.


Read all posts in the Monsanto Project Series.