Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Food for thought Part II

---> Why I try to eat food and consume products that are organically grown as much as possibly and stay away from conventional and genetically modified organisms (GMOs). There are many reasons why to avoid conventional food, too many to go into here. So I will talk about my main concern, pesticides. Also, what you can do to avoid harmful chemicals and turn your food consumption into something that benefits your life and the environment around you and your family.


There are a myriad of pesticides registered and used on croplands. Glyphosate is one I take issue with due to its widespread use. Glyphosate, the active ingredient in the popular herbicide Round-up ™, is the number one used herbicide by volume in the world [i],[ii]. Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) is a soil-dwelling bacteria that possesses a protein which acts as an insecticide. For this reason, scientists have isolated this protein and inserted it into the DNA of many different food plants, including potatoes, cotton, and most notably corn.  Both glyphosate and Bt are widely used in creating and maintaining genetically modified organisms (GMOs) that are used as agricultural crops, such as GM corn and GM soy. Agricultural crops are being modified to be Round-up resistant and to produce the Bt toxin. Since these plants are producing the Bt toxin and being sprayed with Round-up, there is surely an interaction between the two chemicals. In a study printed in the Journal of Applied Toxicology, the Laboratory of Biochemistry of the University of Caen examined the toxicological effects of glyphosate and (Bt) toxin on human cells. In particular they looked at the singular effect of various Bt toxins on human cells and the synergistic effects of the interactions between Round-up residue and the Bt toxin. They found that one of the two Bt toxins studied, at concentrations of 100 parts per million, caused cell death. Also, that Round-up tested alone in concentrations of 1 to 20,000 parts per million (ppm) killed human embryonic kidney cells, and Round-up at concentrations as low as 50 ppm, levels far below agricultural dilutions, induced cell death. The combined effect of the two substances delayed apoptosis, or programmed cell death [iii]. Programmed cell death sounds bad, but in fact it is one of many mechanisms that cells possess to exterminate problematic cells (i.e., cells that are dividing uncontrollably, one of the defining characteristics of cancerous cells.) The Oxford journal of Carcinogenisis states that:

it is now clear that some oncogenic [tumor causing] mutations disrupt apoptosis, leading to tumor initiation, progression, or metastasis. Conversely, compelling evidence indicates that other oncogenic changes promote apoptosis, thereby producing selective pressure to override apoptosis during multistage carcinogenesis. Finally, it is now well documented that most cytotoxic anticancer agents induce apoptosis, raising the intriguing possibility that defects in apoptotic programs contribute to treatment failure.” [iv]

The study about the toxicity of Round-up and Bt toxin comes five days after a study that describes how Round-up is many orders of magnitude more toxic to human DNA than we previously thought. Their study reported that Round-up diluted to concentrations 450 times below what is used in commercial agriculture is toxic to human DNA cells [ii]. This is most likely due to the presence of the surfactant polyoxyethyleneamine that is used in the Roundup formula. This surfactant may dramatically enhance the absorption of glyphosate into exposed human cells and tissue [v]. Here are some of the other issues surrounding Glyphosate and Bt toxin that I don’t really have the space to go into now. Some are articles with links to multiple studies and official documents and some are the scientific studies themselves. Keep in mind that it is not easy to support the hypothesis that these pesticides have certain effects on humans because no one wants to be tested on and you can’t exactly inject a baby with this stuff and watch what happens. 

Some of the issues that come to mind:

1. Bt toxins are killing our intestinal flora and possibly causing obesity and mental health problems:

2. Monsanto Products such as Glyphosate, Bt toxins, DDT (still used around the world), Endosulfans,  HCH are causing human infertility and birth defects.

a. Birth Defects Caused by World’s Top-Selling Weedkiller, Scientists Say. Look for the links to four separate studies conducted on this issue in this article:  

 b. Persistent Organic Pollutants Could Lead to Birth Defects in Half of All Newborns:

Here is the study linked with the previous article:  

c. Exposure to this chemical is linked to birth Defects:

Here is the Report linked with the previous article:

3. Bt toxins may be responsible for honey bee colony collapse disorder (CCD)

4. Bt toxins may be responsible for Monarch butterfly disappearance:

5. Bt toxins reduce soil fertility:

  Survival of the fittest comes to mind when thinking about Round-up resistant plants and the creation of super-weeds. Farmers spray their fields with Round-up to get rid of pesky weeds that would other wise crowd out their crops if not otherwise dealt with. In the process of spraying, a minute portion of the weeds survive the spraying. The weeds that survive are able to procreate and pass on their genes that were able to survive to the next generation and so on. Superweeds resistant to Round-up pose a real threat to farmers. Instead of heading natures warning that this whole deal may be bad news, Monsanto and other companies like Dow and Dupont are proposing to introduce GM plants that are 2, 4-d resistant to the world. If you are not familiar with 2, 4-d it is half the chemical make up of Agent Orange, the chemical defoliant used by the US government in the Vietnam war. Vietnamese and US veterans are still suffering today from the effects of Agent Orange. 2, 4-d has been linked to Non-hodkin's lymphoma in humans, birth defects, miscariages. Just ask the folks in Denny, CA how that went down when the Forest Service decided to spray 2, 4-d on clear cuts adjacent to the creek that gives Denny its water. I learned about that one in my political science class.

      Atrazine used to be the number one used herbicide in the world, that is until glyphosate came onto the market. Now it is number two, but arguably the most widely used in the United States. The endocrine disrupting capabilities of this chemical is staggering. I look to the in-depth work of one of Cal Berkely’s finest, Tyrone Hayes, for further explanation on the subject of Atrazine. Hayes is near and dear to my heart because he came and spoke on this subject of the endocrine disrupting effect of atrazine on frogs and at Humboldt State while I was attending college.  

The current findings of his study and others before him suggest that atrazine inhibits testosterone and induces estrogen secretion in frogs, producing hermaphroditic frogs. This is essentially what an endocrine disruptor does, if you are not familiar with the term. Endocrine disruptors are substances, not already found in the body, that interfere with the synthesis, secretion, transport, binding, or other actions of hormones in the body. They can have devastating effects such as cause cancer, fetal abnormalities, miscarriages, etc. They can also have more subversive effects that may go unnoticed such as causing learning disabilities, decreased fertility, low sperm count, and hermaphroditism. Here is an excerpt from one of his studies

“the effects on the gonads in the current study were produced at 0.1 ppb, which was more than 600 times lower than the dose required to induce aromatase in human adrenocortical carcinoma and placental choriocarcinoma studies and 30,000,000 times lower than the dose required to produce reproductive effects in rats. The current data raise new concerns for amphibians with regards to atrazine. Effective doses (0.1 ppb for the production of hermaphrodites and 1 ppb for reduction in laryngeal size) are ecologically relevant. The recommended application level of atrazine ranges from 2,500,000–29,300,000 ppb, the allowable contaminant level for atrazine in drinking water is 3 ppb, and short-term exposures of 200 ppb are not considered a health risk. Atrazine can be as high as 21 ppb in ground water, 42 ppb in surface waters, 102 ppb in river basins in agricultural areas. This common contaminant could be a contributing factor in amphibian declines due to reproductive failure.” [vi]

This is where the precautionary principle kicks in for me. You have got to be thinking that if it can happen to frogs and rats, why not to humans? Well it can, my friends. Atrazine’s endocrine-disrupting effects have been shown in fish, amphibians, and reptiles; the induction of mammary and prostate cancer in laboratory rodents; and correlations between atrazine and similar reproductive cancers in humans [vii]. Unfortunately, I have just mentioned three of the most widely used pesticides. There are many more out there used, along with all of the other nasty industrialized chemicals that are allowed to be introduced into the environment. The best thing to do is inform yourself about these chemicals and learn how you can reduce your exposure.

What you can do.
-Remember that you vote on these issues three times a day. That is, the money you are spending on food in effect is a vote of what you want present and available on the market. If you and others start buying more organic food, the market responds to provide that need. If people continue to buy conventional/gmo foods, then that choice is what will be represented and available on the market.
-As of now eating organic is not enough. According to an article in the German Ithaka Journal, a German university study found “significant concentrations of glyphosate in the urine samples of city dwellers. The analysis of the urine samples apparently found that all had concentrations of glyphosate at 5 to 20-fold the limit for drinking water” [viii]. We need a moratorium, no a ban, on the use of inorganic pesticides such a glyphosate. Tell your State and Federal congressman to at least label if not ban GMOs and their associated pesticide use. For more information on how you can get involved check out these websites:
- The Just Label it Campaign that lets the FDA know that you want your food labeled.
-The Label GMOs website is a place to get information and get involved in direct action.
-The Occupy Monsanto website where you can get involved in direct action, or donate to the cause.
-Grow your own food when possible and use organic gardening techniques, such as Integrated Pest Management (IPM).

Like most of life’s endeavors, start with prevention. Then monitor your plants. When you notice a pest in your garden, try to identify it as specifically as possible. Read up on the lifecycle and habits of the organism to better understand how to control it. For example, it is very helpful to know that Spider mites have a seven day life cycle. Your final stage is to begin controlling the pests. Start from the most safe and effective alternative and increase in intensity if need be. If I encounter Spider mites, knowing their life cycle I know to spray with a solution of diluted Neem oil every seven days until I don’t see them pop up any more. Neem oil is extracted from a plant and is very safe to use. Indians use neem leaves (also know as curry leaves) in many types of curries and is one of the best substances to use for skin care. Stay tuned for more on the many applications of neem in our herbal medicine section to come. Understand that whether or not you use harsh chemicals or natural pesticides, you will still lose about the same amount of your crop to pests. Plant accordingly. According to a thirty year study conducted by the Rhodale institute, there was no significant difference in the crop yield between conventional and organic agricultural practices

 - Prevention:
-Crop rotation helps reduce the accumulation of pests i.e.  
“keeps pests guessing.”
-Select pest-resistant varieties and native plants. Native plants 
have evolved to deal with the stressors of your particular
climate and also are beneficial to native wildlife.
-Planting pest free rootstock. Check the starts and rootstock 
you get from your local nursery, they often have pests.
-Mulching reduces weed growth and gives plants room so 
pests can’t easily be transferred to your crop.
-Companion Planting: planting certain plants with others can 
help keep pests away and or encourage beneficial insects that 
can prey on pests. For example, planting marigolds with 
tomatoes. Here is a companion planting chart: 

-Encouraging beneficial insects that will prey on pests such as 
praying mantis, lacewings, and lady bugs. Grow composite 
and umbel type flowers that have nectar for beneficials to 
feed on. Learn to identify egg sacs and transport beneficials to 
garden space.
-Row covers and physical barriers are the garden’s body 
-Trapping: we have a problem with earwigs so we take old 
cottage cheese containers, poke holes in the lids big enough 
for them to fit in and put a mixture of oil and soy sauce in the 
container. They are attracted to the saltiness of the soy
sauce and get trapped in the oil.
-Neem and other non-specific (and hopefully organic) 

Look forward to more topics on the associated practices of organic and conventional agriculture and why it should influence the food you buy.

Works Cited:


[ii] Verena J Koller, M. Fürhacker, A. Nersesyan, M. Mišík, M. Eisenbauer, S. Knasmueller 2012. Archives of Toxicology. Cytotoxic and DNA-damaging properties of glyphosate and Roundup in human-derived buccal epithelial cells.

[iii]R Mesnage, E Clair, S Gress, C Then, A Székács, G-E Séralini 2012. Journal of Applied Toxicology. Cytotoxicity on human cells of Cry1Ab and Cry1Ac Bt insecticidal toxins alone or with a glyphosate-based herbicide.

[iv] Scott W. Lowel, A. Lin 2000. Oxford Journal of Carcinogenisis. Apoptosis in Cancer.

[v] H. de Ruiter, M. Verbeek, A. Uffing 1988. Pesticide Formulations Chapter 5, pp 44-45. Mode of Action of a Nonionic and a Cationic Surfactant in Relation to Glyphosate.

[vi] Tyrone Hayes, A. Collins, M. Lee, M. Mendoza, N. Noriega, A. Stuart, A. Vonk 2002. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. Hermaphroditic, demasculinized frogs after the exposure to the herbicide atrazine at low ecologically relevant doses.

[vii] WuQiang Fan, T. Yanase, H. Morinaga, S. Gondo, T. Okabe, M. Nomura, T. Komatsu, K. Morohashi, T. Hayes, R. Takayanagi, H. Nawata 2007. Environmental Health Perspectives. Atrazine-Induced Aromatase Expression Is SF-1 Dependent: Implications for Endocrine Disruption in Wildlife and Reproductive Cancers in Humans.


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