Just because it’s All Natural, doesn’t mean it’s all natural

Whole Foods is among those companies marketing GMO foods as All Natural

Consumers are still being taken in by alternative phrases used by industry to get around the USDA-certified Organic label. A favorite is All Natural, which implies that the product bearing the label contains wholesome and pure ingredients. Some products bearing that label are in fact 50% or more genetically modified. Whole Foods private-label (store-brand) corn flakes, for example, are in this category, containing 50% or more genetically modified corn, according to a report recently released by the Cornucopia Institute in Cornucopia, Wisconsin. However, other brands long trusted by consumers, such as Kashi GoLean scored even higher, approaching 100% GM ingredients in their breakfast cereals.

What makes it worse is that these products are enrolled in the Non-GMO Project. Isn’t it just a little bit misleading for something labeled Non-GMO Project to be 50% to 100% GMO in content?

We think so.

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Daryl Hannah arrested in demonstration at White House

On Tuesday, August 30 actress and activist Daryl Hanna was arrested in front of the White House for sitting in against the Keystone XL oil pipeline. That pipeline, if built, would transport oil from Alberta, Canada’s tar sands fields to Texas at the Gulf of Mexico.

What does that have to do with our health? you might ask. Indeed, that is a logical question.

First, the oil in question is extremely dirty crude oil. Its carbon content is exceedingly high. In fact, tar sands oil produces 82 percent more greenhouse gas than conventional crude oil. So not only is it much more expensive to convert to, say, gasoline than conventional crude, it also has a far worse effect on the environment even if it doesn’t spill.

But when it spills, it spells disaster. Residents of Michigan can tell you about that. An existing pipeline extends from these same oil fields to refineries in Oklahoma. Now barely a year old, that pipeline has leaked twelve times in twelve months. In July 2010 it spilled one million gallons of tar sands crude into a Kalamazoo River tributary. Forty miles of river are still contaminated with the oil more than a year later. In part, that’s because tar sand sinks in water. Of course, it still coats and kills fish and wildfowl.

So if you don’t want crude oil contaminating your waterways and drinking water or excess carbon, sulfur and mercury polluting your air and soil, there must be cleaner energy alternatives. Or maybe we just have to cut back on our use of energy and our miles of driving, perhaps using electric cars (which still require us to produce that electricity in the first place—we know).

But that soil, air and water pollution don’t really affect us, right? Breast cancer is still on the rise wordwide. Of course, that’s because of “Western” lifestyles, right? According to the World Health Organization (WHO) there will be 20 million new cases of cancer per year by 2030, up from 12 million new cases in  2008. But if the cause were simply our Western lifestyle as so much of the media assure us, shouldn’t the cancer rate reach a steady state, at least in the U.S.? How do we blame a continuing increase in cancer rates worldwide on our Western lifestyle? Has life changed that radically in India and Southeast Asia?

Incidentally, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) reports that the current increase in cancer translates into approximately 56% more cancer in men and 22% more cancer in women over the course of a single generation. The NCI reports that one in two men or women will experience cancer in their lifetime. And it expects the cancer rate to double by 2050. In Ireland, a report just out states that cancer cases have risen 50% since the 1990s. Has Ireland become that much more “Westernized” since 1990?

If this is purely the result of a Western lifestyle, which presumably means inadequate exercise and a diet of processed foods, why do the rates keep rising? Once one does not exercise and one’s diet consists entirely of processed food—which is, unfortunately, the case for many of us—how can you justify further increases in cancer?

The only explanation, we believe, is a continuing deterioration in our environment, with subsequent ill effects on our health. And the  Keystone XL pipeline is one more giant step in that direction.

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The price of clean natural gas

Photo of DC Metro bus with 'This bus is running on clean natural gasWe’ve grown accustomed to seeing those signs on the local buses that say, “Powered by Clean Natural Gas.” It always gave us a bit of a lift to see that cheerful improvement touted, even knowing that the buses in this area sporting that sign hold fewer seats than the older buses and are less comfortable for travel.

Still… just the price of progress and greenness, we always thought.

Never again. After seeing Josh Fox’s Gasland, we cannot view natural gas (or any fossil fuel, for that matter) in quite the same light. The old natural gas that gushed from an oil well that has just struck a deposit may have been different. Perhaps there are natural gas wells somewhere in this country that are not the result of fracking—hydraulic fracturing—and which we can still view benignly. But we now know that the odds favor fracking as the likely source of natural gas, as fracking wells spread across our national landscape like locusts or the plague.

Josh Fox hails from Pennsylvania (as we do) and happened to be one of those apparently lucky people who received a lease in the mail from a natural gas company. All he had to do was sign the lease in order to receive a check for approximately $100,000. Of course, signing that lease would have enabled teams from the natural gas company to come and drill on his parents’s beloved rural homestead, giving Fox pause.

Fortunately for Fox and the rest of us, he decided to do some research before signing on the dotted line. The result was the documentary film Gasland.

Fox discovered that fracking was a process patented by Halliburtion, and its rapid spread is an artifact of the Bush-Cheney administration. That’s because in 2005, Cheney and friends pushed through the Energy Policy Act, which exempted the oil and gas industries from control by the Safe Drinking Water Act as well as from other legislation normally assuring some degree of public safety. For example, Halliburton and those companies actually performing the fracking need not reveal the chemicals injected into underground shale deposits to break loose natural gas.

We suspect that hasty legislation was undertaken because in 2004 a scientist with the EPA (Weston Wilson, a 30-year agency veteran) blew the whistle on the EPA’s hasty approval of fracking under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Initially, fracking was used in the West—where it has done untold damage—and is now working its way eastward, leaving behind a path of devastation. Fracking not only causes natural gas (mostly methane) to exude spontaneously from streams and meadows, wells and water faucets, it also pollutes the ground, water and air with potentially hundreds of deadly poisons, including but not limited to, polyglycols, napthalene, xylene, benzene and toluene. Residents in areas treated with fracking appear to be quite fond of demonstrating that their tap water can be set afire, a sort of dark humor that provides them temporary relief from the daily horrors of living in a fracking zone, which include death and severe illness of family and livestock.

Need we mention that flammable water raises concerns of cancer, neuropathy and endocrine imbalance?

Gasland not only received a special jury prize for documentary film at the Sundance Film Festival 2010 and other coveted prizes, it was nominated for an Academy Award for best documentary as well. To add to its mystique, the oil and gas industry lobbied hard to get the Academy to withdraw the film from competition, saying it was full of factual errors. Apparently there were no factual errors of sufficient merit to warrant an attempt to attack the filmmaker via the courts, however.

Take a look at Gasland below, then click here to buy it.


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Nuclear energy and your health

Some of us, no doubt, choose to ignore what’s going on in Japan whether because it’s too much to bear or because we just don’t care. But for the rest of us, whether we are glued to the TV for the latest update or following it at a distance, the ordeal befalling so much of the Japanese population is unspeakably tragic.

And it’s easy to understand how the Japanese people got there. For an island nation with scant natural resources, nuclear energy was the obvious wave of the future. Nuclear energy made them independent of foreign oil–which they desperately needed to power their automobiles, in any case–and harnessed them instead to one of those pursuits the Japanese people do best: technology. So it’s difficult to fault the Japanese for thinking that nuclear power was the obvious solution to their needs.

What were the odds, after all, that an earthquake followed by a tsunami would turn nuclear facilities into seething death traps? Probably quite slender. Yet, as the Japanese and the rest of the world have just found out, those slim odds do come in on occasion, and when they do, the results are devastating. There was a level 9.0 earthquake and it did lead to a tsunami, and the best-conceived power plant technology of 60 years ago has utterly failed. You can’t depend on electrical cooling systems in times of emergency. Nothing less than a foolproof gravity-fed system would have been good enough, and we doubt there is such a thing as a foolproof system anyway. (The plant first to fail, ironically, was built by GE, not by the Japanese.)

But we’re not here to tear apart the promise of nuclear energy. Plenty of others, we suspect, will be doing that in the months to come, though it remains to be seen whether they will be able to alter a national energy policy that is bent on renewing the licenses of numerous American power plants, many of which are leaking radiation and probably in worse shape than the Fukushima nuclear plant was when its recent troubles began.

No, after several days of watching this drama play out in the news (and predicting that we would see a Chernobyl-style disaster or worse before it was over) we were finally struck by a recollection we thought worth sharing. If you are a frequent visitor to these pages, you know our views on fluoride and fluoridation. Despite the propaganda still proffered by the American Dental Association (ADA) fluoride is as certainly detrimental to human and animal health as it is questionable as an aid to dentition.

As Joel Griffiths and Christopher Bryson put it so succinctly in Fluoride, Teeth, and the Atomic Bomb:

Unfortunately, much of the proof of fluoride’s safety rests on the work performed by Program F Scientists at the University of Rochester. During the postwar period that university emerged as the leading academic center for establishing the safety of fluoride, as well as its effectiveness in reducing tooth decay, according to Dental School spokesperson William H. Bowen, MD. The key figure in this research, Bowen said, was Harold C. Hodge—who also became a leading national proponent of fluoridating public drinking water. Program F’s interest in water fluoridation was not just ‘to counteract the local fear of fluoride on the part of residents,’ as Hodge had earlier written. The bomb program needed human studies, as they had needed human studies for plutonium, and adding fluoride to public water supplies provided one opportunity.

Alas, the origin of the whole fluoridation saga in this country (which is–make no mistake–where it all began) was none other than our own Atomic Energy Commission (originally the Manhattan Project, now the Department of Energy, or DOE). The government found that if it was going to pursue nuclear weapons during World War II or, for that matter, nuclear power in peacetime, it would have to overcome one sizable obstacle that overshadowed all others: the toxicity of fluoride, which is used massively in processing uranium. So it ran secret experiments using an unsuspecting public as the guinea pigs. The Manhattan Project had done this with uranium and plutonium and did it as well with fluoride.

Christopher Bryson recounts further in his excellent book, The Fluoride Deception, that Dr. Howard Hodge was assigned to clean up the image of fluoride while he was secretly both the head of the Atomic Energy Commission’s Department of Pharmacology & Toxicology and head of the International Association for Dental Research (IADR). Writes Bryson,

So, for example, on behalf of the bomb makers he covertly monitored one of the nation’s first public water fluoridation experiments. While the citizens of Newburgh, New York, were told that fluoride would reduce cavities in their children, secretly blood and tissue samples from residents were sent to his atomic laboratory for study.1

Bryson also notes that “Adding to water a chemical so toxic that it was once used as rat poison was a uniquely American idea and is, increasingly, a lone American practice.”2 He then adds, “So if this tale of how fluoride’s public image was privately laundered sounds eerily familiar, maybe it’s because the very same professionals and institutions who told us that fluoride was safe said much the same about lead, asbestos, and DDT or persuaded us to smoke more tobacco.”3

Sad, but true.

We’ve already written about Hodge and his adventures elsewhere in this publication. We suggest you read the account if you haven’t already. You might also read Christopher Bryson’s book as well.

We do not find it reassuring to know that our own federal government was largely behind the deliberate poisoning of our public water supply as a solution to the problem of how to dispose of all the toxic waste produced by the chemical fertilizer industry–the same industry that burgeoned at the end of World War II when the government discovered it had all those munitions factories on its hands producing frightful amounts of nitrate compounds for weapons manufacture. Someone got the bright idea that all that nitrogen-based pollution could be converted to fertilizer. And the industry took off, subsidized by the American taxpayer.

Industry continues to pour out fluoride in massive quantities as toxic waste, which is packaged up as fluorosilic acid—a substance too toxic to be placed in a landfill—and shipped off instead to be poured by municipalities into the public water supply. Through municipal taxes, we fund our own poisoning.

The brains behind all this are the same folks who brought you high-fructose corn syrup (a source of mercury and lead as well as fluoride) for your food and corn ethanol for your automobile’s gas tank. Of course, the fertilizer industry, as we’ve already said, was not alone in producing fluoride as a by-product. Production of aluminum and zinc are other massive sources of the poison. The atomic energy industry used it abundantly in World War II and still does today.

  1.  Christopher Bryson, The Fluoride Deception, p. XVII
  2. ibid, p. XIX
  3. ibid, p. XX

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When is cream not cream?

Cream has never struck me as a relative term. But recently, I came to realize that it is. I’m talking about the cream that floats on the top of cow’s milk. As it comes from the cow, milk readily separates into milk and cream. The cream rises to the top.

But you already knew that. It’s the stuff of clichés and metaphors.

That’s ostensibly why homogenization was invented. Homogenization keeps the milk and the cream from separating. One would think that was for the purpose of keeping a certain amount of fat content (cream) inside the milk. But now that I’ve come to question the absolute concept of cream, I’ve begun to question that notion too.

You see, for a few years now I’ve bought my dairy products from an Amish farm. That means that I was able to purchase unhomogenized, unpasteurized milk, butter and cream. The cream I obtained from the farm, while far more expensive than what’s available in your local store, is not even remotely similar to the stuff delivered in those cardboard cartons. In fact, you wouldn’t even be able to get it out of them, because it almost doesn’t pour. In fact, when suitably stirred together–even cream itself tends to separate into layers of different densities–it pours about like blackstrap molasses. When you first remove the lid from its plastic container, the cream on top has to be spooned out. That’s why we tend to mix it with the slightly thinner cream on the bottom.

But even that thinner cream exceeds the thickness of so-called “heavy cream” obtained from the supermarket. Mystified by this, I began to do some research. After all, we already know that everything is figured to a cost-benefit ratio in manufacturing. If it costs more to do a recall and make the repair on a defective auto, for example, than it does to settle the resulting lawsuits for deaths and injuries, then the recall doesn’t happen voluntarily.

So presumably someone somewhere is paid to figure out just how much milk they can put in that carton labeled “heavy cream” before it steadfastly refuses to whip when you beat it with your average mixer. As for putting it in our coffee, most of us are pushovers. We’ll use milk–even skim in some cases–so half-and-half is as much like cream as most people ever expect.

Personally, I’ve been avoiding drinking coffee in public–whether Starbucks or otherwise–in part because I’ve learned to drink my coffee with real cream, not the watered-down stuff.

The classifications, please…

Sure enough, there are several classifications of cream based on how it was prepared the old-fashioned way. I can still remember that when we milked the cows on my grandparents’ farm, the milk got poured from those big stainless-steel buckets into the separator. A separator is simply a centrifuge designed to spin the milk, separating out the cream. Then the cream went into a churner–whose mechanism I can no longer recall–and became butter.

The point is, nowadays we “make” cream, or really separate it from the milk using mechanical processes that are a bit more hi-tech, possibly, than my Amish farm uses. The old-fashioned way to make cream is to pour the fresh milk into shallow pans and wait for the cream to rise to the top. After 12 hours, you have what is called “single cream.” And after 24 hours–probably as long as you would want to let fresh milk sit around–you have la crème de la crème, so to speak: “double cream.” That, it turns out, is what I’d been paying a premium for while enjoying real cream from the Amish farm.

It is also a real snap to make into so-called whipped cream. Simply add a bit of sugar and, if you’re being fancy, a bit of cocoa powder, and by the time you’ve mixed the ingredients, it’s what you’d call whipped cream. No need for an electric mixer, simply stirring by hand will do it. Whip it too much, in fact, and you’ll quickly get butter. (I don’t think you’ll have much luck making butter from the “heavy cream” sold in your grocery store, but go ahead and give it a try if you’re curious.)

Another way to make cream is by clotting the milk, which must be unhomogenized, of course. That means heating it in a pan so that the cream rises to the top. This actually provides an even richer cream than “double cream,” which has about 48% milk fat.

In case you are avoiding using these real creams for fear of dropping dead because of a heart attack, keep in mind that the French still liberally use this stuff, and their coronary health is to be envied by the majority of Americans.

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The Fluoride Deception

If you’ve read our previous posts on fluoride, you will likely recognize the name of Christopher Bryson. Journalist and author, he wrote The Fluoride Deception. Here in this interview, he gives a good overview of the issues and information you will find in the book.

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H1N1 scare pays off

The U.S. government’s purchase of H1N1 vaccines cost taxpayers $1.6 billion, according to figures reported recently by the Washington Post. Despite the relatively mild effect of the actual swine flu pandemic, the panic by U.S. health officials resulted in big profits for Big Pharma, with a resulting glut of flu vaccine that is now being given away by public health clinics.

According to the Post, as many as 72 million doses of swine flu vaccine are now considered surplus and may end up being discarded.

Figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicate that about one in four Americans were vaccinated against H1N1. Among healthcare workers, the H1N1 vaccination figure was slightly higher—about 37 percent—but well below the record 62 percent of healthcare workers vaccinated against seasonal flu during the 2009-2010 season.

Given that 62 percent compliance is the highest ever seen among healthcare workers, it is clear that this group does not believe strongly in the benefits of flu vaccination. Clearly, no one has easier access to vaccination than they. Indeed, the 62 percent figure is no doubt slightly inflated by the forced vaccination of healthcare workers in New York State in 2009. Even so, a 62-percent vaccination rate indicates considerable apathy—if not downright aversion—towards vaccination on the part of healthcare workers, given that the CDC recommends that all healthcare workers be vaccinated against the flu each year.

The 37-percent figure of healthcare workers who took the H1N1 vaccine shows even less belief in the safety and efficacy of that vaccine compared to the seasonal flu vaccine. The irony is that the vaccination rate for children against H1N1 was the same 37 percent, indicating that children in effect ended up being the guinea pigs for the H1N1 flu vaccine.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are typically over 30 million cases of seasonal flu annually in the US. US government figures put the infection rate for the H1N1 virus at approximately 62 million people. Of those, about 12,000 died—far fewer than the 36,000 the CDC says die from seasonal flu each year. (Other CDC figures show that just between January 1 and April 18 of 2009, more than 13,000 people died of complications from seasonal flu, making it a bigger killer for the year than H1N1.)

Approximately 72 million to 81 million people in the U.S. are believed to have been vaccinated against H1N1 as of February 2010.

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Study links sugar consumption with cancer

A study recently published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention found an apparent link between consumption of sugary soft drinks and pancreatic cancer. Performed by Mark Pereira and his colleagues at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, the study followed 60,524 participants of the Singapore Chinese Health Study for up to 14 years. Like most such epidemiological studies, however, the study suffers from some inherent flaws and will need to be backed by further research.

This was a first attempt to link consumption of soft drinks and fruit juices—both abundant sources of dietary sugar—to pancreatic cancer in a population of non-European descent. The first 14 years of following the cohort yielded a cumulative 648,387 person-years and 140 pancreatic cancer cases. Individuals who consumed two or more soft drinks per week showed an 87-percent increased risk of pancreatic cancer, the researchers said. Those who consumed fruit juices alone showed no statistically greater risk.

The actual numbers involved are low enough, however, to cast some doubt on their validity. Of the 140 pancreatic cancer cases experienced by the cohort, 18 cases occurred in patients who consumed large quantities of soda, 12 occurred in those who drank soda occasionally, and 110 occurred in non-consumers of the beverage. Thus the claim of an 87% increase in risk of pancreatic cancer through consumption of sugar-sweetened soda is based on slim data.

The data do, however, support the popular theory that sugar feeds cancer cells and encourages formation of cancer tumors.

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Washington negotiates on tobacco rulings

According to a story that appeared over the weekend from the Associated Press, the U.S. Solicitor General has been meeting with lawyers representing the tobacco industry’s four largest companies in an effort to forestall an appearance before the U.S. Supreme Court to follow up on a 2006 ruling by U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler that the tobacco industry had concealed the dangers of cigarette smoking over a period of decades. The government has been considering asking the Court to award it $280 billion in past company profits and $14 billion toward a national campaign to limit smoking. Those awards had been denied by lower federal courts, one of which nevertheless denied an appeal by the defendants last May.

Since the lawsuit invovled charges of racketeering under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (“RICO”), the losing defendants had vowed to pursue an appeal to reverse those charges. The conflicting goals are leading to an interesting stand-off. Both sides may stand to gain from negotiation. Although the companies undoubtedly would like to have the racketeering conviction dropped, there would seem to be little hope of that, giving the preponderance of the evidence.

Tobacco company defendants in the lawsuit are Philip Morris USA Inc. and its parent company, Altria Group Inc.; R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.; British American Tobacco Investments Ltd.; and Lorillard Tobacco Co. A former U.S. subsidiary of British American Tobacco, Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., merged with Reynolds in 2004.

Just three of those companies—Philip Morris, R.J. Reynolds and Lorillard—supply nearly 90 percent of U.S. retail cigarette sales.

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Tylenol, Motrin, St. Joseph’s aspirin recalled

Johnson & Johnson announced yesterday that it was recalling Tylenol, Motrin, and St. Joseph’s aspirin as well as other over-the-counter drugs because they emit a moldy smell that has sickened some users. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has criticized the New Brunswick, NJ-based company and sent it a warning letter for not taking faster action, as the problem first occurred in early 2008 and recurred less than a month ago, but little has been done by the firm to address the issue.

The New Brunswick, NJ manufacturer has agreed to stop shipping products while it investigates the problem, which apparently has been traced to a chemical used to treat wooden shipping pallets. The Associated Press is reporting that the FDA traced the problem to a facility in Las Piedras, Puerto Rico.

Products affected include both regular and extra-strength Tylenol, children’s Tylenol, eight-hour Tylenol, Tylenol arthritis, Tylenol PM, children’s Motrin, Motrin IB, Benadryl Rolaids, Simply Sleep, and St. Joseph’s aspirin. Consumers can find out exactly which batches have been recalled by going to the McNeil website. (McNeil is the division of Johnson and Johnson responsible for these products.)

These problems come not long after an FDA advisory panel recommended removing acetaminophen-containing narcotic drugs from the market last summer because of the potential harm to the livers of patients caused by acetaminophen. Acetaminophen is the active ingredient in Tylenol. That same panel recommended lowering the largest dose of acetaminophen or Tylenol from 500 mg to 325 mg.

To date, no further action has been taken and Extra Strength Tylenol—available over the counter in any drugstore—still contains 500mg of acetaminophen.

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